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Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Get Thee Behind Me Satan

Last post for the year! Can you believe we're already at the finish line already? I think I've had a pretty great year. I guess this is the part where I get all reflective and junk but I'll do you a favour and not get into detail about what I've done. I mean... that's what archival posts are for, right? Heh.

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Last week, I went on fishing trip with some friends and had a pretty good time. We went up to Venus Bay which was about three hours away from Melbourne. The drive to Venus Bay and back was really something though - incredibly scenic views. Funnily enough, my favourite parts of the trip just so happened to the drive itself. It rained quite heavily in the morning though which put a huge damper on the whole fishing thing and everyone was kind of in a lazy mood due to a complete lack of sleep. But by lunch time, the sun came out, some of us had quick naps and then we kinda just forgot about everything and it ended up being a pretty lovely day (despite the fact that I was up for a good 30+ hours). 

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I was excited to pick up my new phone this week! After having an ancient phone for the last four - five years of my life, I figured it was time to move towards the 21st century. I bought a HTC One V through Kogan for a very cheap $200 (well, I think that's a pretty cheap price) and am very happy with it. Looks nice and works well. Now... accept me into society!

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I guess there might be some folks who would like for me to compile a list of my favourite films released this year. I probably won't make a list although I will say that while there are a lot of wonderful films this year, my two absolute favourite films of the year were Shame and Beasts of the Southern Wild. They're completely different in every single way but I felt that both left me feeling


I had described Shame as a film that's both mesmerising and haunting - exhausting in the best possible way. Meanwhile, Beasts of the Southern Wild was an absolute joy and such a lovely surprise of a film - bold and ambitious with unwavering imagination.


An honourable mention also goes The House I Live In, a scathing documentary that critiques America's "War on Drugs". Unflinching and absorbing in every way, I wouldn't be surprised if it made it to the Academy's shortlist next year. I was very fortunate to have seen the film at MIFF this year.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING

While I'm fairly sure that the following two films aren't my last two 2012 films, I'd be pretty happy if I just ended the year with just them. This week, I didn't get around to watching too many films at home and instead saw Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, The Master as well as the new 007 feature, Skyfall.

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I managed to catch The Master on Tuesday night at The Astor Theatre which screened the film in its original 70mm print. I'd like to think that I saw a difference between 70mm film and digital projections but truthfully, it was kind of hard to tell what exactly looked different. I might consider myself to be a film nerd but even with things like projection and film format, I'm not entirely knowledgeable on. My understanding of 70mm is that it captures "true" colours and provides a greater clarity due it being a wider film format. While I definitely noticed that colours popped out quite vividly (essentially recreating the look of the period with startling accuracy) I still felt like my experience watching the film would, more or less, be the same. 

But enough about 70mm, where does one begin with The Master? The film begins with a look at the almost nomadic existence of Freddie Quell played with reckless abandon by an astonishing Joaquin Phoenix. Freddie is a former Navy seaman who tries to re-assimilate back into society after the war but struggles to do so. One day, he finds himself in the presence of the charismatic intellectual Lancaster Dodd (a, a man who represents a philosophical movement known as "The Cause". From there, Lancaster assumes responsibility of Freddie, accepting him into his movement.

While The Master has been a strong critical favourite, it's not difficult to see that it will not be strongly appealing to those outside of The Master's already limited audience - an audience strongly appreciative of film language. In many ways, The Master feels very much like a film made exclusively for cinephiles or those who are "in the know" about film. And as much as I like to think I know about film, many times I feel that certain ideas about film escape me. Perhaps I haven't read or seen enough to write at length what it is The Master actually is. Narratively speaking, the story of Freddie is flimsy at best. It's a meandering picture and weaves in and out of people's lives. Characters exist one moment and are disposed of the next. Side-stories are introduced and then abandoned altogether. If I were to judge solely on story, then truth be told, it's not exactly a strong one.

With that said, when narrative is abandoned what else is there to look at? Looking at some of the ideas and larger themes at work, it seems Anderson has a fascination with father-son relationships. Hoffman plays the father to Phoenix's son and they have a very strange relationship indeed. Building upon what PTA already explored in films like Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, Anderson takes the father-son relationship with Freddie and Lancaster and messes with it by adding the cult dynamic into the fold. While the cult aspect of the film isn't necessarily a huge part of the film, it certainly does shape the way Freddie and Lancaster interact with one another. Lancaster doesn't take the intellectual high ground to try to evoke a sense of superiority over Freddie but instead uses his wisdom, however misconstrued it may be, to help Freddie overcome his very infantilized persona. While other members of "The Cause" reject Freddie for his refusal to be helped, Lancaster persists, insisting that he is special.

Furthermore, Anderson uses "The Cause" to project his vision of America's foundations. Where filmmakers like Steven Spielberg are busy focusing on the proper and factual details of America's rise as a power-nation, Anderson instead takes overlooked aspects of America's nation-building and uses it as a platform to tell original stories. If There Will Be Blood was meant to be a tale about greed and capitalism in the face of America's economic prosperity, then The Master can probably be seen as a film about the American family. It challenges the idea of the typical American family and transforms it into something potentially wicked yet still maintaining the warmth and familiarity of kinship.

The Master is a bizarre and enigmatic picture. It won't be for everyone but the ideas it explores are sure to raise discussion amongst critics, theorists and cinephiles in years to come. While there's no denying the quality of filmmaking at work here, The Master is perhaps PTA's least accessible film and if this were your first PTA film, then it's probably not the greatest entry point into the director's oeuvre of excellent films. Tread carefully.


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Let it be known that I've only seen the Pierce Brosnan 007 films and the new ones with Daniel Craig. That said, I caught a screening of Skyfall, the latest entry into the 007 series over the week and thought it quite a good film and certainly made me forget about the mediocrity of the previous Bond film, Quantum of Solace

Sam Mendes, whose previous directorial efforts include films like American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road, is in charge of Skyfall and provides what is arguably the most stylised Bond movie to grace the silver screen. His directorial prowess, coupled with the cinematography of Roger Deakins provides some truly awe-inspiring visuals and fantastic set-pieces to the production. 

And while I really found myself enjoying the film and the gorgeousness of an action film, of all things, I still felt that it wasn't nearly as good as Craig's debut Bond film, Casino Royale. I do think that Skyfall is a return to form for the Daniel Craig series of Bond films though. It's not as dark or as serious as some may lead you to believe (I came in thinking it was going to be a Nolan-esque interpretation of Bond) and is still offers up some ridiculous fun. 

Having said that, it feels like as though somebody may seen a little too much of The Dark Knight as narrative beats from that film seep its way into this film. It's not a complaint or a critique on Skyfall's behalf but, for me, it was fun thing to compare to every now and again (like Silva, the villain of the film, essentially behaving similarly like The Joker). 

Anyways, Skyfall was a lot of fun and I had a good time watching it. I'm sure most people will agree with that sentiment if they saw the film. I wish every action film looked as good as Skyfall did.

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TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS



Here's the first gorgeous trailer for Terrence Mallick's new film, To the Wonder. While my initial feelings about Mallick's last film, The Tree of Life were strongly ambivalent there's no denying the beauty and profundity of that film. To The Wonder essentially looks like The Tree of Life Part 2 but there seems to be a much clearer focus here than in The Tree of Life. It's been on the festival circuit for a bit now and has attracted mostly mixed reviews but I remain cautiously optimistic. That said, I need to go through the rest of his films.


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The second theatrical trailer for Baz Lurhmann's upcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby also touched down this week as well as a couple of new character posters (won't post all of those here though). This new trailer further capitalises on the languish and exuberance of the first trailer while introducing the other main players in the film. I'm actually surprised by how nice this film looks but I guess you can't beat the combination of costumes, extravagance and Baz Lurhmann. (Fun fact: I've only seen Romeo + Juliet and none of this other films).


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You know something, Luke, if you ride like lightening, you’re gonna crash like thunder. - The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
(via: howtocatchamonster)

The first theatrical trailer for Derek Cianfrance's latest film, The Place Beyond The Pines, hit the Internet this week and my, oh, my does it look stellar. I've been really looking forward to this film for a while now, especially after hearing how much of a critical darling it has become since debuting at the Toronoto International Film Festival some months ago. It played strongly to critics and audiences there and, at one time, may have been considered a strong contender for the Oscar had it been formally released this year (I can't remember where I read that from though). That said, I think the film looks fantastic both visually and narratively. Reminds me of Drive mixed with Killing Them Softly and Heat. I still need to see Derek Cianfrance's previous film, Blue Valentine.


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This week's blog post title comes from the soundtrack to The Master and is sung by Ella Fitzgerald. I really liked how the song was used in the film and it's just a really nice track overall (kinda hard to disagree with that, right?). So there's that. Enjoy and have a grand new year everyone. Hope everyone's had a nice Christmas as well.


End post.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Maria Elena

Hey.

Late post, I know. But I guess I'll just jump straight into what I've seen these past few weeks. I did get up to a few things here and there but I'll save that for my next post (whenever that'll be). Is anyone still reading this? Also let it be known that I've been slowly writing these "reviews" and storing them here as drafts before being published so it's not like I haven't tried to write or anything.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING


After watching only six episodes and deeming .hack//SIGN as an anime series not fit for my time, I decided to renounce any memory of watching it and focused my energy on the first season of Homeland. If you don't know by now, Homeland has garnered the praise of critics and audiences alike with it's compelling story and morally obtuse characters. With the second season finale closing at the beginning of this week, I couldn't have timed my consumption of Homeland's first season any better. And boy is it a fantastic series.

The series begins with the rescue of an American POW in the Middle East. Upon his return to American soil, an agent with the CIA suspects that this soldier has betrayed his country and is planning an attack. I was surprised to find that Homeland was an adaptation of an Israeli mini-series called Prisoners of War as Homeland struck me as something almost wholly original. I think the most interesting thing about Homeland is the impending sense of paranoia that permeates the series. Does paranoia inspire patriotism or does patriotism inspire paranoia? There's an essay somewhere in there. It's certainly an interesting question though and I can think of no other country that evokes a stronger sense of patriotism than America, especially in a post-9/11 America. I feel that if I were to elaborate a bit more on that idea, it might enter spoiler territory though.

That said, it seems that 1962's The Manchurian Candidate may be strong influence on Homeland and I think that the series kinda owes itself to the film. Of course, it goes without saying that Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, the series' leading man and woman respectively, are excellent in the show with Danes perhaps getting the meatier role of the two.

But yes, Homeland is exceptional and innovative -  another fine addition to American cable television's growing stable of quality shows. With TV this good, who needs to visit the cinema?


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Speaking of political thrillers, I also managed to settle down to 1976's, All The President's Men. It's a film that I've been really eager to watch for a while now due to it's procedural nature and it's depiction of news journalists as heroes. I've always thought that journalists can make outstanding detectives and this film certainly demonstrates that. I think that journalism students can learn a lot from this film, maybe even find some inspiration in it.

All The President's Men is based on the true story of two journalists working for The Washington Post who uncover the details about the Watergate scandal which ultimately leads to the resignation of President Nixon (the only American President to have ever resigned from his position). The Watergate scandal refers to the break in, and subsequent cover-up, of a burglary in the Democractic National Comittee's headquarters at the Watergate office in Washington D.C. that was committed by five men who were supposedly linked to former President Richard Nixon.

The film unfolds through the eyes of two journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, both of whom rigorously investigated the Watergate break-in and continually wrote about their findings even if it meant damning their publication. Upon watching this film, I could get a sense of just how much of an influence this film had on future filmmakers like David Fincher and Ben Affleck. It seemed apparent that films like Zodiac and Argo owed a lot to the existence of All The President's Men, which made my appreciation of the film all the more greater. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are particularly outstanding in the film.

Unfortunately, I can't quite say that I enjoyed it as much as I wanted it to. Perhaps it was because I had set the bar too high and had some expectation coming in. It's not a short film (runs over two hours long) and I feel that the length of the film as well as the occasionally tiresome pacing left me with the impression that there was a lot left to be desired in the film.

Banter is all well and good but I was often left in the dark and feeling confused with where things where going. This may also be attributed to my lack of understanding in past American politics but if the film is meant to be telling me how things happened, then I feel as if though it shouldn't be my understanding of history that's at fault and rather the narrative pace and storytelling that's the problem. I do think, however, that a second viewing needs to happen for me otherwise, I'd have to write it off as as something that's "just okay" when I feel like as though I'm missing something in the film.

Additionally, there was something about the way the film was shot that left me feeling a bit alienated. I have no idea what it was exactly, but there was something about the style of the film that I wasn't quite used to.

I really wanted to like All The President's Men but all I was left with was a bit of confusion and dissatisfaction. I don't think that I disliked the film but there were qualities about it that made me feel a bit apprehensive towards it.


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The Boondock Saints is another film that has eluded me for some time now. In the years since its release, the film has built up something of a cult following which is understandable given its occasional quick wit and colourful cast of characters. 

Billed as something of a Tarantino-esque film, there wasn't much to The Boondock Saints that I found to be reminiscent to Tarantino. Other than the mix of violence and humour, there should be no other reason to label this as a Tarantino-inspired film although I guess that's the price of having made a film in the 90s. It's not a particularly good film, per se, but as far as being something to watch late at night with nothing else available, it's really not that bad. Juvenile, sure, but I think it fits in with the same kind of vigilantism idea that Kick-Ass kicked around.

Willem Dafoe is hilariously camp in this but its so fun to watch. Kinda like Gary Oldman in The Professional. And sorry Norman Reedus, I like you on The Walking Dead and all but but I think your Irish-Boston accent in The Boondock Saints needed some more work (I basically love the city of Boston and think that the Irish-Boston accent is out of this world).

I honestly don't have that much to say about The Boondock Saints other than it was enjoyable for what it was but I wouldn't really want to revisit it again. The soundtrack especially was pretty nasueating and just sounded so '90s (note: this movie is so damn '90s it hurts).


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Michael Mann's Heat has been praised by many as a masterpiece in action filmmaking. I don't think I could go that far although I do appreciate what a film like Heat has done for future filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, who has said that scenes from The Dark Knight (and probably Inception, for that matter) are inspired by Mann's 1995 film. 

Heat is more than just a story about cops and robber and while I wouldn't necessarily say that its characters are morally ambiguous, there are qualities about them that seem unique enough to not veer off towards cliche. Acting powerhouses, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, play the cop and robber respectively and give dynamic performances with De Niro arguably getting more out of his role than Pacino. 

But can we just take a moment to appreciate the goddamn sound design in this film cause holy crap, the shootouts in this are phenomenal and exciting! Like, I don't think I've ever heard gunplay sound so damn good before and this just really made the shootouts both fun and frightening. So yeah, fantastic job in the sound department.

That said I was feeling pretty apathetic towards the film which I blame on the heat, no pun intended. It was a pretty hot day when I decided to watch this film and my room wasn't exactly well adjusted to it so it was hard for me to concentrate having uncomfortably adjusting myself every ten seconds on bed. I guess that's why cinemas are always so well conditioned. Ugh. Probably could've enjoyed it more than I was allowed to.

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TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS


Quite a bit to get through. Let's start with the first look at the Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning film, Unforgiven. Love the look of the film and considering how much Westerns have influenced samurai films and vice versa, I'm hoping this is every bit as good as the original in which it's based on. Ken Watanabe, perhaps the most recognisable Japanese actor in the Western world, heads the film in the Clint Eastwood role. Catch the teaser below.


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Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim is a project that's been on the watch for a while now and a trailer for the film was released this past week to much fanfare. While you would think that the idea of giant mecha robots battling against alien invaders would be enough to tantalise me (cough, Evangelion), I can't help but feel mighty underwhelmed by this trailer. In fact, that trailer did little to impress me but perhaps its just me. Still, the film, right now, doesn't look all that great to me.


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Zack Snyder's reboot of the Superman series of films, Man of Steel, on the other hand looks mighty impressive and it looks like it'll be the director's most ambitious film to date. It's certainly providing us with an alternate portrayal of Superman as a more grounded character all the while giving audiences a side of superhero films we haven't quite seen before. Dialogue and shots suggest a more poetic tale of sorts, albiet one largely rooted in the seriousness established by Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Don't take my word for it though, have a look at it yourself.


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Fans of Korean cinema can have this teaser trailer for next year's spy thriller, The Berlin File. Korea's recent pedigree of action filmmaking is certainly something not to be scoffed at - the country's provided some of the best action films of the past decade and continue to produce quality films each and every year. The Berlin File was shot on location in Berlin, areas of Germany and Latvia. Also carries a very strong resemblance to films like The Bourne Identity.


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Though word has been running around for a while now, Studio Ghibli officially announced two films releasing next year - one directed by Hayao Miyazaki and the other by Isao Takahata. Miyazaki's newest film, The Wind Rises, which tells the story of Horikoshi Jiro, designer of Japan's A6M Zero plane which was used predominately in World War 2. From the sounds of things, it may, or may not, be in similar vein to his son's latest film, From Up On Poppy Hill (which honestly wasn't a bad film but that third act is irredeemable)


The other by Isao Takahata (director of Grave of the Fireflies) is The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, an adaptation of a popular Japanese folk tale about a princess who is discovered in a special bamboo. This looks drastically different in terms of art style, which I suppose is to be expected given that this is also the same director who made Only Yesterday and My Neighbors The Yamadas.

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And in less filmy news, an American television series based on Alfred Hitchcock's horror masterpiece, Psycho, is in the works and a trailer for it was released this past week. Bates Motel is a prequel television series headlined by Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga who respectively play a young Norman Bates and the mother that drives him insane. Forget American Horror Story, this actually looks like a much more promising horror series. I'm actually quite fascinated with how horror can work in an episodic format but anyways, I'm looking forward to this series and hope it doesn't disappoint - especially considering the act it's following up on.

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So I guess that about does it for today. This blog post's title is brought to you by Los Indios Tabajaras, a guitar duo of two brothers from Brazil. This song, Maria Elena, was used in Wong Kar-wai's second film, Days of Being Wild - the film that brought him international acclaim. Lovely bit of music and it just popped up on a really hot day and I just thought that it felt appropriate given the awful heat. Listen. Love.


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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Rydeen

Hi.

Oh my god, this might be the first week that I legitimately forgot I owned a real blog! This could be a sign that I'm starting to neglect this blog. Not good. But remember, I'm MAJORLY active on Tumblr and Twitter so there's that alternative too, ya know (cause I have SOOOO many followers/readers who check this blog weekly...).

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Anyhow, what did I get up to this past week? Usual of work and films, duh. The Japanese Film Festival has kept me on my feet and pretty busy though but it's over now so maybe expect a written piece on it sometime soon on Meld or something. Just having trouble trying to write about it without sounding too similar to the one I wrote for the KOFFIA.

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Speaking of Meld, we had an early Christmas party last Friday night which was fun! It was certainly quite a different kind of Christmas party that I had not been quite prepared for but I definitely had a nice time. They're all lovely people (there were probably around 30 of us there at the night) and the party just felt very familial (even if I didn't really know everyone there, haha).

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Well look at that! Results came in for my last semester at La Trobe University and it seems that I not only met the requirements to complete my degree but that I passed my subjects with more than admirable marks. I got an A for two of my subjects and B for the other two. What's even more amazing is I had no idea what the hell I was trying to achieve or accomplish with one of my subjects yet I somehow ended up with an A for it. Brilliant.

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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING


Anyways, since I haven't really seen many films outside of the ones I saw at the Japanese Film Festival. Of the films that I did manage to catch, I thought that the most interesting ones were the ones in the retrospective for Yasuzo Masumura. I'm certainly going to give more of my time towards his films because I find him quite an intriguing director. That and his films usually star Ayako Wakao (pictured above), an actress who I have something of a crush on now. She was gorgeous back in her hey day.

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That said, I did manage to catch The Sessions at the Cinema Nova on Monday and thought it was an excellent film. I suggest that people catch it in cinemas before it goes away. It's based on a true story and tells the story of a guy who, crippled by polio, seeks to lose his virginity through a sex surrogate/therapist. It's a surprisingly touching film and features terrific performances from John Hawkes and Helen Hunt (expect them to be in contention this awards season). I really liked it. It was modest and it didn't disparage sex or sexuality but rather honours it. Also very funny. So yeah, give it a shot! You may be pleasantly surprised.


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I was also given a copy of the Vietnamese martial arts film, The Rebel. As I understand it, The Rebel is the highest grossing Vietnamese film of all time (I could be wrong but this is just from what I can remember). It's a pretty fun film for the most part and showcases the finesse of the Vietnamese martial art known as Vovinam. Johnny Nguyen has become something of an icon in Vietnam and is hugely popular with audiences as result of this movie. So much so that he and his brother Charlie (who directed The Rebel) are pretty much head honchos in the Vietnamese film industry. Anyways, if you're keen to see what Vovinam is all about, this film is a great entry point for it.

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TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS


Not much by way of film news this week though I'm pretty lazy with this section now which should come as no surprise. But I will want to point out Young and Dangerous: Reloaded. The first trailer for the remake of the hit '90s triad/gangster films from Hong Kong landed over the week and while it certainly does look slick and polished, there's something about it that just looks off. Perhaps its the leads and their lack of credible "toughness"? I shouldn't judge too much as this is only a teaser but one can't help but feel cynical.


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Oh and here's the teaser trailer for Star Trek: Into Darkness. Back when J.J Abrams rebooted the series in 2009, I had no idea what to expect and in fact, I had no real desire to see it. It just happened to be on at the cinemas and me and my friends figured we'd give it a crack. It surprised the hell out of me and I thought it was a pretty awesome film. I wished a lot of my film experiences were like that but it's hard not to be swayed by opinion these days.

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And that's all for this week. Now here's a funky track from the late 70s by the Japanese electronic/synth group, Yellow Magic Orchestra. Video games owe a lot to YMO since their sound is distinctly punctuated by beats and tunes you'd typically find in old NES titles like Contra or Double Dragon. They're pretty much the innovators and fathers of what now is known as chiptunes. Anyways enjoy Rydeen - it's a pretty addictive track. Also, there's definitely touches of Daft Punk in there from what I can make out...


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