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This album is an excellent example of why you never need to listen to Lana Del Rey.

Three young folks, playing lush music, evoking mood mood mood. Hannah Reid’s voice is gorgeous, and her timing superb. The rest of the music is all about the atmosphere in which you most want to encounter such a voice. And it works. This is cool. Not to be confused with fake, manufactured cool. If You Wait actually has heart.

Recommended. (To think, this started not in London, but in Stab City! Hats off to you, Notts!)

Now I’m going to go back to listening to “Strong.” Excuse me.

UPDATE: In addition to “Strong,” “Wasting My Young Years,” and “Sights” are beautiful. Sweet in the middle.

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In listening to the fourth record from The Shins, I didn’t expect a great change from their previous, Wincing the Night Away, and that expectation was fair. Port of Morrow carries on in the comfort zone that James Mercer has established for himself as an artist. The songs are melodic, fully orchestrated, and everything carries enough sheen to feel like the work of polish was given its due. And yet throughout most of the record, Mercer’s voice sits close in the mix, so we can feel like he is singing to us from a singer-songwritery stool a few feet away. In general the sounds chosen to accompany him are a mix of classic (think electric guitars with plate reverb) and modern (synths and careful drum-tracking), as we’ve come to expect from The Shins. Port of Morrow doesn’t feature any of the unquestionably retro tendencies of Chutes Too Narrow, and few of the folksy tendencies of Oh, Inverted World. No, this is, like the record before it, an amalgam of those aspects with a studio rock sensibility. And, shit, the songs are just great. Try not to sing along with the chorus of “For a Fool” for example…a difficult proposal after the refrain has come around just once. Besides the general strength of melody and the character of Mercer’s vocals, the lyrics are also as intelligent as we’d expect. They aren’t great poetry, but they sound like Keats next to the kind of lyrics that we find in most popular music today.

Overall it’s a great record, and one I recommend highly, especially if you’ve enjoyed the more recent work Mercer has put out. It even has a song that I don’t particularly like, the final and title track. Which, in my mind, is the sign of many great records: it serves as an anchor against the highs you feel throughout the rest of the record, making them richer.

James Mercer is a gift, and even if his music evolves slowly, it would be a pleasure to listen to him sing the same note over and over.

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HAIM sounds like Sheryl Crowe listening to Richard Marx listening to the Bangles listening to Vampire Weekend listening to Tinariwen.

Three sisters from Los Angeles make a catchy rock album and everyone has an opinion. Frankly, I think most of what we can say about it is that it’s catchy. After that, it gets a bit wooly and grey in terms of critical discussion.

For example: plenty of critics think I should be hearing reminiscences of Fleetwood Mac. I don’t hear it. There’s a likeness in the timbre of the voices of Danielle Haim and Christine McVie, but that’s about as far as it goes. Production-wise, the album is layered with more of the 80s retrograde that we’ve been going through for the last several years. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not Fleetwood Mac.

It’s a nice record. Polarizing, though? We are rather boring as a society if this is the grit in our teeth.

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How soon is too soon? Always when we’re talking about getting back together with your ex, but if we’re discussing superhero reboots, it seems like maybe 5 years is too soon.

So obviously, The Amazing Spiderman was bound to meet with some skepticism coming so soon after the last Spiderman franchise. How could it, in terms of technology, in terms of story, in terms of imaginative consciousness, be different enough to separate itself from its all-to-recent predecessor? Marc Webb and company set out to show that it was possible, despite the odds. And, to be honest, this film has some charming elements. In fact, we can say that this is a really fun, maybe even really good film, at least through the first half. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is likeable, nerdy, and yet still cool enough to be believable as a character who steps into a new role as a hero. His interplay with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is awkward, fun, and has real chemistry. If this were a simple teen flick, that first movement would earn it a top rating. We might even say that the Peter & Gwen story has more spark in the beginning than Toby Maguire ever had with Kirsten Dunst. Added bonuses in this film include Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Dennis Leary as Captain Stacy, Gwen’s disapproving policeman father. Nice performances from both.

