I like Atlanta, and you should too

By Todd Neece

Let’s just get this out of the way from the beginning; I like FX’s new show Atlanta, and you should too. The best word to describe the show is unique, and the show’s creator Donald Glover accomplishes this feat in the most attractive manner. Too often, shows attempt to be different or quirky without purpose. This results in unrealistic characters and events so outlandish they alienate some viewers. In contrast, Atlanta successfully blends unique characters and events laced with truths that render them familiar and accessible.

The premise is simple and is set into motion within the pilot episode. The show’s protagonist, Earn (Glover), is a broke Princeton dropout with a child, a dead-end job and a failing relationship with Van, his daughter’s mother. Fed up with a job he doesn’t enjoy and isn’t particularly good at, Earn discovers his cousin Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles has gained local notoriety for a self-titled underground rap single. After initially being rejected, Earn convinces his cousin to let him manage his burgeoning career. While watching I get the feeling that Glover has created a show that directly appeals to my demographic, and I’m a middle class white kid who grew up in suburbia. Unlike Earn, I don’t have a cousin who is a traphouse rapper, and I’ve never sold credit cards at an airport. But everyone can identify with the feelings associated with the intersection of fading youth, a dwindling bank account, and the creeping nature of unrealized dreams.

Photo Credit: FX.com

Photo Credit: FX.com

I’ve heard recently that critics enjoy this show because it seems to “break all the rules” of standard television. I couldn’t agree more. Although Glover weaves common themes throughout the show, each episode stands alone and tackles various issues from multiple points of view. In the middle of the season an entire episode centers around Van, who up to that point is a minor character, and with only a brief three-second appearance by Earn. Most other shows would flop if they had to rely on a supporting character to carry an entire episode. Atlanta thrives. Similarly, another episode is set around a fake public-access show, complete with fake (yet appropriate to the plot) commercials.

One of the most endearing feelings associated with the show belongs to those viewers without residence in the city of Atlanta itself. This lack of experience makes it impossible to understand every detail of the show. However, the quality of Glover’s work gives even those with a surface understanding a pleasurable experience. As an individual who has only briefly visited the city, my first hand knowledge of the landmarks, inhabitants, and culture is limited at best. As such, the ‘96 Olympics, the “Hotlanta” rappers of the mid 2000s, and their perpetually mediocre sports teams shape the majority of my understanding concerning the area. 

And yet, I’m hooked. Watching the show is most similar to listening to two of your friends share a humorous joke you don’t completely understand. You know it’s funny because the parts you do comprehend make you laugh, but you simultaneously realize that you’ve failed to grasp the entirety of the punch line. It’s like watching The Office without having worked in the corporate world. The individual characters are funny on the surface, but unless you’ve lived in a cubicle you have no idea how accurate those caricatures can truly be. 

The most powerful aspect of this show is the ability to make a statement without preaching at the audience. Many episodes involve heavy issues like racism, poverty and police brutality. Glover doesn’t gloss over these concerns or pretend they don’t exist. He tackles them head-on with entertaining satire. Atlanta’s refreshing capacity to make viewers simultaneously laugh and ponder the dilemmas facing members of our country is a much needed respite. 

The Media Influence over Millennials

By Donna Arp Weitzman | Author of Cinderella has Cellulite and Other Musings of a Last Wife

When analyzing the scars and fears of Millennials, and the common themes that society imparts on them, it evokes poignancy from the eyes of a baby boomer. Has the current situation of the world set up the Millennials to never experience peace through their eyes wide-open 24-hour media existence?  The negative, war-torn world bubble that Millennials were raised in likely revealed a dark underbelly, which put a lid on the joy that our youth should have experienced, that of growing up in a safe underexposed environment. Over information from thousands of sources, mostly biased, has likely caused mental and emotional scars in the brains of our young people. 

Their ability to feel the euphoria of a sing-along America is simply not in their psyches. There are those older Americans who try to pigeonhole the Millennials by saying they are unmotivated, spoiled and impossible as a workforce.  This is coming from the paradigm of generations who were taught to go along to get along.  This is not the world of the twenty something’s, who would rather reward disruption and disrupters. And the emotion of fear is not exclusive to the Millennials.  For many generations fear has topped the emotional and psychological sphere of humankind.

