My Thoughts on: A Beautiful Mind (2001)

* This review was requested by Patreon subscriber @AlienPizzareia 🙂

A Beautiful Mind is a biographical film based on the life of American mathematician John Nash (1928-2015). It was directed by Ron Howard and stars Russell Crowe as Nash and Jennifer Connelly as his wife Alicia.

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The film starts as many biopics do: the young Nash arrives at Princeton to study mathematics and eventually publishes an original idea that earns him a position at MIT. While at school, he becomes friends with his roommate Charles Herman (Paul Bettany). Everything seems to be going great: not only is Nash’s career taking him places, he also falls in love with and marries Alicia with the support of his former roommate. So far it’s typical of what you find in films of this sort. But then something happens that turns everything you thought you knew on its head.

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Midway through the film, Nash is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and it turns out that his roommate, his roommate’s niece and several other characters we’ve already met, were not real. This bombshell changes everything about the beginning of the film when you take into account that in every scene where Nash is talking to his roommate…there isn’t anyone actually there!! The result of this revelation (for me at least), is that for the rest of the film you can’t help but wonder how many of the people Nash talks to are real or hallucinations (Ron Howard does a good job of blurring the lines between reality and hallucination throughout the film).

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I admit I have a hard time with the latter half of the film: there’s a disturbing sequence where Nash is given electroshock therapy to try and cure his schizophrenia (a disorder that was not well understood at the time), not to mention an equally disturbing scene where his infant son nearly drowns in a bathtub. Despite these scenes, I can deeply appreciate how the film follows Nash as he struggles to rebuild his life to something resembling ‘normal.’

The late James Horner turned in a fantastic score for this film. It shifts and turns, very much as Nash’s mind does when considering a mathematical problem. And before the revelation of schizophrenia, the music goes down a suspenseful path, especially once Nash starts doing ‘secret government work’ and believes he’s being followed.

A Beautiful Mind is one of those films that everyone should see at least once, because it is a masterpiece and it most definitely deserved to win the Oscar for Best Picture. A big thank you to @AlienPizzareia for requesting this review, it’s been a long time since I watched this one. Let me know what you think of A Beautiful Mind in the comments below and have a great day!

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Soundtrack Review: The Predator (2018)

The Predator (2018) is the latest entry in the Predator franchise, serving as a direct sequel to Predator 2 (the film ignores Predators (2010)). The score for this film was composed by Henry Jackman, who has established himself as one of today’s top composers by fusing his classical training and his experience as a successful record producer and creator of electronic music. His work includes Captain PhillipsX-Men: First Class and Captain America: Winter Soldier; Kingsman: The Golden Circle; Wreck-It-Ralph, and Oscar-winner Big Hero 6. His most recent work can be heard in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Captain America: Civil War, and Kong; Skull Island.

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Given that this is a Predator film, some of the musical elements are predictable. There is a notable martial quality to a lot of the music, exemplified by heavy brass and fast, driving rhythms (not quite to the level that Hans Zimmer has been known to employ, but similar) during the action sequences. However next to this is a level of delicacy that you would not expect to find. Jackman makes a healthy use of the strings and woodwinds throughout the score and it provides for some refreshing musical ‘breathers’ in between the bombastic moments.

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Two examples include ‘Arrival’ (the opening cue) and ‘Rory’ (the theme for McKenna’s son). I remember it surprised me greatly, sitting in the theater, when the film started with the sound of strings (I was expecting a musical ‘bang’ right from the start). To be sure, the music quickly moves into more energetic territory, but I do feel that it says something that the score started with a quieter melody (somewhat fitting as the film opens with a view of space). And ‘Rory’ might just be the cue I like best out of the entire soundtrack. Beginning with the piano and moving into strings and woodwinds, ‘Rory’ is a perfect theme for McKenna’s autistic son. It begins hesitantly (as Rory as just been tormented by some bullies) but then grows with confidence as the young kid demonstrates his abilities by resetting multiple chess boards.

