Staff Picks: Woody Allen’s latest is a less neurotic, more charming effort

By WSN Arts Staff
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

“Magic in the Moonlight”

It’s easy to disregard Woody Allen’s talent when “To Rome with Love” is called to mind, or when we stop to consider the drama that clouds his personal life. As a lukewarm Allen supporter myself (I’m impressed by “Blue Jasmine” and disgusted by “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” despite Javier Bardem’s presence), the idea of watching one of Allen’s cynical kvetchers reveal his every neurosis over the course of 90 minutes holds little appeal. Skepticism aside, Allen’s most recent creation, “Magic in the Moonlight,” is rather charming. Set in the south of France in the 1920s, “Moonlight” centers on the trite themes of love, faith, etc. that Allen’s films are both famous and infamous for exploring. But the film’s glamorous European facades and soft sweetness distract from its clichés. In fact, this may be the most refreshingly un-Allen Allen film in the past decade. — Isabel Jones, Film Editor

“Everything in Transit,” Jack’s Mannequin

Via Amazon

Via Amazon

As the nine-year anniversary of Jack’s Mannequin debut album, “Everything in Transit” approaches, it’s become apparent how important this album was — and still is. The concept album depicts band frontman Andrew McMahon’s adventures after he toured with his previous band, Something Corporate, and how he dealt with returning home. When “Everything in Transit” was initially released, listeners gravitated towards “The Mixed Tape” and “Dark Blue” because they appeared on the “One Tree Hill” soundtrack, but every track on the album builds a tangible connectivity due to its personal lyricism. It’s an album that one should listen to in its entirety, but its standouts are “Holiday from Real,” “The Mixed Tape,” “La La Lie,” “Kill the Messenger,” and “Miss Delaney.” — Alexa Spieler, Music Editor

“Black Hole,” Charles Burns

Via Bloody Disgusting

Via Bloody Disgusting

Charles Burns’ 2005 graphic novel “Black Hole” (which recently made an appearance in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) begins as an exercise in Cronenbergian body horror. In 1970s Seattle, teenagers find that their bodies are starting to change — and not just because of puberty. They begin to develop vagina-like ingrowths in strange places, and with more and more teenagers having sex for the first time, nobody is safe from catching the disease. Burns never goes into the nature of the disease too greatly, instead using stylish black-and-white graphics to make this creepy, grotesque tale into an allegory for adolescence. It’s by turns beautiful and gross, and it’s always fiercely original. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

“Water Lilies” and “Tomboy”

Still from "Tomboy." Via Berlinale

Still from “Tomboy.” Via Berlinale

After receiving acclaim for her newest film, “Girlhood” at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, Céline Sciamma’s first two films, “Water Lilies” and “Tomboy,” are now available via Netflix streaming, and they’re both worth a watch. Both films deal with the coming-of-age of young French girls, albeit in very different ways. While “Water Lilies” tackles the more common territory of teenage girls, their friendships, relationships, and budding sexuality (and is fantastic in its own right), “Tomboy” is the real knockout, starring a then 10-year-old Zoé Héran as a young girl with short hair, a slender frame, and a baggy wardrobe who, after her family moves to a new place, decides to introduce herself to the neighborhood kids as a boy.  The bravery of both Héran as she plays shirtless with the other boys and develops a relationship with a girlfriend, and of Sciamma for telling such a unique story with unexpected humor grounded in harsh reality, is worthy of great respect and admiration. These are kinds of films that often don’t get made in the States. — Ife Olujobi, Entertainment Editor

“Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010,” Museum of Modern Art

Sigmar Polke, "Mao," 1972, synthetic polymer paint on patterned fabric mounted on felt with wooden dowel. ©2014 The Estate of Sigmar Polke/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany

Sigmar Polke, “Mao,” 1972, synthetic polymer paint on patterned fabric mounted on felt with wooden dowel. ©2014 The Estate of Sigmar Polke/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany

The Museum of Modern Art’s overwhelming and long overdue Sigmar Polke retrospective is nothing short of brilliant. In his nearly 50-year career, Polke proved himself unclassifiable, jumping back and forth between the styles of American Pop (he called his rendition “Capitalist Realism”), European Conceptualism, and explicitly German political work. It is near impossible to corner Polke’s work into a specific movement, and curator Kathy Halbreich respects that, leaving the works to interact with each other in a non-chronological order, their oddities reflected in one another. As if the exhibition’s grand scale (it takes up all of MoMA’s second floor) and selection of works were not enough, “Alibis” also provides the very rare opportunity to see Polke’s films, many of which may not be exhibited again for decades. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

“The Best of Everything,” Rona Jaffe

Via Book Page

Via Book Page

Rona Jaffe’s 1958 novel “The Best of Everything” strips away the glamour of 1950s Manhattan and brings readers into an era of hard liquor and illegal abortions. Five young women in the typing pool of a publishing house are thrown into a world of older men, both leering executives and adulterous husbands, as Jaffe frankly depicts their burgeoning sexuality. Despite being poised for independence, the women yearn for male approval and to be whisked away into a life of domesticity. Jaffe’s bittersweet book reads like a trashy beach novel with social commentary. — Marissa Elliot Little, Highlighter Editor

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“Mood Indigo” puts style over substance

By Zack Grullon

via Collider

via Collider

Before making films, Michel Gondry thrived as a music video director. It makes sense given that his off-kilter visual style lends itself to that medium. That is not to say his style does not work in films, as evidenced by “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” But unlike that film, “Mood Indigo” does not have Charlie Kaufman as the screenwriter to construct a strong, thought-provoking narrative.

Instead, what you have in Gondry’s latest effort, which he also co-wrote, is ninety minutes of bombastic, surreal imagery with a thinly written love story between two bumbling Parisians in Colin (Romain Duris) and Chloé (Audrey Tautou).  To give a plot synopsis would be a headache inducing task with the film’s various idiosyncrasies, but a crucial plot point involves Chloé becoming ill from inhaling a spore floating in the air that makes a flower grow in her lungs. As the illness worsens, the couple’s relationship becomes strained.

There is nothing wrong with stylish direction, as long as it serves the narrative much like “Eternal Sunshine,” but Gondry creates an unearthly world in this film that does not enhance the central love story, despite boasting terrific production design and art direction. Occasionally, Gondry’s surrealist sensibility does capture what it feels to be in love. Colin and Chloe’s first date consists of travelling in a floating car that brings them to scenic views in Paris. When the couple gets married, they are floating in an underwater enclave while everybody else is walking in the real world.

But then you have Colin’s pet, a miniature human in a rat costume, an ice skating announcer with the head of a bird, and a dance called the biglemoi that allows humans to stretch their legs abnormally. If none of this makes any sense, the film doesn’t really care to explain it.

Moreover, a romantic story needs strong characters with substance, which is absent in “Mood Indigo.” And it is a shame considering that Duris and Tautou both are incredibly charming when together in addition to the supporting cast that does the best they can with the material given, which is near absent. A standout in that supporting cast is Omar Sy as Colin’s butler, who despite reduced to the stereotypical magic negro sidekick, brings a surprising amount of charisma and heart to his scenes.

That being said, the statewide release is an edited version from its original 125-minute running time, which may be the reason why many of the narrative threads throughout the film feel incomplete or that key scenes of exposition are missing. Certainly, this is common inconvenience for American audiences when they watch international films imported to the United States.

However, despite that, the bigger issues in this film come more from Gondry’s inability to write a strong script that compliments his whacky directorial vision. He may have the imagination to produce wonderful imagery, but perhaps for his next effort he should let the professionals handle the plotting.

