Massive drums and Light fun

A bit of warning for this first piece. The bass is very heavy. It will punch you in the gut and blow out your speakers if you turn it up too much. You’ll get about 30 seconds before it hits… so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Big Mojo is the kind of piece you’d hear in a very loud action sequence in a very loud action film. There are plenty of cut-outs for dialog and other explosions.
At another edge of the musical spectrum; Mariachi Snooze. This is a nice light fun swing piece in a very very major mode. Nothing to offend here… just light fun.
Also, I received a great little voice-over sounder from S. L. Slaughter. If you like the sound of it and think you have a use for Voice-Overs in your own project, I suggest you contact him. The man can make anything sound exciting. Even a quilting bee. (to my knowledge he has not done voice work for a quilting bee… but he could… if you paid him money.)

Amazing Grace

See? Sometimes we do get limited release films around here. At least I think this one’s still only in limited release. I’m not sure about that sort of thing anymore. But the theatre was packed. Just as the previews started, every person over sixty-five in the greater metropolitan area showed up, and they took forever to settle down.
But a good time was had by all, I think. The film is based on the true story of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) and his campaign to abolish slavery in the British Isles in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Everyone calls him Wilber because there are just too many Williams around, including his school friend (and later Prime Minister) William Pitt the Younger. Elected to the House of Commons at 21, Wilber was at first a doubtful politican, preferring to listen to “the preacher in his head”, as one character says. It was Pitt who pulled him back into the game by introducing him to the hard-core circle of abolitionists in England, among them a freed black slave named Equiano, and thus his crusade was born.
The film jumps around at first, as the ill and weary Wilber thinks back over fifteen years of his campaign, but they do a decent job of not making it too confusing. Suffering from ulcerative colitis (a nasty disease that eats away at the colon), he’s become an opium addict in his attempts to work through the pain. Back then, you see, everything from colds to heart disease was treated with laudanum, which is opium dissolved in wine. It was one of the most effective treatments they had, sort of — it didn’t actually fix anything, but at least it kept you from caring so much about being sick. I’m not sure anyone realized at first how addictive it was, but later they probably just didn’t care.
Wilber is portrayed as a free spirit throughout the movie. He sits in the grass and stares at spiderwebs, chats with his Francis-Bacon-quoting butler, and gets to wear a wig that actually looks like real hair instead of the pasty white ones everyone else gets. He also lacks everyone else’s pale complexion, so even sick he almost looks healthier than most of the House of Commons. You can tell he isn’t quite the free spirit that abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell) is, though, because Clarkson walks around with his real hair grown long and hanging out for everyone to see. Horrors!

Equiano gives Wilber his first look at a slave ship.

Anyway, after setting him loose on abolition, Pitt (William, remember, not Brad) now has to quietly distance himself from Wilber because of all the maneuvering involved in keeping his power. Relations with France are shaky (big shock) and abolition is unpopular. Wilber faithfully introduces the bill once a year, each time seeing it voted down by a huge margin.
His matchmaking friends introduce him to Barbara Spooner, a fellow reformer, and they are quickly married — historically, he proposed just two weeks after they met. She was twenty and he was thirty-eight, but that was just how things were then. In the film, she gets married in something that looks more like an 18th century nightgown than a wedding dress, but maybe that’s just how things were then, too. Barbara gives him the courage to continue. Aided by a defector from the other side, the canny Lord Charles Fox (the ever-present Michael Gambon), and the slave ship captain turned Anglican preacher, John Newton (Albert Finney), Wilber soldiers on. It was Newton who wrote the hymn that gave the film its title, probably the most famous hymn in the English language. His conversion in real life wasn’t so dramatic as in the movie, but Albert does a good job as the haunted old man who finally finds some peace in writing out his memories in an anti-slavery tract.
I was worried that I’d feel like I was being preached at every minute of the film, or that Wilber would be so perfect he’d drive me crazy. Thankfully, neither of those things happened, though they did come awfully close a few times. There’s just enough quiet humor to keep things from getting too oppressive. Gruffudd makes a relatively low-key Wilber, not the firebrand I was expecting, but he does give a good sense of being worn to shreds by his obsession. His nightmares and visions are overdone, but maybe that’s what happens when you take laudanum at all hours. There is at least a nice sense of friendship between Wilber and Pitt, but the effect politics has on that friendship isn’t really explored, which is kind of a shame. Crusaders aren’t usually easy to live with, but somehow Wilber’s personal life always seems fine.
I’m going to go with three and a quarter idols on this one. It sticks pretty close to fact as far as I know, and manages not to drag, as happens all too often with historical epics. So go out and watch it in celebration of Black History Month. When it finally reaches your local theatre, that is.

Ghost Rider

Now this time was a really difficult decision. On the one hand, we have confessed comic geek Nicholas Cage finally fulfilling his dream of portraying a Marvel character, and on the other, Chris Cooper playing one of those fascinating morally ambiguous characters that he does so well. I don’t know what he’s like in real life, but on screen, he makes me nervous, in a really good way. But I’m a confessed comic geek myself, and I remember reading Ghost Rider on Saturday afternoons, and in the end, nostalgia carried the day.
And it worked: I feel like I’ve spent the afternoon lying on my bed reading comics. That was one hour and forty-five minutes of scenery-chewing acting, over-the-top demons, crackling hellfire, crazy plotlines, and major property destruction. There were shots that looked just like they should be drawn into comic-panel form and printed up for kids to spend their lunch money on. It’s not going to attract anything like the Spider-Man fan following — you don’t need to be a geek to enjoy the Spider-Movies — but if you are a geek like me, this could really be your thing.
The lead scenery chewer is Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles. When the young Johnny Blaze, budding motorcycle stunt rider, learns that his father and teacher is dying of lung cancer, good old Meph appears to say that he can fix everything. All he needs is for Johnny to sign on the dotted line, and his father will be whole and healthy again. Oh, and Johnny will be minus one soul, but he wasn’t really using that anyway, was he? Johnny never actually does sign, but a drop of his blood splashes onto the line, and Meph calls that good enough. I think a good lawyer could do a lot with that loophole, though.
But because the devil is Peter Fonda, Blaze Senior has a miraculous recovery from his cancer, only to die before his son’s eyes when a stunt goes wrong. Johnny turns his back on his girlfriend Roxanne (Eva Mendes), and rides off into the sunset.
But wait! The movie’s not over yet. Years later, Johnny is now a world-famous stunt driver, performing unheard-of jumps and crashing repeatedly in ways that should snap his neck like a twig, but he hardly notices. He has his own TeamBlaze (they don’t seem to do much, but it is cool to have your very own team), video games based on his career, and a Q score that’s off the charts. I doubt if even Evel Knievel attracted autograph hounds and groupies like he does. He also seems to have an unhealthy fascination with television, jellybeans (he “drinks” them out of a martini glass, but only red and yellow ones), monkeys, and music of The Carpenters (yikes), but he’s apparently rich enough that these are only considered amusing eccentricities.

Nope, you’ll never see this made into a movie…

Roxy reappears (you know she had to) as a TV reporter, and Johnny views her return as a sign. It is, but only a sign of terrible evil lurking around the corner, not the beacon of hope our hero’s looking for. Meph is being challenged by four upstart demons (or maybe three elementals and one demon; I’m not sure), and everyone’s after a contract from the Old West, a contract that promises the holder one thousand of the most evil souls you could ask for. The souls are all hanging out in the Biggest Little Evil City in the World, San Venganza. And yes, that is Spanish for vengeance. One thing this movie is not, is subtle. But then, Ghost Rider has never been particularly subtle, so that’s okay.
All the comic trademarks are there: the spiked leather outfit, the bike that transforms into a wicked burning thing, the fireballs, the chain, everything. I always thought a chain a seriously unwieldy weapon, but he does okay with it, using it to beat up Blackheart’s cronies pretty handily and send them back to Hell, or the elements, or wherever they came from. I’m not sure they’re true demons, since they do go down pretty easily. Blackheart is Meph’s main adversary, and he makes up for the others by being really, really hard to take down. There’s also Sam Elliott, almost the stereotypical American cowboy actor, playing the Caretaker, who helps the poor bewildered Johnny figure out what’s going on — not, as far as I remember, an actual character from the comic, but very in keeping with the spirit of Ghost Rider, and a great little over-the-top part for Sam.
There are a couple of bits that seem like homages to Terminator 2 for some reason — Roxy channels Linda Hamilton and gets to shoot a bad guy several times with a pump shotgun before it runs out of ammo, for instance. I’m not sure those were really meant to be there — shouldn’t they be giving nods to Spider-Man instead, if they’re going to bother? And don’t pay too much attention to the timing of anything. Days and nights fly by, and journeys that usually take minutes suddenly seem to take hours. But seriously, if you’ve just paid money for a movie that you know features burning skulls, demons, and flaming motorcycles that can ride on water, you shouldn’t be expecting a lot of logic on top of all that.
My personal, comic-geek ranking? Three and a half idols. I have to add, though, that anyone who isn’t willing to suspend every ounce of disbelief in their bodies is going to rank this more around two idols. Spider-Man manages to stay true to his roots and still appeal to a very wide audience, but Ghost Rider isn’t built that way. There really aren’t any shades of grey in the Rider’s world, only Guilty and Innocent, and I put those capital letters there very deliberately. It’s a thoroughly improbable, wild little action flick that doesn’t pretend to be anything else, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. Oh, but if you have a tendency to motion sickness, beware of the opening title sequence. I almost sent popcorn flying everywhere.

Tibet, Ireland, and Germany

Interesting day today. I continue to play with my new world music samples, and I got a request for Wagner. Wagner? Who requests Wagner? Well… she didn’t know she was requesting Wagner, she wanted a recording of that traditional wedding march piece. There’s quire a few wedding marches out there – but it turns out she wanted the “Bridal Chorus” from the Act 3 of the opera Lohengrin.
It is known around these parts as “here comes the bride”… the actual words start out “Treulich gef├╝hrt ziehet dahin,
wo euch der Segen der Liebe bewahr’!” translation: ” Faithfully guided, draw near to where the blessing of love shall preserve you!” [wikipedia]
I recorded two versions; one with a pipe organ, and another (new arrangement) on piano. Bridal Chorus‘s.
Also new – Himalayan Atmosphere and a solo dulcimer piece Errigal

Celtic Demo

Just picked up a new pack for Garageband that has some nice world music samples in it. I’m still learning how to use it – but I’ve had requests for various ethnic musics which I’ve been unable to do until now. Expect more world music soon.
Celtic Impulse

Hannibal Rising

It’s really more like Hannibal sinking into the depths of depravity, but that’s not as good a title.
Our story begins in 1941, in Lithuania, of all places. No, Hannibal isn’t a Lithuanian name, nor is Lecter, but there we are. The character is now Lithuanian, so get over it. The point is that Lithuania isn’t a good place to be in 1941, as the Russian troops are retreating through the country, chased by Nazis, and the Lecter family must flee their castle and take refuge in a hunting lodge in the woods. Refuge doesn’t last long, though — a Russian tank stops there for water, a German plane attacks it, and all the Lecter adults are killed, leaving young Hannibal and his little sister Mischa (also not a Lithuanian name) as the only survivors.
Then a group of disgruntled locals arrives, would-be SS officers who are looking for shelter. Unfortunately, there isn’t much food, and it isn’t long before hunger drives them to look for…unusual sources of nourishment. All right, yes, they decide to eat Mischa. The movie avoids saying it in so many words for quite some time, but we all know what’s going on. (“He ate my sister” is kind of an awkward line to say anyway.) And yes, it’s terrible, though sadly probably not too uncommon in that time and place. It still seems like an odd plot point to me, though — I would think that having had a close relative eaten would be much more likely to turn a person into a vegetarian than into a cannibal, but maybe that’s just me.
We next see Hannibal (now played by Gaspard Ulliel) back in the family home — as just another one of the orphans being “cared for” there by the Russian overlords. Communism apparently makes them lazy, however, as Hannibal one night discovers a packet of letters his mother left behind eight years earlier, just sitting in a drawer. After escaping the orphanage, he uses the letters to find his uncle’s home in France. Hannibal’s bad luck holds, though: his uncle is dead. (Yeah, yeah, we get it, filmmakers — his life sucked.) Things turn around when he discovers that his very young-looking, beautiful aunt (Gong Li, from Farewell My Concubine, who’s actually 41, according to is still alive. She takes him in, and they quickly develop a close but seriously disturbing relationship.

“I never drink… wine.”

At this point, things were still interesting. It was still more a character-study sort of film, making some effort to get the viewer to understand Hannibal, if not actually sympathize with him. (I mean, he was a child being terrorized during a horrible war. How could you not root for him?) But somewhere along the way, it turned into a standard revenge movie, and I started losing interest. They also tried much too hard to pay homage to the other films and books — Hannibal’s targets have all gone on to peddle flesh in one way or another, from taxidermy all the way to white slavery, and the bit with the mask is just silly.
His aunt teaches him some swordplay, though she must have skipped mentioning anything about a samurai code of honor. He kills his first victim (the poor guy brought a knife to a swordfight) for her sake, and she helps shield him from Inspector Popil (Dominic West, from The Forgotten), who’s on his trail. Strangely, the inspector doesn’t really try too hard to catch him, and seems to trust him to a scary extent. I guess that’s just what happens when the police officer isn’t the hero.
It might have been a better film without the mythos of Hannibal Lecter hanging over it. Gaspard does do a good job of playing a psychopath, but there are things about the character that don’t quite mesh with the adult Hannibal. He tells his aunt, apparently sincerely, that he loves her, and his tortures are only reserved for the bad guys. He’s wracked with guilt over the fate of his sister, and while this helps explain his madness, I think I liked it better when we didn’t quite know why Hannibal was the way he was. He’s much spookier that way.
This one gets two and a quarter idols. It isn’t completely terrible, but I had much higher hopes for it, and much more could have been done with it. Larger moral issues are touched upon (there’s a scene where a convicted Vichy collaborator asks the inspector where the police were during the Nazi atrocities, for instance), but never expanded upon, and that was a serious missed opportunity as far as I’m concerned. And it’s hard to pull off a film where the hero is also the villain — once you lose sympathy for Hannibal, and it’s likely that you will, the movie just slides downhill. You also shouldn’t expect to want to eat any beef roasts for a while after watching this.


This week I worked on a bunch of short films. These may all seem short, but I actually extended most of them for you.

  • Dark Standoff 44 seconds. Broad low strings.
  • How Swing 50 seconds. Nifty piece. Check it out. Originally written for a 1920′s British audio drama.
  • Disconcerned
    Flute choir… Rhythm from Beethoven, structure from Holst.
  • Feral Chase Orchestral chase music
  • Hamster March Cartoonish pep
  • Plain Loafer Similar to “No Good Layabout”, but not at all similar. I need a new genre for things like this…
  • Radio Martini I really like this one. A cheery sort of ditty. The presence of the clarinet means you probably can’t use it under scenes with dialog, as they occupy about the same frequency range… but the piece I wrote this for didn’t have any dialog, so it does a good job of filling in the space. Also, I love clarinet.

Keep the comments and suggestions coming. Also jobs. I can use more jobs. :-)

The Messengers

Or, the Pang Brothers, Sam Raimi and Co. Try to Do for Sunflowers What M. Night Shyamalan Did for Corn.
First of all, I scare easily. Very, very easily. I watched The Others in broad daylight at a friend’s house, and I was still creeped out for weeks, waiting for my drapes to start opening and closing themselves. After seeing Signs, I spent the next few days leaping into bed so the alien hiding underneath couldn’t grab my ankles with its nasty claws. Don’t even get me started on the aftermath of the night when I unwisely let my friends talk me into seeing Thirteen Ghosts in that dark, dark theatre. I don’t REALLY think anything’s going to happen to me, but apparently I’ve never quite lost the last of my Calvin-esque imagination from my younger days.
So you can imagine my dilemma when I was faced with the two new movie options this week: a scare-fest, and the sort of comedy where the only three good jokes are usually in the previews and everything else is just slightly painful filler. You know, like Meet the Parents. It took a lot of soul-searching, but I finally decided that jokes about menopause, Diane Keaton’s weird glasses, and one of those interchangeable singer/actress/ingenue kids who become famous for no apparent reason had to be scarier than anything Hollywood might deliberately try to frighten us with. So I gathered up my courage and walked bravely into the theatre for The Messengers.
And you know, it really wasn’t all that scary. Excellent news for me, but bad news for anyone who buys a ticket expecting to be frightened. All the elements were there — edgy music, dark cellars, mysterious noises — but somehow, they never quite all came together to scare me half to death like I was expecting. Certainly the house was creepy enough. I know the point of the film is that kids see things adults can’t, but I don’t see how anyone of any age could look at that place and not think, “Haunted!”
The Solomons — mom and dad Denise and Roy (Penelope Ann Miller and Dylan McDermott) have packed up their kids and moved from Chicago to some town in North Dakota that’s apparently too small to need a name. Roy couldn’t find a job in Chicago (?) and has decided to go back to his roots, so to speak, and grow sunflowers like his dad. Teenage daughter Jess (there’s always a teenage daughter, isn’t there?), played for once by an actual teenager, Kristen Stewart, is of course resentful of the move, and the obligatory cute younger brother (played by twins Evan and Theodore Turner) won’t talk due to some vague trauma that isn’t explained until the end. In spite of not talking, though, the kid(s) give one of the best performances in the film. Yeah, that’s pretty sad.

Honestly, don’t these people know better than to go into that dark cellar?

As the bizarre supernatural events intensify, Jess is faced with the fact that her parents simply can’t see what she does and therefore don’t believe her. They make vague references to her past problems, which turn out to be much less interesting than I’d hoped, and assume that Jess is just out for attention. By this point, the movie is a weird mix of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and anything by our friend M. Night, complete with long silences and odd camera angles. And weird lighting. It looks like the first thing they did when they moved in was remove all normal lighting and put spotlights in random places. Day or night, the amount of light coming in from outside is somehow always the same — that is to say, not enough.
And yet, somehow, it really isn’t scary. The ghosts are mainly these vague shapes that skitter around, moving quickly but jerkily, like old stop-motion effects, and once I’d thought of that comparison, so much for getting scared. Mind you, some of the apparitions are really very unpleasant-looking, and I did jump in my seat more than once, but surprisingly, I’m not nervous about going down into my basement. If the apparitions are supposed to be the messengers of the title, though, which I imagine they are, then they really don’t live up to their name. They seem more interested in scaring poor Jess to death, or possibly convincing her she’s insane, than in trying to tell her anything. The fact that she does stumble on clues to the truth is more because she’s one of those silly horror movie characters who never seems to have the sense to run, or at least not to chase after the weird noises. Jess even chases the weird noises in the middle of the night, wearing pajamas and walking around in bare feet, with only her toddler brother for company. That’s stupid on top of stupid.
I have a feeling the movie may also have suffered from too much editing. There’s a banker (William B. Davis, who played the Smoking Man in X-Files), who has such a knack for appearing out of nowhere that he should really become a thief or something to try and take advantage of that talent. But after materializing twice and nearly giving Roy a heart attack both times, and dropping what I expected to be an important plot point, he then vanishes from the film. Maybe he’s a mutant. Jess’ boyfriend Bobby (who must have been thrilled to meet a pretty girl he wasn’t related to) also seems like something of an afterthought, so perhaps a lot of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, too. DVD extras, anyone?
I’ll give this one two and a half idols. I’m very grateful to the film for not scaring me to death, but in a horror movie, that’s something of a drawback. In spite of that, though, there were some good and fresh ideas buried under the movie cliches, and it’s just too bad they couldn’t pull them together better. Of course, if they had, I’d be trying to write this review while hiding under the blankets on my bed, and that probably wouldn’t have worked out.