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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Leftovers: January-April 2016

Leftover Movies:
Green Room
        To say that I saw Jeremy Saulnier's new movie Green Room the other day would be the ultimate understatement; simply put, Green Room happened to me, and every muscle in my body is still sore from the experience. Shot in my beloved native Oregon and relishing in its nasty underbelly, the film tells the story of the Ain't Rights, a down-on-their-luck punk band who knowingly accepts a gig at an establishment jam-packed with skinheads, and finds themselves on the wrong end of their relentless wrath. Diving head-first into schlocky horror thrills, the film is bolstered at every turn by Saulnier's exquisite aesthetic eye, and unteachable knack for building unrelenting tension. It's genre-fair through and through, but apparently no one told the cast, highlighted by tremendous performances from Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, and Joe Cole, but also featuring a deep roster of urgent and immediately believable supporting work. For god's sake, do not take your more violence-weary friends to this flick. Green Room might literally might kill them. It almost ended me.

Midnight Special
        Ok, I'll admit it; I still haven't seen Deadpool and had 'the superhero genre flipped upside down' right in front of me, but I've still got a funny feeling that Midnight Special's take is even more subversive. Director Jeff Nichols has been a filmmaker to watch for so long now that one wonders why we all haven't started watching, and this Spielbergian sci-fi thriller might just be his best yet. Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton star as a pair responsible for the abduction of one Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy whose disappearance serves to distress the mysterious religious compound known simply as The Ranch. To tattle on where MS goes from here would cast one as an insufferable spoil-sport, but suffice to say we are in the hands of a deeply inventive filmmaker, one with his fingers firmly on the pulse of both spectacle and emotion. A clear throwback to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Midnight Special is that rare indie that's just as capable of appealing to mass audiences, though a surprisingly tender performance from post-Kylo Ren Adam Driver certainly doesn't hurt.

The VVitch: A New-England Folktale
        By no means have I seen every horror movie ever made. Even some genuine classics have slipped through the cracks of my viewership. And yet, perhaps foolishly, I feel emboldened to make the wily claim that The VVitch can go toe-to-toe with even the most storied fright-fests. In 1630's New-England, a deeply Christian family is pushed out of their modest town for reasons largely unspecified, and forced to live by a leering, seemingly endless woods residing right outside their door. What happens from there is the stuff of your darkest nightmares, presented in a fashion that is at once etherial and clear-eyed, and all the more troublesome for the balance. Featuring astounding performances from a handful of relative unknowns, The VVitch is an examination of faith under duress, and the unthinkable terror of watching everything you ever believed in fall apart at the seams. It's been months now, and I still can't get the debut feature of writer/director Robert Eggers out of my head.

Leftover Music:
Junk by M83
        Before Junk met the world almost a month ago now, all we had was this remarkably odd album cover, forcing fans of M83 to wonder if band leader Anthony Gonzalez was trolling us all. As it turns out, the outright goofiness of the image perfectly befits the aggressive cheesiness of the record, and while it's certainly an adjustment from the star-gazing enormity of the band's heralded Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, a bit of patience reveals an effort that impresses on its own terms. Built almost entirely of shimmering 80's gloss and towering synth drops, Junk plays like a bizarro talent show, including assists from the likes of Beck, Jordan Lawlor, and newly-minted band member Mai Lan. Sure, the soul-searching emotion of the band's previous release is largely absent, but the grandeur is here to stay, tracks like Go and Road Blaster almost begging to be played in front of a boisterous audience. Silliness aside, no one does big and kaleidoscopic quite like these guys.

Lemonade by Beyonce
        If I'm being honest, I've always found Beyonce easier to admire than genuinely enjoy. That all changed last night with the release of Lemonade, her second straight surprise album, 12 tracks and 45 minutes that traverse endless musical landscapes while somehow maintaining thematic unity. The glue between the tracks is largely subsistent of Ms. Knowles relentless rage, the entire first act of the disc consisting of fiery accusations directed toward her husband. Wether this is an exploration of personal history or expertly crafted baiting of a gossip-hungry audience is impossible to know, but sonically there's nothing here to doubt. Animal Collective samples, Jack White guitar solos, Father John Misty songwriting credits, and soulful James Blake piano ballads all exist in unthinkably perfect harmony, never fully distracting from the album's true star. Even the epic Freedom, despite featuring notorious scene stealer Kendrick Lamar, fully belongs to Queen B. Sharp enough to cut diamonds yet intimate enough to inspire introspection, Lemonade is a straight-up accomplishment.

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