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Review: The Divine Feminine

via 4umf

The Divine Feminine (2016)

Mac Miller

Rap / Hip-Hop

REMember / Warner Bros.

Remember the days when Mac Miller was just “Easy Mac with the cheesy raps”?  Yep, he was the dude in the Pitt basketball jersey sitting on his bed in what might be the most cringe-inducing mixtape cover out there.  He was immature with a little too much braggadocio.  Fortunately, Mac started to find his footing and started to mature over the years through releases like Best Day Ever, Blue Slide Park, and most recently GO:OD AM.  Each of these releases, whether they were mixtapes or studio albums, had a different theme but they all had one thing in common.  They were all stepping stones to where Mac is now in terms of his maturity.  With the release of his fourth studio album, The Divine Feminine, we receive a Mac that is way more mature and maybe way more complex than ever before.  It’s a unique album that demonstrates just how far the Pittsburgh rapper has come since his Taylor Allderdice days where he was slinging mixtapes in hopes of making it big.

via Urban Islandz

First let’s begin with what makes Mac’s fourth go-around so unique in the current climate of Rap…it’s an album entirely focused on “love.”  Yeah, every single song explores the idea of love and relationships.  That’s not something you really see in today’s rap industry.  Rappers are always quick to brag about their money and their women, but Mac takes a softer and more sentimental approach with his latest project.  Look no further than the album’s premiere single, “Dang!” featuring the talented Anderson .Paak.  Mac straight up says it himself in his rhymes…he needs to find his softer and more sensitive side, something that goes against the grain of orthodox hip-hop.

There’s a lot of steamy material within the concise 10 song LP.  “Stay” is an intimate plea to Mac’s girl, begging her to stay the night.  The song’s laced with some great jazz instrumentals; an abundance of trumpets and saxophone that will make anyone snap their fingers.  There’s also “Skin,” which is the closest thing you’ll find to a sex-ready song.  Mac himself mutters, “So finally I made a f***ing song,” over a beat so smooth and sensual that it’s sure to fog up your windows.  Let’s not forget about Mac’s collaboration with Ariana Grande, “My Favorite Part,” that might as well be the announcement of the two’s relationship.  It’s a genuine song that wonderfully displays the two’s mutual feelings for each other in a passionate way.  What a couple.

via Puna

Another thing to note is Mac Miller’s complexity that he brings to his lyrics.  Mac Miller isn’t new to exploring complex themes.  Just look at projects like Watching Movies with the Sound Off and Faces.  That same brand of intricacy makes its way onto the album on songs like “Cinderella” and “Planet God Damn,” which features a wonderful sounding hook from Njomza.  Despite this fact, there are still some immature lyrics that poke their way through some of the material that at times mucks up the final product.  Lines like “I just eat p***y, other people need food” made me shake my head.  C’mon Mac, there’s no room for juvenile remarks on such a complex album as this.  Hey, I guess everyone still has room to mature right?

Whether you like it or not, there’s also a lot of singing on the part of Mac Miller.  To be honest, I’m still not entirely sold on Mac’s singing voice, which made me a little worried going into the album for the first time.  He’s experimented with it in the past, and to be fair, he has improved as time’s progressed.  There are some songs on the album where his singing works really well, and other times where it sits at mediocrity.  In the end, I think I am more sold on Mac’s voice then I ever was before.  That’s a compliment that you can take to the bank.

via Hype Trak

There’s a bevy of collaborators on the album, besides the ones I’ve mentioned already.  Bilal lends his voice to the outro for “Congratulations,” a song that floats on cloud-high piano melodies and mellow jazz.  Kendrick Lamar lends his ability to the album’s final track, “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty,” an interestingly titled cut full of passion and lyricism.  Instead of rapping a verse, Kendrick harmonizes with Mac and acts as a supplement to the record, which works extremely well.  As a big Kendrick fan I was hoping to hear a beefy verse, but I can’t really complain with his contribution to the song.  The one feature that didn’t work too well was Cee-Lo Green, who’s featured on the simply-titled track “We.”  It’s a solid song with a goes-down-easy hook, but Cee-Lo Green just felt like an afterthought.  He didn’t really add much to the track and felt tacked on.

