3D has a first

After hours and hours of outlining, writing, composing and brainstorming, senior James Fischer completed the largest project of his life, “Control, Alt., Delete” a musical he spent the better part of a year working on, despite the fact that the idea for the play came to him quickly.

“Once I got the main concept of the play, the rest was just putting the pieces together,” Fischer said.

Last spring Fischer began the process of hammering out the first student-written, directed and composed musical in Dexter Drama Directing Series, or 3D, history.

Four years ago, eight upperclassmen taking Erin Palmer’s drama class realized they wanted to do more than perform three plays each year.  The class wanted to write its own plays, thus creating the 3D series which has produced a variety of original and unusual work including “Scrubs: The Musical.”

Although each year Copeland auditorium fills its 150-200 seats for the series, this is the first year for a student-directed musical.

And although Fischer’s play is indeed a musical, he said he considers his play a drama with a little comedy.

“There’s isolation, and it shows how a human can connect with something that is not human,” Fischer said.

The musical involves the state of Alaska, a doctor, a penguin and a robot, contains 10 songs and spans about an hour.  Seniors Harrison Kane and Natalie Burdick are the only characters in the musical.

As for inspiration, Fischer said composer Stephen Sondheim played a motivating role.

“When I listen to him, I just wanna write,” Fischer said.  “Heís my hero.”

Regardless of who he admires, Palmer said the best part of working with Fischer, is his talent combined with his character.

“He has a gift, really, whether it’s singing it, playing it, designing it.  Plus he’s very dedicated and humble about it,”  she said.

And while his is the only original musical being produced, senior Havah Roussel created the other original piece being performed, “Etta,” a one-act drama.

Roussel said she got the idea by following Palmer’s advice of “writing what you know,” and created a production of an elderly woman learning how to use an iPhone.

Such experiences allow students to gain valuable leadership skills and experience from directing their own production, Palmer said.  In addition, she said there are many benefit to having students run their own productions.

“It’s not about me.  What’s important is that the students get to run their own auditions, their own rehearsals, and really take a leadership role,” she said.

“Control. Alt. Delete” premieres March 6 and March 8, and Fischer said he’s ready for the performance, the largest undertaking he’s been involved with.

He said, “This is probably the biggest project I’ve even done in my entire life to be honest.”

'Gravity' proves to be more than just a realistic science-fiction drama

This past October the movie “Gravity” was released.  It’s a science-fiction drama featuring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the same director behind “Children of Men,” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

I’m not a huge fan of science-fiction because it seems to be notoriously corny, but this movie is done in such a realistic way that I wasn’t bothered.  The movie starts off slowly in terms of plot, but every scene is so visually breathtaking that again, I wasn’t bothered. It’s enough to just enjoy the cinematography if nothing else.

However that doesn’t mean there wasn’t more to love.  Being that there are only two characters in this story, the movie’s cast is an all-star lineup.  The acting is phenomenal.  Especially from Bullock, who (spoiler alert) early on becomes the sole character in the story.

This definitely isn’t a light-hearted movie.  It is a drama after all, and it will have you feeling things undoubtedly.  You will go from inspired to stressed, to relieved and then stressed again.  As the story progresses you spiral out of control from one tragic event to another.

As you watch Astronaut Ryan Stone (Bullock) near her breaking point as she is stranded hopelessly in open space,  It doesn’t make you want to be an astronaut. But I think it’s admirable that a science-fiction movie has finally been made with an improved level of realism.  But for anyone not thinking about being an astronaut, it’s a great movie.  I give it a 4.3 out of 5 stars.

Childish Gambino's 'Because the Internet' not as good as his first effort

Donald Glover has established himself as a comedian, writer, actor and rapper. He has writeen for such shows and “30 Rock” and acted in the show “Community” in addition to a handful of stand up routines.

Despite all of the other titles, Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino, may be most widely known for his rapping. With four mixtapes and a overly successful debut album, “Camp,” under his belt, it looks like his second album, “Because the Internet,” doesn’t live up to “Camp.”

