Favorite Performances of 2015

FAVORITE PERFORMANCES OF 2015

Another year down. Another string of stellar performances. This time, I decided to go against ranking based on gender. There's also no "lead" or "supporting" categories, since the Oscars already pull that nonsense and this is simply about highlighting quality work across the board. So, here are my 15 favorite performances of 2015. All have given me a reason to cheer. All are worth gushing over.


by Jericho Cerrona January 24, 2016


Anne Dorval, Antoine Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément Mommy

Dorval is the unraveling widowed mother, Pilon the psychologically unstable son, and Clément the damaged former school teacher living across the street in 25-year-old wunderkind Xavier Dolan's ambitious melodrama. The results are a trifecta of powerhouse acting.

Bernard Pruvoust Lil' Quinquin

Bernard Pruvoust's bumbling Commandant Van deer Weyden may be investigating a series of mysterious murders in Bruno Du Mont's wonderfully droll Lil' Quinquin, but he could just as well be putting on a classic comedy workshop. Raising his huge eyebrows, providing pratfalls, and unfurling dialogue with a distinctly bizarre delivery, Pruvoust absolutely owns every scene. The year's most oddly endearing character by a wide margin.

Nina Hoss Phoenix

As a former Jewish nightclub singer who survived the Holocaust with reconstructed facial surgery intact, Nina Hoss gives a heartbreaking, vanity-free performance as someone essentially playing the role of her former self in Christian Petzold's powerful drama-noir. Hoss's unique gifts; of being able to tell us a multitude of emotions through simple gestures and a knowing look, is everything.

Joshua Burge Buzzard

Joshua Burge's performance as Marty Jackitansky, the power glove-wearing drone working for a dreary Michigan Bank Mortgage department in writer-director Joel Potrykus's Buzzard, is crucial to understanding what the film is going for. With his greasy hair, bulging eyes, nebbish demeanor, and stoned poker face, he creates a character bordering on mental illness who nevertheless remains oddly sympathetic. Plus, no one can eat an entire bowel of spaghetti quite like Burge.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Maya Taylor Tangerine

As formally exciting as Sean Baker's lo-fi experiment is; (complete with a tricked-out iphone 5), there's little doubt it be as compelling without Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Maya Taylor's undeniable chemistry as two trans-sex workers running around Los Angeles. This isn't really "acting" so much as reacting and observation; with both Rodriguez and Taylor going all out with high-strung physicality, comic vulgarity, and even most winningly, moments of genuine warmth.

Elisabeth Moss Queen of Earth

Tapping into how those with genuine depression often view reality, Elisabeth Moss is ferociously committed to Alex Ross Perry's cause as a woman gradually losing her grip on reality. Because of her multi-layered approach; at one moment euphoric, while in the next descending into a fetal position of teary-eyed panic, Moss is in many ways playing an alien visitor trapped in a world which can never truly understand her.

Gregg Turkington Entertainment

Existing as a bold corrective to the idea that movies need sympathetic protagonists, Rick Alverson's jet-black ramble into the American wasteland has at it's center a towering performance from comedian Gregg Turkington. Playing a variation on his real-life standup alter-ego Neil Hamburger, Turkington concocts an inedible impression of a man both hostile and withdrawn; a ghost drifting through dingy bars and cheap motel rooms who just might make you laugh before gouging out your eyes.

Lea van Acken Stations of the Cross

Dietrich Bruggermann's formal experiment is composed of 14 shots representing the 14 stations of the cross of Christ, and young actor Lea van Acken is virtually in every frame. Her feverish, wide-eyed performance as Maria, who takes a messianic burden upon herself while struggling with extreme fundamentalist upbringing, is phenomenal in its restraint. With nowhere to hide because of Bruggermann's static tableaus, Acken is forced to carry the entire film, which she does with an incredibly naturalistic power.

Bel Powley The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The story of 15-year-old Minnie's coming-of age in Marielle Heller's touching film is so free of sentimental tropes that British actress Belle Powley is allowed the uncommon freedom to inhabit a female character unapologetically enthusiastic about sex. This is personified through contradictory, unformed, but nevertheless honest reactions to subject matter that could have come across exploitative. However, Powely never makes us feel guilty for investing in Minnie and a key sequence where she stands examining her naked body in front of a mirror, is a literal and metaphorical representation of her fearlessness.

Michael B. Jordan Creed

As the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who died in the early rounds of Rocky IV, Michael B. Jordan exudes charisma, wit, and a physical tenacity that's matched only by writer-director Ryan Coogler's reverentially muscular new perspective on the Rocky franchise. Without the actor's keen understanding of portraying a young man determined to forge his own legacy, this could easily have fallen into cliche, but Jordan can flash that winning smile as well as knock out you out in a fight, and he absolutely reinvigorates what could have been a stock character.

Saoirse Ronan Brooklyn

Eilis Lacey is an Irish shop girl who moves from her small village to New York during the mid-1950s to pursue her dreams, but Saoirse Ronan transcends such simplistic character outlines with a performance so true and attuned to the moment that John Crowley's pleasant drama achieves near greatness. It's a performance subtly encompassing timidity, fear, heartbreak, surprise, and joy--all in a single look. Ronan's face in closeup may in fact be the special effect of the year.

Peter Ferdinando Hyena

Moral ambiguity is the order of the day in Gerard Johnson's ultra-violent British gangster picture, and Peter Ferdinando exudes that push and pull quality between doing what's right and what's necessary as a narcotics officer in over his head. Sweaty, disheveled, and spending most of the film in a state of paranoia, Ferdinando brings a pent-up energy and combustible emotional range to an archetypal role.

Teyonah Paris Chi-Raq

Spike Lee's rowdy, impassioned plea to stop inner-city violence could have gone the way of cartoon farce, and though he certainly dabbles in those areas for comedic effect, Teyonah Paris's dazzling performance as Lysistrata keeps everything ground in a kind of emotional truth. She has to look spectacular (which she does), have a commanding presence (which she has in spades), and deliver dialogue in the form of verse with searing passion (which she accomplishes with aplomb). Her committed performance is at the center of a film reaching out it's hands in love while screaming from a pulpit in anger.

Rachel McKeon Homemakers

Visions of aimless millennial youth are a dime a dozen these days, but Colin Healey's debut feature captures the roving frustration, drunken restlessness, and emotional instability of that time in our lives by focusing on Rachel McKeon's punk rock musician, Irene. This is a no-holds-barred, reckless, and surprisingly poignant performance; brilliantly portraying a fragile, angry, and sarcastic young woman perhaps afraid that her tough girl facade is beginning to fade.

Rami Malek Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

While Chi-Raq is currently getting raves (and for good reason), this greatly underappreciated Spike Lee Joint contains many pleasures, chief of which is Rami Malek's winningly humorous turn as the personal assistant of Stephen Tyrone Williams's wealthy black anthropologist. Malek's off-kilter line delivery, hilarious facial reactions, and overall sweet-natured presence takes a stereotypical "background" role and enlivens it with real heart and soul.

Favorite Films of 2015

FAVORITE FILMS OF 2015

Another year down. Another crop of films obsessed over. This time, I decided to go against ranking things in a traditional list. Instead, I've simply compiled 15 of my favorite films and placed them in alphabetical order. All have given me cinematic pleasure throughout 2015. All are worth cherishing.


by Jericho Cerrona January 14, 2016


About Elly

Asghar Farhadi's masterful picture is both a gripping human drama and an intellectually probing critique of Iranian society, with one of the year's most most gut-wrenching sequences involving a missing child that's a tour-de-force of staging and movement. A subtle, tense, and emotionally devastating piece of work.

Amour Fou

Writer-director Jessica Hauser takes the skeletal real-life story of mentally ill playwright Heinrich von Kleist's obsession with Henriette Vogel and then drapes a daring black comedy over the bones. High privilege, repression, and aristocratic good manners; all deftly filmed in static long shots. A simultaneously provocative and humorous triumph.

Approaching the Elephant

Amanda Rose Wilder uses a fly-on-the wall approach in this non-linear documentary examining the 2007-2008 year at the Teddy McArdle Free School in New Jersey which effectively distills the difficulties of teaching young children the finer points of democracy. Troubling, illuminating, and often very funny.