I have to give major props to Mac Miller for dedicating an entire album to the complex concept of love.  That sounds like a terrifying endeavor, an idea that could go horribly wrong if not handled with care and expertise.  Fortunately, Mac dives into the topic with complexity and maturity that makes The Divine Feminine a stand-out.  The album also has some of the best production I have heard from a Mac Miller project.  It’s almost worth releasing an instrumental mix of the record.  Although the album’s not completely perfect, it’s still prime Mac, a rapper who has come a long way since his days as Easy Mac with the cheesy raps.  (God…what an awful name for a rapper…)

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Review: American Beauty

american beauty poster
via IMP Awards

American Beauty (1999)

R / 122 min


Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch

Director: Sam Mendes

Mid-life crises hit people hard.  They’re usually drastic and come completely from left field.  They have the potential to make you do weird things…things you’ll regret after it’s all over.  American Beauty, the academy award winning drama from director Sam Mendes, gives us a peek into the life of Lester Burnham, a suburban father who finds himself smack dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis.  A really weird one as well.  What takes place during the movie is fascinating piece of work.

american beauty 1
via attheback.blogspot.com

Kevin Spacey plays the sexually-frustrated Lester, which might be one of his best roles to date.  As he narrates the movie, we get introduced to the many annoyances that plague his life.  Lester’s wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), is a stressed out real estate agent who needs to take a chill pill.  Bening give a great performance, it’s just a shame that her character gets no redeeming moments at all throughout the course of the movie, but that was most likely Mendes’ goal.  On the other hand, we have Lester’s daughter Jane, played by Thora Birch, whose bad tempered and generally unfriendly.  American Beauty is family dysfunction to a T.  It’s no surprise that Lester is bored with life, because he certainly isn’t getting any pleasures from his family.

Things quickly start to take a weird turn when Lester is introduced to Jane’s cheerleading friend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari).  She puts him into a state of trance, giving him feelings he hasn’t experienced in a long while.  She essentially drives him to quit his job, work out, and smoke weed.  He even buys a new car.  Topping it all off, he begins to have fantasies about Angela where she’s always covered in roses.  The symptoms of a mid-life crisis.  Not perverted enough for you yet?  Well, we’re also introduced to Rick (Wes Bentley), the kid from next door who has a drug problem and a knack for filming people from his window.  There’s a scene where he is filming Lester work out in his garage naked from his bedroom.  Like I said, the movie isn’t afraid to get weird.

american beauty 2
via Toutle Cine

At first I didn’t know where this movie was going.  I knew that the outcome was heading for the worse, but I didn’t know how it was going to get there.  Then the third act came into play and it all started to come together and make sense.  I started to learn things about characters that we previously didn’t know and the pieces started putting themselves together.  It was enthralling to watch it all play out.  It was a depressing ending, but it made a lot of sense.  It came together brilliantly, which is the product of good screenwriting.

Perhaps the most enticing storyline of them all was the relationship between Rick and his family.  His mother doesn’t really speak much and his father, played by Peter Gallagher, is an ex-military prim-and-proper type.  Rick is a mentally estranged kid who has had problems with drugs in the past.  As the movie goes on, things get more tense in the family as Rick develops a relationship with Jane.  On the outset it might not seem like a big deal but Rick’s father gets the wrong idea, which is where things start to get interesting.

american beauty 3
via Masculinity Movies

Everything about American Beauty works really well.  Everything from the imagery to the performances make the film a stand-out.  It’s no surprise that the movie got well received by the Academy.  Every character is chasing their own version of the American dream, but they all fall short in their own ways.  It’s a smart movie that comes together in an illustrious way, which is a surprise given the fact that this was Mendes’ directorial debut.  American Beauty is an example of films done right.  Also, nothing ever good comes from having an infatuation with your daughter’s friend.  Just don’t do it.

american beauty score

Review: Love Season 1

love season 1
via Melty

Love (Season 1) (2016)

Netflix / TVMA

Comedy / Romance

Starring: Gillian Jacobs, Paul Rust, Claudia O’Doherty

Creators: Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, Paul Rust

Your telling me there’s another show about love?  Another show about the trials and tribulations that relationships bring with them?  I guess it’s not that surprising when you think about it.  The topic of love is a subject that has been tackled time and time again.  It’s certainly not an original theme.  Teaming up with Netflix, Judd Apatow has put out a new comedic show about the journey of love, appropriately titled Love.  So far nothing about this show sounds original…but Apatow finds another angle that makes the show a little refreshing.

love s1 1
via Beauty Slides

Love is the story of two star-crossed lovers who seem like the unlikely couple at the onset.  Mickey, played by Gillian Jacobs, is a rambunctious and loud girl who works for a radio show.  She’s an alcoholic and a sex addict who has her fair share of boy problems.  On the other hand, we have the timid and geeky Gus, played by Paul Rust, who works as a tutor at a big name television studio.  The two couldn’t be any more different but after a chance acquaintance at a gas station convenience store, the two being the long road to love.

