Viewer’s notes: my week in movies (11/18)

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

I realized shortly after starting this blog that I would not be able to review every film I watched, or talk about every little noteworthy film-related thing I experienced. I’m going to offer a bit of a recap of my week here (just for the films I have not already talked about).

Give it a shot, it’ll be fun. 

  • The score for “Suspiria” (2018) by Thom Yorke is my standout favorite of the year so far. 2018 has been gifted with several quality horror/sci-fi scores, including “Annihilation,” “Hereditary” and “Mandy.” This score is beautiful and scary, incorporating gorgeous piano arpeggios with Yorke’s signature soft, spacious falsetto sailing over it, as well as violent synthesizers that imitate voices screaming over a static-soaked radio. The music instills pure existential terror, so in other words it’s been a real blast. 
  • The original “Suspiria” (1977) is an enjoyable and rather inventive horror. Unlike the 2018 re-imagining — which grapples with philosophy and a moving truck full of deep thinking — this film is mostly concerned with providing a psychedelic, contained experience. And it does it well. Status: Recommend for Fans (Horror, Witches, good things like that). 
  • “Singing in the Rain” is incredible, though I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. Status: Strongly Recommend
  • After experiencing disappointment with “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, I needed reminding of a better time. “Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix” is current “Fantastic Beasts” director David Yates’ first of six installments in the J.K. Rowling world. The film is a highlight of the series, as Yates navigates the darkness the story necessitates without loosing the glimmer of joy that makes the series what it is. Status: Recommend

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

‘Suspiria’ Diversifies

Brandon and Will discuss and pitch a sequel for Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” in the first-ever Film Diversifies podcast. The two also discuss what they’ve been watching lately and some recent news. This podcast was produced by Jackie Goff, featuring music from Doqtr Shine. A written review for “Suspiria” is available here.

‘Crimes of Grindelwald’: the slowest magic around

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

My prevailing question after walking out of the latest “Fantastic Beasts” installment was: who are these movies for? 

Director David Yates’ fourth entry in the Harry Potter universe (he directed the last four Potter films and the first “Fantastic Beasts” entry) is a dark, plodding thriller that is more interested in its Dan Brown-esque family tree mystery than it is the spectacular universe it lives in. 

And, to state it simply, it’s boring.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is mostly set in late 1920s Paris, as Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and allies follow clues and leads that will lead them to stopping Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), an evil and powerful wizard who has recently escaped from custody.

Harry Potter creator and author J.K. Rowling penned the screenplay for the film, and served as a producer. 

Much like its predecessor, the film moves slowly with heavy dialogue and a very dark, limited color pallete, a recipe for a nap. It is evident from two full-length endeavors that these films are not designed for children anymore. Beyond just the dire circumstances (which we admittedly got in later Harry Potter installments), the film’s interest in a family mystery completely consumes it. Much of what unfolds is not easy to follow, and seemingly impossible for a child or early teen. But more importantly, it’s blatantly uninteresting. 

So its not for kids. But as as an adult who grew up on the Harry Potter books and films, I can’t say I find much to love about these either. Though the Potter series went to some very dark places, it felt ultimately rooted in friends, family, love and morality. I can’t quite get to the bottom of what these films are rooted in. Maybe that will become more apparent in the third, fourth, fifth or twelfth installment. 

The character of Newt Scamander remains the obvious highlight of this series, and Redmayne’s portrayal of him is perfection. Though it gets very little screen time, Newt’s relationship with potential love interest Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is one of the more interesting components of the film, though it is clumsily addressed at times. 

Jude Law is superb as Albus Dumbledore, and if I look forward to anything in the coming installments, its him and Newt. Depp does a fine job as Grindelwald. He’s still quite capable of onscreen villainy.

Some of the current political undertones running through Grindelwald’s rise in the film seemed like an easy dunk, if not a tad heavy handed. However, there is a sequence later in the film where a projection of real-life future horrors is thrust upon people of the time. It was an effective look at the good intentions often confused and misled in the machine of propaganda.

Despite some compelling characters and really cute magic beasts, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a drag. 

Status: Do Not Recommend

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

Jared and the Mill’s ‘Story’ slated for February release

Pop Odyssey features Jackie Goff’s thoughts, reviews and analysis of popular music.

By Jackie Goff

Today, Jared and the Mill released the next single from their upcoming record “This Story is No Longer Available,set for release Feb. 15.

The band, hailing from Tempe, Arizona, continues to put out thoughtful, carefully curated western indie rock that rocks as hard as it feels personal, describing an intensely passionate love. I can’t wait to hear what else is to come from the new album.

