Wednesday, April 18, 2018

KMSU Spring Pledge Drive

89.7 KMSU FM "The Maverick" is currently holding its spring pledge drive. If you listen to Sounds of Cinema from this station or simply believe in independent radio, please consider making a financial contribution. You can make a pledge by calling 507-389-5678 or 1-800-456-7810. You can also make a pledge online at the the station's website.

This pledge drive has a fundraising goal of $30,000 this spring. The money primarily goes to maintaining KMSU equipment so that we can keep the station and its diverse slate of programs on the air.

If you listen to KMSU and enjoy its content, please help to ensure that the station continues to broadcast its unique blend of programming. In stressful and uncertain economic times we all have to take extra care in how we spend our money. But it is also important to remember that we demonstrate what we value by where and how we spend our money. Consider the impact KMSU's programs have on the community. Many of the programs, especially those that are locally produced, provide a very important service to the listenership and to the Mankato area as a whole.

It's also important to remember that pledges are not just about money. Space and funding are at a premium across higher education. When you make a pledge to KMSU you demonstrate that the station is valued by the community and that helps justify the station's continued existence.

On Sunday, April 22nd, those listening to Sounds of Cinema from KMSU will hear a special pledge drive episode. Those listening from 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona will hear the regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Interview with Paul Talbot

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema featured an interview with Paul Talbot, author of Bronson's Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films and Bronson's Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson. In this interview, Talbot discusses the Death Wish franchise and the legacy of the series.

You can find an archive of other Sounds of Cinema interviews here.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Movies that the Oscars Missed 2018

The Academy Awards will broadcast Sunday night. As in most years, there are number of films released in 2017 that did not get the attention that they deserved or were shut out of awards contention. Here are a few of those:

The Florida Project
My pick for the best movie of 2017, The Florida Project is a drama about people living in a cheap Orlando motel outside of Walt Disney World. The film was profound, honest, and subversive and was a portrait of American life that so much of our mainstream media diet obfuscates. Willem Dafoe has been repeatedly nominated for his performance (and rightly so) but newcomers Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince should have been recognized as well.

Darren Aronofsky’s film Mother! was one of the most contentious releases of last year. Whatever we might make of the film’s meanings, it was a disappoint to see Mother! passed over even in the technical awards. The film had extraordinary use of sound and some astonishing visuals and seamless editing.

In the current political climate, Kathryn Bigelow’s movie should have been one of the most talked about releases of 2017. Instead it died at the box office and was ignored by the Hollywood awards circuit. It may be that Detroit was just too much--too grueling, too authentic, and too challenging--for the audience to accept at this time. Look for Detroit to gain a renewed appreciation in a few years time.

Wind River
Taylor Sherridan’s directorial debut was  another title that ought to have resonated with the current political climate but got lost in the shuffle. The movie was a police procedural involving sexual assault and complex characters.

The Beguiled 
Sofia Coppola's adaptation of Thomas Cullinan's novel was exactly the kind of movie that Oscar voters love but for some reason Hollywood forgot about it by the time awards season arrived. The Beguiled had a terrific cast including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell and some exceptional cinematography and production design.

Good Time 
Good Time was probably too gritty and not commercial enough for the bland highbrow tastes of the Academy. But Good Time was one of the best movies of 2017. Robert Pattinson was terrific, New York City has never looked quite like this, and the electronic soundtrack by OneohTrix Point Never was one of the most effective music scores of the year.

Catfight doesn't suggest itself as Oscar material but this black comedy was one of the better and more provocative movies of 2017. Underneath its slap happy veneer, Catfight is a political metaphor for our time.

Ingrid Goes West
The tastes of the Hollywood award establishment, especially the Academy Awards, skew older and stories about the younger generation are usually dismissed. Ingrid Goes West was a black comedy for the millennial generation that featured a terrific cast including Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, and O'Shea Jackson Jr.

One of the best movies of 2017 that nobody saw, Novitiate is a drama about nuns entering the convent at the time of Vatican II. The entire cast of this movie is great, especially Melissa Leo and Margaret Qualley. It's a movie about spirituality and carnality that takes both of those cravings seriously.

This film was primarily a showcase for Harry Dean Stanton and he is terrific as a ninety year old atheist confronting his mortality. As heavy as that sounds, Lucky is actually quite funny.

Strange Weather
Another 2017 title that passed under the radar, Strange Weather features a great performance by Holly Hunter as a woman investigating her son's suicide.

Comic book movies aren’t usually recognized by the Academy but Hugh Jackman really should have been nominated for his final performance as Wolverine. And if Patrick Stewart had given the same performance in a mainstream drama he would have been considered a shoo in for award nominations.

War for the Planet of the Apes 
War for the Planet of the Apes earned a well deserved visual effects nomination at this year's Oscars but it should have been taken a little more seriously by the Hollywood awards circuit. In particular, War should have been recognized for Michael Giacchino's music which was one of the best film scores of last year.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What Does 'Black Panther' Mean?

Having reviewed Black Panther, I want to comment on the way the movie has been discussed by film critics and by cultural commentators in general. Black Panther has achieved an impressive 97% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and deservedly so – the movie is quite good. But the conversation about Black Panther has gone beyond praising its cinematic craft to proclamations that the movie represents some kind of rubicon that will change Hollywood and American culture.

The past few weeks have seen the publication of numerous articles emphasizing Black Panther’s cultural significance and framing the movie as a game changer. Black Panther has become one of the most Tweeted–about films and, as Carvel Wallace explains in New York Magazine, African American social media turned the release of the movie into a cultural event. Black Panther has been seized upon by political activists who have used screenings as voter registration drives and fundraisers for community organizations.

Film critics were not immune to the excitement. Rohaan Naahar wrote that Black Panther “will be taught in school [and] debated among intellectuals.” Leonard Maltin gave the movie a mixed review but ultimately decided that his misgivings about Black Panther’s cinematic merits “may not be what matters.” One of the most hyperbolic reviews came from CineVue’s Zoe Margolis who proclaimed that “Black Panther is the film that will change everything. When you see it, you know that from here on in, everything will be different.”

There is something to the narrative around Black Panther. The movie takes place in Africa, a continent whose people have been ignored by Hollywood, is written and directed by black filmmakers and features a primarily black cast in a story in which black identity is central. And all of this happens in a tent pole studio film. But we should be cautious about proclaiming Black Panther as a defining moment for American culture or for Hollywood. Its impressive box office performance is encouraging but it’s just too early to know if this film actually represents that kind of change.

Recent history provides more than enough reason for skepticism. In 1998 the Marvel comic book Blade was adapted into a feature film starring Wesley Snipes. It was rated R and was released at a time when the box office for comic book features wasn’t quite what it is now. Regardless, Blade was a hit and the movie spawned two sequels (one that was very good and another that wasn’t) and a television series. The release of the original Blade was preceded by 1997’s Spawn, an adaptation of the popular comic book that also featured an African American actor in the lead role. Spawn was not the financial success that Blade was (nor was it as good) but Spawn was nevertheless a high profile release by a major studio headlined by an African American actor.

At the time of their releases, there was some mention of the fact that these movies were comic book adventures with black protagonists but neither Blade nor Spawn were regarded as game changers. And they weren’t. Hollywood’s representation of characters of color has remained more or less consistent in the two decades since Blade’s release. In the interim we got 2004’s Catwoman starring Halle Berry, a movie that the actress probably wishes we would forget. But Catwoman is worth mentioning because Berry made it after becoming the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. At the time her Oscar win was discussed in much the same way as the release of Black Panther: a historic game changer that would bend the course of Hollywood and open doors for other people of color. A decade and a half on, it’s clear that her win was not the sea change it was initially proclaimed to be, something Berry herself has admitted

There is a distinct difference between the culture that Spawn and Blade played to and the one that showed up for Black Panther. For one, the internet is a ubiquitous presence. With that comes the networking of social media but also the hyperbole and moral grandstanding that defines online discourse. Black Panther also comes at a time of greater awareness—and anxiety—about the status of people of color in American society and in particular their absence from a lot of mainstream entertainment. Those components, as well as the impatient pace of today’s world—sends many of us looking for validation and lead us to prematurely declare pop cultural events as more significant than they actually are. The same dynamic played out in 2017 with the release of Wonder Woman and in 2016 with the remake of Ghostbusters.

So where does that leave Black Panther? For the moment it is a well-made and financially successful movie. And, just as impressively, it is a major studio film with intelligent political themes in which the artistic voice of its makers was not steamrolled by the corporate filmmaking process. And the movie is a high profile success for the cast and crew of color. That is more than enough to celebrate. Whether Black Panther is more than that depends on whether or not other filmmakers and studios follow its lead. And whether Hollywood does that will depend, at least in part, on whether or not audiences continue to show up at the theater.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Best and Worst Films of 2017

Yesterday's episode of Sounds of Cinema revealed my picks of the ten best and worst films of 2017. You can find more, including rationales for each title and lists of honorable mentions and trends of 2017, here.

Best Films of 2017
1. The Florida Project 

2. Get Out 

3. Mother! 

4. Call Me By Your Name 

5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

6. Logan

7. Detroit 

8. Baby Driver 

9. Good Time 

10. I, Tonya 

  1. A Cure for Wellness 
  2. Baywatch 
  3. War on Everyone 
  4. CHIPS 
  5. I Do Until I Don’t 
  6. Home Again 
  7. The Only Living Boy in New York 
  8. Rings 
  9. A Quiet Passion 
  10. Transformers: The Last Knight 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sounds of Cinema 2017 Wrap Up Coming January 28

The Sounds of Cinema episode for Sunday, January 28th will look back at the cinema of 2017 and count down my picks of the best and worst films of the past year. Sounds of Cinema airs every Sunday morning at 9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona, Minnesota and at 11am on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato, Minnesota. You can hear the show over the air and live streaming from each station's website.

Until then, here are the year end picks from other critics:


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Movies

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema featured a look at Christmas-related films. Here is a recap of the movies covered on the show as well as a few other titles.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Dir. Frank Capra

One of the films most associated with the holiday season is Frank Capra’s 1946 feature It’s a Wonderful Life. However, at the time of the movie's release, It’s a Wonderful Life was a box office failure that received a mixed critical reaction. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the film became popular due to its repeated showings on television during the Christmas season which actually came about due to a lapse in the copyright. It’s a Wonderful Life has since been named one of the 100 greatest American movies by the American Film Institute and the organization named George Bailey and Mr. Potter on its list of the greatest movie heroes and villains.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Dir. George Seaton

Miracle on 34th Street is perhaps the only Christmas courtroom drama as it involves a department store Santa Claus who insists that he is the actual Kris Kringle and is subsequently put on trial for mental competency. Miracle on 34th Street was remade several times, most notably the 1994 version starring Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle and featuring a screenplay by John Hughes.

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)
Dir. Sidney Lanfield

Bob Hope plays a small time crook who owes a gangster $10,000. To pay his debt, The Lemon Drop Kid recruits a group of people to dress up like Santa Claus and collect money in the name of charity. This movie introduced the song "Silver Bells."

White Christmas (1954)
Dir. Michael Curtiz

Music is an integral part of the Christmas season and several of the most popular holiday songs were originally created for Hollywood movies. One of the most popular of these is “White Christmas” which is usually associated with the 1954 movie of the same name but was in fact originally written for the 1943 motion picture Holiday Inn, for which Irving Berlin won an Oscar for Best Original Song. According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, “White Christmas” has been recorded over 500 times in a dozen different languages.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Dir. Bill Melendez

One of the popular traditions of the Christmas season is the ritualistic broadcast of classic animated television specials. Most of these came out of the 1960s and that decade saw the premiere of animated network events that have become holiday fixtures including 1964’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and 1969’s Frosty the Snowman. Among the most popular of these was 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas in which the Peanuts gang rediscovers the meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Evil (1980)
Dir. Lewis Jackson

There is a whole subgenre of Christmas horror films. This isn’t as unusual as it sounds. A lot of elements of the holiday are frightening, especially for children, and there are a lot of killer Santa movies. The best of these is 1980's Christmas Evil. An early entry in the slasher genre, Christmas Evil is frightening but also darkly funny.

A Christmas Story (1983)
Dir. Bob Clark

One of Bob Clark's two Christmas films (the other being the 1974 horror flick Black Christmas). A Christmas Story has likable characters and wacky set pieces but it's also unexpectedly subversive in the way it weaves together 1950s suburbia, the Christmas holiday, and the tale of a young man's disillusionment. A Christmas Story was only a modest success in 1983 but it has become a classic and one of the most popular holiday movies.

Gremlins (1984)
Dir. Joe Dante

1984’s Gremlins is a delightfully mean spirited take on the holiday. In this film, a suburbanite is given a mysterious animal as a Christmas present but he fails to follow the special rules and the town is besieged by a horde of scaly green monsters. It’s not too much to read this film as a metaphor of the commercialization of Christmas. Gremlins was a hit but it was also controversial and, along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, led to the creation of the PG-13 rating.

Die Hard (1988)
Dir. John McTiernan

Every year around this time, film and pop culture websites publish click-bait articles about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. It is. Die Hard takes place on Christmas Eve and the holiday is central to the premise. But this is also a Christmas movie in that it’s about one of the most popular themes of holiday movies: a man tries to get back with his family for Christmas.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Dir. Jeremiah Chechik

The National Lampoon Vacation series veers wildly in quality but Christmas Vacation is a comedy classic and one of the best movies of its kind. Written by John Hughes, the film is consistently funny in a way that few movies ever achieve and it has a cast of memorable characters speaking quotable lines. But Christmas Vacation also taps into something real about the suburban holiday experience that continues to play for the audience.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Dir. Brian Henson

Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel has been adapted to film more frequently than perhaps any other Christmas story with dramatizations going all the way back to the silent era. There have been a number of versions with different approaches to the material featuring notable actors taking the role of Ebenezer Scrooge including Albert Finney (1970), George C. Scott (1984), Bill Murray (1988), and Jim Carrey (2009). Among the most popular adaptations was 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol featuring Michael Caine as Scrooge. Like most Muppet movies, it was a musical but one particular piece stands out. “When Love is Gone,” performed by Meredith Braun and Michael Caine, describes the falling out between Belle and Scrooge. It is the emotional core of the movie but studio executives ordered the song cut from the theatrical release for the sake of pacing, allegedly over the objections of director Brian Henson. “When Love is Gone” was featured on the VHS, laserdisc, and the full screen DVD release of The Muppet Christmas Carol but subsequent editions on Blu-ray and streaming services don’t include it.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Dir. Henry Selick

Animated fare is quite popular around the Christmas season and one of the most popular titles is The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie was financed by Disney but in 1993 the Mouse wasn’t sure what to make of the film’s dark and oddball qualities and so it was released under the Touchstone Films banner. The Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Henry Selick but it was written and produced by Tim Burton and it has an undeniable Burton touch. This is one of the best collaborations between Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman and The Nightmare Before Christmas is a musical for people who hate musicals.

Bad Santa (2003)
Dir. Terry Zwigoff

It’s become fashionable to take an ironic stance toward Christmas or to spit in the holiday’s face. Bad Santa was among the first and it remains one of the best. In this film an alcoholic safe cracker poses as a shopping mall Santa while plotting to rob the store. Billy Bob Thorton turns in a career defining performance and the movie balances its crudeness with an aching sense of human frailty. This is the story of a man hitting rock bottom and coming around to redemption and Bad Santa is more authentically in tune with the Christmas season than a lot of saccharine dramas.

Love Actually (2003)
Dir. Richard Curtis

Among the most popular holiday movies of recent years is 2003’s Love, Actually. The directorial debut of Richard Curtis, Love, Actually is a collage of stories centered around the holiday season. The movie foreshadowed a lot of terrible imitators but Love, Actually manages a likeable tone and it is funny in a humanistic way that Curtis does so well.

The Polar Express (2004)
Dir. Robert Zemeckis

The Polar Express is a popular children’s book written by Chris Van Allsburg. The story concerns a boy who is invited aboard a train that takes him on a tour of Santa Claus’ home at the North Pole. The book was adapted into a computer animated feature film in 2004 directed by Robert Zemeckis. The Polar Express began Zemeckis’ foray into motion capture filmmaking which would later include another holiday film, 2009’s extraordinarily creepy version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.