Just Above Sunset Archives

June 29, 2003 Reviews

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Some notes on what seems to be out there, and what some of us have sampled....


So sue me if you're so unhappy... .

Comments on Recent Books and on Copyright Law and Satire:

  • J.K. Rowling's new Harry Potter book, The Order of the Phoenix
  • Ann Coulter's new book Treason.  (Joe McCarthy was right, there were communists everywhere in the fifties, and Joe was a real American hero, just misunderstood.  He was a good guy doing the right thing.)
  • A Review of the Legal Action Fox News is Taking Against Organizations Making Fun of Fox News

The item is long so it is here: I'm Just Wild About Harry (just click)


Two Blockbuster Movies:
Profit in the Familiar

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (Sony)
Director "McG"

  • A "feeble," "sloppy" sequel - Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro
  • "It resembles a movie so much that soon it demands something resembling motivation, character, a plot, anything to explain the seemingly arbitrary connections between the stunts and the skits." - Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Sean Axmaker
  • "Like eating a bowl of Honeycomb drenched in Red Bull." - NY Times' Elvis Mitchell

The Hulk (Universal)
Director Ang Lee

  • "Incredibly long, incredibly tedious, incredibly turgid." - NY Times' A.O. Scott
  • "Jungian and Hegelian hoo-ha." - New York's Peter Rainer
These were the two big commercial film releases this week.  Half the major releases this year seem to be sequels or remakes or prequels, or based on comics, or on some old television series.  Heck, most of them are. 
I suspect I seldom go to films because I almost always feel they're taking my nine bucks and giving back to me recycled stuff that wasn't that good in the first place - but now the soundtrack is louder and the special effects quite amazing.  But it's still stuff I know.  For nine bucks I can buy a used oddball CD at Amoeba Music on Sunset and listen to interesting music, or buy two packs of pipe tobacco and read the foreign press on the web and pet the cat.  Film is not my thing.  It's mostly silly stuff.
Why is this?  I traded email with an old friend this week about The Hulk. 
Remember this is Hollywood.  My friend has written more than a few films scores, and worked as Music Director on any number of hit television series, and done commercials and the whole Hollywood music scene.  He knows his stuff.
I sent my friend an article from the Los Angeles Times that I assumed would set him off.  It seems the director of The Hulk, Ang Lee, three months before the film's release, was forced by the studio to replace the fellow who wrote the first soundtrack.  He had to fire a friend and bring in Danny Elfman to write two hours of music and other scoring for this new film. 
It seems Universal was really worried the original composer, Mychael Danna, couldn't provided what was needed for a "blockbuster" film.  The music didn't sound right to them.  Universal's President of Film Music had seen the rough cut.  Can that art-house music!  This is the big time here.  Bring in Danny Elfman!  Elfman scored Batman, Spider-Man, Planet of the Apes, Mission Impossible and both Men in Black films.  Pay him his one and a half million and save the project!
And that is what happened.  My friend commented that "this is what happens sometimes when second-tier composers (Mychael Danna) finally get a big break. All of Ang Lee's films have been independent movies - The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger.  But this is a major studio film and they just like their very, very short list.  My bet is behind the scenes Ang was mortified to have to fire Mychael and probably didn't want to and got in a big fight with Universal brass.  I'd bet Elfman's $1.5 million pay on that.  The comfort level for the studios is very, very low.  The list remains only major established name players."

Now this is not my area of even vague expertise... but it seems to me my friend is right, that large organizations are uncomfortable with something that is not a known factor.  ROI (Return on Investment) considerations make for a lot of the same old same old.  Risk and profit don't mix.  The economy is sour.  Not the time to be adventurous.
The next major studio that manages to have five profitable quarters in a row and builds a small nest egg -- they might take a chance.  Maybe.  But these days it's survival time.  Go with "the known."
Remember when the folks in Atlanta came up with the "New Coke?"  That lasted four months and they had to come back with "Coke Classic" right away.  Risk?  Give folks what they expect.  And as my brother always says of his successful twenty-seven year run in the restaurant business - "Offend the most people the least." 
Is film an "art form?"  Art has to do with expression, with surprising people with insight or image or sound.  Profit has to do with the familiar - with avoiding big surprises.  Here in Hollywood if you provide just a few little, even tiny surprises embedded in a stew of ordinary crap they'll call you an innovative genius. 
Films I like?
I caught The Bourne Identity on cable yesterday.  Great car chase with an old Mini Cooper through most of Paris.  Nice shots of Switzerland in the opening twenty minutes.  I have no idea what the film was supposed to be about.  It seemed pointless, but "serious."  But as a travelogue with car chases?  Fine.  And it was free. 


Summer Music:
Elis Regina

Okay, it is summertime and this week I recommend summer music.
Think Brazil, but not the usual Bossa Nova stuff.  I recommend Elis Regina - born March 17, 1945 in Porto Alegre, Brazil and died January 19, 1982 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Obscure?  Not if you're Brazilian, I suppose.  And there are more than a few of her fans here in Los Angeles.
This is far and away the best popular singer in any language I have ever encountered.  Incredible control and musicianship, and a sense of humor.  The first time I heard a recording ten years ago my jaw dropped.  Clarity, precision and warmth.  But you decide.
On Personalidade (Verve 314 514 135-2) you'll get an overview.  She takes an old, dog tune, Fascination, and makes it work.  I sent a tape of that to an eighty-year-old woman in Montmartre and made a friend for life.  So it's in Portuguese (Fascinação).  So what?  It's awesome.  And Vou Deitar E Rolar (Quaquaraquaquã) will have you dancing around the room - as far as I can make out the lyric tells us all to relax and go with the flow of life.  That works here. 
And the best cut is Aguas de Março (The Waters of March) - but that is one of my favorite tunes of all time.  Great chord changes, fine melody.  And it's kind of an existential samba - just a list of things like a brick wall in the sun, a puddle of water and a distant sound.  Each item says nothing and evokes everything.  If William Carlos Williams had written a samba and not a poem about a red wheelbarrow or that plum... but I fear that is far too obscure an allusion.
Summer music?  Well summer is starting here.  In Brazil winter is beginning.  But this is still fine music.