Oxymorrons Rock The Knitting Factory

by Ysabella Monton

“High octane is what we do.” (Via Local Natives)

Your standard rock band is composed of a bassist, a drummer, and a guitarist; when said ensemble starts playing a funky, alt-infused intro, the audience waits attentively, overtaken by the tension of the spectacle: the frontman is about to come out.

Imagine the surprise of the captivated audience at The Knitting Factory when two imposing figures clad in black and white masks walk out and take their place at center. Just as you’re wondering just what the hell is going on, they start rapping. Pretty soon, you start to change your tune. You start to wonder “What is this weird music, and why do I love it?” This mass of contradictory emotions is exactly what Oxymorrons wants to provoke, and they do it well.

Hailing from Queens, this strange band of friends have created a genre all their own, seamlessly blending sounds that you hardly think would ever work together. They’re the kind of band that hooks their crowd immediately, whether or not they know the words or not. You can’t help but find yourself jumping with the crowd, overtaken by the energy.

Deee, frontman alongside his brother K.I., talked to us after the show.

“A lot of the times, people don’t understand us until they’ve seen the live show,” he said of their peculiar style. “There’s nothing that beats live energy”

“When you’re there in person, it’s like you really get to know this person,” he added. “You really get to feel the ups and downs of the musical situation, as far as ‘Hey, we bring you here, we laugh, and we talk a little bit.’”

Instead of a drumbeat for their single, “808 Clap,” they had the crowd clap along.  Anytime artists really work to engage the crowd, you can tell how much they profit from the crowd’s energy. The crowd profits likewise, and this equivalent exchange is the crux of a quality musical performance.

“It’s such an experience, and that experience is captured that one time,” said Deee.  “Every live show is different.  The setlist may be the same, the songs may be the same, but every live show is different.  Getting a piece of something that will never happen again.”

He is absolutely right – that exactly feeling cannot be replicated, and with a band that has such a unique vibe, every moment is individual in its idiosyncrasy. In short, Oxymorrons are something special, a breath of fresh air in an increasingly processed music scene. What they do and the show that they put on is a physical manifestation of who they are.

“High octane is what we do,” said Deee. “That’s how we run our shows.”

Ysabella Monton is a contributing writer. Email her at music@nyunews.com

Posted in Interviews, Music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mommy” defies expectations, succeeds with sincerity

By Zach Martin

Via Indiewire

“Mommy,” the Cannes award-winning project from French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan does not sound like anyone’s idea of a good film. Just the mention of its Instagram-esque square-aspect-ratio may be met with scorn and cynicism from viewers who think they are above such gimmicks.  But “Mommy” reels you in with just how alive and human it feels.

The film tells the story of Diane (Anne Dorval), a widow who faces difficulties in raising her volatile and unstable son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon). When a new neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clement) arrives, she starts to assist in housework and controlling Steve.  From there it follows the ups and downs that the family goes through to make ends meet and takes the viewer on an emotional roller-coaster.  The film deals in extremes often cycling through scenes of intense nail-biting violence, joyous excitement and heart-breaking setbacks.  Thankfully, Anne Dorval delivers a layered powerhouse performance that grabs the audience’s empathy and turns the story of an individual struggle with a problematic child into a universal one.  Dolan, too, directs with an admirable confidence and energy.  Their combined forces create monumental emotional payoffs particularly in an awe-inspiring daydream sequence late in the runtime that makes Diane’s shattered expectations for her life even more devastating.

Xavier Dolan’s style is one of maximalism and a seeming allergy to subtlety or nuance. However, this is not inherently a bad thing, in fact it is oddly refreshing.  It is easy to dismiss his bombastic flourishes as indulgent and bordering on self-parody, but the emotional resonance that Dolan is able to achieve through them is incredibly impressive. It takes a talented director to be able to pull off a montage sequence set to the entirety of “Wonderwall” by Oasis and not only that but make it into one of the most purely exhilarating sequences on film in recent memory.

The aforementioned square format that the film is presented in is the aesthetic choice that sets it apart. It is never off-putting and contributes to the beautiful imagery that is showcased throughout.  It is not clear at first why the choice in aspect ratio was made, but the moment when Dolan reveals his reasoning is so breathtaking that it’s been reported audiences at Cannes erupted in ecstatic applause.

