Tag Archives: movie scores

Hidden Figures

America, 1960s: the country is still very much divided by colour. Martin Luther King Jr is marching, JFK appears to be listening, but black people are still drinking for different fountains, still sitting at the back of the bus. Meanwhile, at NASA, about 2 dozen black women are working their fingers to the bone (actually, working their brains dry – they’re not labourers, they’re computers in the time before computers were machines). Does hf-gallery-04-gallery-imageNASA pay them equally? Not by a long shot. Treat them fairly? Not so much. Promote them? Never. But hire them they must because there’s a space race on with the Russians, and they can’t afford not to hire the best and the brightest no matter the skin colour encasing the brains.

These women, buried deep in the basement of a building far away from the main action, are fighting prejudice on two levels: race and gender. Hidden Figures follows 3 of them, real-life women who helped launch John Glen into space. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) does the work of a supervisor without the title or the pay. Not only does she get shit done, she intuits that the future of her computing department is changing and she takes it upon herself to learn the language of the future  – and International Business Machine is being installed painstakingly at NASA, and she’ll be the one to learn its code, and teach it to others. Mary Jackson (Monae) has an engineer’s talent and mind but she can’t get her credentials to match because the only education opportunity is at an all-white school. Katherine Johnson (Henson) is a single mother as well as a mathematical genius. When NASA discovers her talent she works overtime to help invent the new math necessary for John Glenn’s orbit while still drinking out of the “colored” coffee pot.

Hidden Figures is conventional story-telling all the way, relating the story of ground-breaking women in the least ground-breaking way possible. But it’s crowd-pleasing: it thumbnail_24795had the audience applauding. These women are so inspirational that it would be hard to mess up the story, and Hidden Figures manages not to stand in its own way. At the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, Pharrell Williams, who collaborated on the score with Hans Zimmer, gave a concert of all the original music he’d worked on for the film. I worried that he might overshadow the film, but in fact his music fits right in very comfortably, establishing the time period in a pop-heavy way.

The cast is stacked with heavy-hitters. Octavia Spencer is nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, and she’s as good as we know she can be. But I was impressed with Taraji P. Henson, who plays a vamp and a bit of a diva with the press, and an outspoken, strong contender on Empire, but in Hidden Figures managed to play bookish and humble with a shy strength and subversive self-confidence.

Hidden Figures is a feel-good tribute; a story that was meant to be told. The script is a charmer, and surprisingly humourous, and the three leads infuse it with power. Sure it’s a bit run-of-the-mill, but it’s also a positive way to start the new year, and a movie you won’t be able to resist.


Without knowing much of his back story, or any plans for his future, we experience the day-to-day existence of home care nurse, David (Tim Roth). Extremely compassionate toward his terminally ill patients, he devotes himself to their care and comfort, forming a special kind of intimacy that’s hard to understand from the outside.

But for all of David’s efficiency and dedication with his clients, his personal life is a wreck. He’s healing from some sort of trauma, isolated and depressed, secretly needing his clients as much as they need him.

chronicI found this film to be deeply moving, not least of all because of Tim Roth’s strong performance. He brings dignity but also humanity to the role. We slip easily into the shoes of both care giver and the cared for, and both are unsettling experiences.

Director Michel Franco keeps us grounded in each moment by omitting a musical score. There are no distractions to be found in Chronic.

Franco’s camera, conservative in movement and breadth, penetrates to the fragile core of life, and stays beyond the last breath. The stillness of the picture forces us to feel each second ticking by, life slipping slowly between the fingers, blood pumping toward its finale. Franco’s tone matches Roth’s reserved performance, the colours subdued, the sound restrained. This proximity to death and the realism of what’s on screen is uncomfortable. You might even wonder if it’s worth going through this hardship, but that’s exactly how you should be feeling: to be the nurse in a palliative situation is much worse; to be the patient, unthinkable. Until it isn’t. Until one day it’s you, or your mother, or your spouse. And that’s what’s most disquieting. Michel Franco is voyeuristic as a director, and we sense the detachment, and its necessity.

Chronic is cold, bold, and a stark reminder that in the end, death comes for us all.

A Tribute to James Horner

jameshornerJames Horner died yesterday when the plane he was piloting went down.

