Tag Archives: film

My Thoughts on: The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)

I knew going in that there was a decent chance I wouldn’t like The Hitman’ Wife’s Bodyguard. For one, I hadn’t seen the first film, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and going to see the sequel without seeing the first film can be quite problematic depending on the film. However, despite going in completely blind I was willing to give the film a chance, the previews had certainly looked funny enough.

I should’ve known better.

Rule #1 of being a movie blogger: NEVER trust the previews.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard picks up, ostensibly, where the first film leaves off, with Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) attempting to pick up the pieces of his life. Of course, Sonia (Salma Hayek) drags him back into the fray and he’s soon on the run with Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) whether he likes it or not. It sounds coherent enough, and there’s actually a decent premise buried deep down with a pretty good villain, but it’s executed so badly that no inducement on Earth could get me to watch this mess again.

I was about halfway through the film when it dawned on me that I was watching a terrible movie. Make no mistake about it, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. If I had to sum up the film’s biggest problem, it’s that I feel like the writers flung three different film plots together, connected them with the three main characters, and prayed that it would make a roughly coherent story. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for the fractured story that comprises so many different moods and plot elements that it quickly loses any semblance to a rational story (though it’s entirely possible that that’s the point).

The one bright spot in this film is the spine-chilling performance turned in by Antonio Banderas as the film’s villain. I wish we could’ve gotten more of him in this film, because every time he was on the screen I visibly brightened up.

I also can’t get over how jarring the mood of this film was. The story flips from a weird humor to deadly serious and back at the drop of a hat and it was hard to get into the story and stay invested (about 3/4 of the way through I just gave up). Many of the emotional story twists felt completely unnecessary. There’s an entire story arc with Bryce’s dad that amused me, confused me, and finally infuriated me with how it was executed.

There’s only so many ways to put this so I’ll say it one last time: The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is not a good movie, I’m honestly surprised I made it all the way through without leaving. The minor bright spots aren’t enough weren’t enough to save it, and it’s 90+ minutes of my life I can never get back (yes, it was that bad).

Whether you agree or disagree, let me know what you think of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard in the comments below and have a good day!

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Film Reviews

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Soundtrack News: Luca (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Dan Romer is Available Now!

Walt Disney Records releases Disney and Pixar’s Luca Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, available today. The score is composed and produced by Dan Romer (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”). A story about two teenage sea monsters who experience a life-changing summer, Disney and Pixar’s “Luca” is now streaming exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available).

The score was recorded with an 82-piece orchestra at the Newman Recording Stage, and was orchestrated and conducted by Mark Graham. Romer performed on accordion and acoustic guitar.

Dan Romer is an award-winning composer, songwriter and music producer based in Los Angeles. Romer’s scores include Disney and Pixar’s feature, Luca (Disney+) coming out Summer 2021, four-time Oscar®-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild (Searchlight),” “Maniac” (Netflix), “The Good Doctor” (ABC), “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix), “Atypical” (Netflix), “Ski” (A24) Wendy (Searchlight) and Emmy® award-winning series “Ramy” (Hulu). In 2018, Romer composed the music for Ubisoft’s flagship video game Far Cry 5.

Luca director Enrico Casarosa turned to Romer to help set the stage and convey the youthful point of view of the main character, Luca. “I love his style—his accordion skills—and his ability to blend his style with the nuances of Italian music for this score,” said Casarosa.

The film is set on the Italian Riviera during the late 1950s, early 1960s. However, said Romer, “Enrico wanted something that felt like more of a nod, or a memory, than something that felt historically accurate. He told me what he really wanted was a more Italian-sounding version of the style of music I already make, which was very exciting and freeing!”

The composer especially liked working on the film’s dream sequences where Luca soars to great heights—feeling the freedom he craves. “They called for the most lush instrumentation, and usually the most wild rhythms,” he says.

Romer added, “It was an absolute joy getting to make such a melodically driven score and I’m excited for everyone to see the film.”

Track List

1. Meet Luca (4:08)
2. Did You Hide? (1:04)
3. The Curious Fish (1:39)
4. You Forgot Your Harpoon (0:39)
5. Phantom Tail (2:09)
6. Walking Is Just Like Swimming (2:02)
7. Vespa è Libertà (1:42)
8. You Hold the Ramp (0:59)
9. Silenzio Bruno (0:41)
10. That’s the Dream (2:05)
11. The Bottom of the Ocean (1:52)
12. Take Me, Gravity (1:44)
13. Portorosso (1:36)
14. Signor Vespa (1:17)
15. This Isn’t Any Old Race (2:55)
16. Buonanotte, Boys (1:27)
17. Land Monsters Everywhere (0:55)
18. Buongiorno Massimo (3:03)
19. The Out of Town Weirdo Tax (1:48)
20. Rules Are for Rule People (1:08)
21. How Humans Swim (1:03)
22. Not Our Kid (0:49)
23. Telescope (2:46)
24. Beyond the Solar System (1:02)
25. We Don’t Need Anybody (1:54)
26. The Sea Monster (3:33)
27. I Wish I Could Take It Back (4:01)
28. The Portorosso Cup (7:34)
29. How to Find the Good Ones (5:14)
30. Go Find Out for Me (1:39)

You can digitally download the soundtrack for Luca through any major digital music service. Enjoy!

