Have you ever sat down and thought about the role of criticism in culture? That may be a strange question to lead off with, but it’s been the question nagging at me the last few weeks and, well, a lot further than that if I’m honest with everyone. Still, this nagging question bubbled back up to the surface of late for me. Why?
Because I had Oscar Fever.
No, not for the actual Academy Awards. I’ll watch those occasionally and try to watch the films that win the top categories every year, but I’m not talking about the Oscars themselves. No, I had Oscar Fever, or, as the raging fictional id of Tim Heidecker sang in the opening to the Eighth Annual On Cinema at the Cinema Oscar Special theme song, I had an HEI fever. HEI referring to the fictional version of Tim Heidecker’s HEI Network, a website created to be the new home of On Cinema at the Cinema, a long-running series created by both the real Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington, to satirize a movie review show like you’d see on a cable public access network in the 80s and 90s, or most recently on YouTube.
The initial premise was simple: they create a low-budget, poorly produced, and embarrassing to watch film review series where both Tim and Gregg portray fictional versions of themselves that genuinely want to create a film review show but know nothing about films, producing an entertaining show and lack the self-awareness to be embarrassed or make any improvements to the show or their own behavior. Early episodes focused on the friction between Tim, a raging egotist with zero passion for anything but the vapidest of action films, and Gregg, a quiet, gentle soul with a genuine love for films but the complete inability to think critically about them, why he likes them or how anyone in the industry should ever face criticism. Storylines such as Tim’s deteriorating relationship with his wife, an affair with another woman, brain tumors, and a lot more buoyed the show to become something much more. Gregg always wanted it to be about the movies, while Tim wanted the show to be a launchpad for everything from his poorly done action series Decker, his embarrassing rock band Dekkar and whatever other bad idea he cooked up.
After nine years of the On Cinema universe’s existence, the films have virtually nothing to do with the show, which still exists as a show about film criticism. There’s been a nutritional vape fiasco at a [fictional] music festival hosted by Tim that led to the death of 20 people and the staggering work of genius that was the Trial of Tim Heidecker. A subsequent film created about the fictional Tim running for District Attorney against a fictional DA from his trial followed that and so much more. Yet the original conceit remains: On Cinema at the Cinema is about the movies, or at least as much as fictional Gregg can rein in Tim.
In this multimedia hellscape, they’ve done a fascinating job of holding up a mirror to our own world and showing how the binding of fandoms for fictional media properties with the identity of the viewers has left us at the whims of the Tims and Greggs. While I never loved the film Annihilation (nor the book), this video from editor and critic Dan Olson about Annihilation has stuck with me for years now. In it, he discusses the state of film criticism and how seemingly no one can look beyond the surface to understand the metaphor involved with the story.
Take this quote from Olson on the ambiguity of the film Annihilation’s ending; “The purpose of ambiguity is to frustrate the audience, to deny a clean sense of diegetic closure and thusly force engagement with the metaphorical. Most ambiguous endings make perfect sense if you read them thematically, and nine times out of ten, the diegetic answer is obvious once you approach the ending from this direction.”
Annihilation seems like a great place to dissect this kind of uncritical analysis because if you watch the film and throw aside the ideas of aliens and “the Shimmer” and instead look for what the film was trying to say on a deeper level, it’s right there staring you back in the face. The video above shows a litany of YouTube critics giving their take on the film, and most fell into line talking about aliens, clones and trying to tie up the “meaning” of the film through surface-level elements. The film works for deeper analysis because it’s surrealist in nature and, in a lot of ways, denies most logic, yet it served as a stumbling block.
Here’s the thing, though. If you don’t want to engage in films, art, books, entertainment, content, or whatever you want to call what you consume in this way, you don’t have to. There’s a lot of pop entertainment created to be fun and, well, entertaining, without a need for deeper analysis. That doesn’t mean they’re created to be wholly shallow experiences but can be viewed that way. Not everyone is always in the mood to ruminate on existence after watching action set pieces, which is how films like The Matrix could exist for so long with metaphors about gender and identity clearly baked into them and see the core interpretations by many be something about batteries and digital consciousness and whatnot. I will not preach that everyone needs to be a critic or view their entertainment through the lens of deeper analysis all the time, as that’s unreasonable, and everyone has their own tastes, schedules, stressors, and the like. Life is tough.
Something like On Cinema, or the comedy of Tim and Gregg in general, forces the viewer to face the absurdity of how we view the world and the content we consume. From Tim’s awkward aesthetic comedy alongside Eric Wareheim with Tim and Eric Show Great Job to Tim’s bad cooking show (which I’d say was a precursor to On Cinema) to Gregg’s satirical music and Neil Hamburger character, which was the subject of the film Entertainment. Entertainment was a difficult movie in a lot of ways, eschewing traditional narrative for an unflinching deconstruction of the Neil Hamburger character Gregg created and looking at what life would be like for this strange, sad individual beyond his standup appearances.
While you could watch On Cinema for the goofy characters, over-the-top storylines, and strange Hollywood-adjacent world, the experience rewards patience and analysis from the viewer, unlike most shows or films do on this scale. Throughout the Eighth Annual On Cinema Oscar Special, it was striking how the show forked off, forced onto two separate streams; one on the HEI Network being the official special and the second via YouTube for Gregg’s Our Cinema special, including opening to a [mostly] complete viewing of the film Affairs of Cappy Ricks before fans got greeted with his typical “hey guys.” Big streamers on Twitch and other sites will routinely pull in massive numbers, making the fact that the show attracted around 8,000 live viewers seem minuscule in comparison, but once you recognize both streams retained almost the same exact viewership numbers throughout, even while most of Gregg’s stream was garbage, it was remarkable.
On Cinema not only asks its fans to sit through what would be considered difficult comedy, not only asked for money after almost a decade of being provided by Adult Swim, but also asked to watch dueling shows, and the people who truly love the show did exactly that without question. So many weren’t just resigned to doing this but excited to see where it went next. While this may not be a huge number in the grand scheme of things, its creators making what they want under their own rules and an audience that trusts them to do exactly this, knowing they’re going to not just be entertained but challenged.
After watching friends and acquaintances get into inane arguments about Mortal Kombat, years of battles over the value of the MCU films stoked ad nauseam by any time Martin Scorsese speaks in public, it should be clear to most people that our greater society’s relationship with our media and how we consume it can border on unhealthy. Ultimately, entertainment and art serve many purposes, and there’s no right or wrong way to consume them. When we get downtime, we find something that makes us feel something, be that contentment, inspiration, excitement, fear, introspection, or just something to break up the monotony of every day. What we choose to engage with isn’t as important as it makes us feel.
But even then, it’s my vain hope that in between those moments where our entertainment or art gives us what we want, that we can all take a step back and ask ourselves the all-important question: why does this make me feel this way? That will always be a personal answer, indifferent to the quality, value, or perception of anyone else. Find those parts that make you feel something and try to figure out why. Analyze the moving parts that go into it, the mechanics of storytelling, cinematography, sound editing, or whatever else went into making it special to you and deepen that bond wherever you can, then see where it leads you.
Oh, God! (1977, 98 minutes).
Dave Walsh is an author responsible for a pile of science fiction novels and co-creator of the ongoing satirical wrestling web series, SCFL Pro. Find out more at dvewlsh.com.
With Star Wars: The Bad Batch released on Disney+ earlier this week, we thought it would be cool to suggest further spin-offs we’d like to see from that galaxy far, far away. After all, while the Mouse House has certainly provided a fair amount of Star Wars content since acquiring Lucasfilm way back in 2012, there’s still plenty of material to be mined from this enormous gallery of heroes, scoundrels, and villains.
Read on and be sure to chime in on the Star Wars spin-offs you’d like to see!
Yeah, yeah, a Darth Vader spin-off reeks of fan-wanking and would elicit the same stuck-in-the-past criticisms levied at The Mandalorian and Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. Still, we have one reason to justify a series devoted entirely to the dark lord of the Sith: it would be so awesome!
Imagine a television event based on the comic “Vader Down,” in which a stranded Vader must contend with Rebel forces with nothing but a lightsaber and his own villainous instincts or another dedicated to Vader hunting down and slaughtering the remaining Jedi hidden across the galaxy — ahem, Quinlan Vos anyone?
Chances are we may see a variation of the latter play out in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series, but why bog ole Darth down with supporting characters when he’s badass enough to carry his own solo story?
Consider this: through six movies and one remarkable guest appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we have yet to see the big guy truly unleashed. We want Vader taking down waves of enemies and thrashing dozens of younglings in gruesome fashion. Hell, we’d even take an entire series devoted to Vader personally wiping out the Gungans on Naboo and choking Jar Jar Binks with his own intestines before bathing in his blood … okay, that’s probably too far, but you get the gist.
If you’ve ever played Knights of the Old Republic, there’s a good chance you’re currently spinning your lightsaber in the air after reading our second choice. And no, that’s not a euphemism. As much fun as Han, Luke, and Leia’s battles against the Emperor are, the Old Republic is where it’s at.
During this time period, set some 3,650 years before A New Hope, the Jedi are nearly exterminated by the Sith, but, thanks to the courage of a lone amnesiac named Revan, are able to rise once more and, for lack of a better phrase, open a can of whoop-ass and eventually restore order to the galaxy — unless players chose the dark path, which ends with Revan leading the Sith armada to victory over Darth Malak … but whatever.
Long story short, there’s plenty of great material that could come from the Knights of the Old Republic era — including stuff outside the plot of the popular video game — that would be fun to see on the big screen either in live-action or animated form.
An Old-Fashioned Western
At its core, Star Wars is basically just an old-school Western with lasers and spaceships, a concept rendered beautifully in The Mandalorian. Why not lean into that notion with a series set in the Star Wars universe centered around a random family dealing with an Imperial invasion? Hell, take it one step further and show a family divided by war in which one sibling opts to join the Emperor’s team and the other sticks with the Rebellion — North & South by way of Star Wars. Get it?
Or, do something in the vein of Little House on the Prairie, where a group of settlers deals with the difficulties of life under Imperial rule, and call it Little Moisture Farm in the Desert.
At the very least, the series could further shed light on just how bad the Emperor’s rule over the galaxy was and increase the importance of the Rebellion — an aspect curiously absent from the main Star Wars series of movies; and only briefly touched upon in Solo and Rogue One.
Or, in a weird twist, the series could reveal how much better this particular planet or society fared under the Emperor and explore the negative fallout that resulted from his defeat … after which an angry young citizen goes on a Terminator-style mission to wipe out those responsible for Palpatine’s demise.
Mara Jade is one of the better characters to come from the expanded Star Wars universe, which is why it sucked when Disney decided to wipe everything expanded universe-related off the menu.
Still, considering there’s a huge chunk of time set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, it stands to reason that Mara could be introduced in a series dedicated to hers and Luke’s adventures post-ROTJ. The duo could join forces to track down Sith lords (in what would be a neat reversal on Darth Vader’s Jedi extermination) or follow the plot established in the “Thrawn Trilogy” in which Mara morphs from evil Imperial assassin to Luke’s kick-ass wife. We could follow Luke all the way up until his eventual run-in with Kylo Ren before everything (including the saga itself) went to shambles.
How about this: a story set after Rise of Skywalker in which Rey [Skywalker] trains a fresh legion of Jedi Knights? Haters gonna hate, but Daisy Ridley was one of the bright spots in the new trilogy and did her best with an ill-conceived character. Bringing her back in some capacity, even as a supporting role ushering in the latest wave of heroes, may help right a lot of wrongs. Hell, bring back John Boyega while we’re at it and allow Finn to finally become a full-fledged Jedi Knight.
Actually, you know what? How about we just pretend Episode IX never happened, and Disney simply gives us a proper sequel to The Last Jedi? One that doesn’t feel abnormally rushed or riddled with plot contrivances? One that doesn’t include the Emperor or space horses or bad lightsaber scenes, or an unusually bland finale ripped straight out of a certain Avengers movie …
Screw it. Call it Duel of the Fates and let Colin Trevorrow direct.
Then do Jedi Academy. Except with Kylo Ren.
Since every studio on the planet has suddenly bought into the concept of a multiverse, why not do a Star Wars series that explores what would happen if Luke turned to the dark side? Call it Revenge of the Jedi, give Luke a red lightsaber and allow him to rule the galaxy alongside his deadbeat pops — a universe in which Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, and the Emperor have been wiped off the map.
That’s exactly the kind of outlandish concept modern TV should embrace — else world-styled adventures that further explore beloved characters in a unique way. Plus, this would allow Disney to essentially retcon the latest trilogy and establish an all-new narrative with (presumably) the same characters introduced in The Force Awakens. Except now, Rey (still the bastard granddaughter of the Emperor, albeit one with an ulterior motive) must hunt down and destroy old man Luke in order to bring peace to the galaxy.
Maybe Luke stays bad … or maybe he eventually returns to the light, proving that his destiny always belonged on the Jedi path. Either way would pave the way for new adventures with old friends, which is never a bad thing.
Then, once that well is dry, we could really go crazy and adapt Patton Oswalt’s Star Wars/Avengers crossover and make the greatest film ever made.
Welcome to another edition of CS Score! This week we’ve got a great interview with Jupiter’s Legacy composer Stephanie Economou, who breaks down her scoring process and shares some unique insights into her fantastic score.
