Staff Picks: Bo Burnham sings, dances and shouts for laughs

Via Telegraph

“what.” Bo Burnham

Not so much a stand up special as a one-man show, Bo Burnham’s latest one-hour comedy show “what.” is impressive, not only because of Burnham’s trademark musical stylings — which are dialed up to be both more unhinged and more honest than they’ve ever been — but also because of his commitment to showmanship. For 60 minutes, Burnham doesn’t just sit and stand on a stage; he’s absolutely electric as he bounds across all corners of the stage, singing, dancing, and shouting about his insecurities and mental health, the creative process, his struggles with religion, and masturbation, all while putting on a show like no other working comedian today. Burnham’s ability not only to make you laugh, but to think and smileas well, all while being himself, is awe-inspiring. — Ife Olujobi, Entertainment Editor

“true that,” Michael Cera

Courtesy Bandcamp

Courtesy Bandcamp

Last week, Michael Cera pulled a Beyoncé by surprise releasing his first album, “true that,” on Bandcamp. The rather long album — it’s composed of 18 tracks — is an eclectic mixture of ballads and purely instrumental tracks that all reverberate with honesty. “True that” sounds like it hails directly from Williamsburg, and it would fit impeccably on the “Juno” soundtrack, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on where you stand on the teen pregnancy comedy’s filmic virtues. Nonetheless, Cera takes a shot at experimenting musically and unequivocally succeeds, providing the musical world with a genuine, interesting indie folk release. — Alexa Spieler, Music Editor

“What If”

Via New York Daily News

Via New York Daily News

On paper, “What If” is everything the typical rom-com strives to be — quippy, feel-good and slightly (or more than slightly) reminiscent of an ’80s predecessor, which, in this case, is “When Harry Met Sally.” Yes, it’s predictable and formulaic. But “What If” casts aside everything that makes today’s rom-com unbearably stale. Daniel Radcliffe with his blush of self-deprecating humor and Zoe Kazan with her quirky alt-girl mannerisms are a breath of fresh, romantic air. Radcliffe is not the typical leading man (Is he the new Billy Crystal?), but paired with Kazan and a predictably bizarre Adam Driver, the film charms. Plus, there is no trace of Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson or Ginnifer Goodwin — a rom-com victory! — Isabel Jones, Film Editor

“Chris Marker,” BAMcinématek

Courtesy New Yorker Films/Photofest

Courtesy New Yorker Films/Photofest

Chris Marker was never one to shy away from a challenge. Known for his film-essays, the French director was perhaps the most ambitious and difficult of his colleagues — which included Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, François Truffaut, and Alain Resnais, a group itself that was not short on ambition or difficulty either. His films defy logic, have no narrative, and zigzag across the globe and pop culture in search of ideas. Sound like tough sits? That’s because they can be, but they’re also incredibly rewarding, and BAM’s comprehensive retrospective offers the rare chance to see them on the big screen. The series will screen everything from Marker’s 1962 sci-fi classic and “Inception” precedent “La Jetée” to longer features previously unscreened in America, like “Level Five,” a trailblazing essay on digital culture from 1996. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

“Fat Girl”

Via St. Louis Magazine

Via St. Louis Magazine

“Fat Girl” is a nasty slice of naturalism — a coming-of-age tale about sexual maturity that brings with it an uncomfortable sense of intimacy. It sounds a lot like every other bildungsroman out there, but what makes “Fat Girl” different is its uncompromising bitterness and its unusual perspective, that of a prepubescent girl (played with subtlety and nuance by Anaïs Reboux). Made by French provocateur Catherine Breillat, the film is explicit — physically (it gives viewers an eyeful of male nudity on two occasions), but even more so emotionally. Anyone unfamiliar with “Fat Girl” or Breillat’s tough filmography needs to know that the film has a disturbing yet oddly poetic ending. Brace yourself, and don’t say I didn’t tell you so. It’s unforgettable. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

