Viewing recap September

Boyhood (2014)
I was captivated from beginning to end, despite a running time of three hours. Even though I wasn't a kid in the same era that the characters are, it's still my favorite film of 2014 so far. The story could easily have felt uneven because the filmmakers and actors filmed this over so many years, but it somehow all fits together into a cohesive whole, and that to me is a sign of good directing and editing.
Before Sunrise is still my favorite by the director. I'd rank Boyhood somewhere among Linklater's top 10 films, maybe even top 5. Time will tell if his latest holds up to rewatching.
Rating 8.5/10

Come and See (1985)
Blindspot for September. Full review
Rating 9/10

Night Moves (2013)
The performances are spot on, feels realistic for the most part, and raises important questions about responsibility of actions. The weakness for me is a running time of 112 minutes. The filmmakers could easily have told the same story in 90 min (or less). Still, I'd probably rank Night Moves second behind only Wendy and Lucy, with Meek's Cutoff and Old Joy 3rd and 4th.
Rating 7/10

Blue Ruin (2013)
Like Blue is the Warmest Color, there is blue in almost every scene. The narrative is a simple one of revenge. What makes the story stand out is the main character is not a trained killer. He's a bum, actually, without the physical or technical skills to go on a revenge mission. A fairly realistic, ok thriller, done on a smallish budget, with mostly unknown actors.
Rating 7/10

Tom at the Farm (2013)
Held my interest despite the implausible situation that he would stick around so long at the farm. Most would just have got the hell out of there!
Rating 7/10

Troubled Water (2008)
Underrated Norwegian/Danish drama, which deserves a bigger audience. Directed by Erik Poppe, About secrets and forgiveness. Very good performances by the lead actors. A powerful film that still lingers in my mind a week later.
Rating 8/10

Bottle Rocket (1996)
A fun and entertaining debut feature by Wes Anderson. Maybe I'm wrong, of all his films, this one feels the most realistic. As with the directors other films, he is a wizard at putting music together with scenes, in this case Anthony running back to the motel with the song Alone Again Or by Love.
Favorite quote:
Grace: “When are you coming home?” Anthony: “Grace, I can’t come home, I’m an adult”
Rating 8/10

The Navigator (1924) 
Not quite reaching the heights of Buster Keaton’s best comedies. Still a pretty funny and sweet movie aboard a ship lost at sea. He has a female passenger with him, and it’s about their survival. The ghost was a highlight, and the underwater scenes are technically impressive for 1924. The ending is too far-fetched.
Rating 6.5/10

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Great performances by Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, and their tussle at sea creates a lot of tension.
Rating 8/10

Sylvia (2003)
I was under the impression Sylvia Plath was a bigger author than her husband Ted Hughes, that is not the case in the film.
Plath’s famous work The Bell Jar isn’t mentioned until 80 minutes into the movie. Wasn’t aware her poem collection Ariel is one of the most celebrated and widely read books of poetry of the 20th century.
The film feels a bit simplistic and one-note, I’m sure there was more to the Ted Hughes-Sylvia Plath marriage than simply Sylvia’s jealously.
Rating 6/10

Arthur (1980)
A quotable, heart-warming romantic comedy. I’ll probably have nightmares about Dudley Moore’s drunken laugh.
Favorite quote: "Tonight is New Year’s Eve, the third time this week"
Rating 7/10

Clue (1985)
Based on the board game Cludeo(Clue in north America). you could describe the movie as a dialogue-driven whodunit with comedy elements. A clever mystery that kept me guessing, yet I didn’t really care about who lived or died, and was only mildly interested in who the guilty party was. For me, the multiple ending approach was just too confusing. A few familiar faces make up the ensemble cast such as Christopher Lloyd, Tim Curry and Lesley Ann Warren.  
Rating 6/10

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
First part of the Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy. (2003's Oldboy is the second part of trilogy)
The director has a real talent, beautiful angles, lighting and tracking shots. The kidnapping story is good, the scenes by the lake are especially vivid in my memory.
Rating 8/10

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)
Part three of Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy. My least favorite of the three films. Again, as with the director’s other work, every frame is handled so well visually. The opening credits especially stood out. However the chronology is messy and jumps around quite a lot so that it was tough to follow what’s going on at times.
Not as memorable as the first two installments in the trilogy. What stayed with me was the fat female rapist in prison, and the main character’s red eye shadow. There’s also a dream sequence set in a snowy environment where a man has the body of a dog which was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Shares quite a few similarities in terms of structure with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), and didn’t feel as groundbreaking as the previous two installments.
Rating 6/10

The American (2010)
Slow-building assassin thriller starring George Clooney. The cinematography is well-done, especially after dark with its yellowish nighttime light, and the mist drifting across the Italian village. You would expect this from director/photographer Anton Corbijn. Clooney’s character is very vague and we know little about his past, he plays the paranoid, evasive womanizer quite well. Unfortunately his character doesn’t come across as an interesting person, so all the concealment feels like a gimmick to keep the film moving.
While decent enough, I wouldn’t call the film a game changer, as it’s merely content to imitate other assassin thrillers such as Day of the Jackal. The only surprise was the ending. I love the poster, but it doesn’t sell the film well, since there are only a couple of action scenes.
Rating 6/10

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
Having noticed praise for the film in the blogosphere, and seeing was nominated for 6 Oscars, I was expecting an above average movie. The filmmakers do a fine job of recreating the time it was set, and I can appreciate the events it depicts are historically important. Yet I could summon little enthusiasm for the history lesson, which I found quite dry and emotionless. I find it overrated.
Rating 5/10

Michael Clayton (2007)
Same reaction as Good Night and Good Luck, I just didn’t like any of the characters, who to me are cold. The storytelling was quite confusing. Bothers me when Brits (in this case both Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton) put on fake American accents. There’s suspense in the last third, but that and James Newton Howard’s score are the only things I enjoyed.
Rating 6/10

How was your month? Have you watched any of the above films? Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome

The music of Prince (part 1 of 6)

Prince is an artist I haven’t listened to previously, besides the unavoidable hits  such as Purple Rain and When Doves Cry.
He will release two new albums tomorrow on September 30, so to mark the occasion let’s look back at his career highlights. First a brief look at Prince’s albums. During October I'll share my top 50 songs by Prince, ten songs at a time. Will be interesting to see if the 2014 tracks can sneak onto the list!

His voice is certainly something that isn’t for everyone, which at times is very high-pitched similar to The Bee Gees and such artists. While a little too overly sex-obsessed in the lyrics for my taste, he does have things to say on albums such as Controversy, and his best music is very well-crafted and catchy, with a tremendous vocal range. His later career output has gone in a more spiritual direction, as he became interested in religion.
The guy is an absolute machine having released between 500-1000 songs and close to 40 albums in total since the late 1970s, so understandably I haven’t had the time to listen to everything. In fact I skipped the unofficial internet albums and live albums. Also, we shouldn't forget Manic Monday by The Bangals, which Prince co-wrote, and Nothing Compares To U which Sinead O’Connor memorably covered. Both great songs.
His peak was during the 80s when he released the classic albums 1999 (1982), Purple Rain (1984), and Sign o' the Times (1987). Whereas Prince had lead the way as an innovative mainstream artist for the duration of the 80s, by the end of the decade things were changing. Hip hop began to emerge from the underground in the US, and brought with it a culture in which Prince would find it tricky to stay at the top. Although he would remain a major player, his appeal would become more marginal in the 90s. After 1987’s Sign O The Times, he does not have consistent top 40 chart success.
In 1993 he had a well-publicized falling out with his record company, Prince complained about feeling like a slave to contractual obligations, and decided to part ways with Warner Bros who he had been with since the late 70s. During this time, he changed his name to an unpronounceable love symbol. He was sometimes referred to as The Artist, or The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. He recorded a number of albums under this name, with moderate success, and was unhappy that he didn't own the rights to his own hits. In 2000, he began referring to himself as "Prince" once again. Musicology (2004) proved to be his most successful album since Diamonds and Pearl (1991). Art Official Age (2014) and PlectrumElectrum (2014) see Prince return to Warner Bros.

Album mini-reviews:

For You (1978)
His debut is an unmemorable album, which didn’t do well in the charts. The guitar in ”I’m Yours” reminds me of a Fleetwood Mac song. For me, the best track on the album is also what Prince refers to in Larry King interview as the track that got him noticed: Soft and Wet.

Prince (1979)
Prince’s self-titled second LP. He was still finding his footing. Was a minor breakthrough for him, thanks to the catchy single ”I Wanna Be Your Lover”. There are also four other singles which didn’t do much for me. Surprisingly the non-single When We're Dancing Close and Slow I prefer.

Dirty Mind (1980)
The album received very positive reviews, and features on best albums of the 80s lists. The title-track Dirty Mind is a classic Prince song, “Head” and “When You Were Mine” are great too.

Controversy (1981)
Prince’s fourth studio album. Keith Harris of Blender calls the album "Prince's first attempt to get you to love him for his mind, not just his body". The title track Controversy is very catchy. Let’s Work is the other stand-out for me.

1999 (1982)
My second favorite Prince album, with Purple Rain (1984) in first place. 1999 was Prince's breakthrough album, and remains one of his best. In 2003, the album was ranked number 163 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The first half of this album is incredible.

Purple Rain soundtrack (1984)
Prince’s biggest seller, and possibly his most accessible and mainstream record. His style goes in a rock n roll direction on many of the tracks. To date has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, becoming the sixth best-selling soundtrack album of all time. The movie, while flawed, is a cult classic, and features all the songs. In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at #2 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s" behind only Michael Jackson's Thriller. 

Around the World in a Day (1985)
A psychedelic vibe that pervades much of the record. 2-3 great tracks, but as an album a step down from his last two records.

Parade - Music From The Motion Picture Under The Cherry Moon (1986)
Kiss, Girls & Boys and Mountains are enjoyable singles, but the albums non-singles tracks didn’t have a lasting impact on me.

Sign O’ The Times (1987)
He was still at the peak of his powers in the late 80s, this is another strong effort. The record continues to grow on me. Often included when talking of his top 5 albums.

Lovesexy (1988)
There are a lot of textures in the music so it's quite an exhausting album to listen to, I almost feel the album is overproduced.

Batman soundtrack (1989)
I like the song Trust, which features in the movie. The soundtrack is decent, just not of the standard of his best 80s albums. Scandalous is the other stand-out that I go back to.

Graffiti Bridge (1990)
The sequel to Purple Rain. The opening track “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got” sounds too similar to “Footloose” from the 80s. I’m not a fan of rap, so I can’t really give a fair assessment. All I can say is none of the tracks lingered in my mind. In that good-but-not-great zone in which Prince has too often inhabited since his ‘80s peak.

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Prince's biggest seller of the '90s. An album I struggle to play from start to finish. I just don’t like the direction he went for on about half the tracks, Prince added hip-hop and rapper Tony B to his repertoire. 
However there are a bunch of strong singles I like such as: Diamonds and Pearls, Cream, Thunder, and Money Don't Matter 2 Night, and these singles sound like something he would have done in the 80s.

Love Symbol Album (1992)
Contains elements of musical styles including funk, R&B, hip hop, jazz, reggae, and synthpop. The singles are a bit underwhelming, and none of the tracks had a big impact on me.  

Any thoughts on the albums? Have you listened to Prince? Or are you new to his music as I am? As always, comments are welcome

2014 Blind Spot series: Come and See (1985)

My contribution to Ryan McNeil's 2014 blindspot series blogathon, where I watch a film each month that I have never seen before.

WW2 drama. Often listed as among the best war movies, and best Soviet films ever made. A teenage boy (Flyora) becomes part of the resistance to fight the Germans, we see events unfold through his eyes. Horrific that children would be used as child soldiers.
The film utilizes jarring sound effects to emulate the aftermath of a bombing, when the soldier’s ears or hearing might be affected.
The scene with the flies in the house is very unsettling in how it plays out. Mainly because how uncomfortably realistic it is. Another memorable sequence is wading through the mud and it’s quite amazing how brave the young actors are to put themselves through those dangers. The performances make you believe they are struggling to keep their head above water.
The man who was set on fire lying on the ground is also a striking moment, as was the terrifying trench coat-dressed mock Hitler effigy, with a skull covered in mud. Perhaps put together by the partisans so that relatives of the deceased could tear apart this symbol of evil, and vent their anger. Perhaps as a symbolic "scarecrow" warning to the Germans that they are ready to defend their territory. I'm not sure which?
The many close ups and harrowing nature of the story means it’s essentially a horror film. The main character’s fear-petrified expression is unforgettable. His attempting to shield his ears, going so far as to drive his head into the mud, says more than a thousand words.

A brutal film. The archival black and white footage of Hitler which is shown backwards for me illustrates the dream (and impossibility) of undoing what has already been done.
A powerful anti-war message. You realize the situations are close to real life, and that the survivors had to live a normal life after the atrocities. There are no winners in situations such as these. You appreciate what the word post-traumatic stress syndrome is about, because these events leave an undeniable mark not just on the characters, but the audience who witnesses them.

If I had to point to a weakness, the ending drags on too long. Director Elem Klimov co-wrote the screenplay with Ales Adamovich, who fought with the Byelorussian partisans as a teenager. According to wikipedia, Klimov was able to start filming in 1984 without having compromised to any censorship at all. The only change became the name of the film itself. As another reviewer wrote, “this movie sets a new standard in making war seem like hell. It's the kind of film that makes you appreciate being alive and having the life you do.”
Approach with caution, a very disturbing watch.
Rating 9/10

Have you seen Come and See (1985)? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments

The music of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (part 5 of 5)

Album: Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (2CD) (2004)
The double-album was well-received by critics. The mellower songs I enjoyed. However several of the tracks I find myself skipping over on my second run through.  I suppose a double album was always going to be a bit inconsistent. Clocking in at 82 minutes, his longest release to date.
"O Children", was featured in 2010’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

Favorite tracks:
Messiah Ward
O Children
Nature Boy
Easy Money

Favorite lyrics:
“Yeah, praise Him a little bit more
Praise Him till you've forgotten
what you're praising Him for”

“You searched through all my poets
From Sappho through to Auden
I saw the book fall from your hands
As you slowly died of boredom
I had been there, dear,
but I was not there anymore
I had been there, now I'm hiding all way”

“As the trees bend down their branches
And touch you with their fingertips”

“The moon is locked away”
“But they've ordered the moon not to shine”

“I was just a boy when I sat down
To watch the news on TV
I saw some ordinary slaughter
I saw some routine atrocity
My father said, don't look away
You got to be strong, you got to be bold, now
He said, that in the end it is beauty
That is going to save the world, now”

Album: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
Again strong lyrics, but very loud. Not a fan of the album.

Album: Push The Sky Away (2013)
His most recent album. The lyrics per usual are well-written, and I even got my parents into this release. Gone is the rockier sound of earlier recordings, and it feels more accessible to a wider audience than his darker albums. The quieter approach reminds me of The Boatman's Call from the 90s, which I also love.
Favorite tracks:
Jubilee Street
Push The Sky Away
We No Who U R

Any thoughts on the music? Have you listened to Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds? Or are you new to the band as I am? As always, comments are welcome


Haven't posted for a while, so thought I'd go with something new. Rewatchability is a major criteria for inclusion in my top 100. I tend to think of favorites as something that holds up to repeat viewings, and that you sometimes think about fondly even when not watching the actual film. Quotable movies also have a habit of getting watched over and over. It was tough to narrow down to 20 films, I could easily have added more, but you have to cut off somewhere. Today I’m going with these choices:

Shawshank Redemption (1994)
(There's a reason why it's no 1 on IMDB's top 250. Even those who are not film buffs have told me they can't help watching it to the end if Shawshank is on TV)

Match Point (2005)
(My favorite Woody Allen film. The story draws me in every time, despite knowing what happens. I'm fascinated by the obsessional nature of the main character, even though I think Jonathan Rhys Meyers' acting is not the greatest. Scarlett Johansson in perhaps her sexiest role)

Magnolia (1999)
(The characters I just never tire of watching, there's an emotional vulnerability going on that gives the film real heart. Doesn't feel like a 3 hour movie. Aimee Mann's soundtrack is another reason to appreciate the movie)

Before Sunrise (1995)
(How can you not love the sweet love story? The most romantic film I can think of. Superbly written.)

The Hours (2002)
(Rare that such complex, rich characters make their way into the oscar race)

Blue Velvet (1986)
(I love the atmosphere, and there's a certain thrill with us being in the shoes of Jeffrey, hiding in the apartment. Mulholland Dr (2001) I feel is solvable, whereas Blue Velvet is still an enigma to me)

The Decalogue (1989)
(So many details, so much to take in, even after 2-3 watches there are still things I missed. I could say the same about Kieslowski's work in the 90s as well. A master at the top of his game in that period 1989-94)

The Breakfast Club (1985)
(I love hanging out with these characters. Tarantino talks about Linklater's Dazed and Confused (1993) in the same way, the characters are like friends you see again every few years. The song by Simple Minds is today an 80s classic, and gives the movie the ending it deserves)

Point Break (1991)
( Jumping out of a plane, the chase on foot, the bank robbers, etc , etc. I don't see any reason for a remake. This movie still rocks and the action scenes have aged well. The ending is iconic)

Terminator 2 (1991)
(Not often that a sequel improves on the original, and I think James Cameron achieved that. A candidate for best action movie of the 90s, and I'd put Point Break on that list as well.)

