The zombie sequel is a fine ride ... as long as you don't think about it. And we take a listen to new singles by the White Stripes, Interpol, and Avril Lavigne.
28 Weeks Later is considered a smart alternative to summer fare like Spider-Man 3. I just wish it were smarter.
28 Weeks Later (Fox Atomic)
28 Days Later was a terrifically horrifying zombie movie with political undercurrents and a bracingly new lo-fi HD feel that gave it extra urgency and grime. (London didn’t just look abandoned in Danny Boyle’s original film; it felt like it was decaying, suffused with disease.) By comparison, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s follow-up is just a zombie movie, and, sure, it’s horrifying and grim, but the biggest downside it has is that while it wants you to think about its political implications, the more you think about the film the less sense it makes. Once you apply your brain to this dire, grueling, competent sequel, you start to see that 28 Weeks Later too often behaves like a typical gorefest in that its fright attacks are routinely orchestrated by the characters’ stupidity or the screenwriters’ (of which there are four) convenient coincidences. Just as the new movie can’t compare with the original, so too does it cower beneath the imposing shadow of Children of Men, which handled its family metaphors and slow-motion car chases so much more effectively. Once you’ve scared the planet with the idea of fast-moving zombies, you can’t scare them in quite the same way, no matter how gorgeously frenetic the camerawork is.
Away From Her (Lionsgate)
How do I convey how much I loved the first hour or so of this movie, the directorial debut of actress Sarah Polley? Like a Bergman domestic drama with more kindness, Away From Her plunges headlong into its horrible dilemma: a longtime married couple (played by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent) must rethink what their golden years will be like when the wife is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She goes to a nursing home, where he cannot visit for a month so that she can get acclimated, but what will happen to them – to him – when they see each other again? Away From Her dives into this mystery with a clean, poignant touch – the movie’s also really funny when it wants to be – but eventually the movie’s dramatic muscles go soft. A side character is given too much importance. The movie’s rhythms start to grow repetitive. Pinsent is utterly terrific throughout, mostly because he’s not well known and therefore can emerge through this role, and Christie is great too, although she gets a bit stranded like her character in that nursing home. Let’s not get too enthusiastic about Polley’s debut, no matter how accomplished and assured it is. First, she needs to make a great film from start to finish.
The White Stripes, “Icky Thump” (from the forthcoming Icky Thump, Warner Bros.)
If you prefer Elephant to Get Behind Me Satan, then I'm betting you're pretty happy with this lead/title track to their upcoming release. But aside from "why don't you kick yourself out/you're an immigrant too" suggesting it's been written recently, this is reminiscent of the blooze-rock Jack White paraded before he dumped Renée and married the British model. And by that I mean it's perfectly powerful but lacking in the soul and personality department. Put another way, I prefer "Blue Orchid" to "Seven Nation Army." If you think I'm nuts, download this track immediately.
Avril Lavigne, “Girlfriend” (from The Best Damn Thing, RCA)
There's something adorably dorky about Avril's hotness, which she must know since that's how she sells herself. The dark mascara so dark it's almost a parody of her peers’, she seems more grownup, more coolly ironic, than the teenyboppers who came before her. Maybe that's why I've found her pop hits in the past a little too meta: I don't quite believe she believes in the catchy junk she's singing. I'm changing course on this new single, though, because it's too clever (and too catchy) to be the work of somebody who doesn't at least believe it a little bit. Apparently miffed that Kelly Clarkson stole her guitars, she steals them back on a track that so perfectly mimics the petty, sweaty jealousies of junior-high love that I found myself getting a little nostalgic. Oh, no girls were fighting over me like this. But it's a fantasy world of teen drama that she's conjuring up, so universal and so rousing that no matter how dorky its sincerity is, we've all been this young lady some time in our life. The embarrassment you feel singing along to its cheerleader-punk chorus is natural, but, trust me, it fades with time.
Interpol, “The Heinrich Maneuver” (from the forthcoming Our Love to Admire, Capitol)
The attention-grabbing line is assumed to be the first one: "How are things on the West Coast?" From there, this very New York City band rips into an actress/girlfriend with the right amount of snarling East Coast attitude. But I say the most telling lyric is the one repeated near the end: "Today my heart swings." Goth-black as always, the band actually swings a little here. If Antics improved on the debut by streamlining everything – by becoming so bare-bones that it no longer felt derivative but instead elemental – this shows that they now have (slightly, barely recognizable) shifts in their sound left to explore.
Fionn Regan, “Getting Better” (Mojo magazine CD)
As you will no doubt get tired of hearing about soon enough, this summer will be the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's release. For the right price, I'd offer my opinions and insights into what does and doesn't hold up on the Citizen Kane of rock n' roll, but in the meantime I'll say that this cover has been one of the nicest treats of the last few weeks. Love the original: McCartney's sweet optimism slightly restrained by Lennon's sly, moderate cynicism is Exhibit A of their equally necessary contributions to the band. Regan takes out Lennon's rejoinder ("It couldn't get much worse"), but he keeps its spirit entirely through his presentation, which is tonally somewhere around despondent or perhaps borderline comatose. Vocally, it's the sound of a beaten man mouthing words that are supposed to make him feel better but knows never will. But he's not mocking the Summer of Love – he wants so badly to get a glimpse of its restorative power. He sings the song to keep himself from crying, wishing that a tune from the Greatest Album Ever can do something to lift another crap day.
Consumables is a regular overview of popular culture.