Reflektor

Greek Facepalm

Actually, I quite like this album.

Reflektor is one of the best albums of Arcade Fire’s career. Then again, the same could be said for any of the band’s releases. Exactly how the new double-album stacks up against the rest of the band’s discography is up to the listener to determine. I’m still not sure, but I’m willing to say Reflektor is in the running as their best album. And that’s saying a whole lot.

I was a bit befuddled back in September when the title track was released as a single. Clocking in at 7:30 minutes, the neo-disco tune “Reflektor” is a nice illustration for my experience with the album as a whole.

My first impression was incredulous – even skeptical.

Disco. Really? I don’t hate or even dislike disco, but I really questioned the direction AF was taking with this new single and I worried that it was indicative of the whole album.

Also disconcerting was the news that Reflektor would be a double album. The Suburbs, much as I like it, is pretty long. It’s a bit too long at times and it deters me from listening as often as I might otherwise. How could they have made an even longer album?

Then about a week after the single dropped I gave it another chance. After all, this is Arcade Fire. They’d always been great before. Maybe I just needed to let it sink in.

Yep. I guess that was it.

After that I was hooked. I played the song again. And again. And again. Seven and a half minutes and I listened over and over.

And that was pretty much my experience with the album too. My first listen left me kind of cold and unimpressed. But Reflektor (the album) came alive to me on my second listen. And my third. And forth. Et cetera.

Yes, the album is long, but like the title track, it justifies its length… mostly. Reflektor is the most obviously disco-influenced song, but that vibe permeates a lot of the album most notably “Afterlife.” There are quite a few songs that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on AF’s other releases. “You Already Know” would have been quite at home on The Suburbs and “Here Comes the Night Time” doesn’t sound too far removed from the sounds of Funeral.

But there’s plenty of new ground broken here. For some long time fans that might be a turn off. “Flashbulb Eyes” and “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” sound like nothing the band’s ever done before. It’s all really good stuff and amazingly produced. There are a lot more synths and electronic instruments at work here. Really, the overall sound is sort of an extrapolation of “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” from their last record which is great since that was the best song.

The one unfortunate miss for me is the final track “Supersymmetry.” It’s not a bad track, but it’s fairly minimalistic and never comes alive for me like the others. Since it’s the last song on the record it hurts the overall experience more than it might have were it placed elsewhere. Arcade Fire has a history of great finishes. “My Body is a Cage,” “In the Backseat,” “Sprawl II,” and even “Vampire Forest Fire” are among their best songs. It’s a shame they couldn’t stick the landing on this album quite as well.

On the lyrical side of things there’s a lot going on. The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is a major influence especially in the album’s second half. The first disc, on the other hand, seems more dedicated to exploring the affect technology has on people in our “reflective age.”

I can’t pretend to “get” all the songs yet, but I love the fact that there’s more going on under the surface. Certainly one could accuse the band of pretension and I won’t argue against that. If I were not so enraptured by the music, my inner cynic might have dismissed all this Greek myth and modern age commentary as Arcade Fire trying to sound smarter than they really are.

But I like the music. At the end of the day, that’s what matters for me. The album is sonically and thematically cohesive. And the music good. Really good.

Reflektor left me asking myself why I ever doubted Arcade Fire. They’re pretty good at this music thing.

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Captain Phillips

Once a journalist, Paul Greengrass changed careers and entered the film industry. He became a director and proceeded to make a career of doing movies about about tragic events. His films Resurrected, The Fix, Bloody Sunday, United 93, and now Captain Phillips are all “based on a true story.” Most audience members probably only know Greengrass as the director of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum.

Greengrass brings his experience as a director of those action thrillers to bear on the story of Richard Phillips and the crew of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama who are beset by Somali pirates. It’s quite a marvel that I was brought to the edge of my seat watching the story unfold. After all, those of us who remember the news stories from a few years back have already had this “spoiled” for us.

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Greengrass’ signature handheld “shakycam” style seems befitting for a movie set largely on the high seas. The direction is really superb and the action engaging. It all feels very authentic.

But the best thing about the movie is Tom Hanks as the titular Captain. At first I was really bothered by the odd New England accent he was affecting. It’s true-to-life but I’ve heard Hanks’ real voice so many times in other roles that it sounded put on. By the time the pirates were spotted on the horizon I had adjusted to it. When the emotional close of the film rolled around, I was completely sold on Hanks in the role.

As a movie, I really like Captain Phillips. It’s effective, well-paced, and Tom Hanks turns in one great performance as the lead. It portrays the whole event as being pretty unfortunate for all involved. It’s not waving a lot of American flags nor portraying the U.S. as some kind of bully.

The story is a sad one. Out of desperation and greed a couple young Somalis got themselves into the crosshairs of U.S. Navy SEALs where they stood no chance of survival. Although frightened for his life, Captain Phillips is also aware that the Somalis are doomed once the Navy shows up and practically begs them to let him go so they won’t get themselves killed.

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I really appreciated how the event was handled. Except for one thing…

Hey, remember how I mentioned that Paul Greengrass did the second and third Bourne movies? The great thing about them is they were entirely fictional. Unfortunately, to properly consider and discuss this movie, we have to look at how it compares to reality.

Apparently not very favorably.

According to the movie, Captain Phillips was a paragon of virtue. He’s overly cautious about the threat of piracy. He’s shown as a brave and sacrificial leader. In a word: a hero. On the other hand, you get the impression that his crew has a little trouble lining up under their Captain. They’re actually portrayed as a bit lazy in one scene.

The real-life crew tells a different story. The real Captain Phillips was allegedly reckless, arrogant, and a liar when recounting the events of the hijacking. There’s some pretty harsh criticism leveled at the man. If it’s true, that’s really disappointing.

Tom Hanks stars in Columbia Pictures' "Captain Phillips."

For me, that controversy does mar the film because it’s so concentrated on one man who may have been portrayed very, very inaccurately. Captain Phillips is a good movie for its filmmaking and acting, but when it comes to veracity I really have to question it. Then again, what do you expect from these “based on a true story” movies?