The Lighter Side of Christopher Young, and the music of Metropolis and IMAX films

Just uploaded are a pair of reviews for two Christopher Young soundtracks: Love Happens (La-La Land Records) has the veteran composer and avid practitioner of musique concrete, avant garde and modern classical techniques writing a romantic drama score (and it works!), whereas Creation (U.K.: Silva Screen, U.S.: Lakeshore Records) is a character study that inspired Young to write one of his best scores in years – light, dreamy, and proof-positive Young is the King of Melancholia.

Also of note to IMAX and soundtrack fans is a fairly new site (www.imaxmusic.net) with a mandate to catalogue and identify IMAX scores and their commercial availability.

Lastly, fans of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis may be aware of the film’s latest round of restoration work after rare footage from a longer print surfaced in Argentina. The attempt to recreate Lang’s original theatrical cut premiered in Germany, and a blurb about the event was reported at DVD Savant (see entry for Jan. 14/10).

More intriguing for fans of the autocratic Lang as well as the film’s original composer, Gottfried Huppertz, are two recordings from 1927 that the Deutsche Kinemathek made available as playable and downloadable MP3 recordings. Seite einz features Lang discussing the film’s music in German, and Seite zwei features a suite of thematic material culled from Huppertz’ score.

While most will find the archival audio fascinating, I’m rather drawn to the striking label art that features a Cubist-styled crooner (or a minimalist design of an unfortunate musician captured in a death pose as a nuclear bomb blew out his eyes, electrified the hair, and extended the lips as the singer saw the dirty cloud, and uttered the sentence ‘Ach, was eine schweinerei!’).

Or something like that.

This blog marks the end of March, as well as the last chance Mother Nature had to smite Toronto with one last snowstorm. However, a final chill on T.O. actually came from the provincial budget which freezes the much-needed public transportation plan for an undetermined period, so I guess we did get hit with one big storm after all.




Life After a TV Death

On Saturday March 27th, series co-producer/director Jon Cassar announced in a Twitter feed that Fox had decided to ax 24, ending a period of speculation as to whether the network would give the show another year of life.

So ends a ground-breaking show whose terrorist plots were built around 24 hours of a single day, and contained the greatest concentration of Canadian talent for a single TV series.

(Unless that Canuckle talent finds work soon, they may be doomed to appear in SyFy TV movies about alien marshmallows, or more Clive Barker ‘presentations’ based on napkin doodles scribbled during a Via ride to Vancouver.)

I’m actually not surprised the show’s been axed, though my suspicions are due to a number of issues. Season 1 was perfect, Season 2 was pretty good; Season 3 had one good episode, and the rest was rabbit rubbish; Season 4 had half a good episode, and the rest had the CTU unit reduced to the most inept group of secret service dingbats, incapable of protecting the U.S. from a rogue shipment of rancid cabbage.

I actually have no memory of Season 5 because it seems to have blurred with Season 6, but I do recall Season 6 being great fun, and making me eager for further adventures of Jack Bauer, a loyal American patriot (played by Canadian Kiefer Sutherland) who technically died in an episode, and technically still has a weak heart from all that shock-torture-drug stuff (ailments that everyone convenient ‘forgot’ in later seasons).

No matter, since Jack returned for a 7th and the current 8th Season, but I think the reason the show’s been felled may be due to its high cost (full action sequences spread over 24 episodes is pricey), a high-profile and very large cast, a star who may be getting tired of all that running and jumping, Fox’ alleging low ratings of a boo-hoo 9 million from prior 13 million, and perhaps the character of Bauer being less relevant today.

24 benefitted from a tense sense of paranoia within the U.S. of terror striking from sleeper cells and porous border control, and the series’ writers often incorporated current and possible news items that kept it current, but with the terror fear subjugated by real economic woes today, people may want outright escapism – 3D action and fantasy films – instead of a series that tells them Your World is Crumbling over 24 week period.

Even James Bond left a muffled impact at the box office last year with the rotten egg The Quantum of Solace, so perhaps stories about global terrorism or singular despots are too negative when people are losing houses, jobs, and the realities of living on credit push audiences for fantastic tales.

It’s all speculation, and it may well be audiences are growing tired of Bauer, but Fox can still exploit the character while he’s fresh in the minds of avid fans. What Fox and Sutherland shouldn’t do is a one-time feature film; it failed miserably on both occasions for The X-Files, and neither film offers anything of merit to the lore and characters of the show’s first five years.

What Fox and Sutherland should do is a series of TV movies – basically an entire season without the fat, silly tangents and filler episodes. Just Jack dealing with a persistent threat that unfolds in two, three or four 90 min. cliffhanger teleplays that closes the Bauer saga over a four month period.

The damned things would sell as a four-movie DVD set with longer director cuts and extras, and one of the most inventive shows ends with dignity, instead of being left unresolved, or picked up by another network (NBC’s been rumored to have expressed interest), and altered to suit the network’s in-house style.

Fox never cared what was said or shown on TV as long as ad sales and ratings were solid, so I doubt more conservative NBC would allow a character to have his body drilled repeatedly with a foot-long power tool. (It happened, and it was nasty!)

Now’s the time for clarity and sober thinking, so here’s hoping Fox and Sutherland don’t muck up a good thing. The final episode of 24 airs May 24th on Fox in the U.S., and Global in Canada.


To the other end is Roger Ebert’s own blog on the cancellation of At the Movies, the show he and partner Gene Siskel started in 1975. Disney axed the syndicated show this past March 24th, and Ebert, ever the active soul, has plans to get a new show going.

Ebert describes the new project a bit, and he gives an elegiac tribute to his old beloved show in what may be the most dignified tribute to a series from which a host was ousted. (Ebert and co-host Richard Roeper ‘cut ties’ with Disney when the company wanted to revamp the show into Pablum, but it’s still a putsch orchestrated by a parent company.)

It’s the classiest thing I’ve read in a while, and I hope the new project becomes a reality, meeting all of the requirements in Ebert’s outline. What’s surprising is not that his aim to cover current, past, contemporary, classic, and indie work is daring; that’s exactly what he used to do with Siskel before roepertitis and pablumitis became incipient.

Film criticism has taken a good forty whacks to the head as media enterprises keeping gutting their permanent staff, so maybe Ebert’s project might bring some intelligence back to film review shows.

More editorial blather to follow.



Free Me!

Sometimes when Hollywood remakes a classic, the classic actually emerges on DVD from a period of oblivion, but that’s never happened to Ransom! Neither the 1956 film about a kidnapped boy nor the 1953 live teleplay are available on DVD (Region 2 land fares better), but Ransom, Ron Howard’s 1996 remake, is (albeit only in an unnecessarily longer Director’s Cut).

It might be rights issues, or apathy, but whatever excuse is restricting the ’56 film to the realms of TV (such as TCM) is frankly criminal, because it’s that good. It bears one of Glenn Ford’s best performances, and a superb, sharp script by Richard Maibaum and Cyril Hune – authors of the original teleplay (which I would love to see).

The script is so good that two scenes where retained, almost verbatim, for Howard’s remake, and director Alex Segal stayed away from score and flashy montages and carried over some of the conventions of live TV by putting the camera smack in the center of Ford’s anguish as he struggles with the decision to pay or not pay the ransom that may or may not free his beloved son.

Rudolph Maté’s Union Station (1950) is an equally compelling kidnapping tale set moments after the daughter of a similarly wealthy father is snatched, and one could argue the writers of Howard’s Ransom remake interpolated Union Station’s ruthless kidnappers – the greedy leader, his overly sympathetic moll – because the evil force that took the boy in Segal’s drama is never seen.

Starring William Holden, Union Station is about chasing down facts and clues and getting the kidnappers before the money is dropped off. Maté used some excellent locations, including Los Angeles’ railway station and small pockets of Chicago’s Tunnel Railroad, which was shuttered a few years later. In terms of a docu-crime style, Union Station is kind of the kissing cousin of Maté’s chilling D.O.A., made the same year.

Although it shows up quite often on TCM, Union Station is reportedly coming to DVD via Olive Films around September (originally June) of 2010. Much like the spate of Paramount titles that were licensed to Legend Films, the new wave contains a neat mix of classic and cult titles:

  • Appointment with Danger (1951)

  • Crack in the World (1965)

  • Dark City (1950)

  • Escape from Zahrain (1962)

  • Face to Face (Ansikte mot ansikte) (1976)

  • Fear Is the Key (1972)

  • Hannie Caulder (1971)

  • Harlow (1965)

  • Hurry Sundown (1967)

  • Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough (1975)

  • Knock on Wood (1954)

  • My Favorite Spy (1951)

  • Off Limits (1953)

  • On the Double (1961)

  • Mountain, The (1956)

  • Promise Her Anything (1965)

  • Riot (1969)

  • Rope of Sand (1949)

  • Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

  • Savage Innocents, The (1960)

  • Skidoo (1968)

  • Such Good Friends (1971)

  • Summer and Smoke (1961)

  • Tropic of Cancer (1970)

  • Union Station (1950)

  • Where Love Has Gone (1964)

  • WUSA (1970)

  • If it’s a true go, a number of rare titles will finally be out on DVD, including Andrew Marton’s Crack in the World, Joseph E. Levine’s rival Harlow biopc, Raquel Welch’s vanity film Hannie Caulder (with its great Ken Thorn score), the taut drama Rope of Sand, Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke (featuring a lovely Elmer Bernstein score), and a trio of Otto Preminger oddities: the ‘comedy’ Skidoo (which TCM has been showing in widescreen), Such Good Friends, and the sweaty racial drama Hurry Sundown.

    Some film fans may have noticed a lot of Paramount catalogue titles have gone out of print, such as Brian De Palma’s Obsession, David Lynch’s Elephant Man, The Red Tent, and Lipstick. Those by major directors will probably return to DVD alongside Blu-ray editions (Elephant is a perfect candidate for HD), whereas lesser titles may kind of be gone.

    Comparatively fewer are fewer classics are coming out on DVD. Fox seems content to license titles to Region 2 labels but here in North America their classics seem to be restricted to TV airings, including their own HD channel and digital download platform, whereas Paramount still isn’t sure what to do with their library.

    The Legend Films deal from around 2007-2008 (which included goodies like Phase IV) felt like a test for Paramount: see whether revenues from licensed titles are similar to those derived from in-house product, and maybe the Olive deal is another test to see whether licensing – which is no new idea – is the most cost-effective way to earn cash up front. Moreover, licensing would also save Paramount from having to worry about returned physical product idling in the warehouse.

    Perhaps the reason one finds more classics being licensed to European labels on a country-by-country basis is that the studios think it’s a smaller market, and English language markets are still largely controlled by the major labels, hence Fox distributing its own catalogue in the U.S. and Canada, but licensing titles like John Huston’s The Roots of Heaven (1958) or Roy Ward Baker’s colour noir thriller Inferno (1953) to native Spanish labels.

    Universal, which owns a massive catalogue (including pre-WII Paramount titles) has been spotty with classics on DVD. Some titles have been licensed as exclusive Warner Archives releases (U.S. only, yet again), others as overpriced, bare bones entries in their Backlot series (which Canadian vendors have to import, such as Trail of the Lonesome Pine).

    And then there are a few titles coming out of Germany as newly transferred special editions.

    KOCH Media in Germany has being picking through some of Universal’s TV (The Bionic Woman series) and film catalogue. Whereas the John Wayne-Howard Hughes cult films The Conqueror (1956) and Jet Pilot (1957) are available here as heavily compressed transfers in Universal’s budget-line John Wayne set, KOCH gave the two special editions in Germany, and coming shortly will be a review of Jet Pilot, which features a lovely 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer.

    I’m still mulling over buying The Conqueror, though. It’s the idiot cousin of Jet Pilot, but it’s two hours of pure awfulness, and features one of Victor Young’s worst scores.

    - MRH


    Avatar Gets Allocated in Canada

    To help Canadian merchants understand the allocation policy for Avatar when it hits stores Thursday April 22 (Earth Day), Fox Home Video sent a handy FAQ which makes it clear Avatar will debut as a plain movie-only edition in 2D – nothing unexpected, since that info was already available in February.

    What is surprising, however, is the film’s limited availability to merchants and buyers alike.

    As stated in Fox’s FAQ:

    “Allocation will be heavily controlled by Fox and James Cameron. The most likely reason is to ensure the market is not flooded and the title sell [sic] through clean with very little returns… Avatar has been offered as a one-time order only… This version will be available for 10 weeks before being discontinued. A 3D Special Extended Edition is planned for 4th quarter of 2010.”

    “Flooded” seems a rather rich term, but the thinking is perhaps it’ll sate the rental market, satisfy those who must own the film, and keep the film in a kind of limited circulation until the fall when it debuts in 3D Blu-ray as more 3D sets and 3D Blu-ray players make their way to consumers.

    I’m not sure if it’s bold, proactive, or a means to keep the film active in theatres while a legit home video version exists to buy, and then to rent. The question is whether people will care to buy the film yet again in the fall, or will there be a calming down period where those delighted by the theatrical 3D experience won’t even bother owning the film because

    a) the 3D process has earned more praise than the story, and after several months, people might feel the story’s weaknesses will be more apparent on a flat/2D home screen

    b) with 3D TV + player retail combos debuting for under $4000 (or sets by Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony roughly priced between $2200-$4000 Canadian), exactly how successful will the nascent format be, since 1080i sets and lower are selling for a pittance, now that average consumers are getting used to 1080p sets and Blu-ray players. (Meaning: do people really want to buy the core home theatre hardware again?)

    I love 3D, so I’m watching the HD version’s launch and peoples’ reactions with interest, but even if 2/3’s of the rumored thirty-seven 3D films slated for 2010-2011 release are available on DVD and/or Blu-ray, will those titles – which will sell for a premium – really motivate people to re-buy serious hardware?

    And if they don’t within the next 8 months, will Avatar still be a blockbuster home video release, or will people pass on re-buying the film?

    If there is going to be a ‘flood,’ it might be the used DVD shops that’ll be stacked with bare bones copies a year from now...

    - MRH


    Two Degrees of Richard Hatch

    La-La Land Records’ release of Battlestar Galactica: The Plan and Razor marks the last major album tied to the series’ music, and I’ve uploaded a review of the disc, which also comes with a live version of the vocal track “Apocalypse.” Given that piece was nicely recorded in stereo, one can imagine a live album might be the final nod to the series built on the 1978 big-budget and really goofy TV series.

    The original show began with a feature-length pilot that was re-edited into a theatrical film which I actually saw in a theatre (probably at the Uptown or something) as well as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (with nudie-cutie title sequence) before I was shipped at the age of 10 to Germany for six weeks to be primarily with septuagenarians and eat dry chicken on Sundays.

    (I was cheated into the deed by my mother when I was 8, never thinking she’d actually buy the stupid ticket as soon as I turned 10.)

    The original Galactica series starred Richard Hatch, a limited actor with an okay screen presence who just popped up in InAlienable, a low (low) budget sci-fi tale of parasitic infiltration and pregnancy written by Star Trek’s Walter Koenig. Sadly, the film doesn’t feature something like a jiggly-wiggly Judy Geeson mating in her birthday suit, or giving birth in real time to a cheap alien puppet, but I’ve dissected the flaws of the film (available via Anchor Bay on DVD) that has some intriguing arguments about humanity and tentacled babies named Benjamin who smell like strawberries.

    More blather to follow.

    - MRH



    This is what happens when you get the stomach flu: things freeze while you lie in bed writhing, wondering if it was the raw tomato, the cooked chicken, the feta cheese in the sandwich, the bread, or the milk in the cereal that carried a bug, or maybe some schmo in the subway who chose to venture into the world in spite of being a walking contagion of bug matter.

    What follows next will be a cluster of stuff planned, done, and organized over the last week, and actually live on the site – it just took a while to type up the corresponding blogs and update the RSS feeds.

    First up is a three-part piece on Armored (2009), a film about $42 bank heist flick that’s really simple, not daringly original, but was directed by Nimrod Antal, who wrote and directed the New Voguish subway film Kontroll / Control (2003). He was well-used by Hollywood to make the simple-but-fun No Vacancy (2007), and followed up with what’s basically a vintage B-movie loaded with character actors and the odd star or three (Jean Reno? Laurence Fishburne? Fred Ward?).

    The stunts are practical, real metal gets destroyed, and stuff blows up now and then, but more to the point, Antal isn’t an attention-deficit director. He knows how to cut, balance action montages, and has a great feel for brisk tempo, and that’s probably why composer John Murphy was able to write another striking score.

    Murphy’s calling cards are the 28 Days / 28 Weeks Later diptych of zombie nihilism, but he’s done way more than horror since he started scoring films in 1992. Leon the Pig Farmer was his debut (and is still annoyingly unavailable on home video in Region 1 land), and he’s worked with Danny Boyle, Guy Ritchie, and Michael Mann.

    In our lengthy conversation, the candid Murphy discusses his style, why directors like him so much, and what was it like scoring for the difficult Michael Mann.

    Years ago Music from the Movies did a long spread on Elliot Goldenthal, and the composer described the frustration in trying to meet the particular sounds Mann wanted for Heat (1995). Specific instruments. Then changes. Agreement. More changes. And then a finished score that brilliantly sounded like Tangerine Dream filtered through Goldenthal and the Kronos Quartet.

    Here are some specific things you can usually bank on in a Mann film:

    - the music will sound like Tangerine Dream’s Thief (Mann’s 1981 theatrical film debut as a director)

    - cobalt blue with a hue of soothing neon will be integral to the colour scheme

    - Big Decisions will occur when the star or tormented lead character is standing or sitting by the edge of a lake or ocean edge. His head will likely be canted, and at one point he will probably be shot in silhouette, sometimes with trees or a log.

    - characters will have their most earnest conversation or meeting in a coffee shop

    - an older character will have close-cut salt and pepper hair

    - sunglasses and a steely visage are mandatory

    - women don’t really matter, and are frequently whiny and annoying, if not duplicitous and a hindrance to a male character’s personal growth.

    Like his music for Mann’s Miami Vice (2006), John Murphy’s score for Armored meets all of that film’s requirements, and the links for reviews of Sony’s DVD, La-La Land Record’s soundtrack album, and my interview with the composer are active.

    (Murphy’s upcoming gig, incidentally, is Matthew Vaughan’s Kick-Ass, which he co-scored with Henry Jackman.)

    While I’m on the subject of Armored (and I’ll keep this brief due to time, and sore fingers from typing on a vintage IMB PS/2 keyboard), the film’s fleeting theatrical release and quick-and-quiet DVD release does validate the odd dilemma good B-movies sliding off cinema screens without a trace.

    With theatrical runs basically functioning as adverts for tentpole pictures, do tight action films have any hope in hell of theatrical runs, or have audiences grown accustomed to seeing smallish films in their personal home theatres? Are Event Films the only lure to spend high admission fees? Are smaller films better-suited for home environments because we’ve been acclimatized to small-scope films playing on TV, either because of DVD or Cable TV dumping over the years?

    I remember watching a number of really neat New Horizons films on First Choice Pay TV, and I can’t imagine those films got much theatrical play even their day. (I know Sister, Sister got some, because Brian Linehan found the cast and story interesting enough to do an interview episode on Bill Condon’s 1987 southern, mossy thriller.)

    I remember what it was like to see a B-flick in a theatre – while an edit suite was kaput, a bunch of us trekked over to Yorkdale Mall and were pretty much the only people there to see Walter Hill’s underrated Trespass (1992) – but that was eons ago, and I’ve caught far more on home video since then.

    Maybe if Armored was 100 mins. it would qualify for a broad release, but it seems the only 88 mins. films sent to theatres are crap horror remakes and re-imaginings in specialty runs, and I’m willing to bet shite like Black Christmas (2006) got a wider release than Armored.

    I guess if the method of accessing the media changes, so does our behaviour.

    More blather to follow.

    - MRH


    Soap Music

    Soap fans tend to be loyal to specific series, although they might venture to another when favourite actors – trapped playing villains, heroes, hussies, or princesses – move to a rival show (unless the hairstyles or colour change is just plain blacchy).

    I’ve never watched Days of Our Lives – just couldn’t get into it – so the test for a non-fan is whether the music stands on its own.

    My own comparison, in terms of the use (or non-use) of in-house music librairies is General Hospital, which I watched in High School and gave up on when older characters kept making the same dumb marital blunders, teen starlets were given feeble kidnapping or mystery talew, and the pattern of story threads were repeated using newer and younger actors, and older ones were seen once a week, waving behind desks to ensure veteran fans 'classic characters' weren’t completely useless, and the actors were still alive.

    I don’t recall GH actually having original music during the late eighties because I remember hearing cues from John Carpenter's Christine and Jerry Goldsmith's Basic Instinct used instead for suspense motifs and character motifs. Maybe it was laziness, a smaller music budget, or maybe the producers felt they could get better quality music if they went to a film library instead. The result for my ears was horribly distracting, particularly when Goldsmith’s Basic Instinct theme – which is eerie and beautiful – was played again and again in chopped up, badly looped versions.

    Days was different, because they’ve had original music for at least 10 years, and that’s what La-La Land’s 2-disc set carries: suites of expertly edited themes by composers Ken Corday and D. Brent Nelson. Check out the review, because the set's a good sampler release that also flatters the underrated composers.

    I couldn’t get into the good/bad Marlena and old/new John Black nonsense, but at least the wonky characters inspired the composers quite well.

    - MRH


    A Seething Hunger for Fame and Power

    A week ago, the Oscars were broadcast, and TCM’s own cheeky salute to that night’s bloated event was airing The Oscar (1966), one of the best bad movies ever made. It’s a perfect example of foul elements – terrible dialogue, aggressive acting, serious miscasting, and drippy sleaze – coalescing into a giddy ride of cinematic fromage piquant.

    Director Russell Rouse had enjoyed a good career run writing noirs (D.O.A.) as well as directing them (the dialogue-free The Thief, made in 1952 with Ray Milland is particularly interesting), but he stumbled in making what he may well have believed was a serious, dramatic expose of thespian greed when an egotistical actor is nominated for the gleaming bald statue.

    Filled with cameos and a solid supporting cast, it’s a grand train wreck, but it also features acidic and often bonkers hipster dialogue co-written by Harlan Ellison. How much of it came from Ellison’s nutty mind is conjecture since no one cares enough about this classic of bad cinema to release it on DVD. If Annie (1982), Heaven’s Gate (1980), and Can’t Stop the Music (1980) deserved special editions, why not The Oscar – a movie that actually has pacing, and is free from vomitous musical numbers and directorial excess. (Well, Rouse did draw up a ridiculous pre-Oscar nightmare sequence, but that’s it.)

    As a contrast to the ridiculous, I’ve added a review of the 1959 teleplay based on Budd Schulberg’s classic 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run? Many have tried to turn the tight, slim novel into a film (including Tom Cruise), but this teleplay remains the only successful mounting.

    The second of the teleplay’s two parts was believed lost, but it took a push from co-star Dina Merrill to get people looking deeper, and 49 years since it aired, the complete teleplay was released on DVD as part of the KOCH / E1’s Archive of American Television series.

    And as good fortune would have it, E1 will be releasing Evening Primrose, Stephen Sondheim’s 1966 musical horror tale about a lowly poet who decides to live inside the bowels of a department store, and becomes involved with a group of secret people living in the store’s bowels.

    A limited CD of the score was released by Kritzerland Records, and the original teleplay was seemingly locked away due to apparent legal issues, but it seems good things do come to those with patience.

    - MRH


    It All Boils Down to Cabbage

    The BBC World News reports that a High Court in London has decided in favour of the band Pink Floyd, supposedly preventing giant EMI from breaking up what the band calls concept albums into separate songs and selling them individually as digital downloads in services like iTunes.

    EMI’s been ordered to pay $60,000 U.S. in costs, but the victory seems soft in light of further issues that still have to be argued and resolved in court, including the original contractual wording which Pink Floyd argues ensures the albums must remain intact when commercially released in any form. To “preserve the artistic integrity of the albums” is what helped keep albums like Dark Side of the Moon from being fully chopped up and released as singles, but EMI still argues the contract only applies to vinyl.

    The case somewhat echoes an old clause in Orson Welles’ contract with RKO that prevented anyone from re-editing or altering Citizen Kane (1941) in any form without the permission of Welles or his estate, which protected the film when rumours of it being colorized surfaced during the eighties.

    To one end of the Pink Floyd case, there’s the artist not being paid or paid sufficiently when a distribution contract is read as covering current and future media and distribution venues; to the other, there’s films or TV series, for example, not being released in one format because a label says the original monies paid to allow the inclusion of a song didn’t include future formats like DVD or any other digital format, making the home video release of something like WKRP in Cincinnati impossible for years.

    Season 1 did eventually materialize after negotiations and replacement songs were sorted out, but the show’s yet to receive a second season release, either because it sold poorly, or negotiations are still ongoing. It’s due likely to poor sales in the eyes of label Fox, and the fact the years of contractual arguing prevented the show from emerging on DVD when interest was at its peak.

    Labels are notorious poor in badly gauging the maximum interest level among mid-level fans just before it crests and starts to wane. Ardent fans will continue to pressure the release of a work, but so much TV product is out there – old and new series – that people will forget. Remember: while someone may want the release of a full season, in the case of an hour-long series from the eighties, that may be 22 or 24 episodes to plow through, which makes for considerable viewing time instead of a 100 min. movie that’s been unavailable for decades.

    Watching Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975) – long gone from home video until Sony’s 2006 DVD - takes up around 2 hours of viewing time, but even a half-hour show like WKRP is more than 9 hours, a time-hog that also has to compete with what’s currently on network and cable TV, as well as what you missed and plan to catch-up on DVD, like Mad Men or the full run of The Sopranos that you never managed to watch.

    Certainly in the case of TV, studios and networks have to get the show out while the interest remains within the broadest viewer base, because unlike vintage shows Father Knows Best, The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, Hawaii Five-0, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or M*A*S*H, more recent series use popular music for montages, or to make the shows feel fresh and of-the-minute, and that eighties cliché has hindered the release of series like WKRP due to music rights issues.

    This digression into film and TV merely shows how convoluted things can become when a song or an album becomes a commodity that labels want to exploit, artists want to protect, and technology mucks things up with new venues that cause both sides to seek a clear interpretation of a contract.

    Anyone familiar with Pink Floyd knows their albums are conceptual works, and while songs from The Wall did appear as singles, Dark Side of the Moon is essentially one long work with tracks cross-mixed to form interconnected movements; with the exception of the song “Money,” chopping up the rest would have songs missing their opening and closing bars without a new remix.

    According to the BBC report, EMI’s position is that the High Court’s ruling doesn’t force the label from making Floyd’s albums available as single track downloads, but perhaps the ruling will bring forth other artists, and the issue will progress further through the courts and eventually let artists have a say in the way their works are disseminated.

    EMI’s just posturing for the media; there’s offering choice for the consumer, and then there’s hacking up a work that was edited and mixed as a full listening experience.

    And completely unrelated, but also reported by the Beeb, is an announcement that the Royal Opera House’s plan to mount the Anna Nicole Opera is a go.

    No, this is real.

    I’m waiting for something of substance, like Cabbage: An Oratorio in Three Movements - “Seeding of Soil,” “Rounder is Better,” and the epic conclusion “Roughage,” with the audience cradling fiery votive cabbage rolls.

    Wouldn't that be the event of a lifetime?

    - MRH


    Oscar Night Wrap-Up

    The 82nd Oscars ended Sunday night at a few minutes after midnight, clocking in at around 3.5 hours, and undoubtedly media writers will be playing up Katherine Bigelow's historical new position as the first woman to win an Oscar for Direction. (I won't, but maybe there's some symbolic goodness in that her win on Sunday preceded International Women's Day, the following Monday.)

    Much like Mo'Nique's winning Best Supporting Actress for Precious, when a performance or film is that good, race or gender or persuasion makes no difference. Of course, an Oscar win is also a mishmash of what's deserved as well as who deserves it based on other criteria. It certainly helped that Best Actor Jeff Bridges is a veteran with an excellent body of work (Fabulous Baker Boys is still one of maybe 5 films I'd want to have with me if stranded on an island, plus, uhm, a solar powered portable DVD player to watch the things), as well as part of Hollywood royalty – brother Beau and late father Lloyd are/were fine actors (with Beau also appearing in Baker Boys). Jeff Bridges' win for Crazy Heart made sense (as did Heart's Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett nabbing the Best Original Song Oscar).

    So were the winners a big surprise?

    I did expect Hurt Locker to nab Best Picture, Best Director, and maybe another upper-tier award (like Editing and Original Screenplay, which topped the film's win at 6).

    I caught the film at a quiet preview held by Canadian distributor Maple, and I don't know if I'd say I didn't expect the film to do better on video, but its length and hyper-focus on the job of bomb disarming would've demanded average theatrical moviegoers be more patient with the film's hard style. That desert dune sniper attack is still one of the most tensely cut sequences around, and not much really happens. Crafting intensity from what's mostly a few people looking at each other through binoculars is pure editorial skill, plus the filmmakers trusting their intuition that what they're doing will ultimately work, and people are smart enough to get it.

    Michael Giacchino's win for Best Score was lovely, as Up is a beautiful, lyrical score that also evokes the best of vintage fifties travelogue films, like Victor Young's Around the World in 80 Days (for which the composer was awarded a posthumous award). No surprised Up also won Best Animated Film, but it's really not a kiddie film. Two kids become friends, fall n love as youths, get married, live into their old age, and husband is left alone when wife dies. Beautiful, brutal opening sequence that sets up the character's life, his grumpiness, and his eventual bonding with the boy stowaway (Asian-neutral child #12) that rides with him to South America and meet a talking dog and a bird named Kevin.

    As for the show itself, it was typical back-slapping, with luvvy odes among the artists that often went on too long, and left hardened hunks of sugary goo on the stage. (During the ad breaks, a team hurried to remove the encrusted goo with wide spatulas and dolphin-friendly bleach.)

    I think the same ploy was used last year where the friends/associates/colleagues of nominated Best and Supporting actors actresses walked up to the edge of the stage and said their 'You're so wonderful' speeches, making sure they included words like elegance, bravery, admiration, awe, and so on.

    The reason the luvvy orations were given so much airtime stems from a number of honorary awards being handed out months earlier. In past years, some winners were presented with their (often belated) Oscars, but this year the lot were blown off via a montage.

    What that alone signalled is that film history and the members who furthered the art of filmmaking is only of note if it's recent, tied to enough living colleagues, or their significance can be explained in a few easy sound-bites.

    Roger Who? Lauren Who? Gordon Who?

    Those blown through in the who-were-these-people-again montage included producer/director and indie icon Roger Corman (The Intruder), cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather trilogy), producer (Angels and Demons) and former seventies Warner Bros. executive John Calley, and actress Lauren Bacall (Key Largo), who was at least singled out by Queen Latifah for the audience's benefit.

    The dead celebrity montage (“In Memorium”) was underscored by a solo rendition of The Beatles' “In My Life” by James Taylor, and the list was much more compact than in prior years.

    The only technical blunder was the decision to cut from the montage to a wide shot of the darkly lit stage, where one could glimpse an elder gentleman conducting an orchestra in the projected film footage. No captions appeared on the TV, so most probably didn't know the composer being slighted was Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago). A simply Google query also reveals a number of artists left off the roster, including Farrah Fawcett. (Anyone remember Sunburn? Or that famous poster?)

    The sole dead notable given a space of stage time was writer/director/producer John Hughes, who died suddenly in 2009. The tribute began with Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles), and as expected, when the curtain rose, there were more members of the Brat Pack who paid their respects to the man who redefined (if not created) the teen film for all ages.

    Hughes' family was seated in the front of the audience and observed the mix of verbal and montage material, but the handful of spoken words by the Brat Packers seemed trimmed for time. (Click HERE for a blog regarding supposed sudden interest in some of Hughes' unfilmed screenplays.)

    Marc Shaiman's position as conductor ensured the music was energetic, and the seamless transitions between many themes throughout the telecast made longer awards segments less lumbering than they really were.

    The night's oddest moments: George Clooney looking strangely glum in several creepy close-ups, and Quentin Tarantino looking ashen after Bigelow was anointed Best Director. Was QT deep in thought, or was some of his ego voiding into the seat cushion?

    Awards shows are a thing that can't really be improved because the basic formula is people talking, clapping, walking to accept awards, and ad breaks. The interpretive dance vignettes for Best Score are always ridiculous, the Best Song medley are often patently awful, and someone important often gets ignored in the ceremonies because it's the stars that are the main attraction.

    Last night's luvvy orations could be seen as offshoots of reality TV: the stars are There. It's their friends 'unexpectedly' telling the world why Gene Bibbleford is a humanitarian, and Sally Hoofengrubber-Shutzmiller has inspired millions of actresses to believe in Art, love short brown people, and fight for the rights of thumbless ex-hookers and the reunification of lost pet rocks in the province of Pinikindu.

    The idea reads noble on paper, but it's dull in real-time TV, and it robbed the aforementioned Honorary Oscar winners of their limelight in front of millions. Besides, from the extracts of that ceremony and dinner, everyone seemed to be having WAY more fun, telling wild tales of working with Roger Corman, his legendary cheapness, the mass of young filmmakers he inspired, Calley's creatively rewarding tenure at Warner's, and Bacall's dry persona at the podium. People were laughing and drinking that night, which looked far more amusing than the luvvy sessions last night, and one wishes the Honorary Awards Dinner was telecast instead.

    The only real surprise: Sandra Bullock winning Best Actress for The Blind Side, which I understand is a populist feel good film that engages broad audiences from right, left, and centrist politics (but probably nauseates cynical writers, or those feeling the movie was Oscar bait that hit paydirt. No doubt it'll rent very well on DVD).

    The expansion of Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 isn't some 'restoration' of a great tradition scrapped by the mess of WWII in 1944. '43 was the last year they had 10 nominees because the Oscar body likely felt it was too many damn movies, and made the awards festivities longer than necessary. Some probably felt a few in the tally weren't deserving of being called 'the best that Hollywood had to offer' and knocking it down to a top 5 was an improvement, which is why it endured for over sixty years.

    During that slab of time, winners were announced to the general public by radio, newsreels in theatres, and after the invention of TV, Oscar telecasts, satellite TV feeds, and online streaming.

    The 'Top 10' syndrome was a dumb marketing ploy that allowed more producers/studios to slap pictures of the bald statue in poster and DVD art, let ABC promote the night not as a celebration of artistry but a smack-down between 10 titans, and give the impression the night was more embracing of commercial successes rather than critical darlings.

    The Academy will probably try out the Top 10 for another year, and if it proves to be too unwieldy, it'll get scrapped due to a re-imagining and rebooting of the awards formula (which would be code for AMPAS members unwilling to sit though ten nominated movies, some of which run close to three bloody hours. Just wait – they'll be whining cum the fall of 2010).

    Bullock winning a bald statue probably makes her the only actress to win both an Oscar and a Golden Razzie Award in the same year. So, to end off this editorial blathering, those wanting to check out Oscar winners and see some video clips of the speeches et al, there's the official site. Those wanting to see nominees and winners of rotten filmmaking, as well as Bullock's other acceptance speech for All About Steve can find further details at the official Razzie site.

    Those expecting comments on Barbara Wawa's final Oscar Special will find none from me because half of Walters' hour-long show consisted of clips from prior interviews that were interminably boring, but at least they were less grating than the Red Carpet feeds run by various affiliated and starstruck networks and cable stations, like Canada's CTV, who pushed their team of plastic eTalk dollies onto the carpet to extract useless verbal chatter from stars.

    TCM's own programming featured Oscar winning films in February and early March, culminating in one of the most infamous stinking turds ever made, 1966's The Oscar, which aired Sunday at 8pm. I'll have a review of this brilliantly awful lump of coal shortly, as well as several soundtrack reviews.

    - MRH


    2010 Genie Award Nominees

    Announced Monday March 1st are the nominees for the 28th Annual Genie Awards. For those a tad confused about the Genie's identity, here's a simple breakdown:

    Oscar = American
    BAFTA = British
    Genie = Canadian, like Oscar and BAFTA, but not
    Juno = Canadian MUSIC, not film
    Gemini = Canadian TV, not film
    Genie = CANADIAN FILM, not like Oscar / American film / bald statue / heavy paperweight

    All clear?


    The awards will be handed out in Toronto, April 12th, with Gordon Pinsent hosting the televised ceremonies, although what network and time isn't clear at the Genie's official website, since the stated airdate (and previous year's winners) is frozen for the year 2008.


    A pleasant surprise is how many of the films, both in English and French, are available on DVD and Blu-ray, which has to be a positive signal that, while Canadian films still have to fight for theatrical screen time, there are more options out there for home video (or everyone just smartly planned ahead in their marketing strategies). All of the films are out, and several were released prior to March 1st, which makes it easy for anyone to sample some of the best in Canadian film before the awards ceremonies in April.

    So - Here are the nominees in each category, with titles currently on video hyperlinked to related reviews / Amazon.ca links:


    3 SAISONS – Maude Bouchard, Jim Donovan, Sandy Martinez, Bruno Rosato
    BEFORE TOMORROW – Stéphane Rituit
    FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING – Shawn Williamson, Stephen Hegyes, Peter La Terriere, Kari Skogland
    NURSE.FIGHTER.BOY – Ingrid Veninger
    POLYTECHNIQUE – Maxime Rémillard, Don Carmody



    KARI SKOGLAND – Fifty Dead Men Walking
    DENIS VILLENEUVE – Polytechnique
    BRUCE MCDONALD – Pontypool



    ATOM EGOYAN – Adoration
    ÉMILE GAUDREAULT, IAN LAUZON – De père en flic / Father and Guns
    JACQUES DAVIDTS – Polytechnique
    DAVID BEZMOZGIS – Victoria Day



    KARI SKOGLAND – Fifty Dead Men Walking
    TONY BURGESS – Pontypool



    PAUL DYLAN IVALU – Before Tomorrow
    STEPHEN MCHATTIE – Pontypool



    MADELINE PIUJUQ IVALU – Before Tomorrow
    CARINNE LEDUC – 3 Saisons
    GABRIELLE ROSE – Mothers&Daughters
    KARINE VANASSE – Polytechnique



    PATRICK DROLET – De père en flic / Father and Guns
    JOHN DUNSWORTH – Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day
    MAXIM GAUDETTE – Polytechnique
    RÉMY GIRARD – De père en flic / Father and Guns
    SCOTT SPEEDMAN – Adoration



    LIANE BALABAN – One Week
    MARIE BRASSARD – Les grandes chaleurs / Heat Wave
    MARTHA BURNS – Love & Savagery
    ISABEL RICHER – Babine
    SONIA VACHON – 5150, rue des Ormes / 5150 Elm’s Way



    SUSAN AVINGAQ – Before Tomorrow
    JEAN BABIN – Grande ourse: La clé des possibles / The Master Key
    EVE STEWART – Fifty Dead Men Walking



    JONATHAN FREEMAN – Fifty Dead Men Walking
    PIERRE GILL – Polytechnique
    RONALD PLANTE – Grande ourse: La clé des possibles / The Master Key
    ALLEN SMITH – Les doigts croches / Sticky Fingers



    ATUAT AKITTIRQ – Before Tomorrow
    CARMEN ALIE – Grande ourse: La clé des
    possibles / The Master Key
    BRENDA BROER – Cairo Time



    ALAIN BARIL – 5150, rue des Ormes / 5150 Elm’s Way
    RICHARD COMEAU – Polytechnique
    MICHEL GROU – Grande ourse: La clé des possibles / The Master Key
    JIM MUNRO – Fifty Dead Men Walking



    DJINA CARON, MARTIN RIVEST – Polytechnique
    DJINA CARON – Grande ourse: La clé des possibles / The Master Key



    BENOÎT CHAREST – Polytechnique
    BERTRAND CHÉNIER – Love & Savagery
    CHRISTIAN CLERMONT – 5150, rue des Ormes / 5150 Elm’s Way
    NORMAND CORBEIL – Grande ourse: La clé des possibles / The Master Key
    BEN MINK – Fifty Dead Men Walking



    SUSAN AVINGAQ – Before Tomorrow – "Pamani"
    SARI DAJANI, IOHANN MARTIN, RUDY TOUSSAINT, JOHN VON AICHLINGER – Les grandes chaleurs / Heat Wave – "Bon Swa"



    MARIO AUCLAIR, DANIEL BISSON, LUC BOUDRIAS, JEAN-CHARLES DESJARDINS – Grande ourse: La clé des possibles / The Master Key
    SIMON GOULET, BERNARD GARIÉPY STROBL – 5150, rue des Ormes / 5150 Elm’s Way



    MATHIEU BEAUDIN, JACQUES PLANTE – 5150, rue des Ormes / 5150 Elm’s Way



    A HARD NAME – Kristina McLaughlin, Michael McMahon, Alan Zweig
    INSIDE HANA’S SUITCASE – Larry Weinstein, Rudolf Biermann, Jessica Daniel
    PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI – Patricia Aquino, Paul Saltzman
    RIP: A REMIX MANIFESTO – Mila Aung-Thwin, Kat Baulu, Brett Gaylor, Germaine Ying-Gee Wong



    THE DELIAN MODE – Kara Blake, Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre
    PASSAGES – Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre
    PETROPOLIS: AERIAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE ALBERTA TAR SANDS – Peter Mettler, Sandy Hunter, Laura Severinac --- DVD available March 30



    DANSE MACABRE – Pedro Pires, Catherine Chagnon
    GILLES – Constant Mentzas
    PRINCESS MARGARET BLVD. – Dan Montgomery, Kazik Radwanski
    LA VIE COMMENCE / LIFE BEGINS – Élaine Hébert, Émile Proulx-Cloutier



    RUNAWAY / TRAIN EN FOLIE – Derek Mazur, Cordell Barker, Michael Scott
    THE SPINE / L’ÉCHINE – Steven Hoban, Chris Landreth, Marcy Page
    VIVE LA ROSE – Michael Fukushima, Bruce Alcock, Annette Clarke, Tina Ouellette



    De père en flic / Father and Guns - Denise Robert, Daniel Louis



    J'ai tué ma mère / I Killed My Mother - Xavier Dolan



    Mel Hoppenheim




    Bug-Eyed Nostalgia

    Anchor Bay Canada’s recent release of R.W. Goodwin’s Alien Trespass (2009) had me recalling a pair of similar efforts that capture the essence of monster B-movies, and celebrate somewhat differing genre elements.

    This isn’t to negate the impact and continuing attraction of the classic Universal monsters triumvirate – the Wolf Man, Dracula, the Mummy - that debuted in the thirties, and were beaten to death in several sequels and crossover films over the next ten or so years, but there are several reasons why fifties and sixties monster and alien films are still cherished by ongoing generations.

    From a technological angle, the fifties were partly about new toys that changed the lifestyles of ordinary families, and that sense of society being improved through science is something we still share, as are new forms of communications and entertainment. Even the portability of entertainment – portable radios and TVs, 16mm film projectors – could be regarded as antecedents of MP3 players, iPhones and other portable digital media players.

    But more than in later decades, the new suburban lifestyle was repeatedly portrayed as the ideal. For storytellers, that strange perfection seemed to mandate some kind of threat, and it was natural that nuclear mutants and alien invaders became the key antagonists and threats to suburban society. These threats offered no benefits; it was total destruction and annihilation of the human species, as well as all the religious and cultural goodies that were tied to the Perfect Life.

    Bugs eat people. Aliens kill people and destroy entire civilizations. Nuclear bombs create monsters from ordinary backyard bugs, slugs, and rodents. Unlucky humans exposed to radiation would glow in the dark, went mad, and created explosions that damaged or destroyed our beloved technological infrastructure.

    The forties still had a kind of rural feel, but the surburbanized fifties and their nuclear family units were modern.

    Kids were growing up in a schizophrenic world where life was supposed to be good, but monsters were everywhere. If you lived in a remote desert town, you were far more likely to be killed by an alien craft or giant slabs of monolithic crystals. Or mole creatures would burrow up from the depths. Maybe your cousin would start acting funny when a full moon was out, or perhaps a doctor, once a trusted member of society and guarantor of your passport – abducted youths and turned them into monsters through weird transplants.

    The world was supposed to be better after WWII, but the Soviets were threatening the free world and competing with America’s own military goodies. With space penetrated by the Reds and Sputnik, the planet was doomed unless something could be done.

    Were the monsters exciting distractions for kids wanting to escape dour news reports of spies and un-American behaviour?

    If the nuclear family was the ideal, why were so many creatures trying to kill it?

    If science could cure age-old plagues, why was a man condemned to shrink until he became one with the atom, and then disappear into oblivion?

    The three films I chose to showcase present very different nostalgic views of monster films and their inhuman threats.

    Alien Trespass (2009) is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the clichés and silly cinematic behaviour of humans when an alien ship crashes in the desert. Borrowing from several classic sci-fi films, the plot celebrates the style, flaming Technicolor brilliance, and character clichés of the fifties (including nerdy, egghead scientists), but with a tangible affection for them all. More interesting is the filmmakers’ decision to publicize Alien Trespass not as an homage, but as a lost artifact from 1957.

    Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993) is set in 1962, but it’s told from the angle of teens already familiar with monster movies from their childhood during the late fifties, and their gradual sway towards darker material, like thrillers made by an auteur named Lawrence Woolsey.

    Patterned after William Castle, the film’s writers made their fictional ‘Master of Suspense’ a brand name, much in the way Alfred Hitchcock sold his film and TV productions through voice, caricatures, and signature music, but Woolsey is quite different from Castle in one major way: he has yet to be influenced by Hitchcock and make the kind of mystery thrillers Castle derived during the early sixties - Castle’s cinematic heyday.

    And yet the posters in the theatre where Woolsey’s latest film, “Mant,” is set for a sneak preview, are of more mature thrillers, like Panic in Year Zero (released in 1962), so there are a number of things converging in Dante’s film: there’s the tribute to fifties monster movies and classic carny showmanship, and a subtle lament as older teens catch the films more for laughs than thrills because the monsters feel dated, and aren’t as scary as the real effects of nuclear war being dramatized in dour films like Panic in Year Zero.

    Monster movies were being superseded by tales tied to more newsworthy dangers, and the idyllic nuclear family was showing cracks from contemporary social ills – single parent families, alcoholism, spousal abuse, child abuse, and less trust for the neighbours who used to be regarded as extensions of an urbanized, street-long family. The fear wasn’t that the mom of your next-door friend may have married a Commie, and was now mutating into an alligator, but of a spy selling secrets to an evil empire set on burying your city with a grand nuclear salvo.

    How could a giant bug or monkey compete with that?

    It couldn’t, and as thrillers about homicidal ax-wielding mothers (Castle’s 1961 shocker Homicidal) and cross-dressing serial killers overtook monsters (Hitchcock’s Psycho), the only place aliens and big bugs could survive was the realm of Z-grade schlock, often made by hacks who possessed rudimentary filmmaking skills. The product was aimed solely at the drive-in, it was a bit riskier with sex and violence, or was made so cheap to ensure the most money possible was earned up front before fast word-of-mouth told other potential moviegoers the film stunk like rotting potatoes.

    Larry Blamire’s Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) celebrates cinematic ineptitude, incoherent plotting, bizarre characters, and el cheapo production values to such perfection that is can’t transcend the nature of schlock into something less awful. It’s a niche film for fans of vintage abysmal filmmaking. Like Alien Trespass, there are aliens and a mutant on the loose, but by adopting the same primitive style and technical sophistication of an Ed Wood, Jr., it tends to grate much like the interminable The Astounding She-Monster (1957).

    Alien Trespass celebrates the genre’s highpoint, Matinee its gradual demise, and Cadavra satirizes the low points as the remaining practitioners were not film school newbies, but rejects who knew how to turn on the camera, but often forgot to load the film magazine.

    The directors and writers of these nostalgia trips grew up on the original monster films during their runs in theatres and TV airings, whereas the sensibilities from younger filmmakers are noticeably different.

    The 2001 remake of Earth vs. the Spider combined visual elements from several decades to upgrade the B-movie plot and character archetypes, whereas Eight Legged Freaks (2002) took the concept of a mutant bug infestation threatening mankind and transposed it to a modern (albeit desert) locale where the onslaught of spiders and humanity’s last stand was goofy – something completely absent in classic bug fodder like Them! (1954).

    And then there’s Ron Underwood’s Tremors (1990), which felt like a vintage monster film, but was populated by a crop of oddball townspeople reminiscent of small-town TV sitcoms.

    It’s also worth pondering how Matinee would’ve been different had Dante’s contemporary, Steven Spielberg, taken a poke at the story, but then one only need examine Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), which Spielberg supervised as a vehicle for a quartet of filmmakers with differing styles making their own nostalgic tribute to an early sixties TV series rooted in seen and unseen monsters.

    Dante went for eerie chaos, dark and surreal characters, and a cartoon finale that wasn’t really resolved, whereas Spielberg’s tale dealt with a group of seniors’ seething desire to regress as children, and run wild and free in a preposterous fantasyland where a kid could play forever, and never worry about disintegrating dirty clothes, stealing food, or getting tetanus from rusty fences.

    Nostalgia’s a tricky thing to pull off…

    - MRH


    Some Funkafied Leverage

    Con movies are already tough to pull off. You have to have characters that aren’t mere reworkings of existing clichés, and plot twists that aren’t blatantly derivative and leave you insulted.

    Compare The Score (2001) with Inside Man (2006). The former has major actors (Brando-DeNiro-Norton) stuck in a banal story that meanders and lumbers along, whereas the latter is a beautifully structured con with a solid reveal that has you respecting the characters for their ingenuity, and leaving the theatre with a smile for being taken for a fun ride.

    Repeating a successful formula on a weekly basis is an even bigger challenge when the budget is smaller, and the time allotted to prepping, enacting, and wrapping up a con is restricted to 40 minutes.

    Moreover, there’s the challenge of creating thieves you like rather than thieves who deserve to be beaten up with a lead pipe.

    (Actually I’m wrong there. Thieves invigorated by the con and a sense of Robin Hood sense of do-goodery creates contrasts so our loathing is redirected towards bigger, colder, greedier thieves. That, plus genial thieves conning evil thieves who kill innocent people works, too, as with The Italian Job.)

    TNT’s Leverage debuted in 2008, and the DVD came out a year later. The gradual buzz has turned the show into a hit, and with Season 2 wrapping up just last week, the DVD will be released May 25, and production on Season 3 has already begun.

    The advantage of the tight broadcast and DVD release dates is that viewers hooked on the show won’t have to wait long to revisit the show on home video, and newbies wanting to catch up with prior seasons before the new one airs can do so with some pretty loaded DVD sets.

    Those wanting more Leverage can also revisit the series via La-La Land’s CD, which features all of Joseph LoDuca’s funky signature themes and some dramatic and source cuts.

    LoDuca has written a lot of music since his 1981 debut with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, and while his name will always be tied to Raimi’s bloody exploits of a schmo named Ash trying to fend off pure evil, the composer’s been writing music for many other genres in TV and film, but Leverage is definitely one of his best works to date.

    Con films need electric, witty music, and LoDuca’s series theme encapsulates what it’s like to be in on a con, and be a part of the team. The undulating bass line just keeps pulling us into each drama and, as I discovered, if one watches the series in clumps of 2-3 episodes, the theme also worms its way into the brain, playing in the background during a walk down the street, sitting quietly in the living room, or chopping garlic and adding it to simmering onions before they start to brown. (It’s about frantic movement, see?)

    So in addition to a review of the soundtrack CD which assembles material from the show’s first two seasons, I’ve also uploaded an interview with LoDuca, where he talks about the show’s distinct sound, as well as some quick comments on a personal LoDuca favourite of mine, the cult series American Gothic (1995-1996), which (in my eyes) CBS killed with malice. (The DVD set from Universal is still in print, and is worth hunting down.)

    There’s also a lengthy review of Leverage, Season 1 (Paramount), and unlike the Doc Martin series reviews, it’s spoiler-free!

    - MRH

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