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Movie: Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2011)
Rating: **1/2 out of *****
Notes: A much renowned documentary, "Jiro Dreams Of Sushi" examines the life and practices of Jiro Ono, owner and proprietor of a $300, Michelin 3-star, 10-seat sushi restaurant in Japan. Don't go in expecting the high-energy sensationalism of Food Network or any other mainstream restaurant expose. Very little time is spent on cooking, customers, or kitchen etiquette. Rather, there's a lot of classical music with close-ups of slicing and constructing bites of sushi, as well as the interpersonal relationships between Jiro and his sons, and how he treats his workers and their impressions of him. Best approached as a portrait of the man himself, he's very old-school when it comes to familial traditions. In this, the old ways of raising ones family and the structured discipline that involves can seem both archaic and even hypocritical, but it needs to be viewed in the context of Japanese culture, which can at times be very foreign compared to America. If you're not into sushi, this can be slow and ponderous, but the artsy nature of it can suffice to make a viewer feel high-minded. Otherwise, it could be somewhat light on content.

Movie: Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Notes: An Americanized version of a manga and a novel, "Edge of Tomorrow" (better known post-theatrically as "Live, Die, Repeat") is one of the best sci-fi films to hit theaters in years. A military spokesman sent to the front lines against his will finds himself stuck in a time loop after dying on the battlefield. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt play off each other beautifully, but the former actor has all the best scenes and lines. Darkly comic, the script recalls the best moments of both Cruise's earlier films and Verhoeven-esque bleak humor, and this goes a long way toward making an enjoyable viewing. Describes by the studio as a cross between "Groundhog Day" and "Starship Troopers," I'd also throw in "Mission: Impossible" and "Aliens," too. The E.T.s have the generic design of randomly-generated monsters, the overproduction of "Transformers," but their motion, aggressiveness, and violence sets them apart and makes them actually seem dangerous, if not frightening. The scenes are action-packed, featuring mature adults instead of teenage models, no women or children in distress, no goofy sidekicks, and minimal romantic interest to bog anything down - just straight plot and no filler. The very few nitpicks include Blunt not being particularly soldier-esque, her ridiculous anime melee weapon (the movie is supposed to recall the concept of restarting a videogame, with all that entails), and the semi-derivative climax once the story tires of the restarts. Amazingly fun and thrilling, it's inconceivable that it bombed at the US box office. An absolute must-see for any fan of novel, hard sci-fi.

Movie: Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2015)
Rating: *** out of *****
Notes: From the director who brought us "The Lion King," this animated contemporary remake of the shorts from the Rocky & Bullwinkle TV series is much more like Minkoff's Roger Rabbit pieces, especially in its frantic pace. Sherman, a boy adopted by genius dog, Mr. Peabody, gets in an altercation at school which leads to time travelling adventures in their Wayback Machine. Speeding along like a kid on to much Pepsi, the story crams in a whole lot of adventures, action, and guest voices for a basic 90 minutes, but falls short in the hilarity or pacing department. In its rush to get everything done, the puns and pop culture references are egregiously old school and elicit little more than groans or chuckles. Animation is bright and colorful, an the interpretations of the characters are adapted to be both a close resemblance and dolly-esque to look good on t-shirts, keychains, action figures and other toys and merchandise. Since it doesn't give you much time to think or absorb what you've seen before racing on to the next scene or timeline, it's not terribly memorable which is shame because the themes are very clearly representative of such modern topics as bullying and gay/extra-racial adoption, which the film should be rewarded for addressing at a kid's level. Cute, amiable, and geared to the ADD set, it's an otherwise mild, but not unpleasant diversion.

