Friday, December 31, 2010

'The Fighter' Movie Review

Title: The Fighter

Director: David O. Russell

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGeew

The sports biography has maintained its status of being one of the most popular genres in the American film industry today by emphasizing the main character preparing for an important game. However, the new Relativity Media drama ‘The Fighter’ hoped to separate itself from the norm by also focusing on the characters learning how to cope with each other. Director David O. Russell not only succeeded in his promise to set his biography about boxer Mickey Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) apart from other sports memoirs by showcasing the fighter’s rise to fame, but by chronicling his struggles with his family as well.

‘The Fighter’ chronicles Mickey’s boxing career in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts in 1993. While his half-brother, welterweight boxer Dickey Eklund (portrayed by Christian Bale), is still living off his 1978 win against Sugar Ray Leonard and has succumbed to a crack addition, he’s determined to help Mickey get his big break in the ring. But Mickey is firm in his decision to separate himself from Dickey after he’s sent to prison for several crimes, including masked armed robbery. Mickey also wants to break free from their dominating mother Alice (played by Melissa Leo), who serves as their manager. Mickey finds the strength to branch out on his own in the boxing world after he begins dating Charlene (portrayed by Amy Adams) and starts training with Lowell’s police sergeant Mickey O’Keefe.

Wahlberg helped set ‘The Fighter’ apart from other sports biographies by truly committing to the role. Not only did he have Micky and Dickey move in with him during the film’s pre-production to understand their lives better, he also insisted on performing all of his own stunts. He began a strict bodybuilding regimen four years before the movie began shooting, and hired former professional boxer Freddie Roach to train him.

Written by: Karen Benardello

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Decemberists Release New Album, 'The King Is Dead'

Is This New Album Proof The Decemberists Know How to Have a Good Time?

The Folk Group Prepares to Release its Country-Based ‘The King Is Dead’ Early Next Year

Written by: Karen Benardello

Indie folk rock band The Decemberists have made the right decision to reinvent themselves yet again by releasing its new album ‘The King Is Dead’ on January 18, 2011. The group’s label, Capitol Records, confirmed the news on its official website,, via a press release on November 11.

‘The King Is Dead,’ which will feature 10 country-based songs, is The Decemberists’ first release since its 2009 album ‘The Hazards of Love,’ which rightfully received acclaim for its rock edge. The group once again teamed with producer Tucker Martine, and collaborated with bluegrass singer-songwriter Gillian Welch and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. These duets will hopefully bring out the up-beat pop and lush ballads of the group’s singer, Colin Meloy.

While Meloy has discussed how difficult it was to record the band’s previous complex records, he said “…this one (‘The King Is Dead’) may have been harder to do…It’s a real challenge to make simple music.” He added that recording the album was “an exercise in restraint.” While he has also said he somewhat missed the “epic-ness” of the group’s previous records, the new album seems destined to prove The Decemberists still know how to have a good time.

The group recorded ‘The King Is Dead’ in a converted barn at Pendarvis Farm outside of their hometown of Portland, Oregon. Meloy accurately described the recording as his own musical journey coming full circle. “Over the last eleven years or so, since I moved to Portland, I feel like I've been mining mostly English traditions for influence. I guess I've kind of come back to a lot of the more American music that got me going in the first place,” including R.E.M. and Neil Young.

To help promote the new album, The Decemberists performed the record’s lead single, ‘Down by the Water,’ on Conan O’Brien’s new TBS late-night show on November 18, two days after it was released digitally. ‘The King Is Dead’ is now available for pre-order on the band’s official website,

The track listing for ‘The King Is Dead’ is:

1. Don't Carry It All
2. Calamity Song
3. Rise to Me
4. Rox in the Box
5. January Hymn
6. Down by the Water
7. All Arise!
8. June Hymn
9. This is Why We Fight
10. Dear Avery

'Oblivion' DVD Movie Review

'Oblivion' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

Sci-fi and the western have long been some of the most popular and successful genres in American movie history, so combining the two would seem like a great idea to any film studio. So after the release of his studio’s, Full Moon Entertainment, hit 1989 film ‘Puppet Master’ and its 1991 follow-up ‘Puppet Master 2,’ B-movie veteran actor Charles Band hoped to create another successful franchise, the sci-fi-western mix ‘Oblivion.’ But with its absurd plot, lackluster acting and terrible special effects, Band is most likely happy that many people have forgotten one of his studio’s earliest entries.

The ill-conceived storyline for the movie, which was written by Peter David, follows renegade alien leader Redeye (played by Andrew Divoff) as he and his gang of outlaws try to overtake the small town of Oblivion on a planet light-years away from Earth in the year 3031. Redeye shoots and kills his nemesis, Oblivion’s only lawman, Marshall Stone (portrayed by Michael Genovese), and begins terrorizing the town’s remaining residents.

Meanwhile, Stone’s son Zack (played by Richard Joseph Paul) rescues a native, Buteo (portrayed by Jimmy F. Skaggs), from his impending death. While Zack hasn’t been back to Oblivion in years, the town’s undertaker, Gaunt (played by Carrel Struycken) seeks him out and brings him back to town to pay his respects to his newly-deceased father. While back in Oblivion, Zack not only has to deal with the town’s contempt towards him, but fight Redeye and his desperados at the same time.

‘Oblivion,’ which was first released on VHS in 1994 and was re-released onto DVD by Full Moon this year, deserved credit for trying to uniquely combine the sci-fi and western genres together. However, director Sam Irvin failed to create a distinctive sci-fi-western mix, as the film’s story wasn’t entertaining or intriguing. Irving focused too heavily on the characters debating whether they should take revenge on those who wronged them or if they should forgive them and move on. Since the film leaned heavier towards the western genre, as there weren’t many space and/or alien effects, fans of the western genre will most likely be disappointed Irving didn’t include more fight scenes that they have grown accustomed to.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Exclusive Patrick Fabian Interview

Exclusive Patrick Fabian Interview about 'The Last Exorcism' DVD Release

Written by: Karen Benardello

Read our exclusive interview with Patrick Fabian, who portrays Reverend Cotton Marcus in the mockumentary horror film ‘The Last Exorcism.’ The hit movie, which was directed by Daniel Stamm, is scheduled to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 4, 2011. Fabian discusses with us, among other things, what it was like to appear in the critically-acclaimed movie and what his future career plans are.

Shockya (SY): ‘The Last Exorcism’ made over $20 million alone over its opening weekend (August 27-29, 2010). What did it feel like knowing that so many people accepted it and went out to the theater to see it?

Patrick Fabian (PF): Well, it was a wonderful surprise. I think Lionsgate (the studio that released the movie) and Eli Roth (who produced the film), had a great viral campaign for it. For people to go out and see it, there was a great build-up of interest. We were hoping for maybe $9 million because it was a wide release. When it cracked over $20 million, we were neck-and-neck with another film. We were thrilled. We thought we had a good tale in the end, and that helped spread it out. I have to say, you just never know in this business. All the things can be in place, and you can have big movie stars, real Oscar contenders, and their movies can tank. You just never know what the public’s going to go for. We were thrilled, it was a real dream come true. Now it’s about $75 million worldwide, it’s just now opening in Australia. We’re up for a People’s Choice Award. I got a couple acting awards, up in Toronto. We were nominated for a Spirit Award. It’s the exorcism that keeps giving, no doubt about it!

Q: Like you said, you’re nominated for a couple of awards. What’s it like knowing the world embraced your performance as Reverend Marcus?

PF: Totally thrilling! I got the Best Actor award at the AfterDark Festival in Toronto, and that was voted by the audience. Then there’s a horror festival going on over in Europe, for 43 years now, the Sitges Awards, in a beach town in Spain. And I got an e-mail awhile ago, saying that I ended up winning the Best Actor award for it. So they asked me e-mail a speech, that they translated for me. Then a box came about four days later, and there’s a statue of the robot from ‘Metropolis.’ So it was like my mini-Oscar basically. It was totally fun. We’re still waiting to hear about the People’s Choice Awards. There will be a little gasp if that happens.

Q: When the movie comes out on Blu-ray and DVD on January 4th, right before the People’s Choice Awards, why should horror fans go out and buy it?

PF: It’s got all those great extras that you’ll want. There’s commentary from myself, Daniel Stamm, Ashley Bell (who portrayed Nell Sweetzer) and Louis Herthum (who played Nell’s father, Louis). Then there’s also commentary from Eli Roth and producers Eric Newman and Marc Abraham on another one. I’m curious to see, after doing the commentary myself, what Eli’s take on it is when he’s watching the film. There were parts when me and Ashley were like, “We really like this scene.” Then Eli might be like, “Yeah, I don’t really like it so much. Ashley and Patrick were really bad.” There’s also going to be behind-the-scenes footage, a whole making-of featurette that they put together. On the Blu-ray discs, they actually have Ashley and mine’s auditions. That, I’m very curious about. I remember the audition, but I’m curious to see if my memory actually stacks up to what’s there. That would be great to see. There are a lot of great features. It’s going to look great in Blu-ray machines. It’s also just in time for Valentine’s Day, so it will be a great gift for your loved ones!

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'How Do You Know' Movie Review

'How Do You Know' Movie Review

Writen by: Karen Benardello

A great director, fun script and entertaining cast often makes for an exciting movie, even if at least one out of the three is present. Advertising for Sony’s new romantic comedy, ‘How Do You Know,’ starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson, and written and directed by James L. Brooks, promised to provide audiences will all three. But looks can be deceiving in this comedy about people trying to figure out what to do with their lives after their professional lives are ruined.

‘How Do You Know’ follows Lisa Jorgenson (played by Witherspoon), who’s entire life has been dedicated to playing professional softball. Now cut by the U.S. National Team, a 31-year-old Lisa has to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. While making the transition, she continues her usual streak of having a fling with an athlete, professional baseball pitcher Matty (portrayed by Owen Wilson), a self-centered ladies man.

