The VVitch

Few horror films of recent years have seen the acclaim that The VVitch has received. Maybe only The Babadook has reached those heights, and of course The Conjuring movies from a moneys perspective. It’s often a crutch when a genre film receives such adoration – fans expect greatness, it’s hyped as the greatest thing since Regan turned her head 360, and many are left disappointed. We know these things, so it’s always prudent to ignore hype, good or bad publicity where possible, and watch the film on its own terms. I dream of living in a fascist state where we are forced to consume entertainment on Day 1 with no spoilers. Or like things used to be in the good old days, dagnammit. Speaking of the good old days….

The film is set in the grimy, desolate wilderness of New England in the 1600s. A Puritan family is expelled from their village for some religious reason, and is forced to squeeze out an existence on the outskirts of a nearby mammoth forest. One day, their newborn baby seemingly vanishes during a game of peekaboo with daughter Thomasin, kicking off a series of unnatural events which causes the already fractured family to suspect one another of witchcraft and fall apart. As far as plot goes, there isn’t a lot on the surface, but the rites of passage, fear, and sexual tension bubbling underneath barely scrapes the surface of everything else going in.

The debut by Robert Eggars is one of the most startling in recent years, showing an assurance and skill most directors never achieve. Eggers wrote the story too, so his familiarity with the characters and with tone already places him at an advantage for telling the tale, but he makes the whole experience so visionary and cinematic too. While the Witch itself only appears in a few scenes, her presence is ever-felt – in the wind, in prayers, in shadows, in the characters’ whispers, and via the woods themselves as a metaphor. Eggers shoots with a looming distance – these small, inconsequential people on the verge of massive and ancient unknowns, giving their existence over to one God while a more malevolent opposite stalks them with efficient glee. The film is shot in near darkness and like Kubrick before him, he went for an authentic approach with respect to lighting, using only candles and the stars. Likewise, costume and soundtrack are sparse, and the casting sees British stalwart Ralph Ineson playing the frustrated patriarch over Anna Taylor-Joy in her breakthrough performance. The performances are worn and ruined wonderfully, the casting picking English talent with distinct features and voices who have an authentic air of having ‘been through some shit’. While the score is sparse, it is also punctuated by a sound design filled with air and the burden of silence and space.

Horror fans looking for blood and guts or obvious scares may be disappointed, but those of us who also enjoy a story expertly directed and descending towards the enraptured layers of hell will adore this. Anyone who has lived outside of suburbia or who has walked through the countryside at night will understand the inbred fear of darkness and the unknown when the sun lays its head – modern technology and knowledge has taught us that there is little to fear, but hundreds of years ago when light was your only protection and a Bible verse your only armour, isolation and darkness and weather were all-pervading issues of concern to overcome. Throw in a murderous supernatural enemy and things go from bleak to apocalyptic. Eggers harnesses these fears and this atmosphere perfectly, creating a film experience unlike anything else in recent memory.

Best Actor – 1975

Official Nominations: Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino. Walter Matthau. Maximillian Schell. James Whitmore.

Holy Heavens, the 70s are all about Al and Jack. That’s three years in a row where this pair have been fighting it out, and this year I have no clue who you are supposed to choose. Both are awesome, both deserve to win, and it really doesn’t matter which you choose. For those not in the know, Nicholson picked up the official win as RP McMurphy, a man convicted of rape who sneaks into a mental institution to avoid a harsher time in prison. There he clashes with staff and acts as some sort of inspiring hero to the other inmates. It’s perfect. Pacino is Sonny, a nobody who decides to rob a bank, but things go terribly wrong from the start. Again – perfect.

After Jack Lemmon received a nomination a few years back, Matthau gets his turn in The Sunshine Boys, a fairly famous adaptation of a fairly famous play. Alongside George Burns, he is funny, snarky, stormy, and still enthusiastic and ambitious. Schell received a nomination for The Man In The Glass Booth – a nice mirroring of Judgement Of Nuremberg. Here he plays a rich survivor of a concentration camp who is kidnapped and taken to Israel to stand trial – saying anymore would spoil things, but again he is great. Finally, James Whitmore receives a nomination for Give Em Hell, Harry! You know The Academy loves biographies, and biographies of Presidents – star in one of those and you’re almost guaranteed a nomination. It’s fine, authentic, nothing more.