We also take a look at La La Land Records’ re-release of Danny Elfman’s Darkman soundtrack. Let’s do this thing!
New Intrada Release RIO CONCHOS. Completely remastered presentation of our celebrated 1989 Excalibur series recording with Jerry Goldsmith conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. https://t.co/eV5moRz9D8
— Varèse Sarabande Records (@VareseSarabande) May 4, 2021
DARKMAN – 30th Anniversary Expanded Edition
My first introduction to Danny Elfman’s exciting score for Sam Raimi’s Darkman happened, oddly enough, when I watched the trailer for Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow way back in August of 1999. Said trailer culminates with music from the track “High Steel” from Darkman, which I instantly loved and, for whatever reason, assumed was part of Elfman’s score for Sleepy Hollow.
As such, when Sleepy Hollow’s soundtrack made its debut on November 16 of that year, I was stunned to discover a completely different — albeit equally terrific — film score. During those days, info on the World Wide Web was limited, but, after an extended search, I finally discovered the source, made my way to the nearest Camelot Music and picked up a copy of Darkman.
Right off the bat, I was struck by how familiar the soundtrack was to Elfman’s work on Batman and BatmanReturns. Darkman is more or less a quasi-remix of the latter, but it still packs quite the punch thanks to the composer’s contagious signature thematic style. The Main Theme, in particular, is vintage Elfman, what with its undeniably Gothic tone and rambunctious circus-style rhythms that somehow form a fascinating, aggressively dark march that pops up throughout the score in a variety of ways — on organ, strings, brass, etc.
Not to be outdone, Elfman goes even darker for tracks such as “Rage,” which utilize choir and wild percussion in a manner that recalls his work on Scrooged. The results are downright freakish at times, but nonetheless entertaining.
Actually, one of the things I like about Darkman is the way it plays like a montage of Elfman’s Greatest Hits — a little Batman, some Edward Scissorhands, with a dash of Pee-Wee and Scrooged. Hell, you can even hear many of the same musical ideas, styles, and rhythms Elfman would go on to utilize for Mission: Impossible six years later.
No matter, because it all works perfectly within Raimi’s film and provides a wild listening experience thanks to its clever use of varied instruments and unapologetic brooding nature. Compared to modern superhero scores, which are mostly indistinguishable from one another, Darkman stands out as one of the more unique scores of the genre.
Just listen to the track: “Waltz/Rage/First Blood,” which kicks off with a Batman-esque waltz, morphs into a cacophony of horns, percussion and organ, then segues into horror, punctuated by brief interludes of the main theme, and culminates with a wild blast of action music. That track is followed by the demented “Creating Pauley,” which quite literally sounds like a nightmare, spruced up with a few snippets of an eerie choir, no less. Later, there’s a track literally called “Carnival From Hell,” which just makes me think of evil clowns.
In other words, this is not your typical superhero soundtrack. Of course, Darkman is not your typical superhero movie.
In fact, the only track that offers anything close to what one might call conventional superhero music is “High Steel,” perhaps the most exciting cue on the entire album. Whether you enjoy the rest depends on your fondness for Elfman’s style.
Originally, the soundtrack to Darkman was comprised of roughly 40 minutes of music. Thanks to La La Land Records, Elfman’s score has been expanded and remastered via Darkman: 30th Anniversary Expanded Edition, which released last year and quickly sold out. Lucky for us, the limited edition 2CD set has been reissued, though, again, with a limited quantity. So, get it quick before it’s gone!
Produced by Mike Matessino and Neil S. Bulk, and mastered by Matessino, this limited edition release of 3000 units features a bounty of previously unreleased music. The release’s exclusive, in-depth liner notes are by writer Daniel Schweiger and the robust art direction is by Dan Goldwasser.
STEPHANIE ECONOMOU INTERVIEW
A long-time collaborator of composer Harry Gregson-Williams (The Martian, The Meg), Stephanie Economou is in a new class of composer who carry on the legacies of the greats who came before while also establishing their own unique, equally-powerful, lyrical voice.
For her score in Jupiter’s Legacy, based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Mark Millar (Kickass, Kingsman: The Secret Service), Economou created a super heroic theme that feels satisfyingly epic and yet is versatile enough to twist and turn through the diverse range of emotions throughout the series.
Aside from a critical story moment where this theme becomes profoundly diegetic, as well as using regional instruments as the heroes globetrot, Economou also lifted text directly from Millar’s original graphic novel, translated it into Latin, and incorporated those choir vocals into the theme itself – further connecting her music and the show to the adapted source material.
Jeff Ames: What drew you to the world of film and TV composing?
Stephanie Economou: I grew up playing piano and violin and kind of playing in orchestras and stuff, I was really fortunate enough to go to a high school on Long Island, a public school that had this great composition and theory program for four years. So that’s kind of what really inspired me to start writing music to begin with. Going to the New England Conservatory of Music for college, I had a couple friends who were filmmakers at Emerson and they had some short films, and they were like, ‘Hey, do you want to score them?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but I’ll give it a shot!’ And it was just such a wonderful feeling to just collaborate with other people who aren’t in the music world. They always pushed me to do something that I wouldn’t have normally done and kind of just got me out of that sort of box that you can get into when you’re just sitting in a practice room and writing self-important music. So that was really nice to be able to have that experience. And I just felt like that was what I wanted to do. So I came out to LA and I was working with another composer named Harry Gregson-Williams for many years, and he was such an amazing mentor, especially to a young composer who’s super green and doesn’t have a lot of experience yet. He just took me under his wing for many years and that’s how I started building my credits and getting experience writing on feature films and TV series.
Ames: What’s the difference between a classical composer and TV/film composer?
Economou: Being in the concert world, and writing concert music is a lot about your own, just kind of isolated creativity, at least that’s the way I felt it was. And pivoting into film and TV, there was a lot that I had to learn about in terms of pacing. And I think the crucial thing is just learning about the filmmaking process. You know, understanding what the editor is doing, and how to read picture, how to read emotion, how to understand the role that music can play, in the storytelling process. It’s not always about writing sad music under a sad scene, it’s about what happens when the music is the antithesis emotionally to what’s going on on the screen; and the complexities involved with that, I think, is the biggest thing that one has to learn, coupled with just the collaborative process — who’s in the room, who has final say, who do you need to get the music signed off, who’s gonna sign off on the music and the process of doing a live scoring session recording an orchestra, and getting the players working with a mixer. Basically, the whole process from start to finish, like what it looks like to actually sit down before you write a note of music and figure out how you’re going to accomplish the score. So, there’s definitely a big pivot. And there was lots to learn. But I was lucky to have had such a wonderful mentor to show me the process.
Ames: What’s it like navigating through the competitive field of TV/film scoring?
Economou: That’s a good question. I mean, the answer to that kind of eludes me still. I do find that just looking at the careers of others, a lot of that comes down to relationships. You know, ultimately, it’s about who you’ve met along the way. And Harry was just always so wonderful about being really transparent to his collaborators about my role at his studio. He was always introducing me to people that he knew, and down the line, they would think of me for things on my own. So that certainly has helped me navigate the landscape because I know people at Disney and I know people at Fox and ABC and Netflix and Hulu and stuff, so that has certainly benefited me or just given me some seeds to plant along the way. And I feel that that kind of is the most important thing in Hollywood — that relationship aspect of it, which is hard to demystify, like how you even get there. It’s kind of just a slow process that you crack away at. And you hope that you kind of have repeat customers that you get to work with. When I move on from Jupiter’s Legacy, I mean, hopefully, there’ll be more seasons, but there’s so many wonderful producers that I was able to collaborate with. So the hope is always when they go off and do their next project, if it’s right creatively, that I get to work with them again. So that’s sort of just how it kind of snowballs. It’s always like a really slow period to start for many years, and then it kind of sort of gradually picks up as you keep treading through.
Ames: With Jupiter’s Legacy, you’ve got this big, sprawling, epic superhero series that spans several different time periods, feature daring escapades, aliens — all that stuff. How was your role as a composer on the of the series envisioned? And how did that evolve throughout the creative process?
Economou: Jupiter’s Legacy was unique in that they hired me when they had been editing — they were in post for quite some time — and they had really good solid cuts of all eight episodes. So we sat down together — the showrunner, and producers, and myself — and we had a spotting session. So, we went through all the episodes and talked about concept musically. And it was really important to them for it to feel more like a long feature film, and not like an episodic season. Because of that, I wanted to have a plan conceptually before I tackled the score.
So you know, watching Episode Seven, which is just this epic, incredible journey-based episode, the whole seasons kind of building up to it, I had a very clear idea in mind what I want to do for the final scene of that episode. They’re on the island, and they get to the last stage of it right before they’re granted their powers. And I had the idea from the beginning, like, this is such a bizarre, incredible, shocking scene that I wanted to write like a big choir piece for it. I felt like it needed something bold and kind of different. And I wanted to use the main theme of the show, which I had written — it’s kind of Sheldon’s/The Utopian’s theme, but also the show theme, or the Union theme. I thought that would be a great spot for it, because it’s like the moment where they get their powers; and what bigger statement could you do musically than to write a chorale? So I had decided that with the producers and sold them on that idea, even before I’d written a note of music, and because of that, I didn’t want it to just be like, suddenly, we get to Episode Seven and there’s a huge choir! I kind of unwound that idea. So vocals became part of the DNA of the score, however subtle and kind of experimental and fragmented and strange. That was a seed that was being planted throughout the whole series. So by the time we get to that moment, in Episode Seven, it feels like it’s earned. And it feels like a grand statement of what it was teasing the whole time. So there was a conceptual idea from the start, especially for that.
Other than that, because, you know, the scope and the scale of the show is so kind of crazy. You know, we’re having time periods, we’re going to Morocco … it’s all different, right? So the whole idea was to have themes established for characters. So there’s a theme for the Utopia and a theme for Chloe, Raikou, Grace, Walter — there were these musical signatures and identifiers that I tried to establish as we went so that even if we’re hopping time periods the music isn’t changing to fit the time period, it’s still that same theme that we feel is developing with that character. So that was kind of the approach throughout.
There were some surprises along the way like Chloe ended up with an industrial rock theme, which I didn’t know was going to happen. But you know, the actual musical content of her theme, those notes that are associated with her, they had to get quick, intimate and dark and twisted; and even if the dark metal aspect wasn’t there, stylistically, her theme was still there. It just had kind of a different interpretation. So, I just tried to do that with all of the characters wherever I could. My hope is a cohesive sort of evolution of this core as it evolves with the picture.
Ames: Were there any particular scenes in the series that challenged you to produce something outside of your comfort zone?
Economou: I was very worried about the choir piece, because it’s like, what a great, cool idea to decide at the beginning of the process. But, like I said, I haven’t written a note of music. So, by the time I got to Episode Seven, I was like, ‘Shit, can I pull this off?’ That was a different kind of, just like sort of psyching myself out, self-awareness kind of thing.
There was another scene in Episode Seven, which I called “Illumination” on the soundtrack, it’s a scene where there are six original characters stuck behind this rock wall, and they can’t escape. And they all go up and put their hands on the wall, and these lights come up and our showrunner, Sang Kyu Kim, really wanted there to be a tone associated with the lights on the wall. He really wanted it to be music, he didn’t want it to be sound design. So, I was faced with this really unique, rare undertaking for a composer, which is to create the diegetic, this on-screen sound, but also had an underscore there, and it all had to work together. So my idea for that was, all these characters have their own themes. So like, why not associate their individual tones with a little snippet of their theme and like, have a tone come out of it. So that was a very composer thing to do, like no one watching that is going to know that like, you know? When Sheldon puts his hand on the wall, the first two notes are of his theme on horn. The characters had that moment. And if their hand ever came off the wall, I had reversed the tone and reversed their little motif. And the idea was like when everybody has their hands on the wall, but they’re all hanging there — the tones — and they’re not quite harmonious together until they all do it. And it all happens and it becomes this big chord. And then the final challenge I was faced with creatively there was what do I do with these tones that have just been hanging in that space once it opens up, so I decided to take the tones and make it part of the score. So the tones became an arpeggiated kind of sequence of belly tones that continued on as the score built to the end of the scene; as they walk, they walk into the light past the rock wall. So, it was definitely something that I never thought I would be able to do before I did it. And I think having the creative concept, and just having a little bit of an idea of how I wanted to tackle that sonically really helped get me through it. But it’s certainly one of those kinds of experimental, different things that you never know if you’re gonna be able to pull it off. But it was really fun, being able to do that.
Ames: Are there themes or motifs you developed in Season One that you’re eager to explore or expand upon in later seasons?
Economou: Yes! That’s a great question. I think the main dominating theme of this series was definitely the Utopian show theme that I wrote. And there’s also another little motif that I call the “Adventure Germ,” which is basically just kind of a sequence of four or sometimes five notes. Sometimes it’s on a piano, sometimes it’s on short strings or an action sequence. Sometimes it’s on like a weird sense, but it’s always there. It’s really just constantly there. That was fun to be able to have it start sort of as, like when the adventure is picking up, but also carry it into the present day, because that sense of, you know, them getting their powers, and this responsibility is still there even in the younger generation. So I like the idea of continuing to expand on that and having it be this microcosm of a musical idea that carries through all of their lives. On top of that, I really wish I could have developed more of a theme for Walter because he definitely has his moments for it. He has a really wonderful emotional scene in Episode Seven. The performance is so incredible, but he has this cello theme; and I like the idea of, in Season Two, really turning that on its head and making it more dark and twisted. And really giving it the chance to have the legs to be something so far beyond what it was introduced as. So I hope I get the opportunity to do that.
