Tuesday, July 18, 2017

And Then This Happened... Avalanche

Winter sports can be fun for just about everyone. Of course you need the right equipment for them. Luckily the gent in this picture is one of the best skiers in the country (at least according to the film). So that means he not only possesses the right equipment (sponsored by Schlitz of all things), but he is also very skilled. That must also go along with his ability to escape deadly ice and snow from avalanches!

This picture comes from the Roger Corman disaster epic, Avalanche. Time to give our olympic hopeful the caption he deserves.

And then this happened...


Friday, July 14, 2017

Anime Juke Box - No Need for Promises - The Vision of Escaflowne

Been a while since the old Anime Juke Box has spun some j-pop for you. I was going through some of my older anime soundtracks and ran into all three of the wonderful CDs for Vision of Escaflowne. The music was co-composed by wonder woman Yoko Kanno and her husband at the time Hajime Mizoguchi. The score is one of her most bombastic orchestral powerhouses, with amazing action cues, sweeping romance and gothic horror. It works well in the series and is always a treat to listen to.

But Kanno's skills go well beyond her ability to compose for orchestra. She almost always writes the opening and ending pop/rock songs for the anime series she works on. Vision of Escaflowne is no exception. She gets the series started with this cheerful number called No Need for Promises. Like most J-pop of the 90s it is perky, happy, and well produced. Kanno has a thing for using bagpipes in her 90s scores and songs, so you get an interlude with them here too.

Perhaps the biggest thing about this song is that Kanno got the voice actress playing the main role of Hitomi to sing the song. The actress's name is Maaya Sakamoto, and this song launched her successful singing career at the tender age of 16. Kanno and Sakamoto worked on many projects afterward, with Kanno even writing the songs for an entire album of Sakamoto's songs. Both women are still hard at work in the world of film and anime music to this day. So here is where it all began with No Need for Promises from Vision of Escaflowne, written by Yoko Kanno and sung by Maaya Sakamoto.



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Doctor Strange (2016)

Introduction:

I’ll admit, I’ve lost track of all the Marvel movies lately. But the concept of Doctor Strange sounded like a good one. It goes into an angle of mysticism you don’t see explored in too many big budget movies. I heard the fantastic score by Michael Giacchino. Oh and let’s face it, my wife is a big fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, so we were going to see this movie no matter what.

Summary:

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an egotistical but very skilled surgeon. When he ends up in a car accident he loses all steadiness in his hands. Feeling like his life is pretty much over unless he can heal his digits, Strange embarks on a journey to Nepal where he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who says she can help him, help himself.

Little does Strange know that his keen mind allows him to access and adapt to the mystical secrets of the universe – becoming a true master of magic. Just n time too, because Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is looking to use a key relic to unleash hell on earth. Now it is up to Doctor Strange to use his newfound powers, magic cape and quick wits to save the world.

Good Points:
  • Some very impressive visual effects that really help develop the key concepts
  • Creates an intriguing world and conflict at the heart of the film
  • Solid acting by the entire cast

Bad Points:
  • The character arc for Doctor Strange is overly familiar – see Iron Man
  • You’ve got Mads Mikkelsen – why aren’t you using him better?
  • Fans of Inception may cry foul at some of the visual effects

Overall:

Like most of the Marvel movies this one is a lot of fun. Visually it is stunning with some of the best visual effects I’ve seen in a long time. The film also creates a very strong concept of magic and mysticism and uses it to flesh out an interesting conflict among the characters. Sad to say the story arc for Doctor Strange himself is a well traveled one. Cumberbatch’s charisma and acting keep it interesting. But then you have Mikkelsen, a very strong actor, who is given a very flat antagonist role. I enjoyed the film, but it felt like it had the potential to be something a bit better.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals:  5
Sound: 4
Acting:  4
Script:  3
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Friday, July 7, 2017

Chopping Mall (1986)

Introduction:

Ok, it is called Chopping Mall, it was made in the 80s and the VHS box cover art had a severed head in a shopping bag. How the heck was I supposed to resist that? Well, I never did get around to watching it back in the day. But when I saw it available for streaming I knew my quest for a cheesy movie to watch that weekend was at an end. But was I going to regret this little trip to the mall?

Summary:

Mall security could use an upgrade and why not look to some A.I. to help out. Sounds good until a freak storm causes the programming for the three robotic mall cops to go on a killing spree. These guys are bullet proof, have the ability to electrocute victims and shoot sleeping darts. Oh, and since this is the 80s they can also shoot multi-colored energy beams from their eyes. If you happen to be a topless teen this will make your head explode. No, I’m not kidding.

Speaking of teens, some employees at a furniture store decide to stay after hours and have a sex party. There are the goody goody ones that don’t even kiss, so you know they will live. But the rest are all fodder for the rampaging robots. Keep your eyes open for scream queen Barbara Crampton and everyman Dick Miller as they try to survive a night in the Chopping Mall.

Good Points:
  • Packed the brim with 80s clothing, lingo, hair and robots – 80s ROBOTS!
  • Starts with an interesting premise and some hints at amusing parody
  • Some of the kills are pretty graphic and entertaining

Bad Points:
  • Never commits to scares or laughs and ends up doing neither
  • Runs out of steam about halfway through due to the uninteresting characters
  • Didn’t use the mall to the full advantage (probably for budget reasons)

Overall:

This could have been better all the way around. It isn’t scary. It isn’t all that funny. But it hints at trying to do both. The characters are paper-thin and do some really stupid things (par the course for this type of movie). And while it was neat to see the same mall from Commando again, they just didn’t do too much with it, probably for fear of property damage. That said the 80s robots are fun in a retro way, and some of the kills and strategies to stop the robots are clever. Fans of cheesy films will get a kick out of the all out 80s onslaught. But this is more of a rental than a hidden gem.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Movie Music Musings: The Goldsmith Award 2011

It wasn't just animation, it was motion capture based animation, so that made it even more expensive than a typical animated feature. Add to that the simple fact that whenever someone talks about these types of animated films like The Polar Express or Beowulf or the 2009 version of The Christmas Carol, they usually use the world "creepy looking" in there somewhere. I'm not sure that a budget of 150 million was ever going to see any profit.

But Robert Zemeckis was obsessed with getting this motion capture animation to take off. Mars Needs Moms was such a bomb it pretty much ended that idea. The film came out before Spielberg's Adventures of Tin Tin, but that superior film got tainted and that seems to be last of that odd animation experiment. Most motion capture animation remains in the realm of video games.

All that said, Mars Needs Moms may have been a bomb (and a half) but the score isn't. John Powell composed a fun and exciting score. It is what he does best and animation really seems to ignite his creative powers. His scores for the two How to Train Your Dragon films are some of the best of the decade. Mars Needs Moms is right behind them, with lots of orchestral color and energy.

So enjoy the end credits suite to Mars Needs Moms by John Powell. No creepy dead eyed characters shown here. :)