Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Anything goes, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'

It was the original torture porn movie that outraged parent groups, infuriated the moral police, and created the PG-13 rating. Drawing inspiration from the “Weird Menace” pulps of the 1930s and the Men’s Adventure magazines of the 1960s, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” set off a firestorm of controversy when it opened on Memorial Day weekend in 1984.

Spielberg and Lucas were the on the receiving end of a wicked backlash more fierce than any of the multiple whippings in this deviously entertaining movie. People Magazine’s Ralph Novak called it “the most unconscionable 45 minutes in movie history, a relentless, tedious stream of graphic brutality.” Spielberg spent the next two decades trying to be politically correct and disown his dark masterwork of wonderment.

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.
The disc, like the film, opens appropriately with Kate Capshaw singing “Anything Goes” in Mandarin, and for the next 75 minutes and 26 seconds, indeed anything does go. John Williams took the craft of sophisticated action music to a new level of artistry in “Desert Chase” from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. In “The Temple of Doom” he continues to build on that.

Track 2 is “Indy Negotiates”, a previously never released cue containing all of the cool John Williams’ gesturing with exotic danger colorings as the scene in the nightclub begins to unfold. Another previously unreleased cue follows in track 3, “The Nightclub Brawl”, a rousing action track that scores the brilliantly choreographed and executed opening set piece that sets the tone for the mayhem that will follow, both on the screen and in the score itself.
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 chill-inducing, knockout cues.
This is a score that is jam packed with terrific thematic material. There is exciting music, scary music, exotic music, inspiring music, sense of wonder music, and even a great, albeit briefly stated, love theme. This is vintage John Williams’ action adventure scoring at its very best.
“The Temple of Doom” is a relentless, wall to wall, bombastic, wild, hyper-energized ride of sonic color that may be too frenetic for some. Like the film it represents, it is a wickedly entertaining thrill ride. For fans of action music, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Second time around, the five best movie sequels ever

In the issue number 172 of VideoWatchdog, esteemed film scholar and genre expert Tim Lucas interviews writer/director Quentin Tarantino. In the article Quentin names his top fifty movie sequels of all time.

As you might suspect, it is a terrific and diverse list and delivered with colorful commentary as the iconic filmmaker discusses them with interviewer Lucas. Among the highlights and pleasant surprises are the inclusion of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” which Quentin calls “…a MAD Magazine spoof but at feature length and it completely works”, and “Amityville II: The Possession” which he says “…has one of the best, most disturbingly sexy stories of incest in any horror film, or practically any movie.”
Video Watchdog is a digest size magazine the gives in-depth and intelligent insight on genre films both past and current. It is a must own publication for any self-respecting film buff or Quentin Tarantino fan.
Here is a list of this writer’s top five movie sequels of all time.

"The Godfather Part II" (1974) directed by Francis Ford Coppola

“Senator? You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally.” Michael Corleone.

“Hellbound: Hellraiser II” (1988) directed by Tony Randel

Dark, kinky, erotic, imaginative, wickedly gory, and even magical at times, this twisted, sexy S&M horror sequel showed it was years ahead of its time by foreshadowing the body piercing movement.

Superman II (1981) directed by Richard Lester

A knockout love story, a terrific villain, and one of the most satisfying endings in comic book movie history; it is still a treat to go back and see how sensational Christopher Reeve was in this role, a pure joy.

“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) directed by James Cameron

To this day, “T2” has the best action sequences ever filmed. James Cameron’s execution of major set pieces is unmatched, as is the emotional heart he infuses into his movies. Persona non grata Arnold Schwarzenegger may be a shell of his former self today, but back then he was a sight to behold and a true movie star in every sense of the word.

"Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984) directed by Steven Spielberg

It was the original torture porn movie that outraged parent groups, infuriated the moral police, and created the PG-13 rating. Drawing inspiration from the “Weird Menace” pulps of the 1930s and the Men’s Adventure magazines of the 1960s, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” set off a firestorm of controversy when it opened on Memorial Day weekend in 1984.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mind over matter

Brian De Palma is a gifted master visual artist who has always had tremendous musical instincts. No other living American filmmaker has made better use of music in his films. Only the Italian stalk and slash maestro Dario Argento is in the same league as De Palma when it comes to creating the ultimate match of image and music.

De Palma has worked with a variety of talented composers throughout his career, including the great Bernard Herrmann, the composer of his idol Hitchcock. One of the most fascinating collaborations of De Palma’s career was the one and only time he hooked up with the master composer of another film music oriented director, Steven Spielberg.
And of course that composer was John Williams and the result was "The Fury" (1978), a brooding masterpiece of symphonic scares that ranks as one of the most entertaining soundtracks in the storied career of the most popular film composer of all time.
There can no doubt that had De Palma’s career overlapped more with Bernard Herrmann’s, he would have forged a continuous partnership in much the same way Spielberg did with Williams. De Palma’s sinister and sexual sensibilities and his love of over the top melodrama and explosive violence found a perfect match with Herrmann’s music in the shocker "Sisters" (1974) and the "Vertigo" homage "Obsession" (1976).
But after Herrmann’s passing De Palma went to his friend Spielberg (and "The Fury" lead actress Amy Irving’s boyfriend) and called upon the services of John Williams. While Williams does pay the required homage by creating a moody score similar mode to what Hermann might have done, at the same time it is uniquely a John William's score. The music draws upon all things Williams, even his avant-garde music for "Lost in Space" to create the other worldly suspense and scares the picture required.

The soundtrack opens with "Main Title", a strong statement of the main theme, a brooding, baroque, almost waltz-like spooky theme that anchors the score and is brought back in with a variety of statements throughout the score. Williams always has been a master of using his thematic material at just the right moment, drawing the listener (and viewer) in to the story of sonic color he creates with his baton.

"The Fury" is a rich and varied score that shows off all sides of William's supernatural composing skills; there is somber mood music, the quiet buildup of suspense, explosive action cues, and the moving "Hester’s Theme". Even in a horror score John Williams can create deep sentiment.
But where the score really kicks in is track 13, "Descent", a hypnotic, lyrical, sensuous, dreamy, fluid sequence of brooding sonic delight the carries the listener on an irresistible journey into a world of dark wonders only hinted at by the on-screen paranormal mayhem in the film itself.
In the remainder of the back half of the soundtrack album, Williams continues to build musical momentum and lure us into his symphony of sensual suspense, until finally, he pulls out all stops and unleashes a cacophony of over the top orgasmic delight in the staggering brilliance of "Gillian’s Power" before transitioning into a  powerful restating of the main theme in "End Credits".
The original soundtrack to "The Fury" is available in a Deluxe edition released by Varese in 2002 which includes an extra disc of the score highlights re-recorded for an album in 1978 by John Williams and London Symphony Orchestra.

Flying high

With the impending release of this summer’s “Man of Steel” and the accompanying Hans Zimmer two-disc epic soundtrack, it’s time to take a look back at the John William’s classic masterpiece from the 1978 film “Superman: The Movie”

John William’s storied career has spanned over five decades, and given his recent output, the maestro shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, at least as long as Steven Spielberg keeps making movies anyway. One of the best ways to get a grasp on an analysis of William’s career is to break it down into mini-eras that can be linked together by a set of stylistic tendencies and motif preferences.

One such mini-era spanned the time in between Star Wars/Close Encounters (1977), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). During this time period Williams did some of his greatest work, composing scores that include “The Fury” (1978), “Dracula” (1979) and of course “Superman” (1978). Most fans would not include “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) in this group, but there is an undeniable similarity between “Superman” and “Empire” in the use of a rapid fire brassy action motif and a similar structure to the action material in general.

The best album representation of the musicfrom the “Superman”, that is readily available and will not require you to pay a fortune, is the out of print but still easy to find 2000 Rhino 2-disc release. Yes, there are a few sound issues in spots where music sounds more compressed than it should, but overall it is a terrific re-mastering of the music and is packed with alternate cues and a ton of previously unreleased music. The packaging and cover art are gorgeous.

There is not space here to properly review this landmark soundtrack, but here are a few of the highlights of this must own historic album.

