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Album Review: Bruno Mars glistens on sophomore set 'Unorthodox Jukebox'
Credit: Atlantic

Album Review: Bruno Mars glistens on sophomore set 'Unorthodox Jukebox'

Now if he'd just quit going after the bad girls....

Though still early in his career, Bruno Mars has already proven himself so capable on so many fronts from singing to writing to producing that he’s set the bar incredibly high for himself. The question is can he meet it on “Unorthodox Jukebox,” his sophomore set out Dec. 11.

The multiple Grammy winner is only 27, but as he’s shown on such songs as “Grenade” and “Just The Way You Are,”  he has such a sure command of the pop idiom that it seems surprising when he makes a misstep. It’s gratifying that on “Jukebox,” with assistance from Benny Blanco, Paul Epworth, Diplo and Mark Ronson, he makes so few.

Musically, “Unorthodox Jukebox” is a glorious exploration of pop music, full of spritely melodies, layered harmonies, and catchy choruses delivered in Mars’ caramel-dipped voice. It’s lyrically that the album occasionally falls short.

More so than any other current pop male artist, Mars has a sure handle on his influences and he masterfully incorporates them throughout the album, whether it’s Prince on the retro “Treasure” (he even references the Purple One’s “Sexy MF” in the opening) or Otis Redding on the bittersweet tale of regret “If I Knew.”  With its shiny, crisp production, current single, the infectious, stuttering “Locked Out Of Heaven,” owes more than a little to Michael Jackson, one of Mars’ musical heroes.

The masterpiece on here is “When I Was Your Man,” a spare, heartbreaking piano ballad that could still be radio fodder decades from now, just as we’ll still listening to Elton John’s hits from the ‘70s on a near daily basis. In fact, the song most closely resembles one of John’s hits of yore crossed with a little Stevie Wonder.

Warning though: with Mars’ rush of fame, clearly there has been some kind of run-ins with women who can politely be described as  gold diggers, but Mars is not always feeling gentlemanly.

On the cascading, confessional “Young Girls,” he regrets all the pretty young things he’s yielded to as his fame has risen. He’s not going to get a lot of sympathy for diving, seemingly repeatedly, into the deep end of Temptation Island, where the water is always warm and each bikini is tinier than the next, but he sounds genuinely conflicted when he sings, “I still dream of the simple life boy meets girl, makes her his wife,but love don’t exist when you live like this, that much I know/All these roads steer me wrong, but I still drive them all night long.”

It’s doubtful that these “young wild girls” will be “the death of me,” as he fears, but if he’s as “addicted” as he claims in the song, he may want to have someone checking IDs at the door and handing out condoms.

If he feels captured in a spider web of feminine wiles on “Young Girls” and on the ode to strippers, “Money Make Her Smile” (Hey, male artists: we don’t ever need another song about girls on the pole. Motley Crue had you covered way back when with “Girls, Girls, Girls.”), things turn  very dark on “Natalie” a cautionary tale about the protagonist’s plans for revenge on a femme fatale who’s taken all his money.  It’s cut from the same cloth  as  Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and “Dirty Diana”  in terms of falling for a conniving woman, but Mars promises a final result that will end with “I’ll spend a lifetime in jail/I’ll be smiling in my cell.” Oh Bruno, it takes two to tango. 

And tango he does on “Gorilla,” an R-rated, explicit song about sex, where he wants to make love like an ape. Unless you’re Dian Fossey, I’m not sure a gorilla is the animal most folks wish to emulate when they mate, but there you have it.

With only 10 tracks, there shouldn’t be any filler but there are two songs here that fill that role:  “Moonshine,” a mid-tempo cryptic ballad  and the reggae-tinged “Show Me” is all swagger about “getting freaky tonight.” That’s all  fine, but there should be a little more meat on its bones.

Mars’ pop music is so far above much of what’s played on the radio these days so these quibbles come because it’s clear he can do better. Once his lyrics reach the level of his music—and he gets over his bad girl fixation— there will be truly no stopping him.



 

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<p>&quot;The Master&quot;</p>

"The Master"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

'The Master' leads San Diego film critics nominations

Helen Hunt gets chalked up as a lead

The San Diego Film Critics Society also dropped its nominees over the weekend and, well, they flew under my radar. But here they are, and "The Master" led the way with nine nominations. Not far behind was "Argo" with eight. "Django Unchained' picked up five while "Zero Dark Thirty" only managed four. "Silver Linings Playbook" rounded out the Best Film nominees with six nominations. Check out the full list of nominees below and keep track of the 2012-2013 film awards season via The Circuit.

