Films and TV of the month: December

 

Happy New Year to readers of this blog! I had a nice Christmas break. Presents included a box set of reggae albums by Peter Tosh, and the complete Alan Partridge on dvd (starring The Trip’s Steve Coogan). Also received a classic I’d not read (or even heard of) The German Lesson by Siegfried Lenz (1968).

 

Star Wars The Last Jedi (2017)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) (Rian Johnson)
Spoiler free review
. I have come to the conclusion the original trilogy is unbeatable.
The bad: The Last Jedi is yet another long-awaited 2017 sequel content to over-homage with only small amounts of new thought. The camera movement is too restless, I would have accepted less action in favor of lingering shots of the impressive sets. A passable blockbuster, but not as fun and entertaining as Force Awakens. Marginally better than Rogue One.
The good: There is tension about who will survive. Kelly Marie Tran is the best new character. Sweet moments I’ll remember involving BB-8 and also Chewie. Quotable moments, particularly the comment about the sun and another by Rose about war. The scenes at Canto Bight were the most unexpected, with a subtext about contemporary society.
The way different cultures and genders are represented is nice to see, but the movie screams diversity. Bugs me that so little of actual importance happens or is revealed, which seems to be a commercial decision so Disney can make tons of sequels and money for years to come.
A youtuber summed up his criticism, in that E8 clashes with E7 in what the films want to achieve. Lord of The Rings trilogy got it right by carefully mapping out the entire three film story beforehand, whereas new Star Wars has been too rushed and lacks tonal cohesion by using different screenwriters.
6/10

 

 
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The Glass Castle (2017) (Destin Cretton)
About a dysfunctional family. Memorable moments, such as the pool scene, and the sequence when haven’t eaten for days. But the way the story is presented is too sentimental and sanitized. Lacks emotional impact. The book has received tons of praise. Perhaps best told on the page.
6/10

 

 

 

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The Road Home (1999) (Yimou Zhang)
Rewatch. Sometimes simple movies are the best. A romantic Chinese drama that can make me all warm inside and forget time and place. The son narrates the story of his mother’s youth. Cinematography, scenery and music are beautiful. The opening is in black-and-white, while memories of the relationship between mother and father are in color. A great stylistic choice, as often memories can be more vivid and alive than the present. A similar technique was used in The Wizard of Oz.
The main theme could be longing and yearning, but also empathy for the mother’s request. The villagers agree she is the prettiest woman in the village. Would it have been more realistic, if he was chasing her? The story about their first love is well-known among the locals. Perhaps the tale we are given has been exaggerated because verbally retold many times.
9/10

 

 

 

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Braveheart (1995) (Mel Gibson)
Rewatch. Had not seen it since the 90s. A lot has been written about the violence and historical inaccuracies. The battle scenes are believable yet excessive. Captures the epic landscapes of Scotland and the love story worked well. The characterization is often one-dimensional though, Longshanks is pure evil, William Wallace is flawless and heroic. while Prince Edward is depicted as a pushover. The most complicated, interesting character is Robert the Bruce. Brian Cox maybe could have had more screen time. Stephen (David O’Hara), the insane Irishman, injects the film with a welcome dose of comedy. Overall, the story managed to hold my attention despite a 3 hour run time, and that is down to excellent pacing and directing. The  oscar nominated score by James Horner is unforgettable.
8/10

 

 

 

Star 80 (1983)

Star 80 (1983) (Bob Fosse)
Based on a true story, a cautionary warning to young women about the pitfalls of show biz. Dorothy Stratten isn’t presented so much as a human being as she is an ideal that is both coveted and corrupted by men. A box office disappointment, which could be due to its dark angle on the subject matter. I disliked the decision-making by the characters, and couldn’t relate, but well-acted. Eric Roberts is great when given a meaningful role. His jealous husband was what I’ll remember most.
At times the story was a little too eager to foretell the future, which I could have done without. There’s good use of music, Rod Stewart’s Da Ya Think I’m Sexy is especially haunting. I prefer All That Jazz (1979), and Cabaret (1972) for the main characters. Lenny (1974) is on my watchlist. Star 80 (1983) would be Fosse’s final film as director before his untimely death age 60 in 1987. 
7/10

 

 

 

Solo Sunny (1980)

Solo Sunny (1980) (Konrad Wolf)
Captures the 70s music scene in East Germany. The story has funny and sad moments. Sunny won’t settle for less, a singer who wants to be loved by audiences and find the right man. She struggles with both goals. The men she is uninterested in adore her, and the guy she is attracted to she feels is half-hearted. Sunny is asked what her idea of success is and she answers: “to be understood and wanted”. Renate Krößner (as Sunny) won the Silver Bear for Best Actress and the film was nominated for the Golden Bear. The score is memorable, composed by Günther Fischer, a jazz musician. The inspiration for the film was a German singer named Sanije Torka. Here is a link to the title track from the soundtrack, sung in English.
7/10