My Winner: Jack Nicholson

My Nominations: Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino. Ryan O’Neal. Roy Scheider.

Jack and Al make it to my list, and are greeted by a couple of snubs. Ryan O’Neal was already beloved and as Barry Lyndon he should have cemented this status, though the film was not overly well received by critics or audiences at the time. Kubrick generally got terrific performances from his male leads, and here it is no different, with O’Neal as the raconteur, drunk, abuser, duelist. Schneider is an altogether more lovable character, a family man, a cop, a person who cares deeply for his town and his willing to put his own career, sanity, and life on the line to protect it. Sheriff Brody is one of Cinema’s finest lawmen and Scheider plays him almost straight down the middle – we can feel and understand his panic stricken moods, his guilt, his need to act.

My Winner: Jack Nicholson

Who gets your vote in 1975? Let us know in the comments!

My Blog – March 2019

As promised, this month I’m going to do a few of my own questions or answers. Some generic, some ZANY! Many of these probably come up in that ‘Complete Questions’ book I mentioned last month, but that’s fine. I’ve probably mentioned a lot of these before too, in other posts. Before that, March is going to be Movie month here at The Spac Hole, so fewer music posts and more movie reviews.

Yo, Nightman! What’s your favourite film?

You mean you haven’t been looking at my painstaking posts of favourite films from every year? You better handle that, son. My favourite films include Star Wars, The Terminator, T2, Robocop, The Thing, Predator, Police Academy, Dumb and Dumber, Ringu, Battle Royale, Conan The Barbarian. Basically anything with guns and gore.

Yeah, I’ve been meaning to do that Nightman, promise. But who’s your favourite band?

My favourite bands/artists include Manic Street Preachers, Guns’n’Roses, Alice Cooper, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, The Bangles, The Gathering, The Music, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Metallica, Iron Maiden…

K, cool, my dad likes some of them. Do you like reading?

Young whippersnapper. My favourite authors include Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Roald Dahl, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Louis MacNeice, Christina Rossetti.

Who? Are they part of the MCU? Forget that, what else do you do?

One thing I enjoy doing currently is watching various Youtubers react to my favourite stuff. This mainly falls into two categories – people watching Buffy for the first time and rap fans listening to metal for the first time. I don’t like reactors who simply watch shows and don’t give any real thoughts or commentary, and I don’t like reactors who simply listen to a song and gawp open mouthed at how good it is – it seems (is) false. I want to hear why you like or don’t like something. I don’t want to look at your face. I’d like to see more people (any people) react to Twin Peaks. The problem with these reactors is they all react to the same shows. Carve your own niche.

I like Pewdiepie. You seem like a great guy, tell me something random. 

Wha, Pewdi – I like literally low-key can’t even. Please reevaluate your life and make better decisions. Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed about myself IRL is that some people have a habit of becoming very attached to me (through no choice of my own) but then that connection gradually evaporates. I don’t mean like a regular friendship which fades over time or that gets rekindled every so often. It’s like an instant infatuation, like finding your new favourite TV show that you obsess over for a year and tell all your friends about, but then by the time the third season comes along you’ve kind of given up on it even though it hasn’t changed. I think people see something in me and suck it dry (matron). I don’t mean that to sound harsh or condescending to them or myself – it’s just the way it is. I become central and important in their lives, and then I become nothing. It doesn’t really matter how I feel about it all. I notice it now when it’s starting to happen, and sometimes I push it away or go out of my way to try to not let it happen. It sucks when someone becomes important in your life and then later you either never see them again, or when you do see them it’s like all the good stuff never happened. I didn’t quite mean that to sound so melodramatic and cliched… that’s not quite what I’m going for here.

