Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Soundtrack of Cinema

The theme on Idol this week will be "Movie Music" (more on that one on Tuesday) which got me thinking about movie scores. I consider myself a connoisseur of movie composers and theme music. To me, a movie's likability/watchability can actually be affected greatly by the score. A good example of this is the film Glory which by itself is a great civil war movie powered by Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington (in an Oscar winning role). What made Glory one of the best war movies of all-time was the power of the score by James Horner. Do yourself a favor and check it out again when it get's its run on TNT/TBS again. The theme music of Glory is so moving and poignant that it really takes the film to the next level. Horner makes my list of the 10 best cinematic composers of all-time which I dish out below along with some of their most memorable scores.

1. John Williams - Without a doubt the greatest film composer of all-time. I would actually consider John Williams to be one of the 10 most influential people in my life. I grew up with his movies (mostly Spielberg's) and I find myself humming his songs on a near-daily basis. He's still kicking out some scores for Spielberg but when he does eventually pass away, it will be a sad day for me personally.
  • Jurassic Park
  • Star Wars (all 6 films)
  • Jaws
  • Indiana Jones Trilogy (the Crystal Skull never existed)
  • Schindler's List
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • .... and too many others to list in one blog
2. James Horner - He reached his peak in the 90's with Titanic and Braveheart.  He still puts out some good efforts but is not nearly as reliable as Williams.
  • Aliens
  • Glory
  • Braveheart
  • Titanic
  • A Beautiful Mind

3. Howard Shore - Really hasn't done much outside of Lord of the Rings, but since the score for the LOTR trilogy may very well be the best composed score in motion picture history, I have to rank him this high.
  • Lord of The Rings
  • Aviator
  • A History of Violence
4. Hans Zimmer - Delivers powerful churning scores that really drive the action in his movies.  Do yourself a favor and check out the theme music from Crimson Tide and The Rock.
  • Crimson Tide
  • The Rock
  • Gladiator
  • The Dark Knight
5. Alan Silvestri - Some of the best known movie scores that John Williams didn't compose are those written by Silvestri.  Back to the Future is his best work and the music completely carries the pacing of those films.  Listen to this clip from Predator to see how tense his music can be (it really does have some similar tones that resemble the BTTF theme).  He's basically joined at the hip to Robert Zemeckis as Williams is to Spielberg.
  • Predator
  • Back to the Future Trilogy
  • Contact
  • Cast Away
6. Jerry Goldsmith - The expert at scoring sports movies.  Goldsmith's Hoosiers score is one of my personal top five scores of all-time.  He was also the driving force in Rudy.  Unfortunately, Goldsmith passed away five years ago.
  • Gremlins
  • Hoosiers
  • Rudy
  • Air Force One
7. Danny Elfman - Tim Burton's right-hand man and the master of weird movie music.  Bettle Juice and the Michael Keaton Batman scores are his best work.  His most accomplished theme may be for TV though (The Simpsons theme song).
  • Pee Wee's Big Adventure (trust me, this soundtrack is awesome)
  • Beetle Juice
  • Batman
  • Men in Black
  • Good Will Hunting
8. James Newton Howard - Most often works with my ex-favorite Director M. Night Shyamalan.  Unbreakable has a terrific score.
  • The Fugitive
  • The Sixth Sense
  • Unbreakable
  • Signs
9. Ennio Morricone - I am putting him on this list chiefly because of The Mission.  Download this soundtrack on iTunes or wherever you can find it and enjoy the peaceful classical tones that make this score unique.  This is definitely the most beautiful piece of movie music ever written.
  • The Mission
  • Bugsy

10. Randy Edelman - The movie Dragonheart is probably a terrible film (looks bad but I haven't seen it).  The score however is brilliant and when you hear it you'll recognize it from other trailers where it's been featured.  Listen to this clip to see/hear what I mean.
  • Twins
  • Ghostbusters II (naturally)
  • Dragonheart
If you've made it to the bottom of this list then you must be a fan of movie scores yourself.  Did I miss anyone above?  Are there any other movies not listed that you love the score of?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hypermiling It

This morning I filled up my Honda Civic Hybrid and sent an email to myself as I always do to track my mileage online.  What was different today is that I set a personal record of 45.3 MPG on my last tank.  Ever since I bought the HCH in July of 2007 I have become obsessed with tracking my mileage online at (the graph below is my mileage tracking to-date).  

