Stardust to Stardust: An Adagio to Life and Death (Alex Garland’s Sunshine)

By Michael W. Harris

Our world is dying…

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007), written by the future Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) writer/director Alex Garland, was, for me, the film from which I learned the phrase “third act problems.” In this way, it was a seminal film in my development as a critical viewer and analyzer of the cinematic arts. And yet, despite these problems, it remains, in my regard, an outstanding example of the science fiction genre and a film that I whole heartedly recommend.

The following essay had its start in my long delayed hauntology project (I promise that will begin posting soon), but in the process of streamlining that series and removing a number of films because the essays I was writing kept getting longer, I decided that both Sunshine and Ex Machina did not really fit with the themes I was developing…though Sunshine was heartbreaking to remove because I do want more people to watch it, flaws and all. Continue reading “Stardust to Stardust: An Adagio to Life and Death (Alex Garland’s Sunshine)”

Food So Good It’ll Blow More Than Just Your Socks Off: Shokugeki no Soma

By Michael W. Harris

Yep, this is a show I legit love!

Shokugeki no Soma, aka Food Wars!, is a strange anime. It is a show with its central focus on the world of a gourmet cooking academy in Japan, albeit one with a large, sprawling campus, a huge student base, though also is a school rigorous enough that students are routinely culled in intense examinations and trials. It is categorized as a: comedy anime, a slice of life show (it is essentially a high school series after all), a competition/battle anime (most of its story arcs revolve around the titular “Food War” battles), and also an ecchi series (or semi-erotic/sexy anime, in this case the clothes of various characters are routinely blown off as a way of demonstrating just how intense and flavorful the food is). As with any ecchi series, yes, many of the women are drawn without regard to realistic body proportions, but dammit if the show isn’t a hell of a lot of fun and also funny. And the actual food wars, or shokugeki, are absolutely thrilling and really make me want to do more cooking, or at the very least experiment more in the kitchen.

And it is the food wars that I want to to talk about a bit more here, or one in particular that occurred in the first half of season 3: Yukihira Soma (our main character) vs. Eizan Etsuya (a member of the school’s Elite Ten council of students).

For any of this to make sense, though, I should probably explain a few things first. Continue reading “Food So Good It’ll Blow More Than Just Your Socks Off: Shokugeki no Soma”

Veni Creator Spiritus: Musical Quotations in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

By Michael W. Harris

One of the items I acquired over Christmas 2016 was the recent Funimation box set of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a 2006/2009 anime based on a series of popular Japanese light novels. I had heard many recommendations for this series, and the basic idea of it sounded both weird and fascinating: a high school girl who is an unknowing all-powerful being who might accidentally wipe out existence if she gets bored. The trailer for Funimation’s release of the series gives a decent overview:

This clip also gives a hint at a fascinating scene that occurs in episode six (of the chronological ordering…yes there are various viewing orders and it is somewhat confusing so just read this) when Haruhi has created a “closed space” dimension and sucked our poor, snarky protagonist Kyon into it with her. During a climactic moment when Kyon realizes what he needs to do to escape with Haruhi the closing minutes of the first movement of Mahler’s Symphony #8 kicks in. The sequence lasts for almost 4 ½ minutes and features a seemingly unbroken stretch of the movement. Continue reading “Veni Creator Spiritus: Musical Quotations in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”

Borrowing Beyond the Stars: James Horner’s Music for Star Trek II and III

By Michael W. Harris

N.B.—This is a lightly edited form of my remarks delivered at the 2016 Society of Cinema and Media Studies conference held in Atlanta and the 2016 Music and the Moving Image conference held at New York University. Hence why this is nearly twice the length of my normal post.

James Horner has been a divisive figure in the film music community, fandom and scholarship alike, for many years. The cause of this division stems from Horner’s predilection for not only lifting material from other composers—Sergei Prokofiev and Dimitri Shostakovich to name but two—but also from routinely recycling material from his own scores. But the legal debate over copyright and plagiarism is best left to the Hollywood lawyers, but understanding the debate surrounding Horner is important. Continue reading “Borrowing Beyond the Stars: James Horner’s Music for Star Trek II and III”

There and Back Again: A New Viewing Order for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Films

How do you solve a problem like viewing order?
How do you solve a problem like viewing order?

By Michael W. Harris

Well, I finally did it. I watched all six Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films back to back to back to back to back to back, and all in their Extended Editions (the only way to watch the films, as will be assumed throughout this post). That’s almost 21 hours of movie, to say nothing of breaks for cooking food, taking periodic walks, let alone sleep and other necessities. But throughout my viewing, the question lingered: what is the right viewing order of these six films? A film series I hereby dub the Tolkien Hexalogy, for lack of a better term.

Back when the final Hobbit film was released, an article on Medium.com was published that gave a number of possible viewing orders outside of the obvious options of story chronology option (Hobbit followed by Lord of the Rings), which is the how I watched them over two days this past week, or the release order (Rings followed by Hobbit). But none of the orders in the Medium article really resonated with me, and I mused if there was a viewing order that solved some of the viewing issues with the Hobbit films (somewhat bloated storyline, spoilers and foreshadowing for Lord of the Rings that might not make sense without seeing those films, etc.) the way that the rightfully famous Machete Order makes the Star Wars prequels watchable.

So what I will present in this post is my Machete inspired Tolkien Hexalogy viewing order, but just as Rod Hilton starts off his Machete Order post with some disclaimers, I feel like I must first tackle the elephant in the room… Continue reading “There and Back Again: A New Viewing Order for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Films”

Jeff Buckley and Baroque Music

By Michael W. Harris

N.B. – This was written the Sunday after the election, after Leonard Cohen’s death, and after Saturday Night Live’s masterful blending of so much of the country’s reaction to both. It is going up a week later only due to my writing schedule.

It was just one of those weeks. When it seemed like the universe just knew what was going to happen and have a plan. Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen died in November 7th but it was not announced until the 10th. Regardless, it was a double whammy to many coming so close to the American presidential election, and indeed one of Cohen’s most famous songs, the wistful, gospel like “Hallelujah,” seemed to sum up so much of our somber reaction to the news that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

So it was that Saturday Night Live opened their post-election episode with Kate McKinnon performing “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton, white pantsuit and all. Continue reading “Jeff Buckley and Baroque Music”

Just a Matter of Time: Musings on Arrival

By Michael W. Harris

Warning: Spoilers lie ahead. Just go see the movie first and then return to ponder its meaning with me.

arrival-posterTwice now in one week have I not fallen asleep until 2AM or later. The first was Tuesday night while still in shock from both the election and my ill-advised whiskey toast to the end of the American experiment. I should really never drink whiskey. Nothing good comes from whiskey.

The second time was Saturday night after seeing Arrival, the new film from Denis Villeneuve. I had only recently seen any of Villeneuve’s films, having watched Sicario about a month ago, though I had wanted to see Arrival since I had seen the first trailer.

It looked intriguing and most importantly seemed positioned to be a good thinking person’s science fiction film. One that asks big questions, and also asks more than it answers. Continue reading “Just a Matter of Time: Musings on Arrival”

How to Score Japan on Film: Kubo and the Two Strings vs. 47 Ronin

By Michael W. Harris

kuboBack in August I went and saw Kubo and the Two Strings for my birthday and was struck by how well the score, by Dario Marianelli, balanced traditional Hollywood scoring techniques with an aural evocation of Japan’s traditional music culture. This was certainly helped by the fact that the titular Kubo is a shamisen playing, orgami folding, magic wielding boy, but so many times Hollywood films have substituted “vaguely Asian, but not Indian” instrumental sounds for any film set in China, Japan, or Korea. And the truth is that there are some very distinctive differences between the musical cultures of these countries.

This can be clearly demonstrated by a simple comparison between Kubo and the 2013 big budget adaptation 47 Ronin that was simultaneously awful, offensive, and also strangely entertaining. Continue reading “How to Score Japan on Film: Kubo and the Two Strings vs. 47 Ronin”

On Monsters and Music: The Music for Shin Godzilla

By Michael W. Harris

shin_godzilla_posterLet me just get this out of the way: Shin Godzilla is great. It is a worthy successor to the Godzilla mantle in every way, and most importantly makes Godzilla relevant again for modern Japan. If you read any number of reviews or essays, you’ll inevitably see people compare the events of the film to Japan’s response to the triple disasters of March 11, 2011, when Japan was rocked by an earthquake, the resultant tsunami, and then the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant caused by the coinciding of both. The government’s slow response, conflicting reports, and the general chaos that followed was certainly touched upon in the 2014 US helmed Godzilla film, but in this newest, entirely Japanese produced film, it takes center stage. Continue reading “On Monsters and Music: The Music for Shin Godzilla”

Musical Spock

By Jessica Getman

Note: This post is part of The Music of Star Trek Blogathon hosted by Film Music Central and comes to the The Temp Track courtesy of guest blogger Jessica Getman.

“Being split in two halves is no theory with me, Doctor. I have a human half, you see, as well as an alien half, submerged, constantly at war with each other. Personal experience, Doctor: I survive it because my intelligence wins out over both, makes them live together.”
Spock (Leonard Nimoy), “The Enemy Within”

Spock makes this profound statement in “The Enemy Within.” It succinctly and powerfully illustrates the tension at the heart of the Spock character: he is neither human nor Vulcan, but somewhere in between.1This quote bears a striking resemblance to W.E.B. DuBois’ description of double consciousness: “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903), 3. His struggle as a biracial character is part of what makes him such a compelling character. The fact that he lives in an unresolved space between human and non-human made him a particularly rich locus of creativity for the franchise’s founders, a fact made audible in his relationship to music–both the music that underscores him and the music he makes on screen. Continue reading “Musical Spock”

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This quote bears a striking resemblance to W.E.B. DuBois’ description of double consciousness: “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903), 3.