Unfortunately, though, the film doesn’t stay in Midtown Science High School and the story trundles along. I have to be honest that I stopped enjoying it from when Peter Parker fully actualizes his new identity as Spiderman. The special effects are reminiscent, the dialogue becomes very much what we expect from one of Marvel’s “up-beat” products, and well it just feels like more of the same. This is where the movie steps so solidly into the shadow of the last franchise, even if it has some nice nuances at certain points (cell phones exist! and Spidey’s web has a bit more…consistence of concept). The worst of it, though, is that Parker’s character loses its center. We have action, chatter, and battling, but Peter stops being much of a person. Every now and then the story includes a meaningful look, a line of dialogue about fixing what we started, some bits about responsibility, etc. But these things don’t really come together.

The take away is that it doesn’t feel like there was really any good reason to make this reboot, except for the fact that Marvel executives couldn’t dream of letting their cash cow lie dormant for too long, not generating millions in merchandizing revenues as kids around the word clamor for Spiderman underwear and lunch boxes. 

I really did like the first half, though. I preferred it to the last series, even. So even if I wouldn’t urge you to see this, I’ll be crossing my fingers that the second instalment will capitalize on the strengths of the first, and stop slinging the same tropes that we had before.

THE WAY, WAY BACK

This is such a sweet movie, and notably, Steve Carrell finally plays a character who isn’t all that nice.

The Way Way Back is a summer flick about growing up and discovering how to follow your own path. Duncan, played by Liam James, is so awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin that there’s no question  his adventures at the beach house are going to help me come of age. Straight away he has to deal with his mother’s boyfriend (Carrell) trying to forge a new family by sheer will and passive-aggressive bullying, he has to learn how to interact with girls his age, and his father’s absence looms as a mostly unspoken but present hurt. Meanwhile, his mother becomes steadily unrecognizable to him under the influence of her boyfriend and his pack of boozy buddies. None of it seems to be going very well, until Duncan meets Owen, played by Sam Rockwell, the eccentric owner of a water park and the most unlikely of role models.

This sounds like pretty standard stuff. It is. Except it’s really well done. The characters are well-rendered, the dialogue well-written and snappy, the acting nicely-done. Toni Collette, as Duncan’s mother, is spot on, as usual. Steve Carrell really is smarmy and unlikeable (if, from time to time, unbelievable). Rockwell’s character isn’t believable at all, but there’s no denying how endearing he is as an actor, and Rockwell himself remains a gift. Liam James: bravo, I felt awkward just looking at him. Looking back at the writing, you have to acknowledge that the script attempts to keep things complicated, giving characters bits of complexity even when you expect them to be two-dimensional, and a few easy wins are denied to the audience.

Still, this is what it is: a nice movie about coming of age in a troubled family situation at a beach house where reality becomes, momentarily, more than it usually is. So dont’ expect it to be a revelation. It’s as much a genre film as any flick about vampires. It just happens to be pretty damn well-done. Recommended when you want to smile on a Saturday night with a pint of ice cream.

One note: this film tries pretty hard, and does a good job, I think, to portray people with real bodies. For that, I applaud the filmmakers.

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Why did so many people like this again? Oh yeah, vaguely non-linear editing and boobs.

I wasn’t going to watch this but I’d heard it was “surprisingly good” and things like that. So what’s the prevalent critical narrative about Spring Breakers? That it’s a film that disguises itself as being a party flic and is instead a social commentary. If you didn’t get it most of the way through, having been hypnotized by the bikinis and thongs and widespread jiggling of all kinds, Harmony Korine hits you with a sledge hammer that says “Here is some satire!” But let’s be perfectly honest, Korine wants to have it all. He wants to be able to make a film that calls into question the hedonistic party life and its moral vacuousness, but he also wants his slow-motion shots of naked breasts flopping under streams of beer.

So Wikipedia posts a “controversy” section in its article on the film, with the subheading “Sexist or Feminist” for the wild debate that has gone on around it. It’s not that complicated. The film plays with excess in a way that’s semi-intelligent, but it’s really just male fantasy with a bit of a conscience. It’s the Wild Things (1998) of the day, and Vanessa Hudgens may have proved she can play the minx, but other than that I wasn’t particularly entertained. Because this ought to be entertaining, at least in a truly base way, since its attempt at real thematic content is, at best, lame.

Oh though James Franco should deserve credit for being so gross in such a convincing way.

Now cry, Selena Gomez, cry. And cry again. And cry some more. (Because this film relies on lots of annoying repetitions.)

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I am sad to report that, despite major advances in artificial intelligence, the Future wears high-waisted trousers.

Spike Jonze has only directed four feature films, but the quality of those features has been outstanding (though I say this without having seen Where the Wild Things Are). He really has a knack for exploring loneliness within a generally comic atmosphere, and even though the worlds he creates are always one to two parts absurd, there’s always a very human heart beating in the center of them. In Her, the seeming gimmick is the idea of a world where the latest advance in artificial intelligence is giving everyone the gift of their own, super-evolved personal assistant. Of course this becomes a vehicle to questions about what it means to open yourself to change, to love and do so without grasping at the loved one in fear, and to move with grace into what comes next. There’s one of Jonze’s signatures: you’re laughing at the novelty bit, but then it leads you right into a fit of cathartic weeping! Damnit, Spike, you got me again.

The script deserved its Golden Globe. One thing that makes it so impressive is the incredibly diversity of voices it accommodates: epistolary voices that come in letter form, the host of characters, the ones among them that we could say inhabit a different mode of being than what we consider to be human being, and they are all distinct and memorable. On voice alone the script would be impressive, but then that’s just part of the narrative. And one thing I’ll say about the narrative is that it’s not exactly surprising, but that’s to its credit. It fits in the category of stories where we have a general feeling of where we are headed, and yet every moment still feels as fresh and worthwhile as if it had been a total revelation.

The acting is superb. I think I already knew it when seeing him in The Master (2012), but it was while watching Her that I thought to myself that Joaquin Phoenix is truly one of the great actors of our time. I know I’m not alone in thinking it, and I know there are people who think he is a buffoon. Whatever he may be in our world, on screen he is a marvel, and this film is just another bright example. Everyone else in the cast was also excellent, though I did at one point imagine someone else being cast in the role of Samantha rather than Scarlett Johansson. She made a good performance, though.

So this film isn’t without its flaws, it isn’t quite as good as Upstream Color and I could critique it if I wanted to. (C’mon Spike, how much simulated sex did we really need to get the point???) But overall, I was so very happy to have seen it. I recommend it without reservation.

But please stop with the high waisted trousers.

upstream-color

Wow. I am knocked out. Upstream Color is one of the most original new films I have seen in years. I am entirely reluctant to say anything about it, for fear of doing it an injustice, and also for fear of ruining the experience for any potential viewers. Please, see this film.

It is beautifully shot, beautifully scored, and beautifully written. The acting is strong. The premise is original. The emotions are bizarre and real.

If you say Carruth’s Primer and enjoyed it, this is one hundred times as good. Please see this film. It’s stunning.

Oh I have nothing good to say. Nothing nothing. Just watch it.

No jokes.

Jungle-The-Heat-EP

Jungle makes it so damn smooth you can spread this on a piece of bread and love it.

Funk? Soul? R&b? I am not good enough at genre’ing to say what this is, but I’m not sure many people could do better. This four song EP is definitely funky, but in a way that is hard to pin down. What matters more is that it’s totally immersive. I heard “Platoon” and was instantly plunged deep into their world.

This is the best aspect of the long tail of retro: sometimes it goes well beyond the sounds it emulates to become something unique in itself. Does this call back to classic dub, soul, and r&b? Absolutely, but in a way that sounds (to me at least) totally new.

Highly recommended.

They also make some of the best videos ever.

 

 

Awesome.

 

 

Double awesome.

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The film that made everyone seasick!

This is a difficult one to watch, but partially because of how good it is. The ethnographer filmmakers took a bunch of GoPro cameras on commercial fishing boats and give us unique view of the industry (and livelihood of the fishermen). There is no narrative and almost no dialogue. The shots are disorienting, often dark, full of sea spray and fish guts. This film contains some of the most incredible and mad images I’ve ever seen. I am almost jealous of what I saw, even though I came close to turning it off after twenty minutes. Patience is the watchword in so many ways.

I have no more desire for seafood.

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