“Alexander Hamilton,” Ron Chernow

Via Amazon

Via Amazon

Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken his obsession with Alexander Hamilton to new heights: his upcoming musical will recount the founding father’s life against a hip-hop soundtrack. Until Miranda’s “Hamilton” opens in January, read Ron Chernow’s enthralling, brilliant 860-page biography of the controversial figure. Chernow delves into Hamilton’s orphaned beginnings in the Caribbean and follows his meteoric rise to the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. “Alexander Hamilton” reads like a fictional saga, covering Hamilton’s rag-to-riches story, scandals, and the amazing things he accomplished. Gripping readers with vivid description and extensive detail, Chernow illuminates the life of history’s most misunderstood and underrated figures in this complete portrait. — Marissa Elliot Little, Highlighter Editor

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Interview: DJ Helena strives to combat gender bias and be a philanthropic supporter in EDM scene

By: Dan Moritz-Rabson

Via Beat Mag

When discussing electronic music festivals, Tomorrowland ranks as one of the most widely known events. Tomorrowland’s a festival that fans and artists, alike, aspire to take part in, at least once. However, playing at Tomorrowland this past year failed to satisfy the artist known as Helena, who has established a prominent role for herself in the electronic scene. Instead, she regards the experience of performing at some of the world’s largest electronic festivals—including Ultra’s main stage—as one that leads to more opportunities. After discussing what the milestone of playing at Tomorrowland represented in her career during an interview prior to her show at Pacha NYC, Helena continued to say “Next year, I’ve got my sights set on main stage.”

Acknowledging that her success derives in part from her fans, Helena turns the attention of her rapidly rising popularity as a DJ to those who supported her rise to fame by promoting charity organizations, focusing primarily on cancer awareness. For her first show at Pacha NYC as the headliner, Helena teamed up with the organization F**k Cancer — a non-profit that seeks to help save lives by educating people about how to detect cancer early.

However, Helena’s philanthropy extends beyond shows. In addition to performing at benefit concerts, she recently participated in a photo shoot to promote awareness of and education about ovarian cancer.

Despite the relentless support her fans have provided her with, while she proved her talent when performing at some of the most widely known venues and events around the world, Helena’s rise in popularity has been partially tainted by the electronic community’s focus on gender rather than musical ability. “[Supporters say] ‘you’re my favorite female DJ,’ and I’m like ‘yeah, well that’s great, but can’t I just be your favorite DJ?’” Helena commented, when discussing some supporters’ unnecessary focus on gender.

The fact that her reception as an artist has been influenced because of gender reflects poorly on the electronic community—one that is dominated by male DJs. But Helena’s refreshingly upfront response to this apparent gender bias provides a means of inspiring change. Acknowledging that when people consider her musical skill, they compare her to other talented female producers rather than all producers, she responded, “I’ve worked very hard to be respected as an equal in this industry. I want to be seen as one of the top talents in scene, not [as one] of the good females in the scene.”

In the short time of five years that Helena has been producing her music, she has still seemingly proven her musical talent as an electronic producer; that talent makes her fall among the top artists, regardless of gender, consequently, making her almost magnetically draw fans.

Part of this magnetism likely originates from her own musical taste. Loving “tracks that are tough and driving” while also appreciating “tracks with groove and emotion and soul to them,” she has produced songs covering a variety of subgenres of electronic music. Demonstrating her talent to accomplish both at once, her recent hit “Levity,” which included singer Shawnee Taylor and drew widespread attention, arouses emotion while maintaining a driving, energetic core.

Dan Moritz-Rabson is a contributing writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com.

