Somewhere in between trips to SXSW and appearances at the Comedy Central roast of Justin Bieber, Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, the stars of Warner Brothers’ new comedy Get Hard sat down with a group of college reporters to discuss the film.
Ferrell and Hart were both predictably charming and affable, cracking jokes between themselves, lauding praise on first-time director Etan Cohen, and responding to questions covering a breadth of topics.
In a sense, they compose themselves in much the same way throughout the film — this is not Ferrell or Hart at their most brash, both turning in performances that are about what you’d expect from them at this stage in their careers. Unfortunately, this laissez-faire approach ends up hurting the movie more than it helps it. Hart in particular is likable as the emotional center of the film, but neither star is able to elevate the movie beyond its rather odious premise: Successful hedge-fund manager James King (Ferrell) is convicted of a series of embezzlement and fraud charges and sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security lockup. Because his thoughts immediately turn to an inability to handle 10 years of prison-rape, he offers his car washer Darnell (Hart) $30,000 in exchange for a month of prison readiness training, based on the assumption that Darnell had spent time in prison. (When Darnell tells his wife about the new arrangement, she presses him for more explanation on where that assumption comes from: “I was being black,” he responds). And that, sadly, is where most of the film’s humor come from.
This is the kind of movie where one type of joke is hammered into your skull so many times you almost give up questioning the setup out of pure exhaustion. If you wanted to know how King, who we’re repeatedly told is brilliant (he holds a degree from Harvard Business School and makes partner at his investment company) is dumb enough to make repeated assumptions and continually mis-read social cues, you’re going to have a tough time digging through ethnic and rape jokes to find an answer. A trip to a gay hookup spot designed to teach King how to properly fellate a fellow inmate (because, the film reasons, this will prevent him from being raped) similarly relies on gay-panic humor and a full-frontal semi-erect penis as a sight gag.
It’s not all that bad, however. Ferrell’s hilariously white-collar prison-yard trash talk (“I hope you brought your rewards card, because the 8th d*** is free!”, “I’m about to put a hashtag on your a** and see how many hits it gets”) and backhanded snipes at Yale offer occasional glimpses of what could be an original take on the setup — but too often the film tosses these ideas aside in favor of easy jokes about people of color, rape, and homosexuality.
You get a sense that Cohen had some legitimate social issues on his mind when making the film; the opening credit sequence shows the disparity in basic living conditions between LA’s wealthy and poor, the ostensible “villain” of the film is a disgustingly wealthy billionaire who buys an entire island as a tax shelter, and King misses the irony in claiming he “never asked for handouts” despite being born to a wealthy family. But nobody involved seems interested in making that kind of movie (Hart and Ferrell, for their part, entertained questions about the prison system and their preparation for the roles, but their responses indicate that research was not a big part of their process). Cohen is ultimately more interested in winding up his two stars and letting them play with the material. They’re undoubtedly a great comic pair — you can’t help but smiling every time 6’3” Ferrell physically lifts the 5’4” Hart — but in the end, they’re underserved by the script (also by Cohen, along with Jay Martel and Ian Roberts) which settles for a tone that wouldn’t be out of place in any Adam Sandler movie from the 1990s.
And in the end, this is a Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart movie from the 2010s — at this point, we should know what to expect.
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So what was your excuse for not being at The Sinclair Wednesday night, March 25th? The freezing rain just before the 7pm opening of the doors? You still can’t tell if your car is under that pile of snow on the right-hand side of the street or under the one on the left? Whatever your excuse, you’ll soon realize it wasn’t enough after the number of people you come across in the next day or two who rave about the show.
Headlining the show was Big Data, who are coming off the release of their first full-length, 2.0, on March 23rd. Big Data is the brainchild of Manhattan native Alan Wilkis, who now resides in Brooklyn along with the rest of the band, and features the accompanying, siren-sultry vocals of Lizzy Ryan.
