Rob Reiner

Introduction

I think like so many others that grew up in the 80s and 90s, I was a fan of Rob Reiner long before I was aware of it. He’s been in the business as an actor since 1961, and a director since 1974. He’s been involved with so many classics and I wanted to make this post to highlight the ones I’ve seen so far.

This Is Spinal Tap

As Rob Reiner’s feature film debut, This Is Spinal Tap is a raucous good time, while somewhat painfully poking fun at the trials and tribulations that countless bands have experienced (from what I’ve read Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi particularly didn’t like the movie due to its scathing satirical accuracy).

Starring the witty trio of Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer (they would later star in similar improvisational comedies such as Best in Show and A Mighty Wind), the movie follows the band on its final American tour. Trials and tribulations follow the band, including the hilarious spontaneous combustion of their drummers. There are plenty of quips, on-screen gags, and jokes that takes multiple scenes or even the whole movie for the payoff laugh, and altogether makes this movie one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.

The Princess Bride

Fantasy movies enjoyed their peak in the 1980s, and while many tilted towards a dark outlook there was at least one bright, shining, romantic, and heartfelt exception: The Princess Bride. Adapted from his own novel, William Goldman’s script is filled with memorable characters and dialogue.

From a young farm boy to a renowned pirate, Westley must come to the rescue of his long-time love from marriage to Prince Humperdinck. Along the way are very unique and endearing encounters with Inigo Montoya, Miracle Max, Vizzini and Fezzik, and more.

This isn’t just one of Rob’s best movies, it is one of THE best movies of the 1980s, and if you haven’t seen it you simply must.

When Harry Met Sally…

Written by Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally is a delightful and quite truthful look at both friendships and romantic relationships between men and women, and whether they have to or can overlap or not. Starting when both are in college, Harry and Sally are driving from Chicago to New York. Harry comes off as cocky, opinionated, and even slightly chauvinistic, while Sally seems a bit ditzy, picky, and unsure of what she really wants both in life and in a man. The two part once they arrive in New York, but it won’t be long before they run into each other more than once throughout the movie. Along the way they bounce their thoughts and conclusions off of best friends, in roles well-remembered by Carrie Fischer and Bruno Kirby (“you made her meow?!”). While the film’s conclusion may seem a bit cliche and abrupt now (although the film does its best to show it does skip forward sometimes by months if not years), the film’s dialogue carries it well all the way through to the end. This is one of those movies that may work as well or better as a play, and just for the dialogue and performance of the key actors alone merits watching this movie.

Misery

Teaming up again with Princess Bride author William Goldman, this adaptation of the Stephen King novel is outstanding, as “simple” of a story and movie that it is (like When Harry Met Sally, it could easily be turned into a play). While I personally can’t recall much about James Caan’s performance in Misery, we certainly all remember Kathy Bateman’s!

After completing his latest novel at a remote cabin, author Paul Sheldon is returning when his Mustang (is that what he REALLY thought to drive in the snow?) veers off the road, critically injuring him. Luckily he is “saved” by Annie Wilkes, who happens to be a nurse. Awakening in her home, he discovers Annie is a huge fan of his novels. Learning he has written a new story, she begs him to read it, and Paul finally relents. Unfortunately, it’s nothing like what she wanted, and forces him to re-write it. Still injured and helpless, he has no choice, even though as time goes by the situation becomes unbearable and he has to figure out a way to escape.

While I haven’t read the novel yet (you can read the script here), this was a well-done suspense/thriller movie and adaptation, and I certainly wish Rob had directed more movies like this!

Conclusion

Rob has directed many more movies since Misery, and is still active. His track record more than speaks for itself; Rob stands as one of the best directors since the 1970s. Here’s to his continued health and work!

Website find: Cinephilia & Beyond

With a recent renewed interest in screenwriting I’ve been scouring the web for articles, reviews, etc. One of those sites with many interesting articles on screenwriting, particularly relating to the works of David Lynch, has been Cinephilia & Beyond. This site has numerous articles, not only related to screenwriting but also editing, cinematography, and more.

SOLO: A Star Wars Story

Yeah I need to finish my reviews for the other recent Star Wars movies, but I watched this yesterday and wanted to get this out while the movie was still fresh in my mind.

This will be a pretty short review, but I hope it’s pretty clear that its length doesn’t correlate my affection for this movie compared to other reviews I’ve written. In short, I loved this movie. I FINALLY got a Star Wars movie that isn’t about the fate of the whole frickin’ universe, and there’s no Jedis, no force, none of that!

It’s almost shocking how small-scale Solo: A Star Wars Story is. There’s a few key locations on a few different planets, but there’s no excessive location-hopping and scene cutting back and forth. The movie pretty much focuses on the key character, Han Solo, and only adds a dash of scenes for villains, side-kicks, etc. I think the casting was perfect; Alden Ehrenreich was great as a young Solo, channeling a bit of Harrison Ford but not trying to do an outright caricature. Donald Glover nearly steals the show as Lando, bringing style and swagger. Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson also shine in their roles, making the viewer constantly wonder just whose side they are on. Paul Bettany is great as the movie’s key villain, never ever going over the top and is more of a quiet threat that perfectly suits his style of acting.

While this movie evidently had a rocky road on the way to the theater, I think both director Ron Howard and writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan (how awesome to write a Stars Wars movie with your dad?!) have given us a very strong independent Star Wars movie, and for me it’s not only for sure in my top 3 picks, but it might just be my favorite Star Wars movie!

Adrian Lyne

Introduction

I only discovered Adrian’s movies thanks to playing the Silent Hill video games. After playing them and wanting more of that atmosphere and story, I looked online at similar games, films, and books. One of the first and most common replies, as far as film went, was to watch Jacob’s Ladder. I eventually did, and my mind was blown away. Since then I’ve watched two more of Adrian’s films, and while he hasn’t done much lately he is undoubtedly one of my top directors of all-time.

Fatal Attraction

Quote from Sleepless in Seattle: “Well I saw it and it scared the shit out of me! It scared the shit out of every man in America!”

That quote should pretty much sum up this movie. Just as Sleeping With the Enemy was a look at a disturbed and abusive man, in Fatal Attraction we see the same in a woman, albeit in a different situation. This movie covers sexual urges and acting upon them, infidelity, honesty and communication, and much more.

Michael Douglas stars as a lawyer in New York, living the good life with a picture-perfect family. At a publisher’s book release party he encounters Alex Forrest; she quickly starts to flirt with him and he doesn’t exactly discourage it. As time goes on life at home doesn’t seem so perfect and he sees Alex a few more times, and inevitably he gives in to her advances.

Well, Alex is a tad cray-cray. Hence the term bunny-boiler. After Michael comes to his senses he stops the affair and assumes that’s that, but Alex doesn’t accept it’s over. After harassing him and his family, including spending the day alone with his daughter, Michael has no choice but to tell his wife about the affair. He is of course kicked out, but eventually they reconcile, and not too far from a dramatic conclusion to the movie.

As with Adrian’s other movies, what struck me the most was the framing and lighting of this movie, especially the contrast between the lighter and comforting home life and the darker and increasingly-sinister affair. The pacing of the movie is excellent; little things here and there start to go wrong, not seem right, and then it continues to build all the way until the final confrontation in the house.

Jacob’s Ladder

As mentioned above, Jacob’s Ladder was undoubtedly one of the key influences on the Silent Hill video games, and not just because of the subway similarities. In a similar plot to Silent Hill 2, in Jacob’s Ladder a former Vietnam soldier starts to see things that don’t make sense, and through key events and meetings begins to suspect what the true meaning of things are.

Jacob is living with his girlfriend, who also works for the U.S. Postal Service. They share a small apartment, in stark contrast to the large townhome Jacob once shared with his wife and 3 kids. Gabe, the youngest, was killed before Jacob went to Vietnam, and of course it still haunts him after coming back. As time goes by more and more strange things happen to Jacob, and talking with his Army buddies it’s apparent he’s not alone. He sees more and more ghost and demons, and only with the guidance of his chiropractor can Jacob start to realize what the truth might be, as well as what he needs to do to truly move on.

Indecent Proposal

The last of the three movies I watched, I didn’t anticipate the emotion that this movie had, even more so than Adrian’s previous movies. As always beautifully lit and photographed, this movie also had the stellar performances of Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore; Robert Redford also gives a great performance of a confident and cocky rich man.

The premise for the movie, if you look at it on its own, is pretty ridiculous and out there. A rich man proposes to spend one night with a couple’s wife in exchange for a million dollars. While that’s a decent chunk of change, I can’t imagine any well-functioning couple would say yes. But of course this is a movie, and they agree. Harrelson regrets it as soon as Redford picks her up, while Moore is quite emotional but doesn’t show us that she doesn’t want to go along with it. Soon after it happens they fight and eventually separate. Moore does stay with Redford, at least until he slips up about the scheme. This is near the movie, and after leaving him Moore returns to where she and Harrelson met and fell in love, and we’re left with hope of reconciliation.

Somewhat unbelievable plot aside, it’s hard not to get sucked into this movie. Dynamic performances, beautiful lighting and photography, and a perfect music score all come together to make a very good movie.

Soundtracks – Part 2

Three years ago I wrote about my favorite soundtracks, focusing on computer and video games. I’ve discovered a few more since then, and I also wanted to include a few notable film soundtracks. It’s hard to talk about each soundtrack without also going into the game or film that it accompanies, but I’ll try to keep it short. Let’s go!

The 7th Guest



It’s hard to describe the music for The 7th Guest. It’s a weird, jazzy kinda thing. It’s definitely something that’s not heard very often, and I sure wish there was more of it. Checking out their horrifically-designed website, I don’t see a whole lot of material produced since this game. I’m glad I got to discover this music, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Alan Wake

 

The Alan Wake soundtrack is pretty hard to distinguish from a film soundtrack. It’s polished, dynamic, and emotive. It sometimes feels a little too polished and subdued, but there’s no doubt this is one of the best soundtracks for an incredible game. Petri Alanko has worked on several other projects, including Quantum Break and the Nightwish Imaginaerum soundtrack.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

 

During the limited time I played Amnesia The Dark Descent, the music definitely contributed to my uneasiness and encouragement to not explore very far at a time. While I enjoyed watching Markiplier’s playthrough of Amnesia I couldn’t hear much of the music; but when I took the time to listen to this soundtrack composed by Mikko Tarmia, I was very enthralled as well as unsettled. Check this link for a short Youtube video where Mikko discusses his process while creating the Amnesia soundtrack. Along with this soundtrack, Mikko has worked with Frictional Games to create the scores for the Penumbra series of games as well as Fricitional’s latest hit, SOMA. A soundtrack for a cancelled game, Tempest, is now available on Bandcamp as well.

Bastion



The Bastion soundtrack took me by surprise; like the music for The 7th Guest, it’s not what I was expecting at all, which is a good thing. With the use of acoustic guitar I couldn’t help but get a Firefly feel, but there’s still a subtle electronic base to it. Along with Bastion, Darren Korb has worked with Supergiant Games on their latest release, Transistor.

Blade Runner

 

A movie by Ridley Scott with a soundtrack by Vangelis. It’s hard to describe this combination other than monstrous, or even colossal. Using the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, Vangelis crafted one of the most sublime soundtracks ever heard, with notes of sorrow and wonder intertwining throughout. This perfectly fit the movie, blending sci-fi with noir. This is definitely one of those soundtracks you have to have!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

 

While Bethesda released Fallout 3 between The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and V: Skyrim, it still didn’t seem that long after Oblivion that Skyrim came out. Every screenshot and preview I saw involved snow. And hills. And tall mountains. Yay, more areas that the player has a hard time if even possible to travel! My experience with Oblivion was mixed, and I wasn’t sure Skyrim would be that much of an improvement, again with so little time seeming to pass between Bethesda’s games. Well, most of my worries were put to rest with Skyrim, and it is much closer to my ideal computer RPG.

As far as the music goes, it can be hard not to compare this soundtrack to Oblivion, Guild Wars, etc. Like Hans Zimmer, Jeremy Soule does have the ability to craft a certain signature sound for each project, but underneath it’s still the same composer, and for better or worse the listener is going to get a consistent experience in regards to the music. In Skyrim there is a bit more vocal work that fits in well with the Nord motif. We still get the beautiful strings and other soft sounds that help fill the void of sometimes slow exploration in the game, but even that is a bit more subdued and sparse compared to other games.

