Scene+Heard's Best of Summer 2017
Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival
I spent more time in the car travelling to and from this festival than I did listening to the music. But the little pocket in northern Wisconsin was buzzing and warm, and worth the pilgrimage. Eaux Claires is the brainchild of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National), and is only in its third year of existence. As such, it remains relatively intimate. Justin and Aaron hand-pick the lean lineup. Even so, this year’s fest boasted such headliners as Paul Simon, Chance the Rapper, and Wilco. From there, the names did take a steep dive in stardom, but the true spirit of the festival is not name-brand acts, but rather creativity and collaboration. Huge swaths of the schedule simply read “TBD (Open for artist collaboration),” so you had to check your phone and run to a stage when impromptu jams were thrown together. The festival even had a troop of artists-in-residence (including Justin and Aaron) who were free to join any act on stage when they felt so inclined. There were dramatic storms both nights, which only gave way to pink skies and good vibes. Everyone was there for the music, and the artists fed off of that energy. Beyond the headliners, some personal highlights were the electric Perfume Genius, the soul-soothing Mountain Man, and the entrancing Sylvan Esso. -Noah Franklin
Veep: Season 6
HBO’s Emmy award-winning political satire Veep has never failed to make the United States’ political system look ridiculous. Like much of the best satire, it toes the line between comedy and tragedy, rendering the most egregious moral transgressions of its irreverent characters entirely laughable. In the show’s sixth season, former President Selina Meyer, played by the reliably excellent Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is forced to navigate life outside the White House for the first time since the show's inception. Whether she's supervising obscure international elections or struggling to find a University willing to house her presidential library, the hopelessly vain Selina Meyer constantly attempts to transform every event into a personal publicity stunt. Yet, somehow, Louis-Dreyfus manages to infuse her acid-tongued character with enough humanity to make us feel something for her, and even sometimes, if we can admit it, relate to her (it's no wonder she's won an Emmy for this role every year she's been eligible). This balancing act alone would be enough to make the show worth a watch, but it’s the series’ consistently astonishing writing that sets it apart from the rest of television’s comic offerings. The scripts are packed to the brim with wit, and are made even funnier by the cast's improvisational prowess. Incredibly funny, unfortunately realistic, Veep is a show built for our politically dysfunctional times. But unlike reality, at least we can laugh at it. -Steven Norwalk
Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg
It’s hard to imagine an exhibit that would simultaneously display classical Japanese art, one of Kanye's album covers, and Mr. D.O.B. (think Mickey Mouse with a large freakish smile). However, Murakami’s The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, on view at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art until September 24th, masterfully navigates the odd array of Murakami’s art. It begins with a koi fish from Murakami’s school days, painted in traditional Japanese style, and quickly transitions to large, alarmingly colorful works of Mr. D.O.B. and mushroom heads that mock mass media and wartime tragedies from Japan’s past. Murakami delicately portrays crude images with mass amounts of almost obnoxious color. With the contrast between the cute flower wall (whose mass produced imagery reflects our mass produced market) and the 64 Arhats Beneath the Bodhi Tree (which features many old men with grotesque faces and features), the viewer is taken through a wave of emotions and experiences: some pieces are intensely comical, others intensely ugly, and some are even deeply personal and reflective. Only Murakami could achieve this self-aware balance of sarcastic and real art. The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg is hands down one of the best exhibits to feature Murakami, and one of the best to come to Chicago. -Audrey Valbuena
One question that people often tend to ask after watching any Marvel movie is, “Why doesn’t Thor or Iron Man just call the other Avengers?” Well, Spiderman: Homecoming, is surprisingly the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie where I didn’t ask myself that question. You won't find any world ending events or galactic battles; just a kid who wants to make a name for himself and be acknowledged by his heroes. In this sense, the film stays true to the tagline “your friendly neighborhood Spiderman.” From stopping robberies to shady weapons deals, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is depicted as a regular high schooler who has to deal with bullies, crushes, and popularity. This version of Peter Parker is more relatable than Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield's because the movie takes the time to explore Peter’s daily life and high school experiences much more deeply than either of the previous franchises. This in turn lets the audience identify more closely with his struggles to impress his classmates and prove himself. Surprisingly, Tony Stark plays a very minor role in the film, except for giving Peter a lightbulb moment. It was nice to see Stark take a back seat and let all the focus be directed on Peter, given that he is a character we've only seen briefly in previous Marvel movies. While the climax of the film may feel insignificant compared to other Marvel films, it suits the idea that Spiderman is just a small time hero, an idea the film works hard to cultivate. It all culminates in a believable scenario for Spider Man which leaves the audience rooting for his acceptance into the Avengers. Paired with a comedic and unexpected ending, the movie brings a new light to the MCU, and a character I look forward to watching in future movies. -Kevin Chan