Next: Hunger Games 4, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
Movie: Hercules (2014)
Rating: ** out of *****
Notes: The leader of a band of bounty hunters, fresh off their latest case, just needs to take on one more prolific caper so they can all retire, when along the daughter of a suspicious rich real estate owner who is willing to pay them an exorbitant fee to take on an easy job - or so they think! Sound familiar? Like every third heist movie you've ever seen? Funny, because the leader is Dwayne Johnson as Hercules, and he has to fight off a small army for a king before being betrayed blah blah blah. You know exactly how this plays out, the only difference being the special effects. For $100 mil, it's visually competent enough, and there's lots of promised fantasy battle action, but the big gimmick is that Hercules is just a guy, so all the implied mythological wonder keeps getting revealed as mundane bad guys to get beaten up. Ha ha, you came to see a fantasy epic, but it's just The Rock punching people in Roman times and some LotR wannabe sidekicks. Quite a bait and switch, but if you can be satisfied with that after being promised more, the remainder that didn't fall through the sieve is tolerable.

Movie: Pelican Dreams (2014)
Rating: **1/2 out of *****
Notes: Directed by Judy Irving, best known for her last avian doc, "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill," "Pelican Dreams' is billed as following the journey of Gigi, a pelican stranded on the Golden Gate Bridge in ill health, as she is nursed back to the point of release. In actuality, this takes up only about a quarter of the doc. The remainder is about half pelican nature doc and half new-agey music and poetry overlaying gorgeous footage of pelicans skimming the waves or soaring at sunsets. The narration is extremely slow and drawn out, leaving many gaps to pad out the runtime to 90 minutes. In many ways, this should really be a National Geographic half-hour feature instead of a full length big-screen presentation. But if pelicans or even just birds are your thing, it may appeal to those nature lovers.

Movie: To Be Takei (2014)
Rating: *** out of *****
Notes: A documentary about the life of Star Trek's Mr. Sulu, George Takei. It's actually almost a third as much a documentary about his husband, Brad Takei, as well, as they appear inseparable for most of the film. There's very little about what many viewers may have come to see, that being Star Trek and his current internet fame. Instead, it jumps back and forth between his family's life in the WW2 internment camps presented in the context of his paid speeches and theatrical play, and George and Brad wandering the streets of various cities doing stuff: walking in the park, eating, driving, getting a haircut, signing autographs, etc. While they are personable and the doc really does a great job at humanizing the pair, it's not very fan-oriented and appears more message-driven, as a vehicle for Takei's activism regarding WW2 history. Most memorable of what Takei does say of his fellow actors consists mainly of attacks on Shatner, while his colleagues just lend amiable contextual commentary. If you go into it with the right expectations, you'll probably get its maximum potential, which is relatively mild.

Next: Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, Edge Of Tomorrow, Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Movie: Snowpiercer (2013)
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Notes: After humanity inadvertently self-destructs by freezing the planet solid with geoengineering, all that's left of the human race are the inhabitants of a tourism train-turned-survivalist habitat, endlessly circling Eurasia on a fusion reactor, and harboring an imminent revolution by the dregs at the back of the train against the pampered, predatory upper class in the front. Think Jean-Pierre Jeunet meets Chan wook-Park meets Paul Verhoeven. That it's based on a French graphic novel is what gives it the dark, surrealistic, steampunk-esque whimsy rather than the writer or director, who instead focus mainly on ramming the plot forward without a break, going from one car to the next, swinging from absurdity to ultraviolence to dystopian sci-fi between breaths. Chris Evans is adequate, but his relatively sane character clashes with the other unstable and broken residents. Tilda Swinton, however, brilliantly focuses the dark humor as the totalitarian matron representative from the front. There's plenty of pervasive symbolism that's a little hard to grasp, but an equally large amount of stylish flourishes that recall Asian action films. These flourishes are often borne of frequent scenes of ultraviolence, similarly originated. Several scenes are sarcastically cynical, biting satirical political statements that were last seen in "Robocop" or "Starship Troopers". It ends precipitating an entirely different story which we might get to see as it's been optioned for a TV series. Hugely entertaining and fantastical, but also grim and bleak. A creative masterpiece that constantly feels like it's about to derail.

