Tag Archives: James Newton Howard

My thoughts on: Red Sparrow (2018)

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*warning, spoilers follow! You have been warned!

Red-Sparrow

Given the wide range of reviews this film has gotten, I wasn’t sure what to expect going in to see Red Sparrow last night. Would this be a clone of Black Widow’s origin story as many accused it of being? Was the story as messy as some led me to believe? The answer, I believe, is no (to Black Widow) and not quite (as to the messiness of the plot). Actually, I found myself enjoying the movie for the most part. It follows Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) as she goes from being the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet to a “Sparrow,” a spy trained in the art of seducing targets to retrieve information.

Dominika’s story intersects with that of American CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Nash is the handler for a high-ranking Russian mole code-named “Marble.” Russian intelligence is aware of Marble’s existence, though not his true identity and Dominika is assigned the task of getting close to Nash and worming the secret of Marble’s identity out of him. Failure will result in Dominika’s execution.

That in essence is the bulk of the plot, though the film takes far too many turns for my liking to reach its conclusion. In fact, I think the biggest weakness of the film is the would-be romantic sub-plot between Dominika and Nate. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time the story stuttered to a stop every time they got together. Cut out the possibility of romance blossoming between Nate and Dominika (as well as the filmmaker’s attempt at “is she or is she not in love”) and the story would have flowed much better I think.

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Another weakness is the length of the story. I think most of us can agree that the film ran at least 30 minutes too long. There were several points that I felt the end of the story was at hand only to move on to another scene (I actually caught myself thinking “What, are we still going?” not long before the climax). Of course once we actually got to the climax the payoff was enormous, but I still think the last portion of the film before that scene was mostly unnecessary.

Now for what I liked about the film:

One of my favorite parts of Red Sparrow is Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Dominika. She absolutely owns this role and you literally can’t take your eyes off her. Lawrence runs a huge gamut of emotions: despair, seduction, flattery, love (for her mother), it’s a very impressive performance. Another highlight is the all too brief role played by Jeremy Irons. I’ve been a fan of his work for years and he didn’t disappoint here, I actually wanted to see more of him!

I was correct in thinking that James Newton Howard’s score would be the highlight of this film. In fact the music is part of why I enjoyed Red Sparrow as much as I did. My favorite musical moments are Dominika’s ballet scene at the beginning (before THAT moment, you know the one I mean) and the climactic scene where she’s traded back to the Russians in exchange for the mole (more on that in a moment). In both scenes, I love the way the music swells up and around you, lending gravity and a musical fullness to each moment. Moments like this are why I love film music as much as I do.

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The last part I want to discuss is the aforementioned exchange scene. (Again, spoilers follow!) Prior to this scene, Dominika is met at the hospital by General Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) who reveals that he is Marble. He tells Dominika that the only way she’s getting out of this alive is to turn him in to Russian intelligence which will make her a hero to the state and place her beyond suspicion (and thus allow her to continue feeding intelligence to the Americans in his place). It seems Dominika has no choice, and for a moment I actually thought she was going to commit suicide and thus “take back the power” by making a choice for herself (to end her life). Thankfully they didn’t go that way because what happened is so much better.

 

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The night of the exchange comes and the Russians pull out a hooded figure from a helicopter. When the Americans ask for the hood to be removed so they can confirm Marble’s identity…the hood is taken off to reveal Dominika’s scheming uncle, the man who forced her to be a Sparrow in the first place! In fact, I suspect that up until the end her uncle manipulated the entire story, including the “accident” that broke Dominika’s leg and ended her ballet career (but that’s just my speculation). It turns out that everything Dominika has done since has been to get revenge on her uncle for ruining her life and career. Upon this revelation, everything made sense to me: Dominika had not only gotten revenge on her uncle by falsely outing him as the mole, but she’d also found a way to keep Marble in his place (and alive!) Considering everything her uncle had done (and how sleazy he’d shown himself to be), I found this moment to be very satisfying.

And those are my thoughts on Red Sparrow! Overall I enjoyed the film despite its weaknesses, though I don’t think I liked it enough to get a copy on DVD. Let me know what you thought of Red Sparrow in the comments below! Have a great day!

This review was actually posted a day in advance on the blog’s Patreon page. From here on out, patrons of the blog will have early access to my newest film and soundtrack reviews. The first tier for becoming a patron is $2/month which grants early access. The second tier is $5/month and gives you the right to commission one film or soundtrack review from me per month (provided it’s one I haven’t reviewed already) as well as early access. More rewards will come in the future!