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Two more cues that I’d like to highlight briefly are ‘Project Stargazer’ and ‘Beautiful Specimen.’ Both cues take place when Dr. Bracket  (Olivia Munn) is taken to see the captured Predator and contain that martial quality I referred to earlier. My favorite moment from these two comes in ‘Project Stargazer’; the music notably peaks at the moment when Bracket views the captured alien for the first time (a nice example of how the music can reflect plot developments).

Listening to the soundtrack apart from the film has reaffirmed one thing for me: Henry Jackman’s score makes The Predator a better film than it would have been without it. Of course good music can only take a film so far, but Jackman certain put in a very good effort.

What do you think of the score for The Predator? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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Soundtrack Review: Hotel Artemis (2018)

Released on June 8th, 2018, Hotel Artemis is a near-future dystopian film that takes place in a secret hospital for criminals (the titular hotel). The hotel is run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster) and Everest (Dave Bautista), an orderly. Services offered include 3D-printed organs and top of the line care, provided you follow the rules of the establishment. This status quo is upended one night during a riot when a notorious kingpin (Jeff Goldblum) is rushed to the hotel with serious injuries.

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The score for Hotel Artemis was composed by Cliff Martinez, whose approach to scoring is nontraditional.  His scores tend towards being stark and sparse, utilizing a modern tonal palette to paint the backdrop for films that are often dark, psychological stories like Pump Up the Volume (1990), The Limey (2009) Wonderland (2003), Wicker Park (2004), and Drive (2011).  Martinez has been nominated for a Grammy Award (Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic), a Cesar Award (Xavier Giannoli’s A L’origine), and a Broadcast Film Critics Award (Drive).  His score for The Neon Demon was awarded Best Soundtrack at the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival.

Not only is the soundtrack of Hotel Artemis sparse, it also suffers greatly from being overly homogeneous. I thought I was imagining it at first, but as I listened to track after track, I realized that most of the music sounded exactly the same: deep synthesized bass tones mixed in with a synthesized drone. There are minor variations to be sure, but the elements are the same throughout. No wonder this score hasn’t stuck in my mind, there was nothing memorable about it.

Synthesizers can be great for film scores when they’re utilized properly (Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 are excellent cases in point), but that is not the case here. The drones don’t lead anywhere, there’s no musical development. This can make a potentially great film average and in this case, it makes an average film mediocre.

In conclusion: the score of Hotel Artemis is mostly forgettable, just like the film, which is a real shame. I do my best to find the positives in any score I listen to, but I just couldn’t find them here. What did you think of the score for Hotel Artemis? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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My Thoughts on: The Predator (2018)

I scratched another goal off my list today: I finally saw a Predator film in theaters. I think director Shane Black meant well when he put together this follow-up to the original 1987 film, but the end result falls short in so many ways. The plot is far too predictable, relying on story beats established by the earlier films, and aside from a few interesting encounters with the Predators, really does nothing substantial.

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First let me address the few positives:

-The Predators look amazing, using physical suits really helped portray them as realistically as possible. There were also some nice callbacks to the earlier films provided by examples of different Predator masks. The fight scenes with the Predators are delightfully bloody. I particularly enjoyed the scene where the smaller Predator broke out of the government facility. It was also really cool to see humans using the Predator cloaking technology, I think that might be a first. And finally, Henry Jackman’s score fits into the action perfectly, I have no complaints regarding the music.

As for the rest of the film…..

So much of the crass humor in this film was completely unnecessary. I especially did not appreciate the more…sexual jokes (I don’t even want to repeat the word used). This film would be so much better if there had been less bad jokes and more action.