Fear has eternally resided in every human.  The difference is that much of our new generation is brave enough to admit what most of us heretofore hid through bravado.  After all, baby boomers were leading the world. When you look at the impact of social media and the presence it has on the planet, the increasing outlets and platforms only enhance the cross-collaboration within this Millennial Generation. Social networks are an extraordinarily important part of Millennials’ digital lives, in part because social networks have become much more than a way to just connect about personal matters.

At the same time, we have heard in various ways that people increasingly want to take more control over social media, manage their time spent using it, and improve the quality of what they see. Numerous people have expressed a sense of frustration, particularly with Facebook, for having too much information, taking up too much of their time, and containing too much content that was not trustworthy or worthwhile.  I believe that the ability of our youth to think deeply, admit fear, and champion disruption has changed and will further continue to change our crippled and scarred world. Millennials, through their savvy and unbridled communications, can shape their world, and I believe they will. With such a gigantic generation in sheer numbers alone, new trends and patterns of behavior will start to develop in the relative near future along with the emergence of new technology. These trends will be perceived both positively and negatively by other generations, but soon a new voice and mindset will take over to re-shift the paradigm and the way our media is conveying its message to the most impressionable demographic of people, which will have long lasting effects in the future.   

Don’t Think Twice Gets Its Message Across

By Collin Lotter | @clotter64

Don’t Think Twice is the new film from acclaimed writer/director Mike Birbiglia that tells the story of an improv troupe struggling with the instant success of one its key members. Walking into this movie I fully expected more of a feel-good flick where dreams are realized and goals are attained, but as I sat through the first half of the film it was clear that this was not going to be the case. On the contrary, this movie in some ways spoke very powerfully to me yet in a seemingly negative light, which is not always easy to sit through. There are numerous laughs and the improv scenes are light-hearted in nature, however, the failed ambitions along with the impending struggles with the cutthroat business that is comedy television makes Don’t Think Twice a sobering tale about life and hope. This movie really asks the question; when do we give up on our dreams in our twenties and thirties?

“Your twenties is all about hope and your thirties is realizing how dumb it was to hope.” This quote really stayed with me once it was proclaimed in the movie because it’s an important question that any goal-oriented or dare to dream person struggles with. We live with this idea to pursue our dreams, never say never, endeavor to persevere and never give up. Although, we all at some point in life have that come to Jesus moment where we ask ourselves or people around us say, “you've got to be real about this and consider the sacrifice and ramifications.” It’s depressing, but so apparent in this movie, especially with Birbiglia’s character who is a 36-year-old comedy teacher as well as a semi-failed performer who has watched former students’ star rise as he waits for his moment. He meets a romantic interest and has to tussle with the idea of giving up on his dream to pursue settling down and embracing parenthood.

Photo Credit: www.npr.org

Photo Credit: www.npr.org

Unique from Birbiglia’s directorial debut, Sleepwalk with Me, his character in this movie has maddening insecurities that force him to always try to navigate the group to his benefit as he sees the hourglass running out of time for his career to take the next big step. The members of the improv troupe all have their own ideas of success in comedy and even though they all want to take the next step into superstardom together, individualism takes over as the movie plays out.

Walking into Don’t Think Twice I had pigeonholed the movie as a performance movie with some laughs, maybe a few fights and then a final performance to give the audience some good vibes leaving the theater. However, this movie plays completely differently to the first-time observer and is filled with lots of pondering questions and principles about life. Birbiglia focuses the film around the idea of art being socialism but life is capitalism. The romantic couple within the group, played by Gillian Jacobs and Keegan-Michael Key, really scrap with this mantra as one wants to not “sell out” and stay in the small intimate venue that they all started out with while the other wants to grab the brass ring and go for the ultimate comedy vehicle which is a Saturday Night Live-style show.

You can really sense how fickle and two-sided pursuing a career in entertainment can be. It almost seems impossible to make true friends who have your best interest in mind with such limited spots for the chosen few and the immense talent that all personas bring to the table. This movie also explores the notion that sometimes talent alone will not promise anything. Just like in life, people get lucky and catch breaks with timing, hidden opportunities, or fortuitous relationships. Keegan-Michael Key’s character knows he caught a few breaks to achieve his success and really struggles because as he looks out for himself he fully understands the relationships he may be sacrificing.

