Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hark! The Herald Angels Blog! Vol. 1: What blog is this anyway?

I realise that we are a week away from reaching the mile-stone 18-month mark since I last posted. Plus, the overall purpose of this blog to try and get me to buy less stuff has FAILED.

Anyhow, I hope you like what's to come as I'm now going to sell out and venture into the land of the epic "Christmas Blog" for roughly 23 days as a trial run to see if I can get back into the swing of things.

Then, if you're very very lucky, I might even treat you to a post-Christmas New Year blog!

If that goes well, then you might well find yourself joining me to celebrate Blame Someone Else Day (13th January for any of those sad, sad people that aren't in the know) where I will do my usual schtick of making excuses as to why I haven't posted in 6 weeks then proceeding to talk about something completely irrelevant to the supposed subject of the blog and then trying to tie it in through some kind of strenuous link right at the very end.

But we probably won't get that far.

For now, though, I'm just going to post according to no schedule whatsoever about things that I enjoy at Christmas. Some of these posts might take place before Christmas even.

Favourite Christmas films?

Awesome Christmas songs?

Best ever Christmas TV specials?
Almost certainly.

Books and stuff?

Heart-warming tales of love, loss and Pellicans?

The world's most complete archive of excellent Christmas cracker jokes this side of Swindon?
I sincerely hope so.

So be prepared for the tiny and thoroughly underwhelming impact that this blog might well have over the course of your life for the next month.

Thank you. And good luck.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

School Of Rock

"What kind of a sick school is this?"

Amazon Synopsis
Jack Black plays unemployed slob and hell-raising guitarist Dewey Finn, who needs to make a few fast bucks after being kicked out of his rock band. Posing as his reformed rocker-come-substitute teacher flatmate, he falls into teaching a class of prepubescent stiffs. After over hearing the kids practice in their school orchestra, Finn decides to teach the kids "the power of rock", and fulfil his life long dream of entering the Battle of the Bands competition.

Released in October 2003, School of Rock was the sleeper-hit that shot Jack Black into movie stardom, and it's really not hard to see how. Specifically written with Black in mind, this is the one film that can actually handle his absurd comedical stylings, and it's his obvious passion for anything 'Rock' related that makes his performance shine.

Screenwriter Mike White provides an incredibly sharp script, and although it sticks to all of the school-based musical comedy conventions (coming across as a sort of Twisted-Sister Act) it undermines them as much as it exploits them, especially in the pitch-perfect punchline to the Parent's Evening scene.

However, this film would have no chance of working were it not for the extraordinarily talented young cast that make up the School of Rock pupils. Each one of these brings a specific personality to the film (even if a few of these can be quite broad or stereotypical), with Zack Attack, Spazzy McGee, Mr Cool and Tuna Sub representing the true heart and soul of the film.

To summarise, School of Rock is the perfect feel-good film, and certainly not in the way that 'feel-good' is often used as a stand-in for 'rubbish'. With a witty script, great performances and an encylopedic knowledge of music, School of Rock stands among the best music-based comedies I've seen.

Acting: 8.0
Cinematography: 6.8
Script: 9.0
Soundtrack: 10

Overall: 8.5 (not an average)

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Star Trek (2009)

"Don't pander to me, kid"

Amazon Synopsis
Both a prequel and a reboot, Star Trek introduces us to James T. Kirk (Chris Pine of The Princess Diaries 2), a sharp but aimless young man who's prodded by a Starfleet captain, Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), to enlist and make a difference. At the Academy, Kirk runs afoul of a Vulcan commander named Spock (Zachary Quinto of Heroes), but their conflict has to take a back seat when Starfleet, including its new ship, the Enterprise, has to answer an emergency call from Vulcan. What follows is a stirring tale of genocide and revenge launched by a Romulan (Eric Bana) with a particular interest in Spock, and we get to see the familiar crew come together, including McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), and Scottie (Simon Pegg).

Now this is how you make a prequel.

After the crippling disappointment of of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, few Star Wars geeks ever thought the salvation for their space-opera hunger would arrive in the form of a Star Trek film. And yet this epic retelling of the formation of the Enterprise crew owes more to the original Star Wars trilogy than it does to it's own 60's roots.

Par example:
Opening space battle between a small ship and a much, much larger one? Check.

Bar fights? Check.

Main character being called to adventures in space because of severe daddy issues? Check.

Planet Destruction? Check.

Two guys who originally clash becoming firm friends? Check.

Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the sometimes convoluted plot is bolstered down by some stellar character work and J.J. Abrams provides some excellent pacing and visual flair. Not only does this film pay homage to a number of Star Wars themes, but for the first time in thirty years manages to capture the same magic.

All of the actors involved are simply superb, respecting the original characters without tying themselves down to an imitation of the original interpretations. Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock are the obvious highlights of the film, whilst Karl Urban as Bones is an added bonus as the comic relief. However, where Star Trek stumbles slightly is in Eric Bana's Nero. Whilst the character's origins and motivations are interesting, Bana plays him as little more than a pantomime villain.

As per usual, Michael Giacchino's score is awesome, although subtlety goes out the window in preference to obviously heroic themes. As with the Bond reboot, the music gradually comes together over the course of the film until the original main theme for the franchise is unleashed in the final few seconds.

Overall, Star Trek is the perfect summer blockbuster film, providing lashings of fun adventure, whilst also providing new spins on familiar characters.

Now this is really how you make a prequel.

Acting: 9.0
Cinematography: 8.5
Script: 8.5
Soundtrack: 9.0
Overall: 9.0 (not an average)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Score Review: Cloverfield (Michael Giacchino)

Ok, so I know what you're thinking. What you're thinking is this:

Cloverfield?! As in Blair Godzilla?
That had music in it?
It even has an original score?!
Was I high or something when I saw it?'

The answer is yes to most of those, possibly even the last one.

And it's probably one of the best monster movie scores in the history of the planet.

It's just a shame that it's only 12 minutes and 17 seconds long.

It goes by the name of 'ROAR!'
It is a single track long.
It was composed by Michael Giacchino solely for the end credits.

And it's the best thing about the film.

This score doesn't just ROAR though..
It's gutsy.
It swaggers.
It kicks ass.

It's just

And it costs 79p on iTunes.

Do it. Now.

Rating: 10

Score Review: LOST - Season 3: Disc Two (Michael Giacchino)

As Season 3 was released in a two-disc set, and I'm fairly sure I have OGD (Obsessive Giacchino Disorder), I have decided to split the Season 3 review into two parts. This second part covers the second disc, appropriately enough, which includes music from Episode 21 (Greatest Hits) and Episodes 22 & 23 (Through The Looking Glass) of Season 3.

After the slump in general quality that was evident in the first half of Season 3, LOST noticeably picked up in these last few episodes. Because of this, Varese Sarabande decided to place the complete scores for the last 3 episodes of the season onto a second disc. However, whilst this is admirable in writing, the final result is one of the lesser releases for this TV show, both due to the below-average sound quality of the CD itself and the fact that there are far more worthy episode scores that should have recieved this treatment.

This is the only LOST Soundtrack disc that I have been underwhelmed by, and I very rarely listen to it as a whole. Because of the importance of the Others within the plot of the episode, we recieve an abundance of variations on the Other's Theme. However, this theme was adequately represented in the first disc of the Season 3 Soundtrack and so many of the variations come across as entirely unnecessary. Due to the fact that two of these three episodes are also Jack-centric, we are given a ridiculous number of variations on his themes as well, many of which were (again) covered in Disc One, and are (again) entirely redundant.

Due to the nature of this recording, many of the tracks are only a few seconds long, and the frequent ad break cliff-hanger cues become all the more obvious because of this format.

Now for the good stuff.

One character that has not received masses of thematic attention previously is Charlie, and before his noble death in the season finale we are treated to a number of variations on his Love and Temptation themes in the score for 'Greatest Hits', the final Charlie-centric episode. Of the tracks included, 'Ta-Ta Charlie' and 'Greatest Hits' are my undoubted highlights.

This release also includes possibly one of my favourite thematic developments in the entire show halfway through 'Act Now, Regret Later', whereby Hurley's playful running theme suddenly goes Santa-Rosa mental as he stages his heroic VW Bus rescue mission.

The other standout track is 'Flashforward Flashback' which is perfectly mysterious and emotional at the same time.

Overall, this release has some interesting variations on previously established thematic ideas, but it suffers from over-familiarity. I can't help but feel that the Season 4 finale would have made better use of such a release. This CD is also pretty much a raw recording from the episodes, meaning that the sound quality when turned up is relatively poor, with a musician audibly shuffling their sheet music or dropping their cello down the stairs every 10 seconds or so.

Rating: 6.8

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Score Review: Beauty And The Beast (Alan Menken)

Rescue it from an angry French mob... If you wish to own the peak of Disney musical magic, bar none.

Leave it holed up in the west wing... Actually, just don't.

Today, I'm going to review a rather different type of score to the usual stuff found here. Beauty And The Beast by Alan Menken, will be the first Disney musical score on this site, and for very good reason. Back when I was a young, young boy, my sister owned the film on VHS and after having to watch it about a hundred times in a week, I neglected to watch it again until only a few weeks ago. It was only then that I realised how unique it is compared to other Disney works, maintaining a surprisingly dark atmosphere for the majority of the film. This is reflected flawlessly in the score, and Menken's magical musical flavour and Howard Ashman's wordplay in the songs will be often repeated, but never bettered, in a literal flood of Disney musicals to follow.

Comparing Disney musicals of the early 90's to those of the late 90's is almost exactly the same as comparing the original Star Wars trilogy to the prequels. In both scenarios, the films entirely lose their magic through selling out the integrity of the stories (and songs in Disney's case) by replacing genuinely funny lines with silly pantomime-like antics designed to appeal only to children. In fact, the Beauty And The Beast film and score can quite easily be compared to Empire Strikes Back, due to it being the middle film of a grand trilogy (betwixt Little Mermaid and Aladdin) that is not only the darkest, but also the funniest, of the three.

The songs on this release are the undoubted highlight. Disney obviously also believes this to be the case,  piling all of the songs at the front of the disc, rather than leaving them interspersed with the rest of the score. This is not to say that the score isn't very good, as it's actually one of Menken's best, but the songs are of such a high quality that they overshadow everything else.

It's almost impossible to pick highlights, whether from the songs or score, due to the constant quality on show throughout. However, for me anyway, not much can beat the musical and lyrical genius of Belle and Gaston and their respective reprises. The two greatest character pieces in Disneys canon, these tracks introduce the story and style of the film staggeringly well, showing brilliant lyrical detail and hilarity, as well as giving a sublime showcase for Menken's talents.

I don't believe much more can be said about this score, as I'm sure the majority of you are already aware of it's brilliance. Beauty And The Beast makes some of the best use of theme and lyrics in Disney's history and is a worthy addition to anyone's collection, even those who are generally turned off by anything even remotely Disney-related.

Although, I do have a small negative opinion about this CD. I hate hate HATE the single version of the title song, being as sickeningly corporate and cheesy as it is. However, this can be easily fixed by making a copy of the original one (sung by the teapot) and sticking it at the back.

Rating: 10

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Score Review: LOST - Season 3: Disc One (Michael Giacchino)

As Season 3 was released in a two-disc set, and I'm fairly sure I have OGD (Obsessive Giacchino Disorder), I have decided to split the Season 3 review into two parts. This first part shall cover the first disc, appropriately enough, which includes music from Episodes 1 to 20 of the season, whilst the second part shall review the last few episodes of the season.

At the time, Season 3 was not a particularly well received season of LOST. However, this time, it had everything to do with the quality of the show itself. Everyone, including the writers of the show, knows that the first half of Season 3 at the very least was fairly pants compared to usual LOST standards. Luckily, Giacchino's score still held strong through tattoo-flashbacks, the death of one of the show's best characters in Mr Eko, the introduction of the show's two most annoying characters in Nikki & Paulo and a couple of truly awful Kate flashbacks.

In fact, the opening of this disc is absolutely perfect, full of unrelenting action and general awesomeness. The definite highlight of these is 'Fool me Twice', one of my favourite action tracks in the entire series. Taking place during an otherwise mediocre Jin & Sun episode, this thrilling cue marks the first time on CD that the Other's themes really come into their own:

The theme for the Others, whilst having obvious merit as a terrifying action theme, has some Giacchino variation-magic thrown at it later on this disc, proving to be an even more effective theme at showing the fractured nature of Benjamin Linus' sinister, but tragic, character:

Another notable theme on this CD is Jack's main theme. It is odd that this theme was written so late into the show, considering that Jack is first amongst equals in the LOST cast. The theme itself is great,  especially in 'A Touching Moment', making one of the best uses of the Cello so far in the series:

The theme is also very unique in the show, as it is the only theme that is actually played by the character it represents within the context of the show itself. Just prior to the scene above, Jack is seen playing the exact same theme on a piano in his room. The theme makes a number of appearances in this season to make up for it's earlier absense, although none of the variations provided are markedly different from any of the other's on this release, with the main differences being shifting of the instrumentation of the melody from piano to cello and back.

Speaking of unique uses of the score when compared to the rest of the show, in the episode 'Tricia Tanaka Is Dead', Giacchino takes a diagetic music source in the Three Dog Night song 'Shambala', and composes an exquisite string arrangement around it to close out the episode:

This CD also has it's fair share of romance themes, including Kate and Sawyer's Love Theme in 'Romancing The Cage' and 'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout 'Nothin'', as well as a more rounded variation of Desmond and Penny's Love Theme in 'Distraught Desmond', although once again it is unfortunately preceded by more tense Giacchino strings. Because of the general tone of LOST, this is a common recurring problem throughout the scores, whereby the tone drastically (and I really mean drastically) changes within a very short timeframe. There are too many tracks on these CDs where a melancholic melody will be stirring emotions within you to the point of tear excretion, only for a cliff-hanger to require that you suddenly be attacked by a loud, raucous trombone drop-off. This isn't something that I put against Giacchino though, as what he writes obviously has to fit what is seen on screen, and is more just an unfortunate side-effect of LOST's general style that is worth commenting on.

The more mysterious themes are also given a decent representation on this release, especially including the sublimely creepy 'The Island', which makes interesting use of percussion in conjunction with Locke's Hunter Theme:

Overall, the CD is a worthy release. Although it lacks the consistency of previous albums, it reflects the season well and introduces a number of very significant themes that are ripe for exploration. For example, from this point onwards, their won't be a single release that doesn't include some kind of interesting variation on Ben's theme.

Rating: 8.6