Viewing recap January

Mr Turner (2014)
Beautifully photographed, the images echoing Turners paintings, and with an excellent lead performance by Timothy Spall. Turner is a man you both loathe and admire. The weakness is the story, the first hour or more is dull and tedious to sit through. We’ve seen many times before an artist struggling between remaining true to his cause and simultaneously having emotional responsibilities and sexual needs. My attention was constantly wandering off, there was little to latch on to in terms of plot development. The only character I liked is the woman he rents a room from. It does get better in the second half though.
I love a number of Mike Leigh’s previous films, especially Secret & Lies, Another Year, and Happy-Go-Lucky. Mr Turner just wasn’t for me, and I hope the director goes back to his usual style next time.
Rating 5/10

Birdman (2014)
A self-aware showbiz satire about big-headed actors and critics. Why are people giving this film such high praise?  Don’t get what the big deal is. Overhyped and not as amazing as the reviews indicate. The uninterrupted camera work is impressive, and Edward Norton plays the asshole well, but there isn’t any story, just people preparing for a play and chatting in a basement. The first 30 minutes is a complete bore and I had little interest in any of the characters.
The last 20 minutes are admittedly intriguing, but cannot save the film. Nearly every scene feels like a “performance”. The washed up actor trying to remain relevant is only moderately interesting. I didn’t have an emotional connection to the situations I didn’t feel much about Michael Keaton’s character. The problem is I feel Riggan's desire for recognition, but why he loved the theater is absent.
I like how Iñárritu suggests that the artists are the ones putting their lives on the line every night, while the critics can hate something so easily.
The self-centered artist looking for acclaim is basically what Iñárritu is doing, promoting himself.
Favorite quotes: “Why do I always have to beg people to love me”
”A man becomes a critic when he cannot become an artist, just as a man becomes an informer when he can’t become a soldier”
Rating 6/10

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Holly Golightly has a charm that you forget her self-centered ways. Worth seeing for Audrey Hepburn's performance, the iconic fashion aspect, and the memorable song Moon River. The stand out scenes involve a party, and shop lifting, the latter has a questionable message. 
I wonder how much money Tiffany’s paid to have their name associated with the movie, while watching you don’t feel like it’s product placement, even though it’s actually in the title.
Rating 7/10

Palo Alto (2013)
Directed by Gia Coppola, who is granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, The screenplay is based on stories written by James Franco, and he also has a role in the movie.
There’s a distinct feeling he is playing a character that is close to the real James Franco, someone who is attracted to teenage girls (it’s a condition called Ephebophilia).  There was a case recently on the news when 34 year old Franco was hitting on a 17 year old. It was noticed and he had to publically apologize. 
So while I find Franco’s character creepy, he also plays a person who the girls feel drawn to and are attracted to. Some girls are attracted to their teacher and I think it’s the same kind of thing here. However the age difference is just one aspect of the story, which also deals with teenager issues such as parties, boredom, fitting in, figuring out your boundaries and who you are, etc. We've seen films with these themes before, so it's not that groundbreaking, but the soundtrack, good performances, and loose narrative creates an atmosphere so you feel you are stepping into that world.
Rating 7/10

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Full review here.
Rating 9/10

Risky Business (1983)
A believable coming of age drama starring a young Tom Cruise. The only part that was slightly unrealistic was the Princeton guy showing up at night during the party.  I mainly watched because Tangerine Dream Founder Edgar Froese died recently, which I wrote about here. Having watched the movie, now I know why the song is called Love on a Real Train.
Rating 8/10

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
A low budget absurdist/deadpan comedy that might grow on me on rewatch, which is often the case with Jarmusch. I liked how the two male leads had different personalities, one of them with more empathy than the other.
Quirky like we know the director, but to me not as good as his next film Down By Law (1986).
Favorite quote: “It’s funny, you come to some place new, and everything looks just the same”
Rating 7/10