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My Thoughts on: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

I’m so ashamed that it’s taken me 4 years to finally sit down and watch Murder on the Orient Express. Don’t ask me why it took so long, I honestly have no idea why I skipped out on seeing this film in theaters (though I imagine my school work played a major role in the decision). The good news is, I finally sat down and watched it tonight at the suggestion of my friends on YouTube and I’m so glad I did.

Murder on the Orient Express is adapted from the Agatha Christie novel of the same name and sees the famed detective Hercule Poirot tasked with solving the murder of a passenger on the titular Orient Express while he is en route to another case in London. Given the circumstances, it initially seems like an impossible crime, but Poirot soon discovers that all is not as it seems with this case and his longstanding notion of justice will be strongly challenged by the time it is all over.

First of all, I’m blown away by the all-star cast in this film. This is an ensemble cast loaded with talent. There’s the legendary Kenneth Branagh playing Poirot (and playing him brilliantly), as well as Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr., Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench AND Derek Jacobi, to name a few. And everyone turns in an eye-catching performance, even Depp, who I admit isn’t my favorite actor to watch. Branagh as Poirot is far and away my favorite part of the film. I’m almost completely unfamiliar with the character of Poirot, so the character’s eccentricities were completely new to me, and I delighted in all of them, particularly his fascination with getting two boiled eggs that were exactly the same size.

Then there’s the setting of the film itself. From 1930s Jerusalem to Istanbul to the train itself, I love all of the visual details in this film. This is a sensual film in the best sense of the word: I can practically smell the bread in an Istanbul kitchen, I can feel the rumbling of the train, feel the textures of all these wonderful surfaces and fabrics, what more can I say to indicate how visually delightful this film is to me? Everything about this film captures a glimpse of a bygone era, when train travel was still luxurious in a way that it just isn’t anymore. That’s not to say that there isn’t luxury in train travel anymore, but it’s not the same thing. This was a luxury you could touch and feel in every detail, and I couldn’t get enough of it. This will be a film I rewatch just to enjoy those little details, I know it.

And then there’s the plot, which slowly but surely drew me in. For years I’ve been a staunch fan of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, but after seeing this film I’m starting to believe I was wrong for ignoring Poirot all of these years (nothing personal, I just never had a reason to check it out). I know the film has changed some details around from Christie’s original novel, but I know the solution of the case is more or less the same. If most of Christie’s Poirot stories are like this, or at least similar, then I think Hercule Poirot may soon become one of my favorite fictional detectives, or at least one I like just as much as Holmes.

But I digress, the murder plot that’s central to this story is very complex, and in a million years I would’ve never guessed the ultimate solution. This is a sign of good writing, because if the audience can deduce the culprit early on, that’s going to make the rest of the story boring. But what makes Murder on the Orient Express fascinating is that the plot twists and pivots to make you believe that a number of people can be the killer, leaving you no closer to the truth than Poirot until the very end of the film when everything comes together. Speaking of, the scene where Poirot spells out exactly what happened is very powerful, and I was mesmerized by Branagh’s performance. The solution will strongly challenge your notions of what “justice” entails, and I can imagine that some unfamiliar with Christie’s work may have been unsatisfied with how the story ends. But I loved it, it was the perfect conclusion to a gripping story and it serves as a reminder that not all criminal cases are black and white (in fact I believe a few Sherlock Holmes stories deal with justice in a similar way, though I can’t name the case off the top of my head).

I initially picked up this film to prepare for Death on the Nile (this is before the film was rescheduled to 2022). Now that I’ve finally seen Murder on the Orient Express, I’m more excited than ever to see Branagh’s Poirot return in Death on the Nile and I dearly hope this leads to a string of Poirot films, because I would happily watch all of them.

Let me know what you think about Murder on the Orient Express in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: In the Heights (2021)

I originally learned about In the Heights while reading the behind the scenes book about the making of Hamilton that I bought last summer. If you weren’t aware, it was while In the Heights was running on Broadway that Lin-Manuel Miranda got the idea for what would eventually become Hamilton, but I digress…because this review isn’t about Hamilton but In the Heights. And after seeing this film, I have to say that this story should NOT be known as “the musical Lin-Manuel Miranda did before Hamilton” because oh my GOD the story of In the Heights is just as good!