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

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Favorite older film discoveries of 2017

 

Merry Christmas to those who follow this blog! Now that we are reaching the end of 2017, it’s that time of year I share my annual new-to-me discoveries. Notice there are three blaxploitation movies, because I decided to do a summer marathon of those 70s films. Besides that, I also watched a fair amount of comedy.  Also included, thrillers, dramas, action, a musical, and a documentary. There’s no order or ranking on this list except all are films with at least an 8/10 rating, sometimes higher.

 

 

 

 

The French Lieutenant_s Woman (1981)

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)
Drama. Meryl Streep‎ as Sarah does mysterious well, so the audience wants to get to know her. She is complex and difficult to understand, and that’s what makes her fascinating. Charles (Jeremy Irons) is convincing as her bewildered pursuer and their journey is the most compelling aspect of the film. The perspective of the servant life is given its due, and in some ways it’s a story designed for us to empathize with their hardship. Charles’ servant Sam is frustrated by the uncertainty of his job and other servants are not able to live a happy life because of strict, bullying employers such as Mrs. Poulteney. The jumps between eras was confusing (on first watch) and the modern narrative less effective.
The film-within-a-film reminded me of Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), only The French Lieutenant’s Woman is more emotionally involving. Truffaut’s film on the other hand does a better job of showcasing the compromises, difficulties and everyday life of shooting a film.

 

 

 

 

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Held my attention throughout, there was never a dull moment. Probably one of the most entertaining and realistic high school movies I’ve seen.
The awkward teenage situations have aged well despite the film released 35 years ago. Also quite funny in places, such as Led Zeppelin in the car, and the small people sitting in restaurant with big menus. Many future stars can be seen in supporting roles, Sean Penn has some of the most quotable lines.
Highlights on the soundtrack include We Got The Beat by The Go-Go’s (from the opening), Sleeping Angel by Stevie Nicks played when they are trying to solve a problem that arises, and Moving in Stereo by the Cars when Brad (Judge Reinhold) is fantasizing about Linda (Phoebe Cates) in the red swimsuit.

 

 

 

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Raising Arizona (1987)
Probably the funniest Coen brothers comedy I’ve seen. Very quotable too.
“Cochroches like popcorn”
“What was he wearing? A dinner jacket! Wuddya think, he was wearing his damn jammies!”

 

 

 

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Commando (1985)
Not as original as Arnie’s other 80s work, but entertaining, quotable, and with non-stop action. Especially the opening hour surprises with its action sequences, while the final 30 minutes are weaker and too formulaic for the genre.
I still consider Commando a quintessential Schwarzenegger actioner, and superior to the movies he’s made in recent times. The 92 minutes just fly by and has great pacing, even if the acting and silly one-liners tend towards so-bad-it’s-good territory. The cheesiness is part of the fun of it.

 

 

 

 

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Sällskapsresan – eller finns det svenskt kaffe på grisfesten? (1980)
Caught this one on TV. A light-hearted comedy, easy to watch. The most commercially successful movie in Swedish cinema history, though not widely known outside of Scandinavia. This is the original and the characters are likeable. The awkward lead, Stig Helmer, would go on to star in five sequels.
Hilarious scenes, especially in the first half, involving juice on a flight and the missing baggage office. The second half is a tad weaker, but Ole’s dance-off is amusing and so is the Spanish guy’s domineering mother. The events take place during a package holiday to the warmer climate of Gran Canaria during December. Could be labelled a Christmas movie, but also a satirical comedy about Swedes abroad.

 

 

 

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The Mack (1973)
The message is a bit murky, and the glorification of pimping is unsettling despite the rich giving back to the poor angle. That said, it’s a strong, ambitious story, and among the best blaxploitation movies I’ve seen so far. Quite a few memorable characters, especially the lead and the two supporting actors who play white cops are easily remembered. A minor weakness is Richard Pryor, his character is quite amusing but he sadly doesn’t have much to do. As with Across 110th Street (see below) and other blaxploitation, it’s a gangster/crime drama. The dialogue is quotable and above average, with lines such as: “You breathe too deep, you blink once too often, I’m gonna make you look like an ad for swiss cheese, ok?”

