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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?

April 4, 2012
by Jericho Cerrona

What I’ve Been Watching
Jason Reitman’s first outing with screenwriter Diablo Cody since 2007’s Juno is a downbeat tale about a mid-30ish writer returning to her hometown in hopes of reconnecting with an old flame. Charlize Theron is sensational as a borderline psychotic who’s living in a perpetual state of arrested development, while Patton Oswalt provides excellent support as the geeky loner whom she ignored back in high school. Though the movie ultimately doesn’t add up too much, there’s something bold about a script this unconcerned with making its characters likeable. Young Adult

Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar brings his usual sense of craftsmanship to this lurid new thriller that melds sci-fi topes with horror, melodrama, and pulp. The movie could easily fall apart under the weight of the plot’s inherent campiness, but Almodóvar is a master and manages to navigate the material’s tricky tone brilliantly. Though not as formally impressive as some of his earlier work like All About My Mother and Talk To Her, this is nonetheless a provocative genre mashup that only an extremely talented filmmaker like Almodóvar could have pulled off. The Skin I Live In

Woody Harrelson gives a searing performance as a corrupt Los Angeles cop during the 1990’s in this observational character study that almost succeeds at being a memorably nightmarish descent into moral bankruptcy. As good as Harrelson is here, and he’s very good, the dirty cop enacting his own version of justice is just old hat at this point. Meanwhile, director Oren Moverman’s directorial choices—dutch angles, roving hand-held camera, fragmented editing—are interesting, but at times feel like desperate attempts at enlivening what is essentially the unraveling of an psychotic asshole. Rampart

Cronenberg junkies might be disappointed by the director’s latest effort, a historical period piece about the relationship between Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), but many of the director’s thematic preoccupations remain, including his interest in the body/mind link and how this affects sexuality. This time, Cronenbergian themes are funneled through Victorian pleasantries, which includes a feverish, jaw-jutting performance from Keira Knightley as Jung’s most famous patient, and solid work from Fassbender and Mortensen, making the pseudo-intellectual discourse sound at least partially convincing. A Dangerous Method

Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman give astonishing performances in actor-turned director Paddy Considine’s harrowing chamber piece about a violate drunk widower crossing paths with a religious shop owner. Though the characters inhabit a world of dilapidated British flats, grimy pubs, and aimless misery, there’s poignancy in this stripped-down tale of broken souls finding a glimmer of redemption. Considine’s directorial approach is unhurried and naturalistic, which results in fully dimensional characters, a terrific sense of place, and two of the best performances of 2011. Tyrannosaur

What I’ve Been Listening To
Poet/novelist/musician Leonard Cohen has been making music for over 40 years now, and he remains in many people’s minds an untouchable force of genius—like a less popular Dylan, or perhaps more aptly, Tom Waits’ older brother. But Cohen is his own man, and on his 12th studio album, the 77-year-old instills everything with his usual raspy-voiced delivery and Biblical fervor. Old Ideas is both weathered and uplifting, adding gentle slide guitar, choir-like female background vocals, and lounge piano to Cohen’s lyrical imagery of a world passing him by. In its own hushed way, it sounds like the final summation on a truly astounding career. Leonard Cohen

Old Ideas 7 out of 10

Like fellow French black metal/shoegaze band Alcest, Les Discrets are interested in creating “metal” music that dares to be pretty rather than brutal. On their second LP, they continue this aesthetic to mostly successful results, with languid tempos, long instrumental stretches, haunting acoustic plucking, esoteric overlapping vocals, and yes, even some sparse blast beats. It might not be the masterwork that debut album Septembre et ses dernières Pensées was, but it’s still singular enough to warrant attention from both metal and nonmetal fans alike. Les Discrets

Ariettes Oubliees 7 out of 10

While it might seem as if Stephin Merritt and his marry band of mates are returning to their synth-pop roots in an attempt to please fans of mid-90’s work such as Holiday (1994) or Get Lost (1995), the production on their new LP Love at the Bottom of the Sea is much too glossy and cluttered to fit in with the band’s output from that time. Merritt is still a humorously wry lyricist, and all of the retro-sounding keyboard and bubbly atmosphere are welcome, but too many of the songs here feel like juvenile parodies of the kind of music the band initially made their name on. The Magnetic Fields

Love at the Bottom of the Sea
6 out of 10

On Xiu Xiu’s eighth studio album, frontman Jamie Stewart continues his antagonistically off-kilter take on electronic pop music with a collection of tunes that continue the bent toward poppier material that surfaced on 2010’s excellent Dear God, I Hate Myself. Granted, Xiu Xiu will still be a bit too avant-garde for some listeners, but Stewart’s Morrissey on digital acid vocals and fractured synth-driven beats actually make room for some pleasant hooks and melodies this time around. Still, there’s something disturbing about Xiu Xiu’s music no matter how pretty it may at times come across, and at 52-minutes, the album threatens to drown itself in anti-pop miserablism. Xiu Xiu

Always 6 out of 10

Coming on the heels of last year’s psych/post-hardcore LP Leave Home, this much buzzed about Brooklyn outfit follow things up with an even more schizophrenic, though ultimately tamer, album with Open Your Heart. This is a pure rock’n roll record, even as it skirts across multiple genres and styles, often within the breath of the same song. There’s grimy classic rock (“Turn It Around”), pummeling Stooges-esque punk (“Animal”), Krautrock-inspired jams (“Oscillation”), and even some kitschy AM-radio pop (“Candy”). But through it all, The Men remain capable of making all of the genre-hopping sound entirely coherent and tightly controlled. The Men

Open Your Heart
8 out of 10


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