Tag Archives: film

My Thoughts on: First Man (2018)

I knew from the moment I saw the first trailer that I would enjoy First Man, a film based on First Man: the Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. Even knowing this, I was still blown away by what director Damien Chazelle created. I have to preface this by saying that this is, to my knowledge, the first film I ever watched on an IMAX screen. Being used to a regular movie screen, it took me a little while to adjust to having so much more to look a. But by the end of the film, I have to say, IMAX format is definitely the way to go with this film if you have that option.

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First Man covers an 8 year period from 1961 all the way through the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. It tells the story of how Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), went from being a test pilot and an engineer to a member of the astronaut corps working in the Gemini and Apollo missions, all while trying to balance a life with his wife Janet (Claire Foy) and children. If I had to compare this film to earlier works, I would say it’s a cross between The Right Stuff, Apollo 13 and Interstellar (several shots in First Man seem to be influenced by this last film). However, don’t let my allusion to Apollo 13 fool you; First Man is nothing like the Ron Howard epic. There is no sweeping score, no lush strings, in fact a lot of the film has no music at all. Far from being a negative, the relative lack of music in many scenes makes you appreciate the music all the more when it does appear.

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Damien Chazelle does an amazing job showing the audience just how dangerous these missions really were. I noted that Gus Grissom (Shea Wigham), Ed White (Jason Clarke) and Roger Chaffee (Cory Michael Smith) (the crew of Apollo 1) were introduced early on, to let the audience build a connection with them (and see how Neil and his family were connected with them too, as the White’s were neighbors). I’ve read obsessively about NASA for years, so I had an idea of how the Apollo 1 testing scene would go and it delivered beyond all expectations. One detail I appreciated is Chazelle makes a point to show every single lock that is turned to seal the astronauts inside the capsule, foreshadowing one of many elements that leads to the crew’s horrific fate.

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By far, my favorite scene in the film has to be the Moon landing, including the descent to the lunar surface and what came afterward. I really feel that composer Justin Hurwitz was channeling Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar (“No Time for Caution” came to mind) during the descent. Even though you know that the crew is going to make it and come back safely, there’s still a believable tension present that has you on the edge of your seat. And as for that moment on the Moon (you know the one I mean), I’d like to think that Neil did do something like thatI will admit the ending of the film caught me off guard, but the more I thought about it on my way home, the more it made sense.

Final thoughts:

The Gemini 8 scene caught me off guard because I didn’t know about the incident. If you get motion sick easily, be forewarned, you might find this scene difficult to watch.

I really liked how film shows Neil’s POV in several scenes, it really puts you in that moment.

One trailer shows a scene where Neil’s house is on fire (a real life incident), but this scene does not appear in the film. Given how long the film is, it’s safe to say this scene was cut for time.

Claire Foy turns in a great performance as Janet Armstrong. There are many scenes where she doesn’t say a lot, but you can see the tension building up inside her until it finally bursts out in spectacular fashion.

First Man is definitely a must-see film and I think it’s bound to pick up multiple awards in the coming months. Let me know what you think about First Man in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Constantine: City of Demons (2018)

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John Constantine’s latest animated adventure, Constantine: City of Demons, has finally come to Blu-Ray/DVD and I couldn’t be more excited about it. As long-time readers of the blog know, I’ve been obsessed with Matt Ryan’s incarnation of the character since his short-lived television series went off the air (NBC wouldn’t know a good thing if it went up and bit them, sorry, still bitter). While I’m happy that Constantine is now a regular part of Legends of Tomorrow on the CW, there’s still not enough Constantine out there so I was beyond happy to sit down last night and watch this new story. It was originally released on CW Seed as a series of mini-episodes (6-7 minutes in length) earlier this year but for the DVD release everything was joined into one feature (along with 20 minutes of extra content).

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Set in the same universe as Justice League Dark (2017), though it’s unclear if this happens before or after that story, City of Demons sees the infamous John Constantine travel to Los Angeles on a mission to save Trish, the daughter of his best friend Chas. Somehow her soul has gone missing and Constantine vows to get it back. But there’s a big obstacle standing in his way: a demon named Beroul is using Trish’s soul to open a “branch office of Hell” (quite literally, a miniature version of Hell only it’s on Earth). To get Trish’s soul back, Constantine is ordered to take out Beroul’s demonic competition.

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This story is full of twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat until almost the very end of the story. Aside from the main plot involving Trish’s soul and Beroul, the infamous Newcastle incident is recounted in bloody detail and it goes a long way toward explaining how Constantine got to be how he is. And that’s one other thing about City of Demons that you need to know: it is extremely bloody and graphic (it’s rated R for good reason). In particular, be aware that when Constantine visits Beroul for the first time you will see some pretty twisted and graphic images (which makes sense given he’s recreating Hell but still, I figured a fair warning was in order).

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City of Demons introduces several new characters to the world of Constantine, including Asa the Nightmare Nurse (pretty sure she’s a demon); Angela (I can’t say more about her because I don’t want to spoil it for you), an ancient Aztec god and….one interesting character in particular that brought a genuine gasp out of me when he was revealed. I won’t say who because it spoils the climax but I will say that by the end of the story Constantine does find some small measure of closure as far as his past is concerned. Matt Ryan is brilliant as always as the master occultist and I’m more excited than ever to see him return to Legends of Tomorrow.

For a moment, I was certain the story was going to end on a cliffhanger that would hook into a sequel; but as the story ends with things more or less back to a status quo, I can’t help but wonder where Constantine will go from here. Hopefully this is not the last we see of the Brit in the animated DC universe (I’m still hoping for a sequel to Justice League Dark). At any rate, if you enjoy the adventures of John Constantine, you will love Constantine: City of Demons. If you have seen it, let me know what you think about it in the comments below and have a great day!

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Cancelled Too Soon #1: Constantine (2014-2015)

Justice League Dark (2017), WOW!!!

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My Thoughts on: Alien (1979)

As long as I live I will never forget the first time I saw Alien. I was in college, it was my sophomore year and I was feeling really bored and in the mood for something new. There was an Alien marathon on TV and I decided to just sit down and try them (since I’d never seen them before). And for the record, I did know about the chestburster scene going in, I just didn’t know where in the film it would be.

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Alien, if you’ve never seen it before, is a dark, gritty piece of science fiction horror that is about as far from the sanitized utopia of Star Trek as you can get. The story follows the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial space tug hauling a massive shipment back to Earth. The ship is clean (for the most part) and functional, but it’s not what you’d call elegant. There are no sleek lines or holographic displays here; this is a ship that feels real. The crew is abruptly pulled from stasis when the ship’s computer “Mother” detects a transmission coming from LV-426, a barren moon. There they stumble across the wreckage of an alien spacecraft which is carrying a strange cargo of eggs…and the situation deteriorates from there.

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The story is almost literally a case of “curiosity killed the crew.” Once Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by the alien face hugger, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the only sensible one who wants to follow protocol and keep Kane in quarantine until they can determine if it’s dangerous. Ash (Ian Holm), the science officer, overrules Ripley and allows Kane to come on board, setting the events for the rest of the film into motion. The facehugger implants an egg, which quickly develops into the iconic alien (in gruesome fashion) and one by one the crew is picked off. If they hadn’t been so hellbent on investigating the alien ship in the first place, no one would have died (probably). Though given how ruthless the Company (later retconned to the Weyland-Yutani Corporation) is implied to be, if the crew had returned with nothing they probably would have met with some kind of “accident” back on Earth.

Part of what makes the first Alien film so terrifying is how little you really see of the alien itself. This was done by design as director Ridley Scott wanted audiences to see the alien as a terrifying figure and not just “some guy in a rubber suit” (which is exactly what the alien was, but watching the film you’d never know that). There is also no way of knowing when the alien is going to appear next.

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My two favorite examples involve the death of Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and the climax of the film. In the first scene, Dallas is stalking the alien with a flamethrower…or at least he thinks he is. At an intersection of the ship, Dallas turns with a light and the last thing you see is a jump cut of the alien lunging out of the darkness (it always makes me jump too, even though I KNOW the shot is coming, the way it’s timed always puts me on edge). The second example is even scarier because it’s also a false ending: Ripley has escaped the Nostromo by the skin of her teeth and is preparing to enter a stasis pod until she can be rescued. Just as everyone’s relaxed…THERE’S THE ALIEN! It’s hand literally pops out of the wall as it had burrowed itself into the side of the shuttle to escape detection. Fun fact about this scene? If you examine the wall of the shuttle while Ripley is getting changed, you can just see him sitting there before the moment happens (but you have to look carefully, he’s camouflaged very well).

One scene that makes me intensely uncomfortable is the scene where Ash tries to murder Ripley. I know it was probably designed to make the audience squirm but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit through (in brief, Ash tries to suffocate Ripley by forcing a rolled up magazine down her throat), in fact many times I just skip the scene entirely.

And of course I have to mention Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic score, which is minimal to be sure, but very effective. Actually, the opening credits were supposed to feature a theme that was more orchestral and Romantic in tone, but Ridley Scott didn’t like it so Goldsmith was obliged to recompose the opening to what you hear in the final cut (he would also grouse that while the first piece took weeks to compose, the piece that made it into the film took all of ten minutes to put together). Despite the difficulties, the score was nominated for a Golden Globe, a Grammy Award and a BAFTA Award (though unfortunately it didn’t win).

