M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Last Airbender’ is a Cinematic Atrocity

the last airbender movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2010. I also want to dedicate it to my good friend Ed Mahoney who was brave enough to endure this cinematic monstrosity with me.

I couldn’t help it. I had to see this movie for myself. Ever since it opened, “The Last Airbender” has received some of the most atrocious reviews of any movie ever made. Audiences all over have been calling for M. Night Shayamalamadingdong’s blood for the last decade, and they just may get their wish with this monstrosity posing as a summer blockbuster.

But nothing could keep me or a friend of mine from witnessing the cinematic carnage of what was an eagerly awaited motion picture. The reviews were getting increasingly abysmal, and public perception made it look like a car crash you drive by on the freeway which you can’t help but look at. We knew we only had ourselves to blame since we paid $10 bucks each for our tickets, but we were willing to make the sacrifice.

Well, I came out of “The Last Airbender” laughing hysterically. In fact, I couldn’t stop laughing for an hour after I walked out of the theater, and it was for reasons Shyamalan didn’t intend. Everything you have heard about it is true. It is a complete and utter disaster and fails on just about every level a movie can. It proved to be so boring to where I almost passed out even when the soundtracks and explosions increased in volume. Furthermore, the plot is almost completely incoherent, and the dialogue will make you howl in disbelief. Shyamalan’s career has officially hit rock bottom with this atrocious adaptation, and no one is going to ever let him off easy for all the things he got wrong here.

I could tell from the start the movie was going to be terrible as the opening scroll fails to make any back story seem the least bit comprehensible. Then words “Book One” appeared, and it quickly reminded me of what Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi were once told by Irvin Shapiro when they were selling him a certain horror movie:

“Fellas, if you call this movie ‘Book of the Dead’ they’re gonna think they have to read it! Call it ‘The Evil Dead!’”

Campbell and Raimi thought it was the worst title they ever heard, but what did they know?

So, what is “The Last Airbender” about exactly? Well, it’s about this kid named Aang who is brought up out of the water where he has either been hiding or accidentally entombed in, and he is revealed to be the new Avatar. In plain English, the Avatar is the only living being capable of controlling the four elements: water, fire, air and earth. But wait, he wasn’t actually trained on any of them, and yet people take him at his word. What happened? Doesn’t it make more sense for him to be resurrected and have him be fully trained? Or are we going to watch him perfect these so-called talents in future sequels? You know Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon are just begging for a franchise here.

Oh, I see! Aang found out 100 years ago he was the new Avatar and ended up running away because he didn’t want the responsibility. Also, this meant he could never have a family. Now that sucks! You haven’t even gotten laid yet, and then you find out you have all these powers and can defeat anything and anybody in your way. But you know sooner or later, this kid is going to hit puberty and really scare the crap out of everyone. The question is, will he hit puberty in this movie or the sequel?

Those who know me best know how sick and tired I am of movies which have characters forever reluctant to accept the fact they are “the one.” We end up having to spend almost three quarters of the movie’s running time watching Aang bitch and moan about his unfair predicament, and all the time I found myself getting infinitely impatient as we know he will eventually accept the role the universe has given him. Look, you’re “the one,” so get on with it already! Take pride in the fact you can defeat so many enemies without ever having to use a gun!

The two innocent looking kids who accidentally resurrect Aang are Katara, one of the last waterbenders of her tribe, and Sokka. These characters were originally Asian in the television series this film is based on, but Shyamalan chose to cast Caucasian actors instead. To say fans were angered is one of the ultimate understatements of the year. If Shyamalan was such an ardent admirer of the show, he would have honored the source material without question. His casting decision is even more bewildering when you take into account he is an Indian American filmmaker, an ethnicity sorely underrepresented in movies. Furthermore, the actors he cast are personality free and spend way too much time emoting when they should have been acting.

The main antagonist of “The Last Airbender” is the fire nation which appears to be comprised of men who have had all the joy sucked out of their lifeless faces. All of them seem to be on the same emotional wavelength, and none ever appears to enjoy being pyromaniacs for life. Would it be too much to show the bad guys enjoying what they do even as we want to see them fail?

Most of the cast here are unknowns which I thought might give Shyamalan the power to discover some incredible new talent as he did with Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense,” But from the start you see that these actors are not going to even compare to that kid who saw dead people.

Aang is played by Noah Ringer, and his job seems to be playing the emotion more than the character. We never fully buy into what Aang is doing because Ringer is not able to give us a character worth rooting for. Nicola Peltz plays Katara, and Shyamalan said he refused to make the movie without her, but she is not given much to do other than pine for Aang who is way too young for her. She keeps coming on to Aang like some stalking fan, and I kept waiting for Aang to drop his polite guard and yell at her, “COULD YOU GIVE ME A MOMENT TO MYSELF???!! PLEASE???!!!!”

The biggest name “The Last Airbender” has to offer is Dev Patel whom we all remember from “Slumdog Millionaire.” Patel plays Prince Zuko who spends an obscene amount of time moaning and groaning over how he was once heir to the throne but has since been exiled by his father. The only way back into his dad’s good graces is to capture Aang. After a while, I couldn’t figure out if Zuko was a good or a bad guy. Maybe that ambiguity was supposed to be there in the screenplay, but it gave me a headache just thinking about what role this character was supposed to play in the story.

As for the screenplay, it features dialogue which sounds like people listlessly reading facts from some outdated history book which should have been removed from circulation seven years ago. Much of it cannot be digested without cringing in utter horror. This is the same problem I had with the “Star Wars” prequels as they too contained characters made to sound like they are in some stuffy period piece when they should sound relatively normal. Compared to those three movies, however, George Lucas’ dialogue sounds amazingly fresh compared to what comes from Shyamalan’s pen.

I’m not sure what else to say about “The Last Airbender” other than it is a monumental failure, and the blame for its epic awfulness lays solely at Shyamalan’s feet. One has to wonder how the director of “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs” could have stumbled so badly. He has gone from being a wunderkind of cinema to its abandoned stepchild, and I think success has spoiled him too much to where the creative freedom he has at his disposal needs to be reined in. This is the same guy who pulled off one of the most brilliant twists ever in a movie with “The Sixth Sense,” and now he has given us a summer blockbuster every bit as inept and infuriating as last year’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

Do I regret watching “The Last Airbender?” No, not really. It was worth it just to watch the finished result so I could analyze everything wrong with it. But with so many movies out there worth watching, I would encourage you to avoid this one at all costs. Watching paint dry will prove to be a far more invigorating experience. Better yet, watch the Nickelodeon animated television series it is based on instead. You do not need to convince me it is better than this cinematic atrocity.

Maybe Shyamalan should just direct for the time being. No more screenwriting. Lord knows how long it’s going to be before he gets over this creative disaster. Considering the talent involved, there’s no excuse for it to be this atrocious. None whatsoever.

ZERO out of * * * *

 

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‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Takes Us Back to When Queen was King

Bohemian Rhapsody poster

Many will say this in their reviews of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and I have to as well: Freddie Mercury was a one-of-a-kind performer. Whenever he was onstage, he had a commanding presence only a handful of artists could ever hope to equal. Nothing seemed to ever hold him back as he rocked us in a way few others, if any, ever could. Watching him and Queen perform in front of thousands of fans also had a cinematic quality to it, and I went into this biopic hoping Bryan Singer (and Dexter Fletcher who replaced him as director) could capture the exhilaration of their live performances. Could such a thing even be possible?

Well, right from the start when Queen performs their own kick-ass version of the 20th Century Fox fanfare, “Bohemian Rhapsody” proves to be an exhilarating ride. While there were times when I thought the filmmakers could have dug even deeper into Freddie’s life and the lives of his fellow bandmates, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, it proves to be a biopic which takes you back in time to when Queen was the biggest thing in music, let alone in the world. But at its center is an iconic singer who is on a long journey not to stardom, but finding respect for himself.

When we first meet Freddie, we learn his birth name was Farrokh Bulsara and that he was the child of a Parsis couple, something I was previously unaware of. His mother Jer (Meneka Das) proves to be a loving presence, but his father Bomi (Ace Bhatti) doesn’t even try to hide his disappointment over the lackadaisical way in which his son lives his life. By day he works as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport, and he spends his nights at a local club where a band named Smile performs to an enthusiastic audience. When the lead singer quits, Freddie seizes the opportunity to grab the job, but Brian and Roger feel his overbite will easily upstage him. That is, of course, until they hear him sing.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” at times speeds through the history of Queen to where I wished they would slow down a bit and focus on bits and pieces which haven’t been covered as much in the past. I kept hoping there would be a sequence on the making of the “Flash Gordon” soundtrack, one of the best soundtracks ever. The filmmakers don’t even get around to dealing with the songs they did for “Highlander,” and that was a real bummer. Still, we get to learn about the beginnings of some of their most famous songs like “Another One Bites the Dust” which features one of the greatest bass lines in the history of music, and the immortal rock anthem that is “We Will Rock You.”

One of the movie’s centerpiece’s is the creation of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” which allowed Queen, as the Beatles did with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” to push the boundaries of mainstream music to create something truly unique. This all leads to a scene where the exasperated EMI executive Ray Foster (a priceless Mike Myers) explains how no radio station is about to play a six-minute song, especially one which features opera in it. While it is seen as one of the greatest rock songs ever created, this doesn’t stop the filmmakers from throwing out initial reviews of it which showed anything but admiration. It’s only over time that something can ever be truly considered a classic.

Looking at Freddie’s life overall, it does seem deserving of an R-rating. But for a PG-13 movie, I felt “Bohemian Rhapsody” dug deep enough into the man’s life in ways I usually expect a PG-13 movie to avoid. Some may say this is a sanitized biopic, but I was surprised at how willing the filmmakers were to portray Freddie’s debauched lifestyle and of the underground worlds he chose to delve into. The scene in which Freddie learns he has AIDS is especially devastating, especially when scored to the song “Who Wants to Live Forever.” There is even video footage of people with AIDS, and seeing Freddie watching it is especially heartbreaking as it gives him a glimpse as to what is in store for him.

When it comes to music biopics, I keep thinking of ones like Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” and “I Saw the Light” and of how they kept their main subjects at a distance. This proved to be especially frustrating as I felt like I never got to know more about their main characters, Jim Morrison and Hank Williams, and even wondered why anyone would bother to spend time with them. “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t make this same mistake nor does it hide from Freddie’s flamboyant lifestyle which alienated many of his closest friends. It’s not afraid to make the singer unlikable at times, but it also pays him the respect he deserves especially when he humbly reunites with his bandmates who, unlike other musicians, were never afraid to tell him no.

Rami Malek gives a truly phenomenal performance as Freddie Mercury. If you are still wondering what this movie would have been like had Sacha Baron Cohen not dropped out, Malek will silence those thoughts immediately. It’s as if the actor is possessed by Freddie’s spirit as he inhabits the role with a fearlessness and a gusto to where it is impossible to think of someone who could have been better suited to play the lead singer of Queen. Malek owns the movie from start to finish, and you can’t take your eyes off of him.

Malek also does a brilliant job of letting you see Freddie’s inner turmoil as he struggles with who he is and his sexuality. In many ways Freddie was a social outcast before he came to be the lead singer of Queen, but he becomes even more of an outcast at the height of his fame. Seeing him in almost near isolation from the rest of humanity is distressing, and it reminds me of what the late Robin Williams said in “World’s Greatest Dad:”

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”

Kudos also goes out to Lucy Boynton who proves to be a fetching presence as the love of Freddie’s life, Mary Austin. Boynton, whom you may remember from “Murder on the Orient Express,” makes you believe how Mary was a huge lifeline to Freddie, especially when he became deluded and was ruthlessly manipulated by those who never had his best interests at heart. Even as their loving relationship was torn apart, they remained the best of friends, and I believe Freddie when he was quoted as saying how Mary was really his one true friend in the world.

But if you need only one reason to buy a ticket to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it is Singer’s (and Fletcher’s) recreation of Queen’s epic performance at Live Aid in 1985. I’m sure you have all seen footage of this concert on YouTube, but I was enthralled at how the filmmakers made us feel like we were right there in Wembley Stadium where the band played to the largest crowd any band could ever play to. This recreation proves to be one of the most exhilarating sequences I have seen in any 2018 movie, and it is the perfect way to cap off this biopic.

Could a better movie have been made about Freddie Mercury and Queen? Perhaps, but I find it tiring to think of what could have been and would much rather deal with what ended up on the silver screen. “Bohemian Rhapsody” proved to be an immersive cinematic ride which brings back to life an amazing performer who left the land of the living far too soon, but whose role in music history will never ever be forgotten.

Regardless of who deserves the most credit, we owe Dexter Fletcher many thanks as he managed to bring this chaotic production to the finish line and oversaw it during post-production. Without him, I wonder if this movie would have ever been completed.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Soundtrack Review: ‘Halloween’ (2018)

Halloween 2018 soundtrack cover

As I write this, I have not yet seen David Gordon Green’s “Halloween,” the movie I am looking forward to the most this fall season. I was, however, lucky enough to get a copy of its soundtrack while at the “Halloween: 40 Years of Terror” convention this past weekend in Pasadena, California. I had preordered the soundtrack on iTunes, but anyone who knows me has no doubt of what a die-hard fan I am of Carpenter’s music as well as his movies, so of course I had to purchase a physical copy even if it meant spending more money.

This 2018 “Halloween” movie marks Carpenter’s return to this undying horror franchise since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and it is also the first film score he has composed since 2001’s “Ghost of Mars.” With this score, he joins forces with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies to not only build on the themes he made famous back in 1978, but to give us new ones as well. What results is a highly effective score which I have been listening to endlessly ever since I purchased it.

The “Halloween Theme” is a musical piece impossible for most to ever get sick of, but listening to it on this soundtrack reminds me of how no one can play it better than Carpenter. Along with Cody and Daniel, he makes this theme as potent as ever especially with its ticking sound in the background which spells out how evil will be arriving in Haddonfield before we know it.

“Laurie’s Theme” sounds much different this time around. Whereas her theme in the 1978 “Halloween” and 1981’s “Halloween II” highlighted Laurie’s innocence and lack of awareness of the horror she would be forced to endure, this version acknowledges how haunted she remains after Michael Myers almost killed her 40 years ago. As we should all know by now, Green’s “Halloween” serves as a direct sequel to Carpenter’s 1978 original, wiping the slate clean of all the other sequels and reboots. So, the Laurie Strode we see here as long since become hardened by her terrifying encounters with pure evil to where it appears she only lives for revenge.

Carpenter does bring back some of his old musical stings which are always welcome, but there are other stings which come at us more furiously than ever before. There is an unrelenting edge to tracks like “Michael Kills” or “The Shape Kills” which go far beyond the original “Halloween’s” simplistic musical design. Evil sounds even more furious than it did previously, and the driving rhythms of the music here promises us a thrilling good time at the movies.

John Carpenter once said he can play just about any keyboard but that he cannot read or write a note. Regardless, nothing has stopped his growth as a musician or a film composer. His son, Cody Carpenter, has since proven himself to be a very talented musician in his own right, and his additions to this score only heighten the tension in it. Daniel Davies sounds like he is having so much fun experimenting with guitar sounds, and they add a real edge to a score which proves to be anything but an exercise in nostalgia.

The soundtrack concludes with the track “Halloween Triumphant” which is an epic piece of film score as it combines John’s unforgettable “Halloween” theme with the musical additions of Cody and Daniel who help update his themes for a new generation. Listening to it brings a smile to my face as the three men have composed what feels like an ode to the enduring legacy this 1978 horror classic continues to have on filmgoers everywhere, and it sounds like a victory march in more ways than one.

When John Carpenter composed the original “Halloween” score in just three days, it is clear how he and his collaborators had more time to develop one more multi-layered for Michael Myers latest cinematic onslaught. This is not just a return to the musical themes John made famous years ago, but it is also an opportunity to expand on them as the filmmaker and composer is clearly not content to just give us the same old thing. Along with Cody and Daniel, he gives us a superb soundtrack which I find myself listening to endlessly as the music proves to be more complex than I expected it to be.

The 2018 “Halloween” soundtrack is a must buy, and I encourage you to buy it when it is released on October 19, 2018.

‘Blaze’ Gives a Late Musician the Audience He Never Got in Life

Blaze 2018 movie poster

There have been a number of music biopics in the last few years like “Straight Outta Compton,” “Love and Mercy” and “I Saw the Light.” Looking back, I wonder if my enjoyment, or lack of, was the result of how much knowledge I had of their main subjects: the rap group N.W.A., Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson, and country singer Hank Williams. Typically, biopics focus on people we know of, and I went into them wondering if the filmmakers had anything new to say about these iconic figures. Biopics are, of course, “based on a true story,” so you can expect many liberties will be taken with the source material, so this just complicates things even more.

I bring this up because “Blaze” deals with a country singer and songwriter whom I am not familiar with, Blaze Foley. Many consider him a cult figure in the realm of country music, especially in Austin, Texas. What results here is an absorbing motion picture which delves into the life of a musician whose life, like many of his ilk, was cut short at far too young an age. Part of me wonders if my enjoyment of this movie would have been affected had I known more about Blaze Foley before I walked into the theater, but considering how much I liked it, I suppose the answer doesn’t matter much.

Based on the memoir “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze” by Sybil Rosen, “Blaze” weaves together three different timelines which examines this musician in life and death. We see him develop a loving relationship with aspiring actress Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat) to where she becomes his muse. Then we see him being discussed post-mortem by his close friends Zee (Josh Hamilton) and Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) on a radio show, and they reflect on his life with both respect and bafflement. And then there is the Blaze’s last night on earth which is presented in an unspectacular fashion, and we come to mourn a loss which was deeper than many realized at the time.

The narrative of “Blaze” shifts back and forth quite often, but I never lost track of where the story was going. This is saying a lot as the editing job on this movie could have rendered it into a complete mess, but it instead makes “Blaze” into an especially interesting motion picture as I was never sure which direction it would end up taking. Viewing a person’s life while they were alive and after they died proves to be endlessly fascinating here as we see all sides of the man in a way which feels both subjective and objective.

While watching “Blaze,” I kept thinking of “I Saw the Light” which focused on the life of Hank Williams. While it featured a stellar performance by Loki himself, Tom Hiddleston, the movie was a narrative mess even though it was told in a linear fashion. There were moments where it took me some time to figure out what was happening as events jumped from one place to another with very little warning. “Blaze” could have been a similar mess, but Hawke never lets us lose sight of where things are going, and kept my attention throughout as I was intrigued to see where the movie would head next. I can’t say that for a lot of biopics these days.

When we first see Blaze Foley, he is a complete mess and screwing up a recording session to where a producer does little to hesitate in throwing him out of his studio. But then we rewind back to when he was an up and coming musician who showed the great love he had for music. Sybil asks him if he wants to be famous, but Blaze replies he how he instead wants to be a legend. As the movie goes on, we see him struggling with being a true musician and becoming a star in a way which he feels will dilute everything he does. When the movie started, I felt it would be like Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” which made Jim Morrison into the kind of musician you thought you would like to spend time with, but ended up wanting to avoid at all costs. Instead, the movie dares to look at Blaze’s life in a way which evokes both sympathy and pity.

In his unorthodox way of wooing Sybil, we see Blaze defying ordinary conventions in showing his love to another human being. As the movie goes on, we watch as he struggles with both his artistic ambitions and the fear he has of becoming a commodity which may make him a rich man, but will also rob him of any artistic integrity he ever hopes to have. Clearly this is a musician who wants to leave his mark on society, but like any stubborn artist, he wants to leave his mark on his own terms. The trouble is, does anyone get to leave their mark on this world on their own terms?

“Blaze” was co-written and directed by Ethan Hawke, an actor who has struggled with his place as a celebrity. We know him for acting in box office hits like “Dead Poets Society” and “Sinister,” but he is also well-known for delving into movies which defy mainstream convention like the “Before Sunrise” trilogy. I can see how the story of Blaze Foley appealed to him as Blaze is an artist who wants to be true to his art, but he is also subjected to the pressures of commercial success, or the potential for it, to such a degree that they fold under the pressure or have an overwhelming fear of being seen as a sellout. Hawke continues to walk the fine line between Hollywood and indie movies, and I believe it when he says how long it took for him to become comfortable with the fame he had achieved.

Hawke has directed a few movies previously such as “Chelsea Walls” and “The Hottest State,” both of which had their share of flaws but showed him to be a filmmaker willing to take chances even if critics questioned his methods and material. With “Blaze,” he has given us a motion picture which feels assured in its vision, and it features some of the most ingenious editing I have seen in movie in some time.

Playing Blaze Foley is musician Ben Dickey, a man who has never acted before. But in a movie like this, the actors are meant to inhabit their characters more than play him, and Dickey ends up inhabiting Blaze in a way few others could. His life is similar to Blaze’s in a number of ways as he also has music running through his blood and has traveled throughout America playing songs filled with cinematic imagery which deal with life at its most hopeful and at its darkest.

As Blaze. Dickey gives the movie its heart and soul as we see him traveling through life wanting to be pure as an artist while dealing with a past and a heartache that will never let him be. He is matched perfectly with the fantastic Alia Shawkat as Blaze’s wife and muse, Sybil. I admired her work in a movie which came out earlier this year called “Duck Butter,” and she brings same emotionally raw power to the role of a person who lives to be another’s muse until it becomes too much to bear.

My only real complaint with “Blaze” is it never digs too deep into the singer’s life. We get only hints and implications of how troubled his childhood was, but no real specifics are given so we can only guess what led him to be such a tortured soul. We do get a nice cameo from Kris Kristofferson as Blaze’s father who is seen asking everyone for a cigarette, but it only tells us so much about their relationship. Perhaps Hawke felt it was better to imply certain things without spelling everything out to audience.

Hawke has had quite the year with this and “First Reformed,” and “Blaze” shows he has long since arrived at a place where he can do passion projects like this and Hollywood films to where he can transition from one to the other with relative ease. More importantly, he makes Blaze Foley into a complex human being who may have alienated many people close to him, but we never lose our empathy for the struggles he endures. I have seen many biopics which try to present a complex portrait and have failed to get below the surface, and it says a lot that Hawke doesn’t make the same mistake here.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Soundtrack Review: ‘Patriot Games’ Extended Edition

Patriot Games soundtrack

Patriot Games” was the second Tom Clancy novel adapted to the big screen after the huge critical and commercial success of “The Hunt for Red October.” But in the process of bringing Clancy’s heroic character Jack Ryan back for another adventure, many changes ended up taking place. John McTiernan stepped away from the director’s chair and Phillip Noyce came on board, Alec Baldwin was replaced by Harrison Ford, and Basil Poledouris stepped aside for James Horner who at the time was an A-list composer very much in demand.

La La Land Records has released a remastered and expanded soundtrack to “Patriot Games” which contains a lot of music never before released, source cues and the Clannad song “Harry’s Game.” The film has Jack Ryan stopping an IRA assassination attempt on the Royal Family, but this makes him the target of a renegade faction of terrorists, especially Sean Miller (Sean Bean) whose brother Ryan ended up killing. In scoring this action and suspense film, Horner creates a surprisingly understated score which features lovely Irish and Gaelic flavors, and he combines both electronic and orchestral music to highlight the movie’s action set pieces.

Now most action scores start off with a thunderous main title to get the audience all hyped up, but the main title for “Patriot Games” is surprisingly subtle and not the least bit bombastic. This turned out to be an excellent move on Horner’s part as this film proves to be a more personal one for Jack Ryan than “The Hunt for Red October.” Among my favorite tracks are “Attempt on the Royals” which underscores Ryan’s heroic save and the loss of Sean Miller’s brother, “The Hit” in which Jack rushes after his family to save them from the vengeful Sean, and “Assault on Ryan’s House” where IRA terrorists make their last effort to eliminate the brilliant CIA analyst. I’ve always been a sucker for adrenaline pumping film music, and Horner was one of the masters at composing it.

At the same time, I really liked the low-key music he comes up with like “Closing Credits” which is a piece of music great to fall asleep to. I kept thinking it was one of the singers from Clannad who did the backing vocals on this track, but it was actually Maggie Boyle whose voice is nothing short of heavenly. Horner is great at finding the humanity in the characters inhabiting an action movie, and his music can be both thrilling and highly emotional at the same time. Not many film composers can pull off such a feat.

Among the previously unreleased tracks, it was nice to see “Sean Obsessing in Jail” on this release as Horner gets at what is eating away at Sean whose obsession for avenging his brother’s death continues to grow and grow, and I also got a kick out of “Cooley Escapes” which follows a minor character in the film who suddenly discovers he is under police surveillance. As for the source cues, they include the “Washington Post March,” some traditional Irish music and some pieces composed by Mozart, I’m not sure how necessary they were to this edition of the “Patriot Games” soundtrack. At the same time, those additions prove just how serious La La Land Records is about giving fans the most complete soundtrack to a movie they could ever hope to have.

One interesting thing about this particular La La Land Records release is it doesn’t contain the original commercial release of the soundtrack. Other releases of theirs have had them on a second disc as a bonus for those who liked the original version. But in the end, I guess they decided not to include it because everything from the original release is on these two discs anyway. I do need to point out, however, there are two different versions of “Closing Credits” on this expanded version. One is listed as the film version, and the other is listed as the album version. The difference between the two is the film version is in English and the other one is not. Regardless of which version you find yourself liking more, it is great to have both of them here.

And like many La La Land Records releases, it does come with a booklet detailing the making of the soundtrack and the movie itself. The booklet is entitled “The Pluck of the Irish,” and was written by Jim Lochner who is the managing editor of FSM Online and the owner of the website FilmScoreClickTrack.com. Now I have reviewed several La La Land Records releases, but the booklet for “Patriot Games” is one of the best they have ever put together as Lochner covers just about every single detail about the movie more than ever before.

Among the memorable passages are why Neufeld didn’t bring McTiernan back for “Patriot Games,” how Baldwin reacted to not getting cast in the film, and how Clancy was constantly upset about the changes made in bringing his book to the big screen. In describing Horner’s score, Lochner writes it is a “subtle, understated score that percolates underneath the surface, conveying the tension of a family under siege and the terrorists’ patriotic Irish roots.” I think this is the perfect description for the music of “Patriot Games,” and Lochner, in writing about the other tracks, makes the case for why Horner should have received more attention for it when the movie came out in 1992.

Once again, La La Land Records has given film music fans another remastered and expanded soundtrack which is a must buy. In a career that has seen him create unforgettable film scores for “Titanic,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Glory,” Horner’s score for “Patriot Games” stands out as one of his most unique. It is at times an understated and at other times a pulse pounding listen, and the Irish elements he puts in reminds us of what a masterful composer he was. Now it has the soundtrack edition it has long deserved.

Click here to purchase the soundtrack.

 

Soundtrack Review: ‘Grand Canyon’ Extended Edition

Grand Canyon soundtrack cover

Anybody who knows me best knows I am a huge fan of film scores and soundtracks, and James Newton Howard’s score to “Grand Canyon” is one of my all-time favorites. I knew at some point this score would get an expanded and remastered soundtrack, and La La Land Records finally came through with this limited-edition release. While he is better known for his music to “The Prince of Tides,” “The Fugitive,” “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” which he worked with Hans Zimmer on, “Grand Canyon” remains my favorite work of his as the music provides a soothing heartbeat to this movie.

The movie “Grand Canyon” came out in 1991 and was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and written by him and his wife Meg. Its story revolves around six different Los Angeles residents whose lives intertwine with one another over the course of a few days. It all starts when Mac (Kevin Kline), while driving home from a Lakers game, drives into a bad neighborhood where his car breaks down. Just when it looks like he’s about to be killed by a gang, tow truck driver Simon (Danny Glover) rescues him and the two end up becoming unlikely friends. Many called it “The Big Chill” of the 1990’s, but “Grand Canyon” more than stands on its own as it observes the lives of Los Angeles residents who are dealing with personal issues which are tearing them apart.

What I love about Howard’s score is how it combines so many different kinds of music, be it orchestra, electronics, rock, jazz or percussion, to create a film score so unique to where I have a hard time comparing it to any other. It captures the coldness of big city life while giving the characters stuck in it a sympathetic voice which understands how they feel. The “Main Titles” hooked me right away and made me feel so at ease even though I knew this movie was not going to be a fairy tale.

La La Land Records limited edition release of “Grand Canyon” includes twenty-five minutes of music not included on its original release. Soundtracks, back in the 1990’s, were limited to having only forty to fifty minutes of music on a compact disc, so a lot of great stuff got left out as a result. It’s been over twenty years since this movie came out, but the music remains as powerful as ever. In addition, there are some bonus tracks which are alternate takes on certain themes as well as some source music for a violent film which Davis (Steve Martin) has produced with an unrestrained glee.

As usual, La La Land Records has provided an informative booklet on the making of “Grand Canyon” and its music which is entitled “Scoring the City of Angels” written by Daniel Schweiger, soundtrack editor of AssignmentX.com and Filmmusicmag.com. Schweiger writes extensively about the making of the movie and of how Howard came up with the music for it, and I’m not sure we have had as much detailed information on the creation of this score previously. Each track on this disc gets an individual write up, and it’s nice to see someone, let alone anyone, give this soundtrack the attention it deserves.

If there’s any downside to this edition of the “Grand Canyon” soundtrack, it’s that it doesn’t include the song “Searching for a Heart” by the late Warren Zevon. Usually La La Land Records is able to get all the songs from a movie’s original soundtrack, but I guess there was an issue with the rights this time around. It would have also been great to have the other Zevon song featured in this movie, “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” included as well. Mac plays it while he’s driving home from the Lakers game, and the lyrics turn out to be quite prophetic for him.

“Grand Canyon” is truly one of the unsung cinematic masterpieces of the 1990’s, and what’s sad is most people don’t know about this movie today. This proved to be my introduction to the work of James Newton Howard, and it is one of the main reasons why this movie is so great. I am thrilled to see La La Land Records has taken the time to make Howard’s score sound better than ever before. While he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his work here (he was instead nominated that same year for “The Prince of Tides”), there’s no doubt in my mind this remains his most memorable film score to date.

This limited edition has only 2000 units available, so be sure to order yours before it goes out of print.

100.3 The Sound Has Done Left the Building

The Sound does not validate

Many of you are probably reading this and saying, “Oh lord, is he going to talk about this radio station again?” Yes, I am.

At 1 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on November 16, 2017, 100.3 The Sound, the beloved FM radio station, ceased operations after finishing up the second side of The Beatles eleventh studio album, “Abbey Road.” Uncle Joe Benson, in an interview with CBS, said this album was chosen to close out the station because of its last set of lyrics from “The End.”

“The lyrics are, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make.’ To me, it’s very heartfelt,” says Benson. “It’s how I view the music and how I view the audience.”

Once “The End” concluded, Andy Chanley came on the air to say, “This has been KSWD Los Angeles. This is The Sound. And this dream will self-destruct in three… two…” And with that, we were greeted with silence, and The Sound was no more.

Indeed, the last line of “The End” featured the perfect lyrics to end 100.3 The Sound’s nearly 10-year-run on as this station gave out a lot of love to its listeners, and it received even more love right back from them. This was especially evident as the station has been deluged with emails and messages left on their voicemail saying how much they love The Sound and how sad they are about it going away. For many, The Sound filled the void left by KMET, “The Mighty Met,” which itself was a pioneering station of the underground progressive rock format. With The Sound, Program Director Dave Beasing and the DJs aimed to bring back the spirit of KMET for a new generation of listeners and, to hear all the comments from The Sound fans, they truly succeeded.

In addition to Chanley and Benson, the other Sound DJs, Rita Wilde, Gina Grad, Cynthia Fox and Mimi Chen were on hand to celebrate the station’s last day and play some of their favorite songs as their way of saying farewell. For Chanley, he chose Neil Young’s “Thrasher,” and Grad played Three Dog Night’s “Shambala” as it never failed in put a smile on her face. Chen played Crosby, Stills and Nash’s cover of The Beatles’ “In My Life,” and then Fox followed with The Who’s “Pure and Easy” which she said “really captures the power of music to heal, transform and inspire the community.” Wilde chose an especially upbeat song by Bruce Springsteen, “Wrecking Ball,” and she described it passionately:

“It’s not a sad song, you get to get up and dance. Just remember, be grateful, be thankful and be good to each other.”

Benson then wrapped things up with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” and he told audiences to “turn this sucker up.” It was great to hear this song played here instead of in a car commercial where it has no place.

The last 90 minutes of The Sound featured songs reflecting the emotions of this final goodbye in its staff and loyal fans. “The Sky is Crying” by Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble spoke of the inescapable sadness we all have been feeling since this station was sold, and the lyrics “can’t you see the tears running down my nose” were ones its devoted listeners could relate to now more than ever. “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads features the lyrics, “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” These lyrics have even more meaning for me today than they did when I first listened to the song. But one song I was especially happy to hear in the closing minutes was Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” as its lyrics summed up this station’s mission as well as the feelings we have about present day music:

“Call me a relic, call me what you will.

Say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill.

Today’s music ain’t got the same soul.

I like that old-time rock and roll.”

While other stations were eager to play the next big thing in music, The Sound was more than happy to revel in rock of the past as the songs of right now can’t even compare. I fell in love with The Sound before I realized it as I never found myself changing the channel even when commercials came on as I was eager to hear what rock and roll classic they would play next. Even if there was a podcast I was desperate to listen to, the DJs always kept me listening as they were cool in ways others tried way too hard to be. During its final weeks, it dug even deeper into its catalog to give us music other stations have long since forgotten, and they handled their last moments with class even when they played William Shatner’s cover of “Rocket Man.” Even as the countdown clock kept winding down, The Sound went out at its best.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me, knowing that The Sound was on its way out. As glad as I was to tune into the station every chance I got, I couldn’t help but sigh over the fact my favorite radio station was being killed off thanks to a corporate merger and sale. And now I have to wonder if there will ever be another station like it in the near future. I am left with a heavy heart as the music was great and the DJs were so infinitely cool, and it does feel like the radio I grew up on has finally taken in its last breath.

Well, thank you 100.3 The Sound for ten great years of wonderful music and for making me and many others feel like we were part of a truly loving family. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten. Now excuse me while I deal in private with my latest case of separation anxiety…

In honor of The Sound, I want to include the late Tom Petty’s song “The Last DJ” as its lyrics encapsulate the kind of DJ this station employed ever so thoughtfully.

I also urge you to give a listen to Andy Chanley’s “The Sound Song,” a somber but thoughtful song about what we have lost and what we should be thankful for.

 

The Sound at the end

The Sound Family Forever

If I Had Hosted ‘Your Turn’ on 100.3 The Sound

1003 The Sound Banner

With 100.3 The Sound shutting down operations soon, it looks like I won’t get a chance to host an edition of “Your Turn.” This is a program where “Sound Listeners” like you and me can act as DJ for an hour and play ten of our favorite songs. This is one of the many things I love about this station as it shows just how much they truly respect those who listen in on a daily basis. Since first learning about this particular program, I was very eager to be a part of it as I have some experience in being a radio DJ in the past while I was a student at UC Irvine. But with the station going off the air, its likely they have little time to accommodate those who have sent in their song lists to the station.

Whatever the case, I’m going to do the next best thing and provide you, my fellow readers, with the episode I would have done. So here it goes.

Hello people! My name is Ben Kenber, a Sound Listener from Los Angeles, California and also the writer and CEO of the website The Ultimate Rabbit which focuses on my love for movies as well as the challenges I face in training for the Los Angeles Marathon, a marathon I have participated in for seven years. The songs I am going to play have affected me deeply throughout my childhood and as an adult, and I look at them as a journey through the crazy terrain life gives all of us.

  1. “I Can’t Drive 55” by Sammy Hagar

The first song on my list needs no introduction in my opinion. You have all heard this classic before, and the best way for me to describe it is that it’s the song I just LOVE listening to whenever I am in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam on the 405 freeway. Here it is!

  1. “Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel

This song cast a spell on me when I first heard it on the radio back in the 1980’s. Then I saw the music video for it, and it was the scariest video I ever saw. Keep in mind, I was 7 years old at the time, and this was the worst time to watch a music video like this one. All these years later, I have since become a huge Peter Gabriel fan and have no problem watching this song’s music video as it is one of the few from this decade which really holds up. While my favorite song of Gabriel’s is “In Your Eyes,” one which The Sound has played on a regular basis, this one still holds a lot of meaning for me and still sends a chill up my spine whenever I listen to it. Here is Peter Gabriel with “Shock the Monkey.”

  1. “Find Your Way Back” by Jefferson Starship

I remember when my dad bought the album “Modern Times” by Jefferson Starship back when we were living in Marietta, Georgia, and the first song off of it remains one of my all-time favorites. I even got my dad to let me take this album to my kindergarten class at Wesleyan Day School, and my classmates were eager to rock out to this track every time I put the needle to this vinyl record. It’s a good thing we never got around to playing “Modern Times” in its entirety as the last song, “Stairway to Cleveland,” had a four-letter word parents were eager for their children not to learn about until they turned ten years old. I also have to say that the woman on the album’s cover became a significant part of many nightmares I experience at such a young age. Anyway, here is Jefferson Starship with “Find Your Way Back.”

  1. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

I have been a fan of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts ever since I first heard their cover of “Crimson and Clover” on the radio back when I lived in Marietta, Georgia. But I am choosing to play this song because I love its defiant attitude, and it’s the kind of attitude I wish I had during my high school years because I was way too concerned about what others thought of me. Plus, it was also the theme song to one of my favorite television shows, “Freaks & Geeks,” and like many brilliant TV shows, it only lasted one season. Anyway, here’s “Bad Reputation.”

  1. “Can I Sit Next to You Girl” by AC/DC

I have been a die-hard fan of AC/DC ever since I bought their album “Who Made Who,” and 100.3 The Sound has played their music non-stop. This makes selecting a song by them especially challenging as “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” “Back in Black,” “Big Balls,” and “Thunderstruck” are always being played on this station. This song from their album “High Voltage” has always been one of my favorites, and I would like to give it a spin here. With the late Bon Scott on vocals, here is “Can I Sit Next to You Girl.”

  1. “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin

I have to include a song by Led Zeppelin here. I became a devoted fan of their music after my dad bought their untitled album, commonly known as “Led Zeppelin IV,” on compact disc. This particular song by them kept playing in my head while I was on vacation with my family in Hawaii. While looking at the tall cliffs, I couldn’t help but think of this song, and I still can’t get sick of listening to it. Here’s Led Zeppelin with “Black Dog,” because this station has played “Kashmir” way too often.

  1. “State Trooper” by Bruce Springsteen

If you had asked me what my favorite Bruce Springsteen album was years ago, I would have said “Born in the U.S.A.” These days, I would pick “Nebraska” which seems simplistic in its production to his other albums, but is still a very powerful listen as its lyrics are intensely personal. As much as I wanted to select “Atlantic City,” I had to pick this song as it has haunted me ever since I first listened to it while on vacation with my parents in Maine. Here is “State Trooper.”

  1. “Shadows of the Night” by Pat Benatar

Up next is something by Pat Benatar, one of the great rock and roll singers from the 1980’s. She had great hits like “Invincible,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Love is a Battlefield” and “Promises in the Dark,” all of which showed she was not someone to mess with. I am selecting this song by her because I love the melody of the chorus and how it soars over the lyrics with grace. Here is “Shadows of the Night.”

  1. “Undercover of the Night” by The Rolling Stones

My parents introduced me to the music of The Rolling Stones when they kept playing their album “Tattoo You” on a regular basis. This one included their classic hit “Start Me Up,” but this song from their 1983 album “Undercover” remains a favorite of mine from childhood. Here is “Undercover of the Night.”

  1. “King Tut” by Steve Martin

Choosing my last song was a tough one as I would love to include one from The Beatles or the late Tom Petty, but again, I wanted to go back to my time in kindergarten as this was a song me and my fellow classmates boogied out to without ever understanding the lyrics. Years later, I came to see it as comedy classic from one of the most brilliant of comedic minds. Here is Steve Martin with “King Tut.”

I again want to thank 100.3 The Sound for all the great music they have played for the last ten years. They have given me a deeper appreciation for bands like Deep Purple, and they made me realize there is more to Lynyrd Skynyrd than just “Sweet Home Alabama” (I foolishly thought this band was a one-hit wonder for years). Happy trails.

Goodbye 100.3 FM The Sound, Dammit

1003 The Sound Banner

I honestly thought it was a joke when I first read the article on LAist.com, “100.3 The Sound to Be Replaced with Christian Music Station.” LOL. I mean, come on. Replacing the best classic rock radio station in Los Angeles with one which has one singer praising God and then another saying how much they love God and even another one speaking of how God got them through tough times? You know, a radio station with real variety. Aren’t there a couple of radio stations on the AM/FM radio dial with Christian music already? Do we really need another featuring songs indistinguishable from the others played before them?

Well, it turns out this is not a joke and, as I write this article, April Fool’s Day is not around the corner. In completing its merger with CBS Radio, the American broadcasting company Entercom has agreed to sell three of its radio stations, among which is 100.3 The Sound. The classic rock station is to be replaced by the Christian Contemporary station, K-LOVE and, according to Program Director, Dave Beasing, The Sound now has 30 days until their operations are shuttered. Now radio stations may come and go, but to learn this one is heading towards the annals of radio history has left me utterly infuriated and deeply depressed. Like many out there, I found The Sound and am not prepared to lose it.

Like everyone else, I grew up on FM radio with KISS-FM in Southern California (Rick Dees in the Morning!) and KFOG up in Northern California, but as the years went by, I grew continually restless with every single station I tuned in to as commercials and advertisements became more prevalent than actual music. I eventually gave up on radio for a time and became much more open to inserting a cassette into my car’s tape deck where I could get my music fix more easily and be spared from another advertisement for car insurance.

100.3 The Sound, however, was different. They would play a bunch of songs in a row, and they were the kind of songs which, even after listening to them hundreds of times, I could never get sick of. When the commercials came on, I never found myself eager to change the station as I eagerly anticipated which classic song Uncle Joe Benson, Rita Wilde, Cynthia Fox, Mary Price, Tony Scott, Tina Mica, Steve Hoffman, Mimi Chen, Andy Chanley or Gina Grad would end up spinning next. Did it matter which song they played? No, because I could always count on it being one which raise my spirits whenever I am stuck in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam on any given Los Angeles freeway. Furthermore, listening to this station on a daily basis keeps making me forget 95.5 KLOS still exists, and this is quite a feat.

Of course, it became an obligation to turn the volume down whenever that blasted Kars 4 Kids jingle was played. So simplistic and annoying in design and yet so catchy at the same time, it has long since proven to be equivalent of the Silver Shamrock jingle from “Halloween III.”

It didn’t matter if they were playing Led Zeppelin, Styx, The Eagles, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones because 100.3 The Sound made you realize why classic rock became classic rock; you never got sick of listening to it. Songs like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” never get old for me, ever. “Hotel California” still has relevance in this new millennium. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” still has us holding out hope even when times seem darker than ever. And while I may not have “Too Much Time on My Hands” like Tommy Shaw does, I always look forward to hearing it as much as another Styx song, “Mr. Roboto.”

That’s the thing about classic rock, it never ever gets old. It has heart and soul which today’s music seriously lacks. The artists of the here and now seem way too focused on generating the next big #1 hit to where they employ an obscene number of writers and producers on a single song in an effort to create something commercially viable, demographically friendly and inoffensive to the most sensitive of ears. Musicians from years past were never as concerned about making hit records as they were in creating music which spoke to them as much as it did to us. Even today’s generation has a great love for these bands to where their music’s power is undeniable. Taylor Swift may be the hit maker of today, but can you see “Shake it Off” or “…Ready for It?” having the lasting power of “Bohemian Rhapsody?” I think not.

Whenever I am driving people all around Southern California, they remark how the music playing on 100.3 The Sound makes them feel like they are in high school again. I feel the same way, and I went to high school back in the 1990’s! Sure, there are some passengers who instead want to hear the latest in hip hop which is fine, but more often than not, they dig listening to what this great radio station plays had on its playlist.

I love it when Andy Chanley breaks down a song to where you hear only the lead singer’s vocals or a particular guitar riff. I love Rita Wilde’s album side at 11, and she made me realize Journey’s “Frontiers” album was actually not a part of my record collection and needed to be. I love Uncle Joe Benson’s “10 at 10” as he was great at taking you back in time to a year which remains fresh in our minds, and his show “Off the Record” had him indulging in down to earth conversations with artists I always want to know more about. This station even managed to lure Mark Thompson back into the realm of morning radio, albeit for far too brief a time. Still, he had his “Cool Stories in Music” podcast which I always enjoyed listening to on a Sunday night.

100.3 The Sound also plays host to “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” the guitarist and “Sopranos” actor’s radio show which showcases what he sees as the “coolest songs in the world.” Now this is what Vincent Vega would call “a bold statement,” but in Little Steven’s case, he is absolutely justified in making it. While he plays songs by The Rolling Stones and The Monkees, bands we know and love, he also includes the grooviest of tunes from Butch Walker, The Weeklings, Jeremy & The Harlequins, Fleshtones, and the Kurt Baker Combo. I have to say I don’t know these ones but feel like I should, but with his show, Little Steven has introduced them to a new generation of listeners. It is also further proof of how my rock and roll education is far from over as his song selections provide me with a gloriously rockin’ good time.

Plus, how many other radio stations have a show like “Your Turn?” This is where Sound listeners like you and me can spend an hour as a DJ (pre-recorded of course) and play our favorite tunes for devoted listeners to hear. Now this is a radio station which respects its fans like few others do. While many of them may not sound ready for prime time, it is always great fun to hear what songs they selected. I was hoping to get a chance to do it, and I do have experience as a radio DJ, but thanks to corporate greed, it is unlikely I will get the opportunity.

Well, all I can do now is enjoy the remaining days 100.3 The Sound is on the air as I feel uncertain there will be another radio station like it in the near future. I have no real desire to tune into a Christian music station. Granted, there are some great Christian singers out there (Vanessa Jourdan, you rock!), but being without The Sound on my FM radio dial will make it painful to even try to tune in to this channel.

A big thank you to everyone at 100.3 The Sound for all the great times and songs they have given me. You will be deeply missed.

WRITER’S NOTE: I am including the following song as it started playing in my head loudly after it set in that 100.3 The Sound is going away. It was released back in 1992, and I believe this makes it “classic rock.” After all, this station also plays the music of Pearl Jam.

See also:

If I Had Hosted ‘Your Turn’ on 100.3 The Sound

 

Denny Tedesco and Company Look Back at ‘The Wrecking Crew’

The Wrecking Crew poster

The Wrecking Crew” joins the company of great documentaries like “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” and “20 Feet from Stardom” as it puts the spotlight on a group of musicians who have been in the background for far too long. The title refers to studio and session musicians based in Los Angeles, California who played anonymously on many famous records back in the 1960’s. During a decade dominated by The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas and The Monkees among others, they were the ones who recorded the music we came to love so much.

“The Wrecking Crew” was directed by Denny Tedesco whose father, Tommy Tedesco, was a legendary guitarist who played with this group of unsung musicians. Tedesco started filming this documentary back in 1996 when he discovered his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer as he wanted to get as much of his father’s musical history on film for the record. From there, it became a celebration of musicians whose work resulted in the creation of many great songs. In addition, Tedesco succeeded in getting many interviews from stars like Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Mickey Dolenz, Glen Campbell and Dick Clark who shared their memories of The Wrecking Crew and of what they brought to the world of music.

A press day for “The Wrecking Crew” was held at The Professional Drum Shop in Hollywood, California, a famous location where George Harrison once bought a pair of drums for Ringo Starr. Joining Tedesco was The Wrecking Crew’s drummer Hal Blaine who came up with the group’s name, and its keyboard player Don Randi. While the documentary started playing at film festivals in 2008, it did not receive a theatrical release until 2015 due to the incredibly difficulty of licensing music for its inclusion here. I asked Tedesco how the documentary evolved from when he started shooting it in 1996 to when he finally got a rough cut together.

Denny Tedesco: Format wise, we started shooting in film, 16mm, because I wanted to be a filmmaker. My wife Susie and myself, she’s a commercial producer, had better access to the film cameras, but we also liked the idea of film. But years later I started to go to video out of necessity, and I realized that was much easier because now what I missed with film is a lot of great interviews. With film, you’ve got to have a whole film crew. When we started cutting I knew the beginning, I knew the middle and I knew the end, but when the first 30 minutes of the film were cut another director saw it and said, “Why are you cutting it like this?” And I said, “What do you mean?” Because I wasn’t gonna be part of this film at all. I was the director and I wanted to keep myself out of it. He said, “You’re crazy not to be a part of this. You have access that none of us have. What you’re cutting, we couldn’t do this. You should go the other way.” And that’s when I decided that I would try and introduce the film as myself and that this is the reason why I started the film; my dad’s passing away and I said this is the story of my father and his extended family, The Wrecking Crew, and that’s how I introduce all of these guys.

Tedesco, Blaine and Randi said all the musicians originally came from jazz backgrounds, but that they eventually found themselves playing rock and roll music as they could make more of a living this way. We get to meet each of these musicians, and one who stands out in particular is Carol Kaye not because she is the only female member of The Wrecking Crew, but because she is a truly gifted bass player. Randi himself described Carol as being very innovative and that she has a great ear for music, and she gave us all a respect for the bass guitar we should have today.

Hal Blaine: I have to make mention right here about Berry Gordy who was actually a neighbor of mine. We used to laugh at the limo that used to pick up this little, tiny child to take him to school every day. Eventually there were people out there saying they did all the Motown records, and we knew that they didn’t. We knew that we had done a couple, three maybe, but there were some people who claimed they did all of them. They will be nameless at this point. Berry Gordy, not very long ago, did an interview and mentioned the fact that the very first hits came out of his garage where he had a little studio, and then he became Twentieth Century Fox’s head of musical engineering. We did the first few (songs) like “Baby Love” and a couple of things and it was an amazing time, and I was shocked to hear Berry Gordy actually do this. Not coming clean, but just to clear up things.

Randi also shared a sobering story about The Funk Brothers, Detroit based musicians who performed the backing music to the majority of Motown recordings from 1959 until 1972 when the company moved to Los Angeles.

Don Randi: When we all went into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, The Funk Brothers were there and The Wrecking Crew was there. We all went in at the same time and I sat with The Funk Brothers and they had me crying because there weren’t no contracts and they didn’t get the residuals. These guys are old and they don’t have that… Those guys worked their butts off for Berry, and when they first came out on the first date I did for them they went to pay us with cash, and I said, “Wait a second, we don’t do this.” And they said, “Well that’s the way we do it in Detroit. We pay cash.”

Well, hopefully all these musicians will get the respect they deserve when audiences watch “The Wrecking Crew.” It is a great celebration of the music we grew up on and of the artists who created it in the first place. While this documentary might look like it is riding the coattails of similar ones, it stands on its own and sheds a light on a piece of musical history we all need to know more about.

Danny Tedesco: All these other docs, thank God they came out. Thank God they laid the ground work and thank God they were successful. And I’m so happy because there is always another story. I tell people there’s so much information out there. You could interview your parents and you would get a great story and they should. There’s so much knowledge out there and I’m so glad that these different musicians… I’m lucky that I got them in their youth. If I had to do this documentary today, forget it. A lot of guys are gone and memories are maybe not as sharp.

The Wrecking Crew” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.