2016 blind spot choices

I've decided to continue with Ryan McNeil's 2016 blindspot blogathon. Other LAMB bloggers are also participating, so it should be fun. The idea is you select 12 films you've never seen before and write about a film each month.
My list is not varied in terms of decades. All of the selections tie in with an 80s music project I'm doing on the blog. I've tried to pick films that have soundtracks that look intriguing or films I missed by acclaimed directors. I realize some of these films are lowbrow entertainment and not necessarily masterpieces, but sometimes that's what you need.

I took the liberty of borrowing a header banner another blogger created, hope that's alright! Anyway, feist your eyes on the 12 films:

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) (Michael Apted)

Valley Girl (1983) (Martha Coolidge)

The Killer (1989) (John Woo)

Sid and Nancy (1986) (Alex Cox)

One from the Heart (1982) (Francis Ford Coppola)

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) (Paul Schrader)

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) (William Friedkin)

Weird Science (1985) (John Hughes)

Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986) (Adrian Lyne)

Streets of Fire (1984) (Walter Hill)

Betty Blue (1986) (aka 37°2 le matin) (Jean-Jacques Beineix)

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) (Stephen Herek)

What do you think of my choices? Have you seen these films?

Best songs of 1980 (part 4)

Album: The River by Bruce Springsteen 

While the album is overlong, the title track The River is a timeless classic that deservedly still gets played on the radio. Hungry Heart was an uncharacteristic venture into pop. Rolling Stone ranked it at number 253 on their list of the greatest albums of all time. A record I want to explore further.

Listen to:
The River
Hungry Heart
Point Blank

Album: Scary Monsters and Super Creeps by David Bowie

Both a critical and commercial success, Bowie would reach out to a new wave audience while also continuing to experiment. Described as "one of the decade's quirkiest pop albums". The music video for Ashes To Ashes is one of the most iconic of the 80s, the lyrics revisit Bowie's Major Tom character from 1969's "Space Oddity". The best three track run on any album, track 3-5.

Listen to:
Ashes to Ashes
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 

Album: Diana by Diana Ross 

These songs make you want to dance. Nile Rodgers, who wrote the guitar part for Get Lucky (2013), also showed his talent on Diana (1980). "Upside Down" still holds up as a great song and "I'm Coming Out" is good too, regardless if you are straight or gay.

Listen to:
Upside Down
I'm Coming Out

Album: Glass Houses by Billy Joel

A good album, just not as strong as his late 70s work. Most of the singles are very enjoyable. A little more rock based than piano.

Listen to:
It's Still Rock and Roll To Me
You May Be Right
Don’t Ask Me Why

Album: Unmasked by Kiss 

I'm not familiar with Kiss except their greatest hits. Apparently many Kiss fans dislike this album, I only listened to the singles. Unmasked marked a major departure musically for the band and received mixed reviews. The album's songs have been largely ignored in live performances, with the exception of "Shandi". I like the comic book sleeve.

Listen to:

Album: Nothin' Matters And What If It Did by John Cougar (aka John Mellencamp)

I'm not quite sure why he used a different name. He claims these are "stupid little pop songs" which must have angered the record company. I like the Springsteen vibe in the track I shared, very catchy. There are some nice finds in the singer's catalogue if you do a little digging.

Listen to:
Ain't Even Done with the Night 

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4)

What do you think of this music, any favorites? Did I miss any songs from these albums which you think deserve praise? As always, comments are welcome.
Next Thursday, I'll tackle a few 1980 albums by British bands, including The Cure and Joy Division. Stay tuned!

2015 Blindspot series: Patton (1970)

A WW2 epic which won 7 Oscars. The opening is what the film is best remembered for, with General Patton walking onto a stage with a huge American flag behind him, delivering a quotable speech to the (hidden) soldiers in the audience. At this early point, it’s already clear Patton is passionate about making a difference in World War II, and wants to empower others to do their best. We are made to feel like we are the soldiers he is addressing, which adds to the power of the scene.

George C Scott gives an Oscar worthy performance as General George S. Patton Jr, he spreads fear wherever he goes, among his group of soldiers, and as a tactician in the battle with the Germans. The film follows Patton during his North African and European campaigns from 1943-1945, celebrating the army as a war machine, yet justifying controversial independent thinking. We witness realistic battle scenes in Tunisia and Sicily. Apparently the film is fairly accurate as to what really happened.

General Patton perceives himself as a poet, war historian, and reincarnated soldier and is man essentially born in the wrong century. Patton says he’s nothing and “in the dog house“ if he’s not part of the war effort. He lives for the excitement of war. Unfortunately he also has a big mouth and has an old-fashioned tendency to strike out at shell shocked soldiers who he considers cowards, which gets Patton into trouble with his superiors. Yet you could also look at his instilling discipline as motivating the soldiers to rise above their condition. At times, Patton cares more about personal glory than the fate of his soldiers, which causes friction. In a memorable supporting role, Karl Malden plays Patton’s second-hand man, he is both a friend and an advisor. The story is not only told from the allied side, the Germans are also attempting to get one step ahead and figure out Patton’s strategy, so part of the film is subtitled.

I will say the film is a little overlong and while George C Scott does his best with the material he’s given, the screenplay is slightly heavy-handed in some places, spelling out Patton’s strengths and weaknesses. Even so, I like that the filmmakers don’t simply praise Patton as a war hero, which a lesser war film might have done.
Questions what is right and wrong for those in high ranks during a war. Should you push your men to the extreme in order to gain an advantage over the enemy, or is the well-being and survival of the soldiers most important? Many would agree with the latter, yet if it’s the difference between winning or losing a war, it’s a tough decision. In some ways, the battles themselves are secondary to the character study of Patton.

Also worth noting is the award-winning screenplay co-written by an up-and-coming Francis Ford Coppola, as well as Jerry Goldsmith’s impressive war appropriate score. The Main Theme gives you a taste of the soundtrack.

Won 7 Academy Awards, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Writing, Best Art Direction, Best Sound and Best Film Editing.

In 1986, George C Scott reprised his role in a made-for-TV sequel, The Last Days of Patton. The movie was based on Patton's final weeks after being mortally injured in a car accident, with flashbacks of Patton's life.

Agree or disagree? Have you seen Patton (1970)? As always, comments are welcome 

Amy - An Intimate, Beautiful, And Heartbreaking Documentary

This is an article contributed by writer Helen Sanders

Grainy, amateur footage shows a group of young teenage girls sitting on the narrow stairs of a London flat. They are chattering, self-consciously licking lollipops. “Happy birthday, Lauren!” they squeal. An off-key chorus of ‘Happy birthday’ begins. Quickly, one voice rises above the rest. The others fall silent as the incredible sound pours forth, and the camera jerkily swings round to film the source. Grinning, doing a hammy Marilyn Monroe impression, a high-cheekboned, happy-looking fourteen year old girl with a mass of glossy black hair finishes the song with a sophisticated vocal flourish.  It’s Amy Winehouse, of course. This is the first scene of an ambitious, emotional, and intimate documentary which mixes amateur footage, interviews, photographs, and Amy’s own words in an in-depth look at the tragic, talented Ms Winehouse’s short life. It’s gripping viewing even if you aren’t a fan of Amy’s music - if you’re a Winehouse aficionado, it’s an absolutely essential watch.

‘Tender’ is a word often used to describe a project of this kind. It’s not entirely out of place here, but it also implies a kind of whitewash, and this is by no means a whitewash. Amy’s life unrolls before us in all of its glorious, tawdry brilliance. ‘Amy’ was directed by Asif Kapadia, who by all accounts went to obsessive lengths to tell his subject’s story. The amount of personal footage he’s managed to obtain of Amy’s life is astonishing, as is the trust which he apparently inspires in those who were closest to her. Her childhood friends (Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, who stuck by Amy throughout her life) and early manager, Nick Shymansky took what appears to be a ‘vow of silence’ following the singer’s tragic death. Indeed, Shymanksy only gave a curt two minute talk (under duress) to Amy’s own father while Mitch Winehouse was writing his posthumous book about his daughter - yet Shymanksy opens both his heart and his archives to Kapadia. The result is a fascinating biopic. Kapadia wisely lets the story tell itself - his own presence is never felt within the documentary as a whole. Instead, the viewer feels as though they are standing within Amy’s inner circle, watching her story occur before their eyes. By the end of it, the viewer has developed a close relationship with the troubled star, and is emotionally wrung out by witnessing the traumas of her life.

Early Signs?
Knowing what is coming, it is all too easy for viewers to try and draw conclusions about Amy’s character from discussions of her early life. As her early career starts to develop, we see a smiling Amy shake a bag of weed at a camera her friend is holding. "You're doing this on camera? Really?" her friend says, dubiously. She and her mother speak of her childhood naughtiness, and of her mother's exhaustive inability to tell her "No". It’s all too easy to make judgements with hindsight - but thus far this is nothing out of the ordinary for a talented creative. Certainly the potential for self-destruction is evident - Amy is periodically depressed, volatile, and prone to wildness - but she is nothing particularly unusual. Only her talent makes her situation incredible - and it is this which will ultimately lead to her meteoric rise and tragic downfall.

