Jesse Nussman

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Jesse Nussman is a senior at UNCC majoring in Communications and minoring in film. He is an avid film lover and writes about various pop-culture subjects within film, television, and music.

A Place Both Wonderful and Strange: Revisiting “Twin Peaks”

Photo courtesy of Republic Pictures/CBS Television/ABC.

On May 21st, “Twin Peaks,” one of the most celebrated and influential television series of all time makes its return to the small screen. On a surface level, this does not seem that out of the ordinary, what with series such as “Full House,” “The X-Files,” “24” and “Prison Break” all making their return after years of cancellation in hopes that networks can latch on to old fans. Yet, “Twin Peaks” is something different. It was a series that, for better or worse, ended after just two seasons. However, the series was vastly ahead of its time, feeling more in line with today’s prestige TV than that of the early 90s.

When “Twin Peaks” debuted in the spring of 1990, TV was largely dominated by soapy dramas and laugh track sitcoms. Few, if any, programs drew out story lines over multiple episodes and visuals were kept basic. Simply put, television was not on the level it is today with series that play out like novels with visuals straight out of a movie. But “Twin Peaks” would shatter all those conventions and re-write the rulebook on what a TV show could be; no longer mindless entertainment but rather a piece of high art.

The show began as the brainchild of television writer Mark Frost and filmmaker David Lynch. Frost’s career at that point had included work on series such as “Hill Street Blues,” “The Equalizer” and “Six Million Dollar Man.” However, it was Lynch who was the real wild card in the mix. The filmmaker had become a cult sensation for films such as “Eraserhead,” “The Elephant Man” and “Blue Velvet” which displayed a unique surrealist style, along with a taste for the bizarre. His most recent picture at that time, “Blue Velvet” was widely acclaimed but highly controversial due to dark themes and graphic sex.

Together, the two would craft a series that mixed together murder mystery, soap opera, quirky comedy and fantasy horror. “Twin Peaks” would center around the investigation of Laura Palmer; a high school beauty queen in a small Washington State town who is brutally murdered. The series would focus on local law enforcement, with the help of a quirky F.B.I agent played by Kyle MacLachlan, along with close friends of Laura attempting to solve the mystery of her killing.

However, the Laura Palmer mystery would only be a jumping off point, similar to the plane crash in “Lost,” to wide array of themes along with a larger world to play with. What Lynch and Frost explored was a seemingly perfect small town community with dark forces, both criminal and supernatural at work underneath the surface.

The series debut season contained just eight episodes, yet it instantly became a cultural phenomenon. Television audiences had gotten their first taste of cinematic television as well as the kind of water cooler talk the next day that would shape the medium in the coming years. That water cooler talk would largely be fueled by “Twin Peaks”‘ complex storyline, surrealist imagery and soapy structure that allowed for numerous cliff hangers. Viewers were often left to generate their own interpretations as to some of the show’s more surrealist elements.

However, into the series second season (which was exponentially longer at 22 episodes) the ever expanding world of “Twin Peaks,” which seemed to introduce more questions that it did answers, began to raise eyebrows. Fearing that audiences would begin to lose interest, ABC pressured Frost and Lynch into wrapping up the Laura Palmer mystery. This would, of course, cause a wrinkle in the two’s larger plan for the series. Lynch himself has since said that the mystery of Laura Palmer’s death was never supposed to be solved. Describing the initial mystery as a massive tree, Lynch stated that Laura Palmer was merely a base for other branches containing other mysteries to grow off of.

Nevertheless, Frost and Lynch brought the Laura Palmer mystery to a shocking finish midway through season two, as viewers learned that her own father (a terrific Ray Wise) committed the crime under the possession of a demon named Bob. However, while viewers at home got the satisfying end to a mystery that had plagued them for months, it left the series in a difficult spot creatively. For much of the second season’s later half, there arose a lack of focus. It also didn’t help that both Frost and Lynch decided to embark on other projects; with Lynch writing and directing “Wild at Heart” while Frost wrote and directed “Storyville.”

But without it’s two chief creators, “Twin Peaks” began to take take a dip in quality as the remaining writers struggled to find a new focus. Viewership quickly took a dip, which led ABC to shuffle the series’ time slot around so often that even the most die-hard fans had trouble knowing what night it was on. Eventually it landed on a weekend time-slot; typically death for network series. Fearing the series would be canceled, Lynch and Frost returned to the show, just as it was beginning to zone in on a conflict between MacLauchlan’s Agent Cooper and a former partner, now gone insane.

In its final few episodes, season two of “Twin Peaks” did manage to retain some of its original spark. Lynch himself directed the final episode, which featured a dreamlike climax that would be on the extreme in even today’s television climate. However, by the time the season aired its final episodes, the damage was done; ABC had canceled the series. Despite this setback, Lynch himself remained determined to revisit the world of the show, this time on the big screen.

Photo courtesy of Showtime.

Ironically, despite its Lynchian climax, the ending of season two largely played into Frost’s own interest in the series. For him, the most fascinating aspects of the show became the eccentric characters of the town itself along with a mysterious ancient mythology that laid within the surrounding woods, similar to the island on “Lost” years later. However, for Lynch, the most fascinating aspect of the show had always been Laura Palmer.

Co-writing with Robert Engles, Lynch crafted a movie prequel to the series that would explore the final week in the life of Palmer before her death. The film would showcase the character’s duality; a blonde beauty queen with her own dark secrets of drug addiction and sexual abuse. Laura was, after all, a physical manifestation of the show’s idea that a peaceful small town could have dark secrets underneath. The film would also eliminate the show’s comedic element of the series, instead doubling down on the darkness and surrealism.

“Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” would become one of Lynch’s most divisive pictures, even amongst fans of the show. At it’s premiere at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, the film was booed with many walking out entirely. Yet, in the years since, the film has garnered a strong cult following and is now seen as an essential part of the “Twin Peaks” experience. While certainly dark and extremely unsettling, the film does offer actress Sheryl Lee a chance to dive headfirst into the character of Laura and deliver a truly haunting performance.

In the 25 years since “Fire Walk Wit Me” hit theaters, “Twin Peaks” influence has been widespread. Fans have often pressed Lynch about returning to the series and it seems we’ve reached a moment where television seems rightfully fit for the series to exist. Television itself is more cinematic than it was in the early 90s and shows such as “Legion,” “Mr. Robot” and “The Leftovers” have excelled on the same kind of surrealism and ambiguity that made “Twin Peaks” infuriating to some.

However, there is still much unknown about the show’s return. Viewers are only three short weeks away and all anyone really knows is that Lynch is reportedly directing all 18 episodes (his first time directing in roughly 10 years), much of the original cast is returning among many others of notable fame, and that the story is to take place 25 years after the original series run. Other than that, no one knows anything, which is perhaps the most exciting aspect. Showtime, who is airing the episodes, has stated that the series is a “pure heroin version of David Lynch,” which means anything is fare game and viewers shouldn’t expect to fully understand everything presented. That being said, it’s sure to be unlike anything else and as MacLauchlan’s Agent Cooper said in the series original run, be a “world both wonderful and strange.”

“Veep” Shines in Today’s Political Climate

Photo courtesy of HBO

Can politics be funny during politically divided times? Can it be thrilling? Do audiences really want to tune in to watch a show about the D.C. world for entertainment after being bombarded by the real thing 24/7 in the media? After all, isn’t television where we want to escape?

These are questions any show-runner would ask themselves while piloting a series about the political world. However, it just so happens that two major shows about politicians are making their return in coming months. The award winning comedy series “Veep” made its return to HBO on April 16 and it enters into a more politically charged world than last year, following a presidential election that felt like an episode of the series on a seemingly daily basis.

Following VP and eventual President Selina Meyer, along with her dysfunctional staff, the series has given viewers a look at politics that depicts its players as little more than narcissistic morons causing chaos and confusion everywhere they go. Even when something good does happen in Washington, it’s usually to the advantage of a particular politician, who sees it as an advance in their career or an interesting chapter in their biography.

Of all the many shows made about politicians, specifically ones in D.C., “Veep” may be the most relevant and truthful. The show may be more cartoonish than shows such as “The West Wing” or “House of Cards,” but there appears to be a nugget of truth in its own absurdity. In fact, in an interview for a Podcast last fall, former speechwriter for President Obama Jon Favreau stated, “You do get a few ‘West Wing’ moments but most days are like an episode of ‘Veep’.” That is to say the spastic feeling of people running around like chickens with their head cut off, foul mouthing each other at every turn and just trying to keep afloat in the chaos of everyday business is close to what day-to-day life in the White House is like.

Photo courtesy of HBO

Yet, whether or not you ascribe to the idea that the show is our closest representation of big government inner workings, there is little doubt that “Veep” is possibly the most appropriate show for our political times. After all, Americans did just emerge from one of the most absurd and sensationalized elections in recent years. Every beat of real world politics in the last year has felt like an episode of “Veep” with cartoonish characters dealing with one controversy after another, all while firing and endless barrage of insults at each other.

