Halloween countdown: horror movies reviewed (part 3)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) (Chuck Russell)
Arguably the best sequel of the franchise and a fan favorite. Imaginative in how it incorporates dream sequences in patients at a mental institution, with original cast member Heather Langenkamp returning as Nancy, who is older and a newly hired member of the hospital staff. The characters have personalities so you care about their fate. Interestingly, at about an hour into the movie, the nun talks about Freddy’s past. There are formulaic elements in how the story is told, but the story is entertaining and the characters in-dream abilities are empowering. Many memorable moments, including the end credits song by Dokken.
I liked the special effects, which are quite surprising and inventive. SPOILERS: The tap handle which changes shape, the melting bicycle with blood on its tires, the roasted pig head which comes back to life, the hall of mirrors, the car dump, etc. Another memorable aspect are the various incarnations of Freddy Krueger as a giant worm, puppeteer, talk-show host, and using drugs as a weapon. I wish they had done more with the paper mache house, but that’s a minor quibble.  I admire the filmmakers had the bravery to show children die which might not be the case in every horror movie.
Favorite quote: “You never lose a gift like that. You just forget how to use it”
Rating 8/10

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) (Robert Aldrich)
Not exactly a horror, but close enough. A pretty dark movie for the time it was made. Psychological thriller with Bette Davis as Baby Jane, a terrifying and out of control washed-up former child star, who wants to reclaim her past glory days. She lives with her crippled sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), also an actress, her success in show biz was as an adult. There's a rivalry going on between them and its sad to see two sisters who can't get along. I gave up on the film a few years ago, because I hated the character of Jane, but decided to give it a second chance. Will never become a favorite of mine, but I appreciate it today more than I did on first viewing. Great performances and everything that happens could take place in real life, which makes it doubly disturbing. It has been said the film introduced the world to the hag horror or "psycho-biddy" subgenre of horror/thriller films featuring psychotic older women. Apparently the real-life hatred between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford spilled over into the production. If so, I'm happy I wasn't on the set.
Rating 8/10

Cemetery Man (1994) (Michele Soavi)
His girlfriend has very kissable lips, but the romance was a bit too sudden if you ask me. I liked the atmosphere that was created, and it’s among the most quotable and genuinely funny horror films I saw this year. An unconventional screenplay, which may appeal to those who are burned out from watching conventional horror. The story isn't always logical, but the comedy aspects appealed to my sense of humor, for example the guy who keeps eating his TV dinner with zombies and bullets flying everywhere.
Favorite quotes:
”Go away, I haven’t got time for the living!”
“We all do what we can not to think about life”
“Hell, at a certain point in life, you realize you know more dead people than living”
“Just because we've got the new ones (phone books) doesn't mean to say we have to throw the old ones away. These books are classics!”
Rating 8/10

The Long Weekend (1978) (Colin Eggleston)
If you want a realistic drama/horror set by the Australian coast, this is it. The films centers on a married couple who go for a camping weekend. The wife says she is bored and they argue. He is trigger happy and fires his gun for fun. She reads and smokes cigarettes. In the wild, they have to deal with the elements, insects, possums, and so on. The film has a few jump scares and that was basically as scary as it got. Others have proclaimed it to be underrated and I admit the last 20-25 minutes are quite captivating and surprising. A shame it took so long to become thrilling. The film is lacking in story the first hour, an uneven movie with a strong ending.
Rating 6/10

Rabid Dogs (aka Kidnapped) (1974) (Mario Bava)
I thought this was going to be a horror because of the director involved, but turned out to be an Italian grindhouse thriller. A riveting story so you can’t stop watching, and certainly very tense. One of the few films by the director which discards the supernatural to embrace gritty realism. Much of the running time, close-ups are used inside a getaway car. The confined location makes the viewers feel they are passengers. Has an interesting history in that the film wasn’t released until 1998 on VHS.
Favorite quote: “As long as you’re worried, I won’t be”
Rating 9/10

The Changeling (1980) (Peter Medak)
I was completely into the movie for the opening 35 minutes. However when the music box in the old house played the same tune the main character recently composed on his piano, the story lost believability with that unrealistic coincidence.  The teleportation of the ball was also ridiculous, both these scenes were unconvincing and took me out of the movie.
That said, the film has an amazing atmosphere, which slowly builds, and the unknown supernatural presence is creepy, especially when he is alone in the big house and goes up to the attic for the first time. George C. Scott seemed too old to have a young wife and small child, but he anchors the film with his fine lead performance. Most people would have gotten the hell out of there, but he stuck around and wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery. The second half of the movie with the Medium and murder investigation was not as scary once the supernatural entity was explained, but was entertaining enough and I wanted to see how it would play out.
Rating 7/10

