Film review: Blade Runner 2049 (spoiler-free)

History has proven that rarely is the sequel better than the original. It was going to be an uphill battle to equal (or improve on) a film as groundbreaking and quotable as the 1982 film. Blade Runner 2049 is good but not a masterpiece. I knew was going to be fan service and that is basically what it boils down to.

Several actors have smaller roles than expected. There are a few cameos, but I won't go into specifics. The filmmakers have said all along that you should go in knowing as little as possible, as the plot is a spoiler in itself.  There's an expansion of this world and the slow pacing is daring for a blockbuster, yet I felt the storytelling was too concerned with honoring the original. In that sense, it's zeitgeisty, in paying homage.

The writers waited too long, in the 35 year gap since 1982, various TV shows and films (again, without going into spoilery territory) have already run with the philosophical themes presented in Blade Runner 2049. And you could argue most of what is presented in the sequel was alluded to tacitly in the original.

Yet an admirable effort that held my interest. The plotting is quite intricate, and fun to be back in this universe. Just isn't as emotional, chill-inducing and memorable as Ridley Scott's classic. The first film could be considered sci-fi-noir, the second has been described as an "Arthouse-Blockbuster". Worth watching on the big screen to meet Deckard again and for the stunning visuals, but go in with moderate expectations.

Rating 7/10

The 1982 film is among my top 10 of all-time, and the atmospheric soundtrack is a big reason why. Vangelis didn't return as composer. At the end of the month, I'll review the new score by Benjamin Wallfisch/Hans Zimmer.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Holiday in Berlin

I recently went on an enjoyable holiday to Berlin for a week. In the DDR museum, I learnt about what it was like to live behind the wall in East Germany. Travel was forbidden, limitations on what food was available, stuck on a waiting list for years in order to own a low quality car (Trabant), and having to sign a written agreement of loyalty to the party so as to be allowed to study at the university.

Opposing the regime was forbidden. Those were different times, yet it wasn't so long ago! If you had to point to a positive of that era, then it was the low unemployment in the DDR. In fact after the fall of the wall in 1989, many East Germans who fled to the West struggled to find work.

Books and music were examples of censorship. Popular culture was viewed as dangerous and potentially subversive in communist Eastern Europe, designed to corrupt its young people, turning them away from socialist ideals. Most music fans simply resorted to taping their favorite songs directly off West German radio stations and exchanging them with their friends. Western bands were not permitted to play in East Germany, and East German rock bands were essentially protected against foreign competition. A limited musical exchange between East and West Germany would gradually happen in the 1980s. Punk was an underground movement; many bands performed concerts in their own garages and recorded and distributed their music on self-made cassettes. However, as the movement grew, Stasi agents were increasingly able to infiltrate the punk scene. East Berlin punk group Namenlos were arrested and sentenced to between 12 and 18 months in prison for ‘disparaging the state’. Klaus Renft Combo were banned in 1975, the committee told the band that their lyrics ‘had absolutely nothing to do with socialist reality'.

The highlight of the museum was a listening area where I could hear DDR hits via headphones. With a chart on the screen in which visitors could vote for their favorites. Der Blaue Planet by Karat was in the top 5. I later discovered it's not just a song but a full length album from 1982, released on the state record label AMIGA. The majority of the music on the playlist I had never heard of. Other popular DDR groups included The Puhdys, City, and Silly. Since the museum's cd stock was sold out, I looked for and found a greatest hits by Karat in Media Markt, a nearby multi-story electronics store at Alexander Platz. Also bought a compilation of (mostly 70s and 80s) rock called Das Beste Aus Der DDR. Each cd cost 6 euro. I guess what I found out is that the German music scene has many interesting acts besides Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Can. Not all quality, but some of it still holds up. My German isn't as good as it used to be, so that may diminish what I take away from the music. If the melodies are strong enough, then the lyrics are of lesser importance.

Der Blaue Planet by Karat (1982)

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: September

Mother! (2017) (Darren Aronofsky)
A film I'll be thinking about for a long time. A strange, unconventional story. Easily one of the most original and surprising horrors of recent years. I had no idea where it was heading. Some critics complained about the tonal shift in the last 45 minutes, but you need the build-up for it to work. As indiewire wrote: "The director creates a feeling of absurdity from the outset that signals to the viewer not to take these events literally".

2048: Nowhere to Run (6 min short) (2017) (Luke Scott) 
Set in 2048, a prequel short to the upcoming Blade Runner 2049. The setting looks very similar to Blade Runner, despite 29 years after the events of 2019.
Introduces Sapper ( wrestler/actor Dave Bautista) , a man with different sides to his personality. The book mentioned is The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.

Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 (16 min short) (2017) (Shinichiro Watanabe)
The most beautiful and expansive of the three Blade Runner 2049 prequel shorts. But the storytelling is rather messy and tough to care about any of the characters.

Unforgiven (1992) (Clint Eastwood)
Well-acted, nice cinematography, and a well-told western. Though I do think the film establishes violent revenge (both in the mission and ending) as the right choice, which I feel is a questionable message. But the 1880s was a different era and the film is a time capsule. It's interesting that the lead (Eastwood) used to be a monster yet we root for him. Police brutality is certainly a theme that's still relevant and the film would be less intense if all the characters were non-violent.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper (documentary) (Nick Broomfield) (2014)
True crime documentary about Lonnie Franklin aka the Grim Sleeper. Could have told this story in less than 105 mins. Kept repeating the same points and other suspects are glossed over. But it did have an important message that the murder of homeless black women was (and maybe still is) a low priority for the LAPD. Not warning the community about a serial killer is a tragedy, especially because it took them 20 years to get the info out there. A woman is quoted as saying "The lack of concern allowed a lot more people to be murdered”. From eye witness accounts, victims, neighbours, and family, we are given an impression of who Lonnie is, both the good and the bad.

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) (Review of Season 3, Episode 18) (David Lynch)
I was planning to review Episodes 13-17 but decided not to due to lack of time and because I feel I would just be retelling/summarizing.
What I will do is write about the final episode which is the most ambiguous, mysterious and thought-provoking of season 3. There are spoilers ahead, so be warned.
Episode 18 is a bit slow and storyless, but with a lot of tension. The more I think about it, the better I like how it played out. I see Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer as confused members of the red room, no longer knowing what is real and reality, past, present or future. All this travelling between worlds has caused them to lose a sense of who or where they are. Kind of reminded me of The Pledge (2001), Jack Nicholson’s dutiful character sort of lost his mind by working on the same case for a long time. Odd that Cooper doesn’t address the fact there is a corpse in Carrie’s home, he just sits passively in silence while driving to Twin Peaks. Episode 18 is illogical and dream-like, taking place in a parallel universe where things are different to the real world. Perhaps the entire episode is Cooper’s or Laura’s dream. Carrie’s /Laura’s hair color changes from brunette to blond from one scene to the next. As The Vox wrote: “You go to bed in one reality and wake up in another one, where everything and everybody is different, up to and including yourself. You wake up from one dream right into another one.”
Episode 18 will be debated and analysed for years to come. If this is Lynch’s farewell as a director, he went out on a high!

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Albums of the month: September

Recently went on holiday (more on that later), so the two posts today are slightly later than usual. Still had time to listen to a variety of newer and older albums.

The Doors by The Doors (1967)
Amazing debut. 5 classic songs: Break On Through, The Crystal Ship(my personal favorite), Alabama Song, Light My Fire, The End. The filler tracks prevent it from achieving a perfect score.

John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Often described as Lennon’s finest solo effort. A painfully honest album that hits you in the gut. A few filler moments, but with 5 classic songs: Mother, Working Class Hero, Isolation, Love, and God. Almost as great as George Harrison’s 1970 solo album All Things Must Pass.
On a side note, I'm curious to listen to Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band (1970), an experimental rock  album recorded by the same musicians.

Exodus by Bob Marley & The Wailers (1977)

Blade Runner (Esper Edition) by Vangelis (1982/2003)
My all-time favorite soundtrack which never fails to enrapture me. A two-cd bootleg, collecting music related to the film.  To me, the 114 minute Esper Edition is superior to the official 57 minute soundtrack from 1994. Many of the sound effects from the film were omitted on the official soundtrack. The Esper Edition is among the highest rated bootlegs of all-time on Rate Your Music, and should please most fans of Blade Runner, though apparently there is a 3-cd MR3 Edition.

Faith by George Michael (1987)
Won Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1989. The first four songs are very good. Faith & Father Figure are 80s classics. I Want Your Sex is well-produced and held my interest despite running 9 min. One More Try showcases Michael's ability as a singer.
Tracks 5-8 didn't interest me. Track 9 Kissing a Fool is well-written and encouraged me to google the philosophical lyrics. Bonus track A Last Request is smooth and quite good.
Looks like he is smelling his own armpit on the album sleeve /:

Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti (2017)
The soundtrack for season 3 of Twin Peaks. I’m pretty sure will remain in my top 5 albums of the year. The set includes 3-4 tracks from the early 90s. Badalamenti's new score is juxtapositioned with various artists from past and present.
I like the new instrumentals, especially Accident / Farewell Theme, Windswept by Johnny Jewel, The Chair, The Fireman, Saturday (Instrumental) by Chromatics, and Heartbreaking. 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.

Sleep Well Beast by The National (2017)
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.
Favorite lyrics: ”But he had to deal with those people like you who made no goddamn common sense”
”I’m always thinking about useless things”
"I'm just trying to stay in touch with anything I'm still in touch with"
"I swear you got a little bit taller since I saw you, I'll still destroy you"
"Maybe I listen more than you think"

Science Fiction by Brand New (2017)
The meaning of the title (Science Fiction) alludes me for now. A critically acclaimed and commercially successful return by a band who have 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, but not sure I love the vocal. The melancholy closing ballad Batter Up is the album's most emotionally affecting moment.
Perhaps you need to be a fan of the band and Emo to fully appreciate what they are doing here on their final LP. I don't have context or nostalgia.
6 to 7 /10

Cigarettes After Sex by Cigarettes After Sex (2017)
Recommended by RYM-user jonlanghoff. Most of these songs have the same Beach House-esque sound, so I'm not sure how original the album actually is. Yet it's infectious, calming, and easy to get lost in the hazy mood the band creates. The lyrics are effective and the slow delivery elevates the words. I was surprised to find out the vocalist is not a woman?! Over time, could rise to a 7/10.
6 to 7 /10

Music for People in Trouble by Susanne Sundfør (2017)
I listened based on the favorable reviews. Slow, minimalist folk. Undercover, Bedtime Story and Reincarnation are the tracks that interested me the most. The outros from the title track & No One Believes in Love Anymore are quite haunting. She has a good voice, but the album has too many boring songs.

The Weather Station by The Weather Station (2017)
Very patchy. The opening two songs (Free & Thirty) are strong for the melodies. Impossible and You and I (On the Other Side of the World) have energy and a nice production. A pity the rest of the album is a bit dull and uninvolving. Her vocal is similar to Joni Mitchell.

American Dream by LCD Soundsystem (2017)
I don't understand the high ratings on RYM 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 synth work at 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.

Wonderful Wonderful by The Killers (2017)
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.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Film review: Wait (2015) directed by Alex Withrow

Tough to review this feature debut, because I know the director. I'll give it a shot. Also, I find it difficult to review a micro budget film fairly, because you can’t really compare it to most big budget studio productions. Has to be measured up against similar smaller, independent films, and I just don’t have many recent examples aside from Edward Burns, who wrote and directed the underseen Newlyweds (2011) for just $9.000.
I liked the montages, music, colors, editing and writing in Wait. The opening 30 minutes essentially introduces the characters. The dialogue with the two couples at the restaurant had energy, and is entertaining to watch despite not being vital to the subsequent conflicts. The scene at the coffee shop between Claire, Christian, and a friend was a bit too on the nose in its visual delivery. I question the amount of screen time Micah Parker is given, a good actor, but his scenes alone are a bit self-indulgent. Too often we see him staring into mirrors or clenching his jaw. To me, Parker felt like a supporting character who had been elevated to lead actor, but who was not the most fascinating person to follow in the film. Christian is not a dull character, but Dylan, Natalie, Claire, David and Colin interested me more.

The last 45 min of the 72 min film I felt were a lot stronger and more emotionally involving. You begin to figure out what is at stake. The city lights representing the passage of time at 25.45 was a beautiful moment.David’s reaction (from the 31 min mark) was memorable and when the film really got me hooked.  (Spoilers start) The cut with David facing the camera and looking despondent was powerful, and so is the car sequence. I loved how the score blended into the beeping hospital equipment at 44.30. The best acted and best written scene is probably the discussion between Natalie and Dylan, about whether he should go to the hospital or not. A tricky situation, she is too controlling, and he is maybe too caring about a former lover who treated him badly. It's not easy to say who is right or wrong. In an ideal world, if you love someone you should allow them to be themselves and make their own choices.

Interesting to rewatch the early scenes to see if there is tension between Dylan and Natalie, there isn’t much eye contact between them at the restaurant. The two seem at ease at this point, he’s mellow and quiet, while she is animated and a little flirtatious towards Colin. The difference between them is indicated in the poster. In the club and in bed they appear in love, and when you rewatch Dylan reading Claire’s interview online you put the pieces together. I also found it interesting that Dylan picked a girlfriend in Natalie whose face resembled his previous lover Claire. It was like Dylan picked a new girlfriend who reminded him of Claire. I don't know if this was a deliberate casting decision. (Spoilers end)

According to imdb, the first draft of the script was written in one continuous 36 hour-long session. Writer Alex Withrow edited and fined tuned the script for 10 months, until production began.

Is the interview in which Claire (Catherine Warner) talks about receiving a different script for Bliss autobiographical? In regards to the making of Earrings and Wait in which she starred, I wondered if this really happened!

To sum up, I enjoyed Wait, which won three film festival awards. A promising debut feature and I look forward to what Alex Withrow puts out in the future.

You can rent or buy Wait, from anywhere in the world, via Vimeo OnDemand. If you are in the US, it's also available to watch on Amazon and iTunes. You can read Alex Withrow's blog at And So It Begins

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: August

Dunkirk (2017) (Christopher Nolan)
Suspenseful, realistic and patriotic WW2 drama/thriller. Taking the audience into the heat of battle, you feel you are there with them. Many are not fighting and just trying to survive.
Hans Zimmer's pulsating score is perfect during the action, and his music also soars in the emotional scenes. Is it a classic? Definitely well-made, but I have doubts if I'll remember the lines of dialogue and characters.
There's a case to be made that turning people's struggles into thrill ride entertainment and earning money from this event is inappropriate. The counter argument is enough time has passed since WW2 and Nolan is honoring these individuals. I belong to the latter camp.

2036: Nexus Dawn (6 min short) (Luke Scott) 
Prequel short set after the 2019 events of Blade Runner and before upcoming Blade Runner 2049.
Memorable for the violence. The dialogue felt a bit overwritten and scripted. Takes place in a room at night, and especially the chandelier and lighting is quite beautiful. I liked it better on rewatch.

The Lives of Others (2006) (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
Rewatch. I'm going to Berlin this autumn, so watching a few films filmed in the city. As others have said, why he rebels is unclear. Perhaps we have to fill in the blanks ourselves.

Elizabeth (1998) (Shekhar Kapur)
British biographical/historical drama set in the 1500s. Gives you a history lesson of sorts. (Spoilers) Queen Elizabeth I of England was a compassionate Queen, with a mind of her own, promoting progress, working to stop the needless burning of heretics. Religion caused suffering in those times too. The film is also about duty and love, and especially in the last act, is too eager to make us feel a specific way about her, which took my rating down from an 8 to a 7.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) (Shekhar Kapur)
Overblown in places, though better than the 35% Rotten Tomatoes score. Blanchett delivers another strong performance as the slightly older Queen Elizabeth 1. Earns its Oscar for Costume Design and the sets are impressive too. Sir Francis Drake wasn't given much screen time and from what I'm told he was more important than the film depicted.

Heat (1995) (Michael Mann)
A very quotable crime/drama which initially is a bit cold and brutal, but the longer it goes, the more I cared.
Includes one of the most thrilling bank robberies ever put to film, featuring the intense Brian Eno instrumental Force Marker.
The meeting in the restaurant between Pacino and De Niro is another highlight, yet on rewatch feels a tad unrealistic. Why would Neil admit he still takes scores? A sad film in how most characters are neglecting other people.

Sunshine (2007) (Danny Boyle)
Believable (for the most part) science fiction space-adventure, but the Pinbacker character is silly. Could have done without the shaky cam. Scientists making elementary mistakes to further the story is a lazy plot device. Nice film score and at times quite beautiful images. I don't think TV does the movie justice, I might have rated Sunshine higher, if I'd seen it on the big screen.

LA 92 (2017) (Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin)
25 years after the verdict in the Rodney King trial sparked several days of protests, violence and looting in Los Angeles, the events are retold as objectively as possible without bias.
I was only 11 in 1992 so was like watching for the first time. An important film. Regrettably I think a similar situation could happen again, as police brutality continues.

Apollo 11: The Untold Story (2008) (Tom Whitter)
Like Apollo 13, even though I knew the outcome, the storytelling was suspenseful. Apparently Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were not told about the dangers of take-off, and the descent to the moon could easily have gone wrong, as the fuel tank on the landing stage of the LEM was almost empty.

Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression (2009)  
Unauthorized by (and therefore completely independent from) Depeche Mode themselves or their record company.
An album-by-album documentary featuring talking heads. Focus is on 1980-1993. Never wanting to repeat the same sound in the early years was very ambitious. Stripped was inspired by the noise of an engine. Deciding to "live an album" and not do anything else helped elevate 1986's Black Celebration. Sadly not enough interviews with Depeche Mode. Mostly we hear from producers, engineers, biographer Jonathan Miller, and other synthpop artists (OMD, Gary Numan, Thomas Dolby) . Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, and The Normal are mentioned as early, lesser known synth bands.
I didn't know the making of 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion was hampered by substance abuse and personal problems and could explain the distress in the vocals and lyrics.

The Alcohol Years (2000) (Carol Morley)
Carol Morley is the sister of music journalist Paul Morley. Hmm, this 50 min film was sleazier than expected. Had no idea Carol Morley was so slutty and unpleasant during her youth. She claims not to remember chunks of it, which apparently took place in an alcoholic haze. The documentary acts as a therapeutic and somewhat self-indulgent journey in her attempt to make sense of who she used to be. Brave of her to look at the worst sides of herself andt put it on film for all to see. Based on this account of friends discussing her troubled early life in Manchester, it's quite the turnaround she became a director and made the brillant Dreams of a Life (2011). I like her more as an artist than as a person.

BaadAsssss Cinema (2002) (Isaac Julien)
A one hour look at blaxploitation films of the 1970s, with various opinions on the matter. As you would expect, there are congratulatory remarks and observations on the empowerment of Sweetback, Shaft, Superfly, Coffy, The Mack and other films.
But the documentary also touches on the fashion, stereotypes, and backlash to blaxploitation. As a wiser, older Pam Grier admitted:
"We have to be very thoughtful about what we do and say on film. the stereotypes we have are often what we perpetuated ourselves. I broke them, but I also created some. Because everyone thought a black woman is a whoop-your-butt sister all the time. I said, no, that's not true. So we create a lot of that mess ourselves"

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015) (Stanley Nelson)
Fascinating and educational documentary about the rise and fall of The Black Panthers.
Starts off with an allegory. Three blind men touch an elephant, one touches the skin and says it’s like a wall, another touches the tusk and says the elephant must be like a spear, a third touches the trunk and says it feels like a snake. “That is what happened in the black panther party, we know which party we are in, but not the entire thing”
Being black in America in the 1960s meant you didn’t walk out on the street with the same sense of safety and privilege as the white person. They didn’t call you nigger in California, but they treated you the same way as in the south (Mississippi).
Police threatened the blacks on the street. Black panthers started as a group for self-defence, not intended as a nationwide organisation. The panther (animal) doesn’t strike anyone, but when the aggressor continuously attacks, then it will strike out.
Black panthers with weapons would stand at a distance of police and make sure there was no brutality. Firing up in the air if police used guns. Panthers wanted the entire community to follow their example.
The police considered black panthers dangerous nuts with guns and authorities wanted to pass a new law prohibiting loaded guns in public places. Several blacks were arrested in Sacramento, the capital city of the U.S. state of California, and many blacks saw this on TV, radio, and newspapers, and the event caused the black panther party to grow. Killings and arrests of Panthers increased its support among African Americans
A couple of their goals include better education for blacks, and the immediate end to police brutality.
New members came off the street. The downside was the party had no idea who these people were.
Black panther leader and minister of self-defense Huey Newton is accused of murdering Oakland police officer John Frey, and inspired the “free Huey” movement. The somewhat erratic Eldridge Cleaver is considered the only available spokesperson for the party.
The black panthers say they are not anti-white, but hate oppression.
Later, the party wanted to be less associated with self-defence and police patrols, and aid programs were started, free breakfasts for black children, as scientifically proven a good breakfast helps learning. Free clinics also. This help the party build their membership.
The black panthers started a newspaper which caricatured the police as “pigs” with clothes.
Eldridge uses violence against the police, the 17 year old he was with dies when surrendering
Eldridge goes to Algeria and the US can’t arrest him there.
FBI chief J Edgar Hoover names black panthers as number one threat to national security.
Hoover supervised an extensive counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and many other tactics designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members, discredit and criminalize the Party, and drain the organization of resources and manpower. The program was also accused of assassinating Black Panther members.
Becomes dangerous to be a member, which in turn means less are inclined to join.
Black panthers encounter an internal conflict between freed Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria, Newton throws Eldridge out of the party, and black panthers divide into two.
Co-founder of the panthers Bobby Seale runs for major in Oakland, giving away free chickens in an attempt to lure black voters, and amazingly Seal was able to register 20.000-50.000 to vote, turning the survival programs into a get-up-and-vote program. But he lost the election.
Huey Newton surrounds himself with former inmates and is unpredictable and sometimes violent, some days a great leader, other days self-serving. Bobby Seale and others leave black panthers.
Many of the party’s members were women, looking for better rights for females in society.
Opinions differ on the reputation of The Black Panthers. Good intentions and a positive impact in the breakfast programs, but with controversial methods and questionable leadership.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Old and new albums of the month: August 2017

A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs (2017)
Album of the year so far, 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 the 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.

Good Time by Oneohtrix Point Never (soundtrack) (2017)
You know the music buisness has declined when Thief (1981) soundtrack by Tangerine Dream was nominated for worst musical score (really?) at the Golden Raspberry Awards, while Good Time film score by Oneohtrix Point Never (a decent 80s homage to Thief) wins Soundtrack Award at prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
I haven't seen the movie yet. Hospital Escape, Entry to White Castle, and Romance Apocalypse are good, and would work for suspense/atmosphere. Leaving the Park has a nice guitar solo. The Pure and the Damned feat. Iggy Pop is quite haunting but loses its allure on repeat listens.

The Machine That Made Us by Flotation Toy Warning (2017)
I like their lyrics. I'd rather read the words than listen to the dull/depressing vocal again for 61 minutes. Controlling the Sea has a nice melody. King Of Foxgloves might be a grower.

Weakness (EP) Margo Price  (2017)
Better-than-average EP containing four new songs. Two excellent country ballads in Weakness & Just Like Love.
An uptempo song with an extended jam (Paper Cowboy).
The only minor track is the closer Good Luck, although I like the piano.

Songs From the Big Chair by Tears for Fears (1985)
Everybody Wants to Rule the World (with its iconic intro), Shout, and Head over Heels are the three towering pop hits the album is famous for. The Working Hour is nicely produced. Mothers Talk a bit too repetitive, although has an interesting outro. I Believe is a slower, simpler song, a mid album breather. Listen a beautiful closer, however the repetition is a bit unimaginative.
Not an album I'd play often, good for the occasional listen. The vocal is on the verge of cheesy and prevents a higher score.

Welcome to the Pleasuredome by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984)
A big, lush 80s pop sound, coupled with (at the time) controversial themes. The hit single Relax (a warning about the dangers of intercourse) is the most catchy and memorable. Welcome to the Pleasuredome (about debauchery), War ...And Hide (an anti-war anthem),  and the moving love song The Power of Love are the other keepers.
The rest of the album is ok but forgettable. The covers of Born to Run and San Jose (The Way) are odd inclusions. The Ballad of 32 is a Pink Floyd homage with erotic undertones.
If I listen to the album again, I'd stop after War and skip to the penultimate The Power of Love. The last 2/3 of the LP are not at the same level as the opening 25 min. Despite the unevenness, worth checking out if you are an 80s fan.

Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones (1981)
I've read Tattoo You is their last great album.  A fun, easy listen. The first four tracks, Start Me Up, Hang Fire, Slave, and Little T and A are very, very catchy.
The formula hasn't altered really from their classic sound, but why change if it still rocks? Apparently the album is mostly composed of studio outtakes recorded during the 1970s.
Not their best lyrics, the Stones don't seem to have much to say at this point, except expressing fondness for girlfriends/groupies, which is what keeps it from a higher rating.

The Nightfly by Donald Fagen (1982)
According to Rate Your Music, Donald Fagen's best solo album. I like the musicianship. The backup vocals and harmonies got on my nerves a bit, though less bothersome on further plays. There are some nice grooves on tracks such as  I.G.Y. , Green Flower Street and New Frontier.
"In my dreams, I can hear the sound of thunder" is an inspired lyric.

Can't Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan (1972)
Three classics with timeless, relatable lyrics (Dirty Work, Do It Again, and Reelin' in the Years)
The other songs are not bad, although less distinctive. Probably takes many plays for it to become a loved album. I like Can't Buy a Thrill enough to keep exploring their discography.

There's a Riot Goin' On by Sly & The Family Stone (1971) 
Short on hits (Familiy Affair stands out), rich on funk. You could listen to tons of times. I initially felt this is a good album, but a victim of excessive acclaim. On second listen, I get what is so great about it. The yodeling on Spaced Cowboy is super annoying though. It's pretty obvious Prince was influenced by their music, especially in terms of the vocals.

Hip by Steppeulvene (1967) 
The Danish Bob Dylan. Featured in my edition of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Stand outs include Dunhammeraften, Itsi-Bitsi, and Til Nashet

The Times They Are A-Changin' by Bob Dylan (1964) 
While well-written, the album is lacking in variety. Bob Dylan was among the folk music revival songwriters with social and political messages. Nowadays political albums are commonplace, and when everyone is doing it, it feels less vital. The opening title track is a 10/10.
Best tracks: The Times They Are A-Changin', With God on Our Side, North Country Blues

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (1959)
Considered among the greatest jazz albums. No idea what to rate. I've tried listening on three separate occasions. I don't find Kind of Blue as soothing and calm as the Rate Your Music descriptors indicate. The best album experience was while doing the dishes, the worst was driving when the improvisational tunes made me stressed. The third time I just sat in a chair and was bored. Perhaps I'll have to chalk it up as a classic that just isn't for me. Think I prefer music that is more melodic.

In the upcoming weeks, I'll have posts ready on the discographies of Led Zeppelin and Cream.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Soft rock, or near enough

In response to Alyson's soft rock appreciation, here are a few of my own picks. Her post was primarily dedicated to the 70s. Has been written soft rock evolved into the synthesized music of adult contemporary in the 1980s, so there's a bit of genre confusion in my 80s choices. Perhaps I should have titled the post differently. Hope you like them.

New Frontier by Donald Fagen (album: The Nightfly) (1982)
(Arguably The Nightfly is jazz pop, after all, it is a solo album by a member of Steely Dan. But I think the song can go as soft rock)

Young Turks by Rod Stewart (1981)
(Some may describe the lyrics as cloying. I like the big 80s chorus and optimism about the future. Wikipedia labels the album soft rock, though could be described as new wave/pop rock)

Let's Fall In Love Tonight by Lewis (album: L'Amour) (1983)
(Apparently singer-songwriter Father John Misty's wife walked down the aisle to this song. Reissued in 2014. Has been claimed the music is not from the 80s, a prank that was recorded in our times. Either way, a mysterious, soulful album I can get lost in. Could be labeled as ambient pop, fits here)

Any thoughts? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: July

In July, my viewing went in three vastly different directions, blaxploitation, the Planet of the Apes series, and Twin Peaks. I also found time for a few other random films, as well as a documentary about photographer Jacob Holdt. Below my thoughts on each.

Later in August, I'll share music in reply to Alyson's soft rock appreciation post.
If there's time, I will reveal my top 25 films of the 21st Century so far, in response to the New York Times' list in June. Lots of interesting top 25s have been doing the rounds this summer.

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) (Melvin Van Peebles)
(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
Influential for starting the wave of blaxploitation in the early 1970s, which served as an alternative to the Hollywood mainstream. Stylistically bold, psychedelic hallucinations, changing colors, half screens and editing tricks, which apparently illustrate main character Sweetback's alienation. He gets into trouble while also having frequent sex. Still relevant in regards to Black Lives Matter and the police confrontations of recent times. Difficult to care about the characters and difficult to get involved in the meandering story. Probably my least liked so far from 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Compared to entertaining and well-paced Across 110th Street (see below), this 1971 effort was a tedious chore and I almost gave up. Fortunately the other films of this subgenre I liked more.

Super Fly (1972) (Gordon Parks Jr.)
(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
A blaxploitation crime drama with an authentic feel, about the underworld drug culture in 70s New York. The story of ”one last job” is familiar, what makes it different is the black cast and promotion of black empowerment.
The film’s strength is the classic soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield and also a memorable performance by Youngblood Priest (Ron O'Neal), snorting coke from the cross on his necklace. Proof that you don’t need a big budget to create a suspenseful climax, the phone call/ elevator sequence has plenty of tension. Some of the acting is a bit dodgy, and several scenes don't really go anywhere, but worth a look. Even though "Priest" is attempting to get out, the film still glamorizes drug-taking, which some viewers may take offense to. While the story isn't as great as its reputation, it is somewhat saved by the great ending.
Favorite quote: “Look, I know it's a rotten game, but it's the only one The Man left us to play”

Across 110th Street (1972) (Barry Shear)
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: the robbery, the mobster visiting Harlem and getting laughed at, the criminal breaking down in front of his girlfriend due to their dead-end future without the loot, etc, etc.
Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn play the good cop/bad cop, working towards finding the criminals. The thieves are not particularly smart, the last 30 minutes is the film’s weakest section.
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.

The Harder They Come (1972) (Perry Henzell)
(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
Like Superfly, 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.

The Mack (1973) (Michael Campus)
Great performance by Max Julien as Goldie. 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 stayed with me. 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 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?".

Black Caesar (1973) (Larry Cohen)
A response to the success of The Godfather (1972). Enjoyed the James Brown soundtrack, and moments of action are memorable, especially in the first 20 minutes; the shoe shine scene, the barber shop, and the black kid delivering the envelope. Later on the chase in the yellow cab is thrilling. But the story is quite cold and the sound design is amateurish. Goes from one violent scene to the next, and becomes a bit numbing and uninvolving. Fred Williamson's lead performance is good, though his character is off-putting and there’s nobody to root for. The film indicates an absent father is a factor in his behavior. There’s a moving scene with his dad outside a church at the halfway mark which works well with the JB song, and the final scene is haunting for different reasons. But overall, Black Caesar isn’t as emotionally satisfying as other blaxploitations.

Coffy (1973) (Jack Hill)
Don’t agree with her revenge mission, as there will always be another drug lord to take their place. Coffy (Pam Grier) isn’t a good role model by stealing a car and letting a man burn alive in his car. But her bravery, cunning and determination is commendable. Running over the busy road was insane. Other stand out action scenes were the cat fight at the party, and the abduction of George.

Foxy Brown (1974) (Jack Hill)
Compared to the other Pam Grier film Coffy, Foxy Brown’s storytelling is harder to follow. It’s not a carbon copy of Coffy, even though there are likenesses such as the feisty female protagonist and cat fight sequence. Foxy Brown is considered a sequel of sorts.
After roughly 30 minutes I still didn’t quite know where things were going. Something about a black man who can witness against a drug dealer and they are trying to get rid of him before he talks. Also a story about the pitfalls of prostitution, and a brother and sister relationship. Pam Grier’s wardrobe is eye-catching. The violent ending is unforgettable. Probably the most sadistic blaxploitation I’ve seen.
Love Theme from Foxy Brown by Willie Hutch which opens and closes the movie.
Not sure I agree with the majority of whites portrayed as wicked, it seems racist, intended or not. In that regard the film is dated. Today, there would be a sympathetic white character. Standing up for yourself and your rights is positive, but there's an implied distrust of whites, and for me the latter is the wrong message to send out, endorsing an "Us versus Them" mentality. Appears to be a returning issue in the blaxploitation genre, and you may find this unsettling as a viewer. A step in the right direction that African-Americans are getting lead roles in movies though.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) (Rupert Wyatt)
Impressive, believable special effects, and an engaging story. If I had seen 'Rise' first, I may have liked it more. You see, I had already watched 'Dawn' (part 2) and 'War' (part 3), which both did a better job of bringing out the personalities of the apes.
The Golden Gate Bridge as the setting of a big action sequence has been done before, though I did gasp during the helicopter scene. Probably the most kids-friendly of the reboot trilogy. There's an important message about caging animals is wrong, and that they need to be with their own kind.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) (Matt Reeves)
Enjoyable action/science fiction with CGI apes you can root for, although I was frustrated that many scenes are dimly lit, which may have been deliberate to make the special effects team's job easier. The mix of sign language and speaking apes worked, despite not fully explaining why both was included.
Caesar's revelation about humans and apes is a powerful scene with its racial connotations, but the film (except the image from the poster) is not as visually distinctive as 2017's War of the Planet of the Apes.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) (Matt Reeves)
Third part of the reboot trilogy. Saw this one in the cinema and the SFX and cinematography are oscar-worthy.
Not quite original enough to be a classic, characters and scenes are lifted from other movies. But among the most emotionally moving blockbusters due to realistic CGI apes. I got teary-eyed a few times, though others may find the storytelling manipulative and sentimental. Takes its time and is slower and more character-driven than 2014's Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. The animal rights and anti-war subtext is important, even if the message doesn't deviate much from 'Dawn'. The plot point about revenge made sense yet didn't totally convince, as he was too smart to abandon his friends for that. As has been said by other reviewers, Caesar is a compelling protagonist. I cared about the apes and their journey.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) (Chad Stahelski)
Basically Commando for the 21st Century. John Wick is a man of few words who shoots a lot of people. A weakness is the scene in Rome involving the woman he is tracking down, security are alarmingly bad at guarding her. That staircase fight was particularly memorable and looks awfully painful for the (presumed?) stunt doubles. The reunion of Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves on screen is not all it's hyped up to be. A bit long, but a fun, mindless action sequel.

Crash (2004) (Paul Haggis)
(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
Several interweaving stories. Works best when going for simplicity, the crash involving the police officer (Mat Dillon) and Thandie Newton trapped in the car was the most moving sequence, although only works thanks to a massive coincidence. The Iraqi wanting a lock for his store was also an involving thread. The two black men discussing differences between white and black gave the film comic relief. The Don Cheadle/Sandra Bullock/Brendan Fraser parts were less captivating, maybe because I didn’t care about those characters.
Not a great film, it's rather contrived, but held my attention. It’s unfortunate events had to be so neatly resolved. Redemption is for movie people. Wants to remind us that we are all both good and bad, prejudice can be caused by prior experience, and we have the power to change our mind set. An important message about tolerance, so I get why it was the winner of Best Picture.

Frantz (2016) (François Ozon)
Ozon previously directed 2003's Swimming Pool. Set in the aftermatch of WW1, Frantz is a historical drama in b/w. My favorite scene is at the dance when she puts her prejudiced courter in his place, defending the Frenchman by saying the war is over. We see this again with the group sitting around the table and them showing disdain for a friend expressing sympathy to the enemy. The film makes an important, somewhat heavy-handed case for post-war reconciliation between nations, which isn’t easy, as highly-strung parents have lost children in battle during WW1.
The slow-paced story isn’t as gripping or affecting as I had hoped, but is believable and well-acted. References poets Paul Verlaine and Friedrich Rückert.

Jacob Holdt - Mit liv i billeder (documentary) (2016) (Niels-Ole Rasmussen)
Jacob Holdt is one of America's significant photographers and he's not even American! Now 70, the Danish photographer of the 1977 book American Pictures is interviewed. He talks about his life, his yes-mentality paying dividends in his art, etc. He hitchhiked across the US in his youth with a camera, and tried to be accepted into the cultures he visited. It's questioned whether he exploited the women he met and photographed. Holdt's goal is to build bridges between black/white, rich/poor, foreigners/locals. Living with people who he might have prejudice against such as the Ku Klux Klan, in an attempt to understand them. For many years, he toured across the world with his slide show of American pictures, you can watch a sample of chapter 1 on YouTube. While I don't agree with everything he did such as selling his body to finance his journey, he seems to have his heart in the right place.

…And Justice for All (1979) (Norman Jewison)
A watchable yet flawed courtroom drama. Al Pacino’s acting is solid, but the story has moments of implausibility, such as a judge firing a gun to quieten the room, and Fleming (John Forsyth) saying inappropriate remarks which I very much doubt an educated judge would say in real life.
The film wants to mix comedy with drama, which didn’t click for me, in the space of 10 minutes going from a comedic helicopter ride, to a serious discussion about a brutal rape, a scene with a man admitting to being beaten in jail, and then a comedic scene with Pacino’s grandpa’s false teeth.
That said, the scene when it’s revealed Arthur Kirkland (Pacino) is to defend Fleming is pretty funny, as Fleming loathes Arthur. The chopper sequence is fun, albeit a diversion. Besides that, the score is odd, disco music in the opening just isn’t what is needed.
Includes a well-known scene in which Pacino's character shouts, "You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They're out of order!"

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) (Review of Season 3, Episodes 9-12) (David Lynch)
The revival may have “peaked” (see what I did there?) in the visually dazzling Episode 8. Not much happens in Episode 9. The most memorable scene of episodes 9-12 is Richard Horne (Ben Horne’s grandson) visiting his grandmother Sylvia in episode 10. Richard really is among the most despicable characters on the show.
Another stand out sequence (from episode 11) was the overexcited woman continuously honking her car horn due to a child firing a gun and causing traffic to stop. A commentary on gun control and road rage, the awkward humor befitting the atmosphere of the show.
I’m a bit disappointed by the female characters. Seems many are pretty faces with little personality who obey men. Or feisty females with a hostile attitude. From what we’ve seen so far, Diane and Audrey Horne are rude and unfriendly, and at this point lesser versions of abrasive Albert. Maybe these women have reasons to be angry. To me, both Diane and Audrey are neither funny or remotely likeable, but give it time, there's still a long way to go. Even Naomi Watts’ character is a bit of a tough dame in the delivery scene in E6, although she at least has other sides to her character.
Still enjoying Dougie Cooper’s child-like “Being There” behaviour, even if it is beginning to wear thin. Hoping he will wake up and become the real Dale Cooper soon.
Heartbreaking by Angelo Badalamenti is a nice piano instrumental at the end of episode 11.

What do you think? Seen any of these? As always, comments are welcome

Old and new albums of the month: July 2017

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan (1963)
The picture on the sleeve is a comforting image, a message of love that translates to any language. Dylan didn't want to be a savior or a spokesperson for his generation, although his songs were important to many and used as protest music.
Best tracks: Blowin' in the Wind, Girl From the North Country, Masters of War, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Don't Think Twice It's All Right, Bob Dylan's Dream, Talking World War III Blues

Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin (1969)
A strong debut. The opener Good Times Bad Times is a classic I was already familiar. Guitarist Jimmy Page is very talented. Bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John 'Bonzo' Bonham deserve praise too for their contributions. The last part of track 2 Babe I'm Gonna Leave You is memorable, I'm not even sure if it's drums or guitar. Dazed and Confused is quite haunting but overrated. Johnny Ramone credits Page’s down stroke style on Communication Breakdown as being the foundation for the sound of the punk rock group Ramones, with fast-paced heavy metal riffs the song is ahead of its time.
I Can't Quit You Baby is a reworking of Otis Rush's blues standard with an impressive, lengthy guitar solo.
Robert Plant has a distinctive vocal and is a charismatic lead singer, hitting those notes must take a lot out of him. The epic final track How Many More Times features Plant literally scream which is a powerful moment.
The plagiarism debates do take the originality down a notch, but in their defense every musician is inspired by something. While listening, I didn't notice any overlaps to other bands.

Electric Warrior by T. Rex (1971)
Became the best selling album of 1971. Would listen to while doing something else, just the music on its own doesn't quite work for me.
Best tracks: Cosmic Dancer (timeless lyrics). Bang a Gong (Get It On) & Jeepster (pop-friendly 70s classics but I find both a bit repetitive). Lesser known highlights: The Motivator, Life's a Gas, Rip Off

Quadrophenia by The Who (1973)
At roughly 82 minutes there's a lot to digest, even after a couple of plays I'm not sure where I stand. Not seen the film yet, which could change how I perceive the album.
Was already familiar with the closer Love Reign O'er Me, which was covered by Peal Jam for the Adam Sandler film Reign Over Me (2007).
Favorites tracks: Quadrophenia, Cut My Hair, The Dirty Jobs, Is It in My Head, I've Had Enough, Sea and Sand, Love Reign O'er Me

Raw Power by Iggy and The Stooges (1973)
Laid the template for punk rock. Has been called "savagely bombastic" and "perhaps the first record that could truly be called punk. Yet the songs have a beauty and complexity that make it more than that"
Best tracks: Search and Destroy, Gimme Danger, Raw Power, I Need Somebody, Shake Appeal

The New Age Steppers by The New Age Steppers (1981)
Recommended by C at Sun Dried Sparrows. An early 80s Dub/Post-Punk UK band, the very first album from Britain's avant-garde reggae label On-U Sound.
Opener Fade Away is the most memorable, a cover of the Junior Byles reggae original. ”The one who is always acting smart, but don’t carry the love in his heart, shall fade away” is a powerful lyric.
The rest of the album consists mostly of dark experimental instrumentals. Radial Drill surprisingly features the ring of a bicycle bell. Crazy Dreams And High Ideals has The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart on vocal but is too cold to enrapture. Tracks 5-8 are very good for the rhythmic melodies and atmosphere. Ari Up's vocal heightens the two songs she sings on (Fade Away, Love Forever), and I'm curious to listen to her other work with The Slits, especially the praised 1979 album Cut.

Author! Author! by Scars (1981)
Another early 80s obscurity suggested by C at Sun Dried Sparrows. I was lucky to find the full album on YouTube as it isn’t available on Spotify.
Competently arranged, gloomy Post-Punk. The spoken-word Your Attention Please is especially haunting, and would be perfect in the end credits of a nuclear holocaust film. The single All About You (which closes the album) is not as dark and has grown on me on subsequent plays. Definitely an album that could hold up to many listens. Everywhere I Go and 'The Lady in the Car With Glasses on and a Gun' are other high points.
The album didn't find a wide audience. I read in a review Author! Author! was "too pop for the punks and too genuinely arty for the Duran Duran crowd". The band’s vocalist Robert King on occasion sounds similar to Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen fame, particularly on the moody Leave Me in Autumn, which is a strong opener.
Steve McLaughlin on drums/percussion has produced, recorded and mixed the scores for more than 150 major feature films, including the Die Hard series and the Lethal Weapon series.

Hyæna by Siouxsie and The Banshees (1984)
Well-produced. I'm already tiring of it after three listens, probably doesn't have a lot of replay value.
Highlights: Dazzle (feat. 27-piece orchestra), Running Town, bonus track Dear Prudence (Beatles cover)

Superunknown by Soundgarden (1994)
RIP Chris Cornell. The band's breakthrough album. To be honest, I find it overrated, with the singles as the memorable moments: Black Hole Sun, My Wave, The Day I Tried to Live. Lesser known highlight: Head Down

Elephant by The White Stripes (2003)
Seven Nation Army is a modern classic. Tracks 2-10, 12, 14 are very good.
The White Stripes may just become one of my favorite acts of the 2000s. Still a few more albums remaining to explore.

De Stijl by The White Stripes (2000)
Patchier than White Blood Cells (2001) and Elephant (2003). Some tracks feel like filler, but still an enjoyable, heartfelt album.
Best tracks: Hello Operator, Apple Blossom (Beatles-esque), Truth Doesn't Make a Noise

Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (2006)
I prefer the jazz direction and personal lyrics of her debut. The more pop-friendly second album contains her biggest hits Rehab & Back to Black. Rehab has sadly lost its sting due to overexposure on the radio.
You Know I'm No Good and Back to Black are my favorite of the singles. A number of these songs aim for a retro production and could have been released 40-50 years earlier, a throwback sound to girl groups from the 1960s.
A well-made album, yet the big pop sound means it loses a sense of fragility and lived experience. Her first album made me feel something, her second rarely gives me that emotional response.

Lust for Life by Lana Del Rey (2017)
I feel she was in two minds here, with a desire to create something personal and retro, yet wanting to appeal to the commercial charts as well. Especially the second half of the album impressed me.
What makes the record different to her previous are the guest appearances. Begins strongly with the chill-inducing single Love, which also has an ambitious video set in outer space. The vocal is a bit samey on tracks 2-7 and many of those songs are lacking emotion and potency. There’s a whistle at the end of White Mustang which was a nice surprise.
God Bless America and When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing have political subtext and memorable choruses. Stevie Nicks was an interesting guest on Beautiful People Beautiful Problems, but sadly the cigarettes and life style have taken their toll on her voice. Tomorrow Never Came feat. Sean Lennon is the most pleasing of the duets.
Heroin and Change are hidden gems, sad ballads with beautiful vocal performances by Lana. The closer Get Free is ok but very similar to Radiohead’s Creep.
Nice to have new music from her and I found 6-7 stand outs. While uneven in terms of quality, it's a pleasant set of tunes. In a weak year for albums so far, I rank Lust for Life in my top 5. Hopefully tracks 2-9 are growers.

Everything Now by Arcade Fire (2017)
I was intrigued by the internet consumerism theme which is very zeitgeisty, although Pitchfork is right that the exploration of said theme feels half-baked. The music moves at such a fast pace so it’s difficult to catch my breath. Not a relaxing album.
Everything Now could be song of the year. Nothing I've heard this year is as epic as that piano kicking in at 0.45. Arcade Fire split the song in two on the album and I have no idea why. Signs of Life and Creature Comfort are enjoyable singles too, even if they turn out to be disposable due to their repetitiveness. Electric Blue is catchy but annoying. Put Your Money on Me might be a grower. We Don’t Deserve Love has a beautiful outro from the 4 min mark and onwards, though the electronic instrumentation in the intro may prove to be a stumbling block, we'll see. The middle section (Peter Pan/Chemistry/Infinite Content) is weaker. Not as strong as Reflektor and The Suburbs, but still a pretty good pop album.

Bad Baby by Sarah Jaffe (2017)
Her third album Don't Disconnect was forgettable, and unfortunately Bad Baby (her fourth) is also bland. It just wasn't for me. Lacking the memorable, deeply felt moments of her first two albums. This/That and S*** Show are well-produced and pleasant enough.
If you enjoy modern synth-pop such as Tegan and Sara's recent output, then Sarah Jaffe's latest could be for you.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Halfway point: Best songs of 2017 so far (#5 - #1)

1.) Everything Now by Arcade Fire
Nothing I've heard this year is as epic as that piano kicking in at 0.45. For me, 2017's song of the summer, geared towards big stadiums and crowds singing along. The lyric is about our generation's opportunity to consume everything)

2.)  We Got The Power (feat. Jehnny Beth) by Gorillaz
(While the album is uneven, the best track is an empowering, catchy pop anthem. Anyone could relate to the lyrics)

3.) Ran by Future Islands
(Doesn't quite top 2014's synthpop classic Seasons Waiting on You, but it's close. Ran has motion as its theme and would be ideal for an exercise playlist. The video fits well with the music, and I love the bass)

4.) Ballad of the Dying Man by Father John Misty
(A beautiful retro melody, and an amusing yet telling commentary on the absurd self-importance of man in the internet age when everyone has an opinion. You could say singer-songwriter Josh Tillman is preachy about the many failings of humanity, but his sense of proportion stood out for me on the album, how we are minor in the grand scheme of things. He has a point that contemporary news is becoming like entertainment with the likes of The Daily Show etc, and I think he's right to question that)

5.) Fear by Kendrick Lamar
(Album highlight, a smooth beat, sampling 1973's Poverty's Paradise by The 24-Carat Black. A Lamar track that I'm pleased to say keeps it relatively simple, on an album I've otherwise struggled to connect with. For further reading, Noisey dedicated an entire article to Fear)

What do you think? As always comments are welcome

Halfway point: Best songs of 2017 so far (#10- #6)

6.) Real Death by Mount Eerie 
(Perhaps we don't need another album about death/mortality, in the last 18-20 months David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave gave us their take on the matter. Yet I still consider Real Death to be the most heartbreaking song of the year so far. In 2016, songwriter Phil Elverum tragically lost his wife, illustrator and musician Geneviève Castrée, to cancer, and put into words his emotional turmoil)

7.) Next Time by Laura Marling
(I find her albums a struggle, but I can usually bank on Laura Marling to deliver a great song on each new release. Has a timeless quality)

8.) Sweet Arcadia by Saint Etienne
I'd probably enjoy Sarah Cracknell narrating audiobooks. A proggy-electronic spoken-word train journey through southern England, referencing the sweet shop of the same name. The flute-assisted section starting at 3.14 might be the most beautiful moment on the album)

9.) A Trick of the Light by Chilly Gonzales & Jarvis Cocker
(Addresses television and what it does to us. The album's longest and for me best)

10.) Friend Zone by Thundercat
(I may have been too harsh on Thundercat's Drunk earlier in the year, this track has grown on me. The lyrics are about being stuck in the friend zone)

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. Check back for my top 5 in a few days!

Films and TV of the month: June

Fatal Attraction (1987) (Adrian Lyne)
Nominated for 6 Oscars. Gone Girl for the 80s. Also with shades of 70s horror Black Christmas, the phone calls are ominous. The eerie, minimal score adds to the sense of dread. Without any need for bells and whistles, the straightforward story grabbed me, and though a few events are easy to predict, it’s an effective thriller.
My only issue is the film could make audiences more afraid of mental illness, Glenn Close’s character is one in a thousand and not the norm.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) (Amy Heckerling)
A film that 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 hilarious 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.

Ghost in the Shell (1995) (Mamoru Oshii)
Based on a manga, the story follows cyber-cop Major Motoko Kusanagi (Scarlett Johansson in the 2017 remake) as she tracks down the mysterious Puppet Master. Kusanagi struggles to deal with her part-human, part-machine identity.
Set in 2029, an interesting futuristic premise about the advancement in technology, cyberspace expanding into human reality. A brain-computer interface, our “ghost” able to travel, relaying thoughts to other networked brains, a new tool for government surveillance and control. A hi-tech society when one or more body parts have been replaced by robotics, and they face issues such as brain hacking, maintenance of self, false memories, invisibility, and the evolution of the human body.
The film is ambitious, unsettling and influential, having inspired The Wachowski's The Matrix. Visually impressive in its detail of the city, sometimes I found myself forgetting I was watching animation. Her jump from the top of a building is iconic and was recreated in the remake.

Split (2016) (M. Night Shyamalan)
Not as good as M. Night Shyamalan's best films. A minor horror/thriller that is too eager to reveal what is wrong with James McAvoy’s character, those revelations in the first half kill some of the tension. But there are sporadically thrilling moments concerning the girls and does capture a sense of claustrophobia. McAvoy’s performance is noteworthy, though the film is overlong, and I often found my mind wandering due to boredom. SPOILER WARNING: The last 10-15 mins are surprising, but tonally completely different to what the story is about. Or maybe the ending does make sense on a certain level, could it be a commentary on not being able to get rid of him (from your mind), no matter how hard you try.
On a side note, Natascha Kampusch’s powerful autobiography 3096 Days goes deeper into the psychology of victim and perpetrator.

T2 Trainspotting (2017) (Danny Boyle)
What made the original stand out were the inventive visuals and soundtrack. Neither of these aspects are as impactful or unique in the sequel, although I do like the new songs by High Contrast and Wolf Alice.
What we get are a number of homages, reunions, and watching 40 somethings misbehaving. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is as funny and crazy as he was in the 90s, even when he isn’t aware of it. There are reminders the group are getting older, such as a decline in physical health and family obligations. I mostly felt pity for them.
Especially the improvised song and the chase in the multi-storey car park stood out. The updated choose life speech has depth, but the scene feels scripted and unnatural in its presentation. T2 has glimpses of urgency, but lacks the unrelenting energy that kept me glued to the screen of Trainspotting. I agree with another reviewer who says it “wallows a little too much in cinematic nostalgia for the 1996 original.”

Happy Gilmore (1996) (Dennis Dugan)
A quotable comedy, which popularized the ‘Happy Gilmore’ hockey/golf swing. Funny moments such as the alligator and the ball "go home" scenes, though the punch lines often are offensive by centering around violence. Not many women would date Happy, having witnessed his short fuse and anger management problems. The love interest aspects had warmth, but are not totally realistic. Happy (Adam Sandler) is only mildly likeable, because he is up against arrogant Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald).

Mask (1985) (Peter Bogdanovich)
Based on the life of Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis, strong acting and a number of sweet moments. I remember watching parts 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.

The Towering Inferno (1974) (John Guillermin)
Wrote about the film here. Watched because of recent Grenfell Tower disaster and an inner sense of duty to find solutions to high-rise fires.

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) (Review of Season 3, Episodes 5-8) (David Lynch)
So far, season 3 lacks the sense of community of the classic original. But instead of yearning for what Twin Peaks used to be, I’m trying to take the revival for what it is. Dougie and his family I feel a connection to because they keep returning, and is some of the funniest stuff Lynch has ever done. Kyle MacLachlan delivers maybe a career best performance.
The scope of S3 is ambitious, but feels choppy when jumping from one location to the next. It’s intriguing, imaginative, often weird, though I will say many characters are not given enough screen time for us to care.
Short summaries of Episode 5-8 (spoilers):
Episode 5: Set-up, presenting a number of threads and details. The Kyle MacLachlan scenes are the most entertaining and amusing, craving coffee in the elevator, desperate for the toilet, the phone call that causes a disturbance. There’s also some violence at the casino.
Episode 6: Again, the Dougie scenes I liked most, him standing in front of a staircase is a laugh out loud moment, and sitting with his son has warmth. There’s a surprising event in Twin Peaks involving a mother and son which is powerful, yet I can’t see how it has any relevance to the series. There’s also the most bizarre coin-toss I’ve ever witnessed. Diane (who Dale Cooper recorded audio messages for in the original) is revealed in a brief cameo. Naomi Watts is given a moment to shine as the Tough Dame in the delivery scene.
Episode 7: Diane meets evil Cooper and thinks something is off with him. There’s a noise in the walls at Twin Peaks hotel. A mysterious man covered in black oil walks the hall way. Dougie Cooper’s car was stolen and the police confirm this. The dwarf tries to murder Dougie Cooper. Evil Cooper convinces the prison to let him go in exchange for information.
Episode 8: Filmed in black and white, and set in the past. The strangest episode so far, almost wordless visual storytelling. An impressive atomic bomb sequence that would look good on the big screen. A silent horror of sorts, the “gotta light” character is creepy, his scenes are not suitable for kids. We are not given much context so have to piece it together ourselves.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome


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