My Thoughts on: Fate: The Winx Saga (2021)

When I received the opportunity to check out Fate: The Winx Saga on Netflix I was really excited about it. I love stories about magic and fairies and the fact that this show centers around five female leads was a big plus going in. For those not familiar, Fate: The Winx Saga follows a school full of fairies learning about magic while strange and deadly mysteries unfold later forcing them to save the world (predictable but usually satisfying fantasy fare). I plugged in the first episode, ready for whatever adventures lay ahead.

And almost instantly got bored.

Fate: The Winx Saga has committed the almost unpardonable sin of making magic mundane. Sure, we hear that the show’s central location is located in the “Otherworld” but the Otherworld sure looks a heck of a lot like our world. Add in a regular looking school building (with the exception of a cool Stonehenge like circle), regular looking dorm suites, even regular looking cars! Except for the instances of magic (which are admittedly cool when they happen), the school setting of the show feels like any other teen drama set at an elite boarding school. I missed the fantasy clothing, magic animals, heck, even some pointed ears would’ve helped. Everyone looked normal and in a story set in a fantasy world, that’s not a good thing.

And speaking of drama, my God this entire show is one giant cliche. There’s the predictable love triangle, the entitled “mean girl” student who manipulates everyone around her to get whatever she wants, the adorkable one with one moment of awesomeness, and of course the completely out-of-her-depth new to this world student who we’re supposed to be rooting for. I can’t watch regular teen dramas for a reason, and let me tell you adding magic to the mix does NOT make it better. In fact, the scenes with the “mean girl” were so on the nose that I almost got triggered with my own memories of being bullied as a child and a teen (I really hate shows that trigger me like that).

I also have a major problem with whoever wrote the dialogue for this show. The exposition dumps are….okay, and they do a fairly good job with explaining how the elemental magic works in the show, but the teen to teen dialogue is…oh boy, it’s bad, it’s really bad. A lot of it feels so clumsily written, like they had a great idea and very little idea of how to execute it. For instance, the show blurts out a huge twist in the FIRST episode. And when I say huge, I mean this is the kind of twist that should have come halfway through the season or later, not something you find out in the first 30 minutes. And even before you find out, the dialogue leading up to the reveal is so bad that it’s obvious what’s coming.

I admit, I couldn’t finish the first season, if the first few episodes couldn’t win me over, there’s not much the last few episodes could do to change my mind. Fate: The Winx Saga takes a great premise and utterly ruins it with the execution. I wish it had been otherwise, but I am not a fan of this show.

Let me know what you think about Fate: The Winx Saga in the comments below and have a great day!

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Creating Music Good Enough to Eat: Speaking with Composer Enis Rotthoff about ‘Love Sarah’

I recently had the opportunity to talk with composer Enis Rotthoff about his work on Love Sarah, a touching film about a daughter who works to open the bakery her mother always wanted with the help of her grandmother. Rotthoff’s composer credits include “Guns Akimbo” starring Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving, “The Sunlit Night” starring Gillian Anderson, Jenny Slate, and Zach Galifianakis, as well as Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize nominee “Wetlands.” Rotthoff started his musical career working under Academy Award-winning composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (Finding Neverland). Rotthoff’s soundtrack album for Love Sarah will be available January 22, 2021.

Enjoy!

First, could you tell me about how you became a film composer?

As a ten-year-old I was fascinated by the music in films. I would memorize the melodies of the film scores in order to try to play them at the piano later. It was an early love for film music in a very playful way. At some point I started improvising on the piano and began journaling my emotions into little piano pieces which turned into my first compositions.

As a teenager I was so passionate about film music that I tried to learn as much as I could about films and their scores. A scholarship for young composers during my high school years is what gave me the foundation to study the works of classical composers and film composers. After high school, I studied Film Scoring at the Film University Babelsberg and Audiovisual Communication at the University of Arts Berlin. What really added to my journey was being an assistant to Academy Award-Winning Composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. With all of these experiences I felt ready to start this life-long adventure of composing for films and to enjoy the beauty in that.

How did you get connected to Love Sarah and what did you think of the film’s premise? It actually took me by surprise what the film was about, I misread it first and when I realized what it was about, I was very surprised.

The director Eliza Schroeder and I had met a decade before to work on a short film together. Because of scheduling conflicts, our collaboration did not happen back then. I was amazed to hear from her so many years later and she asked me if I was interested in scoring her debut feature Love Sarah.

The first thing she shared with me was a little teaser trailer about the film with first impressions of some scenes. When I saw the tasty desserts, the beautiful dancing scenes, the deep felt emotions and the uplifting energy of the film I was immediately drawn to it.

The story is about a daughter who wants to realize her deceased mother’s dream of opening a bakery in Notting Hill (London) with the help of her grandmother and her mother’s best friend.

The film has elements of drama, comedy, romance and a sense of presence in the scenes that I found refreshingly positive.

How did the collaboration process with director Eliza Schroeder work? Was it mostly a discussion before scoring began or was it a collaboration throughout, from beginning to end?

Our collaboration was very close and at the same time I had lots of space to experiment and come up with ideas. 

The film is directed in a way that every scene moves towards something. Even in moments of a feeling of emptiness the film moves forward. I was inspired by that.

In our conversations, Eliza gave me many emotional directions for the film but did not tell me how to achieve it with the music. Once I presented my musical ideas in connection with the film’s scenes, we discussed in more detail what to adjust and what to highlight. Eliza is an amazing filmmaker to work with.

How did you approach scoring a film like Love Sarah? Did you start with an over-arching theme, or a musical concept? In general, where did the score start and how did it grow as it came together?

The opening sequence connects all of our main characters, so the complexity of the beginning was high. We took a lot of time to adjust and fine-tune that sequence. Usually the Opening Titles (Album Track: Meet Sarah) would not be the first thing I´d approach on a film but we took the opportunity to create themes for all story lines and characters and incorporated them in the Opening Titles. 

In a way, the first music you hear in the film is like an Overture introducing the many emotional layers of the film. All themes are related to each other and to Sarah, whose passing away is the reason for all these characters to meet. So there is an idea of hope built into the concept.

Interestingly if I think of growing a score I’d think that it might build towards the end of the film. In the case of Love Sarah the music starts very energetically and builds over the course of the film. But the very end is reflective, healing and leaves lots of space. I love that, because for me clarity and healing can happen in calm moments.

On a possibly related note, how was it decided to make the music so whimsical? It sounds like a lot of fun in so many places, something I wasn’t expecting in a film that starts like it does. What was the thought process behind that? (I really like the whimsy, it makes the music a lot of fun to listen to).

I am glad that it transpires. Eliza early on said that she wanted the film to be hopeful. I liked that a lot and could also see it in the performances of the actors. It was a fine line to find the balance between deep felt emotions and a life-affirming sense of positivity. 

Since the film is also about the magic of baking and the adventure of opening up a bakery, this gave room to make the emotional journey fun and inspiring on the musical side. It is a message of the film, to stay positive in the face of painful events and experiences. 

For this one scene where the music is composed to this character who is dancing (instead of the other way around), how did that come about? It’s very rare for film music to be written in that fashion, was that decided from the beginning? Or was it tried the other way (dance moves choreographed to music) and it just wasn’t working out?

This was one of the gifts of the film. The scene of the character dancing did not have any music. It was a free dance performance. Beautifully done by actress Shannon Tarbet. That scene represented a moment of reflection, self expression, healing and the feeling of being in charge of your own destiny. Something very positive.

We decided that I´d compose music to her performances which was truly inspiring. I found myself studying and channeling every move of her dance. Sometimes I was going with the body movement, sometimes with the flow, sometimes with the overarching energy of that movement. I found myself creating a choreography on top of a choreography where the music and the dancer sometimes precisely meet and sometimes divert. It was a wonderful experience for me as a composer which I hope to build on in the future. 

What were the challenges of scoring a film in the midst of a global pandemic? Did this negatively impact the process or were you able to work around it fairly well?

The film was luckily finished before the pandemic. However, the release was delayed because of the pandemic.

Do you have a favorite part of the score?

My favorite parts are the dance sequence (Album track: The Final Dance), the moment where the bakery opens (Album track: Opening The Bakery) and the moment Mimi has an idea for how to create the right desserts. (Album track: A Home Away from Home)

What do you hope listeners take away with them when they hear the music to Love Sarah?

I wish that the music gives them a sense of hope. And that there is beauty both in sad and hopeful moments. That’s how I feel about the film and its music. That all feelings and experiences in the film can be enjoyed. And maybe that’s something to take with us into our lives.

One last thing, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your work on this film! The music is gorgeous!

Thank you so very much. It was my pleasure and thank you for the great interview.

I hope you enjoyed my interview with composer Enis Rotthoff about his work on Love Sarah. Just as a reminder, the OST for Love Sarah will be coming out tomorrow January 22, 2021.

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Soundtrack Review: All Evolutionz EP (2020)

All Evolutionz aka 全進化 aka Zen Shinka is the latest project by Enso, perhaps best known as the founder of XXX Hong Kong, an underground gallery and nightclub in operation from 2011-2018. This is the fourth music release of 2020 under the new XXX Records imprint, capping off a prolific year for both Enso and the new label.

All tracks on All Evolutionz EP are produced by Enso, and feature an orchestral / film score style that is a natural extension of his Palimpsest EP released earlier this year. All Evolutionz EP comprises a six-chapter story of melancholy, loss and wonder, expertly voiced by studio piano and strings instrumentation. Japanese language vocals are supplied by Yo Zi, while the alternate English vocal versions are produced using Vocaloid, a Japanese synthesized voice software.

Despite his reputation as a bass music club DJ, Enso cites some surprising musical influences:

“I love artists such as James Blake, but I actually listen to a lot of film scores. I am most inspired by the composers Clint Mansell and Max Richter, and have actually made a ritual of listening to Górecki’s third symphony each year on my birthday, since I was a teenager.”

As for the name “All Evolutionz,” Enso explains, “it is inspired by Pokémon and relates to the idea of constant growth, transformation and development.”

I was curious to see what All Evolutionz EP was all about as it’s not every day I get a vinyl record in the mail to check out. Imagine my delight, then, when I opened the record up and found a vinyl record that was bright yellow! This makes the entire record eye-catching and really pretty (it was an added bonus also because I’ve never owned a record that wasn’t black before).

The music itself was very relaxing, it reminded me of several anime soundtracks where there are long stretches filled with vocalizations while the characters contemplate life and existence. Honestly I would happily listen to this music over and over again for relaxation purposes. That being said, I did find the English language portions of the music a little….odd? I think odd is the best word for it, it wasn’t bad but it did sound unusual to my ears.

I also really love that this album had a vinyl release at all. It’s so cool that vinyl has made a comeback. They’re really cool to collect, and it makes for a fun experience to watch the vinyl spin while you listen to it.

All Evolutionz EP turned out to be an enjoyable experience and I’m glad I got the chance to check it out.

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The Curious Case of Apollo 13 (1995) and Art Garfunkel’s “All I Know” (1973)

Of the many film scores that James Horner worked on during his career, Apollo 13 (1995) remains one of my favorites. Horner’s music leaves you on the edge of your seat as you watch the highs and lows of the infamous Apollo 13 mission. A notable example is a cue titled “The Launch”, which covers the scene where Apollo 13 blasts off into space. It’s classic James Horner; a stirring melody that slowly grows until it fairly explodes with the moment of launch. And yet…this particular cue hid a secret that I was unaware of for many years, and that’s what this article will be talking about.

I really should give credit for this to my mother, since she’s the one who made the connection first. Growing up, almost every time we reached the launch scene in Apollo 13 she’d pause and say something to the effect of “I know I’ve heard that melody somewhere else.” But she could never remember where, and so the matter would always drop. Then, a few years ago, when we were on a trip together, it finally hit my mom where she’d heard this particular piece before: it formed the base of an Art Garfunkel song from 1973 titled “All I Know.” I was understandably skeptical of this assertion, until I located the song in question and hit the play button, James Horner’s music fresh in my mind for a comparison.

Almost immediately, my jaw dropped to the floor. The melody of “All I Know” and a particular section of “The Launch” were more than similar, they were practically identical. Here are the respective pieces for comparison:

First, “The Launch” from Apollo 13 (relevant section starts at 6:11)

And now, “All I Know” from Art Garfunkel’s album Angel Clare (relevant section begins at 0:25)

This is undoubtedly the same melody, which begs the question, why did James Horner seemingly appropriate it? That’s what the bulk of this discussion will be about. As it stands, there are several possibilities for why James Horner would have chosen to incorporate the melody of “All I Know” into his score for Apollo 13. These include:

  1. The song was popular at the time the film’s events took place
  2. The lyrics of the song expressed a sentiment appropriate for the film and therefore Horner included it.
  3. Horner simply liked the melody and appropriated it for the film’s score.

The first possibility can be discarded almost immediately. While “All I Know” was released in 1973, the events of Apollo 13 took place in April of 1970. Therefore, this song would’ve been unknown at the time the incident took place. It is, however, plausible that Horner was looking for songs from that general time period to incorporate into the score, and may have included it even though there’s three years separation between the song and the film’s events.

The second possibility shows a little more promise, that being that perhaps James Horner chose to incorporate this song because the lyrics of the song expressed a sentiment appropriate for the film.

I bruise you
You bruise me
We both bruise too easily
Too easily to let it show
I love you and that’s all I know

All my plans
Have fallen through
All my plans depend on you
Depend on you to help them grow
I love you and that’s all I know

When the singer’s gone
Let the song go on

But the ending always comes at last
Endings always come too fast
They come too fast
But they pass too slow
I love you and that’s all I know

When the singer’s gone
Let the song go on
It’s a fine line between the darkness and the dawn

I could almost make the argument that this song bears the tiniest bit of relevance to the plot, that being the unending love between James and Marilyn Lovell. However, I can’t quite make it work because the times the melody shows up in the film doesn’t work.

That leaves the third possibility, and the likely answer: James Horner at some point heard this song, liked what he heard, and wrote it into the film’s score. It’s not unheard of for film composers to do such a thing, it happens way more often than you might think and Horner was particularly notorious for doing it. With that being said, one thing still puzzles me: why wasn’t the song cited in the end credits? I’ve double and triple checked the credits for Apollo 13, just to make sure I wasn’t missing it, and “All I Know” isn’t cited at any point. Unfortunately, fate has conspired to make sure that Horner isn’t here to ask about it, though I’d like to think he left some notes somewhere that would explain how “All I Know” ended up in the score of Apollo 13.

This is only a preliminary look at this interesting example, hopefully someday I’ll have the chance to analyze this example in full and find out the whole story.

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Soundtrack News: ‘Looney Tunes: Back in Action’ and ‘Babe’ Soundtracks Available Exclusively from Varèse Sarabande Records

Varèse Sarabande Records is thrilled to unveil its January 2021 CD Club titles: Looney Tunes: Back in Action (The Deluxe Edition) by Jerry Goldsmith and Babe (The Deluxe Edition) by Nigel Westlake, which are now available exclusively on VareseSarabande.com.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (The Deluxe Edition):

The final film score of Jerry Goldsmith’s legendary career gets a long-awaited CD Club treatment: Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) reunited Goldsmith with director Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace, Matinee) for an insane musical journey befitting Warner Bros.’ classic cartoon characters, with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck starring in a live-action/animation hybrid alongside human characters played by Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Timothy Dalton and Steve Martin.