Ames: As a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series, I noticed you’re scoring the Valhalla DLC “Siege of Paris.” Can you tell us anything about that?
Economou: That was definitely a pivot for me creatively because I had never done game music before. So it was fun being able to learn that process, but it was also really fun being able to, or just at least try to create a sound for Paris in that time, like around 845 — so so so early on — and I did a lot of historical research. There’s so little documentation about what music sounded like back then it was kind of mainly sacred choir music. And there was very little written about what instrumental music was used. So I sort of ended up collecting a lot of strange instruments from around that time period, kind of early medieval, so a little bit later on, but I bought a Vielle, which is kind of like an original version of a violin. I have some Kantele — just like anything that has a string and a box attached to it I basically just knocked on and scratched and sort of made all sorts of sounds, because that’s the thing about Assassin’s Creed … what I chose for a palette was kind of like a reflection of these old instruments, but with super hyper-modern production. And it has that energy of being like a siege. And it was really fun to be able to try to craft a sound for that … and have the chance to kind of experiment with that sound palette.
Mortal Kombat finally released in theaters and on HBO Max a few weeks ago, which means everyone and their mothers has watched the latest iteration of the popular video game and spent the last week either blasting it as the worst film ever made or one of cinema’s great masterpieces.
My take? It’s an enjoyable action flick with a few decent fight scenes marred by some bad performances and dialogue. But who cares when “the chick gets her gut blown out, and you can see her spine,” as one of my friends so keenly pointed out via text message?
Indeed, no one goes to a flick like Mortal Kombat expecting a breathtaking plot or strong acting, for that matter. However, after 2021’s Mortal Kombat, I felt obligated to go back to Paul Anderson’s cheesy 1995 classic Mortal Kombat to compare and contrast the two films. I was quite astonished at the similarities inherent in both flicks, particularly when it came to which characters the story focused on. I mean, for a game featuring (checks Google) 97 characters, you’d think the filmmakers would want to distinguish themselves from MK95 by introducing here-to-fore unseen heroes and villains.
Alas, this is not the case, which means I was stuck with an important question: which film portrayed its characters better?
Without further ado, behold the most epic battle you will ever, um, behold! MK1995 vs. MK2021. Only one will prevail. Fight!
RAIDEN: MK95 Christopher Lambert vs. MK21 Tadanobu Asano
Christopher Lambert may have never lived up to his potential as an action star and squandered much of his star power in cornball franchises like Highlander. Yet, his performance in MK95 is f*****g iconic.
From his flowing white hair to his distracting accent and those spectacular wizard-like entrances accomplished via $10 special FX — keep in mind this movie came out two years afterJurassic Park — Lord Raiden in MK95 is mysterious enough to remain interesting and nutty enough to leave a lasting impression. Is he a friend, foe, or just a bizarre French dude who can shoot sparks from his fingers?
By comparison, Tadanobu Asano’s Lord Raiden mostly sits and broods in a chair like he’s auditioning to play “Not Ras Al Ghul, Jr.” in the upcoming The Batman. Asano more closely resembles his video game counterpart, but the character lacks a sinister side; and, oddly enough, is far too empathetic, if that makes any sense. His first appearance in MK21 has him coddle a baby for cripes’ sake… yeah, Lambert easily wins this round.
LIU KANG: MK95 Robin Shou vs. MK 21 Ludi Lin
This one isn’t fair considering the discrepancy between the two roles. MK95’s entire plot centers on Liu Kang, while MK21 shoves the beloved character aside and focuses on … Cole Young, aka Bland Hero. And so, while Ludi Lin gets a few killer death blows, his character spends far too much time on the sidelines overshadowed by Cole Young and the far more interesting Kung Lao.
In MK95, Robin Shou dominates as Kang and enjoys a character arc that sees him morph from doubtful participator to legendary warrior. Sure, his fight scenes are, ahem, not quite as cool as those in MK21, but at least he gets to take out the big bad, save the day and saunter off with a lady friend.
SONYA BLADE: MK95 Bridgette Wilson-Sampras vs. MK21 Jessica McNamee
Ok, here’s where my personal bias sets in. Bridgette Wilson-Sampras is one of those crushes we all had in junior high, along with Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Meg Ryan circa Joe Versus the Volcano. I mean, that Veronica Vaughn is one piece of — well, you get the gist. And so, while Jessica McNamee’s Sonya Blade delivers the better performance in MK21and enjoys a much more satisfying character arc that culminates with her taking down Kano via slash-and-hide tactics (versus Wilson-Sampras’ ridiculous Martin Riggs murder-by-legs-technique), MK95 Sonya’s sassy back-and-forth banter with Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) along with the sheer fact that she’s Bridgette Wilson-Sampras wins out every time.
Plus, be honest, you cheered when Sonya and Johnny locked arms at the end of MK95 — a moment that still brings tears to my eyes. Not really, but it’s the most tender moment you’ll see between the two films, which has to mean something, right?
SHANG TSUNG: MK95 Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa vs. MK21 Chin Han
Here’s another instance where newer isn’t exactly better. Chin Han has the look of Shang Tsung but lacks the menace to make the character truly memorable. Like Asano’s Raiden, he’s mostly relegated to the sidelines, where he throws shade at the combatants and waits nearly an hour and a half before unleashing his famed soul-eating superpower.
By contrast, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Shang Tsung consumes souls in the opening scene of MK95, gets his own climatic fight-to-the-death sequence against the main protagonist, and leaves a much stronger impression than his MK21 counterpart thanks to the actor’s go-for-broke, snarling performance. Campy? Sure. But, damn, if it isn’t awesome.
KANO: MK95 Trevor Goddard vs. MK21 Josh Lawson
Ok, this one is a no-brainer. MK21’s handling of Kano is damned-near perfect, and it’s not insane to suggest Josh Lawson carries the film entirely on his back, even if his foul-mouthed, one-note performance grows a little wearisome by the second act.
Still, Lawson’s Kano certainly leaves an impression, which one cannot say of Trevor Goddard’s all-too-brief appearance as the character in MK95. The actor performs the role similarly to Lawson but goes down in a rather lackluster fashion via the aforementioned Sonya Blade leg-squeeze-of-death trick. A poorly directed fight scene undoes a kick-ass cameo. Too bad.
SCORPION: MK95 Chris Casamassa vs. MK21 Hiroyuki Sanada
This one is tough. Scorpion is mostly relegated to cameo status in MK95 but gets the best fight scene of the movie when he goes toe-to-toe against Johnny Cage amidst a striking forest backdrop (one of Anderson’s more brilliant ideas); and later removes his face to reveal an animatronic skeleton that blows fire, bleeds lava and later went on to star as the cab driver in Halloweentown. The character certainly leaves an impression, even if his moment to shine is over far too quickly.
In MK21, Hiroyuki Sanada portrays Scorpion as a tragic hero who finds a smidge of redemption when he arrives at the climax, takes out Sub-Zero, and saves the day. It works within the context of the film, but it also robs the character of his trademark cruelty, even as he blurts his famous “Get over here” battle cry.
SUB-ZERO: MK95 Francois Petit vs. MK21 Joe Taslim
Revisiting MK95, I was surprised at how many fight scenes are packed into the 90-minute feature. The film is basically a series of set pieces distinguished only by their color grading and the occasional scenery changes. When they hit, such as the Johnny Cage vs. Scorpion battle, they really hit; and when they fail, well, you get Liu Kang vs. Sub-Zero.
Lit in blue hues, because, well, Sub-Zero, the sequence lacks any real punch and, much like the Reptile fight later on, basically amounts to two guys punching and kicking each other a lot before the director yells cut. Due to budget constraints, Sub-Zero never uses his patented frosty power and instead produces some goofy-looking force field that, oddly enough, leads to his demise via bucket-full-of-water.
MK21 Sub-Zero, as played by Joe Taslim, gets a lot more to do and looks great doing it. His battle with Jax early on is stunning in its brutality, and his bit during the climax in which he turns Scorpion’s blood into an ice pick is the kind of stuff Mortal Kombat fans have dreamed about for years.
REPTILE: MK 95 Keith Cooke vs. MK95 CGI Reptile
As stated above, the fight scenes in MK95 become quite repetitive. Enough so that it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. The Reptile vs. Liu Kang fight sequence is rendered tiresome due to a lack of creativity (and budget) on the filmmaker’s part. Ole Liu and Reptile-in-human form throw each other around a neon-lit room, jump through walls, spin, and yell in slow motion, all before the latter succumbs to death-by-Kang’s-boot — he leaves behind a pile of bugs for some reason.
Still, the fight commences with an announcer flatly stating “Reptile” when the character morphs from poorly 90s era CGI monster to humanoid, a moment that produces goosebumps to this day; and the fight scene, while mostly bland, still gives us more of the character than MK21.
In fact, the lizard’s appearance in the new film fails because, well, he doesn’t do anything particularly unique. He’s mostly stuck in invisibility mode while the actors try desperately to fight with thin air dramatically. Reptile doesn’t even morph into a human and is easily killed by Kano in a manner that would make Toad from X-Men laugh. Sure, the effects look a lot better here than those featured in MK95, but, despite its flaws, the Reptile that appears in the original Mortal Kombat is the one I want to see.
GORO: MK95 vs. MK21
As stated above, it’s remarkable how similar MK95 and MK21 are to one another. Case in point: Goro. The four-armed baddie has little more than a brief cameo in either film … and disappoints in each case. In MK95, he pops in to fight Johnny Cage in a quick skirmish undone by poor animatronics and bad special FX, while MK21 has him pop out of Bland Hero’s tool shed for a just-as-quick smackdown on the front lawn undone by some so-so CGI. Neither film reveals anything about the character, other than he’s big, mean, has four arms, and has a hard time fighting dudes in goofy shirts.
MK21 gets the slight nod here for not having Bland Hero punch Goro in the balls. Plus, complain as I might about MK21’s CGI, Goro’s animation is leaps and bounds better than whatever the hell that was in MK95.
So there you have it. By my count, MK95 wins by a nose. But don’t take my word for it. Check out both Mortal Kombat flicks on HBO Max and decide for yourself which film deserves the ultimate victory!
(Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SCAD aTVfest 2019 )
Hulu’s hit comedy series PEN15 has developed into one of the streaming service’s best shows. Starring Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine as awkward middle schoolers, the show has gotten critical acclaim over its first two seasons. ComingSoon.net got to chat with co-creator and Season 2 director Sam Zvibleman about the unique production problems the show faced during the second season, when we’ll see new episodes, and how the show has evolved over time!
Check out our full Sam Zvibleman interview about PEN15 below!
Tyler Treese: As a director, what is it like working with so many young actors? I imagine it’s very rewarding, especially as you get to see their growth as performers from Season 1 to Season 2.
Sam Zvibleman: Yeah, man. That was amazing to see. I adore working with the kids, the young actors. They’re fearless, and they take their work very seriously. I thought there was like a major, major jump from Season 1 to Season 2. They really brought it. I could tell from day one on set, and they really knew their characters and sort of took ownership over them to the point where I could be like, “What do you think Sam would do?” or “What do you think Maura would do?” They had a better answer than what I could come up with, and I was writing it, you know, it was awesome.
It’s almost as if the first season, Anna and Maya, they’re kind of acting around the kids, but like you’re saying, they’re really just full-fledged actors and full characters in the second season.
Well, that’s nice to hear. It’s a little hard for me to see some of that being so in it, but I thought that they were remarkable. [They] could hold their own. It’s tough. Anna and Maya are geniuses and to hold your own in a scene with those two is really something, but, like I said, they came to play, and they showed up, and they worked hard.
Early on, a lot of the appeal of the show was kind of like the cringe comedy, but over the two seasons, we’ve seen these characters get fleshed out so much that there’s real drama and stakes in these interactions. The viewers get so invested. How do you balance that type of cringe comedy with also creating something that’s so compelling with overarching storylines?
Yeah, I mean, right at the beginning of the show, it’s obviously super funny to see these grown women have crushes on actual boys and have sort of rivalries with young girls, but we sorta knew that that that you can only play that, that note for so long before it gets maybe a little old. I mean, it’s still funny, but you have to kind of… There’s so much more in middle school to explore than sort of that dynamic. I really personally enjoyed watching some of the true, sort of sincere dramas that play out. Anna and Maya are so gifted at acting they’re not comedians. We just wanted to explore the kitchen sink of emotion and drama as part of it, and seriousness and heavy stuff is a part of middle school life. So, we had to evolve as a show from sort of like that cringe to you have to love these characters, not just the visual gag of it all.
You directed a few episodes in the first season, but in the first part of season two, you directed all the episodes. How does it differ getting to direct an entire arc rather than just a few?
