Old and new albums of the month: April 2017

A Beatles heavy month, I managed 7 of their albums. I wanted to complete the Beatles discography so I could rank them, but couldn't bring myself to listen to the fab fours earliest material Please Please Me (1963) and With The Beatles (1963), which seem mainly for teenagers. Also remaining, Yellow Submarine (1969), Let it Be (1970) and the compilation Past Masters (1988), which I'll get to later. White album (1968) and Abbey Road (1969) I was familiar with.

On a side note, you may (or may not) have noticed I've expanded my album top 10s on the Music page, which now includes the years 1965- 2009. Obviously incomplete, I have a long way to go. Feel free to make album suggestions over there for what I overlooked, or should listen to next!

Computerwelt by Kraftwerk (1981)
As with Kraftwerk's Radio-Aktivität (1975) which I reviewed last month, Computerwelt tackles another of the 20th Century's big innovations, in this case computers. Not for everyone, but a beautifully crafed album.

Rage in Eden by Ultravox  (1981)
Very powerful. A synthpop album that sounds amazing from start to finish, and you can tell a lot of care has been put into each song. Better than Vienna (1980). Want to explore the rest of Ultravox's discography.

Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys 
The title Pet Sounds was derived from the last track which ends with a dog barking. God Only Knows and Wouldn't It Be Nice are the recognizable hits, but it's the ambitious writing that really stands out for me. The lyrics are universal and timeless, and make you think about your own life.
In terms of the production, Brian Wilson used Phil Spector's wall of sound session musicians and tried something new.

Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan (1965)
The album when Dylan went electric. That aspect is not as shocking for today's audiences. I didn't love all of these songs, but he is a great lyricist and lengthy tracks were groundbreaking back then.
Like a Rolling Stone, Ballad of a Thin Man, and Desolation Row are classics.

Modern Times by Bob Dylan (2006)
His late-career crocky, raspy vocal will divide audiences, and undermines what are some of my favorite Bob Dyan lyrics.

The Far Field by Future Islands (2017)
Seems to have motion as its theme, and certain tracks would be ideal running music. The album is too samey, and the second half has some filler, but there are 3-4 vibrant tracks. Cave, Aladdin and Day Glow Fire are enjoyable for the bass and synth work, while album highlight Ran with its running video is the most powerful, and an early candidate for song of the year. The sad, slower ballad Candles might be a grower. Debbie Harry's guest appearance on Shadows is forgettable. In a year with so little new music to get excited about, this will do for now. Good but not great.

DAMN by Kendrick Lamar (2017)
A disappointment considering his previous work. Well-written here and there, but unenthralling and rather boring presentation. Lacks memorable tracks. Humble has a punchy piano melody, although it's quite repetitive and I disliked the lyric. Album highlight Fear has a smooth beat, sampling 1973's Poverty's Paradise by The 24-Carat Black. Not as accessible to the mainstream as To Pimp a Butterfly. For hip hop fans only.

Humanz by Gorillaz (2017)
I've sporadically enjoyed Gorillaz hits in the past, without actually listening to albums in their entirety. Based on the early 2017 singles, I had very low expectations.
I found 5-6 good songs, especially Strobelite, We Got The Power, Andromeda, Busted and Blue, She's My Collar, and Hallelujah Money, yet as an album experience I feel unsatisfied. Most of the other cuts I failed to connect with, because had very little melody or emotion. Perhaps will appeal to hip hop fans, because many tracks go in that direction.
I sense there's an attempt to inject some heart into the songs I highlighted. Sadly the modern computerised production is too cold and soulless for me to feel much for the album as a whole. A mixed bag.

Beatles for Sale by The Beatles (1964)
Teenage heartbreak songs. Eight Days a Week is the big hit, and No Reply is very catchy too.

A Hard Day's Night by The Beatles (1964)
Catchy pop geared towards a young audience. I'm in my mid 30s, so I'm the wrong age for this type of music. And I Love Her is sung with feeling by McCartney, yet most of the other stuff here is overly commercial and a bit impersonal.
Best songs: A Hard Day's Night, If I Fell, And I Love Her, Can't Buy Me Love
Lesser known highlight: Things We Said Today

Help! by The Beatles (1965)
Similar package to A Hard Day's Night, in that it's a soundtrack of catchy pop aimed at radio and mass appeal.
In contrast to A Hard Day's Night, there's an attempt to appeal to an older demographic with lyrics to Help!, Yesterday and I Need You, but still wanting to maintain the adolescent listeners.
Best songs:
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
Ticket to Ride
Lesser known highlight: I Need You

Rubber Soul by The Beatles (1965)
One of my favorite Beatles albums with some great melodies. You can sense the growing maturity in their songwriting. There are Beatles hits (Drive My Car) which are simplistic entertainment and make you forget the world, and then there are affecting songs such as Norwegian Wood, Nowhere Man, Think For Yourself and In My Life, which are about life and touch your soul. Rubber Soul thankfully has many of the latter category. The Word and What Goes On annoy me for the choruses, other than that I have no complaints. A classic with endless replay value.

Revolver by The Beatles (1966)
Considered by critics to be among the best LPs of all-time and best Beatles releases. Admirable for its aesthetic and influence, but not a personal favorite.
Production wise more experimental than the folk rock of 1965's Rubber Soul, with electric guitars, Indian music, piano, horns, orchestral florishes and vocal distortion.
There are undeniable classics (Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine, & Got to Get You Into My Life) but those are few and far between. My favorites of the lesser knowns are Here There and Everywhere, She Said She Said, For No One and I'm Only Sleeping. Weaker tracks Good Day Sunshine and Doctor Robert needn't have been included.
A strong set of tracks, with some really good non-singles, but Revolver's lyrics aren't quite as emotionally involving as their 1965 effort. In time, it's possible I'll grow to love it to the same degree as other Beatles albums.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles (1967)
The Beatles’ concept album. A big number of hooks, so that you can enjoy simply by listening to the melodies, or if you choose, listen to the words. The sleeve is iconic and many things have been written about it, with the Beatles reinventing themselves as Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band, a fictional alter ego group, which allowed them to experiment.
Probably one of the most innovative, consistent and best-loved Beatles LPs. A commercial and critical success. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number one in its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Producer George Martin claimed Sgt Pepper was an attempt to match the quality of Pet Sounds, a landmark release in 1966 by the Beach Boys.
The closer A Day in the Life gives me goosebumps, and there really isn't a weak track.

Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles (1967)
An album of two distinct halves. Reminds me of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, with the pop stuff and the art stuff included separately.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

What song is this?

For the last few weeks, a lyric has been stuck in my head. Goes like this:

"We are your sons and daugh-ters, mas-ters of none"

Or at least that's how I remember the words. I think it's possibly the chorus to an 80s hit. I've tried googling to no avail. Beginning to annoy me!

Any ideas who the band are?

Holiday in North Germany

Went on a five-day family holiday, staying in Harrislee, which is near Flensburg, on the border between Denmark and Germany. The weather was patchy, but we made the most of it. The Beatles were on rotation in the car. I’d brought along Revolver, Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, great albums for all ages, which you can listen to on repeat. My dad thinks Lucy (L) in the Sky (S) with Diamonds (D) is about LSD, even though I’ve subsequently read McCartney has denied that to be the case. Apparently the burst of laughter at the end of "Within You Without You" was removed from the cd version I had from the library.

Colorized version of Jelling Stone

We broke the journey by visiting relatives, who I hadn’t seen in a while. In south Jutland stopped off in the afternoon at UNESCO world heritage site in Jelling, which was a first for me. The sign posting was terrible, which was surprising, and we got lost. A small town, famous for its two large “Jelling stones”, from the Viking Age, with inscriptions dating back to around 950-965. Positioned by the local church, in glass boxes with temperature regulation. Unfortunately the writings were difficult to decipher in the bright sun. Mind you, not sure I would have done any better in normal conditions! In the (free) nearby museum we could learn about the history of the monuments. Research is still ongoing, though historians claim King Gorm the Old had the smaller stone made in honor of his wife Queen Thyra Danebod. His son, King Harold Bluetooth erected the bigger stone to pay tribute to his parents, and his life work.
Harold Bluetooth was responsible for introducing Christianity to Denmark, partly for trade reasons. The stones represent the transition from heathen beliefs to Christianity, although this process was very gradual. The stone is considered the oldest known inscription of the word Denmark, discovered on Danish soil.