Lisa’s love life gets complicated when she goes on a blind date with George Madison (played by Paul Rudd), a businessman who’s been accused of a financial crime. He gets fired by his father Charles’ (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) company when authorities close in on arresting him. After meeting Lisa, he becomes optimistic about life in spite of his legal troubles.

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Kevin Spacey 'Casion Jack' Interview

Read our interview with Kevin Spacey, who stars as the title character, Jack Abramoff, in the new biopic ‘Casino Jack.’ Spacey was recently nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor-Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his portrayal of Abramoff. Spacey discusses with us, among other things, what it was like meeting and playing the Washington, D.C. lobbyist and businessman, who was just released from prison after being convicted of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion in 2006.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Question (Q): How closely did you follow the Abramoff story before accepting the role?

Kevin Spacey (KS): I was already living in London when it broke. I vaguely remember it because I’ve always had a passion for politics. I’ve been involved in politics for some time. But I didn’t have what I’m sure it was in the U.S. We have this great thing called the 24-hour news cycle, that usually lasts for a week. I kind of remembered it, but not really. After I met George (Hickenlooper, the movie’s director), and we decided to make the film together, I found out I might have the opportunity to meet him. Then I said I’m going to hold off on reading anything, going back and doing a lot of research. I didn’t want to meet him with lots of other people’s commentary. I just wanted to meet the man. Then I started the process of research after I met him.

Q: What kind of research did you do into Orthodox Judaism religious life?

KS: As much as I could. I met with a couple of rabbis, someone taught me how to do the divining. I had to learn some of the Hebrew because George wanted me to be actually saying it. I think I’m relatively grateful that you can’t really hear what I’m saying. I’m sure I didn’t get it all right. That aspect of his character was so fascinating to me. On one hand, he was this extremely devoted religious man who believed in his faith. He consistently did it every single day, it was part of his routine. Yet, he makes a bunch of misjudgments, crosses the line. Yet, maybe in his own head, the good things he was doing, and in his mind, he was doing lots of good things, including giving lots and lots of money away to lots and lots of people who didn’t have it and needed it, justified the other things he was doing. It’s always interesting to find what you look at is a contradiction in someone’s behavior.

Q: When you finally met Jack, what questions did you ask him?

KS: I was mostly interested in the emotional terrain because all of the facts of the case. He may have had his own agenda. I would have known right away if he was being up front with me or not. At the end of the day, I think he was. I was just trying to figure out what he was going through. At what point, if there was a point, when he started to lose the forest for the trees. I think there’s a point where we start to illustrate in the film that he was living in a culture and an environment where lots of this stuff was going down. Lots of people were selling access, and they still are. So then you sort of go, wow. But then after meeting him and other people on his team, people that knew him, people that hated him. I got a lot of different opinions of him. Then I started reading everything. You Goggle his name, and you’re like, Wow, I’m going to be here for a week! Wow, was he made out to be the greediest devil in-carninate that ever walked the Earth. I thought that’s convenient for an industry that wants to pat itself on the back and say, See we threw this bad man in jail, cleaned up our industry. I think we just went through an election where more money was spent than at any other time in our country’s history. So that’s to me what was interesting about playing this guy. He’s symbolic of an environment and culture that’s still happening today.

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Barry Pepper 'Casino Jack' Interview

Read our round-table interview with Canadian actor Barry Pepper, who appears in the new biopic ‘Casino Jack.’ The Golden Globe and Emmy Award-nominated star portrays Michael Scanlon, a former communications director, lobbyist and public relations executive. Scanlon pleaded guilty in 2005 to conspiring to bribe a member of Congress and other public officials after committing various financial crimes with his business partner Jack Abramoff.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Question (Q): The movie takes a very serious subject and makes it light-hearted. Did that make it interesting as an actor?

Barry Pepper (BP): I think when you research this story, the books that we did, like Heist and various others, you follow this papertrail, you look at the schismatic personalities of these characters, like Mike Scanlon, Jack Abramoff (who was played by Kevin Spacey), it’s hard to believe this is factual reporting. You have to have a First Amendment lawyer back this script, for inaccuracies and liabilities. You can’t tell a story like this without production insurance. It is remarkable how lurid and comicable it is at times. This is a factual odyssey. This is truly how they lived, these guys were a couple of interesting characters. What’s remarkable is their schismatic personalities, if you will. I mean, here Jack is a very philanthropic man, a good father, a good husband. He’s a super-lobbyist involved in some of the most scandalous deeds. Yet when this scandal flooded the information highway, we fond out that Mike, throughout the entire time they worked together, was holding down a $10-an-hour lifeguarding job and living like a surfer dude. He was this completely alternate personality, living the high-life, working as a PR consultant with Jack Abramoff. It’s remarkable and stranger than fiction. I don’t know what other approach you would have taken to it. It’s all about the story. It’s hard to fathom how this ever took place. I think when you look back, you start to do your research on a project like this, at the climate of things, in 1994 when the Republicans took control of the House. Tom Delay and others turned it into big money. K Street was just flourishing at the time. It was this incredible breeding ground for men like Jack Abramoff. They brought in millions and millions and millions of dollars to the Republic campaign. They were lionized as heroes to the right. When the scandal broke, everyone flees and denies ever knowing them. Sadly, they became these famous fall guys for that period of greed. But nothing’s changed, and that’s a really sad, remarkable fact of this story that intrigued me to be a part of it. I have nothing in common with my character. This might serve as a cautionary tale of our democracy and the state of affairs in Washington such that democracy is drowning under a tsunami of corporate financing and campaign loot.

Q: Did you follow the Abramoff story when it was happening?

BP: I remember seeing him walk down those court room steps and his black Borsolino hat and trench coat. I remember the headlines: ‘The Mafia Don,’ ‘Gangster,’ the misinterpreted quotes by the press, thinking that he was some type of bad man. I guess in a way he was a sort of Don Corleone-type figure. He was cast in a very villainous light. At the time, I thought that was the story. Then you dig a little deeper. I knew very little, like most people. You just sort of assume the press knows what they’re talking about, and that’s the story, off you go. But then when you dig a little deeper into these things, you’re amazed at how unbelievable it is. Kevin had the opportunity of meeting with Jack in prison. When he and I and (director) George (Hickenlooper) got together, that’s really what it was, just sharing all of our information. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet with Mike. He left Washington, and was cooperating with the investigation. He was not really available to speak to. He had paid restitution, $20 some-odd million, like Jack did, yet he didn’t serve any prison time. Obviously, he was able to cooperate with the FBI before Jack did. But what was so remarkable when we got together, comparing our information, was that Jack told Kevin that he held no animosity against Mike and he would consider him a friend today. That was the back-bone of their relationship that we held fast to.

Q: The dynamic that you have with Kevin in the film, as far to being similar to the dynamic between Jack and Mike, how did you build that dynamic?

BP: Well, Kevin’s excellent to work with, so remarkably talented. You elevate each other, in terms of your desire to go there with each other. It’s so enjoyable to work with someone who’s so talented and giving as Kevin. You completely lose yourself in each other. Beyond on, it’s all what you gain from research. Like in my case, I was able to speak to several of Mike’s colleagues and co-workers and friends that worked with him during that period. Some have really fallen out of touch because Mike sort of disappeared and as they described it, left them to pick up the pieces after the scandal broke. That was really interesting to me, that’s where you really start to build. But in terms of the ease and effortlessness of working with Kevin, as soon as you meet him, he’s an easy-go-lucky guy. He doesn’t bring that intense method approach to the set. He’s able to be enjoyable to be around and tell stories and do impressions and make it enjoyable for the entire cast and crew. Unlike with some actors, they can really hermit, lose themselves in the role so much, out of fear of losing the character, and being unable to retain it. They hold onto it to a point that you really can’t communicate with them. Then there’s others, like Kevin, that give equally amazing results, if not some of the best in the business, and he’s got an Oscar in each hand. Yet he’s able to be really enjoyable to be around. In fact, sometimes this subject matter can be really overwhelming and upsetting at times if you’re politically-minded. When you see the truth in Washington, and there’s been no change in lobbying reform, and they’re drowning our democracy, it can be overwhelming. But in order to pick each other up during filmmaking, it’s nice to have someone like Kevin, and Jon of course. They keep things light and lift you up above the subject matter. It was nice the story unfolds the way it does. You’re able to go on this comedic odyssey with these guys. So it’s not your typical dry, Washington scandal film. It’s actually very humorous and entertaining.

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Jon Lovitz 'Casino Jack' inteview

Read our roundtable interview with actor-comedian Jon Lovitz, who portrays Adam Kidan, the former owner of SunCruz Casinos and former president of Atlantic & Pacific Mattress Company, in ‘Casino Jack.’ The new comedy biopic, which was directed by the late George Hickenlooper, follows the career of Jack Abramoff, a Washington, D.C. lobbyist and businessman who bought SunCruz with Kidan. Both Kidan and Abramoff pled guilty in 2005 for their purchase and handling of SunCruz, among other financial crimes.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Question (Q): The movie’s director, George Hickenlooper, recently passed away. What was like to work with?

Jon Lovitz (JL): He was the best. I was talking to the president of ATO, which is distributing the film, and said “I became friends with George,” and he said “I became friends with George.” The cast, everyone wanted to become friends with him. He was just the nicest guy. He was very humble, very intelligent, very articulate, really nice. He was just great. One reason I think the movie works is because he was so good to all the actors. So everybody just gives their best work. He always said “You’re such a great actor,” he made you feels so great. I was with him at the Austin Film Festival Wednesday and Thursday (October 27 and 28, 2010) and he died Saturday (October 30) night.

Q: How did you find out?

