Tag Archives: Hans Zimmer

Half A Decade In Film – 2013

The penultimate entry in our Decade In Film spin-off mini-series sees Andrew, Liam, Mike, Owen and Paul turn their attentions to the year 2013.

It was a year in which the world of film criticism as a whole took a moment to collectively thank the late great Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away in early April. 2013 also gave rise to the term “McConaissance”, as James so astutely spotted before anybody else did back in 2012, with Matthew  McConaughey knocking those crappy rom-coms on the head and thus being treated as a serious, proper actor.

It was also a year where, for the briefest of times, it looked like the Oscar for best picture would finally go to a science fiction film as Gravity‘s box office takings and critical acclaim garnered huge momentum heading into the Academy Awards. But… it didn’t win. Never mind. Who cares what the Academy think is a great film, right? What you’re really interested in is what we think were the best films of 2013, right? Right. Let’s start with…


Rush

Rush Chris HemsworthHappiness is your biggest enemy. It weakens you. Puts doubts in your mind. Suddenly you have something to lose.

Towards the end of summer in 2013, a trailer hit for Ron Howard’s new film, Rush. Not being a fan of Formula One racing I could have easily avoided this film, to be honest I couldn’t really recall the outcome of that momentous season and really only just remember the crash. Yet I really couldn’t get enough of this trailer, it was wonderfully edited, filled with passion, intensity and with some superb looking cinematography; I was hooked and suddenly I had high expectations for this film.

Usually high expectations for a film doesn’t end well for me. However, for once, my expectations were met – actually even bettered. Rush is a film about the passion of racing, the will to never give up and the drive to be the best of the best. The story of the infamous rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda through the early seventies and that fateful season in 1976 was riveting stuff. More of an intense drama set in the world of racing about two men with different outlooks on life. Hunt, the thrill of living on the edge, pushing himself to be the best by sheer determination and at times pure recklessness. Yet Lauda, with a talent to drive, doing a job because he was excellent at it, but also a desire to not risk everything, not to lay his life on the line for his job and this dangerous sport. A desire he lost in his attempt to better Hunt, during the race at the Nurburgring track in Germany. Lauda’s return to the track is an emotional fuelled occasion, and one which touches me every time I watch the film. The final race is a heart pounding experience as Hunt attempts to win the prize which has eluded for so many years.

There isn’t much I can fault this film for; its casting is excellent, Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt swaggers around the screen with an air of arrogance and bountiful charm. Though it is Daniel Bruhl’s wonderful portrayal of Niki Lauda which just wins the race to best actor in this film – only just, though. There is a great chemistry between the two actors as they vie to become the world champion. Both are backed up by an able supporting cast including the beautiful Olivia Wilde as Hunt’s wife and Alexandra Maria Lara who plays Lauda’s wife and delivers a stunning emotionally filled performance.

The direction is superb. While I have enjoyed many of Ron Howard’s films, this is by far my favourite of his. The cinematography is exceptional from Anthony Dod Mantle, the race sequences are breath-taking and they never over stay their welcome. Howard prefers to centre on the drama of the racers rather than the actual races. Of course I couldn’t not mention Han’s Zimmer as he delivers one of the best scores I heard in 2013.

Even if you don’t like F1 racing do give this film a chance. I don’t like it, but I do like this film. Let it start and I guarantee you will cross the finish line!

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


La Casa Del Fin de los Tiempo (aka The House of the End Time)

house at the end of timeThere’s no turning back

Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, The House of the End Times is billed as Venezuela’s first attempt at a Horror Movie.

I don’t really think the label of Horror fits this film. It’s more along the lines of a Psychological/Paranormal Thriller, with a Sci-Fi element. There’s not much in the way of blood and gore, nor is it overtly violent, but the levels of menace and threat are chokingly intense.

A basic synopsis of the plot also gives the wrong impression. A family with young children move into a long abandoned, dilapidated house and weird things happening.

Another “Haunted House” reliving its gory past or trying to hoof new owners out? We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Well, no actually, we haven’t. This is no Poltergeist or Amityville clone, it’s an extremely cleverly constructed, complex plot that unfolds slowly and manages to keep you completely in the dark right up to the end.

The film, rather strangely, begins at the mid-point of the story. It opens with Dolce, the mother, regaining consciousness in a hallway, and slowly walking round the house surveying the devastation. She calls the police for help, but ends up being arrested for three murders she has no recollection of, and is carted off to jail.

We then jump forward thirty years, to the “Present Day”, and an elderly Dulce is released from prison to serve the remainder of her sentence under house arrest. It’s at this point that the film really takes off. The action switches quickly back and forth between three distinctly different parts of the same story; we see how things started to go wrong for the family in their new home, the build up to the night of Dulce’s arrest, and we follow Present Day Dulce as she tries to make sense of the chaos happening around her and, with the help of a very persistent priest, how it all relates back to one hidden fact.

It is figuratively (and literally in one particular aspect) a Three Card Monte scam in film form.

The use of sound throughout the film is a real highlight, a decent set of speakers make a massive difference to the chill factor here. The superb writing and direction keep you on your toes at all times. Ruddy Rodriguez is brilliant as Dulce, she plays each aspect of the part wonderfully. I’m not the biggest fan of Modern Horror films, and Sci-Fi is my least favourite genre by quite some distance and yet I’m willing to say that this film is a must see. It has so many “Jump Moments” it leaves you exhausted.

If I had to pick out something to moan about, the only real problem is the make up used on the elderly version of Dulce. It’s strange that they allowed it to look so much like make up, every other facet of this gem has been polished to perfection but this one important little touch seems oddly slapdash.

Easily one of my favourite films of the decade so far, it made me say very rude words very loudly on numerous occasions and has more jumpy moments than a crack addled kangaroo in a roomful of trampolines.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


A Field In England

A072_C001_1001IE“Friend: You think about a thing before you touch it, am I right?
Whitehead: Is that not usual?
Friend: Not in Essex.

Being simultaneously released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as screened in Film4 all on the same day, it’s fair to say that there was a lot of hype for Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic, experimental, black and white English Civil War era comedy-drama. Already a pretty divisive film maker with plenty of people who either absolutely adored Kill List, or unapologetically hated it, it was understandable that some of us were perhaps approaching A Field In England with a certain degree of trepidation.

Certainly that’s how it was treated on the Failed Critics Podcast, where Steve and Gerry both despised as much of it as they could stand to watch. “Pretentious”, “a shit idea”, “fucking terrible”, “hard work”, “indulgent”, “nonsense”, “arty wankery hipster shit”; these aren’t unpopular opinions held on Wheatley’s fourth theatrically released feature film. However, I personally loved it. I love the experimental nature of it, the trippy way it’s edited together and just how beautifully shot it is. Not to mention Amy Jump’s poetic writing, Jim Williams’ folky soundtrack and the darkly comic, almost horror film-levels of atmosphere.

I can’t claim to have understood it all, or that it made sense to me after the first time through. I’ve since seen the film a few more times and with each viewing it just gets better and better, picking up on something I missed on previous occasions… although I doubt I actually understand it any more or less!

Both Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith put in fantastic performances as the mysterious Irish alchemist O’Neill hunting for his treasure and the cowardly neurotic deserter Whitehead, respectively. Menacing, creepy, disturbing and both of them equally hilarious in that typically dark Ben Wheatley sort-of-way; they’re magnificent. As if we didn’t know already, Shearsmith proves that he’s one of Britain’s best character actors around today.

The rest of the cast were decent too. Peter Ferdinando was in one of the more straight-forward roles as the troubled soldier, but he did very well and his performance also improves every time I watch this film. Having been a fan of the BBC TV series Ideal, it was nice to see Ryan Pope in something else that wasn’t a McDonalds commercial too! Richard Glover was also excellent and his Ballou My Boy song was just one of the few highlights in what is one of my favourite ever British movies.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Pacific Rim

PACIFIC RIMFortune favours the brave, dude.

