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3rd Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon: Full Recap

It’s finally time for the 3rd Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon. Each day I’ll be posting a recap of what everyone’s submitted for the blogathon 🙂 I can’t wait to read all of your posts as well as add my own this weekend 🙂 Thanks again for taking part in this blogathon, have fun!

Reelweegiemidget Reviews looks at: The Hand (1981)

Plain, Simple Tom takes us to old California and examines: The Mask of Zorro (1998)

MovieRob looks at a golfing legend with: Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (2004)

My submission this year looks at James Horner’s score for: Troy (2004)

MovieRob looks at Disney’s underrated film: The Rocketeer (1991)

MovieRob looks at one of my favorites: Casper (1995)

Kim @ Tranquil Dreams looks at one of Horner’s final pieces: The 33 (2015)

Cinematic Catharsis looks at an early piece with: Krull (1983)

 

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Official Film Music Central Patreon

Hey everyone! I hope you are having an amazing day. Since there have been a lot of new followers as of late I thought I would share the details of Film Music Central’s Patreon page.

I actually started the Patreon page two years ago, but I’ve only been using it full time for about six months. Patreon is a platform that lets you directly contribute to a content creator (blogger, vlogger, etc.) whose work you like. In the case of Film Music Central, my Patreon operates to fund trips to the movie theater so I can afford to watch and review the newest films as they are released. Later this will expand to covering the expenses of paying for the website domain and later upgrading the site and possibly expanding into other media (video game reviews, book reviews) but that’s in the future for now.

There are three tiers of subscription: Film Friend, Film Lover and Film Maniac.

-Film Friend is the first tier and it’s $2/month. At this tier you receive access to all “patron-only” posts which consist of my reviews of movie trailers, recaps of what I’ve viewed in a given month, etc.

-Film Lover is the second tier and is $5/month. At this tier you have access to all “patron-only” posts as well as the ability to commission a blog article that covers a film or film soundtrack of your choice within reason. You’ll also get a shoutout on the Patreon page 🙂

-Film Maniac is the third and currently highest tier and is $10/month. At this tier you receive all of the above as well as the ability to commission a full-length (10-15 minute) YouTube video where I discuss a film, film soundtrack or film related topic of your choice.

For those who subscribe and become “patrons” of the blog, know that you can cancel at any time, there’s no binding commitment for a year or anything like that.

Any support that can be given means the world to me (please don’t feel like you HAVE to, there’s no obligation) and makes it that much easier to bring you the best film and soundtrack reviews possible.

To check out the page for yourself, click on the link at the top of the article. Thank you again for all the support you’ve given in the last 2 1/2 years and have a great day 🙂

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My thoughts on: Annihilation (2018)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

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*warning: this review will contain a number of spoilers, so please stop here if you haven’t seen the film yet!

It’s been just over 12 hours since I saw Annihilation and I still have an intense feeling of awe. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this film could be the 2001: A Space Odyssey for my generation, it has that exact same feeling of “I just saw something beautiful but it’s going to take  multiple viewings to better understand it.” Nevertheless, I believe I understand the gist of what director Alex Garland was trying to show us, so I’ll make my way as best I can.

Three years before our story begins, a meteorite crashed into a lighthouse inside a national park and immediately began emitting something dubbed the Shimmer. Imagine the iridescent surface of a bubble and combine it with endless flows and ripples. Now grow that bubble to gigantic proportions and you have a pretty good idea of what the border of the Shimmer looks like. Scientists have sent multiple teams in to explore this phenomenon, but no one has ever returned…until now.

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I should mention the proper story actually begins with Lena (Natalie Portman), a former soldier and professor in cellular biology, being debriefed in an isolation chamber after the story is already over (dialogue implies she is the lone survivor). Apparently, she was inside the Shimmer for 4 months, even though Lena can’t recall that much time passing. The story then flashes back and reveals her husband, Sgt. Kane (Oscar Isaac), has been missing for a year. It turns out he was part of the last team sent into the Shimmer. Out of nowhere, Kane appears outside the bedroom, but something is off about him. He doesn’t remember anything and he suddenly gets really sick. Lena and Kane are taken to the facility studying the Shimmer and while Kane falls into a coma, Lena decides to join the next team going in (all-female as it turns out) to see if there’s some way to reverse what’s happening to her husband.

The team consists of Lena, Anya Thorensen (a paramedic), Josie Radek (a physicist), Tuva Novotny as Cass Shepherd, a surveyor and geologist, and all are led by Dr. Ventress (a psychologist who secretly has cancer and wants to know the secret of the Shimmer before she dies). I need to stop and highlight Dr. Ventress for a moment because she’s the closest we come to a human antagonist in the entire story (and I’m still debating whether the Shimmer is an antagonist or not). From the moment you meet her, at least in my experience, you instantly start to hate her. There’s something unnatural in her behavior even before entering the Shimmer, I’d almost go so far as to say she was exhibiting sociopathic behavior.

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One great thing about this film is it doesn’t take too long to get to the action inside the Shimmer, but you should know that once the team is inside things get really weird really fast. For example, Lena wakes up in a tent, having no memory of making camp, and it turns out that somehow three or four days have passed and no one in the team remembers any of it. Then there’s the mutations: as Lena recounts, they start subtly. First they find strange new flowers that seem to be crossbreeds of different species (that shouldn’t be possible). Then Josie is attacked by a huge crocodile that has strange mutations in its teeth. Some of the mutations are beautiful: Lena comes across a pair of deer that have mutated into strange beings with flowering branches where their antlers should be, but some are absolutely terrifying. The hardest scene for me to get through was one where the group is twice attacked by a monstrous bear that somehow has part of its skull exposed. But that’s not the worst part of it: after attacking and killing Cass, it somehow absorbed part of Cass’ consciousness as she died (Josie speculates that the Shimmer is acting like a genetic prism that is causing the DNA of everything inside it to actively combine together) and now can use her final screams of help as a lure. What I mean is, every time the bear roars, you can hear Cass screaming and it was absolutely terrifying.

Of course, as in any horror film, one by one the team is picked off:

  • Cass is killed when her throat is ripped out by the bear
  • Anya is mauled to death by the same bear after suffering a psychotic episode
  • Josie’s fate is….interesting. After Cass and Anya die, Josie is seen sitting outside, seemingly at peace. As she tells Lena “She (Ventress) wants to face it (the Shimmer) and you want to fight it. But I don’t want either of those things.” And as Josie talks and walks away, she begins to sprout leaves and branches and suddenly disappears altogether. I think she transforms into one of the people-shaped flower growths that have begun appearing. And I don’t think she died either; if anything, I feel like Josie transcended into…something else.
  • Ventress makes it to the lighthouse before Lena, but something strange happens to her that I cannot adequately put into words (but I’ll address a theory I have when I wrap this up).

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Lena finally arrives at the lighthouse, ground zero of the Shimmer and discovers a strange growth surrounding a dark hole and also an incinerated body sitting in front of a video camera. And this is when things go beyond “this is weird” to “what the f*ck just happened??” Because, as the footage reveals, Lena’s husband went inside the Shimmer and committed suicide with a phosphorous grenade while talking to…a doppelganger. It’s one of those situations where your brain races like “If that’s Lena’s husband sitting dead on the floor, then who or WHAT is lying in a coma back at the base??”

 

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The next sequence is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but I simply can’t put it into words. I’ve tried several times and it simply doesn’t do the moment justice. Suffice it to say that Lena is confronted by her own double, or at least something that is morphing into her double. But just as it gain’s Lena’s face, the real Lena puts another phosphorous grenade into its hands and triggers it, running out the door as it goes off. This incinerates the root of the Shimmer and causes the entire phenomenon to collapse.

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Apparently, the Shimmer was some kind of alien life, but Lena can’t say what it wanted, if indeed it wanted anything at all. All she wants is her husband (and it’s interesting that she apparently neglects to mention that the man now recovered from his coma is NOT her husband but an alien duplicate). “Kane” confirms to Lena that he is not her husband, but upon ascertaining that she is the one the real Kane told him about, he embraces her and then something strange happens: his eyes begin to shimmer with a certain familiar iridescence. And after a moment, Lena’s eyes “Shimmer” too. And that’s where the story ends!

