Sunday, November 27, 2022

Exploring the "The Sound of 007"

One of the most distinctive aspects of the James Bond films, aside from the spectacular stunts, exotic locales, beautiful women and of course, the different actors portraying Bond, is the music. The title songs and musical scores for the 007 series are often as memorable as the films themselves. Artists like Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney & Wings, Chris Cornell and Adele have all contributed title songs to the series, and composers like John Barry, Marvin Hamlisch and David Arnold have composed scores to the movies. A new documentary, The Sound of 007, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, explores the history of 007 music through a series of new and archival interviews with Barry, Hamlisch, current Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, and artists like Billie Eilish, Tina Turner and Jack White.

The film is a comprehensive look at the history of music in the Bond franchise throughout its 60 year history, beginning with Dr. No (1962), the first entry in the series, right up until the most recent film, No Time To Die (2021). Along the way, there are insightful interviews and comments about the creation of the music for the films, including the now iconic 007 Theme. There are also some cool behind the scenes stories about the creation of the title songs in the Bond saga, including Goldfinger, Thunderball and Diamonds are Forever. Since the film was produced around the time of No Time To Die's release, there's a significant amount of behind the scenes coverage for the recording of the title tune for that film, and its score by Hans Zimmer, as well as a look at the songs for the rest of Daniel Craig's tenure as Bond. 

The James Bond franchise has been around for six decades now, and interesting to see how the films (and their music), have adapted to the changes in musical styles throughout the years. The Sound of 007 also includes some fantastic performance clips of artists like Shirley Bassey, Louis Armstrong and Paul McCartney performing their classic Bond theme songs. There are some title songs that are given surprisingly brief coverage, like Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only," but with 60 years of Bond music to explore, it's understandable that some songs might get a bit less focus. The documentary does not cover the "unofficial" Bond films, the 1967 spoof Casino Royale, or Sean Connery's return to the role in 1983's Never Say Never Again, neither of which was released by Eon Productions, the producers of the official Bond series.

The Sound of 007 is a fascinating and insightful look behind the scenes of one of the most enduring series in cinema history. What you will discover while watching this engrossing documentary is just how integral the music is to the character of James Bond, and how it absolutely helps to define his onscreen persona. And you'll hear some great stories about some of the most enduring and memorable film music of the last six decades. The film, directed by Mat Whitecross, is a must see for 007 fans. There's a companion program, also streaming on Amazon Prime, The Sound of 007: Live From The Royal Albert Hall, featuring artists like Shirley Bassey and Paloma Faith performing some of the theme songs from the films in the series. The Sound of 007 is now available for viewing on Amazon Prime. Here's the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tcs5icPCTnI.



Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Opening Up Guillermo Del Toro's "Cabinet"

Guillermo Del Toro (photo courtesy of Netflix)

Writer-director Guillermo Del Toro has enthralled us throughout his career with beautifully crafted films such as The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labryinth, Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water and Nightmare Alley. His movies are deeply infused with his love for cinematic and literary genres like fantasy, horror and noir, and he often pays tribute to the artists who have strongly influenced his work, like directors Mario Bava and Alfred Hitchcock. For his Netflix series, Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities, Del Toro takes a step back, acting as producer and host for an anthology of horror tales by eight acclaimed filmmakers including Catherine Hardwicke and Jennifer Kent. Del Toro introduces the episodes, a la Rod Serling, but Cabinet of Curiosities has more in common with Serling's 1970s horror-centric Night Gallery (a Del Toro favorite) than the fantasy-oriented The Twilight Zone.

The series runs the gamut from eccentric outings like director and co-writer Panos (Mandy) Cosmatos' visually striking "The Viewing" featuring Peter Weller, to the more visceral horrors of Keith Thomas' "Pickman's Model" starring Crispin Glover, one of two H.P. Lovecraft adaptations in the series, along with Catherine Hardwicke's version of "Dreams In The Witch House," with Rupert Grint. "Pickman's Model" was adapted for Night Gallery in 1971, directed by Jack Laird, while "Dreams In The Witch House" was previously filmed as a 2005 episode of Showtime's Masters of Horror by Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon. There's also the satirical "The Outside," directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, who also helmed the offbeat vampire film A Girl Walks Home At Night. "The Outside" stars Kate Micucci as a bright young woman who becomes obsessed with looking more like her attractive but empty-headed co-workers, and uses a new beauty product with unexpected side effects.