Wilkis describes the band name and the focus of the lyrical themes as, “A paranoid electronic music project from the internet, formed out of a general distrust for technology and The Cloud (despite a growing dependence on them).” I had a chance to speak with Wilkis after the show and he elaborated on the concept a little more:
“All the songs are about or inspired by stuff happening in technology…paranoia, privacy, freedom, Edward Snowden, social media. I work with a different vocalist on every song on the recordings and with each person I work with we try to pick some topic and that’s always the jumping off point, but then we try to frame it in the way that you could read it as a pop song, albeit a weird pop song but a pop song, but if you look for it, the double entendres and technological references are in there. You don’t have to read it that way but you can.” Asked about the track, “Business Of Emotion (feat. White Sea),” Wilkis went on to explain, “That was about the Facebook mood experiments that went on in 2013 and popped up in the media in the summer of 2014. Basically what happened was, Facebook conducted an experiment on 700,000 people without their knowing it and the way it worked was that for half of them, for a week, more positive things were showing up in their news feeds and the other half they skewed it a bit more negatively. [Facebook] then recorded what people were then more likely to post in the following week and … people that saw more negative stuff were basically more depressed. So what is basically a big, giant mood manipulation experiment, without anybody’s consent, at least openly, but technically just by signing up for Facebook, they can do whatever they want with you because it’s all buried in the terms of service. Nobody was ‘hurt’ in the process but it’s just sort of horrible knowing that it’s possible…and opens a lot of scary doors that we probably should’ve seen coming.”
Wilkis says that if you don’t know the story behind that song, “It could [sound like] just a generic, stupid, make-you-feel-good song, but it’s very much not about that.” Appropriately enough, Big Data included a great cover of Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes” which, if they ever release, I will be the first in line to purchase.
2.0, released by Warner Bros., features their standout hit from 2014, “Dangerous (feat. Joywave),” which Wilkis co-wrote with Joywave frontman Daniel Armbruster. Dangerous hit number one on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart in August 2014 and was featured in an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, accompanied by Joywave. As Wilkis mentioned above, just about all of the tracks feature guest artists, including Twin Shadow and Jamie Lidell. The music can be described as electro-rock with a rhythm section given as much, if not more, emphasis as the synth/computer loops. Two other previously released EPs from Big Data are 2013’s 1.0 on Alan Wilkis’ own Wilcassettes label and 2014’s 1.6, on Warner Bros., which features remixes of “Dangerous”.
The second act featured Minneapolis’ ON AND ON. Their moody-pop synth and guitar rock sound kept you fixated while offering a bit of a change between the first and second acts. Their 2013 debut, Give In, on Roll Call Records, continues to get the attention it deserves, and the crowd’s reaction is all the proof you need. Visit their website to learn more, and check out their single “Ghosts”:
Brooklyn’s CHAPPO kicked off the night and helped thaw the crowd with a jumpy and interactive pop, psych-rock sound. Lead singer Alex explained to me his take on the genre-labeling of the band after the show.
“I feel like we get a lot of, ‘It’s hard to pin you guys down, you have a distinct sound, your own thing.’ I’m sure that’s with every band and every genre in some form or another but we sort of lean towards psychedelic rock. I don’t know, it’s got a little ’60s surf-rock meets a little ’70s psych and we throw in a little straight-up rock and a little electronic pop.” I was pleased to hear that, if only for vindicating the first thing that popped into my mind when I heard his unique voice for the first time. Immediately I thought of David Diamond, lead singer of the ’70s rock band The Kings, probably best remembered for their huge hit, “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide” from 1980. If you’re still unfamiliar then you know your extracurricular assignment for the day. Unlike The Kings, who were a one-hit wonder, CHAPPO is a band you are bound to continue hearing about.
Their second album, Future Former Self, is to be released on May 9th on Votive Music. Their debut, Moonwater, was released in 2012 on Majordomo Records. Alex also mentioned the handful of EPs floating around on Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Spotify.