Topics like first dates, ex-lovers, awkward parties, and sex are all covered over the course of the ten-episode series.  As I’ve mentioned before, there is nothing original about Love’s subject matter, not even the name.  Series creator Judd Apatow, the guy behind other hit comedies like Bridesmaids, Knocked Up, and Girls, manages to change things up and gives the concept of love a different perspective.  Mickey and Gus have different views on the subject of love and their outlooks on the crazy rollercoaster of romance are what make the series interesting and different from the rest.  Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely moments where I was like, “okay, this has been done before,” but the show managed to stay fresh a lot more than I initially thought.

love s1 2

The first half of the season acts as a character study, examining Mickey and Gus and the type of people that they are.  These kinds of episodes happen a lot over the course of the season.  There’s even an episode that revolves around the two’s days at work and the kind of madness surrounding their respective workplaces.  Weird creepy bosses and dramatic Hollywood actresses, you know, normal fare.  Admittedly the show gets off to a slow start but begins to pick up when the two start to get into a more serious relationship.  As things intensify between the two, things get a lot more interesting.  The last couple of episodes were not only full of hilarious situations, but serious drama as well.  I wasn’t expecting the show to get as serious as it got…but there’s an interesting story to tell behind Love’s comedic exterior.

Judd Apatow has put out a show that gives a funny view of love, but also a sobering one.  Love isn’t perfect in its execution but it’s a fun show with some really likable characters.  I haven’t even mentioned Mickey’s roommate Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty) who was actually one of my favorite parts of the show.  The show gives us a stunningly accurate depiction of love, one that is instantly relatable to anyone who has had a bout with love.  Love is a fun little show, one that I was not expecting to enjoy.  The show has already been renewed for another season, so we’ll see where Apatow goes with this comedy.  Also, how many times have I said “love” during this review.  It almost sounds silly at this point.  Love love love.  By the way…..love.  Okay, I’m done now.

love s1 score

Review: Beauty Behind The Madness

beauty behind the madness coverBeauty Behind The Madness (2015)

The Weeknd

Pop / R&B

Label: XO, Republic

It’s been cool to watch the journey that Abel Tesfaye, more famously known as The Weeknd, has taken from his more obscure roots as an R&B croon to the mainstream star that he is today.  The Canadian artist first got his start putting out mixtapes and then proceeded to get noticed by record labels.  I guess it’s only ironic that the guy who relished being closed off from the world would go on to be noticed by more and more people.  Beauty Behind The Madness is Abel’s first foray into the mainstream and he takes the spotlight with grace.

via The Island Critic
via The Island Critic

I have to admit, I was pretty worried going in.  The tried and true tale of lesser known artists going mainstream and drastically changing their sounds is one we hear often.  I was worried the same would be true of The Weeknd.  His classic dark and atmospheric sound, fueled by his past, love, and drugs, was the sound that made me gravitate towards his unique brand of R&B.  It also doesn’t take a genius to recognize that this kind of sound doesn’t necessarily translate well to the top 40 airwaves.  (Just take The Weeknd’s first official album Kiss Land for example.  It was lauded well by critics but didn’t strike big among the general populace.)  Luckily for me, and probably everybody else, his doesn’t miss a step, taking his familiar sound to the mainstream spotlight while appealing to the masses.  Beauty Behind The Madness is simply the best case scenario for everybody.

Abel manages to fuse his addicting verses and melodies about troubled love and drugs with songs that are fit and ready to go on the radio.  Just take “Can’t Feel My Face,” for example.  The song manages to remain a “The Weeknd” song while at the same time providing us with one of the songs of the summer.  It’s also pretty easy to realize that Michael Jackson is a common influence through it all.  Literally, his influence rears its head on almost every note.  Other songs like “The Hills” and 50 Shades of Grey’s “Earned It” are great examples as well.

via All-Stars
via All-Stars

Don’t let the mainstream coating around the album scare you away if you were a fan of the old Weeknd though.  There is still a ton of material to keep you satisfied in between.  “Often,” which has been released in the past, makes another appearance on the album and continues to be one of my favorites.  Two songs towards the beginning of the album, “Real Life” and “Tell Your Friends,” act as good introductions to not only Abel’s music, but his life as well.  They go into his dark past and the decisions that he has made while going on and stating that he is not going to change his ways despite his new-found gust of fame.  He lays it out like it is.  Abel has been pretty open in the past, but the songs on Beauty Behind The Madness dive deeper into the shrouds that surround the intriguing crooner.

