Review of reviews: Film & Music
The Woman Who Left
Directed by Lav Diaz (Not rated)
A freed prisoner discovers unexpected purpose.
This sometimes brutal blackand- white drama from the Philippines “makes uncompromising demands on your attention and empathy,” said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. But even with its subtitled dialogue and nearly four-hour run time, “it feels less like a test of your endurance than an appeal to your appetite for character, incident, and emotion.” Horacia, the “unforgettable” protagonist, has spent 30 years in prison camp for a murder she didn’t commit. When the real killer confesses, a freed Horacia buys a gun and goes looking for the ex-lover who framed her. But Horacia takes a turn toward saintliness on her road to vengeance, said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. She nurses a transgender prostitute who’s suffered a beating. She walks the streets offering small kindnesses to the poor even as she remains on the hunt. At times, director Lav Diaz’s focus on his country’s societal ills overshadows the main story. Still, his “marathon tone poem,” inspired by a Tolstoy story, can be a “richly rewarding” experience. “It’s a film you have to feel your way into, like a ruined church or a haunted house,” said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. Inside, you’ll discover “a vast, dark behemoth of mystery and anguish, as forbidding as a starless night sky.”
Directed by Stephen Fingleton (R)
A loner navigates society’s collapse.
“Think of Mad Max, directed by an art house minimalist,” said Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. That’s the effect achieved by this “darkly enthralling, eerily poetic” British thriller set in a near future when society has collapsed after the end of oil production and resulting spread of famine. Martin McCann plays a sinewy loner who has lived in a forest cabin for several years, setting traps, tending crops, and shooting murderous intruders. But one day a steely middle-aged woman (Olwen Fouéré) and her daughter (Mia Goth) find their way to the cabin, shattering the survivalist’s solitary routine. “From then on, the movie becomes a quiet yet tense chamber piece,” said Craig Lindsey in The Village Voice. The women offer jewelry, seeds, and finally the daughter’s body in exchange for food and shelter, and an uneasy peace briefly takes hold. But in a brutish world, to trust is a weakness, said Jeannette Catsoulis in The New York Times. Though outsiders remain a threat, in this “impressively lean and rigidly controlled” drama, “the real tension is cooked in the constantly adjusting space that separates these three characters. To survive, three must become two.”
Harry Styles’ solo debut “practically screams ‘Take me seriously!’” said Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune. The One Direction heartthrob has made a point of distancing himself from the bubblegum pop that brought his boy band fame. Instead, Styles indulges in 1970s revivalism, ap ing his rock and soul singer heroes. The 10 songs here lack the hooks that made One Direction’s music instantly appealing. But Styles proves he can pull off a more mature sound and style. The 23-year-old “encounters his fair share of growing pains along the way,” said David Sackllah in ConsequenceOfSound.net. “Only Angel,” for example, segues from soaring synth to bluesy pop-rock, but “fails to develop much beyond kitsch” with its clichéd lyrics about bad boys and bad girls. Still, the album’s stylistic range is impressive, with Styles dabbling in blues, country, and Southern rock. “His charisma and adaptability pour through,” and fortunately, the missteps “don’t detract too much from this ambitious, if slightly unfocused, debut.”
The absence of drums was once a defining trait of the Girlpool sound, said Josh Modell in AVClub.com. Best friends Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad built a big online following “by keeping it super simple, letting their voices and guitars convey their heart-on-the-sleeve sentiment,” and the two L.A. teens stuck to that singular folkpunk formula for a 2015 debut album. But a drummer was asked in for this record, and the addition of a steady rock beat proves “absolutely illuminating.” The lead track, “123,” is the band’s “catchiest song yet,” and though the co-stars’ “affectless” singing weighs down the album’s midsection, “Static Somewhere” closes things out with “some unabashed bashing.” Sure, the new Girlpool “sounds a little more like everyone else,” said Jillian Mapes in Pitchfork.com. But Tucker and Tividad haven’t abandoned what makes them distinct—their spare but poetic lyrics and unsettling “dull-knife” harmonies. “Thankfully, the voice in all its vulnerable forms still sits center stage.”
Bla ck Origami
Jerrilynn Patton’s new album is “an astonishing global exploration of what drums can do,” said Hua Hsu in The New Yorker. Patton, a Gary, Ind., native who records as Jlin, previously garnered acclaim for a 2015 album whose music had roots in footwork—a niche genre of frenetic electronic dance music from Chicago. Jlin’s version was “dense and operatic,” combining chattering drum patterns with moody synthesizers, and her latest effort pushes further into the avant-garde. All is rhythm, but “nothing is where you expect it to be.” Even songs that begin with a steady beat shape-shift into “something frenzied and nightmarish.” Black Origami has fewer abrasive edges than Dark Energy, said Britt Julious in Spin.com. “Kyanite,” for example, melds birdsong, marching-band drums, and wind chimes. There’s more open space on these tracks, and every sound, from digitized harp to breathy woodwinds, feels carefully chosen. “It is the work of an exacting mind,” and “it asks the listener to find thrills in its surprises and layers.”