Tag Archives: War Horse

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

I’m not a Trekkie. I’ve only seen maybe three or four episodes of the original series – something I will hopefully amend in the near future – but I enjoyed J.J. Abram’s first venture into the Star Trek universe in the 2009 film quite a bit, so I was anxious to see the sequel, and I liked it. A lot.

Star Trek Into Darkness opens with a scene in which Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise, played by Chris Pine, breaks several Starfleet rules and then lies about it, leading to a lecture from Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) about how Kirk is careless, selfish, and over-confident. In the wake of his punishment, Starfleet is attacked by a mysterious man named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), leaving Kirk with no choice but to join his crew and track down this criminal. Along the way, Kirk struggles with making the right decisions and with protecting his crew from harm…and he can’t always do both.

The advantage that this film has over its predecessor is that it’s not an origin story, meaning that here we are dealing with the characters, their struggles, and their growth; the filmmakers didn’t have to establish their characters again because we as an audience are already familiar with them. That being said, Chris Pine does a fine job with communicating all of the conflict of his character to us, humanizing Kirk and showing that he is still a young man who can make mistakes – and makes plenty of them. Zachary Quinto as Spock also brings more to the table in this film; since Kirk and Spock are friends now, we see their relationship build and Spock make decisions based on that friendship rather than on logic. All of the familiar faces – Zoë Saldaña as Uhura, Karl Urban as Bones, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Simon Pegg as Scotty, and John Cho as Sulu – do great jobs with their characters as well, with everyone building more on what was established in the first film. The newcomer, Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain John Harrison, brings all of the appropriate menace to the role, making him a formidable foe, and his acting chops are much, much better than Eric Bana’s were as Nero in the first film. I had seen Cumberbatch in Spielberg’s War Horse (my review) and in his BBC television series Sherlock (which is fantastic, by the way), but this was my first experience with him in a major film role, and it was definitely a positive one. His villain is very much multi-dimensional, and I even wondered at one point in the film if he was really the “bad guy” because of the incredible conviction that Cumberbatch plays him with.

The visual effects, as expected, are amazing, with the new worlds introduced to us ranging from bright and colorful to bleak and miserable, but all believable. While I’m normally indifferent to 3D, there was one moment while watching when it bothered me, which was in the very first scene when spears are being thrown in our faces…I think I actually tried to dodge one of them in my seat. However, the 3D is worth suffering through if you get the chance to see it in IMAX 3D – IMAX is always worth it, for any film. Seeing movies like this in IMAX, where everything is done on such a grand scale, only makes it even grander, which is wonderful. The music by Michael Giacchino, like his score to the first one (my review), and like any of his scores, is as expected – magnificent, intimate, and just awesome overall. But more on that later!

I must admit that, after walking out of the theater, I tried to figure out what the story was – how the villain became the villain, how this led to that, why this character did that, etc. I couldn’t tie the plot together…but I decided that I didn’t care. I walked out of that theater having had a blast, and that’s all that really matters to me in the long run…as long as there aren’t any huge problems with the movie elsewhere, and there weren’t. This movie, in my opinion at least, certainly improves upon its predecessor by giving us more – more character development, more destinations, more everything, and it’s entirely in a good way. I know there are lots of people out there who have concerns with J.J. Abrams directing the next Star Wars film, but, really, I think that if he can make such a fine science fiction space adventure film as Star Trek Into Darkness, it can’t turn out so bad. And with a cast that wants so badly to be better than they were in their previous film, succeeding in this attempt, I have high hopes for a Star Trek 3 in the future.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

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

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Lincoln (2012) – John Williams

Long-time Spielberg collaborator John Williams has a history of composing some of the most iconic scores in film history; Star WarsRaiders of the Lost ArkJawsSupermanE.T. the Extra-TerrestrialJurassic Park, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were all brought to life by his incredible music. In his old age, Williams has slowed down a bit, but his scores to the 2011 films War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin were just as excellent as always. With War Horse, he took a more minimal approach than he typically has in the past, relying on gorgeous strings and warm brass to bring a feeling of intimacy to the film that fit the tone of the film. He uses this same approach with Lincoln, and the result is breathtaking.

The music in Lincoln perfectly embodies the American spirit. There is grandeur, there is majesty, there is conflict and resolution, there is emotion…Williams has captured it all. Much of this album is more solo-oriented, which helps with that intimacy that I mentioned before. The first track, “The People’s House,” opens with a single clarinet melody, low and calm, evoking visions of long hours spent in the Oval Office making decisions for the better of the country. Throughout the soundtrack, we are treated to solos from clarinet (“The People’s House,” “Equality Under the Law”), trumpet (“The Purpose of the Amendment,” “The American Process”), horn (“The Southern Delegation and the Dream,” “Father and Son”), and piano (“The Blue and Grey,” “Remembering Willie”). Each solo instrument brings forth a different emotion, enabling Williams to exploit these associations to accentuate the feelings in a particular scene. These emotions are made even more powerful once the solo instrument is joined by the full orchestra; the strings bring a warmth that reminds me of family and responsibility.

“The Blue and Grey” (obviously referring to the uniform of the Confederate Army) is a somber sort of track that hints at the tension between the Union and the Confederacy, while “With Malice Toward None” conveys Lincoln’s sense of duty to his country. “Father and Son” goes on to highlight Lincoln’s tentative relationship with his son in the midst of his presidential responsibilities, a sentiment that is continued in “Remembering Willie,” a terribly emotional track that echoes the grief felt by a distraught mother and her empathetic husband. “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” captures a grand moment in history with the timidity appropriate for such a solemn occasion, and it also expertly uses a choir to represent the almost spiritual element of the occasion.

Just on a quick aside, there is a short motive heard throughout the film that sounds nearly identical to a similar motive from Randy Newman’s score to the Disney/Pixar film A Bug’s Life. Compare this from “The American Process” to this excerpt from “Flik Leaves” on the soundtrack album for A Bug’s Life. Also, considering the fact that Abraham Lincoln is buried in Illinois, I thought it to be a nice touch that this score was appropriately recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

I could go on and on and on some more about this soundtrack, but I digress. It should be obvious that I think quite highly of Mr. Williams and his music for Lincoln. I think that it perfectly represents all of the complicated aspects of one of America’s most celebrated presidents: his dedication to his country, his love for his family, his moral dilemma in doing the right thing. John Williams’ score to Lincoln is film scoring at its very finest, proving that, even at 83, he’s still got it.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

1. “The People’s House” 3:43
2. “The Purpose of the Amendment” 3:07
3. “Getting Out the Vote” 2:49
4. “The American Process” 3:57
5. “The Blue and Grey” 3:00
6. “With Malice Toward None” 1:51
7. “Call to Muster and Battle Cry of Freedom” 2:17
8. “The Southern Delegation and the Dream” 4:43
9. “Father and Son” 1:42
10. “The Race to the House” 2:42
11. “Equality Under the Law” 3:12
12. “Freedom’s Call” 6:08
13. “Elegy” 2:35
14. “Remembering Willie” 1:51
15. “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” 2:38
16. “The Peterson House and Finale” 11:00
17. “With Malice Toward None (Piano Solo)” 1:31

Total Length: app. 59 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!


Top Ten Films of 2012

2012 was a good year for movies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see everything – films like Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, Argo, Les Misérables, Django Unchained, etc. are all films released in 2012 that I haven’t seen yet – but I DID manage to see quite a few. Here is my personal list of the best films of 2012 (click on the titles to view my full review):

 

10. Wreck-It Ralph

This was another film that I had been looking forward to for months on end. I’m not as into video games as some other people, but watching this film was still like revisiting my childhood. The heart of this movie is in the right place, with the main message being “accept who you are because you’re a wonderful person just as you are.” A talented voice cast, a sweet story, candy puns out the wazoo, and a fun score by Henry Jackman make this film everything I wanted it to be…and the animated short shown before the film, Paperman, was just as fantastic.

 

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I was late to the whole “Lord of the Rings/J. R. R. Tolkien” party, having only seen Peter Jackson’s film trilogy in the past two years, but I was keen to read The Hobbit and see the movie as soon as I possibly could. While I was disappointed on my first viewing, mainly due to the cartoony special effects that resulted from the higher frame rate (48fps HFR), this film was a faithful adaptation to Tolkien’s original novel, and the return of familiar faces such as Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum is refreshing. The real highlight of the film, though, aside from Howard Shore’s beautiful score, is Martin Freeman, who plays the perfect Bilbo Baggins. While some may find the run time to feel a little stretched, I found it to be justified by the attention to detail to the original novel.

 

8. The Hunger Games

I read Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy just a few weeks before I saw the film, and I was hooked from the get-go. The film did a wonderful job of adapting the novel, perfectly capturing the dystopian society introduced in Collins’ literary world. Jennifer Lawrence did a particularly outstanding job as Katniss, and the scenes added by the filmmakers to show the control that the Capitol has over the people of Panem and over the Hunger Games do nothing but add to the story in a great way.

 

7. Flight

Robert Zemeckis, director of Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released his first live action film in more than a decade this year. Flight was something I had anticipated for months, and it quite lived up to what I had in mind for it. Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance as a pilot struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and the film explores topics such as love, recovery, lies, and responsibility. Zemeckis proves that he still has what it takes to direct a top-notch film that focuses on character and story just as much as it does on visual effects.

 

6. Life of Pi

This is a film that I sort of went to see just on a whim, and I’m glad I did. With gorgeous visuals that looked fantastic in 3D (something I don’t say often), Life of Pi excels the most in its storytelling. While the ambiguity of the ending may not appeal to some people, I found the film to be a thoughtful exploration of faith and of religion in general, leading me to look at my own relationship with God. It sort of melds the biblical Book of Job with Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, and it definitely sparked my interest in reading the book it was based on.

 

5. Skyfall

In anticipation of this film, I first watched Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, which was entertaining in its more muted kind of way, and Quantum of Solace, which was pretty disappointing. I still had high hopes for Skyfall, though, and it exceeded every expectation I had set for it. The action was fun, Javier Bardem as the villain sent chills up my spine (and also brought a couple of laughs), and Daniel Craig and Judi Dench both gave outstanding performances in their respective roles. The length wasn’t an issue to me because I was too caught up in the entertainment of the film to care.

 

4. Lincoln

Does Spielberg make bad films? I’d answer that with a “no” (I have an argument in favor of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). With 2011’s War Horse and his newest film, Lincoln, he has taken a step back from the typical sci-fi/action/fantasy films he is known for and has focused more on period dramas – both of which were fantastic. If Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, I won’t know what to think. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones also deliver standout performances in a film that is just as engrossing and fascinating in its exploration of politics as a good action film is in its exploration of shooting and blowing things up. Spielberg is a true master.

 

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan set the bar high with 2008’s The Dark Knight, and this conclusion to the acclaimed trilogy did not disappoint. Tom Hardy as Bane was sinister and terrifying, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both welcome new presences, and the return of the familiar faces – i.e. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman – was satisfying and well-done. The Dark Knight Rises perfectly concluded Nolan’s trilogy.

 

2. The Avengers

There are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong. I mean, think about it – they took four characters from four separate films and brought them together into one super-film. In the hands of a less-capable director, it could have easily been one of the worst movies of the year, but with Joss Whedon at the helm, it ended up being one of the best. Smart dialogue with exciting action and a great story, The Avengers proved that an ensemble cast like this could work just as well in a film as it does on television.

 

1. Looper

Well-choreographed action sequences meet a smart script in this film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. As a time travel movie, it explores the consequences of our actions and the true cause of evil, and it spends just as much time in contemplation as it does making you sit on the edge of your seat.

 

Well, there you have it. My top ten films of 2012. What were your favorites of 2012?


The Adventures of Tintin (2011) – John Williams

2011 was a great year because, after a four-year wait, we got not one but two new film scores by John Williams. The first of these was The Adventures of Tintin, which, along with Williams’ score to War Horse, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

While War Horse‘s score was decidedly more dramatic, The Adventures of Tintin‘s score is whimsical and fun, as well as quite reminiscent – in a good way – of Williams’ earlier scores. For example, “The Secret of the Scrolls” features a mysterious theme that reminds me of both “The Map Room” from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark score and the latter portion of “Diagon Alley and the Gringotts Vault” from Williams’ score to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; all three have a simplicity to them that promotes thought and emanates a sense of wonder and magic.

The title track, “The Adventures of Tintin”, is catchy and sleuthy…at least, that’s the way I hear it. It’s heavily influenced by jazz, which is a bit different from the typical John Williams stuff but entirely welcome and refreshing. In contrast with this new style, Williams returns in full force with his leitmotifs – a musical phrase that represents a specific character/event/place; there are specific themes written for Snowy, the Thompsons, and other characters, including Tintin, but my favorite has to be the leitmotif representing Captain Haddock. First introduced in “Captain Haddock Takes the Oars”, Haddock’s theme begins as a sloppy, drunken low wind melody, but it transforms along with the character into something sturdy and impressive, as heard in “The Clash of the Cranes”.

Williams combines all of these elements – jazz, simplicity, references, and leitmotifs – to create something adventurous in the old-fashioned sense of the word and, overall, truly amazing. Despite the fact that it’s an animated film, The Adventures of Tintin boasts a score that could make just about any action/adventure film jealous. Though its themes may not be as instantly iconic as those now associated with Star WarsIndiana Jones, or Superman, it takes turns in paying homage to each of these classic film scores in a way that is fresh and new. At 80 years old, John Williams has “still got it”.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “The Adventures of Tintin” 3:07
2. “Snowy’s Theme” 2:09
3. “The Secret of the Scrolls” 3:12
4. “Introducing the Thompsons and Snowy’s Chase” 4:08
5. “Marlinspike Hall” 3:58
6. “Escape from the Karaboudjan” 3:20
7. “Sir Francis and the Unicorn” 5:05
8. “Captain Haddock Takes the Oars” 2:17
9. “Red Rackham’s Curse and the Treasure” 6:10
10. “Capturing Mr. Silk” 2:57
11. “The Flight to Bagghar” 3:33
12. “The Milanese Nightingale” 1:29
13. “Presenting Bianca Castafiore” 3:27
14. “The Pursuit of the Falcon” 5:43
15. “The Captain’s Counsel” 2:10
16. “The Clash of the Cranes” 3:48
17. “The Return to Marlinspike Hall and Finale” 5:51
18. “The Adventure Continues” 2:58

Total Length: app. 66 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – I didn’t want to taint the body of the review with something like this, but I have to mention it: there is a moment in “Presenting Bianca Castafiore/Renee Fleming” when the soprano hits a high sustained note and breaks glass…loudly…ON THE ALBUM. And I absolutely despise it.


War Horse (2011)

Steven Spielberg brings movie magic to the big screen yet again with his adaptation of the book War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. 

One way to think of this film is as a modern-day – well, World War I-era – version of Homer’s The Odyssey, with war obstacles instead of mythical beasts. Joey/Odysseus, the horse, is just trying to find his way back home to Albert/Penelope, but to get there he first wanders through Europe/the Mediterranean Sea, coming into contact with various war scenarios/mythical creatures. Looking at it from that perspective, I enjoyed it even more since I was a big fan of The Odyssey. It’s an epic adventure with a war hero, except this time around he’s a horse, making it all the more touching.

Everything in this film was superbly well-done. Each of the actors and actresses held themselves to a high standard, presenting the audience with genuine, heartfelt emotion: despair that makes us cringe with worry, joy that makes us grin from ear to ear, and love that brings tears to our eyes. One standout performance comes from Jeremy Irvine, who portrays the lead character of Albert. His apparent connection with Joey is believable and warm, making their separation all the more upsetting and their eventual reunion incredibly satisfying.

Another great, albeit short, performance comes from Tom Hiddleston as Captain Nicholls, a man who resolves to look after a horse with as much love and care as was given by the boy he was taken from. Hiddleston, whether as Nicholls or Loki, has an uncanny likability that draws you into caring for him. Benedict Cumberbatch, another rising British star, also makes a brief appearance in the film as Major Stewart. This was the first time I’d ever seen Cumberbatch in anything; what strikes me as remarkable about him is that he seems to almost ooze authority with apparent ease. His stint as a major in the British army is impressive and powerful. Other notable appearances in the film are by Celine Buckens as Emilie, who is a perfect example of innocence, and Niels Arestrup as her grandfather, who delivers a brilliant monologue about how sometimes bravery is never looking down and always looking forward.

Spielberg’s talent for setting scenes in huge ways is very apparent here; the beauty of Europe as a backdrop is made exceptionally clear, contrasting deeply with the images of war and violence seen in the forefront. All of this makes the film feel large but in an intimate way, as if the war is simply the backdrop for the more personal relationship between a young man and his horse.

War Horse is a fantastic film that feels old-fashioned in a marvelous way. Spielberg has combined his natural talent for making dazzling films with an outstanding cast, a heartwarming story of friendship and loyalty, and an extremely beautiful film score by longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams to make the film his best in years.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of war violence


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