Driving to Adulthood

John Green is in a position similar to Gillian Flynn where an effective movie based on an incredible bestseller has fueled Hollywood production of other books in their oeuvre. With Flynn, the Gone Girl author has an adaptation of Dark Places, starring Charlize Theron, coming out later this year. For Green, the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars has now been joined by Paper Towns.

Quentin (Nat Wolff, who played Isaac in Stars) has been semi-obsessed with Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) ever since her family moved in across the street from him when they were both elementary school age. They’d bonded then, but as Margo developed into a wild free spirit the relationship between them cooled until she doesn’t acknowledge him at all when they pass in the high school halls. Instead Quentin has a deep friendship with Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) that has lasted through most of their school years. Radar has a girlfriend, Angela (Jaz Sinclair), while Ben is desperate for a prom date.

Then Margo appears at Quentin’s window one night, just as she use to when they were kids, and invites him on an odyssey of epic revenge after her boyfriend cheats on her. Nate throws caution to the wind and assists Margo, and the adventure makes him feel more alive than he has for years. But after that night Margo disappears. Quentin, like many in the school, wonders what’s become of Margo. One of her friends, Lacey (Halston Sage), is devastated that Margo disappeared while thinking she’d betrayed her. Then Quentin notices that Margo, who’s always loved mysteries, has left a clue to where she’s gone.

The movie has a much different feel to it than Stars, though it was adapted for the screen by the same team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber who did the first movie. Green was also available on the set during the production, as he was for Stars. The story covers a much larger time frame and doesn’t have the life-and-death imperative. Instead it’s more of the classic coming-of-age story, though with Green’s sharply drawn characters and surprising twists it breathes refreshing life into the genre.

Sophomore director Jake Schreier takes a straightforward approach that at times drags a little, though he works well with his cast and he has an interesting visual style. Cinematographer David Lanzenberg follows his fine work earlier this year on Age of Adeline with richly lit scenes that give the feeling of shadows on regular film while working with the clarity of digital photography.

Nat Wolff is excellent as Quentin, the lynchpin role that holds the movie together. It’s not as showy as Isaac’s struggles with losing his eyes to cancer in Stars, which makes the embodiment harder since it must be more nuanced. With Margo, you needed an actress who makes such an impression that even though she’s off screen for much of the picture, she’s still a major character at all times. Cara Delevingne provides that presence and more. It appears she will follow the path of Charlize Theron and others, models who step off the runway and step into an even bigger career as actresses.

The title Paper Towns refers to a way cartographers prevent plagiarism of their work. Green expands it in the story to a metaphor of how much around us that seems permanent is actually as flimsy as paper, and that our challenge as we approach adulthood is to find what is strong and lasting. In the satisfying end Quentin finds it, though not in the way he (or the audience) expects. It’s a worthwhile reminder even when you came of age decades ago.

Big Laughs, Big Thrills

I never was a fan of Ant-Man when I was a kid. My earliest favorite comic book was The Fantastic Four – I started reading them with the first issue – and I enjoyed Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, and the others from the 1960s. But the idea of a miniscule superhero wasn’t big enough to capture my interest, so I ignored him. Thus I was a skeptic about how it would play as a movie. After seeing Ant-Man at an early showing last night, I’m happy to report the film is one of the best movies to come from the Marvel Universe.

There were other reasons for concern. The original story and screenplay was written by Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), with Wright scheduled to direct. For geeks, that was a dream pairing. However, the head of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, wasn’t pleased with the script and had revisions made without Wright’s input. When he saw the changes, Wright walked away. Instead Marvel brought in Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Other Guys) to polish the script along with star Paul Rudd, and gave the movie to Peyton Reed (Bring it On, Down with Love) to direct. Such conflict can often sink a movie, but instead it seems the best parts were kept in the script, and the movie even made its original release date.

The movie begins with a preface from the 1980s. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man, meets with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Howard Stark (John Slattery) and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) to resign from SHIELD when he discovers Carson is trying to fabricate the formula Pym uses to miniaturize. (Note: There is gaff in the scene: look for the disappearing blood.)

