Every year features both great and disappointing art, so Emerald arts writers decided to kick off the best of season with releases that fell flat. These aren’t the worst releases of 2017, but instead, the things that we were excited for that didn’t live up to expectations or didn’t even come out at all. Stay tuned for the Emerald’s favorite concerts, albums, songs and TV shows of the year in the coming weeks.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”
Dead men tell no tales, but the wretched corpse of the once-fun “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise certainly tried. After the meandering 2011 disaster “On Stranger Tides”, Disney spent six years developing a soft reboot of the franchise only to deliver this bloated turd and collect their box office receipts. The film cost $230 million, so funding it is a bit like dropping your last five paychecks on a Segway scooter. Sure, it sounds cool. But if you wait a week, people will still realize its utter uselessness.
The “plot” feels a bit like a slideshow of moments from “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” albeit with occasionally different faces. Newcomers Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario) replace Will and Elizabeth, though the latter pair get a five-second cameo to appease diehard fans. Javier Bardem (presumably trapped by a forgotten contract clause) fulfills the villain role by playing the super-duper-scary Captain Salazar. He is the sole bright spot. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Rush gets to close out his run as the anti-hero Captain Barbossa. That’s right, ya scallywags: this is his final film in the franchise. Too bad his departure is handled with the grace of an overweight goose. Consider my heartstrings un-tugged.
Then there’s Johnny Depp. 15 years ago, Jack Sparrow was fun and oddly charming. Fast forward to now, when Depp reportedly wore an earpiece on set to remember his lines. I mean, really? Normally “phoning it in” is just a figure of speech.
There are bad movies. Then there are bad movies built upon films from your childhood, seemingly designed to crush your last hopes of wonder and innocence. By turning “Pirates” into a cash grab, Disney has reached the precipice of disappointment. Give Mickey my worst.
“Humanz” — Gorillaz
The virtual band Gorillaz made a highly anticipated return to the music industry in the first half of 2017 with “Humanz,” after a reported falling out between Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett earlier in the decade. “Humanz” was highly anticipated due to the band’s catchy, cohesive previous works; albums like “Demon Days” and “Plastic Beach” offered complete, fleshed-out tracklists and hits that stayed well within the periphery of popular culture years after their respective releases.
“Humanz” brought back some things that we loved about Gorillaz from years past. The electric soundscapes of Damon Albarn are still intact. But “Humanz” differed from the Gorillaz formula in a few ways. The album’s political themes were agreeable, but Albarn’s pounding, electric beats dilute the messages to a degree. At some points, the album can be likened to a political discussion in the middle of a dance club.
The album’s lack of cultural sustenance speaks for its underwhelming performance. One might forget that a Gorillaz album even released this year. “Humanz” received an average reception from music critics, which, in itself, is a disappointment.But it’s the album’s absence from music conversations and playlists just a half-year later that speaks even more about the album’s disappointment.
“Transparent” Season Four
Amazon Prime’s “Transparent” has always been revolutionary, exploring gender and American Jewish life in poetic and innovative ways. The show — which follows the Pfefferman family in Los Angeles as their dad Mort (Jeffrey Tambor, who may exit the show amid sexual misconduct allegations) begins to transition into life as a woman, Maura, — makes some bold choices that usually pay off. But season four’s multiple unrelated storylines and a new setting (Israel!) fail to stay focused, which makes each twenty-something-minute episode almost too overwhelming.
Showrunner Jill Soloway’s thematic choices are there, and they come across wonderfully for the most part. The plotline surrounding youngest daughter Ali (Gabi Hoffmann) as she travels to the West Bank and starts to interrogate her connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is treated carefully and with great detail.
But some other storylines feel a little repetitive. Eldest daughter Sarah’s (Amy Landecker) exploration of her sexuality in a polyamorous relationship with someone she met at a love and sex addicts meeting feels rehashed. Those who have been watching the show since the first season know about Sarah’s various relationship struggles, and it’s time for characters like the wonderfully nuanced matriarch Shelly (a spectacular Judith Light) to get more screen time. Some of the season’s best moments focused on Shelly’s journey in improv classes at United Citizens’ Brigade, and I wish there were more.
Still, “Transparent” is good, and despite some blunders this season, I will gladly keep watching. As the show has moved on to bigger topics, it has also become a little scattered. But for an ambitious show such as this one, I’ll excuse it until I can’t anymore.
Unnamed and unreleased collaborative album by Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole
This is a classic predicament of “I’m not sad, I’m just disappointed.” Both of hip-hop’s poetic, rhythmic rap kings released top-charting records in 2017, but Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole still haven’t given fans (at least this fan) the collaborative album they’ve been waiting for. There have been rumors of a co-written album ever since they established themselves as the two pillars of the rap game at the beginning of the decade. Little progress has been made on the potential album, at least publicly.
The biggest step towards a release came on Black Friday of 2016 when Lamar and Cole released remixes of each other’s biggest hits. But that was two years ago, and both artists have become more invested in making their own music, controlling every aspect of its production. Cole produced his last two records alone with no features from guest artists, and Lamar has become more selective of features, leaving many to believe that it may be too late for a full-length collaboration.
Their co-feature on Jeezy’s upcoming album, “American Dream,” is a good sign, but by no means a guarantee that a release from the two is on the horizon. It’s hard to stay mad at them, though; their 2017 releases may be their best to date and, pending any health concerns, they are sure to have long careers filled with fantastic music. Again, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.