Monday, December 31, 2012

12 things I loved about 2012

1) Lana Del Rey

The gangsta Nancy Sinatra meets "Mad Men" artist extraordinaire became one of my new raving obsessions.

2) Anna Hathaway in "The Dark Knight Rises"

3) A new album by my favorite band of all time "Garbage"

4) Everything about "Cloud Atlas", especially the music

5)" Morning Joe" on MSNBC

6) Hearing Carly Rose Sonenclar perform "My Heart Goes On" on "The X Factor"

7) Bane

8) Joseph Gordon Levitt in"The Dark Knight Rises" and...

9) The on-location shooting of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Pittsburgh

10) Pretty much everything about "The Dark Knight Rises"

11) The Kate Beckinsale trilogy of "Underworld: Awakening", "Contraband", and "Total Recall"

12) Forces of evil tried to suppress minority voters to take control of the government so that they could legislate control over a woman's body, pass constitutional amendments against gay people, and return America to the 1890s. And they lost!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

‘Cloud Atlas’ soundtrack soars with epic beauty

Cloud Atlas” is a bold, visionary film adapted from the award winning 2004 novel by David Mitchell. To say that the story is sweeping would be an understatement. The scope of “Cloud Atlas” covers a multitude of historical eras and settings both past and present, all of them interconnected by unforgettable characters and bold philosophical statements.
Such a story and such a film require a monumental musical score if the groundbreaking ambitions of the filmmakers are to be full realized. “Cloud Atlas” has such a score. Like the film, it is a remarkable achievement.
When the “Matrix” directing team decided to embark on their bold creative journey and bring “Cloud Atlas” to the screen, the brought on board “Run Lola Run” director Tom Tykwer to co-direct. It was move that paid off in spades musically because as part of the package Tykwer helped to create the soundtrack for “Cloud Atlas” along with his “Run Lola Run” composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek.
A seamless blend of classical homages, orchestral film music, and electronic and techno influences mixed in with various international, ethnic and native influences, “Cloud Atlas” is one of the most eclectic soundtracks you will ever come across. Eclectic and yet shockingly cohesive because all of it is anchored around a sumptuous, fluid, flexible, and emotion packed main theme that can only be described as absolutely gorgeous.
The opening cue of the soundtrack “Prelude: The Atlas March” gives a gentle and haunting introduction to the main theme played on the piano and backed by strings. It sets the emotional timber of the score drawing the listener in with an emotional immediacy that continues to resonate throughout each and every track of this amazing soundtrack.

In track two “Cloud Atlas Opening Title” we get a sweeping variation of this flexible main theme that starts out in minimalistic fashion with a quick-tempo electronic harp rendition of the melody before building into a full on orchestral thrust that conveys the expansive scope of the story. Another creative variation with a Stravinsky flavor follows in “”Travel To Edinburgh” before transitioning into the modernistic concert-style cue “Luisia’a Birthmark”.
The same mode of astonishing creative composing continues throughout the entire soundtrack including the rousing action cue “The Escape” and the heartbreaking “All Boundaries Are Conventions”, a piece of music that will shake your soul to the core.
This is not a soundtrack you just listen to. This is deeply affecting, profound music that will make you feel things you may not have even knew existed inside you. This is movie scoring at its absolute pinnacle.
“Cloud Atlas” ranks alongside John Williams' “Lincoln” and Michael Giacchino’s “John Carter” as the best soundtrack of the year.

Five great underrated Christmas songs

Ready to pull a Marsellus Wallace and go all medieval on someone’s ass the next time you hear "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" or "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" or "Silent Night"? Here are five under the radar and obscure Holiday tunes that might help restore your faith that Christmas music can actually be good music too.

This was the song playing as source music from a radio during the opening credit sequence of "Gremlins" (1984). A sensational Christmas song that along with Jerry Goldsmith’s trademark suburban whimsical cue helps set the tone for Joe Dante’s comedy horror hit.
This Oscar nominated song from the hit movie "Home Alone" (1991) is rarely heard outside the film score community. A terrific theme with great use of choir vocals, it is vintage John Williams. You would have to have had an emotional bypass at birth or be made of granite not to be moved by it.

From" Love Actually" (2003) and composed by Craig Armstrong, this catchy tune is a terrific piece of feel good holiday pop music. This soundtrack is full of great songs including another knockout Christmas tune "All I Want For Christmas Is You" performed by Olivia Olsen.
This moving, magical song from the 1990 David Fosteralbum "The River of Love" not only captures the essence of what the holidays are supposed to be about, it also manages to convey what is hopeful and noble in that complex, conflicted and mostly destructive species known as Homo sapiens.
From the 1992 Muppet version of A Christmas Carol starring the great Michael Caine alongside Kermit , Fozzie The Bear, Beaker and company. The chemistry and pathos the Caine brings to the film helps make this the most charming take on the classic tale yet.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The making of an Action Figure

There was this wonderful scene near the finale of the 1988 film "Working Girl". A Wall Street kingpin asked a question to the movie's heroine played by Melanie Griffith. The question was where did the idea for the merger come from? What was the initial creative spark that set the machinations of her mind in motion to create the deal.? Melanie's character had an instant and detailed answer to his question while Melanie's rival, played with sinister glee by Sigourney Weaver, stammered and the Wall Street kingpin knew that Melanie spoke the truth and the idea was hers and had been stolen by her insidious rival.

All creative projects be they paintings, novels, movies, songs or even Wall Street mergers have that initial gestation period ignited by a spark of an idea that sets off a train of thought in motion. Sometimes it is real life people and events, sometimes a just feeling or mood and sometimes it may be simply another creative work that inspires a homage. Often it is an uneven mix of all of the above.

Everything I create as a writer is personal. It has to be to keep me interested and passionate enough to do the work and unleash it on the world. Even a pure genre work must have the stamp of someone's personality to give it a soul and infuse it with life.

For me sometimes the initial creative spark is about a philosophy and a fascination with our evolutionary prehistoric past as in the Bull Mongoni books. Sometimes a deeply personal story woven into the format of a thriller as in "She". And sometimes it is like "Action Figure".

The initial spark of an idea that lead to "Action Figure" was the inciting incident that sets off the chain of events in the book. Here is how it is described on the back cover copy:

"It's all about who you know.
It's all about networking.
It's all about who is the best bold-faced liar.
It's all about listening to your instinct when it screams run." 
Meet Wes Jackson. A burned out shell of a man leading a life of quiet desperation. Then one day, he has a fateful encounter with two security guard goons. The confrontation escalates and turns deadly, and now Wes Jackson is a man on the run. He is a hunted man-a man who has been reborn and re-invented. And a man who is determined to succeed in his dark journey of escape, no matter who or what stands in his way.

The "fateful encounter with two security guard goons" is based on something that actually happened to me.

I had just received some bad news and was on my way to the airport to catch a flight home to be at someone's deathbed. It was early on a Sunday morning and I had few hours until boarding began so I decided to stop at a Border's bookstore on the way to get a some coffee and pick up a book.   There must have been an event of some kind going on because the Border's parking lot was packed. So I pulled into the end of the Galleria Mall parking lot (the mall had not opened yet) thinking I would walk across the street, get a coffee, pick up a book and head off to the airport.

The second I pulled into the Mall parking lot, I was descended upon by two fascist, moronic goons just as Wes Jackson is in "Action Figure".  It pretty much went down as described in the book. Well, up to point anyway. I did not end up a fugitive on the run and could not risk getting arrested. I had to get to the airport so I did have time to deal with those inbred bullies or hassle with the cop who soon arrived on the scene. I was forced to cower and stand down so that I could be on my way.

See, I have this character flaw, kind of like Marty McFly in "Back to the Future II". I can never back down. If someone challenges me, tries to humiliate or intimidate me, I will fight them to the death and god help anyone who dares to stand in my way.  In the cold, rational logic of reasonable thought that sounds like foolish machismo bordering on psychotic. And it is actually frightening to witness (so I am told). Thankfully, I am still alive (so far) to use such exploits for exploitation purposes in my story telling fervor.

 The barbaric rage inside me from that mall parking lot incident did not die and I thought about that encounter every day for many years afterward. I put it together with several other confrontations from my past. Then I thought about a day back in 1992 when I was stranded in  Fort Lauderdale, shirtless and shoe-less on the hottest day of the year and had to make my way on foot 15 miles across the city. 

Add in some inspiration from one of my favorite films "Falling Down", a homage John Jake's "Brak the Barbarian" novels, some personal backstory (yes there is a love interest) and an autobiographical pulp action thriller novel was born.

As far as the book itself...if what I wrote above and the back cover blurb piques your interest and if you are free of any heart conditions, "Action Figure" is the book for you.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Five greatest James Bond songs ever

Music by John Barry
Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley
Peak on the Billboard Hot 100 - number 8
Shirley Bassey’s husky vocals and John Barry’s screaming, sassy brass don not just get your attention, they reach out and grab you by the throat. This bold, melodic, irresistible classic tune created and defined the James Bond sound for the next five decades. In 2008, the single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

There has always been a wonderful, wistful, mourning melancholy to the music of James Bond. After all, the legendary John Barry, the composer of “Born Free”, “Somewhere in Time” and “Out of Africa”, was the absolute master of creating such mood. “You Only Live Twice” captures the romantic side of Bond with soaring orchestrations and spot on vocals by Nancy Sinatra.Music by John Barry
Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Peak on the Billboard Easy Listening - number 3

Written by Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney
Peak on the Billboard Hot 100 - number 2
Arguably the best title song from a James Bond movie (along with “Goldfinger”). Arguably the best song from any movie period. “Live and Let Die” is that good. A classic in every sense of the word. As for the insipid bastardization remake warbled out by Guns N’ Roses, the less said the better.
“Live and Let Die” was a monster hit song in the summer of 1973 and airplay of the song on the just blossoming FM radio market helped make Roger Moore’s Bond debut a smashing success.

Written by David Arnold & Don Black
Peak on the UK Singles Chart - number 11
Peak on the Italy Singles Chart - number 5
Lead vocalist Shirley Manson is an electric performer with a simmering sexual charisma that is unmatched. Garbage truly was the most consistent, innovative, and prolific alternative pop band of the 90s and their new album “Not Your Kind of People” proves they are better than ever.
This song has an epic, sweeping retro euro-Bond feel to it and is the best song of the Arnold scored James Bond films.

Written by Bill Conti and Mike Leeson
Peak on Billboard Hot 100 - number 4
Peak on UK Singles Chart - number 8
It is a good thing that Blondie turned down the offer to perform this song. Sheena Easton’s soaring, catchy vocals are a perfect match for composer Bill Conti’s trendy post disco era soundtrack. This delicious piece of early 80s pop was nominated for an Acadamy Award for best original song, one of only three Bond songs to do so (along with “Live and Let Die” and “The Spy Who Loved Me”.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

History of the hominid, legend of the Bull Mongoni

A sneak peek into the second book of the Bull Mongoni trilogy, Sword of the Bull Mongoni.

The above flow chart shows the evolutionary path of the hominid family starting with 14 million years ago when “Hominidea” walked the earth, the first known primate precursor of the hominid and the common ancestor of all the great apes.

The surviving great apes today include humans (genus Homo), chimpanzees and bonobos (genus Pan), gorillas (genus Gorilla), and orangutans (genus Pongo). Gibbons (genus Hylobates) are not considered great apes and split off into a separate family of primates earlier (about 18-20 million years ago)

Now, what is not included on the flow chart above is where the legendary Bull Mongoni fit it.

According to the Sacred Scrolls of Tarmok as told by Gunner Star to Tyrone Fulton in Rise of the Bull Mongoni and Joe Fenton in Gunner Star, the Bull Mongoni evolved from the Homininae subfamily.

As you can see above, this subfamily branched off into two distinct tribes approximately 8-10 million years ago. One tribe was the Hominini—humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. The second tribe was Gorillini—gorillas.

The Scrolls of Tamrok speak of a third great ape that branched out from the Homininae subfamily, the tribe known as the Bull Mongoni.

The Scrolls, oral history, as well as the Sumerian writings, and the legends of the Neolithic North American natives, allude to a great race of man beast that lived with the wild beasts deep in the forests among the trees. These hominids were swift, strong, muscular and hirsutistic. Unlike the other hominids, the Bull Mongoni could be loners who would roam a vast territory, often with a big cat as a companion. Some theorize this is how the great cats learned to patrol a territory. By all accounts the Bull Mongoni were peaceful and showed great respect for their great ape brothers and sisters. In the ancient Sumerian texts they are referred to as “the protectors of the earth and all creatures.”

Peaceful perhaps, but if crossed, a Bull Mongoni could unleash a frightening fury.

Ancient Latin texts refer to a story of a Roman platoon sent to Africa to apprehend a group of escaped slaves. One of the slaves, a female, was befriended by a “talking man beast with super human strength and the speed of a leopard”.

A squadron of Roman soldiers from the platoon marched into the jungle and attempted to abduct the slave girl from the lair of the great man beast. They found her alone gathering water by the river and captured her.

The soldiers were cruel and destructive, torturing and slaughtering innocent creatures on their march back out of the jungle. One night, the mean-spirited butchers were drunk on grain alcohol and decided to try and have their way with the slave girl.