 

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Staff Picks: “The Knick” stylishly cuts to the core of its amoral characters

Via The AV Club

Via The AV Club

“The Knick”

From its very first shot, “The Knick” feels as cinematic as anything else Steven Soderbergh has directed. The new Cinemax series about a Lower East Side hospital at the dawn of modern medicine is shot through the same high-contrast, sharply focused lens as “Contagion,” and it carries the same sense of malaise and moral decrepitude as “Side Effects.” And because “The Knick” is more or less a Soderbergh movie repurposed for hourly TV format by creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, it’s technical, difficult, occasionally horrifying, and always gripping. “House,” it is not — even if the cocaine-addled protagonist brilliantly played by Clive Owen is a misanthropic jerk and a junkie who just so happens to be a doctor. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

“Flowers in the Attic”

Via The New York Times

Via The New York Times

Adapted from V.C. Andrews’ novel of the same name, Lifetime’s 2014 “Flowers in the Attic” remake is a revelation. Not only does it reach the upper echelon of the “so bad it’s good” system, but it goes one step further, catapulting the camp-fest into a realm rarely seen, even for Lifetime network — so bad it’s great. Incest and rat poison and Heather Graham! Oh my! And once you feel you’ve gotten as much as you can from watching four children live parentless in an attic for three years, turn to Lifetime’s sequel, “Petals on the Wind,” which presents a more mature Dollanganger clan (and a comparable amount of incest, rat poison and Heather Graham). — Isabel Jones, Film Editor

“The Battered Bastards of Baseball”

Courtesy Fudge Photography

Courtesy Fudge Photography

An actor forms an independent baseball team — an anti-establishment, ragtag group of colorful, rejected outcasts that plays against major league-affiliated teams. Against all odds, they are wildly successful, gaining a cult following and destroying their baby-faced opponents. These ain’t your daddy’s Yankees: these are the Portland Mavericks, owned by Bing Russell, the sheriff from “Bonanza.” Although only active for five years, the team, known for its ridiculous antics and penchant for winning, left its mark on professional baseball and is recounted in this charming Sundance documentary. — Marissa Elliot Little, Highlighter Editor

“Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”

Via Criterion

Via Criterion

Pedro Almodóvar’s “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” may just be the most misunderstood film of a director whose work is always somewhat controversial. This NC-17-rated sex farce about a mental patient (Antonio Banderas) who kidnaps a former porn star (Victoria Abril) in hopes of making her marry him is deceptively light. It plays on themes of sadism and masochism, and it does so with a huge dollop of Almodóvar’s signature taste for camp. Almost naturally, it (perhaps too willingly) dips into the realm of misogyny, but arguably, that’s the point. Almodóvar’s unsubtle love of irony and melodrama comes out here in this candy-colored, layered exploration of what makes a sexual relationship work. It’s wild, subversive, and bound to make viewers uncomfortable — and it’s worth a repeat viewing when Criterion releases it on DVD and Blu-ray in less than two weeks. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

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“The Dog” provides a compelling look into the life of the late John Wojtowicz

By Ife Olujobi
Courtesy of Tribeca Film

Courtesy of Tribeca Film

“I call myself a pervert because I’m sexually oriented,” the late John Wojtowicz tells us at the beginning of his documentary, “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I don’t gamble. So I’m an angel! But I got horns. And the trouble is, when you got horns, you only can do only one thing, and that’s fuck.”

If Wojtowicz was still with us today, I’d start a petition to get the man his own show, or at least to teach him how to use twitter so a wider audience could be exposed to the sometimes offensive, always hilarious nuggets of wisdom he had to offer. The documentary “The Dog” is full of unsettling truths and offbeat charms, but maybe its most unexpected endorsement is that it’s more quotable than “Mean Girls,” and that’s entirely thanks to the lover, the firecracker, the self-proclaimed pervert, the Dog himself, John Wojtowicz.

Wojtowicz got the nickname “The Dog” after the release of the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon” starring Al Pacino, which was based on the true story of Wojtowicz’s robbery of a Manhattan Chase bank three years earlier. Most people’s knowledge of the enigmatic man comes from that film and its portrayal of a man who robbed a bank in order to pay for the gender reassignment surgery of his lover. While that’s true, directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren show us that the story of that day and of Wojtowicz’s life both before and after it is even more crazy, complicated, and compelling than any fictional film could have captured.

