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Charli XCX’s new album ‘Sucker’ wild mix of punk, pop

Although Charli XCX may not have been a household name until recently, she has been making waves in the music scene for well over a year. The 22 year-old Brit’s journey began in 2012 burst onto the pop scene via a guest spot on Icona Pop’s chart-topping hit “I Love It,” which she also co-wrote.

Her stardom slowly began to proliferate as she appeared on the chorus for “Fancy” with Iggy Azalea, but this didn’t exactly win her time in the spotlight quite yet. Finally, her song for “The Fault in Our Stars” soundtrack, “Boom Clap,” was played nonstop on the radio. The ‘Fancy’ singer proves she can bring just as much if not more fun to pop music on ‘Sucker’ without any celebrity assistance.

Sucker begins with songs “Sucker,” “Break the Rules,” and “London Queen” which all accentuate her punk side whereas the rest of the album becomes increasingly more pop-focused. Her pop-punk duality has been hammered into fans’ heads after she performed pop hit “Boom Clap” and more edgy punk “Break the Rules” on the American Music Awards and Saturday Night Live in respectively pop and punk-themed outfits.

“London Queen,” inspired by the Ramones, details XCX’s journey from London to the United States in an upbeat, but cliché way and doesn’t gain the approval of punk fans.

The song that stands out most is her newly released single “Breaking Up.” It’s a retro, cosmic bowling themed video for a song that makes breaking up look easy, if not enjoyable. Warning: this song may very easily become stuck in your head the rest of the week after just one listen, but that’s not a bad thing. XCX acts out a revenge fantasy singing “Everything was wrong with you/ so breaking up was easy to do.”

Charli XCX is known to be a strong feminist, which shows up most clearly on “Body of My Own.” Another song not to miss is “Famous” featuring Greg Kurstin. It is surprisingly the only song on the album with a guest feature, but Charli is a powerful performer who pulls her weight incredibly. This track has a retro pop sound but is simultaneously the one track most calling for an EDM remix.

Weezer influences can be heard throughout “Hanging Around.” Charli worked with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo on the track and it is a more of a rock anthem. “Caught in the Middle” is a slower song on an album of glittery, bubbly pop songs, but holds its own with a catchy hook, “Our hearts got caught in the middle/caught in the middle of love.”

By the time “Need Ur Luv” comes around closing up the album, it’s easy to see that each and every song on the album is strong enough to be its own single with the exception of superficial “Gold Coins” about the joys of wealth.

Her sound has changed a lot since her debut album “True Romance” and while some will say she’s “sold out” since gaining entrance to fame, I think she’s simply matured. Although this album is sure to break some sales records, she stays out of the mainstream world with her unique personality, style, and the pop-punk dichotomy of her sound.

Now due to her growing fame, the world gets to see more of who she really is now that she isn’t hiding behind synths and hazy production. While she used to tour singing over beats from her computer, she toured with a live all-female band for “Sucker.”

Charli XCX is going to be around for a while making fun pop music due to both her singing and songwriting skills. She has contributed to Rihanna’s upcoming album as well as Iggy Azalea’s new single “Beg for it.” Although “Sucker” in all its immense glittery pop wonderfulness will hold me over for a while, I can’t wait to see what she’ll come up with next.
(Photo Courtesy of Flickr)

*Published in the Roosevelt University, Torch, 2013.

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‘Nightcrawler’ challenges future of journalistic integrity

It is said that credibility is a journalist’s greatest asset. However, an exception can be made for network news stations.

“Nightcrawler,” directed by Dan Gilroy, is a film that explores the world of freelance crime journalism. The main character Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, draws the audience into his intelligent, devious mind from the start.

At the beginning of the film, Bloom seems lost in life. He steals and sells scrap metal and lives in a small apartment where he spends most of his time on his computer or watching television news. Then randomly, after a chance encounter on his drive home, he decides to learn the ropes of crime journalism.

After selling his first piece of footage to a TV news station, KWLA, Bloom becomes increasingly confident and ambitious and uses his knowledge of business and negotiation skills to rise up in the company. Bloom, when employers or authority are present, speaks very charismatically and infiltrates KWLA by manipulating Nina, KWLA’s news director.

He admits to Nina he did not receive much formal education, but finds most of his information online. Bloom’s existence in today’s highly connected world contrasts his detached and callous personality. He’s all business and no casual: the type of guy who could research comedians’ jokes all day but not know to laugh when they tell the punch line.