What do you think about these films? As always, comments are welcome

2015 Blindspot series: Nashville (1975)

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

When you think that my blog is both music and films, then it was only a matter of time before I reviewed Nashville (1975). Robert Altman’s take on the country music capital of the world and considered one of the director’s best. A very American movie, we follow a group of singers hopeful of making a name for themselves. There are many characters, yet Altman manages to juggle the elements into an entertaining whole. Ensemble casts ultimately became his identifiable trademark as a filmmaker and this film is a great example of his craft.
Particularly memorable is the young waitress Sueleen (Gwen Welles), who appears at the all-male Walker fundraiser, but is booed off the stage when she sings poorly. Her refusal to recognize her lack of singing talent and the ulterior motives of those she encounters gets her in trouble.
The other sequence that stood out for me is the ending, which surprises with its violence and career making platform for aspiring singer-songwriter Winifred (Barbara Harris). Music at the right time and place can have a profound impact.
The movie is not perfect, the dialogue is often difficult to decipher so watching with subtitles was the only way I could understand what was said a lot of the time.
Perhaps if I loved the soundtrack and country music, I would be a bigger fan. I like it, but it isn’t among my top 3 Altman movies. To be fair, the story isn’t strictly about country, it’s about people, the American dream, and what that entails.
There’s also a fierce political campaign going on that is a character in itself and, like the country music, holds the film together. The politicians and reporters are aspiring to make it big as well. The film is dated in some respects, yet the aspirational aspects are still fresh.
A long film, so watching in one sitting can feel exhausting, so I would recommend not starting if you are feeling sleepy.
The performances are generally good by most of the cast, especially considering the actors are not seasoned musicians. I’m not saying the songs are classics, but they are performed competently at least. A couple of nice songs, but I wouldn't listen to the soundtrack as a stand-alone album.

In the interview book Altman on Altman, the director talks about the making and how he went about it. Surprisingly, Altman had never been to Nashville, so he asked a screenwriter friend to do research. The following are excerpts from the book:

"I said to her. Ok, Joan get on a plane and go to Nashville, and just keep a diary of what happens to you. And from that we’ll write some Nashville movie… She arrived at the airport, got in a hired car, and there was a traffic jam caused by a boat falling off a pick-up truck, so she was stuck on the freeway for three hours. That made a great scene to introduce many of the characters. And everything that was in the eventual script was like that, something that had occurred to her.

Then Jerry Weintraub who was in the music business and was managing singers at the time, came to see me at my office, and said he wanted to get into the movie business, how could he do it? I said, well, here’s a script about Nashville and country-and-western music. Get me the money to make that and you can produce it and you’re in the business. He came back in a day or two and he said, I got Marty Starger at ABC interested. They came back over to my house and I played him two of the songs that Keith Carradine had done, I’m Easy and It Don’t Worry Me, and they said, OK

How would you describe the subject of the film?
It was about the incredible ambition of those guys getting off the bus with a guitar every day, and like in Hollywood, trying to make it. Nashville was where you went to make it in country-and-western music.

Chaplin’s Opal is the one character who interacts with all the others. Her slip of the tongue that she’s working for the British Broadcasting Company is the clue that she’s a complete fraud, though.
Opal was our tour guide, the connecting tissue. She was based on a lot of people I’ve met at the Cannes Film Festival, who you never know if they’re really who they say they are. I had to have some connection in my head why I was doing all these disparate scenes, so as a reporter with this ruse she was working for the BBC, she was able to go through this world and became the voice who could ask the questions the audience wanted answering. She was wonderful at improvising her scenes.

You got some criticism for letting your actors write and perform their songs.
Richard Baskin was the musical director, and he helped some of those people write their songs. He arranged all the music in the film, and it was all shot live. I thought, why should I go out and buy a lot of songs that were tried and tested? And also, this wasn’t about his songs; most of the songs were not meant to be hits. Actually one of them was a hit, I’m Easy, though Keith wrote that five years before we did the picture.
The country-and-western people in Nashville all said, Oh the music’s terrible, it’s no good, to which I would reply. Well, I don’t think your music is that good either. They felt I should have used their stuff. But I was satirizing them. Their stuff would have been too on the nose.

At the end, everyone just joins in singing It Don’t Worry Me!
Shit happens, and life goes on, I think that’s what happens. We don’t take any kind of lessons from these events. We accept whatever has occurred because it occurred"

(Altman on Altman, page 87-94)

Horror movies reviewed (part 2)

Angst (aka Fear) (1983) (Gerald Kargl)
Arguably one of the best Austrian horror movies ever made. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. The chilling realism and creepy soundtrack haunted me for days afterwards. The drip drip of the tap in the opening scene is so simple yet so effective.
Most of the film we listen to the inner monologue of the disturbed main character, we are basically inside his warped mind and along for the ride. The camera angles from above give you a birds eye view of what’s happening.
He is afraid of himself, and you can understand why. A sick mind and due to a dysfunctional family he became a monster. It’s also an indictment of the legal system in that despite murdering in the past, he is set free with no supervision.
You could question the ethics of making a movie based on true story crimes, but it also serves as a warning that damaged people exist with no empathy for others. Parents who don't love their children is also a horrible crime, so even though he is despicable I did feel sorry for him. An important film about why monsters become monsters.
Rating 9/10

The Witches (1990) (Nicolas Roeg)
Like others who were born in the late 70s or early 80s, the children’s books of Roald Dahl were part of my childhood. I enjoyed reading The Witches when I was about 9 or 10 and tried watching the film adaptation in the 90s, but it was just too scary. Today I admire there was no restraint in how creepy the Grand High Witch looks. The illustrations in the book by long-time collaborator Quentin Blake were somehow less threatening than the moving images.
Watching the film as an adult, I wish there was a reason for the evil rather than just being evil. The mouse puppetry by Jim Henson is impressive. Roald Dahl disliked that the ending was different to his book. The film is probably best remembered for Anjelica Huston's turn as the head witch. WTF? Why is Rowan Atkinson dressed as Mr Bean? Who is the intended audience for the movie? I'm not really sure. Good but not great.
Rating 7/10