Dolan has his poppy tendencies — a soundtrack that includes Sarah Maclachlan, Counting Crows, and Simple Plan proves this — that may be rejected by some, but he has made a momentous film that demands to be taken seriously. With huge emotions and striking imagery, “Mommy” makes for a profound and rewarding experience.

Zach Martin is a staff writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Strickland’s psycho-sexual “The Duke of Burgundy” lends itself to interpretation

By Alex Greenberger

Via RogerEbert.com

“The Duke of Burgundy,” Peter Strickland’s excellent third feature film, reveals itself slowly. It begins as an S&M-inflected lesbian romance and ends as a psychological horror movie. How or why the film progresses that way is something of a mystery, and that’s exactly how it should be.

At its start, “The Duke of Burgundy” seems to be about Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), a doe-eyed cleaning lady for Cynthia (Sidse Babbett Knudsen). Evelyn is told to start by cleaning the study of Cynthia’s estate, which is fighting a losing battle to the overgrown ivy on its facades. She does it, but for a woman as severe as Cynthia, it is not enough. Cynthia makes Evelyn scrub the floor and wash her underwear. Finally, dissatisfied with Evelyn’s performance, Cynthia walks Evelyn to the bathroom, shuts the door (which looks more like the cinderblock wall of a jail cell), and proceeds to pee in Evelyn’s mouth. We realize where this has been going — it was Cynthia seducing Evelyn all along.

And then we find out that that was not the truth at all. Using her girlish cursive handwriting, Evelyn has written out a list of instructions for Cynthia, who is a scientist studying butterflies and has actually been having a fling with Evelyn for a while now. Evelyn is not a cleaner either. She may be a student — we never find out what her role is in Cynthia’s life.

Her notes to Cynthia are the kind of thing most filmmakers would use for exposition, but not so for Strickland, who already proved his knack for elliptical, ambiguous stories with “Berberian Sound Studio,” an homage to ’70s Italian horror films. Like that film, “The Duke of Burgundy” deprives its viewers of necessary information, and viewers don’t realize they needed those details until much later on. When and where does the film take place? It barely matters — the point is to become confused and disoriented by it all.

In the sense that it evokes a hazy, sexy atmosphere, “The Duke of Burgundy” successfully emulates the style of Tinto Brass and Russ Meyer — two filmmakers who worked in the ’70s and were known for their crude bacchanals. Today, Brass and Meyer’s films would be considered tame in a time when “Game of Thrones” enthusiasts can get eyefuls of lesbian sex by tuning in every week, but back then, those films were dirty. And while “The Duke of Burgundy” never so much as hints at nudity, it has odd sex acts aplenty.

Unlike Brass and Meyer, however, Strickland is a thinker. “The Duke of Burgundy” is primarily focused on style — it has little dialogue and relies heavily on images. Each shot feels precise, though none ever gives away too much information. Strickland repeatedly shows shots of butterflies, for example. Filmed through slow zooms, they’re metaphors for Cynthia and Evelyn — they control each other and often literally pin each other down.

Even if these sequences of butterfly shots are showy allusions to experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s “Moth Light,” they explain what we see in a way perfectly suited to Strickland’s subject matter. “The Duke of Burgundy” makes its audience fight for its right to enjoy the film. Viewers can either give in and let the film wash over them, or they can argue with Strickland’s moody vision by interpreting everything. For a film about the way people control or submit to each other, that’s strangely perfect.

Alex Greenberger is Editor-at-Large. Email him at agreenberger@nyunews.com.

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Black Sea” avoids risks, holds to adventure genre norms

By Jim Muntisov

Via Indiewire

Kevin McDonald’s “Black Sea” follows a group of mercenaries, led by Jude Law’s Robinson, as they venture to the depths of the ocean to uncover a Nazi submarine that’s suspected to be loaded with gold. McDonald has made a name for himself by making watchable adventure thrillers (“Touching the Void,” “The Last King of Scotland”) and “Black Sea” is another one to add to the list, but it doesn’t take any risks to make it an outstanding or truly memorable piece of cinema. It will, however, take you on an enjoyable ride on a rainy day.