The story of In the Heights takes place over a span of 3 days, before, during, and after a blackout that paralyzes New York City (while it is similar to the infamous 2003 Blackout, most of the show was actually written in 1999). Our narrator throughout the story is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), the owner of a corner bodega who dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic. Through Usnavi, we meet the varied characters who live and dream in Washington Heights. These include Vanessa, an aspiring fashion designer, Abuela, who has adopted the entire block as her family, Nina, who’s back in town from attending Stanford, Benny the cab dispatcher (and Nina’s would-be boyfriend), and Sonny, Usnavi’s younger cousin who helps him run the bodega. It’s a colorful cast of characters and I was quickly drawn into the story. I was actually worried going in that I would have a hard time connecting to the story but I should have known that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music would make it easy to dive right in.

To put it simply: if you loved the music of Hamilton, you will love the music of In the Heights. Like Hamilton, In the Heights is full of rap and freestyle melodies, though there’s obviously a Latin twist that doesn’t exist in Hamilton for obvious reasons. The music brings an entire culture to life throughout the story, and it’s so beautiful because this is a culture that’s full of life, passion, faith, and courage to go on in spite of facing huge obstacles in every direction. In fact, the community shown is so vibrant and so full of life, that it feels like you could just step right through the screen and be there with all of it, and I love a story where the world is this fully realized.

And oh yes, this story does not shy away from mentioning the obstacles people of color face on a daily basis. It’s mentioned several times by a number of characters that chasing dreams isn’t always easy, in fact it can be quite painful at times. And I like that the film makes it clear that sometimes you DON’T get your dream, even if you try. It’s a hard thing to hear of course, but it’s honest and I really like that because we’re still encouraged to go after our dreams, even if it hurts at times. And also, there’s a hint in the film that sometimes your “dream” isn’t what you think it is. That’s something I’m seeing more of in movies, but In the Heights does it really well.

IN THE HEIGHTS Copyright: © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Macall Polay Caption: (L -r) NOAH CATALA as Graffiti Pete, GREGORY DIAZ IV as Sonny, COREY HAWKINS as Benny and ANTHONY RAMOS as Usnavi in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

What I wasn’t expecting was for In the Heights to make me cry but there’s one portion of this story that absolutely wrecked me. It all centers on “Paciencia y Fe” and “Alabanza” and the character of Abuela. I’m not the kind to readily cry in a movie theater, but the scenes with those two songs ripped at my heartstrings in a way that I didn’t expect going in.

I think my two favorite songs (that didn’t make me cry) were “In the Heights” and “96,000.” I like the opening song because it throws you in headfirst to the colorful world of Washington Heights and it was a really fun song to bop my head in rhythm with the music too. And I love “96,000” because it brought me back to my own childhood when I would go swim at the community rec center pool and everyone would be there.

I also love that Lin-Manuel Miranda appears in the film as the piragua vendor and there’s also a blink and you might miss it cameo from Christopher Jackson too.

What I’m trying to say is that In the Heights is absolutely the summer movie we’ve been waiting for. I laughed, I cried, it felt like an entire summer squeezed into a single film, all the good and bad. I know In the Heights is currently available on HBO Max but if your local movie theater is open, I highly recommend going to see this in theaters instead. It’s such a good experience and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

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

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Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Wish Dragon (2021)

After finally sitting down and watching Wish Dragon on Netflix, I have to confess I have (once again) learned a powerful lesson: one should never judge a movie by its first 20 minutes alone. Because while Wish Dragon does get off to a rather slow start, it does eventually come into its own with a beautiful story to tell.

The story of Wish Dragon is set in modern Shanghai and follows a capable (but poor) young man named Din, who unexpectedly finds himself in possession of a magic teapot containing a “wish dragon” named Long who can grant him three wishes. If that sounds suspiciously familiar to the plot of Aladdin, well, it is, and on that basis alone I almost gave up on the film because, let’s be honest, Disney did that story years ago and did it very well.

But there’s a key difference between these two films and that is the titular wish dragon Long. This pink dragon is no Genie, and the film is well-written to make sure we don’t think of him that way. Long is an unexpectedly complex character; he started off irritating but slowly grew to become one of my favorite characters in the film. Long isn’t just a magical dragon, he has his own motivations that color the story and that creates a completely different relationship between Din and Long than what exists between Aladdin and the Genie. It’s a brilliant twist on this kind of story actually, and I’m glad I stuck with the film to see how this story arc played out.

