CIFF Capsule Review: Two Days, One Night

October 1, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0500.JPGFew filmmakers have been more consistent than the Dardenne’s when it comes to making quality movies. Their new film about a woman given a weekend to win her blue-collar job back while battling depression continues their reign atop the world of human stories.

Marion Cotillard, best known in the States for her work with Christopher Nolan, gives a brave performance in her native tongue. The supporting cast is a hodge podge of everyday French citizens that do well to preserve the Dardenne’s naturalistic perspective.

It’s a long 95 minutes, but you do feel something for Cotillard’s character by the end. She certainly hasn’t won her fight against depression, but there is a light shining down, however briefly.

Two Days, One Night will be playing at the Chicago International Film Festival October 16th at 6:00pm and October 19th at 6:15pm

Prince-Art Official Age

September 30, 2014 Leave a comment

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If PlectrumElectrum was Prince’s throw back to guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, Art Official Age must be his homage to soul luminaries like The Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye (plus Parliament). It’s a neo-soul record that blurs the line between classic and contemporary R&B. It’s the closest thing to Purple Rain he’s made in decades. Skewering some of todays biggest acts, he goes heavier on production cues and auto-tune, but the music is still steeped in that same raw sexual energy that made him famous so many years ago. I don’t think it’s quite as good as his other release of the day, but I certainly don’t have any problem with Art Official Age.

The song “Breakdown” could be one of the best songs of his career, or at least this later era. It plays like a sonic cousin of “The Beautiful Ones,” written by a more mature man who’s been to the puppet show and seen the strings. It’s also a bit of a tongue in cheek reference to some of the lesser r&b tracks since he came on the scene-the laser sounds are maybe my favorite part of any record so far this year.

I said it in my review of PlectrumElectrum, and I’ll say it again here: I honestly think Prince is getting better as he ages. I don’t know how it’s possible, but it’s happening. His ideas for how music can work were so far ahead of their time in the 80’s that they still feel innovative today, and his current work will probably still seem fresh in another 30 years. He’s working on a different level than everyone else.

If you’ve been to one of his after shows, you have a pretty good idea of the vibe he’s putting out on Art Official Age. The band he’s surrounded himself with is amazing, and he lets them shine every chance he gets.

Great record. Two great records. That is all. Go listen to them.

CIFF Capsule Review: The Clouds Of Sils Maria

September 30, 2014 Leave a comment

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Has Juliette Binoche ever delivered a poor performance? The answer, to be blunt, is no. She’s one of those actors who is spot on regardless of the material she’s given. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to see Olivier Assayas’s latest film, The Clouds Of Sils Maria. The film features a small but great mostly female cast with supporting roles played by Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz.

Assayas has come into his own as a director over his last few films, so it’s no surprise that he brought back his favorite star Binoche. She plays a famous actor confronted with her own maturation when a hotshot director asks her to revisit the play that made her famous. The problem: he wants her to play the role of Helena, the defeated older woman seduced by the younger Sigrid-the part that launched her career twenty years earlier.

The film is dialogue-driven, but features some amazing landscapes from the area of Sils Maria in Switzerland. It’s beautiful to look at, but the script, sometimes brutally funny, gives you a lot to think about.

The Clouds Of Sils Maria has two showings at the Chicago International Film Festival-October 16th at 8:15pm and October 18th at 4:30. You can find tickets here.

Prince & 3rd Eye Girl-PLECTRUMELECTRUM

September 30, 2014 1 comment

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How has he managed to stay this cool for this long? While most peers of Prince have aged into recidivism, putting out awful records to cash in on their name, The Purple One has stayed true to his artistic vision. Not only has he kept the music funky, he’s actually getting better. You can try to refute that point if you’d like, but I would urge you to check out his latest album PlectrumElectrum (1 of 2 brand new releases) before you speak out.

