“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” Review

Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!  While I could annoy you with excuses reasons as to why it took me over 2 weeks to publish a review (like realizing that the seats at my new AMC get booked really fast), that would be weak and unprofessional.  Instead, I’ll talk about my firsthand exposure to the horror of… pre-movie commercials!  I drastically overestimated how long it would take me to get to this matinee, so I had about 40 minutes of filler to sit though before the movie actually started.  Now, I’m not talking about the trailers for movies that will play in a theater, I’m talking about those ads that air when you’re taking a pee-break from PBS.  Lo and behold, I’m stuck in a scratchy chair, without the use of my phone because I ran out of data, and the commercials are unbearably generic.  All except for the one where I got to see Mark Wahlberg talk to Gumball Waterson.  That was fun.  Once the nightmares concluded, I could finally be treated to one of the most potentially-abhorrent adaptations of all time.  Let’s begin.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is directed by David Soren and written by Nicholas Stoller and David Soren.  Stars: Thomas Middleditch, Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, and Jordan Peele.  Premise-The lives of two joke-making schoolkids are forever changed when they hypnotize their mean principal into becoming Captain Underpants (a superhero the boys created for their comics).

Remember when Blue Sky Studios released The Peanuts Movie 2 years ago?  It was an adaptation of a classic source material meant for children, animated in energetic 3D, everyone thought it would suck, and by a miracle from heaven, it was actually good.  Well, DreamWorks seems to have taken a few notes from the most forgettable animation company of modern time and the result is a thoroughly passable venture.  I love Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants novels.  Clever humor, satirical storytelling, and a thorough understanding of the spirit of childhood.  When I first heard the mere idea of a film adaptation, I could not fathom how they could stretch the stories into 90 minutes.  Then again, The Peanuts Movie did it right, let’s see how Captain Underpants accomplished this.

The first thing I must praise is the voice-acting.  While Middleditch sounds way too old to voice a 9 year old (Harold), Kevin Hart actually changed his voice for this role (unlike in Secret Life of Pets).  Also, Jordan Peele is excellent (he voices a white kid, and I couldn’t tell it was him), and Ed Helms’s energy as the hero is impossible to resist.  What’s better is that the animation brings each of these characters to life.  You guys know I’m not that big a fan of 3D, but its best uses are with adaptions like Wreck-It Ralph, The Peanuts Movie, The Angry Birds Movie.  The character designs are perfect, and the fast-paced writing allows for some entertaining slapstick and visual gags.

When it comes to the story… eh, it’s hard to talk about.  In regards to my question about how they could get 90 minutes out of a book with less than 150 pages, the writers attempted to combine the first, second, and fourth novels.  I say attempted, because the narrative is very disjointed.  If you never read the books, it’ll be less distracting, but certain scenes felt out of leftfield.  There are also a few terribly-sung musical numbers (I get the point, but Middleditch can’t sing), and there are a few clichés that grate on you.  Despite this, the writing is actually more intelligent than you’d expect.  This movie has an unholy amount of self-awareness.  There are just as many jokes for adults as there are for the kids.  And by “adult jokes” I don’t mean gross sex puns, or obnoxious stereotypes (the ones that made The Angry Birds Movie so unfunny), I mean self-referential humor that pokes fun at clichés of the genre.  Obviously, this wasn’t done as well as say, The Lego Batman Movie, but it is no less appreciated here.  Above all, the show knows it’s for kids.  There are a few fourth wall jokes here and there when the characters talk directly to the kids in the audience.  Wouldn’t you know it; the children in the theater loved it.

Alright, another one bites the dust.  I hope you enjoyed this review, because I recommend it to anyone with kids or fond memories of the novels.  Heck, I wrote a book report on this series a few years back, and I can comfortably say that I enjoyed watching an animated, middle-aged man parade around in his underpants for 90 minutes.  More reviews coming soon!  Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

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My Thoughts On: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Poor Guy Ritchie.  The guy can’t catch a break after Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (which I thought was fine).  I mean, The Man from U.N.C.L.E was unbelievably forgettable, and was such a box office disaster; I thought he wouldn’t get to make another movie for a while.  Luckily, some studio had faith in him, now we can see his interpretation of one of England’s most famous legends.  Unfortunately, you’ll be wishing they never pulled the sword from the paper mache stone after watching the end result.

To its credit, King Arthur is the most visually interesting Ritchie film (after Sherlock Holmes) I’ve seen.  Oh, I’m not talking about the F/X (which look unbelievably cheap); I mean the sets, costumes, and some of the cinematography.  Good thing too, because the characters are bland as white bread.  While Charlie Hunam gives a decent performance, I can’t remember anyone from the movie, probably because the screenwriters used token “adventure” clichés as characters.  It would be easy to list them off, but I’d rather talk about the worst one: Arthur himself.  Instead of being a bad*** swordfighter whose strong-willed, diligent personality never surrenders; Arthur is reduced to the “reluctant hero” trope.  Mhm, the most tedious version of “the chosen one” plotline is our protagonist for 2 incredibly long hours.  If that wasn’t enough, his backstory is exactly the same as the story of Moses (there is even a scene where he’s sent down a river in a basket as a baby).  Oy, these characters are forgettable.

It’s a shame really.  There are moments of classic Ritchie brilliance (an interrogation scene in particular is hilarious), the music and production is cool, and when the movie actually wants to be awesome, it is.  I don’t know much about King Arthur lore, aside from that line in Tomb Raider: Legend where Alister states that Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone were, “Two bloody different stories!”  What I can tell you is that this movie’s bland story is not saved by a neutered PG-13 rating and a lack of satisfying action sequences.  King Arthur: Legend of the Sword gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

Update-Website Changes, Moving, and New Schedule.

My gosh, trying to figure out WordPress editing is a pain.  So here’s the situation:

This week, my family and I are moving to a new house.  I’ve been packing (I have a lot of crap) the last two weeks, and the actual transportation process is quite complicated, so I have a deadline for having all my stuff packed (no “day-of” cramming for me!).  This is why it took Alien: Covenant forever to publish. I did catch a matinee of King Arthur, so I’ll try to have a MTO (My Thoughts On) for it on Saturday.  My schedule will change with the new digs as well.  Keep two sharp eyes out at my “About” page, as it will always have the most updated version of my schedule on it.

One other factor is my financial situation.  I’m quitting my job when I move (the commute would be too long).  Yes, I will have much more free time, but I will also have much less money to spend at the theater seeing every single summer blockbuster (hence why there will not be a Pirates 5 or Wonder Woman review anytime soon).  The reviews will be less frequent, but steady (hopefully).

Also, that opening sentence does tie into something.  I’m currently trying to improve my site so that it’s easier to view.  For example, when these redesigns are complete, the entire reviews will be linked in the pictures.  The whole review will not be on the home page.  This way: the home page is less cluttered, my statistics will be more accurate, and you don’t have to scroll down forever!  I have no idea how to accomplish this yet, but I never quit, so just know that it will be done.  Unless it requires me to pay for a new theme or something, which I can’t do (don’t have a job anymore).

Well, that about does it.  When all this mess is over, I’ll let you know.  I have many exciting things coming over summer.  But for now, thanks a ton.  Toss some comments my way letting me know if there’s anything about the site that bothers you, shower me with compliments, or point out that one typo that always slips past editing.

“Alien: Covenant” Review

Alright.  I apologize for the lack of posts lately; the complete update to my situation will be out this week.  In the meantime, we have another unnecessary Alien movie to review!  Since I already gave out my opinions on Ridley Scott in my review of The Martian, I can get right into the meat of things.

Alien: Covenant is directed by Ridley Scott and written by: Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan, and Dante Harper.  Stars-Michael Fassbender, Kathrine Waterson, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride.  Premise-The startled crew of a colony spaceship en route to inhabit a new planet discover much more than they bargained for when a distress signal leads them to a different destination.

If you thought Prometheus was a disappointment, then hold on to your jaw, cause it’s about to drop right off!  Where do I even begin, well, how about the story?  The more complicated these movies get, the more I understand why the original film was so smart.  We’ve gone from “Killer alien in a claustrophobic ship with an unprepared crew” to “Why do humans exist?  Let’s travel out to deep space cuz Guy Pearce says so.  Oh, and there’s aliens.  Can’ forget that.”  Needless to say, I think the franchise has forgotten the “point.”  Either that or the scripts for Blade Runner 2049 and Alien: Covenant was switched.  If so, I can’t wait to see Sebastian from La La Land fight a Xenomorph.  Honestly, this movie is stuck so far up its own butt; I’m surprised it wasn’t written by the Wachowskis.

You’ll notice very quickly that Alien: Covenant forgoes terror and scares for a lot of sciency gibberish and *ahem* philosophy.  Basically, Billy Crudup will spout something Mr. Scott thinks is something Christians would say, and he is branded “insufferable” and constantly beaten down by the reality of science (aka, contrived screenwriting).  You’re not gonna believe this, but I just summed up the movie’s underlying theme in one sentence.  This wouldn’t be a problem if the movie was focused on scaring you rather than talking your ears off.  Now, I understand that (God-forbid) we should be getting more intelligent horror films nowadays, but Alien: Covenant is simply putting all of its eggs into the same flimsy basket.  A basket that promises classic thrills and plenty of terror, but is in fact, very, very empty. Well, except for one particular egg.

I’m sorry, that metaphor was way to Shyamalany.  What I’m getting at is that Michael Fassbender is awesome in this movie.  He was one of the best things about Prometheus, and they give him much more to work with.  Unfortunately, these characters are more asinine than the entirety of TLC programs.  Remember how there were only 8 characters with unique personalities, memorable traits, and interesting actors in the original?  Well, Alien: Covenant has 12+ forgettable, boring, obviously-exist-only-to-die characters.  Only McBride and Fassbender stand out because both actors have charisma.  If you thought those two guys from Prometheus were obvious horror pawns, then prepare to rage (or in my case, be bored-to-sleep) at how many characters show up, speak one expositional sentence, then die.  Not only is this formula tedious to sit through (since the pacing sucks), but it’s an amateur approach to filmmaking, not befitting of the legendary Ridley Scott.  Speaking of which, this movie treats its audience like morons.  Every teen-slasher cliché can be found here, the characters make pants-soilingly dumb decisions, and the “twist” is something you’ve seen in countless other sci-fi films.  Also, what they do to Shaw’s character from Prometheus is… well.  Remember what they did to “wrap up” Will Smith’s character in Independence Day: Resurgence?  Yeah, that’s how disrespectful it is.