The film opens with Robinson being let go from his job as a submarine operator, joining his friends at the pub in the world of unemployment. One of these friends gets wind of a job to pilot a submarine searching for Nazi treasure. So of course, all out of jobs, they accept and wrangle together a crew of other equally depressed characters who are all looking for their pay day. With Robinson intent on sharing their winnings, an even split to each crew member, you already know the gist of what will happen.

That was “Black Sea’s” biggest pitfall, it’s characters’ predictability. There were players you knew were going to potentially want bigger paychecks and it was clear some of them were going to start biting the dust. It was disappointing that a script by Dennis Kelly (whose British series “Utopia” is absolutely magnificent) couldn’t escape trappings of other genre films.

Law plays around with a gritty and believable Scottish accent, removing some of the British charm we’ve grown accustomed to. He held together a great supporting cast, including Scoot McNairy as a whiny American businessman, Ben Mendelsohn as a psychotic ex-convict, and newcomer Bobby Schofield, who impressed as an inexperienced kid who Robinson takes on board.

An enjoyable aspect to the film was half of the sub crew being Russian. It was a good tension initiator due to the language barrier and the preset alliances from both sides. A bonus was all the Russian characters being played by Russians, which is a refreshing change from typical Hollywood productions.

McDonald excelled at bringing out the tension and claustrophobia of the isolated setting. Having multiple characters on screen at once, having to squeeze around other people, really brought the confinements of the submarine to life. McDonald managed to balance the internal conflicts of the crewmates and the dangers of piloting the submarine. The characters can be yelling and threatening each other, and within a second, everybody mans their stations and works together.

“Black Sea” is a decent popcorn movie. Some of the character motivations are unbelievable and the story is predictable, but it’s overall an enjoyable two hours. In the cinema deadzone that is January, you could do worse than seeing “Black Sea,” but don’t expect anything genre defying out of it.

Jim Muntisov is a contributing writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shayna Leigh Takes Artistic Risks, Showcases Her Struggles

By Ysabella Monton

Via Ben Helmer

Up-and-coming pop singer Shayna Leigh is quickly making her mark on both the charts and the music world.  Recently, she supported alt-rock band Sister Hazel on tour and her single, “Wake Me When It’s Christmas,” proved a holiday smash.

On the tour, Leigh noted that the “audiences [seemed] really receptive to new music.  “Being an opening act is super challenging,” said Leigh, “but it’s cool because I got to play really cool venues with really big audiences who just wanna have a good time.”

Leigh is no stranger to the stage, being an avid singer and actress who began writing songs while in high school.  She attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts as a drama student.

“In college,” she said, which she calls her darker times, “[she] spent a lot of time worrying about the future. That’s something that [she thinks] is really important to get out of…the stress of tomorrow shouldn’t take away from living today.”

It wasn’t until after graduating college that she really focused on music as a career. “I came of age in this sort of boy band/ girl group era, and didn’t feel like I fit in,” she said.  “I picked [songwriting] back up again after college, and started writing and recording my own music more seriously.”

Leigh acknowledges that the most important part of coming into one’s own as a musician is maintaining her authenticity. Prior to releasing her debut EP, “The Cold Hard Truth and the Dream,” she recorded what came to be two full-length albums that were never released because “[she] didn’t feel like [she] had gotten the crux of what it was that [she] wanted to say.” According to Leigh, “[she thinks] that’s the thing that [she] sort of [takes] the most seriously; it’s just that every song that you put out there message-wise is something that you’re adding to the canon of the universe, if two people hear it or two million people hear it.”

In terms of finding success, she wants to make sure to stay true to herself. “I think that’s a really important part of the process for an independent artist,” said Leigh, “is to be willing to try things and fail — or not fail, but try things and decide that this isn’t the direction you want to take…you’re developing yourself.”

Her first big release, the “Hey Shayna Leigh” EP, dropped in September 2014 on iTunes. The EP shows “the journey of a year of my life, showing the different places that I went and overcoming the darker elements of life.”  The album is meant to highlight the challenges she faced on her journey of artistic self-discover. On said challenges, she says “all of [her] days are different. You work a lot but you play a lot, you do fun things and everything is exciting; a cool risk to take.”