Playing with his band 3rdEyeGirl, Prince seems focused in a way he hasn’t been since Musicology. After seeing him play three times over the past few years without EVER seeing him touch a guitar, I’m happy to report that his axe comes out to play quite a bit here. The people who laugh at me when I list him in my top 3 guitarists of all-time will be regretting their actions after they hear riffs like the white-hot “AintTurninRound.” And when Prince isn’t ripping off tasty solos, he leaves it for 3rdEyeGirl guitarist Donna Grantis who is more than capable of spectacular sounds.

I’ve been surprised by how much I like the non-Prince sections of the album. 3rdEyeGirl isn’t just a backing band for the legendary star. No, they’re quite good all on their own, adding a little pop to this mostly rock and roll record. I don’t care that much for “Whitecaps,” but the track “BoyTrouble” is a straight 80’s funk jam with beats that would make Missy Elliott jealous.

I don’t have much else to say about PlectrumElectrum. Everybody will have their own opinion, but if you like your Prince in guitar god mode, this is the record you’ve been waiting for. And there’s still plenty for those non-guitar lovers as well.

CIFF Capsule Review: Force Majeure

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

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Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure already won over many critics at this years Cannes Film Festival. Now it’s set to play here in Chicago for one of the most prestigious festivals in North America. Certainly a very European film, I think the darkly comic tone may help provide a foothold for American audiences to get lost in the story.

Östlund could not have chosen a better setting for this story. The idyllic ski resort is one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen on film in quite a while. The snow-covered mountains evoke a heavenly atmosphere, though we quickly learn that this family ski vacation will be anything but.

The camerawork is phenomenal, but the two lead actors really drive the film. Lisa Loven Kongsli, as Ebba, gives a particularly special performance as a wife and mother holding things together by the skin of her teeth.

The film has two showings, October 10th at 8:15pm and October 12th at 5:30pm. Find tickets here.

Blake Mills at Mayne Stage 9/28/2014

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

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Blake Mills is an interesting cat. He’s got a real laid back vibe, kind of a Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter-y thing. It lulls you into a false sense of calm, because out of nowhere he comes at you with these ferocious guitar riffs. He’s a bit hard to describe if you haven’t seen him live. He plays the songs that you know from the records, but they’re completely different-somehow more intimate and urgent, like he’s confiding something in you that’s eating him up inside.

This tour he’s currently doing is really cool. All small, seated venues that creates even more intimacy. Last night I caught him at Mayne Stage on the far north side of Chicago. First time at that concert space, and I was blown away by just how cozy it is. For a guy who toured with Fiona Apple on her last tour and played places that can hold thousands, this was a big change of pace. He seems to like it that way, though, as he remained seated all night as well.

The tickets say An Evening With Blake Mills, so the assumption that there would not be an opener was right on. Still, the concert started after a delay of about 20 minutes. Blake came out with his band and launched into a set that covered not just his new record Heigh Ho almost entirely, but also some Break Mirrors tracks and a couple covers.

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One of the great things about Mills is his encyclopedic knowledge of all genres of music. The covers that he plays are great on their own, but the way takes the spirit of the original and adds his own spin is a thing of beauty. His version of the Joe Tex’s soul stunner “I’ll Never Do You Wrong” came just three songs into the set, and I honestly would’ve been happy with an all covers set after that.

After three more brilliant tracks (2 from Heigh Ho, 1 from Break Mirrors), Mills brought out his special guest, Fiona Apple. She’s been coming out at every show so far this tour, so it wasn’t a shocking surprise, but a welcome addition to the show. What WAS surprising is the fact that their first song together was a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” in which Apple completely blew the roof off the place. I’ve only seen her live one time, but I’ve never seen her sing like that. Joplin-like, honestly. I’ve always wanted her to do a more bluesy record, and based on this performance I’m hoping for that even more now.

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They also performed “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me” and “Seven,” which were both lovely. Apple left to great applause, and Mills and his band carried on without her for the rest of the show. As great as Apple’s appearance was, the fifteen minute jam that closed the main set stole the show in my mind. It started off as the Break Mirrors track “Women Know,” and quickly evolved into an epic virtuoso guitar performance that left many slack-jawed and shaking their heads in disbelief (maybe it was just me). You can click here for a quick little taste.