Another thing I love about Wish Dragon is how this story puts a platonic twist on the “boy wants girl” story trope. When I first heard of this film and realized there was a young man and young woman involved, I rolled my eyes and thought “here we go, another YA animated romance film. Next!” And then I saw the part in the trailer where Din admits that he does NOT want Lina to fall in love with him, he just wants her back as his best friend. And that made my jaw DROP. That….you don’t see that in stories, or at least you didn’t until now. It was so refreshing to see a story where romance is NOT the ultimate goal of these magic wishes (another key difference from Aladdin).

And then there’s the film’s themes about telling the truth and friendship. Of course the most important theme in this film is friendship and how it is one of the most important things you can have, even more than money or fame. But…at the same time there’s an almost equal emphasis on telling the truth, be it about what you really want in life or being honest about who you really are. You need to be honest with yourself and the world about what you really want, at least that’s what I gathered after watching this film.

As a quick side note, I might also say that Wish Dragon also has a smaller lesson embedded in it, that being “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” It’s a lesson you don’t see implemented consistently with magical wish-granting stories, but Wish Dragon does make good use of it in this film, and Long even snarks about how one should “be careful what you DON’T wish for” in reference to this idea.

Now, as much as I ended up loving Wish Dragon, it does take a little while to get going. I beg you to be patient with the film’s first act because once things are properly set into motion, the story is a lot of fun. Other than that, I have no real complaints about this film. The animation is smartly done and the music, as I learned from talking to the film’s composer, is indeed a perfect blending of East and West.

Despite some minor flaws and a slow start, Wish Dragon proved itself to be everything I was promised and more. It proves a story like this doesn’t need romance to work and it also rams the lesson home that money is NOT everything nor is being rich everything it’s cracked up to be. As the credits rolled, I found myself more than happy with what I’d seen and I happily recommend checking this film out on Netflix.

Let me know what you think of Wish Dragon on Netflix in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Music, Magic, and Dragons: Talking With Composer Philip Klein About Wish Dragon (2021)

Animated Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

So as I was booking movie tickets last week, I was delighted to see that my local Regal Cinema was showing the 40th anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hard as it is to believe that this film is 40 years old, I couldn’t say no to the chance to see this film in theaters, as the only other opportunity I had to see this film on the big screen was five years ago when I got to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in concert (a fun experience, but not quite the same as seeing it in a theater).

I‘ll start off by saying that Raiders of the Lost Ark is just as good as I remembered. I grew up watching this film, seen it more times than I can count, and oh my goodness was it fun to see it play out in a movie theater. If you’re not familiar with this film, this is the first movie to feature Harrison Ford as archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones. A lot of the movie collections will actually retitle this film “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” but Raiders of the Lost Ark is in fact the proper title. And as the title implies, Indiana Jones is in search of the fabled Ark of the Covenant….but so are the Nazis (because this film is set in 1936 so of COURSE the Nazis are the bad guys).

Half of what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark so amazing is John Williams’ phenomenal score. Williams has never done a bad film score, but I feel like this point in time was particularly good for him, as Raiders of the Lost Ark came out the year after Empire Strikes Back (and we all know how good THAT score is). My favorite musical moment in this film remains ‘The Map Room’ when Jones has to deduce where the Well of the Souls REALLY is (after learning that his rival doesn’t know after all). This is a perfectly shot scene and what makes it memorable is that the music does 90% of the work. From the moment the cue starts until the end, Harrison Ford doesn’t say a word because the music is telling the story for you.

And then there’s, of course, the story of the film itself. It’s classic good guy vs bad guy storytelling and even though I can quote most of the film from memory, it never ever gets old, that’s how good this film is. Something I’ve grown to appreciate over the rewatches is how this film subverts the adventure tropes that it claims to emulate. Examples include (but are not limited to): Indiana Jones is initially presented as a tough explorer, but he’s TERRIFIED of snakes; Jones steals a uniform from a Nazi guard but it doesn’t fit him when he tries to put it on (subverting the idea that the enemy uniform you steal will ALWAYS fit); Jones is also not as smart as he thinks he is, for proof I cite the opening scene when he tries to trick the booby trap into letting him remove the golden idol without setting it off.

I’m also a big fan of Paul Freeman’s Belloq, the French archaeologist who is Jones’ primary rival throughout the film. On the initial viewing, you might be inclined to just hate Belloq because he works with the Nazis, but the more you watch this film, the more you realize it’s not quite that simple. Sure, Belloq is on the wrong side of history (and he pays for it dearly), but his interest in the Ark is 100% genuine. Also, I think his feelings for Marion are real too, as he seems genuinely upset when Marion is thrown into the snake-filled Well of the Souls. Really, I just like that Belloq is a nuanced villain, in contrast to the Nazis who are just out and out evil.