Don’t Think Twice is a powerful vehicle that brings on a lot of self-reflection, as one does not have to foster comedic ambitions to relate. Mike Birbiglia in a lot of ways portrays the everyday man who is trying to strive for a wonderful life with all dreams realized along with keeping a balanced middle ground. The film forces the audience to ponder a question a lot of us deal with and, for the most observational ones out there, continually battle with; when is the deadline that we have to give up or grow up? 

Mr. Robot 2.0 – Musings on the Second Season

by Robbie Repass | @trashmanreeps

 The sophomore season of the USA Network series Mr. Robot has reached its end and I, for one, have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Mr. Robot was a surprise summer 2015 hit that quickly gained critical acclaim and social media buzz, a pop culture phenomenon in an era where it's harder and harder for a new television series to stand out.  Even a few prestigious awards have been showered upon Mr. Robot's first season, including the Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Drama and Best Supporting Actor - Series (won by Christian Slater, in the titular role) and most recently the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (won by Rami Malek).  The first season stood out for many reasons including the intelligent storytelling, clever plot twists, and interesting characters - most notably the lead character and our unreliable narrator, Elliot Alderson, a cybersecurity engineer and hacker who struggles severely with paranoia and hallucinations.  That's a lot to live up to in your second season, surely, but I think creator Sam Esmail pulled it off.

Season one had an astonishing pace and was full of thrilling episodes while delivering a couple major plot twists; most would have predicted Mr. Robot to be an alternate personality of Elliot's but did we realize the imagined leader of fsociety was his dead father? And even if that was predictable, who saw Darlene as Elliot's sister coming?!  A common complaint I heard during the first few weeks of the second season was that the plot was moving along too slowly - audiences today are spoiled when it comes to their television, and we weren't getting the instant gratification we have come to expect. But credit to Sam Esmail and his vision for the second season - the slow burn of the first seven episodes and the regimented lifestyle Elliot had adopted gave way to one of the biggest and most unexpected twists of perhaps the entire series thus far.  Without the methodical build toward that reveal it would have seemed like a cheap trick for shock value, an attempt to recapture the twists of year one.  The attention to detail displayed here, all the way down to set design, restores my faith that the creative team behind the series is still at the top of their game.  

Photo Credit: www.denofgeek.com

Photo Credit: www.denofgeek.com

After Elliot's incarceration was revealed we were reminded that we simply cannot trust the narrative when viewed through the perspective of our hero, which made the eventual return of Tyrell all the more powerful.  Was he really alive and off the grid this whole time?  Or is he another creation of Elliot's fractured mental state?  This left the audience guessing right up until the final moments of the season.  Masterful storytelling.

If I had any complaints about the first season it would be that it introduced many interesting ancillary characters that the narrative simply didn't have time to explore.  From Angela to Darlene to Joanna Wellick to ECorp CEO Price and mysterious Dark Army leader Whiterose - season two allowed for the development of these characters and insight into their motivations.  All this while adding the element of an FBI investigation into the 5/9 hack and the introduction of Agent Dom DiPierro (played superbly by Grace Gummer) as a foil to Darlene, Angela and Whiterose's differing motives. Not to mention raising the stakes, as the prominence of the shadowy Dark Army ratcheted up the nerves of those involved, making paranoia a scourge for all to contend with and the very real possibility that their lives are in danger with any misstep.

For these reasons I thought the second season successfully built upon and perhaps even surpassed the first; who else can’t wait for season three?

Halt and Catch Fire: Silicon Prairie Meets Silicon Valley

By Brandi Jones

The AMC drama Halt and Catch Fire, now in its third season, has been useful because it informs us if we didn’t know, or reminds us if we did, that there’s more to “Silicon Valley” than Silicon Valley itself. The series begins in 1983 in Dallas, with the coming together of a small group of characters who are either working to create a new personal computer or indirectly supporting the cause through a job at a major manufacturer. Whether this has struck anyone as far-fetched, I can’t say, but Dallas is better known for oil, finance, football, and right-wing grouches — and still, I imagine, for a certain swashbuckling businessman named J.R.

