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All photos Getty Images - Justin Sullivan; Jason Merritt; Michael Buckner for SXSW; Jamie McCarthy for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon; Michael Buckner; Jason Merritt

Monday, September 15, 2014

Doctor Who: “Listen” review

by Melissa Parkin

“What’s that in the mirror, 
and the corner of your eye?
What’s that footstep following, 
never passing by?
Perhaps they’re not just waiting, 
perhaps when we’re all dead
Out they’ll come a slithering, 
from underneath the bed.”

Could a nursery rhyme really hold a disturbing truth? This Steven Moffat penned episode, “Listen,” gives us plenty of insight. But is the outcome worthy of the initial buildup? The Doctor ponders the possibility that we are never alone. Evolution perfects survival skills, so is it possible that a living entity has perfected the art of HIDING?

Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Clara returns home from her rather awkward first date with Danny Pink, only to find the TARDIS blocking her doorway. Upon sharing his theory, the Doctor enlists her help in hopes of proving himself right. Remember that dream of a hand grabbing your ankle from under the bed? The Doctor is convinced that we all share that same nightmare, and he connects Clara into the TARDIS’ telepathic link to take them to the first time she experienced the dream. Her thoughts stray during the process, and the two end up in front of a Gloucester children’s home at nighttime. There, Clara meets an oddly familiar boy, Rupert, and realizes soon enough that it’s actually Danny Pink’s younger self.

Clara tries convincing the frightened boy that there is no monster lurking under his bed. She tells him to join her as she lays down and climbs under there. Rupert finally finds comfort knowing that no one else is in the room . . . until the weight of the mattress dips down on top of them. Scuttling out, they find something sitting on Rupert’s bed with the blanket draped over itself.

Fear sits front and center in this episode. Given that this was written by the man responsible for monsters like the Weeping Angels and The Silence, it’s no surprise that we’d get something similar in style. “Listen” capitalizes on what makes chamber piece episodes so enthralling. Stripped to minimized special effects makeup and CGI, the tension is purely character based. In true Hitchcock form, it’s the subtlety that supplies the scares. It’s about what’s not being shown. Moffat proves that leaving everything to the imagination can in fact be scarier than a monstrous reveal.
The episode does suffer though from the uneven blending of genres. “Listen” starts off as a contemporary, but turns into a suspense story reminiscent of 2002’s Signs. Then, it becomes a science fiction thriller, before returning to a contemporary. All of the elements, in each act, are compelling. But they don’t blend smoothly into one another. Overall, “Listen” isn’t perfect, but it’s still one of Moffat’s bests. Peter Capaldi’s uncanny ability to deliver dry humor propels each scene into another league. Jenna Coleman shines for her sass with Capaldi’s Doctor and her onscreen chemistry with Samuel Anderson’s Danny Pink. “Listen” is the best episode to date in the eighth series, and Moffat seems to be improving from week to week. 

Episode Rating: Solid A

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ray Rice and Violence

In Episode 149, Germar continues his alternative, yet unoffensive, take on domestic violence.  Why did the tape matter?  Drugs versus domestic violence?  Should Roger Goodell go?  But first, Germar talks about his life as a gypsy, nomad, traveler dude.

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Taylor Swift: reinvented?

by Melissa Scott, Writing Intern 

Photo by Oliver Hardt/Getty Images
Taylor Swift’s upcoming album, 1989, hits stores next month. And as usual, listeners can’t wait for the unleashing of her classic song-stingers. Swift contends that 1989 signals a significant turning point in her life - one of self-“reinvention,” and a deviation from anything she produced before. She maintains that the album best portrays her newfound station in life, one entirely non-“boycentric,” freeing, and individualistic.

Rolling Stone featured Swift in an exclusive tell-all interview and photo shoot, gaining primary access to her own promotion of her revolutionized album and lifestyle choices. First and foremost, 1989 officially marks Swift’s clear-cut transition from country to pop artist. Swift’s last album, Red, bestrode the two genres, mixing the different sounds throughout her songs.

Now, Swift’s decision seems resilient. “At a certain point,” she admitted, “if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both.” Swift publicly resolved not to go to any more country awards shows, or promote her album on country radio. She even disclosed her refusal to incorporate any country to the head of her label, Scott Borchetta, when she gave him the completed record. Swift said Borchetta remarked, “this is extraordinary – it's the best album you've ever done. But can you just give me three country songs?” Remaining steadfast in siding with pop, however, Swift replied, “Love you, mean it, but this is how it's going to be.”

