The Hum and the Beat The NARPs on yelling, athletics, computers, making out
The Hum and the Beat The Weeknd blows up social media with new album, “House of Balloons”
The Hum and the Beat Top 10 albums of year: veterans, fresh talent span sonic spectrum
The Hum and the Beat Del Rey betrays former irony with first full-length album
The Hum and the Beat Pretty Lights dazzles crowd with sight, sound spectacle
cinema scope: ‘12 Years a Slave’: imperfect and honest
Poor “12 Years a Slave.” In just three short months this film has fallen prey—if not to its own excellence—than least to critical perception of that excellence. Earlier this fall the film debuted at a series of North American festivals to near-universal praise. By my count, no fewer than 10 critics have declared the film this year’s presumptive Oscar Best Picture winner, and this was all long before the public was able to see the film.
Recently the film has drawn a swell backlash. Instead of “is it good?” critics are now asking, “how good is it, really?” Is director Steve McQueen’s depiction of slavery politically insightful or simply aesthetically detached? These are fruitful questions; this film is not perfect. But my point is that the sheer volume of judgment and critiques that preceded viewers’ experience robbed them of the opportunity to encounter it—for better or worse—it without preconception.
It’s dangerous and ultimately pointless for a critic to deem a film an Oscar winner in any context outside of an Oscar preview; the statement tells us nothing about the film’s content of intrinsic value. And given the past few years’ winners, such a prediction could even be considered a minor insult—if “12 Years a Slave” does take home an Oscar for Best Picture, it will be far and above the most intelligent and immersive film to do so in at least six or seven years, perhaps much longer.
cinema scope: ‘Captain Phillips’: A Great American Hero
The latest feature by Paul Greengrass—director of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “United 93”—is a watertight geo-thriller, light on its feet and pleasantly conscious of its subject. Greengrass may be a Brit, but in the past decade he’s taken the lead in constructing action thrillers that interrogate the ethics of American military operations.
In “Captain Phillips,” he pulls off a rare feat for an American action film: casting the country as a righteous, rational and victorious force without reducing the Somalians to soulless villains. Greengrass shows how they too are subject to pressure and greed; they represent the bottom half of a capital-driven global economy.
The film traffics in realism, taking up the ever-popular ‘like-you’re-there’ aesthetic for its action sequence. This comes as surprisingly refreshing after a summer loaded with grandiose superhero flicks. Greengrass doesn’t cheapen allusions to American trauma by casually evoking global catastrophes (e.g. the overt 9/11 imagery in something like “Man of Steel”), but instead allows these events to stand alone. In the hands of a director who is savvy enough to trust his own excellent visual narrative, the heroism comes through even without the cape and tights.
cinema scope: ‘Gravity’ finds surprisingly successful balance in simplicity, suspense
“Gravity” is the hottest thing to the happen to cinema in quite a long time. We only get films like this once in a while—films bold in artistic vision yet so true to staple elements of what makes cinema exciting that virtually anyone can enjoy them. And yet, it’s not the easiest film to talk about. When asked if it’s worth seeing, my response is usually something like: “It’s so…just go see…ugh…it’s really (expletive) awesome”.
After some thinking, my translation of the above statement is that “Gravity” is by far the most visually stunning piece of narrative cinema that has graced the big screens in decades, and should be a point of reference for all big-budget filmmakers.
The film has begun to fade in my mind some few weeks after having seen it, but only because it registers so well as an immersive experience. There has never been a film that so demands to be seen in the theaters (nope, not even Avatar), on a big screen, in full volume, and especially in a dark room, with no distractions. It seems as though the American public feels the same way. “Gravity” has now topped the box office for three straight weeks, setting an October record for box office returns.
cinema scope: Fall movies to refresh the big screen
It was a pretty horrid summer in terms of quality cinema. We were drowned in a sea of over-budgeted blockbusters about superheroes—many of which were sequels or tent-poles. The critics and blogs were all over the issue ad nauseum: I can’t tell you how may think pieces I’ve read in the past few months about the sordid state of American commercial cinema (I’m looking at you, Vulture). After so much derivative destruction porn, one can begin to despair. Can Hollywood still dare to risk disappointment for higher art? Can producers still trust proven artistically-minded directors with forward-thinking motion pictures rather than money and brand names?
But don’t just throw down your hat, swear off the movies forever, and live the rest of your lives re-watching Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black. The summer is over and this fall promises to be one of the most exciting seasons at the movies in recent memory
Here are a few I’m most excited for:
cinema scope: “Noah”: Interpretation of Internet Age
Many of us are familiar—to varying degrees—with the following terms regarding modern entertainment: digital media, digital filming, Youtube, Vine, GIF, Buzzfeed, Netflix, web series, reality television, Facebook, Tent-poles, Sequels, iPhones, iPads.
All of these terms are reflections of the way in which the Internet age has pushed visual entertainment to new places. Films are now created utilizing new forms of presentation with a new language of cultural exchange—a language defined by perpetual interconnectedness. It seems, however, that this Internet Age hasn’t quite found a film that truly speaks to the way new media makes us feel. Perhaps the closest example would be David Fincher’s “The Social Network” (2010), the acclaimed chronicle of the creation of Facebook.
However, while the subject matter of David Fincher’s film may be concerned with technological advancements of our time, the overall look, narrative construction and atmosphere of the film is not radically different than any courtroom drama or historical biopic. (I happen to believe Fincher’s film is a direct heir to “Citizen Kane,” but that’s another article altogether.)
cinema scope: 'Leviathan' embodies the new documentary
One might say we’re currently in a golden age of the documentary.
Given the rise of independent cinema in the past decade alongside the widespread application of cheap digital technology, it’s become easier than ever before for both professional and amateur filmmakers to create documentaries—the documentary is a form that has actually been helped rather than hindered by the bare-bones approach digital technology offers.
Bowdoin has, just in the past few weeks, brought two phenomenal, widely-acclaimed documentary films, along with their filmmakers and subjects to campus; “The Central Park Five” (Ken Burns) and “How to Survive a Plague” (David France).
cinema scope: Sordid stereotypes in 'Spring Breakers'
Every couple of years the film community gets a picture that is critically divisive to the point of riots; a picture that compels nearly anyone with a pen and a Film 101 course to their name to provide personal input (“Zero Dark Thirty”, “Amour” and “The Tree of Life” are a few from recent memory).
Such films ascribe to the moniker of “art-cinema”, but are generally well-known enough to gain considerable viewership and invite debate as to the value of their worth as popular entertainment (God forbid something of that sort should carry something resembling a moral agenda).
Regardless of whether we consider such works “good” movies, their value lies in their ability to spark intellectual debates, which allow critics to constantly reassess the (gasp!) purpose of cinema and popular entertainment (the worth of criticism itself frequently crops up in this conversation).
cinema scope: Nationalistic artifice infringes on Oscars
That was a rather strange Oscar night, wouldn’t you say? From the take-it-or-leave-it misogynistic and racist jokes of the first-time host to the bizarre exaltation of the Hollywood musical (since when was “Chicago” a landmark picture?), the 85th Academy Awards were full of surprises—there was even a tie (they might as well just chop the statue in half).
But to me nothing was stranger than the quick jump over to Washington for Michelle Obama’s oddly intrusive presentation of the Best Picture Award.
Nothing against our lovely first lady, but didn’t it seem like she showed up at the wrong party? (That party being one in which the entertainment industry’s moguls and beautiful people pretend for one night that they are the most important people in the universe.)
cinema scope: Too soon? Controversy in Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty'
Plenty of ink has spilled over the polarizing new Kathryn Bigelow film “Zero Dark Thirty.” During the past few months it has sparked perhaps the most heated discussion over politics in cinema in recent memory. “Zero Dark Thirty” has its share of vehement defenders and detractors; the debates concerning its merit had been fought long before it’s release. The discussion surrounding the film—chronicling a scrupulous procedural depiction of the ten-year C.I.A. investigation that led to the epic nighttime raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound and the terrorist’s execution—has spurred political scrutiny. It’s difficult to assess a film like this without also considering its moral and ethical dilemmas.
cinema scope: Overlooked film highlights of 2012
From the art-house to the multiplex, fiction to documentary, domestic to foreign, film was stellar this past year.
And by “film” I intentionally invoke the debates that continue among film critics about the death of the medium, usually coupled with a wary and obligatory acceptance of film’s cheap successor: digital video. To the doubters, I say look around and let the celluloid on display speak for itself. This was a year where we were blessed with the gorgeous 16mm compositions of “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Beasts of Southern Wild”, as well as the delectably rich 70mm panoramas of “The Master”. Yes, the business and technology are changing, but as Richard Brody of The New Yorker noted back in September: “The movies aren’t dying (they’re not even sick).”
Even standard Hollywood awards-bait (such as “Lincoln,” “Life of Pi” and “Argo”) was a cut above the usual cheap-swill we’ve gotten used to around this time of year. As per usual, our superheroes still saved the world a few times (“The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” unsurprisingly topped the year-end box-office), but we also received action gems like “Skyfall” and “Django Unchained.”