One would think that the show wouldn’t be able to sustain in such a climate. After all, how does one lampoon the political world when it is already a lampoon of itself in real life? Luckily though, the absurd state of politics helps “Veep” stand out rather than hindering it. Yes, Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing” is a masterful work of television writing, but today, it feels a bit too optimistic. In fact, it seems to represent an ideal of governing as opposed to any kind of actual reality.

Yet, as much as “Veep” thrives on portraying those in government as buffoonish chickens, running around with their head cut off, the show has taken a much different approach this season. Ironically, the series has chosen to remove itself from the oval office during its current season. That choice may be a disappointment to some, but it offers the show’s writers a chance to explore a different aspect of political life, one that few other series have touched on.

After five seasons of Selina Meyer and her staff causing chaos within the oval office, both with her as president and vice president, the series has split the characters apart. Meyer is now living a life outside of leadership but struggling to remain relevant. In many ways, the current season offers a greater example of Meyer’s narcissism. In the debut episode, she addresses her family, along with professional bag-handler Gary, about a decision to run for president a second time. It’s thus far the season’s funniest moment, if only because everyone around Meyer knows it is a terrible lie. Gary pretends to act excited, but only behind a nervous grin, while Meyer’s daughter immediately bursts into an explosive volcano of tears.

The season’s opener sets us up for another trek down the campaign trail but ultimately it’s a play on our expectations. It’s still a show about narcissism at high levels of power but now focusing on how these people function in a world where they are not constantly at the center of attention, risking to disappear into history.

Breakdown of Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn”

In the early hours of April 14, one of the most eagerly awaited music releases of 2017 was unveiled to the public. “Damn” marks Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album and the response over the past weekend has been nothing short of enthusiastic. So what makes this marvelous rap record so exciting? Below is a simulated conversation to explore just such a question. If you enjoyed this piece, check out a previous one of Drake’s “More Life.”

Album art courtesy of Top Dawg Enterainment.

Random Person: Oh no, your back.

Me: I sure am!

You seem extra chipper today.

Yeah, I just listened to “Damn” for about the fourth time.

Fourth? Hasn’t that just been out a couple of weeks? I haven’t even listened to it once.

I’m speechless.

Okay, well I’ve heard “Humble” and seen it’s terrific music video.

Well, “Humble” is great, but it only scratches the surface of what this album has to offer. The whole thing is not as dense and thematically complex as his last studio record, the acclaimed “To Pimp a Butterfly” or even “Untitled Unmastered” (which was essentially a collection of tracks from the ‘Butterfly’ sessions that never made it onto the album), but it does offer Lamar a chance to stretch some muscles as an artist, proving once again why he’s one of the greats.

Stretching muscles? That doesn’t sound like a groundbreaking record to me, sounds like something an artist does to by time or prepare for something grander.

Don’t think of it as a boring exercise routine, think of it as a the best baseball player in the world stepping up to bat and hitting one home-run after another just to remind all the other players that they will never be on his skill level.

Okay, now I’m intrigued. How does this compare to his other records like “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” or “To Pimp a Butterfly”?

“Butterfly” is still likely to go down as his ‘masterpiece’ or ‘important’ album.’ “Damn” is nowhere near as jarring musically or thematically as that record but that also makes it a lot more approachable. “Butterfly” is incredible, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a dense work of art about race and black identity that takes multiple listens in order to fully comprehend. It’s sort of like how “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” is undeniably The Beatles greatest achievement from an artistic standpoint but might not necessarily be the album of theirs you listen to just for kicks. As for “M.A.A.D City,” it offers a personal look at Lamar’s day-to-day world and wrestles with the ‘what if’ of his life if not for music. The themes are more approachable, but if I have one complaint its that the skits tying all the tracks together slow down the albums flow. “Damn,” to me, is Lamar’s most approachable record; one that demonstrates his intense skill level as a rapper and unique worldview, while also delivering tracks that are just plain fun. It’s also easily his most precise and compact record, with each track coming as perfectly timed punch to the gut.

Sounds pretty great, any key songs I should look out for?

Favorite song? That’s hard to say, they are all pretty great. For now I’m going to say “DNA” is probably my favorite. It’s the second track on the album, coming after a spoken word intro (track one) detailing Lamar being gunned down by a blind woman.

Wait, what?

Yeah, it works though, trust me. Anyway that track concludes with a sampling from Fox News after they blasted Lamar for a performance he did at the 2015 ‘BET Awards,’ which they viewed as encouraging violence against police. That sound bite is immediately followed by “DNA,” with a power and force strong enough to leave you speechless. Of all the individuals as take downs that happen on the record, Fox may have it worst, as Lamar blasts the absurdity of their comments, adding as an extra cherry a clip of them talking of how hip hop may be doing more damage to African American youth than racism.

Nice, so there’s nothing to nit pick or anything?

I didn’t say that.  The one negative comment I will make is that two of the tracks, “GOD” and “LOVE,” feel a little out of place.

What do you mean?

They aren’t bad songs, they just feel extremely poppy compared to everything else on the record. In fact they feel like maybe the most commercial sounding tracks Lamar has delivered thus far in his career. “HUMBLE” has clearly been the big single from this record but “GOD” and “LOVE” are likely to become radio friendly hits here in the coming months.

Ok, I have one more question that I have to ask.

Go for it!

I saw U2 is on one of the tracks, should I be worried? I mean, I’m still recovering from when Kendrick worked with Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift.

Well, there is nothing to worry about. That track, titled “XXX,” is actually really good. Bono and company are only used briefly in the latter third of the track, adding a jazzy groove to Kendrick’s lyrics of American oppression. You likely won’t even notice it as U2 when listening to it. If anything, it shows the mass respect and acclaim Lamar has garnered across all musical genres. For a band as big as U2 to simply surrender themselves to his vision and sound is almost unheard of. These two artists come from different worlds but surprisingly, their combination work’s beautifully. While we are at guest appearances, I have to mention Rhianna.

Uh oh! I’m having “Views” flashbacks.

You can rest easy, Rihanna isn’t just thrown on as a romantic foil or eye candy for some video. The track “LOYALTY” belongs just as much to her as it does Lamar. Musically, it sounds more like something off her impressive “Anti” record last year than say “Too Good.” Sorry Drake.

Nice, well this record sounds great. I can’t wait to listen!

“The Leftovers” Might be the Best TV of 2017

The bar for 2017’s television masterpiece has just been raised thanks to the final season of HBO’s “The Leftovers.” After all, it certainly isn’t every day that you see a series be this creatively nimble and emotionally powerful. But can anyone really be surprised? When you have a masterful storyteller such as Damon Lindelof is at the helm, especially in the medium at which he excels, the results are bound to be bountiful.

Lindelof got his fame as one of the chief creative minds behind “Lost,” still one of the most influential programs to air on television, and in the years following its success, was tapped to do script work on massive blockbusters such as “Prometheus,” “World War Z” and “Tomorrowland.” However, it would be his return to the small screen that marked his next great endeavor. Working with it’s author, Tom Perrotta, Lindelof adapted “The Leftovers” into a drama series for HBO.

Both the book and show take place in the years following an earth-shattering event where two percent of the world’s population disappears into thin air. Some think it’s the rapture; others propose some sort of scientific phenomenon we don’t yet full understand, but maybe it means nothing and has no significance. Whatever the cause of ‘the departure’ was, it was clear Lindelof and Perrotta had no intention of exploring it. Rather, they wanted to probe the lives of characters left in the wake, confused, angry and in crisis.

Similar to the novel, the show’s first season focused on the residents of a small Pennsylvanian town, each trying to cope with the global tragedy in their own way. Some want to forget, others flock to various cults for answers, but no one can truthfully forget. The sadness, fear and doubt hovered over every scene. For Lindelof, ‘the departure’ was no different than say 9-11 or the Sandy Hook shooting. Because of this, the series started as an exploration of grief, loss and how communities process unthinkable tragedies. It was heavy stuff, which is probably why the first season garnered mix reactions.

Despite an interesting premise, and two terrific one-off episodes, “The Leftovers'” first season was, in layman’s terms, a tough hang. Both critics and audiences simply had a tough time warming up to the idea of tuning in every Sunday night for an hour of heavy, deathly serious drama focused on mourning and loss. Perhaps it’s with that notion that those who returned for season two, whether out of professional obligation, genuine love or just pure curiosity (me), were thrilled to see a what many referred to as a coarse correction.

Poster courtesy of HBO.

Indeed, it seemed as though Lindelof had listened to all the constructive criticism thrown at the show’s first season and tweaked things ever so slightly to satisfy more tastes. The result: a show that felt entirely rebooted, rejuvenated and alive. Lindelof kept a handful of characters from the book/first season and moved them from dreary Pennsylvania to a town in Texas that’s become a new Jerusalem for the post-departure world. It’s a center of faith, whatever you might consider that to be, and it may or may not hold a mystical power. Having a town like this as the setting gave the viewer a broader look at the post-departure world, something that had only been hinted at in season one.

However, most importantly, season two brought with it a change in tone; not a drastic one, the series did not go from dark drama to goofy comedy, but there was a sense of surrealist playfulness added. After all, if this is a world where two percent of the world’s population can mysteriously vanish, what else is possible? Lindelof himself has talked of the influence Bible stories had on crafting the world of the show, in which the fantastic and surreal happens within everyday life.

