First off, I forgot something crucial last week:
Roomful of Teeth: live at the Fox Cabaret — There aren’t a lot of opportunities to hear operatic vocals, jazz singing, tuvan throat singing, yodelling and oktavism on the same program. This was one of the most incredible displays of virtuosity I’ve seen in concert. I knew it would be impressive, having heard their CDs, but what I hadn’t anticipated was how loose and comfortable it would feel. A lot of times, when ensembles perform music that’s this hard, it comes off sounding metronomic, like they’re struggling with all their might to keep together. But Roomful of Teeth owns this music completely. Caroline Shaw’s Partita was the obvious highlight, and totally lived up to the recording I’ve come to know so well. My only complaint is that, at 90 minutes and no encore, the performance was too short. Honourary pick of last week.
Now, on to this week’s reviews proper — just eight of them:
Spotlight — I don’t have much to say about this that I didn’t already say in my best of 2015 post. Suffice it to say that I’m still preoccupied with it a week later.
Room — This would have probably made the list if I’d seen it earlier. Very few movies have induced such anxiety in me, and not just in the sequences where you might think. There’s a scene near the start of the movie where Brie Larson’s character has to tell her son, who has lived for five years in a garden shed that he’s never been outside, that there is such a thing as outside. Watching her struggle to explain the concept of an entire world outside the realm of her son’s experience made me want to tear my beard out. The really great thing about this is how well it grapples with the way a child might respond to that revelation. It works similarly to some hard SF: it asks “what if…” and the story is the answer to that question. Unlike most hard SF, though, it’s got gut-wrenching amounts of emotional honesty. Pick of the week.
Alejandro Jodorowsky/Moebius: The Incal — This is proving to be more entertaining than it is good. Considering the extent to which Brian Michael Bendis says this changed his life in the intro, the writing here is soooper dodgy. The characters speak as if somebody’s summarizing what they said after the fact: “I don’t want to suffer! I don’t want to die!” Or, “Wait. There’s a thought coming to my mind… ‘The Black Incal!’” Also, there are these “tell, don’t show” moments where a caption explains what’s happening in the art, which is odd. There are elements of this that are a bit boneheaded. The climax is clichéd, hippy-dippy “union of opposites” nonsense. But Moebius’s art is stunning, and the universe where this takes place is convincing and fun. I’m enjoying this. Also, since I’ve seen Jodorowsky’s Dune, I can’t help but hear all of the dialogue in Jodorowsky’s voice.
Journey — It’s nice to have friends with gaming consoles. Journey is a really successful example of non-verbal storytelling. Not a word is seen or spoken, yet it makes sense in an open-ended sort of way. But the real pleasure of this game is similar to the pleasures of a game like Super Mario 64, a longtime favourite of mine: moving your character around just feels good. Jumping, sliding, and running just works. I’d like to play it again, now that I know the controls a bit better.
Pop Culture Happy Hour: “Making a Murderer, True Crime, and Remembering Alan Rickman” — Look, I love Alan Rickman, but why in god’s name does everybody love Die Hard?
Pop Culture Happy Hour: “Fred Armisen and Welcome to Night Vale” — Armisen’s a bit of a bore, but Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor are, predictably, great fun in conversation. Linda Holmes is, as ever, a person I would like to hear do more interviews.
Love and Radio: “The Fix” — An older episode, with the characteristically overbearing audio production of Love and Radio’s earlier episodes. That’s not a dig. This era of this show is one of the most aesthetically distinctive bodies of work in radio. And the story uses Nick van der Kolk’s cleverest device, where it starts in one place, then zooms back to another, and the suspense comes from the fact that it seems totally implausible for the two points to ever meet. So clever. I love this show. Pick of the week.
Serial: “Meanwhile, in Tampa” — There’s some really good writing in this, but this story is getting to the point where it requires more attention than I can offer a lot of the time. I have no idea what I’ll feel like when this season of Serial ends.