Seven things I learned from my Sedona vacation

Hello folks! Miss me? 😉 Well I just got back from Sedona Sunday night and took an extra day off Monday just to recoup my energy.

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Being off social media for about a week was quite refreshing. I actually did stay off the blog and Twitter, but believe it or not, I got a lot of [script] writing done on the plane, as well in the shuttle to & from Phoenix – Sedona on my iPad. So obviously I can’t REALLY turn off technology entirely, not even for a day. But hey, I spent more times outdoors in one weekend than I do in a given month. Suffice to say, I didn’t see a single movie either, not even in the hotel or on the plane.

Here are 7 things I learned from my extended weekend Sedona trip:

1. Firstly, my blog friend Cindy Bruchman is simply awesome!! Not only does she run a terrific blog that I visit on a regular basis, she’s even more warm and wonderful in person. She took us hiking on the Airport trail, which was literally just yards away from the Sedona airport, so we could get 360˚ view of the red rocks canyon. I got a bit of a heat stroke or maybe just dehydration, so we stopped and sat down under a shade for about 10 min or so and she kindly gave me her apple that definitely helped get my blood sugar level up again. What a true friend she was!

So THANK YOU Cindy for one of the best blogger meet-ups ever, and for a phenomenal hiking experience like no other.
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2. You REALLY can’t take a bad picture in Sedona, so obviously my amateur photographer hubby (who I think could go pro if he wants to, and I’m not just saying that ’cause he’s my hubby) had a field day. There was a wedding going on as we climbed higher and the guide commented that the wedding photographer had it made as he simply couldn’t take a bad picture up there.

The red rocks around us are so majestic that my neck is still sore from just turning every which way just trying to take in the view. Here are two my hubby posted on his Instagram:

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Can you spot the couple on the cliffs?

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3. Dry heat is definitely more bearable. Even though it was a little over 100˚ while we’re out and about, it was surprisingly more comfortable than I thought. I was pleasantly surprised my hair didn’t turn into a pile of goo as it usually would under the extreme humidity of Minnesota Summer, so thank God for that! Of course the breeze whilst we’re on the Jeep also helped a ton. The sun is scorching though, I must’ve easily turned three shades darker in just a matter of minutes!

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4. Speaking of the Jeep, one of the best things we did in Sedona was doing not one but two Pink Jeep Tour excursions. The first one was the Scenic Rim Tour which was definitely the bumpiest ride as we got on the off-road trail where the elevation changes vary from 500 to 1500 feet. The view is absolutely spectacular, especially from Schnebly Hill Road as we looked down on the town of Sedona and saw the entire Verde Valley spilling into the horizon.

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5. I always love learning a bit about history, so for the second Pink Jeep Tour, we chose the Ancient Ruin Tour to visit this Honanki Heritage Site to look at 700-year-old Sinaguan cliff dwelling. Located about 16 miles from town, we then spent a half hour on the ¾ mile walk through the ruins and see the pictographs and petroglyphs up close. It was wildly interesting as well as impressive to learn just how advanced and obviously intelligent the Sinaguan tribes were. Those who are into UFO stuff would also find some of those pictographs VERY intriguing 😉

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Oh, on the way to the ancient ruin, we passed by this 1,100 year-old tree called the Alligator Bark Juniper, as the bark literally looked like Aligator skin. So it sort of contradicted the name Sinagua which is a combination of the Spanish words “sin agua,” which means “without water,” as there seemed to be an evidence that this could very well be a water source of some kind.

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tarantulahawk6. I literally never heard of this insect before this trip. Most people know — and are terrified of — Tarantulas, and really, who isn’t? Well, apparently there are more commonly found in hot places like Arizona, and there were warning signs (with pictures!) just before we hiked to the ancient ruin. Yes, extremely comforting indeed, not to mention the threat of rattle snakes which the guides named Jake [shudder].

But apparently, there’s an insect that scared the s#%* out of tarantulas, imagine that. It’s called the Tarantula Hawk. It’s a spider wasp which hunts tarantulas. According to Wiki, the female tarantula hawk captures, stings, and paralyzes the spider, then either drags her prey back into her own burrow or transports it to a specially prepared nest, where a single egg is laid on the spider’s abdomen, and the entrance is covered. As the guide was explaining this, I actually feel sorry for tarantulas… or anyone who’s unlucky enough to ever got bitten by this damned thing.

