Viewing recap for January

Several of the new films listed missed out on my upcoming top 20 of 2013. Ratings are from 1-10, with 10 the highest score possible.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Impressive on a technical level, especially the dragon scenes, the empty wine barrel chase, and the grand scale of Esgaroth(Lake-town).
It’s unnecessarily long, though, and only works if you watch the whole trilogy. So it’s not a stand-alone film.
I actually thought The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) was slightly more entertaining, maybe because I hadn’t been to Middle Earth for a long time. Desolation of Smaug was a bit predictable.
Rating 6.5

Wadjda (2012)
The Saudi Arabian entry to the 2014 Academy Awards. Wadjda, an 11-year-old Saudi girl living in the capital Riyadh, dreams of owning a green bicycle. The story is too slight to warrant a 90 min running time. Maybe a short film would have been more appropriate. I was bored by it. The performances are alright.
Notable for being the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and is the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director.
Rating 5.0

Museum Hours (2012)
The movie lost its way in the middle part, but the beginning and ending I was hooked. There are several perceptive observations about museums and museum visitors.
Favorite quote: ”Or more accurately, things standing in for money. I guess this is what he learned at university. He said this was clearest in Dutch still lives, which were essentially just piled up possessions of the newly rich of that time. He said these were no different than if someone today were to paint a pile of Rolex watches, champagne bottles, and flat-screen TV’s. That they were the rap star videos of their day. And he said they were only less subtle versions of all the other commodities the museum was hoarding, and this was now just part of the way things were disguised in the time of late Capitalism. He didn’t hold it against the museum, but he went on like that”
Rating 7.0

Bullhead (2011)
Belgian drama nominated for foreign language Oscar in 2012, but lost to A Separation. A violent and lonely man (Matthias Schoenaerts from Rust & Bone) tries to find love. I certainly felt sorry for him, especially for what happened to him as a child, and how that affected his whole life. The ending was a bit frustrating, and felt unfinished.
Rating 7.5

I Killed My Mother (2009)
Semi-autobiographical, with the director Xavier Dolan playing the main character. A confused, moody 16-year-old son doesn’t get along with his mother, they have a complicated relationship, he loves her one moment, seems to hate her the next. For him, it is not the love of a son. He feels they have nothing in common, and that there are 100 people he knows that he loves more than her. Yet, if someone hurt her, he would kill that person. Says to teacher, that maybe God has given him the wrong mother.
Favorite quote: “In this life you should only wish your inner enemy dead. Restrain him in art. Are we good artists?”
Rating 7.2

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004)
Great performance by Geoffrey Rush, as Peter Sellers. I didn’t realize Sellers' off screen life was so turbulent.
Rating 7.5

The Dreamlife of Angels (1998)
French drama. I liked the friendship we see, even though the blond is making stupid decisions. I wonder sometimes when characters are supposedly without money or a roof to sleep under, why they don’t just go on the dole, but it does have excellent performances.
Favorite quote: “I’m not the type to get attached to guys, they get on my nerves in no time”
Rating 7.8

Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)
Powerful, well-acted drama. I always thought it was about an oil rig, which it definitely is not! The story is about two parents (Nick Nolte & Susan Sarandon) in search for a cure for their sick son.
Rating 7.8

Road House (1989)
It’s entertaining all the way through, but pretty contrived that his old pal shows up EXACTLY when he needs bailing out at the back of the bar.
Big parts of the movie are clichéd, and the acting is below average, yet it does work, in a so-bad-its-good way.
Favorite quote: "People who really want to have a good time won't come to a slaughterhouse. And we've got entirely too many troublemakers here. Too many 40-year-old adolescents, felons, power drinkers and trustees of modern chemistry.
Rating 7.5

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Rewatch. So many great scenes. Definitely fun from start to finish. The music by John Williams, and the character of Indiana Jones, are iconic. I preferred it when I was a child, though.
Rating 8.5

Network (1976)
Rewatch. A satirical and very loud movie, plenty of yelling. What could be labeled a "realistic Videodrome". Network chronicles corporate greed, and the ethical dilemma of showing sensationalism in the news, to increase ratings, in order to gain profit for stock holders.
In fact, the movie questions what is good television, and questions what the viewers want to see. Also how it can have a psychological effect on news anchors, that their popularity is measured in numbers.
The film could also be viewed as how actors feel, always being provided with lines to read, without having their own opinions heard.
The weakest part of the film could be the romance between Faye Dunaway and William Holden.
Rating 7.7

Weekend (1967)
Directed by Jean Luc Godard. The film has a unique look. There is social commentary, and there is also a lot of car horns and rudeness. The number of accidents seems unrealistic and extreme(kind of like a war zone), but there is a point with it. Perhaps that we are in too much of a hurry in our contemporary society, and therefore are a danger to ourselves and those around us. Or maybe there are other interpretations?
Interestingly the characters at one point say they are tired of being in the film, because people they meet are unhelpful in giving directions.
The second half with all those long monologues was pretty boring really. Preferred the first half.
Turns into a horror film at the end, maybe the whole film was supposed to be horror? I wish the animal cruelty scenes had been cut entirely, I hated those.
Rating 7.3

Zulu (1964)
A long, somewhat boring war movie starring a young Michael Caine, which you can have on in the background, without missing much. Famous for the battle scene which sees the Zulus and English singing before combat.
Rating 5.0