Down By Law (1986)
Rewatch. The sequence with the three guys in jail is the highlight. Perhaps Jarmusch’s most quotable film. The last act feels contrived though, so that's why I gave the film an 8 and not a 9.
Favorite quote: "If looks can kill, I am dead now"
Rating 8/10

To Have and Have Not (1944)
Excellent performances by Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Walter Brennan. While I really liked the chemistry, the dialogue at times is too over-explanatory, fewer words could have been used. A film that would hold up to rewatching, even though the setting feels similar to Casablanca (1942)
Rating 7.5/10

Tracks (2013)
The film is not bad, yet a bit forgettable. Based on a true story. Always reliable Mia Wasikowska gives a strong performance as woman who goes on a long and daring journey across the Australian desert. Robyn Davidson seeks to escape the patronizing gaze of a humanity that tries to fetishise her. To quote Lisa Thatcher in her review
"So while Tracks does its level best to stay out of Robyn Davidson’s way in her great event of self definition, by the very nature of the cameras gaze, we include ourselves in the act she is running from."
Rating 6.5/10

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
A few of the story elements I have seen before in films such as Aliens, Groundhog Day, and the Matrix, yet it’s still a really good action/sci-fi movie, didn’t matter about the repetitiveness, which I thought might be tiresome.
Rating 8/10

Like Father, Like Son (2013)
Interesting dilemma of two families whose children were switched at birth. A very tricky situation to deal with. Especially the two fathers are memorable. The father-son ”doesn’t matter” conversation about why they are father and mother is quietly powerful.
Of the directors other work, Maborosi (1995) I found dull and putt me to sleep. I Wish (2011) I only liked the second half. Like Father, Like Son is a story I think that will appeal to a wider audience.
I haven’t seen Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows (2004) or Still Walking (2008). 
Rating 7.5/10

Goodbye to Language (2014) 
For me, the most pretentious film of 2014, if you can even call it a fully formed film. Jean-Luc Godard's name gives the non-story extra importance.
Perhaps as a homage to the donkey in Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966), a dog wanders around, and over the course of some seasons observes a married woman and a single man as they meet, love, argue and fight. Many scenes of them naked, but the relationship is too vague for me to care what happens to them.
A collection of moments and images the viewer has to make sense of. Some beautiful, some ugly. TV screens in the background but the characters look the other way. Perhaps the constantly changing focus and fleetingness of the film is a comment on the human condition, our days contain random moments with and without meaning. But I didn’t need Godard to tell me that.
I’m sure others will extract deep, philosophical meanings from the film, it’s made in such a way that you can read anything in to it if you want. It follows no rules and cares not for plot. Props that Godard used 3D at the age of 84. I can only comment on the dvd, which wasn’t the theatrical version Godard intended for me to see. I’d love to read a defense of why this film is great and awards worthy.
Favorite quote: “Everyone can stop God from existing, but no one does”
Rating 4/10

Starred Up (2013)
A love it or hate it kind of film, the main characters are quite vile and foul-mouthed. I’ve always loved prison dramas and thought this one was powerful and moving. These characters I would never want to meet in person(scary!), so fascinating for me to get a chance to hang out with them through the medium of film.
Jack O'Connell shines in the lead role as the troubled and violent teenager. The father (Ben Mendelsohn) also gave a great supporting performance, and the relationship with his son is the most memorable aspect. For me, the realism of the story and British prison slang was new, and I read somewhere that it’s more of a prison of the mind as the boy acts a similar way on the outside. 
Of course we’ve seen realism before(Steve McQueen's Hunger), group therapy(1999’s Girl Interrupted) and father/son relationships, with inmates and prison personnel doing bad things(In The Name of The Father), but Starred Up was different to me.
Rating 8/10

Camp X-Ray (2014)
Prison drama. A soldier (played by Kristen Stewart) is assigned to Guantanamo Bay and befriends a man who has been imprisoned there for three years. Better than I expected, I was emotionally involved. Deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
Rating 7.5/10

Leviathan (2014)
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. For me, the audience laughter in the cinema actually was a plus, and helped me enjoy Leviathan more than I might have done by myself. It is a serious drama, but the Russian humour is not something I see every day and was fun to watch.
I'd label Leviathan a drama where the director wanted to have some amusing moments(which an audience may not know how to respond to). Even though I'm not familiar with Russian culture, I compare the film to real life, we joke around, drink or no drink, to keep our spirits up, so we can get through the day.
The last act is too spelled out, which for me prevented it from becoming a great film.
Rating 7.5/10

Foxcatcher (2014)
Overpraised oscar-baity film, the performances are the main attraction. The characters are quite dull, I never sensed they had a life outside of what we see on screen. 
There are maybe 3-4 memorable sequences(breaks the mirror, overeats, and has to lose weight on the bike), (John du Pont and the horses) (the awkward interview with Ruffalo), (the ending).
The tension between Mark Schultz and John du Pont kept me watching, but the film is too long, and with too many boring parts.
“We were his newest trophies. If you didn’t want to be displayed on his wall, he threatened to ruin you,” Schultz writes in his autobiography, also called Foxcatcher.
Rating 6/10

The Lunchbox (2013)
Heartwarming film set in India, I liked and cared about the characters. Could easily rewatch in future.
Rating 8/10

Seen any of these? Agree or disagree? Watched anything great in January? As always, comments are welcome

2015 Blind Spot series: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

My contribution to Ryan McNeil's 2015 blindspot series blogathon, where I watch a film each month that I have never seen before.

A family fantasy film based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. At the time of its release, Disney didn't make feature length animated films, so this was a first and a remarkable technical feat. Beautifully animated considering it was made in 1937. The castle and forest are believable, the characters have facial expressions and shadows, and I was able to care about the characters who are likable and memorable.

Heigh-Ho, Whistle While You Work, & The Silly Song are stand-outs from a wonderful soundtrack. Someday My Prince Will Come is considered a classic too, but isn't a favorite of mine. The wishing well song (from the opening scenes) is also quite original how the echo from the well becomes the backing vocal.

The film isn't perfect. The obviousness of the diamonds in the mine is pretty laughable, but you go along with it because it’s for kids. Unfortunately the prince character is never developed as a fully fleshed-out character, which is a minor weakness. He should have had more screen time.

I had a smile on my face for most of the movie, and would place it on my top ten favorite animated films list. Even if you don’t normally like Disney or musicals, you should do yourself a favor and watch this. Definitely a film I could rewatch, which still holds a real charm today. I love that the dwarfs all have a certain quirk and they are just very entertaining characters to follow. I had a really good time and I felt I was in the cabin as part of the group.

Contains spoilers:
The film has a warmth to it that the animals of the forest (and later the dwarfs) look after Snow White when she has no place to go. Although you could say the tables are turned and she is looking after the dwarfs, cooking them food, cleaning the house, reminding them to wash! She names them Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey. However I was a bit confused if they already called themselves by those names. I would imagine they did because you can see in the background those names are carved into the wood.
Some may find it odd that Snow White as a guest would treat the hosts in a slightly preachy manner (see image above). Yet that aspect of the story worked for me because of her charm and that they are all getting along well as friends. The dwarfs appear to enjoy a female in the house. Perhaps due to her shielded upbringing she simply doesn't know how to behave among regular people.
Steve Honeywell at 1001plus questioned in his review whether Snow White is a passive and submissive character with a pretty face waiting for her prince to rescue her, and I agree with that to a certain degree. Her role at the cabin consists mostly of chores and the work of a dutiful house wife, which again could be interpreted as sexist.
The dwarfs are a happy and welcoming group, and maybe the film's aim is for us to think of them as people not to be dismissed. Dopey reminded me of the Marx Brother Harpo, and I was okay laughing at a mentally slow person. I didn't find it condescending the way Dopey was represented.
The highlight of the film for me is probably during The Silly Song, with Dopey on the shoulders of another dwarf, thereby tall enough to dance with Snow White. Other sequences I like are when the dwarfs are sleeping which is fun to watch, and when they line up for a kiss. Now I have an idea why Walt Disney Pictures have that logo. 

Rating 9/10

Thanks for reading. Agree or disagree? Have you seen Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)? How do you rank it with the other Disney animated classics? As always, comments are welcome

RIP Tangerine Dream Founder Edgar Froese

Diamond Diary - Thief (1981)

Edgar Froese founded Tangerine Dream in 1967, and remained the band's only constant member through their long existence.
I haven't listened to all their albums. An incredibly productive band who released dozens of studio albums and composed the scores for a number of  movies, most notably in the 80s. In honor of his passing, I'll share a few highlights from soundtracks.

Love on a Real Train - Risky Business (1983)

Stealing The Silver Cross - The Keep (1983)

Betrayal - Sorcerer (1977)

Mae's Theme  - Near Dark (1987)

Cloudburst Flight - from 1976's Stratosfear

Das Mädchen auf der Treppe (1982)

Le Parc (L.A. - Street Hawk)  - from 1985's Le Parc

Too Hot for My Chinchilla - from 1989's Lily on the Beach

Are you a fan of Tangerine Dream? What do you think of their music? Which are your favorite tracks/albums by the group?

Top 10 albums of 2014

Singles by Future Islands
Thoughts: An album I was initially underwhelmed by, thinking they were a one-hit wonder, but which on repeat listens has crept under my skin. For me, unobtrusive and un-demanding synth pop music you could  play in the background while you're busy with other things. Seasons Waiting On You is among the best songs of 2014.
Favorite tracks: Seasons (Waiting On You)A Dream Of You And MeLighthouse, Doves, A Song For Our Grandfathers

Love Letters by Metronomy
Thoughts: I didn't think it was that good on first listen. Really improves on repeat spins. I liked the variation in the instrumentation from track-to-track. Especially the first half of the album impressed me.
Favorite tracks: The Upsetter, I'm Aquarius, Love Letters, Monstrous

Salad Days by Mac Demarco
Thoughts: An artist I was not familiar with, and had no expectations for. The album is quite addictive, and at only 30 minutes, a quick listen. Apparently his previous output is supposed to be just as good or even better, so I'll be seeking that out. As a full length listen the record works really well.

St. Vincent by St. Vincent 
Thoughts: The bizarre album artwork pays homage to a favorite film of hers, The Holy Mountain (1973), directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky.
I didn’t love every song, but definitely an interesting album, with lots of variation. As Stereogum wrote, a reminder that experimental music and pop music don't have to be mutually exclusive.
On her album, from NME, 3 Jan 2015: "I wanted to make a record that had enough groove so you could dance to it, but also enough heart so that you could have it with you in your vulnerable times (...) I was reading Miles Davis' autobiography and he says the hardest thing for any musician is to sound like yourself. So I thought, yeah, I sound like myself on this record, I'll call it St. Vincent."
She got her name from the Nick Cave lyric:“And Dylan Thomas died drunk in St Vincent's hospital”

Morning Phase by Beck
Thoughts: I'm sure there will be those who label this album monotonous, and those who label it tranquil. I would call it music you need to be in the right mood for. It really is a nice way to start your day, having it on the cd player in your car. A record for people who enjoy folk music. All 13 songs are set around dawn, and probably designed to wake up to.
A beautiful album, as if Beck has travelled back in time. NME calls it "A love letter to the late 60s and early 70s, as typified by The Byrds, Mamas and Papas, and Neil Young". "Turnaway" has been compared to Simon & Garfunkel's Sound of Silence, "Heart is a Drum" to Nick Drake.
Mojo describes the album as: "a search for stillness, peace of mind." "Introspective, wonderfully alive to the way the days tender hours can flip over perceptions".
Favorite tracks: MorningWaking LightBlue MoonUnforgiven

Black Messiah by D'Angelo And The Vanguard
Thoughts: Released in mid December when many music magazines had already written their year-end lists. Really good from start to finish, and has gotten a lot of praise from critics. He's not merely a Prince impersonator, though the influence is obvious.
Favorite tracks: Sugah Daddy, The Door, Another Life, Prayer, Really Love, Ain't That Easy, Back to the Future (part 1), Betray My Heart

Lazaretto by Jack White
Thoughts:  Perhaps I'm more excited and surprised about the album than his fans seem to be, because I'm mostly unfamiliar with his White Stripes output. Lazaretto was partly inspired by a collection of short stories, poems, and plays White wrote when he was 19 years old and rediscovered years later in his attic.
Favorite tracks: High Ball StepperWould You Fight For My Love?LazarettoAlone in My Home

Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey
Thoughts: Her voice is heavenly. When people look back at the 2010s, I think Lana Del Rey will be remembered. I just can’t connect emotionally in the same with many of today’s female pop artists such as Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Adele, Rihanna, Shakira, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys. I’m slowly warming to Lorde and Ellie Goulding. Lana Del Rey is my favorite to listen to of these female singers.
Took a few spins to get into her latest. Not as instantly catchy as her previous album Born to Die, but it gets better on each listen.
I enjoyed about 2/3 of Ultraviolence. "Old Money" sounds like a sequel to "Young and Beautiful"(a song from Great Gatsby soundtrack which I’m surprising she didn’t include here)
Tough to know which are real or made up situations on the album, I don’t think it matters, it’s just art/music.
On tracks like "Money Power Glory" and "Fucked My Way Up to the Top" I didn’t care for the seemingly disreputable messages she is communicating, even if the music sounds alright. Some would say Lana Del Rey isn't condoning a situation, but simply describing one. "I was in more of a sardonic mood," she says of writing "Money Power Glory". "Like, if all that I was actually going to be allowed to have by the media was money, loads of money, then fuck it …What I actually wanted was something quiet and simple: a writer's community and respect." (quote from The Guardian)

I feel the lyrics are the weakest element of her music. That said, I think she has a talent for creating pop hooks, and the album has many highlights.
Favorite tracks: Brooklyn Baby, West Coast, Shades of Cool, Pretty When I Cry, Cruel World, Old Money, The Other Woman

Benji by Sun Kil Moon
Thoughts: Who says albums have to be listened to over and over? Sometimes an album arrives that you listen to once, just like a movie or a book, and that experience stays with you for life.
While it’s quite a morbid affair, about death and sadness, it is interesting how the singer created a family history, by having songs about his relationships to his mother, father, grandma, uncle, aunt, second cousin, neighbors. He documents girlfriends and pop culture he remembers from his youth, and life on the road as a musician. You really do feel you get to know the guy, because he's so candid, and there's no apparent filter in his musings. Sort of like reading his diary entries.
For what it lacks in variation in terms of instrumentation, it makes up for with relatable, vulnerable and heartfelt writing. Boy was it powerful and moving. Not something I’d listen to often though.
The title is a reference to the movie Benji (1974), which he explains in lyrics he saw in theatres.
Favorite tracks: Ben's My Friend, I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love, Pray for Newtown, I Watched the Film The Song Remains the SameClarissaRichard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes

Lost In The Dream by War on Drugs
Thoughts: Probably the band’s finest collection of songs. Has been described by a critic as a springtime record-in how full of life it is.
The album's title refers to a broken America, but it could just as easily describe the immersive qualities of the hazy, dreamlike music, which you can get lost in.
Favorite tracks: Under The Pressure, Red Eyes, DisappearingEyes To The Wind, An Ocean In Between The WavesThe Haunting Idle, Burning

Honorable mentions:
Tough Love by Jessie Ware (Cruel) (Tough Love) (You and I Forever) (Say You Love Me) (Pieces)
Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen
Sun Structures by Temples
Turn Blue by The Black Keys
Hot Dreams by Timber Timbre
Luminous by The Horrors
G I R L by Pharrell Williams
Heal by Strand of Oaks
In Conflict by Owen Pallett
No One Is Lost by Stars
Innerworld by Electric Youth
Too True by Dum Dum Girls
Everybody Down by Kate Tempest
The Voyager by Jenny Lewis
Out Among The Stars by Johnny Cash
Dead by Young Fathers
Hallways by Homeboy Sandman
Classic by Joan As Police Woman
World Peace Is None Of Your Business by Morrissey
After the Disco by Broken Bells
I Never Learn by Lykke Li
Caustic Love by Paolo Nutini
To Be Kind by Swans
Upside Down Mountain by Conor Oberst
Blank Project by Neneh Cherry
Do It Again (EP) by Röyksopp and Robyn

Which are your favorite albums from 2014? Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome. In case you missed it, I already shared my top 10 soundtracks of 2014

My Most Anticipated Films of 2015 (in random order)

Wait (dir: Alex Withrow)

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (dir: J.J. Abrams)

Spectre (dir: Sam Mendes)

Knight of Cups (dir: Terrence Malick)

A Second Chance (dir: Susanne Bier)

While We’re Young (dir: Noah Baumbach)

The Duke of Burgundy (dir: Peter Strickland)

The Hateful Eight (dir: Quentin Tarantino)

Flashmob (dir: Michael Haneke)

The Light Between Oceans (dir: Derek Cianfrance)

Love  (dir: Gaspar Noé)

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (dir: Roy Andersson)

White God (dir: Kornél Mundruczó)

Ex Machina (dir: Alex Garland)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (dir: Ana Lily Amirpour)

Far from the Madding Crowd (dir: Thomas Vinterberg)

That's What I'm Talking About /aka Dazed and Confused sequel (dir: Richard Linklater)

Crimson Peak (dir: Guillermo del Toro)

The Lobster (dir: Giorgos Lanthimos)

Arabian Nights/As 1001 Noites (dir: Miguel Gomes)

Louder Than Bombs (dir: Joachim Trier)

Mistress America (dir: Noah Baumbach)

Dark Places (based on  Gillian Flynn's novel) (dir: Gilles Paquet-Brenner)

High Rise (dir: Ben Wheatley)

Regression (dir: Alejandro Amenábar)

Sing Street (dir. John Carney)

Aloha (dir: Cameron Crowe (2015)

Sicario (dir: Denis Villeneuve)

Wild Tales /Relatos salvajes (dir: Damián Szifrón)

The Dark Horse (dir: James Napier Robertson)

The Lost City of Z (dir: James Gray)

Nobody Wants the Night (dir: Isabel Coixet)

It Follows (dir: David Robert Mitchell)

Equals (dir: Drake Doremus)

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (dir: Brett Morgen) (authorized documentary)

Youth (dir: Paolo Sorrentino)

The Witch (dir: Robert Eggers)

World of Tomorrow (dir: Don Hertzfeldt) (short film)

The Seagull (based on Chekhov's play) (dir: Michael Mayer)

Macbeth (dir: Justin Kurzel)

Everest (dir: Baltasar Kormakur)

Inside Out (dir: multiple directors)

Anomalisa (dir: Charlie Kaufman)

A number of these are not necessarily going to be great, win awards, earn millions at the box office, or even be released in the 2015 calendar year.  For a few of the titles, there is no trailer yet, I'm just going by enjoying the director's previous work.
Ultimately, this is just a collection (in random order) of upcoming smaller and bigger films that I am looking forward to the most. 

Films such as Whiplash, Birdman, Selma, Foxcatcher, Goodbye to Language 3D, A Most Violent Year, Mommy, and Inherent Vice, I'm counting as 2014 films, because that was when they had their world premieres. In reality, you could argue they are 2015 films in some areas due to release dates.

Agree or disagree? Which films are you anticipating the most for 2015?


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