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HALLELUJAH: 86 Years Ago Today A King Was Born

January 15th, 2015



TIME: From his earliest memory Martin King has had a strong aversion to violence in all its forms. The school bully walloped him; Martin did not fight back. His younger brother flailed away at him; Martin stood and took it. A white woman in a store slapped him, crying, “You’re the [n—-r] who stepped on my foot.” Martin said nothing. Cowardice? If so, it would come as a surprise to Montgomery, where Martin Luther King has unflinchingly faced the possibility of violent death for months.

The shabby, overcrowded Negro schools in Atlanta were no match for the keen, probing (“I like to get in over my head, then bother people with questions”) mind of Martin King; he leapfrogged through high school in two years, was ready at 15 for Atlanta‘s Morehouse College, one of the South’s Negro colleges. At Morehouse, King worked with the city’s Intercollegiate Council, an integrated group, and learned a valuable lesson. “I was ready to resent all the white race,” he says. “As I got to see more of white people, my resentment was softened, and a spirit of cooperation took its place. But I never felt like a spectator in the racial problem. I wanted to be involved in the very heart of it.”

As a kid, in the classic tradition of kids, Martin wanted to be a fireman. Then, hoping to treat man’s physical ills, he planned to become a doctor. Becoming more deeply engrossed in the problems of his race, he turned his hopes to the law because “I could see the part I could play in breaking down the legal barriers to Negroes.” At Morehouse, he came to final resolution. “I had been brought up in the church and knew about religion,” says King, “but I wondered whether it could serve as a vehicle to modern thinking. I wondered whether religion, with its emotionalism in Negro churches, could be intellectually respectable as well as emotionally satisfying.” He decided it could—and that he would become a minister. MORE –Feb. 18, 1957

RELATED: The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Arguably the greatest moment in 20th Century oration.

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

January 15th, 2015

Broad City




Comedy Central’s television show Broad City has been compared to Girls and Sex and the City, but when co-creators, co-writers and co-stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer were creating the web series that ended up being a prototype of their TV show, they were actually channeling Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. “We didn’t realize it was going to be character development for a TV show later,” Glazer tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “I think we looked to Larry David more than anybody else.” Broad City is about two single 20-somethings, also named Abbi and Ilana, who live in New York City, have dead-end jobs and spend a lot of time hanging out, smoking weed and making each other laugh. “[She’s] cleaning all sorts of disgusting things up, mostly bodily fluids and remnants,” Jacobson says. “But [she] dreams of bigger things and her social life mostly consists of hanging out with her best friend, Ilana, who pulls her out of her comfort zone into these crazy adventures.” Glazer’s character, Ilana Wexler, is a free-spirited, loyal “hedonist,” according to Glazer. “She likes to feel good; she likes pleasure,” she says. “I feel like at this point in her life the most important thing is her friendship with Abbi — that’s the grounding through-line for my character.” The web series was produced between 2009 and 2011. “It was like Curb … because they were these short slices that didn’t wrap up usually, or they were just little segments of these characters’ lives,” Jacobson says. Glazer and Jacobson met at the improv comedy group the Upright Citizens Brigade, which was co-founded by Amy Poehler. The two used their improv community in their web series, often featuring guest stars, including Poehler. Later, when the Broad City duo pitched their show as a TV series, Poehler came on board as an executive producer. The Comedy Central series begins its second season on Wednesday. MORE

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REALITY SHOW: If Comcast Was Your Boyfriend

January 14th, 2015



INDEPENDENT JOURNAL REVIEW: Back in October, we reported on Comcast once again making the number one spot on’s list of the worst companies in America, taking out Sea World, Walmart and Monsato in the “final four.” Some key issues with the company are highlighted in the video: MORE

PHAWKER: If Comcast is your boyfriend, believe me, you have a lot bigger problems than him not showing up on time. Wait until he starts slapping you around with completely arbitrary fees, like charging you $6 for the pleasure of paying your bill over the phone with an actual Comcast representative, or that $8 a month rental fee on his shitty router that he insists on keeping at your house, or the $15 a month he makes you pay because he has some weird retro fetish with landlines, knowing fully well you’ll never use it. Or the $20 bucks month he expects you to give him for the new and improved but still only 10th fastest Internet service in the world. Tenth. We’re tenth. USA! USA! And good luck trying to break up with him, he’ll swear to you he’s gonna change and sweet talk you with free HBO or put you on hold for hours until you just give up on breaking up with him. There should be a shelter that consumers can go to escape an abusive relationship with a cable/Internet provider, and a Cable Court that issues restraining orders. Most of all, there should be some kind of regulatory agency that polices the communications marketplace and ensures that predatory cable company boyfriends don’t acquaintance rape their consumer girlfriends. We could call it the Federal Communications Commission. I know, I know, pretty pie in the sky stuff. Well, fella can dream, can’t he?