The album is split into two and a half spectacular tracks and songs that aren’t really songs. It starts with a four-second intro which rides into a catchy track, “Crawl.” The chorus includes a women with a voice like Rihanna, and you can’t go wrong when Childish takes care of business.

From there the album rolls into a song that got my blood boiling, “Worldstar.” Gambino goes hard with rhymes on point, until he is interrupted by a call from what seems to be a friend telling him to check out a video of a fight. It ruins the song, but the first half is so good that I can deal with it.

After the first of many skits there are five consecutive songs, “The Worst Guys” featuring Chance the Rapper, “Shadows,” “Telegraph Ave.,” Sweatpants” and “3005.” Despite Chance the Rapper not having a verse, all three songs are different but effective. But if Chance gets a verse on a Justin Bieber song, then I believe he should get one here, just saying.

My personal favorite track, however, is “Telegraph Ave.” It takes me back to the Childish Gambino that I could listen to for hours. A close second is the first single “3005,” a love song that says that he will his girl until 3005. Genius.

After “3005” the album takes a hard left turn, and never really takes a turn back, with four tracks in a row that aren’t much at all. Three skits and a song with a funky beat lost me. In fact, this funky beat, which sounds like it would blow out the speakers in my car or my headphones, is a consistant on the second half of the album. With almost every song starting off sounding like it will be raw rhyming with a banging beat but turning into something that is hard to listen to, I found myself annoyed.

I see what Gambino is trying to do, and I enjoyed parts of the album. But people listening to him for this first time won’t get it. To them, he is going to come across as weird and talentless. But that’s not true. Gambino has a lot of talent,he just doesn’t effectively showcase it here.

I would give this album a 7/10. He provided a handful of songs I will listen to for awhile, but otherwise I have come to expect more from Childish Gambino.

Arcade Fire's newly-released album is anything but ordinary

The sounds of Arcade Fire’s fourth and latest album, “Reflektor,” are anything but ordinary.  As usual the band has pushed the limits of meshing genres, unique soundscapes and raw emotion.

The album leads with the driving title track, “Reflektor.”  The song immediately sets the mood for the majority of the album.  It has a strong ‘70s disco-era influence, while retaining dark overtones that give it an interesting quality.  The music is easily danceable but captivating enough that it’s hard to do anything but listen.

Arcade Fire as a band travels and tours a lot.  It definitely comes through in their music. Progressing through the album the listener gets to experience a whole range of different sounds from different parts of the world that all convey different a range of emotions from the happy vibe in “Reflektor” contrasted to the extremely dark tones in “Joan of Arc.

You can be swept from futuristic soundscapes and droning synthesizers, directly into tribal Haitian drum beats, but the production is smooth enough that it all sounds right.  The band recently spent some time in Haiti while creating this album, and the influence definitely comes through in some of the drum beats and almost child-like melodies.  This can be heard in the track “Flashbulb eyes”.

Even with these obscure influences, the songs on this album are still undoubtedly Arcade Fire.  Their unique sound cuts through it all.  The same dark themes in lyrical imagery come through as they did on all of their previous albums.

I would give this album a 4.2 out of 5 and recommend it to anyone who likes alternative/psychedelic rock.  Being an Arcade Fire album, it’s already bound to be great, but I think that they really pushed their limits and stepped their game up to something new.

American Hustle captures '70s culture in captivating manner

“American Hustle” is an awful film with terrible acting, terrible direction and a terrible story line.

If you believed that, then you can imagine what it’s like to get lost in the web of cons surrounding Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale) in David O. Russell’s stylized, fantastic story of scandal.

It’s a film about lies, deception and the art of the con. A fictional story (loosely based on facts surrounding the ‘70s Abscam political scandal) bolstered by an historically-accurate backdrop, “American Hustle” is a unique, character-driven experience.

