Tag Archives: television

Soundtrack Review: Betty (2020)

The soundtrack for the HBO Original Series Betty is now available from Milan Records. Starring Dede Lovelace, Moonbear, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, and Rachelle Vinberg, Betty follows a diverse group of young women navigating their lives through the predominantly male-oriented world of skateboarding, set against the backdrop of New York City.  

The soundtrack for Betty was composed by Aska Matsumiya, who is a LA based Japanese composer and producer who has excelled across Film, Television, Advertising and music production. Aska provided the score for the Amazon feature film, “I’m Your Woman” for director Julia Hart. In addition, she partnered with A24 and acclaimed director Kogonada on his film “After Yang”, collaborating with composer Ryuichi Sakamoto starring Colin Farrell.  

Of the soundtrack, composer Aska Matsumiya says:

“Writing the music for Betty allowed me to be in touch with a side of myself that remains youthful and raw and spontaneous. It was really so much fun and I tried to let that momentum carry the music.”

Wow, Matsumiya wasn’t kidding when she talked about getting in touch with her youthful, raw, and spontaneous side. The soundtrack for Betty is ALL of these things wrapped up together and it is pure joy to listen to. The melody is bouncing, alive, and just seems to dart from place to place. I don’t know why this surprised me, considering Betty is set in the world of skateboarding, this type of music is the perfect way to express that world where gravity is defied on a regular basis. I think my favorite track is “Betty”, the title track is bright, bouncy, and beautiful, like most of the soundtrack in fact.

TRACKLISTING –

  1. Betty
  2. Vibez
  3. Space Ride
  4. Why Not Bambi
  5. Anxiety Attack
  6. Chinatown Quest
  7. Strawberry Field
  8. The Sound
  9. Feeling Blues Cloud
  10. No Jordan
  11. No Chill
  12. Hypnotism – Bebel Matsumiya
  13. AMNSA – Rosehardt
  14. Strangers – Ruby Haunt
  15. One of the Girls – Otha
  16. Apocalypse – Cigarettes After Sex
  17. Djougou Toro – Volta Jazz

In all seriousness, the music for Betty is delightful, and I highly recommend checking the soundtrack out if you get the chance.

Let me know what you think about Betty (and its music) in the comments below and have a great day!

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TV Soundtracks

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Soundtrack Review: Outlander (season 5)

The soundtrack for season 5 of Outlander, with music composed by Bear McCreary is available now. In Season 5 of Outlander, Jamie Fraser must fight to protect those he loves, as well as the home he has established alongside his wife, Claire Fraser, their family, and the settlers of Fraser’s Ridge.  This new mantle of responsibility sees him pitted against his godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser, a leader of North Carolina’s Regulator Rebellion.  Claire Fraser is determined to keep her family safe by any means necessary, whatever the consequences… while Brianna Fraser and Roger MacKenzie struggle to find their respective places in this brave new world. 

Of the soundtrack, composer Bear McCreary says:

“From the bagpipes of Scotland, the baroque harpsichords of Paris, the blistering Afro-Cuban percussion of Jamaica, to the twangy banjos of the Appalachian Mountains, my score for Outlander has continuously evolved to keep up with Claire and Jamie as they traverse both time and space. For the series’ fifth season, I was presented with a new kind of challenge. For the first time, the geography and century would remain consistent with the previous season.  As a result, there was no longer a need to introduce new instruments and styles. Inspired by the drama, it was time to dig deeper into the music that had already been established.”

Listening to the soundtrack for season 5, the first thing that struck me was how cinematic it all sounds. It really felt like I was listening to the soundtrack of a movie, not a television series. And that reminded me of just how much music for television series have changed in the last few decades. It used to be that there was a noticeable difference between film music and television music, but not any longer. Now, especially with big productions like Outlander (and formerly Game of Thrones, just to name an example), the music sounds just like something you’d hear in a movie.

And certainly Bear McCreary does his all to give the music for Outlander season 5 a filmic feel. Actually there are certain portions that put me in mind of James Horner’s score for Titanic. You also definitely get the feel of 18th-century North America with this music. I have no better word to explain what I mean other than it just feels rustic, almost like something you would hear in that era. It’s really evident that Bear McCreary put a lot of work into this score to create the best music possible.

OUTLANDER: SEASON 5 (ORIGINAL TELEVISION SOUNDTRACK)
TRACKLISTING –
1. Outlander – The Skye Boat Song (Choral Version)
2. The New Fraser’s Ridge
3. As Long as We Both Shall Live
4. L-O-V-E
5. Blood of My Blood
6. Murtagh’s Oath
7. The Fiery Cross
8. The Battle of Alamance
9. Murtagh
10. Young Ian Returns
11. Clementine
12. A Red, Red Rose
13. The Fang Syringe
14. Justice for Bonnet
15. Journeycake
16. Lighting the Cross
17. Saving Claire
18. Outlander – The Skye Boat Song (Solo Vocal Version)

I genuinely enjoyed listening to Bear McCreary’s music for Outlander season 5 and I hope you enjoy listening to it as well. Let me know what you think about the season 5 soundtrack in the comments below and have a great day!

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TV Soundtracks

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To the Future: A Talk With Halli Cauthery About the Music of ‘Future Man’ Season 3

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk with composer Halli Cauthery about his work on the third and final season of Future Man. The Hulu original series Future Man  was co-created by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. His credits also include the Netflix/DreamWorks animated series Turbo F.A.S.T., for which he received an Emmy nomination in 2016; the critically-acclaimed thriller The East; Bernard Rose’s 2015 film adaptation of Frankenstein; the Shrek Halloween television special Scared Shrekless; as well as the Lifetime Television film Living Proof.

He has worked extensively with composer Harry Gregson-Williams, contributing additional music to such films as Cowboys & Aliens; Unstoppable; Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time; Shrek Forever After; X-Men Origins: Wolverine; and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian; as well as Bee Movie and Winter’s Tale alongside Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams. He has also worked with Henry Jackman (Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle; Captain America: Civil War; Pixels; Turbo); Danny Elfman (Hellboy 2: The Golden Army); and Bryan Tyler (Iron Man 3).

How did you get started with composing for film and television?

I got my start working under the mentorship of the renowned composer Harry Gregson-Williams. After completing my postgraduate studies some years ago I lived in London for a while, working as a jobbing musician, playing in orchestras around the city (my initial musical training was as a classical violinist at the Yehudi Menuhin School), as well as teaching, and writing music for the concert hall. But I soon began to feel that, if I wanted to earn a living writing music, the smart move would be to go into film and TV. And so I got in touch with Harry – whom I had known years earlier when I was a young kid and he was a singing teacher at the same school where I used to go for my after-school violin lessons! – to ask for advice. We re-connected, he invited me to come to California for a few months to see the process of film-scoring for myself, and soon I was working as his assistant, and he became my mentor.

What did you think of Future Man when you started working on it?

I thought it was utterly mad in all the very best ways! I loved it: it was funny, clever, silly, jam-packed with quotable lines and memorable characters, and just delightfully weird… I knew straight away that it was going to be a blast scoring it. And I wasn’t wrong!

Did you know, going in, that season 3 would be the last for Future Man?

Yes, we were all aware of that. Which is a double-edged sword: very sad to say goodbye to it, obviously, because I’ve enjoyed myself immensely; but at the same time, knowing that you have a definite end point to build towards can be very useful creatively.

Where did you start in the scoring process for season 3? Did you build off the previous seasons or did you start in a completely new place?

It’s a little bit of both. In the first place, if I interpret the question very literally, I did technically start in a totally new place, because the first piece of music you hear in season 3 is the ‘Monday Night Football’-style music accompanying the ‘Running Man’-type TV show that the main characters are forced to take part in during episode 1. In a more general sense, though: the great advantage of coming back to a show in its third season is that much of the underlying musical architecture is already in place: I already know what the ‘sound’ of the show is, and I already have a network of existing themes because those things have been established from season 1. (For example, I already have a Josh theme, a ‘Resistance’ theme, a Tiger+Wolf theme, and so on.) Having said that, with each new season there are always new characters and new situations that require new themes and sound worlds. Most obviously in the case of season 3, there are the scenes set in Haven, the ‘realm outside of time’ that the main characters become trapped in during the second half of the season. These required completely new music and a new ‘sound’ from the previous seasons.

A related question: did anything specific inspire the sound of Future Man, be it season 3 or any previous season? How did you come up with the sound for this season and series in general?

Haven inspired a slightly more unconventional approach during season 3. When you are depicting a place that’s supposed to exist outside of time and where the usual physical laws of the universe don’t always apply, that’s a pretty big invitation to do something different and get weird, musically. So I took the opportunity to experiment a bit with sound manipulation: taking audio and time-stretching and/or compressing it, reversing it, etc. to achieve strange effects. I also took the opportunity to write some twelve-tone music; and, for added ‘off the wall-ness’, to combine this with a part for a microtonal piano. The result is very trippy!

How much time did you have to score season 3 of Future Man?

I began working on season 3 in October, and we wrapped early in March – just in time, as it happened, before we all went on lockdown! It was a slightly shorter production schedule this season, with eight episodes as opposed to the thirteen that comprised seasons 1 and 2.

What instruments were used in the scoring process? I like how several pieces of the soundtrack have a traditional “sci-fi” sound.

Throughout the show’s run the score has consisted of a mixture of synth elements and traditional orchestra, sometimes combining the two within the same music – the synth elements tending to be utilized during the more futuristic, sci-fi moments. In addition, during season 3 I’ve occasionally had to dig into certain specialized types of ensemble: an example would be the Medieval-style music in season 3 when the three lead characters find themselves in Medieval France; this required the full complement of crumhorns, shawms, recorders and so on! I also recorded myself doing a bit of fiddle playing for a scene set in 17th century North America, playing a traditional folk tune called ‘Rambler’s Hornpipe’.

 Last question: do you have a favorite part of the soundtrack?

A few examples spring to mind: in season 3, I would pick out the twelve tone music I mentioned earlier, as well as the over-the-top orchestral piece accompanying the final gag in the last episode. From season 2 I rather like the ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ parody from episode 4, as well as the Renaissance-style version of the ‘Resistance’ theme heard numerous times throughout the season. And season 1 contains one of my favourite episodes of all: the one set in James Cameron’s ‘Smart’ house, which gave me the opportunity to write an episode of score full of music in the style of music from Cameron movies!

It was a great pleasure to learn more about Halli Cauthery’s work on season 3 of Future Man and I’m very thankful for the opportunity.

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The Twilight Zone S3 E 9: Deaths-Head Revisited

I’ve wanted to write about this particular episode of The Twilight Zone for a long time, but I hesitated because I was thinking about the right way to do it. Finally I decided to just dive in and have at it.

So here we are with Deaths-Head Revisited, one of the most powerful episodes of The Twilight Zone ever created in my opinion, not least because it deals with the aftermath of an event that was very much in living memory at the time: the Holocaust. The episode is set in Dachau (both the town and concentration camp of the same name), and sees Gunther Lutze (Oscar Beregi Jr.), a former SS officer once in charge of the camp, returning to visit its ruins and gloat over past memories. But of course, this being the Twilight Zone, Lutze is far from alone, and it’s long past time he received punishment for the crimes he committed.

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I said before that this is one of the series’ most powerful episodes and I meant it. Even Rod Serling’s introduction has a touch more bite in it than usual. Of all the despicable characters that have populated this show, Lutze is surely the worst. From the moment he enters the camp (at least until he meets a certain someone), the unrepentant Nazi is clearly in his element, strutting around as if tens of thousands of people didn’t die on the ground he’s walking on.  Every time I see this episode, I have to think that this is what Hell looked like for everyone responsible for the Holocaust.

And how Lutze’s punishment plays out is just…so fitting it’s hard to describe. The presence of their former tormentor is enough to rouse the ghosts of the dead and serve Lutze up with more than a taste of his own medicine. It would be frightening, actually, if the person at the center of it all weren’t absolutely deserving of everything he got. I should note that Oscar Beregi Jr. is absolutely brilliant in this episode, just oozing arrogance and a firm denial that he is at fault for anything.

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The biggest clue that something unnatural is going on comes the moment Lutze meets Becker (Joseph Schildkraut), a former prisoner at the camp. That Lutze doesn’t notice the following issues shows just how unrepentant and clueless he really is. First, Becker is still wearing his camp uniform, even though 17 years have passed since the war ended and there would be no logical reason for him to keep it on. Second, and more importantly, Becker hasn’t changed or aged a day since Lutze saw him last. It isn’t until nearly the end of the episode that Lutze remembers a very important truth: he killed Becker right as the war was ending, and he’s been talking to a ghost the entire time. That Lutze could ever forget that he killed the person he’s been talking to is just mind-blowing and indicative of how evil he is.

On a final note, while it might seem strange that the ghosts don’t kill Lutze, what happens instead is just as bad, if not worse. In his new condition, Lutze can’t do anything, he can’t enjoy life, he can’t talk, he certainly can’t run and hide. All he can do is be strapped to a bed in a hospital, pumped so full of sedatives he’s practically comatose. And that’s just what happens in this life, there’s so much more hinted to come once he enters the afterlife.

Everyone should see Deaths-Head Revisited at least once. It’s powerful, it’s intense, and its message is just as important today as it was then. Let me know what you think of the episode in the comments below and have a great day.

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My Thoughts on: The Mandalorian, Season 1 (2019)

As much as I love Star Wars, I will admit to being slightly dubious when I first heard about The Mandalorian, a show that is exclusive to Disney+. It’s not that I didn’t doubt the casting or talent behind the production, I was just more interested in learning if there would be any new productions featuring Ahsoka. Any doubts I did have quickly vanished once Disney+ arrived. One season in, The Mandalorian is a brilliant addition to the Star Wars universe, albeit one that’s currently left me with more questions than answers.

Let’s start with a few background details. First there’s the timing of this show: in the grand scheme of things, The Mandalorian is set 5 years post-Return of the Jedi. So the Emperor is dead, Vader is dead, there’s no Death Star, and nominally the New Republic is in charge of the galaxy. In truth though, taking out the Empire has left a power vacuum in large chunks of the galaxy, leaving many to scramble to get by as well as they can, which is where the titular Mandalorian comes in. He’s a bounty hunter, a good one too. But his bounty hunting lifestyle is turned upside down when he accepts one particular job.

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By the time the first episode was over, I was completely hooked on this show. The Mandalorian feels like Star Wars in a way that’s hard for me to put into words. From the gritty details, to the many, MANY hidden Easter eggs throughout the season, everything in this season just fits into the existing mythos. That being said, there are a few things this season left me thinking about, the first of which is baby Yoda.

I wish a camera could’ve recorded the look on my face when baby Yoda was first revealed (yes, I know that isn’t actually Yoda, but the name is cute). Of all the things I thought the asset could be…this wasn’t it. This is one of the details I have so many questions about: where did he come from? What is his name? What did the Client want with him? Was baby Yoda originally a youngling at the Temple? (hey, he’s 50 years old, that last one is technically possible) I’m hoping that at least some of these questions are addressed in season 2, because I need answers!

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Another major question, and one that I suspect will be answered next month: what the frack happened on Mandalore? Better question, what happened to Mandalore? I ask this question for several reasons. The first is that the Mandalorians are revealed to be few in number and in hiding, something that was not true the last time we saw any Mandalorians. The fact that the Darksaber is in the hands of an Imperial Moff (more on that in a moment) means that something really bad happened. Keep in mind, the last time we saw the Darksaber, it was about a year before the Battle of Yavin and it had been given to Bo-Katan Kryze by Sabine Wren. The latter was going to unite Mandalore against the Empire, a plan that obviously failed spectacularly. I’m hoping that the upcoming last season of The Clone Wars will give some insight into part of what happened to Mandalore, or at least lay the foundations for it.

Another thing, holy crap the Darksaber has made its live-action debut and I still can’t quite believe it. For those who might not know, the Darksaber is a legendary lightsaber made by a Mandalorian Jedi named Tarre Vizsla thousands of years ago during the Old Republic. Unlike traditional lightsabers, the Darksaber has a black blade, one shaped to look like a sword. The Darksaber eventually became associated with the rule of Mandalore itself, with would-be leaders challenging for the right to wield the blade and rule the planet. It cannot be overstated how important the Darksaber is to any surviving Mandalorians. Once it gets out that Moff Gideon has the Darksaber….oh heads will roll in an attempt to get it back.

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And speaking of Moff Gideon…who is he? How did he get his hands on the Darksaber?? And am I the only one who noticed that his armor bears a distinct resemblance to Vader’s? I’m secretly hoping Gideon gets introduced in the last season of The Clone Wars, because I need to learn more about this character as soon as possible.

Hopefully all of these ramblings demonstrate that I really, really liked The Mandalorian and I’m really excited for season 2 when it arrives this fall.

Let me know what you think about The Mandalorian in the comments below and have a great day!

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Soundtrack Review: Euphoria (2019)

A soundtrack album featuring music from the first season of the HBO series Euphoria is now available from Milan Records, an imprint of Sony Music Masterworks. The album features music by multiplatinum-selling artist and producer Labrinth. Euphoria marks Labrinth’s first-ever project as lead composer. Written and recorded in close collaboration with the show’s writer Sam Levinson, his original compositions feature prominently throughout the series as a sonic companion to the show’s angst-driven narrative.  The resulting 26-track collection is a genre blending mix of gospel, soul and electronic influences, indicative both of Labrinth’s imitable style as well as the show’s deeply moving storyline.

Regarding the soundtrack album, Labrinth had this to say:

My experience with Euphoria has made me a better musician. It was a dream come true to give wings and add magic to the different storylines. It was a collaborative effort among Sam Levinson, the crew and the cast – I only added texture to an already phenomenal show. I hope that anyone who listens to the music embraces feeling something.

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Euphoria, if you didn’t know, follows a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma and social media. It is an American adaptation of an Israeli show of the same name, and all episodes are written by Sam Levinson.

I haven’t seen the show myself, but having taken a peek at the soundtrack, I can say that the music is definitely interesting. It’s not traditional in the slightest, but that’s a good thing since I firmly believe that not all music should sound the same (for example, not all shows need to sound like Game of Thrones). If you’re a fan of Labrinth’s work, or just a fan of the series in general, I think you will like this soundtrack album very much.

Let me know what you think about Euphoria, and the soundtrack, in the comments below and have a great day!

EUPHORIA – SCORE FROM ORIGINAL HBO SERIES
TRACKLISTING –
1. New Girl
2. Formula
3. Preparing For Call
4. Forever
5. Planning Date
6. Nate Growing Up
7. Home From Rehab
8. We All Knew
9. Say Goodnight
10. Shy Guy
11. Following Tyler
12. Still Don’t Know My Name
13. Kat’s Denial
14. Slideshow
15. Family Vacation
16. Grapefruit Diet
17. WTF Are We Talking For
18. Euphoria Funfair
19. The Lake
20. Maddy’s Story
21. Demanding Excellence
22. McKay & Cassie
23. Gangster
24. When I R.I.P.
25. Arriving at the Formal
26. Virgin Pina Coladas

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The Twilight Zone S2 E4: A Thing About Machines

When I started reviewing episodes of The Twilight Zone, I mentioned that my favorite episodes were those that showed some rotten person getting their comeuppance. The season 2 episode “A Thing About Machines” is a prime example of this trope, as well as being a really fun episode to watch.

The premise is simple: Bartlett Finchley is a snobby critic with a peculiar eccentricity, that being he hates, despises, and loathes any and all types of machinery. More than that, Finchley is convinced that the machines in his home are out to get him. It sounds crazy, but this is The Twilight Zone, so we know better. I should also say that Richard Haydn does a great job as the arrogant Finchley, proclaiming his dominance over machines until almost the end of the story.

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It’s interesting how Rod Serling and company chose to play this episode out. Given the premise involves machines “rising up” against a human, it would have been easy to present this story in more of a horror style, playing up the victim’s increasing fear and terror. Instead, the story first makes Finchley so unlikable, that you feel inclined to cheer when the machine revolution begins in force.

And really, the way Finchley acts, he brought it all on himself. His hatred of machines is so extreme it borders on the absurd. For example, note Finchley’s reaction at the end of the introductory scene when his clock begins chiming the hour. The clock isn’t doing anything wrong, clocks are supposed to chime the hour, but Finchley’s reaction is to command it to stop, and then SMASH it when it continues to chime. That reaction is not only unreasonable, it’s practically insane, and it makes you wonder just how “together” Finchley was before this episode takes place.

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The plot device of the machines rising up one by one is pretty well done: the phone rings when it’s not connected, the television randomly switches on, the clock rings when it’s not supposed to, the typewriter types with nobody at the table, and those machines that are capable of sound have one message in common: Get out of here Finchley! As if that weren’t enough, things step up a notch further when other, more random objects come in for the attack. My particular favorite is when Finchley’s electric razor literally comes snaking down the stairs and rises up to attack (if you look close, you can se the wire manipulating the razor). As with all of The Twilight Zone episodes of this type, things build to a climax where Finchley does indeed “get out”…permanently.

I don’t say this often, but given the subject matter this is one episode of The Twilight Zone that I wouldn’t mind seeing a modern remake of. Given how the technology all around us has increased tenfold from fifty years ago, it would be most interesting to see a retelling of this story by someone who’s surrounded by iPhones, smart TVs, computers everywhere. Hopefully the rebooted series that’s on CBS All-Access will run with this idea in a future episode.

Overall, “A Thing About Machines” is a good example of what makes The Twilight Zone so enjoyable to watch. Let me know your thoughts regarding “A Thing About Machines” in the comments below and have a great day!

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The Twilight Zone S1 E28: A Nice Place to Visit

When it comes to the original run of The Twilight Zone, I have many episodes that I consider to be my favorites. But if I had to pick just one episode to go back and watch for the first time all over again, it would have to be the season 1 episode “A Nice Place to Visit.” Not only is it a well done episode, I also feel like it has the most memorable “wham” line in the entire series (feel free to correct me if you feel otherwise). But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s take a look at the episode.

“A Nice Place to Visit” is notable for starting off with a bang, literally, as the lead character, a hardened thief named Rocky Valentine gets shot and killed while fleeing a robbery. Soon after, Rocky meets Pip (Sebastian Cabot), who introduces himself as Rocky’s “guide” to this strange, new world he finds himself in. Larry Blyden is quite convincing as the hardened-beyond-redemption Rocky, playing the character in just such a way that you can’t feel any sympathy for him.

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And where exactly is Rocky? Well, it takes the gangster some time to work it out, but he eventually does realize he’s not on Earth anymore (though you’d think being accompanied by a mysterious figure dressed in white would’ve been a big clue, but then again Rocky’s not that smart). Rocky then decides that since he’s dead and not burning up in flames, well then he must be in Heaven! You really can’t blame Rocky for jumping to this conclusion, as the gangster has found himself in very plush surroundings: he’s in the penthouse of a posh hotel and casino, he has beautiful girls waiting on him hand and foot, a brand new car to drive whenever he wants, and he always has the best luck at the gaming tables. It’s an absolute Paradise for someone like Rocky…or is it?

See, if you pay attention, there are clues seeded from the beginning that indicate Rocky isn’t where he thinks he is. For example, observe how Pip interacts with Rocky, particularly when he’s trying on his new clothes. While his “guide” is full of flattery, he’s not exactly sincere in his compliments. And then there’s the fact that no one else is in “Heaven” with Rocky. You don’t need a Masters in Theology to know that Heaven isn’t meant to be an empty place. There’s also the telling look at Rocky’s “file” in the Hall of Records (during the gangster’s brief doubts that he’s ended up in the correct place), where it’s revealed that Rocky had quite the sinful life, with no redeeming moments whatsoever. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how wonderful Sebastian Cabot is in his role as Pip throughout the episode. The way he plays the character, you can tell he’s more than happy to guide Rocky throughout his “domain” but he’s also visibly holding quite a deal back (as we’ll see shortly).