Fast forward to the present day. Pym has been ousted from his own company in a boardroom revolt led by his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly from “Lost”). He’s invited back to witness Cross’s announcement that they will soon perfect a new version of Pym’s formula, allowing for the creation of an army in high-powered suits that would be unstoppable by conventional forces.

At the same time Scott Lang (Rudd) is being released from San Quentin. The mechanical engineer had turned into a Robin Hood burglar to take back the money a corrupt businessman had stolen, but instead of thanks he’s sent to prison. When he gets out he tries to go straight for the sake of his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson). It’s tough, since no one will hire an ex-con, and to add insult to injury his former wife (Judy Greer) is engaged to a cop (Bobby Cannavale).  Eventually Lang goes along with three other ex-cons (Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian, and rapper T.I.) to break into a house. It leads to one of the wildest job interviews ever.

Ant-Man balances off-kilter comedy with its thrills and manages to succeed on both levels, not an easy thing to do. While all the Marvel movies have an element of humor, the laughs are secondary to the action. In Ant-Man, it’s beautifully blended so that you’re rolling with laughter even as you’re breathing fast from the thrills. Rudd is the perfect actor for this role, handling the performance with tongue-in-cheek intelligence. Michael Douglas is in excellent form as well, capturing some of the cocky attitude from Romancing the Stone along with a droll humor. The writers gave him and Evangeline Lilly a complex relationship that, like flint and stone. keeps sparks flying, though they manage to pay it off in a way that makes it understandable.

While it isn’t Wright directing, Peyton Reed’s work captures Wright’s spirit and supports the script beautifully. I would have liked to have seen what Wright would have done if left on his own, but I have no complaints about the final product.

While Avengers and dinosaurs have been the big items this summer movie season, it’s worth it to aim small and see Ant-Man. The filmmakers have crammed a lot of delights into a tiny package. Also make sure you stay to the very end as there are two tags, one after the initial credits, and another at the very end. The one at the end is a lead up to probably the most anticipated movie of 2016

10 Remakes that Blow Away the Originals*

Love is lovelier the second time around, as Frank Sinatra used to sing, and sometimes that goes for movies as well. Remakes are the rage in Hollywood these days. While they can make money, the new movies are often pale imitations of the originals. However, there have been a few that have bucked the trend, and here are the ten best of that bunch. For this list, I’ve eliminated English-language versions of foreign-language films since it’s subjective to compare the two. For instance, the Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In and its American version Let Me In are both exceptionally creepy horror films. That the one in English might be seen as more accessible does not necessarily make it better. Instead I’ve stuck with films where both versions were in English.

(*Note: with a couple the newer movies the wind is just a mile or two stronger than the original)

Ocean’s Eleven (Original 1960; Remake 2001)

It’s appropriate, considering the lyric quoted above, to start with one of Ol’ Blue Eyes movies. Also, the inspiration to write this post was the passing of Jerry Weintraub, the producer of the remake. The 1960 original was basically the Rat Pack having a fun time together paid for by Warner Brothers. The caper itself was laughably unrealistic, though the movie did do well at the box office. Warner Brothers, though, had the last laugh. The only parts of the original that screenwriter Ted Griffin kept were some character names, that the gang had eleven members, and the heist is set in Las Vegas. Director Steven Soderburgh created one of the most stylish caper movies ever, and populated it with a dream cast. It wasn’t just having Clooney, Pitt, Roberts, and Damon in the same film, but also Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould, Carl Reiner and the rest of the crew that made this a worldwide hit. Unfortunately, the sequels followed the rule of diminishing returns.

Casino Royale (Original 1967: Remake 2006)

This is a case of comparing rotten apples with prized oranges. Albert “Cubby” Broccoli locked up the rights to all the Ian Fleming Bond books except for the first one, which was actually produced on TV in 1954 with Barry Nelson as American spy James Bond. After the Bond movies became hits, Columbia decided to make Casino Royale as a spoof. It was a classic case of Hollywood excess. There were five directors, including John Huston, three screenwriters, seven uncredited contributors to the dialogue including Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, Ben Hecht and novelist Joseph Heller, and an all-star cast including Allen, David Niven, and Peter Sellers. The only success it had was for Herb Albert, who recorded the Burt Bacharach/Hal David theme song. In 2006, for the launch of Daniel Craig as Bond, Cubby’s daughter Barbara finally had the rights and went back to the original story, while giving it an overdose of adrenalin. It gave the over-40-year-old series its biggest hit with a $600 million worldwide box office and cemented Craig as this century’s Bond.

Heaven Can Wait (Original “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” 1941, Remake 1978)

This time it’s a close call. Here Comes Mr. Jordan starred Robert Montgomery as Joe Pendleton, a pugilist who dies too soon, and Claude Rains as the titular Mr. Jordan, a head angel who tries to repair the mistake by placing Joe’s consciousness into the body of a banker who’s just been murdered by his wife and his personal secretary. It was based on a play entitled “Heaven Can Wait,” and the film was a hit. In 1978, Warren Beatty and Buck Henry decided to remake the story under the original title. They changed Joe’s character from a fighter to the quarterback of the L.A. Rams, with Beatty playing Joe, James Mason as Mr. Jordan, and Julie Christie as Joe’s love interest. Also in the cast were Dyan Cannon, Charles Grodin, Jack Warden, as well as Henry as the angel who grabs Joe too fast. They did keep that Joe had a lucky saxophone, though they changed it from an alto sax to a soprano. The soundtrack was done by jazz great Dave Grusin. The film was number five at the box office in 1978 (behind Grease, Superman, Animal House, and Every Which Way but Loose) and was nominated for 9 Oscars including Best Picture, though this was the year that The Deer Hunter and Coming Home dominated the major awards. Note: Just to be confusing, there is a 1943 Don Ameche film entitled Heaven Can Wait, but it’s a completely different story.

3:10 to Yuma  (Original 1957; Remake 2007)

Based on a story by Elmore Leonard, the original 3:10 starred Glenn Ford as the outlaw and Van Heflin as the farmer who must get him on the titular train to collect a reward. It focused more on the battle of wits and will between Ford and Heflin, and it was one of the better westerns during a time when dozens of them were made every year. The remake was done in a much different atmosphere, when westerns are a rarity, and this time it expands the story so the outlaw’s capture and the journey to the town to meet the train takes up 2/3rds of the movie. The story also makes the farmer’s son a major character. Having Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as the main characters ups the intensity all by itself, though the show is almost stolen by Ben Foster as Crowe’s second-in-command, a role played by Richard Jaeckel in the original.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (Original 1934; Remake 1956)

The only person who can safely remake Alfred Hitchcock is Alfred Hitchcock (see – or rather don’t see – 1998’s remake of Psycho, and you can already discount Michael Bay’s upcoming remake of The Birds). Hitchcock’s original was partly inspired by an actual event in England, the Sidney Street Siege in 1911when Home Secretary Winston Churchill sent in the Scots Guards to clear out an anarchist gang, turning Sidney Street into a battleground. In both movies, a family vacation is interrupted by a dying man giving the husband and wife information about a pending assassination. For 1956, Hitchcock completely eliminated the Sidney Street reference and created a wonderfully suspenseful story that starred Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day.

Cape Fear (Original 1962; Remake 1991)

Once again, this is a close call. Based on a John D. MacDonald story, the original had Gregory Peck as lawyer Sam Bowden and Robert Mitchum as Max Cady, the criminal that Bowden helped convict 8 years earlier and who has now come back for revenge. It’s a good thriller, but then Martin Scorsese decided to remake it with Nick Nolte as Bowden and Robert De Niro as Cady. The new version is much darker and deeper: instead of testifying against Cady, Bowden was Cady’s lawyer and threw the defense to get Cady off the streets. De Niro’s Cady is mesmerizing, and the film benefits from an exceptionally strong supporting cast with Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis (an amazing performance), and Joe Don Baker. Scorsese also gives honor to the original by having both Peck and Mitchum take supporting roles, and reusing Bernard Herrmann’s iconic original score.