Well, it’s sort of nice to have sort of the whole thing sort of in your head. I guess one of the benefits is for me, I could be like, “Well, we could, we could shoot this scene in front of the mirror, but we’ve kind of done that already. So let’s try something new and in, in a new location and a new way.” So I was able to kind of know what we did and change it and evolve it and make sure that it keeps growing organically. The other thing is just simple, a simple matter of practice. Where in the first season, I did four episodes and I was just starting to hit my stride by the end, and then you have to stop. So, in the second season, I was able to kind of use that rhythm that you find naturally with your crew and your actors and that rhythm, and you don’t have to stop, and you can keep going. I thought our stuff got better as we went along, and that was sort of the theory. It was also really hard.
Can you speak to some of those difficulties that popped up during directing that second season?
Yeah. All sorts of productions face this issue of you want to create this world, but the world has no interest in your plans. So, we’re not unique in having production problems, but for instance, we’re supposed to shoot day one of Season 2 on a Monday and come Friday, right before a few days before we had these fires in California and we lost our location that we’re supposed to shoot in in a couple of days. That was like the pool party. It was also Maura’s house for the sleepover. So we had to almost completely flip our schedule. So we had to shoot stuff that I hadn’t planned for at all in a couple of days, then the same thing happens another week later we’re supposed to shoot in the woods, but there was, it was too dangerous because of I believe the Santa Ana winds come in.
Okay. So you’re going to shoot something else. You don’t have any idea what you’re going to do. Then there’s like personal tragedy in our, in our cast and crew too that would happen. So things just kept coming up that threw curve balls at us. I really had to learn to fly by the seat of my pants and sort of play jazz instead of my usual way, which is sort of meticulously knowing what I’m planning and what I’m going to do. It was just, you know, shoot from the hip, take what’s coming and, and try to make it work. It was super stressful, you know, ’cause I like to know what I’m going to do. I know the crew likes to know what I want to do, but that’s life. So it was a really amazing sort of boot camp for shooting and for life in certain ways.
Maya and Anna have such amazing chemistry on screen. Is there much improv on the set, and has the amount of improv changed between Season 1 and Season 2?
Maya and Anna are best friends in real life, so that chemistry comes through very naturally. You just gotta park the camera in front of them and let them go. So, yeah, there’s a lot of improv. We know where the scene has to kind of get to. There is a script. We often do a take or multiple takes where we do the script, and then they’ll sort of find their own way of saying it as we go. Anything to help them sort of stay and milk and find those gems, those truthful moments is great, but that was the same with the first season. When you discover you have a strength — in this case, it’s our performances, not that it was a surprise to me — you sort of ride with that strength.
Nostalgia is such a huge part of the show. The AOL Instant Messenger scenes really take me back. I think it’s really wonderfully balanced because it’s like window dressing, and it’s a component of all these plot lines, but it’s not overbearing. You don’t just make a ton of references to stuff. How do you find that balance of making sure the key story is still the focus while the nostalgia just kind of surrounds it?
I think the three of us starts and ends with character and what’s real. We’re always catching ourselves saying, “what’s real?” We don’t like to sort of play the greatest hits of the 90s. We never thought of it really as nostalgia or trying to be nostalgic, or at least I didn’t. We were just trying to be what was truthful and what happened. A big part of life is some of that. The music, AOL, the clothes. So that’s just going to happen as almost texture, as opposed to us being like, “Look at our nostalgia!” or “Everyone pay attention to this 90s Tamagotchi watch.” It’s just sort of there to be picked up, you know? I think that’s just our taste and sensibility more than anything.
(Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SCAD aTVfest 2019 )
Renewals are always up in the air with streaming shows. When writing a show like this, how long term do you think with the plot lines? Because we saw so many seeds planted in Season 1 that really paid off in the first part of Season 2. How do you balance not knowing if you will be able to do more of this show and making sure there is a meaningful payoff for what we do have?
That’s a good question. I think that we just have so many stories and everyone we’re friends with has so many stories from middle school. I almost remember more from my middle school than I do from high school or college. It’s such formative times. We always call it like a circus or a freak show. So we’re not really ever, at least I’m not, you can’t really think about renewal or those things that are kind of out of your control. All you can do is just sort of, what tickles us? What’s making us laugh? What story do we really need to tell? I know that there are more of those moments and stories for Anna and Maya. We keep doing our thing and be truthful and tell those stories, and if people keep digging it, you hope that that’s enough.
You talked to this a little bit about how you’re just being truthful to the middle school experience. We’ve seen so many people latch onto the show, and it really embodies that teenage awkwardness. There are exaggerated parts, but so many people can see themselves in it. How rewarding has it been to see so many viewers just latch onto these characters and love the show?
It blows my mind, man. When we made the first season, we had this like web series budget. No one knew about the show. Only a few people at Hulu and our producers sort of knew what we were up to. It was me and Anna and Maya with our editor till three in the morning trying to make our deadline and the cut. There weren’t many notes. So I didn’t think anyone was going to see this thing. I thought if they found it, that they would dig it because I knew how funny it was. I knew that we really brought it. So still to this day, you know, it’s surreal to like even hear that people have seen it and relate to it.
Cause we are never trying to be like, “What’s the most relatable thing?” We’re just telling our stories. So it turns out all these people have these stories. Really what I think it is, is all these people have these emotions. You know, I met a woman from South Africa who was like, “That was my middle school experience in South Africa.” That just really, you know, can you believe that? It’s so cool. You know that touched them, and I really think it speaks to Anna and Maya’s performances that people can connect with what they were feeling through all these things at the time. So it’s really kind of astonishing to me.
For my last question, I’m sure a lot of fans of the show are wondering when the second part of the second season’s going to air. Do you have any rough idea of when that’ll be out?
Well, the long and short answer is no. Anna and Maya are just are raising the new, you know, 2050 cast of PEN15. They had kids during quarantine. They’re enjoying being new moms. So, you know, it’s going to happen, but I don’t truly [know]. I’m not even being like coy. I have no idea, but it’ll happen.
The transparency is appreciated and I appreciate your time today. It’s been great speaking with you.
The first episode of the new animated series Star Wars: The Bad Batch is currently streaming on Disney+, and by all accounts is another success on par with The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.
One of the through lines tying all three series together is Emmy-nominated composer Kevin Kiner, who recently picked up an Annie award for his terrific work on the Clone Wars episode “Victory and Death.” With Bad Batch, Kiner was able to build upon the thematic structure of both Clone Wars and Rebels for a score that is more diverse, albeit layered with that traditional Star Wars flare.
“Bad Batch is more of an evolution of Clone Wars than Rebels was,” Kiner explained in an interview with ComingSoon.net’s Jeff Ames. “Rebels was kind of a reboot and a different way of thinking about things. Bad Batch comes directly from Clone Wars. They’re the weird clones, they’re misfit clones with special skills and special crazy personalities. So, the score definitely grows from Clone Wars, just like Clone Wars grew from or changed throughout its run.”
Kiner describes his new scores as more eclectic in nature.
“You know, this is kind of an exclusive,” the Star Wars: The Batch Batch composer said, “but I think it’s okay to say that I go a little bit in The Dirty Dozen and Guns of Navarone direction with this one. Which works because they’re a band of misfits and they’re sneaking around, which is very much like The Dirty Dozen.
“So, I definitely give it that kind of thing. The electronics are in full force at times and so is the orchestra. One of my specialties is I play a bunch of fretted instruments and I have a thing called the guitar viola, which is a bowed guitar, like a cello, but different. I play that soloistically in a very haunting way with a vocalist a few times. So, I’m definitely pushing things. I’m trying to continue to explore.”
Kiner then went on to talk about a particular piece of music he’s excited for fans to hear, though, since the series is ongoing, couldn’t reveal too much.
“I don’t know what we’re calling that track, but it’s the one with the guitar viola and the vocalist,” he said. “But that will come out when we release the music from the first four episodes, I believe. I don’t have specific titles, but it’s a soloistic kind of cello-sounding thing. I really had fun, but it’s really different. It’s something brand new that I came up with more of my voice than other things I’ve done.”
Check out Episode 1 of Star Wars: The Bad Batch on Disney+ now and be sure to look out for the soundtrack on streaming platforms.
ComingSoon.net Managing Editor Tyler Treese caught up with Monster star Kelvin Harrison Jr. to discuss the court drama, which is out May 7 on Netflix. Based upon the novel by Walter Dean Myers of the same name, it follows the trial of Steve Harmon, a model youth played by Harrison Jr., that gets accused of participating in an armed robbery that left a convenience owner dead.
Check out ComingSoon.net’s Monster Interview with Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the video below (or read a full transcription further down the page):
Tyler Treese: The original novel Monster is such an important piece of young adult fiction, and it deals with some really important subject matter such as race issues, the legal system, and discrimination. Can you speak to what it means personally to star in a film that tackles these matters with such care and nuance?
Kelvin Harrison Jr.: I think it means a lot to me now. It meant a lot to me at the time when I was doing it. I think what I really love about the character of Steve is the fact that he was very much where I was at the time. In terms of, I really identify with being 17, and even now, I’m like 26 and still trying to figure out who I am—my identity as a black man in the world.
How do people see me? How do I see myself? Am I allowed to be curious? What does it mean when I’m trying to explore different avenues in my life, and how am I being judged for that? What does it also mean to have privilege as a black man and to have certain allowances that may not have happened previously for my parents or my grandparents, or like some of my peers? I’m trying to navigate all of these things, and I think it really meant a lot to kind of have a story that highlights that and wants to talk about how difficult it is to navigate that and make sense of it for yourself. It was really special.
As a musician yourself, was it exciting to work with ASAP Rocky?
Yeah. I mean, he’s a great guy. I mean, musician aside, I think he’s just a great dude and his energy and his artistry as a person. He’s an artist, and I think I really connect with that and identify with that. It was really fun just being around someone who shares those common vibes.
I found Nas’ role in the film so interesting because he’s a source of knowledge, just like in his raps. So behind the scenes, did he impart any knowledge there? How was it like working with him?
It was great. He’s very professional. Everyone came in… It was a very tight shoot, so we didn’t have a lot of time to really chat. That was my first big job. It was the first time I had a lead role in a movie. So I was really just focused, and I didn’t really talk to people much off-camera. I kind of kept the relationships the way they were in the movie. When we were speaking, we were speaking, and then if we weren’t, I was probably trying to figure out what the next thing I needed to do was. So I didn’t really get to talk to him that much. But when we were in the scene, he was very wonderful and very giving with his wisdom and love to young aspiring artists. So I really appreciate that.
Thanks to Harrison Jr. for their time and Netflix for setting the interview up.
ComingSoon.net Managing Editor Tyler Treese caught up with Jennifer Hudson and Jeffrey Wright to discuss their new film Monster, which is out May 7 on Netflix. Based upon the novel by Walter Dean Myers of the same name, it follows the trial of Steve Harmon, a model youth that gets accused of participating in an armed robbery that left a convenience owner dead. Hudson and Wright play Harmon’s loving parents that are put in every parent’s worst nightmare.
Check out ComingSoon.net’s Monster Interview with Jennifer Hudson and Jeffrey Wright in the video below (or read a full transcription further down the page):
Tyler Treese: Jennifer, you really did a great job in the courtroom scenes. They were quite emotional. You being a mother, was it easier to get into that role and really embrace yourself there?
Jennifer Hudson: Well, I can relate to the court scene for many reasons. Then obviously having a son and imagining… Not wanting to imagine him being in that position, but even on set, we felt like a family. So it’s like it came, I want to say naturally and I just tried to be present in the moment and react instead of act.
Jeffrey, as somebody that lived in New York City, how was it like to be in a film that shows so many great aspects of New York, like its vibrant art and community, while also some of the more unpleasant realities such as the racism and some violent crimes?
Jeffrey Wright: New York is a complicated place. I’ve been living here for over 30 years now and raised my kids here. My son, who’s now 19, the story was very much a story for him and for my daughter as well, but particularly for my son because New York is a wonderful place. It is an exciting place. A vibrant place. It can also be a dangerous place for a young man, and for a young black man, even more so in some respects.
That age 16 to 17 is in some ways a dangerous age for young men. I did a film in a prison in Indiana almost to a man they told me, “Got my first case when I was 17.” “Well, first I was 18.” That age when the hormones are raging and you know, the desire to be out in the world is raging combined with some of the challenges and the temptations that you find in a city like New York can be a complex recipe. This film explores that, I think, in an interesting way. So I just try to bring as Jennifer did my experiences as a parent to the table and let them be. It was pretty close to my chest, this role in this story.
Jennifer, you know, Monster was filmed a few years back and it’s just getting released now. Obviously, the book is written in 1999, but since it speaks to so many institutional issues with themes, do you feel like it’s even more relevant today in 2021? Yes,
Jennifer Hudson: I do. I think the timing is just right. I think it’s the time when we’re all still. It cannot be missed and it’s a message that definitely needs to be heard, you know? With so many things like it happening as we speak, it’s necessary right now.
Thanks to both Hudson and Wright for their time and Netflix for setting the interview up.
Star Wars day has come and gone, but now it’s time to really get down to business and celebrate Revenge of the Fifth! What better way to commemorate this holiday than take a look at the best scenes from Star Wars — Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, which is the best of the prequels?
Let’s do this!
