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Win Tix To See She & Him @ The Met Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

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Zooey Deschanel — with her big baby blue doe-in-the-headlights, her kicky Bridgette Bardot ‘do, and her unsinkable cheerfulness — is like the impossibly cute, eternally quirky, thrift store retro-cool girlfriend every soon-to-be art school drop-out wanted to blow off the prom with. She’s one of those people that walk between the raindrops tittering over the same private joke she’s been cracking herself up with for years but tells to no one. M. Ward, with his George Shearing tea shades, his Cheshire grin of a voice, and his impeccable curation of shimmering mid-20th Century ephemera, is that art school drop out. He is also the Him to Deschanel’s She, as in She & Him, their beloved side hustle from otherwise thriving and respectable careers as an actress and indie-rocker, respectively. Since their inception in 2008, She & Him have issued three volumes of breezy folk-pop, a collection of standards and two albums of midcentury modern Christmas music. It is the latter they will be drawing from when they deck the halls with boughs of Buddy Holly at The Met on Wednesday December 4th. Just admit it, you wanna go. Well, you’re in luck, because we have a pair of tickets to give away to some lucky Phawker reader. To qualify to win, you must be signed up to our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us, this is something you want to do. In addition to breaking news alerts and Phawker updates, you also get advanced warning about groovy concert ticket giveaways and other free swag opportunities like this one! Send us an email at Phawker66@gmail.com telling us you are signed up to our mailing list along with the answer to the following She & Him-adjacent trivia question: What is the name of the David Bowie cover M. Ward recorded and released back at the turn of the century? Put the words SHE + HIM in the subject line, please include your full name as it appears on your photo ID and a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!

SHE & HIM CHRISTMAS PARTY @ THE MET PHILLY WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 4TH

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CINEMA: Murder On The Bourgeois Express

Friday, November 29th, 2019

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KNIVES OUT (directed by Rian Johnson, 130 minutes, USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR The whodunnit murder mystery is a genre that’s kind of faded into obscurity over the years. It’s probably because audiences are a lot savvier when it comes this genre’s patented plot twist denouement reveal, making this one of the more difficult genres to pull off effectively in the age of social media. Be that as it may, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is a brilliant love letter to the drawing room sleuthing of the likes of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen, and easily one of the best films of the year.

The mystery at the heart of Knives Out is the “suicide” of wealthy murder-mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) on the night of his 85thbirthday party. Legendary private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives on the scene shortly after Harlan’s funeral, to begin investigating the death by questioning Harlan’s eccentric overachieving family. After it becomes apparent the stellar rogue’s gallery ensemble of Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson and Toni Collette all had a motive, it’s up to the Southern gentleman PI to get to the bottom of what exactly transpired that night.

Assisted by Harlan’s immigrant caregiver Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), Johnson uses the mystery to explore class, racism and the 1% as the plot continues to thicken. Rian Johnson has crafted an edge of your seat mystery that is bitingly relevant as it is clever, and feels like a pointed response to the alt-right trolling Johnson was subjected to in the wake of The Last Jedi. Armed with a stellar cast and an irreverent, meticulously-paced script, Johnson has crafted a new genre classic that will hopefully give us more adventures of Benoit Blanc in the near future.

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HOT FREAK: Q&A W/ Philly’s Own Alex G

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

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Photo by DYLAN LONG

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA Alex G, aka Alex Giannascoli, is like the red-eyed unshaven love child of Olivia Tremor Control and the Beta Band drunk on early Iron and Wine, Portland-era Elliott Smith and Guided By Voices circa Vampire On Titus: pretty/sad zig-zag bedsit folk-pop chopped and screwed until blissed out and chimerical. Born and raised on the mean streets of Havertown, an inner ring suburb of Philadelphia, and bottle-fed on the mid-90s’ indie-rock of his big sister’s record collection, he started making his own music on Garageband at the tender age of 15 and pumping it into the digital ether via Bandcamp where he garnered a cult-like following. After studying English for two years at Temple University, he quit school to pursue music full time, releasing five LPs of embryonic Alex G music on sundry micro indies before signing to the UK’s Domino Recordings 2014. His star continued to rise over the course of three fuzzy-wuzzy albums of high-end lo-fi, including the brand-new House Of Sugar, which dropped in September. In advance of his now-sold out show at Union Transfer on Saturday November 30th, we got Alex on the horn.

DISCUSSED: The autumnal glories of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon; Temple University; GarageBand; his sister’s record collection and using her paintings as album cover art; collaborating with Frank Ocean; his days as a disciple of Elliott Smith; loving the short stories of Argentinian poet Silvino Ocampo; the SugarHouse Casino of the mind; working with long-time producer Jake Portrait; the miniaturized lo-fi glories of Guided By Voices; knowing Unknown Mortal Orchestra; the importance of Dusk At Cubist Castle; hearing the White Album for the first time, like, two weeks ago and how it blew his motherfucking mind.

PHAWKER: Hello, this is Jonathan Valania from Phawker, we have an interview scheduled. You clearly know this sandy-alex-g-house-of-sugar-1568040141-640x640because you called me.

ALEX G: [laughs]

PHAWKER: So let’s get this party started. Not that much is known about you or available to know about you on the Internet, so forgive me if I ask some questions that you answered a billion times. First, you’re from Philadelphia, correct?