The ’Burbs (1989) (Joe Dante)
Labelled a black comedy, I'm including it anyway because there are horror elements. Has a pretty good cast and director. Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, and Corey Feldman(back when he was cool). It’s a shame the story is so silly. There’s social commentary on being afraid and suspicious of foreigners, which on paper is an interesting concept. Unfortunately it takes 50 minutes before it’s actually watchable which is when they go into the mysterious house for the first time, the movie has that one great scene. The rest is filler and the ending in the ambulance butchers what up to that point was a positive message. In fact the godawful finale is so bad it justifies all the neighborhood abuse.
The redeeming quality for me was the soundtrack, and the discovery of bands such as Circus Of Power.
Favorite quote: “got somebody tied up in the ol' cellar, have yah?
Rating 4/10

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) (Charles Barton)
 I had no idea what to expect. Tarantino said it influenced him. My first encounter with the comedy duo, so I don’t have the luxury of comparing the film to their other work. Considered the best of the 35 Abbott and Costello movies made between 1940 and 1956.
The plotline is of Frankenstein needing a new brain. Nice idea to mix comedy with horror, back then it was a fresh idea.
The competitiveness between Abbott and Costello to catch girls is pretty funny.
Dracula, Frankenstein and the Werewolf in comparison feel like props and just there to give a contrast. Abbott and Costello have the best dialogue, with Dracula the most memorable of the universal monsters.
The story doesn’t really go anywhere, and has to be manipulated to fit with the long running joke of Abbott not noticing the horror. It’s an amusing joke, but some viewers may find that aspect too repetitive.
Took awhile to grab me, the second half was the most entertaining.
I’m giving it an extra point for the dialogue and for the original horror/comedy approach.
"The moon will rise in 20 minutes, and then I'll turn into a wolf."
"Yeah, you and about a million other guys!”
Ratting 7/10

The Brood (1979) (David Cronenberg)
From an era when Cronenberg was coming into his own as a horror/sci-fi master.
I have no clue if the movie holds up to repeat viewing. All I can say is it was incredibly tense and genuinely scary. The subtext about the damage a divorce, experimental drugs and therapy sessions can cause is equally as disturbing as the visuals.
By withholding information until the horrifying climax, the film keeps you on edge. Contains one of the most horrifying break-up scenes of all-time. Written during Cronenberg's own divorce and custody battle, there's an anger at its core. Includes Cronenbergian body horror, so not for the squeamish.
Rating 8.5/10 

The Hole (2001) (Nick Hamm)
Psychological horror/drama about a group of high school teenagers who become trapped in an old bunker. Starring Thora Birch and Keira Knightley. The flashlight effect on all the names in the credits was a nice idea. The film received mixed reviews, I consider it better than its reputation. A flawed, but quite gripping story.
SPOILERS: Why was it necessary for Martin to lock the hole from the outside? Why would Martin lock up his best friend? There are twists and turns in terms of what happened, which are revealed later on. As an anti-rape movie, it’s effective, even when it’s a little too on the nose. The scene with the attempted rape was memorable for how the onlooker behaved. Although what really happened is murky and I’m still confused if Liz was raped herself, as it is implied when she is examined and all is not right. The fact we see her escape in the opening scene does take some of the edge off the suspense however. The police investigation is stupid if you think about it, and I don’t understand Liz’s actions on the bridge, which seemed out of character. I’d be interested to inspect the lock of the door, because the cops forgot to look.
Rating 7.5/10

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) (John Carpenter)
Considered by some to be the best movie of the 90s by the horror master. A divisive film, receiving mixed reviews upon release. A second-tier Carpenter, that logically doesn’t make sense if you think about it, but I like the subtext that horror is a threat to society. About a successful horror writer whose novels have an effect on his less stable readers. Sutter Cane’s new novel is even more dangerous and potentially causes all readers to go insane.
Refreshing to see a director who is self-aware and looking at how fiction affects the consumer, which is where the story has its strength. Tonally the movie feels like a product of its time, attempting to cash in on the huge popularity of Stephen King. If I didn’t know who made it, I would guess it was a TV-movie based on King’s writing.
There’s a good movie in there somewhere, the opening 30 minutes are outstanding, but the middle part in the mysterious town is too silly and not as scary as it should have been. The ending is good and Sam Neil is convincing in the lead role, but you may feel it’s tough to know what is real or madness by the end.
Jürgen Prochnow doesn’t have much to do as the villain, it seems horror fiction and its repercussions is the real threat. The horror about horror meta approach was popular at the time with the likes of New Nightmare, Scream, and Funny Games also coming out in the mid 90s. Of those four films, I think In the Mouth of Madness (1994) is the weakest.
Rating 6.5/10  

What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) (Massimo Dallamano)
Murder mystery. According to wikipedia, has gained a reputation as one of the best giallo films of the early 1970s among fans of the genre. The police investigation is believable and suspenseful and I had no idea who the killer was until it was revealed. In other Italian giallos there are clues to the whodunit, I didn’t notice any red herrings, although there might have been. In this case it’s almost impossible to figure out, so I was just along for the ride.
I am used to bad dubbing, but here it warrants mentioning because the dialogue is at times inaudible, so a subtitled version is advised. I would be lying if I said the young women are not titillating, and the director would appear to enjoy them undressed, it’s quite sleazy as we often see them naked. The Italian couple who help with the investigation are going through some personal problems and their troubled relationship is handled so I cared about them. Good story, and worth checking out. Ennio Morricone provided the score.
Rating 8/10