After receiving a standing ovation, the band came back out and did a great version of  Lonnie Johnson’s tune “Tomorrow Night.” And that song ended one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while. If you’re in the northeast you have a few chances to catch him before this tour ends. He’s hitting Cambridge, Brooklyn, DC, Philly, and NYC over the next couple weeks. Find tickets here and go if you can!

    1. If I’m Unworthy
    2. Hey Lover
    3. I’ll Never Do You Wrong (Joe Tex cover)
    4. Cry to Laugh
    5. It’ll All Work Out
    6. Three Weeks In Havana
    7. Gold Coast Sinkin
    8. It’s Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover with Fiona Apple)
    9. Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me (Fiona Apple)
    10. Seven (Fiona Apple)
    11. Half Asleep
    12. Under the Underground
    13. Before It Fell
    14. Women Know
      — Encore –
    15. Tomorrow Night

You can find more pictures from the show here.

My Top 10 Films Of All-Time

September 27, 2014 Leave a comment

It dawned on me this morning that if I’m going to be covering the Chicago International Film Festival starting next week, maybe I should give you some insight into my history with the pictures. I was actually much more interested in film than music throughout my teen years, absorbing as much as I could in the small town where I lived. It wasn’t until I went off to college that music became a much bigger part of my life as the internet and Napster brought everything right to your computer.

So, to bring you up to speed these are my ten favorite films of all-time. Hopefully it will provide some perspective on my coverage of the titles I get to see over the next couple weeks. Feel free to comment below with your own top ten and/or criticism/praise.

10. Pulp Fiction-This one started it all for me, really. I had seen a lot of the classics, but this was the first movie from the wave of auteurs (Tarantino, PTA, et al) who were coming on as I was starting to discover a lot of the same directors who influenced their work.

9. Casablanca-We had to watch this in an English class at my high school. Almost everyone either fell asleep or kept busy passing notes. I was riveted. It took a few days of class to get through the movie, and I couldn’t wait to sit down every day and start it up.

8. Network-I came to this one a bit late, having just seen it maybe 8 years ago for the first time. It’s strange that it feels even more relevant to today’s world than it did in the 70’s. Every performance is perfect, and it’s no wonder it won every award known to man.

7. Chinatown-I love everything about this movie. Polanski creates a perfect noir atmosphere in this detective story starring Jack Nicholson. A lot of ideas for this film show up in Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential and they’re brilliant in both.

6. Raging Bull-Scorsese is my favorite filmmaker, and Raging Bull is an absolute masterpiece of style and substance. The black and white photography is outstanding, De Niro and Pesci are incendiary, and the script is a brutal character study of a broken man.

5. Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back-Yeah.

4. The Godfather, pt II-The Godfather is a near perfect film, which is insane because The Godfather, Pt II is even BETTER! Al Pacino has been great in a ton of movies, but he’s never been better than his portrayal of Michael Corleone in this film. Coppola spent the 70’s making huge, sweeping epics and he’s revered now because they’re all so well done.

3. Back To The Future-Some people might think Back To The Future doesn’t belong in a list surrounded by some of these other films. Those people are wrong. Robert Zemeckis does the impossible with BTTF, he makes a time travel movie that doesn’t seem completely stupid. Add in the hilarious Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox’s winning personality and you get a movie so rewatchable I’m shocked I don’t have it on right now.

2. Vertigo-The films Hitchcock made with Jimmy Stewart are all universally great. Any one of them could make this list (and honestly, I almost added Rope at the end). After years of playing the sweet, charming guy in studio pictures, Stewart shows his range as he becomes unhinged in this psycho-sexual thriller.

1. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington-Any time I’m feeling down about the state of things in our country, I know that I can throw on Frank Capra’s patriotic “one-man-can-make-a-difference” movie and be optimistic again. Another Stewart-led title, with Claude Rains and Jean Arthur in great supporting roles.

Categories: Music Review
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