Horror movies reviewed (part 1)

It's October, so we are approaching Halloween! That means it's time to knock off horror movies from my watchlist. Last year I was corrected for improper use of the term horror, so this time I'll start off with a disclaimer. The term is used very broadly in the header. Several of the films listed are not strictly horror, and could be categorized as vampire, comedy, fantasy and so on. Sometimes they are a hybrid or different genres.

Evil Dead (1981) (Sam Raimi)
On first viewing I made the error of watching it during the afternoon. For this rewatch I made a deliberate attempt to watch the film when it was dark outside, and it was a far better experience. A group of five Michigan State University students venture to a cabin in the woods which they rent on the cheap. It’s actually quite funny in the first 15 minutes, the car horn joke made me laugh. They do unwise things like going into the woods alone and staying at the cabin despite the mayhem, but the scares are effective, especially the scenes going into the unknown(the basement, the woods). The film is best remembered for the POV camera movements which has the evil rushing through the trees and looking through the windows. Has excellent pacing thanks to a talented director at the helm, so I didn’t become bored. It’s like they took the idea from a famous 70s horror film and went even further. The image that will stay with me is the girl locked in the basement and pocking her head up through the chained door in the floor. That’s a scary sight.
Rating 8/10 

Evil Dead 2 (1987) (Sam Raimi)
A parody sequel to the 1981 film. Bruce Campbell reprises his role and has a great scared face and he spends many scenes looking frightened. Less surprising, repeating the story of a cabin in the woods and an evil presence, just with a bigger budget. The headless woman with a chain saw and him fighting his own hand were quite amusing, but the movie is not as quotable or funny as others claim. Campbell is a good physical actor which shows in the slapstick moments. He sure must have had some cuts or bruises with the number of times he throws himself about. The special effect of a speaking decapitated head was very realistic. Some inventive scenes, but for me I prefer the straight horror of the first movie. I’m still giving it a 7/10 because I was never bored. The strong ending does make you want to watch the third movie Army of Darkness (1992).
Favorite quote: “give me back my hand”
Rating 7/10

Army of Darkness (1992) (Sam Raimi)
I actually think this third film in the trilogy is far more quotable than Evil Dead 2. The campy one-liners brought a smile to my face, even if they feel a bit contrived. Ash (Bruce Campbell) behaves like an action hero rather than a real person this time around, which takes a bit of getting used to. I loved the opening scene even though it’s a rip-off of a sequence in Star Wars.
Later on, the amusing fight with the skeleton arms by the graveyard was amusing. A pity the special effects are poor in some places when the background had been superimposed.
There are a few homages to other works of fiction such as Gulliver’s Travels and Jason and the Argonauts.
SPOILER: The weakest part is the ending, the enemy is not much of a threat, and a bit lame seeing Ash kiss a girl he’s known for only 5 minutes. For a director who made such a great ending to Evil Dead 2, it's odd he would settle for such a formulaic and corny conclusion to the trilogy.
Rating 7/10

I Walked with a Zombie (1943) (Jacques Tourneur)
I love Out of The Past (1947) and Cat People (1942) by the same director, that was reason enough.
Labelled a horror film, but it’s more of a mood piece, going for an eerie atmosphere. A nurse travels to the West Indies and is asked to care for a mute zombie-like woman. Even if it is tame compared to movies today, the voodoo is quite unsettling, and the songs sung at the restaurant are too. Visually the filmmakers makes great use of shadows and especially the howling wind. I prefer the two other Tourneur films I mentioned, but this one is not bad.
According to A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), Tourneur confessed at the end of his career he had always been passionate about the supernatural, a bit of a psychic himself. He made films about the supernatural because he believed in it, and claimed to have even experienced it first hand.
Rating 7/10

Phantom of the Opera (1925) (multiple directors)
Haven’t read the book, but felt the screenplay was confusing in how it jumped around quite a lot. Memorable for the set designs, and the performance and makeup of Lou Cheney. A haunting moment when he reveals his face. The story feels oversimplified, with it's good versus evil.
Rating 6/10

StageFright: Aquarius (aka Deliria) (1987) (Michele Soavi)
Not familiar with this Italian director. Soavi's debut feature.
Although the eerie 80s soundtrack plays a key role in creating suspense, the film has a comic book style, so you can watch purely on a visual level without paying attention to the dialogue.  There are horror movie conventions, so the story is nothing new, yet it’s still unsettling because of the claustrophobic setting and realistic nature of the story. The owl suit is quite a scary sight and it's pretty gory. The director is maybe best known for Cemetery Man (1994) starring Rupert Everett.
Rating 7/10

