Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My most listened to Western movie soundtracks

As part of Legends of Western Cinema week, I'll be posting a couple Western movie themed posts this week.  Check out their page for links to other posts in this series.

First up, since I've been thinking of little else lately:  music.  Western are a huge part of my life, and the scores that go with those movies almost an even bigger one.  Most of these, I suspect most people won't have heard of, but they're a huge part of my life.

These are my most-listened-to Western film scores at this time.  I have so many other Western scores I love just as much, but they're out of play rotation right now, for various reasons.  They'll come around again.  But right now, here in the middle of 2015, these are the ones I'm playing most often.

1. Rio Conchos - Jerry Goldsmith (1964)
I think if I only had one score to listen to the rest of my life, I would not be upset if this were the one.  It is my most played score over the past twenty-five years, by any composer in any genre, and for all the hundreds of times I've played it, I am still not remotely tired of it.  It's a score that matches my mood most days. You want the essence of me in musical form?  This score just about covers it.
Favorite cue:  "River Crossing"

(Main Title from Rio Conchos)

2. Hour of the Gun - Jerry Goldsmith (1967)
I might also be fine if this was the only score I had to listen to for the rest of my life.  This one's not as dark as Rio Conchos.  It starts upbeat and ends upbeat, but covers lots of moods and action in the middle.
Favorite cue: "The Search"

(Sort of a compilation cue from the score)

3. Wyatt Earp - James Newton Howard (1994)

No, the list isn't going to be all Goldsmith (though it easily could be, LOL).  I listen to Wyatt Earp all the time.  There's a short album and an expanded album, and I trade off between them depending how much time I have.
Favorite cue: "It All Ends Now"

(My favorite cue from Wyatt Earp)

4. Big Jake - Elmer Bernstein (1971)
My favorite Western movie, and my favorite Bernstein score.  Great classic Western theme for Jacob McCandles, exactly what you expect from a John Wayne Western.
Favorite cue:  "Survey/Ambush/Buzzards"

(Main theme)

5. Lonely are the Brave - Jerry Goldsmith (1962)
I'll be talking more about this movie later this week.  But this score?  Perfection.  In every way.  It's poignant, gentle,  playful, actiony, and sad.
Favorite cue:  "Run for It"

6. The Missing - James Horner (2003)
Never seen this movie, never want to.  It would ruin the music.  I love this score so much it's not funny.  It's not the Bernstein-esque "traditional" Western sound, but it's one of my top ten favorite Horner scores.  This is a score I write to.  It's sweeping, beautiful, and aching. It's one of those Horner scores that makes me want to climb inside the music, because it's not enough to just listen to it.
Favorite cue: "The Long Ride Home," all 16 glorious minutes of it.

7. Take a Hard Ride - Jerry Goldsmith (1975)
Boy, does this one have a great main theme.  This is one of the CDs that stays in my car and I listen to it often while driving.  Not a dark score, but not a light score either.  Nicely in the middle.

8. Breakheart Pass - Jerry Goldsmith (1975)
Because train music never gets old.
Favorite cue: Here it Comes

(Main title)

9. Tombstone - Bruce Broughton (1993)
I sometimes find it ironic that I love this score, but don't like the movie at all (except for Michael Biehn).  I also find it ironic that one of the things I did not like about the movie when I saw it in the theater was that the music, in context, didn't work for me.  But I love it by itself.  (Rather like the score to Waterworld by James Newton Howard... didn't work for me in the movie, either, but it got listened to over and over and over on CD.  What can I say?  Some scores are just like that.)
Favorite cue:  "Looking at Heaven/End Credits"

10.  The Scalphunters - Elmer Bernstein (1968)
Probably the lightest, most cheerful of the ten scores listed here, but still has that distinctive Bernstein sound.
Favorite cue: "Joe Bass and the Scalphunters"

Friday, July 24, 2015

Silly Friday

Because by Friday evening, I am utterly exhausted, but happy because it's Friday, which tends to make me slaphappy, I present something fun for a change.