Zack Grullon is a staff writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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Staff Picks: “Weird Al” Yankovic tells us how to use an Oxford comma

By WSN Arts Staff
Via Splitsider

Via Splitsider

“Mandatory Fun,” “Weird Al” Yankovic

Song parodies have become a pop culture staple since “Weird Al” Yankovic made his debut 30 years ago, and with his fourteenth album, “Mandatory Fun,” Yankovic continues to reign supreme. Yankovic released eight music videos online to promote the album, including “Word Crimes,” in which he mocks common grammar mistakes as a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Yankovic explains contractions, takes on the controversial Oxford comma, and reminds us that there is no “x” in “espresso.” (Actually, in Europe, that’s the proper spelling, but we won’t tell him that. — Ed.) As an added bonus, the album has received better reviews and is set to outperform Thicke’s album, “Paula.” — Marissa Elliot Little, Highlighter Editor

“Femmes Noirs” at Film Forum

Courtesy Photofest via Film Forum

Courtesy of Photofest via Film Forum

In Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity,” Walter Neff famously muses, “I killed him for the money — and a woman — and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?” It sure is, and that’s why Film Forum’s “Femmes Noirs” series is perhaps the New York film event of the summer. Featuring noir yarns like G.W. Pabst’s silent, racy “Pandora’s Box” and Jacques Tourneur’s twisty “Out of the Past,” this series focuses on femmes fatales and their talent for outthinking men. Many films are paired for specially priced two-for-one showings — a “Body Heat”/”Fatal Attraction” double feature brimming with psychosexual energy is not to be missed. And really, what better way to beat the humidity than to watch Kathleen Turner and William Hurt seducing and screwing over each other, via Lawrence Kasdan’s crackling dialogue, in “Body Heat?” — Alex Greenberger, Film Editor

“The Warm Up,” J. Cole

Via Dat Piff

Via Dat Piff

J. Cole’s second mixtape, “The Warm Up,” debuted in 2009, but it’s a release that doesn’t receive the praise it deserves. Last week, at Cole’s NYC performance, it was noticeable how under-appreciated Cole’s second mixtape is — fans either didn’t know the mixtape or only knew a handful of songs. And that’s sad, considering how throughout “The Warm Up,” Cole’s passion is laid bare for his audience, as is his intense desire to find success in the rap game. The mixtape is comprised of 20 tracks, but listeners tend to gravitate towards “Lights Please” and “Grown Simba.” While those remain fan favorites, tracks that are also worth checking out — that truly showcase Cole’s raw skill and his hunger for success — would have to be “Dreams,” “Dollar and a Dream II,” “Hold it Down,” and “Last Call.” — Alexa Spieler, Music Editor

“Sunbathing Animal,” Parquet Courts

Via Stereogum

Via Stereogum

Parquet Courts first burst onto the music scene back in 2012 with their awesomely high-powered LP “Light Up Gold.”  In June, the band released its follow-up, “Sunbathing Animal” and managed to surpass the original with a perfect soundtrack for the lazy, crazy days of summer. Part of what made “Light Up Gold” so enjoyable was the raw energy of a group of guys just messing around, and the fun they were having translated to the music. On their new LP, their growth as a band shows both in the production and songwriting, and while that fun spirit still comes through, it’s clear they have matured into a cohesive band, one that is well on its way to becoming the next big thing. — Ife Olujobi, Entertainment Editor

“Annihilation,” Jeff VanderMeer

Via NPR

Via NPR

At this point, saying something is like “Lost” is about as meaningless as another trek through the jungle on that show. This time, I mean it — Jeff VanderMeer’s tense, unnerving “Annihilation” is the closest any book I’ve read has ever come to replicating “Lost’s” chilling atmosphere. “Annihilation” may seem innocuous based on its size (it’s only 197 pages long), but make no mistake, this slim opener to VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, and the basis for an upcoming film adaptation, is terrifying. The book, which follows an unnamed biologist as she explores wilderness known as Area X, is a lean, mean eco-thriller that relies mostly on atmosphere for effect, eschewing the blood and guts of Stephen King’s horror epics for subtlety and character drama. In a rare turn for its genre, “Annihilation” actually creates intrigue as it goes on — so much intrigue, in fact, that I bought its sequel, “Authority,” the day after I finished it. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

“Moonstruck”

Via Roger Ebert.com

Via Roger Ebert.com

Norman Jewison’s “Moonstruck”: the perfect outlet for both Nicolas Cage’s rage and Cher’s hair. Who could ask for anything more? Perhaps 1987 was where both actors (or “personalities”) should have stayed, languishing in the decade of high camp. But while commercial pitfalls mark the length of both careers, “Moonstruck” stands as a rare deviation. There are few things more perfectly wacky than Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage) tending to “the ovens” in a Brooklyn bakery, violently describing how he got his wooden hand, or Loretta Castorini (a subdued Cher) attributing every problem in her life to “bad luck.” But like every classic romantic comedy, there’s no resentment too deep or superstition too rooted to trump “amore.” — Isabel Jones, Film Editor

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Whitney Museum’s Jeff Koons retrospective is a worthwhile provocation

By Alex Greenberger
Jeff Koons, "Michael Jackson and Bubbles," 1988, porcelain. Private collection. © Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” 1988, porcelain. Private collection. © Jeff Koons

“Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” demands a lot from its audience — titillation, frustration, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, all in equal measure. But that’s what makes the Whitney Museum of American Art’s largest-ever retrospective devoted to a single artist so fascinating. It considers art star and impresario Jeff Koons as both a showman and a thinker, and curator Scott Rothkopf shows thirty years of Koons’ work with a straight face, no easy feat in itself.

Rothkopf is really the only curator suited for the job when it comes staging a show of Koons’ artwork. The extraordinarily talented, young curator, who staged the Whitney’s brilliant 2011 Wade Guyton retrospective, understands Koons’ work in a way that many curators cannot. He knows that Koons makes art with an industrial sense of grandiosity, and Rothkopf curates the exhibition with a similar sensibility. (He also sifts through Koons’ word vomit, at times even questioning the validity of the artist’s strange interview antics in wall text.) Each work is given more space than is even probably necessary, but it really lets viewers appreciate how big, technically difficult, and, for better or for worse, bad some of Koons’ sculptures are.

Jeff Koons, "New Hoover Convertibles Green, Blue, New Hoover Convertibles, Green, Blue Doubledecker," 1981–87, four vacuum cleaners, acrylic, and fluorescent lights. Whitney Museum of American Art, purchase with funds from The Sondra and Charles Gilman, Jr. Foundation, Inc., and the Painting and Sculpture Committee  89.30a-v. ©Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, “New Hoover Convertibles Green, Blue, New Hoover Convertibles, Green, Blue Doubledecker,” 1981–87, four vacuum cleaners, acrylic, and fluorescent lights. Whitney Museum of American Art, purchase with funds from The Sondra and Charles Gilman, Jr. Foundation, Inc., and the Painting and Sculpture Committee 89.30a-v. ©Jeff Koons

It may not be as hard to take Koons’ early work seriously because it’s more humble than the monumental sculptures and technically impressive paintings that appear at the show’s end. Beginning on the second floor, the start of the museum-wide exhibition is “The New” (1980), a series of vacuums mounted in glass vitrines and placed on top of white fluorescent lights. For an artist whose work would later become, by turns intentionally and unintentionally, about the intersection of art and commerce, it couldn’t be more appropriate that the show begins here.

The series, which originally appeared in the front window of the New Museum, looks a lot like store displays. It encourages contemplation for these Hoover vacuums—which, according to Koons, were never used and are never meant to be used—in the same way that Russian icons ask viewers to worship the Virgin Mary. We’re drawn to these vacuums as though they were monoliths. We’re obsessed with looking and buying, but it’s a dangerous obsession. The vacuums seem to suck these displays of any trace of life, as do the photorealistic paintings of advertisements that surround them.