The Fifth Element

 

Released in 1997, The Fifth Element was one of the biggest-budget sci-fi movies at that point. Directed by Luc Besson, this movie went above and beyond when it came to everything: story, design, and even the music. Tapping the talents of fellow Frenchman Éric Serra, this movie has a very unique soundtrack, often moving from hard, explosive, face-hitting notes and accents to soft and subdued saxophone and keys.

Firewatch



Chris Remo has worked on several game soundtracks, and before the score for Firewatch he was probably best known for his work on Gone Home. Now a full-time member of Campo Santo, Chris worked on Firewatch as a designer, writer, and scorer. Compared to Gone Home, the music for Firewatch is much more subdued, utilizing electric piano and acoustic guitar for its outdoor vibes. Like many game scores each track is painfully short, and I always want more!

The Last Door


The Last Door is a short but excellent retro-style adventure game, featuring creepy visuals and a very emotive soundtrack by Carlos Viola. This soundtrack makes astounding use of cellos and other stringed instruments, and you can’t help but feel sucked in. Along with the soundtrack for the first game/season, Carlos also produced the soundtrack for Season 2.

Mirror’s Edge

 

Released in 2008, Mirror’s Edge was lauded for its incredible lighting and unique gameplay. The score, by Solar Fields, is an incredible electronic composition. Fitting perfectly with the game’s motif of running and climbing, this soundtrack would make an excellent workout accompaniment.

Mr. Robot



I had heard about Mr. Robot quite a lot before I finally got around to watching the first episode on Amazon Prime, and to say it floored me is an understatement. And the key reason for that wasn’t the acting, story, editing, etc.; not to say all of those weren’t fantastic, because they all were! It was actually because of the music. To say it’s stunning, or even superb, doesn’t serve justice to Mac Quayle‘s work. I would at least put this on par with Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy soundtrack or maybe even a notch above; it’s THAT good.

Shadowrun Returns

 

While I’ve played Shadowrun Dragonfall on PC, it was the music of Shadowrun Returns that I remember hearing in the game, as well as what’s available to listen to if purchased from GOG. It hasn’t been since the Deus Ex games (as far as being more cyberpunk rather than general sci-fi) that I’ve heard such outstanding music featuring synths and drum machines (but these days just as likely sequenced all via software, who knows!) that elicit the streets, clubs, gunfights, and more that the cyberpunk genre encapsulates so well. If I was to consider running an RPG session in the cyberpunk or near-future genre, this soundtrack would be an absolute necessity!

Silent Hill 2 & 3

 

While the music of the first Silent Hill was very sparse, somewhat atmospheric, and leaning towards industrial, it was the release of the next two games that Akira Yamaoka really upped the ante for video game music. They were also the games that ratcheted up the personal emotions and terrors that made the Silent Hill series such a success at that time. Bringing in more use of synths and electric pianos, electric guitar, and drums and other rhythmic sounds, the soundtracks of both Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 capture the horror and sadness of the games in a unique manner.

The Social Network

 

Anyone my age or older will recognize Trent Reznor first and foremost as the founder and key member of Nine Inch Nails. These days, he’s likely to be recognized just as much if not more for the outstanding film scoring he’s created along with Atticus Ross. The Social Network was the first film scored by this duo, and the first of 3 films of David Fincher‘s they worked on (the others being The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). While I can hear some NIN influence in the soundtrack, there’s also a lot more subtlety as a film soundtrack demands. It’s one of the few soundtracks I can still listen to over and over.

Tron: Legacy

 

When it comes to electronic music mastery I don’t think anyone could argue that what Daft Punk did for Disney’s Tron Legacy was nothing short of an astonishing masterpiece. It’s just that good. The movie itself was received with mixed responses (I personally think it’s far better than the first one), but there was no denial that what was pouring out of the speakers was true analog bliss. Utilizing monster modular synths and their decades of experience, Daft Punk delivered in spades. If I could only listen to one soundtrack ever again, I would choose this without hesitation; if I could only listen to one album period, this would be in the top 5 contenders.