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Also, while I appreciate that Olivia Munn’s character had no problem picking up a gun and joining in the fight (minus the scene where she accidentally shot herself with a tranquilizer gun), I am sick to death of action films having one token female in the group (Rory’s mother barely appears so she doesn’t really count). And that opening scene in the government laboratory was downright creepy. Considering Munn’s character is supposed to be an expert in her field, it felt to me like all the men were treating her as something of a joke (I despise misogyny in film, especially films made in 2018)

And that ending…I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more blatant set-up for a sequel in my life. I’m not saying it couldn’t be good, it’s just the set-up feels like it came out of nowhere. Also, are we ever going to see the Predator’s home planet? I feel like so much of what we know (or think we know) about these aliens comes from speculation on the part of various human characters.

At any rate, The Predator provided a bit of dumb fun (with the emphasis on dumb), but I won’t be revisiting it any time soon. What did you think of The Predator? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Operation Finale (2018)

It feels like an eternity since I last went to the theater but yesterday I finally managed to go see Operation Finale, a dramatized account of how Mossad agents captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1960. The film is partially sourced from Eichmann in My Hands, a memoir by Peter Malkin (played by Oscar Isaac in the film) and primarily takes place in 1960 (with a prologue in 1954 and an epilogue in 1961).

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First let me say, if you come into this film expecting a lot of action (fighting, shootouts, etc.) then you are going to be disappointed. While there is an air of tension throughout the story (especially in the latter half of the film when the agents are trying to smuggle Eichmann out of Argentina), it doesn’t really express itself with direct violence.

Oscar Isaac does a passable job as Mossad agent Peter Malkin though I’m not entirely satisfied with his performance. In my opinion Isaac makes too many wisecracks throughout the film and they feel out of character. However, I have no complaints for the scenes Isaac shares with Ben Kingsley, they are some of the best moments in the film. And speaking of Kingsley…

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Ben Kingsley as Adolf Eichmann is by far the best part of Operation Finale (as I suspected he would be). Eichmann (as Kingsley portrays him), is a man who has thoroughly convinced himself of how things ‘actually’ happened during the Nazi regime. He worked at a desk, nothing more. The truth, however, is revealed by what we see. Even as Eichmann peddles this falsehood, we the audience see him traveling into the woods to oversee hundreds of Jews being murdered in a ditch. And despite his age, Eichmann remains very dangerous, as seen in a moment when he stops his son Klaus (Joe Alwyn) from manhandling Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson), a girl he’d met a movie theater. In one swift motion he goes from being an affable father to an angry figure that has no trouble pinning Klaus against the wall.

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Before the credits start, the audience is shown footage from Eichmann’s actual trial in Israel (including footage of the man himself) and explains how the trial helped to share eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust with a global audience, concluding with a note that the real Peter Malkin died in 2005.

I enjoyed Alexandre Desplat’s score for this film, it wasn’t too overbearing and it helped to keep the tension in the story going.

Anyone who really loves WWII history should enjoy Operation Finale, but casual fans might not enjoy it so much as the film does take a while to really get going.

What did you think of Operation Finale? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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Moana “I am Moana” (2016)

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Moana “I am Moana” (2016)

Like many animated Disney films, there comes a point in Moana when it seems like all hope is lost. The first encounter with Te Ka ended in near catastrophe; the boat is badly damaged; worst of all, Maui has abandoned Moana and the quest to restore the Heart of Te Fiti entirely. However unlike earlier films, where the hero/heroine simply steels themselves and keeps on going, Moana has a heart to heart with the spirit of her grandmother and admits that she can’t do this, the ocean needs to choose someone else. And her grandmother agrees! The Heart is given back to the ocean and Moana is told that she can leave for home whenever she wants. This moment is huge because how often do you see a Disney heroine saying “I can’t do it” in this way? Oh granted other Disney heroines have had their down moments, but none of them have so thoroughly set up the idea that the quest won’t be completed like this one has.

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But of course, since this IS Disney, Moana hesitates to return home, though she doesn’t understand why. Wanting to help her granddaughter, Grandma Tala has a song to help her discover, at long last, who she really is:

I know a girl from an island
She stands apart from the crowd
She loves the sea and her people
She makes her whole family proud

Sometimes, the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are

The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on Earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you

And when that voice starts to whisper,
“Moana, you’ve come so far”
“Moana, listen”
“Do you know who you are?”

