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Under-the-Radar Round Up 2021, Part 3A

August 31, 2021 1 comment

2021 is already more than half way done and, as the world of mainstream blockbuster cinema and film music continues to recover from the COVID-19 Coronavirus, we must again look to smaller international features not as reliant on massive theatrical releases to discover the best new soundtracks. As such I am very pleased to present the third installment (for this calendar year) in my ongoing series of articles looking at the best “under the radar” scores from around the world.

The six titles included here are a mixed bag of styles, genres, and national origins, and include a powerful drama from Palestine, a German fantasy adventure, an Egyptian action TV series, a children’s adventure film from Finland, a light French comedy-drama, and a beautiful nature documentary score from China. Read more…

THE HURRICANE – Alfred Newman

August 30, 2021 Leave a comment

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Actor James Hall’s uncle James Norman Hall co-wrote the 1936 novel The Hurricane, which he felt would provide an exiting romantic adventure set in the South Seas. He sold director John Ford on the idea, and financial backing for production was provided by Samuel Goldwyn Productions. A massive $2.0 million budget was provided with $450,000 allocated to special effects specialist James Basevi, who spent $150,000 building a native village and lagoon, and $250,000 destroying it! Screenwriters Dudley Nichols and Oliver H. P. Garrett were hired to adapt Hall’s novel, and Ford assembled a stellar cast, which included Dorothy Lamour as Marama, John Hall as Terangi, Mary Astor as Madame Germaine De Laage, Raymond Massey as Governor Eugene De Laage, C. Aubrey Smith as Father Paul, John Carradine as the Warden, Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint, and Jerome Cowan as Captain Nagle. Read more…

REMINISCENCE – Ramin Djawadi

August 27, 2021 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Reminiscence is a fascinating but somewhat flawed neo-noir sci-fi thriller written and directed by Lisa Joy, one of the co-creators of the hit HBO TV series Westworld. The film is set in Miami many years in the future; global warming caused seawater to engulf large parts of the city, resulting in a damaging civil war. During the war a type of sensory-deprivation technology was developed that could make people journey backwards into their own memories, and then have those memories emerge as visual projections so they could be examined in three dimensions by observers. It was initially used as an interrogation technique, but now Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) uses them as his business – entertainment for those who want to escape from the present and briefly revisit their past. Nick is world-weary and perpetually depressed, but his life changes when he meets Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a sultry night club singer, and they embark on a passionate relationship. When Mae suddenly disappears without a trace, Nick resolves to find out what happened to her, using his memory technology as a guide. However, the more Nick searches, the more he gets drawn into a murky world of organized crime, political corruption, and violence around every corner. The film co-stars Thandie Newton and Cliff Curtis, and was released simultaneously into theaters and on HBO Max; unfortunately, the film was a box office disaster, a combination of audience apathy, poor reviews, and COVID hesitancy driving it to the all-time worst opening weekend of a film playing in over 3,000 theaters. Read more…

DEAD AGAIN – Patrick Doyle

August 26, 2021 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

After director Kenneth Branagh wowed Hollywood with his brash, compelling take on Shakespeare’s Henry V in 1989, many people expected that he would continue to drink deeply from the well of the Bard for his follow-up effort. Surprisingly, his sophomore effort was not a classic adaptation but was this film: Dead Again, a neo-noir thriller set in contemporary Los Angeles. Branagh plays private detective Mike Church, who is drawn into a mysterious case involving Grace, a woman with amnesia, played by Emma Thompson. In an attempt to discover her identity, he turns to antiques dealer and hypnotist Franklyn Madson (Derek Jacobi), who he believes can help her. While under hypnosis, Grace comes to believe that she is the reincarnation of Margaret, a socialite who was murdered by her composer husband Roman Strauss in 1949. Roman – who also bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Mike – took the secret of Margaret’s murder to his grave, and the more Mike digs into the events of the past, the more he and Grace find their lives in peril in the present. The movie is a fun, melodramatic romp filled with intentional homages to Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, and features a terrific, bold score by Patrick Doyle. Read more…

