Category Archives: Art & Culture

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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.

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Philadelphia Printworks releases new collection “Cognitive Dissidence”

Philadelphia Printworks, today released their latest collection Cognitive Dissidence.  The new collection features topics such as: gentrification, immigration reform and police brutality.   The title of the collection,Cognitive Dissidence, is based on the term cognitive dissonance.  The collection is now available online at www.philadelphiaprintworks.com.
 
From the website: “Cognitive dissidence is the antithesis of Cognitive dissonance. It is the process by which we overcome adversity, identify systemic inequalities, find our voices and seek change.”
 
About Philadelphia Printworks
 
Philadelphia Printworks is a small screen printing company based in North Philadelphia. Their mission is to encourage a culture of activism.  Their shirts focus on cultural icons or social issues.  And, they partner with community organizations such as Rockers, Rockers Closet and The AfroFuturist Affair to develop workshops, film screenings, fundraisers and political events.  For more information please visit www.philadelphiaprintworks.com.
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Octoberfest on Dilworth Park — Noon-6pm Saturdays Oct 18th and 25th

This fall festival will fill newly opened Dilworth Park with a series of all ages fun activities & games, plus a 21+ beer garden hosted by ROSA BLANCA CAFÉ. A variety of vendors, interactive art installations, DJs & live music will spice up the party. The Franklin Institute will be on hand with Live Science Demonstrations; Mural Arts Program staff will provide fun art activities, Zipcar will host face painting and balloons; and there will be games like cornhole, ring toss, and giant connect four.
October 18
1 pm: Dave P. (Making Time)
3 pm: Drgn King
4 pm: Norwegian Arms
5 pm: Philadelphia School of Circus Arts
Mural Arts offers pumpkin painting, print-making on mural cloth with make-your-own mini-murals, other art activities.

October 25
1 pm: Illstyle
2 pm: DJ Statik & Mathew Law of The illvibe Collective
5 pm: Son Little
Mural Arts offers face painting, pumpkin painting and button making.

Presented by:

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#phillyDJmural Block Party – Friday Oct 17th 6-8pm

Join us as we kick off the Philly DJ Mural Project with a celebration in the city, featuring special music sets by RJD2 and DJ Cash Money, free giveaways, interactive activities, food trucks and more at this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Each year, Mural Arts offers free art classes that empower over 1500 young people in Philadelphia to acquire leadership skills while beautifying their communities with public art. Their access to art is access to life.

For more information CLICK HERE.

PHILLY DJ MURAL
BLOCKPARTY

Friday, October 17, 2014
6:00pm to 8:00pm

13th & Chestnut sts.
Philadelphia, PA

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EDM star Kiesza @ TLA: Recap

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Last Tuesday night [Sept 30th] Philly got a glimpse of a potential star seemingly on the rise in the form of Kiesza. The Canadian born songstress and dance-centric artist, along with co-writer and producer Rami Samir Afuni [who is also responsible for Lady Gaga's ummm provocative G.U.Y. - watch video HERE], have scored a massive worldwide hit with their debut Hideaway. The song topped the UK pop charts and was approaching 70million plays on Spotify at time of post and over 125million on Youtube and has electrified dance floors and even retail shops alike — if anyone stopped into Uniqlo’s opening this past weekend you’d know what I’m talking about.

The initial success of Kiesza’s chorus driven — and 90’s dance music inspired smash hit is not up for debate. But the question remaining to be answered will be the focus of the next chapter of her story… Is Kiesza here to stay? Her fans and critics will gain insight this month as her new album Sound of a Woman is set to drop October 21st.

As for her live show, she kept it short and sweet and fun, showing off her strong combined talents of high-energy choreographed dance with a supporting duo and sharp and powerful vocals ringing out above a live drummer and DJ pumping out the beats.

As expected, her show built up to and concluded with Hideaway, which whipped the crowd into a frenzy and everyone poured out onto South St. with a real good feeling about what they just saw.

During a brief technical cable malfunction, Kiesza sprung into a handstand and walked across the stage upside down and then exclaiming, “See? I’m here to entertain you!” She did just that and even alluded to her abbreviated music library she is certainly excited to see grow. So, next time we see Kiesza live in Philly there may be a whole lot more time to dance with her.


Photo credits // Daniel Wooden


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Film Review: Tracks

Dir. John Curran
Score: 6.1

The thing about doing something extraordinary is it’s going to sound utterly unreasonable at first. Back in 1977, when Robyn Davidson, a young, callow Aussie woman with a penchant for animals and getting away from clutter, decided to solo hike from deep in the Australia desert all the way to the coast — a distance of some 1700 miles — with only the company of a group of camels to carry her gear and her trusty black Labrador to accompany her, it was seen as the kind of brainless lark a young person decides upon without regarding any of the consequences. But Robyn Davidson was no ordinary explorer.

As played by Mia Wasikowska, she’s sturdy, stubborn, and above all other things, undeterred by anyone else’s expectation of her limitations. Holing up in a deserted shack on the edge of the desert town she intends to embark from, she learns about working with camels and training them for many long months with local camel trainers, and when a group of friends come by for a night of revelry during her preparations, she’s lucky enough to meet Rick Smolan (Adam Driver, whom has now released a mind-boggling five films in 2014 alone — the man must not sleep), a photographer for National Geographic, as it happens, whom he puts her in contact with to sponsor the story.

And so it is, some weeks later, with camels in tow, and a National Geographic grant to fund her, Davidson bids adieu to the remaining members of her family — her mother, we are eventually told, hung herself when Robyn was still quite young — and starts off on what will come to be a nine-month journey.

With Rick popping in every few weeks to shoot her expedition for the magazine, Robyn makes her way across sacred aboriginal land with the aid of a kindly village elder (Roly Mintuma), endures a tragic loss, becomes completely sun-drenched and loses her bearings, and eventually encounters numerous tourists on buses and squadrons of journalists after her quest grows into both national and international news.

She also seems to encounter a steady stream of truly decent and caring people, in fact, as the film would have it, with Robyn’s strong desire to keep planning to a bare minimum and rely instead upon the kindness of strangers, she essentially does exactly that and seems to suffer absolutely no negative repercussions for her lack of forethought. She’s constantly getting bailed out, if not by the affable Smolan — whom, after one romantic evening encounter, becomes besotted by her — then by the few kindly people, both Aboriginal and non-native, she meets along the way. Naturally, she suffers a fair amount as well, but considering the circumstances, not nearly as much as she could have.

In fact, but for the slow pace and gritty naturalism of the film — there is much in the way of realistically harsh animal treatment and countless shots of the Outback itself, ineffable and pitiless — it could make a fine Disney treatment whose theme would revolve around one young woman overcoming terrific odds and the indomitable human spirit.

Which naturally leads to the film’s central issue: It doesn’t really have terribly much to say, either about Robyn, the Outback, or the human spirit. Curran dutifully follows her trail, documenting many of the incidents listed in her book of the same name, but as the film neither adds dramatic swirls, nor insightful meditation — its quite happy to leave the taciturn Robyn as a young, sun-blanched cypher; whatever she’s getting out of the experience remains either on the surface or largely unexplored — it doesn’t actually have all that much to do. Lip service is placed on giving us a psychological context for Robyn’s trajectory (the death of her mother and subsequent loss of her childhood dog, as her father had to move her away to live with an aunt), but it still doesn’t give us terribly much with which to work.

Given the lack of dramatic arc, Curran and DP Mandy Walker resort to countless artful shots of the landscape under Robyn’s feet and all around her. It’s a fair argument; it so happens that this part of the Aussie Outback is wondrous and varied, from scrub desert to large red cliffs, to the pure sandy white of the dunes leading up to the Indian Ocean, but with much less else to offer beyond its limited premise, the film never rises much beyond a simple travelogue, true to its roots as a National Geographic article, but with the sinking sense that you’d probably be better off just reading the original.

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Vitaminwater Uncapped | Recap

vitaminwater uncapped: Last Tuesday night [Sept 23rd] was the #Uncapped concert series hosted by Vitaminwater® at 2424 Studios in Fishtown.

Fans lined up early a block long into the street and when concert-goers arrived inside, the wood-floored room was dark and filled with pink and purple lights. The ambience of the room made guests feel at ease and took them away from reality for a bit.

Many people heard about this RSVP only event by word of mouth. “My friend is a local rapper, so he informed me about this event. If he never told me, I wouldn’t know about it,” said North Philly native Deeda. “I knew I couldn’t miss it mainly because Jhene Aiko was going to perform.”

While people waited anxiously for the show to begin, a Vitaminwater® bar was set-up. They served free cold bottles of their drink in a variety of flavors along with their newest product, canned energy drinks.

Next to the Vitaminwater® bar was a t-shirt making station, where guests could pick out a black or blue design for a white tee which was free. Also, there was a gif photobooth that allowed people to take a few second gif.

DJ Diamond Kuts was spinning out catchy beats and getting the crowd hyped for the three performers, Raury, Ty Dolla $ign, and Jhene Aiko. Most people sang along when the talented DJ played popular hits.

Raury was the first performer to hit the stage, wearing his famous hat. The young artist had no problem revving up the crowd. He sang with a full band some hits from his new mixtape, Indigo Child. He even covered some Rock classics from Nirvana and Queen. The entire crowd went wild singing along when he passionately sang the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Ty Dolla $ign was next to perform. He came came on stage wearing a ski mask, some could say Kanye-esque. He took it off after the third song. Ty sang a mixture of his hit singles from his newly released mixtape, $ign Language.

The moment finally came that the crowd waited for all night — probably all week. The super-talented, Jhene Aiko, owned the stage to say the least. She performed strong ballads including her new single “The Worst” and “The Pressure.” Her new album “Souled Out” [Read Album Review] was released on September 9th this year.


Photos Daniel Wooden // Words Christina Dogas // Editor Aran Hart



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Heineken Green Room: Surprise Party Ft. Smif-N-Wessun & Moruf

Become a Heineken Green Room Insider!

Hey Philly! It’s that special time again for your chance to gain access to the hottest upcoming events and promotions. Brooklyn will most definitely be in the house with the hip-hop duo Smif-N-Wessun live on stage courtesy of Heineken Green Room, so make sure you don’t miss out.

illvibe Collective’s Mr. Sonny James will be on the 1’s and 2’s, plus an exclusive live performance from the acclaimed lyrical rhyme-sayer Moruf.

Remember, this event is open ONLY to Heineken Green Room members. Enter here and obtain access for you plus a friend. You must be 21 or over to enter.

Stay tuned for more Heineken Green Room events coming your way!

ENTER HERE

#HeinekenGreenRoom