Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

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Poster courtesy of Hunter Langston Designs

Faith rewards believers. The revitalization of Matthew McConaughey since his return to the screen three years ago represents a classic actor arc in Hollywood, predominantly amongst men. Having tapped their ability to play young hunks, they turn to roles that better showcase the skills they already had but were poorly utilized in previous, fluffier films. Brad Pitt navigated this transition with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). Clooney made it a few years earlier with Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). In total abandonment of his well-earned status as a Hollywood beefcake, Matthew McConaughey has gone decidedly indie with a string of films including Mud, Bernie and Magic Mike, the latter two directed by pillars of independent cinema Richard Linklater and Steven Soderbergh respectively. This year has gotten off to a good start for McConaughey with the debut of HBO’s critically lauded True Detective and his Academy Award for Best Actor. The film that earned him the nomination, Dallas Buyers Club, languished in Hollywood purgatory for years, passing from one star-director combo to another before landing serendipitously in the unlikely laps of McConaughey and director Jean-Marc Vallée.  Continue reading

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St. Vincent//St. Vincent

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Masturbation. Huey Newton. Television. Seurat. Cowboys of information. You may ask yourself: How did we get here? The answer is found in the timeless mixture of brilliance and accessibility. As St. Vincent, Annie Clark has spent the last seven years making some of the most rewarding guitar music of the 21st century. Stuck between Warhol and Einstein both in style and method, Clark is a technical savant whose approach to her art is equal parts earned intuition and driven experimentation. Her songcraft has continued to define modern musicianship. Her fourth, self-titled album will be as definitive to shredders and gear heads as it will be to any fan of gothic romance with a dark, self-directed sense of humor. In short, St. Vincent is the impossibly specific artifact that with applied patience will speak to just about anyone. Continue reading

Beck//Morning Phase

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Sea Change marked the end of Beck’s near decade-long love affair with the unpredictable. To that effect, “Paper Tiger,” the album’s high water mark, was not only the heartfelt hug before the period of pervasive doubt that haunts the end of all mutually agreed upon break ups but also the exact meeting point between everything that had come before and everything that was just over the horizon. However enjoyable, the majority of Beck’s output since that moment can be summarized in one word: safe. While Guero (2005) and The Information (2006) each produced a handful of memorable tracks, they ultimately felt like retreads and with good reason. As collaborations with super producers the Dust Brothers and Nigel Godrich respectively, it felt like Beck was attempting, with exacting precision, to recapture the Odelay sound, the creation of which has been a mixed blessing in the years since its inimitable weirdness invaded indie radio. Critics were eager to pick up on this fact and celebrated the albums as a “return to form” after the dreary but celebrated Sea Change. More than ten years later, the pattern emerges once again. Morning Phase finds Beck back with many of the same session musicians, making music that bears such an uncanny sonic similarity to Sea Change that it regularly feels like panning for gold along a once wealthy creek bed that’s since gone dry. Continue reading

Hospitality//Trouble

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A variety of sources have capitalized on the figurative trading in of Hospitality’s cardigans for something a little tougher on their latest album, Trouble. This clever observation extends at least in part from the fact that sometime after the release of their self-titled debut, singer and guitarist Amber Papini took to regularly donning the greatest piece of punk rock iconography since the smashed guitar: a leather jacket. Short of leaving their twee past behind them, Trouble finds Hospitality mapping a trajectory familiar to so many bands whose promising debuts are followed by sonically and/or technically ambitious sophomore albums that while showcasing their bigger budgets also demonstrate a lack of cohesion. Continue reading

Pharrell//G I R L

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As just about anyone will tell you: 2013 was a good year to be Pharrell Williams. The producer wunderkind gone R&B sensation hit the pop jackpot with back-to-back guest appearances on chart toppers “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky.” Ubiquity doesn’t even begin to describe it. Hot on the heels of appearances at the Grammys and Oscars, where he performed the Despicable Me 2 earworm “Happy,” G I R L is Pharrell’s first solo outing in eight years. No longer content to support and assist, G I R L pushes Pharrell as a lead talent. Yet even bolstered by the major players in the contemporary pop landscape, G I R L falls distressingly short of even the most basic expectations of a solo record from Pharrell. So much so that rather than inspiring contempt the album is cursed by the industry kiss of death: total ambivalence. Continue reading