Yeah? Dry your eyes. I’m getting bored now, and you kinda weirded me out with that. What I really want to know is wh-

One thing I used to love doing when I was younger was creating my own football tournaments with playing cards. Yes, I created entire histories and back stories for playing cards. My team was the King Of Diamonds. I would roll up tiny pieces of paper – the best was the foil from inside Soft Mints/Soft Fruits sweet wrappers, and using them as a football. I would have season long leagues and cups with these cards, recording every result and seeing who won at the end. I would set up goals in my bedroom and have a match between two playing cards. Each card would have two shots on goal, so the maximum any team could score was two. One would get two chances at scoring, while the other card acted as goalie. Then they would swap. In cup competitions if it ended in a draw, it would go to sudden death penalties. I started expanding it from playing cards to other card sets that I owned – Warhammer’s Citadel Playing Cards, Top Trumps, Nintendo character cards I got free from magazines, they all had their own leagues etc, then the best from each would qualify at the end for a World Cup type tournament. I loved it.

O…k… I think I’m going to go now

Wuh… wait. come back! Oh. Aww. Ah well. Another month, and another reason for everyone to back slowly away from me and my blog. Come on, I’m spilling the beans, so how about you? What embarrassing stuff do you do now which provides no value other than entertaining yourself. What about when you were young? I don’t know you and you don’t know me, so it doesn’t matter if we share these secrets. Maybe it’ll make you feel better – though it will almost certainly make you feel considerably worse. Toodles!

Reminder on blog links:

A-Z Reviews: This category is a single post with links to all my movie, music, and book reviews. It’s the best place to start and you can check it via THIS LINK. I try to update it regularly.

Amazon Vine: I’m a member of Amazon Vine, a program where Amazon’s best reviewers are provided with free products for reviewing purposes in order to drum up publicity before the product is released to the general public. You can find links to the Products I have received here.

Book Reviews: Something I don’t really do anymore, even though I still read plenty. I need to get back into this, but movies are so much easier to review. Maybe I’ll come up with a different format.

Blogging: A new category! This is where I’m going to put this exact post, and the others like it to follow.

Changing The Past: This category is where I go back through every Oscars since 1960 and pick my winners from almost every category. I pick my winners from the official choices, and then I add my own personal list of who I feel should have been nominated. It’s based on personal preference, but it’s also not based on any of the usual Academy political nonsense and I bypass most of their archaic rules. It’s not quite me just picking my favourite films, but it’s close.

DVD Reviews: I should probably just change this to Movie Reviews. It’s what you would expect – reviews of the movies I’ve watched. I’m not a big fan of reviewing every new film which comes out – there are a billion other blogs out there all doing the same thing. I don’t often watch new movies as they release, unless they’re streaming, so instead you’ll be getting reviews of those films a few years later, once I get around to them. Here you will find horror, actions, classics, foreign, indie, sci-fi, comedy, drama – everything. A word of warning – I frequently post reviews that I wrote almost twenty years ago when I didn’t have a clue – they’re crap, but I add them here in all of their badly written glory.

Essential Movies: I’ve only published an intro post for this category, but I have written some other posts for the future. I’m basically questioning what actually makes a film Essential, because it cannot be a definitive statement. What’s essential for you, may not be for me, so I’ve broken down the defintion into a few generic user types, then gone through some lists of the best movies of each year to see which ones are essential for each viewer. It’s pretty boring, and I already regret starting it, but that’s me.

Foreign Cinema Introduction: This category hasn’t been published yet, but once again it exists and I’ve written a bunch of posts for the future. The idea came from my many years of hearing people I know IRL or on the internet dismissing anything not mass-produced by Hollywood. If you only watch movies made in the USA – you’re not a movie fan, it’s as simple as that. I follow a few Facebook fan pages and blogs on WordPress which completely dismiss foreign movies – it’s ridiculous as you are missing out on many of the best films ever made. More than that, you are missing out on films which I know for a fact you will adore. So, this is me breaking down all that bullshit about subtitles, about foreign stuff being boring and every other excuse you’ve ever heard, while giving some very basic thoughts and introductions of the various countries of the world from a film perspective.

Lists: Here I post lists – some with comments, some without. All sorts of lists – from monthly previews of the year’s upcoming movies, to my favourite movies by actor or director, to best horror anthologies, best Christmas songs and TV shows, best movies for Halloween, my favourite episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, my ranking of Bond movies, songs, and girls, my favourite albums by decade, my favourite songs by artist, bands I’ve seen live etc. I love lists.