The globetrotting adventure demanded one of Goldsmith’s zaniest scores ever, a sort of indescribable combination of slapstick, action and whimsy that lurches from high-energy symphonic chases to pop-influenced flourishes to Carl Stalling-styled “Mickey Mousing.” All of it has Goldsmith’s effortlessly melodic touch, with the special brand of left-field inspiration that always accompanied his work for Dante.

Previously released by Varèse Sarabande at the time of the movie, this comprehensive 2-CD set features not only Goldsmith’s vastly expanded score, but rewrites and additional music by John Debney, Cameron Patrick and a handful of others—as well as alternates and outtakes by Goldsmith and the complete 2003 album program. Packaging features new liner notes by Daniel Schweiger (incorporating new interviews with Dante, Debney and Patrick) and Goldsmith’s longtime friend and recording engineer, Bruce Botnick.

TRACK LISTING

DISC 1:

  1. Looney Tunes Opening (What’s Up Doc?) / Rabbit Fire (1:09)
  2. What’s Up? (1:25)
  3. Another Take (:48)
  4. Dead Duck Walking (3:14)
  5. She Likes You (:46)
  6. The Shimmy / Out Of The Bag / Save Dad / The Car (3:53)
  7. Not A Billion (:45)
  8. Blue Monkey (:58)
  9. Extra Crispy (:36)
  10. The Shower / Psycho Parody (1:15)
  11. In Style (1:10)
  12. The Bad Guys (2:57)
  13. Hit Me (:30)
  14. Car Trouble / Flying High (3:46)
  15. Hurry Up (:25)
  16. Nice Hair / Burning Tail (:55)
  17. A Visit To Walmart / Free Drinks (:36)
  18. Wrong Turn Coyote (:54)
  19. The Launch (:27)
  20. Thin Air (1:26)
  21. Area 52 (Take 54) (1:29)
  22. You’re Next (:25)
  23. Wacky Marvin In The Jar (:49)
  24. Hot Pursuit (2:26)
  25. We’ve Got Company / Man And A Woman / I’ll Take That (3:21)
  26. The Painting / The Scream / It Is Spring / Bugs with Mandolin (3:20)
  27. The Red Balloon (:26)
  28. Paris Street (1:22)
  29. Free Fall (1:17)
  30. The Hook / Africa (:33)
  31. Tasmanian Devil (1:09)
  32. Jungle Scene (1:42)
  33. Pressed Duck (3:26)
  34. Re-Assembled (:51)
  35. Waiting For A Train (2:49)
  36. A New Puppy (3:06)
  37. To The Rescue (4:24)
  38. Heroes (2:39)
  39. Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (That’s All Folks!) (:16)
  40. End Title Suite (5:17)

DISC 2:

  1. What’s Up? (1:29)
  2. Another Take #9 (:53)
  3. Trumpet Wa-Wa (:07)
  4. The Shimmy (:12)
  5. Out Of The Bag (1:17)
  6. The Car, Part 1 (:15)
  7. The Car, Part 2 (:12)
  8. Psycho (:37)
  9. Car Trouble (3:22)
  10. Wrong Turn, Part 1 (1:14)
  11. Wrong Turn, Part 2 (:25)
  12. Wrong Turn, Part 3 (1:08)
  13. The Launch (:30)
  14. The Blue Danube / The Barber of Seville / Can Can (:36)
    15 Vivaldi Concerto (:15)
  15. The Hook (:29)
  16. Pressed Duck (3:39)
  17. Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (That’s All Folks!) (:23)

The Original 2003 Soundtrack Album:

  1. Life Story (:19)
  2. What’s Up? (1:25)
  3. Another Take (:48)
  4. Dead Duck Walking (3:14)
  5. Out Of The Bag (3:44)
  6. Blue Monkey (:54)
  7. In Style (1:09)
  8. The Bad Guys (2:56)
  9. Car Trouble (3:46)
  10. Thin Air (1:26)
  11. Area 52 (1:29)
  12. Hot Pursuit (2:26)
  13. We’ve Got Company (1:50)
  14. I’ll Take That (1:22)
  15. Paris Street (1:21)
  16. Free Fall (1:15)
  17. Tasmanian Devil (1:09)
  18. Jungle Scene (1:40)
  19. Pressed Duck (3:22)
  20. Re-Assembled (:52)
  21. Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (That’s All Folks!) (:55)

Music Composed and Conducted by Jerry Goldsmith, Additional Music by John Debney • Produced by Jerry Goldsmith • Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony

Babe (The Deluxe Edition):

Babe was a massive surprise hit in 1995. A children’s film starring a talking pig seemed to be the last thing anybody expected from visionary filmmaker George Miller (Mad Max). Writer-producer Miller adapted the 1983 book with director and cowriter Chris Noonan, and created a universally praised, moving film about a farm pig (a combination of animatronics and computer graphics) who longs to be a sheepdog. With a memorable lead performance by James Cromwell as Babe’s farmer-owner, Babe received glowing reviews and seven OSCAR® nominations, winning for Best Visual Effects.

A major part of Babe’s exquisite, perfectly pitched storybook tone is the charming, resonant symphonic score by Australian composer Nigel Westlake. Westlake interpolated a tapestry of classical works, most notably the maestoso section of Saint-Saëns’ third (Organ) symphony, to perfectly capture the human emotions of the film’s animal characters, while ironically treating the humans with an animal-like comedy and whimsy. (The Saint-Saëns melody had been adapted into the British reggae pop hit “If I Had Words” by Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley; a sped-up version is used in Babe’s end credits.)

Babe was released as a music-and-dialogue album at the time of the film. This CD Club edition features the expanded score as music only, packaged with a new essay by Tim Greiving featuring insights from Miller, Noonan, Cromwell and Westlake.

TRACK LISTING

  1. Opening Titles (From The Motion Picture Babe) – Piggery (4:02)
  2. Fairground (Extended Version) (3:16)
  3. I Want My Mum / The Way Things Are (4:40)
  4. Fly Would Never / Crime And Punishment (3:50)
  5. Anorexic Duck Pizzicati (Extended Version) (3:21)
  6. Repercussions / Into The Knackery (2:23)
  7. Pig, Pig, Piggy / Mother And Son (2:28)
  8. Pork Is A Nice Sweet Meat (3:26)
  9. Christmas Morning (Extended Version) (5:08)
  10. Separate The Chickens / Round Up (2:37)
  11. Babe’s Round Up (Extended Version) (3:59)
  12. Mad Dog Rex (1:14)
  13. The Sheep Pig (Extended Version) (1:47)
  14. Dog Tragedy (1:36)
  15. Hoggett Shows Babe / Maa’s Death (2:58)
  16. Home Pig / Hoggett With Gun (2:48)
  17. Pig Of Destiny / Up To Trouble (3:29)
  18. The Cat / What Are Pigs For (2:26)
  19. Where’s Babe / Hoggett’s Song (3:23)
  20. Babe In The Kitchen / Help For Babe (4:32)
  21. Baa Ram Ewe / Rex On Truck (1:46)
  22. The Gauntlet / Moment Of Truth (Extended Version) (1:45)
  23. Finale – That’ll Do, Pig, That’ll Do (1:39)
  24. If I Had Words (2:54)
  25. Toreador Aria (Excerpt) (:22)
  26. Pork Is A Nice Sweet Meat (With Vocals) (3:51)
  27. Blue Moon (Excerpt) (:40)
  28. Cantique de Jean Racine (Excerpt) (:41)
  29. If I Had Words (Hoggett’s Song) (1:52)

Music Composed and Produced by Nigel Westlake
Performed by the Victorian Philharmonic Orchestra

Let me know if you’ll be picking either of these soundtracks up and have a great day!

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Soundtrack Review: A Perfect Planet (2021)

Sony Music today released A Perfect Planet (SOUNDTRACK FROM THE BBC SERIES) with music by composer Ilan Eshkeri (Stardust, The Young Victoria, Ghost of Tsushima). The album features the music from Eshkeri’s fourth collaboration with Sir David Attenborough, the legendary naturalist who will narrate the BBC series.

Regarding the music for A Perfect Planet, composer Ilan Eshkeri had the following to say:

“Creating the music for A Perfect Planet has been a hugely rewarding experience. The series celebrates the extraordinary world we are a part of as well as showing the delicate balance of the systems that support life, and what we need to do to ensure its future stability. It’s a message that’s very important to me and one that I believe we have a responsibility to engage with – in a way that not only educates but inspires the next generation. This influenced my approach to the music, and set me on an unconventional path. Composing the music for A Perfect Planet has also been enormously challenging – not least because of the unprecedented logistical issues of trying to record an orchestra during the lockdown! I’m grateful to everyone at the BBC and [production company] Silverback who supported me and the ideas I threw at them and I hope my music can play a small part in helping to inspire change.”

The music for A Perfect Planet is gorgeous. As you might expect for a soundtrack accompanying a series highlighting the wide variety of life on Earth, Ilan Eshkeri has created a veritable symphony that serves as the perfect complement to the visual elements of the series. This isn’t like some documentaries where the music is meant to fade into the background as much as possible. Here, in a series like A Perfect Planet, the music and the visuals are equals to each other. In this kind of story, it’s okay if the music stands out, as many times we’re left to watch the animals move about in their environment

One thing about this music that jumped out at me was the concept of balance, a very important concept especially when you think about the climate change currently tearing our planet apart. Eshkeri starts the music off with two tracks titled “A Perfect Planet” and “A Perfect Balance” and in each of these pieces the composer creates a feeling of balance by filling the music with arpeggios, chords broken down and spelled out in upward and downward motion. Repeated uses of arpeggios can create a “seesaw” feeling in the music that gives one the sense of something being carefully balanced. What’s more, these arpeggios return throughout the soundtrack, reinforcing the idea that the music is ultimately about balance in life and nature and that’s something I love very much.

I also enjoy the wide range of instruments featured in this soundtrack. It’s all orchestral, but some sections focus more on the strings, some more on the woodwinds, it all shifts based on which animals (or environments) are being highlighted. Honestly, the music is so soothing I would happily listen to this soundtrack all day long, even without seeing the documentary that goes with it. This is the second soundtrack by Ilan Eshkeri that I’ve listened to, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I can’t wait to see what he creates next.

A PERFECT PLANET (SOUNDTRACK FROM THE BBC SERIES) TRACKLISTING –

  1. A Perfect Planet
  2. A Perfect Balance (Episode 1 – Volcanoes)
  3. Wildebeest (Episode 1 – Volcanoes)
  4. Flamingos (Episode 1 – Volcanoes)
  5. Vampire Finches (Episode 1 – Volcanoes)
  6. Bears (Episode 1 – Volcanoes)
  7. Volcanoes (Episode 1 – Volcanoes)
  8. Sunlight (Episode 2 – Sunlight)
  9. Gibbons (Episode 2 – Sunlight)
  10. Arctic Foxes (Episode 2 – The Sun)
  11. Silver Ants (Episode 2 – The Sun)
  12. Autumn (Episode 2 – The Sun)
  13. Snub-Nosed Monkeys (Episode 2 – The Sun)
  14. Sooty Shearwaters (Episode 2 – The Sun)
  15. Fire Ants (Episode 3 – Weather)
  16. Giant River Turtles (Episode 3 – Weather)
  17. Red Crabs (Episode 3 – Weather)
  18. Summer (Episode 3 – Weather)
  19. Dry Season Pt. 1 (Episode 3 – Weather)
  20. Dry Season Pt. 2 (Episode 3 – Weather)
  21. A Changing Climate (Episode 3 – Weather)
  22. Marine Iguana (Episode 4 – Oceans)
  23. Cuttlefish (Episode 4 – Oceans)
  24. Mangroves (Episode 4 – Oceans)
  25. Manta Rays (Episode 4 – Oceans)
  26. Spring (Episode 4 – Oceans)
  27. Hardyheads (Episode 4 – Oceans)
  28. Rockhopper Penguins (Episode 4 – Oceans)
  29. Eden’s Whales (Episode 4 – Oceans)
  30. Elephant Orphans (Episode 5 – Humans)
  31. Climate Refugees (Episode 5 – Humans)
  32. The Rainforest (Episode 5 – Humans)
  33. Reforestation (Episode 5 – Humans)
  34. A Changing Planet (Episode 5 – Humans)

A Perfect Planet premiered on January 3, 2021 on BBC One, and will consist of five episodes. Let me know what you think about A Perfect Planet (and its music) in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: First Blood (1982)

I’m a sucker for movie deals, so when the opportunity came up to get all 5 Rambo films on blu-ray (despite never seeing any of them before) I took it. And I decided to kick off 2021 by watching a series of movie franchises that should take me through to the end of May, and I decided to start with the Rambo films, the first of which is First Blood from 1982.

I must’ve read the summary for First Blood a dozen times, but in no way did it prepare me for what I saw. Considering this film is almost 40 years old, the plot feels scarily relevant given how 2020 saw a major reckoning take place regarding police brutality. Seriously, the opening scenes with the deputies roughing up Rambo (especially after it’s hinted in brief flashbacks that the former soldier was tortured in Vietnam) are extremely hard to watch and I came this close to bailing on the film altogether. What really sticks with me though? The fact that not so long ago I would’ve found it hard to believe that police officers could act this way, but after the last few years…now it feels all too real. The people meant to protect us can be monstrous. I know that doesn’t excuse everything Rambo does in retaliation, but come on, have you seen what they did to Rambo? It’s so messed up!

The entire film is a not-so-subtle message about PTSD and what happens when you finely tune a man to be a killing machine for the military only to turn them loose into a civilian life that (seemingly) doesn’t care about them or what they endured during their service. Knowing that, my sympathy was with Rambo from pretty much the beginning, especially since he makes it clear he just wants to move on his way and be left alone. To think, all of the chaos that happens in the climax of the film happens because a smarmy sheriff just couldn’t let Rambo be. I have no sympathy for Teasle, he brought all this upon himself even after receiving numerous warnings to let it go.

And then there’s the character of Col. Trautman, the one who recruited and trained Rambo into what he became. He seems to be the lone voice of reason in this crazy story, but I do think Teasle was right about one thing: Trautman knows he’s partially responsible because he trained Rambo in the first place, so I think subconsciously he is there to cover himself before anything else happens. But at the same time I also think Trautman is sincere in his desire to help Rambo and if you want to see some good acting, watch Trautman’s reactions to Rambo’s breakdown at the end of the film.

I also really liked the scene where Rambo takes out (more or less) the deputies trying to hunt him down in the woods (the ones Rambo filled with booby traps). It’s actually quite scary and intense, with the lightning storm going on and never quite knowing when Rambo is going to pop up or when a trap will be triggered.

First Blood is an intense film, but one I ultimately enjoyed watching. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here.

Let me know what you think about First Blood in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Spartacus (1960)

Thanks to my parents I watched my fair share of epic films growing up. The big three that we would watch at least once a year were Ben-Hur (1959), The Ten Commandments (1956) and Spartacus (1960). The latter is set out as a (very loose) retelling of the story of Spartacus (a real person by the way), who led a slave revolt in Capua that became known to history as the Third Servile War.

I used to have very mixed feelings about Spartacus. When I was little, the first half of this film used to bore me to tears because it was a lot of talking about things I didn’t understand while the “fun part” (all the fighting) didn’t happen until later. Now that I’m older, of course, I can appreciate the politics and intrigue that take up a big chunk of Spartacus. I particularly appreciate the political wrangling that takes place between Gracchus (Charles Laughton) and Crassus (Laurence Olivier). It’s especially amusing to watch them fight over the loyalty of Julius Caesar, as if both of them seem to realize how important the man will become in the future (keep in mind, at THIS point in history Caesar isn’t all that important just yet).

The story of Spartacus himself is always one of my favorite parts to watch. Watching him get trained to be a gladiator, it’s clear early on that something is going to give eventually, since Spartacus is singled out for particularly abusive treatment. And when the last straw is finally reached, everything explodes in epic fashion. If you’ve been paying attention, you feel like cheering when Spartacus’ primary tormentor gets what is coming to him. And after that, watching Spartacus organize the rebels into a pretty efficient army is fun to watch also. In fact, things go so well that (if you didn’t know your history) you’d be forgiven for thinking this story has a happy ending for the slaves, because they come within a whisker of reaching freedom forever. But…history went differently and when the climactic battle sequence comes, Stanley Kubrick did not shy away from showing the awful aftermath.

Seriously, the ending when all of the surviving slaves are crucified is difficult to watch. And yes, for the record, that really happened. The real Crassus, wanting to set an example for any other slaves who might be getting ideas, had all of the survivors crucified along the Appian Way and the crosses stood by the side of the road for YEARS afterward. Despite the horrifically dark ending, there is one bright spot in the form of Varinia (Jean Simmons) slipping away to Aquitania with the newborn son of Spartacus. What’s more, Spartacus gets to see his son (who will grow up free) just for a moment before he dies, which is one of the things he wanted most in the world. At least he can go to his grave knowing his son and the woman he loves will live their lives in freedom.

I should mention the version of the film I saw is the most recently restored version released on blu-ray and 4K. This means that this film includes a scene restored in the early 1990s, where Crassus talks to Antoninus (Tony Curtis) about “oysters and snails” which is apparently a metaphor for sexual preferences, though for my part the analogy went over my head for years until someone explained it to me. The thing is, when they reinserted that scene, the audio track had been lost and Laurence Olivier had died in 1989. So….for that scene only, the voice of Crassus is provided by Anthony Hopkins, as Olivier’s widow remembered that Hopkins had once done a dead-on impression of her husband. That being said, if you listen close, you can hear the difference. It’s a good impression, but it’s not quite the same. Still, I can appreciate that it allowed an important scene to be restored to the film.

It doesn’t even bother me that the film gets a number of historical details wrong. For instance, that whole thing about Crassus becoming First Consul of Rome? Nah, it didn’t happen like that. Gracchus (one of my favorite characters) wasn’t even a real person, he was an amalgamation of several people that lived DECADES before the Third Servile War ever happened. And of course, the famous “I’m Spartacus” scene didn’t happen either, as it happens the body of the real Spartacus was never found. However, as I’ve said, I’ve never let these issues bother me because the storytelling is so good I’m more than willing to just enjoy myself.

Spartacus is definitely one of those films you must see before you die, and that remains true over 60 years later.

Let me know what you think about Spartacus in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Knowing that I was going into 2021 with a massive movie backlog, I decided to start the year off right: by watching Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I’ve had this film on blu-ray since it was released by the Criterion Collection last summer, but the time never felt right to put it in and watch it…until now.

Set in the 18th century, Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows a painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), as she is hired to surreptitiously paint a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) prior to her arranged marriage to a Milanese nobleman. Over the course of two weeks, Marianne and Héloïse come to know each other very well, and a relationship forms between them, all while a “proper” portrait of Héloïse is put together.

I can’t overstate how much Portrait of a Lady on Fire blew me away. This isn’t like any film I’ve ever seen before. For one, there’s no musical score, though at the same time this isn’t a film without music. All of the music in this film is diegetic, meaning it occurs completely within the film world. And brilliantly, the few times the music is employed in the film means it is used for maximum effect, like when Marianne is playing a piece for Héloïse or that final scene with the orchestra.

It’s the relationship between Marianne and Héloïse that forms the crux of the story however, and it left me spellbound from the moment it started. With no musical score to otherwise distract you, you are painfully aware of each woman’s gaze upon the other, something that only grows more acute as the story goes on. So much of this story is based in looks and silence, with entire portions passing by with no real dialogue. And yes, it is completely heartbreaking to see these two fall for each other, since anyone who knows a fraction of anything about 18th century France knows that this relationship has no chance of succeeding since same sex relationships (especially between women) were taboo.

Something I didn’t expect? A really cool tie in to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, with the former being a legendary musician who went into the depths of Hades to reclaim his lost love Eurydice only to lose her once and for all at the last moment. I didn’t fully understand why the film wandered into this territory until Marianne said her last goodbye to Héloïse and I realized, with a start, that in this context Marianne is Orpheus and Héloïse is Eurydice. This is like a modern take on the story of Orpheus, only with art instead of music! Learning that made me love this story so much more than I already did.

Also, I have to compliment the film’s setting. This remote island the story takes place on, with the vibrant blue ocean, is beautiful in a primal sort of way (and maybe that was the point). Also, the house most of the film takes place in is really beautiful too, it feels ancient and modern all at the same time if that makes sense. I really love the space Marianne sets up as her studio, so much of the action takes place there, it’s a space I wish I could visit in real life. Speaking of seeing in real life, I wish I could see those paintings as well. On a final note, I also like the brief period of domestic bliss set up between Marianne, Héloïse and Sophie (the maid). It’s a tantalizingly brief glimpse of how peaceful a life could be when set up between women. It’s so refreshing that it’s physically jarring when a man shows up towards the end of the film, like a spell was broken.

What I’m attempting to say is that Portrait of a Lady on Fire is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Everyone needs to see this film at least once before they die, and that is a fact.

Let me know what you think about Portrait of a Lady on Fire in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Blade (1998)

Some of the people who knew me growing up might be surprised to hear this, but I was a HUGE fan of Blade back in the day (around my early teens). I have vague memories of stumbling across this film on TV (along with Blade II) and being spellbound by what I saw. Didn’t understand half of it, didn’t even know that Blade came from Marvel comics, but I did know I was watching something amazing!

As I understand it, Blade was the first Marvel movie to be successful, setting the stage for the X-Men films, the Fantastic Four films, and, many years later one could argue, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It all started with Blade. For those not familiar, Blade is a Daywalker, a half-vampire who spends his nights hunting down and killing every vampire he can find. Unlike regular vampires, Blade can move about in daylight, and he has some nasty weapons in his arsenal. The movie sees Blade come up against Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) who has plans of his own for the vampire world. Along the way, Blade is forced to take Dr. Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright) under his wing (so to speak) and teach her the basics of vampire fighting after she’s assaulted and bitten by a vampire herself.

When I sat down to watch Blade again, it had easily been fifteen or sixteen years since I’d last seen it, so I’d completely forgotten how badass this film is. Despite being 22 years old, the film doesn’t feel dated in the slightest, though I will concede some of the CGI effects haven’t aged that well. Even then, it’s a “blink and it’s over” sort of issue, and I feel like I’m nitpicking by even mentioning it. Seriously, the CGI for the most part looks pretty good for being created in the late 1990s, which is a testament to how hard the filmmakers worked on this film at the time. As good as it must have looked then, it looks so much better upgraded to Blu-Ray (and I can only imagine how it looks in 4K).

Wesley Snipes OWNS every scene he’s in. As soon as he appeared in full Daywalker mode, I instantly realized why everyone had been campaigning to have Snipes reprise his role in the MCU somehow. I mean, my God….the presence he has as Blade is unreal. You don’t see his fangs until very late in the film (unless I missed it), but there’s no mistaking that Blade is something more than human from the moment he’s introduced. He’s also such a badass with that sword, I loved watching every single fight scene. Also, while I have no doubt Mahershala Ali will make an AMAZING Blade, I sincerely hope that Wesley Snipes appears in the MCU Blade film in some way, shape, form or fashion. This is something I NEED to happen.

I love that the “everyman” role in the film is taken up by a woman. I think that’s why I found it so easy to watch this film as a teenager, I could identity with Karen, and that fear of confronting a world that is suddenly nothing like what you expected it to be. N’Bushe Wright turns Karen into a complete and total badass by the end of the film, even when she’s taken captive, she doesn’t lay down and take it. She fights back, and for that reason alone I will defend Blade as one of the best comic book movies ever made forever.

I also have to praise Blade for creating a vampire society that feels frighteningly plausible. The gist is that vampires have permeated every layer of human society imaginable. In fact, it’s quietly implied that vampires are well on their way to running human society as a whole, albeit from the shadows. Once this fact is laid bare in the film, you start to look twice at every person our heroes pass, and it’s actually enough to make you slightly paranoid.

And again, I have to go back to the intensity that permeates this film. This might come out wrong, but there’s a rawness about Blade that isn’t present in the MCU, and it sets Blade apart in a good way. What I mean to say is, because they were still sussing out how to turn Marvel stories into good films, there’s a raw, immense crudeness about Blade that leaves one with the impression of something much larger lurking in the shadows (the MCU by comparison is much more finely tuned). It was just so refreshing to see a film like this again, and I hope the new Blade film carries over some of this intensity and rawness (which is possible since this is the film that’s introducing vampires to the MCU, assuming Morbius doesn’t count).

Having seen Blade upgraded to blu-ray, all I can do now is hope and pray that a similar upgrade is being done for Blade II and, yes, even Blade Trinity (I’m a completionist, it’ll bug me if I don’t upgrade the whole trilogy).

Let me know what you think about Blade in the comments below and have a great day!

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