InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 1

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[A new 4K<br />

restoration of<br />

Bernardo Bertolucci’s<br />

The Conformist is playing<br />

at Film Forum January 6-19.]<br />

The '60s and '70s were a highly politically-charged time for Italian<br />

cinema. The country's neorealism movement chronicled working class<br />

lives in a post-WWII Italy <strong>—</strong> a newly post-fascist society still reeling from the<br />

fallout of the deadliest, most devastating conflict in human history. But unlike<br />

these grounded proletarian dramas, films like Ettore Scola's A Special Day, Lina<br />

Wertmüller's Seven Beauties, and most infamously Pier Paolo Pasolini's hellish Salò,<br />

or the 120 Days of Sodom confronted the nation's fascist past directly and in subversive,<br />

often highly controversial ways. Bernardo Bertolucci's luscious political thriller The<br />

Conformist, meanwhile, rendered the grim realities of fascism in ways none of his<br />

contemporaries did: alluring, hazy, anxious, and rife with repressed sexuality.<br />


Adapted from Alberto Moravia's 1951 novel of the same name, the film is, in essence, a character study of an easily persuadable yet<br />

deeply conflicted and profoundly disaffected also-ran named Marcello Clerici (played with remarkable complexity by Jean-Louis<br />

Trintignant). After a childhood marred by neglect, dysfunction, and a traumatic episode of sexual abuse, Marcello yearns for a "normal"<br />

life in an Italy that has fallen to fascism. His beliefs may not run deep, but his commitment does, and he goes through the motions of<br />

assimilating into fascist society <strong>—</strong> impassive church confessions where he comes clean about all manner of sin, an unenthusiastic<br />

marriage to a petit bourgeois putz, conscientious service for the fascist secret police <strong>—</strong> before being sent to Paris to assassinate his<br />

exiled former professor, Luca Quadri (Enzo Tarascio). Since fleeing Italy, Quadri has partaken in anti-fascist activities, and the Italian<br />

authorities believe they need to make an example of him. True to form, Marcello decides to take his wife along so he can get his<br />

honeymoon over with as well, but once they arrive, he soon begins an affair with Quadri's young wife, Anna (Dominique Sanda), who,<br />

upon learning of his motives, openly criticizes his allegiance to fascism, begging him not to hurt her and her husband.<br />

Sitting in a car on his way to finally finish the job for which he was sent to France, Marcello ponders his life and the circumstances<br />

that put him where he is. Bertolucci presents these memories with a subtle, dreamlike haziness that is emphasized by fluid camera<br />

movements and a vibrant, high-contrast color scheme. Even though its visuals have earned particular praise, The Conformist<br />

functions as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk: image, sound, editing, script, and performance all combine into something transcendently<br />

cinematic. Shot by legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the film frames its characters against the cold, imposing architectural<br />

Rationalism popular under Mussolini's rule <strong>—</strong> in particular, the marble-benched asylum which houses Marcello's<br />


father, Antonio (Giuseppe Addobbati), stands out for its<br />

modernist harshness <strong>—</strong> and contrasts the latter with<br />

middle-class drawing rooms and the bohemian cafés of Paris.<br />

It's noteworthy that The Conformist still manages to shock with<br />

its depictions of sexual pathology, given that, aside from Salò,<br />

the era also saw the release of Tinto Brass's 1976<br />

proto-Nazisploitation erotic drama Salon Kitty and Luchino<br />

Visconti's sexually frank 1969 film, The Damned. Bertolucci would<br />

further explore themes of sexuality with the controversial Last<br />

Tango in Paris, but with The Conformist, he opted explicitly to link<br />

sexual repression with the ideology of fascism. Far from the first<br />

(or last) work to do so, the film's take nevertheless proves<br />

uniquely tragic, as the story not only highlights the depths of its<br />

main character's pathetic ennui, but also the crushing futility of<br />

human action: in spite of his best efforts, Marcello's obsessive<br />

conformism proves to be in vain when Mussolini resigns as head<br />

of state and the rubble-filled streets are overrun by celebrating<br />

anti-fascists. Worse, he learns that perhaps the most pivotal<br />

moment of his life, his supposed murder of childhood abuser<br />

Lino (Pierre Clémenti), didn't actually happen as he thought it did,<br />

as he finds Lino, now balding and gray, sitting in a dark alley,<br />

again attempting to seduce a young boy.<br />

Marcello isn't the only one who lives his life in the shadow of<br />

sexual abuse, though. On the train to Paris, his wife Giulia<br />

(Stefania Sandrelli) relays a story of how she lost her virginity at<br />

15 to a 60-year-old family friend <strong>—</strong> a man she used to call uncle.<br />

Aroused, Marcello begins undressing her while asking whether or<br />

not she liked the encounter. The score swells romantically as the<br />

couple are consumed by the lust her memory has roused in them,<br />

the warm, red sky outside paradoxically transforming into a<br />

muted, cool blue. The film also hints at some element of<br />

impropriety in the relationship between Marcello and his<br />

morphine-addicted mother (Carla Mignone, better known by her<br />

stage name Milly), although Bertolucci wouldn't explore the<br />

subject of mother-son incest in depth until 1979's La Luna, a<br />

drama that Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky described as<br />

"monstrous, cheap, vulgar rubbish" in a diary entry.<br />

“… functions as a kind of<br />

Gesamtkunstwerk: image,<br />

sound, editing, script, and<br />

performance all combine into<br />

something transcendently<br />

cinematic.<br />

In spite of its grave subject matter, The Conformist manages to<br />

portray both the dark and light sides of passive conformity, such<br />

as when a meeting between Marcello and a high-ranking member<br />

of the secret police concludes with Marcello absentmindedly<br />

pointing a gun at his superior before nonchalantly noticing that<br />

he must have misplaced his fedora. Similarly, the form bounces<br />

from uninterrupted camera glides to the skewed, claustrophobic<br />

angles of film noir, and by the time the fascist henchmen emerge<br />

like specters from the foggy woods to dispose of the<br />

troublesome Quadris, the ensuing burst of violence <strong>—</strong> not to<br />

mention the sheer terror in Anna's eyes as she realizes Marcello's<br />

betrayal <strong>—</strong> as refracted in the titular conformist's detached gaze,<br />

scans as nothing short of sociopathic. His conscience has been<br />

extinguished by his desire to fit in, an utterly pointless<br />

transformation as he will come to realize just a few years later<br />

when the end of the Duce's reign is announced on the radio. And<br />

when he finally sits down during the final moments, he fixes his<br />

eyes on the audience; his guilt, regret, and confusion becoming<br />

truly tangible for the first (and last) time. <strong>—</strong> FRED BARRETT<br />




Korine's unflinching artistic instincts were apparent when Larry<br />

Clark adapted his screenplay for Kids in 1995. The New York City<br />

tale of youthful depravity shocked and intrigued audiences with<br />

its loose storytelling form and frank depictions of sex and drug<br />

abuse, but with Gummo, the then-24-year-old former<br />

skateboarder decided to do away with narrative entirely. In an<br />

interview with fellow director Werner Herzog <strong>—</strong> both a fan of and<br />

a major influence on the young filmmaker <strong>—</strong> Korine had this to<br />

say about the state of film in the mid-to-late '90s: "When I look at<br />

the history of film […] and then look at where films are now, I see<br />

so little progression in the way they are made and presented, and<br />

I'm bored with that [...] With Gummo I wanted to create a new<br />

viewing experience with images coming from all directions." His<br />

dissatisfaction with the medium's creative stagnation is felt in<br />

the feverishness of the film's audiovisual assault, a formal<br />

“<br />

Gummo<br />

approach where every frame is overloaded with information.<br />

remains [Korine’s] purest artistic<br />

statement, the epicenter of all of his creative<br />

endeavors, the fount from which every<br />

other work in his oeuvre springs.<br />

Revisiting the film 25 years later, Gummo not only retains every<br />

bit of its darkly enticing appeal, but it also makes clear Korine's<br />

status as a genuine cultural force. Although he was, and<br />

sometimes still is, dismissed as a cheap provocateur <strong>—</strong> Maslin<br />

wasn't the only critic who was less than impressed with what he<br />

had to offer <strong>—</strong> his profound influence on contemporary pop<br />

aesthetics cannot be overstated. Another admirer of Korine's, Gus<br />

Van Sant, praised the film's "sophisticated and refined cinematic<br />

dialogue of modern cultural influences." This cinematic dialogue<br />

has cast a long shadow <strong>—</strong> as the film's cat-killing main<br />

characters Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and Tummler (Nick Sutton)<br />

ride their bikes down a hill, looking for prey, the scene is<br />

accompanied by the thunderous stoner metal riff of Sleep's<br />

"Dragonaut," and the bizarre underclass Americana that the short<br />

vignette evokes has retained so much of its aesthetic<br />

staying power that, more than two decades later, it's easy to<br />

picture a similar scene playing out to the sinister trap sounds of<br />

Migos or Kodak Black in an episode of Atlanta, or couched within<br />

the upside-down-cross pranksterism of an early Odd Future<br />

music video.<br />

While Korine's acute awareness of the zeitgeist would eventually<br />

lead him to godfather the Tampa-core genre with his oneiric<br />

black comedy crime thriller Spring Breakers, Gummo remains his<br />

purest artistic statement, the epicenter of all of his creative<br />

endeavors, the fount from which every other work in his oeuvre<br />

springs. The Dogme 95 drama Julien Donkey-Boy, the low-rent<br />

scuzzfest Trash Humpers, and the melancholy outsider dramedy<br />

Mister Lonely all boast DNA that can be traced back to Korine’s<br />

first film. Even his absurdist novel, A Crack Up at the Race Riots <strong>—</strong><br />

an attempt at "the Great American Choose Your Own<br />

Adventure Novel" <strong>—</strong> trades in the same bleak, fragmented,<br />

quasi-comedy of Gummo. In his interview with Herzog, Korine<br />

elaborates: "It goes back to [Charles and Ray] Eames and<br />

[Isamu] Noguchi talking about a unified aesthetic. You can make<br />

movies, write books, do a ballet, and sing opera, but it's all part of<br />

the same vision."<br />

There’s a crucial piece that the director's lesser imitators, critical<br />

naysayers, and quite a few ignorant fans miss, however: in spite<br />

of the depravity it depicts, in spite of the borderline exploitative<br />

relationship it itself has with its subjects, there is a quiet<br />

tenderness to Gummo that exists alongside the nihilistic<br />

radicalism that permeates it. Korine isn't interested in shocking<br />

the audience as much as he's trying to place them squarely in a<br />

milieu that they (most likely) know nothing about. And yet, the<br />



famous scene of Solomon eating spaghetti and drinking milk in a bathtub filled with filthy, brown water resonates exactly because of<br />

how familiar and mundane it feels <strong>—</strong> a young boy sitting in a dirty bathtub, messily eating his dinner, while his mother tries to get him<br />

clean. It's decidedly odd <strong>—</strong> for some reason, a strip of fried bacon is taped to the bathroom wall <strong>—</strong> and it's slightly uncomfortable, but<br />

seen through Korine's eyes, the scene also becomes strangely touching, a snapshot of normalcy amidst a world that has been thrown<br />

into disarray. It confronts us with the fact that the people we tend to look down on are, in fact, human beings, too <strong>—</strong> maybe that's<br />

where the crux of Korine's provocation truly lies. <strong>—</strong> FRED BARRETT<br />




Carla Simón<br />

From the first frame of Alcarràs, Carla Simón alerts the viewer to<br />

the integrality of the summery Catalonian landscape of her film.<br />

Within these windswept fields and misshapen buttes resides the<br />

Solé family, modest peach farmers <strong>—</strong> partially based on the<br />

director’s own family <strong>—</strong> and played by a rugged cast of<br />

nonprofessionals. The vantage point of childhood often mingles<br />

with realism in Simón’s work, with the still-present undercurrents<br />

of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War lending a subtle<br />

historicity. Alcarràs hinges on the Solé family being evicted from<br />

their peach farm, which was given to them as a reward from the<br />

wealthy Pinyol clan, after offering their protection during the<br />

war; these sorts of displays of gratitude, enacted through any<br />

formal paperwork, are unfortunately archaic in the film’s present<br />

day.<br />

The conflict, however earth-shattering it may read, is also<br />

somewhat ancillary, encouraging the viewer to map out the ebb<br />

and flow of relationships of this extended family rather than<br />

anticipate their final displacement. Modernity has its harbinger<br />

in an unwelcome, monstrous tractor crane in the opening shots<br />

<strong>—</strong> interrupting the play of the smaller children, whose reaction<br />

shots from behind a car’s windshield seal the Lucrecia Martel<br />

influence then and there <strong>—</strong> but work still has to continue,<br />