Through interviews with Wojtowicz himself and his mother Theresa, we learn that John actually had a very conservative upbringing full of church Sundays and baseball games before being drafted to fight in Vietnam. It was during his time there that he had his first homosexual experience, and even though upon his return he still kept his engagement to marry his first wife Carmen Bifulco, the atrocities of war changed his conservative attitude to an unabashedly liberal one. After he and Carmen unofficially separated, he was able to embrace his true sexual identity and became an unlikely champion of the gay rights movement of the late ‘60s and ‘70s as part of the Gay Activists Alliance.

 
Throughout the film, Wojtowicz takes us on a tour of memorable and important locations in his life in Greenwich Village — where he would go to pick up men, where he and Ernie first had sex, the club where he met the two men who would help him rob the bank — in his trademark voice full of vulgarity and swagger. The narrative of the events leading up to, during, and after the crime, is also punctuated and helped along by interviews with John’s devoted and saucy mother, Theresa, as well as his “wives” Carmen Bifulco, Ernie Aron (later Liz Eden) and George Heath, and many others including bystanders to the August 22 fiasco — but as John himself boasts, he is the star.

 
Though he is not one to dwell on the negative, the film isn’t all jokes and charm. Wojtowicz details the physical and sexual brutality he endured in his years in jail as well as his subsequent struggles to rebuild his life and reclaim his name and his infamy after being released. We also learn of the depths of Aron/Eden’s depression before and after her sex change, her prostitution and eventual death due to AIDS in the late ‘80s. In fact, a handful of the film’s participants are deceased by the time the “The Dog” finished filming. Watching Wojtowicz age before us (Berg and Keraudren film interviews over a period of ten years) and seeing his vitality and health decline due to cancer in his later years before his death in 2006 is difficult and affecting.

Challenging, funny and odd, “The Dog” manages to capture the unbelievable life and fiery spirit of one of the most beloved, beguiling, and iconic criminals of all time. John Wojtowicz was a man who loved too much, fought too much, fucked too much, and lived life according to his own erratic set of rules. He was far from perfect, but he was a character more original than any writerly creation. Anyone who sees this film won’t be forgetting him any time soon.

Ife Olujobi is entertainment editor. Email her at iolujobi@nyunews.com.

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Interview: Feed Me discusses the rise of EDM in America

By: Dan Moritz-Rabson

Via Billboard

Until recently, electronic music remained a relatively underground genre of music, in America. However, in the past few years, support for electronic music in the U.S. has risen significantly. Now, an increasing number of EDM artists book tour dates across the states and are selling out shows in America, which would have aroused little support in the past. We had a chance to talk with Jon Gooch, who currently performs under the name ‘Feed Me,’ prior to the opening show of his ‘Psychedelic Journey Tour,’ to speak about the recent increase in support of electronic dance music (EDM) in America.

As fans appreciate the reception of their attention, the explosion of interest sparked in America has also been rewarding for artists, who want to participate in the growth of the electronic scene and enjoy the enthusiasm that accompanies America’s rapidly growing fan base. For some artists, like Gooch, the fast rise in attention to EDM in the United States has rendered America the most desirable place to tour. “Over the last couple of years it’s been super fun…[to be] a part of that [expansion],” Gooch said. He continued, “It’s great watching people [who are] just totally elated to be there and to have discovered something new.”

The expansion of the electronic scene has been accompanied by the overbearing influence of industrialization. Its rise in popularity seems to follow a path created by previous genres that experienced a relatively fast transformation from an underground taste enjoyed by few into a mainstream culture.

With the number of large, multi-day festivals such as Ultra, Electric Zoo, and Electric Daisy Carnival, which generated about $40 million in sales from the 2012 event, rising, the electronic scene now resonates with undertones of monetization. To some extent, following artists’ recognition of the possibility to sell music in a vastly expanding new market, the electronic scene has been plagued by the prioritization of profit over artistic creativity, which appears somewhat unavoidable with the rapid growth of any genre. The change has caught the attention of performers like Gooch, who observed that recently, “It’s become more of a corporate, [monetized] machine, and it seems like the music has been reduced almost to its base essential elements. Initially it was more complex, and now it’s becoming ever more distilled.”

