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About Film Music Central

I'm a 30 year old musicologist and blogger and I've had a lifelong obsession with film music, cartoon music, just about any kind of music!

Soundtrack Review: Marvel’s Avengers (2020)

Hollywood Records has released the complete soundtrack for the recently released video game Marvel’s Avengers, with music composed by Bobby Tahouri. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Bobby Tahouri comes from a musical family, and began playing piano at the age of seven. He studied piano and composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and also at the California Institute of the Arts, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Music Composition.

Marvel’s Avengers allows you to take control of earth’s mightiest heroes in an all new original playable story. Crafting original music for these iconic characters is no easy task, but Bobby Tahouri (Rise Of The Tomb Raider) has composed an epic, sweeping score deserving of the massive playable roster of Marvel heroes.

Epic and sweeping are certainly two good words to describe Bobby Tahouri’s score for Marvel’s Avengers. It also, to my ears, sounded strikingly familiar. Starting with the first track, “Every Hero Has to Start Somewhere”, it occurred to me that what I was hearing sounded quite similar to the Avengers main theme as composed by Alan Silvestri in The Avengers (2012). Well, maybe that’s not quite the right way to put it. Tahouri’s music isn’t identical to Silvestri’s theme, but they do sound to me like they could easily belong in the same musical family, there is definitely a thematic relationship present. Given that the game centers on the Avengers, this is appropriate.

Another detail I like about this soundtrack is how dynamic it is. As you might expect with a soundtrack for an action-adventure game, most of the music is loud, bombastic, and clearly following video game-style fighting. However, Tahouri does take the time to slow down in a few places (parts of “New Normal” and “No More Heroes” are prime examples). These tracks are refreshing to hear because they give your ears a brief rest from the frenetic pace that makes up most of the soundtrack.

As video game soundtracks go, Marvel’s Avengers sounds pretty good. I like that it sounds similar in certain respects to the 2012 film (and the Avengers films in general). I haven’t gotten to see the game in action, but this feels like the kind of music you’d want to have in an action game like this.

Let me know what you think about the music for Marvel’s Avengers in the comments below and have a great day!

TRACK LISTING

1. “Every Hero Has to Start Somewhere” (8:45)

2. “The Light That Failed” (2:48)

3. “God of Thunder” (3:13)

4. “They Played Us” (1:22)

5. “New Normal” (2:27)

6. “I Am Iron Man” (3:00)

7. “Am I Alone?” (2:13)

8. “No More Heroes” (2:14)

9. “To Stand Alone” (2:06)

10. “Some Things Haven’t Changed” (2:10)

11. “We Are Dangerous” (1:38)

12. “Hulk Smash” (1:41)

13. “Perfect Landing” (2:01)

14. “Old Friend” (1:33)

15. “By Force of Mind” (3:08)

16. “It’s a Thing Your Do” (3:18)

See also:

Video Game Soundtracks

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Soundtrack Review: Stargirl (season 1) (2020)

WaterTower Music is pleased to announce that the Season 1 soundtrack for DC’s Stargirl is now available on all platforms.

DC’s Stargirl: Season 1 (Original Television Score) features 22 tracks from the debut season of the hit series. Recently wrapping its first season on both The CW and DC UNIVERSE, DC’s Stargirl was recently renewed for a second season exclusively on The CW. Based on the character created by Geoff Johns, DC’s Stargirl features an epic score by the award-winning film and television composer Pinar Toprak, who received her first Primetime Emmy® nomination this year for her work on HBO’s McMillions.

Toprak was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, where she began her classical music education at the age of five. After studying composition and multiple instruments at the conservatory, she moved to Chicago to study jazz, before continuing on to Boston for a degree in film scoring from Berklee College of Music. She then moved to Los Angeles, earned a master’s degree at CSUN in composition at age 22. In addition to DC’s Stargirl, she has composed for major Super Hero sagas like Captain Marvel, and Warner Horizon Scripted Television’s Superman prequel series Krypton. She also scored HBO’s six-part docuseries McMillions, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and earned her a 2020 Emmy® nomination. In addition, she has written music for Epic Games’ massively popular online video game Fortnite.