The Thing (Original “The Thing From Another World” 1951; Remake 1982)

Producer Howard Hawks’ original The Thing From Another World is one of the classic 1950s sci-fi films. It benefited from the paranoia about the Soviet Union at that time, with its final warning to “Watch the skies.” In 1982, another time of worry about the Soviet Union, John Carpenter took the story and wrenched up the paranoia. Instead of just doing battle with an alien (played by James Arness in the original film), Carpenter went back to the original novella by John W. Campbell where the alien is able to absorb the image and memories of anyone it consumes.  The body count is much higher, and Carpenter eschews the upbeat ending of the novella and the original movie for a much darker one. Long-time Carpenter collaborator Kurt Russell is excellent as MacReady, the helicopter pilot who leads the fight against the alien.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Original 1956; Remake 1978)

Don Siegel’s original is a great sci-fi film, and can also be viewed as a commentary on McCarthyism with normal people being replaced by emotionless aliens. The final sequence of Kevin McCarthy (no relation to Joe) running down the highway yelling at drivers “You’re next!” rightly freaked out the 1950s movie goer. Philip Kaufman’s remake turns a black-and-white thriller into a richly-colored work of art. The special effects are exceptional, and the cast is excellent (Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy). Kaufman also included a scene with Kevin McCarthy that echoed the end of the first film, and had Don Siegel make a cameo as a taxi driver.

True Grit (Original 1969; Remake 2010)

While the original had John Wayne and Robert Duvall as bad guy Ned Pepper, the Coen Brothers remake stuck closer to the original Charles Portis novel. The Duke may have gotten the Oscar for his role as Rooster Cogburn, but Jeff Bridges out-acted him in the remake and Hailee Steinfeld was more believable as Mattie Ross, in addition to being closer to Mattie’s age in the book. The Coens give the film a more rustic and rough feeling while the scene in the snake pit is the stuff of nightmares. While the 1969 movie had to have an upbeat ending with Wayne triumphant, the Coen’s gave the viewer a more satisfying and poignant one.

The Maltese Falcon (Original 1931; Remake 1941)

This had to be a remake, because there was no other way that Jack Warner would give untried writer/director John Huston a new movie. The 1931 original is entirely forgettable, with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels as Ruth. Warner wanted a B movie, and had cast George Raft as Spade. Raft though considered the production beneath him and pulled out, opening the way for Bogart. Huston did something almost unheard of in the movie industry – his script followed the book almost exactly. Huston had accidentally sent a copy of the completed script to Warner, but he was pleasantly surprised when Warner loved the script and gave him the green light to shoot. The cast was fantastic. Bogie, Sydney Greenstreet (in his first film role), Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Elisha Cook Jr., Barton MacLane, and Ward Bond were perfect for Hammett’s hard-boiled classic. It made the finished film the stuff that dreams are made of. Interesting note: three of the black bird statuettes from the film still exist, and are the most valuable props in the world, each valued at a cool million. That means each of them could pay for the production of the original film – three times over.

Honorable Mentions: King Kong, Scarface, The Parent Trap, No Way Out

Flashdance in Hell

About every decade there’s a movie that comes along about the artistic underdog who triumphs over adversity. In the 1980s it was Flashdance with its tale of a welder/dancer making it into a prestigious dance school while romancing a handsome guy who supports her dream. The story was preposterous. Not that you could have a welder who was also a dancer. I had a friend who was both, and the film was roughly (very roughly) based on a real person. What was preposterous was that they could make it into the school without a monomaniacal dedication to their craft. Last year, Whiplash portrayed the reality of seeking to become the one of the best in a particular artistic field – in its case, drumming – and it won J.K. Simmons a well-deserved Oscar for best supporting actor. The independent film was in limited release so unless you were in a city with an arthouse theater, you probably didn’t get a chance to see it. Now it’s available on demand and video as well as on the Starz channel, and it is well worth a viewing.

Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, Divergent) plays Andrew, a first-year student at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York City who finds himself singled out for attention by Terrance Fletcher (Simmons), a prominent jazz musician who leads the school’s jazz studio band. Andrew is close to his father (Paul Reiser) with whom he attends revival arthouse films, and he awkwardly begins dating Nicole (Melissa Benoist), a concession girl at the theater. But while he’s a sweet kid, he also has a burning desire to become one of the greats in jazz drumming, on the level of Buddy Rich.

Fletcher may be his guide to that goal, but Andrew quickly learns that the teacher looks at instruction as a blood sport, a Darwinian competition where only the best survive. He’ll take any sign of weakness, any personal disclosure, and use it to hammer the student, and Fletcher isn’t above actual physical hammering either. Fletcher may be exactly what Andrew needs to push him into the stratosphere of the musical world, but there’s no guarantee he’ll survive the trip.

Writer/Director Damien Chazelle conceived the film based on his experiences in a competitive jazz band in high school, though he turned up the intensity level to eleven. The script sat unproduced for a while, and was listed as one of the best unproduced scripts in 2012. (Another movie from last year that also received that notice was The Imitation Game.) In 2013 Chazelle made a short film out of fifteen pages of the script and showed it at Sundance. It was enough to get the full movie produced.

Simmons has been a ubiquitous supporting actor in TV and film. IMDb lists over 150 credits for him in the last twenty years. For sixteen years he was Dr. Emil Skoda, the psychologist for the prosecution on “Law and Order” while also spending six years as Vern Schillinger on the HBO prison series “Oz.” As Fletcher, Simmons is terrifyingly intense but also cunning. He’s like a tiger watching his prey. At times you might think he’s just a pussy cat, but he’s just waiting for you to drop your guard so he can pounce.

Miles Teller matches Simmons’s intensity and drive. In a sense the movie is like a boxing match with a talented neophyte going up against the cagey champion. It helps the reality of the movie that Teller is an experienced drummer and Simmons has a degree in conducting from the University of Montana, where his father was the director of the School of Music. You don’t have a Flashdance situation where you have Marine Jahan providing the dancing for Jennifer Beals. Late in the movie, when Fletcher is playing piano at a jazz bar, if you’re an experienced pianist you’ll see that Simmons has the fingering correct.

Besides the Supporting Actor Oscar for Simmons, who also won the Golden Globe and about every other award available for his performance, Whiplash took home Oscars for film editing and sound mixing, and was nominated for Best Picture and Screenplay. This movie is the anti-Flashdance, the one that tells you to be great you’ll have to bleed for your craft. In a way, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Jung at Heart

Pixar has always mined unusual story themes for its animated films, right from the beginning with its hopping lamp. Children’s toys, fish in the sea, futuristic robots, and cars have all been at the base of its anthropomorphic stories. Even when the movies deal with humans, it explores places where animated films have rarely gone, like the loss of a spouse. Pixar is also exceedingly good at these stories; with all the romantic movies that have been made over the past hundred-plus years of film history, easily one of the top ten is the first seven or so minutes of Up. Now Pixar has merged the anthropomorphic and the human to basically give a children’s primer on Jungian psychology with Inside Out.

Writer/Director Peter Docter has had a hand in many of Pixar’s successes, including the Toy Story series, Up, and Wall-E. He’s also dealt with our emotions before – specifically fear – in Monsters, Inc. With Inside Out he explores the emotions of Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) from her first conscious thought. That brought Joy (Amy Poehler) into her life, to be followed by Fear (Bill Hadler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). They’re at the control panel of Riley’s brain as she makes memories and establishes the power islands in her mind based on core memories – the thoughts that make Riley who she is.

Riley’s life is turned upside down when her father (Kyle MacLachlan) moves the family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Her mom (Diane Lane) asks Riley to be supportive, but it’s an emotionally unstable time for her, especially when a conflict leads to Joy and Sadness being sucked out of the control center and dumped in long-term memory, along with Riley’s core memories.

The visuals of the film are wonderful: there’s an actual train of thought, the subconscious is down a pit below the memory, and long-term memory is a maze that’s hard to navigate. Joy and Sadness end up passing through Irrational Thought, Imagination Land, and Dream Productions. They also meet Riley’s imaginary friend from her childhood, Bing Bong (Richard Kind) who seeks to help them in their quest to return to the control center. But while they’re seeking to return, Riley’s emotions are seriously out of balance and her core-memory worlds begin to crumble.

octer collaborated on the story with first-time co-director Ronnie Del Carmen along with two others for the script, and both Amy Poehler and Bill Hadler receive credit for additional dialogue they provided. The movie sparkles with wit, such as when Anger discovers the local pizza place only serves pies topped with broccoli: “Congratulations, San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza. First the Hawaiians, and now you!” In a scene at the dinner table, we also get a quick trip into the control centers of Mom and Dad, to which any parent will relate. Yet the script also deals with deeper emotions and like most Pixar films you’ll want to make sure to have a tissue or two – or a dozen – close at hand.

Each actor does stellar work with the voices. Docter and Del Carmen do a wonderful job keeping everything in balance and the story moving along for its brisk 94 minute running time. (I’ll single out Richard Kind’s work as Bing Bong, but for spoiler’s sake I won’t say why.)

It’s true that in the political realm, a cartoonist is often able to cut through hyperbole and state hard truths. The same goes for animated films. While children and parents will be entranced by the visuals and the wit of the script, Inside Out can be a devastating movie for those who have regrets, both as children and as parents. Yet it also holds out the hope of reconciliation and restoration. That’s a good lesson for children to learn, be they eight years old or eighty.

James Horner: An Appreciation

I was deeply saddened to learn that James Horner had died in a plane crash near Santa Barbara, California. The two-time Oscar winner wrote some of the most evocative theme music for movies in the past thirty years. He was a composer whose work not only enhanced films but became an integral part of the complete movie experience. It’s hard to imagine Glory or Braveheart or Field of Dreams without his score flowing beneath the action, and you have to wonder if Titanic would have become the mammoth hit it did without his score.

James Horner

Horner was born in Los Angeles in 1953. He began studying the piano at age 5 and pursued music at the Royal College of Music in London as well as at USC (where he got his bachelor’s in music) and UCLA (where he got his master’s). He taught music theory at UCLA and later completed his doctorate in Composition and Theory.

In the 1970s Horner moved from academia to films. Like Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola and others, Horner’s first work was under the auspices of producer Roger Corman. Among other Corman movies he did the score for The Lady in Red, a retelling of the John Dillinger story that was written and directed by a young John Sayles.

Horner’s major break was when he did Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, following Jerry Goldsmith who’d scored the first movie. He would do that one more time when he did Aliens, his first collaboration with James Cameron. His string-heavy theme for Khan built on the original theme while creating a unique sound that was stirring and thrilling. Horner also made his only appeared on-screen in the film as an uncredited Enterprise crewman. To listen to the theme, please click here. For good measure, Horner also scored Search For Spock two years later.

The 1980s were a good decade for Horner where he scored several successful and respected films, two qualities that don’t necessarily describe the same movie. He did the box office successes 48 Hrs., Cocoon, An American Tail. Honey I Shrunk The Kids, and The Land Before Time. For respected, he did Testament, In Country, and The Journey of Natty Gann. But at the end of the decade he did two classics: Field of Dreams and Glory.

The soundtrack for Field of Dreams is quirky and restrained, such as the piano theme when Ray finds himself stepping back in time to meet Doc “Moonlight” Graham. It’s a perfect match for the mysticism of the movie. Yet at the end the story is resolved in the richly romantic strings that accompany Ray’s reconciliation with his father.

Glory brought Horner his first Golden Globe nomination for best score. (He’d been nominated for best song a couple years earlier for “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail.) The theme is definitely martial music but with a strong dose of wistfulness and even melancholy at the tragic bravery of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. For the piece “A Call to Arms” Horner blended choir voices singing the theme to give it a truly ethereal feel at first, then ends it with a counterpoint of chimes and trumpets that communicate the confusion of battle. To listen to “A Call To Arms,” click here.

In the early 1990s Horner worked on a wide variety of films, from the off-beat comedy I Love You To Death to the nostalgic action of The Rocketeer. The theme he created for that film was one of his best; click here and see if you don’t agree. Horner also did high budget action flicks with a literary base, such as Patriot Games and The Pelican Brief, but he could also create the dark yet playful theme for Sneakers.

Beginning in 1994, he scored a string of prestigious and well-loved films, beginning with Legends of the Fall. The next year he did Braveheart, having first worked with Mel Gibson two years earlier on The Man Without A Face. While some were upset that he used Uilleann pipes rather than actual bagpipes, you can’t argue with the result, such as in “A Gift of Thistle.”  In comparison to the script which made Braveheart one of the most historically inaccurate films ever made, the use of the different pipes is minor.

That same year Horner also scored Apollo 13, supporting the action with a heroic score. He followed that with a couple smaller films that are beloved by those who know them such as Jumanji, Courage Under Fire, and a personal favorite, The Spitfire Grill. But it was the next year, 1997, when Horner created the intensely romantic and emotional score for one of the most successful movies ever – Titanic.

Titanic was not supposed to be a success. It had made news for a year with its cost overruns and maniacal filming schedule. One crewmember had died after falling asleep at the wheel while driving after an extended shooting day. Many expected Titanic to join the historic failures that destroyed careers, films like Cleopatra and Heaven’s Gate. But then the movie was released and it became a cultural phenomenon. While most movies will spend one week atop the box office, Titanic spent four months. If you want to stump a person with a movie quiz question, ask them which movie finally knocked Titanic out of the top spot. (Answer: Lost In Space).

Like the film, the soundtrack became the highest selling primarily orchestral recording ever, moving over thirty million units worldwide. Horner had been paid in the high six figures for the score, but his royalties from the CDs went into the eight figures. Celine Dion’s recording of “My Heart Will Go On” held a lock on the top spot of the charts, including 10 weeks on the top of the airplay chart. The soundtrack recording was number one on the album charts for 16 weeks, beating releases from Madonna and Shania Twain. There was an inevitable backlash against its success so some now count “Heart” as one of the worse songs ever. But the theme still works, and listening to a piece such as the “Finale” brings back the best elements of the film. 12 years later, Horner reunited with Cameron  for Avatar, another film that broke a billion dollars at the box office.

After Titanic Horner continued to bring his talent to films. He reunited with Apollo 13 director Ron Howard to score How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Missing, and A Beautiful Mind. His score added poignancy to the tragic story of the Andrea Gail in A Perfect Storm. Other movies he composed for include The Mask of Zorro, Enemy at the Gates, Troy, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The House of Sand and Fog. His final score will be heard in November with the release of The 33, the story of the Chilean miners who were trapped by a mine collapse but finally rescued after 69 days.

Horner would have reunited with James Cameron for the planned Avatar sequels, but now someone else will have to pluck our heart strings for those movies. Horner has left a body of work that ensures his position as one of the greatest film composers of all time.

Read a Short Story for Free

Those of you who have read the “About Me” section of this blog know that I am a mystery writer with several publishing credits. Normally you have to buy a magazine to read a piece I’ve written, but now you can read one for free. I’ve published a short story titled “The Extra Postage” on Inkitt as part of a contest they’re having entitled Fated Paradox. If you’d like to read it, please click here. I hope you enjoy it.