Manic Street Preachers Song By Song: One of the first reasons I started this blog was to try to spread the Gospel of my favourite band, especially as they are not well known outside of Britain. Defo not in the US. Then I found out there were other blogs doing it too. Ah well. These are my thoughts on each song. Don’t know them? They are a Welsh rock band who have been around since the late 80s, early 90s. They are highly political and intelligent, on the left wing, and they are probably the finest lyricists in the world. Their main lyricist suffered from various addictions and mental health issues and disappeared in 1995 – although there have been sightings, nobody has ever confirmed they have seen him and no body has ever been found, though the band, fans, and family are still looking. After three albums with him, they suddenly became commercially successful after his disappearance. If you like rock music… if you like music in general, please give them a try.

Music Reviews: This is the same as movies, except for music. Reviews of albums I’ve always loved, as reviews of albums as I’m listening as a virgin. I take a look at the Top Ten UK Charts from a random month in each year and review each song, while giving my own alternative ten songs from the same year, I am reviewing albums that I’ve never heard by artists I am familiar with – filling the gaps in those discographies. I’m listening to spin-offs of my favourite bands, I’m reviewing the Disney soundtracks. I was a metal and grunge kid, but also had a love for the best in 80 pop when I was young, so I like to listen to anything though since around the mid-noughties chart music has gone from extremely bad to entirely worthless.

The Nightman Scoring System ©: This is something I truly love, but something which nobody really pays attentino to. You’ll notice in my reviews I don’t give a score. I just talk about the thing I’m reviewing. Scores are arbitrary and when given, people jump to the score and form a conclusion and a bias. If they read the content of the review, there will be a better discussion. That made me think, in a very unprofessional, semi-scientific, ill-examined way, to come up with a fair, universal scoring system which tries to avoid personal and systematic bias as much as possible. If you look at sites like Rotten Tomatoes which are stupidly becoming reference points for quality or to convince you to watch something, or used by advertisers, it’s a completely flawed system. Anyone can post whatever they like, and drag down or push up an average. The same used to happen on IMDb. There are a lot of posts online recently about the disparity between Critical and Audience consensus on RT and it leads to more worthless arguments, because if there’s something the world needs more of these days, it’s people fighting online about pointless stuff.

I devised two scoring systems – one for movies and one for music. To use it, you have to follow the guidelines and be honest. If you’re not honest, it will be obvious, and your review won’t be valid. For both music and and movies, I break down the scoring into twenty different categories of equal weighting – out of five, for a total out of 100. Categories include acting, directing, sales; or for music – charts, influence, musical ability etc. Say you hate the Marvel movies or The Beatles. You can’t score them a 1 out of five in the Sales category because both of those were factually monster hits – they can really only be 5 out of five. In other words, some of what is opinion and bias is removed from the equation. In the same vein, the disparity between critics and audiences is reduced – typically you may think that a movie or music critic care more about how arty or original or influential something is, while the audience might care how many boobs are seen or how catchy the melody is. I’m making sweeping assumptions – but you get the idea – each category is equally weighted so that influence is only worth five points, chart performance is only worth five points, directing, advertising, whatever – each is five points. I’d love to see people use this, and I’d love to run an experiment where a group of people each use the system to score the same thing, and see how similar or different the results are. I’m positive the average would be a more true reflection than anything on RT or IMDB or anywhere else. The only issue with it is, it’s more suited to scoring once something has been out there for a while rather than a pre-release or first week review.

Nightman’s Favourite Films By Year: Self-explanatory. I list my favourite ten films from every year since 1950, with no comment. Then I give a list of my top films from each decade once I’ve done each year, but this time share some comments. There’s also some stats in there, such as how many films I picked which were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, which were top ten grossing movies etc.

Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: A journalist called Colin Larkin made several of those popular ‘Top 1000 Albums Ever’ books. I grabbed one of them, I removed the ones I had already heard, and in this series I go through the ones that I haven’t heard, give my virgin thoughts, and whether I think it deserves to be called one of the best ever. I want to sync up my Nightman Scoring System © with these. Just one word of warning – I don’t plan or put any thought into these ‘reviews’. I literally listen and type at the same time. Not the best way to give thoughts I know, but that’s the format.