Season two might not have brought with it an increase in viewership ratings for the series but it did bring an enthusiastic backing from critics. I myself placed it on the “Niner Times'” Best TV of 2015 list after it aired. The strong backing from critics was enough to convince HBO to renew the series for a third and final season. Lindelof took roughly a year off to craft a strong ending to the series, and it seems to have paid off.

Season three of “The Leftovers” is a masterful piece of television, excelling in all levels of writing, acting, directing and even music. Lindelof has set the final chapter seven years after ‘the departure,’ where everything for our lead characters, the Garvey family, and their close friends seems to be going perfectly. It’s a direct counter to the world around them, which seems wrapped-up in the idea that the world is going to end in exactly 14 days.

Poster courtesy of HBO.

Of course, whether or not this prediction will come true is up to speculation. The new season opens with a religious group in the 1800s eagerly awaiting the second coming, swiftly followed by the end of times. Over and over, they climb the roofs of their homes, waiting with eager anticipation, only to emerge the next day in shame and disappointment. For centuries, societies and religious groups have predicted the end of times. Is it any wonder that some of our characters would shrug their shoulders in disbelief at the idea?

Lindelof also continues with the series’ world building by gradually sending his leads to Australia, a journey that eventually leads to preventing an earth destroying flood (Noah’s ark allusion). The biblical comparisons continue as tormented Police Chief, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is thought to be…wait for it…a second coming. That discovery, along with a brand new gospel written by pastor Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) detailing the Garvey-Christ theory, only send further questions spiraling. There’s a miraculously specific tone to this season that walks a fine line between laughing at the outrageous claims of floods and second comings, while still keeping us open to the idea that they may be true. After all, anything is possible.

As in previous seasons, Lindelof manages to give a variety of characters their moment in the sun. This method of having each episode zone in on a different specific character was also used on “Lost” and helps make each individual episode vibrant and unique. Of all the stars and characters though, the most thrilling to watch continues to be actress Carrie Coon, who can also be seen at the moment on the FX anthology series “Fargo.” Coon’s character has risen to become almost a co-lead to Theroux’s Chief Garvey. Here, the actress may deliver her most impressive outing yet as she manages to be unpredictable, humorous and emotionally vulnerable all within the stretch of a few scenes.

Of course to reveal any further about the new season would do a disservice to those watching. As always, part of the magnificence of “The Leftovers” is the way it surprises, in little moments as well as big. You’re never really sure what to expect in a given episode, and that’s part of the fun. Lindelof has opened up a world ripe with creative possibilities inhabited by uniquely complex characters. So catch up on the first two seasons; wikipedia the first and just watch the second, or watch this handy review of both and dive right in! “The Leftovers”‘ final season is not something to be missed; it’s a truly remarkable work of television that showcases the incredible heights possible in the medium.

“Ok Computer” is Born Again

“OK Computer” album artwork courtesy of XL Recordings.

Twenty years later, the success and impact of “Ok Computer,” the third album by British band Radiohead, seems to be an anomaly. Despite limited expectations from the label that distributed it, the record instantly became a pop-culture phenomenon back in 1997, as well as a work of art that critics couldn’t seem to get enough of. In some respects, it marked the end of a particular type of rock record: one that could be just as groundbreaking and innovative as it was commercially popular.

To get an album like that today is extremely rare, and when it does happen it’s usually within the world of hip-hop through artists like Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean or Beyoncé. That’s not to say there have not been great rock records over the last two decades. Bands such as The White Stripes, Arcade Fire or The Strokes have received much acclaim; however, none of their albums were as forward thinking or pop-culture juggernauts in the way “Ok Computer” was upon release.

What’s more amazing is that all this came from a band that, just two years earlier, were being written off as a one hit wonder. In 1995, Radiohead released their debut record, “Pablo Honey,” which flew off the shelves due to the wildly famous single, “Creep.” However, the grunge-rock ballad was never a favorite among the band members themselves, and many critics sneered at the idea of another band trying to ride the grunge-wave, especially as it was dying out.

A year later, the group released their sophomore album, “The Bends.” Despite lacking another radio dominating single, the album became a big favorite among critics in 1996. In the U.K., the album gained more popularity, fitting in with the Brit-Pop movement that had taken the nation by storm, but here in the states its popularity was within a small cult following. From there, the pressure was on to deliver something magnificent; a record that would be successful not just critically but financially as well.

In the tradition of groups such as The Beatles and Pink Floyd, Radiohead set out to make a concept album that highlighted the uncertain future that laid ahead. It’s a rock record tried and true, with thunderous guitar riffs and beating drums, but there is also a heavy amount of experimentation going on as well. It’s clear the band was keeping their ears open to an array of difference influences. They began to dabble in a more electronic sound, something they would wholly embrace later on. Perhaps with the tech boom of the late ’90s, it seemed appropriate that rock music should have a computerized bite to it as well.

But there are also tracks that seem to harken back to classics of other bands. “Paranoid Android,” the first single off the album, is essentially the groups “Bohemian Rhapsody”; a sprawling six-minute piece that feels like three or four different songs woven together effortlessly. The track alone might be one of the most maddening and purely insane pieces of music written during that decade. To hear it for the first time is to be frozen dead in your tracks, baffled by what kind of mad genius could conceive of such a thing. In similar fashion, the song “No Surprises” feels like a reengineered version of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” changing focus from youthful love to a tale of societal hopelessness.

Photo by Daniele Dalledonne

Other songs (“Airbag”) would incorporate elements of DJ scratching, courtesy of DJ Shadow, or elaborate percussion (“Climbing Up the Walls”). The latter would even offer the first glimpse of guitarist’s Jonny Greenwood’s work on movies such as “There Will Be Blood” or “The Master.”

However, it was not just the music of “Ok Computer” that would stand out in uniqueness. In truth, it was the whole packaging. The advertising campaign for the record consisted of posters featuring individual lyrics from the track “Fitter Happier.” On the record, “Fitter Happier” is presented in a robot voiceover, created by typing the lyrics into a Mac voice command program. Its lyrics detail a mundane series of commands involving exercise, dieting and being a more productive member of society. The track is one of the record’s more experimental pieces, a song totally overtaken by technology.

There would also be three rather unique and artful music videos to accompany the record. “Paranoid Android’s” animated video gave provocative visuals to the single’s jarring music and lyrics. “No Surprises” presented a captivating single shot video of frontman Thom Yorke getting his head completely submerged under water while singing the song, creating an oddly intimate experience between artist the audience experiencing the short. However, the most genius of these might be Jonathan Glazer’s video for “Karma Police.”

The darkly comic tune is transformed into a haunting and mesmerizing short in which the audience is in the driver seat of a vehicle traveling down a dark road in pursuit of a man frantically running up ahead. Occasionally, the camera turns to Yorke in the back seat mouthing the words to the song. By the end, the tides have turned with the frantically running man lighting fire to the vehicle as the audience remains trapped inside. In many ways it’s the perfect visual accompaniment to the record. “Karma Police” might be the album’s most defining piece. Both the song and the video convey a darkness but also a devilish sense of humor. It’s meaning is as malleable as the listener wishes, a trait that has fallen upon much of the band’s best work.

In the years following, Radiohead would take their music and sound beyond the reigns of rock altogether. It seems, in hindsight, that “Ok Computer” demonstrated them taking the genre as far as it would go. Their follow-up, “Kid A,” completely embraced the electronic soundscape that had been dabbled in on “Computer,” trading out thrashing guitars for layered synth beats. While the group has delivered rock tracks since, most notably on “In Rainbows,” (itself celebrating it’s 10th anniversary), “Ok Computer” marks their last pure rock record.

The conversation of “Ok Computer’s” significance as an all-time great album inevitably calls to question the significance of rock music today. Yes, there are certainly great albums being made in the genre every year, but there remains a division between rock music that feels noteworthy versus being at the forefront of popular culture. “Ok Computer” represents a time when both those things could be the same thing. A rock record could be a provocative artistic statement and dominate the popular culture.

Breakdown of Drake’s “More Life”

“More Life” album artwork courtesy of Young Money Entertainment/Cash Money Records.

Random Person: So, I hear there is new Drake music out.

Me: Ah yes, you mean the “More Life” playlist.

Playlist?

It’s basically just a new album, but he’s calling it a playlist. The reason for this might be because it’s just available on streaming platforms, or it doesn’t really have any structure like you would have on a typical album. It really is just a collection of songs he’s been working on that you realistically could just listen to in any other situation. Another reason could be that some of the songs don’t feature Drake at all.

Wait, what?

Yea, in fact, one of the album’s best songs, “4422”,  is essentially just a new Sampha track. Part of what makes the album fun is the wide range of artists, samples and influences that can be heard over its 22 tracks.

Ok, I’m going to stop your there. 22 tracks? That seems a bit excessive.

I won’t argue there. I’m in the school of thought that a tight 10 to 14 track record with no filler is the best way to go. However, Drake has never been one to make short albums, and luckily “More Life” has more tracks that stand out vs. those that just feel like tacked on bits.

