Review of reviews: Film & Music
The Light Between Oceans
Directed by Derek Cianfrance (PG-13)
A childless couple find a baby in an unmanned rowboat.
The new romantic tearjerker starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander does more than touch the heart, said Brian Truitt in USA Today. “It rips the darn thing out, stomps on it, and then throws it overboard.” Though “gorgeously shot” and expertly acted, the movie proves “a very tough watch,” because it subjects its main characters to so much anguish. The leads, who are also a couple offscreen, play a World War I veteran and the soul mate he meets on his way to his new life as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island. The pair’s early love scenes are “intensely moving,” which is all some viewers will care about, said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. But Vikander’s Isabel soon suffers two miscarriages, and when a storm drives ashore a dinghy carrying a baby girl, she insists the couple raise the child as their own. The secret can’t last, of course, and the next hour “concerns the slow closing of the trap.” From there, the movie “sabotages its best intentions” by adding too many twists, said Stephen Holden in The New York Times. Still, it remains a notch above literary claptrap, in part because it “never wavers in its commitment to examine what it means to raise a child.”
Directed by Elizabeth Wood (Not rated)
A pretty college student chooses a dangerous path.
Add a new title to “the canon of great dramas cut from the good-girl-gone-bad cloth,” said Joey Nolfi in Entertainment Weekly. In this daring drama from a first-time director, Homeland’s Morgan Saylor plays a college student who cuts loose during a summer in New York City, indulging in drugs and sex and creating unexpected trouble for the Puerto Rican dealer she takes as a lover. She’s an “immeasurably unlikable character,” a young woman eager to grow up but dependent on Daddy’s financial support. Her defining feature is her cluelessness, and the movie “shoves our face in it.” Unfortunately, “its idea of drama is to have all of its characters make a bunch of haphazardly bad decisions,” said Jesse Hassenger in AVClub.com. Saylor’s Leah is a “coked-out bore,” like everyone around her except the dealer, a bore who doesn’t snort cocaine. “What makes White Girl’s depravity worthwhile is Leah’s dawning awareness of the food chain she’s been born into,” said Jen Yamato in TheDailyBeast.com. She is both victim and exploiter, an avatar of the culture’s less empowered gender but its most privileged skin color. For Saylor, it’s “a fearless star turn.”
If M.I.A.’s fifth album is truly her farewell, “it’s a much warmer one than we might have anticipated,” said Craig Jenkins in New York magazine. The Britishborn Sri Lankan rapper, whose breakout hit, “Paper Planes,” tucked four gun blasts into its refrain, has always relished her role as a provocateur. But AIM’s accessible blend of hip-hop, dancehall, dubstep, and Eastern textures “serves as a reminder of her gifts as a purveyor of vital pop music.” The mood, though hardly devoid of revolutionary consciousness, “verges on bubbly.” Too many tracks, however, deliver only “clutter and noise,” evidence of M.I.A.’s lack of focus even on the album she says will be her last, said Harriet Gibsone in The Guardian (U.K.). While “Swords” is a “sparse and slick” fusion of clanging metal, the “kazoo-like caw” on “Bird Song” gets old quick. Consider AIM a final eruption of “inventive, sometimes incoherent” ideas. “Apt, perhaps, that an artist so vehemently punk bows out with an album so stubbornly hers.”
De La Soul And the Anonymous Nobody
“This sounds like the kind of record De La Soul has always had in it,” said Ryan Bray in AVClub.com. To create its first album in 12 years, the iconic New York hip-hop trio put aside its feud with Warner Music and turned to Kickstarter for funding. The result—“a genre mashup” that folds in contributions from 2Chainz, Usher, Snoop Dogg, and David Byrne—is the group’s “most lively affair yet.” De La’s backing band enables unexpected excursions into art rock and psychedelic space pop, and the entire 17-track set “bristles with creative rebirth.” To my ears, said Tim Sendra in AllMusic.com, it’s “a bit of a confused mess.” Even the best of the left-field collaborations, the Afropunk-infused “Snoopies,” feels “a bit too contrived.” Still, De La’s Dave and Posdnuos are pros, and on this record’s most straightforward tunes, their “laid-back golden-age rap style” sounds as fresh as it did in 1989. Strip away Nobody’s failed experiments, and “there’s a really good hip-hop album left at the core.”
Britney Spears Glory
Finally, Britney Spears “sounds like she’s having fun again,” said Maura Johnston in The Boston Globe. On her first album in three years, the 34-year-old former pop princess has mostly stopped chasing musical trends and focused on her strengths: “a snakeslither voice, always-on sexiness, and an ability to stretch vowels far beyond their natural breaking point.” Glory feels like a return to the buoyant dance pop of 2003’s In the Zone, which produced the single “Toxic.” It’s tailor-made for Spears’ ongoing gig at a Las Vegas casino. The songs are “all come-ons and promises of pleasure,” little more, said Jon Pareles in The New York Times. On that score, Spears “strives mightily to be one-dimensional.” But her vocals, though still processed, are “far less obviously robotic” than they’ve been. Spears “sounds more involved, more present, than she has in a decade.” In places, this Britney “recalls the flirty singer, with the knowing scratch in her little-girl voice, who conquered 1990s pop.”