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Thoroughbreds

thoroughbreds

Watching eccentric low-budget films is a gamble. The writer and director, one and the same in this case, is at liberty to avoid using formulae in his creative process, the result of which is about as likely for the viewer to be either rewarding or punishing.

Wikipedia says Thoroughbreds is a thriller. It does have faint echoes of something like Rear Window thematically, but thriller is still not the word I would use. It also says comedy, but I remember laughing on only a couple of occasions while watching it. Despite this, I still found it enjoyable, and odd in a positive way.

The film is about two teenagers from a rich area of Connecticut. One of them, Amanda, appears to be psychopathic. Lily, Amanda’s friend, is not, but Amanda’s personality gradually impresses itself upon Lily throughout the film, eventually culminating in their plan to kill Lily’s obnoxious stepfather Mark. First they intend to blackmail a third party into doing it for them. When that fails, they speak of doing it together, and finally Lily just kills him herself.

From the outset, the soundtrack is remarkably good at setting a tone, particularly those parts that were ambient or just sounds rather than songs, e.g. discordant violins and what sounded like a guitar string snapping, along with odd jungle-music percussion, which was appropriately unnerving during tense moments, or character-establishing moments such as Amanda’s arrival at Lily’s house near the beginning as she explores all the bizarre, quaint finery within; Roman busts, a katana, etc, which gives an impression of Mark as an obsessive of some sort who likes to enrich himself with various aspects of Eastern and Western culture. This goes alongside the camerawork, the most striking example of which, and recurrent all through the film, involves following the subject just behind and above the head, with an attendant unsettling effect.

The only song I remember enjoying greatly was one made by an obscure French singer, and it plays while Lily experiences doubts about going through with the plan. This uncertainty later dissolves.

One will find that the aforementioned house, although aesthetically pleasing, is irrelevant to the plot. It is not, as far as I recall, made clear whether it belongs to Lily’s stepfather or to her biological family, but I would not think too much of it since it just serves as a backdrop and as a vessel for the eccentric outward expressions of Mark’s personality. That and the noisy contraption he keeps upstairs, on which he is killed by Lily near the end of the film. Similarly, the various shenanigans of Lily’s school life are barely worth paying attention to and only come up fleetingly, although it is implicit that she too has psychological problems.

The film depicts, in a way that reminds me somewhat of The Crush, a particular, unusually modern instantiation of WASP culture, which is as fascinating as it is charming even though it seems quite divorced from present reality. The most clear and obvious common thread is the convention of horse-riding in prestigious schools, which comes up at the start of Thoroughbreds when Amanda gets in trouble for gruesomely killing her horse. This is apparently what the title refers to.

The handling of Amanda’s psychopathic personality was fun; it becomes the subject of a lot of talk between the two protagonists, and Amanda remarks at some point that her diagnosis consisted of the psychiatrist’s “throwing random pages of the DSM-V at her”, briefly mentioning schizoid symptoms and other illnesses. She acts out her “feelinglessness” in an engaging manner, such as winning £300 (or whatever) in an online game and having no reaction whatsoever. This is what leads to, arguably, the climax of the film when Amanda allows Lily to drug her and then land her in a situation most people would obviously not willingly submit themselves to. Amanda does not care, because she lives, as she says, a “meaningless life”.

The division of the film into chapter headings, what would normally be called “acts” I think, seemed superfluous even if they did not noticeably detract from the experience; this was an effort to appear quirky that the film could easily have waived. Do most books have 4-5 chapters? The runtime I definitely appreciated, however. It is exactly as long as it needs to be; I normally have to go looking for pre-Code films  to find stuff shorter than two hours, and Thoroughbreds is 90 minutes, so I at no point felt bored.

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Life in Plastic, It’s Fantastic.

aquabarbiegirl2

Ahh yes, I’m driving down Scottsdale Rd in the fall of 1998 in my ’93 Saturn (soon to be totaled while parked in Santa Monica less than 2 years later.) I’m wearing a yellow button down shirt from The Gap and sporting frosted tips. Or maybe I’m wearing a blue Tommy Hilfiger windbreaker semi-ironically. What song is playing on the radio? Well, it could be one of many songs actually. Perhaps it’s Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta. Maybe it’s Barenaked Ladies’ One Week or if I’m lucky, Aqua’s Barbie Girl.

barbiegirllene

Yes I admit it, I loved this song. I was first alerted to it by friends that said it reminded them of my recordings, not that I ever made anything remotely as good as this, but I used to increase the pitch on my cassettes on 4 track to make my voice sound more indie and alternative, which my friends jokingly said made it sound like “that Barbie Girl song.” It brings back so many memories from a great time in the 90s. I used to think pop music was so shitty at the time, but we didn’t know how good we had it! Aqua’s Barbie Girl is actually a masterpiece, artistically, cinematically, aesthetically, musically, you name it.

seahorse

One of my favorite parts of the video is when Lene is getting her hair done and reading a cool looking (but fake) book titled My Little Sea Horse. Whenever I watch the video, I always think about how I wish that book actually existed and I could read it.

Life in plastic, it’s fantastic! Yes it was.

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Ambervision and The Amber Age of Infomercials

ambervision

If you grew up in the 80′s and 90′s chances are you sat through a zillion infomercials: featuring everything from Don Lapre’s “Tiny Classified Ads” to Corey Haim and Corey Feldman’s 900 number hotline. Looking back at these, I have a certain nostalgia for the aesthetic of all these old infomercials. It’s just one of those things that you don’t really appreciate or recognize as an artform until it’s gone. On a subconscious level part of the appeal is probably my mind associating these ads with positive memories of whatever I was doing in those much simpler times, when my biggest concerns were getting every card in the 4th Series of Garbage Pail Kids, whether the Los Angeles Rams would make the playoffs and what was on HBO that night.

Anyway, here’s a (1987?) commercial for Ambervision sunglasses. I sometimes imagine things like this as if they were part of some kind of science fiction fantasy story. Like, if I were to buy a vintage, new old stock pair of these Ambervision sunglasses off Etsy or Ebay and put them on, would I be transported back to another time? Would simply looking through them awaken some kind of old feeling within me, even artificially? I suppose on some level, it would.

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Pauline Frechette – Come Away With Me

Pauline-Frechette-Come-Away-680

Pauline Frechette has a magnificent new single out, titled “Come Away With Me.” It’s an incredibly polished, professionally performed and expertly composed. Others have positively described the sound as “haunting.” Stylistically, the track does have a bit of a “darker” tone and melody, which the song content itself in fact delightfully romantic. This isn’t a contradiction though, as there is more mystery, longing and certainly much more at stake emotionally in any genuine love experience.

It is interesting that the cover art features innocent child-like imagery, because my first impression of this song was that it seemed like it would fit right in on the soundtrack to a Disney film, to be featured in one of the more serious or poignant scenes. This is another testament to the quality of the music, which is in every way top of the line, to the extent that it wouldn’t seem out of place in a big budget, award nominated movie. Even the line “come away with me” appeals to the state of innocence and spontaneity we revert to when we fall in love with someone. We want the person to wake up and come along with us on the journey, and we want to let them know how much we want them with us.

With this track, Pauline has proven once again that she is capable not only of creating musical masterpieces (a difficult achievement enough,) but also of conjuring content which is personally inspiring.

For more info:
https://soundcloud.com/paulinefrechette/come-away-with-me
http://www.paulinefrechette.com/

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Coreena – She Myself and I

An alumni of the Berklee College of Music, Coreena proves herself to be a more than capable performer and songwriter as well. Her upcoming EP, “She, Myself and I,” is set to be released on August 24th. Though she writes and produces her own material, the finished product sounds remarkably professional. Her new EP aspires to be a “conceptual album of her different musical personalities.” The song “Sugar Love Glow” has kind of a mellow, ambient dance quality to it. “Apocalyptic” can be described as a unique mix of 1950s lounge singer vocals with a tribal techno beat backing. I was blown away by all the songs on the EP, but my favorite has to be “Ex-girlfriend.” It is energetic and upbeat, with a synth driven chorus that really carries the song. When it kicks in, you get that feeling like “Yes! I’m way into this.” I recommend you buy this EP when it comes out. This music is much better than anything you’ll hear on the radio. Pure class.

http://www.coreenamusic.com/

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Naro Kim – The Captain

naro

Aside from being an incredibly talented musician, she managed to recover from a devastating brain hemorrhage two years ago. After losing vision and some of her memories, she had to relearn basic things we take for granted like how to walk, read and write. Within a year of hard work and rehabilitation,she was back to being able to play the piano well again.
She recently recorded a new album, “The Captain.” The title track contains uplifting melodies with oceanic ambiance in the background. Though there are no lyrics, the song manages to evoke positive and optimistic emotions. In contrast, her song “Life,” which is just as terrific, harbors a more somber and varied tone. “I’m in love with…” is another gem that builds to a somewhat epic climax. It’s tough for me to say which of the songs I like the best, as they all kind of represent different moods and experiences. Musically they are top quality. I could envision these songs being used as part of a soundtrack to the emotional scenes of a film. Naro has achieved great things musically with this album, quickly making you forget what she had to go through to create it.

https://soundcloud.com/narokim

http://www.narokim.com/

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