Friday, December 28, 2012

Best Films of 2012

Below are my ten favorite feature films of 2012. You can read about the documentaries here. I tweet about movies here: @FilmPsychedelic

1. Kill List
What starts out as a drama about two middle class British thugs slowly unravels into one of the craziest mysteries in recent memory. I recommend seeing this with as little prior information as possible. The intense realism is pitch-perfect, the acting solid, and the soundtrack is amazing. While some of the other films on this list are made by artists operating at the highest pinnacle of film making, I put this at number one because it was great to watch this new talent, Ben Wheatley, emerge. 

2. The Turin Horse
By filming the daily chores of a farmer and his daughter, Bela Tarr captures the soul crushing sorrow of the repetitive banality within the lives of human beings. This is a simple meditation on survival that ingrains itself deeper and deeper as it progresses. One of the heaviest films ever made and truly a masterpiece.  And I'll never experience potatoes the same way again.  

3. Amour
Devastating simplicity from the master Michael Haneke. The process of dying has not been portrayed so nakedly and vividly since Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. The cold aesthetic Haneke is known for is subtly applied under the perfected formalism and masterful acting. Though filled with intensely emotional scenes I thought this was still one of his darker films due to the unbridled handling of the subject matter. Essential viewing.

4. Sleeping Beauty
In this unsettling story about depravity and power the lovely Emily Browning plays a college student that gets involved in a cultish business that caters to rich perverts. She performs with a subtle curiosity that would drive conservative minds mad- rarely do we see an intelligent and morally ambiguous feminine character like this on screen. An incredibly impressive debut from Australian novelist Julia Leigh, the film is refreshingly apathetic and totally beautiful with cinematic trace echoes of masters Kubrick and Briellat. I think this was actually a 2011 release but I just saw it this year. 

5. Oslo, 31, August
One of the most serious and somber looks at drug addiction and recovery ever put to film. Taking place over one day – the day an addict gets out of rehab and realizes he is irreparably damaged and that assimilating with society is not going to be an option. I’ve had a lot of heroin addicted friends over the years and most of them are dead now so this film really hit home. Stark, minimal, powerful film making.

6. Michael
The banality of evil is explored in this extremely disturbing portrait of a pedophile keeping a passive child captive in his suburban home. Bleakly intellectual and clinically sad- this makes Todd Solondz’s pedo-flicks look like Disney movies. I’d only recommend this for those that enjoy challenging films about the darkest crevasses of human nature. Everyone else may be permanently scarred.

7. Beyond the Hills
After five years, Christian Mungui returns with his follow up to one of my favorite films: 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days. Here he brings us deep inside a Romanian Orthodox monastery for a full 2 1/2 hours. We live with a priest and his nuns as they deal with an unstable homeless woman that has taken refuge with them. An ongoing quiet intensity pervades the film as her questioning of the church is interpreted as a demonic possession. Things go downhill from there. Beautiful cinematography, locations, acting, story-telling, everything… Mungui is establishing himself as a filmmaker on the level of Bergman and Haneke- very serious subject matter dealt with in an artful and insightful manner. He was present at the screening I attended and the guy is obviously very smart and cool. I am looking forward to seeing his work on the big screen as long as I am alive and he is making films. 

8. Rust and Bone
Jacques Audiard follows up A Prophet with with a nuanced and thought provoking film about self worth, healing, pain and the catharsis of violence. Marion Cotillard gives the best performance of the year as a whale “trainer” at Marineland that gets her legs crushed in an accident. She meets a poor amateur boxer that deals with her amputations in a pitiless and straightforward manner and they embark on a relationship of self discovery filled with sex and swimming. Love stories are usually pretty boring but this one is extremely well done. The use of music in this film is amazing; the scene where she is dancing to the cheesy Katy Perry song in her wheelchair that used to play in her Marineland routine was surprisingly moving. The film has an intense emotional core but at the same time has some unusual artistic flourishes like that scene that push it into a magical place. Brilliant, masterful storytelling.

9. The Hunt
As in his classic The Celebration, Thomas Vinterburg revisits themes of family-in-crisis and child sex abuse. Mads Mikkelsen stars as a good hearted man falsely accused of molestation in a small Danish town. Child reverence, coerced false confessions and misguided mass hysteria are very real problems and this film deals with them perfectly. If you dig The Hunt also check out Vinturburg’s underrated 2010 film Submarino.

