Viewing recap December

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) (J.J. Abrams)
Familiar yet satisfying
Full review
Rating 8/10

Trainwreck (2015) (Judd Apatow)
I'm pretty much on board with the critical consensus. Lots of jokes, which helps lift an average story into something with entertainment value. It's typically raunchy, which Apatow movies tends to be, but not excessively so.
Rating 7/10

Noah (2014) (Darren Aronofsky)
I avoided Noah when it came to cinemas and I only saw it to complete the director's filmography. The story often makes no sense. The animals walk onto the ark, then suddenly make zero noise once they are aboard, and survive for days despite no food and water given to them. Perhaps God made miraculous provisions for the daily care of these animals?
The CGI stone giants make the story unintentionally funny. Probably the worst film I saw the entire year, which tarnishes the biblical source material. An embarrassing film on Aronofsky's resumé.
Rating 3/10

Victoria (2015) (Sebastian Schipper)
German thriller/drama. Captivating and suspenseful story of a young woman in Berlin, who during an evening befriends a group of shady guys in the street. She just wants to hang out with them, and probably their company makes her feel less alone. We gradually get to know her and the people she meets. She doesn’t really understand what their dubious activities involve and neither does the audience. She is quite naïve and trusting, looking for new experience, but there’s a sense of bad things might happen.
Shot in a continuous long take ala Enter the Void (2009) or Birdman (2014).  The lead actress is cute and looks like Michelle Williams’ younger sister.
Curious to see what the director and actress do next. Ought to be on the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film. Instead Germany submitted the Oscar-friendly Auschwitz drama Labyrinth of Lies (2015).
Rating 8/10

Macbeth (2015) (Justin Kurzel)
More on this in my upcoming post on the film and play.
Rating 6.5/10

Sweet Nothing (1990) (Tony Smith)
Made for TV.  I lived in the UK as a child and remember watching the first half hour in 1990. Witnessing a young man in the opening minutes abandoned by his parents was unsettling for my 9-year-old eyes. I was young so had to go to bed and never finished the film. I’ve been looking for it ever since and only recently discovered it thanks to Mark's letterboxd list on homelessness
I admit the first 20 minutes are still powerful, although Sweet Nothing loses its nightmarish mood when he meets the homeless community. Aside from the opening 20 minutes, the other memorable parts are when the two shout "shut up" at passing cars in London, and also when the homeless guy gets drunk in the bar and is taken home by a women with money. That man-woman relationship turns out to be bizarre and frankly implausible. Apparently there’s pleasure for her in humiliating him by asking him to wear women’s clothes and locking him in the boot of her car! She is the puppeteer, yet he goes along with it for shelter and food. 
There’s a guy seeking employment but a bit of a drunkard/druggy. He does not have money for shelter. He is sabotaging his own future, and like we learned from another movie about homelessness, it’s tough getting back on track: “You can't get an address without an address, you can't get a job without a job.”
Maybe the title is the clue to understanding the message, that you should find happiness in whatever situation you are in. Wealth doesn’t necessarily equal happiness, and poverty doesn’t always equal misery. In some scenes the criticism of the 80s Thatcher government is a little too on the nose, with an elderly woman even berating Thatcher verbally when she hands the homeless guy money. The jail scene conveys a similar message with the guard letting him go with the indifferent words “Come on , clear off, you’re not worth the paperwork. Piss off before I change my mind.” And also the ending reveals a lack of empathy towards the well-being of the homeless.
On the flip side, you could argue the filmmakers are saying some of these homeless people are fairly content and don’t want interference. I guess it depends, some want support from the government, others mind their own buisness and find a way no matter what the circumstances are.
Rating 7/10

Mr. Mom (1983) (written by John Hughes)
I’m sure husbands who have been in a similar situation of losing their job and becoming a home parent can identify. I could not. Michael Keaton is good in a dramatic/comedic performance as the dad, and there’s a few scattered moments you remember such as him cleaning up the house and going shopping. Both those scenes are quite over-the-top and unintentionally feel like dream sequences. Bizarrely, later on, there is an actual dream sequence, when his wife threatens him with a gun. A bit more down to earth is the pull of the soap opera for someone who has nothing to do.
A film that doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be a drama or a comedy. I see it as a precursor to Home Alone, also written by John Hughes, with a main character who is dealing with a new situation in their own home.
The way it all fits neatly together feels like an extended TV-episode rather than a movie. Even the music sounds like a TV-show. I just read Roger Ebert’s review and apparently he also got that TV vibe.
The situations are exaggerated for the sake of entertainment, and the story is a bit by-the-numbers, but thematically you may relate to what the parent's are challenged by.
Rating 5/10


