Song of the Day: Django (by Luis Bacalov)


So, over the weekend I was finally able to catch the latest from Quentin Tarantino. To say that I enjoyed Django Unchained would be an understatement. Review of the film will be coming forthwith. One thing I really loved about this film was how Tarantino continues to pay homage to the very films he has used to inspire the ones he himself makes. This is clearly evident when one hears the original title song from the original Django play out in the beginning of Django Unchained.

Simply titled “Django” this song was composed by Luis Bacalov with lyrics by Franco Migliacci and sung by Roberto Fia. For fans of the spaghetti western this song is just as iconic as those composed by Ennio Morricone for Sergio Leone’s “The Man With No Name” trilogy of spaghetti westerns. Where Ennio’s compositions were more in line with Leone’s more serious take on the Italian view of the western, Bacalov’s “Django” definitely has a much more grindhouse feel to it. It sounds like something that would be heard in a western, but also has that 60’s era folk rock sound.

For those who have been loving Tarantino’s spaghetti western should really go search out Sergio Corbucci’s original Django and also Bacalov’s score work.

Django

Chorus: django!

Django, have you always been alone?

Chorus: django!

Django, have you never loved again?
Love will live on, oh oh oh…
Life must go on, oh oh oh…
For you cannot spend your life regreatting.

Chorus: django!

Django, you must face another day.

Chorus: django!

Django, now your love has gone away.
Once you loved her, whoa-oh…
Now you’ve lost her, whoa-oh-oh-oh…
But you’ve lost her for-ever, django.

When there are clouds in the skies, and they are grey.
You may be sad but remember that love will pass away.

Oh django!
After the showers is the sun.
Will be shining…

[instrumental solo]

Once you loved her, whoa-oh…
Now you’ve lost her, whoa-oh-oh-oh…
But you’ve lost her for-ever, django.

When there are clouds in the skies, and they are grey.
You may be sad but remember that love will pass away.
Oh django!
After the showers is the sun.
Will be shining…
Django!
Oh oh oh django!
You must go on,
Oh oh oh django…

Poll: Which Films Are You Most Looking Forward To Seeing In February?


Last month’s results can be seen here.

As always, you can vote for up to 4 films and write-ins are allowed.

Happy voting!

Lisa Marie’s Favorite Film of 2012: Anna Karenina (dir by Joe Wright)


For the most part, 2012 was a bland year as far as cinema is concerned.  The most acclaimed films of the year (Argo and Lincoln being two obvious examples) were well-made and often entertaining but they were hardly revolutionary.  2012 was the year that the establishment told us what we should enjoy and, for the most part, film critics slavishly hopped on the bandwagon.  As you can probably guess, 2012 was not my favorite year as far as the movies are concerned.  That said, there were a few films that gave me hope.  As the year ends, despite being underwhelmed by most of the films that were released, there are a few that I truly did love.

My favorite film of 2011 was a criminally underappreciated film from director Joe Wright.  That name of that film was Hanna.  My favorite film of 2012 is another criminally underappreciated film from director Joe Wright.  The name of this film?  Anna Karenina.*

History has a way of repeating itself.

Anna Karenina is, of course, based on the classic novel by Leo Tolstoy.  Anna Karenina (played, quite brilliantly, by Kiera Knightley) is the wife of the noble (but somewhat boring and judgmental) Russian statesman Alex Karenin (Jude Law, who is also quite brilliant and rather tragic in a role that, in lesser hands, could have become a stock villain).  When Anna’s good-for-nothing brother (played in a wonderfully comedic performance by Matthew MacFayden) is caught cheating on his wife, Anna leaves her safe home in St. Petersburg and travels to Moscow where she helps to save her brother’s marriage and meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Among the members of the Russian high society, it is well-known that Vronsky is pursuing the hand of the young and beautiful Kitty (Alicia Vikander, who generates a lot of sympathy for a character who, at the start of the film, could easily have been portrayed as just a spoiled brat).  However, at the ball where it is widely expected that Vronsky will ask Kitty to marry him, Vronsky creates a scandal by dancing with Anna instead.

Vronsky loses interest in Kitty and instead, he now obsessively pursues the married Anna.  Though Anna is resistant at first, she finally gives in and embarks on an adulterous affair with Vronsky, resulting in scandal and tragedy.

Again, history repeats itself.  The story of Anna Karenina is a familiar one that has been told repeatedly over the ages.  That’s one reason why Tolstoy’s novel has remained one of the greatest novels ever written and why it has been adapted into so many other mediums.  Director Joe Wright begins Anna Karenina with the assumption that the majority of the people in his audience already know the story of Anna’s ill-fated love affair with Vronsky.  As such, he puts less emphasis on the story itself and more on how the story is told.

Anna Karenina is a masterpiece of style.  When the film opens, Wright has his actors literally performing on a stage.  When Anna travels to Moscow, a miniature train is seen rolling across the stage.  When the scene changes from a factory to a high society ball, the factory workers walk backstage, change costumes, and then step back onstage, suddenly transformed into noblemen.  At one point, we even see a janitor nonchalantly cleaning up the now-empty theater while the story continues to play out on the stage in front of him.  When Anna and Vronsky dance for the first time, the other actors freeze in place and a spotlight shines down on the dancing couple.  It’s an amazingly romantic moment, one to which anyone who has ever been infatuated will be able to relate.  Finally, a door opens onstage and the characters (and the viewing audience) are able to step out into the “real” world but, throughout the film, we occasionally return to that stage.  While several critics have criticized this aspect of the film, I thought it was brilliant.  By literally putting his actors on stage, Wright both acknowledges that this is a story that may be familiar but can be interpreted in many different ways and he also drives home the point that, ultimately, we are all just actors on a stage, being observed and judged by a society that is often hostile to any sign of individual desire or unpredictable  emotion.

Needless to say, the film’s extreme stylization is not for everyone.  That’s actually one of the reasons that I love this version of Anna Karenina so much.  In a year that was almost excessively safe, Joe Wright took a risk and, as a result, encouraged us to look at a familiar story in a different way.  For that reason, Anna Karenina is my favorite film of 2012.

—-

* For the record, my second favorite film of 2012 was The Cabin In The Woods.

Review: Blizzard Entertainment – Mists of Pandaria


I had pretty mixed expectations for the soundtrack to Mists of Pandaria. One the one hand, Blizzard’s scores embarked on a downward spiral starting in 2010. Cataclysm was a poorly planned expansion, and its lack of a clear focus and theme had a serious impact on the music. Russell Brower, Derek Duke, and Glenn Stafford did an outstanding job on Wrath of the Lich King in 2008, but the Cataclysm sound team faced a weak, haphazard plot and (I would imagine) a great deal of frustration as Blizzard scrapped some of their major plans for the expansion mid-stride. Diablo 3 was equally disappointing, with the inexcusable failure to bring back Matt Uelmen taking its toll. I was beginning to think Blizzard had abandoned any serious commitment to ensuring high quality music in their games.

On the other hand, there was no doubt as to what Mists of Pandaria would be about. Just as Wrath of the Lich King had a clearly Nordic vibe from start to finish, Pandaria was thoroughly immersed in Eastern culture and tradition, with a wealth of pre-existing musical themes upon which to build a score. It also brought video game music legend Jeremy Soule into the mix; but considering Cataclysm fell flat in spite of involving David Arkenstone, I wasn’t going to get too excited about this one until I heard it.

As it turns out, Mists of Pandaria might be Blizzard’s best soundtrack to date. Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Sam Cardon, Edo Guidotti, and Jeremy Soule clearly did their research, and the expansion presents a delicious mix of authentic Chinese folk and big-ticket film/game scoring. I am ill-equipped to compare it to similar contemporary soundtracks–I don’t watch movies, and I really haven’t kept up with game soundtracks for the better part of a decade now–but as an avid World of Warcraft fan who plays with the sound on, I can safely say that the music this go around is a fundamental, essential element of the gameplay. This really hasn’t been the case since Wrath of the Lich King. Hour of Twilight (Dragon Soul) had one of the most unconvincing scores in Blizzard’s catalog, for a patch that felt rushed and entirely uninspired. It was a force-fed collection of dramatic stereotypes, and it’s hard to imagine what else it really could have been in the context of the raid. Mists of Pandaria, in contrast, is packed with lively anthems that bring the action to life on a level to par with the mechanical and visual appeal.