One thing that’s always bothered me though is the ending. I can still remember watching this film as a kid and being absolutely bewildered that the last thing we see is the Ark getting shut up into a box and taken deep into a packed warehouse. It frustrated the heck out of me as a kid, and even though I sort of understand why the film ends this way, it still frustrates me now if I’m honest. I can’t help but agree with Jones’ final assessment “Fools…..bureaucratic fools. They don’t know what they’ve got there.”

Raiders of the Lost Ark may be 40 years old, but it’s only improved with age. If you get the chance to see this anniversary screening, please go watch, it’s an experience everyone should have at least once.

Let me know what you think about Raiders of the Lost Ark in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film Reviews

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Going ‘On My Way’: A Brief Talk with Alex Lahey About ‘On My Way’ and The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021)

To my surprise and delight, I was given the opportunity to speak with Alex Lahey about their work on the song ‘On My Way’ and its inclusion in the hit Netflix movie The Mitchells vs The Machines.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Alex started playing both guitar and saxophone when she was 13 years old, and studied art and jazz when she first enrolled in university. She broke through in 2016 with her song “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me”, with her first full-length album ‘I Love You Like a Brother’ following in 2017.

How did you get started as a musician?

I’ve been playing music my whole life, but I really got serious about it when I was in high school and fell in love with playing the saxophone in the school big band. As I was getting into learning the sax, I was teaching myself guitar on the side just as a way to play the punk, rock and pop music I was actually listening to in my spare time. After leaving school and playing in a few bands with mates, I came to realise that I’m a better songwriter than saxophone player and I’ve never looked back.

How did you get connected with The Mitchells vs The Machines?

I was really lucky that my song ‘Every Day’s The Weekend’ got included in The Mitchells quite early on in the production process. So early on that they didn’t have a song for the end credits of the movie! So I got sent a brief of what the director and music supervisor were looking to fill that space with and that’s how ‘On My Way’ came to be.

What did you think of the film’s story?

I loved the story of the film and especially loved the character of Katie. Growing up as a queer kid, it would’ve meant the world to me to have seen a character like Katie on screen and I’m so glad she exists now for all the young people who need someone like her. The themes of family, growing up and being yourself that are so central to the story really resonate with me too.

Tell me about how ‘On My Way’ was developed for the film, what was the process for that song coming together?

As I mentioned before, the song was prompted by a brief the creative team provided me with. Between lockdowns in Melbourne, I took the brief to two artists I’m very close with, Gab Strum (Japanese Wallpaper) and Sophie Payten (Gordi), just as something to do while hanging out for the first time in ages and ‘On My Way’ was born. I guess we had a lot of good creative vibes waiting to be unleashed after so much time without face to face collaboration. Gab and I ended up finishing the recording virtually as Melbourne went back into lockdown. A big shout out must go out to Scott Horscroft who tracked all the drums and mixed the tune for us at The Grove while we were beamed in via Zoom during Stage 4 lockdown!

Aside from ‘On My Way’ were you involved in any other aspects of the music for The Mitchells vs The Machines?

To have both ‘On My Way’ and ‘Every Day’s The Weekend’ included in the film was really awesome. It was so great to be a part of this project in a really meaningful way. I’d never written a song intentionally for screen before and it was so wonderful to be part of the process of bringing this film together, even just in a small way. I hope it’s not the last time I get to be involved in a project like this. 

I want to give a big thank you to Alex Lahey for taking the time to talk with me!

See also:

Soundtrack Review: The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021)

Composer Interviews

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Music, Magic, and Dragons: Talking With Composer Philip Klein About Wish Dragon (2021)

I was recently blessed with the opportunity to speak with composer Philip Klein about his work on the upcoming Netflix film Wish Dragon (which comes out on June 11th). Klein’s music has been heard in film and television projects for Sony, Disney, Pixar, Lionsgate, ABC and CBS. As a writer, Philip has collaborated with some of the finest composers working in film and TV, including Harry Gregson-Williams, Carter Burwell, Alex Heffes and Fil Eisler. He’s has had the honor of orchestrating for James Newton Howard, Alexandre Desplat, Ludwig Göransson, Richard Harvey, Steve Jablonsky, David Buckley, Stewart Copeland, Peter Golub, John Frizzell and several other amazing artists.

After a steady diet of drum corps and classical music throughout his childhood, Philip’s formal music education took him to Chicago where he studied trumpet and composition at Northwestern University. This classical foundation combined with a deep understanding of modern scoring techniques allow him to seamlessly compliment every project he works on. Selected as one of six fellows for the 2011 Sundance Institute’s Film Composing Lab in Utah, Philip has always had a deep love for the interaction of music and film. He owes much of his success to his mentors in Hollywood, Harry Gregson-Williams, Alan Silvestri, Penka Kouneva and Peter Golub. 

“Wish Dragon” is the story of Din, a 19-yr old college student living in a working-class neighborhood of modern-day Shanghai, who has big dreams but small means. Din’s life changes overnight when he finds an old teapot containing a Wish Dragon named Long – a magical dragon able to grant wishes – and he is given the chance to reconnect with his childhood best friend, Li-Na.

Please enjoy my conversation with Philip Klein about Wish Dragon!

How Did You Get Started as a Composer?

I was a trumpet player for most of my young musical life but I eventually found myself being drawn more to orchestration and composition.  I had a soft spot for film scores at a very young age and would spend hours picking out notes to my favorite themes, so it felt natural to fall into that world when I went to college and beyond.  Once I had scored a few student films I was hooked and moving to Los Angeles was the logical next step.  I’ve had the great fortune of working with some of the most skilled artists in film and music.

How did You Get Involved with Wish Dragon? Was there anything in particular that drew you to the story?

Producer Aron Warner is a dear friend and we’ve both always wanted to work on a project together. One of Aron’s superpowers is curating a team of creatives that all compliment each other.  He felt that director Chris Appelhans and I would mesh well so he reached out and I saw a very early cut of mostly stick figure drawing and early animatics.  Even in its most basic form the story was beautifully conceived and it was clear from conversations with Chris and Aron that the film was going to be special. I did all that I could to convince them that I was the right composer for the film and luckily they agreed.  Chris’ passion for storytelling, the characters and the culture is what drew me in early on; it wasn’t long before I was happily escaping into this world on a daily basis.  

I saw that you also worked on Raya and the Last Dragon as an orchestrator. Given that both of these films are about dragons, would you say there are musical similarities between the two or did you go out of your way to avoid any overt musical comparisons to Raya?

James Newton Howard wrote a beautiful score for Raya. I lucked out a bit in that I actually finished recording the score for Wish Dragon several months before we began orchestration work on Raya, so my window for being influenced (and intimidated) by James’ writing had passed. James’ score took advantage of musical colors from different areas of Mongolia and Southeast Asia, whereas Chris and I wanted to stick very close to Chinese culture for the color of the score.  Raya has a bit more fantasy whereas Wish Dragon is a bit more comedic. So in that sense, the scores were always going to sound different.

What was your starting point in putting the music for Wish Dragon together? Was there a lot of collaboration with the director during this process?

I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a project where the director was as much a collaborator as Chris was on this film.  The first 3-4 months of the process was just sharing music, videos and thoughts back and forth.  We sent each other any kind of Chinese instrument, folk song, vocal, opera percussion; basically any sound we could find.  Eventually, we started to hone in on the overall palette and approach we thought may work and then I started to experiment with those boundaries in place.  Chris was intimately involved with the music from conception through recording and mixing.  Chris had such a strong vision of what he wanted and needed out of the score, I loved every minute of working through this film with him. 

Were you inspired by any earlier films when putting the music together since this is a reworking of the “genie in a bottle” type of story? Or did you try to put an original twist on it as far as the music went?

While on its surface this film may seem like a “genie in the bottle” kind of story, the film is much more about friendship and redemption than anything.  The spectacle and theatricality of Long’s character sits somewhat behind the genuine connections we follow throughout the film.  While it is important to give a voice to Long’s over-the-top character, we never went too far in making him seem like more of a being than he is.  I think previous iterations of that kind of story maybe put more emphasis on the genie type character and their performance.  So musically, you have to match that kind of energy.  In Wish Dragon, we always wanted more weight to go towards the relationships and arcs of the characters so it naturally kept me away from drawing too much inspiration on other films or scores.  I’ll always be proud of how Chris and I blended these beautiful instruments of Chinese culture with a more Western orchestral palette.  We didn’t want either to ever overshadow the other.

Did you assign themes to the major characters? Or if not all of the characters, did you give a musical theme to Long the dragon?

I’m a huge believer that thematic writing is one of the most effective ways to create memorable emotional moments in a film.  Long has a theme we hear in the first cue of the film.  It’s broad and sweeping, almost always played with the orchestra to give his character scale and drama.  Din’s theme probably recurs most often but is played much more simply and with less fanfare than Long’s.  Much of Din’s scenes take full advantage of the energy from the Chinese instruments we used.  For most of the film Din is full of optimism so his theme is orchestrated with lovely and light, plucked textures.  There are two secondary themes; the first for our baddies and the other for Din and Li Na’s relationship.  For the goons in the film, I used a lot of darker bowed sounds from the Chinese instruments and mixed them into more modern, synth heavy orchestration.  For Din and Li Na, it’s a very simple fluttering synth with a three note motive that echoes their “day by day” mantra.

How did you decide on which traditional Chinese instruments to include in the score? And was it hard blending those instruments with a traditional Western orchestra?

It can be overwhelming at the start of a score like this because my brain and ears want to explore every new color out there.  Unfortunately, I’d still be working on the score today if I didn’t put a bit of a cap on what instruments we should focus on.  Honestly, we spent months early on just listening and me having video calls with players all over the world.  I’d ask them to show me the basics of their instruments, what it can do, and what it shouldn’t do.  Eventually I boiled down my core palette to around 8-10 Chinese instruments that would represent that side of the score.  The orchestra was always in place as it’s difficult to replace the sheer power of that vehicle, but the Chinese instruments became our color and our energy throughout the film.  We never wanted the score to sound like an orchestra blasting away with some Chinese soloists playing on top of them.  Rather, we wanted the two to become more homogenized so that the Chinese world melted into the orchestral.  Blending them together was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had because it opened my ears to brand new textures and colors.  It allowed me to explore a new musical world I had never heard before.  That’s always the most exciting part of working on a film. 

How much time did you have to score Wish Dragon?

I had the great fortune of working on this score for nearly a year.  This gave us plenty of time to truly flesh out all of our wildest ideas, themes and orchestrations.

Do you have a favorite track or moment in the score?

I will always love the scene and cue titled “Everything That Matters.”  It’s such a beautiful, honest moment between Din and his mother and their relationship’s arc in the film.  It was also one of those moments where Din’s theme just seemed to line up perfectly without me having to do much.  That doesn’t always happen, but it’s a pleasant surprise when the notes just seem to fit the film without much ado.  

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Philip Klein about his work on Wish Dragon. You’ll be able to check out the film when it releases on Netflix on June 11th, 2021.

Have a great day!

See also:

Composer Interviews

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Soundrack News: ‘The Water Man’ Original Soundtrack Available Now

Last month, Lakeshore Records released the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for the RLJE Films family adventure film The Water Man—acclaimed actor David Oyelowo’s directorial debut. The album is comprised of an ethereal original score from Belgian composer Peter Baert, also making a debut with his first composition for a major Hollywood feature. The soundtrack also features two original songs written and performed by Jessica Oyelowo, including the end credits song “My Son.” The Water Man soundtrack is available digitally alongside the film’s U.S. theatrical release.

 The music of The Water Man is a mix of classical orchestra, piano, percussion, and electronics. Peter felt the score should follow the journey of the main character Gunner, going on quest into the woods to save his ill mother. He processed the Water Man’s screams and sighs through long delays, modular tools, and tape echoes to create “The Water Man Synth.” When David proposed a motherly energy to be present in the music, Peter worked with a vocalist, who has a similar timbre of the mother (Rosario Dawson), and created “The Mother Synth.” 

David Oyelowo says, “Music and sound in film has always been important to me, which is why I consider myself lucky to have met composer Peter Baert when I did. We first crossed paths when he was the sound engineer on another project I was working on in Belgium, and he had previously shared a music demo of his compositions that I just couldn’t shake. While in post-production on The Water Man, I was working with another composer and had initially cut Peter’s music in as an experiment, and it all just worked perfectly. Within a week, he flew over, sat next to me in the edit, and that’s how he became my composer. He’d never done an English-speaking film before, and he totally nailed the tone. We recorded and mixed at Galaxy, and did all the sound design and mixing at Sony and re-recording at Deluxe Hollywood.” 

Peter Baert on his collaboration experience: “David Oyelowo is such a wonderful human being and a gifted storyteller. He took a giant leap in choosing me as a composer and I felt his trust and guidance throughout the time we worked together. Being present for a short time in the editing room with David and editor Blu Murray was such a wonderful experience—I felt part of something bigger.” 

Of his musical inspirations, Baert says: “The heartfelt story of The Water Man took me back to two periods in my life. The first reminded me of being in my early teens, always playing in the neighborhood with my friends and going on adventures in a nearby forest. The second transported me back to a day in 2008 when my mom and I found out the diagnosis of her pancreatic cancer. She would be gone in 6 months. At some moment during the composing process the music found me, and it glued to the screen. This beautiful story reflects what I experienced in real life—that it is sometimes better to let go and cherish the time we have, than to hold on at all costs.”

TRACK LIST

  1. Gunner’s Theme
  2. Mary’s Lullaby
  3. Mother’s Medicine
  4. Finding Jo
  5. Question
  6. The Water Man Story
  7. Runaway
  8. Come into My Office
  9. Enter the Forest
  10. First Night
  11. Night Watch
  12. Candy
  13. The Howling Wild Horses
  14. Snow in July
  15. Second Night
  16. A Lot of Beetles
  17. Morning
  18. Amos’s Search
  19. Crossing the River
  20. A Bunch of Crap
  21. Coming Closer – “The Water Man Rhyme” (feat. Amiah Miller)
  22. The Hut
  23. Hope is a Powerful Force
  24. Getting Out
  25. Prayer
  26. My Son – Jessica Oyelowo
  27. What Love Does – Jessica Oyelowo

See also:

Heartfelt Music for a Heartfelt Story: Talking with Composer Peter Baert About ‘The Water Man’ (2021)

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My Thoughts on: Cruella (2021)

*warning minor plot spoilers for Cruella can be found below

I still have no idea how we got an origin story for Cruella DeVil, and I maintain that nobody actually asked for this film to be made. But since it was made and looked like a lot of fun, I decided to go ahead and see what it was all about.

And, to my delight, I actually enjoyed Cruella for the most part, though the film is far from perfect. Emma Stone absolutely KILLS it as the titular character, which isn’t something I thought I’d say at first, but by the end of the film I was completely invested in her as Cruella. And speaking of Emmas, I’m also a big fan of Emma Thompson’s work as the Baroness. She is, for plot reasons, my new favorite villainous character and I absolutely love to hate her due to her work in this film. She is the quintessential “you hate her guts but you can’t stop watching” type of character and by the end of the story you’re just itching to see her taken down.

Also have to give a shout out to John McCrea who plays Artie. Outside of Emma Stone as Cruella, he is my favorite part of this film. I love how he plays the character, and I wish there was more of Artie in this film because he is a delight to watch! And I also have to mention how much I enjoyed Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as Jasper and Horace respectively. The verbal interplay between the two is so very funny at times, I loved to watch it.

All of that being said….Cruella does have its fair share of flaws. For one, this film is too long for the story it’s trying to tell. I feel like if about twenty minutes were shaved off and the plot subsequently tightened up, it would’ve done the film a huge favor. It’s not that any part of the story is bad, it just takes too long to get where it’s going. This is especially true in the opening of the film, which takes way too long to get to the point. In fact, the opening is so meandering that I almost lost interest in the film at the very beginning.

The other big flaw comes late in the film right before the last act gets going. This is where the story almost goes off the rails but thankfully it gets everything together for a good finish. Also, I’m not entirely sure if all of the narration from Cruella was necessary, it sometimes took me out of the moment.

One final flaw I have to highlight is the CGI. Maybe it was just me, but during the film it was blindingly obvious when certain canine characters were being CGI-generated. I get why it has to be done, but it’s distracting when you’re watching a scene and suddenly your brain registers that the dog (or dogs in several scenes) is not real. The point I’m trying to make is that if you’re going to CGI a dog, don’t make it obvious.

Fortunately, once the story finally gets going, it’s a good story. My favorite parts are all the scenes where Cruella appears in her trendy outfits. I swear the costumes in this film had better get recognized at the Oscars next year because I could look at Cruella’s costumes all day long and never get bored. I love the contrast between the Baroness’ idea of fashion and Cruella’s, you can tell immediately how they differ and why the latter’s is so popular. I also like the way that the main character is pulled between her competing personalities of Estella and Cruella. It’s an interesting take on the character because not only does it set up that this version of Cruella is different from the animated character, it also insinuates that she does have the capacity to become that character if she so wished. For what it’s worth, I’m happy this version of Cruella is different. Her story has layers now, and she’s a borderline sympathetic character now (though I wouldn’t go so far as to call her one of the “good guys” she’s more of an in-between character by film’s end).

The other thing I really liked about Cruella? If you read between the lines, this film is simultaneously an origin story for Cruella deVil AND a set up for an all-new live-action 101 Dalmatians with a new Roger and Anita. Seriously, I will be shocked if there is not a new 101 Dalmatians movie announced in the near future, all the pieces have been laid for it to happen. And based on how Cruella ends, I could see THIS version of 101 Dalmatians playing out with a significant twist, though I won’t say what it is lest I spoil the plot of Cruella. I will say that there is a viable opening for a sequel and I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney makes one happen in the next few years.

In the end, I’m glad I went to see Cruella, it’s flaws don’t overshadow the good and it’s a fairly interesting take on a character that honestly I didn’t think could be expanded upon, but I’m glad they did.

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

See also:

Film Reviews

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