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Last Year The PPA Collected $233 Million In Parking Fees & Fines, Just $9 Million Of It Went To Schools

January 13th, 2015



REDDIT: In 2014, the PPA brought in a combined revenue of $233,708,372 from its On-Street & Off-Street parking operations. $121,531,303 was from On-Street parking enforcement (ticketing) alone. While, you’d think that numbers like this would be a boon for the city. After constant wasteful spending, hyper-inflated salaries/pensions, and uncontrolled budgets – the city only actually receives a small portion of this. At the end of the fiscal year, only $46.5 million of their $233 million in revenue ended up going to the the City general fund & the School district. A measly $9.7 million of this was reserved for the struggling school district. Compare this with 2012, when $14 million was given to the schools, despite a $3 million increase in revenues since then.

The Parking Authority was originally created with the intentions to work 100% for the benefit of the City of Philadelphia, not against it. As with parking enforcement in other major cities, this is an agency which should be operating on a shoe-string budget, with the majority of all revenues going back into the city and school district. The financial statements indicate that the agency does not have control over its spending, and does not keep the welfare of the city of Philadelphia in mind when making budgeting decision. Cash for major capital projects should be raised & funded only with the approval of the city budget office, after its been determined it can be afforded with the city’s current financial needs. With their spending, money that would be given back to the city, is instead being re-invested back into PPA personnel, equipment, & projects. Do we really need to spend $70,000,000 on a new parking garage when thousands of teachers are threatened with their jobs. Does the PPA need brand new tow trucks and meter maid vehicles every year when kids are in classrooms with 40-50 peers and no text books? There are far greater priorities than frivolous investments which don’t directly benefit the people of Philadelphia. If demand calls for it, privately owned garages should & would inevitably fill any unmet needs. The citizens of Philadelphia should not stand to be pirated by this criminal organization. MORE

Dear PPA Tweet copy

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BOY’S LIFE: The Black Album

January 13th, 2015



Richard Linklater’s epic and altogether wonderful Boyhood chronicles the days in the life of a boy named Mason from age 5 to 18 and was filmed over the course of 12 years with the same actors. (You can read Phawker film critic Dan Buskirk’s review HERE) Ethan Hawke, who plays his father, assembles a definitive mix CD of solo Beatles for Mason’s 12th birthday. These are the one-from-the-heart liner notes that go with it, they derive from the liner notes he wrote for the solo Beatles comp CD he once made for his real-life daughter.


I wanted to give you something for your birthday that money couldn’t buy, something that only a father could give a son, like a family heirloom. This is the best I could do. Apologies in advance.

I present to you: THE BEATLES’ BLACK ALBUM.

The only work I’ve ever been a part of that I feel any sense of pride for involves something born in a spirit of collaboration — not my idea or his or her idea, but some unforeseeable magic that happens in creativity when energies collide.

This is the best of John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s solo work, post-BEATLES. Basically I’ve put the band back together for you. There’s this thing that happens when you listen to too much of the solo stuff separately — too much Lennon: suddenly there’s a little too much self-involvement in the room; too much Paul and it can become sentimental — let’s face it, borderline goofy; too much George: I mean, we all have our spiritual side but it’s only interesting for about six minutes, ya know? Ringo: He’s funny, irreverent, and cool, but he can’t sing — he had a bunch of hits in the ’70s (even more than Lennon) but you aren’t gonna go home and crank up a Ringo Starr album start to finish, you’re just not gonna do that. When you mix up their work, though, when you put them side by side and let them flow — they elevate each other, and you start to hear it: T H E B E A T L E S.

Just listen to the whole CD, OK?
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January 13th, 2015

Yosemite HD from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.

