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Film & Music


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Film & Music


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Yuletide Yodels


Love them or hate them, Christmas records are as much a part of the festive season as Santa Claus and turkey with stuffing. For this end-of-year Editor’s Choice, explore why they’re so popular among recording artists – and check out four that are packed with festive fun

Yuletide Yodels


Love them or hate them, Christmas records are as much a part of the festive season as Santa Claus and turkey with stuffing. For this end-of-year Editor’s Choice, explore why they’re so popular among recording artists – and check out four that are packed with festive fun

Culture > Film & Music


 

Yuletide Yodels

December 1, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

As the season of making merry bears down on us again, the radio airwaves – never mind the shopping malls and supermarkets – will be ringing to the sounds of “Jingle Bells”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”.

If there’s one thing that has united pop bands, opera singers, rappers, country music stars and velvet-voiced crooners over the years, it has been the irresistible urge to produce a Christmas record. The results have so often been cringeworthy, so why have so many been willing to risk their hard-won credibility in search of a Christmas hit?

Nostalgia and a desire to create some Christmas cheer may be part of it, but the biggest incentives are commercial – a Yuletide hit can generate millions of sales and climb back up the charts every December. In fact, the biggest-selling single of all time is Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, which has sold more than 50 million copies since its release during the Second World War. Add this to multiple versions of the song – by Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson and Coldplay, among numerous other artists – and “White Christmas,” written by American composer Irving Berlin, has racked up more than 150 million sales. 

Over the years, Christmas recordings have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Compare the majestic, soaring voices on the 2015 recording Carols with the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir to Bob Dylan sounding like a drunken uncle who just gatecrashed lunch on 2009’s Christmas in the Heart. And country outlaw Johnny Cash may have cultivated his tough guy image with “Folsom Prison Blues”, but that didn’t stop him from warbling through “The Little Drummer Boy” on his album The Christmas Spirit. The Beatles even used Christmas to send festive cheer to members of their fan club, recording songs and messages that were given away free on bendable, vinyl flexi-discs.

Bob Geldof raised millions of dollars for famine relief with the 1984 single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It was a worthy cause, but the title prompted critics to respond with a resounding no: starving children in Ethiopia probably didn’t know it was Christmas.

More recently, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber, Destiny’s Child and Kanye West have all succumbed to the lure of recording a Christmas song. And this year is proving no exception, with acts including veteran boy band 98 Degrees (“Let it Snow”), Gwen Stefani (“You Make it Feel Like Christmas”) and the brother-trio Hanson (“Finally It’s Christmas”) all jumping on the Yuletide bandwagon.

So much for having a silent night on Christmas Eve…

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Lindsey Stirling

Warmer in the Winter

New for 2017, the American violinist uses her first festive disc to showcase her musical virtuosity. Or, as she puts it: “Prepare yourself for a potpourri of different styles and sounds from all different sides of Christmas music.”


 

Sia

Everyday is Christmas

Tired of listening to the old classics? The acclaimed Australian singer-songwriter has used her talent for turning out megahits to crafting 10 new songs with producer Greg Kurstin for her refreshingly original first festive album, including the lead single “Santa’s Coming for Us”.


 

Phil Spector

A Christmas Gift for You

Producer Phil Spector’s acclaimed Wall of Sound recording technique – matched with joyous vocal performances by The Ronettes, The Crystals and Bob B Soxx & the Blue Jeans – guaranteed that more than 50 years later, this is still one of the most popular Yuletide albums.


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James Brown

James Brown’s Funky Christmas

The “Godfather of Soul” made three festive albums and this collection brings together the best of the tracks, including “Let’s Unite the Whole World at Christmas” and “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto”. The holidays never sounded so funky.

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Screen Gems


This Christmas, skip the generic, sappy stuff you’ve watched a million times before – pop in one of these lesser-seen holiday classics and under-the-radar favourites that you’ll grow to love

Screen Gems


This Christmas, skip the generic, sappy stuff you’ve watched a million times before – pop in one of these lesser-seen holiday classics and under-the-radar favourites that you’ll grow to love

Culture > Film & Music


 

Screen Gems

December 1, 2017 / by Jon Braun

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Forget It’s a Wonderful Life and revisit this James Stewart holiday classic. Much-loved Hollywood director Ernst Lubitsch delivered this timeless gem – a comedy of errors about two sales clerks (Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) during the Christmas rush. As co-workers, their personalities clash, but we discover she’s his anonymous penpal and the two have fallen for each other through their letters, although they don’t yet know each other’s identity. This was remade in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail.

We’re No Angels (1955)

Humphrey Bogart leads an ensemble cast (also featuring Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray and Basil Rathbone) in this classic comedy about three hardened criminals who escape from the infamous Devil’s Island prison around Christmastime. Hiding out in a small French Guiana town and planning to steal supplies before boarding a ship in the harbour, they hatch a larcenous scheme at a merchant’s store – but begin to have a change of heart after preparing a Christmas dinner with the family.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

As noted for its Vince Guaraldi piano-jazz soundtrack as for its anti-commercialism message, this 25-minute made-for-TV animated special packs more emotion and reflection on the true meaning of the holiday than perhaps any other. Highly experimental in its approach, this wonderful showcase of Snoopy and the gang may become part of your annual Christmas viewing regimen – that is, if it hasn’t already.

Images: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (The Shop Around the Corner); Paramount Pictures/Paramount British Pictures (We're No Angels); Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS)/Lee Mendelson Film Productions/Bill Melendez Productions/United Feature Syndicate (UFS) (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Music:


The poignant mood of autumn has brought out the best in songwriters over the years – this month, we look at four albums featuring memorable compositions inspired by the season

Music:


The poignant mood of autumn has brought out the best in songwriters over the years – this month, we look at four albums featuring memorable compositions inspired by the season

Culture > Film & Music


 

Music

September 29, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Screen Sizzlers


For those melting days of the season when it’s simply too hot to peel yourself off the sofa, we’ve selected a variety of summer classics from the 1950s to the modern day

Screen Sizzlers


For those melting days of the season when it’s simply too hot to peel yourself off the sofa, we’ve selected a variety of summer classics from the 1950s to the modern day

Culture > Film & Music


 

Screen Sizzlers

June 30, 2017 / by China Daily Lifestyle Premium

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Music:


Singer-songwriters have always held a special place in the music world – this month’s selections comprise recent releases from four masters of the craft

Music:


Singer-songwriters have always held a special place in the music world – this month’s selections comprise recent releases from four masters of the craft

Culture > Film & Music


 

Music

August 25, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Music


This month, we look at some hot summer sounds – and one of the year’s best albums to date

Music


This month, we look at some hot summer sounds – and one of the year’s best albums to date

Culture > Film & Music


 

Music

June 30, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Music


This month’s hot album picks take us back 50 years to one of rock’s shining moments – and highlight the latest album from one of Asia’s hottest guitarists

Music


This month’s hot album picks take us back 50 years to one of rock’s shining moments – and highlight the latest album from one of Asia’s hottest guitarists

Culture > Film & Music


 

Music

May 26, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Music


Rock and jazz legends make the cut alongside guitar and vocal virtuosos in this month’s hot album picks

Music


Rock and jazz legends make the cut alongside guitar and vocal virtuosos in this month’s hot album picks

Culture > Film & Music


 

Music: 

April 28, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Music


Hip-hop, jazz, funk, pop and a dash of world music – you’ll find them all in this month’s hot album picks

Music


Hip-hop, jazz, funk, pop and a dash of world music – you’ll find them all in this month’s hot album picks

Culture > Film & Music


 

Music:

March 31, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Blast from the Past


Blast from the Past


Culture > Film & Music


 

Blast from the Past

June 24, 2016 / by Howard Elias

Growing up in Ireland in the mid-1980s couldn’t have been easy. The country was mired in recession and a steady stream of its youth was heading for the port of Holyhead to catch a one-way ferry ride to England. Whether or not the opportunities were any better in London at the time is debatable, but the common opinion in Dublin was that there was no bright future to be had at home.

Set against this backdrop is Sing Street, the third film about musicians by Irish writer and director John Carney, who previously delighted with Once and Begin Again. It gets its name from Synge Street CBS, the state school in Dublin where Conor Lalor (newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is forced to attend after his parents (Aiden Gillan, Game of Thrones, and Maria Doyle Kennedy, Downton Abbey) do a bit of fiscal belt-tightening due to their worsening economic situation. 

For Conor, the news couldn’t be worse – until he steps onto the school grounds. Synge Street is a rough-and-tumble school where fighting is commonplace, and where the Christian brothers who run the facility strictly enforce the rules – one of them being that all boys must wear black shoes. As Conor’s stylish shoes are brown, he has to go around school only wearing socks until he conforms.

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Conor’s fortunes begin to turn around when he spots a mysterious girl across the road from the school. When Raphina (Lucy Boynton, Miss Potter) coolly tells Conor that she plans to go to London to pursue a modelling career, Conor quickly comes up with an idea to cast her in his next music video. The only problem is that Conor doesn’t actually have a band (and he doesn’t sing that well, either). With the help of his new friend, the dorky Darren (newcomer Ben Carolan), they find some other guys at school who can play various instruments and hastily put together a band.

Not knowing what kind of music they want to play, Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor, What Richard Did), comes to their aid. Slacker Brendan serves as a musical Yoda, lending Conor albums by The Cure, Duran Duran, The Jam, Spandau Ballet and other hot bands of the day. Through the music, Conor and his friends create their own New Romantics-inspired tunes and produce homemade videos starring Raphina as their muse.

Sing Street is loosely based on the filmmaker’s own experiences growing up in Dublin during that period. (He’s also a graduate of Synge Street, though he points out that the school today is nothing like how it is depicted in the film.) Carney certainly knows how to make feel-good films – and this one might just be the best of the three he’s done; about an hour in, I realised that I hadn’t stopped smiling. As Conor studies
Brendan’s LPs, the group’s songs – and their fashions – unabashedly mimic each band to humorous effect. Meanwhile, Conor and Raphina grow closer as they learn about themselves and each other.

This is one thoroughly nostalgic film that anyone who listened to that music back in the day – or anyone who learned a musical instrument in order to impress a girl – will simply love. Sing Street is my favourite film so far this year; it’s hard not to adore.

Sing Street is in cinemas now.

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Live and Direct


On the release of The Mystery of the Pink Dolphin, acclaimed French documentarian Eric Ellena discusses his roots, his inspirations and the importance of protecting ecosystems

Live and Direct


On the release of The Mystery of the Pink Dolphin, acclaimed French documentarian Eric Ellena discusses his roots, his inspirations and the importance of protecting ecosystems

Culture > Film & Music


 

Live and Direct

May 27, 2016 / by Jon Braun

How did you get into filmmaking?

I came to filmmaking because I wanted to better understand our world and the parts we can play to make it a better place. I wrote a short film, Drugstore, set in a world where all drugs are sold freely in stores. 

You’re in high demand. When someone pitches an idea for a documentary, how do you decide whether to turn it down or move forward with it?

I choose subjects that fascinate me and that I usually know very little about when I start. A few years ago, I followed top jewellery makers including Bulgari, Buccellati and Damiani for the Masters of Dreams series. The next time around, I was in Bordeaux to cover the rehearsal for a hip-hop dance show, then in Las Vegas shooting an interview with comedian Jerry Lewis, then in the Amazon filming pink dolphins jumping out of the water. Life is never boring.

How did The Mystery of the Pink Dolphin come about?

I produced a three-part series about unusual wildlife called Peru: Extreme Planet. One of the odd animals was the pink dolphin of the Amazon, which piqued the interest of a commissioning editor at France 5, who asked us to research it. We met a lot of scientists and uncovered how the animal transformed from an ancient marine species to the river dolphin of today.

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It’s really a remarkable creature – for those who haven’t seen the film yet, perhaps you could share what makes the pink river dolphin so unique.

They’re usually older species who survived extinction because they adapted to freshwater. Their flexible skin is sensitive to abrasions from branches or scratches from friendly fights between adult males. When those wounds heal, the skin becomes pink – and the pinker a male, the more virile he is considered, so he attracts more females.

