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Things I Read And Watched While On Vacation

6 May

ImageLast week, I took a vacation from the internet. And from work! Which kind of IS “The Internet,” as far as I’m concerned. Where do you work, Kirk? I work at The Internet.

So, I took a week and unplugged from the internet entirely. Kind of like This Guy, who got paid to do the same thing over at The Verge, only he did it a whole year, and it sounds like it was a lot more intense than my week. I walked away from Twitter and Facebook, put up a fairly draconian-sounding gmail out-of-office message, and I was  good to go.

I focused on writing music and read a lot. I didn’t play any video games. It was a successful experiment; I wrote a lot of music and got a lot of reading done. (Remember reading? Reading is amazing. It’s like a party in your brain.) I also cheated and let myself watch some movies, particularly toward the end of the week when I had gotten a lot done and was feeling pretty good about everything. I’d pretty much just plug into the internet, watch the movie, and unplug. Breaking the rules? Sure. But hey, sometimes you want to watch a movie.

I thought I’d write a short post about the stuff I watched and the stuff I read, since a lot of it’s old and even a creative “how is this like video games”-er like myself can’t come up with a way to post all of this stuff on Kotaku.

Here goes:


His Dark Materials: A series that I had been stalled out on despite really liking the first two books. I finally went back and restarted the third book, The Amber Spyglass, and read it proper. Damnation, this is some good stuff. Philip Pullman is a hell of a storyteller, and Lyra’s world is the sort of fantasy that I just LOVE. It actually feels fantastical! There are so few tropes here, just genuine unbridled imagination. And my gosh, the scope of the storytelling here! How many kids’ (or teens’?) stories concern themselves with a WAR ON GOD and like, THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ARCHANGEL and THE RETURN OF SIN TO SAVE THE WORLD? No wonder this shit was controversial. I loved each book, and was gutted to have to say goodbye. If you haven’t read these books, I can’t recommend them enough. I’ve never seen the movie, and I never will. Fuck the movie.

Cloud Atlas: I’m about halfway through David Mitchell’s book and… erm, wow, it sure is as good as everyone said. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it’s the kind of book where you can be like 200 pages in and still be thinking “I’m not really sure what to expect” and then you kind of round a bend and it all starts to slot into place and you think “oh, wow, holy fuck, this guy is kind of a genius!” Not that I’d even mind if it didn’t all come together – Mitchell’s writing is so damned inventive and joyful that I’d read a bunch of wholly unrelated stories, as long as he was writing them. His work reminds me how prosaic 98% of my writing is, and makes me want to be better. I’m not sure about the movie. Should I see it? I think I might watch it once I finish.

Oh, funny thing I noticed about Cloud Atlas comes via the “In praise of Cloud Atlas” bit at the front, where they quote book reviewers as they hyperventilate and work themselves into a tizzy over just how fucking brilliant this book is. I mean, check this shit out, from The Times of London:

“A cornucopia, an elegiac, radiant festival of prescience, meditation, and entertainment. Open up Mitchell’s head and a whole ecstatic symphony of inventiveness and ideas will fly out as if from a benign and felicitous pandora’s box.” 

And people give video game reviewers shit about gilding the lily!


Reviews of anything, after finishing. Which was nice! I didn’t go read recaps after watching Game of Thrones, I didn’t read book reviews after finishing Amber Spyglass. I didn’t read any movie reviews. I was surprised at how immediate my impulse to go and read critical discourse after finishing something has become. It was pretty cool to take a week and sort of stew in my own juices a bit, and think about what I really thought of each thing before reading the opinions of others.

Anyway. Moving right along…


13 Assassins: Dude, I can’t believe I hadn’t watched this movie yet. Hoo buddy, is it good. Takashi Miike is the man, I’ve seen such an embarrassingly tiny sliver of the man’s oeuvre but I’m consistently impressed by what I see. And how great is Kôji Yakusho? This movie is  grand, and I loved it.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: This movie made me A) want to eat sushi and B) glad I’m not the son of this guy, and that I don’t run a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. A fascinating documentary, and almost entirely different than I was expecting it to be. I wound up getting sushi like a day after watching this, and I bet it wasn’t as good as Jiro’s sushi. But it was still pretty good.

Hugo: A surprisingly good flick. It was almost entirely off my radar, but I decided to watch it because as you may have gathered from my list here, I was going through good movies on Netflix Instant and watching them. It’s a good movie, though kind of a strange one – disjointed, in that it’s this whimsical kids’ film in the first half and a big-hearted tribute to the French pioneers of cinema in the second. I’m not sure kids would like it? But I did. An odd film, but an enjoyable one.

Rango: Hey, another surprise. Who knew that this movie, which by all appearances was a dumb cash-in flick that leaned on Johnny Depp too much, would in fact be a surprisingly soulful, enjoyably weird movie that leaned on Johnny Depp the exact right amount? Not I. Also, it’s basically Chinatown? I’m not really sure who this movie is for, as I can’t imagine most kids getting a good percentage of the jokes, but I sure enjoyed it. And Hans Zimmer did the music, and I… I really liked it! A wonderful soundtrack that was just good music, and didn’t feel like a feat of engineering. The scene when Rango walks across the highway… outstanding. Who would thought that my favorite Hans Zimmer soundtrack in forever would be an Enrico Morricone tribute?

Limitless: I think I was just super bored one night and this was sitting on Netflix so I fired it up. This movie is fucking stupid. I watched it up until he began to have weird side-effects from the mind-rewiring experimental drug, and decided that I didn’t really need to watch the Fall From Glory and the Eventual Redemption or whatever. It felt like watching a music video made into a movie, and it had really bad music. It felt like the guy who made it came up with that camera trick where it zooms over block after block of NYC and was like, “Okay, this is dope, how can I make a movie around this?” It felt like a sad fantasy movie for dudes who have super sad fantasies. It felt like… I don’t know, I don’t even care about coming up with more things it felt like.

Avatar: I re-watched Avatar for the first time since I watched it in IMAX 3D back when it came out. Well. The movie has certainly lost a lot in the transition from theaters to Blu-Ray. I’m not sure if that says more for just how well-suited it was to its original 3D presentation or how lackluster the movie itself is (both!) but there it is. Its many flaws are laid bare on the small screen, in particular the writing. (Could they not just hire someone to make the script better? I don’t even mean the story, I just mean the basic sentence by sentence dialogue. Christ, is it bad.) But it’s still got that enjoyable energy to it, and God help me, I like James Horner’s musical score, if you can call four dramatic chords a score.