The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa. The opening wedding sequence is interesting, and the presentation of the cake is a unique moment in cinema. But I’m confused why the families would allow those nosy reporters to be present at the dinner?
Told in a somewhat confusing way, but really is quite a simple story of revenge.
Loosely based om Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Whistling has seldom been more creepy than in a scene in this film.
It’s quite boring at times, so I can’t really recommend it wholeheartedly. The most memorable scenes are when they lock up the guy and starve him, in order for him to give them valuable information(kind of like in the 2013 movie Prisoners)
Rating 6.4

The Brothers Karamazov (1958)
Difficult to condense a complex 800 page novel into a 2½ hour movie. The film suffers from wooden acting, but there are good performances from Lee J. Cobb as the father, and Maria Schell as the love interest. I would love to read the book at some point.
Rating 5.5

Mr Hulots Holiday (1953)
Directed by and starring Jacques Tati. Not laugh-out-loud funny, and probably not for everyone. The gags are quite inventive and cute, and, well, Tati-esque. I like his style, but wouldn’t watch it every day.
Rating 7.5

Umberto D (1952)
Italian neorealist film directed by Vittorio De Sica. A story about poverty. The lead character, Umberto D, is named after the directors own father and the film is dedicated to his honor. Of his entire career, this was the film De Sica treasured the most.
Few professional actors were used, Carlos Z, who plays Umberto D, was a 70-year-old professor from the university in Florence. De Sica spotted him walking down the street.
The film came under attack. According to Andreotti, De Sica was guilty of “slandering Italy abroad” by “washing dirty linen in public”. The communist party also attacked the film calling it “pessimistic”. The film opened without organized support, competing against more popular fair Don Camillo (1951). Umberto D (1952) was a flop, but has since been reappraised.
Rating 7.8

Have you seen any of these films? Agree or disagree? Any favorites? As always, comments are welcome

2013 music that should have been in my top 100 (1 of 2)

Blackfish by Jeff Beal (Blackfish soundtrack)

Sister Part 1 and Wanna Fight by Cliff Martinez (Only God Forgives soundtrack) (Thanks Sati at Cinematic Corner)

Help Me Lose My Mind by Disclosure & London Grammar (Thanks Toren at The Ashtray Says)

Supersymmetry by Arcade Fire (from the trailer of Spike Jonze's Her)

Black Skinhead - Kanye West (from Wolf of Wall Street trailer)

Antitaxi - La Femme (Thanks Bonjour Tristesse)

River Dealer by Burial

Casino Lisboa by Dirty Beaches (Thanks Cristi B from To The Movies and Back)

Agree or disagree? Have you listened to any of these albums?

The music of Billy Joel (part 4 or 4)

Album: The Bridge (1986)

Thoughts: Very 80s, but unfortunately the songs feel a bit cheesy. That said, catchy “A Modern Woman” could be my favorite Billy Joel track of the 80s. The album featured several guest appearances, including Ray Charles and Cyndi Lauper.

Favorite tracks: A Matter of Trust, A Modern Woman

Album: Storm Front (1989)

Thoughts: A rock n rock album, which has an epic feel due to the themes that are explored.

Favorite tracks: We Didn't Start the Fire

“We Didn't Start the Fire” is a fast-paced song that cataloged a list of historical events, trends, and cultural icons from after World War II (when Joel was born) until 1989.

Album: River of Dreams (1993)

Favorite tracks: River of Dreams

The album cover was a painting by Joel's then-wife, Christie Brinkley. In 1993, Rolling Stone gave her the Top Picks award for "The Best Album Cover of the Year”.

2014 Blind Spots Series: Das Boot (1981)

The title translates as “The Boat”, a World War Two film that I have known about for years. For some reason I never managed to see the whole film, except a few scenes here and there. So that, and the fact it's considered among the best submarine films of all-time, made it a great choice for Ryan McNeil's 2014 blindspot series blogathon.

Das Boot is based on the German book of the same name by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim, who in turn based it on his own experiences.
Originally made as a miniseries for German television. Das Boot received a theatrical run in the early 1980s and was then re-released for the cinema over a decade later in the form of a longer director’s cut.

I watched the director’s cut, which apparently gives you more characterization, so you care a bit more about the crew. It is odd that we should empathize with the Nazis, but you don't even think about that after a while, and just look at them as people. I suppose that was partly the aim, to humanize the characters, and show they are just like you and I. As far as I can remember, we never leave their side the whole movie. The anti-German coalition is only visible from a distance.

The audience is the extra passenger on the submarine, we are in the same shoes as the journalist, observing events. It does feel very realistic and authentic, the camaraderie on board, and how claustrophobic it must have been. As a reviewer said on letterboxd, the key to these films is not just the realistic portrayal of war, but the realistic portrayal of people.

The film does a good job of emphasizing the importance of singing and music to lift their spirits during hard times. I loved the main theme, beautiful and epic.

There’s lots of drama and tense moments, but the story is fairly vague. It was not clear to me what their actual mission was(besides the obvious of torpedoing enemy ships), and why they needed to go to Italy via Gibraltar? Perhaps the crew was uncertain what the next move was, so that vagueness could have been intentional. I did read about it afterwards on wikipedia, and that helped me figure out a few loose ends.

There are memorable scenes, when they witness the burning ship at sea. Also when the crew visit the Nazi group, and are offered an elaborate meal, with the hope that they in exchange will tell war stories. There's also a well-acted scene where the chief mechanic, Johann, loses it, and goes into a panic. I don't want to give away important plot points, so I'll refrain from mentioning other stand-out scenes.

