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By midlandsmovies, Nov 16 2019 09:38AM

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019) Dir. Midge Costin

Making Waves opens with Apocalypse Now sound designer Walter Murch explaining how deep sound is to humans - from the womb to the almost unnoticed and emotional effect it has on us in cinema.

And so begins new documentary Making Waves. And Murch is just one of an amazing array of interviews in this new exploration and within the first minute we have comments from legendary Star Wars sound guru Ben Burtt, directors Chris Nolan, Ryan Coogler, David Lynch, George Lucas and Ang Lee and musician Barbara Streisand. Wow. A list doesn’t get much more impressive than that!

Rightly so, the film’s focus is on the importance of sound in our enjoyment of cinema. The film covers the importance of the “Circle of Talent” to create the modern team-orientated experience audiences expect today. With so many people in the mix, the experts in their field enable impressive sequences like the D-Day landings of Saving Private Ryan to be created.

From the intimacy of an emotional score to studio mixing, the film covers the technical background to music-making – which is conveyed in an easy digestible way for the viewer. It also covers the history of sound when early films were projected with a live orchestra (or even live sound effects) as well dialogue from people behind a screen.

The documentary is fascinating and informative especially to someone with a music background like myself. But it also explains the journey of cinematic sound bringing general audiences along the way too. However, its biggest flaw is the familiar ground covered in another recent documentary Score: A Film Music Documentary from 2016 (our full review here).

Both have comparable talking heads, technical info and the history of sound (slightly more specific on musical score in the 2016 film) but they are VERY similar. And therefore this isn’t a unique illumination on the subject, more of a confirmation of some of the information seen from a different viewpoint. But the explanations are great if you don't know your foley from your sound effects and we also see how the variety of these important aspects are put together in the final mixing stage.

Score and sound design are definitely two different disciplines though - one being part of the other. So if you prefer one area then choose the documentary for you. However, both films together are a fascinating insight into the often overlooked (and hugely important) world of the magic of music and sound in movies.


Michael Sales

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is out on DVD on Monday 25th November 2019

By midlandsmovies, Dec 15 2017 08:59AM

The Last Jedi (2017) Dir. Rian Johnson

WARNING: Contains spoilers

After the soft-reboot that was The Force Awakens and the misstep, for me, of the dull prequel Rogue One, with The Last Jedi comes Disney’s third foray into the galaxy far, far away with director Rian Johnson (Looper) stepping into the director’s chair.

We pick up where Force Awakens left us. Luke has banished himself on an island after failing to train Ben Solo, now Kylo Ren who is again played with evil ‘emo’ glee by Adam Driver. A courageous Rey (Daisy Ridley) is on a mission from the Resistance being tasked with coaxing the powerful Jedi back into action against the dastardly First Order. The internet was buzzing over what his (or her) first words would be. Two years in the making and every possible theory pored over and Johnson builds up tension with lingering shots on the two protagonists. And what are they? Well, essentially none. Cool-hand Luke slowly accepts his lightsaber in his robotic palm and then...simply chucks it over his shoulder and walks away.

And this favouring of the unexpected over the predictable is its winning formula and a metaphor for Johnson’s whole film. The moments an audience give assumed importance to are given little significance whilst the smaller details are given prominence throughout. Heck, Johnson provides an entire 10 minute battle sequence even before we return to the island and pick up the story JJ Abrams left us with.

Narrative wise, the film sticks to a basic plot where the resistance have been decimated to a few ships then go on the run tracked by huge star destroyers (now with a super-sized dreadnaught class version). Supreme Leader Snoke, another amazing Andy Serkis creation with pitch-perfect CGI, tasks Domnhall Gleeson’s pantomime Hux and Kylo Ren to continue their search for Rey in a bid to get her to turn to the dark side. The light-hearted family feel is there from the opening, the loveable rogue Poe Dameron, filling Harrison Ford’s shoes (AND clothes at times) delivers an overtly comedic exchange over a radio – again echoing Han in A New Hope. Despite its slightly awkward tone which made me fear “I have a bad feeling about this" it luckily settled down and Johnson balanced the light and dark with vigour.

As the resistance plans to infiltrate the First Order to stop their tracking device, John Boyega’s fantastic Finn gets a chance to shine as he joins feisty newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose on a trip to Canto Bight and its wealthy casino patrons. Gambling on alien-horse races sees Johnson add a throwaway but thrilling CGI chase sequence which along with the city’s building design had the worrying look of the much maligned prequel trilogy. However, for me it felt as though it brought back the links between all trilogies which Johnson had fun in delivering. There’s also seeds sown of a wider universe with farm orphan slaves (“it’s like poetry, it rhymes”) being drawn into the events, perhaps helping to establish Johnson’s recently announced stand-alone trilogy. We’ll have to wait and see.

Rogue One’s fan-service appeared tokenistic but R2-D2’s playback of Star Wars’ original “you’re our only hope” message and a hugely surprising cameo from Yoda as a Force ghost were more than welcome. Context is everything and both served the story and I loved the fact the ghosts had returned for the first time since 1983’s Return of the Jedi.

However, at every turn the film swept me off my feet and pulled out something unexpected in each new scene. Expanding the myths of the force we see new powers including a resurrection and transcendence. Mark Hamill as Luke and the late Carrie Fisher as his sister Leia are both mesmerising in career defining performances and their coming together showed that amongst the battles, fights and comedy, the film’s tender emotional beats are what really draw you in.

Away from the nods, we get new creatures – the loveable puffin-like Porgs avoiding Jar Jar Binks levels of annoyance in the main – as well as new characters. Benicio Del Toro’s stuttering code-breaker and Laura Dern’s focused Vice Admiral are welcome additions with the latter’s sacrifice by flying a ship at lightspeed into another craft is one of the film’s visual highlights. With bombastic sounds being replaced with an eerie silence, the image is lingering and powerful. Alongside that, Snoke’s blood red throne room and a Kylo-Luke showdown showed the film’s cinematic ambitions were far more than space banter and franchise references.

In the end, this is epic blockbuster cinema at its very best. It would have been easy to follow the established pattern but the film sets up a precedent that anyone could be expendable which kept tension high. It also highlights how The Force Awakens, a film I hugely enjoyed, really didn’t tackle many new things yet this one twisted my expectations from the start.

With an expansion of its themes and both the classic and new characters finding their place The Last Jedi will hopefully satisfy super Star Wars nerds and general film audiences too. With such great filmmaking from Johnson, it’s a huge task to tackle the lore and the fan expectations of the infamous space opera, but the director more than comes through. Yet the main thing is the film is a lot of fun. Lots of unadulterated fun. And like the best cinema has to offer The Last Jedi leaves you both with a smile on your face and a lump in your throat.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Feb 1 2015 10:41AM

For my intro to this blog please read here

For my synopsis of Episode I click here

For my synopsis of Episode II click here

Episode 3: The Shadows Rise

For the final time, the Star Wars crawl scrolls from shot as we pan down to Hoth. Over mountain crevices an unknown Jedi is out of breath running for their life. Through treacherous snow, they are being pursued by cold assault Stormtroopers. After an intense chase a hovering droid signals the Stormtroopers to a hiding place and the Jedi is swiftly killed by their exact double. The galaxy-wide Jedi slaughter continues.

We cut to Caelum meditating at the Royal Palace – currently a place of sanctuary as Palpatine’s words echo in his mind. Nucifera enters and the two discuss the ongoing clone battles as the Jedi numbers dwindle. Accepting he is Anakin, the ever-growing force powers seems to take on a heightened sense every time he thinks about his newly discovered past. As he trains with Kenobi, we see an intense violence that has been unlocked. Kenobi feels something isn’t right but is not sure as there is chaos clouding his mind.

