Movie Review: Pretty Woman

In January, my wife and I are going to see the musical Pretty Woman when it comes to Philadelphia. Having never seen the movie before, we decided to watch it tonight for the very first time. How was it? Read on for my thoughts.

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Movie Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Movie PosterUnlike its ho-hum predecessor, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a gripping film that tells a realistic and compelling story that kept me thoroughly entertained from start to finish. Directed by Francis Lawrence, best known for I Am Legend and Water for Elephants, the movie moves along at a brisk pace. By the time I got up to leave I didn’t realize 146 minutes had passed since the opening credits.

As with the first installment in the franchise, Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci are excellent in their roles. I’m  glad that Donald Sutherland, who is deliciously evil as President Snow, has more screen time this go around – he’s terrific!

Also worth noting is the score by James Newton Howard, which is fantastic. As usual, Howard’s emotionally-charged musical compositions elevate the visuals to another level and provide gravitas when appropriate. Below is my favorite track from the album:

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a strong film everyone should see. It has romance, action and suspense, as well as dramatic visuals. The acting is top-notch and the dialogue is believable. By the end of the last scene, I was ready for the next sequel. Unfortunately, that novel is being broken into two parts because Hollywood never passes up an opportunity to milk a cash cow for all it’s worth. With Francis Lawrence back at the helm, I’m sure those two films will be equally satisfying. Make sure to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – it’s a great film that’s worth the price of admission.

Official Movie Trailer

Top 5: James Newton Howard Scores

The post below was written by my good friend Vic, from Vic’s Movie Den.You can see my version of this post on Vic’s blog here. If you love movies, make sure to visit Vic’s blog regularly; he’s always posting interesting news, reviews and more. Enjoy!

James Newton Howard

Even though I had heard of James Newton Howard (JNH) and knew of some of his works by reputation, it wasn’t until 2005 after the score to King Kong was released that I began to go back and go through his extensive library of films before 2005; scores like Waterworld, Glengarry Glen Ross, Dinosaur, and even Stir of Echoes. Upon discovering his unique style of piano, horn and string compositions, I began to see a wonderful pattern in his soundtracks. I was glad to find out that his scores have an incredible replay value and revisiting them often resulted in my finding even more unique and stylish layers in them. Outbreak, Snow Falling on Cedars and the score to the sci-fi Stephen King film Dreamcatcher all have stunning merit and serve as a wonderful tapestry for his kind of individual vision. He is indeed a fast and hard working composer who at times can be working on two or more scores at once. Soon to come he has After Earth and the next hunger games movie: Catching Fire. I recently also was turned on to The Prince of Tides, The Bourne Legacy and Salt from Newton Howard. So, in conclusion I will give you all my Top 5 favorite scores by James Newton Howard. This won’t be easy. I hope you enjoy and discover the work of this masterful composer if you haven’t yet.
The Village5 – The Village 
An incredibly well crafted work of musical art. It has an ethereal flow and wonderful atmosphere. It is serene then menacing then other-worldly in it’s passion. It is beautifully melodious and features the incredible work of Hilary Hahn on the violin. The almost five-minute long “Those We Don’t Speak Of” is a stand out piece that will get under your skin and move your soul in it’s haunting beauty.
I Am Legend
4 – I Am Legend
What I love about this score is how simplistic and understated it is. It is indeed close in tone and style to some other of his scores like Batman Begins. This score is sentimental, dramatic and rich. It proceeds in layering hope and despair in some very beautiful tracks like “My Name is Robert Neville” and the heart breaking “Sam’s Gone.” While it does have some action cues, this score will remain as a very thought provoking composition for me.
3 – Signs 
This score is a very unique JNH composition for me in that it evokes a sense of spirituality and mood. It is a deep and atmospheric piece of work that includes some vicious piano cues and minimal and suspenseful techniques. JNH provokes, in the first half, real suspense and mood. It is almost two scores in one. One is melodious and ethereal and the second half which includes the sonic “The Hand of Fate: Pts. 1 and 2” is hands down (no pun intended) one of the best tracks on the score. Signs builds tension and strength using the minimal approach that James Newton Howard is so good at.
King Kong
2 – King Kong
This is the score that really won me over on James Newton Howard. Until then I just knew of his scores to animated movies and such. It wasn’t until I watched and closely listened to this incredible composition that I knew I had to go back and revisit some of his earlier works. In the meantime I bought the score to King Kong and listened to it night and day. It is rousing, sweeping and quite emotional. During the action pieces of course we do get the big, loud and deeply percussive rumblings like in “Head Towards the Animals” and “Beauty Killed the Beast.” It is when Newton Howard takes the time to slow down and serve up a more emotional and contemplative composition like “A Fateful Meeting” and even the striking “Central Park” is when this score stands apart from the rest of the pack. Despite not sticking to much of the period, this score is incredibly fast, unique and big. The replay value is incredible. Highly recommended!
Lady In The Water
1 – The Lady in the Water
It seems that whenever Newton Howard does a score for director M. Night it always ends up being a resounding effort. Unfortunately, in most regards the score ends up being so much better than the film itself. Examples are “The Happening” and of course “Lady in the Water.” My wife and I rented said film one night and I could not follow the movie because the score was so darn melodious, soulful and lyrical.It is the purest score that James Newton Howard has ever done in my opinion. The first track “Prologue” demonstrates how well Newton Howard can showcase layers and threads throughout his scores. The incredible motif of the “Lady” runs through the entire score with different expressions and ethereal musicality. I was so impressed by the haunting beauty of this score and it is so effective in provoking a sense of peace and alarm (like in the moody “The Party). The climactic track “The Great Eatlon” shows off Newton Howard’s bombastic nature in the ways of John Williams. “The Healing” is perhaps my favorite track. It is haunting and precious as is the majority of this stunning score. Do not miss it!

The Prince of Tides — Book & Movie Review

From time to time, I encounter a book that fully engrosses me. Two such books were Stephen King’s It and Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. Not only were these novels well written, but they also featured characters I cared about. I distinctly remember reading The Pillars of the Earth and being blown away when a key character died. I was so flabbergasted that I stopped reading and called my friend, who had also read the book, to let him know I’d made it to that part. Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides profoundly moved me just as much as the aforementioned novels.

I work with a woman at the supermarket named Judy. For the past couple of years she’s been telling me I should read The Prince of Tides. Last year I downloaded the audiobook, and I didn’t get around to listening to it until now. Going into the book, I had high expectations. Based on the reviews I read, people felt this novel was a masterpiece and that its narrator, Frank Muller, brought it to life in a way that was mesmerizing.

Now that I’m done the book, I’m glad to report that The Prince of Tides was one of the best I’ve ever experienced, and Muller’s narration kept my rapt attention from start to finish. The majority of the novel was based on Pat Conroy’s life in the south, and this reality came through in the incredibly descriptive language. Conroy is a beautifully metaphorical writer whose prose manifests scintillating scenarios and gripping drama.

The Prince Of Tides

The Movie

After reading the The Prince of Tides, I watched the film adaptation directed by and starring Barbra Streisand. Her and Nick Nolte were terrific, and the film did a fine job of condensing Conroy’s tome into an incredibly enjoyable film. I was also delighted to see my all-time favorite comedian, George Carlin, in the Oscar-nominated picture. Most of all, I loved the music. The score, composed by James Newton Howard, was one of the most gorgeous pieces of music I’ve ever heard; it was simply breathtaking. Like any movie, the book was better, but the film didn’t have any radical departures from the source material; it just made it work in a different medium.

If you enjoy a good story, I recommend you read the novel first and then watch the movie. Both are beautiful works of art everyone should experience.

To prepare you for both, below you’ll find:

  • The official synopsis for the book
  • Frank Muller narrating a book
  • The main title song from the movie
  • A trailer for the film
The Prince of Tides

Book Synopsis

Here’s the official description of the book from Pat Conroy’s website:

In this best-selling novel, Pat Conroy tells the story of Tom Wingo, his twin sister, Savannah, and the dark and violent past of the family into which they were born.

Set in New York City and the low-country of South Carolina, THE PRINCE OF TIDES opens when Tom, a high school football coach whose marriage and career are crumbling, flies from South Carolina to New York after learning of his twin sister’s suicide attempt. Savannah is one of the most gifted poets of her generation, and both the cadenced beauty of her art and the jumbled cries of her illness are clues to the too-long-hidden story of her wounded family. In the paneled offices and luxurious restaurants of New York City, Tom and Susan Lowenstein, Savannah’s psychiatrist, unravel a history of violence, abandonment, commitment, and love. And Tom realizes that trying to save his sister is perhaps his last chance to save himself.

With passion and a rare gift of language, Pat Conroy moves from present to past, tracing the amazing history of the Wingos from World War II through the final days of the war in Vietnam and into the 1980s, drawing a rich range of characters: the lovable, crazy Mr. Fruit, who for decades has wordlessly directed traffic at the same intersection in the southern town of Colleton; Reese Newbury, the ruthless, patrician land speculator who threatens the Wingos’ only secure worldly possession, Melrose Island; Herbert Woodruff, Susan Lowenstein’s husband, a world-famous violinist; Tolitha Wingo, Savannah’s mentor and eccentric grandmother, the first real feminist in the Wingo family.

Pat Conroy reveals the lives of his characters with surpassing depth and power, capturing the vanishing beauty of the South Carolina low-country and a lost way of life.

Frank Muller

Main Title Song

Movie Trailer

Movie Review: Signs

In 2002, M. Night Shyamalan released one of my all-time favorite films: Signs. While the premise – aliens invading Earth and using crop circles for navigation purposes – sounds uninspired, at the heart of the film you’ll find a story about a man questioning his faith. It dealt with love, loss, family, and resolution, and it did so beautifully. The entire cast did a fantastic job, but Mel Gibson stole the show; his ability to convey emotion without uttering a word is marvelous. The script was suspenseful and well written, and the score, composed by James Newton Howard, was breathtaking.

What are your thoughts on Signs? Did you love it, hate it or feel indifferent about it? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section.

Below you’ll find my favorite scene from the film as well as the official trailer.