My favorite track so far is the music to the Shado-Pan Monastery dungeon. It’s a dungeon that, I think, would hedge on the side of tedious were it not for the score. The Master Snowdrift boss battle begins with a semi-choreographed fight against Pandarian monks who take turns jumping into a ring to engage you. I don’t know if the music is intentionally timed to cue with the fight or if it has just happened that way the two or three times I’ve played through it, but the heavy drumming that starts about 2 minutes into this clip seems to sync up with the start of combat. Playing the game in silence, you might find yourself impatiently waiting for the new challengers to engage you, yawning and tapping your foot to press through and collect 80 valor points. With the music on, it’s one of the most engaging experiences of the expansion: the sweeping anthem gives the fight a cinematic feel, and it’s easy to forget that you’re actively playing a game, not watching a movie. It was on my first play through Shado-Pan Monastery that what Russell Brower and co accomplished in this expansion really hit home. In Wrath of the Lich King, it was the slower-paced themes like Grizzly Hills and Dalaran that moved me the most, capturing the timeless, snow-covered landscapes and subduing the combat experience. In Mists of Pandaria they certainly still achieve top quality questing zone ambiance, but for the first time in a Blizzard game I am also hearing songs that suitably enhance the action.

That, at least, stands for the casual encounters. I have yet to really pay attention to the music while raiding. In a sense, the raids demand the best tunes Blizzard’s sound team have to offer, but they are also the part of gameplay in which you are most focused on what you’re doing and least inclined to sit back and take in the audiovisual experience. What I can certainly say is that for the first time in a while I feel inspired to at least make an effort to pay attention to that experience. For now, I’d like to call further attention to the more ambient, questing zone tracks. The degree to which they managed to incorporate traditional Chinese instrumentation into the score is admirable, and to the best of my knowledge none of the musicians accredited with the Mists of Pandaria soundtrack specialize in Chinese traditional music. The score is certainly of a western film style at heart, and you would never mistake their Eastern fusion for authentic Chinese folk, but such inclusions as a pipa at the outset of “The River” are delicious indulgences that enhance the gameplay experience far beyond what was necessary for the composers to earn their paychecks. Mists of Pandaria is just packed with little Easter eggs that show how much fun Blizzard must have had making this game. (I love how two early, relatively insignificant NPCs you encounter in Jade Forest are named Ren and Lina Whitepaw, as in Ren and Li–Humaneness and Ritual–two of the principles of Confucianism.) Mist of Pandaria’s music offers the same tip of the hat to those of us casually informed on Chinese tradition, and I get a constant thrill in recognizing moments that resemble my beloved eight-volume Chinese Ancient Music Series collection.

Bravo to Blizzard for doing this one right through and through. It’s no masterpiece independent of the video game for which it was composed–I wouldn’t sit around listening to it while not playing the game as I would for say, a Nobuo Uematsu score–but it is an essential component of Mists of Pandaria in a way that the music of Cataclysm never was. Mists of Pandaria is one of the most visually stunning games Blizzard has yet produced, and it’s got a soundtrack to match. I wouldn’t necessarily say I like it more than Wrath of the Lich King, but it achieves the same level of quality while set to a drastically different theme and landscape.

The First 6 Minutes of “Maniac” Remake


Maniac Remake

There was one film that had caught my interest once the project was announced in late 2011. The film was going to be the horror remake of the classic, grindhouse slasher flick from 1980 called Maniac. This film is considered by many fan of the grindhouse and exploitation scene as a classic in the slasher genre. It was also hailed by many moral groups as a prime example of how horror cinema was beginning to reach “pornographic levels of violence” especially towards female victims.

So, it was quite an interesting bit of news when the remake was announced and Frodo Baggins himself would take on the role of the film’s serial killer in Frank. It was an inspired bit of casting that gave the film’s early production a much needed boost in interest. It’s now been over a year and the film has made the genre film festival circuits and the buzz surrounding the Franck Khalfoun-directed film is that it more than lives up to the grindhouse and exploitation aesthetics of the original while bringing in a fresh new stylistic take on the slasher genre.

