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Category: Music

Neon Hustle

Amy : Movie Review

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Asif Kapadia’s moving documentary Amyabout the short tragic life and career of Amy Winehouse will surely break your heart. On the eve of the 4th anniversary of her death (July 23rd 2011) we can only stop and think what could have been, how could have it all gone differently? Amy does a great job of introducing us to the person behind the persona. She felt like someone you grew up with, “a sweet girl who could tell a blue joke.” The film shows that she was driven on a path to succeed and self-destruct. In the end, she was the architect of her own life and death.

amy-winehouse-documentary-trailer-1By using archival footage, personal correspondence and interviews with the people that were closest to her; Kapadia’s film shows a portrait of an artist that comes from humble beginnings and then is devoured by the gears of fame. The sense you get is Amy never sought stardom, she only wanted to make music. She would have been happier singing to a few hundred people in a smokey jazz bar than headlining the Glastonbury Festival. Her gift for lyrics and her charisma, along with her voice (oh that voice) made her remaining relatively obscure an impossibility. Her fate was sealed the minute she stepped up to the mike and the world heard her sing. The incomparable Tony Bennett (who makes an appearance in the film) compares her voice to that of Ella or Billie. Amy Winehouse was just getting started when the booze, drugs and a toxic marriage steered her off course. The success of Rehab skyrocketed her to the unbelievable scrutiny of the press. Everywhere she went she was greeted with a blitzkrieg of flashbulbs and every miss-step became tabloid fodder. The film puts you into claustrophobic situations where the press feel so oppressive and alienating. Unfortunately this resulted in Amy retreating into more and more substances which ultimately took her life.

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But before our hearts are broken, they are filled with some pretty sweet music. Many songs get their proper due along with their lyrics. Back in 2007, I had the privilege to see Amy Winehouse live. She performed in a small club with The Dap Kings. She was at that moment in a good place and delivered on the promise of being the next Ella or Billie.

We can still ask,What could have been?” Amy was always going to be Amy, and the world both benefited by this and was devastated by it.

4/5

Lists the Season: The Almost But Not Quite of 2014

63e585fdbec5de61c1ec3b78d954db5fIt’s that time of the year again: lists, lists and more lists. Everyone’s counting down the best and worst 2014 had to offer in movies, TV, music, art and media and I’m no exception. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, who doesn’t like making lists? There were some great offerings this past year and as far as movies go; Boyhood, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel were all brilliant. Television brought us great new shows like Fargo, True Detective and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. But for every delight like Louie’s violin duet we were also subjected to dreck like Oh Shenandoah. It was an unfortunate year for some really good shows that kind of lost their way, as well as some really dreadful things that got way too much traction. I’m going to focus this list on the Almost But Not Quites: things that didn’t quite gel, sometimes because their execution was a little off and others because they were just plain awful.

8. U2’s free album. I do feel the state of music is at an all time low right at the moment, but I was surprised by the vitriol unleashed by the internet when the biggest band on the planet tried to give them something for free. People were truly offended by this act. They felt violated; like someone had come into their homes uninvited, stayed too long and told a bunch of really boring stories. U2’s album suffered more from being hum-drum than being outright bad, and that I guess is the most unforgivable act of all.

97305c2b320d4709c79c2cdfa6e1eab87. American Horror Story: Freakshow. It pains me to write this, but our little horror soap-opera has gone off the rails. This season has no real cohesion, emotional center or satisfying endgame in sight. It feels like they’re making it up as they go. Unfortunately, AHS suffers from the same problem U2 does; their past accomplishments make their new ones feel sloppy and substandard. What happened to Twisty or Life on Mars? It started with promise and then just faltered. The only thing that could possibly redeem this season for me is if the final scene was literally the fat lady singing and then we would all know that it was mercifully over.

6.  Gone Girl. This movie made it onto a number of best-of lists and I’m a little confused as to why.This is probably the best example of Almost But Not Quite on this list. I reviewed the audio-book  a little earlier and came away with a lot of problems, none of which the movie solved.  The film did have some great ingredients like Rosamund Pike and David Fincher but didn’t wring out any real coherent insight. In the end, the premise is silly and the results too unbelievable.

5. House of Cards Season 2. Speaking of silly and unbelievable, enough said.

1D274907462463-fallon-seinfeld4. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy Fallon is supposedly killing it right now as the new king of late night. I’ll hand it to him, he knows how to create social media buzz with short celebrity filled memes that have a life after 11:35, but I realized the other day; the reason he does so much game playing with his guests is because he’s a terrible interviewer. The games are there to fill the gaping hole that has been created. He talks as much about himself as he tries to create conversation. He seems nice enough, but when Colbert shows up next year, Jimmy’s in trouble.

