Reviews

R.Patz as an Object of Hatred and Admiration: 'Cosmopolis'

David Cronenberg proves, in this cerebral examination of the economic crisis being filtered through moments of pure horror and hilarity, why he is regarded as a modern day Hitchcock.


Cosmopolis

Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton
Distributor: Entertainment One
Rated: R
Release date: 2013-01-01

It should come as no surprise that the best movies about the recession and the economic crisis have all been genre films, more specifically: horror movies. In Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell the peril of financial insecurity literally becomes a curse for a young bank employee (Alison Lohman) who faces the wrath of an elderly woman she’s left without a home. In Black Swan, we saw the repercussions of what happens when a patriarchal system fails and women are left trying to fulfill everything that a society with a new hierarchy of values expects from them; this theme was also explored in the mythical Winter’s Bone.

In the harrowing Dogtooth, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos created a terrifying allegory about a time when parents would decide their children shouldn’t be exposed to the horrors of the outside world, and in the hilarious Piranha 3D, a B movie warned youths that these just weren’t the times to give themselves to hedonism. The terrifying prospects of the world’s collapse via an unstable economy have permeated the very backbone of popular culture and for every obvious look at the crisis (see all the documentaries and non fiction movies about the subject) there are many subtler observations.

What all of these have in common, however, is that they see the economic crisis through the eyes of those who have suffered the most: the middle class and the downright poor. This phenomenon might be due to the fact that the super rich have been portrayed as villains and anyone trying to see life through their eyes would’ve instantly been tagged as insensitive (see what happened to Christopher Nolan’s downright fascistic The Dark Knight Rises). It was about time that a recognized auteur tried to portray the crisis through a different light, and David Cronenberg was just the man for the job.

His adaptation of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis is a searing vision of a world where the “haves” have no idea that the “have nots” are real. The movie opens and we meet 27-year old Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) a carefree billionaire who just wants to go get a haircut. Eric enters his limousine -- where most of the movie takes place -- and conducts a series of business meetings and sex encounters along the way. His drive across Manhattan is constantly slowed down by a series of traffic jams and protests.

It seems that mile by mile, Eric becomes less aware of what’s going on outside, even if Cronenberg choreographs some moments of pure brutal social uprise (a group of young men rioting and throwing rats at people, protesters spray painting Eric’s windows...). In order to convey Eric’s narrow world view, the movie was shot in a studio and we can see how the outside world is entirely created with computer generated effects. The effect of this fakeness might be distracting to some, but on an aesthetic level are on par with Hitchcock’s controversial use of screen projections in Marnie; both basically embody the altered state of their characters’ psyches.

With every utterance of making it to his barber while the world around him collapses, Eric loses more and more of the soul he might’ve never even had to begin with. The movie gives us glimpses of his personal life -- we see his affairs, his disturbing hypochondria and his appreciation of art -- but as played by Pattinson, Eric remains a hermetic figure who has accepted beforehand that he might never be able to empathize with others. That he is traveling in what’s basically a moving sarcophagus is dark humor at its best.

Cosmopolis reminds us of why Cronenberg is often thought of as a modern day Hitchcock, his combination of horror and humor are flawless and his movies are always more than what they seem to be. If Cosmopolis at first glance seems to be almost apologetic in its hermetism, Cronenberg subverts our expectations because he never judges Eric, his direction makes him more of a scientist than a moral authority. The movie leads towards an unexpected finalé in which Cronenberg turns economic nightmares into an actual being, proving for a haunting experience. It’s understandable that like most of the director’s work Cosmopolis will remain misunderstood, mistrusted even, because it doesn’t care to serve easy answers and instead of romanticizing the selfishness of the rich (like any movie about Marie Antoinette) it transforms it into a tangible object, a punching bag of sorts where we can finally release our worries and anxieties.

Cosmopolis is presented in a stunning high definition transfer that makes its hypnotizing qualities all the more seductive (few movies can be this cold and attractive). Bonus features include a theatrical trailer and interviews with the cast and crew, but the Blu-ray is worth its price for the inclusion of the feature length documentary, Citizens of “Cosmopolis”, which gives us insight into every element involved in the film’s making. Interviews with Cronenberg and key crew members reveal how the novel was turned into a proper screenplay. Casting the leading man of the terrible Twilight series might’ve been Cronenberg’s biggest joke so far, because he prepared us to hate Eric before the movie even started, but in the interviews included here Pattinson proves why he was simply the best man for the job by coming out as an articulate, clever young man. He knows he’s always being objectified and we see him delighted about the fact that just this one time, he’s being consumed by more cerebral audiences.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

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.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

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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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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