Music Break: Top 5 Fave Soundtracks from Henry Jackman

I had been listening to X-Men: First Class during my workout lately, one of my favorite scores of the past few years. Henry Jackman was a protégé of one of my favorite composers, Hans Zimmer, and he’s been churning out great works himself.

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Born in Middlesex, UK, Jackman studied classical music at St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir School, Eton College and Oxford University. He had been building a successful career in the recording industry, even releasing 3 solo albums, when he garnered the attention of Zimmer and John Powell, also a favorite of mine. He went on to work on composing additional music on such films as The Dark Knight, Kung Fu Panda and the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

Here are five of my favorites from his work:

X-Men: First Class (2011)

The music is one of the reasons I love this movie so much, and these two are my absolute faves. It actually made for a great workout music, but I also like listening to it when I need inspiration at work.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

I’m a huge fan of Alan Silvestri’s music work for the first Captain America movie, especially the end credits sequence. It was appropriately optimistic and patriotic. But Henry Jackman made an equally memorable score for the second one. It’s still got that positive, buoyant vibe, but somehow it feels more contemporary and slightly darker to go with the times and challenges Capt. has to face in modern times.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

One of the things I enjoyed about Kingsman is the fun, almost mischievous score that fits the movie perfectly. It’s got a bit of a James Bond-y vibe to it as well, which made me think he’d be a good fit to score a Bond flick in the future.

Captain Philips (2013)

This is such a beautiful, almost zen-like score but at the same time, it has a reflective, vigilant tone which is perfect given the ordeal the protagonist’s been through. It shows how versatile

Wreck-It-Ralph (2012)

I love that there’s a video game-y sound to this vibrant score. It sounds a bit similar to Big Hero 6 which Jackman also worked on that I quite like. It also sounds a bit retro which works for the story.

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I can’t wait to hear Jackman’s score for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War and Amazon’s original story based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, The Man in the High Castle. Interestingly both projects deal with a common enemy, the Third Reich.


Hope you enjoyed this week’s music break. What’s your favorite score from Henry Jackman?

Music Break: Five favorite scores from sci-fi movies about robots

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As Ted just reviewed Chappie this weekend, he mentioned that the only thing he liked in the movie was Hans Zimmer‘s score. So it made me think of other robot movies that have great, memorable soundtracks. First thing that came to mind is of course Pacific Rim, boy I love that movie and its soundtrack, but I’ve featured that in previous music break here.

So here are five of my favorite movies dealing with robots and/or artificial intelligence. It’s interesting how soulful most of the music of sci-fi movies can be, and Blade Runner in particular, have such an emotionally haunting quality about it. For some reason I didn’t include the A.I. soundtrack as one of my favorite John Williams’ scores which is a glaring omission as it’s just sooo beautiful. I also like the song For Always by Lara Fabian, but the instrumental side is even more gorgeous. So here they are in order of release:

Blade Runner (1982)

By Vangelis

 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

By Brad Fiedel

 

The Iron Giant (1999)

By Michael Kamen

 

Artificial Intelligence (2001)

By John Williams

 

Big Hero 6 (2014)

By Henry Jackman

 

BONUS:

I simply have to include this one even though it’s a TV series. My hubby is a big fan too, especially from the earlier seasons.

Battlestar Galactica (2004 Series) by Bear McCreary


Hope you enjoy this music break. What are some of YOUR favorite soundtrack from sci-fi movies about robots?

Music Break: Top 10 Favorite Film Scores of 2014

Top10FaveFilmScores2014I’m so behind on my year-end top ten lists, but hey, I think January is still a great time for those lists right? 😉 I was listening to NPR two nights ago and caught host Robert Siegel interviewing composer Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption, The Road To Perdition, Wall•E, etc.) and naturally I started thinking about some of my favorite scores from 2014.