What does it all mean? I believe, that even though the phenomenon has collapsed, the Shimmer is still here, it’s just internalized inside two people now. Just like a pair of cells. As Lena told a class at the beginning: two become four, become eight, become sixteen…I think this is only the beginning before the Shimmer spreads through humanity, though what it will ultimately do I cannot say (though if you have a theory I’d love to hear it in the comments below).

Now as to the fate of Ventress, here is my theory: I think Lena was talking to her double the entire time and here’s why: when we first see Ventress in the chamber, you can clearly see that she has no eyes, but when she turns to face Lena, she suddenly has them. When Lena’s double is being made, the last thing to emerge are the eyes. So I think the real Ventress died, was absorbed by the Shimmer and now her double is here, but it can’t sustain itself because of the cancer in the original Ventress. That’s my theory anyway.

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I wish I could explain certain parts better, but Annihilation is one of those films that needs to be experienced to be understood. Is it, as some say, too “intellectual”? Maybe…but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a movie that makes you think about what it’s trying to tell you.

One more brief note: in the middle of the film, there’s an extremely graphic scene involving some found footage (you’ll know when you come to it). I just wanted you to be aware that such a scene exists because it deeply disturbed me while I watched it.

Final thoughts: Annihilation is a brilliant film from Alex Garland and a must-see for fans of the science fiction genre.

What did you think of Annihilation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Have a great day!

See also: Soundtrack Review: Annihilation (2018)

And for more film reviews: Live-Action Films/TV

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The Underappreciated Music of STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

Note: This is published on behalf of Carl Wonders, who doesn’t have a blog of his own but wanted to contribute to the blogathon 🙂

When thinking about a topic for The Music of Star Trek Blogathon hosted by Film Music Central, I eventually decided on a score that, much like the film itself, seems to have fallen in the proverbial crack between the excellent STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN and the immensely entertaining STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (although the score to the latter film is certainly polarizing). But in addition to it being somewhat overlooked, this particular soundtrack holds a special place for me.

STAR TREK III introduced me to the world of film scoring.

No, really. Of course, I had been aware of movie theme songs for a long time (my childhood was marinated in all things STAR WARS), but in terms of underscore, this was the film that made me sit up and notice.

The moment comes about halfway through the movie. The Klingons have landed on the Genesis planet and are tracking an away team of Saavik, David Marcus, and a rejuvenated Spock. Suddenly, and without warning, the sun begins to set on the rapidly aging planet. As both Kruge and David watch, there is this emotional swelling of fluttering strings playing over the scene. It only lasts for about 30 seconds, but I had never consciously noticed a moment so brought to life by the underscore quite like that. Ever since then, I was hooked.

David Marcus
(amazingly, this cue, “Sunset on Genesis” was not included in the original release of the score).

The Score

Of course, this isn’t the only part worth mentioning in the soundtrack. Overall, I think ST:III gets overlooked by those who simply think of it as James Horner doing a rehash of his score to the previous movie. While many of the themes are no doubt similar, I think this is a very superficial and unfair critique. Its popularity was certainly not helped by the rather abysmal first CD release, which is missing a lot of quality music yet found room for an embarrassing disco version of the theme song. Ugh.

The score, like the film itself, is much more emotional and personal than it’s predecessor, and the orchestration suits that very well. In many ways, it’s a more mature score than ST:II, and is one that is more suited to sitting down and listening to rather than something to have on in the background. There is a subtlety here that isn’t really present in ST:II, especially in the lower registers, and if you’re not paying attention you might miss it.

Of course, the Kirk and Enterprise themes are both there from the previous film, and while I absolutely love the Jerry Goldsmith theme, these two from Horner might be my favorite character themes from the films (I’ve always thought of the Goldsmith theme representing Star Trek itself rather than any particular character). Horner also makes the best use of the original Alexander Courage fanfare of any of the composers, particularly in a moment that I will get to later, typically rotating the theme across multiple sections (primarily the horns and trumpets).

I could spend several thousand words walking through every track on the CD, but in the interest of space (and the attention of the readers), I’m going to focus on a few key, standout sections, in addition to the sunset scene I mentioned above.

