June Weekend Flicks Part 2: 12 Years as a Slave, Deadpool, Air Force One, Annihilation, etc.

Back to it… let’s finish the list (for now)!

12 Years as a Slave (2016) – Drama, Timepiece – Score: (9/10): This is a film I went into viewing quite ignorantly, to be honest, as in I had no idea what to expect. I was shocked I hadn’t gotten around to seeing it after its high praise at the Oscars several years back. I was truly and deeply affected by what I witnessed in ways I really didn’t ever anticipate. The experience I had watching this film was one of the most uncomfortable, painful, physically gut-wrenching, sad and heartless, all while exploring stories of the horrors of slavery during the first half of the 1800’s. The sheer depiction of brutality, the incredibly ambitious focus on the slave trade and all its depravity in every conceivable way was bold to say the least. But it conveyed the message it was looking to convey in the absolutely best way possible. Every 15 minutes or less, I found myself cringing and physically sick to my stomach watching anything from brutal treatment of the slaves by the slave owners, whippings, poor living conditions, tense moments… it really had it all. And what really put the icing on the cake for this one is that it accomplished it’s intended affect in the most profound way possible. I left this movie feeling no resolution, no sense of satisfaction, no redemption, no feelings of joy or happiness – just a shallow shell of sadness and grief that this poor man had been through so much for reasons he never deserved in the first place.

And the worst part is – none of the men and women who treated he and his fellow slaves throughout the film EVER received any sort of punishment or redemption. It made me physically angry and I was shouting in my head demanding justice for these humans who had been treated worse than animals for hundreds of years without an afterthought at the hands of the slave owners. It was the most accurate depiction of slavery I have certainly ever seen, and I’d imagine one of the best ever made. This movie is not easy to watch, believe me. It hurts, and it leaves you feeling incredibly drained. But you have to power through – because it provides an enlightenment into an era swept under the rug of american history as if it never really happened. The fact that so many Americans had the pure evil and broken moral compass to perform this horrid shit makes me question so much about humanity and what, deep down, the kind of evils so many of us hide within us. Cultural beliefs and years of appropriation are dangerous tools, and I can only hope that in our new day and age, we can continue to recognize (and I genuinely think we are doing a food job doing it right now) that every life has value, regardless of their background, skills, intelligence, race, etc. We are all humans, all deserving of the same manner of respect and opportunity as our fellow man, so long as we are not infringing negatively on the lives of others. All in all, this movie should be shown to anyone questioning slavery or what it really meant in the early days of our ignorant country. Times change, people change, and cultures change – but these things take time, far too much time to the point where the affects of slavery are still being felt in society today. This film showed me he horrors men can do when pushed into a society that enables their behavior, even when it lacks any complacence of a moral compass. And that, genuinely, scares me. What a powerful, fantastic film – although one I font think I will ever be able to watch again.

Deadpool – 2016 – Action/Comedy – Score: (4/10). Sorry Ryan, I think you’re a great guy and all, but what was the hype about? This is a C+ action flick at best. I mean yeah, the action scenes were well done and clever, exciting and climactic (although you knew Ryan was always gonna pull through, obviously because the due is literally superman healing strength which made it much less appealing to me). I think me and Simon (my viewing buddy) realized about 1/3 of the way through that the constant, constant commentary from Reynolds character became so annoying that we almost had to stop watching completely. It was so damn in love with himself that I wanted him to actually get the shit kicked out of him half of the time. The humor was directed at the 10-18 year old demographic (which is fine), but like it also had these incredibly violent scenes and some sexual innuendos everywhere. I didn’t really see any clear direction on where this was going, who it was for, or why it was even made. Acting was sub par to say the least. Save your money (and time) and explore something else.

Air Force One (1997) – Action/Thriller – Score: (6.5/10) – I’ve been on a Harrison Ford kick lately, and honestly I’m loving it. This was your classic Ford scenario, a well loved and respected intelligent character, thrust into an incredibly dangerous and outrageously serious situation where the offs are no incredibly stacked against him. In this case, being the sole free man on a hijacked plane full of hostages. Instead of escaping (which he totally could have done 1/3 of the way through the film), he chose to pull his routine bad-ass trend and stay with the ship to save his family and crew. I had a lot of fun with this one, and loved the tension, the buildup before every encounter, and the epic conclusion that leaves you more satisfied than ever. Oh, and this film is PACKED full of big name actors, like it’s actually outrageous and made the whole like like 10x more entertaining. Gary Oldman as the terrorist leader was such an great surprise (HUGE fan). It has its share of cornball moments (as to be expected), but let;s be real – you can have a great time with this movie with not too much serious investment. A Terrific popcorn film and fun the whole way through. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a good hostage situation though (I’m thinking Die Hard or something to that affect).

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – Epic/Action/Adventure – Score: (10/10): This film deserves all the praise it gets, truly. It is an incredible, amazing, groundbreaking film simply from a cinematography perspective that helped influence countless directors on their paths towards greatness for many years to come. There is really nothing in this movie that is poorly done – nearly every scene, every piece of dialogue, every cut, take, angle and shot was so deliberately constructed that you can tell David Lean’s director was instrumental in crafting this masterpiece. Oh and he also directed The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India – just to name a few. The man has a taste for epics, and this is his magnum opus in every sense of the world. The setting itself is gorgeous and draws you in from the moment Lawrence arrives in the hostile desert environment. The sights the sounds, the colors, the culture – it is all captured so artistically and beautifully in settings both small (a bar or restaurant) or across the sweeping dunes of Arabia. My only gripe about this film is that it is quite long (like we’re talking its broken into two-parts, long). But hey, it is a true Epic in every sense of the word, and it deserves its time on screen – very little is wasted. The standout acting performance from  Peter O’Toole as the enigmatic British hero of the first World War is beyond amazing and will have you hooked early as you follow his amazing journey into the battlefields of Northern Africa and beyond, driven by his own moral compass and a strong intuition and incredibly tactical mind that one would never expect from a man in his position. I really can’t say enough about the cinematography and filming here, though. The shots of the Moroccan desert brought me back to travels many years back and gave me this nostalgic feeling I really enjoyed. The scenes of Toole traversing the desert, the shots of him leading his men into battle, and the ginormous scope of the film is just extraordinary for its time and place in the history of film. It is, without a doubt, one of the finest films ever made. and the best part, it was filmed in 1962!!! Incredible. It touches on so many intense, real, visceral themes of life, including authority, respect, passion, morality, courage and inner strength and bundles it into one astounding package. A movie for every film buff, indeed.

The House of the Devil Score: (7/10): this film was a refreshing take on the horror/slasher genre (I tend to stay away from Slasher-types in general), and I was very pleasantly surprised by the uniqueness of this film. A mysterious caller requests a babysitting job at an odd hour which brings a young teenage girl to the home of she accepts a babysitting job even after she finds out there is no baby. Mr. and Mrs. Ulman are the older couple who lure Sam out to their creeky Victorian mansion deep in the woods, just in time for a total lunar eclipse. Victor at first seems like just a creepy guy lurking around the house, but quickly makes it clear that Sam will end this night in a bloody fight for her life. There are plenty of throwbacks to the tense movies of Halloween, and Friday the 13th, but I really enjoyed how they went their own way with this one. The atmosphere this film builds is terrific, and in my opinion is one of the most essential elements to any successful or actually impactful horror or thriller film. Lots of vert TENSE moments spent wandering the house, looking for clues and trying to figure out what the hell was going on – which really helped me as a viewer step into her shoes in a way many movies fail to do so. Worth a watch!

James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – Action/Spy – (Score: 8/10) Not much to say here, just a perfect action film. I’ve seen every bond film at least once and regularly come back for a showing when I’m needing a little popcorn time. I’m a massive bond fan (as I’ve said before and a sucker for Pierce Brosnan flicks for some reason. This particular one takes you down a complex rabbit hole, following the exploits of a media mogul mastermind (strangely reminiscent of the word of today – hint-hint) who is scheming to start a war to capture all of the media coverage across the world, utilizing his international conglomerate of media leaders to drive terror in the headlines and create fear. “Words are the new weapons” according to our villian, and in many ways, this holds truer now more than ever. Certainly one of my favorite bond villains because he is so distinctly different from many (and played by the wnderful Johnathan Price) ho usually are just trying to cause mass destruction or chaos. While this is not entirely NOT his goal, they way he approaches it through the lens of the media s a powerful and interesting take on how the world responds to information , particularly the biggest news headkubes, and how they shape our world in eery conceivable way. Aside from that, youve got some amazing action as always, a fun bond girl who can actually hold her own in Michelle Yeoh, and Brosnan leading the charge from submarine to scuba to bike to car to anywhere in between. Great gunfights, stunts – everything is really on point here. I think it’s my favorite Brosnan behind Goldeneye and the World is not Enough. Maybe I am biased as a bond fanatic, but man, these movies always get me, despite the underlying cliches and corniness that are inevitable.

Annihilation (2018) – Sci/Fi / Horror. (Score: 8/10)

I had this movie recommended to me by a friend who commended it as being both a thriller and “psychedelic”. I can confirm it was both of those two, and a whole lot more. This is a movie that I think you should go into blindly, like we did – no preconceived notions. All you need to know is Natalie Portman stars, and that’s good enough for me. The pacing on this film is fantastic, while watching, we felt like the 2 hour run time went by in 20 minutes, we were gripped and genuinely intrigued by what was going to happen to the crew of misfits investigating this strange, unexplainable new world. It takes you into the hearts and minds of these characters, without much semblance of backstory (which worked very well for some reason), in the sense that you are sort of thrown into this situation without too much context or general information on where, what, why, or how the “thing” as I will refer to it, is happening. That is vague as hell, I know. but in a nutshell I would describe it as much more of a sci-fi / psychedelic thriller with a lovely ending that can be left up to the viewers interpretation. I’d highly recommend this one.

That.s enough for now – plenty more coming in the next few weeks! stay tuned my friends and thanks for reading 🙂 love y’all

NMF: WEEK OF JULY 11th – 17th, 2020

CLICK HERE TO JUMP TO: TOP 5 ALBUMS / EPs OF THE WEEK

TOP 10 SONGS OF THE WEEK

1.) DesireBob Moses & ZHU
[Deep House / Electronic]

The first single of Bob Moses’ upcoming album. The collab with ZHU is breathtaking and even comes with an interactive music video which can be found here.

2.) Friends Rome in Silver, Chae
[Electronic]

Get familiar with this dude cause I’ll be posting him a lot. Incredible production from the Huntington Beach native with amazing vocals provided by Chae.

3.) Note To Self (feat, Empress Of) Jim-E Stack
[Electronic]

Jim-E Stack is a producer legend and delivers on this hopeful yet nostalgic piece. Check out his entire discography and prepare to be impressed.

4.) twenty20 Maxime
[Alt-Pop]

Maxime is an artist I’ve been closely following since I discovered him. Every release has been more impressive than the last. The Canadian is scheduled to release a new album in late-2020 we’re excited to hear

5.) When You’re Dreaming Kaskade & Finnstagram
[Lo-Fi]

Kaskade, who sits atop dance music Mt. Rushmore, dropped an unexpected but incredible Lo-Fi track with Finnstagram.

6.) Answers Au5
[Electro]

Au5 bringing the heat and funk all in one track. Incredibly diverse yet still organized and satisfying, this song will surely be on repeat for some time to come.

7.) Run Lane 8 & Kasablanca
[Melodic House]

One of my favorite house producers, it’s almost a guarantee that any Lane 8 song is going to be incredible. And as usual, the Colorado native delivers teaming up with Kasablanca for a house hit.

8.) Get Your Wish (Anamanaguchi Remix) Porter Robinson
[Indietronica / Alternative]

While fans were a bit disappointed it wasn’t a new Porter Robinson single dropped on Wednesday for Porter’s birthday, the Anamanaguchi remix of “Get Your Wish” is a fantastic consolation prize. The group from New York are experts in creating electronic rock (not even sure that’s a true genre) and always show the edges music can be taken to. Check out their incredible Secret Sky Set on YouTube!

9.) Rain On Me (Purple Disco Machine Remix)Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande
[Nu-Disco]

Purple Disco Machine has been murdering the remix scene lately, giving funky disco house makeovers to songs you never knew you needed. Lady Gaga’s most recent album did a fantastic job bridging the gap between commercial pop and dance music, but PDM gives dance music fans that little extra push to perfection.

10.) Tear It UpEliminate & Shaquille O’Neal
[Dubstep]

Yes you read that correctly. Shaquille O’Neal has ditched the basketball and picked up CDJs under the name DJ Diesel over the last couple years. He’s even DJ’d legendary festival Tommorrowland spinning to the excited, yet understandably confused European crowd. But all credit here should be going to Eliminate who, in my opinion, is near the top of the Bass Music producers list. The LA based bass producer has the ability to create diverse projects while still retaining that signature “Eliminate” sound. Great move adding Shaq into his song to get some exposure and this music video is A+.

TOP 5 ALBUMS / EPs OF THE WEEK

1.) Ugly Is BeautifulOliver Tree
[Alternative Rock / Pop Rock]

After a few album delays, fans weren’t sure if we’d ever see the release of Oliver’s first album. But patience has paid off and Oliver has exceeded all expectations. Oliver Tree’s style is incredibly unique, blending multiple genres into a cohesive masterpiece. Don’t think that his goofy persona means he makes goofy music. This album is a showcase of impressive musical talent with top notch production that will hook you from start to finish. I’ve already listened to it multiple times through.

2.) Brightest Blue – Ellie Goulding
[Pop]

Ellie will always have a special place in my heart as a dance music fan for the many times she’s lent her voice to some of EDM’s biggest names. But Goulding is probably bigger than each of those artists now. Even my mom knew who she was when she performed at half-time for the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game. And today, she’s proved yet again why she’s one of music’s biggest stars. Goulding is uncompromisable. She has a vision and makes what she wants, which is rare today in the industry from such a big act. Brightest Blue proves yet again why she’s on top.

3.) Infinite Structure EP – Shadient
[Experimental Bass]

Shadient skyrocketed to the top of the bass scene within the last few years after deservingly garnering the attention of top producers like Porter Robinson, NGHTMRE, and more. Experimental bass is a pretty broad term, but just by listening to this three song EP, you’ll completely understand what that genre means. Crazy sounds perfectly placed to create a soundscape you’ve never heard and probably will never hear again. This is just the tip of the iceberg for the 21 year old London native, so be on the lookout. Check out his recent Reddit AMA to learn more about the producer extraordinaire.

4.) The Light Pack EP Joey Bada$$
[Hip-Hop]

This EP feels like a breath of fresh air for the hip-hop scene. Joey even states it’s “the mumble rap extermination”, which I’m completely on board with. My only critic is that it’s only three songs and leaves me wanting more. The instrumentals give me a 90s hip-hop vibe and with Joey’s incredible voice, flow, and lyrics, it’s a recipe for one hell of an EP.

5.) Delta / Bartok EP – Nora En Pure
[Melodic House]

If you haven’t heard of Nora En Pure, prepare for an introspective experience with this highly anticipated two song EP. Don’t let her beauty fool you. The South African native is a trend setter in the dance music scene and knows how to get you shuffling while simultaneously crying your eyes out.

June Weekend Flicks Part 1: The Fugitive, Cloud Atlas, My Cousin Vinny, and more.

It’s been another weird month of quarantine, indeed. But at least the weather here in New England has been for the most part, excellent. No complaints on my end. In fact, I actually got plenty of time to sit down in June and enjoy some films on my watchlist I have been putting off for sometime. Fair warning, these are ALL over the board in terms of age, genre, etc. As in – I wasn’t really focused on exploring any particular style or category this month. Fitting with the craziness of our times, let’s say.

Here are a few films I saw in June:

The Fugitive (1993) – Action/Thriller. Score: (9/10). Quick plot summary, the story follows a middle-aged, successful surgeon (Harrison Ford) whose wife is killed by a one-armed man, but the surgeon is sent to death row by a miscairage of justice. But his bus crashes on the way to prison, then a train crashes into the bus crash, then Dr. Richard Kimble escapes to go on the run with five U.S. marshals on his heels. It sounds a little absurd, I’ll admit – but this film is WAY better than the plot would make it seem. Complimenting Ford is the ever-awesome Tommy-Lee Jones, who plays the veteran US Marshal charged with leading the task force to track down Kimble. The two are both protagonists in their own right, with plenty of hilarious diologue from Jones and those classic, suspenseful stone-faced stares from Ford throughout. WHat this film does best though is build a real sense of suspense. And it is not just some moments – the whole damn movie is a thrill ride of non-stop suspense and awesomeness. The – I had a hard time walking away to grab a beer halfway through for fear of missing something relevant – kind of suspenseful. The stunts seem real, the set pieces are (actually for the most part) real and believable, and the raw tenacity of Ford, pitted against the most formidable arm of the US Judicial system, makes for some great entertainment. Ford is clever, likeable, and just trying to survive – all the while tracking and tracing the man who DID kill is wife. Its part thriller, suspense, part action and mystery. Thats a 4/4 for me. A classic you will not want to miss with some of the best of Tommy Lee and Harrison.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989) Action/Adventure. Score: (8.5/10): Somehow this movie had escaped me for years despite how much I enjoyed the first two. I’m a huge Sean Connery fan so this was long overdue. Another classic Indy tale, filled with the same fun, comedic tone mixed with actual danger and relentless action you would expect from Lucas, wrapped up with amazing set pieces, solid acting and beautiful cinematography. I was very satisfied and would say this is my #2 favorite behind Raiders of the Lost Ark (because, come on now – that movie is just too good). I loved the early cutaway to early Indy at the beginning, and was a huge fan of the father-son banter between Ford and Connery throughout. I loved how this film started with some mystery elements (Indy’s father has gone missing in his pursuit of the “Holy Grail”) – because it gave the film a little more life than say the previous Temple of Doom. It felt like there was much more on the line here, and the obvious end game which could result in one hell of a score. At the end of the day, the Indiana Jones Trilogy is something every moviegoer should see in their lifetime.

My Cousin Vinny (1992) – Comedy/Courtroom Drama. Score: (8/10). This is a classic. All I can say is I walked into and away from this one incredibly happy and satisfied. I love me some Joe Peschi, and it was genuinely refreshing to see him in a role where he wasn’t murdering people or beating the shit out of someone, or yelling “fuck”, every third word. Instead of killing people, he kills it in this performance as a beleagured, small time lawyer who is the last hope for his nephew and his friend who are wrapped up on a serious murder charge for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The movie had me laughing, feeling hopeful, getting just a little nervous, and even a bit melancholy at times. Not bad for a courtroom comedy film (you don’t see too many of those, honestly). The jokes are suburb, timed beautifully, and are genuinely fun, if not slightly corny at times (as to be expected). Everyone from the Judge to the boys were well casted, and Marisa Tomei was honestly fantastic. She brought this fire and energy to the film I didn’t expect but enjoyed thoroughly. All in all – this one is fun for the whole family, and a great pick-me-up, feel good one to throw on some weeknight after a shit day at work. Loved it.

Prometheus (2012) – Sci-fi/horror. Score: (5/10): I really had higher hopes for this one. When I look at a film like this, directed by Ridley Scott (Alien franchise films), blending sci-fi and horror into one wonderful package that hints at uncovering the “reasons for humanity” – you know I’m sitting down and at least giving it a shot. Well, I made it through, and it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped. It was intense, driven and definitely action packed, but I didn’t really understand ever what was actually going on or what the ultimate goal of the mission was. Everyone just seemed like they were running around getting eaten by the alien spores we have come to know and love from Scott’s previous films (in this case, I was annoyed they just used the same aliens from the other movies, like come on – let’s try something new here). I never really understood what each character’s REAL motive was for being on the mission, or why they were sent there in the first place. The film had some fun moments, scares and that classic Alien-type suspense, but I was never into it enough to enjoy it. The plot was muddled and didn’t seem to have an end goal. By the last scene, I was left more scratching my head than feeling satisfied. I would avoid, honestly.

Cloud Atlas (2012) – Action/Adventure/Epic. Score: (8.5/10): this movie was in every sense of the word, a “trip”. It has taken me a few days to digest and I have to say I was pretty amazed by the scope of this film. It is certainly an epic, sitting at nearly 3h long and switching between characters, scenes, timelines and thoughts every 10 minutes or less. It was at first glance quite confusing, but upon further reflection, I’m finding I appreciate this film even more. A trip across time, across generations, across lives and love, space and time, good and evil, morality, religion, society and persecution – all wrapped into one incredibly bold and provocative film. This is the kind of film that sticks with you for awhile after you see it. While I was not a fan of every single sub-plot that developed or occasional (sometimes what felt like underlying) corniness, I was blown away with the immense amount of thought and detail that went into producing this movie. 6 timelines across human history sharing distinctly different but eerily similar stories involving the themes listed above, and how we as humans deal with conflict and change. The blending of these timelines, which is most effectively done by using the same actors throughout the film in each separate motif/sub-plot, which really brings forth the idea: “Are we just reincarnations of our past selves?” and “Do the same things happen over and over again throughout history, just with different characters in new settings?” – but most importantly, it makes you ask (and eventually realize): “How does the life of one individual impact another.” This isn’t a movie you can take lightly, and it should by no means be taken as a relaxing Sunday viewing. This thing was a lot, and it gave me plenty to process. I look forward to watching it again at some point to pick up on everything I may have missed, and I think it might get better with age. Oh, and the cast is absolutely stacked and fantastic, which made this much more entertaining along the way. I loved almost every character – and the casting was perfect for each character, whether major or minor, bold or quiet, big or small. This was one of the more ambitious films I have seen recently. I recommend this to anyone who is willing to explore the ideas, feelings, upbringings, morals and societal norms that help form us as humans, and the connections we make with others that transcend time and space. It’s a lot to take in, but in my opinion – well worth the ride, even if it does feel slightly forced and cheesy at times.

This is part 1 – look for part 2 (and possibly 3) coming soon!

NMF: Week of July 4th – 10th, 2020

Hope y’all had a fantastic 4th of July and got some well-deserved chill time. Check the “Top Songs” and “Top Albums / EPs” of the week list below. Got a doozy of a lineup for you here to make your upcoming social distancing plans go off with a bang:

TOP SONGS OF THE WEEK

1.) Blue (Flume Remix) – Eiffel 65 – [Future Bass]

Spotify Apple Music

The Aussie producer legend gives the Flume Future Bass treatment on this electronic music classic.

3.) Die a Little Bit (feat. Ms Banks) (Remix) – Tinashe & ZHU – [Dance]

Spotify Apple Music

ZHU knows how to turn those pop bangers into club smashers.

5.) Ghost of Kodoku (Tycho Remix) – Tycho – [Electronica]

Spotify Apple Music

Tycho drops a remix for an upcoming video game soundtrack. If every song in it’s like this, I’ll probably have to buy the game.

7.) Night Goggles – Mindchatter – [Indie-Electronic]

Spotify Apple Music

Stumbling upon Mindchatter for the first time last month turned out to be a blessing. This dude is the real deal.

9.) Another Riff For The Good Times – Yotto – [Melodic House]

Spotify Apple Music

Yotto and melodic house is as perfect as peanut butter and jelly. A living “four-to-the-floor” legend.

2.) No Fear No More (Remix) – Madeon, EARTHGANG – [Dance-Pop]

Spotify Apple Music

Madeon collabs with EARTHGANG to give a pop rendition of his album hit.

4.) Final Days (Bonobo Remix) – Michael Kiwanuka – [Melodic House]

Spotify Apple Music

The legend blesses us with an incredible remix that’s sure to carry you off to some mystical realm.

6.) Touch (Hermitude Remix) – Big Wild – [Electronica]

Spotify Apple Music

Hermitude brings his trademark vibe to funk up this Big Wild track.

8.) Somewhere Else (feat. Danyka Nadeau) – MUZZ – [Drum & Bass]

Spotify Apple Music

Very cool and unique track. Hits you with the feels and then punches you with the energy

10.) Lost & Found – WanderLight – [Future Garage]

Spotify Apple Music

A beautiful garage track, WanderLight opens the door to overlooked musical genres.

TOP ALBUMS / EPs OF THE WEEK

1.) Lime Cordiale – 14 Steps To a Better You – [Pop Rock]

The Australian Pop Rock duo further progress the argument that the Aussie music scene is dominating the industry. Phenomenal album for all types of music lovers.

3.) Le Youth – Waves – [Dance / House]

Released on Lane 8’s label, Le Youth is proving to become a force in the melodic-house world.

5.) Megalodon – Hunter EP – [Dubstep]

Prepare your neck for breakage and grab a skillet to pour your scrambled-eggs brain into once you’re finished with this EP. Megalodon isn’t here to chill with you.

2.) Twin Peaks – Side A – [Indie-Rock]

Quickly rising to the top of my favorite indie-rock band, Twin Peaks delivers what seems to be the first installment of an EP project that’ll have you excited for more.

4.) Zes – Somewhere in the Middle – [Indietronica]

Zes delivers an incredibly unique and beautiful EP. His rise in the industry is inevitable and you’ll soon be hearing his name everywhere.

Missing Live Music? Me too. Let’s talk about it.

I will be the first to say I’ve had it very, very good when it comes to the ability to see live shows in the past year and a half. Not only has the greater New England area been packed full of artists, big and small, but they are all in relatively accessible venues at (mostly) reasonable prices. Me and my trusty RAV4 (and a sizeable fleet of Ubers) have been here there and everywhere it feels like recently, sometimes packed with friends and sometimes with just one other person or no one at all – travelling back and forth to venues. I’ve got a two hour drive to Portland, few hours to NY, an hour to Providence, etc. It genuinely felt like I had hit my golden era of concert viewings – at least one every two weeks. Life was good and things were rolling. I was ready to get the creative juices flowing. Time to start my music blog and start reporting on all these shows I’m going to!

That was pre-March 2020.

On top of that, like many of you, I have already had to miss several shows that were scheduled throughout March, April, May and June (so far), with the large majority of any summer shows already completely off the books. I’m talking the likes of Real Estate, Kaytranada, Getter, Santana, Phish – just to name a few. If you know my music tastes, those are literally some of my absolute favorites so I was pretty devastated. Some rescheduled for the same time next year (which is actually pretty cool), but many also being cancelled altogether. Many of my fellow concertgoers have experienced similar struggles, but these struggles extend beyond the stage and into every aspect of life. A major bummer, indeed. Far from the end of the world, considering the horrible things happening around our country and otherwise – but hey, this is a music blog and I have the creative license to be a little dramatic.

I have surrounded myself over the years with an amazing group of friends, the majority of which generally love music, have strong music opinions, play and write their own music, attend shows, regularly make Spotify playlists, scour the web for new music, etc. etc. These are the people that keep me going to shows and keep my love for music alive. Undeniably, one of the best parts of the concert experience for me is getting to share the love of music with the people you love. That experience of your favorite jam coming into formation on stage, and that little side glance you toss to your homie with a slight, knowing, head-nod. Like “oh yeah, here we go baby”. The constant side bets and guessing games of what the DJ is transitioning into next. The anticipation between set breaks. The rush to the bathroom and the beer line before the last song before set 1 ends (if it’s not one of your favorites). The feeling of seeing a show with a parent, experiencing the music you love together and just jamming out. The shared experience of absolutely cutting loose in or at the back of a crowd and dancing your ass off to the music you love with your boys. That knowing look you share with your buds when something particularly insanely good is happening in front of you, and you know you are seeing something special. The feeling of being with your girl, and hearing “your song” come on – cheesy as hell, I know – but man is that a real-deal experience. The connections you make with friends, old and new, at shows is something you can only really understand by being there, deep in the thick of the music.

And that’s just one aspect of what makes it so great. Actually being there, being surrounded by tons of strangers in a strange place, surrounded by crazy conversations, dancing, sweaty humans who spill beer on you accidentally and are usually too trashed to know what is going on, the jaded vets who have been following the band for years (or the whole tour), the rubes who look always out of place drinking their Claws, the Karens who have been dragged along by their husbands and wives, the kids who are starry-eyed – looking up at one of the first real live music experiences of their lives, the buddies who reunited for the first time in months -catching their favorite band on the yearly pass through the city, the young group of teens who have been looking forward to this show for months and months, just to name a few. The smells, the sights and the sounds… there’s nothing quite like it on this earth. The people you meet, the faces you see, young and old, never cease to make me smile. And the music, the no-holds-back attitude of a live performance – it brings me such satisfaction I can’t even describe. You want culture, you want a memory, you want something that makes you feel, think, or rattle your senses in some way – see some live music.

I live for that. I live for all of it. And I know a lot of you do too. It’s not always glamorous, but it sure as hell is fun. It’s one of the most honest, raw, visceral experiences you can have – watching some guys and gals throw together some home-made tunes together, putting everything out there for the world to see on stage, holding nothing back, on a (usually) cramped stage in a tightly-packed venue, with nothing but a slight view and some space to hold your beer. Not every show is amazing, you learn that after awhile, but I will say the very large majority of the shows I see, I remember and enjoy in some capacity. And I usually enjoy them very much.

So, the question remains: what do we do in this situation? We have a craving for live music, but no way to get any fresh content, despite the occasional webcast. Will this disease, or any future diseases (because who really knows what the hell is coming next), result in the postponement of future concerts well into winter of this year? Into next year? The concert experience going to be tainted for awhile because of the calls for social distancing (which are totally justified, btw – at least for the time being and what looks like the near future), and this I think is the only thing we can all agree on. But, where do we go from here.

And, where do venues go from here – the ones who have to host the shows, pay rent, uphold functioning venues with investors, owners, staff and a need for patrons to keep everything running smoothly. Sure, the longstanding, large venues owned by big investment partners will survive, but what about our local guys – the ones who can hold only a few hundred humans and who don’t get the big name acts? I feel for these people more than ever. I encourage each and every one of you to consider a donation to your favorite local venues during this time, who are being hit as hard, if not harder than any small business given their entire model runs on live events hosting packed groups of people in one setting. I’ve already seen a handful shut down for good, which is terribly saddening, and it feels really, really unfair. Why do bad things happen to good people? I’ll never understand.

I, for one, have taken this as a great opportunity to start scouring the web for new music – specifically YouTubing old concerts, scouring my favorite Reddit and Instagram feeds for old live music clips (I have to say, my music-focused communities have been especially awesome in bringing together live music finds during this time) and taking any chance I can get to catch a band planning a live stream here and there. It’s honestly a great chance to clean up some old playlists, research some new artists, find new interests, explore different genres, and really branch out your tastes. All we have is free time right now, and we might as well use it to our advantage. I’ll be doing my best to share any and all live, pre-recorded content and music updates as they come my way with y’all as much as possible. So stay tuned!

I miss you, live music. And I hope to see you again, real soon.

BEST OF JUNE: TOP 5 TRACKS OF THE MONTH

5.) Speed Run – CloudNone

Spotify / Apple Music

CloudNone dropped his Lights Out EP this month and a project I stepped into with little expectations ended up blowing me away. The second I heard the chopped up piano sample at the beginning of the song, I knew “Speed Run” was going to be a special track. This groovy dance track has some heavy Japanese influences that feels like some collab Porter Robinson and Tchami did in some alternate universe. Loving this track and the whole EP. CloudNone will now be on my radar in the future.

4.) What’s The Matter – Twin Peaks, Ohmme, V.V. Lightbody

Spotify / Apple Music

Another Chicago band I have my Chi-Town friend to thank for the introduction, Twin Peaks has been absolutely killing it under the radar. What’s The Matter just oozes summer vibes and good times. A killer backing guitar melody drives the song through the incredibly chorus. And once the flute is introduced, it’s basically musical game over. This group is incredibly talented and even grew up as classmates with hip-hop icon Chance the Rapper. Be on the lookout as this band is prepped to make waves throughout the music world.

3.) Stratego (Mindchatter Remix) – Amtrac

Spotify / Apple Music

Amtrac has quickly been becoming one of my favorite artists with his killer indietronica vibes. When I saw a remix for one of his songs off his Oddyssey album, I was intrigued as to how someone could expand off his already near perfect sound. Mindchatter completely nailed it. Having not been familiar with his work previously, Mindchatter’s discography has been impressing me this month. This remix seems to have maintained that indie vibe while adding a subtle yet exciting grooves to the verses that elicit a dreamy, nostalgic atmosphere. This track has been on repeat since I first heard it and certainly will find its way into multiple playlists.

2.) Topanga State of Mind – George Clanton, Nick Hexum

Spotify / Apple Music

George Clanton has been one of my favorite artists since I found his incredible album Slide (2018). Since the album’s release, George Clanton has been teaming up with Nick Hexum to provide a multitude of impressive songs and EPs. Topanga State of Mind maintains that signature vaporwave Clanton sound, but ditching the darker tones for a more summer and sunshine experience. Partnering with vocalist and lead front man of the band 311 Nick Hexum may seems like a weird combination on paper, but your ears will conclude that it’s a match made in heaven. While I’m still hoping to see some solo George Clanton work in the near future, I’m perfectly content with this duo occupying my summer with their phenomenal jams.

1.) Last – Tourist, The Range

Spotify / Apple Music

The king has returned with an absolutely beautiful track that tops this month’s best songs chart by miles. The British Grammy award-winning producer teamed up with American-born producer The Range to deliver what may be a song of the year candidate. Last, according to Tourist, started as a collab project with The Range a few years ago. The track remained unnamed for a while because of a dispute between the two over whether the vocal sample was saying ‘last’ or ‘lost’. Tourist enjoyed the double interpretation the lyrics carry, but sat on releasing the song until the unfortunate and untimely passing of a close friend recently, to whom this song is dedicated to. Tourist, born William Phelps, said:

“‘Last’ to me, is a reflection on grief. I started this track with James a few years ago, and while writing it we noticed that we were hearing the lyrics differently, I was hearing ‘you know you’re lost’ whereas James was hearing ‘you know you last’. The duality of that truth resonated with me, as both meanings are applicable when someone leaves us. It’s taken on a more personal chord recently, as one of my dearest friends passed away suddenly“.

Tourist’s ability to cast emotion and beauty to his listeners through his music is one of his biggest strengths as a musician. From the very start of the track, you know you’re in for an incredible treat. His songwriting abilities are some of the best in music today as Last proves with its sentimental and passionate buildup that leads to a release of emotional drum sequence in the verse. If this song doesn’t leave you with some wet eyes and a heavy heart, I have to question whether or not you are human.

Check out the rest of the Best of June 2020 Playlist below:

Subtle and Not so Subtle Homages to Psychedelics in Film

I have wanted to make a post on this for awhile now because I find it fascinating how directors can portray the psychedelic experience through the medium of a screen. To be able to take a very mental and physical experience and covert that to sights and sounds takes a solid amount of creativity and precision to do effectively. It’s a tricky subject because it is very easy to come off as too dramatic, just in the nature of substance being generally vilified by the average individual. But the ability to both capture the experience visually and audibly while allowing the viewer to (at least partially) connect emotionally is what impresses me the most.

But we should make a clear distinction here. There are films that directly acknowledge psychedelics – it is part of the core subject matter or talked about openly by the characters – and then there are the films that are seen as tributes to the psychedelic experience. These could be movies that make no direct reference to substances, but attempt to be outwardly “trippy” and symbolic in their design, to the extent that much of the content seems deliberately “out-there”. These films tend to be the cult classics and are lauded for their supposed deeper meanings.

Portrayals of psychedelics/psychoactive substances are usually done in one of two ways ways: with humor or seriousness. I’m thinking here of the difference between Cheech and Chong and Enter the Void – one uses comedy to downplay the effects of substance, the other tries to paint a haunting, ethereal representation of a psychedelic experience. While I’ll toss a few comedies on this list, I think the more impressive of the two is definitely the serious view. It takes guts for a director to try and capture the psychoactive experience, while trying to do so without coming off as cheesy and cliche. Humor can cover up the seriousness of the experience, but I think as with most films, the more serious in subject matter and execution have a much more lasting, deeply-felt impact on the viewer. Just my two cents.

Here are my favorite tributes to psychedelics in film:

  1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998): The quintessential psychedelic experience in a movie. The book is outstanding in its own right, probably better, but the movie is a wonderful work of art as well. Johnny Depp is iconic in this role as an ultra-eclectic psychonaut travelling to Vegas with the sole intention of ingesting every psychoactive substance known to man. What follows its utter insanity. What makes this film so effective, though, its ability to convey the experience visually (colors, bent camera angles, set choices) and audibly – particularly with Depp’s narrating which describes his internal monologue and reactions to his experiences. This provides a truly awesome experience for the viewer who is normally not beholden to what a user is thinking during his experience. This may be the MOST iconic (and well-made) psychedelic film ever.
  2. Pineapple Express (2008): The buddy stoner comedy I grew up with – Pineapple Express is a hilariously funny look at how innocent potheads end up in an incredibly wild situation, and their reactions to it. This movie defined Franco and Rogen as heroes of the genre and made them household names in the stoner community.
  3. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971): Most of us have seen this at some point. Gene Wilder is the mind-bending leader of a colorful and extravagant adventure through his secret candy factory. Acting as a sort of spirit guide, he leads his band of various children (representing different traits, personalities and backgrounds) through a contest of his own creation. Many have noted such scenes as the boat ride being incredibly geared towards the psychedelic viewer. Watching this as an adult, I picked up on several other clues as well. Watch for yourself and see if your perspective has changed on this childhood classic.
  4. Enter the Void (2009): This film takes a more serious look at life and death than most are willing to touch. Riddled with hallucinogens and first-person psychedelic experiences, ETV is directed by a man who actually took ayahuasca for the purpose of creating this film. Not for the faint of heart – this movie is as trippy as it is disturbing. You have been warned!
  5. Midsommar (2019): This was an amazing surprise when I saw this in theaters last summer. I’ve written on this before, but Ari Aster does a tremendous job of capturing the psychedelic experience in a very “real” way. The characters are as mesmerized and confused by the psychedelic elements as the viewer, which makes it feel as though you are really experiencing the hallucinations the film portrays along with them. The visuals in this film are subtle but stunning. The viewer is very much along for the ride in this cleverly thought-provoking film.
  6. Waking Life (2001): A college-aged male winds his way through animated dreamscapes which introduce various speakers and discussions, particularly focusing on themes of life and death, progress, success and failure, and dozens of other worldly topics. If any film has made me think, it was Waking Life. There are some excellent ideas presented here, and the visuals are unlike anything I have ever seen.
  7. Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982): This is a highly symbolic film set to the audio of Pink Floyd’s The Wall album. Floyd is known for their influence on psychedelic rock and culture during their time, so this addition to the list should come as no surprise (and yes, I am a huge fan). The movie is dark, disturbing and very thought provoking in a way only Floyd could do properly. Another cult classic of psychedelic cinema.
  8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1967): One of the most transcendental and thought provoking films ever made, along with the basis for the sci-fi genre ever since, 2001 is undoubtedly an amazing film. It’s also very psychedelic in many instances. Long, draw-out shots, booming audio and music election, unique visualizations and meticulous directing make this film a true masterpiece – and one that is hiding a tremendous amount of symbolism behind it. It’s been called one of the most thought-provoking films ever made, and has a cult following among critics and hallucinogen enthusiasts alike.
  9. Easy Rider (1969): An iconic, dark American Odyssey across the open road, starring the rough riders of society’s underbelly. The film, which came out in the late 60s and 70s sports an outstanding soundtrack, and “came to represent a counterculture generation increasingly disillusioned with its government as well as the government’s effects on the world at large and the establishment in general.” Very much a trippy film and a cult classic, this is a piece of true Americana which speaks for the rebels of society during this time.
  10. The Big Lebowski (1998): The consummate stoner, Lebowski is an icon of American cinema. This film is virtually perfect in every way, and is one of my favorites – it has comedy, excitement, psychedelic sequences, and plenty of doobies. Amazing music selection, top-notch acting and the Coen Brother’s signature dark humor make this a cult classic. White Russian, please.

Honoring the Timeless and Influential Black Contributions to Music

In honor of many of the recent protests and Black Lives Matter movements taking hold around the globe, and simply because it is a great topic for a brief blog post, I want to take a moment to pay homage to some of the greats of our time and long before it in the musical world. I’m talking about the Black artists, musicians, and producers who helped shape our culture and society, and our world with their powerful words and playing, and their work behind the stage in organizing the music for all to hear.

It would be beyond impossible to list out every contribution the Black community has made to the worlds of music, starting with the birth of blues and influential positions in creating and organizing jazz music, to soul and funk, rhythm and blues, hip-hop and rap, even rock & roll – every major musical category has been touched, molded, inspired (and in many cases, created) by Black musicians, male and female.

When I think of the word influential as it relates to music in the past century, I am drawn immediately to the likes of powerful Black figures like Chuck Berry – the “godfather” of rock and roll, Ray Charles – who created his own brand of gospel infused R&B, Jimi Hendrix – who changed the way modern musicians approach the guitar, Michael Jackson – the king of Pop music, Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Whitney Huston, Aretha Fraklin, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, to name even a small few.

These contributions come not only in the recording studio, but outside in the production room as well. I’m thinking of the likes of Pharell Williams, Sean Coombs, Dr. Dre, QUINCY JONES, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Norman Whitfield – the men and women behind the stage who seek talent and bring it to the stage for all to see. In every regard, our musical knowledge and the foundation of our music industry would be far from where it is today without Black influence.

I could write an entire paragraph on Louis Armstrong, one of the most influential figures in ALL of music history. His unique trumpet playing alone was an influence on every jazz musician who followed him. But also, his contributions to not only jazz, bringing a New Orleans Swing sound to the mainstream, but also his powerful vocals, stage presence, and influence in bringing black music to the forefront of American culture.

In Jazz specifically, Black culture took a strong foothold from it’s earliest days being performed for live audiences in America. Jazz is, by definition, an African-American art form, molded by Black musicians and inspired by European and African sounds and cultures. What started as the Ragtime music of Scott Joplin and the likes of the Dixieland Jazz Band, turned slowly and then sharply into the mainstream with Louis Armstrong, then into Swing with the likes of Art Tatum, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and most notably – Duke Ellington. Their successors transitioned the world into Bebop and Hard Bop with the likes of Thelonius Monk, Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Lester Young and Miles Davis. The heart and soul of jazz music is so deeply and eternally a part of Black culture in the United States and beyond, because both were shaped by one another. It is by looking back at these greats, and looking to the future of jazz music that we can see this influence being felt and molded even today in new and beautiful ways.

When I think about major Black contributions to music, I think of the birth of Rhythm and Blues in the 1940s. Then Soul and Funk in the 1960s, which carried into jazz-rock fusion by the 1970s and beyond. Each major milestone in these genres and genres associated with them was influenced by one or more Black musicians. I am no historian, nor am I an expert on music history, but it doesn’t take more than a little digging to discover the importance that Black artists have had on the history of music in America, the UK and beyond, particularly from the 1940s-2020s. Every major musical artists from the 1960s until today has been influenced at least in some small way by some Black musician who came before them.

This isn’t a platform I want to use to sow unrest, and I would hate to be associated with political commentary – unless it was in the context of a film or song. But I do want to acknowledge that we would be so far from where we are today in the world of music without these foundational and purely essential Black members of our society. Individuals who helped define our cultural appreciation for music, our love for the music “scene”, our love for everything from deeply bluesy, mellow piano music to get-up-offa-your-feet funk, and everything in between.

They are as much a part of society, if not more so, than I am. And they deserve the same kind of respect and admiration from everyone and every institution with whom they interact with – particularly given the oppression in which they faced for hundreds of years. Our society has marginalized black citizens as a result of racism and segregation for decades, and it is deeply troubling. But now, as we usher in a new age, a new generation of America and the world, it is essential to look to the major influences Black individuals have had on global society as a whole, and the genuine need to remove these archaic prejudices that still infect some of us today so we can move forward as one, united people.

Take some time today to appreciate some of the musicians I have mentioned here, or do some of your own research on the history of Black music and the influence it has had on our global culture.

My Favorite (and Least Favorite) Films of 2019

2019 was a good year for film. Not that it was the best year by any means, but it was certainly beneficial for the film industry. You had movies like Avengers top box offices worldwide with $2.7B in profits, followed by Lion King at $1.6B and Spider Man: Far From Home at $1.1B. If you’re keeping track, that puts Avengers as the highest grossing film EVER, with Lion King taking 7th on the list. Pretty impressive for two films which were, in my opinion, good but not great. Lion King didn’t even do anything new. Avengers was at least unique.

But in terms of film quality and substance, there were a handful of movies this year that will stand the test of time. Here are my reviews for what I’ve seen, so far, in 2019:

  • Top Tier: These films were unique, exciting, clever and engaging the whole way through
    • Parasite (10/10); super cool film, excellent directing (Hoo was definitely deserving of the Oscar). The film is entirely in Korean, but you still feel incredibly engaged as to what will happen next, almost like you are in the situation with them. Allowed you to feel a wide range of emotion: angst, excitement, humor, fear – and it just flows well. There were long scenes where the camera would be stationary at the end of a room, or would pan with the characters while they walked. Different angles, but did an amazing job highlighting the whole scene and everyone in it (I think particularly of the bathroom scene during the flood). Deserved best picture IMO, most unique film of the year style-wise. Hope to write on this more soon.
    • Us (9.5/10); I am a huge horror movie fan, and this hit on everything I could want. Genuine fear was brought out with excellent plot development and writing, combined with Peele’s film work, made you want to keep watching. Great plot, definitely unbelievable at the end, but it plays on this trope in a way that doesn’t feel weird. The family is so believable that you genuinely are WTF-ing with them the whole movie and genuinely want them to succeed. Excellent ending.
    • Midsommar (10/10); Probably my most profound movie experience of the year. I was so hooked and anxious watching this the whole time, it created this sense of tension that NEVER let up and kept you guessing every minute. Hallucinogenics were a big piece of this film which was different and cool. I was left thinking about this for weeks afterwords. As good as Hereditary, but in a completely different way. Pugh shines in this and you really feel her emotions. A must-see for horror fans, but definitely unnerving for some viewers. You have been warned!
    • 1917 (10/10); Just saw this last night. Truly incredible. Sam Mendes has outdone himself here, filming the whole movie as if it was done in one take. He uses two random actors as the main characters, and you genuinely love them without knowing their names. Sprinkled in also are excellent actors throughout the film which I loved, even if they were there for 2 minutes (won’t spoil it here). I’ll do a full review at some point but this had me hooked 30 seconds in. Could’ve won best picture.
    • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (9/10); Tarantino is so consistent it hurts. Not his most exciting film, but excellent writing nonetheless. Brad Pitt is the star here and deserving of the Oscar. Unbelievable he hasn’t won more, guy is an absolute stud and a fantastic actor in everything. Leo is also great. The movie is like a cacophony of randomness that keeps you engaged for some reason the whole time. Cool movie, fantastic last 20m that makes it all worth it.
  • Middle Tier: These are high quality films, undoubtably. I enjoyed each one. To me a 7 and above is great. These are solid movies that didn’t quite leave a lasting impact on me, but definitely were made with care. More like – “Yes, liked it” than “Holy shit”
    • Ford vs. Ferrari (8/10); Bale is excellent, Damon was pretty good too. The highlights were the racing scenes for me – exciting, sound mixing was top notch and Bale kept you engaged as the fearless Ken Miles. Definitely made me HATE Ford and their mentality; their corporate marketing is also evil apparently. Honestly I just love watching Bale work, and he definitely makes Damon look inferior here. But their friendship is fun as hell. Cool cars, fun flick.
    • Ad Astra (7.5/10); Amazing first half, a let-down in the second. Cinematography was excellent, scene creation on point. It gave me the same Interstellar vibe, albeit with worse writing. The plot was definitely there, but it really didn’t deliver at the end like it promised to. Unfortunate, but still worth seeing. I’m a sucker for sci-fi, though.
    • The Lighthouse (7.5/10); Can’t quite put my finger on this one. Definitely cool and different, filmed in black and white and VERY eerie. There was a lot of symbolism I still haven’t properly digested, and I think there is more to this film than first impressions. I was a tad bored, though. Acting was 10/10. Very dark, very creepy.
    • Rocket Man (8.5/10); Very well done movie, and definitely made with a lot of care and thought. It’s a musical, so it brings in original EJ songs and adds a twist here and there which was fun. Elton won best original song, and Taron Egerton showcases his acting abilities in a far greater way than the Kingsman films.
    • Marriage Story (8/10); Good acting, kind of boring plot. Love both Scarlet and Adam here, though. Excellent acting, both actors are so believable and heartwarming at times. The film explores divorce and the conflict in a working marriage (you could probably see that one coming), but it does it in a way that doesn’t pit you against one or another. It’s a hard look at American family life.
    • The Joker (8/10); Incredible acting from Joaquin, no doubt. I thought the movie itself was pretty good, but this rating really comes from him. Definitely a little boring at parts, but a very good take on the evil persona of the Joker and why he came to be like he was. I was a huge fan of batman so this was fun, but nothing too special.
  • Sub-Par: Movies I actually hated this year.
    • The Irishman (4/10 – I’ll explain this in another post because I want to rant); Let me start off by saying Scorsese has produced at least two of my top ten films (Goodfellas and The Departed) and countless other masterpieces. The man is a blessing on this earth and top 3 directors for me living today. I think that’s why I was so thrown off by this piece. It was essentially old actors attempting to be young actors. Hint: it doesn’t work. Bored the hell out of me honestly and didn’t go anywhere. De Nero was particularly bad and the plot was a snoozefest. It felt so forced. Ouch.
    • Knives Out (5/10); Boring “mystery”. Actors were there, but it lacked execution. Had its moments, and I particularly liked Chris Evans. But the main character was unlikeable, aided only by her interactions with Craig. There’s really nobody to “root” for, which made this hard to enjoy for me. And you never felt intrigued the whole time because it basically gives away the whole mystery 20m in. Missable.
    • Toy Story 4 (5/10); They didn’t have to do another one. You have the best trilogy ever conceived with animation in TS 1-3, so why bother? One reason: greed. This had no business being made except money. It was not good, lacked creativity and any substantial difference from #3, and the side character was literally a fork. Still don’t get it but whatever.

Hoping to explore some of these in detail moving forward, but for now I wanted to make a list to empty my thoughts a little. Curious what others who have seen these think!

Ari Aster: Already A Legend with Only Two Films

I was first introduced to the Sophomore director, Ari Aster, with Hereditary a few years back in 2018. I have definitely stepped up my horror game in the past few years, which is for a variety of reasons. Mostly as a result of Sam and myself being incredibly into psychological thrillers, which led into a full-blown obsession over the horror genre. And, I genuinely like being scared. If a movie can make you feel actual shock, I feel like it has done its job properly. If it can make you experience fear, it has exceeded expectations. If you genuinely feel the horror unfolding in front of you connects with you on an emotional and physical level, you have something special. And honestly, I am not ashamed to say Ari’s first two screenplays, although very different from one another, exist in the latter category of film. I am speaking about Hereditary and Midsommar.

You undoubtably get a lot of duds with the horror genre, which is unfortunate, but to be expected. It is generally quite easy to produce, and the audience they are marketing to for the films is generally not what you would call a sophisticated palate. That’s not to say that some of the greatest filmmakers and masters of cinema do not absolutely love horror, because they do. What I mean is the intended audience is easier to cater to. You can omit a few plot points to save time and costs, write in characters and take them away without much thought, neglect a backstory here and there – because most of the time people aren’t paying that much attention. The difference with Ari’s films, and many other great horror directors (Gore Verbinski, Hitchcock, John Carpenter, etc.), is that these are for a sophisticated palate. The kind of films that make you question reality, and your own sanity in one way or another. The kind that fills you with a lingering anxiety throughout and often afterwords, and genuinely brings you into the environment of the film’s characters with clever pacing, cinematography, lighting and sound design. There are so many ways the greats make it work, but I’d like to focus on what Ari does that makes his first two films so excellent.

Let’s start with Hereditary, a true masterpiece of horror. The movie, if you have not seen it, follows the lives of a troubled family, recently mourning the loss of their grandmother and trying to pick up the pieces. What starts as sadness evolves slowly into the family uncovering some incredibly disturbing revelations about their grandmother, and the movie pivots to full-blown horror. About a quarter of the way through the movie, and incredibly jarring and intense event takes place that jerks you out of the slow-burn introduction and into complete shock. This scene in particular was one of the most intense and graphic scenes I have ever witnessed. I legitimately had NO idea this was coming and it stunned me and I think everyone in the theater at the time. It was at this moment I realized this was not your typical film. From this moment onward, you are thrust into the intensity of this film full-on. You experience the grief and sadness of Toni Coilette (the mother) so palpably that it actually is confusing at times. The son, Peter (Alex Wolff), is an excellent character fold to his mother, embodying a true feeling of dread and fear in every scene. When events start unfolding that genuinely begin affecting their ways of life, you see these two characters begin to show their true colors in the best way possible.

What sets this movie apart, though, is how it uses the horror genre in new ways. It is entirely unique in its slow-burn approach to scare tactics that you never really realize what is coming next – and that in itself is thrilling and terrifying. While at first you are experiencing visual horror and sadness for these characters, you eventually find yourself being genuinely terrified yourself. The natural becomes supernatural, and when the nefarious entities find their way into the screenplay, you’re in for quite a treat. The film does an exceptional job of putting you in the drivers seat with the family – completely unaware of what exactly is happening, learning more frightening facts in every scene, and genuinely unsure what is going to happen next. These are the characteristics of a fantastic horror film. Not only this, but you are completely petrified in the last quarter of the film, as events start to take place that are equally as frightening as they are anxiety-producing. Like the main characters, you are trapped in this “doll house” with the family, being managed by some evil entity that seems closer and closer with every passing scene. The less you feel like you can wrap your head around what is going to happen next, the better the film in my opinion. Hereditary does just that.

Ari does and excellent job capturing the cult-y vibe in this film, and without giving too much away, it really brought it all home for me. The score is brooding, sharp and genuinely horrifying at times, changing the emotion of specific scenes into ones of pure terror. Music is not used often, but when it is it is incredibly effective. Darkness and light are also used incredibly effectively, with the former beginning to outweigh the ladder throughout the film’s course. The acting was superb, casting choices spot on, and direction top-class. The cross-cutting between mother and son’s experiences is incredibly effective. The writing/dialogue was realistic and emotionally charged – making you connect to these troubled characters in ways you don’t think is possible at the beginning of the movie. You feel the emotions of these characters, and you experience true fear with them, a helpless observer for a helpless family. The environment Aster creates with his fresh approach to the genre is incredibly engaging, even at slow moments, which is incredibly refreshing – one of the most important pieces of a good horror film is pacing, in my opinion (as in, when to slow things down and speed them up, and how to keep people engaged and actually afraid). This movie succeeds on all fronts. 10/10

The second of Ari’s films is Midsommar, and where do I even begin with this one… This movie is not so much horror as it is a mix between a psychological thriller, cult film, drama, horror and mystery – all wrapped into one masterful package. The plot follows a young woman (new actress on the scene – Florence Pugh) who has recently lost her entire family in a murder-suicide orchestrated by her suicidal younger sister. She is invited to come along with her boyfriend and his friends to a once-in-88-year mid summer event occurring in the Swedish hometown of one of the friends, Pele. The friend group is thrust into the small village and becomes intertwined in its events and small societal norms much more than they ever expected. What starts as an innocent trip to experience a simple culture turns into complete madness and thrills in ways I never imagined possible. I will explain why.

Ari once again finds a way to beautifully capture an emotion, dread, in the best way possible in this film. The dread is so tangible at times that it will have you leaning back in your seat waiting for the next shoe to drop – and this persists through virtually the ENTIRE movie. It is exceptional. But with this, you have a cast of relatively unknown characters that bring you excitement, humor, fear and confusion all in one motley group of pals – it’s a welcome change of pace from the typical no-name group of characters we find in many horror-esque films. You genuinely feel like you know these guys well, and you empathize with them. Everyone except for Christian, maybe.

Midsommar is unlike any other movie I have ever seen. When I saw this in the theater on half-priced Tuesday at the Nickelodeon in Portland, I was expecting something special, but what I got was something much, much more. I had seen Hereditary and was so excited to jump in, but I did something I have really been enjoying lately: I did zero research on the film beforehand. I was going in blind. Blind is the best way to see this film. It’s like coming out of Plato’s cave and seeing reality for the first time, except reality in this case is slightly terrifying and certainly disturbing. But at the same time, Midsommar is enlightening in ways I didn’t think it would be. I think what I loved most about this was feeling so “into it” for the entire runtime (which is actually quite long). I couldn’t look away, even for a moment. I was so engrossed in the setting and characters, particularly Pugh and her reactions to everything happening within and around her. There is a particular scene, the last scene of the film, where Pugh makes an expression that truly blew my mind. I won’t spoil it for you, but it is an incredibly satisfying conclusion to this film.

This film is not a psychological thriller – but rather a psychedelic thriller. It brings in elements of hallucinogens early, and the “trip” persists throughout the movie. It is in fact a core element, which I found incredibly cool. Aster has clearly been influenced by psychedelics here – the way he is able to capture the “tripping” of the characters – their reactions to others, the way they see trees and grass moving, and the general anxiety and confusion of it all. The movie in itself is really just a really long trip in that you are both in awe of its raw power and subtly anxious the entire time, if that makes any sense. I was very impressed by this ability to capture the psychedelic effects on people’s psyches, seeing and actions.

Ari does an incredible job from a cinematography standpoint, here. He creates this magical-looking village, set in the rolling hills of Sweden. An incredibly unnerving element to this film is it is a sharp contrast from the darkness of Hereditary – it takes place ENTIRELY during the daytime! There is virtually never a scene of darkness. All of these unnerving and strange events are unfolding in complete clear view. Which is ironic, because you really have absolutely NO clarity to what is going on in the background. Like in Hereditary, you are with the characters getting swept up, in many cases literally, in the Midsommar event. The characters are never once in control, although it may feel like it at first. As soon as they set foot in the main setting – the Village is in control. Every event feels deliberate, calculated, and staged by the townsfolk – and it is incredibly creepy. It creates an uneasiness that had me gritting my teeth through the whole film. It is brilliantly done.

The movie explores regret, angst, and power struggles in relationships between friends, family, and couples in a way that never takes away from the films core. It never feels cliche, but rather you observe it happening around the edges of the film. It never distracts, only adds to its quality. By using several, more youthful actors, they embody the late-20s, enthusiastic, intelligent grad students in a perfect way because you are never distracted by an actors past performances. I had no idea how they were going to perform or what their tendencies were, and this was a welcome experience. It made everything all the more intriguing. William Harper was excellent as Josh, the intense and calculated student seeking knowledge, while the ever-funny Will Poulter was welcome comedic relief. Florence is the star, though. She conveys emotion in such a real and etherial way that you genuinely can connect with her despite the unimaginable tragedy in her life, because you too are reacting with her to the events before you.

There is a scene, early on in the film, where the friends are driving up to the village, and the camera turns from right-side-up to upside-down as it follows the car along the road from behind. This is in many ways metaphorical of the descent into a new and uncharted world that the friends have no idea is coming. In many ways, this film reminded me of the Twilight Zone, albeit a more drawn out, in-depth, and complex episode with color. I mean that in the way it makes you sense mystery, intrigue, and a subtle undertone of horror throughout. You never know exactly what is happening, but you are captivated by it. You are along for the ride, and you are terrified by it – because it really feels like you are deeply within the village yourself – with all of these village members orchestrating some kind of plot in the background. You never see what the village people are doing in their own time, only in their interactions with the characters. This creates a feeling of uneasiness and a lack of insight into their motivations, which in turn creates a very interesting environment in the film. You can only perceive these people in the village based on their staged interactions in public, and that in itself is frightening.

Like Hereditary, it is the unknown that moves you with this movie. There is really so much I can say, but I need to stop rambling. In short, this movie made me feel incredibly uneasy, intrigued, confused, amused, shocked, laughing and genuinely horrified all at the same time. I don’t really know how I can describe this emotional state, but it’s almost like a melancholic horror. It’s not quite “horror”, but it’s not quite a thriller, either. It’s a little of both in the most beautiful way. It builds a wonderful world to explore, and explore the characters do, even if the exploration is being orchestrated. I had this incredibly cathartic moment at the end of this movie that I can’t exactly explain, but I can say it left me somewhat – happy? How does that make sense? I’m not sure how he did it, but he moved me in some way. I was left thinking about this movie for weeks afterwords and recommending it to all of my friends who enjoy horror and otherwise. Watch it in one sitting, in one place, with the sound all the way up. Get into the film – you will not regret it for a second. 10/10

This post ended up being much longer than I thought, but my summary is this: Ari is amazing at capturing true fear and dread, and general uneasiness in his two films. Everything, from the emotions to the visuals, are palpable in ways that really bring you into the movie. It gives me incredible excitement for whatever he will produce next.