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AVALON – Randy Newman

January 7, 2019 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Avalon offered Barry Levinson’s third installment of his semi-autobiographical tetralogy of ”Baltimore Films” – Diner (1982), Tin Men (1987), Avalon (1990) and Liberty Heights (1999) – which explored immigrant life in his hometown Baltimore from the 1940s through the 1960s. He served as producer, director and screenwriter for the project and his production company Baltimore Pictures financed the film. He brought in a first class cast, which included Leo Fuchs as Hymie Krichinsky, Lou Jacobi as Gabriel Krichinsky, Armin Mueller-Stahl as Sam Krichinsky, Joan Plowright as Eva Krichinsky, Israel Rubinek as Nathan Krichinsky, Eve Gordon as Dottie Kirk, Elizabeth Perkins as Ann Kaye, Aiden Quinn as Jules Kaye and Elijah Wood as Michael Kaye. The film offers a commentary on the challenges of immigrant Russian-Jews trying to assimilate in America. Sam, the patriarch of the Krichinsky family, arrives in 1914 to forge a new life, eventually settling in Baltimore where he works as a wallpaper man. Matriarch Eva is firmly grounded in the old ways and ensures the family stays true to its roots. Conflicts between old country familial culture and modern American culture are inevitable and elicit generational clashes as Sam and Eva struggle to balance the old with the new. Despite hardships, which include an armed robbery, a devastating home fire, and children abandoning their surname for an American one, the family holds together, weathering the storm, united in love. The film was a commercial success and secured four Academy Award nominations including Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Film Score. Read more…

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BATMAN – Danny Elfman

December 31, 2018 2 comments

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Bringing Batman to the cinema was a torturous journey that took ten years to come to fruition. Producers Benjamin Melniker and Micheal Uslan purchased screen rights from DC Comics in 1979, and their creative vision was to abandon the campy TV iteration and fashion a dark and serious exposition of the hero. Regretfully United Artists, Columbia Pictures and Universal Pictures all turned down the project, as they wanted a script that reprised the campiness of the TV series. Eventually in 1980 Warner Brothers took on the project seeking to capitalize on its massive success with Superman. Tom Mankiewicz was hired to write the script, which was completed in 1983. Yet the project stalled until 1985 when Tim Burton was hired. Burton wanted his own vision and so rejected Mankiewicz’s script, instead tasking Sam Hamm, a comic book fan, to write a new screenplay. After three years of delays by Warner Brothers executives, the film was given the green light to proceed in April of 1988. Casting the principles could have supported a feature film of its own. Instead of going with one of the leading male action movie stars of the day, Burton selected Michael Keaton whom he had directed in Beetlejuice, which caused uproar among comic book fans who sent 50,000 letters of protest to studio executives. The casting drama continued when Robin Williams was hired for the role of the Joker and then let go in favor of Jack Nicholson. Rounding out the cast would be Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, and Jack Palance as Carl Grissom. Read more…

CINEMA PARADISO – Ennio Morricone

November 26, 2018 1 comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

As a young small town Sicilian boy, director Giuseppe Tornatore fell in love with the cinema where he would spend hours every day insatiably viewing films. With the advent of television and the VCR, many believed that the days of the town cinema were numbered. This film abounds with nostalgia as Tornatore explores his movie going memories and how they affected his life. Drawing from his own life experiences, he crafted a screenplay, which secured the financial backing of the French production company Les Films Ariane. A fine cast was assembled, which included; Philippe Noiret as Alfredo, Salvatore Cascio as Salvatore Di Vita (child), Marco Leonardo as Salvatore Di Vita (adolescent), Jacques Perrin as Salvatore Di Vita (adult), Agnese Nano as Elena Mendola (young), Leopoldo Trieste as Father Adelfio, Antonella Attili as Maria (young), Pupella Maggio as Maria (adult) and Isa Danieli as Ana. Salvatore Di Vita, aka Toto, is a precocious kid who falls in love with movies shown at his town’s theater, Cinema Paradiso. It comes to pass that he worms his way into the heart of projectionist Alfredo, who befriends him and takes him on as his apprentice. Over time Salvatore masters the projector and often runs it himself. So great is his love of movies that he buys a movie camera and begins making his own home movies. Tragedy strikes one night when the Cinema Paradiso catches fire and burns down, with Salvatore saving Alfredo’s life, but not before he is badly burned and blinded. Read more…

THE MISSION – Ennio Morricone

November 19, 2018 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer David Putnam and director Roland Joffe were seeking to sustain the acclaim of their last collaboration, The Killing Fields (1984), and so recruited renowned screenwriter Robert Bolt to compose a compelling historical drama. The independent British production company Goldcrest Films financed the project, providing a generous budget, and a fine cast was assembled, which included Robert De Niro as Captain Rodrigo Mendoza, Jeremy Irons as Father Gabriel, Ray McAnally as Cardinal Altamirano, Aidan Quinn as Felipe Mendoza, Cherie Lunghi as Carlotta, Ronald Pickup as Don Hatar, Chuck Low as Don Cabeza and Liam Neeson as Father John Fielding. The film offers a classic morality play, which explores the tragic events surrounding the 1750 Treaty of Madrid. The Spanish and Portuguese are warring along the Brazil and Paraguayan border and the treaty ended the conflict by requiring Spain to cede territory south and east of the Rio Uruguay to Portugal. This would require the seven Jesuit missionaries to leave and place the Guarani inhabitants in peril as Portugal, unlike Spain, used slavery to man their plantations. The film opens in 1740 with Jesuit missionary Father Gabriel seeking to convert the Guarani to Catholicism. The opening scene of a Jesuit cast over the waterfall tied to a cross reveals the Guarani’s hostility to outsiders. He is joined by slaver Rodrigo Mendoza who seeks repentance following the murder of his brother, who he caught sleeping with his fiancée. Father Gabriel gains the trust of the Guarani through his oboe playing and they over time convert. Rodrigo finds new meaning to his life, abandons weapons, and commits to joining the priesthood. Read more…

AGNES OF GOD – Georges Delerue

November 5, 2018 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

John Pielmeier’s play 1979 Agnes of God was both a commercial and critical success, achieving a respectable run on Broadway. Norman Jewison convinced Columbia Pictures that the story had big screen potential, and secured backing for the project. He would both produce and direct the film, and brought in Pielmeier to adapt his play for the cinema. Crucial to the film’s success would be finding three actresses to fill the trio of roles on which the story unfolds. Jane Fonda was cast as Dr. Martha Livingston. Joining her would be Anne Bancroft as Mother Superior Miriam Ruth, and Meg Tilly as Sister Agnes Devereaux. The film offers a murder mystery where science and faith intersect and clash. The story reveals nuns rushing from evening prayers to Sister Agnes’s room in answer to her screaming. They discover her bleeding profusely and a dead baby lying in a basket strangled by its umbilical cord. The court assigns Dr. Livingston to assess Sister Agnes for competency to stand trial. A clash of wills unfolds between Dr. Livingston efforts to discover the truth, and Mother Superior efforts to protect her niece, who she believes is innocent. What results is a classic confrontation of science and faith, with both sides working with the best of intentions. Read more…

OUT OF AFRICA – John Barry

September 3, 2018 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Notable directors such as Orson Welles, David Lean and Nicolas Roeg had long sought to bring to the big screen the 1937 novel Out of Africa by Isak Dinesan (Karen Blixen). None were successful in adapting the story into a cogent screenplay. Sydney Pollack however was determined to succeed, and after two years of struggle managed with the assistance of screenwriter Kurt Luedtke to fashion a screenplay drawing from Blixen’s “Out of Africa”, but also her novel “Shadows on the Grass” and Elsbeth Huxley’s novel, “The Flame Trees of Thika”. Mirage Enterprises agreed to fund the project, which would be produced by Kim Jurgensen and Sydney Pollack, who would also direct. A fine cast was assembled, which included the dashing Robert Redford as Denys Hatton, Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen, and Klaus Maria Brandauer as Baron Bror von Blixen. The story offers a sad testament to the life of a wealthy Danish woman Karen Blixen, and the love of her life, Denys Hatton. After she is spurned by her Swedish lover, Karen relocates to British East Africa and enters into a loveless marriage of convenience with his brother, Baron Bror Blixen. They plan to start a dairy cattle farm, but on the wedding day Bror informs her that he plans to instead start a coffee plantation. His infidelity leads to her contracting syphilis, which requires that she return to Denmark for treatment. She returns to find Bror more interested in Safaris than her and they separate. Read more…

RAN – Tôru Takemitsu

August 27, 2018 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Ran, which translates as Chaos, was a passion project for the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and most critics believe it to be his last great film. He had envisioned the film for many years, and he even made detailed paintings of the castles and sets he hoped to one day construct. He began writing the screenplay in 1976 but production was delayed by Tōhō Studios executives who balked at the estimated $5 million price tag, which would have made it the most expensive Japanese film ever made. The fact that his last film, Dodes’kaden, was a box office flop also served to harden studio resistance. Fortunately the great success of his film Kagemusha restored studio confidence in Kurosawa, and he was able to forge a partnership, securing funds from French producer Serge Silberman. There are recognizable parallels between Ran and Shakespeare’s King Lear, although Kurosawa related that the similarities did not become apparent to him until after he had conceived his script. Ran was Kurosawa’s last great epic film, one that offers a classic morality play, which affirms the truism that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We are offered an excruciating tragedy, which reveals deception, envy, treachery, betrayal and hubris. Read more…