Top 25 songs of 2014 so far

Honorable mentions:
She Used To Love Me A Lot by Johnny Cash
Inmadura by Elsa y Elmar (Thanks senalradionica)
Old Time Glory by Keep Shelly in Athens
Capitol by TR_ST (Thanks Burning Reels)
Mejor Animal by Ciegossordomudos
I Won't Let You Go by Snow Patrol (From Divergent soundtrack) (Thanks Inspired Ground)
Sing by Ed Sheeran (Thanks Nostra)
Maiden by Mø
Love Is To Die by Warpaint
The Morning by WhoMadeWho
Everything Is AWESOME!!! by Tegan and Sara feat. The Lonely Island (From The LEGO® Movie soundtrack)

Funnel Of Love (featuring Madeline Follin) by SQÜRL (From Only Lovers Left Alive soundtrack)

Magic by Coldplay

The Upsetter by Metronomy

West Coast by Lana Del Rey

JJ by Reptile Youth

Marilyn Monroe by Pharrell Williams

Cult of Love by Dum Dum Girls

I See You by The Horrors

Coming Home by Kaiser Chiefs

Down in The Hole by Bruce Springsteen

What Would You Do by Joan as Police Woman

Under The Pressure by The War On Drugs

I Need You by M83 (From Divergent soundtrack)

Blank Project by Neneh Cherry

Perfect World by Broken Bells

Red Eyes by The War on Drugs

Waking Light by Beck

Meet The Foetus Oh The Joy (feat. Shirley Manson of Garbage and Emily Kokal of Warpaint) by Brody Dalle

All of The People by Panama Wedding

Seasons (Waiting on You) by Future Islands

Disappearing by The War On Drugs

Digital Witness by St. Vincent

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

Coming of Age by Foster the People

Happy by Pharrell Williams

I hope you enjoyed listening! Agree or disagree? Did I miss any of your favorites of 2014? Interestingly, The Needle Drop listed Disappearing and Johnny and Mary as his least favorite tracks on those albums, I guess my taste is very different to his.

Top 10 songs by Talking Heads

1.) Life During Wartime (From 1979's Fear of Music)

2.) This Must Be the Place (From 1983's Speaking in Tongues)

3.) Burning Down The House (From 1983's Speaking in Tongues)

4.) Psycho Killer (From 1977's Talking Heads: 77)

5.) Once In A Lifetime (From 1980's Remain in Light)

6.) Road To Nowhere (From 1985's Little Creatures)

7.) Found A Job (From 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food)

8.) Making Flippy Floppy (live) (from 1984's Stop Making Sense)

9.) Girlfriend is Better (From 1983's Speaking in Tongues)

10.) Born Under Punches (From 1980's Remain in Light)

Honorable mentions:

And She Was (From 1985's Little Creatures)

Cities (From 1979's Fear of Music)

Heaven (From 1979's Fear of Music)

Take Me To The River (From 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food)

Television Man (From 1985's Little Creatures)

Nothing But Flowers (From 1988's Naked)

Pulled Up (From 1977's Talking Heads: 77)

Papa Legba (From 1986's True Stories)

Warning Sign (From 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food)

Love For Sale (From 1986's True Stories)

Any thoughts on my list? Agree or disagree? Did I miss anything by Talking Heads you love?

Czech New Wave: Reviews of key works

When you talk about the history of cinema, the Czechoslovakian films of the 1960s are for many cinephiles an underseen part of exploring the cannon. Winning Academy Awards for Foreign Language Film for Closely Watched Trains and The Shop on Main Street, and nominations for Loves of A Blonde and The Fireman’s Ball, the 1960s was an innovative and creative period for the region, due to the lack of restrictions, and talented new filmmakers making their mark.
Trademarks of the movement are long unscripted dialogues, dark and absurd humour, and the casting of non-professional actors. The films touched on themes which for earlier filmmakers in the communist countries had rarely managed to avoid the objections of the censor. Their objective in making films was "to make the Czech people collectively aware that they were participants in a system of oppression and incompetence which had brutalized them all."
I won’t go into detail about the Czech New Wave, as others have already done so. Bonjour Tristesse, The Droid You're Looking For, and Greencine already wrote fine introductions about the filmmaking of that era.
I have only seen 9 Czechoslovakian films, most of which are considered important works from the period. So what I’ll do is share my reviews:

Audition/Talent Competition (aka Konkurs) (1964)
Early film by Milos Forman. It was influential in Czechoslovakia for the style, incorporating a mix of documentary and fictional elements, inspiring filmmakers to experiment with amateur actors in a documentary setting.
Gives a depiction of youth culture of the era. Split into two segments, the stories deal with youths wanting to make it as singers and musicians, kind of like the talent contests today. The film consists of music and singing, and for me is a tedious watch, with a few traces of a story in the last 30 minutes. A situation, not a fully formed screenplay, so I can’t recommend it. The innovative style is praiseworthy, but the actual story is below average.
Rating 6/10

Black Peter (1964)
Directed by Milos Forman. A black-and-white coming-of-age drama with likeable characters. The boy gets a job in a shop, and awkwardly tries to court a girl. There are scenes at a lake, at a dance, and him looking out for shoplifters at the grocery store.
As with Audition (1964), Foreman uses non-professional actors, and Black Peter sees him experiment a lot with close-ups. There’s a sense these moments could be real life scenarios. The awkwardness of getting along with your parents, and approaching the opposite sex are situations viewers can mirror from their own life.
Rating 8/10

Loves of A Blonde (1965)
Directed by Milos Forman. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Continues the black-and-white coming-of-age approach of Black Peter (1964).
The strongest parts of the story are the beginning and ending. At first, we see soldiers trying to court girls. Towards the end of the film, a girl visits her new boyfriend, only for confusion to ensue.
The parents of the boy don’t know what their son is doing, and they just sit and watch TV. Famous for the iconic image above of the two lovers.
The funniest scene to me is when the lovers attempt to close the window blind.
Rating 8/10

The Shop on Main Street (1965)
Directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos
Won Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. With a bit of editing, this film could have better. Well-acted, but the movie drags, and didn’t need to have a running time of over two hours. Could easily have been told in 80 minutes. The realistic story is quite good, and something that could be watched by anyone, so I can understand the oscar love, as the Academy have a thing for the plight of the Jews during WW2. From what I could gather the charming old Jew lady really was oblivious to the situation, and I found that hard to believe, that she could be completely blind to what was going on in the town. Maybe she was senile. The ending in the shop is powerful, but again overlong. Not among my favorites, but it is an essential watch, if you are exploring the best of the Czech and Slovak films. The themes are still fresh, and could have been made into a film in 2014.
Rating 7/10

Daisies (1966)
Sometimes referred to as the best film of the Czech New Wave. Words to describe it would be atmospheric and colorful. Very distinct and inventive editing. The story is a simple one of two mischievous, free-spirited, directionless, rebelling teenagers having a good time, messing about, and looking for experience and attention. The girls make use of men before men can make use of them. The dinner table scene at the end was definitely the highlight for me, and put a smile on my face, despite the aberrant behavior. The stylish visuals by the filmmaker seem to be as playful as the girls’ attitude. A film about rule breaking and freedom of speech. Both by the filmmakers and by the characters.
As another reviewer writes: “Its rebellious protagonists and freewheeling spirit were essentially an allegorical but brazen denunciation by the director of the then regressive regimen behind the Iron Curtain”. It was released in its home country in 1966 but subsequently banned.
The director herself described it as being about ‘destruction, or the desire to destroy’. Her cinematographer, Jaroslav Kucera, wanted the film image to escape from a strictly objective vocation. Kucera believed that the film should acquire the same power of 'subjective meaning' as other modern arts such as poetry, music and painting. The audience's role in creating the film's meaning is crucial. The symbols throughout the film are open to multiple interpretations.
Rating 8.5/10