After a few months of primarily listening to very heavy, complex music, it was time for something more relaxed and pared down – a breath of Fresh Air. Peter Sagar, former guitarist of Mac Demarco’s live band, released his third album as HOMESHAKE earlier this year and is continuing to polish his synthy electronic R&B meets yacht rock sound. With just a few layers of hazy – occasionally distorted – vocals, ambling guitar, and soft synths, he produces music with striking yet mellow intimacy. Though tracks like “Call Me Up,” “Every Single Thing,” “Not U,” and “Khmlwugh” each evoke a slightly different mood, they also carry some of the same melancholy and even heartbreak. Even as you feel tugged towards the past or the future, HOMESHAKE’s introspective easy listening somehow keeps you grounded in the present. With its cozy charm, Fresh Air will float from hot summer nights to the chillier fall with ease. -Alyssa Liu
EXPO Chicago 2017
Each summer (or fall, for those not on the quarter system), the International Exposition of Modern and Contemporary Art hosts an exhibition in Chicago on Navy Pier that brings together the leading modern and contemporary artists from around the world. Featuring galleries from Paris, New York, Reykjavík, Hong Kong, and Berlin, the Expo brings together artists of all different styles, backgrounds, and agendas, overwhelming viewers with the best contemporary art in the world. With such a huge space and such a huge audience, the vendors work on selling their pieces, but are also receptive to questions about the art, and can act as personal docents. The works feature new materials -- wires, staples, concrete, and more -- and many focus on different experiences from around the world. With booths and new gallery shows down every aisle and around every turn, it’s easy to get lost in the works (I was there for nearly 4 hours!). So drink some dark, red wine, talk about the artist’s process, and visually consume the different mediums that you could not fathom before seeing them in use on your visit. And prepare for your mind to be blown (seriously -- there’s more optical illusions than you’d think). But more than anything, enjoy the atmosphere, the people and the art of the expo, no matter how bougie they may be. -Audrey Valbuena
The best meal in Chicago is probably found at Alinea, a three Michelin Star adorned restaurant that has been named the best restaurant in America four times in the past 12 years. The cheapest meal sets you back about $200, but I’m sure almost everyone would agree that it’s at least 10 times better than a $20 meal. And while the food must be amazing (I’ve never been, but if a reader ever wants to take someone then I’m your man), what’s even more amazing is the juxtaposition between paying for culinary experiences and cinematic experiences. As we all know, you get what you pay for with meals, but movies are pretty much a flat rate. And when I saw Dunkirk this summer, it truly felt like I was getting the best meal at Alinea for the price of a steak burrito at Chipotle. I paid $7.50 for my ticket to see Dunkirk, and it was by far and away the most impressive piece of art I saw all summer.
It’s incredibly difficult to review a movie like Dunkirk, not simply because it’s excellent, but because of how many areas it excels in. The mastery of time and its relation to story lines is nothing short of genius, as the three main story lines are all intensely intertwined even though each one has its own duration (a week, a day, and an hour). Hans Zimmer’s score helps unite the three story lines, with its nerve-wracking build-ups (thanks to the Shepard Tone effect) that are centered around the noise of a ticking clock. The cinematography was also breathtaking, as Nolan is an expert at crafting real visual effects that give his scenes a sense of authenticity so often absent in the age of CGI. And finally, Nolan’s casting was spectacular - each actor seemed like the perfect vessel for the essence of the character written by Nolan. Just as Harry Styles surprised us with his brilliant debut album, he also surprised us with a stellar performance alongside his lesser-know co-stars. And Tom Hardy, to the surprise of no one, stole the show with perhaps the best performance of the entire movie. While it wasn’t his best bit of acting (we have The Revenant to thank for that), it was indubitably his best bit of acting while donning a mask since his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.
While I didn’t get to enjoy a $250 meal this summer, Dunkirk let me to enjoy a $250 movie for the price of a $7 movie, and if that doesn’t make for a memorable summer, I don’t know what will. -Peter Pribyl Pierdnock