Viewing recap July

Safe (1995)
The thinking man’s horror film. Is it horror? I'm not sure, you could just as easily label it a drama.  Starring Julianne Moore who has a mysterious health condition. Some think her illness is imaginary and could simply be filling the empty void in her life.
About how the world is the enemy, the air we breathe, the clothes we wear, the sprays we use, the things we eat, etc. Her lack of things to do in her daily life means she has extra time to worry. I see it as a film that lends support towards people with this rare condition. You can interpret it as a story of how modern life in the western world suffocates and pollutes, not just physically, but also mentally.
There are also reasons to be critical of the teachings she seeks out, sheltering yourself from the news and the outside world has a cost, and I think Haynes is a clever enough filmmaker to understand this nuance.
It’s a thought-provoking premise, The slow pacing and minimal plot meant it was engaging enough, but never totally riveting. With tighter editing, the film could have been even stronger. Although he wasn't the focus, I felt her son’s reaction could have been explored. He was just...there.
Rating 8/10 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Considered the first vampire film spoken in Farsi. Although we are in Iran, it was filmed in southern California. The main character wears a headdress/chador. Set in “Bad City”, a place for people that have been dealt a bad hand.
The story is quite conventional. To me, despite its location, it felt like just another vampire flick. I was expecting something a bit more “out of the box”. I doubt I’ll remember the film in six months, the story and characters lacked distinction. The black and white cinematography is quite impressive, and has an interesting soundtrack featuring underground Iranian bands like Radio Tehran and Kiosk, but the film is overhyped. I would assess this one in a similar way to Wadjda (2012), important films for pushing boundaries, but not great films.
I've heard the story described as "a woman taking control of her own life despite something that should define her". She is not a victim. You could interpret the film as a feminist critique of oppression of women in Iran.
Rating 6/10 

Young Frankenstein (1974)
Maybe this had more impact in the 70s. Overpraised comedy classic directed by Mel Brooks. My second viewing and the first time I finished the whole movie. I wanted to love it, but try as I might, I just can’t see what’s so funny about Young Frankenstein. Great set pieces, and a few half smiles, but that’s it.
The best parts, Gene Hackman as the blind hermit, and later the musical number. I prefer Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs as parodies.
Favorite quote: Whose Brain I did put in? Abby Normal
Rating 7/10

While We’re Young (2014) 
Directed by Noah Baumbach. It wasn't great, but it was fun to watch a movie that makes parenting look unappealing and staying young and engaged with culture look inspiring. Apparently after 35 ”it’s a shit show”. I’m glad I watched it on dvd, there are lots of music and movie references which it was entertaining to pause and google. The best scenes are in the first half hour, and also when Stiller shows his 6½ hour doc to his father-in-law.
Here are a few of the references I noted:
Cheap Trick’s album In Color (1977), the song Big Eyes
Gogol's Wife and Other Stories by Tommaso Landolfi (1958)
Kris Kristoffersen album (title unknown)
Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car by Billy Ocean
Mr. Mom (1983), The Howling (1981), Opening Night (1977), Rocky 3 (1982),
Jay Z, Thin Lizzy, Mozart, The Goonies, Citizen Kane, etc.
Rating 6/10

The Jerk (1979)
The funniest gags are in the first 40 minutes or so.
Favorite moments: hitchhiking from home, the phonebook scene, the glasses that keep falling down, not wanting old wine in the restaurant,
Favorite quotes:
“I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for.
I will Ma, I know it’s out there.
It’s out there alright. If you catch it, see a doctor and get rid of it”

“I’m in print, things are going to start happening to me now”
Rating 8/10

Mean Girls (2004)
It’s not a film that grabs me emotionally, and it didn’t feel like real life, but a very entertaining and quotable high school comedy, and there’s never a dull moment. Will appeal to the younger audience.
The "full tilt jungle madness” scene at school is unrealistic. I also disliked the moment many of the girls chanted Janis Janis after she just told them about all the horrible revenge acts they performed towards Regina (Rachel McAdams) via Cady (Lindsay Lohan). Even if they hated Regina, rejoicing over Regina’s suffering is nasty. I asked myself, who is the worst bully, Janis or Regina?
Many of these actresses would go on to make a name for themselves, including Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler.
Rating 7/10

Gregory’s Girl (1981)
His 10-year-old sister is too wise for her age. Aside from that minor flaw, it’s a charming coming of age drama/comedy, which is far more realistic compared to Mean Girls.
Rating 8/10

Il Sorpasso (1962)
I just reviewed On The Road (1957) by Jack Kerouac, the influence is obvious, but this Italian road movie is a classic in its own right, with a great screenplay and fine performances. If you are a fan of Sideways (2004), you should check this out. It's equally as great.
Favorite quote: ”You’d think he was their nephew, and I was the stranger”
Rating 9/10

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Considered a classic of romantic comedies from the 90s. It's aged pretty well. The ending is cute, although it's a very schmaltzy and formulaic movie. If you are in the mood for something unchallenging.
Rating 7/10

Moonlighting (1982)
Underappreciated drama/comedy starring Jeremy Irons as a Polish builder, who travels to London with a group of workmen. They provide cheap labor for a government official based there. The story sounds dull, but was surprisingly captivating, with many amusing moments.
A time capsule back to the early 80s when things were very different for those living behind the Iron Curtain. Even today, Eastern Europeans travel to other countries for higher pay.
Rating 8.5/10

Love Crime (aka Crime d'amour) (2010)
French Hitchcockian suspense thriller with Kristin Scott Thomas playing a bitchy boss of a company. A sluggish start, gets better. Clever story. Has been described by a reviewer as a satire of office politics and corporate sociopathy.
Rating 7/10

Three Paths to the Lake aka Drei Wege zum See (1976) 
TV-movie directed by Michael Haneke. The characters are psychologically interesting, and through voice-overs and flashbacks we delve into Elisabeth’s (Ursula Schult’s) relationships and family. The present day story is uneventful, about Elizabeth visiting her elderly father and the conversations they have. Among other things, they discuss her brother who is newly married. On her way back home to Paris, she meets an old friend.
Thematically, the films deals with inner feelings, what path we choose, and coming to terms with the past.
If you are a fan of Michael Haneke, it's worth a look.
Rating 7/10

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) 
You can read my full review here
Rating 7/10

Books read:

On the Road by Jack Keouac (1957) (review)
Rating 8/10

Are We Not New Wave?: Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s by Theodore Cateforis
Review: Interesting chronology from late 1970s to early 90s. The author mentions a wealth of little-known bands from the era, which to me was the main attraction about reading the book.
I also enjoyed bits here and there about how new wave can be seen in an oppositional stance to the traditional dominant rock. New wave with its synthesizers, rudimentary musicianship, and androgynous fashion. Popular heavy metal bands in the mid 80s such as Mötley Crüe perceived themselves as making real music compared to the synthpop bands. When rocks acts like Van Halen, Rush and Bruce Springsteen began using the new wave synthesizers the distinction between rock and pop became blurred.
I'm not sure you can really make these clear distinctions, as every band is different, but it's a way of examining the music of that time.
Later chapters I skimmed over, which explore in detail the impact of groups such as Devo, the B-52s, The Knack, and Gary Numan, In the chapter about Talking Heads, Cateforis is quite critical of the way David Byrne promoted Remain in Light (1980). Adam & The Ants are criticized for borrowing African music for their album and keeping all the profit for themselves.
Overall, the book is a bit repetitive, but momentarily interesting.
Rating 6/10

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

2015 Blindspot Series: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

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

John Cassavetes attempt at a gangster film noir is steeped in night-time darkness and red colored lighting. The clothes are very 1970s. The story is a simple one about a nightclub owner who gets into trouble when he loses a large amount of money during a poker game at a mob gambling club. Ben Gazzara delivers a great performance in the lead role as Cosmo Vittelli, he is virtually in every scene. The standout sequence is in the middle of the film when he goes to the Chinese guy’s apartment, which is quite thrilling and nail-biting. The meeting in the abandoned warehouse is also suspenseful. The film feels quite improvisational in the dialogie scenes, which director John Cassavetes is known for during that period.  I've read the dialogue and action was scripted but delivery was not.

I don’t have the same praise for the rest of the movie. It’s too slow paced and in need of an editor. I imagine the same story could have been told in 100 minutes rather than 135 minutes. Too much time is spent on the night club performers and their acts, which does give the movie a sense of place, but tends to meander. Apparently the director has subsequently made a shorter edit of the film running at 109 min.
Cosmo Vittelli is the only character we really care about, and it’s interesting how he goes ahead as usual despite everything, not wanting to face the facts. There are chinks in his armor, which those close to him are able to notice. Perhaps it’s about masculinity and the inability to show weakness in the face of adversity. The slow transformation of the main character is not that obvious. In the end, I see it as a character study rather than a crime story. I've read you can watch the film as an allegory for director John Cassavetes' own life, who in order to support his family had to compromise his morals by taking acting jobs in Hollywood.
Overall, I just wish the first hour was as strong as the last hour. It failed at the box office, but has since gained an appreciation on home release and is now part of the Criterion Collection.

Rating 7/10

Agree or diagree? Have you seen The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)? What do you think of John Cassavetes as a filmmaker?

Top 10 songs by Nirvana

With the recent release of what some have called the definitive Nirvana documentary Montage of Heck (2015) (see my review here), it seems appropriate to take a look back at Nirvana's career.

You can listen to my top 10 below on the YouTube playlist I created.

1. Smells Like Teen Spirit (from 1991's Nevermind)
2. Come As You Are (from 1991's Nevermind)
3. All Apologies (from 1993's In Utero)
4. In Bloom (from 1991's Nevermind)
5. Lithium (from 1991's Nevermind)
6. Something In The Way (from 1991's Nevermind)
7. About A Girl (from 1994's MTV Unplugged in New York)
8. Heart Shaped Box (from 1993's In Utero)
9. The Man Who Sold The World (David Bowie cover) (from 1994's MTV Unplugged in New York)
10. Lake of Fire (Meat Puppets cover) (from 1994's MTV Unplugged in New York)

Just missed:
Dumb (from 1993's In Utero)
Pennyroyal Tea (from 1993's In Utero)
Stay Away  (from 1991's Nevermind)
All Apologies (from 1994's MTV Unplugged in New York)
Rape Me (from 1993's In Utero)
Oh, Me (Meat Puppets cover) (from 1994's MTV Unplugged in New York)
Territorial Pissings (from 2001's Nevermind 20th anniversary edition)
Polly (from 2001's Nevermind 20th anniversary edition)
Sappy (from 2004's boxset With the Lights Out)
Serve the Servants (from 1993's In Utero)
You Know You're Right (from 2002's Best of Nirvana)
Where Did You Sleep Last Night (from 1994's MTV Unplugged in New York)
Breed (from 1991's Nevermind)
Been A Son (from 1992's Incesticide)
Sliver (from 1992's Incesticide)

Agree or disagree? Which are your favorite albums or tracks by Nirvana? What did you think of the new documentary Montage of  Heck?

Book review: On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

I’ve attempted to write the review with no major spoilers.

About being young, restless and searching for adventure. The journey sometimes more important than the destination, hitchhiking and meeting people on the road, giving the narrator (who is a writer) lots of experiences and people to write about. A time capsule to a particular period in the 1950s. In the novel, Kerouac defined a new rebellious, counter-culture generation known as the beat generation. The media buzz surrounding the book sent countless kids on the road.

Sal Paradise narrates the story, he is friends with unpredictable Dean Moriarty. To some extent both of them are drifting around America, sowing their wild oats. The book is an autobiographical account of the author's own life. Fearing libel suits, Kerouac and the pubishers changed the names to pseudonyms.
Viking Press demanded major revisions prior to publication, and many of the more sexually explicit passages were removed. I read the original novel from 1957, but there is also a longer unabridged scroll version, which was written in 1951 and was released in the 2000s. The scroll is essentially nonfiction, a memoir that uses real names.

At first Sal hitchhikes by himself. Later he journeys with Dean and others. They are always running away from problems, or seeking something new. Not dwelling very long. In some respects this short attention span mirrors today's youth culture. Sal reflects on page 113: “I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

You could argue what they are doing lacks purpose. Saying yes to plenty but not really committing to anything serious. Perhaps the reason they keep moving is because staying in the same place they would become bored and realize what they are doing is futile, partying, going to bars, stealing cars, having random sexual encounters, doing drugs, etc.
Old Bull (aka Old William S. Burroughs) on page 131 asks them why they travel and they have no answer. Page 121: “We were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noble function, move. And we moved!”
On page 105 Sal says: “This can’t go on all the time – all this franticness and jumping around. We’ve got to go someplace, find something”. A journey of self-discovery. As a critic noted, the characters are "replacing the ladder of success with the freedom of the road as primary measures of male identity."