The Shrine: People die. Famous people die. But they live on, in our hearts and minds and in the work they left behind. Here I offer the chance to remember and offer thanks.

The Spac Hole: Each Monday I post a random lyric from a random song. Every so often I write something which doesn’t fit in any other category. Usually it’s weird. That stuff all goes here. There are more semi-regular pieces like those posts where I use Google translate to change the lyrics of (s)hit songs or dreadful imaginings like what I would do if I owned my own Cinema.

The Spac Reviews: Carlos Nightman is my alter ego. Derek Carpet is his alter ego. He is an idiot. He likes movies. These are his reviews. They are…. different.

TV Reviews: I sometimes review TV too. I talk about my current shows and my all time favourites.

Unpublished Screenplays: Derek Carpet sometimes likes to pretend he’s a writer too. Here are some of his original works, based on other movies and TV shows.

Videogame Reviews: I do these sometimes too. Usually retro. Usually with a humourous bent.

Walk Of Fame: Hollywood has a Walk Of Fame. I have one too. Mine’s better, except I don’t update it anymore. Not only do my inductees get a star, but they get a statue too! And, in each post one lucky soul gets a special building concerning their work or life dedicated to them!

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Music!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s Madonna time again and an album released back in 2000, a simpler, less stressful time some would say. Not me though – I was in the middle of my A-Level preparations, I was 17, drinkin’ and a druggin’ and a womenin’. As you’ll have read in my previous post, Ray Of Light had been a massive hit with me and some of my friends, but in the few years between these albums we had started to see Madonna in a less favourable light. She had a lot of stuff going on which made her a prime candidate for ridicule, not that she’d care, and her release of American Pie was met with general laughter. To many of us it seemed she had lost it. I don’t know how much, if any, this contributed to me not paying much attention to the album but Music is not one I know much about, outside of some vague memories of the singles.

The album seems like it could be short and brisk – only ten songs and the only one I can clearly recall is the title track, and that’s a song I wasn’t a fan of. William Orbit did an awesome job on Ray Of Light so presumably the same will be said for this, although I think this album has a more general dance music flavour with less focus on atmosphere and rock. There’s no point guessing, lets just get into it.

‘Music’ was the first single from the album, and I didn’t like it from the first moment I heard it – much too much focus on quirks and production than, you know, actual music. The video likely influenced me too, what with its apparent love of celeb culture and lifestyle. Lyrically of course the song is supposed to be about the power of music to bring people together and overcome… something, but when the music is mostly dire the message falls flat. I appreciate the creativity and the production, but the style is not for me, the vocals are too whiny, and the melodies grating.

‘Impressive Instant’ is… well, my instant impression is that I’ll never want to listen to this again. It seems to be like another irritating dance song, entirely manufactured in the studio with nothing tangible. The vocals are annoying, the music is repetitive, the lyrics are garbage… unless you’re into dance music there’s nothing good here.

Runaway Lover‘ is a more traditional dance track. As a general rule I’m not a fan of dance music in most of its guises, but there are exceptions. This, I don’t mind. It could be any style of song, they just happened to make it dance – take away the beats and replace them with guitars or generic pop stuff and you’ll have a decent rock or pop track. Some of the noises and drums stuff annoys me, but it moves swiftly with a tidy energy and some decent melodies.

I Deserve It’ seems familiar somehow. I’m almost certain I’ve never head it, but I’ve shared many a set of earphones with many a person, so possibly… This one rambles along never quite reaching any sort of point or peak, though based on the lyrics that in itself is possibly the point. There are moments of potential where I thought it was going to build into something more, but then it didn’t.

Amazing‘ starts with manufactured bird-like noises and bell type sounds. Before long a beat that’s unusually similar to Beautiful Stranger takes the song further along. The song has more of a rock vibe like some of the songs from Ray of Light, though in a completely different style.

Nobody’s Perfect’ begins with something that sounds like ‘I am wet when I am with you’ which seems a little inappropriate even for Madonna. This is annoying because I do like the melodies here, but they are largely ruined by the auto-tuning nonsense. The drum sounds feel too weak in places, but I do like all the robotic laser stuff going on. This would be great if it had a traditional vocal throughout, but even with the nonsense I can’t help but like it and I think it could become one of my favourites over time.

