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Just when I thought Taylor Swift had surpassed every semblance of an expectation, she proved to be even more of a superwoman. The release of her eighth album, “folklore,” on July 24th comes only 11 months after the cheerful and flowery “Lover.” Written and recorded entirely in quarantine, “folklore” is a testament to the singer’s creativity as a musical powerhouse. “Folklore” stuns with its ethereal beauty and maturity, expressed through intelligent lyrics and gentle, haunting melodies.
It can be difficult to acknowledge the near-ubiquitous prevalence of sexual abuse when victims are nameless, shapeless and unfamiliar. Released on June 24, “Athlete A” forces a recognition of this rampant abuse, as the victims are the young women that America champions as Olympians. Through the bravery of the female gymnasts and the brutal, but necessary look into the bleak world of USA Gymnastics, “Athlete A” is an illuminating, tear-jerking, must-watch documentary.
“The King of Staten Island” is not a good movie. There. I’d like to get that out of the way. Unlike the 136 minutes stolen from me watching this snooze fest, it will only take me a second to get to the point of this review: “The King of Staten Island” is incredibly boring, self-indulgent and not worth your time or money.
Director and producer Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” released two weeks ago on Netflix, is an impactful Vietnam War story about the Black experience, following the journey of four middle-aged, Black veterans in the present day. In the film, the group returns to Vietnam to recover the body of their fallen captain and the buried treasure they left behind during the war.
Varsity, a five-person indie pop band from Chicago, has solidified its place in the genre of indie pop with its new album, “Fine Forever.” Composed of lead singer Stef Smith, guitarists Dylan Weschler and Pat Stanton, bassist Paul Stolz and drummer Jake Stolz, Varsity released “Fine Forever” on May 29 through independent record label Run For Cover Records. While the album’s self-aware lyrics touch on themes such as loneliness and heartbreak, the cheerful instrumentals infuse their songs with an optimistic quality. In “Fine Forever,” Varsity layers complex anecdotes with upbeat indie-pop sounds to stress a message of positivity amid the difficulties of life.
Charli XCX’s latest album “how i’m feeling now,” released on May 15, is her most conceptually cohesive and emotionally vulnerable album yet. Created entirely during the COVID-19 lockdown, the album portrays the loneliness, fear and hope that she has encountered while isolated from the world.
In a genre as old as folk, it can be hard for anything to stand out against the large body of work comprising the genre’s canon. Artists like Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon cultivated the sound that became associated with folk singer-songwriters in the middle of the 20th century. While the sounds they played were by definition based on earlier American musical styles, these artists sounded novel and each presented a unique brand of folk. In recent years, however, artists like Ed Sheeran have figured out how to soullessly manufacture the singer-songwriter formula by repeating the same tired sound again and again. Faced with a barrage of mediocre music, modern folk singer-songwriters have been forced to innovate in an attempt to stand out.
On May 1, Netflix released Alice Wu’s “The Half of It,” a film that follows Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) as she navigates love and personal identity as an Asian American teenager. “The Half of It” transforms the common teen romance narrative into a funny, relatable and heartwarming work of art by pushing the boundaries of representation in mainstream romantic comedies.
Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes released their latest project, “What Kinda Music,” through the jazz label Blue Note Records on April 24. Their collaboration is an experimental album combining the upbeat, polished chords and production of Misch with the jazzier, more experimentally inclined sound of the drummer Dayes. “What Kinda Music” is Misch’s first project since his 2018 album “Geography” and is also Dayes’ first album release since 2017. “What Kinda Music” is exactly what the name implies — a genre-defying album, incorporating the best of both Misch and Dayes. It’s a project that’s part electronica, part jazz and part hip-hop. Dayes’ experimental inventiveness melds with Misch’s catchy chords and pitch-perfect voice (and a well-rounded range of featured artists) to create an original UK sound.
On April 10, Netflix released Alan Yang’s “Tigertail,” a film inspired by the experiences of Yang’s father that follows the life of Pin-Jui (Tzi Ma), a Taiwanese-American immigrant. Despite a few flaws, “Tigertail” shares a touching, authentic and relatable story about the Asian-American immigrant experience.
Every 20 years, like clockwork, American culture repeats itself. This does not mean that the same exact trends are recycled in an endless loop. Rather, after about 20 years, outdated culture becomes “retro,” and nostalgia for past decades shapes new styles and artwork. The 1970s had “Happy Days,” and the 1990s had “That ’70s Show.” In a more abstract sense, the infatuation with the glamorous lifestyles of the fabulously wealthy in the 1980s inspired reality television and “Gossip Girl” in the 2000s. As we enter the 2020s, the music stylings of the early aughts are making a comeback. Artists like Charli XCX and Slayyyter evoke Britney Spears-style pop, while Poppy and Grimes both recently released music that is heavily reminiscent of nu metal.