 Ann Charters writes in the introduction that Sal’s point of view is comparable to that of Nick Carraway, who befriended and observed Jay Gatsby. Page 120: “Dean had every right to die the sweet deaths of complete love of his Marylou. I didn’t want to interfere, I just wanted to follow”
Kerouac has admitted he studied The Great Gatsby (1925), and it "had shown him the value of inventing a sympathetic narrator to tell the story of an American hero who fled his past to embrace what he imagined was the freedom of his future."

Acquaintances tell Dean he is irresponsible and has “absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your damned kicks”(page 176). Sal knows Dean and Marylou are getting him into all sorts of trouble, but some friends are better than no friends, and Sal misses the excitement when he is alone. Dean (real name Neal Cassady) was beloved for his ability to inspire others to love life.

I didn’t jot down all the references to music, except the song Sweet Adeline. To be honest the passages about listening to jazz bands I didn’t find that interesting. I guess it was more fun to have been there than to read about. Ann Charters describes jazz in the introduction as "symbolizing the source of American freedom and creativity. Like Dean, Sal is passionately immersed in jazz, an ardent admirer of Billie Holliday, Slim Gaillard, George Shearing, Lester Young"

In one of my favorite sections (part 1, chapter, 11, page 53-71), Sal goes to San Francisco. Here his friend Remi Boncoeur helps Sal get a job at a barracks. The events really comes to life and the situations are memorable. It’s quite different to the rest of the book, as it doesn’t take place on the road.

Another favorite passage of mine (part 3, chapter 8 and 9, page 203-216) takes place on the road, a fast-paced trip in a Cadillac limousine from Denver to Chicago. It’s undeniably thrilling, told in a way so I couldn’t stop reading.

The book seems to endorse the reckless and impulsive “on the road”  lifestyle as a method to gain experience and live life to the fullest, yet also acknowledges living that way can be hurtful to those you are irresponsible towards.

Today considered a classic. The Modern Library ranked On the Road 55th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

Rating 4/5

Agree or disagree? Have you read On The Road? 

New songs I'm listening to

The Only Thing Worth Fighting For by Lera Lynn (True Detective, Season 2)

It Gonna Come by Melody Gardot

B a noBody by SOAK

Sitting Up On Our Crane by Pond

Wallflower by Peacock Affect/George Holman  (listen to his other material here)

Fade Away by Susanne Sundfør

A Million Stars by McCluskey, Kroehler, Antonoff, Dost  (The D Train soundtrack)

I have not previously shared any of these tunes. All are from 2014-2015 albums. Are you familiar with any of these artists? Which new or old music are you currently listening to?

Top 10 songs by New Order

Following the untimely death of Ian Curtis, the remaining members of Joy Division changed their name and returned as New Order. I love them primarily as a singles band.  Run is a great single, but the 1989 album Technique I consider overrated, and its plonkity-plonk sound is a bit dated now. Disc 1 of Substance (1987) is my favorite album by New Order.

You can listen to my top 10 below on the YouTube playlist I created

1.) Bizarre Love Triangle (from 1986's Brotherhood)
2.) True Faith (from 1987's compilation album Substance)
3.) Temptation (1982 single)
4.) Ceremony (1981 single)
5.) Your Silent Face (from 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies)
6.) Blue Monday 88 (1988 single)
7.) Everything's Gone Green (1981 single)
8.) Procession  (1981 single)
9.) Elegia (from 1985's Low-Life) (used in the 1986 John Hughes movie Pretty in Pink)
10.) The Perfect Kiss (from 1985's Low-Life)

Honorable mentions:
Age Of Consent (from 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies)
Thieves Like Us (1984 single)
Run (from 1989's Technique)
Vanishing Point (from 1989's Technique)
Crystal (from 2001's Get Ready)
Ecstasy (from 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies)
All Day Long (from 1986's Brotherhood)
1963 (from 1987's compilation album Substance)
Dreams Never End (from 1981's Movement)
Doubts Even Here (from 1981's Movement)
Confusion (1983 single)
I'll Stay With You (from 2013's Lost Sirens)
Hellbent (from 2013's Lost Sirens)
Touched By The Hand Of God (from 1988's Salvation! soundtrack)

Agree or disagree? Which are your favorite albums or tracks by New Order?


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