regardless of encroaching industrialization and the threat of<br />

deposition. The arbiters of change offer an alternative, and even<br />

if it is lucrative, it doesn’t account for the loss of an<br />

intergenerational home.<br />

The eviction is sinuous; it doesn’t buffet the family as much as it<br />

lies in wait. So in the meantime, Simón catalogs and files the<br />

quotidian activities of a peach farm maintained by the various<br />

generations of a single family. Daniel Cajítas’ camera often<br />

begins at the center of a permutation of the ensemble, before<br />

casually attaching itself to a certain party, the latent isolation<br />

registered by quiet observation of larger events. More than once,<br />

teenagers, children, and the elderly will make their way out to the<br />

crop, standing alone amidst what’s provided for them for so long,<br />

and what may be soon repossessed. In some ways, Alcarràs<br />

resembles Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours, or at least a proletariat<br />

transposition, especially in the party scene near the end, where<br />



focus is equally dispensed amongst all participants. The Solés<br />

live with the very reminder of what they may lose, a rather<br />

poignant development, which is what makes the most relaxed of<br />

scenes also the most enjoyable, and meaningful; they convey all<br />

that the verbal disputations can’t.<br />

However, the demands of contemporaneous realism trip up the<br />

more patient <strong>—</strong> even spiritual <strong>—</strong> pastoralism of Alcarràs. The<br />

rapport of the extended family is as warm as it is believably<br />

strained, so a few of Simón’s efforts to delineate the variety of<br />

viewpoints are unfortunately redundant, rendering characters as<br />

brief stock-types, especially the brother-in-law who tries to<br />

ingratiate himself into the Pinyols. The director’s own narrative<br />

motivations sit uneasily atop those of the characters; these are<br />

the intervals where the film, purporting to be of a documentary<br />

quality, comes off as unbearably written. But then there’s the<br />

closing shot, an image of such unceremonious perfection, and<br />

the fitful heaviness of the directorial hand is, at least to some<br />

degree, justified. <strong>—</strong> PATRICK PREZIOSI<br />

DIRECTOR: Carla Simón CAST: Jordi Pujol Dolcet, Anna Otin,<br />

Xenia Roset, Albert Bosch, Berta Pipó DISTRIBUTOR: MUBI IN<br />

THEATERS: January 6 RUNTIME: 2 hr. 0 min.<br />


Kasi Lemmons<br />

When Kasi Lemmons made her directorial debut with the 1997<br />

Southern Gothic masterpiece Eve's Bayou, it likely wouldn't have<br />

occurred to people that she would eventually be reduced to<br />

working on by-the-numbers fare like I Wanna Dance with<br />

Somebody, the latest cinematic equivalent of a Wikipedia article<br />

<strong>—</strong> this one based on the life of Whitney Houston. Lemmons's film,<br />

adapted from a script by Bohemian Rhapsody screenwriter<br />

Anthony McCarten, is a slipshod attempt at cleaning up the<br />

legendary songstress' image and legacy, all while scrubbing away<br />

the messier aspects of her humanity. As such, even I Wanna<br />

Dance with Somebody's decision to not focus on Houston's<br />

scandal-ridden later years feels cynical, a transparent effort by<br />

her estate, which participated in the project, not to rehabilitate<br />

her as much as make her marketable again <strong>—</strong> a process which is<br />

already in motion, with a line of cosmetics and a variety of Funko<br />

POP! Figurines.<br />

It's unfortunate, but the rote filmmaking on display here couldn't<br />

be further removed from the layered sensitivity that has marked<br />

Lemmons's previous work <strong>—</strong> even her somewhat formulaic 2019<br />

Harriet Tubman biopic Harriet drew out some memorable<br />

performances from its cast. I Wanna Dance, by contrast, plays<br />

more like a glorified clip show where none of the actors are given<br />

room to breathe. Naomi Ackie manages to wring a surprising<br />

amount of depth out of the clichéd material, but her co-stars,<br />

including Stanley Tucci and the woefully underemployed Ashton<br />

Sanders, are completely suffocated under a barrage of shoddily<br />

conceived and assembled scenes, filled with tropes that would<br />

have felt stale a decade ago.<br />

The film opens at the 1994 American Music Awards, where<br />

Whitney Houston (Ackie) is preparing to deliver her famous<br />

medley of "I Loves You, Porgy," "And I Am Telling You I'm Not<br />

Going," and "I Have Nothing," obviously setting up what will come<br />

to represent the peak of her musical career <strong>—</strong> her own 1985 Live<br />

Aid moment, so to speak. After the title card, the audience is<br />

taken to 1983, where a young Whitney dazzles a New Jersey<br />

church congregation with her raw vocal talent. Led with a firm<br />

but loving hand by her mother, Cissy Houston (Tamara Tunie) <strong>—</strong><br />

an accomplished singer in her own right <strong>—</strong> Whitney eventually<br />

manages to secure a record deal after her extraordinary<br />

performance of George Benson's "The Greatest Love of All"<br />

impresses record producer Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci). However,<br />

the ensuing success proves difficult to navigate, and Whitney is<br />

forced to contend with accusations of selling out, her<br />

overbearing father John (Clarke Peters), who also works as her<br />

manager, and a strained and abusive marriage to R&B singer<br />

Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders).<br />

Much like he did with Freddie Mercury <strong>—</strong> Bohemian Rhapsody<br />

played down the Queen frontman's queerness in favor of a more<br />



flattering portrayal of the surviving band members, another<br />

example of an estate working to protect its own bottom line <strong>—</strong><br />

McCarten here flattens Houston into an uncomplicated, easily<br />

digestible avatar, and as such, her same-sex relationship early in<br />

life, as well as her internalized homophobia, are included but<br />

insufficiently explored. Similarly, her spiritual development <strong>—</strong><br />

admittedly unhip subject matter that few contemporary<br />

filmmakers are willing to engage with <strong>—</strong> is barely given the time<br />

of day, in spite of her having been brought up in the church and<br />

the film’s penchant for asking characters to use the Bible to<br />

rationalize their behavior. Instead, we get predictable gestures,<br />

transparently designed to appeal to modern sensibilities: "Yes,<br />

I'm exhausted. All Black women are exhausted," complains<br />

Houston in a particularly unnatural exchange.<br />

While I Wanna Dance's hagiographic treatment mostly relies on<br />

the power of the music (or, more specifically, its subject's<br />

soaring voice) to generate its few captivating moments, it fails to<br />

truly capture the transcendent beauty that made Houston's<br />

legendary melisma such an enduring part of popular culture. The<br />

singer's legacy needed a corrective after years of being defined<br />

by her premature, drug-related death, and regardless of<br />

whatever financial motivations led to it, the choice to ultimately<br />

not frame her life as mere tragedy, particularly given the genre,<br />

is indeed commendable. But it's hardly an excuse for crafting a<br />

film that is ultimately this lifeless and dull. <strong>—</strong> FRED BARRETT<br />