That is when the great man beast struck.

A barbaric animal roar exploded across the night followed by the sounds of snapping bones, crushed skulls, and severed arteries. Never in all their years of blood lust and battles had these Romans witnessed such uncorked rage and savagery.

Only one soldier made it back to the platoon in North Africa. The great man beast wanted a living witness to tell the tale. Saddled on his horse was a treasure chest. The surviving Roman soldier was in shock and trembling when he arrived. The shaken soldier said only that the treasure chest contained a “message for the Roman leader from Tarmok the Bull Mongoni”.

The Captain of the platoon opened the chest to find the twelve bloody severed heads of the squadron. There was also a parch of tree bark inside with an inked message written in Latin.

“The man beast said the note was for you,” the surviving soldier said.

“Read it to me,” the Captain ordered. be continued in the next and final book of the Bull Mongoni trilogy, Revolution of the Bull Mongoni. Coming soon to a bookstore near you.

Find out more about the Bull Mongoni and experience the irreverent thrills in the controversial action adventures - the prequel novel Gunner Star and the screenplay books Rise of the Bull Mongoni  and Sword of the Bull Mongoni.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My top ten soundtracks and why

Hans Zimmer’s “King Arthur” score exudes excitement and emotion, breathing life into nearly every scene it touches. There is a ton of exciting Zimmer-style action material, but what makes this score standout from standard Zimmer fare is its heart. Highlights of this crisply produced soundtrack include “Tell Me Now (What You See)” performed by Moya Brennan (sister of Enya). This beautiful melody serves as the love theme in “King Arthur” and is one of Hans Zimmer’s best overall love themes.

John Williams had another one of his creative peaks (in a career of endless creative peaks) from 1997 - 2000. He returned to the “Star Wars” universe with “The Phantom Menace” (1999) and had five Oscar nominated scores “Amistad” (1997), “Seven Years in Tibet” (1997), “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), “Angela’s Ashes” (1999) and "The Patriot" (2000). Lost among all of those critically praised scores was his skillfully composed soundtrack for Chris Columbus’s tear- jerker “Stepmom”.
One of the wonderful aspects of a John Williams soundtrack is that the music is designed not only to enhance the film it is attached to, but to exist as an emotionally fulfilling stand alone listening experience as well. Whenever he decides to bring in a solo musician, Williams always chooses the ideal artist with the perfect instrument for the score, in this case guitarist Christopher Parkening. Even in a small scale, intimate score such as this, the composer carefully builds his musical tapestry until fully indulging the listener in a deeply affecting emotional crescendo.
This underrated John Williams “lite” score is a beautifully composed subtle symphony of color and deep emotion. You would have to be made of granite not to be moved by it.

Given its Giallo style sexuality and excesses, Pino Donaggio was the perfect choice to score “Body Double”. The movie came along at a time when both De Palma and Donaggio were at the peak of their creative powers and had a string of successful collaborations together including the popular scores for “Dressed to Kill” (1980) and “Blow Out” (1981). The love theme from “Blow Out” was licensed by Quentin Tarantino and used in “Death Proof”.

The soundtrack for “Body Double” is a blast. It is melodically rich and varied and like the film itself, a wickedly excessive piece of iconic pop culture. A must own soundtrack for De Palma fans, lovers of '80s cinema and anyone who likes exciting suspense music drenched in pop eroticism.

After “Aliens” (1986) became an action horror classic and “Titanic” (1997) became one of the best selling albums of all time, the prospect of a third collaboration between James Cameron and Horner brought with it an enormous set of expectations. “Avatar” may not have sold a boatload of albums like “Titanic” or became a music for trailers staple like “Aliens”, but from musical and artistic perspective it is a smashing success.
The soundtrack for Avatar is a grand epic of orchestral wonder and choral delight that meets those expectations with music that is a far more ambitious and varied than either of Horner’s other two Cameron scores.
Track 13, “War”, brings the Na’ve of the film and the listener surging back to live with adrenaline and action music. “War” is 11:22 of exciting, epic music that ranks as one of the best cues of Horner’s prolific musical career. The end credits pop ballad, “I See You” performed by Leona Lewis,is  a criminally underrated song that deserved to be successful.

The only full length theatrical film directed by Steven Spielberg not to be scored by John Williams. Remember, “Duel” (1971), scored by Billy Goldenberg, was a network made for TV film that was released theatrically overseas only. Spielberg’s Jerry Goldsmith scored “Kick the Can” segment to “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983) was essentially a short.
The Oscar nominated score to "The Color Purple" is majestic, epic and yet has a deep emotional intimacy about it. The instrumentation choice is spot on. Quincy Jones and his team of composers created a musical tapestry that shrewdly brings out every ounce of sentiment in Spielberg’s first “serious” film. There is a grand sweep to the soundtrack very much in the mode of what John Williams might have done. But the score is also unmistakably Quincy Jones and has the same touch he and Gerald Fried brought to the landmark television mini-series “Roots” in 1977.
The “Reunion and Finale”music that plays during the film’s moving final scene is unforgettable. You would have had to have had an emotional bypass at birth not to be touched by it.

“The Mask of Zorro” is an immensely entertaining old school adventure and features one of James Horner's most exciting and original scores. It is brimming with color, melody, and fluid action music. Everything about the music from instrumentation choices to the sweeping love theme works beautifully. This is a top five Horner soundtrack and a must own for film music fans.
What makes this score standout is the clean focus and the energy level. The music has the bold themes and strong melodic lines of Horner’s early pre-1990 work. The action music is the most exciting and agile of Horner’s career and the love theme “I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You ” is one of his absolute best.It  gets a moving treatment in the dramatic cue “Elena and Esperanza”.
James Horner’s best post ‘80s genre soundtrack and one of the best adventure scores of all time.

For years the music from “The Temple of Doom” was unavailable on any legitimate CD release except for an awful sounding Japanese import. The Japanese import CD was a reworking of the old Polydor vinyl album, a bare bones record which was missing all the best music anyway.
Finally Lucasfilm released a remastered and expanded CD through Concord in 2009. It is a crisp, vibrant sounding soundtrack album with beautiful packaging and a terrific presentation of John Williams’ action adventure masterpiece.
Spielberg has a long and storied history of casting naturally gifted child actors and getting seamless performances out of them. One of the cool touches in “The Temple of Doom” is the Short Round character played by Jonathan Ke Quan. “Short Round’s Theme” is one of the best themes in any Williams' score and this terrific, fluid piece of symphonic wonder gets a full fledged strong statement in both track 7 “Short Round’s Theme” and track 22 “End Credits”.
Two of the most sought after pieces of music missing from the old Polydor album and Japanese CD are “To Pankot Palace” and “Approaching the Stones”. “To Pankot Palace” is a thunderous villain march and “Approaching the Stones” is the chill inducing quasi-religious mystical music playing as Indy reaches for the magical stones. Both are knockout cues.

An entire book can be written about just the Jerry Goldsmith horror and suspense soundtracks alone. There have been countless classics by the master over the last fifty years including Magic (1978) and the Oscar winning The Omen (1976) and its two sequels. But Poltergeist” stands out as one of the most complete, varied, complex, muscular and entertaining works composed by Goldsmith at the peak of his great orchestral might.
The most famous piece of music is the beautiful lullaby-like Carol Anne’s Theme”. It is the heart of the score and heard over the opening and closing credits. The rest of the score contains some of the most aggressive horror music ever composed.
The Clown takes a creepy hold, drawing the listener in as Goldsmith expertly builds into riveting suspense with cues like "Twisted Abduction" and "Contacting the Other Side" before unleashing an orgasmic orchestral explosion of quasi-spiritual beauty in the haunting "The Light".

Steven Spielberg’s criminally underrated dystopian science fiction fairy tale is the most complex, polarizing, haunting, deeply affecting, and achingly beautiful film of his storied career. The same exact wording can be used to describe John William’s minimalistic musical masterpiece, a score so charged with deep emotion, it will stay with you forever.
The vast array and focused intensity of the emotional intimacy of the soundtrack is impossible to verbalize. One simply has to listen to it. No, not listen to it, experience it. Even the hauntingly beautiful song “For Always” performed by Lara Fabian and Josh Groban is a profound achievement in soundtrack music.

This soundtrack has been mentioned several times in this column over the past two years, but never given a proper review. That is because it would be utterly impossible to do justice to this avante-guarde masterwork in less than 800 words.
Intricately layered and carefully structured with a precision for detail that borders on maddening genius. Every note has a distinct purpose and every motif, theme, melody and movement aggressively moves this propulsive score forward with an addictive combination musical athleticism and sheer brute force that it defies belief.
Full or wonder, brimming with non-stop excitement and always a fresh listen even after thousands of spins, “Total Recall” is the greatest action score of all time.

A few runners up that just missed the cut.

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