JL: Well, Spencer Garrett (who plays Tom Delay in the movie) called me. I was crying, it was horrible. We were both crying. I’m not ashamed to say it. It was a shock, horrible. We were all, Kevin Spacy (who portrays Abramoff in the film), me, Spencer, everyone in the movie, were all thrilled to be in a really good movie. I haven’t been offered roles left and right, but the ones I have been offered weren’t good, and I said I didn’t want to make another bad movie. It turned out to be a great movie. George said “You’re great in the movie.” I said, “You made the movie, and I’m glad you didn’t cut my scenes.” I said, a movie’s out for three months, and then after that it’s on DVD forever. But I’m proud to say I’m in a really good movie, a great movie. At the Austin Film Festival, they had the screening, and the audience loved it. I mean, they laughed at everything and every moment. Then there was a question and answer period. George, I can tell you what he said basically. When he grew up, his mother was very political, and was a leftist. He went to Yale, and became a Republican. About six years ago, he became a Democrat. He goes, “Now I think it’s good when the parties change. It’s good for awhile, and then the Republicans get greedy, and things should change, and then they change back. That’s kind of how he felt, he was very politically oriented. That’s why he was so interested in this.

Q: When you were looking up information on Kidan, when you were looking up the role, what was your first impression of what he was like?

JL: I’ll tell you, there was hardly anything on him on the Internet. I found two pictures of him, and some video of him walking to court. So the first picture I saw, he was pretty bald on top, but he had red hair. But he’s smiling really smart, like this (he smirks). In the movie, I did that a lot. The next picture of him is in court, his hair’s all white, he looks like this (he opens eyes really wide, and has a surprised look on his face). So I said, “Oh, there’s two opposites right there.” So how do you get from that to that? Then I read on-line, I had to, about the case and about SunSail (what the cruise line is called in the movie), but it’s really called SunCruz. It’s all real. Kidan started a sandwich chain in Canada, which is still there, in Toronto, then went down to Ft. Lauderdale. (Land-developer, SunCruz casino operator and restaurant owner) Gus Boulis was killed. The guys arrested for the murder worked for Kidan. George said “Do you want to talk to him (Kidan)?” and I said “No, he’s in prison, maybe he murdered this guy.” I didn’t want him to be mad at me, and say “You didn’t play me right.” It didn’t matter, because at the end of the day, you have to play him like in the script, that’s who you’re playing. So I used that, and what I read. Certain things, one of the first things you do as an actor, you look at what all the other characters say about your character. Look at Kelly Preston’s character (she plays Abramoff’s wife, Pam), after she meets me, she has this scene, and she says (to Kevin) “Why are you working with that guy?” She’s completely grossed out about him, disgusted. So that tells me what I have to do to make her say that. In that scene, if you watch it, I’m hitting on her, winking at her, a complete sleaze. Was he like that? I don’t know, but that’s what was in the script. So that’s what you have to play.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Casino Jack' Movie Review

'Casino Jack' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

Studios are often taking a gamble on new movies today, and Art Takes Over is no exception. It’s new biographical film ‘Casino Jack,’ which stars Kevin Spacey as well-meaning-turned-greedy Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, doesn’t live up to late director George Hickenlooper’s previously high standards. He tried to make ‘Casino Jack’ the next great biography movie of men involved in Washington, D.C. politics, but ultimately fails by attempting to give the plot an unneeded comedic undertone.

The film follows lobbyist Jack Abramoff (portrayed by Spacey), who is determined to make as much money as possible, in an effort to provide a better life for his wife Pam (played by Kelly Preston) and their five children. Jack and his business partner Michael Scanlon (portrayed by Barry Pepper) decide to defraud several Native American tribes by charging them exorbitant amounts of money.

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Kwanza Jones Interview

Exclusive Interview with Singer-Songwriter Kwanza Jones

Written by: Karen Benardello

Read our exclusive interview with singer-songwriter Kwanza Jones, whose third studio album, ‘Supercharged,’ is set to hit stores in February 2011. Jones, a seasoned traveler and instrumentalist, discusses with us, among other things, what it was like meeting Quincy Jones, getting her start in the music industry at the famed Apollo Theater and where she gets her inspirations for her songs.

Shockya (SY): While you were a student at Princeton, you met Quincy Jones, which lead you to become interested in music as a profession. What was it about him that pushed you towards singing?

Kwanza Jones (KJ): His words. We were talking about music and my interest in it and he said to me “I know you’ll achieve because your heart is in the right place.” He also told me to “create an identifiable sound.” I figured he’s been around long enough to know. So I listened.

SY: Shortly after meeting Quincy, you performed on “Showtime at the Apollo” at the Apollo Theater. What was that experience like?

KJ: Performing at the Apollo was like being thrown into the ocean and knowing you either sink or swim. The audience at Showtime at the Apollo can be harsh. If they don’t like what you’re doing, you can be booed and kicked off stage. From that experience I learned that liking to sing isn’t enough. People want to be entertained, so you better be prepared to bring it. I definitely brought it and I won!

SY: Your third studio album, ‘Supercharged,’ is scheduled to be released in February 2011. How would you describe the sound of it?

KJ: ‘Supercharged’ is like an energy drink for your ears. Vocally it’s raw and passionate. Musically it’s synth and guitar driven. Your head will bob, your feet will move and your attitude will adjust. I’m going for a fun, danceable sound in this album. For a sneak preview, you can check out my new single
“Think Again” at It just charted at #2 in the Billboard Breakout for Hot Dance Club Play charts. It’s also available on Amazon and iTunes.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

'Bondi Rescue' TV Series Review

'Bondi Rescue' Television Series Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

People around the world are still looking for a beach that resembles the one featured on the hit 1990s series ‘Baywatch.’ FUEL TV is promising to show its viewers Australia’s answer to the Los Angeles coastline, Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach, in its new series ‘Bondi Rescue.” Viewers will definitely be drawn to the show at first, as they will be intrigued to see if Bondi is really one of the most “dangerous beaches in the world,” as FUEL describes it.

However, FUEL over-glamorized the show’s premiere, as it promised to show a “small group of elite lifeguards striv(ing) to keep visitors safe from the elements…and themselves. From encounters with wildlife, to surf injuries, to fights, to drug busts, to celebrity visits, there is no place like Bondi Beach.”

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

'The Tourist' Movie Review

'The Tourist' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

The characters are so full of mystery and intrigue viewers begin to forget whose tripping and trapping the other. The new GK Films thriller ‘The Tourist,’ starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, at first makes its viewers believe certain characters are trying to capture their obvious enemies. But as any tourist knows, the further people dig into the unknown, the more mysteries and surprises they’ll come across.

‘The Tourist’ plays an interesting twist on the current crime thriller genre. The plot follows the British police, led by Inspector John Acheson (played by Paul Bettany), as they track wanted criminal Alexander Pearce after he embezzled $2 billion from a known mobster. The police want to collect their $775 million that’s owed to them in back taxes from the stolen money. In an effort to get to Alexander, the police are also tracking his girlfriend Elise Ward (portrayed by Jolie), as they believe he will make contact with her.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

'Meskada' Movie Review

'Meskada' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

Sometimes just simply watching everyday life can be the perfect inspiration for screenwriters and directors who want to perfectly reflect the conflicts of small-towns across America. As Josh Sternfeld, who wrote and directed the new crime-drama-thriller ‘Meskada,’ thought of the fights over territory, the class system and human rights across the country, he visited small towns throughout the U.S. to witness their everyday way of life. What came out of his journey was not only a showcase of these small towns’ way of life, but a plot filled with intrigue, suspense and murder.

‘Meskada’ follows detective Noah Condin (played by Nick Stahl), who works in the small, peaceful town of Hilliard. He’s assigned to a case involving the murder of the young son of Allison Connor (portrayed by Laura Benanti), an affluent woman who works on the Meskada County Board of Commissioners. Noah believes Allison’s son was murdered in the heat of the moment, as his killers only entered the Connor house to burglarize it. His killers didn’t realize he was there, and needed to get rid of any witness to the crime.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wil Wheaon/Aldis Hodge Leverage Interview

Read our interview with Leverage star Aldis Hodge and guest-star Wil Wheaton, who portray computer hackers Alec Hardison and Colin “Chaos” Mason, respectively. Wheaton returns to the show when it airs its special Christmas episode on Sunday, December 12. The series then airs its two-part season 3 finale the following Sunday, December 19. The two actors discuss, among other things, what it’s like to portray a “computer geek,” how Hardison and Chaos relate to each other and why Wheaton decided to return to the hit TNT drama.

Question (Q): Wil, in your 2009 book Just a Geek, Neil Gaiman wrote in your forewords, “As we all discover sooner or later you’re never just a geek.” So Aldis, how has your character Hardison evolved in Leverage to be more than just the geek?

Aldis Hodge (AH): Well he’s taken an interest in a much more substantial role than just being behind a computer. He’s learned from everybody else on the team coupled with the ambition to run his own team one day. He has taken of grifting and he’s learned a little bit about thieving but he’s more learning the mastermind part of it. He wants to do more for the cause of what we do as opposed to just being a player, you know what I mean? So he’s consistently growing watching everybody, learning their moves.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

'Tron: Legacy' Overview

'Tron: Legacy" Overview

Written by: Karen Benardello

One of the most anticipated films of the year is the new Disney sci-fi sequel ‘Tron: Legacy,’ which is scheduled to hit theaters on December 17, just in time for awards season. ‘Tron: Legacy’ follows the original 1982 film, ‘Tron,’ which received largely positive reviews upon its initial theatrical release, in part for its surprising use of special effects. However, ‘Tron’ initially bombed at the box office, but has since garnered a cult following. It has also been turned into a successful franchise, with Disney releasing multiple ‘Tron’ video games and comic books. The studio is now even planning a television series.