10. The Master
The dark underbelly of Americana is explored in this subtle and complex film about dogmatic organizations that manipulate broken people. It’s perfectly set during a time of massive change after World War II when men were trying to find themselves and a new crop of self help/empowerment movements were popping up. It’s also an accurate and damning portrayal of the era when Dianetics was morphing into the criminal Church of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard began wielding his powers over the dummies of the world. In fact, a lot of the exercises he forces on Freddie are real life idiocies that the COS inflicts on its Scienzombies. Many are documented on the indispensable anti-COS website Operation Clambake. I especially like the song Hubbard sings throughout the film called “Slow Boat to China”, a pop standard from the 40’s about the passing of time. It rings especially powerful in the final scene when he is chastised by Hubbard’s wife for not signing the famed “billion year contract". Good stuff.

A few more worth checking:

Killing Them Softly
A great modern gangster movie that is an obvious fuck you to the American government, especially Obama and his misguided "community" and "change" rhetoric. After Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James I think it's safe to say Andrew Dominick can do no wrong.

A creepy film about societies conditioned subservience to authority. It’s almost unbelievable that people could be as stupid as the characters in this film but it is completely based on fact. A weirdo calls a fast food chain and pretends he is a cop investigating a thief and convinces the management to do perverted shit for him. For those that have already seen the film you can see the real footage here: Writer/director Craig Zobel is one to watch.

Sound of My Voice
In this intriguing low budget film a new age therapy/time-travel cult is investigated by two young journalists. It’s not a perfect movie but the subject matter is handled well and held my interest the entire 90 minutes. The ending leaves the story open to interpretation- which can sometimes be annoying- yet here it adds to the mystery that incites conversations and theories afterwards. 

The Angel’s Share
Movies are often called “heartfelt” which is usually a euphemism for “cheesy” but Ken Loach’s latest has an understated emotional current that really works. The story revolves around a gang of ruffnecks in Glasgow that come up with a plan to steal priceless whiskey in order to move beyond their dreary lives. This is the lighter side of Loach - the raw intensity of his earlier UK poverty films like Sweet Sixteen and Ladybird, Ladybird aren’t present here. And this is by far the funniest film on this list.

Adrian Brody is amazing in this film about an apathetic school teacher caught in a hellish teaching job. We follow his routine as he deals with idiot bureaucrats and offensively unfit parents. This is a very cold vision of America’s education system. One of the main messages I took away is having a child should be a privilege, not a right, and our child-obsessed culture has led to too many morons having unwanted children. 

Beyond the Black Rainbow
Another movie open to interpretation. My take: A demented acid cult in the 1960’s slowly evolves into some sort of 1980's psychotropic slave palace. Inside it, a man is trapped- totally engaged in mind melding warfare within this psychedelic dungeon. He battles his way into consensus reality and back in the physical world and then has to find his way out. You can see the passion and craft that went into the sets and costumes, this looks like an authentic straight-to-video feature from the 80's. I thought the film would have been much stronger if it ended as the man emerges from the triangular building- the “real life” ending killed the vibe. Still, a solid debut from Panos Cosmatos.

Django Unchained
Another classic from Tarantino. Sam Jackson and Leo Dicaprio have their best roles ever as a slave keeper and servant. Engrossing, smart, funny, imaginative film making.

Also of note: Klown, Headhunters, Chronicle, The Tall Man, Holy Motors. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

10 Best Documentaries of 2012

Below are the 10 best documentaries I saw this year. Most of which were released theatrically or at least online in 2012. Best features coming soon.

1. Marina Abramovic the Artist Is Present
Easily the most inspiring film I saw this year. It documents the Serbian performance artist’s recent residency at MOMA where she sat in the foyer of the museum, motionless, staring at whoever was in front of her for 8 hours a day, everyday, for 3 months. It also goes into her incredible history of performance work that, upon serious consideration, really boggles the mind. I saw the show in NY and it stuck with me for months. The film also plays as a wonderful love story about two extreme artists growing apart. I can’t remember the last time I actually shed a tear for any reason whatsoever but during the scene when Ulay sits with Marina- a salty drop of water rolled down my face. 

