Friday, August 28, 2015

Top Ten - James Bond Villains

Is Sanchez's pet iguana an evil iguana bought
from an evil pet store?
I’ve heard it argued that the better the villain in a James Bond movie is, the better that movie is all the way around. Now I’m not sure I believe that. Skyfall is one of the best James Bond films (in my opinion) and the villain doesn’t particularly stand out in that one. Personally I think it takes a well shaken cocktail of ingredients to make a James Bond movie fire on all cylinders.

I will concede that a great villain doesn’t hurt the films’ chances. So here are my top ten James Bond villains (plus one). This is all in good fun, and maybe pointing out a few you may have forgotten.

Runner Up Max Zoren A View to a Kill (1985)
OK, I admit I have a weak spot for this movie. It was the first James Bond film I saw in theaters. I know, poor unfortunate me. But even though this film is pretty unimpressive all the way around, Christopher Walken as Max Zoren is one of the most memorable villains in the franchise. I mean he is Christopher Walken-ing all over the place in this move. Over the top? Sure, but he’s supposed to be a Nazi created superhuman, so really can you blame him?

Walken is blonde, pops his eyes out threateningly and comes at Bond with an axe at one point. I love that he says the word “schedule” with a full on British pronunciation in one scene and then says the word “power” with a full on New York accent in another scene. It is a pure Walken performance and in this goofy movie, it just adds to the surreal value. So yeah, honorable mention for sure.

10. Xenia Onatopp Goldeneye 1995
Famke Jannsen steams up the screen any time she’s on it – even dressed in a jumpsuit as a helicopter pilot… Ok, maybe not in that scene. She’s sex crazed and psycho and I love her for it.

She can kill people by crushing their ribs with her thighs, and she gets off on it. She mows down people with machine guns, smokes cigars and just generally is one of the best over-the-top henchmen in the series. She’s having a blast in the role, and it really comes across. She is actually a bit intimidating, because you just don’t know what she’s gonna do next. A fun performance and certainly one of my favorite baddies in the series.

9. Ernst Stavro Blofeld On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 1969
When it comes to the 1960s James Bond films, the main villain is the bald, cat owning Blofeld. And while most folks feel Donald Pleasence gave the definitive performance of the role in You Only Live Twice, I have to go with Telly Savalas in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Yes, he uses his bald cranium to come up with devious schemes, but he is also a physical match for James Bond. The two actually face each other in this film, and Lazenby and Savalas make for a good opposing pair. Savalas is intimidating when he needs to be, but also this air of sophistication and urbane confidence. No film in the original 20 ever really captured the character from the novels quite right, but Savalas is the best of the bunch.

8. Red Grant From Russia With Love 1963
But the first real threat to Bond came in the second film, when Robert Shaw first kills 007 in front of our eyes in the pre-credit sequence. Red Grant then spends the rest of the movie as a well-muscled and dangerous shadow. He lurks in the background of scenes like a tiger stalking the kill.

This combination of fine suspenseful directing and editing (guided by director Terence Young) combined with Shaw’s intimidating stature and confidence really works. Red Grant is a frightening character, and when he makes his move and pretty much overpowers Bond, you really think, this is it, James is a goner. Rarely were the following films able to capture that sense of danger with a single character.

7. Le Chifre Casino Royale 2006
The Daniel Craig films went out of their way to humanize and ground their villains. It fit the tone these films were going for, but also made the villains less entertaining. In a way that is fine, because the focus of the movies became James Bond and not the baddies. But Le Chifre as performed by Mads Mikkelsen, is one of the best villains of the series.

Part of it is the desperation in the character. As Le Chifre’s plan begins to unravel, we can see him losing control and willing to do just about anything to win the high stakes game. This fear in his eyes makes him a much more compelling villain than someone like Gustav Graves from DieAnother Day. It’s a great performance and one that makes the torture scene even more riveting, because you know Le Chifre has nothing to lose.

6. Oddjob Goldfinger 1964
How can I not have a space for one of the most iconic henchmen in film movie history. Everything works here. Harold Sakata’s silent performance, with that deadly smile. His debonair outfit and bowler hat. Even the tinkling chimes that John Barry adds to the film score whenever he is on screen. Oddjob is much like Red Grant in that we see him in action early on, but he lurks in the background for a good portion of the movie, and we just wait for him to strike.

His final battle with Bond inside Fort Knox is a classic. We know Bond is physically overmatched. But 007 is fighting for his life, and the only way he can take down Oddjob is with his brains. Really a classic villain and personally I think he is more effective than his much-lauded master.

5. Jaws The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979)
As good as Oddjob is, I just like Jaws a little bit more. For me it is Richard Kiel’s performance that makes the whole thing work. When he is in full killer mode in The Spy Who Loved Me, he is terrifying. His immense stature, and those brutal teeth are nightmare fuel. He makes short work of several folks early on, and we really start to worry about Bond.

But unlike Oddjob and Red Grant, Bond and Jaws face off several times in the film. As before, Bond is not able to battle this man with strength alone, it takes quick thinking to escape from Jaws. But what makes it all work is Kiel’s reactions when he is thwarted, it’s a kinda of annoyed “oh well, I’ll get him next time” sequence. It makes Jaws more human and relatable. We get a good laugh after the thrill and that works perfect. The creators over egg the pudding in Moonraker and it hurts the character, but in The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws is one of the best.

4.  Fiona Volpe Thunderball 1965
But my favorite henchman (hench woman… is that a word?) has to be Fiona. She’s sexy as all hell, confident, deadly and for the bulk of Thunderball’s running time, the most effective minion SPECTRE has. When she blows away a useless minion using a motorcycle that launches rockets, its hard not to fall for this bad girl. I love that she target shoots as well as Largo, our main villain.

After several failed attempts on Bond’s life, Fiona decides to show these jokers how it is done, and she gets damn close to pulling it off. Thunderball is one of my favorite 60s 007 flicks, and Fiona Volpe as performed by Luciana Paluzzi is one of the main reasons.

3. Electra King The World is Not Enough 1999
Most of my readers have figured out by now that I like tough dangerous women in my fiction. So it should be no surprise to see Electra on this list and this high up on it. She is one of the most manipulative and charismatic villains James Bond ever faced. The way she uses 007 and Renard to get what she wants is really remarkable, and never seen again in the franchise.

Sophie Marceau’s magnificent performance is what makes it work. She’s seductive, dark and intense. In her final confrontation with Bond she really gets the better of him, and it is a tense sequence. It is such a shame that her character and performance were attached to a confused script and the fact that the only thing anyone remembers about this movie is Denise Richards.

2. Franz Sanchez License to Kill 1989
The final two villains were really neck and neck, and it was nearly impossible for me to pick one over the other. But in the end I had to. Sanchez is probably the best of the grounded villains in the franchise. He’s not after world domination, or hatching crazy schemes. He’s all about maintaining his drug empire and keeping anyone stupid enough to mess with him out of his way. He is ruthless, but has his own code that we understand and can even respect. He’s a cunning guy, and it becomes obvious how he managed to maintain and control his operation.

Robert Davi’s performance as Sanchez is perfect. I love the relaxed arrogant way he talks to Bond. And he holds his own with Dalton in the scenes they share together. It is hard to tell who is more cold blooded, Sanchez or his pet iguana. Once Bond’s plan to destroy Sanchez’s operation from within kicks into high gear, Davi lets us see the Sanchez lose more and more control until we get to the insane truck chase and the fiery conclusion. Another example where the main villain is a perfect match for Bond and it creates tension and thrills when they face off.

1. 006 Goldeneye 1995
That is why it should come as no surprise that I pick Alec Trevelyan as my favorite James Bond antagonist. He literally is 006, the dark and distorted mirror of James Bond. He has all the same training, the same knowledge and worked closely with Bond on previous missions. When he goes rogue, it raises all kinds of problems, because 006 can literally anticipate 007s every move.

Sean Bean’s performance is what sells the whole thing for me. He’s great in the role of the tarnished superspy. His scenes in the pre-credit sequence we see his camaraderie with James, but also show he is much colder than Bond. His later scenes with Brosnan are great, and the final hand-to-hand battle on top of the radar dish is brutal and intense. Sadly the writing doesn’t really give Bean too much to work with plot wise, but his performance as this most dangerous of characters makes him my favorite.


Who are your favorite Bond villains? Did I leave anyone off the list that should be on? (I know there are some serious Goldfinger fans out there).

Friday, August 21, 2015

Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010)

Introduction:
Nearly ten years after the television series Trigun exploded on both Japanese and American shores, we finally get a film featuring everyone’s favorite walking disaster: Vash the Stampede. The good news is that the creative team behind the film is the same that worked on the television series. Word is that director Nishimura Satoshi wanted to have a good story before tackling the film. Is the wait worth it for Trigun fans, and can newbies enjoy the film without the knowledge of the series?

Summary:
On a small dusty planet in a far-flung solar system, the world is pretty much all a frontier. And the most dangerous man on that world is Vash the Stampede (Johnny Yong Bosch). The whole planet is afraid of him and the destruction that he leaves in his wake. But life must go on even for notorious bank robber Gasback (John Swasey). His goal is to perfect the art of robbing banks and practice makes perfect. He is about to make the biggest and most impressive score yet. But things go really wrong. First off, Gasback’s gang turns on him. But they are prevented by the arrival of Vash (who seems more like a complete doofus rather than a hardened killer and destroyer of towns). Vash’s meddling allows Gasback to be captured, but the gang escapes with the loot.

20 years later Vash is traveling to a new town (and attempting to keep a low profile) when he hears that Gasback has escaped and is looking for revenge on all those involved in that disastrous bank robbery. This results in a huge gathering of bounty hunters to converge on one town to capture Gashback. One of these hunters is the deadly Amelia (Colleen Clnkenbeard) who has a history with the robber. Vash makes it his mission to protect the lovely woman, even if she thinks he’s a complete loser. But things get more complicated as the preacher/hitman Wolfwood (Brad Hawkins) shows up. Then insurance gals Milly (Trina Nishimura) and Meryl (Luci Christian) arrive on the scene with guns ready to blaze. It’s going to come down to a nasty case of revenge, the ultimate heist, and an explosive finale that could only be called a Badlands Rumble,

Good Points:
  • Visual design and style bring us right back to the world of Trigun.
  • Johnny Yong Bosch is back as Vash, and it is like he never left
  • A solid story that gives the character Vash plenty to chew on

Bad Points:
  • New viewers may not catch all the character relationships established in the television series
  • The story is not a continuation of the series, but more like a side story that happened during the same time
  • The mix of humor, action, science fiction and western may not work for some viewers

Overall:
It was a lot of fun to come back to the world of Trigun and hang out with these characters again. Getting Bosch back was great and he nails everything about Vash’s character with his performance. The antagonist is a good one and I like the element that Amelia added to the story (and to challenge Vash’s strong beliefs). But all that aside, because of events that have to happen in the end of the television series, I knew none of the mains were in any real danger, and that this story couldn’t really have a major impact on their lives. It’s a bit of a shame, but understandable. Still, this movie is a lot of fun for fans of Trigun (especially folks who put it on their anime Top 10 list), but I think folks new to the series should start with the television series first

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

In Depth Review

Vash tries working his "magic" on Amelia.
I’m going to be honest and say this movie came out of nowhere, at least for me. I’ve been out of the main anime loop for quite a while, and I had no idea that a Trigun film was even in the works. Why would it be? The series was released in 1998, and was one of the first anime series I collected in full on DVD. I have fond memories of the show. It was one of the first series is reviewed in it’s entirety for the old Anime on DVD website. It was a series that took me by surprise with its unique tone and unique protagonist. I loved the bizarre combination of heavy metal and Morricone style music score by Imahori Tsuneo. And I was one of the few that rated it higher than Cowboy Bebop.

With all that said, it is easy to say that Trigun: Badlands Rumble was made for a fan like me. It brought me back to the familiar dusty world, with some of my favorite characters and gave them a fun adventure to play around with. There was even a touch of pathos as Vash has to come to grips with one of his decisions. It isn’t a game changer, but it wasn’t supposed to be. It is more like the encore you were hoping for.

Vash and Wolfwood are back in action!
When it comes to animation, Studio Madhouse is back, and now they’ve got a film-sized budget. So all the visual creativity of Trigun’s production design returns. Familiar elements, like the giant light bulb shaped generators are on hand. But you get all new steam punk vehicles, lots of that unique character design, and some well-executed action scenes. Some of the details are a bit richer than the series, and some of the action just looks more fluid. It certainly is a leg up on the older series, but you expect that.

Keeping up with the visuals is the sound design and execution. Trigun balances sci-fi and the old west, so you get this mix of creative sound design, with familiar sound effects. They creators maintain that, and with a full-fledged film style mix, this movie just sounds great.

On top of that is the return of Imahori Tsuneo with his distinctive music. Much like Cowboy Bebop or Neon Genesis Evangelion the music for Trigun is unique and immediately recognizable. Imahori combined industrial electronics, rocking electric guitars, banjos, piano into a musical score that helped build this world. Badlands Rumble is more of the same, and it was great to hear the opening credits music kick in (with a rougher edge) when Vash faces Gasback in the finale of the film.

Millie and Meryl keeping the world safe, one
insurance policy at a time.
Trigun had one of the best English dubs for its time. Johnny Yong Bosch embodied so much of Vash’s attitude and personality that I couldn’t imagine a new Trigun adventure without his involvement. For fans of the English dub (and the folks who first saw the series on Toonami) it will be great to hear Bosch back in the saddle. He brings all the energy, the silliness, and the warmth that you need in Vash (as well as a hint of the damaged man deep down). It’s a fine performance, only limited by a script that doesn’t dig too deep.

The rest of the cast is up solid. While all the other roles were recast, care was taking to match vocal styles as much as possible. I loved Lia Sargant as Millie in the original series, but Trina Nishimura does a very good job. Plus, Clinkenbeard and Christian are always dependable in their voice acting. Everyone delivers on all counts.

Amelia's search brings up more than she bargained
for.
For the script, the creators decided to have this story take place somewhere in the middle of the series plotline. I’m guessing it is after the group meets Wolfwood, but before they run into Legato and his crew. So some of the major and important events of the series haven’t happened yet. This allows fans to see all their favorite characters in action before the darker events that change everyone’s look on life. It also means that is plays on established relationships from the series. So anyone new to Trigun may not know why Milly and Meryl are following Vash. Or if Wolfwood is friend or just acting like one.

I see why the creators took this course, because they wanted this to be a fun movie. Trigun starts off as a fun series, but in the second half it gets darker and darker, really examining some thoughtful themes, and putting some characters through the ringer. Part of me wanted to see what the characters (who survived) were up to now. Because of the limitations of the setting of the story, the writers were stuck on writing something that couldn’t affect the end of the series, and couldn’t really impact the characters significantly. Oddly enough Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door had the same issue. But for the more episodic Bebop it was less of an issue.

Badlands? Check! Rumble? Check... oh wait that
was Vash's stomach.
Here I admit, I was a bit disappointed that the movie didn’t dig a little deeper. But in all honesty, that isn’t what this movie is trying to do. It is the fun reunion with old friends. You forget that some of them are going to be killed or emotionally crushed by the end of the series. Instead, you just have a good time.


In the final analysis, that isn’t a bad thing at all. Trigun: Badlands Rumble does play a bit like a turbo-powered episode from the first half of the series. But it also feels like a celebration for the show, giving all your favorite characters a chance to shine. It gives the viewer a chance to see a new part of the world, see some different technology and meet some new characters. But most of all, it was a chance to see and hear Vash in action once again. Trigun’s strength has always been in the character of Vash, and he is the lynchpin for the movie too. It was a blast to have him back, and this makes a fine addition to any Trigun fan’s collection.

If it came down to a duel between bad ass cowgirls,
Amelia would blow Faye Valentine away.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Gravity (2013)

Introduction:
I was thinking about how disaster films are a pretty tried and true genre. But what is interesting is that “disaster in space” movies have been around for a while. You had Marooned, SpaceCamp, Apollo 13 and now this interesting film by Alfonso Cuaron. But the real draw when this came out in theaters was the way 3D was used in the film. Does this movie earn a repeat viewing at home sans 3D?

Summary:
For her first space shuttle mission, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) was hoping for a nice uneventful trip. She just wanted to complete the mission and get back to earth. Veteran astronaut, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is having a great time teasing Stone and flying around on one of the EMUs. Of course disaster has to strike (this is a space disaster film after all). The Russians blow up an old spy satellite and the explosion causes a chain reaction of debris to go hurtling around the earth and directly at the shuttle!

Before they have a time to react Stone is separated from the shuttle and the debris causes massive damage to the ship and crew. Kowalski and Stone soon discover that they are left adrift in orbit without a working ship. But they may have a chance if they can reach one of the space stations orbiting earth… and do it before that cloud of debris comes back around… or they run out of oxygen, or fuel for the EMU. But things start going wrong almost immediately and it becomes clear that the most dangerous enemy could be Gravity.

Good Points:
  • Sandra Bullock gives an excellent performance
  • The visual effects are impressive
  • The film is directed and edited with great skill, building tension perfectly

Bad Points:
  • This film makes the whole space program looks kinda scary and poorly staffed
  • The music treads the line into sound design that may distract some viewers
  • Some of the 3D visuals are sorely missed

Overall:

This movie is a thrill ride pure and simple. It does a fine job establishing a vulnerable character with Stone and then putting her through the paces. The visual effects combined with the tight direction and brisk pace pull you in and don’t let go. But the film also takes a few moments to let you (and Stone) catch a breath before plunging back into the fray. All the parts work great together with the simple but effective script. This movie looked amazing in 3D and it helped make it one of the best thrill rides I’ve seen lately. But it holds up well at home, especially as an example of how to make an effectively paced thrill machine

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 5
Script: 3
Music: 4
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Grand Piano (2013)

Introduction:
You don’t see too many well-crafted thrillers these days. The last one I really enjoyed was Brian DePalma’s Passion. But I think I found one that may be even better. It is certainly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock with its visual style and characters. You may detect a little bit of The Man Who Knew Too Much in there. But don’t worry; this isn’t a remake, but a loving homage to the classic thrill ride.

Summary:
Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is a renowned piano player, one of the best in the world. But after a performance where he froze up playing one of the most complicated pieces of music ever written, he has shunned the spotlight. His wife, Emma (Kerry Bishe) uses her pull as a famous actress to set up a performance for him in Chicago to act as a comeback after his years away from the stage.

Tension begins to build on the night of the performance as Tom is facing his inner demons. But once the performance starts, it gets a whole lot worse. Written on the score he is performing he finds the words “Play one wrong note and you die” written in red. And then next to these words, he sees the telltale dot of a laser scope from a sniper rifle. As the night progresses Tom receives an earpiece and hears a calm voice (John Cusack) telling him that any attempt to get help will cause Emma to be shot, and any failure to play the piece that defeated him all those years ago will end with his death. Tom is trapped… or is he? Will he be able to save his wife and find out the secret of the Grand Piano?

Good Points:
Excellent performance by Elijah Wood, who carries the film
Wonderful musical score by Victor Reyes
A well crafted thriller that keeps things brisk and exciting

Bad Points:
Stretches a few implausible moments to keep the thrills coming
If you don’t like classical music, than the score may annoy you
Some may find the overt Hitchcock style to be too much

Overall:

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 5
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 5
Total:  4

In Depth Review

Tom thought he was just facing himself tonight.
Many times as a film score fan you find yourself watching a poor movie because you like the score and want to see how it works (or doesn’t) for the film. But every once in a while you hear the great buzz on a film score, and then watch the film and are blown away by what you saw. Grand Piano fit that later experience for me. I knew a little bit about the film, hearing it was a thriller, and that Elijah Wood was in it. But the film score fans were mostly talking about the gorgeous score, featuring wonderfully complex piano solos and some powerful orchestral cues. For many it was one of the best film scores of 2013.

And yes, the music is really great. If you like classical piano pieces, there is a doozy that occurs near the end of the film. But most of the music is full orchestra featuring solo moments on the piano. But the genius of the score is that Victor Reyes composes pieces that not only work in context of the story – they sound like actual concert hall pieces. But these cues also work as underscore to the tension, action and thrills that occur during the film. It is a remarkable bit of film scoring, and one that is made even more impressive once you’ve seen the film.

But for anyone who just wants to see a good thriller Grand Piano delivers. Director Eugenio Mira has obviously studied the work of Alfred Hitchcock and the script by Damien Chazelle fits the mold as well. Tom Selznick is the perfect flawed hero. He’s dealing with his personal failure, the fact that his wife is more famous than him, and the fact that he feels that he let down his mentor and teacher by never being able to play that complex piece. In many ways he reminds me of the protagonist from Rear Window.

Emma tries to figure out if Tom is acting strangely
because of nerves, or if something else is going on.
Emma is very much the Hitchcock blonde, tall and cool looking. She is supportive and unflappable. She obviously cares about her husband very much, but also knows what she needs to do to kick his butt in gear to perform again. The first fifteen minutes of the film do a great job establishing Tom and Emma for the audience, as well as build tension as Tom travels from the airport to the concert hall and prepares for the performance.

In fact Mira directs these sequence with enough tension building that really he could sustain this as a straight up character drama. But once Tom turns the page of his score and sees the red writing telling him to play or die, things get really interesting. Mira builds the rest of the film in a very controlled but fluid manner. We learn piece by piece what the voice wants, and what he is willing to do to get it. We discover that he isn’t alone in his plot, and Tom and the viewer aren’t sure whom they can trust.

Grand Piano also manages to capture some of that great pitch black humor that Hitchcock used so well. You’ll find yourself chuckling at times even when a character makes a bloody exit. And while these deaths deliver some humor, they also raise the stakes. These villains are willing to kill innocents. But what are they after? Why does it matter that Tom play the impossible piece perfectly? You’ll need to see the movie to discover the solution to that riddle.

Like a classic Hitchcock protagonist, Tom is alone in the
plot, and not sure who he can trust.
But honestly, you will be entertained. The acting is really well done; with Wood pretty much front and center for the entire film. He does a great job with the early scenes as he deals with the pressures of the performance. But he also does a good job as the film progresses and he does his best to not only continue the concert but also try to stop the dastardly plot. While John Cusack provides plenty of voice work, he isn’t on screen very long. But he manages to put a lot of menace and bitterness in his voice, providing a vivid character and foil to Wood’s performance. I’ve also got to give a shout out to Alex Winter (of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure fame) in an important role that he pulls off really well.

Grand Piano has some excellent visual style to it. Again, you’ll be reminded of some of the clever camera work from Hitchcock and DePalma. But that isn’t a bad thing. We don’t see this kind of framing, camera movement and staging very often any more. Sound effects work fine in the film, but the music is what carries the day. I’ve already written enough about that though.



In the end, Grand Piano is one of the most entertaining modern thrillers I’ve seen in a while. It kept me riveted throughout the film, and the whole package was really impressive. If you’re looking for a good thriller this weekend, I heartily recommend it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Movie Music Musings - Giacchino's 2015

For film score fans 2015 is turning out to be a great year. Lots of fun and exciting music coming out for the the summer season, and plenty of good dramatic scores to look forward to this awards season. I've heard some people lamenting that the films this year aren't too hot, but that is one of the things about being a film score fan - sometimes the crappiest movies have the best music to them (and you can look at my Mining for Goldsmith series to see that in action).

One of my favorite current composers is Michael Giacchino. In 2013 I wrote a whole blog about his work and why I loved it. So when I found out he was going to tackle not two movies, not three, but FOUR big exciting summer films, I was stoked. Giacchino excels in bringing energy and excitement to his film music. 

One of the biggest hits of this summer was Jurassic World, and Giacchino provided the perfect score. He took the template John Williams created back in 1993 and used it as a starting point. Giacchino does uses a few quotes of William's themes, but beyond that he builds his own themes. These are very much Giacchino in style, but they use the same orchestral colors and feel that Williams used. The result is a great fit for the sequel, a shift from the original sound, but still very much part of the same series. Film music fans also got a treat when hints from The Lost World and even a video game for the franchise that Giacchino scored when he was first starting out get little audio cameos. One of the best tracks is As the Jurassic World Turns, featuring Giacchino's wonderful new themes, and ending with a fun quote of John Williams music from the original film.



Michael Giacchino has worked with director Brad Bird and Pixar for a number of years. So it was really no surprise that he would be working again with both this year. Brad Bird helmed the poorly reviewed Tomorrowland, a film that seemed to have quite a bit of potential, but appears to have an ending that makes the journey feel hollow. One thing that didn't feel hollow was the music. Gicchino captures the spirit of wonder, adventure and fun in this score. It is optimistic and really reminds me of The Rocketeer in places. This score is a bit repetitive. However, Giacchino really does some interesting things with his simple theme. Check out this track, The Pin-Ultimate Experience to hear some uplifting adventure music.



Teaming up with the folks at Pixar won Michael Giacchino an academy award of Up. So expectations were pretty high for his music to Inside Out. For this film Giacchino went to his jazzier side, something he did really well with for The Incredibles, Speed Racer and portions of his Mission:Impossible scores. His main theme is really cute and memorable. But he crafts several key themes, creates some bouncy traveling music and even some thrills an spills along the way. It doesn't have the gravitas of the three other scores, but it really is non-stop fun and so energetic. It just might be my favorite of the four. So many great tracks on this album, but I'm gonna share The Joy of Credits. This is a wonderful end credits suite that takes you on a trip through all the themes from the film.




But if you are craving some huge adventure scoring, gigantic moments of choir and some huge orchestral bombast, then the score to Jupiter Ascending is the one to seek out. This is a massive score accompanying one of the worst reviewed films of the year. But Giacchino's music is film score gold. It has wonderful themes, moments of beauty, chaos, power. The action sequences are some of the best action writing he's ever penned. His villain theme is wicked and snaky, but gets some overwhelming power behind it in places. Giacchino was asked to write some suites for the film before he even saw it. Given a basic concept for the film he went to work and created four movements that are really the heart of the score. My favorite is 3rd Movement a tremendous building cue that just brings the house down. This huge score actually required a 2 CD release, and for many is one of the best film scores of 2015.



So yeah, Michael Giacchino has had a banner year. And fans of his music have been enjoying it too. I think he's going to take a little break, but I can't wait to see (and hear) what he cooks up for 2016.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Apollo 13 (1995)

Introduction:
I admit it, I don’t often give Ron Howard the director his due. The man made some really entertaining movies and handled some impressive and large-scale films. While he doesn’t have a distinctive visual style, his movies are always well crafted and often entertain. But one of my favorites has to be this glimpse into an incident that occurring during the Apollo moon missions that I never heard about… until this movie came out. Way to got high school history!

Summary:
Astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) is finally going to go to the moon. With Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) at his side, they are going to make the Apollo 13 mission of 1970 one to remember. Little do they know that is going to be infamous instead of famous.

During their approach toward the moon, alarms go off followed by a horrifying sound and shaking of the module. The astronauts spring into action and find that technical and mechanical problems abound. Their oxygen is fading fast and key components of the ship are damaged beyond repair. Forget going to the moon, these three men have to worry about being able to get back to Earth. Luckily mission control has Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) on deck to help them out. But as the hours go by and the peril increases, the world waits to see if the Apollo 13 mission will be a tragic loss or a heroic victory.

Good Points:
  • Howard captures the look of the era very well
  • The film does a wonderful job building tension and anxiety
  • The amazing cast does a fine job brining the movie to life

Bad Points:
  • No surprises here if you know about this historical event
  • Lacks some of the artistry of something like The Right Stuff
  • Tom Hanks is in it… one of 1 million movies he made in the 1990s

Overall:
Just about everything in this movie works. It builds up anticipation for the Apollo 13 mission and allows you get to know the main characters. Then it puts them in peril and doesn’t let up until the final few minutes of the movie. It is a wonderful exercise in tension and suspense. But more than that, it shows how dangerous space travel was (and still is) and how it takes a huge team of people to pull off these amazing journeys. Visually the film holds up remarkably well, and despite a rather workmanlike approach to the material, this is one of Ron Howard’s best films.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 5
Script: 4
Music: 5
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 5
Total:  5

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.   

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Flesh + Blood (1985)

Introduction:
So we had that bit of fantasy film explosion in the 1980s. Movies like Excalibur and Beastmaster were exciting folks and getting them interested in seeing more sword and sorcery adventures. Well director Paul Verhoeven felt that those movies were missing out on the real fun elements of the middle ages: bloody impulsive violence, raping, pillaging and plague. He decided to rectify that with a movie that put the middle ages into perspective, and no this isn’t like something you’d see at a ren faire. No, it is a Paul Verhoeven film, and that should tell you just what you are in for.

Summary:
Martin (Rutger Hauer) leads a merry band of mercenaries who loves nothing more than killing, looting, and raping. They are guided by the experienced wit of Hawkwood (Jack Thompson), and are hired by the Lord Arnolfini (Fernando Hilbeck) to reclaim his walled town. After Martin and his band achieve victory Arnolfini decides he doesn’t want to pay Martin and is group for their hard work.  He uses Hawkwood to turn the tables on Martin and the group leaves the battle without a coin or a wench.

Meanwhile, Steven (Tom Burlinson), son of the Lord is about to meet his betrothed, Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Steven is a clever young man who fancies himself the next Divinci when it comes to mechanics and construction. But he is not a fighter. So when Agnes is kidnapped by Martin and his crew, Steven must go to Hawkwood for aid. While they come up with a plan and attempt to hunt Martin down, the mercenaries have their way with Agnes. But she uses her charms and wits to get into their good graces. Has Agnes fallen for her rough and ready bad boy, or is she secretly waiting for Steven to save her? The fate of all will be told in the meeting of Flesh + Blood. Ronald Lacey, Brion James and Bruno Kirby round out the cast.

Good Points:
  • Some impressive medieval production design and visuals
  • The action set pieces are well filmed and memorable
  • A bold and explosive musical score by Basil Poledouris

Bad Points:
  • So heavy on the gore and sex that you could call it exploitative
  • American accents in medieval European film may distract some viewers
  • Those looking for some sorcery with the sword will be disappointed

Overall:
Verhoeven makes an in your face aggressive and exploitative historical adventure film. Martin and his crew are real mercenaries, and brutes on top of it. But the nobles are just as bad with the horrible way they treat just about everyone including their own family. Not a likable character in the bunch, but the film moves at a great pace with lots of energy. While going for a more realistic view of the late middle ages, it also manages to comment on the power of religious faith (and how it can be abused) and the futility of striving against the brutality of humans. A solid film if you have the stomach for it.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 5
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.