ALEX G: I’m from Havertown.

PHAWKER: And then you went to Temple for two years?

ALEX G: Yes.

PHAWKER: And when did you start making music, not releasing it, but when did you start making music?

ALEX G: Well I think it happened around the same time, in my early teen years, just like fourteen or fifteen. My family got a Mac computer that had GarageBand on it, with the built in recording programs. And so I would just mess around on that when I had free time, and make little beats or songs or whatever and then I’d burn ‘em on CD’s and hand them out to people and I just like if you could consider that releasing music, you know what I mean? And then when I figured out I could put stuff online I started putting stuff online. As soon as I had the chance to put stuff out there I was just doing it. Well, as I was learning how to do it.

PHAWKER: Yeah. So that would account for the fact– I was reading an AllMusic guide that you had like, twelve self-released albums before you signed to Domino? They’re probably combining a bunch of releases there, but is that roughly true? Is it there much music that you put out before you even were on a proper record?

ALEX G: I mean, I made a ton of music but I definitely wouldn’t brag about it because most of that stuff is pretty bad, you know? I shouldn’t say bad because some people like it, but a lot of that stuff is from when I was a kid, still learning how to, you know, write songs and make recordings and stuff. It was a whole learning process, and I’m still learning now, even, but a lot of that stuff is from early days.

PHAWKER: “Embryonic” may be the word for that early stuff.

ALEX G: Yeah.

PHAWKER: And you said you started out at fourteen or fifteen, and I’m guessing you’re in your early twenties now? Can I ask how old you are now?

ALEX G: Yeah, I’m 26.Alex_G_Beach_Music

PHAWKER: Duly noted. And can you explain to me the Sandy in parentheses thing? Why and what, and why Sandy?

ALEX G: So I used to just be Alex G., that’s what everyone called me and so I released music as Alex G., ‘cause it was my name. And there was some confusion with other people named Alex G. who are releasing music. And off the record I can’t really like, explicitly say or else I’ll get sued or something, but… [laughs] If you can leave that out, I’ll just explain it to you, why I’m being so vague. And so I had to like, change the name in some way and I really wanted to keep Alex. G. in there, so I just… one of the first songs I put online was called Sandy, and a lot of the URLs to like, BandCamp or the FaceBook page on music, that the URL had Sandy in the link, and I could put Sandy in parentheses and it would just be like a little tag. And I was hoping that people would interpret it as a silent indicator that it’s this Alex G. from Philadelphia, not the other Alex G. out there who… you know what I mean?

PHAWKER: Sure, sure. Okay, that explains it. So I’m curious, how do you write, how do you make music? My understanding is you still use GarageBand, but do you write songs, say, on a guitar, on an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and then record ‘em, fuck with ‘em, produce them, arrange them? Or do you start on GarageBand and make everything from scratch?

ALEX G: I usually start with the guitar or a keyboard and come up with like the template, you know, like the structure and the chords. And then I record that and all the complementary instruments and stuff come after on GarageBand like during the recording process I’m writing the other parts, you know? But the core structure I write separately, just sitting down with an instrument.

PHAWKER: And you played guitar on two Frank Ocean albums, is that correct?

ALEX G: On Endless and Blond, yeah.

PHAWKER: That’s… okay, that’s kinda blowing my mind a little bit. How did that come about?

ALEX G: Yeah, I mean it’s actually not a very exciting story. When he was making those albums a few years ago and me and my band were on tour in the UK, while he was working in the UK in London, and I just got an email randomly from him, being like “Hey, you wanna play– come by the studio and play guitar?” And I was like, Sure. And I didn’t know him, but it was nice. It was a really laid back experience, you know.

PHAWKER: And you play on a number of songs on both of those albums or just a song each or?

ALEX G: Like, a handful of them, like a couple on Blond and a couple on Endless.

PHAWKER: Crazy, man. So it kinda reminds me a little bit of like Kanye getting Bon Iver to work with him on his album, has that comparison ever occurred to you?

ALEX G: You know, I’m not that familiar with how, like, what they did together, but I mean… What makes it similar, was that just kinda out of the blue, too? I’m actually not familiar….Alex_G_Rocket

PHAWKER: It is totally out of the blue. It’s just a strange pairing on paper: somebody from the top of the hip hop game calls up the weird-beard indie rock psychedelic guy to play on his next album. You just wouldn’t think it’d be a pairing, but it is, or that it would work but it does. But it’s very cool that he could hear your music and say, like, “I can connect with this somehow” or “I want some of what he’s got in my music on this project” or whatever.

ALEX G: Yeah, it’s flattering.

PHAWKER: Yeah. Oughta be. So, tell me, what is your personal relationship with the music of Elliottt Smith?

ALEX G: I just used to listen to him a lot when I was younger. I don’t listen to him as much anymore, probably because I listened to it so much growing up, but I liked it a lot. How he recorded himself too, I think, like I get a lot of comparisons with him and I think it’s because I had learned that he recorded his own music and that inspired me to try and make music like that and record it myself. I would listen to things he did on his songs, you know, I’d hear him singing two vocals at a time, or playing two guitar parts identical on top of each other, and I’d try and mimic that. So I think, I’d like to think I’ve started to stray away from that, from being so close to his sound, but he definitely kindled my interest in making guitar music.
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INCOMING: Vengeance Will Be Thine

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

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RELATED:  The 90s were a helluva drug. You really had to be there, kid, but suffice it to say it was 10 years of unprecedented peace and prosperity, a pot in every chicken, 2.5 SUVs in every garage, a Clinton was president and Donald Trump ran beauty contests instead of the free world. In the 90s, the Internet went public and we all become tech stock billionaires overnight — all of us — selling dog bones over the World Wide Web, which was what we called the Interwebs back then, as was the style of the day. Good. Times.