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The biggest clue of all to what’s going on can be found in Rocky’s unnatural luck. What seemed to be a heavenly blessing is actually a curse, because try as he might Rocky can’t stop winning, no matter what game he plays! That might not sound so bad, but think about it: imagine you’re playing a game and all you do is win, time after time for DAYS at a time. That would get boring wouldn’t it? Well, after a month in “Heaven” that’s exactly what happens to Rocky; the gangster is bored out of his skull because he’s getting everything he ever wanted with absolutely no risk involved, an intolerable situation for someone like Rocky, who’s thrived on risk his whole life. Rocky can’t stand being in a place, no matter how nice, where there isn’t any risk to him.

As a result of this boredom, while Rocky still believes he’s in Heaven, he finally decides he’s in the wrong place after all, and asks to go to “the other place (Hell).” And that’s when it happens, that’s when Pip delivers the immortal line that turns everything you thought you knew about this story on its head:

“Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!

How I wish I could go back and relive the first time I heard that line over again, because it really is a game changer. The idea that such a nice place could really be “the other place,” it really blew my mind. I think of all the series’ twists, this is the one that hides itself the best, right until the end anyway. Of course, in hindsight, given The Twilight Zone’s known history of unexpected twists, maybe a lot of people saw it coming after all. Regardless of whether you expected it or not, Rocky’s reaction to finding out where he’s been all this time is priceless. It’s amazing how quickly you want to leave when you find out your “Paradise” is actually a gilded cage in the middle of Hell itself.

Let me know what you think of “A Nice Place to Visit” in the comments below and have a great day!

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The Twilight Zone S5 E25: The Masks

The Twilight Zone is noted for telling stories about a wide variety of characters, many of whom end up suffering a twisted punishment through bizarre means. “The Masks,” another 5th season episode, is an exemplar of this particular story-type. The story is set in New Orleans in the home of Jason Foster, a ridiculously wealthy, and notably blunt old man who is also dying. In any other story, you might think Jason was the one fixing to get what’s coming to him, but that thought disappears the moment you meet his relatives, who are all the very definition of “pieces of work.”

Let’s see now, there’s Emily, Jason’s daughter, who is an eternal hypochondriac (and unwitting hypocrite), always believing she is on death’s door suffering from some malady. There’s Wilfred, Emily’s husband, who only cares about money. And next to those two are the grown children Wilfred Jr., who apparently used to like torturing small animals if Jason is to be believed, and then there’s Paula. Paula is an interesting case because at first her only “sin” appears to be that she’s obsessed with her own appearance. Don’t let her fool you; later in the story she goes into a tirade about the miserable time she’s having waiting for her grandfather to die. In short, there’s little to no redeeming value in any of Jason’s kin, and the dying millionaire knows it.

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Instead of simply cutting them out of the will, however, Jason decides to inflict his own punishment, perfect for the Twilight Zone. Since it is the night of Mardi Gras, everyone in the family must wear masks. But these aren’t any ordinary party masks. These are grotesque, disturbing things to look at. I often find myself wondering what color those masks were (since the episode was filmed in black and white it’s impossible to say for certain), since the colors might have added to their disturbing nature. But I digress…

You’ll also note Jason says they were made “by an old Cajun” which should be a big clue to the audience that something supernatural will happen eventually if you put them on. But Jason includes a fool-proof catch: if anyone in the family refuses to wear the masks, then all any of them will get from his estate is train fare back home. Jason knows full well his relatives are far too greedy to pass up on his fortune. So they all put the masks on (even Jason, he wears a death’s head), and they wait for midnight, when Jason says the masks can come off.

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This next part is, for me, the saddest part of the episode, because as midnight approaches all of Jason’s family beg him to let them take the masks off, saying how stupid this is and how they can’t bear it. Jason then turns to them all and says:

“Have you all had your say?….is there nothing else you have to say to me?”