We got to the Best Western Hotel des Nordens in time to eat dinner. Evening meal and breakfast was included in our hotel deal, which took some pressure off having to constantly be looking for places to eat every night.

We had experienced a warning light on the dashboard of the car on Sunday, so decided to have that looked at by a garage. Luckily nothing serious, so repairs could wait. As long as symbol wasn't flashing, we were safe.
In Sønderborg, in southern Denmark, we visited the kids-friendly Dybbøl Banke Historical Center, a recreation of the original skanser (defence area) used during the 1864 war between Germany and Denmark. The museum was modernised in recent times, presumably because of the much talked about TV-series 1864 (2014), the most expensive Danish TV-series ever made.
While we were there, old-fashioned cannons were fired, there was a chance to try on a soldier’s uniform, a documentary you could watch, storytellers explaining what took place during the war, and so on.
Close to the museum, there were several other important hilly fortress areas used during 1864, and we took a walk in that direction. The Danes lost the war, they were outnumbered and the Germans were more strategically astute, able to hit the shelter of the Danes with sideways attacks, the buildings were built for air bombings from above.

Afterwards, drove to Sønderborg town center and called in at bakery shop Lagkagehuset. The area is known for its tasty cakes. Denmark invented “flødeboller” (chocolate-coated marshmallow treats). The homemade variety with caramel, nut topping and marzipan base was probably the best I’ve ever tried.

On our drive back to the hotel, decided to go for a walk at Gråsten Castle, a summer residence of the Danish Royal Family, with a beautiful and well-kept garden. Entry was free and hardly anyone there. The house was off limits. Very impressive garden, with multiple lakes and winding foot paths.

Drove west to see Emil Nolde art museum, in Seebüll. An important German-Danish expressionist painter, with the museum constructed next to his house and garden, all open to the public. He painted a wide range of things, the exhibition had a bit of everything, mainly focused on his portraits, portrayals of Berlin nightlife, nature and biblical paintings.
Especially known for his use of colors and depiction of flowers. A technique he used was sky merging with sea, people merging with nature (see above)
I learned Nolde was a world traveller, which served as his inspiration for some of the portraits. However he was also influenced by the dance floors in Berlin, skylines, coastline, and his own garden. Experts are still undecided about his links to Nazi Germany. Unlike other artists of the era, he never directly made art for the Nazi’s, always following his personal course. He designed his own house, down to the smallest detail, as he also did with his art. Laid out the garden path in the form of the initials of his and wife Ada’s names – an A and an E – as a sign of deep attachment.
During WW2, Emil Nolde was banned from making a living as a painter due to controversies about his art. In 1941, he was declared “degenerate” and more than a thousand of his works were seized. He left his second residence in Berlin and began living a reclusive life in Seebül. This led to a secret series called “the unpainted pictures”, those somewhat abstract watercolors were my favorites from the exhibition. Unfortunately I'm unable to share here.

Afterwards, drove to the west coast near Højer, to see “Vadehavet” (wetlands), which is on UNESCO's World Heritage List. A unique stretch of the west coast which has been controlled by dams due to flooding. A dangerous spot to build houses, which are positioned on raised ground. Very windy that day. We could see the island of Sylt in the distance. The Wadden Sea stretches 500 km from Den Helder in the Netherlands to Esbjerg in Denmark.

On our way back East, we noticed on the map the excavation site for guldhornene (Golden Horns of Gallehus), which are important historical artefacts discovered in Møgeltønder in 1639 and 1734. Was only of minor interest. The actual golden horns (copies) are located at Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen.

Danevirke, south of Flensburg, was our destination. Originally a Viking Fortress, with the remains of a wall still visible. Today, a small town in Schleswig. Battles took place during 1864, and the museum is partly about the war.
The Danes were over-confident because they had won Treårskrigen (the three-year war) 1848-1850 at this location. A few years on, the Danes plan faltered, underestimating the Germans, who ran across the frozen ice of the river Slien. The Danish military was not organized well enough, for example soldiers having to sleep on the roofs of unfinished barracks.