Alien is one of those rare films that you can watch over and over and still be scared every single time; it’s definitely one of those films you must see at least once in your life. If you have seen Alien, let me know what you think about it in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Fantastic Voyage (1966)

I watched a lot of science fiction films growing up and Fantastic Voyage remains one of my favorites. The film is a slight twist on the genre in that, instead of exploring outer space (as many science fiction films do), Fantastic Voyage explores the inner workings of the human body, an environment filled with strange and wondrous things. The film follows the submarine crew of the Proteus, a vessel that can be shrunk to minute proportions, as it is injected into the body of a scientist fleeing the Iron Curtain in order to fix a brain aneurysm. It’s vital to save the scientists life because he has learned the secret of miniaturizing both people and items for an indefinite period of time (the process currently works for an hour).

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The crew consists of Grant (Stephen Boyd), a government agent; Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield); Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasance); surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy); and his assistant Cora (Raquel Welch). Once placed inside the body, they’ll have one hour to travel to the brain, eliminate the aneurysm and reach an extraction point, otherwise they’ll start to grow and be attacked by the scientist’s body.

For years clips of Fantastic Voyage were played in medical schools to explain various facets of human anatomy; and once you see the film it’s easy to see why as the story covers a large chunk of the body. In no particular order, the Proteus passes through: the heart (the circulatory system), the lungs (the respiratory system), the brain, the inner ear and several veins and arteries. Various bodily processes are explained (for the sake of Grant, who serves as the audience surrogate) with a great degree of detail and it really changes how you think about your own body.

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During the journey to the brain, the crew has to dive outside the ship several times and I was amazed to learn that none of those scenes were filmed in water. Instead, everyone was suspended from wires and miming the motions of being underwater (if you look carefully, you can see the wires and harnesses in most of these scenes, despite the production’s best efforts to disguise them).

*warning, major plot spoilers can be found below*

I can’t end this article without discussing the climax of the film. For most of the journey, Grant has suspected a saboteur is on board, someone who doesn’t want the mission to succeed. He suspects Dr. Duval for most of the journey, but out of the blue Dr. Michaels is revealed as the culprit. Michaels attempts to flee with the Proteus (which is starting to grow back to normal size) but can’t control the vessel and it crashes, attracting the attention of a white blood cell (which views the growing ship as a threat). Grant, being a good guy, enters the damaged ship to get the rest of the crew out to safety and finds Michaels pinned inside the pilot’s compartment as the white blood cell begins to descend.

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It’s terrifying enough that Michaels is stuck looking up at an organism that will dissolve him into oblivion (a painful way to go), but it becomes even worse when you remember that Michaels has a fear of enclosed spaces and being trapped. Thus, the would-be saboteur is living all of his worst nightmares at once. Grant tries everything to get Michaels free, but it’s no good, he’s hopelessly stuck. During these last few minutes, Michaels’ voice slowly rises in panic as he realizes he’s going to die. It’s a hard scene to watch, and one of the more gruesome comeuppances I’ve ever seen for a villain.

It’s hard to believe that Fantastic Voyage is 52 years old, but all things considered the film has aged extremely well. If you ever get the chance to check it out, I highly recommend it. If you have seen Fantastic Voyage, let me know your thoughts about it in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Bennett’s Song (2018)

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A few weeks ago I was asked to review Bennett’s Song, an independent film that tells the story of  how widower Cole Bennett (Harley Wallen) and divorced dentist Susan Song (Aphrodite Nikolovski) meet, get married, and blend their unique families together. An important detail? Each parent has seven adopted children, all from different backgrounds, making for a very large family group. The film was directed by Harley Wallen, whose recent credits include Betrayed (2018), Halt: The Motion Picture (2018) and Moving Parts (2017).

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The plot reminds me very much of Yours, Mine and Ours (1968, remade in 2005), a family comedy where a widowed father with 10 children and a widowed mother with 8 children get married and live under a single roof. And similar to that film, we see how Cole and Susan meet (and how friends and family on both sides have been not-so-subtly nudging them into dating again). It’s a cute premise but I feel the story takes a long time to really get going. There are several date scenes filled with exposition (including how the pair are dancing around the idea of whether they should tell the other that they have 7 kids already). And while I understand that information dumps are sometimes necessary in films, I think these scenes ran several minutes too long, or at least could have been cut differently. I do really appreciate the diversity present in the kids; there’s Latino, Asian, African-American and also Caucasian (one of Cole’s daughters is deaf as well).

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My favorite performance in the film comes from Tara Reid who plays the slightly uptight, slightly snobbish Stevie Hawkins-White, the new neighbor of the Bennett Song family after they move into their new home. She doesn’t come straight out and act like a snob (not at first anyways), but through her performance you can tell exactly what the character is thinking about this family. She’s the epitome of the super-perfect housewife/soccer mom (with shades of Stepford Wives) and you love to hate her from the moment she appears.