He’s probably best known for his work composing the score to Titanic, but he’s actually done the music for 75 movies, making his feature-film debut in The Lady in Red, and breaking through with 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” He of course won two Oscars for his work on Titanic (best original score, and best original song for that Celine Dion travesty, My Heart Will Go On) and has a total of ten nominations under his belt. He worked with James Cameron originally with Aliens, and again on Avatar, and scored lots of other blockbuster movies, like Braveheart and Apollo 13.

He was a well-educated musician, studying piano at London’s Royal College of Music hornerand earning a music degree from the University of Southern California, and then his master’s and doctorate from UCLA. He was an accomplished concert hall composer before he followed his roots and made the move to movies – his father, Harry Horner, was a set designer and occasional art-director.

Horner composed the soundtrack of my childhood – An American Tale, and The Land Before Time were both beloved in my household, and while I remember the mouse with the big floppy ears, and the earnest little dinosaurs, I also remember the music.

A brilliant man gone to soon leaves behind quite a legacy. His most recent work was for the Jake Gyllenhaal movie Southpaw, but a list of his contributions makes it clear that if you’ve ever been to the movies, chances are, you’ve been a Horner fan all along: 48 hours, Cocoon, Willow, Field of Dreams, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Glory, The Rocketeer, Patriot Games, Legends of the Fall, Deep Impact, The Perfect Storm, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind, House of Sand and Fog, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Amazing Spiderman. He’s made a huge impact on movies, and on all of us. We’re sad to see him go.

Brilliant Composer James Horner, friend & collaborator on 7 movies has tragically died in a plane crash. My heart aches for his loved ones. -Ron Howard

There is nothing that shaped my movie-going experience more than the musical genius of James Horner. He will live on through the ages. – Rob Lowe

RIP James Horner. Thank U for the beautiful music. We will miss what beautiful music was yet to come. – Diane Warren

Rene and I are shaken by the tragic death of James Horner, whom we considered a friend. We will always remember his kindness and great talent that changed my career. We send our prayers and deepest condolences to his family and friends. -Celine Dion

Under the Skin (is Under Mine)

Under the Skin is described as a science-fiction-horror-art film. I hardly know how to talk about Scarlett Johansson as this alien seductress but what I can’t help talking about is the thing that’s still haunting me three days later: the score.

It was composed by the brilliant Mica Levi (and produced by Peter Raeburn, who recommended her to director Jonathan Glazer). Mica primarily used the viola to write and record the music, deliberately seeking out the most “identifiably human” sounds the instrument could make. She

Insert creepy music here

Insert creepy music here

then altered the pitch and sometimes the tempo of these sounds to “make it feel uncomfortable” which she accomplished with crazy amounts of success, I tell you what. It made me monumentally, UNCOUNTABLY uncomfortable.

Glazer had her writing music to express Johansson’s feelings as her character experiences things for the first time, with the music following and reflecting her in real time, so to speak – “What does it sound like to be on fire?” he asked of her, and oddly, she had an answer. Another scene where the alien Scarlett attempts to eat cake is a stand-out for me, but is actually accompanied solely be the normal clatter of a popular family diner. The stark absence of scoring is as jarring as the creepy, otherworldly music can be.

The greasy, sinister sound of the viola is accompanied by percussion whenever a new man (victim?) follows Scarlett into the abyss. This music is unrelenting and aggressive, and it repeats with each new conquest. In an article for The Guardian, Levi wrote: “Some parts are intended to

Mica Levi, photo by Steven Legere

be quite difficult. If your life force is being distilled by an alien, it’s not necessarily going to sound very nice. It’s supposed to be physical, alarming, hot.” Well, I’ll give her alarming. And unnerving. The sound is experimental, but at times she can get a whole orchestra in on it and it gives you the shivers.

Pitchfork wrote that “the strings sometimes resemble nails going down a universe-sized chalkboard, screaming with a Legeti-like sense of horror.” There’s nothing hummable or toe-tappable in this soundtrack, but it’s filled with innovative sounds that your body reacts to on a visceral, immediate level, leaving your mind racing to catch up.

I still can’t get those strings out of my head. They contribute to an audio-visual experience that’s unequal parts tension, perversion, anticipation, anxiety, and a big ole dose of the willies. The willies! Oh man, tonally and aesthetically this movie is disturbing. I’m disturbed, guys. There’s no going back.