7. Sedona is charming even as the sun goes down. The moon is often visible just before the sun goes down and it’s so lovely to look at it peeking from behind those red rocks. Simply breathtaking. The temperature went down pretty fast as the sun goes down too, it was very comfortable around 6 o’clock or so when we’re done w/ the Jeep tour, so we got some chilled coffee drinks and just took in the amazing vista all around us.

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BONUS:
Ok so this is not really Sedona-related but close. There are great places to eat in Phoenix. It so happens that our pal Tony picked the best places to eat whilst we’re there. He lives in Tempe but commutes to Phoenix all the time. On the first night he took us to a great Korean BBQ place, but my fave place is definitely The Henry. Awesome bakery and breakfast food, plus I LOVE the decor and ambiance!


Hope you enjoyed my non-movie related post from my weekend vacation. We’re definitely going back to this picturesque town and maybe visit the neighboring towns, including the historic mining town Jerome which is close to where Cindy lives.

Have you been to Sedona? 

Everybody’s Chattin + Trailer Spotlight: The Big Short

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Happy Tuesday everyone! Well, it’s a three-day work week for me so technically today’s already *Friday* for me, wahoo! 😀  I’ll be taking a week blogging break as my hubby and I are flying to Arizona Thursday to hang out with an old friend of hours who moved there last year from MN. I’m also going to be visiting my friend Cindy B. whom I met through the blog! I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few blog friends over the years, it’s truly one of the perks of blogging! 😀

So about those links…

  • Speaking of Cindy, she just posted a classic review of The Terrace, starring real life couple Paul Newman + Joanne Woodward
  • Michael posted some thoughts on Sicario, which Ted will be seeing tonight as I can’t make it to the press screening. On a related note, Adam reviewed another Denis Villeneuve film, Prisoners.
  • Mark reviewed the acclaimed documentary AMY on Amy Winehouse, whilst Jordan apparently isn’t wowed by Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut The Gift.
  • Jay & her crew have been busy covering TIFF 2015 and posted this awesome TIFF by the numbers post.
  • A lot of Oscar front-runners are no doubt coming out of TIFF and other film festivals, but check out one of the most important blog award, that is Drew’s Fisti Awards on the year 1990
  • Last but not least, have you checked out Margaret‘s Tom Hardy Appreciation yet? I always love celeb crush appreciation, and who doesn’t love Tom Hardy? 😛


Trailer Spotlight: The Big Short

Boy, for some reason I hadn’t even heard of The Big Short! Apparently it’s been in the works for some time and even movie pundits thought it wouldn’t be ready until 2016. Well, today they released a trailer and sounds like this could be an award contender for Christian Bale and Steve Carell. I love the casting of those two, but why’s Bale sporting the same haircut as his younger Bruce Wayne days?? Despite my indifference (I’m being nice here) to Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling, I am looking forward to seeing this!

The film is based on the book by Michael Lewis (The Blind Side, Moneyball) focuses on men who made millions from a global economic meltdown. Here’s the official synopsis:

When four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: The Big Short. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything


I saw Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo in the cast list but I could barely spot them. Heck, Karen Gillan actually got third billing on IMDb but she’s not even in the trailer (or if she was, it must’ve been a blink-and-you-missed it moment). I have no idea how thisIMDb STARmeter works but how in the world is her starmeter higher than Carell AND Gosling?? [scratch head]

Anyhoo, a few trivia about this movie from IMDb… This will be Adam McKay‘s first time directing a drama and also his first film not starring Will Ferrell. I really enjoyed The Other Guys and Ant-Man but he also wrote Get Hard which I have absolutely no desire to see. We’ll see how he fares in a drama though it’s not devoid of comedic moments judging from the trailer. According to Michael Lewis (the author of The Big Short novel), the big four: Bale, Pitt, Gosling, and Carell all agreed to take significant pay cuts in order to be in the film.

According to THR, Oliver Stone’s Snowden moved out of the Christmas frame to 2016, opening up the slot for The Big Short. Paramount will release the film in limited release on Dec. 11 and then wide on Dec. 23. The film also will make its world premiere as AFI’s closing night film on Nov. 12. Man, there are SOOO many good movies coming out this Christmas.


So what do you think of The Big Short trailer?

Fall Movie Spotlight: Ridley Scott’s The Martian

You’re probably wondering why I’m suddenly blogging about this film, with just two weeks before its US release (October 2). UK folks actually will get this two days sooner on Sept. 30. In all honesty, up until fairly recently, I had been mostly blasé about this film, given my disappointments with Sir Ridley Scott‘s movies lately. I even skipped The Counselor but I somehow got around to seeing Exodus despite my dread, and though I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would, it still was such a letdown.

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But y’know what, the relentless campaign somehow succeeded in getting me more intrigued about this one and it seems that the reviews suggest that this could be a return to form for the 77-year-old prolific filmmaker. The Rotten Tomatoes summary said the film is “Smart, thrilling, and surprisingly funny…” hmmm, I’m most intrigued by the surprisingly funny part, esp. given the 141-min running time, a bit of humor goes a long way.

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

As for the casting, well I have to admit I was rather meh about Matt Damon casting, but perhaps because I was one of those who don’t care for his casting in Interstellar and he’s playing an astronaut yet again here. But yes I realize it’s a totally different character and I am intrigued by the MacGyver style survival story in space.

I do love the supporting cast! Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara … nice to see a trio of actresses in prominent roles. I’ve always liked Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Sebastian Stan and Chiwetel Ejiofor, so that’s very cool too. Interesting to see Ejiofor playing an Indian character, but apparently Irrfan Khan was originally cast but had scheduling conflict. Hey, even Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie whom I like in Headhunters is here, too!

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Another piece of trivia per IMDb, Drew Goddard, who wrote the screenplay for the film, was also at one point set to direct, but left that role to go direct the Sinister Six film. After that, Scott read the script and jumped into the project, rather than making a Prometheus sequel (I think that’s wise). I also didn’t realize that the writer of the novel Andy Weir first published his book for free on his own site as a blog for fun. Then people asked him to put it in a downloadable form, then people asked him to put it on Amazon for Kindle download which he did at the then min price of $0.99.

So apparently this movie had the coolest premiere ever… in the International Space Station! I guess that made sense as NASA was consulted while making the film in order to get aspects of space and space travel, specifically in relation to Mars, with the most accuracy.

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Well I’m seeing the film later tonight, and I thought I’d post three featurettes from the film. The marketing budget for this film is pretty massive, so we’ll see if it pays off.


So are you looking forward to seeing The Martian?

FlixChatter Review: BLACK MASS (2015)

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It’s been almost 20 years since the last time Johnny Depp starred in a modern gangster film, the vastly underrated Donnie Brasco. He’s now back playing another true life gangster character, James “Whitey” Bulger, the most violent criminal in South Boston.

Told in a flashback style, the film starts with the integration of Bulger’s crew members. In the 70s, Bulger was just a small time gangster but then rose to the top by becoming an informant to the FBI. We get to see that he has a normal life with a young beautiful wife Lindsey (Dakota Johnson) and a son. His brother Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the state senator, so we know he has a powerful ally.

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We’re then introduced to an FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who happens to be a childhood friend of the Bulger brothers. Connolly wants to move up the ranks in the FBI office and one day asked Whitey to help him bring down the Italian mafia. Whitey was hesitant at first; he doesn’t want to be known as a “rat”. Connolly convinced him otherwise and as the story progresses, we get to see how far both of these men will go to get what they want. For fans of gangster genre, there are not many new things that haven’t been told before cinematically.

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Depp has been getting lots of good buzz on his performance and I believe he deserves all the praise. At first I thought I was going to see Depp acting like the usual Depp’s character. But to my surprise, he really shines here as the ruthless gangster who has no hesitation to kill anyone who wronged him or come in his way. Bad makeup aside, he really brought a chilling portrayal of a psychopath and made me believe that this was the real Bulger.

The other standout performance belongs to Edgerton, he plays a weasel FBI agent that reminded me of Matt Damon’s character in The Departed. Cumberbatch didn’t really have much to do and his *Boston* accent was kind of distracting a few times. He did have a very good scene with Edgerton though; it’s a scene you’ll have to see to appreciate.

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The last film director Scott Cooper made was the uneven and quite frankly, very frustrating Out of the Furnace. Here he kept the pace moving quite nicely; I’m surprised that he was able to keep the film’s runtime in just over 2 hours. He pretty much borrowed every element from other films such as Goodfellas, The Godfather, The Departed and so on. It’s not a knock on him but I wish he came up with his own style to tell this story.

Even though I thought it’s a good film, I can’t say it’s a great one. This kind of story has been told many times before and I think with a more talented director behind the cameras, this could’ve been a great flick. I’d say see it just for Depp’s and Edgerton’s performances, those two really saves the film from being another average gangster thriller.

