Brendan Carroll, on ‘Mr. Robot’
Mr. Robot was perhaps one of the most talked about television shows of the year, at least on the internet. Winning nine various television awards, including two Golden Globes, it may be perhaps one of the most wideky discussed new television dramas since 2008’s Breaking Bad. What is interesting about all of this critical acclaim, both from professionals and viewers alike, is that the show is not all that great. Let me start with the positives: the performances. Rami Malek’s performance as Elliott Alderson was quite good. Having seen him in 2013’s Short Term 12, I was hesitant to say the least, but he pulled off a performance that was intimate and balanced when his character was distinctly neither of those things. Christian Slater also – as much as I fundamentally despise the character of Mr. Robot (which I will get into later on) – deserved the awards he received. Mr. Robot the character was everything he needed to be in the narrative. A foil to Elliott’s calm, quiet, generally unpersonable demeanour, Mr. Robot is loud, excitable, and immensely easy to listen to. Slater evokes a kind of slimy charm that is reminiscent of his character from Heathers, Jason Dean. And finally, Carly Chaikin as Darlene, a character who seems to inject herself into Elliott’s life with no cause or explanation, but who is also much more than meets the eye. Chaikin’s performance is raw and angry, with good reason. Other than Mr. Robot, she’s the only character the audience understands well enough to see that she truly believes in the ‘Mr. Robot’ cause of the series’s hacker collective, fsociety. This brings me to the negative: the narrative and the politics that come along with it. The narrative is contrived and generally unoriginal. Within the first five minutes, any viewer acquainted with narrative tropes of any sort will see this as Fight Club but with hackers (significantly less explicit misogyny, though, which is good). Fsociety is supposed to act as a standin for the real-world hacker group Anonymous, except that fsociety actually achieves something ostensible. The achievement is, though substantial, of a political view that is, to put it simply, fascistic. The anarchy fsociety induces is more in line with national-anarchism, i.e. anarchism without an internationalist spirit. What the audience is given after the “revolution” that fsociety brings about is something along the lines of V for Vendetta without any of the solidarity. While it might be difficult to explore in a television show, Mr. Robot fails to provide a systemic critique and to fall to fascism instead is not only a misstep, but unacceptable. I did watch the entirety of the first season of this show and even enjoyed it up until the last two or three episodes, when the politics really jump the ship. What is good about this is that it is a series, not a mini-series, and so they may have planned for a criticism such as this for later seasons. So, as much as the show frustrates me politically, I will be coming back to it to see Malek, Chaikin and the rest of the cast back in action.
S. Clay Steell, on “Why the Fuck You Lyin’?”
Two-thousand fifteen was a year of lies. We were lied to at the start of last year during the MASU executive elections. The provincial government lied to New Brunswick universities before it froze our grant and tuition. We were lied to by our government before, during, and after the federal election. The world was lied to at the Paris climate talks. The administration lied to us – well, misled us with careful wording – about correspondence tuition, and then about the women’s and gender studies cuts. Our American neighbours are being lied to in their election as we speak. Even my roommate lied to me about taking the garbage out last night. Some of these lies were shocking, others were the lies we’ve learned to live with every day. And then there are the lies we tell ourselves. Lies and liars are an assumed part of humanity, so integral to our lived experiences that we tuned them out and didn’t pay them mind. That changed on September 7, 2015, when “Why the Fuck You Lyin’” debuted on Vine and became the most important meme of the year. “Why the Fuck You Lyin’” challenges us to not accept the lies we’re told any longer. Now when we’re lied to, all we need to say is, “mmmm–oh my God, stop fuckin’ lyin’!” and we’re reminded that tens of millions fans of “Why the Fuck You Lyin’” share the exact same sentiment, and that we are not alone in being lied to. Most importantly, “Why the Fuck You Lyin’” shows a revolutionary way of dealing with the lies we’re told: Smile and dance it off. This meme’s importance transcends re-Vines and Facebook likes: It has brought us closer together and enriched our collective humanity.
Kael MacQaurrie, on ‘The Life of Pablo’
After debuting The Life of Pablo over the Madison Square Garden house speakers last week, Kanye asked whether or not he had delivered with his new album. Did the crowd like what he had played for them? Kanye West is a walking contradiction. A man constantly struggling to deal with the consequences of his own hubris, confident in himself yet self-conscious about his output. TLoP is the audio representation of this duality. Kanye stacks tracks full of braggadocio and tales of excess up next to introspective tracks dealing with the bleaker aspects of his lifestyle. This in itself is not new territory for the artist, but the presentation has never been as apparent as it is on TLoP. Album-opener “Ultra Light Beam” barely features the rapper at all, instead showcasing sparse production and a prominent feature from fellow Chicago native Chance the Rapper. Kanye is not only a rapper at this point, but also a curator of talent, bringing as many modern voices as he can together to create something beautiful. Kanye has always pulled together as much talent as possible, but this is the first time it sounds like Kanye is pulling together his community to make a Kanye album. The highlight of the album is the four tracks that begin with “Waves,” an anthemic track based around oscillating vocals and featuring a creamy Chris Brown hook that sets the tone for the melancholy tracks to come. “Waves” leads into “FML,” an introspective track featuring The Weeknd which explores the pressures Kanye faces while dealing with his high-profile public marriage to Kim Kardashian. “FML” transitions into “Real Friends.” A snare hit that sounds like a baseball bat cracking a dinger in an empty grain silo forms the core of the drum track, as morbid synths swirl and Kanye rides the beat, exploring themes of alienation and the loss of friendship attached to celebrity and overwork. Closing out this four-track run is “Wolves.” Thunderous bass provides a canvas for haunting vocals which comprise the beat of the track, as Kanye’s autotune-drenched vocals lead into a verse comparing him and his wife to Mary and Joseph, a modern biblical tale of finding love in the club and dealing with the ravenous wolves looking for weakness so they can jump at the pair. The final five tracks, which close out the album after “Wolves,” feel like bonus tracks, as if they were tacked on at the last minute. In fact, they were added to the album the day before, which in itself is something that is unique to TLoP. In a recent tweet, West stated he is still tinkering with the album and implied he might release a reworked version of the album soon. In this postSpotify world (or Tidal, if you are one of the 18 people with a Tidal subscription), artists are able to swap out their releases for newer ones should they decide they are not satisfied with them. Will Kanye tinker with this album for weeks, months, or maybe even years? The Life of Pablo is an album that’s constantly in flux: something we have never seen or heard before.
Sebastian Carrera, on ‘Dump Cakes Dub’
Let’s get down to it: The YouTube video Dump Cakes Dub by Jaboody Dubs is the pinnacle of human achievement. When Dump Cakes Dub comes on, I stop, drop and sputter with reckless abandon at each morpheme comprising the 210 rapturous seconds that make up Dump Cakes Dub; with each viewing, my eyes fixate on the host herself, the veritable Duchess of Dump, and my mouth froths as a torrent of dopamine surges through my brain. In that brief respite from the misery of existence, the DumpDauphine elucidates us all to a realm where an endless array of possible dumps awaits. Does Dump Cakes Dub have good presentation? Are its themes consistent and compelling? Ha. The mighty Dame of Dumps scoffs at these mortal quandaries as she ushers in a new era of prosperity from her sacred oven. Like death itself, Dump Cakes Dub is the great equalizer. Tyrants and smallfolk alike shake in awe of the mind-melting display that renders all our earthly titles, all our unethical university endowments null before its majesty. Indeed, what truths need us but those that emerge from the profundities of Dump Cake Dub’s Kiln of Creation? Regardless of this eternal virtue, there may be some who deign Dump Cakes Dub to be gratuitous, crude, or worse—mediocre. Let me be clear: These small-minded peasants wish for nothing but agony in this world and cannot be trusted. If you witness someone soiling Dump Cakes Dub with a hot take, remain calm. Your feelings of rage are justified, but hope is not lost. The first course of action in this case should be to convert aggressively. Place the offending individual in front of a screen displaying Dump Cakes Dub and make sure they are oriented in a front-facing position. Then, baptize them in the Baroness of Bakery’s good word and be sure to stand back as the scorching intensity of their shame overwhelms their digestive tract and vomit erupts from their repentant mouth. Take your new comrade’s hand, and march onward to our destiny. May the Dump be with you—always.
Kyle Forbes, on ‘Tangerine’
Set in Hollywood, Calif. – but far from the glitz and glam of the stars – Tangerine gives a vibrant view of the ugly parts of a big city and of the spirited people who live there. The main protagonists, Alexandra and Sin-Dee Rella, are two transgender women of color working in the sex trade. While a story with such a premise can easily become bleak, the two leading women inject colourful and witty bits of humour. The film’s basic plot structure shows Sin-Dee on a vengeful warpath as she searches for her cheating boyfriend/pimp and the cisgender women with whom he cheated. But layered within this story are several beautiful, poignant subplots involving Alexandra’s singing career and the life of one of the ladies’ cab-driver Johns.
It’s hard not to talk about this movie without addressing its marketing, whose main point was that it is entirely recorded on an iPhone 5S. If you are a cynic like me, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, fuck this,” but really, the iPhone makes some amazing shots in this. The camera is a bit shaky at times and the focus wanders a little bit, but this actually adds to the fast-paced nature of the movie. At times, the colour correction gets a little overcooked (we get it – it’s called Tangerine – but not everything has to be orange). But Tangerine has so much wondrous colour that I found myself unable to look away.
While this is a comedy, it also functions as very strong drama as well. The lives these women lead is hard and this film doesn’t shy away from it. Just when you think they have glossed over the nasty bits, BAM!—we are thrown into a brothel and are forced to see an aged man’s flaccid penis as Sin-Dee storms in. This movie will break your heart and make you laugh. Sin-Dee Rella and Alexandra will speedwalk right into your hearts.
Tangerine is available to stream on Canadian Netflix.