As you can see on the image above, Schleswig-Holstein used to be Danish soil in 1863, but was lost in the 1864 war. In 1920, a compromise was reached so that North Schleswig/Sønderjylland was again to be part of Denmark.
On the first floor of the museum, there was an exhibition about the Danish minority in south Schleswig, a group of Danes passionate to keep Danish roots alive in a German speaking region. By starting a Danish school, keeping the language alive by sharing books, etc. Very inspirational, especially because the minority faced adversity.

In the afternoon, we drove to Flensburg. Unfortunately was raining all day, so we walked around the shopping center CITTI-Park. Managed to buy a new rucksack, raincoat, and shaving equipment, prices are cheaper than Denmark. Took a bus to the city, we strolled into cute side passages, containing restaurants and touristy shops. Wanted to see more, just too wet.

Back at the hotel, we indulged in more shopping at the border shop Fleggaard, which is adjacent to the grounds of where we were staying.  Got some quality wine for a good price, toothpaste, Bailey’s, sweets, etc.

We packed up our belongings and handed in the key. On our way back, visited the small town of Christiansfeld in southern Jutland, of historical significance, and on UNESCO’s world heritage list. The Moravian Church who settled there were talented craftsmen, and the yellow brick houses from the 1700s still stand. Danish king Christian VII encouraged them to move there, promising a ten year tax reduction and paying 10% construction costs of new houses, hoping their presence would generate prosperity in the area. The inside of their church is very simplistic, and a small museum depicts the history. The only bad thing I read in the museum about Moravian's is you couldn’t marry unless the organization approved. For a group who put so much emphasis on freedom of belief that was a little odd and contradictory.

Christiansfeld is also known for its chocolate honey cakes, so obviously we had to try, delicious! A secret recipe from 1783.
That’s about all we had time for! An enjoyable, educational holiday to an area I was unfamiliar. Now I'm back home and yearning for honey cakes and chocolate-coated marshmallow treats.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome.

Top 100 songs of 2016 (tracks 1-10)

Nights by Frank Ocean
Neo-Soul. Melancholy, nostalgic, reminiscing about a former relationship

How Can You Leave Me On My Own by The Divine Comedy
Chamber Pop. Destined to become a classic. Funniest song of the year and a catchy tune as well. Sometimes people get lazy when left to their own devices, and this song taps into that feeling. I don't know how autobiographical the song is. Considering it's Neil Hannon, it's somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Margaret Glaspy's Emotions and Math, also from 2016, could be considered a sister song.

Cranes in the Sky by Solange
Alternative R&B. Solange’s attempts at avoiding painful feelings by keeping busy

Hands of Time by Margo Price
Best country song of 2016. Timeless lyrics. A promising new artist

Amends by Garbage
Alternative Rock. 2016 was a strong year for music about infidelity, Beyoncé obviously made headlines with Lemonade. Amends got less attention but is likewise emotional and honest, with a distintive melody. Garbage's Shirley Manson described it as her favorite from new album: "I felt like I coughed up something that I needed to cough up, and get out. And get rid of. I felt relief when we wrote it. I love it and I'm proud of it. And whenever I hear it, it soothes me"

Neon Demon by Cliff Martinez
Film Score. Retro 80s theme from Nicolas Winding Refn’s film of the same name. Sitting in the cinema, not knowing what to expect, and then watching the dazzling and alluring opening credits with this music was a treat.

I Feel It Coming (feat. Daft Punk) by The Weeknd
Alternative R&B. A great closer on an underwhelming album. Sounds a bit like Michael Jackson

Tunnel Vision by Kate Tempest
UK Hip Hop. A political anthem about the sickness of our culture and a call to action. Killer lyric: "Staring at the screen, so we don’t have to see the planet die"

Another Day of Sun by La La Land Cast (La La Land Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
A happy, upbeat song. From the opening traffic jam sequence.

Girl In Amber by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Singer-Songwriter. Can bring me to tears, quite possibly the saddest song of the year. My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time. A lullaby to his deceased son. An album/song you can use in your own life to process loss.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Question: Which music blogs should I follow?