The Queen is then victim of an assassination attempt by the OB-1 clone but is killed by Kenobi whilst Anakin gets information that Palpatine is now using his powers to influence the Senate - brainwashing officials into following his lead on the road to the highest office in the universe. Slowly, more Stormtroopers are conscripted and begin patrolling the galaxy to fill the gap left by the Jedi. There are also rumours Palpatine’s destroyed weapon factory has now morphed into plans for an even more powerful artillery “station” that can travel in space.

The two Jedi are then called to Dagobah by a lesser known elder called Yoda. Of an unknown green species, this tiny Jedi believes he is one of the last of the temple elders to survive. Anakin refuses to leave in order to protect the Queen which causes an argument with Kenobi who feels they should go. Kenobi leaves on his own and chats in the swamp with the wise master.

Kenobi returns to explain how he was told that if the Jedi can pool their resources then they can fight the spread of Palpatine’s plans. Anakin refuses to leave the Queen causing a further rift between them.

Kenobi presses harder before Anakin erupts that he is not Caelum but is in fact the sought-after Skywalker, son of a slave. Kenobi stands in shock before the two begin to fight. The Queen walks in and faints at the sight of their actions before the two put their differences to one side as the Queen explains to them she has been hiding a pregnancy.

Suddenly the royal palace is rocked by large ships and we pan outside to see hordes of Storm-troopers now descending on the kingdom. The Queen and Kenobi are split from Anakin who is taken hostage and she takes up a lightsabre to fight the throng. However, after realising that any fight against such numbers would be futile, they escape away on a cruiser but a space fight forces them to hide in an asteroid. Kenobi proceeds to tell the Queen of who Anakin is – a prophecy of evil and that for the sake of their children, she should keep them hidden. The shock leads her to go into labour and Kenobi helps deliver not one but two children.

Meanwhile, Anakin is brought before Palpatine who explains how he plans to have him become his new apprentice now he knows the truth of who he really is. Anakin refuses to accept it but Palpatine explains that they can rule together and Anakin can finally be someone rather than just the orphaned son of a slave. He attempts to fight but only succeeds in getting his arm cut off.

Palpatine takes him to Mustafar and Anakin awakes with a new metal arm. Palpatine has now become a Sith “Emperor” – a controller of both body and machine - perfecting his technology by experimenting on Clones and Maul. Anakin wrestles with his conscience and feels he has lost everything and everyone close to him.

As the Queen and Kenobi fly through space they are contacted by Anakin with a message saying he needs their help. Landing on Mustafar, Kenobi quickly realises they have been tricked. As Anakin approaches, the Queen comes into view and despite her love, she lies to him that she has rid herself of the unborn children as she cannot face the future with him being a slave or a Sith. Anakin’s anger rises and in a rage he kills the Queen. His turn to the dark side is complete. He then wastes no time in tackling Kenobi.

An evenly fought lightsabre fight ensues and Anakin’s pain results in him pleading with Kenobi to kill him to end all the torment. However, a volcanic explosion leaves Anakin burnt and Kenobi leaves him to die from his wounds. Kenobi blasts off on the spaceship with the children and splits them up for their own protection after guidance from Qui Gon and Yoda. He then disappears into the desert with only the conflicting rumours of the OB-1 clone protecting his real identity for the next 20 years.

Back on Mustafar, Palpatine returns to collect Anakin’s injured body.

Transferring him to an Imperial Shuttle, news comes in of a landslide victory for Palpatine in the Senate.

As Anakin screams in pain, Palpatine angles his gurney and shows him a new suit he has built.

It is a dark foreboding piece of armour to encase his scarred body and keep him alive. Caleum is dead. Anakin is dead. He requests a new name.

Darth Vader is born.

The End.

And there we go. My thoughts on the prequels is that there isn’t just a few tweaks to be made. Lucas came at them from the entirely wrong angle. You want to root for Anakin before his downfall. The twist of finding Anakin under their noses all along parallels Luke/Vader’s father reveal and simple things like less lighsabres may just increase the mystery of the film. After the initial opening the focus would be on Caelum as the main character. Some other writers around the web have proposed Kenobi but I still see Anakin’s storyline as a parallel to the classic rise-and-fall gangster narrative. But we must care about him. Again, even small changes like the removal of a Jedi “council” which sounds far too officious for a group of space knights could help get over some of the plodding problems of the prequels. This is a fantasy fairy tale of a film – albeit one with a darker tone and ending than the originals.

May the force be with you!

By midlandsmovies, Feb 1 2015 10:39AM

For my intro please click here and for my proposal for Episode I please click here

Episode 2: The Clone Wars

After the crawl, we pan to a lone Tie-Fighter landing on a desolate mountain planet. Out steps Darth Maul, more robot than man now but still with a double-ended lightsabre. He meets a welcoming envoy of ambassadors who we see emerging from a basilica with armed guards but in an instant Maul strikes them all dead. He then enters the building where we see unknown bodies being experimented on.

Cut to Alderaan and the Jedi and Caelum are working with the Royal family who have come under attack from gangsters controlled by Jabba the Hutt attempting to overthrow the planet. Their only daughter Princess Nucifera is a feisty warrior who Caelum is drawn to. They defeat the attack but Nucifera’s father is killed and Caelum comforts her in her sorrow. The Jedi depart leaving Caelum to immerse himself in the beauty of the planet at the behest of the newly crowned Queen. At the Jedi temple on Yavin, Qui Gonn and Kenobi are informed of the assassination of the ambassadors and are sent to investigate. Landing on the mountain planet they immediately come under attack from Maul. After another bout of lightsabre duelling, Kenobi makes a mistake causing Maul to mortally wound Qui Gon. In his despair, Kenobi lets Maul escape and Qui Gon becomes one with the force.

Back on Alderaan, Caelum’s blooming relationship is cut short as he is instructed to help Kenobi at the basilica. Arriving to see Kenobi in grief, they stumble into the building where they peer down to see hundreds of bodies in pods. Kenobi seeks the name Skywalker but in fact reads names he recognises before coming to a stop at a pod. Looking down he wipes away dust from the pod glass. We see his horror as he stares at a face that looks exactly like his own.

They are recalled to the Jedi temple and although Kenobi is chastised for Qui Gon’s death he explains that he believes the Jedi have been cloned before suggesting he could train Caelum to help track Maul, the Sith Lord & the mysterious student Skywalker. The elders reluctantly agree having witnessed Caelum’s superb battle skills and intuition. A montage sees Kenobi train Caelum, helping to hone his talents and attempting to get the young man acquainted with the force. His skills are basic yet he and Kenobi are sent on a mission to recover evidence of the cloning but with the building now empty, the Jedi then feel a great disturbance. We then see the clones attacking Jedi across the galaxy. Some Jedi win, some lose. With the real Jedi now refugees, Caelum and Kenobi get a message from Qui Gon’s force ghost to head to Alderaan where they again face Maul who is holding Nucifera hostage. Caelum kills him but not before Maul claims what is underway can no longer be stopped.

Caelum’s and Nucifera’s romance is consummated in a secret pact with him promising to always protect her, her family and kingdom but soon he has to leave as investigations reveals another hot lead about the Sith’s whereabouts.

The two travel to a remote outpost and battle Stormtrooper bodyguards before finally coming face to face with the Sith Lord, who reveals his new right-hand man. Clone number – OB-1. Ben’s own Jedi double. As the doubles fight against each other, Caelum takes on the Sith but his newly acquired powers are no match for the experienced tyrant. With Caelum on the edge of defeat, the Sith Lord reveals himself to be Galactic President-in waiting Palpatine. He stops the fight and says he has long owned slaves including some many years ago. He even owned a slave whose baby had almost unlimited force power. Palpatine explains he snatched this baby from his slave parents and sent it through space to a wooded planet. This sky-walker was named Anakin by his parents. This sky-walker was Caelum.

Suddenly realising the ramifications, the shocked Caelum lets Palpatine slip away before destroying what is left of the Stormtroopers. He runs to a starfighter and escapes in a big dogfight but his conscience makes him return for Kenobi who is injured whilst clone OB-1 disappears along with Palpatine. The two surviving Jedi return to Alderaan seeking refuge as bloodshed comes over the galaxy and Caelum keeps his secret to himself whilst seeking solace and comfort with the Queen.

Ok, so the twist is hardly surprising but it may have just caused enough doubt for the films to have an edge that tackles the problem with prequels. Also, there be no Gungans, senate hearings or droid factories in this story in order to keep the goal of finding Palpatine at the forefront. No messing about and Episode II’s clones becoming the Stormtroopers always seemed a little dull and obvious to me. The (brief) Clone Wars reference in Episode IV made it sound so intriguing - yet Lucas mostly glossed over the wars. Combined with a confusing robots vs clones battle, I felt no connection with either set of faceless drones or cared (or even knew) what they were fighting for.

For Episode III please click here

By midlandsmovies, Feb 1 2015 10:35AM

To see the context of this blog please read my introduction to alternative Star Wars prequels by clicking here

Episode 1: The Unknown Enemy

After the opening Star Wars crawl, we see a huge ship closely followed by a small starfighter which is then shot and crashes on a wooded planet. Out of the wreckage come 2 Jedi: Ben Kenobi and his mentor Qui Gon Jinn. Attempting to find some civilisation, they come across a young nomad Caelum Caminar who uses survival skills and bow/crossbow to hunt local beasts keeping him alive and he chooses to live away from both local town folk and the savages of the forest. After an attempted attack by monsters, Caelum in enthralled by the Jedi who protect him and eventually he comes to envy their skills. The three then make their way to a more populated town where the Jedi are equally feared and respected. The teen’s attempts to steal are thwarted by the Jedi who keep him on the straight and narrow. Thanking Caelum, the Jedi use mind tricks on a trader to get hold of working ship and flee the planet before finding the nomad stowed away on their vessel. They agree to continue on their journey and explain their search for a Sith Lord whilst they begin to warm to him as they land on Tatooine to refuel.

Stormtroopers - who at this stage are simply police-like enforcers from the galactic senate who patrol a number of more dangerous planets – are present to prevent lawlessness. However, the Jedi witness some corrupt troopers and a fight breaks out. They use force power and cunning (but not lightsabres) and as Obi-Wan is being attacked, Caelum saves his life and his fighting skills further enamour him to both men. Continuing their journey, they travel to Yavin 4 where they find a Jedi temple. Only the Jedi can enter and update a small group of elders about their search for the master Sith Lord. The elders explain that more ripples in the force suggest that there is also a mysterious student called Skywalker who may pose an even bigger threat to the Jedi order.

Leaving the planet they are tasked with going undercover to recover stolen material that may give them clues to the whereabouts of this Sith Lord. Caelum explains his background as an orphan growing in the wilderness and convinces the Jedi he could be a useful part of their team. After some basic training, the Jedi are impressed enough to take him along and plan an elaborate heist against a number of bounty hunters on the run.

Teaching Caelum some basic Jedi manoeuvres, the heist involves a number of clever turns, fights, secret entrances and the retrieval of secret access codes. They enlist the help of a local female spy who assists them in their plan. Fighting huge beasts that guard the entrances, the get inside the bounty hunters’ den and manage to grab data from the vaults and fight their way out of the city. After thanking the spy, the three of them leave and we see the beginnings of them feeling like a cohesive team.

Caelum celebrates as the group returns to the Jedi elders with the archive material revealing this Sith Lord is in hiding and running an illegal weapons factory. This Sith Lord is using slaves to create weapons with some corrupt Stormtroopers on a distant planet. The Jedi and Caelum agree that they can stop the threat in its tracks and plan an assault. A battle breaks out as they arrive at the factory resulting in many Stormtroopers being destroyed whilst the Sith’s number 2, Darth Maul is cut in two (!) during the movie’s only lightsabre fight. As the factory is destroyed, the Sith’s whereabouts are unknown but the slaves are freed and the Jedi & elders rejoice by rewarding them all and welcoming Caelum as a servant/bowman of their temple.

And that’s it. The film is gets the story underway, the main part being the beginning of a three-person group dynamic (think the first half of Goodfellas) and the serious scenarios are punctuated with fun action scenes. This is a very sketchy outline but my main attempt was trying to simplify the origin with a straightforward heist plot and avoidance of anything remotely involving trade disputes, government and political machinations. A galaxy of creatures, training scenes and supporting characters would flesh out the plot but simplicity was a theme sorely lacking in the other prequels and I wanted a smaller selection of protagonists (some new) who we could focus on – and, more importantly, care about.

For Episode II click here

For Episode III click here

By midlandsmovies, Feb 1 2015 10:29AM

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

Well, like many I’ve always had a problem with the Star Wars prequels and although some make apologies for their inconsistencies, the sad truth is that they are both badly made (and incredibly badly plotted) and, for me at least, DO trample on my memories of the original trilogy that I remember from my childhood. I won’t go into detail about why they don’t work – see Mr. Plinkett’s (Red Letter Media) awesome deconstruction of Episode 3 at this link in which I wholeheartedly agree with everything he says.

In addition there have also been many folk on the internet proposing how to “fix” them (a removal of Jar Jar here, a fan edit there) but what I’m going to propose is a radical rethink of the whole story with an almost complete disregard of what went before.

I will obviously use the references in the original trilogy (OT) to help as a starting point but what were these allusions to the past really? In reference to the universe’s history, we are given so little information from those three films:

a) There is a clone war which Anakin and Obi Wan fight in

b) Obi Wan is a mentor to Anakin and is then betrayed

c) Anakin is the best fighter pilot in the galaxy

d) Anakin is the father of Luke & Leia

And in reality, that is it! Most of the original trilogy is about the future – a focus on the rebels’ efforts to defeat the empire and the empire’s resistance to that.

There are so many things you think should be in there but actually were a creation of the prequels and my draft ideas do not have to include anything from them at all. With the description of a war and the break-up of a deep friendship, I am still amazed that Lucas chose an intergalactic trade dispute as the beginning of this epic tale. Well my suggestion is there will be none of that in my film. No voting! No trade federation! No Jar Jar!

So, I need some boundaries from which I’ll try not to stray from to avoid heading into the dark side of unnecessary and shoe-horned in characters or midichlorian nonsense! The first being is that nothing is sacrosanct. Even the bits we liked should be considered up for removal. One example is the rise of the Emperor/Palpatine. Do we need so much information on this at all? Yes, he can be Anakin’s master at any point. So if I were to scrap his political campaign then I’d argue this was a good thing - how is that character arc in any way Star Wars-esque? A despot tyrannical leader who has let his political dominance go to his head and subsequently started using his might in unconventional ways. I literally don’t care how he was voted in. Hitler was voted in and became a dictator once but more of this later.

More importantly though, let’s start with a major point I have to address. Prequels have a problem. That problem is the audience’s foreknowledge of characters’ outcomes. Anakin has to become Vader. Fact. So, my first decision is that the only way to make it more exciting is to simply remove him. Yes, you heard right. Make the film(s) more about the search for Anakin and the Sith. A powerful Jedi that can change the course of history. What a power! Now where is he? This set-up gives the film a drive as two sides battle to find a man with the strength to influence the fate of the entire galaxy. What does that mean to everyone? Well, to the audience at least it means you have a driving plot point to keep you interested moving forward. The stakes are raised and are CLEAR from the outset. The film MacGuffin is simply Anakin himself.

Therefore, with all that in mind here’s a proposal for a Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (I’ve kept the trilogy structure as it seems to fit) which takes a very different angle to what we have seen so far...

Episode 1 link

Episode 2 link

Episode 3 link

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