Closely Watched Trains (1966)
Won Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Set during WW2 and the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, a coming of age story about a few people, who work at a train station. We follow their daily life.
I didn’t think it as remarkable as others seem to, but it does have a certain charm. The juxtaposition of darkness and comedy one after the other was unusual, and those two scenes are what I remember most vividly, when he has a bath, and when the other station worker fools around with the stamp equipment with the young woman. The opening of the movie was also well-done, in introducing the young man’s family members in a humorous way.
As Lisa Thatcher wrote in her review: “In this film Czech sexual liberation is posited against Nazi oppression”
Favorite quote: “If she bent over me, the whole world would become dim”
Rating 7.5/10

The Fireman’s Ball (1967)
A comedy that has a lot of energy, despite made in the 1960s. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, yet banned in its native Czechoslovakia when the Soviet troops occupied the country in 1968. Different to Milos Forman’s previous films, which had moments of subtle humor but were essentially dramas, Fireman’s Ball is comedy in a more obvious over-the-top way. Was his first film in color. I’m pleased I don’t have an unspellable Czech name like those girls did :)
According to Mark Cousins in The Story of Film, Forman “saw life as comic, almost absurd”
Firemen were supposed to be portrayed as heroic public servants in the communist world. In Forman’s film Fireman’s Ball, authority are incompetent and immature.
I did find it funny. But also a little creepy that these old guys are drooling over the younger females, something which runs through many of the films of the period.
The house next to the party is a little too convenient for the story, even so, you forgive that, because it’s so fun and entertaining.
According to the dvd extras, the screenwriters experienced a real fireman’s ball that turned into a nightmare, and this inspired the script. The screenplay was not approved by Czech censors, and risking a 10 year imprisonment for “economic damage to the state”, Forman managed to smuggle a copy of the film to France.
40.000 firemen quit their job as a protest against Forman, only to return to work after the director had assured them that the movie was not criticizing firemen specifically.
Rating 8.5/10

The Cremator (1969)
A horror /drama directed by Juraj Herz.
I loved the pre-credits scene at the zoo, the extreme close-ups and eerie soundtrack immediately made me feel uneasy. The opening credits are also really interesting, and cast a spell on you, so that you want to get to the bottom of all this. The first 5 minutes I would give 10/10. The rest of the film is pretty good too. Several stand-out scenes, when he’s showing the new guy the ropes at the crematory was creepy, as was the “puppet” show, and of course the ending, which I won't reveal.
Superb performance by Rudolf Hrusinsky, as the cremator, his voice is remarkably chilling. Even his wife is scared of him, so I kind of felt sorry for the poor guy, because it seems he was creepy all the time. Then there was a twist I wasn't expecting, which changed my perception of the characters.
As Bonjour Tristesse wrote in his review: “someone you are compelled to watch, but would never want to be alone in a room with.”
Favorite quote: “I am sure you love music, Mr. Strauss. Sensitive people do. The poor pitiful souls, who die without knowing Schubert, Liszt.”
Rating 8/10

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)
Impressive visual style, but little story to speak of. It can’t figure out if it wants to be a horror film or a children’s film. Perhaps that's what makes it unique, that's it's both.
Marked a shift away from the acerbic social dramedies that had characterized the director’s work, towards a more apolitical, lyrical approach in his later films.
The film probably inspired Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (1984), which has the same strengths and weaknesses.
Rating 7/10

Have you watched any of these Czech/Slovak films? Are you interested in exploring the cinema of that era? Which films should I watch next? As always, comments are welcome

Film review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The most visually dazzling movie I’ve seen in quite some time! Happy I saw it on the big screen. Doesn’t have a dull moment, I was captivated by that world that was created, wanting to step into it, and was tapping my foot along to the score. Apparently different aspect ratios were used in each respective flashback, and each era has a distinct color palette, but I didn't even notice that.
Loosely based on Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig, and perhaps a tribute to a bygone era. The actual story is simple, with entertaining and amusing dialogue. Ralph Fiennes' character is fairly odd, yet I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d say next.

I used to not get the director’s light-hearted style, which I found pointless and lacking in depth, but I‘ve begun to warm to Wes Anderson’s work, as I mellow with age, and just accept it for the quirkiness, charm, playfulness and eye candy. Yes, it may be style over substance, but sometimes that’s ok. You could probably watch The Grand Budapest Hotel like you read a comic, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anderson’s movies adapted to graphic novels.