3. The Strain. What started out compelling soon turned into well… a strain.

download2. The Newsroom. I am going to miss this show. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more pretentious and condescending, they really outdid themselves on their final kick at the cat, and when I say cat – I mean social media and when I say kick -I mean whine incessantly at. Throw in a whole lot of sexism and romantic subplots that had the fizzling tension of a Who’s the Boss? episode and you have the show you love to hate.

1. The art of James Franco. I think the most obnoxious thing of 2014 was the ill conceived re-imagining of Cindy Sherman’s untitled film stills (see top of  postby Mr. James Franco. There are no words. In 2015, please leave the art making to the real artists.   

Oh Yeah

10 year old mix full of sunshine.

Tycho live in Toronto

So  I’d have to say eye contact is pretty important. I believe it is instrumental in establishing any kind of relationship with anyone you meet. It indicates you are present and in the moment. But then again, who needs eye contact when we have phones? Seriously, nothing in the world is more compelling than that glowing screen in the palm of your hand. The entire world is only a foot and a half away at any given moment. Sad thing is most people don’t explore the entire world, they just revisit the same corner of it again and again. But what am I saying? That corner is awesome, there’s: videos of cats dressed as sharks riding on electronic vacuums, pictures of my friend’s vacations and selfies on Instagram, more of the same music I like -more than I’ll ever have enough time to listen to in a million lifetimes, texts, texts and more word-alerts about who’s where and the really important things they are doing, constant updates about that missing airplane -(what’s that all about anyway?), important notices about what celebrities got busted for being themselves and the list just goes on.

Oh, I really like this song, I’ll nod my head in time to the beat. I look up to see that there’s a live band on stage. Oh yeah I’m at a Tycho concert. I notice a bunch of people around me are taking photos with their phones, I’ll check those out later, but right now my thumb is swiping to the beat; I’m so addicted to this game.

random photo of concert found on the interwebs

random photo of the concert found on the interwebs

It sounds like they have been playing the same song all night. Good thing I really like this song. This music is making me want to dance. I look around and notice that everyone is just nodding their heads. There’s a couple of really old people at the back who are gyrating around. It’s cute. I stand and stare at the band for a while.They’re all looking down at their instruments and not making eye contact either. No one ‘s really looking at each other, but the music’s so good it doesn’t really matter. Tycho’s new album is called Awake, which is ironic because my eyes are getting tired from staring at the screen all day and because everyone here really hasn’t moved all night.

homepage_large.5a4ec3f9Tycho just thanked us for being such a great crowd. My phone and I had such a good time. Being at live music events, really makes all the difference in the world.

signed: Generation Phone

category – Millennial Fiction

 

Yes or No

yes or no

Purple Rain: Review

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For a movie with so much wrong with it, why is it so good? In a word: Prince. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to see him live, then you know all other performers are second best. If you haven’t, then here’s your chance right around the corner; he’s touring in 2014, first in Europe then in North America. Why should you see this guy? For starters, he’s one of the greatest guitar players on the planet. If you need proof, take a moment and listen to his solo on My Guitar Gently Weeps played at the Rock and Roll hall of Fame’s induction for George Harrison. Next reason to see Prince would be his backup band. He’s played with people ranging from Sheila E to Maceo Parker. Lastly, he’s got the songs and plenty of them.

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And this is the reason why Purple Rain is so watchable, it’s all about the music and the performance footage. The rest of the movie has some serious problems though. At this time I’d like to say, our hearts go out to poor Apollonia; in the film she’s humiliated, beaten, paraded around in lingerie and a cape, and forced to sing a song called Sex Shooter with lyrics:

I need you to get me off
I’m your bomb getting ready to explode
I need you to get me off
Be your slave do anything I’m told

I’m a sex shooter
Shootin’ love in your direction

Thirty years later, and we still feel for you kid. Prince has since turned his back on his overtly licentious and misogynist past but in 1984 controversy was still a major aspect to his persona. In the movie, he portrays a brooding volatile genius who still lives at home with his feuding parents and likes getting away from it all by taking sun dappled nature rides on his purple motorcycle.  Prince dressed in high heels, a pirate shirt and crushed velvet bolero pants having an introspective moment beside a shimmering lake is truly a haunting image. 

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The plot revolves around the price of fame, how to break a family cycle of doubt and abuse, the effects of an androgyny bomb being dropped on the city of Minneapolis and a tension-less rivalry between Prince and Morris Day for the final headlining spot at the club First Avenue. It boils down to the final performance where each band brings their big guns. Are we seriously expected to buy that a song like The Bird by the Time is in anyway a threat. (Spoiler alert) Prince counters with Purple fricking Rain. In the history of devastating defeats, this one is up there.

Other miscellaneous things to look for while watching Purple Rain:

The mad choreography from the crowd during Jungle Love by the Time

The deadpan delivery of the bands being announced.

Adam Ant Lurch – you’ll know him when you see him.

The note on the stairs during Darling Nikki – that takes planning.

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In the end, I’m not sure if Purple Rain is a musical or a movie with music in it or a performance with some movie in it. I kind of differentiate them by; if the music itself moves the plot forward then it’s a musical, otherwise it’s just a movie with music in it or random songs kind of tied together by a loose story. Any thoughts on this would be much appreciated. Should you watch this film?- there are worse ways to spend your time. Should you get the soundtrack?- indeed you should. If Prince is coming to your part of the world in the near future, should you drop everything and go see him?- most definitely.

Must-have Summer Accessory: Performance Art

10427531-marina-abramovic-portrait-with-scorpio Breaking Bad‘s back and Shark Week has come and gone. These are summer traditions that people have grown to anticipate and cherish. Unfortunately it will be our last with Walt and Jesse and the Lemon Shark never gets enough play, but these are part of the things that make the summer; the summer. Every summer has its blockbusters along with its soundtrack. Summer also brings us some ubiquitous hot fad or in rare cases a timeless classic (I’m looking at you Daft Punk). For 2013, this summer’s must-have accessory is of course: performance art. Wait what?!? jay_rob_1 It all started a little while back with Jay-Z’s art film Picasso Baby. Wait what, this is an art film?!? Let’s see, it does have Picasso in the title and he was an artist, so that is definitely related to art. The lyrics also name check Rothko, Basquiat, Bacon and Leonardo Da Vinci- ok. It also subscribes to the pile of bricks theory of art: a pile of bricks in a parking lot is a pile of bricks, a pile of bricks in a gallery is art. The institution endorses the object or in this case the video. If this video was shot anywhere besides the Pace Gallery, for instance a grocery store; could it still cling to the art moniker? Last but not least, to argue the artfulness of the video is its inclusion of many real life visual art personalities. Some of the people that appear in Picasso Baby include: Jerry Saltz, Marcel Dzama, George Condo, Wangechi Mutu, and of course Marina Abramovic. jay Marina Abramovic is the current reigning queen of performance art and her inclusion here seems to signify art status. At this point I’d like to say that I like Jay-Z and admire his effort but this is a music video and not art. The filming of the video involved performance in front of people in a gallery but the minute it was edited into an easily digestible product it planted itself firmly in the music video camp. The song is all about status and so is the video. The guest list had a very studio 54 velvet rope vibe. Jay-Z parades art-stars and celebrities like the new must have accessory. You gotta love him for it. Marina Abramovic was the jewel in his crown or was Jay-Z the pop star boost to hers.

Relation in Time 1977

Relation in Time 1977

Marina Abramovic has enjoyed a lasting and illustrious career as a performance artist and most of her work succeeds at challenging the viewer and expanding upon the story of art (Picasso Baby – not so much). Some of her work I like and some of it I like less. This is an excerpt from her An Artist’s Life Manifesto:

1. An artist’s conduct in his life:

– An artist should not lie to himself or others
– An artist should not steal ideas from other artists
– An artist should not compromise for themselves or in regards to the art market
– An artist should not kill other human beings
– An artist should not make themselves into an idol
– An artist should not make themselves into an idol
– An artist should not make themselves into an idol

OK, what if an artist just associates themselves with an idol? Is that acceptable, and if so why not two? Enter Lady Gaga hugging a giant crystal.

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I’m sorry but, the short The Abramovic Method starring Lady Gaga is not only bad art, it’s just plain silly. It feels like a first year art school project. At least Jay-Z’s Picasso Baby had a genuine sense of fun and playing with convention. This is drowning convention in an isolated river weighed down by cliche and contrived notions of solipsism. It thinks itself very poo-poo clever. I’m afraid this is the kind of bad art that gives all art a bad name.