Black Christmas (1974) (Bob Clark)
It's weird how Bob Clark made the beloved family-friendly A Christmas Story (1983), yet even earlier made a horror with Christmas in the title.
Black Christmas is one of the earliest and most influential slashers. A murder mystery in which a community receive obscene phone calls, those calls still hold up as very creepy.
There’s drinking and drunkenness going on, likely because it’s the festive season, or maybe those women drink all the time, who knows? Amusingly, the old lady has bottles stashed away in hiding places in the house. In fact, most of the lighter moments are the results of alcohol, with the character played by Margot Kidder making inappropriate remarks.
The director has an eye for maintaining tension, for example a scene midway through the movie, when a lady screams and they go and look with terror in their eyes, yet the audience do not see what they are observing. Likewise the killer’s identity is not revealed.
The film does have its flaws, notably in how stupid people behave. I was not convinced by the police investigation. Surely a corpse in the house would not be overlooked for so long? And if she knows the killer is around she still wants to go up the stairs? It’s a film that has been copied so much over the years that plot elements feel formulaic in 2015, that’s not the fault of the movie, but a factor when discovering Black Christmas today. Even if it’s similar to other slasher movies, it is an effective horror, as long as you forget about how foolish the police and search party act.  As another reviewer observed: “there's enough that these characters register as people rather than slasher fodder”
Rating 7/10

Have you watched any of these films ? As always, comments are welcome.

Mini-reviews of 2015 albums

Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre 
New songs inspired by the film Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Has great production and amazing guests such as Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and Snoop Dogg, but the lyrics reveal nothing groundbreaking. Similar to the movie, it's entertaining, but sanitized. The violence of Dr Dre's past is not delved into, instead he is content to rap about what is already in the movie. The album goes for homage and not revelations. "Animals" has a bit on his childhood and on the strong closer "Talking to My Diary" he makes peace with Eazy-E.
On a few tracks Dr. Dre looks at contemporary life, but unfortunately this is not particularly interesting. His evaluation on today others have said before.
The album is well-produced and sounds great, but if you put the effort in to reading all the lyrics you may come away feeling a little cheated. Perhaps the autobiographical aspects can be found in the biography by Ronin Ro.
Favorite lyric:
 "Man this industry to me, it feels a little plastic. I ain't heard nothin' that I can consider classic”
Rating 7/10

To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
Not an easy listen. I'm actually surprised that this type of fast-paced and wordy hip hop is among the top 40 of the year's biggest commercial sellers, because it's quite demanding to listen to. In fact I can hardly keep up with this dude when he raps, even with the lyric sheet in front of me. Having said that, the album does have some outstanding moments.
"The Blacker the Berry" is a powerful call for race equality. "These Walls" is my favorite where I think the lyrics have substance and his vocal performance is the most pristine. "King Kunta" is maybe the catchiest offering, and "For Free? (Interlude)" could be a statement on how music is free today and the repercussions of that.
An album that will take a few plays to digest, so I'm hesitant to give it a rating at this time.
"You really think we could make a baby named Mercedes. Without a Mercedes Benz and twenty four inch rims"
"Been allergic to talkin', been aversion to bullshit"
"My rights, my wrongs; I write 'til I'm right with God"
Rating: undecided

B'lieve I'm Goin' Down by Kurt Vile
His sixth full-length solo studio release. The opening 4-5 songs are really good, with Outlaw the only misstep. "Lost My Head There" is the strongest tune from the second half of the album, a song that is quite different to the others in terms of production.
Right now #2 in my top 10 albums of the year. YouTube critic The Needle Drop was quite harsh in his assessment of the lyrics, which he deemed "empty and aimless". I don't think the writing is of paramount importance, it's the guitars and mood that are the biggest assets in his music.
Favorite tracks: That's Life, tho (almost hate to say), Lost My Head There, Pretty Pimpin, Wheelhouse, Dust Bunnies, Bad Omens,
Rating 8/10

Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey 
It’s pleasant, but a number of tracks failed to trigger an emotional response in me. For that reason it’s a patchy album where I pick out a few songs here and there I like: Terrence Loves You, The Blackest Day, and Salvatore. The latter I prefer the orchestral version of.
There's still hope that I may grow to appreciate the album in the upcoming months. I didn't connect with Ultraviolence (2014) right away either.
Rating 6.5/10

Have You in My Wilderness by Julia Holter
A critical darling. I like it, but I'm not as enthusiastic as others seem to be. I think Enya is the queen of this type of music and everyone else is fighting for runner up spots. Julia Holter's album does have value and I appreciate what she went for in terms of mood. Probably an album that grows on you with repeat listens, and there's more to it than simply the influence of Enya.
Favorite tracks: Feel You, Sea Calls Me Home, Everytime Boots
Rating 7/10

Depression Cherry by Beach House
Favorite album of the year! Good from start to finish. Songs work well as a cohesive whole. Goes for atmosphere, but I admit there aren’t any big hits. A change of pace compared to 2012’s Bloom, which went for a rockier sound. Depression Cherry goes for a softer, mellower approach, which is reminiscent of their earlier albums.
Rating 9/10

