Tribute: Ennio Morricone

Posted on July 6, 2020 at 4:18 pm

The great movie composter Ennio Morricone has died at the age of 91. Adam Bernstein’s superb obituary in the Washington Post captures not only what he did but why it sounded so gorgeously perfect.

Mr. Morricone was a boldly adventurous composer who saw himself as a full partner in telling stories on-screen. He thrived with directors known for their visual excess, including Tarantino, Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma.

But Mr. Morricone, whose scores could be gritty, unsettling or exquisitely gentle, was impossible to categorize. His portfolio seemed to span every conceivable mainstream genre, including comedy, drama, romance, horror, political satire and historical epic.

Some examples:

And to understand better the embrace of film and score, see this very knowledgeable essay by Bilge Ebiri about the best pieces as they were used within the context of individual scenes in the films themselves. For example:

Though much of A Fistful of Dollars’ score is quite spare, for the final showdown, Morricone gives us something altogether more melodic and traditional. This ornate trumpet dirge popped up earlier in the film as well, but here, it fits perfectly — as the clouds of dynamite smoke and dust blow away to reveal Clint Eastwood’s character, seemingly back from the dead to exact retribution on Ramon Rojo and his gang. This has become established as one of Morricone’s signature pieces, which is somewhat ironic, as it’s also an homage to Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for Howard Hawks’s John Wayne Western Rio Bravo.

Morricone was a giant in the history of film. May his memory be a blessing.

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Composers Tribute

Roxana Hadadi on “Michael Clayton”

Posted on July 6, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Copyright 2007 Castle Rock
On Rogerebert.com the wonderful Roxana Hadadi writes about “the deserved anger” of “Michael Clayton,” a 2007 George Clooney film that seems even more timely today. Her gorgeous writing and illuminating insights make this a must-read.

A hypnotic thriller about a law firm’s “fixer” realizing that the agricultural company he’s defending is involved in a murderous conspiracy, Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton” used George Clooney’s wounded eyes, Tom Wilkinson’s frenzied soliloquies, and Merritt Wever’s soft-spoken melancholy to wonder how much commercial corruption we could fall victim to, and how much blatant immorality we could tolerate. Lauded at the time for its unrelenting tension, its steady pacing, and its sharp script, “Michael Clayton” was a critical darling, topping numerous critics’ best-of lists and netting seven Academy Award nominations, including a win for Tilda Swinton for Best Supporting Actress.

In the years since, though, as various other lauded films from 2007 have been reassessed and reconsidered, “Michael Clayton” has faded from memory. It’s an undeserved dynamic, given that the film has so much to say about how skewed the relationship between American corporations and the people they’re supposed to serve really is—an imbalance that remains as drastic today as it was back in 2007.

The corporate world that “Michael Clayton” depicts is flimsily held together by favors and handshakes, rife with insults and threats. The workers trapped within it are beholden to a class structure that discredits and undermines them, overwhelms them with paranoia, and drowns them in debt. “What kind of people are you?” someone asks Clayton, aghast at the backstabbing and the deceit with which Clayton fills his days. How to fight against that, at the sacrifice of human lives for business interests? By playing dirty.

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Tribute: Carl Reiner

Posted on July 2, 2020 at 2:06 pm

I had the privilege of writing a tribute to one of my all-time favorites, Carl Reiner for rogerebert.com. He was a legend in every possible form of entertainment, as a writer, actor, showrunner, director, and resident wit on social media. From his time in the legendary writers’ room of “Your Show of Shows” alongside Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, and his lifetime best friend Mel Brooks to his 2020 appearance in Pixar’s “Forky Asks a Question” series, his mentorship to newcomers Mary Tyler Moore, Steve Martin, Dick Van Dyke, and many others, his affectionate skewering of popular culture, he was a major force in the culture of more than half a century.

I love this affectionate remembrance from TCM.

Here is one of my favorite moments from what Reiner said was his best creation, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

May his memory be a blessing.

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Actors Directors Tribute Writers

Movies for the Homebound XIV: 4th of July

Posted on July 1, 2020 at 8:00 am

No parades and picnics this year, so take some time to celebrate Independence Day with movies for the family.

Hamilton: LIn-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster Broadway musical about Alexander Hamilton will premiere on DisneyPlus this week with original Broadway cast in honor of the 4th of July.

Independence Day Will Smith, Bill Pullman, and Jeff Goldblum star in one of the all-time great popcorn pleasures. Aliens attack the earth and it takes a quirky engineer, a plucky President, and a heroic military pilot to save the day. What does that have to do with the 4th of July? Listen to the President’s stirring pep talk.

The Patriot There are many films about the Civil War, but not many about the Revolutionary War. Mel Gibson stars in this uneven but stirring film about a farmer pulled into the rebellion.

1776 I love this film, based on the Broadway musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with almost all of the stars from the acclaimed stage production, including William Daniels as the “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams, Ken Howard as a dashing Thomas Jefferson, and Howard Da Silva as Benjamin Franklin.

And don’t forget Schoolhouse Rock!

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