Monday, August 31, 2015

Guest Review of "The Lone Ranger" (2013) Soundtrack

Yup, today I have a guest post up here on James the Movie Reviewer's blog, and it's the soundtrack for The Lone Ranger, which is one of my top ten favorite soundtracks ever.  And it's also the movie I get my sign-out picture from (and which of course is in my header right now) -- I sincerely love this movie.  Just watched it again last week, and oh, it is like coming home after a long, hard absence.

I reviewed it twice back when it first came out, here and here, if you want to know more about the movie and some of why I love it so.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Guest Post about the "Evita" Soundtrack

I've got a post up here on J and J Productions today, all about the soundtrack for Evita (1996).

I have such fond memories of this movie.  Watching it for the first time over Thanksgiving break my freshman year of college.  Loving it so much, I bought a copy of the movie AND the soundtrack.  Sharing the movie with my parents and some of their friends, all of them expecting not to like it, and all of them enjoying it.  I have most of the major songs memorized, and quite a few of the lesser-known as well.

I remember reading once that as a young man, Antonio Banderas lived in an apartment with thin walls very near a theater where people were practicing, then performing, Evita, and he learned all the songs by hearing them over and over that way.  So when he was cast as Che, he didn't have to learn any of the lyrics because he knew them already!  That story makes me grin :-D

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007)

I am not fond of this story, movie or book.  Spoiler alert:  my beloved Sirius Black dies.  Also, everything starts getting really grim and serious.  Voldemort is back, but most of the wizarding world refuses to accept the truth, and that both angers and frustrates me.  Throw in Delores Umbridge as a child-torturing usurper, and I'm pretty unhappy through the entire thing.  But at least the book has lots and lots of Sirius in it.  The movie shunts him off into a corner.

In fact, there are very few things I enjoy about this movie.  Harry's emotional connection to Sirius is all but sidelined, we spend most of the time fleeing from Important Plot Point to Important Plot Point, and by the time Sirius falls through that mysterious curtain, I'm both tired and detached, which leaves me kind of numb to a scene that left me crying in public when I read the book, tears rolling down my face in the break room at work.

Edit:  I see I reviewed this when it first came out too, and whaddaya know, I made a lot of the same complaints the first time too.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Guest Post about the "Firefly" Soundtrack

Today I've got a post up here on James' blog about the soundtrack to one of my favorite shows:  Firefly (2002-03).  How shiny, huh?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." (2015)

I need to see this movie again.

There had better be a showtime that works next weekend, because I need to see it again.

Partly I need to see it again because I want to decide if I liked it or if I loved it, and I'm having trouble deciding.  Because it wasn't an automatic love, but I think it could be an acquired love.  Like The Lone Ranger (2013) -- the first time I saw that, I said in my review, "Did I love it? Maybe. Did I like it? Absolutely. Will I buy the DVD? Definitely."  Same goes for The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  (And weirdly enough, they both star Armie Hammer.)

Okay, so basically this is a spy romp with a tangy old-school flavor and a nothing-is-all-that-serious texture.  The whole world is not in danger, the human race is not about to be exterminated, no one is going to wipe out the electronic records of an entire nation or kill the US President or expose every secret agent the US has.  Someone is trying to build a nuclear bomb.  That's bad, but that's not oh-my-goodness-the-fate-of-the-universe-hangs-in-the-balance bad.  Which is great, because it gives this whole movie a more relaxed feel.  We can laugh.  There can be sight gags and double-entedres and funny little jokes, and they don't feel out of place.

There can also be an utterly sweet, sad, lonely, mighty, smart, resourceful, determined, broad-shouldered, strong-jawed, baby-faced, Russian-accented spy named Illy Kuryakin (Armie Hammer).


And there's also this other guy named Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) who looks nice in a suit and likes to steal stuff.  He's an American secret agent, and Illya is a Russian secret agent, but they have to stop punching each other and start punching other people together in order to stop the bad guys trying to build a bomb, etc.

(I don't know where I found this because I've had it a while.)
(Also, Armie's hair is better in the movie than in this photo.)

Also, there's a girl named Gaby (Alicia Vikander) who is all mixed up in the plot, which I don't feel like detailing, but she was so much fun -- smart and sassy and savvy and cool.  Also, an auto mechanic.  Also, she got the coolest '60s clothes.

I adored the '60s setting, all the cool clothes and cars and buildings and hair -- I watched so many '60s movies growing up that I almost feel at home in that era, and so this was like a wonderful nostalgia trip for me even though I wasn't born until 1980.

So if you're looking for a lighter spy movie to relax with before the summer ends, please go see this!  It's a good ride.

Ahh, but is it family friendly?  Um, not totally.  A very small amount of bad language, almost entirely slang words for various body parts.  No taking of God's name in vain that I recall.  There's a shot of a woman from behind who is only wearing panties, and she turns so you can see the outline of more, but it's a silhouette and very vague.  There's quite a bit of suggestive material like what you would find in a '70s James Bond movie -- the implication that people are having sex, a guy and a girl wrestling -- lots of suggestion, no actual love scenes.  Still, not something I'd take young teens to.  There's also quite a bit of violence, a character with anger management issues and the mention of psychotic episodes, and a torture sequence that made me worry and squirm, though it wasn't graphic.  Very low on blood and guts, as most of the violence is implied.

Finally, I leave you with this picture of the original Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) from the 1960s TV show.  My mom had the hugest crush on this version of Illya, so I'm finding it amusing that one of my own favorite actors is now playing him.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Guest Post About the First "Mission: Impossible" Soundtrack

I've got a new guest post up here on J and J Productions, all about the soundtrack for the very first Mission:  Impossible (1996).  I have a lot of memories from my later teen years associated with this soundtrack.  My brother and I would put it on as background music while we played with our action figures, I listened to it while doing schoolwork in the basement, and I also used it for inspiration while trying my hand at writing a little science fiction.

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation" (2015)

I kind of think of the Mission:  Impossible movies as sort of James Bond's nerdy cousin.  Fewer tuxedos, more sneakers.  Fewer exploding pens, more off-site computer hacking.  Attractive in its own way, but not actually stylish.

Turns out that nerdy cousin cleans up awfully well, though.  In the latest movie, we get treated to a lot of more Bond-like set pieces, with tuxes and slinky dresses and the sorts of stylish locations we'd expect from 007.  In fact, one of the things that I like best about Rogue Nation is how it cheekily grabs from so many other bags of tricks, though I can't decide if it's doing this as an homage, or more of a game of sly one-upsmanship.

For instance, a lot of time is spent at the opera, just like in Quantum of Solace (2008).  They use Turandot instead of Tosca -- but both are operas by Puccini.  Both movies have fight scenes that take place behind the opera's scenery, with ethereal music juxtaposed over brutal violence.  But the fight scene in Solace is a mess -- the worst use of shaky-cam I can ever remember seeing.  Both James Bond and his opponent are dressed in black suits, and the camera shakes around so much you can't tell who is slugging whom.  The fight in Rogue Nation, by contrast, is elegant, simple, clear.  Far superior.  Feels a bit like the filmmakers are saying, "Hey, we can do this better.  Let's take your mess and make something good out of it."

Later, there's a very lovely car-and-motorcycle chase scene that involves driving a car down a bunch of steps, very reminiscent of The Bourne Identity (2002).  There's also a scene where Tom Cruise is in an upside-down car, echoing his own Collateral (2004).  Even one of the official posters tosses in what seems to be an homage to the iconic poster for Tom Cruise's Risky Business (1983).

For a movie-lover like me, all those nods are kind of like secret handshakes or an extra toy in the Crackerjack box, I guess.  If you get them, it's extra awesome, but if you don't, the movie is still really fun.

Anyway, kudos to this film for creating a female spy (Rebecca Ferguson) who isn't simply there for sex appeal, to get rescued by the hero, or any other lame things.

Ilsa Faust is strong and smart, and my favorite thing about her inclusion is how none of the guy spies stand around with their jaws open going, "A girl can do that?"  She's a spy who happens to be a woman, not a woman who happens to be a spy -- they completely accept her as an equal, and that tickled me.  For instance, rarely does Ethan Hunt need rescuing, ever, but when Ilsa rescues him, it doesn't feel smarmy or symbolic, it feels like nothing more than one agent rescuing another, which was so refreshing.  She's the coolest female agent I've seen since Black Widow, and has a similar can-do vibe.  Also, I really dug Ferguson in Hercules (2014), so it's great to see her in a bigger role and bigger movie!  I hope to see more of her, and soon.

Here's the funny thing, though:  I'm not a feminist.  I don't go around singing, "Anything you can do, I can do better."  I don't need a female character to kick butt to think of her as strong.  I firmly believe there are some things most men are better at, and some that most women are better at.  However, I've kinda always wanted to go around punching people and riding motorcycles and rescuing secret agents, so when I get to watch a female character do that, I'm quite pleased.  Especially if she's accepted by all the guys.

Is it family friendly?  A scattering of bad language, lots and lots of PG-13-level violence, there's a torture sequence with little actual torture involved, there's a teensy bit of from-the-waist-up-and-from-behind nudity in a non-sexual context, and there are lots of very tense moments.  One of the most family friendly action movies I've seen -- no sex scenes, not even any kissing, and refreshingly little profanity.  Ilsa does wear a pretty skimpy bikini, though.

Bottom line?  I wanna see this again!