My top 10 films of 2010

Notice my top 10 includes only a couple of releases from 2010, as I don’t think there have been many truly brilliant films this year. Sorry, Inception, The Social Network, and Greenberg, they were good, but not great in my opinion.

I’ve seen so many movies this year, that inevitably some will not make my top 10, which is why I’ve added a list below of films just outside my ten best.

1. A Patch of Blue (1965)


(I love heart-warming films like this, which avoid being cheesy. The friendship on display here is just so touching. On top of that, as I pointed out in my review, the story can make the viewer contemplate how we treat others)

2. Box of Moon Light (1996)


(Another warm-hearted film, the summer atmosphere was amazing, and I agree with a YouTube-user that I wish I could jump into the screen and just live in this film!)

3. Imitation of Life (1959)


(Recommended by a film blogging buddy at I shoot the pictures, I can’t praise this movie enough, the story is about self-acceptance. Now I want to check out Douglas Sirk’s other films!)


4. Mother and Child (2009)


(Similar to such ensemble films as Magnolia. Took me by surprise. An underrated gem about having a child, belonging and growing up, and the flawed characters stayed with me. Recommended by my blogging pal Colin over at picknmixflix)

5. Marty (1955)


(Judging from this top 10, you might think I watch a ton of old films, As a matter of fact, I actually watch mostly new stuff. Marty is yet another very heart-warming and sweet movie, and one I will want to revisit.)

6. Armadillo (2010)


(For me, a very original documentary about the ambiguity of war, the doc raises many interesting questions such as should soldiers enjoy combat? After watching this I looked at war in a whole new light! The only foreign language film in my top 10)

7. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)


(This film is not for everyone. A brilliant career-defining performance by Sally Hawkins divided audiences. Some found her irritating, I found her very likeable. The driving lessons are so funny!)

8. Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)


(A quirky oddball love story, and the only John Cassavetes movie I enjoyed. The other ones for me were irritating, had too much screaming and people acting like jerks. This gem is mellower, and the script is excellent, too)

9. Great Expectations (1946)


(For me, an improvement on the book, by stripping away all the unnecessary details and focusing on the essential. Captures the atmosphere brilliantly, far better than the 1998 movie(which to be fair had an awesome 90s soundtrack)

10. Dummy (2002)


(An underrated indie movie you should seek out, if you haven’t seen it! Some very funny dialogue. And memorable characters. The main character played by Adrian Brody being my age is obviously appealing to me)


Others I enjoyed very much, just outside my top 10, in random order:

Random Harvest (1942)
Henry Poole is here (2008)
Mary and Max (2009)
Hunger (Norway, 1966)
Open Hearts (Denmark, 2002)
Please give (2010)
Greenberg (2010)
Paper Moon (1973)
Bright Star (2009)
Moon (2009)
Never Cry Wolf (1983)
Wendy and Lucy (2008)
[Rec] (Spain, 2007)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Seconds (1966)
Siblings (2004)
Talk Radio (1988)
The King of Comedy (1982)
What Happened Was (1994)
The Marriage of Maria Braun (Germany, 1979)
The Vicious Kind (2009)
Body Heat (1981)
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
5 Centimeters Per Second (Japan, 2007)
Caught on a train (1980)
Ikiru (Japan, 1952)
Mr. Brooks (2007)
Ninotchka (1939)
Nothing Personal (2009)
Of Human Bondage (1964)
The Accidental Tourist (1988)
The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
The Vanishing (Netherlands,1988)
White Dog (1982)
The White Massai (Germany, 2005)
Inception (2010)

Exit Through the Gift Shop (documentary, 2010)
A Decade Under the Influence (documentary, 2003)
Crumb (documentary, 1994)
The Cove (documentary, 2009)



Quite a few films from 2010, I have yet to see, such as Jack goes boating, 127 Hours, Somewhere, Another Year, etc. Go here, for more films I’m dying to see.
For this reason, I don’t think my top 10 of 2010 releases would be very accurate, so I’ll skip that for now.

Do you agree?, disagree? with my top 10? What are your top films of 2010?

Songs for your iPod

Continuing my top songs of 2010...

If You Run - The Boxer Rebellion

(Found on list of contenders for best original song at 2011 Oscars, I think this could win. IMO the other contenders were useless...Guitars remind me of U2. The related movie is the romantic comedy “Going the distance”)



...

Behind The Mask - Michael Jackson

(The first 2 min are amazing. For me, his best and most personal lyrics since the 1995 album History. For the record, I disliked his album Invincible (2001), and the rest of Michael (2010) was disappointing.


(For me, his most personal song since the 1995 album History. Not really a new song, co-written with Eric Clapton. The only song I liked on Michael (2010)



...

I'm a Hummingbird - Eels

(Beautiful and haunting)

Film review: 5 centimeters per second (2007)


I love beautiful movies, and this is highly recommended, if you enjoy that kind of thing. I urge you to watch the trailer below ( :
I seldom watch animated films, but this has some of the most dazzling visuals you are ever likely to see! Kyle over at enterthemovies recommended this 1 hour Japanese feature. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, the story is a series of short films on love and distance. The atmosphere draws you in more than the actual voice-overs, I think. Might make you fall in love with nature all over again! For me, words don’t do the film justice, so I’ll leave you with some screenshots instead :



















Imdb

Rottentomatoes

Trailer

Readers, any thoughts?

