Iñárritu’s virtual-reality installation: The future of cinema?
Alejandro Iñárritu’s newest cinematic project “feels like a game changer,” said Peter Aspden in the Financial Times. The Oscar-winning director has created a virtual-reality experience that’s now playing to one visitor at a time at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the installation is powerful enough to “jolt us into enlightenment.” Iñárritu’s Carne y Arena (“Flesh and Sand”) aims to evoke what it’s like to be an undocumented migrant attempting to cross the Mexican border into the U.S., so the experience begins with a suspense-building wait in a cold room strewn with battered shoes. When an alarm sounds, you proceed alone into a large room, don VR goggles, and for 6½ minutes wander on sand across a virtual darkened desert populated by scattered migrants who flee when a helicopter swoops down and gunbearing Border Patrol agents begin taking prisoners. The “clumsy” headgear proves distracting, but a third section redeems the experience and its $30 admission fee, said Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. In a long hallway, you come upon video portraits of the immigrants you encountered in the VR room, along with their personal testimonies, and the effect may leave you sobbing, said Ann Hornaday in The Washington Post. Carne y Arena doesn’t last long, but its running time was enough for the anxieties of its subjects to “burrow themselves into my consciousness” in a way that was “almost cellular.”
Directed by Eliza Hittman (R)
A lost boy wrestles with his sexuality.
For anyone who thinks America has outgrown all its anxieties about sexual identity, Beach Rats will feel like “a cleverly delivered gut punch,” said John Anderson in The Wall Street Journal. Newcomer Harris Dickinson stars as Frankie, a buff young man from workingclass Brooklyn who spends his nights on the Coney Island boardwalk with three macho pals and is struggling to admit, even to himself, that he’s attracted to men. “It’s hard to make a compelling movie about a character defined by indecision,” but director Eliza Hittman “has done it.” Dickinson, a British actor, is “quite a find,” said David Sims in TheAtlantic.com. As Frankie gets himself a girl but also starts hooking up with older men, the camera captures “every nervous tremble and flicker of fear in his eyes.” The entire first hour of the movie proves “boldly memorable,” only to be undercut by a clichéd final confrontation. Still, after so much compelling observational drama, “any turn of the narrative was bound to feel contrived,” said Scott Tobias in NPR.org. What remains special about the film is “how much we come to know Frankie, perhaps more than he knows himself.”
Queens of the Stone Age
Twenty years in, Queens of the Stone Age is a band that “still sounds amazingly energized,” said Mark Lore in PasteMagazine.com. Longtime followers grew nervous when news broke that pop producer Mark Ronson would be working on the latest project from the California rockers. As expected, the music here is slicker and more danceable than in the past, “but Ronson’s touch has not made Josh Homme’s songs any less heavy, weird, or ambitious.” The single “The Evil Has Landed” is a case in point, but “every song punches hard.” At this stage, Homme and company “don’t have many new tricks in their bag,” said Stephen Thomas Erlewine in AllMusic.com. But “there’s an undeniable assurance to Villains,” felt from the moment a funkrock riff kicks off “Feet Don’t Fail Me.” The Queens know who they are, and their latest batch of “louche glam grooves” is just what fans craved: “a dark joy, a record that offers visceral pleasure in its winking menace.”
Iron & Wine
Ever since Sam Beam’s “almost frighteningly intimate” 2002 debut, his music has been growing more complex, said Josh Modell in AVClub.com. Finally, though, fans of the bearded folk singer have been granted “a bit of wish fulfillment”: Beam, who uses the name Iron & Wine, recorded this studio album live, using a stripped-down band and minimal overdubs; “it sounds fantastic.” Unlike some of Beam’s jazz-inflected work, Beast Epic “strikes a perfect balance between gorgeous and world-weary from the first note.” The bare-bones sound doesn’t lack production value, and “everything here takes a backseat to Beam’s melodies,” said Philip Cosores in Pitchfork.com. On “Call It Dreaming,” keys and cello complement “pristine” vocals. “Summer Clouds” is “woozy and whiskey-breathed” in its romance and melancholy, and when Beam punctuates “Our Light Miles” with a delicate falsetto, it’s a fitting last touch to “some of the best singing of his career.”
James Murphy is back—and older than ever, said Hua Hsu in The New Yorker. Fifteen years ago, the New York record producer and DJ scored his first hit with a song that paired “almost twee” lyrics about getting older with an anthemic electronic club beat. Now 47, Murphy is revisiting familiar themes on the first album from his Brooklyn-based band in seven years. “Oh Baby,” the “luscious, gliding” opener, “manages to feel cavernous yet tender,” while the title track is “a gorgeous, misty, synth-pop waltz.” That said, there’s “a heaviness” to this comeback record, as many of the songs “feel more traditionally rock-driven” and “few of them hit their peaks.” American Dream is still a “heady, expansive” album full of music that evokes top-form Talking Heads or Berlin-era David Bowie, said Tom Breihan in Stereogum.com. “It’s an album of textures and sighs,” each masterfully conjured. “Every drum kicks hard, every guitar twitches just so.” ■