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  • Just in time for election season comes Ron and Laura Take Back America, a ragged mockumentary written and directed by Janice Markham and Mel England, who star in the title roles. A few years ago when the duo conceived of a satire about a conservative couple who become anti-healthcare reform activists, the country was already polarized, with many on the right espousing the vague “take back America” rhetoric that continues to be popular despite its meaninglessness. Now, in this presidential election year, with contentious battles for both parties’ nominations, and (especially!) the emergence of Donald Trump as demagogue of the disaffected right, emotions are running extremely high, and campaign oratory dangerously loose. The sentiments expressed in and by Ron and Laura… have become all too familiar.

    ronandlaura

    While Ron (England) and Laura (Markham) Grawsill are classic ring-wing prototypes – religious, angry at the government, intolerant of homosexuality, etc. etc.—they’re also somewhat sympathetic, in that their issues with health insurance and Ron’s mother’s dementia, for example, are real and crippling. They also try, in their own clueless way, to be open to certain new ideas. We laugh at the familiar, fumbling, not-quite-logical rants (and they spout it all, from blather about illegals taking away their insurance to concern about death panels and “commie care”), but they’re not quite cartoon cutouts.

    We’re shown how the Bakersfield, California, couple first become aware of the issue of healthcare reform in late 2000s; their activism starts with support for John Zackie, the CEO of “Whole Fruits,” who is anti-Obamacare. When Ron and Laura take offense at how they are portrayed in a local TV news segment, they decide to make their own documentary, helmed by an amateur filmmaker who went to school with their son.

    Linda and Ron

    Initially so niaïve that they’re shocked when confronted by Obamacare supporters (“watch your purse,” admonishes Ron), their enthusiasm is boundless. There are frustrations: Laura repeatedly tries to get her “women’s group” interested in her cause, to no avail. The Grawsills’ clearly (but not to them) gay son Brian, who attends college, wants to be a lawyer specializing in “social justice and environmental law,” an admission that makes his father explode with rage. England’s mild-looking character has that clenched, suspicious manner of the perennially embattled and his outbursts are quite funny. Turns out that Ron has anxiety/anger problems, for which he takes a variety of drugs. When the couple decide to actually shop at Whole Fruits, they are confused by “lots of bins and roots.” A helpful wellness employee/Yoga instructor (Alex Dawson, nailing her archetype) encourages Ron to throw away his meds and just eat healthy stuff instead. This fits in nicely with his paranoia about “those Obama people” and insurance companies pushing prescription drugs.

    Time passes, as does the healthcare reform bill of 2010, and we see Ron and Laura drop in on Brian and his new “roommate,” an older African American professor (nicely played by Tony Sanders). As Brian tentatively attempts to come out to his parents, Ron barks, “I don’t like your tone,” knowing what’s coming. A nightmare scenario ensues, with Ron having some kind of fit and collapsing, but Laura is unwilling to call 911 because of their high insurance deductible.

    Gary and Brian

    Ron and Laura are also contending with his dementia-addled mother, who repeatedly runs into the street and strips off her clothes, to the chagrin of her young Latina caretaker.  The couple visit a lovely retirement village, where they are shocked by the fact that the place will cost every cent of the old woman’s savings. Ron predictably winds up calling the headscarf-wearing director “Ayatollah.” Turns out he really needed those anger meds, and he ends up in a psychiatric facility.

    In addition to all this, there’s also a subplot involving Laura’s growing obsession with designer-to-the-stars Bob Zackie (whom she discovers accidentally by confusing him with the Whole Fruits CEO), which seems extraneous. To be sure, the film isn’t exactly plot-driven and many scenes are strung together tenuously; some are funny, others not as much.

    England and Markham are fun to watch and they clearly have their fingers on the pulse of conservative America and those who are full of inarticulate outrage. As amusing as it is, Ron and Laura Take Back America feels a couple of years too late. By now, we’ve heard the characters’ sentiments amplified ad nauseam, and by those who should presumably be more informed. Maybe we’re just finding it harder to laugh at this point.

    Ron and Laura Take Back America is playing at Cinema Village, Manhattan.

    Marina Zogbi

     

  • I’ll never forget when Wesley Nessler walking into my 9th grade class at Ft. Lauderdale High wearing checkerboard slip on shoes. I remember thinking to myself, what in the world is this kid wearing? Well, I didn’t hesitate to ask, and quickly found out that these trend setting kicks were Vans. It’s now decades later, and it would be hard to find someone who doesn’t know those shoes and that design, and as I walked through the door at the Vans’ 50th Anniversary celebration Wednesday evening, I was not surprised to find that checkerboard design in full effect.

    From the super cool 3D art installations, iconic surf films and classic photography exhibit, it became quite clear that Vans has been a huge influence in American lifestyle, culture, art and sport for a very long time. Furthermore, Vans has become a cultural pillar that stands alone in its broad range of influence. It would only be fitting for the company to tie this historic evening together with diverse music performances that also span across many generations.

    The modern day rockers Yeasayer kicked things off with a an impressive set of hits and newer jams, while New York hip hop legend Nas brought the roof down with classics and some newer cuts. The energy level in the room was off the charts at this point as the night was beginning to wind down.

    It was great to see so many smiling faces in the huge crowd of both young and older guests. They experienced a special evening that will be remembered for a lifetime. Hat’s off to Vans for all of their great success and their soon to be released campaign, “The Story of Vans.”

  • 2016 is shaping up to be an interesting year for music. Kanye continues to tweet utter nonsense, the new Adele is still climbing the charts, Kendrick Lamar pulled a Beyonce and released a new album out of nowhere. A quarter of the way through and the year is already a mixed bag. Here are some highlights from the past month to ponder as we enter the warm months and festival season.

    The Good:
    The Foo Fighters, helmed by the nicest-guy-in-rock-and-roll Dave Grohl, are easily one of the best liked bands in the business. From playing surprise shows to playing through bodily injuries, the band wins hearts with pretty much everything they do. Even their foray into television, the HBO documentary series called Sonic Highways that focused on the evolution of American music, was well received and granted a second season. It seemed like the grandeur that is the Foo Fighters would go on everlong. That is until the band’s drummer Taylor Hawkins, during an interview at the Guitar Center Drum-Off, said when asked about the future of the band, “We’re on ihateus right now, we’re on an indefinite ihateus.”

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  • The eponymous heroine of Xavier Giannoli’s film Marguerite is a tough sell on paper: a wealthy French socialite who fancies herself a great operatic singer, but who is in fact utterly tone-deaf. Yet, as played (with great sensitivity) by Catherine Frot in this French tragicomedy set in the early 1920s, Marguerite Dumont — at least when she’s not singing — is a warm, sympathetic presence with a true appreciation for music. We’re appalled by the sounds that come out of her mouth, but we can’t help but feel for this woman whose vulnerability and unhappiness is palpable.

    The character is based on American socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, who has already inspired several plays as well as a forthcoming Hollywood film starring Meryl Streep. Where Jenkins was merely bad, Mme. Dumont is truly awful; her wild screeching performances are some of the most stunning (literally) moments in the film. This could have been fodder for an out-and-out farce, but though Giannoli’s unconventional movie has many humorous moments, it is also dark, poignant, and visually sumptuous.

    Courtesy of Cohen  Media Group

    Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

    The film begins with various people arriving at a benefit recital given in Marguerite’s opulent home. There’s young soprano Hazel (Christa Théret), arch young music critic Lucien (Sylvain Dieuaide) and his friend Kyril, an avant-garde artist (Aubrey Fenoy); we’re also introduced to Marguerite’s husband Georges (André Marcon), who pretends that his car broke down so he can avoid the concert. Several opening acts perform before Marguerite herself finally appears to sing the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute, one of opera’s most challenging solos. Her rendition is so terrible we’re as shocked and perplexed as the recital audience: how can Marguerite not hear herself? Afterwards, the crowd — mostly members of a music club bankrolled by Marguerite — applauds enthusiastically, as Lucien and Kyril extol her wildness and abandon. Everyone gives Marguerite encouraging praise, but she herself seems a bit doubtful. Though delusional she’s clearly not arrogant.

