Category Archives: Films

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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My Thoughts on: The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

It is confession time: I was, at one time, fully prepared to pass The Wolf of Snow Hollow by without so much as a second glance. But then…I received the opportunity to check out the soundtrack (an opportunity I will rarely pass up) and what I heard sounded so spectacular that…I decided on the spot I would need to check this film out. It didn’t hurt that this was apparently a movie about werewolves (I liked werewolf stories before it was cool).

As it turns out, it’s a good thing I waited so long after watching the film to put my thoughts together because after the credits rolled I wasn’t quite sure what to think about what I’d just seen. With some time to think though, I think I can safely say that The Wolf of Snow Hollow is an amazing film, and not at all what I was expecting.

Let me forewarn you, if you haven’t already heard: if you go in to The Wolf of Snow Hollow expecting anything resembling a traditional werewolf story…you are in for a disappointment. This is not, as I’d thought, a traditional werewolf story, but rather a deconstruction of one. Jim Cummings (who wrote, directed, AND starred in this film by the way) has taken a number of traditional story elements about werewolves and moved them around in completely unexpected ways. This includes the reveal of the titular “wolf”, the execution of which initially confused me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it perfectly fit into the deconstruction of the werewolf trope.

The one element I still can’t quite wrap my head around is how The Wolf of Snow Hollow combines comedy and drama. There is some severe mood whiplash taking place throughout this story. On the one hand, I get why this is given what the main character is going through (which is actually quite a lot). On the other hand…it’s a LOT to process, and I found it hard to concentrate sometimes because I wasn’t sure if I should be laughing or cringing in terror. And speaking of terror, there are some SHOCKING moments in this film. The gore, while startling, was not unexpected given the subject material, but what really got me was that the “infant immortality” story trope was averted (that’s the moment that made me realize things were going to a whole different level).

I was, however, pleased to see that the music fits into the overall film just as well as I thought it would. Whatever issues I have with some of the story elements is easily glossed over whenever the music kicks into high gear. (For more of my thoughts on the soundtrack, check out the link to my soundtrack review below).

While uneven in places, The Wolf of Snow Hollow is a lot of fun to watch. I don’t think I’ll ever look at werewolf stories in the same way ever again.

Let me know what you think about The Wolf of Snow Hollow in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Soundtrack Review: The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

Soundtrack News: ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ Soundtrack Available Now

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My Thoughts on: Soul (2020)

When Soul was bumped from its November 20th release date to Christmas Day on Disney+, I instantly knew what my top goal for my mini-Christmas vacation would be: sit and watch Soul with my family.

Not only was I successful with this goal, I also ended up watching a pretty enjoyable movie, though not one without a few flaws (I’ll get to that later). In fact, it was so much fun I didn’t realize until after the credits had rolled that (minor spoiler alert) there isn’t really a villain in this film. Which, if you think about it, doesn’t happen all that often. But really Soul doesn’t need a bad guy because it is dealing with a whole lot already.

Soul is, without a doubt, the deepest animated film I’ve ever seen. Think Inside Out and ratchet it up by a factor of 100 and you’ll be pretty close to the mark. In fact, Soul is so deep, that I wholeheartedly agree with every critic who has said that Soul is not and should not be considered a movie for children. This film deals pretty openly with matters of life and death, hinted reincarnation, chakras, the astral plane, the afterlife in general, and in short what it means to be alive on this Earth. It was a bold, BOLD move to deal with all of these concepts in a single film so openly and I applaud everyone involved with the film for putting that part of the story together. You might not agree with all of the beliefs presented or referenced in Soul (for example, I don’t believe in reincarnation), but you can easily appreciate the tone the film is going for: that there is way more to life and living than you might think.

Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner is an absolute delight. As a musician myself, I could totally feel the pull Joe is feeling between following his dreams of being a full time musician, and taking the pragmatic route by being a band teacher. Joe is the perfect kind of everyman to take us through the story, and the scenes where Joe loses himself in “the zone” while playing the piano….those moments spoke to me the most.

Tina Fey as 22….it took a while but she grew on me as the story went on. By the time the film reaches the emotional climax (and it IS emotional), I was fully invested in what happened to 22.

Also, I have to say I LOVE all of the music scenes in this film. It’s great to see jazz given such a prominent spotlight in a Disney Pixar film, and I really hope this encourages everyone watching, young and old, to give jazz another listen if they’ve dismissed the genre in the past.

