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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Moonlit Sailor -- So Close to Life

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I just applauded uplifting instrumental rock band, Moonlit Sailor, for putting just enough diversity and tension into their debut EP to make the whole thing a well-rounded and emotionally gratifying experience. So Close to Life, their first shot at a full-length (nine songs instead of seven this time, and averaging over five minutes apiece instead of four) unfortunately doesn't hold together quite as well, going for a uniformity-over-diversity approach that makes the album harder to take in one sitting. It's still positive, inspiring music, but the guitar tones, notes, keys, and textures just don't vary enough, and the album as a whole features little to no conflict. With that said, So Close to Life still features some songs that are as powerful as anything, with "Sunbeams," "The Cheers on the Parade," and "1994" standing out in particular. The album is worth listening to multiple times, but it's also better off broken up into multiple listens, a few tracks at a time, so the positivity and monochrome joy don't overwhelm.

2009 Deep Elm
1. Sunbeams 5:30
2. Hope 5:01
3. Landvetter 7:15
4. New Zealand 5:34
5. Fresh Snow 5:25
6. A Week without Sunlight 6:33
7. The Cheers on the Parade 5:01
8. 1994 4:17
9. Waiting for Nothing 6:30

Monday, August 31, 2015

Moonlit Sailor -- A Footprint of Feelings

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Post-rock? Homey don't say that. Yes, I know I just botched that In Living Color quote, but I mean it the way I put it. I think "post-rock" is one of the laziest rock sub-genre titles I've heard. Just check out how nebulous the Wikipedia definition is. Basically, if something is rock music, but it sounds a little different from regular rock music, and you don't feel like explaining why, you just call it "post-rock" and move along.
Moonlit Sailor are characterized as a "post-rock" band, but here is what they really are: an instrumental rock band who create guitar-driven songs, usually in major keys, featuring a very optimistic and victorious sound. Bass and driving, often crashing and rolling drums fill out the band's sound. A Footprint of Feelings is their first album, technically classified as an EP, though its seven songs clock in at nearly 28 minutes (same length as Weezer's Green Album). 28-minutes is the perfect dose for this kind of music, but rather ironically, A Footprint of Feelings contains a conflict and tension in its midsection ("The Fog Is Lifting" and "Waterfall") that Moonlit Sailor's later full-lengths omit--but which gives A Footprint of Feelings an edge in total listen-ability and catharsis when the tension is released in the final two tracks. In other words, the feelings of hard-won completion the closing track elicits are earned.
A Footprint of Feelings also features a nice variation in tone and texture, Moonlit Sailor not satisfied with just pushing out clean, happy guitar line after clean, happy guitar line. "Earls Court" and "Once We Were Children" utilize a bit of keyboard at just the right moment, to push deeper emotions to the forefront. This gives A Footprint of Feelings a more diverse and well-rounded feeling than the next album I'm going to review...
I can heartily recommend this EP to fans of modern, instrumental rock, and fans of positive, uplifting music in general (the honest kind, not the forced-for-radio kind). A Footprint of Feelings is quite the unexcavated gem. Um...dig it.

2008 Deep Elm
1. A Footprint of Feelings 3:25
2. Night Stroll 4:10
3. Earls Court 3:37
4. The Fog Is Lifting 3:48
5. Waterfall 4:29
6. Yes 3:22
7. Once We Were Children 4:29

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mono -- Holy Ground: NYC Live with the Wordless Music Orchestra

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In a bit of happenstance, I just reviewed all seven Lost soundtracks, and now I'm reviewing an album I picked up the same week Lost ended. For a while, I had Lost's series finale and Mono's Holy Ground: NYC Live with the Wordless Music Orchestra conflated in my head, but the years have thankfully separated the two (though I still love both), and I now closely associate Michael Giacchino's music with Lost instead. But hey, enough about that, let's get to the actual review part...which is going to be short.
Mono is a four-piece instrumental rock band from Tokyo, Japan. They play a mix of really long songs that build from gentle intros to cathartic, feedback-filled finales, and shorter songs that explore the gentle side of their music more in depth. Holy Ground is a recording of a live performance Mono did with an orchestra. It's all very emotional stuff, and one can easily imagine the performers hitting their knees at certain moments of their performances...except I don't have to imagine because I've actually seen them do it--twice in person, and once on the incredible DVD that accompanies this disc (and includes one extra track not included on the CD). In fact, the second time I saw Mono, one of their guitarists laid on his back for about ten minutes of the set, overwhelmed by the sounds he was creating. Holy Ground's strings and orchestra somehow give this incredible music an even more commanding presence. Awesome.
So if you enjoy powerful, stirring music, Mono's Holy Ground is an excellent choice. It is of a spiritual sort (also why I conflated it with Lost's finale), hence the title, invoking the grand majesty of the unknown. The recorded show's setlist does a great job of blowing the doors off with the first songs, then giving the listeners time to catch their breath with a quiet mid-section, before coming back with an even longer, even more grand finale of long crescendos. But don't just take my word for it, you skeptic, you.

2010 Temporary Residence Limited
1. Ashes in the Snow 12:55
2. Burial At Sea 10:23
3. Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn 5:50
4. Are You There?10:30
5. 2 Candles, 1 Wish 2:52
6. Where Am I 3:03
7. Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm) 11:37
8. Halcyon (Beautiful Days) 9:17
9. Everlasting Light 12:35

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mono -- You Are There

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My first three years of marriage to my (still) wife had a definite peak. A few weeks before our third anniversary, our family grew to three people, and I'm hoping we haven't peaked yet (maybe we'll have a lot of peaks). The peak of non-parentitude marriage occurred sometime between October of 2007 and June of 2009, when we lived in a 600 square-foot apartment (half of which was occupied by our washer and dryer) on the corner of Lobdell and College drive, in the heart of Baton Rouge's mid-city district, and fronting the city's public golf course (I never played there (I've never played golf), but I have a sack of golf balls I collected that bounced off our barred windows).
Ahh, the memories. Watching X-Files re-runs in bed together in the winter, with the window cracked open (as much as I could crack it open with the bars over it), the chill air cooling my toes. Our adopted stray cat that wandered in and out of our apartment whenever it pleased. The music store, comic book store, tattoo parlor, pizza place, all within walking distance. Watching 45-minute chunks of movies and television shows on my lunch break (I worked five minutes away). Another highlight was my wife's bedtime. I love my wife, and I love that she loves to sleep a whole lot more than I do. I do not love to sleep. I have always felt like sleeping is a waste of time. My mind is more alive at midnight than any other part of the day. Thus, after hitting the local cheap Chinese Place for our spare rib and sweet and sour chicken combos, respectively, my wife and I would chow down and watch Law and Order SVU marathons, or whatever other couples show was one, and then my wife would promptly fall asleep at 7:30. 7:30 is her bedtime. Then, I would slide off the couch and live a glorious bachelor's life for the next six or seven hours. I'd write, draw, watch movies, make late night runs to the Jack in the Box for a couple Ultimate Cheeseburgers and a Monster Taco...listen to music. I collected a ton of vinyl in those days...I mean, I had disposable income (I MISS YOU, DISPOSABLE INCOME), and a record store a block away. My wife sleeps harder than Gibraltar, so I never feared tossing on my new records, and cranking them up.
Mono's You Are There is such a record (purchased with a generous coupon from the owner of the Temporary Residence Limited record label himself, given after I purchased a defective Explosions in the Sky record). I fondly remember listening to You Are There for the first time, 11:30, my wife sleeping feet away on the couch, while I stretched my legs out on the love-seat. I left the lights on so I could look at the accompanying booklet. Then I listened to it again with the lights off.
You Are There, like most of Mono's work, is at times a loud album, contrasting long, cathartic pieces featuring buildup to moments of momentous feedback, with gently-plucked, shorter pieces. You Are There is a testament to how deaf my wife is when she sleeps. The loudest parts are very loud. Mono, an instrumental rock band from Japan, produce very emotional works. I've seen Mono twice live, once in support of this album, and there were definite swaths of the audience buckled in tears. You Are There may be their most emotional, its walls of distortion suggesting the utmost outpouring of feeling, its quiet moments bringing to mind comfort, family, and togetherness. I'd highlight a particular track, but I feel like that's a waste of time, and I like my reviews best when they are 90% about me, and 10% music criticism. I'll just close this with: fans of powerful instrumental music should check out Mono's You Are There. Also, enjoy the good times because you do not know when they will end.

2006 Temporary Residence Limited

Side One
1. The Flames Beyond the Cold Mountain 13:29
2. A Heart Has Asked for the Pleasure 3:43

Side Two
3. Yearning 15:38

Side Three
4. Are You There? 10:25
5. The Remains of the Day 3:41

Side Four
6. Moonlight 13:04

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Moby -- Wait for Me

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I recently arrived to work an hour early because I didn't look closely enough at my schedule. I had Moby's Wait for Me in my car, in preparation for this review. Now I had a full hour to dedicate myself completely to Wait for Me. I hoped my reaction to Wait for Me would be more positive than what I felt for it six years ago. Six years ago, I gave Wait for Me a very earnest effort, six or seven listens, some of those on vinyl, but always found myself getting a little bored.
This time, alone in my car, with my eyes closed...things were much the same.
Wait for Me sounds like the sparse lunar landscape depicted on its minimalistic album cover. The album is lonely and desolate, featuring spacey keyboard textures, sad vocals from a bevy of female guest artists, as well as a few by Moby himself, minimal beats, and woozy guitar that reminds me of how Reese's Pieces feel between my teeth. Also, something about this album--rather anachronistically--reminds me of the 50's. Wait for Me is cool, I won't lie, and not one track on the entire thing is bad. All the songs are lovely enough in their alienating sadness. Taken together, though, Wait for Me's effect on my shut eyes is more nap than meditation.
Still...there's something in this lonely late night alien atmosphere...Wait for Me isn't mediocre, and it stands apart from Moby's worst efforts. It just doesn't stand out enough to be mentioned among his best.

2009 Little Idiot/Mute
1. Division 1:56
2. Pale Horses 3:37
3. Shot in the Back of the Head 3:15
4. Study War 4:18
5. Walk with Me 4:01
6. Stock Radio 0:45
7. Mistake 3:47
8. Scream Pilots 2:48
9. jltf-1 1:27
10. jltf 4:40
11. A Seated Night 3:23
12. Wait for Me 4:13
13. Hope Is Gone 3:30
14. Ghost Return 2:38
15. Slow Light 4:00
16. Isolate 3:28

Monday, August 17, 2015

Moby -- 18

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Uh...I want to make an onomatopoeia right here for something similar to "oh, boy," but not like, the enthusiastic "Oh, boy!" but the "Oh, boy" you say when you're at a family gathering and someone says something that's going to start on argument. Like a "here we go," "oh, boy." "Ooh, boy?" No, that sounds weirdly sexual. "Eww, boy?" No, that sounds gross. How about, "E-owe, boy?"
E-owe, boy. Here we go. I don't think many people have given Moby's 18 the amount of thought that I have.
I picked up 18 during the week of its May 2002 release, more than two years after having my life changed by Moby's previous album, Play. I was primed for a let down. I picked up the album on a completely spontaneous, completely random road trip with four people I barely knew. That three-day experience can't be put into words, though if I was forced to put it into one word, it would be Hypno-Bro. Perhaps even more randomly, two of the party, road trip members (both friends of mine today) were also pretty big Moby fans, and had no problem throwing my new Moby CD onto their car SUV player. There's too much going into this review, though, so let's just do a track by track look at 18, which I didn't need to do with Play because Play is perfect, and dissecting perfect things to that degree isn't very helpful or productive.
1. We Are All Made of Stars -- Hmm...I don't really like this. It's like he's trying to be cool, uplifting, and deep, but the simple beat and cheesy guitar aren't cool. Then again, by the end, when the keyboard is soaring and higher in the mix, I'm singing along with Moby, so I guess it is what it is.
2. In This World (featuring Jennifer Price) -- Here we go (in the enthusiastic "Oh, Boy!" sense). Old-sounding gospel singing sample, piano, beat, and bass, with a more prominent keyboard presence as the song progresses. It's akin to the spirit of Play, and this early in the album, I'm looking for familiarity.
3. In My Heart (featuring The Shining Light Gospel Choir) -- But now this is too familiar. Another track of the exact same nature. "In My Heart" keeps the momentum well from "In This World" by basically cloning it.
4. Great Escape (featuring Azure Ray) -- And now for something completely different. This doesn't sound like Play at all, but this time, that's not a bad thing. Two female singers harmonizing over each other about trying to drown a guy so he can't escape over a weird, synthesized violin. Haunting, mournful, and beautiful. A definite highlight. Starts off the sad parade, though.
5. Signs of Love -- Though "We Are All Made of Stars" features Moby-singing, Moby-singing featuring "Signs of Love" feels far more like a "Moby-singing" song. Melancholy, lots of keyboard. "I fly so high, and fall so low," is a downer of a chorus.
6. One of These Mornings (featuring Dianne McCaulley) -- Now this is a rehash too far. Another soul-song-sampling-song with Moby's usual instrumental accompaniment that doesn't set itself apart from anything on Play or 18. Also a downer with its, "One of these mornings, it won't be very long, you will look for me, and I'll be gone" chorus.
7. Another Woman -- But here's how to do it differently. An infectious, dominant bassline and congas meet another old soul-sample, but this different instrumentation refreshes the formula. "You leave your home for days and days, and I know you got another woman somewhere around" continues the stream of depression.
8. Fireworks -- Lovely little instrumental, featuring a cool Rhodes-ish keyboard line interplay with a cool, rainfall imbued piano line. Cool changes throughout the song, as well. Further carves out a more specific identity for 18 among its early track Play really feel that somber blue of the album cover here.
9. Extreme Ways -- Now it's the Bourne films' theme song, but here it's an interesting oddity, with its anthemic opening sample, dancey beat. "Oh baby, oh baby, then it fell apart/oh baby, oh baby, like it always does," goes the chorus--further developing in 18 a definite lyrical theme.
10. Jam for the Ladies (featuring MC Lyte and Angie Stone) -- Here's the "Bodyrock" for this album, except this time with ladies. Still, the upbeat, bass-driven song is infectious, with good female-rapping and singing, and a catchy chorus that makes me wish I wasn't the only person to listen to this album more than two times...that way I could sing it with someone else.
11. Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday) -- One more downbeat song with a gospelish sample and the now expected, trademark, and rote Moby instrumentation. The only thing that sets this song apart from Play is how much of a downer it is. "Sunday was a bright day, yesterday. Dark cloud has come into the way." And...let's take a break from this to discuss the most important difference between Play and 18:
Yes, that horrendous day in which thousands were killed, that changed our culture my opinion for the worse. Play was released seven months before Y2K (a fun, fake disaster), during light and happy times, where our government conspiracies revolved mostly around aliens, and when seeing a plane flying through the sky invoked hope and escape and not anxiety. 18 was released eight months after 9/11, and you can feel it hanging heavy over the entirety of the album...
12. 18 -- on the melancholy keyboard and piano of the title track, which virtually sounds like the audio for a montage featuring firefighters rushing into the burning buildings, the towers collapsing, confused, debris-covered people shuffling around the wreckage not knowing what to do, the planes crashing into the buildings in slow motion again and again. Dammit, here comes the PTSD. What a damn lousy day.
13. Sleep Alone -- The wave of now seemingly infinite sadness continues. Moby singing the line "At least we were together, holding hands, flying through the sky," conjures even more 9/11 imagery, over the most grey-sky, downbeat sounds Moby can conjure.
14. At Least We Tried (featuring Freedom Bremner) -- By this point you've either turned off the album, or you really like commiserating with sad music. Sad piano, a minimal beat, and the lyrics, "oh my baby, don't cry, oh my babe, just say goodbye/oh now baby, don't cry/oh my babe, at least we tried, at least we tried to make it, but in these days I'm so confused." Then a strange keyboard break that sounds like a sheet of perplexed sadness scraping down the corridors of your ears.
15. Harbour (featuring Sinéad O'Connor) -- And here we are. I don't mean to be callous, but coming from someone who has been there, this is a song to kill yourself to. Thankfully, "Harbour" is the peak of 18's back half's crushing wall of depression and sadness, but that depression and sadness is so bleak and unrelenting on "Harbour," this is little consolation.

the street bears no relief
when everybody's fighting
the street bears no relief
with light so hot and binding

I run the stairs away
and walk into the nighttime
the sadness flows like water
and washes down the heartache
and washes down the heartache

my heart is full
my heart is wide
the saddest song to play
on the strings of my heart

the heat is on its own
the roof seems so inviting
a vantage point is gained
to watch the children fighting

so lead me to the harbour
and float me on the waves
sink me in the ocean
to sleep in a sailor's grave

Damn, Moby. For real? I love Sinéad O'Connor guest-spots, and this one is as good as any she's done. Her vocals are on point with the melancholy of Moby's lyrics and arrangement, the latter of which is a steady, heartless death-march beat and bassline, guitar that contrastingly sounds like tears and a suicide note, and that big keyboard line at the end that Moby can turn in at a pinch, but that always does the trick. Here's the song. Please don't kill yourself. There's too much cool stuff to experience, and your problems are almost always far more minor than you think.

16. Look Back In -- At this point, the album attempts to inject some feeling of moving on to positivity, and the instrumental, "Look Back In," does a decent enough job. Nice beat, uplifiting, yet solemn keyboards, good bassline.
17. The Rafters (featuring Shauna & Lorraine Phillips) --After shooting you in the head, Moby wants to party with you. "The Rafters" features a dance beat and bassline and a rowdy gospel sample to get you out on the floor...but that floor's already been cleared out.
18. I'm Not Worried at All (featuring The Shining Light Gospel Choir) -- The "everything is going to be alright" track that Moby had to include at the end of this album so that he could go to bed with a clear conscious...but I don't buy it, man. "All of these burdens seem to fall, I'm not worried at all," sings an old gospel singer over Moby's rendition of post-modern gospel music. After all that sadness, though, something about this track seems just a little too calculated, like Moby knew he couldn't end things on such a desolate note, and had to create something uplifting. However, Moby's heart just doesn't seem in this song like it was for the five song (tracks 11-15) dirge that preceeded this album-closing three-song run of optimism. I didn't believe 18's album-ending optimism was honest then, and I don't believe it now, either. It's not that I believe that things in life can't be positive, it's that I don't believe that the end of this album is truthful in its positivity.
For me again, it all comes back to 9/11. Look at the covers for Play and 18 side-by-side.
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Play's background is a verdant green, the color of life. 18's is a deep, sober blue. On the cover of Play, Moby is jamming, natural. On 18, his posed smile almost says, "See, everything is okay!" but the way he's holding that space helmet proves he's in unfamiliar territory--the back cover features him in the same longer smiling. 18 also features the same amount of tracks as Play...18 to be exact, again as if to say, "See, nothing's changed, it's all good! Look, we even kept the same font!" It's not all good, though, and as much as I prefer the jolly 90's, that's fine. I just wish the album would have committed totally to Moby's new identity. Cut out all the Play wannabe tracks. You're not going to capture that lightning in a bottle again by acting like the air hasn't changed. Pare the album down. Take out the Play clones. Cut "In This World," "In My Heart," "One of These Mornings," "Sunday," hell, as fun as it is, take out "Jam for the Ladies," too, as it's too close to Play's "Bodyrock." You've still got a THIRTEEN song album. That's long enough. A shorter length would make 18's downer nature much easier to swallow, as your head would not be held under the despairingly blue water for as long anymore. That might even make "I'm Not Worried at All" feel more honest. With a shorter album, there's less to not be more "worried" about.
Who cares? you think. You're never going to listen to this, or you bought it and listened to it once and sold it. That's a shame, though, as I think 18 is a valuable document of post-9/11 grief, even with its weaknesses. And, grief and depression still need commiserating music now, just as they did 13 years ago. Apparently, those feelings can still pop up just as much when you're older.
Oh, boy.

2002 V2 Records
1. We Are All Made of Stars 4:32
2. In This World (featuring Jennifer Price) 4:02
3. In My Heart (featuring The Shining Light Gospel Choir) 4:36
4. Great Escape (featuring Azure Ray) 2:09
5. Signs of Love 4:25
6. One of These Mornings (featuring Dianne McCaulley) 3:12
7. Another Woman 3:56
8. Fireworks 2:13
9. Extreme Ways 3:57
10. Jam for the Ladies (featuring MC Lyte and Angie Stone) 3:22
11. Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday) 5:09
12. 18 4:28
13. Sleep Alone 4:45
14. At Least We Tried (featuring Freedom Bremner) 4:08
15. Harbour (featuring Sinéad O'Connor) 6:27
16. Look Back In 2:20
17. The Rafters (featuring Shauna & Lorraine Phillips) 3:22
18. I'm Not Worried at All (featuring The Shining Light Gospel Choir) 4:11

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Nicsperiment's End of Summer Movie and TV Show Season Mini-Reviews, 2015

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The summer has come to a close, and here are a bunch of two-sentence or shorter reviews of all the movies and TV shows I watched during its second half. You should read them because I didn't just subject you to something like, "Check out these hot takes!" as the Nicsperiment does not go in for fad phrases, though it does go in for non-sequiturs. Platypus.

The Americans: Season Three -- 9/10
More quiet, slow-burning intensity from this vastly under-appreciated Cold War drama of spy-work and familial disintegration.

Ant-Man -- 7/10
Good, goofy fun with a performance from Paul Rudd that hits just the right tone of "I'm taking this seriously, but not too seriously." Honestly, if they took out the small handful of profanities (which actually don't fit the tone of the movie), this could be billed as a "family film," and work just fine.

Bates Motel: Season Three -- 7/10
Norman Bates' slide down the slope to that Norman Bates grows ever steeper. The show grows darker by the second, and the performances between leads Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga are mesmerizing, but all of the over-dramatic subplots seem unnecessary in a show that will eventually end with a man killing people in the guise of his mother, while his actual mother rots upstairs in front of the television.

The Bronx is Burning -- 8/10 
Deftly combines traditional cinematic techniques with actual television footage from the summer of 1977 to dramatize a pretty crazy time in the history of New York City. The main focus, though, is the volatile relationship between New York Yankees manager Billy Martin and team owner, George Steinbrenner--John Turturro's performance as the troubled Martin is virtuoso.

Inside Out - 10/10
Pixar is a natural treasure, and their newest computer-generated film sits somewhere near their best, touching on deep wells of emotion that the majority of films geared toward adults can't come close to tapping. As much as I grumble about the death of traditional animation, I can't think of any traditional animation studio outside of Ghibli who has been this consistently great for this long.

Jurassic World -- 5/10
Entertaining about 50% of the time, but stupid 100% of the time. Dinosaurs are so awesome--why can't these people make a good movie about them?! (and how has this made so much money when it is sooo dumb?)

Justified: Season Six -- 9/10
Delivers anything long-time fans of the show could want on a character level, as well as one last jaw-dropping, quick-draw showdown.

Louie: Season Five -- 7/10
Louis CK drops pretty much all of the French New Wave filmmaker aspirations he had for Season Four, and delivers a short, humorous, but relatively lightweight and forgettable fifth season of his namesake show.

Mad Men: Season Seven - 8/10
A satisfying, if not mind-blowing final season of television that probably should have swung for the fences, but instead settles for a "life goes on" vibe, particularly in the series finale. That final episode doesn't match the near superhero origin story developed over the past six seasons for main protagonist, Don Draper--it's like the showrunner was scared to aim big and possibly fail, so was instead satisfied with just doing OK.

Menace II Society -- 8/10
It seems a bit aimless, but then that completely uncompromising ending hits and shines a new light on everything that came before, and just what kind of movie this is. Tough to watch, but worth watching.

Minions -- 5/10
Well, there's Pixar, and then there's everybody else, everybody else in this case producing silly dopey computer-animtaed films that can't hold a weight to the short films that open Pixar's features.

Rick and Morty: Season One -- 8/10
Finally, a successor to the first run of Futurama, but darker, more cynical and post-modern.

Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation -- 8/10
Outside of the first film in the series, which came out when I was a proud high school member of the Columbia House VHS club, I've seen all of the Mission: Impossible films once, usually in the theater, enjoyed them, and never watched them again. Number Five delivers all of the double-crossing, action mayhem, and escapist fun I desire from this series--not least because of Rebecca Ferguson's ass-kicking, Tom Cruise equaling performance--and has me re-evaluating and jonesing to watch the other four again.

Silent Running -- 4/10 
Despite Bruce Dern's best efforts, this movie is really, really, really silly.

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