Music was pretty great, too. Kurt Cobain singlehandedly killed the wicked witches of hair metal dead by crossing the streams of the Beatles and Black Sabbath and overnight grunge became a flannel-clad way of life. Axl Rose was out, Daniel Johnston was in. Suddenly the Lollapalooza Nation was ascendant and everything was called alt-something except the right. (This was before the Mt. Vengeance
re-brand, when Nazis were still called Nazis) Every scraggly-haired fraggle-rock weirdo in a thrift store sweater got a major label contract: Mudhoney, Teenage Fan Club, Helmet, The Meat Puppets, The Vaselines, Dinosaur Jr., even the frickin’ Melvins. Public Enemy brang the noise and the Beastie Boys passed the mic. My Bloody Valentine made The Greatest Album Ever Made and then went dark for the rest of the decade but never stopped ringing in everyone’s ears.

Pavement recorded slanted enchantments in the Stockton garage of a drunk hippie. Guided By Voices built drunken lo-fi masterpieces in the basements of the Midwest. The Pixies tromped le monde, The Breeders were the bong in this reggae song, REM lost their religion, and Sonic Youth were stylish elders from Planet Noise teaching skate punks how to Philip K. Dick and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Great new songs were being played on commercial radio for the first time in anyone’s memory. Why, even “The Sweater Song” could be a hit in this brave new radio world. U2 was still relevant. Courtney Love was still a hot mess. The Red Hot Chili Peppers took the sweatsocks off their junk and made their one good album. Johnny Cash started making great albums again with Rick Rubin. And everyone loved Stereolab. All of us.

And then Fred Durst and 9/11 ruined everything.

None of this is news to Mt. Vengeance. Back then, the three dads in Mt. Vengeance were still lads in short pants cranking out some of most righteous ripped-knee’d peddle-hopping indie-rawk the City of Brotherly Love has ever known. Rich Fravel was singer/guitarist/songwriter in Latimer, Brian Campbell was bassist for Electric Love Muffin and Nicky Santore was tub-thumper for Valsalva. At the Khyber — which, you probably don’t even know, was the CBGBs of Philly in the 90s, aka a toilet with a great beer selection — they were royalty. Fast forward 20-plus years, past wives, kids, real estate licenses, and they still have the will and the wherewithal to rawk. Righteously so. The shorthand review of Covered In Dust, their debut LP is: everything you ever needed to know about the 90s but were too not-born-yet to ask. The long answer is everything you just read. – JONATHAN VALANIA

STINKING LIZAVETA + MT VENGEANCE + HEATMAP @ JB’S SAT. NOV. 30TH

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CINEMA: The Kid And The Wail

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

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MARRIAGE STORY (directed by Noah Baumbach, 136 minutes, USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Marriage Story, written and directed by Noah Baumbach, begins at the tail end of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole’s (Scarlett Johansson) union with the pair unsuccessfully attempting divorce mediation. Nicole who once had a successful film career in LA, moved to New York where she fell in love with Charlie. Soon married, the pair worked together in the New York theater scene with Charlie writing/directing and Nicole as his wife, muse and lead, not to mention the mother of their son. A profile in Brooklyn bohemian paradise, or so it would seem. But when Nicole is offered a television pilot in Hollywood, she moves out to La La Land with their son to get some space and soon after decides to file for divorce.

The rest of the film chronicles the dissolution of the marriage of two people who love each other and want to do the right thing, but are slowly drifting apart. Nicole complicates things when she seeks the counseling of a savvy LA divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) who is more interested in what she can get her client rather than what Nicole wants. In much the same way that Squid And The Whale was a semi-autobiographical take on his parent’s divorce, Marriage Story was seemingly birthed from his Baumbach’s own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. The film does not take the easy way out, it does not choose sides nor does it villainize neither Nicole or Charlie. As a result, it’s even more gut-wrenching to watch the slow-motion collapse of their marriage over the course of two hours.

It’s an understatement that Driver and Johansson turn in career best performances here. Driver’s Charlie feels more well-rounded and larger than life as we witness him hitting rock bottom, whereas Johansson turns in a more understated but equally impressive performance that flourishes in small caring moments. It’s those little things that she does in the midst of their increasingly bitter divorce, like tying Charlie’s shoelace or giving him a much-needed haircut, that punctuates the story of two people who still deeply love and care for one another, but just can’t be together anymore.

With each new film, Baumbach seems to inch farther away from indie darling and closer to a household name, and this latest Netflix produced film his most mainstream offering yet. Marriage Story drops Baumbach’s trademark comedic quirkiness and embraces a much more melancholic tone in this raw and intimate character study of two individuals. There’s the distinct ring of truth to the film that feels uncomfortably voyeuristic at times as we witness their descent into bitterness and acrimony, but that discomfort is the price of admission. It’s not an easy watch but breakups like this are never easy on anyone involved, including the audience watching in the theater.

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CINEMA: Q&A W/ Knives Out Director Rian Johnson

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

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Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR Easily one of the most surreal moments I had this year was getting to chat with director Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi, Looper, Breaking Bad) the morning after seeing his latest film, Knives Out, at the Philadelphia Film Festival. Knives Out is a hilariously brilliant whodunit in the spirit of Agatha Christie, that has Johnson tackling the story of an eccentric family under investigation, after the “suicide” of their extremely wealthy, murder mystery-writing patriarch. Johnson immediately made an impression with both filmgoers and critics with his first feature Brick and has since directed both films (Looper) and television (Breaking Bad) that is as thought provoking as it is entertaining, which is no easy task.

Most recently Johnson made the light-speed jump to a galaxy far, far away with the highly divisive The Last Jedi, which led to Rian getting a Star Wars trilogy of his own once the Skywalker saga is laid to rest next month. Johnson was thoughtful, funny and clever as I had expected, and he gave me a brief look into the creative process of Knives Out, while sharing some of his thoughts on his time in the Star Wars universe and his reaction to the most recent Rise Of Skywalker trailer.

PHAWKER: First off congratulations. The film was brilliant, and I hate to sound cliché, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

RIAN JOHNSON: I love the cliché and I will take it.Rian_Johnson

PHAWKER: So how did you go about channeling your inner Agatha Christie and layering on all these twists and turns, creating this narrative engine that’s very Hitchcock-ian and honed to perfection.

RIAN JOHNSON: Well, you hit it on the head. The whole idea behind it is, you know, it all came from my love of whodunits and wanting to get everything I love about good whodunit in there. But, I also kind of agree with Hitchcock. The whodunit has a big fatal flaw, which is it’s a bunch of clues gathering for one big surprise at the end. So, my intent with this was to put the engine of a Hitchcock thriller in the middle of the whodunit and try and create something that would be more of an empathy driven suspense ride for the audience, but that still has all the pleasures of a whodunit. I still wanted to have the questioning of the family. I still wanted to have a big detective’s denouement at the end. That’s one of my favorite types of scenes in all of fiction. I wanted to do a good one of those. I’m just trying to get everything in there that you love.

PHAWKER: So, the genre you’re dissecting here, it’s definitely shaped by the rogue’s gallery of its ensemble. After you had the script, how much work was put in sort of crafting the characters after the actors who would be inhabiting the roles? Because I know you cast Craig first, but like let’s say when you cast Jamie Lee Curtis, how much did you say, “okay, this would be a good character quirk for her”?

RIAN JOHNSON: A little bit. I mean, there are nuances that they find on the day and there are little things you find with them. But mostly, I mean, they’re fantastic actors, so they’re going to play the character that’s on the page. It wasn’t like, okay, how do I shape this part so its perfect for Jamie. Jamie came in and as an actor and kind of inhabited the role. So, you do at the same time find, with Daniel especially, he and I we’re just emailing references back and forth, figuring out what the accent was going to be and all of the nuances of the character. That’s all stuff that he brought to the table and found and he’s very much creating that person that’s on the screen.

PHAWKER: I really love those little character flourishes, especially with Craig’s accent and Michael Shannon’s limp.

RIAN JOHNSON: [laughs] Yeah, it’s funny. There was a little subplot that we cut out where we explained what’s up with his leg and it just ended, ended up on the cutting room floor, sadly. We’ll put it in the extras. But it works, right. It’s like a Richard III type thing. He’s like got this flaw.

PHAWKER: It ramps up the tension too in that one scene with his cane, tapping it on the floor.

RIAN JOHNSON: Yeah, man. Michael is like, in terms of casting, Michael’s a good example. He’s one of my favorite actors working today, just extraordinary and I feel like I usually see him playing very, strong kind of powerful parts. To me it seemed really interesting, the idea of giving him someone a little weaker to play someone with less of a backbone, kind of the younger brother in the family who sort of is not fully formed — I guess that seemed really interesting.

PHAWKER: You love the desperation in his character. You’re empathetic towards him because of that defect, star_wars_the_last_jedi_ver56_xlgbecause you feel bad for him because everybody else is so successful and yet he’s got the limp and it just kind of makes you…

RIAN JOHNSON: Well, and that’s something with whodunits and Agatha Christie books in general, it’s very interesting. In Christie’s books, the typical setup is, there’s a powerful person who is obviously going to be the one that gets murdered and in the first part of her books, your sympathy isn’t very rarely or almost never with that person. Your sympathy is actually with all of these people who are going to be the suspects who all have the motivation to kill that person, because you’re going to identify with each of those motivations. You know, it’s kind of seeing glimpses of like the darker part of yourself in each of these people. Like I can see why they would want to kill that son of a bitch, which is very interesting. So yeah, all of these people you have to end up finding some way, you know, to sympathize with them.

PHAWKER: You’re definitely a fan of the genre. What are some of the checkboxes for you as a fan that you look for coming into a whodunit and what are some of your favorites?

RIAN JOHNSON: Well, I mean, going back to Christy, I mean, I’m a big fan of all of her books. In terms of the movies that they made of her books, the original Death On The Nile and Evil Under the Sun, which had Peter Ustinov playing Poirot. Those hit a real sweet spot for me. Those had kind of an all-star cast. They had a slightly cheeky, self-aware tone that never tips into parody. It’s always still playing it straight. So, for me that was kind of like the target we were sort of aiming for with this, is what those movies felt to me.

The checkboxes are a big fun cast of characters. I love the element of questioning. I love like investigating the past through different perspectives, and that kind of fun. And then I love the big, putting it together scene at the end. Like I said, I’m a sucker for the detective, getting everyone in the room and kind of laying the whole thing out. It feels so satisfying to me. So for me those were kind of like the big things I wanted to hit.

PHAWKER: Speaking of characters, the house itself felt like a character, it was layered with all these, references to Harlan’s books. How much work went into it? Especially the big chair centerpiece with the knives, that even hits at the theme of the film visually. Like how much work went into kind of crafting this world?

RIAN JOHNSON: Quite a bit. I mean, we have, we have an amazing production designer, David Crank who, he’s collaborated with Jack Fisk on [Paul Thomas Anderson’s] movies and Terrence Malick’s movies, he’s an incredible artist. He and his team were tasked with like filling up this house with all that stuff. I gave them the reference of one of my favorite movies, Sleuth from the 1970s, which, is also about a murder mystery writer who has a mansion filled with all his obsessions and yeah, they went to town.

I had written in the script actually, that kind of religious icon made out of knives and Crank’s team found this industrial barbecue grate and like hung all the knives on that. That’s what that thing is actually, you know. When I framed that up, I was like, Oh, that’s pretty cool. It looks like Game of Thrones. I didn’t expect that, but it’s kinda cool.

PHAWKER: It’s like it visually very striking, when I saw the trailer, it just sticks with you.

RIAN JOHNSON: It totally does.

PHAWKER: Yeah and how it’s used in the film, when you have that, what feels like a throwaway line about knives in the beginning and how it then it plays pays off at the end. You’re just like, wow, it comes full circle.

RIAN JOHNSON: It’s a donut. [laughs]looper_xlg

PHAWKER: [laughs] I just loved Craig’s donut monologue in the film, it was so unexpected and hilarious at the same time.

RIAN JOHNSON: We were like part way through filming and somebody referred to it as a knife, donut. I’m like what? And they’re like, yeah, obviously it’s a donut and I was like, oh shit, it is a doughnut. You’re right. I didn’t even think of that.

PHAWKER: [laughs] Now that you mention it. Donuts surprisingly play a big part in Knives Out.

RIAN JOHNSON: Donuts are delicious.

PHAWKER: They are.

PHAWKER: The character of Jacob in your film, who is sort of this alt-right internet troll, it’s hard not to see some of the parallels between him and the kind of folks that were going in on The Last Jedi. Was this your take on the fans thinking The Last Jedi was this sort of anti-Trump statement and that had a problem with its themes of empowerment?

RIAN JOHNSON: No not really. The thing is, sadly, trolldom is not specific to the Star Wars universe. It’s just more someone who is on the internet and is seen in every facet of life online. It’s a segment that is that, hate based trolling. Anyone on the Internet, no matter what waters they are swimming in is going to experience that on some level. So, no, it wasn’t really about specifically tagging that. For me, it was much more about if we’re going to set this movie in 2019 and really, genuinely try and plug into what the culture is today, that’s sadly a big part of the culture and it’s also something that was funny to take the piss out of it.

PHAWKER: yeah, between your film and Jojo Rabbit there are a lot of great films this year that are roasting Nazis and the alt-right.

RIAN JOHNSON: Yeah. We can’t make enough of them, I love that movie, Jojo Rabbit was really good.

PHAWKER: It was definitely one of my favorites this year.

RIAN JOHNSON: Yeah, so good.

PHAWKER: It’s great that directors like you and Taika make these big movies and then they go and make these smaller more personal films. After turning in something like a Star Wars or a Marvel film you then have this creative freedom to do things, I guess a normal filmmaker wouldn’t do because you take some big chances with this amazing cast. Both this and Jojo feel like very sincere passion projects and not your manufactured, sort of like made on demand Hollywood film.

RIAN JOHNSON: That’s good, we’ll see if people come out for it.

PHAWKER: So I’m a Star Wars nerd and I have to ask you a Star Wars question. So the new trailer just came out….

RIAN JOHNSON: Oh my god, so good!

PHAWKER: I have to ask you, you kind of eviscerated the mystery box the Abrams kind of handed off to you. You got rid of Kylo Ren’s mask and showed Adam Driver’s face so he could turn in that amazing performance, you killed off Snoke, and you solved Rey’s parentage and made everyone feel like they could be a Jedi. That was super empowering. What are your feelings on him coming back and kind of walking that back a little bit?

RIAN JOHNSON: How is he walking it back?

PHAWKER: Kylo’s got his helmet back, they replaced Snoke with the Emperor and word is they are once again questioning Rey’s lineage.

RIAN JOHNSON: If I had made IV, I would have given him another helmet. (Laughs) That makes sense story-wise. I don’t see it that way at all. I think the whole notion of that seems a little silly to me is framing it that way. Not to [offend you]……

PHAWKER: No, no, no, we’re both nerds here, let’s discuss.knives_out_ver13

RIAN JOHNSON: It’s not — people use the word ‘retconning’ or walking something back or whatever. It’s storytelling. Stories move forward. In that way you could argue did Empire retcon A New Hope? Did Return Of The Jedi retcon Empire? If you want to frame it that way, in reality it’s just good storytelling, pushing it forward, that means looping it back. It means doing whatever you have to do to get these people where they are eventually going to end up.