Marina goes on to say:

4. An artist’s relation to suffering:

– An artist should suffer
– From the suffering comes the best work
– Suffering brings transformation
– Through the suffering an artist transcends their spirit
– Through the suffering an artist transcends their spirit
– Through the suffering an artist transcends their spirit

The Artist is Present 2010

The Artist is Present 2010

I don’t believe in this notion that only good art can come from suffering.  (Lady Gaga and Jay-Z seem to be doing OK at the moment.)  Art is definitely difficult and an incredible amount of work but it shouldn’t be torture nor only used as catharsis. The mystique of the tortured artist is based more on the fact that we like to torture our artists, rather than this is their magical source of inspiration.  Being an artist is equal amounts play and equal amounts hardship. On the one side, you get to do whatever you want, exercise your mind and spirit and make cool stuff and on the other you are constantly faced with an ocean of apathy and indifference with a pinch of rejection. Hopefully you can swim through it and keep your head above water, because it can weigh you down like Marina prescribes. Every single artist who has picked up a brush, chisel, camera, pen or microphone has had to make that swim, some in rougher waters than others.

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This guy gets paid to stare blankly and not react.

Marina’s view on work:

13. An artist’s conduct in relation to work:

– An artist should avoid going to the studio every day
– An artist should not treat his work schedule as a bank employee does
– An artist should explore life and work only when an idea comes to him in a dream or during the day as a vision that arises as a surprise

I hate to burst the bubble, but being an artist is a job like any other. Inspiration doesn’t come from a dream or from on high, it comes from showing up.

Lastly she says:
– An artist should not repeat himself
– An artist should not overproduce
– An artist should avoid his own art pollution
– An artist should avoid his own art pollution
– An artist should avoid his own art pollution

With Jay-Z we’ll give it a pass, Lady Gaga -not so much.

First, Last for Everything

sherlock_bored_wallpaper_by_etherealreign-d53ariwI wonder if Aaron Sorkin watches Sherlock or forwent Grown Ups 2 to see Pacific Rim on the weekend? I do believe he definitely could learn a thing or two from these two seemingly opposite media artifacts. Over the last couple days I’ve consumed the first episode of season 2 of the Newsroom, the last episode (so far) of Sherlock and the everything that is Pacific Rim. Our brains are wonderful things and tend to connect the dots where we can. But what do these three things have in common? Hint: 2 are very smart and the other isn’t. Another hint, there may be spoilers.

Sherlock_series_3__how_to_unlock_the_title_of_the_third_episodeConnecting the dots is what Sherlock does like no other (love the Turner waterfall painting reference at the beginning of the Season 2 finale). If you are unfamiliar, get yourself to Netflix and binge watch yourself into the know. Sherlock is a re-imagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes and a lot of fun. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and is co-written by Steven Moffat of the new Dr. Who fame. At the moment it only has 2 seasons consisting of three episodes each. The episodes roughly inspired on the original Doyle stories clock in at an hour and half each. Although all are good, both seasons suffer from the second episode lull. They are definitely the weakest of the six, which is to say better than most things on T.V.

What makes Sherlock so compelling is its characters and their relationships. It banks heavily on loyalty and an appreciation for one another. Sherlock himself lacks all social graces and Watson’s job is to help him navigate through the awkward pitfalls this presents. (It is even hinted at: Sherlock may exhibit the characteristics of Aspergers.) Sherlock and Watson play the perfect foils.

slide_302988_2569339_free11The Newsroom‘s Will McAvoy on the other hand is nobody’s foil. He is in a league all his own; always self-righteously correct, unless he is spectacularly less correct. Wait, that describes all the characters on The Newsroom. Like everybody else on Aaoron Sorkin’s  TV drama, he has only two modes: manic or less manic. Even though we are constantly being told how professionally expert* they all are at their jobs (*the mission-impossible-live-post-dub performance of the premiere) they all seem to need to sleep with a nightlight.

1347292071_624378_1347292670_noticia_normal Where Sherlock is truly smart, The Newsroom just isn’t. Maybe I’ll concede that it is Smart-Lite. It deals with complex issues, but it is almost like every character’s wits are so razor sharp they can predict the future. Oh wait, they can predict the future because the future has already happened and the writers have the newspapers to prove it. This is why the Newsroom falls apart; it is too full of itself. That, and its characters have the emotional depth of a teenage girl crush on One Direction. We’ve seen this show before: it’s called Who’s the Boss?

pacific-rim-wide-630-thumb-630xauto-40048When it comes to who’s the boss: giant robots or giant monsters, Pacific Rim spends a pleasant two hours trying to solve this age old question. They fight in the rain, they fight under the ocean, they bash each others brains out and look good doing it. Check your own brain at the door and channel your inner 12 year-old and you won’t be disappointed. Just because you don’t need your brain, don’t assume this is not a smart film. The plot and premise are ridiculous and the dialogue clunky (Ron Perlman seems to be the only person who is aware of this), but Guillermo del Toro is helping usher us into a new age of the blockbuster: the international popcorn movie.

crimson-typhoon-pacific-rim-chinese-jaegerPacific Rim was made as much for China as it was for Hollywood. It takes place in Hong Kong,  most of the extras are Chinese and China’s own robot Crimson Typhoon are all evidence of this. The new trend in Hollywood is to cater to the Chinese market. Iron Man 3 had scenes that were made specifically for China and were not included in the North American release. Why is this smart? Another giant robot movie Transformers 3 made 145 million in China alone, add Russia and we start to see the picture. I personally like this international approach to movie making and feel it can foster a deeper global understanding: we may not agree on politics but we  all want to see giant robots battle giant monsters.

Aaron Sorkin could learn a thing or two from a new take on an old character and an old take on a new approach. If you focus more on the hows (Sherlock – how are they going to explain that cliffhanger?) and the whys (Pacific Rim ‘s eye candy export) we won’t be left with just the what?

Revealing the Early Renaissance and Lost in the Memory Palace at the AGO

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The Black Pool 1995

Lost in the Memory Palace  is the name of the show by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller that has currently taken over the fourth floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Recalling the past is also at the heart of Revealing the Early Renaissance a wonderful survey of 13th and 14th century Florentine art work two floors below. Judging by the juxtaposition of these two shows, I’m guessing the curators of the AGO want us to stop, look, listen and step out of the now and reflect on the past. Sounds and looks good to me; at the moment I could use a break from the now.

Bernardo Daddi 1280-1348 A Crowned Virgin Martyr

Bernardo Daddi 1280-1348 A Crowned Virgin Martyr

When it comes to the Renaissance; Leonardo and Michelangelo get most of the attention, but nearly a century and half before them was a man who changed the entire course of Art: Giotto Di Bondone. Before Giotto we had staticky tin box radio and after Giotto we have high definition television. If you consider yourself an art lover of any degree then it is your duty to make the pilgrimage to Padua Italy to see his Scrovegni Chapel. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but the inside is a whole other story. It is a long way to go for the 15 minute timed experience but a definite must see and while you’re in Italy you can always grab a gelato. Delicious ice cream aside, the AGO has gathered a number of pieces by Giotto’s contemporaries and a few by the man himself. The show runs the gamut from the sublime to the obvious work of an apprentice. A few key pieces stood out and an artist that (I was unfamiliar with before the visit) really caught my eye was Bernardo Daddi. Giotto’s influence was apparent, but Daddi’s alter pieces breathed with their own life and vitality and really commanded the rooms they were in.

Dragon

Another highlight were the pages of  the Laudario of Sant’Agnese, illuminated by Pacino di Bonaguida. The paintings are quirky and just plain delightful. The pages come from a songbook that was originally meant to be song by a choir. Music fills the gallery as you lean in close to decipher the expressions of the saints who fill every corner.

the Forty Part Motet 2001

The Forty Part Motet 2001

Music is also what greets you when you leave the exhibit and find yourself in the Henry Moore gallery. Placed amongst the sculptures is a circle of forty speakers facing inward. Each speaker corresponds to an individual singer. The experience of standing in the middle of the circle is that of totally being immersed in music. You can hear the piece as a whole or travel to the periphery and focus on individuals. My memory  was jogged and I remember seeing this piece years ago at the Power Plant. This Cardiff/Miller artwork is a wonderful bridge between the contemporary and the 14th century.

Opera for a Small Room 2005

Opera for a Small Room 2005

Lost in the Memory Palace is comprised of eight installations that immerse you in a world of sound and spectacle. The first space we entered on getting off the elevator was The Black Pool 1995. You enter by a conspicuous wooden door and have to quickly adjust your eyes to a dimly lit environment filled with all manner of things. My first reaction was that of disappointment; I find the current trend of clutter installations as both uninspired and unengaging. Artists who just fill spaces with everything and the kitchen sink rarely rise above hoarders in my opinion. My disappointment quickly dissipated as I was drawn into all manner of recorded conversations coming through little speakers placed throughout the objects. Little notes gave you clues to the former occupants but provided more mystery than answers.  It was both disconcerting and comforting at the same time.

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Experiment in F# Minor 2013

Other rooms straddled this same mixed emotion (which turns out to be quite refreshing). I won’t give away any of the other spaces because it is best experienced with a sense of surprise and wonder. Getting Lost in the Memory Palace is an easy thing to do and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Oh one last thing, when they ask you to press the button – press it, you won’t soon forget.

The Killing Machine 2007

The Killing Machine 2007