Movie: A Most Wanted Man (2014)
Rating: * out of *****
Notes: Philip Seymour Hoffman's second-to-last film relates a German secret agency official's efforts to manipulate and conflate the appearance of a potentially dangerous illegal immigrant seeking his father's fortune with the suspicious money laundering by a charitable Islamic organization. It's not just Hoffman who plays his character understated - everyone in the film mutters through their lines without a hint of passion and even less emotion. The plot is just a fragment of a larger investigation, and the viewer is expected to invest themselves in the procedural minutiae of interdepartmental negotiations and tailing suspects. At the end, after two hours of waiting has led to merely the next phase of the investigation, the entire raison d'etre is suddenly thrown in the garbage uncontested, Hoffman walks offscreen, and credits roll. For all its undervalued promise, it feels like a slap in the audience's face, and it wonders why not only you, but the author of the novel it's based on even wasted their time. Hollywood needs to get over this genre detailing pointless, nihilistic causes already - we got the message, now it's just obnoxious.

Movie: Neighbors (2014)
Rating: *** out of *****
Notes: There are very few reliable outlets for comedy these days, one of which is Seth Rogen who routinely cranks out his brand of half-improvised, dirty gag-filled fodder for 18-24 year-olds. Regardless of its insipidness, each of these films has an infectious buddy quality at the heart which, despite some of the truly bad crap that surrounds it, makes a kind of Cabbage Patch Kid charm - or maybe it's Garbage Pail Kid... This time, Rogen and Rose Byrne are new parents who have it out with a fraternity, led by Zac Efron, that moves in next door. Cue the beer pong, togas, farting, boob jokes, and dildos. Some of the forced scenes are laughably awful while others are merely stupidly awful. The fraternity scenes hearken back to really cheap 80's college comedies, which may have been the point. Suffice to say, the story is really crude, occasionally cute, and I laughed at really dumb stuff. It's junk, sometimes almost too embarrassing to watch, but it's funny junk.

Next: Hercules, Edge Of Tomorrow, Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Movie: Horses Of God (2012)
Rating: ** out of *****
Notes: In 2003, terrorist suicide bombers killed 45 people in the deadliest attacks in Morocco's history. "Horses Of God" presents a fictionalized assumptive account of the lives of a quartet of assailants that led up to the event. Despite the chill of watching the movie the day before the 2015 Paris attacks, the film retreads the same footsteps of many previous entries of the past decade-plus which, while remaining topical, presents no new material. Approaching the subject as a coming-of-age in all the wrong ways, it dwells on the uninteresting personal and trivial life events, and subsequently on the mundane procedural tasks that lead to a suicide bombing, ultimately shying away from the act itself and any shocking aftermath. What results is a Middle Eastern "Stand By Me" for the terrorist set, lacking teeth or energy, and waving the same flag we've already seen in this parade. Despite all this, it was submitted by Morocco to the 2014 Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. There are better and more affecting examples of this genre.

Movie: Aftermath (2012)
Rating: *** out of *****
Notes: Also titled in Polish as "Poklosie," this fictional film examining a lesser-known crime of World War 2 behaves as an atypical thriller. A man returns to Poland for the summer to visit his hostile brother after their father dies, only to become embroiled in a discovery that has turned the village against his remaining family. While slow at times, it behaves like an investigatory detective story with the threat of the town's torches and pitchforks hanging over them at all times. Whereas revelations in this type of film tend to be the usual romantic conflict or supernatural animosity, the factual historical basis for the wrongs committed make for a more believable plot. The residents of the town themselves fare a bit worse, behaving as little more than stereotypical creepy rural folk, and their ultimate crime at the end is met with only a whimper of closure. Still, it's directed with a tension that turns a potentially dull tale into an above average one.

