Anastasia “Once Upon a December” (1997)

The glittering world of the Russian Imperial Family came crashing down almost 100 years ago, when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, he and his family were arrested, and later summarily executed. The ultimate fates of the Tsar, his wife, their four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and the crown prince Alexei were left unknown for decades, which gave rise to rumors and stories that some of the family had survived after all. The most well known story is that of Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Nicholas II. Rumors persisted for decades that the Grand Duchess had survived execution and was out there in the world somewhere. While ultimately disproven when the family’s remains were discovered in 1991, the story continued to be told both on screen and on stage.

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Don Bluth’s 1997 film Anastasia is one such recounting. It imagines a world where, while attempting to flee on a train with her grandmother Marie (played to perfection by Angela Lansbury), Anastasia falls and strikes her head, losing all memory as well as being left behind. Not knowing who she is, she grows up in poverty, with half-remembered songs and images her only clues as to where she came from. Anastasia is a musical film (and is sometimes confused for a Disney film) and my favorite song has to be “Once Upon a December.” In it, Anastasia is exploring an abandoned palace while looking for Dmitri (a former servant boy who is now working with a con man to find a “fake” Anastasia to claim a large reward) and she reminisces over her fragmented memories.

Anastasia “Once Upon a December” (1997)

Anastasia’s words conjure up a spectral ball as ghostly figures descend from the ceiling to take part in a dance, all dressed in the finery and glamour of the lost Imperial Russia. The royal family comes to “life” as well, with Anastasia’s four sisters dancing around her before finding partners. Anastasia, in the meantime, transforms into the grown-up princess she should have become, dancing with a partner of her own while her father strides onto the dance floor, all bowing to him (while her mother and brother wait in the background. As the song winds down, Anastasia and Nicholas share a brief dance before the magic is shattered and the figures vanish.

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I like to think of this song (and the scene as a whole) as being an homage of sorts to the old world of royalty, balls, and Imperial courts that was irrevocably broken after the First World War. It was an age of palaces, princes and princesses, nobles beyond count that had lasted for over a thousand years, and it will never come again, except in our memories. Hence, my favorite verse is at the end:

“Far away, long ago/glowing dim as an ember/things my heart used to know/things it yearns to remember…”

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This scene really is one of the best in the film, and I hope you enjoy watching and listening.

For more awesome animated songs (Disney and otherwise), check out the awesome main page here

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10 awesome connections between The Clone Wars and the Star Wars films

I was thinking about Star Wars (again) and I started to consider all the ways that The Clone Wars series ties back into the films (both prequel and original). The following list is by no means exhaustive, but I thought it would be fun to share all of this with you. Enjoy!

  1. Anakin Skywalker meets Captain Tarkin (the future Grand Moff) while rescuing a Jedi Master. Tarkin is decidedly NOT impressed with the Jedi (though he and Anakin do come to a grudging understanding by the end of the arc). Knowing this, it REALLY makes you wonder if Tarkin knew who Darth Vader really was…
  2. Earlier in this same arc, Anakin unveils a plan whereby he, Obi-Wan, and the rest of their team will smuggle themselves onto a Separatist-controlled planet by freezing themselves in carbonite. Vader (apparently) remembered this idea years later and attempted to implement it on Luke.
  3. Anakin was friends with the future Admiral Ackbar. No, really! When Anakin and Padme are dispatched to Mon Cala, home planet of the Mon Calamari, they are forced to rescue the Crown Prince whose captain of the guard is one Captain Ackbar. Knowing what happens in the future, seeing them work together was surreal to say the very least.
  4. Anakin (and his Padawan Ahsoka) pays a visit to Mustafar long before Anakin has his fateful duel with Obi-Wan there.
  5. The Clone Wars series is the reason Darth Maul was (technically) resurrected and made into one of the greatest villains in the Star Wars canon. In one of their early encounters, Maul taunts Obi-Wan by reminding him how he killed Qui-Gon Jinn (at the climax of Episode I).
  6. Mon Mothma (the leader who gave the briefing in Episode VI) appears as a Senator in multiple episodes. Watching her talk with Padme is cool and really sad at the same time since we know what happens at the end of Episode III.
  7. The Clone Wars establishes even more that Anakin and Bail Organa are friends which is so ironic to me given how Anakin (as Vader) will be a part of the Empire that destroys Bail’s home planet (and kills Bail himself).
  8. You know Sy Snootles, the alien singer with the awesome performance number in Return of the Jedi? Well, as it turns out, during the Clone Wars, Sy (who was still a performer) had a love affair with Jabba’s uncle Ziro the Hutt, only to ultimately betray and kill him in order to retrieve some damning information.
  9. Think back to the Death Star conference meeting in Episode IV. Remember that older officer with a white moustache and off-white uniform? The Clone Wars reveals that this was formerly Admiral Yularen, fleet commander serving under General Anakin Skywalker. It blows my mind that Yularen’s former Jedi commander is walking mere steps from him and he has no idea at all.
  10. Last, and to me most importantly, in the earth-shattering Mortis arc, Anakin is shown EXACTLY what he will become in the future by a living incarnation of the Dark side of the Force. He sees visions of Padme dying, the death of the Jedi and most terrifyingly, a vision of himself as the masked Darth Vader. Now, one could argue that since Anakin’s memory of his vision is wiped out, that this doesn’t really count. But to me it does, because it answers a long-burning question (for me anyway): if Anakin HAD known what was coming, would he have acted differently? Had he not been stopped, I think the answer would have been yes. Anakin is HORRIFIED by what he sees and desperately wants to stop this future from happening (though at this late stage, I’m not sure if that is even possible).

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J.J Abrams is writing AND directing Star Wars Episode IX (!!!!!!!!)

It’s been barely a week since the news broke that Colin Trevorrow was OUT as the director of Star Wars Episode IX (2019) due to “creative differences” between himself and the powers-that-be at Disney/Lucasfilm. Immediately, speculation was rampant as to who would replace him. Rian Johnson (director of Episode VIII: The Last Jedi) immediately volunteered his services, but I was secretly hoping that J.J Abrams (director of The Force Awakens) would be lured back as he had expressed regret that he wouldn’t be directing another installment in the trilogy (the opportunity had been offered to him earlier, but he hadn’t been able to commit at the time).

My wish came true!!!

Just yesterday the news came out that J.J. Abrams is writing AND directing Star Wars Episode IX and I could not be happier. After seeing The Force Awakens, I trust him with creating the exciting conclusion to the sequel trilogy and I am sure he will not let us down (after all, he knows he’ll have an angry horde after him if he screws it up).

There are just over three months left until The Last Jedi FINALLY hits theaters (not that I’m counting the days or anything…). Now if I could just feel more confident about the young Han Solo film…

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Atomic Blonde (2017): I did NOT see that coming!

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For the first time in what feels like months (and I think it literally has been months) I got to go see a movie in theatres and the selection was Atomic Blonde!! I’ve been intrigued by this movie since I saw the first preview and it did not disappoint!

In brief, Atomic Blonde takes place in November 1989, a few days before the Berlin Wall came down (literally). The plot revolves around attempts to recapture “The List”, a piece of microfilm that contains the names of every field agent currently working in the Soviet Union (if it falls into the wrong hands numerous operations would be compromised). Top MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is brought in to retrieve The List and to assassinate an operative known only as Satchel. Satchel has been working as a double agent for the Soviets for years. Lorraine’s primary contact in Berlin is David Percival (James McAvoy), a fellow British agent who has gone more than a little mental in the years he’s worked in Berlin.

I loved McAvoy’s performance as Percival. From the moment we meet him, there’s an immediate suspicion that he could be Satchel, the double agent. Numerous hints are given to suggest that he is secretly undermining Lorraine and it is seemingly confirmed when Percival shoots a man (who memorized the List) that they are trying to smuggle out of East Berlin (he ultimately drowns when the car he and Lorraine are in crashes into a river). And then there’s Charlize Theron in a complete badass role as Lorraine Broughton. She is intense from beginning to end and I loved every minute of it. I can see why people made comparisons between her character and John Wick (though even without the comparison I enjoyed the character).

You can tell that this story is adapted from a graphic novel (The Coldest City). I’m certain some of the scenes (like Lorraine emerging from a bathtub of ice) are taken straight from the pages of the story, and the fight scenes play out like they were taken straight from a comic story (they’re super-intense, with lots of high-intensity action and almost zero pauses).

The biggest thing I want to talk about is the twists that come at the end of the story (WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW). So as I said, almost the entire film is spent building up our expectation that Percival is actually a double agent. Except when the climax comes, it’s turned around and revealed that LORRAINE is Satchel, she is the one who has been feeding intel to the Russians, she needed to kill Percival to cover her tracks. That was Twist #1.

THEN, the story goes to Paris, where Lorraine (now speaking with a Russian accent), is meeting with a Soviet spy (who we met earlier in Berlin) who is revealed to be her handler. Having been informed of her “true” allegiances to the British, the Soviet leaves her to be disposed of by a professional hit squad (they even ask if she would be so kind as to step onto the tarp so her death will not make a mess in the hotel room). But Lorraine fights them off and before killing the Soviet spy, reveals that all the intelligence she’s given to the Soviets over the years has been FALSE. So she’s actually a fake double agent. That was Twist #2.