We have below is the first 6 minutes of the Maniac remake and one can see how creepy the POV-style the filmmakers are going to take for the film has turned out.

There’s still no release date announced for Maniac.

What Lisa and Megan Watched Last Night #62: California Dreams S3E3 “Budget Cuts” (dir. by Patrick Maloney)


Last night, my sister Megan and I continued to bond over episodes of bad sitcoms from the 1990s.  Among those episodes was “Budget Cuts,” from the third season of California Dreams.

Why Were We Watching It?

I’ve been spending this holiday week visiting my wonderful sister Megan in Ft. Worth and, for the past few days, we’ve been bonding over the fact that she has almost every single episode of Saved By The Bell: The New Class and California Dreams on DVD.

(Personally, SBTB: TNC has a lot of nostalgia value for me but Megan claims that California Dreams was a “thousand times better” than either the original Saved By The Bell or The New Class.)

Last night, we watched several randomly selected episodes of both SBTB: TNC and California Dreams and, out of all of them, “Budget Cuts” is the one that really stood out.

What Was It About?

Much like the “Belding’s Prank” episode of SBTB: TNC, “Budget Cuts” is an episode that seems to take place in a high school that has an absurdly powerful student body.  The school also has its very own radio station that broadcasts nonstop over the course of the entire day.  I’m not really sure how this would work, since it seems like this would interfere with things like students going to and concentrating in class but maybe that’s just the way things were in California during the mid-90s.

Anyway, sleazy Sly Winkle (played by Michael Cade) is given control of the radio station and he promptly gives shows to all of his friends.  Mark (Aaron Jackson) is a bitchy critic in the style of Addison DeWitt.  Sam (Jennie Kwan) gives love advice to a caller who, in the opinion of both me and Megan, was just a guy wearing an ugly wig.  Lorena (Diana Uribe) has a show that’s all about fashion.  (Yay!)  And Jake (Jay Anthony Franke) has a show where he tells people to “Shut up and listen!”

Anyway, the school board is making budget cuts and it appears that the radio station is going to be closed down!  After being pressured by Jake, Lorena ends up locking herself in the studio and refusing to come out until the school board agrees to hear the student demands.

Somehow, this works and then, fortunately, Jake shows up at the school board meeting and OH MY GOD!  JAKE’S WEARING A SUIT!  The live studio audience goes crazy at the sight of Jake all dressed up and with good reason.  The boy cleans up well.

But will it be enough to save the radio station?

What Worked?

Every teen sitcom has to have at least one episode where the show’s resident rebel makes an appearance wearing a suit as opposed to his leather jacket.  This, of course, is because we all know that the most important thing about a rebel is that he should be able to clean up well.  In this episode, Jay Anthony Franke cleans up very well.

What Did Not Work?

Four words: “Absurdly powerful student body.”  Seriously.  Between California Dreams and Saved By The Bell, California appears to be a state where teenagers are given the equivalent of diplomatic immunity.

“OH MY GOD!  JUST LIKE US!” Moments

Both Megan and I agreed that we both identified with the character of Lorena, both because of her temper and her sense of fashion.

Though this episode of California Dreams didn’t actually feature the band performing, Megan and I still decided that we should start a band of our own.  We’re going to call ourselves the Cleavage Sisters and we’re going to hire David Foster to write aggressively bland songs for us.  Megan will sing them while I dance around the stage.  It’ll be fun!

Lessons Learned

Sometimes, people don’t like to be told to “shut up and listen.”

A Blast From The Past: Dating (1970)


As I may have mentioned a few times in the past, I am secretly a huge history nerd.  I am fascinated by the past and I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to learn about the past is to watch movies that were specifically made to be shown to the children and teenagers of the past.  I’m talking, of course, about educational films.

Take, for instance, this oddly dark little gem from 1970: Dating.

Dating may, on the surface, appear to just be an educational film about teen dating but I think it’s actually a portrait of generational ennui, envy, and repression.  It also features some vintage 70s fashion, dancing, and perhaps the most dreary party in the history of dreary parties.  If nothing else, this film shows that while the customs may change, the drama remains the same.  

Before there was Degrassi, there was Dating!