The nice thing about the show as a viewer watches from season to season is that, in typical AMC fashion, the stakes gradually rise. Season 1 was an accurate well-told story with characters that screamed relatability; however as the season wore along, the stakes and conflict for each main character seemed minimal at best. Season 2 drastically improved in this area as more chips were pushed to the middle of the table with each twist and turn. Midway through season 3, this trend is only growing and making it more enjoyable with each new episode on Tuesday nights.

Halt and Catch Fire may seem to be modernizing history by placing women among its engineers: not so. True, women often were employed in roles so traditional they could have been copied from the ‘60s. As a woman who formerly worked in the Dallas/Silicon Prairie tech world of the early ‘80s, I can say this was unfortunately rarer than I would’ve liked it to be. It was tough sledding for a woman to climb the brass ring ladder that was originally promised. However, with Halt and Catch Fire, a different image is portrayed which is a refreshing surprise.

Getty Images

Getty Images

For the show’s second season, the creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers wisely shifted the narrative focus to Halt’s female leads—Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna (Kerry Bishé), two coders trying to start an online gaming business called Mutiny in Texas’s Silicon Prairie, circa 1985. The show’s brilliance lay in its intertwining of the technical and the personal: as Cameron and Donna struggled to keep their friendship afloat, they realized the biggest appeal of Mutiny lay in communication and letting users chat with each other while they played games. As they tried to understand each other, they almost accidentally invented instant messaging; but for the viewer, the triumph of that discovery was compounded by the simple joy of watching Cameron and Donna learn to work together.

The first season prominently centered on the two main characters Joe (Lee Pace) and Gordon (Scoot McNairy), Donna’s husband, who displays unease about Joe’s ambitions and goals.  Together Joe and Gordon created a two-person vision to create a computer that was unfathomable in efficiency and creativity even to the highest Apple employees. What they have found on their three-year odyssey is that a vision is just that: a vision. Joe and Gordon struggle with the manpower and resources of the larger Silicon Prairie tech companies as well as the ego/alpha male tactics that both display in their never-ending tug of war. 

Though it usually gets the facts right, Halt and Catch Fire’s broader relation to history isn’t so simple. Mad Men was oft-discussed as if it aimed to duplicate the ‘60s, allowing a few commentators to complain about this or that box on the list going unchecked and many others to praise its accuracy. This show really should catch your attention: the music, consumer products, clothing, attitudes are all very ‘80s. They nailed it with the exception of a few commonly used phrases from today. I think they are trying to show how technology happened at that time and it seemed like they were trying to parallel leading characters and happenings from Apple, yet they actually acknowledge Apple at a couple of points, so they are not trying to tell the Apple story. Having worked in the industry during these times, consumed some of these type of products, knowledge of them...it is kind of cool to see this story in retrospect. 

Love Lessons brought to you by Taxi Driver

By Hayley Dyer

Red flags. They pop up in every relationship – usually quite early on, like when you’re minding your own business at work, wearing a classic Diane von Furstenberg wrap-dress, and in walks a nicely dressed man who is intent to woo you. Now, Betsy, think about it… what kind of man walks in off the street and says “Hey! I saw you from my cab and thought that you were hot and would you like to go to dinner? I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” Betsy, a weirdo does shit like that. I know you’re slightly scared and slightly charmed, but seriously, you should listen to your Wellesley-groomed instincts and just say no to the guy.

When he takes you on your first official date, he’ll be wearing the same outfit he wore the day you met him. Betsy, that’s strange! He doesn’t own a different jacket? You show up wearing Hermès and cashmere, and he’s wearing the same damn coat. His big red jacket is a big red flag.

He will take you to an adult theater in a seedy part of town and you’ll let him know that you’re uncomfortable (AS YOU SHOULD!) but you’ll still go in because you kind of like him and think he’s charming and he gave you a Kris Kristofferson record(!) and you are hopeful that this is just a misstep in what will be a very successful relationship. Betsy, unfortunately the dude doesn’t get social norms and what you see is what you get! GET OUT OF THERE! And Betsy, you finally do jump up and leave the theater – but Betsy, if you had just paid attention to the previous flags, you would have saved yourself some time and embarrassment. Kudos to you for saying “Boy Bye!”

A few months later you will hear that he’s been in a vicious shoot out with a pimp and thug-lord. “Wow, I hope he’s doing okay,” you will think. “Wow, he’s so brave!” In all actuality, he’s a crazy dude who is certifiably INSANE and you should forget you ever knew him or that he ever said anything sweet to you at all. FORGET IT, GIRL!

Photo credit: servingcinema.com

Photo credit: servingcinema.com

After a few weeks of over-thinking about him, you will have changed your mind about everything you have ever thought about him. “Oh he was sweet!” “He’s not that bad!” “He may have made me watch porn in a theater on our first date, but wow, he saved a child-prostitute and that kind of cancels out all the bad!” Betsy! Get a grip!

Even though you’ve seen the red flags, you’ll ignore them and seek him out. One sticky New York night, you’ll crawl into his cab like none of the crazy ever happened. Oh Betsy, you’re just asking for trouble! You’ve decided that the pursuit of love is more important than listening to your very knowledgeable, rational brain.

It’s tough, but ladies, I urge you to take stock of the red flags in your life. Recognize the signs and try to stay strong – leave the crazies and insomniacs to clean the back seats of their cabs while you strut off into the sunset.

What Happened with Suicide Squad?

By Daniel Fox | @danielfox85

I’m writing this about 20 minutes after the final credits rolled on my viewing of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, the Warner Brothers and DC Comics summer tent-pole centered around a group of villains who are coerced to work together for the benefit of the government.  I needed to write this as soon as I could, because to put it frankly, I’m pissed.  I’m really pissed.  If I was a cartoon character, my face would be tomato red with steam coming out of my ears.  Suicide Squad might be the biggest mess of a movie that I’ve ever seen, a poorly constructed film from top to bottom.  There isn’t one aspect of this movie that I couldn’t criticize.  I think I’m so upset because the potential for this film was sky high.  You’re getting Harley Quinn on-screen for the first time ever, a Jared Leto version of The Joker, David Ayer writing and fresh off directing two great films in End of Watch and Fury, and Will Smith seemingly accepting an ensemble role.  Those aspects combined with really great trailers set my expectations high.  After reading the overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics I went in with lowered but reasonable expectations, solely thinking that this was another critical attack on a DC Comics movie and that it couldn’t really be that bad.

Throughout the film, characters ridicule one another for their lack of guts or heart, often referring to each other with certain profanity centered around the male/female anatomy.  It’s ironic because I feel like that derision should’ve been pointed at the movie as a whole, because this movie had no heart, no guts, and no soul.  It feels as if the people at Warner Brothers had a really good idea (and it really is a good idea) and ended up rushing along a product without ever really giving it time to develop.  The result is a plotless mess, poor character development, and zero emotional connection.  When you’re playing around with the antihero trope in comic book films, the movie is no good unless the audience can find some redemptive quality for the antihero.  We need a reason to root for them, to believe that in their heart they want to do the right thing.  Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool do this very successfully; the former through the characters’ search for friendship and acceptance, the latter through the title character’s drive to do anything to get back to the woman he loves.  Suicide Squad knows it must do this, otherwise we are just watching bad people doing evil things and that’s not what comic book films are about.  Its main problem is it simply fails at this miserably, and when it finds even a little spark of an emotional connection it comes almost 90 minutes into the two-hour film.  Hey Deadshot, you really want to be a positive influence in your daughter’s life?  Maybe give up that whole killing people for money thing and be a dad.  Harley Quinn, you really want love?  Maybe falling for the psycho clown isn’t the best choice.  Hey Rick Flag, if you love your girl so much, maybe convince her not to turn into an uncontrollable witch. What the hell did Captain Boomerang or Killer Croc even bring to the table?  I think we saw Katana cry for her lost husband for about two seconds, that was nice.

Photo Credit: suicidesquad.com

Photo Credit: suicidesquad.com

The only redemption, if found, is in a nice five-minute scene at the beginning of the final act when all the characters take a break to enjoy a quick drink in the bar.  Through this we finally get some nice and real conversation between characters, and I felt a tiny little tug on my heart strings.  Easily the best part of the film is Jay Hernandez’s character arc for El Diablo.  When he tells the story of how he caused his own family’s demise because of this ability he was born with was pretty moving.  You really felt bad for him, and the CGI effect of the dancing flame was pretty awesome.  You finally understand his pacifistic stands throughout the first couple acts of the film, but by the time we finally get that connection it’s way too late.

Really quick thought on Jared Leto’s take on The Joker.  I want to cut him some slack because coming after Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn was almost an impossible task.  Also, he’s barely in the movie; if you have seen the trailers then you’ve pretty much seen all of his scenes.  His take was definitely more of the psycho serial killer Joker, which hasn’t really been done before on-screen.  So, all in all, I think I would definitely be interested in a Batman movie starring Affleck, Leto, and Robbie if they could get the right script and director.

So what could have been done differently?  Get rid of the entire second act, it was absolutely useless.  Change the main villain to the Joker and get rid of Enchantress completely, as that creates conflict with Harley Quinn having to choose between her life and her love.  Move the bar scene to the first hour instead of the second hour.  Those are just some of the choices that could’ve possibly salvaged this trash of a movie.  For now, it’s safe to say that Suicide Squad is a complete failure.  However, given that the film just smashed the August box office record despite horrible reviews, we should be getting a sequel in 3-4 years.  Hopefully that sequel can take the quality concept behind Suicide Squad and make something amazing.

Picture Perfect or Window Dressing


By Donna Arp Weitzman | Author of Cinderella has Cellulite and Other Musings of a Last Wife

Is it true that no level of stature can assure immunity to the problems of life?

Often dubbed America's first couples of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, alt-rockers Gwen and Gavin, country music's Miranda and Blake, and hip hop stars Bey and Jay all have presented Facebook perfection.  Comforting their adoring fans with million-dollar smiles, luxury cars, and merger mania, America’s first’s flaunted spousal fame. Their televised harmonious duets personified a single symmetry, convincing little Cinderella’s to pay attention when Michael Jackson advised Paul McCartney to "keep dreaming."  Or to replay Barbra belting out, "Someday My Prince will come."

Should we blame these American pop music power players or hold a grudge with Miss Piggy for cutting Kermit's "ties that bind?"  How dare our society stoop so low that we allow a "white trash" porker to declare "love is dead!"

Have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram forced the notion of picture-perfect unions?

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

With our 24/7 lives presented in Technicolor, displaying our very best smiles, flaws are no longer permitted. More Facebook followers demand more fictionalized fairy tales.  There is no longer a place for crooked teeth. Perhaps meeting people online, sleeping with our newfound friend on the first date, and falling too fast exacerbates quick splits. Is society embracing the perfect couple because we embrace love too much, or are we simply embracing the idea of love?

Like married couples at large, these larger-than-life lovers are possibly drawn so close to each other that they start to see themselves in the others face. The theory is that a married couple begins to look alike. However, in the world of 21st century window dressing, it is easy to redecorate.  Window sills left open too long begin to rust.

But, pretty pictures like pretty windows often hide what’s inside.  Do idolized couples offer little to prepare us for life's complications?  Coached, counseled, stylized couples injure our psyches and invade our desires. Is watching celebrity weddings breathlessly as each star declares eternal faithfulness setting the stage for any lapse to be a collapse? Perhaps Kim and Kanye should revise a postnuptial agreement stating, "we'll only promise to do the best we can."

As fickle fans, we deserve better leadership in love. Tired, beleaguered Dr. Phil attempts to prepare us often touting to be married is to be in flux.  Feelings change, moods change, and lives change. Love leadership might be effective by celebrating each other's shortcomings; we would have no surprise by Bennifer’s demise. In the new world of doing the best we can, there'd be no more “nannygates”.  We'd easily forgive our mate peeing in the toilet while we brush our teeth.

Until we accept that there are likely few halcyon days in a duet, I dare say we'll continue to want the right thing to happen.  Our emotions desire the beautiful people to win.  Underneath, we have little faith to believe it to be true, but we still want it.  Sleeping Beauty does not divorce her Prince!

Lovers need leaders, and it appears the only visibly perfect union left lives in a big White House.

But, if Cinderella truly does have cellulite, and Miss Piggy is a demanding diva, can it be long until we see frayed edges on America’s first couple?  Will Michelle declare Barack as difficult?  Will President Obama chastise his missus for morning breath? The perfect circle enveloping Mr. and Mrs. O might become a little lopsided with an impending tear?

As Americans, let's not only pray for our nation but let's pray for our President to consciously couple. However, if there are clouds in their coffee, perhaps Michelle and Barack should prepare us by putting it out there.  Have a big-ole fight in front of us all; scream, kick, slam a few gilded doors, and for God's sake, put it all on YouTube!

Café Society – Summer Blockbuster Review

By Collin Lotter | @CLotter64

That's right, in the midst of huge juggernaut summer blockbusters such as Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, Ghostbusters, and The Legend of Tarzan, the movie I wanted to review the most was the new Woody Allen enterprise Café Society!  One thing I really appreciate about Woody Allen in the twilight of his career is that with each passing summer, despite the recycled popcorn blockbusters that cloud our movie calendars, we usually get a one-weekend firewall of originality and storytelling of the purest form via his movies. Before we dive into his latest effort with Café Society, let us ask the question we are all thinking… How does he do it?? It’s mind-boggling that a man at the mere age of 80 can write and direct his own movies, producing hit after hit routinely. It is seriously like clockwork, down to a formulated science, that a man like Woody Allen can take a new ensemble cast, setting, story and direction and have it ready for the masses to enjoy every calendar year. There is no question that Woody has his loyal sycophants and his lightning rod critics, due to off camera personal life choices, but no one can deny the effectiveness as a director and the likeability of his movies for every generation. If you analyze his filmography any director would kill to have a slew of hits such as Blue Jasmine (for which Cate Blanchett won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2014), Magic in the Moonlight, To Rome with Love, Midnight in Paris, Whatever Works, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. This run of films, accomplished in only the last eight years, is incredibly impressive.

Photo Credit: screencrush.com

Photo Credit: screencrush.com

With all this being said, and considering the pedigree stated above, I was a little apprehensive going in to see Café Society. The reviews have been solid, but not overwhelmingly great. Also a confession; I am not a huge fan of Jesse Eisenberg or Kristen Stewart, nor do I really gravitate towards Blake Lively movies, and I feel a little jaded toward 1930s/1940s Old Hollywood movies after Hail, Caesar! became my least favorite Coen brothers movie in ages. Unless Steve Carell had another Foxcatcher performance in him, I was nervous that this movie would not meet even minimal expectations. However, after walking out of the theater, I felt satisfied and fulfilled with another solid Woody Allen movie. Let me state it definitely did not blow me away, and it’s no Blue Jasmine, Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Midnight in Paris (all recent hits for Allen), but Café Society really is an enjoyable watch; it’s funny, fast-paced and well-performed. The backdrops of Old Hollywood and Manhattan are electric considering the budget, and the satire in the film is really enjoyable.

Café Society is certainly a period drama depicting the glamorous life of a Hollywood agent in the ‘30s, but it's also a family drama portraying the life of a Jewish family doing their damnedest to make it in the Bronx.  The story, set in the 1930s, follows a young Bronx native named Bobby (Eisenberg), who moves to Hollywood to work for his uncle, Phil Stern (Carell), a film mogul and agent to the stars. Stern's secretary, Vonnie (Stewart), agrees to show Bobby around town and get him adjusted to the glamorous life as he starts networking with the who's who of tinsel town. Bobby begins to develop feelings for Vonnie who is actually already in a secretive and forbidden relationship. After all three characters make some life-altering decisions Bobby is tempted by the idea of either chasing Vonnie in Hollywood or returning to New York where he could find a life as a family man, running a high society nightclub he inherited from his gangster brother (Corey Stoll).