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So have you seen Black Mass? Well, what did you think?

Thursday Movie Picks #62: Journalist/Reporters for Print/TV

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Movies featuring journalists/reporters for print/TV

I LOVE this month’s theme as I actually wanted to be a journalist growing up. I was thisclose to enrolling in Journalism major in college before I switched to Advertising. I like a lot of film that involve journalism, especially investigative journalism that continues to be an intriguing subject today. In fact one of the films I’m anticipating later this year that screened at TIFF is SPOTLIGHT, about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the child molestation scandal within the local Catholic Archdiocese. These three films also involve scandalous events that’s notable in their time.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

All The President’s Men (1976)

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Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation.

This was one of my Blindspot picks of last year and I’m glad I finally saw it. It’s as much a detective tale as it is about journalism. I like how the story stays focused on the investigative aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Robert Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life. The two leads Redford and Dustin Hoffman are in top form here, but it also feature fantastic supporting performances from Hal Holbrook who played Woodward’s extremely secretive source, “Deep Throat.”

The Insider (1999)

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A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco

This film (as well as HEAT) is why I will always admire Michael Mann. I was disappointed by Blackhat but I think he’s still a phenomenal filmmaker that can infuse such a compelling drama to an otherwise ho-hum story. Russell Crowe gave one of his best performances in his illustrious career, which I think deserved a Best Actor Oscar more than his role in Gladiator. I dedicated this post to highlight some of the scenes I love from this film. The relationship between Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), the whistle blower of the mammoth tobacco company Brown & Williamson’s and Lowell Bergman, a senior producer on 60 Minutes (Al Pacino) is compelling to watch. It’s amazing how even just two people talking on the phone can be so riveting, but that’s the genius of Mann’s style. Lots of great supporting cast here too, most notably Christopher Plummer as the legendary CBS News reporter Mike Wallace, Bruce McGill as trial lawyer Ron Motley, and Michael Gambon as the top tobacco company exec.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

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Based on a true story, this is about the Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, a reporter for The Sunday Independent, who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons and drug lords in 1996.

One of my all time favorite Cate Blanchett performances, where she totally disappeared into   her role. Cate not only portrays the feisty reporter, she embodies the journalist’s incredible valor in investigating Dublin’s drug trafficking. You immediately believe her as the character and the Aussie thespian even nailed Guerin’s Irish accent convincingly. I know some of you might be put off by Joel Shumacher as director, but it’s a good film, so give it a shot if you haven’t already. It’s one of the great examples of the danger of investigative journalism and how some of them are truly unsung heroes for their bravery to expose things that are harmful to society.

 

BONUS PICK

Philomena (2013)

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A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

I already had the three above locked down but I still want to include this film as I haven’t reviewed it yet. I LOVE Dame Judi Dench and she’s simply phenomenal as Philomena (hey that rhymes :D) Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the script) played the disgraced former journalist Martin Sixsmith who ended up coming alongside Philomena Lee in her journey to find her long lost son. A lot of his acting consist of bewildered reaction to Philomena, especially the part where she basically divulges the entire plot of a trashy book she’s reading that he couldn’t possibly be more disinterested in. It’s a bittersweet story that made me laugh and cry. Dame Judi is mesmerizing here and she’s as effortlessly adept in comedy as she is in dramatic roles. I find the story to be poignant, thought-provoking, and profoundly moving.

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What do you think of my picks? Which movies involving journalism/reporting are your favorites?

Mini Reviews: Hitman Agent 47 | Seeking A Friend For the End of the World | The Last Flight

I wrote some of these reviews last week, but just haven’t got around to posting ’em. I haven’t got much time to write reviews lately, as I’d rather devote my time to my script. But at the same time, I do have something to say about some of the movies I saw, so why not write about ’em, right?

So here we go:

Hitman: AGENT 47 (2015)

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I quite enjoyed this but I realize it’s an easy target for critics who probably expected too much from this video-game adaptation. It’s a popcorn action flick, something that doesn’t demand much from you intellectually, so just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. I had a low expectation but I thought the story was pretty decent and at 96-min-long, it moved along pretty swiftly.

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I quite like Hannah Ware whom I’ve never seen before. Nice to see that her character is actually the heart of the movie. Style-wise it’s got plenty, I mean you watch this kind of movie to see the high octane shoot-em-ups, so I wasn’t disappointed. Rupert Friend makes for a pretty efficient, if not wholly-charismatic killing machine, but I think he fits the role well. Zachary Quinto is pretty much playing a similar character to Sylar in the Heroes series, but he’s watchable enough. I actually like this one overall than the previous Hitman movie, so definitely NOT as horrible as critics made it out to be.

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Seeking A Friend For the End of the World (2012)

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I was mostly curious to see this for the pairing of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley and on that front I enjoyed this quirky comedy/drama. As the title says, an asteroid threatens an apocalypse and a man (Carell) whose just been jilted by his wife decides to take a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart, Knightley plays the neighbor who somehow ends up tagging along.

SeekingAFriend2SeekingAFriend1 The two surprisingly have an interesting chemistry, but the movie is kind of uneven and at times I couldn’t really get into the story. Fortunately the ending is pretty sweet and it wasn’t as predictable as I had dreaded. So overall, it’s worth a look for the cast and the fact that it breaks the stereotypes in terms of casting, not just the two leads but some of the characters they meet along the way.

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The Last Flight/Le dernier vol (2009)

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This is another film I was curious about because of the pairing of the actors, Marion Cotillard and her real life partner Guillaume Canet. I LOVE Cotillard, she’s one of those actresses I’d watch in practically anything. Here she plays an aviator Marie Vallières de Beaumont who goes on a journey to find her lover after his plane disappears in the Sahara. In her quest, she encountered a French lieutenant Antoine Chauvet who loves the Tuareg people and even speak their language and has a Tuareg lover. In the course of their arduous journey, they develop feelings for each other.

TheLastFlight2 Now, the story is VERY loosely based on a real life adventure of British aviator Bill Lancaster, but they pretty much only used his name and a small part of his life for this film, the rest are fiction. I wish they had actually adapted Lancaster’s real story, it’s far more compelling and has more drama! Sometimes truth IS stranger (and more interesting) than fiction.

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This French film has gorgeous visuals of the desert landscape, filmed in Morocco. Director Karim Dridi seem to be a big fan of Lawrence of Arabia as some shots look like an homage to that David Lean classic. But the pace is s-l-o-w and the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere and a little bit of the intense pieces seem disjointed from the rest of the film. If it hadn’t been for the performance of the two leads, I might’ve turned this off halfway through. There’s a line from the film that says “I’m afraid I’ve taken you nowhere.” Well, the same could be said for the film itself. I don’t regret watching this one, but still I wish it were a lot better.

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So have you seen any of these? Let me know what you think!

Music Break: Far From The Madding Crowd (2015)

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I’m in the romantic period drama mood this week as I’ve been listening to the beautiful scores for Pride & Prejudice, Belle (one of my top 10 scores of 2014)… and this one. Though I wasn’t as enamored as I would have with Far From The Madding Crowd (due to the Tom Sturridge miscasting as Troy), I actually want to see this again. It’s too bad because all the promos of Bathsheba and him kissing in the woods are so breathtakingly gorgeous… I think he works better in a still shot :\

But one of the things I do LOVE about this film is the absolutely gorgeous music by Scottish composer Craig Armstrong. I’m going to have to do a separate tribute for him as I love his work, esp. for Moulin Rouge!, Love Actually and The Great Gatsby. But for now, I just want to highlight his work on this film.

Here’s Hollow in the Ferns track, which reminds me a bit of John Barry’s Somewhere in Time.

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I adore Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, she is lovely and believable as the strong yet vulnerable heroine. I’ve been a fan of her as an actress but I also love her voice! She sang in Inside Llewyn Davis but I really, really like her singing voice here. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is featured in the trailer as well and it’s just beautiful! I definitely would include her on my list of actors who are surprisingly good singers.

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Come all you fair and tender girls
That flourish in your prime
Beware, beware

Keep your garden fair
Let no man steal your thyme
Let no man steal your thyme.

For when your thyme it is past and gone
He’ll care no more for you
And every place where your thyme was waste
Will all spread o’er with rue
Will all spread o’er with rue.
The gardener’s son was standing by
Three flowers he gave to me

The pink, the blue, and the violet true
And the red, red rosy tree
And the red, red rosy tree.

But I refused the red rose bush
And gained the willow tree
That all the world may plainly see
How my love slighted me
How my love slighted me

 


Hope you enjoy today’s Music Break. What score(s) have you been listening to lately?