Regarding season 1 of Stargirl, composer Pinar Toprak had the following to say:

“I’m a huge fan of show creator Geoff Johns and everything he’s done,” remarked Toprak. “When we met, the way he talked about Courtney, the character, and his vision for DC’s Stargirl really touched my heart. Obviously, I love this genre to begin with, so it was a no-brainer to compose the score. Working with Geoff was just one of the best experiences of my career, to be honest.”

From a purely musical standpoint (I have yet to see the actual show), I love Stargirl. I loved it even before I heard it because I knew that Pinar Toprak would be scoring the series, and I’m a big fan of her work on Krypton (an underrated series with a severely underrated soundtrack and, of course, Captain Marvel. And the music of Stargirl is just as amazing as her previous works in the genre. Pinar Toprak has this amazing ability, that I first noticed in Krypton’s first season soundtrack, to take a television series and give it a “big screen” feel with the powerful themes she creates. Such is the case with Stargirl. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear this was a movie soundtrack, and that’s not a bad thing. I feel like any work in the superhero genre, be it film or television, should have a certain sound to it. You almost need that brassy, heroic sound to chart the adventures of the fledgling heroine (there are exceptions of course, the short-lived Constantine and Swamp Thing come to mind).

On a side note, speaking of Krypton, it may be my imagination but a few of the tracks in Stargirl sound similar to that earlier show. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as any string of works by the same composer are bound to sound similar in certain areas. I just find it interesting that Krypton (a series based on Superman’s home planet), and Stargirl (another DC comics series) have a similar sound.

Another detail I really enjoyed about the soundtrack of Stargirl is its almost symphonic quality. That is to say, the main theme that Pinar Toprak introduces at the beginning of the soundtrack album recurs throughout, but in slightly different ways, exactly as it would be if this music were in a symphony played in the concert hall. I feel like the superhero genre is ideally suited to symphonic music (similar to the Star Wars films), and listening to this great music just reinforces how well the two fit together.

I highly recommend checking out the soundtrack for Stargirl’s first season. It’s a stirring soundtrack from a great composer and one that any fan of superhero music should check out. On one final note, I’ve seen Stargirl get some mixed reviews here and there. Whatever your thoughts are on the series itself, don’t let that stop you from checking out the soundtrack. There’s a world of difference between hearing a soundtrack during the actual show and listening to the music with no distractions. So please, give the soundtrack a chance, you won’t regret it.

Let me know what you think about the soundtrack for Stargirl season 1 and have a great day!

See also:

TV Soundtracks

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The 5th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon Recap!

At long last the time has come for the 5th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon, where we come together and talk about the films scored by the late, great James Horner and why we love them so much.

This is the official recap post where I’ll be listing this year’s entries. My entry may be slightly delayed as I’m currently under the weather, but I look forward to seeing the articles from everyone who signed up for this year. I’ll update the page as I can, but make sure you tag my blog in your article so I know it’s up.

Thanks again for taking part! Enjoy the blogathon!

Day 1

Plain Simple Tom kicks off the blogathon this year with his look at Glory (1989)

Day 2

MovieRob submits his first entry for this year with his look at The New World (2005)

Day 3

Tranquil Dreams joins in with a look at the incredible film that is The Land Before Time (1988)

MovieRob adds his second entry for the year with his look at Apocalypto (2006)

And finally, MovieRob adds his final entry for the year with The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)

For Cybertron! Talking with Alexander Bornstein about ‘Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege’

Earlier this summer I was granted the opportunity to speak to Alexander Bornstein about his work on the Netflix series Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege. A reimagining of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, Siege takes you deeper into Cybertron than ever before, and turns everything you thought you knew about Optimus Prime and Megatron (and their conflict) upside down.

Alexander Bornstein is an award-winning composer currently based in Los Angeles. His music has been heard on television, independent films, feature films, web series, documentaries in the festival circuit, and concert halls around the U.S.  Alexander has also been at the forefront of new multimedia platforms, composing music for one of the first VR television series. His projects include (but are not limited to): The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space (the Netflix series), The Boys, Agent Carter, and of course, Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege.

How did you get started with composing for film and television?

