We opened 2014 with heated anticipation for the next great turns from Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, Lars von Trier, and a number of other cinematic vets. But the year has also treated us to a hefty sum of noteworthy first timers. We've caught a wide variety of debut attempts over the course of these past eight months, with enough qualitative range to incite reactions from "The next Hitchcock!" to "I might be able to get you a gig with my friend who does wedding videos, but don't tell him you know me." Here's a quick rundown of the debut flicks we've seen so far in '14, from great to terrible.
Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
Palo AltoDirector: Gia CoppolaWhy we're already on her bandwagon: In the vein of her aunt Sofia, the young Gia Coppola showcases an indubitable understanding of upper class ennui.
Hide Your Smiling Faces Director: Daniel Patrick CarboneWhy we're already on his bandwagon: Carbone's primarily wordless coming-of-age drama shows off his patience and pensiveness, not to mention his ability to skirt the self-importance than many films of Smiling Faces' ilk seem to bear.
Obvious ChildDirector: Gillian RobespierreWhy we're already on her bandwagon: It's funny as hell even within the margins of genre tradition, and sweet without succumbing to Hollywood sugar.
THE VERY GOOD
Zero MotivationDirector: Talya LavieShows promise of: A knack for absurdist humor and grounded character relationships alike.
It Felt Like LoveDirector: Eliza HittmanShows promise of: A uniquely keen empathy for how young people conduct themselves, both internally and among one another.
Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
The Bachelor Weekend/The StagDirector: John ButlerShows potential in: A good sense of humor, especially when it veers closer to Apatow than McKay.
Are You HereDirector: Matthew WeinerShows potential in: Social commentary through character construction, but Weiner needs a better handle on cinematic pacing.
The One I LoveDirector: Charlie McDowellShows potential in: Big ideas, and the presentation thereof, but lacks in the ultimate execution of where they can and ought to go.
Drafthouse Films via Everett Collection
Beneath the Harvest SkyDirector: Aron Gaudet and Gita PullapillyThere's room for improvement regarding: A sharper attention to the characters and story, which occasionally fade out of focus at the behest of a vivid North Maine setting.
LullabyDirector: Andrew LevitasThere's room for improvement regarding The acerbic but knowing humor shared by the central family members, in favor of the intense melodrama that the film feels impelled to stuff itself with from time to time.
Cheap ThrillsDirector: E.L. KatzThere's room for improvement regarding: The energy set toward invoking a truly interesting story or course of events, rather than the allowance of the "weird" or "dangerous" to take the wheel altogether like it does here.
TammyDirector: Ben FalconeThere's room for improvement regarding: An authentic commitment to the sincerity in the characters, in place of wild and wacky antics like jetski crashes and deer mouth-to-mouth... though these were probably studio notes, we have to assume.
Music Box Films via Everett Collection
Winter’s TaleDirector: Akiva GoldsmanWhat we hope he gets right next time: A more defined storytelling goal. While some of the film's elements worked in a vaccuum, Goldsman had been gestating a Winter's Tale adaptation for years, coming out the gate with something that is oddly both convoluted and terribly narrow.
MaleficentDirector: Robert StrombergWhat we hope he gets right next time: More Angie.
A Coffee in Berlin/Oh BoyDirector: Jan Ole GersterWhat we hope he gets right next time: A better understanding of the fine line between cheeky and irritating. The German comedy/drama plays
Earth to EchoDirector: Dave GreenWhat we hope he gets right next time: Ditch the essentially pointless found footage antic and hone in on the fleeting spirit of the kids.
TranscendenceDirector: Wally PfisterWhy we're nervous for his future: Pfister is a skilled cinematographer, but his grasp of character, story, and ambiance seem dangerously absent.
Goodbye to All ThatDirector: Angus McLachlanWhy we're nervous for his future: Ambitions seem to fall shy of originality, settling instead on retreating the same indie dramedy territory we've seen time and time again, but without any discernible charisma.
If I StayDirector: R.J. CutlerWhy we're nervous for his future: A dastardly aesthetic, paper-thin characters, a devoted marriage to teen movie cliches, and a potentially dangerous mentality driving the story altogether do not bode well for Cutler's future behind the camera.
Behaving BadlyDirector: Tim GarrickWhy we're nervous for his future: Because he made this horrible thing.
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Rockers Gwar are set to embark on their first tour without late frontman Dave Brockie. The star, whose stage name was Oderus Urungus, died of a heroin overdose in March (14), and the band is now preparing to get back on the road for the first time since his death.
Gwar will kick off a huge North American trek in October (14) and play more than 50 dates, taking in cities such as Las Vegas, Seattle in Washington, and New York.
A statement posted on the group's website reads, "This Fall GWAR sets out on the most trying quest of our career. We shall scour our leader's favorite stomping ground, North America, leaving no city unsearched, no venue unraised, and no sheep unmolested. GWAR will venture to the depths of Hell or to the very end of Time itself, and though I fear what we may encounter out there, I know that we can never return home until we have the answer we seek: 'Where is Oderus Urungus?'"
The shows kick off in Norfolk, Virginia on 15 October (14).
James Franco has reprised his clueless talk show host Dave Skylark from controversial new comedy The Interview to help MTV bosses promote the Video Music Awards. In a TV special featuring nominees Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea and Jason DeRulo, Franco, as Skylark, shows off his lack of research with a series of dumb questions - he asks Australian Azalea about life in Austria and states, "You're the one who wrote Superb A**" during a chat with Superbass hitmaker Minaj.
Skylark's Very Special VMA Special will air in the U.S. on 17 August (14), a week before the VMAs.
In the new Franco comedy, Skylark lands an interview with Kim Jong-un only to learn he and his sidekick, played by Seth Rogen, have to assassinate the North Korean leader.
Willie Nelson's annual Farm Aid benefit concert will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina in September (14) and feature stars including Jack White, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews. The event takes place on 13 September (14).
Singer/songwriter Kristeen Young has hit back at Morrissey after he blamed her for spreading an illness that sparked the cancellation of his tour, branding the statement "lies". The U.S. musician was removed as the former The Smiths star's long-term support act last week (ends06Jun14), and Morrissey issued a statement on Tuesday (10Jun14) cancelling his remaining North American dates.
The Suedehead hitmaker insisted Young "confessed to 'a horrendous cold', the symptoms of which were passed on to Morrissey resulting in the cancellation of the next show in Atlanta", but she has since issued a furious response to the remarks.
Young is adamant she was only suffering an allergic reaction and was not to blame for others in Morrissey's camp falling ill, and the singer also alleges she did not quit and was instead asked to leave the tour.
In a statement posted on Facebook.com, Young writes, "Ok. Regarding the recent... statement from Morrissey: I did not 'confess to a horrendous cold'. On Monday, June 2nd, I had an allergy attack that was over within 16 hours. I went to a doctor (on Monday, June 2nd), an allergy specialist, who gave me drugs for allergies... and they worked. I explained this (early on Tuesday, June 3rd) and offered this doctor's phone number to Morrissey personally, via email, and the tour manager, Donnie Knutson (for proof... since they seemed to doubt me). But, they NEVER followed up with me or said doctor.
"Also... it is incorrect that I 'decided to leave the tour completely'. I was asked to leave. Was called (in the presence of my band as witnesses) by Morrissey's booking agent, Dave Tamaroff, and told that there would be a new support band in Boston. I am very sorry that Morrissey is not feeling well. But I will not tolerate these lies... particularly about my health. This is really too much and bizarre."
Hip-hop trio De La Soul have sent fans on a scavenger hunt throughout North America and Britain to locate copies of a new instrumental version of their latest album Smell The Da.i.s.y.. The group released 100 vinyl copies of the mixtape on Friday (18Apr14), two months after their entire music catalogue was made available online for free.
Fans received an email on Friday with hints about the stores where the albums may be hidden.
Smell the Da.I.S.Y., which was originally released in March (14), is a tribute record to producer J Dilla, who died of a blood disease and complications from lupus in 2006.
A statement from De La Soul's Dave Jolicoeur reads, "The reason we choose to release an all-instrumental version of Smell The Da.I.S.Y. is to give people the experience of a J Dilla beat tape that we were so lucky to receive. These beat tapes were the springboard that generated creation and inspiration for us."
Country music stars Lady Antebellum will be honoured at the 2014 Grammys on the Hill Awards for their excellence in both music and philanthropic efforts. The trio, made of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, will be given the Recording Artists' Coalition Award during the annual ceremony next month (02Apr14) in Washington, D.C.
The event mixes power players in both music and politics, and the award Lady Antebellum is set to receive is named for a program founded by singers Don Henley and Sheryl Crow.
Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow lauds the Grammy Award winners for their work in and out of the studio, including with their organisation called Ladyaid Fund, which supports children's hospitals in North America.
Portnow says in a statement that reads: "We are proud to honor Lady Antebellum for their artistry and inventiveness in the country arena as well as their philanthropic efforts to make a difference for disadvantaged children here and abroad."
Along with Lady Antebellum, House of Representatives Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will also be honoured for recognising the role music plays in American life.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Dave Matthews and The Fray helped to raise $500,000 (GBP333,330) at the Colorado Rising charity concert to benefit flood victims at the weekend (26-17Oct13). The musicians performed along with Big Head Todd & the Monsters and members of the Lumineers, among others at the United Ways of Colorado Flood Recovery Fund event.
Matthews told the crowd, "I'm very honoured to be with you all, making the noise. When we all get together, we can make a noise. To let people know there is more work to do!"
And The Fray drummer Ben Wysocki added, "We are proud to be Coloradans. Living here and having so much family up north in Boulder and all that, this was something that was a reality you know not for any of our homes or our situations, but friends and family... This was our neighbourhood."
The Colorado floods hit in September (13) and resulted in nine deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
Comedian Dave Chappelle has come under fire from the Mayor of Hartford, Connecticut after joking about a nuclear bomb attack on the city following his frosty reception from fans at a stand-up gig there last week (ends30Aug13). The funnyman cut short his set and stormed off stage on 29 August (13), when members of the audience began heckling him minutes into the show.
He has since included the drama in his new comedy routine, which he tried out for fans in Chicago, Illinois on Tuesday (03Sep13).
Laughing about the abuse he received in Hartford, he said, "I swear to God, f**k that whole city. (You're) so much better than Hartford. I'll never go back. I won't even go to Hartford for f**king gas. I don't want anything bad to happen to the United States, but if North Korea ever drops a nuclear bomb on this country, I swear to God I hope it lands in Hartford, Connecticut."
Chappelle's quips have caught the attention of Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra - and the politician is not happy.
Taking to his Twitter.com blog on Thursday morning (05Sep13), Segarra writes, "Dave Chappelle needs to quit whining, do his job and try some yoga".
The Mayor also tells TMZ.com, "His recent remarks were immature and inappropriate... (He) should stick to his job, give the fans what they paid for and not disparage the good people of Hartford."