Tag Archives: Emma Stone

Gangster Squad (2013)

I was fortunate enough to see an early screening of this film the other day. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know what it was about (aside from what I assumed was a squad of gangsters), and I didn’t know what the critics were saying about it. I only knew who was in it and that I got to see it for free, which was good enough for me. Thankfully, Gangster Squad was quite a fun film.

The story takes placte in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and everything about it feels authentic, from the clothes to the music to the lack of today’s advanced technology – the last of these being pretty important since this film features some elements of espionage. From the very beginning of the film – as in the first two minutes – we are shown that this is going to be a pretty violent film, which makes sense since we’re dealing with gangsters. The title is derived from a special team of cops, led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), whose goal is to take down the gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a former boxer and now the head of organized crime in LA.

In the assembling of the so-called “Gangster Squad,” we’re treated to what I consider to be an Avengers-esque montage in which we’re introduced to each member and their specific talents one by one. There was another scene later that seemed to be a cross between the fight montage from Captain America: The First Avenger and the newspaper headlines sequences from various other films (i.e. Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, etc.). That’s not to say that they weren’t well-done or original – just familiar.

There are two standout performances in this film. The first comes from Josh Brolin as “Sarge” (as he’s called in the movie); I’d only seen him before in The Goonies and in the 2010 remake of True Grit, so seeing him in the lead role here was a nice, real introduction to him as an actor. His character exuded a strong confidence that fit his position as leader, and his desire to do the right thing no matter what was palpable. Ryan Gosling was even better than Brolin; I’d never seen him in anything before and only knew that he had been in The Notebook, so I didn’t anticipate him being anything special, but I was amazed to see that he was not only competent but also quite good. His character is Sgt. Jerry Wooters, a man who is at first reluctant to join the Gangster Squad, but his fraternization with Cohen’s girlfriend (Emma Stone) and the death of a friend at the hand of some of Cohen’s men convince him to join the fight. Gosling’s character brings some humanity to the field; he’s passionate for both his friends and his girl, and he holds the lives of these people at a higher priority level than he does the arrest of Mickey Cohen. He makes sure to keep Sarge in check so that he’s keeping his own life a priority.

*major spoilers in this paragraph*

My favorite part of this film was that the filmmakers weren’t afraid to let members of the Gangster Squad die; in fact, two of them do. They don’t have a miraculous recovery, but their deaths do not feel superficial…it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers killed them just to kill them. Sometimes, it seems like characters are killed just for the sake of killing them, and other times it seems like characters that should die due to injury are granted ridiculous reprieves. Thankfully, this film is smarter than that.

*end spoilers*

Overall, Gangster Squad may be violent and have some bad language, but that’s expected from a film like this. It’s a lot of fun, the actors do a great job, Jablonsky’s score is (surprisingly) superb, and the film itself feels neither too long nor too short; at just under two hours, it’s a perfect length for a film like this. The storytelling is pushed along by the action, but it isn’t mindless at all, and, in fact, most of it is quite entertaining. Everything is done really well, from the 1940s setting to the acting by everyone involved – Brolin, Gosling, Penn, Stone, et al. – does a fantastic job in a film that does a fine job of kick-starting this year’s movie lineup.

EDIT

Upon mulling over it a while longer, I’ve lowered my original rating by a star. Enjoyable, but not fantastic. Suffers from poor storytelling, flat character development, awful dialogue, and a few instances of just bad cinematography. I stand by my evaluation of Gosling especially, who was brilliant, but everyone else, including Brolin to a point, falls short.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for strong violence and language


The Help (2011) – Thomas Newman

I saw The Help in theaters back in September ’11 and really enjoyed it, so I decided to read the book that it was based on earlier this summer, by Kathryn Stockett. I also purchased Thomas Newman’s score to the film to listen to as I read. In addition to being good reading music, it’s a really great film score.

Thomas Newman is the master of small, light, and fun film scores, and The Help, despite being a film about a serious subject, is all of these; though I’m a huge fan of John Williams, James Horner, and Michael Giacchino, who all use really big orchestral sounds in their scores, it’s refreshing to inject yourself with some Thomas Newman every once in a while. “Upside-Down Cake” and “Deviled Eggs” are light and playful, “Them Fools” and “Amen” are light and beautiful, and “Celia Digs” and “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)” are light and emotional.

Of course, you could argue that every single track on this album is emotionalEach track twangs on the heartstrings of the listener, which is no small feat for small orchestration. Tracks like “Jim Crow”, which features an aggressive acoustic guitar riff, blend in to the setting of the film, giving everything a Southern vibe that brings the message all too close to home.