Several ‘Tron: Legacy’ stars have given interviews about the film, discussing, among other things, the story’s message, the movie’s use of special effects and what it was like working with first time director Joseph Kosinski. Lead star Jeff Bridges, who returns as video game developer Kevin Flynn, is one of the actors who has spoken about the film. He admitted that he resisted returning to the role that made him well-known among the sci-fi world. Bridges said he was worried how Disney would pull the special effects off.

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Warrior's Way Movie Review

'The Warrior's Way' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

The holiday season is the most important time in the film world, as it leads right up to the awards season starting in January. One movie being released this month that will surely be overlooked by the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, the first televised movie award show of 2011, is the martial arts, stunt-filled ‘The Warrior’s Way.’ Directed by Sngmoo Lee, the film, in typical action fashion, forgoes plot and character development. However, it’s meet with disastrous results.

The numerous trailers released for ‘The Warrior’s Way’ promise viewers a plot full of sword-fighting and special effects. However, the film, which follows the world’s greatest swordsman, Yang (played by South Korean actor Jang Dong-gun), as he refuses his latest mission, doesn’t live up to his high moral standards.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

'Conviction' Movie Review

Aren’t Movies Based on Real-Life Stories Supposed to be Touching?

New Drama ‘Conviction’ Doesn’t Do Academy Award-Winning Actress Hilary Swank Justice

Written by: Karen Benardello

Sometimes all it takes is one person to stand up for what they believe is right in order for justice to be served. That was certainly the case with working mother Betty Anne Waters, who spent over a decade working to obtain her law degree solely to represent her wrongfully convicted brother Kenny. Director Tony Goldwyn and two-time Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank teamed up in the new drama ‘Conviction’ to prove not only that justice delayed isn’t justice denied, but that women can also accomplish anything they put their minds too.

The movie, which is based on the Waters’ real life story, starts off to a slow start however, as it shows several seemly unrelated events from their childhood and early adult life. While Goldwyn and screenwriter Pamela Gray most likely did this to show the close bond between Betty Anne and Kenny (played by Sam Rockwell), and the fact that they caused mischief as children, there were no cohesive storyline for the first 15-20 minutes of the film. The audience is unable to bond with the characters, and is left wondering how these unconnected events relate to the central storyline.

‘Conviction’ finally got to the point when it showed the adult Betty Anne working part-time as a waitress while she takes classes to earn her degree from Roger Williams University. While she struggles to raise her two teenage sons, Richard (portrayed by Conor Donovan) and Ben (played by Owen Campbell), on her own at the same time, Betty Anne is determined to prove Kenny was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1983. Kenny was arrested for the 1980 slaying of Katharina Brow, but Betty Anne fights to get biological evidence to send to the Innocence Project, an organization that works to overturn unjust convictions.

Expectations for Swank’s performance were high, as she won her first Oscar for her portrayal of transgender man Brandon Teena in the hit 1999 movie ‘Boys Don’t Cry.’ In that role, Swank proved that she knows how to connect to, and accurately depict the emotions of, real-life people. However, in ‘Conviction,’ Swank fails to recapture her former glory; not only does she have the same body language and monotone voice in almost every scene, and doesn’t resonate any of the joys or fears Betty Anne feels. This lack of emotion may in part have been due to the fact that over 18 years’ worth of events was packed into a one-hour and 45-minute film, and a lot of information from Betty Anne’s life was omitted from the final script.

The true stand-out star of ‘Convicted’ is Academy Award-nominated actress Melissa Leo (who first rose to fame in the mid-1990s on ‘Homicide: Life on the Streets’). In the film, she plays Nancy Taylor, the only woman police officer in the Ayer police force in the early 1980s. In order to excel at her job, she pins Katharina’s murder on Kenny. Leo convincingly plays someone who doesn’t care who she has to hurt or what she has to do in order to get what she wants. Viewers will certainly enjoy watching Betty Anne try to take down Nancy and see justice prevail.

Overall, Goldwyn and Gray deserve credit for wanting to showcase Betty Anne’s hard work to free people wrongfully convicted of crime and to fight for inmates’ rights. While obviously the numerous struggles she faced during her two-decade crusade to free her brother couldn’t all be featured in the film, many viewers will still feel cheated from ‘Conviction’s simplistic plot.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How Far Will Sara Bareilles’ Music Career Go?

How Far Will Sara Bareilles’ Music Career Go?
The ‘Love Song’ Singer Proves She’s Not Just a One-Hit Wonder with Her Second Album, ‘Kaleidoscope Heart’

Written by: Karen Benardello

‘Kaleidoscope Heart,’ the sophomore album from Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top 200 chart during the second week of September, is reporting. The album, which was released on September 7, outsold her debut record, which was released in 2007.

The new record also held the number one album spot in iTunes’ Top 100 album chart, while the video for the album’s first single, ‘King Of Anything,’ hit number one on VH1’s Top 20 Countdown. Of her success, Bareilles proved yet again how much she cherishes her fans by saying “I’m over the moon about this. I had no idea that this was even possible and so here I am once again inspired and amazed by the impact of the most generous fans in the world.”

The ‘Love Song’ singer received much-deserved praise from numerous critics, proving she’s not just a one-hit wonder. The Wall Street Journal rightfully placed her alongside other pop music greats by saying “‘Kaleidoscope Heart’ plants Sara in Billy Joel territory.” Bareilles was able to move past the two-time Grammy-nominated song that made her famous with her new album. PEOPLE Magazine rightfully praised her for it, saying “In 2007 the singer-songwriter rocketed from obscurity with her album ‘Little Voice’ (which sold over 1 million copies worldwide) and the Grammy-nominated pop-rock gem ‘Love Song.’ How does she follow up on that? Impeccably.”

Bareilles has been busy promoting ‘Kaleidoscope Heart,’ which she wrote, by appearing on such shows as ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,’ ‘The Today Show’ and ‘Live! With Regis and Kelly.’ She also kicked off her Fall Headlining Tour on September 23rd at Idaho State University, and has plans to visit 30 major cities across America. The tour will end on December 17th at the Van Duzer Theatre at Humboldt State in Eureka, Californai. Hopefully, her fans will like her new music and attend the concerts to show their support.

Lylit Unexpected EP Review

Lylit Unexpected EP Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

Singer, song-writer and instrumentalist Lylit, who hails from Austria, the classical music capital of the world and the birthplace of such music legends as Mozart and Beethoven, is striving to bring her unique gospel-infused jazz sound over to the US. Her new EP, ‘Unexpected,’ comes with high expectations, as she has the same look and feel as R&B/pop-rock singer-songwriter-musician Pink. Even at the young age of 25, Lylit already stands out, as she has a life full of diverse experiences to write about.

‘Unexpected’ doesn’t fail to deliver with its first song, titled ‘The Plan,’ as it instantly grabs its listeners’ attention and refuses to let go. ‘The Plan’ definitely sets a high bar for the rest of the EP with a catchy instrumental melody leading up to Lylit’s surprisingly powerful voice. The gospel singer draws her listeners in and refuses to let go; the song infuses the Austrian gospel countryside with African American traditions. Lylit creates a unique sound by channeling the hip-hop/jazz/classical mix she learned while being professionally trained during her university years. She surprises yet again during the last minute of ‘The Plan,’ as her instruments are tuned down to primarily feature her commanding voice.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Fair Game' Movie Review

'Fair Game' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

When scandals and corruption hit American politicians, the public feels it knows everything just by reading articles and watching news broadcasts. However, people often tend to forget there are numerous sides to every story, which is exactly the case with the new political drama ‘Fair Game,’ starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. The two portray real life couple Valerie Plame, a former CIA Operations Officer whose identity was publicly revealed, and her husband Joseph C. Wilson, who once worked as an American Ambassador.

English screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth combined details from Plame’s book Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House with Wilson’s memoir The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity. The movie follows several of the CIA operations Plame was involved in immediately after 9-11. It also chronicles her life leading up to the U.S.’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. As part of the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division, Plame was gathering evidence that Iraqi leaders were building weapons of mass destruction.

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Faster Movie Review

'Faster' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

As Americans reflect on all of the good in their lives during the Thanksgiving weekend, some people don’t have the luxury of appreciating the good in life. This is the case for the characters in the new revenge movie ‘Faster,’ starring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thorton and Oliver Jackson-Cohen. The Castle Rock Entertainment film, however, gives Johnson’s fans something to be thankful for, however, as he gets back in touch with his action roots.

The movie’s straightforward plot follows main character James Cullen (played by Johnson), who spent the past 10 years in prison for his part in a botched bank robbery with his brother. James, who is simply referred to as Driver, as he drove the getaway car, is determined to get revenge on the group of men who attacked him and killed his brother after the heist for their cut of the money. After learning how to protect himself against violent attacks in prison, Driver complies a list of the men’s addresses and goes after them one-by-one to seek his revenge.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Actor Norman Reedus Interview

Here's the link to an exclusive interview with actor Norman Reedus (my questions were the first two about 'The Boondock Saints'):

Saturday, November 13, 2010

'Morning Glory' Movie Review

Title: Morning Glory

Directed by: Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus)

Starring: Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes, The Lucky Ones), Noah Bean (Nikita), Jeff Goldblum and Harrison Ford (Cowboys & Aliens)

While the on-air talents on many shows receive most of the public’s attention, as seen with Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford, who portray morning news co-hosts in the new comedy ‘Morning Glory,’ Rachel McAdams proves that behind-the-camera talent is just as important. Turning away from garnering attention in both her new role and in real life, McAdams proves in the new Roger Michell-directed film that anyone can achieve what they want by working hard and not going against their morals.

The comedy-drama follows Becky Fuller (played by McAdams), as she is fired from her job as a producer at an early local morning news program in New Jersey. Already 28, Becky is depressed that she hasn’t already achieved her life-long goal of becoming a producer for the ‘Today’ show, especially since her main focus in life is work. Despite not knowing anyone in New York City, Becky decides to accept a lower-paying position as a producer at ‘Daybreak,’ the lowest-ranking national morning news show.

