Viewing recap February

Life Itself (2014)
Martin Scorsese: “He made it possible for a wider audience to appreciate cinema as an art form, he really loved it, he really loved films, and he did not get caught up in certain ideologies about what cinema should be”
The most interesting part for me is how Ebert was friends with filmmakers like Scorsese and others, and was criticized for this, because it could cloud his judgement. Yet as is said, 200-300 years ago, it was common for critics and artists to mix and encourage each other.
The first half of the doc about Ebert’s rise to fame and early life was the most interesting. His recent problems everybody knows about already, if you are vagely familiar with him. The best thing is it doesn’t just praise Ebert, but reveals his flaws as well.
Rating 7/10

Whiplash (2014)
A gripping drama. I liked the main character for the first 40 minutes or so, up until the family dinner, after that my opinion of him changed. I guess you could say it was a brave move by the filmmakers to make Andrew Neyman a layered main character, and I commend them for not just letting him be a “faultless“ guy up against the “harsh” teacher. JK Simmons plays the teacher and he is unforgettable in his oscar winning performance.
SPOILERS: A couple of moments confused me, which has Simmons character not get mad about him being late at 6am, did Simmons not even intend to show up until 9am? Also, who stole the song sheets in the hallway? Was it Simmons character, because he wanted the other drummer to look incompetent, and thus replace him?
The message of the film is interesting. Because on the one hand it’s a motivational Hollywood movie which encourages us to work harder in order to reach our goals. Yet on the other hand Whiplash is also quite off-putting in how Andrew subjects himself to an almost torturous lifestyle, and the film suggests Fletcher’s questionable behavior to some degree is effective teaching, which is actually reprehensible, in that it green lights school teachers to go in that direction. The films also does nothing to suggest learning is not a one-size-fits-all, but is different for each individual. There’s a feeling that if a relaxed teacher had helped Andrew Neyman the film would not have gotten Oscar attention. It’s all about the showy performances.
While I’ve heard Whiplash may have technical inaccuracies in terms of how to set up a drum kit and the injury was sustained on the wrong hand, I did find the story totally captivating, hence my rating.
Rating 8/10

Imitation Game (2014)
Historically important, so it's worth seeing as a history lesson. But it could have been better, we don't really learn enough about the enigma code breaking, and why/how it was able to save so many lives.
Rating 6/10

Inherent Vice (2014)
For me, the biggest disappointment of the 2014 releases. Has moments that work well, but the storytelling is needlessly confusing, and lacking in tension and vitality. I’m guessing it's more pleasurable to read as a novel. Nice soundtrack, but a rare misfire by the great director. Was the first PTA film that had me bored, I didn’t care about the characters or the conversations.
Rating 4/10

Heathers (1988)
An 80s cult classic that didn’t wow me like it has others. Maybe if I had seen it as a teenager the impact would have been bigger. I was surprised how dark and shocking the screenplay is, apparently it’s a black comedy. In some respects, it’s an eerie reflection of American society. Winona Ryder gives a strong performance, and I liked the score
Rating 6/10

Wait Until Dark (1967)
Mainly takes place in the confines of an apartment. Good for suspense. But why was she so protective of the doll and willing to risk her life for it? If she gave it to them she wouldn’t have to worry anymore. This was something that really irritated me about the ending.

Rating 7/10

A Day At The Races (1937)
Entertaining Marx Brothers comedy, considered among their finest. So many great one-liners, I'll definitely be rewatching this again. A treat. The musical numbers do go on a tad too long and feel a bit of place, but in some ways act as a breather from the dialogue. Highlights are the "tutsi-fruitsi" ice cream sales man scene, the background verification telephone call of Dr. Hackenbush, and of course the ending by the race track.
Rating 8.5/10

Birth (2004)
From Jonathan Glazer, the director of Under The Skin. Good performances by Nicole Kidman and the boy she meets. More time could have been spent on flash backs to the real Sean and why she loved him so much. What we get is good for 30-40 min, but just feels too repetitive. Potential for a great short film, but the plot is a bit thin for a 100 min movie.
Rating 6/10

The Warriors (1979)
Overpraised gang movie, which starts out with an epic scene at a gathering. Then becomes about a group who must navigate their way home through enemy territories, which to me becomes repetitive after a while.
I expected more from the movie considering its reputation. I prefer Walter Hill's previous outing The Driver (1978)
In the City by Joe Walsh is a great closer.
Rating 6/10

The Way of the Dragon (1972)
Spurred on by a blog post written by Wendell at Dell on Movies, this is only my second Bruce Lee film.
The final showdown between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris is what the film is remembered for, but it’s so much more than that, and surprisingly funny. The way he uses the weapon depicted on the poster stayed with me.
Rating 8/10

The Big Boss (1971)
The story of injustice is pretty good, but overall it didn't have a lasting impact on me, and was a bit formulaic. I don't remember the fight scenes.
Rating 6/10