The Shining (1980)
(That ending still baffles me today, no mater how many times I've seen The Shining. It could be my favorite movie ending of all time. That rare film that I coud rewind and watch again immediately)

Collateral (2004)
(I still can't get over how different Tom Cruise is compared to other roles. He's like a wolf prowling in the night. A hitman who seems in control, but is he? There's a mystery there)

Crocodile Dundee (1986)
(Quotable, funny, heartwarming. The fish out of water story is timeless in a way, and could have been made today. That poster is genius. Probably the most famous Australian film)

Juno (2007)
(The deadpan delivery by Ellen Page is hilarious, Probably my favorite Diabo Cody script. The music discussion between Juno and Mark Loring is my favorite scene from the movie)

Rounders (1998)
(I almost picked Good Will Hunting, but I mainly love that for the scenes with Robin Williams. It's been a while since I rewatched Rounders. Every time I feel the tension, and it's like I'm almost living what the character is going through. )

Rain Man (1988)
(I think Cruise should have been nominated for a supporting Oscar, although Hoffman is amazing here. An unforgettable road movie which doesn't lose its power on rewatch)

Don’t Look Now (1973)
(Holds up well despite being from the 70s, for several reasons: We feel their grief due to the strong performances, the colours and images are loaded with symbolism, and also Venice looks fantastic. A different kind of horror film)

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
(So quotable, so funny. Kevin Kline is on top form in his wacky oscar winning performance.)

I’m Not There (2007)
(A divisive film. I love it and feel it was misunderstood by critics. While somewhat messy, it's also a unique way of showing us Bob Dylan's many personas. The singer continues to fascinate.)

Flash Gordon (1980)
(The colorful sets, the pulsating Queen soundtrack, the memorable characters. I know there are those who find it too silly, campy and over the top. It's my favorite superhero movie, I've seen it ten times and never gets old. The tribute scene in the movie Ted (2012) probably helped boost the dvd sales)

Which are your most rewatchable films? Any of the above, or other films that you watch again and again? What is the attraction about rewatching for you?

The music of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (part 4 of 5)

Album: The Boatman's Call (1997)
A few lesser tracks on the album, but also several of my all-time favorites by Cave. The album, which is entirely piano-based and a departure from the band's post-punk catalogue, remains one of the most critically acclaimed releases of Nick Cave's career. Many of the lyrics seem to reflect on Cave's personal relationships and spiritual yearnings at the time of writing. Some songs are thought to be directed at either the mother of Cave's oldest son Luke, Viviane Carneiro (in "Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?") or PJ Harvey, with whom he had a brief relationship around that time (as referenced in "West Country Girl", "Black Hair" and "Green Eyes").

Favorite tracks:
Into My Arms
(Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?
Brompton Oratory
People Ain't No Good
Lime Tree Arbour
Far From Me

Favorite lyric:
“The sun would stream on the sheets
Awoken by the morning bird
We'd buy the Sunday newspapers
And never read a single word”
Favorite lyric from People Ain't No Good:
“The winter slammed us like a fist
The windows rattling in the gales
To which she drew the curtains
Made out of her wedding veils”

Album: No More Shall We Part (2001)
While a few tracks go on a bit too long, the album showcases the virtuoso talents of the Bad Seeds, with elaborate instrumental sections on nearly every track. Also, Cave's lyrics are less obscure than usual, and he sings in a wider vocal range than he had previously, reaching alto on several tracks.

Favorite tracks: 

Favorite lyric:
“The burdens that you carry now
Are not of your creation
So let's not weep for their evil deeds
But for their lack of imagination
Today's the time for courage, babe
Tomorrow can be for forgiving
And if he touches you again with his stupid hands
His life won't be worth living”

Album: Nocturama (2008)
The lyrics are of the usual high quality, yet the album lacks memorable melodies. Probably among Cave’s weakest. Even the album artwork is not the best.

Favorite lyrics:
“Under the bridge and into your dreams he soars
While you lie alone in that idea-free sleep of yours
That you’ve been sleeping now for years”

“She sat in a wicker chair, her eyes they were downcast
She breathed in the future, by breathing out the past”

“The cops are hanging around the house
The cars outside look like they’ve got the blues
The moon don’t know if it’s day or night”

Any thoughts on the music? Have you listened to Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds? Or are you new to the band as I am? As always, comments are welcome. Part 5 of 5 coming soon.


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