Battle Over Coruscant
After two fairly enjoyable, though ultimately lackluster films, namely The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, George Lucas finally righted the ship with Revenge of the Sith; and delivered an intense, dramatic (though still clunky), action-packed closing chapter closer in spirit to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back than either of its predecessors. In fact, the first twenty or so minutes of Sith gives audiences everything they wanted to see in the prequels, to begin with — Anakin Skywalker kicking ass, epic Jedi vs. Sith lightsaber duels, Emperor Palpatine manipulating his soon-to-be-apprentice, and enormous space battles all set against the backdrop of the fabled Clone Wars Obi-Wan spoke of so many years ago; or would speak of later, depending on how you go about watching these films.
The said sequence follows Anakin and Obi-Wan’s starfighters as they zip through a massive battle battling buzz droids, evading missiles, and exchanging cheesy dialogue to save kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine. Later, the duo clash sabers with Count Dooku, take out legions of droids, and confront the sinister General Grievous before crash landing a giant ship — or, at least half of it — on Coruscant.
While there are goofier moments that recall the childish antics of Episodes I and II, including that curiously edited elevator gag and the whole ray shields bit, the sequence properly establishes Sith’s darker aesthetic and kicks the film off in glorious fashion.
When Yoda took on Dooku in Attack of the Clones, the results were … eh … unusual. To see the little green guy flipping around like a Tasmanian Devil was off-putting, to say the least. Yet, while his fight choreography remains the same in Revenge of the Sith, Yoda’s duel with the Emperor works in all the ways that his previous battle with Dooku didn’t.
For one thing, there are real stakes involved as Yoda is quite literally fighting for the fate of the galaxy. Placing the duel amidst the Galactic Senate chambers also lends the sequence a lot more thematic excitement. It serves as a not-so-subtle visual cue showcasing the literal destruction of democracy.
Yeah, it ends on a bit of a whimper with Yoda scampering off in defeat (mostly because the script needs him to reach Dagobah at some point). Still, the action up until those final moments is appropriately epic, particularly when intercut with Anakin’s duel with Obi-Wan.
Anakin vs. Obi-Wan
Speaking of which … Star Wars fans long fantasized about the battle between Anakin/Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Lucas delivered. What starts as a shouting match quickly segues into a fight to the death as the two former allies clash their sabers amidst the volcanic planet of Mustafar.
Things get a little wonky when the duel quite literally becomes a lava surfing contest; and the whole “I have the high ground” still makes no sense, but overall, Anakin vs. Obi-Wan is one of the better lightsaber sequences in the entire saga; and one of Sith’s best moments.
Not for a Jedi
There’s plenty of larger-than-life action, adventure, and battle scenes to enjoy in Revenge of the Sith. Still, one of my absolute favorite scenes out of the entire film is the quiet exchange between Palps and Anakin that occurs during that weird-ass purple concert. I love the soon-to-be Emperor’s careful manipulation of Anakin in this bit, particularly the way he, knowing full well of Skywalker’s predicament with Padme, reveals that Darth Plagueis “could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorines to create … life.”
In a film rightly criticized for its stilted dialogue, flat acting, and wooden characters, the “Purple Opera Scene” ironically enough stands as one of its best. It even culminates in the film’s most memorable exchange:
Anakin: Is it possible to learn this power? Palpatine: Not from a Jedi.
About midway through Episode III, things are going pretty well. After the opening scene, the film spends the next forty minutes pivoting between lazy exposition and heavy-handed character beats that probably should have occurred in previous films but absolutely blasts off once Palpatine executes Order 66. What follows is the most heart-wrenching sequence in any Star Wars film, during which the Jedi are betrayed by their Clone trooper pals and all but wiped out in surprisingly quick fashion — so much so that you wonder why ole Palp waited this long to make his move. From this point on, Sith charts a course for its tragic conclusion, hits the gas, and never looks back.
Did we need Anakin killing younglings? Not really. Did Yoda need to bump into Chewbacca? Nah. Should Lucas have filmed a more convincing take of Aayla Secura’s demise rather than the one we got in which the actress falls in a manner that makes it look like she tripped over a rock? Absolutely. But, hey, Star Wars has never been perfect when it comes to trivial details. Look at the bigger picture, people!
Bonus: John Williams’ Score
Finally, a quick shout out to the maestro himself for delivering one of the best Star Wars scores with Revenge of the Sith. Though lacking in the grand themes that dominated earlier films in the saga, Sith’s score remains dark, complex, and thrilling. Battle for the Heroes is one for the ages and perfectly captures the film’s operatic style. At the same time, the entire score does a masterful job segueing between high adventure and dramatic Shakespearean tragedy. We don’t say this enough, but Williams is a got-darned living legend, and he absolutely nailed Revenge of the Sith.
Author Kelly Oxford found success due to her honest writing, and now her anxiety-tinged coming of age film Pink Skies Ahead is set to air on MTV this Saturday, May 8 at 9 p.m. commercial-free. Starring Jessica Barden (The End of the F***ing World) as the 20-year-old Winona, the comedic film chronicles her first anxiety attack after dropping out of college. ComingSoon.net Managing Editor Tyler Treese got the chance to discuss the film with Oxford ahead of the premiere.
Check out our Kelly Oxford interview below as she discussed destigmatizing mental health issues, her next project for HBO Max, and much more:
Tyler Treese: I read that a lot of Pink Skies Ahead was autobiographical, and I think it’s an incredible statement for you to be so open with your own struggles with anxiety in your own life. How daunting was it to put Pink Skies Ahead out in the world, and was it sort of a therapeutic thing to do?
Kelly Oxford: Originally, the story was in a book of mine, my second book, and it was an essay. When I wrote that essay, I kind of went through all of those emotions then, and I was really scared. I’d never talked about my own mental conditions and my anxiety disorder before publicly. I just wrote them in a book and put the book out, and kind of forgot about it. It was difficult to write, but I kind of forgot about it until I was on my book tour. People started coming forward and saying how much they could relate to that story and how it affected them. From that, I knew that I was helping people, and being honest was good for everybody. I wanted to put that on screen to reach more people with the hopes that a bigger audience is going to also feel this way.
Jessica Barden does an incredible job in the main role. You two have a friendship that predates the film with you, both being comfortable with each other. Was it easier to film such a personal story?
We didn’t have a real relationship before this. We just followed each other on Instagram and thought the other person was cool. I thought she was super cool, and she thought I was super cool. Then for us to both get to work together was just exciting. The first day we met, we were both bouncing off the walls because that’s our character. We’re so similar, and working with her was just a dream. She’s such a talented actor, and she’s just dynamite on screen. I was truly lucky that she read this script and felt so connected to it, and wanted to bring this character to life for other people. You know, I’m just grateful for that.
One of the most powerful moments in the film is how it depicts the panic attacks, and it really comes across as it’s uncomfortable to watch. It really communicates what the attack is like well to the people that don’t have them. Was it difficult figuring out how to communicate that on screen?
I knew how I wanted it to look because I’ve had so many panic attacks, and I just really wanted to focus on how alone you can feel. With my first panic attack, I did come home, and I was alone, just like Winona was in the movie. I just blocked it out like a normal scene, and Jessy knew exactly what a panic attack or very strong anxiety felt like. We just went with it. I just made sure, up until that point and beyond that, that everybody on set was happy and everything felt safe so that she was really able to dig into that scene and feel like it was okay to really let go.
MTV is doing this amazing Mental Health is Health initiative. Can you discuss what that means for your film to be a part of it and how that deal came together?
My goal in making this film is it’s for people with mental health conditions to feel seen and to feel hope. In my story that anything’s possible. You can always have hope, no matter how many times you failed. There’s always hope for everybody, and a lot of it comes with just talking and communicating with people around you, how you’re feeling. I really wanted to portray that in the film through Winona talking to her friends and going to therapy. I think that, that films like this and films in the future that MTV puts together, I hope that they’re very successful in reaching these audiences and de-stigmatizing mental conditions.
Despite the serious subject matter, the film is very funny throughout. How important was it to make sure that the film had some comedy in it and to lighten the mood a bit? Because as a viewer, I felt like the serious moments really stood out all the more because of the disparity in there.
Here’s the thing, life is just like that, you know, sometimes things are really, really bad, and most of the time things are really, really good. In writing it, I just wanted it to be truthful with a lot of things that people that anxiety do. They are funny. Like you have to laugh at them, you have to laugh at yourself and what you do and how you’re living your life and how the anxiety is affecting you and making you do stupid things. I really wanted this story to ring as true as possible for as many people as possible. For me to do that, my best bet was to tell my version of it, which was my truth, because if I had fictionalized it completely, I wouldn’t have known that experience.
So I really had to tell it from my point of view and my life. I’ve been able to laugh at it. I’ve been able to laugh at myself, and I wanted to bring that to screen. I think it is a fun movie and, and it does have really poignant parts, but I hope that it shows people that mental conditions and all of these things are kind of stigmatized to the point where you think people are just like in a dark room all the time, doing nothing if they have an anxiety disorder, which is completely not true. You can have so many levels of anxiety, social anxiety, anything, and still be out there and challenging yourself. I really was that type of person. So I wanted to portray that type of person in the movie, and I think that that’s why there is so much lightheartedness to it. The reality is life really does contrast like that. You know, it is really dark sometimes, and it’s really light sometimes. Some of those best moments are when you are laughing, and it turns into a cry, or you’re crying, and it turns into a laugh. I wanted to tell that story.
With it landing on MTV, is that sort of a best-case scenario for this film? It has a chance to really reach a lot of young adults and teens and really teach them about anxiety attacks. Do you feel like this release really came out ideal?
Yeah, it really did. I think it’s at the right time too. I think kids after this COVID year have been struggling the most out of anybody. They aren’t seeing their friends. They aren’t going to school. They are stuck with their parents, who are the last people they want to be stuck with. I feel like MTV is the hub for all of these kids, you know, and it’s so funny that it’s a movie about the 90s, and it’s now at MTV. I mean, MTV was everything in the 90s, and it’s still so many kids just watch it and are looking for this. It’s got such a good stamp on it for this age group that I’m so happy that it’s there. Especially that they’re doing this mental health initiative just makes it so special and so great. I’m really happy about it.
Henry Wrinkler really steals the scenes he is in. His role as a pediatrician is hilarious. What was it like working with him?
He is amazing. He is the sweetest guy. He came to set, introduced himself to everybody, and was just like the sweetest, greatest guy. He made Jessy feel so comfortable. He’s just, and he’s a phenomenal actor. Everything he said, I was just like, “Oh my God, is the camera on? We have to make sure we’re getting all of this stuff.” Even when we’re in rehearsal like, “Let’s just get everything that Henry does.” He’s amazing. I love him so much.
As to your future, you sold Son of a Bitch to HBO Max. That’s another take on your own life that tackles the transition from a young adult to a mother. Can we expect a similar tone to this film, and what should we expect from that?
It’s definitely a similar tone, but it’s more of a comedy because we don’t have a panic attack in the film. It definitely is the same tone, and I think it’s a really good follow-up for Pink Skies Ahead. I think that it’s almost Winona a little bit older again. I think that they’re going to complement each other really well because this character in Son of a Bitch is just a little bit older, and the tone is really similar, but the story is lighter and the obstacles are completely different.
Can you believe it’s been 20 years since The Mummy Returns released in theaters? The blockbuster epic arrived with plenty of fanfare on May 4, 2001, as a sequel to 1999’s surprisingly terrific The Mummy and promised more high-spirited adventure with Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), his wife Evy (Rachel Weisz), and … their kid Alex?
Cue record scratch sound effect. Don’t worry. The film only went downhill from there.
Produced on a $98 million-dollar budget, Returns totaled $70.1M on its opening weekend, the second highest-grossing weekend of all time behind only The Lost World: Jurassic Park — that’s how enthusiastic audiences were — and went on to gross $435M worldwide (compared to the original’s $415M haul), despite tepid reviews (just 47% on Rotten Tomatoes versus The Mummy’s 61%) and lukewarm reaction from moviegoers. Indeed, seven long years would pass before Universal returned to the franchise with 2008’s equally lackluster The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which likewise grossed $400+ million worldwide, but failed to ignite much enthusiasm and ultimately led to the Tom Cruise reboot-flop The Mummy in 2017.
So, while The Mummy Returns was technically victorious, it also stopped a profitable franchise dead in its tracks. I blame the rehashed story, director Stephen Sommers’ campy, go-for-broke style, those really bad special effects, and the goofy family dynamic that all but usurped the original’s tongue-in-cheek tone in favor of cringe-worthy melodramatics. That stupid blimp didn’t help matters, either.
Yet, despite its gratuitous flaws, The Mummy Returns still managed to hit one significant, even radical milestone: this was the film that catapulted Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Hollywood success.
Your view on that particular milestone may vary, of course, but you can’t deny The Rock as a pop culture icon. Sure, Johnson was a huge star during his professional wrestling days where a single eyebrow lift would send a legion of diehard fans into wild fits of insanity. Still, his leap onto the big screen somehow made his larger-than-life persona even larger — and it all started with a rather simple cameo at the beginning of The Mummy Returns.
In case you might have forgotten, Johnson appears in the film as the Scorpion King, a quasi-bad guy who, after failing to conquer the world with his grand army, waits for the survivors of his force to die in the desert before trading his soul for an even grander army consisting of the god Anubis’ jackal-like warriors. Naturally, once ole Scorpio has conquered the planet, or maybe just an obscure town in the desert, Anubis takes his soul to the Underworld, where he likely spends the rest of eternity wishing he hadn’t made such an erroneous deal.
The Rock only has a handful of lines in these early scenes — in another language, no less — but makes the most of his limited appearance and manages to show off a natural screen presence, even if said presence is slightly diminished by his poorly rendered CGI counterpart who appears during the film’s (admittedly) exciting climax.
In any case, Johnson managed to turn that cameo into a $5.5M payday (the biggest for a first-time actor) when he agreed to star in the spinoff The Scorpion King, released one year later to a decent box office haul, and has since starred in films such as The Rundown, Pain and Gain, Moana and massive franchises Jumanji and the Fast and Furious saga, to say nothing of the numerous films and TV shows he’s produced over the years. All told, the Rock’s cumulative box office gross is just under $5 billion, and he’s still only 49 years old with Disney’s Jungle Cruise (alongside Emily Blunt), DC’s Black Adam, Red Notice (alongside Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot) and another Jumanji film lurking on the horizon.
So, on the anniversary of one of the more disappointing sequels of the last two decades, keep in mind that without The Mummy Returns, it’s likely The Rock’s trajectory to Hollywood looks a lot different, if it even happens at all.
And to think, all it took was Brendan Fraser outrunning the sun, Rachel Weisz experiencing reincarnation and resurrection, that stupid blimp flown by a pilot who doesn’t get shot in the ass, the greatest pygmy attack ever filmed and one of the poorest examples of early 2000s CGI to make it happen.
The Water Man, which is out in theaters on May 7, is acclaimed actor David Oyelowo’s first feature film as a director. Oyelowo starred in the family adventure drama alongside Rosario Dawson, Lonnie Chavis, and Amiah Miller.
The film follows a boy named Gunner (Chavis), who sets out on a quest to save his ill mother (Dawson) by searching for a mythic figure called the Water Man that is said to possess the secret to immortality. After enlisting the help of a mysterious local girl, Jo (Miller), they journey together into the remote Wild Horse forest. However, the deeper they venture, the stranger and more dangerous the forest becomes. Their only hope for rescue is Gunner’s father (Oyelowo), who will stop at nothing to find them and in the process will discover who his son really is.
Check out our David Oyelowo interview to learn about how Oprah Winfrey helped the film, why it was a personal project for Oyelowo, and much more.
Tyler Treese: You previously said that you didn’t really have grand aspirations to direct a film next, but you wanted to see this come into existence so much that you wound up, you know, going into that unfamiliar territory, what led to that attachment with the screenplay to where you just needed to direct it?
David Oyelowo: It was the fact that I had loved films of this nature growing up and find myself scratching my head as to why we weren’t making them anymore. Why were there no more E.T.s and The Goonies, Stand By Me, Gremlins, Willow, and The Neverending Story? You know, the truth is we do have them, but they’re only being made by Pixar. You know, I would say Up and The Incredibles and now Soul, you know, there are some that have a little bit of that tone whereby you have both magic and meaning, reality and fantasy. You have heavier themes, but they can somehow be palatable to young kids and then relatable to grownups as well. But we just weren’t making them in a way that I sort of had enough of them to show my kids and not have to go back to the 80s to kind of show my kids these kinds of movies. Initially, I pursued this project for those reasons, and primarily as a producer and as an actor. It wasn’t until we lost our director a few years into the development of the project that the writer turned to me and said, “David, I think you should be the one to direct it.” I was just so passionate about it and seeing some of this nature, um, out in the world that I decided to jump in the director’s seat.
What kind of unexpected difficulties did you face as a first-time director doing a feature film? Did it go easier than expected or were there any shocking things? I imagine there are some challenges that come with starring in a film also directing it.
Yeah. There are very real challenges and the one that I was most nervous about was whether I would be so distracted with everything else. A director has to bear in mind that my performance might end up being one of the weakest things about the movie. I have spent a lot of my career intentionally watching some of these great directors I’ve had the privilege of working with. [Seeing what] they been doing what they do so brilliantly, and they have sort of been my film school in a way.
So there were definitely times in the middle of directing or even prepping to direct The Water Man where I actually realized I knew more than I thought I did, but also there were times when I had to really lean on the expertise of the brilliant crew I had built around me to sort of help me through my weaker spots. Those spots that maybe I hadn’t had as much insight into. The Water Man is actually the sixth film I produced, but I haven’t necessarily really dug into VFX myself in terms of how to make them work for a movie. You know, I haven’t necessarily been in all of the minutiae of a post-production process before. So, you know, these are some of the things I had to sort of learn in real-time.
Your performance is great in the film. What I liked about it was your character is real and he’s not like this cookie-cutter perfect father. He has his faults and the scenario he’s in, he has so much stress and there’s a bit of a disconnect with his child because they don’t share the same interests. You see some flaws, but he has such a good heart and he’s willing to do whatever for his child. Were you able to draw from your own experience as a father for that role?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s why I wanted to do it. I was able to identify not just the father role because I’m now a dad, but I also really identified with Gunner. As a child who growing up would’ve done anything for my parents because of how much I love them and because of how much they love me. I also think that the central theme of the film, which in many ways is sacrificial love, and seeing that acted out and embodied by this 11-year-old, is I think human being’s greatest attributes. I just loved seeing that through the eyes of an 11-year-old. I think it’s a true sort of hero’s journey for him, and that’s something that I think is aspirational. I think to see this family where love is the driving force for them overcoming some of these obstacles is also inspirational.
You have such an incredible young cast in the film. Can you speak to working with Lonnie Chavis and Amiah Miller and the relationship you had on set?
Talk about finding not just one, but two needles in a haystack. I mean, such brilliant young performers who really made me look good. I would love to take credit for the totality of their performances, but some of what they do in this movie is just stuff you can’t teach. A level of emotional intelligence, a level of sort of high IQ when it comes to dealing with a trickier theme than an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old should so adeptly be able to handle. They are both able to be kids, who are absolutely age-appropriate in their performances, but they are also able to entertain themes that you could argue are more grown-up. We need that in these kids because we are going to be oscillating between how they are being affected by these tougher things in the film and then how the grown-ups in the shape of myself and Rosario Dawson, as the parents together dealing with those things as well. So, I was just beyond impressed by both Linnie and Amiah.
Oprah Winfrey, who you’ve previously worked with, executive produced this. Can you discuss how she came to be involved in the project?
She and I met during The Butler. We obviously did Selma together as well. That was one of the first times where she came on by the project largely in support of me. That has been wonderfully a big part of our friendship of our relationship. She’s kind of a mother figure to me, as well. I went to her with this just saying it was something that I was very passionate about. I wanted to do, and she just wanted to support me in any and every way she could. One of the greatest contributions she made, obviously lending her company Harpo Films to the film and her wonderful executive in the shape of Carla Gardini. But also she has, my goodness, you want me to talk about a human being who knows about the human condition. That’s a great pair of eyes to have on a film of this nature, especially when you have early cuts that you’re hoping to get feedback on, and she does that. She’s incredibly useful from that point of view.
The Water Man spends a lot of time talking about death and trying to fight that inevitability, but by the end, it’s really a film about celebrating life. What do you hope viewers take away from it?
Exactly that. I think to celebrate life rather than bemoan how finite it is. In this film, we see a kid who’s desperately trying to reverse time and reverse what is a very difficult impending loss for him. It’s completely understandable, but at the end of the day, the reality is, and especially now we know in the wake of the pandemic, we are not promised tomorrow. We don’t know what the future holds. And so, the thing to really spend our energy and time doing is loving those we love and loving them hard, and being present with them. Not taking them for granted because there’s so many things we can’t control, but one of the few things we can is loving those who are right there with us while they are with us.
Warner Bros. Pictures provided ComingSoon.net with the chance to chat with the director of the highly-anticipated Mortal Kombat movie! We took the opportunity to ask Simon McQuoid -who makes his feature debut- about whether the big tournament teased in this movie will make its way into Mortal Kombat 2 or beyond.
Check out his answer in the player below!
“The tournament is both an opportunity and also a constriction in some ways,” McQuoid explained to us. “There’s something about the idea of a tournament film… We knew it was a key ingredient into Mortal Kombat, obviously, but it really starts to inform and build your film construct, heavily, that it was too powerful an ingredient for the story structure… We could go there, potentially. It’s part of the Mortal Kombat DNA so it’s worth considering, but I don’t really know. The games have sort of moved away from that anyway. It’s better expanding than constricting.”
The diverse international cast of Mortal Kombat includes Joe Taslim as Sub Zero; Ludi Lin as Liu Kang; Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade; Josh Lawson as Kano; Tadanobu Asano as Raiden; Mehcad Brooks as Jackson “Jax” Bridges; Chin Han as Shang Tsung; Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion; Max Huang as Kung Lao; Sisi Stringer as Mileena and Lewis Tan as the leading character Cole Young.
Inspired by Midway Games’ best-selling video game that was based on the original idea by Ed Boon and John Tobias, the film centers around MMA fighter Cole Young, accustomed to taking a beating for money, is unaware of his heritage—or why Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, an otherworldly Cryomancer, to hunt Cole down. Fearing for his family’s safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade at the direction of Jax, a Special Forces Major who bears the same strange dragon marking Cole was born with. Soon, he finds himself at the temple of Lord Raiden, an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm, who grants sanctuary to those who bear the mark. Here, Cole trains with experienced warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao and rogue mercenary Kano, as he prepares to stand with Earth’s greatest champions against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe. But will Cole be pushed hard enough to unlock his arcana—the immense power from within his soul—in time to save not only his family, but to stop Outworld once and for all?
Directed by Simon McQuoid from a screenplay written by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, the film is produced by James Wan (The Conjuring universe) and Todd Garner (Into the Storm, Tag) with Larry Kasanoff, E. Bennett Walsh, Michael Clear and Jeremy Stein serving as executive producers. The creative team is also comprised of director of photography Germain McMicking (True Detective, Top of the Lake: China Girl), production designer Naaman Marshall (Underwater, Servant), editor Scott Gray (Top of the Lake, Daffodils), and costume designer Cappi Ireland (Lion, The Rover).
Mortal Kombat opens in theaters and on HBO Max this Friday, April 23!
Comedian Ron Funches has a memorable role as an announcer in Golden Arm, a new road tripping buddy comedy starring Mary Holland and Betsy Sodaro that dives into the dysfunctional world of women’s arm wrestling. To promote the film, which is out today on video on demand services, Funches spoke with ComingSoon.net Managing Editor Tyler Treese about his experience shooting the film, his love of professional wrestling, and how All Elite Wrestling’s Justin Roberts saved his performance.
Check out our Ron Funches interview below!
Tyler Treese: One thing I found interesting in Golden Arm was that so much of the cast has comedy and improv backgrounds. Can you talk me through how much of the final product was riffing and improvising for your scenes?
Ron Funches: I mean, a lot of it was. I think that was [what] Maureen had in mind when she hired most of us. [It] was to take the script that they had and just look at it as a baseline. You could not only improvise joke-wise but to go ahead and shape our characters. Mary [Holland], Betsy [Sodaro], Eugene [Cordero], and all the wrestlers, they had some input on the characters they wanted to play. A lot of the character names were just names that I made up on the fly when I was announcing, they just didn’t have names yet, or we just asked the wrestlers what name they wanted to be. Even my character itself was really originally written more as a general just kind of sleazeball. Then when talking with Maureen, we just came up together with more of a character who was just in love with strong, powerful women. There’s a scene where he’s like all over Betsy’s character, but he doesn’t give Mary’s baker character the time of day because he doesn’t know that she’s strong or not. So, it just became what all of us kind of taking ownership and agency of our characters and improvising quite a bit. It’s because we’ve all worked together before, and she trusts us.
Getting that personal touch, it really shines through in the film. Having that amount of freedom, that’s not something you always have, but can you tell me the unique challenge that is? Obviously, with your comedy background, you’re probably very well suited to it, but not having a direct script and having so much freedom in your character, is that daunting in any way?
It can be. I think the two worst-case scenarios for me is one when someone just wants me to completely follow that script and that they don’t want me to play at all or add to it, and that feels so restrictive to me. Or if they’re just like, “We don’t know, we just think you’re funny! Just make it up.” And that, that is a lot of pressure. Fortunately, with this, it was more of the in-between where they had a good idea of what they wanted. They had a good idea of the script. It was funny as it was. So it’s more like, let’s do a pass as we have written, and then also go ahead and just do what you want.
For me as an entertainer, as a comedian, as someone who likes to think about the jokes and who also does the jokes… If you’re going to find someone who you just need to be a great actor, there’s probably above a long line of people you’d consider it before me. I’m good at problem-solving. I’m good at like seeing the direction of a scene and kind of seeing what I can add to it. And when someone wants me to do that, I think that doesn’t make me feel pressured. It makes me feel like we’re all in it together. We’re all problem-solving together.
Like you mentioned earlier, you have great chemistry with Betsy in the film. Can you just speak to how it was working with her? I really love how you mentioned that your character is not really a sleazeball, just really attracted to powerful women. I like that distinction.