2. The Imposter
This is one of the more incredible stories I can recall hearing about. I first read the long form article on con man Frederic Bourdin in the New Yorker years ago. That piece makes him come across as a monster but in this documentary he actually seems kind of sane- it’s the unfathomably idiotic and possibly criminal white trash family that look bad. If you’re not familiar with the story: Bourdin was a French man that traveled around Europe pretending he was a kid to get into social programs for youth- not because he was a pervert but because he was alone and had nowhere to go. In order to stay in a boarding house he had to come up with an identity and through a series of conniving manipulations, Frederic convinced the staff he was a missing boy from Texas. Then, after he flies out to San Antonio, things get crazy. While some of the re-enactments in the film are distracting, it is an otherwise engrossing and well told tale. At the heart of the story is a mystery- what happened to the missing boy? We may never know.

3. Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
A late entry for documentary of the year. Stacy Perelta’s film is a fascinating look at the personalities behind the boards that dominated 80’s skateboarding. These guys are truly legends- they created a vocabulary of tricks and moves that shaped a culture. Their dedication, innovation and love for the sport is intoxicating and inspiring. Rodney Mullen is the best on screen character of any movie this year. The man is an actual genius on the level of Glenn Gould. His analogy that ends the film comparing skateboarding to the unread literary classics is nothing short revelatory. 

4. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Pure inspiration. A film about what happens when a man dedicates his life to a craft and the resulting human excellence. Essential viewing for any artist or any one that eats food. If you like this movie also check out El Bulli: Cooking In Progress.

5. Give Up Tomorrow
A very fucked up story about corruption at the highest levels of power in the Philippines. I thought American cops and politicians were bad- but these people are truly the scum of the earth. Two young sisters are found savagely gang raped and murdered. It turns out the father is connected to organized crime and is about to testify against a colleague- the murders may have been a warning to him. As usual, the crime family has the government paid off so they pick a bunch of kids to blame for the murders in order to protect the father. Some of the kids have mountain of proof that they didn’t do it and the one the story focuses on, Paco, wasn’t even in the country at the time. Regardless, they are given a death sentence. The story goes on from there- check it out. 

6. There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane
A portrait of a family in deep, deep denial and totally blinded with grief. I found it fascinating to watch these people that can’t come to grips with the fact that their beloved Diane was not a good person. Aunt Diane was by most accounts not very likable. She had major abandonment issues, was irritable and grumpy and was secretly alcoholic. One day while driving her and her brothers kid’s home, she drove the wrong way down a highway and into an oncoming car- killing herself, the 5 kids with her and 3 men in the other car. The film thoroughly dissects the events leading up to the incident and the resulting pain experienced by loved ones. The sad sack husband comes off as particularly pathetic. My theory is that it was suicide. Even if you are stoned and a little buzzed- you don’t drive down the highway at full speed for mile after mile until you hit someone. I think she was deeply disturbed and wanted to die so she took the kids out with her. A hard scenario to grasp but people really are that evil. Great documentary.

7. Better This World
Two young American protesters are coerced, fooled and entrapped by a piece of shit undercover fed. I got so angry watching this film I almost snapped. An excellent example of just how scary, real, and twisted the Patriot Act, “Homeland Security” and the resulting surveillance state has become. Essential viewing for any American.

8. Hot Coffee
Don’t let the name fool you, this is one of the headier, more intellectual docs I have seen in a long time. Remember the case where the grandmother sued McDonalds for the coffee being too hot after she spilled it on herself? That’s the launching point for this discussion on tort reform (a law forbidding companies to compensate people they fuck over, hurt or kill), forced arbitration by corporations (clauses hidden in the fine print of contracts saying you cant take the company to court if shit goes down), and most importantly, the corporate takeover of the judicial branch of government. Corporations truly run American and they don’t give a fuck about you. The woman who spilled the coffee, Stella Liebeck, is an American hero. 