From this point on, Bloom begins to blur the lines between witnessing and participating. He forms his own company, Video Production News and continues to provoke questions about journalism ethics. By the end of the film, he is no longer an underdog in a big business but a daring mastermind in a business he’s gained much control over.

Even when Bloom blatantly violates ethical codes of journalism, there is something oddly likeable about him. He receives sympathy due to his social awkwardness, which makes him appear lonely looking for a human interaction and his clear passion for news reporting. However, Bloom’s surface insecurities are nothing more than a ploy to expose and take advantage of others’ weaknesses.

The film’s score works to add a satirically humorous tone at times which helps create a feeling of unease. One cannot help but crack a nervous smile when music suitable for a daytime soap opera is cued up over Bloom’s thoughtless final words to a dying colleague.

Overall, the film, in particular the ending, presents a cynical view of present day media as well as a negative forecast for the future of media where journalists completely forget morality and are in constant conflict with the police.

Bloom’s ominous last words, “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself” to his newly hired staff, foreshadows a vicious cycle as a new crop of corrupted and amoral journalists are birthed.

*Published in the Roosevelt University, Torch, 2013.

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Offbeat comedy “Frank” takes unsettling turn

“Frank” is an offbeat British comedy that follows a character based off of 80s musician Chris Sievey who donned a papier-mâché head and performed as “Frank Sidebottom.” Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a wannabe musician who seizes an opening for a keyboardist with Frank’s eccentric pop band The Soronprfbs. The original music is exceptionally memorable and only adds to the likability of the group.

Each band member has their own oddity which creates an entertaining dynamic within the group when they move into an isolated cabin to record an album. Frank, played by Michael Fassbender, is kind and charming while Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, Clara, is extremely malicious to Jon throughout the film in a comedic manner. The other band members speak mostly amongst themselves in French. It succeeds in producing engaging dark comedy even through onscreen deaths and relationship turmoil.

Towards the end of the film however, it changes from a fun comedy into a dramatic film where suddenly our protagonist Jon is the villain and the trouble-making band members are the victims. After Jon posted videos of the band online looking for fame and helped Frank to find a more radio-friendly sound, it turns out he was only seeking glory for himself. His total destruction of the band comes at an unforgettably disastrous SXSW performance that would put Ashley Simpson’s infamous lip-syncing debacle to shame, ending with Frank’s panic attack.

Following Frank’s breakdown, the film continues to change in tone abruptly and drastically. Frank, the character that the audience has laughed at and been wonderfully confused by the whole film suddenly leaves us feeling melancholy, conflicted, and oddly guilty when it is revealed plainly that he is suffering from a mental illness.

The biggest flaw in “Frank” is the directorial decision to remove the title character’s head and reveal onscreen the man’s true features. It puts a face on the enigmatic anti-hero and brings him down to human status, which he seemed to ascend when he wore the mask. Previously, the audience had grown to love the quirky, kind and sincere character but once he is revealed we are forced to see him in a completely different light, as a mental health patient. It forces you to look back at scenes and re-evaluate them in an unpleasant and uneasy way. Frank goes from a colorful, wacky eccentric to a glum loner suffering from what appears to be a form of Autism. Nevertheless director Lenny Abrahamson succeeded in creating an outlandish and unique Indie film.

*Published in the Roosevelt University, Torch, 2013.

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Coming of Age Film “Boyhood” Claims Summer Spotlight

The best movie released this summer was not big budget blockbusters like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Lucy” but a film that was over 12 years in the making. “Boyhood” directed by Richard Linklater portrays the life of a young boy, Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, from ages 5 to 18. Throughout the film, viewers see the evolution of a family with Mason’s father played by Ethan Hawke, mother played by Patricia Arquette, and sister played by the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater.

Despite the big stars cast in the film, it often felt like watching someone else’s brilliantly shot home videos instead of a Hollywood movie because the moments are so life-like and genuine. Linklater proves himself once again to be a pioneer of the film industry. He previously demonstrating his prowess with films such as “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly” in which he traced over live action scenes with colorful 3D animation, but “Boyhood” is without a doubt his masterpiece.

He has captured human life unlike any other movie in cinema history as the audience witnesses the literal transformation of one child’s journey to adulthood right before their eyes. The script omits exaggerated plot twists and tedious melodrama, opting instead for sincere person-to-person dialogue and narrative that just as easily could have been the boy’s actual experiences.

What is even more astounding was Linklater’s ability to continue making other feature length films over the lengthy filming period without interfering with this project. Linklater shot this film by gathering up the cast once every year for 12 years and would then shoot 3-4 days each time. That being said, it flows smoothly and Linklater manages to place the pieces together so realistically that Mason’s aging isn’t jarring.

