30 05 2012

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?

May 30, 2012
by Jericho Cerrona

What I’ve Been Watching
Michelle Williams is probably taking on an impossible task in My Week With Marilyn, which chronicles the brief fling between aspiring filmmaker Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) and the iconic starlet during the making of the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl. Williams gives it her all, playing Monroe as a mixture of wounded animal, deluded method actor, and adorable sexpot. The problem isn’t with her performance, or Kenneth Branagh’s entertaining take on the narcissistic director Laurence Olivier for that matter, but rather with a script that focuses on all the wrong things. Granted, it’s based on a memoir, but as the unassuming film-set gopher Colin Clark, Redmayne is much too bland to coax audience interest, and much of the movie is simply spent detailing his growing obsession with Monroe, even as she spirals into the ever-predictable biopic clichés of pill-popping depression. Harry Potter’s Emma Watson is also wasted in an extended cameo as the obligatory doormat love interest that Clark tosses aside in order to pursue an improbable romance. Despite fine work from Williams and Branagh, a missed opportunity. My Week With Marilyn 

Once Upon A Time in Anatolia is one of those anti-narrative art films that critics love to fawn over. It’s long, slow, and eschews the usual tropes found in standard genre films. In this case, Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan takes aim at the police procedural, coming up with something simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. There isn’t much plot or inherent drama in the tale of a police commissioner, prosecutor, doctor, and murder suspect driving through the Anatolian landscape searching for a corpse. Instead, Ceylan (a former photographer), uses striking widescreen compositions, long takes, and a meditative tone in order to delve into the inner darkness of his characters. Whether he succeeds or not is up to each individual viewer, as those expecting a resolution to the mystery or some sense of plot momentum will be thoroughly bored throughout. It’s hard to argue with Ceylan’s skilled craftsmanship or how he tweaks with traditional narrative, but after a single viewing, this ambitious film seems less like a masterpiece (it won the Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes Film Festival) and more like an endurance test with interspersed moments of brilliance along the way. Once Upon A Time in Anatolia 

More like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Shrill. Improbably nominated for a 2011 Best Picture Oscar, this wannabe coming-of-age tale about a precocious nine-year-old named Oskar (newcomer Thomas Horn) searching for information regarding a key left behind by his father (Tom Hanks), who died tragically during 911, is all high notes and huge sentiment without the tender respect a story like this deserves. Adapted from Jonathan Sanfran Foer’s book of the same name by screenwriter Eric Roth and directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The Reader), the movie labors hard to wring every conceivable emotion out of the audience until it ultimately becomes exhausting. Horn plays one of the more annoying lead characters in recent memory, Hanks is painfully mawkish in flashbacks, Sandra Bullock cries a lot as Oskar’s mom, and only screen legend Max Von Sydow survives with his dignity intact as a mute stranger with his own painful secrets. Other great actors float in and out at will, including Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright, but they exist in a movie that uses a real-life tragic event as a means for what amounts to a manipulative Hallmark greeting card. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 

24-year-old writer/director/star Lena Dunham’s indie drama might be labeled mumblecore by way of Woody Allen, but this is a superficial reading of this astute and sardonically observed character study. Though the story of college grad Aura (Dunham) moving back home with her mom and younger sister has the vibe of mundane 20-something life captured in so many mumblecore flicks, Dunham doesn’t rely on handheld cameras, rapid zoom lenses, and haphazard lighting to carry her aesthetic. Instead, she uses realistic-sounding banter, locked-off wide-shots, and a generally good eye for composition. Her writing is sharp and acid-tongued, but unlike Allen’s unrelenting cynicism, there’s a sense in which Dunham is still trying to figure out the ways of the world. The results are a movie that will probably divide audiences– focusing on self-absorbed privileged white people complaining about their problems can be pretty annoying after all–but Dunham is a true talent and the way she exposes herself on screen (both physically and emotionally), is undeniable. Tiny Furniture 

Director Steven Soderbergh has always divided his time between making mainstream fare like Ocean’s Eleven and smaller experimental films such as The Girlfriend Experience. The money he makes from his commercial success, he uses to craft odd little diversions that usually fly under the radar. Now comes Haywire, an action thriller starring mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano that seems on the surface to be another stab at a Hollywood genre film. But Soderbergh is clearly interested in the form of the action movie as a means to deconstruct the genre, which means the fighting scenes, though brutal, are matter-of-fact and filmed mostly in cross-cutting stationary shots. The story is also secondary and hopelessly convoluted, but neither the skeletal plot nor Carano’s stilted line delivery is by accident. Soderbergh is paying homage to 80’s action movies, but doing so without all the bombast and in his own muted style. Overall, the movie is throwaway, wasting a sprawling cast of talented actors (no, Tatum Channing is not among them) on a plot with no stakes, but Carano is a force of nature during the fighting scenes, and it passes briskly at 93 minutes. Haywire 

What I’ve Been Listening To
29-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist Daniel Rossen is best known as one of the guiding hands behind the Brooklyn-based indie band Grizzly Bear. That outfit’s last album, 2009’s Veckatimest, was a critical smash, propelling them more into the mainstream spotlight. Rossen’s first solo offering might initially strike one as B-sides (indeed, the five songs were originally written for the upcoming Grizzly Bear LP), but sonically it most resembles Rossen’s other group, Department of Eagles. It shares the same folksy acoustic finger-picking, swelling violins, and majestic walls of sound as that duo, but on a song such as “Saint Nothing”, it also showcases Rossen’s knack for piano balladry. It doesn’t reinvent his trademark sound, but it isn’t simply a rehash either, further cementing Rossen as the current leader in majestic chamber-folk. Daniel Rossen 

Silent Hour/Golden Mile 7 out of 10

Chicago, Illinois four-piece Maps & Atlases have been branded math-rock, experimental pop, angular folk, et al, but on sophomore release Be Aware, Be Grateful, they sound more like Phil Collins by way of Bon Iver. Gone is the quirky time signatures and fractured song writing of 2006’s Trees, Swallows, Houses EP and 2008’s You and Me and The Mountain in lieu of massive production, slick harmonies, and some huge 80’s-sounding drumming. Whereas singer David Davison’s nasally falsetto used to be buried lower in the mix by his bandmate’s proggy instrumentation, here it’s front and center, and oftentimes affected to the point of irritation. It’s not as if the band have completely sold out or anything; they still weave layered sounds and textures together skillfully, but the unpredictable nature of their past music is absent. Maps & Atlases 

Be Aware and Be Grateful 6 out of 10

Atlanta rapper Killer Mike is probably best known for dropping the occasional guest rhyme on Outkast albums like Stankonia and Speakerboxxx, but he’s actually been releasing solo albums since the early 2000’s. His stature in the underground hip-hop scene goes without saying, but for whatever reason, mainstream success has eluded him. If sixth LP R.A.P. Music is any indication, things could start changing, though the music here is just left-center enough to remain firmly in the underground scene. A lot of this has to do with the production by celebrated New York MC/producer El-P, formerly of 90’s rap outfit Company Flow. The beats here are phenomenal and consistently unpredictable, full of stumbling drumbeats, gritty synths, and southern-drenched funk bass. Mike’s rapping style is laid-back and his lyrical themes widespread, tackling everything from the Iran-Contra debacle (“Reagan”), racism (“Don’t Die”), and hilarious tales of drug smuggling (“Jo Jo’s Chillin’”). A thrilling return to an old school style of hip-hop while still forging ahead. Killer Mike 

R.A.P. Music
8 out of 10

Is Jack White really a rock n’roll god ushering in a new form of classic rock? Ardent worshipers will probably salivate over his new solo offering with the kind of passion reserved for popes and teenage pop idols, but behind all the hyperbole lies an album that’s generically safe and strangely boring.  Sure, there’s plenty of the standard bluesy guitar ripping and high-pitched moaning on display, as well as a healthy dose of strings and piano, but in the end the songs lack urgency. Not many White Stripes fans would like to admit that after 2003’s Elephant, the duo became increasingly fixated on their own mythos, with White in particular buying into his own hype as some kind of guitar legend. No doubt Blunderbuss will receive widespread acclaim, but even as he flirts with piano balladry (“Blunderbuss”), R & B (“Freedom at 21”), and doo-wop (“Take Me With You When You Go”), Jack’s lyrics about spurned love and emasculation are just a tad misogynistic coming from a 36-year-old. Jack White 

Blunderbluss 5 out of 10

Oakland, Ca metal trio High On Fire could very well at this point be deemed the forefathers of the stoner/doom genre that’s taken off in recent years. Bands like Baroness and Torche probably wouldn’t have existed hadn’t it been for frontman Mike Pike (formerly of seminal doom band sleep) putting this group together back in 1998, and on sixth studio LP De Vermis Mysteriis, they prove that it’s wise to listen to one’s elders. An epic riff on American fantasy/horror author H.P. Lovecraft and time travel, Pike’s lyrical musings are shouted, barked, and shrieked with ferocity over head-banging riffs, pummeling drums, and some jammy sections of guitar-soloing goodness. It’s a definite improvement over 2009’s Snakes For The Divine, though like most music in the stoner/doom pantheon, it does get a tad repetitive at nearly an hour. Still, this is consistently pulverizing stuff and one of the better pure metal albums so far this year. High on Fire 

De Vermis Mysteriis
7 out of 10


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31 05 2012
Melodie (18:51:40) :

I like the reviews at a glance for those of us that don’t have the time to sit and read a lengthy review. The shortened version has just as much excellent info to help one make up their mind on whether or not to check the film out. Thanks JC for your commitment to sharing your love of film & music with your readers!

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