Because anyone who’s ever been there, present company included, will tell you that it’s so beautiful it verges on holy. This breathtaking HD stop-motion sunrise-to-nightfall footage offers incontrovertible proof. Thank you Teddy Roosevelt for the wisdom and foresight to make sure this sacred ground will forever be owned by The People.

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Cracks In The Wailing Wall

January 12th, 2015

Banksy Visit Palestine


BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Two weeks ago, the U.N. Security Council voted down a Palestinian resolution granting it statehood status. Somewhat remarkably, the resolution was only one vote short of the nine required for passage. Guess who voted against it? “We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo,” said UN Ambassador Samantha Power. “We voted against it because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.” And thus did a SMUSdehumanized Palestinian mission once again take it up the ass from us and the rest of our ilk at the United Nations. Once more the Palestinians had demonstrated the unmitigated gall of requesting that their existence as human beings be recognized as being on a level at least approaching that of the Zionist usurpers who continue to forcibly occupy their lands — as they have for the past 65+ years — all the while depriving them of every human right said usurpers claim to hold dear.

Well, here’s an altogether magnanimous idea: how ’bout if the rest of the world’s so-called “civilized” governments spring for an online course in human decency for the likes of the United States, Australia, Nigeria, the UK, South Korea, Lithuania and Rwanda? France, Russia, China, Chile, Chad, Argentina, Jordan and Luxembourg probably needn’t contribute since they’ve apparently already completed one. Those in the former group, however, obviously couldn’t care less what unconscionably immoral misery Palestinians have to suffer — for eternity if need be — so long as Israel is GUARANTEED inviolable security for the remainder of its unnatural life. Who cares what indignity, what injustice, what outrage the Palestinians have to bear so long as Israel gets to maintain its pharisaical Elohim-/Adonai-ordained existence?!

But then it’s ALWAYS been about Israel, hasn’t it? I mean, when has it EVER been about ANYTHING Palestinian? It’s ALWAYS been about Israel’s right to exist, no? When the hell has it EVER been about Palestine’s right to exist?! As a matter of fact, when the hell has it EVER been about ANYTHING pertinent, applicable, relevant, apropos or germane to ANY of the legitimate rights, grievances, concerns, wants or needs of the Palestinian people?! It has N – E – V – E – R been! Never in the annals of oppression have so many of the self-righteous so flagrantly ignored the desperation and despair, the sheer wretchedness, of so many of the egregiously wronged.

This morbid Middle Eastern opera may finally be reaching the fat lady’s solo, though. Following their reaming by the Security Council, the Palestinians have decided to resubmit the draft resolution that would impose a three year deadline on Israel to end its occupation of their lands. They’ve also applied for membership in the International Criminal Court. But, oh my, have these actions ever pissed off the Israeli and American governments! With what are no doubt some of the most classically sinister examples of “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”, Zionists and their sympathizers have reacted with vitriol ranging from agitated ire to lethal venom. The Obama administration is considering cutting off its annual aid, and Israel has already stated that it will cease returning in kind all of the taxes it currently collects from Palestinians. What should it tell us that the U.S. and Israel desperately want to prevent Palestinians from being able to bring charges of war crimes before an internationally participating independent investigative and determinative body?! It’s enough to make one wonder what indignity, what injustice they may yet feel entitled to inflict.

Sixty-five years and counting; sixty-five years of infamy and abomination and still it endures. One thing’s for certain: it will NOT last forever. Far sooner than later the tide will turn in the Palestinians’ favor. Far sooner than later a sufficient number of nations will discover consciences and tip to the Palestinians’ side. If Israel thinks for one minute that America is willing to go to war to insure the preservation of this kind of putrid status quo, they are sorely mistaken. Surely Refaat Alareer speaks for decency-seeking people everywhere when he writes: “There’s a Palestine that dwells inside all of us, a Palestine that needs to be rescued: a free Palestine where all people regardless of color, religion, or race coexist; a Palestine where the meaning of the word “occupation” is only restricted to what the dictionary says rather than those plenty of meanings and connotations of death, destruction, pain, suffering, deprivation, isolation and restrictions that Israel has injected the word with.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early 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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January 11th, 2015


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REWIND 2014: Movie Of The Year

January 11th, 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel by Marie Bergeron


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, directed by Wes Anderson, 99 minutes, USA)

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA  Wes Anderson is the two-word answer to the increasingly asked question: What good is a liberal arts education? Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Moonrise Kingdom, that’s what.There have been times in this country’s history when we’ve had to take stock, look into our hearts and ask ourselves: Do we really want to live in a world without English majors? And this is one of those times. Which only makes The Grand Budapest Hotel, director Wes Anderson’s eighth full-length feature, all the more grand and essential.  Let us rejoice, then, bundled up in our winter beards and our Blonde On Blonde scarves and check-in to The Hotel Andersonia where we will shelter in high style for a 99 minute respite from the ordinary, and the brutes and the vulgarians that lord over it.

Set in 1932, in the mythical alpine East European republic of Zubrowka on the eve of war, the plot of The Grand Budapest Hotel centers around the unfolding endgame of one M. Gustave, the perfumed, poetry-reciting, purple-tuxedoed concierge played with impeccable diction, grace and wit by Ralph Fiennes. M. Gustave is a touchstone to the fast-vanishing old-money grandeur and in-bred couth of Old Europe. Gustave moonlights as an omnisexual loverman for the scores of aging, monied and crushingly lonely doyennes that check in and out of The Grand Budapest.  His latest dowager love interest, the octogenarian Madame D. (played with decrepit aplomb by a prosthetically-pruned Tilda Swinton), is poisoned by her 03-posterno-goodnik scions — the dastardly Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (a devilishly mustachioed Adrien Brody, who easily could have found work in the 1920s tying damsels to train tracks) and a sibling trio of card-playing old maids — who have managed to frame M. Gustave for her murder. Dimitri’s dirty work is handled by Jopling, a fang-toothed, brass-knuckles-and-black-leather henchman played with malevolent gusto by Willem Dafoe.

For the remainder of the film, Gustave will endeavor to elude the clutches of Jopling and police chief Henckels (a caped and mustachioed Ed Norton wearing the high hat of officialdom, as always playing a man that’s a little too nice for the job he has to do) and his men, clear his name and reveal what OJ Simpson used to call “the real killers,” the process of which entails a hilarious, Rube-Goldberg-style prison break, a breathtaking alpine ski chase, and an Old West-style shootout across the ornately tier-ed mezzanine of The Grand Budapest. Assisting Gustave in his quest for truth, justice and his personal freedom is Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the coffee-skinned war refugee that Gustave is mentoring in the Jedi-like ways of the Lobby Boy. Also lending a helping hand is Zero’s pretty-and-plucky pastry chef apprentice fiancé, a quartet of rough-neck prison inmates led by a jailhouse tattooed, skinheaded Harvey Keitel (who inexplicably speaks with a gravelly Bensonhurst accent), and the full weight and power of The Society Of The Crossed Keys, a secret society of tuxedoed grand hotel concierges led by Bill Murray and Bob Balaban, who are able to pull just about any string with a phone call or a long-standing favor called in from friends in high places. In this vanishing age, where all the world is a grand hotel and we are merely seasonal guests, concierges are the deus ex machina.

The plot unfolds across a snow-flecked toylike tableau of velveteen suites, cobblestone streets, criss-crossing cable cars, cloistered train coaches and the cavernous, sumptuous interiors of the Grand Budapest, all writ vibrant by cinematographer Robert Yeoman’s lacquered palette — deep cerulean blues, fevered scarlets and frosted pinks. On the edges of every frame are the soon-to-be-unleashed dogs of war, intimations of Fascism and the slaughter, the sorrow and the pity that will inevitably follow.

Many have pointed out that this is Wes Anderson’s  lightest, laughingest feature not involving fox puppets since Bottle Rocket. And it is true that The Grand Budapest Hotel is absent the tragic preambles of prior Anderson narratives: Rushmore‘s Max Fischer, beret-topped bespectacled son of a lowly-but-likable barber, masquerading as one of the monied swells at a posh prep school, has lost his mother; the child-prodigy Tenenbaums lost the plot along with their pater familias and wound up has-beens before they are old enough to vote; Steve Zissou grapples with the grisly death of a beloved colleague in the pitiless maws of the fabled Jaguar shark, as well as his loudening 03-postersense of his own heir-less impotence and impending mortality; the bruised and broken brothers Whitman board The Darjeeling Limited and search the subcontinent for the answer to the riddle of why their mother abandoned them while Kinks songs play, and so on.

But there is plenty of dark doings in the course of The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s 99 minutes: A Persian cat splatters on the sidewalk after being thrown from a third story window, a woman is decapitated, another dies open-eyed from strychnine poisoning, a butler is strangled to death in the confessional of mountaintop monastery, and yet another (lawyer Deputy Kovacs, played with Freudian dapperness by Jeff Goldblum) has his fingers cut off before being snuffed out by Willem Dafoe and stuffed into a museum sarcophagus. And Moustafa’s village was wiped out and his entire family killed when war broke out in his unnamed country of origin.  Not to mention an even blacker darkness is looming on the edges of the screen: Europe is on the eve of world war and genocide on an industrial scale and when it’s all over half the continent will be a smoking ruin and the other half will be jailed behind the Iron Curtain of a dreary and corrupt communist police state. And in the end, (SPOILER ALERT) M. Gustave is pulled off a train and gunned down by a SS-like death squad.

But despite all that, the film ends on an upbeat note because the old world civility — which is to say elegance and manners and human decency — that M. Gustave represents lives on in the richly-appointed storytelling that brings all the aforementioned to our attention. First in the form of Moustafa (a warm, oaken-voiced F. Murray Abraham) now grown old and telling the tale of the Grand Budapest Hotel’s twilit last gleaming over dinner to a tweedy, pipe smoking author played by Jude Law, who will write a book about it that will strike a resonant chord with succeeding generations of young people who will, year after year, pilgrimage to the bust covered in hotel keys that marks his grave in the Lutz Cemetery. Because even though the forces of darkness may have won the battle, in the end they lost the war. At the Hotel Andersonia, art trumps evil every time, that’s why we keep coming back every year.

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THERE WILL BE BLOOD: Q&A w/ Natalie Mering

January 10th, 2015



MarylynnDominguez2BY MARY LYNN DOMINGUEZ Weyes Blood is the appropriately creepy band name of Natalie Mering, former touring member of spacey-folk collective Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti during the Mature Themes era. On the surface, I have a lot more in common with her than I could have predicted: we’re both former choir girls from Bucks County, and the only understanding our parents have of our music taste is that it’s not what sweet girls from the suburbs ought to listen to. Noticeable differences between us include the fact that only one of us has pursued music making as a career, and that consequently only one of us has taken mushrooms with Ariel Pink. Her newest album The Innocents, sounds like a well-orchestrated song and dance of the ghosts of a young woman’s past. It’s all rather grand and otherworldly, as it should be. She plays Johnny Brenda’s  Saturday night (January 10th). Let the buyer be weird.

PHAWKER: First off, what is Weyes Blood and is there a cure for it?

NATALIE MERING: I like to think of it as a physical object. The idea of how there’s a bucket of blood, and it’s wise, because it comes from a person that was wise. It’s just the idea of inheriting ancestry, which I don’t actually believe in. I think it can also be acquired. It’s like we all have the same blood, generated from the same source.

PHAWKER: OK, next question. You grew up outside Philly, and where was that exactly?


PHAWKER: What impact, if any, did that have on your decision to pursue music and/or the music that you make?

NATALIE MERING: Well, I also lived in California, and I have been into music ever since I was a little girl. Doylestown is close to where Ween is from in Bucks weyesbloodCounty, Michael Hurley, and the creators of the Berenstain Bears. It’s a very inspiring place. Pink also is from Bucks, too. She might have not had the biggest influence on my career. The biggest influence was the choir program at Central Bucks West High School. There was this guy, Dr. Joseph Ohrt, and when I went there, he was really intense and worked us super hard. There was just a lot of music that came out of that experience. My dad influenced me the most when he started playing music, but he’s not from Philadelphia.

PHAWKER: After high school, did you move to Philly?

NATALIE MERING: Yeah. I graduated high school early, when I was 17.

PHAWKER: Oh, wow. Did you start going to school in Philly, or just start making music there?

NATALIE MERING: I just started making music in Philly. Also, the architecture, the really old Pennsylvania architecture and trees, the landscape probably had a big impact on my music.