The Ten Commandments (1956) (Cecil B. DeMille)
Blind spot review
Rating 8.5/10

From Here To Eternity (1953) (Fred Zinnemann)
An all star cast and 8 oscar wins. How could it not be great? Well you need a good screenplay and this movie did not have a strong enough story to captivate me the whole way. The characters spend the majority of the film going to bars and not doing very much. Does have the iconic scene (from the poster) with them kissing on the beach, and there are some decent twists towards the end.
While I was watching, I felt like it wasn't about anything, but in hindsight does give a depiction of life at a military base. An indictment of the US army, both newbie slackers and those with higher rank.
Rating 7/10

Danish cinema:

Soldaten og Jenny (1947) (Johan Jacobsen)
The opening 20-25 minutes are gripping when they are in the bar. The rest of the film has several sweet moments and provides social commentary on the frustrations of the working class. The visit to the parents of Jenny is a highlight which is a scene I could easily rewatch for the humor.
I cared about the love story, and it's well-acted, just not particularly memorable. The story is dated now, but has merit as a time capsule of post-WW2 life in Denmark.
Rating 6.5/10

Julefrokosten (1976) (Finn Henriksen)
Very quotable, although the humor is quite cheesy. If you look beyond the tv-series Matador, Julefrokosten is the quintessential Danish Christmas movie, which features a group of co-workers at a Christmas party.
Denmark is known for its lunches(julefrokoster) in the lead up to Christmas, where you eat and drink for hours and (hopefully) have a good time. Sometimes the guests may go too far which the film is an example of.
Rating 7.5/10

Pelle the Conqueror (aka Pelle Erobreren) (1987) (Bille August)
Rewatch. A time capsule depicting poverty in the 1850s. Dreams of a better life, and being treated like rubbish because you are a stranger. There are scenes that are unforgettable, for instance when the husband is punished.
Rating 8/10

Just Another Love Story (aka Kærlighed på film) (2007) (Ole Bornedal)
A Danish neo noir thriller. The story is quite convoluted with parallel narratives, so at first it’s tough to figure out what’s happening, although it does get easier to follow. I didn’t believe that none of the women’s family had met her boyfriend Sebastian, and that the main character Jonas could just stroll in and pretend to be Julia’s boyfriend. That aspect was too convenient and downright selfish of him. How could I care about their blossoming friendship when he is deceiving not only Julia and her side of the family, but his own family as well? There’s basically nobody to root for.
A person’s life changing when someone is injured I feel has been done before in Danish cinema, and was handled in a more emotionally involving manner in Susanne Bier’s dogme film Open Hearts (2002), and in a more shocking way in Breaking the Waves (1996).
Despite the issues I had, the last act by the cabin was the most entertaining, because I didn’t know what would happen next. The story is just about adequate, but it doesn’t linger in my mind for long.
Favorite quote: "Maybe the moment was false, but the feeling was genuine”
Rating 6/10

Silent Heart (aka Stille Hjerte) (2014) (Bille August)
Small, but well-acted, believable ensemble drama. Three generations of a family coming together over a weekend, and the problems they deal with. Food for thought about what to do when facing assisted suicide. A return to form for the hit-or-miss director.
Rating 8/10

Books finished: 

Carrie by Stephen King (1974)
Full review
Rating 8/10

RIP Lemmy, lead singer of Motörhead dies age 70

Here are a few highlights from Motörhead's career:

Overkill (from 1979's Overkill)

Ace of Spades (from 1980's Ace of Spades)

Iron Fist (from 1982's Iron Fist)

Killed by Death (from 1984's No Remorse)

Deaf Forever (from 1986's Orgasmatron)

2015 Blindspot series: The Ten Commandments (1956)

Along with Planet of the Apes and Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments features arguably Charton Heston’s most iconic performance. Cecil B. DeMille is known for making epics, and this is generally considered his best work. In this extravagant big budget retelling, Heston plays Moses from he is a young man and his journey to help his people. At the time of its release in 1956, it was the most expensive film made.
I knew the mythical story but had forgotten how it all fits together, so it was a reminder of The Book of Exodus. They take liberties with the original text for the sake of pacing and coherence. Yul Brynner has second billing as Rameses, and was convincing in the role. Anne Baxter does solid work as the love interest Nefretiri, she is given plenty of screen time and is perhaps the most ambiguous of the main characters, having interests on both sides.

