Montana/Autumn ’78

Generic Ratings: 1: Crap. 2: Okay. 3: Good. 4: Great

Nothing complex here, just simple, balls out rock song – extraordinary vocals, great guitars, wonderful chorus with nice harmonies, and of course good lyrics. Most aren’t likely to remember this one but for some reason it sticks in my mind – strange warbling and distorted intro, good solo in the middle, and Bradfield’s vocals in the chorus are so close to breaking – those qualities steal it for me. Any time a singer is putting so much effort into the vocals that it basically becomes shrieking or otherwise falls apart is a win for me.

Montana/Autumn ’78: 4/Great

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Let us know what you think of this one in the comments!

Best Actress – 1969

Official NominationsMaggie Smith. Genevieve Bujold. Jane Fonda. Liza Minnelli. Jean Simmons. 

Although nowadays Maggie Smith is known for building nests in your neighbour’s trees and swooping down to gobble up stray worms and centipedes, back in 1969 she was winning an Oscar for her performance in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie. It is an excessively ugly film with many bizarre accents, topped off by the dead eyed stare of Maggie as she gives it her all. Genevieve Bujold is the best thing about Anne Of The Thousand Days, Jane Fonda gets a deserved nomination in the bleak, bizarre, and still shocking They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, and Liza Minnelli is just on the verge of irritating in The Sterile Cuckoo. Jean Simmons is the final pick, very strong in the unusually frank The Happy Ending. 

My Winner: Genevieve Bujold.

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My Nominations: Genevieve Bujold. Jane Fonda. Jean Simmons. Natalie Wood. Shirley Knight. Diana Rigg.

Not too many changes for my personal nominations this year – three existing and three new. Ted and Alice got nominations for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, so why not Carol? Natalie Wood stars as the liberal Carol who is okay with her husbands extra-marital antics so decides to have some of her own, before eyeing up a more dedicated commitment to swinging. Shirley Knight goes on a personal odyssey encountering various characters and reflecting the frustration and stress of someone who has not yet worked out what they want out of their own life. Finally, long before she was trading barbs and quips with royalty in Westeros, Diana Rigg was hanging out in equally dangerous snake-pits. Her performance in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is good, but it is in the same year in The Adjustment Bureau that she earns my nomination, a strong woman driven to personal and public gain through moral and dubious ventures.

My Winner: Shirley Knight.

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Let us know in the comments who gets your pick as the Best Actress of 1969 – any of the above, or someone I have missed?

Grave Encounters

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I’ve never watched any of those Most Haunted type shows but I enjoy a good ghost story, Creepypasta, or shaky cam horror movie as much as anyone, and I’ll forgive any budget, acting, or other concerns if the movie does what it is supposed to – scare. Grave Encounters has a number of issues to be concerned about, but it also has good jump scares, creates some high moments of tension, and is overall a fun time.

If you’ve seen any films like this before then you’ll know the basic formula. A group of people, armed with audio and video (or digital) equipment set out to capture proof of X. A few bizarre and slight events occur at the offset exciting the group, but these events soon escalate until each member is fighting for their life. Grave Encounters is no different in that respect, but it harnesses the ripe for satire nature of the aforementioned Most Haunted shows – shows where self-important and deluded people manipulate themselves and the audience for views. Within this movie, Grave Encounters was one such show; Only five episodes were aired, showing presenter Lance Preston going around various supposedly haunted sites in the USA. Episode 6, we are told, was to focus on the famous Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital (in reality Riverview Hospital – which you’ll recognise from a host of shows and movies). Collingwood has been closed for decades and has always faced rumours and stories about being the most haunted place in America. We meet the crew – mostly charlatans or typical crew members just going about their job as anyone would. After a brief tour and some interviews, the crew are locked in the hospital by the caretaker as night falls.

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Early thrills are by the numbers – doors and windows opening and closing, creepy wheelchairs moving by themselves, strange sounds emanating from the dark corridors. Things soon ramp up when the occult expert Sasha has a brush with something on camera. Freaking out, the group decides to wait for dawn in one room together. Dawn comes and goes, but outside it is perpetual night and all attempts at escape simply lead back to the hospital. It’s at this point where the Vicious Brothers tighten the noose, throwing some inventive scares at us. Many of these are similar to what have been experience on Paranormal Activity but with a greater emphasis on effects and energy. By the film’s end there are some events which hint at time looping upon itself or becoming uncertain, and we get the sense that no-one is getting out.

I had a lot of fun with Grave Encounters; it’s a perfect popcorn horror movie, best experience in a screaming crowd. That said, much of it has been seen and done before and aside from Sean Rogerson as Lance, the cast is interchangeable and unremarkable. Those CG face effects are pretty ropey the first time you see them and you know they’re going to look rapidly more ridiculous as time marches one. But the film has a big bag of tricks which the directors are more than happy to tear open and lob at you as if they are clearing a nursery of grenades. I appreciate the attempt at explanation which hints at a wider story, but the film could have been just as effective with no explanation at all. This is all explored more in the sequel – as are some of the tricks which the hospital or its inhabitants play on those unfortunate enough to enter. I do enjoy films which trick the viewer into thinking there is an obvious escape or solution, only to make it clear to us that the world of the film isn’t playing by our rules – opening a door to find a brick wall behind it, or the rewinding of the camera in Funny Games come to mind. Grave Encounters experiments with these ideas and makes the movie that bit more interesting.

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Horror fans should recommend this as one of the better found footage movies of the recent million or so – it’s entertaining, has a good premise, decent execution, and some interesting ideas. The films moves swiftly, the scares and excitement come thick and fast, and the story leaves room for discussion and further entries. Let us know in the comments if you have seen Grave Encounters and what you thought of it!

Nightman Listens To – Erotica – Madonna

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Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with Madonna today, back to her main studio albums and hopefully a return to form after the poor (in my mind) soundtrack album I’m Breathless. If you read my post on Like A Prayer you’ll know that I thought it was a fantastic album, brave, controlled, cultured, and most importantly packed with great music. Erotica was another well received album, and the first one where she began to focus more directly on sex from all directions. She had touched upon the subject frequently with previous albums, but with this one she takes sex and turns it into a concept album. It was at this time that she released her controversial Sex book, and presumably with this album she pushed a lot of boundaries for mainstream pop. Looking at the track list, I think I only know four of the fourteen songs, so I’ll be hoping once again for a few new gems. There’s no sense in waiting any further, lets strip off and get down to business.

Erotica‘ opens with record static, followed by quite tribal beats, heavy percussion and spoken lyrics. There’s a bit of Jungle Boogie in there, a heavily experimental sound unlike anything she had displayed before. The verse lyrics are good, lots of innuendo, but little melody – the chorus switches things by focusing on melody and dropping the lyrical intensity. I remember being not 100% fond of this one at the time, but I appreciate it more now. It does seem a little long, if only from a single perspective, but maybe the single version was cut down a bit.

Fever‘ is of course a cover. When I looked at this on the track list I couldn’t quite remember if this was a cover or one of her own which I couldn’t recall, but as soon as the song started I remembered hearing it. I’ve never been a huge fan of any version of this song, but I suppose this is as good as any, with a bit of New Jack, and a bit of club. There isn’t enough going on to warrant the five minute running time and it does feel dull and dated, even if the beat is infectious.

Bye Bye Baby‘ has similar drum beats to the previous songs, so there is a consistency. Unfortunately this sound feels dated now and reminds me of Vanilla Ice or PJ and Duncan or some such balls. Madonna does sound different, adopting a vicious Betty Boop persona and voice. Good production, lots going on, but it is dated. What excites me? The little pieces of synth which threaten to grow, but then they go away. Lyrics are okay, but melodically it’s poor and doesn’t grab the attention. Surprise end.

Deeper And Deeper‘ opens with a mix of synth and piano before dance beats come in to make us know where we stand. I was always a bit partial to this and even 9-10 year old me would have danced around the house to it like a weirdo, but again it has dated badly. A return to better hooks. An updated version of this one (there’s probably one out there) would presumably improve matters. It feels quite long, but there is some variance with the Spanish instruments joining the din. Vogue surprise.

Where Life Begins‘ starts a little differently – light on percussion, high on instrumental tinkering. This is momentary as a sultry beat soon takes over as Madonna whispers about her special area. It does manage to sound sexy and interesting, not tacky. Some of the lyrics are a bit on the nose (matron), others are funny, but I think I quite like this one. At least she’s being direct, most pop music now which deals with sex does so in a roundabout way or just dives in like cheap porn.

Bad Girl‘ has a slow beat and twinkling piano, before a heavier beat comes in over some delicate melodies and thoughtful, thought-provoking lyrics. I don’t remember ever hearing this one so it’s another surprise. Not the most memorable song but good enough on the first listen.

Waiting‘ is another song which tips past the 5 minute mark, and it’s another bass and drums laden track. I appreciate the length of the songs as this hints at ignoring the standard 3-4 pop single standard and doing whatever the hell she wants. Of course, sometimes songs need to be 3-4 minutes. This one tries to be sultry, has more spoken vocals and is low on melody aside from the chorus, so it feels like forgettable mid-album stuff. Again, there is a certain amount of variance, great production, but I’m not a huge fan of the drum and bass heavy stuff. This has good moments, not enough though.

Thief Of Hearts‘ has more Twin Peaks synths at the start before a series of faster beats take the lead. It’s another I haven’t heard, the drums are a little too weak here, there is some dated stuff, but I like the energy, the dark atmosphere which the synth brings, and the melodies. There’s another couple of R’n’B breakdown in the middle with something not quite rap emerging, leading to some comedy swearing and the final verse, chorus run which threatens to run out of steam.

Words‘ opens like a movie about an apocalyptic wasteland, the silence suddenly broken by a mass desert orgy/rave. It’s another which relies to heavily on the beat and that’s something I personally am not very interested in. Some of the sounds are annoying here, but again there are good moments – snippets of melody, a few lyrics here and there. This one is definitely overdone and almost 6 minutes long, not adding enough variance to justify that length.

Rain‘ has always been one of my favourite Madonna songs – I loved it upon release, and I’ve gone back to it several times over the years. Musically, it’s a massive departure from the rest of the album, but in terms of lyrics, tone, and atmosphere it retains the darkness, sadness, and anger. The opening begins in the same vein, with prominent beats before flowering into a luscious ballad. I’m listening now to the album version and wondering if the single was a little different. I must check on that. There are a few unnecessary instrument and sound choices which should have been dropped in favour of a more streamlined approach.

Why’s It So Hard‘ has a slight rock edge, with guitar parts deep in the mix, but again at the core is the percussion. The central beat is slow, contrasted by the speedy vocals, and the lyrics question the issues preventing unity among people. It has a few catchy moments but like quite a few of the songs on this album it lacks your standard immediate pop chorus. This one does feel stretched, again meandering past five minutes.

In This Life‘ is one which goes behind 6 minutes, so it better be good. An uppy downy line opens things, with some drunken piano playing simplistic, repetitive notes while Madonna sings melodies which don’t seem to sync with the music. It creates a hypnotic tone and once it comes together for the chorus it feels powerful. It’s obviously a personal lyric, I must say I prefer the vocal melody to the verse piano antics. It is overlong, but the spoken word parts do well, as they do for the most part on the rest of the album, and I usually don’t like spoken parts on songs.

Did You Do It‘ begins with some mumbled spoken parts, then the same old horns and percussive beat begins. Some guy begins rapping and this one for a change actually sounds quite modern. Madonna only comes in for the chorus (which seems to be a reprise), a lot of the lyrics are funny, explicit, and it feels like this could have been a single (if they’d been able to get away with the lyrics). It’s quite interesting to include this, as so much of the album is a woman’s perspective of sex and love while this is clearly from the man’s side. What does it mean with respect to the rest of the album – mocking the male approach to sex? Showing that men and women aren’t that different in terms of sex?

Secret Garden‘ opens with piano and some sort of throbbing beat. The drums come in which sound a little Beatles and a little Massive Attack. And she’s singing about her special area again. More whispered verse vocals, more melodic chorus. The vocals are a little too low so I can’t make everything out. Jazz interlude.

This was clearly groundbreaking stuff and there are some very good songs here, but much of it feels dated and I’m not a huge fan of the same beat and percussive style which is used on almost every track. Having said that, there are nods to a wide array of genres – jazz, rock, but at it’s core this is a thinking person’s dance record – introspective yet shamelessly extrovert, personal yet universal, and isn’t frightened to lay opinions bare or question taboo, or expose itself. With more musical variance in terms of production and instrumentation, I think I would have enjoyed this more – on several occasions the melody or idea is sacrificed for the sake of mood or beat, something which works best in small doses – here is as as unsubtle and all-pervading as someone walking into your room in a gimp suit. Even with it being dated musically, the ideas are fresh and challenging and it is clear that Madonna the artist was operating on a level apart from any of her supposed peers.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Madonna’s Erotica – were you there when it was released, what is your favourite song from the album, and where do you rank the album alongside her other releases?

Room 237

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As any student of any art form knows and fears, the moment you begin to study a particular text, film, or other piece of art is the moment it falls apart and becomes a gaping corpse of functional, practical parts ready to be dissected and reassembled in any Frankenstein manner you wish. Movie fans love to discuss movies, to look for tiny specs on re-watches that you or others may have missed, while critics prefer to cut the thing apart to find any minor details which they can ascribe to their own agenda. Somewhere between or beyond these groups is another breed which goes further, seeking to fuel their own fan-fiction, conspiracy theories, or venomous, stalker-lite love. Room 237 is a basement dweller’s blood-written love-letter to Kubrick, an interesting, ridiculous, and beyond believable account of people who have slipped out of fandom and into hysteria. Like any good conspiracy, it’s well worth listening to so that you can either point and laugh, nod and walk away, or think to yourself that maybe these guys have a point after all….

Room 237 specifically examines Kubrick’s The Shining, but also takes reference points from Kubrick’s life and other movies. Movie fans and critics alike will enjoy hearing pieces of information on the director and his movies that they may not have heard before, as well as marveling at the tenuous connections that our wonderfully, creatively flawed minds can make. We hear from general fans and academics, we hear theories which rank from the distantly plausible to the completely ludicrous. It’s easy to make such reaches when Kubrick was such a clever, divisive character with openly dense films. Your appreciation of this documentary will likely depend on how much of a Kubrick fan you are, and how much you enjoy taking an issue to its least logical endpoint or listening to others do the same. Personally I do enjoy this sort of thing but eventually it does become tiresome – Room 237 repeats the same footage, and has the same bland voices rambling on, so your patience may be tested long before the credits are rolling.

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I was planning to go into more detail and maybe add another paragraph, but I think it’s best for those interested to go into this with an open mind – it isn’t essential for Kubrick or King fans, but it is made by and features people with a love both dedicated and a little disturbing for the works discussed. Let us know in the comments what you thought of Room 237 and what your favourite movie related conspiracy theories are.

Best Actor – 1969

Official Nominations: John Wayne. Richard Burton. Dustin Hoffman. Peter O’Toole. John Voight.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the late 60s saw a troubling shift for Hollywood as the old guard of musicals and costume dramas became less popular and the demand for more realistic, gritty, and dramatic films was heightened. The Academy still sought to perpetuate the old ways by offering some strange choices of films as their nominees and winners. In this category this year, we see a list of five legends – some existing and some who would later cement their titles, but it’s quite amusing to see them getting confused about what is considered ‘Old Hollywood’ and awarding John Wayne with a win. Part justified for his performance, part political based on his popularity and past works, it seems like an unusual choice. Wayne is good, but Wayne is Wayne, eye-patch or nor.

Peter O’Toole seems like another example of this pandering to the old ways – a good performance wavering between stiff and charming, but in a film which few will remember. Richard Burton’s nomination is another unusual choice – a film few will think of when they think of him, and a film whose success at the Oscars appeared to be part of a vicious marketing campaign more than anything else. The final two nominations then are for the same movie, with Hoffman and Voight giving two of their finest performances as a pair of hustlers looking to make a fast buck and exploit a cold and uncaring world by undertaking seedy dealings – it’s the Anti-American dream and it’s difficult to pick a winner out of the two, Hoffman the more obvious of the two due to the more hyperactive character veering between street wisdom and desperation.

My Winner: Dustin Hoffman

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My Nominations: Jon Voight. Dustin Hoffman. Michael Caine. Robert Redford. Paul Newman. David Bradley. Oliver Reed. William Holden. Helmut Berger.

Only two of the official nominees make it over to my list, both from Midnight Cowboy. Michael Caine gets the nod for another early iconic performance in The Italian Job – a film which has still not made much of an impact in the States, bizarre considering the Brit Invasion of the 1960s. Fellow Brit Oliver Reed is great alongside a strong leading cast in Women In Love, while a young David Bradley looked set to be one of the next big things after a memorable performance in Kes which received glowing reviews. Outside of Britain, Helmut Berger makes a definite impression in the shocking and dark The Damned as one of the most reprehensible figures in cinema – unfortunately it’s a film few people have seen. Back in the US, Robert Redford gets my pick over Paul Newman in BCASK and William Holden is ostensibly the lead and figurehead in The Wild Bunch, leading his men with a weary guile from one near miss to inevitable demise.

My Winner: Helmut Berger

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Who is your pick for the best Actor of 1969 – any of the above, or someone else entirely? Let us know in the comments!