 

 

 

Across 110th Street (1972)
Across 110th Street (1972)
Opens with a messy robbery and the remainder is about the consequences and police investigation. A step up from Superfly. Again, set in New York, a bigger budget, less reliant on music to fill the gaps.
Full of powerful scenes. Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn play the good cop/bad cop, working towards finding the criminals.
The critically praised title song Across 110th Street from the opening credits, written by Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson, was a No. 19 hit on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart in 1973, and was later featured in Tarantino’s 1997 blaxploitation homage Jackie Brown.

 

 

 

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The Harder They Come (1972)
As with Superfly (1972), the soundtrack is iconic and a character in itself. The Harder They Come and You Can Get It If You Really Want are reggae classics of the 1970s.
The main character is someone I liked and disliked. I felt pity for him when he can’t find work, then disgust when a confrontation happens involving a bike. He seemed like a nice guy who lost his way and got corrupted by the big city and a false idea of what is important.
I don’t know much about singer/actor Jimmy Cliff who played the lead. The soundtrack was a nice introduction to his reggae. The film was a sensation in Jamaica due to its naturalistic portrayal of black Jamaicans in real locations and its use of local dialect. The latter was often hard to decipher, though I did get the gist of the story, about a talented musician (Cliff) trying to make it and the difficulties he encounters.
Not a true Blaxploitation, but fits in that category quite well . Does seem to glorify crime, but you sense the supporting characters are critical of his behaviour.
There’s a harsh critique of the record industry and also the newspapers, in how they take people’s dreams and problems and turn it into profit. Yet he wanted to live on the edge so he knowingly created his own trouble and headlines. The real “villain” and “hero” is open to interpretation, as there’s also a nod to the violent spaghetti western the character may have been inspired by.

 

 

 

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Mask (1985)
Based on the life of Roy L. “Rocky” Dennis, strong acting by Eric Stoltz, Laura Dern and Cher, and a number of sweet moments. I remember watching a small part of the film years ago and was freaked out by the main character’s deformed face. Now, I can see past that and appreciate the story. A coming of age drama about struggling to fit in due to being different, and also focuses on the relationships he has to family/friends.
What made the 80s different to today’s cinema were the life lessons sprinkled into the screenplays, and there are a few of those here. Like John Hurt in 1980’s The Elephant Man, Eric Stoltz is unrecognizable in the lead role. These type of films sometimes depict the deformed character as an angel, but I think it works here by juxtapositioning the teenage son with his troubled mother (Cher). I cared about these people and it’s one of those films that stays with you.

 

 

 

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Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Sillier than Back to the Future. The filmmakers probably stole the phone booth idea from Doctor Who, but the ”excellent” quote with air guitar is iconic, and is repeated many times in the movie. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are believable as high school friends. I liked the story included what these historical figures would do in our modern world, although some of them were too easy to kidnap. The house cleaning scene is laugh out loud. While superficial and basically a kid’s movie, it is funny and crowd-pleasing, and could inspire you to look deeper into the history.
The 80s soundtrack has some lesser known gems, especially I Can’t Break Away by Big Pig from the intro. Father Time by Shark Island & Dancing With A Gypsy by Tora Tora are entertaining hard rock songs. Play With Me by Extreme even samples Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, in reference to the film character.

 

 

 

 

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One False Move (1992)
An effective neo noir crime thriller. Cops (including Bill Paxton) are hunting down a group of dangerous criminals (Billy Bob Thornton and others) on the run.
Tonally changeable, with violent moments, and unpredictable twists. Also tackles interracial love.
Probably the best scene involves two LAPD detectives belittling the ambitions of small town police chief (Paxton), claiming amongst themselves he wouldn’t last two minutes in the big city. Paxton’s character Dale “Hurricane” Dixon happens to hear this which causes an awkward situation. It’s interesting he has that nickname. Better than average independent film.

 

 

 

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Bread and Tulips (2000)
A light comedy from Italy. Very sweet. Licia Maglietta’s charming lead performance makes me want to look up what other films she’s done. If you are stuck in familiar routines, a story that could inspire you. About a housewife who takes a spontaneous holiday to Venice. I feel this film should be better known. The Bruno Ganz scene with the tulip petals falling off is unforgettable, although I’m not too sure why bread is in the title? Won several Italian film awards.

 

 

 

 

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Delicatessen (1991)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s black comedy debut feature. Sweet, funny, dark and visually imaginative. You can’t tell what year the film is made, the dystopian future has a timelessness. The ”musical number” made up of rhythms and sounds in the building is pretty hilarious. Julie and Louison are a cute couple.
I never understood why the Troglodistes stayed so long, nor did I understand why the bathroom was filled with water? They should make a prequel with the main character as a circus clown.

 

 

 

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New York, New York (1977)
Actually better than I expected. Considered second-tier Scorsese, but even his weaker films are as good as a lot of top tier stuff released today.
The opening ball sequence is my favorite part of the film, which is both technically impressive, and Robert de Niro’s stalking women is amusing to watch. Robert de Niro was convincing as a saxophonist, although I’m not a jazz expert. New York, New York is among the greatest songs of the 70s and the jazz music was given enough space to make an impression.
La La Land was heavily inspired by this Scoresese film, especially two leads as creative people in love in the entertainment business. In Scorsese’s film I cared about them, in La La Land I did not.

 

 

 

 

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The Beguiled (1971)
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 I have not seen, and from what I’ve read from bloggers at Cinematic Corner  and epilepticmoondancer the story is too tame/dull. Although the 2017 film does have a positive 78% score on Rotten Tomatoes so in Coppola’s defense there are critics who liked her new version.

 

 

 

 

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Swimming Pool (2003)
The pacing is a bit slow, but a thriller you have to finish to find out what happens. The ending is very clever. A visually driven, voyeuristic, puzzle of a film which lingers in the mind. Ludivine Sagnier definitely sizzles and Rampling is always interesting to watch.

 

 

 

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City Zero (1988)
Recommended to me by Mr Bobinsky at indiescifi451. Included in his top 10 Soviet sci-fi films.
My thoughts. The tone of the film is very specific, a sort of absurd kafkaesque deadpan comedy/mystery. Throughout the film, there’s a sense of dread. In Kafka’s world, you cannot get an answer to your questions from the authorities and absurd misunderstandings and accusations occur. The bureaucratic powers are incompetent. The mood of City Zero has a bit of that.
The restaurant scene is particularly surprising and funny. Amusing the museum is in the middle of nowhere and something decidedly odd is going on with the museum exhibits. I probably didn’t get the full impact, as the Russian history and politics went over my head, but I was still able to enjoy the film nonetheless. It’s unclear what is going on in the town. Perhaps the townspeople have created a scam. I could be wrong, my theory is the they wanted Varakin to replace the chef.
Could be viewed as an allegory for governmental control and freedom of the individual, something that was an issue behind the iron curtain in the 80s. Open to more than one interpretation.  An unpredictable story that I couldn’t stop watching.

 

 

 

 

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The Fear of 13 (2015) (documentary) 
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.

 

 

 

What do you think. Any favorites? Have I encouraged you to check out a film? As always, comments are welcome

Top 10 albums of 2017

 

Writing this top 10 feels like the end of something and the beginning of a different approach to albums. Due to a growing disillusionment with the current state of the music industry and too many good-but-rarely great releases, I’ve decided for 2018 I’ll take a hiatus from new music, preferring to spend time catching up with the classics from stronger eras. There is one exception, I am looking forward to Jack White’s upcoming solo album Boarding House Reach, mainly because of my fondness for 2014’s Lazaretto. Other than that, I will enjoy not having to keep up with everything. You’ve only got one life, and I want to be smart about my choices.

2017 was a year I struggled to compile ten great albums, and it was only thanks to a few wonderful late discoveries (Foxygen, Curtis Harding, Alex Cameron, and Aimee Mann), that this post actually grew into a top 10. Honestly, without that December push, it would have been a top 5.  I can safely say that all ten albums listed are worth your time. The honorable mentions are pretty good too.

 

 

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1.

A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs
Album of the year, and will take something special to knock it off the top spot. To be honest, not a great leap forward in terms of their sound, similar heartland rock as their previous. But they do it so well. Shouldn’t have doubted the band could equal 2014’s Lost in a Dream. Nothing to Find is the best of the non-singles. Probably could have ended after Thinking of a Place, but nice to have the rest as bonus material.

 

 

 

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2.

The Ooz by King Krule
Album of the year contender. Archy Marshall is only three albums into his career (including his non-King Krule LP). For me, he is lyricist of the year and The Ooz could well be his magnum opus.
2013’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (which I recently revisited) is beautifully written anxiety-filled poetry about faltering relationships and girl trouble, yet if you had to point to its weaknesses, the storytelling is unvaried,  and lacks memorable songs.
The Ooz feels like a step up, more ambitious in its scope, going for a richness in the lyrical content, while taking his sound to new, interesting places.
The opening line “I seem to sink lower” is an indication of what to expect. His music isn’t for everyone and evades typical genre classification. Melancholy, introspective art rock/jazz/spoken word is what you could label it as. His vocal style is definitely one-of-a-kind. A gloomy album to put on when you’re in the right mood. As opposed to fast paced hip hop, Marshall’s deliberately slow, sad vocal delivery allows the listener time to reflect, and there’s a timelessness to the lyrics and emotions. Thematically dealing with topics such as loneliness, insomnia, drugs, childhood trauma, heartbreak, depression.
Weaknesses, there are minor tracks here such as (A Slide In) New Drugs, and 66 minutes and 19 tracks in one sitting is a bit excessive for this type of dark music. Requires an investment for the music to be moving and impactful.

