Category Archives: Art & Culture

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Philadelphia Art Alliance: Opening Reception of PAA’s Winter Exhibitions

Tomorrow, January 29 from 6 to 8 pm is the Opening Reception of PAA’s Winter Exhibitions [running until April 5th] featuring the works of the following artists.


Delainey Barclay: Paper and String
Kate Clements: Charade
Robyn Weatherley: Trace


The Philadelphia Art Alliance is located at 251 S. 18th St., Philadelphia, PA 19103.

For more information: Philartalliance.org or 215-545-4302.

Admission: $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors, free for members


The Philadelphia Art Alliance is dedicated to the advancement and appreciation of innovative contemporary art with a focus on craft and design, and to inspiring dynamic interaction between audiences and artists.Since its founding in 1915, the PAA has presented the work of artists and designers working in a wide variety of media, from ceramics and jewelry to textiles and sculpture. Each year we present up to twelve new exhibitions featuring the work of emerging and established artists. Rather than understanding “craft” as a class of objects, the PAA encourages visitors to consider “craft” as a verb. This broader definition means that our exhibitions encompass a range of topics and types of work, from useful and decorative objects to sculpture and installations. Our diverse program of exhibitions, inspired by our setting in a masterfully crafted domestic space, can thus be communicated to visitors in engaging and unexpected ways.


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Robyn Weatherley: Trace

 Image: Adieu, 2012; blown glass, paper

In an installation of new and recent works, Robyn Weatherley explores intangible remnants. She addresses concepts of passage, transition, and residual memory in relation to body, psyche and environment. Her imagined vestiges contemplate our unconscious and often invisible interactions with the world. From the seemingly mundane act of breathing to the emotional residues that may be left behind in the wake of a psychological experience, she aims to make visible some of what lies beyond the reaches of our ordinary senses. Her works range from a large installation of individual breaths captured in glass set adrift in delicate boats to works constructed through the meticulous build up and layering of very thin fragile shards of blown glass.

Robyn Weatherley earned a Master of Fine Arts in Glass at Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA in 2013, where she was also awarded a highly competitive Temple University Fellowship and Teaching Assistantship for the duration of her graduate studies. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with distinction at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Canada in 2010. She has worked, studied in Canada, the United States and Scotland. Her work has been exhibited in Philadelphia, as well as Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa in Canada. Robyn currently lives and works in Calgary, Canada and serves as the Managing Editor of Contemporary Canadian Glass; Magazine of the Glass Art Association of Canada (GAAC).


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Delainey Barclay: Paper and String

Image: Space In Between (detail), Vintage Wallpaper, multi-media. 


Delainey Barclay’s recent body of work for the PAA is focused on air, shadow, light and space. To keep the large-scale pieces, which resemble textbook atomic structures, relatable to the viewer in her installations, Barclay uses childhood craft projects as a basis for the techniques used in assembling the work. Everyday objects that can be found in abundance in most households are the materials from which she has chosen to make all her three-dimensional forms. Whether it is formed from vintage magazines and wallpapers, or string and other craft materials, her work focuses on both materials and process. These are often paired with paintings that explore these concepts in two-dimensional form and cross the boundaries between craft and fine art, making the work approachable and giving it a familiarity.

Barclay’s other body of work Delainey Barclay is an oil painter and installation artist based in Wilmington, Delaware. Since receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design, she has maintained a working studio. She is also a founder of Project Space, an artist run gallery, installation lounge and studio space.


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Kate Clements: Charade

Image: Blue Frame II, 2104; kiln-fired glass

In her work, Kate Clements explores the ambiguity of fashion-its capacity for imitation and distinction, its juxtaposition of the artificial and the natural. She sees the life cycle of fashion as a process of creative destruction by which the “new” replaces the “old,” yet nothing is truly new. By the time a new style has been produced for mass consumption, it has been casted aside or even rejected by elite society as a bi-product of class division.

Clements’ choice of materials acknowledges and embraces ideas of imitation. Glass represents a counterfeit to jewels; wood vinyl covering cheap plywood creates the illusion of solid oak. Cut outs suggest the absence of an object that is no longer there, present only through its trace. These imitations and absences act as a veil of protection that is ultimately removed when the viewer discovers what attracts them to the work are deficiencies.