9. Marley
Any documentary on Bob is going to be awesome by default. This one was done particularly well. Though 1992’s Time Will Tell had better and longer interview footage (some re-used here), this film spent more time on his last months alive when he was sick- a period usually glossed over in Marley docs. The footage of the hills in Jamaica where he grew up, pre-Trenchtown, was amazing. One can only imagine what Bob would have done were he still alive. JAH! RASTAFARI.

10. Pink Ribbons, Inc.
A really interesting expose on breast cancer culture and the scumbag companies that exploit and benefit from a painful and deadly disease- and the fools that buy into it. It’s good to see what most consider a sacred cow completely shot down.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cleaners From Venus - Tukani (Monday Is Grey)

A fantastic low fi pop tune from 1982. Recorded with no amps direct to a 4 track in a London kitchen.  Originally confined to a self-released cassette but recently re-released by Captured Tracks.


Cleaners From Venus - Tukani (Monday Is Grey)


Friday, October 26, 2012

Prurient - Live

A particularly intense performance by NY noise master Dominick Fernow.  New York, 2006.

Friday, October 12, 2012


For those that enjoy the darker side of electronic dance music. A mix of industrial, experimental, techno and new beat.



Coil - The Restitution of Decayed Intelligence II
Blawan - His Daughters
Cut Hands - Krokodilo Theme
X Marks the Pedwalk - Solitude
Bronze Age - Modal Ingenuity
Regis - Blood Witness
Vatican Shadow - September Cell (The Punishment)
Iueke- Tape 1
Maggi Payne - Flights of Fancy
Joy Orbison & Boddika - Moist
Karenn - Lime Wash (Barrelled)
Bigod 20 - Body to Body (An Afternoon of Aggression)
Zsa Zsa Laboum - Something Scary (Instrumental)
Airplane Crashers - White Rabbit
Muslimgauze - Ensan Entehari
Cindytalk - Disintegrate...

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Turin Horse

The Turin Horse is one of the heavier films I have seen in a long while. It is deeply immersive, slowly showing us the lives of a dirt poor farmer and his daughter as they go about their chores over and over in a small farmhouse in a seemingly timeless era. Shot with very long takes and intensely choreographed camera movement, the film’s haunting black and white imagery is a wonder to behold. This intense minimalism from Hungarian master Bela Tarr and cinematographer Fred Kelemen is ideal for capturing the soul crushing sorrow of repetitive banality in the lives of human beings.

This film has one of the best soundtracks I have heard. A dark and introspective minor key phrase played by a string section is looped throughout almost the entire 2 ½ hour runtime, dramatically underpinning the non-action on screen.

I have read elsewhere that some interpret this film as one about the end of the world. While there is one scene that alludes to something nefarious happening the distance, it is most definitely about the apocalypse within. What I mostly took away was the overbearing weight of the mundane tasks one must ritualize in order to survive a meager existence. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve seen the bleakness of reality outlined this solemnly on film before. The shot of the woman in the dark near the end, as her face is finally fully revealed, will stay with me for a while. And eating a boiled potato will certainly never be the same.

The Turin Horse is an enduring masterpiece that shines a light on the sacred nothingness within us all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

John Cage - Four Walls

Here we have an excerpt from a piano composition by John Cage, written for a Merce Cunningham dance play that was performed once in August of 1944. No recording, script or program survived from the performance- just the score. Cage wrote the music to be played by another performer and the recording here is by Richard Bungler in 1979. For me, the piece hangs heavy with the burden of world war, in full swing at the time. But Cunningham’s play was apparently about a dysfunctional family. The piece runs over an hour and is mostly solo piano played in the diatonic scale (white keys only) with a short vocal phrase in the middle. I find it to be excellent music to play loud in the dark on a rainy night. I have combined the final six scenes that comprise Act 2 to make one 25 minute long file that quietly builds in intensity before the final devastating minute. Enjoy, this is a master at work.
Click to download or stream below.
Four Walls Act II Scene IX - XIV

Cunningham and Cage in the 60's.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John Frusciante - Enter a Uh

