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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Season of the Witch

HEY!

So you may have wondered where I've been and why I haven't posted on this blog. Indeed, this is a very late post by my standards but I have a decent reason (in case one of you actually gives a damn about my absence).

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Other than catching up with some films and doing the usual lot of gaming, one of the main reasons why I haven't updated this blog is because of my birthday! The evening before my actual birthday was spent with a very small group of friends. I'd share pictures but we didn't take any photos. I mean, why take photos when you can eat in the company of friends?! HEH. We didn't do much else after that though and kinda ended up at my place after dinner. It was a good night though. Good food, good company. What's not to enjoy?

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On my actual birthday (which was on the 24th for those of you keeping score at home!), I wasn't intending to go out at all because it was a disgustingly hot day but a couple of my mates from high school called me out for dinner. We kinda just hung in the city the entire night and they got me a present too.

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The day after my birthday was spent watching Django Unchained with the same lot that I invited for dinner (minus one person). As per usual, thoughts on films can be in the next section.

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Then the day after that was Big Day Out! I went with a mate from uni. Big Day Out was excellent, it was my first music festival (been to plenty of gigs in the past) and it was an amazing experience. I mean, I got to see Childish Gambino up close and got to rock out to The Killers and Red Hot Chili Peppers, both of whom put on fantastic sets to end the night. Their performances practically united everyone in attendance at BDO and it was pretty damn awesome to feel that musical bond with those bands and with everyone in attendance.

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And then on Sunday there was the Victoria Street Lunar New Year Festival. Didn't really care much for the festivities itself. Couple of friends and I ended up walking back and forth on the streets for a while and hung out my place for a while. I mean, the only reason to be there is for the sugar cane drink, really. Heh.

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So yeah, as you can see, my entire week has been pretty stacked. It's kinda nice that everything lined up really nicely for my birthday celebrations so I guess I should be thankful for that.

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Those are the presents that my friends got me. Not pictured is a Boston Celtics T-shirt which, at the time of taking this photo, was in the laundry. 

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Birthday celebrations aside, another thing that kept me a bit occupied was this piece that I wrote for Meld Magazine about the Academy Awards. If you're unsure of what to make of this year's Best Picture nominees or just want to join the conversation/sound like you know what you're talking about, you can use my guide to help you decide what to see and which movies to pay attention to come awards night. Yeah, just a bit of a plug.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING

I might start this new thing where I post reviews individually and then re-link them into these weekly post. Reason being is because I actually want to be able to find my reviews on my blog (and for others to be able to find it) so that I know what I've seen. Plus it may even look good as far as building my writing folio, I dunno. I may even just start going back to the beginning and tagging posts just so I know which movies are in which posts... But that might start next week. Anyways, fully writing about six films I've seen in the past couple of weeks is going to take up my entire day (and I want to use that time for other things) so I'll keep this short and dot-point my thoughts on each.

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- Absolutely loved ParaNorman!
- A dark and sometimes frightening film for kids but definitely something older audiences will have fun sinking their teeth into.
- At times, a loving homage to classic creature features and horror films but at the core of Paranorman is a strong and deeply thoughtful story that touches on themes relating to bullying (certainly something parents will no doubt appreciate).
- The story the film tells and the message it tries to get across is aided by charms of the film's stop-motion animation.
- Excellent voice-cast particularly with Kodi Smit-McPhee who gave me a reason to care about Norman and want him to succeed.
- Already one of my favourite films this year (even though it released last year in the States).


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- Wreck It-Ralph was also outstanding.
- Between ParaNorman and this, it's hard for me to say which will win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature though signs point to this being the odds-on favourite and it's not hard to see why.
- Outside of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it's certainly nice to see a film treat video games with the respect that it deserves and then to do so with unabashed love for the medium.
- At times a bit too silly for my taste but the film's humour would certainly go over with the children.
- Wreck-It Ralph also features a short called Paperman that screens before the film which is equally exceptional.


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- After being charmed by ParaNorman and wanting more out of stop-motion animation, I decided to check out Coraline which I thought was good but not nearly as good as Paranorman or Wreck-It Ralph (that's just my opinion though)
- Carries that same dark and creepy vibe from Paranorman albiet with a bit more potency considering that it's an adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel. 
- Visually it's a lot more enticing than ParaNorman (though ParaNorman isn't without its share of visual quirks).
- I certainly think those that loved Pan's Labyrinth will find much to love about Coraline as both films are rather similar, I felt.
- But yeah, Coraline's still pretty damn good. 


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- So much praise was heaped on Les Miserables but I felt that the film was quite undeserving of it.
- I didn't think this film was good at all which is a shame considering how damn good it could've been.
- Performances from the cast are admirable at best (even Russell Crowe's) but it's Anne Hathaway's emotionally riveting performance at Fantine that truly deserves praise (and I'm pretty glad she's been getting awards for it too).
- Her performance in the film is pretty much the only reason to stick around for what can be chalked up to as an abysmal three hours of poor direction with little regard in the way of character development and storytelling.
- And let's not talk about the dreadful camera-work on display (seriously Tom Hooper, how did you think some of your shots were okay at all?!)
- At least, I walked home whistling "Do You Hear The People Sing?" - that's a good thing right?


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- In my opinion, Django Unchained is a near-perfect film.
- And I'll have to agree with most people who criticise the film for being a bit too long as well as having little in the way of getting to know the character of Broomhilda.
- While a film like this could've been written off as an adolescent fantasy (which I guess you could say is the bulk of Tarantino's work as well), there's a quality about Django Unchained in particular that makes me think that this is his most mature film.
- The whole time watching it, I just kept thinking of Jackie Brown though I guess an argument could be made that Jackie Brown is his most mature film.
- It might just be because he tackled slavery in America but right now I can't seem to really articulate why I think it's his most mature film (I'll have to see Jackie Brown again too).
- Also, people saying Leonardo DiCaprio getting snubbed need to calm down cause I happen to think Samuel L. Jackson's performance in this film was head and shoulder's above DiCaprio's.


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- Fortunate to catch an advanced screening of Silver Linings Playbook which I really liked.
- I don't think the film has the gravitas of an Academy Award winning film but it's still a great film regardless of whether or not it gets any wins at this year's awards.
- At the end of the day though, Silver Linings Playbook is nothing more than a romantic comedy disguised as a drama about family and metal illness (at least certainly within the first half of the film).
- And there's nothing really wrong with that - it certainly makes it an interesting take on the formula, one led by a pretty formidable ensemble cast.
- On that note, great cast with a particularly impressive turn by Jennifer Lawrence (she certainly seems like a strong favourite to win the Academy Award this year, especially after her win at the SAG awards this week).
- Largely enjoyable, light-hearted in nature and very funny - Silver Linings Playbook is something of a crowd pleaser. 

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TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS

A number of things happened the last couple of weeks but I won't write at length what happened so just a few dot-point headlines for the ones that mattered to me.

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And that's it for this week! Now time for some music! This post's title comes from Donovan and was used in the trailer for ParaNorman. It doesn't quite sound like an oldie and the more I listen to it, it's kind of hard to believe how ahead of its time this particular song is cause it really doesn't sound like it belongs to the '60s at all. But what do I know? Have a listen!


End post.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Flashing Lights

Hey.

Last night was excellent. One of my mates had a birthday celebration at the China Bar Signature Asian Buffet and I don't think I've ever had so much food in my life before. I'm not even that big of a fan of seafood and normally steer clear of it but last night was the exception. All I remember was downing oysters and shrimp (the occasional dumpling snuck its way through). Stayed there for a good two - three hours, I think. I think everyone had a food coma last night. Sadly no pictures from the night (this blog's readership would've grown exponentially if I included food porn, right?).
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING

So just letting people know that I'm keeping a movie diary of sorts (I mean if this blog isn't a diary in itself already, geez) over on Tumblr which can be viewed here. I like the way it looks but something tells me I ought to get onto Letterboxd or something. We'll see.

Anyways, I'm not really in the mood to write at length what worked and what didn't for the films I watched this week. I just don't have the energy to write that much right now so dotpoints it is. Hooray for short, succinct posting!


  • It might just be me but upon watching this film, it's become quite clear that Japan has a penchant for films about troubled/misguided youths, particularly those in high school.
  • Formerly belonging to a cult (based very much on the Aum Shinrikyo cult), a young boy goes in search of his younger sister, hoping to reunite with her.
  • Following up from a previous film of his, Harmful Insect, writer/director Akihiko Shiota manages to, once again, demonstrate the clear divide between the world of youths and adults with Canary.
  • Shares resemblance to the Koreeda film, Distance - and not just because of the cult aspect but due to the meandering nature of both films and its manipulation of memory. 
  • Interestingly enough, longtime Koreeda cinematographer, Yutaka Yamazaki lends his skills to the film (which do not go by unnoticed). 
  • Not quite as gripping of a film as you may think though - starts off strong but flashbacks to our protagonist's time with the cult impede the pace of the film (which was already slow enough to begin with). 

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  • Honestly would have never heard about The Man Who Stole the Sun had it not been for Evangelion (the second film in Evangelion's "Rebuild" series uses a song from this film).
  • Tells the story of a bored high school chemistry teacher who decides to build a nuclear bomb.
  • Given Japan's history with nuclear bombs, this film was controversial in the country at the time of its release and its not hard to see why given it's subject matter.
  • Perhaps the most brilliant part of the film is the fact that it doesn't give our chemistry teacher a motive to commit to building it - he just builds it cause he can.
  • Unfortunately, the film does eventually lose its footing - becoming a jumble of genres and ideas that the commentary becomes less and less palpable.
  • Also, when watching the film, it's understandable how a film like this (now considered a classic in Japan) had an influence on Evangelion.
  • At times felt like a Japanese Taxi Driver though, which I guess is a plus.
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  • Missed this at the Japanese Film Festival but managed to track down a copy of Red Angel.
  • Some say this is Yasuzo Masumura's best movie but I still think that Seisaku's Wife is his best and is perhaps his most accomplished film.
  • Ayako Wakao stars as a nurse during the Sino-Japanese war who sees her fare share of atrocities.
  • Strong with political allegory, this film is essentially a non-war movie that takes on a fairly different viewpoint.
  • It's more or less about how damaging the effects of war can have on not just soldiers but the professionals whose job it is to make sure the soldiers are clinically sane and fit for combat. 
  • That said, I felt that the romantic/sexual aspect of the film felt a bit too forced upon - like as if titillation would make the film more dramatic or draw audiences in to see an already alienating film (at the time of its release, Red Angel also stirred up controversy due to its depiction of the Japanese and of that particular war - a topic that's still sensitive even in Japan today). 

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  • Anh Hung Tran is an interesting director - I liked Cyclo, hated I Come With The Rain and am still indifferent towards Norwegian Wood
  • His debut feature, The Scent of the Green Papaya, brought Tran international acclaim which led to a nomination at the 1994 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language film - not bad at all.
  • The film follows the growth of a servant girl from a child to a young woman as she lives and helps an affluent Vietnamese family.
  • Aside from the gorgeous cinematography (drowning in a sea of green and yellows) I honestly didn't think there was much about this film to enjoy.
  • As someone who hears Vietnamese in his everyday life, the way characters spoke and behaved didn't feel authentic and felt too "put on" at times which was distracting.
  • And for a 90 minute film, it moves at such an intolerably slow pace - the lack of music/silence didn't do anything to add to this either.
  • I will say however that watching the film did make me miss shacking up in my relatives' home in Vietnam though...
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TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS


Biggest piece of film news this week comes in the form of Academy Award nominations! Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone presented the awards on Thursday morning and This has probably been the least excited I have been for the Academy Awards compared to previous years but nonetheless, I remain in good spirits, especially when one of my favourite films last year, Beasts of the Southern Wild, earned four nominations (nominations that I did not expect it to get either).


Steven Spielberg's Lincoln leads the Oscar race with 12 nominations while Ang Lee's Life of Pi closely follows with 11 nominations. Many believed Argo and Zero Dark Thirty to be the triumphant leaders at this year's Oscar race but with Thursday's announcements, those two films' hopes of being Best Picture winner seems to have all but gone out the window. Dark horses in the Oscar race go to Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild (although I would love so badly if Beasts won). 

Anyways, here are the main nominees that most people care about (you can find the rest of them here).

BEST PICTURE
Lincoln
Life of Pi
Argo
Zero Dark Thirty
Les Miserables
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Amour
Silver Linings Playbook
Django Unchained

BEST DIRECTOR
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Denzel Washington (Flight)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Amy Adams (The Master)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Sally Field (Lincoln)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Paranorman
Wreck-It Ralph
Brave
Pirates: Band of Misfits 
Frankenweenie

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Amour (Austria)
Kon-Tiki (Norway)
No (Chile)
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
War Witch (Canada)

BEST WRITING FOR AN ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
John Gatins (Argo)
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)
Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)

BEST WRITING FOR AN ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Chris Terrior (Argo)
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
David Magee (Life of Pi)
Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
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And that's all I have to write about this week. Will try to watch all the Best Picture nominees next week (not including the ones that aren't released in Australia yet). Recently got into Kanye West's music and never realised how good he was until now. Here's a track off his album, Graduation, which just so happens to be today's title too (apparently a hit single too which is funny cause I don't remember ever hearing this at the time of its release). 


End post.

Friday, 4 January 2013

How Do You Know

Hello Earthlings.

First post of 2013! How was your New Year's Eve spent? How was mine? Oh it was pretty nice and it wasn't like I was expecting a MASSIVE celebration or anything - I just like to be out on that night and take in the spectacles of the fireworks. The only thing not fun about NYE is the people who can be pretty damn rowdy. But this year my NYE celebrations took place at my mate's apartment in the city. Some of us were worried we wouldn't be able to actually see the fireworks but it turns out that the Melbourne fireworks shot from several different buildings which ultimately gave us a very panorama view of the fireworks. Too cool.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING


I missed the opportunity to be able to see Your Sister's Sister both at MIFF 2012 and in cinemas when it was released here. I managed to get a hold of a Blu-ray copy of the film, however, thanks to Madman Entertainment.

The film, written and directed by Lynn Shelton, has been described as belonging to the mumblecore genre, a term used to describe films with naturalistic dialogue that, more often than not, contains murmurs and mumbling. It's a relatively new kind of style that's been applied to American indie filmmaking but I'm fairly sure this style of filmmaking has been achieved before elsewhere (Hiroshi Ishikawa's films are a good example of this).

Mark Duplass, previously seen in Safety Not Guaranteed  plays Jack, a man struggling with the death of his brother who passed away the year prior. Concerned, his best friend, Iris (played by Emily Blunt) suggests that he use her father's remote cabin to take a lone sabbatical where Jack meets Iris' sister, Hannah (played by Rosemarie DeWitt), who is also having her own sabbatical. Eventually, Iris heads up to the cabin to check up on Jack and over the course of a few days, some revelations are made between the three of them.

I thought it was a nice little film and while I can understand why some people may find Your Sister's Sister to be a less than pleasurable experience, I liked the way the film flowed and really appreciated the naturalistic performances provided by all three actors. As someone who has studied the mechanics of dialogue and narrative, I thought that Lynn Shelton's script for this was great and her direction provided a genuine and, at times, honest tone for the film. Additionally, if at any time a film subverts genre conventions (in this case, the romantic comedy) and succeeds, then I think it'd be hard not to be impressed at least the very least. 

While Your Sister's Sister won't exactly go on to be an enamouring favourite of mine, it's these kind of films that always leave a lasting impression on me - these quiet and understated films. Largely enjoyable and if you're thinking of seeing a different kind of comedy/drama this is it. 

Your Sister's Sister will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on January 9th across Australian retailers via Madman Entertainment.



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Blue Valentine has been on my watch-pile for a while now but it wasn't until the trailer for Derek Cianfrance's newest film, The Place Beyond the Pines, hit the web that I figured it was time I watched Blue Valentine.  Released in 2010, Blue Valentine was not without controversy as the MPAA had deemed the film too graphic and thought it ought to have been given an NC-17 rating. The MPPA thought it was too sexually explicit to the point where they thought the film bordered on pornography (which is ridiculous when you see the film for what it actually is). The film managed to get an R rating in the end (think of that as our MA15+).

Controversy notwithstanding, Blue Valentine struck a cord when it first screened in front of audiences. The film charters the tumultuous and destructive relationship of Dean and Cindy. Not much more needs to be said than that honestly. The film goes back and forth between where Dean and Cindy are at in the present (they have a child and their marriage is on the rocks) to the past where they first meet and fall in love.

Writer/director Derek Cianfrance creates a portrait of love that is both raw and honest which is further assisted by the clever cinematography work by Andrij Parekh. It's incredible to see how so in love these two are from the beginning and how completely out of love they eventually become. The fact that they share a child as well no doubt complicates matters between the two further.

Like Your Sister's Sister, there's a naturalistic style to the film that compliments the bittersweet tone. Dialogue feels inspired and  Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are in perfect form, with Gosling providing his best performance to date (at least from the films of his that I've seen). And while Gosling's performance is certainly impressive, I don't think it's nearly captivating as Michelle Williams' here.

Blue Valentine is an exceptional film grounded by realistic nuance and honesty. It's a unique perspective on the disintegration of love.


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Nominated for Best Documentary at last year's Academy Awards, Hell and Back Again, at times, does not feel like a documentary at all. I had to keep telling myself that as I was watching this incredible film about an American soldier struggling to assimilate himself back into society.

Prior to making the film, director Danfung Dennis had an extensive history as a war photographer. In the special features of the DVD/Blu-ray Dennis explains that he wanted to capture war in a completely different light and opted to try using video instead. The result is something that's brilliant and spectacular. If it weren't for the fact that the film's subject matter was somewhat distressing, I'd say that this is one of the most beautifully shot war movies I've ever seen (if not the best). To be able to capture live firefights with incredibly smooth tracking shots is an extraordinary feat and with Dennis' already keen eye for visuals, the images he leaves on you are hard to forget about. 

The documentary weaves in and out of American soldier Nathan Harris' life in battle and back home. Harris is committed to his military duties but his injury has debilitated him, forcing him out of action for about a year. 

Hell and Back Again operates a lot like The Hurt Locker, particularly the final moments of the film where Jeremy Renner's character is essentially alienated from life in America. Harris, like Renner's character in The Hurt Locker, is completely disenchanted with what ordinary life has to offer and, in spite of the love and support offered by his wife Ashley, he is a man who only knows how to be a soldier and nothing else. He tells his wife of war stories and how to operate guns and lovingly tells us how he steels himself during his sleep. War isn't so much a drug for Nathan, it's his life. It's all he knows which is exactly why the scenes at home feel completely out of place (in a good way) because he himself feels out of place. 

Hell and Back Again is an exceptionally gorgeous looking and sounding film. It's especially effective on Blu-ray and features a gorgeous HD transfer.  The special feature on Danfung Dennis' choice of camera and how he managed to get the shots he wanted is a must-watch for budding filmmakers and documentarians. 

Hell and Back Again is currently on sale at Australian retailers and is available via Madman Entertainment.


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While not exactly at the top of my watch pile, I figured I ought to give Attack the Block a chance this week. In the face of an alien invasion, a group of teenagers go from criminals to heroes as they do battle against these aliens in their apartment block. 

Written and directed by Joe Cornish, the film comes off like a mix between the films of Edgar Wright and Aliens. Edgar Wright has a producing credit on the film though so it's perhaps no surprise that Attack the Block has a bit of that Edgar Wright flavour (even going so far as to hire Wright-regular Nick Frost for a role as the teenagers' weed dealer). The humour isn't as crass as one might expect (considering how thug-ish these lads are) but there's plenty of referential quips and deaths that'll keep you laughing.

Attack the Block isn't without it's drawbacks though as character and story seem to have been ignored in favour of set-pieces. The movie moves at such a fast pace that there's really no time to soak in everything that's happen. Even the attempt at social commentary, while admirable and may provide food for thought, feels too forced in the grand scheme of things.

That said, Attack the Block isn't without it's charm and despite its drawbacks is still an enjoyable and fun film. While I can understand that the characters in this film aren't exactly the most likable people in the world, they certainly help to build the world of the fil. No doubt this movie will become (if it hasn't already) a cult classic.

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Skipping out on Tidbits of Film News this week (as I do seemingly every other week now). This blog post's title comes from the indie group Field Mouse. I found out about them through the Exitmusic Tumblr tag (Exitmusic are another great group who you should listen to!) because they did a remix of this particular song. This song reminds me a lot of Mew. I'm hoping Field Mouse release their first full album soon. Have a listen and have a happy new year everyone!


End post.