Don’t Tell Me‘ is one I’d forgotten about. I like the disjointed nature and I remember this one had fairly heavy rotation when I was in the University Student’s Union bar anytime Kerrang wasn’t being shown. It’s a decent single but clearly I’d forgotten it for a reason, gets annoying before long.

What It Feels Like For A Girl’ begins with experimental sounds, some annoying English accented speaking, lyrics about androgyny etc. I have a feeling I have heard this before. The good qualities here are buried under the production – the melodies and the backing sounds don’t go together at all, making the whole affair feel like two completed different songs which got mashed together accidentally.

Paradise (Not For Me)’ is a song that mostly goes nowhere until the second minute where a very John Carpenter piece emerges followed by a much stronger vocal (though still downgraded by auto-tune). It’s clearly an attempt at an epic and it doesn’t quite get there, though I appreciate the effort. I love the strings which join the mess near the third minute, but the opening two minutes are too uneventful – a better melody lifting towards that middle section would have improved things drastically. The final couple of minutes repeat variously the good and bad without offering a final distinct section – aimed for the stars and scraped the clouds or something.

Gone‘ begins as an unusually streamlined and simple song – only voice and acoustic guitar. I love the melodies, the vocals and lyrics are plaintive, and the chorus is great. Given what has come before I keep waiting for the big production to come blasting out of the speakers. It does come, kind of, but it’s not as intrusive or all encompassing as elsewhere on the album. This is good stuff, and a great ending – another song I wasn’t aware of that I already look forward to hearing again.

For me this was an ambitious yet disjointed album. As a sequel to Ray Of Light it tries a host of new ideas but it doesn’t have the impact, musically or emotionally, which that album had. Where one felt urgent and inventive, this one feels at times like a joke or more accurately that the people involved were just having fun without caring about the quality of the end product, while at other times it feels as if they are throwing as much sound and technique into the mix in the hope that some of it will come good. The best moments are those where the simple tune is allowed to speak for itself – some of the songs are bogged down by production to the point where the melody is drowned, while in others the production fails to disguise the dull core. There are still some great moments here, and a few songs that I’ll add to my regular rotation, but as a sequel to a great, it falls below expectation.

1975 Academy Awards – An Introduction

The 48th Academy Awards ushered in the era of the blockbuster, with Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws earning all of the money but a host of nominations and wins too. There were several films which had high numbers of nominations – One Flew over The Cuckoo’s Nest leading the way with nine, closely followed by Barry Lyndon with seven and Dog Day Afternoon with six. Rest assured that each of these will feature heavily in my personal picks, along with some other interesting selections.

We had five hosts this year – George Segal, Goldie Hawn, Gene Kelly, Robert Shaw, and Walter Matthau while presenters included Roy Scheider, Ben Johnson, Isabelle Adjani, and Gore Vidal. Performing for the crowd this year were John Williams, Diana Ross, and Keith Carradine amongst others, while Mary Pickford, Mervyn LeRoy, and Jules C Stein picked up Honorary Awards.

Join us over the next few weeks to see what I picked in each category, and be sure to leave you own – the world is (n’t) watching (!).

Nightman Listens To – The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys

Greetings, Glancers. As I near the end of my adventures with Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, David Bowie, and Madonna (I’ve only started with Roxette) I’m already looking forward to which artists I should cover next. Fair enough, Bowie will take some time to finish and the Roxette posts will go on for a while – I’m also looking at the Iron Maiden solo input and Disney Soundtracks, God help me.

Ideally I want to cover those artists that I’ve always kind of liked, but whose albums I’ve never heard. The Beach Boys are a band you just can’t avoid. You hear there songs at an early age – certain songs are simply part of Western or even World culture – you’ll hear them in movies, on TV shows, on adverts, or of course on the radio (or whatever passes for radio these days). I want to cover artists who have been around for a while – those who have had more than 5 albums – ideally more than 10. They should be people I know with a few songs I know, but who for whatever reason I have just never got into. I thought about Bob Dylan, but then I’ve never heard a Dylan song (performed by him) that I’ve really liked (I’ll admit to only hearing a tiny amount). I thought about Elvis, but Elvis is too much of a cover artist. I pondered over ABBA and The Bee Gees, but I’m not convinced on their credentials on having great albums – they’re always seen as Singles bands, right?