    Her household is complicit in her fantasy; Marguerite’s solicitous majordomo Madelbos (Denis Mpunga) takes dramatically staged photos of her in various costumes and hides her bad reviews. After reading Lucien’s obliquely positive write-up, Marguerite meets with him and Kyril, who invite her to sing in a public concert. This turns out to be a wildly avant-garde, Dada-ist spectacle during which Marguerite sings “La Marseillaise,” perceived by the audience as highly offensive (though she herself doesn’t understand why). Lucien, who genuinely likes Marguerite, begins to feel guilty about taking advantage of her naiveté.

    Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

    Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

    Meanwhile we see that Georges, who is mortified by his wife’s avocation, is having an affair. The marriage has been failing for some time, though Marguerite is still clearly devoted him and he genuinely tries to protect her. After the “La Marseillaise” debacle, Marguerite is ejected from the music club, whose members have found a replacement patron. Rather than dampening her spirit, the performance has energized Marguerite, who longs to perform again in public. Georges forbids it, and it’s satisfying to see her stand up to him, even as we dread the impending spectacle.

    Lucien finds a vocal coach, the flamboyant divo Pazzini (a very amusing Michel Fau) who is bribed into training Marguerite for her concert. (What fun to watch his face upon first hearing the first tortured notes of her audition aria.) Pazzini and his oddball crew set up shop at her house, living off of her largesse. At one point during their intense training sessions, a frustrated Pazzini almost tells her the truth, but he — like many others — just can’t bring himself to go there.

    Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

    Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

    The drama of the buildup to the big concert is matched by the event itself, during which Marguerite performs in a giant pair of wings. Indeed, there is a Black Swan-like sense of doomed fantasy to this scene, which ends abruptly, if not exactly triumphantly.

    The film has a few weaknesses: the concert’s aftermath and the ending feel a bit drawn-out and anti-climatic, a subplot involving Hazel and Lucien never quite gels, and the idea that Marguerite’s singing is mainly a bid for attention from her husband seems somewhat simplistic; but the pleasures of Marguerite far outweigh the drawbacks.

    Marguerite opens Friday at the Paris Theatre and the Angelika Film Center.

    Marina Zogbi

  • Kiev, Ukraine–based knitwear designer Anna Marinenko of Ohhio crafts the most massive and burly 100 percent Merino wool blankets, scarves, and more, that look ridiculously lush and comfortable, available on Etsy.

    151123_EYE_OhhioChunkyKnitBlankets2.jpg.CROP.original-original

    Photo Credit: Ohhio

    And what’s extraordinary about these oversized items is that Marinenko weaves them with her bare hands instead of using knitting needles, thereby creating a warm collection of comfort that features a hefty 3-inch-thick stitch.

    DSC_0868Photo Credit: Ohhio

    Image of Anna Marinenko with another designer, a photographer, a model, and a stylist 

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    Photo Credit: Ohhio

    According to Slate.com, Marinenko also sells colossal and peculiar-looking wooden knitting needles, along with huge spheres of  super-thick yarn for consumers who wish “to make the chunky knits themselves.”

    However, as Ohhio’s motto goes “we knit emotions,” pointing to the brand’s passion for creating “comfort, beauty and style using simple elements and honest materials.” As stated on their Facebook page, “we believe, Ohhio blankets all designed to please the eye, the hand and the heart,” later adding “all we knit is love.”

    A Model wearing chunky knits, holding humongous knitting needles, standing amid oversized balls of yarn

    12565596_1653554488240596_1952856849717868462_nPhoto Credit: Ohhio

    A cozy cat bed il_570xN.821720837_rb1nPhoto Credit: Ohhio

    Image of large knitting needles Ohhio sells

    1Photo Credit: Ohhio

    And her decadent designs are attracting high-profile RTW designers like Christian Siriano, who just featured Ohhio knits in his recent New York Fashion Week showcase. “Chunky knits became really popular this year and we’re happy to recognize that we have established this trend,” says Marimemko.

    _AIT0210Photo: Aitor Rosas / Indigital.tv

    And don’t worry about packing up these oversized knits after the winter season finally ends — Ohhio knits are lightweight enough to continue using through the summer months. Until then, happy Spring! Stay warm.