Reviews

Bee Movie

A possible trans-species romance turns instead into a strangely balanced relationship comprised of financial and legal accord -- with a bit of ecological crisis and subsequent alignment to boot.


Bee Movie

Director: Simon J. Smith
Cast: Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Chris Rock
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Display Artist: Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2007-12-14 (General release)
US Release Date: 2007-11-02 (General release)
Website
I've never killed bees.

-- Jerry Seinfeld, Early Show (2 November 2007)

Bees, says Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), should not, technically speaking, be able to fly. And he should know, being one. As he represents the basic gag in Bee Movie -- the talking bee who will explain it all to you -- Barry is both cute and annoying. As he notes the paradoxes of his airborne "fat little body" and his resilient individualism thriving in the hive, Barry sets up what looks to be Antz again, a series of adventures wherein the neurotic New Yorker finds unexpected happiness in formula.

Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith's film, however, takes a next step, quite beyond Barry's fate. The way-too-high-concept Bee Movie posits that humans have much to learn from bees (and of course, vice versa). Resisting his drone-ish destiny as a drone (his post-college floating in the pool under his parents' (Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson) anxious gazes recalls The Graduate), Barry discusses options with his best friend Adam (Matthew Broderick) (who, by the way, embraces his own destiny, signing up for an assembly line sort of job rather than imagine beyond the norm). When given an opportunity to venture outside the hive with the Special-Opsy Pollen Jocks, Barry makes the most of it. Undersized and mascotty, he loses his way during a first mission and meets and falls into an uneasy sort of "lust" with a decidedly not "beeish" girl, a Manhattan florist named Vanessa (Renée Zellweger).

As this potential trans-species romance can never be consummated, it turns instead into a peculiarly balanced relationship comprised of financial and legal accord -- with a bit of ecological crisis and subsequent alignment to boot. At first, Barry's accidentally attached to a sticky tennis ball Vanessa is hitting back and forth with her ostensible boyfriend Ken (Patrick Warburton, essentially reprising Puddy, which is fine because you can't help but love Puddy). After a narrowly averted smooshing on the court, Barry makes his way to Vanessa's apartment as respite from the rain (bees can't fly in the rain: if you've heard it once during Seinfeld's seemingly endless promotional tour for the film, you've heard it a thousand times). Here she saves him from certain smooshing by Ken's gigantic Timberland boot and so earns the bee's eternal gratitude. Unable to stop himself from expressing same, Barry breaks a bee prime directive and speaks to the human.

Thus begins a sweet sort of friendship, founded in slightly resized Seinfeldian jokes: Barry can't actually sip-through-a-straw the entire cup of coffee Vanessa offers or he would, he says, "be up for the rest of my life." He can explain details of bee life, however, which he spends a few too many minutes doing. Bees can withstand human assaults under a certain weight and force, he did once lose a cousin to Italian Vogue (lots of pages) and they also provide a crucial service to the planet, pollination.

It's this last that grounds Bee Movie's lurchy third act, as Barry discovers humans have been enslaving bees on honey farms. His decision to sue the human race leads to a lengthy court process, presided over by Judge Bumbleton (Oprah Winfrey) and facing off against lowdown lawyer Layton T. Montgomery (John Goodman). This turn involves all sorts of instruction for viewers on the exploitation of bees (and an offputting stereotypey turn by a grocery store worker named Hector [David Pimentel]). A further twist reveals that such enslavement is actually a good thing for the planet (or at least, Central Park, which appears to stand in for the planet when its flora suffer the consequences of bees on vacation).

This shift in political course wouldn't be so noticeable if the film actually had something else going for it. But aside from a brief appearance by Chris Rock as a mosquito named Mooseblood (when Barry queries about his solo lifestyle, his lack of hive support, Blood announces, "Every mosquito is on his own: you're a mosquito, you're in trouble"), Bee Movie offers few instances of straight-up funny comedy. Brightly colored and pretty, it is in the end another version of Seinfeld's usual business.

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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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