What can people do to support environmental conservation efforts?

Knowing about environmental threats is the first step. I think twice before buying furniture made with tropical woods, as I know my purchase can contribute to the destruction of vital rainforests. I will never buy ivory, because I know it usually comes from poachers – and there are other ways to show that you’re successful than owning an object made of ivory. I’m also very concerned about the ancient Chinese and Vietnamese beliefs that rhino horn or shark fin have therapeutic value. It’s never been proven scientifically and it’s a tradition that is going to bring these majestic species to extinction if nothing is done to curb these beliefs.

What inspires you?

Many filmmakers and artists inspire me, especially if they became artists against all odds. I like those who are committed to telling important stories or fighting for a cause. It’s great when you can entertain and educate at the same time. I directed actress Olivia de Havilland at a sound studio in Paris when she was recording the narration for the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint; the film advocates the use of art, like drawing or going to museums, for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the contributors was Yasmin Khan, the daughter of Rita Hayworth, who explained how useful painting was for her mother when she was facing the disease. That’s an important film that has helped thousands of people.

Tell us about the first movie you remember seeing.

The very first movie that my parents brought me to was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I remember how thrilled I was about the Wild West. It felt exotic, so magical; I wanted to go there and ride horses in the great outdoors. I wanted to explore the whole world – and I did. Never give up on your childhood dreams. When you want something, find a way to do it.

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More Human than Human: Ex Machina


The Oscar-winning sci-fi tale grapples with the topic of artificial intelligence – and raises as many questions as it answers.

More Human than Human: Ex Machina


The Oscar-winning sci-fi tale grapples with the topic of artificial intelligence – and raises as many questions as it answers.

Culture > Film & Music


 

More Human than Human

April 1, 2016 / by Howard Elias

Over the last couple of decades, our world has seen phenomenal advancements in technology. Sci-fi film Ex Machina grapples with the topic of artificial intelligence – and raises as many questions as it answers.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) works as a programmer at Bluebook, a thinly veiled Google-esque company that has a stranglehold on the internet search business. One day, he wins a company competition to spend a week at the secluded Alaskan estate of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who is the company’s eccentric, reclusive founder and CEO. Needless to say, Caleb is more than a bit chuffed, a feeling that’s only surpassed when he’s sitting in the corporate helicopter as it flies him over a spectacular, sprawling landscape – one which he is told belongs entirely to the boss. Once settled in at his temporary digs, he meets Nathan, who first asks him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

Caleb soon learns that he’s not been brought all that way just to enjoy the view. He’s there to work. Nathan, we all discover, has created an android and Caleb’s job during the week is to execute the Turing test on it. (If you missed The Imitation Game last year, the Turing test assesses whether a computer has the ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.) Caleb is up for the
challenge and he’s taken to a room, where he sees his test subject on the other side of a wall of glass. 

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In front of him is Ava (Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl), who is a sight to behold. Her torso and limbs are translucent, revealing all the circuitry inside. Only her face is flesh-like. Over the next seven days, as Caleb and Ava interact with each other, Caleb begins to realise that everything and everyone at Nathan’s remote hideaway are not all they appear to be.

Ex Machina is thought-provoking and intense – a bit of a cross between Frankenstein and Spike Jonze’s Her, with a dash of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As Caleb, Nathan and Ava all try to get into each other’s heads, we’re left guessing everyone’s motivations until everything becomes clear in the film’s closing scenes – or does it?

The film is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who also wrote the screenplay. He’s no stranger to sci-fi – he also wrote the script for the post-apocalyptic thriller 28 Days Later, a film that has been widely credited with reviving the zombie genre. 

All three actors shine here, but none more so than Vikander. Her training as a dancer is plainly evident as Ava walks and turns her body; she’s both robotic and seductive at the same time. At the recent Academy Awards, the film took home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, upsetting heavy favourites The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sure to stick with you for some time, Ex Machina is guaranteed to make you think deeply about recent developments in robotic technology and artificial intelligence – and what it is to be human.
 

Ex Machina is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD.