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Because you can’t possibly have enough “Best Of The Year” lists on the Internet.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: If yr favorite movie of 2018 isn’t here, it’s likely because (1) I didn’t get a chance to see it, (2) it hasn’t been released in Hong Kong yet, or (3) I did see it but didn’t like it as much as you did. Also, if some of these seem kind of old, it’s because their release date was 2017 for yr country, but 2018 for Hong Kong. See?


1. The Shape of Water
In which Guillermo del Toro basically reimagines Creature From The Black Lagoon as a love story, in which the creature is held in a secret govt lab for cruel experiments, where mute cleaning woman Elisa bonds with him. It’s as weird and tragic as you’d expect, and it’s a nice twist on a classic horror movie.

2. 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I went in not really knowing much about it apart from the cast and the director – both of which were enough to convince me to see it. I really enjoyed Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths, and any film with Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell seems like a good bet. It was – it’s a powerful story about what happens when the rage of loss is compounded by injustice, and the depths people sink to when desperation sets in.

3. Muppet Guys Talking
This Frank Oz documentary was originally filmed in 2012, and Oz sat on the footage for years before finally having the time to edit it down to a feature-length doc. The title says it all – it’s mainly five Muppet performers (Oz, Jerry Nelson, Fran Brill, Dave Goelz and Bill Barretta) sitting in a room talking about Muppet history, the characters they played, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and Jim Henson. It’s a simple concept, and it works wonderfully – all five performers are good storytellers and have plenty of great anecdotes to share. Essential for anyone who’s a Muppet fan.

4. Black Panther
I only saw a couple of MCU films last year (Infinity War was not one of them because I’ve been assured it’s really for fans only, a.k.a. people who have seen all the MCU films and remember every detail about them), but Black Panther was by far the best of the bunch for me for a couple of reasons: (1) it’s a character I’m not as familiar with, compared to Captain America, Hulk Iron Man, etc, so it offered something different, and (2) the rich worldbuilding of Wakanda, and reasonably well-developed characters (by MCU standards, anyway), to include the villain, Killmonger. Like with all MCU films, the rollercoaster CGI action is overdone, but that’s the price of admission.

5. All The Money In The World
The strange but true tale of the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III, which I only tried because Ridley Scott is usually a dependable director and he’s good at this kind of film. Of course the race to find Paul and secure his release is interesting, but the film also succeeds as a family drama and an indictment of greed so engrained that it will drive people to put money before family. It’s flawed in places, and of course they made up some of it. But I’ve learned to expect that with “true” stories. DISCLAIMER: It was only after seeing it that I found out this was the film where Kevin Spacey was edited out and replaced by Christopher Plummer. All I’ll say is that it looked seamless to me – I’d never have guessed if TwitterBook hadn’t told me.

6. Isle Of Dogs
I’ve said before Wes Anderson is one of those directors you either like or you don’t, and this doesn’t change that. This animated homage to Japanese cinema is one of his better films – not quite as good as Fantastic Mr Fox, mainly because the characterization isn't as strong, due to it being more of an ensemble cast. But it’s full of Anderson’s usual dark humor and visual panache.

7. Bohemian Rhapsody
Oh, YOU know. And I have to say that as flawed as it is – and it is flawed, from the standard dialogue and rock’n’roll clichés to the unnecessary revisionist history (“Fat Bottomed Girls” coming out in 1974, Freddie Mercury adopting his Tom From Finland look in the late 70s, etc) – I liked it. I think it’s partly because the music is great, the cast (not just Rami Malek, but everyone) really look and act like the band, and I’ve read interviews with Brian May who says the film isn’t meant to be real life but a “painting” of Freddie, so I figure if he’s okay with it, why should I complain? That said, I maintain that if you’re going to call the film Bohemian Rhapsody, there should be at least one sequence in the film where they play the whole song through in its entirety.

8. Early Man
The latest animated film from Nick Park. I think I would have liked this less if I’d seen any trailers for it – it’s more fun to watch it unexpectedly go from a prehistoric comedy to a satire of English football. Once it does, it’s pretty predictable, and there are moments where I felt they could have done a little more with the material. But it’s still a goofy, fun and enjoyable film.

9. Incredibles 2
I don’t think we really needed an Incredibles sequel, but we got one anyway, and it’s pretty good for what it is, maintaining more or less the quality level of the first one, as well as the themes of how vigilante superheroes don’t quite fit into a world of real-world laws and regulations, and the challenges of raising kids with superpowers. Anyway, it’s one of the better superhero movies on 2018.

10. Solo: A Star Wars Story
I have so much to say about this, and you can read it all here. For the capsule review, I’ll just say that as a straight-up big-budget space-adventure film, it’s actually pretty good fun. As a Star Wars film, it’s predictable as far as the established characters are concerned (Solo, Chewbacca and Lando), and it doesn't really add much to the characters that we didn’t already know. Also, I’m one of those fans who feels that Han Solo didn’t need an origin story – part of Solo’s appeal has always been his braggadocio and exaggerating his own accomplishments, and the references to the Kessel Run work better when you don’t know how he did it.


Ant-Man and The Wasp
The other decent MCU film of 2018, in which Ant-Man is under house arrest and estranged from the Pyms because of some other MCU film I couldn’t remember, but that changes when it turns out that during the first film he somehow became quantumly entangled with the original Wasp, who is believed lost in the sub-atomic realm. The Ant-Man films get by mainly on having their own specific sense of humor (Paul Rudd and Michael Pena are still great) and the writers having fun with the concept of being able to shrink and enlarge objects and people at will. This one also has a more interesting villain with Ghost.

The Crimes That Bind
This Japanese film is based on the last instalment of the Detective Kaga novels by Keigo Higashino. It’s also the last of the film/TV franchise based on those novels. I haven’t watched those, but I have read one of the novels, and I do like lead actor Hiroshi Abe (who has played Kaga before and does so here), so I gave this a shot. The story involves Kaga helping a young police detective investigate the death of a woman in Shiga in part because he suspects the case has a connection to the unsolved mystery of his own mother’s death 16 years earlier in the same town. Like a lot of Japanese murder mysteries, the truth is both insanely convoluted and melodramatic, and the film gets by mainly by good performances from Abe and Nanako Matsuhima (as a theatre owner who was the last person to see the victim alive).

Mission Impossible: Fallout
By now the M:I franchise template is pretty solid – insane action sequences, insane technology, insane plot twists, insane interdepartmental squabbles, and insane Tom Cruise putting stuntmen out of work. And that’s okay, since the franchise tends to work best when the writers and director embrace the utter insanity of the premise, take the “impossible” part literally and run with it. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie does all of that and more. This time out, Ethan Hunt is out to recover three stolen plutonium MacGuffins that a terrorist group called The Apostles (formed from the remains of The Syndicate, which Hunt defeated in the previous film) are attempting to acquire. Insanity ensues.

A Korean monster movie with a slight twist in that it’s a period piece, taking place in the 15th century during the Joseon era. Following reports of a giant monster killing villagers and spreading a plague, King Jungjong asks disgraced general Yun Kyum to investigate whether the “monstrum” is real or a rumor spread by his political enemies to undermine his leadership and stage a coup. It’s a great set-up for what turns out to be a predictable story with average CG and a cop-out ending, and I think director Huh Jong-ho could have waited longer to reveal the truth behind the monstrum. But for all its flaws, I found it interesting.


The Meg
Actually, the film overall was better than I expected – not great, but I was entertained. My main disappointment is that Jason Statham didn’t kill the megalodon by kicking its head off.


A Wrinkle In Time

My Twitter feed was full of people who loved this live-action version of the classic novel (which was one of my junior-high reading staples), and … well, it didn’t work for me. I thought it just tried too hard to be Amazing (cue “this is Amazing” reaction shots from all the characters every time they arrived at a new planet), the dialogue just doesn't flow at all, and the three Mrs Ws are kind of annoying. And while I understand why Ava DuVerny and the writers stripped out the Christian elements of the book, those elements were also crucial to explaining more or less what is going on and why, and what the Mrs Ws have to do with anything – without that context (or a workable replacement), the result is a generic good vs evil arc with no good explanation as to who the Mrs Ws are and why it’s up to the Murry children to fight IT to save their dad.


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

This is the direct sequel to Jurassic World, both in terms of bringing back Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Blue The Velociraptor, and in terms of the fact that the whole story depends on just about everyone besides them being a complete and utter idiot with absolutely no memory of anything that happened in the previous films. The “save the dinos” angle is interesting in that it echoes the original film’s point that the regenerated dinosaurs are in a sense victims of man’s arrogance, but the bad guy plot is beyond ludicrous and the set-up for the next film isn't that convincing.

The balcony is closed,

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Well, sure you do.

I’ll open with the fact that I changed the criteria this year in that I’m no longer limiting myself to music I bought, mainly because my music budget has been slashed considerably to the point that it’s hard enough to put together a Top 10, and there’s almost always going to be more albums I want to buy than I can actually afford. So now I’m including albums that I have streamed online, either via Spotify or NPR First Listen and whatnot.

That expands the field considerably, although not this year, since I only decided to implement this policy a month ago. But this year’s field is certainly bigger than the last couple of years.

As for that field, as usual it seems most of the best albums, as usual, came from the old pros instead of new artists. Even more telling, perhaps, is that it seems 2018 was the year for cover projects, whether paying tribute to a particular artist or covering a classic album. And there’s nothing wrong with that – you don't always have to write your own material, and as long as you bring something new to the table – or can at least demonstrate why the song is worth covering – it’s all good.

Is that a major indication of the state of music in 2018? Probably not. As Tom Waits once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “No one ever says we have enough songs. There’s always room for one more song.”

That said, overall I felt 2018 wasn’t really a knockout year for music. I like everything in this Top 10, but only a couple really made a big impression on me. This was also a year where albums from several artists I really like (Janelle Monae, Neko Case, The Breeders) didn’t really connect with me, whether because they were underwhelming or overhyped – which is of course my problem, not theirs.

So here’s what impressed me the most this year.

TOP 10 DEF LPs OF 2018

10. Angélique Kidjo, Remain In Light (Kravenworks)
In which Kidjo covers an entire Talking Heads album. It works – which is perhaps unsurprising, given how the original was influenced by Afrobeat rhythms. For the most part, Kidjo takes that element and puts it at the forefront. It’s interesting too that she seems to have opted for the Stop Making Sense versions of these songs, tempo-wise. David Byrne reportedly loves it.

9. Ry Cooder The Prodigal Son (Perro Verde/Fantasy)
This has been billed by some music journalists as Ry Cooder’s gospel album, though that’s overselling it. While there’s some gospel covers here, Cooder (who openly admits to being non-religious) is more interested in gospel as an American roots music style – which makes a kind of sense as gospel is probably the only form of American folk music he hasn't done yet. Like with most Cooder albums, the vocals don’t always do the material justice, but musically it’s beautiful, fun and rowdy as required.

8. Hedgehog, Sound Of Life Towards … (Tai He)
Hedgehog are a band from Beijing who specialize in indie rock, albeit the kind of indie rock where they play around with different templates rather than stick to one formula – a little Pixies here, a little Nirvana there, a little Blonde Redhead thataway, etc – although none of those comparisons really tell you what they sound like. In any case, this is (I believe) their tenth album, and it’s a pretty solid set of songs with some pretty nifty arrangements.

7. Mighty Jabronis, Mighty Jabronis (Bandcamp)
The Mighty Jabronis are the latest music project featuring Cat Taylor, who fronted Nashville hardcore legends Rednecks In Pain and later Fun Girls From Mt Pilot. Their main gimmick is to combine punk rock and pro wrestling (and Cat has actually done both), so all their songs are wrestling-themed, as are their cover songs (to include a parody of a Loverboy hit). It may be a gimmick, but it’s a good one and it’s catchy fun. You don’t have to be a fan of wrestling to like this, but it will help you get a lot of the in-jokes.

6. Kim Wilde, Here Come The Aliens (Wildeflower/Edel)
Yes, THAT Kim Wilde (a.k.a. “Kids In America”). She’s still around, and has been recording more or less steadily since her 80s heyday, apart from one ten-year break.. I was a fan of her first four albums released in the early 80s, and this – her 14th album and her first in five years – sounds like she and brother Ricky haven’t changed their production standards (or keyboards) one jot since then, except the guitars are louder to the point that at times it sounds like the 80s-era Billy Idol comeback album we didn’t ask for. The few ballads are too generic for me, but overall I have to say I liked this more than I expected I would. If you like 80s pop ladled with Eurocheese and not taken too seriously, this is actually a lot of fun.

5. Cambodian Space Project, Spaced Out In Wonderland (ABC)
Cambodian Space Project is a Cambodian 60s psychedelic pop tribute band from Cambodia who do a mix of covers and originals. Sadly this may be their final album, as their lead singer, Channthy, was killed in a traffic accident in March last year. I think this is their best album to date, mainly on the strength of their selection of Western classics to which they apply their Cambodian pop-rock sound (like “Paint It Black”, “Proud Mary” (the Ike and Tina version) and “Summer Wine”). The original songs are a mixed bag – some work great, some don’t – but the album is worth the price of admission for their cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”.

4. Jean Grae and Quelle Chris, Everything's Fine (Mello Music Group)
I’m not familiar with Quelle Chris, but I’ve been a fan of Jean Grae from back in the late 90s when she was rapping under the name What What. This is their first full-length collaboration, a concept album about the state of the nation and how all of us – but racial minorities in particular – often say “everything’s fine”, even if we’re on the edge of losing it, because it's what we’re expected to say, whether it’s about our personal lives or the society around us. It’s musically inventive and packs a bigger punch than any so called gangsta rap.

3. Kristin Hersh, Possible Dust Clouds (Fire Records)
This is Hersh’s 11th solo album, and if you’ve ever heard her previous albums, this doesn’t vary too far from her usual songwriting template – in fact, the biggest deviation is the heavy, distorted production and what sounds like greater use of effects pedals, which gives it a more layered sound, though not to the point of being overproduced. What’s really striking is the occasionally ambitious songwriting structures and the fact that Hersh can take the same three or four basic sets of chord changes and somehow still make them sound fresh.

2. Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, Landfall (Nonesuch)
This is music from their multimedia show about Anderson’s experiences when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, so in a sense this is an incomplete experience – but the music holds its own, though it’s when Anderson recites her spoken-word bits that it really comes to life. But the music speaks for itself to the point that the song title is often all you really need to create your own visuals in your head.

1. Juliana Hatfield, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John (American Laundromat)
Just like it says. Hatfield does mostly the hits and a few album tracks, and while most critics have complained that she didn't do enough to take ownership of these songs or mess around with them enough – which is technically true – I thought she struck almost the right balance between tribute and doing her own version. Admittedly there’s a couple of songs where I found myself wishing she’d done just a little bit more with it. That said, her voice is perfectly suited for ONJ’s songs, and she sounds like she really had a blast recording these – and her enthusiasm is contagious, because I’ve really enjoyed listening to it. Your own opinion will likely depend on how much you like ONJ and to what extent you expect cover versions to reinvent the original song.


David Byrne, American Utopia (Todomundo/Nonesuch)
This is Byrne’s seventh solo album, and it’s part of larger multimedia project called Reasons To Be Cheerful, Byrne’s attempt to find optimism in the current grim reality, even if that means pointing out that dogs, chickens and bullets are lucky that they don’t have to worry about sociopolitical problems. Of course, there’s nothing here to beat his Talking Heads material, but taken on its own terms, it’s his best solo effort in awhile.

The Damned, Evil Spirits (Spinefarm/Universal)
The Damned return after a ten-year break with their 11th LP, with more or less the same line-up they've had since 2001’s Grave Disorder (including original members Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible), except that Paul Gray is back on bass. Musically it’s sort of a return to form, with producer Tony Visconti catching them somewhere between Machine Gun Etiquette and Phantasmagoria music-wise, although the horn section may be a bit much. Like all latter-day Damned albums, it pales in comparison to their classics, but there’s a lot to like here – Vanian sounds as good as ever, and a fair number of songs here show they still have a sharp eye for social observation.

Gwenno, Le Kov (Heavenly)
This is Gwenno Saunders’ second solo album after leaving the Pipettes, and where the previous one was a sci-fi concept album sung in Welsh, the main theme here is that all the songs are sung in Cornish as a protest against the British government’s proposal to cut funding for teaching and supporting the Cornish language. In any case, it’s more ethereal retro-psychedelic pop, and I like it.

Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas, The World Of Captain Beefheart (Knitting Factory Records)
12 Beefheart classics served up by Gary Lucas (the last guitarist to serve with Beefheart) and Nona Hendryx filling in on vocals – which sounds weird on paper but it really works. If nothing else it provides a new perspective on Beefheart’s music (the song selection covers a pretty wide range) and shows that even his weirder songs were more mainstream than they sounded at the time.

Thought Gang, Thought Gang (Sacred Bones)
This is the legendary jazz/spoken-word side-project of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, created somewhere between the second season of Twin Peaks and the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, in which Badalamenti and his jazz musicians would improv music to go with whatever weird scenario Lynch would pitch at them. A couple of tracks surfaced on the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack, but the whole album (recorded in the 1990s) was only just released late last year. It sounds more or less the way you’d expect – Lynch fans may dig it, but beyond that, it’s hard to say.

Tony Joe White, Bad Mouthin' (Yep Roc)
This is the final album from Tony Joe White, who passed on shortly after its release. It’s a good note to go out on. Here, White performs the first two songs he ever wrote (before his breakthrough hit “Polk Salad Annie”), but the real attraction here is the covers – mainly classic blues songs, but also “Heartbreak Hotel”, which White transforms into a dark blues lament.


Marc Ribot, Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (Noise Inc/Anti-)
It seems there were quite a few protest albums or songs released this year for some mysterious and inexplicable reason. This was the most interesting of the bunch for me. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of protest songs – a mix of originals and classic songs from World War II anti-Fascist Italian partisans, the US civil rights movement and Mexican protest ballads – inspired not just by the 2016 election and the subsequent return of neo-Nazis, but the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world. Ribot’s eclectic musical style can make for some uneasy listening at times, and I think the older songs work better in the sense that they’re more timeless (as opposed to the new songs that point fingers and name names, which is fair, but I don’t see myself listening to many of these five years from now). But it’s a great idea, and it helps that Ribot roped in some great guest vocalists – Steve Earle, Meshell Ndegeocello, Justin Vivian Bond, Fay Victor, Sam Amidon, and Ohene Cornelius. Oh, and Tom Waits, whose rendition of “Bella Ciao” is worth the price of admission alone.


Metric, Art of Doubt (BMG)
For me, Metric is one of those bands that put out one great album (Fantasies) and – at least for me – have not yet managed to clear that bar again. On first pass, their latest seemed to be trying a little too hard to come up with anthemic air-punchers, but with each new listen, some songs are starting to grab my attention, especially the title track. I didn’t get a copy until around November, and sometimes it takes a while for an album to win me over – that may well be the case here.


Banäna Deäthmüffins, Kawaii Five-0 (Terribly Frog Records)

Yes, it’s a shameless plug. But why not? Yr all lucky I didn't put it in my Top 10.


Various Artists, Make Mine Mondo! (Ace)
This collects novelty songs, garage rock, rockabilly and 60s pop psychedelica from Doré Records, a small LA label run by Lew Bedell, a former stand-up comic who welcomed just about any oddball who showed up with a master tape looking for a record deal (which included Kim Fowley, Mike Curb and Shel Talmy, among others). Bobby Troup is probably the most recognizable name here, but the whole comp is a lot of fun – not just for the Doctor Demento fodder (The Zanies’ “The Mad Scientist” and “The Blob”, The Altecs’ “Gorilla Hunt”, Johnny O’s “Meet The Bongo Man”) but also bands like The Wrench, Chuck Miles and The Styles, Spencer’s Van Dykes, and Basil and the Baroques, among others.

Tomorrow: the films!

Mondo bizarro,

This is dF
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Because you can’t possibly have enough “Best Of The Year” lists on the Internet.

And I should mention right off the bat that I managed to see exactly twelve (12) new films this year, and two of them don’t count because they were released in 2016, so this is less of a Top 10 and more of a Literally Every New Film I Saw in 2017 + Two From 2016.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: If yr favorite movie of 2017 isn’t here, it’s likely because (1) I didn’t get a chance to see it, (2) it hasn’t been released in Hong Kong yet, or (3) I did see it but didn’t like it as much as you did. Also, if some of these seem kind of old, it’s because their release date was 2016 for yr country, but 2017 for Hong Kong. See?


1. Silence
Martin Scorsese’s epic film about two 17th century Jesuit priests in the who travel to very non-Christian-friendly Japan to find their missing mentor. Some may find it slow, but I found it very engrossing as the priests are increasingly forced to question their faith as they encounter the suffering of persecuted Christians and are persecuted themselves. The film asks hard questions about the balance between true faith and moral pragmatism and provides no easy answers – which is wise, because no film is going to settle centuries-old theological quagmires in a few hours. It’s thought-provoking and exhausting and totally worth it.

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
You can read my longer review here, but long-story short: This is the best Disney-era Star Wars movie to date (and the other two are really good, mind), and possibly the third-best Star Wars film ever made. It’s got all the action and humor you want in a Star Wars film, plus extra points for having the guts to mess with the formula enough to (hopefully) take the series in new directions without being held back by the baggage of the earlier films.

3. Arrival
Based on a Ted Chiang short story, this film starts in familiar territory – mysterious aliens arrive in ships that hover over the earth – and then eschews blockbuster action for a thoughtful story in which linguist Louise Banks is brought in by the US military to try and communicate with the aliens. The sequences of decoding alien language are fascinating, and the movie explores a couple of distinct themes: the risks of miscommunication and the consequences of knowing the future, and the impact this may or may not have on our decisions. My kind of sci-fi.

4. Blade Runner 2049
I don’t know that we needed a sequel to Blade Runner 35 years after the original came out, but if we had to have one, this is pretty much what you’d want – a very good-looking film that takes the same world and creates a story that doesn’t ape the first film and doesn’t depend on you having seen the first one to be understood. Here, replicants are integrated into society as a servant class – one replicant, K, works as a blade runner and by chance discovers the 30-year-old remains of a replicant that appears to have given birth, which has serious implications all round. Like the first film, BR2049 explores themes of identity, memory and sentience, but in a more expanded form – and thankfully it doesn’t take the most predictable path storywise.

5. Hidden Figures
The (mostly) true story of Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan – three black women who played key roles in the early days of the NASA space program. As with most Hollywood biopics, the movie simplifies a complex story and setting with fictional composite characters, and isn't above swapping historical accuracy for drama – but it does a good job of getting the basic story across in terms of what Goble, Jackson and Vaughan accomplished and the racial challenges they faced in doing so. Also, I likes me a good NASA drama – and the three main actresses (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe) are very, very good. It feels a bit TV-movie-of-the-week, but it tells a good story that (hopefully) will encourage people to look up the real history of Goble, Jackson and Vaughan.

6. Hell or High Water
Crime thriller which the Howard Brothers rob branches of the same bank that is threatening to foreclose on their family ranch, while a Texas Ranger close to retirement tries to figure out who they are and where they’ll hit next. The characters are rather cliché (one brother is the handsome reluctant bank robber, the other is the unpredictable loose cannon, and the Texas Ranger is the Crusty Cynical But Smart Lawman), but it’s reasonably well written for this kind of genre, and good performances all around, particularly Jeff Bridges as the Ranger.

7. War for the Planet Of The Apes
The third installment of the reboot series, in which Caesar is forced to hunt down a renegade US Army Colonel whose men attacked Caesar’s home and killed some of his family. The film introduces some more tropes that will eventually lead to the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ scenario of the original film, but also focuses on Caesar’s struggle to not let the war turn him into Koba, the human-hating ape that rebelled against Caesar in the previous film. I thought the Colonel character was a little too influenced by Colonel Kurtz, but Woody Harrelson is generally good to watch. Overall, it’s pretty good, and marks a rare example of a trilogy where the third film is better than the first (though I think the second one is arguably the best of the three, but it’s an admittedly close call).

8. Alien: Covenant
Ridley Scott’s follow-up to Prometheus, in which a ship on its way to colonize a planet is damaged en route, and while the crew assesses the situation, they pick up a radio signal from a different planet. Unwisely, they go check it out, and that’s where we eventually find out what happened to the survivors of the previous film. Sound familiar? One reviewer described this film as an Alien Greatest Hits comp, and I can’t add much to that – it’s another compendium of body horror, suspicious androids, humans making bad decisions, etc, and it really doesn't add much new to the series. And yet Scott still manages to make it riveting viewing. It’s alright as Alien films go, but it’s getting hard to see the point of doing these if they’re not going to take it in a new direction as Prometheus seemed to promise.

9. Wonder Woman
Diana, Warrior Princess! Wonder Woman finally gets her own movie, in which her life on the hidden Amazon island of Themiscyra is disrupted when pilot Steve Trevor accidentally brings WW1 to the island. Believing WW1 to be the work of Ares, the god who is prophesied to return from exile and get humans to destroy each other, Diana sets off with Trevor to find Ares and stop him. Overall I think they did the character justice, and Gal Gadot is great, but I think they spent way too long on the exposition/origin part, and as superhero stories go, it doesn’t offer any real surprises. That said, it’s still well above average for the genre.

10. Going In Style
A remake of the 1979 film in which three senior citizens decide to stage a bank robbery after the company they work for is bought out and liquidates their pensions as part of the merger. The film gets by mainly on the strength of its cast – Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin, who are funny and likeable. Apart from that, the film suffers in comparison to the original film, which was darker but had a lot to say about growing old in America. On the other hand, if you prefer a version of that story that’s a light-hearted caper film with happy endings for everyone, maybe you’ll like this one better.


The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years
I missed this when it came out in theatres, but in 2017 I watched it on a long-haul flight – three times. I’ve always known the Beatles cut their teeth doing lots of live gigs before they started recording, and I’ve seen a few clips like the Ed Sullivan appearances and the screaming teenage girls, etc, but this documentary really showcases just how great and exciting a live band they were, and tells the story well about their various live tours, and why they eventually stopped doing concerts altogether.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
Another 2016 documentary, this one by Werner Herzog, which takes a look at the coming “connected world”, in which everything will be connected to the internet and our lives will increasingly revolve around digital services – likely to the point of dependency in some form or other. This being Herzog, it’s not a chronicle of how these technologies evolved and how they work, but rather a meditation on the potential impact they have for humanity – both the positive and the negative. Herzog treats the subject like a museum tour, marveling at the possibilities of such technologies yet wondering about the dark side of ti all – from online gaming addiction, doxxing, and social media abuse (such as one family whose daughter died in a car crash, only for the gruesome crash photos to go viral, after which trolls emailed them to the family for kicks) to the notion that as the internet becomes the critical infrastructure on which society is based, it will take one inevitable solar flare of sufficient size to send us back to the 21st century equivalent of the Stone Age. It’s by no means comprehensive or conclusive, but it’s a unique approach to a topic I happen to cover as part of my day job.


Nocturnal Animals
A lot of people raved about how good this was, but I tried watching it on a long-haul flight and I got through about 15 minutes worth before I got bored and turned it off.


The Girl With All The Gifts
A zombie movie with a difference – well, potentially. I read the novel by MR (Mike) Carey and loved it – and Carey wrote the novel in parallel with the screenplay version, so my assumption is the film sticks close to the basic post-apocalyptic story of a young girl being studied by military scientists because – unlike other people who have been turned into zombies – she can still think and learn. Somehow I missed it. Oh well, I'll see it one day.

The balcony is closed,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
And here we are again.

Only this time, this may be the most pointless Top 10 I’ve done, since I only bought 12 new releases this year (with another four gifted to me by friends), although the ten finalists are all worthy of being in a Best Of list.

Upon reflection, I suppose that’s as much the result of me being more judicious about my music purchases as it is not hearing enough good music worth buying. I do find myself thinking, “This sounds alright, but am I still going to be listening to this a year from now?”

Maybe that’s an unfair metric. Or maybe I’ve just listened to so much music over the years that I really need something to make a big enough impression on me to consider it worth spending money on. I’ve also found that despite digital downloads being cheaper, I’m more cautious about buying them because – unlike physical CDs – I can't return them, regift them or sell them second-hand. Once I’ve clicked the button, it's a lifetime commitment. 

Well, anyway. I’m happy with the ten selections here, so close enough, eh Jim?

DISCLAIMER: Based on music I actually bought between December 2016 and November 2017, and therefore a useless metric for everyone else.


1. Sparks, Hippopotamus (BMG/The End Records)
This is Sparks’ 23rd studio album, and their first since 2009 (not counting their 2015 collaboration with Franz Ferdinand, FFS). It’s arguably the album I was most looking forward to in advance of its release, and it was everything I hoped it would be – well-crafted and slightly eclectic pop rock with satirical lyrics. Who else would come up with pop songs about IKEA fetishes, an impatient God, French film directors, a reality show starring the Macbeths, a hippo in a pool, the wonders of the missionary position, and a town where everyone is inexplicably giddy? Wonderful.

2. Big Walnuts Yonder, Big Walnuts Yonder (Sargent House)
From an album I was expecting to an album that came out of nowhere – I only found out about it via a Cargo Collective ad. It’s a supergroup project of sorts featuring Mike Watt, Nick Reinhart (Tera Melos), Nels Cline (Wilco) and Greg Saunier (Deerhoof). According to legend, they formed the band in 2008 but it took until 2014 for them to actually get in the same room together, and then they recorded the whole album in 72 hours. The result is a collection of decent songs with some truly whacked-out guitar parts and arrangements that have kept me increasingly fascinated with this for the last six months.

3. DiCaprio, I Went To The Mall Yesterday And I Got Sick (Bandcamp)
This is a band based in Atlanta hipped to me by The Holloways, and on first pass it reminded me of a number of underground 80s bands – bass-driven, atonal guitars, sprechgesang vocals veering between sarcasm and boredom, it’s all here. The closest analogy I can think of is Flipper minus the booze and distortion pedals, which is probably wrong. No matter – my first reaction was “What the hell?”, but on repeated listens I really started to dig it.

4. The Como Mamas, Move Upstairs (Daptone)
The Como Mamas are a gospel trio from (yes) Como, Mississippi that have been around for decades but hadn’t recorded anything until Daptone Records (who else?) signed them. This is their second LP, and it’s an inspiring slice of old-time funk/soul gospel that sounds like it was recorded in the late 60s. (In fact, I first heard the track “Out Of The Wilderness” on a comp of mostly older gospel songs, and I assumed it was from that era – I was surprised to find it was recorded in 2017.) If there’s a downside, it's that structurally many of the songs follow a similar template. But I still enjoyed this a lot.

5. Primus, The Desaturating Seven (Prawn Song/ATO)
The previous Primus album was a cover of the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory soundtrack. Their latest is a concept album based on a children’s book about seven rainbow-eating goblins. And it sounds pretty much the way you’d expect a Primus album to sound regardless of song topic. Which is terrible if you always hated Primus, but great if yr a fan – provided yr a fan that doesn’t wish they would just keep doing Tommy The Cat and Winona’s Big Brown Beaver over and over again. I’m in the latter category, and I liked this just fine.

6. The Fall, New Facts Emerge (Cherry Red)
As reliable as the sun rising in the morning, Mark E Smith is back with album no. 32, which features most of the same line-up he’s employed since 2006 – a record by Fall standards. The exception is keyboardist Eleni Poulou, who quit last year. The remaining band have never sounded tighter – almost every song here is a solid foundation for Smith to carry on snarling and grousing about whatever’s bothering him this year. On the downside, Poulou’s absence is noticeable in the sense that keyboards have almost always been part of the Fall sound – so it feels like there’s something lacking here. Even so, this is their best since Your Future Our Clutter.

7. Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black (Anti-)
This is Mavis Staples’ third solo outing with producer Jeff Tweedy. I missed the first two, but I’m glad I didn't miss this one. As the title suggests, Staples has something to say about the problems of ongoing racism in America, but refuses to give in to hate – ultimately her answer is love. Not every song here is sociopolitical, and the ones that are go for blunt truths without resorting to rants or diatribes. A couple of tracks feel a bit weak songwriting wise, but Staples has a great voice to make up for it.

8. The Moonlandingz, Interplanetary Class Classics (Transgressive Records)
This is a project from members of two British groups (Fat White Family and Eccentronic Research Council) that started as a fictional band created for ERC’s spoken-word project about the band’s lead singer, Johnny Rocket. At some point they decided to do a whole album as that band, with Sean Lennon producing at least some of it. The result is seedy, psychedelic electro-glam with surprisingly catchy tunes and an ending track that puts guest vocalist Yoko Ono’s unique singing style to very effective use.

9. Oumou Sangare, Mogoya (No Format)
I’d never heard of Oumou Sangare before, but she’s been around since the late 80s and is a very big deal in her home country of Mali, having defined the “Wassoulou” music genre. That said, she doesn’t get into a recording studio often – this is only her fifth LP and her first in eight years. And this time out she’s elected to expand her sound musically with the help of producers from France and Europe. Which may be why the musical arrangements really stand out for me – Sangare’s voice is great but it’s the multi-layered backing vocals and musical tracks that flesh out the album into something special.

10. Bootsy Collins, World Wide Funk (Mascot Records)
Bootsy is back, although he’s never really been away, having kept busy in various music projects since Parliament-Funkadelic came to an end. This is his first solo album in six years, and you couldn't really ask for a better start than the title track, complete with opening narration by Iggy Pop, that reminds everyone why Collins is one of the best bass guitarists in the business. It’s jam-packed with guest stars, from Snoop Dogg and Chuck D to Buckethead (as well as P-Funk vets Dennis Chambers and Eric Gales). It’s a bit of a mixed bag – the lyrics are mainly more party-party-carpe-diem than P-Funk comic-book madness, though this ain’t P-Funk, so fair enough. Still, there are also a handful of ballads and standard R&B that seem too generic and bog down the proceedings. But the classic-funk tracks are well worth the price of admission. The tribute to Bernie Worrell is a nice touch too.


Public Service Broadcasting, Every Valley (Test Card Recordings/Play It Again Sam)
PSB’s gimmick is creating electronic pop-rock music for imaginary documentaries using soundbites from actual documentaries. I was really knocked out by their previous album, The Race For Space, which covered the race to the moon in the 1960s. This time, they’ve done an album about the rise and fall of the Welsh coal industry – which is obscure enough to be interesting, but somehow this just didn’t push all the buttons that the previous album did. It’s not just the topic – musically there are some really great moments, but other times it’s pretty straightforward Brit-pop.

Tamikrest, Kidal (Glitterbeat)
Fourth album from the desert-blues band from Mali that isn’t Tinariwen. Which I don’t mean in a bad way – Tamikrest and Tinariwen are both good bands, and both have distinctive sounds, but listening to this isn’t much of a different experience from listening to all their other albums. It’s good, mind you, but it just didn’t really stand out for me.


