Flawed in their own unique ways

After a bit of a delay we’re back with new reviews and the first of several gradual upgrades to the site.

As some readers may know, the first 300 reviews at KQEK.com were originally written for Told You So Productions [TYS], formerly at www.toldyouso.net (no - don’t click on it – the site’s enjoying a deep sleep. Shhh!) and the initial review templates were inspired by the TYS format which didn’t assign a review to the film, the transfer, or extras; it was given an overall assessment and rating between Excellent, Very Good, Good, and Poor.

With the next 300+ reviews (probably more like 500, including film reviews at this stage) embracing both the film and its extras and allowing much more room for authorial blather than the TYS format, it seems logical to revamp the reviews with ratings for Film, Transfer, and Extras. Why it took this long to do such a simple fix is a mystery, but it just makes sense when readers might want a fast set of keywords regarding the three elements that matter the most when considering the purchase or rental of any release.

So while the old review rating still applies to Catacombs and Spiral (for specific reasons, each review is assigned its own html page and isn't part of a php setup), 30 Days of Night will be the first to get the new breakdown; you’ll just have to read a bit more blather to get the nuts and bolts of the first two.

All three films have varying issues arising respectively from their creative conceptions, their technical execution, and/or home video presentations, but they’re not complete disasters.

Catacombs has the most flaws, and that includes the 4:3 non-anamorphic transfer on the DVD released by Maple and Lionsgate, but the included extras help trace where the filmmakers went very wrong in executing what could and should’ve been a tight B-flick with a sharp, cruel twist.

Spiral (2007) is very uneven, but has virtues that should attract suspense fans wanting more than a generic stalker flick. Whether it was a case of too many creative hands involved during the writing and film stages, or its design was too anti-formulaic, the DVD from Anchor Bay / Starz Home Entertainment comes with solid extras that support some of the creative choices that either work for some viewers, or leave them befuddled.

Director David Slade (Hard Candy) actually manages to recreate the slow-build tension of a vintage John Carpenter flick in his film version of 30 Days of Night, and this may be the first production from Ghost House Pictures that isn’t a high concept vehicle handed over to an amateurish team with little talent for storytelling. 30 Days actually washes away the foul taste left from Boogeyman, and Slade doesn’t shy away from some marvelously rendered gore that fuses practical and clean CGI effects.

See, for more astute audiences, there’s just something more tactile when it’s a dummy head getting whacked off with an ax, and not a sterile, wholly digital recreation.


Coming next: more soundtracks, two excellent short film anthologies, and, uhm, some smut.

Oh, and those who tuned into the Oscars on Sunday may be wondering where they can find Suzie Templeton’s wonderful version of Peter and the Wolf. It’s still unavailable as a Region 1 release, but the film is out in the U.K., and worth ordering from European sources (provided you have a multi-region DVD player).


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And the Winner is…

Before we move towards the IFMCA 2007 Award Winners, I’d like to make a quick nod to Thomas Kelp and Danny Michel for earning a Juno nomination in the category of Music DVD of the Year (see http://www.junoawards.ca/08_nominees.php for the rundown). Congrats to the pair, and best wishes in nabbing the statue in Calgary.

(Please note: Juno, the Canadian music award, is not to be confused with Gemini, the Canadian TV award, nor the Genie, the Canadian film award. These prestigious awards are shiny laurels for one’s career, and they culturally reflect our country’s fascination with words starting with a ‘Juh’ sound.)



Dario Marianelli's Atonement named Best Score of 2007

February 15, 2008. The members of the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) have announced the winners of the 4th Annual IFMCA Awards, honoring achievements in film and television music in 2007.

The Score of the Year award goes to Italian composer Dario Marianelli, for his score for director Joe Wright’s ATONEMENT, which is based on the best-selling romantic novel by Ian McEwan. Marianelli spent the majority of his early working career in the United Kingdom and Ireland before coming to international prominence in 2005 with his scores for THE BROTHERS GRIMM and PRIDE & PREJUDICE, the latter of which received an Academy Award nomination.

In addition to the main award, ATONEMENT picked up two other awards, including Best Original Score for a Drama Film, and Film Music Composition of the Year for Elegy for Dunkirk. ATONEMENT has been one of the soundtrack successes of 2007, winning the Golden Globe for Best Score, receiving Academy Award and BAFTA nominations, and being mentioned by numerous film critics organizations in their annual reviews. ATONEMENT is available on CD from Decca Records.

Alexandre Desplat, who led the 2007 nominations, wins two awards: Composer of the Year, and Best Original Score for a Fantasy/Science-Fiction film for his score New Line Cinema’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s convention-challenging children’s fantasy THE GOLDEN COMPASS. The French composer, who was also IFMCA’s Composer of the Year in 2006, enjoyed a similarly stellar year in 2007. In addition to THE GOLDEN COMPASS, his works included director Ang Lee’s controversial political drama LUST, CAUTION, the whimsical fantasy MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM (co-composed with Aaron Zigman), and the French language feature L’ENNEMI INTIME, which received the Best Score award at the 2008 Cèsar Awards, France’s version of the Oscars.

Other winners in specific genres include Alan Menken, who wins the Best Original Score for a Comedy award for his tongue-in-cheek homage to classic Disney on ENCHANTED; John Powell, who wins Best Original Score for an Action/Adventure Film for his score for THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, the third film based on Robert Ludlum’s best-selling spy thrillers; David Shire, who wins Best Original Score for a Horror/Thriller for his return to mainstream scoring after almost 20 years on director David Fincher’s ZODIAC; and Michael Giacchino, who wins Best Original Score for an Animated Feature for his Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated score for the gastronomic delight RATATOUILLE.

The Best Original Score for Television award goes to Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi and his work on the Korean television series TAE WANG SA SHIN GI (THE STORY OF THE GREAT KING AND THE FOUR GODS), while the inaugural award in the new Best Original Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media category goes to John Debney for his epic score for LAIR, and recognizes the increasing level of compositional excellence for this exciting and popular media.

British composer Ilan Eshkeri is named Best New Composer of 2007, for his score for Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the classic Neil Gaiman fantasy adventure, STARDUST. Eshkeri, a former protégé of the late Michael Kamen, helped complete his mentor’s score for the German animated film BACK TO GAYA after Kamen’s death in 2003, and also worked alongside Shigeru Umebayashi on the high-profile Silence of the Lambs prequel HANNIBAL RISING in 2007, cementing his place as one of the most exciting new composers to emerge in recent years.

The Film Music Label of the Year honor again goes to Oakland, California-based Intrada Records, who somehow managed to surpass their own high standards by re-releasing a number of classic, groundbreaking scores in extended versions with re-mastered sound and expansive packages. Amongst their 2007 releases were a pair of Jerry Goldsmith’s finest - ALIEN (Winner of Best New Release/Re-Release/Re-Recording of an Existing Score) and THE WIND AND THE LION – as well as Alex North’s rejected score from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and the third installment in their anthology of scores from the groundbreaking AMAZING STORIES TV series from the 1980s (Winner of Best Film Music Compilation Album). Douglass Fake is the Owner and President of Intrada.

Despite it not being eligible for competition (as it was not an original 2007 composition), the IFMCA also elected to give special recognition to composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman for HAIRSPRAY, the big-screen version of their own smash hit Broadway show, which was itself based on John Waters’ cult 1988 film. A good-natured yet bitingly satirical look at rock and roll in Baltimore in the late 1950s, the film was one of the musical highlights of 2007.

The complete list:

* Atonement, music by Dario Marianelli

* Alexandre Desplat

* Ilan Eshkeri for Stardust

* Atonement, music by Dario Marianelli

* Enchanted, music by Alan Menken

* The Bourne Ultimatum, music by John Powell

* The Golden Compass, music by Alexandre Desplat

* Zodiac, music by David Shire

* Ratatouille, music by Michael Giacchino

* Earth, music by George Fenton

* Tae Wang Sa Shin Gi (The Story of the Great King and the Four Gods), music by Joe Hisaishi

* Lair, music by John Debney

* Alien, music by Jerry Goldsmith; Douglass Fake, Michael Matessino and Nick Redman (producers)

* Amazing Stories: Anthology 3, Douglass Fake (producer)

* Intrada, Douglass Fake

* Elegy for Dunkirk from Atonement, music by Dario Marianelli

* Hairspray, music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman


The International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) is an association of online, print and radio journalists who specialize in writing about original film and television music. The IFMCA Awards are the only awards given to composers by film music journalists.

The IFMCA was originally formed in the late 1990s as the Film Music Critics Jury by editor and journalist Mikael Carlsson, a contributor to filmmusicradio.com and filmmusicweekly.com, and the owner of the Swedish film music label MovieScore Media. Since its inception, the IFMCA has grown to comprise 43 members from countries as diverse as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The IFMCA presented its first awards in 2004.

The IFMCA strongly feels that a film score’s strength lies in the combined impact of two important elements: the effectiveness, appropriateness and emotional impact of the score in the context of the film for which it was written; and the technical and intellectual merit of the composition when heard as a standalone listening experience. As such, the membership votes for the best scores of each year with these two criteria in mind, and strives to recognize scores which excel in both these areas. As an international organization, the IFMCA also makes conscious efforts to celebrate the best film music, not just from mainstream Hollywood productions, but world-wide, wherever it may originate.

Previous winners of the IFMCA Score of the Year Award were James Newton Howard’s LADY IN THE WATER in 2006, John Williams’ MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA in 2005 and Michael Giacchino’s THE INCREDIBLES in 2004.

For more information about the International Film Music Critics Association, please visit http://www.filmmusiccritics.org or contact press@filmmusiccritics.org.


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Half-season fumbleyayah, and the British Way

With the writers’ strike in the U.S. now over and both parties jump-starting series and feature film productions formerly trapped in stasis, incomplete, or poised for actual production, it’ll be interesting to see whether the TV networks will redesign the TV season to reflect what’ll be a glut of new episodic programming.

Will lesser-known, lower-rated shows come back? Will the post-Xmas season be saturated with cruddy reality shows until March? Will back-to-back airings of series like 24 and Lost set a trend whereby many returning shows will air with fewer repeats between new episodes? And will series creators be able to reinvigorate shows and realign the quality control dial after certain lost their way?

I’m sure much as been scribbled over how Heroes kind of lost its mind and ended on a fast-acting cloud of ‘Huh?”

Put another way, the series failed to live up to the amazing standards that made its first year one of the best series debuts ever. One can trace similar falters – the mess that became Twin Peaks Year 2 when David Lynch left the show’s reigns in the hands of too many eclectic writers and directors; and the disaster that followed Murder One after star Daniel Benzali didn’t return for Year 2, leaving Anthony LaPaglia saddled in a season that was sterile from its inception – but Heroes’ dilemma stems from several stressors that almost wrecked a perfect series.

Setting aside the obvious – How can a show top the spectacular success and freshness of its debut season? – there was creator Tim Kring’s seemingly infrequent involvement with the show, which may have been due to a number of factors: the network exerting its own influence on where the series should go; the inane (but typical network idea) to lard the show with new characters who, among the veterans, could be spun off in related shows (thereby ruining the careful universe of Kring & Co.’s design); and the Nikki and Paolo factor: the sudden narrative smash-cutting to new characters who, like Nikki and Paolo in Lost, were lame, and did little to enhance the season.

Nikki and Paolo are perfect metaphors of when writers lose sight of the design, stray a bit too far, and are forced to integrate resultant character clutter throughout a season; in the case of Lost, the fan reaction to Nikki and Paolo was so severe (a sudden episode devoted to a pair that popped out from nowhere was not a good move) that the duo had to be killed off quickly. (There was also the fact the mid-section of Year 3 was a mess of red herrings showing that no one knew where they were going because the network wanted Lost to go on for several years, beyond its natural evolution. And don’t get me started on Charlie’s retarded self-sacrifice WHEN THE OPEN HATCH WAS TWO FEET AWAY. Moron.)

In the case of Heroes, the N&P factor is tied to new characters – Alejandro Herrera and his twin sister Maya, whose sole purpose is to get main villain Sylar from Mexico to New York – and old characters that have devolved into narrative deadwood: Nathan Petrelli (who gives the worst oration of his career before the show’s writers exacted their revenge on the character and, uhm, actor Andrian Pasdar), and the family unit of Niki Sanders, son Micah, and pop D.L. who offer little towards the plotting beyond the finale that also satisfied the writers’ revenge for another deadwood character.

The contrived use of amnesia also pops up in the season opener with Peter Petrilli trapped without a past, tentatively living with Irish crooks, and eventually getting his memory back in one rapid swoop (more on that in a moment).

Amnesia, like the ‘ol kidnapping storyline, has long been a popular tangent writers have used in soaps (where it can get dragged out for months), or in TV series (where it can either cripple a series, as with cop Sonny going bad in Miami Vice for a quarter season; or wife Teri Bauer stumbling through a Californian mountain town after getting conked on the head), but its main function is to keep a character busy until needed, whereupon they’re dragged back into the plot and participate in the Grand Finale. So while Peter did introduce us to the tenuous villain Adam, his escapades and romancing in Ireland and in the future flash-forwards were largely fluffy, and lame.

Whether or not the looming writers’ strike exerted a particular pressure on the writers to cram rough, undercooked threads into a half season is unknown, but Year 2 is a mess of rushed plotting, fast episodic resolutions, puzzling revelations, fatty tangents, and lame side-threads that are all feebly interconnected to a dominant storyline that literally resets the half-season to the end of Year 1, minus several characters we all knew had to go.

So the question is, can the writers undo the mess, or will they simply get back to the meat of the series and largely ignore the majority of tangents that were deliberately designed as disposable, so as the remaining episodes would deliver the goods as planned?

Certainly one system that’s worked for writers is the British format that maps out a series’ entire run over seasons limited to 8 or 12 (which has been used in lean U.S. shows, like The Shield and The Wire, with great success).

Among the current U.K. successes is Doc Martin, and as we move towards the release of Year 3 on DVD in the U.K. (with Year 1 being the current in North America), we figured we’d start from the beginning and work our way from the Doc’s debut as Doctor Bamford in the theatrical film Saving Grace – a radically different incarnation of the anal tightwad fans came to love by alienating himself from the entire village by the end of the first season episode, and the two TV movies that marked the first efforts to create a series of the friendly, pot-smoking Doc who loves animals, kids, and people: Doc Martin, and Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie (both of which were released on DVD in Australia, and are now out of print).


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Local Monsters

Gertrude Baniszewski, the monster next doorThis is a bit of an odd preamble. In the early days of home video it was perfectly normal for a bunch of kids to rent flicks from the local video store and watch them together in total darkness; sometimes an untrustworthy friend would quietly sneak up behind you and grab your neck at a tense moment during a horror film, causing food or pop to splatter onto the family carpet.

An ignorant or sympathetic parent or an older relative’s credit card is what often made that soiree possible, because their of-age age status meant underage brats (like me) could rent the most obscene films never intended for teen consumption.

See, the early years of video shops (I’m specifically thinking of the ancient Video Station chain) offered very unique cinema fodder: whether you had dropped in to actually rent a tape or were just curious about the films in the horror section, there was something hypnotic about the most lurid, gory, sleazy box covers that allowed one to gaze in awe at images never broadcast on TV (Pay TV excepted).

Video meant one could find things that would appall, and word of mouth among underage aficionados ensured some ancient bloodfest or primordial sado-porn from the slasher era would function as the ultimate dare or tolerance test. From those antics, the classics and the nadir of horror or Eurotrash or erotica became legend, and that mythic branding is what current torture porn filmmakers are after by remaking a legendary classic, topping a sequel, or exceeding the depraved behaviour and human suffering fetishized in a rival production.

When author Jack Ketchum learned of the Sylvia Likens case and saw a still of the girl’s lead tormentor and killer, Gertrude Baniszewski, the gaunt, shell-shocked visage of this alleged former beauty haunted the horror writer for years, but the genesis for his novel didn’t begin until he traveled back to his childhood home to settle the estate of a recently deceased relative. In going through the objects from his past and reflecting on his old neighbourhood, he came upon the brilliant idea to re-conceive the Likens case as drama of deceitful behaviour beneath the chrome glimmer and pastel shades of fifties America.

Actually, it could easily have been Canada or perhaps even parts of Europe, because the squeaky clean image of the nuclear family – nestled in the suburbs or in a town or village liberated by modern kitchen gizmos and industrial exports from North America – was part of the exported imagery flickering on cinema and TV screens; it may not have been wholly embraced overseas, but there was something magnetic in sharing in the fantasy of an idyllic, loving family living peacefully in their cozy, fully-detached home.

On the DVD commentary tracks (one of many extras in the superb Girl Next Door DVD from Anchor Bay / Starz Home Entertainment), the filmmakers recall how often people complimented them on recreating their childhood streets, which must have made Ketchum proud; the film doesn’t peel back the grass to show the carnivorous bugs in some Lynchian parable; it examines the social monsters that reside behind the pastel aluminum siding of an average two-storey home.

In the film, Mom invites the local kids to watch TV and provides free beer; she lectures on adult topics like slutty behaviour, and gradually invites them to participate in the rape and torture of a teen. The filmmakers demonstrate the group’s trust in the aberrant mother, and we see the simple shifts wherein Ruth gives the boys permission to taunt the film’s heroine, Meg, and nudges them to move from wall-flower voyeurs to rapists before Mom commits an even greater cruel act.

That act is what’ll likely earn The Girl Next Door a reputation it doesn’t deserve – a ‘dare’ film akin to torture porn - and even a simple synopsis makes it seem as though it’s just another exploitive tale of a teen held captive. Girl is one of the most dour stories ever filmed, and there’s no ray of hope at the end, but while based on the work by a renowned horror novelist, Girl is a social study, a true crime tale spun into a novel, and a tragic drama all in one, and it’s a rare effort by its makers to transcend the expectations of exploitation fans by crafting a statement on human cruelty that still exists on a local level.

In 2007 and 2008, it’s easier for filmmakers to take such risks because there’s home video, TV, and internet, but in 1961 when Roger Corman took a sidestep from his monster movies to film The Intruder, Charles Beaumont’s tale of a smiling itinerant racist who travels from town to town to incite hatred and partake in collective bigotry, the valiant effort failed in theatres, and Corman moved on to the next shocker, although one could argue that by tackling serious social ills like racism and collective guilt, he was able to invest some mature subtext in his subsequent Edgar Allan Poe films with screenwriter Beaumont. Corman wasn’t a hack filmmaker, but his business sense wrote off his serious gamble, and he never went back there again.

The Intruder was re-titled in some markets as I Hate Your Guts, and then disappeared until Connoisseur Video in the U.K. released the film on VHS PAL. Corman’s Concord label eventually released the film on DVD (albeit in a foolishly matted version that mucked up the original 1.33:1 ratio), but it took another six years before it returned to home video in its proper ratio from Buena Vista Home Video, albeit minus the notable Concord extras.

So alongside a comparative review of Corman’s film on DVD, we also have an assessment of the score, newly released by Monstrous Movie Music on CD, coupled with additional film scores by the seriously underrated Herman Stein. According to the CD’s co-producer, David Schecter, Stein, also a friend of Beaumont, had great hopes the film would boost his career beyond the monster films he scored for Universal-International, but it seems the commercial failure of The Intruder (perhaps hastened by Corman’s own dry business sense, legendary cheapness, and impatience) kept Stein below the A-list radar, and he spent the sixties scoring mostly TV shows.


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