I love Ralph Meeker.  I love Bill Paxton.  This is apparently not remotely a coincidence... as they look like twin brothers sometimes.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Things I can't put in words but I'll try anyway

If we had a way of communicating without being limited to the palette of the written word, I could explain what music means to me.  I could show you if we had a way of sharing thoughts.  Music is color, music is visual, music is emotion, music is sensation.  It is not words.  Its power is not easily explainable with the English language.  There is almost nothing more important to me than music. 

I grew up with music-loving parents.  The classical station was usually playing throughout the day.  We’d listen to opera at night.  My parents had a vast collection of records:  opera, classical, and film scores.  We’d often listen to those records, and often we would just listen.  And I mean listen.  Not play games or cards, not read a book, but sitting and just listening.  I still do this a lot.  Music is best when you can devote your full attention to it.  Just close your eyes and listen.

Our lives are so darned busy, overwhelmed with stuff that needs to be done.  But we will always make time for what matters to us.  Listening to music matters to me.

The first thing I do in the morning is start playing music.  The last thing I do before I go to bed is usually turn it off.  I don’t listen to it at work because I’m often on the phone, but if I’m on a project where I’m not going to be interrupted, then I’ve got music playing.  The minute I go on break or lunch, I hit play on the iPod.  If I’m writing, I’m listening to music.  If I’m driving, I’m listening to music.  If I’m not listening to music, I’m humming or whistling to music playing in my head. 

Since 1982, since getting the score to Star Trek II, James Horner's music has been with me weekly, if not daily.  And on days I choose to listen to something by another composer, his name still crosses my mind.  That’s thirty-three years his music has been with me almost daily.  There’s only two other people that get thought of daily and going back as long:  my sister and Jerry Goldsmith, my other favorite film composer.  This is one of the reasons James Horner’s death has hit me so hard.  Why I still tear up if someone starts talking to me about him, or if certain pieces come on my iPod.  His music has been a constant companion for most of my life.  Through the ups and downs, through multiple novels, through moves, through trips, through friends.  Thirty-three years this man and his music have accompanied me every single day. His music will continue to accompany me daily for the next thirty-three years... but there will no longer be any new scores to look forward to. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Hannibal Brooks (1969)

Wow.  What a wacky mix of a movie.  WWII film, but quite different from the standard WWII fare.

Minor spoilers follow.

Oliver Reed stars as Brooks, a British POW who ends up working with Lucy the elephant at the Munich zoo.  The zoo wants to move her for safety to Austria, and Brooks, two German guards, and a Polish cook set out to walk her there.  Of course, things happen, Brooks ends up on the run for Switzerland and freedom -- with the elephant.  Throw in Michael J. Pollard as a crazy escaped American POW and... it's an off-beat, but rather delightful movie.

Of course, as a huge Oliver Reed fan, watching him and an elephant having adventures through a beautiful countryside just makes me grin.  Brooks can't abandon the elephant, and I love that, because I couldn't have left her behind either.  I liked his character a lot, as he tries to stay out of the war, but inevitably gets drawn in to the conflicts around him.  He looks great too.  (Also, opera alert:  he sings the melody to La Donna รจ Mobile in one part, and that totally made me laugh.)

This movie is a mix of quiet times, fun times, and then serious war times.  Sometimes, you forget there's even a war on, as they lead the elephant through different villages and smiling people come to see her and get rides.  Then there's explosions and gunfights and chases and a break-in/rescue.  There's also a very impressive train derailment.  And let's just say having an elephant around in war isn't a bad idea.  Also... ye gods!  The cable car scene!  That guy's really up there and it sure as hell looks like there's no safety ropes involved.  This movie was a year after Where Eagles Dare came out... I guess climbing on top of cable cars was still in vogue!

This movie has very cool characters.  Quite love Willi (played by Helmut Lohner), who ends up helping Brooks and heading for Switzerland as well.  He's sweet and nice and doesn't want to be in the war and reminds me quite a bit of Hans, from a Combat! episode, "Barrage."  And then there's Wolfgang Preiss as an SS Colonel who is chasing Brooks and Lucy, but then decides it might be time to get out of Germany himself.  Maybe.  I know Mr. Preiss best from Von Ryan's Express, but he pops up all over the place in older war movies.  There's some side characters who help Brooks along the way, characters who could easily turn him in, but they don't.  They help him and Lucy, and that's a beautiful thing too.  Also, James Donald gets a small part in the POW camp.  Reminded me a wee bit of his character in The Great Escape.

And then there's Michael J. Pollard's character, Packy (whose name cracked me up because I kept thinking Pachyderm every time I heard it.  Can't be a coincidence in a movie about an elephant, can it?).  At first I just wanted to smack him, cuz he kept trying to drag Brooks into his escape attempts (and he keeps calling him Brooksie, which also makes me want to smack him).  Then their paths keep crossing, and even while he's trying to escape to Switzerland himself, he and his Resistance fighters keep fighting Germans where they can... and I ended up liking him by the end of the movie.  He doesn't give up, he keeps fighting.  Gotta respect that.  But he's also quite loony.  The part where his bomb doesn't go off, and he just shrugs was particularly funny.  He's mad, but heroic... it's so very odd.

And there is absolutely gorgeous scenery.  This movie would have been worth it for the scenery alone.  Filmed on location and it is beautiful.

This movie also has the most unequivocal ending of all time.

And yes, that little black dot is a bouncing ball as a chorus sings those words.  Seriously.  It came out of the blue, because the rest of the movie was not corny.   But then there's this.  Wacky!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Interview and Publishing news

My latest short story, "The Right Man for the Job," is now out in print or on kindle from Amazon, in the latest volume of the Heroes in Hell anthology series:  Doctors in Hell.  This story continues the adventures of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

And also, here is an interview I did regarding the story, writing, and the writing life.  Thanks to Jennifer Loiske for the opportunity!  Check it out.

Thursday, July 02, 2015


There are losses that leave you sad, and then there are losses that tear holes in the fabric of your daily life.  Losses where nothing will be the same after that loss occurs.  The older I get, the more holes I accumulate (No duh. Age, you know.).  Nothing ever fills them, you just skirt around them thereafter, and the edges remain sharp and painful.  The ache in your chest that's so hard to breathe around eases with time, but the holes stay.

I turned to a comfort movie... Aliens.  Comfort??  Yes, very much so.  Aliens is one of my top favorite movies, and it's one I'd probably take to a desert island because I never tire of it, and because it's that good.  It is also a comfort movie in that I shared this movie in the past with very good friends who loved it as much as I did, who could quote it as freely.  And who also loved the score as much as I did.  I miss those times.  There's another painful hole there, that I skirt the edges of.

I didn't see Aliens when it came out originally in the theater, I saw it about a year later on video, when a friend of the family couldn't believe we hadn't seen Alien and Aliens and lent them to us to watch.  I loved them both.  Alien is creepier and more suspenseful; Aliens is neither, though I suppose that might depend on what you find creepy and suspenseful.  Let's just say, for me, watching Alien alone at night will wig me out, but I have no problem watching Aliens by myself in the dark.  It is just exciting, action-filled, satisfying entertainment that hits so many items on my Sweet Spot map.  It remains my favorite James Cameron movie.

Why? Because I love the characters.  Man, do I love the characters.  Every single one of them.  Ripley, of course, is amazing, but those Colonial Marines are also awesome and fun.  I've watched quite a few large cast movies, particularly newer films, and come away not knowing the names of any of the characters.  Cameron doesn't let that happen.  Even the first time I saw the movie... Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, Drake, Apone, Ferro, Spunkmeyer, Bishop, Dietrich, etc.... I could name them all.  That doesn't seem to happen that often anymore.  And this movie spends time with them, lets you get to know them.  Let's you invest and become friends with them.  Sure we get to know some better than others, but almost all of them have distinct personalities.  It's so rare to have a movie with so many characters that manage to all feel real, not just cardboard cannon fodder.  Even the ones without much screen time still feel like they have a life when the camera cuts away.  I love that.  I can't tell you how much I love that.