“The New” is such a fabulous opening shot that his 1979 “Pre-New” vinyl inflatable flowers in the adjacent gallery pale in comparison, even though these kitsch readymades are also amusing. These two galleries are wonderful—they make you realize that Koons, now every art critic’s least favorite millionaire, once worked on a humble budget and still had big ideas. Quite possibly more so than any other artist working today, Koons has a knack for inspiring awe, and still, over 30 years later, Koons’ earliest works create a sublime, surreal atmosphere from everyday objects.

Jeff Koons, "One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series)," 1985, glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, basketball. Collection of B. Z. and Michael Schwartz. ©Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, “One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series),” 1985, glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, basketball. Collection of B. Z. and Michael Schwartz. ©Jeff Koons.

“One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J241 Series)” (1985), a basketball suspended in distilled water, is Koons at his most spectacular. At this point, suspending objects in vitrines has been done to death — we can thank Damien Hirst for that. But “Equilibrium” works on its own terms because it is poetic, and because unlike Koons’ other works, “Equilibrium” indulges the potential for failure that is natural in life. The ball will sink as time goes on because of slight vibrations caused by footsteps of passersby; the work will be ruined. And all we can do is watch in awe.

The third floor starts bringing out the Koons we’ve come to know and hate. His “Luxury and Degradation” and “Statuary” (1986) series introduce the kitsch wackiness that is now often associated with Koons’ work. Here, it’s a little self-aggrandizing — his stainless steel sculptures of both figures from high art (Louis XIV) and low art (Bob Hope) have a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that is now often missing from Koons’ massive, overly serious monumental sculptures. Even these, though less thought-provoking than “The New,” are refreshing.

His signature mix of high and low culture gets progressively more obvious in these galleries, and it climaxes in “Banality” (1988), polychromed wood and porcelain enlargements of kitsch objects. The sculptures range from being bad on purpose (and also, really, quite good in that respect) to being terrible by accident. It’s weird, and it’s got an even weirder sense of classicism that runs through it — both in Rothkopf’s choice to let them sit on pedestals and be viewed in the round, and in Koons’ bizarro subject matter. “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988), a porcelain depiction of the King of Pop with his pet monkey, recalls images of the Madonna with a baby Jesus in her lap, while a porcelain sculpture of Buster Keaton on a horse brings to mind equestrian sculptures from ancient Rome.

Jeff Koons, "Made in Heaven," 1989, lithograph on paper on canvas. ARTIST ROOMS Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. Acquired jointly through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Art Fund 2008. ©Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, “Made in Heaven,” 1989, lithograph on paper on canvas. ARTIST ROOMS Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. Acquired jointly through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Art Fund 2008. ©Jeff Koons

Then there’s “Made of Heaven,” the controversial, arguably pornographic 1989 series of silkscreens depicting Koons and porn star La Cicciolina engaging in acts that are, well, quite intimate. When the series was shown at the 1990 Venice Biennale, it was panned. Today, it is considered by many to be the turning point in Koons’ career. Perhaps there is something brilliant there. One particularly explicit silkscreen shows Koons penetrating La Cicciolina in close-up shot from behind, with her anus exposed to the viewer, almost as if by some wacky parody of Gustave Courbet’s “Origin of the World.” There are also a lot of references to Rococo and Baroque art in the campy, overblown backgrounds. It may be something about art’s inherent potential for voyeurism. It also might be Koons messing with his audience in a particularly nasty joke.

What follows after “Made in Heaven” are the two decades of Koons’ work that we know and hate — stainless steel balloon dogs blown up to the size of science-fictional monster, James Rosenquist-like paintings composed of fragmented images that look as if they were never touched by a human hand, classical subjects made into industrial objects, a Play-Doh sculpture with the proportions of a mound of trash, last year’s plaster sculptures from “Gazing Ball” at David Zwirner.

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Yellow), 1994 – 2000, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating. Private collection. © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, “Balloon Dog (Yellow),” 1994 – 2000, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating. Private collection. © Jeff Koons.

I’ve condensed nearly a third of the show into one paragraph, and I’ve done it for a reason. In my mind, there is no doubt that Koons’ first decade and a half of work is by far the most compelling stretch of his, like it or not, extremely important career. Maybe that’s intentional. I’ve always believed that Koons has made it his purpose to sell out — to test the limits of what the art world will accept with a cold, cynical, Warholian eye.

This retrospective reinforces that idea, although it makes Koons seem like the great artist of our time. I don’t know if that’s true, but I don’t know if it’s wrong either. I’m also not sure if it’s not because Koons is yet another straight white male that Rothkopf is easily able to say that. I’m also not sure if that isn’t the point.

In short, “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” let me feeling unsure of a lot of Koons-related ideas, but it got me thinking. That’s what any good exhibition does. You walk in one way, you come out feeling and thinking in another. And surprisingly, that was exactly what happened to me — I left the exhibition with an un-ironic love for some of Koons’ work (I repeat: “some of”), and I’m going to keep thinking about Koons’ antics. My hope is that historians will do the same.

Alex Greenberger is arts editor. Email him at agreenberger@nyunews.com.

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Staff Picks: Richard Linklater’s magnum opus is finally here

By WSN Arts Staff
Courtesy Matt Lankes and IFC Films

Courtesy of Matt Lankes and IFC Films

“Boyhood”

“Boyhood” is nearly indescribable, despite its extaordinarily ordinary story. It’s an epic about a boy growing up — a coming-of-age tale without any frills that, were it not for the power of Richard Linklater’s vision, could have been just another film about first kisses, broken hearts, and college acceptances. Instead, watching both the film’s protagonist, Mason, and the actor who plays him, Ellar Coltrane, as they grow over the course of 12 years becomes a beautiful meditation on the nature of time. “Boyhood” subtly asks a lot of philosophical questions over the course of its 165-minute runtime, and in true Linklater spirit, it never answers them, leaving the audience to rely on personal memories for the rest of the mental work. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

“Obvious Child”

Courtesy Chris Teague

Courtesy of Chris Teague

According to IMDB, “peeing in the street,” “puppet,” and “first date” are all key terms and phrases in the plot of “Obvious Child” — but Gillian Robespierre’s directorial debut is so much more than puppetry and street-side urination. The film, about a comedian whose unplanned pregnancy forces her to think through the realities of life, manages to capture the authenticity and quirk of the Lena Dunham-esque twenty-something project, which, even though it owes a lot to Dunham, has a heart and spine that are so uniquely its own. Jenny Slate, “Child’s” spunky lead, emerges as the film’s true victor. All hail the new queen of independent cinema. — Isabel Jones, Film Editor

“Throwing Shade”

Courtesy of Funny or Die

Courtesy of Funny or Die

Starring comedians and friends Erin “Feminasty” Gibson and Bryan “Homosensual” Safi, Funny or Die’s video podcast “Throwing Shade” is equally delightful and outrageous. Gibson and Safi talk about the latest happenings in pop culture, social trends, and their own personal lives at lightning speed. Occasionally, the comedians even do an interview. Gibson and Safi have an uncanny ability to riff endlessly on even the most ordinary topics without a dull moment in every 10-15 minute episode. You and your friends can only dream of being as funny, witty, and energetic as Gibson and Safi. — Ife Olujobi, Entertainment Editor

“Real Husbands of Hollywood”

Courtesy Tyler Golden/BET Networks

Courtesy of Tyler Golden/BET Networks

Although BET isn’t known for its scripted television, it is home to the criminally underrated “Real Husbands of Hollywood.” The series follows co-creator Kevin Hart as he attempts to climb the Hollywood social ladder, supported by the husbands of celebrities. Meant as a parody of Bravo’s “Real Housewives,” “Real Husbands” finds the men of the show playing fictionalized versions of themselves. They mock the sheer ridiculousness of “Real Housewives” and constantly push the boundaries in the name of comedy, whether it’s Kevin being clobbered in a charity boxing match, Duane’s new clothing factory that employs unpaid senior citizens, or Kevin’s quip that the combination to his safe is that of Nick Cannon’s album sales – 0001. Season 2 was recently added to Netflix, but Season 1 is far superior, even with the inclusion of Robin Thicke. — Marissa Elliot Little, Highlighter Editor

“Grand Piano”

Courtesy of Magnet Releasing

Courtesy of Magnet Releasing

“Grand Piano” is the exact opposite of “Boyhood”: a slick piece of pulp that wants nothing other than to manipulate its audience. Largely ignored upon its release earlier this year, Spanish director Eugenio Mira’s thriller stars Elijah Wood as a pianist who is told that if he misses a note while playing a solo of Rachmaninoff-like intensity, his wife is going to be shot. What follows is a series of uncomfortable, extremely suspenseful sequences done in the style of Brian De Palma, swooping Steadicam long takes and a split-screen included. There may not much to think about in “Grand Piano,” but for the entire film, there’s a sense of urgency that today’s thrillers rarely ever have. — Alex Greenberger, Arts Editor

“Salad Days,” Mac DeMarco

Via All Music

Via All Music

Mac DeMarco’s latest album, “Salad Days,” marks a huge change in sound for DeMarco after his previous releases. DeMarco recorded “Salad Days” in his apartment’s home studio because, as he said in an interview with Pitchfork, it allowed him to truly express himself. In that interview, DeMarco said, “The purpose is to reflect on what you’ve done in your life already and move on from it. I think that’s what I did in [my home studio] right here. It was actually therapeutic.” Based on that quote alone, it’s easy to see that DeMarco grew alongside his music, and “Salad Days” reflects that. For fans of psychedelic and jangle pop, “Jonny’s Odyssey,” “Let My Baby Stay,” and album title track “Blue Boy” are sure to be highlights. — Alexa Spieler, Music Editor

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Josiah Leming proves entertaining; passionate at The Bitter End

By Julia Gilson

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A relaxed, yet moving and entertaining atmosphere arose at the packed Bitter End on July 2nd, while Josiah Leming played his heart out on the stage for his two-hour slot: one could easily tell how much music means to him. Leming played a few covers, including “Nothing” by Townes van Zandt, but mainly showed off many new songs that will be on his upcoming record.

Before busting into a Bob Dylan cover, Leming opened with a one-worded, “hey!” Right away, you could tell how much fun it is for him to play music for people and to share his talent. He also had two friends from the band Fire and the Romance come on stage with him to play bass and guitar for two of their songs.

Leming rocked out for most of the show on a bright turquoise electric guitar or on the piano, where he was most at home. His fingers flew across the keys and his entire body rocked with his music, showing that he was really getting into it. For Leming, he never really remembered learning how to play piano: it just naturally came to him. Leming explained, “The whole reason for me being alive is to write music,” and that he’s “intertwined in [his] music and [his] music is personal.” When asked what he likes most about being a musician, he said he didn’t think of it that way, but instead that he and music are in a marriage: he loves it when it’s good, and it’s hard when it’s bad.

All of Leming’s songs were varied and had clever rhymes that made one smile at the wit. He effortlessly emphasized the uniqueness that his voice has, with his slight accent and quirky rasp. Leming shared some stories about how some of the songs came about, and a few of the songs were rather serious and personal.

Despite the sadder songs, Leming knew how to lighten the mood. “I have a song about a stripper, but I’ll get to that,” he told the audience before launching into a new song called “Hollywood Hills.” He was confident on stage and had fun, lovable energy. He even sang a rather interesting – and quite sexual – song about chocolate milk, in which he giggled throughout, as did the rest of the audience.

Leming is originally from Morristown, Tennessee and auditioned for “American Idol” when he was 18 with his original song, “To Run.” In the first interview with “American Idol,” he said, “Wherever the wind blows, I go.” Now, at 25 years old, he is still moving around, having spent the last year in Nevada writing and working on his new record. Leming said he likes going on tour while working on a record, so he can already get the changes he wants on there, as it goes. As for his musical influences, so far and recently, Leming includes: Townes van Zandt, Ryan Adams, Pete Doherty, the Rolling Stones, and Tom Petty.

However, Leming did say that he does want to settle down in the future, and maybe score movies.

With his personality, charm, and passion evident through the show, Leming made the show so much more entertaining for the audience. He is a real people person and a real performer. He blew a few kisses to the crowd and completely won them over with his music. Once he stepped offstage, no one thought about leaving until they told him great job or got picture proof that they had indeed met Josiah Leming.

Julia Gilson is a contributing writer. Email her at music@nyunews.com.

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Film Review: “Life Itself”

By Zack Grullon

via RogerEbert.com

via RogerEbert.com

Fans of cinema love to watch films. But true cinephiles see cinema as more than just watching film, but as a therapeutic form of understanding human existence. “Life Itself” delves into this interesting sentiment with perhaps one of the most famous cinephiles of all time, Roger Ebert. This moving documentary that switches with ease between moments of heart wrenching sadness and ones of blissful laughter demonstrates that Ebert was more than just a film critic for the Chicago Sun Times. He was a multi-faceted man that made an impact to the world far beyond his film criticism before his untimely death last year.

Punctuated by great interviews from famous directors such as Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, and Errol Morris, to fellow critics such as A.O. Scott, to Ebert’s strong-willed wife Chaz, “Life Itself” jumps back and forth in time from the present during Ebert’s waning days with his loving family to his early life in the Chicago journalism scene during the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Though the documentary shows Ebert’s positive attributes such as his noted writing skills that lead to his Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for criticism as well as his charming charisma, it does not shy away from his weaknesses, like his alcoholism and occasional narcissism.

The documentary expands on the latter issue even more when detailing his troubled tenure behind the scenes of “At the Movies” with Gene Siskel during the early years of the show. Because of Ebert’s bullheadedness, it took the bickering pair many years to finally gain a degree of respect for one another. Moreover, the documentary does an excellent job with connecting how Siskel’s equally untimely death in 1999 from a brain tumor made an impact on Ebert regarding his cancer during the mid 2000s. While Siskel did not tell anybody about his illness, Ebert on the other hand told everybody about his cancer in order to express how he does not fear death and that nobody else should as well. Watching Ebert contemplate about life through his computerized voice is just as fascinating as his discussions about the art of cinema.

Though the film runs two hours, every minute of the documentary, by “Hoop Dreams” (a favorite film of Ebert’s) director Steve James, feels essential. Audiences will be fully satisfied regarding any sort of aspect about Ebert’s celebrated life ranging from his friendship with the actors and filmmakers he critiqued in his reviews to his predilection for buxom women in cinema, which lead to his unusual partnership with Russ Meyer on “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” Even the segments regarding Ebert’s relationship with Siskel could make a compelling feature film one day if placed in the right hands.

Furthermore, the documentary discusses his impact on independent cinema at a time when most critics reviewed the big blockbuster of the weekend. Ebert was always a humanitarian, which extended into his glowing reviews for small films such as Scorsese’s “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” and Errol Morris’ “Gates of Heaven.” Ultimately, Morris’s and Scorsese’s subsequent successful careers as film directors are due in large part to Ebert.

But there is a reason why Steve James called the film “Life Itself,” beyond just the fact that it is based on Ebert’s autobiography of the same name. The film celebrates life and what we do, from the big happenings to the small, that make an impression on others, all filtered through the lens of America’s favorite and best cinephile. Surely Ebert and Siskel are in the heavens giving two thumbs up to this wonderful documentary as we speak.

Zack Grullon is a staff writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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