Having read between the lines, I’m convinced that Jason is giving his family one final chance to show him that they have at least one redeeming quality about them. If just one of them had shown some spark of caring, I really think Jason would have called it all off and let them take the masks off. But the chance is wasted on these people, and as midnight strikes, Jason finally passes away. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence he died at the stroke of midnight either. Earlier in the episode, Jason mentions that there’s a “ritual” to the wearing of the masks. While he describes it in some detail, I think he leaves a crucial detail out. I suspect, that for the ritual to take full effect, someone has to wear the death’s head and sacrifice their life at midnight. It makes sense if you think about it, most stories involving magic will tell you that powerful magic requires some form of sacrifice. And since Jason was dying anyway, it follows that he would choose a relatively quick death over suffering who knows how much longer. And if he can punish his relatives at the same time…so much the better.

And what a punishment! The reveal of what the masks have done make this one of my favorite episodes to this very day. And to those who might say “Well can’t they just get plastic surgery to fix their faces?” That’s just it, they can’t! You see, going for surgery would mean revealing their problems and flaws for all the world to see. And you saw how they all act, they’d never be able to do that. So they’re stuck with their punishment for the rest of their lives.

Let me know what you think about “The Masks” in the comments below and have a great day!

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The Twilight Zone S5 E27: Sounds and Silences

The Twilight Zone is memorable, and rightly so, for creating an anthology full of memorable stories, nearly of which have a shocking twist at the end. For me personally, the reason I love this series so much is because Rod Serling proved to be a master of “watch this obnoxious individual get what’s coming to him.”

“Sounds and Silences,” produced late in the 5th and final season, is one such episode. The episode details the demise of Roswell G. Flemington, owner of a model ship company, and described by Serling himself as “two hundred and twenty pounds of gristle, lung tissue and sound decibels.” He’s not the worst character to get his comeuppance on this show, but he comes awfully close through sheer obnoxiousness.

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Flemington is a man obsessed with the Navy, to the point that his company office is modeled after the interior of a ship’s cabin. That, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so bad, except Flemington is also obsessed with noise. I’m not just talking about blaring records as loud as he can (which he does throughout the episode), I’m talking about slamming doors, stamping feet, and yelling whenever he talks. One harried staff member mutters aloud that “someday all of that noise is going to come back and bite him” and boy does it ever!

The downward spiral begins when Flemington’s wife of 20 years finally has enough and decides to leave him. The one part of this episode that I find difficult to accept is that a man like Flemington was able to find a wife at all! I absolutely love the scene where she tells Roswell off and proceeds to inform him, in no uncertain terms, that their marriage is over. This is also the scene that completely destroys any final scrap of sympathy you might have for this character, as Flemington describes, in sneering detail, how he had to put up with a hypochondriac mother and THAT is why he’s so obsessed with noise. You might feel bad for him, were it not for the fact that the man is clearly talking down to his soon-to-be-ex-wife. It’s made plain that this guy deserves everything he’s about to get.

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It’s after Flemington’s wife leaves that the fun really starts. I have to imagine the sound people had a lot of fun with this episode, when they had to simulate Flemington hearing noises louder than they actually are. It’s slightly surreal, hearing all of the sound effects, but it goes a long way toward showing how Flemington is rapidly losing his grip on reality. In fact, the conclusion comes not long afterward, when Flemington, having convinced himself that all of this is “mind over matter” finds he cannot hear at all.

Now, I have two thoughts on the ending of this episode. On the one hand, it’s implied that Roswell simply took “mind over matter” too far and accidentally made himself deaf. On the other hand, when you spend day after day listening to records at ear-splitting decibel levels…really, he was bound to lose his hearing sooner or later. In either case, this is one of the most suitable punishments presented in the show. Flemington, a man obsessed with noise, is now forced to live in a world with none at all.

Let me know what you think about “Sounds and Silences” in the comments below and have a great day! From now on, I’ll be working in reviews of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, so I really hope you enjoy them.

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