And then there's Newt.  Newt's far and away my favorite movie kid ever.  Newt's smart, brave, wary, and intelligent.  "Why don't you put her in charge?" Hudson says, and he's not half wrong.  It's Newt who knows how to get out of the complex through the air ducts.  But she is still very much a young girl. As resourceful as she is, the movie never loses sight that she's still just a child.  I love that about the movie too.  She's not some miniature adult.  She's just a girl who figured out how to hide and survive.

And I love the plot.  The plot pleases me greatly, as things go from bad to worse to terrible, and the characters constantly work to think up solutions and a way out.  They never give up, and they never lose hope that they will make it out somehow.  People do a lot of thinking and planning in this movie trying to stay alive, and it just all works so perfectly.  It's the kind of plot I'd write... Of course I love it.

And I even love the aliens. They're fascinating.  (Or as Bishop says about one, "Magnificent, isn't it?")  They're intelligent.  They're deadly.  "They cut the power."  "What do you  mean 'they cut the power'? How could they cut the power, man?  They're animals!"  The facehuggers are far, far creepier than the adults.   I'd far rather face a room full of adults then just a single facehugger. They're nightmare-worthy.

Aliens was the first James Horner score I personally owned.  Star Trek II and III, Cocoon... my parents owned those on record, and I made tapes of them, but Aliens, I bought on LP myself.  Which I promptly recorded onto tape so I could listen to it in my walkman (watching out for Sublevel 3's stab, so I didn't jump). Then I got it on CD.  Then the deluxe edition...  One can't own too many versions.  It still gets plenty of play time, all these years later.  (And I still remember seeing Die Hard in the theater when it premiered, and going "What the????" at the end, when the start of the "Resolution and Hyperspace" cue kicked in.... which music isn't actually used in Aliens, oddly enough, but I knew it all too well from the album.)

Favorite scene:  the robot sentries! The sheer speed at which those guns go empty.  Not even 35 seconds for A and B guns to expend 500 rounds each.  (Yes, I timed it once.)  "They're wall-to-wall in there!"  And then, the sound of the aliens attacking the pressure door.  Makes me grin just thinking about it.  Also, Ripley's rescue of Newt, for so many reasons, not the least of which is because that whole end and the station's countdown is filmed in real-time.

Favorite character:  Ripley.  I want to be just like her when I grow up. 

Favorite marine:  Well, Hicks, Hudson, and Vasquez all tie.  Kind of hard to choose which flavor of awesome I like better.  I love that Vasquez gets to take point.  I love that Hicks looks out for Ripley.  I love Hudson always mouthing off.  (Although Ferro was always the marine I related to the most. I love her.)

Favorite cue: "Ripley's Rescue"

Favorite quote:  Oh man, don't get me started.  The whole movie is quotable.   Anytime Hudson opens his mouth is quotable.  "Yeah, man, but it's a dry heat" is my all-time favorite, just because it gets said or thought constantly.  And "Game over, man, game over!"  But I'm extremely fond of Ripley's, "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?"

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

For the Love of a Princess

Every time I start to write something more meaningful than just how hard Horner's death has hit me, I... can't.  Not yet. But I have been listening to music.  There's an online movie music station that has been streaming Horner scores all day.  I've been listening while at work, and mostly handling it okay (the station appears to have a limited selection of CDs), and then a cue will start that completely undoes me.

This was one.

I wore the score to Braveheart out many years ago, and I don't think I've listened to it in since then.  This was always my favorite cue, and the sheer emotion of it just got to me.  (I do find it interesting looking at in which scores my favorite cue is a quiet one, and which ones it's an action one.)

Monday, June 22, 2015


I decided to check the news before I went to bed, and I found out James Horner died today in a plane crash. You know how there's some things you just can't process? This was one of them. I can't say it's fully sunk in yet, but I've been crying now for a half hour, so, I guess this is real. He is gone too soon, too young. Damn it, this hurts.

After Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner is the next most influential film score composer on my life. His music has been part of my life since Star Trek II came out in the theater, and it has never gone away. There isn't a week that goes by where I don't listen to something of his. These past couple weeks, it's been his wonderful score to The Wolf Totem, a score I haven't been able to get enough of.

My heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, and all my fellow fans and listeners. Farewell and RIP, James Horner. Your music meant more to me than you can know.

I can't listen to a film score yet, this is too raw of a hurt, but this piece feels right.

I can't fathom this. It's too heartbreaking. And I can't stop crying.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Goldsmith scores - quick reviews - 'C' - part two

Of these, I've only seen Chinatown.

Chain Reaction (1996) - I own the CD, but it is still unopened.  I have to keep a few CDs unlistened to for a rainy day!  This is one of them.

The Chairman (1969) - This score has one of my absolute favorite main titles of all time.  Unfortunately, I can't say I'm all that enamored of the rest of the score, though it still gets a fair amount of play time, because it's good writing music.  I love the themes in the main title, but they don't figure into the score much, so I always finish listening to this score slightly disappointed.  But the main title will always remain one of my favorites.

The Challenge (1982) - A good but not great score.  Interesting that it follows Chairman alphabetically, because I had the two of them paired on a playlist, as they are a good match with the Asian themes.  This is another score that is good for writing, but I don't really listen to it on its own.

Chinatown (1974) - Probably my favorite of the scores on this page, though I don't listen to it all that frequently.  It's one I think I'm confusing with another score, as I always think I don't like this one, then I listen to it, and am like, but wait, this score is great!  Nicely noir, but not all that dark.

City of Fear (1959) - creepy, dark, noirish score.  Way darker than Chinatown.  I should probably listen to this one more than I do.  It's quite cool.

Here's the main title to The Chairman.  The very first time I heard this, when it hit the part that starts at about 2:00 minutes, I burst into tears because I wasn't expecting that full version of the theme after the quiet lead-in, and it was so beautiful.  What's that the kids say these days?  It hit me right in the feels?  Strangest phrase ever.  LOL.  (And yes, music often makes me cry.)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Not-Your-Average Disney Tag

How fun!  Hamlette tagged me for this.  Disney movies, The Wonderful World of Disney (tv show), and Disneyland were such formative factors in my life!  My mom has been going to Disneyland since the very first week it opened.  I remember E tickets, and the first time we went to the park with this pass my aunt got that enabled us to go on all rides, all day, no tickets.  I remember attending Disneyland's 25th Anniversary (ye gods, they are currently celebrating their 60th this year!) which was very very special at the time.  I still have a bag with the 25th Anniversary logo design on it that I've kept all these years, for no good reason whatsoever.

I know when most people think Disney, they think the animated movies... but I grew up on so much live-action Disney, where the Disney animated movies we saw were only a handful.  So my first Disney thoughts still run to live-action.

#1:  Favorite Disney movie of all time?
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).  It's been my favorite since I was a kid.

#2:  Favorite Disney character?
Oh man...  Erm.  It's probably a tie between Tonto (The Lone Ranger) and Will Turner (Pirates of the Caribbean).

#3:  First Disney movie seen in cinemas?
I have no idea whatsoever.  Most likely Fantasia or Pinocchio or 20,000 Leagues.  They re-released a lot of the classics while I was growing up.  Of first run Disney movies ...(runs off to check list of Disney movies and when they came out...)  Okay, it was most likely The Rescuers (1977).

#4:  What Disney item do you collect the most?
Anything from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  Stills, posters, etc.  And The Lone Ranger merchandise.  Have tons from that as well.

#5:  What is your favorite Disney song?
Whale of a Tale, of course!  (from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)

Though, I admit I really really love listening to Sean Connery sing in Darby O'Gill and the Little People.  Never gets old.

#6:  Which Disney voice actor would you most like to meet?
Peter Ustinov!  (From the animated Robin Hood) Because... Peter Ustinov!  (And besides, his Prince John remains one of my favorite Disney animated characters.)

#7:  Favorite Disney movie that is not a classic?
The Jungle Book (1994, not the animated version) or Dragonslayer (1981).  Love them both.  The former has Sam Neill, and John Cleese, and Cary Elwes, and was also the first thing I saw Lena Headey in.  I have never seen the animated Jungle Book film, nor do I have any desire to, but I love this movie so much.  It's beautiful and fun and serious and full of adventure.  I love the plot, love Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli, and, it's one of my favorite Sam Neill roles, not to mention it has a great score by Basil Poledouris.

Dragonslayer is dark, more adult Disney, but it remains one of the best dragon movies, with a great twisty plot.  I love Caitlin Clarke as Valerian, and Sir Ralph Richardson as the wizard is just brilliant.  The only thing I'm not fond of in this movie is the score.  I'm afraid I have never been a fan of Alex North.

#8:  Flounder, Sebastian, or Scuttle?
Who?  (I'm guessing from others who have done this tag that they are characters from The Little Mermaid.  Alas, that's probably my least favorite Disney animated movie, so none of them.)

#9:  Saddest moment in a Disney movie?
Dumbo, "Baby Mine." If I don’t walk out of the room before that scene starts, I will bawl buckets.  I get teary just thinking about it. 

#10:  Which Disney princess has the best sidekicks?
Snow White!  She gets the seven dwarfs.

Bonus question:  Of the lesser known Disney movies, what one would you recommend?
The Rocketeer. It's such old-fashioned, delightful fun.

I'm not going to tag anyone, because most of the bloggers I follow have already done this, but if you love Disney, I'd love to see what your favorites are!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sir Christopher Lee

Very sad news today.  Thanks for so many fabulous roles over the years. From the famous ones -- James Bond, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Dracula -- to the lesser known movies... I haven't seen a film his presence didn't improve.  Rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Goldsmith scores - quick reviews - 'C' - part one

Now, here's four scores I love love LOVE... and I haven't seen any of these films (or television show, in the case of Cain's Hundred)! 

Caboblanco (1980) - Great Spanish-flavored score, (and a good listening pairing with Breakout).  I wore this one out some years back, and so don't listen to it as much as I used to, but it still a great score.  Favorite cue:  "The Final Act Begins."

Cain's Hundred (1961-62) - love this one.  Have not listened to it much because I'm saving it.  I am a huge fan of Goldsmith's early 60's sound.  It greatly appeals to my inner self, and Cain's Hundred reminds me a lot of Goldsmith's score to The Stripper (1963).  They both have the same feel, the same emotional resonance, and that sound just never gets old for me.  Favorite cue is probably just the theme from the show.

Capricorn One (1977) - One of the first famous Goldsmith "action" scores I listened to, back on LP.  Favorite cue:  "Breakout," of course.  Bring it on!  Though I'm also really fond of "Kay's Theme."  The two were back-to-back on the original album, and I always liked the contrast.  All the old LPs seemed to have the same pattern.  The first side would end with an amazing action cue, and side B would begin with a version of the love theme.  It was awesome.

Cassandra Crossing (1976) - This one and Rio Conchos are probably my two most-played Goldsmth scores of all time.  It would be no coincidence that both of these scores match my mood a lot, if that makes any sense at all.  It's one of the things that has always attracted me to Goldsmith's music over every other film composer:  I find a mirror of my inner self in his scores.  No one else's music does that (except classical composer Ralph Vaughn Williams), and Cassandra Crossing's score is me.  This is a score I don't write to, mostly because I sing along with it and I can't write to things I want to sing along with.  (Yes, I sing along with stuff that isn't particularly singable.)  Favorite cue:  "Helicopter Rescue."

None of these are really on youtube, but here's the awesome end credits from Cain's Hundred.