Kate Clements received her BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2011 and came to Philadelphia in 2013 from the Midwest to pursue her MFA in glass at the Tyler School of Art of Temple University where she was awarded a University Fellowship. Her work has been featured in Italian Vogue Gioiello magazine and she was recent recipient of the Academic Award from Bullseye Glass Emerge 2014, A Showcase of Rising and Evolving Talents in Kiln-Glass.

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Film Review: American Sniper

Dir. Clint Eastwood
Score: 4.9

If you had somehow been tasked with creating an iron-clad, true-blue American war hero, you would likely have conjured up something quite along the lines of Chris Kyle, a Texas-born former rodeo cowboy, who watched 9/11 in horror and enlisted for the Navy SEALS shortly thereafter in order to make a difference and help protect the country he loved. Big and barrel chested, with a loving wife and family at home, Kyle was also almost alarmingly effective as a Sniper, recording an astounding 160 kills during his four tours of duty in Iraq. Such a hero that he was dubbed “the Legend” by his fellow soldiers, and had earned the highest pay-out for his head from Al Qaeda, a twisted kind of homage to his effectiveness.

A man this dedicated to his country — not to mention this bloody effective in neutralizing the enemy, and saving untold lives of the soldiers he was protecting from his perch on the arid rooftops — and seemingly for all the best and most agreeable reasons would not only be the military’s PR department’s wet dream, he would be so bulletproof, even those pesky liberals and gun-control reformers would have to grudgingly acknowledge the heroic nature of the man. To create a film celebrating his military experience, then, it would stand to reason, Clint Eastwood — he of the steely glare, right-wing politics, and storied film-making career — would be the perfect choice to craft a fable that sounded too damn good to be true, even if it were.

Unfortunately, though, Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall — working from a memoir by Kyle, Scott McEwen, and James Defelice — have chosen to only tell the part of his story that makes his heroism seem larger than life: He starts out a reckless cowboy, enlists when he feels needed, leads an exemplary military record over the course of four grueling tours of duty, finally comes home and after some rough patches, re-engages into civilian life and works with other damaged soldiers to give them support and care, even as their lives are crumbling around them. What the film curiously chooses to essentially ignore, except for a jarringly quick post-script, is that Kyle was eventually murdered at a shooting range by a particularly deranged former soldier suffering from severe PTSD.

What the film has to offer instead, is a rousing bit of American military agitprop, with a beefed-up Bradley Cooper in the lead role, and Sienna Miller as Taya, his long-suffering but intensely strong wife, celebrating the American spirit of bootstrap politics and a quixotic sense of justice-serving to those “savages” in the Middle East with a face-full of patriotic, expertly fired, lead.

Indeed, one of the film’s central (and completely fictional) antagonists is the Iraqi equivalent of Kyle, a former Olympic Syrian sharp-shooter named Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), quick and agile as a jungle cat, who prowls the rooftops and takes out dozens of Americans without leaving a trace. For all we know, he is exactly as revered and elevated as Kyle for his country, but the film takes special care not to give him — or any of the enemy — a moment of sympathetic recognition. And when Kyle finally does take him on directly, leading to perhaps the shot of a lifetime in the sniper business, we are lead to be relieved that this “savage” (as Kyle and his fellow comrades refer) has finally been vanquished.

If there is any irony abounding, it would appear to be lost on the 84-year-old Eastwood, who, one imagines, is quite happy to play this one straight as an Indiana highway. The thing is, as depicted, Kyle is perfectly decent and honorable kind of soldier: He laments that his first confirmed kills involved a woman and a small boy who were attempting to toss a grenade at a group of marines, despite the American lives he knows he saved. He’s hardly a thoughtless, gun-toting good ol’ boy, even though he is highly revered by them. It’s certainly his other qualities that attract Taya when they first meet in a bar, and the hook of the film’s last act, wherein Kyle finally returns from his fourth tour of duty and has clearly come back a (mildly) damaged man, unable to connect with his family, paranoid, and ready to take violent action in a moment’s notice.