Disc one opens with a “Prelude And Main Title March”, one of the boldest statements of the Superman theme ever presented. In “The Planet Krypton” the majestic Krypton theme presented in its full glory and along with the next track “The Destruction of Krypton”, contain unreleased dramatic and suspense material that is reminiscent of some of William’s avant-garde work on the 1960s “Lost in Space” television series.
One of the great joys of this Rhino release was getting to hear “Death of Johnathan Kent” for the first time outside of the film. This powerful, emotional, cue highlights the Americana section of the score and is followed by the dramatic and deeply moving “Leaving Home”. The combination of these two cues stand as one of the countless, unforgettable highlights in the maestro’s storied career.
William’s works both the Krypton music and the Americana motifs to start off “The Fortress of Solitude” before taking the listener into a rousing sonic journey of spooky suspense music, mysticism, wonder, and dramatic triumph. This cue alone would leave most composers bragging for years. It is a magnificent track that features moments of such emotional depth and sublime beauty it can only be described as pure glass. Williams would return to this style of composing many years later in “Always” (1989) and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001).
Then we get to the muscle of the score, and when it comes to action material, “Superman” stands alongside the best of John Williams. The previously unreleased “The Big Resue” is the real highlight here. This is the track that contains the previously mentioned rapid fire brassy action motif that would be used by Williams in the “The Empire Strikes Back”. “The Big Rescue” is a wickedly exciting piece of classic action music that ends in a full-fledged orgasmic burst of heroic triumph as the main theme soars lifting the listener into the stratosphere of sonic bliss.
“Superman”, like all of John William’s music, is a soundtrack that will make you feel.
Of course there is the wonderfully constructed, ever hum-able, “The March Of The Villains”, a cue that still stands as one of the most fluid pieces of comedic music ever composed for a soundtrack. And oh, yes, there is that love theme, and what a love theme it is. The previously unreleased “The Terrace” sets up “The Flying Sequence”, a soaring musical masterwork that can only be described as magic.
The music from “Superman: The Movie” was effectively re-worked by conductor Ken Thorne for the outstanding “Superman II” and then again for the woefully pedestrian “Superman III”.
“Superman: The Movie” is such a vast and varied a treasure trove of dramatic music, it is an irresistible source of inspiration and entertainment that stands as one of the all-time must own classic soundtracks and is arguably a top ten John William’s score.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

To Boldly Go

After seeing the rousing new, immensely entertaining "Star Trek Into Darkness", you may have an urge to rediscover some classic “Star Trek” episodes, or simply seek them out them for the first time if you are a newcomer brought into the Trek universe by the J.J. Abrams’ movies.

This is a not your typical best episodes of “Star Trek” list (“City on the Edge of Forever”, “The Trouble With Tribbles”, etc.) Notice I have two third season episodes on my list. For many Star Trek fans the third season is generally considered to be the weakest.

One of few times the series ever delved into an area considered disturbing. KirkSpockand McCoy are captured by two advanced aliens called the Vians who subject them to a cruel experiment in torture along with a mysterious mute girl named Gem who is an empath.
This is actually a moving piece of dramatic television even by today’s standards. One of DeForest Kelly’s best performances and special guest star Kathryn Hays is superb and magical as Gem the empath. The episode is also greatly enhanced by the gorgeous and haunting music of George Dunning.
Remember that “Mad Men” episode last season when a character was trying to write an unsolicited script for “Star Trek”? Well, that  was for real. The original actually series accepted unsolicited scripts and the producers did indeed read them, and occasionally they were purchased and produced. “The Empath”, written by Joyce Muskat, is one of those scripts.

This is another episode penned by an unrepresented writer, Jean Lisette Aroeste, and is actually her second produced script. The U.C.L.A librarian also wrote the third season’s wonderfully melodramatic episode “Is There No Truth In Beauty?”
Most would call “All Our Yesterdays” the second best time travel episode of the original series. Granted, there is no denying the greatness of “City on the Edge of Forever” and its boatload of awards and well deserved praise. But “All Our Yesterdays” is a formidable episode in its own right featuring an irresistible storyline about escaping into the past and a Spock romance that is every bit as interesting and dramatic as the Kirk/Edith Keeler love story in “City”.

At first this episode may seem more suitable to a guilty pleasure list, and it sort of is. But it is a great “Star Trek” episode period, because if ever there was a single episode that encapsulates everything that was a blast about the original series, "The Gamesters of Triskelion" is it.
This episode presents every “Star Trek” cliché you can think of and revels in its entertainment glory.
Omnipotent alien life form who must be taught a lesson by Kirk, check. Impossibly hot humanoid alien space babe, check. A hot and heavy romance between Kirk and the impossibly hot humanoid alien space babe, check. Arena style fight to death where Kirk wagers everything, check. This episode has it all, including character humor from Chekov and a gloriously over the top William Shatner giving a classic Captain Kirk style speech.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

'Supergirl', soundtrack review

Comic book movie adaptions are now standard blockbuster fare often accompanied by critical praise, prestige, and respect. This was not always the case, especially back in 1984 when “Supergirl” hit theaters after a long and troubled post production.

Supergirl” was self-financed by “Superman" (1978) producers Alexander and Ilya Salkynd. D.C. Comic’s parent company Warner Bros. held the distribution rights. After releasing the movie in Europe, they decided to drop the film just before the targeted North American release date in the summer of 1984, citing the disappointing returns of the dreadful “Superman III” (1983) as the reason.
The rights were eventually purchased by TriStar who cut the film’s 124 minute running time down to an incoherent 105 minutes and dumped the movie into U.S. theaters in November of 1984 with little fanfare. The result was a choppy, disjointed origin story and a sloppy film that was savaged by critics and ignored by movie patrons.

Actually the film is not without merit. It plays beautifully as a guilty pleasure and works very well as a children’s film. The colorful movie has slowly attracted a loyal cult following since the release of Anchor Bay’s two disc limited edition DVD release in 2000, a fully loaded package that includes the 124 minute international version, a 138 minute director’s cut, and a boatload of enticing extras.
“Supergirl” has an enduring popularity for two reasons. One is the presence of the luminous, fresh-faced Helen Slater who exudes an ethereal charm in the flying sequences. The captivating actress is perfectly cast as Kara Zor-El/Supergirl. The second reason is the sensational musical score by Jerry Goldsmith, a sonic work of wonder that is so good it actually tricks you into thinking you are watching a better movie than you really are.
In 1993 Silva gave the score a much deserved expanded and superbly engineered soundtrack release that contains nearly all the music heard in the film and a plethora of previously unreleased material.
New material on the Silva CD not in the truncated 1985 Varese CD includes the majestic “Arrival on Earth”, the other-worldly suspense track “The Phantom Zone”, an alternate rendition of the soaring main theme and love theme in “Flying Ballet - Alternate Version”, and a full fledged statement of the love theme along with some terrific suspense and action material in “Chicago Lights/Street Attack”.
The campy villains in “Supergirl” played by Faye Dunaway and Brenda Vaccaro are like something from a really bad third season episode of “Lost in Space”. This camp aspect was an issue that could have sank Richard Donner’s “Superman” (1978), but thanks to the light touch and pitch perfect delivery of Gene Hackman, that movie never veered into farce. Faye Dunaway shows no such restraint in “Supergirl” and goes way too over the top. But Goldsmith manages to give the villains the respect the script does not by giving them a descending brass motif in “The Monster Tractor” that commands a sense of danger lacking on the screen.
What makes “Supergirl” such an enduring and relentlessly entertaining soundtrack is the sheer vastness and variety of the material. There are brassy action licks ala “First Blood”, scary music with a “Poltergeist” flavor, and an irresistible love theme that is reminiscent of another Goldsmith 1984 classic soundtrack, “Gremlins”. In many ways “Supergirl” plays like a greatest hits from the early '80s for Jerry Goldsmith. The soundtrack works both as an introduction to new fans of the composer and as a treat for longtime collectors.

“Supergirl” has everything you could want in a Jerry Goldsmith score, or any soundtrack for that matter. Bold themes, irresistible melodies, thunderous action music, lush orchestrations, crisp sound, and a soaring love theme. It is a wall to wall entertaining and addictive listen, an essential part of any Goldsmith collection, and a must own for anyone who enjoys outstanding film music by an elite master composer.
The vintage 1984 early trailer on the left was made before the final score was completed (as is usually the case) and uses the "Superman" (1978) music by John Williams. Here is a link to a later home video trailer using the Jerry Goldsmith music from the final film.

"Adrenaline" is a literary rush

Kya Aliana, the wunderkind author of "Impending Doom" and "Sly Darkness" has delivered again.

With "Impending Doom" the young phenom created a teenage horror melodrama for the "Twilight" generation (written at 13 years of age!). The author followed up her smash debut with the atmospheric "Sly Darkness", a Stephen King influenced horror/suspense novel loaded with shocking twists and turns.

And now fans of the author (and count me as one of them) are privileged to be able to relish her third published feature length book, the riveting novella "Adrenaline".

"Adrenaline" is a textbook exercise on how to open a story with suspense and intrigue, and keep the reader turning the page wanting--no--needing to know where the story is going next. The author uses masterful first person language to take us into the mind of the Mel, a fascinating character with a sense of mystery and a dark secret lurking inside her. Mel is obsessed with sketching and drawing "the man of her dreams", and the way both Mel and her dream character are handled is one of the many great pleasures of the book.

As was the case with her previous works "Impending Doom" and "Sly Darkness", the author demonstrates a unique ability to create a brooding atmosphere of horror and dread. She also continues to write the some of the best, and most realistic, teenage and young adult characters you will find anywhere in fiction. Each character we meet is more fascinating than the last. Except these do not feel like characters. They feel like real people and the author is not afraid to take them to places most writers would shy away from.

On her website, Kaya Aliana talks about how "Adrenaline" started out as a series of episodic short stories. This works in the favor of the novella format because it results in a perfectly paced book that moves at the exact speed it needs to in order to maximize the suspense in this rapidly paced page-turning tale.

Finally, a comment must be made about the writing in this book. In "Adrenaline" Kaya Aliana has taken her writing to the next level. The descriptions are vivid. Words and phrases pop off the page and into the reader's mind. The sentences have a wonderful ebb and flow to them, bursting with a poetic musical cadence, dripping alive with literary texture and tinged with a wonderful eroticism. The author does not shy away from sexuality and handles it with the same courageous sense of expert craftsmanship that she does horror and suspense.

"Adrenaline" is just that, a rush of adrenaline for anyone craving a riveting suspenseful story from the most talented young author working in fiction today, Kya Aliana.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Five best things in pop culture right now

A list of what is on my radar and recommended right now as we head into the summer of 2013.

Mad Men  - season six

Many fans found last season’s existentialism and introspective approach too slow and bleak. But any season with a subplot plot about a character writing a “Star Trek” script and a “Bewitched” reference is a great season. 

But still, it cannot be denied that “Mad Men” is a far more interesting show when Don is being—well—Don, and indulging full throttle in his addictions to sex, tobacco, and alcohol. Add to that the backdrop of one of the most important (and tragic) years in American history, and you have the making of what could end up being “Mad Men’s” best season yet.

Meg Myers – alternative music artist

Meg Myers first came to my attention in one of those Amazon friendly suggestions tags, “customers who bought X also bought Y”. Many find it an intrusion of privacy the way our internet purchasing and viewing habits are so shrewdly tracked exploited by the major retailers. But in this case, I am grateful for Amazon’s spying eyes, because this was a recommendation that was spot on and someone needs to tell the musical world about this new, outstanding talent.

Meg Myers is one of the those ultra-rare singer/songwriters who can combine searing, heartfelt lyrics and vocals with pop-oriented melodic hooks and create moving, musical works of artistry that leave you with something to chew o,n and will make you keep coming back for more.
If you are fan of Tori Amos and Lana Del Rey, then you will love Meg Myers.

Mia Kirshner - actress in the SyFy series “Defiance”

Okay, maybe “Defiance” has not quite lived up to the hype or the promise of the pilot. But character oriented shows take time to develop, and “Defiance” has a lot of characters. Although initially sold as “Battlestar Galactica” meets “Firefly”, “Defiance” is really a reworking of “Babylon 5” with a touch of “Deepspace Nine” and  “Gunsmoke”, and just about every soap opera you can think of.

One of the great joys of the show each week in the luminous presence of Mia Kirshner as Kenya Rosewater, the operator of a futuristic saloon where all of your needs, wants, and desires can be fulfilled. Whether it is “24” or “The Vampire Diaries”, Mia is an actress with an air of mystery about her who always elevates the material with her elusive beauty and sexual charisma.

Oblivion – visually stunning science fiction film

Critics were dismissive and audiences unenthused about a sophisticated old school science fiction film, but “Oblivion” has an awful lot to offer science fiction movie fans.

A terrific performance by Tom Cruise, two outstanding (and beautiful) female leads in Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko, support from the Morgan Freeman, the sleekest production design and coolest visual effects seen in any movie over the past few years, and a knockout soundtrack by performed by M83 and composed by Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese.

“Oblivion” is only the sophomore feature film from “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski, but he is already showing signs of being a unique auteur with a gorgeous visual style and a preoccupation with technology and how it affects the human spirit.

American Idol - Mariah Carey vs. Nicki Minaj

Well, people are talking about it, that is for sure and the hatred sure seems real.
The feud between these two is so intense that at times I am nervous watching.

“American Idol”—and every singing show—has always been more about the judges than the contestants. But when the comment time is spent engaging in diva verbal warfare, it is to take it outside and stop distracting from the talent that is on the stage.

And the talent really is special on “America Idol” this season. This may be the best top four since Season Five (Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, Elliott Yamin, Chris Daughtry).