The Rock (1996) – Michael Bay

rockMichael Bay finds his way back onto the 101 Action Movies to see before you die, and brings an impressive cast with him, in this, my favorite of his films.

With his usual pacing and editing, Bay makes a full-out action movies with a surprisingly sympathetic villain. Ed Harris plays General Hummel, who has lost too many men under his command to black ops, and wants the families and loved ones left behind taken care of by a government who owes these soldiers. After years of trying to play it by the book, he and a select group of former allies seize control of Alcatraz, the Rock, holding the tourists there hostage and threatening to launch a chemical attack on San Francisco.

The FBI sends in their own team, seen over by a SEAL in the form of Commander Anderson (Michael Biehn) with biochemist Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) in tow. But seeing as no one has ‘officially’ ever escaped from Alcatraz, they forcibly recruit a political prisoner who no longer exists, former MI6 operative John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery), the only one to ever escape the inescapable prison.

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Packed with an all-star cast including Tony Todd, David Morse (this man needs to be in more things!), Vanessa Marcil, John C. McGinley, John Spencer, William Forsythe and Claire Forlani, the film starts with a bang, and doesn’t let up until the final moments of the film.

There are explosions, chases and gunfights aplenty as Mason and Goodspeed try to beat the clock before the island prison is targeted for an air strike. The film is a rollercoaster ride, and is still a lot of fun, with a driving score by Hans Zimmer highlighting the action (this and Gladiator are probably my favorite of Zimmer’s scores).

Yes, the film has Bay’s trademark, no shot longer than 5 seconds editing (actually I’ve heard for this film, the average shot length is 2.7 seconds!), but it is still a great film to watch. From the Humvee chase through San Francisco to the bath room massacre to the approaching air strike the film doesn’t give you a chance to catch your breath.

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It’s fun to watch Connery and Cage banter as their relationship develops, but there’s never any doubt that Mason could snap Goodspeed in half if he felt like it. Mason is reserved cool, while Goodspeed is wired and a little intense, and it plays for the duo perfectly.

It’s raucous, loud, over-the-top, and it’s still a lot of fun, this was the first in a string of action films that Cage made, he followed it up with Con Air and then Face/Off, and as much as I enjoy the other two, and Face/Off is coming up on the list, this is probably my favorite of the Cage action trilogy.

One could blow this off as another Bay summer action film, but with the casts’ pedigree behind it, it’s definitely worth a look!

What’s your fave of the Cage action trilogy of the 90s?

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Film Scores – A Whistler’s Tale

I’m a whistler, and a dreamer… and “Binary Sunset” is one of my favorite thoughtful, hopeful and slightly sad things to whistle, especially when I’m thinking about my future, and watching the horizon.

Whistling.

I do it all the time, and I carry a huge repertoire in my mind, and on my ipod.

In the case of my whistling, film scores tend to be my default setting.

Since I was a child, they have been playing in my head. In point of fact, before I even owned my first LP or cassette tape I can remember playing in my school’s playground on a weekend. I had brought some of my Star Wars figures, and I can remember being on the edge of the merry-go-round playing with them, whistling a never-ending medley of themes and cues from a film I had only seen once at that point, whistling over and over music by a composer whose name I didn’t even now yet, believe Mr. Willilams (can I call you John?) I have more than made up for that slip.

When the 1980s rolled around and I got my first walkman as a birthday present (I think it was my birthday, it may have been for Easter). One of the very first cassettes I bought to go with it was the score from Return of the Jedi.

I wore that tape out.

I would listen to it over and over, I knew every moment of that score.

I also played my soundtrack LPs repeatedly as well, I introduced myself to John Barry through his fantastic score for The Black Hole, and James Horner through his stirring compositions for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and I would wear out my Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and Braveheart soundtracks.

But cassette tapes were my passion, before I had my own CD player, I had tons of them. Anytime my meager allowance came along, or babysitting money, or my small income from working as a stock boy at the CanEx I would find yet another soundtrack or score to add to it (or a pop tape, but more often a soundtrack).

It was during this accumulation of tapes that I discovered the wonderful compositions of Jerry Goldsmith. My favorite scores of his continue to be the soundtrack for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien. Both of these soundtracks just keep circling in my head.

I’m well aware that he has composed so many more other scores, and I even have some of them, but his work for sci-fi films seem to resonate the most with me.

John Williams of course, seems to have scored my entire life, and I think I actually have most of his collaborations with Steven Spielberg, and none of them disappoint.

For me, one of the highlights of knowing that there were new Star Wars movies coming out, when the rumors of prequels started, was that no matter what the films were like, there would be three new soundtracks filled with music from the Star Wars universe by the man who wrote the original music (specific tracks are Duel of the Fates, Battle of the Heroes, and the Main Titles & Revenge of the Sith – Williams is the man!).

That is saying nothing about the impact he had on me with the Raiders March, the piano end titles of E.T., the music cues mentioned in my Raiders of the Lost Ark post, the theme from Jurassic Park, any cue from Jaws, the ebullient tones from Close Encounters, Hedwig’s theme, the violin work in Schindler’s List…

It goes on and on…

I was also lucky to discover Alan Silvestri, who turned in fantastic work for the films of Robert Zemeckis including  Romancing the Stone, all three Back to the Futures and of course, the amazing score for Contact.

I especially love the cue/track, “Good to go.”

I have always loved films scores, and composers who use a full orchestra. It can give you huge sweeping moments, stirring strings, and then quiet tiny cues that can break your heart.

Howard Shore’s work on the Lord of the Rings films are great examples of that. He composes music that serves the film, and never over powers it, it simply enhances the viewing experience, and I do like when my brain just randomly cues one of those tracks in my head to whistle.

I can’t wait to see what he does with the Hobbit!

There are some composers who use a combination of synthetic and orchestral sounds, Hans Zimmer (whose score on Gladiator is his best in my opinion), Daft Punk’s score for Tron Legacy, the Chemical Brothers use of tones and electronica for Hanna.

But for me a score stands on whether I whistle it or not, and Silvestri, Williams, Barry and Goldsmith are for me, the titans in composing circles.

I have one more name to add to that list, and this compose seems to be the hardest working composer in film today. Or at least he seems to be, his name seems to pop up everywhere.

His name…

Michael Giacchino.

He’s everywhere, and he doesn’t keep his work merely on the big screen, he’s scored videogames, as well as TV series, most notably Fringe, Alcatraz, and Lost. He has a healthy working relationship with J.J. Abrams, and scores his films, amazingly I might add.

His standout scores for me currently, are his turns on The Incredibles, filled with homages to superhero films as well as a bit of an old school James Bond feel, and my favorite, his highly whistle-able score for Star Trek.

His brassy, up-tempo score for Trek simply sunk into my subconscious, even more than I realized. I had seen the film once, and purchased the soundtrack, loading it onto my ipod, and by the second time I saw the film in the theater, I was stunned to find myself whistling themes and cues from the soundtrack already.

I am constantly delighted now when I read a film’s credits, or am watching the opening or closing titles and see Michael’s name pop up. I always know I’m in good hands.

I know I don’t know as much about writing or composing music to talk tech about it, but I know what I like, and I am quite happy to welcome Mr. Giacchino into the ranks of Williams, Goldsmith, Barry, Silvestri, Horner and Shore. I can’t think of a higher compliment to pay than my continued whistling, so that’s what I’ll do…

The New Class of Police Procedurals

Police procedurals have been around since the birth of television. They drew lines of right and wrong, and went after their crooks with the right and might of the law on their side, always steeping their cases in “Just the facts, ma’am.”

In recent years, the police procedural has changed. Sure you still have series that more or less stick to the straight and narrow, but more often than not, we’re getting police procedurals that have what may be called a bit of a Twililght Zone twist.

So, it looks like you can at least try to teach an old dog some new tricks, because while not all of the series survive, they do bring a new take on a tried and true formula.

My favorite of all of them came along a ways ago, but it is still an amazing show, and if you haven’t seen it I suggest you seek it out. It’s called Life on Mars, and I do not mean the abysmal American remake. I mean the original BBC series that walked the line between police procedural, time travel thriller, and was occasionally very creepy. Running for two series on the Beeb, the story follows DCI Sam Tyler (played by the always awesome John Simm), who is struck by a car in 2006, and wakes up in 1973, with all of his knowledge of modern day policing. Not sure if he’s in a coma, dead, or dreaming, and there’s evidence provided to support all the theories, Sam finds himself working with a group of cops led by Gene Hunt, a very old-school-police type, using his modern day investigative techniques to help solve crimes in the 70s while trying to figure out how to find his way back to the present.

The very politically incorrect, sexist and hard-drinking Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) returns in the spin-off/follow-up series to Life On Mars,  Ashes to Ashes. Bowie references continue as DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) is shot in the head in 2008. She wakes up in the London of 1981, and the times they are a-changing. Hunt and his cronies have transferred in from Manchester, and they all get teamed up together, Alex and Hunt naturally chafe at one another, but there’s also an underlying attraction there as well.

All the while however, Alex is trying to find her way back to 2008 and her daughter.

This show ran for three series on the BBC, and happily after the failure of the American version of Life On Mars, I don’t see them taking on this one.

Both series feature top notch acting, stories, music and costume, and while there are comic moments in both shows, the large majority of the time, it’s played completely straight, which allows the view er to buy into the story, the world, and the mystery of what is happening to Sam and Alex.

I think it’s time for me to revisit both series in the very near future. (Once I get over the current Trek kick I’m on).

In the series Life, Charlie Crews (played by Damian Lewis who first came to my attention in Band of Brothers) is a cop who was wrongfully accused and sent to prison. Upon his release he is given a huge settlement, enough to more than set him up for life, and never have to work again. He decides, however, to take up his badge again, and he and his new partner Dani (Sarah Shahi) form an uneasy working relationship, especially when Crews starts poking around in the case, and the bad cops, that got him sent to prison. So on one front it works as a police procedural, but it also has this huge conspiracy arc that is referenced episode to episode as well.

There’s great chemistry between Lewis and Shahi, and when you throw his lawyer, played by Adam Arkin into the mix, it makes for a very enjoyable show, that sadly only lasted two seasons.

Boomtown was another series with a great concept. To show the story from all sides. It tended to show you that your first impression of a situation was often wrong.

With a giant ensemble cast including two more Band of Brothers alumni Donnie Wahlberg and Neal McDonough.

The show ran for two seasons and made you look at things from all angles. Unusual for a police procedural, in that usually they made sure that the lines between right and wrong were clearly delineated.

Not so in Boomtown. With each new perspective you see that everything isn’t all you thought it was, and by the end of the episode, you see the events in a completely different way from when you started.

We’ve talked about Alcatraz previously on this blog, and though I’m not quite caught up on all the episodes yet, (I’m currently about 3 behind) I’m enjoying it.

All the inmates and some of the personnel disappeared from Alcatraz in the 1960s, but now, they’ve returned, they’re back on the streets, untouched by the intervening years, and picking up right where they left off.

So each week our team tracks down criminals, while at the same time trying to resolve the mystery behind the disappearance and the return of these people.

What I’ve really enjoyed about this, in addition to the mythology being created around the series, is the fact that the show isn’t shying away from portraying the types of criminals that would’ve been housed in Alcatraz. The child killer episode was downright chilling…

Then there is Awake, which is about to launch here on Global television, and the pilot is available online.

Starring Jason Isaacs (known to most people as Lucius Malfoy) plays Michael Britten, a cop who’s either lost his wife or his son in an automobile accident. You see, he now exists in two realities, one in which his wife survived and his son died, and one in which his wife died and his son survived.

He is seen a therapist in both realities, both of whom are trying to convince him which is real, all while he works cases, which seem to be connected (or a least they were tenuously connected in the pilot – we’ll see if they continue).

I like the concept, they’ve already established that some time soon he’s gonna have a complete breakdown, because he’s not sleeping, he simply transitions from one reality to the other, back and forth. I hope the show-runners know where they are going with it. 

But for now, I’m more than happy to enjoy these latest incarnations of the police procedural.

Have I missed any? Which are your favorites?

Alcatraz

So I’m catching up… again. I tend to focus on one show at a time though, so I’m not really apologizing, It also means I get a whole bunch of episodes to watch at once as I catch up.

Apparently I have waited long enough for Alcatraz.

I settled in, and flew through the first 3 episodes as quickly as I could load them up, and while I am not necessarily hooked yet, I’m definitely very intrigued…

Course barring Felicity, and Alias (though I did watch all of it), I tend to be a huge J.J. Abrams fan. Now yes, he only serves as an executive producer on the series, but for the most part he and I seem to like the same things…

The premise is this, it’s commonly believed that Alcatraz closed, and shipped all of the inmates off the island. Well in this series, that didn’t happen, in fact, 260 inmates vanished, along with 43 prison employees.

Flash forward to the present. Somehow, some of these people have slowly started to reappear, not aged a day since their disappearance, and all of them more than eager to resume their criminal activities.

As of yet, we don’t know who caused this incident, how they brought them forward through time, or for what purpose…

But a small team, established in a sub-sub-basement of Alcatraz, are looking to recapture them, while trying to figure out these bigger mysteries.

So it’s a police procedural with a healthy dose of ‘huh’ added to it with the over arcing mystery of what happened on Alcatraz March 21, 1963.

Leading this team, is the always awesome, Sam Neill as former Alcatraz employee Emerson Hauser.

I’ve honestly been a fan of his since he first menaced the Nazarene in The Omen III when he played the full-grown son of Satan, Damien.

My favorite performances of his would still be in Dead Calm, opposite Nicole Kidman, and of course as Dr. Alan Grant in the Jurassic Park films.

To me, Sam is just cool, and watching how his story interweaves with the disappearance of the people from Alcatraz is intriguing, as we learn that he was on the island, but must have left before the incident, because his character has aged. But we also know he’s been on the island waiting for their return for a long time.

He recruits a local homicide cop, Rebecca Madsen, who may be more involved with the prison’s history than she knew.

First off, where has Sarah Jones been hiding, cause what a cutie! Sue and I have talked about her, and she seems like a cross between Haven’s Audrey Parker (Emily Rose) and with her short hair and occasional attitude, Galactica’s Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff).

Against Emerson’s orders she begins tracking down one of the first of the 63s. This of course shows him that he can use her on his own team, and co-opts her into his program.

Rebecca begins to learn more about the 63s, and her own family history when it comes to Alcatraz. But first and foremost she’s a cop, and her job is to track down these criminals. The first 3 were pretty vicious, a murderer, a sniper, and a child-killer. I’ll be interested to see just how dark the series wants to go, because the child-killer one went pretty dark.

Rebecca brings with her an odd partner, one she co-opted from, of all places, a comic book store.

Dr. Diego Soto, played by Lost alumnus Jorge Garcia has done his research on Alcatraz, he’s written books on the subject, there is nothing he doesn’t know about it. Except for the fact that 260 inmates disappeared.

But he knows there names, their crimes, and their motivations.

Now, we’re only a short way into the first season, so the series is still trying to find it’s feet, and define itself, so I’m not going to make any harsh judgments yet.

I like the fact that they aren’t giving us everything at once, we know that there are more characters out there who may know more than us, or maybe they don’t. We know that there is something truly odd going on here, but I don’t want it revealed anytime soon. I like the mythology they are building up around the show, and as long as they have a destination in mind, and aren’t making it up as they go along, then for now… I am quite willing to join their investigations.

Stuff To Look Forward To!

Morning All!

Just wanted to share a quick post before I settle into the work day.

I’ll be posting our review of episode 2 of Bomb Girls this evening, and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank Shaw Media publicly for all the support they’ve been giving us, we’ve been dealing with two wonderful women there, and if they’re reading this, you know who you are!

In terms of podcasts, we have some fantatsic guests coming up, I don’t want to jinx it by giving away names, but I’m giddy knowing we get to chat with them.

We’re just putting the finishing touches on my chat with Anna Silk (Bo), that will be up for the weekend to tie in with the launch of Lost Girl on SyFy. She’s a lot of fun, and has one of the best laughs!

Then we’re gonna follow that up with some more interviews, that we’re not talking about yet (talking about it jinxes it!) next week.
But we did have a chance to sit down last night at the gorgeous pub C’est What and chat with Paul Amos (Vex), and that podcast will be coming to you soon as well!
Like I said though, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, January is shaping up to be a great month for us here on The Mind Reels, and we can’t wait to share it all with you!

I’ll tell you what Sue and I are looking forward to… more Bomb Girls!!

But also, we’re very excited about Hunger Games, as we’re both fans of the books, and can’t wait to see how the material is adapted.

We’re also looking forward to the release of friends’ latest film… April Mullen and Tim Doiron proudly bring us Canada’s FIRST all 3D movie… Dead Before Dawn 3D. We had a set visit and a cameo in one of the sequences, wait til you read our post about that as well as some of the pictures we are allowed to share. It’s going to be so much fun.

Carrying on with our support of Lost Girl cast members, which returns to Canadian stations on the 22nd of this month, we’ll be off to the theater to see Underworld: Awakening (though for me Kate Beckinsale is enough to get my bum into a seat for this movie) and support Kris Holden-Ried in his latest theatrical outing!

We’ll take a look at J.J. Abram’s new series, though he is simply serving as producer, and not a show-runner, he does have a lot on the go afterall… Alcatraz, which starts January 16th, with a two hour premiere. PVR it those who live State-side and support Lost Girl by watching it on SyFy!

I’m also very excited for War Horse, the stage play to open here in TO in the next few weeks, I’ve read the book, seen the movie, let’s finish it up with the play! Also showing up on stage, and we’re trying to find her, Megan Follows is starring in Penelopiad!

AND there are two cons coming up here in town that Sue and I will be attending as well, make sure you say hi to us!

We’ll be going to Toronto Comic-Con (http://www.comicontoronto.com/) and Toronto’s WizardWorld (http://www.wizardworldcomiccon.com/home-toronto.html) hope to see you!