Universal Themes by Sun Kil Moon
Similar to Benji (2014), the confessional lyrics are like reading his diary entries. This time, the storytelling has its emotionally involving moments, such as the ending of "The Possum", and the track "Garden of Lavender", but overall feels too self-indulgent and not as deeply affecting as his previous album. You could call Universal Themes the B-side, and Benji the A-side.
Rating 6.5/10

E•MO•TION by Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen surprised me, because her old stuff didn’t really appeal to my taste. Her new album is so upbeat and happy and puts me in a good mood, and I'm a fan of the 80s pop vibe. I mainly have praise for the opening five tracks, as there are a few skippable tracks on the second half of the album. The stand-out of tracks 6-12 is "Let's Get Lost". I agree with those critics who say it's a superior pop record to last year's 1989 by Taylor Swift.
Rating 7.5/10

Vega Intl. Night School by Neon Indian
I don't understand the positive reviews this has received? I enjoyed his last album Era Extraña (2011) a lot, which had a great atmosphere and songs I still play.
The new LP again goes for an 80s throwback but failed to deliver music I would go back to, except "Smut!" and the Prince-like closer "News From The Sun", which are at least tolerable. I liked the intro on "Slumlord", but a disappointing album. Many of the tunes annoyed me.
Rating 4/10

Thank Your Lucky Stars by Beach House (released October 16)
I just listened to their new album on spotify, and while it has its moments (Elegy to the Void, The Traveller, Somewhere Tonight, All your Yeahs), there are other tracks that seemed too repetitive in terms of instrumentation. The album is quite good and better than I anticipated, but I prefer what the group did on Depression Cherry this year.
Rating 7/10

Have you listened to any of these albums? What did you think? Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome 

Horror movies reviewed (part 1)

It's October, so we are approaching Halloween! That means it's time to knock off horror movies from my watchlist. Last year I was corrected for improper use of the term horror, so this time I'll start off with a disclaimer. The term is used very broadly in the header. Several of the films listed are not strictly horror, and could be categorized as vampire, comedy, fantasy and so on. Sometimes they are a hybrid or different genres.

Evil Dead (1981) (Sam Raimi)
On first viewing I made the error of watching it during the afternoon. For this rewatch I made a deliberate attempt to watch the film when it was dark outside, and it was a far better experience. A group of five Michigan State University students venture to a cabin in the woods which they rent on the cheap. It’s actually quite funny in the first 15 minutes, the car horn joke made me laugh. They do unwise things like going into the woods alone and staying at the cabin despite the mayhem, but the scares are effective, especially the scenes going into the unknown(the basement, the woods). The film is best remembered for the POV camera movements which has the evil rushing through the trees and looking through the windows. Has excellent pacing thanks to a talented director at the helm, so I didn’t become bored. It’s like they took the idea from a famous 70s horror film and went even further. The image that will stay with me is the girl locked in the basement and pocking her head up through the chained door in the floor. That’s a scary sight.
Rating 8/10 

Evil Dead 2 (1987) (Sam Raimi)
A parody sequel to the 1981 film. Bruce Campbell reprises his role and has a great scared face and he spends many scenes looking frightened. Less surprising, repeating the story of a cabin in the woods and an evil presence, just with a bigger budget. The headless woman with a chain saw and him fighting his own hand were quite amusing, but the movie is not as quotable or funny as others claim. Campbell is a good physical actor which shows in the slapstick moments. He sure must have had some cuts or bruises with the number of times he throws himself about. The special effect of a speaking decapitated head was very realistic. Some inventive scenes, but for me I prefer the straight horror of the first movie. I’m still giving it a 7/10 because I was never bored. The strong ending does make you want to watch the third movie Army of Darkness (1992).
Favorite quote: “give me back my hand”
Rating 7/10

Army of Darkness (1992) (Sam Raimi)
I actually think this third film in the trilogy is far more quotable than Evil Dead 2. The campy one-liners brought a smile to my face, even if they feel a bit contrived. Ash (Bruce Campbell) behaves like an action hero rather than a real person this time around, which takes a bit of getting used to. I loved the opening scene even though it’s a rip-off of a sequence in Star Wars.
Later on, the amusing fight with the skeleton arms by the graveyard was amusing. A pity the special effects are poor in some places when the background had been superimposed.
There are a few homages to other works of fiction such as Gulliver’s Travels and Jason and the Argonauts.
SPOILER: The weakest part is the ending, the enemy is not much of a threat, and a bit lame seeing Ash kiss a girl he’s known for only 5 minutes. For a director who made such a great ending to Evil Dead 2, it's odd he would settle for such a formulaic and corny conclusion to the trilogy.
Rating 7/10

I Walked with a Zombie (1943) (Jacques Tourneur)
I love Out of The Past (1947) and Cat People (1942) by the same director, that was reason enough.
Labelled a horror film, but it’s more of a mood piece, going for an eerie atmosphere. A nurse travels to the West Indies and is asked to care for a mute zombie-like woman. Even if it is tame compared to movies today, the voodoo is quite unsettling, and the songs sung at the restaurant are too. Visually the filmmakers makes great use of shadows and especially the howling wind. I prefer the two other Tourneur films I mentioned, but this one is not bad.
According to A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), Tourneur confessed at the end of his career he had always been passionate about the supernatural, a bit of a psychic himself. He made films about the supernatural because he believed in it, and claimed to have even experienced it first hand.
Rating 7/10