Abigail's Party (1977)
TV movie directed by Mike Leigh. A stressed husband must navigate both his job and a party at home, while his wife is not very helpful and doesn’t offer to buy the beer, and expects him to do it. However sympathy for the husband soon evaporates once the guests arrive and he belittles his wife in conversation.
During the film, themes such as divorce, marriage, raising kids are explored. Amusingly the husband and wife's taste in music doesn't match at all.
The story does show it’s datedness in a few areas such as the husband not allowing his wife to take a driving license, but it’s not overbearing, and doesn’t become a distraction.
Rating 8.5/10

Nuts in May (1976)
Entertaining and amusing depiction of a couple on a camping holiday with their tent. The male lead could be so annoying that it might lead you to switch off though.
Rating 7.5/10

College (1927) 
Buster Keaton comedy. More about story and less about stunts, although he still has daredevil moments. The scene when he sways back and forth and the group sway with him is memorable, as is the bullying scene with the old lady in the window. The sports activities are fun to watch too, even if Keaton’s failings become slightly predictable.
Favorite quote, customer to waiter: “Bring me something you can’t stick your thumb in!”
Rating 7/10

The Dreamers (2003)
While it is controversial and daring, I found the story a bit lacking and forgettable. The scene that stuck with me is when the parents return home and see them sleeping naked.
Rating 6/10

Home from Home – Chronicle of a Vision (aka Die andere Heimat - Chronik einer Sehnsucht) (2013)
Directed by 80 year old Edgar Reitz. A criminally underseen German epic, filmed in black and white. Set in a fictional town in the 1800s, I felt transported back to this era, when they faced different problems than we do today. The characters are memorable, and the pacing is well-handled, considering a running time of almost 4 hours. You could almost say it's a mini-series. See it if you get the chance.
Rating 9/10 

A Second Chance (2014)
Director Susanne Bier has said in an inteview she wanted to combine believable characters yet also let it be a thriller with twists. The film has good performances, and there are a few surprises I didn't see coming, yet the weakness is the last act, the writers have written themselves into a corner, and there is only way it can logically end. Also feels unresolved in terms of supporting characters. Worth a watch, but I prefer Bier's previous Scandinavian films.
Rating 6.5/10

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

2015 Blind Spot Series: Hoop Dreams (1994)

Premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. The film was ranked #1 on the International Documentary Association's Top 25 Documentaries list. Its exclusion from the Best Documentary category at the 1995 Academy Awards led to a restructuring of how the category was evaluated. Many felt Hoop Dreams was unfairly snubbed.

Originally intended by filmmakers Peter Gilbert, Steve James, and Frederick Marx to be a 30-minute short. The filmmakers followed the children back to their homes, and after several years, and with over 250 hours of raw footage, a 30-minute PBS special turned into a three-hour feature film.

The documentary follows two African-American high school students in Chicago, William Gates and Arthur Agee, during their high-school years, and their dream of becoming professional basketball players. We are given a sense of the world they live in.

I wouldn’t go so far and call it the best film of the 90s as Roger Ebert does, but still a highly watchable documentary. Despite not being a fan of basketball, and despite its lengthy three hour running time, the film kept me involved throughout.

A coach reckons Arthur has the talent, but not the confidence. It’s not enough to have the ability to play basketball, equally important is the tuition fees, which Agee’s family are not able to fulfill.

The only minor flaw for me is the filmmakers gloss over William Gates’ injury in the last act, as if he no longer had this physical problem.

It’s a documentary not just about basketball, because the goal is also to explore issues of race, class, and education in modern America. The expectations placed on talents from such an early age is quite frightening and revealing. You could substitute the basketball angle of this with any other sport or passion that young people foster. It's really about daily life amid urban poverty, people's dreams and struggles.

I don’t know if the documentary helped instigate change and make it easier for underprivileged kids to have a career as an athlete. The pressure put on them to perform comes from both sides, family and coaches, there are financial implications where the schools are given bonuses for winning. In some ways the kids are being used, even though they want to play.

A recent guardian article covered where the main figures are now, reading the piece feels a bit like what Michael Apted is doing with the Up series. Both William Gates and Arthur Agee were able to turn the film's success and their subsequent fame into a better life for themselves and their families, so some positives came of their participation. However the families have also faced adversity, which the article spotlights as well.

As Will Di Novi wrote in his article Game Changer, Hoop Dreams was a film that took the temperature of American culture in the 1990s, while also, in its own way, redefining it, demonstrating the economic potential of documentary filmmaking to distributors. The success has affected filmmakers around the world. Hoop Dreams was one of the first feature-length films shot entirely on video, establishing a new, cost-effective blueprint for the production of non-fiction cinema.

What I will take away from watching Hoop Dreams is the sheer joy on the faces of family members, applauding during the matches. It’s really a film about family. As another reviewer wrote, Hoop Dreams seems to encompass not just a few individuals' stories, but draw archetypes out of them to personify the larger world around them.