Well how does it compare to “Views”? That album had a couple good tracks as well, but most of it just felt self-indulgent and mopey.

“More Life” is drastically better than “Views.” I’d actually agree with just about everything you said about that record. This new one has more life, more flavor. Many of the tracks are quite fun to listen to, and the whole thing feels like a tour through Drake’s own musical taste book as opposed to wallowing in his own anxieties and self doubt. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tracks about struggling to get over old flames, navigating life as a celebrity, etc. but here they are packaged in a more musically interesting and exciting way than on “Views.” That album had an almost overcast and gloomy feel to it while this one mixes in a variety of influences and flavors that help it feel more colorful.

Ok, it’s definitely better than “Views,” that’s good, but how does it stack up to some of his other records?

“Take Care” is still hands down his best work, there is hardly a bad track on that one. As for second best, I would probably go with “Nothing Was the Same,” but “More Life” is certainly in contention for third or fourth best, depending on your thoughts about Drake’s mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.”

As of now, what would you say are the best songs off “More Life”?

The songs that seem to stand out the most are the ones that either feature an exciting guest appearance or a creative sample. I personally really enjoy “Ice Melts,” which features something I thought I’d never hear in hip-hop: a Young Thug guest appearance where I can understand every word he says. The whole thing sound like something that likely would have appeared off Thugger’s “Jeffrey” record last year. As mentioned earlier, the Sampha track is great as well, offering a comfortably warm center to the albums track list. The album’s best sample might have to go to “Teenage Fever,” which pulls from a late 90s Jennifer Lopez hit. However, if you’re looking for a classic Drake tune off this album, you can’t do much better than “Can’t Have Everything,” which features a hard beat, slightly corny but perfectly simply chorus and voicemail placed at the end informing our man Aubrey that he shouldn’t have such a confrontational tone.

Any songs you think will become annoying in six months because they’ve been overplayed?

I don’t know; “Fake Love” is on the album and that already seems a bit overplayed. The track “Get It Together” has a catchy club beat and a fairly cheesy chorus which seems like a whining formula for the kind of song you’re talking about. It’s also safe to say “Passionfruit” will have the same fate, which is a tad disheartening considering, for now at least, that song has one of the more infectious beats I’ve heard in a while. It sounds like the kind of tune you’d hear playing in background of an old Nintendo game and, once mixed with some smooth sounding Drake vocals, becomes a refreshingly cool track that’s perfect for those hot summer days right around the corner.

What about lyrics? Drake usually throws out some lines that become part of pop slang for a period of time, any indication on what lyrics I’ll be hearing thrown around in the coming year?

Get ready to hear a lot of people saying blem.

Blem? What’s blem?

I don’t think I’m qualified to say, but it’s the subject of a whole track, club beat and everything. Whether people know what it means or not, they’re going to be saying it.

Alright, so I should give it a listen?

Of course. Who knows, in six months time, most of us might be sick of this album, but for the time being it’s delightfully fun, infectiously catchy and perfectly suited for that warm spring and summer weather.

“Taboo” is Prestige Television at its Worst

Photo courtesy of FX.

It became clear about midway through the eight episode run of “Taboo” that things were not going to improve. The prestige drama series, airing here in the U.S. on FX and in the U.K. on BBC, was met with much anticipation roughly two months ago, in large part due to the attachment of actor Tom Hardy. The series is set in the murky streets of London during the war of 1812. Hardy plays James Delaney, a man believed to have been long dead after disappearing somewhere in Africa. Yet, to the shock of all London, he returns, appearing almost like a ghost out of thin air.

News has traveled of his father’s death, and now Delaney is seeking to claim his inheritance, which includes a small piece of land on the American border with Canada that is much coveted due to its strategic location and access to trade routs with China. In particular, the land known at Nootka Sound, has caught the eye of the East India Trading Company, lead by a devilish Jonathan Pryce. The company attempts to strike a bargain with Delaney, throwing out every incentive from gold to patriotic duty, but Delaney doesn’t budge. The rest of the series might best be explained as a game of chess between the company and Delaney as he attempts to set in motion a plan to sail off to his newly inherited land.

However, even chess games are more exciting than the scheming that takes place on “Taboo.”  Delaney’s plan seems to be somewhat unclear at times to the audience. At one point Delaney realizes that he will need gun powder to trade one in Nootka but must illegally manufacture his own considering the crown holds control over the substance during times of war. This plot point is hugely important; yet, it was so wistfully thrown into the plot that it wasn’t always clear why we were spending so much time on it.

The show is completely built around Hardy and his performance. It’s a role that is specifically tailored to every one of the actor’s quirks. Hardy himself developed “Taboo” along with his father, Chips (Easily the best name in the Hardy household) and “Peaky Blinders” show-runner Steve Knight (Hardy previously worked with him on both “Blinders” and the movie “Locke”).

Allegedly, it was the character Delaney that came first. Hardy envisioned him as a mix of Bill Sikes from “Oliver Twist,” Marlow from “Heart of Darkness,” Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lector, Oedipus and Klaus Kinski’s character from “Aguirre: The Wrath of God.” It was Knight and Hardy’s father who were brought along to develop a series around this fictional creation that Hardy wanted so much to play.

And therein lies the show’s greatest fault. The series surrounding Delaney never seems to be as fully realized and developed as the character himself. Hardy no doubt gives an impressive performance, but your milage may vary depending on how captivated you are by the actor’s brooding nature. However, as fascinatingly bizarre as the character may be, lurking around in a trench coat and top hat, he never once becomes someone the viewer can connect with.

Delaney is, for one thing, completely unstoppable; he is able to outsmart nearly everyone around him and always stay one step ahead of his enemies. At multiple times per episode, Delaney is approached about a particular bit of information, usually a hiccup in his convoluted grand scheme, only to murmur in an almost incomprehensible grumble that he has known all along. This might be effective once, such as in an ending reveal, but to have this notion carried across the whole series felt detrimental to any kind of suspense the show had.

Photo courtesy of FX.

This is also the kind of show where the lead character and those around him are constantly reminding viewers that he is a bad man who has seen and done bad things. But how have these things really effected Delaney? He talks of doing unspeakable things and is clearly haunted by his involvement with slave trading in Africa but is never forced to recon with his actions. The slave trade in particular comes up toward the end as an investigation into the East India Company reveals illegal association with such barbaric acts. However, the plot line is largely tossed aside in place of Delaney’s own interest. He uses his knowledge of the association as leverage to get his way.

The tone of the series is almost unanimously grim and deathly serious. Occasionally, that seriousness breaks into moments of pulpy exploitation, but even those range from being unintentionally funny to shockingly repulsive. Such moments include Delaney performing gruesome acts of violence, such as cutting a man in half and pulling out his organs or having telepathic black-magic sex with his own sister (I’m not making this up).

The problem with these moments is their salaciousness is they never really seem to add anything to either Delaney as a character or the story as a whole. We learn next to nothing about the relationship between Delaney and his sister from their incest other than one simply lusts over the other. In fact, Oona Chaplin, who plays Delaney’s sister, is given nothing to do aside from being sexually assaulted by multiple characters, not just her brother.

The only supporting player who barely gets to shine is Tom Hollander, who plays a sleazy chemist Delaney enlists to make gun powder. His entrance is one of the more unintentionally hilarious moments in the show, as Delaney walks in on him mid-coitus, to which Hollander gives an anecdote about semen turning to poison within the body if not released during sex (I’m really not making this up). Yet, even if Hollander manages to get a couple humorously strange (intended or not) scenes to shine in, his character is treated as nothing more than a cog in Delaney’s grand plan.

What the show’s greatest problem boils down to is a lack of characters viewers can engage with. Watching Hardy have the time of his life is entertaining enough for a couple of episodes, but by the end it appears he is having more fun playing the character than we are watching.

Another take that might come as a surprise; the show is not that great visually ether. Yes, in today’s age where TV looks more and more like the movies in terms of grand visuals, this one drops the ball. It’s certainly possible to make a program with a dark color palette visually interesting but everything on “Taboo” feels dark and muddled to the point of just being ugly.

There are numerous scenes of characters lurking in the dark with only a candle flame to light the frame. Think the scene in “Apocalypse Now” where Marlon Brando is first introduced but spread out over an entire TV series. What results are images almost totally eclipsed in darkness, providing little for the eye to latch onto. The scenes in the street are overcast, filled in dark blacks and browns. Characters walk knee deep in mud that appears to have been thrown on everything around them. Yet, the most egregious visual choice might be to throw in disorienting visions from Delaney’s subconscious that make the scenes they’re in incomprehensible on a fundamental level.

All things considered, a perfect portion of eight episodes felt like an endless nightmare. Hardy has expressed definite interest in returning as the character for a second season. While it may be the role of a lifetime for him, I will be hard-pressed to spend another second with Delaney or the world he lives in.

Pete Holmes and Judd Apatow Talk “Crashing”

Photo courtesy of HBO.

CHARLOTTE N.C. — Judging by his background, Pete Holmes doesn’t seem like your average comedian. He grew up fairly religious and went to the Christian-based Gordon College in Massachusetts, where he majored in English and Communications. He married young, at age 22, to the very first girlfriend he ever had but found himself divorced six years later and thrust into the world of stand-up comedy.

Since then, he’s appeared on numerous late-night shows, done cartoons for “The New Yorker,” hosted his own podcast called “You Made it Weird” and even managed to land a brief two-year gig hosting his own late night show on TBS. Now, Holmes has brought his talent to HBO in a new series titled “Crashing.” The comedy series is largely based on Holmes’ own experience starting out as a stand-up comedian in New York and dealing with the divorce of his first wife.

The series is produced by non-other than Judd Apatow, who also directed the first two episodes. Apatow has helped produce many of the biggest comedy films and TV shows of the last two decades, as well as directing features such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “Trainwreck.”

I sat down with the two to talk about “Crashing,” their experience in stand-up and what it’s like to bring someone’s personal experiences to the small screen.

Pete, you’ve talked a lot about how the show is based on your own experience as a stand-up comic, what made you want to share your experience and develop it as a TV series?

P: “I just feel it was the story I could tell the best. I was going to do another sketch or talk show but then decided that the story I could tell better than anybody was one of a religious guy who married the very first girl he ever dated, only to have her leave him, and fall into the comedy scene in New York. As for the reason I decided not to do it as a movie or a one man show, I felt the engine could be the experience of crashing on a different comedians couch, which seemed very episodic. At that point, I felt it fit the mold of a Judd Apatow production and, after talking to him, he agreed that television was the best format to tell this story.”

How do you decide how much of your real-life experiences to put in the show vs. situations that may be too personal or need to be exaggerated for comedic effect?

P: “I think that is one of the things I learned from Judd. In a real divorce, there are a lot of moments where you have the blinds drawn, eating ice cream and quietly sobbing while watching “Sex and the City” because every little thing just makes you sad. I can even remember how every woman I saw after that experience would remind me how I was divorced. Even if it was just a waitress at a restaurant, I would cry out “Really universe! A waitress?” So, those are the kind of things we had to take out, simply because they were just too uneventful.

That’s also where Judd comes in because he is very good at taking something that is emotionally true and externalizing it. For example, in the third episode there is a yard sale, which didn’t happen in real life but the idea of having all your possessions laid out and sifted through by your neighbors is a good representation of what going through a divorce feels like. It’s about losing your privacy, being a little humiliated and getting three dollars for a framed photo of your wedding. So, that helps convey the story better and that’s what Judd would do. I would tell him something sad, like the waitress story, and he’d point to how that feels like this other thing that would work better in a comedy as opposed to a sad indi-movie.”

Judd, you’ve worked with numerous comedic actors over your career as a director. How do you approach giving a comedic actor direction while still giving them room to explore the comedy within their character or the scene itself?

J: “Generally, I find that comedic actors have really good instincts. A lot of it is setting up a situation where people feel comfortable. I like to talk with the actors, even weeks or months before we do shoot, about how they see their character or how they see the scene, so we can have it fairly worked out before we reach the set. From there, you want to create room for something extra to happen within that moment. So, if you’re fully prepared, you can get what you thought you needed and then you can have a little time to see if anything new sparks.”

One thing that’s apparent from the first episode is a deep love of stand-up. What role or attraction does stand-up and comedy have in both your lives?

J: “Well, it’s fun! It’s fun talking to people and bringing comedians on stage. It’s also a thrill because it can go so well or so badly. It’s one of the few tight-rope walking moments you get in life where you’re not in any kind of physical danger.”

P: “It’s pure exertion [laugh] and we like that! You get all the thrill of exercise without any of the danger. I also just think everybody, whether you’re a dentist or an architect, just wants their thoughts and feelings validated, whether that be in a conversation, a car ride, or a dinner. We do it with audiences and I think that’s part of why it feels so good. When everybody is laughing there tends to be some kind of agreement and it can also be immediate. You can think of something on your way to a show, do it on stage that night and you get the feedback right away. I think it also has to something to do with our depraved souls because we need that [laugh].”

What do you think helps set the show apart from other series about comedians in New York such as “Louie” or “Master of None”?

J: “I think we are in the same world as a lot of those shows, but it’s really about Pete and his own perspective. Certainly, we’re influenced by shows like “Louie,” but even that show didn’t have a whole lot of episodes about being a comedian. There was that great two-parter in the last season with him on the road but there were only really a handful of episodes that showed that world in great detail. So, we felt that nobody had really truthfully shown the comedy world, certainly the open-mic, early period of one’s career. But we’re proud to be mentioned in the same conversation as all those great shows.”

Big Stars Bring Big Performances to “Big Little Lies”

Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon in “Big Little Lies.” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

There is little doubting the sizzle and spark on screen when watching “Big Little Lies.” The HBO miniseries, based on the best-selling novel by Liane Moriarty, is the latest television production to wheel in a helping dose of star power. Perhaps, as with shows like “House of Cards” or “True Detective,” that star power will be enough to peak the interest of many curious television viewers eager to find something new to glue their eyes on. However, it’s very likely the web of mystery, lies, deception and immaculately drawn characters that will keep them eager for the next episode.

The series is set in the wealthy beach-side community of Monterey, California. Many of the characters live in lavish houses overlooking the roaring waves of the Pacific Ocean. However, lives for these people may not be a dreamlike as they appear on the surface. There are secrets, grudges and even murder underneath the pristine community. As the miniseries opens, we learn that a murder has taken place. However, the identity of who was killed, let alone the culprit, are kept secret from the audience. What we do see are community members being questioned by police and providing insight into a particular group of characters who might, in some way, be involved with this whole debacle.

The characters in question are, in large part, a group of mothers who in the area, each with their own dark little secret. There’s Madeline Mackenzie, a career peak played by Reese Witherspoon, the mother who seems to constantly be in other people’s business along with micro-managing the world around her. She’s in her second marriage to Ed (Adam Scott) and has two daughters, a feisty 1st grader and a rebellious teen from a previous marriage. Still present are tensions between Madeline and her ex-husband, who still resides in the same town but is now married to a much younger woman (Zoë Kravitz).

Next up is Celeste Wright, played by Nicole Kidman, who left her career as a lawyer to be a stay at home mom for her twin boys. She has a fiery marriage to Perry, a chiseled younger man played by Alexander Skarsgård, and they are constantly referred to as the couple with a little too much personal display of affection. Yet, under the surface, the seemingly perfect marriage might be more abusive than loving.

Laura Dern in “Big Little Lies.” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Finally, there is Jane Chapman, a single mom, played by Shailene Woodley, who’s recently moved to town with her son. However, it soon becomes clear that Jane has her own dark secrets and past traumas that she is more than likely running from. However, when a possible bullying accusation against her son arises, she becomes the enemy of one of the community’s most powerful woman, Renata Klein (a fiery Laura Dern), making the assimilation process that much harder.

It’s really an ensemble effort with everyone in the cast at the top of their game. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the entire miniseries has Jean-Marc Vallée behind the camera. Vallée of course directed Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to Oscars in “Dallas Buyers Club,” as well as both Witherspoon and Dern to nominations in “Wild,” putting him on trajectory as a filmmaker with the skill to grab great performances out of actors.

Witherspoon is the likely choice for which performance will grab people first, as she grabs the reigns and takes over from her very first introduction. The ending result is not too far off from her character of Tracy Flick in “Election,” but with slightly more subtlety and dramatic depth. However, Woodley and Kidman deserve an almost equal amount of praise for some of the darker places they take their characters toward the later episodes, when the curtain is becoming more pulled back on their personal trauma.

While the show may become slightly more serious in its later episodes, it always retains a sense of chaotic fun. The story weaves together so many characters each with their own personal grudges and conflicts with other people that there seems to be an almost infinite number of possibilities in terms of who is involved in the central crime. As soon as you think you have it pinned down who’s been murdered and who their killer is, the show throws you another possibility.

Yet, for a majority of the series, the fun lies in watching these women clash and scheme against one another. The more soapy aspects of the show are not played too seriously and there is a surprising bit of wit to the way people gossip about each other. The situations within the show might be flared up for dramatic effect but the characters at the center feel real, almost like people we’ve met before or heard about. They’re similar to the anti-heroes of golden age TV, even the simple act of hanging around the local coffee shop feels like a call-back to the way Tony Soprano and his mob buddies would make small-talk outside the pork shop.

All the women involved are great actresses, but they usually don’t get this kind of meaty, scenery chewing roles to work with. It’s a shame really. The TV anti-hero world is full of men but rarely have we gotten one centered around a woman, let alone three women. However, “Big Little Lies” brings the girls to the boys club and the results are pretty entertaining.

“Big Little Lies” premiers Sunday, Feb. 19th on HBO and HBONOW 

“Legion” Obliterates the TV Superhero Mold

FX’s “Legion” is a marvel of modern television. The series is technically a comic-book show and part of the “X-Men” canon but it never feels that way. It’s almost as if creator Noah Hawley, who also helmed the TV adaptation of “Fargo,” took every blueprint we come to think of in a superhero show and smashes them on the ground in defiance. It owes more to films like “A Clockwork Orange” than anything from the pages of Stan Lee or Chris Claremont, who created the character of Legion in the comics.

In the show, the character of Legion is David Haller (a terrifically spastic Dan Stevens), a mental patient at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital. For most of the series’ pilot, we’re trapped inside the mind of this character, who happens to be suffering, possibly from schizophrenia. Of course, whether or not David really does suffer from the mental illness is entirely up to speculation. What is clear is that he appears to have some sort of telekinetic ability.

Dan Stevens in “Legion.” (Photo courtesy of FX & Marvel Television)

David spends most of his days going through the mundanity of life in the hospital. “It’s just Thursday here,” he tells his sister during a birthday visit, “same as every other day.” It’s a life of highly regimented routines that all seem to blur together through the passage of time. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, medication, therapy, sleep, repeat. The only friend David seems to have on the inside is Lenny, played by an unhinged Aubrey Plaza. All this changes when a new patient appears, a beautiful blonde named Syd (Rachel Keller) with a serious distaste for physical contact. A rather quirky romance sparks between the two, with moments such as them figuratively holding hands by gripping ether side of a towel as they walk through the halls.

However, here is where the episode really takes a spin. Hawley and his writers put the audience in an almost disorienting stream of consciousness within the head of their main character. We’re constantly switching between different flashbacks, memories and fantasies to the point where we as an audience are just as unclear about what’s real as David. A large part of the episode also sees David being interrogated by a group of mysterious men who seem to know that he, in fact, does have superhuman abilities. It’s through this interrogation that David comes to question whether or not the voices in his head and visions he sees are actually real.

The first episode is really just the opening of a door, introducing characters and pointing the show in its direction to move forward. However, the way “Legion” immerses you in the mind of its character is truly breathtaking. It calls to mind programs such as “Mr. Robot” or “Hannibal” in which we as a viewer are trapped within the surreal world of our protagonist’s subconscious. Hawley has said he didn’t want to create a show about superhumans, though the sequences of superhuman ability, such as an elaborate “single-take” escape sequence, are rather breathtaking. Instead, Hawley wanted to do a show about mental health, one that tapped into what it would be like to experience the world and not knowing how to differentiate reality from fiction.

Perhaps that focus is what makes “Legion” stand out as such a revelation amid the surplus of superhero shows on both TV and in the movies. The problem for many of these properties after a while is they develop a sameness. That’s largely because most are trying to fit into a larger shared universe with other programs and movies. The two largest of these properties on TV are arguably the CW’s “Arrowverse” (“Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl” and “Legends of Tomorrow”) and Netflix’s Marvel series (“Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist”).

Rachel Keller in “Legion.” (Photo courtesy of FX and Marvel Television)

However, Hawley and his team seem completely uninterested in connecting their show to any kind of larger universe, meaning whether or not the show is viewed as part of the X-Men universe, it’s never going to specifically connect to the movies at large. What that offers is more creative freedom both on the page and on the screen. It’s also helpful that the writers and production designers behind “Legion” drew their inspiration from outside the comic-book world. In recent interviews, those involved with the show stated that Hawley pointed to the cinematic indulgence of “The Young Pope” and creator Paolo Sorrentino’s film “The Great Beauty” as well as the non-linear, stream of conscious storytelling of Terrance Malik’s film “The Tree of Life” as elements he wanted to capture in the series.

The look of the show is also completely unique. Viewers are likely to compare it to some of legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s work, especially “A Clockwork Orange,” or even that of director Wes Anderson. The period setting for “Legion” is purposely vague, perhaps there is none. David uses a pay-phone at one point and the interrogator uses an tablet in another moment. Some of the character’s outfits even look as if they were ripped straight from a hip 60s fashion magazine. However, all this just adds to the world Hawley has created; part retro, part modern. It’s filled with bright colors and bizarre shots using specific lenses. Quite simply, this doesn’t just feel like no other comic book show, it’s also visually more interesting.

Papadosio: Thrilling Show or Just Jingly Tunes

Papadosio Pattern Integrities Tour poster courtesy of the artist.

Charlotte N.C. — The prog-rock group Papadosio played to an enthusiastic crowd late Thursday evening at the Underground here in Charlotte.

Since 2009, the group has put out four studio albums; however, many music listeners might find themselves unfamiliar with the group’s work. That’s where I was in visiting the Underground for Papadosio’s performance.

And so, totally unfamiliar with the group, I wondered what sort of musical experience I had gotten myself into.

The group took the stage with four members: a drummer, guitar player, bassist and keyboardist. To my surprise, the show was highly enjoyable. With great energy, thunderous guitar solos and a dash of funk one might find on a Prince record, it was a thrilling experience to watch this group, that I had previously been unaware of, take my breath away.

There was only one problem, the group I was watching was not Papadosio. Yes, after a few sets, the slice of garage-rock bliss that I was watching revealed themselves to be the opening act Backup Planet.

It wouldn’t be until around 10 p.m. that Papadosio finally took the stage. By that point the audience in the Underground had grown from around fifty to a couple hundred people. Perhaps this group was not as unknown as I had imagined.

So, what was Papadosio? For one thing, the group’s music is largely free of words. They are more concerned with just well crafted jams than any kind of lyrics.

Around the room, individuals began to dance. A young woman in a backless dress, scarfed hood and squirrel tail pranced around the room. The songs all seemed to blend into each other in an effortless stream of music.

This is the kind of music that would be great for studying or relaxingly catching up with friends. As far as musicianship goes, these guys are very talented and, while interaction with your audience is a key component to almost any concert, there is something kind of nice about a band just going on stage, giving you the music and letting that be the experience. After all, the music is what you came for.

However, as much as I admire the musicianship of this group, I’m afraid I am not their desired audience. I couldn’t help think back on that opening act. Yes, I understand that there can be different types of performances, but I felt there was a connection with Backup Planet.

Listening to Papadosio was just listening to music; the audience reacted to what was being played rather than the energy of those who played the instruments. Isn’t that why we go to concerts to see music live? So we can have a shared experience with not just those around us but somehow feel connected to those that perform?

Papadosio seemed as though they were there to play music, what we as an audience did with that music was up to us. With Backup Planet, I felt as though I was watching musicians who wanted to create an experience and relationship with their audience, allowing us to join in the fun they were clearly having.

Underrated Movie Awards

Award shows are absurd. We’ve built them up to be the signifiers of taste, but if one looks close enough, they are usually trivial in determining which art, music, film etc. is of particular importance. This is not a new thing either; all one has to do is look back at the history of the Grammys or Oscars to see a disconnect between the best or most memorable art from that period and those awarded by the voting body.

Currently, the Emmys seem to be the only awards that seem to have their thumb on the pulse of popular culture. With the Oscar nominations being released for 2017, there are, per usual, numerous films and performances that simply didn’t make the cut for various reasons. As much as the Oscars would like to believe they celebrate the diversity and breadth of the entire industry, they actually just warp our idea of what a great movie is.

Some genres are thought higher than others (there’s a reason we rarely see great sci-fi or crime films take home Oscars), the weird and provocative are often shunned, and terrific comedy performances are often thought less than those in a drama, no matter how much they may make us laugh. So let’s be clear, I love “Moonlight,” I was moved by “Manchester by the Sea” and I thought “La La Land” was some of the most fun I had at the movies last year but those films are going to get their accolades here in a few weeks. This is for all the overlooked people and performances from the 2016 movie year.

Best Comedic Performance by an Actor Not Known for Comedy: Colin Farrell in “The Lobster”

Farrell may be our most underrated character actor. The problem is most of Hollywood seems to think he is a straightforward leading man. Where he excels is playing rather strange and unusual characters. In “The Lobster,” possibly the funniest movie I saw in 2016, he plays a divorced middle aged man sent to a hotel for single people. If the occupants of the hotel can’t find a mate after one month of stay, they are turned into an animal of their choice. The whole cast is rather marvelous, but there’s something about Farrell; his awkward demeanor, deadpan line delivery and goofy looks that makes it a work of perfection.

Best Performance that was Surprisingly Not Nominated for an Oscar: Amy Adams in “Arrival” and “Nocturnal Animals”

Adams is one of the best actresses of her generation, and her performance in “Arrival” is probably one of her best. For those who have yet to see Denis Villeneuve’s terrific cerebral sci-fi picture, I’ll keep plot details to a minimum, but let’s just say things get complex. However, Adams manages to keep the movie grounded in a reality. “Arrival” could easily get caught up in its space-time science or overwhelmed by atmosphere, but with Adams as the lead, the movie has a certain warmth to it. Then there is “Nocturnal Animals,” which has the actress basically just reading a book the whole movie. That’s it! It’s not exactly the kind of role that gives her a lot to do, but it’s limitations show off her strengths as an actress. Is it a bit below her talent? Probably, but boy does she put everything into turning those pages and giving reactions of pure shock. She’s so entrancing that you don’t realize the role, and the movie in general, is as hollow as it is until after you leave the theater. That takes skill!

Best Performance by an Actor Nominated for Another Movie: Ryan Gosling in “The Nice Guys”

Yes, I know Gosling is nominated for Best Actor currently, but hear me out. It’s for the wrong performance. Don’t get me wrong, he’s good in “La La Land,” but the best Gosling of 2016 is the one with the goofy facial hair, bumbling around 70’s L.A. with Russell Crowe. Shane Black’s detective comedy was a flop at the box-office, so it’s likely few got to experience what may be the best comedic performance of 2016. Imagine Philip Marlow as a clumsy, slightly dim-witted but otherwise lovable alcoholic and you got Gosling’s character of Holland March. It’s a work of physical comedy on the level of Charlie Chaplin. Just his reactions to situations around him can make you burst with laughter, like his face subtly shaking after witnessing a murder in a hotel. The best example is maybe this scene, where Gosling meets Crowe’s character for the first time and belts out a girlish coyote yelp after getting his arm broken.

Scariest Performance: John Goodman in “10 Cloverfield Lane”

John Goodman might be the best actor on the planet without an Oscar. His presence in almost any movie is simply magnificent, even if the movie itself is a complete misfire. All one needs to do is look at his IMDb page to see the plethora of great films he has been involved with. The man is capable of playing just about any kind of part: funny, lovable and, in the case of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” absolutely terrifying. Goodman plays one of those doomsday preppers who saves or kidnaps a young woman, telling her that some catastrophe has happened and she must remain in his underground fortress, abiding by his rules. You’re constantly trying to figure his character out. Is he a hero protecting others from monsters outside or simply a monster of his own? Goodman is a large man as well, and even his physical presence in this movie is used to inspire terror in the audience. I dare you to find any moment from last year as nerve-wracking as the dinner scene where Goodman loses his cool and lashes out.

Best Performance in an Oscar movie Voters Clearly didn’t See: Annette Bening in “20th Century Woman”

Bening is one of those great actresses who rarely gets the credit she deserves. Her role in “20th Century Woman” is one that seems perfectly tailored to her. You somehow understand this entire character’s history, even if it’s not explicitly laid out. Bening internalizes the experiences that this woman, based on writer/director Mike Mills’ mother, has been through, both in her personal life and in the culture at large. It’s a performance focused on subtleties, but because of those subtleties the character feels like a fully realized person.

Best Dancer: Ralph Fiennes in “A Bigger Splash”

 

Best Music Moment: Sandra Hüller Sings in “Toni Erdmann”

No, it’s certainly not the funniest moment from this likely “Best Foreign Language Film” winner, but it is hard not to at least chuckle a little when Sandra Hüller’s character belts out the Whitney Houston classic “Greatest Love of All.” Hüller’s performance is all restraint; she’s repressed her own strange quirks and built up a protective wall around her personality. The movie primarily sees her estranged father attempting to bring her out of her shell through a variety of awkward encounters. However, it’s not until this moment that we really see her character fully break free, hearing the frustration and inner turmoil belt out of her voice.

Best Scene Stealing Supporting Role: Alden Ehrenreich

Many now know Ehrenreich as the star of the upcoming Han Solo movie, but before he heads off to a galaxy far far away, catch this star making a turn in the Coen brothers most recent project. “Hail, Caesar!” hosts a boatload of big-name stars like George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansso and Channing Tatum, yet it’s Ehrenreich who emerges as the most memorable performance in the entire movie. He plays a cowboy-hat wearing Western star who is shuffled around to appear in an elegant costume drama. The scene of Ehrenreich struggling to pronounce the line “Would that it were so simple” is possibly one of the funniest scenes of any movie last year.

Best Performance in a Movie Not Enough People Saw: Krisha Fairchild in “Krisha”

Want to see an acting tour de force like no other? How about the kind that makes you think, “Why have I never seen this person in anything before?” and “Why aren’t studios lining up around the block to give him or her a spot in the next big picture?” That’s the feeling of watching Krisha Fairchild in the film “Krisha,” a little indie-movie that few people saw but is probably one of the most underrated pictures of 2016. The film was written and directed by Fairchild’s nephew, with much of the other cast members played by family as well. The plot itself is relatively simple; Fairchild plays a woman returning to her family for Thanksgiving dinner after years of absence and a battle with drug addiction. It’s one of these movies where a family get-together spirals out of control with loved ones screaming and throwing things at each other. Obviously, all the drama stems from Fairchild’s character and her drug addiction. Fairchild delivers the kind of performance that is free from restraint. She embraces the tragic flaws of her character creating something that is raw and devastatingly human.

Best Performance by an Animal: The Goat in “The Witch”

What’s the scariest animal on the planet? If you’ve seen Robert Eggers nightmare inducing horror film, “The Witch,” chances are you’ll say a goat. Why? Because the satanic Black Philip is absolutely horrifying from the way he walks and the way he cocks his head. I was stunned to learn that an actual goat was used on the film, as it seemed unfathomable that a simple farm animal could be this expressive.

Best Movie Destined to be Midnight Cult-Hit: “Green Room”

Genre pictures often get left in the dust during award season, even if they are as well made as this one. But there is a real talent in making these kind of pictures. “Green Room” never strives to be anything more than an adrenaline packed piece of pulp entertainment. The movie is under 90 minutes, contains some of the most shocking violence I’ve seen in the last several years and keeps things relatively simple; a small punk band is held hostage by a group of white supremacists after witnessing a murder back stage at a gig. There’s no filler, just a quick set-up followed by the most nail-biting tension I had at any movie last year. The movie is the kind of violent genre thriller that could have come from someone like Sam Peckinpah arguably would have made in the 70’s, the kind you can imagine watching in a dingy old theater in the late hours of the night.

Funniest Documentary that is Secretly Scary: “Weiner”

Do you look away? Do you laugh? How did anyone agree to let this film crew have this much access? Those are all the questions that will buzz through your head when watching this documentary chronicling Anthony Weiner’s run to mayor of New York in 2013. The project, with almost unparalleled access to his campaign, was meant to highlight a comeback but instead captured a downfall. At the time the film was being shot, news broke of Weiner’s sexting scandal, and the documentary crew captures every scandalous moment as it rocks the campaign. The movie is almost like watching a car crash; you want to look away but somehow you can’t. It’s almost like watching an episode of “Veep” coming to life and is equally hilarious. However, underneath the humor is a dark look at the ugly face of American politics: the lies, the deceit, the sensationalism of scandal. After the election we just had in this country, “Weiner” could be seen as a kind of horror movie.

Most Underrated Movie that Should Have Been a Hit: “Everybody Wants Some!!”

Richard Linklater excels at finding magic in everyday interaction. His best movies are often about people simply going through their day-to-day lives, hanging out or simply conversing. His most recent project, “Everybody Wants Some!!,” is possibly one of the most fun movies of 2016. It should have been a hit. The weak marketing made it look like just your average college party movie, but it’s so much more. There’s a depth to these characters and an effortlessness to the way they interact with each other. The movie is very similar in tone to Linklater’s own “Dazed and Confused,” one of the all-time greatest teen-flicks, having the same meandering story structure built entirely on character interaction. Yet, more than anything the movie is just flat out fun. You walk out feeling as though you’ve just spent the weekend with your best buds.

Best Movie Song that Could Have Been a Top 40 Hit: “Drive it Like You Stole It” from “Sing Street”

2017 Oscar Nominations Break Down

Courtesy of Summit Entertainment (Lionsgate).
Courtesy of Summit Entertainment (Lionsgate).

The nominations for this year’s Academy Awards have just been released, with”La La Land” leading with a record matching fourteen total. Here is a breakdown of who all is nominated, who will most likely take home a golden statue, and who actually deserves a win.

Best Picture

  • “Arrival”
  • “Fences”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “Hell or High Water”
  • “Hidden Figures”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Lion”
  • “Manchester by the Sea”
  • “Moonlight”

Who Will Win?: There are nine nominees this year, yet only two are really in contention. The indi-drama “Moonlight” and musical “La La Land” are clearly the two favorites in this category. However, picking which specific one will take home grand prize is rather tricky. “Moonlight” could strike a cord for Academy members who want to award a film out of importance; the movie does tell the story of a gay black man growing up in poverty, a kind of story that is typically absent from the movies. However, “La La Land”, with its throwback to classic Hollywood musicals, does fit the bill for a movie celebrating the industry itself, which is another big draw for voters.

Who Should Win? I love both these movies, so I’m satisfied ether way!

Best Director

  • Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”
  • Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
  • Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
  • Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Who Will Win?: Another “Moonlight” vs. “La La Land” showdown. Both Jenkins and Chazelle have a likely chance at winning this award. Their directing styles could not be more different but both work beautifully in their respected film. Jenkins is more subtle and understated, helping add to the intimacy of his movie, while Chazelle’s is big and stylish, full of youthful energy and confidence rare among filmmakers his age.

Who Should Win?: Again, I’m satisfied with ether one of these guys taking home an award. However, Jenkins’ win would be rather historic since he would be the first African American to take home Best Director.

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck — “Manchester by the Sea”
  • Andrew Garfield — “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • Ryan Gosling — “La La Land”
  • Vigo Mortensen — “Captain Fantastic”
  • Denzel Washington — “Fences”

Who Will Win?: Most likely Casey Affleck, though there is a strong possibility of a Denzel upset.