Naturally, this too, is something the film chooses not to dwell upon terribly much. He eventually speaks to a therapist, who advises him to go and aid other, far more physically and emotionally stricken veterans and he and his family move back down to Texas, which seems to put him back in the picture of health in virtually no time. The film’s suggestion is that Kyle is not so deeply and badly damaged because of his superior moral fiber — he didn’t just think he was doing the right thing, he felt his correctness burning in the core of his being — and, in keeping with the perfect soldier treatment, even the horrors of PTSD become just one more minor obstacle for his celebration.

This is to take nothing away from the main source of the film’s appeal, which is the generous and unflinching work put in by Cooper, who seems to have breathed the character into his very DNA. Like George Clooney, Cooper has always been able to win over his roles with his natural charm, but here, he puts it in service to a far more impressive portrait. Even if the film, like his fellow soldiers, continually wants to shine the medals of “the Legend” to a gleaming polish, Cooper downplays his character’s ego. He never wants to be above the grunts working the far more dangerous door-to-door missions, which is why he constantly volunteers to work with them, sharing the risk and in the process, offering them some of the best practices gleaned from his superior training as a SEAL.

Cooper has never been better, but one wishes the filmmakers could have ratcheted down the churning apparatus of Kyle’s constant lionization and taken their cues from the apparent humility of the man himself — even if his as-told-to memoir is being strongly questioned in the wake of the film’s release — and been brave enough to show an inkling of the complexity involved in a military-trained, highly decorated professional assassin coming home to lead a normal life, rather than place him on a raging bonfire of martyrdom upon which one imagines he never would have signed off.

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215 Spotlight: Build Me A World Art Collective

aran_hart twitter badgeSpecial contribution from Xavier Green.


There often comes a point in life when one must choose to pave their own road, or follow one that has been laid out for them. Build Me A World (BMAW) can be described as an art collective working with black youths from the inner city of Chattanooga, Tennessee — and for many it has become a route to a better life.

Growing up in a lower income community can often leave its members feeling hopeless and trapped in a life they were born into. BMAW has created a positive environment for members of the Chattanooga community to tap into their creativity and tell their story through art. In essence, building and/or re-building a world.

The result: empowerment of participants by teaching and reminding a generation that they hold the power to create and live out their own stories.

This video provides a resonant glimpse at this process in motion:


We talked with directors of Build Me a World — Genesis the Greykid [Russell McGee Jr] and Chris Woodhull [bios] to find out more about their non-profit that is creating an outlet for authentic expression and influence. Below are excerpts and highlights from our conversation.


The two men discussed the importance of mentoring within underprivileged neighborhoods, noting that many young people they talk to lack ANY positive role models in their lives.


“Kids are growing up in these environments where everything’s in shambles… over time it creates this ‘I don’t care’ attitude”  – Genesis the Greykid


Speaking on the disadvantages they face in Chattanooga, Chris touched on the common divide between blacks and whites, “The racial divide here is severe, palpable and it’s clear. I didn’t realize it could exist like this.”

BMAW focuses on combating the effects of geographical disadvantages and negative influences, and in the process, creating positive influencers to change their communities. Using art, they are giving the people of Chattanooga an opportunity to confront and work towards solving issues at hand, and also importantly learning to “feel through artistic expression.”


“Good art comes from really awake, aware, honest people” – Chris Woodhull


Build Me A World’s strategy [below] for reaching the community includes connecting creative community members with an art development / story-telling process that includes four fundamental pillars:

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One example and central focus of BWAM’s work are the weekly TribeONE Meetings — which encourage a critical dialogue about life and community. Their website elaborates on the meetings:

“For some its an escape from the day to day realities that come with living in a hostile environment….for us here at BUILD ME A WORLD, [the meetings are] the meat and potatoes of the entire dish. If you can bring an awareness to self, a sense of consciousness in the room, it’ll reflect itself in the art….in the words…in the activist effort.” – buildmeaworld.com


BMAWS_meeting photo


BMAW has also created a series of videos called “Me In A Minute” where individuals tell their own stories in a succinct, powerful format. Poetic in their own way, these videos provide the viewer a small glimpse into the subjects’ lives — both past and present — and display emotion, raw honesty, and vulnerability that is often hidden under a tough exterior.

Below is Maurice McDowell: Me in a Minute [view others HERE]

On the topic of art, Genesis stated that “art is something that dives deep inside you.” When you listen to each artist, you can sense how important these stories are, and the power it takes to tell them.  This raw unprocessed art and emotion creates something relatable for communities alike, but also shows how people can find positivity through art and empowering others.