Yeah. It’s not too different than me in my own life. And I just also thought, you know, as the guy who ran this event and takes care of these women, it’s kind of one-note to be like, “Oh, he’s just after all these women…” It became a lot more fun. It’s like, yeah, sure. He’s attracted to some of these women, but it’s also like, to him, these are the greatest athletes in the world, and they should be celebrated like [Michael] Jordan or [John] Elway or whoever. Patrick Mahomes or whoever. That’s what I liked about that character.
As far as working with Betsy, she’s just freaking hilarious and a force of nature and so fun to be around. Her and Mary, both, they both just kind of ran that set, and it was one of my first experiences where after [recording] like we called cut and everybody could go [get] martinis. We’d all hang out and eat dinner together. Going out to clubs together at night, it was really a good bonding experience. I was a big fan of Eugene Cordero, which is one of the reasons I took the job in the first place, a lot of my scenes were at him, and I think he’s just one of the most underrated comedic performers out, and I wanted to work with him and learn from him.
The film has so many hilarious women in it. We’re seeing a real emergence in the general comedy scene of more women. There have always been some amazing female comedians, but the comedy scene has always had a bit of the reputation of a boy’s club. So how great is it to see so many women finding success and really having their own road along with all the men in comedy,
I think it’s been great. It’s what you want. That’s what true equality is. It’s not like seeing one type of woman, one type of person of color, one type of anything. Everybody’s kind of starting to achieve on their own merit and not just because they fit a current mold. So to see a movie full of very funny women, I just love it. Aparna Nancherla, I got to work with her on The Great North, and to see her as a spokesperson for like Bubly and stuff like that, I get a kick out of that. It becomes more personal for me than just, “Look at all these women shine.” Like these are my friends, I grew up doing not necessarily mics with, but doing early festivals with, doing these small shows with, and then now still be working with them and see them own TV and movies. All of us are getting better and better. It’s amazing. I think it’s a true renaissance for the last few years, especially for black women and women of color. There have been so many great unique voices to where like Nicole Byer does not sound like Punkie Johnson, who does not sound like Wanda Sykes, who is kind of a godmother of all of that.
You’ve done a lot of voice acting in the past as well. In Golden Arm, you’re so physical with your performance, and the body language is so funny. Can you discuss how your acting approach changes depending on the medium?
Yeah, of course. I mean, actually, the main thing is that it doesn’t change that much. Like I treat most of my animated stuff like I do regular acting things, and they’re all about like breaking down the scene, breaking down what my characters wants are, and what changes from the beginning of the scene to the end of the scene. That doesn’t change, whether that’s animated or live-action. Sometimes I’m just as animated in a booth as I am in regular acting. I think different parts of myself and then dig them up or enlarge them or make them small for different parts. For this one, I just took my love of women, my love of professional wrestling, and just kind of added the two together. I’ve always liked a lot of pro wrestling and things like that, but it was the first time where I really started watching a lot of the announcers in wrestling and how they can sell a show. I was like, this is the biggest thing in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s a smokey bar with like 50 people or a hundred people to him. He sells it and treats it like it’s Madison Square Garden, you know?
You mentioned that you did a lot of film prep of watching different announcers. Did you reach out to any professional announcers for any tips?
Yeah, I did. Actually, I reached out to my friend, Justin Roberts, who works at All Elite Wrestling, because the very first day, I blew out my voice completely. Like I couldn’t speak at all. After the first day, I did a lot of screaming and the line to do. I was like, “Man, I don’t know how you do your job. I did this for one day and blew my entire voice out.” He just gave me some tips on how to control it a little better and some tips on what to buy to rest my throat. So it was very helpful. It got me back to back in the game. So I appreciate it.
Now that you’ve had a taste of doing announcing and obviously, you know how demanding that work is, would you be interested in doing actual events? I know you’ve done commentary for pro wrestling, so is announcing for pro wrestling something you’d be interested in or something even ridiculous, like the slap fighting we saw on pay-per-view recently.
Well, I mean, I saw Pete Davidson and Ric Flair and a lot of people there. So I’m assuming the slap fight checks are pretty good. If the check is good, I will think about it for the slap fighting, but for the pro wrestling, yes, right away. All day, any day, if they want me to announce I’m in. Want me to take a chokeslam from someone? I’m open. I love it. I’d love to do something in the ring on television. I’ve been fortunate enough. I did a scene in the show, A.P. Bio on Peacock, where I got to be a wrestler. I got to be announced by Lilian Garcia, who was the WWE announcer for a long time. So I was like, “Oh, maybe this is the closest I’ll ever get it.” But hopefully, one day, I can do it in the ring on an actual WWE or AEW [show] or whoever. That’d be great.
What female wrestlers do you think would do well in arm wrestling in something like Golden Arm?
Oh, women with good, big arms that are strong. Piper Niven from WWE NXT UK. Charlotte Flair, she’s extremely strong in the arms for sure. She would be great. I think, Awesome Kong who was in AEW and then also in the GLOW show, she’s built very strong up top. I think any of them will be great. I would like to see that. I was going to say Sasha Banks. She probably has stronger arms than she looks. Even though she is a tiny, tiny woman, let’s put her in there. See what she can do.
Yeah. I think like Mary [Holland] in the film, I think Sasha would be a surprise to a lot of people. Finally, you got to work with Ric Flair in the past, which was amazing. I’m sure. Are there any wrestlers you’d love to act with in the future?
Oh, The Rock! Because that means I’m in it big! So that would be the easiest one for me. The Rock! But if it’s like an active wrestler, I love Big E, and he’s got a great personality. I think something with him would be fun. Or just Toni Storm or any other female wrestlers because I just love to be around them anytime.
Without Remorse centers on Sr. Chief John Kelly pursuing a squad of Russian soldiers who assassinated his family in retaliation for his role in a top-secret operation and joins forces with a fellow SEAL and shadowy CIA agent, though his personal mission leads to him stumbling upon a cover plot threatening to plunge the U.S. and Russia into all-out war. As he finds himself torn between personal honor and loyalty to his country, Kelly must fight his enemies without remorse if he hopes to avert disaster and reveal the powerful figures behind the conspiracy.
Check out our interview with Without Remorse director Stefano Sollima below:
Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, Creed) stars in the film alongside Jamie Bell (King Kong), Luke Mitchell (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Cam Gigandet (Dangerous Lies), Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim), Jacob Scipio (Bad Boys for Life), Brett Gelman (Stranger Things), Jack Kesy (12 Strong), Colman Domingo (Lincoln), Lauren London (Always and Forever), Todd Lasance (Terminus) and Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3).
WithoutRemorse, the explosive origin story of Clancy’s iconic action hero John Clark, is directed by Stefano Sollima from a script by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and Will Staples (The Right Stuff) and produced by Jordan, Akiva Goldsman (Transformers), Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec.
John Clark has appeared in a number of Tom Clancy’s novels dating back to 1988’s The Cardinal and the Kremlin, as the darker side of the Jack Ryan character who works primarily in the field and typically operates by his own personal brand of ethics. The character was played by Willem Dafoe in Clear and Present Danger, starring Harrison Ford, and by Liev Schreiber in The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck.
Welcome to a special edition of CS Score, soundtrack lovers! This week we’re jumping right to the chase to get to our amazing interviews with Jeff Russo, composer of hit shows such as Fargo, Star Trek: Picard, Lucifer, For All Mankind and Clarice, among many others. We also got a chance to speak with composer Osei Essed, who has worked on the documentaries Accept the Call, True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality and the recently release Amend: Fight for America.
Let’s get to it!
We’re excited to announce seven amazing soundtrack LPs for @recordstoreday‘s 2021 drops: The Matrix 3-LP set, Village of the Damned deluxe-edition double LP, The Iron Giant and The Goonies picture discs, and Shrek, Ghosts of Mars, and Aliens limited-edition color LPs. pic.twitter.com/mOoL3apSKA
Here are your two clues for the CD Club titles coming this Friday. Who will be brave enough to take a bold step with their guesses and compete for the chance of getting the highly coveted “good job” reply from the Varèse admin? pic.twitter.com/jB0wkqCOOb
Emmy-winning and Grammy-nominated composer, Jeff Russo is creating some of the most varied and compelling music for television, film and video games. Russo earned an Emmy Award, and two additional nominations, for his score on FX’s Emmy Award-winning and Golden Globe-winning series Fargo. His music can be heard on CBS’s Star Trek: Picard; Star Trek: Discovery; and Clarice; Netflix’s Cursed; Altered Carbon; The Umbrella Academy; Apple TV+’s For All Mankind and Starz’s Power. Past credits include Hulu’s The Act, FX’s Legion, Starz’s Counterpart, Noah Hawley’s feature film Lucy in the Sky, Mark Wahlberg’s action-thriller film Mile 22, Craig Macneill’s Lizzie and more. Russo also received a BAFTA nomination for Best Music for Annapurna Interactive’s video game, What Remains of Edith Finch.
Jeff Ames: You are the renowned composer of shows like Fargo, Star Trek: Picard, Lucifer, For All Mankind … how did you get to where you are today?
Jeff Russo: [Laughs] Oh, boy. What a long road! Well, it’s hard to answer that question because so much of any success at anything is being in the right place at the right time and being prepared for an opportunity; and an amount of luck. What I mean by luck is, you know, happenstance — I know, so many people who are really great at what they do and haven’t had as much success as I think that they should! There’s so much of that involved. There’s so much in the right place at the right time with the right music and the right personalities in the right room, and the right project for everything to sort of come together. And then for that to actually become something successful, that leads to something else successful, it’s such a domino effect. The circumstances of anybody’s life lead up to the moment that you have when you sort of stepped into a new chapter. Nothing I ever did as a teenager, nothing I ever did, as even a young adult, would prepare me directly for what I’m doing now. And I never expected to do what I do now.
So, speaking on that, how did you get involved with TV and film composing?
So first, there’s a moment where you become interested in something. And I sort of credit that to, I was asked to act in a movie and play the guitar player/roommate of some other person who lived upstairs. And I did that, and the composer of the movie and the director asked me, knowing that I was a guitar player — which is how I got hired for the job — to come into the composer studio and play guitar on the score. Now, that composer’s name is Ben Dector, and he became one of my best and dearest friends. And as I did that, I thought, “This is kind of fun and kind of cool.” Like, you know, maybe one day I’ll play again on a score — that would be fun. My band then went back and toured and made more records, and five years later, I ended up talking with a very good friend of mine — her name is Wendy Melvoin of the duo, Wendy and Lisa. And they suggested that I come to the studio and watch them do what they do. They were working on a number of shows at the time. I hung out with them in their studio, watched what they did, and then eventually, they asked me if I would want it to work at all with them as an assistant — and I did! I got coffee and did all kinds of stuff, set up studio, set up sessions and edited stuff. And then finally, they asked me if I wanted to write a cue or two for something, and I did, and that’s where I sort of got a start at writing music for television.
After that, it was three years before I actually got a job on my own. It was literally being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right person who could then introduce me to the right person. I have a very good friend — he’s an actor, his name is Jeremy Renner — and I ran into him accidentally — I haven’t seen him in like a year and a half. I ran into him at a restaurant, and I said, “What are you doing?” And he’s like, “Oh, you know, shooting a pilot right now.” And I happened to ask, “Do you guys know anything about whether or not they have a composer?” And he did. He called me the next day and said, “Hey, we talked to the producer. Go ahead and send in a demo.” So, I did. They liked the demo. And then I had a meeting with the showrunner, and they hired me. And that person was Noah Hawley. The show [The Unusuals] only lasted for one season, but then we did another show. And then that same showrunner did Fargo, and then that turned into many other things.
So, I guess my point here is that there isn’t a real answer to that question. I wish there was. It would be very easy if there was. So many things go into what happens in the long-term part of someone’s career. I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and it’s hard for me to draw a line from where I am now, back to that moment I walked into that restaurant.
And, as you mentioned, while there is luck, you still had to have the talent to land the job.
Yes, of course. So, the point I was making is, it’s not just about having the opportunity. It’s about being ready for the opportunity when it presents itself. Right? And so all of those things need to line up — you have to have the right music, you have to have the right thing altogether. You know?
Now, you’re the composer on all of these cool projects. Was there a moment where you stopped and realized that you made it?
I mean, every time I look around, and I’m writing on some cool project, I pinch myself. So, Star Trek and The Umbrella Academy, and, you know, one thing leads to another thing leads to another thing … Every time I sit down in front of my workstation and I start to write something, and I look up at the screen — it’s never feeling like, “Oh, my God, I’ve made it here!” It’s always like, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m sitting here working on this great thing!” It’s unbelievable to me that I continue to be able to do this for a living and to make music, and to work on great projects. So, there’s never a moment where I’m like, “Wow, I’m here!” I think the moment you think that, I think you’re done.
What is the scoring process that you go through to find a show’s musical identity?
It’s different for everything. There isn’t a single process. You know, I read a script. I sort of sit around and try to envision what that script sounds like. I try to envision what a particular character feels like, and what I would like to convey, and how I want to support the storytelling.