Swift may be determined to change genres entirely, but it’s her other claims of self-renovation that I don’t buy. Her next significant life transformation, she told Rolling Stone, is a departure from the dating life, and all things guy-related. She claims the album completely lacks any “diss tracks” or call-outs featuring her notorious ex-list. Some songs, she affirms, refer to relationships and her past love life. But rather than vengeful and brazen, Swift categorizes them more as reflectively sentimental. “Different phases of your life have different levels of deep, traumatizing heartbreak,” she stresses. “And in this period of my life, my heart was not irreparably broken. So it’s not as boycentric of an album, because my life hasn't been boycentric.”

This might be a fair statement, and almost believable—until Swift directly offset the assertion in the very next sentence of the interview. She decided to bring up the very topic of an ex-boyfriend—none other than the popular heart throb and notorious ladies’ man, One Direction singer Harry Styles. Trying to back up her “boy-free” claim, Swift said, “I have not gone on a date [since breaking up with Styles]. People are going to feel sorry for me when you write that. But it's true.” Swift continued to name off not one, but four tracks that allude to her relationship with Styles. She mentioned “Wish You Would,” namely a song about an ex who bought a house two blocks from hers (implying that Styles did that). Next came “All You Had to Do Was Stay,” a song that happens to describe an ex who just wouldn’t commit (yet again a Styles’ definition). “Out of the Woods” refers to a snowmobile accident Swift and Styles reportedly underwent. Finally, Swift enthusiastically detailed  the boldly entitled “Style”—a spicy Miami vice-sounding track about a guy with slicked-back hair and a white t-shirt hitting it off with a not-so-classy girl in a tight little skirt.

Detecting a snide call-out there shouldn’t be too difficult. Harry Styles and Kendall Jenner started a short-lived relationship a few months after Styles’ break with Swift. And in one of their first paparazzi-caught pictures together, Styles in fact wore a white t-shirt and Jenner wore a tight black skirt. It didn’t take much investigative skill to work that out. Referring to “Style,” Swift grinned, “We should have just called it ‘I'm Not Even Sorry.’” So yeah, her “no-diss track” claim seems displaced.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for MTV
Swift recounted to Rolling Stone yet another rebuking single, “Bad Blood,” This song namelessly attacks a fellow rival artist - a female. “For years, I was never sure if we were friends or not,” Swift declared scathingly. “She would come up to me at awards shows and say something and walk away, and I would think, ‘Are we friends, or did she just give me the harshest insult of my life?’” Swift continued, “Then last year, she did something so horrible. She basically tried to sabotage my entire arena tour. She tried to hire a bunch of people out from under me.”

Speculation concerning Swift’s bitter accusations point to Katy Perry. Notoriously, the two do not get along.  Previously, Perry hired three of Swift’s back up dancers, who all left Swift  mid-tour to join Perry. The act seems nearly identical to the sabotage story Swift noted. Meanwhile, barely 24 hours after the release of Swift’s interview with Rolling Stone, Katy Perry fiercely sub-tweeted, “Watch out for Regina George in sheep’s clothing.” At least Swift titled the song accurately. “Bad Blood” pretty much sums it up between these two.

So is 1989 really that much different from Swift’s previous albums? Setting the abandoned country flair aside, Swift’s mastery of passive-aggressive musical call-outs remains commonplace. The new album strikes more of a Taylor Swift reiteration than a reinvention. At least she can “shake it off.”

Monday, September 8, 2014

Daredevil, Black Superman, Supergirl, and the Suicide Squad

In Episode 148, Germar accidentally goes full nerd. He revisits Daredevil (2003) to decide whether or not it's as bad as you remember. Also, Ben Affleck has played superheroes before, how'd that go? There's an awesome black Superman that no one's talking about. Supergirl flies into your living room (again) soon. And the DC Animated Arkham-based movie proves that you can do a superhero story, without the hero. 

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The Strain: series and episode review

by Melissa Parkin

Horror fans, rejoice! FX proves that vampires don’t need to sparkle in order to light up the screen. Right out of the gate, The Strain hits on all cylinders to forge a gripping, spine-tingling thriller. With its ensemble cast, strong production values, and compelling story-lines, each episode plays out in cinematic format. But can you honestly expect anything less from Guillermo del Toro? Yeah, didn’t think so.

An ancient creature made its way aboard Regis Flight 753, and the passengers won’t receive a pleasant experience in air travel. In classic horror fashion, this reaper-like being burst through the cargo hold and into the cabin of the plane. Everyone in air traffic control was left confounded as they lose contact with Flight 753, only to find it landed safely at J.F.K. Airport with the window shades drawn and doors sealed. To make matters worse, no one aboard made any attempt at communication, even by cell phone, to loved ones. It’s a dead plane.

Enter CDC Canary Project team leader Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll). Forced to leave his family therapy session, the man of the hour arrives at the airport, and doesn’t hesitate in taking command of the situation. Despite his failing efforts at his home life, it’s clear that Eph is a master at his trade. Accompanied by his colleagues, Dr. Nora Martinez (Mía Maestro) and Jim Kent (Sean Astin), he investigated the issue at hand. Going on-board the dead plane, Eph and Nora discovered every passenger dead, from what they can only assume is a deadly pathogen. Cue the jump-scares when four of the travelers awakened, seemingly in good health. 

Mysteries ensued as Holocaust survivor and pawn-shop owner Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) came to J.F.K. Airport to address Eph and his team. With his sword-cane in hand, Abraham pleaded for the CDC to kill the survivors and destroy all 200 bodies from the flight. The label of psychotic old-timer was slapped on him immediately, but what followed may change Eph’s mind later. A large, handcrafted wooden box was unloaded from the plane’s consignments despite no records indicating its initial loading.

The shady corporation, Stoneheart Group, arranged to have this mysterious box stolen from the airport. Here is where things hit the fan, in the best way. The creature from the plane, known as The Master, is an ancient vampire that planned to send his vampiric disease into New York City. To make matters worse, Stoneheart Group is actually under his full control. With the help of Eldritch Palmer, the billionaire behind the company, along with expert internet hacker, Dutch Velders, New York fell into communication silence. The survivors of Flight 753 spread the disease. The 200 reanimated corpses terrorized the city.

In the previous episode, “Creatures of the Night,” the show became a wonderfully creepy, adrenaline-filled thrill ride. The “vampirism” meets “infection” concept isn’t particularly new, given 2009’s Daybreakers starring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe. But The Strain does it best. Blending contagion and bloodsucking, Del Toro creates a beautiful balance between 28 Days Later and 30 Days of Night. These vampires aren’t debonair like Dracula or the blood lustful sex symbols from True Blood. They’re like the zombies from 2004’s Dawn of the Dead meets the infected from Resident Evil.  They’re agile, vicious, and uncaring. They’re the things of nightmares.

Sunday’s episode, “The Disappeared,” may not have had the same ruthless impact as last week’s installment, but it wasn't a low point for the series. Eph’s son, Zach, came home to find a few unwelcome surprises. First, the house was a wreck. Second, his mother was missing. Third and most gravely, he found his mom’s boyfriend, Matt, infected and wanting to drink him like a human milkshake. Not a good way to start the night. Eph came to the rescue and went all-out Death Becomes Her on Matt with a shovel. After that, things slowed for the sake of character development. Unfortunately though, nothing illuminating came to pass. The Strain excels in relation to action and suspense, but the emotional conflict makes the plot slog a bit.

Even with this weaker episode, FX’s The Strain is still must-watch television.

Episode Rating: B -
Series Rating: A -

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Doctor Who: “Robots of Sherwood” recap and review

by Melissa Parkin

Series eight has been a bit bumpy from the get-go, and things weren’t looking particularly good for the Doctor this week. Introducing a new actor as the title lead is always a daunting task, and originality is essential. The franchise explored Victorian London in the previous series with Matt Smith, so the first full episode with Capaldi, “Deep Breath,” hardly broke new ground. Originality did not present itself in the next adventure either. Bringing in the Doctor’s oldest nemeses, the Daleks, so early on into Capaldi’s run came across as a serious lack of self-confidence by the producers.
Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
Considering showrunner, Steven Moffat, wrote the fan-favorite episode, “Blink,” alongside having a strong cast of actors and a bigger budget expense, high hopes were expected. Unfortunately, it hadn’t delivered. It’s like going to the racetrack to see a horse advertised as the modern-day Secretariat, only to watch the thoroughbred mosey out of the starting gate. The ingredients for greatness are all there; the potential hasn’t been tapped into yet.

Needless to say, I expressed little enthusiasm while watching the TV spot for this week’s episode, “Robots of Sherwood.” Seeing the Doctor coming face to face with a famous historical figure is anything but new. Shakespeare, Van Gough, Charles Dickens, Blackbeard. Been there, done that. Could Robin Hood and his Merry Men really manage to steal the audiences’ hearts into continuing with the series? Well, yes, they can. At last, the Doctor returned true to form. The magic of the TARDIS had yet to cast a spell with the first two episodes, but “Robots of Sherwood” delivered.

The Doctor gave Clara the chance to decide where and when their next adventure will be. When Miss Oswald expressed interest in meeting the legendary thief, Robin Hood, the Doctor immediately considered going back on his offer. As far as the Doctor is concerned, Robin is a myth, an old folktale, and nothing more. So to prove to Clara that such a man never existed, he transported them to 12th century Sherwood Forest. The Doctor spared no time and declared himself correct in the matter. Then, he opened the door to the TARDIS, to find an arrow swiftly striking the side of his beloved blue box. The notorious green-clad robber loosed that arrow.

Though Clara was thrilled and in total fan-girl mode upon meeting Robin, the Doctor, at best, was suspicious of the man. Surely, there is no such real person as Robin of Loxley. The Doctor knows everything doesn’t he? Capaldi’s performance, in “Robots of Sherwood,” finally gave viewers a clear picture of the Time Lord in terms of diversity. His unmannered, introverted behavior really played well in relation to the other cast members. As the voice of reason and skepticism, the Doctor’s alien nature only added to the overall charm.

Capaldi’s approach is very much in the league of the classic Doctors prior to the reboot. That approach complimented the quirky embellishments of the more contemporary style of the episode. With the wildly foppish costumes, the amusing banter, exaggerated laughter, and colorful characters, “Robots of Sherwood” is a high point of series eight that fans of “The Shakespeare Code” will undoubtedly enjoy.

Capaldi’s more dour portrayal mixed with the high spirited Robin Hood (Tom Riley) and the theatrics of Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller), made for a lighthearted, campy adventure worth a re-watch. Peter Capaldi’s arrival set a dark ambiance to the show; it was a delight to see the mood lifted to a more whimsical territory in this episode.

Rating: A -

Saturday, September 6, 2014


In Episode 147, Germar welcomes Ali Spagnola - yep that Ali Spagnola with the 8 billion Twitter followers, and the trademark, and the drinking and the dancing, and the touring and guitaring . . . . They discuss life as a budding superstar celebrity - jobs, fans, life on the road, negativity, making mistakes, and being the alternative to Paris Hilton.  Oh, there were some connection issues, so it's not your speakers - apologies.

Real Housewives of New Jersey Mid-season Recap-Precap

In Episode 146, Erin McKelle is BACK to talk #RHONJ.  Yep, it's a recap-precap for the entire season. All the drama; all the juiciness - get caught up! 

Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Friday, September 5, 2014

Celebrities breaking records for 2015

by Melissa Scott, Writing Intern

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Jennifer Lawrence may take much of the heat for the outbreak of celebrity nudes hacked earlier this week, but she has more important things to worry about—like her newly instated Guinness World Record.  

Guinness World Records 2015 is the 60th anniversary edition of the world’s best-selling copyrighted book, and will be available on September 11. The new edition boasts the latest and most astonishing facts, feats, and achievements, and also features new Augmented Reality (“AR”) technology. AR allows the reader to bring record-breakers to life in 3D. Guinness World Records solely recognizes worldwide records, surpassing national or country specific achievements. All Guinness World Records must also fulfill a number of key criteria, proving the accomplishment as based on a single variable, measurable, verifiable, and breakable.

A short preview of the celebrity and entertainment record-breakers from the past year circulated in anticipation of the upcoming Guinness World Records 2015 book launch. A sizable group made the cut, including feats pertaining to music, TV, film, social media, and even vulgarity.

The Oscar-winning Lawrence earned her place on the film pages for “highest-grossing action movie heroine.” The outstanding success of the first two movies in The Hunger Games franchise, focused on Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, grossed more than $1.52 billion in total internationally. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was also the highest-grossing post-apocalypse movie. It earned over $420 million in the USA and raked in a steep $854 million worldwide. Considering Lawrence’s Katniss still has two more Hunger Games films to debut, her record-breaking feats may have just begun.

But while Lawrence’s place in the record book merits approbation, she isn’t the only one in the entertainment industry to rack up some firsts.

In, and of itself, an arguably record breaking year for TV, this year Game of Thrones triumphantly (and maybe unfortunately) grasped the “most pirated TV show.” The HBO fantasy drama accumulated 5.9 million illegal downloads per episode. “The last show of last season just on its own was downloaded one million times,” exclaimed Stuart Claxton, from Guinness Book of World Records. “[Game of Thrones] has gone global so people want to try and watch it as and when it comes out in the United States.” HBO and Warner Bros. executives controversially noted, “receiving the title of the ‘most-pirated’ was better than an Emmy,” attributing the record with creating a “much needed cultural buzz.”

Winding down a highly buzzworthy and contentious year of her own, Miley Cyrus’ popularity peak secured her a spot in the 2015 book as “most searched-for pop star on the Internet,” thanks partially to her 2013 VMA twerk debut, and “Wrecking Ball” video. Eminem managed to reach divine status, earning the record for the “most words in a hit single.” His song “Rap God” warranted the achievement, spittin’ 1,560 words in just six minutes and four seconds!

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for MTV
Bands One Direction and Metallica rounded off the music industry breakthroughs. One Direction achieved honors of the “First act to debut at No. 1 with first three albums.” The band’s Midnight Memories, Up All Night and Take Me Home albums all marked an unprecedented hat trick of top debuts, on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Meanwhile, Metallica’s “Freeze ‘Em All” show in Antarctica last December scored them as the first and only band to ever perform aconcert on each of the Earth’s seven continents. Metallica band member James Hetfield ecstatically stated, “Seven continents in one year with Antarctica being the gig of a lifetime. Yes, 120 scientists and competition winners. Not to mention the 300 very curious penguins!”

Record breaking social media standouts included Shakira, Katy Perry, and Vin Diesel. International superstar Shakira set the social media record in “likes,” totaling 100 million likes on her Facebook page and bumping out Rihanna, making her the “most liked person on the platform” alongside “first to reach 1 million likes.” Katy Perry nicked musician with the “most Twitter followers” (tallying over 56 million), and Vin Diesel’s Facebook photo of himself and Paul Walker, shortly after Walker’s tragic death in November, earned the “most likes on an item.” The post gathered a total of 6.8 million likes.

And finally, not to be outdone, the DiCaprio-Scorcese movie The Wolf of Wall Street featured a count of over 687 swearwords throughout the film, averaging 3.81 curses per minute for “most swearing in one film” for 2015.

The record book proves an impressive year in accomplishments and oddities in entertainment.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Indie Music: Jelani Lateef "My Soul to Keep 2"

by Germar Derron

When I’m in the studio--producing, tracking, mixing, designing or listening to new tracks--all I think of is polish. I need sound to be polished. Polished could mean shined, smoothed, rounded, refined, sophisticated, skilled, elegant, or completed.  Often, when I think of polished, it’s a feeling that a person has “been there, done that.” Other times it’s that “sheen” you get in mastering when bumping and compressing the higher frequencies. In a word, this album is “polished.”

I’d never heard of Jelani Lateef before, but he sounds like someone who’s been there, done that. He spits. There’s no awkwardness, or hesitation in his flow throughout the “LP.”  That’s rare. Even when I listen to Eminem’s first major label release, I clearly hear him behind the beat and struggling to catch up. On My Soul to Keep 2, I hear confidence and an easy delivery.

My guess is that Lateef is a fan of 90s rap. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Maybe it’s a bit of both. I can’t quite call it. But, I think all “ol’ skool” heads would be a fan. (weird that the 90s is old school now right?) Of course part of me (and you), feels the nostalgia in the record.  We’re instantly transported back to a better time – better because our past always seems to be the good old days. On the flip side, the sound could be called dated and out-of-touch.  It’s nothing like Drake, Wayne, or Kendrick. But I feel that hardcore fans would consider this true hip-hop.

The production is polished, regardless of the producer. I won’t say that I like every track, but I respect every track. We don’t use the term “art” enough when describing or discussing urban music; that term is appropriate here.

I will definitely add a couple of tracks to my library: “Forward Advance” (the video is hot) and “Had It All.” I struggle to rate the album because I feel one way about the obvious talent and another way about how it fits in my rotation. I’ll give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.