Here’s a catchy number from their Moonwater LP, “Come Home” that has passed 300,000 hits on YouTube.
Rosewater tells the true story of journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal), an Iranian national working for Newsweek Magazine covering the 2009 presidential elections in Iran. While covering the civil unrest that follows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, Bahari is arrested and taken to the infamous Evin Prison. What follows is an intensely personal examination of the 118 days Bahari spent in prison, repeatedly interrogated by a government “specialist” played by Kim Bodnia.
Bahari’s memior, Then They Came for Me serves as the basis for the screenplay written by Jon Stewart (this is both his first time writing and directing a film). The memoir is powerful and translates to the screen well for the most part, but it’s a shame that the film version doesn’t get to know Bahari better. His motivations are clear enough: he has a pregnant wife (Clair Foy, good in her limited screen time) at home, and comes from a family of people who never capitulated to authority (Haluk Bilginer and Golshifteh Farahani as his deceased father and sister, who appear in flashbacks and as hallucinations during Bahari’s imprisonment). And García Bernal plays Bahari with an undeniably endearing warmth. So it feels like a bit of waste that despite all that, Bahari never becomes much more than a proxy for the audience; he comes to Iran from the UK with a camcorder, truly an outsider despite being born and raised in Tehran. The interrogation scenes that take up the latter two acts of the film feature some impressive tête-à-tête acting between Bernal and Bodnia — yet I couldn’t help thinking that the movie would be better served if it was following the more fleshed-out protestors Bahari meets on the streets of Tehran.
Led by Dimitri Leonidas as a local cab driver who meets Bahari upon his return to Tehran, the group of anti-Ahmadinejad activists illegally selling satellite dishes provide the early parts of the film with a electricity that the latter sections lack. Stewart’s Tehran (convincingly shot in Jordan) is a place of bustling dichotomies, striking a balance somewhere between Times Square affluence and Mumbai shantytowns. The most effective tension occurs in these scenes, yet the early parts of the film still maintain a sense of adventure, and the drama between the oppressive Ahmadinejad regime and the protestors that take the street after his re-election wound up having more impact for me than the drama-by-numbers second and third acts.
Still, Stewart is a humorist at heart, and he injects those latter interrogation scenes with enough absurdist humor to keep them from being one-note — although the bizarre fixation Bahari’s interrogator has with New Jersey massage parlors falls squarely in the category of “slightly too absurd”. Stewart also provides the interrogator — the titular “Rosewater”, named for his fragrant choice of cologne — with enough pathos (he’s a slave to the bureaucratic machine, just like the rest of us) to keep their interactions from being a purely good-versus-evil showdown. Yet I wonder if this treatment might undermine the primary message: in his memoir, Bahari details physical and emotional torture miles beyond what comes across in the film, where the near-comic ineptitude of his captors occasionally ventures into cartoon villain territory. Somewhere buried in the film, there’s a very timely message, one about the harsh treatment of the hundreds of journalists held captive around the world, but that message isn’t always fully allowed to fully make its case.
Those quibbles aside, there’s something infectious and refreshing about the earnestness of Stewart’s direction that make it impossible to dislike. Featuring one of the best uses of a Leonard Cohen song put to film, this is clearly a labor of love, and by the time the credits rolled I was thoroughly won over by its sincerity. And I wasn’t alone — the audience in my screening stood and applauded through the credits.
It doesn’t hurt that Stewart is surprisingly good as a first-time director. Pre-release buzz pegged the film as something of a mea culpa for him, as an appearance on The Daily Show may or may not have played a role in Bahari’s real-life arrest and imprisonment. But Rosewater is a well-made film that deserves to be seen regardless of the press narrative surrounding it. Stewart’s camera is constantly in motion, hemming in on it’s subjects closely, evoking the camcorder of a field journalist in the first act, then transitioning to the too-close manner in which Rosewater closely inspects his prisoner — and the whole time you feel like you’re an integral part of the action. By the time it’s over, you’re thankful for the ride.
Veteran Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado recently put out a new album, a sort of sequel to 2012’s Maraqopa. Based off a vivid dream, Maraqopa was a world that Jurado established and ran with, and this album comes with ten more tracks to expand on the concept.
My Sunday was highlighted by the visit of the bands Typhoon and Radiation City to Brighton Music Hall. Being two Portland-area bands that I’ve been following for some time, it was a show I made sure to catch. And the night certainly didn’t disappoint!
X Ambassadors may not be that well-known a band – yet – but they sure are a lively one to see in concert, especially at a small venue like Brighton Music Hall. With Sam Harris, a frontman who goes wild not only for the crowd, but with the crowd, they’re an enthusiastic bunch who seem happy to be on stage and have a polished sound for a band that’s officially only a couple years old. Unconsolable, their first single about growing up in Ithaca, NY, was clean and wonderfully performed; I walked out humming it under my breath. (more…)
The stage is hidden by a white scrim on all four sides – the audience is restless. We’ve been waiting for almost an hour, expecting opening acts which never materialized.
Finally the lights go out – except for the ones onstage. The curtain becomes a screen, dizzying abstract shapes floating around as the music starts. Sigur Rós’ frontman, Jónsi Birgisson, begins with Yfirborð, immediately crashing his bow down on the guitar in his signature style. The curtain is still up, but now things are taking a distinctly different turn – the shapes are still barely intelligible, but there is the unmistakable feeling that we are witnessing art as they move, synchronized with the music. Circles and close-ups of iron filings and things moving in liquid mingle with definite human movement in a bizarre and beautiful dance.
Matt King doesn’t have time for his emotions. He’s in the middle of a real estate deal that could result in signing over to developers of a large plot of virgin Hawaiin land entrusted to King’s family by their ancestors. Even when taking care of a schoolyard quarrel between his daughter and a classmate, he is reminded that everyone is anticipating his decision. On top of that, he’s clumsily caring for his two daughters and trying to figure out the logistics of his wife’s impending death. The responsibility of being the public face of both a well-known ancestral lineage on large, public scale as well as on a personal level with friends and family takes precedence over his own feelings. (more…)
I have been a fan of nearly everything that Stephin Merritt has put together since the Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” came out in 1999. I’ve also grown to really like (if not more) their earlier, lo fi stuff on “Holiday”, “Get Lost”, and “The Charm of the Highway Strip”. His gloomy work with his Gothic Archies moniker, as well as the guest singers with the 6ths, have also been very enjoyable to me. Of all the music artists I have enjoyed, I think Merritt’s discography gives me the most satisfaction for any mood.
I think my fandom is mainly because Merritt’s songwriting has the ability to sound cheerful and poppy but has an underlying emotion that may not be as apparent. There are certainly sad-sounding sad songs and happy-sounding happy songs, but the ones that have a story that goes beyond the tones of the synthesizers, cellos, and ukeleles really draw me in. Even as a scraps on the floor, anything off of “Obscurities” was probably going to win me over.
Mary Timony (photo by Catherine Maldonado)
Janet Weiss, Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, and Rebecca Cole, collectively called Wild Flag, returned to Boston after their summer show at The Brighton Music Hall, for a concert at The Paradise.My favorite line from their self-titled, debut album as a group is in the song “Something Came Over Me.” The phrase “let the good times toll” which, despite the double meaning, connotes “ring out.” Mary Timony couldn’t help letting a “let the good times roll” squeak out at least once. The lyrics, many of which are directly related to sound and listening to music, truly come alive in concert. The joy and enthusiasm of the performance demonstrates just how much desire all the members of Wild Flag have to continue making music. Having spent time in well respected bands like Sleater Kinney, Helium and The Minders, they’re proving that their time’s not up yet. (more…)