The Film Independent Spirit Awards. Held the afternoon before the Academy Awards, the Spirit Awards is as much of a party as it is a show: attendees come as they are, the presentation takes place in a beachfront tent next to the Santa Monica Pier; there’s no filter on language and yes, the booze flows as much as the awards being handed out. It’s also become a better gauge of films that deserve to be nominated, covering those works that don’t have a big studio marking and publicity campaigns behind them and honors low budget movies and first time directors. Moonlight is expected to the be the big winner, having already been awarded the Robert Altman Award. What will happen in between? Tune into IFC Saturday afternoon at 5pmEastern and 2pm Pacific as Nick Kroc and John Mulaney will host all of the festivities. You can also go to www.filmindependent.org for more information.
Dying Laughing. It takes a LOT of courage to go on stage and take a stab at stand up comedy. It takes even more to keep at it. In this new documentary by Lloyd Stand and Paul Toogood, some of the top names in stand up comedy – Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Jerry Lewis, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Jamie Foxx, Sarah Silverman, Steve Coogan, Billy Connolly, Cedric The Entertainer, the late Garry Shandling , among others – talk about the struggles, pain and ultimately the triumphs in making an audience laugh through the course of a 10, 15 and ultimately hour plus set. They also discuss the mental challenges comics must overcome on a nightly basis of crafting together a set, dealing with hecklers, and every comic’s biggest fear: bombing. Loaded with great stories and insights, Stand and Toogood have crafted the ultimate look at the most difficult job in entertainment. Dying Laughing will be in select theaters and on ITunes on Friday. You can also go to www.dyinglaughingfilm.com for more information.
Punching Henry. Henry Phillips writes and stars in this sequel to his 2010 cult hit, ‘Punching The Clown’. As he did in the original, Phillips plays a fictional version of himself, a hapless, journeyman comic troubadour grinding his way through the comedy circuit in his 2006 Suzuki. When a bad night on stage becomes a viral hit, a TV producer (JK Simmons) invites him to L.A. to offer him a chance to star in his own reality TV series. The only catch is that the show would center on all of the mishaps that has happened to him through his run in comedy. As its bluntly told to him, Phillips would be ‘the loser who makes a loser feel like a hero’. Adding on this is Phillips’ difficult adjustment to L.A., which includes getting his car stolen, dealing with abusive hotel clerks, and, of course, while performing, hecklers. Through it all, Phillips must decide whether to cash in his big shot at fame being the constant punchline to the joke or continue to do what he loves, even if it means languishing in obscurity. As he did with ‘Punching The Clown’, Phillips drew from his own experiences to put together this offbeat, intelligent look at the darker side of comedy while inserting biting, satirical stabs at contemporary pop culture. Simmons, a solid character actor with an Oscar under his belt, is perfectly cast as the cold, cunning TV producer looking capitalize on Phillips’ misfortunes. Sarah Silverman puts in a solid extended cameo with her podcast serving as the bridge between as to how Phillips got to making an longer than usual stop in L.A. A more than worthy sequel. Punching Henry opens in select theaters on Friday and is available now on Itunes.
Get Out. Jordan Peele is best known for his work on the comedy series Kay & Peele, but he makes an abrupt left turn in suspense and horror as the writer and director of his first feature film. Daniel Kaliyah and Allison Williams play Chris and Rose, an interracial couple who head upstate to meet her parents, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) for the 1st time. Rose hasn’t told them that her boyfriend is Black and her parents go out of their way, albeit nervously, to be accommodating to them. But as the weekend goes on, Chris makes a series of discoveries – overt and subtle that pushes him and everyone around him to the brink. Peele expertly makes racism – systemic and blunt – as the boogeyman, the demon, the evil force that threatens to consume everyone in its orbit to chilling effect. The cast is also in fine form especially Kaliyah as the in-way over his head Chris, and Keener as the mother who isn’t as liberal and open as she appears. Peele wanted to capture the spirit of such classics as Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives and more than pulls it off. Its a film that will be talked about long after its over. Get Out opens nationwide this weekend. You can also go to www.getoutfilm.com for more information.
Roadhouse 01 by Allan Rayman. At a time where artists are using social media to put every aspect of their artistry – and their lives – on full blast, Allan Rayman prefers to cloak himself in mystery. He doesn’t include any bio information (other than he was born in Wyoming and now lives in Canada) and only posts release dates and show information. His videos work more like short films which may or may not offer a backstory behind his songs. Rayman’s live shows are also stripped down with him singing live to backing tracks while wearing a hoodie. Outside of ‘thank you’, there’s no stage banter and once the show is done, he makes a hasty retreat. The process has worked for him: Rayman’s has a dedicated and growing fan base and a deal with Communion Records (co-founded by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons). Rayman released the exceptional Hotel Allan back in October and less than four months later, he’s already back with Roadhouse 01. Written during a retreat to a house in the woods, its a conceptual album that finds his musical alter ego Mr Roadhouse confronting, blaming and justifying his ‘selfish behaviors’. Loaded with big beats that are found on hip hop records and guitars that can be heard on alt-rock records, it sounds more like big budget production with a DIY brain leading it. Then there’s Rayman’s vocals that has the rasp of a seasoned bluesman and the ache, pain and regret of a jazz singer. Firing on all cylinders, this album bridges a number of genres, styles and era to a mind blowing effort. One of the year’s best albums. Roadhouse 01 will be available Friday through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers.
Greyland by Tiny Hazard. This Brooklyn based band has been performing standout sets throughout New York City and parts of the Northeast and after putting out an EP and a on off single, has released its eagerly awaited full length. The group simultaneously deconstructs and forms an unlikely alliance between pop and the avant garde that has forges ahead the continuum that was establish by such artists as Frank Zappa, Kate Bush, Bjork and King Crimson. Holding it all together is singer-keyboardist Alena Spanger whose vocal acrobatics emote both a wistful innocence and full blown freak outs. Guitarist Ryan Weiner is poised to be the next great guitar hero generating sounds that push forward the wire pulling heroics of Robert Fripp, Lindsey Buckingham and Adrian Belew to the next level. Anchoring the band is the rock solid rhythm section of Derek Leslie on bass, drummer Ronald Stockwell, and sound alchemist Anthony Jillions, handling the musical shift and tempo changes with extraordinary ease. Featuring pop epics (‘Sesame’, ‘Greyland’), punk/Plastic Ono Band style rave ups (‘Sharkwhirl’, ‘Little One’), moody DIY recordings (‘Baby’, ‘Thirsty Sponge’), and off-kilter pop lullabies (‘Ekon’), Tiny Hazard has put together an album that shows that avant garde and pop can not only be musical bedfellows but can take both mediums to the next level. One of the year’s best. Greyland by Tiny Hazard will be available Friday through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to www.tinyhazard.com for more information.
Araminta by Harriet Tubman. If you are going to name your band after one of the most celebrated freedom fighters in American history, there better be some weight and musical muscle behind it. But when you are Melvin Gibbs (bass), Brandon Ross (guitar) and J.T. Lewis, – three musicians whose resume of collaborators run the full spectrum of popular music (Lou Reed, Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock, Whitney Houston, Marianne Faithfull, Cassandra Wilson, Tony Williams, Meshell Ndegeocello, Rollins Band, Living Colour, Sting, among others) – you have more than earned the right to put such a powerful name behind your group. Over the course of nearly 20 years, Harriet Tubman has released three albums that have taken rock, jazz, punk, avant garde, funk and fusion to new, at times, overwhelming heights. For their 4th album, they make one key addition: trumpeter and Pulitzer Prize for Music finalist Wadada Leo Smith. MIles Davis once said that his ‘electric period’ was not jazz, but ‘social music’. Harriet Tubman – with a huge assist from Smith’s explosive solos – not only carry on that spirit but they carry on to any entirely different level. Everyone is in peak form with everyone getting a chance to share the spotlight, putting their virtuosity on display. The political bent of the band and the music isn’t lost either – all you have to do is peep at the song titles: ‘Nina SImone’ is named after the iconic singer-songwriter-musician and activist. ‘President Obama’s Speech at Selma’ is a homage to the 44th President’s speech commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Selma marches. ‘Real Cool Killers references the iconic novel by noted Black writer Chester Himes while ‘Sweet Araminta’ lovingly salutes the name’s meaning (prayer and protection) and the birth name of….Harriet Tubman. If you looking to hear an album made by musicians at the most potent, their most expressive, unfiltered and free, it does not get any better than this. One of the year’s best. Araminta by Harriet Tubman will be available Friday through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers.
New York City: Martin Scorsese. The recent installment of the Museum Of The Moving Image extended retrospective on the legendary director’s work looks at his complex, probing explorations in spirituality and faith. Kundun looks at the early life of the Dali Lama; The Last Temptation Of Christ is a controversial look into the human side of Jesus Christ and Silence, Scorsese’s most recent film, looks retaining your faith in the mist of often dehumanizing situations. To see these films in the span of a few days – and on a big screen – gives the viewer a fresh insight in the mind and creativity of a cinematic master. This installment of the Scorsese retrospective runs through Sunday. You can also go to www.movingimage.us for more information.
New York City: Jordan Peele: The Art Of The Social Thriller. To coincide with the release of his film Get Out, Jordan Peele has teamed up with The Brooklyn Academy Of Music to curate a series of films that have influenced him and his film. Rear Window, The Silence Of The Lambs, The Shining, Misery, The Burbs, and Scream are some of the films that will be included in the series, all of which have biting social commentary within the overt nature of each project. It’s a get chance to get caught up on films you haven’t seen on a big screen and also a primer before seeing Get Out. The Art Of The Social Thriller will be at BAM through March 1st. You can go to www.bam.org for more information.
Los Angeles: DocuDay LA. Fans of documentaries will have a chance to do a day long, wall to wall screenings of all of the doc that up for Oscars this year. I Am Not Your Negro, The 13th, Fire At Sea, Life, Animated, and part 1 of O.J: Made In America will be featured as well as the documentary shorts, Extremis, Joe’s Violin, The White Helmets, 4.1. Miles and Watani: My Homeland. In addition, all of the directors for each doc will be in attendance for post-screening Q&As. Whether seeing them for the first time or wanting to see them again and speak with the filmmakers, this is the ultimate experience for those who are into documentaries. DocuDay LA will take place on Saturday at the Writer’s Guild Theater. You can also go to www.documentary.org for tickets, run times and more information.