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Three Negative Reviews, Through Which I Demonstrate My Ability to Actually Write Negative Reviews

March 12, 2011

I’m generally not motivated to review music and movies that I don’t enjoy. For several years, I’ve earned a living, or something approaching a living, writing PR materials and other strategic communications that shed a relentlessly positive light on the object or objects under discussion. So that’s just how my brain and my pen (or keyboard) work by now—I write about stuff I can get excited about, and I want to sell the shit out of it when I do write about it. As far as I recall, you’ve seen only that kind of exuberant positivity in my reviews here at TBTS (with no compensation involved, of course!).

However, there’s stuff I don’t like too, and I’m capable of a critical posture other than shilling, scout’s honor. Here are three capsule reviews to back up my argument. Borrowing the latest slogan from a vaguely beer-flavored product that I most certainly do not like (see, discernment!), here we go:

Cut Copy – Zonoscope

Man, this one pains me, because I adored their 2008 record In Ghost Colours. That previous album boasted an effortless mixture of synth-pop songcraft, wispy atmospherics, and crisp, prominent, occasionally banging beats. While I rarely want to hear a band get stuck in a rut (unless I really LOVE that rut), I would have loved for Cut Copy’s new album to preserve all of those melodic, textural, and rhythmic elements in about the same proportions. So what’s missing? Plain and simple—the big beats are mostly gone. Minus that forceful pulse, which was once strong enough to move you at least to the edge of the dance floor, Cut Copy comes off as a pretty good, moodier version of Duran Duran at best. With expectations scaled back to that place, there are some decent songs on Zonoscope—particularly “Alisa” and “Pharaohs and Pyramids,” which, to be fair, is somewhat interesting rhythmically. Still, compared to where Cut Copy were just three years ago, and where I hoped they would head with Zonoscope, “pretty good, decent, and somewhat interesting” just isn’t enough.

Dolorean – The Unfazed

Man, this one pains me even more, because I worshiped their 2007 record You Can’t Win (still one of my favorite album titles of all time). Unfortunately, The Unfazed is a mostly unremarkable, meandering album of slow, loose, country-tinged indie-rock. Sonically, The Unfazed and You Can’t Win are similar , but the laser-focused precision of the latter’s exploration of mood (bleak) and tone (dark, occasionally wry) was simply stunning. It’s at most a slight exaggeration to call You Can’t Win the musical equivalent of a Thomas McGuane novel — suffused with an aching magic I lack the words to name. Perhaps it was unfair to expect it to do so, but The Unfazed, with several aimless, unmemorable songs, just doesn’t live up to that standard. Like flicked ashes on pavement, most of The Unfazed lands with little impact and disperses within moments.

The Adjustment Bureau (possible spoilers ahead)

I found The Adjustment Bureau to be a ridiculous waste of time and talent. By film’s end, I didn’t care about any character or plot outcomes; I was just glad it was over. Fair or not, while watching The Adjustment Bureau, I kept contrasting it with Inception, another recent film based on creating a world that looked mostly like ours with a few decidedly supranormal differences. Both films were burdened with some heavy-handed exposition of their otherworldly processes—dream travel and manipulation in Inception, the movements and abilities of fate-controlling interlopers in The Adjustment Bureau. I would argue, though, that Inception redeemed itself through its well-constructed, riveting action scenes, its tonal undercurrents of sadness and regret, and its uncompromising, challenging resolution (or lack thereof). On all those accounts, The Adjustment Bureau fell significantly short. Action scenes? Eh, not unless you count the opening of doors and the climbing of stairs. Tonal undercurrents? Matt Damon’s a great actor, but a couple of sob stories and pensive stares just don’t cut it. Challenging conclusion? Nope, here’s your Hollywood ending with a cherry on top.

On top of all that, Emily Blunt’s Elise character was a paper doll who lacked agency and, inexplicably, needed to hear only an “I love you” from Matt Damon’s David to make up for his multiple abandonments of her, which, from her perspective, occurred with no understandable justification and not even a post-hoc explanation or apology until years after the fact.

Dammit, men. Damon's gone and cracked the code!

And finally, I laughed out loud at the depiction of the “Bureau” itself, especially its security system, which seemed to consist primarily of hoping human beings don’t steal special hats and can’t turn a doorknob to the left. But when that failed, at least the Bureau—which controls human fates, mind you—had a trained army of specialists to sit at desks and tell intruders, “Heeeyyy, you can’t go in there!”

  1. Paul permalink*
    March 14, 2011 3:37 pm


    You seem to have completely missed the point of The Adjustment Bureau, which is, of course, that Emily Blunt is brain-scramblingly hot.

  2. Lloyd permalink
    March 16, 2011 11:15 am

    If I’d known in advance that the Adjustment Bureau’s best feature was going to be a hot Emily Blunt, I would have chosen a cheaper, less time-consuming method of seeing that theme addressed. Namely, something called “free pictures on the Internet.”

  3. Paul the Geek permalink
    March 16, 2011 3:28 pm

    Initially, I liked The Adjustment Bureau. Even going so far as to recommend it on the Book of Face. But I think I wanted to like it because of its star power and the whole Philip K. Dick connection. Your review has actually helped me see some of its more ridiculous features for what they are.

    Still. Emily Blunt. Hot. Yes.

  4. March 16, 2011 10:18 pm

    I will take your critique into account, to be sure, as I always trust your judgment. But I will say this: you are going to have a hard time keeping me away from a movie about magical hats. That changes everything.

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