PHAWKER: You were once a touring member of Jackie-O Motherfucker, which is either the second or third greatest band name of all time. (Weyes Blood is number one, obviously) Was it difficult to explain to the family around the table at Thanksgiving that you were going on tour with a band called Jackie-O Motherfucker?

NATALIE MERING: Yeah, I just said that the band was called Jackie-O. My parents are pretty Christian.
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REWIND 2014: The Year In Movies

January 9th, 2015



Buskirk AvatarBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC If the state of the world tends to shade your personal mood, it is pretty easy to consider 2014 a year of epic trauma and bad vibes. I was thinking it was an off year for film too but when I went over my notes it turns out there was a lot to be enthusiastic about, although we again seem to be thirsting for truly original American cinema this year. Here’s a baker’s dozen films that took me to new places, many of them seeming like they could be made in no other time than the tumultuous, unnerving year of 2014.

For me and at least a few friends, everything this year paled beside Alejandro Jodorowsky’s improbable comeback The Dance of the Reality. How has this film escaped so many critical year-end lists? The maker of cult epics El Topo and The Holy Mountain returns with a surreal autobiographical story that tames his wild digressions in order to refine its emotional impact. The tale concerns his childhood with his Jewish mother and father in Chile but it is the way Jodorowsky transforms his formative experiences with metaphor, poetry and myth that makes it a wholly unique work whose ever-blossoming imagination leaves the rest of this year’s films in the dust. The 2014 release of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, chronicling the director’s thwarted production of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic, only deepened the richness of The Dance of Realty, further illuminating the visionary 85 year-old director’s talent and reputation.

Under The Skin was another film whose joys were amplified by another release; in this case, Luc Besson’s Lucy which also featured Scarlett Johansson in an otherworldly state. Under the Skin didn’t have the pop action punch of Lucy but instead amy-benjaminlingered in a narcotized dream state, following the unearthly Johansson as she sucked the life out of hapless would-be suitors like a diligent alien praying mantis. Director Jonathan Glazer has shown an acute visual style in past dramas Sexy Beast and Birth but those very literal films left me completely unprepared for his gorgeously abstract and intuitive work here.

Another woman’s tale that dips a little more lightly into surrealism is Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, which similar to his 2003 Big Fish found the director making time to insert a little honest emotion into his weird yarn. A 20th century feminist tale, Big Eyes follows the miserably married Keane couple, where Margaret (dependably wonderful Amy Adams) does all the labor painting her sad-eyed waifs while husband Walter (endlessly villainous Christof Waltz) takes all the acclaim. Of course she battles back but it is the portrait of Margaret’s own sad eyes as she’s captured in that glassy modernist home that lingers in the memory.

Nymphomaniac sounds almost too obvious for the title of a Lars Von Trier provocation but the film’s focus on one woman’s sexual autobiography underlines just how absurdly chaste are American films. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin share the role of Joe, confessing her story to the impotent Seligman. (Stellan Skarsgård) Joe is a sexual adventurer, willing to break boundaries to explore all dimensions of Eros. Like a private eye film, its the people we meet along the way that makes Von Trier’s latest so engaging, with Willem Defoe, Udo Kier and Jaime Bell (Billy Elliot himself!) taking turns showing their freaky sides. There is lots of titillation to enjoy along the way but ultimately it was Von Trier’s ideas about storytelling and personal mythmaking that gave Nymphomaniac a kick beyond pure voyeurism.

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVEI’d written off Jim Jarmusch as a prisoner of his own quirks for much of his career but The Only Lovers Left Alive peeled away his usual tone of hipster reserve. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton make for a most romantic couple of vampires. Getting their blood the dignified way, through the back door of blood banks, the pair spend their eternal lives making music and studying science and literature in a state of low-key antique elegance. It all looked a lot like the life of leisure a successful artist like Jarmusch himself might live, giving the film a personal warmth missing in much of his work.

Lenny Abramson’s Frank was about music-making as well, with a group of musicians holed up in rural Ireland while their leader Frank inspires them to record his masterpiece. Most rock bands are fronted by stubborn personalities; this band is led by a fellow who never takes off his giant paper-mâché head. Are there issues under that head? You bet. Frank was co-written by musician Jon Ronson and few films so accurately capture the delusional spirit so often a part of being in a rock band and the film’s unsettled ending is bravely true to the story’s realities when an upbeat finale would have been easy to give in to.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Past (a 2013 film that didn’t hit Philly till late January 2014) made a fascinating mystery out of the quiet domestic discord in a Parisian family. Ahmad (a soulful Ali Mosaffa) returns to sign his divorce papers and finds that he is the only one who can heal the wounds of his former ragtag household. Farhadi’s intricately-wrought script shows how each family member holds a piece of the puzzle while not knowing their own place in its frame. Masterful storytelling with a special wisdom on family life.

I found Bennett Miller’s true crime tale Foxcatcher completely mesmerizing. A depiction of the 1996 murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz by an heir of the Dupont fortune, the story gave Miller a chance to demonstrate his ability to thrust us deeply into a sad and privileged world. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo completely inhabited the physical worlds of the wrestling Schultz brothers and Steve Carrell’s wealth-addled SnowpiercerDupont captured a scary blankness that was deeply disturbing. Miller’s last two features, Capote and Moneyball were very impressive but Foxcatcher‘s eerie gravity puts his latest work in a whole different league.

Murder was at the center of Jeremy Saulnier’s vivid thriller Blue Ruin. Unknown actor Macon Blair plays Dwight, a homeless drifter who snaps to life as he plans revenge on a just-released ex-con. If the story’s facts were laid out in a newspaper article it would seem like a mundane violent crime but Saulnier miraculously re-images the events with a modern sense of reality unseen in Hollywood film. Beneath its tense violent thrills is a commentary on our vigilante fantasies, how the idea of a cleansing violent act quickly turns messy once introduced into the complicated “real” world.

J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year is a similarly gritty but not without a Hollywood gloss. It is applied in such an inyelligent manner to show that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Set in the early 80s, the story is super-charged by the performance of Oscar Isaac, (star of Inside Llewyn Davis) whose smoldering performance I can only assume is drawing comparisons to the young Pacino. Here Isaac is Abel Morales, an up-and-coming man in the North Jersey heating oil business who find his big deal endangered by a string of robberies of his oil trucks. Chandor captures all the vivid details we loved in the landscape of The Sopranos with a spot-on cast that brings to life every tense scene. And I love a crime story with an extra-smart finale that actually deepens rather than nullifies its preceding tale.

I’m amongst the vocal group that thinks the best blockbuster of the summer wasn’t from Hollywood but South Korea, being an unapologetic lover of Boon-Joon Ho’s post-apocalyptic train story, Snowpiercer. In his world, power and revolution are neatly laid out in descending train cars as the wealthy live closest to the engine and the smudgy lower classes toil in the wealthy’s bilge water at the train’s end. Living in a time of record wealth disparity, this concise little allegory took on an extra emotional heft. But Boon-Jon Ho’s (who previously made the striking features The Host and Mother) script doesn’t idealize revolution allowing an ambiguity that adds a richness to its first-rate blockbuster thrills.

CitizenFour22Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour is a film set in our dystopic present, detailing how whistleblower Eric Snowden first released the classified documents that revealed the extent of our government’s surveillance program. Mainly shot in the sterile environs of a Honk Kong hotel, the documentary plays like a no-budget Smart phone-shot paranoid thriller, showing the insane lengths taken by Snowden and journalists Poiutras, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill.of the Guardian in order to communicate beyond the U.S government’s purview. I’ve enjoyed endless permutations of the spy thriller across cinema histroy but CitizenFour carries a unique punch in showing that in the government’s eyes, the enemy is us.

Miyazaki’s final film The Wind Rises was a fitting valedictory, a tribute to hard work, imagination, and child-like wonder, a theme present in all of his work. A fictionalized biopic of aviation pioneer Jiro Horikoshi, Miyazaki details how tirelessness is a crucial element in creativity. The designer’s dreams are the film’s most memorable moments, as Jiro walks down the wings of planes in mid-flight discussing aerodynamics with his Italian aviatrix idol. Miyazaki doesn’t minimize the cruel paradox that Jiro’s love of flight is going to be put to use in war, but he leads us to believe it is the desire to keep dreaming that is the important thing.

I’m still kicking myself over titles that have slipped me by this year (I’m aching to see Godard’s 3-D film Goodbye to Language) yet as the years progress my exploration of cinema is always headed in both directions, backward and forward. As someone who grew up discovering film when commercial TV and the neighborhood theater were the only outlets, it continues to be dizzying to live in a time when nearly every surviving film from across the last one hundred years is available. The highlight of my film week is often a title I’ve waited literally decades to watch like animator Ralph Bakshi’s audacious South of the South parody, Coonskin or Dorothy Arzner’s 1940’s film Dance Girl Dance with a sex kittenish turn by Lucille Ball. My year would have been much less fulfilling without The I-House’s screening of Robert Altman’s 1969 psychodrama One Cold Day in the Park, Exhumed Film’s resurrection of the strangely potent 1979 time capsule Skatetown USA, finally sitting down with Kobayashi’s nearly two-hour pacifist war epic The Human Condition, Shintaro Katsu’s series of Blind Swordsman films, and Larry Yust’s West-Philly-shot 70s crime film Trick Baby at the PhilaMoca. Goodbye ’14, there’s a New Year already a-flickering…

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Win Tix To See Patton Oswalt @ The Tower Theater

January 9th, 2015

Patton Oswalt Finest Hour


Christmas in January continues at Phawker this week with, get this, tickets to see Patton Friggin’ Oswalt tomorrow night at the Tower!. This came together very last minute at the behest of Mr. Oswalt, who, like PT Anderson, personally donated tix to Phawker for giving away to our readers. What can we say? We’re flattered, and excited that two of you lucky ducks is going to Upper Darby tomorrow night! Time is short so let’s cut to the quick. To keep this interesting were gonna make this hinge on a trivia question. What is the name of the Pacific Northwest sludge-rockers with whom Oswalt released a split 7-inch back in 2006? Looking for the band name, here. Know the answer and want to go to the show tomorrow night? Shoot us an email at FEED@PHAWKER.COM with your full name and a mobile number for confirmation and the magic words ZOMBIE SPACESHIP WASTELAND. Tenth emailer with right answer wins the tix. Everyone else gets free passes to Uncle Touchy’s Naked Puzzle Basement “where you won’t wear a shirt and you’ll cry.” So good luck and godspeed!

WIRED: Not long ago in a galaxy not very far away, Patton Oswalt was a guest on Parks and Recreation where he delivered an epic eight-minute pitch for Star Wars: Episode VII as a filibuster to a Pawnee bill. The full spiel didn’t make the cut, but NBC put it online and people went nuts over it. Now, thanks to Nerdist, there is a full-fledged animated version of Patton’s rant – complete with Marvel Universe character cameos. The video was done by animator Daniel Spellman for Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist channel as part of YouTube’s Geek Week. Building on what might be the best un-filmed (and probably un-filmable) Star Wars movie pitch yet, the animated version brings to life a lot of the great ideas from that pitch, like Chewbacca’s head on a robotic spider thingamabob, the introduction of Thanos and Spider-Man to the Star Wars universe, and also the introduction of characters from Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans to create what Oswalt called a “giant three-franchise tie-in.” It must be seen to be believed. MORE

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THERE WILL BE WEED: Win Tix To Inherent Vice

January 8th, 2015

Inherent Vice Poster


Chances are that if you are reading this you are a fan of the work of director Paul Thomas Anderson, who, a reasonable argument could be made, is the Gen. X equivalent of Scorsese/Kubrick. Chances are also good that you are a fan of the work of novelist Thomas Pynchon, ludicrously long-winded hermetic hippy oracle. By now you’ve no doubt heard the amazing news that Anderson has attempted the cinematic impossible — transmuting one of Pynchon’s dense mystical doorstops of a novel, specifically 2009’s Inherent Vice — into an epic cosmic stoner slapstick starring the Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Martin Short, Katherine Waterston and Joanna Newsom. Lastly, chances are very, very good that you would be interested in seeing such a film. That’s where we come in. At the personal behest of Mr. Anderson — long story — we have been gifted with a block of tickets to distribute to our readers. Why? Because Paul Thomas Anderson loves Phawker and we love you. To qualify to win, all you need is love and a working mailing address to which we can send hard copy movie passes good for any screenings at any area theater showing the film (excepting AMC theaters) after Saturday. Shoot us an email at FEED@PHAWKER.COM with your full name and a mobile number for confirmation and the magic words THERE WILL BE WEED in the subject line. Good luck and godspeed!

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