Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Soundtrack album hits the mark just ‘In Time’

“In Time” was the “Oblivion” of 2011; an intelligent, action-packed, beautifully shot science fiction film.  “In Time” is written and directed by Andrew Niccol who gave us one of the very best science fiction films of the post “Blade Runner” (1982) era, “Gattaca” (1997).

After blowing us away with his work in David Fincher’s “The Social Network” (2010), Justin Timberlake proves he can play an action hero.  The triple threat talent lights up every frame he is in and anchors a terrific cast that includes Amanda Seyfried, “Mad Men’s” Vincent Kartheiser, Olivia Wilde, and the outstanding Cillian Murphy who delivers a knockout performance as The Timekeeper.

Besides Andrew Niccol’s socially relevant “Logan’s Run”-esque script, Roger Deakin’s superb cinematography, the charismatic cast, “In Time” also benefits from an engaging score composed by the eclectic and talented Craig Armstrong. Known more for his work on films such as “Moulin Rouge” (2001) and “Ray” (2004) where the songs took center stage and the scores went (mostly) unreleased, Armstrong composed one of the best horror/suspense scores of the past two decades, “The Bone Collector” (1999), the underrated and irresistibly melodic and melodramatic “The Incredible Hulk” (2008), and the wonderfully soaring romantic themes of “Love Actually” (2003).

Armstrong creates a layered, textural soundscape to capture the brooding futuristic mood of “In Time”. He builds on top of this base by demonstrating his gift for melody as he deliberately develops the themes throughout the score, carefully building toward an emotionally satisfying finale.

The soundtrack open with “In Time Main Theme”, a haunting buildup of layered strings and synths that brings to mind Michael Nyman’s gorgeous theme for Niccol’s “Gattaca”. Next up is the propulsive “Lost Century”, a solid track marred by a lack of distinctiveness from your average Media Ventures cue. Armstrong fares much better with the next two tracks “The Cost of Living” and “Mother’s Run”, music used to score a key emotional scene in the movie between Justin Timberlake’s character Will and his mother Rachel played by Olivia Wilde.

 “Zones of Time” begins a section of the album where Armstrong lays down a motif rich series of layered cues with small bursts of exotic sounds that serve as effective atmosphere in tracks such as “Welcome to New Greenwich” and the all too brief melodic teases “Waking Up in Time” and “Ocean”. “In Time” has a unique, rich musical voice behind it, even if this the type of score that may go unnoticed during an initial viewing of the film.

But the second half of the soundtrack album is filled with cues that do demand attention, both in the film and especially as a stand-alone listen.

“Clock Watching” is beautiful cue marred only by its brevity. “Rooftop Chase” is—well—exactly what you imagine a techno-oriented action track titled “Rooftop Chase” should sound like. “Be Immortal” brings back a brief statement of the main theme before morphing into a vivid atmospheric suspense action cue.

It is in the final four tracks—representing the finale of the movie and the end credits—where Armstrong really gets his groove going. “Leaving the Zone” builds a wickedly exciting techno track around the main theme and is followed up by the engaging, choral dominated cue “In Time Choral Theme”, a return to action in “There’s Still Time”, and a finally a full throttled orchestral statement of Armstrong’s beautiful main theme in “In Time Main Theme (Orchestral)”.

Bottom line, although not as good as “The Bone Collector” or “The Incredible Hulk”, Craig Armstrong’s score for “In Time” is entertaining and always engages and makes for a solid stand-alone listen.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cruise shines in visually stunning ‘Oblivion’

Now that "Oblivion" is out on DVD, here is a reprint of my review from April.

Forget about custody battles,  tabloid gossip, couch jumping and religious obsessions—Tom Cruise is the real deal. This guy is a true movie star in the old school, classic meaning of the term.

Cruise also has a knack of picking great projects with strong material helmed by bold, innovative, creative, and often legendary directors. This is an actor who has worked and collaborated with Martin Scorcese, the late Tony Scott, Cameron Crowe, Paul Thomas Anderson,  Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg, and even the ultimate cinematic perfectionist (and not exactly actor friendly director) Stanley Kubrick. If Tom Cruise puts his name on a movie, it means quality. Even when he misfires such as in 2011’s vapid “Knight and Day”, he does it with an engaging flair that still entertains.

This time the  under-appreciated and notoriously hard working actor brings his  classic star wattage to “Oblivion”, a throwback project designed to pay homage to classic 1970s old school science fiction films such as “Silent Running” (1972), “Logan’s Run” (1976) and “Alien” (1979).

“Oblivion” is helmed by “Tron Legacy” (2010) director Joseph Kosinski and shares many of the characteristics and thematic obsessions of that underrated film. Put simply, “Oblivion” is a gorgeous piece of cinematic visual art. Every spec and minute detail of every design is crafted with an artistic flair and yet functional sensibility—from the costumes and outfits, to the super cool futuristic helicopter/space fighter jet that Cruises character flies. Every set is jaw-dropping, like something out of Syd Mead's or Ralph McQuarrie's dreams, especially the cloud city uber-slick futuristic pad where Cruise's character Jack Harper lives.

Jack lives with his partner in both work and life, communications officer Victoria Olsen, played Andrea Riseborough  with a wonderful, icy sexuality.

“Oblivion” is based on an unpublished graphic novel by the director and in keeping true to the spirit of the 1970s films it wants to emulate, the first hour of the film has a very deliberate and careful pacing. The plot lines begin to slowly unwind and the mystery deepens leading up to an second act that ends in a knockout exhilarating special effects sequence and a third act in which several revelations catapult the movie toward a moving and emotionally satisfying climax.

“Oblivion” also benefits from the supporting presence of the sensational Olga Kurylenko from Showtime’s “Magic City” and the great “Morgan Freeman” as the leader of an underground revolution. Another solid asset of “Oblivion” is the film’s musical score by M83, composed by Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese. It is a hypnotic, melodic, and at times exciting soundtrack that does for “Oblivion” what Daft Punk’s music did for “Tron Legacy”.

Bottom line, ignore what the bitchy critics whined about last spring. “Oblivion” is an entertaining and visually stunning throw back science fiction film anchored by the performance of an A-list movie star at the top of his game.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How the west was won

A dramatic reading of Chapter 2 "How the West was Won" from the new dystopian action adventure novel "Caitlin Star".

"Caitlin Star is our last hope. 

After losing her foster parents at the age of thirteen, Caitlin is uprooted from the only home she had ever known. Heartbroken, she travels back to her birthplace—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—to live with a relative. 

One night Caitlin is harassed by a carload of drunken fiends. Just as the would-be rapists prepare to move in on the teen-age girl—a muscle-bound rescuer steps out of the shadows and intercedes on Caitlin’s behalf—a mysterious and charismatic man named Gunner Star. 

Gunner Star takes on Caitlin as his protégé and trains her in the ways of the Bull Mongoni, a mythic species of hominids that lived long ago. An exciting, brave new world opens up for Caitlin as she discovers a new philosophy, achieves an astonishing level of physical and mental focus, and begins to see the world around her from a new perspective.

Caitlin learns she is not alone as Gunner Star’s Bull Mongoni philosophy grows into a world-wide, cultural movement. But there are dark forces at work in a new right-wing extremist government. The separation of church and state is banished. The Supreme Court is eliminated. New laws are passed deeming that anyone who believes the earth is older than 6000 years is a criminal who must be hunted down by a government police force known as the Moral Authority. 

Free thinking is considered dangerous to a government who has turned the National Parks over to the Big Oil Mafia and controls the bodies of all post-pubescent women via an inserted tracker probe. Soon the Moral Authority sets their sites on the Bull Mongoni and it falls upon Catlin Star to lead her fellow rebels, battle a sadistic enemy, save the very freedom of North America, and restore hope for the future of the planet itself. 

Action, romance, satire, sex, suspense, political intrigue, and sword fights to the death—this book has it all. Caitlin Star is the femme fatale action hero of the new generation."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

L.A. noir

Film noir in all its hard-boiled, existential, cynical, sexualized glory is not only alive, it is thriving at a new level of entertaining artistry we have not seen for years. No, not in the hallowed halls of cinema houses where hard-edged tales of tough guys and femme fatales once flourished.  The home for the latest rebirth of neo-noir is the Showtime premium cable network in the form of a riveting new drama called ‘Ray Donovan”.

Liev Schrieber stars in the title role, a mesmerizing character who is employed by a powerful Hollywood law firm to “takes care of problems” for the rich and famous ranging from A-list movie celebrities to NBA and NFL superstars. Imagine the Harvey Keitel character “The Wolf” from “Pulp Fiction” employed as an enforcer by the CAA and you get the idea.

Liev Schrieber is absolutely fierce as Ray Donovan. The formidable actor owns this character and we see and feel every intricate layer of imbedded turmoil and internal conflict barely kept in check by the character’s code of discipline. If Ray showed up at your door and asked you to do something—trust me—you would do it.

Every great hero (or in this case anti-hero) needs a strong antagonist and this is where the show has really knocks it out of the park. The source of all of Ray’s deep-seeded angst and his current crisis is his father Mickey, recently (and unexpectedly) released from prison.  Jon Voight is a revelation as Mickey. He is absolutely captivating—owning every frame he is in—creating a fleshed out, real character with a streak of charm so irrespirable, there are times when we sympathize with him and find Ray’s simmering hatred unreasonable; that is, until be begin to learn more about the dark, mysterious past the family left behind in Boston.

The stellar supporting cast includes Paula Malcomson as Abby, Ray’s stressed out wife.  She played a similar character in the underrated “Caprica” and once again proves she is a terrific actress.  Steven Bauer of “Scarface” fame is fantastic as Avi, Ray’s second in command. Elliot Gould brings old school movie star gravitas as Ray’s boss and mentor Ezra Goldman. And James Woods is—well—he is James Woods and was born to be in a show like this.

Even the technical credits are spot on. The show is beautifully shot. The dramatic and affecting musical score by Marcelo Zarvos feels like something composed for a lost “Godfather” sequel—it is haunting. Episode 4 of this season “Black Cadillac” was directed by John Dahl, the man behind the classic neo-noir films “Kill Me Again” (1989), “Red Rock West” (1993), and “The Last Seduction” (1994).

“Ray Donovan” airs new episodes on Sunday nights on Showtime and has four episodes left in its critically acclaimed debut season.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Back to Pandora, 'Avatar' soundtrack review

“Titanic” took the world by storm in 1997 it seemed like an eternal wait for the next James Cameron film, a rumored science fiction movie that would be shot in 3D and revolutionize the technology of filmmaking. Finally, in December of 2009 “Avatar” was released reaffirming Cameron’s status as a visionary director and a master storyteller.

“Avatar" became an instant classic, a popular sensation that garnered critical praise and even broke “Titanic’s” seemingly invincible record as the all-time box office king. Although when taking inflation into account, “Titanic” is still far ahead, as are thirteen other films.

"Avatar" reunited James Cameron with James Horner, his composer for “Aliens” and “Titanic”. The bursting brass and clanging percussion of Horner’s brooding action/horror score for Aliens has become a movie trailer staple. As for the soundtrack of “Titanic”, it went on to sell 30 million copies, win a boatload of awards including two Oscars, one for best original score and one for the song (yeah that song).

The prospect of a third collaboration between Cameron and Horner brought with it an enormous set of expectations. Although it did not sell 30 million copies like “Titanic” or leave the pop culture imprint of “Aliens”, the “Avatar” soundtrack meets, and indeed exceeds, those expectations. It  is a grand epic of orchestral wonder and choral delight and is a far more ambitious and varied than either of Horner’s other two Cameron scores.

Track one of the album—“You Don’t Dream In Cryo....”—opens with a reworking of Horner’s infamous danger motif, but this time the composer makes it fresh by simply dropping one note and changing the progression. There is an enticing introduction to the major elements of the score including the exotic Na’ve music, the Brainstorm-esque ascending string and brass sense of wonder theme, the percussive action material, and the main theme/love theme.

With each succeeding track Horner builds on the thematic material and weaves a sonic web of symphonic and choral magic drawing the listener deeper into the world of Pandora. Horner has a tremendous command of orchestra and is a master of creating tonal color to bring out the emotions on the screen. His ability to put together a cohesive score that builds momentum toward an urgent emotional release is as good as anyone. Avatar fully exploits all of the composer’s greatest gifts.

Track five, “Becoming One of ‘The People’, Becoming One with Neytiri”, gives us the first fully formed bold statement of the main theme. Fluid, emotional, imaginative, melancholy, it is a wonderfully flexible main theme that manages to be epic enough to conjure up an exotic alien world and yet remain intimate enough to be deeply moving. It even works beautifully in the end credits pop ballad “I See You” performed by Leona Lewis, a criminally underrated song that deserved to be successful.

Starting with track eight, “Scorched Earth”, the magic and sense of wonder give way to tragedy and despair as Horner puts us through an emotional meat grinder.

Track 13, “War”, brings the the Na’ve and the listener surging back to life with adrenaline and action music. “War” is 11:22 of jam-packed, exciting, epic music that ranks as one of the best cues of Horner’s prolific musical career.

The Avatar soundtrack did not enjoy anywhere the same success as the film. The Titanic album was a one-time only lightning in a bottle phenomenon, so nobody expected Avatar to sell 30 million copies or spend 16 weeks at number one on the Billboard Charts. But the Avatar soundtrack peaked at 40 during a brief appearance on the Billboard Charts and won no awards. As for song, after a knockout live debut performed by Leona Lewis on "So You Think You Can Dance", the song was virtually ignored and failed to even gain a nomination at Oscar time.

Given the staggering success of the film “Avatar” and the prominent use of music in it, the soundtrack has to be considered a commercial flop. And a curious one too because the “Avatar” score is a magnificent accomplishment and emotionally accessible. It was said that Horner worked obsessively day and night for endless months creating the musical canvas and the hard work paid off. Ethereal, imaginative, epic, and always entertaining, the soundtrack of “Avatar” contains many elements of past Horner scores yet has a musical voice unique to the film. It is one of the best scores of the past decade.

If you like “Avatar” you may also enjoy “The New World” (2005), “Mighty Joe Young” (1998), as well as the two scores that are arguably Horner’s best ever, “Krull” (1983) and “Willow” (1988).

Friday, August 16, 2013

About the author

Special Guest Post by Johnny Kregar

James J. Caterino is the author of the exciting, new, epic, dystopian action-adventure novel, “Caitlin Star”.  

Caterino never reveals anything in all of those “about the author” sections on Goodreads, Amazon etc., claiming he is “far too intimidated to try and compete with the charmed lives, idyllic families, and trophy cases of accolades” often  listed by other authors. So as a cheap substitute we hijacked his blog for this column to bring you a few mundane morsels of information about the notoriously elusive musclebound writer.


Both “Gunner Star” (2004) and “She” (2005) were written as screenplays. The screenplay version of “She” was much more of a horror/supernatural story and was written under the title “Steel Phantom”. The screenplay was runner-up in the Cosgrove-Meurer Productions People’s Picture Show Best Screenplay Contest of 2002.

Action Writing

Caterino is best known for the colorful writing of his riveting action sequences. He has said the biggest influences on his action-oriented pros and breathless pacing are comic books,  “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, James Cameron films—especially “T2” and “Aliens”—and the little known and underrated 1985 William Friedkin action film noir “To Live and Die in LA”.

Barbarian Bastards

There was an explosion of barbarian themed sword & sorcery books in the 1970’s after the re-discovery of Robert E. Howard by way of the Lancer reprints and the magnificent Frank Frazetta paintings that seared across the covers. The influence of this sub-genre of action fantasy literature hangs over Caterino’s work like a primal mist of savage desire.

Let’s Get Physical

One thing you can be sure of when entering a James J. Caterino creation it will be physical. There will be lots of muscle, encounters of the flesh, and often straight-up training sequences described in reverential pros. Below is a picture the obsessed author posted on his Instagram—taken shortly after his 15th birthday and one from when he was 19.

The Beastmaster

The author is a staunch supporter of animal welfare. His Twitter and Facebook feeds often have retweets and reposts from the causes he supports, including Great Ape sanctuaries such as Save the Chimps, ChimpanzeeSanctuary Northwest, and Center for Great Apes.

Favorite Things

Judging by this blog, his Examiner columns and YouTube Channel, Caterino digs his pop culture and embraces several self-indulgent geeky pursuits including movie and television soundtracks. Some of these favorites are taken right of  personal  "Best" lists posted by the hirsute scribe. In others we used are own subjective criteria based on the Supergirl obsessed author's writings.

Favorite Movie – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Favorite Actor – Michael Douglas

Favorite Director - Steven Spielberg

Favorite Actress – Mia Kirshner

Favorite Band – Garbage

Favorite Singer/Songwriter - Lana Del Rey

Favorite Soundtrack - “Total Recall” by Jerry Goldsmith

Favorite Sword - Crusader Bastard 

Favorite Guilty Pleasure  – "Supergirl"

Favorite Television Show – "Revolution"

Favorite Book –  Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade. 

Among those placed on Caterino’s “all-time favorites” Goodreads shelf are “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, “Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors” by Nicholas Wade, “Crash” by J.G. Ballard, “Brak the Barbarian” by John Jakes, "Logans Run" by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, and "The Fury" by John Farris.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Body Double, erotic orchestra meets '80s pop

Brian De Palma is a gifted master visual artist with tremendous musical instincts. No other living American filmmaker has made better use of music in his films. He is a true master 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. Besides the obvious Hitchcock obsession, there is also a strong Italian Giallo influence in De Palma’s work. So it is no surprise that he often worked with two of the all time great Italian master composers, Ennio Morricone and Pino Dinoggio.

Given its Giallo style sexuality and exessses, Pino Dinaggio 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”.
After years of being a much sought after unreleased holy grail among soundtrack collectors, “Body Double” was made available in a Limited Collector’s Edition CD by Intrada in 2005.

The “Body Double” soundtrack opens with “Vampire’s Ceremony”, a wild, bombastic cue used to score the movie within the movie and introduces the Hitchcockian motif used to underscore Jake Scully’s ( played by Bill Maher clone Craig Wasson) intense claustrophobia.
“It’s a Chance — Main Title” lays the groundwork for the melancholy jazz theme reflecting the plight of an unemployed actor who loses his girlfriend. Then the music shifts gears and goes full throttle in the haunting “Bad Girl; Lonliness”, a cue of intense longing.
Sentiment and suspense are skillfully meshed in “Childhood Memories” before giving way to the first of several 80s style pop cues, “I Was Looking For You”, a delightful feel good piece. This cue along with the next track ,“Bar Meet”, sound like they could be straight out of a 1984 romantic comedy.
Sentiment and suspense are skillfully meshed in “Childhood Memories” before giving way to the first of several 80s style pop cues, “I Was Looking For You”, a delightful feel good piece. This cue along with the next track ,“Bar Meet”, sound like they could be straight out of a 1984 romantic comedy.
But track seven, “Telescope” is where the soundtrack really begins to take off as the film’s signature theme is introduced. This is the hypnotic, the sensual music used when the “Body Double", played by Melanie Griffith, performs her seductive dance as the voyeuristic Scully watches from afar.

Suspense and eroticism continue to mix in the next several tracks accumulating with the two best cues of the soundtrack as De Palma and Donnagio get into full blown “Dressed to Killed” mode with “Rendevous; Purse Grab; Tunnel Claustrophobia” and “Reckless Love”. The momentum and entertainment continue right up through the final track “Body Double End Titles”.
“Body Double” is not as cohesive Pino Donnagio’s soundtracks for De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976) and

“Dressed to Kill” (1980), or his scary score for Joe Dante’s “The Howling” (1981). But it is a relentless, exciting, wildly entertaining score full of delirious over the top moments of pure cinematic bravado.
The soundtrack for “Body Double” is a blast. It is, like the film itself, a wickedly excessive piece of iconic pop culture and a must own soundtrack for De Palma fans, lovers of '80s cinema, and anyone who likes exciting suspense music drenched in pop eroticism.