And the big kicker? The moment my jaw smacked the floor and my brain exploded? After being debriefed on all of this (the film bookends around Lorraine recounting all of this to MI6 and a CIA Agent) and agreeing that “none of this ever happened”, Lorraine heads to a private jet where she meets up with the CIA Agent. A montage reveals how she manipulated recordings and other evidence to show the British what they wanted to see and in actuality she’s American CIA (has been the entire time!!!). The CIA Agent who helped debrief her is waiting on the plane and she says (in an American accent) “Let’s go home.” And THAT Was Twist #3 (which came in the final sixty seconds of the film)!!!!!!!!!

Those three twists led me to rethink EVERYTHING I had seen throughout the movie, because knowing that Lorraine is actually American CIA calls into question every motive and decision she made. And as the title of this post implies, I did NOT see any of these twists coming (which makes them the best kind of twists).

All in all, I liked Atomic Blonde. It was, as the saying goes, “a good popcorn film.” Sorry it took so long to get this review out, my life has been crazy for the last several months, but I’m glad you are sticking with me. Later!

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Soundtrack Review: BoJack Horseman (2014-present)

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Well this is…different. I’ve never really watched BoJack Horseman, but I’ve heard enough of my friends talking about it that I decided it was worth checking out the soundtrack. If you haven’t seen it, the story takes place in an alternate world (largely in the Los Angeles and Hollywood area) where humans live side by side with tailless anthropomorphic animals. BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) is the washed-up star of a 90’s sitcom called Horsin’ Around and seeks to re-ignite his stardom via a tell-all autobiography. The series is a satire of Hollywood and celebrity culture.

I sampled several pieces of the soundtrack that was composed by Jesse Novak and the music makes it pretty clear that this is not your typical show. Oddly enough, I found myself drawn to “BoJack’s Theme” which I can only describe as a quirky mesh of synthesizer, drums and brass that has a rather jazz-like tone to it. It’s actually pretty catchy in that I feel that it is growing on me.

“Seaport” also heavily employs synthesizer, and actually reminded me of a short theme from an anime (one of those scenes were the camera is pulling back and showing the viewer a landscape).

I was pleasantly surprised to find several songs on the soundtrack as well, the two I came across were “I Will Always Think of You” and “Back in the 90’s.” Now I haven’t seen any episodes of the show, but it sounds like these are being sung by BoJack (please correct me if I’m wrong on this detail). I say I was pleasantly surprised because, well, most television soundtracks don’t have songs (You’re The Worst is another wonderful exception). “I Will Always Think of You” is actually a really nice song, it’s a duet between a male and female singer, and it really puts me in mind of a classic love song circa the 1950s/60s (this reminds me of something Sinatra might have crooned back in the day).

All together, the soundtrack for BoJack Horseman turned out to be full of many pleasant surprises. Season 4 premiered on Netflix on September 8th, so if you haven’t checked out the series, I officially recommend it and I also recommend checking out the soundtrack. My deepest thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available so I could review it. I hope you enjoyed this brief look into the music of BoJack Horseman.

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Soundtrack Review: American Assassin (2017)

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I was fortunate enough to be able to experience the soundtrack for the upcoming film American Assassin, due to be released next week in theaters. Directed by Michael Cuesta, American Assassin follows the rise of Mitch Rapp, a CIA black ops recruit, after losing his parents in a car accident and his girlfriend to a terrorist attack shortly after they were engaged.

The soundtrack was composed by Steve Price and is simply amazing. This review will look at several pieces from the soundtrack, to give you an idea of what is to come. The opening track is titled “The Proposal” and begins with a quiet melody, partially played on piano. This is later mixed with a cello; it is simple but romantic at the same time. The twist comes halfway through the track: the music suddenly turns dark (emphasized by very low tones on the piano) and the tension is slowly turned up as the mood turns from light and happy to dark and unsure. Even though the film hasn’t come out yet, the music allows me to visualize what is likely happening: Mitch has just proposed to his girlfriend (or maybe he is getting ready for it), when, according to the music, something terrible happens.

The fifth track is titled “Plutonium” and is not so much a melody as it is a cluster of sound  waves that rise and fall in volume. The opening moments are dripping with menace (appropriate for plutonium, which can be deadly in the wrong hands), and for most of the track there is no motion in the sound, but this begins to change toward the end. I don’t mean to imply that lack of motion is a bad thing because it isn’t. Sometimes the soundtrack just needs to convey the threat of something, it doesn’t necessarily have to move the audience along, so to speak.

The tenth track is titled “I Trusted You” and it might just be my favorite in the soundtrack. The first minute is pure frenetic energy, but then it slides back into a contemplative mode, as if the scene began with a burst of action and then tapered off, perhaps into dialogue. I loved the mix of energy between the different instruments, and how seamlessly it transitioned from action to drama (fast-paced to slow-paced, it’s a slight oversimplification, but it gets my point across).

And that is my brief preview into the music for American Assassin. I absolutely loved everything I heard and I believe Steve Price has done a magnificent job. I apologize deeply for not getting these music reviews out sooner, the dissertation has taken over a large chunk of my life and I was forced to place these reviews on the back burner. But now I promise that if I blog on nothing else for the near future, I will get some reviews out to you every week. I hope you enjoyed this one, there’s plenty to come I promise. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making the soundtrack of American Assassin available. Have a good weekend everyone!

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Thinking about Star Wars

Hello, yes I’m still here. I’m honestly not sure when i’ll be back to blogging regularly (life is crazy), but I wanted to talk a bit about Star Wars (again) so here I am.

Since this past weekend was a holiday, I decided to celebrate by going on an epic Star Wars marathon. In no particular order, I watched Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi. I found watching Revenge of the Sith to be particularly painful as I’d watched several seasons of The Clone Wars prior to putting in the movie, and since The Clone Wars series is a direct precursor to Episode III, in my mind the film was a direct continuation of the series (even though the show was supposed to run right up to the events of Episode III and even run parallel to the film if they’d been allowed to keep going after Disney acquired the franchise). It was just painful because, in watching The Clone Wars, I became very attached to all of the Jedi characters (except for Pong Krell), and watching them die the way they did…it hurt. Yes, I know Star Wars is fictional, none of this EVER happened, but these characters are very real to me.

On another note (pun intended), I really love all the musical Easter Eggs in The Clone Wars and Rebels. People should really stop discounting these two shows just because they’re animated. I didn’t think much of them at first either, but once I started watching, it hit me just how good the storytelling was. These shows are at the very least the equal of the live-action films (if not better if you compare them to Episode II). And the musical Easter Eggs that I mentioned….are just fantastic. For instance, when Padme visits Alderaan, there’s a great iteration of Leia’s theme. But the Easter Egg i like the most is the repeated references to the Imperial March, usually when Anakin does something or encounters someone that foreshadows his transformation into Darth Vader. This happens a lot when Anakin is around Chancellor Palpatine (who we all know is really Darth Sidious). In The Clone Wars, Anakin struggles a lot with his emotions, and in one episode, Anakin walks away at the end in a particularly black mood, with a few bars of the Imperial March playing ominously in the background. The most recent example I’ve seen is when Anakin encounters Captain Tarkin on a Separatist controlled world they’re trying to escape from (yes, he met Tarkin YEARS before he ever became the cunning Grand Moff seen in Rogue One and A New Hope, who knew??) The two spend most of the episode in conflict (Tarkin doesn’t think much of the Jedi) but by the end they’ve earned each other’s respect. And when the two shake hands back on Coruscant, there’s the Imperial March again…hinting at the contact they’ll have in the future. There’s actually a lot of speculation as to whether or not Tarkin knew who Vader really was. Most seem to agree that if he didn’t know, he at least had his suspicions on the matter (that he wisely kept to himself).

And speaking of Rebels…I am over the moon about the latest trailer for Season 4. When Tarkin directly mentioned Krennic and Project Stardust (both referring to the events of Rogue One which I suspect Rebels will run straight up to) I completely geeked out! I’m so curious to see what happens to Thrawn by the end of the season. I’m still holding out hope that at some point this legendary character makes the leap to live-action (in a perfect world, this would be pulled off as a complete surprise) but that would require him to make it out of the season alive. And right now…given the last words the Bendu spoke to Thrawn in season 3…I just don’t know. And then there’s the fates of Kanan and Ezra. As much as I don’t want to think of it, it CAN’T end well for either of them, and here’s why: by the time of Return of the Jedi, Yoda makes it clear that Luke will be “the last of the Jedi.” While Ezra could conceivably live on just not as a full-fledged Jedi (if the rumor that Benicio del Toro is playing Ezra in The Last Jedi turns out to be true I will FREAK OUT), Kanan most definitely identifies as a Jedi, which means he can’t be around, which probably means he dies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t WANT Kanan to die, I don’t want ANY of them to die, but I have this terrible feeling that by the time Season 4 is over, Kanan (and possibly more) will be gone.

Since this is the last season of Rebels, I hope Dave Filoni doesn’t keep us in suspense too much longer as to what the next animated series will be about. I have no real preference myself, so long as Filoni returns with something. I know it will never happen, but I’d love to see the rest of The Clone Wars produced. I know it’s all written out, but it would be so cool to see it realized in animation, the way it should have been. Also a Maul-centric series would be amazing (provided Sam Witwer stays on as the voice).

Anyways, those are my thoughts on Star Wars. What do you think of the upcoming season of Rebels? Do you also think Kanan is going to die? Could Ezra be making the jump to live-action in The Last Jedi? (I’m not totally against that idea by the way). Hopefully I will be back to regular blogging in the near future. If nothing else, I’ll make sure to share my thoughts with the big films yet to come out this fall (especially The Last Jedi when it gets here). Later!

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