Oct 242016
  October 24, 2016

It’s Halloween-time, so time to look at horror film scores/theme songs. To keep this apples-to-apples, I’ll only be including original compositions (otherwise this list would include a lot of classical works, and as much as I love Swan Lake, that’s not what I’m looking for today). That means no Tubular Bells, the music that tricked millions into thinking The Exorcist was a good film.

I’m also am avoiding songs with lyrics as that feels like a different list, so no Cry Little Sister from The Lost Boys or Willow’s Song from The Wicker Man (if The Wicker Man is a horror film).

First, a few Honorable mentions. There are some great themes that sound a bit too much like ones that I’ve chosen for my list, so I’ll just give honorable mentions to all of John Carpenter’s work that isn’t on my list, multiple themes by Goblin, and the Re-Animator Theme. I’m also giving honorable mentions to a few songs that don’t quite make it on my list on their own, but really fit their films: The Lullaby from Rosemary’s Baby, and The Omen Theme.

So, to the scores/themes, starting with:


#13 The Werewolf of London (Karl Hajos)

The also-ran of early Universal monster films, The Werewolf of London had a distinctive score that adds greatly to the work. Written primarily by Karl Hajos, it also contains cues from Heinz Roemheld’s scores for The Invisible Man and The Black Cat; borrowing was very common for studio music departments for the next twenty years. This music is hard to find and I’m unaware of any official release.


#12 Resident Evil (Marco Beltrami & Marilyn Manson)

The basic repeated theme is memorable (I used it as my ring tone for several years) but the addition of Marilyn Manson as co-composer created an unsettling sound that elevated the theme and the movie to something sinister.

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Oct 152016
three reels

Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward), in full ‘60s TV-era form must face off against Catwoman (Julie Newmar), The Joker, The Riddler, and The Penguin and their plot which involves a duplication ray. The daring duo follows them, even into space, to stop their dastardly scheme, but fails to take into account Catwoman’s plan to drug Batman into joining the side of evil.

Nostalgia is the thing, but anyway you look at it, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is the best Batman movie of the year. With the troubled Suicide Squad and abysmal Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Killing Joke, it wasn’t the hardest crown to win, but still it won it. It casts off the dour nature of recent flicks and gives us fun and silliness and a lot of self-aware humor. This is a smarter movie then you’d think: a kids film made for adults.

If you can’t stand that the old TV show exists, then this animated version isn’t for you. West, Ward and Newmar all return to their roles with the 70+-year-old Ward sounding the same as his long ago self. West and Newmar are a bit sketchier; they are passable, but no one will mistake them for anything other than the senior citizens that they are. Newcomers do their best to imitate the actors who are no longer with us in all of the other parts and pull it off well enough. And animation takes care of the visual side of that pesky aging, so we are back in the bright Gotham City I knew from my childhood.

If what you want is just to revisit the show you loved as a kid, you are in good shape here. All the old gags show up (walking up walls, fights that include bubbles that say “pow”), the great theme music is back, and it is all pleasantly familiar. Luckily they went beyond repeating what we’ve seen before, commenting on the old series (the “being a good citizen by using the crosswalk” bit is hilarious) and on the wretched way Batman has been treated in other films and even the comics (with Batman going dark the proper way). They even take a shot at Nolan. And the hormones are turned up between Batman and Catwoman more than the old show would have allowed.

This isn’t a shining example of art. And for my money, it didn’t go far enough; I’d have liked to see the meta-nature of it turned up to eleven. But it is fun and that counts for quite a bit.

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Oct 072016
  October 7, 2016
3,5 reels


Star Trek is a cultural phenomenon, with five, soon to be six, TV series, more than a hundred books, plus an uncountable number of collectables. Considering that, and the quality of many of the Original Series episodes, the films often fail to raise to the level of their history. But there are some gems in the sand.

Now with the third J.J. Abrams-verse film out, it is time to rank the Star Trek movies, and give them all a quick critique in the process.

There are three groupings: The 6 Original Series films that use the cast from the first TV show, the 3 (or 4 depending on how you count Generations), Next Generation films, and the 3 Abrams reboot films.

Star-Trek-Original-CrewGenerally I find the Original Series movies work better than what followed. Partly that is due to the greater intent. When Star Trek The Motion Picture was produced, it was meant to be an epic film, taking the TV show as a starting place and expanding it to something much more. That didn’t work out as hoped, so the films that followed contracted, being less and less, but sometimes being the better for it. Still, there was generally the attempt to do something special in those first films. While little changed in the long run for the crew of the Enterprise, it felt like things could. And hidden in it all was meaning. The heart of Star Trek, the message, was there.

As the Original Series films seemed less and less like movies and more like television episodes with a larger budget as they went along, the Next Generation movies never had even the pretext of being anything more than big TV episodes, where “big” means “loud.” Watch them at a theater? Sure, but home viewing is just as good, right after rewatching a few seasons of the show. We know from the start that nothing will change, nothing will progress. Things will happen, but nothing that really matters. But since there is a larger budget, that nothing will happen with a lot more action. Shooting phasers will be more important than plot—a step toward what Abrams would later do. As Data was a fan favorite, the films become the Data and Picard show, leaving almost nothing for other characters to do. This is most noticeable with Worf, Star-Trek-Nxt-Genwho not only is irrelevant to the movies, but is brought onto the Enterprise in awkward and unbelievable ways because the character was on the Deep Space 9 TV show.

The J.J. Abrams reboots are barely Star Trek, and not even science fiction. The heart is gone. The thoughtful (and sometimes not so thoughtful) political and social messages—the dream of a future better than now and the hope that humanity can rise above its current squabbles—are all gone. And he continued the move into action films. It’s all about the phasers, the running, and the explosions. His films are just big, loud, colorful adventure movies, with a sci-fi overlay for color. They are empty. But, a lot of movies are empty, and he can make a pretty exciting and attractive popcorn film. The failure in his films is in imagination, not in presentation. Star Trek has been mishandled—in different ways—far worse.

For the most part, my ranking won’t be a surprise. I’ve seen many other rankings by critics and fans and there is vague agreement. Three of the original series films are always toward the top (with one almost always taking the top spot). The first Abrams film fits somewhere closely after those, and then the Next Gen ones slot in, with Nemesis, Generations, and Star Trek V filling in the lower slots. The only big movers are Into Darkness (which some people hate while others merely don’t think much of it), Insurrection (which is pretty much in the same boat, but with less hatred directed at it), and Star Trek I (which everyone agrees is too slow, but for some, that is mitigated by its greater theme and scope). I suspect I’ll only get flack over my placement of First Contact.


#13 Star Trek: Generations one reel

Captain Kirk is pulled into a giant space-time ribbon so that he can later meet Captain Picard. There’s also some things about a mad scientist and grumpy Klingons, but they don’t matter.

Call it, Fan Service, The Motion Picture. The plot, what there is of it, is based on who signed a contract (Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and George Takei did not or in the first case, was not allowed to) and getting Kirk and Picard to meet. This isn’t story telling. It’s an hour and a half of goofing around with pop characters and trusting that fans will think it is cool.

It is not cool.

After an opening that lets us know that Kirk is old, again (haven’t we done this—and then redone it—enough?), we get a second opening, set in the holodeck, to introduce us to the Next Gen cast, which is supposed to be funny, but isn’t. Data asks why watching someone fall into freezing water is amusing. I ask why watching people watch someone falling into freezing water is supposed to be amusing.

This film’s version of character development is Data doing a bad comedy routine as his emotion chip is activated, and Picard throwing a fit because the writers had no idea how grief works.

OK, that’s more analysis than Generations requires. This film is a mess. It is mainly remembered for the drab, pointless death of Captain Kirk. He’d had a better sendoff in Star Trek VI.
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Oct 042016
  October 4, 2016

Back now from Contraflow in New Orleans—a three day mostly-literary convention.

New Orleans is a bit of a drive, but I only went as far as Alabama where I was given a lift the rest of the way. That is a much better way to travel as we had quite the spirited conversation in the van on lit and science and a bit on politics—but lit and science are always better.

Contraflow was (and no doubt will be) a really well run and pleasant little con. It didn’t have that normal small-con feeling that at times no one is around. It was always busy with fans everywhere and something of interest happening at all times. Ben Bova was the guest of honor, yet somehow I ended up missing all of his panels. There was an art show, video room, gaming room, con suite, venders room, signing tables—all the norms, but it all seemed to function a bit better than normal.

I was on four film panels. Two dealt with fan films and were a good time, though the first was sparsely attended. The second focused on legality and the future which I think was of more interest to people (plus I shared the panel with a lawyer). I also did one, on my own, of the most important science fiction films. I had assumed this one wouldn’t have much of an audience but I had a good and attentive crowd and it was my favorite panel to be on of the weekend. I dug into the films that changed cinema and literature and apparently came up with quite a bit that others were not familiar with. Finally I was on a panel on film narrative. With such a general subject I didn’t expect we’d do much with it, but it became a very interesting discussion and again, had a good audience.

I attended what panels I could, including a few on fandom and one on the future of comics and another on the DC cinematic universe. The consensus, which matched my own, was that DC is a mess. Panels that I enjoyed the most were not on lit or pop culture but on science. They’d pulled in several NASA scientists who were fascinating. The panel on colonizing Mars was solid but I was really captured by the exo-planet panel. Being behind a bit, I hadn’t realized just how many planets have been discovered around other stars in the tiny area we have so far searched. Great stuff.

I spent some time hanging with friends—one of whom had brilliantly made the plaque and pins for the Eugie Award—which is always the thing to do. The artist was kind enough to put me up for the night. Yay! I was also introduced to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day which is a fantastic film I somehow had missed. I highly recommend it. Really, As in, if you haven’t seen it, go do so now.

Oct 022016
two reels

The zombie apocalypse breaks out just as a workaholic is boarding a train to take the daughter he’s been ignoring back to his ex-wife in Busan. With zombies onboard, our not-so-noble hero ends up with a tough guy and his very pregnant wife, a teen baseball player and cheerleader, a homeless man, and two elderly sisters, all trying to survive. There’s also an evil businessman, because there always is one in zombie movies.

With all the hype I expected a lot more from Train to Busan. It’s not a bad film and in the rankings of zombie flicks, it’s in the upper half. It’s well directed and acted, with a budget that says “theater” instead of “home video.” But I’ve seen it all before many times over. There’s nothing new here. There isn’t even a fresh take on something old. Zombies chase. People run. People fight. People die. People do something really selfish or stupid, and then die. In 1977 this would have been hot stuff, but now it is pretty dull. Even the simple, half-baked social commentary is stale and nothing Romero didn’t do better, smarter, and more enjoyably thirty years ago. Of course Train to Busan is doing more than imitating Romero. It’s also imitating 28 Days Later and shoveling wholesale from World War Z.

The characters are what you expect. They act as you know they will. They learn the lesson you’ve seen them learn before. And they die, in order, as specified by earlier films. They meant nothing to me, partly due to them being unpleasant and stupid, but mainly because I already knew them all and have seen them die.  If you are less annoyed by repetition and cardboard cutouts, you may warm to them more than I did.

Korean horror films tend to be more melodramatic than Western ones, and zombie films tend in that direction anyway, so Train to Busan gives us non-stop emoting turned up to eleven. If you want loud crying, long intense staring, and cup-fulls of saccharine, Train to Busan delivers. The requisite (for Korean horror) “Gosh, I love my child” moment is a bridge too far for anyone, but it was prefaced by a zombie fight so that might lessen the string for you.

While there is nothing new here, nor anything interesting, it is a well done version of the same-old-same-old. I can name a dozen zombie films that do everything Train to Busan does, and do it better, but you may have seen those already. So if you are looking for more of the same, this may be just the ticket. For me, I just wanted them all to get to it and die.