CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, DIRECTED BY ANDREW JARECKI
A film about pedophilia and family, to be sure, but that's not what you're
arguing about when you leave the theater. Is the mother really as awful
as her kids make her out to be? Was Jesse's lawyer lying -- or was Jesse?
Heartbreakingly fair, Andrew Jarecki leads you down the path of preconceived
notions, only to twist your expectations again and again. What starts
out as a simplistic tale of naughtiness in the heart of tranquil affluence
becomes something deeper and more knotty. Without the Friedmans' home
movies, this film couldn't have existed. But, then again, without them,
we probably wouldn't come to understand this family so well. Even if we
still don't know who to believe. A-
SWIMMING POOL, DIRECTED BY FRANCOIS OZON
Remember Robert Altman's 3 Women? Late '70s? Artsy, ambiguous --
it all came to him in a dream? This one's kinda like that -- slow, deliberate,
elegant. Your brain will have a fun time unraveling it. And unlike the
ending to Adaptation, Ozon's film has something useful to say about
identity, creation, working out life's problems through your word processor.
Charlotte Rampling is terrific, of course -- she doesn't just do repressed,
she does used-to-be-wild-but-now-repressed. (And watch how she dances.)
And even her poster-bait co-star can act a little. Artsy and ambiguous,
I was expecting. A movie more fun to fight about and decode than the new
Matrix is just an added bonus. B+
Mostly eschewing quirk, he risks being conventional. But with that said,
E has never recorded such a series of sane tunes. "Agony" and
"Numbered Days" are as mature and unironic as he's ever allowed
himself, and yet their anguish and hope are as finely wrought as when
he used to rant and rave. Do you miss the samples and pranks? Tough. This
record's streamlining feels appropriate and honest. To debate whether
or not it's his best is beside the point. Dudes like him never quite peak
-- they just write what's on their mind at the time and move on. After
album upon album of bold new directions, this might seem like a compromise.
But if you want proof that he doesn't need gimmicks or concepts to make
his work fly, here you go. A-
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS "DECORATION DAY"
Not only are they capable of writing a great song, they also go out of
their way to include a few terrific lines and an engaging narrative. On
their last album, "Southern Rock Opera," they stretched out
over two discs, setting the record straight on Lynyrd Skynyrd and the
South as a whole. This time, they say more with less -- and in the bargain
concoct an even more stirring, rounded view of the rednecks they know
as neighbors, friends, and lovers. Plus, their handcrafted storylines
refuse to play out the way your prejudices expect. The oaf of a husband
of "Loaded Gun in the Closet" doesn't beat his wife --
he loves her dearly, and how dare you think otherwise. Violence and bloodshed
come not from glory or bravado -- just simple human frailty. And these
good old boys even subvert the sappy father's-advice-to-his-son genre
by having the song come from the grateful son's perspective. A-
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS "ELECTRIC VERSION"
No idea what any of these songs are about. But every one of them sounds
great coming out of my car speakers. Especially the ones with the girl
who sings like Liz Phair. B+
SONDRE LERCHE "FACES DOWN"
A fall 2002 release, it keeps popping up on NPR, your local coffeehouse,
in the ears of sensitive boys everywhere and their lovely gal friends
who won't date them. Lerche's a nice guy. Young. From Norway. When his
gifts for sweetness and melody combine on "You Know So Well,"
you'll be begging for an album full of more of the same. And that's what
you'll get -- some songs swing, some mope, some pine. This makes him one
of about four dozen tunesmiths trying to win your heart in his own unassuming
way. A little life experience will toughen him up and bring out his eccentricities.
I hope. B+
THE JEALOUS SOUND "KILL THEM WITH KINDNESS"
Lauded by Spin, but they sound too much like the Foo Fighters.
Not old good Foo Fighters. More like new lukewarm Foo Fighters. This foursome
delivers clean, earnest emo with the guitars turned up slightly louder
and the singing slightly more charismatic. "Hope for Us" has
a certain amount of urgency -- verse chorus verse, remember that? Mostly,
though, this is just more proof of how much higher my tolerance for mediocre
rock albums is than my tolerance for mediocre anything else. B
VIC CHESNUTT "SILVER LAKE"
Explain it to me. Michael Stipe loves him, popular and distinctive groups
have covered his work. He's one of those guys smart people pride themselves
on discussing. And it's not like I don't enjoy some of the compositions
on his umpteenth album of singer-songwriterly essentials. But I have a
tough time working up much enthusiasm for 'em, either. His songs about
love are so adorable with their precise detail that you want him to give
up music and just write short stories you won't bother reading. His metaphors
will impress grad students everywhere. Melancholy, he does pretty well
-- his whisper of a voice carries them home. And "2nd Floor"
does work up an impressive burst of steam. But that was his guitarist's