Bale plays a simple con-man who gets roped into pulling larger and more risky schemes by the seductive Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Eventually the two get caught by a broke and desperate FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who agrees to let them go if they help him pull a few high-profile cons involving the incrimination of political figures such as Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).

Every character gets in a little over their heads, and the result is an engaging and entertaining story throughout.

The hilarious script and impeccable cast are the strongest points of the film. Every actor involved sinks deeply into their role and pulls off incredible comedic timing. Jennifer Lawrence has a fairly strong performance as the eccentric Rosalyn Rosenfield to whom Irving is reluctantly “married.”

However, of the five main cast members, Lawrence’s performance was the weakest. I couldn’t get past the lurking feeling that I was just watching her playing a character, rather than truly seeing Rosalyn Rosenfield come to life. In addition, her accent didn’t feel consistent. While her character was well-designed and well-written, Rosalyn deserved a more immersive performance than Lawrence gave.

On the other hand, Bale, Cooper, Adams and Renner were all fantastic. Russell has worked with most of these actors in the past (Bale and Adams in “The Fighter,” Cooper and Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook”), and he knows their strengths well.

In addition, the cinematography, sets, costumes and lighting are all gorgeous. From extravagantly-decorated casinos to lavish hotels, the movie is a delectation to look at.

Russell is an experienced director, having been nominated for best director and best adapted screenplay at the 2013 Academy Awards for “Silver Linings Playbook.” His perspicacity as a filmmaker shines through in every shot and directorial choice.

The period costumes are captivating and beautiful. Adams and Bale both have near 40 costume changes each, and it works. Everything period-specific in the movie is a shining example of the most classy, grandiose aspects of the ‘70s.

And nothing exemplified the ‘70s better than the film’s soundtrack. With Elton John, the Bee Gees, Chicago, Santana and America, there are plenty of great artists from this era, some of which aren’t well known. Music Supervisor Susan Jacobs uses these songs in an incredibly effective ways to creatively amplify the action on screen.

“I’ve Got Your Number” by Jack Jones plays while Irving is describing his enduring love for Sydney. “Evil Ways” by Santana plays while Lawrence’s character walks towards a group of mobsters unaware of the danger that will follow.

Not all of the songs are perfectly period accurate (such as “Long Black Road” by Electric Light Orchestra from 2001), but they all fit in and work together to create sonic joy.

Perhaps the best example is “Jeep’s Blues,” a 1950s song by Duke Ellington that plays an important role in the film, appearing three times. The song becomes an intrinsic theme for the movie, and is a prominent illustration of the relationship between Irving and Sydney.

Despite the chaotic double-crosses and plot-twists, “American Hustle” is a love story at its core. The tumultuous relationship between Irving Rosenfield and Sydney Prosser is the focal point of most of the events in the film. Moments that are touching and introspective work in good balance with moments that are outrageous and comical. “American Hustle” is a tremendous success.

Dicaprio elevates his game to a new level in "The Wolf of Wall Street"

As most true Americans know, Leonardo Dicaprio is “the man.”  With his great looks, beautiful acting and overall Playboy status, he is one of the most desirable men in America. Man or woman, you would be foolish to not take his hand in marriage.

With his recent track record of acting in such roles as Jay Gatsby in the 2013 release “The Great Gatsby” and “Dominick Cobb” in the 2010 release “Inception,”  Dicaprio had his fan base (all of America) craving more.

The legendary producer Martin Scorsese heard America’s cry and this past December he sent us into the new year with the blessing of Dicaprio’s presence in his film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

The film follows the rise and fall and true story of self-made billionaire Jordan Belfort.  He worked as a stockbroker and pioneered the trade of penny stocks.  Between a twisting series of events including corruption and greed, and a Playboy lifestyle of hard drugs and reckless partying, Belfort’s life spirals out of control.

For the first hour or so the film is extremely captivating, and really funny at times.  Vulgar and sharp humor delivered by supporting cast such as Jonah Hill, keeps the movie fresh.  However, as the plot builds, the movie becomes more stressful.  At about two hours in, I was ready for the movie to end.

There are parts where it could have been tied up and ended perfectly, but there always seemed to be “just one more thing.”  For example Dicaprio’s character is offered a chance to turn himself in, and then another chance to cut a deal with the police and turn his partners in.  Instead he keeps doing what he’s doing and it draws out the movie way too much.  It got to the point where I was exhausted and began to lose interest.

After all, this plot is nothing new.  It’s the same classic concept as in movies like “Scarface,”and “Blow.”  Money and power corrupts;  it’s not the most original of screenplays, but what it does have going for it is that it is a true story.

That being said, it’s still a great movie.  The acting is phenomenal, and it definitely has entertaining parts.  My advice to any viewer would be to just stop watching the movie when you feel like it should be done.

There are countless points throughout, where you could just leave the theatre and be completely content with that “ending.”

Not afraid to speak his mind

Detroit rapper Eminem has been a cultural symbol of media controversy since the release of his raw breakthrough album in 2000, “The Marshall Mathers LP.” Despite this controversy, he has 13 Grammys, eight #1-ranked studio albums and an Academy Award under his belt. He is the best-selling rap artist of all time.

Yet Eminem is constantly in the spotlight as a result of lyrics that some have said are both sexist and anti-gay. Even his most recent release in November, “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” has many lyrics people have called offensive.

In a changing world where the acceptance of homosexual and feminine rights is becoming the norm, Eminem’s listeners struggle to decide if his lyrics are too controversial. Containing insults and stereotypes from a culture rooted in the past, his raps have an angst and passion that have been present since the beginning of his career.

Private vocal teacher and hip-hop enthusiast John Hummel said that controversy is what fans should expect from the artist.

“Eminem built his career on making controversy,” Hummel said. “That’s what his identity is. He has to be inflammatory, because if he wasn’t, people wouldn’t listen to him.”

Many of Eminem’s lyrics target very specific groups of people, though, criticizing their beliefs and cultures.

An example of this is in his 2000 song “Criminal,” in which he writes, “My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge / That’ll stab you in the head / whether you’re a f– or l– / Or the homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest / Pants or dress – hate f—? The answer’s ‘yes.’”

Hummel takes the stance that Eminem is simply portraying what he knows and grew up with in a satirical way.

“While I think that some of his lyrics would offend people, I think sometimes he’s being a satirist, and I think sometimes he’s being very honest,” Hummel said.

But senior Jimmy Messmore, President of the Queer-Straight Alliance of Dexter High School, said that the homophobic slurs in Eminem’s music are not acceptable regardless of whether they’re meant as satire or not.

“Inside of his songs he includes homophobic slurs, yet outside of his music he expresses support for the gay community. For that reason, it’s hard to have any strong feelings against him, but at the same time, he still includes the slurs in his music which is inexcusable,” Messmore said.

For Messmore, if Eminem wants to support the gay community, then it seems unclear why he would include these slurs in his songs unless he wishes to cause controversy willingly.

But this controversy is what draws senior Sierra Lakey to Eminem’s music.

“My favorite Eminem album is probably ‘Relapse’ (2009) because it’s really disgusting, and I love how he just goes crazy on it,” she said. “The sexist or homophobic lyrics never offend me because I feel like it’s sort of an act that he plays along with, and it doesn’t bother me.”

For Lakey, Eminem’s music has much more to offer than just offensive remarks.

“I’m drawn to Eminem’s music because I feel a connection to him. I can relate to him and what he’s saying,” she said. “I feel like he’s more genuine than other rappers with his lyrics. There’s a message behind every song.”

Senior Evan Burke has a similar opinion about the positive aspects of Eminem’s music, regardless of the controversy surrounding his lyrics.

“Even though some Eminem songs have offensive lyrics in them, he also has many songs that help people as well. For example, ‘Lose Yourself’ has helped thousands of sports teams get pumped up over the years,” Burke said.