The truth about this movie, after digesting it, is it really does play like any other Woody Allen movie. Café Society is not groundbreaking by any measure and may not have a huge foothold during the awards season stretch early next year. However, this feels like a semi-passion piece that Allen wanted to make, serving almost as an indirect love letter to the Hollywood that he grew up idolizing.  All the name-dropping of the major “A-list” movie stars in this film prompts the thought that this was the glitz and glamour crowd that he wanted to rub elbows with as an impressionable kid growing up in the blue-collar part of New York City. No one can really fault him for giving us a peek into what motivated him at an early age and his visions of what might be if he pursued a career in the motion picture business. Here we stand, nearly 50 years of what has been an incredible career, and we are most pleased that he did make that decision to give Hollywood a try.


Guns N’ Roses Reunited – A Review of the 2016 “Not in this Lifetime Tour”

By Sami Al-Awadi

I had to get tickets once I first heard about the potential and possibility of a once in a lifetime event for me. It was the concert I’d waited my whole life for. Axl, Slash, and Duff together again on one stage playing through the Guns N’ Roses catalog. By the time I was old enough to even go to concerts, the seminal ‘80s hard rock combo was already a memory, and I had said for decades I would spend whatever it took to see them if and when the time came.

Two weeks ago, Sunday night, the time had come. At Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, following a stirring warm-up from Alice in Chains, “Guns” took the stage for what would be a spirited, nearly three-hour travelogue through their well-known archive of slammers, plus some deeper delves into their massive catalog, as well as a few inspired surprises.

Though the buzz in the air was extremely noticeable and people were jacked beyond belief and drunk out of their minds to see the band finally take the stage again in their final headlining tour (most likely), the extreme excitement was brought down by a venue not really apt to handle a major rock show. Confession; as a resident of New York City, I rarely make it down to Philadelphia (though it's a short train ride) and this was my first experience in Lincoln Financial Field (I’m a Cowboys fan, not an Eagles fan), but this stadium really was meant for football and not a hard rock show. Unless you were in the pit or maybe the first 20 rows on the floor of the Guns N’ Roses concert — a very, very small percentage of the audience that the massive stadium held — your eyes were on the big video screens the whole night. Or they were on your phone that was pointed at the big video screens. Or your view of the stage was obstructed by a sea of people in front of you with their glowing phones pointed at the big video screens. Also, it’s not like the sound was great (it was downright awful in some sections), so suddenly the idea of paying $20 or $30 or even $50 for a simulcast concert in a movie theater doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea, assuming there’s beer.

Photo Credit: gunsnroses.com

Photo Credit: gunsnroses.com

However, there was no denying that the band still has a huge stage presence and the fans are loyal as hell to hear their favorite anthems.  My personal preference was to hear strictly hits from the incredible debut studio album Appetite for Destruction, GnR’s most successful CD to date. Although, I will admit after initially cringing when Axl proclaimed they were going to play a couple songs from his version of the band’s latest release Chinese Democracy, I actually enjoyed the two singles they played off that record. The anthology of great songs and albums are well represented and the rabid fan base was well compensated hearing every great song including “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, “November Rain”, and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.

One thing was clear even from a young-minded fan (in respect to the band’s heyday) about the band’s personnel, and that was the idea that Axl has not aged as well as Slash. Axl needed to take a lot of breathers and pauses during the three-hour marathon. His effort was commendable, but nature has obviously taken its course with him and the constant Mick Jagger-like energy was not apparent. Slash, on the other hand, is still as sharp and effective as ever with his amazing guitar solos/riffs. Slash would often lead off every anticipated hit with an extended intro or a crowd-pleasing outro. The concert featured a quick ten-minute guitar solo that would serve as a mini intermission for the rest of the band and then lead in to the great hit, “Live and Let Die”. The crowd roared in approval and I was no different, because in my short lifetime, few guitarists can hang with Slash and the monster guitar influence he has brought to the 80’s/90’s music scene.

In closing, the band ended with an extended version of the song “Paradise City” that was capped off with a huge fireworks show that culminated over the football stadium. The crowd went nuts, the band seemed grateful, and memories were captured for all on hand. Don’t kid yourself, the following morning on the train back to NYC, I was jamming to the G N’ R catalog on my iPod ready for the work week to begin, still buzzing after the show.