I’ve been meaning to post something by Frusciante since I started this site, as he is one of the few songwriters I can fully get behind. His lyrics are always intriguingly tripped out and his body of work is second to none. His 2001 LP To Record Only Water For Ten Days is one of my favorite records of all time. But here I am posting the first song from his 1997 experimental masterpiece, Smile From the Streets You Hold. Famously pulled from the shelves when Frusciante sobered up from his heroin and cocaine addiction, this album is essentially a series of prayers to the gods of intoxication. Indeed, videos of him in this phase are pretty heavy. The LP is full of incredibly powerful songs straight from the mind of a creative madman- this is quite possibly the greatest musical document of addiction ever recorded. He screams, yelps, sings and smokes his way through one of the most diverse and musically satisfying albums I’ve ever heard. The raw intensity of his voice will make your spine tingle. Within the dementia are some very beautiful songs performed with such intense emotion it’s astounding (John Frusciante - More). It belongs in the canon of crazy psychedelic solo albums like those of Syd Barrett and Daniel Johnston… Highly recommended if you can find it (this CD may have recently been bootlegged as I am seeing copies pop up here and there. For the last 15 years it was extremely rare…)
Click the link to download or stream below.

John Frusciante - Enter a Uh

Friday, March 16, 2012

DJ Mix

There hasn’t been a DJ mix on this site for some time so I thought I’d share this recent one I made. It’s mostly UK garage, techno and house.

Selected and blended by James in December 2011 direct to an R-09 digital recorder with two 1200's, a Rane Empath mixer and vinyl. You can stream it or download here:

Dance Mix Volume 1

Joy O – BB
Breach – Man Up
Blawan – Vibe Decorum
Ramadanman & Midland – More Than You Know
Midland – Through Motion
Joy Orbison – The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow
George Fitzgerald – Fernweh
Factory Floor – Second Way
Joe Goddard – Garbriel (Seiji Remix)
Mosca – Bax
Big Bird – Trackin Out (Mix One)
B-15 Project – Girls Like Us

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - The New Stone Age

The first time I heard this song I thought my record was warped or my stereo was broken. The upfront pounding kick drum and the wavering sound of the guitars totally threw me off. I made sure everything was working correctly and listened to it a few more times and finally realized it was supposed to sound that way and that OMD were just completely radical. The rest of the LP doesn’t sound this abrasive; it must have been a surprise for fans back in the day to hear this opening track, especially after the mellower vibe of their previous record, Organization. If you’re not familiar with this band, they made some amazing electronic music in the 80’s. Check out these tunes on Youtube:
Julia's Song
The Misunderstanding
Sacred Heart
This track is taken from their classic LP Architecture & Morality; Strangely enough this album isn’t available on iTunes so buy the vinyl.
Click to download:
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - The New Stone Age

Monday, March 5, 2012

Come and See

Originally titled Kill Hitler, Come and See is a Soviet film from 1985 by Elem Klimov. It takes place during the German invasion of Russia and focuses on the brutality of the Einsatzgrppen, the evil psychotic offshoot of the Nazi SS in charge of mass killings and the burnings of villages that ended the lives of over ¼ million people in Belarus alone. The story concerns a Beylorussian boy left behind to fend for himself after his entire village is murdered and the psychological terror he experiences while witnessing the mind-boggling horrors bestowed upon his people. This is seriously dark material. Klimov focuses on inner moments of crisis in the boys mind- like a drawn out close up of his face as he finally comes to grips with the fact that his family is dead. Klimov does not shy away from anything- he shows things how they went down. He based the film on actual testimony from survivors. And although some of the more heinous atrocities against children (eaten alive by dogs) are understandably shied away from there is still enough here to make you completely lose faith in humanity. Cinematically this movie is a trip and very experimental (as implied in one of the most amazing film posters ever, above), making excellent use of POV Steadicam and weird sound effects. Klimov never made another film after this. The story had been told, and indeed, I had no idea how bad it got in that part of the world until I saw this movie and read up on it. This is not a film for the light-hearted but those interested in the unfettered dark side of history or in the cinematic arts in general, this is a deep and disturbing masterwork of the highest order.

Friday, February 17, 2012

This Mortal Coil - Strength of Strings

Here we have a beautiful version of Gene Clark’s Strength of Strings by one of the best studios groups of all time, This Mortal Coil. The original version appears on Clark’s mystical 1974 solo record No Other. This version features the powerful vocals of Dominic Appleton and is taken from their double LP masterpiece Filigree & Shadow. While the song doesn’t work as well out of the context of the album, it’s still worth listening too, especially on a good sound system or in headphones. I highly recommend buying the LP. Click the song title for download.