In the introduction, we are told:
“The theme of this picture is whether man should be ruled by Gods law or by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state or are they free souls under God. This same battle continues throughout the world today”  

Nowadays, the Moses story can be viewed as allegory rather than fact. It has strong messages about self-sacrifice for the purpose of change, how you should never give up in the face of adversity, and that oppression of slaves is wrong. Another lesson is you shouldn’t try and be above the Gods, because there are forces bigger than man.
What I’m less enthusiastic about, is how the Old Testament showcases God’s violence to achieve peace, and intolerance to those who oppose God’s will, for example when the earth opens up and the sinful fall away, while the men who follow God’s Commandments survive. This aspect feels dated, that God is disapproving and you were punished if you were an atheist or had another God. “Those who will not live by the law, shall die by the law!” The Commandments should be guidelines, and God ought to allow man to follow his own path and learn from his own mistakes.
I prefer the teachings in The New Testament, with the tale of Jesus, who can withstand anything, even death, and who is a symbol of love, no matter what. To forgive instead of to condemn.
It’s interesting whether the Moses story is predetermined or if the characters have free will. Perhaps God is so powerful that he already knows every twist and turn.
In the film, the miracles display Gods power, although the voice of God is unintentionally funny, and much of the dialogue in the film is quite pretentious and a product of its time. In most films this type of grandiose dialogue would fall flat but here it feels justified because of the biblical proportions. I was entertained, the special effects are impressive for the 1950s, so overall I think DeMille's vision holds up well as blockbuster filmmaking and as spectacle. It’s long at 3 hours 40 min, with an intermission.

Won an Oscar for Best Effects, Special Effects. Was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing.

Top 10 songs of 2015

The only criteria is that the songs are still enjoyable after 10+ listens. If the links below don't work in your area, you can locate most of the tracks on spotify.

1) Let it Happen by Tame Impala
(Despite its 7 min running time, manages to draw you in)

2) I Can Change by Brandon Flowers
(Makes the listener feel something. Sampled Smalltown Boy from 1984. Both songs are great. In this case, I prefer Flowers' vocal)

3) Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding
(Better than the movie)

4) Strange by Laura Marling
(Could have been written 50 years ago. A folk song for the ages)

5) King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar
(Very catchy)

6)  Play for Today by Belle and Sebastian
(An overlooked contemporary classic)

7) When The Lights Turn Out by Twin Shadow
(The stand-out from his patchy new album)

8) Here by Alessia Cara
(An anthem for introverts)

9) Queen's Speech (Ep.4) by Lady Leshurr
(Queen's Speech is a series, not a song. Four volumes of freestyles - 1 2 3 4. With more yet to come. Admittedly a bit preachy, lyrics quite fun and 2015ish. Enough energy to entertain on multiple listens)

10)  That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate To Say) by Kurt Vile
(Soothing guitar. The lyrics feel timeless and relatable. About accepting your circumstances and getting on with life)

Just missed:
REALiTi by Grimes
Beyond Love by Beach House
Stonemilker by Björk
Running Out Of Time by Toto
Rich (feat. Anndreyah Vargas) by Cosmo Sheldrake
Don't Wanna Fight by Alabama Shakes

As usual, the most interesting year-end list was provided by Said The Gramophone, who I thank for introducing me to several new artists, including Lady Leshurr and Alessia Cara.

How many of these do you know? Which are your favorites of 2015? In the next week or two, I'll post my top 10 albums of the year.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is familiar yet satisfying

The review has no major spoilers. 

My expectations were low, anything better than the prequels and I would be pleased. Thankfully Force Awakens easily managed to deliver that. J.J. Abrams succeeds in making the most heartfelt and entertaining Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi. We live in a rehash obsessed culture, both music and film pay homage to the classics. Mad Max, Spectre, Creed, Star Trek, Star Wars, there is no end to the recycling of old ideas in a fresh packaging. Force Awakens is one of the best homage movies of the year.