 

 

 

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3.

Hang by Foxygen
A retro 70s sound, big, lush and orchestral. I really couldn’t tell it’s contemporary. Looking at the credit list, a lot of musicians brought this ambitious project to life, and at only 32 minutes, the result is one of the most replayable and focused albums of 2017. Tracks 1-4 and the inspiring closer Rise Up are especially well done.

 

 

 

Face Your Fear by Curtis Harding

4.

Face Your Fear by Curtis Harding
Retro soul. I’m not a soul aficionado by any means, I found Curtis Harding’s sophomore effort to be well-crafted and easy to enjoy. Lots of solid tunes so you wonder why he isn’t a bigger name. I’ve read the modern retro-soul scene is a crowded place, so maybe that’s why he hasn’t got the attention. An album that I only discovered by chance thanks to a Twitter recommendation. Most of the titles speak for themselves, though Wednesday Morning Atonement is about neglecting your children. Best: On and On, Till the End, Welcome to My World, As I Am

 

 

 

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5.

Forced Witness by Alex Cameron
Synthpop from new-to-me Australian artist Alex Cameron. Forced Witness is his second album. Has become a cliché for today’s performers to try and recapture the 80s, but he does it very well, with catchy pop hooks and a little bit of Springsteen and The Killers. Tracks 1-4 are especially memorable. There’s a dip in quality on the second half. The depiction of women as objects of pleasure (The Chihuahua) can be off-putting, but apparently his lyrics are supposed to be taken ironically. Arguably the best pop album of 2017. Good escapist entertainment, easy to listen to.

 

 

 

 

Mental Illness by Aimee Mann

6.

Mental Illness by Aimee Mann
Follows the template of her popular soundtrack to Magnolia. A heartbreaking acoustic album, and while can appear a little samey musically from track-to-track, there are plenty of ideas and tangents she explores.
About homesickness(Goose Snow Cone), regret(Stuck In the Past), abandonment(You Never Loved Me ), wanting to find escape (Rollercoasters), a bipolar friend who is pathological liar and presumably an explanation of the album name(Lies of Summer), the pitfalls of working in the entertainment industry(Patient Zero), alcoholism(Philly Sinks), walking away as a solution (Simple Fix), a relationship driven by poor judgement(Poor Judge)

 

 

 

 

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7.

Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman
Lekman’s lyrics generally are playful and the humor is subtle, he’s quoted as saying humor is “a good way of telling a story, a good way of communication”. The dance pop production is a departure from the sound on his previous albums. For example he samples the beats off Ralph MacDonald’s The Path.
He boldly disses 90s recording artists on the opener To Know Your Mission. Evening Prayer is a strangely upbeat song about a tumor. How We Met the Long Version a tongue-in-cheek exploration of how our relationships can be traced backward. Postcard #17 about fears. How Can I Tell Him is about a bromance. Wedding in Finistère taps into the worry you might have about the future. Less original are songs such as What’s That Perfume You Wear? and Our First Fight, which contain some generic writing.
Overall though, the album won me over.
A few lyrics made me chuckle: “If you’re gonna write a song about this then please don’t make it a sad song”

 

 

 

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8.

Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Soundtrack
The soundtrack for season 3 of Twin Peaks. The set includes 3-4 tracks from the early 90s. Badalamenti’s new score is juxtapositioned with various artists from past and present.
I do like some of the new instrumentals, especially Windswept by Johnny Jewel, Heartbreaking, The Chair, The Fireman, and Saturday (Instrumental) by Chromatics. Nice to have Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima on here too, used during the atomic bomb sequence from Episode 8. The new stuff isn’t as distinctive as Badalamenti’s best work, but it feels like Twin Peaks music, is competently made, atmospheric, and sometimes quite moving.
If you have to choose between buying Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Soundtrack or the instrumental album Windswept by Johnny Jewel, I’d pick the former.


 

 

 

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9.

Science Fiction by Brand New
A critically acclaimed and commercially successful return by a band who had not released a studio album since 2009’s Daisy. The Nirvana-esque 137 is very good, and Same Logic/Teeth stayed with me. There’s some quite beautiful guitar work on tracks such as In The Water, Desert, and 451. The melancholy closing ballad Batter Up is the album’s most emotionally affecting moment.
This album is closer to rock than what I understand as Emo. Perhaps you need to be a fan of the band to fully appreciate what they are saying here on their allegedly final LP. I don’t have context or nostalgia for the group’s discography.  Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey apologizing for sexual misconduct in November soured my respect for the singer, but I still hold it as one of the best releases of 2017.

