The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs. Joel and Ethan Coen originally conceived their latest project as a limited series for Netflix, but instead opted to turn it into a full length feature film. The six part American western anthology kicks off with ‘The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs’ starring Tim Blake Nelson in the title role as the singing cowboy with a wit that’s as fast as his draw. ‘Near Algodones’ features James Franco as a wannabe outlaw whose attempt to rob a bank has him encountering vengeful posses and Native Americans out for blood. ‘Meal Ticket’ stars Liam Neeson as an impresario whose main attraction is a young man with no arms or legs (Harry Melling) who recites Shakespeare, Shelley and The Scriptures. Tom Waits carries ‘All Gold Canyon’, as a prospector mining for his fortune, while ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled’ has Zoe Kazan on an ill-fated wagon train to Oregon. The set concludes with ‘The Mortal Remains’ has Tyne Daly as part of a group making a mysterious trip – with a corpse as their cargo. All of the vintage Coen Bros trademarks are here: dark humor, irony, and an unwillingness to provide an easy out for any of their characters. The decision to shoot on location in parts of Nebraska, New Mexico and Colorado was a wise one: No one captures the wonder and beauty of the region like the Coens. The cast is superb with Waits and Kazan standing out in their respective story arcs. It’s another winner in a career that has been stacked with many of them. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs is available now in select theaters and on Netflix.
At Eternity’s Gate – During his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh was dismissed and reviled. Today, he’s the standard of which all painters want to achieve. Drawings from Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo, common agreements about specific events, and straight up hearsay, director/artist Julian Schnabel reconstructs the iconic painter’s life, centering on his days in a small town in the south of France. Willem Defoe plays the troubled painter, who feeds off the world’s beauty, yet drifts into madness when it’s taken away from him. After a disastrous show in Paris, Van Gogh – on the advice of fellow artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Issac) retreats to the countryside to regroup. It’s there where he finds a creative spark, turning out 75 paintings in 80 days. But even as he’s at an artistic peak, Van Gogh still can’t shake the demons that have haunted him his entire life. As with his previous films (Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, Basquiat), Schnabel explores artistic geniuses wrestling their way through indifference, ridicule and self-destructive behavior to become cultural iconoclasts. But this time, he takes a more minimalist approach, applying only a handheld camera to give a true birdseye view of Van Gogh’s view of the world – and of himself. Defoe – after turning in exceptional performances in The Grand Budapest Hotel and last year’s Oscar-nominated – The Florida Project turns yet another outstanding turn as Van Gogh. He channels both his joy and heartache in a way that will haunt you long after the film is over. Don’t be surprised if he once again makes the rounds during awards season. Julian Schnabel’s place in the art world is pretty secure. But he’s also earned his place as one of cinema’s best directors. At Eternity’s Gate is in select theaters now.
Escape At Dennemora. Ben Stiller directed this limited Showtime series that was drawn from recent headlines. It stars Benicia del Toro and Paul Dano as Richard Matt and David Sweat, two convicted murders who, in 2015, escaped an upstate New York prison with the aid of prison shop tailor employee Tilly Mitchell (Patricia Arquette). It was later revealed that Mitchell also had an ongoing sexual relationship with both men. David Morse portrays prison escort guard Gene Palmer, who also played a role in their escape, and Bonnie Hunt plays New York State Inspector General Catherine Lee Scott, the New York State Inspector General called in to investigate the events leading up to, and, after the escape. While he is best known for his work in comedies, Stiller easily makes the transition to drama in ways that suggest that his future could very well be behind the camera. He captures the bleak upstate New York landscape and claustrophobic environment that led to everyone’s actions in the first place. Arquette, who gave an Academy Award winning performance in Boyhood, turns in another dynamic performance as Tilly Mitchell. Putting on extra weight and nailing the accent, she’s consumes as the role as the civilian prison employee who finds her own measure of escape from her humdrum life through her involvement with Matt and Sweat. Dano shows yet again that he’s one of the best actors working today as the desperate and in over his head Sweat with del Toro not far behind him as the always manipulating Matt. A limited series that should be recognized during awards season. Escape At Dennemore airs Sunday nights on Showtime. You can also go to www.sho.com for more information.
The World Before Your Feet. The City Of New York covers over 8,000 miles, For nearly six years – for reasons that even he can’t quite explain – Matt Green walked every single New York City block. Director Jeremy Workman and executive director Jesse Eisenberg captured each step of this journey as Green covers every hidden corner in the greatest city in the world. Braving the elements as much as the unknown, Green finds a trove of diversity and culture as he discovers the beauty and nuances that a city that continues to draw people in year after year. A beautifully warm love letter to The Big Apple. The World Before Your Feet is available now in select theaters.
Chris Cornell (Deluxe Edition) by Chris Cornell. Chris Cornell has been gone for over a year, but fans can take some solace that he left behind a staggering body of work. Done with full cooperation with his estate, this new compilation tracks every facet of his entire career. Of course there’s heavy doses of Soundgarden but the set also showcases his work with Temple Of The Dog and Audioslave; solo material, one-off singles, soundtrack cuts and much more. In addition, there’s also a slew of live material that also tracks each phase of his musical personas. Blistering hard rock, extraordinary covers, and heartfelt ballads, this collection truly captures one of the most captivating singer-songwriters to ever grace the stage. It’s a fitting tribute to a rock iconoclast. The deluxe edition of Chris Cornell is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
The Total Bent/Notes Of A Native Song by Stew & The Negro Problem. After winning a Tony for their work on the Broadway musical Passing Strange, Stew & The Negro Problem were commissioned to do two separate works covering the American Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Notes Of A Native Song dissects the life and legacy of James Baldwin and how many of the themes that he explored – race and identity in the United States – are still being played out today. Also set against the backdrop of the growing civil rights campaigns in the South during the 60s, The Total Bent explored the fragility of the father/son dynamic, the thin line between the blues and gospel, the emerging sexual revolution and cultural appropriation. Told with candor, blunt introspection, and loaded with as much humor as there are hooks, Stew and his long time musical collaborator Heidi Rodenwald, once again deliver two albums that demand repeat listens. The Total Bent and Notes Of A Native Song by Stew & The Negro Problem are available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
Harry Hard On by Allan Rayman. Even after two critically acclaimed full length albums and sold out shows throughout North America and Europe, Allan Rayman remains an enigma. He’s scant on details on his personal life and outside of basic show announcements and release dates, his social media presence is vague at best. For his third album, Rayman teams with producer Andrew Dawson and ventures more into industrial music but still manages to blend it in with bits of R&B, blues and alt-rock. Lyrically, Rayman mirrors the frayed edges of a love affair and the relationship between the fan and artist, showing the thin line between adoration to dangerous obsession. It’s music that dark and mysterious but incredibly accessible at the same time. One of the year’s best. Harry Hard On by Allan Rayman is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
Wings Of Desire by Loverman. For their debut album, this Northern California based band provides a late night soundtrack for rock n rollers, heartbreakers and poets. Taking their cue from the Wim Wenders’ classic 1987 film, the music has a rich, dark, atmospheric tone that owes a lot to frequent Wenders collaborator Lou Reed, The Cars and a touch of Southwest stoner rock thrown in as well. There’s even a sly cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ that reveals a lot more of the menace within the lyric that was originally presented. A notable premiere album that’s destined to become a late night classic listen. Wings Of Desire by Loverman is available now on Amazon, Itunes and all major streaming services.
New York City. Spike Lee X 6. The success of Black KKKlansman was seen as a return to form for Spike Lee, but as this new Metrograph retrospective points out, the New York-born director has been putting out steady, thought-provoking work for over 30 years. This six pack of Lee’s more underrated films puts his depth on full display. It will feature the powerful civil rights doc 4 Little Girls; two of collaborations with Denzel Washington (the jazz-infused Mo’ Better Blues, and the crime drama Inside Man); the period piece Summer Of Sam and the dark satirical Bamboozled. Throughout each of these works, Lee tackles such topics as race, class, sex, and identity in a way that has become his trademark. Whether you desire to see again in a theater or viewing them with fresh eyes, this is a fitting tribute to one of our most prolific auteurs. Spike Lee X 6 will be at Metrograph Friday through December 5th. You can also go to www.metrograph.com for more information.
Los Angeles: Photographs by Mark Seliger. For over 30 years, photographer Mark Seliger has captured some of the most captivating images of some of the biggest names in pop culture. Some of Seliger’s best images will be the focus of this new exhibition at the Fahey/Klein Gallery. Whether its Presidents and Heads Of State, to athletes, rockers and movie stars, Seliger captures them all with warmth, grace and a touch of humor. Come out and see a master photographer’s at work. Photographs by Mark Seliger will be at the Fahey/Klein Gallery through January 19th. You can also go to www.faheykleingallery.com for more information.