Its high production cost ranks it among the most expensive films in the history of German cinema. The director Wolfgang Peterson is German, and thanks in part to Das Boot, would later have a career in Hollywood. Notable films in his resume are The Neverending Story (1984), Air Force One (1997), The Perfect Storm (2000), and Troy (2004).

If you don't like subtitles, you can watch the film dubbed in English, which worked fine for me. All of the main actors are bilingual in German and English, and when the film was dubbed into English, each actor recorded his own part. The German version is dubbed as well, as the film was shot "silent", because the dialogue spoken on-set would have been drowned out by the noise.

Author of the book, Lothar-Günter Buchheim, uttered concerns about the end result, and felt that unlike his clearly anti-war novel the adaptation was "another re-glorification and re-mystification" of the German World War II U-boat war, German heroism and nationalism. He called the film a cross between a "cheap, shallow American action flick" and a "contemporary German propaganda newsreel from World War II".

Rating 4.5/5

Agree or disagree? Have you watched Das Boot? Which are your favorite submarine movies?

The music of Billy Joel (part 3 or 4)

Album: Glass Houses (1980)
Thoughts: More rock orientated than his previous releases. I wasn’t that keen on the direction he took with this album, but it was well-received by audiences and critics alike.
Favorite tracks: You May Be Right (a rock n roll song, the intro sounds like 1992's Friday I’m in Love by The Cure)
Don’t Ask Me Why (a mellower track, I like the melody)
It's Still Rock and Roll To Me

Album: The Nylon Curtain (1982)
Thoughts: My second favorite Billy Joel album. (The Stranger from 1977 is my favorite)
The album is among Joel's most ambitious, and Joel has openly acknowledged that it's one of his personal favorites. Critics have interpreted the album to be, in part, an homage to the music of The Beatles and John Lennon.
Regarding the album's themes, Joel has stated "It was during the Reagan years, and the diminishing horizons in America at the time [meant that] all of a sudden you weren't going to be able to inherit [the kind of life] your old man had."
This pessimism about the American dream, in Joel's view, permeates most of the songs on the album. The song "Allentown", which brought attention to the plight of America's declining steel industry.
Favorite tracks: Allentown, Laura, Pressure, Goodnight Saigon, Scandinavian Skies

Album: An Innocent Man (1983)

Thoughts: I didn’t enjoy the album, which to me is unintentionally funny, in terms of how it sounds.
The album is a tribute to the American popular music of Joel's teenage years with Joel paying homage to a number of different popular American musical styles from the late 1950s and early 1960s, most notably doo-wop and soul music.
In an interview about the making of the album, Joel talks about how at the time he was recording An Innocent Man, he was newly divorced from his first wife, Elizabeth Weber, and was single for the first time since achieving rock star status. So he had the opportunity to date supermodels like Elle Macpherson and Christie Brinkley, and because of these experiences, he said, "I kind of felt like a teenager all over again.”

Favorite tracks: Uptown Girl is an 80s classic, and hard to ignore.

Have you listened to the music of Billy Joel? Or are you a newcomer to the music as I am? As always, comments are welcome. Next week part 4 of 4

The music of Billy Joel (part 2 or 4)

Album: Turnstiles (1976)

Favorite tracks: New York State of Mind

The inspiration for the song came from his pride in returning home to New York. (He had been in LA for 3 years). Joel was literally "takin' a Greyhound [bus] on the Hudson River Line [route]" when the idea for the song came to him, and the song was written as soon as Joel arrived home.
In fact, most of Turnstiles deals with Joel's cross-country relocation, including "Say Goodbye to Hollywood", "I've Loved These Days", "Summer, Highland Falls", and "Miami 2017 Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway."
Although "New York State of Mind" was never a hit song and was never released as a single, it has become a fan favorite and a song that Joel plays regularly in concert.
Joel famously played the song at the October 2001 benefit concert for the New York City Fire and Police Departments and the loved ones of families of first responders lost during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Album: The Stranger (1977)

My favorite of the studio albums, it has strong material all the way through. While his four previous albums had been moderately successful, The Stranger became Joel's true critical and commercial breakthrough, spending six weeks at #2 on the U.S. album charts.
Considered his magnum opus, it remains his best-selling non-compilation album to date, and was ranked number 70 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Much of the album's success is attributed to Joel's collaboration with producer Phil Ramone, and his innovative production methods, this fruitful partnership would continue for a decade.

Favorite tracks: The Stranger, Just the Way You Are, Vienna, She's Always a Woman, Everybody has A DreamScenes from an Italian RestaurantOnly the Good Die Young

Album: 52nd Street (1978)

The studio in which 52nd Street was recorded was on 52nd Street, a block away from the CBS Building. In 2003, the album was ranked number 352 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Favorite tracks: My Life, Stiletto, Honesty, Big ShotUntil The Night(added thanks to Lisa Thatcher)

Have you listened to the music of Billy Joel? Or are you a newcomer to the music as I am? As always, comments are welcome. Next week part 3

Anticipated albums of 2014

High Hopes - Bruce Springsteen (January 14)
(I found it to be a strong collection of tracks, even though several are reworkings of older material. Heard album on Spotify, tracks I like: High Hopes, American Skin, Just Like Fire Would, and Down in the Hole. On a side note, what's with all the swearing on the track Harry's Place? I was surprised he used the F-word.)

Warpaint - Warpaint (January 17)
(Their 2010 debut album The Fool was a breath of fresh air in terms of the vocal and sound. Listened to the stream on NPR First Listen of their 2nd album, and I quite like Love Is to Die and Biggy)

Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son - Damien Jurado (January 21)
(I listened to the stream at NPR first listen. There's quite a bit of variation, with louder and quieter tracks, and different instruments. While I didn't like all the material, there were a few on there I did get into: Silver Timothy, Jericho Road, Silver Malcolm, Suns in Our Mind)

After the Disco - Broken Bells (February 4)
(Holding On For Life is a promising early track, though I'm personally not in love with the "Bee Gees" chorus)

July - Marissa Nadler (February 4)
(I enjoyed her 2011 album, especially The Sun Always Reminds Me of You.
Her EP from 2012 didn't have an impact on me, even so, I'll give the 2014 stuff a listen. New teaser tracks Nothing in My Heart and Dead City Emily)

St. Vincent - St. Vincent (February 25)
(The single Birth In Reverse I didn't care for. But another track called Digital Witness I really liked a lot, which sounds a bit Talking Heads-esque. She's previously collaborated with David Byrne, and it shows. )

Morning Phase - Beck (February 14)
(His 12th studio album. Apparently will be a "companion piece" to his 2002 album Sea Change)

Love Letters - Metronomy (March 10)
(The teaser track I'm Aquarius was not that great. We'll see about the other new tracks later. Loved their 2011 break-through album The English Riviera)

Supermodel - Foster The People (March 14)
(I liked their last album. From the new record, listen to Coming of Age)

Lost in the Dream - The War on Drugs (March 18)
(They are a band where I usually enjoy 1 or 2 tracks on each new album. Red Eyes is an early teaser, which I'm liking)

Out Among the Stars - Johnny Cash (March 25)
(Not massively excited about this posthumous "lost" album. The recordings are from 1980s sessions, which were shelved by Cash's record company. Now the world gets to listen.)

Too True - Dum Dum Girls (January)
Blank Project - Neneh Cherry (25 Feb)
G I R L - Pharrell Williams (March)
English Oceans - Drive-By Truckers (3 March)
The Classic - Joan As Police Woman (10 March)
Divergent soundtrack (11 March)
Symphonica - George Michael (18 March)
Recess - Skrillex (18 March)
Kiss Me Once - Kylie Minogue (25 March)
Saudade - Thievery Corporation (1 April)
It's Album Time - Todd Terje (8 April)
The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett - Eels (22 April)
Diploid Love - Brody Dalle (28 April)
I Never Learn - Lykke Li (6 May)
Luminous - The Horrors (6 May)
Natalie Merchant - Natalie Merchant (6 May)
White Women - Chromeo (12 May)
Unrepentant Geraldines - Tori Amos (13 May)
In Conflict - Owen Pallett (13 May)
Xscape - Michael Jackson (13 May)
Upside Down Mountain - Conor Oberst (20 May)

Ghost Stories - Coldplay (19 May)
Are We There - Sharon Van Etten (27 May)
Nausea - Craft Spells (10 June)
Stay Gold - First Aid Kit (10 June)
Familiars - The Antlers (16 June)
Auto Music - Brian Reitzell & Kevin Shields (June 17)
Ultraviolence - Lana Del Rey
World Peace Is None of Your Business - Morrissey

Rumoured upcoming albums:
The Cure
Foo Fighters
Jessie Ware
Belle and Sebastian
Fleet Foxes
Joanna Newsom
Death Cab for Cutie
Neil Young
Solo Paraíso - Molly Nilsson

(List updated May 22 2014)

Agree or disagree? Did I miss anything? Which are your most anticipated albums of 2014, officially announced, or rumoured albums?

The music of Billy Joel (part 1 or 4)

Album: Cold Spring Harbor (1971)
His debut record. Through an error in the album's mastering, the songs played slightly too fast, causing Joel's voice to sound unnaturally high (a semitone higher—Joel joked that he sounded more like one of The Chipmunks than himself.) In a 2011 interview, Joel stated that despite the re-mix, he believes that the album still does not sound very good.

Thoughts: Not his best album. It has that very 70s sound (Elton John, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, James Taylor), it feels like Billy Joel hadn’t found his own voice yet.

Favorite tracks: Everybody Loves You Now

Favorite lyric:
“Close your eyes when you don't want to see
And stay at home when you don't want to go
Only speak to those who will agree
Yeah, and close your mind when you don't want to know”

Album: Piano Man (1973)
His breakthrough album. The single "Piano Man" is perhaps his most well-known song, a fictionalized retelling of Joel's days as a lounge singer in Los Angeles.

Thoughts: The album is a bit corny and unintentionally funny at times, but he plays the piano well.

Favorite tracks: Piano ManCaptain Jack

Favorite lyrics:

“Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he's quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there's someplace that he'd rather be
He says, "Bill, I believe this is killing me.
As the smile ran away from his face
Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place"

And if you can't understand why your world is so dead
And why you've got to keep in style and feed your head
Well, you're twenty-one and still your mother makes your bed
and that's too long...

Album: Streetlife Serenade (1974)

It marked the beginning of his frosty relationship with critics and the music industry more generally.

Favorite tracks: No liked tracks

Have you listened to the music of Billy Joel? Or are you a newcomer to the music as I am? As always, comments are welcome. Next week part 2

Viewing recap (1990s-2010s)

Continuing my recap of films watched over the last few months. Several of the new films listed below just missed out on my upcoming top 20 of 2013. Ratings are from 1-10, with 10 the highest score possible.

Fireworks (Hana-bi) (1997)
Overpraised Japanese gangster film, directed by and starring Takeshi Kitano. Love the colorful poster (above), and there are moments of visual beauty during the film. The strongest thing about it could be the piano score.
About how a gangster can be both gentle and brutal, depending on the situation at hand. The stand-out scene is when he wears the cop outfit and attempts to rob a bank.
Unfortunately I found the film so slow-paced, that I had to use the fast-forward button more than once.
Rating 5.8

Close-up (1990)
Considered among the best Iranian films. Plays around with the concept of documentary and fiction. Interesting how it makes the unemployed guy feel better to play someone else, I wonder if actors have that experience?
I’m not quite sure what the director’s standpoint is, it seems ambiguous. Maybe that unemployment is the root cause of crime. If the prank is turned into art, is it still a prank to be frowned at, if the people who are pranked agree to reenact the scenario? An original and thought-provoking film.
Rating 8.0

Beau Travail (1999)
Directed by Claire Denis. A bit pretentious, yet the early sequence with the soldiers on the boat is quite hypnotizing, with the opera music, because you are not sure what is going to happen next.
The actual war situation that’s going on, or whatever it is they are training for, is very vague, or you could say subtle if you were being nice.
From what I could tell, the theme is about military discipline vs. uncontrollable emotions.
I couldn’t explain the plot to you because there isn’t really one, each scene gives us fragments of information about the characters.
Favorite quote: “There must be a chip in Sentain’s armor. We all have a trash can deep within, that’s my theory”
Rating 7.5

71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)
Directed by Michael Haneke. A collection of stories, set in Austria. Most of the characters are lonely or lacking something in their lives. The juxtaposition of violent news and everyday life is quite jarring, and there's probably social commentary going on, about how the media affects us. For example how comics are placed next to porno, when the kid is browsing. The multi-story approach is similar to Haneke's Code Unknown (2000).
Rating 7.3

La Promesse (1996)
A film by Dardenne’s I wanted to catch up on. You could label it a coming-of-age drama. Feels like watching real life, in a corner of society you would not normally see. The boy wants to hang out with his friends, but he has an obligation as an apprentice at an auto repair garage, and his dad asks him to help with his illegal operation. In some ways it’s a normal childhood(go-carting, night out singing), and in other ways it is not.
I felt I had seen the plot play out before in other movies, so that’s why I’m hesitant with giving it a higher rating.
Rating 7.4

Lock stock and two smoking barrels (1998)
Not a big fan of gangster films, but has well-written, quotable dialogue, and I did want to see how/if they managed to find the money they owed.
Favorite quote: “You must be Eddie, JD’s son. – You must be Harry, sorry didn’t know your father. Never mind son, you just might meet him if you carry on like that”
Rating 7.6

Chocolat (2000)
Has warmth and charm, but a little too predictable
Fav quote: “She waltzes to her own tune”
Rating 7.3

The Piano Teacher (2001)
It is well-made and well-acted, but very dark. Probably my least favorite Haneke film so far, although tough to actually “like” this film in the traditional sense of the word.
Fav quote: "I have no feeling, and if I did, my intellect wouldn’t allow it to take control of me."

Volver (2006)
I just don’t see what all the fuss is about. Hardly any story, but strong performance from Penélope Cruz. As Doccortex said in his review, the film does "avoid classification in any of the tired old genre slots"
Rating 6.5

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and Two Days (2007)
Powerful Romanian drama, which won prize at Cannes. Nothing really happens the first 15 minutes. I decided to stick with. You have to wait 30 minutes before the story reveals what it is about.
For me, the film is about a girl willing to help others, but the burden of it is too much to handle.
Rating 8.0

Il divo (2008)
Loved the inventive opening, but I didn’t manage to finish the rest. Sadly didn’t hold my attention. Maybe Italians will get more out of it than I did.
Not rated

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
Argentinian crime thriller. Won Oscar for best foreign language film. An intriguing, if somewhat messy story, with flashbacks mixed with contemporary scenes. They did a good job of making the characters look older and younger. I managed to understand it better on rewatch. Beautiful piano score.
The ending does explain the mystery, so in the end it’s just another crime story, although a very emotionally involving one.
Several inspired dialogue scenes, about different kinds of idiots, and how you can give everything up except your passion.
Rating 7.8

A Single Man (2009)
By debuting director Tom Ford.
It’s atmospheric, and has good framing, lighting, costumes, set design, acting and so on. The depressed gay main character (Colin Firth) doesn’t really change, and is stuck in nostalgia.
The most moving scenes are when he thinks back to his days with Matthew Goode character. Perhaps the weakest parts of the movie are the scenes with Julianne Moore, which to me are unnecessary padding.
Rating 7.3

After Lucia (2012)
Mexican drama which won Un Certain Regard award at Cannes. Might be too slow-paced for some viewers. If you are a fan of the films of Michael Haneke, this could be your cup of tea.
The last 45 minutes of the film were the most memorable. Spoilers: The birthday cake scene, when her bullying classmates force feed her with a prank cake was the stand-out scene. Wow that was a cruel birthday surprise. Heartbreaking how she acts like nothing has happened, when her father ask how her day was. It’s astonishing the teenagers are so hateful, and don’t appear to realize it’s wrong. No idea why she goes on that bus trip with the other teenagers, since she doesn’t like any of them. The final scene is unforgettable.
Rating 7.4

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
The movie had me for the first hour, but the last hour lacked something, and was sadly not as gripping.
Rating 7.4

Ender’s Game (2013)
On the way to the space station, they cut out violent act towards a kid, presumably to make the screenplay a bit more kids friendly.
The battle near the end is suspenseful, but overall, not a particularly memorable adaptation.
“Why did they come?” “Water” was a simple explanation, while the book never was that concrete. Read the novel instead.
Rating 6.0