I can attribute this fuel-tracking obsession directly to the MPG gauge located at the left side of my dashboard (pictured at the right).  
It gives instant feedback as to how much gas you're using as you drive.  I find myself checking this gauge constantly (much more often than my actual speedometer) 
and trying to keep it as high as possible.  Over the past two years this has resulted in much 
more efficient driving habits.  I try not to accelerate as much and often coast down declines in the road.  Sometimes it's hard to maintain a solid mileage (especially in Beltway stop-n-go traffic) and I've had many sub-40 MPG tanks (including an all-time worst of 36 MPG last summer).  MPG fluctuates based on a variety of factors including tire pressure, air conditioning usage, outside temperature and overall weight in the vehicle.  The term "hypermiling" is a new buzz word to describe methods used to maximize MPG.  Some of the extreme methods used by hypermilers include:

  • drafting behind trucks
  • driving far below the speed limit at times
  • taking sharp curves at high speeds (to avoid losing energy to braking)
  • coasting with the engine off
  • passing red lights or stop signs in areas of low traffic
  • over-inflating tires to reduce rolling resistance
I don't practice these methods and don't consider myself a "hypermiler" but I do try to drive fuel efficient as my competitive nature will keep compelling my to try and beat my MPG record.  If you do own a hybrid (or are thinking of buying one) I recommend using or another fuel tracking website to record your personal mileage.  Not only does it become a challenging and rewarding part of your daily driving routine, but in changing driving habits you will actually end up saving some cash in the long run. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

This morning marks the annual rite of Spring for me as The Masters gets underway in Augusta, GA.  Time to cue the folksy CBS theme music (see below) and let Jim Nantz start spouting his sappy cliches.  The Masters is one of my personal favorite top two or three sporting events during the year.  It may be the best one to watch (especially with the advent of HD) as it is spread out over four days.  My Mom and step dad are actually making the pilgrimage down to Augusta this year with some friends to watch the event.  Burt (step dad) will probably go walk the course and follow most of the action while my Mom is planning on viewing from the 16th green (hopefully there is adequate handicapped access for her).  I'm jealous of both of them and I hope they have a great time.  With the exception of some passing storms tomorrow, the weather is supposed to be perfect.  Going to watch the Masters in person is definitely high up there on my bucket list.

As for my prediction on the winner of the 2009 Masters, I really like this golfer out of Windermere, FL who is coming off knee surgery.   I hear he plays pretty good down at Augusta.  I'm hoping the tourney isn't too close on Sunday at the end since I will probably be in my car when the green jacket is awarded.  At least there's always Slingbox to save the day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Art of Alex

Give a 2-year-old a pen and some unsupervised time with Parenting magazine.  Sit back and enjoy the zany result.  Instant poor hygiene.

The Observer on Idol

Fringe returned last night and was strong as ever. (For those of you who didn't know who the little boy was "related" to when you first saw him, shame on you) Before Fringe I watched me some Idol and was happy to see our old friend The Observer in the audience. He was not enjoying himself. I'd love to see the wise bald one added as a fifth judge. Check the clip below in YouTube HD (before Fox shuts it down):

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

American Idol: Making Me Feel Old(er)

Before I get to my weekly digest of Idol's theme let me stop to give a moment of silence for Megan Joy as she FINALLY left the show last Wednesday.There. That's all the silence she deserves. After all she could have given me a little silence over the last few weeks and my eardrums wouldn't have been scarred for life. If she ever puts out an album and I find out someone I know has purchased it, I will stop all future communication with said person.  Now we're left with 7 talented singers and one crazy-haired blind guy who didn't annoy me as much last week since he sang our wedding song (Just The Way You Are, Billy Joel) and sang it pretty well.

Tonight's theme is "Songs from the year you were born" which makes for a much better theme than "pick ANY SONG on iTunes, even if it's an old '70s tune that was rehashed by Vanilla Ice, as long as one person has downloaded it." I mean seriously Idol, you just punted the theme last week.  So I'm going to attempt to pick a song for each of the remaining contestants based on their birth year (thanks to Wikipedia for the date info).   Props to me if I get any of these spot-on.

Note that most of the contestants are children of the mid-80's and some will be singing songs from the '90s! Man do I feel old all of a sudden. I can vividly remember the 90's and most of the '80s and it doesn't seem THAT long ago. Another reminder of my three word mantra: Getting Old Sucks.

Kris Allen (Year of Birth: 1985) - Kris is on a roll after knocking it out of the park with his anchor spot last week.  I suggest Heaven by Bryan Adams (another Rose wedding song).  It may be more of a Gokey song but I think Kris needs to stretch his range.

Anoop Desai (YOB: 1986) - Noop Dogg has a plethora of 80's jams to choose from but I suggest a change of pace for the Dogg.  Take Me Home by Phil Collins has the powerful chorus that Anoop could nail.

Matt Giraud (YOB: 1985) - Since Matt keeps singing songs I like (Fray, Coldplay), I fully expect him to choose one of my favorite songs of all time:  We Built This City by Starship.  However, I think it would be a wise choice to make an old classic current,  coming up with a smooth riff on Simple Minds' Don't You (Forget About Me).

Danny Gokey (YOB: 1980) - The Gokester could get the whole crowd rocking if he belted out Queen's Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Adam Lambert (YOB: 1982) - I'd like to see Adam start to tone down his inner Axl Rose some.  He was good last week but went a little over the top with his "AYYY YAYAYAYAAAAA" screaming.  It just feels forced sometimes.  I do have THE PERFECT song for him this week.  I present to you I Love Rock 'n' Roll by Joan Jett.  That song has Adam Lambert written all over it.

Scott MacIntyre (YOB: 1985) - Another 1985'er but this one is easier to pick since we need to look for a piano tune (preferably boring).  You're The Inspiration by Chicago seems to be the best fit because it will perfectly set up Paula to cry us a river and blather on about how Scott is an inspiration to us all indeed.  You're a good kid but it's time for you to go Scott.

Allison Iraheta (YOB: 1992) - Looking way back to when I was a Junior in high school, we find Allison's range of hits to choose from.  There doesn't seem to be much available that would fit her rocker girl style, so I suggest a risky choice in Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.  

Lil Rounds (YOB: 1984) - Lil has a chance to go big here with Tina Turner's What's Love Got To Do With It, but since she's been so serious lately, I emplore her to lighting things up with Let's Hear It For The Boy by Denise Williams (from the always timeless Footloose soundtrack).

There you have it, should be an interesting contest tonight and I really can't see Scott surviving another week (unless Matt sings Starship).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Disrespecting The National Pastime

I don't have a problem with women's college sports in general (not a fan of women's college hoops, but to each his/her own) but I do have a problem with what ESPN is pulling tonight.  The Phillies and Braves play tonight in the first official baseball game of the season in what is essentially opening night in Major League Baseball.  At the same time, Louisville plays Oklahoma in the semi-finals of the Women's NCAA College Basketball Tournament.  ESPN is airing the basketball game on regular ESPN and opening night on ESPN2.  I really have a beef with this scheduling lineup.  How can the women's tourney trump OPENING NIGHT and get preferred airing on ESPN?   Now it doesn't really effect me at all since I (and most cables subscribers) have both networks but the principal of the whole thing bugs me.  Baseball holds a long standing tradition in this country and the start of the baseball season should certainly be more celebrated than a SEMIFINAL game of the women's tournament.  I'd be interested to see the ratings from tonight to see if more people really will watch ESPN over ESPN2.  If the women's game draws more numbers than opening night then we really have changed as a nation when it comes to the culture of sports.  Personally I think it's a disgrace to the game of baseball for ESPN to pass off the first game of the season to its backup network.

Speaking of baseball, Josh had a great tee ball class today and really impressed the coaches with his brief opportunity to take his first hits off the tee.  The coaches are pacing the class well, introducing a few key skills at a time.  Last week was all about throwing and this week was basic hitting.  In two weeks (no class on Easter) I expect them to learn how to run to first base after hitting the ball in fair territory.  It's a great class because parents are allowed to help out.  Josh was very excited to have class outside today on a real baseball diamond in the beautiful Spring weather.  He really seems to enjoy playing baseball and I hope he continues to enjoy it and gets a chance to play some Little League down the road (something I wish I had done in my childhood).  The highlight of the class today was when Josh used his expert arm and threw one of the balls back to the coach and hit him in the worst place for a guy to be hit.  Thankfully for all involved it was just a plastic ball.

After nap-time today, the boys and I played out at the playground and played a little tee/wiffle ball.  Alex got in on the action and took his first ever cuts at a tee (see video below).  He had a good time running around after balls while Josh hit some monster shots with the wiffle ball.  Needless to say, the Rose boys are all ready for baseball season.