Viewing recap June

Ex-Machina (2015)
Good but not great. The film looks impressive, sets, special effects, and so on. I was interested in the characters and how the story would play out.
Maybe I’ve seen too many movies, but the ideas didn’t feel fresh, basically was a rehash of themes from Blade Runner (1982), about what makes us human, is it ok to love a robot, and the dangers of AI.
The story wasn’t exceptional, so not quite a genre classic. Perhaps a film I need to see again to appreciate.
Rating 7/10

It Follows (2014)
Horror/mystery about a group of youngsters. A curse follows the inflicted and cannot be seen by others, when they have sex it is passed on to another person. This is actually a pretty good idea. Sadly the only thing I remember is the pool scene. The rest was decent but forgettable. The biggest weakness is it just wasn’t scary at all. The synth-driven score by Disasterpeace I liked.
You can interpret it as a film about sexually transmitted diseases and the dangers of unsafe sex. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell told The Daily Beast:
“For me, it’s not just that the characters have sex and are then put in danger. In the film, sex is more symbolic of life itself—just the act of living opens ourselves up to danger.”
Rating 6/10

Lost River (2014)
I liked the neon colors, the Johnny Jewel soundtrack, brooding atmosphere, and the poster. I hated the violent scenes. Somewhat reminiscent of Only God Forgives (2013).
Obviously the economic downturn is touched on with rampant unemployment, and the main characters struggling to keep their house.
Ben Mendelsohn’s singing performance was unexpected. The “skull costumes” at the nightclub reminded me of the skull helmets from Batman Returns (1992).
No masterpiece, and a bit flashy and pretentious, but not as bad as the reviews suggest.
Rating 6.5/10

American Sniper (2014)
The scene when the phone is dropped and she doesn’t know if her husband is alive or dead is quite horrifying. The lack of explanation about the ending is puzzling, I suppose we are supposed to google ourselves what happened.
While the action scenes are quite suspenseful and the main reason for praise, the story tends to go in a good vs. evil direction, depicting the Americans as hero’s and Muslims as blood thirsty enemies. There are no diplomatic solutions mentioned besides murder, which is unfortunate. The film does nothing to make us like the Muslims, in fact it demonizes them and encourages racism. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is nicknamed legend, but in reality Chris Kyle describes killing as fun in his memoir, which is not addressed in the movie. Neither pro-war nor anti-war, American Sniper balances somewhere in the middle.
Rating 6/10

Margaret (2011)
My first viewing of the extended cut (179 min), which is about 30-40 minutes longer than the theatrical version. The added scenes extend already existing scenes, and add a few new ones. What still impresses me is the writing. A mature coming of age drama suitable for adults. The length of the film makes us step into a world and see Lisa's mood swings, good days, and bad days, good decisions and bad.
Cinematically the restaurant scene when two conversations are going on at once is interesting, albeit gimmicky. Robert Altman may have been an influence there.
The scenes of tall buildings in New York with planes flying above felt a bit too on the nose. Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) seems less likable in the extended cut, especially in how she treats her male friend from school.
I'm glad I finally saw this longer version, but I'd rate the theatrical cut higher, which feels sharper and to the point(and is in my top 100).
Rating 8/10

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
I see it as a satire on the rich, who have nothing better to do than play flirtatious games. Even helping the poor is seen as a means to grab the attention of a woman.
Won an Oscar for adapted screenplay, and it is cleverly written, although I found the schemes difficult to follow, and all the names thrown around difficult to keep track of. The best scenes are at the end, and the last 10 minutes surprised me.  I didn't like any of the characters, but I suppose they weren't supposed to be likeable.
The acting was good by John Malkovich and Glen Close. I agree with SJHoneywell that "there is something undeniably erotic and tawdry about someone using one lover as a desk to write a letter to another lover."
Rating 7/10

Grown-Ups (1980)
Made for TV film, written and directed by Mike Leigh. Mandy (a young and attractive Lesley Manville) and Dick (Philip Davis) have just moved into a council house. Gloria (Brenda Blethyn) is Mandy's needy and difficult sister. Gloria is helpful and has her heart in the right place, but she doesn't realize she is bothering them, and comes round a bit too often. Mr Butcher (Sam Kelly), one of their former teachers, happens to be living next door. He is depicted as an insensitive husband. They disliked him a school, but don't speak of it in his presence. For someone who educates children on history and religion, it's funny to see him read conspiracy theories in his spare time. Amusingly, Mr Butcher doesn't want to give Gloria a cup of tea, despite him claiming it's a "decent Christian household".
There is subplot about Mandy wanting a baby, but most of the time the characters react to what Gloria is doing. This is fine enough, just I felt the conflict is a bit one-dimensional. Things are too spelled out towards the end. The premise is comparable to Another Year (2010), my favorite Leigh film, which I felt was more emotionally involving.
Grown-Ups (1980)  has some humor, especially by the characters Dick and Mr Butcher, and gives an honest portrayal of working class life. Worth seeing, if you are a fan of Mike Leigh's work.
Rating 7.5/10

