Sometimes, writing in-depth reviews of everything can become daunting, especially when you find yourself with little down time. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a new segment called REVIEWS AT A GLANCE, a brief take on the movies and albums I’ve had in current rotation. It will mostly be newer stuff, since that’s what I focus on in terms of reviewing, but I might drop some old school gems in there from time to time.
What have you been watching and listening to?
March 21, 2015 by Jericho Cerrona
|What I've Been Watching|
|Predestination is a sci-fi thriller/drama that places the mechanics of it's purposefully convoluted time-travel plot over everything else, including audience investment. Ethan Hawke is fine as a "temporal agent" trying to stop a terrorist and Sarah Snook is impressive in a dual role, but their performances are merely pieces of a narrative stunt which proves confusing in all the wrong ways. Dramatically flat and lacking genuine tension; with lame voiceover narration and clumsy editing, the film desperately wants to say something about gender identity, but keeps sidetracking itself with a series of big "reveals", leading up to a laughably contrived final reel.||Predestination
|The lives of two Italian families become interconnected in Paolo Virzi's Human Capital, a film which seeks to criticize the excesses of capitalism and the gap between the classes while also playing at times like a frothy melodrama. Virzi mixes up the timeline; showing us different sides to the story involving a fatal hit-and-run accident, with each perspective adding more context to the interweaving narrative. Though the mood is fatalistic and the acting mostly top-notch, there's a facile kind of sermonizing here that keeps the film from truly being as hard-hitting as it thinks it is.||Human Capital
|Philip Roth's much-reviled penultimate novel gets the Barry Levinson treatment in The Humbling; a flawed but intriguing riff on the art imitating life motif. Al Pacino gives a graceful, warts-and-all portrayal as a 67-year-old theater actor Simon Axler and Greta Gerwig lays on the quirk as a woman who once harbored a massive crush on him during her childhood. Wildly uneven; with odd lurches in tone and stabs at dark comedy, The Humbling nonetheless remains an engaging companion piece to Birdman, in how it zeroes in on ego and the artistic process of an aging thespian, hamstrung only by Roth's source material, which at times feels casually misogynistic.||The Humbling|
|Writer-director Zak Hilditch's doomsday thriller may travel well-worn territory, but it remains a tensely involving genre picture due to it's gritty atmosphere and strong acting. Nathan Phillips plays the traditional everyman role with genuine intensity and emotion, and he's assisted by a terrific ensemble that also includes a coked-up, mohawk-wearing Daniel Henshall (The Snowtown Murders), whose lavish estate lays claim to wild end-of-the-world orgies and primitive violence. There's not much here that you haven't seen before, and the final act relies too heavily on special effects bombast, but Hilditch's debut shows real flair and if there's ever a place in which to set the encroaching apocalypse, it's Perth Australia.||These Final Hours
|Poignant, lyrical, and deeply humane, Valley of Saints shows us an area of the world rarely seen in cinema and gives us fully dimensional characters who never feel boxed in by plot constraints. Taking place in Kashmir and focusing on the strong friendship between two male friends working as tourist guides on the lake, things take a turn once a female environmentalist scientist shows up to do research on lake pollution. One of the men is instantly smitten, and though the rift that develops between the friends is predictable, Musa Syeed's low-key direction and the naturalistic performances from the non-professional cast raises the film above the simplistic and into the realm of casual greatness.||Valley of Saints|
|What I've Been Listening To|
|Over the course of eight songs, Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Will Butler dives into chamber pop, rockabilly, synth-pop, and balladry, with the results being just as schizophrenic as that genre description sounds. Additionally, since his singing voice is so similar to his Arcade Fire frontman brother Win, and his lyrical concerns; capitalism, politics, faith etc, so teeming with the possibility of satire, it's tough to truly engage with much of the songwriting. There are a lot of good ideas here and Butler has certainly learned a thing or two in terms of writing palpable hooks, but there's simply too many different stylistic tones going on for Policy to emerge as little more than a frustrating, though entirely listenable, curio.||Will Butler Policy 6 out of 10|
|A sweeping collection of alter-ego ruminations on love, loss, and nihilism, I Love You, Honeybear is singer/songwriter Josh Tillman's grand opus; an album trafficking in both Southern California ennui as well as digs at holding onto love in our social media-obsessed age. Though he's moved away from the druggy troubadour persona of 2012's Fear Fun in lieu of the vision of a newly married man attempting to scrape beneath the satire, there are still plenty of instances of his patented dry humor and self-deprecation. Most importantly, the record is the most sonically expansive thing he's done yet; from soulful jazz and electro-pop, to piano-aden balladry and bombastic baroque pop.||Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear 7 out of 10|
|Electro/pop at it's most blandly neutered, Canadian duo Megan James and Corin Roddick's second album sounds like the worst kind of indie/mainstream crossover; a series of utterly forgettable tracks featuring booming synth lines, thudding bass, electronic beats, and vanilla female vocals that quickly become infuriating for refusing to even hint at experimentation. At least Purity Ring's debut record Shrines showed a measure of restraint and nuance. Here, everything is simply streamlined and turned up louder, resulting in something without a discernible identity. Crafting a pure pop album isn't really the problem; it's not like Purity Ring were ever seen as avant-garde or anything, but it doesn't even sound like James and Corin are convinced of their own mainstream appeal.||Purity Ring Another Eternity 3 out of 10|
|The problem with maintaining such a prolific output is that after a certain amount of time, even possibly stellar material tends to get lost in the shuffle. No stranger to incredible productivity, legendary GBV frontman Robert Pollard has not only cranked out six records in two years with his old band, but also a string of solo material. Recording now under the moniker Ricked Wicky, I Sell The Circus sees Pollard in comfortable 60s rock'n roll territory, with some crunchier GBV-sounding slabs of 3-min lo-fi pop and a few minor detours into progressive rock rounding out the 15 tracks here. It's all very Pollard, which means that there are some excellent songs and some that don't work much at all, but it's biggest flaw is that it lacks the oddball sensibilities of his best work. Still, it's hard to complain about a guy whose been doing this for the better part of 30 years.||Ricked Wicky I Sell The Circus 6 out of 10|
|Drone. Noise rock. 80's-influenced new wave. It's all here in spades on A Place To Bury Strangers fourth long-player; a record that feels at times oddly disconnected from their standard M.O.; namely, cranking up the distorted noise to overwhelming levels. Instead, Transfixiation tries to balance the bludgeoning cacophony with moments of sparseness and Joy Division-esque post-punk stomp, but the results are only intermittently successful. This identity crisis; of alternating between lo-fi fuzz and noisy pop, is intriguing in theory, but doesn't exactly translate well sonically. It's almost as if the Brooklyn trio's penchant for grueling dissonance has pushed them into a corner of trying to figure out how to mature with a sound that pushes against overt experimentation.||A Place To Bury Strangers Transfixiation 5 out of 10|