Having followed Jared and the Mill for a couple years now, the thing that strikes me most is how the visible sincerity that captured me about their music directly translated to their actions as a band. They love their music and their band as much as they love their fans, and they go above and beyond to make sure that they know it.

Check out “Kelsee’s Shelves” below, and if you get the chance, see them on their upcoming tour. You won’t regret it. 2019 Tour dates can be found here.

‘Suspiria’: a beautiful, tangled web Luca weaves

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

“Suspiria” (2018) is exceptionally dark and decidedly brazen, seeking meaning in many directions with some of the most effective moments and sequences of any film this year.

The thematic juggling act does not form an entirely focused portrait in the end, but provides a truly memorable spectacle. The film nearly necessitates multiple viewings. One — for me — will simply not cut it.

“Suspiria” is Luca Guadagnino’s re-imagining of the 1977 film of the same name, centered around a young dancer joining a studio with some dark secrets in Berlin, Germany. I should mention that I have not seen the original “Suspiria,” which will admittedly create some blind spots.

The 2018 film flows like a slow and torturous song. Thom York’s spacey score accompanies trippy and horrific dream sequences, brutal deaths and stunning dance; it is easy to get lost in Guadagnino’s vision. The “Call Me By Your Name” director’s immersive tone is both coaxing and revolting, but it is obvious that a craftsman is at work in nearly every scene.

Dakota Johnson stars as the new dancer Susie Bannion. Johnson has a secret buried in her eyes in nearly every close-up, which the film ultimately vindicates. Tilda Swinton plays three roles (a choice worthy of a discussion on its own) and Chloë Grace Moretz and Mia Goth both shine in smaller parts.

The decision to widen the scope beyond the studio, and include Dr. Josef Klemperer (a Swinton role) as a central figure, seemed odd during the film’s run-time. However, the character serviced a contemporary and relevant theme that added yet another dimension, but also another pin in the juggling act.

In the midst of the deeper and more psychological focus, plot clarity is sometimes sacrificed. Most developments are easy enough to follow, but some of the less-emphasized moments, such as the power struggle within the coven, are vague at best.

While the ending is far from predictable, there seemed to be no build up to it from a character standpoint (perhaps this is something that a re-watch will bring new light to). The chaotic and exuberant ending contradicted the more quiet, brutal insanity that the rest of the film portrayed so well.

The film is one of the most interesting and well-directed endeavors of the year, though it is not entirely cohesive. I’m quite intrigued to see how my feelings will change after a re-watch.

Status: Recommend for Fans (of Arthouse films, horror, Luca Guadagnino)

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

Busted yearns for the ’90s in return to early ‘2000s sound

music crop

Pop Odyssey features Jackie Goff’s thoughts, reviews and analysis of popular music.

By Jackie Goff

Upon first listen of the newest single “Nineties”  from British pop band Busted, I was an odd combination of apprehensive, disappointed, perplexed and… something else. I couldn’t quite figure it out. I listened to it over and over again until I could understand what exactly I was feeling.

When they released their 2016 comeback after a decade apart (read my previous Busted post here), I was thoroughly stunned that I loved the record, though it was different from their younger sound. The band took a turn to an ’80s-friendly, synthy pop-rock vibe, which was OK by me. The more mature sound seemed to suit their second act well.

So when I heard that they would be reverting to their old sound for their follow up, I was apprehensive. I was so into the new Busted; I didn’t want to see them go backward.

The song starts with a drum machine beat and synth pads that made me think the direction change wouldn’t be so different, maintaining a bit of the new song. However, by the chorus, we’re aggressively catapulted into heavy guitar and vocals, and the song maintains this tone for its remainder.

I was immediately unimpressed with the lyrical content. In the “Night Driver” days, I almost believed that a stipulation of Charlie Simpson’s return to Busted was that James Bourne had to grow up lyrically; making fewer pop culture references that make the songs sound juvenile.

However, the more I listened, the more the song grew on me, and eventually, I realized what that feeling was. Nostalgia for a time long passed. Nostalgia for the days that I was obsessed with the sounds of OG Busted and McFly (easily the most influential band of my teenage and young adult years). Of course, this is the lyrical point behind the song, and while I couldn’t relate directly to the age that they were singing about, I could relate to it in my own way as I struggle to adjust to the trials of adulthood, particularly trying times, and wanting to go back to simpler times.

So in this particular case, for particularly complex reasons, “Nineties” has grown on me. However, I do hope for more from the new record, and that Busted continues to progress rather than digress.

Jackie Goff can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com or @jackiemaemusic on Twitter.

‘Overlord’: body horror for the masses

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

“Overlord” layers its genres better than it layers its characters, but serves as an entirely watchable body horror with the spirit of a video game.

Director Julius Avery manages some truly gasp-inducing moments. Using a well-balanced pallet of practical effects/makeup and CG, he creates a clear and nightmarish portrait of the small France town the film is set in, and the large, daunting facility where bad things are happening.

Oh, and the bad things are pretty startling too.

The JJ Abrams-produced film follows a small crew of US troops on D-Day, as they make their way through rural France with a specific mission in mind. “Overlord” plants the seeds of a few themes early on, but when the bloodshed starts, they fly out the window along with any remaining normalcy.

The development of the main character Boyce (played by the impressive Jovan Adepo) is clunky and contradictory. Most characters in the film are largely archtypes for monster/military shoot-’em-ups.

Despite a conventional structure, the film’s energy is contagious. Plus, the story is told with a clarity and focus that seems rare for blood fests.

Status: Recommend for Fans (of body horror, JJ Abrams).

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

Viewer’s notes: ‘Blade Runner’ in 4K is a must-see

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

The depth of Ridley Scott’s neon noir landscapes in 1982’s “Blade Runner” take on new life when watched on a 4K television in UHD.

Normally, differences in contrast and format of films only do so much for me. A film’s direction and story exclusively make or break my interest (not too interested in the frames-per-anything). But upon rewatching the sci-fi classic, it seems there are treasures in each frame that could only be unearthed by advanced technology in the distant future.

What a trippy notion.

“Blade Runner” is a film I didn’t catch up with until last year in anticipation of Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049.” I know, I’m trash. Upon this re-watch, the depth and detail of Scott’s work towers. From the dusty light shooting out of windows in dark, smoky rooms, to small transports soaring the width of building-sized advertisements, the details emerge with clarity in UHD.

The higher frame rate also makes me far more appreciative of the old way of filmmaking. The use of miniatures and other practical devices create a feeling of authenticity that just seems foreign in 2018. Scott and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth’s vision is made to feel so close, so touchable, it makes the falling rain cold and the replicant punches painful.

So, moral of the story, I highly recommend it.

Also of note, “Viewer’s Notes” will be a short, first-person series within this blog about something film-related that I’m interested in. It could be anything. So these entries are not reviews. However, just for fun, I will present my status for “Blade Runner” (1982).

Status: Strongly Recommend

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

Pop Geneology: Orchestra Hits – From the symphony to the studio

Pop Odyssey features Jackie Goff’s thoughts, reviews and analysis of popular music.

A while back, I wrote a series of posts entitled “Pop Genealogy,” in which I took modern pop artists and detailed some of the common tropes from musical influences that they had adopted into their own sound. Estelle Caswell of Vox’s Earworm produced this amazing video about a musical trope with origins dating back to 1910, which has become synonymous to 80s R&B and pop employed in different ways throughout the decades that have followed. This video gives a stunning history of the technique, and I highly recommend watching the feel mini documentary here:

 

The Reader’s Digest verision is as follows: The “orchestra hit” that has become so prevalent in modern music dates back to Russian-born Igor Stravinsky in 1910. Stravinsky’s breakthrough piece “The Firebird” opens on a sharp, staccato orchestral chord. This jarring musical moment in the piece went on to cement Stravinsky’s place as a musical innovator and one of the most influential composers classical composers. So how did this one sound time travel to become a staple in music 70 years later? By complete accident as it would happen.

In 1975, Peter Vogel invented the first commercial sampling technology in the Fairlight CMI synthesizer. With this synthesizer, one could record any sound and then play it back at different pitches on a keyboard. When creating a library of sounds for the Fairlight, Vogel had a record the Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” and well… the rest is history.

This sample has vast potential to a creative mind, finding places in rock music, R&B and pop, though it tends to appear differently within the context of its genre. 

The orchestra hit is used more sparingly in rock, but certainly not subtlety. In the 1984 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes, Orchestra Pop is a brief moment of chaos that stirs the listener from otherwise melodic rock riffs. 

In R&B the orchestra pop smacks you in the face and is just as much a rhythmic tool as a melodic tool.

Now, fast forward to the 90s and early aughts, pop and R&B sounds start to diverge. R&B keeps it’s harsh, staccato embellishment, whereas pop orchestra hits are still widely used, but extremely affected and end up buried in the mix.

Enter modern pop music where Bruno Mars uses orchestra hits to play on 80s nostalgia.

Jackie Goff can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com or @jackiemaemusic on Twitter.

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