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Reviews

'Paper Man' Is a Petulant Infant

Not even Ryan Reynolds talking in an ultra-manly superhero voice and wearing tights can save Paper Man.


Paper Man

Director: Michele and Kieran Mulroney
Cast: Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Lisa Kudrow, Kieran Culkin
Distributor: MPI
Rated: R
Release Date: 2011-01-18

Ryan Reynolds is wasted on Paper Man. His performance as a neurotic manifestation is funny, charming, and touching, and is the lone bright spot in what is otherwise a lifeless, plodding film, full of passive characters, led by a protagonist who goes from merely annoying to completely unlikeable and devoid of redemption.

Jeff Daniels plays Richard Dunn, a novelist who simultaneously attempts to revive a writing career that was never much to begin with, save his crumbling marriage, and deal with his lifelong imaginary friend, Captain Excellent (Reynolds). Richard’s pragmatic surgeon wife, Claire (Lisa Kudrow), dumps him at a cabin in the woods of Montauk, thinking she is doing him a favor by giving him time to work through his writer’s block. Instead, Richard fixates on the couch, which is going to be a problem, banters with Captain Excellent, and strikes up a friendship/creepy romantic relationship Abby (Emma Stone), depressed local teen, convincing her to babysit his nonexistent child.

The cast is first-rate, and the problem is not the performances, which are uniformly skilful and subtle. The biggest issue with Paper Man is the characters, specifically Richard. He is too naïve and childlike to be sympathetic, steadfastly refusing to affect any change on his life, or even act at all. If he were a child, his behavior would be understandable, but because he’s a man, his self-pitying naval gazing shtick gets old quick.

You truly feel for Claire, her frustration is palpable. At any given moment, Richard is about ten seconds away from throwing a temper tantrum and locking himself in the bathroom while he sucks his thumb. The only way Claire can interact with him is to treat him as the petulant infant that he is. When even the pressure of a game of “Operation” is too much for Richard, how do you think he’s going to handle the weight of a publishing deadline, or dealing with a troubled marriage? Eventually you start to believe that Richard may have some undiagnosed mental handicap, and wonder how he can function on even the most basic day-to-day level.

Writer/directors Michele and Kieran Mulroney are doing their best Noah Baumbach impression here, only Paper Man has none of the heart or emotional weight of a movie like The Squid and the Whale or Kicking and Screaming. Instead of learning anything, Richard only gets more and more alienating as the film stumbles forward. The pace is just leaden, meandering this way and that. Every time the story is about to gain some modicum of narrative momentum, it falters.

The revelatory moments are trite and laughable, the metaphors are heavy handed and obvious, and you know exactly what the big twist is going to be a full 40 minutes before they get around to revealing anything. By that point you’ve already taken it for granted. Beyond these problems, the quirkiness and idiosyncrasies of the film, and the characters that populate it, are forced and awkward. Great, the couch is a problem, something Richard repeats time and again, until even his spandex-wearing imaginary friend is ready to strangle him, so the solution must be to drag it outside and set up the living room on the lawn. Wonderful.

Watching Paper Man is maddening as it must be to actually live with a person as indecisive as Richard. Well acted, but predictable and slow, the charm wears off quickly, and not even Ryan Reynolds talking in ultra-manly superhero voice can smooth things over. The DVD only includes a trailer and a 12-minute making of feature that holds little of any interest unless you want to see more of Reynolds and his impossibly yellow hair.

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Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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