Another thing that makes the album pop is the amazing production that is interlaced through every single track.  The Weeknd handled a lot of the production on the album, but he also signed on the expertise of guys like Illangelo, Max Martin, Mike Dean, and even Kanye West for production duties.  Everything sounded very great, setting a mood and atmosphere that just kills.  On a side note, “Tell Your Friends,” produced in part by Kanye West, was in dire need of a Kanye verse.  Just saying…

via Okay Player
via Okay Player

The album is primarily a solo affair, which only makes sense for the kind of artist that Abel is.  The only features on the album are Che Pope, Ed Sheeran, and Lana Del Rey.  Aside from Che Pope, Sheeran and Del Rey are two artists that just go hand in hand with The Weeknd’s style.  The Weeknd and Sheeran’s “Dark Times” is a fantastic sounding song where the two feed off each other’s energy as the song goes on, culminating to a sweet sounding final duet.  “Prisoner,” featuring Lana Del Rey, presents us with the musical styles of both artists which ultimately goes together like peanut butter and jelly.  (Sorry, I had to use the PB&J analogy because it just makes sense.)

Beauty Behind The Madness is a textbook example by The Weeknd on handling new-found fame preceded by years of general obscurity.  A couple of songs lack the luster that the other’s bring to the table, but ultimately The Weeknd presents us with a final package that will please everyone in the end.  It’s a well put together album that will hopefully put The Weeknd on the map, if he hasn’t been put on there already.

beauty behind the madness score

Review: The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

via Movie Newz
via Movie Newz

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015)

Lifetime / TVMA

Biography / Drama

Starring: Kelli Garner, Susan Sarandon, Emily Watson

Director: Laurie Collyer

At this point, the wild and tragic life of cultural and sexual icon Marilyn Monroe has been explored by everyone and their father.  Their almost a dime a dozen.  Books have been written and documentaries have been made, picking apart almost every aspect of her short and troubled life.  What makes it all fascinating is the amount of info that she was able to keep away from the media for the longest time.  It is what makes these documentaries riveting.  Lifetime’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe is yet another biopic about the dark secrets that Monroe managed to keep to herself.  It manages to keep itself fresh, albeit some problems.

The two-part made-for-TV movie tells the story of Monroe within the sometimes awkward frame of a psychotherapy session.  Monroe, played by Kelli Garner, talks through the many different aspects of her life that eventually lead to her tragic end.  Dr. DeShields (Jack Noseworthy) is earnest in learning about her life story, but at times this leads to some awkward writing which at times seemed clunky.  It was meant to drive the different parts of the documentary.

via Movie Newz
via Movie Newz

One of the things that provides the backbone for the biopic is Monroe’s mother and her mental issues.  Gladys, played by Susan Sarandon, is painted as a troubled woman with a dark story.  The movie sets this as the prime reason for Monroe’s troubled childhood.  She was an orphan for most of her childhood life and it is assumed that some of her own mental issues where a direct contribution from her mother.  In between bouts with her mom, her main caregiver was her aunt Grace McKee (Emily Watson) who raised her to be the model and actress that she slowly began to morph into, much to her real mother’s dismay.

via kinopoisk.ru

The first part of the biopic depicts Monroe’s childhood and the second part really starts to tell the tale of Monroe’s downward spiral thanks to her problems with men and drugs.  We see a lot of her relationship with retired Yankee Joe DiMaggio (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the problems that arose from the marriage.  We also see the relationship with playwright Arthur Miller (Stephan Bogaert) that also had its fair share of problems, including Monroe’s miscarriage.  Towards the end, we have a brief look at Monroe’s affair with President Kennedy, which I would have loved to seen explored more.  All of these things, along with her zealous use of prescription drugs, eventually leads to her death, which was a result of an overdose of barbiturates.  The movie ends in ambiguous fashion, showing Monroe take some pills before going to bed.  We are treated to one of the documentaries most touching scenes between Monroe and her mother on a beach, right around the time when Monroe was really starting to get noticed.  It’s what the young starlet always wanted, but the depressing scene makes us realize that you have to be careful about what you wish for.

