Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sinister (Movie Review)

Sinister is one of two horror movies I've seen recently which featured convincing performances, a scary premise and skillful direction. There are only a few characters but many scares which make Sinister live up to it's title, with twists which agonize the audience as they see terrible things through the eyes of the main character.

The protagonist, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), is a real life crime writer who hasn't written a hit since one of his earliest books, Kentucky Blood, and is looking to catch lightning in a bottle once again by moving to a small town with his family to investigate another unsolved murder. What the rest of his family doesn't know, is that the house has a dark history and the whole town (including the Sheriff) disapproves of their presence. This is not the first time the family has moved to a small town with an unsettling story, and his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) is not afraid to let him know that their life is not ideal. Oswalt's life and work are separate and it's one of the rules of the house not to go into his office but also for him to lock the door, he is secluded in nothing but the horror of his work. 

While Oswalt dives headfirst into his novel, he uncovers a box of disturbing 8mm home films (in the attic of all places), which show multiple families being brutally murdered in different ways. As he uncovers more gruesome murders, all filmed by an unknown person, he realizes he has more than he can handle but he is not willing to turn to the police because this could be his return to fame. But at what cost is he willing to sacrifice his career for his family? This is the question that echoed throughout the film and the conflict which eats away at Oswalt.

Hawke is believable and as the content gets more gruesome he starts hitting the bottle more and even smokes at one point. His daughter takes a liking to drawing but one day she draws a mysterious figure in makeup who appears in the films. His son suffers from night terrors and they get progressively worse as Oswalt uncovers more about the house and the figure, later named Mr. Boogie. 

The cast is small but the film ultimately benefits from the small number of people Oswalt interacts with because it adds to his solitude and misery. He enlists help with a dimwitted deputy who wants his police work to be in the acknowledgements of his book, and a college professor (Vincent D'Onofrio) who knows the legend behind Oswalt's findings. Both characters push the plot further just as the house and the films push Oswalt to his breaking point.

Most of the scares happen at night with the sound of steps, thumps or shuddering. The music is often slow and silent until something strange happens and during the climax Oswalt is filled with paranoia and fear for his family. Sinister is smart in it's patient delivery leading up to the conclusion and I was reminded of The Amityville Horror films which are similar, but not as effective. The father in that movie is also the lead target but in Sinister the dad is much smarter and more complex than in any of those films where the families stays in the house running in circles. 

In Sinister, Oswalt is outcast from his family and being pulled into much more than he bargained for and the audience wants him to survive with his family more than they want him to solve the murders. The conclusion could alienate some people who didn't enjoy the rest of it but if you enjoy horror movies like I do, you'll know this one is one of the good ones. 

My Rating:

The Possession (Movie Review)

Here we have yet another film following the trend of exorcism movies in recent years, The Exorcist of course being the best, and many other movies trying to duplicate it but ultimately ending up inferior to a masterpiece.

Surprisingly, The Possession offers much more than expected and packs some pretty terrifying elements in it's 90-minute running time. After seeing Sinister recently, a movie I also enjoyed, The Possession has a similar execution in it's character development but the payoff is more memorable. The film takes elements from The Omen and The Exorcist but with an updated aesthetic and well developed characters. The film doesn't rely on cheap scares or overindulgent effects, it relies on the characters—a concept often forgot in horror movies.

The movie wastes no time by opening with an old lady being attacked by an unknown presence presumed to be connected with a strange box, which the camera lingers on with ominous whispers in the background. Than the audience meets the main characters, Clyde, (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) a committed basketball coach and father who recently divorced his wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), who has a new boring love interest. They have two daughters, Katie and "Em" (Natasha Calis) who live with their mother but see their father on the weekends. When their Dad takes them to his new house and passes by a rummage sale, the younger and charming daughter Em is entranced by a box with no openings and Hebrew lettering inscribed in it (I have no idea why),which unbeknownst to her, is a Dybbuk box holding a vicious demon. 

While the daughters struggle to adjust to the divorce, Em finds comfort in the box which she eventually opens and that is when the real horror begins. In the box she finds several dead moths, which make several more appearances in the film, and other random possessions like a ring. As Em wears the ring and stays attached to the box she starts hearing voices and becomes a separate character altogether (She even tells her sister she feels like a different person). Natasha Calis' performance is comparable to Linda Blair's in The Exorcist but the tone is much more subtle in this film. What Calis shows is a slow transformation into her possession with several horrifying moments including a violent attachment to the box, moths, outbursts, a medical examination and 
a series of deaths/injuries.

The film is based on an actual Dybbuk box sold on Ebay and written in a Los Angeles Times article and while now it's almost mandatory to label these films "true stories", the Yiddish folklore element was a different spin which added to this already unnerving script. When the main character finally seeks help in a Jewish Rabbi in the second act, it is his last plea to save the daughter once he was sure she was "possessed". The friendly Jewish Rabbi is played by reggae rap artist and Hasidic Jew Matiyahu. He is shy but volunteers to help the dad when others don't, translates the Hebrew and performs the intensely filmed final exorcism. 

The special effects are minimal and the characters are realistic making the scares all the more effective. Morgan and Sedgwick don't overplay their roles, they are two adults trying to deal with their painful situation and their indifference is more authentic than most movie portrayals of broken marriage. It's remarkable how scary a movie can be when the audience actually feels for it's characters. 

Overall, The Possession is one of the best horror films I've seen in a while. Evil Dead was a disappointment, Sinister was good but The Possession took me by surprise and never let go even after the credits rolled. It's not The Exorcist but it's close in it's skilled execution and performances. 

My Rating:

Friday, April 19, 2013

RIP Guru of Gang Starr (1961-2010)

It was only three years ago today, when the hip hop community lost legendary MC, Guru, who put out classic albums with DJ Premier. If you're not familiar with his music I recommend you start with Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr and see why he influenced a generation of lyricists and built an iconic sound with Premo. 

R.I.P. Guru, Hip-hop lives. 

Action Bronson - XXL Freshman Freestyle

Bam Bam Bronson's XXL freshman freestyle for this year's class. My favorite line being from Milwaukee is "lost paper cuz Prince Fielder couldn't field the fucking pop up." Make sure you check out his latest track "Live From Kissena Boulevard" off of Funk Flex's tape which dropped Wednesday. 

Other freshman who have freestyle videos include Travis Scott, Ab-Soul, Joey Bada$$, Logic, Trinidad James, Kirko Bangz and Schoolboy Q. I cosign Joey and the Black Hippy crew, with Q having the best freestyle so far, while Trinidad James dropped the worst XXL freestyle since OJ Da Juiceman

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

DJ Booth Releases Remastered XV Anthology

XV is a small-town rapper born in Witchita, Kansas who has been making waves in rap for a long time (he has over 15 mixtapes). I wasn't always a fan but after my friend recommended I listen to Zero Heroes and I started hearing some of the singles I knew that he had potential, possibly more than J. Cole. He's worked with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, Schoolboy Q, Vado and Talib Kweli in his career and mostly before he was signed. 

What struck me most about XV is his humble approach and his ear for sampling sounds from pop culture that inspire him, and turning them into dope hip hop tracks (The Kick). While they aren't always successful mashups (Foreign Exchange Student) the payoff is usually worth it. XV knows when he has a beat that matches his style and although his wordplay and metaphors can get corny sometimes, he's one of the better newcomers to surface in recent years.

Popular Culture is his latest release that is a step down from Zero Heroes, but there were memorable moments like "Breaking Bad" or "Go On Without Me". But it was was after his 12th mixtape Everybody's Nobody where he gained a mass following which led to him getting signed to Warner Bros. Records in 2010. His album The Kid With the Green Backpack has been talked since 2008 but was officially set to release early this year and include features from J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar and executive production from Just Blaze. Now DJ Booth has released an anthology of his last four mixtapes (Everybody's Nobody, VIzzy Zone, Zero Heroes, Popular Culture) but if you're looking to download more of XV's older work go here.

To download the tagless remastered versions of his last four mixtapes, with unreleased material go here.

De La Soul - Get Away (feat. The Spirit of the Wu)

De La Soul has made their first release together as a group since 2004, with a new song debuted on Rolling Stones today. "Get Away" is directly inspired by Wu-Tang Clan's "Intro" from their sophomore album Wu-Tang Forever (Disc Two) where RZA famously rants about the state of rap. 

Some of the best quotes are echoed throughout "Get Away" like "A lot of niggas trying to take hip hop and make it R&B" and "You Cat in the Hat ass rappers/You Dr. Seuss mother goose..." and GZA hilariously interrupting him in the background with "stop running up on niggas with all that wack shit". My cousin and I had a conversation years ago about how funny it must have been in the studio recording the intro, with RZA speaking off the cuff and GZA stepping into the mic occasionally to back him up. 

Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge - Rise of the Ghostface Killah

The latest visual from Ghostface Killah dropped yesterday with his new album Twelve Reasons to Die with Adrian Younge. "Rise of the Ghostface Killah" plays like a mini-horror movie featuring a masked Ghostface catching bodies and RZA narrating the intro. The beat features a minimal drum pattern and a menacing sample (reminiscent of RZA's production) which slowly builds with Ghost's killer flow. 

I bought my copy for 8$ last night and it includes the 12-track album and all of the instrumentals. So if you're thinking of buying Indicud, your better off putting your money with a veteran who continues to evolve and put out heat after being in the game for 20 years. Other notable releases this week are N.O.R.E.'s new album Student of the Game and Styles P's Float

Check out the video below and buy Twelve Reasons to Die in any format here.

Jay-Z - Open Letter

Last week Jay-Z dropped a collaboration with Timbaland and Swizz Beatz entitled "Open Letter", an open response to critics that are questioning his visit to Cuba. Since it dropped there has been a response from Pitbull about the history of Cuba and Common did a remix. Obama responded today saying he "wasn't familiar" with them taking the trip and that the White House was not involved.

The lyrics are average for a legend like Jay but there are some notable lines like "government never did shit for me/except lie to me distort history" or "Obama said "chill you gon get me impeached"/but you don't need this shit anyway, chill wit me on the beach." 

The beat is also another lackluster production from Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and of course Swizz Beatz has to put his stamp on it and add a mediocre chorus. It's good to see Jay-Z vent his frustration but it's a throwaway track at the end of the day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Statik Selektah - Bird's Eye View (feat. Raekwon, Joey Bada$$ & Black Thought)

"Bird's Eye View" is the latest single off of Statik Selektah's upcoming album Extended Play featuring Rakewon, Joey Bada$$ and Black Thought. The song's playful keys and vocal samples allow the two legendary MC's and a promising newcomer to viciously blend their flows over it. 

Raekwon has always been a smooth opener and Black Thought absolutely caught a body and showed why he was the anchor of the track for 32 bars ("I am the living definition of improving the groove"). He continues to dominate his features and proves he's one of the best MC's and also the most slept on, even though he's been around for years. 

Statik Selektah has also continuously produced heater after heater recently so make sure you buy the single on iTunes and cop the album when it drops June 18th. 

Check out his previous single with Termanology and Ea$y Money here

The Unbelievers - (Official Trailer)

I'm currently an atheist and have been for about 3 years now and I couldn't be more content in my decision to stop worshiping a mythical figure. Most religious people think that all atheists are unethical or narcissistic because they might have stumbled on a Bill Maher interview but that's not the case. My interest in biology—particularly Darwinist theories—in high school combined with George Carlin's ingenius perspective didn't make me an atheist, it made me challenge my own beliefs; and that's something everyone should consistently do throughout their lifetime.

What makes atheists so blunt about their beliefs is that they've been ignored for so long, but with the amount of research-based evidence available, people are starting to see the truth and how hypocritical and divided religion can be. The Unbelievers follows renowned evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins and theoretical physicist/astrologist Lawrence Kross as they travel around the world speaking on the importance of science to many religion-based cultures. It's a beautiful thing to see the amount of people responding to their debates and asking questions because they are genuinely interested in the truth, a life mission the scientists are determined to spread. 

 The movie will likely not demand people to change their religion but as Lawrence Krauss says in the trailer "there's no one whose views are not subject to question" and this includes the clergy which people hold to such a higher power. (Watch this video of Richard Dawkins owning Cardinal Pell on Q&A) From what I am hearing the movie is more about teaching a logical and scientific worldview opposed to ancient stories to answer the worlds questions. The movie stars Woody Allen, Stephen Hawking and Ricky Gervais are just a few of the names which give commentary on the film, which comes out soon.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Hangover Part III - (Official Trailer #2)

The Hangover series has become a cultural phenomenon in American comedy. The Hangover (2009) proved its success with an unsung cast/director and a hilarious script filled with unpredictable moments that made a raunchy and genuinely funny movie. The Hangover Part II (2011) brought back the same characters that audiences grew to like, but instead of setting itself apart it faltered under high expectations and recycled the same script with more shock value added in.

Now we get The Hangover Part III, the last in the series, and the second trailer reveals more about the plot than the first one did. Like how their trip to Mexico is based on an attempt to take Alan to a rehab center, and how their abductors work for John Goodman who is using them to get to Mr. Chow—who owes him 21 million dollars. 

The "epic finale" hits theaters May 24th. Watch the trailer below.

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