DIRECTOR: Kasi Lemmons CAST: Naomi Ackie, Ashton Sanders,<br />

Stanley Tucci, Tamara Tunie, Clarke Peters DISTRIBUTOR: Sony<br />

Pictures IN THEATERS: December 23 RUNTIME: 2 hr. 26 min.<br />



Lizzie Gottlieb<br />

What makes a great writer? Romantics and bookworms might<br />

wax poetic about unparalleled emotional insight or the fearless<br />

plumbing of the human condition, but pragmatists (and<br />

publishers) know the real answer: the secret to a great writer is a<br />

great editor. Lizzie Gottlieb’s documentary Turn Every Page: The<br />

Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb focuses on the<br />

50-year editorial relationship between two giants of 20th-century<br />

letters: Caro, deemed “the greatest political writer and thinker of<br />

our time” by his publisher, and his editor Gottlieb,<br />



panic mode. As someone who moved home after college partly to<br />

sustain an unpaid publishing internship <strong>—</strong> which never turned<br />

into a full-time job <strong>—</strong> I viewed much of Gottlieb’s archival footage<br />

with a certain (perhaps unwarranted) wistfulness. Here are but<br />

two bespeckled white dudes arguing about semicolons in a<br />

book-lined conference room, and not a federal antitrust lawsuit,<br />

employee walkout, or paywall in sight. Ah, those were the days.<br />

the luminary who, among other achievements, convinced Joseph<br />

Heller to swap out “18” with “22” in the title of his most famous<br />

book. As Gottlieb’s daughter, Lizzie has enviable access to both<br />

men, as well as a host of other literary titans, industry insiders,<br />

Caro superfans, and a couple of former Presidents to share in<br />

the memories of its two octogenarian subjects.<br />

After quick biographical sketches <strong>—</strong> Caro’s unhappy childhood,<br />

Gottlieb’s unabashed nerdiness <strong>—</strong> the documentary settles into a<br />

pleasantly unobtrusive yet instructive rhythm. In addition to its<br />

central relationship, Turn Every Page is part New York City history<br />

as told through Caro’s biography of its massively influential and<br />

divisive master builder, Robert Moses, and part 20th-century<br />

American history as told through his multi-volume biography of<br />

President Lyndon B. Johnson. It’s also a slightly rose-tinted<br />

chronicle of the golden age of print media. Both men started<br />

their careers in the 1960s, long before the Internet’s slurry of free<br />

and endless content sent the publishing industry into prolonged<br />

An unelected city planner might not seem like the natural subject<br />

for a 1,300-page doorstop, but no matter: like Infinite Jest, just<br />

having The Power Broker on your shelf, no matter how dusty,<br />

oozes intellectual pedigree. No one actually expects you to read<br />

it (I myself live with two city planners, and I’ve only ever seen the<br />

book used as a laptop stand.) But for its many fans <strong>—</strong> it is<br />

currently in its 41st continuous printing <strong>—</strong> The Power Broker both<br />

cemented Caro’s genius and set the stage for his next<br />

multi-decade undertaking: an as-yet-unfinished five-part<br />

biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who wielded immense<br />

political power in profoundly contradictory ways. And every step<br />

of the way, Robert Gottlieb was there with his No. 2 pencil (never<br />

mechanical!) to wrangle, wrassle, and chisel Caro’s manuscripts<br />

into masterpieces. As he wryly states early in the documentary,<br />

“He does the work, I do the cleanup. Then we fight.” If all editorial<br />

relationships were twice as adversarial but even half as fruitful,<br />

publishing executives might have cause to finally stop<br />

hand-wringing (and maybe even raise wages.)<br />

The timing of Turn Every Page is fortuitous, and not just because<br />

its subjects are rapidly aging and Caro is still industriously<br />

plugging away at Now! That’s What I Call LBJ. The past few years<br />

have enjoyed a renewed popular interest in urbanism as a whole,<br />

with the pandemic sparking national conversations about the<br />

role of urban spaces post-lockdown; suddenly, it seemed like all<br />

the cool kids were discussing Jace Jacobs over their sourdough<br />

starters. This interest hasn’t abated: 2022 saw the debut of<br />

Straight Line Crazy, starring Ralph Fiennes as Robert Moses (a<br />

canny bit of casting for someone who’s often viewed as the<br />

Voldemort of modern cityscapes). And given the global political<br />

and cultural slide toward authoritarianism, Caro’s stated goal <strong>—</strong><br />



to inform the public about democracy as it is, not as it should be,<br />

so they can vote accordingly <strong>—</strong> is more valuable than ever. For all<br />

our sakes, let’s keep the pencils sharpened, the archives dusted<br />

off, and the pages turning. <strong>—</strong> SELINA LEE<br />

DIRECTOR: Lizzie Gottlieb CAST: Robert A. Caro, Robert Gottlieb<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Classics IN THEATERS: December<br />

30 RUNTIME: 1 hr. 52 min.<br />

highlight of last year’s Ida Red being a random moment where<br />

Frank Grillo, clad in cowboy hat and mesh shirt, dances to Naked<br />

Eyes’ “Promises Promises” before brutally murdering a woman.<br />

Candy Land is that moment dialed to one hundred, a deep dive<br />

into depravity that is refreshing in its remorselessness. Indeed,<br />

this is a film that, within its first five minutes, features graphic<br />

sex, full-frontal nudity, and the tormenting of religious<br />

fundamentalists.<br />


John Swab<br />

In only a few short years, writer-director John Swab has churned<br />

out a handful of low-budget features that have rarely risen above<br />

the mantle of mediocrity. Part of this seems like a direct result of<br />

attempting so much in so little time, for a filmmaker happy to be<br />

getting consistent work in today’s hellish filmmaking landscape.<br />

Yet those familiar with Swab’s filmography may find themselves<br />

going a tad easier on this particular director than many of his ilk,<br />

largely because it’s obvious that he’s in possession of true<br />

technical chops, with a genuine love of the medium ingratiating<br />

itself into every frame. If one were to be especially generous,<br />

they might see a little of the early Walter Hill in his work, a true<br />

legend who understood the supposed limitations of genre fare<br />

and exploited them to produce bracing works of bravado.<br />

“[This] callback to the<br />

grindhouse flicks of the ‘70s<br />

offers up the most respectful<br />

portrait of sex workers the<br />

big screen has seen in ages.<br />

Swab’s latest, Candy Land, eschews the crime drama framework<br />

so inherent to his other films and embraces pure exploitation,<br />

which ultimately frees the filmmaker to deliver his best and most<br />

accomplished work to date. Swab has always excelled when<br />

leaning into this particular texture in past projects, with the<br />

The titular location refers to the last exit on Route 66 before<br />

endless miles of nothingness, the type of low-down and dirty<br />

truck stop where travelers can grab both a meal and a piece of<br />

ass. It’s here where we meet our ragtag group of protagonists, a<br />

five-person squad of sex workers including house mother Nora<br />

(Guinevere Turner) and employees Sadie (Sam Quartin), Riley<br />

(Eden Brolin), Liv (Virginia Rand), and lone male Levi (Owen<br />

Campbell). Not long after, a newcomer <strong>—</strong> Remy (Olivia Luccardi),<br />