 

 

 

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10.

Room 29 by Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales
Inspired by the mystery and history of the Chateau Marmont, Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp fame in the 90s) has a way with words that conjures images in your mind.
Tracks like Room 29, Salomé, The Other Side, and A Trick of the Light address television and what it does to us. The latter is the album’s longest and my personal favorite. There are also a number of references to the Golden Age of Hollywood, which I found interesting as a film buff.
The Quietus wrote: “The hotel is the thematic link that runs throughout the record, with pithy perspectives of events that took place there”.
Probably the most memorable of these lounge/piano tunes is Tearjearker, which hints at a soullessness and un-lived-in-ness of hotels: ”These surfaces are shiny. Anything wipes off them. These surfaces are hard. Nothing seems to mark them”. Yet you could also imagine the surfaces he speaks of are about the human condition, how hard our exterior is to outside influences.
Some listeners may feel the album at times is bordering on boring and non-music, with its spoken-word and sparse arrangements. I look at it as a welcome change of direction, Jarvis’ vocal suits this low-key collaboration well. An album that will still be relevant in 20 years and with piano instrumentals that won’t age. Wickerman is among my favorite Pulp songs, so Jarvis’ spoken word singing was just the ticket for me.

 

 

Honorable mentions:
Plunge by Fever Ray
Everything Now by Arcade Fire
Utopia by Björk
The Far Field by Future Islands
Slowdive by Slowdive

 

 

 

Have you heard any of the albums mentioned here and what did you think? Have I encouraged you to listen to any? Which are your favorite albums of 2017? As always, comments are welcome.

Top 10 album disappointments of 2017

 

Below I’m only counting albums I actually listened to from start to finish. Included are releases that either were hyped, or I was familiar with the artists previous work. Notice there’s no Arcade Fire in the list, who received a fair amount of backlash. I actually enjoyed what they did on Everything Now. I can’t include Morrissey’s LP Low in High School below, because I found it overly preachy and couldn’t even finish! Sorry Rol. In no particular order:

 

 

Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch

Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch
Works fairly well with the images and a big sound system in the cinema. As a stand-alone experience at home the new score is unremarkable and a chore to sit through. What generated much of the emotion and atmosphere in the 1982 film was Vangelis’ beautiful soundtrack, which is endlessly playable and my favorite soundtrack of all-time. Perhaps because of a tight schedule after Jóhann Jóhannsson dropped out, Zimmer/Wallfisch are unable to deliver music that gives you chills. A work-man like soundtrack, but not something extraordinary. In fact, Hans Zimmer’s score for Dunkirk this year is more powerful.
There are brief moments of brilliance, but they are all too short. A modern synthesizer piece that stands out is during Mesa, a segment that is repeated in the track Blade Runner. There’s a haunting outro on That’s Why We Believe, and parts of Sea Wall are beautiful. This soundtrack isn’t Zimmer’s best work and I disiked Almost Human by Lauren Daigle. Should have hired Vangelis. My rating is for the stand-alone listen. Just to be clear, I’m not rating the Elvis and Frank Sinatra songs.

 

 
Glasshouse

Glasshouse by Jessie Ware
Boring, vapid love songs, with the occasional pop single (Midnight, Selfish Love, Alone). The closer Sam feels more personal and experimental. Tough Love (2014) is her most emotionally fulfilling album, and the LP she’s done with the least amount of filler, and most replay value.

 

 

 

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Songs of Experience by U2
Calling it a disappointment is probably a bit of a stretch, U2 haven’t been on top form in a while. Slightly better than Songs of Innocence. The new album is second-tier U2 and contains many average songs. The non-single Lights of Home is probably the album highlight.
The Blackout (a bit too long) could have been a single. Has a strong bassline and is the only track that gave me semi-chills.

 

 

 

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Sleep Well Beast by The National
To me, despite the critical praise, it’s a lesser album from a band I usually like. Has the familiar Berninger baritone and melancholy, though the lyrics didn’t resonate as deeply as previous National albums. Walk It Back goes for tongue-in-cheek-ness but isn’t as potent as their serious music.
Wasn’t a fan of the production choices. At times, the drum programming, electronic sounds, and keyboards are frankly annoying.  That said, The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness and I’ll Still Destroy You (about self-medication) are powerful and superbly written. Doubtful Sleep Well Beast has the same replay value as their earlier work.

 

 

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DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
Album of the year? Not even close. Very overrated and 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 as To Pimp a Butterfly. For hip hop fans only.