It’s actually a roundabout story. I’d been listening to film scores since first or second grade, it was really a genre of music I gravitated to. I grew up listening to Basil Poledouris, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and Hans Zimmer, a lot of composers that everyone’s familiar with. I then started as a filmmaker when I went to college. I wanted to be a writer/director, so I was writing feature scripts, I was directing short films, but I was always doing music on my own time. I didn’t really start to study music extensively until I was about 20 years old in my second year of college. I’d always had this passion for film music, but I didn’t really know how to write music even though I really wanted to do that. And so in college I started experimenting on my own. Then I met the right collective of professors who told me “Well if you really want to do this, this is what you need to do.” It was kind of, before I knew what was happening, I was declaring a music major and writing music, then studying with a composer. When I graduated from undergrad I decided I wanted to go to grad school and one of the programs I got into was for film scoring. I took that as a sign from the universe that I should give this a shot professionally.

How familiar were you with the Transformers series before you started working on War for Cybertron?

I was fairly familiar [with Transformers]. I was a big fan of the original cartoon when I was a kid, because the SyFy channel would air the G1 cartoons on its morning animation block. That’s how I became familiar with Optimus Prime, Megatron, Autobots, and all that. That gave me a fleeting familiarity with Transformers growing up because of my love for G1. I watched a little bit of Beast Wars, I kept up with the series over the years and got re-introduced when the first movie came out. It was really cool to see Peter Cullen come back as Optimus Prime. So there’s always been this familiarity with the franchise as I grew up.

On a related note, did the music from past Transformers series influence your work on this score at all? Any musical Easter Eggs that longtime fans might notice?

That was a discussion I had pretty extensively with F.J. DeSanto, the showrunner, when we started. The risky thing about this series is that it is a step in a new direction for what many have seen in a Transformers show before. There’s obviously a lot of callbacks, since the show was written by fans, it is definitely a faithful update. But, to your question, we never really wanted to go too far into referencing stuff from the Robert Walsh and Johnny Douglas scores or the Vince DiCola score from The Transformers: The Movie. I can’t speak for what might happen in the future, but I think for this first chapter of the trilogy we tried to focus on creating a new sound and not necessarily incorporate stuff from previous iterations of the franchise. We talked about it when I started and decided to step away from trying that out, but you never know what could happen in future chapters.

How did you approach scoring War for Cybertron? What was your starting point with putting the music together?

The first thing I wanted to do was create three main themes for the series. Those three main themes would basically be the building blocks of all the music for the show. Once I was officially onboard, I started working on a theme for the Autobots, the Decepticons, and then for Cybertron itself. From those themes, I had discussions with F.J. [DeSanto] about what kind of instrumentation was wanted, what kind of sounds should be tried. Once I did that I went off on my own for a few months. They were just getting started on the animation when I started, so there wasn’t really anything for me to work on, so I had all this time to bat ideas around. Once I had those three themes, I presented them, we signed off on them, and then from those themes I felt pretty comfortable diving into the actual series and working on the score.

The approach I tried to take is, rather than getting too motivic, because of the amount of characters on the show, I tried to keep the music more economic and lean, for example by developing the Autobots theme based on various characters and situations. So, there’s a heroic variation of the Autobot’s theme for Optimus Prime, and likewise similar variations for the Decepticon’s theme. The theme is arranged or developed in different ways specific for a character. One thing I’ve learned during projects is that it’s difficult to get themes established, especially now with content and stories moving so rapidly with so much to go through. I wanted to rely on less [music] so I could keep repeating it to get it established more efficiently. From those three themes there are some sub-motifs here and there. For example, the All-Spark has a sub-motif that gets developed in different ways. Elita-1 has a theme of her own that starts with the same chords as the Autobot theme but then goes in a different direction. The Decepticon theme its actually part of the Autobot theme, just with different chords. Basically, there’s a “B” section to the Autobot’s theme that is uplifting and hopeful and that is the basis of what became the Decepticon theme with a more minor key in the harmony. Ultimately, this [similarity] is because at one time they were all Cybertronians.

What kind of instruments did you use for the score? Considering that it’s Transformers, I’d imagine there was a lot of electronic music? Or maybe not?

There’s definitely a heavy electronic component, that was something we decided upon early on. There is a big orchestral component as well, for the emotional as well as the action-heavy moments. Inspiration was taken from synth waves and that genre of writing, but I also looked at Vangelis and Jóhann Jóhannsson for some of the other, more static textures. It was an interesting challenge to take something like Transformers, which up until now has been fairly ‘heavy’ and taking it in a slightly different direction with more static and organic textures. There’s still some very reliable old-school synth arpeggios, the analog sounds, but you’re also getting some of these organic, processed textures as well, so it’s not a complete retread of what people have heard already.

Have you finished the scoring process for Siege? How long did scoring take? 

I began in August of 2019 and then I finished writing it in January of 2020. I was given a lot of time, which is somewhat atypical for a television production, and definitely on animation. It was a really good opportunity to make sure we were always putting our best foot forward. This has also been the case for “Earthrise” (Part 2 of the War for Cybertron series). I can take a step back and be like “Is this really the best version of this cue, do i need to fix anything?” as opposed to just grinding it out as quickly as possible.

Do you have a favorite part of the soundtrack? Any favorite themes?

I was really happy with how the theme for Elita-1 turned out. She’s kind of a breakout character on the show for me and I wanted to make sure that she had a theme that could

really stand on its own. It gets some really good opportunities in the series to develop. It shows up for the first time in episode 2, and then it gets a lot of chances to develop. I was really happy with how it turned out. It was one of those instances where you write and hope that you don’t get any notes on it because you don’t want to change anything about it. Thankfully, it came through and they didn’t have any notes on it. So I was really pleased to come up with this theme for a character that I really liked and seeing it stick in the series has been really great.

I want to say thank you to Alexander Bornstein for taking the time to talk with me about his work on Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege. You can currently view the series on Netflix. There is currently no release date for Transformers: War for Cybertorn: Earthrise, though I was given to understand that the scoring for Earthrise is ongoing at the time the interview took place.

See also:

My Thoughts on: Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege (2020)

Composer Interviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

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My Thoughts on: Land of the Pharaohs (1955)

I came across Land of the Pharaohs in a somewhat backwards fashion: I saw the ending first. Somehow, I forget the exact circumstances, I saw a clip of how Land of the Pharaohs ends, and it intrigued me so much that I was determined, someday, to see the movie in full. At last, I tracked down a copy, and I definitely have some thoughts about it. For those who might not have seen or heard of this film, Land of the Pharaohs was directed by Howard Hawks and starred Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins, Dewey Mertain, and Alexis Minotis. It is set in ancient Egypt in the time of Khufu (Hawkins), a pharaoh obsessed with building a robber-proof tomb to protect his treasure for “the second life.” To this end, he enlists the skills of Vashtar (James Robertson Justice), a slave who is also a brilliant architect, to design the tomb in what will become known to history as the Great Pyramid.

First, let’s start with one of the big positives of Land of the Pharaohs and that’s the music. Dimitri Tiomkin created a gorgeous score for this film, and for me is that one detail that makes the bulk of the film watchable. From the strange chants hinting at ancient Egyptian religion, to the joyful singing as work on the pyramid begins, Tiomkin’s score flows through every scene, rich and vibrant with strings, brass, and choral chants. The music helps to move the story along, and serves as a good distraction from the, er, slower moments in the story.

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Another positive in this story are the costumes. While not quite as vibrant as those of The Ten Commandments (another story largely set in ancient Egypt), the costume design in Land of the Pharaohs is quite fetching. You can tell there was great attention to detail when putting these designs together, and a decent attempt made at historical accuracy (some of the outfits resemble those seen in Egyptian tombs).

As for the rest….oh boy. I should make it clear that Land of the Pharaohs is a generally enjoyable film, but it does have its fair share of weak points that detract from the experience. One of the big sticking points for me comes with all the time spent watching the pyramid being built. The initial montage starts fine, but then it goes on…and on…and ON. And during this never-ending sequence, all of the major characters disappear, it’s just a scene of nameless extras. I found myself squirming towards the end, more than eager to get back to the story of Khufu, Nellifer, and all that treasure. And speaking of…Nellifer is one of the most frustrating characters I’ve ever seen in an epic film of this kind.

Land-of-the-Pharaohs

I understand what they were going for with Nellifer, the devious princess from Cyprus, but her character has all the subtlety of a rock being thrown through a window. It’s painfully obvious what she’s after (gold and power), so much so that it’s a wonder Khufu and Hamar (his loyal high priest) don’t figure it out sooner. Not only that, but for all her scheming, Nellifer is shown to be rather stupid too. A good example comes towards the end of the film: Nellifer has decided that Khufu must die so she can rule Egypt while nominally serving as regent for his minor son. To do this, she sends her personal slave (one KNOWN to Khufu) to do the deed. Wouldn’t you think the smarter thing would have been to send an unknown slave so that Khufu couldn’t instantly trace the plot back to Nellifer if it went wrong? The one thing they get right about Nellifer is that she’s designed to be very unlikable, so much so that by the end of the film you’re secretly cheering when her comeuppance finally arrives in dramatic fashion.

That comeuppance comes from a plot detail that I find fascinating. From listening to the commentary, I learned that Howard Hawks was fascinated by the ongoing puzzle of how the Great Pyramid was built. A student of engineering himself, the director decided to puzzle out a theoretically feasible means that might explain how the pyramid was built so perfectly. The solution came in the form of a system that used sand to slide the remaining blocks into place (to both seal the tomb and give it a finished look). While there’s no way to know if the ancient Egyptians actually used a system like this, I’d like to think it’s plausible.

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One other detailed that bothered me: the wide shots, or should I say the lack thereof. When an epic film is shot in CinemaScope, you expect scenes packed with action and pageantry (a la The Ten Commandments and especially Ben-Hur). However, many of the scenes in Land of the Pharaohs struck me as feeling…cramped. To be sure, there is a grand parade with Khufu at the start of the film, but it doesn’t feel like the space is used properly with the format. Many of the shots feel much too close up, and I feel that CinemaScope wasn’t used to its greatest advantage.

As I said before though, despite these issues, Land of the Pharaohs is pretty enjoyable; the plot is basic, but watchable, and great satisfaction can be derived from watching the fate of Nellifer (that I won’t dare spoil because it’s something you just have to see for yourself).

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

See also:

Film Reviews

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Announcing the 5th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon

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Now I know normally my Remembering James Horner Blogathon is held each June, but with everything going on with the pandemic it clean slipped my mind this spring to get the blogathon set up. So, while it is a few months late, I’m pleased to announce the 5th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon will be held from August 21-August 23 2020.

I established this blogathon to honor the memory of composer James Horner, who tragically died in a plane crash in 2015. Participation is simple: Choose one of Horner’s film scores and talk about why you like it or what makes it special for you. It doesn’t have to be a detailed analysis (unless you want to go that direction), you don’t even have to talk about the entire score if you don’t want to.

For examples of blogathon entries from years past, I’ve included links to recaps of the past blogathons below.

The 4th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon-Recap!

3rd Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon: Full Recap

2nd Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon Recap!

Remembering James Horner Blogathon: Recap

If you’re not sure which film to choose, here is a link to James Horner’s filmography: James Horner Filmography

You can sign up for the blogathon by filling out the sign up page below. I need the name of your blog, your blog’s URL and the name of the film you’re going to cover. Each film can only be selected twice to avoid too many duplicates. Let me know if you have any questions and I look forward to reading your posts.

(note, there will be a slight delay between when you input your responses and when they show up in the spreadsheet).

My Thoughts on: Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege (2020)

*very minor spoilers for Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege below

When I was offered the chance to view a screener of Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege on Netflix, I immediately leapt at the chance. Few know this about me, but I was actually a pretty big Transformers fan when I was a kid (watched all the G1 cartoons growing up), enough of one that I sat through the first few Transformer movies when I was older. Thus, when I learned of a Transformers prequel series that was set entirely on Cybertron, I just had to check it out.

Divided into six episodes, War for Cybertron: Siege details the closing days of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons that traditionally ends with the Autobots crash landing on Earth in the Ark. That being said…if you go into Siege expecting a familiar story then I’ve got news for you: this is not quite the story you thought you knew. Sure, all of the recognizable figures are there: Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, Starscream and yet…they’re not quite the same.

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It’s hard to explain, but it’s done so well that I need to try. As an example, Megatron is, as expected, the tyrannical ruler of the Decepticons and he practically rules what’s left of Cybertron. And yet, despite his tyranny, Megatron’s motives for starting the fight were pure: he wanted to liberate himself and his brethren from pre-programmed oppression. On the flip side, Optimus Prime is recast in a way that makes him seem like Megatron’s mirror image. Both are driven towards an identical goal, to the extent that the code phrase for ultimate victory “Till all are one” is used on both sides (but obviously with VERY different implications). The Autobots, for their part, are described as having lived “above it all” before the war started, something that really makes you reconsider what you think you know about the Autobot/Decepticon war.

Please don’t think that these differences take away from enjoying the story of War for Cybertron: Siege, because they don’t. In fact, the episodes flow together very seamlessly and I found myself surprised several times that I’d reached the end credits already. What I enjoyed the most about this story is how it takes the story elements that longtime fans know (the Autobots fleeing Cybertron on the Ark) and explaining in detail how they got to that point. Newcomers to the Transformers story should have no trouble following along, as plenty of backstory is dropped throughout to give context to certain developments.

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There are a number of Easter Eggs harkening back to Transformers over the years. The classic “transforming” sound appears throughout, the Ark is practically identical to its G1 appearance (and includes Teletraan 1), and there are even references to Alpha Trion, another character from the G1 series, just to name a few examples. Even with the differences, War for Cybertron: Siege definitely feels like part of the Transformers universe. And the best part of all of this? It’s set entirely on Cybertron!

Cybertron is a place I felt we didn’t get to see enough of in earlier incarnations of the Transformers story, so I was very excited to see the planet partially explored in this series. Having gone through a planetary war, much of the architecture is in ruins, but there’s just enough left to give you an idea of what Cybertron was like in all its glory.

I was also pleased to see Elita-1 given such a prominent role in the story. I don’t remember that much of Elita-1 in the original G1 cartoon, but I do know I absolutely love her design in this series. Considering most of the Transformers characters are male, it’s nice to see a female character be relatively prominent.

As an introduction to the origin of Transformers, War for Cybertron: Siege gets the story off to a rousing start, but it ends in a way I didn’t expect. There’s a surprise waiting for anyone who thinks they knows how Siege ends, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s good to leave the audience guessing as to what will happen next, and that’s what this ending certainly does.

I highly recommend Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege, which premieres on Netflix on July 30th, 2020.

See also:

TV Reviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

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My Thoughts on: Empire of Passion (1978)

I decided to jump into an untouched corner of my Criterion collection by watching Empire of Passion, a film directed by Nagisa Ōshima that I purchased earlier this summer based solely on reading the film’s summary and being intrigued by it. This is one of the most relatively recent Japanese films in my collection, and I don’t think going in that I was completely prepared for how different Empire of Passion would look from a Japanese film that was made, say, in the early 1960s. Because it is certainly different from other period films that I’ve seen before.

To start with, Empire of Passion is set in 19th-century Japan (the story begins in 1895) and tells the story of a wife named Seki and a former Army soldier named Toyoji and how their illicit love affair slowly tears their lives apart. The lynchpin to all of this is the foul murder of Gisaburo, Seki’s husband. From then on, it’s a slow but steady decline into tragedy as the consequences of Seki and Toyoji’s actions ultimately catch up with them.

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It’s fascinating watching the start of the affair between Seki and Toyoji. Even though Toyoji is clearly taking advantage of Seki (including raping her several times in rather disturbing scenes), Seki herself doesn’t seem at all inclined to fight back or reassert control (her denials are half-hearted at best). Indeed, Seki, as far as I could make out, seemed ultimately content for the first half of the film to just let things happen to her. When Toyoji states that Gisaburo must die, Seki doesn’t even blink an eye at the suggestion. It’s unsettling, and that was probably the intention of the director.

If you’re watching Empire of Passion for the ghost story elements, be patient, it does take a while to get there. But once it gets going…oh boy, does it ever. The ghost segments are unnerving, often coming out of nowhere, and one scene (Seki takes a ghostly ride in a rickshaw) had the hair on the back of my neck standing on end. You literally feel pulled into the growing madness surrounding Seki and Toyoji as the story pushes on towards its inevitable conclusion. One of my favorite elements in this whole story is the old well, which has a much larger role in this story than I ever suspected. I liked the shots of snow and leaves falling in from the top of the well, they’re beautiful and more than a little ominous at the same time.

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There’s one moment I didn’t like at all, and that’s late in the film when Seki is unexpectedly blinded. The instant before it happens there’s a split-second take where you see pine needles pressing into Seki’s eyes (but it cuts away before any damage is done). The moment is so unsettling, and for me a little out of left field. I get that Seki is being punished for her part in the murder, but being blinded?? Also, speaking of punishment, I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that most of these ghostly occurrences happen to Seki. She didn’t act alone, shouldn’t Toyoji be tormented just as much? The retribution seems somewhat lopsided to me.

Ultimately, I think I liked watching Empire of Passion, even if the ending did seem somewhat abrupt. I didn’t like it as much as earlier Japanese films in my collection, but I’m still glad I saw it because it’s important to watch a range of films to better understand the genre.

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

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My Thoughts on: The Great Escape (1963)

I’ve been a fan of movies about World War II for a number of years, and The Great Escape has almost always been at the top of my list of favorites. When it was announced earlier this year that The Great Escape would be added to the Criterion Collection, picking up a copy seemed like a no-brainer. Today was the first day I sat down to watch this newly restored version of the film and I definitely have some thoughts about it.

First, some context. If you’re not familiar with this film, The Great Escape is based on the incredible true story of how Allied prisoners of war tunneled their way out of a German Luft Stalag in the latter part of World War II. The all-star cast includes Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, James Garner, and Charles Bronson, just to name a few. It’s an amazing story to sit through and watch, and it becomes even more incredible when you remember that all of this more or less happened.

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The Criterion edition of The Great Escape is certainly an improvement over the previous DVD copy that I owned (and subsequently gave away because of its issues). A glaring problem with THAT copy was that when the film was restored for widescreen, the process was botched, pulling the picture back so far that at times the edges of the sets were clearly visible and, most embarrassingly, in one seen you can clearly see crew members pushing extras along (during the July 4th sequence). I was very curious to see if Criterion had corrected these issues and I’m pleased to report they have. Everything has been restored to its proper aspect ratio, which is good because those errors in the old DVD version drove me crazy.

One thing I was slightly disappointed by was the quality of the picture itself. Considering I bought the blu-ray version of the film, part of me was expecting the image to be…crisper? This could be something to do with the quality of the master print itself (after all, a film can only be restored so far), but I am sad that the image quality wasn’t better than I remembered (I’m not too upset though, this may have been something out of Criterion’s control).

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As for the story itself, watching this film brought back all the memories of sitting down to watch this film while I was growing up. One of the things that makes The Great Escape so awesome is its perfect blend of tones. One minute you have a comedy when the three American POWs (McQueen, Garner, and Jud Taylor) “declare Independence” on the 4th of July, the very next it’s a tragedy when (on the same day), a fellow prisoner commits suicide by guard out of despair when one of the escape tunnels is discovered. It’s emotional whiplash for sure, but it’s done so effectively. Rest assured, you never forget that this is a story set in Nazi Germany, a place where terrible, TERRIBLE things happened.

I also must point out Elmer Bernstein’s fantastic score for The Great Escape. The score has actually become so iconic that many people recognize the music (or at least the film’s main theme) without actually having seen the film itself. Bernstein uses music effectively throughout the film. There’s an ominous strings motif for the prison camp itself (first heard when Ives walks up to the barbed wire barrier at the start of the film), that motif returns throughout the first part of the film, and most tellingly returns when the one escape tunnel is discovered. But I think the musical moment that sticks with me the most out of this entire film comes at the very end when the 50 prisoners are unwittingly being taken away to be shot. Bernstein accompanies the procession of trucks with a downright funereal theme that leaves no question as to what’s about to happen. It’s somewhat heavy-handed, but no doubt Bernstein wanted to avoid any false hope regarding the fates of Roger, Mac, and everyone else who was recaptured.

I highly recommend checking out The Great Escape for anyone who hasn’t seen it before, and you should definitely consider checking out the new Criterion edition.

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

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Soundtrack Review: Ghost of Tsushima (2020)

Today I had the chance to check out the soundtrack for the upcoming video game Ghost of Tsushima, which will be available (as will the soundtrack) on July 17, 2020. The music for Ghost of Tsushima was composed by Ilan Eshkeri and Shigeru Umebayashi.

 

Ilan Eshkeri is an award winning composer, artist, songwriter, producer and creator. Eshkeri’s work is performed in concert halls, theatres, galleries, on film & television and video games; his eclectic body of work is linked by his love of narrative. Recently, Ilan and Ralph Fiennes completed their third film together -a biopic about Rudolf Nureyev, ‘The White Crow’. This followed the creation of a ballet ‘Narcissus and Echo’, choreographed by famed dancer Sergei Polunin with set designs by David LaChapelle and a ballet commission from Rambert Dance Company.

Shigeru Umebayashi is an internationally renowned composer best known for creating “Yumeji’s Theme” in Wong KarWai’s film “In The Mood For Love”. In addition to also collaborating with Wong KarWai on “2046”, Umebayashi was the music producer and composer for Zhang Yimous’ films “House of Flying Daggers” and “Curse of The Golden Flower”. In “House of Flying Daggers”, he composed the song “Lovers” with soprano Kathleen Battle.

Of the soundtrack, composer ILAN ESHKERI says:

“Ghost of Tsushima is such a beautiful game set in a culture that has always fascinated me, with a powerful and compelling story. Everything about it touched me creatively and I learned so much on the journey. The score brings together Japanese music and instruments, with sounds I’ve performed and a symphony orchestra all led by melody. I hope together it creates an emotional world that touches you and draws you into the heart and spirit of Ghost.”

“When I was composing for Ghost of Tsushima, I was inspired by Japan’s nature, climate, traditional lifestyle and classical Japanese music. When players hear the music, I hope that they feel the hearts of the people of Tsushima – those who love the land, living and plowing with the natural bounties it offers, and those of the warriors who take their katanas and follow the way of the samurai,” adds composer SHIGERU UMEBAYASHI.

Having listened to most of this soundtrack, I have to say that the words of both composers do not do this soundtrack justice. This is, by far, one of the greatest soundtracks I’ve listened to this year. It doesn’t even sound like something you’d hear in a video game, this feels like pure cinema through and through, something I’ve noticed more and more often in video game soundtracks as gameplay in new video games has lately felt more like “it’s a movie but one you participate in.”

What’s really drawn me to the music for Ghost of Tsushima, aside from its cinematic qualities, are how it perfectly blends the traditional sounds of Japanese music with a full-blown symphony orchestra. I thought I knew what to expect when I downloaded this soundtrack to check it out, but I had no clue. This is a perfect marriage of musical styles, and both Eshkeri and Umebayashi should be congratulated for creating something so beautiful.

Two tracks that I must highlight are “The Way of the Ghost” and “The Fate of Tsushima.” The former serves as the introductory piece in the soundtrack, and is ideally suited for that task. While the melody frequently flirts with a melancholy identity, it is otherwise full to bursting with tension, promising lots of adventures to come as the game is just beginning. The latter track, “The Fate of Tsushima”, to me it feels like the fulfillment of everything “The Way of the Ghost” promised. It’s full of action, melodies that continually hop and leap without pausing for rest. Out of the entire soundtrack, this sounded like the climax of the story, with everything coming together in one glorious moment of musical perfection.

In the late 13th century, the Mongol empire has laid waste to entire nations along their campaign to conquer the East. Tsushima Island is all that stands between mainland Japan and a massive Mongol invasion fleet led by the ruthless and cunning general, Khotun Khan. As the island burns in the wake of the first wave of the Mongol assault, samurai warrior Jin Sakai stands as one of the last surviving members of his clan. He is resolved to do whatever it takes, at any cost, to protect his people and reclaim his home. He must set aside the traditions that have shaped him as a warrior to forge a new path, the path of the Ghost, and wage an unconventional war for the freedom of Tsushima.

I know 2020 is far from over, but I’m going to be hard pressed to find a better soundtrack to listen to than what I’ve heard for Ghost of Tsushima.

You can get the soundtrack for Ghost of Tsushima (along with the game) on July 17, 2020.

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