Strength of Strings

Psychic TV Live In Berlin 1983

Video of Psychic TV performing live in their very early years when Sleazy was in the group and they sounded more like Throbbing Gristle with Sleazy on electronics and Genesis on bass. Contains excellent versions of classics Roman P and Unclean.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Best Films of 2011

This is our yearly write up on cinema. The following are my ten personal favorites of the year. I didn't pay too much attention the order and most of the 20 films listed at the end are just as good as the top 10. I hope this helps you to discover some cool movies. Also, I started a Twitter account strictly for film reviews: @FilmPsychedelic

1. I Saw the Devil
Of all the fantastic Korean revenge thrillers of the last few years this complex web of vengeance stands out as the most brutal, the most poetic and the most all out crazy. It’s dark and violent with strands of black humor like only the Koreans can do. Jee-Woon Kim’s next film is an American blockbuster so hopefully this isn’t his last hurrah.

2. Bedeviled
It was the year of South Korean cinema- so much great stuff. In this refreshingly feminine take on a classic revenge tale, a woman is taken to an island solely inhabited by a weirdo misogynist family and all hell breaks loose. A smart and thoughtful debut from Chiu-soo Jang. Seek this out.

3. The Kid With A Bike
Another intense and unpredictable tale of everyday life from the Dardenne Brothers- this time focusing on a neglected child. Simple and touching, this is film making at it finest.

4. Snowtown
Similar in tone to last years amazing Animal Kingdom, this movie is also about the lives of lower class Australians. Specifically, a study of the environment and the culture that would produce something as horrific as the Snowtown murders that dominated headlines in the 90s. Also, Snowtown contains the most disturbing scene of the year (the bathtub) so extra points for that.

5. Bill Cunningham New York
This is a seriously inspiring documentary about a fashion photographer in NYC that has truly dedicated his life to his art.

6. Essential Killing
Vincent Gallo in a silent role as a Mujahideen fighter on the run in the Middle East. Amazing! Gorgeous and subtle filmmaking from Jerry Skolimowski.

7. Ides of March
A refreshingly smart and well made movie about back room political power-plays and their often devastating casualties.

8. House of Pleasures
Also known as House of Tolerance, this is a strange and poignant film about the lives of prostitutes in a Paris brothel in 1900, featuring lots of champagne, opium, corsets and naked ladies. The end of the film is really surreal and has some of the best shots of the year. Fans of David Lynch or Catherine Breillat should check this out.

9. Cold Fish
Yet another demented psychological mindfuck from Sion Sono, this one centering on themes of fish, family and discipline... Sono is a maniac. "Life is Pain, living your life hurts."

10. Melancholia
This has some deep insight into the nature of depression and how it manifests itself. And it's definitely one of the best apocalypse movies in recent times. I love Kirsten Dunst and it’s nice to see Kiefer Sutherland getting some decent work.

Also of note: The Housemaid (best ending of the year), Martha Marcy May Marlene (worst ending of the year), Moneyball, Submarino, Attack the Block, Man From Nowhere, Tree of Life, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Tiny Furniture, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Yellow Sea, When A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, Trust, Troll Hunter, Bullhead, Incendies, Tabloid, Project Nim, Drive, Crazy Stupid Love.

Worst movie.
I don’t see any of the kid films or Adam Sandler “comedies”- I’m sure those are the worst… but one movie I did see on a plane this year deserves a mention: Trespass. Wow. I watched it because it was a home invasion movie and that’s usually a decent genre but this was incredibly bad- just one unbeliveable plot twist after another. The corniest being the bad guy that is secretly in love with the mother he is terrorizing and decides to go against his fellow robbers to protect her ½ way into the movie. Nicole Kidman has ruined her face and Nic Cage looks terribly bloated and unhealthy. The only good thing about it is the lead bad guy Ben Mendelsohn, a fine actor who played “Pope” in Animal Kingdom last year. Regardless, Joel Shumacher has further ruined his name with one of the worst movies I have ever seen.