Most things work, the action, special effects, comedy and especially the performances of Harrison Ford and Daisy Ridley shine. The script might just be the most amusing of the whole franchise, with Harrison Ford firing one-liners like we are back in the 80s. The screenplay certainly has enough quotable moments for the movie to be rewatchable.

For the rewatch I’m curious to give the soundtrack a closer listen, which is one of the few things I think Phantom Menace did better. The Force Awakens soundtrack has the familiar score we know and love, but the new compositions I barely remember at all, and the end credits music was bland. Rey's Theme is the stand out.

While relying on practical effects and old school storytelling, Force Awakens also feels very modern. It really is the year of the female action heroine(Charlize Theron, Rebecca Ferguson), and Daisy Ridley gives an award worthy performance as the feisty female lead. Force Awakens actually has multiple female characters and passes the Bechdel Test. Throw in John Boyega in a major role and you can tell it’s politically correct and they wanted to please women and people of color alike. Of course the cynically inclined my accuse Disney of trying to attract the broadest audience as possible to boost ticket sales.The new and the old gel well together, and the new cast is equally as likeable, which was a pleasant surprise.

You don’t expect deeper character studies in a Hollywood blockbuster, but a minor quibble is we are hardly given any back story. I wondered what had happened to the old characters in the intervening 30 years since Episode 6. I hope the filmmakers explore that in Episode 8 and give the next film some contemplative moments and much needed depth. The relationship between Leia and Han Solo is vague to the point that I wanted to know more. Even the new characters Rey, Kylo Ren, Snoke, Poe Dameron, Maz Kanata, General Hux, we barely know anything about, which is what makes the film feel quite simplistic and innocent.  Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope (1977) fleshed out the main characters a bit better. Force Awakens has to juggle so many actors that it’s tough to give depth to all of them. Although the humanity of the leads is evident in how they face the problems they encounter, so despite the vagueness I cared about their journeys. The indefiniteness gives the story an air of mystery and anticipation about future installments.

The new addition to the series isn’t packed full of never-before-seen ideas like the original trilogy was. To me the Stormtrooper aspect and hand weapons are the only new things. Avid Star Wars fans may feel Force Awakens is too reliant on pre-existing formula, but J.J. Abrams delivers a fun ride with laughs and surprises, which could win over even the most skeptical. Bring on Episode 8!

Book review: Carrie by Stephen King (1974)

Spoilers may occur. This review is intended for those who have seen the film(s) or know the book.

I was intending to share this post in October to coincide with Halloween. Better late than never.
A coming of age horror classic. It was Stephen King’s debut as a published novelist. The paperback became a bestseller. In 1976, Brian de Palma directed the movie with Sissy Spacek as the lead, which is still considered among the best King film adaptations. The novel is relatively short at only 200 pages. Written in an epistolary form, using newspaper clippings, transcripts of court depositions, passages from science journals, letters, and excerpts. This fragmentary approach works surprisingly well.

You can interpret the novel autobiographically as Stephen King dealing with traumatic experiences from his youth. Although he insists Carrie is based on a composite of two girls he observed while attending grade school and high school.

Carrie White is a teenage outsider and the story about bullying and teen rebellion feels timeless. The other girls are so cruel, holding her head under water when they swim at summer camp, placing a grass snake in her shoe at school, putting peanut butter in her hair. The harsh words are just as bad.

Interesting how King at one point puts himself in the shoes of the bully, who is in denial. On page 11 she pictures a neon sign in her mind saying “we don’t mean any harm”. I wish King would have taken this aspect a little further.

Carrie’s determination and stubbornness to stick it out for years is admirable. Others would have changed school. Yet King doesn’t just portray her as an infallible victim. Carrie is capable of cruelty. A small boy calls her names and afterwards she knocks over his bike and feels happy about it. Later in the novel she takes revenge to another level.

Carrie's mother Margaret White is too controlling and protective. Carrie is becoming an adult and answering back. Calling her mother a whore for giving birth to her and her mother locks her in a closet. Another time she throws tea at her daughter. Margaret seems to be losing her mind. Carrie’s mother was allegedly a victim of a rape and Carrie is quite frightened of her. Margaret is fanatically religious and domineering, wanting Carrie to pray and stay away from boys. Carrie is fighting for her independence and the right to make her own choices.

Carrie has telekinetic powers and reading made me curious if it’s simply hocus pocus or if there are any actual cases of it happening. Telekinesis is an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to move objects without physical interaction.

Like a superhero Carrie has to learn to use her abilities for good rather than revenge. Like we all do, try and do good instead of bad. You can’t blame Carrie for wanting to retaliate though. Considering all the pain she has put up with it feels justified. Anyone who was ever an outcast or was bullied may feel a kinship with her. The story reminds us we are all capable of terrible acts, whether you are a bully or a victim, and no matter if you have special powers or not. I see the book as a cautionary warning.

Clearly the prom scene is the most iconic part. I think the movie pulled it off in a slightly more intense way, although King does a good job of describing Carrie’s discomfort with her body and being among those who tease her, and the aftermath of the incident is more fleshed out in the book.

The novel is raunchier than the movie and was considered controversial at the time. The story could be taken the wrong way, encouraging violence, and has a negative view of religion. When it came out was one of the most frequently banned books in school libraries.

The book isn’t perfect, a bit implausible a 16-year-old would not know what her first period is or what a tampon is for, especially at that late age when other girls at school already would have talked about it. Even more implausible, her mother thinks the pregnancy is cancer. Even for a brainwashed religious fanatic that is hard to believe.
I could have done without the animal killings when the group go and collect the blood. That scene was wisely not included in the movie.
My interest in the book lessened in the middle section when the teenagers are preparing for the prom and so forth. The supporting characters behave like regular teenagers do, but are difficult to distinguish from each other as they behave similarly. I couldn’t tell them apart and this is especially noticeable if you put the book down and return to it a week later.
The conclusion of the movie is flashier with the house collapsing, but only fleetingly taps into the suffering of those left behind. Whereas the book goes for a psychologically haunting ending with the townspeople traumatised and a warning that the events could repeat without proper action taken.

Other reviewers describe the story as a modern day “universal fairy tale”. The menstrual blood signifying coming of age and thus leading to mother-daughter rivalry. Another wrote that King “expertly captures the daily fright fest that is every teenage girl's nightmare--high school.”

Despite my minor quibbles, the novel still holds up well, especially the beginning and ending. Deserves its cult classic status.

Rating 8/10

Have you read anything by Stephen King? What did you think of Carrie the book/film?

Frank Sinatra was born 100 years ago today

To mark the occasion here is Sinatra's brilliant cover of New York, New York from his 1980 album Trilogy: Past Present Future. It was his last top 40 hit.
Composed by John Kander, with lyrics by Fred Ebb. It was written for and performed by Liza Minnelli for the musical New York, New York (1977), directed by Martin Scorsese.

Are you a fan of Frank Sinatra? Share your memories of him in the comments

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6) (part 7) (part 8) (part 9) (part 10) (part 11) (part 12) (part 13)

Best songs of 1980 (part 6) (Female singers from UK)

As promised, this week for 80s Thursday, we will look at a handful of female singers from the UK. Enjoy!

Album: Kaleidoscope by Siouxsie and The Banshees 
I'm not really familiar with the group except Hong Kong Garden and a couple of other hits. It's been noted that the sound quality here is lighter and much clearer than on previous releases and that Siouxsie's singing shows noticeable improvement. Kaleidoscope is often ranked among their best.
Listen to:
Happy House
Paradise Place
Non-album single:

Album: Never For Ever by Kate Bush 
I'm a fan of her unique artpop style. Breathing is about a foetus, aware of what is going on outside the womb and frightened by nuclear fallout. Army Dreamers deals with a mother who grieves for her young adult son, who was killed on military manoeuvres.
On Babooshka, one of her biggest hits, she goes full out pop while also making that word her own. According to a 1980 interview, the song chronicles a wife's desire to test her husband's loyalty.
Listen to:
Army Dreamers
Delius (Song of Summer)
The Wedding List
Non-album Christmas single:
December Will Be Magic Again

Album: Your Cassette Pet by Bow Wow Wow 
I prefer the Kevin Shields remix from the Marie Antoinette soundtrack. It's interesting to hear the uptempo 1980 version. The song was a hit for Ricky Nelson in 1962.
Listen to:
Fools Rush In

Album: Tell me on a Sunday by Marti Webb
The Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals from the 80s provided amazing songs and this album has two of those classics.
Listen to:

Twilight Café by Susan Fassbender (single)

She is considered a one hit wonder. An obscurity waiting to be discovered.

