Critical Circuit #2 – September 1, 2021

Candyman

Quick thoughts on the original Candyman: an underappreciated horror classic that holds up remarkably well after 30 years. More expanded thoughts on this new Candyman film: wow, this is exactly how you follow up a horror classic. Great modern slashers are few and far between, which is a shame because there is so much to do creatively within the genre, as shown here. The kills here are mostly all creatively done, and do not shy away from the brutality. And unlike other movies like this, Candyman takes itself plenty seriously without bogging itself down in its own self-importance. And like the original before it, there is obvious social commentary here that never feels jarring but instead helps compliment the story and expand upon the original’s lore. Nia DaCosta is the obvious breakout here, commanding each of these scenes with visual intrigue, mainly with the addition of shadow puppets being used to retell storylines and presenting Tony Todd as the most horrifying iteration of the titular character. Despite some simplistic dialogue and a tad underwhelming conclusion, this is a movie that really needs to be seen in theaters. Absolutely worthy sequel to the first film and the kind of horror blockbuster we should all hope to continue to see.

Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

Even at her best, Halsey has always struggled to find a balance between her alternative influences and her pop sound. Especially on her earlier records, you could tell Halsey was trying so hard to make dark, edgy music but always came up short, falling into the traps of typical radio pop. Her last album, Manic, seemed to find a better balance, with sharper writing that worked well with the undeniably pop production. It was a nice lane for her but not one she stuck to long as now we have her most ambitious project yet, a full collaboration with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Their influence is heard from front to back, with each song having some intense, cinematic instrumentation which Halsey sounds great against. They all bring out the best in each other as Halsey’s darker themes and storytelling are actually backed by equally chaotic production. Despite stepping so far out of her comfort zone and getting away with sounds I never expected to hear on a pop star’s album, it never gets too experimental to alienate fans. Songs like “Easier than Lying” and “I am not a woman, I’m a god” work perfectly as catchy tracks with insane power. It is easily Halsey’s best record and a promising sign of things to come.

Annette

Despite their intimidatingly large discography, I have made a point of getting into Sparks over the last couple years. They’ve been making catchy, energetic art rock for 50 years now and with Annette they prove they are far from out of ideas. Their musical compositions and script are easily the biggest draw of this movie for me, finding creative ways to move this narrative along and give our three main actors plenty of moments to really shine. The opening number alone, which really plays as a introduction disconnected from the rest of the film, is everything I could have asked for from a musical like this. And the song “So May We Start” would fit neatly on just about any recent Sparks record. The actual movie itself, while messy, is still competently handled by director Leos Carax, whose vision is on clear display in each scene. This is truly a bizarre film, one that definitely doesn’t nail all of the ideas it is reaching for, but at its core it is a fascinating, yet challenging, watch that I did not mind spending nearly two and a half hours on.

Donda’s Dababy and Marilyn Manson Features

Yes, I have spent a lot of this week listening to Donda. Yes, I do have opinions on it but those are going into a separate solo review because Kanye can’t be contained to a single paragraph. But what does deserve its own discussion is Kanye’s decision to record a second version of the song “Jail” he had been hyping as his big Jay-Z reunion for a month. At his most recent listening, he came out with the two features that he replaced Jay-Z with, Dababy and Marilyn Manson. Obviously people were instantly offended by this, rightfully so, seeing how Dababy very recently has made his homophobia abundantly clear and Manson is actively at the center of several lawsuits and allegations of sexual and physical assault. I know Kanye is smart enough to realize the implications of putting these two on a song together and he is clearly sending a message with the collaboration. I mean, was there ever a need to have Manson on your song in 2021? I know there are die-hard defenders who could say this is about Kanye using his platform and offering these artists forgiveness for their past sins, just as Christ would have done. It’s an argument that I could even see Kanye himself buying but falls apart the minute you realize neither of these artists have any bit of remorse for their actions. Dababy actively refused to walk back his comments until he lost several high profile gigs and even then retracted his PR ghostwritten “apology.” Manson has never been honest about his past actions and has actively worked to discredit and deny them. No, I don’t think it is fair to knock the entire 27 track album for this single song, which is really just an alternative version of the original song, but it is upsetting to see nonetheless.

Drake and Lil Nas X Album Covers

On a less serious note, this Certified Lover Boy album cover is hilarious. It was obviously my first thought to say this is awful and move on but the more that I look at this collective of pregnant emojis looking deep into my soul, the more I think it could be genius. I have obviously not heard the album, and I actually like that the music itself has been kept secret, but the album title is already so tongue-in-cheek that this kind of fits perfectly. I don’t know how self-aware Drake is with all of this, I am absolutely more laughing at him than with him at this point, but maybe I’m wrong here and he can take a joke. But then you look at the recently released album out for Lil Nas X’s upcoming debut Montero and wow do you feel like Drake’s team wasted their resources. Lil Nas X’s entire album cycle has been accompanied by gorgeous artwork and creative music videos so the album cover really needed to nail it and it absolutely did. It is opulent, over-the-top, and beautiful in all the ways I imagine Lil Nas X wanted it to be. We’ll see how the actual album goes but this is a very promising start.

Up Retrospective

This week we unfortunately lost the incredibly talented Ed Asner, a man who will be forever remembered for his iconic television roles and truly brave lifelong commitment to political activism. His work impacted every generation in a different way and for me I will always love his work as Carl Fredrickson in Pixar’s 2009 classic Up. Obviously this movie needs no introduction and anything I say about it won’t be groundbreaking but re-watching it again this week did solidify this as my favorite Pixar movie. It is easily the most human story the company has ever told, telling a very mature story about how to live your life and the little things that make that life special. These are themes that future movies like Coco and Soul would go onto explore but those feel to be directly tackling those themes directly whereas Up manages to make these themes clear through a story that otherwise could just be a fun adventure comedy. It manages to blend all the best elements of Pixar and tell a story that genuinely feels it is all-around made for the whole family. And for all the incredible elements that go into it, visually-stunning animation that still holds up, Michael Giacchino’s legendary score, it is Asner’s voice work as Carl that really helps capture the emotion of this film. He delivers each line from a place of true sincerity, nailing the comedic timing of his more crotchety moments and subtly capturing the deep pain and regret from his past. It is an iconic performance that few could have delivered as well as Asner. Just one of the many phenomenal things he did in his decades of entertainment.

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