I own several Thomas Newman scores, and none of them disappoint, including The Help. Newman’s score should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award, but, since it is less-theme based (though there are a few beautiful themes floating around throughout), it didn’t stand a chance against Williams, Shore, and Bource. That being said, if you’re at all a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this. Also, if you’re not a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “Aibilene”      3:07
2. “Them Fools”      2:49
3. “Upside-Down Cake”      1:22
4. “Mississippi”      3:49
5. “Heart Palpitations”      1:43
6. “The Help”     2:18
7. “Jim Crow”      1:45
8. “Skeeter”      1:03
9. “Miss Hilly”      1:13
10. “Write That Down”      1:37
11. “Bottom Of The List”      3:23
12. “Deviled Eggs”      2:03
13. “First White Baby”      2:00
14. “Celia Digs”      2:06
15. “November 22”      1:11
16. “Not To Die”      1:28
17. “My Son”      2:50
18. “Trash On The Road”      1:37
19. “The Terrible Awful”      2:56
20. “Constantine”      4:08
21. “Gripping Testimonials”      1:32
22. “Sugar”      1:49
23. “Amen”      3:06
24. “Mile High Meringue”      2:00
25. “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)”      6:29

Total Length: app. 60 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

I just got home from the midnight showing of Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man in IMAX 3D, starring Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, Denis Leary, Sally Field, and Martin Sheen. I’ve been excited for this film since I first heard that it was being made and that Andrew Garfield, who I loved in The Social Network, had been cast in the lead role. Being a big fan of the first two films of Raimi’s trilogy (because we all know that Spider-Man 3 was just awful), I had high expectations for this reboot, and it didn’t disappoint.

*MILD SPOILERS AHEAD*

What really stood out to me about this film is that it showed that it’s truly just a man behind the mask, and a young one at that. Peter adapted to his new powers a bit slower in this film than he did in Spider-Man (2002), which really added to the realism that the film presented. His movements were clumsy, and it took him most of the film to truly adapt and adopt this new persona that was introduced into his life. Nothing came naturally to Peter in this film, which was a bit of a breath of fresh air after seeing the character almost instantly fall into the role of Spider-Man in the original Raimi film.

In addition to seeing Peter’s human personality, we also saw that he has human relationships with other people. He argued with his aunt and uncle, he fought the bully who had tormented him throughout high school, and he stumbled through conversations with the girl he had a crush on. These are all sides of Spider-Man that members of the audience can relate to, despite the fact that he has spider powers and we (I assume) don’t.

Spider-Man has the word “spider” in his name, and we really see the spider side of him in The Amazing Spider-Man; in fact, we occasionally see the spider side of him take over the human side, such as when Peter accidentally fights several guys on the subway ride home one night. There is another instance when he uses webbing to detect movement down the sewer, a trick out of the Spider Scout Handbook (again, I assume).

Webb aimed for a more intimate and personal Spider-Man in this reboot, and he succeeded. Uncle Ben’s death (oh, come on, you’ve all seen the first movie) is more directly related to Peter than in the original film which makes it all the more emotional. Plus, we see Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy develop as the movie goes on, rather than in the first film when it sort of just happens.

Speaking of Gwen Stacy, Emma Stone was lovely as the blonde love interest to Peter Parker, and it was nice to have someone who knows Peter’s secret so that he has someone to confide in. I’m not sure if I like Spidey being alone in his secret or having a confidante more, but I certainly don’t dislike Gwen knowing.

Rhys Ifans as Dr. Connors/The Lizard was decent, but I must admit that Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2 was a better, more fleshed-out character. Though the CGI/motion capture allowed Ifans himself to become The Lizard, the transformation took away the human side that we want to feel compassionate for, at least for me. I know that the only things he wants are his missing arm and to help people, but it’s difficult to sympathize with a giant, scaly monster. That’s no fault of Webb or Ifans, though.

Garfield’s Spider-Man was pretty fantastic. I’ll admit, I haven’t read a lot of Spider-Man comics, but I have read a few, and Garfield did a great job with capturing the witty, sort of big-headed personality of the Spidey created by Stan Lee (who had a hysterical cameo in the film). They did a great job with showing us that he was smart, too, so that it wasn’t hard to believe that a teenager was capable of creating web-shooters and what-not.

Sally Field, Martin Sheen, and Denis Leary were all great to see as well. Field and Sheen, as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, played more believable parent-figures than the actors of the original trilogy, with them acting more like parents than as people who were watching over their friend’s child, as they should.

There were a few little details that I sort of geeked out over. First, when Connors runs amok as The Lizard, he predominantly uses his right arm, the arm that is missing when he is human; whether or not this was a conscious choice by Ifans or Webb, I don’t know, but it helped me to feel for the character a bit more. The flash of the web-shooters as they were used was consistent, which isn’t a huge deal, but it still managed to make me smile.

I feel like The Amazing Spider-Man left us in a better place than the Spider-Man did. We have yet to figure out what happened to Peter’s parents (a short scene mid-credits makes us question it even more, so stay for a minute or two after the credits start rolling!), and we are curious to see where Peter and Gwen’s relationship will go, both of which can be explored further in the sequel. I’m curious to see who the next villain will be. I hope it won’t be someone we’ve already seen in the original trilogy…unless they can bring back Venom and do the character justice.

Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot that brings new life to the character. We see Spidey’s more human side, we see his more human relationships, and we get a sort of realism that was absent from Raimi’s trilogy. This new Spider-Man universe more believably fits into our own world, whereas Raimi’s was still partially in the comic world. There were flaws, yes, but this was an origin story, after all. Webb’s re-imagining of the character introduces new opportunities that I can’t wait to see on the big screen in the future.

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of action and violence

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by James Horner, here!


Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman

After listening through Danny Elfman’s score to Spider-Man (2002) yesterday, I checked out his score toSpider-Man 2 (2004) today. Again, this is in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Spider-Man reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, and Emma Stone.

I didn’t really have any expectations for Elfman’s sequel soundtrack, so I went into listening through it with a fairly open mind. I’m wrapping up my second listen-through as I type; I’m pretty unimpressed.

That’s not to say that I didn’t really enjoy it, though. It just fell victim to the Danny Elfman/Hans Zimmer Effect: it sounds the same as the first. The Main Title, as exciting in the second film’s score as it was in the first’s, is overused throughout, and much of the music seems to be a basic rehash of what was done in the first film’s score. I didn’t feel like I was listening to a different soundtrack like I should have.

That being said, Elfman managed to compose a couple of tracks that stand out as being pretty fantastic. “Doc Ock Is Born” introduces a theme for arguably the best Spider-Man villain, a theme that is used again multiple times throughout the film. “At Long Last, Love”, is a pleasant mix of emotion and themes from the first film – a moment that is appropriate for the main theme to be used. Despite the overuse of the main theme, Spider-Man 2’s score manages to improve just a bit on the first film’s score.

Overall, as enjoyable and fun as Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man 2 score is, it isn’t much different than his score for the first Spider-Man film, with a couple of exception tracks. However, it IS better-composed than the first film’s score, so bonus points for that. If you’re debating on buying it, take a listen to the tracks on YouTube or Spotify first and decide whether it’s different enough for you.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

  1. “Spider-Man 2 (Main Title)” 3:21
  2. “M.J.’s New Life/Spidus Interruptus” 2:31
  3. “Doc Ock Is Born” 2:23
  4. “Angry Arms/Rebuilding” 2:51
  5. “A Phone Call/The Wrong Kiss/Peter’s Birthday” 2:06
  6. “The Mugging/Peter’s Turmoil” 3:21
  7. “The Bank/Saving May” 4:27
  8. “He’s Back!” 1:50
  9. “Doc Ock’s Machine” 1:42
  10. “Train/Appreciation” 6:16
  11. “Aunt May Packs” 2:51
  12. “Armageddon/A Really Big Web!” 6:28
  13. “The Goblin Returns” 1:36
  14. “At Long Last, Love” 2:59
  15. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” – Performed by B. J. Thomas 3:14

Total Length: app. 48 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


Spider-Man (2002) – Danny Elfman

I bought this album today in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, and Emma Stone.

The score for Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film, composed by frequent Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, initially unimpressed me. Aside from the Main Title and the occasional awesome musical moment, it felt rather bland. In fact, lots of it was reminiscent of Elfman’s score to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film; Elfman’s music frequently sounds the same (thus the reason for me dubbing him “a quirky Hans Zimmer”), so this came as no surprise to me.

I must admit, however, that most of the time I was listening today was in my car with the air conditioner on full blast and in the shower, so I was never one-on-one with the music. So, to be fair about it, I put on my over-the-ear headphones so that I could hear every detail and gave it another listen.

This time around, I enjoyed it a lot more. The Main Title was as excellent as ever, but I noticed the more intimate moments found within tracks such as “Revenge”, “Revelation”, and “Farewell”, as well as the more fun/exciting “Costume Montage”, “Parade Attack”, and “Final Confrontation”, closing with a fairly satisfying “End Credits” track.

Overall, while Danny Elfman’s score to Spider-Man (2002) may not be the best superhero score out there (I’ll get to that in a later post!), it provides just what the audience needs to enjoy Spidey’s crime-fighting adventures that much more.

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

1. “Main Title” 3:31

2. “Transformations” 3:31

3. “Costume Montage” 1:19

4. “Revenge” 6:13

5. “First Web” 0:56

6. “Something’s Different” 1:17

7. “City Montage” 1:50

8. “Alone” 1:37

9. “Parade Attack” 3:54

10. “Specter of the Goblin” 3:47

11. “Revelation” 2:32

12. “Getting Through” 2:05

13. “Final Confrontation” 7:19

14. “Farewell” 3:11

15. “End Credits” 1:54

Total Length: app. 46 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad