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Archive for November, 2017

THE LAST EMPEROR – Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, and Cong Su

November 30, 2017 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

They don’t make movies like The Last Emperor anymore. A lavish historical epic directed by the great Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci and starring John Lone, Joan Chen, and Peter O’Toole, the film tells the life story of Pu Yi, the last monarch of the Chinese Qing dynasty prior to the republican revolution in 1911. It is set within a framing story wherein the adult Pu Yi – a political prisoner of communist leader Mao Zedong – looks back on his life, beginning with his ascent to the throne aged just three in 1908, and continuing through his early life growing up in the Forbidden City in Beijing, and the subsequent political upheaval that led to his overthrow, exile, and eventual imprisonment. It’s an enormous, visually spectacular masterpiece that balances great pageantry and opulence with the very personal story of a man trying to navigate his life as a figurehead and monarch, and how he balances that with his private life and his political and social importance. It was the overwhelming critical success of 1987, and went on to win nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as a slew of technical awards for Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, and Score. Read more…

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS – Mychael Danna

November 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The words ‘Dickensian Christmas’ often conjure up specific imagery. Crisply snow-covered cobbled streets, gentlemen and ladies dressed in their finery, handsome houses bedecked with wreathes and candles, great feasts centered around a roasted game bird. It’s fascinating to realize that much of the festive iconography we take for granted was popularized, if not outright invented, by the author Charles Dickens in his 1843 story A Christmas Carol. Even the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’, despite the words themselves obviously pre-dating Dickens, was only adopted as a common seasonal greeting following their liberal use by the story’s central character, Ebenezer Scrooge. In fact, the very concept of Christmas being a time for family gatherings, specific seasonal food and drink, and a festive generosity through present-giving, was not commonplace at that time, and it is only in the period since the novel’s publication that this aspect of the holiday has been given equal importance to the original religious meaning. Read more…

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY – Ennio Morricone

November 27, 2017 1 comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

The commercial success of the Spaghetti Westerns A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few More Dollars caught the eyes of studio executives at United Artists. They contacted Italian screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, offered him a contract, and expressed a desire to purchase film rights for the next installment. The Italian creative team of producer Alberto Grimaldi, director Sergio Leone and Vincenzoni met and agreed to collaborate. They proposed a story set during the American Civil War, where three rogues join in an uneasy alliance in search of buried treasure. United Artists agreed to the storyline and provided a generous budget of $1.2 million. Vincenzoni joined with Leone, Agenore Incrocci, and Furio Scarpelli to create the screenplay that was not without controversy, in that it eschewed the traditional Americana romanticism. It instead offered a potent social commentary on capitalism, greed, as well as the destructiveness and absurdity of war. Its heroes are less pure, less righteous and more morally ambiguous, where the clear lines between hero and villain are blurred. Read more…

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI – Carter Burwell

November 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

There’s a line in writer/director Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, spoken by a fairly minor character, which says “anger begets anger,” and this is the basic crux of what the story is about: how a single event can release years of pent up anger and hate in an entire community, and how that community then deals with the aftermath. The brilliant Frances McDormand stars as Mildred Hayes, a woman from the eponymous small town in Missouri, whose teenage daughter Angela was raped and murdered seven months previously. Frustrated by the police’s failure to track down her daughter’s killer, Mildred rents three disused billboards outside town and posts three enormous posters which read: RAPED WHILE DYING / AND STILL NO ARRESTS / HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY. This single act is the catalyst for a series of events that irrevocably changes the lives of dozens in the town. Read more…

JUSTICE LEAGUE – Danny Elfman

November 21, 2017 4 comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The competing comic book franchises of DC and Marvel have arguably hit peak saturation point. Between them they have released 22 movies – 17 from Marvel dating back to Iron Man in 2008, and 5 from DC beginning with Man of Steel in 2013 – and there have been five this year alone: Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, and now Justice League. This latter film is a direct sequel to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and sees the Batman and Wonder Woman attempting to put together a team of similar super heroes in order to combat the existential threat posed by a powerful alien/god named Steppenwolf, who wants to destroy the Earth in the aftermath of Superman’s death. The film stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, and Ray Fisher as the five members of the Justice League – Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg – with support from Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, and J. K. Simmons, among a large ensemble cast. Read more…