Who Should Win? Casey Affleck

Best Actress

  • Isabelle Huppert — “Elle”
  • Ruth Negga — “Loving”
  • Natalie Portman — “Jackie”
  • Emma Stone — “La La Land”
  • Meryl Streep — “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Who Will Win?: Emma Stone

Who Should Win?: I could go on for hours about how good Isabelle Huppert is in “Elle” but, then again, there are few things on this earth more enjoyable than watching Stone work her magic in “La La Land,” stealing every single scene she is in.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali – “Moonlight”
  • Lucas Hedges – “Manchester by the Sea”
  • Jeff Bridges – “Hell or High Water”
  • Dev Patel – “Lion”
  • Michael Shannon – “Nocturnal Animals”

Who Will Win? Mahershala Ali (a.k.a Remy Danton to all you “House of Cards” heads)

Who Should Win? Mahershala Ali, though I must say, Michael Shannon is the best part of “Nocturnal Animals”.

Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.
Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis — “Fences”
  • Naomie Harris — “Moonlight”
  • Nicole Kidman — “Lion”
  • Octavia Spencer — “Hidden Figures”
  • Michelle Williams — “Manchester by the Sea”

Who Will Win? Viola Davis

Who Should Win? Let’s put it this way, there are some things that are just facts; water is wet, the sun is hot, and Viola Davis is incredible in “Fences”.

Best Cinematography

  • “Arrival”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Lion”
  • “Moonlight”
  • “Silence”

Who Will Win?: “La La Land”

Who Should Win?: Tough choice, but I’d probably go with “La La Land” as well.

Best Documentary

  • “Fire at Sea”
  • “I Am Not Your Negro”
  • “Life Animated”
  • “13th”
  • “O.J.: Made in America”

Who Will Win?: “O.J. Made in America”

Who Should Win?: [ Goes outside to the balcony and screams “O.J.!” as loud and enthusiastically as I can.]

Production Design (sets, props, etc.)

  • “Arrival”
  • “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
  • “Hail, Caesar!”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Passengers”

Who Will Win?: “La La Land”

Who Should Win?: “La La Land” (This movie’s going to win a lot of awards.)

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Costume Design

  • “Allied”
  • “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
  • “Jackie”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Who Will Win?: “La La Land”

Who Should Win?: “Jackie”

Best Animated Feature

  • “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  • “Moana”
  • “My Life as a Zucchini”
  • “The Red Turtle”
  • “Zootopia”

Who Will Win? “Moana”

Who Should Win? “Zootopia”

Best Original Song

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — “La La Land”
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling” — “Trolls”
  • “City of Stars” — “La La Land”
  • “The Empty Chair” — “Jim: The James Foley Story”
  • “How Far I’ll Go” — “Moana”

Who Will Win?: “La La Land” has two nominations in this category, so either of those.

Who Should Win?: “City of Stars” from “La La Land”

Best Original Score

  • “La La Land”
  • “Lion”
  • “Jackie”
  • “Passengers”
  • “Moonlight”

Who Will Win?: “La La Land”

Who Should Win?: “Jackie”

Best Visual Effects

  • “Deepwater Horizon”
  • “Doctor Strange”
  • “The Jungle Book”
  • “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  • “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Who Will Win?: “The Jungle Book”

Who Should Win?: I seriously don’t know how you can not say “The Jungle Book” for this award.

Best Foreign Language Film

  • “Land of Mine”
  • “A Man Called Ove”
  • “The Salesman”
  • “Tanna”
  • “Toni Erdmann”

Who Will Win?: “Toni Erdmann”

Who Should Win?: Perhaps this would have been a harder choice had “Elle” or “The Handmaiden” made it in, they should have, but nevertheless, “Toni Erdmann” contains two of the funniest scenes I saw in any movie last year and I will be pleased to watch it walk away with the award.

Courtesy of A24.
Courtesy of A24.

Best Hair and Makeup

  • “A Man Called Ove”
  • “Star Trek Beyond”
  • “Suicide Squad”

Who Will Win?: “Suicide Squad”

Who Should Win?: “Suicide Squad”

Sound Editing (balancing of sound effects and dialogue)

  • “Arrival”
  • “Deepwater Horizon”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Sully”

Who Will Win?: “La La Land”

Who Should Win?: “Sully,” if only for the plane crash scene

Sound Mixing (sound effects themselves)

  • “Arrival”
  • “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “La La Land”
  • “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Who Will Win?: “La La Land” because it is usually safe to say that Academy voters are not usually thinking about the details of these technical awards and are likely just to make down “La La Land” because they really liked it.

Who Should Win?: “Arrival”

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • “Arrival”
  • “Fences”
  • “Hidden Figures”
  • “Lion”
  • “Moonlight”

Who Will Win?: Most likely “Moonlight,” though “Fences” and “Arrival” stand a good chance as well.

Who Should Win?: “Moonlight”

Best Original Screenplay

  • “Hell or High Water”
  • “La La Land”
  • “The Lobster”
  • “Manchester by the Sea”
  • “20th Century Women”

Who Will Win?: This could easily be another win for “La La Land” but “Manchester” also is a heavyweight in this category due to its incredible dialogue.

Who Should Win?: “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Film Editing

  • “Arrival”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Moonlight”
  • “Hell or High Water”

Who Will Win?: “La La Land”

Who Should Win?: “La La Land”

TV REVIEW: ‘The Young Pope’

You aren’t ready for “The Young Pope.” I repeat, you are NOT ready for “The Young Pope.” Why? Because this show is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Perhaps if you are familiar with the work of creator/director Paolo Sorrentino–his movie “The Great Beauty” won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar back in 2014–you’ll know what to expect.

At first glance one might expect “The Young Pope” to be like “House of Cards” but in the Vatican. After all, the show does have a charismatic movie star, Jude Law, as an anti-hero of considerable power causing an uproar within a particular institution, in this case the catholic church. There are power struggles and back dealings but with a touch of surrealism. Unlike, “House of Cards,” “The Young Pope” is unafraid to be weird, campy or even satirical. It’s the kind of show that can have a scene of Law’s character getting dressed for a meeting with the church Cardinals while the song “Sexy and I know It” plays, immediately followed by a chilling monologue where he talks of making the church more elusive.

Law plays Lenny Belardo, a young American cardinal elected to be pope, where he calls himself Pius XIII. It’s all done as a publicity stunt with the hope that his age and inexperience will allow the older cardinals to essentially use him as a puppet to control. However, their scheme soon turns on its head as Lenny becomes a more unpredictable and extremist leader than they expected. He openly mocks and ridicules the other cardinals and their old ways, alienates Christians all over the world by making the church more inaccessibly and creates a shroud of mystery around himself.

courtesy of HBO
courtesy of HBO

Of course there are those that attempt to council Lenny, such as Diane Keaton as Sister Mary, the nun that raised him as an orphan, or James Cromwell as his old mentor, who claims he should have been elected the new pope. Constantly haunted by the notion that he was abandoned by his parents as a child, Lenny is a complex character that the audience is constantly trying to grapple with. At times he seems to be mercilessly cruel, a pathological liar and gleefully humiliating those around him. There even seems to be the chance he doubts the existence of God entirely. Yet, there are also moments where it seems Lenny could hold some divine power. Is he a Christ-like profit? A religious extremist? Or, is he simply out to destroy the church as an institution?

Whatever the case, Law manages to deliver one of the juiciest television roles in a long time. To say that he chews the scenery would be an understatement; he devours it. He’s fiercely intimidating on screen, appearing to suck the air completely out of the room with just a glance or stare. What’s perhaps more incredible is the level of layers that make up this character and the manor by which Law so effortlessly moves between them. I’ve never seen him work so hard at a performance like this, let alone make it all look so easy.

However, the element that takes this series over the edge is its visuals. Yes, “The Young Pope” is not simply another difficult man/antihero program; it’s got the operatic and surreal touch of a truly unique filmmaker. Paolo Sorrentino keeps his camera constantly moving with each frame looking like a beautiful cathedral painting. You feel ashamed for watching it on your television set. You want to run to the store, buy a projector, and throw those gorgeous images up on the largest blank canvas you can find.

courtesy of HBO
courtesy of HBO

The gorgeous images stem from two categories: the real and the surreal. Obviously, there are the sequences of lush gardens and awe inducing cathedrals, meant to take place within Vatican City, but there are also marvelously bizarre dream sequences and hallucinations there to represent the inner turmoil of the characters. How bizarre is bizarre, you may ask? The first episode’s opening shot is of an infant crawling over a mountain of other babies with Lenny subsequently crawling out from underneath the pile himself. That’s the kind of filmmaker you are dealing with in Sorrentino: someone who believes in the blurring between the real world and the dream world.

Yet, apart from the images, Sorrentino also seems to want to explore the complexities of religion, such as the way corruption and politics play a role within the church, how scripture can obtain various meanings to different people and how ultimately it can be used as a healing force. These are themes that may prove too weighty for some, but Sorrentino approaches them with a sly wit and operatic scope. He’s not afraid to satirize the obscenities within the Church but also understands that it does also have the power to heal in surprising ways.

So, is “The Young Pope” for you? Maybe. Should you at least check it out? Most definitely!