Making something she can stand behind, she says, lets her be that much more proud of the end product. “It’s about knowing who you are and what you stand for,” said Leigh. “That’s the way you make a difference in the world in any way: by attempting to be the best person you can and say what you think needs to be said in the kindest, best way possible.”

Ysabella Monton is a contributing writer. Email her at music@nyunews.com

Posted in Interviews, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NYFA Idir Art Exhibit: Hozier, Sinead Cullen, and more

by Mary Ann Odete

via Center for Creative Practices

Initially opening on October 9th, the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) exhibit “idir” had its second installment on Friday January 16th. “Idir” is a project between NYFA and artists based in Ireland that create connections between cultures through art and performance. The exhibit’s opening had a majority of the contributing artists in attendance. Alison McKenna performed an excerpt from Iris Park’s poem “Do You Know Who I Am?,” Sinead Cullen and Frances Mezzetti did an improvised sound and movement piece titled “Now,” Eleonore Nicolas had the audience participate with her piece “Well Done, You’re Brilliant” and to end the night, Hozier performed unplugged with Alana Henderson.

At the second installment of the idir exhibit, Brian Horgan preformed with a back-up band. Like opening night, there was a laid back feel to the occasion. Horgan’s band was made up of Tara Novak, the band leader and violinist, Danny Weller, bassist, David Gardos, keyboard player and Shannon Ford, drummer. In addition to his own music, Horgan performed renditions of “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees.

After the performance, there was a chance to meet the musicians and get a look at the art. The paintings on display are magnificent, but there is also a multimedia experience: there is a screen where one can watch the performance pieces such as the full performance of Park’s “Do You Know Who I Am?” as done by Alison McKenna and also “Well Done, You’re Brilliant.” There are headphones and an mp3, so that one can listen to music by Brian Horgan. Currently on display is the Group Ego Trip 1 (G.E.T. 1), which will be coming down in less than two weeks. The art is definitely worth experiencing because it is not only visual, but interactive as well. “Idir” means between, and the connections between cultures and people are evident as one walks through the exhibit. This project has had a significant on not only the artists who had the chance to participate, but it is also a step in making connections between artists from around the world. There is still a short bit of time to see the exhibit. It runs through January 30th at NYFA headquarters in 20 Jay St. in Brooklyn. For more information, feel free to visit the NYFA website or check out idir’s Facebook or Twitter page. While this may be the end of Group Ego Trip 1, keep watch for more to come from these amazing people.

Mary Ann Odete is a contributing writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com.

Posted in Music, Visual Art | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beloved bear brings joy to big screen in “Paddington”

By Mary Ann Odete

Via The Guardian

Paddington Bear is gracing the big screen at last. Based on the beloved children’s books by Michael Bond, Paddington comes from deepest darkest Peru to London in hopes of finding a family. Unbeknownst to Paddington, it is much harder to find a home than he initially thought.

Each of the actors brings the sort of lightness that makes children’s films a joy to watch at any age. Nicole Kidman plays the obvious antagonist (a taxidermist) and portrays her character, Millicent, as the cartoon-esque villain. The entire movie moves forth with a cartoon-esque feel, Paddington inadvertently getting himself into hilarious situations that seem to just smoothly work themselves out.

The cast also includes Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Mr. and Mrs. Brown. The Browns agree to temporarily house Paddington and in return they are rewarded with a very mind-boggling yet highly humorous experience. Mr. Brown is initially wary of Paddington, constantly calculating the risks a bear can pose to an English household, but Paddington charms his way into everyone’s heart. Peter Capaldi stars as the their nosy neighbor and Ben Wishaw, Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon voice Paddington, Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo, respectively.

In addition to the acting and the plot, “Paddington” is also visually stellar. The bright colors give off a warm feeling that just makes the audience want to smile. The CGI bears are perfect as well. The visual aspects mixed in with the engaging story and quality acting make for a lovely cinematic experience.

For all the lovers of the “Paddington Bear” books, this movie will be a treat. For all those unfamiliar with Paddington Bear, this movie will still be a treat. It is a romp around London with the best guide possible.

Mary Ann Odete is a contributing writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com.

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment