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?

Book review: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009)

This review is written as a contribution for 2015's A Fistful of Reads blind spot challenge which is hosted by A Fistful of Films.

Adichie is an award-winning female Nigerian author and lecturer. She is perhaps most famous for her novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2007). The Thing Around Your Neck is a short story collection, which was positively received by critics. The book is 240 pages, and most of the stories previously appeared in magazines, journals or newspapers. She is considered an important contemporary writer, dealing with African prejudice, among other things, in her books and lectures. You can listen to her speak at Tedtalk

Adichie’s aim is not just empty entertainment, she wants to show us how Africans think and behave, and how westerners act towards Africans.
In the book, her main characters are often Nigerian females, a number of the stories have unresolved endings, and the social commentary at times feels like the author is speaking directly through her characters. The twelve short stories tend to follow this formula, but what she does well is vary the stories thematically. There seems to be both something for a western audience and an African audience, especially those who are unfamiliar with the foreign culture. Deals with women being oppressed by oppressive men, corruption, injustice, prejudice, African views of the American dream, etc. I was introduced to the Nigerian way of life that I wouldn’t otherwise have been subjected to. I’m sure there are nuances I didn’t catch because of the cultural differences.

In this short story collection, you could argue Adichie is reluctant to portray her narrators in an unsympathetic way. If you are male and read it from cover to cover you may feel the book is too misandrous. I haven’t read other works by the author, so I don’t know if this is a tendency for her writing to go in that direction. Didn’t bother me too much while reading, yet when typing out this review it became apparent. So while it was fascinating learning about Nigerian culture, and the author has many insights to share, I also realize Adichie is looking at it from her personal angle and not giving me the whole picture. 
Of course the goal is to give empowerment to women and promote change, which I am in favor of, but for me the weakness of the book is it’s generally too one-sided and lacks subtlety. Adichie is a writer that writes what she knows, and it is clear that her own personal experiences have influenced her stories. On the other hand, you can’t fault her intent, if she wanted to present the problems Nigerian women face. All in all, an eye-opening book that I recommend.

If you’d rather not have the stories spoiled, I recommend you skip over the following summaries, and just read my 'Thoughts' on each story:

1.) Cell 1 (Rating 9/10)
Summary: About a family where the son steals from his close ones, yet claims it wasn’t him. His mother attempts to see the best in him, but the problems continue. The son ends up in jail and the family visits him. An older man is also in prison, taking the place of his son. The main chracter is released, somewhat randomly, and the story ends unresolved.

Thoughts: The child-parent and ghetto culture themes are interesting, should they be stricter? Prison time teaches the son a thing or two, and maybe that stern attitude is what he needed to hear. What is the purpose of prison? I feel the author wants the reader to come up with ideas for how to discipline a wild child. There are no easy answers. The descriptions of Cell One are quite disturbing, and you surely don’t want to end up there. However many do, for various reasons, and the author appears to simultaneously endorse and criticize Nigerian prisons, which may confuse readers.
The story is set in the mid 80s I believe, and my favorite line is when the dad brings back videos of Thriller and Purple Rain. Good choices for rewatching, if a rarity in the African village.

2.) Imitation (Rating 7/10)
Summary: Obiora, a rich African male, marries Nkem, a younger woman from a poor background. They move to the US and have two children, but because of his job he has to spend a great deal of time in Africa. A friend tells her that Obiora is unfaithful with a short-haired woman in Africa. Nkem questions him about this the next time he visits her in the US. Nkem has cut her hair short and refuses to go in the shower with Obiora which they usually do when he returns. Nkem wants to move to Aftica and Obiora is surprised about her comments, because Nkem doesn’t normally want to decide bigger issues. The story ends unresolved.

Thoughts: About equality, and how some African men think it’s acceptable to be unfaithful and domineering. The story highlights how women inwardly are unsatisfied with this. Feels like reading about how it could have been in the western world about 100 years ago. 

3.) A Private Experience (Rating 7/10)
Summary: Chika escapes from the market during a riot, she drops her necklace. Assisted by another woman they hide into an abandoned shop. Her sister Nnedi is missing. Both women are frightened. Later, Chika discovers the riot may have begun due to a Christian driving over a copy of the Koran which lay by the side of the road, and he was killed by the offended Muslims nearby. Chika ventures outside but there are bodies in the street from the riot, so she runs back again.

Thoughts: The woman’s tears are a private experience, so Chika turns her back to her, hence the title. Taps into the anxiety of living in a place of religious tension where riots can happen at any moment.

4.) Ghosts (Rating 7/10)
Summary: A retired professor wants to pick up his pension money, but an office clerk tells him the money is missing, someone has taken it, maybe the minister of education, or the president of the university.
The professor meets Ikenna whom he assumed dead from the war in the 1960s. Ikenna went to Sweden, while the professor stayed in the US. When the professor returns to his job in the 1970s, his math books are burned up, things in his home are gone, such as the piano. The school books have been used as toilet paper. The professor’s daughter was a victim of the war.
A poet, Okigbo, who many read, decided by choice to take a rifle and defend Nusukka, and paid the price with his life, while others worked in government departments.
The professor and Ikenna discuss corruption, students pay for academic degrees, either with money or their bodies. Teachers pretend they are five years younger so they don’t have to retire (and risk receiving nothing). The sale of out-of-date medicine is the latest issue troubling the country. 

Thoughts: A look at Nigerian corruption, and details how progress is so difficult, when war gets in the way of education.

5.) On Monday of Last Week (Rating 7/10)
Summary: Tracy, who is an African-American, and Neil, who is a white Jew, have a seven-year-old son named Josh. Kamara from Africa is their babysitter, she has a master’s degree, but wants to earn money while she waits for her green card. 
Kamara notices that a full stomach allows the Americans time to worry for example if their child has a rare decease. Kamara’s husband Tobechi dreams of a house like the one Kamara babysits in. K and T married when they were young, T travelled to US to obtain green card. Six years later, K travelled to the US, but T is a changed man, and now irritates K.
Tracy is an artist and spends much of her time in the basement of the house. One day, she climbs the stairs, and after only a brief discussion inappropriately touches Kamara’s face and wants to paint her naked, which K refuses. 
Josh draws a picture and says he’s happy to be in K’s family. Neil corrects his son and tells Josh K is no relation. A natural reaction because K spends more time with Josh than Tracy does. Tracy appears to treat her husband as a brother, and there is an attraction between K and Tracy, maybe sexual.

Thoughts: The mysterious Tracy in the basement and the strange attraction between the two women gives the story enough tension to keep you reading.

6.) Jumping Monkey Hill (Rating 7/10)
Summary: A writing workshop for authors. Chioma is sad to be treated as a sexual object, both in a job interview and a job opportunity her father has secured for her. Chioma has things in common with the workshop writer, in that she feels sexually harassed. Edward makes crude remarks.
Like in an earlier story, Chioma’s dad has a younger woman even though he is married, and he spends money on a car and clothes for his mistress. The last straw is when the mistress shops in the wife’s clothes shop.
However it is Edward who can possibly find Chioma and the other workshop participants an agent, so it would be unwise to cut off that opportunity just because of some dirty remarks.

Thoughts: Juxtapositions passages of written fiction with scenes at a writers workshop. The workshop situations are maybe more interesting to read if you are a writer yourself.
Married men having a mistress seems less frowned upon in Nigeria than in the western world, although women seem just as hurt by it.
There’s a conversation about artificial ivory not harming elephants, which is actually a great idea.

7.) The Thing Around Your Neck (Rating 10/10)
Summary: A woman named Akunna gains a sought after American visa and goes to live with her uncle. Unfortunately he attempts to molest her and she leaves. She finds a waitress job that pays a small salary. She sends money home to her family in Nigeria. One day a white male customer start s talking to her, who she initially rejects, but he is persistent, and later becomes her girlfriend. People she meets in the US ask ignorant questions about how she learnt to speak English, if she has seen cars before, if there are real houses in Africa, do they eat wild animals in Nigeria, when it is noticed the squirrels have disappeared, and so on.
Akunna is unable to afford college in the US, so she goes to the library and finds a curriculum online from which she picks out books. Those who remain in Nigeria are jealous, in that she won the green card lottery. Their picture of America is of a paradise without problems.
The man Akunna is dating has issues with his parents, who indicate they will give him more love, if he agrees to study law.
Akunna‘s mother explains that her father has died, and some of Akunna’s money has gone towards the funeral. She goes back for the funeral, and he asks whether she’ll return. She tells him her green card demands her to return to the US within a year. Another reviewer noted that the pain of the past is too deep for her to embrace the new world, which is a valid interpretation.

Thoughts: My favorite short story from the book. The main characters are fleshed out well, and the most emotionally involving of the collection. The ignorant prejudice of Africans and Americans highlights that we still have a long way to go, especially among uneducated people.

The American Embassy (Rating 8/10)
Summary: In which a woman applies for asylum but ends up walking away, unwilling to describe her son's murder for the sake of a visa.
A woman buries her 4-year-old son. Her husband is smuggled out of the country in a car. She stands at the American embassy in a long queue. Previously, soldiers broke into her home and asked where her husband is. Her husband has written a controversial article. The soldiers push over furniture and smell of alcohol. Her son screams and a soldier’s gun goes off, maybe by accident, killing her boy. Her husband was the first person to write an article which is critical towards general Abacha. The article accuses the general of inventing a coup so he could kill his enemies. Her husband is viewed as brave and deserving of a human rights prize. However at home he was absent during his boy’s childhood and was unable to attend an important wedding he had himself sponsored, so his wife had to go solo.
The wife wants to rejoin her husband but is afraid to say too much at the visa office because she wants to protect her husband. The problem is the American embassy need proof of police harassment, and her son is buried in the ground.

Thoughts: Author Adichie does a good job of describing the fear of the situations and the flawed hero. The embassy laws and Nigerian police are under scrutiny, and maybe stories like this can address rules that need changing, and shine a light on corruption.

9.) The Shivering (Rating 5/10)
Summary: Set on the campus of Princeton University it concerns a Catholic Nigerian woman whose boyfriend has left her. Ukamakas parents and friends live in Nigeria. She finds solace in a stranger named Chinedu who knocks at her door. They conduct a long conversation about a plane disaster, among other things. It turns out Ukamakas’ ex-boyfriend Udenna didn’t board the plane and survived. Chinedu is gay, but his male lover married a woman. Ukamakas and Chinedu become friends, and it's revealed that Chinedu has no visa.

Thoughts: Perhaps the collection’s weakest story. Feels contrived that she would speak to a stranger for so long, who she has only just met.

10.) The Arrangers of Marriage (Rating 8/10)
Summary: In which a newly married wife arrives in New York with her doctor husband; and finds she is unable to accept his rejection of their Nigerian identity. It is an arranged marriage so they hardly know each other. She is surprised he snores, wants her to speak English, asks her to refrain from African cooking, and has an American name in order to fit in. David Bell.
He is unhappy with his current income, yet she looks at his salary differently, in that it’s higher than in Nigeria. He wants to earn more money and live somewhere else. Turns out he was not entirely honest with her, in that he was already married. She befriends a neighbor who wants to help her find a job, but neighbor also has secrets. Ends unresolved, we don’t know if she stays with her husband.  

Thoughts: For me, the most amusing short story, about how an African experiences a mall for the first time. I liked the descriptions of meeting the neighbor, which felt more realistic than short story #9(The Shivering). It’s quite sad that someone would want to turn their back on their culture just to get a higher pay. Although you can understand the desire to fit in and be part of the majority.

11.) Tomorrow Is Too Far (Rating 8/10)
Summary: A sister looks back, her brother died during her childhood by falling out of a tree. The sister did not receive as much love as the brother and was therefore jealous. The sister claims it was the recently deceased grandmother who yelled “snake!” and caused him to fall down and die. We learn she was lying, as a cousin witnessed what happened and has nightmares and guilt many years later from keeping the tragedy a secret.

Thoughts: A disturbing story which the characters will never recover from. The story felt timeless.

12.) The Headstrong Historian (Rating 6/10)
Summary: Lazy cousins freeload on Obierika instead of working. They murder Obierikh. With the help of a priest, Obierika’s son presents a document which reveals that the land belongs to the son and mother. They go to an oracle to learn about the future.

Thoughts: The writing style is not as easy to read as the other stories. Lacks focus and meanders, but has things to say about families, and about the African school curriculum. How a Nigerian who studied in London dismissed the African history as irrelevant. Clearly Adichie’s opinion is that African history is important for Nigerians to learn about in school, and it struck me that maybe there is a cover up of the history going on, because it might portray the whites in a bad light.

Are you a fan of reading short stories? Know any books/movies that depict Africans in America? Are you familiar with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as an author or lecturer? As always, comments are welcome!

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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