“Storytelling is not just blurting out what you think is true, it’s discovering and digging into what is actually true” – Chris Woodhull


One can feel overwhelmed when speaking on serious matters such as these social injustices we face. But, Chris reminds us that these meetings are full of laughter and smiles saying  “It has to be fun… humor has a very sharp eye on reality.”

When thinking about art we must remember that it comes in many forms: laughter, tears, song, and dance. It’s a form of communication Genesis considers the best conduit for change stating, “art creates a medium that a lot of people can connect with and in this way it can reach larger groups.”

Through Build Me a World, Genesis and Chris are helping young community members pave new roads, expressing their experiences through their words, sounds, videos, and art. BMAW plans to enter the New Year continuing their efforts to nurture the community through art, making a positive influence in more people’s lives.


A message from Genesis and Chris:

Some people say if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem…in reality it’s the other way around; if you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution. Only those intimately involved with the challenges are close enough to provide the necessary insight.  That is what Cicero meant when he said, “the cure is in the poison.”

It’s time to create new stories.
Let’s build something great….together.

>> Click to DONATE

>> To learn more visit buildmeaworld.com // YouTube

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215 Exclusive: Here and Now | With Denitia and Sene.

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Moving forward >> no matter the context, is so often attached to neglecting the here and now. When you’re ready to slow down, but still keep that right pace of progress in the foreground, allow denitia and sene. be a part of your journey. Just keep in mind they warned you there will be Side Fx along the way.

This past year has been one of emergence for the captivating duo. Combining forces in 2011 at the communal artist enclave in Brooklyn dubbed the “The Clubhouse” [or Club Casa], there is a special energy produced by the pair that translates into an organic artistry, distinctly portrayed both visually and sonically. In fact, their collective art-form works to heighten and aware your senses, leaving you peaked and ready for its delivery.

Capturing the eyes and ears of many a publication and audience, [Red Bull Sound Select, Rolling Stone, REVOLT, NPR … just to reference a few…] most recently their own nationwide “Side Fx” tour brought their music to a further-growing number of cities and fans.


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“Side Fx” // denitia and sene. // Philly Dec. 13th // photo credit > Daniel Wooden

Denitia’s sultry voice and delivery evokes what first entices a youthful love, then certainly carries enough weight and edge to remind you this isn’t just child’s play. Sene’s rhythmic, dreamy production and layering vocal interjections succeed in defying a restrictive ‘genre-label’ to be attached. The duo’s music more aptly aligns with forming to the listeners own mood or situation.

During our interview they’ll suggest when they think is the best time to listen to their jams, but really leave it up to how you — and maybe that special someone next to you are feeling…..

…… A feeling of a new passion or fleeting love affair that you are wrapped up in before you know it, but you’re okay with the uncertainty, and you’re ready to feel some more. denetia and sene. bring just that to your day, or evening: That letting go and admitting, “I’m not really here for answers” while knowing questions will sooner or later be asked……

Citing their song “It’s your fault” :

But who’s to blame? // there’s nothing really I can change // there’s nothing really I can say // to make that go away

And I’m not ashamed // please don’t say you’ll change // I know it might seem strange // but I think it’s okay

I sat down with denitia and sene. at UBIQ in Philadelphia — the final stop on their tour— just before they took the stage for their Heineken Green Room performance.


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11th Annual WKDU Electronic Music Marathon (EMM)

A special treat for all of you out there who aren’t ready to give up filling up on ‘goodness’ after Thanksgiving. Plus who doesn’t need something nice to pick you up on a Monday?! Below we’ve got fresh new mixes from the recent WKDU Philadelphia Electronic Music Marathon ft. King Britt & a bunch of other great DJ sets.

– Enjoy the tasty beats/treats ya’ll …



The 11th Annual WKDU Electronic Music Marathon (EMM) brought together over 30 Philly DJs to raise money for WKDU and two arts education nonprofits: Musicopia & The Village of Arts and Humanities.

