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By midlandsmovies, Sep 16 2019 08:00AM



A Day in the Life of music composer Kirby Spencer


Our fourth entry into our 'A Day in the Life" features follows Kirby Spencer. Leicestershire based Kirby is a music composer and has worked on local short films Thursday and Eve.


From mixing, sound design and composition, Kirby tells Midlands Movies about creating the perfect musical accompaniment to film projects made in the region.


07:30 - Up and at them as they say. The usual get up routine, with a little bit of breakfast possibly - but most importantly coffee.


08:30 - I turn on the most important piece of equipment I have, my computer. From here I produce all of my music and it needs plenty of time to warm up. I never start a day from scratch you see, as I am either loading up work from the previous day or far less frequently, I am loading up a template. This is a tip a few composers use in order to get over the shock of a blank page. The feeling of not knowing what to do to get yourself started. This way I always have something to look at, to point me forward. My template is simply a preset list of tracks/instruments that I use on a regular basis. For example that includes, Violins 1 and 2, viola, cellos, basses, trombones, various synths and sound fxs etc... my main template at the moment contains close to 100 tracks each ranging from a few MBs of memory all the way up to several GBs. Spread this across 100 tracks and my template can take anywhere between 10 mins and 15 mins to load for any given project. So while thats happening...


08:30 - 09:00 - Business hat on. As a freelance composer, you take on the role of a head of department (HoD) for yourself, but also everything else that needs to be done in order to run a successful business. Answering and making Email enquiries, updating social media accounts, marketing, market research, reviewing contracts, dealing with PRS etc etc. I can't get all of this done in half an hour, but I take a bit of time to wake up by reviewing a certain aspect of this side of being a Film Composer - most of the time its either answering Emails (There's a handy setting to send them out across the day) or doing a bit of market research in order to get the creative juices flowing.


09:00 - Time to review the previous days work. When we listen to music, especially the same piece of music over and over again - our ears and our mind can block out noise and frequencies that are disturbing or unwanted. Or simply an instrument might be slightly too loud or soft (most of the time its too loud..). We gradually get used to these imperfections over time as our ears adjust to them. I can get around this by listening to the previous days work with what we call 'fresh ears'. I've not been subject to the piece for several hours or even days previously, and this morning listen can highlight any problems that I may have missed through this phenomena. This can be a tip for any directors or producers out there too - you can usually tell if the music is right or wrong for the project within the first few plays. Its a bit of a balance however, you should give the music some time, but at the same time we can con ourselves into a certain piece if we dogmatically listen to it over and over looking for some profound revelation that makes it all okay. Listen, take some time away and come back to confirm - it works for me. Anything that comes up, I'll do my best to fix.


If I am starting with a new template that contains only the blank tracks that I use most frequently, then I skip to the next stage.


10:00 - Time to actually compose. If its a fresh scene or a fresh piece of music I will again try to remove the daunting aspect of having a blank slate by looking at the Film Composer's guiding light - Story. The music if decided to be present in a scene, must follow the story in some way. It must be highlighting (not adding!) something present in the scene. Through study I use an approach that was highlighted to me by Andy Hill (Walt disney Studios Music Producer) in his book, 'Scoring the Screen'. What is the point of view the music is highlighting? What is the energy level of the music? By that we mean does it work with or against the pace of the scene and the editing, and finally, does the music need to tell us something that the picture does not? Armed with these questions, and a brief from the film makers about what they would like to see (notes from a spotting session work absolute wonders), I can settle on a general direction for the music. From here its a matter of controlled experimentation, and at this point I cannot say how I might proceed as every case is different. But if I ever get stuck, its time to go back to the guiding lights.


12:00 - Lunch and break. Its important not to fatigue your ears, eyes and mind. I might go for a walk after having something to eat or something like that.


13:00 - Back on it in the same manner as the morning. It can be a solitary job this.


15:00 - Mini break usually about halfway through the afternoon - at this point I might go back to doing some of the business side of things, in particular, looking for new projects and productions that I feel I might be able to benefit, and those that might benefit me. Or anything else that might need to be done adhoc.


16:00 Back into the nitty gritty of scoring to a scene. At this point, my ears are pretty fatigued, and the creative juices are going to be running low. This late in the day, I usually focus on the technical aspects of making the cues sound realistic rather than anything creative or experiemental. There are times where I might save the thing I am working on and move back to a previous piece, something fresh in order to again get out of getting too used to hearing the same thing over and over. I would not mix at this time of the day, it always ends up sounding off.


18:00 - Pack up, save - Relax. When it gets close to deadlines, I will work on into the night as late as I feel I can.


That is just an example of a 'Day in the life of a Film Composer' and I know that it can vary from composer to composer quite drastically, and even for each composer themselves. Some days will be spent more on production (Mixing, Sound design etc) than composition. Some days will be spent on simply upskilling - learning more about the craft of writing music to picture. Some days may be spent on the business side of things, travelling to networking events, meeting clients, attending spotting sessions etc. But this is the general outline I like to follow when creating music for a media project. "


By midlandsmovies, May 2 2019 12:00AM



Vox Lux (2019) Dir. Brady Corbet


Opening with a shocking scene of a school shooting that has to be seen to be believed, Brady Corbet’s new film Vox Lux tackles the pop music industry, crime, terrorism and the American dream in a film stuffed to the brim with ideas.


Too stuffed? Well, perhaps. We open in 1999 where sisters Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and Ellie (Stacy Martin) survive the massacre but during the memorial, Celeste showcases a poignant song about the incident which pushes her towards stardom in the USA. And she is soon head-hunted by a music mogul (a terrifically gruff Jude Law) and rises to fame in the industry.


Raffey Cassidy is a great lead and one of her most-famous scenes to date is from her previous outing in The Killing of a Sacred Deer where she delivers a darkly honest performance of Ellie Goulding’s “Burn”. Here she channels a similar tone and is one of many exciting aspects from the film’s first half. The striking school opening combined with the entire film credits at the start provides a violently dynamic beginning before the director throws in some home-video style footage of Raffey and her entourage on tour in Stockholm.


There is a lot of intensity and energy in its opening which is slightly at odds with its Willem Defoe narration and chapter titles (“Genesis”) which feel like a student facsimile of a cliché even Lars Von Trier would think twice about. Act 2 gets worse with the shockingly titled and awful “Re-genesis”. Quite.


However, as the young Celeste moves from tours, studio recording and on to videos the film is interspersed with iconic imagery reflecting media coverage of worldwide events and their effects. First is a terrorist beach atrocity featuring more guns and death as well as images of the World Trade Centre towers and then later the Freedom Tower.


And then the film takes a sharp turn. We jump to the modern day and Celeste is now played by Natalie Portman. Put through the mill of the music industry she now has a history of drink, drugs and more. Portman veers from her subdued and excellent performance in Jackie to a wayward pop-star jaded by the destructive capabilities of fame and money.


Celeste is now older, tiresome and somewhat of a cliché in this second half and unfortunately this is reflected in the film’s delivery too. Gone is the potency of Raffey’s rise to fame and in come some broad swipes at Western values, celebrity culture and the trappings of wealth. And for some unearthly reason – serving only to confuse - Raffey Cassidy is now playing Portman’s daughter. And much like most superhero films, learning the ropes is often a far more interesting story than when the hero is established and the same goes here.


As a musical drama, another problem is simply my personal taste in the music. Original songs by current pop star Sia are incorporated – although the 1999 music video is highly anachronistic with pitch-shifted vocals definitely not from that era – but I didn’t care much for its Bohemian Rhapsody-like 15-minute stage show ending.


In conclusion, and sounding far too much like a football pundit, Vox Lux is the epitome of a film of two halves. Its second half looking at how the music industry corrupts, Portman’s selfish alcoholic and extended concert finale just removed all the momentum the first half so successfully delivers. No doubt those with more than a passing interest in modern pop will also be moved by the musical hits more so than myself. Certainly containing huge amounts of filmmaking dexterity and Raffey Cassidy’s performance certainly should have taken centre stage, Vox Lux ultimately doesn’t so much as burn out as it does fade away.


★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 15 2019 08:40AM



Lords of Chaos (2019) Dir. Jonas Åkerlund


Adapted from the book of the same name, Lords of Chaos is directed by notable Swedish music video filmmaker Jonas Åkerlund and his knowledge of the music industry has turned from Madonna’s upbeat Ray of Light video to a much more sinister story here in this dark musical journey.


The director has made concert films of Beyoncé and Jay Z, Taylor Swift, Roxette and much more recently, and apt, German heavy-metallers Rammstein. In Lords of Chaos we follow Rory Culkin as guitarist Euronymous, the co-founder of real-life Norwegian black metal band Mayhem.


Recruiting a new Swedish vocalist called Dead, the new singer takes their dark persona to extreme measures including self-harm before the band meets a super-fan named Kristian (Emory Cohen) who is dismissed by the group. One day, in a scene of horrific mutilation, Dead cuts his arms and then his throat before killing himself with a shotgun to the head. The gruesome scene is one of many disgusting sequences of body mutilation and nihilistic violence and be aware, Lords of Chaos caters for those with the strongest of stomachs.


Maybe darker than the hideous death itself, Euronymous takes a photo of the scene – which is eventually used as an album cover (!) – before opening a shop that becomes the focus of their underground music scene.


With members becoming known as the "Black Circle", fan Kristian renames himself as Varg Vikernes and his strong anti-Christian views leads him join the band and then burn down churches. Whilst another member, Faust, kills a gay man in a park and their crimes are brought to the attention of the police.


A power struggle between Euronymous and Varg emerges – with each retreating into their own reality where Euronymous reveals his persona to be mostly a bluff whilst Varg’s increasing erratic and extreme behaviour leads him to arm himself for a confrontation.


Rory Culkin as Euronymous is fantastic and although its been said that the film uses a mixture of American accents, with ever-so-slight Scandinavian twangs, the choice merely seems to be one of commercial accessibility. Emory Cohen as Varg Vikernes matches Culkin beat for beat with a menacing and threatening portrayal of an unhinged extremist.


The support cast tackle the dark themes well and the film has a reality to its traumatising images. Shockingly the story has a morbid ending and many of the themes are somewhat contradictory. Culkin seems both sympathetic yet often unappealing at times and the movie explores themes of life-threatening hobbies, the occult and, more simply, the notion of celebrity and authenticity.


In my review of Vox Lux I stated that one problem of that film was the inclusion of music (pop) that I don’t have a large interest in. Here, black metal is not hugely my thing either, but I definitely sway towards the darker aspects of rock and its associated imagery which the film goes to the furthest extremities of.


Whilst band members dispute the historical accuracy of some of the events in the film, it is then somewhat ironic the film concerns itself with character dualism, surface personality and the clashing view points of each member. And Lords of Chaos dramatizes a bleak story with a great combination of multi-layered performances and grave scenes of violence. Although not for everyone, Lords of Chaos will satisfy metal and horror fans but goes beyond both is musical and genre origins for a much more intense experience. Ghastly but gratifying.


★★★★


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2019 04:51PM



The Front Runner (2019) Dir. Jason Reitman

Depicting the rise of Gary Hart, an American Democratic senator and 1988 presidential candidate, and to be honest for this 1980s born UK film reviewer a complete nobody to me, The Front Runner is a new political drama from Jason Reitman. Although not a shoe in, Hart hits the campaign trail hard and asks journalists “to follow him around”. Bad mistake. After publishing photos of Hart having an extra-marital liaison with journalist Donna Rice, he takes a stand against the press by arguing his private life is none of their business. In a world not just before the internet but even before the 24-hour TV news cycle, Hart’s request seems silly and naïve by today’s standards. Hugh Jackman plays the senator as a strong-willed but foolish man and the film positions itself as a commentary about an historical turning point in the coverage of the private lives of public figures. However, it doesn’t do this successfully despite Jackman’s compelling efforts as the bemused senator. There is however good support from the always excellent JK Simmons (as Hart’s campaign manager), Vera Farmiga as his put-upon wife and Sara Paxton playing his mistress. Whilst I was one of only a few that thought Spielberg’s The Post was overrated, the cinematic flourishes and clever script of that film show up the flaws in this one. Consequently then, The Front Runner ends up being all surface with little depth, telling a sordid tale in a Wikipedia-style fashion, ticking bland boxes as it goes. ★★★



The Dirt (2019) Directed by Jeff Tremaine

From the director of 4 Jackass-related movies, comes along a new musical biopic in the footsteps of Bohemian Rhapsody about 1980s glam-haired shock rockers Mötley Crüe. Based on the book The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Neil Strauss – which I read whilst being on tour with my own heavy rock band – the story begins in 1980 when Frank Carlton Feranna Jr leaves his abusive home and changes his name to Nikki Six. It isn’t long before he is hooking up with drummer Tommy Lee (he of later Pamela Anderson fame), guitarist Mick Mars and vocalist Vince Neil. After well-received gigs in LA, the band are signed to a 5-album deal and their crazy rock antics get more and more extreme. From touring with Ozzy Osbourne (who ‘snorts’ ants and drinks urine) they go through a slew of wild parties, model girlfriends, overdoses and a car crash which ultimately results in a conviction of manslaughter for Vince. After the set backs the band go on to hit the top of the charts, sell platinum albums and go on a successful world tour. Douglas Booth (from Loving Vincent) as Nikki is the best of the bunch whilst the others give admirable facsimiles of the rest of the band. Unremarkable throughout, and as someone who liked Bohemian Rhapsody but acknowledged its pretty nondescript-recounting of the band’s life, this film goes further into mediocre TV-production wishy-washiness. With little cinematic flair, this is definitely a film for the fans in the main, as it never gets under the make-up and tasteless clichés of the band, something the book – written from each band member’s viewpoint – actually did pretty successfully. Dr. Feel“bland” ★★★



Triple Frontier (2019) Directed by J. C. Chandor

A Netflix original film featuring A-List superstars Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac and featuring a solid support cast of Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Adria Arjona and Pedro Pascal, Triple Frontier tackles a band of ex-soldiers who reunite for one big heist to rip off a Colombian drug baron. As Isaac tries to convince the team to get back together for one last big score (ensuring they’ll never have to work again obvs) the film’s first 25 mins moves at a pace but with little character development and a whole host of semi-retired-older-guys-getting-back-in-the-saddle clichés. After easily defeating the bland crime lord, who barely features to be fair, the guys load up their over-stuffed bags with cash. But their escape helicopter crashes as it is over the maximum weight owing to the greedy guts the guys have been. Director J. C. Chandor’s previous movie A Most Violent Year, also starring Oscar Isaac, was slow and measured – sometimes to a fault – but Triple Frontier is knuckleheaded and speedy – again, to a fault. The beginning had strong Predator-vibes – covert operation in the jungle - and to be honest I was hoping the film would go into sci-fi or horror territory to avoid the clichés it was delivering. The whole second half however shows the crew trying to get to a rendezvous point which had echoes of The Way Back (Peter Weir’s 2010 survival film) and the boredom sets in as the group slowly trudge back through different wildernesses. In the end, despite its big-name stars, the film disappoints on a triple front by being flat, flavourless and ultimately forgettable. ★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 25 2018 02:43PM



Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Dir. Bryan Singer


Let’s get the Queen song puns out of the way from the start. Is Bohemian Rhapsody “guaranteed to blow your mind”? Well, it’s a glossy, Queen-approved biopic that had some tremendous moments but unfortunately the sum is less than its parts as we follow the glam-infused rock-opera band from their early beginnings to their Live Aid performance of 1985.


We open backstage at that world-broadcast concert but are soon thrust back in time to 1970 where flamboyant singer Farrokh Bulsara (soon to be Freddie Mercury) meets up with Gwilym Lee as Brian May and Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor after their band ‘Smile’ loses their frontman.


Mercury is encapsulated, and then some, by a beyond-terrific performance from Rami Malek and although the film covers various aspects of the band’s career, Malek is thrust centre stage and like Freddie, all eyes are on him throughout the duration.


After securing bassist John Deacon the film stops off at varying points of the group’s milestones as we get to see the greatest hits of Mercury's life from his Zanzibar roots, Bombay originating parents, his meeting and engagement to lifelong companion Mary Austin, the band on tour and the subsequent falling outs.


Fun and harmless it is but sometimes borders on the bland with shot choices that were less than cinematic. This lack of consistency may have come from the removal of the film’s original director Bryan Singer. The irony of behind-the-scenes (or backstage if you will) creative differences isn’t lost on this reviewer.


Also losing a singer are Queen. The film sees Freddie’s ego get the better of him as his wild lifestyle lead him to a drug and sex-fuelled hedonism which culminates in him pursuing solo project without his band mates. Or his “family” as they are repeatedly referred to.


As a 12A film, the movie doesn’t go into Mercury’s debauched depths (Movie Marker’s Darryl Griffiths sums up the issue brilliantly here) and although it’s not a warts and all exploration, the film doesn’t shy from his sexuality and his subsequent discovery that he contracted AIDS.


The film therefore feels like its trying to cover far too much ground (around 15 years) and doesn’t give adequate space for all its plot and character ambitions. The wayward frontman scenes combine nicely with the studio sequences however. The repetition of Roger Taylor’s falsetto delivery of “Galileo” is a great nod to the band’s recording methods as seen on BBC2s’ “Making Of” documentary where hundreds of takes were attempted to achieve Freddie’s legendary perfectionism.


It gave the impression at times that the film (produced and approved by May and Taylor) was also attempting to force their contributions in which made it feel a bit "try-hard". The whole band were brilliant of course and each member essential but it was definitely the Freddie show that made the best cinema here.


And although a cameo from Mike Myers was a nice nod to the song’s influence, like far too much of the script, he delivers lines from Anthony McCarten's screenplay that are simply too on the nose. "We get it. It’s Wayne’s World! You don’t need to say it!"


One of the most talked-about, and lauded, scenes is the recreation of the band’s Live Aid show at Wembley Stadium. A fantastic realisation of the day, it is somewhat spoiled by a Return of the King (or should that be Queen) style ending that felt like it went on for days. Rami struts the stage in a way that is less than just a good impression and more of a total embodiment but after 15 minutes the film easily could have wrapped itself up after the first track.


As a huge fan of the band I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody but it's all a bit like Queen themselves – slightly indulgent, sometimes overlong and contains an unhealthy obsession with its own importance BUUUUUT you can't take your eyes off that man at the front. And Rami Malek is without doubt stunning as Freddie Mercury.


A shed-load of hits from Queen’s back catalogue are obviously interspersed throughout and the most moving moment was Malek’s delivery as he reveals his AIDS diagnosis to his weeping band mates. A heart-breaking and jolting sequence in a film that had been mostly surface throughout.


But I couldn’t dislike the film for its broad strokes. It aimed high and unfortunately fell a little flat yet I enjoyed much of the film’s approach, its likeable depictions of the band (and their hangers-on) as well as the shooting star of the show that is Rami Malek.


Broken into three parts – the film shows Freddie’s killing of his past persona growing up, then the campy frolics and hedonism of operatic orgies and a final head-banging ending with pulsating riffs and joyous rock – if only there was a Queen song that encapsulated all this.


8/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jun 16 2018 08:21AM



Songbird (2018)


Directed by Sophie Black


Written by Tommy Draper

Produced by Laura C. Cann.

Triskelle Pictures


Starring Janet Devlin (from ITV’s The X Factor), Songbird is an enchanting new short following a female singer who encounters a wicked stranger set on stealing her talents.


A folktale that jumps swiftly between reality and fantasy Songbird comes from Nottingham filmmaker Sophie Black and her Triskelle Production company who has already seen success with the 2016 film Night Owls.


With a feathery familiarity, here our red-headed heroine is Jennifer (played with a subtle vulnerability by Devlin) who is dropped off near a forest at the film's beginning. But as she holds up a writing board which says “Thanks for the ride”, we get the impression that all is not as it seems in the woods today.


Heading into the countryside, the eerie sounds are well edited as the crunch of leaves by Converse-wearing feet introduces us to the tone of the film which mixes a modern hipster vibe with fairy tale folklore.


Cutting to 3 weeks earlier at an open mic in a local café, a chattering and chirping audience isn’t paying a great deal of attention as Jennifer plays a soft rhyming ballad with her acoustic guitar. A wonderland of poetical lyrics sends us down an aural rabbit hole complimented by Black’s potent cinematography with its dreamy visuals and hazy glow.


As the audience warms to her soaring vocals we cut to a set of crusty finger nails drumming on the bar to reveal an evil dark-eyed woman. Whilst Jennifer is spotted by a local producer, all looks well but she is soon confronted by the ominous lady in an alley outside the venue. As a strange powder is blown over her by the old crone she awakens at home, yet an uncomfortable phone call reveals her inability to speak. Black invites the audience to ask if this is a medical condition, but a visit to the doctor finds nothing wrong and her frustration kicks in with her vocal wings wholly clipped.


However, a handwritten book of spells and rune symbols is discovered and we are migrated back to the film’s opening as Jennifer begins collecting frogs and mushrooms to concoct a potion that perhaps can release her from this spell.


Black alludes to well-known fairy-tale myth from Sleeping Beauty - as Jennifer passes out - to Devlin’s auburn hair which plays to the imagery of Little Red Riding Hood’s adventures in the woods. As well as this, Therese Collins is excellent as a classic villain keeping her victim in a state of bondage with her incantations. She mixes a dash of Helena Bonham Carter witchcraft with fellow vocal-thief Ursula from The Little Mermaid as she incubates her stolen voices in jars amongst the trees.


2018 has had a fair share of similar cinematic encounters with fantasy voices, from the silent creature in Guillermo Del Toro’s aquatic fable The Shape of Water, as well as Duncan Jones’ Mute. Black tackles some parallel themes using well-shot special effects, gothic make-up and a superb choral score at its conclusion to deliver a bittersweet fairy tale.


Like all good fairy tales though, the film could be interpreted with having a number of symbolic undertones including an allegory of stage fright. As a musician myself, the fear of losing one’s voice can be difficult to swallow and here the film showcases a strong female trapped in a cage of insecurities.


Songbird is a tremendous short that shows the importance of voices and how they can truly transform and heal when you are filled with doubts and a lack of confidence. Sophie Black demonstrates a skill for the craft of filmmaking and, others take note, has created an artistic short with a raft of narrative to keep an audience captivated. With a selection of thematic and emotional beats, Songbird therefore takes flight with a magical trip from the mic stand to wonderland.


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Mar 16 2018 04:19PM



Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016) Dir. Matt Schrader


If music be the food of love play on! This fantastic documentary has a who’s who roster of infamous film music composers and the sheer range of the talent on offer is worth a watch even to a passing fan of the medium.


But if you enjoy film then you must certainly be a fan. Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Trent Reznor, Tom Holkenborg, Randy Newman, Alexandre Desplat are just some of the stars interviewed in the amazing story of movie music.


Throughout, every aspect of the process is covered, as well as the historical context, and some of the pure joy is simply listening to the interviewees talking about their influences and contemporaries.


From James Cameron explaining a spotting session (where a director and composer get together to decide where music is going to be) to Hans Zimmer talking about the fear of the first meeting (“I think you better phone John Williams, I have no idea how to do this”) the trials of composing and the enjoyment of the challenges comes across in each talking-head segment.


The documentary shows Rachel Portman working on the film RACE with a screen next to her piano which a fantastic insight into her particular process whilst the film discusses motifs (such as those in Close Encounters & Lord of the Rings) and other music theory in simple but passionate terms.


Historically we see Alex North’s A Streetcar Named Desire revolutionary music as well as John Barry’s swinging big band scores (James Bond). Giving further context, current Bond composer David Arnold adds no spy film would feel like one without similar style which is the same for Morricone’s iconic sounds of Spaghetti Westerns.


From the toy piano in the intro music to the TV show Rugrats to orchestral pieces, no style is left uncovered and there’s fun to be had as the composers run through their strangest instruments in a montage of the weird and wonderful.


We are told “There’s no such thing as the wrong way to do something” as the diversity of music styles and the iconic films they are from are interrogated. Drums of Mad Max: Fury Road give way to segments about the science behind music. One of the most interesting parts describes the physiological response within the brain, followed by Moby’s “air molecules” analogy.


As Randy Newman fawns over Gerry Goldsmith we get the arrival of John Williams and his incredible splash of Star Wars and Jaws in the 70s. His rediscovery of classic orchestral scores (e.g. Superman, Indiana Jones) saw a revival of the medium leading all the way to his Duel of the Fates choir at Abbey Road.


If there was one flaw it would be that we only briefly get a piece of the history/composer before we move on to the next. Many of the explorations of genres, individual composers, music history and instrumentation go by so quickly, it can be a little frustrating. Each one alone could have entire documentaries of their own dedicated to their part but it’s a small gripe in a mostly fascinating piece.


Taking us from the need for music to cover up noisy projectors at the turn of the 20th century to Trent Reznor’s experimentations in his Oscar-winning The Social Network sound design, SCORE is a comprehensive documentary covering all the major players in over 100 years of movie music. Although brief at times, it barely misses a beat and if you’re not reaching for your LPs, CD shelf or Spotify account after watching this then I’m not sure you have any right to call yourself a film fan.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jan 20 2018 09:57AM



Coco (2018) Dir. Lee Unkrich


Mariachi music and sumptuous Hispanic design abound in Pixar’s latest story about a young boy with dreams of becoming a famous musician. Based around the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead, the film follows 12-year old Miguel who enters a talent contest despite his family having banned music.


Miguel subsequently becomes cursed after stealing a guitar connected to a long lost family member and can then only be seen by the dead but no longer the living. With his body slowing turning to a skeleton, Miguel must receive a blessing from a (dead) family member in order to return to the real world before sunrise in order to aovid being stuck there for eternity.


Having been transported to the land of the dead, the aspiring musician seeks the help of Héctor, a skeleton who once played guitar, who in returns asks Miguel to take his photo back to the living world before his daughter forgets him and he disappears completely.


The film’s, somewhat convoluted, narrative hits all the regular beats – family, escaping into other worlds, life lessons and cute animals – so isn’t exactly groundbreaking in that department. That said, Pixar do this so well that I warmed to the film despite these minor criticisms.


The animation, although sadly getting closer to uncanny valley at times especially on the elderly Coco (Miguel’s great-grandmother), is in fact still utterly fantastic. As a guitarist myself I was frankly astonished at Miguel's guitar playing shots. Cartoons often use vague movements to create chord shapes giving their complexity but Pixar have produced another marvel here. From Sully’s wintery fur in Monster’s Inc. to Wall*E’s realism, Pixar have prided themselves on their technical expertise and the real strings, fingering and strumming is a fantastic addition to their repertoire.


Another standout design was the brilliant Pepita which is an imposing Alebrije – a brightly coloured mythical creature based on Mexican folk art. Acting as a spiritual guide, I can see this jaguar-eagle-ram beast becoming next Christmas’ must-have stocking filler with its cute face but terrifying wings!


The other worldly design is a celebration with its use of well-known iconography without (too) many stereotypes, although there’ll no doubt be a number of Twitter “hot takes” on its appropriation but Coco is a world away from any offensiveness with its warm celebration of folklore.


The day-glow colours maintain the visual spectacle but shouldn’t overshadow the fine sound design which is a key aspect too. Not just the reverb of the acoustic guitars but audiences will enjoy the clacking of skeleton bones, dog barks and animal screams alongside the smooth Hispanic accents. A great voice cast of Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, Gael García Bernal as Héctor, Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto and Ana Ofelia Murguía as Mamá "Coco" Rivera are the main standouts and each one brings a unique “spirit” to their parts.


If there was one criticism it would be the narrative itself. Bordering on confusing it portrays various religious rites of passages, superstitions and customs that are slightly under-explained for the uninitiated. If it’s not a blessing or a curse, it’s a complex family tradition and with the huge number of characters the story bones felt unconnected. Although it may not be suitable for the youngest of viewers, the film never loses sight of its important themes however, and it delivers far more often than not.


As someone who lost my mother in 2017 and my musician dad just over a year ago, the film’s conclusion had me in tears with its fantastic song “Remember Me”. Its story crescendo of being remembered, family ties and getting older hit home in a personal way reminding me of the emotional ‘Father and Son’ sequence in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.


Not without its flaws, I cannot honestly say it is a Pixar ‘classic’, the film does however take enough successful chances. A celebration of traditional cultures, amazing production design and a story that combines family with music, Coco will no doubt leave audiences feeling it in their fingers all the way down to their bones.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



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