The Princess Bride (1987)

Image result for princess bride soundtrack

Composed by: Mark Knopfler

The Princess Bride is one of those films that everyone loves. Thus it may surprise many to learn it did not do so hot at the box office. It was difficult to market. Was it a comedy, a children’s fantasy, a romantic adventure, or what? (William Goldman’s original novel was borderline satirical, yet Goldman also wrote it to entertain his daughters) The general gist of the plot is that the “most beautiful woman in the world” Buttercup loses her lover Wesley, but learns he is alive. They have to rediscover their love and protect it from a scheming Prince. It is an amazing, highly quotable film that strides along so many genres with success. Helping is one of the most perfectly cast assemblage of characters, special shout-out going to Andre the Giant as lovable Fezzik. Also praised is the music by Mark Knopfler. Knopfler gives the film a more romantic and probably intentionally cheesy fairy tale atmosphere. Rather than a bringing out an orchestra, he uses a synthesizer and guitar. Continue reading

Hellboy (2004)

Image result for hellboy soundtrackHellboy: The Deluxe Edition

Composed by: Marco Beltrami

In 2004 one of the lesser known, but still popular superheroes got his own film adaptation. Hellboy is perhaps my favorite comic book franchise, mixing elements of early 20th Century pulp elements (particularly Lovecraft and Nazis) and mythology and folklore. In both the comics and film Hellboy is the son of a demon, summoned to earth by historical character-turned super-villain Rasputin for nefarious apocalyptic purposes. Fortunately, the demonic child is picked up by supernatural expert Professor Bruttenholm and raised to be a good guy in the government organization known as the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense). On Hellboy’s side are other misfits and freaks such as the fire wielding Liz Sherman and amphibious Abe Sapien and against him are Rasputin, a collection of Nazis, and other odd terrors determined to unleash elder gods of chaos and usher in a new world.

The film is pretty good, though as a Guillermo del Toro film its visuals tend to be a little stronger than the actual story. The film was scored by Marco Beltrami. Beltrami is well liked today by film music fans, but at the time most of his works were for dumb horror flicks and comedies. Hellboy provided him with a rich and varied source of characters and ideas to work with and he delivers, creating an eclectic but thematically driven score with bits of wackiness. The amount of themes and motifs is impressive and many are remarkably effective despite their simplicity. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Batman (1989)

Composed by: Danny Elfman

Orchestrated by: Shirley Walker & Steve Bartek

Although he had returned to his grimmer, darker roots nearly twenty years earlier in the comics, Batman was still often perceived by the non-comic reading community as the campy crusader of the sixties TV show, battling alongside Robin against colorful villains while such words as “POW!” and “BANG!” lit up the screen. Just as the Superman movie franchise was dying a horrible death, Batman was brought to the silver screen by director Tim Burton, with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson giving memorable performances as Batman/Bruce Wayne and the Joker. My favorite bat-film other than The Dark Knight, Batman had its music done by Burton’s regular composer-collaborator, Danny Elfman. It was this score that made Elfman one of the biggest composers of Hollywood, and also established him as on of the top choices for comic book movie music. Elfman was an excellent choice, his dark, impressionistic style of film-scoring a natural fit for Batman. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

IndianaJonesAndTheKingdomOfTheChrystalSkullSoundtrack2008.JPG

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Nearly two decades after Indiana Jones literally rode into the sunset with Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to revisit the franchise, a move with its fair share of controversy since Harrison Ford was noticeably much, much older. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has gotten mixed reviews, and is often cited as the worst movie in series. I have to agree that it’s the worst, but despite some serious flaws, especially its underwhelming last act, I think it’s an okay movie with some genuinely great scenes.

One of the most exciting aspects of Indiana Jones coming back was the return of John Williams, who at this point had just started to take it easier with his movie scoring schedule. As with his return to Star Wars, much time had elapsed since he scored Indiana Jones. Would his changed style of scoring affect how fun the score would be? Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Casino Royale

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After numerous complaints from James Bond fans regarding Die Another Day, the producers spent a couple extra years on the next film, ultimately deciding to go with a reboot that toned down the camp elements. Martin Campbell, director of the well-loved Goldeneye, came on to create this more realistic take on 007. Pierce Brosnan’s suave character was replaced with a more hard-edged and less quippy performance by Daniel Craig. Casino Royale is probably my favorite James Bond movie. I didn’t think I could ever be so engrossed by watching people play cards.

Coming over from the Brosnan years was David Arnold. His score for Casino Royale proves to be noticeably different from his previous scores, especially Die Another Day. For the third time he was allowed to help create the title song, and the result is one of the best Bond songs yet, and my favorite. Sung by Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” is relentlessly energetic with awesome bad-ass lyrics. Unlike most of the previous songs, it doesn’t talk about romance or sleaze, but focuses on the dangerous life of a secret agent. Unfortunately, some legal issues prevented this wonderful piece of music from getting on album, and its absence is very frustrating since the CD now lacks its appropriate opener. Continue reading

Film Review: Risen

Release Date: February 19, 2016

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Risen follows the story of Roman Tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), who is charged with finding out what happened to the body of Jesus (Cliff Curtis), referred to here by His Hebrew name of Yeshua. He is ordered to do so by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), and is accompanied by newly transferred Lucius (Tom Felton of Draco Malfoy fame). Of course, as a film based on one of Christianity’s central moments, Risen was met with some apprehension. Would it be blasphemous, or perhaps a piece of Christian propaganda?

The film actually opens with a little battle between Roman soldiers under Clavius and Jewish rebels led by none other than Barabbas, who, judging by the film’s chronology, seems to be making trouble pretty quickly after his pardon by Pontius Pilate. Clavius returns to Jerusalem to oversee the end of Jesus’ crucifixion. Once Jesus’ body disappears there is talk of conspiracy and a potential Jewish uprising. Clavius leads his men in an investigation and I have to say that while this lasts the film is highly engaging. It weaves in bits of the Bible and history expertly and it’s a treat seeing familiar figures from the Bible through the eyes of pagan Romans. Pontius Pilate’s annoyance with the local Jewish rulers provides some of the film’s few laughs.

Unfortunately, and here may be spoilers, this plot thread gets resolved about halfway through the film, which turns into a straightforward adaptation of the end of the Gospels, just with a Roman soldier now randomly sitting in the background to observe. Even then the way the story is presented is a little underwhelming and a little rushed. Clavius is supposed to have undergone a great inner change, but this doesn’t get well developed since he spends much of his screentime simply looking at the disciples and not really interacting.

Of course, Jesus himself is in the film, thankfully portrayed by a non-white this time, though still not a Jew. Cliff Curtis isn’t a bad actor, and the problems with his performance stem more from the script, which asks him to look around smiling at everyone. The filmmakers also play it very safe with his dialogue. Adding words to Jesus’ mouth will always be a daunting task, since there’s great potential to offend Christians or accidentally insert some heresy. Aside from a few words directed at Clavius, all he says is direct quotes from the Bible, and in between them he has nothing to do but smile at his disciples.

Risen is a movie that starts off great, but flounders in its last act. I think there are three possible, better directions it could have taken. One would have been to extend the investigation and end with a scene between Clavius and Jesus, instead of having him observe the entire last couple chapters of the various Gospels. Another would have had him never find Jesus, dead or alive, but have him affected by what he hears. A third alternative, which would have perhaps required a bigger budget, would show how he has become a different man, displayed in further interactions with various Romans and Jews.

Risen is good if you want to pass a couple hours and should interest religious viewers. It could have been much better. I would much more recommend the 1953 film The Robe, in which one of the Roman officers in charge of the crucifixion is changed by his experiences and tries to balance his newfound Christianity with his devotion to Rome. Unlike other epics of that period it’s only a little over two hours long.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Deadpool

Release Date: February 12, 2016

Running Time: 108 Minutes

With Fox now attempting its own cinematic superhero universe like Marvel Studios, the X-Men franchise has its own batch of spin-offs in development. Aside from the Wolverine films, Deadpool is the first entry outside of the main X-Men series. In the comics, Deadpool is a violent, constantly wise-cracking mercenary who is aware that he is in a comic book and will often break the fourth wall, addressing the reader and commenting on his own writers. This further extends to his appearances in video games and TV shows, the former case exemplified by him grabbing a health bar and beating his opponent over the head with it.

Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson, portrayed by actor Ryan Reynolds, had already appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a mismanaged film overstuffed with characters. Ryan Reynolds’ few minutes near the beginning as the character were delightful, but his appearance at the end was as a freakish Frankenstein monster with his mouth sewn shut, a total betrayal of the character. Seven years later the character has another shot.

Deadpool is an origin/revenge film. Faced with cancer, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) volunteers for a mutant powers project, which ends up further ruining his life, as he is left looking hideous and his fiance believes him dead. I’ve noticed that his famous moniker as the Merc with a Mouth doesn’t really apply here, as he never once takes a mission for money. His focus throughout the whole film is simply tracking down Francis, the scientist/super-soldier responsible for ruining his life, and forcing him to change him back to a normal human. His power is an incredible healing factor that makes him almost unkillable.

Of course, humor is an essential component of Deadpool and this film is chock-full of it. Almost every line of dialogue from Ryan Reynolds is a joke, even in the grimmest moments. It’s how his character interacts with the world. I would say it’s fairly hit and miss. The audience I viewed Deadpool with wasn’t exactly bursting with laughter non-stop. A good chunk of his material is dick jokes, while many of his references will undoubtedly be outdated in a few years, such as his quip about Jared and “footlongs”. He breaks the fourth wall fairly often too, and these moments work pretty well. The self-aware opening credits and post-credits teaser are a delight and his condemnation of the mishandling of his character in Origins is spot-on. While his humor misses several times, Deadpool is a fun character and generally delivers.

In the comics, Deadpool is at his best when he’s working off of other established characters in the Marvel universe, especially another superhero who’s a straight man. In this film it’s Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), who manages to have more screentime and dialogue within this movie than in all of the other X-Men films combined. In those same films he never really had a developed character, so Deadpool gets to build it. Here he’s an incredibly noble and selfless hero who is under the delusion that he can make a real superhero out of Deadpool. Under his wing is Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), a rude girl who doesn’t share her mentor’s interest in getting Deadpool on the X-Men team.

Weasel (T.J. Miller) is Wade’s best friend, who helps out every now and then and shares some of his humor. Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is the love interest, and is apparently a mutant named Copycat in the comics, though here she’s just a regular human who turns into a typical damsel in distress by the end. She is a pretty good character, not special but her romance with Wade really works. The villains aren’t really all that special. Francis (Ed Skrein) is just a typical “I have good reflexes and can fight really well” character while Angel Dust (Gina Carano) is good at being a super-strong henchwoman, but doesn’t have much personality beyond that.

Much has been made of the R rating, which many felt was necessary for Deadpool. Having read some of the comics myself, I can say that a PG-13 film could have been made with almost the same effect. From what I’ve read, profanity and nudity don’t factor that much in the source material. For example, there wasn’t a ton of f-bombs n Cable and Deadpool. I do see the benefits when it comes to the violence, and many of the best moments come from the dark humor of the action scenes. I didn’t find the violence particularly insane. There was a good amount of decapitations and some blood spurts, but otherwise it was PG-13. In fact, the final battle was a little underwhelming. It feels like I’ve seen it before: the hero and villain fighting with swords, the brawl between the super-strong, and the love interest giving her small contribution when the hero looks like he might be finished. The first fight scene on the bridge, which is broken up by flashbacks detailing Deadpool’s origin, is another story. Almost all the best action and humor can be found in this one sequence.

This is an entertaining movie and it does do Deadpool’s character justice. However, it doesn’t really break all the rules of the superhero film as many believed it would. Many of the plot points can be found in numerous other action or superhero movies and it suffers from underdeveloped villains like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I also found some of the humor to be too juvenile at points. Not in the kid-friendly sense, but juvenile in the way that a grade-schooler thinks he’s being edgy. This is a good, fun time regardless and please don’t bring your kids just because it has a couple colorful superheroes in it.

Rating: 6/10