Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year 2014

Wishing everyone a great 2014!

Happy New Year to all the nice folks who read this blog! On this momentous occasion as we enter a brand New Year, author Neil Gaiman's quote comes to mind "I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something"! 
Rock On, do new things and remember to like the Websnacker Fanpage on Facebook.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gravity (2013) Film Score - Steven Price

JohnnyTwoToes reviews one of the very best film scores of 2013! 

Gravity (2013) is one of the best films I have seen all year, and the score should be, at the very least, given an Oscar nod but wanting and actual reality are two different things especially when it comes to the Academy awards. English born Steven Price has scored only a few main stream films, full length films; Attack The Block, The World's End and Gravity. Both The World's End and Gravity were this year's films, so Steven Price is a relative newcomer. 

Gravity is such a great film and deserves Oscar contention in so many categories but the score is so important to a film like this. It can either be a blessing or a curse. The fact that Price has completed a near perfect film with a score that is as thrilling and breath catching as the film itself. It is a mostly electronic score with only a few acoustical instruments used in the final theme, "Gravity". The first track, "Above Earth" is short but sets up the chaos that ensues, and "Debris" is a real nail biting track that pits our heroes for a battle to survive. "The Void" and "Atlantis" are more soothing tracks as our heroes figure out a way to make it to another space station. 

Mr. Price continues to break our hearts with the lengthy track of "Don't Let Go". After lulling us into our own space, he then jars us awake with "Airlock" and "Fire". "ISS" is a beautiful track as you can almost imagine floating high above Earth looking into the vastness of space. There are several long tracks that are peppered throughout the score which makes the run time of the score of about 75 minutes, THANKFULLY. 

Price sprinkles little bleeps, chirps and static in the background of his score to simulate the passing of satellites, and broken radio transmissions and actually times it with the pace of the track. He also abruptly breaks the song off as if to simulate a broken transmission which is a nice touch, along with a ringing tone like we would here when hear a loud bang that makes your own ears ring. "Parachute" and "In The Blind" is a mixture of hair raising and soothing elements to continue the plight of our heroes. "Aurora Borealis" and "Aninqaaq" are two more soft, melancholy tracks that have the little chirps of the passing satellites in its background and they are two of my favorite tracks; simply, heart wrenchingly beautiful. The remaining tracks, "Soyuz", "Tiangong", "Shenzou" and the end credits theme "Gravity" are a majestic mix of hope and life as our heroes seek to survive and not to give up hope. 

Composing a score is hard enough. Making all of the pieces come together to make the film work is a tough nut to crack. Composing a score for a film like Gravity would be even more difficult. We never really see the actor's faces so we rely on the actor's vocal fluctuation and the music to tell the story. The music for Gravity really is as much a character as any of the performances and director Alfonso Cuaron has constructed a film around the score rather than the score being chopped up and inserted in bits here and there. What drove the film for me was the score (not taking anything away from the acting and such) and Mr. Price has composed a heroically powerful score that deserves a listen to and it stands as its own creation, not just for the film. He is a composer to watch out!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Joyous Christmas and Happy Holidays

Wishing you all a Happy, Merry Christmas

Christmas is here again. From the Websnacker and his blogging crew, we thank you for your love and wish you a joyous Christmas, fun filled holidays and a smashing New year ahead! And remember, keep readin' so that we can keep bloggin'! Cheer on!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes is disappointed with this dull teen adventure fantasy 

Okay, so while I may not be the target audience for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (TMI: COB), I still can hope for a remotely intelligent and thoughtful film with a dash of humor and adventure. RIGHT? Well, if you said yes to any of those questions or if you have a pulse and enjoy films, then TMI: COB is not for you. 

This film has been compared to other films like Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings not only in its subject matter but in its execution, with good reason. Of all the films this has been compared to,TMI: COB is an inferior rendition at the very best. Sorry, but I have to be honest. 