However, Burke also didn’t fully agree with everything that Eminem has to say.

“I think that the homophobic remarks may be going a little far. He could leave those out, because it could offend some people,” Burke said.

Despite the controversy that Eminem causes, many can still find positive and artistic messages in his music.

“He has many insecurities about himself that all pertain to his music,” Hummel said. “His failed marriage, his children, his mother, all of those things kind of add up.”

Hummel also said that Eminem is a perfect example of what hip-hop can offer to the musical world. Because of the value of Eminem’s music, Hummel said that people should look past the controversy, and view the art with an objective gaze.

For Hummel, Eminem does hip-hop justice.

He said, “The thing that I find most interesting about hip-hop is that it takes something from the past, rebuilds, and puts it in a new cultural lense by giving new ownership to the whole idea. At the end of the day, Eminem is both the hero and the villain in every one of his songs.”

"Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" soundtrack is a refreshing mix of pop and Hans Zimmer

The other day while cleaning my room, I stumbled upon my old DVD collection with all the best movies of my childhood. Flipping through the stack, I recalled all my favorite characters and storylines: “Shrek,” “The Iron Giant,” “Toy Story,” “James and the Giant Peach,” and undoubtedly my favorite of them all “Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron.”

Immediately I ran to my TV room and popped the movie in.  The movie was as wonderful as I had remembered. However, one thing stuck out to me this time that I had never noticed before: the music.

The music resonates beautifully with every theme and emotion that the story line conveys.  Upon further research I found that the score was produced by none other than the legendary Hans Zimmer.

For those of you who are not familiar with Zimmer, he created the scores for such films as “The Dark Knight,” Gladiator,” “Inception” and “The Lion King.”  It was all starting to make sense now.

I went online and purchased the soundtrack to “Spirit,” and I’ve been secretly listening to it ever since.  While it may be hard to admit to listening to a soundtrack from a kids movie, I have to make the argument that these musical scores are not just for kids. Great music knows no age, race or gender.

The album starts with alternative rock and pop songs with a driving beat, sung over by Bryan Adams.  A few tracks in we receive a guest appearance from Sarah McLaughlin on the song “Don’t Let Go.”  About two-thirds through the album, the content changes entirely.  However it’s a smooth enough transition that it works, especially in context to the movie.  This is where the work of Hans Zimmer appears.  Epic and nearly overwhelming scores finish out this album strong.

The music on this album really needs to be experienced in order to understand what I’m talking about here.  It’s as epic and touching as the movie itself, which is also worth a viewing.  I would recommend that everyone, regardless of age or gender, immediately purchase both the movie and its soundtrack.  You won’t be disappointed.

This is an absolute 5/5 in my book.

PS4 is the obvious choice in next-generation consoles

Fuel has been thrown on the fire that is the competition between Microsoft and Sony with the long-awaited release of two new gaming consoles, The Xbox One and the Playstation 4.  The Playstation 4 was released on Nov. 15, and the Xbox One will be released on Nov. 22.

Both systems offer new features and better graphics.  While the Xbox One has built in motion capture technology, it falls short to the new Playstation in terms of resolution.  The PS4 has stepped up its display, making it remarkably clearer and the new vivid colors add to it. When it comes to aesthetic and design, the PS4 really takes the cake.  It’s build is sleek and elegant compared to its much larger and boxy competitor.

With Christmas nearing, people will have to decide what console is going to be under their tree.  Microsoft’s “Xbox 360” created a bit of a cult following that will have a lot of buyers leaning their way.  Another thing they have going for them is that there is almost twice as many games to be released with the console than the PS4.

The new Xbox One retails for roughly $400, whereas the PS4 is $100 less.  Both systems require a monthly fee in order to play multiplayer games online.

For my money the PS4 is obvious choice.  I generally go for quality over quantity, and while the Xbox One boasts a lot of great features, the PS4 seems to be a better console for a cheaper price tag.