This is it, the pivotal moment for our heroine: Moana must reach down inside herself and discover who she really is.

Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island
I’m the girl who loves the sea
It calls me

I am the daughter of the village chief
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me

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As Moana acknowledges her lineage and her continuing connection to the ocean, suddenly on the horizon she sees dozens of ships approaching. It’s her ancestors who used to sail the oceans, including the one we saw in “We Know the Way.” They acknowledge each other and Moana finally understands that she is a wayfinder like her ancestors before her, this is who she is and always has been!

I’ve delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it calls me

And the call isn’t out there at all
It’s inside me
It’s like the tide
Always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart
You remind me
That come what may
I know the way
I am Moana!

Now completely encouraged, Moana dives after the Heart of Te Fiti, repairs her boat and heads back to the island to face off with Te Ka one more time.

I love “I am Moana” it literally makes me cry every time I listen to it. Discovering your identity is such an important moment and it’s stirring to hear Moana fully embrace who she is. In this song are echoes of two earlier pieces: “Where You Are” and “How Far I’ll Go.” It’s great to hear portions of earlier melodies come together into something new. But please let me know what you think about “I am Moana” in the comments below and have a great day!

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See also:

Moana “Where You Are” (2016)

Moana “How Far I’ll Go” (2016)

Moana “How Far I’ll Go (reprise)” (2016)

Moana “We Know the Way” (2016)

Moana “You’re Welcome” (2016)

Moana “Shiny” (2016)

Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/etc. Soundtracks A-Z

The Aristocats “Scales and Arpeggios” (1970)

While Edgar is plotting how to get rid of Madame’s cats so he can be the sole inheritor of her fortune, Duchess (Eva Gabor) is making sure her three children; Marie (Liz English), Toulouse (Gary Dubin) and Berlioz (Dean Clark) focus on their lessons. Specifically, Toulouse works on his painting while Marie and Berlioz study the piano and singing (Marie sings, Berlioz plays). Duchess is determined to see her children grow up into refined aristocats and is horrified at the idea of them behaving like common alley-cats (Toulouse idolizes them).

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The Aristocats “Scales and Arpeggios” (1970)

“Scales and Arpeggios” is a simple song that genuinely sounds like something a music student would be asked to perform. It begins with solfege syllables (do re mi fa so la ti) and evolves into a lesson on why students should focus on scales and arpeggios, some of the basic building blocks of music:

Do mi so do do so mi do
Every truly cultured music student knows
You must learn your scales and your arpeggios
Bring the music ringing from your chest
And not your nose
While you sing your scales and your arpeggios

If you’re faithful to your daily practicing
You will find your progress is encouraging
Do mi so mi do me so mi fa la so it goes
When you do your scales and your arpeggios

Do mi so do do so mi do (Repeat)
Though at first it seems as though it doesn’t show
Like a tree ability will bloom and grow

If you’re smart you’ll learn by heart what every artist knows:

You must sing your scales and your arpeggios!!

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During the song, Toulouse decides to get in on the act (having finished with his painting) and jumps down to the piano much to Berlioz’s annoyance (since his brother’s paws are still covered in paint). While Marie and Duchess sing a duet, the brothers quickly begin a musical ‘argument’ that ends with each insistently pounding out their own melody on the piano.

I freely admit, as a kid I loved to sing along with this particular song (I fancied myself to be just like Marie) and I enjoyed trying to hit the high notes at the very end. It’s a short and sweet song that shows Duchess and her children in their element as cultured felines, and is also the last normal activity they experience before Edgar arrives with their specially prepared supper (which has been thoroughly laced with sleeping pills. I’m still not sure if Edgar planned to overdose them so they never woke up or just wanted them to sleep long enough that they could be dumped in the middle of nowhere).

Do you like “Scales and Arpeggios”? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/etc. Soundtracks A-Z

The Aristocats “The Aristocats” (1970)

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