The Beatles, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Apple Records)
Perhaps not their best album but arguably their most influential, Sgt Pepper gets a new stereo mix from Giles Martin for its 50th anniversary (along with tons of outtakes), plus 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane', which weren’t on the original LP but were created in the sessions that led up to Sgt Pepper. I spent a lot of time listening to this side by side with the original mix, which has always kind of bugged me. The Beatles actually recorded it in mono, which meant the stereo mixes resulted in things like Ringo’s drum kit getting shoved into one speaker – which was noticeable to me because I used to listen to this album on a stereo with one speaker broken, so I could only listen to literally half the album (the left half of the right half). For my money, the new mix sounds fantastic – it’s stills stereo, but it sounds a lot fuller and the drums are more centered and muscular. And you can hear everything so much more clearly, particularly the harmonizing vocals. As the saying goes, it may not have been broke, but they certainly fixed it.


Various Artists, True Faith (Mojo)
This is one of those comp CDs Mojo magazine puts together every month. For this one, the theme is rock/country/blues gospel, assembled to complement that month’s cover story of Bob Dylan’s gospel years, and an excuse to create a comp that includes a previously unreleased rehearsal version of Dylan’s “Slow Train”. But there’s a lot of great classic tracks here – Sister Rosetta Tharpe & Marie Knight, Mahalia Jackson, Staples Singers, Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Charlie Rich, Dorothy Love Coates and more. Special shoutout to the Como Mamas track, which hipped me to their new album which made my Top 10.


U2, Songs Of Experience (Island)
The new U2 album dropped on December 1, which is right after my self-imposed cutoff date. And I’ve found that with latter-day U2 releases, I need to give myself time to digest it fully before passing judgment – if the first listen doesn't totally blow me away, I might warm to it after a couple more times. The iTunes preview suggests there’s some good stuff here, but I want to give it a fair hearing before I pass judgement on it. So you may be seeing it on next year’s list.

Tomorrow: the films!

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Because you can’t possibly have enough “Best Of The Year” lists on the Internet.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: If yr favorite movie of 2016 isn’t here, it’s likely because (1) I didn’t get a chance to see it, (2) it hasn’t been released in Hong Kong yet, or (3) I did see it but didn’t like it as much as you did. Also, if some of these seem kind of old, it’s because their release date was 2015 for yr country, but 2016 for Hong Kong. See?

Also, I didn’t actually watch that many movies in 2016, due to the aforementioned change in work schedule. I’m hoping to change that this year.


1. A Perfect Day
2. The Big Short
3. Rogue One
4. Ghostbusters
5. Eye In The Sky
6. Hail, Caesar!
7. Trumbo
8. The Hateful Eight
9. Zootopia
10. The Mermaid


Star Trek: Beyond
The Secret Life Of Pets
The Nice Guys


A Bigger Splash


The Magnificent 7


Independence Day: Resurgence




Independence Day: Resurgence

The long version, blah blah blah )

The balcony is closed,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Yes, I still do this.

And this year, we continued the trend of the last few years in which I’m buying a lot less new music than I used to. In fact, the releases you see below are pretty much every LP/EP I bought or acquired in 2016. So rather than do a Top 20, I’m going to do a Top 10 and categorize everything else under “Honorable Mentions”.

Ironically, there were plenty more new releases I was interested in this year, but thanks to the online preview ability we have these days (and I’m pretty sure that is what’s makes a huge difference in my buying patterns), I passed on them. Either I wasn’t that knocked out by what I heard, or it was okay but I just couldn’t imagine myself still listening to it a year from now. I don't think every album has to be an instant classic, of course – and indeed the majority of this list wouldn't qualify for that description. But there wasn’t enough incentive to click “buy”, I suppose.

The other thing I should address is the fact that three albums here were Obvious Candidates for every Best of 2016 list in the Western hemisphere. You’d be hard pressed to find a Top 10 list that doesn’t have David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and/or Nick Cave on it. Of course, there will probably always be debate on whether any of these albums would get as much critical acclaim if they had been made under different, less tragic circumstances (i.e. Bowie and Cohen dying shortly after the album's release, and the death of Cave’s son Arthur). But I feel pretty strongly that all three of them warrant the hype on their own merit, if only because (1) I liked the four Blackstar tracks I heard before Bowie died, and (2) I liked the lead-off single from Skeleton Tree before I even knew about Cave’s son.

Blimey, what a year, eh?

DISCLAIMER: Based on music I actually bought between December 2015 and November 2016, and therefore a useless metric for everyone else.


1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd)
2. David Bowie, Blackstar (ISO/Columbia)
3. The Claypool Lennon Delerium, Monolith Of Phobos (PIAS/Prawn Song/Chimera)
4. De La Soul, And The Anomymous Nobody (AOI)
5. Shonen Knife, Adventure (Damnably)
6. Bob Mould, Patch The Sky (Merge)
7. The Thermals, We Disappear (Saddle Creek)
8. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker (Columbia)
9. Yello, Toy (Polydor/Island)
10. Fantastic Negrito, The Last Days Of Oakland (Blackball Universe)


John Carpenter, Lost Themes II (Sacred Bones)
Jambinai, A Hermitage (Bella Union)
Lush, Blind Spot EP (Edamame)
Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression (Caroline)
Dan Sartain, Century Plaza (One Little Indian)
Seratones, Seratones On Audiotree Live (Audiotree)
Tacocat, Lost Time (Hardly Art)
Tricot, Kabuku EP (Bakuretsu Records)
Underworld, Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future (Caroline)
Tony Joe White, Rain Crow (Yep Roc)


Kate Bush, Before The Dawn (Fish People)


Richard Michael John Hall, Space Rock (Bandcamp)


Banäna Deäthmüffins, Political Songs For Miley Cyrus To Sing


Extended play! The details! )

Up next: the films!

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Because you can’t possibly have enough “Best Of The Year” lists on the Internet.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: If yr favorite movie of 2015 isn’t here, it’s likely because (1) I didn’t get a chance to see it, (2) it hasn’t been released in Hong Kong yet, or (3) I did see it but didn’t like it as much as you did. Also, if some of these seem kind of old, it’s because their release date was 2014 for yr country, but 2015 for Hong Kong. See?


1. Inside Out
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. Whiplash
5. Ex Machina
6. Selma
7. Chappie
8. Birdman
9. What We Do In The Shadows
10. Bridge Of Spies


The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation


Jurassic World




Kingsman: The Secret Service


Terminator: Genesys

Director's cut!  )

And that’s that for 2015.

Same time next year,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Music now. Films tomorrow.

This time last year, the main theme was how little music I found worth buying in 2014:

Maybe it was just a slow year. Or maybe I’ve finally become like my friends who have decided that all modern music sucks and the only good “new” music is old music you haven’t heard before. I’m not convinced of that. Then again, most “new” music I like is really either old bands who are still around or new bands looking to recreate old music.

Anyway, we’ll put the theory to the test in 2015.

We did. And the theory has legs, because 2015 was another relatively uninspiring year in terms of “must listen” music. I only bought 22 albums/EPs this year (a couple of which seemed like a good idea at the time but now make me lament the fact that there are no refunds on iTunes).

That’s not to say the 20 albums on this year’s list are shite. They all have their merits. But only about a third of them were genuinely exciting experiences for me.

So, like last year, this is more of a list of all the music I felt was worth spending money on in 2015 – or at least ones I could actually get copies of. There were a number of new releases I wanted to buy but couldn’t because they weren’t for sale out here in Hong Kong (even on iTunes), and I couldn’t find physical copies when I went to the US in October.

So that’s why new albums by Calexico and Tricot are missing, for example.

Anyway, here’s what I spent 2015 listening to.

DISCLAIMER: Based on music I actually bought/acquired/downloaded/streamed between December 2014 and November 2015, and therefore a useless metric for everyone else.

TOP 20 DEF LPs/EPs OF 2015

1. Public Service Broadcasting, The Race For Space (Test Card Recordings)
2. The Sonics, This is The Sonics (Revox)
3. John Carpenter, Lost Themes (Sacred Bones/Rodeo Suplex)
4. Algiers, Algiers (Matador)
5. Johnny Dowd, That's Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse (Mother Jinx)
6. FFS, FFS (Domino)
7. BadBadNotGood feat. Ghostface Killah, Sour Soul (Lex Records)
8. Violent Femmes, Happy New Year (Add It Up)
9. They Might Be Giants, Why? (Idlewild)
10. The Fall, Sub-Lingual Tablet (Cherry Red)
11. Los Plantronics, Surfing Times (Jansen Plateproduksjon)
12. Dog Party, Volume 4 (Asian Man)
13. Los Tiki Phantoms, Los Tiki Phantoms y El Misterio del Talismán (Discmedi)
14. Dave Cloud and the Gospel Of Power, Today Is The Day They Take Me Away (Fire Records)
15. Motörhead, Bad Magic (UDR)
16. Gwenno , Y Dydd Olaf (Heavenly/PIAS)
17. Rocket From The Tombs, Black Record (Fire Records)
18. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities To Love (Sub Pop)
19. Dengue Fever, The Deepest Lake (Tuk Tuk)
20. The Mutants, Tokyo Nights (Killer Tracks)

Details, blah blah blah ... )

And there you are.

PRODUCTION NOTE: For long-time readers who actually keep up with this kind of thing, I decided to drop this year’s Pre-Show Awards due to a lack of compelling material, apart from the cover art, which I decided to work into the main list.

Tomorrow: the films!

Turning Japanese,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Well, here we are again.

If there’s one thing I can say about 2014 in terms of new music, it’s this: there wasn’t a whole lot out there that really excited me.

Indeed, this is the first time in ages that I thought I might have to do just a Top 10 instead of a Top 20, as I wouldn't have enough new music to do the latter. As it is, I ended up with just 21 albums/EPs, so in a way this is more of a list of everything I felt was worth spending money on (and even then, one of them was given to me for free).

Part of this was due to budget constraints – which is ironic, because I now use iTunes to buy a lot of music, which is far cheaper than buying CDs from Amazon. But the temptation with iTunes is to buy more because it’s cheaper. So I do have to watch it. That said, I didn’t often come across music that made me think, “I MUST HAVE THIS.”

Maybe it was just a slow year. Or maybe I’ve finally become like my friends who have decided that all modern music sucks and the only good “new” music is old music you haven’t heard before. I’m not convinced of that. Then again, most “new” music I like is really either old bands who are still around or new bands looking to recreate old music.

Anyway, we’ll put the theory to the test in 2015.

Meanwhile, here’s what I listened to this year.

DISCLAIMER: Based on music I actually bought/acquired/downloaded/streamed between December 2013 and November 2014, and therefore a useless metric for everyone else. Also, the rankings on this list are sort of like Whose Line Is It Anyway: everything's made up and the points don't matter.

TOP 20 DEF LPs/EPs OF 2014

1. The Cambodian Space Project, Whiskey Cambodia (Metal Postcard)
2. Shonen Knife, Overdrive (Damnably)
3. Primus, Primus and The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble (ATO/Prawn Song)
4. Tinariwen, Emmaar (Anti-)
5. The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, Midnight Sun (Chimera Music)
6. The Budos Band, Burnt Offering (Daptone Records)
7. The Bombay Royale, The Island Of Dr Electrico (Hope Street Recordings)
8. Bob Mould, Beauty And Ruin (Merge)
9. Dan Sartain, Dudesblood (One Little Indian)
10. Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs, All Her Fault (Transdreamer)
11. Nanowar Of Steel, A Knight At The Opera (Nanowar CC)
12. Tom Vek, Luck (Moshi Moshi)
13. Archie Bronson Outfit, Wild Crush (Domino)
14. The Pancakes, Sometimes When We Cry (Rewind Records)
15. OFF!, Wasted Years (Vice)
16. Special Thanks x Mix Market, Rock 'n' Roll (K.O.G.A. Records)
17. The Raveonettes, Pe'ahi (Beat Dies Records)
18. Blonde Redhead, Barragán (Hostess)
19. Allah-Las, Worship The Sun (Innovative Leisure)
20. Neil Young, A Letter Home (Reprise/Third Man)

Inquire within for more details )

And there it is.

Same time next year,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Oh yes, we make music lists. Especially at the end of the year.

It’s tradition, you see.

And here at Team Frog International, part of that tradition is opening with some miscellaneous awards that are basically an excuse to mention other albums I bought/acquired/downloaded this year.

Although actually, I only bought/acquired/downloaded 21 new releases this year, so actually there’s not much more to add on that criteria. But there’s always streaming – and cheap jokes – so I do have enough to fill out a blog entry (which is of course the whole point of doing this).

So here we go:


U2, Songs Of Innocence (Island)

By default, obviously. Everyone knows about that Apple marketing stunt. The actual album is a major improvement over No Line On The Horizon, but it takes until the fourth or fifth track for the album to really kick into gear. There’s some worthy songs here, but as U2 albums go, it’s pretty hit-and-miss. There’s also the elephant in the room, which is this: if Apple hadn’t put this in my iTunes for free, would I have bought a copy? The answer is: probably not.


David Bowie, “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)”

After all the hoopla over Bowie’s surprise return in 2013 with “Where Are We Now?”, I’d have thought that any new music from The Dame would have warranted more attention than this song got. Released along with the Nothing Has Changed compilation, it’s a jazzy noir ballad recorded with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, and it’s pretty cool (if you like jazzy noir ballads, that is). Maybe it’s because I’m outside of the US media hype bubble, but it didn’t seem to generate that much excitement. All I can say is that if it’s a sign of things to come with his next LP, I’m looking forward to it.


Babymetal, Babymetal (Toy’s Factory)

It’s a prefab J-Pop teenybop dance trio singing death metal songs about chocolate and fox spirits. That beats the crap out of anything that popped up in the Billboard charts or on American Idol. You know this.


Pink Floyd, The Endless River (Columbia)

Okay, this is kind of a joke category. But Floyd’s final album – which is based on outtakes recorded by Rick Wright during the Division Bell sessions – is in essence a tribute to Wright, who died in 2006, making clear just how essential he was to the Floyd “sound”. More than that though, the album’s four “sides” do frequently remind you of earlier classic Floyd albums, musically. That’s also the album’s main weakness – it reminds you that Floyd’s best work, and their days of innovation that made their classic stuff so great, are long behind them. That said, it's a pleasure to listen to them play. As a nostalgia trip, it’s actually a nice album.


Richard MF Hall, "1974 Syd Barrett Sessions (finished)"

You can read the full backstory here. The short version is this: EMI talked Syd Barrett into going back into the studio in 1974, hoping to get another album out of him. What they got was a few days worth of recording and some barely started tracks before Syd left the music business for good. Richard Hall thoughtfully fleshed them out a little with some added layers of his own. The objective wasn’t to make a “completed” Syd Barrett album but to demonstrate the recordings weren’t the noodlings of a madman but the basis for what could have been a great Barrett album if he’d had the capacity to finish it. In which case, mission accomplished. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating music experiment.


Prince and 3rd Eye Girl, Plectrum Electrum (Warner Bros)

Prince blessed us with two albums in 2014. Neither of them was especially awesome, but this was the better of the two, thanks to backing band 3rd Eye Girl, who are quite good, even if they essentially serve as a Prince gimmick so he can showcase his long-forgotten guitar skills (which are, incidentally, considerable). It’s okay for what it is – if you like yr recycled rock riffs chunky and funky, then this is pretty good. Essential? Well, no.


Prince and 3rd Eye Girl, Plectrum Electrum (Warner Bros)

See above.


Various Artists, Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985 (Light In The Attic)

Leave it to Light In The Attic to release an anthology of obscure songs by North American Aboriginal artists recorded over a 19-year period, collected by Vancouver-based record archaeologist and curator Kevin “Sipreano” Howes. From the press materials: “You’ll hear Arctic garage rock from the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, melancholy Yup’ik folk from Alaska, and hushed country blues from the Wagmatcook First Nation reserve in Nova Scotia. You’ll hear echoes of Neil Young, Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Cash, and more among the songs, but injected with Native consciousness, storytelling, poetry, history, and ceremony.” Namedropping aside, it’s a fascinating untold chapter in 20th Century music, and a lot of these tracks deserve a wider audience.


Kate Bush, The Dreaming (EMI)

I made this category up because (1) I didn’t buy any reissues in 2014 and (2) I spent a lot of time listening to this. Kate Bush is one of those artists I listened to a lot in the 80s, but lost track of as I moved on to other kinds of music (and ended up selling a lot of my old cassettes for needed cash). Inspired by all the ink over her comeback show in the UK, I saw this in a used CD shop and decided it was time to revisit her music. I’m glad I did. It’s amazing this album was considered a commercial failure at the time because it was too eccentric for the pop charts even by Bush’s own standards. To me it sounds fresh, original, inventive and brave. It may be over 30 years old, but it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.


In the category of Albums I Bought:

And in the category of Albums I Didn’t Buy:

Tomorrow: the Big List!

The suspense is killing you,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Because you can’t possibly have enough “Best Of The Year” lists on the Internet.

Films now. Music soon.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: If yr favorite movie of 2014 isn’t here, it’s likely because (1) I didn’t get a chance to see it, (2) it hasn’t been released in Hong Kong yet, or (3) I did see it but didn’t like it as much as you did. Also, if some of these seem kind of old, it’s because their release date was 2013 for yr country, but 2014 for Hong Kong. Get me?


1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Interstellar
3. The Wolf Of Wall Street
4. Edge Of Tomorrow
5. Lucy
6. Godzilla
7. A Most Wanted Man
8. The Railway Man
9. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
10. The Monuments Men


American Hustle
Only Lovers Left Alive
X-Men: Days Of Future Past


Kiki's Delivery Service


The Two Faces Of January


Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Want capsule reviews? Cos we got some right here )

Tomorrow: the music! 

dF out

defrog: (Default)
Here’s a sort of book meme:

io9 has posted a list of 21 of “the most influential science fiction and fantasy books”. It’s not meant to be definitive or complete. But a list is a list.

And this is what they came up with:

1) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
2) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

3) Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney
4) Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
5) War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
6) Foundation by Isaac Asimov
7) Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

8) Dangerous Visions, Edited by Harlan Ellison
8) Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
9) Ringworld by Larry Niven

10) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
11) Neuromancer by William Gibson
12) Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

13) A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin
14) Kindred by Octavia Butler
15) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
16) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
17) The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
18) The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
19) Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
20) The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

21) Dune - Frank Herbert

You can read the justifications here.

The ones in bold font are ones that I’ve read.

The ones in italics are ones I have considered reading.

As for the rest … either I have no real interest or (in the case of Tolkien and Herbert) I’ve attempted to read them and gave up.

The same goes for Ursula Le Guin, though not for that specific book. I tried The Dispossessed and couldn’t get into it, but I could be tempted to try another one of her books. Certainly enough people whose opinion I respect have suggested I try the Earthsea books. So I can see myself giving her another try.

Octavia Butler I’m less sure about. I read one of her Patternmaster books (Mind Of My Mind) and while I actually finished it, it didn’t really do much for me. Maybe some of you can advise me if Kindred is worth trying.

I’m sure some may question the presence of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. I’m not entirely convinced about the latter. I’ve never read the books, but the justification provided by io9 isn't very strong – I don’t know if simply spawning a crop of cash-in imitators counts as “changing SF/F forever”. And anyway, it’s not like overthrowing authoritarian regimes hasn’t been a SF/F staple since at least the 1930s.

However, I think an argument can be made for Harry Potter, in the sense that I can’t name another book series in the history of book publishing where acquiring and reading the latest episode became a global group activity. Maybe it happens with the latest Game Of Thrones novels, but not nearly on the same level.

Speaking of which, I’m still not interested in A Game Of Thrones. At least not right now. I’m not ruling it out, but it’s not a big priority for me right now. I’m also indifferent to Samuel R. Delaney. I’ve never read him, but the books of his I’ve seen on shelves didn’t really interest me. Maybe one day they will.

As for the ones I have read … the only one I’m not that excited about is 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. It’s good, and I won’t deny Verne’s influence in SF, but I found it tedious at times. Apart from that, I’d highly recommend any of the others.

I’m gonna change yr life,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Speaking of Classic Rock™ ...

I posted this on Facebook recently, but there’s no reason not to post it here.


Name ten albums that have stuck with you over the years

By no means comprehensive or definitive, but these are ten that definitely stick out.



1. David Bowie, Diamond Dogs
Bowie’s homage to 1984, and arguably my favorite Bowie album ever. There’s an otherworldly vibe to it that you just don’t get from his other classic albums, as though he had to tap into an alien universe to get it done.

2. Husker Du, Flip Your Wig
Definitely the most solid Husker Du album, and a major influence on my own attempts to play the guitar.

3. Devo, Freedom Of Choice
My first Devo album, which means that every song is ingrained into my skull, as is Devo’s satirical art-pop theories on devolution.

4. Butthole Surfers, Independent Worm Saloon
Butthole Surfers’ Hairway To Steven showed me just how terrifying and demented a rock band could sound. Their major label debut – produced by John Paul Jones, no less – somehow managed to make them sound scarier.

5. Black Sabbath, The Mob Rules
Black Sabbath showed me how dark a guitar sound could get – especially when you have Ronnie James Dio singing over it.

6. Rush, Moving Pictures
My first Rush album. Seven songs, not a dud on it. Changed my life forever. I can’t really add to that.

7. Electric Light Orchestra, Out Of The Blue
The more I listen to this, the more I realize how layered and diverse an album it is – and how Jeff Lynne’s lyrics actually don’t make as much sense as I originally thought.

8. Ramones, Rocket To Russia
I could also choose their first two albums, but Rocket To Russia is the one I always come back to. It’s the album where everything they were about just gelled. And production-wise it sounds better than their debut, so points for that.

9. Blue Oyster Cult, Secret Treaties
Probably BOC’s most consistently good album, with all the elements you’d want – horror, conspiracies, aliens – wrapped up in really strong songs. Also, it ends with “Astronomy”, the best BOC song ever.

10. Queen, Sheer Heart Attack
I should go with A Night At The Opera, probably, but I had a cassette of this when I was in US Army bootcamp, and I listened to it obsessively. So listening to it now taps into some serious memories for me.

Now I’m here,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
25 years ago today, this happened.

I remember liking it at the time, but being a little disappointed by some of the gratuitous Hollywood cheese. I also didn’t like the decision to kill off the Joker. But it’s grown on me, and 25 years later, I appreciate it for what it is.

Also, you got bonus Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams and JACK FUCKING PALANCE. A bargain!

I also remember the dithering over the choice of Michael Keaton as Batman, and letting Prince put some songs on the soundtrack for no reason. I didn’t mind either decision, and I think Keaton ended up surprising a lot of people. I think Ben Affleck will do the same, provided the script is decent enough.

Anyway, John Scalzi has posted a gratuitous ranking of all the Batman films.

1. The Dark Knight
2. Batman (1989)
3. The LEGO Movie
4. Batman Begins
5. Batman Forever
6. The Dark Knight Rises
7. Batman Returns
8. Batman: The Movie (1966)
9. Batman and Robin

I disagree slightly. Here’s my own gratuitous list:

1. The Dark Knight
2. Batman: The Movie (1966)
3. Batman (1989)
4. Batman Begins
5. The Dark Knight Rises
6. Batman Returns
7. Batman Forever
8. Batman and Robin

NOTE: I haven’t seen The LEGO Movie.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: After #5 there's a big dropoff. After #6 there's an even bigger dropoff.

Never rub another man’s rhubarb,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
There’s probably a point to this list. I’m not entirely sure what it is. Something about how I can usually appreciate another person’s POV about almost anything, but there are a few things I will never understand the appeal of (besides obvious evil stuff like rape, torture, kiddie porn, broccoli, etc). Something like that.

Anyway, I got a blog to run here, so why not?


1. National/school/sports pride

This gets me into trouble a lot – at least the “national” part. But I’ve never really been a team player – maybe because in the case of schools, sports or countries, I’ve never felt like I was part of the team. School was a miserable experience, and I was always picked last for sports teams at recess (albeit for good reasons – I did suck). And while I've never hated America, I don't especially love it either – at least not in the vague unconditional automatic patriotic way everyone expects from you by sheer virtue of the fact that you were born there. Consequently, I don't feel any particular pride in being from there. I do understand liking/loving a given school, team or country, even for the shallowest of reasons. I can even understand being proud of specific achievements. But I don't understand being proud of the thing itself.

2. American Idol

Or any “reality” talent show. It all looks like one big put-on to me, from the judges to the kinds of acts they book to the audience reactions. The problem, I suppose, is that I’ve never seen music in terms of winners and losers. There’s good music and bad music, but winning one of these shows doesn’t really determine which is which. All they really determine is which artists the music business can make good fast money off of. So I don’t see the appeal.

3. Sitcoms

Or at least any sitcom produced after 1985. It’s an old, tired format that’s lasted well past its sell-by date – which would be okay if they were (1) utilizing situations that I could identify with (which, for the most part, they don’t) or (2) still funny (which, as far as I can tell, they’re not – they seem to tell pretty much the usual standard safe mass-appeal jokes to me). I’m sure many of you can point me to “exceptions” (I get referenced to Big Bang Theory and that Louis CK show a lot), but it doesn’t matter anyway since I don’t really watch TV much anymore (which is probably the real reason for this entry).

4. Drug culture

By which I don’t necessarily mean people who use drugs, but rather people who use drugs to the point that it’s the only cultural reference point in their life. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “There is only one thing worse than being around people who get high, and that is being around people who talk about getting high and damn little else.” Mind you, this can be mildly amusing when they try to sound like serious people – i.e. when they make long, detailed arguments in favor of drug legalization. There are few things funnier than some stoner lecturing me about all the benefits that the hemp industry could bring to society besides the getting-high part. Dude, yr fooling no one – the “getting high without going to jail” part is the only benefit yr even remotely interested in. 

(NOTE: I’m not saying there are no benefits to legalizing hemp. I’m saying stoners who support legalization usually only really care about the legal-high benefit.) 

5. Nun porn

I don't see the appeal of it. At all. Sorry. I’m not especially offended by it. I just don’t see how it’s supposed to be “extra” naughty as opposed to secular porn. Maybe you have to be a lapsed Catholic to really appreciate it. And sure, different strokes and all. But … no.

I don’t get it,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
It’s that time again. 2013 is a done deal, and in terms of music it differed from 2012 in three distinct ways: (1) more digital downloads, (2) more variety and (2) more surprises.

Point (3) really fed Point (2) – I just kept being tipped off to certain albums (usually friend recommendations) that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about or tried. And of course, no one was expecting a comeback album from David Bowie, much less a good one.

As for Point (1), it was a question of budget. With local CD stores shrinking and/or disappearing, I really do rely on Amazon to get CDs I actually like, and the international shipping surcharge is murder. Plus, let’s be honest – the first thing I do with the CD is rip it and stick the songs on my iPod. My only concern with digital has been making sure I can keep copies of them (one great thing about CDs – they serve as physical back-ups for my MP3s). But after some experimentation, I found the local iTunes to be pretty reliable. (I’d buy from Amazon, but only Americans are allowed to buy digital tracks there, because piracy is killing music, you see). And you can’t beat the price. However, I still buy CDs for albums I can get locally that are worth the extra money.

Anyway …

Like last year, 2013 yielded a field of good albums but not many awesome ones. Indeed, some of the better releases of 2013 weren’t new music at all, but re-releases of old music (as covered in our pre-show awards). And, as always, there’s not much here in the way of new acts – most of the artists on my list are still old-timers, with some even pushing their early 70s.

Still, this is one of the stronger Top 10s I’ve had in awhile. So it’s all good, really.

Let’s get to it.

DISCLAIMER: Based on music I actually bought/acquired/downloaded between December 2012 and November 2013, and therefore a useless metric for everyone else.


1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd)
2. David Bowie, The Next Day (ISO/Columbia)
3. The Thermals, Desperate Ground (Saddle Creek Records)
4. Dog Party, Lost Control (Asian Man Records)
5. Joanna Wang, Galaxy Crisis: The Strangest Midnight Broadcast (Sony)

6. Marnie Stern, The Chronicles Of Marnia (Kill Rock Stars)
7. Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood, Black Pudding (Heavenly)
8. David Lynch, The Big Dream (Sunday Best)
9. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (Anti-)
10. Throwing Muses, Purgatory/Paradise (Throwing Music)

11. Tony Joe White, Hoodoo (Yep Roc)
12. The Fall, Re-Mit (Cherry Red)
13. Johnny Dowd, Do The Gargon (Mother Jinx Records)
14. MIA, Matangi (Interscope)
15. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady (Bad Boy/Wondaland)

16. The Relatives, The Electric Word (Yep Roc)
17. Black Sabbath, 13 (Vertigo)
18. They Might Be Giants, Nanobots (Idlewild/Megaforce)
19. !!!, Thr!!!er (Warp)
20. Petra Haden, Petra Goes To The Movies (Anti-)

Capsule reviews included! )

And we’re done here.

Same time next year,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
It’s a tradition here at Team Frog International to post our favorite record albums of the year. That’ll happen tomorrow.

Meanwhile, also in accordance with tradition, here are some miscellaneous awards that are basically an excuse to mention other albums I got this year.

It builds up suspense, you see. Because I know this is the list you’ve been waiting for all year.


Gemma Ray
Down Baby Down (Series Aphonos / Bronze Rat Records) 
Ray takes cues from Link Wray, John Barry, Sinatra/Hazlewood and Ennio Morricone, and distills them into atmospheric songs with a mid-60s feel and lots of vibrato guitar. Think Anna Calvi without the drama and you get the idea. It’s the kind of thing you can almost imagine David Lynch sticking onto a movie soundtrack (if he still made movies) if it was a little more noir.


Sockweb, “I Want Pancakes”

In which Adam “Blackula” Young records a grindcore song with his six-year-old daughter, Joanie “Bologna” Young, who wrote the lyrics. It’s a grindcore duet. And it’s brilliant. You can listen to it here if you don’t believe me.


Various Artists
Overdose Of The Holy Ghost (Z Records) 
This is a great idea for a comp – late 70s/early 80s gospel songs rooted in funk and disco. A few names may sound familiar (Shirley Caesar, BeBe & CeCe Winans) but most are more obscure (at least to the secular demographic). It’s a fascinating and educational collection if you like disco/early 80s R&B, even when some songs are obviously cribbing from well-known hits to reach a wider audience. Sure, the “gospel” bit will frighten some people away. But then so will the “disco” part. Their loss.


Searching For Sugar Man (Light In The Attic) 
I’d never heard of Rodriguez before the documentary came out, and as flawed as the doc is, it definitely sold me on his status as one of the most criminally underrated singer/songwriters in American music. Rodriguez’s lyrics of social criticism and observation are as sharp as any of his peers in the early 70s. A good intro to the man’s music, although considering he only ever released two albums, and both have been re-issued by Light In The Attic, you might as well buy both of them instead.


The Beatles
On Air: Live At The BBC Volume 2 (Apple) 
I’ve always liked Volume 1 of the BBC recordings because it’s the closest thing you’ll hear to a Beatles live album without all the screaming girls. This one is arguably even better because it includes even more clips from radio interviews than Volume 1, so it feels more like listening to a radio broadcast at times, which is cool – at least to grumpy old men like me.


Various Artists
There’s a Dream I’ve Been Saving: Lee Hazlewood Industries 1966-1971 (Light In The Attic) 
It’s four CDs of every track Hazlewood recorded for his own LHI label, plus key tracks from the acts he signed. (Or, if you get the deluxe version, you get digital copies of the entire LHI library). You also get a DVD of Cowboy In Sweden. Obviously I don’t have a copy of it because I’m not made of money. But this is the one box set I’d love to own one day.


Polysics, Weeeeeeeeee!!! (Ki/oon)

In a word: bullhorns.

Also, Bowie’s The Next Day was just too obvious a choice.

Tomorrow: the list!

Shout it out loud,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Because you can’t possibly have enough “Best Of The Year” lists on the Internet.

Films now. Music soon.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: If yr favorite movie of 2013 isn’t here, it’s likely because (1) I didn’t get a chance to see it, (2) it hasn’t been released in Hong Kong yet, or (3) I did see it but didn’t like it as much as you did. Also, if some of these seem kind of old, it’s because their release date was 2012 for yr country, but 2013 for Hong Kong. Get me?


1. Gravity
2. Seven Psychopaths
3. Django Unchained
4. Holy Motors
5. The Grandmaster
6. Cloud Atlas
7. No
8. Snowpiercer
9. The Counselor
10. Side Effects


Pacific Rim
Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons
The Wind Rises


Machete Kills




After Earth


The Host

Director's cut for those of you who demand capsule reviews ... )

Wake me when it’s over,

This is dF

defrog: (sars)
As it happens, a new retrospective of David Bowie’s work at the Art Gallery of Ontario features 75 must-read books selected by Bowie himself. 

You can read it here.

And of that list, it turns out I’ve read eleven (11) of them:
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  • City of Night by John Rechy
  • The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
  • Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima
  • White Noise by Don DeLillo
Which is more than I thought I would score. 

What’s striking too is that of the eleven books there, I’d highly recommend most of them. The exceptions would be White Noise and The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea. The former made no real impression on me, and I really didn’t enjoy the latter. (I’ve considered re-reading it to see if my late-40s self gets it, but there’s that kitten scene, which I have never been able to unread).

Also, it’s worth mentioning that The Hidden Persuaders is probably more dated now, as a couple of the studies referenced in it have since been discredited. But I’d still recommend it for historical value and the general point it makes about pervasive advertising.

Anyway, if I ever came up with my own must-read book list, most of these would make it on there.

So, you know, me and Bowie, we’re tight like that.

Then again, most of the other 64 entries on the list don't seem likely to make my to-read queue anytime soon. But who knows? You may see them on here one day.

Hunky dory,

This is dF


EDITED TO ADD [10/6]: Thanks to [personal profile] bedsitter23  for pointing out that the Top 75 is actually a Top 100, but somehow the bottom 25 got clipped off in various media reports. 

The full Bowie's 100 Must-Read Books list is here.  

And that also means I get to add three more books to the above list: 
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Iliad by Homer
  • The Outsider by Albert Camus
That said, I don't know if I'd include any of them on my own "must-read" list. Maybe The Outsider, which I liked a lot in college, but it didn't have quite the same impact as the others. 

defrog: (Default)
I watched a bunch of movies in 2012.

I will rate them for you now.

DISCLAIMER: If yr favorite movie of 2012 isn’t here, it’s likely because (1) I didn’t get a chance to see it, (2) it hasn’t been released in Hong Kong yet, or (3) I did see it but didn’t like it as much as you did. Also, if some of these seem kind of old, it’s because their release date was 2011 for yr country, but 2012 for Hong Kong.


1. The Ides Of March
2. Moonrise Kingdom
3. Looper
4. Skyfall
5. The Dark Knight Rises
6. Moneyball
7. Prometheus
8. Iron Sky
9. The Cabin In The Woods
10. Lawless


A Simple Life
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Avengers


Dark Shadows


Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance


Snow White And The Huntsman


Les Miserables

Would you like capsule reviews with that? Cos I got some right here ... )

Stop singing,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)

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