FREE GUY – Christophe Beck

August 24, 2021 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Have you ever felt like your life wasn’t real? Like you were somehow a background character in someone else’s story? That you were destined to be the hero, but no-one ever noticed? This is the basic premise of Free Guy, a new action-comedy from director Shawn Levy. The film stars Ryan Reynolds as Guy, a cheerful bank teller from Free City. He goes to work each day with his best friend, Buddy the security guard, and just seems to accept the fact that every day his bank is robbed, and murder and mayhem seems to continually happen around him. Guy’s life changes forever when he meets ‘Molotov Girl,’ who eventually reveals to him the truth: that Guy is an NPC (non-player character) in an open world video game called Free City, and that she is trying to stop Guy’s entire world from being destroyed. Read more…

THE LOST WEEKEND – Miklós Rózsa

August 23, 2021 Leave a comment

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

The genesis of the film arose as director Billy Wilder was directing his previous movie, Double Indemnity. His screenwriter Raymond Chandler was a recovering alcoholic, who returned to drinking during the stress of collaborating with Wilder. Wilder related that he made the film, in part, as an attempt to better understand Chandler. Wilder sold his story idea to Paramount executives who assigned production to Charles Brackett with a budget of $1.25 million. Brackett and Wilder collaborated in writing the screenplay, by adapting the novel The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson. Notable was their excising of the novel’s homosexual overtones, which portrayed Don Birnam as a closeted homosexual. Wilder himself would direct and he assembled a fine cast, which included Ray Milland as Don Birnam, Jane Wyman as Helen St. James and Phillip Terry as Wick Brinam. Controversy arose from the liquor industry, which was willing to offer $5 million to kill the project as they feared it would reignite political efforts to restore prohibition. Most interesting is that Wilder later related that he would have accepted the offer and burned the negatives himself had they presented it to him personally. Groundbreaking is film’s uncompromising depiction of the pathos of personal destruction precipitated by alcoholism. Today the film is seen as catalyzing a paradigmal change in how Hollywood portrayed drunks, which up to this film had always been portrayed them comedically. Read more…

THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER – Daniel Hart

August 20, 2021 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Last Letter from Your Lover is a British period romantic drama directed by Augustine Frizzell, adapted from the popular novel by Jojo Moyes. The film stars Felicity Jones as Ellie, a journalist tasked with writing an obituary for her recently-deceased editor. Having recently been involved in a painful romantic breakup, Ellie is fascinated when she discovers a series of passionate love letters in her newspaper’s archive, and decides to try to track down the letter writers and find out what happened to them. Ellie discovers that the letter writers were Jennifer (Shailene Woodley), a 1960s socialite, and Anthony (Callum Turner), a journalist, and that they met when Anthony came to write an article about Jennifer’s husband Laurence, a wealthy but emotionally distant industrialist. As Ellie uncovers details about their affair, and their powerful connection, she is also inspired to try to rekindle her own romantic life, and begins a hesitant relationship with Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan), the newspaper’s archivist. The story is a familiar one – it is essentially the same as A.S. Byatt’s Possession from 2002, and the Spanish film El Verano Que Vivimos from last year – but it is splendidly told, with lush period production values and an earnest Englishness to offset the sentimentality. Read more…

BARTON FINK – Carter Burwell

August 19, 2021 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Perhaps the best film ever made about writer’s block, Barton Fink is a nearly unclassifiable combination of drama, comedy, horror, romance, and existential philosophy, written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. John Turturro plays the eponymous Fink, a New York playwright who moves to Los Angeles in the early 1940s, having been offered a job writing for the movies. Unable to find inspiration for his screenplay, he bonds with Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), an amiable salesman who lives next door to him in his rundown apartment building, and then tries to solicit advice from various writers and directors around Hollywood. However, an unexpected and shocking murder sends Fink into a spiral of surrealism, chaos, and death, as he tries to finish his debut script despite his world collapsing around him. The film co-stars Michael Lerner, Judy Davis, and John Mahoney among others, and was the darling of the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, eventually winning the coveted Palme d’Or; unfortunately, it was a box office disaster, its unusual genre and offbeat characters failing to connect with mainstream audiences in any meaningful way. Read more…

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: REVELATION – Bear McCreary

August 17, 2021 2 comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I am Adam, Prince of Eternia, defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. This is Cringer, my fearless friend. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said… by the power of Grayskull!

When I was a kid growing up in the 1980s, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was one of my favorite cartoon shows. It was, of course, created as a vehicle to sell action figures by the global toy company Mattel, and it was exceptionally preachy, with an obvious ‘moral of the story’ coda at the end of each episode, but 8-year-old me didn’t care. I couldn’t get enough of the noble warrior Adam and his muscular alter-ego, saving his home planet from the evil Skeletor with the help of his friends – an ever-changing cast that usually included the heroic man-at-arms Duncan, his trusty steed Cringer aka Battle Cat, the magical Orko, and the warrior princess Teela. Looking back at it now with more adult eyes, it was incredibly cheesy and repetitive, badly animated, and somewhat crudely written; despite this, I have fond nostalgic memories of the show, which have stayed with me over the years. Read more…

CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS – Franz Waxman

August 16, 2021 Leave a comment

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1936 MGM Studios decided to adapt the Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 coming of age novel Captains Courageous to the big screen. They purchased the screen rights, and management of the project was assigned to producer Louis D. Lighton who was provided a budget of $1.65 million. Screenwriters John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly and Dale Van Every were hired to adapt the novel, and Victor Fleming was tasked with directing. For casting, of prime importance was finding the right boy to play the Harvey Cheyne role. The creative team hired Freddie Batholomew, an English-American actor who many regards as one of the greatest child actors in cinematic history. Joining him would be Spencer Tracy as Manuel Fidello, Lionel Barrymore as Captain Disko Troop, Melvyn Douglas as Frank Burton Cheyne, and Mickey Rooney as Dan Troop. Read more…

FEAR STREET, PART THREE: 1666 – Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich

August 13, 2021 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The third part of Netflix’s Fear Street, a trilogy of horror-thriller films based on the popular young adult novels by R. L. Stine and directed by Leigh Janiak, is set in 1666, and finally reveals the truth of what happened to the story’s overarching protagonist, Sarah Fier. The story is revealed in flashback to Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.); Sarah is a young woman living in the Puritan community of Union, the original town on which both Shadyside and Sunnyvale were based. Sarah is in love with Hannah Miller (Olivia Scott Welch), the local pastor’s daughter, a relationship forbidden by the ultra-religious townsfolk. A blight begins to afflict the town’s crops, and then Hannah’s father seemingly goes insane, gouging out his own eyes and murdering several of the local children, before he himself is killed by farmer Solomon Goode (Ashley Zukerman). In revenge for them rebuffing his romantic advances several nights previously, one of the villagers falsely accuses Sarah and Hannah of being witches, and the pair must run for their lives or be hanged by the superstitious and reactionary townsfolk. Eventually, the true evil behind Sarah Fier’s curse is revealed – the truth of which helps Deena break the curse back in 1994. Read more…

DOC HOLLYWOOD – Carter Burwell

August 12, 2021 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A fun romantic comedy intended to cash in on Michael J. Fox’s post-Back to the Future popularity, Doc Hollywood sees Fox playing Ben Stone, an aspiring surgeon on his way from Washington DC to Beverly Hills for a job interview with a prestigious clinic. While driving through a small town in rural South Carolina, Ben accidentally crashes his Porsche; the local judge sentences Ben to perform community service at the town’s medical clinic, which he does while waiting for his car to be repaired. Almost against his will, Ben begins to integrate into small-town life, successfully helping several of the locals with medical problems, and beginning a hesitant relationship with Lou (Julie Warner), a pretty ambulance driver. When the community service is up and Ben is free to head off to California, he finds himself torn between the lucrative career he always wanted, and the unexpected affection he develops for the small town he never intended to visit. The film is directed by Scottish filmmaker Michael Caton-Jones, has a fun supporting cast that includes Barnard Hughes, Woody Harrelson, David Ogden Stiers, and Bridget Fonda, and has a score from an unexpected composer – Carter Burwell. Read more…

GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE – Frank Ilfman

August 11, 2021 2 comments

Original Review by Christopher Garner

Gunpowder Milkshake is set in a world of professional assassins. Sam (Karen Gillan) works for The Firm, but between one job going wrong and another job resulting in her taking in the nine-year-old daughter (Chloe Coleman) of one of her victims, she finds herself on the run from her own company as well as another criminal conglomerate. Along the way she is helped by a crew of other hitwomen: her long-lost mother, Scarlett (Lena Headey), and a trio of “librarians” (Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino). Director Navot Papushado wanted to make a film that is an homage to noir and spy films of the 1940s and ‘50s, to Japanese assassin comic books, and to spaghetti westerns, taking his inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, and Sergio Leone. The film has had a mixed reception by critics, but most enjoyed it, even while noting some of its flaws. Read more…

JUNGLE CRUISE – James Newton Howard

August 10, 2021 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The latest big-screen adventure based on a ride at Disneyland, following on the heels of Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Tomorrowland, is Jungle Cruise. I always considered the ride to be somewhat corny – you take a boat down a slow moving river, see animatronics of hippos and ‘tribal warriors,’ and get to experience ‘the back side of water,’ while being regaled with dad jokes and puns by a khaki-clad guide. I didn’t know how they were going to turn this leisurely jaunt down the water into a family action-adventure film, but director Jaume Collet-Serra and screenwriters Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, and Michael Green have somehow done just that. The film is set in 1916 and stars Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton, a British botanist who travels to the South American jungles with her reluctant, foppish brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) in search of the famed ‘Tears of the Moon,’ a mythical plant whose petals have extraordinary healing powers. Upon her arrival in the Amazon she hires local riverboat skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to be her guide; however, she is not the only person searching for the Tears of the Moon, and before long Lily and Frank are embroiled in an adventure involving mysterious curses, conquistadors, tribes of cannibals, and a German aristocrat with a nefarious agenda of his own. Read more…

JUNGLE BOOK – Miklòs Ròzsa

August 9, 2021 Leave a comment

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1938 producer-director Alexander Korda decided to cash in on the commercial success realized by films based on novels by the famous English writer Rudyard Kipling. He purchased the film rights to his 1894 classic Jungle Book, with production slated to commence in 1939. The onset of WWII and Nazi Blitz forced him due to safety concerns, to relocate his company to Hollywood, which pushed production back to 1941. His own company, Alexander Korda Films would produce he film and he secured financial backing from United Artist who provided a $300,000 budget, which included filming in technicolor. Alexander Korda would produce the film, his brother Zoltan was tasked with directing, while his other brother Vincent was production designer. Screenwriter Laurence Stallings was hired to create a script derived from the nine Mowgli stories and drew inspiration from five of them: “Mowgli’s Brothers”, “Tiger! Tiger!”, “How Fear Came”, “Letting in the Jungle”, and “The King’s Ankus”. A fine cast was hired, which included Sabu as Mowgli, Joseph Calleia as Buldeo, John Qualen as the barber, Frank Puglia as the pundit, and Rosemary DeCamp as Messua. Filming was challenging due to creative differences between Alexander who wanted a fantasy adventure, and Zoltan who wanted a more realistic story. In the end, Alexander’s vision prevailed. Read more…