Becky wants to prove to Jerry Barnes (portrayed by Jeff Goldblum) that he made the right decision in hiring her. In an effort to raise ‘Daybreak’s ratings, Becky hires legendary, award-winning broadcast journalist Mike Pomeroy (played by Ford) to co-anchor the show with Colleen Peak (portrayed by Keaton). While Adam Bennett (portrayed by Patrick Wilson), a fellow producer who previously worked with Mike at an evening news show and is romantically interested in Becky, warns her about Mike’s attitude, she has faith he can help revitalize the struggling program.

‘Morning Glory’ definitely seemed as though it would feature an equal mix of Becky’s professional and personal struggles, and would leave viewers rooting for her to overcome her obstacles. The script was written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who previously wrote such hits as ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘27 Dresses.’ The movie was also produced by J.J. Abrams and his released by his production company, Bad Robot. McKenna lived up to her previous works to some degree by giving Becky numerous work challenges. However, the movie as a whole leaves audiences unsatisfied, as they don’t see her balance her personal issues with her work obligations. While Becky’s lack of social life in part motivates her to do well at ‘Daybreak,’ McKenna should have included more scenes between her and Adam. A major theme in the movie was Becky discovering her inner strengths, so her finding a way to balance her work and her new-found private life would have definitely added to her character development.

While it was never fully revealed why Becky aimed to become a producer all her life, and McAdams didn’t have much character development to work with, the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ actress was the true star of the film. Advertisements for ‘Morning Glory’ emphasized that Ford and Keaton were the supporting stars in the movie, but McAdams easily grabbed the attention for herself. While she garnered praise in other genres besides comedy, including action in ‘Red Eye’ and suspense in ‘State of Play,’ McAdams masterfully connects to her characters emotionally in romance comedies. She understood Becky’s need to reach the top of her chosen profession, and would do anything to succeed.

While none of the characters were fully developed in ‘Morning Glory,’ and it was just another one of McKenna’s exposes of the life of the working woman, it still deserves attention by McAdams’ fans. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content including dialogue, language and brief drug references, the movie is appropriate for her younger fans who want to see what it’s like to work in broadcast journalism. While it won’t receive glory for being McAdams’ best work, the film further solidifies her place in Hollywood.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Friday, November 5, 2010

Due Date Movie Review

Title: Due Date

Directed by: Todd Phillips (The Hangover, The Hangover 2)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man 2, Sherlock Holmes, Tropic Thunder), Zach Galifianakis (Puss in Boots, Dinner for Schmucks), Juliette Lewis (Different Kind of Love, The Darwin Awards, Whip It), Michelle Monaghan (Machine Gun Preacher), Danny McBride (Land of the Lost) and Jamie Foxx (Kane & Lync, The Soloist)

Movies that don’t make their audiences think often times fall short on plot, premise, laughs and chemistry. While ‘Due Date’s simplistic plot-line was basically revealed in its theatrical trailers, it stands out from many other comedies released today, as it still delivers its promised light-hearted laughs. Plus, it has the added benefit of featuring well-liked and respected actors, including Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Jamie Foxx and Juliette Lewis, who get along so well on-screen that they can easily pass as friends in real life.

‘Due Date’ stands out from other comedies as it follows architect Peter Highman (played by Downey), who is in Atlanta on business. He’s trying to get home to Los Angeles on time for the birth of his first child. However, he gets kicked off his plane after accidentally switching bags with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (portrayed by comedic road-trip movie king Galifianakis) at the curb-side check in counter. Drug paraphernalia is found in Ethan’s bag, causing Peter to be put on the no-fly list.

While all of Peter’s luggage is still on the plane, he is still unwillingly forced to drive cross-country with Ethan. The new acquaints have multiple crazy encounters together, including being questioned by border patrol for allegedly smoking marijuana and flipping their rental car over a bridge after Ethan falls asleep at the wheel. While Peter despises Ethan at first for getting him into their crazy situation, he eventually grows to tolerate, and even somewhat like, his goof-ball but well-meaning travel companion.

While screenwriters lan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel focus ‘Due Date’s story more on the multiple adventures that Peter and Ethan get into than on one cohesive conflict, or on developing the characters themselves, Downey and Galifianakis still had great chemistry together. Downey, who was once one of the bad boys of Hollywood, perfected Peter’s desire to get home to his wife Sarah (played by Michelle Monaghan in a minor role) in time for her scheduled C-section.

While Peter didn’t want to put up with Ethan’s free spirited ways, as he was just delaying his trip back to Sarah, he still had enough of a conscience not to just leave him behind. Downey didn’t portray Peter as being arrogant or feeling superior to Ethan, even though he was the one who got them on the no fly list in the first place.

Galifianakis also relived his glory days of last year’s hit comedy ‘The Hangover,’ the movie that made him famous. While Ethan is like Galifianakis’ ‘Hangover’ character Alan Garner, as they are both the goofy characters that cause several mishaps on road trips, the actor didn’t just recycle his break-out role. While Alan was just the guy that audiences felt bad for, Ethan was the character that really created most of the laughs in ‘Due Date.’ Ethan just wanted a friend in Peter, but his actions, while well-intentioned, often provided more mischief. Galifianakis definitely made Ethan likeable and relatable, as he didn’t always realize his actions bothered the people around him.

In ‘Due Date,’ Galifianakis definitely made up for his role as Bobby in his previous movie, last month’s dramedy ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story.’ That movie flopped at the box office, not even making it’s entire budget back during its limited theatrical release, in part because the actor’s fans aren’t accustomed to seeing him taking on such serious subjects. Galifianakis should definitely stick to comedy, as he rightfully first garnered mainstream attention for being a stand-up comedian.

‘Due Date’s director Todd Phillips, who also helmed the hits ‘Old School’ and ‘Road Trip,’ and directed Galifianakis in ‘The Hangover,’ surely has another hit on his hands. While most directors don’t like being typed-cast, he definitely made the right decision to take on another comedy about free-spirited, care-free guy friends who decide to take a journey together. While Downey probably won’t win another Golden Globe next year for ‘Due Date,’ like he did this year for ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ Phillips made the right decision to cast the respected actor alongside the popular up-and-coming Galifianakis.

Written by: Karen Benardello

The Romantics Movie Review

'The Romantics' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

The romantics is a nickname adopted by the group of college friends and main characters in the new romantic comedy ‘The Romantics,’ as many of them have dated or have gotten engaged or married to each other. The term can also be used to describe the multiple big-name actors in the small, independent Paramount Famous Productions movie, including Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Josh Duhamel, Adam Brody and Elijah Wood, as America has had a long love affair with all of them. As the movie lacks special effects and blockbuster status, Paramount seemed to bank on the profitably of the actors to carry the tumultuous day-in-the-life tale that many people can relate to.

Based on the book ‘The Romantics,’ the second novel by author Galt Niederhoffer, the movie follows Laura Rosen (played by Holmes, who also served as an executive producer), as she travels to the home of her college roommate, Lila Hayes (portrayed by Paquin), six years after graduation. Lila is set to marry Tom, who dated Laura all throughout college. Laura agreed to be Lila’s maid of honor, even though she still has romantic feelings for Tom, and suspects he still has feelings for her. As their friends speculate over whom Tom will choose to be with, Laura struggles between standing up for Lila at the wedding or running off with her old love.

Holmes, Duhalmel and the other actors definitely deserve credit for trying to branch out into a different genre. Having previously done movies known more for their stunts than their story-lines, the actors definitely faced a challenge taking on roles the American audience can actually relate to. But having been in Hollywood since they were kids or teens, many of the main stars lacked the real-life experiences that Americans are facing today, including been romantically torn between two friends.

Niederhoffer, who has also worked as a Hollywood producer on such films as ‘Prozac Nation’ and ‘The Baxter,’ also deserves credit for taking the leap into writing the screenplay for, and directing, ‘The Romantics.’ As a first-time screenwriter and film director, she was able to capture the essence of independent movies, including having the characters strive to better themselves through talking about their life goals and differences. But Niederhoffer introduced so many characters throughout the 95-minute movie that not many are developed, and it’s hard for the audience to even keep track of some of their names. Laura, Lila and Tom’s true personalities aren’t even fully exposed until the end of the movie, and they’re the main characters.

‘The Romantics’ tried to prove that the multiple well-known actors could carry a character-driven story, and that Niederhoffer could compete with other directors of smaller, independent movies. However, the movie starts off with a whimper instead of a bang, and never builds up the necessary momentum needed to truly set itself apart.

Ke$ha 11th Female Solo Singer to Have Four Top 10 Singles from Debut Album

Will Ke$ha’s New Feat Keep Her On Top of the Music World?
The Singer-Songwriter 11th Female Solo Singer to Have Four Top 10 Singles from Debut Album

Written by: Karen Benardello

With the release of her new song ‘Take It Off,’ Ke$ha has become the 11th solo female artist to garner at least four Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles from a debut album, the chart’s website reported on September 13. During the chart’s 52-year history, other singers who have claimed that achievement include Cyndi Lauper, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Beyonce.

The 23-year-old Ke$ha burst into the music scene in the beginning of 2010, when her debut single, ‘TiK ToK’ spent nine weeks at the top of the Hot 100, starting on January 2. The singer-songwriter’s second single, ‘Blah Blah Blah,’ featuring 3OH!3, debuted at number seven three weeks after ‘TiK ToK’s premiere. Ke$ha’s debut album, ‘Animal,’ debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 at the same time.

‘Your Love Is My Drug’ followed next, rising to the number four spot in June. While all of Ke$ha’s songs are catchy, they pale in comparison to her main rival, Lady Gaga. While Ke$ha is trying to emulate Gaga’s bizarre outfits and release similarly-themed songs, and definitely deserves credit for achieving such a unique feat, she doesn’t have as much staying power. Where Gaga is creative in both of her songs and style, Ke$ha just seems to be riding on the coattails of her crazy outfits.

Bo Burnham Interview

Here's the link to my interview with comedian/singer/actor Bo Burnham at the Conflict of Interest Party at Rebel NYC:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ryan Kwanten Red Hill Interview

Here's the link to my interview with 'True Blood's Ryan Kwanten, on his new movie, 'Red Hill':

Red Hill Movie Review

Title: Red Hill

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Claire van der Boom and Tommy Lewis

Red Hill: not only is it a place aimed to showcase a largely uninhabited area of Australia that many people don’t know about, but it’s also the place that highlights the talents of a cast and crew that many people aren’t familiar with. The new independent drama, which was directed and written by newcomer Patrick Hughes, and features actors Steve Bisley, Tom E. Lewis and ‘True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, is the latest testament proving that Hollywood isn’t the only place that creates great western-thrillers.

The movie follows a young city police officer, Shane Cooper (played by Kwanten), as he moves to the small town of Red Hill from the big city. He wants to provide his wife Alice (portrayed by Claire van der Boom) with a safe, quiet environment during her pregnancy. However, things don’t go as Shane planned on the first day of his new job, when a convicted murderer, Jimmy Conway (played by Lewis), escapes from prison.

Jimmy, who once lived in Red Hill, returns to take his revenge out on the town, especially the head of the police department, Old Bill (portrayed by Bisley). While Jimmy is hunting down Old Bill and the rest of the locals who helped send him to prison, Shane is left to protect himself and struggle to survive for his wife and unborn child.

At first, ‘Red Hill’ didn’t seem as though it would be extremely original or well-shot. The low-budget western-thriller is Hughes’ first full-length movie. The production only lasted four weeks, so it seemed likely that it would just feature under-developed roles and scenic shots of the Australian countryside and cheap effects.

But the ten-year commercial director veteran proved that his years of struggling to break into the film industry served him well, as he was able to inject his life experiences into the script. Much like Shane had to work to provide for Alice and their child, Hughes worked hard to get the film made, saying “We made the film independently, raising the money privately; the production went ahead with neither a distributor attached nor any government funding beyond a location grant.” He has also said that he even had to use “second-hand film stock from…’Entourage’ and ‘Fast and Furious.’”

As the movie’s writer, Hughes expertly formed the relationship between Shane and Bill. He knew to make the young officer ready to please his superiors, while secretly questioning their motives and actions.

Kwanten and Bisley further expanded the tension between the two officers. Not being afforded the opportunity to discuss how to approach their on-screen relationship, the two actors brought their unfamiliarity with each other to the screen. “What was different about this film was that there wasn’t a whole abundance of talk beforehand, because we didn’t have the luxury of that time. But what that afforded us was a different kind of freedom,” Kwanten has said of ‘Red Hill.’

Playing an Australian again for the first time in eight years, Kwanten also showed his diversified acting skills. While primarily known in America for playing womanizer slacker Jason Stackhouse on ‘True Blood,’ Kwanten was also expertly able to play the committed, responsible Shane. He proved what a great actor he is by caring for Alice and being determined to keep his family safe. Kwanten has also said that he is able to bring an authenticity to every role by bringing his real-life experiences to the set.

Bisley was also a great presence on the screen, as he brought a believability to the role of Bill. The town’s head of police thinks he’s more important than he really is, and wants to control everything that goes on in Red Hill. Bisley played his role completely different from Kwanten, which helped drive the plot’s conflict. When Jimmy returns to the town, ready to kill all the locals, the viewer will be so caught up in Bisley’s acting that they’ll want to know what exactly Bill did to Jimmy. As Kwantan has said of his co-star, Bisley has a huge legacy in Australia, which really played well in his portrayal of Bill.

As Hughes has rightfully said of ‘Red Hill,’ the plot is all about revenge, redemption and sacrifice, and is a perfect tribute to the American western. Anyone who enjoyed ‘No Country For Old Men’ and ‘Deliverance,’ movies Hughes has said inspired him, will definitely enjoy his take on the western-thriller genre.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tiny Furniture Movie Review

Tiny Furniture Movie Review

Title: Tiny Furniture

Directed by: Lena Dunham

Starring: Lena Dunham (The Innkeepers), Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham and Jemima Kirke.

Not everyone has the courage to write a satirical comedy movie based partly on their own narcissistic, self-serving lives, and then ask their family and friends to show their support by starring alongside them in it. But Lena Dunham, a young, up-and-coming screenwriter, director and actress, proved her talent by recruiting her mother, sister and several friends to star in her latest independent movie, ‘Tiny Furniture.’ Dunham shows that unlike her self-pitying, immature character Aura, there are young adults who strive to do their best and can achieve their dreams.

‘Tiny Furniture’ follows Aura (played by Dunham), as she moves back into her mother Siri’s (portrayed by Dunham’s real life mother, Laurie Simmons) Tribeca loft after graduating from a liberal arts college in Ohio. Having earned a degree in film theory, Aura is unsure of what kind of job she wants to get. She struggles with her desire to be as successful as her mother, who photographs miniature things. She also feels that she can’t compete with her over-achieving 17-year-old sister Nadine (played by Dunham’s real life sister, Grace Dunham), and thinks that Siri and Nadine are constantly ganging up against her.

Aura reconnects with her old childhood friend Charlotte (portrayed by Dunham’s real life friend Jemima Kirke), who lives off her father. Charlotte tries to give Aura confidence by helping her get a dead-end job as a daytime hostess at the cafe she used to work at. While working there, Aura is attracted to the stand-offish chef Keith (played by David Call). However, Keith is already living with his girlfriend, and Aura is casually dating Jed (portrayed by Alex Karpovsky), a TV director from Chicago who is in New York for a few weeks “on business.”

As the film’s director, Dunham definitely made the right decision in casting her family and friends alongside her. They all compliment each other on-screen, as they understand each other’s real-life fears and insecurities. The cast was also able to flawlessly and effortlessly take on their characters’ traits; since Dunham wrote the script, and based it on her life, they were more easily able to understand how she wanted them to portray their characters. Since the movie is more character-based, as opposed to plot-driven, featuring actors who understand the screenwriter-director’s mindset definitely helped make the characters believable and relatable.

While ‘Tiny Furniture’ is really supposed to showcase Dunham’s talents as an actress as well, Kirke easily stole the spotlight from her in every scene she’s in. While Charlotte is arrogant and self-centered, Kirke was still able to make her likeable, as she didn’t take herself too seriously. She readily admits that she feels entitled, and doesn’t feel any shame about it, to the point where she, and the audience, can laugh about it. Kirke naturally brings humor to her character, which balances Aura’s serious, helpless side. The audience will almost definitely wish Charlotte had a bigger role, to forget about Aura constantly feeling belittled. The movie’s studio, IFC Fims, definitely got it right when it described Charlotte’s “constant attention and indulgent lifestyle…addictive.”

‘Tiny Furniture’s semi-autobiographical take on Dunham’s own life, including her desire to become a successful screenwriter and director, will definitely resonate with recent college graduates. It accurately portrays the fear of failure of every recent college graduate who doesn’t have a job in their chosen field. While Aura’s whining gets to be a bit excessive, college graduates will understand her need to not only be accepted by her professional and social peers, but their successful parents and over-achieving siblings as well.

While the movie only takes place over a few weeks, most viewers will likely want to see Aura start to mature and take on more responsibility. The fact that she doesn’t feel the need to change, and is quick to blame everyone for what’s wrong in her life, proves that she’s still naive. Being a character-driven film, it would have been nice to see Aura initiate change in, or at least want to change, her current circumstances.

The comedy definitely deserved to win the Jury Prize for Best Narrative after premiering at the SXSW Film Festival in March 2010. ‘Tiny Furniture’ is only Dunham’s second full-length feature, and is the first time she worked with professional producers and a paid crew. Dunham proved she what a great director, writer and actress she already is by feeling comfortable enough to parody herself on screen. ‘Tiny Furniture’ is definitely one of the top independent movies to look for this year.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Stone Movie Review

Stone Movie Review

Title: Stone

Directed by: John Curran

Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich and Frances Conroy.

Often, those people who society judge the most are the ones who are locked behind prison bars. However, in the new Overture drama ‘Stone,’ starring Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton and Milla Jovovich, the misconception that prisoners deserve to be judged the harshest is quickly revealed and proven to be wrong. The movie also shows that those people who are the first to point out other people’s faults are often the ones who have something to hide.

‘Stone’s very simplistic plot follows convicted felon Gerald “Stone” Creeson (played by Norton), who is up for parole after serving eight years of a 10-15 year sentence for accessory to murder and arson. In an effort to get released, he tries to convince correctional officer Jack Mabrey (portrayed by DeNiro) that he’s become a spiritual person, and has changed his ways. Stone even has his wife Lucetta (played by Jovovich) seduce Jack, despite the fact that Jack has been married to his wife Madylyn (portrayed by Frances Conroy) for 43 years.

As in all of his roles, DeNiro proves what a committed actor he is by throwing himself into the role. Despite the fact that Jack attends church every week, reads the Bible with Madylyn and seeks advice from one of the bishops at his church, DeNiro still makes the character despicable. Viewers will more than likely loathe Jack, despite his protests to Stone, Lucetta and Madylyn that he is a good person. He constantly judges people and controls those around him, especially his wife, and doesn’t understand why people become upset with him. While Stone is the prisoner and doesn’t always know right from wrong, he at least admits when he knows he’s made mistakes; Jack is definitely the more hated character in the film, as he does whatever he pleases, and doesn’t care who he hurts in the process.

