Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Zero Days Screening

The documentary film Zero Days will be shown on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 7pm in the Stark Hall Auditorium at Winona State University. A part of the university’s “Our Digital Humanity” theme, Zero Days explores cyber warfare and the Stuxnet computer virus.

Directed by prolific documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), Zero Days plunges the viewer into a frightening new world of warfare. Playing like a Hollywood cyber thriller that also happens to be true, Zero Days alleges that American and Israeli intelligence and military forces created a cyber-weapon intended to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. But, as Zero Days reveals, the Stuxnet computer virus may very well have opened up a whole new battlefield with no rules of engagement.

As Michael Hayden, former Director of the National Security Agency and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, puts it, “This has the whiff of August 1945. Somebody just used a new weapon and this weapon will not be put back into the box.”

Winona State University professor Dr. David Speetzen will be on hand after the screening to talk about the film, cyber warfare, and related topics.

Zero Days runs 116 minutes and is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Admission is free and open to the public.

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

You can find out more about the film here

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Film Reviews: March 12, 2017

Here is a recap of the films reviewed on today's episode of Sounds of Cinema:

Get Out is a fun and frightening movie that’s also quite smart. This is an impressive directorial debut from Jordan Peele, who’s otherwise best known for his comic efforts with Keegan-Michael Key, and it’s a truly subversive scare.

Logan is one of the best, if not the best, entry in the X-Men film series and certainly the best of the standalone Wolverine films. It’s a different movie than its associates in the X-Men universe but in ways that distinguish it and make it a better movie. 

The Shack is so focused on its faith-affirming message that the filmmakers forget to do the storytelling work that would make that message meaningful or impactful. It is not a badly intentioned film but it isn’t very well executed either.

A Brand New Testament is a weird black comedy. The film does not maximize its premise but it does have a lot in it that is funny and thoughtful. A Brand New Testament is unlikely to play for faith-based viewers looking for a reverent and sentimental story but fans of Life of Brian and Dogma ought to get a kick out of it. 

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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Good Music in Bad Movies

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema featured good music from bad movies. Here is a recap of the films discussed on today’s show as well as a few additional titles.

The 13th Warrior (1999)
Directed by: Michael Crichton
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

The 13th Warrior was based upon Michael Crichton’s novel Eaters of the Dead. The film was an adventure story set in the era of Vikings that starred Antonio Banderas and was directed by John McTiernan. The movie had a long and complicated production and after an initial test screening McTiernan was removed from the director’s chair and replaced by Crichton while composer Graeme Revell was replaced by Jerry Goldsmith. The final movie received tepid reviews. But the score to The 13th Warrior remains popular among Goldsmith’s fans and the music was reused in other films like Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.

Alien 3 (1992)
Directed by: David Fincher
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal

Fans of the Alien series have never quite gotten over this installment. Following 1986’s Aliens, the third film quite literally trashed everything that its predecessor had accomplished. Alien 3 is a solemn and nihilistic story and composer Elliot Goldenthal complements the movie with a mournful score that is alternately creepy and beautiful.

Death Wish II (1982)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Music by: Jimmy Page

The original Death Wish told the story of a vigilante, played by Charles Bronson, who patrols the streets of New York City and kills muggers with a handgun. The 1974 film was a critical and commercial success. Cannon Films produced a series of sequels throughout the 1980s, starting with Death Wish II in 1982. The Death Wish sequels were quick buck productions that weren’t well received by critics. Roger Ebert, who gave the original Death Wish a three star review, awarded no stars to Death Wish II, a score he reserved for “movies that are artistically inept and morally repugnant.” The music from the first Death Wish was composed by notable jazz musician Herbie Hancock. For the sequel, musical duties went to Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. His score to Death Wish II is the only redeemable part of the movie.

Exorcist II – The Heretic (1977)
Directed by: Joh Boorman
Music by: Ennio Morricone

1973’s The Exorcist was a groundbreaking movie and one of the biggest box office hits of its day. Warner Bros. produced a sequel that was besieged by script rewrites, creative conflicts, production delays, and extensive reshoots. Exorcist II – The Heretic was intended to take a cerebral and metaphysical approach to religious horror but it didn’t work. According to original Exorcist director William Friedkin, the sneak preview of Exorcist II was a disaster with the audience laughing at the movie and Warner Bros. executives fleeing the theater. In the years to come, Exorcist II would frequently be cited as among the worst sequels of all time. But its score by Ennio Morricone has many admirers. As an isolated listening experience, the music of Exorcist II hints at what the filmmakers intended. The track “Regan’s Theme” was recently featured in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.

Jaws the Revenge (1987)
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Music by: Michael Small

The Jaws sequels aren’t well regarded but the musical scores from these films were quite good. Composer John Williams returned for the first sequel and made one of his most underappreciated scores. Music duties were assigned to Alan Parker for 1983’s Jaws 3-D, a movie that is not good but is entertaining shlock. Parker repurposed Williams’ shark theme but used it sparingly and created an impressive array of themes for the new characters and locations. The series came to an end with 1987’s Jaws the Revenge, the worst of the lot. The movie was rushed into production and it shows in the finished product, which Universal made worse by adding a stupid and sloppy new ending for the film’s release on home video. Adapting Williams’ Jaws themes, composer Michael Small created an exciting and emotional score that is far better than the film it is associated with.

King Kong (1976)
Directed by: John Guillermin
Music by: John Barry

The original King Kong was released in 1933 and the movie became a classic. The special effects were groundbreaking at the time and remain very effective. The stop motion animation gives the original King Kong a fairytale charm that still plays. In 1976, Dino De Laurtentis produced a remake starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. The 1976 version of King Kong used an actor in an ape suit and some full-scale mechanical effects instead of stop motion animation and the result was a clumsy monstrosity that actually looked worse than the 1933 version. However, the music score by John Barry was terrific.

Purple Rain (1984)
Directed by: Albert Magnoli
Music by: Prince

By any metric of judging a dramatic feature film, Purple Rain is a lousy movie. The acting is terrible, the storytelling is clumsy, and it is consistently sexist and occasionally misogynistic. Like a lot of rock star movie vehicles, Purple Rain is about constructing and enhancing the star’s public persona and the narcissism is off-putting. But Purple Rain has some incredible musical performances, especially in its last twenty minutes, and the film is a testament to Prince’s musicianship and his mastery as a stage performer.

Spawn (1997)
Directed by: Mark A.Z. Dippé
Music by: Graeme Revell, Various Artists

One of the most popular comic books of the 1990s was Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. The title character was an anti-hero with powers from Hell who battled an assortment of demons, street thugs, and corrupt politicians. The series was initially adapted for HBO as an adult-oriented animated series that was ahead of its time. In 1997 Spawn was made into a live action movie but the results were a compromised mess. The subject matter necessitated darkness and violence but the movie was forced to achieve a PG-13 rating and a lot of the digital effects were lousy even for 1997. However, the movie featured an effective music score by Graeme Revell that unfortunately has never been released. The soundtrack album was a series of collaborations between metal and industrial bands of the mid-1990s like Marilyn Manson and the Sneaker Pimps, Korn and The Dust Brothers, and Slayer and Atari Teenage Riot. This same technique was previously used on the soundtrack to the 1993 movie Judgement Night, an otherwise forgettable action picture that featured collaborations between rock and hip hop artists including Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill and Slayer and Ice-T.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

Star Trek’s transition from television to the silver screen got off to a rocky start. 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a clumsy adaptation of the television show that was overlong, pretentious, and emotionally stilted. The movie is made watchable by Jerry Goldsmith’s music. The score filled in the sense of wonder and adventure that is otherwise missing from the movie. It also introduced the melody that would become the theme of The Next Generation television series. Goldsmith would later score 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (which his music could not save) as well as all four Next Generation feature films.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
Directed by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams

The magnum opus of John Williams’ career is his music from the Star Wars films. Williams’ scores from the original trilogy are among the greatest and most memorable film music ever created and a key part of what made them so phenomenally successful. Williams returned to the series for George Lucas’ ill-received prequel trilogy. 1999’s The Phantom Menace was the greatest disappointment of the triad but 2002’s Attack of the Clones is the worst with its incoherent story, lousy acting, and a music score that was butchered in the editing room. Since Star Wars has moved on from Lucas’ control there has been a deliberate effort to distance the franchise from the prequel trilogy but the music of these films remains a bright spot in the franchise and the themes that Williams created for these movies offer an aural idea of what the prequels could have been.

Sucker Punch (2011)
Directed by: Zach Snyder
Music by: Various Artists

Zach Snyder’s film Sucker Punch was a disaster that was frequently cited as one of the worst movies of 2011. But the soundtrack to Sucker Punch was generally well received and it is much more interesting than the movie it was created for. The album included a series of covers, with several performed by the cast, that benefited from a phantasmagoric sound.

The Wolfman (2010)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Music by: Danny Elfman

Joe Johnston’s remake of the classic Universal monster picture The Wolfman was besieged by production problems and was ultimately a disaster. An extensive reshoot was carried out during post-production and while retooling the film it was decided to jettison the score composed by Danny Elfman. But when time and money ran out Elfman’s score was retained and it has since been used in movie trailers for films such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and 12 Years a Slave.

The Words (2012)
Directed by: Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal
Music by: Marcello Zarvos

The Words was a forgettable drama about a struggling writer who finds someone else’s completed manuscript and publishes it as his own work. Released in 2012, The Words opened and quickly vanished from theaters without much notice but the film included an effective musical score by Marcello Zarvos.