Overlooked: Sleeping at Last

Composer Ryan O’Neal’s household recognition begins and ends in the credits

Overlooked: Sleeping at Last

Ryan O’Neal has found great success in his relatively short career by creating music for the concepts of other artists. However, his own musical side projects are undervalued by comparison.

His scores can be found in motion pictures, car commercials, and music videos alike. Each one is unique, yet unified stylistically with a fondness of narrative and an emo tinge.

He wields his musical tools masterfully, carefully curating his music and lyrics for each project. These tools never appear predictably within his albums; they are as diverse as the topics he chooses to muse upon.

Every note, chord, and rest is specifically written to elicit a particular emotion or experience from the listener.

Precise and careful, yet eloquent and efficient, the Sleeping at Last project exemplifies everything music should do for its audience. Through beauty, and the expert use of the mechanics of song, Sleeping at Last seeks only to provide fundamentally universal experiences that everybody can learn from. Though his goal seems lofty, O’Neal achieves it splendidly.

You find yourself so comfortable in the worlds he creates that sometimes you forget the one you’re actually in.

He is captivating in the simplest sense.

His albums, aptly dubbed ‘atlases,’ begin describing our entire universe at its most basic level — light and dark — and move through increasing levels of complexity. His current project seeks to tackle the human psyche through the Enneagram of Personality.

Even though he has spent the better part of the last three years serenading objects from throughout the solar system and beyond, beauty is the string that ties his separate works together into a cohesive whole. His music allows the audience to discover, and constantly rediscover, the beauty in all things.

O’Neal asks you to feel the joy that simple sunlight shining through curtains brings; to exonerate the regret that comes from the “reckless and honest words” leaving our mouths. And at his request, on clear nights, you should take the time to look at the moon as if you had never seen it before.

O’Neal writes only for others. His music exists simply to gift others the beauty of the unknown.

For what greater gift can there be than to allow us to feel wonder for wonder’s sake?

No longer just in the background or periphery, O’Neal deserves every last ounce of recognition for his tireless, incredible work. And you, dear reader, deserve to see the beauty in everything, and possibly even yourself.

At last.

Overlooked: Mozart in the Jungle

Art versus money — where would you fall?

Overlooked: <i>Mozart in the Jungle</i>

Set in the classical music world, Mozart in the Jungle follows the New York Symphony Orchestra as they try to survive and navigate a time when their most trusted patrons are old enough to have served in Vietnam. In store are a talented orchestra, a new conductor, an old conductor, a union, some donors, and one oboist.

Inspired by Blair Tindall’s memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, the show is a delightful surprise even after you read the Wikipedia summary — no, I don’t always do that for shows I said I’d watch.

This show reacquainted me with classical music by encouraging conversations about old classical music and composers as though I knew them. Witness that even great composers and artists have human fallacies; Mozarthighlights their dirty secrets and general reputation in the music world. The show also introduces slightly unknown pieces by modern classical artists, such as “Hi” by Caroline Shaw. The contrast between old and new provides a revealing platform of the current classical music climate.

Mozart in the Jungle is as eccentric as its title, however, what is even more peculiar is the male lead Rodrigo De Souza. Portrayed by the ever so charismatic Gael García Bernal — The Motorcycle Diaries, anyone? — Rodrigo is the new conductor of the symphony. He advocates for hallucinogens, rides a bike, drinks malt, talks to dead composers, gets cursed by other dead people, and is just a hoot to watch.

Rodrigo wants to achieve the impossible but the realities of the orchestra’s financial situation and ‘red tape’ bar him from achieving his dreams. That is the crux of the show — the battle of art against money. Art cannot be kept alive without money, but it cannot thrive under its burden.

All in all, the show is quite the ride.

Overlooked: Departures

Escape Toronto’s November and explore the world through this travel show

Overlooked: <i>Departures</i>

I first stumbled across Departures on my Netflix dashboard, hidden in the depths of the Travel & Adventure Documentaries category. I frequent this category to feed my desire to escape from the confines of school and academics, and instead travel and see the world. Before long, the series had succeeded in at least partially quenching that thirst.

Departures documents the journey of three young men who leave their conventional lives behind to travel the world. Their travels take them to the corners of the world, including North Korea, Ascension Island, and the far north of their native Canada, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones too.

Departures is unlike traditional travel shows. The beauty of the series lies in its delicate balance between documenting the trio’s destinations, new experiences, and personal struggles over the course of the year.

This balance is established from the start, with awe-inspiring visual landscapes in the title sequence. The whimsical background audio is overlaid with the travellers narrating why they have chosen to travel the world and the sacrifices they have made to do so.

Soon enough, you develop a deep bond and love not only for the destinations they visit, but for the men behind the show themselves. Scott, the resident dad, leads the three, making sure that they don’t get into too much trouble along the way. Justin, the goofiest of the three, provides lighthearted charm while Andre’s brief and infrequent cameos from behind the camera offer humorous snark but also remind viewers of the intimacy of their travels. At the end of the day, their grand and beautiful excursions are really just three guys filming themselves while having fun.

Over the course of their three years of travel you become immersed in their friendship. You feel like — or at least want to be — the fourth bro taking part in their foreign nightclub escapades, attempts to eat exotic foods, and hikes through remote destinations.

The show simultaneously subdues my wanderlust and makes it scream even louder. It will satisfy your appetite for adventure momentarily, but not before sending you into an obsessive research spiral for the gear that you’ll need and the places that you’ll visit during your very own post-graduation backpacking trip.

Overlooked: Gerald’s Game

This film has the scariest monster of them all

Overlooked: <i>Gerald’s Game</i>

Content warning: references to sexual assault.

I love horror movies. I love everything from the super cheesy ’80s slasher flicks, to the most twisted and intense psychological horrors — provided, of course, that they don’t demonize people with mental illnesses.

But alas, my deep disappointment with horror is the treatment of women and sexual violence. Women’s bodies become ragdolls to be thrown around, either to fuel male emotion or for the sake of pure shock value. Women’s sexuality too often becomes the deciding factor in who gets to survive until the end, with the virginal ‘final girl’ rewarded for chastity while still being heavily sexualized.

Enter Gerald’s Game, the 2017 Netflix horror and thriller based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name. The setup is easy enough to follow: Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), decide to take a romantic vacation to a lake house in the middle of nowhere, as many ill-fated couples do.

The game in question comes when Gerald decides to put Jessie in a pair of handcuffs for some roleplaying. Jessie agrees, then becomes uncomfortable. The two argue and suddenly, Gerald drops dead.

Handcuffed to the bed and totally alone, Jessie could easily be the chained-up prey of any would-be killer from a film more entrenched in the stereotypes of the genre. Instead, Jessie is forced to confront the truth about her life: her failing marriage to Gerald, her history of being sexually abused as a child, and the silence with which she has endured all of it.

Rather than be an object of disgust, horror, or shock, Jessie’s trauma is simply presented as it is, with Jessie’s fear stemming from the silence she has been forced into all her life.

There are some old-fashioned scares as well, with Jessie hallucinating the ghost of her dead husband and being interrupted by a grave robber and serial killer in search of treasures, but ultimately, the movie is Jessie’s journey.

Gerald’s Game is an intensely realistic examination of memory and trauma. The lead female character is never an accessory to another’s story or shamed for her choices.

This is the kind of story we need right now, the kind that knows how to scare you without any cheap tricks or jump scares. The scary monster is, in the end, what Jessie has to live with: silence, shame, and trauma.

Overlooked: Mean Streets

Overlooked: Mean Streets

Overlooked: <i>Mean Streets</i>

The first time that I heard about Mean Streets, I didn’t even recognize it as a Martin Scorsese film, despite loving his later works. Often regarded as a crime movie, Mean Streets is that and so much more.

From the rawness of its characters, to its plot and setting, Mean Streets was an instant classic. Shot almost completely in Los Angeles, the film brings the murky, diabolical glow of Little Italy, New York to life through the God-fearing Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and the suicidal and reckless Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro). At its core, Mean Streets is Scorsese’s tribute to his city. It’s a tale of friendship, love, religion, but most of all, it’s a tale of New York.

Although Keitel and De Niro are now stalwarts of Hollywood, when this movie was filming, they were relatively unknown. We see De Niro especially unshackled by the gravitas of his later roles such as Taxi Driver. In Mean Streets, he often improvised his lines and really brought the rogue Johnny to life — and we love him for it, even though he is the problem that pushes the narrative forward.

The handheld, shaky cinematography further immerses the audience in the gritty world of low-level Italian mafia. A staple in his later works — Goodfellas and Raging Bull, to name a couple — Scorsese’s minimalist yet innovative camera techniques really come through in the famous pool table fight scene. Equal parts hilarious and violent, he strapped a camera to Keitel’s head to demonstrate his intoxicated state.

In a way, the lower budget paved the way for the film’s distinctive style, as the majority of the budget was spent on the soundtrack, with music composed by The Ronettes, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones.

Scorsese’s sharp script and sharper directing encapsulate his view of the world in a grand, two-hour long gangster epic that shouldn’t be buried in the stacks of time, but celebrated as a work of art that inspired thousands of filmmakers and told a story about the great city of New York.

Overlooked: Love Jones

Representation is important: Love Jones is the first Black romcom that feels more indie than commercial

Overlooked: <i>Love Jones</i>

I am a hopeless romantic. I love watching love, hearing about love, and reading about love.

My favourite type of romantic content are romantic dramas with heavy dialogue: movies that not only explore love, but the human condition in a meaningful way. From Before Sunrise to Under the Tuscan Sun, I can revel forever.

One such movie that is underrated is Love Jones, which follows the story of Darius Lovehall, played by Larenz Tate, and Nina Mosley, played by Nia Long. Nina is a photographer who has just left a long-term relationship with a neglectful boyfriend, while Darius is a poet and a hopeless romantic.

They meet at a nightclub where Darius is performing poetry and, unbeknownst to Nina, he dedicates a poem to her. From there, a relationship begins to bloom.

Although the premise is simple, the film is monumental.

While movies such as The Wood and The Best Man do explore the love lives of Black people, Love Jones is absolutely the first popular Black film that truly feels more indie than commercial.

Unlike the heavy dialogue, artistic shots, and meditation on the lives of twenty-somethings living in a big city in Before Sunrise, Love Jones has no big scenes or dramatic arcs.

Instead, this film is about love in all stages.

It demonstrates the ebb and flow of two people who love each other but struggle to be on the same page. They want to love and to know what love is, but they are torn by their professional pursuits. Watching this as a teenager, I did not understand the beauty of the film. I thought it was just about two people who couldn’t make up their minds.

But after rewatching it in my twenties, my perspective shifted. It’s now painfully familiar.

On top of that, the film has an incredible soundtrack with Lauryn Hill, Duke Ellington, and John Coltrane. If you really like that jazz club episode from The Proud Family or enjoy a beautifully filmed romantic drama, this film is for you.

Overlooked: Lord Huron’s Vide Noir

Lord Huron commands the heart with their combination of vocals, instrumentals, and lyrics

Overlooked:  Lord Huron’s <i>Vide Noir </i>

Love, in all its forms, tends to dominate popular music. The highs of a passionate new relationship create bombastic celebration tunes, while lost loves produce heart-wrenching ballads.  Yet much of the music we hear fails to capture the sheer power of love and the intensity of the feelings it brings us.  Lord Huron’s speciality is capturing such emotion.

Their latest album, Vide Noir, tells the tale of a lost soul, seeking the love who left him ages ago. Consumed by memory, he travels our world and uses drugs to ascend to another one of magic and deep, all-encompassing emotion. It is the latter world which Lord Huron hails from, each song exploring a facet of our narrator’s beautiful, perhaps mad, devotion to his love.

The best song on the album is “Wait by the River,” a sombre ballad delving into our narrator’s feelings: “If we can’t be together / I will leave this world behind / If I can’t touch your body / Can I touch the sky?”

Singer-songwriter Ben Schneider lays his emotions bare through every crescendo as he begs to the heavens; the girl means everything to him.  To touch the sky is a mere consolation prize, for the world means nothing without love.  His delivery strikes a chord with me, capturing the intensity of the love.

The instruments are as passionate as our narrator. The light guitar and upbeat drums  in “Moonbeam” couple with Schneider’s vocals, capturing the pure joy of seeing his love again, even as a hallucination. The bass features prominently, its melodies carrying us to another plane of existence. It guides the soulful laments in “Emerald Star” and “Wait by the River,” while capturing the raw energy of a high, whether from drugs or passion, in “Vide Noir” and “Never Ever.”

It is this combination of poignant vocals and meticulous instrumentals that conveys everything perfectly, from the magic behind the world to the emotions that govern it all.  Lord Huron commands the heart, drawing out our deepest feelings and letting us relive them in their songs.  By the time the sorrowful guitar of “Emerald Star” crackled through my headphones, I was nearly in tears.

I implore anyone and everyone who has ever felt a deep sorrow, a great happiness, or a love that encompassed their being to give Lord Huron the attention they deserve.

TIFF 2018: Wildlife

Overlooked – except this time a TIFF special

TIFF 2018: <i> Wildlife </i>

Unlike many of the other films that played at TIFF this year, Wildlife has been making the festival rounds since Sundance in January. Since then, it has received rapturous reviews, but nowhere near the level of praise that films like Roma and A Star Is Born are receiving. While I have not seen those films yet, Wildlife is certainly not to be underestimated. Though somewhat overlooked by the festival circuit, Wildlife is one of the best films of the year so far.

Based on Richard Ford’s novel of the same name, the film is the directorial debut of Paul Dano. Having worked under directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson on There Will Be Blood, Denis Villeneuve on Prisoners, and Steve McQueen on 12 Years a Slave, Dano has seen incredible formalist filmmaking firsthand, and it shows in his work. His debut is assured and consistent, taking up a sombre, almost dread-filled emotional tone from the beginning and never wavering.

The plot is astonishingly bare for a movie that’s an hour and 45 minutes long. In 1960, a family of three moves to Montana, seeking to improve their lives. As told through the eyes of 14-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould), his father (Jake Gyllenhaal) encounters complications with his job. Each member of the family, most notably Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), Joe’s mother, must do what they can to survive, physically and emotionally. That’s it.

While it has beats of both a coming-of-age drama and a deep tragedy, Wildlife is ultimately a very simple drama, recounted with heartbreaking detail and craft. Working in the rich tradition of quiet Midwestern American dramas and taking influence from movies like Ordinary People and A River Runs Through It, Dano tells this story with remarkable self-assurance. The camera moves only when it needs to; the tightly controlled colour palette is made up of wonderfully muted pastel greys, greens, and blues; and Dano picks up on every smile, glance, and sigh that his actors give out.

What may be most remarkable about Wildlife is its sense of empathy. This comes from the feminist lens through which Dano and Zoe Kazan, his partner and co-writer, view the film’s events. Jeanette, in addition to working and coping with the loss of her own dreams, must deal with both her husband moving away and her son growing older.

A lesser film would present the actions that Jeanette takes to cope, and live with some hope of happiness as morally reprehensible, but Dano and Kazan understand not just what it means to live as a woman in a world dominated by men, but also what it means to live as a woman in a world dominated by feminine performativity.

Wildlife is a sobering depiction of what it means to live under the American Dream, and what it takes away from you — it’s the empathy that Dano and Kazan lend the characters that makes this portrait so effective.