Admit it! Come on! We all did it! Didn’t we all go into Pacific Rim expecting garbage? Sure, it was a Guillermo del Toro film, but it just looked like Transformers Vs. Godzillas didn’t it? And we all saw how awful those films ended up didn’t we?

So why were we watching this again?

I was expecting it to be visually great, but we’ve had our fair share of gorgeous looking rubbish haven’t we? What I wasn’t expecting was a film that was that beautiful, that fun, but still smarter than most of the films I saw in 2013. It was refreshing to have a film that looked like it was going to be a flashy, bombastic popcorn movie not treat me like an imbecile.

You get 10 minutes. That’s it. 10 minutes where the important parts of the story are explained to you. In that ten minutes you’re shown the fight between the monstrous alien Kaijus and the human piloted robot “Jaegers” and given all the character development you need for veteran robo-pilot Charlie Hunnam. After those few minutes, it’s assumed you will keep up with the pace of the film and the pace that information is given to you. It’s a breath of fresh air for a film, and a film maker, to just crack on, get the story told and not pander to the lowest common denominator in the theatre.

So, Pacific Rim. The film about mankind’s last ditch attempt to defeat an alien invader coming from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. An ever-evolving invader looking to wipe us from our planet and harvest whatever we leave behind. It’s up to Hunnam, Idris Elba and a host of supporting characters to “Cancel the apocalypse”. So it’s The Abyss meets Independence Day with a little Transformers and Godzilla for good measure. The film’s synopsis is a simple one. Painfully simple. But Del Toro’s direction speaks volumes when the plot doesn’t. And what more is there to say when a giant robot hits a Godzilla wannabe with a CARGO SHIP!

Oh, yeah. One thing is left to be said.

If, like me, you’ve spent a large amount of your life in front of screens for more than just films. If you’ve lost months of your life to video games, then the casting of Ellen McLain as the Jaeger Program’s AI is a stroke of genius, guaranteed to get a knowing smile with each viewing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Matterhorn

matterhornYeah

This was a year end watch after seeing it appear on a couple of best of lists in December 2013. Wasn’t really expecting much – I mean, Dutch absurdist comedy? That’s a niche genre and then some. But this gentle Sunday afternoon film turned out to be the best thing I saw all year. Diederik Ebbinge served up an unexpected gem, that left me both in fits of laughter… and floods of tears.

Ton Kas who plays Fred, a man living alone in a devout Calvinist community, finds everything changes when René van ‘t Hof as the mentally impaired Theo enters his life. Kas conveys the mundane existence of Fred brilliantly. Whilst van ‘t Hof’s performance as Theo is utterly remarkable and one that will stay with me forever, Ebbinge helps things along by delivering visuals to match, drab and muted to the max.

We’re not told much if anything about them to begin with, bar little clues and inferences along the way. It’s brilliantly done. We have their story and history slowly unfold, we get to see intolerance and mistrust, friendship and love… don’t worry, you get to see a man making goat noises and wearing a dress too. From the laugh out loud comedy to the heartbreaking tears, I absolutely loved spending time with Fred & Theo. So much so that I sought out another film the actors appear in together, Plan C (where they play entirely different characters, but are just as much fun to spend time with).

I don’t know anybody who hasn’t enjoyed this, but equally I only know a few people who’ve seen it and it absolutely deserves an audience, but until the DVD price drops or it becomes available to stream in the UK, it just wont find one.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


And that’s it! Join us again next week for the final instalment of our Half A Decade In Film series as we reconvene to each pick our favourite movie of 2014. Until then, feel free to comment below and tell us where we’ve gone wrong or right!

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Half A Decade In Film – 2010

During October last year, we assembled a team of writers to put together five Decade In Horror articles during the build up to Halloween.  It was a short mini-series; a kind of spin-off from our regular Decade In Film series, where we each chose our favourite horror film from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

The reason we stopped at the noughties was because, well, quite frankly, we’re still currently in the 2010’s. We can’t exactly do a retrospective on a decade that hasn’t yet ended! Or…. can we? No, we can’t. But what we can do is party like it’s 2015.

By which I mean, re-assemble the squad and take a look back at the first half of the decade so far. In the five years from 2010-14, we’ve seen the likes of Gareth Edwards, Richard Ayoade, Paddy Considine, Joe Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more all making their directorial debuts, as well as witnessing the birth of the super-blockbuster. Seven of the ten highest grossing films of all time were released during this past half decade. From genre-revitalising micro-budget Indonesian action films made by Welsh directors, to expanded cinematic universe’s, we’ve had it all. So, let’s start right at the beginning and see what Owen, Paul, Liam, Mike and Andrew have chosen for 2010.


Blue Valentine

blue valentineListen, I didn’t wanna be somebody’s husband, okay? And I didn’t wanna be somebody’s dad. That wasn’t my… goal in life. For some guys it is – wasn’t mine. But somehow I’ve… it was what I wanted. I didn’t know that. And it’s all I wanna do. I don’t want to do anything else. That’s what I want to do. I work so I can do that.

A couple of years back, there was this film I saw a trailer for in the cinema called The Place Beyond The Pines. Something about the look of the film, the way it was fixed on three different people whose lives were all intertwined, I just really, desperately wanted to see it. Unlike a great many other films I want to see that never turn up at my local Cineworld, this one bizarrely made it there. Huzzah! A screening… that’s at midday… in the middle of the week. Bummer.

I took a day’s leave from work with the sole intention of seeing The Place Beyond The Pines. It ended up being one of my favourite films of the year and consequently led to me almost immediately checking out director Derek Cianfrance’s previous film, Blue Valentine, the following day.

Well, wow. If The Place Beyond The Pines was strangely uplifting and optimistic in the most pessimistic and disheartening way plausible, then Blue Valentine was as depressing and heartbreaking in as magical and romanticised way possible. Detailing both the coming together of two people in love, jumbled up amongst the collapse of their marriage, all told in a non-linear way that constructs and deconstructs relationships in one fell swoop, it just absolutely blew me away.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were incredible, both nailing all aspects of their characters; their flaws, their quirks, their love and hate for one another. There’s a wildness in both of their performances that never feels constrained or restricted, instead making the moments that they express their love for one another seem genuine, as well as hammering home just how painful it is to see their situation forcing them further and further apart.

I think I said on the podcast at the time, as a story about falling into and out of love, about duty and responsibility, about simply being a fucking human, then it’s hard for any movie top something as devastatingly inspiring as Blue Valentine.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Inception

inceptionThey say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential. Now that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.

Christopher Nolan is a director you don’t take for granted. He constantly innovates, he never rests on his achievements, strives to create a film that you will never forget. I’m not saying I’m a Nolan fan boy and there are a few films of his which I’m not that keen on. Yet, even in these films there are moments which leave you speechless because Nolan will push cinema to its limit, and that’s what makes him one of the most interesting and exciting directors we have today.

In 2010, Inception was a film which left a huge mark on me. This was and still is my favourite Nolan film. Yes, I even think it’s better than The Dark Knight (which is also pretty incredible). That said, from its incredible set pieces to a stunning score from Hans Zimmer (which for me is his finest cinema music to date), it just left me in awe of Nolan’s vision, his ability to ignite the imagination and create something this incredibly unique is extremely impressive. Is Inception Nolan’s homage to spy films? It is sort of, but it takes that element and just flips it on its head, because Nolan’s spies infiltrate dreams to access their victims secrets, none of this breaking into high security offices and photocopying a few documents, no that’s far too mundane for Nolan, he takes it to a whole new level. The set pieces in the film are incredible, well we are in dreams, where imaginations can run wild. Nolan shows his aptitude for action, his ability to excite and push you to the edge of your seat, the action in Inception is flawless, I do wonder what he would do if he ever directed a James Bond movie.