No, I don’t see it that way at all actually. Look I am just loving being a Star Wars fan again.

PHAWKER: Yeah, you’re getting to see it from the outside again.

RIAN JOHNSON: It’s so much fun watching that trailer and just not knowing what’s going to happen and feeling like I get to just show up and watch a Star Wars movie at Christmas. I can’t wait.

PHAWKER: Speaking of that trailer, you’re on the inside, do you know what JJ Abrams fascination is with making weird ass light sabers? Like with Kylo Ren’s and now that weird double bladed one in the trailer.

RIAN JOHNSON: [laughs] Well, I mean there has always been that kind of fun, like with Darth Maul’s double light saber. There is something enjoyable in kind of finding a slightly new.

PHAWKER: A donut of lightsabers in the next one?

RIAN JOHNSON: I’ll take it. [makes light saber donut whooshing sound] You know [Star Wars Rebels director] Dave Filoni did that, and he’s like the spirit of Star Wars. That guy’s amazing, look at the stuff he designed for Rebels that stuff is amazing. I don’t know you got to have fun with it.

KNIVES OUT DIRECTED BY RIAN JOHNSON OPENS THANKSGIVING

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INCOMING: Take The Last Train To Clarkville

Sunday, November 24th, 2019

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Todd Kimmell, Philadelphia’s perennially apoplectic gentleman of the arts, in association with CLARKVILLE, the much beloved taproom and restaurant across from Clark Park, offer up four days of the most unusual holiday shopping you’ll find anywhere. Local artists and photographers of note, and avid (or possibly rabid) collectors have been invited to glean their flat files and present long buried treasures for the public to peruse and purchase at their leisure. Saturday, November 30 and Sunday, December 1, then again two weeks later. Saturday, December 14 and Sunday, December 15. 11 to 5 each day, and different artists presenting each day. Clarkville jazzes it all up further with food and drink specials throughout. Bring friends!

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BEING THERE: Crumb @ Union Transfer

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

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Photo by DYLAN LONG

Crumb, unlike the name, is a seven-course feast of dreamy pop-rock that leads you far away from the musically ordinary. Instead, this four-piece band is a never-ending journey on a road less traveled. Assuming their sound even desires definition, it draws hints of Hiatus Kaiyote, BADBADNOTGOOD, and a healthy dose of the mysterious. This past Thursday night, Crumb graced a packed crowd at Union Transfer with support from Divino Niño and Shormey.

Colorful light-filled balloons sat scattered across the stage, glowing and evolving from shades of red to purple to blue. The four-piece had a soothing presence, one that matches their fine-tuned sound. Each track was imbued with a combination of hypnotic riffs, the mesmerizing voice of frontwoman Lila Ramani, and both synths and organs that sound like “Riders On The Storm” after being spit out the other end of a wormhole. The music doesn’t lull as much as it mystifies however, with a consistently steady tempo throughout giving way to more head-bobbing in the crowd than awestruck drooling.

Crumb played a hearty blend of their biggest hits and hidden gems. The crowd ate up tunes like the title track off the band’s debut full-length album, Jinx, and oldies like “So Tired” which appeared on “Crumb,” the first project in what continues to be an entirely self-released discography. After nearly selling out Union Transfer just months after headlining the much smaller First Unitarian Church, Crumb will surely be returning to Philly bigger and better. What remains uncertain is what the future holds in the alternate reality they’ve created. – DYLAN LONG

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LEONARD COHEN: On Moonlight

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

PREVIOUSLY: Leonard Cohen Is Ready To Die

PREVIOUSLY: Leonard Cohen Is Dead

RELATED: Adam Cohen Discusses His Father’s Work On Fresh Air

PREVIOUSLY: Everybody knows that 2016 was a cruel and unusual year. Intolerably cruel. Everybody knows that war is over and everybody knows the good guys lost. So I am only half-kidding when I ask: How can we possibly be expected to endure the abominable presidency of Donald Trump without David Bowie, Prince or Princess Leia? But I’m dead serious when I say we can’t do this without Leonard Cohen, who died at the ripe old age of 82 on the day before the election. As ever, his timing was impeccable. It goes without saying that he’d seen the future, baby, and it is spray-tanned murder. A few weeks prior to his departure, he’d released You Want It Darker, one part deathbed confessional, one part last will and testament, one part love letter to all he can’t leave behind.

This collection of prayers for the doomed is arguably the most perfect album-length statement in his sacred canon. Like all Leonard_Cohen-2016-You_Want_It_Darker-e1483412666323prime Cohen, it is marked by astonishing verbal acuity and a high-def philosophical clarity that coalesces into a kind of metaphysical calligraphy carved in stone by the Old Testament prophet gravitas of his voice, that patented sepulchral purr that has been getting liberal arts majors laid since at least 1967. He’s never sounded more certain or fearless, or closer to death, so near you can almost hear the Grim Reaper’s Vader-like breath on the back of his leathery neck as he croaks out lines like “I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game,” “It’s au revoir,” and “I’m ready, Lord.”

Invariably spare and fleeting and surprisingly luminous, the music on You Want It Darker — a midnight jazz lowing in the moonlight, a monastic noir for the ears, and a quick stroll down Boogie Street for old time’s sake — is relentlessly faultless in arrangement, tonality and execution. The recording, overseen by his son Adam, ensures that everything is writ timeless and crystalline as befits the eternal verities he’s been tasked with preserving. History will rank the title track and “Treaty” next to “Bird On A Wire” and “Hallelujah,” a hundred floors above us in the Tower Of Song.

Because the thing about Leonard Cohen is that he was always right, always — even when he turned out to be wrong about, say, Rebecca DeMornay or trusting his manager with his money or his decade-long Zen hermitage atop Mt. Baldy. Because the incontrovertible koanic fact of the matter is that the way to always be right is always admit when you are wrong, acknowledge that was then but this is now. Or as he sings on “It Seemed The Better Way,” it “sounded like the truth, but it’s not the truth today.” Because today nothing is true, and when nothing is true everything is permitted. That is the crack in the center of everything, where the Putin gets in.

Look, nobody should be surprised that The Rapture came and only took Leonard Cohen but that doesn’t make it any less sad and lonesome. While I can’t blame an 82-year-old man with a splintering spine for getting on with the dirty business of dying, I can’t help but feel left behind on an abandoned ship in a darkening sea, still tending the flame of “a million candles burning for the help that never came.” In my prayers, I asked Leonard Cohen “How lonely does it get?” Leonard Cohen hasn’t answered me yet, but I can hear him coughing all night long, a million miles above us in The Great Beyond. – JONATHAN VALANIA

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CINEMA: Punk Rock Horror Picture Show

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

Verotika Official Poster
 
Punk rock legend, Glenn Danzig, who is currently in the midst of his reunion tour with The Misfits is making a solo stop at our very own Philadelphia Film Center, Friday, December the 13th, the night before The Misfits play the Wells Fargo Center. Danzig will be presenting an exclusive, one-night-only screening of his directorial debut, Verotika, a feature-length horror anthology of tales culled from his comic book series. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Danzig and producer James Cullen Bressack. Verotika premiered at this year’s Cinepocalypse Film Fest and reportedly achieved instant infamy, drawing comparisons to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, which has me morosely curious to see just what Danzig’s very singular vision had conjured up.The film was originally planned to hit cinemas as a Fathom event back in October, but instead Danzig has opted instead for these smaller more personal shows, where he can personally present his film and engage with his fans after a viewing. – DAN TABOR

GLENN DANZIG IN CONVERSATION FOLLOWING A SPECIAL SCREENING OF HIS DIRECTORIAL DEBUT VEROTIKA @ FILM CENTER FRIDAY DEC. 13TH @ 9 PM $20

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REVIEW: Mean Girls @ The Academy Of Music

Thursday, November 21st, 2019

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Mean Girls, the 2004 smash teen romcom written by Upper Darby’s Tina Fey and starring pre-demise Lyndsey Lohan, is a cautionary tale of a teen’s need for validation in order to compete in the perpetual popularity contest that is high school. It’s the story of Cady Heron, who just transferred to North Shore High after growing up in Kenya. Because she was homeschooled for the first 16 years of her life, Cady lacks the social skills it takes to fit in at her new school. Mercifully, two high school outcasts, Janice and Damien, befriend her. Janice and Damien’s sworn enemies are a clique of cruel but glamorous girls — Regina George, Karen Smith, and Gretchen Wieners — they call “The Plastics.”

When Regina makes an insincere overture of friendship to Cady, Janice and Damien sense an opportunity to divide and conquer from within and insists that Cady join their clique. Cady agrees to Janice and Damien’s sabotage plan, but seduced by the social perks and privileges of being in The Plastics she switches allegiance to the titular mean girls. She pretends to be dumb––despite being quite the mathmatician — to impress Aaron Samules, Regina George’s off-limits ex-boyfriend. Predictably, Regina decides she wants back when she finds out Cady has a crush on him.

Regina and Cady go back and forth from one tortuous plot to the next trying to deceive one another. Cady tries to make Regina fat, Regina makes out with Aaron Samuels in front of Cady––you get the idea. Infuriated by Cady’s rise to high school fame, Regina shares her “Burn Book” with the school principal. The book includes insulting lines about nearly every female at North Shore High, including the allegation that Cady’s favorite math teacher, Ms. Norbury, is a “drug pusher,” provoking a full-on catfight.

An assembly is called, and Ms. Norbury demands that all of these women must unify and apologize to one another. It doesn’t go well, and Regina storms out of the school, followed by Cady who tries to apologize. Distracted by the torrent of insults she is hurling at Cady, Regina is hit by a bus. Feeling guilty, Cady takes full responsibility for the burn book and is suspended and banned from North Shore’s momentous Spring Fling. Upon Cady’s return to school, Ms. Norbury decides her personal punishment for Cady will be forcing her to join the mathletes for finals, and she wins it for the team––because everybody loves a happy ending. It’s probably no coincidence that Spring Fling falls on the same night as the mathletes’ finals. Grateful to Cady for the win, Ms. Norbury pulls some strings and gets Cady into the dance where she is crowned Spring Fling Queen. Her acceptance speech is wise and mature beyond her years. To show the worth of each and every self-conscious/self-loathing girl in the room, Cady breaks her crown into pieces and dispenses a piece to each girl while explaining why their lives matter.

