James Bond WILL Return…in 2019

It sounds like it’s finally official: the 25th James Bond film will premiere on November 8th, 2019. And, allegedly, Daniel Craig has agreed to return for a final time as the legendary spy.

That James Bond WOULD return was never really in doubt (they’ve kept this series going since 1962, they’re not about to let it die now) it was just a question of when and who would be in the title role.

Truthfully, I’ve enjoyed the rebooted James Bond films, a lot more than I initially thought I would (it helped that they reintroduced Q and Moneypenny), but I am a little nervous about Craig returning a final time, assuming he’s actually agreed to this. Right now Daniel Craig is 49 years old, which would mean he’d be at least 50 when filming commences. Now, I know 50 is the new 30 and all that, but it doesn’t change the fact that Craig isn’t as young as he used to be, and as anyone who has seen A View to a Kill knows, the last thing you want to do is have Bond played by an actor who is too old for the part. I’m not saying Craig can’t do it, but he’s getting awfully close to the edge.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out before the film launches in two years.

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RIP June Foray (1917-2017)

Damnit. I KNEW this was coming eventually. When a legend like June Foray reaches 99 years of age, you know it’s only a matter of time before they leave you. And yesterday it finally happened: the last surviving person from the Golden Age of Animation has finally passed away, two months shy of her 100th birthday.

June Foray had a voice talent on a level with Mel Blanc, though many didn’t realize it for years (the saying goes “Don’t say that June Foray was the female Mel Blanc, rather say that Mel Blanc was the male June Foray”).

Among her many voice roles, June Foray provided the voice of:

  • Granny (Tweety Pie’s owner in the Looney Tunes cartoons)
  • Witch Hazel (the green witch who inevitably needs a rabbit for her potion)
  • assorted characters in Looney Tunes and Disney cartoons, often voicing a “nagging wife” character
  • Lucifer the Cat in Disney’s Cinderella (1950)
  • Rocky the Flying Squirrel and the evil Natasha in Rocky and Bullwinkle
  • Cindy Lou Who in the TV special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”
  • Grandmother Fa in Mulan (1998) and Mulan II (2004)
  • Jokey Smurf in the original cartoon The Smurfs
  • and so many more

With June Foray’s passing, the last living link to a Golden Age of cartoons is gone, truly the end of an era.

June Foray as Witch Hazel

Lucifer the Cat in Cinderella

Grandmother Fa in Mulan

Rest in peace June Foray, you are already sorely missed.

Disturbing Disney #14: Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia (1940)

*note: I’m only covering the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment, not the “Ave Maria” that follows

When I originally conceived of the Disturbing Disney series, I always planned on including Night on Bald Mountain from the finale of Fantasia (1940). It is well known that this segment is considered to be one of the darkest pieces of animation that Disney ever produced. But, and this might surprise you, it is also one of the few “disturbing” pieces that didn’t scare me as a child.

Night on Bald Mountain (1940)

Let me explain: if you haven’t seen the original Fantasia film, Night on Bald Mountain is based on the symphonic poem of the same name (and earlier referred to as St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain) by Modest Mussorgsky, with an arrangement created by his friend Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. The segment takes place one night in an unnamed country village surrounded by mountains. The highest peak is revealed to actually be the massive body of Chernabog, a terrifyingly huge black winged demon, who uses his evil powers to summon all the dead spirits, witches and other lesser demons to attend him and perform for his pleasure. After wreaking havoc all night long, Chernabog goes toward the village itself, only to be stopped by the distant church bells chiming for Matins, signalling the arrival of dawn, and the end of Chernabog’s power for the night.

As I mentioned earlier, Night on Bald Mountain did not scare me as a child. I thought long and hard about it, trying to remember how I felt watching Chernabog reveal himself, but I cannot find a single memory where I quivered in terror. If anything, I was almost in awe of what I was seeing. I mean just look at the creature below:

Chernabog_6

Chernabog is rightly considered a masterpiece of Disney animation. He’s a perfect example of the intensive labor that went into Golden Age Disney animation. In the opening minute, when Chernabog shrugs his wings open, you can feel the weight behind the motion, even though he’s nothing more than a drawing on the screen.

Now, on to the disturbing elements of this piece (and they are many). First of all, as I said before, this is considered to be one of the darkest (if not THE darkest) animations that Disney ever produced, because never before has such raw evil been depicted. In fact, in the earliest stages, Chernabog was intended to be Satan himself (and referred to as such) but such a blatant religious statement was deemed….unwise (that’s my assumption anyway). Even though he’s named differently, it’s not hard to view Chernabog as the Devil (he’s got horns, wings, big glowing eyes, if he were red instead of black he’d be a perfect likeness to traditional images of Satan).

Aside from being pure evil, what also makes Chernabog himself disturbing is his sheer size: he’s so large that his wings are viewed as a literal mountain top! Full size humans (I would assume) could stand on his palm with plenty of room to spare. Not that you would WANT to of course, at one point, the demon creates fire dancers that dance on his palms before being cruelly twisted into barnyard animals and finally morphed into blue demons that frantically dance to please their master.

Other disturbing elements include the various ghouls and skeletons that fly through the air when summoned. There are skeletons riding skeletal horses (a reference to the Danse Macabre), ghouls with glowing eyes, witches on brooms and other strange figures. By the final chaotic minutes of the piece, the disturbing factor is ramped up: there are harpies flying straight up to the screen (revealing they were topless in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment), skulls and weird masks, all moving in a frantic blur.

Funnily enough, even though Fantasia was released almost 80 years ago, Disney still receives complaints from parents of children traumatized by this particular segment. If you have young children, I would definitely be wary of letting them see this segment too soon, but don’t hide it forever either.

And that’s just a glimpse of my thoughts on Chernabog and Night on Bald Mountain, I hope you enjoy watching the segment in the above link. Let me know YOUR thoughts in the comments below.

For more Disturbing Disney, check out the main page here 

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First look at Ready Player One (2018)

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You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to talk about this. Ever since I burned through the book on my way to Vancouver (and found out the film adaptation was happening), I have been DYING to get a glimpse of this film. Finally, at San Diego Comic Con this past weekend, our wish was granted with a brief preview.

Ready Player One Trailer (2018)

My thoughts? They’ve NAILED it.

To be fair, we haven’t seen THAT much yet, but if you’ve read the book you have a good idea of what to expect: the stacks of trailers, the sensor equipment for the OASIS, not to mention the villainous IOI organization. And how about all of those pop culture references? I thought I’d caught them all but I missed a pretty big one. Remember that big race scene? Well, I was right in thinking that was Art3mis on the cool motorcycle, but look closely, that’s Kaneda’s iconic ride from Akira (1988). Also, if you’ve read the books, you’ll know why that last shot of the key is so exciting.

I can’t wait to see even more about this film, I can’t believe I have to wait until NEXT YEAR to see it!! I swear, if this film somehow turns out to be a dud I will be heartbroken!

What are your thoughts on this look into Ready Player One? Are you excited too? Let me know in the comments below! I was going to share my thoughts on the music from the Season 6 Game of Thrones finale (“Light of the Seven”) but sadly the technology ate my draft so it’ll have to wait for another day.

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Thinking about Game of Thrones

Note: this post may ramble somewhat

So, after several years of “not having time” to get caught up on Game of Thrones (until this past Sunday I hadn’t seen an episode in its entirety since “Mhysa” at the end of Season 3) the long-awaited premiere of Season 7 finally proved enough of a catalyst to get me to pick up with Season 4 and get caught up before we get too far into the current season.

Currently, I have finished season 4 and made it to “The House of Black and White” in season 5. My thoughts? WOW!! Even with watching the recaps, I’d forgotten how amazing this show is. Even though there’s a LOT of differences between the books and the show, Game of Thrones still remains one of the best adaptations of book-to-screen that I have EVER seen (and this is coming from someone who practically reveres Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings films not including the Hobbit trilogy).

I’d also forgotten how much I HATE Ramsay Snow/Bolton. One thing about Game of Thrones is that, just when you think you’ve met the absolute WORST character on the show in terms of morals (or the lack thereof), someone even slimier gets introduced. Though in this case I don’t think we can get any lower or slimier than that sadistic torture-loving creep Ramsay. The only thing that keeps me from screaming at the TV is knowing EXACTLY what’s going to happen to him in season 6 (I can’t wait!)

It was hard to say goodbye to Tywin Lannister. He’s a character I love to hate but Charles Dance played him to perfection. But now that he’s gone Cersei is going to find herself in over her head really fast (I’m somewhat looking forward to the walk of shame).

Over in Meereen, it was downright painful to watch Daenerys chain up Viserion and Rhaegal, mostly because you can tell the dragons have no idea what’s really happening. They’re sniffing around like their mother has given them a new place to play in and explore. It’s only when they turn around to leave with her that they realize they’ve been trapped and their snarls turn to cries of pain and confusion because their mother is leaving them in this dark place. It’s no wonder the next time she tries to see them that they snarl and spout fire at her.

Littlefinger.Needs.To.DIE

Seriously, he needs to die. Slowly. And PAINFULLY. It’s rather mind-boggling to consider that everything that has happened in this show is a direct result of his actions (Think about it: if Jon Arryn hadn’t been poisoned and died, King Robert wouldn’t have asked Ned Stark to be Hand of the King. If Catelyn hadn’t received a letter from her sister implicating the Lannisters, then Ned wouldn’t have grown suspicious of the Queen, he definitely wouldn’t have learned that Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen were the products of incest either. Bran wouldn’t be crippled, all of the direwolves would still be alive and Ned Stark would still have his head, etc.) I swear, if that weasel finds a way to survive all of this and is still breathing by the end of the series, I will scream bloody murder.

I absolutely love watching Varys and Tyrion talk to one another. I can’t wait to see Tyrion meet Daenerys.

The last thing I’d like to talk about has, in my opinion, major ramifications for how Cersei’s story will end. The opening of Season 5 sees a young Cersei and her best friend traveling to see Maggy the Frog (a woods witch) so they can learn about the future. The witch would rather be left alone but Cersei, being Cersei, persists and is then told she may ask three questions concerning what will happen in years to come. If you’ve read the books then you THINK you know what you’re going to hear: Cersei will marry the king (Robert), not the prince (Rhaegar) and she will be queen. Robert will have 20 (illegitimate) children while Cersei will have three (by Jaime). All of her children will die before her. And someday a younger, more beautiful queen will come to replace her (I’m almost certain this is Daenerys). And…that’s it. But that SHOULDN’T be it because the book contains one final line that is rather important:

“And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”

There’s not a WORD about the valonqar in the scene, which for the TV show means that Cersei will likely die by different means than in the books (I’m almost 100% certain that Jaime will kill Cersei in the books). But then how will she die in the show? I have a thought about that, and it’s based on something we saw in the premiere of season 7 (and the end of season 6 for that matter). Remember how Arya first murdered Walder Frey and then “all of the Freys who matter” while using Walder’s face? And then there’s her assertion that she is going to King’s Landing to kill the queen. If the “valonqar” theory is really off the table for the show, could it indeed be possible that Arya WILL in fact be the one to kill Cersei? Possibly, but I foresee a twist that will make show viewers AND book readers happy (I think). Suppose that Arya kills Cersei while wearing Jaime’s face? Cersei could die believing her own twin did the deed and only afterward would we learn that “Jaime” is in fact Arya. Of course that would mean Jaime has to die and I’m reluctant to see that happen.

I can’t wait to see where Season 7 takes us. Hope you liked my thoughts, if you have your own theory on how Cersei will die (because I’m sure she will die before this is over), please let me know in the comments below.

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Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

The pitch black comedy Dr. Strangelove (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) is one of those films you frequently see on lists of “Movies you must see before you die” . I’ve known of this film for years, but would you believe I only saw it for the first time several days ago? It’s true! Allow me to explain: twice a year Barnes & Noble has a 50% off sale for their Criterion film collection. And twice a year I look through the list to find one or two films (sometimes three) to pick up (I don’t have a choice anymore since Criterion pulled their collection from Hulu and I can’t afford the streaming service they started). For this sale, I added Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (bringing me closer to collecting all of his jidaigeki films) and, of course, Dr. Strangelove. I wasn’t going to pick it originally, as my thoughts going in were to pick up Kurosawa’s work only (I nearly bought Kagemusha instead). But then I saw Dr. Strangelove and I decided it would be good to keep collecting films besides Kurosawa. So I brought it home, put the disc in and started watching.

My first thought? Well this is…..different. I knew going in that Dr. Strangelove is a black comedy (that is, it makes fun of very serious subject matter, in this case nuclear war) but that still didn’t quite prepare me for everything I heard.

The plot is as follows: General Jack D. Ripper (Jack the Ripper, get it?) goes rogue and orders the 843rd Bomb Wing of the Strategic Air Command to attack using “Wing Attack Plan R” a plan that is to be used by a general when a prior nuclear strike has taken out his superiors. But in reality, no such strike has taken place and General Ripper is using this plan to conduct a pre-emptive strike on the Soviet Union, betting that once the Pentagon finds out, they will have no choice but to proceed with an all-out attack to prevent the Soviets from retaliating. Instead, the members of the War Room (including the President) meet with the Soviet Ambassador to figure out a way to either recall the planes or shoot them down to prevent them from firing on their targets. To make a long story short: all of the planes are eventually recalled but one (because that plane’s radio was damaged by a missile so they can’t receive the recall order). Choosing a closer target because they are low on fuel, a bomb is launched (with the pilot riding it down like a bronco) and the mushroom cloud is viewed from a distance. This triggers a hitherto unknwon “doomsday device” that the Soviet Ambassador has revealed to the War Room. Once triggered, the device detonates a large amount of nuclear bombs in various locations, bombs that have been tainted with a radioactive element that will encircle the Earth with deadly radiation for 93 years. Vague plans are made to move several hundred thousand people into deep mine shafts (where the radiation can’t reach) to ensure the survival of the human race, but before any firm conclusion is reached, there is a series of nuclear bomb explosions, leaving the fate of the world up in the air.

(Personally, I think the implication is that the Earth is destroyed)

One of the standout performances in this film is Peter Sellers (perhaps best known as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther) who plays no less than three parts in this film, each one with a different accent. His roles are:

  • Group Captain Lionel Mandrake: an exchange officer from the RAF (British accent)
  • Merkin Muffley, the President of the United States (a role played completely straight I should add) (perfect American accent)
  • The titular Dr. Strangelove, a former Nazi and expert on nuclear war (German accent)

Sellers was originally meant to play a fourth role, that of Major Kong, the pilot who ultimately rides a nuclear bomb down to the ground, but with three roles already on his plate, Sellers found himself unable to fully immerse into the Southern-accented role and Slim Pickens (yes that’s really his name) replaced him. Sellers delivers the performance of a lifetime, each character is fully realized and unique, in fact his performance of the President is so different that I had to double-check the credits to reassure myself that it was in fact Sellers playing the role!

Even though he got tricked into it, I love George C. Scott’s performance as the over-the-top General Turgidson. I say he got tricked into it because Scott wasn’t comfortable acting too over-the-top but director Stanley Kubrick got him to do it by telling him the first few takes were “practice takes” that didn’t count. When Scott found out the truth he was furious with Kubrick for a very long time and swore he’d never work with him again (though in later years he admitted this performance was among his favorites).

If you haven’t seen Dr. Strangelove, it is definitely worth the time to grab a copy and give it a look. If you HAVE seen Dr. Strangelove already, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.

On a side note, though I am back to blogging, I don’t think I’ll be doing so on a daily basis for quite some time anymore. I’m reaching a critical stage of my writing process (that is, I’m very close to beginning my all-important conclusion chapters) and it is imperative I focus on that. So don’t be alarmed if I only blog a few times a week now. Once my draft is finished I will (hopefully) be able to do more, but that’s one of those “wait and see” things.

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An Interview with Paul Henning

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Last month I was privileged to conduct an interview with composer Paul Henning where we discussed (in part) his work in orchestrating Star Wars: The Force Awakens, his work as a performer in film orchestras and the ongoing work of the legendary John Williams. I was fascinated to learn about the process that goes into recording a film score and how the process of orchestrating a score actually works. If you follow the link below, you can check out the audio interview I conducted with Mr. Henning. I hope you enjoy!

An Interview with Paul Henning

Film composer and musician Paul Henning’s most recent project was writing the score for the Tribeca Film Festival opening night documentary ‘Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives’. The film premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Paul had a somewhat unconventional role writing music for this project. While the focus was the cadre of huge music artists Clive has worked with, Paul scored key moments of conflict, loss or emotional gravity that were vital to the story.

Paul also recently released his debut album, ‘BREAKING THROUGH’. The album was crafted with a nostalgic, Americana vibe drawn from Paul’s love of the expanses of the Western US and his love of American History. The album features piano solos performed by the Paul and recorded live with a 48-piece studio orchestra. Here is a link to selections of the album for your review: http://www.paulhenning.com/breaking-through.

Paul has served as Concertmaster for the Golden State Pops Orchestra since 2004. He’s also worked on the score orchestrations for over 50 feature films, including ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens, ‘The BFG’, ‘Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’ and ‘Chocolat’. In addition to his film writing, he also works on orchestral arrangements that have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and London Symphony.

An accomplished pianist and violinist, Henning has performed with the Hollywood Studio Symphony on the soundtracks to ‘Frozen’, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’, ‘The Maze Runner’, ‘Furious 7’, ‘Moana’, ‘Storks’, ‘Monsters University’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’, among many others. He has also played violin for artists including Barbra Streisand, Michael Bublé, Neil Young, Aretha Franklin, Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban. Henning has served as Concertmaster for the Golden State Pops Orchestra since 2004.