TMI: COB tells the story of a young girl named Clary (Lily Collins), who discovers she is a Shadowhunter; a demon killing Buffy if you will. She witnesses a strange killing in a nightclub on her birthday but only she can see it so, naturally everyone including her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan) think she is losing her marbles. Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) is her mentor in the demon slaying world along with Alec (Kevin Zegers donning a very good British accent) and Isabelle (Jemima West). Clary's mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey) harbors the dark secret of the Downworld but when demons take Jocelyn and put her into some kind of coma it is up to the Scooby gang to find her and slay some demons. *Yawn*. 

TMI:COB is a great looking film, visually. The cast is a great looking one, too, despite the over applied makeup to Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace. He looks like some kind of crossing dressing ghoul, complete with an almost anorexic frame, tattoos, sunken eyes and eye liner for those sunken eyes!!!

The problems with TMI:COB is pretty much EVERYTHING. It is poorly acted, the characters are one dimensional, the script (written by Jessica Postigo) is an amalgamation of not only Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but Underworld, Blood and Chocolate, Blade and pretty much any teen fantasy film. This has all been done before and done better. 

Like I said, I know I am not the target audience but I am sure the Harry Potter films were INTENDED for a younger audience than an average adult. How is it a film like TMI is such a wretched one? Simple. The characters are all. Even when Jared Harris (Giles to Buffy's Clary), and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the main villain, Valentine enter the film (almost 90 minutes into it), by then it is too little, too late. These characters have nothing intelligent to say or do and they all wander through set piece after set piece with dull action scenes and predictability throughout the entire story. How many times do we have to sit through the the hero and the heroine falling on top of each other, their lips nearly locked and their eyes entrancing each other as that fleeting sexual moment arises. Just as they seem to lock up in each others arms and passions, they immediately clear their throats and jump to their feet. Why? Because we can't have these two bumping uglies just yet. Sadly, we have two more films for them to do the deed and create more little Shadowhunters. There is that scene as well as a laughable one in which our hero and heroine lock lips in a building called The Institute. Yes, folks they lock up and the music swells and then it starts to rain on them as they embrace. IN THE BUILDING, mind you. Yes, just like Pig Pen from the Peanuts, who has a cloud of dust following him around wherever he goes, these two have well cued rain clouds. Either that or someone needs to get the sprinkler system looked at. I could just go on and on..

TMI: COB is an excruciatingly inept film in just about every area. Uninteresting, dull, predictable and enough sappy nonsense to make even a die hard teenage girl puke up her Coke and Juju beans. Only the visual effects and Atli Orvarsson's score seemed to keep me from gouging out my my eyes with my drink straw. Harry Potter and just about every other referenced film TMI: COB is derived from shows you can have a great script, intelligent and interesting characters and competent direction to make a great film that appeals to all demographics. Norwegian Director Harald Zwart (One Night At McCool's, 2009's Karate Kid) is more than able to direct good films but this is certainly not one of them. Worse news, yet? A sequel is coming in the not too distant future. Up to this point, with the same director and writer. They wouldn't? Would they? Oh, most certainly they would. City Of Bones: The Mortal Instruments-* out of 4.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Shoulda Been Home - Robert Cray

Revisiting a true Blues all time Classic

In his 2001 album, "Shoulda Been Home", the 5 time Grammy winner Robert Cray, one of the founding fathers of Contemporary Blues almost completely eschews that genre in favor of sweaty retro-style Memphis soul of the Hi and Stax variety. Using the twin tools of his guitar playing and singing, both equally smooth and soulful, Robert Cray helped reinvent the blues, and that’s not only a heavy burden to carry, in many ways it’s a horrible legacy to live down.

Not that Cray’s slick, sultry brand of blues has anything more than rudimentarily in common with that particular ilk of soulless, toothless, wankery. It’s just that he’s the Nirvana to their Bush, a great musician who broke through and opened the door for a wave of uninspired and homogenized imitations. Soulful, fiery and funky proof that slick and smooth doesn’t have to be boring and lukewarm and detached. Maybe that’s the reason why Shoulda Been Home finds Cray and his band singing and playing what is basically Blues-tinged Soul music and not the other way around. Or maybe the appeal of that old O.V. Hill, Otis Redding style music was just too irresistible. They certainly didn’t switch up their styles because of a lack of critical acclaim.

Each of the Robert Cray Band’s previous 8 albums have been nominated for a Grammy, including 1999’s Take Your Shoes Off, a Grammy winner that also mined the fertile Memphis Soul sound. Shoulda Been Home continues that winning formula, with Cray handling the songwriting on about half of the tracks. His originals are strong, holding their own and then some next to Mack Rice and Elmore James classics.

That’s right, Elmore James. Cray and co. certainly haven’t abandoned the blues completely. The Chuck Berry-ish version of James’ “Cry For Me Baby” is testament to that, as are many of the scorching yet restrained guitar solos that Cray sprinkles throughout the album. Remember to check out “Baby’s Arms,” a Cray original and the opening track -it’s an upbeat tune featuring an all-star horn section, and it’s soulful, fiery and funky proof that slick and smooth doesn’t have to be boring or lukewarm and detached.If you want a true Blues classic from the early 2000's, look no further!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Film Score of the Month - Alien (1979) Intrada Edition

JohnnyTwoToes revisits the masterpiece from the late Jerry Goldsmith 

When Alien first came out in 1979, it redefined the science fiction/horror genre of film making. Ridley Scott had made a relatively low budget film but one that was simply terrifying. Even today, after I have watched it numerous times, it still scares the crap out of me, part of the reason is the direction and the stellar cinematography. Knowing where to place the cameras and how a scene flows and very few films have gotten in right the way Ridley Scott has. You never really see the Alien completely and Scott is smart to let people's imagination do the terrifying. 

In the first 45 minutes of the film virtually nothing happens, but the mood of this film is already set creepy and ghastly from the opening credits sequence thanks to Scott's choosing of the late Jerry Goldsmith (1929 – 2004) to score Alien. When the score was originally released, it was only available on cassettes and vinyl. Since the technology was such that they could only hold, record and release about 30-45 minutes of music on cassettes and vinyl consumers were left with a minute amount of music. The actual released running time of the score's original release was 35:44, hardly enough to do it justice. Until Intrada Records released the complete 2 disc score in 2007. 

The entire score is simply one of the very best in the history of film scoring. Goldsmith and Scott had many go arounds about what Goldsmith wanted to do (a heroically brave sounding score) as opposed to Scott's desire for an abrasively scary score. Most of the time I would side with the composer, however in this case I am so glad the film makers opted for a creepy and terrifying score. The Intrada version has its share of the heroic side of Goldsmith's score but it has restored a great deal, if not all, of the terror inducing music that makes Alien such a treat. 

Disc 1 features the complete original score and the Main Title track is the heroic theme Goldsmith was going for. Hyper Sleep is a track that features a lone trumpet with some strings and backup horns and it is a beautiful track of a ship coming to life. The next few tracks, The Landing, The Terrain (very effectively chilling), The Craft, The Passage and The Skeleton all set up the horror that befalls the spaceship, Nostromo and her crew. The Passage features some very ominous wind like instruments coupled with some straining strings which will give you chills (at least, they did for me). There are a couple of pretty tracks like Nothing To Say, a mournfully light track. 

Most of Alien, though is wonderful array of screeching strings, belching brass and punctuating percussion. The remainder of the tracks are racingly terrifying as the battle for survival begins to take shape. Goldsmith has an entire orchestra (The National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lionel Newman) at his disposal and he uses sounds from every section. As I said, brass, strings, percussion and surprisingly some pretty scary elements from the woodwinds. There are a few elements which also employed the use of electronics, something which Goldsmith incorporated in many of his action scores in the years following Alien, most notably in the Rambo scores. 

The last seven tracks on disc 1, 'the rescored alternate cues' are my favorite. Starting with the original opening theme that only appeared in its entirety on the re release of the director's cut which is PERFECT for what follows in the film. It should have been in the original cut to begin with, but Scott let Goldsmith insert his own choice. Both are great tracks, but the restored, rescored alternate cue is much better; perfection. 

Disc 2 features the original released soundtrack album which is decent but incomplete, however they have restored some more alternate bonus tracks like a film version of the Main Title which is a great track. Virtually all of the extra tracks on this 2 disc masterpiece are alternate, unused inserts and versions that are as hair raising as the complete score itself. 

Intrada Records has done a phenomenal job going back to the original masters and digitally remastering this score from start to finish. With 2 discs, 47 tracks and over two hours of music nothing, to my knowledge has been left out. Alien is a classic horror film that terrifies me 34 years later. Now, the music will do that, too. Enjoy!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Running Scared (2006) - Paul Walker's Finest

JohnnyTwoToes pays tribute to Paul Walker and reviews his very best!

By now, most of the world knows of the tragic death of actor Paul Walker (Sept 12, 1973 - Nov 30, 2013) and his friend Roger Rodas on Saturday in Valencia, California as a result of a horrific car crash. The two had just left a fundraiser for Mr. Walker's charity that was assisting people all over the world who had been the victims of natural disasters. The organization is called Reach Out Worldwide if you are interested in contacting them. 

Walker had been friends with Rodas for the last ten years and Rodas owned a car company called Always Evolving which dealt with high end car mechanics and such. What I heard from a lot of people over the years was that Paul Walker was not a good actor. I have had many fierce disagreements with people who know films and they maintain although he was in some good films, he was very limited in any range and did not have much to go one with what he DID have. Now that he is gone all I hear is how The Fast and the Furious franchise will not be the same without him. 

I have maintained and will always maintain that Paul Walker was a great actor and aside from his movie star good looks he was a rare breed in Hollywood. A man, who over the years became spiritual, thought of his fellow man as equals and did immeasurable good for thousands of nameless faces marred by natural disasters. So when people ask me what was my favorite Paul Walker film The Fast and the Furious franchise, as good as it has been, is not it. 2006's Running Scared (not to be confused with the buddy comedy of the same name from 1987 with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines) was written and directed by Wayne Kramer and it is such a great film that I found it to be the best film of 2006 and Paul Walker's finest performance. 

Running Scared stars Walker as Joey Gazelle, a low level member of the local mob whose sole purpose is to dispose of guns used by his cohorts in crimes so the guns can't be tied to the criminals who used them. When one of the guns turns up missing Gazelle frantically tries to find it before it falls into the cops hands. One of the people that might know where the gun is, is a local boy who is friends with Gazelle's son. Once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak , there is nowhere to hide for Joey and his family, until he makes things right. 

Kramer's script is based on the graphic novel and this film has packed EVERYTHING into it. There were twists and turns I never saw coming and Vera Farmiga who plays Joey's wife is a revelation. Strong and sexy, she is the best thing to happen to Joey, ever. But this is Walker's movie. His acting his a tour de force. Frantically searching, Walker's Gazelle is smart and knows how to play both sides against the middle and Kramer's script is deliciously saucy and profane as Gazelle has to stay one step ahead of the good cops, the corrupt cops and his own criminal family, all of whom are gunning for Gazelle, they just don't know it.......yet. 

Walker is solid in this film from start to finish and his range goes from lovable father and husband to a cold, calculating criminal trying to survive. It is a star making performance but because of the lurid subject matter the film did not do much business and kind of went unnoticed. However, Kramer's film is a masterpiece! A perfectly constructed thriller that literally throws so many plot twists you will never see them coming and it respects the intelligence to follow the plot lines never talks down to the audience. 

Running Scared is not family viewing for its subject matter but it is a sharp, crisp and electrifying thriller and a true showcase for the acting of Paul Walker, in particular. Walker went on to work with Kramer in 2013's Pawn Shop Chronicles. I have not seen it but intend to and have heard it is a wild ride, as well. 

Paul Walker was taken too early for people to really enjoy what he could do in front of the camera. But one thing is for sure, when I think of Paul Walker's best films, Running Scared is at the top of my list. As for the latest The Fast and the Furious film which was scheduled to be released in July of 2014, there is no word on what and how will affect the film. Obviously, with Paul Walker gone that definitely will effect the film, but in which is unsure. The makers and the studio have already invested tens of millions of dollars into the 7th film and so it is too late to turn back now. Paul Walker would not have wanted that, anyway. The filmmakers will figure it out somehow, and hopefully it will be a fitting tribute to a fine actor taken too early. The show must go on. Running Scared-**** out of 4
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