The Hum and the Beat: Alabama Shakes’ ‘Boys and Girls’ gritty
With no body of work to compare it to, a debut album should define an artist's ambitions, and set some direction for their future by leaving the listener with a hum or a beat that sticks with him well after it has left his ears. No one is looking for perfection in a debut's material. We look for a quality that may come to define the band's sound—an element to build upon to form an improved second effort and, eventually, a balanced career.
The Hum and the Beat: ‘Kill for Love’ strikingly subdued
Shorter tracks balance out longer ones on Chromatics' latest release, an ode to '80s minimalist electronic and post-punk
Electronic music, broadly speaking, has separated itself into two camps in the past several years. One of these camps is dominated by the pursuit of the colossal, the attempt to create waves of noise that overwhelm the ear and the body. Dubstep, a prime example, has become a musical arena for the survival of the thickest tones, the most audacious arrangements, and the most powerful, visceral reactions.
The Hum and the Beat: The Shins’ ‘Port of Morrow’ lavish yet stays true to roots
"What are you listening to?" "The Shins. You know them?... You gotta hear this one song. It'll change your life."
The Hum and the Beat: ‘Kindred’ sees Burial at his most accessible
William Bevan, the electronic solo artist also known as Burial, has attracted much critical acclaim, but his music has always struck me as too detached and too unfeeling. His 2007 release "Untrue" lacked the emotional truth that characterizes the strongest and most poignant electronic works. Bevan's DJ stints around London and the four EPs to his name have taken strange and innovative stabs at redefining exactly what electronic music can be, and the result has often been far from accessible.
The Hum and the Beat: Going against grain of music business, Goldfrapp’s ‘The Singles’ successful
It's been a busy week for music. We lost a legend, there was an allegedly important award ceremony Sunday evening, and Usher and Diplo got together. But what most caught my attention this week was the well-received release of Goldfrapp's compilation record "The Singles." Who knew that a relatively new band like this one was so deserving of a greatest hits album?
The Hum and the Beat: Del Rey betrays former irony with first full-length album
Of all of the remixes, music videos, and performances one can find online of Lana Del Rey's hit single, "Video Games," none are more beautiful or poignant than her performance at the Corinthia Hotel in London.
The Hum and the Beat: Top 10 albums of year: veterans, fresh talent span sonic spectrum
This final installment of The Hum and the Beat for 2011 will review the highest achievements in a year of music brimming with high-profile collaborations (Kanye and Jay-Z, Lou Reed and Metallica), ever-budding teen sensations (Rebecca Black and Justin Bieber), a number of fantastic self-titled releases, and some ineffably marvelous sophomore records. Without further ado, here are my top 10 albums of the year.
The Hum and the Beat: The NARPs on yelling, athletics, computers, making out
This year at Bowdoin, there has been no band that has played with quite as much tenacity—and frequency—as The NARPs.
The Hum and the Beat: White Denim come to sonic fruition with ‘D’
I first heard White Denim in late 2007, a time when I would spend hours on various music blogs, downloading anything that caught my attention. I'd quickly listens through the dozens of songs I had downloaded, hoping a few would be worthy of repeated listens.
The Hum and the Beat: Questionable substance, style on ‘The Rip Tide’
Up until now, Beirut has always held a special place in my heart. Their first two albums rank among my favorites of the past decade. Their French- and Balkan-inspired sound distinguishes them from many others in the contemporary alternative music scene today. I listened to their songs countless times in my high school days. On numerous occasions, I've spent hours online downloading any unreleased demos I could find, some of which are now amongst my favorite Beirut tracks.
The Hum and the Beat: Pretty Lights dazzles crowd with sight, sound spectacle
I suppose I've been in a concert-going mood as of late. This Sunday, I ventured to Lewiston to the Androscoggin Bank Colisee to see renowned DJ and electronic sample artist Pretty Lights perform.
The Hum and the Beat: Electro-pop sound pulsates with history
Last Tuesday evening, a friend informed me that Washed Out was opening for Cut Copy at the State Theatre. A few phone calls and some extra daytime hours in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library later, I was in a car with four friends driving to Portland.
The Hum and the Beat: The Weeknd blows up social media with new album, “House of Balloons”
If you've been following the summer music blogosphere or Drake's Twitter, or if you happen to frequent the Toronto club scene, chances are that you've caught a listen of the nocturnal, electric and spaced-out voice of The Weeknd on his breakthrough album "House of Balloons." The Weeknd is the stage name of Abel Tesfaye, the 21-year-old Canadian mastermind behind one of the year's darkest projects: a nine-song mixtape released for free online in March.