 

 

 

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American Dream by LCD Soundsystem
I don’t understand the high ratings and praise in the press. The songs are overlong and a struggle to even finish. The synthesizer often sounds cheap, although I did like the end of the track American Dream.
As others have said, reminiscent of Talking Heads, only not as effective. The good news is the writing is satisfying.
Call the Police and Oh Baby are the strongest moments on an album that I didn’t enjoy.

 

 

 

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Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes
Disappointing and overpraised third album. The vocal is distinctive, but the melodies are inaccessible and unmemorable. Goes in a progressive-folk/jazzy direction. ”Naiads Cassadies” and ”On Another Ocean” are quite beautiful. Maybe it’s an album I just didn’t understand.

 

 

 

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Wonderful Wonderful by The Killers
I enjoyed Brandon Flowers’ 2015 solo album The Desired Effect, unfortunately this new Killers album is not nearly as good and lacking in emotion. The Man is a catchy pop single, although I disliked the over-confident lyrics. I’ve read the song possibly is a sarcastic jab at those in our culture who believe that they really are sitting on the throne, men who say with a straight face, “I’m the man!”. I still find the swagger distasteful.
I like Some Kind of Love which is the only track here that made me feel something.
The 80s inspired synth production on Tyson vs. Douglas works, and it arguably ought to have been a single, but again, the lyrics should have been better, about a 1990 Mike Tyson boxing match.

 

 

 

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Oczy Mlody by The Flaming Lips
I’ve listened to the majority of their LPs and this is among The Flaming Lips’ least memorable. Wants to be atmospheric, but too many dull moments. The vocal is uninspired and the only zeal I noticed was on the track The Castle. The first half of the album is weak. The opening two songs are too similar. Sunrise is ok yet sounds like rehash.
One Night While Hunting surprised me and is when the album finally kicks into gear. The second half of the album is stronger for production choices and atmosphere and saves it from being a total misfire. Best to just go back and listen to Flaming Lips in their prime.

 

 

 

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I Tell a Fly by Benjamin Clementine
Too discordant and weird. He sounds drunk! Didn’t care for the sudden tonal shifts. It’s experimental, yes, but not in an enjoyable way. The best song is Quintessence for its heartfelt outro.

 

 

 

What do you think? Which albums underwhelmed you this year? As always, comments are welcome. I’ll be back soon with my top 10 albums of 2017, I promise it will be more optimistic!

Films and TV of the month: November

 

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) (Sidney Lumet)
The movie has a great ensemble cast. Albert Finney is almost unrecognizable, disappearing into the role of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, his oscar-nominated acting was more impressive than Ingrid Bergman’s. She won an Academy Award for a forgettable performance here.
Agatha Christie keeps you guessing with lots of suspects and clues in an intriguing whodunit mystery. The big reveal was a surprise and one of the great twist endings. Although once the mystery is solved I have to admit the film loses its fascination, and I haven’t thought about it since.
7/10

 

 

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Has the same flat acting style of Lanthimos’ other work (The Lobster, Dogtooth), so it isn’t for everyone. For me, the best film of 2017 so far. I’ve heard it described as a “feel-bad movie”. Elusive, illogical, dream-like, uncomfortable psychological horror-comic mystery. The past can come back to haunt you. Guilt or injustice can bring about nightmares, and the entire film might be a bad dream of one of the main characters. Supposing it is for second, it’s interesting to speculate if nightmares reduce or increase psychological tension. The religious interpretation is also valid. In Greek tragedy, defiance of the gods (hubris), leads to nemesis. As with Dogtooth (2009), the story works on different levels, another reading is that it’s a simple drama with some coincidences and misunderstandings. A fourth angle could be if Martin somehow did something plausible that caused the incident, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what that would be. There’s no evidence that the hospital were at fault, and in these type of situations doctors (for centuries) have been easy targets for blame. That said, I think it’s a film that would force any doctor to assess his/her professionalism.
It’s a difficult film and won’t have the broad appeal of this year’s horror success Get Out. If you are open to something vague and thought-provoking, give it a shot.
9/10

 

 

 

 