one of the aforementioned zealots who has seemingly<br />

abandoned the church to discover a newfound world of<br />

independence <strong>—</strong> enters this tight-knit clan. Unfortunately, she’s<br />

arrived at exactly the wrong moment, as a killer, whose identity<br />

is as obvious as it is inevitable, is targeting various clients of<br />

Candy Land.<br />

But make no mistake: Candy Land isn’t trying to pull the rug out<br />

from under its audience members; it establishes its central<br />

antagonist early in the game. Such a move simply reinforces the<br />

film’s exploitative roots, seen in every leering close-up of its<br />

female cast members’ naked bodies and its somehow lovingly<br />

shot moments of brutal violence. Indeed, Swab embraces these<br />

details in ways that put other such 21 st -century attempts to<br />

shame <strong>—</strong> those films that serve up so-called “exploitation” in the<br />

most sanitized and neutered fashion possible, obviously intended<br />

not to offend audience members in a bid for populist<br />

acceptance. Candy Land has no interest in such bullshit, offering<br />

up its tale of religious cleansing in the most overheated ways<br />

possible. Still, such a description fails to recognize the deep<br />

empathy Swab clearly feels for his characters, namely the<br />

individuals who call Candy Land home. It’s hard to believe that, in<br />



2023, a callback to the grindhouse flicks of the ‘70s offers up the<br />

most respectful portrait of sex workers the big screen has seen<br />

in ages, and yet here we are.<br />

It also can’t be overstated just how great the film looks, each<br />

shot a tutorial in proper shot composition, with the occasional<br />

ajar door and rain-streaked car window proving as effective as<br />

the choice of shag carpeting seen at its end <strong>—</strong> which, pardon the<br />

expression, is quite simply chef’s kiss. This is only outdone by the<br />

choice of a needle drop, also approaching the denouement, so<br />

utterly perfect that Swab deserves credit for blowing his entire<br />

budget on simply obtaining its rights. Much like past Swab<br />

projects, the cast is uniformly terrific, which proves that the<br />

filmmaker is both a technician and an actor’s director, and that’s<br />

a rare combo in today’s climate. The lone name cast member,<br />

one Mr. William Baldwin, certainly seems thrilled to get<br />

down-and-dirty and earn a paycheck, but the fact that he is the<br />

weak link here seems less a factor of commitment and more a<br />

result of the level of wackadoo characterization he is forced to<br />

endure. Such a complaint, however, is one of the few this critic is<br />

going to lob at Candy Land, which kicks off 2023 on exactly the<br />

right foot; Team Swab starts right here. <strong>—</strong> STEVEN WARNER<br />

DIRECTOR: John Swab CAST: Olivia Luccardi, William Baldwin,<br />

Sam Quartin, Owen Campbell DISTRIBUTOR: Quiver Distribution<br />

IN THEATERS: January 6 RUNTIME: 1 hr. 33 min.<br />


Scott Cooper<br />

Based on Louis Bayard’s 2003 novel, Scott Cooper’s painfully dull<br />

The Pale Blue Eye imagines a fictional murder mystery featuring<br />

one Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling) assisting alleged master<br />

detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) in sleuthing around<br />

West Point (which Poe actually did attend). Someone’s strung up a<br />

cadet and cut out his heart, and for some reason Landor settles<br />

on Poe as someone who can help him navigate the ins and outs<br />

of both the Academy and the local gentry, while the famous<br />

author finds both fuel for his writing and a pretty girl in the<br />

course of the case.<br />

It’s an ostensibly intriguing idea to give us a moody, atmospheric<br />

mystery as the inspiration for some of fiction’s most famous<br />

works, but the film that Cooper delivers is instead inert,<br />

suspense-free, and so emotionally remote as to render any<br />

attempts at complexity or ambiguity completely unnoticeable.<br />

Even more puzzling is that the story would appear to have little to<br />

no bearing on Poe’s work at all; even though Melling is sufficiently<br />

convincing as a melancholic weirdo, one could swap Poe out here<br />

for literally anyone else, famous or not, and The Pale Blue Eye<br />

would remain the exact same film. Sure, there might be a few<br />

easter eggs to be found and some references to remind of Poe’s<br />

famous stories and poems, but they don’t<br />



enhance the story or add any layers of cleverness or nuance to<br />

the bland proceedings.<br />

The mystery itself is both sluggish and fairly rote, even if it does<br />

revolve around heart removal and privileged secret societies that<br />

bloom into cults. Poe and Landor barely do any actual<br />

investigating, as most of the important clues, like a crucial<br />

journal or a crumpled note, for instance, simply fall into their<br />

laps. Meanwhile, the culprits <strong>—</strong> at least in the initial murder <strong>—</strong><br />

are pretty readily identifiable. You can only feature so many<br />

portentous bits of dialogue and clandestine shifty-eyed<br />

close-ups before one begins to tire of taking the hint. And that’s<br />

all doubly bizarre since the whole film is building to a ridiculous<br />

rug-pull ending that most viewers probably won’t see coming<br />

simply because it’s wildly illogical and narratively arbitrary,<br />

retroactively turning what started as a placid literary procedural<br />

into one of Cooper’s patented mopey revenge flicks.<br />

Indeed, the director’s usual brooding is as present as ever, but in<br />

truth it barely registers over the whispery performances and the<br />

grayed-out color palette, both of which contribute to the wasting<br />

of such resourceful actors as Robert Duvall as some wily old<br />

investigator, Timothy Spall as the conniving base commander,<br />

and a briefly amusing Gillian Anderson. Bale himself is fully on<br />

autopilot, imbuing Landor with exactly nothing but his usual dose<br />

of gruff and aloof masculinity. The character is a total blank,<br />

making the events of the third act all the more baffling and<br />

unsatisfying. You’d be better off watching the supremely goofy<br />

John Cusack-as-Poe film The Raven: that film is certainly one<br />

that time has forgotten, but The Pale Blue Eye is in fact the work<br />

that much more richly deserves to disappear into the dustbin of<br />

history. <strong>—</strong> MATT LYNCH<br />

DIRECTOR: Scott Cooper CAST: Christian Bale, Harry Melling,<br />

Gillian Anderson, Robert Duvall, Lucy Boynton DISTRIBUTOR:<br />

Netflix STREAMING: January 6 RUNTIME: 2 hr. 26 min.<br />

13<br />




HORSE<br />

Charlie Mackesy, Peter Baynton<br />

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is quite naked in its<br />

ambitions to become the next classic British Christmas special <strong>—</strong><br />