via Mondo Moda
via Mondo Moda

In terms of Garner’s performance as the iconic figure, there are some things that could have been done better.  First off, she looked more like Kelli Garner than Marilyn Monroe herself.  I realize that finding an actress that matches the look of Monroe is quite a feat, but she did not always seem like the right fit.  With enough make up, she looked fine, but there were some points where I noticed she did not look quite right.  She also does an okay job at mimicking the actresses’ iconic voice, but at points Garner’s portrayal of the voice was almost overdone and exaggerated.  Monroe was always typecast as the “dumb blonde” (see her movies like Gentleman Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire) and Garner is bubbly and flirtatious, but to an extreme at different parts of the feature.

Although Garner’s performance could have been better, I really enjoyed the performances brought on by the supporting cast.  Emily Watson and Susan Sarandon did a wonderful job of playing Monroe’s closest family.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who played Joe DiMaggio, turned out to be one of my favorite characters from the feature.  The second part of the documentary really focuses on his dynamic character, a man jealous of Monroe’s fame.  He goes through a lot of emotions but ends up becoming the good guy by the end, one of the few people that was always there for the actress.

via Movie Newz
via Movie Newz

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe does not give us any new bits of information about Marilyn Monroe’s life, but it manages to keep things fresh with a story told through a different lenses.  I would not consider it a grade-a look at the troubled star’s life, marred by Garner’s portrayal of Monroe, but she does a serviceable job of telling one of the most intriguing, and maybe depressing, stories about the types of problems that come with living life in the lights of Hollywood.

secret life of monroe score

Review: Chris Brown & Tyga’s Fan of a Fan: The Album

via Hip Hop DX
via Hip Hop DX

Fan of a Fan: The Album (2015)

Chris Brown & Tyga

Rap / Hip-Hop / R&B

Label: RCA, Young Money, Cash Money, Republic, Roc Nation

Chris Brown and Tyga are two artists that really work well together in my opinion.  Even though they are different with their musical disciplines, they still share a common narcissistic attitude at times and they tend to complement each other when they are on the same track.  Surprisingly, up till this point, they haven’t collaborated together on an album.  With that being said, I had a lot of anticipation for what Fan of a Fan: The Album was going to be bringing to the table.  Now that the collaboration between the two has been released, I have to say that it was a disappointment.

There’s a plethora of tracks on the release, with some guest verses from the likes of Ty Dolla $ign, 50 Cent, Pusha T, Fat Trel, ScHoolboy Q, T.I., and Wale.  However, not even outside help could have made the album better.  It was just the thematic elements that were featured on the album that truly fell flat, and probably the lack of substance in the first place.

fan of a fan 1

You’ll find your fair share of songs about love, sex, women, and the party life.  That’s about it when it comes to substance on the album.  After song eight, they all just started to sound the same and it got boring to listen to.

There were two stand-out tracks that stood out the most.  “Ayo”, one of the few singles released of the album, had a nice beat and had the sound of a club anthem.  It was a good example of the great duo that Chris Brown and Tyga make.  The other song was “Better”, a largely reflective song about how the two could have been better in their relationships.  The only reason why it stood out to me is because it was a breath of fresh air from the sex-obsessed bangers on the rest of the album.

via Darbaculture
via Darbaculture

I also found it hard not to cringe with some of the lyrics on the album.  Lines like, “That’s my bae, she cook and clean and got it made / Handcuff like she a slave, touch ya, let ya tongue taste” seem overly distasteful.  Perhaps I should not be too surprised however, because both Chris Brown and Tyga are never afraid to hold back on their lyrics, but it just did not seem right.

With some production credits going to DJ Mustard and Nic Nac, I do have to say that some of the songs on the album sound pretty good, despite some of the gripes I have with them.  “Bitches N Marijuana” and the last track “Banjo” are two good examples of some great sounds from the album.

via hiphopstan.com
via hiphopstan.com

There is not too much else I can say about Fan of a Fan: The Album.  It had the potential to be a really fun and exciting romp with Chris Brown and Tyga, but it fell flat on a lot of levels.  Instead, it will most likely be banished into the fields of mediocrity, and I doubt the album will gain any traction with the fans.  It’s ironic that an album titled Fan of a Fan will most likely have a hard time finding any fans.

fan of a fan score