While DeNiro gave another great performance, Norton is the one to watch in ‘Stone.’ While Stone gives Jack an “I don’t care what you do to me” attitude when he first meets him, Norton is able to convincingly turn his character’s personality around. He makes the audience believe that Stone truly wants to better himself, and has become spiritual in the process. While Stone wants Lucetta to constantly harass Jack to get him to expedite his case, Norton is able to turn Stone’s priorities around as the plot goes on.

Jovovich also shines in her role as Lucetta, creating the perfect femme fatale. Not only is she able to convince Stone that she still loves him, even after he spends eight years in jail, she also uses her hidden sexual charm to lure Jack in to help her. Lucetta is also able to lead Jack into compromising situations at work by bringing him presents, and enters into a dangerous personal relationship with him that affects his marriage. While Jovovich doesn’t have many scenes with Norton, when they are on screen together, viewers are left thinking Lucetta really does love Stone. But when Jovovich is next to DeNiro, that belief totally turns around, and viewers are left thinking Lucetta wants to be with Jack.

While Stone and Lucetta’s drive to convince Jack to recommend he be released from prison is the driving force behind the plot, Overture relies more heavily on the actor’s portrayals of their characters to sell the movie. DeNiro, Norton and Jovovich act well off of each other, and really give tension to their relationships. Fans of any of these three actors will surely like this thriller, directed by John Curran, which is now in a limited theatrical release.

Written by: Karen Benardello

'Welcome to the Rileys' Movie Review

'Welcome to the Rileys' Movie Review

Title: Welcome to the Rileys

Directed By: Jake Scott

Starring: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1), Melissa Leo

It’s often difficult for people to venture into territories unknown for them. But if they try hard enough, they’ll surprise themselves and those who know them, and come out having accomplished something they never thought they could. This is certainly the case for the characters, the actors and the director of the new independent film ‘Welcome to the Rileys.’

The movie, which debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, follows Doug Riley (played by James Gandolfini) and his wife Lois (portrayed by Melissa Leo) as they continue to try to deal with the death of their 15-year-old daughter Emily eight years after she died. After Vivian (played by Eisa Davis), a waitress Doug was having an affair with to cope with Emily’s death, dies suddenly of a heart attack, he travels to New Orleans on a business trip. He decides to stay there even after his convention is over, as he’s stricken a relationship with a 16-year-old runaway stripper, Mallory (portrayed by Kristen Stewart), who reminds him of Emily.

‘Welcome to the Rileys’ starts off to a slow start, as it just shows Doug and Lois struggling to keep their nearly 30-year marriage afloat, despite the pain they are both feeling. Nothing is revealed about what caused the strain on the relationship, and viewers are left questioning why they should care about these two characters. It isn’t until Doug travels to New Orleans, and he and Lois are separated, that the film’s momentum picks up, and viewers get to see who they really are. Both Gandolfini and Leo were able to truly show how hurt their respective characters were when they were several states apart.

Director Jake Scott, who is the son of famed director and producer of Ridley Scott and the nephew of director Tony Scott, proved he is just as good as his family members in the movie business by casting Gandolfini, Leo and Stewart. While Gandolfini and Leo both were able to portray grief-stricken parents, unable to deal with letting the memory of their daughter go, Stewart proves that she’s at her best in smaller, independent movies. Much like her other independent drama released this year, ‘The Yellow Handkerchief,’ Stewart proves she can truly develop a role that isn’t based on a popular book character, like Bella from ‘The Twilight Saga,’ and expectations to play her a certain way. She made Mallory relatable by showing her pain of being out on her own, struggling to survive.

While ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ was focused on the relationships between Doug and Lois and Doug and Mallory and on their character development, Gandolfini and Stewart’s chemistry was what really drove the story. Gandolfini was able to completely transform Doug’s character throughout the 110-minute film, proving he could truly care about another person again, instead of just wallowing in his own misery. Meanwhile, Stewart initially portrayed Mallory as needing to sleep with men to validate her self-worth, but after developing a relationship with Doug, she realized there are other ways she can get people to like her.

The only downfall of the movie was that Doug and Lois never really seemed to get truly comfortable with each other. While Gandolfini and Leo were able to truly connect to their characters, they never truly seemed to connect with each other. Since their marriage is the only other main relationship in the story, besides Doug and Mallory’s, it seemed logical that their deposition towards each other would improve after they learned to deal with their grief, but it seemed to stay the same.

‘Welcome to the Rileys’ has a great script from screenwriter Ken Hixon, and will surely push Scott to the forefront of the movie directing world. Known mostly for directing music videos, Scott was able to prove with his second movie that he knows how to create and build characters and their relationships with others. He also proved that he knows how to pick the right cast, as both Ganolfini and Stewart perfected roles that are out of their comfort zones. Though only scheduled for a limited theatrical release, ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ will surely surprise and please many people who see it.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 Movie Review

Paranormal Activity 2 Movie Review

Title: Paranormal Activity 2

Directed by: Tod Williams (Wings Over the Rockies, The Door in the Floor)

Starring: Katie Featherston (Paranormal Activity, Walking Distance)

Great demonic horror films, such as ‘The Exorcist,’ provide developed characters and thorough back-stories in an effort to get the audience to relate to the possessed character’s pain. While no film rivals the 1973 classic, last year’s critical and box-office hit ‘Paranormal Activity’ was extremely close. The thriller was so successful because the main character, Katie, believed she had a ghostly presence following her around since childhood, something a multitude of people around the world claim they can relate to. Paramount Pictures decided to try to replicate the movie’s success by releasing ‘Paranormal Activity 2,’ but its efforts to reveal more details about Katie’s possession failed to raise up as many scares.

The movie acts mainly as a prequel, detailing the events of how Katie was exposed to the demonic presence that haunted her and Micah’s house in the original ‘Paranormal Activity.’ Katie’s sister Kristi and her husband Dan bring their newborn son Hunter home from the hospital, and unexplainable things immediately begin happening. For instance, there was what looked to be a break-in in the beginning of the movie; however, nothing was actually stolen except for a necklace Katie made for Kristi. Dan then decides to install six cameras throughout the house in case another break-in occurred.

The family’s nanny, Martine, tries to cleanse the house of its evil spirits, and to usher in good spirits. Dan, however, doesn’t believe in ghosts and spirits, and doesn’t believe anyone’s claims that the house is haunted, even his daughter Ali.

When Paramount Pictures announced that they were planning on releasing a follow-up, it seemed as though they wanted to cash in on one of the most successful films of all time. Released around Halloween last year, ‘Paranormal Activity’ was released as a pseudo-documentary, much like the simiarly-themed ‘Blair Witch Project,’ and earned $193,355,800 worldwide off of a $15,000 budget. The ending showed a possessed Katie killing Micah, with a title card saying that while police found his body in their house, she was never found. Since the entire point of the movie was to show the couple trying to fight off the demonic presence, there didn’t seem much left for screenwriter and director Oren Peli to touch on. Much like other horror sequels, ‘Paranormal Activity 2′ seemed destined to exploit the title and just feature another possessed couple.

But when Paramount revealed they were creating a prequel to Katie and Micah’s story, expectations for ‘Paranormal Activity 2′ deservingly increased. Audiences were excited to find out why exactly demons were currently pursing Katie, and why they always went after her and Kristi. The new screenwriters Paramount hired for the movie, Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst, deserve some recognition for subtly including a simple reason why, without focusing the entire plot on it. That way, viewers are able to connect with Kristi and her family, much like they did with Katie and Micah in the first film.

But what made the original so scary was the fact that everything Katie and Micah did was in some part influenced by the demonic presence, and what they could do to get rid of it. In ‘Paranormal Activity 2,’ for the most part, the characters don’t seem all that scared by the demons, much less believe they’re there. They just carry on with their everyday lives, as if nothing’s really wrong.

The movie also gained attention when director Tod Williams was hired by Paramount to replace ‘Saw VI’ director Kevin Greutert. While Greutert was originally supposed to take the reins from Peli, Lions Gate exercised a clause in his contract and demanded he helm the final ‘Saw’ movie instead of ‘Paranormal Activity 2.’ While this behind-the-camera shake-up kept people interested in the prequel, Williams failed to live up to expectations. He showed his inexperience in directing (having only helmed two other movies since 1998) with slow pacing. While audiences don’t want an exact replica of the first film, ‘Paranormal Activity 2′ should have followed its predecessor’s lead and showed the deeper effects the demons’ presence in Kristi’s life had on her and her family.

Overall, ‘Paranormal Activity 2′ proved that unlike most horror sequels/prequels, it could indeed provide answers and a more thorough back-story that were left out of the original. However, its rapid five-month production, post-production and advertising period proved that when a studio is too quick to provide a follow-up to a successful film, the magic that made the first movie so great is often lacking.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Conflict of Interest Party Concert Review

Conflict of Interest Party Concert Review

A music festival has finally arrived in the Big Apple that all young New Yorkers will appreciate. The CMJ Music Marathon kicked off its week-long celebration of music with an energetic, diversified night of free music fused with comedy on October 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the mid-town Manhattan club Rebel NYC. The party, which was put together by The Syndicate and was sponsored in part by such media outlets as Comedy Central and the music blog Consequence of Sound, once again put together an unforgettable night of sound.

Hailing from Los Angeles, indie musical group Kitten was the first act to hit the stage. Having the difficult task of setting the mood for the entire event and performing for a still-filling venue, all while promoting its new EP, ‘Sunday School,’ the group’s Japanese-inspired concrete music seemed to fall to the expected fate of not grabbing everyone’s attention as they were coming through the door. While Kitten deserves credit for wanting to showcase its catchy songs, including ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Kill the Light,’ and 16-year-old lead singer Chloe Chaidez looked comfortable on stage, the group don’t have a big enough following yet to capture the attention of on-the-go New Yorkers. Given time, however, the band will develop a unique on-stage musical sound.

Nanna Fabricius, who goes by the stage name of Oh Land, gave the second performance of the night. At 25-years-old, she has found her place in elecontric music, and was able to capture and hold the audience’s attention in the first fantastic set of the night. Truly making music and not just loud noise, the audience was captured but not only her voice, but her drum skills and soundscapes, which include pots and pans and buzzing flies, as well. She also gave a great visual show, as the drums were set up to LED lights and balloons that featured video projections. Oh Lands’s self-titled EP, which features the song ‘Son of a Gun,’ is sure to become a hit in dance clubs across New York.

After Oh Land, the audience seemed skeptical of the next performer, comedian-singer Bo Burnham. Since many people attend the CMJ Music Festival to see indie music groups, the prospect of watching a 20-year-old comedian during the middle of the Conflict of Interest Party seemed to bore the crowd at first. Many people walked away from the stage, but as soon as Burnham came on, he immediately proved he deserved to be there. Having appeared with numerous comedic greats in last year’s ‘Funny People,’ including Adam Sandler, Burnham proved he could work the crowd with his impromptu dancing, poems and card tricks. He even connected with music-lovers by performing a few songs at the end of the set. Burnham’s willingness to have fun on stage in front of a mostly-older audience and his fearlessness to poke fun at serious, political subjects prove why his YouTube videos have received over 60 million hits.

Up-and-coming pop and folklore band Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was the next group to hit the stage, in their first of seven shows of the week. The audience seemed intrigued by the duo, who wore their typical NASCAR Racing Suits, in honor of their namesake, race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. The group seemed at home on stage, singing songs from their new EP ‘Horse Power.’

Seattle-based comedian and singer Reggie Watts performed next, and paved the way for Conflict of Interest headliners Nada Surf. Watts had the crowd laughing with his usual fare of improved stand-up comedy, which was mixed with a cappella rap numbers.

The true highlight of the night was alternative rock group Nada Surf, which formed in New York in 1992 and actually held their first rehearsal at the Rebel. The crowd continuously commented all night that they were excited to see the show’s headlining members on stage, including singer Matthew Caws, bassist Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot, to relive their glory days. The band rose to fame after their debut album, ‘Hi/Low,’ was released in 1996, and their most popular song to date, ‘Popular,’ hit the airwaves the same year. The group played Conflict of Interest to promote their new album, ‘If I Had a Hi-Fi,’ which features covers of their 12 favorite songs. Even though Nada Surf didn’t hit the stage until midnight, it was definitely worth the wait to see them play a 90-minute set, featuring all their best songs, including ‘Hi-Speed Soul,’ ‘Love and Anger’ and ‘Always Love.’

The Syndicate definitely made the right decision to host the 12th Annual Pre-CMJ Conflict of Interest Party. Hosted by TV personality/music journalist Allison Hagendorf, the attendees at the completely packed Rebel NYC will definitely remember the fantastic indie music and comedic fest for a long time to come.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Link to my Interview With the 'Welcome to The Rileys' Cast and Director

Here's the link to my interview with 'Welcome to The Rileys' stars Kristen Stewart, James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo, as well as the director, Jake Scott:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Links to my interviews with the cast and crew of 'Tamara Drewe'

Here are the links to my interviews with the cast and crew of 'Tamara Drewe':

-Lead Actress Gemma Arterton:

-Actor Dominic Cooper:

-Actor Luke Evans:

-Director Stephen Frears:

Links to my 'I Spit On Your Grave (2010)' interviews

Here are the links to my 'I Spit On Your Grave (2010)' interviews:

-Executive Producer and Director of the 1978 original movie Meir Zarchi:

-Lead Actress Sarah Butler, who plays Jennifer Hill

It's Kind of a Funny Story Movie Review

It's Kind of a Funny Story Movie Review

Title: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Dana DeVestern, Lauren Graham and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover 2)

Sometimes movies have the perfect setup to be the next great American icon that will leave audiences talking about them for years to come. ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ seemed like it would be one of those movies, as it stars such famous actors as Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis and Lauren Graham. Plus, it’s based on the 2006 novel of the same name, which itself was inspired by author Ned Vizzini’s own experiences after hospitalized for depression in late 2004.

Unfortunately, the film adaptation, which was written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, failed to live up to the hype surrounding it after premiering at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie follows 16-year-old Craig (played by Keir Gilchrist) after he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital following a bout of depression. Craig is placed in the adult ward for five days, where he is guided and protected by Bobby (portrayed by Galifianakis), who himself is struggling with being institutionalized on his daughter’s eighth birthday.

Craig also finds himself attracted to Noelle (played by Roberts), another 16-year-old who is in the adult ward. Not only does Noelle help Craig get through his stay at the hospital, but so does Dr. Minerva (portrayed by Davis), the adult ward’s staff psychiatrist. She coaxes him to discuss his school work and friends at Executive Pre-Professional High School, as well as his family, in an effort to understand why he’s been depressed.

Focus Features, the studio that released the movie, seemed to make the right choice at first by hiring Gilchrist, a relative unkown to most movie audiences, but who previously rose to fame on Showtime’s ‘United States of Tara.’ The role of Craig needed to be portrayed by an actor with whom most people don’t know much about, so they would more easily believe he has had real teen experiences and understand what it’s like to be depressed. Since teens are often faced with dealing with stress related to school, family and friends, it also seemed safe to assume that Gilchrist would be able to portray that, since he didn’t grow up being a big child movie star.

However, Gilchrist didn’t seem to really care about being in character, and instead just enjoyed being on screen, having fun. While ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is a comedy-drama, it’s supposed to have both comedic and dramatic elements to it, but Gilchrist didn’t bring anything dramatic to the role.

Casting Galifianakis as the fun-loving Bobby also seemed like a wise decision at first, since he has garnered attention for his similarly-themed comedic performances in such movies as ‘The Hangover,’ ‘Youth in Revolt’ and ‘Dinner for Schmucks.’ Having perfected the funny character with underlying issues in these roles, Galifianakis did bring some laughs and cut the tension in several scenes in ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story.’ However, he didn’t bring as much charm and charisma to the role of Bobby as he has to his other roles, and audiences will certainly be left wondering where his continuous comedic relief is in this movie.

Since the topic of patients’ lives in psychiatric hospitals has been covered multiple times in movies before, ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ needed to bring something new to the subject to draw attention to itself. However, even casting fan favorite Galifianakis and relative newcomer Gilchrist to the two main roles in an attempt to add comedic relief and character believability didn’t compensate for the script’s lack of originality.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Friday, October 15, 2010

Link to my interview with actress Jolene Purdy

Here's the link to my interview with Jolene Purdy of TeenNick's New Show, 'Gigantic':

Chain Letter Movie Review

Chain Letter Movie Review

Title: Chain Letter

Directed by: Deon Taylor (Terminated)

Starring: Nikki Reed (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1), Noah Segan, Keith David, Brad Dourif (Deadwood), and Michael B. Smith

There are people today who believe technology will be the downfall of humanity, and New Films International’s newest horror film, ‘Chain Letter,’ happily plays on that fear. Lead by popular horror actress Nikki Reed of ‘Twilight’ fame, ‘Chain Letter’ aims to scare some respect of other people’s privacy and anger towards the evolution of technology into its audience. But trying to push such a moral lesson onto audiences through a horror movie seemed to have backfired.

The movie follows several teen friends, including Jessie Campbell (played by Reed); Dante (portrayed by Noah Segan of ‘Cabin Fever 2′); and Rachel Conners (played by Cherilyn Wilson, who appeared in ‘The Social Network’) and her brother Neil (portrayed by Cody Kasch of ‘Desperate Housewives’ fame), who fight to stay alive after Neil received a chain letter while playing an internet video game. After Rachel follows the letter ’s instructions and sends it to five other people, those who deleted it without passing it along themselves start dying. Detective Jim Crenshaw (played by Keith David) and Sergeant Hamill (portrayed by Besty Russell from the ‘Saw’ series) look into the teens ‘ brutal murders, and start to question if they were the work of one man or of a group that hates technology, as the teens are tracked through their cell phones.

‘Chain Letter’ starts off to a redundant start, lacking in any original backstory or character development. Taking cues from other horror movies about the downfalls of technology, including 2006’s ‘Pulse,’ as well as the numerous torture-porn films that have risen to popularity during the last decade, including the aforementioned ‘Saw’ series, ‘Chain Letter’ simply fuses the two together. While fans of gore will be happy to see that three of the teens are killed right away, one after the other, many viewers will find it hard to empathize with the remaining characters ‘ grief, as not much is revealed about anyone.

It’s also questionable why director Deon Taylor, who also co-wrote the movie with Diana Erwin and Michael J. Pagin, followed typical high school-themed movies and didn’t feature the teens’ parents, except briefly in a couple of scenes. While most high school students try to stay away from their parents as often as they can, it seems logical that the parents would want to keep their children safe at home to protect them while a mass murderer is on the loose. It’s questionable why Taylor didn’t include that aspect.

However, the suspense does start to pick up around the mid-way point of the 85-minute film, when Jessie and Detective Crenshaw start to really look into if the murders are related to the chain letter. Not only will the audience start to feel that Detective Crenshaw is really serious in linking the letter to the murders and wants to find out who the killer is, Taylor made another right decision to show Jessie’s pain and determination to protect the rest of her friends who are still alive. At this point, audiences will surely forget that they ‘re watching Rosalie from the ‘Twilight Saga’ on the screen, and instead focus on Jessie ’s fight for survival.

While ‘Chain Letter’ isn’t the most thought-provoking, original horror movie ever made, its wide release was unfortunately scraped, after it opened in limited release on October 1 in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Detroit and Atlanta. The movie opened at number 34, raking in only $138,788 on 402 theaters against a $3 million budget. Even though it’s rated R for strong bloody sadistic violence throughout, language and brief nudity and would likely appeal to numerous horror fans, ‘Chain Letter’ won’t be passed on and seen by many more people during its theatrical release.

Written by: Karen Benardello