Movie: The Peanuts Movie (2015)
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Notes: After much public agonizing over whether Blue Sky Studios - responsible for middling animated fare such as the Ice Age sequels, Epic, and Rio - could accomplish the rare feat of faithfully transposing a period cartoon strip to contemporary animation, I can happily report that they haven't let us down. "The Peanuts Movie" is a surprisingly enjoyable feature with few flaws, and takes great pains to adhere to the unwritten rules that imbued the characters' world with such nostalgia today. For the first third, it's mostly a barely-contextual string of homages and parodies of well-worn gags. Eventually, it blends in the origin tales of everything from the little red-haired girl to Snoopy's Red Baron-related escapades. For the most part, the voices are eerily spot-on, or easy to get comfortable with, right down to the slightly-slurred script readings expected of small children. Sally's, in particular, is dead to rights, and Snoopy's and Woodstock's vocals are actual recordings from the late Bill Melendez who spoke for them in the original movies. The animation is surprisingly adaptable, probably because it emulates the old 2D style as finely as possible, right down to the occasional stuttery framerate and frequent incorporation of 2D inking. Tonally, it's entirely non-threatening as the G-rating indicates, most reminiscent of the similarly relaxing "Shaun The Sheep" in terms of keeping your pulse rate low. The humor is very broad, sticking to the basics with a minimum of pop culture and no scatology, leveraging the characters' own recipes. It both utilizes familiar iconic musical scores and adds in only marginally distracting contemporary pieces. About 1/4 of the film is dedicated to Snoopy's WW1 dogfights which, while visually impressive, are excessively overproduced for 3D and contrast starkly with the rest of the feature. This is only a small ding in an otherwise exemplary resurfacing of a classic concept. If you have any fondness whatsoever for the Peanuts gang, you owe it to yourself to see this landmark film in theaters.

Next: Snowpiercer, A Most Wanted Man, Neighbors
Movie: The Grey Zone (2001)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: A surprisingly vicious Holocaust drama that went under the radar in 2001, it nevertheless features a star-studded cast for its time. It watches interwoven experiences and arguments between various Jews imprisoned at Auschwitz, forced to manage operations for the human experiments, gas chambers and crematorium in exchange for an extra four months of life. Like "Schindler's List", it doesn't shy away from either casual or inhumanely brutal executions, but the focus is on the scheming going on amongst the various captive groups to either rebel, escape, or merely survive. Premium actors include David Arquette, Steve Buscemi, and Harvey Keitel among others. It's primary drawback is the dialogue which, while frequently heated, is almost inaudible in many scenes, and a few of the supporting cast come across stilted, as if on stage. It's also crushingly without any hope whatsoever, as if in competition for the most bleak presentation in its genre, made worse by being a true story. If the many prior Holocaust films haven't pegged your man's-inhumanity-to-man meter yet, this will top things off.

Movie: Witching & Bitching (2013)
Rating: *1/2 out of *****
Notes: A Spanish horror comedy that takes the best of "From Dusk Till Dawn" and drowns it in endless, banal dialogue. Two robbers and their kid commit a ridiculous heist and getaway, ending up lost and captured by a coven of witches intent on sacrificing them. The initial heist is silly mayhem, but the moment they steal a car, what should be a raucous chase is instead twenty minutes of hyperactive bickering over non-sequitur trivialities, like divorce, the kid's homework, and dinner plans. Culturally, this is the form of Spanish cinematic comedy, but paired with fantastical and action-packed sequences, the former sucks the life out of the latter, and it does this over and over again. The FX fluctuates between excellent prosthetic and gore FX to jarringly atrocious CG. Editing is poorly-timed and hyperactive, and huge chunks of narrative seem missing, particularly at the nonsensical end. This might play great for the intended regional audience, but its nullifying conflation of genres just doesn't cross borders well.

Movie: Venus In Fur (2013)
Rating: **** out of *****
Notes: It's a rare treat to get a new Roman Polanski film, and even better when it's a pure character drama like "Venus In Fur". Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric, the only two actors, play off each other brilliantly while both being wildly stuffed with character. Polanski's direction turns a dry French diatribe into a hilarious interplay of expressions and unspoken intentions. A stage director, unable to find a suitable Vanda for his adaptation of "Venus In Fur," reluctantly auditions a last-minute, unseemly arrival. What follows is a tug-of-war regarding who's directing who in this trial sadomasochistic performance, wondering will they won't they as the two loud personalities spin in paired, decaying orbits - the only question being when things are going to really derail. And derail they do, although only vaguely comprehensibly, even if conclusively, which makes the ending the only real weak point. Highly chewable, sexy, and uniquely funny chamber play.

Next: Horses Of God, Aftermath, Snowpiercer
Movie: The Rover (2014)
Rating: * out of *****
Notes: Guy Pearce plays a stranger pursuing his stolen car through a desert-like landscape populated by wretched souls. The prologue placard indicates the events take place a decade after an ambiguous "collapse" in Australia which placed the film in the "Mad Max" genre. The complete lack of exposition throughout leaves us ignorant of why there are cars, gas, money, maintained roads, bars and why our anti-hero is out in the nearly unpopulated landscape sparsely habitated by post-apocalyptic denizens. But it's the journey that matters, which involves conversations with 60-second pauses, staring off into space, a travelogue of barren wasteland, barely comprehensible dialogue, and the occasional sporadic murder, almost all of which are committed by our protagonist. There's about twenty minutes of actual movie overall, and there's even a point, but it turns out to just be a pun in bad taste that lacks credibility and wastes over 90 minutes of your life building up to it. All the emoting in the world can't help Pearce save this sad parody of deserted dystopia fiction.

Movie: Afflicted (2013)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: Despite both the found-footage style and the fate of our main character being as worn out as zombies and pseudo-documentaries, this outlier manages to be well-crafted and enjoyable in a comic-booky way, which is why it feels like a horror version of the outstanding "Chronicle". After a contrived one night stand during a pair of buddies' around-the-world vacation, one of the young men wakes up with injuries that evolve into physical changes that endanger both their lives. It initially comes off feeling like an sensationalist Travel Channel doc by a couple of frat boys, but it doesn't take long to go off the rails. With scenes that appear inspired by graphic novels and action sequences that appear inspired by video games, it's really not all that creepy despite a few predictable jump-scares. But it's well-produced for its low budget, and the makeup FX are considerably believable. If you're not sick of this sort of thing yet, it manages to be one of the more accessible entries of this ilk.

Movie: Borgman (2013)
Rating: **1/2 out of *****
Notes: Rousted from his subterranean dwelling, a disheveled mystery man insinuates himself into a wealthy family's life, eventually joined by his similarly strange compatriots. This Dutch film has a plot, but no exposition, which is almost always a crippling failure in my book. It's saved from being a complete discard by being startlingly obvious in its characters' malign intentions, even if they're not directly shown. There's clearly something dreadfully wrong with the Borgman character and his colleagues, and the film observes the family's downfall at their hands. So much goes unexplained - medical, supernatural, and manipulative occurrences are observed but completely without context, as well as background surreality (blink and you'll miss it). The sinister absurdism is fantastically intriguing, and there are some theories as to who these people are and what it all means, but the movie isn't going to be of any help by the rolling of the credits. Fascinating, but immensely frustrating to be left out of the loop.

Next: The Grey Zone, Witching & Bitching, Venus In Fur
Movie: Cheatin' (2013)
Rating: *** out of *****
Notes: In indie animator Bill Plympton's latest film, a man and woman fall in love at a carnival, but face a challenge to their utopian relationship when a jealous suitor convinces the man that his wife has strayed. While a more straightforward and mundane story than Plympton's previous weirdness, his animation styling still incorporates his own brand of wildly cartoonish and surreal imagery and situations, with his stretchy, plastic-like characters, and odd, self-indulging focuses. More peculiar than hilarious, the plot takes more of a center stage this time, starting out as a standard romance, but diverting into sci-fi romance in the last third. If you are a Plympton fan, this will be middle-of-the-road in his canon. Otherwise, the moderation of his usual artsy physical humor might bore new introductions. Worth seeing to complete your Plympton experience.

Movie: Beasts Of No Nation (2015)
Rating: *** out of *****
Notes: Netflix's first original film distribution, BoNN is about the experiences of an African child who runs into the grip of a band of rebel soldiers after his family is killed or otherwise lost during an incursion of his village by a militant faction. Authentic, harsh, and raw, it doesn't so much tell a story and provider the viewer a window onto this terrible period of time. It involves scenes of kids being shot, drugged, killing others, and implied rape, and that's not including all the things that the adults do. The accents are very thick and the child's occasional narration is soft, so there is difficulty catching some of the dialogue. Intending to convey a realistic portrayal of the superstitious, religious, and barbaric army, it tends to spend more time on the primitive hoorahs and ritualistic psyching that goes on before and between battles than on the battles themselves. While probably more factual, this causes some drag as a movie. More of a message and awareness film than entertainment, it's a solid dramatic pick for high-minded moviegoers, but will befuddle or even offend mainstream audiences.

Movie: Cold In July (2014)
Rating: **1/2 out of *****
Notes: When a father shoots an unarmed burglar in his home, the deceased's recently-paroled father threatens revenge, but both soon find the target of their conflict may be misplaced. Starting out solidly suspenseful, things quickly get muddled once the twist kicks in, and the eventual resolution becomes a simple observance of a Greek tragedy in action. Our family man sticks with his aggressor as the reality of the situation drags them both into a dark and gritty world. Much involves just getting to the endpoint, which makes all the convoluted and eventually atrocious specifics feel contrived. In between, things drag out a bit, and we never really delve into anything that makes the main protagonists tick. Raw and basic at its core, despite the trappings of halfhearted cleverness, it's primarily targeted at those who like bleak and violent tales of self-destructive "doing what you gotta do".

Next: The Rover, Afflicted, Borgman
Movie: We Are The Best! (2013)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: In 1980s Stockholm, two thirteen year old punk-lifestyle girls rebelling against mainstream and conformity decide on the spur of the moment to start a punk band, but they need to befriend a non-punk school outcast to teach them how to play instruments and read music. It's very much slice-of-life/coming-of-age, and it might be the first punk mumblecore. Their antics are authentic and feel unscripted, but also somewhat aimless as their conversations meander, people drift in and out, there's an outing to meet some punk boys from a magazine, and there's a vague overtone of purely subjective parental oppression that amounts to little more than background noise. What makes the film enjoyable is the bubbling charm of the two main characters who virtually effervesce stereotypical punk, but through the innocent lens of a grade schooler. They REALLY like playing punk, and they make it look like fun, or at least fun to watch their maturation from playing to being via a late-film performance opportunity. More of a character study than a story, but of unexpectedly delightful characters.

Movie: Mind Game (2004)
Rating: **1/2 out of *****
Notes: A challenging film from Japan that won the prestigious Noburo Ofuji animation award, the general gist of which revolves around death, rebirth, and living all of life's opportunities. Nishi, a young artist, happens to come across an old flame, but he gets killed by the Yakuza, runs away from oblivion, and gets swallowed by a whale - then things get weird. If that's not enough, the animation styles are extremely experimental, barely resembling traditional anime, but blending in imagery that recalls everything from Krisfalusi to Judge to Plympton, with some brief and sporadic live-action for good measure. The art is not easy on the eyes, reminiscent of a 100-minute international animation festival, and the story tends to run along the same lines. Many scenes are directed solely for the joy of animating and to hell with the plot, but they tend to be bright, wild, colorful and impressive. Fantastical to the point of being inarticulate, the ending may be more opaque than most viewers can or would appreciate, and it may appear to drag in the middle progression-wise. But if you're up for a real artistic, psychedelic trip, "Mind Game" will push your boundaries.