Crimson Peak

A maximalist vision of 1940s Old Hollywood-influenced haunted house pictures and full-bodied gothic romance, Guillermo Del Toro's unabashed homage is one of the purest distillations of a filmmaker's vision brought to the big screen in quite some time. Jane Eyre, Arthur Conan Doyle, Frankenstein, Hitchcock, Kubrick's The Shining, Mario Bava, and Edgar Allen Poe all get thrown into a pot that's distinctly Del Toro; resulting in an unwieldy, rumbling beast of a movie spitting blood, snow, and nightmarish ghouls.

Gangs of Wasseypur

This is India's The Godfather; Anurag Kashyap's magnificently contained epic about familial ties, betrayal, and the societal conditions which create and nurture gangsters, spanning decades and entire lives from the 1940s to the 1990s. Despite it's gargantuan running time, the film rockets along spinning information, names, places, and moments of brutal violence with stunning precision.

Hard to be a God

A disorienting descent into madness, a deranged mutilation of proper civilization, and a flat-out masterpiece, Aleksei German's swan song is like watching Terry Gilliam trapped inside Tarkovsky's brain while Herzog whispers indecipherable mantras. An extraordinary synthesis of human barbarism and gallows humor strangling the past, present, and future into one gangrene-infested stew.

Jauja

Lisandro Alonso's bold experiment follows Viggo Mortensen's wandering Dane as he searches for his 15-year-old daughter across the 19th-century Patagonian wilderness. The sight of characters placed up against the beautiful savagery of the landscapes creates it's own kind of movie magic; creating an existential nightmare disguised as a minimalist Western.

The Kindergarten Teacher

Nadav Lapid's esoteric drama about the bond between a teacher and her 5-year-old pupil is a stark political statement about the nature of art in Israel as well as a contradictory tale straddling the line between exploitation and expression. Thought-provoking and controversial ideas are posed, but never concretely answered, giving the film a deeply haunting quality.

Lil' Quinquin

Originally filmed as a French TV miniseries, Bruno Dumont's singular achievement follows a bumbling detective trying to solve a small-town string of bizarre murders, but really, the film is about maintaining a strange tone; merging macabre comedy and visual gags with a sophisticated use of framing and literary references. The grotesque folly of man has seldom been so deftly achieved.

The Look of Silence

2013's jaw-dropping The Act of Killing would always be an impossible act to follow, but Joshua Oppenheimer hasn't so much made a sequel to that ground-breaking documentary as an extension of the same world. Here, he follows Adi Rukun, an optometrist who was born two years after the Indonesian genocide ended in 1966 as he interviews some of the killers who still remain in positions of power. The results are disturbing, revelatory, and deeply moving; giving a voice to the multitudes of nameless victims forgotten by time.

Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller returns to the Mad Max franchise and proves that a 70-year-old auteur can deliver an insane action spectacle with a nifty feminist twist to boot. A gonzo thrill ride that comes out with all guns, spears, gears, spikes, and flame-thrower electric guitars blazing, and the best film released by a major studio in years. Believe the hype.

Mommy

Ferociously alive and brimming with the kind of passionate cinematic risk-taking only a 25-year-old filmmaker could muster, Xavier Dolan's latest is like witnessing raw exposed nerves and a bloody heart. Loud shouting matches, gaudy pop tunes, deeply committed performances, and artful filmmaking choices unsure, as Dolan unspools a sprawling story of the dysfunctional bond between mother and son, along with the helpful neighbor caught inside their chaotic undertow. Self-indulgent and overlong? Sure. But also emotionally wrenching and cinematically exhilarating.

A Poem is a Naked Person

Following country/blues musician Leon Russell during the height of his popularity in 1974, this rambling, gleefully stoned-drunk documentary from Les Blank was shelved from distribution for some 40 years. Though superficially a concert film, there's an obsession with Russell's motley clan of weirdos and rural Oklahomans surrounding the recording studio permeating every frame with off-kilter weirdness. An unforgettable distillation of a lost time and place.

Timbuktu

A protest film under the guise of an intensely powerful human drama, African filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako creates a prism into which we witness a city overrun by Islamic fundamentalists who implement rigid rules onto the population. There's a rare balancing of opposing ideologies at work here--with poetry and humor being juxtaposed with moments of brutal violence and bigotry. A shrewd, upsetting, and essential viewing experience.

Time Out of Mind

Richard Gere plays a homeless man struggling to survive on the streets of New York City while hoping to reconnect with his estranged daughter, but don't let the odd casting choice keep you away from Oren Moverman's artful rendering of a complex issue. Shot with long lenses through refracted mirrors and windows, the stylistic choices here challenge the way we view the problem of homelessness by never announcing itself from a pulpit, but rather, by trapping us inside the headspace of a man whom society has given up on. An important film, contemplative in approach and powerful in restraint.


OTHER FILMS I LOVED THAT JUST MISSED THE CUT:

Entertainment, Queen of Earth, Phoenix, What We Do in the Shadows, Uncertain Terms, Salvation Army, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Stations of the Cross, Futuro Beach, Buzzard

Favorite Albums of 2015

FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2015

Another year down. Another crop of records obsessed over. This time, I decided to go against ranking things in a traditional list. Instead, I've simply compiled 15 of my favorite albums and placed them in alphabetical order. All have given me sonic pleasure throughout 2015. All are worth cherishing.


by Jericho Cerrona January 10, 2016


Alex Calder Strange Dreams

Like a more obscure Max DeMarco, Alex Calder makes warped pop music with hints of melody wrapped in an acid bath. An unsettling combination of VHS tape hiss and synth-pop wonder.

Chester Watson Summer Mirage

A 19-minute, 6 track EP might seem disappointing after the 18-year-old Florida rapper's 70-minute opus Tin Wooki dropped last year, but condensing ideas actually makes his abstract sound more palpable. Atmospheric production, bass-heavy beats, and stream-of-consciousness rhyming means this kid has some legitimate skills.

Gentleman Surfer Gold Man

Sacramento, CA weirdos make another blast of carefully calibrated, mostly instrumental madness after 2013's bizarro masterpiece Blaks with this spastic, demented, and unhinged gem that showcases some serious musical chops. Prog-rock that's way cooler than you and flaunts it.

It Only Gets Worse Christian Country Home

Alabama-based spoken word artist Matt Finney and Dutch musician Mories get bleak and daringly beautiful with this, their third collaboration; an immersive plunge into the realm of atonal glitches, analog synths, and despairing wordplay.

Kamasi Washington The Epic

A 10-piece jazz band, 32-piece orchestra and 20-member choir all tackling swing, funk, bebop, soul, orchestrated free-jazz as concocted by a 34-year-old jazz musician wunderkind. Ambitious, unwieldy, and utterly brilliant.

La Luz Weirdo Shrine

A gorgeous waltz through Dick Dale-inspired guitar licks, ambient organs, and dreamy vocals in the Shangri-las mode, all manned by producer/guitar maestro Ty Segall. More than simply "surf rock" pastiche.

Palmbomen II Palmbomen II

The latest brainchild from Neatherlands-based musician Kai Hugo (and friends) is a concept album revolving around The X-Files (yes, you heard that right). Wobbly, synth-driven 90s kitsch, done right.

Petite Noir La Vie Est Belle / Life is Beautiful

This extraordinary achievement from half-Angolan, half-Congolese musician Yannick Ilunga weaves African rhythms with 80s new wave and anthemic indie rock to give us something close to perfection.

The Pop Group Citizen Zombie

Pioneers of late 70s UK punk are back with a comeback few expected and even fewer thought would turn out this brilliant; a cacophonous, groove-heavy art-rock album that recalls Bowie in it's uncompromising mixture of strangeness and melodicism.

Protomartyr The Agent Intellect

Frontman Joey Casey shouts, slurs, and mutters his way through Protomarty's latest slab of gutter post-punk. If The Fall crawled out of the underbelly of Detroit, it would sound something like this.

Shamir Ratchet

The year's best summer jam record, bar none; an infectious mix of R & B, disco, house, and wonky pop, all carried along by 20-year-old Shamir Bailey with eccentric confidence.

Tal National Zoy Zoy

There's so much complex history running throughout the undulating percussion and graceful vocals in this album that signifiers such "world music" feel extremely narrow. Based out of Niger and utilizing elements of Afro-beat, desert blues, and West African call-and-response, Zoy Zoy is musically dense, consistently pleasurable, and always full of life.

Viet Cong Viet Cong

Taking the basement-dwelling lo-fi aesthetic of last year's Cassette and then blowing it up to new levels of sonic brilliance. Think little dabs of Joy Division, Wire, and Guided by Voices along with the Calvary post-punkers usual habit of atonal racket, feedback-drenched noise, and monotone vocals.

Wand Golem

This thing gets heavier, dreamier, doomier, and more epic as it sludges along. Pure psych-metal with elements of Brian Eno and T. Rex thrown in to balance out the bong smoke. It's Cave-In getting into a bathroom brawl with The Melvins and Sabbath! And of course, Ty Segall is involved.

Young Fathers White Men are Black Men Too

Recorded on-the-fly in apartments and hotel rooms, this is the year's most boldly left-field hip-hop album, if one can even label it as such. A patchwork of spontaneous outbursts and layered experimentation.

Instant Gratification

In this age of digital streaming and 3D Plasma TV home viewing experiences, our preoccupation with replicating the cinema experience, no matter how futile, is at an all-time high. With that in mind, and with the knowledge that Netflix has monopolized our collective need for constant media, I've complied a list of films currently on instant that I feel are must-sees. These films are listed in their Netflix-inspired subgenres below.

by Jericho Cerrona December 27, 2015

Tu dors Nicole 2015 [NR] 93 minutes

Based on your interest in: The "last summer of adolescence" genre

Cast: Julianne Côté, Catherine Saint-Laurent, Marc-André Grondin Director: Stéphane Lafleur

About Elly 2015 [NR] 118 minutes

Based on your interest in: Iranian social realism and devastating human drama

Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Taraneh Alidoust, Shahab Hosseini Director: Asghar Farhadi

Full Review Here

Felt 2015 [NR] 120 minutes

Based on your interest in: Gender victimization and fetus Hitler

Cast: Amy Everson, Kentucker Audley Director: Jason Banker

A Hard Day 2015 [NR] 111 minutes

Based on your interest in: Loopy South Korean police thrillers with a macabre sense of humor

Cast: Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong Director: Kim Seong-hun

Gueros 2015 [NR] 111 minutes

Based on your interest in: Self-aware Mexican road movies with a New Wave kick

Cast: Tenoch Huerta Mejia, Sebastin Aguirre, Leonardo Ortizgris, Ilse Salas Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus 2015 [NR] 123 minutes

Based on your interest in: Cult remakes, racial themes, and defiantly personal Spike Lee joints

Cast: Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaraah Abraham, Rami Malek Director: Spike Lee

Full Review Here

Cheatin' 2015 [NR] 76 minutes

Based on your interest in: Deranged hand-drawn animation and perverse love stories

Cast: (None) Director: Bill Plympton

Ned Rifle 2015 [NR] 84 minutes

Based on your interest in: Dead-beat dads, literary groupies, and rat-a-tat-tat dialogue

Cast: Liam Aken, Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey, Thomas Jay Ryan Director: Hal Hartley

Welcome to Me 2015 [R] 87 minutes

Based on your interest in: Mentally unstable lottery winners

Cast: Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Wes Bentley, Linda Cardellini, James Marsden Director: Shira Piven

Stations of the Cross 2015 [NR] 110 minutes

Based on your interest in: The perils of extreme fundamentalism

Cast: Lea van Acken, Anna Bruggemann, Mortiz Knapp Director: Dietrich Bruggermann

10 Under-The-Radar Indies From 2015 You May Have Missed

by Jericho CerronaNovember 27, 2015

Doomsdays

Eddie Mullins' feature debut takes an unnerving scenario-- two aimless drifters (Justin Rice and Leo Fitzpatrick, respectively) wandering around the Catskills breaking into luxury country homes-- and then makes a hilariously deadpan comedy out of it. The film is meticulous without being arch, funny without pandering for cheap laughs, and most surprising of all, wistfully melancholic.

Man From Reno

Moody, patient, and steeped in neo-noir traditions; director Dave Boyle's Man From Reno manages to tell a fascinating whodunnit while maintaining an atmospheric sense of strangeness. Ayako Fujitani is superb as a displaced detective novelist caught up in the disappearance and possible murder of a handsome stranger, and Pepe Serne plays the local town sheriff with genuine naturalism. The city of San Francisco, meanwhile, hasn't felt this mysterious since Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Timbuktu

This extraordinary achievement from African filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako is in many ways a protest film which also plays as an intensely powerful drama. Set in the titular Malian city overrun by Islamic fundamentalists who implement absurdly rigid rules on the population-- no football, no music, women must wear gloves selling fish at the market-- the film achieves a rare balanced view of opposing ideologies. There's poetry, brutality, and even humor here; made all the more palpable by Sissako's refusal to spoon-feed the audience easy answers.

Something Must Break

A beautiful, elegiac, uncompromising piece of work, Ester Martin Bergsmark's love story between a male transitioning into a female and a straight man, takes us further into the complicated nature of identity and gender than most films would ever dare. Though the tale of Sebastian/ Ellie (Saga Becker in a remarkable performance) pining for charming Andreas (Iggy Malmborg) is nothing new; the film's daring perspective and Bergsmark's poetic direction makes it vital.

The Kindergarten Teacher

There's something boldly esoteric about this Israeli drama from talented filmmaker Nadav Lapid (Policeman). Centering around the bond between a kindergarten teacher in Tel Aviv (played in a nuanced performance by Sarit Larry) and her 5-year-old pupil (a staggeringly natural Avi Shnaidman), the film is a stark political statement about the nature of art in Israel, as well as a deeply contradictory tale about the line between exploitation and expression. Above all, Lapid's work maintains a tone of uneasy oddness; refusing to offer up an ultimate meaning, and therefore, much more intriguing because of it.

Five Star

Though perhaps a step down after 2013's hauntingly elegiac Welcome To Pine Hill, writer-director Keith Miller's latest nonetheless showcases a rare sensitivity to a milieu long overcrowded with stereotypes. Like Miller's previous work, Five Star takes a blurring of documentary and real-life approach to tell the story of gang leader Primo (James Grant, playing a version of himself) and his mentoring of young teenager John (John Diaz). Less about plot than mood and texture, the familiarity of the narrative is overshadowed by Grant's powerful performance and Miller's mingling of naturalism with scripted developments. A slow-burn drama that quietly sneaks up on you.

The Mend

Buried within abstract editing, ingenious framing, and an off-beat score is a touching story of brotherly love disguised as self-destructive dysfunction in writer-director John Magary's debut feature. Josh Lucas plays a scruffy, near homeless asshole wandering the streets of NYC who crashes a party hosted by his brother (Stephen Plunkett), and the results are absolutely unpredictable. Magary's direction often recalls a younger Paul Thomas Anderson, with a compositional assuredness that gives the film a singular off-kilter energy.

Fort Tilden

Girls meets Frances Ha by way of the uncomfortableness of See You Next Tuesday, filmmakers Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers have tapped into a prevalent trend in the current zeitgeist; that of the self-obsessed, delusional millennial. The tale of two NY friends (Bridley Elliot and Clare McNulty, respectively) whose plans to travel to a beach for a meetup with some hipster guys quickly escalates into a series of misadventures which tellingly never allow the character's insecurities off the hook. The results are funny, cringe-inducing, and ultimately, oddly touching.

Prince

Dutch filmmaker Sam de Jong's debut tells the story of a Dutch-Moroccan teenager (affable newcomer Ayoub Elasri) fighting off boredom with his friends, pining for the unattainable blonde beauty, and falling in with a psychotic madman while living in an impoverished suburb of Amsterdam. Though there's a predictable narrative framework at play here, de Jong's stylish direction, a throbbing synth score, atypical locations, and unorthodox performances makes this an exhilarating addition to the coming-of-age genre.

Heaven Knows What

There's nothing safe or cuddly about Benny and Josh Safdie's unrepentantly bleak depiction of drug-addicted teenagers on the streets of NYC. Mixing trained actors with nonprofessionals in a swirling mosaic of squalor, the film simply asks that we observe it's characters rather than attempt to empathize with them. Arielle Holmes, a non-actor with real-life ties to the subject matter, casts a haunting spell as Harley, and she's backed up by some memorable supporting turns from Caleb-Landry Jones as Holmes' manipulative lover (the only "real" actor of note here) and Buddy Duress as her drug dealer. The evocative cinematography and brooding analog synth score, meanwhile, add to the sense of poetic hopelessness.