However, Gooch produces music that differs in style from most. As a mostly self-taught artist—both in music and fine arts—he designs his album artwork, in addition to producing music. To him, his creations are “all quite intertwined.”

After initially releasing drum and bass songs under the name Spor, Gooch later began producing as Feed Me, a change which enabled him to experiment with a wider array of sounds and consequently led to artistic growth. Working “hard from the beginning to set really wide boundaries for the project,” Gooch has since created music that appeals to a variety of tastes, while maintaining a definitively unique sound. Although some artists may be losing their originality, Gooch’s new EP, “Feed Me’s Psychedelic Journey,” proves his zeal for artistic expansion.

Dan Moritz-Rabson is a contributing writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com.

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Staff Picks: Jessie J primes herself for success with “Bang Bang”

Photo by Rachel Kaplan

Photo by Rachel Kaplan

“Bang Bang” (Acoustic Version)

When you throw mainstream powerhouses like Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, and Jessie J on a track together, anyone involved knows that the track is going to be a smash — it’s only inevitable. As much of a hit “Bang Bang” as may be, the acoustic version that Jessie J performed at Z100 is truly remarkable. Actually, it makes anyone wonder just how Jessie J — a powerful vocalist who has a vibrant stage presence — hasn’t exploded in the US yet. Jessie J is already responsible for writing numerous hits (most notably Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.”), but she hasn’t received the recognition that someone with such captivating vocals deserves, and it’s truly a shame. Her recent acoustic version of “Bang Bang” only evinces the recognition and success Jessie J deserves, with her killer vocals and contagious, positive energy. — Alexa Spieler, Music Editor

“Gilmore Girls”

Gilmore-Girls-College-Advice-11

Via Surviving College

Aww, remember “Gilmore Girls?” Remember your seventh grade plan to attend Yale and serve as editor-in-chief for the Yale Daily News, just like Rory Gilmore? (Just me? OK, cool.) But I bet you do remember when “Gilmore Girls” was Melissa McCarthy’s claim to fame, and when Lauren Graham actually played a cool single mom? Unearth that bulky DVD collection and return to a time when shipping Luke and Lorelai was your biggest concern — along with repairing your tattoo choker, of course. — Isabel Jones, Film Editor

“1991,” Azealia Banks

Via Just Jared

Via Just Jared

At this point, no-nonsense rapper Azealia Banks is more well-known for being dropped by her record label and initiating catfights with celebrities on social media, but her first EP, “1991,” is what rightfully made her famous. The four-song 2012 release has been unfairly forgotten in a whirlwind of tabloid headlines, and it deserves to resurface, as now, more than ever, Banks’ much-delayed debut album, “Broke with Expensive Taste,” is in jeopardy. In “212,” Banks spits out profanity-laced, snappy one-liners about Harlem pride, and in the title song “1991,” Banks shows her seductive side, alternating between her cool, smooth singing voice and her sharp, brutal fast rap lyrics. The EP as a whole may clock in at just over 15 minutes, but it’s nothing short of brilliant. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

Jesse Peretz

Via IMDB

Via IMDB

Often, we only recognize the achievements of film directors, but as television continues to grow in quality — and, in the minds of many, has already overtaken film as the pre-eminent platform for entertainment — it’s worth highlighting some people who have done great work in directing for television. Jesse Peretz has a few decent to forgettable films under his belt (“My Idiot Brother,” “The Ex,” “First Love, Last Rites”), but he has been far more prolific in the world of television, directing excellent episodes of “Important Things with Demitri Martin,” “The Mindy Project,” “New Girl,” “The Office,” “Nurse Jackie,” the latest awesome episode of “Married,” and a whole crop of episodes of “Girls,” including the infamous cocaine-fueled “Bad Friend” and most notably the third-season gem and series highlight “Beach House.”  He has managed to carve out a successful niche for himself in smart, funny, and affecting dramedy, and he’s a director to look out for on the small screen. — Ife Olujobi, Entertainment Editor

“Black Sunday”

Via Kleeber

Via Kleeber

John Frankenheimer’s “Black Sunday” was pegged as the next “Jaws” before its release in 1977, and then it flopped. It’s not hard to understand why. “Black Sunday” is kind of a mess when it comes to character development, but more than anything else, it was ahead of its time. There was nothing like it when it released. Today, the film — based on a Thomas Harris novel (his only one that isn’t about Hannibal Lector), and about a terrorist attack planned to occur at the Super Bowl — is nothing out of the ordinary. Without “Black Sunday,” there would be no Jack Bauer, no “Homeland,” and certainly no “Zero Dark Thirty.” This intense, seriously disturbing film was way ahead of its time, and, if nothing else, its 40-minute finale — in which the terrorist-manned Goodyear blimp has a bomb attached to it and is headed straight for the Super Bowl — is worth a watch on its own. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

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Album Review: La Roux secures synth-pop sensation status with “Trouble in Paradise”

By: Ward Pettibone
Via Pitchfork

Via Pitchfork

La Roux is back – finally.

It’s been five years since “Bulletproof,” the smash single from her eponymous debut album. A lot has happened since then, most notably the departure of producer and founding member Ben Langmaid (making La Roux more or less a solo project for singer Elly Jackson). However, from listening to “Trouble in Paradise,” you’d never guess that the album is the product of a reportedly agonizing process.

Well, maybe you would. The title of the album hints at backstage discord, as do a few of the lyrics. However, from the opening beats of “Uptight Downtown” to the last line of “The Feeling,” La Roux floods us with a dreamy, neon­-drenched hurricane of music. It’s more like Jackson came to paradise with the intention of making trouble with her insistent synthesizers and signature fiery hairdo.

The weakness of “La Roux,” her Grammy-­winning first album, was that perfectly respectable tracks like “In For the Kill” were almost completely overshadowed by the runaway success of “Bulletproof.” That’s not likely to be a problem here: the album is cohesive and balanced, finding a mature unity that was lacking last time around. Jackson has also developed as a singer and is clearly having fun exploring what her voice can do. “Kiss and Not Tell,” in particular, shows off a range we never got to hear on “La Roux.”

We’re still very much in the 80’s here, which is somehow not a bad thing: Jackson brings all the best parts of shameless synth-­pop into the 21st century. It’s not hard to imagine “Paradise is
 You” being played at the end of a high school dance, and “Cruel Sexuality” makes you want to find a pina colada and zone out under a palm tree. “Sexotheque” drives home the tropical vibe a little hard, but like every other song here, it’s unrelentingly danceable.

The best tracks, “Silent Partner” and “Let Me Down Gently,” are two of the most dissimilar. 
“Silent Partner” is a song you will blast from the speakers of your convertible, while cruising down
 101 at dusk with your friends all singing along; “Let Me Down Gently” is chilly, plaintive, and elegant, as it draws you in effortlessly. Jackson’s voice floats over layers of misty keyboards and overdubbed sighs, then grabs you with one of the best grooves you’ll hear this year. The icy hurt that permeated “La Roux” is still here, but it’s more approachable. It’s also worth noting that some tracks, including “Let Me Down Gently,” were written before Langmaid’s exit.

The lyrics can get a little wobbly, swerving from the tightly-written, epic insularity of “Paradise is You” to the cheesy puns and blandly repetitive chorus of “Tropical Chancer.” Thankfully, “Tropical Chancer” is disgracefully catchy and the writing improves markedly during the verses. 
It’s rare to find a sophomore album so sure on its feet, but “Trouble in Paradise” should secure La Roux’s reputation as a genuine synth-pop sensation. Excitement is already building for what she’ll come up with next, along with dread of another five-year wait, but we’ve got more than enough treats here to last us until then.

Ward Pettibone is a contributing writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com.

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