Tag Archives: Spotlight

Omnireviewer (week of Jan. 31, 2016)

First off, I forgot something crucial last week:

Live events

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.

Literature, etc.

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.

Things I loved in 2015: Nos. 25-21

Being that this is the second time I’ve done this, I suppose we can call my year-end list an annual tradition. A key part of this year-end tradition is that it always happens well after the year has ended. Whatever. Timeliness isn’t everything.

I’m doing things a bit differently this year. First off, I’ve decided to rank the entries. This is, of course, foolish. It’s not so much that it’s like comparing apples to oranges; it’s more that it’s like comparing apples to oranges to kiwis to ribeyes to Chanel No. 5 to Chevrolets to ravens to clouds. But that is exactly the fun. Throughout this list, you’ll find things that have absolutely nothing in common, except that I enjoyed them. Their ranking is nothing more than an index of my goodwill towards them in the weeks immediately preceding this one.

And speaking of weeks, I’m ramping up the suspense by breaking my top 25 down into five separate posts: one per day until Friday. In practice, this is because I’m never going to have time to write the whole thing at once. But it may also be fun for the six of you who’ll read this.

Speaking of you six loyal Omnireviwer readers (bless you), you’ll have gotten to know my tastes by now. Specifically, you’ll know that they are capricious and semi-arbitrary, and that my experience of the year’s media, while extensive by normal person standards, is far from complete. This list is compromised and imperfect, but hopefully idiosyncratic enough to make for decent reading and introduce a few things you might have missed. 2015 was a good year, much like all the rest of them.

Today, we’ve got an album, two movies, a TV show and a podcast. Let’s begin:

No. 25 — CHVRCHES: Every Open Eye

This is the album that I was most disappointed to see overlooked on so many major year-end lists. I loved CHVRCHES’ debut album, as did everybody, but Every Open Eye is self-evidently a more assured and consistent record. I periodically go back to the singles on the debut, but I tend not to want to listen to the whole album. Whereas, Every Open Eye is a unified 42-minute catharsis. And Lauren Mayberry’s voice sounds even better this time around.

There are albums that I’m leaving off this list that I think are possibly more accomplished than this one, and certainly more important. But this is an album that I lived with, this past year. Don’t deny yourself joy. Go listen to CHVRCHES.

No. 24 — The Revenant

It’s big and ambitious and prestigious and self-serious and Oscary, and I loved it so much.

Common wisdom around The Revenant seems to be that it’s bleak and difficult — a movie you “should” go see, rather than one you “have to!” go see. And it is bleak, and it is graphic and visceral and painful at times. It’s Alejandro Iñárritu. But it is also a hell of an experience. I’d gladly see it a second time.

A lot of that is down to Emmanuel Lubezki, the most distinctive cinematographer alive, and the man who will once again prevent Roger Deakins from winning his Oscar this year. Lubezki’s immaculately choreographed long takes remove all of the artifice from the movie’s action scenes — that bear fight, and especially the battle at the start of the movie, which is one of the best battle scenes ever. His approach puts you right there. Plus, he has an unparalleled eye for a staggering vista.

Lubezki’s photography and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s beautiful score tone down the terrors of the story and Leonardo DiCaprio’s impressively committed performance. The Revenant is horrifying, yes. But it isn’t unrelenting. It’s watchable. Beautiful, even. If it won Best Picture, I wouldn’t be especially disappointed.

No. 23 — Doctor Who

The latest season of Doctor Who divides conveniently into its first half, an extended failure to ignite, and its second half, which blazes magnificently. If we were to separate those two halves, the first wouldn’t place on this list and the second would probably be a lot higher. In that latter string of excellence, head writer Steven Moffat, returning favourite Peter Harness and newcomer Sarah Dollard all offer top-flight Doctor Who scripts, and even the series’ longest-dangling dead weight, Mark Gatiss rises to the occasion.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman both give their best performances of the series in Harness’s Zygon two-parter, and they (especially Capaldi) keep it up through Moffat’s two-part season finale. And what a finale. First, in “Heaven Sent,” Moffat offers one of his signature high-concept scripts like “Blink” or “Listen,” which is a sort of drama that no other show can do. Then, in “Hell Bent,” he gives us the best episode of Doctor Who in giant, explosive, plot-heavy mode since “A Good Man Goes To War.”

Altogether, series nine is a lesser season than its predecessor, Capaldi’s debut series. But, there are at least five hours of the best Doctor Who since 2005 in here somewhere. It’s a shame that Moffat’s tenure has to come to an end, and a bigger shame that it’s not Harness replacing him. But Doctor Who has had 53 years to prove that it can weather pretty much any change in the long term. And there’s still one more series that’s bound to be a corker.

No. 22 — Spotlight

There’s no way to prepare yourself for how good Spotlight is. That trailer sure as hell doesn’t suggest it. No matter how many people tell you this movie is great, and no matter how many positive reviews you read, Spotlight still seems like it’s going to be a well-made, soft-spoken, mid-budget movie for grown-ups. It looks boring. Pedestrian. Sophisticated. But actually, I don’t think I’ve been so consistently excited by a movie that’s almost entirely talking since The Social Network.

The screenplay hits a perfect balance where it lets you be thrilled by the twists and turns of its journalism procedural storyline while also never forgetting that it’s a movie about child molestation. It’s sensitive to the details of the story that the journalists are telling, while also realizing that it’s own story is not that story — it’s the meta story: the story of the story.

The really great thing about this movie is that while it celebrates the extraordinary work these journalists did, it doesn’t shy away from also implicating the entire institution of journalism for letting the abuse in the Catholic Church go unexamined for so long. As much as anything, Spotlight is a movie about how systems turn a blind eye to themselves.

In that sense, it reminds me of The Wire. What more can I say?

No. 21 — Love and Radio

This podcast feels like a different show every episode, which makes each episode essential almost by default. The producers of Love and Radio episodes find people with stories and perspectives that fall outside most people’s experience and then say, “we’re just going to listen to this person for a while.” Host Nick van der Kolk and his team are generally present, but off-mic. It’s like every month, Love and Radio has a different host. It empowers voices that would otherwise never have that kind of power.

This totally changes the power dynamic of the radio interview — for better and worse. Sometimes, people say horrifying things on this podcast, which can be troubling given that the interviewer’s voice is made subordinate to the guest’s. (See this year’s fabulous and infuriating A Red Dot.) But, the underlying philosophy is that it’s better to listen to people than not to, and I agree.

The episode I’ve embedded above is certainly in my top three podcast episodes of the year. Hit play, and feel every feel you possess.

The countdown will pick up with no. 20 tomorrow. There’ll be two more shows, a movie, an album you might have missed and our first comic.