Rating 8.5/10

Thanks for reading! Agree or disagree? Have you seen Hoop Dreams? As always, comments are welcome

Overlooked 2014 music

Get Up by Young Fathers

Loosey In The Store with Pennies by Your Old Droog

Fractals by Keep Shelly in Athens 

Every Little Thing by Röyksopp & Robyn 

Ain't It Fun by Paramore (Won Grammy for Best Rock Song) 

Our Love by Sharon Van Etten 

One Who Loves You by Alvvays

Coming Down by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Feat. Matt Berninger)

Everything Passed Me By by James Irwin

Fire Rides by MØ 

Let Me Down Gently by La Roux

Slow by Leonard Cohen

Is This How You Feel? by The Preatures

Let Me Be The 1 by Miracle Fortress

You Carry A Sickness by Astral Swans

Wrong Club by The Ting Tings

Her Name On Every Tongue by Geoffrey O'Connor

Agree or disagree? Have you listened to any of these artists? As always, comments are welcome

Guest Post: Bob Marley Turns 70

Born on February 6, 1945, Robert Nesta Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and guitarist who rose to international fame and acclaim. If still alive, he would have turned 70 on February 6 2015.
Using his birthday as a time to reflect on what the man stood for, it’s clear that he was above most of the commercial noise surrounding the music industry. Ultimately, his message was that there should be peace, love and harmony between all of members of mankind. He sought to be a voice for the freedom of the repressed masses, using his music to call for the uplifting and the unification of people worldwide.

Marley grew up Catholic but converted to Rastafarianism and remained that way for many years. Shortly before his death he was baptized into Christianity again, however his involvement in Rastafarianism molded most of his life commitments. He declared that the leader of Ethiopia was divine, and believed that smoking ganja led a person to a more meditative state. Many songs that he wrote represented the ideas espoused in Rasta culture.

Bob Marley's early life greatly influenced his music and political tendencies. First, he was born of a black woman and a white man. It seems that this caused in him a sort of transcendence above racial identification. He considered himself not to be black or white, but rather a child of God. This likely influenced his 'One Love' personal philosophy.

Despite this attitude of transcendence, Marley was always a rebel and an instigator of sorts. It could seem that the message of “universal love” does not mix well with revolution, but Marley pulled it off. His youthful experiences with poverty and a lack of political rights in Trench Town, Jamaica, firmly planted ideals that he would retain all his life. Marley preached his beliefs in a not-so-subtle way in his music and interviews. Songs such as Get Up Stand Up explicitly call for revolution. What is the case, though, is that Marley did not advocate violence or militant behavior. The broader message was one of peace and harmony.

With respect to the countercultural movements of the sixties and seventies, Marley's music helped encourage change and experimentation in a similar way to other world acts such as Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Eric Clapton, a British bluesman, covered the melodic I Shot the Sheriff, and his transferability is not unique to that song. Even Sting and Paul Simon say that they were influenced by Marley's music. Marley’s blend of rock and reggae would end up influencing other styles of music as well, impacting rap, hip hop and ska artists as well as members of his own family. Ziggy Marley, his son, tours in his own right, recently appearing as a musical guest on Direct TV’s popular Guitar Center Sessions, for example. Ziggy’s own success helps sustain the popularity of father’s unique reggae sound.

Unfortunately, while Marley’s music was undoubtedly created out of pure intentions and passion, it was also transformed and commercialized for the purpose of appealing to a Western audience. Once Marley and the Wailers began recording with Island Records, the titles of his songs, as well as entire albums, were culturally and commercially modified. Western rock audiences bought the most records - it made sense not only financially, but for the purpose of cross cultural outreach as well. Today, Marley’s image has been exploited on an even greater level. His popularity has made it possible for the holders of his estate to market his image not only on t-shirts, flags and posters, but on Marley-blend marijuana, cannabis-infused lip balm, and a hoard of other products. While there were definitely benefits to reggae becoming internationalized, it also exploited the true intentions of the music and the Rasta culture.

However, regardless of commercialization, the music associated with Bob Marley will continue to be powerfully moving. Throughout his short career, Marley managed to become both a political and musical figure of international authority. His messages still resonate with today's youth. Marley's music does not seem dated in the way that many folk singers' music from the early 1960’s does, both the style of the instrumentation and the lyrics are fresh and inviting. There is a reason that his song One Love is used by the Jamaican tourist bureau. Influencing both countercultural movements and mainstream culture with his music and personal ideologies, his messages allowed for the creative empowerment of many musical artists the world over.

Have you listened to Bob Marley's music? Any thoughts on the article? As always, comments are welcome

About the author:
Beth Kelly is a freelance blogger with a horror film addiction. Her primary interests include pulp cinema, analog photography and vintage film posters. You can find her on her Twitter: @bkelly_88

Thanks to Beth for contributing. Have an idea for a guest post? Feel free to contact me, and we'll sort something out. My e-mail can be found in the About Me section above.


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