Songs for your iPod

Hadestown was surprisingly overlooked on some of the major music magazine’s year-end lists. I did find it on this top 50 of 2010 at thelineofbestfit. Thanks to boycottingtrends for recommending me this gem of an album. I just wish I could have found videos including lyrics)

Wedding Song - Anais Mitchell feat. Justin Vernon



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Hey, Little Songbird - Anais Mitchell feat. Greg Brown



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Our Lady Of The Underground - Anais Mitchell feat. Ani DiFranco

Film review: Santa Claus - The Movie (1985)


This is my favourite Christmas movie ever. Granted, Gremlins (1984) is also, but that was not strictly an Xmas film in my mind. I didn’t find It’s A Wonderful Life until much later.

They seemed to show Santa Claus - The Movie on TV every Christmas in the UK when I grew up. It’s probably my first movie memory, I was not very old when I first saw it, maybe 5 or so, so it’s obviously very nostalgic. Heck, I even rented this film once as a child when it wasn't even Christmas! It would appear from youtube the movie has a larger following in the UK than other countries due to aforementioned repeated screenings.

The whole atmosphere of the film is so “Christmassy”. There was something about those candy bars in the back of the flying vehicle, which caught my imagination. It kind of makes you still believe in Santa Clause. The effects still hold up pretty well, especially the reindeer sleigh-rides, they had a budget of 50 million dollars, which in 1985 was huge. The actors I thought were perfectly cast, the short actor Dudley Moore as the small elf Patch, the fatherly David Huddleston as Santa Claus, and John Lithgow as the sinister toy manufacturer.


The story is partly about the origins of Santa Claus and might even get you interested to find out more about the history of the real Saint Nicholas.

I was shocked to discover that rottentomatoes and IMDB absolutely killed this film with their rating system. I usually agree with them, but this time, I totally disagree. I am not the only one, plenty of people are positive on youtube and imdb. I guess you'll just have to trust me on this recommendation.

The kind of harmless entertainment where you can put your feet up, and relax on a cosy couch with your family, and a warm cup of coco, while it’s freezing outside. And just escape into this magical world the filmmakers have created.

Probably will appeal more to kids, but really gets me in the mood to celebrate Christmas. One of those you can easily rewatch. As some guy on youtube says, it ain’t Christmas without this movie.

Could this be the most underrated family film ever!? What movies get you in the Christmas spirit?

IMDB

Rottentomatoes

YouTube

Songs for your iPod

(My top songs of 2010 will be a regular feature all through December and January)

Lets get lost - Bat For Lashes/Beck



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Hægt, kemur ljósið - Ólafur Arnalds

(He's from Iceland, and has toured with Sigur Rós. Thanks to Mildly interesting films for sharing this track)



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The Suburbs - Arcade Fire

Film review: Random Harvest (1942)


I watched this, as people were calling Random Harvest one of the most romantic movies ever made. As faithful readers will know, I seldom get excited about old black-and-white films. Well, in this case. Wow! That movie magic sure was present.

This film was so romantic, and not in a romantic comedy kind of way, but a genuine adult relationship with real emotions. No spoilers here. You don’t want to hear the plot twists beforehand, which IMDB and RT annoyingly give away in their brief summaries.

The first half of the film impressed me the most. The scenes between Ronald Colman and Greer Garson steal the show for me, they have great chemistry, very moving. Although I would clearly say Greer Garson’s acting is more soulful than Colman’s. Then again, her character Paula is more outgoing, so it’s hard to put a finger on this. No wonder Garson won a best actress Oscar the same year for Mrs. Miniver (1942), she is a great actress.

It’s unusual to see the leading lady character taking the initiative at the beginning of a relationship. Paula is a popular singer among her male audience in the music hall, but she prefers the quiet and memory-disadvantaged Charles Rainer from the asylum. This is puzzling, why? Because he is more mysterious? Because she likes to be in control and he lets her? Or is she the helpful type, who wants to assist a shell-shocked WW1 veteran in distress who appears lost? Could she be lonely in spite of all the male attention? Is Paula simply tired of the same kind of men admiring her body and not her heart? She is almost like a mother figure, treating him like a patient in a tender and kind manner. She appears to know what he needs right away. I wondered at first if she had a history as a nurse during WW1. I think her motivations are interesting.


I like Paula's encouraging line about how gaining a bit of confidence is the best medicine in life, I think that’s my favourite quote.

Visually the cinematography is outstanding. Some scenes have a gothic or ghostly atmosphere, which I liked. The cottage with the bridge is so romantic.

There are some minor inconsistencies in the script, such as how could they afford a house and maid? A little overlong as well. Not a perfect film, occasionally implausible, but I wasn’t too bothered by these flaws, and this didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

The American Film Institute (AFI) revealed it's 100 greatest love stories of all time, and Random Harvest (1942) came in at number 36.

If you like a good old-fashioned romance, Random Harvest is a must-see. They don't make films like this anymore. I can understand why it was nominated for 7 Oscars, and why some people on YouTube call this their favourite film that they can watch again and again. The character’s really got under my skin!

I still haven’t decoded the title? Is it how Charles Rainer’s memory is very random?

Thanks to musicinephiles for recommending this film.

IMDB

Rottentomatoes

YouTube

Songs for your iPod

(Singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom's album "Have one on me" for me is a highlight of 2010. Readers, what are your top albums of the year?)


Good intentions paving company - Joanna Newsom



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On a good day - Joanna Newsom



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Kingfisher - Joanna Newsom

Book review: A Separate Peace / John Knowles (1959)


No spoilers. This was a good coming-of-age novel, and short at only 200 pages. The first 50 pages is some of the best fiction I’ve read all year! The beginning contains that special summertime atmosphere I loved in the movie Box of moonlight. And the final page still gives me chills thinking about it. The middle part of the book didn’t impress me as much and could have been better. The last 50 pages or so were an improvement, and better than the middle section.

The setting is an American boarding school for teenage boys during the 1940s. Events are narrated by Gene Forrester, the insecure, conscientious, nerdy and bookish main character with a fragile identity. Gene’s best friend is Phineas/Finny, athletic, out-going, confident and popular, a natural leader, loves sports, but is academically inferior to Gene. The story is mostly about Gene and Phineas’s differences and how their friendship evolves during a memorable summer and year they will never forget.

On the surface they appear a mismatch, but they each offer something to the other which they themselves lack and maybe are jealous of. Is Gene an unreliable narrator? You could argue Phineas was never the superhero Gene imagined him to be. Some claim Gene cannot express his jealousy, because Phineas has always been kind to him, and gives Gene the friendly push, which Gene needs. This jealously and frustration is portrayed as something internal. Gene also suspects that Phineas games and rebellious attitude are an attempt to derail Gene’s studies? Gene feels torn between academic expectations, and loyalty to his friend. For much of the novel Gene seems to regard Phineas personality as full of contradictions: “who seemed to love the school truly and deeply, and never more than when he was breaking the regulations”. Some have indicated in other reviews that Gene was weak and secretly loathed Phineas, but I’m not sure I agree with this. This ambiguity is part of the appeal. The friendship to me is mutual. I would even go so far as to say Gene at times secretly wants to be Phineas. The book questions what friendship is. Something everyone can relate to.

Perhaps Knowles didn’t need to include so many descriptions of nature. Another weakness I found was the lack of interest in girls among the teenage boys, which is a little odd given their age. Some reviewers claim there may be a homosexual subtext in Gene and Phineas’s relationship, I seriously doubt this. It’s more about an inner- and outer- war and peace. World War II has just begun, but the Devon students are removed from its hard realities, and can therefore accept or reject it as they choose. The possibility of being drafted looms in the air. I thought the war elements are comparable to young US soldier’s dealing with feelings towards the recent Iraq/Afghanistan conflict. I think it’s an anti-war novel. At the same time, Gene is fighting a war within himself, he appears to leave behind his old and innocent ways, and create a new and more mature self. To me, the book seems to question if Gene would in fact prefer to go back to his old self.

This is a deceptively straightforward book. The actual storyline is simple, Gene looking back on his schooling 15 years earlier, but to me the atmosphere and confused adolescent emotions are the strengths of the book.

I’ve read in a critical essay that Gene the boy is too close to his own experiences to understand them properly, and Gene the man is too removed to express effectively the vitality that characterizes adolescence, but between them they succeed in dissolving the limitations of conventional first-person narration. According to the author John Knowles, man can only know himself through action; he learns about life by acting on it, not by thinking about it:

Page 1:
“school looked like a museum, and that’s exactly what it was to me, and what I did not want it to be. In the deep, tacit way in which feeling becomes stronger than thought, I had always felt that Devon School came into existence the day I entered it, was vibrantly real while I was a student there, and then blinked out like a candle the day I left”

The name Phineas is linked to Greek mythology. I’ve read that the Greek view of Phineas sports is a competition against oneself, a healthy struggle in which you measure your capacities without ego, fear, or hubris. This is particularly evident in the swimming scene. Phineas is also the name of an angel in the bible, and Phineas acts as a guardian angel towards Gene.

A thirty-something male narrator looking back on school life and the main theme of guilt is a little similar to Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History”, which I reviewed in 2010. I probably should have read “A separate peace” when I was younger. Having said that, this is the sort of novel you can easily re-read looking for clues, as the main character’s behaviour can be tough even for adults to understand.

Selling over nine million copies, it was one of the most widely read American novels after World War II. Like several other book recommendations on my blog, it’s based on John Knowles’ own experiences growing up, and comes across as a very personal debut novel. A little-known and judging from reviews inferior sequel was released in 1981 called "Peace Breaks Out".

The title “A Separate Peace” is very interesting, and open to interpretation. Is it about moulding your own separate personality within a group? Do the two main characters achieve some kind of peace? Or should we read the title as a reflection of the safe haven boarding school cut off from the violent war abroad. The title is derived from a quotation in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms in which Lt. Henry states, "I had made a separate peace," with his adversaries in World War I.

If you like old-fashioned American coming-of-age tales with a memorable and introspective narrator like boyish girl Frankie Addams in Carson McCullers' warm-hearted war time novel "The Member of the Wedding" (1946), or confused Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the rye” (1951), “A Separate Peace” is for you. All three of these books in my opinion are stronger for internal monologues rather than the actual storytelling; they all explore bored adolescents trying to figure out who they are. Another classic coming-of-age novel you might want to check out is Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), which is one I haven’t read.

If you enjoy reading about teenage angst and male friendship, “A Separate Peace” is a recommended read. The book gets extra points for the characters ability to stay with me afterwards. One of those books, which reveals itself in hindsight.

8/10

Further reading

Songs for your iPod

Real Life - Joan As Policewoman

(From soundtrack for movie The Cry of the Owl (2009). On youtube: “feels like an invisible hug from a spirit that you've never realised was always beside you”)



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Christobel - Joan As Policewoman



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Everything you want - Vertical Horizon

Documentary review: A Decade Under the Influence (2003)


A documentary which also works as an advertisement or appetizer for everything 70s. I loved the way they had many of the talented directors and actors of the time talking nostalgically and energetically in interviews clips about what the 70s movies meant to them, and how they perceived society, and so on.

An insightful feature length documentary. You can tell it was produced by the independent film channel, a bunch of lesser known indie films are mentioned or discussed. So many in fact I felt I needed to stop and write them down every 10 minutes! An example was Scorsese's Alice doesn't live here anymore (1974), which I subsequently watched, and liked.

The only thing missing for me maybe is for a distinction between what were the best and worst 70s films, here they seem to praise everything, which was different and shocking. They have directors talking about their most acclaimed work, and highlighting some key scenes from some of the movies, which is interesting.

An unusual perspective I thought was how stars from the 70s era were often not so good-looking, anybody could become a movie star. The story became the focus, looks were less important, as opposed to the contract based stars of the past. It was a time of rebellion, of questioning every accepted idea. Moviegoers were turning their backs on tired studio formulas, and wanted to watch stories they could relate to in their own lives.

I’ve watched the other 70s documentary, Easy riders Raging bulls (2003), but thought ‘A Decade Under the Influence’ had the most to offer. Although people seem to disagree, which of the two is best. I wouldn't suggest watching both, unless you are using it for educational reasons, as they cover a lot of the same ground.




If you are expecting to hear interviews of Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, and Steven Spielberg you will be disappointed, but a lot of other famous directors and actors are on board.

I got the feeling the piece was a little biased and trying to say there are not nearly as many talented, groundbreaking directors making their mark in the 2000s, and this I agree with to a certain extent. Although not all the stuff the 70s directors touched turned to gold, and likewise can be said about any generation. There is always good and bad, in all eras of film.

This documentary is very relatable today, I think studio executives could learn a thing or two here about giving filmmakers more creative freedom and not just thinking profit. Who knows, maybe the next audience rebellion has already started? It's hard to know if history will repeat itself and we will ever see another decade like the 70s. It would be great, if it did happen ( :

Anyway, well worth your time and enjoyable whether you are already an admirer of 70s films or a newcomer to the scene.

Readers, what are your favourite movies of the 70s ?


IMDB

Rottentomatoes

Songs for your iPod

(To mix it up, here are 3 songs from Scandinavia I like. Dream pop, folk, and lastly electronic. Readers, any other music from this region you can recommend?)

Masselinjen - Kliche



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The Balcony - The Rumour Said Fire




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Aldrig Ensam - Jonathan Johansson

Film review: Dinner with friends (2001)


This is an interesting and insightful film, but you wouldn’t have guessed it was made-for-TV judging from the cast. Looks like a project like this attracted some fairly big names. Directed by Norman Jewison, who also directed “The Hurricane” with Denzil Washington and “Moonstruck” (which I liked) from the 80s.

“Dinner with friends” is a contemporary character study of two married couples, and their struggles. The drama is set in Connecticut and New York. It’s about friendship, the two husband’s are best friends, and so are their wives. So it’s about both female and male friendship. Due to events in the plot both couples must re-evaluate their seemingly perfect relationships. The focus is less on the kids and more about the adult issues. I think it’s partly about how messy relationship problems can sometimes be. Blame is a fickle thing, nobody is perfect.

I think “Dinner with friends” was probably written with married couples in mind as the key audience, but I’m sure single people could enjoy this too. The flashbacks made the story more about the psychology of the characters, and less about guessing what’s going to happen next.


I read the 86 page Pulitzer Prize winning play by Donald Marguiles, and it’s so short most of the dialogue is retained in the film adaptation. Basically like reading a script. As the back cover of the book explains, it’s a deceptively straight-forward suburban drama.

But I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a comedy, for me there were only a couple of laughs here and there. A small objection from my side would be some of the scenes were a little cliché for American families. The strength of the piece is clearly the dialogue.

Another reviewer points out author Marguiles poses several interesting questions about marriage and friendship: How do you handle growing old together? Could your marriage all fall apart? And if you knew everything about your closest friends, would you still want them around? Who has it right: those, who stick to marriage or those who break out of the rut? And how do we react when our closest friends doubt us?

According to the sleeve of the book, Donald Marguiles’s plays have been performed at major theatres across the United States and around the world. I have to say even though the book/play won the award for drama, I preferred the film. I tried reading plays before and I think at least in this case, it works best being performed and spoken by actors. Just gives it more realism and emotion.


But the book is slightly more sophisticated and quotable. The movie was "dumbed down" a bit. I recommend both film and book version. I can’t say which you should go for, they each are their own thing. I liked both!

Here are some of my favourite verbal fireworks from the book (no spoilers) :

“I met X – she made me feel good from the first time I talked to her on the phone”

“Have I ever been so wrong about someone? God, what does this say about my judgment?"

“He’s essentially a good guy waiting to happen. He just needs to find the right woman”

“When you’re single, you expend so much energy. I know. You’re always looking, always feeling scrutinized. It’s exhausting”

“I don’t know, I think she likes you. Yeah? Then I like her. Uh, you’re so deep”

“I thought if I could choose my family this time, if I could make my friends my family....Congratulations. The family you’ve chosen is just as fucked-up and fallible as the one you were born into”

“Settling down, having kids. It was just one more thing I did because it was expected of me, not because I had any real passion for it”

“How come the minute the conversation turns to us you’re struck mute?”

IMDB

Rottentomatoes

Readers, any thoughts? Any other plays made into films you like?

Songs for your iPod

Everybody's got to learn sometime - The Korgis

(All this talk about "Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind" has got me in the mood for the soundtrack)



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Come On Let's Go - Broadcast

(This was some girl's favourite song on the internet, thanks whoever you are)



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Wave - Antonio Carlos Jobim

I must have heard "Wave" over a 100 times, and still love it! Jobim also contributed a song, INSENSATEZ, to one of my favourite soundtracks of the 90s: Lost Highway (1997)

You loved a scene, but the the rest of the movie sucked? Shoot!

My 7 clips are below. I hope we can start a comment thread here. Over to you bloggers in blogosphere...


1.)
The only scene I thought was funny in The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) :




2.)
Watchmen (2009)

(Loved the intro scene! This movie might grow on me, but I disliked it the first time. Perhaps I need to read the graphic novel it's based on. The violence in the jail sequence in the middle of the film I found unnecessary and turned me off)

Watchmen Intro from Hanz Meier on Vimeo.



3.)
I don't see what all the hoppla was about Annie Hall (1977), only scene I found interesting and amusing was waiting in line to go to the pictures:




4.)
Mystery Men (1999)
This Tom Waits clip didn't even make the movie, a deleted scene I thought was hilarious:




5.)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)



The first 15 minutes (pre-credits) I think are amazing: beginning scene, train scene







6.)
The Opposite of Sex (1998)
(Loved first 10 min with sarcastic voice-over, the rest of the movie to me mediocre)




7.)
Blue Valentine (2010)
(That's a weird name clip. A few cute scenes, overall didn't like entire film)





Sorry if you love the entire movies above, they are my choices, no offense intended!

Share a particular scene you love, where you disliked the rest of the movie, in the comments! ( :

Film review: The Wizard of Oz (1939)


This was one of my favourite films as a kid. So colourful and imaginative. And such a universal appeal to young and old. I recently rewatched it. You get the feeling anything could happen in this universe. This film is so different to anything else I’ve seen, and I mean that in the best of ways.

It all starts in Kansas, the memorable brown/grey colour (sepia) is like an old photograph from the past, where Dorothy grows up on a farm with her dog Toto. It’s sometimes forgotten that this was a children’s book series. L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is one of those novels which has been eclipsed in fame by the movie based on it. Perhaps because the book doesn’t include the memorable songs, and ruby slippers, for example. The book includes creatures that are left out of the movie, so book and movie are each there own thing.

I remember looking forward to watching this film once a year at Christmas on TV as a kid, and being really freaked out by the scary wicked witch with green makeup. I think I might even have believed she was a genuine real life witch! The most frightening bit to me is when the witch looks directly at the camera during a scene at her castle. That really is creepy, even today.

The effects are amazing, the tornado especially in the opening shot, how did they do that? Other effects I was impressed by were the spinning farm house in the storm, the flying witch and monkeys, the yellow brick road sets, emerald city from a distance, I could go on and on. It wasn’t easy to achieve. The spray paint gave the actor playing the tin man a lung scare, and they didn’t even tell the replacement tin man it was dangerous according to the making of.


I think the filmmakers did a great job creating an illusion of depth, endless landscapes, yellow brick road, and poppies as far as the eye can see. The opening shot of a road in Kansas reaching into the distance reminds me of scenes in Zhang Yimou's The Road Home (1999). Director Zhang Yimou may also have borrowed for his film the excellent idea of a non-colour intro, followed by colourful scenes. The winter scene below is comparable to the image above of Emerald city in the distance. Even the title "The Road home" smells of a homage to the 1939 movie.


I never really perceived The Wizard of Oz as a musical, but it actually is. According to the dvd, Shirley Temple was considered for the role of Dorothy, but Judy Garland got the part, because she was the better singer. IMDB in their FAQ strangely enough disagree with this, and say Judy Garland was always first choice.

It seems hard to believe now, but the song “over the rainbow” was originally cut by executives, as they thought it slowed down the film. They reckoned it was undignified to have a star sing in a farm yard. Luckily they reconsidered.

The director Victor Fleming said he made the film because he wanted his two little girls to see a picture “that searched for beauty, decency, sweetness and love in the world”.

No wonder David Lynch paid homage to the movie in "Wild of heart" (1990). Lynch's films are full of dreams, he has mentioned "The Wizard Of Oz" is one of his favourites.

It’s interesting the scare crow, the tin man and the lion each have a flaw, they wish to redeem. The only thing Dorothy wants is to go home, but does this imply she is perfect without flaws? Perhaps it is wrong of me to read anything too deep into this children’s adventure. Some have also questioned Dorothy’s desire to go home, why would she want to leave such a magical place, where she has made new friends? The timeless message of the film is probably captured in the song “over the rainbow”.

This is more than a movie, it’s part of pop culture. Why don’t they make films like this anymore? I don’t think I’m far off, if I call this one of the greatest achievements in film history. A must-watch.

Any thoughts, readers?

IMDB

Rottentomatoes

Songs for your iPod

Wickerman - Pulp

(Jarvis Cocker from Pulp sure knows how to write lyrics. I especially like his talk-singing, like in this track. He'd probably make a great storyteller for audio books?)



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Babies - Pulp



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David's Last Summer - Pulp




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Slush - Jarvis Cocker

(I thought I better recommend a song from his solo career)




Readers, which albums or songs would you recommend by Pulp?

Film review: Alive (1993)


No spoilers in this review. This is my third lifetime viewing of this film. I love survival in the wild stories, and to me this is one of the best. I think it demands to be seen on a big screen, or at least a large TV.

Based on an event in 1972, a south American rugby team crosses the Andies to play a game in Chile. But unexpected things occur. It's also a book by Piers Paul Read.

It strikes me as very realistic, the situation is desperate, the atmosphere is so cold that I found myself trembling and shivering along with the characters.

Some scenes are a little difficult to watch, not exactly what you’d call family entertainment, but borderline horror movie stuff. This is one of the reasons some people dislike this film or label it unpleasant based on a few scenes in the middle of the film.

The special effects at the beginning are very well-done for 1993, they didn’t have the advanced CGI technology that you use today. I noticed a number of these kind of films are B-films, but this is an A-film with a budget of $32 million.


It helps they are a group, they can keep each other active by giving moral support. Group mentality resembles the rugby team with a leader taking charge. Desperate situations like these really separate the strong from the weak, the men from the boys, the rational from irrational, and so on.

It stars one of my favourite actors Ethan Hawke, but none of the actors really dominate, it’s a group story with an ensemble cast.

You should really avoid reading lots of reviews before watching this film, most of them contain spoilers unfortunately. Once you’ve seen this movie, I doubt you will ever forget it, powerful and moving. The kind of story that stays with you. It gives you that first person experience, as if you are there with them in the snow trying to survive. As another reviewer writes: “the movie does a good job of raising the "What would you do?" issues”.

Readers, any thoughts ?

IMDB

Rottentomatoes

YouTube

Book review: A Confederacy of Dunces / John Kennedy Toole (1980)


Probably the funniest and most unusual novel I’ve ever come across. A light and entertaining read, and at times laugh-out-loud funny. People seem to either love or hate this book. To me it’s a modern classic. I guess anytime you have humour as a key ingredient, then the story will divide audiences.

Our hero is neurotic, anti-social, obese outsider Ignatius Reilly, he still at the age of 30 lives with his widowed mother. Ignatius is a well-educated wannabe writer, but unable to find a job due to his rudeness and attitude. The story is about his adventures in job hunting and holding on to employment, and the story is also about events that happen at a bar called Night of Joy, which the locals visit.

Ignatius is revolting, but pitiful enough that I cared about him. The author makes you hope that he will succeed in life in spite of his outrageous, but somewhat idealistic behaviour. Some may even identify with his mother's plight, as he really is a handful for her, with no idea how to get along with people. One of the jobs Ignatius attempts is as a file clerk at Levy Pants. Another job he tries is as a hot dog salesman. In both cases creating funny and awkward moments.



The humour is the best thing about this book, and I found myself looking forward to the next amusing situations. For example, one of the funnier moments is when a cop discovers the cream inside the doughnuts has already been sucked out by the greedy main character!

The real life story of John Kennedy Toole is a sad one. He was an English teacher who was never recognized or appreciated for his writing during his lifetime. Toole took his own life. But his mother fought for years trying to get his book published, and finally 11 years after his suicide did his book hit the stores.

The Pulitzer prize winning novel is considered an important work of modern Southern literature, the events take place mostly in New Orleans, so its also a description of the atmosphere in the South during the early 1960s. The black oppressed community are unhappy with the way they are treated, Ignatius is content with his rebellious outsider position, while the coloured character we get to know is looking for change. Having said this, you might think the novel is dated being written in the 60s, but I think it holds up surprisingly well and comes across as very fresh. This I think is mainly due to Toole's memorable use of language.

The author appears to make fun of the police force in a similar way that Alfred Hitchcock used to expose them as incompetent. But then again everyone seems to be given the full treatment and made a satirical joke of, which is part of the book’s charm.

I think eccentric people with a university degree who have had difficulty finding work might relate to the main character’s troubles. Especially in this time of financial crisis where there are cutbacks and fewer jobs to be had. Overweight people will probably also be able to identify with Ignatius’s compulsive eating, which he does to sooth his anxiety.

If you like this, I recommend the comics by Harvey Pekar, he also worked as a file clerk in the US, the humour and atmosphere is a little similar, I think. Ignatius’s bizarre behaviour can in my opinion also be compared to “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas” from the 70s. The hat Ignatius wears could be a reference to Holden Caufield’s in “The Catcher in the Rye”, and probably is also a symbol of rebellious behaviour, which Ignatius refuses to take off during a job interview. Other reviewers point out Ignatius is like a fat and intelligent version of Mr. Bean. He is like a cartoon character, but walking around in the real world.


The novel is 400 pages. I would highly recommend the first 200 pages. The remainder of the book had a few golden moments of humour, but I found it to be a little unnecessary. I felt like I had heard what he had to say in the first half of the book. I think the book deserves an unorthodox rating, I give it 9/10 for the first half, 5/10 for the last half. I guess if you add these up it makes a 7/10.

Probably not a book I would suggest reading in one or two sittings, instead the kind of novel you might pick up now and again and read a chapter from.

I like this book for the humour and bizarre characters, Ignatius, Ignatius’s pen friend Myrna Minkoff from college, and old-timer Mrs Trixie to me are highlights.

One of the great comedies in fiction. Like nothing I’ve ever read before, highly original. Is Ignatius Reilly a genius or a madman? ( :

The title refers to a quote from Jonathan Swift: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."

Songs for your iPod

Superstition - Steve Wonder



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Possession - Sarah McLachlan



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Hands Around My Throat - Death In Vegas

Film review: The Social Network (2010)


No spoilers in my review. I think this being among the most anticipated releases of 2010 says a lot about what a weak year it’s been in theaters. Fincher’s film definitely is visually stylish, which you would expect, he doesn't hold back with his trademark darkness and greenish colours. And it’s certainly a film that lingers in my mind the next day, as I’m writing this review. But if this had been a strong year, say like 1999, I don't think this film would win many awards.

Its very much a “zeitgeist” movie trying to capture the times, and of course, it’s trying to appeal to the 500 million facebook users all over the world, much like Fincher attempted to latch onto the 90s generation with Fight Club (1999). I’m not sure people without a facebook account would care to watch The Social Network. And perhaps older people I think would struggle to identify with the youthful cast.

I thought the film gave a good depiction of the power of money and desire for recognition, but maybe it repeated this too many times, and I thought I had got the point after a while regarding the athlete’s feelings.

I’d have preferred that the film instead had focused more on the pros and cons of facebook itself. What is friendship? What does it do to you to have a bunch of so-called friends online? Has facebook changed the way we perceive the term friend, and if so, in a good or a bad way? And so on, and so on. The movie does this a little bit, facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend issues for example, but we never really get to know why he cares about her in the first place, which I see as a flaw.

Seriousfilm on the other hand likes the fact that "Fincher and Sorkin nimbly avoid getting bogged down in the minutiae of Facebook, instead aiming their story squarely at timeless themes of loyalty, power, class, wealth, temptation, and genius". I guess if that is what you wanted to see, then it’s a great movie.

Its been brought to my attention that the filmmakers took liberties for instance with the relationship aspects and doctored this to make us care more about Zuckerberg the movie character than Zuckerberg the real life person. So don’t expect the story to follow 100% the true life story of the events.

The soundtrack is good, mixing a suitably fast-paced electronic score, and a song about Zuckerberg's alienation:





The story is well-directed by Fincher, told with suspense, and with many flashbacks, but it didn’t make me want to discuss the film afterwards in the same way Fight Club did. The social network in my opinion didn’t leave many things to interpret other than the final scene. To be honest, I didn’t really care who had been disloyal to whom, which is also left unsaid.


I guess the factual story about the founders of facebook could easily have been a documentary (and may already have been so). I’m still wondering why they elected to make it as a movie, and I think money is the motivation. So in that way the filmmakers mirror the movies characters. Maybe Fincher could relate to the notion of a man divided between money and friendship, and wanting to be recognized for his talent? What is more important for an artist, creating something important, or nurturing your friends? This is one of the few questions the film raises I found quite interesting. As seriousfilm puts it: “the film asks if you have to be an asshole to get great things done or if doing great things is just a convenient excuse for someone who was an asshole already”.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed being along for the ride, it moves at a fast pace, so I was never bored, and it’s good entertainment. But the film is too commercial and devoid of risk-taking to be truly groundbreaking. It’s too eager to please a wide audience, and unfortunately, however impressive and dense some reviewers are saying the script is, dare I say it, to me at least, it’s essentially a dumbed-down movie, which is a pity.

I hope one day I’ll get to see something which delves more into the psychology of facebook, and less into the legal battle of its ownership. Really, why should we care which of these dudes owns facebook? It’s a credit to what a good director Fincher is, that he actually makes us give a damn.

A captivating story, better than your average film. I think Fincher succeeded in what he tried to achieve with this film, but unfortunately it was something else about facebook, I was looking for. 7.5/10

Readers, any thoughts?


Further reading:

IMDB

Rottentomatoes

Reviews by others from LAMB

Facebook Co-Founder Speaks Publicly, What I Learned From Watching “The Social Network”

Songs for your iPod

Unison – Bjork

(My favourite track from her 2001 album Vespertine)


bjork UnIsOn

falling water bead | Myspace Video


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All Your Sisters - Mazzy Star

(Beautiful acoustic/dream pop song)



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Ripple - Grateful Dead

(To me this is the best song from their 1970 album "American beauty" . Notice the similar artwork to the 1999 movie?)

Film review: Chungking Express (1994)


Some people call this Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece. Having seen quite a few of his films, I think this is probably my favourite directed by him. The script and characters are interesting here, I think.

Apparently, this film was originally in three parts, and the third part was put into Wong Kar Wai's film Fallen angels (1995) instead.

Som have criticized 'Chungking Express' for being essentially two films in one. The two stories are similar, and I agree with other reviewers it might have been more interesting, if there was some connection. Maybe there is, who knows.

I liked the second half of the film better, as you really get to know the man and woman on an intimate and emotional level, and really care about them.


Wong Kar Wai's films are quite similar and this is another about people with broken hearts and having trouble moving on. Some bar scenes, violence, product placement and train stations have been thrown in like in some of his other movies. Some people call this his unique style, others think it's a little tiresome to see the same story rehashed over and over. I think his style is unique, as his films have a new angle on these themes.

I liked the cover song of The Cranberries 'Dreams' sung in Cantonese. California dreamin' is also a perfect choice, and will probably forever be associated with this film. I thought the music score at the beginning is quite similar to music in director Darren Aronofsky's movies such as 'Requiem for a dream' or 'The Fountain'.

It just goes to show that you don't need to have a huge budget to make a good film with likable people.

A very memorable film, mostly due to characters and music. I agree with another reviewer, who says the characters all have a charm and individuality about them.

Not sure that the title is very accurate, though. The Hong Kong title is Chung Hing sam lam. It's one of Quentin Tarantino's favourite films, watch him in this video talk about his love for the film.

IMDB

Rottentomatoes

YouTube

Songs for your iPod

Glass, Concrete & Stone - David Byrne

This is one of many tracks that impressed me on the soundtrack for In good company (2004). A half-decent movie, but the soundtrack is what left a lasting impact on me)



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Sunshine - Peter Salett

(Again, in my opinion the songs on the soundtrack were far better than the movie Down in the valley. Here's his myspace)



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This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) - Talking Heads

(Ok, you've probably seen Wallstreet (1987), but do you remember this beautiful song from the credits?)

Film review: Rabbits (2002)


Rabbits is directed by David Lynch, and may be the best Lynch movie you have never heard of. A must-see for fans of Lynch. Rabbits is comprised of 9 instalments totalling about 50 minutes, and is a companion piece to his latest underrated movie Inland Empire (2006), as some of the scenes are similar, but it can easily be watched independently of that film. It feels like he was experimenting with this type of filmmaking before using it in that full-length movie.

A word of warning, it could be difficult to obtain a copy of this film from regular shops like amazon. It was released as part of an expensive lime green box set in 2008, but was originally a series shown exclusively on DavidLynch.com. You might be able to find it on YouTube if you’re lucky.
The story is about a group of three talking rabbits in a room. Very mysterious and ambiguous, we never see what’s outside the room, so it’s difficult to make any clear-cut interpretations. Is it all a dream, and if so who’s dream? Is one of the rabbits humming the music from the red room scene in Twin Peaks?, and is this a clue to solving the mystery? The male rabbit says we should remember what he says, why?
What about the demon, who appears twice, the words are spoken in a foreign language, maybe a language not even known to man? Is the demon a representation of evil, an evil we cannot understand?
Is it an alternative or fictional reality? The male rabbit several times leaves the room and when he reappears we hear canned laughter. Only a few seconds have passed for us the viewers, but how long has he been away in the rabbit world?


Is Lynch mocking the TV-sitcoms and its phony laughing like Oliver Stone did in Natural born killers? The laughter seems inappropriate, as if this audience is laughing at the wrong time and have misunderstood the dialogue.

The bunnies talk in riddles, they don’t seem to be communicating with each other, is this Lynch’s failure to write a decent script, or more likely, an example of character’s not listening to each other but selfishly rambling on without paying attention to the others answers?

If you want to further discuss or understand the abstractness of this piece, I suggest you visit the IMDB message board for this title.

A fascinating, abstract, frustrating, creepy and unforgettable experience, but at the same time there’s no denying a typical David Lynch atmosphere. The music, costumes, shadows and lighting all add up to a unique world. It’s amazing that an almost plotless story can be so intriguing, but it really is! This is a piece of film not easily categorized other than saying it’s made by an auteur.

What makes it even more interesting is how it refers to Lynch’s other work like Mulholland Dr. and like I said Inland Empire. I guess you can draw certain comparisons to non-Lynch films Harvey (1950) and Donnie Darko (2001) as well.

IMDB

Book review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? / Philip K. Dick (1968)


I usually prefer sci-fi on film, but I was impressed by this novel, full of ideas, and it still holds up well today despite being written in the 1960s. Love the title of this book. I’d be interested to know of other novels where the title is a question? "What was she thinking? : notes on a scandal" is one book. Here are more.

The film Blade runner is loosely based on this novel. The book is more thoughtful and the film more visually atmospheric, so they compliment each other very well. The stories differ quite a lot, the book includes scenes with Deckard’s wife Iran and their pets. The ending to the film I think is more exhilarating. In the book, I am not sure I was entirely convinced that people in the future would want goats and sheep as pets, I can understand why they left this out of the film. The only motivation being real animals are sought after due to them being status symbols. The electric animals are lower down on the prestige chart. A weakness in both film and book: why does Deckard hunt the replicants, if they are going to die within a few years anyway?

Although there are discrete references to e.g. George Orwell’s 1984, it’s still a very original book. Amazing that an author can create such a future world from scratch. Everyone is under suspicion for being an android. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter assigned to kill several Nexus-6 model androids, who have murdered there masters on Mars. An empathy test — the Voight-Kampff — is used to distinguish humans from androids. Another reviewer raises an interesting question: Wouldn't it be so much easier to just make all androids so they have an easily distinguishable feature to show they aren't a normal human?


I think this book works on many different levels. A lot is going on between the lines. It’s a science fiction adventure, but it’s also a dystopian warning saying we should look after the environment. It’s about how the drug industry is dangerous and can control your feelings. Furthermore, it’s a cautionary tale about how we should go about cloning and act towards our creations. The story is also about what it does to the protagonist Deckard that he is assigned to kill androids. Philip K Dick has stated the story is about what makes us human. Having a friend who suffers from autism, I felt the androids are described in an almost autistic way having little or no empathy towards others, this is less visible in the film. But this could just be a prejudice attitude among Deckard and his colleagues, we can’t be sure. The author PKD on page 90 tries to defend this lack of empathy by stating Deckard’s wife sometimes has even less empathy than androids.

It can be very difficult to determine if someone is an android in Philip K. Dick’s world, likewise it can be difficult to know straightaway if someone is mentally disadvantaged. It is widely known that a number of mentally disadvantaged people see themselves as aliens, try and pass themselves off as normal individuals, and on occasion are not even aware of suffering from a mental condition. In the book, several comments are made that the androids are attempting to blend in to society and pretending to be ordinary people. I may be wrong, but this allegorical interpretation I think suggests Philip K Dick himself was autistic (many artists are), or had knowledge of people with this condition. The androids lack many human qualities, but that's in part because they are manufactured that way. Is it their fault that they lack empathy? The androids could represent any given oppressed group throughout human history.

To me, it’s difficult to know exactly what PKD was attempting to say, as the story is open-ended. I feel the novel has taken on a life of its own based on countless reviews and articles over the years which interpret the story in various ways.
I guess the message to me is we should treat androids with equal respect and give them the same rights as humans, and not treat them as slaves, if one day the technology should allow them to be created artificially. Androids in the book have feelings and desires too. The story depicts how humans are as ruthless as robots by their willingness to kill robots. I think the author probably asks more questions than he answers, which I see as a good thing. We the readers are left to ponder these ethical questions ourselves.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is in “1001 books you must read before you die”

Also, check my recommendations of Blade Runner and Frankenstein, which are related.

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