The unsettling tales featured in Cabinet of Curiosities are somewhat bloody in nature, and there's quite a bit of dark humor in evidence as well, in the vein of Creepshow and the Tales From The Crypt television show, which is no surprise, since the original horror comics that influenced those projects are among Del Toro's own inspirations for the series. Cabinet of Curiosities also includes adaptations of two short stories by Del Toro; the creepy storage unit centered supernatural thriller "Lot 36" starring Tim Blake Nelson, and the ghost story "The Murmuring" directed by Jennifer Kent, who also made the excellent The Babadook. "The Murmuring" features Essie Davis, one of the stars of that compelling 2014 film, along with Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead. Both actors are excellent in this eerie tale of a very personal haunting.

Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities will have major appeal for longtime horror fans. There's much to relish and enjoy in these eight films from a group of wonderful filmmakers, which truly celebrate the many shadings and variations of the horror genre. Each episode is truly centered in the personal style of its director, but these episodes also bear the influence of Del Toro as a guiding force. Cabinet of Curiosities comes across as a truly collaborative project, and a labor of love for everyone involved. Here's hoping the network will green light a second season of the series. Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities is currently streaming on Netflix. Here's a look at the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3E1URhCR60.


Sunday, November 6, 2022

Never Surrender: The Story of Galaxy Quest

A group of actors from a beloved science-fiction television series make ends meet by appearing at sci-fi conventions. Some of the cast members are a little fed up with continually celebrating their long-ago cancelled series, while others get a charge out of the adulation of their adoring fans. Sound a little familiar? If you're thinking this sounds a lot like Star Trek, you're not too far off the mark. Galaxy Quest (1999), an entertaining science-fiction adventure film, takes the concept one step further. What if a group of actual aliens viewed transmissions of the television series Galaxy Quest, and think they're watching real-life adventures? These aliens want the heroic crew to help them defeat an interstellar villain threatening their race with extinction.

Galaxy Quest is a funny, action-filled and often touching tale that's become something of a cult classic in the years since its original release. While the movie resonates strongly with Star Trek fans, it's also garnered its own group of devoted followers, who celebrate the film's clever allusions to science-fiction fandom. Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary (2019), takes an in-depth look at the making of the movie, and features interviews with the cast and crew, including actors Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Enrico Colantoni, and Sam Rockwell, director Dean Parisot, screenwriter Robert Gordon, and producer Mark Johnson.

The making of Galaxy Quest is covered in detail, from early script concepts to the film's eventual release. The documentary features some fascinating stories about the production, including the fact that Harold Ramis was originally going to direct the film, which at the time was set to be even more brash and comedic in tone. There's also intriguing information and behind the scenes details regarding the film's casting, music and special effects. The cast and crew are quite candid about DreamWorks Pictures, whose post-production mandate was that the producers should tone down some of the film's language and content, thus making it more family friendly.

In addition to the comments from the cast and crew, there are some delightful interviews with famous fans of the film, such as Trek cast members Brent Spiner and Will Wheaton, and writer-producers Damon Lindelof (Lost) and Greg Berlanti (ArrowThe Flash). Many fans consider Galaxy Quest to be a sort of honorary Star Trek film, and in fact it's been voted "one of the best Trek movies" as part of many online fan surveys and polls. Several of the interviewees note that Galaxy Quest predates the explosion of "comic book, sci-fi and nerd culture" that now sees comic book and sci-fi films and television series appealing to a much wider audience. In a way, the movie really was ahead of its time.

Never Surrender also follows a group of Galaxy Quest fans who are attending a convention, and are participating in cosplay as the film's characters. They talk about their love for the film, and what its characters and themes have meant to them. Their heartfelt comments help to bring this delightful documentary full circle. Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary (2019), is a loving and insightful tribute to a movie that has become a true cult favorite for science-fiction fans. Never Surrender is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime, and is well worth your time. As a bonus, you'll get to see Brent Spiner's terrific Patrick Stewart impression! Here's a link to the film's trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39cVvN28UXE.

 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Looking Back at "The 4:30 Movie"

If you grew up in the 1970s, well before the days of DVD, VHS, cable, and internet streaming, and long before almost every movie or TV show was a click away, you had to watch your favorite genre movies when they were shown on regular TV. For science-fiction and horror fans in the New York area, this meant viewing programs like Chiller Theater on WPIX and Creature Features on WNEW, but there was another place to catch films like the Planet of the Apes saga, The Omega Man, Godzilla vs. the Thing, and The Blob. It was a show where you could see one of these films each weekday after you got home from school! Of course, I’m talking about WABC’s The 4:30 Movie. This much beloved weekday afternoon movie showcase ran from 1968 until 1981. The 4:30 Movie began as a two-hour program, but about a year into its run, settled into its more famous 90 minute format.

The 4:30 Movie would often broadcast theme weeks dedicated to a particular actor, genre, or film series, so there would be a Jerry Lewis Week, Elvis Presley Week, John Wayne Week, Beach Party Week, or Secret Agent Week. But what really made The 4:30 Movie beloved by genre fans of a certain age were things like Planet of the Apes Week, Vincent Price Week, or the ever popular Monster Week. After doing your homework, you could plunk down in front of your TV, and see Charlton Heston in Soylent Green, Ray Harryhausen’s incredible stop-motion creations in Mysterious Island, or giant monsters terrorizing Japan while battling it out in Frankenstein Conquers The World. The local editions of TV Guide used to run a lot of clever and often humorous ads for the movies running during those theme weeks.


 

The 4:30 Movie was an essential component in my development as a film fan, and it helped shape and inform my love of movies. As a devotee of fantastic films, The 4:30 Movie was the place where I first got to see movies like the Roger Corman helmed Poe adaptations, such as The Pit and the Pendulum, the original The Fly, the Hammer thriller The Gorgon with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and Journey To The Center of the Earth with James Mason, which like many films with longer running times, was split into two parts. Because of the 90 minute format of the program, most movies were edited to fit into that time frame. But if a film had an even longer running time, it would be split into two parts. The second part would begin the next day with an off screen narrator recapping the events of part one over the film's credits, and the movie would then start about fifteen minutes to half an hour from the close of the previous day’s installment.

The 4:30 Movie wasn’t just about sci-fi, fantasy and horror films. You could check out classics like The Great Escape, Ben-Hur, and indulge in other theme weeks, including Caper Week, Romance Week, Suspense Week and Western Week. The program also screened the TV movies compiled from the short-lived Planet of the Apes TV series, featuring new introductions filmed by Roddy McDowall, who had played Galen in the show, and had portrayed Cornelius and Caesar in the Apes films. That was worth planning your afternoon around! For a burgeoning film buff like myself, The 4:30 Movie was a go-to destination to see movies back in the day. It was a little sad to see the show end its run in 1981, when the expansion of local TV newscasts and the expanding cable and home video market took its toll on the broadcast of movies by local stations. You can watch the program’s memorable and iconic opening of The 4:30 Movie following this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2es-lfRSDOI.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Caught Up In "The Grip Of It"

Moving into a new house can be a daunting task, but its usually an exciting and positive event. In Jac Jemc's extraordinary and eerie novel, The Grip Of It, James and Julie, a young married couple, purchase a house in the country, in order to escape the big city, and put the problems caused by Jame's gambling addiction behind them. What they don't know is that the house contains a supernatural presence that will threaten their already tenuous relationship.

The chapters of the novel alternate between the points of view of Julie and James, who tell the story of the frightening events they experience from their own perspectives. Much like the locations in classic tales of terror like Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, Richard Matheson's Hell House, and Stephen King's The Shining, their new home is alive, and the effect it has on the couple will shatter them both mentally and physically, particularly in Julie's case. She suffers from the appearance of mysterious bruises on her body that change in size and location, and has some severe hallucinations.

The house seems to have a mind of its own, with strange writing appearing on the walls, previously unseen rooms and pathways opening up, and there are odd noises which occur on a regular basis. Julie and James also both experience instances of lost time. When James begins to dig into the history of their new home, he finds out that its past is plagued with troubling incidents. As the strange and otherworldly occurrences begin to multiply in number and intensity, the couple begins to suspect one other of being behind them.

The Grip Of It is an unsettling thriller that builds up to a powerful climax. This isn't just a tale about a haunted house, it's a story of a haunted relationship. Jemc's superb prose effectively conveys the fractures between Julie and James. You can feel the severity of the stresses caused not only by the supernatural forces beset them, but from the cracks that already exist in their relationship. Could it be that the problems between them are the cause of this haunting, or is the house using the issues in their relationship against them? There are no easy answers in The Grip Of It, but if you're a fan of literate chillers and exceptionally told tales of the darkness lurking within, check out Jac Jem's terrifying novel.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Marc Platt's "Golden" Reflections

 

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've no doubt come across my previous posts regarding the superb work of singer-songwriter Marc Platt. He's released some terrific albums in the last couple of years, including Dis Time It's Poisonal and Colors of The Universe. He's back with The Golden Ticket, the follow up to this past April's That Midlife Thing, and like that excellent record, this latest album finds him in a reflective mood. While That Midlife Thing featured Platt's ruminations on middle-aged men and the emotional territory we all navigate these days, The Golden Ticket widens its focus to take a look at the state of the world we live in, and how that world has changed in the last few years.

Tracks like "The Fighting Americans" and "Banana Republic" deftly examine the current political and ethical landscape. We are living in a much different world right now, and the insightful commentary contained in these observational songs really hits home. Whatever side of the fence you're on, you can't deny the feelings these tracks will stir up in you. It's refreshing to see an artist as accomplished as Platt put himself out there on songs like these, which aren't the last bit preachy, but definitely get their point across.

While Platt takes a look at some weighty issues on The Golden Ticket, he hasn't forgotten about the type of music that's his forte. The album also includes several of the thoughtful songs about love and relationships that are the hallmarks of his best work. Give a listen to exquisite selections such as "All My Life," and "When Love Has Gone Wrong." Those tracks, and the evocative "Extraordinary" and "Watching You Sleep," are expressive, powerful songs that deftly examine the complex nature of modern relationships. These poignant songs will touch your heart and infuse themselves into your spirit. For Marc Platt, there's always a ray of light, even in the darkest moments.

 

The Golden Ticket closes with the Dylan-esque, folk-inflected "God Owes Us Nothin," which in my opinion, is one of the best songs Platt has written to date. Like many of the tunes in his oeuvre, it has a definite 1960's vibe, but still manages to sound fresh and up to date. As usual, Platt's vocals and guitar work are top notch, and he's also done a masterful job producing the album. The Golden Ticket is a great record, and like Marc Platt's previous work, absolutely deserves your time and attention. Check out the tracks on the album at https://marcplatt.bandcamp.com/. Here's a link to the video for "Dark Side," the opening track of the album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXaf2pDqBno.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Night House: A Tale of Love & Death

Do we really know everything our spouses? As director David Bruckner's The Night House opens, Beth is grieving after her husband Owen suddenly commits suicide. There seems to be no reason for his actions, and she's lost her moorings, drinking heavily, poring over pictures and going through his things, trying to find an explanation. Strange things begin to happen in the house they shared, which Owen built for them. Beth begins to suspect these events are supernatural in origin, and may be tied to a near death experience from her past.
 
Beth finds evidence that Owen may have had a secret life, and discovers an odd, reversed floor plan of their house among his things. Was Owen really the man she thought he was? As the layers of the story are unraveled, we learn things about both Beth and Owen which shed a different light on their relationship, and the haunting events that are plaguing Beth. Is Owen returning from beyond death to warn her about something, or are there other forces at work here? What is the real truth of Beth and Owen's relationship?

 
The Night House is a compelling thriller, written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski. It's a thoughtful and intriguing look at the bond between couples, intertwined with an eerie tale of the supernatural. It's a powerful story that's as much about the intensity of the relationship between Beth and Owen as it is about deeply scary moments. The film mostly takes a more reserved approach than some modern horror fare, though there are some jump scares and a couple of frightening set pieces. The movie also has a great visual style, thanks to director Bruckner and cinematographer Elisha Christian.

The cast in The Night House is first-rate. Sarah Goldberg and Vondie Curtis Hall as Beth's friends and Evan Jonigkeit as Owen are excellent, but this film belongs to Rebecca Hall. Hall, who's been terrific in movies like The Town, is superb here, anchoring the film with her dedication to the central role. You can feel the intensity of every emotion that Beth feels, see it in her face and in the way she moves, and hear it in the way she speaks. It's a bravura performance, and if there was any justice, Hall would have won several trophies for it, though most awards shows don't give out accolades for genre films.

 
The Night House is an atmospheric thriller that's well worth seeking out for horror and suspense fans looking for something a bit different on movie night. Director David Bruckner also helmed the upcoming re-imagining of Clive Barker's Hellraiser, so if you want to see some of his earlier work, you can start here. If you enjoy movies like The Sixth Sense and The Others, or well-produced tales of ghostly happenings, eerie occurrences, complex relationships, and love after death, then seek out this film. The movie is currently streaming on HBO Max, and is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. Here's a link to the trailer for The Night House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Tshycci2ZA.