As a wave of states introduced abortion restrictions last year, abortion rights have increasingly come under fire. Now, in the age of COVID-19 — with abortions deemed non-essential in some states — the right to choose is especially pertinent. With this in mind, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” a movie that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and can now be purchased on Amazon Prime, is even more timely than it would’ve been just two months ago.
After eight long years, 1990s teenage pop sensation turned reclusive savant Fiona Apple has released her fifth album, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” As longtime fans know, Apple’s album release schedule is erratic; she has only released five albums since her 1996 debut “Tidal,” which she released when she was 18 years old. Apple’s prodigious talents as a writer are apparent even on her first album, but her teenage immaturity and naivete are also obvious. While the 90-word title of her second album, often shortened to “When the Pawn …,” initially annoyed fans and critics when it debuted in 1999, the complex, jazzy instrumentals and tremendous lyrical improvement won over most listeners. A protracted dispute with her label created a six-year gap before the release of Apple’s third album, “Extraordinary Machine,” in 2005, which introduced full orchestration behind her music.
The Netflix docuseries “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak” offers six episodes to binge-watch during self-isolation. If you have already seen the drama of Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” and Wolfgang Petersen’s “Outbreak” or are searching for a documentary perspective, “Pandemic” may be the show for you. Following the lives of doctors in the U.S., Asia and Africa as they combat flu viruses, the show reveals the challenges of preventing a deadly outbreak of influenza. Although “Pandemic” is flawed in its false advertising and dwells too long on its depiction of doctors’ personal lives, it still presents an overall interesting and accurate account of influenza epidemics and pandemics.
Have you ever been invited into a space that feels so uniquely intimate and fragile that you observe it as carefully as possible, hoping to not miss a moment? That’s what watching Netflix’s “Unorthodox” feels like.
It’s been so long since the explosive conclusion of “Breaking Bad” in 2013 that “Better Call Saul” — the 2015 prequel spinoff created by “Breaking Bad” masterminds Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould — feels like its own show. And I’ll admit, I was wary of its ability to stand out from its predecessor, most of all because Saul Goodman, the smooth-talking, comb-over-sporting strip mall lawyer played with electricity and heart by Bob Odenkirk, was largely a one-note side piece in the original show. A skeevy lawyer who helps criminals hide their money and avoid jail time — end of story. It didn’t seem substantive enough for its own show, and it seemed like “Better Call Saul” would be doomed to the spin-off junk pile in the wasteland of failed TV shows. But I had faith in Gilligan and Gould, so I approached “Better Call Saul” with tepid hope. Now, five years and almost five complete seasons later — the fifth season is currently underway — part of me loves “Saul” even more than “Breaking Bad.”
On March 27, English pop artist Dua Lipa released her sophomore album “Future Nostalgia” one week early, in the midst of the global pandemic. With millions around the world quarantined in their homes and looking for a way to pass the hours, the timing couldn’t be better. The album’s upbeat sound is exactly what the world needs in this time of uncertainty and confusion.
“Tiger King'' is one of the wildest true-crime stories Netflix has given us so far — so much so that its larger-than-life characters eclipse the documentary series’ initial mission of shining light on animal rights issues. The show follows the eccentric Joe Exotic (whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage), a self-described “gay, gun-carrying-redneck with a mullet” who created one of the biggest wildlife preservation centers for exotic cats, along with his menagerie of exotic animal owner colleagues who prove even wilder than their pets. The directors of “Tiger King,” Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, untangle the complicated and at times surreal world of Exotic to deliver a must-see story of a zookeeper who lands himself in jail for a murder-for-hire plot targeting his long-time rival, big cat activist Carole Baskin, who is shrouded in her own felonious controversies. Despite its mild attempt to address ethical questions about animal rights, “Tiger King” is, at heart, a true crime documentary that spotlights outsized personalities.
At the behest of a friend, I recently watched the sequel to “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” on Netflix. Titled “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You,” I found that even though I didn’t think the movie was particularly good, I still managed to find a kernel of satisfaction in watching it.
“The Sweet Science of Bruising” had its American premiere in Moore Theater last Friday. Written by Joy Wilkinson, the play is set in 1869 London. It tells the story of four women from a variety of backgrounds who find their way into the boxing ring to literally fight for their right to freedom and gender equality.