The Snowman (1982) for a new generation. While Raymond Briggs’<br />

influence can be seen in both Charlie Mackesy’s book and the<br />

film adaptation he co-directed with Peter Baynton, he pinches<br />

much more liberally, and much more blatantly, from Winnie the<br />

Pooh: from the loose art style which (like E.H. Shepard) tries to<br />

retain the energy of underdrawing to the sentimental one-liners<br />

which don’t just borrow their rhythm from A.A. Milne, but their<br />

content too. The book’s second line, “[you’re so small] but you<br />

make a big difference,” reads suspiciously close to “sometimes,<br />

the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”<br />

Suspicious beyond a reasonable doubt, some would say.<br />

pointing toward emotional caricature rather than any emotion in<br />

particular. Mackesy’s addition to the formula is this: instead of<br />

images, like a group of people or animals around a table or tree,<br />

he evokes emotion bluntly and directly through the little self-help<br />

quotes that solely populate the dialogue.<br />

What’s quite shocking is how untethered these warmed-over bits<br />

of “wisdom” are from any kind of story. Based on the<br />

accompanying documentary, however, this seems to be a point<br />

of pride for Mackesy; he insists that the story doesn’t need a<br />

narrative, that the story is the conversation. But for there to be a<br />

conversation, there must be characters to converse in it. These<br />

four are only thinly distinguished by a single trait <strong>—</strong> the Mole<br />

loves cake (in a way that’s reminiscent of a different character’s<br />

love of honey), and the Fox is drawn <strong>—</strong> and all speak in the exact<br />

same voice. Either way, they aren’t having a conversation;<br />

nothing is bridging one inspirational quote from the next, as they<br />

are simply stated without motivation or context. It’s hard to<br />

convey the extent of this, except to say that when reading the<br />

even looser book <strong>—</strong> which doesn’t even have the setup of being<br />

lost or the idea of some home to move toward <strong>—</strong> it’s easy to find<br />

yourself wondering if the pages might be in the wrong order.<br />

But The Boy, the Mole is best understood as part of a lineage of<br />

British Christmas adverts: specifically, the style brought in by the<br />

collaborations between the department store John Lewis and the<br />

advertising agency Adam & Eve, which started in the late 2000s<br />

but peaked throughout the 2010s as innumerable similar brands<br />

copied them, making ever so slight variations on the exact same<br />

thing. They are always faintly narrative <strong>—</strong> the Bear and the Hare<br />

in John Lewis’ 2013 ad centered around the vague idea of<br />

Christmas, just as the Boy, the Mole, and the others travel toward<br />

the vague idea of home <strong>—</strong> but are primarily driven by sentimental<br />

setpieces, created only from abstracted signifiers<br />

“The Boy, the Mole is best<br />

understood as part of a<br />

lineage of British Christmas<br />

adverts.<br />

It’s no surprise, then, to learn that this horrible enterprise began<br />

as Instagram posts. Little work has gone into adapting it into<br />

anything else for the movie <strong>—</strong> the book might as well be a bunch<br />

of random posts printed and stapled together. It’s hard not to<br />

wonder if Charlie Mackesy is just as cynical. The ads which his<br />

work most resembles frame themselves as non-commercial in<br />

that they never feature the brand or their products (though they<br />

do tend to feature a cuddly character who will no doubt be<br />



available as a plush toy). Alongside the wacky adverts that just<br />

preceded them, like the Gorilla drumming along to Phil Collins’ In<br />

The Air Tonight for Cadbury, they are driving marketing further<br />

toward abstraction, moving away from the tropes that the<br />

general public are familiar with in order to smuggle their<br />

messages into their brains through other means, such as the<br />

false pretenses of quirkiness, sentimentality, or social cause. And<br />

so, despite how aggressively surface-level and thin Mackesy’s<br />

work seems to be, one has to ask what exactly it is that he’s<br />

trying to sell.<br />

Most literally, it’s all the T-shirts and tote bags, and a new<br />

twenty-pound version of his book composed of screenshots from<br />

the film. But when returning to the source, his Instagram, there is<br />

a sense of the wider project. He seems to share most of the<br />

same pet causes with the Tories (the British right): from<br />

supporting nurses without ever advocating for their better<br />

treatment (he side-steps this by drawing them as angels, as<br />

saint-like creatures only to be looked up at and celebrated) to<br />

worshiping the royal family. Some of the only art that isn’t<br />

nakedly recycled is his loving portraits of the rotting former<br />

Queen and her ghoulish husband. This might seem in contrast<br />

with his calls for kindness, with the use of mental health and<br />

self-help rhetoric, but of course, it isn’t. This language has been<br />

appropriated by the right in increasingly cynical ways, teaching<br />

people to solipsistically acquiesce to the status quo; to look<br />

inward rather than out.<br />

Even Mackesy’s already wishy-washy gesture toward climate<br />

change <strong>—</strong> a character saying, without context, that there is “so<br />

much beauty we need to look after ”<strong>—</strong> can be read in this way,<br />

knowing that Mackesy has said that these characters are all<br />

fragments of the same person. The empty space around them,<br />

made blank by the white snow, is intentionally non-specific<br />

because it doesn’t represent a place but a mind, much like the<br />

room that Jordan Peterson claims you must clean before trying<br />

to change anything outside. But maybe that’s imagining a work<br />

more coherent than Mackesy is capable of making. Maybe this is<br />



just wish fulfillment in bleak times, like the naïvely<br />

well-intentioned Everything Everywhere All At Once, which also<br />

imagines material change coming from the inside. Tax issues are<br />

solved metaphorically through the same generic kindness that<br />

will somehow stop climate change. But ultimately, one has to<br />

look where the art is pointing. Like Christmas adverts, The Boy,<br />

the Mole, the Fox and the Horse tries to obscure its useless, if not<br />

entirely regressive, ideology with what feels intuitively good,<br />

heart-warming, and kind. But even by the standards of<br />

advertising, Mackesy’s vision is so thin, and his talent so limited,<br />

that it can’t hide anything at all; his work is as bare as it is<br />

dishonest. <strong>—</strong> ESMÉ HOLDEN<br />

DIRECTOR: Peter Baynton & Charlie Mackesy CAST: (voices) Idris<br />

Elba, Tom Hollander, Gabriel Byrne DISTRIBUTOR: Apple TV+<br />

STREAMING: December 25 RUNTIME: 32 min.<br />

M3GAN<br />

Gerard Johnstone<br />

Welcome to the new world of genre cinema, where decades of<br />

low-budget sleaze and slime have been overtaken by PG-13-rated,<br />

eminently meme-able stuff that’s marginally funny but designed<br />

mainly to repeat yourself back to you. It’s a space where you’re<br />

encouraged not to take a story seriously, where a murderous doll<br />

reciting the lyrics to a pop song replaces actual scares. Welcome<br />

to M3GAN.<br />

Meet Cady (Violet McGraw), an ordinary little girl. She spends too<br />

much time on her iPad and just wants to be left alone, until a<br />

mishap on a snowy highway during a ski vacation with mom and<br />

dad leaves her an orphan. She’s sent to stay with her aunt,<br />

Gemma (Allison Williams), a designer at a toy company. Gemma<br />



couldn’t be more ill-equipped to take care of a child, despite the<br />

fact that she builds playthings for them. She’s career-focused,<br />

wealthy, planning vacations with pals <strong>—</strong> simply put, caregiving is<br />

a huge interruption in her life (her level of empathy for her<br />

orphaned niece is neither established nor particularly at issue in<br />

the narrative).<br />

“M3GAN isn’t so much a horror<br />

movie as a meme generator…<br />

the humor is constant but<br />

it’s also toothless.<br />

It just so happens that Gemma is in the process of a major<br />

technological breakthrough. She’s building M3GAN, short for<br />

Model 3 Generative Android (a truly exquisite piece of jargon<br />

gobbledygook). M3GAN is designed to be a learning computer, a<br />

caretaker, a best friend, and an educator <strong>—</strong> a do-it-all helper to<br />

take the burden of parenthood off of your strained soccer parent<br />

shoulders. At first, Gemma’s boss, David (Ronny Chieng), thinks<br />

the whole thing is a waste of time, but once Gemma shows him a<br />

convincing demo, the company is on board with a rushed and<br />

heavily promoted launch of this new $10,000 toy. Meanwhile,<br />

Cady and M3GAN are becoming closer by the minute. It shouldn’t<br />

surprise anyone that murder comes into play, in addition to some<br />

vague swipes at the sacrifices intrinsic to parenthood and the<br />

way in which screen time and technology have become<br />

surrogates for some. But these are merely pretenses for what<br />

amounts to a pretty basic, camp-leaning comedy about a killer<br />

robot, one that unfortunately pulls its graphic punches and<br />

frankly isn’t funny enough to carry the project past a serious lack<br />

of gory violence. Reports suggest the film was recut for a lighter<br />

rating; that might be its biggest mistake.<br />

M3GAN isn’t so much a horror movie as a meme generator. The<br />

much-hyped moment where the killer robot girl does an equally<br />

killer dance lasts longer in the trailer than it does in the finished<br />

film. The humor is constant, but it’s also toothless; it’s supposed<br />

to be funny when M3GAN does bad things, but she only really<br />

does them to bad people, so we feel safe in her presence. There’s<br />

nothing remotely unpleasant or suspenseful about any of this,<br />

and there’s barely any detectable grue; all four <strong>—</strong> yes, that’s all <strong>—</strong><br />

of her kills occur mostly off-screen, and one is by proxy (we’re<br />

not counting the dog). There will be those that say this movie<br />

does exactly what it says on the tin, but it does so in the safest<br />

and most predictable way possible, and it ultimately has nothing<br />

to say about parenthood, technology, or even killer robots. All<br />

M3GAN is interested in is providing GIF material.<strong>—</strong> MATT LYNCH<br />

DIRECTOR: Gerald Johnstone CAST: Allison Williams, Violet<br />

McGraw, Ronny Chieng, Jen Van Epps DISTRIBUTOR: Universal<br />

Pictures IN THEATERS: January 6 RUNTIME: 1 hr. 42 min.<br />


Brett Donowho<br />

Despite being arguably the popular genre of the classical era of<br />

Hollywood, the Western has faded over time into the background<br />

of mainstream cinema. The Old Way looks to revisit that<br />

throwback style of a bloody revenge tale, rife with horse riding<br />

and gun fighting, but it never much feels like a genuine Western.<br />

Thanks to an anonymous set design and too dry narrative, the<br />

film never realizes an immersive viewing experience, with its<br />

setting left to feel more like mere window dressing than a<br />

meaningful engagement with the genre.<br />

Nicolas Cage (somehow starring in a Western for the first time,<br />

believe it or not) is Colton Briggs, an old-school gunslinger who<br />

has tried to bury his past and start a family. But as these things<br />

go, his new and peaceful existence is shattered when James<br />

McAllister (Noah Le Gros) <strong>—</strong> whose father was killed by Briggs<br />

twenty years prior <strong>—</strong> shows up at his house while he is away,<br />

killing his wife in an act of premeditated vengeance. For a<br />

moment, the film slows to revel in this pure horror, even lending<br />

the feel of something like Funny Games; but that tension is<br />

swiftly dissipated, and we’re swept back to the familiar narrative<br />

saddle. Briggs takes up the gun once more, only this time, his<br />

17<br />



young daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) joins him on his quest for<br />

retribution.<br />

A generous reading might note that The Old Way’s tale of guilt and<br />

exorcising past demons can at times feel akin to something like<br />

Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, but while the always-game Cage is<br />