The Skeleton Twins (2014)
I love the lip-sync scene. Starship's Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now is a great pick-me-up song. The rest of the movie was decent, but the screenplay was a bit too sundance-y.
Rating 6/10

Crocodile Dundee II (1988)
Sequel to the monster hit from 1986. It's pretty obvious how the film will end, but along the way there are some fun moments, both in the city and in Australia. Not as bad as its reputation, although it did bother me her ex is not mentioned at all in the second half? An entertaining follow-up, if you are in the mood for something light.
Rating 6.5/10

The Wedding Singer (1998)
Entirely predictable romantic comedy. What lifts it above average are the charming characters and great 80s soundtrack. It's also quite funny in places. One of Adam Sandler's better films, before his career nosedived.
Rating 7.5/10

Brief Encounter (1945)
Rewatch. Directed by David Lean. Some aspects are a bit dated today in terms of marriage, although it is a film I became emotionally involved in. In fact made me shed a tear. The black and white photography is beautiful, and Celia Johnson delivers a captivating, awards worthy performance.
Rating 8/10

A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Blind spot review
Rating 8/10

Agree or disagree? Seen anything great during June? As always, comments are welcome

RIP Chris Squire bassist and co-founder of Yes

Chris Squire, co-founder of prog-rock band Yes and renowned bass guitarist, has died aged 67. He was the only member to appear on each of their 21 studio albums, released from 1969 to 2014. Chris influenced countless bassists around the world, and was also a great songwriter, having written and co-written much of Yes' most endearing music. Albums such as Fragile (1971), The Yes Album (1971) and Close to the Edge (1972) are considered highlights of progressive rock by attempting to push music into new directions. Some fans were disappointed by the pop-oriented path the band took in the early 80s. Owner of A Lonely Heart (1983) reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sweetness (from 1969's Yes)

Heart of the Sunrise (from 1971's Fragile)

Starship Trooper (from 1971's The Yes Album)

I Get Up I Get Down and And You and I (from 1972's Close to the Edge)

Lucky Seven by Chris Squire (from 1975 solo album)

Owner of a Lonely Heart (from 1983's 90125)

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

2015 blindspot series: A Face in The Crowd (1957)

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

This will just be a quick review. Directed by Elia Kazan, the story is about fame, power and the american dream, and in many ways was ahead of its time, foreshadowing the celebrity craze which we still see today. Andy Griffith is unforgettable in the lead role as charismatic, guitar-playing Larry 'Lonesome' Rhodes, who is discovered, becomes a radio sensation, and this changes his life. You should see the story unfold for yourself, I don't want to give too much away.

The story raises issues about the nature of fortune and fame, temptations, manipulation, jealousy and pitfalls. A film that comments on our society, and is still highly relevant.

I loved the performances, and the applause in the final scene felt iconic. That said, A Face in The Crowd does seem to drag and felt needlessly overlong. The film launched Griffith into stardom, but earned mixed reviews upon its original release. Later decades have seen reappraisals of the movie.

Rating 8/10

Agree or disagree? Have you watched A Face in The Crowd (1957), and what did you think? Which is your favorite film directed by Elia Kazan?

Top 50 songs of 2015 so far (tracks 1-25)

You can listen to the music on the YouTube playlist I created.

I also added my top 50 to a Spotify playlist

1.) Let It Happen by Tame Impala

2.) Where the Sky Hangs by Passion Pit

3.) True Survivor by David Hasselhoff (from Kung Fury soundtrack)

4.) Need You Now by Hot Chip

5.) Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding (Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack)

6.) REALiTi by Grimes

7.) Stonemilker by Björk

8.) Play for Today by Belle and Sebastian

9.)  Strange by Laura Marling

10.)  Fourth of July by Sufjan Stevens

11.) Dark Bird Is Home by The Tallest Man On Earth

12.) Running Out Of Time by Toto

13.) 21st Century Blues by Toto

14.) When The Lights Turn Out by Twin Shadow

15.) Dreams by Beck

16.) Buffalo by Toro Y Moi

17.) Tell Me (Feat. Saoirse Ronan) by Johnny Jewel (Lost River soundtrack)

18.) Bunker Buster by Viet Cong

19.) Baltimore by Prince (protest song) (not on YouTube or Spotify)

20.)  I Really Like You by Carly Rae Jepsen

21.) Can't Deny My Love by Brandon Flowers

22.) Right Here Right Now by Kylie Minogue and Giorgio Moroder

23.) Yes by Chromatics (Love Theme) (Lost River soundtrack)

24.) On Fire by Garbage

25.) Change Is Everything by Son Lux

Agree or disagree? How many of these have you heard? Did I share something you want to listen to? As always, comments are welcome

Top 50 songs of 2015 so far (tracks 26-50)

You can listen to the music on the YouTube playlist I created.

I also added my top 50 to a Spotify playlist

26.) Duke of Burgundy (Opening Credits) by Cat's Eyes (Duke of Burgundy soundtrack)

27.) The Party Line by Belle and Sebastian

28.) All That by Carly Rae Jepsen

29.) Great Expectations by Toto

30.) Garden of Lavender by Sun Kil Moon (not on YouTube)

31.) Shégué by Mbongwana Star

32.) King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar

33.) Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars by Mark Ronson

34.) Living for Love by Madonna

35.) Sunshine On My Back by The National

36.) Leaf Off /The Cave by Jose Gonzalez

37.) Easy To Get by Hot Chip

38.) Laughing In The Sugar Bowl by Veruca Salt

39.) The Beginning by Levon Vincent (Not on Spotify)

40.) 74 Is the New 24 by Giorgio Moroder

41.) Lionsong by Björk

42.) Way It Is, Way It Could Be by The Weather Station

43.) The House by Le Volume Courbe and Kevin Shields (2015 version) (Not on Spotify)

44. Welcome To Love by Young Ejecta

45.) Lampshades on Fire by Modest Mouse

46.) Vortex by John Carpenter

47.) Saturns Pattern by Paul Weller

48.) Eventually by Tame Impala

49.) Feeling Ok by Best Coast

50.) Brothers In Arms by Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL (Mad Max : Fury Road soundtrack)

Have you listened to any of these? What did you think? Which are your favorites of 2015 so far?

Top 5 albums of 2015 so far

Toto XIV by Toto

Key tracks: 21st Century Blues, Running Out Of Time, Great Expectations, Orphan, Holy War, Chinatown

(For me the best album of 2015 so far, and this is from a group who I considered washed up. Surprisingly it's the non-singles that impressed me the most. The opener rocks. Toto XIV is the band's first record in 9 years.  RIP former Toto bassist Mike Porcaro who died at 59 on March 15)

Why Make Sense? by Hot Chip

Key tracks: Need You Now, Easy To Get, Huarache Lights, Why Make Sense?

(In an age when many albums only contain a couple of good tracks, Hot Chip have crafted a record I can listen to from start to finish)

Vulnicura by Björk

Key tracks: Stonemilker, Lionsong, Black Lake

Lyric from Black Lake: "Did I love you too much. Devotion bent me broken. So I rebelled"

(A melancholy breakup album, about Björk's split from her longtime partner and father of her 12-year-old daughter. The lyrics feel very personal and also universal, in that listeners who have gone through a painful breakup could mirror themselves in her heartbreak. As a commenter on YouTube said, the full album sounds much better than the songs separately)

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

Key tracks: Fourth of July, Should Have Known Better, All of Me Wants All of You

(The first 6 tracks are outstanding. Inspired by the 2012 death of his mother, Carrie, and the family trips they took to Oregon in Stevens' childhood. The album title also references his stepfather)

Lost River (soundtrack) by Various Artists

Key tracks: Tell Me (Feat. Saoirse Ronan), YES (Love Theme), Shell Game

(A dreamy soundtrack by Johnny Jewel. Featuring Chromatics, Glass Candy, and members of the cast)

Agree or disagree? Which is your favorite album of the year? Later this month, I'll reveal my top 50 songs of 2015 so far.

Top 15 older song discoveries of 2015 so far

Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now by Starship
(Memorably from a scene in the movie Skeleton Twins. Makes you feel like you can do anything)

Crockett's Theme (Miami Vice) by Jan Hammer
(I never saw the show. Great discovery. Better than the Main Theme)

Changes by Black Sabbath
(Different to their usual style. This ballad gives me chills. I listened to it over and over on a car journey late at night. Computer speakers don't do the sound justice)

Slave To The Rhythm by Grace Jones
(I need to listen to her albums)

That Was Yesterday by Foreigner
(Chills. They have a bunch of great songs, and this is one of them)

The Magnificent Seven by The Clash
(I'm glad I delved into their albums. Great band who were not afraid to experiment)

All Apologies by Nirvana
(Used in new Nirvana documentary Montage of Heck. I should do a top 10 Nirvana songs)

Black Cat by Janet Jackson
(From arguably her best album)

Waiting For A Star To Fall by Boy Meets Girl
(Their signature song and was a worldwide hit in 1988)

In the City by Joe Walsh
(The Warriors soundtrack. From the end credits)

Cabaret sung by Liza Minnelli
(From the 1972 film)

No Self Control by Peter Gabriel
(Timeless. Taken from his 1980 album Melt)

Whiplash by Hank Levy
(Performed by Don Ellis' big band. From the 1973 album Soaring. Brought back to the mainstream with the recent oscar-winning movie)

Meggie's Theme by Henry Mancini
(Haunting theme from the 1983 TV mini-series The Thornbirds. The main theme is great too)

Subdivisions by Rush
(A band I am curious to explore)

Are you familiar with the artists or songs? Which are your favorite music discoveries of 2015 so far?


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