See also: Film/TV Reviews

Soundtrack Review: Red Sparrow (2018)

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Soundtrack Review: Red Sparrow (2018)

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

Red Sparrow is an American spy thriller film directed by Francis Lawrence and based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews. The film tells the story of a Russian intelligence officer, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), who is sent to make contact with a CIA agent and possible mole. The film also stars Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeremy Irons. It released to theaters on March 2nd, 2018.

The score for Red Sparrow was composed by James Newton Howard, one of the film industry’s most versatile and honored composers, with a career spanning over thirty years and encompassing more than 130 film and television projects. His myriad film credits include the Oscar®-nominated scores for Defiance, Michael Clayton, The Village, The Fugitive, The Prince of Tides, and My Best Friend’s Wedding, as well as Oscar® nominated songs for Junior and One Fine Day. Howard also received Golden Globe nominations for his scores for Peter Jackson’s blockbuster remake of King Kong and Defiance, as well as the aforementioned songs.

James Newton Howard’s score for Red Sparrow is, in a word, beautiful. Howard’s scores have always been among my favorites, but this one might just be one of his best. For a start, the score begins with a proper overture which came as a very pleasant surprise to me. Overtures in film music are typically, in my experience, associated with the golden age of cinema, when many films contained an overture and an intermission like a stage play or an opera. And like those overtures, Howard’s overture sets the tone for the entire soundtrack: it’s a haunting string melody, mixed with woodwinds, that gently draws you into itself until you’re lost in the rising and falling sounds. Appropriately enough, there are faint overtones of Russian-styled music in the melody, which makes sense given where the film is set. However, this sound does not dominate the overture, it is a hint of “Russian-ness” and nothing more.

Most of the score follows the lyrical example of the overture, especially the last track before the end titles which is listed as “Didn’t I Do Well.” This last piece is more upbeat than the overture and actually put me in mind of a ballet number, which may be deliberate since Jennifer Lawrence’s character is *minor spoiler* a former ballerina. I say it reminds me of ballet because the leaps and quick changes in the melody are reminiscent of the steps a ballet dancer takes.

Red-Sparrow

However, some of the tracks in the score depart from the style featured in the overture and “Didn’t I Do Well” and lean closer to a more modern feel, with electronic sounds and a faster paced, more “jagged” melody. Examples of this include “Take Off Your Dress” and “The Steam Room.” The latter especially could be considered the most “violent” sounding piece in the entire soundtrack (I have my theories as to why but I’ll need to see the film to know for certain) but I enjoyed listening to it because it stood in marked contrast to the other pieces surrounding it in the score.

In conclusion, Howard’s score for Red Sparrow is a gorgeous listening experience and I can already tell it will be the highlight of the film (even if the rest of the film disappoints, which I hope it doesn’t). I think you will definitely enjoy it.

Let me know what you thought of Red Sparrow’s soundtrack in the comments below. 🙂

This soundtrack review was actually posted a day in advance on the blog’s Patreon page. From here on out, patrons of the blog will have early access to my newest film and soundtrack reviews. The first tier for becoming a patron is $2/month which grants early access. The second tier is $5/month and gives you the right to commission one film or soundtrack review from me per month (provided it’s one I haven’t reviewed already) as well as early access.                                                                                                                         You can become a patron of the blog at: patreon.com/musicgamer460

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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

My thoughts on: Red Sparrow (2018)

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James Newton Howard talks The Village (2004)

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

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James Newton Howard talks The Village (2004)

Like practically every M. Night Shyamalan film ever created, The Village is a strange film. An isolated village in the middle of the forest lives in fear of strange “monsters” that inhabit the woods all around them, but (as you might expect from a Shyamalan film), things are not exactly what they appear to be.

I’ve never actually seen this film all the way through, but I do recall my jaw smacking the floor when I read a synopsis and found out what the big twist in the story was. Depending on who’s watching, you either see the twist coming a mile away or you have no idea what’s coming at all (I’m definitely the latter).

What I DO know about this film is its soundtrack. This is another example of the work of James Newton Howard (Atlantis: The Lost Empire), in fact his work on this score earned him his fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score (unfortunately he lost to Finding Neverland). This short video takes us into the scoring process for The Village and highlights the contributions of Hilary Hahn, the violinist whose solo work is one of the best parts of the soundtrack. It’s always fun to learn about the scoring process of a film, and even though I’m not the biggest fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s work, I did enjoy watching how the score for The Village came together, and I hope you enjoy it too.

If you’ve seen The Village, let me know what you thought of the film in the comments below 🙂

You can become a patron of the blog at: patreon.com/musicgamer460

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See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

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James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

I can’t say it often enough: Atlantis: The Lost Empire is one of the most underrated films that Disney has ever made. Seriously, the animation is beautiful, the story is great, and the MUSIC is one of the best parts! (See Atlantis: The Lost Empire “The Crystal Chamber” for more of my thoughts on this score)

If you haven’t seen the film, the story follows a young cartographer and linguist named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), who is determined to prove the lost city of Atlantis (whose destruction we witness in the beginning of the film) exists and thereby clear his grandfather’s name (his late grandfather was a famous explorer who lost his reputation when he insisted that Atlantis was real). According to Thatch’s research, the key to discovering the location of the sunken city can be found in a mysterious artifact known as The Shepherd’s Journal. But as it turns out, his grandfather had already found the Journal in a previous expedition and left it to his friend, eccentric millionaire Preston B. Whitmore, to be held in his possession until Milo was “ready” to find Atlantis himself. Whitmore wants to help Milo because of a bet he made with his grandfather over whether or not Atlantis existed. Since Milo’s grandfather found the Journal, Whitmore agreed to finance any future expedition with the best materials and the best crew. To that end, Milo is introduced to mostly the same crew that helped Milo’s grandfather find the Journal in Iceland.

The most notable members include:

  • Tiberius Roarke: Commander and secretly a snake in the grass who wants to rob Atlantis of its treasures for huge profits
  • Helga Sinclair: Roarke’s lieutenant (and possibly some-time lover?) who is also in this for the profits (though she does express brief reservations when they discover Atlantis is still inhabited)
  • Vinny Santorini: a demolitions expert obsessed with making things go BOOM! Previously worked in a flower shop (though he’d prefer you didn’t know that)
  • Gaeton Moliere (better known as “Mole”), a geologist with an unhealthy dirt obsession. A line in the direct-to-video sequel implies he was raised by naked mole rats.
  • Dr. Joshua Strongbear: a doctor of African-American/Native American descent. He talks a lot but has a really good heart when push comes to shove.
  • Audrey Ramirez: A teenage mechanic from Puerto Rico and the youngest member on the expedition. If it has an engine, she can make it run. Her sister is a famous boxer.
  • “Cookie”: The expedition cook (though that term is used very loosely) who believes in HIS basic food groups: “beans, bacon, whiskey and lard.”

After numerous hurdles (including having their main ship blown to pieces by a mechanical Leviathan), the surviving crew arrive at Atlantis and are stunned to discover a living city inhabited by hundreds (if not more) of people. The surviving Atlanteans are still ruled by King Kashekim Nedakh (who was king when Atlantis sank under the sea) and his only daughter Kidagakash or “Kida” is heir to the throne. Roarke successfully bargains for the crew to stay the night in the city and Milo goes off to explore with Kida, who is fascinated to meet someone from the surface. Predictably, things go sour when it turns out that Roarke and the rest of the crew are actually mercenaries that have a taste for pillaging ancient treasures for profit. In this case, they’re after the semi-mystical “Heart of Atlantis,” the crystal that is currently keeping the city and its inhabitants alive. Kida is absorbed into the Crystal after Roarke deduces its location and Milo gives chase to bring her back before the entire city dies. After a lengthy battle (in which Roarke, Helga and the rest of the crew who didn’t side with Milo are killed), Milo decides to stay in Atlantis with Kida while Audrey, Cookie, and the rest of our heroes return to the surface (with an Atlantean ship filled to the brim with treasure as their reward for doing the right thing).

This film was my first exposure to James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games series, Maleficent), and I will defend this score forever. That being said, I was beyond happy when I stumbled across this interview on YouTube where Howard talks about his work on this film. And as Howard puts it, there are really two films going on in this story: there’s the action/adventure of finding Atlantis, and once our hero Milo arrives, a totally new story begins (with a new score to match). To help distinguish Atlantis musically, Howard used a variety of Balinese instruments (which favor bells and gongs) to create a very unique sound.

I hope you enjoy listening to this interview with James Newton Howard! If you also enjoy this film, let me know what you like about it 🙂

You can become a patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Hans Zimmer talks The Dark Knight (2008)

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Hans Zimmer talks The Dark Knight (2008)

In 2008 Warner Bros. Studios released The Dark Knight, the highly successful sequel to Batman Begins (2005), continuing the story of Batman (Christian Bale) as he faces his most legendary foe: The Joker (Heath Ledger in his final screen role).

Oddly enough, though I was fascinated by Batman around this time, I never got around to watching this movie, or any other movie in the Dark Knight Trilogy to be perfectly honest. I’m not sure if it was because Heath Ledger had died or something else, but I know from reputation that they are an excellent set of films, with a great trilogy of scores co-composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.

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It’s interesting to note that Zimmer created the Joker’s theme while Howard created the theme for Two-Face (to serve as musical contrasts to each other). The score was, for the most part, well-received, though like most films there were those who disliked it as well. I’ve had the score recommended to me for some time, so I should probably get my own copy sooner rather than later.

The interview linked above contains an extensive look at the score of the film and as always provides a valuable insight into how a film composer works. If you’re a fan of The Dark Knight (and even if the film is new to you), I believe you will enjoy this.

*poster image is the property of Warner Bros. Studios


You can become a patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

See also:

Hans Zimmer (and Richard King) talk The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

James Newton Howard talks Signs (2002)

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James Newton Howard talks Signs (2002)

Signs (2002) was actually the third collaboration between composer James Newton Howard and director M. Night Shyamalan (the others being The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000)). For this film, in which a family is terrorized by mysterious aliens, Howard created a score that drips with tension almost from the start. This musical trend is inspired by Shyamalan’s  approach to telling the story, a story that keeps the audience hooked until that last moment (which I think is one of the biggest WTF? moments in all of cinema, let’s just say that the payoff to all this tension isn’t exactly what you’d expect).

It’s hard to believe this film is 14 years old already, I remember when all my classmates in school were talking about it. Please enjoy James Newton Howard’s discussion of the film score.

See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

*poster is the property of Buena Vista Pictures

Atlantis: The Lost Empire “The Crystal Chamber”

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

I think there is no Disney film so underrated as Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001). Released in the first few years after the Disney Renaissance (which most will say concluded with Tarzan in 1999), Atlantis featured an all-star voice cast and was also the first animated Disney film with no songs whatsoever. Despite gorgeous animation and a sublime musical score (more on that in a minute), the film under-performed at the box office, causing a planned animated series to be scrapped (it was reworked as Atlantis II: Milo’s Return), an Atlantis-themed ride at Disney World to be cancelled and furthermore, it led to Princess Kida NOT being recognized as an official “Disney Princess” (seriously, she has never appeared at the theme parks, any of them). (And on a further note, remember how everyone says Elsa from Frozen was the first Disney Princess to become a Queen onscreen? I hate to be the one to burst that bubble, but that honor actually belongs to Kida, who is QUEEN as the film ends!!) But I digress…

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The music, as I said, is exceptional and was composed by James Newton Howard (he’s composed for many films, including the remake of King Kong in 2005).

“The Crystal Chamber” takes place about 2/3 of the way through the film and begins when bad guy Roarke (James Gardner) discovers that the powerful “Heart of Atlantis” crystal has literally been underneath their feet the entire time. But as hero Milo (Michael J. Fox) has been trying to tell everyone, the Crystal is not some giant diamond, it’s alive, it feels and it currently knows that it is in danger so it moves into “protection mode” by seeking out the closest person of royal blood, in this case: Princess Kida.

The music begins to move forward in earnest when the Crystal (speaking through Kida) reassures Milo that everything is going to be okay.

Atlantis: The Crystal Chamber Film Scene (2001)

Howard has constructed a slowly building melody that begins with a single voice and builds to a huge orchestral moment as Kida (Cree Summer) begins walking on top of the bottomless lake to immediately below where the Crystal is hovering. A single beam of light converges on the princess and as it completely disappears the music vanishes for a moment. And then…Kida rises!!! And the music matches her ascent, this beautiful hovering melody that lifts you up in the air along with her!

Atlantis: The Crystal Chamber Soundtrack Version (2001)

The best part though, comes when Kida is joined with the Crystal. As the orbiting stones move around them, the music reflects this sense of motion. Listen to the same moment in the soundtrack version of this scene and you’ll hear what I’m talking about: the music “moves” closer and then farther away, giving the impression of movement.

As the scene ends, the music slowly winds down, allowing the audience to admire the Kida-Crystal that has now formed (I love the animation for that).

I remember seeing this in the theaters and being enraptured by this scene. This is the epitome of a good movie moment, the sound and visuals just work together to pull you in to the story. If you haven’t seen this movie, find a copy and don’t let it go, because it is worth it. (I secretly hope that Disney will include this in the list of live-action remakes so the story can FINALLY get the attention it deserves).

*poster image is the property of Walt Disney Studios

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See also:

James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)