Fast forward 15 years, and Mean Girls is now a stage musical that had its premiere last night at the Academy Of Music. Everything is pretty much the same as the movie, except there’s this thing called social media that is making everyone’s lives worse– spreading rumors, sowing chaos, and creating unrealistic expectations of perfect, airbrushed lives. Nevertheless, everyone breaks into song and dance at every chance imaginable. The choreography and set changes are seamless, but chopped into song and dance numbers the plot is hard to follow, even for someone like me who has seen the film more times than I care to admit.

As with the movie, the supporting cast steals the show. Damien (Eric Huffman, the “too gay to function” best friend of Janice, is hysterical. Karen Smith (Jonalyn Saxer), one of The Plastics, is equally as hysterical with her stupidity and bluntness. And Ms. Norbury – played by Tina Fey in the movie and Gaelen Gilliland in the musical – has some of the best quips, as does North Shore High School’s Principal Duvall.

My only other complaint is the musical’s messaging seems tad heavy-handed compared to the light, but no less pointed, touch of the film. By the end of the film, it feels like you’ve just watched Tina Fey poking fun at the awfulness that is teenhood with just the right ratio of snark and tar-black humor. The Broadway version feels like a highly professional high school musical that’s trying a little too hard to teach you a lesson. Still, the nostalgia factor was a blast, and Tuesday night the Academy of Music was packed with females who were teens and tweens of 2004 reliving the cringe-worthy but life-defining melodramatics of high school rendered in song.

MEAN GIRLS THE MUSICAL NOW PLAYING @ ACADEMY OF MUSIC THRU DEC. 1

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

From_Russia_w _Blood copy

 

FRESH AIR: In 2006, as Russia was preparing to host the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, its parliament passed a law legalizing extrajudicial killings of accused “extremists” abroad. “It was an extraordinary moment,” BuzzFeed News journalist Heidi Blake says. “Even as Western leaders were sitting around the table with Putin in St. Petersburg, at that very moment, laws were being passed … that enabled enemies of the Russian state to be murdered by Russian state agents on foreign soil with absolute impunity.”

Blake maintains that Russia subsequently engaged in an assassination program that targeted exiled Russian oligarchs, security officials and others critical of the Kremlin. “We could see there was a pattern of suspicious deaths linked to Russia,” Blake says. “And in every single case there was evidence that would appear to connect those deaths to Russia.”

Blake and her BuzzFeed News team were finalists in 2017 for their investigation of Russian assassinations on British soil. Her new book based on that reporting, From Russia with Blood, chronicles 14 suspected assassinations in the U.K., including the death by poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, a defector who had been critical of the law allowing extrajudicial killings. “Litvinenko was trying to warn publicly that this [law] would mean that Russian defectors living in Britain would be at risk — and it was only months later that he himself was assassinated,” Blake says. MORE

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THE METHOD ACTOR: Q&A W/ Alex Cameron

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

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Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 1.07.47 PMBY JASMIN ALVAREZ It’s been two years since the release of Alex Cameron’s Forced Witness—his most controversial record to date, for which he donned the persona of a conservative and bigoted macho-male who falls for an illegal immigrant, and which landed just before all the business with Weinstein and Trump. Earlier this year, Cameron released his third album, Miami Memory (2019). While the fictional songwriting personas he has often used as narrative vehicles make cameos—such as the empowered and money-making sex industry workers in “Far From Born Again” and the embittered drunkard caught in a power-struggle with his absentee wife in “Divorce”—this album takes a sharp turn toward the more intimate and personal. Donning the role of narrator himself, Cameron has created a highly-danceable and sweet memento of his three-year relationship with his girlfriend, the English actress Jemima Kirke (Girls). In advance of his performance at Johnny Brenda’s on Wednesday November 20th, we got the Aussie-born raconteur on the phone.

DISCUSSED: the process he undergoes in the creation of his characters, the profound intimacy found in unfiltered conversation, rising water levels and its effect on coastal towns, the charity of his fans who once got him out of a difficult situation and saved his show, and his enthusiasm about local bar and indie-rock venue, Johnny Brenda’s.

PHAWKER: So, just to let you know, I am recording this conversation. Also, as a sidenote, this is my first Alex-Cameroninterview and I am a huge fan of your music. I’m excited to do this.

ALEX CAMERON: Oh! Oh my goodness! Wow. This sounds fun.

PHAWKER: So let’s get started. So I was reading that, when you wrote Miami Memory, you intended to build a monument out of the album to present to Jemima as a gift. I’m curious – what significance does Miami hold for the two of you?

ALEX CAMERON: Miami is just a town where the absolute — I don’t know. I guess I feel like, if I look back on it, we kind of had our biggest moments there, you know? Our biggest fights, our biggest parties, our best sex. It’s the place where everything BIG happened for us.

PHAWKER: Oh, did you both live there for some time?

ALEX CAMERON: No, we just keep going there! We keep going back. When I’m on break from work, you know? And I feel like, at the same time, when it comes to Miami the city, it holds all of these memories for me, but I also feel like it won’t be there forever. It might get swallowed by the ocean or something.
(more…)

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