DJs that spun the marathon included: King Britt (Ovum / Hyperdub), Dave P (Making Time), Rob Paine & Willyum (Goodie / Worship Recordings), Matthew Law & Mr. Sonny James (Illvibe Collective), DJ Sega (Mad Decent), DJ Apt One (Soul Clap Records), Noah Breakfast (former WKDU DJ / Rare MP3s), Matpat (Exploited Records / Plant Music), Les Professionnels (Nurvous Records) and DJ SYLO & Jansen (STUNTLOCO / Pizza Party), amongst others.


All photos courtesy of Nick Stropko.


The EMM had listeners from France to San Francisco and raised over $2,000 to be split equally amongst WKDU, Musicopia and The Village. WKDU is continuing its fundraising efforts for the station and their nonprofit partners by selling limited edition EMM t shirts and other KDU gear at wkdu.org/store (donations are also accepted at wkdu.org/donate). WKDU intends to use their portion of the proceeds to buy DJ  equipment for hosting even more events in the future.

In addition to DJs donating their time and money to be part of the marathon, many local businesses donated to WKDU to make the EMM happen, including Federal Donuts, Red Bull Philly, Mama’s Vegetarian, R5 Productions, Brewerytown Beats, Creep Records, Philadelphia Record Exchange and many more. “Rival” station WXPN even offered support.

The full DJ lineup and sponsor list can be found at wkdu.org/emm

A definite highlight from the marathon were the two sets from King Britt (a blistering 40 minute afro-future / techno mix & a 90 minute ‘connecting the dots’ mix tracing the history of electronic music from to boogie to hip hop to footwork).

Over the past month, WKDU has gradually been releasing all the DJ sets on their Soundcloud. Friday Dec 5th, WKDU posted the remaining sets from the marathon, including King’s, to wrap up an amazing weekend of 75 hours of continuous electronic music.


About WKDU:

WKDU is Drexel University’s free-format, non-commercial, student-run radio station located in the basement of the Creese Student Center at 3210 Chestnut St.

WKDU broadcasts at 91.7 FM Philadelphia and wkdu.org worldwide and is known for its eclectic mix of quality programming that cannot be heard elsewhere on the radio dial.

Some DJs have had their shows for over 10 years and have cultivated dedicated listeners worldwide.


Nonprofit spotlight:

At the time of the marathon, King Britt was an artist in residence at The Village of Arts & Humanities, a nonprofit organization focused on community empowerment in North Philadelphia. King’s project with The Village called ‘Playback Musick’  took some naturally talented musicians and provided them with guidance and oversight in producing a radio show and an album titled “Strong and Independent” that is out now. King brought some of The Village / Playback Musick team with him to the studio to talk about their work and to MC his set.


Watch the Video on King’s project SPACES Episode 1: Designing Together from The Village:


The other nonprofit organization which proceeds will be going to is Musicopia.

Musicopia provides support to Philly area school music programs by giving teachers whatever resources they need to support music education in their resource deprived budgets. One of the groups that Musicopia brought in to perform was the Andrew Jackson Rock Band: HOME.

Teacher Chris Argerakis and his student band ended up spending so much time together in their band room, that they decided to call their band HOME.

For more information contact WKDU Electronic Music Director Chris Burrell.

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#HeinekenGreenRoom – UBIQ Holiday Party ft. Denitia and Sene + illVibe Collective

It’s that holiday time of the year and #HeinekenGreenRoom is going all out with UBIQ for an extraordinary night of music and celebration. Please join us for an up close and personal performance by Brooklyn based electro-soul duo Denitia and Sene. at the renowned lifestyle boutique.

Philly’s own illvibe Collective will be rounding out the night with their classic mix of all that’s soulful.

RSVP to become a Heineken Green Room member and gain access to this and all future events.

You must be 21 or over to enter.

Must RSVP HERE by December 11th at 5pm.

RSVP does not guarantee admittance, so arrive early, as entry will be first come first serve.

#HeinekenGreenRoom | @denitiaandsene |@ubiqlife


Don’t know Denitia and Sene. yet? Listen here …..

 

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Film Review: BIRDMAN

Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
Score: 7.7

When filmmakers make movies about theater, its generally to deconstruct the inherent artifice in the form, taking the audience backstage with gloomy actors peering into grungy mirrors, and high-strung directors having to cope with every conceivable kind of roadblock on their way to realizing their once-beautiful artistic vision (and to be fair, most movies about movie-making are very often depicted in the exact same way, only with much bigger crews and even more inflated egos). In this, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film more or less follows suit, but whereas most of these dramas exist almost solely to decry the difficulty of cooperative art, this film also allows for the sublime payoff of such an endeavor, even if that payoff involves one’s literally giving everything they have in order to achieve it.

Iñárritu has always been a bit of a wunderkind in his technical proficiency, not unlike his fellow Mexican auteur, Alfonzo Cuarón. But whereas with some of his early work, such as 21 Grams, that technique served to mask some of the film’s other shortcomings and pretensions, here, with a camera that sweeps and swoops on a never-ending steady-cam track, swinging down one tight, dimly lit corridor backstage or another in search of the character significant to that particular scene, it feels much more organic. It plays as a single, connected shot — though, as there are identifiable segue points and time jumps, Iñárritu isn’t trying to baffle us with his cinematic slight-of-hand, that’s not at all his point. With this film, as with his previous masterpiece Biutiful, Iñárritu has managed to incorporate his laudable technique with his artistic vision, putting the one in service to the other, and not the other way around.

We first meet Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) in his underwear, floating gently over the floor of his dressing room in a state of calm meditation. This is not to last. A former big name Hollywood actor whose major claim to fame was a series of “Birdman” superhero films in the late ’80s (obviously, much like Keaton himself), before falling into complete obscurity and financial collapse, Riggan has instead poured himself into a Broadway adaptation of the revered Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” A complete labor of love, Riggan, who wrote the play, is also directing and starring in it, with the help of his producer/lawyer Brandon (Zach Galifianakis), and his just out of rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone), who’s working as his assistant. His Zen calm is interrupted first by Sam, and then his Birdman inner voice, a gravelly scold who discounts everything he’s done save his superhero character, and pushes him to an insecure frenzy.

When one of his lead actors (Bill Camp) gets unexpectedly stricken from the production the day before previews are meant to begin, Riggan takes the opportunity to bring in a big name, high wattage replacement, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), with the help of Shiner’s current girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts), another of the production’s principles. Shiner brings a keen, artistic intensity — while also sparking tremendous interest from the theater-going public in the form of advance ticket sales — but he’s also enormously destructive and irresponsible, a Faustian bargain Riggan has no choice but to accept, under the dire financial circumstances.

There are other complications, of course, including the possible pregnancy of Laura (Andrea Riseborough), the other principle actress and his secret paramour, and the increasing flirtation between Shiner and Sam, a young woman whose hold on her sobriety is as much on the precipice as her tendency to sit up high on the edge of the theater roof looking up at the city lights.

In his best work, Iñárritu is able to pack his narratives with many seemingly disparate elements crashing together — Biutiful involved not only a clairvoyant dying of cancer with young children, and an estranged, clinically insane wife, but also an illegal immigrant black market operation that leads to a horrific and entirely avoidable tragedy — sparking off one another and somehow coalescing into an artistic whole by the close. He spikes his work with a liberal dose of what we might call magic realism (in one sequence, shortly before opening night, Riggan literally flies up into the air and swoops around the city in a joyous epiphany), but without allowing the grittier aspect of his character arcs to get swept up in the deus ex machina of enchantment and mysticism. Instead, they are immersed just enough in the recognizable real world as to have a profound effect on his protagonists. Magic might occur in their day-to-day lives, but it’s not enough to save them from their fates.

He is also adept at drawing brave and brilliant performances from his actors. This is an obvious showcase for Keaton, a performer given to high-energy, off-kilter beats, here playing what might somewhat uncharitably be referred to as an autobiographical role, but Norton (an actor whom I find myself always thrilled to see on screen, as if a talented, Brando-like recluse only deigning to perform when mood strikes) is also excellent. Shiner is a savant on stage — he learns the lines to the play somehow in the blink of an eye — constantly pushing his fellow cast members into an integral honesty on stage, but off of it, he’s anything but. The rest of his life is a series of irresponsible half-truths and misplaced aggressions, and Norton, who still bears the stigma of being a difficult and demanding type of actor, has a line of hard-earned empathy that bleeds from his pores like so much CO2.

Given the weight of the material, Iñárritu is still able to keep a light enough touch on the material that many of the sequences crackle with humor amongst the pathos (a scene in which Riggan gets locked outside the theater during a performance and has to circle around Times Square in his underwear is like something out of Noises Off). Theater is an insane endeavor, of course, impossible to achieve and vexing in every possible way. But somehow, some way, when everything is just so, and the meld of audience and performer is near seamless, it can still all be worth it.

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Film Review: The Guest

Dir. Adam Wingard
Score: 6.1

David Collins (Dan Stevens) seems like a pretty upstanding dude. Or he would if the film, with its ominous music, and shots of him in repose, sitting without blinking in the lotus position, where the bonhomie drains off of his face like cheap foundation powder in a drizzle, wasn’t constantly suggesting otherwise. He’s got all sorts of talents and skills. Visiting the family of his deceased soldier buddy somewhere in New Mexico, he starts out as a kind of benign guardian spirit, offering his friend’s mother, Laura (Sheila Kelley), solace, his father, Spencer (Leland Orser), a chance to rise up in the ranks of his small-time job to become regional manager; his younger brother, Luke (Brendan Meyer), an opportunity to get savage revenge on the high school bullies who keep harassing him; and his fetching, 20-year-old sister, Anna (Maika Monroe), a chance to find a different boyfriend, such as himself.

Along the way, he also displays tremendous skills in knife work, combat, and advanced firearm discharge, all without ever needing to sleep, or even blink, when he’s not being watched. It’s really only when Anna starts to get suspicious of him and his true intentions, especially after a couple of her friends turn up dead in the desert, that things really start to take a turn for the bloody worse.

What’s intriguing about writer/director Adam Wingard’s perfectly entertaining thriller is just how self-aware it is of its own propensity for foolishness. Is the moment when David confronts Luke’s high school principal with a hate-crime lawsuit after the school bureaucrat threatens to expel the boy after he finally retaliates against one of his abusers meant to be taken at face value, or is his admission that the boy is gay simply a ploy to throw the principal off the track? Do we read the film’s action-studded climax in a Halloween-themed haunted maze, replete with strobe lights, fun-house mirrors and cubic tons of dry-ice smoke as just so much over-the-top idiocy, or as carefully crafted, excessive action exaltation?

Of course, it’s difficult to say definitively with sneaky films such as this, but from the amusingly abrupt opening credits — where we cut from a lone figure jogging down a rocky dirt road to a sudden flash of the title card with a loud splash of music, and just as quickly to a shot of a scarecrow standing uncertainly amongst several flat fields — to the bugnuts conclusion (let’s just say it involves a would-be death scene where a character gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up to his attacker), there is a pretty strong sense that Wingard, whose You’re Next worked similarly self-aware angles, knows precisely what he’s doing.

Which frees us up to take the film on its own amusing merits. First off, you have Stevens, continuing his Not-Just-A-British-Fop Tour, absolutely gnashing the scenery with his bare teeth, turning Collins into just the sort of charming, desirable, complete sociopath that this family so dearly needs, even as he starts whacking its members. Stevens, who exploits his boyish charm, intense blue eyes, and topsy-turvy smile to maximum effect here, seems perfectly in his element, shifting in a given scene from smooth-talking mooch to cold-eyed killer and back again in the blink of an eye. Freed at last from the double-breasted suits and posh accent of Downton Abbey, Stevens has a ball as the explosively remote Collins, apologizing gravely even as he’s literally stabbing someone in the heart as he’s doing it. Enough with the china cups and monocles, bring on the blood squibs.

The director also has a find with young Brendan Meyer, who endows the sad-sack Luke with permanently crestfallen eyes and a leeching, awkward sort of presence. He’s the kind of kid you would see in the cafeteria, instantly feel sorry for, and end up sitting as far away from as possible. Hanging out with the debonair, take-no-prisoners Collins, you see his face finally spark with some kind of vitality, a kid in a dark, wet tunnel who becomes convinced he’s finally spotted a little flame of escape. It’s his plaintive reaction to his sister’s dire warnings of the murderous inclinations in their houseguest at the end (“David would never hurt us,” he wails) that proves just how deep in the much Luke is willing to go to keep that particular candle lit.

For a film that begins with a scarecrow and ends with a profane epithet, it sounds difficult to believe, but Wingard never lets the pulpy material spin out of his control. He’s like the dude in the foxhole who seems like he belongs there, pumping round after round off into the darkness, cackling the whole time. He might not be hitting much, but he’s having a hell of a time doing it.

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Film Review: Whiplash

Dir. Damien Chazelle
Score: 8.3

I had a conversation about this film before I got to see it with a friend of mine who couldn’t understand how a movie about a gifted student in a prestigious music school could offer much in the way of drama beyond that of Fame, or its ilk; a schmaltzy ode to the power of young-person artistic desire. But then, I very much doubt she was imagining a music professor screaming “I will fuck you like a pig!” at one of his utterly cowed students, either.

Damien Chazelle’s second feature is a stunning film filled with emotional sweep and poignancy, and best of all, the ambiguousness of its two main protagonists. It’s not a facile film coming to simple conclusions about its subject matter. Like its grand antagonist, the hard-driving, abusive jazz teacher Terence Sterling (J.K. Simmons), the film offers a sharply focused array of possibilities, allowing you to take away what you will, but not before drawing more than a little blood: Most of which shed by Andrew (Miles Teller), an auspicious young drummer in his first year at the (fictitious) Schaffer School of Music in New York.

Besotted by jazz greats like Buddy Guy and James Jones, Andrew assumes his time will surely come, especially after a chance meeting with the legendary Sterling one evening in his practice studio. When Sterling then invites him to join his studio Jazz band after a fast audition, Andrew imagines how easy it will be to wow him with his technique and chops. Only that’s not how it works for Sterling. Arriving at precisely 9:00 AM, with the other members, having nervously tuned and prepped themselves, standing at rapt attention, their faces pointed to floor, it quickly becomes clear Andrew is in no way prepared for the unconscionably demanding Sterling, who screams him into tears at their first session, a moment that earns him considerably more chagrin (“Oh, my dear God — are you one of those single tear people?” Fletcher asks incredulously).

Making Fletcher even more of a monster, he tears the boy apart by first setting him up, talking with him gently during the pre-practice warm-up, and getting the naïve Andrew to open up about his home life, including his writer father (Paul Reiser), who has had a limited career, and an absent mother who left him when he was a baby. It takes no time at all for Sterling to use this information against him during one of his tirades, blaming Andrew’s lack of precise timing as a result of having a talentless hack for a father and a mother who couldn’t wait to leave him.

In a relatively short period of time Andrew learns the only way he can survive Sterling’s onslaught and achieve his goal of being “one of the greats” is to pay for it not just in sweat and blood — though both flow freely during his grueling practice sessions — but to sublimate everything else in his life, including a fledgling romance with a sweet-faced Fordham co-ed (Melissa Benoist) — to his artistic mandate. Under constant stress and scrutiny by the indefatigable Sterling, and facing other challengers for the core chair from other players, Andrew eventually works himself up into such a lather he crawls out from the wreckage of a massive car accident and starts running down the street with his stick bag in tow in order to make a competition on time.

The film is impeccably shot and brilliantly acted, but what really sets it into rarefied air is the way it quickly shifts our sympathies back and forth between the two figures: Andrew, who starts out sweet-faced and cherubic, quickly learns to be every bit as ruthlessly competitive and unlikable as his teacher, eschewing any kind of socializing for his drumming obsession; while Sterling, the cruel taskmaster, starts proving a certain method to his madness, offering a philosophic bent on the nature of greatness and how one might be able to tap into it only if you pour everything you have into what you do.

By the film’s thrilling conclusion — let’s just say it involves a wild solo in front of a Lincoln Center audience with both men glaring daggers at one another — you switch sides back and forth as if watching a tennis contest at center court. Is Sterling a savagely bitter and intense bully, who twists everyone to bend to his incorrigible will, or is he simply a realist, pushing his students beyond what they think they can do for the soaring possibility of their talent? Chazelle’s excellent screenplay allows for both interpretations to be equally true, his vision enhanced greatly by the riveting performance of his two leads. It’s a virtuoso effort from a relatively obscure young filmmaker, but after his film’s incredible showing at Sundance (where it won both the critical jury and audience prizes), he will likely not be underestimated again.