The World’s End (2013)
I liked the idea, but surprisingly I didn’t think it was funny. Too similar to the first two movies. Nice soundtrack, but ultimately a disappointing third part of the trilogy. It felt sort of like The Hangover with British actors.
As Serious Film wrote in his review, it does offer social commentary: “The World's End grapples with some weighty issues from the erasing of cultural identity by encroaching corporate hegemony, to the dangers of getting lost in nostalgic thinking.”
Rating 6.0

The Way Way Back (2013)
Entertaining coming of age story. It feels quite 80s, Sam Rockwell is the stand-out performance. I didn’t believe Steve Carell’s character would behave that way, though.
Rating 7.3

Only God Forgives (2013)
The backgrounds and colors look beautiful, even if the story of revenge has been done 100 times before. It's ok, not as bad as the reviews suggest. From the soundtrack, I like Tur Kue Kwam Fun by P.R.O.U.D, and Wanna Fight by Cliff Martinez.
Rating 6.7

The Grandmaster (2013)
Muddled, yet beautiful film from acclaimed director Wong Kar Wei.
The cake breaking scene and turning on lantern were stand-outs. For me, his style is better when the story is minimalistic and more personal. This film was trying too hard to appeal to a worldwide audience, and the fight sequences were for me too similar to The Matrix trilogy.
I didn’t like the transition from scene to scene, which at times felt disjointed. I can give an example, suddenly the main character is crying, but there is hardly any build-up of the events leading up to this, so tough to have any emotional connection. Other scenes end very abruptly, using title cards to explain the cut scene presumably. I struggled to care about the characters, never get to know them properly.
For all its ambition and visual style, it ultimately was a bore, and my least favorite Wong Kar Wei film to date. Yes, I even prefer My Blueberry Nights over The Grandmaster. I’ve read the film was edited down and was originally much longer, so many that explains things.
Favorite quote: “In life, ability isn’t everything. Some thrive in light, others in shadows. The times make us what we are.”
Rating 6.0

Like Someone in Love (2012)
Partly about people not respecting your boundaries. Also about how lonely old people could be. Not quite as interesting as the director’s last film Certified Copy (2010)
Favorite quote: “When you know you will be lied to, it’s better not to ask. That’s what experience teaches us”
Rating 7.0

I Wish (2011)
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. As with his acclaimed previous film Nobody Knows (2004), we see the world though the eye's of kids. An uneven, overlong, but essentially heart-warming drama, that makes you nostalgic for childhood. The storytelling, or lack thereof, made the first hour not easy to make heads or tails of. (Or maybe it was just me who found the different perspectives tricky to follow. It helped reading Roger Ebert's review afterwards to clear up what was going on) If you stick with it, the trip the kids go on during the last 40 minutes of the film was the best part. The last 5-10 minutes seemed unnecessary. Good performances by the child actors.
Favorite quote: "There is room in this world for wasteful things. Imagine if everything had meaning, you'd choke."
Rating 6.5

Being Flynn (2012)
Based on the memoir Another Night In Bullshit City by playwright and poet Nick Flynn. I like films about writers, so gave it a chance, despite the director's last movie was the awful Little Fockers (2010).
I didn’t gravitate towards the grim, lowlife characters and despite the filmmakers best efforts, they never became real to me. I could tell early on I wouldn't like it, and was hardly about writing at all. Way too much unnecessary profanity. I don't think the book translates to film very well.
Rating 5.0

Liberal Arts (2012)
The structure of the story is not groundbreaking. The main reason to watch are the conversations and dialogue. I just love the way they talk in this movie.
Rating 7.7

The East (2013)
The first 20 minutes are good. Once it got to the location of the East group, I felt movie lost its way for a while. The sign language scene didn’t make sense.
I didn’t quite believe they would trust Brit Marling character, who they hardly knew.
The middle part is wannabe Fight Club, especially the pranks. The confession in the car, and the bullet scene were the most powerful moments to me.
Pretty good, but I wouldn't call it best of the year.
Rating 7.0

Gloria (2013)
She’s easy to root for. About how tricky it is finding a new partner when you are over 50, and have lots of baggage from a past relationship.
Good performances, but there’s a feeling I’ve seen this story play out in other recent movies.
Both sad and uplifting. Love the song Gloria by Umberto Tozzi
Rating 7.4

Child’s Pose (2013)
Romanian drama that won Silver Bear at 2013 Berlin Film Festival. The last 15 minutes are impactful, the rest of the film is not quite as powerful as it should have been, but well-acted. An interesting conflict of a controlling mother and grown son, he is in trouble and doesn’t want to be helped by her. Both of them are stubborn and are unwilling to change their ways. An incident forces them to come together.
Why the son distances himself from his mother, and doesn’t love her, is unclear, perhaps because she is too domineering.
Rating 7.4

