Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Record Scores - Funemployed Edition

Willie Bobo - La Nueva Era De Willie Bobo Lp (Verve / Seleccion Estelar)
Mike 'Hitman' Wilson - Another Sleepless Night 12" (Arista)
Eddie Grant - Electric Avenue / Time Warp 12" (Ice / Portrait)
Anthony And The Camp - What I Like 12" (Warner Bros)
K-15 - Mist 7" (No Room For Air)
Powerhouse Sound - Overlap 2xLp (Laurence Family)
Kim Weston - This Is America Lp (MGM)
Monk Montgomery - Reality 7" (Philadelphia International)
Richard "Groove" Holmes - Six Million Dollar Man Lp (Flying Dutchman)
Luiz Bonfa - Sanctuary Lp (Dynaflex)
Began Began - Computer Wars 12" (One Way)
Melba Moore - Mind Up Tonight 12" (Capitol)
Strafe - Set It Off 12"(Jus Born)
Takuya Matsumoto - Galactic Dance 12" (Royal Oak)
Eddie Palmieri - Doin' It In The Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC Lp (Alala)
Jean-Pierre Mas, Cesarius Alvim, Daniel Humair - Jamais Deux Sans Trois Lp (Owl)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ocular Optometrical: Best Films of 2014

Movies Seen That Were Released In & Around 2014 (99 Total):
22 Jump Street / ABCs Of Death 2 / Adult World / The Afflicted / Afternoon Delight / The Amazing Spiderman 2 / American Sniper / Beautiful Is Embarrassing / Better Living Through Chemistry / Birdman / Blue Ruin / The Calling / Calvary / Camp Takota / Captain America: Winter Soldier / Cheap Thrills / Dear White People / Devil's Due / The Double / The Drop / Edge Of Tomorrow / Enemy / The Equalizer / A Field In England / Force Majeur / Foxcatcher / Frank / The Gambler / Godzilla / Gone Girl / Grand Budapest Hotel / Grand Piano / Guardians Of The Galaxy / The Guest / The Honeymoon / The Imitation Game / Inherent Vice / Interstellar / The Interview / Jamie Marks Is Dead / Jodorowsky's Dune / John Wick / The Kingdom Of Dreams and Madness / Knights Of Badassdom / Laggies / The Lego Movie / Life After Beth / Life Of Crime / Locke / Lone Survivor / Love And Air Sex / Marfa Girl / A Million Ways To Die In The West / Muppets 2 / Nas: Time Is Illmatic / Neighors / Nightcrawler / Non-Stop / The November Man / Nymphomaniac pt 1 & 2 / Obvious Child / The One I Love / Only Lovers Left Alive / Open Windows / Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones / Predestination / Premature / The Purge 2: Anarchy / The Quiet Ones / The Raid 2 / Robocop / The Rover / The Sacrament / Selma / Sex Ed / Sex Tape / Sickos / The Skeleton Twins / Snowpiercer / Space Station 76 / St. Vincent / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / They Came Together / Top Five / The Turning / Tusk / Under The Skin / The Unknown Known / Veronica Mars / Very Good Girls / Walk Of Shame / We Are The Best / Welcome To The Jungle / What We Do In The Shadows / Whiplash / The Wind Rises / Witching And Bitching / X-Men: Days Of Future Past / Zero Theorem

Runners Up:
30. We Are The Best / 29. The Rover/ 28. What We Do In The Shadows / 27. Nymphomaniac pt 1 & 2 / 26. Whiplash / 25. Selma / 24. Jodorowsky's Dune / 23. Snowpiercer / 22. Cheap Thrills / 21. Captain America: Winter Soldier

The Top 20:
20. X-Men: Days Of Future Past - The 'First-Class' reboot of the X-Men films managed to hold on to the soap opera angst of the Marvel mutants but also allow more dynamic action and fun. The Chris Claremont penned comics of the 70s and 80s are deeply ingrained in me and this film came a lot closer to honoring those stories than I expected (and I expected a complete travesty) These films are far from Uncanny, but they on the right trajectory.

19. Space Station '76 - Wry comedy depicting human drama aboard a space station as imagined through the prism of the drunk 70s. The comedy is both silly and subtly observed, including a plodding awkwardness that was part & parcel of a lot of entertainment of the time. If you don't remember hot vinyl station-wagon bench seats, you may be too young to recommend this to.

18. Gone Girl - A fun thriller full of unexpected twists. I really enjoyed the experience of watching this story unfold. It's a film that started to make me question my recent criteria for ranking films which often boiled down to 'how much would I get out of rewatching this film?' Gone Girl is a film that I have no desire to ever revisit. I don't think I would get much more out of subsequent viewings. It was a film whose central questions came down to plot and how the abrupt turns in the plot changed my feelings about the characters and the human qualities they represented, an experience that I can't replicate now that I know the full story. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

17. Nightcrawler - Great performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, and an unrelenting mood anchor a mesmerizing film about the fragile social contracts, and how easily we bargain away our humanity for security, comfort or even pleasure.

16. Interstellar - Hard sci-fi films are a rare breed, probably because there's not a lot of faith that an audience will take the trip without tons of explosions, monsters or love triangles. Similar to Danny Boyle's Sunshine, Christopher Nolan's film seems to accept that challenge before losing its nerve and throwing speculative science to the wolves in the latter half. The disparity between exacting laws of physics and the messiness of human emotion is a fine theme for a film but you can't tip the argument in your favor by breaking those laws in favor of technicolor light shows. Nolan always manages to pull of dazzling filmmaking, that tell bigger, more complex stories than his competition, but those stories always seem to get laid to waste by headache-inducing plot holes at their core.

15. Obvious Child - I have a huge crush on Jenny Slate. She projects a personality who ranks being kind and funny as her top priorities. This film by first time writer/director Gillian Robespierre really captures that spirit, as those guiding ethos steer Slate's character through the struggles of young adulthood, navigating the world of idealism and ambition versus reality and responsibilities. It's a sweet romantic comedy that still bears some semblance of real life.

14. Locke - A small but focused story about a man on a mission to set things right. The film is daring because it's 85 minutes of one shot, Tom Hardy driving and talking on a hands-free phone, and its completely engaging. The film doesn't take much time to be still, with one phone call after another rolling in, but the emotions and stakes do rise and fall, and there's enough room for reflection.

13. Grand Budapest Hotel - Unapologetically a Wes Anderson fan, I enjoyed this immensely. I enjoy 'play' in film, and there's surprisingly little of it at any given time. In a landscape of self-congratulatory history lesssons and angry men of posed action,  I can count on Jeunet, Gondry, Gilliam, Spike Jonze... and Anderson to tease the audience with imaginative characters, cartoon physics, and sweet, emotional vulnerability. In Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson delivers a more complex and surprising story than his last three outings, while maintaining many familiar stylistics flourishes. Miniatures, stop-motion animation, monotone color palettes, and exaggerated, staid performances are abundant, but Anderson continues to use them as relief to the messy edges where our carefully manufactured visages fail us.

12. Inherent Vice - A recent watch, I have a feeling this film will continue to rise in my estimation as time passes. I will admit that I'm predisposed to love Paul Thomas Anderson films and giving him the benefit of the doubt. Watching Inherent Vice, it felt indulgent, undisciplined, meandering, but the further I get from the 2 1/2 hour runtime, the more it comes into focus. I forget my butt falling asleep at times and remember the humor, the paranoid logic, and the wistful meditations on a passing era. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant in it, delivering my favorite performance of the year.

11. Edge Of Tomorrow - Fun. I remember fun. Edge of Tomorrow is fun.

10. The Wind Rises - Probably Hayao Miyazaki's last film, The Wind Rises is an interesting culmination of his style and themes. The animation is breathtaking. It manages to be very precise as it depicts historically accurate Japan during World War II, but is not afraid to veer into exaggeration to more effectively evoke the perception of events. The animation is mind-bogglingly fluid while still packed full of detail and expressive color. It's impossible to overstate his mastery of the medium. Story wise, The Wind Rises is a biography of Jirô Horikoshi, the Japanese engineer who designed the the infamous Zero fighter planes. It depicts him as a gentle, pacifist soul who loved aeronautics first, and tried to maintain his innocence as his creations are used as lynchpins of the war machine. It's a complicated story, probably owing a lot to Miyazaki's age and experiences, and a certain acceptance of the way our intentions can be compromised, and the expense of our security & comfort.

09. The Guest - There are a lot of 80s throwback films these days, lots of young filmmakers eager to bring a little John Carpenter back to the cinema, and director Adam Wingard has shown with 'You're Next' and 'The Guest' that he's able to evoke the stylistic economy of Carpenter while telling effective and entertaining stories.

08. Zero Theorem - Terry Gilliam is a goddamned international treasure. He shaped (warped) my childhood for the best. With films full of convoluted contraptions, rubber monsters and loud whizz-banging, Gilliam convinced our inattentive parents that we were well taken care of by the latest noisy babysitter Hollywood had for hire, while we actually got served colorful diatribes about the ignorance of adults, the agreed-upon-lies of 'responsible citizenship', and how the unholy marriage of technology & consumerism is little more than a race towards stupidity and extinction. These topics are evergreen, and the struggle against them quixotic, so, while the evil forces of commercialism (and bad luck with natural disasters) have pushed him out of the megaplexes, Gilliam remains a relevant voice, ready to piss off the wrong people. Zero Theorem updates many of the themes of Brazil for the internet age, where our creative lives are no longer strangled by decorum, but are diluted by a constant deluge of cheap thrills. We no longer put our dreams aside for responsibility, but lazily accept the manufactured pleasure principle. Zero Theorem may turn off some viewers because limited budget means that many of the CGI special effects echo 90s television rather than Interstellar, but what's there is put to storytelling use and sold with aplomb by Christoph Waltz & Mélanie Thierry.

07. Birdman - A dazzling effort from Alejandro Iñárritu, Birdman puts one of my favorite actors Michael Keaton back in the limelight in a big way. On top of Keaton's funny and human performance of an actor desperate for respect, Birdman is most defined by its unrelenting pacing, accomplished by creating the illusion of a feature-length continuous shot and the driving, strictly-drum score. All of this feels gimmicky at first blush. Keaton's casting appears to be meta-commentary on his work as Batman. The continuous shots winding through the backstage appear to be an allusion to the frantic pacing of live theater. But the gimmickiness fades quickly, and I was left wondering why more movies don't star Keaton or embrace the breakneck tempo on display.

06. The Drop - A wonderful, intimate crime film starring Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace. Hardy's character is romanticized, but the film is otherwise unflashy. It tells a compact story with interesting details and strong performances.

05. Witching And Bitching - One of my longtime favorite filmmakers Álex de la Iglesia lets his freak-flag fly as he bends his blend high-energy action and comedy into the realm of the supernatural. It's frantic and grotesque, and it's not afraid to matter-of-factly dip into taboo. The film tackles male misogyny head-on, at times seeming to sympathize with it in the face of the daunting power of women.

04. Only Lovers Left Alive - Jim Jarmusch is self-aware, so when he makes his most Jarmuschy film yet, you had better believe that he's in on the joke. Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston gloriously chew the scenery to splinters as old-soul vampires as hungry for fresh art as they are blood. So dryly funny that it could be described as hilarious.

03. The Raid 2 - I enjoyed The Raid. It was deftly constrained, delivering absurd doses of action within a perfectly simple story. Despite being full of unique visual punchlines, the non-stop fights did wear on me a little eventually. The Raid 2 conquered that problem in spades. The Raid 2 expanded the complexity of the story exponentially, but did not sacrifice its directness and certainly not its action. There are tons more characters and locations, but the flow of punches & kicks has not been slowed at all. The characters seem to deliver exposition while breaking bones, or in one incredible scene, hanging out of a moving car. The film really is an astounding feat and without a doubt the standard-bearer of action movies to date.

02. Blue Ruin - A true anti-hero sets out on a mission of revenge. It's ill-conceived and messy. It's ugly and pathetic. It's base and animalistic. The filmmaking is effectively restrained to the story at hand.

01. Under The Skin - As much as I rant about the need for hard, speculative sci-fi where rules are firmly established and obeyed to create a framework for stories of human endeavor, the truth is that I prefer abstract sci-fi. I prefer moody scenes of figures performing inscrutable actions. I prefer technology so alien that I have no basis for its purpose. I prefer unintelligible dialogue that sinks me further into confusion. I prefer films that communicate to the subconscious, thus maintaining all of the inherent contradictions normally siphoned out by exacting language or established visual shorthand. Under The Skin communicated volumes about human predatory behavior but it did so through shadows full of subtle shading open to constant reevaluation and reinterpretation.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Record Scores: Records Are Great, We Could Make A Killing Selling Them Edition

Smiff-N-Wessun - Home Sweet Home 7" (Good Road)
El Kinto - Circa 1968 Lp (Clave / Lion Productions)
Miguel Y El Comité ‎– Para Hacer Música, Para Hacer... Lp (Sondor / Lion Productions)
Carlos Nino & Friends - Aurorasmushroomtenderness 2xLp (CNF)
Placebo - Placebo Lp (Music On Vinyl)
Jack Nitzsche And His Orchestra - Chopin '66 Lp (Reprise)
House Of Spirits - Holding On 12" (Beats In Space)
Reminder - Continuum 2xLp (Easter Development)
Lani Royal With The Diamond Head Band - Percussive Pineapples Lp (Medallion)
Chemise - She Can't Love You 12" (Emergency)
Kano - New York Cake Lp (Mirage)
Alec R. Costandinos - Trocadero Bleu Citron OST Lp (Casablanca)
Apollo - S/T Lp (Gordy)
Universal Order Of Armageddon - Live At WFMU 2x7" (Gravity)
Zanussi / E-150 - Dejemos El Pesimismo Para Tiempos Mejores EP 7" (Don't Belong / La Vida Es Un Mus / Cruda Realidad)
The S/cks - Pretty Plastic 7" (Fair Warning)
Joe Thomas - Feelings From Within Lp (Groove Merchant)
Scientist - The Dub Album They Didn't Want You To Hear Lp (Jah Life)
Innergaze - Mutual Dreaming Lp (Cititrax)
Aurora Halal - Passageway 12" (Mutual Dreaming)