Anyway, I’ll probably get to those guys some day, and maybe some of their albums are covered in my Top 1000 Albums Quest. For now, I’ve picked two bands who have stood the test of time – emerging in the 1960s and still playing and recording today (sort of). It’s time to be honest – I’ve never listened to a single Beach Boys Album. I know a tonne of their songs, even ones that weren’t singles to my knowledge, but I’ve never stuck on an album and listened from start to finish. The Rolling Stones however, I have listened to many of their albums, around the same time I started properly listening to The Beatles. At that time, to my mind, there was no comparison – The Beatles were smart, funny, talented, innovative, while The Rolling Stones seemed to be playing the same old blues songs over and over with the odd exception. It’s time to go back and listen again.

Both bands have written some of my favourite songs ever, but still I’ve never been fully sucked in. It’ll be interesting to see if I find any new favourites or a new appreciation. Everyone else loves them, so it’s about time I gave them their due respect. Why not join me on my adventure and share your thoughts and memories of their albums and songs? Because you don’t like me or my musical taste? I suppose that’s fair enough….

Nightman Listens To – David Bowie – Let’s Dance!

Greetings, Glancers! Ugh, I’ve been dreading this one. Not for any understandable reason you know, but I’ve still been dreading it. Like when you went to a school disco when you were a kid and you got all concerned and sweaty even though you’d be seeing the same friends and classmates you’d seen a few hours earlier? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the title of the album that’s had me wary, along with the fact that we’re now well into the 80s – the decade when good musicians forget how to make good music. I’ve never liked the Let’s Dance song either, and I’ve been concerned the rest of the album will be similar. China Girl sounds familiar, but other than that I don’t recognise any of the songs listed. We’ve been hear many times before, but let’s dance once more.

Modern Love: Well, it starts with guitar at least, so that’s good. Uh oh, repetitive and crappy drums. Talking with accent. Garth Marenghi. Better singing, and I like the minor stuff. Neat melodies. There was this terrible pop song a few years ago which had a very similar beat and rhythm to this and now that I’m hearing this it’s clear the pop song ripped this off. It was this overplayed twee mess with… were there two singers? Thankfully I’ve put it mostly out of my memory, but did it have someone singing ‘infatuation’ over and over? Something like that. The guitar is mostly gone now, leaving jagged piano and prodding brass. It’s very poppy, but it’s good.

China Girl: Okay yes, obviously I know this one. I quite liked the main riff but the song doesn’t really lift off for me until Bowie belts out the vocals after the halfway point. It feels like a curious one-off pop single till that point – I like it, though not a favourite.

Let’s Dance: Ugh, I never liked this one. It just sounded too 80s cheese, mixed with a faux 50s rock swagger and disco sound. It’s not a bad song or anything and I like the parts of the song outside the main ‘Let’s Dance’ vocal and riff. I find it quite overplayed too.

Without You: So, this is a new one on me yet it feels familiar. I like these unassuming songs which don’t try to show off or be some big hit yet quietly do a better job. Like the previous two songs there is a prominent repeating riff, and as this is new for me it doesn’t feel annoying or overplayed. The vocals are gentle, the song is short, and it has an unexpected finish.

Ricochet: Clapping and jungle beats – two of my least favourite things. A stuttering beat and near spoken vocals. It’s certainly doing its best to not endear itself to me. Smokey jazz horns play over dissonant sounds and soundbites. It’s a bit of an experimental mess. I know what he’s going for here, but it’s nowhere near interesting enough for me to be anything more than a one time curio.

Criminal World: Another new one for me, but wait, isn’t this just China Girl again? That riff is very similar. It’s lucky the verse is slow otherwise it would have been nearly identical. There’s some deep bass funking along, the vocals are quiet. The chorus speeds up and brings the melody. Rinse and repeat, though I liked this one.

