If you thought Daniel Craig was being too ruthless as James Bond, you’d better stay away from this movie. He’s still got the machine gun, still got the pretty girl, but he’s kind of even colder here. Of course, this is wartime.
Let me back up a little. Defiance is based on the true story of the Bielski brothers during World War II. I read a book about them, so I was fully prepared to judge this movie pretty harshly for lack of accuracy… but as it turns out, they did okay, surprisingly. Historically, the four brothers — Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Leiv Shrieber), Asael (Jamie Bell), and Aron (George MacKay) — were Jews living in Belorus when the Germans invaded in 1941. They weren’t quite the most law-abiding of citizens, especially Zus, the wildest brother, who half-terrorized everyone in their village. At first, like most, they tried to adjust to life under their new government, but when the crackdown against Jews grew worse and their parents and wives were killed, they turned slowly into unlikely heroes.
The movie skips over most of that setup, of course, making Zus a little less wild, and throws us right into the action as the brothers flee into the forest. They grew up in the woods, practically, and plan to hide there, perhaps raiding the Germans now and then, until things die down. But of course things don’t die down, and soon they find other refugees in the woods — first four or five at a time, then ten or twenty. All are fleeing, starving Jews, most women, the elderly, or children, who have nowhere else to go; and the brothers, especially Tuvia, don’t have the heart to leave them behind. They’re still starving, but at least they’re starving together.
Slowly, a village grows deep among the trees. But they’re torn between staying mobile, being a more traditional resistance force; or welcoming anyone regardless of their ability to fight — Zus and Tuvia, respectively, are the champions of each idea. Everyone works as and how they can, and gradually, they form into a community, able once more to be proud of their heritage, free from the race laws and constant fear of summary execution found everywhere else in Belorus.
The fundamental problem remains, though — the actual partisans, mainly Russian, laugh at them, calling them bandits, and refuse to work with them except in the most reluctant way. With so many noncombatants, sometimes over a thousand, they don’t really count as a fighting force, and have to fight extra hard to get the food and medicine they need to survive. After yet another quarrel between the two eldest escalates into a nearly deadly fistfight, Zus decides he’s had enough, and turns to the Russian partisans to help him scratch his itch to kill the invaders.

When they’re not beating each others’ brains out, they’re really very fond of each other.

The village in the forest is kind of the star of the picture, though. They literally create a town, twice, after having to flee one camp. At war’s end, there were over 1200 people living there, thriving, with a barbershop, school, nursery, and blacksmith shop. Tuvia’s determination not to leave anyone behind, regardless of their health or strength, reaches its height when he helps to empty a nearby city’s Jewish ghetto, leading hundreds to safety. He quickly becomes a legend, another Moses there to save everyone from their oppressors.
But Tuvia hates all that. He’s just a regular guy as far as he’s concerned, whose plan to save his family suddenly became a plan to save every Jew in the country when he wasn’t paying attention. More than once, he seems confused, faintly annoyed, or some combination thereof when he realizes that everyone is looking at him for all the answers. I can’t blame him. That would give me some sort of complex.
A solid three and a quarter idols here. It isn’t a documentary by a long shot, and sometimes, like a lot of historical pictures do, it tries to jam way too many events into too short a time — even though it’s over two hours long. But it catches the spirit of the times in many ways, and gives a good sense of some small part of the fears and trials these people faced. For the details, I recommend either The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy, or Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, but the movie does give a good overall feel for the events. That’s probably because the woman who wrote the second book, which the film is based on, is the mother of one of the movie’s producers; so probably no one dared to wander too far from the text.

True Previews

True music previews are starting to come online now. These are very small mono previews (about one tenth the size of the big downloads).
Everything should have a preview available by January 21st (about 6 hours after this posting).
Cheers, all!

3 Pieces: Soundtrack Tuesday!

The Whip
The Whip (Extended Version)
This theme was designed for “The Whip” podcast, located at Its an intense, driving hip piece. Starts off with an awesome drum roll, and then continues all the way through with rocking guitar. Great for show openers. Voice over friendly! The Extended version is also provided which adds three more minutes to the middle section of the piece, for any of those longer applications that you might need.
News Theme
A bright, driving piece originally created as a news theme. Short piece, great choice for a news theme. It is reminiscent of television news themes using bright, bold horns throughout, with a short fade out at the end.

3 more pieces!

Dirt Rhodes
A slow blues piece with prominent kit. Great to use as a backdrop for a scene since it has a long fade out at the end. Great, “cool” sounding piece.
With a Creation
An experimental piece designed to emulate a keyboardist playing with her robot.
To the Ends
Starts bright, then descends into darkness by the end. Has a definite “Lord of the Rings” style riff. Fades out a lot darker than its entrance.

Gran Torino

Before I went into this movie, I wasn’t quite clear on what a Gran Torino was. I mean, I knew it was some kind of old car model, but apparently it’s a Classic Car, the kind that makes people itch to own it — at least when it’s a 1972 Gran Torino, in mint condition. I don’t quite see the attraction myself, but it is nice, and it makes everyone from the local gangstas to a spoiled teenage girl drool over it.
But to the plot: Clint Eastwood is Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed Koren War veteran. His neighborhood, Highland Park, a suburb of Detroit, is changing radically, as many such places are. The longtime car company employees like him are moving out in droves, and a whole bunch of other ethnic groups are moving in, forming rival gangs and clashing at every turn. Walt’s constantly fixing and cleaning and tidying, and can’t understand why every house on the block isn’t exactly like his. He growls — I mean literally growls — at things he doesn’t like, whether it’s the sight of some prepubescent boys laughing when a woman drops a bag of groceries or the realization that his oldest son wants to pack him off to a retirement home.
We start at Walt’s wife’s funeral, where the officiating priest is a sixteen-year-old. Walt later says he’s 27, but I have serious doubts about that. Anyway, though clearly Walt was always hard to get along with, to say the least, his wife’s death has apparently sucked out the last of his tolerance. He uses racial and ethnic slurs I’ve never even heard of before. Half the audience seemed shocked at them, while the other half laughed nervously.
His neighbors, of whom he disapproves greatly, of course, are a Hmong family — widowed mother and grandmother, and two kids, a teenage boy and girl named Thao and Sue (played by newcomers Bee Vang and Ahney Her, respectively). Thao’s cousin goes by Spider (Doua Moua), and he runs the local Hmong gang, which is really just him and four other guys who like to ride around in a little white Honda with a gigantic spoiler on the back that makes it look vaguely silly. But they have gigantic guns as well, so I’m sure no one makes any comments.
Spider wants to help out his little cousin by making him part of the gang. Thao wants no part of it. They keep cruising along next to him while he walks, urging him to get in the car, and get annoyed when he refuses, even though obviously there’s no room for anyone else in a little Honda that’s already got five guys in it. But when they catch sight of that Gran Torino next door to Thao’s house, they hatch a plan. Thao can steal the car for his intiation into the gang. Then they’ll have room for everyone while they cruise.
You can imagine how thrilled Walt is when he discovers that someone’s after his prized car, and he has both the guns and the ammo to show his displeasure. Even growling isn’t enough here. The disgraced would-be thief confesses, and to reclaim the family honor, his mother insists that he work for Walt for two weeks to make amends.

It doesn’t seem to matter how old he is — he’s still pretty scary.

Walt is maybe a little too tickled to have an able-bodied young man to order around. His impeccable house needs little help, but the neighborhood around it is another story, and poor Thao (or Toad, as Walt insists on calling him) doesn’t have an easy time of this honor business. But slowly, Walt gets pulled into his family, even though culture shock and his vast repertoire of insults don’t make things easy. It’s Sue that’s the prime mover, and I think sometimes she slightly regrets her efforts to drag Walt out of his crusty, angry shell, though she never gives up. It’s the food that finally does it, I think, and no wonder. If you ever get the chance to try real Hmong egg rolls, do it. They’re wonderful.
But the gang hasn’t given up, and it’s their angry efforts to pull Thao in — and Walt’s equally angry efforts to stop them — that keep the movie going. Finally, inevitably, everything escalates out of control, and beyond forgiveness, and Walt makes it his mission to put things right as much as he can — not just what’s happening now, but also all the horrors of war that he lived through, contributed to, and can’t let go of.
And there’s SO much more I don’t have room to talk about — the crochety grandmother, Walt’s failing health, his kids and grandkids, the teenage priest who turns out to be just as stubborn as Walt himself, in his quiet way. (The actor, Christopher Carley, is actually thirty, according to the imdb, but I’m still not quite convinced.)
I’m giving it four and a quarter idols. Sometimes Clint Eastwood almost sounds like a caricature of himself, because he’s apparently permanently stuck with that low, growly whisper now, but he can still act up a storm, and he did a great job with the behind the scenes stuff, too. Most of the supporting cast don’t have any acting credits to their names, but for the most part that makes it better — you’re not distracted by wondering where you’ve seen someone before, and they seem that much more like real, regular people, no matter what they might happen to look like. So go see it. I’ll admit it — it made me cry a little, so it must have been good.

Musical Mother Load

A mysterious piece featuring a disjunct flute melody juxtaposed with two lower warbling flutes. Also featured are triangles, bells and low drums. The texture stays constant throughout. This piece sounds otherworldly and could work underscoring intergalactic travel. It could also be used as world music. The plodding drums could represent marching or travel.

Smooth Move A simple grooving dance line. Smooth bass line accompanied by high hat and snare. No fade out at the end. Could underscore dancing, spy movement, or somebody being cool.

Basement Floor
This is a suspenseful and driving piece fueled by slap synth bass and processed percussion. Beeping and high-pass percussion keep the piece moving throughout. Chorus enters at 45 seconds in. Phasing, reverb, delay and reverse used extensively. Bass drops out for the last 25 seconds to just leave the percussion. Sounds like a secret mission.

At Launch
Here is an epic journey of military might and spirited adventure featuring brass, marching snare and timpani, and lush strings. Alternating between the suspenseful and uplifting, this piece invokes visions of preparing for battle or flying through a stunning natural panorama. Marching snares and rising chords in the low brass begin the piece as a Harmon trumpet and flutes offer a delightful melody. A short chorale begins 20 seconds in. At 58 seconds the piece becomes more suspenseful and at 1:28 the snare pauses while full brass, strings and timpani take over. The last 35 seconds of the piece feature a large chorale and uplifting flutes.

A somber solo piano improvisation featuring a repeated melodic tone with arpeggiated shifting chords in the bass. About 45 seconds from the end is an uplifting moment. Reminiscent of Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude. This work looks out a window on nostalgia, regret, and peace.

Divertimento K131
This is an arrangement of Mozart’s Divertimento (K131) for bells, harp, chimes and celeste. It is light and bouncy, with an accelerando around 45 seconds in. The work is played two times with a slight ritard at the end of the entire piece.

Dark Star
Dark Star is a orchestral fanfare featuring a rising motive led by the brass and strings. The piece builds gradually and finishes with a full orchestral climax. Chords shift along side of changing orchestral textures. The melody is carried by the brass at the beginning and end with the strings and bells sharing the melody in the middle. This piece depicts triumph.

Spider Eyes
Spider Eyes is an eerie soundscape created with distant high strings, dissonant non-percussive piano textures, and alternately tuned bells. This piece features much sustain and space as dissonance decorates silence. Bells blow in the wind through the first half of the piece and low morphing strings are featured in the second half. It could underscore a child walking through a dark forest.

Dreamy Flashback
This piece features repetitive triplet arpeggi and a lydian scale to invoke a dreamy feel. Pizzicato strings, harp and bells add to the piece’s mystery. The pattern is a continuous loop with two arpeggiated chords. It begins and ends abruptly. It could underscore a flashback or a whimsical journey through a gumdrop land.

Frost Waltz (Alternate)
Here is alternate take of “Frost Waltz.” It features arpeggiated bells and strings oscillating gently between minor chords. Bells give way to high strings 30 seconds into the piece. At one minute staccato strings give the piece a more mysterious feel and 30 seconds later sustained strings smooth the story. The last 15 seconds feature solo bells. It could underscore an underwater journey or a child flying through an enchanted forest.

Gustav Sting
A grooving sting featuring percussion and low staccato strings. A high-pitched click drives Gustav as he darts through his spy-like adventure.

Greta Sting A somber orchestral sting with a gentle rising motion. Greta is sad today. She met defeat.

Comfortable Mystery 2
Comfortable Mystery 3
Comfortable Mystery 4
Gentle electric piano chords and descending arpeggi are featured in these three calming pieces. They could be used for reflection, nostalgia or time passing.