It’s really a shame.  I can see the effort behind the movie in the cinematography, sets, Fassbender/McBride’s performances, and F/X, but there’s too much talking, the characters are idiots, and I can only remember being in suspense for 5 minutes in a 120 minute film.  As for Scott, either keep your deep philosophy in movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings and Blade Runner, or talk to me.  I’d love to tell you about a great guy named Jesus Christ.  Alien: Covenant gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Review

I wonder how long it’ll be until Marvel finally kills off some of its main characters.  Only at that point will their cinematic universe truly open to new stories.  I say this because the formulas for the modern superhero movie are slowly making each installment more predictable.  In the meantime, we have a film that screams “capitalization.”  Either that or it’s just a sequel that pales in comparison to its predecessor.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is written/directed by James Gunn.  Stars-Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper.  Premise-During one of their adventures (and getting into trouble at the same time), the Guardians learn more about their leader’s (Star-Lord) childhood.

The biggest problem with Guardians 2 is the writing.  No offense to Gunn (whose ideas started the trend of superhero movies having retro soundtracks), but this script needed another brain working on it.  Perhaps you see it differently, but this film felt really awkward to me.  Some of the jokes felt rushed or were not delivered well; especially whenever they try to use profanity (the PG-13 rating neuters some of these jokes).  It’s difficult to phrase, but the movie doesn’t have the flow of the original.  One thing that attributes to that is the terrible cutting.  I don’t know if it was written or edited this way, but there are many scenes that cut away at inopportune times.  For example, Star-Lord is about to learn something critical about his past, but the scene randomly cuts to the subplot involving Yondu.  I wouldn’t mind as much if this was a one-time thing, however, this occurs at least 3 times.  It kinda ruins the moment.  Still, the movie isn’t without its charm.

The cast may actually be better this time around.  That’s because they have much more development.  I don’t know why critics are saying the characters aren’t fleshed out; there are more character-focused scenes than actiony, space ones.  The first movie was similar to a television pilot in terms of character.  We got their backstories, personalities, and some interplay between them.  This movie bumps it up a notch.  The drama is outstandingly affective, and it kept the movie from getting boring.  Bautista, Rooker, and Cooper, especially get to shine with their material.  Which is great considering the action sequences and CGI are way too cartoony this time around (but the sets are fantastic).

Well, that was short.  Sorry if you were expecting 20 paragraphs of in-depth criticism, but that’s really all I have to say.  In essence, it’s not as good as the first one.  Heck, the soundtrack isn’t one-fifth as memorable as the first.  The best comparison I can come up with is the difference between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back movies.  The first was much more fun and action-packed, while the second was darker and focused on the characters.  That said, most people prefer Empire Strikes Back, so I’ll let you decide if time Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is worth your time.  But for me, it gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

“The Circle” Review

The Circle is directed by James Ponsoldt and written by James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers.  Stars-Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, and Bill Paxton.  Premise-A woman snags a job at the biggest company in the world (the Circle).  No sooner has one week passed and she can tell something is amiss about the bucolic establishment and its agendas.

Wow is this movie a backfire!  Not a misfire, a great-aim-but-blows-up-in-your-face backfire.  I may fly off the handle later in the review, but considering how serious the movie is taking itself, I’d say it is warranted.  The themes and issues the film talks about are very important, and the treatment they give it is nothing short of botched.  Let’s start with the presentation.

Try as the filmmakers might, they cannot achieve the level of suspense created by other films of the “sinister corporation investigated with a twenty-something intellect as the lead” genre.  While I could point out every single comparison to The Social Network (like the electronica score and a socially awkward young intellectual getting into a prestigious corporation), that would be too easy, instead, I’ll go over how The Circle (wow that’s a boring title) fails on its own merits.

To start, the performances are quite lackluster.  With the exception of Bill Paxton who plays Watson’s dad (who has multiple sclerosis) and does the part with sympathy, charm, and good humor, everyone is collecting a paycheck.  Watson is bland, Hanks is barley in the movie, and the supporting cast is extremely awkward.  Most of the movie follows the infamous “tell don’t show” style of filmmaking; that is, all exposition, no action.  Unfortunately, the film has no idea how to maintain, or create for that matter, suspense and the result is a painfully slow 110 minutes of bland characters talking.  This is only a fraction of The Circle’s failures.  The real badness lies in the message.

*Before I continue, let it be known that any plot points I bring up are in the trailers*  Basically, the entire goal of the Circle is to have universally access to everything happening at all times with everybody.  This is achieved via tiny cameras placed anywhere and everywhere.  There would be no more secrets, and the word “private” would be nonexistent.  Yeah, if your initial emotion is fear, then your second is confusion.  The biggest problem with this movie is how unbelievably unbelievable it is.  There could be some business practices that I’m not aware of, but there is no conceivable way that this companie’s plan could be carried out in any form of reality.  The film takes itself so dang seriously, but it fails to account for things like: religious/moral beliefs, the law, age, race, social status, and human nature!  The nail in the coffin is the fact that we just had a movie about how corporations spying on us are wrong.  I think it was based off a famous fugitive… a privileged intellectual who got into a super influential organization… I think it had social commentary as well… oh yeah!  It was Snowden in 2016.  That same year, Jason Bourne and Now You See Me 2 used that message as a subplot.  Answer me this, if this message has been universally written about and discussed (it’s still a hot-button topic today), how can so many people buy into the Circle’s idea of no personal freedom or privacy?  It’s based on a book.  Well, then the screenwriter should have adjusted for what changed in the world (as the novel was published in 2013), or *GASP* write an original movie!  I already have a premise, set the film after the plan for world transparency has been enforced, and go from there.  At the very least it would be something we’ve never seen before.

This script came from the back alleys of Tumblr, I just know it.  Not only can you predict every twist and turn of this plot, but the social commentary is extremely propagandized and over-the-top.  Instead of subtle storytelling and detailed exposition scenes, we get one-sided fallacies posing as intellectual arguments.  What makes it even worse is how PC the movie is.  I stated that this movie (whose only non-white main character has all of 5 minutes on-screen) ignores variables like race, laws, and whatnot.  Well, it’s also very ethnocentric.  I can imagine showing this movie to different cultures around the world and seeing them look at it with confused/unconcerned expressions.  I wouldn’t care so much about this if the movie didn’t constantly act like, “This could really happen!  Be scared!”  Obviously, our world ain’t perfect, and technology has been abused by many to gain access to other people’s information.  However, The Circle seems to forget, the generation it’s aiming for distrusts big businesses almost as much as the government.  What makes it worse is that the characters are too bland to be relatable.  Watson’s character can’t seem to decide if she’s for or against the Circle.  Her character arc is extremely rushed, most of the supporting cast is simply forgotten about, and the ending fails to conclude each  character’s story.  Oy, what a mess.

The most you’ll get out of this movie is a reminder to keep your computer’s security system up-to-date; and a bit of contempt for the careers of everyone involved with the film.  Except for Paxton of course; that man couldn’t give a bad performance if he tried.  The Circle gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.

Ok, so where the heck have I been?  In short, I finished my final exams and the Top Ten Best Study Soundtracks list in the same week and it left me completely drained.  It took me some time to acknowledge it, but I needed a rest.  Not helping was trying to write this review in my exhausted state.  I scrapped at least 3 drafts of this review because I couldn’t get enough energy to complete it; the results were unsatisfying.  To remedy this, I took last week off.  Now I’m back to work and ready for action.  There is much more going on in my life, but that will have to wait for another post.  Also, I will get to reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as soon as I can.

Top Ten Study Soundtracks

I freaking love music!  I may not play any instruments, but there is nothing like plugging in my earbuds, lying back, and listening to one of the most emotionally powerful art forms out there.  My difference is that I prefer movie scores.  It’s impossible to express how much I love movie music; in some instances, music alone brings tears to my eyes, others bring chills to my skin, and many are just fun to listen to.  Not only will this post provide you (faithful reader), with some excellent background music to relieve your stress as you work, but it allows me to praise some of my favorite artists.  Final exams are approaching, and this list is gonna help with that.  Before we enter musical bliss, here are a few ground rules.

  1. I cannot include the same composer twice.
  2. This list is only counting musical scores, no lyrics. Soundtracks like Pulp Fiction, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Sing (although great in their own right) are excluded.
  3. The entries in this list are based off of my personal preference. This preference is decided by: overall quality, creativity/originality, genre, and repeatability.

#10 – Raiders of the Lost Ark composed by John Williams

Kicking off the list is the greatest film composer of all time, Mr. John Williams.  I love this guy too, so don’t get triggered over him being number 10.  This list was hard enough to rank, let alone choosing one score from this master.  There were so many candidates: Schindler’s List (somber, but I’d rather not think of Jewish genocide while writing a history essay), Star Wars (iconic, but I start daydreaming every time I listen to it), Home Alone (charming, but very seasonal), etc.  However, I think Raiders never gets too fast or too slow.  Like the film, it’s perfectly-paced and engaging.  Aside from the classic theme, my favorite tracks are: “The Map Room: Dawn” and “Desert Chase.”  If you want to turn homework into a fun adventure, cue this awesome score and let the work begin.

#9 – Dances with Wolves composed by John Barry

Of the many, many things director/actor Kevin Costner did right while making this monumental epic was hiring a composer whose music adds a grand scale to Mother Nature.  Dances with Wolves was a risky project, it was the beginning of the 90s, and Costner was well-established as an actor, not a director.  However, through incredibly delicate direction, top-notch production design, and empathetic performances, it stands as one of the most impactful/important movies of the decade.  Even if the writing doesn’t compel you, there is no denying that the film looks BEAUTIFUL.  From the opening sequence alone, you know that the combination of Barry’s deep score and cinematographer Dean Semler’s incredible use of landscape is worth the 3-hour runtime.  Two specific things make this music great studying material: the duration of the tracks, and how it sounds.  While Raiders of the Lost Ark (and another entry further down the list) have music that gets you pumped, every now and then you need a score that takes its time.  A score that tells its own story in a swooping way.  Also, the longer the score, the more work I can get out of it without having to click the “next” button.  Listen to the John Dunbar theme or “Two Socks” and you’ll see why I recommend it.

#8 – Ratatouille composed by Michael Giacchino

I love this movie!  The perfect animation, the smart writing, the fun characters, the amazing, wholly unique, inspired, beautifully composed music!  Leave it to Pixar veteran Brad Bird to write/direct a film that perfected nearly every single aspect.  What stood out to me in particular was the score.  Giacchino (with all due respect) makes a lot of music, but most of it either sounds the same or is forgettable.  However, his notable exceptions (which include The Incredibles, Cars 2, Inside Out, and Mission: Impossible III) are something to behold.  In the case of Ratatouille… I can’t even describe it; just listen to “Souped Up” or “End Creditouilles.”  Note how vibrant and fast-paced they are.  The movie is evenly-paced, alternating between sections of character development and entertaining sequences.  Bird specifically wanted Giacchino (who worked with him on The Incredibles 3 years prior) to do this score, and the result was a match made in heaven (the same heaven which combined Spielberg with Williams and Wes Anderson with Alexandre Desplat).  Most of the movie takes place in a kitchen and/or from the perspective of the rat’s (Remy) perspective.  Oh yeah, and it’s in France.  After listening to these tracks, answer me this.  Do the melodies sound authentically French?  Would you listen to this soundtrack while cooking?  Is that saxophone guy the best thing ever?  If the answer to any of those was yes, then buy this man’s music!  It’s great stuff!  That’s the primary reason why it’s good for studying.  The tempo is upbeat (providing energy to keep working), the mellifluous flow eases the stress, and it is “getting stuff done” music.  Nuff said.

#7 – The Grand Budapest Hotel composed by Alexandre Desplat

If there was any score that could beat Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar for the Oscar, it’s this jaunty, upbeat melody.  The Imitation Game (composed by Desplat in the same year) was my initial choice for this spot but after listening to Grand Budapest Hotel a few more times (while prepping for an exam no less), it won me over.   I have a soft spot for scores that have multiple instruments (each with their own standalone sound) going on at once; yet together create a one-of-a-kind style.  Examples of this would be Sherlock Holmes, The Untouchables, and The Adventures of Tintin (2011).  In the case of Desplat, he is a master of this genre.  I cannot choose a specific track because they’re all amazing!  Take for instance, “Criminal Camp Overture.”  It’s literally 11 seconds long, and yet it tells just as much of a story as “Mr. Moustafa.”  You’ll be happily tapping your foot while cramming for that presentation in style when you listen to this charming score.

#6 – Take Shelter composed by David Wingo

Just like the film, Wingo’s score is subtle, suspenseful, and leaves an impression.  Most of the tracks in this score are under 2 minutes, but none of them are bland.  I’m likely to review Take Shelter one of these days because it’s one of the best examples of subtlety and character in recent memory.  As for the music, David Wingo (who also worked with Jeff Nichols on Mud, Loving, and Midnight Special) provides an eerie, often unsettling tone to every scene.  If you want to see how applicable this score is, try playing Halo 3: ODST (during night in the barren streets) with “Storm Shelter” as the background music (prepare to be creeped out).  If you prefer a quieter, but still powerful piece, check out Wingo’s creation.

#5 – Tomorrow Never Dies composed by David Arnold

Aw yeah, you knew there had to be a James Bond score on this list!  Over the 50 years and 24 movies, we’ve had John Barry, Marvin Hamlisch, Thomas Newman, and David Arnold make music for the franchise.  What’s that?  You don’t know who he is?  Well, he may not be Oscar-nominated (like the others in that list), but his filmography is pretty underrated.  While his Television scores (Sherlock, Stargate SG-1) are impressive, his film music is even more so.  He hasn’t composed for many films, but his James Bond scores always deliver.  Tomorrow Never Dies is a ridiculously over-the-top action flick that tries to sound intelligent, but looks even more ridiculous because of it (ah, the 90s): and I love it.  However, the one part of this movie that stands among some of the best the franchise has to offer is David Arnold’s compositions.  Most know him for Casino Royale (2006), but he started with Tomorrow Never Dies, and I think it’s his best of all.  He incorporated the rockish punch of the decade with Bond’s signature tunes to create a fast, action-packed symphony that makes the movie 50 times better.  There are 5, or 8, or 37 action scenes in the movie, some of which are very standard, but Arnold’s music alone makes them extremely exciting.  The best track is “Backseat Driver.”  Each tune is equivalent to a cup of black coffee injected straight into your bloodstream.  Needless to say, you’ll get a lot finished with this stuff coursing through your ears.

#4 – Nocturnal Animals composed by Abel Korzeniowski

If there was ever a score that encompassed the word “beauty,” it’s this melody of perfection.  I’ll be honest, I went to see this movie on a whim after realizing that La La Land was sold out, and thank God for that!  I was treated to a slow-building, complex thriller that left me thinking weeks after seeing it.  In addition to Tom Ford’s brilliant direction, Nocturnal Animals achieved a masterful tone because of the score.  I don’t often complain about the Oscars in these posts (all bets are off in person), but the snubbing of this score is unforgivable.  The range of emotions the soundtrack covers in the span of 45 minutes (enough time to write a short essay) is incredible.  “Off the Road” is intense, “The Field” is crushingly sad, and “Wayward Sisters” is freaking awesome.  I can’t really specify what makes this applicable to schoolwork, but I can tell you that I’ve written over 10 reviews with Korzeniowski’s talents as my background inspiration.  Try it out, and you’ll be rewarded.

#3 – Risky Business composed by Tangerine Dream

Little did I know that when I watched the dramedy that gave Tom Cruise his career, I would be treated to one of the best movie soundtracks of all time.  Electronica (whether you like it or not) has quite an interesting history with movies.  You probably don’t know how many familiar films have scores done with synthesizers: Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner, Midnight Express, Iron Man, etc.  In my opinion, the king of electronica movie scores is Giorgio Moroder, but a close second is the revolutionary band, Tangerine Dream (whose music has been featured in Mr. Robot, Louder than Bombs, and Stranger Things).  Their compositions for Firestarter and Sorcerer are excellent, but only one score has the catchiness that makes studying a joyful experience.  Please do yourself a favor and listen to “The Dream is Always the Same” or “Love on a Real Train.”  Don’t they sound wonderful?  Kinda whimsical, but the beats are fast and flow perfectly.  There are many remixes, rerecordings, and extended mixes, that you could get a full hour of this (originally 30-minute) score to equal half of a 20 page book report and it would never grow old on you.  What else can I say?  It’s catchy, creative, and comes in quite handy when that book report is due tomorrow and you need something soothing to ease the stress.

#2 – The Social Network composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

If there was ever a perfect combination of energy, calculation, seriousness, and tone, it’s this electronica score for David Fincher’s excellent depiction of social media and American college life.  Last semester, I had a particularly difficult Business Final.  Not only was there the usual test, but we had to create a three-part business plan that included: creating a feasible idea, writing up a 30 page plan (complete with legal documents), and then doing a 20-minute presentation in class.  I put over 70 hours into this final alone and I needed something special to listen to for all that time.  Surprise, surprise, a score that plays while Mark Zuckerberg (one of Gen Y’s biggest influences) creates Facebook works very well.  The film is a masterclass of suspense and intrigue, elevated by fast performances and serious emotional depth.  Each track adds so much more to each scene, and the proof is obvious.  “In Motion” is synonymous with Zuckerberg hacking into Harvard’s photo directory and catching the eye of the Winklevoss twins.  “Intriguing Possibilities” makes you feel like a high-profile businessman.  “In the Hall of the Mountain King” made a bunch of dudes rowing in tank tops feel awesome.  As for “Hand Covers Bruise” well, you could listen to that while walking around campus and whatever you were going to do now has a deeper meaning.  It’s the perfect college soundtrack, and a dang good tune for studying.

Honorable Mentions

Just when you thought we couldn’t get any more amazing space soundtracks in a row (Gravity in 2013, Interstellar in 2014, The Force Awakens in 2015), enter the incomparable Thomas Newman providing instrumentals with more intelligence than the actual movie.

This is a double because The Hateful Eight used a few tracks from The Thing.  Morricone has so many outstanding scores to his name, but this combo has gotten the most mileage in terms of studying (probably because they don’t grow old on you).

  • For Your Eyes Only composed by Bill Conti

Don’t get outraged because the Rocky score didn’t make it.  Even so, admit it, everyone only remembers the kick-a** themeFor Your Eyes Only is what happens when you combine the rock of the 70s with the upcoming electronica of the 80s, and its epic!  It’s difficult not to start humming “Runaway” or “A Drive in the Country,” which was probably what Conti was going for.

  • Midnight Express composed by Giorgio Moroder

As great as this score is, only “Chase” and the instrumental theme stand out.  I also considered his rock-heavy work on American Gigolo (which has one of the best movie themes of all time) purely because of how strong the instrumental is, but I’m content with recommending this master’s work.  He’s 77, and still creating amazing sounds.  Just look at what he did with his first videogame job!

Horner along with Desplat have composed many soundtracks that were born for studying.  Horner has Field of Dreams, Legends of the Fall, Glory, The Magnificent Seven, Avatar, Apollo 13, etc.  However, A Beautiful Mind is based around mental illness, so Horner created a somber tune that I instantly associate with a math genius writing a complex formula out on a chalkboard.  The piano is wonderfully utilized in this astute soundtrack.

  • Warcraft composed by Ramin Djawadi

One of the coolest movie scores is from the original Conan the Barbarian.  It saddens me to know that the adventure epic genre (along with its equally epic music) is all but gone, incomes Duncan Jones with his stylish film adaptation of one of the most famous RPG videogames of all time.  With that is one of the awesome opening themes in recent memory.  Sadly, the other 95% is the music isn’t as spectacular.

Number 1 is simply one of the best movie soundtracks of all time.  The tone is perfectly captured, the instruments used sound beautiful, and… it’s…it’s…

#1 – Interstellar composed by Hans Zimmer

I really don’t like my review of this movie.  Obviously, I was much younger and less eloquent/experienced, but there was so much more I should have given praise to.  The biggest of those uncredited things was Hans Florian Zimmer’s beautiful, sweeping, original, breathtaking, inspiring, adventurous, terrifying, emotional score that ranks among the top ten best movie scores of all time, no doubt.

Zimmer is my favorite movie composer.  His filmography is beyond impressive.  His style is inventive, brash, and deep.  However, his best work comes whenever he works with master storyteller Christopher Nolan.  In addition to The Dark Knight trilogy, he bought us one of the most intense scores with Inception (that barely lost to Interstellar).  I spent 10 minutes staring at the wall while trying to decide number 1.  It came down to which one helped me more while working.  Simply put, I cannot fully describe how extraordinary Interstellar’s music is.  When approached by Nolan (who brought Zimmer one page of dialog as “the starting point”), Zimmer created a few notes that’s called “Day One” in the soundtrack and went with a church organ as the main instrument.  Have I mentioned that I love orchestral choirs and church pipe organs more than my own blog?  When used by a master composer, we get The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Interstellar, and a bit of The Grand Budapest Hotel (you’re not beating Zimmer this time Desplat!).  Despite this, I can’t think of many times they are used for movies, which is a dang shame because “S.T.A.Y.” is an emotional masterpiece!

I’ll unashamedly admit that I cried a waterfall when I first saw the “Message from Home” scene, and again with “Quantifiable Connection.”  Though the film’s narrative is really sciency, the real focus in on relationships (a Nolan staple if you pay attention).  Fathers and daughters, the possibility of love millions of miles away from home: only someone as talented as Zimmer could have turned a piano, a choir, and an organ into this terrifying piece.  This is one of the few soundtracks that I bought on CD, and I recommend that you check it out.  There are so many remixes, covers, and edits that keep the essential sound, but keep the sound from getting stale.  Check out Yourfavoratemusic’s YouTube playlist of Interstellar edits (I recommend, “Landing in Tesseract” and “Quantifiable Connection”).  By now you should realize that I listen to this a lot, and it has reminded me why I am answering Geometry questions that I know will never be useful in my life.  I have to pass this class, to get the degree, to get a job suited for what I want to do, and eventually that job will allow me to make my own movie… or at least shake Hans Zimmer’s hand, I’d settle for that.

There you have it, ten incredible compositions that I am 100% percent sure will help you along with that homework/cramming.  I’m sure some of you have your own favorite study soundtrack, so tell me what it is in the comments.  In terms of enjoyment, this was one my favorite posts to write, and I hope you all find at least one of these masterpieces enjoyable as well.

Update-Finals (2017)

First, thanks to everyone for reading/liking my Disney Remakes post.  United, we can stop these unnecessary cash grabs!  Anyway, finals week approaches!  You know what that means?  A momentary gap of content on Guys Guru Grades.  Here is my “sorry” in advance because I have been getting beaten around by schoolwork recently.  There will be no review tomorrow.  Writing the Disney Remakes post really drained me, and I have to get all my homework projects finished.  Also, none of the movies that came out on Friday really interest me (and I’m kinda low on spending money).  In the meantime, I wish my student followers luck with their finals.  For everyone else, stay intelligent and enjoy life.

Disney Remakes: Their Effect on the Industry

“Really?  Another online millennial complaining about remakes?  Let me guess: he hates the Ghostbusters remake, lives in his parents’ basement, and thinks his opinion is the only correct one.”  Hey!  I’m moving into a dorm in August…  Anyway, let’s talk about something that has been punching my frontal lobe for over 2 years.  I kept my patience during Maleficent, I tolerated a remake that added just as many problems as it fixed (Cinderella 2015), I gave Jon Favreau the proper praise for his Jungle Book, and I’ve completely forgotten Pete’s Dragon (2016).  However, what I, and most others judging by the reactions, did not know was that Disney had been planning a massive “remake” franchise.  This very concept infuriates my creative core, and this post is essentially going to be an informal essay on why I believe so.  If anyone wants to challenge my undeniably logical arguments, then make your way to the comments, where I eagerly await to enter “YouTube comment debater” mode!  In all seriousness, I’d really appreciate your feedback with these projects; it’s one of the best ways to learn.  Rant time!

As we all know, Walt Disney was (among many things) a brilliant businessman.  While fighting his way through war, financial insecurity, securing the rights to stories he wanted to tell, and starting his business, Disney was diligently creating one of the world’s most diversified, universal, influential, powerful, profitable, and successful companies in the history of man.  However, the company had to start somewhere.  Before you think this post is a biography of Walt Disney, fear not.  This is only context for how we got to present day Disney, because the film portion of Disney Studios was based off of adapting previously published stories.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and many others were all books with similar settings.  All Disney did was adapt them into animated films for child audiences, but oh, did he do it well.  It took very little time for the business to launch, fast-forward about a century or so, and we are at present day.

Mickey Mouse is kicking butts and taking names.  After procuring Marvel and Lucasfilm, they’ve had an almost monopoly-like control over the box office.  If you add the box office gross of The Jungle Book (2016), Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and Zootopia, you get over 4.1 BILLION dollars!  Do you know how much money that is?  Disney certainly does, because they have greenlit over 5 completely unnecessary live-action remakes of their classic films.  Take note that only 1 out of those 4 movies was not based off a familiar product (Zootopia).  This brings me to my first argument (no, it’s not because these movies “ruined my childhood”); these remakes have no point.

To properly explain what makes a great remake, let’s talk about the greatest film remake of all time, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).  I read John W. Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There? (the short story the movie is based on), I watched The Thing from Another World (1951), and I watched Carpenter’s 1982 remake, if there is anyone who understands this story, it’s me.  What I find fascinating is that Carpenter’s version is more faithful to the short story than the first film.  The Thing from Another World is passable, but it has many problems.  So, what does horror master Mr. Carpenter (hot off of Halloween and Escape from New York) do?  Take what made the original work, update the production design, add more character development, and pull no punches.  If you haven’t seen The Thing, please get yourself a copy and watch it because it’s one of the top ten best horror movies of all time.  This is because the material was updated for a newer audience, and the idea behind the remake wasn’t, “Hey, let’s capitalize on something we know made money before!”  The Thing (and others like Scarface, True Grit, and both Magnificent Seven films) proved that remakes can be even better than the original.  So why then is a company known for its creativity and creating warm childhood memories deciding to rehash those memories under the guise of calling them “reimaginings?”  The short answer is that guy in the title picture.  The long answer is more complicated.

In my minor experience, Hollywood likes to play it safe.  The pattern is so universal, audiences expect to see crap in January, blockbusters in the summer months, and Oscar-bait come September.  I somewhat understand this (school’s out in summer, take advantage of more people having more time), but at some point, it becomes a very dangerous tradition.  I’m sick of companies refusing new ideas in place of making money, especially if they have too much already (just think of the last production logo you saw on the big screen).  I want to show you this tweet by CinemaSins.  This is what ticks me off the most.  How many Pulp Fiction/La La Land/Inception scripts were rejected in place of giving us a remake that really has no purpose?  What about the next Steven Spielberg who was left in the waiting room?  Sheesh, The Blair Witch Project was made with sixty-thousand dollars, Star Wars cost $11 million, Hell or High Water required $12 million, and the list goes on.  At this point, “Hollywood is out of ideas” is a freaking punchline due to how many retreads we get.  However, there is hope, in the form of the person reading this post right now.

Check out this screenshot from Rotten Tomatoes (taken a month ago).

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The audience has a lot of control over what is made for them.  This is a no-brainer, you pay money for a certain thing, and more of that thing is made for you (supply and demand).  These companies are merely giving the people what they want.  In the case of positive feedback vs financial revenue, the greenbacks always win.  Because of this, the response is not the problem, that 98% is.  I’m not saying it’s your fault that these sterile remakes are popular (there are so many variables at play), but it is your responsibility to be a “smart shopper” as it were.  One of the main reasons I review movies is to help people decide if something is worth their valuable time and hard-earned money.  Some movies are torture for me to sit through (Vacation 2015), some are delights (Kung Fu Panda 3), and some are just bland and generic (most modern remakes), but the knowledge in knowing that someone is listening keeps me going.  As someone who writes proactively and wants to make movies, it pains me to see the same thing over and over.  What I’m talking about today may not be as horrid as Freddy Got Fingered or Norm of the North, but while those were original products that faded away because of their awfulness, these remakes are setting a trend that smaller, greedier executives will follow, and… it’s a dang shame.

In conclusion, I hope that you now have an understanding as to why I despise this business practice.  Throughout writing this, this thought never left my head, “Perhaps I’m just stating a clichéd criticism.  Maybe all of this will not change anyone’s mind.”  However, I don’t care.  It feels good to finally get my thoughts out there in a formal fashion.  Even if I have no impact, movies could be much, much worse.  At the end of the day, the audience decides what to spend money on.  I leave you with this, what film will you support?  A prettily-disguised cash grab, or a work of ambition that doesn’t fit into “the norm?”

“Fate of the Furious” Review

I have a confession to make: I haven’t seen: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, or the 2009 Fast & Furious.  I say this because Fate of the Furious is more continuity-heavy than Furious 7 (and because I’m honest with my audience).  In addition, Fate of the Furious is not as simply enjoyable as Furious 7.  Yeah, that’s a good intro.

Fate of the Furious is directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Chris Morgan.  Stars-Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, Tyrese Gibson, Charlize Theron, Chris Bridges, and Kurt Russell.  Premise-Dom’s crew must track down their leader after he goes rogue for a mysterious woman.

Yes, greedy Hollywood producers have predictably stomped on a dead actor’s grave while greenlighting 100 more unnecessary sequels.  Even though the tagline for the previous film was, “One last ride,” the plot wrapped up nearly every character’s arc, and the emotional ending that brought tears to audiences eyes were all clearly saying, “That’s all folks,” you cannot argue with the 1.5 BILLION dollars Furious 7 grossed.  Because of this, we have an action film that pushes the envelope in more ways than one.

I know I’ll be called a hypocrite for thoroughly enjoying Furious 7 and then disliking the sequel (even though they are basically the same movie), but here is the game changer: the amount of drama.  In Furious 7, the most serious it got were those amnesia flashbacks.  However, things get really personal with Fate of the Furious.  Charlize Theron (collecting her paycheck while sporting a really stupid haircut) plays the villain whose entire character is written straight out of “Psychopathic Antagonist” Volume 1.  She speaks only in evil whispers, has a weird character design, and manipulates the main protagonist by using the most predictable cliché in the book (can’t say it because of spoilers, but you could probably guess what she does).  These movies are at their best when the drama is light and the over-the-top action is high.  Sadly, every scene with Theron is very hard to watch.  Not to say that what she does to Dom is a bad motivation; it’s because these movies should never be this depressing to watch.  Especially when these scenes are preceded/followed by the goofy characters joking around.  To be honest, I would have enjoyed the movie much more as a whole if these scenes were cut, because once my suspension of neutrality is broken, other problems stand out much more.  One of these problems is the clichés.  Unbelievable physics and invulnerable characters are acceptable (if you watch any of these movies expecting realism, show yourself out), but you can predict pretty much every scene, and that is a bore.

On the bright side, the action scenes are awesome!  If the previous film was too unbelievable for you, the races, chases, and shootouts are well-choreographed and fast-paced.  If you switch off your brain (a requirement at this point), these action sequences are a marvel.  Heck, the New York portion of the film is more over-the-top than any GTA 5 stunt video you’ll ever see.  Another notable scene takes place in a prison, and it gives The Rock his most awesome movie moment since the montage in The Rundown.  The rest of the cast is decent as well.  While Gibson and Bridges teeter on the edge of annoying and funny, Eastwood/Russell and Statham/Johnson have great chemistry, and the rest of the cast is fine.

Ultimately, this movie is exactly what you’d expect.  Transformers levels of stupidity, clichéd plotlines, and a whole lot of testosterone-fueled explosions.  If the filmmakers didn’t inappropriately try their hand at drama, then the film would require nothing from its audience.  After all, that’s why these movies are successes: dumb fun without the emotional connection.  Fate of the Furious gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.