I wouldn’t have minded it went on 20 minutes longer, so several of the supporting characters were fleshed out a bit more, and not merely cameos. There are other weaknesses too, the film’s resolution of the murder plot, and the fact F. Murray Abraham doesn't look anything like another character.

I have read critics complain that the characters are unpleasant and lacking in redeeming virtues, but I didn't see it that way myself. While there is pending gloom, violence and greed, the film also highlights what used to be, and still is, important: Decency, meticulousness, manners, eloquence, presentability, being the best at what you do, looking after your fellow employees, and so on.
As Andy Buckle wrote in his review, Anderson is able to "find humour in the most sad and mundane events"

Rating 4.5/5

Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome

mini-reviews of 2014 albums (3 of 3)

Too True by Dum Dum Girls (January 28)
Thoughts: Thanks to Steven at Surrender To The Void for the recommendation. An impressive album that I completely overlooked, full of powerful tracks. While some of the lyrics are a bit repetitive, you sort of forgive that, because the sound is so well-produced. Has been described as a career pinnacle for the band.
Favorite tracks: Cult of Love, Lost Boys And Girls Club, Too True To Be Good, Rimbaud Eyes
Album rating: 7.5/10

No Mythologies to Follow by Mø (March 11)
Thoughts: I almost didn't bother, as I thought it might be trash. I had zero expectations for this pop release by rising star Mø. A strong debut album, with a number of solid pop tunes. On first listen, it hit me with one good track after another. However on repeat visits I'm not as enthusiastic, so maybe it isn't quite as great as I initially thought. As you can hear, I'm still kind of undecided about my verdict.
Critics have complained that many of her tracks sound the same, and that her music is too similar to other contemporaries such as Lana Del Rey, Lorde, Chvrches, and so on, and I tend to agree with that. The songs didn't get stuck in my head, but I can see myself returning to the album.
Favorite tracks: Pilgrim, Maiden, Never Wanna Know, Walk This Way, Slow Love, Waste Of Time,
Album rating: undecided

Love Letters by Metronomy (March 18)
I didn't think it was that good on first listen. wow was I wrong. Really improves on repeat spins. I liked the variation in the instrumentation from track-to-track. Especially the first half of the album impressed me.
I'm pretty certain Aquarius (Let the Sunshine in) by The Fifth Dimension was an influence.
Favorite tracks: The Upsetter, I'm Aquarius, Love Letters, Monstrous,
Album rating: 8/10

Which are your favorite new albums? Heard any of these releases yet? As always, comments are welcome.

Viewing recap for March

Stop Making Sense (1984)
A concert film of the Talking Heads performing many of their well-known songs.
The band really go all out, in a very energetic show, dancing, running, jumping around. I love how he at the 30 min mark ironically asks, does anyone have any questions? And they all just yell and cheer.
It seems a lot of effort has gone into the background cards on stage, yet the show is called stop making sense. Maybe it makes sense, maybe it isn’t supposed to? Either way, it’s worth watching, as the music is great live.
Rating 8.5

The Hill (1965)
I saw it because SDG at U Me and Films has it in his top 100. I really liked it. An early Sean Connery movie, and quite possibly among his best films. A memorable depiction of a prison camp for disobedient soldiers, A simple story, but what lifts the film is the entertaining dialogue and fine performances. The scenario is ambiguous about how to discipline the inmates, the Major in charge says: “you would be lost unless someone shouted a bloody order at you” and “if you’re too easy on them, you won’t be able to do a damn thing with them, sir”
Rating 8.5

The Hunt For Red October (1990)
Submarine drama. For a Hollywood film, Sean Connery's character is surprisingly enigmatic.
It does lack a bit of tension the first hour, with too many boring dialogue scenes, if I had to find fault with the story. By the second hour there are more thrills and you begin to wake up.
Rating 7.8

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)
The third film in a row with Connery! Famous because he plays Indy’s dad, but after a while that was also the most annoying aspect of the film, with Harrison Ford calling him "dad" about 20x. It’s always entertaining and never boring, just the structure is a little too similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark. For me, I had the most fun with the trilogy when I was a child/teenager. Rewatching them as a 33-year-old, I wasn't wowed in the same way that I once was.
Rating 7.5

Night on Earth (1991)
Rewatch. Probably one of my favorite Jim Jarmusch films. Set in 4 cities ariound the world, at nighrt in taxi's. 4 stories that each last about 30 minutes. The first three are the strongest and very funny in places, while the last short in Helsinki was a bit of a downer.
Both driver and passengers are very talkative. I don't know if there is point to it all, though, besides the world is connected through humanity.
Rating 7.9

Hotell (2013)
Swedish drama. An interesting idea, with memorable, likeable characters, and good performances. There’s quite a bit of humor and sadness. An entertaining story about a group of troubled people, who join a course, to escape their problems. The film is a bit clicheed, especially towards the end, so I'd call it good, rather than great.
SPOILER: The course they go on offers age-old truisms such as the importance of camaraderie, and learning to trust someone. There’s a feeling these people needed that, and had a significant experience. Taking risks and once in a while stepping out of your comfort zone in order to grow and gain confidence. These messages are hardly original, but cannot be repeated often enough, because they are vital in life.
Rating 7.0

Borgman (2013)
Dutch drama I saw some time ago, directed by Alex van Warmerdam, that just missed out on my top 20 of 2013. It leaves you with more questions than answers. How much of the film is a dream, how much is actually happening? Are the strangers aliens, or merely a weird cult, who want to brainwash a family? The violence is quite sudden, and nasty, so it's not for everyone.
On a symbolic level, maybe it's about losing control, letting yourself disappear, and having other people decide things for you. Maybe it's about how we cannot understand foreigners. Perhaps the director is laughing at us for trying to find meaning in all the madness. You could accuse the film of not really being about anything at all, except the shocks. The kind of open-to-interpretation film, that could mean something different to each person who watches it.
Rating 7.5

Out of the Furnace (2013)
Good performances, especially Woody Harrelson was memorable, he has seldom been nastier.
Rating 7.0

Rush (2013)
Suspenseful racing drama chronicling the Formula 1 rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt.
It helped I knew nothing about the 70s Formula 1 era.
Rating 7.5

About Time (2013)
Latest from Richard Curtis, the director of Love Actually. The main character’s voice-over is sooo similar to Hugh Grant, that it was kind of distracting. A charming, yet overlong romantic comedy. Goes on about 30 minutes too long, and the gimmick of going back in time to me becomes a bit repetitive.
Rating 7.0

The Last Samurai (2003)
The part when Algren (Tom Cruise) is with the samurai duing the winter was my favorite part. The last hour was a bit predictable, what would happen.
For a movie about war and conflict, it really is about the need for peace and understanding.
As talked about in the documentary Hollywood or History, it is revealed the movie is not completely accurate. The samurai are not angels, they were intimidating to the Japanese people, like an unelected government. The samurai were in fact the bad guys, wanting to go back to a bygone era when women had no rights, and a time when there was a caste system and no democracy. The Japenese Army were in reality not as bad as the film decribes, they were trying to introduce democracy to Japan.
Rating 7.5

My Father's Glory (La Gloire de Mon Père) (1990)
From the writer of Jean de Florette. Beautiful soundtrack in the opening credits. A depiction of childhood and growing up around the year 1900. It looks authentic, and is well-acted. But it doesn’t really stand out among other childhood movies, except the shooting expedition in the last 45 minutes. Perhaps it bored me the first hour, because there was no conflict.
If you enjoy stories that are very close to real life, and set in that era, you should give it a try. For me, only the last half of this movie is good.
Rating 7.3

Meet John Doe (1941)
The story has aged remarkably well. A man (Gary Cooper) needing money agrees to impersonate a nonexistent hero, whom Barbara Stanwyck character has invented so she can keep her job at the newspaper. I don't think I've ever watched a bad Frank Capra film, worth seeing.
Rating 8.0

American Gigolo (1980)
So after watching Arbitrage (2012) last year, and being entertained by the impersonation of him in The Trip, I was curious to check out Richard Gere's best performances. Directed by Paul Schrader, this movie feels like a Brian de Palma film. Told in a visually stylized way, which is probably the main reason to see it.
The plot turned out to be quite straightforward, just a standard crime drama. There was potential for something deeper, but it didn't quite happen.
The movie's main theme song "Call Me" sung by Deborah Harry & Blondie was a massive hit, and today a classic.
Favorite quote: “Are we talking about what he wants, or what you want? I can’t tell anymore”
Rating 7.0

Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
It was never boring, a story of a young Richard Gere, who comes from a troubled background, and goes into the Navy. He meets some people there. Entertaining, with a few surprises, but also a bit predictable.
Favorite quote: “Then be a friend, get out of here"
Rating 7.5

Nikita (1990)
An influential French action/thriller directed by Luc Besson, which spawned a remake, and also a tv-series. The female main character is like a wild animal.
I liked how it didn’t go for a big action scene to finish, but something emotional instead.
I'm a fan of Eric Serra, and his soundtrack added to the films atmosphere. I’m surprised Anne Parillaud didn’t become a bigger name after this.
Rating 7.6

Agree? Disagree? Have you seen any of the above? What are the best films you saw during the month of March?

mini-reviews of 2014 albums (2 of 3)

Divergent soundtrack by Various Artists (March 11)
Thoughts: A mixed bag, a few pop tunes that I'm enjoying, epecially My Blood by Elle Goulding. Unfortunately about half the album I disliked and have no interest in returning to. The compilation obviously is aimed at the young adult audience
Favorite tracks:
My Blood by Elle Goulding
I Need You by M83
Lost and Found by Pretty Lights (ODESZA Remix)
Big Deal by Dream Machines
Album rating: 6/10

The Classic by Joan As Police Woman (March 10)
Thoughts: I usually find 2-3 tracks that agree with me on each new album from her. For me, her latest doesn’t really kick into gear until midway with “Good Together” and the tracks that follow: “Get Direct”, “What Would You Do”, & “New Year’s Day”, all of which were quite good. Thought-provoking lyrics, with traces of existential angst in the writing. It’s brave of her to go in completely new directions musically (Motown-esque, doo-woop), but it isn’t catchy or memorable. It does grow on you on repeats listens, though, so don’t give up on it too quickly. An album that requires you invest a bit of time.
For reasons best known to herself, the album sleeve has a movie-related theme from Goldfinger, of the singer covered in gold paint, with a Harry Potter magic scar on her finger. The artwork is open to interpretation, I suppose.
You can stream the full album for a limited time at the Guardian. Track-by-track discussion with Joan at The Line Of Best Fit.
Album rating: 7/10

Lost In The Dream by The War on Drugs (March 18)
Thoughts: An early contender for best album of the year! The album title is perfect. Probably the band’s finest collection of songs. Has been described by a critic as a springtime record-in how full of life it is.
Track mini-reviews:
Under the pressure: what an epic opener, with a terrific beat.
Red Eyes: Another strong early track. The single.
Disappearing: A beautiful, soothing mix of rock/ambient, that takes you to a peaceful place in your mind.
Eyes To The Wind: There’s a hint of Bob Dylan in the vocal. The saxophone ending is a nice touch, though hardly groundbreaking.
The Haunting Idle: Has an atmospheric, Tangerine Dream vibe, which I like.
Burning: Reminds me of Bruce Springsteen
Album rating: 8.5/10

Out Among The Stars - Johnny Cash (March 25)
Thoughts: Should please existing fans. My initial reaction is it would hold up to repeat listening. Not a classic, but pleasant enough to have playing in the background. I never expected greatness, because this posthumous album was shelved by the record company in the 1980s. They rerecorded the guitar parts and added layers of sound, which no doubt improved the production.
You can stream the full album for a limited time at the guardian website, where his son writes a few words about each track.
Favorite tracks: She Used To Love Me a Lot, I’m Movin’ On feat. Waylon Jennings , Out Among The Stars
Album rating: 7/10

Agree or disagree? Heard any of these new albums yet? Share your opinions in the comments.


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