Phantom of the Opera (1925) (multiple directors)
Haven’t read the book, but felt the screenplay was confusing in how it jumped around quite a lot. Memorable for the set designs, and the performance and makeup of Lou Cheney. A haunting moment when he reveals his face. The story feels oversimplified, with it's good versus evil.
Rating 6/10

StageFright: Aquarius (aka Deliria) (1987) (Michele Soavi)
Not familiar with this Italian director. Soavi's debut feature.
Although the eerie 80s soundtrack plays a key role in creating suspense, the film has a comic book style, so you can watch purely on a visual level without paying attention to the dialogue.  There are horror movie conventions, so the story is nothing new, yet it’s still unsettling because of the claustrophobic setting and realistic nature of the story. The owl suit is quite a scary sight and it's pretty gory. The director is maybe best known for Cemetery Man (1994) starring Rupert Everett.
Rating 7/10

I Married a Witch (1942) (René Clair)
Picked because it's short at 77 minutes. It's not scary, a fantasy with supernatural elements. A film that shows you don’t need elaborate CGI to make convincing special effects. A puff of smoke, miniatures, or a fire place switched on is enough to believably tell a story of a witch.
Rarely are witches as gorgeous as Veronica Lake, I guess that was the point really, to change it up.
Rating 8/10

The Hunger (1983) (Tony Scott)
If Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner had a baby, this movie might be the result. The Hunger is about everlasting life and how that affects a person. Very atmospheric and with minimal dialogue, relying on visual storytelling. The Hunger is considered an art-house update of the wave of sexy vampire flicks of the 1960s and 1970s. Worth seeing just for the art direction with its smoky rooms and swaying curtains, coupled with an 80s score and classical music. The film memorably opens with a popular song by the goth band Bauhaus. The makeup of an aging character is also extraordinary.
May not be everyone’s cup of tea. The critics were not enthusiastic about Tony Scott’s debut feature. I consider the movie underrated and I got totally into that world. You could argue it’s style over substance and the characters are not fully realized, but there’s an alluring beauty that draws you in. The characters in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) I didn't connect with. These characters in The Hunger are far more mysterious. I don’t know if it was intended, I got a subtext about aids, and how that changes a person.
Another reviewer said it better than I could: ”It's anti-vampire. There's no teeth, no eyes or even a mention of the word itself. In fact, it tries very hard to side-step any familiar undead cliches for fear of 'reducing it to a 'normal' film. Or so it seems”
Rating 8/10

Angel Heart (1987) (Alan Parker)
Interesting mix of noir and occult horror. The best thing about the film is how it looks, beautiful cinematography. Each frame is like a photograph. The story is quite intricate with many twists and turns.
Mickey Rourke is believable as the small time detective out of his depth. Lisa Bonet has the most wonderfully expressive eyes, which Rourke’s character comments on. Robert De Niro is mysterious as the egg-eating bearded man he is working for.
The ending is surprising and I’m still confused who Johnny Favorite really was.
Favorite quote: “The future isn’t what it used to be, Mr Angel”
Rating 8/10

Have you watched any of the above? Which horror films are high on your watchlist for October? 

Top 20 documentaries of the 2010s so far

Over the last 5 years, I watched quite a lot of documentaries. In 2015, I've been catching up on documentaries I missed. You may have noticed the marathon I've been doing on the blog over the last few months.
This list is a collection of my personal favorites from the decade so far. I'm probably overlooking some good ones, you can't watch everything.
The ranking is based on how impactful and memorable they were. Many of them were nominated for awards, others are lesser known yet of value to me.  Of course, what is deemed "best" is different for everyone, depending on what moves you, what you are interested in, and what you find important.

1.)  The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Documentary TV Series) (Mark Cousins) (review)

2.) Dreams of a Life (Carol Morley) (review)

3.)  The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer) (review)

4.)  Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy) (review)

5.)  The Imposter (Bart Layton) (review)

6.) Armadillo (Janus Metz Pedersen) (review)

7.)  Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog) (review) (review)

8.)  Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (Stevan Riley) (review)

9.) Senna (Asif Kapadia) (review)

10.)  Amy (Asif Kapadia) (review)

11.)  Drone (Tonje Hessen Schei) (review)

12.) Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite) (review)

13.) Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney)

14.) Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Alex Gibney) (review)

15.)  Metal Evolution (Documentary TV Series) (Sam Dunn) (review)

16.)  Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)

17.)  Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul) (review)

18.) Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape (Jake West) (review)

19.) Marley (Kevin Macdonald) (review)

20.) The People vs. George Lucas (Alexandre O. Philippe) (review) (this 10 min clip is hilarious)

Honorable mentions:
Finding Vivian Maier (multiple directors) (review)
Woody Allen: A Documentary (Robert B. Weide) (review)
Reagan (Eugene Jarecki) (review)
Maidentrip (Jillian Schlesinger)
Miss Representation (Jennifer Siebel Newsom) (review)
Bobby Fischer Against the World (Liz Garbus) (review)
Undefeated (multiple directors) (review)
Sinatra: All or Nothing at All (Alex Gibney) (review)
TT3D: Closer to the Edge (Richard De Aragues) (review)
A Story of Children and Film (Mark Cousins) (review)
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer) (review)
Kraftwerk - Pop Art (multiple directors) (review)
20,000 Days on Earth (multiple directors) (review)
Bully (Lee Hirsch)  (review)
56 Up (Michael Apted) (review)
The Swell Season (multiple directors) (review)
Mistaken for Strangers (Tom Berninger) (review)
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley) (review)
Life in a Day (Kevin Macdonald) (review)
Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg)
Patience After Sebald (Grant Gee) (review)
Sound City (Dave Grohl) (review)
Life Itself (Steve James) (review)
The Other Dream Team (Marius Markevicius)
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (Brett Morgen) (review)
Citizenfour (Laura Poitras) (review)
Palme (multiple directors) (review)
Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich) (review)
Rewind This! (Josh Johnson) (review)
Michael H – Profession: Director (Yves Montmayeur) (review)
Video Nasties: Draconian Days (Jake West) (review)
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky) (review)
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Martin Scorsese)
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (multiple directors)
Hawking (Stephen Finnigan) (review)
Salinger (Shane Salerno) (review)

New additions:
The Wolfpack (2015) (Crystal Moselle) (review)
Listen to Me Marlon (2015) (Stevan Riley) (review)
De Palma (2015) (Noah Baumbach) (review)
50 Years of Star Trek (2016) (Ian Roumain) (review)
From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years (2016) (Caulfield's) (review)

Yet to watch list

Have you seen any of these titles, any favorites? Which are your favorite documentaries of the 2010s so far?

Retro 80s playlist

I’m a big fan of 80s music, and for the last few years I've been working on an 80s project, which I intend to share on the blog eventually. I'm far from finished as I keep discovering new bands, so posting about that will have to wait for now.  So far I have 185 songs from the year 1980 and have plenty more artists to listen to, so it's looking like a top 200 than a top 100. Even the lesser known bands put out really good songs.

In the meantime, you can listen to the retro 80s playlist I created ON YOUTUBE. Some tracks I have previously shared, others not. All of the songs are from 2000-2015. Below is the tracklist.
Interesting so many of this generation’s musicians have been influenced by the sound from the 80s.

A Real Hero (feat. Electric Youth) by College  (Drive soundtrack)

Chinatown by Destroyer

Beth/Rest by Bon Iver

The Theory of Relativity by Stars

Cherish by Ballet School

Round and Round by Ariel Pink

Fallout by Neon Indian

Seasons (Waiting On You) by Future Islands

Sister Part 1 by Cliff Martinez (instrumental) (Only God Forgives soundtrack)

Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Version) by Annie (The Guest soundtrack)

Title by Disasterpeace (instrumental) (It Follows soundtrack)

Rimbaud Eyes by Dum Dum Girls

On Our Own by Diamond Rings

Take Another Look by The Cars

Conquest by The Sound of Arrows

Behind the mask by Michael Jackson

Rebecca by Tesla Boy

Outer Limits by SLEEP ∞ OVER

We Have Everything by Young Galaxy

90 Degrees by Ladytron

Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow) by Neon Indian

Lady by Chromatics

On Christmas Dum Dum Girls

Whatever Leads Me To You by Geoffrey O'Connor

The Haunting Idle (instrumental) by The War On Drugs

Fractals by Keep Shelly in Athens

Warm In The Winter by Glass Candy

DNA by Empire of the Sun

Detroit City by Texas

She Will by Savages

Trap Door by Stars

Take It Out On Me by Chairlift

True Survivor feat. David Hasselhoff (Kung Fury soundtrack)

Kaputt by Destroyer

Cosmo Black by Dynatron (Cold in July soundtrack)

Let Me Down Gently by La Roux

Change of Coast by Neon Indian (Grand Theft Auto 5 soundtrack)

Wanna Fight by Cliff Martinez (Only God Forgives soundtrack)

Cheap Shots by Holy Ghost!

Red Eyes by The War On Drugs

Savage Night at the Opera by Destroyer

Shot At The Night by The Killers (feat. M83)

Can't Deny My Love by Brandon Flowers

Let's Get Lost by Carly Rae Jepsen

Heartbeat Overdrive by Ballet School

Disappearing by The War on Drugs

No Title (Molly) by John Maus

Across the Sea by D'eon

In Disco Lights by Blaue Blume

Rocket by Goldfrapp

There's a Girl in the Corner by Twilight Sad (Robert Smith version)

Frack by Princess Chelsea

Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen

Cover Your Tracks (CFCF Remix) by Young Galaxy

My Plants Are Dead by Blonde Redhead

Wait & See by Holy Ghost!

Vortex by John Carpenter

Pearl of a Girl by Kristeen Young

Last Forever by Molly Nilsson

Streetlight by John Maus

Accelerated by Miami Nights 1984

The Laziest River by Destroyer

New additions:

Roger (Laid Back Cover) by MGMT (Live on KCRW)

Vengeance by Perturbator  (Hotline Miami game soundtrack)

Miami by Jasper Byrne (Hotline Miami game soundtrack)

Miami Disco by Perturbator (Hotline Miami game soundtrack)

This Is It by Michael Jackson

Johnny And Mary (Robert Palmer cover) by Todd Terje and Bryan Ferry

Nightcall by Kavinsky (Drive soundtrack)

Under Your Spell by Desire (Drive soundtrack)

AT2 by AraabMuzik

Decade Dance by Jasper Byrne (Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number soundtrack)

Dust by M.O.O.N. (Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number soundtrack)

I Can Change by Brandon Flowers

Accelerate by Susanne Sundfør

Slowly by Susanne Sundfør

Delirious by Susanne Sundfør

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

Tonight by Timecop1983

Interceptor by Mitch Murder

Green Lady by Merchandise

Wallflower by Peacock Affect/George Holman

Great Expectations by Toto

The Music (Instrumental) by Marcus Marr (Pusher soundtrack)