Stealing the Enterprise

This sequence is easily the best in the film and the score, and with the possible exception of “The Enterprise” from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, this may be my favorite cue in the entire series. If you want just the highlights of what Star Trek music is, this is James Horner’s Star Trek distilled into a fantastic 8:42. The entirety is a wonderful romp that perfectly fits the action on screen, as Admiral Kirk and his party, well, steal the Enterprise.

Some highlights:

There’s an interesting theme that Horner brings in with the horns right when the team beams over to the Enterprise. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember hearing it anytime before or after this scene. In addition, nowhere in the series is the Alexander Courage fanfare better used than in the moment right as the Enterprise is set to pull away from space dock. The music builds as Courage’s theme moves through the orchestra until the order for “one-quarter impulse power” is given, and the ship slowly starts to move.

“Gentlemen. May the wind be at our backs. Stations please.””Gentlemen. May the wind be at our backs. Stations please.”
The U.S.S. Excelsior, and particularly Captain Stiles, receives a piano/mallet percussion-based melody that I can only really call the “pompous-ass” motif. It makes an appearance pretty much any time the Excelsior crew is on screen, such as the moment when Stiles is interrupted while filing his nails (!!). I also refer to it as the “pompous-ass” motif because it underscores the scene with Mr. Adventure, right before Uhura locks him in the closet. It’s also worth noting that James Horner would later adapt this into a secondary theme for Timothy Dalton’s character, Neville Sinclair, in THE ROCKETEER.

“This isn’t reality. This is fantasy.””This isn’t reality. This is fantasy.”
The final 2:30 of the cue is a perfect example of building and releasing tension. The Enterprise is heading towards the giant space doors, but it’s unclear whether they are going to open. Then, at the last minute, Scotty works another miracle, and the Kirk theme is reprised in triumph as the Enterprise exits and turns towards space. For a moment, a lyrical rendition of the Enterprise theme plays once, but is interrupted by the approaching Excelsior. After some back-and-forth between Stiles and Kirk, the Enterprise warps away. As the shiny-new Excelsior begins to power up its fabled transwarp drive, Horner supplies some gloriously over-the-top “revving up” music until, just like in the movie…nothing happens.

“Kirk…if you do this, you’ll never sit in the captain’s chair again.””Kirk…if you do this, you’ll never sit in the captain’s chair again.”
Other Highlights

“Bird of Prey Decloaks” is another back-and-forth cue that plays the Kirk theme off of Horner’s Klingon theme. The latter theme is another polarizing bit among Trek music fans. I happen to think it’s fine; Goldsmith’s is so good it’s not really fair to compare them. My favorite moment is when it looks like Kirk has won the battle, and there is a tremendous trumpet counterpoint playing over Kirk’s theme. Then, the crew slowly realizes that they’ve overtaxed the jury-rigged Enterprise, and the tone takes a turn for the worse…

“I dinna expect to take us into combat, you know!””I dinna expect to take us into combat, you know!”
I also have to mention the next scene, where Kruge orders the death of one of the landing party (which ends up being David), and we see Kirk’s reaction to the news that the son that he just was reunited with is dead. In addition to being some of Shatner’s best acting in the series, it’s particularly striking that the entire sequence is (appropriately) unscored.

“Klingon bastard, you’ve killed my son…””Klingon bastard, you’ve killed my son…”
Another glaring omission from the original CD, “A Fighting Chance to Live” chronicles the final moments of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Slightly dissonant strings play over a mournful version of the Enterprise theme as Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov set the auto-destruct sequence and beam away just as the Klingon boarding party arrives. Interestingly, there is a percussion underscore for the actual destruction of the ship, which I never realized was there until I heard it on CD (and is perhaps the first and only appearance of the “thunder sheet” in Star Trek music).

“Destruct Sequence 1. Code: 1-1-A””Destruct Sequence 1. Code: 1-1-A”
“Genesis Destroyed” contains another favorite moment of mine, where Kirk , climbs to the top of cliff, having just defeated Kruge, and looks out over the doomed landscape of Genesis. While I go back and forth on the merits of the actual Genesis “theme” (it’s really a take on Holst’s Uranus: The Magician), it works well here. This is particularly true when contrasted with the Spock theme and then the classic early Horner trumpet flourishes as the bird of prey warps away from the exploding planet.

The Final Dawn on GenesisThe Final Dawn on Genesis
Finally, ”The Katra Ritual” is another evocative piece of music, starting quietly with rumbling percussion that slowly builds, adding strings, gong, and orchestra as the Fal-Tor-Pan is performed. This sequence, along with the sunset moment I mentioned at the beginning, were really what got me into film music to begin with; a journey that started more than 30 years ago…

“Sometimes the needs of the one, outweigh the needs of the many.””Sometimes the needs of the one, outweigh the needs of the many.”
…and the Adventure continues…

Mickey’s Christmas Carol Review: Christmas in July Blogathon 2016

This was my entry to Drew’s Christmas in July Blogathon 2016 🙂

Drew's Movie Reviews

Last up for today is Bex, the gal behind Film Music Central, and her review of the 80s Disney holiday special Mickey’s Christmas Carol.  Bex examines all sorts of songs and scores in films on her site. So if you enjoy film music, be sure to give her site a look. Now, here’s what she has to say about her favorite holiday special.


Mickey's Christmas Carol

When I was growing up, I’m pretty sure I watched every animated Christmas special ever made (and that’s not a bad thing). One of my favorites was Mickey’s Christmas Carol, released by Walt Disney Studios in 1983. Growing up, the only copy of this story that we had was recorded onto a blank VHS tape from a live television program, which was fine until the VCR went bust and the family switched to DVD only. You can imagine my joy when I spotted a DVD copy…

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Beyond the Cover: Goldfinger (1964)

I know this is extremely late, but I didn’t feel right not sharing this (even though i was really sick) so here is what I was going to share with the Beyond the Cover Blogathon hosted by Now Voyaging and Speakeasy

Book Banner

Like many movies adapted from books, I didn’t realize that Goldfinger was adapted from a novel until I’d already watched the movie many times. Goldfinger was released in 1964 as the third film in the James Bond franchise and is considered the film that really made James Bond a global phenomenon.

It was about two years ago when I read the Goldfinger novel itself for the first time. It was published in 1959 and was…interesting, to say the very least. To read any of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, I always have to remind myself that he lived and wrote in a different era, when…certain words that I won’t repeat….were considered acceptable. That being said, it IS a good story.

As far as the general plot goes, the Goldfinger film is strikingly faithful to the book (I repeat, in general, not quite in all the specifics), but I thought I would list some of the differences.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that in the book, Bond identifies Goldfinger as being part of the sinister SPECTRE organization. The reason he travels around the continent in his fancy car is to drop off bars of gold at various locations so that SPECTRE agents can pick them up and use them to finance their evil deeds. In the film, by contrast, no relationship with SPECTRE is ever implied, and Goldfinger is made out to be an extremely greedy man who is only out for himself.

And then there’s Pussy Galore, one of the most memorable Bond girls to ever grace the silver screen. In the film, she is mysteriously “immune” to Bond’s charms for most of the story, but she finally “gives in” in a sequence that as become more uncomfortable to watch the older I’ve become. The film doesn’t give an explanation as to why Pussy is so adept at resisting Bond’s charms, but the book certainly does: in the original novel, Pussy Galore is the lesbian leader of a gang (explains a lot about her doesn’t it?) In fact, in the book, Pussy seemingly strikes up a relationship with a girl that Bond rescued earlier (Tilly Masterson, she dies in the film, but lives in the book).

Goldfinger’s lead henchman Odd Job also has an expanded role in the novel, which gives a complete description of his karate techniques (one scene shows Odd Job splitting a huge fireplace mantel in half, a technique that impresses Bond so much that he feels compelled to shake Odd Job’s hand, even though he is the enemy). Following that, there is a disturbing scene where Goldfinger discovers a cat has mysteriously messed up the hidden camera that had been filming Bond previously (this all takes place at Goldfinger’s country estate in England, a place the film refers to but never visits). Before Bond’s eyes, Goldfinger takes the cat, throws it to Odd Job and says “Here Odd Job, something for dinner!” (How gruesome!)

If you like the Goldfinger film, you will probably also like the Goldfinger book, just be aware that Ian Fleming can use some….let’s say vulgar language that wouldn’t be acceptable in today’s society.

Hope you enjoyed this,even though it’s so late!

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