Yet one problem is it tends to over complicate matters and sometimes you are left scratching your head and wondering what is really going on. In fact Nolan does leave the ending open, which did bring groans from the audience and leaves you in that state of was it or wasn’t it all real. I do tend to go for the happier ending after the fade to black, but it was a hot topic of discussion.

The cast is incredible, Leonardo DiCaprio leads the stars in this film, and his work is outstanding in the film. He’s backed up by the brilliant Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe. Nolan brings out the best in his cast and they are all on top of their game.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


I Saw The Devil

i saw the devilI will kill you when you are in the most pain. When you’re in the most pain, shivering out of fear, then I will kill you. That’s a real revenge. A real complete revenge.

Late 2010 and a first visit to the London Korean Film Festival. A hidden gem on the calendar, that’s well worth looking out for each year. £10 gets you entry to a West End Premier, with free hospitality. Front row seats, an absolute skinful of Korean Soju (those little green bottles you see in every Korean film) and out walks director Kim Ji-Woon to present his latest (controversial film), I Saw The Devil, in all its uncut glory to an expectant and wildly appreciative audience.

The Korean revenge genre is one of my favourites, so to see a couple of Korean heavyweights in Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life, GI Joe) and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy !!!) team up with Kim Ji-Woon to have a crack at it, was bed wettingly excited for this.

It delivers in spades. It looks absolutely amazing, the cinematography is simply beautiful. It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Korean lark, the ridiculous tonal shifts, a shambolic police force, the eye rolling melodrama and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Throw in a completely over the top take on the genre and some of the nastiest violence ever committed to screen and we have ourselves a movie. The revenge on offer here…is different….darker….more brutal…

Kim Ji-Woon has almost killed this genre, there’s literally nowhere to go after this, he’s turned the dial up to 10, ripped it off and stamped on it. Everything he turns his hand to has been good to great so far, from a Western, to Drama, Comedy, Horror and even an Arnie action flick. He’s one of the greatest working directors of our age and this was the most fun anyone could possibly have had in a cinema in 2010.

The 10th London Korean Film Festival takes place in November 2015.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


The Sound of Noise

SoN02.jpgDirected by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Nilsson, The Sound of Noise is a genre hopping little known gem from Sweden.

The story revolves around a group of obsessive drummers planning and performing a series of gigs. The problem is that their idea of a “Gig” is far closer to what the general public would call a terrorist raid.

Hot on their heels is Detective Amadeus Warnebring, a (figuratively and literally) tone deaf police officer with a hatred of music and musicians.

Warnebring is the black sheep of an extremely accomplished musical family. He comes from a long line of singers, musicians, conductors and composers. His younger brother was feted as a Wunderkind and is now a big star in the classical music world, so poor old Amadeus is treated as a bit of a dunce by most of his family and is more tolerated than loved. Only his mother shows any kind of real affection for him, and even that takes the form of a kindly patronisation.

Although essentially a surreal comedy, the film also has significant dramatic content and features several brilliant musical scenes. The group perform extremely complicated rhythmic pieces using a huge variety of objects, none of which would normally be considered musical instruments. Who knew that you could get a decent tune out of equipment as unlikely as; heart rate monitors, operating tables, money counting machines, bulldozers and even electric pylons?

Running under the surface of all the absurd humour and musical madness is a rather warm and tender love story. Quietly and subtly handled, it never threatens to derail the fun or get overly sloppy but it does add a welcome layer of true humanity to a group of people that could quite easily be seen as somewhat mechanical in their all consuming need to live life to the beat of a metronome.

There are a few moments that do stray perilously close to that fine line between madcap, surreal humour and just plain annoying. The humorous concept of Warnebring’s selective deafness does teeter on the edge of overuse in one of the most important scenes but, thankfully, just about manages to keep its balance.

This film is an expanded follow on from the excellent 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which is well worth seeing on Youtube. It is made by and stars the same group.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Fighter

the fighterThis is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Nothing gets the Oscar committee’s genitals tingling quite like a good, old fashioned true sports story. But what usually makes the better ones the best of the bunch is the part where the film isn’t really about that sport. From Pride of the Yankees all the way to this year’s Foxcatcher, the lives of its characters takes centre stage over whichever sport happens to be in the backdrop.

It’s one of my favourite things about The Fighter. The true story of champion boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, isn’t really about boxing. In fact, the first hour or so is essentially Shameless with expensive actors. It’s a story about a down-trodden guy, who could be any guy, dragging his arse out of the sludge that he’s living in and trying to make things better for himself while his delinquent family are a constant weight around his ankles.

The beauty of these films is that they come packaged with outstanding performances. Both in front of and behind he camera. The Fighter revitalised David O’Russell’s career, giving him the start of a three film run filled with Oscar nominations (some more deserving than others). Most of The Fighter‘s nods were for its stars and deserving is definitely the word here. From Mark Wahlberg’s turn as struggling boxer Mickey Ward trying to make it big in a world that’s all but forgotten him. To Melissa Leo’s pathologically controlling, wannabe reality TV star matriarch. Everyone brings their best and we, the audience, are rewarded handsomely for their work.

Christian Bale’s performance as Mickey’s crack addicted, former boxing superstar brother, Dickie, is a career best and the greatest performance in the film. The insane weight cut that, while not The Machinist levels of grim, had to take a toll and that commitment shines from every frame he’s in. Galvanised when you see the short clip of the real Dicky at the credits and see just how well Bale plays him. I don’t think anyone could argue how much he deserved the Oscar he won for the role.

The Fighter is an emotional urban drama and a powerful underdog story all wrapped in a boxing film and it’s easily one of the greatest dramas ever. Not just 2010.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


And there you go. No room for critically acclaimed movies such as the best picture winning The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, 13 Assassins, Toy Story 3 or, perhaps most unbelievably of all, Piranha 3D. But that just goes to show how good a year that 2010 was. We’ll be back next week with the same crop of writers to pick the five undisputed (….) best films of 2011.

Vince DiCola: King of Synth

In between rocking out to synth and metal movie soundtracks, Matt is a frequent writer for the site and contributor to the Failed Critics podcast. Here he tells us about one of his personal icons, the King of Synth, Vince DiCola.

by Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

“Movie scores today sound similar to me in the sense that there are some great composers out there who continually use orchestras. I love orchestras, but I’d love to see synthesizers being used a little bit more again…”

Vince_DiCola_PhotographMovie history is full of great and celebrated music composers. Alan Silvestri and Hans Zimmer particularly come to mind when thinking back on some of my favourite movie scores from the 1980’s and onwards. But there is one individual that does not garner quite so much recognition, at least by name, but certainly will be recognised by most movie fans at least sonically.

Vince DiCola cites Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) amongst his biggest musical influences. DiCola got his first major break in the movie business as an up and coming musician and composer when he was recruited by Frank Stallone to work on the score for 1983’s Stayin’ Alive. Whilst the movie itself bombed, the score raised some eyebrows within the industry and Vince earned himself Grammy and Golden Globe nominations for his work.

When Sylvester Stallone returned to direct and star in 1985’s Rocky IV he once again turned to DiCola to become involved in the project after the excellent reception of the Stayin’ Alive score.

Rocky IV had a tremendous soundtrack, but it is Vince DiCola’s score that is the most crucial and most remembered piece.rocky4

It goes without saying that Rocky IV was a brilliant example of 80’s Americana, both in film and its excellent
soundtrack. The Rocky IV soundtrack spawned a number of Billboard hits, including Survivor’s ‘Burning Heart’ (a #2 hit), James Brown’s ‘Living in America’ (featuring the B-Side ‘Farewell’ by Vince DiCola) and the epic ‘Hearts on Fire’ performed by John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band which was also written by Vince DiCola.