Intro/Opening song by Trentemøller (Halt and Catch Fire soundtrack)

Hands All Over Me by Tamaryn

The Story by KING (2011)

Body Talk by Foxes

1982 by Miss Kittin & The Hacker

The Twilight Hour by Still Corners

Jay by Disasterpeace (instrumental) (It Follows soundtrack)

Sonic 1 Music: Scrap Brain Zone

Warning Call by Chvrches

So Much It Hurts by Niki & the Dove

Closing Shot by Lindstrøm

Beautiful Sea (Sing Street soundtrack)

News from the Sun (live bootleg) by Neon Indian

We"ll Be Waiting by Cat's Eyes

Kiss Me Goodbye by ABC

The Neon Demon by Cliff Martinez (The Neon Demon soundtrack)

Stranger Things (Intro Theme)

Kids (Stranger Things soundtrack)

Im Taking Off (Shield your Eyes) by Space Knife

In Your Arms (Final Fantasy) by Vår

Red Earth & Pouring Rain by Bear's Den

What's It Gonna Be? by Shura

I Feel It Coming (ft. Daft Punk) by The Weeknd

City Lights (aka Danger Zone) by Blanche

Build A Fire by Young Ejecta

Candy May by Alex Cameron

Happy Not Knowing by Carly Rae Jepsen

Los Angeles by The Midnight

True Blue (featuring Angel Olsen) by Mark Ronson

Which retro 80s songs or albums are you a fan of?

Viewing recap September

71 (2014) (Yann Demange)
Very suspenseful, especially the second half. Jack O'Connell is excellent as the lead. Sure am happy I wasn’t living in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s. Such hatred and hostility, the film shows the brutal and meaningless side of war. People blindly looking after their own interests not thinking about the pain it is causing. The filmmakers don't really take sides and are critical of both the British presence and the locals. I’m surprised anyone wanted to live in Belfast at all with the war zone environment. A time capsule, but also an ugly time capsule, so if you are sensitive to brutality, you may want to skip this one.
Rating 8/10

Straight Outta Compton (2015) (F. Gary Gray)
No wonder N.W.A wrote a song called F**k the police. In this film, the police harass and pin black people to the ground just for standing on the street minding their own business. Those scenes are the most powerful and memorable. Obviously the police misconduct is still happening in the 2010s which makes the film highly relevant.
The success of the band seems to be very instantaneous. One second they are composing the songs in the studio, the next moment the album is “taking the nation by storm”.
The concert with the police in the audience was the best scene, if only music could be as life changing as that today.
The second album by N.W.A. is famous for containing one of the first hip-hop beefs, when they dissed Ice Cube as a traitor. This aspect would become a marketing tool for other artists in years to follow. “We started out wit too much cargo. So I'm glad we got rid of Benedict Arnold”
Critics have a point that it’s a selective biopic, which means things such as female rap bands signed by the record producers, and Dr Dre’s alleged beating of women, are both omitted from the film. As Devin Faraci wrote in his review: "Of course by sanitizing the group, Straight Outta Compton sort of undermines the larger free speech issues surrounding them".
Rating 7/10

The Tribe (2014) (Miroslav Slaboshpitsky)
Innovative Ukrainian drama. Takes place at a school for the deaf, and everything is in sign-language. At the start of the film we are informed there are no subtitles, Plays like a silent feature, so I got the gist of what's happening. Those who can read sign-language obviously will understand more. Some parts are set in the seedy underworld of prostitution, and other scenes depict explicit violence, so it's quite a harrowing experience. I'm surprised the girls agreed to be with the truckers, maybe they were threatened by the pimps. Group pressure and manipulation are key ingredients of the story. I don't know if this is based on actual events. There is not much joy to be found, the only smile I remember is when the two girls are given T-shirts. Tough to shake the powerful images.
Rating 8/10

A War aka Krigen (2015) (Tobias Lindholm)
Denmark's submission to run in the foreign language film Oscar race.
Realistic depiction of Danish soldiers in Afghanistan. You feel you are right there with them on patrol.
War is tough for all involved, and the film showcases how difficult it is to do a good job as a company commander when there is pressure and responsibility. The line between right and wrong is tricky to navigate.
We also follow the commander's family in his absence. The scenes in Denmark with the mother and children go on too long, yet do humanize the characters, so we care about them later.
The film takes almost an hour to reach the main conflict, which frustrated me a bit. The last hour is gripping with things at stake.  It's probably too meandering in the first hour to be classed a great film, but it's very good. Leaves you with things to think about and discuss.
Rating 7.5/10

In the Heat of the Night (1967) (Norman Jewison)
Won 5 Oscars. Even though it's a product of its time about racism in a hostile southern town, it still packs a punch and feels eerily relevant today. Shining a light on how dangerous it was to arrive as a black in that community. Memorable performances by Sidney Poiter and Rod Steiger and also a well-told murder mystery. A film that potentially could change your life and should be shown in schools and hopefully prevent kids from becoming racists.
Rating 8.5/10

White God (2014) (Kornél Mundruczó) (review)
Rating 8/10

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) (Olivier Assayas) (review)
Rating 8/10

Mary Poppins (1964) (Robert Stevenson) (review)
Rating 7/10

Reviews of documentaries (part 3)

Reviews of documentaries (part 4)

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


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