Enter the man who many Winehouse fans consider to be the ultimate villain of the piece - Blake Fielder-Civil. Amy is a young, bright singer just beginning to forge her way in the music business under the novice management of Nick Shymansky - who comes across as an endearing if bumbling presence in Amy’s life. Then Blake comes along. Blake has since denied that he was responsible for the later turbulence of Amy’s life, but the evidence presented in the documentary paints their relationship as disturbingly volatile - a case of mutually assured destruction. We see photographs of her in a London park with him, worryingly skinny, her shorts falling down her bare-boned pelvis. Then he leaves her for his ex girlfriend. This is considered to be something of a breaking point by her old friends. She is discovered in a state of crisis - drunk, bulimic and filthy. They book her into rehab - but her father insists that she is fine. A recurring theme within the documentary is the impossibility of forcing someone who does not want to recover to give up substances. This is the first instance - and it's a pivotal one. From her initial breakup with Blake came Amy’s astonishing ‘Back To Black’ album - but Nick is not sure that it was worth what followed. He believes that she should have gone to rehab then and there, and wishes that he and her friends had convinced her to. “I think that was a moment we lost a very key opportunity...she wasn’t a star, she wasn’t swarmed by paparazzi. We could have just fucked Back To Black off...She’d have had a chance to have be dealt with by professionals before the world wanted a piece of her”, he says. 

Fame And Decline
But Back To Black is released - an outpouring of her trauma and pain after Blake leaves her. And success swiftly follows. Suddenly, Blake is back on the scene. He films their lips as they kiss. There’s something disturbingly voyeuristic about these scenes - but worse are the concert scenes in which she is frenetic, slapping at her face, tugging at her shorts while the crowd’s mood turns ugly. Blake’s voice speaks calmly of how he introduced her to crack cocaine and heroin. She is sent to rehab - but Blake insists he goes with her. One of her doctors states that he did not want her to get clean, because then she would leave him and "the gravy train" would end. She goes through damaging cycles of recovery and relapse. At the Grammy’s, after winning a much-coveted award, she tells the stalwart Juliette that “This is so boring without drugs”. She’s hounded shamelessly by the media.

Amy And Mitch
Much has been made of Blake, but if this documentary has a villain, it’s Mitch Winehouse. He has since hit out against the documentary, but in all fairness it never explicitly demonises him, and allows him to tell his own story. We see Amy struggling with constant harassment by the press and paparazzi - and we see Mitch continually inviting the media into his clearly very sick daughter’s life. While she is in St Lucia, trying to escape from media pressures, Mitch brings a camera crew to film her. He insists that she have her photograph taken with some tourists, despite her evident distress at having her privacy invaded. He persuades her to continue with a tour which she clearly dreads. Ultimately, she is bundled into a plane while passed out drunk, and wakes up on a tour she does not wish to do. The drugs and alcohol which ultimately kill her are seen by her as a way out - a way in which to get people to stop demanding things of her. It's a terrible, tragic situation - and one which Mitch seems immune to. The final chapters of Amy’s life have a ring of inevitability about them. There’s a brief resurgence when she gets an opportunity to turn to her true passion - jazz - but the industry swiftly demands that she continues with the old, painful, money-making material. We all know the end of Amy’s story, and it’s hard to watch - but nobody who has witnessed this poor, talented, exploited woman’s journey will be able to switch off without that final closure.

Have you watched Amy? As always, comments are welcome

Best songs of 1980 (part 3)

80s Thursday continues with a look at four important albums from 1980. Hope you enjoy the selections!

Album: Double Fantasy by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

(I've read unflattering things about Lennon's turbulent personal life, yet he definitely showed his best side in his music. Double Fantasy, which was a bitter sweet album due to Lennon's tragic murder, includes several timeless classics. Won Album of the Year at the 24th Annual Grammy Awards)

Listen to:
(Just Like) Starting Over
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) 
Watching the Wheels

Album: The Game by Queen 

(Most people know these songs. The album has filler tracks, yet the best stuff stands the test of time. For some Queen fans, it marked the end of the road, for the first time the band used a synthesizer and guitars were less domineering. The pop sound was different to what Queen were doing in the 70s. In my case, I enjoy both the 70s and 80s material)

Listen to:
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Another One Bites the Dust
Play The Game
Save Me

Album: Back in Black by AC/DC

(Features some of AC/DC's most popular songs. Amazing guitar riffs. Following the unfortunate passing of lead singer Bon Scott, AC/DC regrouped and hired Brian Johnson to take his place. The song Have A Drink On Me was a tribute to Scott. Johnson's vocal style was similar and did not diminish the power of their music. Back in Black remains the best-selling album ever released by an Australian musical act)

Listen to:
Back in Black
You Shook Me All Night Long
Hells Bells

Album: Boy by U2 

(Showed early promise. I Will Follow is the standout with its signature U2 sound)

Listen to: 
I Will Follow

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4)

What do you think of this music, any favorites? Did I miss any songs from these albums which you think deserve praise? As always, comments are welcome

The Hunger Games: A look back

This is an article by writer Helen Sanders.

Hunger Games formed the foundations for five-star franchise
The heat is rising around the release of Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2. Due out on November 20th, this is, according to media reports, one of the most anticipated films of fall 2015. So with fascinated fans eagerly awaiting Katniss Everdeen’s final act, it seems the perfect time to reflect on the movie which started it all off – The Hunger Games.

Hunger Games history
Originally aimed at older teens and young adults, the Hunger Games literary series, like the movies, in fact drew much wider appeal. First published in September 2008 by author Suzanne Collins, ‘The Hunger Games,’ immediately garnered critical and popular success, with literary legends like Stephen King weighing in behind the book. The first Hunger Games outing on paper quickly rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and managed the feat of staying on this list for three consecutive years. With the next instalments enjoying similar success and a solid fan base developing, the books were obvious candidates for the big screen treatment. This transition occurred in March 2012 with the much heralded release of the first film.

Hunger Games back story
Poverty, deprivation and of course hunger may not seem like a sound basis for a movie aimed predominantly at teenage audiences, but this is exactly where the Hunger Games story begins. Heroine Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) lives in an impoverished community called District 12. It is part of a futuristic nation called Panem, situated within what remains of North America. District 12 is the poorest of the districts, and Katniss Everdeen’s family seems to be fairly close to the bottom of the economic pile within it. Katniss’s father has tragically died and her mother has sunk into a deep depression. This leaves Katniss responsible for the household which includes her younger sister, Primrose. With no regular income the family is living in dire economic circumstances and struggling to pay its way.

Following an uprising some years previous, these districts are paying their debt to the wealthy Capitol as punishment for their rebellion. As a result, each district must annually offer up one young boy and girl aged between 12 and 18 – who are referred to as ‘tributes’- to participate in a contest called the Hunger Games. The ‘game’ is a survival challenge where each ‘player’ is expected to kill the other contestants and overcome the harsh environment in which the contest is based. Only one winner will prevail – the rest will never come home.

Hunger Game- Katniss steps forward
Participants are chosen through a process called reaping which essentially involves picking names out of a hat. Primrose Everdene (Katniss’s younger sister) is selected but Katniss courageously volunteers to take her place. Katniss may be down in terms of life’s pecking order but she certainly isn’t out. In spite of or perhaps because of her tough upbringing her community believes she has the potential to win the games – something which has never been achieved by a resident of their district.  District 12’s male participant is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) a nervous young man who seems ill equipped for the contest. He is the son of the local baker and is portrayed as less than generous to a starving Katniss in flashbacks throughout the movie.

Hunger Games- the contest
Katniss and Peeta are transported to the Capitol where they meet their rather unreliable mentor- Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Haymitch is initially unsupportive but does come good in the end, teaching Katniss a valuable lesson about the importance of getting people to like her. This, he says, is the key to success within the games and is perhaps one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for the abrasive Katniss. Meanwhile, Peeta is struggling with training and seems to be giving up. In order to fight back he infers to the pre-games audience that he is in love with Katniss – a sentiment she does not take kindly to.

Despite being aware of the purpose of the games from the outset of the movie, the reality is still shocking. A large number of contestants are slain almost immediately – a canon fires each time one dies to update the remaining participants. Katniss’s survival skills stand her in good stead but we see her fate constantly manipulated by the game makers, introducing new elements and even changing the rules. Her relationship with Peeta blossoms though for her it is very much a partnership of convenience and they are told that two winners will be allowed, as long as they come from the same district. This rule is overturned at the climax of the games leaving Katniss and Peeta with a difficult dilemma.

Hunger Games- the sensation
There are many underlying messages within the Hunger Games movie. Man’s brutality to man, the dehumanization of other humans, the revelry found within other’s suffering and the far reaching potential of reality television are all themes which the story touches on. Yet there are many films in this vein which have not reached the starry heights of The Hunger Games box office success. What Hunger Games delivers is a heady mix of high quality production values, accomplished direction (Gary Ross) and an attractive and engaging cast. The exquisite cinematography highlights the contrast between dark and dismal District 13 and the upscale steam punk Capitol, reminding the viewer of the gulf which exists between these two communities.  It is the perfect storm of movie variables which has attracted a committed band of movie followers. On release weekend in the United States it hauled in an eye-watering $155 million- out performing even the most optimistic forecasts. Its stars have also reaped the rewards with Jennifer Lawrence in particular now a household name in no small part due to her Katniss portrayal. This is a franchise which has gone from strength to strength and with audiences expected to once again surge for the final forthcoming outing it looks like the odds will be ever in its favor. 

Are you a fan of The Hunger Games franchise? As always, comments are welcome


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