Archived Album Review – Rancid: …And Out Come the Wolves (1995)

In the wake of the Offspring’s success, Rancid became a hot band, earning a dedicated cult and sparking a major-label bidding war. After flirting with a handful of major labels, the band decided to stick with Epitaph and returned with …And Out Come the Wolves.

While the title is a veiled reference to the attention the band gained, the album doesn’t mark an isolationist retreat into didactic, defiantly underground punk rock. Instead, Rancid develop their own identity on the record, which ironically makes them more accessible. Although they continue to draw heavily from the Clash and the Specials — and their roots in the ska-punk band Operation Ivy are quite clear throughout the record — the band plays with such energy and conviction, it’s easy to forgive their derivativeness.

On the whole, …And Out Come the Wolves is a little too long to make a major impact, but individual tracks are classic moments of revivalist punk, including the skittering 2-Tone tribute “Time Bomb.”

Frank Sinatra: September of My Years (1965)

September of My Years is one of Frank Sinatra’s triumphs of the ’60s, an album that consolidated his strengths while moving him into new territory, primarily in terms of tone.

More than the double-disc set A Man and His Music — which was released a year after this album — September of My Years captures how Sinatra was at the time of his 50th birthday. Gordon Jenkins’ rich, stately, and melancholy arrangements give the album an appropriate reflective atmosphere. Most of the songs are new or relatively recent numbers; every cut fits into a loose theme of aging, reflection, and regret.

Sinatra, however, doesn’t seem stuck in his ways — though the songs are rooted in traditional pop, they touch on folk and contemporary pop. As such, the album offered a perfect summary, as well as suggesting future routes for the singer.

Paul Elliott

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 1

After a chance encounter with a childhood sweetheart, New York lawyer Rebecca Bunch decides to quit her job and move to the middle of nowhere to win him back. This is the plot of a million romcom movies, and they always play out in exactly the same way. There are meet cutes and hijinks and adorable quirks aplenty, and everything culminates in a big climactic moment at a wedding or an airport, and everyone ends up happy forever.

This is also the plot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. However, this is an 18-episode television series, so nothing can be quite that neat. All the usual behaviour that tends to propel a romcom – the obsessions, the rash decisions, the disregard for other people’s feelings – cannot simply be brushed aside. Instead, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend goes in deep on them.

Bunch is in no way a well woman. On the surface she’s funny and pretty and a shade away from being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but deep down she’s lost and traumatised. She leaps from empty epiphany to empty epiphany, and lies relentlessly to herself as she ruins scores of lives in her pursuit of a hopeless dream. It would be tragic if it weren’t so funny.

It’s almost miraculous to see how well Crazy Ex-Girlfriend combines knockabout comedy and full-blown melodrama. The juxtaposition is never jarring, and the contrasting styles never detract from each other. This is almost entirely thanks to creator, writer and star Rachel Bloom, for whom this is undoubtedly a star-making vehicle. She is never anything short of electrifying; manic when she needs to be, subtle when she needs to be and filling every song with a full-beam, show-pony, stage-school commitment that isn’t often seen on TV.

About those songs. Yes, there are songs in this show. Yes, I was suspicious of them at first too, on the basis that all musicals are the work of the devil himself. But they’re actually pretty good genre pastiches that almost always hit their intended targets. They are slightly reminiscent of Flight of the Conchords, and a comparison to Flight of the Conchords can never be a bad thing.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is already appearing on Best Of lists, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a spiritual cousin to Netflix’s Stranger Things, in that it enjoys taking its time to unpack some of the knottiest tropes and conventions of genre cinema. Where Stranger Things concerns itself solely with 1980s horror, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is fixated on romantic comedies. And the whole thing is executed beautifully. It feels like a very authentic exploration of depression and anxiety, which isn’t something you’d normally say about a day-glo musical TV show with animated opening titles.

This is the time to get in, because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has already won awards. Bloom has won a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice award for her powerhouse portrayal of Bunch and, while the show has been shut out of all the major Emmy categories this year, it still feels like the start of something. Everyone else loves Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. You should too.

Paul Elliott

Archived Album Review – Blood, Sweat & Tears: Child is Father to the Man (1968)

Child Is Father to the Man is keyboard player/singer/arranger Al Kooper’s finest work, an album on which he moves the folk-blues-rock amalgamation of the Blues Project into even wider pastures, taking in classical and jazz elements (including strings and horns), all without losing the pop essence that makes the hybrid work.

This is one of the great albums of the eclectic post-Sgt. Pepper era of the late ’60s, a time when you could borrow styles from Greenwich Village contemporary folk to San Francisco acid rock and mix them into what seemed to have the potential to become a new American musical form. It’s Kooper’s bluesy songs, such as “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” and “I Can’t Quit Her,” and his singing that are the primary focus, but the album is an aural delight; listen to the way the bass guitar interacts with the horns on “My Days Are Numbered” or the charming arrangement and Steve Katz’s vocal on Tim Buckley’s “Morning Glory.” Then Kooper sings Harry Nilsson’s “Without Her” over a delicate, jazzy backing with flügelhorn/alto saxophone interplay by Randy Brecker and Fred Lipsius.

This is the sound of a group of virtuosos enjoying itself in the newly open possibilities of pop music. Maybe it couldn’t have lasted; anyway, it didn’t.

Album Of The Week – Wilco: Schmilco

Cult acts – which Chicago’s art-rock institution Wilco undoubtedly are despite the band’s relatively high profile – are a peculiar thing. Whereas die-hard devotees find ample evidence of genius on even their less distinguished offerings, less favourably biased listeners might struggle to see what the fuss is all about. Schmilco (Wilco Schmilco, get it?) is a case in point.

Although never less than beguiling, Wilco’s tenth studio album is initially such a slippery, withdrawn and introspective beast that it threatens to slither out of sight before establishing full contact with your ears. It turns out this is precisely the point. Last year’s equally daftly titled Star Wars crackled with exuberant, outgoing energy, with the band’s good times rock ‘n’ roll muscles pumped to the max. The predominantly acoustic Schmilco on the other hand eschews riffs, rocking and virtually all of the band’s trademark moves; with no obvious crowd-pleasing points of entry, you’ve to put in a bit of elbow grease to a locate a way into the murky world of this insular record. There’s zero chance of cathartic noise crescendos and gradual build-ups of tension amidst these twelve brief cuts. When guitar wizard Nels Cline and bandleader/songwriter Jeff Tweedy engage in guitar duels, it’s in the form of the laidback countryfied strumming & picking of, say, the disarmingly pretty “If I Ever Was A Child” rather than the virtuoso fretboard histrionics we’ve come to associate the band with from, say, “Impossible Germany” (off 2007’s soft-rocking Sky Blue Sky) or “Bull Black Nova” (off 2009’s Wilco (The Album); what is it with this band and terrible album titles?). That said, Schmilco isn’t some sort of a retreat back to Wilco’s Alt. Country roots; the album’s a much less predictable or easily categorised proposition.

Schmilco resembles such equally minimalist undertakings as Lambchop’s mega-hushed Is A Woman and Richmond Fontaine’s impossibly bleak, dust-blown The Fitzgerald in that it presents a formidably expansive and muscular – check out 2005’s classic live double Kicking Television for evidence of Wilco’s all-conquering oomph – band operating with one hand willingly tied behind its back. It’s about rebooting a signature sound and avoiding possibly over-familiar tricks. Naturally, the sparse presentation also places the spotlight unsparingly on the material.

For the most part, Schmilco delivers. The folkie opening “Normal American Kids” is a bitter, anti-nostalgic flip-side to the wistful reminisces of misspent youth on “Heavy Metal Drummer”, nodding towards Tweedy’s comments about wanting to make an album steeped in joyous negativity. “Cry All Day” builds up to a mighty gallop by straddling rarely spotted acoustic-motorik dynamics. The unsettling, mystifying “Locator” proves Wilco can handle the abstract and the bristly even with the decibels turned way down low. The album finishes on a series of beautifully weary sighs of songs, with the dreamy float of “Shrug and Destroy” proving particularly disarming.

That said, there are a few too many tunes that struggle to make a lasting impression. Wilco has struggled to put together a thoroughly satisfying album since troubled, brooding early 00’s masterpieces Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born (although 2011’s The Whole Love came very close), almost as if the band’s increased stability has somehow dented the boundless creativity evident in those early works, which were recorded with the band in internal turmoil. Not that there’s anything wrong with the customary (albeit unusually sparingly decorated) Wilco grooves such as “Nope” and “Someone To Lose”. However, you may well end up hoping for some more of the directness, intimacy and rich emotional resonance that made Sukirae, Tweedy’s 2014 duo album with drummer son Spencer (who guests here) so compelling when ploughing through the album’s ambiguous middle sections. Even as another merely good Wilco album, however, Schmilco does pay plentiful dividends for listeners patient enough to discover its gradually revealed riches.

Movie Review – A Bigger Splash

Vocal surgery is the coin toss no professional singer wants to make. Will you come out of it like Adele or like Julie Andrews? Such is the uncertainty facing pop star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) at the outset of A Bigger Splash, a riff on 1969’s La Piscine as interpreted by director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love). As the film begins, Marianne has hit on a novel strategy for recuperating from her recent procedure: absconding with her boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts) to an island in the Mediterranean, where they can boink like weasels while avoiding most verbal communication.

Matters are complicated by the arrival of Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), a music producer whose history with Marianne goes beyond the purely professional. An energetic Dionysus with terminal diarrhea of the mouth, Harry immediately sets about tempting Marianne to do everything she shouldn’t do – including taxing her vocal cords by speaking in full voice, along with a few options that may even be less healthy. At other times, he’s waxing obnoxious about his work with the latter-day Stones: He’s the sort of late-to-the-party blowhard whose idea of a great story is telling how he helped guide the recording of Voodoo Lounge. Who in the world would be proud of such a thing?

Intermittent flashbacks reveal that all three of these characters have quite the shared past. They also show us that, when Marianne isn’t swanning about the Mediterranean in the dowdiest of holiday fashions, she’s a raven-haired punkette who prepares to take the stage at stadium gigs by hawking up a large amount of spit. These segments are mercifully brief; despite the prodigious gift she exhibits here and elsewhere, let’s just say that Swinton makes a far better David Bowie than a Chrissie Hynde.

In most other respects, A Bigger Splash is a pretty sophisticated piece of work, with cinematography that’s engaging without ever being too ostentatious and performances that don’t confuse full-blown idiosyncrasies with mere tics. Like 2002’s Laurel Canyon, the movie is rooted in the belief that watching people who work in the music industry destroy each other emotionally can and should be more interesting to watch than it is in real life. Unlike that freakfest, however, A Bigger Splash displays a rich understanding of its characters’ foibles, and the ways in which they betray each other instead of communicating their shared weaknesses.

It’s a film about relationships on multiple levels – between lovers old and new, between tourists and natives, and (perhaps most astutely) between one generation and the next. See, Harry has brought along his young daughter (Dakota Johnson), a mocking Lolita who swiftly becomes a figure of both annoyance and morbid fascination to her hosts. Seemingly dedicated to wreaking havoc wherever she can, she torments one and all with her nubile sexuality and her proud ignorance of the vinyl “albums” these old poops seem to live for. Contemptuous of the past and boasting an identity that extends in all directions, she’s a lightning rod for resentment on the part of middle-agers who just can’t seem to hand off the torch of immature behavior. In other words, she’s more rock & roll than anyone or anything else on the screen. You just know she would have walked out on the sessions for Voodoo Lounge.

Movie Review – All The Way

It feels like you’re witnessing a miracle, at times, watching Bryan Cranston as Lyndon B. Johnson in HBO’s “All the Way,” just as it did watching Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln.” It’s like seeing a resurrection of sorts, without the assistance of any “Game of Thrones”-like hoodoo.

There you are in a room with the 36th president of the United States, up close to his weary, furrowed face, sharing with him all the weighty private hours that filled in between those vintage 1960s news clips and historical milestones. You stand right by the man in his weaker moments, afraid he’s just an “accidental president” after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and you’re there in his more commanding moods, too, as he craftily pushes through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, navigating between impatient black activists and livid Southern segregationists. You get a full sense of his general bearing, by turns volatile, charismatic, dull, and vulgar, that last as he sits using the toilet in front of a rather shocked Hubert Humphrey (Bradley Whitford).

Of course Cranston is helped in his “All the Way” miracle by remarkable prosthetic makeup that provides him with LBJ’s bushy eyebrows, receding hairline, ample ears, and banana nose. He wears lifts in his shoes, to affect LBJ’s towering aspect. But still, Cranston brings the reality, the essence, the faceted presence. One day, if not already, digital technology will be able to deliver an autonomous Obama-bot from all of the clouds of available imagery, but it will never have the depth and visceral feel of Cranston’s analog approach.

You may not be surprised by Cranston’s triumph, given the actor’s extraordinary work as the Man Who Would Be Meth King on “Breaking Bad.” Also, Cranston won a Tony for playing LBJ in the Broadway version of “All the Way” (which had an earlier sold-out run at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater). But the experience of his performance may still be richer than you expect, largely thanks to strategic cinematic choices by director Jay Roach, who also directed Cranston in “Trumbo.”

Roach wisely keeps the camera up in Cranston’s face, turning the film, which premieres Saturday at 8 p.m., into a kind of interior journey through Johnson’s psyche. On stage, Cranston’s LBJ directly addressed the audience; here, thanks to the nicely adapted screenplay by “All the Way” playwright Robert Schenkkan, he stays within the fourth wall, within the story, and instead we hear his thoughts in a more confidential voice-over. At one point, we see him accidentally run into his daughter Luci in a White House hallway, a tossed-off scene that nonetheless effectively reveals his awkwardness and distance as a father.

The dominant story line is, like many political movies these days including “Lincoln,” structured as a focused procedural, with Johnson continuing JFK’s mission to pass the civil rights bill. In some of the movie’s best scenes, he locks horns, in a gentlemanly fashion, with his father figure and mentor, Georgia Senator Richard Russell (Frank Langella), whom he calls Uncle Dick. You can see fear and conviction simultaneously at play in Johnson’s eyes as he fights for the bill, aware that he’s jeopardizing his chances in the coming election by defying Southern Democrats but still driven to bring America a step forward. Aware the bill would not pass with a voting rights provision, he drops it and promises Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Anthony Mackie) he’ll deliver that later, which he does. Does “All the Way” accurately portray Johnson’s role in civil rights? I’ll let the historians, such as LBJ biographer Robert Caro, debate that question.

Cranston is surrounded by many good supporting performers. Langella is impeccable as Russell, whose genteel manner belies his fury. His Russell may or may not know he’s railing against civil rights while a black man shines his shoes; he’d behave the same either way. Mackie is dignified as King, but the script, which has room for only one immense figure, doesn’t allow him much dimension. Melissa Leo, too, doesn’t get much juicy material as Lady Bird, but she nonetheless shines as Johnson’s firmest supporter. And, as J. Edgar Hoover, who has tapes of King having adulterous sex, Stephen Root projects enough hypocrisy to almost provide comic relief.

As we routinely watch bills get stuck in Congress, where it is always mud season these days, Johnson’s maneuvering is particularly fascinating — and even quaint now that Congress is more polarized than ever. Once the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passes, and Johnson’s political strategizing is over, “All the Way” loses some momentum. But Cranston’s performance remains engaging throughout, as Johnson fights his way out of Kennedy’s shadow and into his own presidential light.

Archived Album Review – 2 Many DJ’s: As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Pt. 2 (2002)

Soulwax members Stephen and David Dewaele inaugurated the alias 2 Many DJ’s for a series of radio-show mix sessions, few (if any) of which were recorded live; with the magic of computer processing, the pair spent hours constructing pinpoint mixes with editing software, deconstructing pop music of the ’60, ’70s, and ’80s with multiple layers of familiar songs. And as unlikely as it appeared they’d ever be able to issue a proper album, 2 Many DJ’s debuted a full-length mix with 2002’s As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Pt. 2, a feat of licensing endurance and computer-aided mixing with few parallels at this early date in the history of mash-ups.

An hour-long mix with nary a pause for breath, the disc balances late-period electro-techno with some of the most hilarious one-over-another collisions of previously unimagined duets in history. When the vocal on a pitched-up “I’m Waiting for the Man” finally drops out, it’s difficult not to be a little shocked once you realize that midway the beat morphed into “Dance to the Music,” and Lou Reed’s hip whine is replaced by an a cappella version of “Oh Sheila.” Sexual frustration (the Stooges’ “No Fun”) competes with sexual release (Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It”), the wistful one-shot “I Wish” by Skee-Lo sounds a bit more extroverted when pasted over the Breeders’ “Cannonball,” and “Independent Woman, Pt. 1” by Destiny’s Child gradually gives way to “Independent Woman, Pt. 0” — that is, Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” There’s as many incredible rare grooves on this record as there are familiar shots, a sure tribute to 2 Many DJ’s as combination collectors/mixers/taste-makers than anything else.

Most of the ideas here really aren’t new — just talk to Grandmaster Flash or Kool Herc about borrowing any records at hand to keep a crowd moving — but 2 Many DJ’s have acres of talent and great ideas about constructing a mix record.

Movie Review – Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

“Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” is the latest example of what we’ll have to start calling primary-source documentaries: nonfiction films that avail themselves of their subjects’ personal home movies, video, audio, scrapbooks, diaries, grocery receipts, to-do lists, and so forth. Last year we had “Amy,” an Oscar-nominated film that derived its strength from a friend’s home videos of Amy Winehouse in her youth, and “Listen to Me Marlon,” an eerie resurrection of Marlon Brando using the audio diaries he kept for decades.

Bergman, too, appears to have documented her life from one end to the other — is that why she became a movie star? Because in a sense she already was one? Directed by Stig Björkman and with major input from the actress’s grown children, “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” makes the case that Bergman saw herself and her loved ones through the lens of a camera and the frame of a screen, and she treated life as her very own adventure film. Daughter Pia Lindstrom argues in one heady interview segment that Bergman’s intense relationship with her own father — he was a widower, Ingrid his only surviving child — was defined and strengthened by the 16mm home movies he took of their life together. It also meant she had a tendency to fall in love with men on the other side of the camera: war photographer Robert Capa, directors Victor Fleming and Roberto Rossellini.

We see those early home movies in Björkman’s film and they’re immensely touching. Using diary excerpts from adolescence onward and passages from letters Bergman wrote to friends — read on the soundtrack by actress Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) — “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” follows its subject from early success in Swedish theater and films to Hollywood and producer David O. Selznick in 1939. The documentary includes her studio screen test, in color, with a chalkboard that reads “NO MAKEUP.” Bergman is so naturally ravishing that the film seems lit from within.

She was passionate and ambitious; outwardly shy and inwardly confident. Shortly after arriving in Hollywood, Bergman wrote a friend “Last night a man at the table said to me ‘You’ll never be an actress. You’re too tall.’ I said to myself, ‘He knows nothing about me.’ ” Her years in Hollywood included the apotheosis of “Casablanca,” of course, but also an Oscar for “Gaslight,” a peak Hitchcock film with Cary Grant (“Notorious”), and a quixotic Joan of Arc epic for producer Walter Wanger. Lindstrom remarks that her mother had had a Joan of Arc obsession since childhood, perhaps moved by the notion of “a young girl who hears voices saying she’ll go do wonderful things.”

“Joan of Arc” was a flop, in part because Bergman had already left her husband Petter, Lindstrom’s father, for Rossellini by the time it came out. She gave birth to a son, Roberto, and later twin girls, Ingrid and Isabella, and America reeled from the scandal. The actress was denounced on the floor of the US Senate, and Bergman decamped to Europe, where another wave of home movies capture the growing brood at play. Eventually, Bergman returned to America for “Anastasia” and a second Oscar, was abandoned by Rossellini, married a Swedish theatrical producer, and worked steadily until her death in 1982 at 67.

“I have seen so much, yet it is never enough. . . . I have never understood the kind of happiness I was longing for.” So wrote Bergman in a letter and that restlessness was integral to the charm that streamed from her and to the damage she caused. You could even say the two were inextricable. The grown children, interviewed, speak with a mixture of awe and rue: she was delightful to be with, she was never around. “I missed her a lot,” says daughter Ingrid. “I’m going to have as much fun as her,” Isabella recalls thinking (and she did).

“Why didn’t you want to live with us?,” Pia wonders with an adult’s recollection of primal hurt before shrugging that “the reality is that children aren’t all that interesting.”

TV Review – You’re the Worst: Season 2

With its sophomore run, FXX’s You’re the Worst, the best anti-romantic comedy on television, has found itself in a bit of a conundrum – how can a show about gleefully self-destructive assholes continue to entertain even as its characters begin to move beyond their degenerate escapades toward maturity and – dare they say it – monogamy? It’s a tough question, one the series needs a little time to fully answer, but it answers it admirably.

Just as Gretchen (Aya Cash), a cynical Hollywood publicist, and Jimmy (Chris Geere), a caustic British writer, are testing the waters with a more committed relationship (galvanized by Gretchen burning down her apartment and moving in with Jimmy), You’re the Worst seems to be treading softly as well. Already, this is far from the show we were originally introduced to. For all the central couple’s raging against the very concept of romance, and all their protests about everything from easing off the party lifestyle to putting down ties in each other’s lives, Gretchen and Jimmy have exposed their softer sides, and it’s become clear that they’re really just as thirsty for love as everyone else.

There’s no question, though, that this slightly sweeter You’re the Worst still works. The premiere is a riot, packing in some terrific pop culture references, killer scenes and laugh-out-loud exchanges as Gretchen and Jimmy bring themselves to the brink of destruction in hopes of keeping their relationship wild and thrilling for as long as humanly possible. The battle that the pair fought last season to maintain that their relationship lacked meaning is long since lost – now, Jimmy and Gretchen are more concerned with not compromising their own lifestyles or becoming those most dreaded of middle-aged humans – “the sweater people.”

Of course, the series thrives on letting its characters figure out that what they’re most viscerally opposed to may be what they’ve actually been searching for all along. Jimmy and Gretchen have a long way to go before they lose their individual sparks, but this season finds them at least heading in the right direction. “I’m perfectly fine having you as a girlfriend,” Jimmy tells Gretchen at one point, and the words barely seem to catch in his throat – and for You’re the Worst, whose leads started out renouncing romance as nothing more than a societally perpetuated sham, that feels a lot like progress.

The new season also offers an increased role for Gretchen’s self-obsessed best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue), who’s reeling from news that her wealthy but white-paint dull husband Paul (Allan McLeod) is leaving her so he can pursue a more ideally matched romantic partner. To say she’s not dealing with it well would be an understatement – season 1 Lindsay was never the brightest (or most benevolent) bulb in the box, but her fatuous egotism has been magnified along with a ridiculous craving for food, turning her into a rather shrill, if often amusing cartoon.

Edgar (Desmin Borges), Jimmy’s good-natured and PTSD-afflicted friend and roommate, does his best to save Lindsay from herself, all the while nursing a crush, but she either doesn’t see his moon-eyes or exploits them ruthlessly for every last favour. Cash and Geere share a playful, fizzy chemistry that makes their scenes together an often riotous joy to watch, while Donohue and Borges are fast cementing themselves as two of the best rom-com sidekicks in the game – despite existing, painfully and honestly, as complex people in their own right. With that central four, and scripts that continue to winningly wrap the series’ tender heart in ribald antics, You’re the Worst overcomes it’s growing pains to confirm that it deserves to rank as one of TV comedy’s best.

TV Review – You’re the Worst: Season 1

In the language of TV comedy, teasing and insulting often means a romantic attraction, as the parties defend themselves with barbs against emerging feelings of vulnerability and the fear of rejection. Shakespeare immortalized that kind of mating dance in “Much Ado About Nothing,” by showing the scorn-filled wit between Beatrice and Benedick evolve into love. We can see that Getchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) are exactly that kind of couple, that their knife-throwing is a classic form of flirtation.

The broad cynicism that they share is what makes “You’re the Worst” a lot of fun. They tangle endlessly with each other but they’re also thick as thieves when it comes to proudly sharing stories of their bad behavior. Confessing their worst sins to each other is their version of intimacy. In episode two, Gretchen, who works in PR, admits to Jimmy that she lied and told the Spice Girls she had brain cancer in order to get free concert tickets. “Dishonesty to spare someone’s feelings belittles everyone involved,” Jimmy says with his crooked philosophical bent. “Dishonesty to get free stuff is just smart economics.” They’re on the same page when it comes to immorality.

We know the end point for these two; they’re made for each other. But the writing makes the bumpy journey nonetheless entertaining. “You’re the Worst” was created by Stephen Falk (“Orange Is the New Black”) with a clear sense that Gretchen and Jimmy’s repartee needs to be sharp, louche, and, ultimately, a bit of a front. Cash is just right as Gretchen. She lets you catch glimpses of Gretchen’s heart, but she plays the tough chick with gusto. As Jimmy, Geere is annoying and whiny — which is a great setup for his hidden sweet side, which we see when he befriends a neighbourhood kid.

Falk has added in a pair of best friends, and chosen wisely. Gretchen’s friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue) is just like her; they stand sampling frozen yogurt flavors until they’re full, then leave the store without buying anything. Lindsay, who is constantly insulting her husband, is a small side show. But Jimmy’s friend and roommate, Edgar (Desmin Borges), brings a more poignant touch to the series. On the one hand, he is a Ross from “Friends” type who can banter with Jimmy about the true meaning of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” One the other hand, he is Jimmy’s balance, a guy who served in Iraq, struggles with PTSD, and knows what we know — that Jimmy and Gretchen belong together.

He understands that, despite their neuroses, these two awful people share something beautiful.

Album Of The Week – Eluvium: False Readings On

False Readings On is the seventh proper full-length by ambient composer Matthew Cooper under his Eluvium moniker, not counting numerous EPs and limited releases commissioned by museums or included with art books, or both volumes of the Life Through Bombardment vinyl box sets.

The album feels like a culmination of several different techniques he’s explored with previous efforts, incorporating neo-classical piano melodies as well as warm, enveloping static, but ultimately he’s continuing to chart new territory. The main element that sticks out on this album is Cooper’s occasional somewhat jarring usage of operatic vocal samples. On several pieces, he builds up layers of wavy synthesizer drones and gliding guitars before inserting eerie, disembodied vocal trills.

On opener “Strangeworks,” the vocals are manipulated enough to sound like an instrument rather than a sample, but they’re more recognizable on songs like “Fugue State” and “Regenerative Being.” Cooper has never abandoned the shoegaze influences evident in his earliest recordings, even as his work has become more grandiose and overtly classical-inspired, and here he continues to soak his melodies in a pool of distortion without drowning them out. He takes his time building up compositions like the suspenseful, majestic “Beyond the Moon for Someone in Reverse,” which begins with hissy (but not lo-fi) droning and melodies suggesting deep ambient techno without the beats — not too far removed from Huerco S.’s 2016 album, For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have). The first half of the track is remarkably calm, but a heavenly chorus appears out of nowhere after four minutes, unexpectedly elevating it to the realm of the sublime. The 17-minute finale, “Posturing Through Metaphysical Collapse,” is even more ambitious, building up muddy loops and choral vocals, and slowly becoming more angry until it’s fried in menacing distortion. Behind all of this, mournful strings swirl around, and it ends up sounding sad, lonesome, and lost.

Well over a decade after the release of Eluvium’s brilliant 2003 debut, Lambent Material, Cooper continues to sound inspired and inventive.

Movie Review – Toni Erdmann

The penchant for pranks of shambling, late middle-aged Winfried (Simonischek) is clear from the get-go, after he greets a bemused courier as first himself, then a disguised alter ego. He’s a school music teacher somewhere in provincial Germany, divorced and living alone with his ailing dog. When his stressed, high-powered business consultant daughter Ines (Hüller) comes over for a brief visit, Winfried can hardly get a word in between her urgent, work-related phone calls.

Most parents would leave it at that – and we sense Winfried has, for years – but all of a sudden he’s paying Ines a surprise visit in Bucharest, where she works for an international firm of consultants specialising in oil trade restructuring operations. Thus, against the background of a country that itself is shown to be a strange mash-up of conflicting lifestyles, architectural styles and generational aspirations, begins the father’s strange game of disturbance and attrition of his clearly unhappy daughter’s work obsession through a mixture of pranks and disguises. It’s as doggedly pursued by him as it is resented by a tightly-wound, deal-focused Ines who sees her shambolic pa initially as little more than an embarrassment.

Surprising, awkward, refreshing and, at times, downright hilarious, German director Maren Ade’s dazzlingly original follow-up to her 2009 Berlinale Silver Bear winner Everyone Else is that rarest of things: a nearly three-hour-long German-Austrian arthouse comedy-drama that (almost) never drags.

Archived Album Review – The Bug: London Zoo

Kevin Martin’s previous album as the Bug, 2003’s Pressure, was a vital, visceral blast of digital dancehall and exploratory dub; 2008’s London Zoo is darker, grittier, tougher, and all the more exhilarating for it.

The basic template is similar: rough-hewn electronic productions that are rooted in dancehall and hip-hop but don’t feel remotely conventional, laced with hard-hitting toasts and vocals from a bevy of sharp-tongued guests. But Zoo ratchets up the intensity in both sound and substance, creating a striking symbiosis of sense and sonics wherein the dread and righteous rage expressed by the vocalists are equally evident in Martin’s furious, foreboding beats and basslines. In both regards, London Zoo is an extremely potent, relevant record for its time, capturing an energetic spark that feels tied to the creative renewal of dubstep (a genre that Martin may have helped to germinate, and which in any case scarcely existed at the time of the last Bug album) as well as the tormented spirit of a city ground down and galvanized by recent socio-political developments, both local and global.

Look no further than the opening lyrical salvo — “So many things that get me “angry”” — from veteran British reggae MC Tippa Irie, who rails about everything from suicide bombers to global warming to Hurricane Katrina over a kinetic ragga thump. As insistent as it is, “Angry” feels practically mild (and certainly peppy) in comparison to much of what follows: the ferocity of Warrior Queen (the doggedly propulsive “Insane,” the hypnotic, bass-blasted “Poison Dart”), the apocalyptic, steely-eyed R&B of Ricky Ranking (ominously funky “Murder We” and solemnly soulful closer “Judgement”) and, especially, the grim, severe tracks which feature Flowdan of the grime collective Roll Deep — the dread sermonizing of “Jah War,” the industrial menace of “Warning,” and the utterly bone-chilling “Skeng.” Such is the album’s strength — the power and inventiveness of Martin’s productions, the astuteness and aptness of his guest selections — that any one of these tracks could be singled out as a highlight. (And the remainder aren’t far behind; the washed-out calm of “You & Me” and lone instrumental “Freak Freak” do offer a respite of sorts, as they’re merely spooky rather than gut-wrenchingly tense).

Taken as a whole, London Zoo is simply a masterful statement, and one that cries out to be heard: as intense as it is, it’s hardly inaccessible — hooks abound in the vocal contributions and Martin’s grooves, while sometimes discordant and oppressive, are never less than riveting.

Movie Review – Sunset Song

English filmmaker Terence Davies has always been drawn to isolated characters who are trapped by social circumstances, and he finds isolation and entrapment to spare in this visually striking but emotionally muffled historical drama. The story follows a young farm girl, Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), who comes of age in the hills of Aberdeenshire as traditional Scottish ways are being overtaken by modernization and a looming world war.

Chris’s young life is weighted down by tragedy. Her exhausted mother (Daniela Nardini), unable to face another pregnancy, escapes through death. Her beloved brother Will (Jack Greenlees), broken by endless beatings, looks to emigrate.

Chris is left with her fanatically pious but brutal father (played by Peter Mullan, something of an expert in embodying Scottish hard men). Expect seemingly endless porridge and much silent weeping. There are some happier sequences — Chris’s shy courtship with neighbouring farmer Ewan Tavendale (Kevin Guthrie) — but even then Chris can’t help thinking, with a certain Presbyterian fatalism, that joy is fleeting and nothing endures.

“This spring of life will never come again,” she suggests in one of the film’s brief bouts of voice-over narrative. Sure enough, her sweet love story with Ewan is soon shot to hell by the violent intrusion of the First World War.

Nobody expects the life of a Scottish crofter to be easy, but in Grassic Gibbon’s book, the soul-crushing subject matter is offset by the earthy energy of his idiosyncratic Scots dialect, which ranges from lyrical to laugh-out-loud funny. Davies struggles to find a cinematic equivalent. (The film version of Angela’s Ashes, something of a suffering Celtic cousin, grappled with a similar problem, its portrayal of dire Irish poverty unrelieved by Frank McCourt’s strangely buoyant prose.)

Davies does offer considerable beauty. Interiors are shot with precision and care, so that Chris’s bare-bones farmhouse is transformed by candlelight and colour. The landscape is rendered with poetic feeling, Grassic Gibbon’s — and Chris’s — profound connection to the land conveyed through barley fields misted with rain or glowing in the sun.

Chris is a remarkable character, commonsensical and stoic, but constantly striving for self-determination, and Deyn’s performance hints at these depths. But overall, the story’s emotional content remains distant and solemn.

Despite some achingly lovely moments, Sunset Song feels like an echo of Davies’ better work.

TV Review – Fleabag: Season 1

On paper, you absolutely should not watch Fleabag. It’s a squalid little story of a life gone wrong. The lead character owns a cafe that terminally haemorrhages cash. Her boyfriend keeps leaving her thanks to her habit of masturbating to Barack Obama speeches, and she fills the void with meaningless sexual encounters with objectively terrible people. When her mother died, her father moved in with her awful godmother. Her best friend was just killed in a semi-intentional traffic accident. She keeps having flashbacks of a memory that’s too traumatic to process. Oh, and the opening titles are basically just two seconds of abrasive free jazz skronk. If you’re still interested in Fleabag after reading this, you should be commended for your bravery.

But, by God, that bravery will be paid off in spades when you actually start watching it. Phoebe Waller-Bridge – who created and wrote the series based on her stage monologue of the same name, as well as starring as the lead – has come up with something truly indelible here. None of the characters are even close to being likable. Aside from the dead best friend, who is briefly seen in flashbacks, none of them ever seem particularly happy. They are all defeated and broken, and all their energy is spent deflecting whatever life attempts to throw at them. Which is hilarious, obviously.

The script (Peep Show’s Jesse Armstrong is credited as a consultant) is peppered with bitter one-liners. In a nice running gag, Waller-Bridge keeps her cafe afloat largely by charging her sporadic customers such arbitrarily vast sums of money for their sandwiches that all they can do is tut the word “London” in exasperated resignation.

The cast, including Olivia Colman, Bill Paterson and Brett Gelman, commits itself commendably to its worst impulses. But the stand-out performer is Waller-Bridge herself. Her self-loathing is so ferocious, and it bubbles to the surface in such unexpected ways, that you can never fully take your eyes off her. This is her second series of the year – she also created and wrote Channel 4’s slightly underwhelming Crashing – but you get the sense that, if Fleabag doesn’t go supernova for her, something else will soon.

Archived Album Review – The Last Shadow Puppets: The Age of the Understatement (2008)

It’s not that often that side projects are more ambitious than the players’ main bands, but the Last Shadow Puppets, the collaboration between the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and the Rascals’ Miles Kane, is one of those rare birds. With their day jobs, Turner and Kane are revivalists of different strains of “angry young British man” rock, but with the help of drummer/producer James Ford (also of Simian Mobile Disco), arranger Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy), and the London Metropolitan Orchestra, on The Age of the Understatement they revitalize the lush, symphonic pop of early Scott Walker and David Bowie, when they needed an orchestra to express just how sweeping their feelings were.

The title track’s galloping strings-and-timpani drama begins the album, making it readily apparent just how ironic The Age of the Understatement‘s name is, and just how well the Last Shadow Puppets have recaptured that lavish late-’60s/early-’70s sound. The main update to it comes from Turner and Kane’s voices; stark and suave like Walker and Bowie they are not, but that’s a good thing — their boyish, unpretentious voices and brotherly harmonies keep the album from dipping into kitsch. Instead, a surprising urgency runs through The Age of the Understatement, most noticeably on the taut “Calm Like You” and “Separate and Ever Deadly,” but also on softer moments like “The Meeting Place” and the extremely Walker-esque “My Mistakes Were Made for You.” Whenever the drama threatens to become too monotonous, the band knows when to change things up: “I Don’t Like You Anymore” brings in more of the Arctic Monkeys’ spit and spite, building up to a livid guitar solo that practically shakes with loathing, while “Standing Next to Me” and “Time Has Come” rein in the bombast.

Despite all the intensity, the Last Shadow Puppets have a light touch — their songs are short and don’t overstay their welcome, and the whole affair is just arty and indulgent enough to make it special. It’s not an overstatement to say that The Age of the Understatement is a likable, accomplished working holiday.

TV Review – The Night Of

HBO’s miniseries “The Night Of” was in the works long before Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” reignited interest in crime stories. Indeed, the original pilot for “The Night Of” starred James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”), who died in 2013. Actor John Turturro takes over the defense attorney role of John Stone originally played by Mr. Gandolfini, who is still listed in “The Night Of” credits as an executive producer.

Unlike “Making a Murderer,” “The Night Of” is fiction that plays out with the realistic feel of a true crime story.

Excruciating tension is the hallmark of this gritty, dark murder mystery that begins when Pakistani-American college student Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed, “Night Crawler,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) takes his father’s cab to go to a party in Manhattan. Every time Naz stops at an intersection, people try to get in the cab, thinking he’s working. He shoos them away until a young woman gets in. He tells her he’s off-duty but will give her a ride anyway. She gives him pills (presumably Ecstasy), which he’s hesitant to take, but eventually he does. Naz goes home with Andrea (Sofia Black-D’Elia), reluctantly, does more drugs and follows her lead playing with a knife. Eventually they have sex.

A few hours later Naz awakens into a nightmare: Andrea is dead, covered in blood from stab wounds. He has no memory of what happened. A dark comedy of sloppy attempts at a cover-up and escape follow. It’s not long before Naz is in custody, but it’s the methodical, sometimes random sequence of realizations that puts him on police investigators’ radar that “The Night Of” plays out so well.

That first episode makes a strong impression with its slow-drip tension; future episodes settle into more conventional plotting and character development, including the introduction of another criminal defense attorney (Glenne Headly, “E.R.”), who wants Naz’s case for the publicity it would bring to her firm.

Created by Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Richard Price (“The Wire”), who wrote or co-wrote the entire series, “The Night Of” follows Naz from the night of the crime to his imprisonment while awaiting trial at Riker’s Island to the criminal case brought by craggy-voiced prosecutor Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin).

Dark and gritty — but with occasional lighter touches — “The Night Of” depicts the criminal justice system with nuance and detail as it builds its characters, most notably oddball lawyer Stone, who may be in over his head with Naz’s case. He’s a particularly intriguing, if pathetic and slightly unsettling, character who always has chopsticks at the ready to scratch his eczema-covered feet.

Deliberately paced but never dull, “The Night Of” offers a serialized criminal story that’s more interested in the characters and the criminal justice system’s process than in the crime itself.

Album Review – Banks & Steelz: Anything But Words

Cross-genre collaborations don’t always land as expected. When combining riffs and rhymes, there’s a high risk that descriptors like “rap-rock” and even “nu-metal” will creep up to cloud objectivity, recalling ghosts from the late ’90s. On Anything But Words, the debut effort from Banks & Steelz, two seemingly disparate forces mesh so well that it sounds like they were meant to be together all along.

In 2013, Interpol frontman and self-professed hip-hop head Paul Banks was introduced to Wu-Tang Clan head RZA, and after connecting, they formed a new project named after the main talents (one of RZA’s alter egos is Bobby Steels). Banks brought his baritone and nocturnal post-punk guitar handiwork while RZA injected his pristine hip-hop production skills and aggressive rhymes. The project benefits both men: Banks hasn’t sounded this good over a tight rhythm since Carlos D. took his bass and left Interpol, and RZA — invigorated and bursting with passion — hasn’t spit this hard in almost a decade.

They elevate each other over 12 tracks that never lose momentum. The album starts hard and fast, with a one-two-three kick-off that justifies the whole Banks & Steelz concept. “Giant” is the aptly titled first track, which sets the tone with an intensely earnest RZA, a propulsive beat, and a soaring chorus by Banks. It glimmers with programmed effects and polish courtesy of producers John Hill and Kid Harpoon. After the glitchy gem “Ana Electronic,” the bass-heavy “Sword in the Stone” brings the heat, a jagged, menacing beast that features a standout verse from Kool Keith and production from Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow, Bruno Mars, Beck). Unexpected guest Florence Welch lends her ethereal vocals to “Wild Season,” which may sound like one too many cooks in this sonic kitchen but ends up being a highlight of the album. After an energetic and exciting first half, Anything But Words slows down and adopts a near-trip-hop energy. The cool funk of “Conceal” undulates and seduces while “Can’t Hardly Feel” pops like a chilled-out Faithless track. The creeping “One by One,” another highlight, channels Massive Attack on a moody, slow-burning hypnotizer. Being a RZA production, it’s only natural that a few friends dropped by the recording session. Wu-Tang fans will rejoice over the inclusion of a trio of welcome voices: Ghostface Killah brings his formidable flow to “Love and War,” while Method Man and Masta Killa close the album on “Point of View.”

Anything But Words is a stellar and truly collaborative endeavor between two creative energies, the result of an organic songwriting process that is anything but thrown together.

Album Of The Week – Glass Animals: How to Be a Human Being

Second album syndrome is often characterised by lazy tales of tour boredom. But Glass Animals, the Oxford Alt-J-alikes with more than 200m Spotify streams, have used their time on the road imaginatively.

This colourful collage was inspired by stories that frontman David Bayley secretly (and creepily) recorded on his iPhone: anecdotes from fans, taxi drivers and random strangers who felt compelled to unload. Eclectic yet easy listening, its songs resemble slick rap and R&B, after being deconstructed and glued back together with Pritt Stick and bodily fluids. Their beats ooze and groove awkwardly. Even the breezy notion of getting high turns into a gross, gooey situation: “My girl eats mayonnaise from a jar when she’s gettin’ blazed,” Bayley sings on Season 2 Episode 3, a quirky, 8-bit slow jam.

Perhaps its contemporary qualities will seem as fleeting as its subjects’ visits in five year’s time, but Zaba’s follow up is still an inventively produced, impishly executed triumph.

Movie Review – April and the Extraordinary World

Absolutely one of the most imaginative and altogether wonderful animated films I’ve had the pleasure to watch in some time, this French import imagines an alternate reality in which electricity was never discovered and the world continued to rely on coal, and then charcoal, to provide steam-based energy. Imagine: Paris to Berlin in only 83 hours! Of course, France and America are at war over Canada’s huge swaths of still-forested land, while the rest of the world – Paris, mostly, where the film is set – is covered in soot and suffering from a collective case of black lung.

Thanks to a rip-roaringly excellent story and the film’s utterly beautiful traditional (non-CGI, that is) animation, both tree-huggers and climate change-deniers should, for once, unite in being swept up into this fantastical, utterly mesmerizing tale.

After a concise prologue that sets the time frame and story in motion, we’re introduced to plucky young April (Cotillard), the daughter of a pair of scientists who, along with Einstein, Fermi, Volta, Galvani, Faraday, and last but never least, Tesla, have been kidnapped by forces unknown, thus depriving the planet of a much-needed source of noncarbonized power. Along with her talking cat, Darwin, April ends up headquartered in the hollow steel head of the gigantic statue of Napoleon that looms over Paris, flanked by not one, but two Eiffel Towers. Adventure awaits, of course, but there’s also plenty of room in this wonderfully written and extremely intelligent animated film to comment on love, loss, rampant militarism, and, zut alors!, giant talking lizards. You miss out on this and you miss out on something entirely, amazingly original and jaw-droppingly entertaining.

Movie Review – Jason Bourne

I suppose, technically speaking, the Jason Bourne movies are a franchise, but they’ve never felt that way. Director Paul Greengrass—who has now directed three in the series and whose presence had to be assured before Matt Damon would return to the character again—has always made the Bourne films feel a piece with his other work, politically charged thrillers that grounded kinetic action in our own world. Like Bloody Sunday, Captain Phillips and Greengrass’s masterpiece United 93, his Bourne movies aren’t so much about the awesomeness of big, explosive set-pieces as much how chaotic those set-pieces felt when juxtaposed with reality. Bourne himself is a vaguely ridiculous character—he’s an amnesiac for crying out loud—but as a character always feels real because Damon and Greengrass insist on sketching him, and everything else, on a human scale. You believe his chaos because you believe all of our chaos.

The biggest disappointment, among many, for Greengrass’s reboot of the franchise he and Damon had abandoned for a decade, is how divorced Bourne is from his original species. He’s less of a character and more of a confused pawn in a global political game—he’s basically Jack Bauer. Like the famed torturemonger of 24, Bourne is now a monotonous fighting machine, a robot with no ability to relate to anyone around him. Greengrass and Damon, away from the franchise for so long, have lost touch with the character who made their movies so vital and urgent. Here, he’s a superhero who kicks everybody’s ass and looks miserable doing it. The key to the Bourne movies was that the action scenes felt almost accidental, a byproduct of the shady political machinations of grave white men in suits telling themselves they were doing the right thing. Jason Bourne is a standard action movie with normal villains and formulaic plot structure.

Greengrass took a series that felt like it meant something and runs it through the blockbuster Xerox a few times. It’s obligatory in every sense.

Movie Review – Suicide Squad

For the first 25 minutes or so, there’s a better than average chance you might like Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch). The film opens with Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller pleading her case to a bureaucrat that, after the death of Superman (the film picks up after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), extreme measures need to be taken to ensure the safety of the fictional citizens who live in the DC Extended Universe. This extreme measure involves the use of criminals as a motley team of heroes. Everything about this premise, as a movie, sounds fun.

I am going to try my best to explain what happened around that mid-movie moment the best I can. (Please bear with me, there’s a point to all of this.) One night, June Moone (Cara Delevingne) turns into Enchantress and teleports to Midway City. She finds a stranger in a train station bathroom and turns him into her brother. (At no point is it ever mentioned that she has this ability.) In almost the next scene, Rick Flagg and June Moone (they are in love, by the way) are both in Midway City on a mission to destroy Enchantress’ brother with a bomb. Moone becomes Enchantress and double crosses Rick. Amanda Waller starts stabbing Enchantress’ heart, but it doesn’t kill her because Enchantress’ supernatural brother has the power to fix all that. Then, in the very next scene, Rick is back in Louisiana training the Suicide Squad like nothing just happened.

It’s the most baffling thing. Enchantress and her brother then spend the rest of the movie dancing around a train station, building some sort of portal (it’s unclear if the portal does anything except spin in the sky) and turning citizens of Midway City into blob monsters with an end goal of taking over the world. (At least I think that’s the goal; it’s a little unclear because they never really get far from the Midway City train station.) And that becomes the Suicide Squad’s first mission: To rescue an unnamed important person from Enchantress, whom most of them never even got a chance to meet even though she was briefly a team member. (Which all sets up an ending that is remarkably similar to 1984’s Ghostbusters, but not in a particularly good way.)

Okay, I mention all that because it is unbelievable to me not one person involved with this movie at any point said, “You know, we have a pretty good thing going here, but maybe our villain is all a bit much? Does our villain have to be a supernatural dancing witch? How about a Russian terrorist instead? Or, hey, you all realize Joker is in this movie with not a lot to do, right? What if he was the villain? Doesn’t it make more sense for the Joker to be the villain than a dancing CGI witch?”

(I realize Enchantress was a member of Suicide Squad in the comic books. And I realize she often jeopardized missions because she is evil and can’t be controlled. This is one of those things that either needed to be fleshed out over the course of multiple movies or not tried at all. In this movie, it really comes across as, “Hey, here’s this character. And I know this sounds risky, but we can trust her … oops!”)

Oh, yeah… Joker. It now makes sense why Jared Leto spearheaded so many shenanigans on set. If you had as much downtime as he did not being in this movie, you might start sending used condoms to cast members, too. (No, you for sure wouldn’t.) But, yes, if you’ve seen the majority of the publicity material for Suicide Squad, you’ve seen clips from pretty much every scene Joker has in this movie. We meet Joker in flashbacks as we’re introduced to Harley Quinn, then he pops us a couple of times during the movie trying to reunite with Harley. That’s… pretty much it. Again, it’s baffling to me that Joker is in this movie, has so little to do, and is not the villain. It’s hard to even judge Leto as Joker because there’s not quite enough to go on. How is Leto’s Joker as a villain? I have no clue, because in this movie he’s just some dude who wants his girlfriend back.

Archived Album Review – Terry Riley: A Rainbow in Curved Air (1967)

After several graph compositions and early pattern pieces with jazz ensembles in the late ’50s and early ’60s (see “Concert for Two Pianists and Tape Recorders” and “Ear Piece” in La Monte Young’s book An Anthology), Riley invented a whole new music which has since gone under many names (minimal music — a category often applied to sustained pieces as well — pattern music, phase music, etc.) which is set forth in its purest form in the famous In C (1964) (for saxophone and ensemble, CBS MK 7178).

Rainbow in Curved Air demonstrates the straightforward pattern technique but also has Riley improvising with the patterns, making gorgeous timbre changes on the synthesizers and organs, and presenting contrasting sections that has become the basic structuring of his works (“Candenza on the Night Plain” and other pieces).

Scored for large orchestra with extra percussion and electronics, some of this work’s seven movements are: “Star Night,” “Blue Lotus,” “The Earth Below,” and “Island of the Rhumba King.”

Album Review – Henry Wagons: After What I Did Last Night

After What I Did Last Night, the title of Henry Wagons’ second album, bears the unmistakable remorse of a hangover — or, at the very least, it feels as if the singer knows perfectly well that he owes an apology to somebody, possibly more than one person.

Given that undercurrent of regret, it comes as a surprise that After What I Did Last Night plays rather defiantly, with Wagons doubling-down on his down-under Americana. He can still evoke the ghosts of Johnny Cash and Nick Cave — the latter is an especially apt comparison, considering that they’re both Australians enamored of gothic Americana — but Henry Wagons writes on a smaller scale than either and he also shows a facility for playing around with his arrangements, brightening “Santa Fe” with an ’80s electro pulse, and flirting with kitsch on “Cowboy in Krakow.” This mischievousness contrasts well with both his heavier tunes and his ability to slide into a soulful groove (“As Long as I Breathe”), and helps turn After What I Did Last Night into a sharp, savvy, satisfying neo-roots record.

Movie Review – Childhood Of A Leader

Set in the aftermath of the First World War, this film explores the origins of a fascist leader, one modelled somewhat on Mussolini, but given an extra frisson of contemporary significance by Corbet’s decision to make this future megalomaniac an American by birth and parentage.

Blond-haired and angelic-looking, but with an inscrutably baleful disposition reminiscent of Corbet’s own turn as one of the polite teenage sociopaths in Michael Haneke’s US remake of Funny Games, this seven-year-old child is the son of a US diplomat (played by Liam Cunningham) whose job negotiating the Treaty of Versailles stands in ironic contrast to the divide-and-conquer mentality we’re left to imagine his son will embrace later in life. Save for a brief, woozy, terrifying final shot of the adult leader (played by a bald and bearded Robert Pattinson), we don’t see the consequences of his rise to power, just the causes that may have set him on this path.

It’s a turgid coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of the Second World War, and featuring the specious appearance of Tom Hanks in spectral form to give Sleepless in Seattle/You’ve Got Mail fans a one-scene big screen reunion between him and Ryan. She plays Hanks’ widow, a simple farmer who is trying to raise two young sons (and maybe a daughter – it’s not quite clear) in the titular town while a third son (played by Ryan’s own kid Jack Quaid) is off fighting overseas. Ryan’s character is a bit of a head-scratcher: she’s practically somnambulant, letting her toddler wander around town by himself at all hours of the day, yet the recipient of some glowing testimonials about her qualities as a mother. But the film is mostly concerned with 14-year-old Homer (Alex Neustaedter), whose determination to be the fastest telegram messenger in town is complicated by the fact that the telegrams he’s delivering frequently bear terrible news from the frontlines. Ryan has no real sense of how to craft a story from behind the camera. She also switches point-of-view and introduces dream sequences and hallucinatory images at odd moments.

The stylistic mishmash is jarring to say the least. Even the performances – usually a strong point for actors-turned-directors – are leaden, with only Sam Shepherd’s turn as the town’s drunken chief telegraph operator coming close to conveying the gravitas this wannabe prestige picture is desperately striving to achieve.

Comic Review – Negative Space TPB

Depression is something that most people will deal with at some point in their life. It’s been romanticized by artists as a muse of sorts, a necessary state of being to fuel the creative process. Ryan K. Lindsay (writer) and Owen (artist) Gieni’s Negative Space imagines that there are monsters that are fueled by negative human emotions and that a corporation harvests our emotions to keep these secret monsters at bay. This corporation engineers your bad days. The monsters feed off the ensuing malaise. It’s a heady idea, and at the center of it is Guy, a suicidally depressed writer who has writer’s block while working on his suicide note. Artist Owen Gieni is tasked with bringing this dark world to life, and it’s probably some of his best work yet.

Lindsay starts the story very small before slowly zooming out to give us a bigger picture of the world. He lets the narration flow in and out as it serves the story so the book doesn’t feel overwrought. But having a writer for a protagonist lends itself to some truly stunning passages that can really put a reader on their ass. There’s honesty in Lindsay’s writing, and while Guy isn’t a very likable character necessarily, he feels real, and you feel for him when things happen to him. He’s like the morose stranger that you frequently see on your morning commute or at your job, a dark cloud always overhead.

As Lindsay widens the scope of the story more and more, there’s a shift from something personally dark and depressing to a realization that the world is already that way in general. Rick, the worker we meet at the Kindred Corporation, takes pride in his work making other people miserable, but he doesn’t really seem like such a bad guy. I mean, considering the monster on the cover, what’s worse – that thing attacking us or one person being sad? It almost becomes something of an emotional quandary. This is a story with no really heroes. So who should you be rooting for when it seems like everyone sucks?

Gieni creates an incredible world for Lindsay’s words. Gieni employs a sketchy, watercolor approach to his art that is fitting for the depressing tone. The palette is dark and grungy. Guy is even teardrop-shaped further underlining his sadness. The character designs are Disney-like in the way they help further explore what each character is about and embody their personalities. Overall, Gieni’s shot selections and panel compositions take on a very film-like quality. There’s a lot of focus on things that aren’t characters or actions in the background. A piece of paper blowing in the wind or a car pulling away bring little bits of tension to some smaller moment and the pay off in those cases is enormous. Gieni’s work is a big reason for the chemistry between Guy and Wood, for instance, something that would not have worked as well without how his subtle approach.

Negative Space is another great comic book from a couple of creators who should soon be household names. It’s a combination of a big concept relating to a smaller idea and strong execution that makes this one hold up. Lindsay and Gieni are a great team with strengths that definitely complement each other.