Viewing recap October

Gone Girl (2014)
This movie may launch actress Rosamund Pike to A-list status. A thriller with unexpected twists. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy(Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. I enjoyed the thrill ride, though the main characters are actually unlikeable and cruel, so it’s ultimately tough for me to care about them. But maybe it's good for us to sometimes identify with what is not entirely palatable, because that's what makes us human, which Pike talked about in an interview.
Thanks to David Fincher, I was kept on the edge of my seat, wanting to see how the unpredictable story would play out. Thought-provoking, not just about marriage, also about media manipulation, how we can be judged without all the facts known, many buy into the news without being critical.
Having not read the novel, Gone Girl is a film I feel I need to watch again in order to understand how it ended up like it did, keeping an eye out for the details. Apparently every scene is important in the movie, so you have to keep your eyes peeled!
Spoilers ahead: Perhaps the genius of the storytelling is I don’t know who to root for, Nick or Amy, so it becomes something more complex than simply taking sides. Instead I get a fascinating character study of a marriage that I can’t look away from. There’s also the matter that neither Amy or Nick could we say are telling the whole truth with any measure of certainty, which invites the audience to speculate. Amy is very calculating and an unreliable narrator, so we don’t ever really know the real Amy. The ending is quite mature, whereas in the past Fincher has been too eager to hand us all the answers on a plate. I would say it's an empowering film for women who feel they have been wrongfully treated in life. Although confusingly Amy is a terrible role model. If anything, the film shows how difficult and hurtful it is for women with unfaithful husbands. Certainly a film you will want to discuss afterwards, the message is not obvious. Perhaps at its core the story is about expectations in a relationship, a couple growing apart, and the audience having empathy towards unlikeable people.
As a reviewer perceptively wrote at Rotten Tomatoes: “with marriage you think you are getting what you desire when in reality you are getting what you deserve”
Rating 8/10

Two Days, One Night (2014)
A quite gripping story by the Dardenne’s, however I found the constant begging a bit repetitive. What makes the central dilemma interesting is you can empathize with both sides. Marion Cotillard’s performance is great though why she was depressed and eating pills is oddly not included, and might have given the film a less repetitive flow to focus on that. I wanted to understand her, was she capable of taking on the job? Perhaps the reasons for her depression are open to interpretation? Marion Cotillard is better than the film she is in. A tough film to rate.
Rating 7/10

Calvary (2014)
Directed by John Michael McDonagh who made The Guard(which I also liked)
Besides the humor(which really is needed in a story as black as this), there are also truths about our society. For example sad that a priest can’t talk to a child without the parent being suspicious of foul play, and also sad that the victims feel pain for life. The fact catholic priests have to put up with a lot of ugliness by listening to all the sins of others is a burden that can be tough to bear. I've read that some hated this film, and it certainly is bleak. Gleeson again delivers fine work in what could be a career best performance as the priest. If you can stomach the ugliness, the film definitely has some things to say.
The well-written dialogue held my interest, and the gallows humor was different to a lot of new films out there. References the novel Jernigan by David Gates which may or may not have been an inspiration for writing the script.
Rating 8/10

Snowpiercer (2013) 
Based on a French post-apocalyptic graphic novel from 1982, Snowpiercer paints an intriguing dystopian picture of the future. Takes place in a confined space on a moving train, yet somehow still manages to surprise visually. The set design is very impressive, and the filmmakers do a great job of maintaining suspense about the secrets of the train. The weakest aspect is the characterization, as we hardly know any background information about the main characters.
I really believed they were travelling on the train due to the SFX. There's a class system on board, and we witness a rebellion. In Snowpiercer, movement equals life, and I supose you can say that's a fact, no matter who you are.
Favorite quotes:
“-Curtis, everyone has their preordained position, that’s except you. –That’s what people in the best place say to people in the worst place.”
“You’ve seen what people do without leadership, they devour one another”
Rating 8/10

Labor Day (2013)
To hell with the bad reviews, I enjoyed it, and it even brought a tear to my eye. Granted the relationship is not that plausible, but I still got swept away due to a fine performance by Kate Winslet.
The story seeps of nostalgia, which I liked. Plenty of culture references, Empire Strikes Back poster, Jim Taylor, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate sleeve, Spielberg’s ET etc.
The critics had a field day and crucified the movie, and while it is no masterpiece, the characters are definitely likeable.
Favorite quote: “I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart, but rather losing love itself”
Rating 7/10

20.000 Days on Earth (2014)
Worth seeing on the big screen. Depicts a fictitious 24 hours in the life of Australian musician and writer Nick Cave. It’s interesting to listen to what the man behind the music has to say. The structure of the documentary is quite varied. There’s partly him recording music, partly concert footage, and partly listen to him being questioned by a therapist. Also conversations with various famous or less known people during Cave's journey. The therapist scenes are the most revealing, while the recording sessions drag on a bit too long and at times felt like filler.
He discusses the importance of memory and how that’s the thing he is most worried about losing, as he cherishes his childhood and adulthood memories.  It’s like Cave wants to pass on wisdom about being an artist and songwriting, and talks about what he strives for, and the joy of escaping from himself into different personas, both in writing and on stage.
He talks of the rainy days in the UK, and how he turns that into an advantage, as it's easier to write about bad weather than good weather. He later reveals a picture from his memorabilia depicting cats with a red background, which he calls "fire of the mind agitates the atmosphere".
It was off-putting that he would screen Scarface (1983) to his young boys, but maybe this parallels to Cave’s father reading Lolita to Nick when he was a child. Giving the children an experience they shouldn’t really be having yet.
The intro scene, while quite daring and original, I didn’t like, and blasts you with hundreds of images. Thankfully the editing settles down after that.
I wish Cave had talked more about specific albums, he only really talks about his music sparingly, and in very general terms. For example regretting that the songs go on too long on some of his previous albums. In fact many of the conversations are not about his music, which means it’s about Cave’s life in general. Perhaps the film would have benefited from music critics commenting on Nick, rather than just him talking with friends, but I guess they took a different approach to the standard album-by-album Under Review documentaries.
Rating 7.5/10

My Night at Maud’s (1969)
French new wave drama directed by Eric Rohmer. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and was nominated for the Palme d'Or. The main character Jean (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is tempted by the women he meets. There’s an inner conflict between his affairs and Christianity.
I love dialogue-heavy films. Françoise Fabian plays it well as the seductive and complex Maud, who Jean finds it easy to confide in.
Fairly good film, but the conversations on religion, atheism, love, morality and Blaise Pascal were not as thought-provoking as I had hoped they would be.
Favorite quote: Girls brought a lot to me morally. (…) Each time I’ve known a girl. It’s different each time. You can’t generalize. I’ve discovered a new moral problem I didn’t have to face before. The experience was beneficial. It shook me from moral lethargy”
Rating 7/10

A Night at the Opera (1935)
Marx Brothers comedy classic, I laughed a lot. The contract reading sequence is timeless. The scenes aboard the ship are especially funny, from the 27 min mark and onwards. What prevents it from becoming a top 100 film are the music and singing sequences which go on far too long. The brothers play the instruments well though.
A bit of trivia. Queen borrowed the title for their 1975 album. The band’s next album A Day at The Races is also the title of a Marx brothers comedy.
The scenes addressing the crowd, in the hotel room with the four beds, ad the finale are good fun, but has to be said rely on stupidity from the police. What lifts it above average for me are the sheer number of amusing one-liners by Groucho.
Favorite quote: ”Did I pack you?”
Rating 8/10

Salinger (2013)
About JD Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye. The documentary received mixed reviews from critics. I found it interesting, even though it is intrusive and goes against Salinger's wishes, since he wanted to be known only through his fiction. Salinger famously refused public celebrity. He sounds like someone who wasn't suited to marriage at all. He is portrayed as reclusive, and completely devoted to his craft. Someone who wasn’t there for his kids, was sensitive to disloyalty, and had a thing for the innocence of teenage girls. Interestingly it is revealed that Salinger will release several posthumous works between 2015-2020.
We get an overview of his work and life in chronological order. I didn't know Salinger had a nervous breakdown after 300 days of army duty during WW2. I wasn’t familiar with his past and all of his fiction, having only read Catcher (1950) and Franny and Zooey (1961), so quite a lot was new to me.
Has encouraged me to check out his notable short stories. Here are several that are mentioned:
Slight Rebellion off Madison (1946) short story about Holden Caulfield, is the first story he had published in prestigious New Yorker.
I’m Crazy (1945) was another short story about Holden Caulfield.
A Perfect Day for Bananafish (1948) was about a WW2 veteran.
For Esmé – with Love and Squalor (1950) Considered one of the finest literary pieces to result from the Second World War.
Rating 7/10

Friday (1995)
A cult 90s comedy. The father character is hilarious in the opening scenes, talking in his sleep, and always grumbling. Unfortunately there were not many laughs beyond the intro. The story, or lack thereof, is a weakness. Maybe I need to live in da hood to ”get” this movie. Not for me, and I find it overrated.
Rating 5/10

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

2014 Blind Spot series: The Birth of a Nation (1915)

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

Directed by D.W. Griffith, Birth of a Nation is a key film of the silent era. The first big-budget blockbuster, the first epic.

Set before, during, and after the American Civil War 1861-1865. Was, and still is, highly controversial with its portrayal of African-American men (played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women, and the portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan (whose original founding is dramatized) as a heroic force. There were widespread African-American protests against the racist elements. The NAACP spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to ban the film. Griffith's indignation at efforts to censor or ban the film motivated him to produce Intolerance the following year.

The Birth of a Nation was the longest and most profitable film then produced, and secured both the future of feature-length films and the reception of film as a serious medium.
Of significance for its groundbreaking filmmaking techniques, and has been quoted as “the birth of an art”. According to 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, director DW Griffith was more interested in the possibilities of the film medium, than the blatantly racist play by Thomas Dixon, which the film is based on.
Griffith utilized close-ups, panoramic long shots, panning camera shots, parallel storylines, cross cutting, night photography, color tinting for dramatic purposes, building up the plot to an exciting climax, dramatizing history alongside fiction, and a battle sequence with hundreds of extras made to look like thousands. In fact cross-cutting and close-up he had already experimented with in short films from 1909-1911.
Also features the first original music written specifically for a film. ”The Perfect Song" is regarded as the first marketed "theme song" from a film.
These innovative film techniques, while not all of his creation, make it one of the most influential films in the film industry. The impact was far greater in 1915, because these techniques are commonplace today. In fact so common, that I hardly noticed the groundbreaking camera work.

So what did I think? Lasting over three hours it tested my patience. Truth be told the story wasn’t of great interest to me. Mainly was a film I felt I ought to finally see due to its reputation. The recreation of the battle field scenes is quite impressive and looks like historical footage. However I would argue those scenes are overpraised and only makes sense with the title cards telling us what’s going on.
The assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre is probably the most memorable scene, which I feel works without title cards. Even though the second half is very racist, as cohesive storytelling I feel it’s more straightforward and easier to follow than the first half.

Roger Ebert wrote in his insightful review, “all serious moviegoers must sooner or later arrive at a point where they see a film for what it is, and not simply for what they feel about it.” He also notes, “But it is possible to separate the content from the craft?” Ebert continues that "The Birth of a Nation is worth considering, if only for the inescapable fact that it did more than any other work of art to dramatize and encourage racist attitudes in America. (The contemporary works that made the most useful statements against racism were “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and "Huckleberry Finn.")
Unfortunately the film is also credited with the revival of the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan, which was all but extinct when the movie appeared.

Birth of a Nation is a film that is difficult to love due to its controversial subject matter, yet among the most influential in film history.

Thanks for reading. Have you seen  The Birth of a Nation or other D.W. Griffith films? Is it possible to admire the filmmaking despite the racism?

Favorite songs by Prince (tracks 20-11)

11 Anna Stesia (From 1988’s Lovesexy)
(Love this, both musically and lyrically masterful. Would be in the top 10 if the ending had been as strong as the first 80% of the track. Interesting title, which could be interpreted as the drug anaesthesia. Perhaps that love is like a drug addiction)

When You Were Mine (From 1980’s Dirty Mind)
(A classic and it wasn’t even a single. He kind of sounds like Lenny Kravitz on this one)

13 Computer Blue (From 1984’s Purple Rain soundtrack)
(I love the shift in tempo half way through the track. The song was composed by Prince, with credit to his father, John L. Nelson for the guitar solo. As with most of the disc, I feel it works best as part of the full album, rather than a stand-alone track)

14  Paisley Park (From 1985’s Around the World in a Day)
(Very catchy. The song has a psychedelic feel, similar to some of The Beatles' later work with echoed guitar and finger cymbals. The lyrics describe a Utopian place that you can feel in your heart, despite the chaos of the world around you)

15 Let’s Go Crazy (From 1984’s Purple Rain soundtrack)
(An iconic opening to the Purple Rain album. In an interview with Chris Rock Prince revealed that the song is about god and satan, and you couldn’t say those words on the radio, so he used the phrase “elevator” instead. According to Prince the track is about staying happy and focused, and then you can beat the elevator)

16 Sometimes It Snows in April (From 1986’s Parade - Music From The Motion Picture Under The Cherry Moon)
(While Kiss from the same album is good and deserves praise, I decided to replace that single with this underappreciated ballad which is the final track on the Parade album. Thanks to Steven at Surrender To The Void for the recommendation)

17 Controversy (From 1981’s Controversy)
(First time I heard this I thought he was singing “got-your-p*ssy” which in fact was “con-tro-ver-sy” He was quite daring in his lyrics during that time, so wouldn’t have put it past him!)

18 Trust (From 1989’s Batman soundtrack)
(A guilty pleasure of mine, which plays during the Jokers street parade in Tim Burton’s Batman movie)

19 The Ballad of Dorothy Parker (From 1987’s Sign O’ The Times)
(Took me a few listens to get into the song, there’s a lot going on musically, without even listening to the lyrics. I prefer it to the title track Sign O’ The Times which is mainly interesting for the lyrics ”A skinny man died of a big disease with a little name”, which was a reference to aids)

20 Diamonds and Pearls (From 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls)
(Probably among his most recognizable tracks from the 90s)

I just discovered that on November 1, Chris Rock is to Host Saturday Night Live with Prince as musical guest. 

Be sure to stop by next time for tracks 1-10 as I continue the countdown to #1! Which are your favorites from these Prince albums? As always, comments are welcome. 

Favorite songs by Prince (tracks 30-21)

21  Do Me Baby (From 1981’s Controversy)
(The song has grown on me with repeats plays. Which is better, the long album version or shorter single version? The live or studio edit? I haven’t decided)

22  Uptown (From 1980’s Dirty Mind)
(You just want to get up and dance to this. Here's a live version)

23  Mountains (From 1986’s Parade - Music From The Motion Picture Under The Cherry Moon)
(I can listen to Mountains on repeat. Interestingly, Under The Cherry Moon was the first role in a movie for a young Kristin Scott Thomas. A movie I haven’t seen)

24  Pop Life (From 1985’s Around the World in a Day)
(Just all around great dance pop)

25  Head (From 1980’s Dirty Mind)  
(A daring, controversial song, even today)

26 When We’re Dancing Close and Slow (From 1979’s Prince)
(A slow ballad, which can stir the emotions. Too bad I couldn’t locate the full song)

27  17 Days (From 1993’s The Hits/The B-Sides)
(The quality of B-sides during the Purple Rain era is very high. 17 Days appeared on the flipside of his most successful single "When Doves Cry" (1984)

28  Money Don't Matter 2 Night (From 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls)
(Just immediately draws me in. I like to think it's about valuing the free things in life such as the soul, although the lyrics could also be about reckless spending)

29  Cream (From 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls)
(With a killer opening, the track really needed a flashy music video. Which it delivers)

30  I Wanna Be Your Lover (single version) (From 1979’s Prince)
(Was his first hit, gaining heavy radio airplay and chart success)

Be sure to stop by next time for tracks 20-11 as I continue the countdown to #1! Which are your favorites from these Prince albums? As always, comments are welcome.

Horror mini-reviews

Soon it will be Halloween, so it's time to watch horror. I watched a few of these earlier in the year. Have been saving the reviews for October. Lets get to it!

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Arthouse horror from Jim Jarmusch. Has a refreshing approach to the vampire story, and I like that it wasn’t about killing, which these types of horror films so often are.
Touches on themes such as vampires in love for centuries, being dependent on blood controls your life like a drug, and that the vampire lifestyle doesn’t have to be harmful to others. How you can learn a lot and have a ton of experience from staying alive for so long. In her suitcase is the huge book Infinite Jest, and she reads Les Anglais au pôle Nord by Jules Verne. Asks, what would you do, if you lived forever? Also about how a famous figure from the past (John Hurt character) could influence the present. The ice lolly scene was a fun idea. To my knowledge the wooden bullet was never used?
Does have an atmospheric soundtrack, which gives it its own mood. Funnel of Love was my favorite.
I liked how full of ideas it was, and it did seem unique. But I had problems with the storytelling and slow pacing. In many scenes they talk rather than do. They just sit or stand around. Speaking about the past, not letting us see what happened.
Hardly anything happens, I would call it a situation, rather than a story. I found it dull. A pity, because there was huge potential in those script ideas. I think the story is better suited for a book, because I sense it’s more about an inner struggle than an outer experience.
Jim Jarmusch interview about the film in March issue of Sight & Sound magazine was actually more fascinating than the movie. Could have been a classic, and somehow didn’t quite get there.
Rating 6.5/10

28 Days Later (2002)
Rewatch. I liked it more on second viewing. The opening 15-20 minutes of 28 Days later (in London) are what you remember. The rest of the movie is pretty good too. The "fast zombie" thing was something new. About what happens when society crumbles.
The soundtrack is quite haunting, especially In The House, In A Heartbeat by John Murphy
Rating 7.5/10

Beetlejuice (1988) 
Over the top horror comedy, directed by Tim Burton. I would say it’s suitable for the younger audience, despite the 15 age certificate. The film has a fine Danny Elfman score, and I like the original idea of ghosts learning the ropes. The sets and sfx are imaginative, yet isn’t really funny. There are contrived moments, on 2-3 occasions a character needs to know something and another character happens to be there to give the information. The finale is confusing, how are the couple cured from the séance? I guess when dealing with a fantasy world, there’s a certain creative freedom, anything is possible, so you just have to go with it as an audience.
Rating 6/10

It (1990)
Rewatch. Stephen King mini-series. Not as good as I remember. We see the characters both as adults and children. The first half when they are children I still think is the best part. The adults are hard to take seriously during the reunion in second half, and it drags a bit, maybe the acting is just poor. Pennywise (the clown played by Tim Curry) scared me as a kid, now he doesn’t. He gives a good performance. However the scares are quite lazy with repetitive confrontations with the clown.
Rating 7/10

Last House On The Left (1972)
Wes Craven’s first feature. Still scary despite made in early 70s. Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange was probably an influence. The dentist dream is terrifying. Only issue I have is the soundtrack doesn’t feel right for a horror film. Better than expected, Wes Craven made a great little movie on a limited budget.
Rating 8/10

The Innkeepers (2011)
I wasn’t scared by it at all, but it has atmosphere, likeable characters, and I wanted to see it through to find out about the mystery. Kind of a contemporary The Shining, as it’s set in a hotel. I'm surprised that it has such a low score on IMDb, as it really is quite good.
Rating 7/10

Irreversible (2002)
I’m including it as horror, because of the disturbing nature of the film.
Told in a somewhat confusing, yet involving non-chronological order. The violence is quite extreme at times.
Why Monica Bellucci wanted to star in that transgressive rape scene is unfathomable, I guess someone had to play that role. You won’t be in a hurry to go in the subway after watching. An ugly, yet unforgettable film.
Rating 8/10

Battle Royale (2000)
Debatable whether it can be labeled horror, you could call it a hybrid of drama, action, thriller and horror. I can appreciate that it’s an original idea(a precursor to Hunger Games) but in terms of personal preference I just don’t like to watch all that killing. Pretty gruesome to have your head chopped off, and then use the head as a grenade to kill again.
Favorite quote: Teacher: “Now you can’t even get angry when a student stabs you!”
Rating 7/10

Have you seen any of these films? Agree or disagree? Which horror will you be watching this month?


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