Well, there are a few that I know would make my list, but it was pretty challenging to settle on the last three or four of them. If you’ve been keeping up with my Music Break posts, you might not be surprised by some of my picks here. Now, for this list, I’m focusing on instrumental film scores instead of songs. Thus you won’t see soundtracks of The Guardians of The Galaxy for example, though I think that’s awesome! I will cover the Top 10 Songs in a separate post.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

1. Belle – Rachel Portman

For some reason I had never paid attention to Rachel Portman‘s work before, though she had quite a stellar resume scoring for Emma (that won her an Oscar), Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, Never Let Me Go, etc. I absolutely adore her lush and elegant score she did for Belle and it just suits the tone of the film so well. I’ve listened to the entire soundtrack and loved every second! If you read my review, you know how much I adore this film and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s portrayal of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Portman’s music somehow captures Belle’s emotional journey as well as the romantic side of her relationship with John Davinier.

2. Breathe In – Dustin O’Halloran

After I saw this film, I was inspired to do a list of memorable piano moments on film, but I haven’t posted the score from the film. I’m not familiar with composer/pianist Dustin O’Halloran at all, but after this one, I definitely will keep an eye (and ear) out for him. There’s a bit of Philip Glass’ influence in his work here, and sure enough, when I checked on his Wiki page, he’s influenced by Glass as well as another favorite composer of mine, Ennio Morricone. I grew up listening to piano music as my mother’s a huge fan of French pianist Richard Clayderman. There’s something so ethereal about this score that makes me swoon. The film is atmospheric and intimate, and this music complements that tone beautifully.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Henry Jackman

One of my favorite Marvel superhero movies also have one of my fave soundtracks ever. Henry Jackman should just score every Marvel movie as I LOVE LOVE his X-Men: First Class soundtrack. I thought that Alan Silvestri’s fantastic job for the first Captain America film was hard to top, yet I think Jackman managed to do an equally phenomenal work here. The first one had a strong retro vibe with unabashed patriotism that’s fun and infectious. This one the nationalistic sensibilities is toned down a bit, but the score is still dynamic but a little darker and more ominous. It’s as if the music reflects Captain’s more conflicted moral sense as he navigates the more complex and intricate world he’s suddenly thrown into.

4. Gone Girl – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

I’m not always fond of electronic music but there’s something so hypnotic about the somber sound of Gone Girl’s score. It’s as beautiful as Amy Dunne, but just as unsettling. This Technically, Missing track is perhaps my favorite of the entire album. It’s spine-tingling yet lush, melodious yet haunting, exactly how you’d feel about this story. Every time the repetitive three notes are played, it always takes me back to that big sprawling house where the doomed couple descend into madness. This is Reznor/Ross’ third collaboration with David Fincher and they seem to be even more adept at capturing the psychology of his work.

5. Grand Budapest Hotel Alexandre Desplat

I first heard of the Desplat when he worked on The King’s Speech back in 2011, and ever since then I’ve become a big fan of this prolific and brilliant composer. I LOVE the more classical-tinged style of his work like The Painted Veil or Tree of Life, but I can’t help being entertained by the playfulness of this score. Just like the film, it’s just so quirky and whimsical and it definitely has a strong eastern-European sound. Desplat incorporates Russian folk songs and pieces and some were performed by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra.

6. How To Train Your Dragon 2 – John Powell

I LOVE John Powell‘s work for this animated feature. I actually love the score for the first film more, but the score of the sequel is equally excellent. I have featured the soaring Beyond the Clouds track before in a Music Break post back in June. Now this one is just simply a lush track including the sweet choir sound that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s truly an amazing and inspiring work that I love listening to time and time again.

7. The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat

It’s incredible how different this score is from The Grand Budapest Hotel, and this one sounds more like something I’d expect from Desplat. I love classical music and there’s definitely a lot of classical influence in his work. This particular score somehow captures that enigmatic and mysterious quality of the subject matter that is Alan Turing. It also has a tinge of sadness that really hits you in the gut as you listen to it. The repetitive quality somehow makes me think of the Turing Machine and its mechanical process. It’s amazing that according to IMDb, Desplat only had three weeks to score this film, and that’s that’s three weeks from signing on to finishing the last recording session! He said he had the same amount of time to score The Queen, too. Wow, they certainly got a genius to score a film about a genius.

8. Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

Speaking of a genius, is there anything Mr. Zimmer can’t do? Seems that no matter what genre, Zimmer somehow could create a music that complement the subject matter. Now, I’ve mentioned in my Interstellar review that I didn’t like how overpowering the music was when it’s played over scenes with dialog. But when I listened to it afterwards, I fell in love with it. Now that I think about it, I think I love the soundtrack much more than the film. It’s like a love letter to space exploration in musical term. It somehow captures the more grounded familial love theme of the story, as well as the grandiose cosmological journey that the characters – and us the viewers – experience. The entire soundtrack is phenomenal, but I like the slower, more introspective music than the more intense versions like the one used in the docking scene.

9. John Wick – Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard

Yet another electronic style music I’m loving from this year. This soundtrack, and this track in particular, has become a staple during my workout routine. It always adds a dose of adrenaline rush whenever I’m not feeling that motivated to get on the elliptical machine. There’s a retro vibe to this soundtrack that adds to the cool factor. It’s one of those pulsating soundtracks that a DJ could spin in a dance club, as John Wick himself performed lots of his dance of death in nightclubs or discotheques.

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10. Maleficent – James Newton Howard

In keeping with the darker, more mature story of Sleeping Beauty’s villain, gone are the chirpy and dreamy-like music of the original. Once Upon A Dream is one of my all time favorite Disney songs, and Lana Del Rey’s rendition will surely end up in my favorite 2014 songs list. Now, the score itself still retains that magical/fairy-tale quality with the composer commanding a large orchestra with a full choir. It’s lush and playful at times but not too Disney-fied the way say, Frozen was. This Maleficent Flies score, complete with the fairy dust sound effects, is just so ethereal and gorgeous. It’s easily my favorite and the one I remember most from the film.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Michael Giacchino

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Howard Shore

Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I – James Newton Howard

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So what do you think of my picks of favorite 2014 scores? Feel free to share your own favorites!

FlixChatter Review: Captain Phillips

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I’ve been seeing quite a bit of biopic feature films this past year but obviously not all are created equal. I think the BOATS (based-on-a-true-story) sub-genre is best handled when it focuses on a certain period of time and this is a great example of one. The title refers to Captain Richard Phillips, based on his book A Captain’s Duty which detaills his harrowing ordeal aboard cargo ship Maersk Alabama that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009.

The film didn’t spend much time on land, there’s perhaps only 10 minutes or so of exposition as the Captain was leaving to the airport with his wife. In the car they talk about their children and that they’re growing up in very different worlds from theirs. It shows that Phillips is just a regular family man who has the same worries as everybody else, and it’s just another day heading to work for the experienced mariner. Then the film contrast that scene with life in a coastal village in Somalia. A young, skinny Somali man is awaken by the ruckus outside his tiny hut of a home, it turns out the mercenaries are upset that the villagers haven’t gotten them any goods for their boss. That young man is Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi), and soon he gathers his team to go out to sea in search of a ship to hijack. It’s an intriguing slice of life of a community that’s rarely portrayed in film or the media, which actually paints these teenage pirates as destitute and desperate people who think they have no other way to make a living.

UK Director Paul Greengrass is no stranger to making an effective thriller, both fictional and non-fiction, but this one is perhaps one of the most gripping thriller I’ve ever witnessed. Right from the time the ship departs its port on its way to Mombasa, Kenya, there’s an eerie feeling that something bad is about to happen. Now, of course we know the horror that lies for the crew of 20 aboard Maersk Alabama, but it doesn’t lessen the sense of dread. Tension keeps mounting from the time the two skiffs show up on the radar and it never lets up until the end.

