Tipping Point: Our picks and pans
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
Is Jason Isbell human? Or some AI creation that spins off perfect songs? The answer is that he’s decidedly human because no machine can replicate the heart and emotion in his four- and five-minute sonic musical masterpieces. In anticipation of “Weathervanes,” a new album by Isbell and the 400 Unit due June 9, they’ve released the record’s debut single. It’s called “Death Wish” and it’s a slow-build sculpture in which a pretty, plaintive melody is established over a simple chord structure — and the arrangement then builds and swirls and intensifies in perfect counterpoint to Isbell’s typically brilliant lyrics. The song’s first-person narrator describes the escalating desperation and fear that happens when, as he rhetorically asks, “Did you ever love a woman with a death wish / something in her eyes like flipping off a light switch?” The relentlessly pitch-perfect lyrics suggest a lover’s escalating drug addiction and resolute denial: “Did you ever catch her climbing on a rooftop / Higher than a kite, dead of winter in a tank top?” and “Who’s gonna save you, who’s left to pray to / What’s the difference between a breakdown and a breakthrough?”
— Rick Koster
The Lincoln Highway
I’m almost always reading a book, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a voracious reader. When my lovely wife was reading this 500-some-odd page book a while back, I secretly hoped she wouldn’t recommend it because I’ve always been intimidated by 500-some-odd page books. Well, she did recommend it, and I’m glad she did. It tells the story of Emmett Watson, his younger brother Billy, and two of Emmett’s friends from his time in a juvenile detention center. The foursome set out on the titular road from Nebraska toward New York following their own dreams and adventures and what unfolds over the 10-day trip surprises and delights. It’s a coming-of-age story that is breezy but involved, heartwarming but mischievous. It’s simple and smart at the same time and almost cinematic in its scope, and I bet it won’t be long until it’s on a big screen near you.
— Owen Poole
News flash: Steven Spielberg is a hell of a filmmaker. The images, edits and narrative drive of “The Fabelmans” are all first-rate. What’s odd, though, is that the story and characters, which are based on Spielberg’s real life, feel so artificial. Set in the 1950s and 60s, the film centers on young Sammy Fabelman, who discovers his love for making movies. The scenes of him helming DYI film projects are fun to watch. Yet he’s in the midst of some simmering tension between his parents, who are very much opposites. Mercurial mother Mitzi (a luminescent Michelle Williams) is frustrated over the fact that she never got to be the musical artist she wanted to be. Gentle father Burt (an appropriately tamped-down Paul Dano) is an engineer involved in the development of computers. Burt’s funny best friend (Seth Rogen) is like an extended member of the family — and seems to have a connection with Mitzi. The familial drama can feel contrived, but “The Fabelmans” works wonderfully as a paean to moviemaking.
— Kristina Dorsey