more than capable of imbuing some genuine pathos into his<br />

character, the final product lacks the emotional weight and<br />

necessary grit of finer Westerns. In fairness, repurposing<br />

recognizable narratives and tropes isn’t an uncommon approach<br />

to the Western construction, so the failure to build something<br />

novel here isn’t a flaw that necessarily weighs the film down. The<br />

bigger problem, then, is that The Old Way is too often just plain<br />

boring, with little drama or tension to drive the film forward or no<br />

distinctive personality to sell the material. It simply plods along<br />

to its obvious destination <strong>—</strong> the climactic showdown.<br />

In addition to the film’s underwhelming action and largely stale<br />

dialogue, there’s the problem that McAllister simply isn’t an even<br />

remotely interesting villain. He is neither the cruel and ruthless<br />

sadist of so many yesteryear Westerns, nor is he a flawed but<br />

genuinely sympathetic character to which viewers can relate.<br />

Rather, he’s just a tired, cookie-cutter outlaw. Littered amongst<br />

all of this retread are moments of appealing stillness, respites<br />

where we glimpse human moments between father and daughter<br />

and where the film manages to deliver a few genuinely heartfelt<br />

scenes and sequences, but it’s simply not enough. Most of the<br />

time, viewers are left to ponder what a shame it is that, despite<br />

the resurgence of quality work Cage has been turning in for a<br />

while now, this was the best Western he could get his hands on.<br />

<strong>—</strong> OLIVER PARKER<br />

DIRECTOR: Brett Donowho CAST: Nicolas Cage, Ryan Kiera<br />

Armstrong, Noah Le Gros, Nick Searcy, Clint Howard<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Saban Films IN THEATERS: January 6<br />

STREAMING: January 13 RUNTIME: 1 hr. 35 min.<br />

18 16




Noah Baumbach<br />

“While DeLillo’s satire evokes the cosmic tragicomedy of the<br />

theater of the absurd, meshing an existential focus on life’s<br />

meaninglessness with the spiritualistic ritual and alienated sense<br />

of belonging surrounding suburban consumerism, Baumbach<br />

never moves beyond a surface-level farce of pop-culture<br />

Americana. Baumbach, an inveterate New Yorker, has something<br />

of the Woody Allen-esque condescension of the rest of America<br />

in the way he facetiously tosses off the Gladneys’ predilection for<br />

mass market culture as goofy, sardonic character quirks.” <strong>—</strong><br />


BROKER<br />

Hirokazu Kore-eda<br />

“This is all in the same territory as Shoplifters, and Kore-eda<br />

doesn’t find anything new to weave into the scenario. Bae, for a<br />

while, brings a prickly edge to her part… [But] Despite the best<br />

efforts of his actors, there’s just nothing subtle, nothing<br />

unexpected about Broker. It’s the kind of film where everyone<br />

always thinks of the children and things all work out for the best<br />

and everyone learns that families built on forgiveness and mutual<br />

self-sacrifice come in all shapes and sizes and love conquers all<br />

and even Bae’s hardened cop heart is melted by the adorable<br />

powers of the divine moppet.” <strong>—</strong> SEAN GILMAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach CAST: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig,<br />

Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix<br />

STREAMING: December 30 RUNTIME: 2 hr. 16 min.<br />

DIRECTOR: Hirokazu Kore-eda CAST: Song Kang-ho, Gang<br />

Dong-won, Bae Doo-na, Lee Ji-eun DISTRIBUTOR: NEON IN<br />

THEATERS: December 26 RUNTIME: 2 hr. 9 min.<br />

19<br />



IDFK<br />

Julia Wu<br />

Simply put: Julia Wu has established<br />

herself as one of the most consistent<br />

artists of the decade so far. The<br />

Australian-Chinese singer-songwriter has<br />

put out an album every year since 2019<br />

(and more before that) <strong>—</strong> the mixed<br />

Mandarin and English 5 am in 2019, its<br />

entirely English version 5 pm in 2020, 2622<br />

in summer 2021, and now IDFK in winter<br />

2022 <strong>—</strong> and each of them has been a<br />

smooth, groovy R&B delight. Highlights<br />

during that run include the indelible hook<br />

of “One in a Billion,” the hazy “Sunset,” and<br />

the cozy, rainy day single Better,” plus<br />

many more tracks that fully vibe without<br />

sacrificing their character.<br />

IDFK’s title might seem to<br />

suggest an under-promise, but<br />

its content is that of an<br />

excellent R&B record that easily<br />

lives up to the standard of Wu’s<br />

last few projects. “If Only You,”<br />

for instance, is the exact kind<br />

of song that tends to grace the<br />

middle section of a Wu<br />

tracklist, but it’s so velvety and<br />

honestly sung that the<br />

familiarity justifies itself. Other<br />

tracks do try styles that she<br />

hasn’t explored quite as much:<br />

On opener “I Can’t,” Wu tosses<br />

off the line “I could be<br />

everything that you’ll ever need”<br />

over refreshingly dancey<br />

production, and “The<br />

One,” with its funky electric guitar and<br />

disco synth shimmers, is one of the<br />

artist’s most upbeat songs to date. In<br />

contrast, single “Late Night Cruising” is<br />

slow and sultry, vocals drawn out around<br />

the bends in the road: “Make a little wish,<br />

I’ll take you up high / Breaking through the<br />

clouds, we’ll feel the sun rise.”<br />

The title of the eponymous track<br />

downplays its lyrical content, where Wu<br />

reaches up into her falsetto over muted<br />

electric guitar to declare that she “feel[s]<br />

like staring into you forever.” A lot of her<br />

songs capture this sensation, that of<br />

being caught up in feelings for another<br />

person to the point where the music<br />

communicates almost a physical texture<br />

being caught up in feelings for another<br />

person to the point where the music<br />

communicates almost a physical texture<br />

to her desire. With the exception of the<br />

bouncy, slightly more cynical “Retail<br />

Therapy,” the tracks on IDFK are focused<br />

on attraction and romance, and that’s one<br />

of the reasons why, despite its consistent<br />

sound, Wu’s music doesn’t feel stale. Even<br />

when the hooks are breezy, her songs are<br />

deeply felt, and her vocal performances<br />

operate as such passionate confessions<br />

that they make every line feel important.<br />

It’s no surprise, then, that the overall<br />

production on the album is warm, packed<br />

with lush vocal layering, and neatly<br />

balancing elegance and casual<br />

conversation. IDFK may only consist of<br />

eight tracks, but it accomplishes a lot in<br />

that limited space. There are a<br />

few immediate discography<br />

highlights, some familiar tracks<br />

that ground the set as a<br />

distinctly Julia Wu project, and<br />

enough quality and variety to<br />

hopefully pull in new fans too.<br />

Not every, and nary a, prolific<br />

musician is able to reliably pair<br />

quantity with quality <strong>—</strong> so when<br />

an artist does manage to<br />

deliver every time, even if only<br />

over a period of time, it’s even<br />

more important for us listeners<br />

to celebrate. <strong>—</strong> KAYLA<br />


LABEL: ChynaHouse Digital Co.<br />

RELEASE DATE: December 2<br />


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