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6) (part 7) (part 8) (part 9) (part 10) (part 11) (part 12) (part 13)

What do you think of this music, any favorites? As always, comments are welcome. 
I'll take a break from 80s Thursday for the rest of December. The series will return in early 2016.

New Christmas song by Phoenix feat. Bill Murray

Released on 4th of December 2015, it's called "Alone on Christmas Day" and is a cover version of a little-known Beach Boys Christmas song from the 70s. Phoenix’s version features a little help from Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, former “Letterman” musical director Paul Shaffer, and New York Dolls’ David Johansen, and appears in the Netflix original holiday special, A Very Murray Christmas (2015), directed by Sofia Coppola. All profits from the song will go to UNICEF. Despite the melancholy title, the song is surprisingly cheerful and optimistic. I'm liking it and I hope it gets you in the Christmas spirit as well.

80s Thursday - Best songs of 1980 (part 5)

A lot of great music came out of England in the early 80s. In the next few weeks for 80s Thursday, I will look at 1980 albums by UK artists. I've attempted to group them together in a cohesive way.

Album: Closer by Joy Division
I already reviewed the album here. One of the darkest LPs ever made. It's well known that the shadow of Ian Curtis' suicide looms over the album and even the sleeve. There's emotional turmoil embedded in the lyrics and vocal, and the instrumentation elevates the sense of doom. It's difficult not to be affected by the brooding atmosphere. For me, especially Side B offers the most haunting moments. Of course, arguably the best songs were not even on the record, but released as stand-alone singles.
Listen to: 
Twenty Four Hours
Atrocity Exhibition
The Eternal
Non-album singles:
Love Will Tear Us Apart
B-sides to the singles:
These Days
Dead Souls

Album: Seventeen Seconds by The Cure
While it isn't my favorite Cure album, it is a minor classic and established the group's gothic rock direction. Beautiful guitar work, and a production that sounds far more expensive than it actually was.
Listen to:
A Forest
In Your House
Play For Today

Album: Visage by Visage
Features Visage's most recognizable song, Fade To Grey, in which the synthesizer and vocal work is iconic. You may remember the tune was played in the ball room scene in the film Laurence Anyways (2012). The way Visage dressed and used make up was inspired by Bowie and paved the way for other artists in the early 80s in what was known as New Romanticism.
Visage are also known for their inventive videos which helped promote their music to a wider audience. In fact, David Bowie recruited Visage lead singer Steve Strange and designer Judith Frankland for his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes. Frankland had designed clothes for Strange's Visage videos, so they were inspired both ways.
Listen to:
Fade To Grey
Mind of A Toy

Albums: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark by OMD & Organisation by OMD
The band were very productive early on. Releasing not just their debut album, also their second album in 1980! So I'll share my favorites from both. Great synth work.
Listen to:
Enola Gay

Gentlemen Take Polaroids by Japan
There's a definite Bryan Ferry/Duran Duran vibe about the vocal. The songs work on their own terms, so the comparisons to other artists don't really matter. Very atmospheric, very underrated.
Listen to:
Taking Islands In Africa
Gentlemen Take Polaroids

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6) (part 7) (part 8) (part 9) (part 10) (part 11) (part 12) (part 13)

What do you think of this music, any favorites? Did I miss any songs from these albums which you think deserve praise? As always, comments are welcome.
Next Thursday, I'll tackle five albums by female singers from the UK, stay tuned!

Viewing recap November

Escape from New York (1981) (John Carpenter)
Rewatch. Think of the movie The Warriors (1979), only set in a dystopian future. I love the concept, yet I think the actual storytelling is not as gripping as it could have been. I have a history of loving the tense opening 30 minutes and then falling asleep in the slower middle section of the movie when Snake is in Manhattan. The movie drags during the boxing match. The ending is quite compelling yet also feels predictable. Great 80s score.
Rating 7/10

Christine (1983) (John Carpenter)
Coming of age horror/drama. Takes a car having a personality to a whole new level. I enjoyed ths one a lot more than I thought I would. Based on a Stephen King novel. Carpenter has expressed he was a director for hire and it's among his least personal projects, but I think it's actually as good as his best work. Has more of a novelistic approach to storytelling compared to what we are used to seeing from Carpenter. The book was perfect for adaptation because it's so visual. Although there is a feeling King is repeating himself thematically if you know his early work. The lead performance by Keith Gordon is very good and stayed with me.
Rating 8.5/10

The Big Blue (1988) (Luc Besson) (European director's cut)
Tranquil atmosphere in large part due to the ocean, cinematography and Eric Serra's beautiful score. The first 90 minutes are great. In fact the movie could have ended then. It's a long movie at 2h 50 minutes. To me, the second half of the movie (after they have sex) felt superfluous. In some ways, the second half is like an inferior sequel and it's pretty obvious why they decided to edit the bloated director's cut down to two hours. Weirdly, in the second part of the movie, the male characters start behaving like suicidals and I have no idea why. Next time I watch, I won't even bother after the 90 min mark.
There's a great movie in there somewhere, if only the editing had been more efficient. I'm torn about the rating, because this is a flawed film I might want in my top 100. Imagine an album in which you love the first half and feel indifferent to the second half.  A film to watch if you just want to chill out for an afternoon and forget about your problems. It's quite funny and charming in an undemanding way.
Rating 7/10

Mistress America (2015) (Noah Baumbach)
These type of indie comedies often are forgettable and samey, yet this one is actually quite touching and the problems these people face do feel genuine and relatable. Could easily end up in my top 10 of 2015. A witty script, the characters and soundtrack have an 80s vibe. In an interview, Baumbach and Gerwig mention Diner (1982) and John Hughes as favorites, and they wear their influences well.
Favorite quotes:
”I’m so impressed by you and so worried for you at the same time”

”I need to cut out all the negative people in my life. I just wasn’t brought up that way!”

”That’s probably why it hurt so much. Because it’s true!”

”How dare she talk to me that way. And be rich!”

”If I could figure out my look, I’d be the most beautiful woman too”
Rating 8/10

This is England (2006) (Shane Meadows)
British film set in a working class neighborhood in the 1980s. A small drama, yet powerful coming of age story about a boy hanging out with a group who are older than he is. A time capsule to a particular time in the early 80s involving white nationalists and the skinhead scene. Especially the last 15 minutes were emotionally moving. The soundtrack has plenty of reggae from the 70s and 80s.
Rating 8/10

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) (John Hughes)
Rewatch. A little over-the-top in some places, where the situations lose believability. But it's sheer fun from start to finish. Who didn't want to have a rebellious day off school?
Rating 8/10

Pretty in Pink (1986) (written by John Hughes)
The title and poster are the weakest aspects, as it isn't that girly, and actually suitable for all. My mind tells me the movie has good and evil sides, is quite juvenile, and has predictable elements, but my heart tells me I love the sincerity of the characters. These are people you can root for, who have real feelings. The viewer can have an emotional connection and mirror themselves in the story. The soundtrack is great and the script is quotable. John Hughes was a genius and I can understand why he is loved. Watched after I read a review of the new book Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman, which is a revisionist take on ‘80s mainstream cinema.
Favorite quote: ”If somebody doesn’t believe in me, I can’t believe in them”
Rating 8.5/10

Patton (1970) (Franklin J. Schaffner) 
Rating 8/10

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) (Peter Jackson)
I liked the first Hobbit movie, but the second and third were not as good. The sequence with the dragon attacking the town is impressive on a technical level, but the film doesn't grab me emotionally, and it's too corny in some moments. At this point, Jackson seems worn out, the film is lacking something. I just wanted to finish off the trilogy.
Rating 5/10

Hard Labour (1973) (Mike Leigh)
Made for TV film. An early example of the Mike Leigh kitchen sink drama, with the viewer as the fly on the wall. A minor film in his filmography. I think the idea was just to portray people in an every day environment with their daily frustrations. Characters are introduced, and we see them in mundane situations. The story is realistic and well-acted, yet somewhat stagnant, with most story threads unresolved. I could see viewers finding it boring and lacking direction, I found it watchable. Themes of abortion, loveless marriage, and there’s social commentary about people collecting at the door and being too pushy about it.
Favorite quote:
”So you’re as snug as a bug in a rug, are yeah?”
Rating 6/10

Frenzy (1972) (Alfred Hitchcock)
The typical Hitchcockian man who is accused, yet the story and characters are fleshed out well. Goes for a more explicitly sexual and violent approach than Hitchcock's older films. A well told, suspenseful story, which kept me on edge right to the end. Better than I expected.
Rating 8/10

