Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Songs from the Movies

Several of the most popular Christmas songs originated in motion pictures. Here is a look at some of the notable songs that were first heard at the movies.

"White Christmas" - Holiday Inn (1942)
"White Christmas" is usually associated with the 1954 motion picture of the same name but it was first introduced in the 1942's Holiday Inn. According to ASCAP, "White Christmas" has been recorded over 500 times in a dozen languages.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Meet Me in St. Louis introduced several songs that would become standards, among them "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," performed by Judy Garland. The song comes at a critical point in the movie as the Smith family contemplates leaving their home.

"Baby It's Cold Outside" - Neptune's Daughter (1949)
"Baby It's Cold Outside" originated in Neptune's Daughter where it is performed by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán and by Betty Garrett and Red Skelton. 

"Silver Bells" - The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)
This song was first performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in 1951's The Lemon Drop Kid. The film involves a con artist who dresses up as Santa Claus and pretends to raise money for the poor when he really intends to use the donations to pay off a gangster.

"You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" - How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
The signature song of the classic animated special was performed by Thurl Ravenscroft. As popular as How the Grinch Stole Christmas continues to be, the song has taken on a life of its own and it is one of the most recognizable pieces of film music.

"Where Are You Christmas?" - How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
The live action adaptation of Dr. Seuss' classic originated the song "Where Are You Christmas?" It's performed in the film by Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou Who. Another version performed by Faith Hill was released as part of the film's promotional campaign and became one of the best selling Christmas singles of all time.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Movies on Sounds of Cinema

The Sounds of Cinema episode airing on December 25th will feature music from Christmas related films as well as reviews of Office Christmas Party and Collateral Beauty.

Music and movies are an integral part of the holiday season. Several of the most popular Christmas songs originated in motion pictures and the ritualistic screening of holiday television specials and feature films play an important part in many people's celebrations.

Sunday's program will feature music from a wide variety of Christmas movies including musicals like White Christmas, classics like It's a Wonderful Life, family films such as The Muppet Christmas Carol, comedies like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and horror films including Krampus. The show will give a sense of the breadth of Christmas films and the different approaches filmmakers have brought to the holiday.

Sounds of Cinema can be heard Sunday morning at 9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona, Minnesota and at 11am on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato. Both stations can be heard live online.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Political Movies

If you're bummed that the election is over, here are some movies about politics.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Along with It's a Wonderful Life, this is the essential Frank Capra movie. An idealistic citizen is appointed to the United States Senate but his naivete soon collides with the realities of political life. Looking at the film today, one of the extraordinary things about it is the way it portrays a  filibuster as an act of valor.

All the King's Men (1949)
Based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All the King's Men is the story of the rise and fall of a politician whose populist appeal belies his corruption. The film was remade in 2006.

The War Room (1993)
Directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, The War Room is a behind-the-scenes documentary of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign for president. The film centers upon George Stephanopoulos, the Clinton Campaign Communications Director, and James Carville, the campaign's Lead Strategist.

Nixon (1995)
Oliver Stone's masterpiece. The movie primarily deals with Watergate and the Vietnam War and it also addresses Nixon's diplomatic interactions with China and the Soviet Union. But more than anything, Nixon is a complicated character study of the thirty-seventh President of the United States. As played by Anthony Hopkins, Richard Nixon is portrayed as a tragic figure, a brilliant politician who was brought down by his own demons.

Primary Colors (1998)
The 1996 novel Primary Colors was a roman à clef, a fictional work that is actually a true story. Adapted into a motion picture in 1998, Primary Colors told the story of Governor Jack Stanton, a stand-in for Bill Clinton, as he runs for the presidency.

Bulworth (1998)
Set during the 1996 primary campaign, a United States Senator has a nervous breakdown and starts telling the truth. The movie is very much a product of the late 1990s (especially its soundtrack) but Bulworth is still surprisingly relevant in 2016. It's also very funny.

Election (1999)
Directed by Alexander Payne, Election is the story of a high school student government campaign gone awry. The movie is very funny but it is also a sophisticated story of ethics and the political process. The character of Tracy Flick, an overachieving front runner, has frequently been associated with Hillary Clinton.

Recount (2008)
A dramatization of the "hanging chad" debacle in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. Despite the divisive nature of the story, Recount is fairly even handed in its portrayal of the legal and political maneuvers by the Gore and Bush campaigns. Recount was helmed by Jay Roach, who was best known for comedies like Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers, and he brings a sense of humor to the movie.

All the Way (2016)
Another Jay Roach directed HBO film, All the Way is a dramatization of Lyndon Johnson's attempt to pass civil rights legislation following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The movie is similar to Steven Spielberg's Lincoln in that it is about trying to accomplish moral and civil good through the flawed mechanisms of government but All the Way is the better film because of its more complex portrayal of the people involved.

Weiner (2016)
A documentary about former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. The film records Weiner's failed campaign for mayor of New York City following his resignation from congress. Aside from a character study of a troubled politician, Weiner is also an examination of media, sensationalism, and politics in the digital age.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Great Horror Sequels

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema continued this month’s Halloween theme with a look at the great horror sequels. Hollywood now makes sequels to just about anything but it was the horror genre that led the way. While a lot of sequels are cynical cash grabs, some manage to equal or exceed their predecessor. What follows are the films discussed on today’s show as well as some additional titles.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Universal Studios established itself with its horror titles of the 1930s and 40s. In 1931 the studio released two classics: Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, and Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff. The movies were a success and Universal set about making more of them. The studio’s first monster sequel was 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein which is generally considered to be the best entry in the entire Universal Monsters catalog. It featured better production values, more interesting characters, and deepened the ideas of the original film. And just as the original Frankenstein created one of horror cinema’s most indelible images, the sequel did the same with Elsa Lanchester’s bride.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)
Today Hollywood makes sequels to just about anything and major studios vie for “cinematic universes” in which characters inhabit a shared world and appear in each other’s films. While this is done more often now, it isn’t entirely new. The classic Universal Monster films were the original cinematic universe as they created sequels and spinoff films and eventually brought the characters together in titles like House of Dracula. Of these “team up” movies, the best was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead quickly became a classic and a regular fixture of midnight movie showings. However, Romero’s first zombie sequel, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, is frequently cited as the fan favorite of the Living Dead series. It was a sprawling and ambitious story set amid a zombie apocalypse but this time updated for the late 1970s. A group of survivors take shelter in a shopping mall and the movie draws smart and sometimes funny parallels between mass consumerism and the walking dead. It was also extraordinarily violent for its time and went to theaters unrated.

Jaws 2 (1978)
The Jaws sequels do not have a very good reputation. That’s mostly due to the later films, in particular 1987’s Jaws the Revenge. However, Jaws 2 is an underrated movie that was a success both commercially and artistically. The first half of Jaws 2 adheres closely to the original formula, as another great white shark patrols the beaches of Amity Island. The basic conflicts and scenarios of the 1975 movie are recreated and most of the surviving characters from the first film reappear. But the second half of Jaws 2 is quite different, as a group of teenage sail boaters are attacked by the shark and are gradually picked off. At the time of its release, Jaws 2 was the highest grossing sequel ever made and its marketing campaign included one of the most often quoted and parodied Hollywood taglines: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water . . .” 

Psycho II (1983)
Twenty-three years after Psycho (and three years after Alfred Hitchcock’s death), screenwriter Tom Holland and director Richard Franklin set about making Psycho II. Making a sequel to a Hitchcock film, and especially Psycho, was considered by some to be cinematic heresy but Holland and Franklin acquitted themselves with a smart script and tight direction. Norman Bates (again played by Anthony Perkins) is released from a mental institution and returns to his mother’s hotel but he suffers violent delusions. Psycho II was stylistically different from the original film but it was a successful movie in its own right. Its influence can be seen in the popular television series Bates Motel.

Aliens (1986)
James Cameron took over directorial duties from Ridley Scott and made one of the great sequels. Where the original Alien was a slasher movie in space, Aliens was a Vietnam-influenced war film. The picture represents exactly what a sequel ought to do: it expands the story world, escalates the drama, and develops the characters. Unusual for a sci-fi horror flick, Sigourney Weaver was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Ellen Ripley.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
The original Friday the 13th opened in 1980. At the time it was a subversive little picture but by the late 1980s the series and the slasher subgenre had worn thin. Filmmaker Tom McLoughlin brought a different sensibility to the sixth installment. His movie was slickly made but also self-aware and funny. This is not the scariest of the Fridays but it is the most fun.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in 1974, a few years ahead of the slasher boom. The original picture was gritty and nasty but despite its title The Texas Chainsaw Massacre contained very little on-screen gore.  The rights were subsequently tied up for years and director Tobe Hooper didn’t get to make a sequel until 1986 when the slasher genre was in decline. Hooper’s sequel was a Grand-Guignol-style horror show that was a satire of the slasher genre. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was a critical and commercial disaster in 1986 and it remains one of the most divisive horror sequels. But there’s no denying that the movie has tremendous energy and a grotesque sense of humor that make it a unique film. 

Evil Dead II (1987)
Evil Dead II is essentially a remake of the original film but with improved production values, better direction, and funnier gags. Many of the key cast and crew members returned for the follow up and they used the opportunity to revisit and revise the original picture. Certain set pieces and plot points are reiterated but they are all done better. The first Evil Dead film had a sense of humor but the sequel took it to an absurd limit with gross out gags that were inspired by The Three Stooges. Evil Dead II quickly surpassed its predecessor to become the highpoint of the series and the main point of reference for the television series Ash vs. Evil Dead.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
The Nightmare on Elm Street series was one of the most popular franchises of the 1980s but the series began with a grassroots following. With the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Freddy Krueger stepped into the mainstream. Dream Warriors was the best sequel in the series proper (excluding New Nightmare) and one of the best slasher films of its era. The movie delved into the fantastic and surrealistic aspects of the concept and it created interesting characters. It also walked a fine line of bringing Freddy forward while keeping him a frightening and threatening presence. The subsequent Nightmare films would have more to do with the tone and style of Dream Warriors than with the original film.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Clive Barker’s 1987 horror picture Hellraiser was a haunted house picture about a family that is destroyed by secrets and deceit and the powers of a magical puzzle box that can open doorways to Hell. A sequel was released the following year. Directed by Tony Randall, Hellbound: Hellraiser II was a much bigger movie that took its characters to the other side. It’s an uneven film and the story is in some respects a mess. But the scattershot nature of the plot actually works for the picture. Hellbound is ambitious and surreal with big ideas and avant-garde visuals. There’s never been a horror sequel quite like it.

Scream 2 (1997)
Released less than a year after the premiere of the original film, Scream 2 continued the story of Sidney Prescott as she is stalked by another killer in the Ghostface costume. Just as the first film played on the clichés of the slasher films, Scream 2 referenced Hollywood serialization. While this film was not the surprise of the 1996 picture it was still an impressive sequel.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Rob Zombie’s first directorial feature film was 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses. The movie had some interesting characters and unusual visuals but it was scattershot and occasionally obnoxious. Zombie improved by leaps and bounds for the follow up, 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. The sequel was a road movie in which a family of homicidal criminals goes on the run while pursued by an overzealous Texas sheriff. The Devil’s Rejects was gritty and unpleasant but it was also tightly scripted and subversive.

Saw II (2005)
The first Saw sequel did much to set the tone and themes for the remainder of the series. Building on the foundation of the original picture, Saw II brought the audience up close and personal with Jigsaw and made him into one of the most interesting and unique horror villains. In Saw II we discover that Jigsaw’s torture scenarios weren’t just gratuitous violence but an expression of a twisted ideology.

28 Weeks Later (2007)
28 Days Later told the story of a group of survivors coping in the aftermath of a plague that has reduced the people of the United Kingdom to zombie-like creatures. In the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, the UK has been pacified through an American military occupation but things eventually go south. For attentive viewers in 2007 the political implications were unmistakable; 28 Weeks Later was a lightly disguised allegory of the conflict in Iraq which was not going well at that time. The casting is also amusing as 28 Weeks Later included several actors who have gone on to great success including Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Idris Elba, and Imogen Poots.

Hostel: Part II (2007)
Eli Roth’s Hostel was one of the most successful titles in the torture subgenre that was so popular during the 2000s. The movie focused on a group of male backpackers who are captured by an organization that abducts tourists and offers them as thrill killings to rich clients. The sequel reiterated the core idea but changed the gender of the victims and improved the story with a much more controlled tone. Hostel: Part II was a gristly but thoughtful take on misogyny and economics. It isn’t very subtle but Hostel: Part II is a provocative feminist movie.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sounds of Cinema Halloween Special

This Sunday, October 30th, be prepared for a double dose of Sounds of Cinema.

The show will air at its regularly scheduled time at 9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona, Minnesota and at 11am on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato. The KQAL broadcast will continue this month's Halloween theme with a look at the great horror sequels. KMSU will air a special pledge drive edition of Sounds of Cinema.

And be sure to tune in Sunday evening for the Sounds of Cinema Halloween Special. This program will provide the soundtrack to your All Hallows Eve with a mix of music from scary films and some other audible tricks and treats. The Sounds of Cinema Halloween Special can be heard the evening of Sunday, October 30th at 11pm on 89.5 KQAL and again at midnight on 89.7 KMSU.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

89.5 KMSU FM Fall Pledge Drive

89.7 KMSU FM "The Maverick" is currently holding its fall pledge drive. If you listen to Sounds of Cinema from this station or 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.

The funds raised in KMSU's bi-annual pledge drive pay for the overhead cost of running the station, maintaining and replacing the equipment, and keeping KMSU 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 that KMSU's content has 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 its continued existence.

On Sunday, October 30th, 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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Digital Humanities Film Series: October 27 - 31, 2016

Students in Winona State University's Film Studies program will be hosting "Our Digital Humanity: A Film Series" from October 27–31,  showing films related to the 2016-17 university theme.

According to Winona State University, "the films include a mix of comedy, drama, horror, and documentary that examine digital tools and their impact not only on individuals and our society, but also on our future."

The schedule is as follows:

Thursday, October 27th at 7pm: Modern Times (1936)
Charlie Chaplin's classic movie (his last silent film) about a man trying (and failing) to keep up with the advances in technology.

Friday, October 28th at 7pm: Lo and Behold, Reveries of a Connected World (2016) and "World of Tomorrow" (2015)
Lo and Behold is the latest documentary from Werner Herzog in which he examines the internet and the way digital technology has connected the world. "World of Tomorrow" is an animated short by Don Hertzfeldt about a little girl exploring her future.

Saturday, October 29th at 2pm: Her (2013) and "Turing Test" (2013)
Spike Jonze's film Her (which was named one of the ten best movies of 2013 by Sounds of Cinema) tells the story of a lonely writer who falls in love with his self aware operating system. "The Turing Test" is a short film about a woman trying to maintain her humanity amid an increasingly automated workplace.

Sunday, October 30th at 2pm: Cyber-Seniors (2014)
Cyber-Seniors is a documentary by Saffron Cassaday about older computer users learning to use computers from teenage mentors.

Monday, October 31st at 7pm: Videodrome (1983)
David Cronenberg's film about a television programmer who tries to find new, edgier content and discovers an dangerous world in which technology and humanity merge to form a new whole. Viewers searching for something dark, scary, and unusual for Halloween needn't look any further.

All the films will be shown on the Stark Hall Auditorium (room 103) on the Winona State University campus.

The screenings are free and open to the public.

The Digital Humanities Film Series is funded by Winona State University's Office of Community Engagement, Departments of English and Nursing, the College of Liberal Arts, and the WSU Retiree Center.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Scream Generation

Sounds of Cinema took a look at the movie Scream on the occasion of the film's twentieth anniversary with a series of commentaries about the film, its influences, and its legacy. For more, click here.

There are a handful of movies that define each decade. In the 1990s, titles like Clerks, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, Fargo, and Boyz n the Hood shaped or captured the cinematic and cultural landscape of that time. Scream ought to be placed in that company as it was one of the defining cinematic moments of the 90s. But as a horror film, Scream was uniquely able to address the darker side of the decade.

As of late there has been a nostalgia for the 1990s. The most popular films of that decade have received sequels like Dumb and Dumber To and Jurassic World and fans have been treated to supplementary seasons of favorite 90s television shows like The X-Files and Full House. But looking past lighthearted fads like boy bands and Beanie Babies, the media and culture of the 1990s was characterized by anxiety.

The major artistic works of the 1990s reflect this. Music albums like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Nirvana’s Nevermind, and Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral provided a soundtrack for a generation that had lost the optimism of the 1980s. Books like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild didn’t inspire hope for the future. Scream was of a piece with these other works. It reflected and reinforced the nervous worry that something within American culture was rotten.
After the conclusion of the Cold War, America turned inward in search of a new adversary. The decade was bookended by the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. AIDS was rampant and gun homicides reached an all-time peak in 1993. Local television news alternated between stories of drug use and violent crime while daytime talk shows offered up a parade of pregnant teens, victim narratives, and fist fights. And throughout the decade a series of lurid tabloid dramas held the nation’s attention, most notably the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and the murder trial of O.J. Simpson whose acquittal shook the public’s faith in the justice system.
Scream was the sinister offspring of this environment. It funneled the anxieties that were floating in the zeitgeist into a murder mystery that dramatized them as a horror show. Here was a story in which a killer embodied one of the key parental fears of the 1990s—that violent media would turn children into murderous psychopaths. But the killer wasn’t the only predator. As a secondary antagonist, Scream featured an unscrupulous tabloid journalist who exploits the carnage for ratings and book sales. After one female student is murdered and another is attacked, their classmates respond by parading through the high school hallway dressed in the Ghostface costume. When disciplining those students, the principal tells the teenagers that their entire generation is disgusting and threatens to kill them. And when that principal is found dead, the teenagers rush to see the body before the authorities have a chance to remove it. This was a distillation of what was preoccupying the culture at that time and it was presented in a way that was recognizable to the 1990s audience.

That recognition was probably a key reason for Scream’s phenomenal success. It was the right movie at the right time. But equally important was Scream’s vicious sense of humor. The jokes of Scream were funny but they were also cruel. The film mocked the anxieties of the characters and of the culture. But as cynical as Scream could get, it was never so jaded that it lost touch with the horror. The film has a strange push and pull between the bloody violence and the ironic humor.
That combination of violence and sardonic wit made Scream a cathartic experience. This is exactly what audiences want from a horror film—to face the fears of the real world from the safety of the theater seat. What separates Scream from so many of its imitators was how well it visualized the anxieties of the time. Scream did this more effectively than perhaps any other title of the 1990s and that makes it one of the defining movies of that decade.

To read more commentary on the twentieth anniversary of Scream click here

Friday, October 21, 2016

Film Screening: They Live - Oct. 21, 2016

The motion picture They Live will be shown on Friday, October 21st at 7pm in the Stark Hall Auditorium at Winona State University.

Directed by John Carpenter, They Live is a science fiction action movie that is also a social and political allegory. Although it was a commercial disappointment in 1988, They Live has found an enthusiastic cult audience and its iconography has become a part of popular culture and political discourse. As an allegory, They Live has proven remarkably adaptable and the film’s influence can be seen in the work of such diverse figures as artist Shepard Fairey, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and political commentator Alex Jones.

Admission is free and open to the public.

More information can be found here and join the Facebook event page here.

They Live runs 93 minutes and is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America.

This event is sponsored by the Winona State University English Department, Mass Communication Department, the Darrell W. Krueger Library, and Sounds of Cinema.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Movies about the Horror of Real Life

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema continued this month’s Halloween theme with a look at movies about the horrors of real life. The show featured movies that were based on or inspired by true stories. Below is a recap of the films discussed on the show as well as a few additional titles. 

The Amityville Horror (1979)
The phrase “based on a true story” is one of the most abused taglines in Hollywood with many films incorporating that claim into their marketing campaigns while having little or nothing to do with the facts. One of the most contentious feature films to be “based on a true story” was 1979’s The Amityville Horror. Based on the bestselling book, the film depicts the Lutz family being terrorized by evil spirits after moving into their Long Island home. The house had been the scene of a gruesome mass murder in which Ronald Joseph DeFeo Jr. killed his entire family. Although the DeFeo murders were real, the claims of supernatural activity were disputed. As is to be expected, the film version of The Amityville Horror embellished the supernatural events. The dramatic license and the film’s many sequels have further obscured the truth of the matter.

Apocalypto (2006)
Mel Gibson followed The Passion of the Christ with Apocalypto. The movie takes place in ancient Mesoamerican society in which religious mania has taken over. Tribes wage war on each other and the indigenous religious leaders perform human sacrifices. A young father gets swept up in the events and must save his wife and young son. Apocalypto is a relentless action film and a brutal story of a civilization in decline. However, the film was criticized for racism and historical inaccuracy.

Caligula (1980)
Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione made a grab for mainstream Hollywood glory by producing 1980’s Caligula, a historical drama about the insane Roman emperor. The film had impressive cinematic pedigree, including lavish production values, a script written by Gore Vidal, and a cast that included Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, and Helen Mirren. But Guccione’s bigger plan was to bridge pornography and mainstream moviemaking and Caligula included hardcore scenes that were intercut into the drama. The result was a controversial mess that was sexual and violent but also tacky and clumsy. However, the messiness of Caligula suited its subject matter and in some respects the picture was ahead of its time; it’s not too much to argue that the legacy of Caligula can be seen in HBO dramas like Rome, Deadwood, and Game of Thrones.

Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
Four years before South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone created Cannibal! The Musical. The film was a comic retelling of Alferd Packer, an American settler who was part of a prospecting party that got stranded in the Colorado wilderness in the winter of 1874. Packer was the lone survivor, having sustained himself through anthropophagy. Cannibal! The Musical put a comic spin on the grotesque elements of the story and it foreshadowed Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s later work such as the Broadway musical Book of Mormon.

Compliance (2012)
Compliance was based on real life incidents in which a caller claiming to be a police officer contacted a fast food restaurant and advised the manager to interrogate an employee. In most cases, the manager would comply and the interrogation would take a degrading turn. The film is difficult to watch but it is a well-acted and subversive piece about how we transfer responsibility to authority figures.

The Devils (1971)
The Devils was adapted from the play of the same name by John Whiting and from the nonfiction book The Devils of Loudon by Aldous Huxley. Set in 17th century France, the film tells the true story of demonic possession among a convent of nuns and the prosecution of a Catholic priest for witchcraft. The movie, directed by Ken Russell, was extreme in content and in style and it failed at the box office. In the years since, The Devils has been hailed as a masterpiece of British cinema. But despite calls for its release by film critics such as Mark Kermode and moviemakers like Guillermo del Toro, Warner Bros. refuses to make The Devils available to the public.

Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971)
In 1962 Italian filmmakers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi made Mondo Cane. The picture was the opening salvo in a wave of mondo or “shockumentary” titles in which the filmmakers traveled to developing countries, photographed the practices of native cultures, and offered them up for first world audiences. These movies usually depicted non-Western peoples as exotic savages and Jacopetti and Prosperi were accused of exploitation and racism. In an effort to dispel that, the filmmakers produced 1971’s Goodbye Uncle Tom. The movie was a mix of documentary and feature filmmaking in which Jacopetti and Prosperi travel back in time to the antebellum American south and document the slave trade. This is mixed with contemporary portrayals of 1970s black nationalists. Although Goodbye Uncle Tom was ostensibly an attempt to disprove charges of racism, this film validated most of the criticisms of Jacopetti and Prosperi’s work. It’s a clumsy and salacious film that seems to endorse the idea of a race war. But Goodbye Uncle Tom is also fascinating as a media artifact from the early 70s that is as ambitious as it is problematic.

Helter Skelter (1976)
One of the most frequently dramatized true crime stories is the murder spree committed by Charles Manson and his followers in 1969. The first and still among the best of the Manson movies is 1976’s Helter Skelter, a made for television production which was based on the book by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. This film dramatizes the investigation and the murder trial and it has a magnetic performance by Steve Railsback as Charles Manson. Helter Skelter was remade in 2004.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was based on the confessions of real life serial murderer Henry Lee Lucas and his partner Ottis Toole. Originally shown at the Chicago Film Festival in 1986, Henry was quite different from any other serial killer movie released at that point. The film was a serious look at the life of a psychopath and it was shot in a grim cinema verite style. The Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board gave Henry an X-rating for what it called an unacceptable moral tone and the film languished for years before finally getting released in 1990.

The Last King of Scotland (2006)
The Last King of Scotland takes place in Uganda during the presidency of Idi Amin. A Scottish doctor traveling through Uganda is recruited to become part of Amin’s administration but he gradually discovers that Amin is a violent and erratic tyrant. Although the doctor was a fictional character, many of the events in The Last King of Scotland were rooted in history and the film features a tremendous performance by Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin.

Open Water (2004)
Open Water was based upon the true story of vacationing scuba divers who were accidently left behind by their tour boat. The couple was never found and so the movie is a speculative drama about what might have happened. To tell the story of a husband and wife stranded in shark infested waters the filmmakers hired a scuba certified acting couple and put them in the ocean among real sharks. Like The Blair Witch Project, Open Water is an example of low budget filmmakers turning limited resources into a strength instead of a weakness.

Party Monster (2003)
Party Monster was a story of murder amid the club scene of the 1980s. Based on the memoir Disco Bloodbath by James St. James, Party Monster takes place within the Club Kids subculture which was characterized by outrageous costumes, self-conscious superficiality, and rampant drug use. Following the structure of a showbiz cautionary tale, Party Monster dramatizes the rise and fall of Michael Alig who rose to the top of the New York City club scene while his drug use spiraled out of control. Like the Club Kids themselves, Party Monster has a glittery but grotesque aesthetic that’s as fun as it is obnoxious.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
The story of Jesus Christ has been dramatized on screen many times and in most versions the crucifixion represents the climax of the story. However, Mel Gibson’s 2004 picture The Passion of the Christ narrowed the story down to just the scourging and execution of Jesus and it featured moments of gore and torture that rivalled anything in the Saw horror series. The Passion of the Christ was lauded for its historical fidelity but the violence overwhelmed every other aspect of the film.

The Sacrament (2014)
Released in 2014, The Sacrament is a fictional film that is closely based upon the events at the Jonestown religious compound in 1978. A pair of reporters travels to a United States-based religious community that has set itself up in South America. What initially appears to be an idyllic setting is later revealed to be something else and the climax of the picture recreates the mass suicide that made Jonestown one of the most shocking stories of religious devotion gone wrong.

Witchfinder General (1968)
Witchfinder General [also known as The Conqueror Worm] was based upon the real life of Matthew Hopkins, a 17th century British witch hunter who was empowered by Parliament to prosecute sorcery. Released in 1968, this film was a transitional title in the horror genre. To this point, most horror movies were retellings of gothic stories often starring Vincent Price and they relied upon traditional Christian iconography. Witchfinder General took place in the same gothic settings as those older movies and featured Price in the title role but it had (for its time) unusually gruesome violence and cast a religious zealot as the villain. Along with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Witchfinder General was a first step in the new direction the horror genre would take throughout the 1970s.

Zodiac (2007)
Filmmaker David Fincher has made two great serial killer movies. The first was Se7en and the other was Zodiac. The latter was a dramatization of the investigation into the Zodiac killer who terrorized San Francisco in the 1970s. This is one of the best procedural crime films ever made and it finds the drama in collecting evidence, corroborating testimony, and building a case.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Film Screening: Embrace

 The documentary Embrace will be shown on Monday, October 17, 2016, at 7pm in the Harriet Johnson Auditorium in Somsen Hall at Winona State University.

Here is the description of the movie from the official website:
The culture of body loathing and body shaming has reached epic proportions worldwide. Lose weight, reduce wrinkles, fight cellulite; we’re constantly told to fight a battle to be someone other than who we are. Women and girls are constantly lead to believe they’re not as good as they should be. And why? Because every day they feel they’re being judged on their appearance and how far away it is from an unachievable ideal.
* * *
Embrace uncovers why poor body image has become a global epidemic and what women everywhere can do to have a brighter future. A funny, touching, at times gut wrenching but above all, life changing documentary, the heart of Embrace is Taryn’s story. How she went from a body hater to a body lover. From being devastated by her perceived ugliness to proudly posing nude for the whole world to see.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Movies about Evil Children

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema continued this month’s Halloween theme with a look at movies about evil children. Here is a look at some of the films discussed on the show as well as a few additional titles:

The Bad Seed (1956)
One of the earliest and best evil child movies was 1956’s The Bad Seed. In this film a housewife begins to suspect that her apparently angelic eight-year old daughter might be a murderous psychopath. The Bad Seed was adapted from the stage play by Maxwell Anderson and was significantly changed for the silver screen. The ending of the play was a shocker but the Production Code Administration wouldn’t allow it. The solution that the moviemakers settled on was rather stupid and an unfortunate misstep in what is otherwise a great movie.

Village of the Damned (1960)/Children of the Damned (1964)
Village of the Damned takes place in a small English town were all the women mysteriously become pregnant and give birth to blond haired children with psychic powers. Released in 1960, the film reflected fears of communism. A sequel, Children of the Damned, followed in 1964 and was actually better than the original. A remake of Village of the Damned, directed by John Carpenter, was released in 1995.

Lord of the Flies (1963/1990)
William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies tells the story of schoolboys who are stranded on a deserted island and gradually turn savage. The book has been adapted twice. The first instance was released in 1963. Directed by Peter Brook, this version of Lord of the Flies was filmed in black and white and shot in a cinema verite style. It’s a rough film with some technical flaws but it also has some startling images. The second version of Lord of the Flies came in 1990 and was directed by Harry Hook. This version was in color, more polished, and generally featured better acting, although the slicker look diminishes the impact.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
1968’s Rosemary’s Baby was the initial title in a wave of satanic themed movies, many of which dealt with evil or possessed children. Directed by Roman Polanski and based on the book by Ira Levin (who also wrote The Stepford Wives), Rosemary’s Baby is a paranoia story of a young woman who suspects her apartment building is home to a satanic cult that plans to sacrifice her unborn child. The climax of the movie has a shocking reversal that is one of the best twist endings in horror movie history.

The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist is the story of a Catholic priest struggling with a crisis of faith who is called upon to save a little girl possessed by the devil. In 1973 the movie was one of the most grotesque mainstream horror films ever made but it is all the more horrifying because it involves a child. In Mark Kermode’s excellent monograph on The Exorcist, he writes that the film captured the essence of the cultural shocks that American culture experienced in the late 1960s and early 70s—especially the generational conflict—and distilled it into the exorcism ritual.

The Omen (1976)
The Omen is the story of a political couple who adopt a boy after losing their own baby during childbirth. Strange phenomena begin to occur around the child leading the father to suspect that his son might be the Antichrist described in the biblical Book of Revelation.  The Omen inspired three sequels, a remake, and a short-lived television series. The music of the first three Omen films was provided by Jerry Goldsmith and the original film features one of his most memorable scores.

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
Who Can Kill a Child? is a Spanish film about a married couple who travel to an island and discover that the children have murdered all of the adults. Children of the Corn is remarkably similar to this film. Who Can Kill a Child? was remade as Come Out and Play in 2013.

Children of the Corn (1984)
Stephen King has used evil children in several of his stories. 1984’s Children of Corn was based on one of King’s short works. In this film, a young couple on a road trip arrives in a small Nebraska town and finds that the children have given themselves over to a cult and murdered all of the adults. Eight sequels have followed with a ninth anticipated for release in 2017. A made for television remake of Children of the Corn aired on SyFy in 2009.

Firestarter (1984)
Also adapted from the work of Stephen King and released the same year as Children of the Corn, 1984’s Firestarter tells the story of a young girl (Drew Barrymore) who has pyrotechnic powers. She’s not technically an evil character but when the government tries to control the little girl and threatens her parents she lashes out. Firestarter is an interesting precursor to some of today’s superhero movies like Chronicle and the X-Men series.

The Good Son (1993)
With the success of 1990’s Home Alone, child actor Macaulay Culkin became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Three years later he radically veered from his family friendly image by playing a psychotic twelve-year-old in The Good Son. The movie was somewhat controversial at the time. Some feared that children would want to see the R-rated film because of Culkin’s role in the Home Alone films and The Good Son was criticized for portraying children as violent and evil. Roger Ebert called the movie “a creepy, unpleasant experience” and gave it one-half a star. Nevertheless, The Good Son was a moderate success at the box office.

The Ring (2002)
One of the popular trends in American movies of the last decade was remakes of Asian horror titles. The fad was kicked off by the success of 2002’s The Ring. A remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, the movie concerns a journalist (Naomi Watts) inquiring into mysterious deaths that are tied to an urban legend. Her investigation reveals that the ghost of a murderous little girl is embedded within copies of a VHS tape and she kills anyone who watches it.

Hard Candy (2006)
A year before she appeared in Juno, actress Ellen Page captured the attention of critics and moviegoers in David Slade’s 2006 thriller Hard Candy. She plays a young woman who rendezvous with an older man, played by Patrick Wilson, who may or may not be a pedophile. But the girl turns the tables on the might-be-predator and what follows is a harrowing and morally complex battle of wills that questions our assumptions about revenge and justice.

Let the Right One In (2008)
Let the Right One In is a Swedish film about a young boy who befriends a centuries-old vampire who inhabits the body of a pre-teen girl. The movie is quite different from other vampire movies and it is a complex story in which the friendship and bonding between young people takes a dark and murderous turn. Let The Right One In was one of the most critically acclaimed horror pictures of the 2000s and it was remade for the American film market in 2010 with the shortened title Let Me In.

Orphan (2009)
In the movie Orphan, Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga play a married couple who adopt a nine-year old Russian girl only to have their lives upended when tragic and mysterious things start to happen to their family. The picture has some bold choices and a few terrific plot twists. Isabelle Fuhrman is very frightening in the title role. At the time of its release, Orphan caused some controversy as adoption organizations complained about the movie.

The Boy (2015)
Not to be confused with the 2016 film about an evil doll, The Boy is about a nine-year-old who lives with his father in a rundown motel. The isolation and the boy's declining home life send him down an increasingly violent path. This film is smart and disturbing in its portrayal of burgeoning psychopathy.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Songs Inspired by Horror Movies

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema kicked off the show's month long Halloween theme with a look at songs inspired by horror films. Here are a few of the songs discussed on the show and a few more that didn't make it.

"Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus
Bauhaus was a British gothic rock band active primarily the 1970s and 80s. The song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was one of the band’s first recordings and it would be their biggest and most enduring hit. The song refers to the actor best known for playing Dracula in Universal’s 1931 film. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” would appear in many motion pictures and television programs, in particular Tony Scott’s 1983 vampire picture The Hunger, and it has been frequently covered by other bands including CHVRCHES, Godhead, and The Electric Hellfire Club.

"Doll-Dagga Buz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag" by Marilyn Manson 
Marilyn Manson’s 2003 album The Golden Age of Grotesque channeled the outrageous and scandalous art movements of the 1930s, in particular the decadent art of Weimar-era Germany, and adapted it to early 2000s metal music. Among the album’s unusual tracks was “Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag” which made reference to Todd Browning’s 1932 horror film Freaks. The refrain “You’re one of us now! You’re one of us!” is directly from Freaks’ infamous dinner scene.

"Eyes Without a Face" by Billy Idol
Georges Franju’s 1960 horror drama Eyes Without a Face tells the story of a mad surgeon who has accidentally disfigured his daughter’s face and kidnaps other young women with the intention of transplanting their faces onto hers. Eyes Without a Face inspired Billy Idol to write a song with the same title and it was Idol’s first top ten hit, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100.

"I Was a Teenage Werewolf" by The Cramps
The Cramps were active from the late 1970s through 2009 although the bulk of the band’s work was generated in its first decade. Some of The Cramp’s songs made reference to horror films, especially the drive-in pictures of the 1950s, such as “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.”

Midian by Cradle of Filth
The black metal band Cradle of Filth has been influenced by history, religion, and literature as well as motion pictures and each of their albums works through a different concept. Cradle of Filth’s 2000 album Midian was inspired by Clive Barker’s novella Cabal and its movie adaptation Nightbreed. The album features guest narration by actor Doug Bradley, best known for playing Pinhead in the Hellraiser films and who also has a supporting role in Nightbreed.

"Monster Mash" by Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers
In the late 1950s and early 60s there was a resurgence of interest in the Universal monster films that had been popular fifteen to twenty years earlier. This was partly due to the advent of television and the syndicated broadcast of classic movies like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. At the same time the “novelty song” became popular, especially with the young listeners who were buying up seven-inch vinyl singles. In an effort to capitalize on those trends a lot of monster-themed novelty songs were produced such as “The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, “Jekyll and Hyde” by Jim Burgett, and “The Mummy’s Bracelet” by Lee Ross. The most famous of these was “Monster Mash” by Bobby (Boris) Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers.

"Nature Trail to Hell" by Weird Al Yankovic
Slasher movies became very popular in the 1980s. Many of these movies took place at summer camps and in titles such as Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp, and The Burning, campers and camp counselors were terrorized by mysterious killers. At the same time there was a brief resurgence in the 3-D format and these two fads coalesced in 1982’s Friday the 13th Part 3. “Weird Al” Yankovic seized upon those trends on his 1984 album In 3-D which featured the track “Nature Trail to Hell.”

"A New Beginning" by Wolfie's Just Fine
The song “A New Beginning” by the folk band Wolfie’s Just Fine features a narrator recollecting the first time he saw the movie Friday the 13th Part V and in particular a gruesome double murder of two young lovers frolicking in the woods. The music video makes the song’s inspiration explicit with an impressively accurate recreation of the scene from the film.

"A Nightmare on My Street" by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
The Nightmare on Elm Street series had several songs commissioned as cross promotions for their films such as Dokken’s “Dream Warriors” and The Goo Goo Dolls “I’m Awake Now.” In the lead up to 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince recorded the song “A Nightmare on My Street” but New Line Cinema rejected it in favor of The Fat Boys’ “Are You Ready for Freddy?” Nevertheless, “A Nightmare on My Street” was released anyway and a music video was produced. New Line intervened with a lawsuit and the music video was never publicly shown. However, after an out of court settlement, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “A Nightmare on My Street” was released and reached the number 15 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Ouch" by Be Your Own Pet
George A. Romero’s second zombie film was 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. That picture was marketed with the tagline “When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” The band Be Your Own Pet paid tribute to Dawn of the Dead in the song “Ouch” from their self-titled 2006 album. The song describes a zombie apocalypse and the refrain utilizes the movie’s tagline.

"Thriller" by Michael Jackson 
The title track of Michael Jackson's 1982 album remains a staple of Halloween parties. The song pays tribute to horror cinema and the fun of being scared, incorporating narration from esteemed horror actor Vincent Price. The music video is one of the great accomplishments in the genre and was directed by John Landis with special effects makeup by Rick Baker who had collaborated on 1981's An American Werewolf in London.

"Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon
The title of Warren Zevon’s hit song “Werewolves of London” was adapted from the 1935 movie Werewolf of London directed by Stuart Walker. The lyrics make reference to father and son actors Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney Jr.; the elder had starred in seminal horror films of the silent era including 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera while the younger Chaney played the title role in 1941’s The Wolf-Man.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sounds of Cinema October Programming 2016

October is here and that means it’s time for a month of Halloween-related programming on Sounds of Cinema. Each episode this month will take a look at a particular theme or set of films and feature music to match. Here is a preview of what’s to come:

October 2: Songs Inspired by Horror Films
This episode will break from Sounds of Cinema's usual format. Rather than playing music from the movies, this episode will play music inspired by the movies. And in particular, this show will feature songs inspired by horror films such as "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival and "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath.

October 9: Evil Children 
We idolize children and imbue them with innocence and the promise of a better future. So it's all the more frightening when filmmakers turn children into figures of terror. This episode will look at movies in which the children are the threat.

October 16: The Horror of Real Life 
We often turn to movies to escape the terrors of reality but sometimes moviemakers turn our realities into celluloid nightmares. This episode will examine motion pictures that have adapted real life for the screen with frightening results.

October 23: Scream Retrospective 
This year is the twentieth anniversary of the movie Scream. Half of this episode will be spent looking back on the seminal horror film of the 1990s and the other half will take a look at the movies that preceded Scream and anticipated its self aware sense of humor.

October 30: The Great Horror Sequels/Pledge Drive
On October 30th, KMSU and KQAL will air different programs.

89.5 KQAL FM: Sequels are all the rage in Hollywood right now but the horror genre paved the way from Bride of Frankenstein to the Nightmare on Elm Street series. While many sequels don't justify their existence, some do that and more. This episode will look back at the horror sequels that equaled or eclipsed their predecessors.

89.7 KMSU FM: The station will be in the midst of its fall pledge drive.Sounds of Cinema will feature the pledge drive program.

October 30/31: Halloween Special
Airing on Sunday, October 30th at 11pm on 89.5 KQAL FM and then again at midnight on 89.7 KMSU FM the Sounds of Cinema Halloween Special will provide the soundtrack for your All Hallows Eve with an hour-long mix of Halloween-related film music.

Sounds of Cinema can be heard every Sunday on the following stations:
  • 9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona, MN and online at
  • 11am on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato, MN and online at

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Film Screening: Everything Before Us

The Winona State University Asian American Club is sponsoring a screening of Everything Before Us at 5pm on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 in Stark Hall room 120.

Everything Before Us takes place in the near future, where the government oversees all romantic relationships. The film follows the stories of an older couple who must revisit their past and a younger couple entering their first registered relationship. 

Here is the trailer:

The screening will be followed by a conversation about the lack of representation of Asians in American films.

The event is free and open to the public.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Gene Wilder Retrospective

Actor, writer, and filmmaker Gene Wilder passed away on August 29, 2016. He had a unique career and was a singular figure in American cinema. Wilder, whose birth name was Jerome Silberman, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1933. Allegedly, he adopted his stage name from dramatist Thorton Wilder, who wrote the play Our Town. Wilder got his start in show business on Broadway in the early 1960s and he acted in made-for-television specials of stage dramas including a supporting role in the 1966 version of Death of a Salesman. Upon breaking into motion pictures, Wilder established himself as a major figure in American comedy with roles in movies like The Producers, The Frisco Kid, Silver Streak, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He was also active behind the camera with writing credits on films such as Young Frankenstein and See No Evil, Hear No Evil and he directed a handful of titles in the 1970s and 80s including The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother, The World’s Greatest Lover, The Woman in Red, and Haunted Honeymoon. In his later years Wilder wrote several books including three novels, a collection of short stories, and the memoir Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art, which was published in 2005.

Here is a look back at the highlights of Wilder’s career:

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Gene Wilder’s first role in motion pictures was the part of Eugene Grizzard in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. He played a mortician who is taken hostage for a short while by the Barrow gang. The role was small but important to the movie and it demonstrated Wilder’s offbeat comic style.

The Producers (1967)
Gene Wilder’s first lead role in a motion picture was in Mel Brooks’ 1967 film The Producers. Released the same year as Bonnie and Clyde, the film was a farce about a pair of Broadway producers who plot to defraud their investors by deliberately putting on a show that is guaranteed to flop. For its time, The Producers was a very crude and transgressive movie and when it was released the film received a mixed critical response. Over time The Producers has gained respectable status and in 2001 it was adapted into a successful stage musical. 1967’s The Producers was the first of several collaborations between Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, a partnership that would prove quite fruitful to both of them. The Producers was recognized at the Academy Awards with Brooks winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Wilder getting a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Blazing Saddles (1974)
Following The Producers, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder collaborated again on 1974’s Blazing Saddles. In this film an African American assumes the post of sheriff in a western frontier town. Blazing Saddles was a spoof of the western genre and especially the racism of Hollywood movies. The picture is very silly but the absurd humor is combined with a provocatively honest and very funny take on racism. The movie was especially potent at the time and after an in-studio screening some Warner Bros. executives debated whether Blazing Saddles should even be released. Even today the film’s racial humor is challenging and Mel Brooks has doubted that he’d be able to get Blazing Saddles made in today’s Hollywood system. Gene Wilder was cast in a supporting role as a deputy and he had an easy and enjoyable rapport with Cleavon Little as the sheriff. The screenplay for Blazing Saddles was co-written by comedian Richard Pryor who would collaborate with Gene Wilder on several later movies.

Young Frankenstein (1974)
During the making of Blazing Saddles Gene Wilder shared with Mel Brooks a treatment he had written for Young Frankenstein and it was their next collaboration. Like Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein was a spoof, in this case a send up of the classic Universal monster movies. Wilder co-wrote the screenplay with Brooks and played the lead role as the grandson of the mad scientist from James Whale’s Frankenstein films. Wilder asserted a degree of control over Young Frankenstein that makes it distinctly different from either The Producers or Blazing Saddles. The humor of Young Frankenstein isn’t quite as loony as those titles. It’s more deadpan and it maintains a tighter control over its tone. Mel Brooks has said that although Blazing Saddles was his funniest movie, Young Frankenstein was his best made film. The quality of Young Frankenstein was due to a variety of factors but Gene Wilder’s creative influence was certainly one of them. Released in 1974, Young Frankenstein was a hit and like Blazing Saddles it is frequently cited as one of the greatest comedies ever made.

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor (1976 - 1991)
Another of Gene Wilder’s frequent collaborators was Richard Pryor. The comedian had a writing credit on Blazing Saddles and was known for his edgy stand up work. Pryor’s transition to movies was rocky but much of his best film work came in his partnership with Gene Wilder. Their first film together was 1976’s Silver Streak directed by Arthur Hiller. This movie channeled the filmography of Alfred Hitchcock in the story of an everyday guy, played by Wilder, who is caught in a murder plot while aboard a passenger train. He’s aided in his struggle by a petty criminal played by Richard Pryor. The tone of Silver Streak is all over the place with some parts madcap comedy and other parts serious action film. The radical shifts in tone shouldn’t work but they do and Wilder’s performance is the glue that holds Silver Streak together.

The actors would reteam in 1980’s Stir Crazy, 1989’s See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and 1991’s Another You. The movies Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor made together were uneven but there was something quite special about the on-screen pairing of these two performers. Like Blazing Saddles a lot their films featured some risqué racial humor. In lesser hands this would have been simply cringe-inducing but Wilder and Pryor make it cringe worthy and funny. They brought out the best in each other and their comedic whole was bigger than the sum of Wilder and Pryor’s parts.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
In today’s movie marketplace there are a lot of fantasy titles from superhero movies to animated features to adaptations of young adult novels. And although a lot of these movies benefit from today’s advanced filmmaking technology it is rare to see a fantasy that charms the audience in the same way as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The design of Wonka’s factory has such unusual spaces and features that it is an absurd and surreal place that plays to the cinematic form in a way more literal fantasy films don’t. This is enhanced. by the wonderful music score by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley that includes numbers such as “Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination” as well as the many Oompa Loompa skits. And at the center of the movie's charm this movie is Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. Wilder always had a dark and mischievous way about him and Willy Wonka is one of the classic matches of an actor and a role. There’s nothing quite like him in other fantasy movies. Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is actually a sinister figure whose wickedness is belied by his confections and goofy outfit. In fact, the movie has a mean spiritedness to it but that’s matched by a sense of justice.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sounds of Cinema LIVE from Minnesota State Fair

This Sunday, September 4th, 2016, Sounds of Cinema will be broadcasting live from the Minnesota State Fair for the 11am broadcast on 89.7 KMSU FM. The station is broadcasting from the fair all weekend.

The show will still play as normal at 9am 89.5 KQAL FM.

Both broadcasts will include reviews of Don't Breathe and Pete' Dragon as well as a retrospective of Gene Wilder's career and include music from Young Frankenstein and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Film Reviews: August 7, 2016

Here is a summary of the films reviewed on today's show:
  • Despite some logical flaws, Captain Fantastic is a smart story of a family trying to live a genuinely countercultural life. The movie is able to dramatize that experience while illuminating our culture’s shortcomings and this family drama presents us with some interesting and complicated questions about how we live our lives. 
  • Jason Bourne is a competent action film but it doesn’t have the edge that distinguished the first three Bourne films. It’s obvious that the filmmakers are at a loss for what to do and the movie retreads the franchise’s greatest hits.
  • Nerve is frequently ridiculous but it is also fun. As a teenage coming of age story and a techno thriller the movie succeeds more than it fails and the filmmakers successfully channel the cultural zeitgeist the way John Hughes did in the 1980s and Kevin Williamson did in the 1990s.
  • The Game is a movie that plays with the audience’s expectations in a way that is very satisfying. Those who delight in the art of illusion will find The Game to be a fun head trip and the movie is very interesting entry in David Fincher’s filmography.

You can find full text of every review in the Sounds of Cinema Review Archive.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Film Reviews: July 31, 2016

Here is a summary of the films reviewed on today's show:
  •  Star Trek Beyond is a satisfying sci-fi action picture. It’s not much more than that and Beyond lacks much of what was interesting about Star Trek and set it apart from other sci-fi properties. But as mainstream popcorn entertainment the movie works.
  •  Lights Out is a fun supernatural horror picture. It’s not an especially memorable movie and it is firmly within the realm of PG-13 horror but this is an efficient and enjoyable exercise in gotcha scares.
  •  The Secret Life of Pets is an entertaining animated picture. The movie is well below the bar set by its competition such as Zootopia and Finding Dory but it ought to satisfy families looking for an evening at the movies.
  • There is a serious documentary to be made about the failures of Hillary Clinton and the complicated history of the Democratic Party but Hillary’s America is not it. This is another clumsy attempt at political relevance by a pseudo-intellectual who is not the least bit interested in truth or democracy but only in shoring up his brand for his next exercise in cinematic and political hackery. 
  • The original Manchurian Candidate was a product of a particular time and it was highly unusual in 1962 both thematically and cinematically. For those reasons alone it is significant. The film remains an intelligent and subversive thriller that unsettles in the way it taps into unconscious fears about authority and autonomy. 

You can find full text of every review in the Sounds of Cinema Review Archive.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Film Reviews July 24, 2016

Here is a summary of the films reviewed on today's show:

The specter of the original Ghostbusters haunts the remake and the new film isn’t an instant classic. However, the new Ghostbusters does accomplish what it sets out to do: concoct a fun mix of comedy and supernatural action that reintroduces the series to a younger generation.

The BFG has some great looking imagery but it’s just not very entertaining. The movie is unlikely to hold the attention of children or their parents because it fails so fundamentally with its storytelling.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is an acceptable summer comedy. It recalls the “one crazy summer” movies the 1980s and it has many of the same appeals as titles like Caddyshack and The Great Outdoors. Mike and Dave is not nearly as funny as those pictures but it is amusing enough to merit a recommendation.

The Purge: Election Year is a flawed movie but it is also an effective piece of action filmmaking and a relatively smart political allegory. This is something all too rare in the theatrical market place: an entertaining movie that actually has something provocative to say.

Chi-Raq is an uneven picture but its irregularness is key to why it is unique. The film is heavy handed but it also has a sense of humor and the passion of its message and the ambition of its ideas make this an impressive piece of work.

You can find full text of every review in the Sounds of Cinema Review Archive.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Movies of 1986

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema examined the films of 1986. Here's a look at some of the memorable titles from that year:

Dir. James Cameron

The sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien is among the best sequels ever made and one of the rare follow ups that is better than the original (although that is a matter of debate). The movie features more nuanced characters and a bigger story. The film was later expanded with a director's cut that was twenty minutes longer and is generally considered the definitive version.

Back to School 
Dir. Alan Metter

One of the best--if not the best--Rodney Dangerfield film was Back to School. Reuniting Dangerfield with writer Harold Ramis (who had co-written and directed the comic in 1980's Caddyshack), Back to School is classic Rodney, playing to his strengths while providing enough of a story to give the movie a narrative shape.

Crocodile Dundee
Dir. Peter Faiman

This Australian film concerned a New York City reporter who travels down under to interview a rugged outdoorsman. Crocodile Dundee was one of the biggest hits of 1986 and spawned two sequels. What's sometimes underappreciated about this film is that it is a romantic comedy, making its box office success all the more impressive.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Dir. John Hughes

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the crown jewel in John Hughes' filmmaking career. The writer-director had his finger on the pulse of 1980s youth culture and his films frequently possessed a lighthearted irreverence and a quiet profundity. Hughes also set many of his movies in the Chicago area and the action of this film gets out of the suburbs, making it a time capsule of the Windy City in the 1980s. The impact of Ferris Bueller's Day Off can be seen as recently as 2016's Deadpool.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Dir. Tom McLoughlin

The Friday the 13th series was one of the defining franchises of the 1980s and the sixth entry was distinct from the other movies in the series. In the late 1980s the horror genre got silly, combining gore with a goofy sense of humor, and Jason Lives was enjoyably self aware a full decade before Scream. As a result, this film was one of the only Friday the 13th movies to get a few positive reviews from critics.

Dir. David Anspaugh

The template for the sports film was already established by 1986 but Hoosiers perfected it. The definitive basketball movie, Hoosiers has exactly what we expect from this kind of picture--underdogs, redemption, inspirational speeches--and it set the standard for the way sports movies are made.

Little Shop of Horrors 
Dir. Frank Oz

This adaptation of the stage musical (which itself was adapted from the 1960 Roger Corman film) was a fun piece of work with a cast that included Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, John Candy, and Bill Murray. The version released to theaters in 1986 was not the original cut. As originally written and shot, Little Shop of Horrors had a darker ending that was jettisoned due to poor test audience reactions. The original version of Little Shop of Horrors has been restored for the movie's release on Blu-ray.

Dir. Michael Mann

This adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon was helmed by Michael Mann of Miami Vice and Heat fame. The movie is very much a work of the 1980s and it features impressive use of color and music. Manhunter was a box office failure in 1986 but the success of The Silence of the Lambs resulted in its rediscovery and reappraisal.

Dir. Oliver Stone

Platoon largely defined the way in which the American experience in Vietnam would be portrayed on screen. The movie concerns a newbie soldier who is dropped into the jungles of southeast Asia and falls under the direction of two opposing officers. Although he made better works since, Platoon is the essential Oliver Stone movie (for both better and worse reasons).

Stand By Me 
Dir. Rob Reiner

The irony of Stephen King adaptions is that most of the best films are not adapted from his supernatural horror stories. Instead it's movies like Stand By Me that distinguish the Stephen King filmography. This story of four young men out to find the corpse of a fallen schoolmate has a great cast including Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell. Young male adolescence has rarely been captured as well in a motion picture.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Dir. Leonard Nimoy

The most successful Star Trek film to star either the original or the Next Generation cast, The Voyage Home remains one of the most unique entries in the series. It is very funny and radically different from the more militaristic Star Trek films that followed.

Top Gun 
Dir. Tony Scott

The movie that made Tom Cruise a movie star remains one of the actor's best films. Top Gun was on the cutting edge of cinema; its fast paced editing style would become the norm in years to come. It also had a very popular soundtrack and this was one of the first movies in which the soundtrack album became a critical part of the marketing and legacy of the picture.

Other films of 1986 worth mentioning:
  • An American Tale
  • Big Trouble in Little China 
  • Blue Velvet
  • The Color of Money  
  • The Delta Force
  • The Fly  
  • The Golden Child
  • The Karate Kid Part II
  • Labyrinth 
  • Lucas
  • The Mission 
  • The Mosquito Coast 
  • Poltergeist II: The Other Side 
  • Salvador
  • Short Circuit 
  • Sid and Nancy 
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
  • Three Amigos
For more on movies and media of 1986, check out the IMDb page for that year.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ben and Andy Wardinski on the Movies of 1986

On Sunday, July 17th Sounds of Cinema host Nathan Wardinski will be joined by his brothers Andy and Ben for a look at movies from the year 1986. In this special episode, the three Wardinski siblings will discuss a few of the memorable titles of that year including Aliens, Crocodile Dundee, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Sounds of Cinema airs Sunday mornings at 9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona, MN and at 11am on 89.7 KMSU FM. The show can be heard in the broadcast area and live online at each station's website.