Tag Archives: movies

7 Beautiful Movie Music Moments

Sometimes we as moviegoers have to let movies affect us in ways we cannot explain or control. One of those ways is through music. Whether it is an epic orchestral theme or a lone piano suite, music in the movies can make the difference in how I respond to the story. Listening to a CD of movie themes got me thinking about my favorite movie moments that were made better because of their music. There are many such moments, but here are a few that stand out.

Cast Away: Saying farewell to Wilson

When Chuck (Tom Hanks) finally leaves the island four years after crash-landing there, he is mistakenly separated from his beloved anthropomorphized volleyball but can’t retrieve him.  There is no music for the entire film until that time, about 50 minutes in. So when the soft strings finally come in, we feel the catharsis the same as Chuck as he paddles away. The theme itself, by Forrest Gump and Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri, is so tender and affecting.

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WALL-E: Eva and WALL-E’s space dance

I’m glad Pixar has basically locked down Thomas Newman for their film scores, because every one he does its magical, including The Green Mile, American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, and Finding Nemo. In a film full of cute moments between the robotic protagonists, the impromptu, extinguisher-propelled ballet may be the cutest.

Lord of the Rings: The whole trilogy

I’d argue the LOTR score is the most necessary and perfect ever. Howard Shore’s compositions are practically supporting characters in themselves. There are many stand-out moments in that trilogy for me, but there are two that would not have worked without a musical backing:

The first is in Fellowship of the Ring after Gandalf falls into the Mines of Moria as the fellowship looks on helplessly. It is a shocking and grievous moment, but the lone mournful soprano voice over the somber choir does not overwhelm it. It allows us to rest on the sadness if just for a moment.

The second is in Return of the King in one of the many endings, after Aragorn becomes the new king and the four hobbits bow to him. He stops them and says, in recognition of their sacrifices, that they bow to no one. Then the whole crowd bows down to them and the main theme of the trilogy swells one last time, representing the grandest end of an epic adventure.

Once: The breakup song

Once has quickly become my favorite film “musical” more so than real musicals because the music interweaves with the story so seamlessly without the awkward transitions between dialogue and song. In a movie with so many good moments, I still have to choose the scene when the Guy plays the song “Lies” while watching home video of him and his ex-girlfriend. He is still heartbroken, and the song backs him up in that.

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The Truman Show: The end

The piano-heavy score by Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz mixes classical standards with original compositions, adding whimsy and sophistication to Peter Weir’s allegorical tale. The best moment, though, comes at the end when Truman finally hits the wall, literally and metaphorically. It is a culmination of everything Truman has been through and we as the viewers wait in anticipation for how he handles the moment. It’s as good an ending as I’ve ever seen in any movie.

Remember the Titans: The final game

The music throughout the movie builds little by little, but it isn’t until the final game when the orchestra is at full-blast. Trevor Rabin’s score builds with the tension of the final game, but the moment I always remember is when Coaches Boone and Yost exchange congratulations at the end of the game and hold up the ball together. It is a triumphant moment for the team and for the music.

Video unavailable, but here’s the audio:

The Warmth Of The Snow

Living in a warm climate during the Christmas season is good and bad. On one hand, you can walk around in shorts and a t-shirt while your northern friends brave harsh winds and icy roads just to get to their mailbox. But on the other hand, it’s just not Christmas without the cold.

As a lifelong Midwesterner, I love the traditions of Christmas. My family has many of the well-known Hallmark moments of the holidays. My house and halls were always decked with green and ruby red Christmas lights and decorations. I always cut down the balsam fir evergreen with my family at a local tree farm and dragged it through the snow to the car, strapping it to the hood and bringing it home to bedazzle with ornaments new and old. We always – always – watch It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve with the fireplace roaring and the popcorn popping. And, yes, I even love the Midwestern cold that suffuses all of these things.

But like the winter cold, these things happen every year, no matter what. When we vacationed in Florida over Christmas one year, we knew we wouldn’t have the cold or the tree, but we still brought our copy of It’s a Wonderful Life to keep tradition alive. And that’s what Christmas is often about: keeping tradition alive in spite of the circumstances.

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer uses the Exodus story to illustrate the idea of holiness and tradition, which are two concepts at the very center of Christmas. Tozer explains how the Israelites, having lived for four hundred years in Egypt surrounded by all kinds of idolatry, had forgotten the very idea of God’s holiness. To correct this, Tozer writes, “God began at the bottom. He localized Himself in the cloud and fire and later when the tabernacle had been built He dwelt between holy and unholy. There were holy days, holy vessels, holy garments. By these means Israel learned that God is holy.”

‘God is holy.’ That is the simple thought that permeates the Advent season. And so when I decorate my evergreen tree and listen to ancient hymns in church and watch a movie with my family and walk through the falling snow, I know that it is not these things in and of themselves that remind me of the reason for the season; it’s the warmth of God’s holiness.

“Let us believe,” Tozer concludes, “that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.” Our traditions, like the Israelites’ cloud and fire, are best when they reveal God at His simplest and at His holiest.

Twilight Bites: How Dazzling Vampires Distort Masculinity

Published in the North Central Chronicle on April 24, 2009.

Let’s pretend I’m a teenage girl and that you’re my best friend. I’ve just told you about this guy I started dating. He’s perfect in every way, I say. He stares at me while I sleep, he alienates me from my friends and, among other things, he drives a wedge between me and my single dad.

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Oh, you mean that those aren’t actually good things? Edward Cullen, the lead vampire from Twilight, does all of those things to Bella, the main character in the film, and yet women swoon over him. Why?

Let’s start with the superficial. The novel describes Edward as “impossibly beautiful,” his body as hard and cold as marble. He’s impossibly smart too: he plays and composes classical music and has two degrees from Harvard. And, like any good bad boy, he drives really, really nice cars really, really fast.

Bella goes on and on about how mysterious and seducing and perfect he is. But once they actually get together, she wholeheartedly submits herself to his every whim. The fact that Edward can read people’s minds (though not Bella’s for some reason-presumably because she doesn’t really have that much going on up there) shows that he is all about control. This becomes evident as the two grow closer;they become inseparable (though not in the cute way), and when a rival vampire clan jeopardizes Bella’s life, Edward tells her to abandon her sweet, thoughtful and lonely dad to skip town. Bella was indeed in danger, but Edward didn’t have to force her to blow off her dad.

What makes me cringe more than the film’s lessons is the viewer response to them. We talk so much about how pornography and advertising and television are giving young girls unrealistic expectations about body image and relationships, but what about crazes for a novel that promotes the suppression of self-confidence and identity and creates a steamy hero out of a cold and brooding vampire?

My sisters are obsessed with the series; one so much so that she read one of the books in church, hiding it in the hymnal she was supposed to be using. And she’s not alone. Fan groups and forums have sprung up all over the place with readers confessing their undying love and unhealthy addiction for Edward and the vampire saga. On one such site called “Twilight Moms,” a poster admitted: “I have no desires to be part of the real world right now. Nothing I was doing before holds any interest to me.”

Granted, it’s not just vampire romance novels that can pull people in so seductively. But the fact that some women may expect, if only secretly, that their boyfriend or husband will start acting like Edward is alarming and wholly unfair. It’s like when a man expects his girlfriend or wife to perform like a porn star in bed. Pornography is not real sex, and Edward is not a real man.

I don’t want to completely destroy what many women see as an ideal man. It’s good for men to look out for what is best for their significant other. But I still struggle with the thought of trying to become someone like Edward Cullen, because he’s really not someone any man should want to be, or any woman should want to love.

A blogger at Salon.com summed up well the lesson being told to young men through the movie:

“Don’t be fun, thoughtful, quirky or smart if you want to get the girl. Be a d—. But be a d— who can stop cars with your bare hands.  And look depressed. But be good looking while you’re depressed. And express your desire to be with the girl of your dreams but be vague about why you can’t be with her. Confuse her, make her crazy, change your moods by the hour and make sure your hair looks like Johnny Depp in the mid-90s.”

I don’t have two Harvard degrees or chiseled, marble-like features. I don’t drive sports cars or live in a mansion. I don’t have immortal life or superhuman strength. What does that mean for me? If I want to be in a relationship with a girl but I know that when she thinks of the “perfect man” she thinks of Edward Cullen, I lose. Because I am impossibly imperfect.

But who isn’t? That’s why unrealistic expectations, even if they are gleaned from fiction, are so destructive: they don’t allow us to be real, to be human.

But then, Edward Cullen isn’t human. He’s a vampire. So, ladies, dream away, I guess. But when you wake up, don’t tell me what you dreamt about. I have a feeling I will be sorely disappointed.

Phoebe In Wonderland

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Being a kid today has got to be tough. Being a kid with an insatiable creative appetite and a slight case of obsessive compulsive disorder has got to be even tougher. That’s what Phoebe (played by 11-year-old Elle Fanning, Dakota’s younger sister) has to go through in Phoebe in Wonderland, the newest film from director Daniel Barnz.

The film establishes early Phoebe’s unassailable creativity. She’s the Tortured Artist-albeit a kid version-who is alienated from her classmates for being “different” and feels confined by her school’s suppressive methods. She is even put into therapy after her OCD goes a little too far, but again becomes restless within its confines. Her home life isn’t any easier; both parents are writers who, trying to get published, struggle to find time to connect with Phoebe and their other daughter, who becomes jealous of the attention Phoebe gets because of her tendency to lash out.

But then, a mysterious new drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson) is hired at her school and stages a production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Phoebe, her curiosity peaked by the teacher and the chance of living in the magical world of Wonderland for real, tries out and lands the lead over the other girls whose self entitlement contrasts clearly with Phoebe’s unassuming self confidence.

The drama teacher, rather than simply telling the young thespians what to do, lets them do it for themselves, thereby giving them the power they lack in the classroom. Phoebe thrives in this environment, letting her imagination run wild. She daydreams about dancing with characters from “Alice in Wonderland,” which eventually gets her into some trouble-the consequences of which lay the groundwork for the rest of the film.

This is Fanning’s first true role (she has played the younger version of her sister in a few movies and had a small part in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and she shines brightly in it. Her ability to look adorable while also transmitting a healthy dose of angst usually reserved for teenaged emo kids makes this film work. It doesn’t hurt that there is a strong supporting cast of adults around her: Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman as the conflicted writer-parents create the environment in which Phoebe stews, and Patricia Clarkson offers the tender maternal love that Phoebe needs.

Phoebe in Wonderland could be a close sibling of Danny Boyle’s whimsical child-driven fable Millions. There are lessons to be learned by both the adults and the children, but it is ultimately the children-especially Phoebe-in this film who know how to live a life worth living; one led by imagination rather than inhibition.

And The Oscar Goes To…

…the most predictable Oscars ever. Every year it seems like the suspense is sucked out of the actual awards ceremony with the months of speculation and campaigning and Oscar ballots. This year, sadly, was even more predicable than previous ones because of the incessant and overrated Slumdog Millionaire cleaned house just as every one predicted it would.

I’ve been bitter since the nominations were announced in January because of the stunning omission of Wall-E from the Best Picture race. Logically, the best reviewed film of the year would at least be in the running for the category that supposedly recognizes the best film of the year. But instead, we’re forced to suffer through preening “issue” movies like Frost/Nixon and The Reader.

No one was talking about those movies this year. Even The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, leading the pack with 13 nominations, was pretty much not a contender for the major awards.

I’ve written about the Academy’s bald-faced bias against animated movies here before, so I won’t wax on about that again. But this year’s Oscar ceremony, despite a great performance by Hugh Jackman, was not fun to watch because I knew that the best film wasn’t there.

Also, they must never do the “5 past nominees talk about this year’s nominees for 15 minutes” thing ever again. I liked having the narrative flow between the awards and such, but trim that dross out next year and the ceremony may actually be done in three hours.

Anyway, I’m so glad Slumdog Millionaire will finally go away. Maybe I’ll watch Wall-E again to cheer me up. Lord knows that robot has more going for him than anything else this year.

Oh, Oscars, How Do I Loathe Thee?

Published in the North Central Chronicle on January 30, 2009.

Let me count the ways…

1. You want normal people to like you, but you fail to acknowledge what people like.

In the past, you’ve been excused from this because most of the time the highest grossing film of year wasn’t worthy of awards. But this year is different. The Dark Knight and Wall-E dominated the box office and landed on many top 10 lists. What better combination can there be for awards season? The ratings for the awards ceremony have steadily decline to half the viewers since 1998; giving due props to the high quality popular films would have boosted viewership and proved that Hollywood isn’t always out of touch.

Instead, you’ve acknowledged films that barely anyone except film critics has seen. I know that most of the time, the smaller films are better than the box office winners so they deserve to win awards, but this was the year that broke that pattern. Instead of taking the chance to try something new, you stick with what works but isn’t very exciting.

2. Year after year the studios throw out mediocre Oscar bait like “The Reader” yet you still bite, hook, line, and sinker.

Ricky Gervais was right when told perennial nominee Kate Winslet at the Golden Globes, “I told you; do a Holocaust

In six months no one will remember this movie.

WTF?

movie and the awards start coming.” Everybody knows which movies are being made simply because they have at least one ingredient in the magical formula guaranteed to clean up at the Oscars: angst, lots of yelling, Meryl Streep, or the Holocaust.

But I get it: it’s all about politics. The Reader got in because of the legendary influence of Hollywood heavyweight producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein (the same men who helped Shakespeare in Love upset Saving Private Ryan for best picture back in 1998). It’s not the quality of the film but the quality of the film’s PR that matters in the end. That is ultimately what is exacerbating the problem with how the Academy Awards are run, but I don’t foresee this changing any time soon.

3. You hate animated movies.

I don’t really know why. Maybe you’re afraid that nominating a film like Wall-E because you feel threatened by anything that doesn’t require overpaid humans to do the work. Or maybe you just don’t understand yet that animation is not a genre but simply another way to tell a story. Whatever the reason, you didn’t do animated films a favor by creating a separate category for them; you’re ghettoizing them. You’re saying animated movies do not equal real movies, even when the best reviewed film of the year is a great romantic science fiction adventure film that happens to be animated.

4. You never award people at the right time.

We’ve seen this countless times: an actor or actress or director winning for a film because it was viewed as more of a reward for their body of work rather than an award for that specific performance. Martin Scorsese winning in 2006 for The Departed is an example. Kate Winslet, the youngest actress to get six nominations, will probably win this year for The Reader because voters feel she is owed for having been snubbed before. This practice causes others who actually deserve to win, like Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky, to get robbed.

5. For being such a politically liberal town, you get really conservative during award season.

This, too, has a storied history. The so-so Crash won over the heavily favored, gay themed and superior picture Brokeback Mountain in 2005 because it was the safer pick. This year, The Reader, Frost/Nixon, and Slumdog Millionaire — historical or quasi-historical film with obvious messages — are up for the big awards instead of The Dark Knight and Wall-E, two films with powerful political and social commentary that liberals would ordinarily embrace in real life. For being the year for change, Hollywood has failed to change any of their award season habits.

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He's just perplexed by the Academy's puzzling logic.

In spite of my complaining, I still appreciate it when the Oscars showcase the art house pictures that don’t make hundreds of millions at the box office. There are a lot of well made films out there that wouldn’t be seen without the buzz that starts at the film festivals and carries them through awards season.

Still, the Academy needs to do a better job of rewarding art when it deserves it. The Reader doesn’t deserve it. In 10 years no one will remember it. Wall-E, however, will live on for a long time. It’s just a matter of whether the Academy wanted to live on with it. Apparently, they didn’t care that much.

My Mouth’s Bleedin’!

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Today is the day, the only day of the year, when I watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Watching the classic Christmas movie with a bowl of popcorn and a crackling fire on Christmas Eve has become perhaps the longest tradition with my family. Another tradition, getting up at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning and waiting for our parents to wake up, luckily has died out now that we’re all grown. But I suspect watching George Bailey on his “red letter day” will never get old.

Happy-Go-Millionaire

Hallelujah! It’s Oscar season!

I guess seeing Rachel Getting Married was technically my first dive into this year’s plethora of Oscar bait, but tonight I dove down further by seeing Happy-Go-Lucky and Slumdog Millionaire, two small films that are getting a lot of buzz and landing on some critics’ Best of 2008 lists. Naturally, I have to see them for myself. My pre-viewing expectations were altered after seeing the two — one for the better and one for worse.

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Sally Hawkins in “Happy-Go-Lucky”

First, Happy-Go-Lucky. A British film, it’s about a 30-year-old woman named Poppy who is a naturally happy and bubbly person. I thought this would come off as irritating, but it does not at all. She is hilarious in dealing with the cynics and party-poopers that surround her. But she’s not delusional or masking a secret depression; she’s genuinely positive about everything. I think that’s a nice antidote to the hugely depressing times we’re living in.

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Who wants to be a Slumdog Millionaire?

The second film in my double-feature adventure was Slumdog Millionaire, the British film about an Indian boy who grows up in the slums of Bombay and makes it on to the Indian equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It’s a cool concept: each question on the game show recalls a memory from the boy’s past, centering around his thieving life as a young boy or his life-long crush.

The movie is getting a lot of good press, but I don’t think it fully lives up to the hype. The director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) creates a hyperstylized look and feel that helps keep the energy up, but ultimately doesn’t sync with the setting of the trash-filled slums of Bombay. It is a love story that is central to this movie, but it feels more manufactured than genuine. I’d still recommend that you see it, but not that it get any major awards.

In conclusion:

Happy-Go-Lucky = YES!

Slumdog Millionaire = no.

The War by Ken Burns

I’m still working my way through it, but I’ve already come to appreciate Ken Burns’ seven-part 2007 miniseries The War.

Burns explains in the making-of feature that he wanted to show the war not through historians but through average citizens, men and women and children from every corner of the country who endured the front lines abroad or did their part at home. He focuses on four towns—one in California, Minnesota, Alabama, and Connecticut—and uses interviews with the veterans and their families from those towns to make the enormous scope of World War II more intimate.

It’s a great historical record of the American involvement, delving deep into topics that are not often discussed like Japanese internment and the segregation of minorities in the Army. Burns employs his trademark use of photos, footage, and interviews in each scene. Some photos we’ve seen before, but most are new and show us a different view of what has become a very familiar war.

Norah Jones’ “American Anthem,” the series’ theme, is very good, though not as good as the theme for Burns’ The Civil War, called “Ashokan Farewell.” And while I really love David McCullough’s narration in The Civil War, actor Keith David’s here has quickly grown on me.

So if you have 15 hours to spare one these days, fill them with The War.

No Direction Home

Just watched Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary No Direction Home about Bob Dylan and I loved it. A great, detailed history of the moment and the man.

I must admit that I have not really gotten into Dylan that much until recently. I have a few of his records on vinyl—Blonde on Blonde is definitely my favorite so far—but now I’m inspired to dig deeper into his work as well as that of his main inspiration, Woody Guthrie.

My growing love of folk music was also boosted by this film. I’m fascinated by folk music’s impact on the 1950s and 60s culture, Dylan being a big part of that impact.

Either way, I’d highly recommend the documentary if you love music, history, or America. Or all of the above as I do.