Staff Picks for February 2017

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With movies clambering to make the big screen before the spring awards season rolls around, theaters are often busiest as the year comes to a close. Now that deadlines for the bulk of film awards ceremonies have come and gone, movie enthusiasts may be hard-pressed to find anything new to watch. But who needs to spend nine to fourteen dollars- not to mention the astronomical popcorn prices- at the theater, when there are plenty of great movies to watch in your own living room?

One such film is “Ex Machina,” a Frankenstein-esque sci-fi about the concept of artificial human intelligence, released in 2014. With only four speaking roles, the movie focuses intently on human conversation.

The movie is centered around a Turing Test- a human analysis of a computer’s human capacity- conducted by a young, intelligent search engine programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson). After receiving an invitation to a retreat hosted by Nathan, the search engine’s reclusive CEO (Oscar Isaac), Caleb arrives at Nathan’s Alaskan bungalow only to discover he will be playing a pivotal role in the development of artificial intelligence, or A.I. The subject of the test is Ava – a stunning humanoid A.I. (Alicia Vikander).

The rest of the narrative grapples with the ethics and motivations for exploring this new scientific frontier in a chapter-based cinematic style that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, all the while toiling over the haunting notion of what makes one human.

For fans of cerebral storylines seeking another Netflix series to binge-watch, “Sherlock” is an exhilarating and endearing narrative centered around Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective Sherlock Holmes.

The show is unique in the sense that it is set in modern-day London, rather than the Victorian era, as the original novels were. Several original Arthur Conan Doyle stories were even adapted into modern narratives for the series. Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is portrayed as arrogant, insensitive, and unsympathetic, constantly priding himself on his hyper observance and deductive prowess. With the help of Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), a retired military doctor, Holmes travels all over London in various action and humor-filled endeavors to solve mind-bending cases that the police were allegedly stumped by. Similarly to Ex Machina, the plot excels at creating suspense, insuring the viewer sees the hour and a half long episodes through to the end. And the end never fails to disappoint.

As musicians more frequently allow their careers to ride on only a handful of songs, it seems great albums are becoming an urban legend. However, certain musicians still worship the standard of musical integrity and consistency that artists were held to during the golden age of rock and roll. It should seem no coincidence then, that these artists are often found amongst the precious few mainstream rock bands left.

One such band are the Arctic Monkeys, a guitar-driven rock quartet reminiscent of… well, Arctic Monkeys. The Arctics are the type of group to be selected over the Rolling Stones to headline the world’s largest music festival- true story- and as much money as some pop stars may rake in from their chart-topping hits, the success of Arctic Monkeys amongst live audiences around the world is in large part due to the effort they put into making a record. That’s right- the effort shown by a whole record, not just its first single.

A perfect example can be found with the Arctics third album, “Humbug,” released in 2009. A dark horse in Arctic Monkeys discography, “Humbug” played a pivotal role in the band’s sonic journey. Two records later, a number of major publications still regard the record as the band’s worst- which should really be taken as a backhanded compliment to the band’s catalogue as a whole, for upon listening to “Humbug” one will find it near-flawless. In fact, each and every one of the record’s 10 songs were consistently performed throughout the subsequent tour. The Arctics certainly had no shortage of songs to choose from when they surveyed their first two chart-topping, award-winning albums.

The “Humbug” tour contained some of Arctic Monkeys greatest live performances. The warm keyboard tones featured on the album recordings made their way into a number of older fan favorites, such as Fluorescent Adolescent, which was also played exclusively in a different key in order to better complement the atmosphere established on “Humbug.” A number of professionally-recorded live performances can be found online for free.

The album itself features a busier atmosphere than their first two albums- due in most part to the presence of background noise. “Humbug” marks the Arctic Monkeys first major use of keyboard in their sound. Its use allows wide range of tones to be interwoven into a whimsical tapestry of psychedelic haze.

“Humbug” is without a doubt Arctic Monkeys most aesthetic sound. Largely defined by its employment of spy guitar (think James Bond theme) and haunted house organ, two sounds with often distinctive associations, “Humbug” also features lead vocalist/guitarist Alex Turner’s darkest, deepest, and most visual lyrics of the Arctics’ entire discography. Percussion plays a role in the album’s vivid nature as well: drummer/backing vocalist Matt Helders makes use of the intricate rhythms that largely define the band’s music, while expertly serving the songs over any tendency to realign with his propulsive, adrenaline-inducing displays on Arctic Monkeys first two albums.         

 

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