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO – Maurice Jarre

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Doctor Zhivago was adapted by screenwriter Robert Bolt from the famous novel written by Boris Pasternak. The original manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union in 1957 and awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. Director David Lean recruited a stellar cast for his film that included Omar Shariff as Yuri Zhivago, Geraldine Chaplin as his wife Tonya, Rod Steiger as Viktor Komarovsky, Tom Courtenay as General Pasha Strelnikov, Alec Guinness as Yuri’s half-brother Yevgraf and finally, Julie Christie as Lara Guishar. This timeless and epic film tells the tale of young lovers drawn together by fate, caught in the cruel currents of war, clinging desperately to each other to survive amidst the clash of empires, as they bear witness to a grand romantic age succumbing to a cruel and violent new order. It is a magnificent film of sweeping and poetic grandeur for which I am eternally grateful. The film was a critical success earning 10 Oscar nominations, winning five including Best Score for Jarre. It was also a commercial success earning $112 million, more than sufficient to cover its production costs of 11 million. Read more…

SUBURBICON – Alexandre Desplat

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The idea of taking a peek behind the white picket fences of American society is not a new one, but few have taken it as far as director George Clooney in his new film, Suburbicon. It’s a highly stylized, bizarrely comical drama set in the 1950s in a planned community, the epitome of white middle class utopia, a fantasy of manicured lawns and pristine shopping malls. However, things start to change in Suburbicon when a quiet African-American family moves in; despite them doing literally nothing to provoke any sort of reaction, the town erupts into a frenzy of racially-driven anger and violence. Against this backdrop, the story of Gardner Lodge unfolds – to the world, he is a mild-mannered middle class husband and father, but in private his life is falling apart in an increasingly nightmarish spiral of betrayal and murder. The film stars Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac, and was co-written by Clooney and Grant Heslov with Joel and Ethan Coen. Despite this star lineup, the film was roundly panned by critics, who couldn’t fathom its uneven tone, heavy handedness, and odd mix of genres. Read more…

RUSSKIES – James Newton Howard

November 16, 2017 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of my favorite things about the Throwback Thirty series is the opportunity it gives me to take a look back at the very beginnings of certain composers’ careers, and examine how they started and where they came from. In 1987 James Newton Howard was still very new to the film scoring world. After studying at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, and at the University of Southern California, he started out as a session musician for various pop artists, which eventually led to him touring with Elton John as a keyboardist during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He arranged the strings for several of John’s most popular songs of the period, and subsequent collaborations with pop artists such as Cher, Bob Seger, Randy Newman, and Olivia Newton-John, led to him becoming one of the most sought-after arrangers in the music business. The film world started calling Howard’s name in 1985 when he was asked to score director Ken Finkleman’s comedy Head Office; he enjoyed some minor box office success in 1986 with the Goldie Hawn vehicle Wildcats, and the Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas comedy Tough Guys, but it was not until the end of 1987 that he would score a film that also had an accompanying score album released at the same time. Read more…

COCO – Michael Giacchino

November 14, 2017 1 comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Coco is a beautiful animated film from Disney and Pixar centered around the traditional Mexican holiday of Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead. The story centers around a young boy named Miguel Rivera, an aspiring musician who idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, a popular singer/songwriter and film star, who died years previously. Unfortunately, Miguel’s family despises music because his great-great grandfather abandoned his family to achieve his musical dreams. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel plans to enter a talent contest in order to convince his family of his love of music, but things go awry, and circumstances contrive in such a way that Miguel finds himself ‘crossed over’ from the land of the living to the spirit world – not dead, but unable to return home without help. After reuniting with long-deceased members of his family, and meeting with an insouciant rogue named Hector who agrees to be his guide, Miguel embarks on an epic adventure in the Land of the Dead in a desperate attempt to cross back to the human world before time runs out and he is stuck in the afterlife forever. The film is a wonderful amalgam of music, emotion, humor, excitement, and staggeringly beautiful visuals; it’s directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, and features the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, and Benjamin Bratt. Read more…

GOLDFINGER – John Barry

November 13, 2017 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wished to capitalize on the burgeoning success of the Bond franchise, but could not proceed with the next installment “Thunderball” due to ongoing litigation between Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory over screenplay rights. As such they decided to move forward with Fleming’s next novel, Goldfinger. Guy Hamilton would return as director and was rewarded with a budget, which exceeded that of the first two Bond films combined. A fine cast was assembled, but not without significant challenges. Orson Welles was approached for the role of Auric Goldfinger, but his salary demands were too high. As such they brought in German actor Gert Frobe to play the titular role, but his poor English necessitated dubbing his lines. Sean Connery returned to reprise his role as James Bond with Honor Blackman joining as Pussy Galore, Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson, Harold Sakata as Oddjob, Bernard Lee as Department Head M, Cec Linder as CIA liaison Felix Leiter, and Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Read more…

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Patrick Doyle

November 10, 2017 4 comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The concept of the ‘whodunit’ in contemporary literature was essentially invented by British author Agatha Christie, who during her lifetime wrote more than 50 detective stories and mysteries. Possibly her most famous work was the 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express, which features as its protagonist one of her most beloved creations, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Without giving too much of the plot away, the story unfolds as Poirot is traveling from Istanbul to London on the famous eponymous train. A passenger is murdered in his cabin, and Poirot is implored by the train’s director to help solve the case. With the train stuck in a snowdrift, Poirot has time to investigate each of the other passengers in the first class compartment where the murder took place, and slowly develops a theory linking the murder to the abduction and subsequent death of a wealthy child heiress several years previously. This is the second big screen adaptation of the story, after Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film; it was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who himself plays Poirot, and has an all-star supporting cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. Read more…

CRY FREEDOM – George Fenton and Jonas Gwangwa

November 9, 2017 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s difficult to look back at South Africa in the 1970s and 80s and remember that, for decades following the end of World War II, the country operated under a legal political system called apartheid, whereby white South Africans held all the power and black South Africans were second class citizens, subjugated by a minority in their own country. This systematic racism was decried all over the world until 1991, when the policy was formally abolished. Director Richard Attenborough’s film Cry Freedom is a look at one of the most notorious events of the apartheid era: the death of activist Steve Biko at the hands of the local police in Pretoria, and the complicity of the South African government, who tried to cover it up. The film starred Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington, and was a major critical success in the winter of 1987, eventually receiving three Academy Award nominations: one for actor Washington, and two for the music by George Fenton and Jonas Gwangwa. Read more…

LBJ – Marc Shaiman

November 7, 2017 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States. Born in Texas in 1908, he served in the US Navy and worked as a high school teacher before winning election to the House of Representatives in 1937, and then to the Senate in 1948. After a widely-praised career in Washington, Johnson was chosen to be John F. Kennedy’s running mate in 1960, and became Vice President after Kennedy’s victory. He ascended to the presidency in 1963 after JFK was assassinated; as President, he won the 1964 election with ease and instituted a series of sweeping popular social reforms aimed at combating racism, poor healthcare, and poverty, but was simultaneously criticized for his aggressive personality, and for the United States’s controversial involvement in the Vietnam War. Amid the Vietnam controversy Johnson lost the 1968 Democratic primary to his own vice president, Hubert Humphrey, after Robert F. Kennedy was himself assassinated, and when Humphrey lost the general election to Republican Richard Nixon, Johnson retired from politics and returned to his Texas ranch, where he died in 1973. Director Rob Reiner’s movie LBJ tells Johnson’s life story, with Woody Harrelson portraying the man himself, and with Richard Jenkins, Bill Pullman, and Jennifer Jason Leigh in supporting roles. Read more…

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THE PINK PANTHER – Henry Mancini

November 6, 2017 1 comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Martin Jurow of the Mirisch Company felt the time was right to bring a sophisticated comedy to the big screen. The story would involve a jewel heist, which would pit the urbane and debonair jewel thief, Sir Charles Lytton, against the hapless and bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau. He tasked Blake Edwards to direct the project, who then personally collaborated with Maurice Richlin to fashion a hilarious screenplay. Casting went awry as Peter Ustinov, Ava Gardner and Janet Leigh all had issues, which prevented them from joining the production. Yet Blake was an experienced director who nevertheless succeeded in assembling a fine cast, which included David Niven as Sir Charles Lytton, Peter Sellers as Jacques Clouseau, Robert Wagner as George Lytton, Claudia Cardinale as Princess Dala, Brenda De Banzie as Angela Dunning, and Capucine as Simone Clouseau. Read more…

THOR RAGNAROK – Mark Mothersbaugh

November 3, 2017 1 comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Thor Ragnarok is, quite astonishingly, the seventeenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fifth in Marvel’s Phase 3 series, and the third film focusing on the character Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. Chris Hemsworth returns to the title role, and in this installment finds himself having to escape from the clutches of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), the ruler of the planet Sakaar, who has enslaved Thor, forcing him to compete in a series of gladiatorial games. Meanwhile, the city of Asgard has been taken over by Hela the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett), Thor’s long-exiled sister, whose merciless rule is threatening to bring about the prophesized ‘ragnarok’ – the destruction of Asgard and the death of the Gods. The film co-stars Tom Hiddlestone, Idris Elba, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins, and is directed by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi. Read more…