Movie: Man from Reno (2014)
Rating: *1/2 out of *****
Notes: A renowned writer of a popular series of Japanese detective novels takes refuge in San Francisco to escape the endless book tours and to prepare for the publication of her final novel. But a one-night stand with a mysterious stranger leaves her with a suitcase that strangers come looking to acquire. The first half of the film is entirely setup, but there's very little to set up, so its begins with a 45-minute drag. Those seeking her brand new bag aren't particularly threatening, and a cop's investigation that ties into the main story is anything but intriguing. Thrills and suspense are foreign terms when it comes to "Man From Reno" as this sleepy mystery will leave you doing just that. By the time it pulls out its one shock at the climax - such as it is - apathy has taken over and all investment in the characters has long since drained away. To add insult to injury, the explanation is deliberately so opaque as to be impossible to understand on the first viewing, and the ambiguous, unresolved ending is a resounding, "Meh, who cares?" Competent production, but dreadfully slow and the opposite of engaging.

Next: Cheatin', Beasts Of No Nation, Cold In July

If you want my mixes on Soundcloud, grab them soon because they're going away. There may or may not be a replacement.

Long version:

Previously, if something was uploaded that violated copyright, Soundcloud would take down your track/mix and notify you that it was not permitted unless you obtained permission from the copyright-holder. I actually did this once for a small-press, indie track, but was only able to do so because it had obvious contact info and the consequences of a bad reaction were small. It still took weeks to resolve through Soundcloud. Nevertheless, it was a handy way to rely on Soundcloud to identify which among the billions of tracks out there were not permitted. This was something an individual user did/does not normally have the wherewithal to address on their own. Of the two mixes that were rejected, I simply moved them to Mixcloud without further penalty.

Earlier this year, due to what is assuredly overwhelming pressure from the still-kicking, self-defeating, draconian music industry, Soundcloud introduced a new three-strikes rule. If anything you upload is flagged, either by their automatic filter, manual search, or owner notification, you get a strike. Two strikes shuts off your downloads. Three strikes gets you a permanent ban from Soundcloud forever.

Suddenly, prominent musicians, DJs, and hobbyist mashup artists were getting banned from Soundcloud at a frightening rate. The music industry began throwing takedown notices willy nilly, often in disregard for accuracy or even veracity. Some artists received all three strikes at once, witnessing an overnight dissolution of accounts that took years of work and cash investment to build up to thousands of followers and libraries of hundreds of tracks. The senders of these notices were, of course, unresponsive at best, or poised to litigate any requests at worst. The end result is that Soundcloud's creator base is dropping like a rock because it is outright existentially hazardous to continue to provide the service with content.

I received my first strike on September 24th, removing my August 2015 mix. This was most likely due to the inclusion of a bootleg of Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk", as Sony was the accuser, although no specific track was named. Ironically, this use of a track I got from Soundcloud when it was originally posted resulted in my first strike from Soundcloud. If I get another strike - which could come at any moment if any music industry lawyer out there wants to accuse me of another violation - downloads will be shut off, and a third strike will ban me from Soundcloud. As such, I cannot risk posting anything further to Soundcloud.

This new policy from Soundcloud came at a particularly painful time. My mixes had just started to garner recognition, having received kudos, likes, and even reposts from some of the very artists I included and linked to as way of promotion. I had recently broken 7,500 plays and was nearing 100 followers (not a big deal for Facebook, but a milestone for a nobody like me on Soundcloud). This was a primary creative outlet: a way to use a simple skill to connect with not only people who shared my interest, but also with artists who inspired, enabled, and even encouraged my creativity. It was a service to which I paid a relatively exorbitant fee to acquire an audience that I am unlikely to otherwise attain, which in turn made my efforts (days of work per mix) worthwhile.

So here we are. As said, I can't upload any mix to Soundcloud ever again. I'm obviously not going to pay them $100+/year to enjoy a read-only presence that I can just as well get without paying a dime. When the account drops back to the free-level, everything I have posted will become hidden and inaccessible. I intend to run out my full paid year on the very outside chance that Soundcloud comes to their senses when/if their creator base drops low enough to endanger their existence. As long as I don't get any more strikes by just sitting around, this should keep everything stable until mid-July when the account runs out and I don't renew.

What next? I dread the effort of starting all over with another service. MixCloud doesn't permit downloads, something I value because it allows people to take my mixes with them when there's no internet access, something I personally utilize all the time with other people's mixes, podcasts, etc. Mixcrate stands to suffer the same fate as Soundcloud or Turntable at any moment. Hearthis has an atrocious interface and seems sketchy, although many artists from Soundcloud have reestablished there. None of these options have the listener base of Soundcloud, so it would be nearly impossible to rebuild even the tiny audience I spent the last three years working to establish.

As such, right now I'm just going to wait. If I miss making mixes much, I'll consider signing up for one of the other services. I'm still collecting music, just from a dwindling variety of sources, so there'll be plenty to work with if I get back into it. Until then, I'm just going to have to redirect my time to other pursuits. I apologize to those who enjoyed my regular postings, but music is guarded by a jealous dragon that kills anything that proves advantageous to the public for long, like Turntable.fm and now Soundcloud. If my mixes find somewhere else to live, you'll be the first to know.
Movie: The Martian (2015)
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Notes: The world needs more can-do, upbeat, optimistic films. "The Martian" does one better by disposing of the need for an antagonist, unless you want to count the entire red planet as such. So we've got a rare breed in an odd release slot by a director, Ridley Scott, best known for grim stories of death - and it's funny, too. This cinematic outlier tells the story of Mars astronaut Mark Watney (played by experienced spacer Matt Damon) being mistaken for dead and left behind as his colleagues abort their missing during a surface storm. With a positive attitude and dead-set determination, he puts every iota of his skills to use to find a way back to Earth. Despite being a hard-SF film, much is based in science-fact after extensive consultations with NASA, thus feeling a bit like a cross between "2001" and a reverse "The Right Stuff". You have to squint a bit to look past some glaring exceptions, most egregiously the presence of a storm of any hazard at all, or how a mere botanist manages to engineer his way out of most situations. Damon's sweet-spot portrayal of his character's driven positivity, however, is a frequently humorous distraction that dissolves the science in the fiction solution handily. It's an exciting survival/adventure that will likely resonate more with adults than kids, but we need more of this theatrical flavor to shine on our screens lately.

Movie: Fed Up (2014)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: A documentary about the global obesity epidemic and an exploration of its sources. Presented with top-grade pop-art graphs, charts, animations, and all the usual techniques that make a modern doc watchable, plus the requisite selection of talking heads, it makes a vehement and insistent case that sugar in all its forms is behind our nation's growing waistlines. While this is most probably correct, and the film makes a convincing case for it, it spends much of its time aiming the finger directly at the sugar industry and regulatory cowardice. The fervor with which it approaches this, making a point to be dismissive towards genes, lifestyles, people's decision-making, and other likely contributing factors tends to roll off as propaganda, despite coming from a side I normally support. For example, a girl and her family are shown making poor food choices despite better options available, yet are then crying over how they can't understand why they're still fat. Yes, the sugar industry is clearly shown to be the big bad guy, but the doc is dubiously dismissive towards eating less and artificial sweeteners, not making a convincing case for their disregard, and throwing a lot of babies out with one-note bathwater. If you're anti-corporate, this will be quite sweet, but the single-mindedness may taste a bit sour.

Movie: Last Passenger (2013)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: When a British train misses its station, a doctor and the remaining few passengers must find a way to bring it to a halt before the mysterious driver takes them to the end of the line. An excellent Hitchcockian plot that manages to be exciting with almost no bloodshed, we follow not only the contemporary thrill, but also the budding flirtations between the doctor and a fellow female passenger, the fates of the other strongly caricatured riders, and the doctor's young son who, while representationally cute, tends to mostly be an anchor rather than any assistance. The cinematography and outdated set design tend to come off as material barely out of the 1980s, and hopefully you don't know a lot about trains because there's apparently an enormous amount of technical plot-holery going on. For the rest of us ignorant viewers, it passes muster as a fine example of a foreign-bred Hollywood-style general-purpose bit of excitement that you'd expect Denzel Washington to star in, with even the requisite bits of dark humor peppered throughout. While it won't win any awards, it's a great popcorn muncher as long as you can swim through the thick accents while you're chewing.

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