I Am

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For anyone who suspects (or has figured out) that much of what is commonly understood to be The Truth About Life is actually a series of mistakes, lies, and fantasies, the film “I Am” is a powerful affirmation that we’re onto something. Director Tom Shadyac used to be Director: Tom Shadyac, the auteur of big-budget Hollywood comedies starring Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy. Addicted to more of everything, Shadyac acquired and consumed and wondered why the hole he was trying to fill never seemed complete. After a serious illness, he switched paths. “I Am,” made with the craftsmanship of an old pro, chronicles Shadyac’s exhilarating journey toward enlightenment. Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky are some of the thought leaders interviewed, along with a menagerie of brilliant authors and scientists speaking plainly and clearly. What they — and the New Tom . . . → Read More: I Am

Modern Day Philosophers

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In the spirit of Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and legions of performing social critics, many modern day comedians see themselves as truth-tellers. Their performance is a kind of philosophizing, a search for meaning in an inscrutable universe. Comedian, improviser, and enlightenment-seeker Danny Lobell‘s podcast “Modern Day Philosophers” is an ingenious hybrid of traditional philosophy — Plato, Hegel, Kant — with “modern day” philosophy, Lobell’s comedian friends. The dual joys of the show are learning (by filling in the gaps in your scholastic reading, or being reminded Who said What) and laughing at the insights, rants, and anecdotes provided by Lobell and his guests, who range in intelligence and erudition from Very Smart to not. Sometimes MDP is clever, sometimes it’s stupid. But the impulse to learn and laugh is omnipresent. It’s our kind of show.

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Terms and Conditions May Apply

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Do you agree? Check this box to proceed…after reading several pages of legalese rendered in 6-point type. Didn’t bother? If you care about the increasingly obscure concept of “privacy,” the film “Terms and Conditions May Apply” is mandatory — and frightening — viewing. Director Cullen Hoback carefully examines those “T&C”s that we “agree” to millions of times a day, and shows with chilling clarity how Facebook, Google, Amazon, YouTube, and all our other favorite Interweb sites are knowingly and happily serving as giant data collection centers for themselves and for the government. You may not care now, but one day when your browsing habits become the basis of an FBI visit you’ll look back at this groundbreaking 2013 film and sigh.

Mr. Nobody

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The 2009 science-fiction movie “Mr. Nobody” evaded our radar during its initial release. Now it’s on our very slim shelf of films “worth watching again.” Directed by Jaco van Dormael and starring a precociously talented Jared Leto, “Nobody” has a central story — a boy on a train platform who is made to choose between divorcing parents — and a clever conceit — Nemo Nobody is the last living mortal (120 years old) in a society of immortals. But this film’s intense pleasure is in visual, narrative, and philosophical digressions that miraculously lead back to the plot. It’s a work of magnificent imagination and virtuoso technique. “Mr. Nobody” recalls the Coen Brothers at their best.

Dharma Gypsys, Volume Two

dharma gypsys volume 2

Reggae. World. Rock. Social consciousness. Dharma Gypsys, Volume Two is music for yoga, meditation and revolution — and for obsessive replaying. Created by celebrated yoga teacher and former death metal guitarist Daniel Overberger, the DGs are a collective of some of Hollywood’s coolest musicians, including one of our favorite jazz vocalists, Charmaine Clamor, who leads the chorus on the “No GMO” anthem “Wicked Garden.” Each Gypsy adds her pungent spice to the musical stew. The result is one of the most compulsively groovy records ever to serenade a downward dog.

Kate Berlant

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It would be convenient to lump performers like Kate Berlant into a category called “experimental comedy” or “alt-alt comedy.” But sometimes what Berlant does onstage isn’t necessarily comedy. It’s a kind of art. Yes, she’s fabulously funny, especially when yammering haughtily but nonsensically, like a New Age academic on hashish. And she earns laughs by finding the silly and absurd beneath the surface. We love that Berlant is also blazingly smart. And fearless. And utterly comfortable with uncomfortableness. Seeing her handling the energy of the moment is mesmerizing.

The North

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The descriptor “easy listening” connotes saccharine elevator music, and “goes down easy” suggests diluted medicine. The debut album from The North, a Brooklyn-based piano trio, is called “Slow Down, This Isn’t the Mainland,” and the entire recording is indeed easy like Sunday morning and smooth as a polished seashell. But there’s nothing insipid or cloying; the journey is an aural pleasure. Recorded in Hawaii, “Slow Down” is relaxed, gentle, charming, approachable, and utterly pleasurable. The band covers Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk and Bob Dylan beautifully. The bulk of the project, though, is devoted to lyrical originals, mostly by pianist Romain Collin. His virtuosity, like bassist Shawn Conley and drummer Abe Lagrimas, never calls attention to itself. The North is all about songs — melodies and grooves and especially dynamics. Imagine the Bad Plus blissed out and chilling on a beach. The result is one of . . . → Read More: The North

Rob Gleeson

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Network television viewers might be acquainted with Rob Gleeson as a charming second-banana in various national commercials. Aficionados of the Los Angeles improv-comedy scene know him as a charming leading-man in various stand-up and storytelling shows. Raised in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin, minutes from the Konik childhood homestead, Gleeson’s energy and visage are Midwestern unthreatening, which serves him well when shilling for corporations. But his astonishing improvisational chops are what’s got us excited. A recent epic appearance on “The Todd Glass Show” podcast with fellow comic Ian Karmel demonstrated that Gleeson has the ears and wit to create humor out of virtually nothing. You’ve seen him, whether you meant to or not. Now, listen and smile.

Daniel Koren’s “The Most Important Thing”

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When a performance is difficult to explain yet utterly cogent to live audiences, something suspiciously like art is probably happening. In the case of composer Daniel Koren’s “The Most Important Thing,” a mélange of music, video, dance, and comedy, the results are wildly entertaining, formally provocative, and resolutely their own thing. That’s not easy in a culture built on reiteration. But the Israeli-born, Berklee-educated, Brooklyn-based Koren appears to have an essential quality intrinsic to liberated creators: fearlessness. Disembodied heads singing in harmony; tiny hands clapping and snapping; nonsense syllables conglomerated into a symphony — “The Most Important Thing” is subversive, surreal, and, if you’re hip, unmissable.

Samsara

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The intent of the documentary “Samsara” is to “illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of the nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.” Birth, life death: and repeat. The director and cinematographer Ron Fricke, working in ravishing 70mm film, guides us through the journey with no words, no dialogue, no voiceover, only exquisite music and imagery of heartbreaking beauty and transcendence. But “Samsara” is not merely a collection of pretty pictures. Fricke successfully manages to explore profound ideas solely through imagery. The film contains visual puns and several strongly sequenced “narrative” threads, particularly our human connection to other animal species. The result is one of the most transcendent works of art we’ve ever experienced.