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RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON – James Newton Howard

March 9, 2021 2 comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The first of Disney’s two animated films scheduled to be released in 2021, Raya and the Last Dragon is a fantasy adventure set in an alternate-reality version of Southeast Asia. In this universe, humans have been hunted by creatures called druuns for generations, but are now protected by a magical orb created by dragons – with the caveat being that the dragons all turned to stone once they created the orb. Raya is the daughter of Benja, the powerful tribal chief who guards the orb, but during a feast celebration Raya is tricked into revealing the location of the orb to the daughter of a different tribal leader, who is jealous of Benja’s power. The resulting fight leads to the orb being almost destroyed, and the threat of the druuns returning. Wanting to make amends and save her people, Raya sets off on a quest to locate Sisu, the mythical last dragon, and the only one which did not turn to stone, in the hope that it can help create a new orb. The film was directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, and features a voice cast of almost entirely East Asian and Southeast Asian actors, including Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, and Sandra Oh. Read more…

MOBY DICK – Philip Sainton

March 8, 2021 Leave a comment

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

For three years director John Huston had long sought to bring Herman Melville’s classic 1851 novel Moby Dick to the big screen. Studios were resistant because the story was depressing, had no female roles, nor romance, which they believed would not resonate with the public. Ever tenacious, Huston finally secured backing by United Artists, the Mirsch brothers and Moulin Productions with the caveat that a big-name actor had to play Captain Ahab. A budget of $2.0 million was provided, which would include shooting in the Irish Sea. Huston would direct and tasked Ray Bradbury with adapting the novel, with some edits provided by Huston. To fill the “Big-name stipulation, Huston cast Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab, a decision criticized as a miscast by critics and later, Peck himself. Joining him would be Richard Basehart as Ishmael, Leo Genn as Starbuck, Orson Welles as Father Mapple, and Friedrich von Ledebur as Queequeg. Read more…

ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part XI

March 6, 2021 Leave a comment

In this eleventh installment of my series looking at the early careers of iconic composers, we take a look at seven of the dozens of scores written by the legendary Ennio Morricone in 1971. The titles covered here include a trio of historical films – one romance, one comedy, one serious drama – plus an action comedy about aerobatics, a left wing sociopolitical drama, a challenging giallo thriller score, and one last great Sergio Leone western.
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THE NEVERENDING STORY II: THE NEXT CHAPTER – Robert Folk

March 4, 2021 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A belated sequel to the original 1984 classic fantasy film, The Neverending Story II is based partially on the second part of Michael Ende’s original novel, albeit with a significantly altered ending. Jonathan Brandis takes over from Barret Oliver as Bastian, who returns to the land of Fantasia via the titular book in order to seek advice on courage. Before long Bastian is again drawn into a new adventure alongside Atreyu (Kenny Morrison taking over from Noah Hathaway), the Childlike Empress (Alexandra Johnes taking over from Tami Stronach), and Falkor the Luck Dragon, as they seek to stop an evil sorceress called Xayide from destroying the world. The film was directed by Scottish filmmaker George T. Miller, and has an original score by Robert Folk. Read more…

SUPERINTELLIGENCE – Fil Eisler

March 2, 2021 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the funniest (for me) films of 2020 was Superintelligence – an action sci-fi comedy directed by Ben Falcone, and starring his wife Melissa McCarthy. She plays Carol Peters – the most average person in the world – whose life is turned upside down when her phone, her apartment, and eventually her life is taken over by a super-intelligent artificial intelligence which adopts the voice of comedian James Corden, as he is her favorite celebrity. The AI wants to study Carol and her interactions with other people as a way to learn about humanity; it manipulates her life to the extent that she becomes a multi-millionaire overnight, and tries to help her re-connect with her ex-boyfriend George (Bobby Cannavale) before he leaves to take a job overseas. However, it soon becomes apparent that this ‘superintelligence’ may have some less-than-altruistic intentions, and before long Carol is knee deep in an action caper with the National Security Agency of the US Government. The critical consensus of the film has not been kind, but I actually enjoyed it a lot, especially for the comic interaction between the AI and the increasingly exasperated Carol. Read more…

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY – Alfred Newman

March 1, 2021 Leave a comment

MOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

20th Century studio executive Darryl F. Zanuck was seeking an epic film in the vein of Gone With The Wind, and believed he had at last found his answer in Richard Llewellyn’s popular 1939 novel How Green Was My Valley. He purchased the screen rights and tasked William Wyler to direct with an $800,000 budget. Wyler was shortly thereafter replaced by John Ford who wanted to shoot the film live in Wales, but was overruled by the studio as the raging Nazi Blitz and the Battle of Britain made it too dangerous. A set was constructed in Malibu and the film shot in black and white as the indigenous California flowers were different colors that the Welsh flowers. A fine cast was hired, including Walter Pidgeon as Pastor Gruffydd, Maureen O’Hara as Angharad Morgan, Donald Crisp as Gwilym Morgan, Roddy McDowall in his acting debut as Huw Morgan, Sara Allgood as Beth Morgan, Patric Knowles as Ivor Morgan, John Loder as Lanto Morgan, Richard Fraser as Davy Morgan, Evan Evans as Gwilym Morgan Jr., James Monks as Owen Morgan, Anna Lee as Ivor’s wife Bronwyn, and Irving Pichel as an adult Huw Morgan, who narrates the film. Read more…

ONCE AROUND – James Horner

February 25, 2021 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Once Around is a romantic comedy-drama about family dynamics, cultural differences, and finding love late in life. Holly Hunter stars as Renata, the oldest daughter of a sprawling Italian-American family, and the only unmarried offspring of patriarch Joe (Danny Aiello). While on a vacation in the Caribbean Renata meets and falls in love with Sam (Richard Dreyfuss), an abrasive chain-smoking salesman of Russian heritage. Despite his best intentions Sam continually causes rifts and arguments between different members of Renata’s family – until a medical emergency causes them all to stop and think about what love actually means. The film was directed by Lasse Hallström from a screenplay by Malia Scotch Marmo, co-stars Laura San Giacomo and Gena Rowlands, and has an original score by James Horner. Read more…

TO OLIVIA – Debbie Wiseman

February 23, 2021 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s something of a forgotten fact these days, but for thirty years between 1953 and 1983 the great British children’s author Roald Dahl was married to the Oscar-winning American actress Patricia Neal. While they were together Dahl wrote many of his most acclaimed novels (including James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox, and The BFG), as well as film screenplays such as You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Meanwhile Neal simultaneously enjoyed the peak of her acting career, appearing in movies such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Harm’s Way, and The Subject Was Roses, and winning an Academy Award for Hud in 1963. However, their private life was marred with tragedy, the most significant event of which was the death of their eldest daughter Olivia from measles in 1962 when aged just 7. This new film To Olivia, directed by John Hay, explores the life of the couple around that time, how the tragedy of Olivia’s death inspired them both to their greatest professional work, and how Dahl went on to become a staunch pro-immunization campaigner for the rest of his life. The film stars Hugh Bonneville as Dahl and Keeley Hawes as Neal, features Sam Heughan and Geoffrey Palmer in supporting roles, and has a sublime score by composer Debbie Wiseman. Read more…

JULIUS CAESAR – Miklós Rózsa

February 22, 2021 Leave a comment

MOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio executives were impressed by the commercial success of Henry V in 1944 and sought to adapt another of William Shakespeare’s plays for the big screen. They chose his 1599 work Julius Caesar and tasked producer John Houseman with the project with a generous budget of $2.0 million. Houseman had a vision for the film and hired Joseph Mankiewicz to direct, as the story would be dialogue driven, which was the type of film in which Mankiewicz excelled. Once attached to the project Mankiewicz made the creative decision to personally adapt the play and write the screenplay. Houseman did not want another lavish epic, but rather a small more intimate production, which explored the drama of ambition and power politics. Second, he insisted that the film be shot in black and white because “we wanted people to relate to the newsreels, to the Fascist movements in Europe, which were still relevant”. A cast for the ages was assembled, which included Marlon Brando as Marc Anthony, James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius, Louis Calhern as Julius Caesar, Edmund O’Brien as Casca, Greer Garson as Calpurnia, and Deborah Kerr as Portia. Read more…

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – Howard Shore

February 19, 2021 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Despite having first appeared on screen in 1986 in director Michael Mann’s Manhunter, the character Hannibal Lecter exploded into public consciousness five years later with this film, The Silence of the Lambs. Based on the best-selling novel by Thomas Harris and directed by Jonathan Demme, the film follows the investigation into a serial killer dubbed ‘Buffalo Bill,’ who abducts young women and methodically strips skin from their bodies before murdering them. Rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is tasked by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), the head of the Behavioral Science Unit, to visit and interview the incarcerated Lecter (Anthony Hopkins in a career-defining role); as well as being a cannibalistic serial killer himself, Lecter is also a brilliant psychologist, and it is believed his insight may help the FBI catch ‘Bill’ before he kills again. However, as well as helping build up a profile of the murderer, Lecter also convinces Clarice to provide details of her own life as part of a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement, and the two begin an unlikely intellectual relationship that threatens to derail the investigation. Read more…

BLIZZARD OF SOULS [DVĒSEĻU PUTENIS] – Lolita Ritmanis

February 16, 2021 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

They don’t make many movies in Latvia but, when they do, they tend to be epic. Dvēseļu Putenis – known in English as Blizzard of Souls – is one of those. It is based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Aleksandrs Grīns, one of the most acclaimed writers in contemporary Latvian culture, who was also a war hero, journalist, and staunch opponent of the Soviet occupation of Latvia, before he was executed by Soviet forces in 1941. Blizzard of Souls is his most famous work, and tells the semi-autobiographical story of a young Latvian schoolboy named Artūrs who enlists in the national battalions of the Imperial Russian army in hopes of finding glory. Artūrs participates in many battles in World War I, and eventually returns home to Latvia – only to find the homeland he loves coming under threat from the very forces he fought for. The film was directed by Dzintars Dreibergs, and upon its release quickly became the most successful domestic film since Latvian independence in 1991. Read more…

ROMEO AND JULIET – Nino Rota

February 15, 2021 Leave a comment

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Director Franco Zeffirelli’s first film was The Taming of the Shrew in 1967, which was adapted from the original Shakespearean play. It was a commercial success, and for his next project he conceived a new adaptation of another of Shakespeare’s famous plays, “Romeo and Juliet”. A lack of funding however drove him to pursue a television production. Yet his fortunes changed when Paramount Pictures agreed to join in partnership with BHE Films, Verona Produzione and Dino de Laurentis Cinematografia to finance a big screen release. A budget of $850,000 was provided and the British team of Anthony Havelock-Allan and John Brabourne would produce the film. For the screen play Zeffirelli collaborated with Masolino d’Amico and Franco Brusati. In an audacious casting move Zeffirelli decided to cast the lead roles as minors, assuring fidelity to Shakespeare’s original conception. Leonard Whiting, a 17-year-old, was cast as Romeo, and Olivia Hussey, a 15 year old, as Juliet. Joining them would be Milo O’Shea as Friar Laurence, Michael York as Tybalt, John McEnery as Mercutio, Natasha Parry as Lady Capulet, and Robert Stephens as the Prince of Verona. Read more…

ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part X

February 13, 2021 Leave a comment

In this tenth installment of my series looking at the early careers of iconic composers, we take a look at the final seven scores written by the legendary Ennio Morricone in 1970. These titles include one of the most important giallo scores of all time, a couple of quirky dramas, two spaghetti westerns (one of which stars Clint Eastwood), and a psychedelic sex comedy score that has to be heard to be believed! Read more…

SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY – Jerry Goldsmith

February 11, 2021 Leave a comment

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the biggest box office successes of 1991, Sleeping With the Enemy is a psychological thriller directed by Joseph Rubin, written by Ronald Bass from the novel by Nancy Price. Julia Roberts stars as Laura Burney, a Massachusetts housewife whose seemingly perfect marriage to Martin (Patrick Bergin) is shown in private to be a repeating pattern of physical and emotional abuse, gaslighting, and obsessive compulsion. Desperate to escape, Laura fakes her own death in a boating accident, moves to Iowa, and starts a new life under an assumed name. Before long she finds herself attracted to a kind and handsome college professor (Kevin Anderson) and starts a tentative relationship; meanwhile, back in Boston, Martin starts to suspect that Laura is not dead, and begins to make vengeful plans to get his wife back. He can’t live without her, and I won’t let her live without him. Read more…

THE LITTLE THINGS – Thomas Newman

February 9, 2021 Leave a comment

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

On paper, The Little Things should be a guaranteed smash hit. It’s written and directed by John Lee Hancock, the man behind Academy Award nominated films like The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks. It stars three Oscar-winning actors of genuine pedigree – Denzel Washington, Jared Leto, and Rami Malek – and has an excellent supporting cast of reliable character actors, as well as top-notch behind the scenes crew. The plot concerns the hunt for a serial killer in Los Angeles in the 1990s, a traumatized ageing detective called back into action, a hotshot young investigator who clashes with his superiors, and a cat and mouse chase through the darkest parts of the Southland which pits the hunter(s) against the hunted. It’s a recipe for success. So how did it end up being so terrible? How did the screenplay get so that it was both confusing and predictable at the same time? How did these three acclaimed thespians veer so wildly between somnambulance and embarrassing over-acting? How on earth did both the Golden Globe voters and the members of the Screen Actors Guild think that Leto’s off-putting performance as a dead-eyed weirdo was in any way awards worthy? These are questions to which I will likely never know the answer, but there we are. Read more…