Listen Up Philip

October 30th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments

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A movie about complicated, neurotic Jewish New York writers made grainy 70s style in Super 16mm? Maybe that doesn’t sound so appealing to everyone on Earth, but I’m definitely the kind of guy to go for that. Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip is a funny, brainy, exercise in recreating the kind of charming, intellectual, well-paced movie about writers, New York, old age, male-friendship and sour relationships that doesn’t really exist anymore. It is, indeed, very reminiscent of late 70s/early 80s Woody Allen.

Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) is a writer about to release his second novel. His first novel was pretty successful and the success has very much gone to his head and made him a dick. He meets up with old friends and girlfriends for the sole purpose of shoving his success in their faces and belittling them. He wants everyone to know that he’s somebody now so fuck them. Additionally and understandably, his relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley Kane (Elizabeth Moss) is shaky.

Ike Zimmerman (an excellent Jonathan Pryce), an older, highly respected author – clearly meant to be a take on Philip Roth - enjoyed Philip’s books immensely. He soon befriends and begins mentoring Philip. He invites Philip to stay at his summer home with him, where they can write in quiet away from the city. The arrangement is a pleasant one for both of them, though the presence of Ike’s daughter Melanie (Krysten Ritter) makes it somewhat less pleasant for Ike.

A lot more happens that I won’t go into because the film, though mainly focused on Philip, after this point takes time to explore what happens to its other two main characters, Ike and Ashley, in lengthy and in-depth segments. It’s another nice, unusual touch that adds to the film’s charm, as well as its running time.

Though sympathetic to women – mainly by virtue of the time it devotes to Ashley’s story – Listen Up Philip is very much a movie about men. Not particularly likeable men, but, admittedly, interesting men. Philip’s lack of empathy and understanding towards the women in his life turns them against him one after another, but we also see how he can be charming and fun enough to attract them in the first place. Ike serves as a somewhat grim image of what awaits Philip in time: success, but loneliness, frustration, and ultimately misery tempered by the comforts of male friendship, which, lacking the issues of dependency inherent to romantic or business relationships, Philip and Ike actually manage well.

The one gripe I had with the film is that Philip and Melanie never hook up. When they first meet, Melanie tells Philip something like “I don’t find you charming. You’re just like him.” Of course she does find him attractive and the film makes that borderline clear, but Philip never takes advantage of this, perhaps fearing it may affect the one good relationship in his life, his relationship with Ike. However, it would have been wonderfully Freudian, if also predictable.

Some will despise Listen Up Philip for its lack of likeable characters and the parade of toxic relationships on display, but Perry makes sure that there’s just enough humour and sweet moments – like Ashley’s flashbacks to the good times she and Philip had together, or Philip’s time with Ike – to keep the movie from Cassavetes-esque viewing difficulty. And meanwhile, there’s the film’s intelligence and referential, self-aware style, replete with cool, jazzy soundtrack. Maybe it’s just because I’m now a neurotic Jewish New Yorker, but I got what Perry was going for.

The Blue Room

October 24th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments

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French actor Mathieu Amalric‘s directorial debut finds him ably filming (and acting in) a fairly conventional (and verrry French) story about a man, two women, and a murder.

Julien works for an agritech business. He’s got a beautiful wife and child, a nice home near a small city… There isn’t even some lingering ennui or anything. But even so, he’s easily seduced by a former classmate: the tall, dark-haired Esther, who has apparently had a thing for him for a very long time.

Esther is married to a sick man who will likely die soon. At that point she’ll inherit his money (of which there appears to be plenty) and can run off with Julien, who she expects will leave his wife for her. But just to be sure…

The Blue Room isn’t a bad film, but it is one that’s been done to death and better (and smarter). There is nothing particularly interesting about it. The film is well shot, the acting is serviceable, but beyond that there’s nothing innovative or unusual about this take on a worn out scenario.

Seconds

October 19th, 2014 | Print | 0 Comments

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Bryan Lee O’Malley follows his now-classic Scott Pilgrim series with the whimsical Seconds, a graphic novel about a woman whose life becomes a little complicated after finding some mushrooms and a notepad that allow her to alter the her recent past.

Katie is 29 years old and works as a chef at a popular restaurant called Seconds. She recently acquired a property and is working on turning it into her own new restaurant to be called Katie’s. She encounters a mysterious hipster-y looking girl in her room one day and then finds a little box in a drawer with a mushroom, a notepad, and instructions to eat the mushroom and rewrite the past in the notepad the way she would have liked it to be. She starts doing this innocently, changing little things, but as she continues, the changes and the new worlds she creates with each revision become a bit much for her to handle. Not to mention that creepy hipster house spirit adding to her difficulties…

I bought Seconds, like most people probably did, because I truly, truly loved the Scott Pilgrim series (as well as the movie) and was anxious to see what its creator would come up with next. Seconds, however, is not the book for people like this, i.e. those looking for something resembling Scott Pilgrim.  It does feature the same basic art and a similar writing style and sense of humour, but it’s a completely different kind of book, with none of the geeky reference points and unabashed romance that made Scott Pilgrim resonate with so many readers, myself included.

Seconds is cute. It’s a well-written and composed story with a kind of ‘meh’ premise and likeable but not particularly interesting characters. Perhaps it was simply the cute, little story O’Malley wanted to tell, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, unfortunately, Seconds is nothing particularly special.

Red Cabin

October 14th, 2014 | This Is New York | 0 Comments

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Though in recent years my tastes and posts on this blog have moved into weirder and more experimental territory, I’m still a sucker for power-pop and a damn good melody. Long Island-based artist Jonathan Foster, working under the pseudonym Red Cabin, sent over his new album, Right This Way, and though a bit cutesy, it’s got the hooks to make the books (or the blogs, I guess). Comparisons to Blue Album-era Weezer and A.C. Newman‘s solo work are quick to come to mind, though Right This Way‘s homespun cleanliness really stations it in the same conversation as Paul McCartney‘s RAM.

The Massive

October 14th, 2014 | Print | 0 Comments

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I had wanted to read Brian Wood‘s The Massive for a long time, and I finally managed to grab the first graphic novel volume of it at New York Comic Con this weekend.

Set after a massive ecological catastrophe called ‘the crash’ that essentially fucked up the entire planet, the story centres on environmental group Ninth Wave aboard their ship The Kapital as they try and locate their other ship, The Massive, which went missing some time ago.

The crew aboard The Kapital is an interesting mix of ex-mercenaries, environmentalists, engineers, etc. trying to keep shit together in the wake of ‘the crash’. They debate just how pacifist they should remain, as the world has gotten a whole lot rougher what with the scarcity of water and other vital supplies. They try to get along and understand each other despite their radically different backgrounds. Sometimes things get difficult.

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Though it started off a little slow, towards the end I started getting into the comic and relating to the characters more. Wood’s imagining of the vast and incredible the changes that occur to the Earth in ‘the ‘crash’ is also exciting and terrifying. Additionally, the artwork by Kristian Donaldson and Garry Brown manages a great job of capturing the grittiness of the comic’s brave new post-’crash’ world.

I look forward to picking up the next volume soon.

p.s. for those who don’t know Brian Wood, his first work, Channel Zero, is also really, really cool and political.

Borgman

October 13th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments

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Borgman is a Dutch thriller that came out in 2013, but has in recent months been making its way around the independent theatre circuit in North America. It is now available on DVD and On Demand. I picked it up at my favourite local bar/screening room/video rental place, Brooklyn’s excellent Videology.

Directed by Alex Van Warmerdam, Borgman is a strange, unnerving film about a group of human-like beings (they’re not exactly human because they have certain special powers) who subtly invade a family’s home and life. The film and its villains are creepy in the way classic European folk tales (like that of that erlking) can be, but the film is not a retelling of an old story, nor is it clear if the film’s villains are anything we’re familiar with, like vampires. Some parts of the film (as well as online commentators) suggest that they’re angels or demons or something. In any case, we never find out. We kind of just have to go with it.

The narrative starts rolling when Camiel Borgman (pictured on the poster above) knocks on the door of a nice house and asks the man who answers if he can take a shower, as he’s a traveler and hasn’t been able to clean himself in some time. The man, understandably weirded out, tells him no, but Borgman says he knows the man’s wife, in a feeble lie that quickly becomes obvious. Regardless, he makes the man very upset to the point that he loses his patience with the stranger, beating him to the ground until the wife manages restrain her husband. Feeling guilty for her husband’s behaviour, she later lets the man temporarily stay in their shed and takes care of him. And so it begins. Soon Borgman manages to ingratiate himself and his friends with every member of the family, including the kids. As he does so, he insidiously turns the wife against her husband, in part by manipulating her dreams at night as he crouches, naked, on top of her asleep in bed.

What’s interesting about Borgman is how mysterious it is. Some viewers might be infuriated by the lack of answers the film offers, but others will be drawn in by the often incomprehensible actions of whatever it is these nefarious persons working with Borgman are. Personally, I would’ve liked some answers by the end. Where did the idea for these things even come from? Is the film a morality tale? A modern retelling of the story of Adam and Eve? Or is Alex Van Warmerdam just laughing somewhere at how confounded everyone writing about this film is? I don’t know. But maybe for some the mystery is simply better off without a big reveal at the end.

Dilly Dally

October 12th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

10704409_10152352466231519_602268639793220912_oToronto’s Dilly Dally have been around for a while, making a catchy little racket. Those of us in Toronto (or who used to be in Toronto) have been feeling it for a while. Glad to see everyone else (i.e. Pitchfork) catching on. They’ve got a 7″ dropping this week on Fat Possum.

(Btw, for those keeping track, this was also recorded with Josh Korody and his studio partner Leon Taheny.)

Cochlear Kill

October 11th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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Melbourne shoegazers Cochlear Kill add some electronic and suuuper 80s elements into the melodic, heavily My Bloody Valentine-indebted mix to produce a winning combo on “Insomi-Stations”, off their upcoming EP, Colour Me Radd.

Also thought I’d post their older but still pretty solid track “To Anywhere But Here”, which, even down to its title, is a My Bloody Valentine rewrite, albeit a good one.

Fou

October 8th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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Fort Worth, Texas-based dream pop crew Fou join Julia Brown in making really beautiful, intimate, heartfelt tunes for a new generation of heartbreak. That’s not to say the two bands really sound alike (also, Fou‘s recordings aren’t really lo-fi) but there’s a similar sentiment.

Strange what grows in odd places.

Ashan

October 4th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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Oakland-based Ashan makes electronic music inspired by nature. It’s got a bit of a new age vibe to it. He probably does yoga.