Fruitvale Station (2013)
I knew nothing of the true story beforehand. I really didn’t know what to rate this film. I liked it, didn’t love it. Has some great performances, especially Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer. I expected it to have more conflict. In fact the first hour I was waiting for something to happen, it takes its time introducing us to the characters. A lot happens the last 30 minutes.
The storytelling does feel manipulative at times(the dog scene especially). The director wants us to feel an injustice at the end, and gives us scenes so we should care about the main character.
Although actual mobile phone footage is inconclusive about what occurred at Fruitvale Station, I actually felt Mehserle who committed the crime was a victim. Granted he shouldn’t have had his gun out, but it seemed to be an accident.
To me the story could have elaborated a bit more on the police officer and his feelings. We get so much detail about Oscar Grant, that it feels unbalanced to have nothing about Officer Johannes Mehserle’s life. It’s like the screenplay is biased and only lets us see one side of the story, and disregards Johannes Mehserle’s emotions, and leaves out the 6-day trial that followed. Apparently the director Coogler disregarded witness testimony stating that before shooting Grant, Mehserle announced “Get back, I’m gonna tase him.” It has been suggested that the witness was covering for a fellow cop. Pirone was asked if he had mentioned the Taser account to investigators in the days after the shooting. Pirone said he couldn't recall doing so.
The film goes for an emotional response, rather than an intellectual one. If you read about the case afterwards, you’ll get the full story. It should find an audience, but if you are turned off by blatantly manipulative filmmaking, you should avoid Fruitvale Station.
As Serious Film wrote in his review: it doesn’t have any great insight, but what it achieves is making us feel. In a world where one appalling news story blurs into another, watching this film is a potent reminder at how each one of these stories represents an immense toll in human suffering to the community.
Rating 7.0

Have you seen any of these films? Agree or disagree? Any favorites? As always, comments are welcome

Music interlude: Big Star

So I listened to the three 70s studio albums by Big Star. Here's my favorite track from each album:

Thirteen (from 1972's #1 Record) (A classic, arguably among the best songs of the 70s, I never get tired of it)

Nighttime (from 1978’s Third Sister Lovers)

O My Soul (from 1972’s Radio City)

Have you listened to this band? Any favorites? Or are you a newcomer to the music as I am? As always, thoughts are welcome in the comments

Viewing recap (films from 1930s-1970s)

Can you guess which of these reviewed films the image is from? Below was written over the last 2-3 months, so why not share! Ratings are from 1-10, with 10 the highest score possible. Next week, I'll share mini-reviews of films from 1990-2010s. No 80s movies apparently.

39 Steps (1935)
The usual Hitchcock scenario of an innocent man falsely accused. A good thriller with many twists and turns. The political speech was the stand-out scene.
I would rank 39 Steps below Hitchcock’s masterpieces. Still really good, and worth seeing.
Rating 7.6

Red Dust (1932)
Strong performances by Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and co, and entertaining dialogue. It has the atmosphere of a play.
Rating 7.7

People on Sunday (1930)
Silent film written by Billy Wilder. It was a sweet, atmospheric movie, although the age gap between the two young girls and the two older men was bordering on creepy, and that was distracting enough for me not to be fully won over by its charm.
Rating 7.2

Lost Horizon (1937)
I felt I had been on an adventure with these characters.
Favorite quote: ”Perhaps because you’ve always been apart of Sangri-la without knowing it. I’m sure of it. Just as I’m sure there’s a wish for a sangri-la in everyone’s heart”
Rating 7.7

Rome Open City (1945)
Considering the reputation of this film and its director, I was underwhelmed. It does depict poverty and resistance during WW2 in Italy, but in an unmemorable way, and soon forgotten. The only scenes that stood out were hiding the gun in the bed, the torture scene, and the ending.
Noteworthy as a groundbreaking technical achievement, in that most of the actors are amateurs, it was shot with no artificial lighting, and scenes were filmed with handheld cameras. This paved the way for a new generation of filmmakers in what was known as neorealism.
I can imagine this a film that would have been a lot more meaningful to watch in 1946, because people had experienced the war years.
Rating 6.0

The Red Shoes (1948)
The red shoes ballet sequence in the middle of the film is visually stunning. What came before and after that was just okay to me. Aside from that sequence, it just wasn’t for me. I’m pretty sure a female audience would enjoy it far more than I did.
Favorite quote: -“Why do you want to dance?" -"Why do you want to live?”
Rating 7.5

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Cold of him to be so focused on the money and have so little interest in getting to know his own family. My intuition was right early on, that he is not quite right in the head.
Great performance by Alec Guinness, who plays many different members of the family.
Rating 7.7

Summer interlude (1951)
I didn’t know Ingmar Bergman was capable of writing a warm and bubbly main character. This film is proof that he is able to. It's not his best work, but worth a look.
Rating 7.2

Journey to Italy (1954)
Some thought-provoking dialogue, and good performance by Ingrid Bergman, but an average story. The director appears just as interested in showing us sightseeing destinations in Italy, as showing us the relationship.
I wish they had not picked George Sanders to play her husband, to me he is a mediocre actor, and always the same in every performance.
Favorite quotes: “I don’t think you’re very happy, when we are alone. –Are you sure you know when I’m happy? - No, ever since we left on this trip, I’m not so sure”
“How can they believe in that, they are like a bunch of children? - Children are happy, Alex I don’t want you to hate me, I don’t want it to finish this way! – Katherine, what are you driving at, what game are you trying to play, you’ve never understood me, you’ve never even tried, and now this nonsense, what is it you want?”
Rating 7.0

Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Considered among the best Elvis movies. His acting is alright. The stand-out scene was the jail house rock song.
Rating 7.0

Some Came Running (1958)
Stars Frank Sinatra and Shirley Mclaine, who both shine. The ending feels unfinished, but the rest is good. Apparently it’s Richard Linklater’s favorite film, there are hints that it was an influence like the opening on the bus.
Favorite quote: ”What I meant was that a man ought to pick his spot...
...not go wandering all over the world.
- Isn't that what they told Columbus?
- Yeah. Ha-ha-ha! And he never died rich”
Rating 7.5

Black Orpheus (1959)
The filmmakers overdid it with the dancing sequences, yet a film that puts you in a good mood.
I personally prefer Jean Cocteau's adaptation of the Greek tale, but Black Orpheus is a colorful and unique take on the story.
Rating 7.2

Rocco and his Brothers (1960)
Italian family saga directed by Luchino Visconti. Themes of hardship, poverty, supporting your family, and so on.
A love triangle between two brothers and a girl causes friction. I don't remember too much about story, and is only a few days since I saw the film, so that counts against it for me.
Rating 7.4

Spartacus (1960)
Among the few Kubrick films I had not seen. I was into it the first hour, but after the break-out, I thought it became boring in the middle hour.
Impressive set pieces and looks authentic.
It picks up again in the last part. The number of extras for the battle scenes and marching was quite astounding, would have loved to have seen it on the big screen.
The “I’m Spartacus!” scene is a moment people remember.
Rating 7.8

L'Avventura (The Adventure) (1960)
I loved the cinematography of the islands. The story is basically a series of random conversations, and the pacing is like real life. You could dismiss the film by summing up the plot in a few words, but it manages to capture Italy, and has its own mood.
The scene when the blonde woman is confronted by all the Italians was almost horror movie territory! The title is misleading, as it really isn’t what I would call an adventure.
I found the film a bit of struggle to get through, and it took me most of a day stopping and starting.
I don’t love the films of Michelangelo Antonioni on a personal level, yet I appreciate he has talent as a filmmaker.
Rating 7.5

The Hustler (1962)
Good performance by Paul Newman, in what was one of his signature roles.
For me the best part of the movie is the opening game with Minosota Fatts, the rest is good, but doesn’t quite reach that standard.
Favorite quotes: “One of the best indoor sports feeling sorry for yourself, a sport enjoyed by all. Specially the born losers”
"We have a contract of depravity. All we have to do is pull the blinds down."
Rating 7.6

Charade (1963)
A bit far fetched that Audrey Hepburn character knows none of her husband’s family or friends, yet is entertaining, with surprising developments. I’m still not convinced Cary Grant is a GREAT actor, but he does have fine chemistry here with Audrey Hepburn.
Rating 7.6

Faces (1968)
Low budget b/w independent film from director John Cassavetes. Not a story in the traditional sense. We get to see shouty drunk people fooling around, and dialogue-driven improvised performances. The conversations go in waves, from anger to laughter, and so on. Often quite funny. Does become slightly repetitive in the middle part, with repeated visit to Gena Rowlands, and repeated night club scene.
Favorite quote: One of these days you girls are gonna charge. And you want to know something funny, we’ll all surrender, and you can have everything. You can have the house, and the car, and the office, and the bills, and the headaches, and we’ll sit home and laugh. That’s what we’ll do, all we ask for is peace. Give us our daily beating, three square meals, bread and water. And we’ll just sit staring at the sun, and go blind, okay?”
Rating 7.0

Memories of Underdevelopment (1968)
It has a few noteworthy scenes, with the protagonist day dreaming about women while looking at a picture of the painting The Birth of Venus by Botticelli. You get inside the head of the main character, but overall the mix of Cuban news footage and his chase after young girls didn’t add up to anything interesting.
Maybe if I knew a bit more about Cuban history it would make more sense.
As it is, I got very little out of it.
Rating 6.0

The Italian Job (1969)
Not as funny as it thinks it is, but worth it for the exciting heist/car chase. The cliffhanger ending is a classic.
Rating 7.8

Un Homme Qui Dort (1974)
Quite haunting, but also quite depressing.
Favorite quote: "Indifference to the world is neither ignorance or hostility. Not to grant a privileged status to any one thing you read."
Rating 7.2

Holy Mountain (1973)
It’s a visual masterpiece, even though the frog theatre killing scene, and the fact the guy had 20 wives, prevented me from loving it completely.
Many wild ideas, making gold by mixing excrement/sweat, a stone that has a soul, to save the economy killing 4 million people, a computer that can have an orgasm, a guitar/gun combo. A computer that can calculate which toys children should have to prevent future wars.
Favorite quote: “The fish thinks about his hunger, not about the fisherman. It is the master who seeks the disciple. You want to know the secret, but man cannot see nothing but himself. To accomplish the alchemical work you will have these companions. They are thieves like you, but on another level. They are the most powerful people on the planet. Industrialists and politicians."
Fav quote: “This is the moment when the word is made flesh”
Rating 8.2

Woyzeck (1976)
80 minute drama directed by Werner Herzog. Based on an anti-military play.
Most of the philosophical rambling made little sense to me The dialogue is at times interesting, yet feels staged and unrealistic. A great performance by Klaus Kinski, as the mentally unstable, jealous husband.
My favorite part is about an hour into the film, when his wife tells the children a sad story, and all they want is for her to sing to them. Quite a moving scene. The ending by the river is also memorable.
Rating 7.5

Have you seen any of these films? Agree or disagree? Any favorites? Comments are welcome.

Music interlude: Cocteau Twins

A collection of my favorite tracks by Cocteau Twins.

Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops (from The Perks of Being a Wallflower soundtrack)

Heaven or Las Vegas


Cherry Coloured Funk

A Kissed Out Red Floatboat

Lazy Calm

Fluffy Tufts

The Thinner The Air

Have you listened to this band? Any favorites? Or are you a newcomer to the music as I am? As always, thoughts are welcome in the comments


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