How To Train Your Dragon: Hey, this movie is fucking great! I have a now-famous soft spot for Tangled, and How to Train Your Dragon was almost as good. Well, okay, let’s not get carried away, it was about 75% as good as Tangled, and there wasn’t any singing, but I still really liked it.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I think I had already seen this, but I didn’t really remember it. Maybe I was stoned when I watched it the first time? Anyway. It was a lot of fun! I was impressed by how funny Jeremy Renner can be, dude is great. Brad Bird is such a creative director, though I do think that I missed some of the human drama that (weirdly?) made its way into past entries, especially JJ Abrams’ hilariously, wonderfully melodramatic “Alias on Crack” take in M:I 3. I bet this movie was fucking awesome in IMAX 3D, which is an annoying thing to think about a movie that’s no longer in IMAX 3D, but there you go. I was legitimately a bit breathless when Tom Cruise was running along the side of that incredible skyscraper. Most impressively, like 80-85% of the time I was totally distracted from the inexorable gravitational pull of Tom Cruise’s assy onscreen presence. I know I’ve written about how I like Michael Giacchino’s music before, but actually, I think my opinion has changed. Maybe I don’t really like Michael Giacchino’s music all that much anymore. I didn’t care for the music in this movie, anyway.

Silver Linings Playbook: Man, what a strange movie. I did not care for it. It was a mess, right? Half the time it was this painful and honest-feeling movie about the difficulty of living with mental illness. The other half, it was this clichéd romcom that was, more or less, Garden State but with more severe disorders and a more grown-up cast. It just didn’t feel cohesive at all, and the entire finale felt like it was the result of multiple rewrites. What happened in the end there, why did both of them get so much better? Was he on meds? Was she? How were they so healthy and well-adjusted? I didn’t get it. I’m almost shocked that this movie was Oscar bait. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Jennifer Lawrence and whatever, but it just seemed like an odd movie to lavish with so many nominations.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t read any criticism after finishing movies last week, but yesterday I found that amiga Sarah Bunting of Tomato Nation totally nailed it:

A few scenes start to open a window into what that’s like to live with, to have responsibility for, for parents and significant others; when Officer Keogh (Dash Mihok) answers the call during Pat’s freak-out, for instance, the script has managed to stop playing Pat’s obvious manic distress for laughs and let the spinning build to a scarier place. Soon enough, though, it’s back to the very important lesson about how we’re all crazy via Dad’s (Robert De Niro) OCD, ha ha…ha. It’s not necessary to treat the vagaries of Pat’s disease with funereal seriousness, but this is a guy whose untreated illness smashed his life to chips and dust. His decision to stalk his ex-wife via her syllabus may not qualify for the Kooky Kuts-R-Us editing treatment.

The Back Half of Boardwalk Empire, Season 3: I have a complicated relationship with Boardwalk Empire, or I guess it’s not complicated, it’s just that I get so fucking bored by the show that I stop watching. Until last week, I’d stopped watching the show precisely one more time than I’d decided to give it another shot. But watching the final 8 episodes of season 3 back-to-back proved an immensely good idea. Not only does the season go out with a cracking handful of episodes, there’s a terrific degree of continuity to the whole season. It helped to see everything right in a row, and I could really grok how well it all tied together. Also, they seem to have figured out that when it comes right down to it, all any of us really wanted was for Roger the half-masked Angel of Death to become a major character. And now I hear that George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane (of The Wirewill be joining the writing staff for Season 4? Damn. I have now given this show another shot precisely one more time than I’ve given up on it. I’m in, for now. (Though I swear to God George Pelecanos if you kill off Roger, I will never forgive you. You killed half the cast of The Wire and that groovy dude on Treme, please let your thirst for beloved characters be sated.)

Toy Story 3: I had so little memory of this movie, though I’m about 90% sure that I watched it already. It’s good, and really intensely sad at times, in that it’s articulating a sadness that films almost never go after – the way the world looks different to us after we grow up. But something about the film’s main prison break a-plot just kind of didn’t quite land for me. Still a good movie, but it felt at times like it was less inspired than its two predecessors. I think maybe it was a problem with Lotso, the villainous bear. They didn’t quite know what to do with him – his story was a retread of whatsername the cowgirl’s story from Toy Story 2, but with 100% less Sarah McLachlan making me cry all over the place. Still, good movie.

The King’s Speech: Okay so I watched this a little bit before my vacation but it was excellent and I loved it, so. What a film! I love movies about grown men discovering friendship. That’s such a rare thing in real life, and it’s so hopeful to see it happen, particularly when it’s a true story like this. I liked this bit from Ebert’s review:

Director Tom Hooper makes an interesting decision with his sets and visuals. The movie is largely shot in interiors, and most of those spaces are long and narrow. That’s unusual in historical dramas, which emphasize sweep and majesty and so on. Here we have long corridors, a deep and narrow master control room for the BBC, rooms that seem peculiarly oblong. I suspect he may be evoking the narrow, constricting walls of Albert’s throat as he struggles to get words out.

See, that kind of shit is why I like reading good film critics. I certainly didn’t notice that, even though it had a noticeable effect on me the entire time I was watching the film. He really will be missed.

Hemlock Grove: I tried to watch some more Hemlock Grove but man, this show is just pretty fucking bad. I initially said that I’d keep watching it to the end of the season, but it’s wandered to the point were I just Literally Could Not Give Less Of A Shit and don’t want to watch these mopey assholes wander around and smoke cigarettes and have nothing happen. It’s a laughable show, really. On Twitter one time (good story bro) I was like “This show feels like each line was written by a different person, like, they hired thousands of writers to write it.” And that’s about how it feels. Plus the characters are all assholes and it’s so over-filtered and fug. I might be out.


Hmm, that’s kind of a bum note to go out on. It was a great week, though, really! I’ll have some music to share here at some point, once I get the demos into shape, but I’m really happy with how it’s all coming along. I’ve finally taught myself to use Logic after a decade on Pro Tools, and I must say, the program is wonderful, and a much better fit for the way I write than Pro Tools ever was. I’ll probably write something about that when I have more time.

I hope you all had a good week, as well. And hey, you don’t have to go a whole year, but if you’re ever able, I recommend unplugging from the internet, even if only for a weekend or something. It’s a good exercise, and your Twitter followers will still be there for you when you get back.

Viva Melodic!

22 Mar

I’ve been having a great time running my “Kotaku Melodic” series every Thursday from 7-9PM. We’re sharing all sorts of music-related stuff, from goofy videos to funny hidden audio easter-eggs to composer interviews to classic-game mixtapes. That image is from a post I did about the baller music of Persona 3. At my most professional, I described myself as “in full-on, hearts-on-fire love with this game.” That about sums it up.

Anyhow, I wanted to point everyone here over to it, since if you head to the Tag Page, you can just read Kotaku Melodic as if it were its own little music/games blog. You can do the same for our other channels, including Sportaku, PC Gaming Lives, the Off-Kilter comedy block, and the comics-oriented Panel Discussion.

So, go read some Kotaku Melodic! We had another fun set of posts tonight, and will be back next week with more.

Read Kotaku Melodic

My Name Is Jason Bateman and I Approved This Movie

4 Jan

Hello everyone! Happy New Year!  I’m back from a very nice, relaxing break, thought I’d get back at it.  Last weekend, I watched Ricky Gervais’ new movie “The Invention of Lying,” and really enjoyed it.  However, there was one thing that struck me as a little odd, and it was to do with the casting.

Basically, the movie is sweet and charming as hell, and has some great performances from its leads – Jenifer Garner is super adorable and funny and Ricky Gervais is great and even busts out the capital-“A” acting chops a bit.  Rob Lowe is also great, and plays that un-self-aware prick that he can play so well.

But dude, the rest of the cast is kind of… an overstuffed mess.  Granted, an overstuffed mess of people I really enjoy, but all the same… without spoiling anything, the film features: Martin Starr, Jason Bateman, Stephen Merchant, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Nate Corddry… and when John Hodgman showed up for all of thirty seconds near the end of the film, I was actually getting kind of weirded out.

I was probably just me, but I sorta got the sense that they were parading these people out for us, saying “See? Here’s another hip, funny actor you love!” And clearly the actors were all happy to be involved with something that Ricky Gervais did, but the end result wound up feeling a little …club-y?  Like they were each saying “My name is [Famous Comedian] and I approve of this movie. And of Ricky Gervais in general. And so should you.”

And, of course, I do approve of Ricky Gervais, and all of those actors, but even so, it was a bit much.  And while The Invention of Lying certainly isn’t the first movie to do that, it was the first time I noticed it as much as I did.

Am I alone on this? There’s nothing wrong with it, I guess, but I think I would’ve preferred more selective, focused casting.  Tina Fey, Louis C.K., and Rob Lowe were all great.  Maybe we could’ve done without Tambor, Bateman, Hodgeman, and the rest?  The film itself suffers from a bit of lack-of-focus, too (things get pretty hairy when they tackle religion for fifteen minutes then drop it), so really, the casting shenanigans just contributed to a larger feeling of over-stuffedness, but still, they did contribute.

It’s gotta be hard when you’re Ricky Gervais, and you’ve got half the comic actors in Hollywood breaking down your door to be in your next film. But sometimes it’s best to just say, “Next time, Jason.”

"And I'll write you a role that has more than three lines, too!"

Avatar Was Pretty Frickin’ Awesome

23 Dec

It's actually a lot awesomer than this.

After weeks of mocking the ads, doubting the movie, and marveling at the fanboys, it was time to go see Avatar. So, David, Sonia and I hit the metreon IMAX to see, as David called it, “Ferngully Everquest III: Dancing with Smurfs in 3 Dimensions.”

In an effort to avoid getting there late and having to sit in the neck-breaking front row (which totally happened last time I saw an IMAX movie), I got there 45 minutes early, only to find… that the theater was half-full.  Woah!  (Side note: when you arrive to find a theater half-full, are you still being optimistic?  Like isn’t it more positive to say you saw it as half-empty?  What if the expression was “See the theater as half-empty” instead of “See the glass as half-full”?)

We managed to get pretty good seats, high enough up that the entire screen was visible with minimal neck-relocation.  There weren’t any ads, which was nice (especially considering that tickets were $17), so we got this awesome world-beat “WELCOME TO IMAAXXXXX” video, where the screen described and showed us all the awesome speakerssss and screenssss and stuff, and then… AVATAR.

I of course won’t spoil anything story-related, but dude. This movie was some freakin’ eye-candy the likes of which I have never seen. I had some pretty serious doubts about it – the ads looked silly, and the story sounded trite, it was basically FernGully… but here’s the thing: all of that is totally true, but when you’re seeing it in action, on that screen the size of a parking lot with the ridiculously beautiful 3-D glowing plants and the sizzling bullets just jumping off and shit, and you just can’t help but be blown away by it.

Every time a groaner line of dialogue would make me roll my eyes, they wouldn’t get to half-roll before some crazy wondrous thing would happen onscreen – these insane-o whirlygig glowing nightcrawlers were my favorite – and I’d be bugging out all over again.  Like, there were actually whole scenes of the movie that made my jaw drop, like one of those people in the ads for movies. If you have the option, see it in IMAX – the movie is so impressive-looking that it gives credence to the entire notion of the New Age of 3D Movies.

As Sonia pointed out, several scenes in the film, mostly to do with the Na’avi (those are the huge blue alien people) and their rituals, felt akin to watching the Opening Ceremony at the Beijing Olympic Games.  Just total sensory overload, a voice in the back of your head saying “Dude, how in the hell did they even MAKE this?”

Which was a question I actually asked several times. Whether it was the touch-sensitive, glowing flora, the incredible skydives of a huge red flying pterodactylmonster, or the way that embers and bullets would shoot off the screen at you… it was just ridiculous.  Whatever you may say about James Cameron, the dude’s still got it. And by “it,” I mean “gigantic balls.”

No, seriously, it's really pretty rad.

So, yeah, if it’d been an animated film that came out ten years ago, it would’ve been wholly unremarkable, literally FernGully, the sort of movie where people say “Oh, you know, actually, I really like that movie!”  But it’s not that, it’s Avatar, and it is not, (thankfully!), a spectacle of the handheld “you-are-there” variety that so many filmmakers have become enamored of these past five or so years. Nope, Avatar is a real goddamn spectacle, full of the kind of larger-than-anything-you’ve-ever-seen, balls-out impressive stuff that I wish more movies had.

And it bears mentioning that this isn’t some movie about robots from space or a monster invasion or something… it’s a movie about how people suck and destroy nature, and how important it is to be connected to the world around us.  Which, sure, it’s not There Will Be Blood or anything, but it’s still nice.

Basically, the movie made me feel like I was 14 again, stoked as hell for a big event film and years away from the bloggy, opinionated internet scrooge I am today. That’s something a movie hasn’t done in a long time, maybe not since The Two Towers. I turned off my brain and let the absurdly pretty pictures overwhelm me, and it felt good.

I Implore You To Skip “New Moon”

30 Nov

"God, we are just so miserable right now."

I apologize in advance for the rant to come. Over Thanksgiving, I was taken to see “New Moon,” not entirely against my will, but certainly against my better judgment.  I had not read any of the books, nor seen the first film, though I hit the ‘pedia to confirm that what I thought I knew of the plot (Girl meets vampire, lots of pining, vampire sparkles, pining, baseball, sparkle, pine, fin) was indeed the sum of it.

I went in expecting, at the very least, a cheesy good time, some OTT high school romance histrionics, and some hot vampire on werewolf action. What I got was more than two hours (MORE THAN TWO HOURS) of the dullest, most joyless navel-gazing I’ve ever had to sit through.

I know I can get prone to hyperbole here, but in this post, my vitriol is entirely in proportion. Picture twenty minutes of the following conversation, punctuated by a thirty second snippet of action, followed by a shockingly immediate return to… more… stilted… talking. Rinse and repeat about fifteen times.

Edward: “… I need you so much.  I promise I will always protect you.”

Edward and Bella stare at one another

Bella: “I need you too.  So much. I always will”

more staring

Edward: “But I can’t anymore. I have to go. You’re not good for me, Bella.”

Edward and Bella stare (conspicuous lack of eye contact)

Bella: “…. Why? Why do you have to go?”

Continued staring

Edward: “You’re not good for me. I have to go.”

Staring. Cue Grizzly Bear song.

I mean, honestly. This is the great love story of our age? This is the movie that millions of screaming, lovestruck teens gave the biggest film opening in history? As Pajiba’s Dustin Rowles said in his scathing (and a bit girl-hating) review, “There’s never been a chasm so wide between the intensity of devotion to a film and what it actually deserves.” Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek puts it a bit more directly: “It’s a cheap, shoddy piece of work, one that banks on moviegoers’ anticipation without even bothering to craft a satisfying experience for them. Its pandering is an insult.”

There’s so much more that I could complain about. No one makes eye contact for the entire run of the movie. There is no narrative arc. The entire movie is shot in various shades of grey. New beasts are revealed, vendettas are pursued, and characters even die, and yet thanks to the editing, acting, and writing, it feels as though nothing happens. For a runtime, I might remind you, of more than two sodding hours.

If you're incapable of finding some camp value in THIS, maybe you should give up making movies.

Worst of all, the movie simply does not know how to have fun. The leads are ostensibly in love, and yet whenever they are together, they seem absolutely miserable. There is no campy winking, no sense of humor – even when Bella is having a normal conversation with a quartet of super beefcakey dudes who walk around shirtless all the time, it’s nothing but dour, drab, dull, dull, dull.  Not even a hint of the irony or joyfulness of True Blood, despite a suspicious number of similarities in character and story.  Just… nothing.

I’m convinced that the book is nowhere near as lame as the movie. Actually, I bet it’s pretty fun stuff, if you’re into angsty teen romance. The fault here lies elsewhere – The film’s director, Chris Weitz, ought to be ashamed of himself (he directed About a Boy, for crying out loud!). The editing team should’ve never signed off on it.  If I’d written a book that got turned into that movie, I’d be furious. Kristen Stewart (who, if you’ll recall, I thought was so very good in Adventureland), needs to go out herself and track down a decent screenwriter and director for the next film, lest she forever be associated with movies this bad.

As tired as I am reading broad, lazy, more-than-slightly-misogynistic rants about the Twilight fanbase (see the first few paragraphs of the aforelinked-to Mr. Rowles’ review), I’m pretty appalled that this lifeless, joyless dreck is what all the squealing is about. Sometimes it feels like every time I defend popular culture, it thanks me by taking a huge dump in my living room.

And to think, I could’ve seen Fantastic Mr. Fox instead. Good lord.

All Will Be Carved

26 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

“2012,” or, Attack of the 200-Foot Jesus

10 Nov

2012 - Attack of the 200 Foot Jesus

I’ve seen this poster on the MUNI stop by school for the past couple of weeks, and each time I see it, I gotta say… I wouldn’t be surprised if people who haven’t heard of the movie see this poster and come to the conclusion that it’s gonna be be a monster movie about a giant, marauding stone Jesus.

…which would be pretty sweet, actually.

Avatar: Please Explain

9 Nov

avatar-movie-posterHmm. I just don’t know.  I’m usually pretty in touch with pop-culture type stuff, especially when it comes to super-hyped stuff, but I just have no idea about the upcoming movie Avatar.  I mean, I know about it – it’s James Cameron’s huge vanity project, he’s been making it for years and years, it has graphics that are so sweet they’ll blow your mind and do your laundry, it’s going to change the way we watch films… etc… etc…

There also seems to be a massive fanboy contingent that has taken a huge interest in the movie, and every time there’s a new trailer, flame wars break out all over the internet.  But I still… just… don’t get it? I mean, it looks pretty cool I guess, and I think that Cameron does sympathetic aliens well – I love the Abyss – and I’m all for whiz-bang effects in films, but why, exactly, are we all so excited about this film in particular?

From what I’ve seen so far, from the underwhelming debut trailer to the more recent one that Joe R. rightly points out is pretty much… Fern Gully with better graphics, it just doesn’t seem that amazing.

None of the usual boxes on the fanboy checklist are filled in –  sure, it’s sci-fi, but it’s not based on some existing comic franchise, as far as I can tell, and it doesn’t star Nathan Fillion.  Joss Whedon has nothing to do with it, either. In fact, the whole thing seems pretty derivative. The video game tie-in looks pretty standard, even though it’s being touted as some kind of big deal – perhaps this is because the central conceit of the film (paraplegic is inserted into 10-foot alien via brain transfer) is videogamey enough to stir interest? I mean, the Far Cry 2 engine is sweet and everything, but the game just sort of looks like Gears of War.

So, what am I missing? Don’t get me wrong, it looks pretty cool, but why is this movie going to be so. effing. great?  Is it really just that it has rad special effects?  Is that even enough to carry a film anymore?

I dunno. I want more. Please illuminate me as to what I am missing.

Tonight! Tonight! Birthdays! Music!

8 Oct

Hotel UtahSo here we are, getting ready to do another large-ensemble show so soon after that last blowout, and with a completely different band, and all-new arrangements. And it’s going to be so much fun. We had a great rehearsal last night, and I can’t believe how burning the musicians in the band are! Dang!

Check it:  in addition to band regulars Dan Apczynski and Dan Nervo on vocals and guitar, I’ll be joined by my old buddy Daniel Fabricant on upright bass, the amazing Alex Kelly on cello, and Marguerite Ostro on violin.  And you guys.  Marguerite?  Is a shredder.  Woah!  She can, like, go toe to toe with Nervo, shred-wise.  She plays in a bunch of other bands around town, most notably the amazingly named Kugelplex, as well as Pickpocket Ensemble, and damn. Wait ’till you hear her.

And the hits just keep on coming –  Joel Behrman, fellow UM alum who plays ridiculous trombone and trumpet, will be playing the latter horn on the gig, and since Lindsay is on tour with Or, The Whale, the amazing Joelle Jaffe (of BLAMMOS) will be filling in on vocals and percussion.

My cousin Rose came up with an excellent way of describing turning 29. As she put it, “I’m in my 30th year.” Word to that – it feels good. And getting to play this music for everyone is pretty much the best way I can think of to spend my birthday; if you’re in San Francisco, I truly hope you can make it out!

Sweet Revenge Chart

On the menu. Now with more modulations!

“Adventureland” – A Hearty Endorsement

23 Sep

Are you looking for a really good movie?  A movie that will make you feel warm and fuzzy about things, about people, that will make you laugh, make you cry, make you want to believe in true love again?  My friend, it is with gusto that I recommend to you Adventureland.

Adventureland Hilltop

It’s not the film you may think it is – though it was directed by the same guy, (Greg Mottola), it is totally not some goofy Superbad-ish comedy about pervy teenagers. Also, though it features Kristen Stewart, AKA “Girl from Twilight,” it is not some overwrought teen romance movie. What it is is a heartfelt, beautifully shot coming-of-age movie with a killer soundtrack, part Dazed and Confused and part Garden State. I mean both of those comparisons in a good way.

It’s kind of like when the Farrely Brothers made “Outside Providence” – based on the ad campaign, everyone thought it was a goofy gross-out flick when it was actually this really sweet, nostalgic, and personal movie about family and one’s place in the world. Just as with Providence, one gets the sense that Adventureland is a very personal film, based on Greg Mottola’s own experience (it is). It also captures a place and time (Pittsburgh in 1987) in much the same manner as Providence captured Rode Island in the 70’s. And the film is similarly well-written, generous to its large, hilarious cast, and really easy on the eyes.

Adventureland Fireworks

Adventureland Lisa P

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig

Adventureland Jessie Eisenberg

Plus, Freaks and Geeks fans rejoice, it features the one and only Martin Starr.  In a speaking role!  That lasts more than a few scenes!

Martin Starr 3

And, as if that weren’t enough, you get to see Bill Hader do this:

Adventureland Bill Hader Baseball Bat

And did I mention?  Martin Starr!!

Adventureland Martin Starr 1

So, seriously.  Go rent it!

The Fantastic Mundane

21 Sep

New Pornographers Twin Cinema DetailI recently read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Matt Zoller Seitz’s article on IFC, titled “The Mundane Fantastic.”  In it, he discusses how even in this age where entire scenes and even films can be composed digitally (with no camera at all), filmmakers still strive to re-create the physical camera. As he points out, they go so far as to add lens flare, camera vibration, simulated hand-held camera jitters, and in one notable case, a speck of dirt on the lens of a camera floating in space.  A speck of dirt that never existed, on a camera that was never there.

The question Zoller Seitz has set out to explore is, “why?” As CGI moves further and further along the path towards being able to re-create reality wholesale without the need of any analog camera or audio equipment, why is it that filmmakers are moving away from the clean, fixed-camera work of earlier films and more towards artificially flawed, “real” seeming work?  As MZS states:

…with cinema in the final stages of its digital evolution — the production process evolving from one that used to be entirely analog, with component pieces (film, tape) that one could literally hold in one’s hand, to a digital process wherein almost every stage is created electronically, and the bits don’t physically exist in quite the same way — it’s worth asking where this craving for “believability” comes from and how it’s being expressed via the camera. I think it has to do with the subliminal knowledge (on the part of filmmakers more so than the viewers) that reality is imperfect, and that to make a moment seem real, one must present it somewhat imprecisely, to counteract the meticulous, slightly inhuman slickness of CGI.

I think he’s onto something, particularly in how he discusses earlier special-effects-driven films, and how by today’s documentary-style, post-Bourne compositional style, even rock ‘em sock ‘em movies like Back To The Future and Terminator 2 seem staid and evenly composed.

The difference between the “Forbidden Planet” approach and the herky-jerky style of so many current special effects-driven movies is the difference between spending a long, meditative afternoon in front of a foreign landmark and Chevy Chase hustling his family from one highlight to another in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”: “Hey, look kids! There’s Big Ben! And there’s Parliament!” Even 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” arguably the opening salvo in CGI’s dominance of the modern special effects epic, feels stately and classical compared to “District 9” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Director James Cameron breaks out the handheld camera for fight scenes, but elsewhere relies on smooth Steadicam and dolly shots (and a fair number of static images and locked-down pans).

N'Dugu ChancellorThe whole thing has me thinking a lot about music production, and about how the exact same questions and trends apply, though on a slightly different timeline. I’ve been listening to a lot of Michael Jackson lately (whether I want to or not), and I can’t help but notice the sparseness, the almost quaint style of his records, particularly Thriller.  The instrumentation on Billie Jean is incredibly sparse – just drums, bass, a single keyboard, and strings.  The tune works like it does because of the almost ridiculously strong groove from drummer N’dugu Chancellor, and the fact that it was recorded in a way that gives what the recording engineer, Bruce Swedien calls “Sonic Personality.” As he points out, there are very few songs that can be immediately identified by the first few drum beats – the amount of work they put into the mix (detailed in Swedien’s afore-linked-to post) really paid off.

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Farewell, Patrick Swayze

15 Sep

"Son, it breaks my heart to say this, but I believe you are a very troubled and confused young man. I believe you are searching for the answers in all the wrong places."

Wow. In what has been a banner year for celebrity deaths, here comes another big one.  Rest in peace, Patrick. Donnie and I never agreed on this, but I never thought you were the fucking antichrist. Far from it, in fact.

So today, I’ll pour one out for you, and remember to: live my life in search of the extreme, to embrace love over fear, to never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary, and to be wild. WILD!!!

(Also, if you’re keeping track, that’s Thriller, Sixteen Candles, and Dirty Dancing, all gone in the space of a few months. 2009 has been a brutal year for the eighties, God.)

At The Movies

31 Aug

District 9District 9– I went in to D9 with no idea what to expect, other than a few images I’d gleaned from the ads.  Actually, I tried to turn off the sound or look away from the ads, too, since I got the feeling that I didn’t want to know too much, anyway.  I was anticipating some sort of mind-bender, with a crazy twist that the mysterious ads were keeping from us, and what I got was a rock-em, sock-em action movie with cool guns and lots of great ultraviolence.  Okay, that’s cool, too!  It wasn’t the game-changer I had expected, but it was really intense, and a lot of fun to watch. Sort of  Children of Men meets The Fly meets Cloverfield meets Predator. Even cooler was that the whole time I was watching, I was convinced that the story was based on a graphic novel or a book or something, but it turns out, it was a wholly original Sci-Fi idea! Wow! How long has it been since one of those made its way into theaters?  The Matrix?

pointbreakPoint Break– The roommates and I have been going through our house’s (frankly, really impressive) VHS collection, watching old movies whenever we’re all around with nothing to do.  The most recent of these screenings was of Kathryn Bigelow-directed “Point Break,” which is about as awesome as you remember it.  What I didn’t remember about the movie was how gorgeously shot all of the surfing scenes are, and how much the film felt as much like an homage to the lifestyle, and to nature, as it did a cop movie.  I think that it’s almost entirely due to Bigelow’s influence – when I saw that she just directed the (by all accounts amazing) “The Hurt Locker,” it made me want to see it even more.

Miller's Crossing HatMiller’s Crossing– For a long time, I was the guy who said that this was my favorite Coen brothers movie (at least, until Yiddish Policemen’s Union comes out).  Re-watching it, I think that in the years since I last saw it, Lebowski has maybe edged it out a bit, only in that the Dude, Walter, and Donnie’s words are never far from my day to day life, and you gotta respect that.  However, Miller’s Crossing is just so effing good.  Especially after watching so much In Treatment, it’s a blast to see Gabriel Byrne in another role, and to see that the Coens clearly saw the same amazing leading-man qualities in him that many in Hollywood never did. That slow, climbing hero-shot in the end!  When was the last time a director practically made out with his leading man like that?  The whole film is so deliberately old-fashioned in tone and style, and the amazing way that Joel Coen gets those tracking shots make it feel fresh.  God, did I just write that?  What is this, an intro to film class?

the_final_destination_4The Final Destination 3-D– Timmy and I went and saw this on Saturday – full disclosure: we went expecting a pretty shitty movie.  And that is exactly what we got.  Man, the 3-D was fun and everything, but whatever spark of originality the Destination movies had is long gone. I’m fairly certain that they weren’t all always this bad – the first one had Ally Larter, and the dude from Candyman, and Stiffler, and that freak-out with the bus killing the chick… I just remember it being really fun to watch, dark and funny and a trip to realize that the slasher in this slasher film was Death itself. The second and third ones (though they kinda blend together in my mind) were also cool, with callbacks to the original, and some rad gross-out deaths.  This fourth one just felt phoned in, and they even had the balls to call it “THE Final Destination.”  Based on that title, was it too much to expect something awesome? There were a handful of cool gross-outs the whole time, and the script and pacing were so lame… I could go on, but whatever.  It was crappy.  If it comes out on DVD not in 3-D, it’s not even worth looking at.  Drag Me To Hell, even rated PG-13 and in normal 2-D, rocked this movie into next year.

NickNora_1lgNick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist– So, a year after this big music movie came out, I finally saw it.  Hmm.  I dunno, I have the sneaking suspicion that I just watched a 90-minute ad for a bunch of bands from Sony’s record labels.  The movie itself didn’t really… exist?  Though I’m actually willing to forgive a lot, since it sort of just floats along, with two really likable leads talking and flirting and being cutting and winning and sarcastic the whole time.  Sort of a lot like American Graffiti, which isn’t a bad thing, so much, and all of the songs features did sound very nice. Kind of a lot like Garden State, you know, depressed mopy indie dude meets weird, cool girl and they realize they’re meant to be while great bands that the director thinks You Should Know About play in the background. But I liked Garden State, too. I guess I’m more on the Stephanie Zacharek side than the Roger Ebert side.  Though the “sex” scene in the recording studio seemed kinda gratuitous.  What was that all about, exactly? Staying true to the source material or something?


Wow, this was a pretty great summer for movies – Star Trek, Up, Drag Me To Hell, District 9… and I didn’t get to see Half-Blood Prince or Ponyo, either. Add to those earlier releases like Coraline, which I thought was bloody awesome, and Watchmen, which was also freakin’ sweet, and the year so far looks even better. I just saw Joe’s Low Resolution list of the best films of the year so far, which reminded me of even more movies I really want to see – The Brothers Bloom, In The Loop, Inglorious Basterds, Away we Go, The Hurt Locker, and Humpday, and damn! 2009’s been a pretty good year!

So I Think This About Sums It Up

5 Aug

True Lies Tango vs. Jeanine 1

True Lies Tango vs. Jeanine 2

True Lies Tango vs. Jeanine 3

True Lies Tango vs. Jeanine 4

True Lies Tango vs. Jeanine 5

Michael McKean Smells The Glove

30 Jul

Michael McKean on The Daily ShowI caught Spinal Tap’s recent performance on The Daily Show and damn, they sounded pretty good!  I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought of the band as a real performing entity, for whatever reason; hmm… actually, if you’ve seen the movie (tell me you’ve seen the movie), it’s pretty clear why.

As The Darkness proved, we Americans tend to have a hard time taking rock acts seriously if they’re the least bit funny; for whatever reason, we like our comedy music with props and acoustic guitars, thank you very much. Spinal tap was very funny, and American that I am, I just never considered that they were a serious performing rock group.

I was impressed with everyone’s playing (their hired gun drummer sounded really solid, though the gig must come with hazard pay), but the most impressive by far was Michael McKean, (A.K.A. “David St. Hubbins”). In addition to singing lead, McKean played a mean lead guitar, keeping some notey riffs going during the vocals and taking a pretty damn good solo.  Huh.  I always knew that all three of the guys in the band (McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest) were strong players – if nothing else, their acoustic performances in A Mighty Wind made that clear – but it was pretty cool to hear them hold their own in a straight-up rock performance.


"The French know nothing about shampooing."

I looked up McKean, and it turns out he’s known as much for his musical work as for his comedic roles.  After doing a ton of various musical variety acts in his early career, he was a musical guest on Saturday Night Live before joining the cast (according to Wikipedia, he is the only person ever to be a musical guest, then a host, and then a cast member). The guy is just always working – he’s a quintessential Hey It’s That Guy, currently playing Spinal Tap shows in support of the band’s new album, writing a musical for Broadway, and starring in various plays and TV pilots (one of which, “The Thick Of It,” sounds like it would have been great – Hurwitz! Guest! WTF, ABC? Get on it, HBO!)

Also cool – together with his wife Anette O’Toole, McKean wrote several songs from A Mighty Wind, including the title tune (“Yes, it’s blowin’ peace and freedom, it’s blowin’ you and me“), and the beautiful “A Kiss At The End Of The Rainbow,” a song so great that it single-handedly makes that movie compete with “Best in Show” for my favorite of the Guest ouvre.

And perhaps best of all?  He starred in one of my all-time favorite movies, playing Mr. Green in “Clue”! Mr. Green has long been my favorite character in that movie, and I had no idea McKean played him, though, to be fair, it was long enough ago that he looks completely different.  I guess I’ll just have to force myself to watch that movie again.

So, ladies and gents, I give you Michael McKean –  Singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor, comedian, and undercover FBI agent. Comedy rennaissance man; king of the Hey It’s That Guys.  Props to you, sir.

Michael McKean Mr. Green Clue

"I'm gonna go home and sleep with my wife."

Coraline, Coraline, Coraline

26 Jul

Coraline CatOn the flight out to Minnesota, I watched Coraline, which has just come out on DVD. I plugged in my earphones, fired up the movie, and then… just sat there, transfixed, for the entire running time. Woah. I can’t recommend seeing it enough – it’s an work of incredible, dark beauty, a painstakingly hand-made fairy tale in which no expense was spared bringing the director’s vision to life. What’s more, the film burrows straight into the viewer’s subconscious and delivers an experience that will haunt you long after the credits have rolled. It just might be my favorite move of the year.

As I’ve previously waxed rhapsodic about my love of The Nightmare Before Christmas, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was excited for Coraline – after all, it was written and directed by Henry Selick, the same guy who directed Nightmare, and it uses the same stop-motion technology. However, free from the (increasingly tired, IMO) influence of Tim Burton, Selick has, with Coraline, created something that works just as well, and at times, even better, than his previous film.

Nightmare was a really fun movie that leaned heavily on its incredible music and set-pieces, but the overarching story, the moral of the whole thing, always felt a little bit weak to me – something about being yourself, and being happy for that, but the implementation was just not quite firing on all cylinders. This is not the case with Coraline.

There is a noticeable similarity between the protagonists’ character arcs in both films – Jack/Coraline is tired of his/her existence and takes it for granted, finds magical portal to other world, wants to live in other world, realizes in moment of great peril that perhaps other world is not all it’s cracked up to be, finds way home with new-found appreciation for everyday life… However, the big difference between the films is what’s going on under the surface – in Nightmare, all of the little visual coups des graces, the fun details, seemed created in service of making a whimsical, fully-realized world. In Coraline, the same sorts of details feel designed to creep you the fuck out.

Coraline Doll Dissection 2

Take the film’s opening, which is one of the most brilliant, unsettling credit sequences I’ve seen in a long time. Spidery, metallic hands methodically disrobe, cut open, and gut a girl-shaped cloth doll, emptying out its innards, turning it inside out, and re-stitching it. The whole thing is just horrific – by showing us just enough to get us thinking about what it would be like should we be watching a real girl instead of a doll, the sequence sets the film’s tone right away.

Coraline Birth Canal

Paging Dr. Freud, you've got a call on three.

Coraline is filled with that sort of trickery – rather than merely showing the viewer something, it works at our subconscious, allowing us to come to our own (most assuredly not PG-rated) conclusions. In that way, it’s the most Jungian film I’ve seen in a long time. Modern Jackass alert: in a brilliant play on the idea of motherhood, Coraline crawls to the new world through a long, pink tunnel that not-so-coincidentally resembles a birth canal. She is then “reborn” into a world in which her mother is a freakish caricature of maternal love, in which, indeed (spoiler) that mother is really a soul-sucking metallic spider, a monster who will kill her by “loving her to death,” a process which we are left to imagine for ourselves. This world is initially thought by Coraline to be a dream, to exist only in her unconscious, And do I need to get into the deep, disturbing concept of cutting out a little girl’s eyes and sewing on buttons? At the film’s conclusion, once our heroine has realized the truth, saved her parents, and escaped, where does she throw the key to the tunnel? That’s right, straight down a well. Ahem.

There are other, smaller pokes at our subconscious, as well, several of which are literary in nature – in an homage to Alice in Wonderland (and I challenge Tim Burton’s remake to come close to capturing the magic on display in Selick’s film), we’ve got a grinning, know-it-all cat who appears and disappears at will, and there’s a brilliant scene in which a giant cockroach shuffles from the dark to block a doorway. (Are you there, Kafka? It’s me, Coraline.)

The edges of every scene are filled with subtle, violent imagery, like how Coraline’s Other Mother uses an oven mitt shaped like a rooster head (implying severing of said head), as well as more overtly disturbing stuff including a particularly memorable scene in which the gymnast from upstairs jumps down and lands over Coraline just after she’s picked up a pair of pruning shears, resulting in a chilling near-castration:

Coraline Almost Accidental Castration

Yikes. It’s onscreen for a fraction of a second, and film doesn’t even comment on it, opting to just keep on moving, letting anyone who caught it do the math.

From the beginning to the end credits, the music is absolutely incredible. Bruno Coulais is a French composer whose work I’ve never heard – he did the score for Microcosmos and Winged Migration, and while I haven’t seen those two movies, I’ve heard that they’re both great, and could see Coulais’ music working in a documentary. It’s all plucked harps, children’s choirs, guitars and percussion, marimba and hand drumming, with a brilliant sense of motion – sort of French lyrical song by way of Thomas Newman. The songs are mostly en Francais, which heightens the feeling that you’re watching an old-school European fairy tale. It’s really beautiful stuff – you can hear one of the main tracks here, and I recommend just putting it on, watching the images, and listening.

Other Father Song CoralineAs if Coulais hadn’t done enough to win me over with his score, at one point in the film the button-eyed “Other Father,” (voiced by John Hodgman), sings the wonderfully weird “Other Father Song,” which, about five notes in, I realized was written by They Might Be Giants and sung by John Flansburgh. The song is really fun, and just weird enough to seem celebratory while also relentlessly pinging viewers’ creep-out detectors. Bonus points for the lyric “She’s as cute as a button in the eyes of everyone who ever laid their eyes on Coraline.” Ha ha ha *shudder*.

There is so much more to love about this movie – I mean, a trapeze show is performed for an audience of 200-odd hand-made miniature Scottish Terriers – but if you’ve seen it, you already know what I’m talking about. It’s a work of incredible imagination and the product of an unfathomable amount of hard work. Ye gods, to hand-make so many miniature people, their clothes, their house and surroundings, and then to bring them to life one by one… it’s a labor of love the scale of which blows my mind.

I can’t recommend Coraline enough. It is without a doubt one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and seems destined to be one that I re-watch for years to come.

Coraline Other Parents

I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul!

8 Jun

Drag Me To Hell Gypsy

…and this time, there’s no Ash around to supply a pithy comeback.  Nope, Drag Me To Hell has no safety net, it’s just freak-out jump cut after hilarious gross-out after freak-out jump cut after hilarious gross-out… it’s all reward and no work, and totally awesome from start to finish.  It is also, apparently, Sam Raimi’s attempt to work out his oral fixation, since the film features the most ridiculous amount of oral discharge – be it puke, offal, bile, worms, flies, red goo, whole arms, or dead animal bits – I’ve ever seen in a movie.

And since I’m talking about music in movies lately, I’ll say that I thought Christopher Young did a great job with the score, in particular using violin double-stops really interestingly.  Of course, the guy’s been doing horror scores since, like, Nightmare On Elm Street 2 and Hellraiser, so he’s got the whole “single high-note piano trill of scaryness” thing down, too. At its heart, music is about tension and release, and horror films seem to revel in the basest, most elemental expression of that same juxtoposition (build-up…build-up…build-up….SCARE!!AAAAA!!).  I can imagine that, with a director as good as Raimi building tension into a movie as fun as Drag Me To Hell, Young must’ve had a fucking blast allowing his music to take that tension and release to its logical conclusion.

Anyway, do yourself a favor and go see it. When you walk out of the theater, if you’re feeling a little freaked out, just remember – it was only a movie, and everything’s gonna be okay:


That Michael Giacchino is So Hot Right Now

6 Jun

UpLast night, I saw “Up.”  It was really, really great. In terms of drama and story, it wasn’t on the same level for me as, say, “The Incredibles” or “Ratatouille,” but the visuals, the artistry of the film… the incredible use of color, framing, and expression to convey the emotional transformations in the story… unforgettable.  In 3D particularly – I’m not sure if I’m ready to say that 3D is gonna be the thing that brings people back to the theatres, but it certainly was cool.

All three of those films have something in common – they were all scored by Michael Giacchino. I’ve been aware of the man since hearing (and digging) his jazzy, spy-movieish score for “The Incredibles,” but it wasn’t too long ago that no one had heard of him at all.

After working for several years in the video game world (scoring some movie tie-ins and a few WWII shooters), Giacchino got his first break when he was tapped to do the music for J.J. Abrams’ second show, “Alias.”  He clearly did a good job (though my main musical memory of that show is the awesome Abrams-penned opening theme music), because in 2004, Abrams came to him with his second project, a quaint little tropical island romp you may have heard of called “Lost.”

Soon thereafter, Giacchino was dealing out the groaning, keening music for which “Lost” is now famous, a score which I’d say has as much if not more to do with evoking the show’s unmoored, mysterious atmosphere than any other single element of its production.

At the same time, he was brought on to score Brad Bird’s first film for Pixar, “The Incredibles,” and did a fantastic job. Parts of his score actually call to mind Jeff Richmond’s opening credits for 30 Rock, with a little bit of vintage spy-movie string lines. He also slyly used 5/4 time as a way to invoke the Mission Impossible theme without actually quoting it – (well played, Giacchino, very well played). Also fitting, since he would go on to score Abrams’ underrated entry into the MI canon, Mission Impossible III.  Anyway, I flipping loved “The Incredibles,” and the music brings it back for me, every time.

So, while “Incredibles” was kicking ass in box offices nationwide, “Lost” was topping the Nielson ratings. By 2006, five years after first starting on “Alias,” Giacchino had gone from working on video-game adaptations of movies to being the composer of choice for Abrams, one of the most happening young producers in Hollywood and being tapped by Brad Bird for his second Pixar film, the wonderful “Ratatouille.”  Giacchino’s score for that movie (a film which I dearly love) is just great stuff… listening to it is like being lightly asleep and half-dreaming of Paris, the winding streets and cobblestones, old buildings and tiny cafe tables.  Aah!  Love.  What’s more, his song “Le Festin” went on to be nominated for an Academy Award, further cementing his place as one of the most successful composers in Hollywood.

Giacchino’s work in “Up” is similar to that in “Ratatouille” in that it’s largely in 3/4 time and has a sort of dreamy, European quality.  The main theme is absolutely wonderful, the soundtrack to some primordial hot-air balloon dream ingrained on the collective subconscious.  His score is, at times, incredibly wrenching; his handling of the opening montage of Carl’s life is is both larger-than-life and incredibly delicate, and never short of beautiful.  Actually, I’d describe the whole film that way.

And in addition to all of his work for Pixar, Giacchino has remained J.J. Abrams’ go-to music guy, providing music for “Fringe” (which I really like, particularly the Muse-esque opening credits) as well as the the recent “Star Trek” (a score which,  as I remember it, evoked the original while boldly going in its own direction, much like the film itself). His progression has been really fun to watch, from his early work in TV and video games to his ascent to one of the most in-demand cats in Hollywood, simultaneously working for one of the highest-rated shows on TV AND the most consistently exceptional animation house in the world. That’s pretty damn cool.

And yeah, he also did “Land of the Lost,” but hey – a gig’s a gig.


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