But the most endearing pieces from movie, the ones forever seared into the memory of fans and movie fanatics, are from Vince DiCola’s score.

Training Montage

It is one of the most copied, parodied, inspiring and famous pieces of music in movie history. The synthesized sequence ‘Training Montage’ was such a strong part of the Rocky IV score that it made into the soundtrack also. As per the image below, it was parodied in comedic fashion to great affect in Team America, has been used in dozens of TV commercials and popular series such as Family Guy. It certainly plays a huge part in the build-up to the climatic final fight in Rocky IV and music is the perfect example of how Vince DiCola’s work may escape you by name but you will probably be familiar with him by this particular track if not more.

Team-America-montage-001Sure, Rocky had a montage but it wouldn’t have meant shit without the accompanying piece by Vince DiCola.

In the United States, the track ‘War’ from the score was regularly used during the 80’s and 90’s during NFL broadcasts so will be hugely familiar to US Sports fans and is an excellent sequence in its own right. Whilst the score was bizarrely awarded the 86′ Golden Raspberry, time and reflection has been tremendously kind to DiCola’s work and it is fondly regarded as a rabble-rousing and nostalgic classic.

Transformers: The Movie

Despite the scathing response to the Rocky IV score from some circles, it brought DiCola’s work to the attention of the producers for 1986’s Transformers: The Movie. DiCola auditioned for the part with an original piece called ‘Legacy’ which did not make into the final score for the movie but featured all the hallmarks that fans of the movie came to love.

Whilst DiCola’s work only features in one vocal track from the movie’s soundtrack (Stan Bush – Dare) the movie score is entirely his own. DiCola was given a free license to work from with only the aid of storyboards to guide his creativity, an experience that he later stated he was entirely unused to but thoroughly enjoyed, culminating in an exceptional original score.

A particularly emotive piece is ‘Death of Optimus Prime’, which is the accompanying music to the scene in which Auotbot leader Optimus Prime passes the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus on his deathbed, following his mortally-wounding battle with Megatron at the start of the movie (Spoiler Alert!).

It is a piece that is my own personal Kryptonite and I still cannot listen to today without shedding tears; the passing of a childhood role model with such a harrowing theme takes me to the saddest parts of my youth. In some ways I liken the heart-wrenching emotion of this song to the passing of my own father, it’s that strong of a piece.

The Transformers soundtrack also branched into areas of popular culture. The retro gaming classic ‘Turrican’ from 1986 features a rehash of Vince DiCola’s ‘Escape’ as of its primary themes (thanks to Andy Godoy from the Retro Gaming Daily Show for that one!). The ever popular anthem from Transformers: The Movie called ‘The Touch’ , performed by Stan Bush, even made it into a scene in Boogie Nights during a rather startling musical audition for Dirk Diggler!

As a massive Transformers fan, finding this soundtrack in the 90’s was not easy, particularly pre-internet era. I had to travel from Stoke-on-Trent to London’s HMV Trocadero to buy the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack on CD, but its a nice personal story for me and one my most prized possessions.

You can see the man himself with the most valued of all of my music collection in the header image!

It saddens me greatly when seeing, or hearing the negativity surrounding the Michael Bay Transformers movies and how they truly scar the legacy left behind by Transformers ’86, both in the brilliant animated movie and its sensational 80’s synth/metal soundtrack.

That said, DiCola has carved himself an excellent legacy and his body of work spans over several movies, solo releases and numerous video games, most recently returning to work on the Transformers edition of Angry Birds. Vince DiCola may not be a household name, but he probably sits on the CD shelves or MP3 collection of countless movie and video game fans.

There are few musicians that have profoundly affected me in moments of sheer delight and even sometimes in mourning as Vince DiCola. His work during my childhood in particular has created memories that will last a life-time and I still enjoy immensely even in my 30’s. I can only hope there is another big movie project in the future for Vince that might just bring him into the kind of notoriety that his life’s work deserves.

Kung Fu Panda

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

This year, DreamWorks Animation celebrates its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch is going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


kung fu panda again16] Kung Fu Panda (6th June 2008)

Budget: $130 million

Gross: $631,744,560

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

If one were to look at the history of DreamWorks Animation and try to figure when exactly their peak year was, the year in which everything seemed to come together for the company and made them appear near-untouchable, I personally would argue that year to be 2008.  I know that many people would go for 2004 – in which Shrek 2 finished as the year’s highest grossing film, and the major success of Shark Tale proved that the company could shove any old crud into the cinema and still make a profit – or for 2010 – in which they found their next major franchise in the shape of How To Train Your Dragon, sent the Shrek franchise off with a rather large sum of money, and made the critically well received Megamind – but I’m going to put my foot firmly down for 2008.

See, 2004 had the major public failure of their first CG television series Father Of The Pride and the fact that Shark Tale was an absolute abomination (plus, y’know, Shrek 2 is really bad, but I’m not going to bang that drum for another few weeks).  2010, meanwhile, had another subpar Shrek film, Megamind severely underwhelmed financially – although, as I will touch on when we get there, there are a multitude of other factors responsible for that – and Neighbors From Hell, a TV series that a subdivision of DreamWorks had a hand in… well, this is likely the first time you’re hearing of it, which basically demonstrates my point.

2008, though, was pretty much a non-stop success for the studio.  For one, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, abysmal title aside, was a financial smash and critically seen as a big step up from the first film (we’ll look at whether this success is deserved next week, just in time for Penguins Of Madagascar).  For two, the year also saw the launch of their first successful television series, Nickelodeon’s The Penguins Of Madagascar, a show that is still going strong today and is about to see the release of its own movie – which is actually based on the continuity of the films instead of the TV show, I think…?  I don’t know, I’m just willing to go with it cos the film looks funny – six years on.

And then, for three, there is this week’s film: Kung Fu Panda.  This is the film that a good percentage of animation fans like to cite as the moment where DreamWorks Animation finally started finding their own creative voice and stopped alternating between ripping off Pixar and recycling the Shrek formula.  Kung Fu Panda was the first DreamWorks film not primarily made by Aardman to break into the 80% range of the Tomatometer since Shrek 2 four years prior.  It even, in a huge surprise that pretty much nobody saw coming, completely swept the 36th Annie Awards.  If it was eligible for a category, much like with Wallace & Gromit two years back, it took home the award and in some cases was nominated multiple times in the same category.  It beat Wall-EWall-E!  (The film, however, would come up short to Wall-E at the Oscars.)

That critical praise was matched at the box office, too.  There was the first place opening, of course – $60 million, crushing the horrid You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – and the slow descent down the chart that followed afterwards, but it also managed to hold pretty decently against Pixar’s Wall-E, released a month later.  And though it lost domestically to Wall-E barely, I might add – it turned out to be a HUGE hit overseas, especially in the United Kingdom and China – incidentally, China were so flabbergasted at how accurate and faithful these Western filmmakers were to Chinese culture, that they held official government meetings to try and figure out why their own films weren’t that accurate.

See why I’m willing to go to bat for 2008 being DreamWorks’ peak year?  This must have been a giant relief for Katzenberg and co., too.  It had been 3 whole years since they had an original film that was successful enough to consider spinning a franchise out of which, in a company that aims to franchise everything, is absolutely killer and probably didn’t help investor confidence much – Shrek could only come along once every 3 years, after all.  Having another giant hit to franchise must have taken a huge weight off of everyone’s feet; one that was so critically well-received, no less!  Plus, with Madagascar 2 proving that Madagascar wasn’t a fluke, and The Penguins Of Madagascar finally breaking them into TV, 2008 really did make DreamWorks look dominant and untouchable.

So, naturally, this was the point in which Contemporary Me got off the DreamWorks train.

I was 13 at the time of the release of Kung Fu Panda and, like pretty much everybody who hits their teens, I was a Stupid Goddamn Teenager.  I was outright rejecting many of the things that brought me joy as a happy child, and animation was one of them – although I must note that I wasn’t doing so consciously.  This wasn’t one of those situations where I looked at all animation, even the stuff I loved as a kid, and went, “That’s a dumb baby thing for poo-poo heads!”  I still loved Pixar films, I still loved classic Disney, I still loved Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes, and I was still bitter about Codename: Kids Next Door coming to an end (more on that in the near-future, I promise).  Nothing else, however, was clicking.

Turns out this is less because stuff wasn’t any good – only a Stupid Goddamn Teenager would believe The Marvellous Misadventures Of Flapjack and The Princess And The Frog and such to be without merit – and more because I was unconsciously rejecting what I once loved in an attempt to appear more mature than I actually was.  Christ, for Christmas 2009, I asked for the first season of The Wire on DVD because the one episode I had caught on TV sufficiently resembled grown-up intellectual television and, being a Stupid Goddamn Teenager, I was determined to prove how superior I was to the uncultured folk that peppered my Secondary School by getting into The Greatest Television Series Ever Made™.  I really have no idea how I managed to finish Secondary School on relatively friendly terms with everyone in my year.

By the way, brief sidebar: it will have been 5 years this Christmas since I got it, and I still will not have successfully made it through the first season of The Wire.  Just thought you’d like to know that.

Now, in fairness, DreamWorks Animation really hadn’t been putting its best foot forward for a long time by the release of Kung Fu Panda and, as briefly alluded to, Shrek The Third had made 12 year-old Me a very angry boy indeed.  My patience was worn thin – their films were interchangeable, the quality was often ghastly, and they’d even dragged my beloved Aardman down with them (again, these were all contemporary thoughts, this series has hopefully shown that each film actually does have its own distinct identities and traits) – and I was looking for any excuse to drop them.

My reasoning for this finally being the straw to break the camel’s back was threefold.  1) I basically went in wanting to hate the thing because I was a Stupid Goddamn Teenager.  2) I had a friend at Secondary School – a good friend, an alright friend; you know who you are, Matthew, you lovable dick – who seemed to realise how much the film irrationally wound me up and took to quoting “skadoosh!” at me as many opportunities as possible – because he was a friend and that’s what friends do.  3) I believed that it wasted the considerable talents of Jack Black.  Yes.  Stop laughing.  I was a Stupid Goddamn Teenager, we have been over this.

In any case, that was it.  I was done with DreamWorks Animation.  I’m pretty sure I even made a dramatic statement about that fact, because I was a Stupid Godyou get the idea.  Of course, unlike many of the other things I rejected as a teenager, this one actually stuck.  Barring the one lapse for Puss In Boots in 2011 – because a friend and I had free cinema tickets and there was literally nothing else on at the cinema that weekend – it would take until Mr. Peabody & Sherman in February of 2014 for me to sit and watch a DreamWorks Animation film again – my watching of the first How To Train Your Dragon came about 48 hours before I went to see the sequel because you kinda need to have prior experience with a franchise before reviewing its later instalments – nearly six years later.

Watching Kung Fu Panda back today, for the first time since that fateful day, has only confirmed to me just how much of a Stupid Goddamn Teenager I was.  Quite simply, I have no clue why I didn’t love this movie at the time of its release.  This film has pretty much everything that should have caused that me to love it: physical comedy and slapstick, emotional heft, gorgeous visuals, a very Genndy Tartakovsky-indebted opening sequence, tightly choreographed martial arts battles, uplifting messages…  Yet, I didn’t.  Because I was a Complete F*cking Tit.

So, where do we start with regards to actually looking at the film that has all of this stuff attached to it that has nothing to do with the actual quality of the film – because we are now two and a half A4 pages in and your patience is likely worn thin?  How about with the humour.  Question: what is the typical DreamWorks Animation source for humour?  You get three guesses, the first two don’t count.  Answer: pop culture references.  The ones that relied heavily on it have aged really poorly, whilst the ones that don’t still have enough shoved in there for it to not exactly dissuade the stigma that DreamWorks had received by that point.  They’re forced into the film, instead of coming naturally from the characters.

Kung Fu Panda doesn’t do that.  I mean, it couldn’t, seeing as the film is set in Ancient China and so crowbarring in pop culture references would kill the thing stone dead, but that’s also in terms of the jokes overall.  At least 90% of the jokes in here are here because they fit naturally in the course of the film; they’re not just crowbarred in because “it’s a kids’ film and kids need fart jokes and poop jokes every few minutes on the dot or else they’ll get bored!”  The constant fat jokes, especially, feel natural and, most importantly, affectionate.  I mean, much like with Mulan’s jokes about her being a woman in man’s world, they occasionally risk crossing the line into agreeing with those whose intolerant viewpoints keep providing the jokes, but Po’s constant self-esteem issues and the eventual embracing of his fatness as a part of his fighting style reveal the film’s sympathetic and loving attitudes towards body type, much like with Mulan and femininity.

In fact, I once again see seeds for the How To Train Your Dragon series being planted in an earlier DreamWorks film.  I mean, there’s the obvious stuff – the high quality storyboarding, the emotional depth, the trust that an audience of children will follow a film no matter how dark it gets and no matter how long it is between jokes – but I also mean in terms of physical diversity.  Question: what sorts of protagonists do you typically see in animated films?  Yes, “animals”, but what about them?  Notice their builds – thin, athletic, muscular – and notice their physical capabilities – strong, capable – and notice how, typically, they are ‘normal’.

Now, what sets apart Hiccup from HTTYD and Po from Kung Fu Panda from the rest of that pack?  They’re not ‘normal’.  They genuinely have something that prevents them from that ‘normal’-ness; Po is overweight, whilst Hiccup at the end of his first film loses his left leg and has to get a prosthetic one instead.  You simply don’t get these representations in kids’ films, most instead focussing on personality traits for their “be true to yourself” messages instead of physical aspects, so imagine how inspiring it must be for kids who struggle with this stuff.  Kids who struggle with obesity looking at Po, who exhibits the same insecurities and eating habits that they do but instead learns to embrace them as not being a bad thing to be ashamed of, and maybe not feeling so bad.  Or kids who have lost limbs like Hiccup does, seeing him not losing a step because of that and maybe being inspired because of that.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but we live in a world that very much prides and fetishizes beauty.  We hold up beauty and normality – Generic White Guy, Generic White Girl – as this thing that everybody should strive towards, and we mark out and shame those who don’t conform to it or who can’t conform to it or who don’t want to conform to it as weird or pitiable.  Those documentaries you watch about people who were born disfigured or with developmental conditions?  A good eight times out of ten, I guarantee you they are not being portrayed as people, or as people who are happy with how they are.  To see less-represented body types and such represented in animated films primarily aimed at children, be it directly (Kung Fu Panda) or rather indirectly (How To Train Your Dragon), is admirable and undoubtedly will have positively helped some children who relate to them based on those things.

Going back to the humour thing, real quick; again, rarely does Kung Fu Panda force in a joke where it is not needed.  This is a funny movie – although not rolling-in-the-aisles funny, it’s not trying to be that kind of movie, more lower-key with only a few moments of big setpiece laughs – but it knows when to scale back, when to let a scene run without gags, which really helps the tone of the film and keeps it from whiplashing too hard.  It reminded me a lot – and it ran for pretty much all of the four years that this film was in production for, so it had to have influenced the film in some way – of Avatar: The Last Airbender.  That show knew how to balance drama and comedy in a way that felt natural and flowing, and also has a general tone and feel that is incredibly reminiscent of Kung Fu Panda.

Incidentally, I didn’t start getting into Avatar until about 19 months ago, which means that I irrationally disliked it as Contemporary Me, so… you know.

Seeing as my time is fast running out, this week – both metaphorically in terms of word count and literally in terms of deadlines – let me finish off by talking in-depth about Kung Fu Panda’s layout and storyboarding.  Now, one of the things that sticks out to me from the non-hand-drawn-non-Aardman features that we’ve looked at so far is how not-sticking-out the imagery is.  Seriously, the only images from, say, Shrek or Madagascar that I can recall, or that made me sit up and take notice of their construction, are the ones that are either directly calling out to something (pop culture references) or were seared into my brain prior to starting this series due to a wonderful well-spent childhood.  The rest of the films kinda just… blend into one another.  The imagery doesn’t pop, it doesn’t grab, it doesn’t truly take advantage of the visual splendour that animation can provide.

It takes literally zero seconds for Kung Fu Panda to buck that trend.  The film opens in this gorgeous, visually-striking 2D animation – directed by the film’s Head Of Story, and the director of the sequel so we will be coming back to her, Jennifer Yuh Nelson – that is distinctly influenced by Chinese paintings and art but still has its own unique style.  Every little shot is packed with detail, every little shot has an outstanding usage of colour and shading, every little shot is magnificently composed.  It’s so good, and also so personally refreshing to see some 2D animation in feature-length films with my personal preferences and all, that the resultant return to 3D CG for the rest of the film is honestly rather disappointing, especially since I wasn’t expecting that level of visual care to follow through to the rest of the film.

It took a little longer to be proven wrong on that account, but I was still proven wrong nonetheless.  This is a film that, more than any other CG DreamWorks film covered so far, has clearly had a massive amount of thought put into each and every single shot.  There are the more obvious examples, such as the scene where Oogway ascends to a higher plane (backed with one of Hans Zimmer and John Powell’s most beautiful pieces of music, it must be noted) or many shots from the film’s training montage, but it’s the way that so many other scenes stick out in my head because of their layout and storyboarding.  Po despondently stood in the middle of the street with the food cart, the various angles throughout the tour of Tai Lung’s prison even after the initial reveal that continue to re-emphasise its imposing nature whilst still giving off the idea that escape isn’t truly impossible, Po reaching for Monkey’s cookies whilst Shifu looks on…

I could keep listing, too.  These are all images that aren’t supposed to be Money Shots, as it were, yet they are constantly boarded like they are.  Nowhere, though, is this approach more emblematic than in the film’s fight sequences.  I will admit to being worried initially – the first one, where The Furious Five ambush Master Shifu as part of practice, is too sloppy and a bit too incoherent in camera placement and movement to work – but the film eventually nails them.  That same care and effort that goes into boarding the non-action sequences goes double for the action sequences, which brings a level of care and coherence to proceedings.  Scene geography is always coherent, the camera is dynamic but still clear and does wonders for the size difference that typically ensues between participants.

The best illustration I have of this point, though, is simply to play the dumpling scene for you.  Like, just genuinely pay attention to the staging, here.  The camera placements, the positioning of the characters, the times that it chooses to go into slow-motion, the editing of when exactly it switches shots, the varying levels of detail, the speed of the scene… it truly is an absolute master class in animation construction and direction, with the result being a two minute sequence that just left me with a giant grin on my face for its entire length, like a truly great martial arts sequence usually leaves me with.

Kung Fu Panda, then, is a great film – the fact that I could happily spend way longer talking about it if deadline weren’t fast approaching should give that away.  However, I don’t think I’ll ever see it as a GREAT film, even though it kinda is.  Why?  Well, why’d you think I spent a very good length of time in this article letting you know about who I was at age 13?  There’s too much baggage associated with Kung Fu Panda, for me.  Too much extraneous stuff attached to it that can’t help but come along with me when I watch the thing.  I can blot a lot of it out, but I can’t blot all of it out.  In the same way that I’ll never be able to let go of stuff from my younger years, Kung Fu Panda will always carry around the “This Film Made Me Quit DreamWorks” banner and there’s a part of me that will always be bitter about that – albeit now because it reminds me of how absolutely f*cking dumb my teenaged self was instead of the film itself.

Still, Kung Fu Panda 2 doesn’t have any baggage associated with it, so I look forward to seeing how fantastic that supposedly ends up!


A total critical and financial triumph, Kung Fu Panda represented a major bouncing back from a very disappointing 2007 for DreamWorks Animation.  Next week, we’ll look at the film that helped cement the turning of the tides, and gave the company the knowledge that Shrek wouldn’t be the only franchise they could fall back on should things go rough.  Next week, it’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch could’ve been a princess, you’d be a king.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

On Interstellar & Nightcrawler’s Scores

Callum Petch takes a look at the film scores of Interstellar and Nightcrawler and looks at the effect they have on their respective films.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

james newton howardQuestion: how many films can you name this year where the score was something that actually caught your attention as you were watching it?  And I don’t mean licensed music or songs written specifically for the film by the latest hot band (so exclude Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Guest and any musical so far), I mean the actual score that’s sat there helping drive events along.  I can count Under The Skin, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Double, Gone Girl and the two films I’m talking about today.  That’s really about it.  Out of 113 films that I have seen from 2014, I can recall the score from only six.

See, the art of the film score is very much receding in general perception nowadays as they become more about mood setting than attention grabbing.  Now, admittedly, this is how it should be to a degree: a film’s score should get the audience into the mood of the film, compliment the visuals and the narrative, and be a cog in the machine that helps elevate the whole of the film.  The trouble comes from just how… unmemorable and interchangeable a lot of modern day film scores are.  There’s no personality there, no individual touch that makes Film A stand out from Film B aside from some half-assed attempt at a leitmotif.

The reason why, say, that distinctive theme from Jaws managed to break into popular culture is because there is personality.  You hear that slow, ominous build and you instantly think Jaws, it can’t be anything else.  It’s distinctive, but it also builds mood which is why a whole bunch of other media over the years have lifted it wholesale for their own ends.  It’s why hearing it come up in Jaws, despite it having broken into the popular culture and used as joke fodder for a lot of the last four decades, one doesn’t burst out into laughter or get dragged out of the film.  It fits the mood, it complements the film, but it’s also distinctive and has its own personality.

Too many films nowadays seem afraid to try and add personality to their scores.  They see them as just a cog that can be slapped together and forgotten about.  That, or they’re afraid that a big, showy, personality-filled score will detract from the experience.  And whilst that is true – as I will demonstrate with one example in a bit – it shouldn’t discourage composers and filmmakers from trying anyway, since a score doesn’t need to be big and showy to have personality or be memorable.  Although The Double’s soundtrack commands your attention with its loud, melodramatic and darkly hilarious violins played by what sounds like an orchestra held at gunpoint – which is distinctive and perfectly fits the mood of the film itself – Under The Skin manages to be just as memorable with barely anything more than an uneasy discordant drone – again, distinctive and fitting.

A dull interchangeable score blends into the background and neither helps nor hinders the film that it’s attached to.  A distinctive and memorable score grabs the attention and can either enhance a film’s positive attributes or highlight its glaring weaknesses.  Lots of filmmakers seem to be afraid of the second half of the latter option, and so opt to go for the former instead.  Whilst I understand why, I ultimately prefer the second option, because that shows some semblance of an effort, creativity, and personality in proceedings – the most memorable aspect of any Marvel Studios score that I’ve heard in the last six years has been the one that backs their frickin’ studio logo, for example.

So, in that respect, I’d like to briefly look at two recent film scores that are loud, distinctive, and personality-filled and explain how they embody all of the flaws and enhance the positive aspects of their films, respectively.  Specifically: Hans Zimmer’s overwrought and majorly distracting score for Interstellar, and James Newton Howard’s off-kilter and bizarrely brilliant score for Nightcrawler.

Let’s do Interstellar first.  Now, I seem to be in the minority on this one – yes, I know, you are bowled over in surprise by this twist – but I detest Zimmer’s score for the film.  I find it incredibly overwrought, desperate, and ultimately hollow and insincere.  His recurrent leitmotif of incredibly loud church organ notes whenever something “epic” is going down comes off like the keys are being manned by a narcoleptic who nobody can bother to remove from the instrument when he does inadvertently nod off.  The constant piling on of instruments when they’re not needed, the cacophonous nature that drowns out a lot of the dialogue (although that’s more of a problem with the sound mixing than anything else), the extreme self-consciousness of its attempts to call back to hard sci-fi, and the fake-ness of it all – at no point did I get the impression that anybody involved truly put emotion into this.  It’s like somebody who has never actually felt emotions trying to make other people to feel emotions; it doesn’t convince.

Consequently, this actually ends up being emblematic of Interstellar’s faults at large.  The film itself is so cold, so clinical, yet so desperately trying to stir up emotions within its audience that it comes off as phony and awkward.  The script lacks characters, but has plenty of time to over-explain every little bit of science that goes on in the film – like it’s worried that Neil deGrasse-Tyson is going to burst in through some nearby window and demand to see the Nolans’ science credentials.  Nolan’s filmmaking style, and I’d like to note that I don’t consider it a criticism as long as he’s working within that wheelhouse, is very removed, emotionally distant and intellectual.  Unfortunately, he took on a project that doesn’t play to those strengths at all and so spends a lot of the film failing miserably at emulating the style of Steven Spielberg (whom this project was originally meant for).  Nolan creates moments and images of wonder and beauty, but fails terribly at making those coalesce in a way that feels genuine or is even sustained for more than a minute or two at a time.

Therefore, since the film is so detached emotionally even though it is trying so hard to grasp that human concept, the job of getting the audience emotionally invested falls on the score.  Hence why it goes so all-out so frequently and so heavily.  Every second of the thing is trying desperately to pick up the ball that the film drops, trying to overwhelm the audience in the hopes that the kitchen sink will finally elicit some semblance of an appropriate emotional reaction.  Like the film itself, it does work in fits and starts, but it can’t keep it up for any longer than a minute or so at a time.  For every pretty little dancing synth in the background, there’s seven separate segments where the foregrounded strings and organ are noticeably straining under the weight of the task placed upon them.  Hence why the overall product feels thuddingly manipulative and insincere.

Again, I realise that I am in the minority about this.  I expressed my thoughts on Interstellar’s score in one of my Film Studies classes shortly after release and one of the guys I know on it looked at me like I just admitted to eating puppies.  He tried to counter by stating his belief that the score could tell the story of the film by itself, but I think that just bolsters my view even more.  The score has to do the hard work because Interstellar itself fails at its end of the deal, so the score ends up swinging for the fences in order to try and make up for that.  The score is certainly distinctive, but it just adds to the distractingly fake nature of a lot of the film and only ends up making its shortcomings more noticeable.

Contrast with James Newton Howard’s score for Nightcrawler.  Now, in theory, this thing really should not work – our own Owen Hughes certainly didn’t think it did – and should be one of those soundtracks where you just sit there and go, “just what in the blue hell were they thinking?”  Nightcrawler, after all, is a dark and occasionally darkly funny satire about capitalism hidden within a brutally angry takedown of 24 hour commercial news networks.  I think the very last thing anybody expected to be backing key scenes was a distractingly out-of-place reverb-soaked guitar that makes it seem like Louis Bloom’s adventure is one that is hopeful and worthy of success.  Or take the ending with its strangled Jimi-Hendrix-rendition-of-“Star Spangled Banner”-reminiscent overdriven guitar riff.  Or even the scene before that which is backed by something that belongs more in a light-hearted comedy drama than Nightcrawler.

This is not a score that one can tune out, either.  Its atypical and ill-fitting nature is constantly calling to the viewer’s attention.  Not blatantly, in the sense that it is screaming for your attention, but in the way that one is having a conversation but keeps noticing something abnormal in the background that just won’t stop distracting you.  And that, essentially, is the point.  Nightcrawler’s score is purposefully atypical and ill-fitting because it wants to be, because it reflects the state of mind of the person whose viewpoint we are experiencing the narrative through at that moment in time.

For example, Owen cites a section around the film’s midpoint where Lou makes a speech towards Nina about his goals in life.  It seems genuinely heartfelt and completely sincere – even though we the audience already know that Lou is pretty much incapable of sincerity due to his sociopathic nature – and is the kind of speech that, in a different film, would be a life-affirming inspirational moment as the scrappy underdog outlines their Big City ambitions and desire to win at the game of Capitalism.  So that is how the scene is scored.  Because the person we are experiencing this scene through is not a detached third party – it’s through Lou.  And for Lou, in the film of his life, this is that moment.

It’s why multiple sequences where he watches his footage back on TV are backed by jaunty, bouncy tunes.  To us, these are horrifying examples of a complete sociopath exploiting the trauma and fragility of those victimised by our morally bankrupt society in order to raise his own standing within it.  To him, these are moments of victory where the people involved are secondary to his own accomplishments, him having that little empathy for those whose tragedy he is filming.  It’s why the sequence where he screams into the mirror has this dark foreboding music; for Lou, this is his low point, where he is being unfairly kept from success by bigger people than him.  The whole film could have been backed like that, to help scream to the viewer that this is wrong and to keep us at a very comfortable observatory distance from the people and events on screen.  But that’s not what happens, and that in turn makes the deployment of those ominous synths carry that much weight.

Or, to case study real quick, there is a reason why the two segments of the sequence that make up “Horror House” are scored so differently.  The first, when Lou is shooting it, is given this rather urgent and tense synth rumble – something that combines with the purposeful lacking in focus on the bodies and the violence to show how Lou sees the sequence: a tense race-against-time to document this once-in-a-lifetime footage before the cops show up; the victims being incidental.  The second, as the footage hits the air, replaces the urgency with ominous darkness which, coupled with the focus on the bodies and the almost fetishizing of said violence, paints the scene as something from a movie.  Fitting seeing as we are experiencing this scene from Nina’s perspective and she’s trying to conduct the sequence into being Must See TV.

Again, the film could have stuck with that the whole way through.  It could have backed every scene with ominous synth bass rumbles, to add a few exclamation points to the idea that this is absolutely not something to idolise or aspire to.  But not only would the film have lost the impact of when those times do appear – such as just before the film’s action sequence where, coincidentally, we switch narrative perspectives to Rick for a short while – it would also have lost its character study angle.  Nightcrawler gets its messages across through its characters, showing how utterly warped their sense of morality and worldview has to be to win at their various games, and that idea would have been lost if the score were endlessly generic and repetitively ominous – much like my usage of that word.  Such a prominent and attention-calling score was undoubtedly a risk, because it is so off-beat, but it ends up working gangbusters and elevates the rest of the film as a result.

So, now that we’ve done that, allow me to ask and answer a question: what do the scores for Interstellar and Nightcrawler have in common besides being very noticeable and memorable?  Honestly, nothing.  One works, one doesn’t, one overcooks proceedings whilst the other seasons them just right, one has to make up for its attached film’s flaws and only ends up making them more glaring whilst the other compliments the excellent film it backs and highlights its strengths even more.  In the sense of their being scores, there’s really nothing linking them together, except one key thing…

I’m talking about them.  I may hate Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar, but I’m talking about it.  I’ll know it when some part of it inevitably breaks through into pop culture.  I love Nightcrawler’s score, and I find the score such an integral part of that film’s feel that I can’t picture the film without it.  Same with Interstellar.  Meanwhile, you could switch the soundtracks for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Transformers: Age Of Extinction and I honestly would likely be unable to tell the difference.  Too many films are afraid to try crafting a score with a legitimate personality nowadays, instead settling for a fun licensed soundtrack and Generic Blockbuster Score #264 to trundle proceedings along, and that disheartens me.

Just because you may fail, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t even bother to try.  I am of the firm belief that the worst thing a film can do is leave me with no reaction whatsoever.  A film can make me angry, offend me, upset me, repulse me, but at least it got a reaction and isn’t that what films are supposed to do?  To get a reaction out of us?  I prefer a vehemently negative reaction to a shrug of total indifference, because then I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time.  I’ve felt something, and way too few scores nowadays are willing to take that risk because they believe that the risk of a negative reaction far outweighs the reward of a good one.

I’d like to see more film scores try.  Try to have some personality, some noticeable thing and quality about it that lends the overall film a specific feel that it can’t get from any other score.  Something that does its part to help brand a film as That Film.  I want them to try.  I want a reaction, more than anything else.  Interstellar and Nightcrawler do this.  Under The Skin, Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Double do this.  I’d like that list to be longer in today’s films.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Callum Petch is overqualified for the position.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 7/11/14 – 9/11/14

Interstellar’s opening isn’t so stellar, Big Hero $56 million, The Theory Of Everything lacks an easy pun for this headline, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

A lot of people, myself included, felt that Disney were signing Big Hero 6’s death warrant when they chose to schedule it directly against Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.  I mean, it’s Christopher Nolan!  You all have seen how much his last films made, right?  I get the idea of counter-programming, but Nolan films are events, and you, Disney, have only just solidified your second renaissance!  Are you insane?!  Those fears, however, conveniently forgot one key part of this equation: Disney always wins.  Disney.  Always.  Wins.  No matter how long it takes, no matter the force against them; Disney will always win.

And win they did, quite handily at that.  Big Hero 6 opened in first at an excellent $56 million estimated, the second biggest opening for an animated film in 2014 only behind The Lego MovieInterstellar had to settle for an estimated $50 million, one that more than likely will not hold when the actuals come in, which puts it below Inception, Gravity and even Prometheus – as Box Office Mojo notes, likely whilst applying salt liberally to the film’s various wounds.  If one were to include Wednesday and Thursday IMAX-only screenings, then the total would rise to $52 million, but we don’t include such cheat tactics around these here parts!  This is the weekend Box Office Report and, last I checked, the weekend doesn’t include Wednesday or Thursday!  Nice try, Nolan!  Thanks for playing!

Activity elsewhere on the chart is limited, as seemingly everybody else realised that they have better things to do than be crushed by Disney and Nolan and so got the hell out of dodge whilst they were still able to do so.  The one major release was the none-more-blatant piece of awards bait known as The Theory Of Everything, in which Eddie Redmayne metaphorically gets down on his hands and knees and begs for awards by playing Stephen Hawking in a biopic about his life.  So, naturally, the film also did pretty great in limited release, as folks cued up to have an opinion to spout come Oscars time, taking $207,000 from 5 screens for a $41,400 per-screen average.

That just leaves a trio of documentaries that were likely dumped here because all the prime spots on the release schedule were taken.  Doing the best in terms of pure gross, primarily because it played in the most amount of theatres, was On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter, a pseudo-sequel to the 1971 Steve McQueen-fronted doc, which took $344,000 from 231 screens (for a per-screen average of $1,489) full of people with nothing better to do that given Sunday.  Next, and most successful in terms of per-screen gross, was National Gallery which made $9,700 from 1 theatre full of people who couldn’t be arsed to just book a plane ticket to London and see the place in person.  Finally, Death Metal Angola, about soft rock in the Maldives, made $2,500 from 1 screen populated with people who had a very strangely specific urge that needed scratching.


big hero 6

This Full List is really rather pissed that Big Hero 6 is giving the UK a miss.  Hey, that rhymed sorta!

Box Office Results: Friday 7th November 2014 – Sunday 9th November 2014

1] Big Hero 6

$56,200,000 / NEW

Yup, you heard that right!  Big Hero 6 doesn’t hit the UK until January of next year, adding to a pile that already includes Whiplash, John Wick, Inherent Vice, Birdman, Foxcatcher and a hell of a lot more.  That also means that the only film I’m really excited for from now until the end of the year is – and I kid you not here – Penguins Of Madagascar.  Look, American studio execs, I get that you want to capitalise on the inevitable awards hype that all of these films are going to get, and I get that we forcibly colonised your country one f*cking time, but come on!  There are giant empty gaps in our release schedules that are being plugged with dreck like a third goddamn Nativity movie!  You can do better, dammit!

2] Interstellar

$50,000,000 / $52,151,000 / NEW

Owen has reviewed it here because I am way too busy to crank out a review right now.  But also because, honestly, I’m still not quite sure what to think of it.  I did enjoy it, but the film is incredibly fatally flawed in ways that are too numerous and lengthy to explain here.  I’ll try and find time go into detail on it at some point, but for now I will say that Hans Zimmer’s score is absolutely atrocious, like a church orchestra that’s being disembowelled and expressing the feelings of said disembowelling via their instruments as they slowly bleed out.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that “overwrought” doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I’m pretty sure the guy in charge of the organ dropped dead at some point and nobody bothered to move his corpse from the keys he face-planted.

3] Gone Girl

$6,100,000 / $145,428,000

I have a friend who works at a cinema and she managed to snag me a Gone Girl poster from work today.  I have good friends.

4] Ouija

$6,017,000 / $43,472,000

The fact that this hasn’t sunk like a stone since its release genuinely confuses the hell out of me.  Like, nobody liked this one, critics and audiences, so who’s still going to this?

5] St. Vincent

$5,707,000 / $27,356,000

Chris O’Dowd’s slow breakthrough into America is one of the more bewildering things that I have come across recently.  I mean this in a good way, for once, though.  I like Chris O’Dowd, I think he’s a funny actor – although Moone Boy did quite literally nothing for me – but I thought he’d be an exclusively British thing.  You know, like how Steve Coogan has never broken through into the US despite being STEVE F*CKING COOGAN?

6] Nightcrawler

$5,512,000 / $19,756,000

OUCH.  I mean, I really should’ve seen this coming, Nightcrawler is not exactly the kind of film that will sit well with general audiences, but still.  This really isn’t the fate that one of the year’s best films deserves.  It might survive next week, as Dumb And Dumber To is the only wide release that will make money, but this still deserves way more love.  If you’ve yet to see it, go now!

7] Fury

$5,500,000 / $69,268,000

This was pretty darn great.  Took a while to warm up and ultimately didn’t do much that many other war dramas haven’t already done better, but its cast is great, its individual scenes are really good, and the whole is the sum of its pretty good parts.  Glad to see that Sabotage appeared to be a fluke for David Ayer after all!

8] John Wick

$4,075,000 / $34,745,000

Wha…?  Huh…?  Wh…?  IT’S JOHN WICK, YOU GUYS!!  I don’t even know you people anymore.

9] Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

$3,495,000 / $59,208,000

Yes, I did end up seeing this.  No, it wasn’t awful.  I mean, it’s not that good, but it is pacey, incredibly earnest, and has committed performances from a game cast.  It’s that earnestness that keeps it from being an intolerable slog, because the film is that happy and sincere that it overwhelms any cynical boundaries.  It’s not a good film, we can’t forget that, but it’s not an awful one so I’m willing to chalk this up as the most minor win possible.

10] The Book Of Life

$2,800,000 / $45,215,000

This has yet to cross $80 million worldwide.  Why do you people hate nice things?

Dropped Out: The Judge, Dracula Untold

Callum Petch asked her for her number all the same.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!