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The brilliant script by Billy Ray highlights the relationship between Phillips and the pirates leader Muse. He amusingly calls Muse ‘Irish’ after he tells him he’s of Irish-American origin. Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi couldn’t have a more different acting background, but both of them give such a tour-de-force performance. Abdi was plucked from obscurity when he won the role amongst 700 applicants in a casting call in Minneapolis, yet the Somali actor has the chops to goes toe-to-toe with the two-timed Oscar winner on his first feature film role ever. I like the fact that this film gives a layer of complexity to his character, not simply painting him as a one-dimensional devil incarnate but a desperate individual who’s in over his head and nowhere else to go. The other pirates, as well as the Maersk Alabama crew (notably Michael Chernus as Phillips’ first mate) also give a decent supporting role.

As for the main name on the marquee, Hanks puts forward one of his best roles in recent memory. It’s a raw and emotional performance but not without his reliable charm and wit. The third of the film when Phillips was being held hostage in a tiny lifeboat made me feel claustrophobic and I felt my palms getting sweaty during the negotiations scenes. It was at times way too intense for my comfort level, but it was worth seeing Hanks’ in one of the finest acting I’ve seen all year. He captures the human psyche of a man in his darkest hour. Even with all the courage he could muster, it’s obvious Phillips’ mental state is quickly in disarray and it was quite an experience to watch such a convincing, nuanced depiction.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hanks name in the Oscar’s Best Actor roster once again, as well as the talents behind the taut, cerebral thriller. I applaud Paul Greengrass‘ work here, his kinetic style makes me feel like I’m part of the action without rendering me dizzy. He employs some shaky-cam style but he does it well that it doesn’t make the experience unbearable. With the help of an astute script by Billy Ray‘s, meticulous cinematography by Barry Ackroyd and atmospheric score by Henry Jackman, this film offers us a lot more than just dynamic action. It’s interesting to note that Greengrass also work with real life (retired) SEALS for the rescue scenes, as well as the nurse towards the end. Those who have seen the film might enjoy this article.

So if you like your thrillers nail-biting, with white-knuckle tension and fine character study thrown in, then don’t miss seeing this one on the big screen.


4.5 out of 5 reels

What do you think of this film? I’d love to hear it!

Top 40 Reasons I Love X-Men: First Class

Happy Sunday, folks, hope you’ve had a pleasant weekend!

I’ve been wanting to do this post for quite a while as I haven’t got a chance to actually review this movie for myself (but Paula G did here). But as I said in my weekend roundup last week, it’s my top favorite movie of the Summer. After seeing it again for a second time last night, I wholeheartedly stand by that decision, in fact, it renews my appreciation of the X-Men franchise.

Yes, so I’m still not crazy about January Jones’ acting, or lack thereof, but I guess she’s supposed to be this icy queen, so in that sense she did what she was hired to do. Btw, instead of a straight on review, I’m inspired to do a similar post like what Stevee of Cinematic Paradox, listing 52 reasons why she loved Inception, but I’m doing a Top 40 instead (y’know, like Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40 for those of you growing up in that era, but in reverse order).

Btw, there are SPOILERS ABOUND in this post, so consider yourself warned:

1. Michael Fassbender Ian McKellen left a huge shoes to fill as Erik Lehnsherr but Fassbender manages to make the role his own.

2. James McAvoy – Who says the good guy has to be boring? McAvoy not only makes Charles Xavier a compelling character, but someone worth rooting for.

3. Matthew Vaughn’s stylish direction – even with so many characters, Vaughn keeps the movie moving at the right pace and keep the focus on the two most compelling characters.

4. Smart script and sharp dialog from Vaughn’s longtime collaborator Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass) and the guys who penned Thor, Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz

5. The splendid dynamic between Xavier and Lehnsherr, the best ‘frienemies’ of the superhero universe I’ve ever seen …

6. The retro 60s vibe – the cars, the clothes, down to the JFK news footage during Cuban Missile Crisis era

7. Living up to Vaughn’s promise of Cold War setting + a Bond flick + Frankenheimer political thriller… all in one movie!

8. The awesome soundtrack – done by Henry Jackman (who also worked on The Dark Knight’s soundtrack). The music has an epic feel to it as well as a 60s vibe that perfectly captures the mood of the film. I LOVE the score used in the trailer, I even play it over and over again just to hear it. But this one used when Magneto lifts the submarine is downright epic:

9. The Wolverine cameo… short and bad-ass. I had no idea he was going to show up the first time around so it was an awesome surprise, but it’s still clap-worthy even on second viewing.

10. Kevin Bacon as a larger-than-life Bondian baddie… an explosive one at that…

11. That whole scene at the beach…especially the part when a bullet hits Xavier’s lower back… I teared up both times.

I can’t feel my legs.

12. Magneto’s heartbreaking back story… right from the tragic opening scene at the Polish Nazi camp and at the hand of German-speaking Kevin Bacon as a Nazi officer

13. Oliver Platt as one of the first ‘Man in Black’ is one of the most fun roles I’ve seen him do in a long while

14. The cool looking black and yellow x-men uniform

15. The name Sebastian Shaw… seems destined for a powerful bad dude

16. Jennifer Lawrence’s affecting portrayal as Mystique …

17. The contrasting ideology of Xavier and Magneto … and how each came to such a viewpoint…

Erik Lehnsherr: After tomorrow, they are gonna turn on us but you are blinded because you believe they are all like Moira.
Professor Charles Xavier: And you believe they are all like Shaw.

18. The global feel – with the various filming locations and language spoken (German, Russia, France, etc.)

19. Michael Fassbender’s Bond-like moves, especially the scene in the Argentinian Alps

20. The often funny X-Men training at Xavier’s mansion… especially Banshee learning how to fly with his sonic-producing ability

21. The scene where Charles accesses Erik’s childhood memory with his mother, and both men cry

22. The complicated relationship between Xavier and Raven – who somehow grow up together like siblings

23. Seeing Xavier’s playful and flirty side in college – using his mutant thesis as a pick up line even!

24. The dazzling scene when Magneto lifts the submarine high above water …

25. Darwin’s awesome adaptability powers – it’d have been nice if he stayed around longer though

26. A wonderful metaphor for all the outsiders and outcasts amongst us.

27. Rose Byrne’s outfit as Moira… especially the classic trench she wore to attend Xavier’s presentation …

28. Magneto’s fascinating relationship with Raven/Mystique

29. All the close-ups of Fassbender, whether he’s in rage, sorrow or both

30. The moment Erik kills Shaw with the same coin he once gave him… most memorable villain’s death ever

31. Hank McCoy’s humorous introduction at the lab – I love Nicholas Hoult’s heartfelt yet cerebral portrayal …

32. The devastating moment when Charles and Erik realize they have to finally part ways and each mutant must then choose a side

33. The name Raven… which carries the same mystique as the character who possesses it

34. The whimsical tones throughout the movie, adding mutant-related humor that enhances the plot instead of simply being used as filler …

35. Magneto’s stopping dozens of missiles mid air…whilst look dashingly cool doing it

36. The mutant recruiting sequence, especially when Angel showed Erik and Charles what she’s capable of…

37. Eye-popping special effects throughout, especially in the third act of the film in the final sea battle scene

38. The scene when Charles first meets Erik under water

Erik: I thought I was alone.

Charles: You’re not alone, Erik. You’re not alone.

39. Xavier’s heart-wrenching wail when he realized Erik is defying orders not to kill Shaw

40. It’s the kind of superhero movie I like… the one with thrilling action coupled with tough moral dilemmas. In other words, it’s what a fun comic-book movie should be… bombastic, but with heart.

Beneath the spectacle, there are themes of ‘prejudice, fear of the unknown, being outcast, trying to find a place in the world’ – universal themes we can all identify with. I posted a countdown to this movie back in May, hoping it would be a return to form for the X-Men franchise, well suffice to say, Vaughn (and Bryan Singer as its producer) did not disappoint!

4.5 out of 5 reels


Well, do you love this movie/franchise as much as I do? Feel free to share what you think of it and add your own favorite part/scene from the movie.