Now, while I loved a LOT about Soul, it is not a film without flaws. Most noticeably…the middle of the film. I tried and tried to get around it, but I can’t excuse the middle act of the film. I had a feeling from the previews that something of a “screwball” nature would be occurring, but I was not prepared for what actually happened. Here’s the thing: this gag they go with (minor spoiler alert: when Joe’s soul is trapped in a cat’s body) is kind of funny, but it doesn’t quite fit what comes before and after. It’s almost like the writers struggled with how to transition from the beginning to the climax of the film and this was the best they could come up with. In other words, this part feels like it came from a slightly different film.

The good news is, while the middle of the film lags here and there, it more than recovers at the climax to leave me feeling very satisfied with the overall experience. I know there’s a lot of discussion about Joe spending a significant chunk of the film looking….other than himself, but really jazz and African-American culture is given such a spotlight…..pardon me if this sounds too forward, but I feel like it sort of balances out in the end.

I highly recommend Soul to anyone who hasn’t gotten the chance to see it yet. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year (and in the craziness that has been 2020 that’s saying a lot).

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

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My Thoughts on: Mulan (2020)

After waiting 9 additional months (thanks COVID), I have finally seen Disney’s reimagined Mulan while visiting home for Christmas and I’m pleased to report I liked it just as much as I thought I would.

It’s no secret that I have extremely mixed emotions where the live-action Disney remakes are concerned (the fact that most of them are inferior to the original doesn’t help). But from the moment I saw the first teaser, Mulan felt different. It felt to me like Disney had finally hit the right balance of new and old, such as I hadn’t seen since Maleficent in 2014 (despite the title that is very much a remake of Sleeping Beauty and you all know it). My curiosity was definitely piqued by the film appearing to draw on traditional Chinese martial arts films (wuxia is awesome), so I was super excited to finally check the film out with my mom like we’d always planned.

In case you didn’t know, this new Mulan is really, really good. As with any other Disney remake, there are story beats that come directly from the animated original, but they’re switched up just enough in this film that they’re actually an improvement. One of my favorite details is that the songs of Mulan (one of my favorite sets of songs in the Disney renaissance), make a subdued comeback in the form of spoken dialogue. I absolutely loved this, it was great to hear mentions of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For.” Hopefully the many Disney fans upset (like me) about Mulan not being a musical were appeased by this, I know I was.

But my favorite part of this film has to be the witch. This is not something I thought I would say a year ago. When it was announced that a witch was being added to the story, I thought it was a stupid idea, but that was before I realized that this wasn’t your stereotypical witch. The witch in Mulan is cool! In fact, she’s so interesting, I would almost demand that Disney make a prequel about how the witch got to be who she is, I can tell there’s a huge story there. Of course she’s designed to be a foil to Mulan, showing what our heroine might become if pushed down the wrong path, and I really liked the obvious similarities between the pair.

Another thing I liked? Jason Scott Lee as Bori Khan. He is a huge improvement over the animated villain Shan Yu, as we now have a much more defined reason for why Bori Khan wants to kill the Emperor. Also, I wanted to mention him because Jason Scott Lee also played Mowgli in Disney’s FIRST live action remake of The Jungle Book in 1994, and I thought it was really cool to see him in a Disney movie again.

Also, while I’m still upset that Li Shang is absent from this film, I AM okay with how Disney kept in a potential love interest for Mulan anyway. I say potential because nothing has officially happened by the time the credits roll, but it’s more than obvious that a sequel is being set up, and I would be more than happy to watch one.

One final note: the scene were Mulan finally embraces the truth of her identity as a female warrior is so powerful, it made me cry. Those are the kind of moments I live for in movies, and Disney hit the nail on the head with this one.

Mulan is definitely one of the best Disney live-action remakes the studio has made to date and I would be more than happy to see Mulan’s story continue in a future film.

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

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My Thoughts on: The Mummy (1932)

Having made my way through most of the Frankenstein films, I decided to take a detour into a film series I hitherto knew very little about: the Mummy! Oh sure, I’m very well acquainted with The Mummy (1999) and its sequel (I don’t acknowledge the existence of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor), but until this past month I’d never seen the film that started it all, the 1932 film starring Boris Karloff as the titular Mummy.

First I have to say that every assumption I had about this movie turned out to be wrong. This is NOT one of those movies that has the Mummy shambling through the countryside wreaking havoc as he goes (that’s all of the sequels), and really the film only bears the loosest of resemblances to the 1999 remake. But speaking of, I was surprised at how identical the core premises of each film are. In this film, as in the remake, Imhotep is a high priest cursed to be mummified alive for attempting to revive his love from the dead. Here it’s the Scroll of Thoth that gives the Mummy his power instead of the Book of the Dead (no Book of Amun-Ra in sight either), but otherwise it’s the same basic principle.

My initial disappointment at not seeing more of Karloff in his Mummy bandages was quickly melted away when I saw his performance for the bulk of the film as Ardeth Bey (bet that name sounds familiar if you’ve seen the 1999 film). Even if you weren’t paying attention at the beginning, the film leaves no doubt to the viewer that Ardeth Bey is the rejuvenated Mummy. His walk is unnaturally stiff, and he speaks very slowly and carefully, as if used to speaking a language very different form those found in the modern world. I’m beginning to understand why Karloff was so acclaimed. You’d never think that just a year before Karloff had played Frankenstein’s monster. He completely embodies the Mummy with no hint of that other role, and that’s not something all actors can do.

Now on to something I found really cool. Inevitably, the film flashed back to how the Mummy came to be. It only took a few minutes for me to realize that this entire flashback to Ancient Egypt is essentially a silent film, exaggerated acting and all, spliced into the middle of a sound film.This blew my mind until I considered that The Mummy was made in 1932, silent films had been made on a fairly regular basis until just a few years prior. It wouldn’t have been that hard to put together, and it was a fairly ingenious way to make it clear that we are in the past (by using a now-outdated filming style). And that flashback is the most consistent with the 1999 remake: Imhotep steals the Scroll of Thoth to resurrect Anck-su-namum but is caught before he can finish. That’s pretty much beat for beat how the prologue of the remake plays out (minus the Pharaoh being murdered, that doesn’t happen in this one).

I really like Zita Johann as Helen/Anck-su-namum. I was fascinated to learn that Zita was a firm believer in reincarnation, which I think really helped her performance as the ramifications of reincarnation are hinted at here. See, at one point it’s hinted that Helen and Anck-su-namun are both inhabiting the same body, and feeling very confused about it. You really feel for Helen’s suffering, as she clearly doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. You also, believe it or not, feel for Anck-su-namun once she awaken’s in Helen’s body. Here’s an ancient priestess briefly living in the 20th century, and handling it pretty well if I’m honest (though being surrounded by ancient Egyptian relics int he museum probably helped). I loved how ancient magic came into play at the climax of the film. The idea that these ancient spells can still work if only the right words are spoken fascinates me.

Also, I have to talk about how amazing the Mummy makeup is. I’m referring to the Mummy as he’s seen lying in his coffin at the start of the film. In black and white, it looks for all the world like a desiccated Mummy, perfectly preserved. But then…the magic words are spoken….and the Mummy’s eyes blink open! That’s the moment that sticks with me the most out of this whole film, seeing those living eyes open in the middle of an otherwise dead face. Now THAT is horror, something that sends a chill down your spine no matter how old the film is. Also, the moment at the end when Imhotep turns into dust is very well done. I’m a little sad that Imhotep didn’t get some final words, but I understand why they didn’t go that route. Since the Scroll of Thoth is all that was keeping him alive, I can see that its destruction would ensure his immediate demise.

One last thought: I’m glad The Mummy was made pre-Code because otherwise those scenes with Anck-su-namun in her quite revealing Egyptian outfit would never have happened (and I shudder to think what might’ve appeared in its place). It’s still wild to me that such things were considered improper, why Helen looks almost modern in that outfit (yes I know, it was a different time, I just can’t help commenting on it).

The Mummy (1932) has quickly become one of my favorite horror films, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a horror classic. Just for fun, follow up a watching of this film with the 1999 remake (it’s a fun experience I promise!)

Let me know what you think about The Mummy (1932) in the comments below and have a great day!

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The Music of Snow Hollow: Talking with Composer Ben Lovett about ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ (2020)

After getting to check out the soundtrack for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, I knew I had to speak with composer Ben Lovett about his work on this soundtrack. Fortunately for me, the moment came and I took it! It was so exciting to get to ask Ben Lovett about his work on this score and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time to answer my questions about the music for The Wolf of Snow Hollow.

Ben Lovett is an American recording artist, songwriter and composer known for crafting unconventional scores to a diverse range of films including the Netflix original The Ritual, Independent Spirit Award nominee The Signal, the Duplass Brothers’ survival thriller Black Rock, Amy Seimetz’s award-winning noir Sun Don’t Shine, Emma Tammi’s avant-garde western The Wind, and the time travel sci-fi noir Synchronicity which earned Ben a nomination for “Discovery of the Year” at the prestigious World Soundtrack Awards. Lovett’s latest work includes scores for the Hulu series Into the Dark, the colorful taxidermy documentary Stuffed, Orion Pictures tragicomedy The Wolf of Snow Hollow from director Jim Cummings, and a new collaboration with Ritual director David Bruckner on the Searchlight Pictures thriller, The Night House.

How did you get started with being a film composer?

I was tricked.  Someone convinced me I could do it even though I tried to argue otherwise.  Or more specifically, they convinced me I had no good reason not to try, and of course they were right.  That was in college at the University of Georgia in the late 90’s and I’ve been doing it ever since.

How did you get connected with The Wolf of Snow Hollow?

The producers at Vanishing Angle reached out early in post production. I scored “American Folk” for them a few years back and had a good rapport there. Jim is part of a great community of filmmakers that all share an orbit with Vanishing Angle and he was familiar with some of the scores I’d done. I watched “Thunder Road” and absolutely loved it. I knew after about the first 10 minutes that I had to be part of whatever he was doing next.

I saw in the PR announcing the release of the soundtrack, that you said that you and the director talked together and some big names came up, like Herrmann and Prokofiev, in regards to the music. How big an influence did they play in the film’s score? What other names came up in the discussion that ended up having an influence on the score?

When I came onboard Jim sent me a YouTube clip of a 75 piece orchestra performing Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” and said “The score needs to be like this!” The budget was very modest and there wasn’t a lot of time so as reference points go that one was exciting and hilarious and terrifying all at once. Jim was super enthusiastic about the score though and I could tell he wasn’t afraid to swing big. He referenced Jon Brion’s score to “Magnolia”, and the Jerry Goldsmith score for “The Burbs” as spiritual reference points as well. So I dove in with this sort of Mt Rushmore of influences in the background and tried to just channel the spirit of all that into some kind of hybrid, low budget, horror comedy appropriate, musical jambalaya.

More specifically, how big an influence did Bernard Herrmann’s music have? I swear I can hear parts resembling Psycho (1960), especially in “Third Crime Scene.” Are there direct musical homages in there? If so, was that a thing decided on from the beginning or did it just evolve as the scoring process continued?

That evolved along the way. It was more a sense of feeling like that was a common language where all those other references crossed paths. There weren’t direct homages or specific Herrmann scores I was referencing, it was more channelling the spirit of his style as a general point of inspiration. There’s something very signature in the way his scores operate melodically, and some intangible quality about the nature of their relationship to the picture and how his music informs the overall aesthetic of those films.

“Third Crime Scene” is kind of a thought experiment of me going, “What if Bernard Herrmann had scored “Peter & the Wolf’? I was never afraid of landing anywhere in the vicinity of his talent so it felt like a safe exercise to swing for something with a similar mentality, or whatever I’d interpreted that to mean. I didn’t get too academic about it, it just seemed like a fun sandbox to play in and one that seemed appropriate for this film.

How did you approach scoring The Wolf of Snow Hollow? Did you have a lot of time to work on the music?

Definitely not. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with a lot of time, does that exist? It was a small window from start to finish, very much your classic race the clock, down to the write, 11th hour, head first slide into home plate kind of finish. But that’s also the job, honestly, so I’m no stranger to that.

In terms of the approach, I knew I would have a limited number of crayons to draw with so I made a decision to just pick just the boldest flavor of each color that I needed. I guess that’s where the Herrmann thing comes in – I wasn’t going to have a lot of instruments so I needed to make sure the parts could carry a lot of water for us. It was figuring out how to pack big ideas into small packages, in that sense. How to deliver on the ambition of the director within the logistical limitations of the schedule and budget. I felt like the film had the capacity to hold something pretty audacious, it’s just something in how Jim directs movies. The score needed a distinct musical personality that could address the horrible reality of the things going on in this town, but specifically in how they’re related to this manic central character trying to put a stop to them – to find both the comedy and humanity in his struggle, because that’s really where the movie takes place thematically.

On a related note, are there leitmotifs in the score or did you approach it another way?

There are certainly some thematic, recurring melodies and variations in there that map out the arc of the main character, but we weren’t too dogmatic about those always accompanying specific situations or thematic moments. You routinely have characters in the film that are introduced then promptly killed off, so it became more about the recurrence of certain instruments and sounds than melodies, and what those sounds might represent to the viewer. Because I was working to locked picture with a new director and very much doing both at full sprint, sometimes the process influences decisions as much as any sort of creative intention. You’re trying to do your best to help make the movie as good as you can, while you can, with what you have.

Do you have a favorite track in the score?

Nah. Once they’re done you love em all, because you no longer have to feed them and change their diaper and they’re not keeping you up all night. I don’t have kids so I don’t know if that analogy works but, it’s sorta like that I imagine. Once they’re grown and leave home you forgive them for all they put you through. Maybe that’s where the analogy breaks down, I don’t know. More to your point, I think I’m more likely to listen back to ones that either took an unexpected turn along the way or endured some interesting metamorphosis by way of film scoring being a naturally collaborative process. Generally the ones that are the hardest to nail are usually my favorites in the end. I think the progression of the three crime scenes is a pretty fun journey. If you play those in a row you really get a sense of the variety of ground we needed to cover. “Detectives” and “Returning Evidence” maybe best capture the overall spirit and intention of the score, and are both thematic pieces that contain recurring elements.

What do you hope listeners notice when they listen to this music?

Well I always hope the album provides the means to re-experience the story in a way that reveals another level to what you might have enjoyed or experienced in the film. I feel like there are elements of any story that only music can describe, or that it best describes, in some strange innate way that we experience things as humans. Once you have a reference point for the characters and the story, my hope is that people can throw on the album and revisit Snow Hollow and uncover some new clues about what was going on there the whole time.

Again, I’d like to thank Ben Lovett for taking the time to speak with me about his work on The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Please check this film and soundtrack out if you haven’t already.

See also:

Soundtrack Review: The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

Composer Interviews

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My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Continuing the Frankenstein marathon, I promptly moved on to the fourth film in the series, The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), a decent enough film, though it’s more than obvious that the story is starting to go off the rails just slightly. This is not only the first Frankenstein film without Boris Karloff involved in any way, it also stretches credulity by now following Frankenstein’s second son Ludwig (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), yet another doctor-scientist who has mostly managed to escape the stigma attached to the name of Frankenstein.

Here’s the thing about The Ghost of Frankenstein: surely we must assume that a number of years have passed since Son of Frankenstein because that is the only way I can believe that Sir Cedric Hardwicke is the younger brother of Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone). If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was the other way around. Forgetting the noticeable age difference between the alleged brothers, there’s also the not-so-minor-detail of Lon Chaney Jr. now playing the Monster. It’s not that he does a bad job, he’s actually quite believable. It’s just….I can tell it’s not the same person, and that bothers me every time I see this film. Also, is it just me or does Lon Chaney spend most of the film with his eyes closed?

Speaking of recasting, the one element of this film I dislike is that Hardwicke is used to play the ghost of his father Henry (originally played in two films by Colin Clive). I sort of get why they did so, but you’re telling me they couldn’t find anyone to serve as a sound alike for Colin Clive? I feel like they missed a big opportunity by not casting in a way that made it appear the ghost of Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein was really present and it’s the one detail I would change if I could.

Those issues aside, the film is otherwise a direct sequel to Son of Frankenstein, with Ygor (Bela Lugosi) still leading the Monster around in an attempt to fulfill his longterm goals. This is the film where the explanations for how the Monster survives from one film to the next start to become ridiculous. I can believe that the Monster dropped down into a cavern when the mill burned down in the first film, I can believe he survived the lab blowing up at the end of Bride of Frankenstein. However, you want me to believe that the Monster survived being dropped into boiling hot sulfur that then hardened around him? Nope, that’s one step too far (it gets more ridiculous from here).

Also, how is it that all of the Frankenstein children manage to get their hands on electrical equipment necessary for reviving the Monster? I can sort of understand how Wolf pulled it off by rebuilding the laboratory on the estate, but explain to me how and why Ludwig also has the right tools when it’s implied he’s a brain surgeon? Funny how that works isn’t it.

The Ghost of Frankenstein also starts the recurring subplot of giving the Monster a new brain to “fix” him (a plot point that will return in House of Frankenstein). It’s an interesting thought, though I notice no one ever explains to the Monster that this would essentially erase him from existence (since the brain is what makes everything work). I was suitably impressed by how the combination of Ygor and the Monster came off (the Monster is perfectly dubbed with Ygor’s voice). The explanation for why it doesn’t work is also perfectly simple and, it makes sense.

The Ghost of Frankenstein isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is definitely below the three films that came before it. A significant stretching of the imagination is required to enjoy this film without asking any questions about how it works (I particularly roll my eyes when the Monster is “recharged” by bolts of lightning). Your mileage will definitely vary on how much you enjoy this film.

Let me know what you think about The Ghost of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Film Reviews

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