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THE RUSSIA HOUSE – Jerry Goldsmith

December 31, 2020 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The great British author John le Carré died at the age of 89 just a couple of weeks ago on December 12th, so it is perhaps appropriate that we’re taking a look at the music from one of the best films adapted from his work – The Russia House, which was released thirty years ago. The film is directed by Fred Schepisi and stars Sean Connery as Barley Blair, a publisher who, after attending a book fair in the Soviet Union, finds himself becoming embroiled in a labyrinthine plot about nuclear arms proliferation, the military industrial complex, and a disgruntled Soviet nuclear physicist who is trying to smuggle his own state secrets to the west through Barley’s company, in the hope that it will hasten the end of the cold war. Thrown into the middle of all this is the increasingly romantic relationship between Barley and the beautiful Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer), a Russian book publisher acting as the go-between for the information exchange, who may or may not be a KGB agent. The film has a terrific supporting cast, including Roy Scheider, James Fox, John Mahoney, and Klaus Maria Brandauer, and has a score by Jerry Goldsmith. Read more…

WONDER WOMAN 1984 – Hans Zimmer

December 29, 2020 8 comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE FILM, YOU MIGHT WANT TO CONSIDER WAITING UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE DONE SO TO READ IT.

Perhaps the biggest casualty of the COVID-19 cinema apocalypse was Wonder Woman 1984, director Patty Jenkins’s sequel to her massively popular 2017 super hero-smash charting the origins of the titular warrior hero. Wonder Woman 1984 was supposed to be Warner’s summer blockbuster tentpole, and was originally going to be released in theaters in June, then August, then October of 2020, before it mostly bypassed cinemas altogether and debuted on HBO Max on Christmas Day. But, even without the full-blown big-screen release, Wonder Woman 1984 is still a huge dose of unpretentious, action-packed fun. The film is set in the early 1980s and sees Gal Gadot returning in the title role, masquerading as museum curator Diana Prince by day, while continuing to fight crime as Wonder Woman. When Diana’s museum comes into possession of a mysterious ‘dreamstone’ that apparently grants wishes, things quickly spiral out of control, first when Diana wishes for her deceased lover from WWI Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to be reincarnated, and then when her mousy colleague Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) wishes to be like Diana. Eventually ambitious businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) – who has coveted the dreamstone for years – manipulates Barbara into getting it from the museum for him, and with it he initiates a megalomaniacal plot to take over the world. Read more…

THE GREAT ESCAPE – Elmer Bernstein

December 28, 2020 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Director John Sturges had long desired to bring the amazing true to life WWII novel The Great Escape by Paul Brockhill to the big screen but could never secure financial backing. All this changed in 1960 following his stunning critical and commercial success directing The Magnificent Seven. He secured financial backing from the Mirisch Company and United Artists, and would produce the film, as well as direct it with a budget of $3.8 million. A legendary cast was assembled, which included Steve McQueen as Virgil Hilts, James Garner as Lieutenant Robert Hendley, Richard Attenborough as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett, Charles Bronson as Lieutenant Danny Velinski, James Donald as Captain Ramsey, Donald Pleasence as Lieutenant Colin Blythe, James Colburn as Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick, David McCallum as Lieutenant Commander Eric Ashley Pitt, and Hannes Messemer as Kommandant Oberst von Luger. Read more…

NEWS OF THE WORLD – James Newton Howard

December 22, 2020 3 comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Back in the late 1800s news readers were, obviously, not the people we tune into on the TV every night. Instead, individuals would go from town to town – especially rural, isolated towns – armed with copies of all the big newspapers from the cities, and would charge folk a dime a head to read the news aloud from the journals. Director Paul Greengrass’s new film News of the World, adapted from the novel by Paulette Jiles, is about one such man. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a civil war veteran, now making his living as a news reader. Kidd’s life changes when he is entrusted with the care of a 10-year-old girl named Johanna, who had been abducted by local Kiowa natives years previously, and subsequently grew up within the tribe. Kidd agrees to transport Johanna to her only remaining family in Texas, but Johanna has been captive so long that she would prefer to stay with the Kiowa, and she views her return to those distant relatives as a kind of second kidnapping. Nevertheless, Kidd and Johanna begin their long journey across the wild west, encountering danger and treachery as they do so. The film stars Tom Hanks as Kidd and Helena Zengel as Johanna, and is tipped to be a major player at the upcoming Academy Awards. Read more…

THE GADFLY – Dmitri Shostakovich

December 21, 2020 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

One day it dawned to director Aleksandr Faintsimmer that the popular 1897 novel Ovod – The Gadfly – by Ethel Voynich lent itself well for adaptation to the big screen. Its tale of revolutionary zeal, the excoriation of an anachronistic church and the unification of oppressed people in a modern egalitarian state had long been promoted by the Soviet Ministry of Culture. The book was also very popular with the populace, selling 2.5 million copies. He pitched his idea to the Ministry of Culture and secured backing after a review of the screenplay, which was written by Viktor Shklovsky. Lenfilm, a production unit of the Soviet Union, was formally authorized to produce the film. A fine cast was assembled, which included Oleg Strizhenov as Arthur Burton/Felice Rivarez, Marianna Strizhenova as Gemma, Nikolai Simonov as Cardinal Montanelli and Vladimir Etush as Cesare Martini. Read more…

WILD MOUNTAIN THYME – Amelia Warner

December 18, 2020 3 comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Wild Mountain Thyme is an Irish-themed romantic comedy drama, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his own 2014 stage play Outside Mullingar. The film stars Emily Blunt as Rosemary Muldoon, a headstrong young woman who owns a farm in rural Ireland. Rosemary’s farm is adjacent to another one, owned by the elderly Tony Reilly (Christopher Walken) and his son Anthony (Jamie Dornan). Rosemary has been romantically interested in Anthony her entire life, but Anthony is shy, and a little ‘odd,’ and is unaware of Rosemary’s feelings for him. Not only that, Anthony continually claims how much he dislikes farming, and does not want to take over the property after his father dies. Things come to a head when Tony decides to leave the farm to Adam Kelly (John Hamm), a distant nephew in America; when Adam visits the farm he takes an immediate romantic liking to Rosemary, forcing Anthony to finally decide what he truly wants out of life. Read more…

KINDERGARTEN COP – Randy Edelman

December 17, 2020 2 comments

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Having spent most of the 1980s playing a series of unstoppable villains or muscled action heroes in films like Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Commando, and Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to add a new aspect to his career in the early 1990s by starring in a series of more family-friendly comedies. He started in 1988 with Twins, in which he was paired with the pint-sized Danny De Vito, but it was not until 1990 that he was asked to carry a comedy all by himself. That movie was Kindergarten Cop, directed by Ivan Reitman, and saw Schwarzenegger starring as John Kimball, a tough LAPD narcotics detective forced to go undercover as a teacher in an Oregon kindergarten in order to help protect the ex-wife of a ruthless drug dealer. Having spent his entire career breaking rules – and the heads of criminals – Kimball of course finds himself wholly unprepared to look after a class full of raucous pre-teens, and hilarity ensues, while the threat of the drug dealer looms large in the background. The film co-starred Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed, and Richard Tyson, and was an enormous box office hit, grossing more than $200 million at the box office, and proving that Schwarzenegger’s star power was not limited to fist-fights and gun battles. Read more…

GODMOTHERED – Rachel Portman

December 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Disney’s recent trend of slightly subverting their own storybook tropes continues in Godmothered, their latest family film. Directed by Sharon Maguire, who previously helmed Bridget Jones’s Diary, it stars Jillian Bell as Eleanor, a trainee fairy godmother who feels that the traditional roles they play are becoming outdated as nobody makes wishes any more. Seeking to change things for the better – and save the godmother school from closure – Eleanor travels to the ‘real world’ to grant the wishes of a 10-year-old girl named Mackenzie; however, upon arriving in contemporary Boston, Eleanor discoveres that Mackenzie is now a jaded and miserable 40-year-old single mother of two, with a job she hates and seemingly no romantic prospects. Despite this apparent setback, Eleanor decides to help Mackenzie anyway, and starts to insert herself into her life – with predictably hilarious and terrible results. The film co-stars Isla Fisher, Santiago Cabrera, Jane Curtin, and June Squibb, and was supposed to be one of Disney’s main Christmas releases for 2020 but – like so many others – it fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was sent straight-to-streaming on Disney+ in early December. Read more…

THE COBWEB – Leonard Rosenman

December 14, 2020 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Director Vincent Minnelli was intrigued by the cinematic possibilities offered by William Gibson’s novel, The Cobweb (1954), which takes place in a psychiatric institution where both the patients and the professional staff suffer from neuroses. He sold his idea to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, John Houseman was tasked to produce, and a budget of $1,976 million was provided. Casting foundered when Robert Taylor, Lana Turner and Grace Kelly were either unavailable or declined. Eventually a fine cast was assembled, which included Richard Widmark as Dr. Stewart McIver, Lauren Bacall as Meg Rinehart, Charles Boyer as Dr. Devanal, Gloria Grahame as Karen McIver, Lilian Gish as Victoria Inch and John Kerr as Stevie. Read more…

WOLFWALKERS – Bruno Coulais

December 11, 2020 1 comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Wolfwalkers is the latest film from Irish feature animation studio Cartoon Saloon and their lead director Tomm Moore; their previous efforts include 2009’s The Book of Kells, 2014’s Song of the Sea, and 2017’s The Breadwinner, all of which were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It’s an ethereal, fantastical adventure steeped in Irish folklore set in the 16th century, and follows the story of a young apprentice hunter named Robyn Goodfellowe, who journeys to Ireland with her father to cull the last wolf pack on the island. While exploring the forest, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl named Mebh MacTíre, who is a member of a mysterious tribe rumored to have the ability to transform into wolves by night. As their friendship develops, Mebh convinces Robyn to help her search for her missing mother, and before long Robyn is drawn into the enchanted world of the Wolfwalkers. The film features the voice talent of child actresses Honor Kneafsey and Evan Whittaker, alongside Sean Bean as Robyn’s father, and singer-songwriter Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mebh’s mother. It received a great deal of critical acclaim following its premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, and looks set to earn Moore and his team a fourth consecutive Oscar nomination. Read more…

HAVANA – Dave Grusin

December 10, 2020 1 comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A political drama enlivened with a splash of sultry romance, Havana was director Sydney Pollack’s long-awaited follow-up to his multi award-winning epic Out of Africa, which swept the Oscars in 1985. The film is set in 1958, literally days before the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, and stars Robert Redford as Jack Weil, an American professional gambler who travels to Havana to take part in a poker tournament. Following a chance meeting on the ferry from Florida, Jack quickly finds himself embroiled in a number of dangerous political situations, almost all of which seem to involve either revolutionary leader Arturo Durán (Raul Julia), CIA operative Marion Chigwell (Daniel Davis) who is moonlighting as a restaurant critic, or the dangerous local head of the secret police Menocal (Tomás Milián). Most dangerous of all is his illicit affair with Roberta (Lena Olin), the sexy and seductive wife of Durán, the repercussions of which could not only affect the immediate relationship between husband and wife, but the success of the revolution entirely. Read more…

MANK – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

December 8, 2020 3 comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Herman Mankiewicz was one of the most important and influential Hollywood screenwriters of the 1930s and 40s. As the oldest member of the Mankiewicz filmmaking family that also included brother Joseph (The Philadelphia Story, All About Eve) and nephew Tom (Superman, several Bond films), Herman’s main contribution to the cinematic pantheon was the screenplay for the 1941 film Citizen Kane, which many still believe to be the greatest movie ever made. David Fincher’s film Mank tells Herman Mankiewicz’s life story, and is a lusciously nostalgic look back at the heyday of old Hollywood, using the making of Citizen Kane as a framing story. The film was written by the director’s father Jack Fincher, and was originally supposed to be filmed in the 1990s with Kevin Spacey in the lead role, but the project was shelved for more than 20 years, and sadly Jack never lived to see it made as he died in 2003. Instead of Spacey, Fincher eventually cast Gary Oldman to play Mankiewicz, and surrounded him with a superb supporting cast, including Amanda Seyfried as actress Marion Davies, Lily Collins as his secretary Rita, Arliss Howard as producer Louis Mayer, Tom Pelphrey as his brother Joseph, Tuppence Middleton as his wife Sara, Tom Burke as Orson Welles, and Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst, upon whom the character of Kane is reportedly based. Read more…

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST – Ennio Morricone

December 7, 2020 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Renowned Italian director Sergio Leone had achieved what many believed to be the pinnacle of success in 1966, following completion of the last film of his famous Dollars trilogy, “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”. Despite receiving universal accolades, he decided that he had said everything he wanted to say, and would not be returning to the Western genre. Hollywood studios, however, had other ideas, and wanted to capitalize on his talent and record of success. United Artists offered him opportunity to make a new Western, and his choice of the leading actors of the day including Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas or Rock Hudson. Leone declined, but when Paramount made a very generous financial offer, which also included an opportunity to work with Henry Fonda, Leone’s favorite actor, he agreed. Fulvio Morsella was tasked with producing and a budget of $5 million was provided. Leone hired Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento to assist him in crafting a screenplay. Later in the project Italian screenwriter Sergio Donati was brought in to assist with editing the film’s length as well as fine tuning the script’s dialogue. A fine cast was assembled, which included Henry Fonda as Frank, Claudia Cardinale as Jill McBain, Jason Robards as Manuel “Cheyenne” Gutiérrez, Charles Bronson as “Harmonica”, Gabriele Ferzetti as Mr. Morton, Paolo Stoppa as Sam, and Frank Wolff as Brett McBain. Read more…

JUNGLELAND – Lorne Balfe

December 4, 2020 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Jungleland is a low-budget boxing-themed drama written and directed by Max Winkler, the son of legendary comedy actor Henry Winkler. It stars British actors Jack O’Connell and Charlie Hunnam as Walter and Stanley Kowalski, working class brothers who endure menial jobs to make ends meet, and then spend their evenings in the underground bare-knuckle fight scene of their tough Massachusetts home town. Seeking one last shot at fame and redemption, Walter learns of a bare-knuckle prize fight contest worth $100,000 taking place in the back-alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown – but they don’t have the money to get there. In desperation the brothers throw their lot in with a local gangster, who agrees to fund their trip, with one proviso: they must transport a mysterious young woman to Reno, Nevada, along the way. The film co-stars Jessica Barden and Jonathan Majors, and was released briefly in cinemas in November 2020 before heading off to streaming services. Read more…

PREDATOR 2 – Alan Silvestri

December 3, 2020 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Following the enormous critical and commercial success of the movie Predator in 1987, it was only a matter of time before Twentieth Century Fox commissioned a sequel. However, when Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to reprise his role as Dutch, the producers were forced to come up with a new idea, and so instead of focusing on the humans, they switched to focusing on the aliens. Predator 2 is set in 1997 and sees a second predator visiting Earth; however, instead of hiding in the jungles of South America, the alien makes for the urban jungle of Los Angeles, which is caught up in a turf war between rival Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels. LAPD detective Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) is investigating the cartels and trying to stop the carnage, but instead becomes embroiled in a deeper mystery when criminals from both sides of the drug war turn up dead – killed by the Predator, although Harrigan does not know this at the time. Eventually, Harrigan teams up with FBI special agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey), who is aware of the Predator’s existence, and wants to capture him alive. The film co-stars Rubén Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Peter Hall as the Predator, and was directed by Stephen Hopkins. Read more…