The soundtrack ages in time with the film featuring many cultural references from the past. Viewers will be drawn back to the first time they heard the tracks including “Soak up the Sun” by Sheryl Crow, “Oops I Did It Again” by Britney Spears and “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” by Soulja Boy.

The film is 165 minutes long but doesn’t feel like it due to viewers’ unavoidable emotional investments in Mason. Audiences are bound to feel the nostalgia oozing off the screen regardless of age or gender because the film incorporates universal milestones of growing up while Ellar Coltrane literally grows up before our eyes on screen. As sentimental as it is, it portrays both the good, bad, and ugly parts of growing up without sugarcoating. Linklater effectively managed to create a relatable coming of age film that manages to avoid clichés and radiate authenticity.

*Published in the Roosevelt University Torch, 2013.

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‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ is Anderson’s Best Film Yet

Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel trails the adventures of Gustave H. and Zero Moustafa, a concierge and a lobby boy, respectively at a famous European hotel. The backdrop of the story is the 1930s with the hotel located between fictional countries at war, reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s overtaking of Europe.

The plot revolves around a priceless Renaissance painting titled “Boy with Apple” and a great family inheritance. When the sole proprietor of the aforementioned riches is murdered, the movie follows the protagonists’ escpades in a tale of whodunit. The story, based on writings from Austrian novelist, Stefan Zweig, works well as a frame narrative with an older Zero Moustafa retelling his life’s story to a young writer played by Jude Law. It breaks through genre barriers including elements of an adventure film and a comedy with moments of gravity.

Anderson incites the help of several familiar faces to round out his cast.  Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, and Willem Dafoe, all usual suspects in Anderson’s films, reappear, some for rather short cameos, as quirky and signature characters brought to life by the inventive director.

Ralph Fiennes as Gustave shows impeccable timing in his delivery of lines producing genuine laughs and exceptional entertainment. Tony Revolori, as younger Zero and Gustave’s protégé, complements Gustave’s whimsical personality with his serious demeanor. As the story develops, so does a romance between Zero and Agatha, another hotel employee played by Saoirse Ronan. Due to a large amount of foreshadowing and voiceovers by older Zero telling the story, the audience already had an idea of how the relationship would come to an end.

Almost immediately viewers are captured through Anderson’s gorgeous, brilliant color schemes and meticulously designed sets. The hotel unfortunately does not actually exist but was based off of several luxury hotels in Europe. The exterior shots were done using a miniature model while the interior shots were filmed in an abandoned department store in Germany.

The soundtrack stood out as typical Anderson in some ways but entirely new in others. It features original music by Alexandre Desplat, who also worked on Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr. Fox with Anderson. The harpsichord on “Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings I. Moderato” is reminiscent of several other Anderson films but a few songs that differ would include “Last Will and Testament” featuring church organs and “Up the Stairs / Down the Hall,” which sounds like something you’d hear when opening a music box.

Overall, Grand Budapest Hotel is quintessential Anderson in that the visual elements are oozing nostalgia while oddball characters banter and bicker to create an entertaining and imaginative world that seems to come straight from Anderson’s mind. However, it is not typical for his tales to carry a serious undertone as this film skillfully does and that is what makes it Anderson’s best film yet.

*Published in Roosevelt University’s Torch, 2014.


Katy Perry ‘PRISM’ Album Review

“PRISM” is Katy Perry’s fourth album, featuring her already popular singles “Roar” and “Dark Horse.”

The album begins with “Roar,” a poppy and catchy song that reminds listeners of several others of Perry’s past songs. The lyrics represent yet another tale of breaking free and letting her voice be heard, a theme that is very overdone in popular music.

The video, however, is more entertaining and corresponds with Katy’s signature style when she embodies a tiger’s strength and dons a cheetah print bikini top and bottoms seemingly made from grass and plants.

Next, “Legendary Lovers” features interesting lyrics such as “Under a silver moon, tropical temperatureI feel my lotus bloom, come closer. I want your energy, I want your aura.You are my destiny, my mantra,” but the hook feels rushed and throws off the flow of the song.

However, Perry overcomes this small issue when tribal sounding drums pick up and background vocals contribute a unique sound to a song that is pretty typical of Perry otherwise.

“Birthday” is the newest song that will be added to everyone’s birthday party playlists. It’s an up-tempo song about everything birthday celebration related put into flirty Katy lyrics. It’s surprising that no one has made a song like this before. Props to Katy.

“Walking On Air” is surely the next song to be played repeatedly on all the radio stations and promises to become old quickly by its repetitive lyrics. It repeats “Tonight, tonight, tonight, I’m walking on air, tonight, tonight, tonight, I’m walking on air” and features an 80s themed beat and background vocals.

“Unconditionally” is a seemingly heartfelt love song and shows listeners a side of Perry people haven’t seen since before her split with Russell Brand.

“Dark Horse” is one of the best songs on “PRISM” because not only does Perry feature a trap music song on her album but she also adds rapper Juicy J on it. With trap becoming more popular, Katy was smart as an artist to adopt it right at its beginning.

The beat doesn’t sound like anything done recently in pop but more so resembles a rap beat and she sings flawlessly over it. Juicy J’s verse is not his best work but ends strong with “Her love is like a drug, I was trying to hit it and quit it but Lil Mama so dope I messed around and got addicted.”

“This Is How We Do” is a feel good song good for listening to in the car with the top down. It seems like this would have worked better as a summer release with party anthem lyrics like “This is how we do, yeah, chilling, laid back. Straight stunting yeah we do it like that. This is how we do, do, do, do, do. This is how we do.”

At one point when the song seems ready to end, Katy says, “Bring the beat back” and it doesn’t work well with the song. Listeners will wish it had just faded out instead of listening to Katy’s fake MC talk.

“International Smile” talks about a girl with “Flowers in her hair, she don’t care. Peach pink lips, yeah, everybody stares. You think you’ve seen her in a magazine, it’s like she walked right out of your dreams.” The entire song basically describes a Hollywood “It-Girl” and will remind listeners of Perry’s “California Gurls.”

“Ghost” is a song with a mellow dance beat about losing someone close. Perry sings, “When I look back never would have known that you could be so cold, like a stranger vanish like a vapor. There’s just an echo where your heart used to be.” The dance beat seems to trivialize the emotional lyrics and it ends up being confusing about her intended meaning.

“Love Me,” conveys a much-needed message about the importance of loving ourselves. Many young women can probably relate to her lyrics like “Sometimes I wish my skin was a costumethat I could just unzip, and strip, but who I am is who I’m meant to be.” She follows through with a very genuine denunciation of insecurities and second-guessing.

“This Moment” is another good reminder for most people. Perry advises listeners to live in the moment and “don’t let the clock tell you what to do” and “don’t miss and blink.” In a workaholic culture revolving around time, this is an important message that may be missed through the typical pop song sound.

“Double Rainbow” is a love song that speaks about how people are unique like double rainbows. She sings “They say one man’s trash is another girl’s treasure.So if it’s up to me, I’m going to keep you forever’cause I understand you, we see eye to eyelike a double rainbow in the sky.” Although all of these songs are typical Katy Perry songs and impossible to imagine them belonging to any other artist, most of them don’t show any progression or change to her work.

“By The Grace Of God” is the most honest, sincere song of Katy’s career, once again reminiscing a breakup. She sings “By the grace of God (There was no other way), I picked myself back up (I knew I had to stay), I put one foot in front of the other and I looked in the mirror and decided to stay, wasn’t going to let love take me out that way.” In this song, listeners see the part of Perry that is learning and growing as a person from her experiences in love.

“Spiritual” is a song about spirits, spells, and charms where Perry sings, “This is spiritual, under your spell. Phenomenal, the way you make me feel. like an angel, oh, at blow, like a feather, you make me float.” It resembles several songs that have been done before and leaves listeners disappointed.

“It Takes Two” describes how there are two sides to every story. Listeners notice once again Perry seems to be growing up and taking blame for half of a breakup. She admits to not being completely innocent and even apologizes to someone.

“Choose Your Battles” is a fairly mellow song about choosing battles in a relationship and Perry says, “I’m not fighting anymore.” It is another song that doesn’t differ enough from her usual style to leave any type of impression on listeners.

Overall, the album includes many more catchy songs that are sure to become popular but Perry lacks progression as an artist. Although most of the lyrics are her usual sugar-coated pop lyrics, there are a few times she delves deep into her personal life and that is definitely something listeners want to see more of.

Additionally, she hasn’t tried many new things here, but listeners should commend “Dark Horse” as a step outside her musical boundaries and it turned out to be a big success. Hopefully on Perry’s next album listeners will see more of these changes and less of insubstantial songs like “Walking On Air.”

*Published on USC’s Neon Tommy website.