Where is the Movie Critic Next Door?

Well, not actually next door. The odds are incredibly against it, at least. But I haven’t disappeared, either. Since I dropped the ball last weekend (though it doesn’t look like I missed much), and this weekend also isn’t looking good, I just had to post something. I’m out of town this weekend, in a theatre theatre instead of a movie theatre, so while I could still post a review, it probably wouldn’t do anyone much good. So, most likely until next weekend, this is your Movie Critic, signing off.

Westerned Out

Oh man… I’ve had quite my fill of Westerns… not to mention a pile of scrap music that doesn’t quite work. I think these will be the last 2 in the genre for a bit.
Western Streets – an all percussion chaotic thing
Martian Cowboy – umm… yeah. “Dark, Eerie, Epic, Somber, Unnerving” about says it.

All over the board

Craig and Tony came over the other day, and I showed them what I was working on for Westerns. They said it sucked, and gave me some actual Westerns to look at. So I did. And my music was hideously wrong. So here’s my shot at making it right.
Smoking Gun
But my Westerns were interrupted by an emergency request for a new-age Celtic (Scottish) piece. It is quite different-sounding than the last Celtic piece I did… due to the new-agedness of it.
Skye Cuillin
And a simple rock piece just for fun.
Beach Bum
Some days I wonder how such dissimilar music can come out of me in a single day.

The Brave One

Now I’m wondering if they rushed out Death Sentence so they could get it released before this movie. Because this film is like Death Sentence, but better. Much better. Jodie Foster is a better actor then Kevin Bacon, in my opinion, but this one also has a real script to go with the violence.
Jodie is Erica Bain, a New York talk radio personality who, as she puts it, “walks the streets”, recording the sounds of the city and delivering monologues about its buildings and people and happenings. Somehow it sounds dull when I write it, but it’s good in the movie, trust me. It’s like Eric Bogosian in Talk Radio, but not so harsh and cynical. The point is, she’s good at her job, has a doctor fiancé who she adores (played by Naveen Andrews, who I’ve just discovered is on the television show Lost, which I’ve still never gotten around to watching), and a nice dog named Curtis. Then they go for a walk in Central Park at night, and she loses both dog and fiancé, and almost her job besides.
I’ve never been to New York… do people still walk in Central Park at night? I realize movies exaggerate, but I still wouldn’t do that myself without an armed escort. If even a third of what you see on the screen in various movies and TV shows is right, it’s too big a risk. I’m a natural coward, though. Anyway, three thugs find the dog, who’s gotten loose, and when they try to get him back, the thugs beat them both to a bloody pulp — and record the whole thing. There’s a lot of recording in this film, lots of security cameras and videophones, and of course Erica’s audio recordings, so remember, someone might be taping you right now.
After three weeks in a coma, Erica awakes and has to start trying to rebuild her life. Only of course you really can’t, as she says. You become someone else, and that’s probably very true. Except in her case, her paranoia and agoraphobia (both very understandable) unfortunately translate into her buying a gun so she can feel safe. When she accidentally stumbles into a fatal domestic dispute, she defends herself, and from there it’s a long way down a very slippery slope.
And the slope is really pretty fascinating, in a disturbing way. It doesn’t exactly seem to get easier for her to kill, but she does get more determined, prompting reports of a roaming vigilante. The detective assigned to the case (Terrence Howard, Hart’s War, and he’ll be in next year’s Iron Man as Tony Stark’s best friend, Jim Rhodes — movies are really going after the comic geek audience these days) is a fan of hers, and as he slowly becomes friends with her, he also comes to the unsettling realization of what she’s been doing when she isn’t on the air.

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Erica and Mercer philosophize over coffee in a dirty mirror.

I really like the friendship between them –mainly because it is just friendship. Hollywood just doesn’t do that often enough — it gets dull, having the lead male and lead female fall into bed together so often. Anyway, they’re both lonely (Detective Mercer is recently divorced) and feeling a little lost, and they seem like they could have helped each other out. Of course, just as Erica reaches the crisis point, where she pretty much has to stop or be lost forever, her ring, stolen that night, resurfaces, and everything hits bottom, basically. Mercer had always wondered if he’d have the fortitude to arrest a friend who he knew had committed a crime, and the last part of the film is all about that. It’s a good question.
There’s lots of good questions, actually — not really new ones, but they’re explored well. There’s a scene where Erica is taking calls on the air about the vigilante, and the rapid-fire opinions run the gamut, from a woman who thinks it’s sexy to another who thinks the subject shouldn’t even be dicussed on the air. And when Erica wonders early on, “Why doesn’t somebody stop me?” you really feel for her. She doesn’t want to turn into the scary woman from the previews who says, “I want my dog back,” just before she shoots a man in the head, but she knows she can’t stop herself.
Four and a quarter idols. It can be described as a standard revenge story, because it is, but you feel a lot like you’re living it right along with Jodie, so you kind of understand why she’s doing those things, even though you might hate them. And it does make you think, about more than just how she’s going to get away with it. It ends up seeming more real than a lot of revenge flicks, and that makes a lot of difference. Just, you know, don’t try any of this at home, because that would be much too real. And someone might be recording…

Celtic-sounding

Sandy had an idea… “I need something Celtic, but nothing really upbeat.”
Ok, this one clocks in at 90 beats per minute, which isn’t really upbeat – but it isn’t slow either. I probably won’t be doing this kind of music again soon, as the number of hours spent on learning that darned whistle part almost doesn’t seem worth it.
Achaidh Chéide
Man… love that fiddle…
And having vanquished all the ethnic requests from the queue; one thing that has been abundantly clear in the last few days is that everyone wants Westerns. I’m looking at four requests from completely different people. I’ll see what I can do!

Logic Studio

Well, I didn’t get as much work done today as I had hoped. My brand new copy of Logic Studio showed up today… and it took about 4 hours to install the thing… and another 8 hours to play with it.
Here’s what I did do…
Chris had more ideas… “the paradise cantos?”
While not exactly paradise, this is certainly ethereal… and very cantos. Maybe that’ll make up for it.
Arcadia
Jonathon had an idea… “Is there any way you could make some Maltese music?”
I have no idea. I’m not really an enthomusicologist, but I was provided with some samples.
I don’t even know what instruments they used – but I tried to get close.
East of Tunesia (as a side note to Chris, this also may be useful for ancient Sumer)
I was having so much fun with the Maltese music, I kept going… and ended up in a disco.
Balzan Groove
And now, a complaint about Logic Pro 8. There used to be a way to change the routing of an instrument. It is STILL in the interface (e.g. “CoreAudio: Inst 1″) but you can’t change it! It is greyed out, and is making me crazy!
Yes, I CAN add multiple lines routed to the same poly-synth, but muting one mutes them all, and soloing one solos them all (changing the icon changes all the icons, etc). It properly opens old projects where they are routed correctly, but seems to be confused when you change something.
Anyway Apple; I LOVE the new interface… please ungrey out that line for me.
Thanks.

More Requests

Keep them coming, folks!
Forrest had an idea… “More Kevin Organ!”
Okey Dokey. Here’s some crazy funky musics with a B3 monster organ in it.
Fork and Spoon
Chris had an idea… “Wandering through the land of the dead.”
I’m not sure about you – but here’s what that sounds like to me…
Land of the Dead
John had an idea… “[I'd like something] about 4-5 minutes long, start off with a theme that builds towards the end, with a feeling of hope and potential. Something piano based, with perhaps more instruments towards the end.”
This one took longer to get than I thought…
Eternal Hope
And I actually had an idea. I’ve been seeing the “Deliberate Thought” piece show up in quite a few places, so I made a sequel by taking out all the things people like, and amping up that parts that people don’t care for. While I do understand this is possibly the worst way to make a sequel, it certainly was fun.
How it Begins
Also, for Chicagoland peeps: Get Downsized, a play I did the score for is playing for the next couple of weeks. Go see it.

Shoot ‘Em Up

That’s right, there’s no “Th”. It’s a silly title, more suited to a first-person shooter video game, but that’s good, because it’s also your first warning to suspend every last shred of disbelief. Pretend it’s an animated movie, maybe some sort of violent anime, and you’ll be in the proper mood to enjoy this.
I’m not quite sure where to start explaining, it, though. The basic plot is as simple as any video game: Clive Owen (Children of Men, now out on DVD and Blueray, so go buy it if you haven’t already) plays the first-person shooter, “Mr. Smith”, a mystery man who lives in an abandoned building with a pet rat. He isn’t so much a character as a collection of quirks (Smith, not the rat), constantly going on rants about what he really hates, like bad drivers and people who slurp their sodas; and with an apparently never-ending supply of carrots somewhere on his person. But he’s a good guy, so when he sees a pregnant woman being chased by gunmen down an otherwise deserted street, he comes to her rescue. He delivers her baby in the middle of a shootout, and things just get more improbable from there.
Yes, I said more improbable. It seems to be set in New York, certainly someplace very large and crammed full of people, and yet the main characters are practically tripping over each other constantly, no matter how far any of them run. But the point is, Clive Owen is now stuck with this baby, because mommy didn’t survive the firefight and he has no idea where daddy is. Fortunately, he knows a hooker with a Heart of Gold (Monica Bellucci) who’s recently lost her own baby and is therefore his only option for feeding this kid, because baby formula is unavailable in the greater New York area. (Just run with it.)

shootem.jpg
The film in a nutshell: Clive Owen with a gun and a carrot, about to shoot a bad guy, with baby bottles in the foreground.

And since New York is such a small town, the bad guys who want the baby also know about this hooker, and go after her, and the chase is on. Like any good video game, it gets more and more violent as you go, and I can’t even begin to guess the death total. One scene alone has fifty men killed. Mostly people just get shot, but they have some other really gruesome deaths, so I guess someone had fun thinking them up. Did you know you can kill a man with a carrot? Well, maybe you can’t, really, but you can in this movie. And they do it to me again with the helicopter blades. Again you can see it coming a mile off, though, so it’s easy to avoid looking.
Mixed in with all the improbable action are a lot of bad jokes and puns and just about every cutsey little thing they could squeeze in. I can’t share most of them here, though, since I prefer to keep these reviews rated PG at worst. Early on, though, the main bad guy, Hertz, played by Paul Giamatti (Lady in the Water), gives an example I can use: “Why is having a gun better than having a wife?” he asks his goons, and answers his own question this way: “You can put a silencer on a gun.” Not nice at all, but at least clean. There are also lots of bizarre, MacGyver-like tricks with guns and bullets and of course duct tape, black-suited government agents that look like they shuld be trying to kill Neo, and lots of stuffed dogs. Actual dead, stuffed dogs, not the kind you buy for your kids (at least I hope not).
You can see why I had trouble figuring out where to start. It’s sort of a weird mix of some Quentin Tarantino film like Reservoir Dogs, The Matrix, and a spoof of a Bond film. Especially the end credits, so stay to watch those if you like the weird opening montages for the Bond flicks. And I’m still having trouble rating it. I love Clive Owen. He can manage to make any role work, apparently, given that he has almost nothing in the way of character development in the script but still manages to do something with the character. So I can’t rate it too low, even if I did keep expecting it all to turn out to be someone’s long, drawn-out dream, because it was all just that weird.
We’ll go with three idols. Maybe two and seven-eights, because three is my usual minimum for wanting to own a movie, and I’m not entirely sure I’d buy this one. It’s got enough improbabilities to keep anyone who likes to calculate odds busy for a lifetime, enough bullets to support a third-world revolution, and Clive Owen, but overall, I’m not sure the combination really does it for me. So just remember two things: don’t take any part of the movie too seriously, and don’t ever try doing any of the things you see on screen to a real baby. Yikes.

Some Requests… sort of

Here’s the first batch of requests from people… They’re not all exactly as requested, and I certainly did not do them all!
Erik had an idea… “I think it would be cool of you to compose some Japanese or Chinese music (classical type music, not the modern stuff).”
Well, I don’t know anything about the genre, so I just listened to a few clips off of Amazon. I might have this completely wrong – but this is what it sounds like to me.
Ishikari Lore
Lynette had an idea… “How about some music that could go with footage of driving on a roadtrip? ”
Okey dokey. Here’s another genre I have little experience in. So, I cranked up the GarageBand to see what it can do.
Matt’s Blues
Kristin has an idea… “How about some ancient type music. Or something that’s reminiscent of the Roman Empire. Like harps and flutes in a minor key.”
This one is a quite reserved sort of formal dinner kind of ancient music feel. I still might do another one that is more militaristic.
Temple of the Manes
And, I have an extra one… “Ominous Intro“. This one was written for a stage production that opened yesterday in Chicago. So if you’re in Chicago, go see this. It is very VERY good. And really REALLY inexpensive pound-for-pound considering the enormous entertainment it dishes out.
Get Downsized. I personally guarantee you will enjoy it… and I don’t care what demographic you’re from. mmm… maybe not Goths. But maybe! If you’re a Goth, and you go – let me know what you think of it!

Requests?

Kevin is out of ideas for music. Do you have any? Email them to me! The more odd or specific the request, the better the chance I’ll pick it to produce it. If you request “more rock music”… I’m probably not going to pick that up. If you want something like “low-production-value 1980′s techno fused with easy-listening soprano sax”… much more likely… but I’m not doing that.
Come up with something new, exciting, fun, or bizarre!
Email me at kevin@incompetech.com, Subject “I have an idea”. Let’s see how this goes!

Death Sentence

It seems to me that Labor Day weekend here in the states was always kind of a big deal, movie-wise, like any three-day weekend, really. But somehow, this year, we didn’t exactly get a good crop. There was the remake of Halloween (yeah, right, like I was going to go see that) and that terrible Balls of Fury debacle that makes me wonder what’s happened to poor Christopher Walken’s career. He’s turned into some kind of parody of himself.
Oh, yeah, and then there was Death Sentence. It was almost totally un-hyped for some reason, in spite of starring Kevin Bacon, so I hardly knew it existed until suddenly it was at the theatre. It also stars Kelly Preston (Jerry Maguire, various Scientology meetings) as Kevin Bacon’s wife, Garrett Hedlund (Friday Night Lights — the movie, not the TV series) as bad guy Billy Darley, and John Goodman as an even badder guy who goes by the name of Bones (not to be confused with the Fox TV series).
Basically, Kevin Bacon and his lovely wife have two teenage boys, the elder of whom is a hockey prodigy, just ready to head to college and start his life. The younger one paints or something. The older son is killed, messily, as part of a gang initiation. Apparently they’re like the Mafia in that you have to kill someone before you’re “made”. The film also seems to revive an urban legend I heard long ago, which says that gang members drive around at night with their headlights off on purpose, and once another driver blinks his or her high beams in the universal signal for “Your lights are off, stupid,” they must follow that car and kill the driver. They kill the passenger this time, but close enough.
The one who actually did the deed is caught pretty quickly, buy they have only Kevin Bacon’s testimony and not much else in the way of evidence. The prosecutor thinks they can get a plea bargain and a three to five year sentence. Kevin Bacon decides that the law sucks, and recants his testimony so the kid can be released and Kevin Bacon can hunt him down and kill him instead. I get that he’s not supposed to be thinking rationally at this point, but yikes. Personally, I would’ve gotten the kid the jail time. As the prosecutor very rightly points out, a lot of these kids don’t survive three to five years in the big prisons.
But this is a movie, so Kevin Bacon does hunt him down, and off we go, spiraling down into a Greek tragedy, where every death provokes a revenge killing, and another, and another, until Zeus himself has to show up and tell everyone to knock it off. Okay, that doesn’t happen here, but they could’ve really used some divine intervention.

deathsentence.jpg
Kevin Bacon tries to look as tough as Jodie Foster in The Brave One.

At first, when Kevin Bacon’s just an ordinary guy trying to deal with his grief and guilt over what he’s doing, the movie’s still pretty interesting. He’s a normal person caught up in a violent world that he doesn’t quite understand, and things get out of his control too quickly for him to back off even if he’d wanted to. Then he slowly tries to turn into the Punisher or something, and it just gets… well, boring.
Actually, maybe the problem is that the movie tries to turn into Pulp Fiction. I expected blood, obviously, but they do things with a pump shotgun that just made me ill. I think it was the pump shotgun — there were so many kinds of guns around I lost track. But there are body parts flying, blood spattering everywhere, and a lot of uses of the F-word in various forms. I don’t know if they got anywhere near Pulp Fiction’s very impressive record (265 times, according to imdb.com), but they gave it a good try.
But at least with Pulp Fiction, appalling as it often was, you still got the sense the actors were having fun with it — they were really into their roles, and that showed on the screen. That little extra spark just isn’t here, though I’m kind of thinking that’s what they were going for. John Goodman, who helps add a great deal to the swear-word total, is also the only one who seems to be enjoying his over the top acting. The character is a horrible, fat, unshaven, unclean criminal who doesn’t seem to have a shred of conscience, but his scenes were the only ones where the audience reacted (except for the scene where a guy gets his leg blown off, but that was a different sort of reaction). He’s basically nothing but dry and deadpan and sarcastic, and he’s really good at it.
I was going to go with two idols, but for John Goodman’s sake, I’ll add an extra quarter idol. The gang members seem like caricatures of gang members (I’m not much up on gang culture, obviously, but somehow I don’t think there are a lot of them running around with “Carpe Diem” tattooed on their throats) and they’re all pretty much interchangeable as far as character development. Billy, the leader, gets more of a personality, but even that’s not much, though he does get a good scene at the end. At least, what I could hear of it sounded good. The same middle-aged couple who drove me crazy talking all through The Good Shepherd were back, and unfortunately sitting even closer to me this time. Anyway, don’t risk having to put up with noisy audience members, or even the film stopping twice, which happened to me — if you want the violence and the blood, just go rent the original Pulp Fiction. Accept no imitations.