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Thelma (2017) (Joachim Trier)
I’m a fan of Joachim Trier’s work, possibly his best known film is Oslo, 31. august (2011). His latest is an intriguing, unsettling, well-told coming of age horror mystery. I empathized with Thelma’s self-discovery and dark secrets, though not someone I’d want to meet! She is a young woman afraid of losing control of her body, her desires, and her identity.  She is searching for her place in the world and testing the boundaries of her Christian background. The film questions what we are in control of and what we are not, and queries the price of liberation. Thelma, like other Joachim Trier characters, is lonely, and despite a family who love her, she doesn’t know how to belong.  Not understanding in what way to reach herself or those around her. The friendship with Anja is a way forward but difficult to deal with due to its intensity.
While the acting is excellent by the lead Eili Harboe, the story maybe doesn’t have enough warmth, emotion and distinctive scenes to be considered a genre classic. The opening and ending sequences, as well as the flashbacks to her childhood, were the visual stand outs. Like The Killing of a Sacred Deer reviewed above, it’s possible many scenes are happening internally.
On a side note, one of Trier’s friends introduced him to a book by Aleister Crowley, which detailed the right to free sexuality and existence outside a Christian lifestyle. Trier discovered that “thelema” is derived from the ancient Greek word for “will”.
7-8/10

 

 

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City Zero aka Zerograd aka Gorod Zero (1988) (Karen Shakhnazarov)
Recommended to me by Mr Bobinsky at indiescifi451. Included in his top 10 Soviet sci-fi films
My thoughts. The tone of the film is very specific, a sort of absurd kafkaesque deadpan comedy/mystery. Throughout the film, there’s a sense of dread. In Kafka’s world, you cannot get an answer to your questions from the authorities and absurd misunderstandings and accusations occur. The bureaucratic powers are incompetent. The mood of City Zero has a bit of that.
The restaurant scene is particularly surprising and funny. Amusing the museum is in the middle of nowhere and something decidedly odd is going on with the museum exhibits. I probably didn’t get the full impact, as the Russian history and politics went over my head, but I was still able to enjoy the film nonetheless. It’s unclear what is going on in the town. Perhaps the townspeople have created a scam. I could be wrong, my theory is the they wanted Varakin to replace the chef.
Could be viewed as an allegory for governmental control and freedom of the individual, something that was an issue behind the iron curtain in the 80s. Open to more than one interpretation. I wonder if the museum exists somewhere in Russia or was created just for the film?
An unpredictable story that I couldn’t stop watching.
8/10

 

 

Luther (2003)

Luther (2003) (Eric Till)
I keep hearing mention of Martin Luther because of the 500 year anniversary since the reformation in 1517. The film portrays him as a man of courage and vision, and he was an important reformer of his time.
Among scholars he is not as flawless as the movie suggests, with some who have studied his writing arguing Luther was an anti-semitic. Impressive, expensive looking production values transport you back to the 1500s.
7/10

 

 

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The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) (Volker Schlöndorff)
Does a good job of showing the pressure and surveillance certain Germans were under during the DDR years. A captivating, bold story to tell considering was produced in the 70s. I didn’t realize the press co-operated with the government, that aspect was especially
interesting. I will say though that Katharina probably would have been put under surveillance no matter where in the world she was, because of the situation she finds herself in. Vilification by the media is still highly topical.
7.5/10

 

 

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) (John Madden)
You don’t need to be of “a certain age” to enjoy this movie. Alyson will get that joke. Characters I cared about, and a quite charming story about the search for meaning and happiness. For the most part, avoids cloyingness/sentimentality. Kind of a Love Actually set in India, if that makes any sense.
7/10

 

 

The Square

The Square (2017) (Ruben Östlund)
Read full review here
8/10

 

 

 

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Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016) (Matt Schrader)
Doesn’t say anything new. A bit shallow. I finished it mainly for the movie clips, which are well-chosen for the impactful use of score.
4/10

 

 

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A Life in Waves (documentary) (2017) (Brett Whitcomb)
Documentary about the life of pioneering electronic musician Suzanne Ciani. Growing up playing the piano, she attended Berkeley’s music course. Praises her mentor Don Buchla, whom she worked with and learned from. He was an inventor in the field of sound synthesizers. She would go on to form her own company, making the sound effects for movies, commercials, and a pinball game. Later releasing solo albums in the 80s. On 1982’s Seven Waves what she was trying to do was create “sensual, feminine, romantic, passionate, emotional music. Music with machines”. With her second solo album in the mid 80s, she talks about the relief of the New Age category in record stores , which meant customers would be able to find her music. From her third album the focus would shift to piano-based music.
Nature is a major inspiration for her work: “Nature gives us confidence that the world works without us. This is all orchestrated without us, We didn’t plan it. It’s just here, and it’s perfect. The other thing about nature is it’s a little more chaotic, it’s like, birds and Bach. The birds are beautiful, but it’s not composed. So for me, nature is a spiritual starting point, because it brings me peace and calmness, and that is what my music is about”
Other electronic/new age musicians mentioned: Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Rob Zantay, Sarah Davachi, Kitaro, Chris Ianuzzi, and Peter Baumann(of Tangerine Dream)
6/10

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome