‘Molly’s Game’: The Game Is Rigged, Lady

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie,

Molly’s Game

, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it’s almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it’s based on a true story.


Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was trained to be an Olympic skier by her father Larry (Kevin Costner). It was just about all she knew: “I spent sixteen years chasing winter.” He’s the kind of punishing sports dad who doesn’t let a little thing like rapid-onset scoliosis slow down her training regimen. The rapid-fire biographical montage that opens the movie is narrated by Molly with the kind of clipped, smart-ass tone that signals a wholly different kind of story is around the corner.

An accident knocked Molly out of the Olympics but not out of trying to be a champion, at least at something. Casting around for something to do, she leaves the hovering, drill-sergeant mentoring of her father and sets out for L.A., where she ends up working as assistant to dodgy and abusive real estate schemer Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). A vaguely-plugged Hollywood type, Dean hosts a poker game for various celebrities and hangers-on at the “Cobra Lounge”—a clear nod to the Viper Room; one of many fig-leaves Bloom drapes over her narrative for legal reasons. Quickly realizing that his guys are drawn to Molly’s looks and smarts, Dean puts her in charge of the game.

But turning a character like Molly, with her rapier wit and bit-champing ambition, into a second-fiddle only allowed to work for tips, isn’t meant to last. She strikes out on her own, setting the stage for that FBI arrest we saw in a flash-forward at the start. The story rapidly accelerates like a bullet train, flipping back and forth from Molly’s light-speed arc as Hollywood poker high-roller doyenne to her after-the-fall consultations with her initially tentative but later intrigued defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba). Sorkin lavishes detail on these scenes, with Molly describing her strategy for making these men (and

all

the players are men) want to come into her rented hotel rooms with the fancy liquor and cigars and blow millions of dollars in a night. Secondary players like the unnamed actor “Player X” (Michael Cera) who helps her rope in other players and the gambling junkie Harlan (Bill Camp) move in and out of Molly’s orbit like phantoms who can either help her win big or possibly sell her out to the authorities.

These crash-and-burn sequences of big wins and killer losses are shot by Sorkin —doing a credible job in his first outing as a film director—with all the expected quick zooms, whip pans, handy on-screen infographics, and quick-draw patter for the non-poker addicts in the audience. What keeps it from turning into some

Rounders

knock-off is Molly’s take on her persona. Chatty but stern, she gives these thrill-seeking boys playing at manhood a simulacra of sexy sophistication. Pancaked with makeup and squeezed into shimmery cocktail dresses, she presents them with “the Cinemax version of myself”. Her tone in these scenes is dry and cynical about the persona she must inhabit in order to be allowed into this world.

That changes once things fall apart and she realizes just how rigged the game is against women like her who dare to strike out on their own. Like Sorkin’s

The Social Network

and

Steve Jobs

, the story tracks an Icarus-like ascension of an A-grade ambition artist in the corridors of money and power followed by a dark reckoning.



(IMDB)

The further that

Molly’s Game

pushes into the trial phase of her rise-and-fall-and-fall story, the more it emphasizes her vulnerability. That’s also where Sorkin’s script becomes more problematic in its treatment of Molly. Starting off as the story of an independent woman who breaks free of her domineering father, it keeps circling back to a series of nervy

tête-à-têtes

with Charlie, who is just about the only character in the movie able to keep up with her thoroughbred debater’s intellect. Functioning as both lawyer and involuntary therapist as they gear up for a David-and-Goliath trial—”J. Edgar Hoover didn’t have this much shit on Bobby,” Charlie says, marveling at the resources the government devotes to bringing down the operator of an illegal poker game—Charlie turns into an unfortunate Sorkin standby. He becomes the wise man of the world, intrigued and exasperated by the brilliant high-strung woman who can’t get out of her own head. When Larry raises his head later in the movie to provide some unexpected support for the daughter he had once cast out it’s at once refreshing to see these men having Molly’s back but also frustrating that the movie can’t find room for at least one additional female character of note.

But for the unwelcome third-act introduction of this backhanded paternalism,

Molly’s Game

is a superb late-year treat. Twist-filled and snappy, it has just enough interest in this thrill-seeking world and the proper amount of contempt for the sexist playground inhabited by the men of wealth Molly manipulates for a living. When Molly says “I was tired of living in the frat house I’d built for degenerates,” she hasn’t realized that she’s about to step into a much larger frat house. This one won’t be nearly so easy to escape and its inhabitants don’t take kindly to smart, spiky women like her.

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Annunci

Intellect Over Politics: ‘The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn’

There is an amusing detail in

The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn

that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17

th

-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, “over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism.”


This is the curious world opened up by the diaries and correspondence Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) and John Evelyn (1620 – 1706). Willes has not written a biography of either men but instead uses them as points of entry into this world, putting its personalities, habits of mind, and institutions into orbit around a particular kind of English intellectual adventurousness and curiosity. It’s an account of an inquisitiveness inspired by a new principled approach to empirical discovery that is at the heart of the Scientific Revolution, as well as an account of new – and sometimes from a modern point of view quite ludicrous – levels of acquisitiveness enabled by colonialism and trade.

With Pepys and Evelyn, Willes has subjects that are both fairly typical Restoration-era (post-1660) educated men of means as well as differing enough from each other to illustrate the broad-mindedness that characterized their social circles. Both men either acquired or inherited wealth and were respected and accomplished in their own right – Pepys as a civil servant and administrator, Evelyn as a writer and civic-minded man of ideas. Both made modest and enduring contributions to the disciplines and organizations that interested them. Evelyn wrote influential texts on forestry, gardening, and the problem of coal pollution in London, for example, and Pepys was a tireless source of administrative support for the Royal Society in its financially insolvent early days. His name as President of the Royal Society from 1684-1686 appears on the title page of Isaac Newton’s

Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica

(1687). Both men knew and worked with Christopher Wren, William Petty, Robert Hooke and others well remembered by posterity, but neither were themselves giants of science or innovation.

Yet as Willes observes at many points, Pepys and Evelyn and the scientists and

virtuosi

that circulated among them maintained long-lasting friendships and working relationships despite their respective political, religious, and cultural differences. And this was an era of pronounced and prolonged differences – Pepys and Evelyn observed the English Civil Wars (1642 – 1649) and its concomitant proliferation of radical religious groups, the execution of Charles I (1649), the establishing of the English Republic (1651 – 1660), the Restoration of the Monarchy, (1660), and the Popish Plot (1678 – 1681). The 17

th

century was electric with religious, political, and philosophical differences.

Pepys and Evelyn were both Anglican of opposite tendencies, the one hounded by accusations of Catholicism throughout his adult life, the other maintaining a streak of Puritanical austerity. The Royal Society’s original fellows included invites from France and Holland as well as a Protestant Nonconformist and a Roman Catholic. The Society was not, however, altogether modern in its character. The founding statutes expressly excluded women from attending meetings. When Margaret Cavendish secured an invitation in 1667 through family connections, a co-ed experiment not be repeated for two centuries, Pepys peevishly remarked how he found her dress “so antic [crazy] and her deportment so unordinary, that I do not like her at all, nor did I hear her say anything worth hearing.”

The Society’s only purpose, in Evelyn’s words, was “the investigation of Truths & discovery of Errors & Impostures… without any Offence to anybody”. As early as 1676 he could cite in a letter to his wife “many useful inventions” arising out the Society’s collective efforts, “such as watches, cranes, pumps, and mathematical instruments.” There’s something characteristically English about such an endeavor, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences. The impulse recalls Edmund Burke’s “little platoons” of civil society and Michael Oakeshott’s “civil associations” – institutions created by and for free people to pursue and cultivate their creative impulses.

Equally English and very nicely chronicled by Willes were the satirical jabs at the Society provided most pointedly by the playwright Thomas Shadwell (1642 – 1692) who irked Evelyn by seeming to target him directly. Where Pepys and Evelyn were free enough to cultivate and pursue their own occasionally esoteric scientific interests, so Shadwell was free to write mockingly of a fictional Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, a ridiculous philosopher who, at a Royal Society demonstration, “learns to swim like a frog on a table with the help of a Swimming Master.” Without passing too much judgment on her subject, Willes herself writes with humor on the indulgent acquisitions Pepys collected in the 1660s. It included not only such newly introduced goods as coffee, tea, and chocolate, but also a pet monkey (which he mentioned “quite by chance”), cages filled with canaries, and (with the “zoological acme” reached) a pet lion from Algiers, “good company” he described it, which he somehow kept in his lodgings in Westminster.

By no means does this brief detour into one key chapter of

The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn

exhaust its content and charm. Willes has not written, nor intended to write, a trenchant academic work – rather this is deftly written popular history that captures a context and a moment of discovery and excitement in Restoration England. Like the chapter on science, the chapters on music, theatre, gardening, books, and fashionable exotica from the New World and the Far East are breezily but proficiently drawn by Willes as curious but never inexplicably so given the resources, industriousness, and natural curiosity available to individuals like Pepys and Evelyn.

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‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Is the Death of the Star Wars Spirit

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the

Star Wars

saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one’s impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment’s narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There’s no answer to this question — only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005.

Star Wars

is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared…

Star Wars

is spiritually dead.


J.J. Abrams’s

The Force Awakens

(2015), co-written with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, is a stabilising film following Lucas’ regrettable and ill-advised prequel trilogy. While Lucas forgot the audience’s imagination is sacrosanct, so too have a new generation of filmmakers. Think back to Obi-Wan in

A New Hope

(1977) telling Luke of the fate of his father at the hands of Darth Vader. Those words reverberating within the emporium of the audience’s mind are more potent than anything Lucas would eventually conjure up on screen. There’s a moment in which the audience become authors of the story, something both understood and expressed by Billy Wilder when he spoke with Charlotte Chandler for

Nobody’s Perfect

(2002). He was speaking of the post-film fate of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine’s relationship in

The Apartment

(1960). From the original trilogy to the prequel, and now the sequel films,

Star Wars

was first blighted by the expositional travails of its origin story, and now the cyclic restrictions of archetypal narrative.

The blue prints of episodes IV and VI beneath the surface of Abrams and Rian Johnson’s films cast their efforts as inferior and unnecessary remakes, in part as a consequence of naturally forming cyclic narrative through lines. Although

The Last Jedi

does deviate from the

Empire

template, there are narrative similarities, from Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeking out Luke (Mark Hamill) in exile to learn the ways of the Jedi, to the ice battle. In fact, Johnson does not solely use the original sequel as a template, but

A New Hope,

as Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) enact a cunning plan that makes the acquaintance of a character in Benicio Del Toro, with shades of former renegade Han Solo.

These films of oppression and resistance, good and evil are restrictive in their scope, their multi episode continuation an echo chamber that would best left to the silence of imagination over big screen realisation.

Star Wars

has become a broken record, with a faulty premise of philosophical balance, that can only be handled appropriately by breaking its defined structure. What is required is for it to move outward toward a psychologically inclined hero’s journey, in which a sole individual confronts their duality of good and evil in order to break the poppycock philosophy at the heart of the

Star Wars

mythology. But doing so would fracture the form, the narrative, and the aesthetic language of its escapist and fantastical universe.




Adam Driver

in

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

(© 2017 – Industrial Light & Magic / IMDB)


The Force Awakens

and

The Last Jedi

are reluctant to stray too far from the familiar compromises the natural growth of the series. David Cronenberg’s cinema has witnessed the evolution of his voice, the types of films changing dramatically in spite of the author as a constant. Bob Dylan transitioned from acoustic to electric guitar, and similarly to Cronenberg encountered a backlash of rejection and admonishment from fans discontent with creative and expressive evolution. The responsible artist, however, looks to protect and nurture the integrity of the art or work. This bold act is required by the new generation of filmmakers advancing the saga’s story. Even within the scope of the familial relationship,

The Last Jedi

is shown up by its elder relation

The Empire Strikes Back

(1983), which remains the watermark of the series.

A statement film following from

A New Hope

, in all phases it was refined, from the absence of stilted dialogue with a more tightly-knit narrative, to a maturing visual confidence exhibited by the filmmakers. With its first sequel,

Star Wars

asserted itself as a serious piece of art, yet did not compromise its childlike nature and commercial viability. While

The Force Awakens

exploited nostalgia to get over with the audience, one expected

The Last Jedi

to be a statement film, following in the tradition of history. Failing to deliver that traditional darker middle chapter, of the heroes cornered and digging themselves out of a hole, it makes no statement other than to continue the lethargic trajectory of imitation. Johnson’s miscue has posed a disquieting question:

A


re these filmmakers authors or fans?

The need for Johnson to have made this statement is the necessity for the sequel trilogy to find its footing, to find its identity in the universe it calls home. So far Abrams and Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience — the familiar and unique warmth of a

Star Wars

film with a sense of progression. As with adaptation, this new generation of filmmakers are struggling with capturing the spiritual essence while expanding and interpreting the world in new and interesting, even transformative ways. The words Johnson writes in which Luke describes the Jedi story as one of failure comes full circle — a self-reflective comment that contextualises not only these two sequel installments, but also the prequel films as exercises in failure.

A worrying omen remains in John Williams’s score, which fractionally registers in

The Last Jedi

. From the industrial, raw and romantic music of the original trilogy, to the polished scores of the prequel films, struggling to prop up the weak narratives and moments Lucas regrettably envisioned, to the now fading presence in this latest installment, Williams’s scores are intertwined with the life force of the films themselves. They chronicle the rise and fall of the saga from an emerging and prominent film series, to a shadow of its former self.

This decline can be witnessed through the childlike innocence of the original trilogy with its black and white morality, beneath which were thoughtful ideas underpinning such simplicity. From ideas of psychology and the confrontation of the Jungian shadow complex, to Lando Calrissian’s (Billy Dee Williams) failed attempts of appeasement, the films are permeated with a psychological, cultural and historical resonance. While the prequel films still have a semblance of this, no matter how weak, Abrams and Johnson have struggled to reassert this weight of soul or spirit. As staples of the mainstream cinema, more significant is the question whether

Star Wars

symbolises the mainstreams vanishing intellectual inclination and its propensity for subversive thoughtfulness in the least likely and unexpected of places?

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Olivia Chaney on Offa Rex, Her Collaboration with the Decemberists (interview)

I was lucky enough to catch two of Offa Rex’s performances this past summer, having been instantaneously won over by the lead single and title track from the record,


The Queen of Hearts


. The melodious harmonium intro on the track is so entrancing, I didn’t want to miss their brief tour. The band had only scheduled a few dates due in part to other commitments and perhaps limited by their already busy schedules, the Decemberists are actively touring and had their own festival in the summer while and their friend, ”

sublime English vocalist

” Olivia Chaney, had arrived from across the pond.


One of the band’s tour stops was at Fort Adams State Park for the Newport Folk Festival (

a recording from the previous show at XPoNential Festival is available via NPR

). The Decemberists had performed at the fest previously and Chaney has been a lifelong fan of many of the fest’s past performers, drawing inspiration from many past artist’s rich folk legacy. We had a few minutes to sit down with Chaney ahead of Offa Rex’s set (where they braved cold winds) to discuss the process by which she collaborated with Colin Meloy, Newport, and pre-show rituals. The interview has been edited for clarity.


Your collaboration with the Decemberists,

Offa Rex

[for the release


The Queen of Hearts


], came about through tweets, emails with Colin Meloy and then touring with the band. That gave you the sense that this collaboration was possible. When crafting the album itself, what was the back and forth process like?

After I came off support tour with them, I got to know each of the band members kind of characteristics musically. Like any band they all have quite different backgrounds. Then Colin dreamt up the idea after listening to my record [

The Longest River

]. With me going on tour with them, it was only a while after that that [Colin] said we should make a record together. We started to-ing and fro-ing ideas. I think the fact that he is an American musician who has delved into the repertoire, in a sense later in his musical career in life, means that he has this obsessional quality about it. But, even though I don’t regard myself as a pure folkie, I am closely affiliated with a lot of the people, those who are still alive, who made the records that Colin and I both love. So it felt more important to address what kind of record we were going to make. I didn’t want to just try and recreate something that had already been done.

He got that. That was where the fun began. The kind of wrestling of ideas. He just sent a very short list of song ideas which were really bold and I really loved and I would certainly not have come up with on my own. Partly because of what I have just said. In a sense being, just some of that stuff feeling more untouchable to me, paradoxically perhaps it is closer. So that was great, being given license, in a way, to cover a song like, “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face”, which has such a transatlantic kind of conversation and relationship in terms of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, and then the Roberta Flack version we all know and love as well.

So then I wrote a huge list and we just bounced ideas across. It wasn’t particularly tidy or organized. It was pretty organic, artistic process. A bunch of musicians. I eventually flew out to Portland with a pretty good stack of arrangements under my arm but there was still stuff that got created once I was there, things I tried with the band that didn’t work so well, things that I thought I hadn’t finished that I threw at the band that they took to really well.


How did you wrestle with the song selection process?

We basically ruled out American versions of things. I at one point I think maybe we wanted to do “Silver Dagger” or a kind of classic. I obviously grew up with a lot of the American revivalists as well. I totally grew up with Joan Baez and [Bob] Dylan and all the people who have played here at Newport back in the day. We wanted to keep it a kind of clear message in that sense. Otherwise it was just opening it up too wide.


The political history of folk music is present on the record as it has been here at Newport. How does the album address contemporary politics, such as Brexit or what’s happening in the U.S.?

I don’t think we went into the studio trying to make a political album per se. Colin’s choice, “Blackleg Miner”, is certainly the most political song. Generally (we were talking about that in an interview yesterday I think), I don’t see myself as an overtly political musician. I am more interested in where the message is in a sense more subtle and kind of covert. That’s how I try and write as well. It also means that you can get more messages across.

For me probably, my song choices and the way I approach arranging or the way I approach even performing a song is like a kind of a grander narrative. And there’s lots of wonderful implications. Even a song like “Sheepcrook [and the Black Dog]”, the kind of conversation, that even though it is a few hundred years old, I think is still painfully relevant today of class issues and jobs and societal roles. I think those issues never go away.


In all of Newport’s history, what act do you wish you could have performed with or wish you could have seen?

I’m not sure I would have wished I could have performed with her but I would have given my eye teeth to see Joni [Mitchell]. Actually, I think of the time she was here as her and Leonard Cohen were kind of dating for a brief period. I have just been reading [Cohen’s] biography [

I’m Your Man

] by Sylvie Simmons and it talks of him coming out here with her and then not long after, them breaking up because everyone kept saying to him “How’s it going out with Beethoven?”. It dented his ego too much, so then he dumped her.

Obviously the famous Dylan going electric, I grew up with that mythology, but I never got to see Joni live so I would have loved that.


How is it touring with the Decemberists?

Well I go back on the road with them in August doing a mixture of support and then jumping on stage and doing a feature of Offa Rex. They’re great. They are just the loveliest people. They have even let my boyfriend join part of the tour. He’s been on the bus with us. They are just lovely. They are really fun. I think, in a way, because they have been working together and traveling together so long, they are pretty good welcoming someone else into the family.

I don’t want to speak for them but I think maybe it is fun for them. Having me in the band as it were or having a new band means all of their roles have slightly shifted. So I think that’s been fun for them. Colin keeps saying him playing a sideman and his guitar playing is much more of a feature now. He’s an amazing guitarist, which you don’t necessarily get to hear with him in the Decemberists.


How do you feel you have grown through touring with them?

Oh, I’m still learning so much from doing it. I mean it’s tough. We’re not doing a massive run. If I knew we had a month run, I think it would be a different thing. We are still finding our feet live. That’s kind of the beauty of the whole project. It’s all been, not shambolic, but pretty organic. Colin came in with what he thought were really clear ideas, but I’ve got a big personality too. So it’s kind of grown and morphed into something we couldn’t have predicted. I think the live shows are a little bit of the same. I’ve played with bands before and collaborated, but I haven’t made records. Trying to bring this record onto the live stage is definitely a learning curve.


Do you still get a bit nervous when you take the stage? I read that in another interview. Or do you have any pre-show rituals?

I get

incredibly

nervous. Actually, depressing truth for me at the moment, it doesn’t seem to get better. It almost seems to get worse. [The Decemberists] do kind of a band prayer thing. We all join in and do that together which is really sweet. It does help. I still have my fears up in my throat before I walk on, and sometimes while I am playing. Normally once I am in the middle of a song, especially with these old ballads, once you are telling a story you focus on that.

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Kyle Craft – “The Rager” (track review)

When Sub Pop released Kyle Craft’s debut album,

Dolls of Highland

, in 2016, it received a slew of critical huzzahs for the Louisiana native’s Dylan-meets-Bowie retro glam stylings. His sophomore effort,

Full Circle Nightmare

, comes out early next year, and a video for the album’s song “The Rager” deftly interprets the sly, intricate wordplay of the tune.


Craft’s soaring tenor accompanies the bluesy acoustic folk of the music, while the video shows a down-on-her-luck lounge singer during her final, tragic performance in a dingy bar. Craft is at the bar with a group of his friends, and he seems to be the only one who cares about the singer’s fate. He represents us. Attempts to save her prove fruitless. Shot in a gritty, trippy, experimental style, the video does a great job of aping the style of the music – tragic, soulful, and exposing all imperfections. In other words: rock and roll.

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Rosie Carney and Henry Jamison – “Hot Scary Summer” (video) (premiere)

When Villagers first released “Hot Scary Summer”, it felt like a revelation. Not only did the indie folk outlet develop a truly captivating melancholy atmosphere with their music, nor did they just appeal to the heartstrings by singing about the negative feelings associated with aching loneliness. Rather, songwriter Conor O’Brien went beyond to highlight personal struggles of being called out in public and having threats thrown out by very homophobic individuals.


With a song so poignant and rich with meaning, others would frankly be remiss not to honor it with their own takes on the now iconic tune. Such is the case of up-and-coming folkster

Rosie Carney

, also from Ireland, and Vermont’s

Henry Jamison

. The two roots artists joined together recently to develop their version of the song.

While they’ve kept their pacing around the same as the Villagers original, Jamison introduces some pensive electric guitar to proceedings that adds an extra layer of cafard reflection to their interpretation’s sound. Vocally, the duo could not be better matched between Carney’s evocative coo and Jamison’s lilting harmonies. They bring their emotional appeal to proceedings while respecting the source material from which this song’s story is steeped. The video, shot by Irish director Christian Tierney, brilliantly captures the heart-rending spirit of this duet.

Carney says, “During our UK and Irish tour a few months ago, Henry and I really wanted to sing a song together. While in Dublin for a couple of days we both felt it right to learn one by an Irish musician and we decided to go with ‘Hot Scary Summer’ by Villagers. Luckily, one afternoon the extremely talented Christian Tierney came over to our Airbnb (on his birthday) and filmed us playing it on the roof.”

“We are both big fans of this song and even bigger fans of Conor O’Brien. ‘Hot Scary Summer’ especially resonates with me as it reminds me of Home every time I listen to it, though not necessarily because of the lyrical content. The whole song has such a beautiful, melancholic feel to it and it breaks my heart in many ways. I feel Conor achieves this in every song he writes and has been quite an influence, in ways, on my own music. I feel at home when I listen to Villagers. I aspire to resonate with my listeners the same way.”

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Courtship Ritual: Chary EP

The word “chary” may be a substitute for “cautious”, but Courtship Ritual’s new EP of the same title is anything but. The one-two sass attack of “Down Low” and “Blunt as Naive” makes this much clear from the start. This pair of songs serves as the perfect, attention-getting opener for

Chary

‘s nuanced five-song ride.


A marriage between Monica Salazar’s playful vocals and Jared Olmstead’s austerely post-punk bass grooves, this follow-up to 2014’s

Pith

feels both worth the wait and a tease of what is hopefully more to come. EP closer “Gris Gris”, with its smoldering atmospherics and impassioned vocals effortlessly intensifies the urge for more, now, again. Overall,

Chary

‘s 15 minutes may be a little too pop to be post-punk, a little too post-punk to be pop, but the satisfaction gained therein cuts deeper and more succinctly than many of 2017’s full-lengths.

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In ‘Downsizing’ Shrinking Means Big Money and Bigger Problems

Just imagine you’re a character in Alexander Payne’s circuitous and occasionally perceptive new comedy

Downsizing

: You were pre-med, but you dropped out of school to take care of your mother. Now you’re an occupational therapist at Omaha Steaks. You and your wife are treading water both economically and in your relationship. But still, you face every day with just enough gee-whiz optimism that life never quite turns into a grind. But then, something happens. Some Swedish researchers figured out a way to shrink the average human down to a mere five inches tall without any adverse side effects. There are risks to avoid, like not leaving metal fillings in during the shrinking process (exploding heads, you know).


The good news for the planet is that the procedure means shrunk people use a fraction of the resources that everyone else does. As the inventors posit while traveling the Aspen and Davos lecture circuit: Shrinking people might be the planet’s last chance to escape environmental devastation. The good news for you: Once shrunk, your paltry financial resources explode to Brobdingnagian proportions. No, being the size of a dog’s chew toy might not be to everybody’s taste, but it’s certainly a shortcut to a kind of upper middle-class luxury unobtainable for most of humanity. Around $150k in real-world money translates into $12.5 million in the little planned communities of the downsized. That buys a lot of McMansion. As the indelibly happy Dave (Jason Sudeikis) crows to occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon), “Cheesecake Factory? We’ve got three of ‘em!”




Margo Martindale

in

Downsizing (2017)

(© 2017 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.) (IMDB)

A science-fiction goof that turns into a First-World morality tale,

Downsizing

is an unusually sprawling concept for Payne to tackle. In the past, he’s plowed a narrow field with lacerating comedies like

Election

and

Nebraska

about the disastrous but eventually revelatory things that happen when average joes find themselves in abnormal situations. There are familiar elements in

Downsizing

. Damon’s Paul is another of Payne’s modest and unassuming Midwestern guys who act on the outside as though everything is just dandy but are slowly collapsing within. He’s not the sharpest and neither is his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), so when they decide to “get small” as a way of escaping the crush of their financial burdens, unforeseen complications seem assured. The first wrinkle leaves Paul alone in Leisureland’s generic sprawl of miniaturized chain stores, knocking around in his empty two-story house without much reason to get up in the morning. The second wrinkle reveals that life in the paradise of McMansions isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Where

Downsizing

starts to get interesting is in Paul’s transition from happy miniature cog in the consumerist machine to a seeker of some broader truth. He starts out on his quest without even knowing what he’s doing, just attending an impromptu rave thrown by his upstairs neighbor Dusan (Christopher Waltz) that’s so creepy chic Udo Kier can be seen lurking around. Exhibiting a skeevy but friendly Euro-disco variation on Dave’s Midwestern live-it-up attitude towards the life of plenty, Dusan inadvertently awakens Paul’s hunger for a change. A chance encounter with Vietnamese cleaning woman and activist Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) and a visit to her tiny little slum outside Leisureland’s walls further opens Paul’s eyes to the fact that the class system didn’t exactly disappear when people were shrunk. It’s like a Marxist spin on

The Truman Show

, where the set decorations fall away and reveal the capitalist machinery behind every quick-fix’s false promises.

Payne wrings a lot out of Tran in the last third of the movie. He uses her blunt and acerbic manner to jolt Paul and the somewhat listless story forward with direct action. There’s a good chance that Tran’s abrupt brand of broken English will get the wrong kind of laughs out of certain crowds. But there’s at least some decent comedy to be had in the way she yanks Paul this way and that on her various missions tending to people’s needs. At the end of a long day, Paul—not so secretly thrilled to finally be of use—asks meekly, “We go home?” “Nah,” she responds. “We go church. Pray Jesus.”


Downsizing

is littered with the lure of pseudo-religious false utopias, whether endless consumerism or the idealistic belief that going small is helping save the planet. It views and discards each of them on the way to a bleak and downbeat conclusion that brings a harsher edge to the preceding social satire. For what does it mean for a man like Paul to finally gain understanding about how things work if the world is doomed anyway?

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Conrad Winslow: The Perfect Nothing Catalog

The album cover, in a way, tells you everything. It’s simple: a cardboard box with two pieces of tape: one from the box’s original packing, the other haphazardly slapped on. They imply two separate states–ordering and reordering, original state and redefined context.

The Perfect Nothing Catalog

, the debut recording from Alaska-born, Brooklyn-based composer Conrad Winslow, invokes this very idea of objects and ideas placed, shuffled, and replaced, provoking questions of how arrangement shapes meaning.


The title work, an electroacoustic suite of six movements, was composed for the Cadillac Moon Ensemble, an unusual and striking group made up of violin, flutes, cello, and percussion. The opening movement “mixed bag” is just that, an assortment of stomps, string melodies, scratches, and glitches. “tunes” features more melodic material, sprightly and melancholy melodies spliced against electronic grinding and clattering. Velcro, zippers, whistles, and creeping harmonics converge in “materials” while “devices” lingers in reverb, dreamlike glissandi, and electronic incursions.

Composed in 2014 much of

The Perfect Nothing Catalog

was influenced by a 2013 art installation of the same name by Frank Traynor. Traynor’s installation examined the idea of curation and limited control and how the meaning of an object can change depending on placement and proximity. Likewise, playwright Caryl Churchill’s 2012 work

Love & Information

, a play constructed of small, non-repeating scenes, served as another inspiration. This overarching idea of how smaller, somewhat restricted episodes relate to one another begs questions not just of the artist’s intent, but our own preconceived notion and perceptions to everyday objects, emotions, and experiences.

Taken all together Winslow’s work asks the listener to consider what these brief episodes mean, both isolated and placed against one another. Does the sound of recorded velcro mean anything different when placed after a cello or before the sound of footsteps? How are these sounds and textures defined by similar and contrasting material? Penultimate movement “controls” begins with footsteps and an electric howl–is this threatening? Does it merely indicate a beginning? What about the violin and vibraphone dialogue that follows? “coda” closes the work with more of the same, elements that initially seem disjunct yet take on new meaning in the greater context of the suite.

The work premiered in December 2014, and the liner notes describe the performance. The performers donned a toga-like garb designed by Traynor, their movements and gestures becoming as much a part of the performance as the music itself. It’s impossible not to think about what the theatrical element would add the work as a complete whole. An implication of something somewhat lacking, perhaps, although the composition itself packs enough curiosity and substance for the adept listener. Co-producer Aaron Roche deserves laud alongside Winslow for building such an evocative audio landscape.

“Ellipsis Rules”, the first standalone track on the album, examines the balance of resonance between vibraphone and electronic manipulations. The interactions between the two seem less based on actual musical material but, rather, the tonal colors that blend and contrast between the analog and the digital. “Benediction” for piano and guitar undergoes more sound manipulation, yet these electronic elements adds to the work more than detract. A cycling of 28 chords, it’s an undeniably introverted work dealing with space and variation. As a musical meditation, it feels more accessible than the Perfect Nothing suite, taking into consideration more musical elements than philosophical ones.

The Cadillac Moon ensemble returns on “Abiding Shapes”, a composition inspired by waveforms–sine, square waves, etc. Stretching out over ten minutes it explores colors and gestures among the four players, a severe test for the quartet. The work is a fantastic journey that demonstrates both Cadillac Moon’s ensemble unity and Winslow’s prowess as a composer with intent.

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In ‘Downsizing’ Shrinking Means Big Money and Bigger Problems

Just imagine you’re a character in Alexander Payne’s circuitous and occasionally perceptive new comedy

Downsizing

: You were pre-med, but you dropped out of school to take care of your mother. Now you’re an occupational therapist at Omaha Steaks. You and your wife are treading water both economically and in your relationship. But still, you face every day with just enough gee-whiz optimism that life never quite turns into a grind. But then, something happens. Some Swedish researchers figured out a way to shrink the average human down to a mere five inches tall without any adverse side effects. There are risks to avoid, like not leaving metal fillings in during the shrinking process (exploding heads, you know).


The good news for the planet is that the procedure means shrunk people use a fraction of the resources that everyone else does. As the inventors posit while traveling the Aspen and Davos lecture circuit: Shrinking people might be the planet’s last chance to escape environmental devastation. The good news for you: Once shrunk, your paltry financial resources explode to Brobdingnagian proportions. No, being the size of a dog’s chew toy might not be to everybody’s taste, but it’s certainly a shortcut to a kind of upper middle-class luxury unobtainable for most of humanity. Around $150k in real-world money translates into $12.5 million in the little planned communities of the downsized. That buys a lot of McMansion. As the indelibly happy Dave (Jason Sudeikis) crows to occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon), “Cheesecake Factory? We’ve got three of ‘em!”




Margo Martindale

in

Downsizing (2017)

(© 2017 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.) (IMDB)

A science-fiction goof that turns into a First-World morality tale,

Downsizing

is an unusually sprawling concept for Payne to tackle. In the past, he’s plowed a narrow field with lacerating comedies like

Election

and

Nebraska

about the disastrous but eventually revelatory things that happen when average joes find themselves in abnormal situations. There are familiar elements in

Downsizing

. Damon’s Paul is another of Payne’s modest and unassuming Midwestern guys who act on the outside as though everything is just dandy but are slowly collapsing within. He’s not the sharpest and neither is his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), so when they decide to “get small” as a way of escaping the crush of their financial burdens, unforeseen complications seem assured. The first wrinkle leaves Paul alone in Leisureland’s generic sprawl of miniaturized chain stores, knocking around in his empty two-story house without much reason to get up in the morning. The second wrinkle reveals that life in the paradise of McMansions isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Where

Downsizing

starts to get interesting is in Paul’s transition from happy miniature cog in the consumerist machine to a seeker of some broader truth. He starts out on his quest without even knowing what he’s doing, just attending an impromptu rave thrown by his upstairs neighbor Dusan (Christopher Waltz) that’s so creepy chic Udo Kier can be seen lurking around. Exhibiting a skeevy but friendly Euro-disco variation on Dave’s Midwestern live-it-up attitude towards the life of plenty, Dusan inadvertently awakens Paul’s hunger for a change. A chance encounter with Vietnamese cleaning woman and activist Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) and a visit to her tiny little slum outside Leisureland’s walls further opens Paul’s eyes to the fact that the class system didn’t exactly disappear when people were shrunk. It’s like a Marxist spin on

The Truman Show

, where the set decorations fall away and reveal the capitalist machinery behind every quick-fix’s false promises.

Payne wrings a lot out of Tran in the last third of the movie. He uses her blunt and acerbic manner to jolt Paul and the somewhat listless story forward with direct action. There’s a good chance that Tran’s abrupt brand of broken English will get the wrong kind of laughs out of certain crowds. But there’s at least some decent comedy to be had in the way she yanks Paul this way and that on her various missions tending to people’s needs. At the end of a long day, Paul—not so secretly thrilled to finally be of use—asks meekly, “We go home?” “Nah,” she responds. “We go church. Pray Jesus.”


Downsizing

is littered with the lure of pseudo-religious false utopias, whether endless consumerism or the idealistic belief that going small is helping save the planet. It views and discards each of them on the way to a bleak and downbeat conclusion that brings a harsher edge to the preceding social satire. For what does it mean for a man like Paul to finally gain understanding about how things work if the world is doomed anyway?

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