Sometimes, writing in-depth reviews of everything can become daunting, especially when you find yourself with little down time. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a new segment called REVIEWS AT A GLANCE, a brief take on the movies and albums I’ve had in current rotation. It will mostly be newer stuff, since that’s what I focus on in terms of reviewing, but I might drop some old school gems in there from time to time.

What have you been watching and listening to?

September 26, 2015 by Jericho Cerrona

What I've Been Watching
Rory Culkin's performance as the titular mentally unstable young man in writer-director Lou Howe's debut is a mesmerizing piece of work; alternating between fidgety restlessness and searing rage. The story surrounding him, though, which tracks Gabriel's attempts at locating a girl with whom he had a childhood romance, lacks focus. Gabriel

Cedris Jimenez's homage to 70s crime thrillers (which, of course, includes William Friedkin's classic The French Connection) boasts a terrific performance from Jean Dujardin as a cop trying to stop the export of heroin, but it's ultimately let down by it's gargantuan running time (135 minutes) and conventional plotting. Undeniably stylish, but somewhat empty at it's core. The Connection

A lurid B-movie with loftier pretensions, director Fabrice Du Welz's (Vinyan, Calvaire) latest tells the story of a desperately needy single woman (Stephanie Bisso, deliciously unhinged) and her relationship with a deranged serial killer (Laurent Lucas). Attempting to derive macabre laughs out of unspeakable violence, Du Welz never nails down the tricky tone here; resulting in numbing shock tactics, amateurish camerawork, and faux-arthouse horror tropes. Alleluia
There's something almost Charlie Kaufman-esque going on in writer-director Eskil Vogt's puzzle box of a movie; following the sight-impaired Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) as she holes up inside an Oslo apartment writing a story about her own life as well as fictional characters. The narrative, which splits it's time between multiple sub-plots, can get a bit too meta-clever for it's own good, but Petersen's empathetic performance helps keeps the emotional pathology of her character grounded. Blind

A slacker comedy in the worst possible sense, writer-director Bob Byington's latest stab at minimalist, narrative-free filmmaking completely wastes the talents of Jason Schwartzman (on autopilot), Eleanore Pienta (so great in See You Next Tuesday), and Olympia Dukakis (earning the film's only meager laughs). The tale of a guy with a drinking problem and social ineptitude, this one tries to float by on lackadaisical charm, but instead refuses to offer up a convincing reason for it's own existence. 7 Chinese Brothers
What I've Been Listening To
The debut album from art rockers Franz Ferdinand and 70s New Wave brothers Sparks has it's fair share of Bowie-esque glam rock highlights; a series of grandiose ballads and synth-driven dance cuts which successfully merge modern production with throwback kitsch. However, despite witty lyrics and catchy melodies, the whole enterprise almost feels like everyone is winking a bit too much behind a curtain of strained eccentricity. FFS FFS 5 out of 10
Nashville's Bully sounds a lot like other 90s alt-rock revivalists exploding onto the scene these days. There are the predictable distorted guitar hooks, fuzz pedals, and tortured vocals, but there's also a keen sense of what made the best bands from that era so exciting; namely, a sense of rawness. Singer/songwriter/ producer Alicia Bognanno is really the reason this thing sounds so visceral, and of course, the album was recorded by the legendary Steve Albini. Bully Feels Like 7 out of 10
Pennsylvania native Daughn Gibson, who formerly sounded like a cowboy stuck in a noir Western on breakthrough albums like 2013's Me Moan, has suddenly turned into Bryan Ferry. Carnation comes across like a weird hybrid of new wave and easy listening, with Gibson's deep-throated drawl buried in a mix of synthesizers, steel guitars, and ambient drums. The results are intriguing; with mood trumping hooks and oddness replacing clarity. Daughn Gibson Carnation 6 out of 10
London-based psych-rockers Django Django have a tough hurdle to overcome after their self-titled debut created a minor sensation in the UK. Sophomore albums are always a tricky affair, and the real problem here is that Born Under Saturn is simply too long to sustain it's ambitions. Still, the snaking, rhythmic nature of the psychedelic sounds conjured bring to mind a warped meeting of Talking Heads, The Beach Boys, Tears For Fears, and Devo. Django Django Born Under Saturn 7 out of 10
A pop album lacking hooks, discernible choruses, and the kind of club bangers recycled in this age of Beyonce-approved surprise album drops is something special. More special, though, is 27-year-old FKA Twigs's unwavering commitment to her art. As a dancer, singer, choreographer, and producer, she's a bonafide one-woman show, and her music; a series of ambient, glitchy electro-pop songs reaching for thematic connections between power, sexual objectification, and female agency, is absolutely singular. FKA Twigs M3LL155X 8 out of 10

Reviews At A Glance

Sometimes, writing in-depth reviews of everything can become daunting, especially when you find yourself with little down time. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a new segment called REVIEWS AT A GLANCE, a brief take on the movies and albums I’ve had in current rotation. It will mostly be newer stuff, since that’s what I focus on in terms of reviewing, but I might drop some old school gems in there from time to time.

What have you been watching and listening to?

July 26, 2015 by Jericho Cerrona

What I've Been Watching
Writer-director Ragnar Bragason's Scandinavian coming-of-age film follows Hera, a disenfranchised young woman (Thorbjorg Helga Thorgilsdottir, in a remarkable performance) dealing with the tragic death of her metal-loving brother. The film understands not only the awkwardness of limping into adulthood, but also the stigma attached to fans of the metal genre. With the wintry Icelandic setting as a backdrop, Bragason's minor gem focuses on Hera's restless need to emulate her deceased brother's interests; from recording lo-fi tapes of her own music, to her fascination with the emerging Black Metal scene. Gently humorous, starkly melancholy, and chock full of 80s-era metal riffage. Metalhead

On the surface, Francesco Munzi's atmospheric crime drama seems to be a fairly standard story of double-crosses, familial traditions, generational sins, and cyclical violence. However, the story about three brothers caught up in Mafia corruption in Southern Italy takes familiar tropes and then cunningly bucks genre conventions. Slowly paced, with moody cinematography and dynamic performances, Black Souls is a de-glamorizing view of cultural identification and barbaric rituals that sets the stage for a whopper of a fatalistic finale. Black Souls

Arnold Schwarzenegger drops the winking self-awareness for a trip to the dark side of post-apocalyptic humanity in Maggie, a picture which desperately wants to subvert the cliched zombie genre, but instead comes off glumly self-serious, and worse of all, deadly boring. As directed by newbie Henry Hobson, the film boils down to a rather trite family melodrama, with Schwarzenegger valiantly attempting to protect his daughter (Abigal Breslin, doing most the heavy emotional lifting), who has contacted a virus and will slowly transform into one of the walking dead. A kind of art-house variation on one of those Cable TV "disease movies of the week", Maggie is a portentous snooze, and quite frankly, could have used more Arnie one-liners. Maggie
David Oyelowo is an intensely talented actor, and he gets to strut his stuff with a one-man show in Nightingale, director Elliot Lester's overdetermined expose of a man gradually losing his mind while holed up inside a house. From the outset, we know Oyelowo's character Peter Snowden has committed a heinous crime, and for the rest of the film's running time, Frederick Mensch's stagey script continuously strains credulity as Peter runs around frantically answering the phone, pining for an old lover, and performing arch monologues in front of a webcam. While Oyelowo's performance holds interest, it also comes across too much like an acting exercise and Lester's unimaginative direction (lots of blurry depth of field, dissolves, etc) just further exacerbates the film's most glaring flaw; that Peter isn't really a human being having a break with reality, but rather, a writers construct in order to set an entire film inside one central location. Nightingale

Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz’s tale of two lovers (Clemens Schick and Wagner Moura) who meet and bond after a horrific drowning accident, is a dreamy exploration of the way life changes almost imperceptibly over time. Beautifully shot; with long-held shots of Brazilian beaches and later on, grey-skied German locales, and featuring very little dialogue or standard plotting, Futuro Beach encourages the audience to surrender to its sensual rhythms rather than have everything spelled out. A third character (Jesuita Barbosa) from the past enters the picture during the poetically transfixing final stretch, creating a dynamic three-hander that seeks to understand love, regret, and pain without dipping into theatrics. Futuro Beach
What I've Been Listening To
Oxford, England outfit Swervedriver may have been overshadowed by bands like Ride and Slowdive during their heyday, but as evidenced by their first full-length in 17 years, there's a reason the whole 90s revival has seen such a cultural shift in recent times. I Wasn't Born To Lose You is made up of the kind of melodic, jangly rock 'n roll that seems to be the choice du jour for many younger bands these days; only that Swervedriver don't sound like they are emulating anyone but themselves. Distorted guitar tones, dreamy reverb, and singer Adam Franklin's lackadaisical drawl hits the shoegazey sweet spot. Swervedriver I Wasn't Born To Lose You 7 out of 10
Now that the rather unfortunate genre known as Chillwave has reached its inevitable demise, Chaz Bundick can pillage through 70s pop, guitar psych, disco, and AM-soft rock with the same kind of meticulousness that he brought to his 2010 debut Causers of This. While fans may be flummoxed by Bundick's move away from R & B-inflected synth pop, the addition of reverb-drenched guitars and 70s soulfulness gives What For? an expansiveness only hinted at in past efforts. Still, while there's admirable mixture of sounds and textures on display here, something is still missing from Toro Y Moi's sonic arsenal. It's almost as if Bundick has the retro aping down so well that he's forgotten to add a sense of discernible personality; (something that fellow revisionist Ariel Pink manages to do brilliantly), resulting in a pleasurable, though only mildly diverting, listen. Toro Y Moi What For? 6 out of 10
Multi-Love, the latest LP from lo-fi R & B experimentalists Unknown Mortal Orchestra, is essentially a heartbreak album. Over the course of 9 tracks, frontman Ruban Nielson ruminates on the ever-evolving nature of romantic love, the confusion of possibly loving two people simultaneously, and the prickly contradictions of human relationships. The overall tone of the album, though, is decidedly up-beat and soulful. In a way, Multi-Love often sounds like a Sly and the Family Stone record submerged under water; with warbly production, futuristic synths, honking brass, and Nielson's subdued vocals, which are often masked by hazy effects, gliding the listener deeper into the retro-psychedelic basement. Poppy and slightly alienating at the same time. Unknown Mortal Orchestra Multi-Love 7 out of 10
Hot Chip are a band, not some scuzzy-looking dude with oversized glasses raising his hands behind a DJ booth. Nowadays, with the onslaught of superstar spinners filling stadiums, there's something nostalgic about a revolving set of members creating dance music. On their sixth full-length, Hot Chip continue to do what they do best; namely, making old school dance-floor numbers which draw on a more live sound than many of their contemporaries. Unfortunately, the sound that Hot Chip pioneered for the better part of 15 years, and was later cribbed by people like James Murphy, sounds positively tame in 2015. Instead of pushing forward, Why Make Sense? comes off extremely vanilla, using 70s funk (the talkbox is abused shamelessly) as a springboard for a mostly repetitive set of whiteboy dance anthems. Hot Chip Why Make Sense? 5 out of 10
After 2013's brilliant Cabinet of Curiosities, multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardener would either have to scale back with a more intimate sound, or go even bigger on his followup. In a way, he's attained something of a middle ground on Hypnophobia; a record thats every bit as lushly psychedelic as his previous effort, but which also seems to go deeper lyrically, dealing primarily with nightmarish dreamscapes and an inevitable feeling of losing control. Production-wise, there's a bit of Stereolab at play here with the analog synth-driven melodies, as well a Todd Rundgren-influenced knack for pop experimentalism. Mostly, though, Gardner is a master of orchestration; everything from strings, plucked guitar, electric piano, and his effortlessly soothing vocals are layered with absolute perfection.

Jacco Gardener Hypnophobia 8 out of 10

McDowdy’s Documentary Digest: Going Clear



MCDOWDY'S DOCUMENTARY DIGEST


Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Director: Alex Gibney

by Derek McDow May 1, 2015

If you had a vague but unverified sense that Scientology was a bit odd, unhinged, or unearthly; just wait till you hear about “Operating Thetans” (OTs), the intergalactic dictator Xenu and how the Earth is a slave planet for humans who were brought here billions of years ago while cryogenically frozen, dropped into volcanoes, and blown up with hydrogen bombs. And don’t even ask about O-T-T-R-Zero & “exteriorization” during auditing! I might be getting some of my theology wrong here but then again, that’s why you’ll want to see Alex Gibney’s newest documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

Based off Pulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright’s newest non-fiction, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief, Gibney’s adaptation seems determined to include as much of the book’s content as possible, which, makes for a superbly in-depth, re-watchable experience (not unlike his other first-rate documentaries: Enron, Mea Maxima Culpa, Taxi to the Dark Side, Client 9, & We Steal Secrets). That’s probably why Rolling Stone and Huffington Post made listicles of prominent observations contained in the film instead of trying to summarize it outright. Fortunately, there’s still quite a bit of information that Gibney leaves out of his documentary and viewers seeking more in-depth information on Scientology won’t be disappointed by picking up Wright’s book.

The titular phrase “Going Clear” stems from Scientology argot, which expresses a state one might attain after purging the psyche of “engrams” or deep-rooted traumatic memories from previous lives. This purification process often takes the form of “auditing” sessions, which resemble Catholic confessions or pseudo-psychiatric sessions with fellow members who keep detailed records of intimate disclosures & indiscretions. Clever enough, Gibney framed most of the interviews in the film as if each one were a private auditing session. If any of this sounds cultishly eerie, that’s because it is and the subtitle doesn’t flinch to point out the obvious: this is “the prison of belief”.

Really, though, Going Clear is a provocative xposé—one that has already garnered wide-spread national media coverage (People, The New York Times, ABC News, The Guardian, IndieWire, Variety, Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, A.V. Club, etc.). In part, no doubt because, there’s a smidgen of salacious celebrity scandal in the mix. Tom Cruise is seen saluting LRH and promoting the Scientology brand while we’re lead to believe the breakup of Nicole Kidman and Cruise might’ve been, in part, instigated by prominent members of Scientology. Additionally, it seems John Travolta might be the victim of blackmail by the church since they have decades worth of extensive auditing records on him, and Paul Haggis, writer/director of Crash speaks extensively about his 35 year-long investment and “escape” from the church.

In addition to the Hollywood celebrities, Gibney musters a cadre of high-profile ex-Scientology members to speak directly about their comprehensive backgrounds in the church. One of the more disturbing accounts comes from Sarah Northrup, LRH’s second wife who testifies of LRH’s inveterate manipulation, abuse, kidnapping, and fraud. This testimony is further compounded by the other first-hand accounts of members who worked with LRH and his militant successor David Miscavige.

Going Clear is at once comedic—with references to Scientologists possessing super powers, e-meters that can weigh the mass of thoughts, L. Ron Hubbard’s early career as a pulp-sci-fi writer and connection with occultist Aleister Crowley to produce the literal anti-christ—and simultaneously disturbing—allegations of physical abuse, child neglect, blackmail, unlawful surveillance, litigious harassment, and various other cases of criminal activity. In fact, due to Scientology members stealing government documents in the 70s, the FBI conducted its largest raid (at the time) on the church. The scandal, intrigue, abuse, & corruption should compel viewers to ask, “How is this not a movie?” And they’d do well to recall, watch, or rewatch Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant quasi-biopic of LRH, The Master. At a cursory glance, likening Going Clear to The Battle for Citizen Kane doesn’t seem too far-fetched, at least not compared to LRH’s creation myth of Xenu whose overpopulated home-plant, 75 million years ago, resembled 1950s America! In this case, L. Ron Hubbard might appear akin to William Randolph Hearst.

While several comedians rushed to mock Scientology including David Letterman, Seth Meyers, and a few others, SNL’s spoof of the classic Scientology choir song “We Stand Tall” is undoubtedly the best—next of course to the now classic South Park episode “Trapped in the Closet”. In the SNL musical skit, Scientology becomes “Neurotology” and Dianetics—L. Ron Hubbard’s quintessential book—becomes “Diametrics”. The Underground Bunker provides a worthy breakdown of the SNL spoof and all its eastereggs—many of which are referenced in Going Clear. In this case, the more you know, the darker the humor seems, especially while juxtaposed with the golden-bathed upbeat choir—many of which are referenced in Going Clear.

