Does Role Selection Forge a Star?

By Daniel Lieberson

 

via the Hollywood Reporter

via the Hollywood Reporter

Celebrity actors are often risk takers that act, both on and off screen, in accordance to what the public wants of them. Others simply do not care what the public thinks and follow a career that is truly their own— molded not by global audiences, but rather their own desires and goals.

Kevin Spacey falls in the latter category. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter earlier this month, Spacey acknowledges the possibility of negative perception from the public. “People thought I was crazy when I moved to London and started a theater company,” he says. “People thought we were crazy when we made the Netflix deal for ‘House of Cards.’ ‘They’re out of their minds, it’ll never work.’ I’m used to people thinking I’m nuts. And you know what? I kind of love it.”

Spacey’s deviation from expectation does not stop there. The actor recently sent Woody Allen a letter with a pre-paid Netflix subscription in efforts to lobby for a role in a future picture. “Unless it’s Martin Scorsese, and it’s a really significant role, f— off,” he says. “I’m not playing someone’s brother. I’m not playing the station manager. I’m not playing the FCC chairman.”

Some might view his contempt for smaller parts as a burdensome dormancy. But by carefully choosing his roles and being solicitous only when needed, Spacey succeeds at maintaining a unique persona that differentiates him from other stars. He might not necessarily shine brighter than the other stars but he certainty radiates a unique color — one that cannot help but capture the attention of the wandering eye.

Nevertheless, there are countless stars that do not share Spacey’s stratagem of appearing only in the biggest of projects. Two actors that have both played Batman have taken this alternate route in variegating their agenda with a mixture of film genres, refusing to limit themselves to the blockbuster.

Without a doubt, George Clooney and Micheal Keaton are stars, but over the past decades have taken roles in several independent features. The two show us that A-list actors can have multiple areas of strength when it comes to subject field. In fact, Clooney was nominated for three best actor-Oscars for his work in “Micheal Clayton,” “Up in the Air” and “The Descendants,” all of which are not blockbusters.

Clooney has the ability to weave in and out of the blockbuster spotlight as he just appeared in “Gravity.” The actor’s choices of roles clearly show that stars can alternate between films with a drastically differing budget and appeal while maintaining their image. Robert Downey Jr. is another example of this phenomenon. The “Iron Man” star will appear in Jon Favreau’s new indie film “Chef.” Even Robert DeNiro falls into this category, as he seems to be taking any role that comes his way– even when he does not have the necessity to do so.

In our minds, the stars’ distance away from us heightens their power. To see a star play a powerless man or woman in ordinary circumstances does not work.  Thus, there is a very explicable reason why Leonardo DiCaprio will not be found in low-cost independent films. By doing so, he would demote himself, bringing himself closer to Earth – to reality. The fact that he solely exists in the highest budgeted films with the most acclaimed directors allows him to maintain his status as star. Even though we scarcely admit it, we all equate, albeit unconsciously, the characters actors play with their real-life personalities. Even to see DiCaprio act in the earlier scenes of “The Wolf of Wall Street” before his character lost humility and reserve, something seemed off. Smiling quietly as Matthew McConaughey lectured him, DiCaprio seemed too small with his character’s ethics intact– like a bull trapped inside a mouse’s body.

The title “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a fitting analog for DiCaprio, who is a lion-like figure in Hollywood. Even his name “Leo” brings up the connotation of the lion. His grandeur exists because the public only knows him through the extravagant roles he has played. While an actor like Clooney might be as talented or as financially successful as DiCaprio, Clooney is much closer to reality and in effect less of a star. The character on screen will always be inseparable from the actor.

Being a star does not necessarily equate to having talent. A star has an unparalleled state of eminence and one emerges when everything but their name on advertisements becomes immaterial. When those two or three words of their name unwillingly force the hand to reach towards the wallet, a star is born.

Daniel Lieberson  is a staff writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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Lykke Li Teases Fast-Approaching Album

By Jake Folsom

via Billboard

via Billboard

 

This week, Swedish alterna-pop diva Lykke Li has dropped several juicy new details of her forthcoming “I Never Learn” LP to be released May 5.

In addition to previously released tracks “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” and “No Rest for the Wicked,” Li has released a new song, “Gunshot,” and a collaboration with popular rap artist ASAP Rocky on a new version of the aforementioned single “No Rest for the Wicked.”

In the past, Li’s releases have tended toward more melodic fare, with catchy songs that could easily be used as commercial jingles; including “I’m Good I’m Gone” and “Little Bit,” which were both off her breakthrough debut, “Youth Novels.”

On the other hand, Lykke Li’s second release, “Wounded Rhymes” included the same pop sensibility, but it had a greater sense of melancholy.

Her third LP, “I Never Learn,” seems it is shaping up to be a natural step in a progression. It’s the heaviest, most emotive and melancholy of any of Lykke Li’s previous efforts.

As Billboard quotes her, in a piece where they describe the forthcoming “I Never Learn” as “devastating,” the Swedish pop star says:

“Where the first album is about wanting love, and then the second albums about not getting the love that you desire, I think this third album is about walking away and fucking up,” said Li to Billboard.

Indeed, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” a cut off the album that was teased back in March, reflects a Li who is more introspective and self-critical than ever. “Love Me…” a song that smacks of someone stewing over things; it has a slow sticky backing track and mournful, strained vocals that are emotionally taxing to listen to.

Of the tracks that were more recently teased, “Gunshot” and the album version of “No Rest for the Wicked” seem to indicate that the album will include more standard Lykke Li fare. They have mournful themes to their lyrics, as in songs like “Jerome” and “Sadness is a Blessing” off sophomore album “Wounded Rhymes,” but new cuts are also more musically similar to these tracks.

Like the above cuts off “Wounded Rhymes,” “Gunshot” and “No Rest for the Wicked” bop along with the sharply-produced electronic beats fans have come to expect from Li’s music — listening to songs like these, it’s easy to dance, but hard to keep a smile.

Fans wait eagerly to see the degree of Li’s transformation on “I Never Learn.”

Will most tracks on this album echo the poppy melancholy of “Gunshot” and “No Rest for the Wicked,” or will they be closer to the brutal gloom of “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone.”

One thing’s for sure, fans are lucky that this is a Spring release — Li’s poignant sadness would have been a harder pill to swallow three months ago in the Winter.

Jake Folsom is music editor. Write him at jfolsom@nyunews.com.

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“Mimi Malloy, At Last!”: Review

By Mary Hess

via Amazon

via Amazon

The coming-of-age tale is one that traditionally manifests itself in the form of adolescent struggle and growing pains. However, Julia MacDonnell’s newest book, “Mimi Malloy At Last,” takes a twist on this popular trope. MacDonnell has produced an unexpected narrative, proving that the growth and awkwardness that accompany growing up aren’t necessarily confined to the late teenage years.

This story revolves around Mimi Malloy, who has become a weathered, bitter grandmother, losing her beauty, husband and tight familial bond along the way. Mimi’s children and sisters want her in a retirement home, convinced that she is experiencing memory loss and senile tendencies. This strain from her family and her divorce from a greedy husband elicit a loss of vivacity in Mimi. It is only through her grandson’s genealogy project that she reluctantly becomes alive again, delving into her past and pushing through her foggy recollections.

She backtracks through difficult family memories, some of which she acknowledges for the first time through this exploration. In making sense of her past, Mimi has a chance to mend what time broke apart with her sisters and her daughters. As the girls piece together the mysteries of their childhood, they discover that perhaps repression, like Mimi has practiced, might have been best all along.

As an older woman much past her prime, Mimi still experiences many of the pivotal experiences of the teenage life, including a romantic interest and all the embarrassing actions that come with new love. Even the tone of her first-person dialogue and thought processes is naïve and fueled with attitude — she seems immature, which comes as a strange juxtaposition to the typical grandmother.

MacDonnell ensures through this vivid style that her sixty-something protagonist maintains the cynicism and vulnerability of a teenager battling the emotional throes of adolescence. Mimi’s coming-of-age proves necessary but belated, as her teenage self never had the opportunity to develop. For this reason she gets to grow up again, even in old age — a refreshing change that stands out amongst similar stories.

Although this quick read seems lighthearted at first, the more Mimi delves into her past, uncovering her family’s interests in Irish mysticism, the more tragic the plot becomes, changing the disposition of the story halfway through. It is a sudden and stark difference, which may be to some readers’ dismay, but this development crystallizes Mimi’s own journey of growth.

MacDonnell’s balance of humor and disaster in her book proves that growing up contains some of the most trying and yet some of the most entertaining moments of life, which we find with Mimi Malloy, who through it all can come full circle after decades of waiting.

Mary Hess is a contributing writer. Email her at books@nyunews.com.

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Flume and Chainsmokers Play Highline

By Blair Cannon

Image via Facebook

Image via Facebook

Flume and The Chainsmokers’ show at the Highline Ballroom last Monday night was, if anything more than a concert, a crystal clear reflection of our generation’s obsession with the popular and overrated culture of music festivals and fast-paced electronic dance music.

The ambiance could best be described as Coachella, if Coachella were uprooted and placed indoors. High school kids clad in tank tops of the neon variety, inexplicably wearing fake glasses (also neon), and almost all sporting snapbacks (a single bucket hat was lost among the crowd) sang along lyric by lyric to live remixes they’d clearly heard a million times.

The Chainsmokers, a New York City-turned-Calgary electronic DJ duo, opened the night feeding all the right lines and playing all the right cards with their very modern-age audience. Their notorious song “#SELFIE,” which was released in January of this year is a suffocating parody of the phenomenon dubbed selfie-ism, the incessant need to photograph oneself that becomes an epidemic at music festivals like this weekend’s Coachella.

Concert goers took periodic breaks from fist pumping and arm flapping to divulge in the obligatory selfie(s), typically with tongues purposefully stuck out or hands twisted into backwards peace signs over the face. The Chainsmokers even helped out by throwing cardboard frames with the infamous song title printed on them like frisbees into the Instagram prop-hungry crowd. I will admit that I was worried, to say the least, upon observing the middle-school dance ambiance and overly-hype yet diluted raver qualities that the crowd seemed to possess.

Nevertheless, Flume’s performance was in equal parts a success and a relief. The 22 year-old Australian DJ, fresh off the plane from Indio, charmed the crowd and took the vibes down a notch with his slower, more indie-inspired sounds.

He played all the crowd-pleasers, from “Holdin On” to “Left Alone” (which features Chet Faker), to “Insane” (which features Moon Holiday and Killer Mike), and the average age of the audience members seemed to surreptitiously go up. Flume’s set was true to the established tracks on his studio album, especially during the more popular songs, during which it would have been both difficult and disappointing to deviate a substantial amount. However, he did take some artistic liberty with the set, even though he primarily played it safe with his own music and established remixes—with the exception of his remix of “Tennis Court” by Lorde.

The up-and-coming DJ had the relatively typical graphics of an EDM artist, which ranged from intertwining silhouettes of cactus-esque plants to clouds of colored smoke—a significant shift from The Chainsmoker’s nonsensical dancing lobsters and lemon slices.

Flume’s set also provided the experience desired by the more interested and experienced concert goer, the type who goes to shows for the music, and maybe gets wasted in the process—not the other way around.

Blair Cannon is a staff writer. Email her at music@nyunews.com.

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Brit Concerts: Week of 4/14

By Brian Capuder

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This week’s concerts featured two British invasion artists—the no longer relevant Summer Camp at Mercury Lounge on Monday and the heating-up Dan Croll at the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday.

The contrast in popularity was completely apparent as Summer Camp played at the much smaller Mercury Lounge and Dan Croll sold out the larger Bowery Ballroom. Croll had a larger North American tour than Summer Camp’s tiny four date tour. Summer Camp fell out of favor after releasing a very hyped album in 2011 called “Welcome to Condale”. It was diverse and combined 60s pop with dark 80s synth in a way that was very inventive. 2013 follow up “Summer Camp” had much less press and was much more forgettable. Dan Croll just released his debut album “Sweet Disarray” which contains several tracks that were number one singles on hypemachine. Given that Croll is where Summer Camp was a few years ago, it’ll be interesting to see if their careers end up in a similar place.

Summer Camp’s set on Monday was somewhat boring to watch. Summer Camp is comprised solely of Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey (who are married). They have great onstage chemistry but the prerecorded backing tracks have most of the interesting parts of their songs so the live performance is bound to be lackluster.

The duo have funny banter and were definitely danceable but the lack of a performance meant concertgoers did not have anywhere to really occupy their eyes. Summer Camp was joined by the drummer of local band Lazer Cake (Robby Sinclair). Sinclair was a godsend to the performance as he was always entertaining to watch and had a look about him like he could not conceive of a better life than the one he was living. Sinclair became the focal point of the performance, and he’s not even in the band.

Dan Croll suffered from a similar lack of performance. Not to be misconstrued, many of the tracks Croll played sounded like they were straight off the album so they sounded great, but the set lacked energy. Part of this is the album which is full of music that is interesting, but starts to get boring if unchanged for a while. If Croll had more rock and less awkward synth on his tracks, they would almost sound similar to Vampire Weekend given their easy to spot similarity in African influences.

Certain songs stuck out over the others such as “Can You Hear Me?” which Croll described as the song his mother didn’t approve of (because it draws from sounds of rap music) which was a great change of pace in the middle of an all too similar sounding set. First song of the encore “From Nowhere” is easily Croll’s best, its danceable and catchy and had the crowd more involved than any of the other tracks.

If Dan Croll wants to avoid the irrelevant fate of Summer Camp, then he might want to step up his concert performances.

Brian Capuder is a contributing writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com.

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“Transcendence”: Interview with Director Wally Pfister

By Mohamed Hassan

via Collider

via Collider

Oscar-winning cinematographer and long time friend of Christopher Nolan, Wally Pfister, joins the rank of director with his directorial debut, “Transcendence”. “Transcendence” debates the question, “Do computers pose a threat if they are given the capacity to not only think but feel?” with cast members such as Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, and Morgan Freeman at the helm.

In a conference call with WSN, Pfister spoke about the process of filming “Transcendence” and making the transition from cinematographer to director.

“What you’ll find in life is that everything you do kind of contributes to what you do later on,” Pfister said.

Pfister spoke a little about what separates “Transcendence” from others films that explore artificial intelligence.

“We are talking about an actual human consciousness living in this machine rather than something completely artificial. So that makes it a little slightly different and I think that also sets off the emotional journal,” Pfister said.

“The idea is to question whether in fact this machine that sent in, if it contains the actual soul of this particular person.”

Pfister talked a little about the research he did in order to complete the film.

“I went to visit MIT and talk to professors in the field of nanotechnology and in neurobiologies and robotics, and even in the media lab to look at some of their projections and get ideas for of projections and hologram. I landed on two professors at Berkeley, one in neurobiology and the other one in nanotechnology who became the kind of full time consultants on the film and were involved in sort of every stage of vetting the science and the medical applications in the film.”

Pfister explained the process of transitioning from a cinematographer to his current roles as a new director and the challenges he faced along the way.

“I think I always had the goal, you know, of wanting to direct something myself. But you know, as I started to get more successful as a cinematographer, I started thinking about it more and, you know, you want to try different things in life,” he said.

“The greatest challenge was also one of the most enlightening, wonderful, fun things, which was directing actors and delving in the performance for the first time. As a director you are suddenly playing the role of psychologist for the first time whereas as a cinematographer, it’s just really about telling stories with images.”

Over his many years as a cinematographer, Pfister has worked with quite a few directors, notably Christopher Nolan, and has amassed a significant amount of box office successes including “Inception”, “Moneyball”, and “The Dark Knight”. Pfister reflected on what he learned from his experiences as a cinematographer.

“You know, you’ve learned a little bit from everybody and really, one of the great things about Christopher Nolan is his discipline on the set and you know, to observe somebody who really considers every minute of your set time to be precious is really something else,” he said.

Transcendence is filmed in a very unique way where the film’s statement is really embedded in its characters rather than the film itself and Pfister took some time to brief us on why it was shot in that way.

“There is no statement being made by the director and that’s what sort of important to me in this, is people look for statements, people also look for good guys and bad guys and there are no definite good guys and bad guys in this film,” he said.

“In terms of any statement, I think that it’s really the characters who make the statements and I think that what we see from the character of Evelyn is that her hope is that technology will be used for the betterment of mankind.”

Mohamed Hassan is a staff writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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Season One, Episode Six: “Snaring of the Sun”

By Zack Grullon

via SundanceTV

via SundanceTV

The cassette tapes. The death of Jean’s brother. The anger towards the Native Americans. The reoccurring motif of drowning. How does it all add up in the finale?

 

In an extended (and convenient) flashback in the beginning of the episode, it turns out that Harold was with Jean’s brother when the latter drowned in a lake. For almost twenty years, Jean thought it was Philip and his no-good Native American friends that did the heinous crime. Why Jean’s brother decided to swim into the lake is unclear. At first, you would think it is suicide, but he mentions about escaping in a cassette tape that was found at the scene of the crime of the missing NYU student.

 

Something else that is interesting was Philip’s relationship with Jean that sort of comes out of the blue. Not to mention how cheesy the episode displays it when Jean visits Philip and the two have a romantic walk through the fields. Then they make out passionately – enhanced by a 360 tracking shot around them. Then for some reason, when Jean tells Philip that she knew about how he was not involved with her brother’s death, Philip becomes angry because he feels that he would not have to had leave his home town that he loved so dearly. All of it is a little confusing, but perhaps more of this will come up in the next season.

 

Something else that caused confusion was to what degree Philip had to lay low after not delivering the drugs to a gang that threatened his life. Philip tells Junior to take a blind eye if anybody asks about him and gives Junior the gun for protection. However, Philip later visits the Jensen’s household to scare the younger daughter for no real apparent reason. Sloppy writing of this sort always seems to occur in season finales.

 

However, the real question is does the finale have a payoff? If harsh shootouts where certain people are conveniently present in certain areas is considered a strong ending, then maybe. Jack confronts Philip for ratting him out to the police, but how did Jack know that Philip would be at Marie’s place? The assumption would be that Jack was following Philip, but the episode really did not make it clear enough. And how was Junior there as well other than for the sole purpose to be someone to shoot Jack with the gun that Philip gave him earlier in the episode. That whole plot point felt rushed just to have Philip leave the picture, considering that the show is juggling more characters than it can handle at points.

 

In the final shootout with Philip and Harold against a bunch of gang members that Philip wronged, the show finally makes the promise that there will be more of Philip and Harold having to work together in a scenario that is worse than a Native American boy getting hit by a car. That sort of reluctant teamwork is something that the show runners should explore in the next season – if there is one.

Zack Grullon is a staff writer. Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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