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<p>A scene from &quot;Lincoln&quot;</p>

A scene from "Lincoln"

Credit: Touchstone Pictures

'Lincoln' leads Washington DC Area film critics nominations, 'Zero Dark Thirty' wins

'Les Misérables' also had a strong showing in the nominations

The Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association announced its list of nominees for the 2012 film awards season yesterday. Had no idea. Then winners today. A little too quick a turnaround, folks. Anyway, no surprise that Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" led the field with eight nominations. Tom Hooper's "Les Misérables" wasn't far behind with seven. But it was "Zero Dark Thirty" that took the wins for Best Picture and Best Director. It wouldn't be too crazy to expect a number of these categories to match up perfectly with Oscar. Check out the full list of nominees and winners (***) below, and remember to keep track of the 2012-2013 film awards season via The Circuit.

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<p>Santigold</p>

Santigold

Listen: Santigold unveils new song 'Girls' on HBO's 'Girls' soundtrack

Belle & Sebastian, Robyn, fun., Icona Pop round out Vol. 1 compilation in time for Season 2

Hey, if you're gonna loan a song to HBO series "Girls," you might as well call it "Girls," right?

Santigold did just that, as she contributes the new track "Girls" for the first volume soundtrack for the cable comedy. As the characters struggle with their own idiosyncrasies and repeat their mistakes, so does Santi repeat her vocal rhythms "around the block." The a cappella opening gives way to a minimal drum machine beat with all the high-end your hungover heart can handle.

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<p>Christian Bale in &quot;The&nbsp;Dark&nbsp;Knight Rises&quot;</p>

Christian Bale in "The Dark Knight Rises"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

'Argo,' 'Dark Knight Rises,' 'Django Unchained' make AFI's top 10 American films list for 2012

The usual collection of studio and indie fare

Adding another announcement to the stack this week is the American Film Institute. Remember, the Institute's annual list of the year's best films is limited to American cinema, so you won't see efforts like "Amour" or "Skyfall" pop up. Nevertheless, I think plenty of great American cinema is often avoided by this list in favor of the most obvious mixture of studio and indie fare.

Last year, for instance, standard awards-hunt comedies like "Bridesmaids" and "Midnight in Paris" that were threatening inclusion in the Best Picture field at the time made the cut, as well as those which clearly weren't, like Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar."

Be sure to circle back on Friday for the podcast where Anne and I will reveal our own top 10s for the year. For all my snarkiness about this lot's list, I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit a fair share of them made my own collective.

Check out the full AFI list below.

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The mock execution scene from "Argo," which William Goldenberg explains he used to frame another sequence, to dramatic effect.
The mock execution scene from "Argo," which William Goldenberg explains he used to frame another sequence, to dramatic effect.
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Tech Support: William Goldenberg on building tension in 'Argo' and 'Zero Dark Thirty'

The BSFC- and LAFCA-winning editor's busy year could yield a pair of Oscar nods

Duck into any number of industry -- and likely public -- screenings of Ben Affleck's "Argo" in the final moments of the film, and you're sure to hear a big burst of applause. It happens at the same moment every time: CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) peers out the window of a plane he and six American embassy workers have boarded to flee Iran under the guise of a film crew as a number of soldiers wise to their plans at the last minute chase the flight down. The plane gains momentum then it's wheels up and, after a tense moment, clarity sets: they got away.

It's fair to attribute that burst of applause to the release of tension. The nail-biting final sequence of the film builds to a crescendo and is expertly assembled to play on that tension. But for editor William Goldenberg, with those kinds of sequences, you have to remain focused on the characters.

"That’s what I try to keep in my mind when I’m cutting it," Goldenberg says. "You’re trying to put the audience in the head of these people and not just make it about the event but the story of each person and what they’re going through, always keeping it personal. And luckily for me, the actors were all so good at being in the moment, being terrified but being under control at the same time. It made for great editing opportunities.

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<p>Bradley Cooper in &quot;Silver Linings Playbook.&quot;</p>

Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: Cooper joins the list of Palm Springs honorees

Also: Mark Harris on 'Zero Dark Thirty,' and Tarantino on 'Django' slavery

Bradley Cooper has seemed very much a touch-and-go prospect in a crowded Best Actor field, but the scales slowly seem to be tipping in his favor. In contrast to the perennially ingenue-friendly Best Actress race, youngish Hollywood dreamboats can struggle to win over Academy voters, particularly for romantic and/or comic leads, so Cooper's superb work in "Silver Linings Playbook" is at a disadvantage in several ways. But after last week's unexpected win with the National Board of Review, Cooper has also landed the Desert Palm Award for Achievement in Acting at the Palm Springs Film Festival. He's the first male acting honoree announced for this publicity-heavy Oscar-season pitstop: Sally Field, Helen Hunt, Naomi Watts and the "Argo" ensemble are also getting a boost there. The list of recent Desert Palm winners includes Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges and Daniel Day-Lewis, which doesn't hurt Cooper's Oscar voodoo any. [PSIFF]

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<p>Mel Brooks in &quot;Blazing Saddles.&quot;</p>

Mel Brooks in "Blazing Saddles."

Credit: Warner Bros.

Mel Brooks looks back on Sid Caesar, 'Blazing Saddles' and more

The comedy legend has a new HBO special and a new DVD box set

Mel Brooks is one of the great comedy minds of the 20th century. He was part of the greatest comedy writing staff ever assembledat various points, it included Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon and Woody Allen, among many others — for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar's Hour." He and fellow Caesar alum Carl Reiner gave the world the 2000-Year-Old Man, and later he and Buck Henry created the classic James Bond spoof "Get Smart." And that's all before he went into the movie business and gave us "The Producers," "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein" and all the rest.

Mel Brooks is also one of the great talkers in showbiz, which is apparent if you've ever seen him on a talk show (say, telling his classic Cary Grant story on "The Tonight Show"), or if you watch him in tonight at 9 on the HBO special "Mel Brooks Strikes Back!," where he's interviewed by BBC creative director Alan Yentob about the ups and downs of his career.

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"The Real Housewives of Atlanta"

 "The Real Housewives of Atlanta"

Credit: Bravo

'The Real Housewives of Atlanta' recap: 'Hold on to Your Weaves'

Kenya flirts shamelessly with Apollo, then pressures Walter for a ring

Before we get started, here's a question... What the hell is up with Walter? Kenya is clearly insane, and that's fine. We know why the other women hang out with her -- Bravo makes them -- and she's highly entertaining. Few things are more enjoyable than watching a card-carrying lunatic swan around a reality TV show and annoy all the other slightly-less-loco people on the show. But she's nuts, right? I can understand that Walter finds her attractive; she was a Miss USA (or is that Miss America? Kidding!) She can be charming. But I would think when girlfriend starts yapping about how her baby oven is sad and lonely and how she needs to get married NOW NOW NOW before her ovaries dry up, he'd necessarily run from the room screening, change his cell phone number, and spend a month overseas until she stopped driving past his house, breaking windows. Kenya redefines high maintenance. She makes Mariah Carey look like she could be the chick with uncombed hair checking you through the express lane at Target. What man would willingly sign up for this walking nightmare?

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<p>Jamie Foxx in &quot;Django Unchained.&quot;</p>

Jamie Foxx in "Django Unchained."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Contender Countdown: True and False before Golden Globes and SAG Awards nods

Is 'Django' a lock for a best picture nomination?

Isn't this fun? The race for best picture continues to surprise at each turn. Outside of "Amour's" win with the LAFCA contingent Sunday, "Zero Dark Thirty" has emerged as the critics favorite winning NYFCC, Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Board of Review (among others).  So far, the other presumed best picture frontrunners "Les Miserables," "Lincoln" and "Argo" have had to make due with just acting, directing or screenwriting honors.  Of course, all this will change beginning Wednesday when SAG pipes in for its yearly honors and on Thursday when the HFPA hopes to influence something (most entertainment industry executives will tell you its ticket sales and Emmy voters).  We're in the thick of it and pronouncements about the fates of contenders are being made left and right. Taking that into account, it seems appropriate to review some of these repeated refrains and determine whether or not they have any basis in reality.

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<p>&quot;Look, it's the bad guy for 'Star Trek Into Darkness'!&nbsp;I can't believe it's...&quot;&nbsp; &quot;SHHHH!&nbsp;Not one more word, Uhura!&quot;</p>

"Look, it's the bad guy for 'Star Trek Into Darkness'! I can't believe it's..."  "SHHHH! Not one more word, Uhura!"

Credit: Paramount/Bad Robot

IMAX prologue to 'Star Trek Into Darkness' teases expertly and answers nothing

One thing's for sure: the chemistry is definitely in full force for the sequel

Earlier this evening, I took the biggest "Star Trek" fan I know to see the nine-minute prologue that will be screened in IMAX venues in front of the release of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," and based on his reaction, I'd say JJ Abrams and crew have absolutely nothing to worry about when the film hits theaters in May of 2013.

Even now, at the end of the nine-minute presentation, I cannot conclusively tell you who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing.  We do meet him very early in the footage, though.  The film starts with an alarm clock going off, waking a married couple played by Nazneen Contractor and Noel Clarke.  They quickly get ready, peeking out their window at the rainy cityscape of London in the year 2259.  They drive to the London Children's Hospital to visit their little girl, who appears to be aging prematurely, sick and near-bald, completely unresponsive.  Clarke walks outside to catch some air and try to pull himself together, and someone steps up behind him to say, "I can save her."  Clarke turns around and we get our first look at Cumberbatch.

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<p>Claire Danes as Carrie on &quot;Homeland.&quot;</p>

Claire Danes as Carrie on "Homeland."

Credit: Showtime

Review: 'Homeland' - 'In Memoriam'

Carrie leads a search through the tunnels, and Brody considers his future

A review of tonight's "Homeland" coming up just as soon as I'm sometimes called The Bear...

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