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CINEMA: The Best Film Of 2020 So Far

July 17th, 2020

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC While we can all agree 2020 has been a pretty terrible year, the films that have come out thus far actually have actually been pretty good. Because Hollywood’s blockbusters have been sidelined until further notice, smaller, quirkier films — which would ordinarily be trampled under foot by the marketing juggernaut of Big Hollywood tentpoles and superhero franchises — have been given a chance to shine. Here’s my list of the best films released in the first half of 2020 and currently streaming. Hopefully these films will offer a welcome distraction in these dark and dire times.

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Critics were divided as to whether director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (the de facto prequel to Birds Of Prey) was a solid actioner or a hot mess, we can all agree that Margot Robbie’s take on the villainous Harley Quinn didn’t disappoint. Birds Of Prey opens with Harley blowing up Ace Chemicals, announcing, in effect, that her romance with The Joker is officially over. From here on she will have to make her own way in the mean streets of Gotham which will be no easy feat given that every person/superhero she’s ever crossed is after her for retribution. When Black Mask (played by Ewan McGregor at his scenery-chewing finest) offers her a way to earn clemency by stealing a diamond from the police, things get complicated fast. Mayhem ensues.

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Photographer Autumn de Wilde’s feature length directorial debut is a new take on the classic that has a very contemporary feel despite its lush period-perfect 19th Century setting, thanks in large measure to Anya’s indelible take on the 21-year-old matchmaker played by Anya Talyor-Joy. When one of her matches goes horribly wrong with the potential suitor confessing his love for Emma, it inadvertently sets the young woman on the path that will ultimately lead her to true love. The film’s dry wit and whip smart humor makes it both a breath of fresh air and instantly re-watchable.

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The latest cinematic take on the H. G. Wells classic The Invisible Man, veers away from the source text to tell a much bleaker story, that is as much about domestic violence as it is its titular monster. Set in modern day San Francisco, the film opens with Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) fleeing her abusive husband Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who made his fortune in the field of optics. When he dies two weeks later due an apparent suicide, Cecilia inherits $5 million and the unshakeable feeling that someone is following her. Thrust into a downward spiral of paranoia, Cecilia is stripped of everything she holds dear by a mysterious force she believes is her dead husband, who even in death seems bent on controlling her.

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Written and directed by Zoé Wittock, Jumbo is the true story of Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) a peculiar young woman about to start her first day as a night time janitor at a seasonal rural amusement park. We get the idea that she already took this job with ulterior motives in mind as we see her first one-on-one interaction with the new tilt-a-whirl ride at the park, which she has affectionately nick-named “Jumbo.” We witness Jeanne’s trial-and-error discovery of her sexuality, all the while trying desperately not to alienate her mother, who just wants her to meet a nice boy. Because her mother anchors her to reality, the audience never loses its tether to Jeanne in this bizarrely endearing and otherworldly relationship.

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Kristen Stewart stars as the French New Wave sensation Joan Seberg, who became the victim of an FBI operation to defame her character and ruin her career thanks to her involvement with the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. The film recounts how the government drove the bombshell actress to madness, and possibly death over her political beliefs and her involvement with activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie). Stewart delivers a hauntingly beautiful performance as the star who, after breaking out in Jean-Luc Godard’s film Breathless was set to take on the world, but wound up on the FBI’s hit list because the G-men didn’t like her politics.

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Never Rarely is the saga of 17-year-old Autumn’s journey from rural Pennsylvania to New York so she can get an abortion without her parent’s consent. It’s the age old story of Country Mouse and City Mouse, as the two young women arrive in New York City with no place to stay and just enough money to finance a single day in the Big Apple. Upon her arrival, Autumn learns that her appointment has been delayed because she is much further along in her pregnancy than she was originally told by doctors and will require a multi-day procedure. To pass the time, she wanders the streets waiting for the nights to turn into days, with danger and adventure lurking around every corner.

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If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if the guys behind The Lonely Island decided to riff off of Groundhog’s Day, this film’s got you covered. When she hooks up with her sister’s boyfriend Nyles (Andy Samberg) at a wedding, Sarah Wilder (Cristin Milioti) suddenly finds herself trapped in a time loop. Because of some glitch in the time/space continuum, Nyles has been re-living the same day over and over again for as long as he can remember and now she is, too. Despite all odds, a romance blooms as Nyles shows Sarah the ropes of living in an infinitely-repeating time loop and hilarity ensues.

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Da Five Bloods follows the surviving members of an all-black Army platoon, nicknamed “Da Bloods” (Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Delroy Lindo), who have returned to Vietnam 45 years after their final tour in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader/mentor, “Stormin” Norman (Chadwick Boseman). What we soon discover is that during the conflict, the five Bloods were on a mission to deliver to the South Vietnamese $14 million in gold. When their plane was shot down in hostile territory, the men buried the gold and reported it stolen by the Vietcong after the crash landing, which also resulted in Norman’s death. Gold tends to bring out the worst in people and it does just that here as the men who never really left the war are now pulled back in for an epic adventure that will test their friendships and push the men to their limits.

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This fascinating doc directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine (The Overnighters) covers the seven-day American Legion Boys State convention wherein thousands of teenage boys (mostly white and conservative) descend upon Austin, Texas, to build a fictitious two-party government from the ground up. The film follows the path of one very progressive, charismatic, young Mexican-American as he travels to the den of conservative hoping to be elected governor, the highest office in Boys State. The film aptly mirrors the current political landscape in that some of the kids’ campaigns focus on how to better the lives of the citizenry, while others concentrate on tearing down their competition to win. In the end, Boys State manages to leave its viewer with a rare commodity in these troubled times: hope.

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Shirley is a “biographical drama” about the life of iconic horror writer Shirley Jackson, who is probably best known for her short story masterworks The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House. The film follows a young couple who moves in with Shirley and her Bennington College professor-husband, Stanley Hyman, and how their lives are forever changed by their time with the very eccentric couple. Elisabeth Moss gives a stunning performance as the titular Shirley, a horror writer who finds inspiration in a young woman’s disappearance to start her first full length novel Hangsaman all the while battling with depression and agoraphobia. The film presents a stark portrait of Shirley’s troubled relationship with her macabre gift in a time when female horror writers of her caliber were unicorns.

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LOST & FOUND: Art Blakey’s Just Coolin’

July 17th, 2020

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Blue Note Records has released Just Coolin’, a never-before-released studio album by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers that was recorded on March 8, 1959 in Rudy Van Gelder’s living room studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. The session featured a short-lived line-up of The Jazz Messengers with drummer Art Blakey, trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Bobby Timmons, and bassist Jymie Merritt. The album is available now to stream, download, on CD, and all-analog 180g vinyl mastered by Kevin Gray. The session for Just Coolin’ finds The Jazz Messengers’ saxophone chair in transition. The band had last recorded in October 1958 when they cemented their place in jazz history with the classic album Moanin’ featuring Benny Golson on tenor saxophone. By July 1959, Blakey had recruited tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter who would remain a fixture of the band until 1964. The interim saw the return of Mobley, who was a charter member of The Jazz Messengers when the band first formed in 1954 and appeared on their debut recording The Jazz Messengers At The Café Bohemia in 1955. Mobley also filled an important role as the band’s resident composer. In fact, three of the six tracks on Just Coolin’ were written by Mobley: “Hipsippy Blues,” “M&M,” and “Just Coolin’.” However, five weeks after the studio session Blue Note founder and producer Alfred Lion decided to record the band again at the legendary club Birdland in New York City on April 15, 1959, capturing an assured live recording that included four of the six titles that had been recorded in March. The Birdland sessions ended up superseding the studio date when Lion instead released the two-volume live album Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers At The Jazz Corner Of The World later that year.

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Put Your Mask On

July 17th, 2020

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A Trump supporter explains why he/she refuses to social distance or wear a mask:

1) It’s inconvenient, 2) It’s my Constitutional right not to (I don’t know where that came from, but I know I heard it somewhere), 3) I really don’t give a shit about anyone other than myself, 4) That includes my wife or husband and/or my SMUSgirlfriend and/or my boyfriend, 5) That also includes all of my children (known or unknown), 6) It also includes my mother, 7) And my father, 8) And my grandmother, 9) And my grandfather, 10) It also includes all of my remaining relatives, friends and acquaintances … and all of their children, their parents and their grandparents, 11) It also includes all of the Americans that I may have failed to identify previously and that I may come within zero feet or less of for the remainder of my time on planet earth, 12) Last and very definitely not least, the president and the vice president, the governors of Georgia (apparently he’s REALLY serious about it) and a couple of other states–as well as Kayleigh McEnany and Chuck Woolery–say I shouldn’t, wouldn’t or couldn’t be forced to do so. God bless America. – WILLIAM C. HENRY

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up later stage septuagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.

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Police Blinded Eight People In ONE Day At BLM Protests Around The Country & Then Lied About It

July 15th, 2020

WASHINGTON POST: Protests erupted in cities across the country on May 30, the Saturday after George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis. As law enforcement officers moved to clear the streets, some fired what are called “less lethal” munitions.The Washington Post found that eight people lost vision in one eye after being struck by police projectiles, including lead pellets packed in cloth pouches that were fired from shotguns. They were among 12 people who were partially blinded by police during a week of national unrest. Of the eight who lost sight that day, six were protesters, one was a photojournalist, and another was a passerby. Drawing on cellphone and surveillance videos, along with other records, The Post reconstructed the circumstances of three of those incidents in detail. Watch the video above to see what happened — and to compare it with the official accounts of those incidents and with police department rules on when officers are permitted to use force. MORE

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WIRE FROM THE BUNKER: Meet Sandy Denny

July 14th, 2020

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Houlon2BY JONATHAN HOULON This week’s Wire concerns the First Lady of British Folk, the late great Sandy Denny. At the outset of this series of Wires, I promised to focus on music of which you are likely unaware. I felt confident in this regard because I am cooler than you. But I should also point out that my ability to do these deep dives, as it were, is largely based on my privileged white male privilege (no, that is not redundant: I grew up in Rockville, Maryland). I have been blessed with enough leisure time and resources in my half century or so on this Hell we created called Earth to chase my interests with little limitation. Trust me: you can’t just look this stuff up on Wikipedia or you-tube or Apple Music (which everyone insists I need to get … actually I don’t, thanks) or whatever “platform” you employ. You won’t arrive where I have. You need a map and an attention span and you won’t find the former in a hand-held device and, from what I can tell, you post-humans don’t even possess the latter. In other words, don’t try this at home.

The point I’m trying to arrive at is that Sandy Denny may actually be known to some of you. At the very least, there is a strong likelihood that you have heard her voice, whether you were aware of it or not, as Sandy sings a duet with Robert Plant on the ubiquitous Led Zep IV (or Zoso as it is also known). Apparently, and this is a tribute to her peerless vocal talents –Peter Townsend once said of Sandy, “She was a perfect British folk voice. Not a trace of vibrato. Pure and easy.” — Denny is the only person to ever appear on a Zeppelin record other than the Zep guys themselves. Heavy, man!

Moreover, Sandy sings a song — “The Battle of Evermore” — on the Mike Damone-approved side one of Zoso. You cinephiles will recall that in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Herr Docktor Damone instructs his protege Rat as per Point Five of his Five Point Plan re: dating that “when it comes down to making out, if at all possible, put on Side One of Led Zeppelin IV.”

Generally sound advice, I think. Shall we review the first side of that particular platter? The first track “Black Dog” begins with this morsel of poesy: “Hey, hey mama said the way you move // gon’ make you sweat, gon’ make you groove.” Now if that doesn’t draw the fairer sex in, I don’t what would. Next up we’ve got “Rock’n’Roll” where Plant proclaims: “Open your arms, baby, let my love come running in.” Pure aphrodisia, I’d say. Side one ends with that war-horse, “Stairway to Heaven,” which includes the following: “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now.” I suppose this could be considered a form of consent if you, uh, get my drift. But track three (Sandy’s duet with Plant on “The Battle of Evermore”) is the outlier in terms of inducing any sort of sexual congress. The song opens with this couplet: “Queen of Light took her bow and then she turned to go // The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom and walked the night alone.” Now there may be some Renaissance Fair ladies who go in for this sort of thing but, honestly, Evermore strikes me as a real non-starter in terms of “making out” or anything else. Perhaps I’m taking Damone too literally here. For all I know, he meant to suggest a merger of the Lacanian feminine and masculine in the otherworldly meld of the Denny/Plant vocal. At times it is hard to distinguish between the two!

So, yea, you may have actually heard Sandy’s voice before. You folkies out there would surely be familiar with her from her days in Fairport Convention. In short, Sandy Denny is hardly obscure: she has been the subject of two full length biographies and, in England at least, maintains a mighty cult following (warranting no less than a 17-disc box set in this century alone) which has continued to grow since her tragic death in 1978. Sandy, who fought a long and brutal battle with the bottle, allegedly sustained a brain hemorrhage following a fall down her parents’ steps. Richard Thompson later asked the musical question regarding said fall: “Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed?” Dunno, Rich!

