Nazi Satire ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Has Nabbed Six Oscars—You Really do Need to See It

 

 

It would have seemed almost unimaginable just a few years ago that 2019 America would have a…Nazi problem right out in the open. Yet such hatemongers have actually been referred to as “very fine people” by the man who holds the title of The President of the United States of America.

Into this bizarrely unsettling reality came a fittingly surreal film last autumn about a little German boy, Jojo (played by Roman Griffin Davis), who is pretty sure being a Nazi is a pretty great thing. It just nabbed six Oscar nominations, including Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Adapted Screenplay and, most notably, a Best Supporting Actress nod for Scarlett Johansson, and Best Picture for Taika Waititi.

The story? Well, despite the Axis powers starting to unravel, Jojo is proudly heading off to fascist training camp, like all obedient little boys do. In fact, he’s so devoted to the cause, that his imaginary friend is not a puppy or a bunny (or not even an dreamed up Nazi boy), but Adolf Hitler himself.

 

 

Jojo Rabbit morphs from uncomfortable absurdity (everything about Hitler is uncomfortable) into a magical but tidily packaged, tolerance-teaching morality fable, when Jojo actually meets a young Jewish girl and, much to his astonishment, realizes she’s not a monster – as he had been taught about all Jews. His mother (Scarlett Johansson), you see, is a member of the resistance, and she has hidden the girl away in the attic, without Jojo’s previous knowledge.

Luckily director Taika Waititi (who gets great comic Nazi performances out of Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson) doesn’t play it too maudlin – which also means Jojo Rabbit lacks the emotionally piercing ending of, say, Max, another film that got undue criticism for depicting Hitler outside of his historically documented psychopathy. But as an incisive meditation on the indoctrination of innocent children into horrifying ideologies, it is poignant, thought provoking, and exceedingly relevant to the current zeitgeist of paranoia and fear that always accompanies irrational hatred.

Jojo Rabbit is currently back in theaters (six Oscar noms will do that). Don’t miss it this time.

 

As Beethoven’s 250th Looms, Revisiting Gary Oldman in ‘Immortal Beloved’

 

 

It’s tough being Ludwig Van Beethoven. His fellow exalted contemporary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was a rock star before there were rock stars, sealed his mythology by dying young under mysterious circumstances, and two centuries after his passing, was tributed with not only one of the greatest music films, but one of the greatest films of all time period, in Miloš Forman’s Amadeus. It brilliantly depicted him as the iconoclastic, irrepressible genius that he was – and, well, he got the girls.

Ludwig, fittingly, had the volatile (at the time) Gary Oldman accept the challenge of playing him in Bernard Rose’s 1995 biopic Immortal Beloved. And for accuracy’s sake, the actor was forced to portray him as the pompous, and eventually grumpy virtuoso, who suffered the ultimate anguish of losing his hearing at the height of his creativity. Whereas critics rightly showered Amadeus with praise (it won eight Oscars), they were deeply divided regarding Rose’s film.

 

 

Beethoven will turn 250 this coming December, and there will be many musical tributes, especially in Vienna, where he spent his prime working years (the New York Times has already filed a rhapsodic report on how the composer will be honored in the Austrian capital). But we would suggest that it’s exactly the right time to revisit the film, as well, which just happens to have a 25th anniversary this very month.

The pic actually builds around a brilliantly imagined premise: a real letter was discovered after Beethoven’s death, addressed only to his “immortal beloved.” His confidante Herr Schindler (played with a visceral empathy by Jeroen Krabbe) then embarks on a determined journey of discovery to learn the addressee’s true identity, and thus rightly bestow the composer’s estate and, emotionally, accomplish closure.

 

 

The narrative then bounces between the present and captivating biographical flashbacks, following Ludwig from his amorous youth, to the first recognitions of his giftedness, and on to his tragic decline. Some things never change, early on the rich and powerful want to have him around to show off their “good taste,” while traditionalists (mostly male) scoff at his artistic irreverence and his arrogant hotheadedness.

The young women, naturally, swoon before his talent (Isabella Rossellini is positively radiant as the Countess Anna Maria Erdödy, as is Valeria Golino as Giulietta Guicciardi). Yet unlike the riotous, free-spirited Wolfie, Beethoven is just so much vitriol, being always a difficult lover, and snarling at all the philistines around him who are surely too culturally infantile to understand his obviously epochal work.

 

 

But it’s actually posited that a single incident perhaps pivoted his life into bitterness: a rendezvous with a lover gone wrong—gorgeously shot at the fabled Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic—which sees him in his rage throw an expensive chair out a hotel window. That single act reveals so much about the inner Beethoven, that Rose afterwards allows the camera an extended, and very affecting pause on his despondent, defeated countenance.

Oldman really does give a tour de force performance in Immortal Beloved—but perhaps Beethoven’s insolence just didn’t play as well as Mozart’s wild free-spiritedness. Still and all, on the occasion of Ludwig’s 250th, we vigorously recommend taking the time to see one of the greatest actors of his generation, play one of the greatest composers of all time. You won’t be sorry.

 

New Survey Ranks the World’s Most Beautiful Cities – Paris, of Course

Montmartre, Paris

 

 

Living in a massive city (New York) full of towering skyscrapers is consistently overwhelming, in a sensory sort of way. So when making travel decisions, we often find ourselves veering towards destinations of decidedly more human scale, like Amsterdam or Cape Town…which also happen to be two of the most good looking places we’ve ever visited.

But beauty, surely, is in the eye of the beholder. And a new survey by Toronto based Flight Network names the 50 most beautiful cities in the world – leaving us genuinely surprised by a few of the choices.

 

 

Lisbon

 

Surveyed were more than a thousand travel writers, bloggers and agencies, so one could hardly claim bias. But New York City and London came in at #2 and #3 respectively, even as both have undertaken horrendous over-development, turning their cityscapes into a blight of cranes and unfinished construction. It’s sometimes just hard to look at, without wishing you could just beam yourself over to Florence or Provence.

We certainly would not disagree, however, with Paris coming in at #1. And Venice, Vancouver and Lisbon at #’s 4, 5 and 6 and surely indisputable. At #26 and #28, Bruges and Havana are also particular favorites of ours. While Jerusalem (#30) and Edinburgh (#31) score points for historical gravitas, while still offering a distinctly cosmopolitan experience.

 

Jerusalem

 

As for Latin America, we absolutely would have moved Cartagena far up the list from #44 – and would enthusiastically make it our top recommendation for the South American continent in the coming year. But it’s also nice to see underdogs like Ecuador’s Quito (#32) and Peru’s Cusco (#34) make the list.

Of course, wherever your travel plans take you in 2020, do try to make sure a bit of pretty comes with the package.

 

Cartagena

BlackBook’s Best Song + Video Premieres of 2019

Above image: Fever High

 

 

BlackBook never stops getting excited about new music, especially if there’s a bit of style to go along with the necessary substance. And we always consider it an honor to be asked to debut new songs and videos by the artists we love, new and old.

2019 was another good one, from January’s premiere of NYC duo Fever High’s sexy new track “Avec You,” to our December premiere of Everything But The Girl legend Ben Watt’s single/video “Balanced on a Wire.” In between we had an enigmatic new song from Sarah Jaffe, a killer remix from trip-hip icons Morcheeba, and Greg Laswell’s utterly haunting cover of Placebo’s “Without You I’m Nothing.”

Here we look back at twelve of our favorites, one from each month of the year – so your 2020 can begin on just the right…note.

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: New Fever High Video for ‘Avec You’ is a Study in Euro-tastic Cool

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Stunning New Sarah Jaffe Track ‘Dark Energy’

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Cleverly Conceptual Fabriq Video For Their Groovy New Single ‘Outside In’

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Sultry Yimino Remix of Morcheeba’s Visceral Single ‘Never Undo’

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Marieme’s Poignant Video for Soulful New Single ‘Ask For Help’

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: French Duo Sacre’s Sexy New Single ’01:00AM PINK MAMBA’

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Emmaline’s Sultry, Exuberant New Single ‘All My Sweetest Dreams’

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Greg Laswell’s Visceral Cover of Placebo’s ‘Without You I’m Nothing

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Bizarrely Provocative Video for the New Princess Single ‘Party Party Party’

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: French 79’s Cool, Neon New Wave Video for ‘By Your Side’

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Visceral New Video for the ROZES + Mat Kearney Collab ‘Walls’

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Visceral New Ben Watt Video for ‘Balanced on a Wire’

 

 

 

As We Enter a Harrowing Election Year, BBC One’s ‘Years and Years’ Appears Shockingly Prophetic

 

 

One of 2019’s most controversial (and intriguing) cultural debates was whether The Handmaid’s Tale contained the seeds of genuine prophecy. Those rightly sensing the creep of fascism – as well as religious encroachment on women’s rights – put forth the slightly panicky assertion that America was on its way towards becoming the real-world Gilead. Cooler heads insisted that was all a bit…hysterical.

But those looking for short-term prophesying on the small screen could have definitely found it in Years and Years, the chillingly Ballardian BBC One mini-series, which aired on HBO in the States this past summer. In it, Emma Thompson is nothing shy of ghastly as Vivienne Rook, a high-profile businesswoman who invades British politics peddling right-wing paranoia on a lunatic level. Her success mirrors the real-life rise of far-right populism in the West.

 

 

The series actually revolves around a fictional middle class Manchester family, the Lyons, as a changing political climate and worrying technological creep begin to send shockwaves through their otherwise seemingly average lives. Yet what surely makes the show so vividly frightening, is that it crosses into reality. Indeed, the story starts at the end of Donald Trump’s second term (it’s hard to even write that), with the despicable American president having just fired a nuclear missile at the fictional Chinese island Hong Sha Dao – near to where sister Edith Lyons has recently traveled. She survives, but returns to England suffering from terminal cancer due to the nuclear fallout.

MP Rook rises to infamy in a moment, causing a furor by saying she “doesn’t give a fuck” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on an evening British talk show. And from there, the Lyons’ are subject to a series of very personal horrors, with Rook’s political ascent as the nightmare backdrop. To wit, a harrowing refugee situation leads to a horrible death in the family; and a “technological” cosmetic surgery procedure goes shockingly wrong, a perfect metaphor for tech’s slow dismantling of our essential humanity. Betrayals abound, as fascist death camps are assembled.

 

 

In the 6th and final episode, Grandmother Muriel hands down the blanket condemnation: “I saw it all going wrong when it began in the supermarkets, when they replaced all the women on the till with those automated checkouts. Yes. But you didn’t do anything, did you? Twenty years ago when they first popped up, did you walk out? Did you write letters of complaint? Did you shop elsewhere? No!”

It must be said, for all of its abominations, The Handmaid’s Tale at least has had a clearly identifiable enemy. But Years and Years is surely all the more unsettling for reminding that the enemy, in fact, might just be us.

 

 

Design Legend Vaughan Oliver Has Died: These Are Six of His Greatest Album Artworks + Playlist

 

 

Surely no record label in history has defined an absolute, ideologically driven aesthetic – and thus helped to define those drawn to said aesthetic – as sublimely as 4AD. Still difficult to properly explicate, it was some kind of ethereal, existential joining point for French Surrealism, German Expressionism and Mitteleuropa gothic, all carried out with a very English sort of post-punk postmodernism.

Founder Ivo-Watts Russell, of course, painstakingly selected those who would be welcomed into the 4AD artist “society.” But the man who gave it such an ineffable visual expression was one Vaughan Oliver, who along with Peter Saville and Ralph Steadman, are indisputably the most important cover art designers in contemporary pop music history. Oliver tragically passed away yesterday, aged just 62 – no cause of death was given.

Considering the exaltation with which we regard Oliver’s work, we consider it essentially futile to put that work into words. So rather, we offer up six of his most astonishing album artworks themselves – not all of which, of course, were done for 4AD – and the songs that best exemplified each of those albums.

 

The Pixies, Doolittle (top image)

4AD-Elektra, 1989
Key track: “Monkey Gone to Heaven”

 

Modern English, After the Snow

4AD, 1982
Key track: “I Melt With You”

 

 

David Sylvian, Secrets of the Beehive

Virgin Records, 1987
Key track: “Forbidden Colours”

 

 

Xymox, Twist of Shadows

Wing, 1989
Key track: “Obsession”

 

 

Cocteau Twins, Treasure

4AD, 1984
Key track: “Lorelei”

 

 

This Mortal Coil, It’ll End in Tears

4AD, 1984
Key track: “Song to the Siren”

 

 

Holiday Hope: Abisha’s Stunning New Single + Video ‘Love Like This’ Stands up for LGBTQIA+ Acceptance

 

 

At the conclusion of one of the most divisive years ever in British and American politics, it’s particularly important to remember that the issues being debated involve real consequences for real, everyday people, every day.

Which is why we find ourselves applauding Brit songstress Abisha for rushing the pre-Christmas release (while everyone is so distracted with the holidays) of the video for her poignant new single “Love Like This,” which celebrates the beauty of young love, while also standing up for LGBTQIA+ acceptance. And if there is anything we need more of right now, it is most certainly acceptance and tolerance.

Filmed at locations around NYC by Louis Browne and Sam Leviton, there is so much unabashed joy on the screen, that it can only be taken as a message of hope – especially at this time of year when so many so intensely feel the sting of societal rejection.

 

 

“Growing up black and gay in a place that’s largely white,” Abisha explains, “and where I didn’t know of anyone else who was queer, I had this feeling of being different for most of my life.”

But just as queer artists from Boy George to Janelle Monae have acted as guiding lights for those in need of someone to look up to, so does Abisha hope to do the same.

“For a long time I wanted so badly to be what I thought was normal,” she recalls. “Now that I’m discovering who I am as an artist, I’m also discovering who I am as a person, and I’ve finally gotten to a place where I’m happy to stand out and express myself every way I can.”

And what greater gift?

 

American Horror: ‘The Lodge’ & ‘The Turning’ Will be Terrifying Us in the New Year

The Turning

 

 

It’s hard to imagine anything more terrifying than the thought of how weak the field of Democratic candidates are, one of whom we have to count on to beat Trump in next November’s presidential election. But 2020 has a few serious scares to throw our way well before then – with the January and February movie release slates notably featuring The Turning and The Lodge, respectively.

The Turning is from Canadian-Italian director Floria Sigismondi, always well-regarded for her fearless plunges into the more caliginous depths of existence (as well as her astonishing music videos for Bowie, Björk, Marilyn Manson). Here, she updates the 1898 Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw to terrifying effect.

 

 

In it Mackenzie Davis (from AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire) plays a nanny named Kate, arriving at a creepy old Maine estate to look after a pair of orphaned young children – played by Brooklynn Prince and Stranger Things‘ Finn Wohlfard.

Sigismondi cleverly sets it in the 1990s, to strip away the distraction of technology – and possibly to also make it seem like it’s older than it really is. Kate, of course, begins to realize there is something peculiar about the children, and even more so about the gruesome old mansion – and considerable terror slowly unfolds.

The Turning will be released into theaters January 24.

 

 

Following shortly after, The Lodge is a bit more of a psychological horror; but once again it is one woman, two children thrown together in a really creepy situation. Riley Keough plays Grace, the new girlfriend of father-of-two Richard (Richard Armitage of Berlin Station) – and she also just happens to have once been a member of some bizarre Evangelical death cult. The three are left snowbound in a remote winter cabin when Richard needs to leave suddenly for business.

 

 

What ensues is a tumult of mindfucks and suspicions, with little clarity as to whom amongst them is the genuine threat. The kids discover that Grace, at just 12-years-old, was the only survivor of the cult’s media-documented mass suicide (hmm…). And of course, with the weather trapping the three in the cold, menacing house, things begin to quickly unravel.

The Lodge will be released into theaters February 7.

 

 

From Lenny Kravitz Vintage to Moët Imperial: A Perfectly-Timed Champagne Edification

 

 

As we look back at 2019, full of political intrigues and off-kilter tweets, it’s safe to say that this was a trying year. Yet, there is one overwhelmingly bright shiny bubble at the end of the tunnel: the fall of 2019 was a truly epic time for champagne – so epic, in fact, that it resulted in an early harvest, since the grapes’ sugar content clocked in at twice the norm.

Only those grapes grown in the Champagne region, of course, can be turned into actual Champagne – but each house specializes in their own varietals, with classic fermentation processes and unique techniques (We visited Reims earlier this year to witness some of those in person.). Picked by hand, pressed, blended and bottled, each year produces its own completely unique flavor profile, that always culminates in something delicious…but occasionally also truly extraordinary.

 

 

What does that mean for Champagne produced in 2019? According to Vincent Chaperon, cellar master of Dom Perignon, “a vintage with a moderate yield and very promising quality.”

But while we’re waiting for those to mature, here are some incredible bottles from the heady years of the Oughts (has another decade really just gone by?), matured and ready to pop this New Year’s Eve/Day. The price tags can be hefty, but if we’re expecting the ’20s to roar, then we surely have to ring them in appropriately magnificently.

 

 

Moët & Chandon – Moët Imperial 2004

Known as the largest and most diverse domain in Champagne, with 800 base wines every year, each individual batch of juice is analyzed, tasted and classified by cru, variety and quality. The Imperial is specially crafted from three to four blends specially made every year, and highlights the best of the best in Champagne. With small, fizzy bubbles, this will satisfy even the most particular palate.

 

Dom Ruinart Rose 2004  

A subtly aromatic and shimmering rosé Champagne with a distinguished structure and velvety texture, Dom Ruinart Rosé 2004 is ripe red fruit and freshness in a glass. Ruinart has a long history of producing rosé Champagnes, having created the first more than 250 years ago. The 2004 is crisp and complex and is only the 19th vintage rosé champagne from the maison.

 

 

 

Krug Clos du Mesnil 2004 

Another 100% Chardonnay, made with grapes harvested in 2004. Founder Joseph Krug first believed that a house of Champagne should always “adhere to a craftsmanship without compromise in order to consistently offer the best, regardless of climate variations.” The Krug Clos du Mesnil 2004 is crisp and clean, made with grapes from a single walled plot of vines in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, with all harvested in the year 2004.

 

 

Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame Rose 2008”

You’ve probably seen the classic Veuve Clicquot bottle with the official pantone yellow label. The house was known for being run by the grande dame of the champagne industry, Madame Clicquot. In 1818, she created the first-ever blended rosé, using an innovative and now widely used method. In 2008, after a cool and rainy spring, the grapes ripened with an abundance of sugars, and by adding Pinot Noir, resulted in a bold, bright flavor that was soon named after Le Madame.

 

 

Mod Sélection Réserve Vintage 2008

“We have purposely waited to release these special blends,” Brent Hocking, Founder & CEO of Mod Sélection Champagne (Drake is a partner), says about this vintage, “to ensure optimum quality and purity – and we believe they’re worth the wait.” With ripe fruits like orange peel, dried apricot and pineapple that open to reveal notes of brioche, nutmeg and clove, this champagne packs a punch. Full bodied without heaviness, the line is in partnership with Maison Pierre Mignon.

 

 

Mod Sélection Rosé Vintage 2008

A deep-salmon hue redolant with a heady mix of fresh red fruit like strawberry and plum, followed by honey and ginger. The combination of strict selection processes at harvest, the most delicate extraction of first press, along with respect for the fermentation process, ensure a pure expression of balance and flavor only found in Champagne. Since 1892, the legacy and learning of five generations of growers comes together in an exclusive enclave of the Vallée de la Marne. Awarded Robb Report’s “Best of the Best” Award, the only hard part is not buying a case.

 

 

Dom Pérignon 2002 – Plenitude 2

Dom Pérignon is singular in its exclusivity and available only as a vintage, using a mixture of the best grapes to represent the unique character of the seasons. Each year, the Chef de Cave, or master winemaker, reinvents the house style with different grapes, creating a new vintage. With near perfect growing conditions in 2002, the year stands as a remarkable moment for Champagne’s history. The vintage is a clean yet simultaneously robust and round flavor that is worth every penny.

 

 

Dom Perignon Vintage 2008 Lenny Kravitz Limited Edition

Lenny Kravitz brings his legendary style and creativity to an inspired vintage champagne with this special bottle. Re-imagining Dom Pérignon’s shield label in hammered metal, the rockstar/designer gave it a uniquely contemporary vibe. Let love, and bubbles, rule.