I'm currently struggling to attract people to respond to my music posts. I can hardly be bothered to write about music when interaction/feedback is minimal.

I'm wondering whether I should discontinue music posts and just write album reviews for myself on Rate Your Music. Isn't worth the effort posting contents on a blog if the audience isn't there. Sorry if I'm playing the "hard done by" card. I just feel a little disheartened by the time I put into the posts and the lack of response. It's frustrating there are millions of music fans online yet I feel I'm unable to reach them.

Perhaps my content just isn't unique or personal enough, who knows.  I can see there are lots of music bloggers who comment on each others blogs, many on wordpress, but I can't seem to get hardly any to swing by these parts, even though I've been on blogspot since 2010, and visited plenty of music sites. It’s been said blogging is ”dying” even if I think there is proof that it isn't dead.

Of course, it isn't only me, me, me, and my comment section that matters. 😊  Reading other music blogs is fun and educational, regardless if they comment back on my site or not.

To sum up, I’d like to increase the number of commenters. I can't force others to comment though.
Any suggestions? Do wordpress users avoid blogspot? Which friendly music bloggers should I seek out so as to expand my network? 

Top 100 songs of 2016 (tracks 20-11)

Sister by Angel Olsen
Indie Rock. Singer/Songwriter. The most affecting track on her latest. Olsen has named it her favorite from the album, "a reflection on love which isn't romantic". Perhaps a plea for a sister and what Angel Olsen would teach this sister about growing up. Whether you've always wanted a sibling, or already have them, this might hit you in the gut. Pitchfork interpreted the song as an existential struggle: Though some may think Olsen is singing about her actual sibling, her inward reflection suggests that the sister is within, the parts of herself that she’s learned to love over time.

Four Years of Chances by Margo Price

Dollar Days by David Bowie
Experimental Rock.

To The Rescue by The Divine Comedy
Chamber Pop. My favorite of the non-singles, which can be read on several levels, presumably there's a shout out to My Lovely Horse Rescue, a charity Hannon co-founded with his girlfriend and animal lover Cathy Davey.

You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen
Singer/Songwriter. “A million candles burning for the help that never came” says a lot in just a few words about the unfairness of the world. Leonard Cohen was a Jew and apparently the song could be interpreted as about the holocaust. A true poet never loses it and he still had a way with words at 82. RIP Leonard Cohen.

Pictures on a Screen by Kate Tempest
UK Hip Hop. An introspective account of modern day emptiness and discontentment.

Going All The Way Is Just The Start by Meat Loaf
Rock Opera. The guest singers do a fine job of supporting Meat Loaf’s frail vocal.

Collapse by Vektor
Progressive Metal

So Much It Hurts by Niki & the Dove

White Ferrari by Frank Ocean

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. Tracks 1-10 coming soon!

Films of the month: March

Get Out (2017) (Jordan Peele)
A strong directorial debut. The film keeps the viewer guessing, which heightens the suspense. To me, it’s rather unfinished, so I suppose we should make up our own minds as to what happens next. I think the writers could easily have made the ending even more tangled. A disturbing horror film. I hope it isn’t based on real events. Word is that it’s a horror-comedy, although I didn't connect with the humor, with Chris’ friend providing comic relief. The latter didn't matter, as it works as horror/drama.

American Honey (2016) (Andrea Arnold)
The door to door encounters were entertaining, and so was her adventure with the cowboys, and the ‘dream baby dream’ truck driver scene. Wants to be an 'On The Road' for the 21st Century, and sporadically it’s great. Less compelling when the traveling sales crew are gathered. The last scene however elevates the film. Should have best nominated for Best Picture. Sasha Lane delivers one of the finest debut performances in recent memory and by the end of the film you feel you have been on a journey with her.
I love the soundtrack which makes good use of songs such as We Found Love by Rihanna, Choices (Yup) by E-40, Fade Into You by Mazzy Star, American Honey by Hillary Lindsey, God's Whisper by Raury, I Hate Hate (But I Love Love) by Razzy Bailey, and Dream Baby Dream by Bruce Springsteen

Christine (2016) (Antonio Campos)
Based on a true story about television news reporter Christine Chubbuck. A complex woman, she has mood swings, a difficult relationship with her mother, and finds it hard trusting and befriending co-workers. Besides that, she has stomach pains, which she believes are a result of stress. She wants to matter in her job and often gives the excuse “I have work to do”. Well-acted and Rebecca Hall's performance is absorbing. A character study more than anything. On the downside, the dialogue is a bit unsubtle and over-explanatory, although there is still ambiguity about the ending.

1864: Brødre i krig (2016) (Ole Bornedal)
About the war between Denmark and Germany, the conflict was a disagreement over who should rule over the piece of land that joins the two countries. The longer tv-series lacked the political angle of why the war started and the same is the case with the 2h movie version. On the positive side, the battles are believable and dramatic, and the journey of the main characters is gripping. A film that shows you the horror of war up close.

Captain Fantastic (2016) (Matt Ross)
This review contain spoilers. Although it's not perfect, Captain Fantastic was still enjoyable enough. About rejecting and accepting aspects of society, conforming to and freeing yourself from family rules. The advantages and disadvantages of home schooling.
I had a few problems though, dangerous rock climbing is irresponsible parenting, and stealing is impossible to get away with nowadays with surveillance cameras. It was hard to wrap my head around the children could be so naive and so knowledgeable at the same time.
Major spoiler! The climax of whether the kids go to school is open-ended. It’s highly probable their father allows them to if they so want. This makes the film about the need for parental compromise and seeing the benefits of your kids spending time outside the home.

Elle (2016) (Paul Verhoeven)
A return to form for the director. Elle is an adaptation of Philippe Djian’s novel ‘Oh…’ A mix of thriller and character study. I could see people being repulsed because (as with 2002’s Irréversible) there are uncomfortable scenes of rape. Isabelle Huppert has a history of playing complex, damaged, difficult people, and this is no exception. She is loving in some moments, and compassionless and unpredictable in others, as we all are.
Paul Verhoeven seems interested in how we perceive a victim. He wants us to empathize and yet makes her do unlikeable acts. Not all victims are likeable, but she remains fascinating for her elusiveness and morally dubious actions. Maybe her agenda was to refuse to be a victim. I'm not sure what role her career in the buisness world played, although it's probable she got her confidence from her job.
Just my interpretation, I got the feeling she took fulfilment in being the detective herself, keeping the police out of it, and figuring out who her stalker is and why he behaves that way. Her erratic behaviour, and refusal to involve the police and press was probably due to a troubled past.
Huppert said in an interview: "So it could be that whatever tragedy comes her way will always be less than the tragedy she had to face as a child. That could be a possible guess about the way she reacts to the rape"
The ending was the weakest part and a bit too tidy, real life rarely works out that way, but most of the film is thought-provoking and keeps you on edge. As another reviewer wrote: "you're not sure who you're rooting for"

A Quiet Passion (2016) (Terence Davies)
The opening 30 min are repetitive scenes of the same thing. Gets better in the remaining 90 min.
The Dickinson family had wit, but also a touch of superiority towards lesser minds. The humor is very dry, I sometimes wondered whether the intention was for comedy or awkwardness.
American poet Emily Dickinson was a very private person, who was content staying at home without a husband, although there are indications their father has an overly domineering, repressive nature, and Emily admits she is deceiving herself in terms of finding love. I had almost zero knowledge of the author, so I don’t know how autobiographical the film is supposed to be. I would’ve preferred another actress than Cynthia Nixon, her smile kept reminding me of Sex and the City. The panic attacks were pretty scary to watch. A film with enough going on that I could rewatch, once I’ve read the poems.

The Beguiled (1971) (Don Siegel)
Set during the Civil War, about a wounded Yankee soldier (Clint Eastwood) who seeks refuge in an isolated girls school in the South. Based on a 1966 Southern Gothic novel written by Thomas P. Cullinan, originally titled A Painted Devil.  A slow build-up in which you become acquainted with the characters. Especially the last 45 minutes are memorable and surprising. Early on in the film there’s a controversial kiss which will disturb some viewers. Sofia Coppola’s remake is out later in 2017.

Play Misty for Me (1971) (Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood's debut as director. The script is of its time, when you couldn’t see the call number. A moderately entertaining thriller, although a bit by-the-numbers. Not the most surprising story. Probably was more audacious in the 1970s, whereas today the plot is a bit tired and overused. I can see the influence of early 70s giallos. Jessica Walter deserves recognition for her perfomance. Clint plays a DJ and I enjoyed discovering the jazz standard Misty by Erroll Garner.

A Better Tomorrow (1986) (John Woo)
One of the most influential and commercially successful Hong Kong action movies. The good news I cared about the characters. Chow Yun Fat’s character is charismatic and I can see why he became a star. Enjoyed the soundtrack. A weakness is the story is a tad similar to Woo’s 1989 film The Killer.
If I had watched A Better Tomorrow in the mid 80s I think would have made a bigger impression. The slow-motion action was ground-breaking back then. Today it’s commonplace so less impactful. Woo took the action scenes to the next level on his subsequent films. Not that bigger is necessarily better. A Better Tomorrow has 2-3 intense, well-crafted gun battles. But you may feel a little cheated, if you are viewing mainly for the slow motion action, as those are only a small amount of the running time. In this case, I actually think less action works in the context of the story. A workplace in which ex-cons are hired was a neat idea which could be implemented all over the world.

The Fear of 13 (2015) (documentary) (David Sington)
True crime death row documentary. A man (Nick Yarris) telling us his life story, the ups and downs. He is a great storyteller. A riveting and affecting watch.

Swimming Pool (2003) (François Ozon)
The pacing is a bit slow, but a sensuel thriller you have to finish to find out what happens. The ending is very clever. A visually driven, voyeuristic film that stays with you.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) (Nagisa Ōshima)
Just to be clear, this is not a Christmas movie! Probably best remembered for its haunting score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, and David Bowie as the lead. His character is held captive in a Japanese PoW camp during World War II together with other British soldiers. They are subjected to oppressiveness, humiliation and starvation. Bowie’s character is the most cocky and rebellious. A war film not about combat, but about power, control, questioning concepts of honor. Memorable scenes include eating red flowers, cheek kissing, and the buried alive sequence.
Similarities to Bridge over the River Kwai, although the stories are different. Kwai was based on action, this 1983 film is conversational and low-key.
Took a few attempts to finish, kept falling asleep. I could see viewers giving up on this one because it’s rather slow and hard work to watch. I don't think the story quite earns its climactic payoff, although the last scene does somewhat pull at your heartstrings.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Rewatch. In the documentary, The True Story of the Bridge on the River Kwai (2001), the survivors complain the film is historically inaccurate. If you don't know that, the movie still holds up as a captivating watch. Probably the most iconic whistle in movie history, although was not a tune created for the film specifically.

The Boys from Brazil (1978) (Franklin J. Schaffner)
Thriller. Two scenes which stand out, the revelation of the boy’s identity, and when they visit the house with the guard dogs. Surprising twist and Gregory Peck is menacing as the bad guy.

Troy (2004) (Wolfgang Petersen)
Popular to criticize, and admittedly doesn’t capture the nuances of The Iliad on which the story is based. The end credits say Troy was inspired by so not a direct adaptation. As spectacle it’s entertaining enough, and the look of the production design is believable. The dazzling scenes of a thousand ships and 100s of men are epic and probably would be more impressive at the cinema. I watched the theatrical cut which is 2½ hours and I was never bored. There are sword fights, mass battles, and muscular warriors, so something for both male and female viewers.
The consequences of war is depicted well. Power hungry rulers wanting to conquer but at a great cost for the military and citizens. At the time of the film's release comparisons were made to the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq.
I’m not a Homer expert, but a strange blend of anti-war message side by side with an indulgence in heroes and violence.

The Past (2013) (Asghar Farhadi)
Rewatch. Writer/director Farhadi has a talent for portraying complex familial conflict. Everyone is a victim in The Past, and you feel sorry for the children who are exposed to the adult's disorder. Not sure this story has a solution though, the film just kind of stops. Sometimes life doesn't have quick fixes. We each have different ways of dealing with the past.
Favorite quote: "You can't keep saying whatever you want and just say sorry"

Any thoughts on these films and reviews? As always, I'd like to hear what you think in the comments.


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