Movies That Make You Go Hmmmmm

Last week I talked a little bit about the needle drop – that moment in a movie where the director uses a recognizable pop song to elevate the scene and tell us a little about what’s going on. A lot of you shared your own musical moments, and Matt was kind enough to remind me not of his favourite song, or even mine – but of my least-favourite movie song. And the thing is, it’s not even a bad song. How You Like Me Now? by The Heavy was absolutely brilliant the first time it was used. Eighty seven overuses later, it’s way past its peak. Now when I hear it in a movie, as I invariably do at least monthly, as you do too I’m sure, plus in commercials and video games, I involuntarily grind my molars into dust. That song is like nails on a chalkboard to me. So thanks, The Heavy, for selling out at every possible opportunity (I don’t really blame you for this), and a big ole thank you to every unimaginative director who took the path so well-travelled it’s now visible from space – and especially to the Horrible Bosses franchise that’s now used it in both its movies despite being helmed by different directors. So to cleanse my palette and get back on topic, I present you my favourite songs in movies that I couldn’t quite squeeze into the last post, me being excessively verbose and all.

I have to reach way, way back to tell you about the first song I probably ever took notice of in a movie. It’s called One Tin Soldier by Coven, and it appeared in a Billy Jack movie, circa 1971 which is wayyyy before I was even born. But for some reason I enjoyed watching it with my  mother. It was our thing. Also probably the first rape scene I witnessed. This is so old that Youtube won’t really cooperate with me, so the clip is the song with random Billy Jack ‘highlights.’ Am I the only one who knows this movie? Tom Laughlin plays the title character, a half-Indian, ex-Green Beret turned pacifist who loves horses and the hippie free-arts school out in the desert that he’s constantly called to defend. The song personifies the peace-loving, anti-establishment, inclusive, liberal leanings that roll into the character, and it’s likely the first non-Care Bears song I learned by heart. My mother, maybe 15 years ago, without the help of Google or Ebay or other helpful tools available today, tracked down a DVD copy of the movie for me. I tried to watch it with my husband and we didn’t make it all the way through. It’s hard to see what a little girl once saw in this film, but I still have warm fuzzy feelings about it nonetheless.

The Real Slim Shady, Eminem from 21 Jump Street

I love this. There’s not a single word to this joke, but Jonah Hill sets it up visually, and Slim Shady lands the punch line with a song. Not only does it prepare you for how ridiculous this movie is going to get, it’s also a pretty good indicator of the loserdom this guy – the not-so-slim shady – attained in high school. Hill fought for this scene and I hope someone has since apologized to him for giving him a hard time because it earns such a huge laugh right off the bat and sets the tone for more to come.

Colorblind, The Counting Crows from Cruel Intentions

Such a melancholy song, it was part of my own teenaged, angsty soundtrack. The song plays just as icy virgin Annette (Reese Witherspoon) and reckless ladies’ man Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) finally admit to (and give in to!) their feelings for each other. The chorus repeats “I am ready” and I think both characters are identifying with that sentiment each in their own way. To this day I get the tingles down under when I hear this song. But this movie did several songs well – the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony at the end comes to mind as a really great closing argument.

Ain’t No Sunshine, Bill Withers from Notting Hill

I had a long-standing affinity for Bill Withers long before this movie ever came about, but I think this scene from Notting Hill just about writes the book on exactly how a song should be used in a movie. His love is gone, and while life goes on, it’s got a little less flavourful now, a little less sunny. Hugh Grant morosely shuffles down Portobello Road as the seasons change around him – a long shot that was apparently 4 separate shots, one for each season, digitally edited so they appear seamless. Time passes but the song tells us that she may be gone, but she’s not forgotten.

If You Want Blood, AC/DC from Empire Records

This soundtrack brought us all kinds of gems – notably, The Gin Blossoms’ Til I Hear It From You for the more romantically inclined, but my heart goes pitter-patter for AC/DC instead. And who among us can’t identify with a little air guitar? Anyone here not guilty? No? Didn’t think so. One of my absolute favourite teen comedies from a time when I myself was a teen, I can totally relate to blowing off steam by turning up a good tune to 11 and letting go. Still my go-to song for cleaning house.

Born To Be Wild, Steppenwolf from Easy Rider

This song is easily one of the most over-used today, but Easy Rider may have been the first, and was certainly the most ingenious. This song is MEANT to be paired with wind-tousled hair and freedom. It embodies exactly what this movie is all about.

All The Single Ladies, Liza Minelli from Sex And the City 2

If you know me even just a little bit, then you know this is the single greatest thing to ever happen to me at the movies. I didn’t have an inkling going in, so when the effing legendary & eminently fabulous Liza Minelli makes an appearance at the most over-the-top, incredigay wedding of the century, singing the IT Beyonce song of the moment, I nearly died. And I would have died a happy camper, I’ll tell you that much.

Oscars 2015: Sound Mixing and Editing, Film Editing, and Original Score

Best Sound Editing 

What is sound editing and how is it different from sound mixing? I myself didn’t know until today and understanding the difference is sure to give us some advantage in our Oscar pools. Sound Editing, which used to be called sound effects editing, is basically just the recording or creation of a sound. For example, in American Sniper, the sound editor would either have to findAmerican Sniper or make a recording of a gunshot or something that sounds like it. Speaking of sound effects, if you haven’t seen Berberian Sound Studio, you definitely should.

The nominees are…

American Sniper


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies



Ihaven’t seen Unbroken or The Hobbit so I can’t comment on thosee. Luc, Jay, and I have all predicted a win for American Sniper while Sean went his own way by putting his money on Interstellar. Now that I know what sound editing is, I think he may have made the right choice. InterstellarWhen I first reviewed Interstellar last year, I complained that I could barely hear the dialogue over the score and sound effects. Now that I’ve done my research and know that I should be taking this up with the sound mixer, I’m thinking about what it was like to see Interstellar in IMAX. The sound was as impressive as the picture. I was as blown away as I was when I first saw The Dark Knight or Inception on the big screen, both of which won the Oscar.

Sound Mixing 

Sound mixing is exactly what it sounds like. All the sounds that have been collected by the sound editor must now come together in a way that makes sense. The gunshot in American Sniper has to ring out over the sounds of the city and, I’m talking to you now Interstellar sound mixer, never drown out the dialogue.

The nominees are…

American SniperWhiplash script


Interstellar (seriously?)



Sean, always marching to the beat of his own drum, has strayed again and predicted a win for Whiplash. The rest of us are sticking with American Sniper. Sean has a point. There’s a lot going on around the sounds of live music in the movie but war movies have a lot of sounds and must be complicated to mix so I’m sticking with my guns.

Film Editing 

This is always an exciting category, Even if we don’t comment on it, we aall appreciate good editing and know it when we see it. The hnominees are…

untitledAmerican Sniper


Thel Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


These five film’s are so well made that I’m amazed that three of us were able to agree. Luc, Jay, and I all picked Boyhood and Sean is going with Whiplash. Boyhood edited together 12 years of footage so that’s tough to beat. I’m hoping for a tie between Boyhood and Grand Budapest though.

Original Score 

The Grand Budapest HotelGrand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


Mr Turner

The Theory of Everything

I thTheory of Everything musicought the music in Interstellar was too manipulative and- as I’ve said before- loud. The score for The Imitation Game was too conventional and the one in Mr Turner seemed to belong in another movie. That leaves Budapest and Theory of Everything, both of which are very nicely done. Sean, Luc, and I have picked Grand Budapest Hotel while Jay is banking on a win for Theory of Everything. TOE won the Golden Globe which is something. Not to mention that it’s beautiful music that fits the tone of the movie. I still like Budapest though which may make an even better marriage between images in music. I’ll be interested to see what happens on Sunday.



This movie was on fire. Both Miles Teller and JK Simmons are AMAZING but even the director (Damien Chazelle) was an unseen stand-out, somehow crafting a movie about drumming into an intensely psychotic thriller. The editing is almost violent,infusing the movie and the music with a crazy amount of energy.

Miles Teller plays a kid at an exceptional music conservatory who gets taken under the wing of a  teacher (JK Simmons) so exacting that he moulds his students into better musicians, or else. And you’d better believe that threat is real. The kids in his class certainly do. Blood, sweat, and tears are all part of the visceral experience of this film.

I watched this movie wracked with Whiplash_postertension, the kind usually reserved for a movie where the villain wields a knife, not a conductor’s baton. JK Simmons is absolutely brilliant, stunning and revolting. Each time he pulls back his hand to halt the band, it’s like he has a super power that sucks the energy out of the room. He’s like a general in front of his army. He’s erect, he’s controlling, he is bubbling rage personified.

But for me, the most fascinating thing about this movie is the way it presents such a cracked view of an abusive relationship. This man is sadistic. He doesn’t throw chairs at people’s heads just to make them play better (although he seems to believe in this motivation), he also does it because he likes. He has power, and he abuses it, and he enjoys abusing it. That’s sick, but it’s also not unusual. What’s really wrenching is that it’s not just Teller buying into it, he’s just one of three guys who are ready to be absolutely destroyed by this man, competing for his abuse, killing themselves to please an unpleasable man. They keep going back for more and it’s just so fucking despicable. And I ate it all up.


Golden Globes – Best Original Score

The Nominees:

The Imitation Game’s Alexandre Desplat

The Theory of Everything’s Johann Johannson

Gone Girl’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Birdman‘s Antonio Sanchez

Interstellar’s Hans Zimmer

This category will probably bubble down to a battle of the British biopics. Johannson has never even been nominated but stands a good chance. You can’t count Zimmer out because it’s Zimmer, but if you read our Interstellar reviews, you know that we found the music to be ‘loud’ and ‘too loud’ and ‘kind of manipulative’ rather than particularly good. Desplat is an awards darling and could just as easily been nominated for his stellar work in The Grand Budapest Hotel as well. He’s not undeserving and his score for The Imitation Game is beautiful.

I hope, though, that the Globes will surprise us all and declare Antonio Sanchez the winner. When I reviewed Birdman, I felt the score was almost another character. His drum beats become a part of the movie, sometimes subtle and other times propulsive and assertive. Drums are not normal fare for a movie composer, but this is part of what Birdman such an exhilarating movie. It takes risks. Sanchez’s work weaves itself into the story and gives it life, a pulse.

The Oscars refused to even consider Birdman’s score, citing various flimsy excuses, amounting Birdman-movie-posterto the director having occasionally used some pieces of classical music as themes for certain characters, thus rendering the score somehow ineligible (although this adds up to about 16 minutes out of the film’s 119). Certainly if pre-recorded songs are dominant, then the score is thought not to be, but that’s just not the case in Birdman. I do believe, however, that voting Academy members are not used to a single drum comprising a score. They themselves conduct orchestras and employ many (unionized) musicians, whereas Sanchez does not. So his innovative work will be frustratingly snubbed by the Oscars. Will the Globes have the balls to make up for it? I doubt it, but I hope so.

Score 2 for Birdman.

Find more Golden Globes predictions: Best Original Song, Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, Best Animated Feature

The Holiday

A quasi-Christmas movie for when you’re feeling in a quasi-holiday mood. It takes place around the holidays but it doesn’t shove them down your throat. It is unabashedly a romcom though. Like, hardcore romcom. If you love Love Actually, this might just be the perfect follow up. Just don’t make your boyfriend watch them back-to-back, or I won’t be responsible for him menstruating all over  your micro suede couch.Composite

Kate Winslet plays this woman who’s in love with a jackass who doesn’t love her back, and wouldn’t deserve her even if he did. It’s next to impossible to believe this heavenly creature could ever be in an unrequited situation but she’s lovely and she elevates this stinkin romcom to a very nearly decent little movie. She’s at her office Christmas party when her ex-lover announced his engagement to the woman he cheated on her with (holy god, call the grammar police!) and poor Katie does a not too great job of hiding her tears because her coworker says “I  never realized how pathetic you are” to which Kate replies “Really? I’m so aware of it.” And how can you not love a movie like this?

In an effort to avoid another new year’s eve of tears and vallium, she lists her home on a house swap site and connects with Cameron Diaz, a woman in Los Angeles who’s just had a bad breakup with her boyfriend and also needs to get away from life and from men.

But of course they don’t just live in each other’s houses, they inhabit each other’s lives. Kate’s little cottage is cozy and filled with books. Absolute heaven. Cameron’s house is bursting with movies, including, weirdly, Gigli. Sort of reduces her credibility, no? And soon they start me including their men (though thankfully not their exes). Both rom and com ensue.

And keep watching because the best part is right around the corner – an old guy, a writer from show business’ golden age, who just slays with his great advice (“You are a leading lady but for some reason you’re acting like the best friend.”) and his undying loyalty. I was completely charmed by Jack Black (!) and won over by Jude Law (!!).  It’s totally predictable and meandering but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to cuddle this movie all night long. Merry Christmas to me.