The big conflict in the film revolves around the family struggling to be accepted as…just that, a family. The kids have to struggle against prejudice from people who don’t believe that kids who look so different could be siblings. It’s really moving how they all stand up for themselves. There’s also a really great plot involving Pearl (Calhoun Koenig), one of the kids, working to fulfill her dream of going to a special music camp.

In conclusion, if you enjoy family comedies, I believe you will like Bennett’s Song. It does take a while to really get going, but once it does it’s a fun little film. I’m also deeply impressed with how well all of the child actors performed (it’s quite an accomplishment given the wide range of ages involved). I’m grateful for the opportunity to review this film, if you’ve seen it I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments below. Have a great day!

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Film Music 101: Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR)

In the process of filmmaking, Automated Dialogue Replacement (usually credited as ADR) is the process of re-recording sound or dialogue in post-production to correct any errors or add in any alterations made after production has concluded. This can also include recording various minor sounds that wouldn’t show up during filming (a good example of this can be found in a video of Hugh Jackman recording grunts and growls as his character runs through the woods in Logan).

Hugh Jackman ADR for Logan (2017)

ADR has to be finished before the soundtrack can be mixed into its final form. This is because, for the film, the soundtrack consists not just of the music but also the Foley sound effects and the dialogue and the sound editors then have to blend it all together in a way that will sound coherent to the audience. This is why, if you ever watch a film where the sound effects drown out the dialogue, you might hear people say “they got the mix wrong.”

The ADR process can also include re-recording parts of the music; for example if there was a last-minute cut to the film, part of the score might have to be done over to reflect these changes (otherwise it won’t fit).

And that, in brief, is how ADR works. Thanks for stopping by the blog and have a great day!

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Soundtrack Review: Peppermint (2018)

Peppermint is a 2018 American vigilante action film directed by Pierre Morel and stars Jennifer Garner who plays Riley North, a woman who sets out on a path of revenge after her family is gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The score for Peppermint was composed by Simon Franglen.

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Simon Franglen is a Grammy-winning and Golden Globe-nominated composer and producer. He received a Grammy Award for Record of the Year as producer of “My Heart Will Go On” from James Cameron’s “Titanic,” and received Golden Globe, Grammy Award and World Soundtrack Award nominations for his work on Cameron’s “Avatar.” His recent work includes composing music for two films with Terrence Malick, including his stunning “Voyage of Time,” multiple projects with Jean-Jacques Annaud and Antoine Fuqua, including “The Magnificent Seven” and working with Pink Floyd, producing 3D mixes for “Their Mortal Remains” which was recently experienced by 400,000 people in London.

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The first thing that comes to mind when I listen to the soundtrack for Peppermint is…emotion. Raw, visceral emotion bleeds out of this score and it’s not surprising given what the plot is about. Franglen has dutifully assembled a collection of strings and electronic instruments to create a score filled with tension, angst and a heavy dose of brooding (brought to glorious fruition by the cello section of the orchestra).

One track that stands out in particular is ‘Drive By Shooting.’ Just from the title you can guess that this will have some particularly dark musical moments, but I’m impressed with how Franglen brought the tension out in this piece. In the first sixty seconds, you are literally put on edge by a screeching, grinding sound which is then replaced by a misleading cello melody. I say misleading because I feel it’s designed to put the audience at ease before the shooting happens, to make the event more shocking.

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Another track I want to highlight is ‘Justice for the Judge.’ This piece is brought to life with synthesizers and strings which climax in a moment of pure angst before abruptly (and tellingly) cutting off.

These strings are what help to make the score of Peppermint special, in my opinion. With only the synthesizer portion of the soundtrack, you have a generic score that’s been heard in hundreds of action films over the last several decades (going back at least to the 1980s when synthesized music became a serious ‘thing’ in the film industry). But Franglen doesn’t stick to just synthesizers, no, he mixes them in with strings both high and low (there is also a piano and possibly some woodwinds mixed in but I’ve yet to hear any brass in the soundtrack). It’s an effective combination to be sure; I’m not against wholly electronic film scores but there is something to be said for old-fashioned instruments being included.

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There are also moments where the score takes a moment to breathe and moves in a sentimental direction. The clearest case in point is the track ‘You Have to Wake up Now.’ Unlike many of the pieces in this soundtrack, this one doesn’t start with a bass line laid down by the synthesizer (though it does appear about halfway through). Instead, the audience is treated to a soft piano melody mixed in with the strings. Given the rawness of most of the score prior to this moment, it’s refreshing to hear something so light, even if the moment is brief (about sixty seconds in length).

I know Peppermint has received mixed reviews, but I urge you to give the soundtrack a chance, there are some truly good moments in it. If it has one weakness it’s that it does rely a little too much on the synthesizer, but as I said, this is compensated for somewhat by the presence of the strings and the piano.

Let me know what you think of the soundtrack to Peppermint (or the film itself) in the comments below and have a great day!

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