I Married a Witch (1942) (René Clair)
Picked because it's short at 77 minutes. It's not scary, a fantasy with supernatural elements. A film that shows you don’t need elaborate CGI to make convincing special effects. A puff of smoke, miniatures, or a fire place switched on is enough to believably tell a story of a witch.
Rarely are witches as gorgeous as Veronica Lake, I guess that was the point really, to change it up.
Rating 8/10

The Hunger (1983) (Tony Scott)
If Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner had a baby, this movie might be the result. The Hunger is about everlasting life and how that affects a person. Very atmospheric and with minimal dialogue, relying on visual storytelling. The Hunger is considered an art-house update of the wave of sexy vampire flicks of the 1960s and 1970s. Worth seeing just for the art direction with its smoky rooms and swaying curtains, coupled with an 80s score and classical music. The film memorably opens with a popular song by the goth band Bauhaus. The makeup of an aging character is also extraordinary.
May not be everyone’s cup of tea. The critics were not enthusiastic about Tony Scott’s debut feature. I consider the movie underrated and I got totally into that world. You could argue it’s style over substance and the characters are not fully realized, but there’s an alluring beauty that draws you in. The characters in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) I didn't connect with. These characters in The Hunger are far more mysterious. I don’t know if it was intended, I got a subtext about aids, and how that changes a person.
Another reviewer said it better than I could: ”It's anti-vampire. There's no teeth, no eyes or even a mention of the word itself. In fact, it tries very hard to side-step any familiar undead cliches for fear of 'reducing it to a 'normal' film. Or so it seems”
Rating 8/10

Angel Heart (1987) (Alan Parker)
Interesting mix of noir and occult horror. The best thing about the film is how it looks, beautiful cinematography. Each frame is like a photograph. The story is quite intricate with many twists and turns.
Mickey Rourke is believable as the small time detective out of his depth. Lisa Bonet has the most wonderfully expressive eyes, which Rourke’s character comments on. Robert De Niro is mysterious as the egg-eating bearded man he is working for.
The ending is surprising and I’m still confused who Johnny Favorite really was.
Favorite quote: “The future isn’t what it used to be, Mr Angel”
Rating 8/10

Have you watched any of the above? Which horror films are high on your watchlist for October? 

Top 20 documentaries of the 2010s so far

Over the last 5 years, I watched quite a lot of documentaries. In 2015, I've been catching up on documentaries I missed. You may have noticed the marathon I've been doing on the blog over the last few months.
This list is a collection of my personal favorites from the decade so far. I'm probably overlooking some good ones, you can't watch everything.
The ranking is based on how impactful and memorable they were. Many of them were nominated for awards, others are lesser known yet of value to me.  Of course, what is deemed "best" is different for everyone, depending on what moves you, what you are interested in, and what you find important.

1.)  The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Documentary TV Series) (Mark Cousins) (review)

2.) Dreams of a Life (Carol Morley) (review)

3.)  The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer) (review)

4.)  Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy) (review)

5.)  The Imposter (Bart Layton) (review)

6.) Armadillo (Janus Metz Pedersen) (review)

7.)  Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog) (review) (review)

8.)  Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (Stevan Riley) (review)

9.) Senna (Asif Kapadia) (review)

10.)  Amy (Asif Kapadia) (review)

11.)  Drone (Tonje Hessen Schei) (review)

12.) Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite) (review)

13.) Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney)

14.) Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Alex Gibney) (review)

15.)  Metal Evolution (Documentary TV Series) (Sam Dunn) (review)

16.)  Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)

17.)  Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul) (review)

18.) Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape (Jake West) (review)

19.) Marley (Kevin Macdonald) (review)

20.) The People vs. George Lucas (Alexandre O. Philippe) (review) (this 10 min clip is hilarious)

Honorable mentions:
Finding Vivian Maier (multiple directors) (review)
Woody Allen: A Documentary (Robert B. Weide) (review)
Reagan (Eugene Jarecki) (review)
Maidentrip (Jillian Schlesinger)
Miss Representation (Jennifer Siebel Newsom) (review)
Bobby Fischer Against the World (Liz Garbus) (review)
Undefeated (multiple directors) (review)
Sinatra: All or Nothing at All (Alex Gibney) (review)
TT3D: Closer to the Edge (Richard De Aragues) (review)
A Story of Children and Film (Mark Cousins) (review)
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer) (review)
Kraftwerk - Pop Art (multiple directors) (review)
20,000 Days on Earth (multiple directors) (review)
Bully (Lee Hirsch)  (review)
56 Up (Michael Apted) (review)
The Swell Season (multiple directors) (review)
Mistaken for Strangers (Tom Berninger) (review)
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley) (review)
Life in a Day (Kevin Macdonald) (review)
Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg)
Patience After Sebald (Grant Gee) (review)
Sound City (Dave Grohl) (review)
Life Itself (Steve James) (review)
The Other Dream Team (Marius Markevicius)
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (Brett Morgen) (review)
Citizenfour (Laura Poitras) (review)
Palme (multiple directors) (review)
Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich) (review)
Rewind This! (Josh Johnson) (review)
Michael H – Profession: Director (Yves Montmayeur) (review)
Video Nasties: Draconian Days (Jake West) (review)
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky) (review)
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Martin Scorsese)
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (multiple directors)
Hawking (Stephen Finnigan) (review)
Salinger (Shane Salerno) (review)

Yet to watch list

Have you seen any of these titles, any favorites? Which are your favorite documentaries of the 2010s so far?

Retro 80s playlist

I’m a big fan of 80s music, and for the last few years I've been working on an 80s project, which I intend to share on the blog eventually. I'm far from finished as I keep discovering new bands, so posting about that will have to wait for now.  So far I have 185 songs from the year 1980 and have plenty more artists to listen to, so it's looking like a top 200 than a top 100. Even the lesser known bands put out really good songs.

In the meantime, you can listen to the retro 80s playlist I created ON YOUTUBE. Some tracks I have previously shared, others not. All of the songs are from 2009-2015. Below is the tracklist.
Interesting so many of this generation’s musicians have been influenced by the sound from the 80s.

A Real Hero (feat. Electric Youth) by College  (Drive soundtrack)

Chinatown by Destroyer

Beth/Rest by Bon Iver

The Theory of Relativity by Stars

Cherish by Ballet School

Round and Round by Ariel Pink

Fallout by Neon Indian

Seasons (Waiting On You) by Future Islands

Sister Part 1 by Cliff Martinez (instrumental) (Only God Forgives soundtrack)

Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Version) by Annie (The Guest soundtrack)

Title by Disasterpeace (instrumental) (It Follows soundtrack)

Rimbaud Eyes by Dum Dum Girls

On Our Own by Diamond Rings

Take Another Look by The Cars

Conquest by The Sound of Arrows

Behind the mask by Michael Jackson

Rebecca by Tesla Boy

Outer Limits by SLEEP ∞ OVER

We Have Everything by Young Galaxy

90 Degrees by Ladytron

Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow) - Neon Indian

Lady by Chromatics

On Christmas Dum Dum Girls

Whatever Leads Me To You by Geoffrey O'Connor

The Haunting Idle (instrumental) by The War On Drugs

Fractals by Keep Shelly in Athens

Warm In The Winter by Glass Candy

DNA by Empire of the Sun

Detroit City by Texas

She Will by Savages

Trap Door by Stars

Take It Out On Me by Chairlift

True Survivor feat. David Hasselhoff (Kung Fury soundtrack)

Kaputt by Destroyer

Cosmo Black by Dynatron (Cold in July soundtrack)

Let Me Down Gently by La Roux

Change of Coast by Neon Indian (Grand Theft Auto 5 soundtrack)

Wanna Fight by Cliff Martinez (Only God Forgives soundtrack)

Cheap Shots by Holy Ghost!

Red Eyes by The War On Drugs

Savage Night at the Opera by Destroyer

Shot At The Night by The Killers (feat. M83)

Can't Deny My Love by Brandon Flowers

Let's Get Lost by Carly Rae Jepsen

Heartbeat Overdrive by Ballet School

Disappearing by The War on Drugs

No Title (Molly) by John Maus

Across the Sea by D'eon

In Disco Lights by Blaue Blume

Rocket by Goldfrapp

There's a Girl in the Corner by Twilight Sad (Robert Smith version)

Frack by Princess Chelsea

Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen

Cover Your Tracks (CFCF Remix) by Young Galaxy

My Plants Are Dead by Blonde Redhead

Last Forever by Molly Nilsson

Wait & See by Holy Ghost!

Vortex by John Carpenter

Pearl of a Girl by Kristeen Young

Streetlight by John Maus

Accelerated by Miami Nights 1984

The Laziest River by Destroyer

New additions:

Roger (Laid Back Cover) by MGMT (Live on KCRW)

Vengeance by Perturbator  (Hotline Miami game soundtrack)

Miami by Jasper Byrne (Hotline Miami game soundtrack)

Miami Disco by Perturbator (Hotline Miami game soundtrack)

This Is It by Michael Jackson

Johnny And Mary (Robert Palmer cover) by Todd Terje and Bryan Ferry

Nightcall by Kavinsky (Drive soundtrack)

Under Your Spell by Desire (Drive soundtrack)

AT2 by Araab Muzik

Decade Dance by Jasper Byrne (Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number soundtrack)

Dust by M.O.O.N. (Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number soundtrack)

Which retro 80s songs or albums are you a fan of?

Viewing recap September

71 (2014) (Yann Demange)
Very suspenseful, especially the second half. Jack O'Connell is excellent as the lead. Sure am happy I wasn’t living in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s. Such hatred and hostility, the film shows the brutal and meaningless side of war. People blindly looking after their own interests not thinking about the pain it is causing. The filmmakers don't really take sides and are critical of both the British presence and the locals. I’m surprised anyone wanted to live in Belfast at all with the war zone environment. A time capsule, but also an ugly time capsule, so if you are sensitive to brutality, you may want to skip this one.
Rating 8/10

Straight Outta Compton (2015) (F. Gary Gray)
No wonder N.W.A wrote a song called F**k the police. In this film, the police harass and pin black people to the ground just for standing on the street minding their own business. Those scenes are the most powerful and memorable. Obviously the police misconduct is still happening in the 2010s which makes the film highly relevant.
The success of the band seems to be very instantaneous. One second they are composing the songs in the studio, the next moment the album is “taking the nation by storm”.
The concert with the police in the audience was the best scene, if only music could be as life changing as that today.
The second album by N.W.A. is famous for containing one of the first hip-hop beefs, when they dissed Ice Cube as a traitor. This aspect would become a marketing tool for other artists in years to follow. “We started out wit too much cargo. So I'm glad we got rid of Benedict Arnold”
Critics have a point that it’s a selective biopic, which means things such as female rap bands signed by the record producers, and Dr Dre’s alleged beating of women, are both omitted from the film. As Devin Faraci wrote in his review: "Of course by sanitizing the group, Straight Outta Compton sort of undermines the larger free speech issues surrounding them".
Rating 7/10

The Tribe (2014) (Miroslav Slaboshpitsky)
Innovative Ukrainian drama. Takes place at a school for the deaf, and everything is in sign-language. At the start of the film we are informed there are no subtitles, Plays like a silent feature, so I got the gist of what's happening. Those who can read sign-language obviously will understand more. Some parts are set in the seedy underworld of prostitution, and other scenes depict explicit violence, so it's quite a harrowing experience. I'm surprised the girls agreed to be with the truckers, maybe they were threatened by the pimps. Group pressure and manipulation are key ingredients of the story. I don't know if this is based on actual events. There is not much joy to be found, the only smile I remember is when the two girls are given T-shirts. Tough to shake the powerful images.
Rating 8/10

A War aka Krigen (2015) (Tobias Lindholm)
Denmark's submission to run in the foreign language film Oscar race.
Realistic depiction of Danish soldiers in Afghanistan. You feel you are right there with them on patrol.
War is tough for all involved, and the film showcases how difficult it is to do a good job as a company commander when there is pressure and responsibility. The line between right and wrong is tricky to navigate.
We also follow the commander's family in his absence. The scenes in Denmark with the mother and children go on too long, yet do humanize the characters, so we care about them later.
The film takes almost an hour to reach the main conflict, which frustrated me a bit. The last hour is gripping with things at stake.  It's probably too meandering in the first hour to be classed a great film, but it's very good. Leaves you with things to think about and discuss.
Rating 7.5/10

In the Heat of the Night (1967) (Norman Jewison)
Won 5 Oscars. Even though it's a product of its time about racism in a hostile southern town, it still packs a punch and feels eerily relevant today. Shining a light on how dangerous it was to arrive as a black in that community. Memorable performances by Sidney Poiter and Rod Steiger and also a well-told murder mystery. A film that potentially could change your life and should be shown in schools and hopefully prevent kids from becoming racists.
Rating 8.5/10

White God (2014) (Kornél Mundruczó) (review)
Rating 8/10

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) (Olivier Assayas) (review)
Rating 8/10

Mary Poppins (1964) (Robert Stevenson) (review)
Rating 7/10

Reviews of documentaries (part 3)

Reviews of documentaries (part 4)

Agree or disagree? Seen anything great during September? As always, comments are welcome

2015 Blindspot series: Mary Poppins (1964)

My contribution to Ryan McNeil's 2015 blindspot series blogathon where I watch a film each month that I have never seen before.

Included in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and received 13 Oscar nominations, winning five Academy Awards for Best Actress, Editing, Visual Effects, Original Song and Original Score.

The fantasy elements can be interpreted as happening in the children’s imagination. Mary Poppins is the new nanny and encourages play, while the kid’s father is in favor of adult virtues such as purpose, discipline and learning about real life. I loved the scene when Mary pulls objects out of her magical bag of tricks, which any child would love, the film definitely leans towards play as important and inspiring.

Great special effects for the time it was made. Animation and live action is combined, the animated animals sing together with Mary Poppins and Bert. Although it was odd during the song and dance that Bert and Mary seem to forget about the children for a while. Even though Bert (Dick Van Dyke) was my least favorite character due to his annoying happy face, his dance with the penguins is a highlight of the movie and impressive from a technical standpoint.

The characters are exuberant the whole way, even when I began to tire during the middle part, involving the laughing uncle, bird lady, and visit to the bank. It’s a long film at two hours and 20 minutes, and maybe some of that middle section could have been cut. The story picks up again when they go up the chimney, and the smoke staircase is fun. The London rooftop scenes are spectacular, especially for the view over the capital.

A Disney musical, the reasons to watch are for the groundbreaking visuals, memorable sing-along music, and feel-good factor. Ideal to watch together with the family and children of your own. The iconic soundtrack contains classics such as Chim Chim Cher-ee, A Spoonful of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Let's Go Fly a Kite.

With most of the film, the reasons for doing things remains unclear, about just having fun, and attempting to get the dad to see the world differently. The latter is a theme that will never get old.

I was surprised Julie Andrews’ character Mary is quite similar to her role in The Sound of Music (1965). I prefer the 1965 movie for the story, but both films have amazing soundtracks. If I had discovered Mary Poppins as a 7-year-old, I'm sure my enthusiasm for it would have been stronger. I wasn't really the right age group to see it for the first time.

I guess now I am able to watch the Tom Hanks film Saving Mr Banks (2013), which is about the making of Mary Poppins.

Will be interesting to see which direction the upcoming reboot goes in, word is Emily Blunt is rumored to play the lead in the new Mary Poppins. Wonder why it took so many years to make a follow-up?

Favorite quote: "I wouldn't stay in this house another minute, not if you heap me with all the jewels in Christendom!"

Rating 7/10

Agree or disagree? Have you watched Mary Poppins (1964) and what did you think? Which is your favorite film starring Julie Andrews? 

New Bond song Writing's On the Wall by Sam Smith

In a weaker era for popular music which the 2010s is I suppose you have to expect a weaker Bond song. I've played Writing's On the Wall by Sam Smith a few times in the last couple of days and it's not growing on me. I wish they had picked another singer such as Lana del Rey, her powerful voice is a far better match.

Sam Smith's high pitched vocal performance seems wrong for a film about a macho action hero like James Bond. He told NPR. “Writing’s on the Wall” is supposed to be from Bond’s perspective—“I wanted a touch of vulnerability from Bond, where you see into his heart a little bit”. Perhaps in Spectre (2015) we will see an emotionally vulnerable 007.

Unfortunately the new song is quite annoying because of the vocal delivery. Sam Smith was selected because his debut album In The Lonely Hour (2014) was a big international chart success.

If you go online, the theme has its fans, yet many were underwhelmed. BBC entertainment correspondent Colin Paterson said it was "good enough, but not a classic". What do you think?


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