And while it would’ve given the film a wholly judicious air to see more counterpoint from people within the church of Scientology or even some of the big players in the film—Miscavige, Cruise, Travolta, or even one of their spokes-people, representatives, or lawyers—Going Clear still manages to come across as considerate without being delicate toward the Church. It seems reasonable that many of the showcased characters would refuse to comment for a film they can’t ultimately control the bias and outcome of. Undoubtedly, however, none of that will make much difference to the Scientologists who by now consider Gibney “Fair Game” in their parlance and, ironically, any legal bullying to result from their retaliation will further solidify the assertions made about Scientology in Going Clear. If ever there was a time to take a passing interest in something like Scientology that might’ve seemed shrouded in mystery, now’s the time to do it. Now’s the time to “Go Clear”.

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About the Author: Like the young boys in Hugo, Cinema Paradiso, and Last Action Hero, Derek McDow found magic in movies and theaters at a young age. Similarly, like the protagonists in Barton Fink, Adaptation, and 8 1/2, he finds self-referential narratives of scriptwriters and directors fascinating. And if he’s being honest, Meta-films like All that Jazz, Birdman, and Synecdoche, New York will always bring out the cinephile fandom in him. Derek is also fascinated with the industry’s inside winks and nods, homages in movies about Hollywood--Sunset Blvd, All About Eve, and The Producers, to name a few. Instead of name-dropping and flouting credentials, Derek would like to articulate his passion for film in a series of "Documentary Digests" that he hopes you’ll read, enjoy, and commentate on. Visit him here at http://mcdowdy.blogspot.com/
ARTICLE REFERENCES:

symbiotic reviews music and movie reviews

Instant Gratification

In this age of digital streaming and 3D Plasma TV home viewing experiences, our preoccupation with replicating the cinema experience, no matter how futile, is at an all-time high. With that in mind, and with the knowledge that Netflix has monopolized our collective need for constant media, I've complied a list of films currently on instant that I feel are must-sees. These films are listed in their Netflix-inspired subgenres below.

by Jericho Cerrona April 27, 2015

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness 2014 [NR] 118 minutes

Based on your interest in: All things Studio Ghibli

Cast: Hayao Miyazaki, Hideaki Anno, Isao Takahata Director: Mami Sunada

Miele 2014 [R] 96 minutes

Based on your interest in: Dying with dignity and the Mexican Amy Seimetz

Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Carlo Cecchi Director: Valeria Golino

Winnebago Man 2010 [NR] 85 minutes

Based on your interest in: 90s VHS tapes, viral videos, and foul-mouthed salesmen outbursts

Cast: Jack Rebney, Ben Steinbauer, Keith Gordon Director: Ben Steinbauer

Manuscripts Don't Burn 2014 [NR] 125 minutes

Based on your interest in: Covert filmmaking, government-sanctioned murder, and subversive Iranian thrillers

Cast: Uncredited Director: Mohammas Rasoulof

Detachment 2012 [R] 100 minutes

Based on your interest in: Impassioned, scatological rants against the American public school system

Cast: Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, Marcia Gay Harden, Sami Gayle, Tim Blake Nelson, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Betty Kaye Director: Tony Kaye

Full Review Here

Nostalghia 1983 [NR] 125 minutes

Based on your interest in: Extended tracking shots, slow zoom lenses, and long stretches of ponderous soul-searching

Cast: Oleg Yankovsky, Erland Josephson, Domiziana Giordano Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

How To Train Your Dragon 2 2014 [PG] 102 minutes

Based on your interest in: Human/dragon bonding, Roger Deakins visual consulting, and epic swooping

Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, Kit Harrington, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig Director: Dean DeBlois

Full Review Here

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives 2011 [NR] 114 minutes

Based on your interest in: Hammocks, caverns, silent meals, glowing-eyed creatures, and sexualized catfish

Cast: Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Full Review Here

Summer of Blood 2014 [R] 86 minutes

Based on your interest in: Self-deprecating hipster vampires

Cast: Onur Tukel, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Dakota Goldhor Director: Onur Tukel

Computer Chess 2013 [NR] 92 minutes

Based on your interest in: Public access TV, nerd culture, possible artificial intelligence, hippie conferences, and CRT monitors

Cast: Patrick Riester, Wiley Wiggins, Myles Paige Director: Andrew Bujalski

Reviews At A Glance

Sometimes, writing in-depth reviews of everything can become daunting, especially when you find yourself with little down time. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a new segment called REVIEWS AT A GLANCE, a brief take on the movies and albums I’ve had in current rotation. It will mostly be newer stuff, since that’s what I focus on in terms of reviewing, but I might drop some old school gems in there from time to time.

What have you been watching and listening to?

March 21, 2015 by Jericho Cerrona

What I've Been Watching
Predestination is a sci-fi thriller/drama that places the mechanics of it's purposefully convoluted time-travel plot over everything else, including audience investment. Ethan Hawke is fine as a "temporal agent" trying to stop a terrorist and Sarah Snook is impressive in a dual role, but their performances are merely pieces of a narrative stunt which proves confusing in all the wrong ways. Dramatically flat and lacking genuine tension; with lame voiceover narration and clumsy editing, the film desperately wants to say something about gender identity, but keeps sidetracking itself with a series of big "reveals", leading up to a laughably contrived final reel. Predestination

The lives of two Italian families become interconnected in Paolo Virzi's Human Capital, a film which seeks to criticize the excesses of capitalism and the gap between the classes while also playing at times like a frothy melodrama. Virzi mixes up the timeline; showing us different sides to the story involving a fatal hit-and-run accident, with each perspective adding more context to the interweaving narrative. Though the mood is fatalistic and the acting mostly top-notch, there's a facile kind of sermonizing here that keeps the film from truly being as hard-hitting as it thinks it is. Human Capital

Philip Roth's much-reviled penultimate novel gets the Barry Levinson treatment in The Humbling; a flawed but intriguing riff on the art imitating life motif. Al Pacino gives a graceful, warts-and-all portrayal as a 67-year-old theater actor Simon Axler and Greta Gerwig lays on the quirk as a woman who once harbored a massive crush on him during her childhood. Wildly uneven; with odd lurches in tone and stabs at dark comedy, The Humbling nonetheless remains an engaging companion piece to Birdman, in how it zeroes in on ego and the artistic process of an aging thespian, hamstrung only by Roth's source material, which at times feels casually misogynistic. The Humbling
Writer-director Zak Hilditch's doomsday thriller may travel well-worn territory, but it remains a tensely involving genre picture due to it's gritty atmosphere and strong acting. Nathan Phillips plays the traditional everyman role with genuine intensity and emotion, and he's assisted by a terrific ensemble that also includes a coked-up, mohawk-wearing Daniel Henshall (The Snowtown Murders), whose lavish estate lays claim to wild end-of-the-world orgies and primitive violence. There's not much here that you haven't seen before, and the final act relies too heavily on special effects bombast, but Hilditch's debut shows real flair and if there's ever a place in which to set the encroaching apocalypse, it's Perth Australia. These Final Hours

Poignant, lyrical, and deeply humane, Valley of Saints shows us an area of the world rarely seen in cinema and gives us fully dimensional characters who never feel boxed in by plot constraints. Taking place in Kashmir and focusing on the strong friendship between two male friends working as tourist guides on the lake, things take a turn once a female environmentalist scientist shows up to do research on lake pollution. One of the men is instantly smitten, and though the rift that develops between the friends is predictable, Musa Syeed's low-key direction and the naturalistic performances from the non-professional cast raises the film above the simplistic and into the realm of casual greatness. Valley of Saints
What I've Been Listening To
Over the course of eight songs, Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Will Butler dives into chamber pop, rockabilly, synth-pop, and balladry, with the results being just as schizophrenic as that genre description sounds. Additionally, since his singing voice is so similar to his Arcade Fire frontman brother Win, and his lyrical concerns; capitalism, politics, faith etc, so teeming with the possibility of satire, it's tough to truly engage with much of the songwriting. There are a lot of good ideas here and Butler has certainly learned a thing or two in terms of writing palpable hooks, but there's simply too many different stylistic tones going on for Policy to emerge as little more than a frustrating, though entirely listenable, curio. Will Butler Policy 6 out of 10
A sweeping collection of alter-ego ruminations on love, loss, and nihilism, I Love You, Honeybear is singer/songwriter Josh Tillman's grand opus; an album trafficking in both Southern California ennui as well as digs at holding onto love in our social media-obsessed age. Though he's moved away from the druggy troubadour persona of 2012's Fear Fun in lieu of the vision of a newly married man attempting to scrape beneath the satire, there are still plenty of instances of his patented dry humor and self-deprecation. Most importantly, the record is the most sonically expansive thing he's done yet; from soulful jazz and electro-pop, to piano-aden balladry and bombastic baroque pop. Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear 7 out of 10
Electro/pop at it's most blandly neutered, Canadian duo Megan James and Corin Roddick's second album sounds like the worst kind of indie/mainstream crossover; a series of utterly forgettable tracks featuring booming synth lines, thudding bass, electronic beats, and vanilla female vocals that quickly become infuriating for refusing to even hint at experimentation. At least Purity Ring's debut record Shrines showed a measure of restraint and nuance. Here, everything is simply streamlined and turned up louder, resulting in something without a discernible identity. Crafting a pure pop album isn't really the problem; it's not like Purity Ring were ever seen as avant-garde or anything, but it doesn't even sound like James and Corin are convinced of their own mainstream appeal. Purity Ring Another Eternity 3 out of 10
The problem with maintaining such a prolific output is that after a certain amount of time, even possibly stellar material tends to get lost in the shuffle. No stranger to incredible productivity, legendary GBV frontman Robert Pollard has not only cranked out six records in two years with his old band, but also a string of solo material. Recording now under the moniker Ricked Wicky, I Sell The Circus sees Pollard in comfortable 60s rock'n roll territory, with some crunchier GBV-sounding slabs of 3-min lo-fi pop and a few minor detours into progressive rock rounding out the 15 tracks here. It's all very Pollard, which means that there are some excellent songs and some that don't work much at all, but it's biggest flaw is that it lacks the oddball sensibilities of his best work. Still, it's hard to complain about a guy whose been doing this for the better part of 30 years. Ricked Wicky I Sell The Circus 6 out of 10
Drone. Noise rock. 80's-influenced new wave. It's all here in spades on A Place To Bury Strangers fourth long-player; a record that feels at times oddly disconnected from their standard M.O.; namely, cranking up the distorted noise to overwhelming levels. Instead, Transfixiation tries to balance the bludgeoning cacophony with moments of sparseness and Joy Division-esque post-punk stomp, but the results are only intermittently successful. This identity crisis; of alternating between lo-fi fuzz and noisy pop, is intriguing in theory, but doesn't exactly translate well sonically. It's almost as if the Brooklyn trio's penchant for grueling dissonance has pushed them into a corner of trying to figure out how to mature with a sound that pushes against overt experimentation. A Place To Bury Strangers Transfixiation 5 out of 10

Best Performances of 2014

An impressive year in terms of technical achievement (Boyhood, Birdman, et al), 2014 also showcased some of the best acting in recent memory. Most of my favorite performances didn't exactly follow the "Oscar-ready" format, but were rather idiosyncratic turns in films that either broke cinematic rules or simply paved the way for interesting conversations. Instead of categorizing them in terms of "lead" and "supporting", I've simply listed them as complete feats of thespian greatness. So, without further ado, here are 10 amazing performances that deserve to be fawned over!

by Jericho Cerrona February 9, 2015

SCARLETT JOHANSSON Under The Skin
Scarlett Johansson's revelatory turn as an alien being sent to collect male specimens in Jonathan Glazer's extraordinary sci-fi parable is a performance utilizing understated facial expressions and a vacant stare to brilliant effect. An unfussy, understated performance so effectively detached it may largely go unnoticed, proving Johansson as more than just a pretty face.
ELEANORE PIENTA See You Next Tuesday
There's a streak of psychological horror running throughout Drew Tobia's black comedy that's reinforced by Eleanore Pienta's brashly committed performance as Mona, a 20-something pregnant train-wreck living in Brooklyn. A bold and at times alienating embodiment of a woman trapped inside her own body, Pienta reveals layers of self-doubt and insecurity that creates an emotionally devastating impact.
TESSA THOMPSON Dear White People
As Sam, the tenacious DJ who runs the button-pushing titular radio show in Justin Simien's razor-sharp debut about racial tolerance, Tessa Thompson is absolutely luminous, giving her fiercely intelligent character a wounded vulnerability that simmers beneath a sarcastic veneer. A star-making performance if there ever was one; simultaneously confident and fragile.
ELISABETH MOSS Listen Up Phillip
One of director Alex Ross Perry's most incisive decisions in his acidic satire about egotistical New York writers is to break the narrative up halfway through to focus on Elisabeth's Moss long-suffering girlfriend. Though Jason Schwartzman is pitch-perfect as a narcissistic wannabe Philip Roth stand-in, Moss is ultimately the heart of the film; bringing pangs of vulnerability to the role and in one particularly jaw-dropping scene, staging a tour-de-force of conflicting emotions that hits you right in the gut.
MIRA BARHAMMER, LIV LEMOYNE, MIRA GROSIN We Are The Best!
Three stand-out performances from child actors is a rarity, but what's even more impressive about the trio of pubescent girls in Lukas Moodysson's adorable coming-of-age romp is just how natural and winning they are without ever being cloying. There's nothing contrived about the work of Barhammer, Grosin, and leMoyne here; just a tactile sense of playfulness, tension, and female camaraderie that's always attune to the moment.
GABBY HOFFMAN Lyle
In Stewart Thorndike's creepily effective feminist twist on Rosemary's Baby, Gabby Hoffman plays a pregnant woman whose mental state is deteriorating due to past trauma. A bundle of frayed nerves, paranoia, and heightened emotions, Hoffman is in nearly every frame and absolutely commands the screen; never devolving into over-acting or cheap "horror"-esque melodrama. Instead, her motherly sense of fear is intensely unnerving and surprisingly moving.
GINA PIERSANTI It Felt Like Love
Showcasing both the awkwardness of sexual awakening as well as the possible dangers of growing up too fast, Gina Piersanti's acting debut in Eliza Hittman's lyrical coming-of-age tale is a revelation. Piersanti is so adept at projecting both a yearning for acceptance as well as confusion regarding her sexual urges, that her performance ultimately takes on a heartbreaking dimension that lingers.
MARION COTILLARD The Immigrant / Two Days, One Night
As a Polish native forced into prostitution in James Gray's intimate epic The Immigrant, Marion Cotillard uses her haunted gaze in order to distill the confusion, fear, and torment of coming to America with no prospects. It's a great performance made up mostly of gestures and held in the eyes; while in The Dardenne's social drama Two Days, One Night, she is similarly heartbreaking as a factory owner fighting to keep her job. If 2015 was indeed the year of Eisenberg, Marion Cotillard easily takes top honors on the female side.
PIERRETTE ROBITAILLE, ROMANE BOHRINGER Vic + Flo Saw A Bear
Playing the titular female loves in Denis Côté's unnerving domestic drama, Pierrette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer deliver indelible performances that are noteworthy for portraying women of a certain age in complex terms. Their co-dependent relationship is the heart of the film; with Robitaille revealing Vic as a haunted, deeply damaged individual and Bohrringer giving the younger Flo shades of wounded fragility. No matter how far Côté goes to mess with genre, it's these two performances that hold the whole thing together.
HADEWYCH MINIS Borgman
As a frazzled mother who feels pity (or middle-class guilt) for a bearded homeless man seeking to take a bath in her upscale home, Hadewych Minis effortlessly becomes an audience conduit in Alex van Warmerdam's deadpan black satire. Going through a variety of emotions; concern, confusion, fear, desire etc, Minis creates a wholly devastating portrait of a woman suffocated by bourgeoisie complacency.

Best Performances of 2014

An impressive year in terms of technical achievement (BoyhoodBirdman, et al), 2014 also showcased some of the best acting in recent memory. Most of my favorite performances didn't exactly follow the "Oscar-ready" format, but were rather idiosyncratic turns in films that either broke cinematic rules or simply paved the way for interesting conversations. Instead of categorizing them in terms of "lead" and "supporting", I've simply listed them as complete feats of thespian greatness. So, without further ado, here are 10 amazing performances that deserve to be fawned over!

by Jericho Cerrona February 9, 2015

BRONTIS JODOROWSKY The Dance of Reality
Playing the role of Jaime Jodorowsky, the grandfather of cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky in this semi-autobiographical tale about growing up in Chile, Brontis Jodorowsky goes full meta as a Stalin-obsessed tyrant who rules with an iron fist. The performance is infused with pain, anger, and undercurrents of emotional insecurity; a larger-than-life, melodramatic turn in a film that absolutely requires it soar.
JOAQUIN PHOENIX Inherent Vice
As stoner P.I. Doc Sportello in Paul Thomas Anderson's faithful adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel Inherent Vice, Joaquin Phoenix gives the loosest, most warmly resonant performance of his career. Moments of broad comedy are broken up by subtle reactions and half-muttered ramblings of a man desperately trying to keep up with the spiraling red herrings of the narrative-defying plot; all delivered in a brilliant state of stoned euphoria.
RALPH FIENNES The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ralph Fiennes is an absolute hoot as wealthy concierge Gustave H. in Wes Anderson's lively ode to 30s screwball farce; giving us a mischievous gentlemen out of step with his time. Fienne's way with a razor-sharp quip and knack for physical comedy is completely in tune with Anderson's playful direction, resulting in the year's most purely enjoyable performance.
TIMOTHY SPALL Mr. Turner
Timothy Spall's performance as British painter J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh's sprawling biopic is absolutely miraculous; a series of grunts, grimaces, and odd facial expressions that also makes room for startling emotional beats. Rather than play the enigmatic Turner in the kind of "Oscar-baiting" traditional manner, Spall gives us a warts and all depiction; full of self-loathing, sexual deviance, and a social awkwardness that transcends whatever preconceived notions we might have about troubled artists.
ED RYAN Soft in the Head
As Maury, a halfway house leader in Nathan Silver's fly-on-the-wall mosaic of being young and reckless in Brooklyn, Ed Ryan delivers a tender and empathetic performance that offsets the film's overall swirl of chaotic emotion. Ultimately, Ryan's work as a kind-hearted caregiver to those society has given up on is so naturalistically organic, that it's impossible not to be moved.
JESSE EISENBERG The Double / Night Moves
In Kelly Reichardt's slow-burn eco-terrorist/humanist drama Night Moves, Jesse Eisenberg gave the year's eeriest depiction of a sociopath (sorry Jake Gyllenhaal), while in Richard Ayoade's dark satire The Double, he combined the dickish confidence displayed in The Social Network with the nebbish timidity from The Squid and The Whale for a dual role of comedic/dramatic brilliance. 2014 may just have been the year of Eisenberg.
MACON BLAIR Blue Ruin
Writer/director Jeremy Sauliner's tightly constructed revenge thriller made waves on the festival circuit and for good reason, but much of that success is due to Macon Blair's terrific central performance as Dwight; a homeless man reeling from past trauma who takes it upon himself to exact revenge on a scuzzy redneck just released from prison. Unlike most genre movie protagonists, Blair plays Dwight as a lost soul simply trying to retain his sanity; an emotionally fraught, tense, steely-eyed piece of acting that completely upends expectations.
DAVID OYELOWO Selma
Ava DuVernay's searing portrait of a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement could have gone the way of the mawkish biopic route if the central performance wasn't on point, but David Oyelowo's performance as Martin Luther King Jr. is a wholly committed, towering achievement. The difficulty of crafting a vision of King that lives up to his magnetic presence is daunting, but Oyelowo brings various shades to the role; going beyond mere mimicry and giving us a fully-dimensional, flawed, but still entirely inspiring personality.
JACK O'CONNELL Starred Up
Jack O' Connell gives a tremendous, star-making performance as a violate 19-year-old transferred to an adult prison in David MacKenzie's unflinching prison drama. Cocky, aggressive, intense, and at times emotionally vulnerable, O' Connell gives us a vision of undisciplined youthful rage that never feels contrived or manipulative. A superlative piece of work that should skyrocket the actor to the stratosphere.
MICHAEL FASSBENDER Frank
The idea of casting a magnetic actor known for his good looks and thespian ability and then shielding his face under a papier-mâché helmet is a risky one, but Lenny Abrahamson does just that with Michael Fassbender in his disarming film Frank. As the elusive ringleader of a band of avant-garde musicians, Fassbender creates the year's most beguiling character. A physical, endearing, bizarre, and ultimately, extremely moving performance.

Armando's Favorite 25 Films of 2014

Armando Rivera, the most even-keeled member of THE THIRD ACT PODCAST is a man with an uncanny knack for snoozing during pivotal moments of celebrated films and whose much-repeated refrain "Cool movie" became the catchphrase of the year. His list of 25 favorites from 2014 are bold, varied, and evocative; much like Mr. Rivera himself.

by Armando Rivera February 1, 2015

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UNDER THE SKIN
25-11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Armando's Favorite 25 Films of 2014

Armando Rivera, the most even-keeled member of THE THIRD ACT PODCAST is a man with an uncanny knack for snoozing during pivotal moments of celebrated films and whose much-repeated refrain "Cool movie" became the catchphrase of the year. His list of 25 favorites from 2014 are bold, varied, and evocative; much like Mr. Rivera himself.

by Armando Rivera February 1, 2015

Previous 3. Next
INHERENT VICE
25-11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Armando's Favorite 25 Films of 2014

Armando Rivera, the most even-keeled member of THE THIRD ACT PODCAST is a man with an uncanny knack for snoozing during pivotal moments of celebrated films and whose much-repeated refrain "Cool movie" became the catchphrase of the year. His list of 25 favorites from 2014 are bold, varied, and evocative; much like Mr. Rivera himself.

by Armando Rivera February 1, 2015

Previous 4. Next
WHIPLASH
25-11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Armando's Favorite 25 Films of 2014

Armando Rivera, the most even-keeled member of THE THIRD ACT PODCAST is a man with an uncanny knack for snoozing during pivotal moments of celebrated films and whose much-repeated refrain "Cool movie" became the catchphrase of the year. His list of 25 favorites from 2014 are bold, varied, and evocative; much like Mr. Rivera himself.

by Armando Rivera February 1, 2015

Previous 5. Next
CITIZENFOUR
25-11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Armando's Favorite 25 Films of 2014

Armando Rivera, the most even-keeled member of THE THIRD ACT PODCAST is a man with an uncanny knack for snoozing during pivotal moments of celebrated films and whose much-repeated refrain "Cool movie" became the catchphrase of the year. His list of 25 favorites from 2014 are bold, varied, and evocative; much like Mr. Rivera himself.

by Armando Rivera February 1, 2015

Previous 6. Next
STARRED UP
25-11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Armando's Favorite 25 Films of 2014

Armando Rivera, the most even-keeled member of THE THIRD ACT PODCAST is a man with an uncanny knack for snoozing during pivotal moments of celebrated films and whose much-repeated refrain "Cool movie" became the catchphrase of the year. His list of 25 favorites from 2014 are bold, varied, and evocative; much like Mr. Rivera himself.

by Armando Rivera February 1, 2015

Previous 7. Next
NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY
25-11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Armando's Favorite 25 Films of 2014

Armando Rivera, the most even-keeled member of THE THIRD ACT PODCAST is a man with an uncanny knack for snoozing during pivotal moments of celebrated films and whose much-repeated refrain "Cool movie" became the catchphrase of the year. His list of 25 favorites from 2014 are bold, varied, and evocative; much like Mr. Rivera himself.

by Armando Rivera February 1, 2015

Previous 8. Next
A SUMMER'S TALE
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Armando's Favorite 25 Films of 2014

Armando Rivera, the most even-keeled member of THE THIRD ACT PODCAST is a man with an uncanny knack for snoozing during pivotal moments of celebrated films and whose much-repeated refrain "Cool movie" became the catchphrase of the year. His list of 25 favorites from 2014 are bold, varied, and evocative; much like Mr. Rivera himself.

by Armando Rivera February 1, 2015

Previous 9. Next
THE MISSING PICTURE
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