Cat People: Ah yes. I saw the remake when I was in my early teens and liked it okay if it has boobs and blood when you’re that age, it automatically gets a thumbs up. It starts with simple cymbal snaps, then a growing synth purrs its way into view. Bowie does his best deep voice – it’s all very slow and somber, like a proto-industrial piece. The build up is slow, then there’s an explosion of vocals and sound to take us into the second phase of the song – basically a heavier take on the first with added energy and drums. It’s great. We follow this with a funky instrumental section before the vocals return – this is one of Bowie’s better vocals for me. We end on a nice synthetic guitar solo and choir rendition of the chorus.

Shake It: Umm… Prince? This is very 80s and the lyrics seem like the sort of silly stuff you got back then. It’s not quite New Wave pop, but it has that vibe, tone, and sound and feels like it could have been recorded by any number of 80s groups. That’s not always a bad thing – it’s fun and it would probably be catchy after a couple of listens, but on this first hearing it doesn’t have enough to pull me in.

A mixed bag then – some good ones, some I knew, some new ones. There aren’t any songs I didn’t like, title track notwithstanding as I knew it already, but there are a couple which I didn’t care for. Mostly on the positive side then – maybe a couple I’d choose to listen to again and which would potentially be added to my playlist, but nothing immediately jumped out at me and landed on the playlist. What are your thoughts on Lets Dance? Is this the best of Bowie’s 80s offerings, or does he get better through the decade while his peers suffered? Let us know in the comments!

Best Cast – 1974

My Nominations: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. And Then There Were None. Blazing Saddles. Chinatown. The Conversation. Earthquake. The Godfather Part II. The Great Gatsby. Murder On The Orient Express. The Towering Inferno. Young Frankenstein.

As usual we have a mixture of smaller character pieces and larger scale epics, and this year the disaster epic saw studios throwing as many star names as possible into casts to make as eye-catching a spectacle as possible. Martin Scorsese doesn’t get credit for helping to craft memorable characters as he should, and he doesn’t get enough credit for his non-mafia pieces. With Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore he shows why he should get more credit in both respects, the film being both moving and funny and striking a chord for me which Romantic Comedies almost never do – Ellen Burstyn doing some of her finest work as a widow travelling across the US with her son and meeting interesting characters played by Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd, Valerie Curtin, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, and many others.

We got two Agatha Christie adaptations this year of a similar quality and international cast – And Then There Were None with Oliver Reed, Richard Attenborough, Charles Aznavour, Stephane Audran, Elke Sommer, Gert Frobe, and Orson Welles in a cameo, while Murder On The Orient Express features Albert Finney, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, and many more. Moving over to comedy, and another double – this time by Mel Brooks – Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein both featuring Madeline Kahn and Gene Wilder doing some of their most iconic work, and the former giving Cleavon Little a chance to shine with the latter allowing Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman to tear it up. Chinatown is one of the best examples of acting masterclasses in the 70s, with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway leading the way.

On to the disaster epics, there isn’t a lot to choose between them and will depend on your personal preference. Earthquake gives you Charlton Heston, George Kennedy, Ava Gardner, Richard Roundtree, Walter Matthau, Lorne Greene, Genevieve Bujold while The Towering Inferno has Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, OJ Simpson, Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, William Holden. Flicking back to literary sources, and The Great Gatsby brings us a Coppola penned version starring Robert Redford in the title role, backed up by Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern, Karen Black, Sam Waterson and others, but it is Coppola’s other two little known films of the year which I’ll choose my winner from. The Conversation is almost a Gene Hackman one-man show but smaller side performances from John Cazale, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, and Robert Duvall raise the bar for these types of supporting roles. My winner, even though I’d be happy with a number of the other choices, has to be The Godfather Part II. Cementing and further morphing performances from Part I while bringing in a host of new cast members each providing defining work, it’s what the word masterpiece was created for – Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Gastone Moschin, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, Talia Shire, John Megna, Lee Strasberg, Bruno Kirby, Joe Spinell, Danny Aiello, Robert Duvall, Harry Dean Stanton, and why the hell not – Richard Matheson, Roger Corman, James Caan, Sofia Coppola, Gary Kurtz – you get the idea.

My Winner: The Godfather Part II

Let us know your winner in the comments – next time we dive into the deepest depths of 1975…