R (2010) (Tobias Lindholm)
Director Tobias Lindholm and actor Pilou Askov make a formidable team in new Danish cinema. This was the first of a trilogy, although the three films are only loosely connected. Lindholm is also responsible for several recent screenplays, most notably The Hunt (2012).
With R (2010), I went in thinking it was a realistic prison drama, which it is, yet I soon found myself watching a horror film with an eerie score. Takes place at Denmark's toughest prison, a parallel world filled with rules, honor, and debts. I don't know why they allow the prisoners to walk around so freely when they behave in such a brutal way. Perhaps the film will provoke change in the long run. An unforgettable look into the dark side of prison life. The film should have an international appeal, although it is quite violent and repulsive. There were moments when  I was wondering why I needed to see the graphic brutality, especially the attack on the Albanian inmate. The only implausible part is the last act, I didn't believe he would want to confess in that hostile environment. Another reviewer wrote, "the ethnic divisions are solidly elucidated without ever becoming overbearing or pretentious"
Rating 8/10

Films watched from the Danish edition of 1001 Movies To See Before You Die: (link to full list)

Cafe Paradis (1950) (Bodil Ipsen, Lau Lauritzen)
A Danish classic. Fine performances and I cared about their fate. I think it ranks up there with the best films about alcoholism, and delves into the shame, addiction and temptation linked to the condition. Despite made in 1950, has aged remarkably well, and you still see Danes today who are not aware they are alcoholics or on the verge of becoming so. The filmmakers are pointing the finger at the viewer in a slightly educative manner, but everyone agrees self-control is part of life, There's a disturbing scene about an hour into the film when the overweight manager goes to the bar and starts seeing double. The camera spins and so does his drunken mind with visions of bottles and laughing.
I would imagine the film is even more powerful if you know about the high alcohol consumption in Denmark and relaxed attitude towards heavy drinking. It's normal for a Dane to be allocated a full bottle of wine at a party and not uncommon for guests to have a good time by getting drunk and calling for a cab when they want to leave. It's not an insult to the host, but socially accepted. I've seen foreigners raise eyebrows at this behavior, and even Danish teenagers are used to getting drunk often, because they see their parents do the same. In the film, and in real life, alcohol is used as an escape from the tedium of daily life. The characters know what they are doing is wrong, and it's the people they are surrounded by who lure them into temptation. In the company of heavy drinkers, it's quite common to be teased in a friendly manner and perceived as boring for not joining in.
Favorite quotes: 
"There are more alcoholics walking around than you are aware of"
"You are two people Carlo, and I only want to be married to one of them"
Rating 9/10

Kærlighedens Smerte (aka Pain of Love) (1992) (Niels Malmros) 
Drama which won a number of Bodil and Robert awards that year and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. I’ve seen a newer film by the same director (the excellent Sorrow and Joy) and there are definite thematic similarities to this one of a woman struggling with adult life and a man attracted to younger woman.
As is often the case, the Danish cast have been in many other films and TV-shows, yet they are convincing in their roles, especially the two leads. I gradually got to know and care about them as people. The female lead has a slightly annoying grin, but I did get caught up in her life, which has quite a lot of ups and downs. There’s realism to the story which drew me in. I wanted to find out what would happen to her and the other characters. The main character struggles to find her place in the world and is reliant on others. An underseen emotionally powerful character study about an outwardly cheerful woman dealing with feelings of inadequacy.
Rating 8/10

Den Eneste Ene (aka The Only One) (1999) (Susanne Bier)
Romantic comedy. Clichéd and contrived, but with likeable characters and amusing dialogue. It's not Bier's most original effort, but maybe her warmest and most endearing. In Denmark, considered a contemporary classic.
Rating 7.5/10

Frygtelig Lykkelig (aka Terribly Happy) (2008) (Henrik Ruben Genz)
Noir thriller/black comedy with an unpredictable plot. The author of the book said in the making of it's based on real situations and he considers the true evil to be the silence in the small town. Not every village is as crazy as this one, but it does tap into how difficult it can be for a newcomer to fit in when arriving in a town in Denmark where everybody knows everybody.
Rating 8/10

What do you think about these films? As always, comments are welcome!


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