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INCOMING: Saint Nick Unplugged

July 13th, 2020

IDIOT PRAYER: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace – Nick Cave performs solo at the piano in a film shot this June, at the iconic London venue. Join the global live streaming event on 23 July 2020.In this very special show, audiences around the world will see Cave play his songs in a rarely seen stripped back form. From early Bad Seeds and Grinderman, right through to the most recent Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album, Ghosteen, Cave will perform over 20 songs from his extensive catalogue. The performance was filmed by award-winning Cinematographer Robbie Ryan (The Favourite, Marriage Story, American Honey) in Alexandra Palace’s stunning West Hall. It was edited by Nick Emerson (Lady Macbeth, Emma, Greta).

Tickets are now on sale to view the film online, which will be streamed at three times globally:

Australia & Asia: 8pm AEST
UK & Europe: 8pm BST / 9pm CEST
North & South America: 7pm PDT / 10pm EDT

For tickets and information on your local time visit DICE.

NOTE: The film will be streamed as a live experience, and will not be available to view online following the event.

“Idiot Prayer’ evolved from my ‘Conversations With…’ events, performed over the last year or so. I loved playing deconstructed versions of my songs at these shows, distilling them to their essential forms—with an emphasis on the delivery of the words. I felt I was rediscovering the songs all over again, and started to think about going into a studio and recording these reimagined versions at some stage—whenever I could find the time.

Then, of course, the world went into lockdown. The Bad Seeds’ global 2020 tour was postponed. Studios shut down. Venues shut down. And the world fell into an eerie, self-reflective silence.

It was within this silence that I began to think about the idea of not only recording the songs, but also filming them – and so we started to assemble a small team, including the great cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, sound man, Dom Monks, and editor, Nick Emerson, with the intention to film as soon as it became feasible to get back to business in some way.

Meanwhile, I sat at home working out how to play more songs in the ‘Conversations’ format—new songs and songs from the Ghosteen album, Grinderman songs and early Bad Seeds stuff, and everything in between.

We worked with the team at Alexandra Palace – a venue I have played and love – on securing a date to film just as soon as they were allowed to re-open the building to us. We had an amazing production team and crew, and what they did within this extraordinary situation was a marvel. Surrounded by Covid officers with tape measures and thermometers, masked-up gaffers and camera operators, nervous looking technicians and buckets of hand gel, together we created something very strange and very beautiful that spoke into this uncertain moment, but was in no way bowed by it.

‘Idiot Prayer’ serves as the final film in a trilogy— along with ’20,000 Days on Earth’ and ‘One More Time with Feeling’—and is its luminous and heartfelt climax. ‘Idiot Prayer’ is a prayer into the void—alone at Alexander Palace. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.” — NICK CAVE

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CINEMA: Milk Cow Blues

July 10th, 2020

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FIRST COW (directed Kelly Reichardt, 122 minutes, USA, 2020)

BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Directed by Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women, Night Moves), First Cow is the story of a cook named Cookie (John Magaro) and a migrant Chinese laborer named King Lu (Orion Lee) set in the newly settled Oregon Territory circa 1820. After a chance meeting one night, when Cookie comes across King naked and on the run in the forest and Cookie provides the stranger with both clothes and provisions Good Samaritan-style, they meet again some months later in a small town where they begin an Odd Couple-esque domestic partnership.

When the titular first cow arrives in town, Cookie and King conspire to make a fortune stealing its milk and selling milk-infused cakes to the weary travelers that come through town on their way to the west. But the manure hits the fan when Chief Factor (Toby Jones), the wealthy landowner who owns the cow notices something vaguely familiar about these purloined milk-infused cakes and invites them to his home for a private meal.

First Cow was produced by A24 and the studio originally wanted to wait out the Covid-19 epidemic so audiences could fully appreciate cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt’s (Emma., The Bling Ring) breathtakingly beautiful rendering of the rustic splendor of the American Frontier on the big screen. But given that there’s no end to the pandemic in sight, they’ve surrendered to the streaming services, and I’m glad they did. First Cow is like a warm plate of comfort food in these troubled times. The real charm of the film is the platonic friendship between these two men — one an immigrant and the other a settler — and, well, a cow. It’s something you just don’t really see in movies very often.

Given A24’s reputation for more transgressive fare, I kept waiting for that twist to pull the sincerity rug out from under us. Instead the film content to be a simple snapshot of frontier life that finds its joy in conversations and the simpler problems of the frontier cook, like where to find fresh honey and milk. In its own charming way, First Cow is a perfect film, told through cinematic language and narrative that left me feeling somehow more hopeful about the troubled world we live in.

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REALITY CHECK: The Stone Cold Truth About Trump’s Tenure At The University Of Pennsylvania

July 10th, 2020

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PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: It was, it can be said without fear of exaggeration, a day that will live in infamy. When President Donald Trump emerged from his mysterious one-on-one summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in July of 2018, the respective visages and body language of the two world leaders could not have been further apart. The Russian president looked smug and sated, like a vampire with a bellyful of peasant blood; Trump looked like a man who’d just received a painful enema. Or, as grizzled, now-banished White House aide-de-camp Steve Bannon describes it in Siege, Michael Wolff’s decadent and depraved follow-up to 2018’s Trumpworld tell-all Fire And Fury, “like a beaten dog.”

Speculation within Trump’s inner circle was that Putin must have something on Trump. The pee tape? Evidence that Don Jr. tried to buy Hillary’s emails? His tax returns? Nah. As Bannon told Wolff, “nobody gives a fuck” about that stuff. But, he wondered, “What if they have his college transcript?”

Ahh, the college transcript. Trump famously graduated from Penn’s Wharton School in 1968 — a fact he reminds audiences of over and over again. (Per Penn’s student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, he publicly name-dropped Wharton 52 times between June 2015 and January 2018.) But despite all his humblebragging about that Wharton degree, Trump has never allowed his academic performance there to be made public.

“This was a major, major thing with Trump — that people might think he’s stupid,” Michael Wolff told me around the time of Siege’s publication earlier this summer. “The focus of that for Trump is the college transcripts, which are apparently terrible. I’ve spoken to friends of Trump from that time, and this was a guy that was obviously not interested in school and possibly never read a book in his life. For everyone that had known him then and years afterward, the assumption was that he had terrible grades, he was a lackluster student at best.”

In truth, Trump’s Wharton GPA is just one of many mysteries surrounding the 45th president’s relationship with Penn, Philadelphia’s most powerful private institution, which, unwittingly or not, helped unleash Trump on the world. Over the years, there have been rumors about how Trump might have gotten into Penn in the first place, and how much — or how little — he’s donated to the school as an alum. There are tales about Trump’s social life as a Penn undergrad — did he, in fact, have a fling with Candice Bergen? And there are stories — including one particularly juicy one — about the Penn careers of Trump kids Don Jr., Ivanka and Tiffany, all of whom followed in their old man’s red-and-blue footsteps.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this shroud of mystery is Penn itself; the school’s sphinx-like reticence about its most famous alumnus plays at times like a silent scream. For instance, Penn has never had Trump deliver a commencement speech or conferred an honorary degree on him. In the wake of his election, Penn tour guides were discouraged from bringing up the T-word and issued simple instructions for handling questions about Trump’s tenure at Penn: Keep it short and sweet — “Yes, he graduated from Wharton in 1968” — and leave it at that. Tell Penn you’re writing an article about Donald Trump’s time there, and you’ll get the academic version of name, rank and serial number: “Donald J. Trump earned a B.S. in real estate, which was awarded on May 20, 1968,” says Ron Ozio, Penn’s director of media relations, declining my request for an interview. Which is peculiar, given that most universities make a lot of marketing hay out of an alumnus in the White House — and Trump is Penn’s first.

So what is the truth about Trump and Penn? What’s the reality behind all those rumors? Because Philadelphians deserve answers, and because I’ve made a career out of lost causes and thankless jobs, I went on a hunt for the facts. MORE

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QUESTLOVE SUPREME: Q&A W/ Rick Rubin

July 9th, 2020

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I HEART RADIO: He has coined himself the great “Reducer”. However, his imprint on hip hop can not be reduced. Rick Rubin established one of the greatest record labels of all time, which we know as Def Jam and has been going ever since. His sound has been requested by the greats of our time. From the LL Cool J, Red Hot Chilli Peppers to Kanye West and the Dixie Chicks to Mick Jagger and more. Rick Rubin is the guru of sound. He is also one of Questlove Supreme’s most awaited and anticipated interviews. Yes, class is back in session so take a seat! MORE

RELATED: When [legendary record producer] Rick Rubin first picked up the Lucite guitar his mother bought him when he was a high school freshman, it wasn’t to play like George Benson. He was into Johnny Ramone. The person who taught him how to play guitar was Steve Free­man, his high school audio-visual instruc­tor. Freeman, who describes himself as a hippie, recalls: “Even back in high school, Rick was always Mr. Self-Promotion who could get anything he wanted. He was listening IMG_4195mostly to AC/DC and punk rock when he found out that groups like the Clash had learned how to play their in­struments something like a month before they formed a group. So Rick thought, ‘Why not me?’ ”

Rubin practiced to early Ramones LPs and after three months, he could play just as fast. After another three, he could play faster, which meant better. Around his sophomore year, he formed the Pricks. In addition to speed, Rubin ad­mired punk’s ability to swindle record companies. The Plasmatics’ television demolition publicity stunts appealed to the magician in him, and for a while he hung out with their mohawked guitar player Ritchie Stotts. With the school’s four-track recorder, Rubin made Pricks cassettes. His goal was to play CBGB, upset people, start fights, and get thrown out. It worked.

Freeman may say harsh things about Rubin, but as with most others, it’s spo­ken not with resentment, but with awe. “His father once had an easy-credit fur­niture store. Like his father, Rick knows how to get poor people to buy things. When he was in high school, Rick didn’t hang out in browntown [Long Beach’s black neighborhood], But he’s imitative and knows how to change people, He’s made the Beastie Boys into his alter ego — they never cursed or got high before they met Rick. He had more friends than many kids, but he looked down on a lot of people, too. Some resented him because of his car, others because he could get A’s without studying. Even back then, he knew how to use the system.” MORE

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EXHUMING MCCARTHY: The Father Of Trumpism

July 7th, 2020

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FRESH AIR: On Feb. 9, 1950, Joseph McCarthy, a junior senator from Wisconsin, stunned the nation — and stoked the paranoia of the Cold War — when he alleged that there were 205 spies working within the U.S. State Department. It was the beginning of a four-year anti-communist, anti-gay crusade in which McCarthy would charge military leaders, diplomats, teachers and professors with being traitors.

Author Larry Tye chronicles McCarthy’s infamous smear campaign in the new book Demagogue. He describes the Republican senator as an “an opportunist and a cynic” who deliberately preyed on public fears. “His tactics included playing the press brilliantly,” Tye says. “He understood that if you lobbed one bombshell and that [proved] to be a fraud, rather than waiting for the press the next day to expose it as a fraud, he had a fresh bombshell ready to go.”

Many of the people McCarthy accused lost their jobs. Others went to prison. Wyoming Sen. Lester Hunt killed himself in his Senate office after McCarthy and his allies tried to blackmail him into resigning. In 1954, McCarthy’s campaign finally ended when the U.S. Senate voted to censure him. More than 70 years later, Tye draws a parallel between McCarthy’s tactics and President Trump’s divisive rhetoric. He notes that McCarthy’s chief legal counsel, Roy Cohn, served as Trump’s lawyer and mentor in the 1970s. But beyond that, he says, both McCarthy and Trump are “bullies” who exploit fears and “point fingers when they’re attacked.”

“If there’s any lesson to be learned from Joe McCarthy, it is that we are no less vulnerable to demagogues in our midst than Russia or than Italy or than Brazil,” Tye says. “We’ve got to learn from our history to recognize these bullies at an early point — and to understand how to stand up to them.” MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: Hail To The Karen-In-Chief

July 5th, 2020

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PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: Because hell hath no fury like a mildly inconvenienced middle-aged Caucasian lady, the Internet gave this genus of white privilege a name: Karen. In Internet memes, she is invariably pictured with a South Philly mom cut — think Kate Gosselin’s kicky cowlicked bob gone rogue. Current mood: She would like to speak with the manager, please. Lately it seems like the Karens have gone wild in America, as you’ve no doubt seen all over the Internet: freaking the fuck out at Red Lobster and Trader Joe’s, calling the cops to report flagrant BWB (barbecuing while Black), calling the cops to report a Black girl selling water on the sidewalk, calling the cops to report a Black, Harvard-educated science editor in Central Park for having the temerity to ask her to put her dog on a leash as required by law.

And now the Karens are armed and dangerous. Just last weekend in St. Louis, a husband-and-wife team of personal-injury-lawyer Karens emerged from their gilded palace of slip-and-fall — wild-eyed and barefoot, with guns drawn and itchy trigger fingers trembling — and literally took aim at a group of Black Lives Matter protesters who had gate-crashed their private street on their way to the mayor’s house. (Yes, males can be Karens, too. I can’t think of a more ignominious death than to be gunned down by a couple that one wag on Twitter dubbed Guns N’ Rosé.) “I was terrified that we’d be murdered within seconds, our house would be burned down, our pets would be killed,” Mark McCloskey, who is brandishing an assault rifle in video of the incident, breathlessly told an interviewer afterward.

This was a new plot twist: Usually, Karens don’t lock and load; they call the cops. Karens love to call the cops; it’s their go-to move. Their idea of dispute resolution is to dial 911 and — usually through a veil of fake hysterics and crocodile tears — falsely report that whichever Black person(s) she is currently arguing with is in fact threatening her life. Karens are at least woke enough to know that bad things tend to happen to Black people when the cops show up — which is, of course, why they call them. The Bonnie and Clyde of the Brooks Brothers set notwithstanding, Karens don’t personally inflict violence on their perceived enemies; they order it over the phone, like a pizza. MORE

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FOXYCONTIN: The Whole World Knows

July 5th, 2020

Foxycontin’s “The Whole World Knows I’ll Never Get Over It Now” from the album This Time You’re On Your Own on Sister Raygun Records.

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CINEMA: The Founding Brothers

July 3rd, 2020

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HAMILTON (directed by Thomas Kail, 180 minutes, USA, 2020)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Originally planned for a fall 2021 release, it’s hard to see Disney’s move to drop the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning musical Hamilton on their proprietary platform FREE to subscribers on July 3rd as anything less than a response to current events. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip hop musical about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton tapped into the politico/sociocultural zeitgeist, generating the kind of rabid fandom usually reserved for things like Marvel or Star Wars. After a bidding war, Disney copped the theatrical rights to the performance filmed at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016, two weeks before the parting of not only Lin-Manuel Miranda (Alexander Hamilton), but Leslie Odom, Jr. (Aaron Burr), and Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton).

What often gets lost in the breathless headlines about astronomical ticket prices and the social media bragging rights bestowed on those lucky or deep-pocketed enough to land a seat in “the room where it happens” is the fact that Hamilton’s story of a poor immigrant who works his way up from nothing to become a Founding Father of this great country has never been more relevant that it is today. While the production pre-dates the Age of Trump, Lin-Manuel’s transposition of the race and language of the cast of Hamilton has become a de facto touchstone of The Resistance. Hamilton keeps the audience ruminating on its themes of power, race and family with its super-catchy hybrid of traditional Broadway tropes, R&B motifs and banging hip-hop.

Given the closure of Broadway due to the Pandemic and the trend to stream performances to satiate theater audiences, I’ve definitely seen more than my fair share of shows recently. As you’d expect, Hamilton is filmed as a stage show, but the camera is not satisfied to give you just a stageside view. The camera moves rather dynamically on stage and even gives us moments where we are face to face with our cast, and it’s here Hamilton really shines. Since the cast at the time it was filmed was three years into a Broadway run and the show was at its peak, you have that passion, that confidence and that comfortability in their roles and performances, that feels effortless as they run through the musical. In these brief character moments you witness actors not simply going through the motions, but putting in fully nuanced performances that have been honed to perfection, that would have been virtually invisible otherwise.

Watching Hamilton on Disney+, I have to say it’s still pretty damn great. I really hope now that it’s been made more accessible more people will discover and be inspired by it — people who may not really be into musicals or the hefty price tag of theatre tickets. The biggest take away here for those that may have only caught the touring version or heard the cast recording, is how utterly awe-inspiring it is to see Lin-Manuel inhabit the role of Alexander Hamilton onscreen, commanding the stage and spitting the bars that made him a household name as the “bastard, orphan, son of a whore Scotsman.” In these are difficult times it’s nice to see both the themes and music of Hamilton still work their magic and remind us of a time when we as a people stood together against an invading enemy.

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