Finding the right sounds or finding the right melody, that’s, I think, something I just don’t know how to describe. It just happens. I just find something, I find a little melody or find a cool sound or a cool instrument, or I try to create something new or try to build a new instrument or try to make a sound on an instrument that I’ve never done before; and see if that inspires an idea. For music, you know, it’s really about finding the inspiration to write something. It’s not just about sitting around and writing something. You have to have the inspiration to write something. Sometimes it’s about finding what that inspiration is. And I can spend a week, a month, three months trying to find something. On something like Fargo, I have a good amount of time because I usually get scripts very early in the process. So, I have time to sit down and think about something and then put it away for a minute, then come back to it, and then put it away for a minute, and then come back to it with the hopes that at some point, I’ll sit down and go, “Oh, yeah, this is cool. Let me show this to Noah and see what he thinks.” That’s happened on pretty much all the projects that we’ve worked on. And I try to do that with every project. Not every project allows that. So, in that case, sometimes you literally sit back on things that you know, sounds that you know, and ideas that you’ve already had. I don’t mean musical ideas. I mean process ideas.
For a series like Fargo, how do you keep the music fresh for not only the audience but yourself as well?
Each season is definitely its own musical challenge. I’ve had to basically abandon all themes, except for the main title theme, for every season. And the idea was, it’s a new story, it’s new characters. The only time I’m able to utilize themes from other seasons is when the characters actually crossover. And except for the one theme, the bad guy theme, which is this drumbeat that I did in season one called “Wrench and Numbers” for those two characters in season one and season two, I used it as a means to convey the bad guy strut, basically. In season three, I used it because one of those two characters appears in that season. So, I was able to bring it back in that way. And in season four, I used it in a very subtle, subverted way because I just wanted to have fun with it.
The Emmys are right around the corner. You’ve won before, but what’s it like to win?
Winning is an incredible feeling. To know that your peers really think that this is work that is worthwhile of their accolades. You know, it’s a really wonderful feeling to have your peers say, “Yeah, this is good work. And we think this is among the best work of the year.” I feel like there’s so much good music on television nowadays. It really has risen to a level of real art. It’s really, really great. And, you know, all of the people who are involved in the television Academy — having those people stand in judgment of your work and to all agree that this is worthy of being in the top of the field … maybe not the top top, but just to think it’s risen to this level is a really, really incredible feeling.
How do you feel you have evolved as an artist over the years?
You know, it’s funny. I feel like the longer you do something, the more confident you get. But what I’ve realized is everything is new every time. And that’s something that I really cherish is the ability to make art and use that to help further a story and have it be something that I can do on an ongoing basis. So, I think that, as I’ve done this for a while, I’ve become more confident in myself, and yet I’m always trying to regain that feeling of new. So, every time you do something, it’s like a weight. You know? Yes, I’m confident in the way I feel about this, but is it gonna work? What’s the director gonna think? What’s the producer gonna think? What’s the studio going to say? You know, it becomes less about what they’re going to think and more about whether or not it’s going to work.
You know, you definitely start out a career fending off rejection, which happens at all levels — rejection happens at all levels. The top composers have been fired. The top composers have been passed over for jobs so that that never stops. But what I think happens, as you get more and more into doing it again and again, you become a little more self-confident in your own work — about how you feel about it — so that rejection, or that note, doesn’t actually make you feel bad about yourself. It makes you understand that it’s not about you, it’s about the work, and that it’s not necessarily a direct reflection of a person. But you get a little more confident in, “Well, I made this decision because I made this decision. It’s okay for you to not think that it’s the right decision, and I’ll fix it to make it more of what would you want it to be,” because I do this in service of someone else’s art, right? So, you just become more accustomed to that and more okay with that. And that a level of confidence that you can only gain by doing it again and again and again. And I think that’s what I gained a lot of in the last 12 years. It’s not about I’m right, and you’re wrong, and what I think is the right thing and what you think isn’t the right decision. It’s just more about being able to be collaborative in that way and understand that it isn’t directly related to my person. So, I don’t take anything personally.
OSEI ESSED INTERVIEW
Osei Essed is the composer behind the new Netflix documentary series Amend: The Fight for America, executive produced and hosted by Will Smith and featuring a number of luminaries including Mahershala Ali, Diane Lane, Samuel L. Jackson, Pedro Pascal, and Yara Shahidi, among others. The six-part series explores the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—which, in 1868, promised liberty and equal protection for all persons—as America’s most enduring hallmark of democracy.
Amend has wall-to-wall music, including Osei’s score, which is intermixed with inspiring pop hits throughout. Osei knew the music had to be able to travel across time—starting from when the 14th Amendment was ratified 153 years ago. Given that this amendment is central to the everyday lives of Americans, he felt it was especially important for him to find the right tone musically.
Osei describes the score as “modern minimalist, meets orchestral Americana.” The composer is a lover of simplistic music and making textures interact with harmony and various instruments. English horn, bass clarinet, and electric guitar are some of the most prevalent featured in the music. [Adrianna Perez]
Jeff Ames: What drew you initially drew you to this particular project?
Osei Essed: Well, you know, there’s always a bunch of things working at once. So, the idea being that I could tell a long-form story — it was sort of my first run diving into that form of storytelling. And then, of course, the subject matter itself was really intriguing. The idea of this single amendment affecting so many different parts of our everyday lives and so many different kinds of people that I know — all of our lives, daily.
Ames: How does your approach to this style of storytelling differ from other, more traditional styles? And was there a particular episode that you started with that helped inform your score?
Essed: Well, firstly, you want kind of a unified color and set of themes — that solution throughout the series — so finding those elements, it turns out, is somewhat similar to scoring a documentary. But because of television, there’s a lot of fast cuts. So at the same time, it’s long-form, because it’s more than one episode, or it’s more than one two hour set of stories, it’s also really kind of these little tiny worlds that you have to craft fully before moving on to next and sort of make them feel as if they can move seamlessly through 45 minutes or an hour. And then, across a six-part series, those moments have to speak to one another, have corollary moments so that it feels like you’re watching a cohesive piece of piece of work. Obviously, directors and animators and producers … everyone has their part, and I play mine.
I did start with one episode. I started with the “Love Episode,” episode five. And that one really turned out in many ways to be the most personal story of the series. So, and because of that, it allowed for more intimate, emotional cues to be written. And then, it was easier to cross apply those ideas in small form throughout the rest of the series. Not necessarily, you know, wholesale, but certainly finding inspiration from those moments in the love episodes.
Ames: How much freedom do you have when producing a score? Are you given a certain amount of direction from the producers and directors? Or is it a blank slate? Bring us some music, and then we’ll work from there?
Essed: It really is a combination of both of those things. I mean, there was music temped in, so there was a guide there for pacing and such, but there was a lot of freedom and trust from the producing team and the producing partners and from the directors; and everyone in terms of music. We talked about things, and that kind of communication made it so that there could be trust.
Ames: Were you able to integrate new music or instruments that you hadn’t used before?
Essed: I got to use woodwinds a little bit more than I have in the past and in these interesting new ways. That was really exciting to me. And it’s sort of combining woodwinds at times with electric guitars or with synth set — those sounds together are a sonic universe that I haven’t yet explored. So, it was exciting for me to really — I mean, I got to use voices in combination with one another that I hadn’t been able to use before. And I got to use a more expressive form of musical storytelling because that’s what was required in this circumstance. I think there were so many dynamic moments and so many opportunities to really stand out a little bit frequently in documentary. Even when we’re pushing, which I have been fortunate enough to get to do quite a bit in a documentary, but, you know, to do it across six episodes gives you a little bit more leeway.
Ames: What was the initial reaction to your musical cues when you first wrote them?
Essed: It was generally positive throughout, all around. And, you know, most of the time, when there was anything that needed to be redone — you know, the edit went a lot of different ways. The series is pretty forward-looking in terms of documentary format. So, there were a lot of different approaches that were tried. And then when we settled on something, on a voice obviously, I had to amend cues for that. But also, you know, sometimes the pacing wouldn’t be exactly what we were looking for. And so, you have to sort of find the way forward together. And we really, really did, and it was pretty gentle all around, you know? There wasn’t a whole lot of push. There was very open and honest [discussion], like, “Hey, this one isn’t working,” and, “Can you go and do it again?” I never take for granted that my first one or two tries are going to be the thing. It’s nice when it is, obviously. We’re all hoping to sharpen our ears with each new project. But I don’t ever expect that everything’s gonna be right on the first try.
Ames: Where does your inspiration hit you? I’ve read interviews where composers say they discover a theme walking through the supermarket. Is that the case with you?
Essed: You know, I just generally have some sounds happening in my head most of the time. And as soon as I start realizing those sounds on any given instrument, or in any form, usually, they change. And I try to respond to that. And sometimes the sound, whatever it is that I’m hearing at any moment, I can just say, “Okay, well here, this is what’s going to happen.” And then, as soon as I explore that, I discover, “Well, maybe it’s actually not that. Maybe it’s something that responds to that that was actually happening in my head, and I just haven’t heard it yet.” So, I don’t really have a clear response. I come from songwriting, and I remember when I would write songs every day, there would be maybe a lyric in my head or a small melody. I don’t really work where there’s a sudden realization. I think it comes, and it grows, and it changes and I try to react to it and stay open.
Ames: What drew you to the world of film scoring?
Essed: The first films that I was asked to work on were documentaries. I’m really excited to tell stories with music. The music that I wrote as a songwriter, I always saw as functional music. So, I would always try to use folk music from different parts of the world; and then just blending into the way that society functioned. And just being a part of everyday life and storytelling, in film, at this point is really a part of our everyday life. We watch television, we watch movies, and it’s an integral way of storytelling and the way that we see ourselves and understand each other and understand one another. So being able to tell stories alongside filmmakers is really exciting.
Ames: How would you say your process has evolved over the years?
Essed: When I first started, I only wrote for instruments that I could play, or nearly play; and occasionally instruments that I knew folks who could play because I played with them in bands or in a group. So, it really started with the familiar and has sort of grown from my comfort zone to like, well, how far from what I know can I go? Before, I had to ask questions.
Ames: Do you have any other projects that you’re working on?
Essed: Oh, boy, well, I just finished a wonderful documentary — Dear Mr. Brody. I’m really excited about and am always excited to be working with Keith Maitland. So that was a great project to work on. I just finished a really deeply moving film called And So I Stayed, which is yet to find a home. We’re just wrapping up; we’re going into the sound mix. And that one is a very exciting film. I got to write for synth and strings for that project, which is a lot of fun. The story itself is not fun. It’s a story about women incarcerated for killing their abusive partners and sentencing guidelines. And it’s told in a very in a very different form. So, it’s not talking heads. It’s not just information, but it’s walking through lives of people affected by these stories. I can’t say enough about how effective it was to see these stories every day for a few months.
Ames: A lot of the films that you tackle are very heavy-handed. How much of your personal life experience do you bring into these projects? And does the work have an emotional impact on you in any way?
Essed: I try to be empathetic, and I’ve used the word a few times. I try to be open and allow people’s experiences to move me. There are historical narratives sometimes, and sometimes there are present-day narratives, and I just try to make sure that I’m open to how people might experience them. And I try to carry that into an oral world.
Mary Holland stars in Golden Arm, a new road tripping buddy comedy with Betsy Sodaro that dives into the dysfunctional world of women’s arm wrestling. Ahead of its release via video on demand services on Friday, April 30, ComingSoon.net Managing Editor Tyler Treese got to speak with the talented actress. Holland opened up about her improv comedy background, her friendship with co-star Sodaro and the nuances found in competitive arm wrestling.
Check out our Mary Holland interview below!
Tyler Treese: You have such great chemistry with Betsy Sodaro. Can you discuss your relationship on the set and what it was like working with her?
Mary Holland: Betsy is one of my dearest friends. We’ve known each other for over 10 years at this point. We’re both in the improv comedy scene in Los Angeles. S when I knew that she was going to be playing the role of Danny and our dear friend Maureen [Bharoocha] was going to be directing it. It was a no-brainer to just jump on board and try to play now. I leapt at the opportunity to do a buddy comedy with Betsy Sodaro. Are you kidding? What a dream.
You mentioned your improv background. Were there many improvised scenes in Golden Arm?
Yeah, we were very much encouraged by Maureen, our director, to come into every scene with our own ideas and be able to feel the freedom to play and collaborate and riff off each other. Maureen filled the cast with a lot of improv comedians or people who have improv backgrounds. So we were very much encouraged in that collaborative improv spirit to come together and work off the script and off each other to make those moments feel really spontaneous and alive and just play with each other.
What does it mean to be in a film with a cast of so many hilarious women in it and for you to be the lead there?
Oh my gosh. I can’t believe I got this opportunity. I’m so grateful for it and was constantly in awe of the rest of the cast. I mean, every single person in this movie is so spectacular and brings such specificity to each of their roles. I was so honored to get to do that and to get to play off Betsy Sodaro, who I think is a comedic genius, and getting to play her best friend. It was just a huge honor.
I found it really funny that in Blunt Talk, there was an arm-wrestling scene with you in it, and then you wound up starring in an arm-wrestling film. Was that just a fun coincidence, or were you approached because of that scene? How did that happen?
I have been working towards being in an arm wrestling movie all my life. That was just a coincidence. I remember Jonathan Ames wrote that scene for Shelly, my character on Blunt Talk. That was a very fun scene to have this big arm wrestling match at this huge wild party. Then years later, to get to lean into that even more and go on this journey now to become a champion arm wrestler. It was amazing. Very satisfying to connect those dots, for sure.
The film’s positive message of reinvention and how your character goes from a struggling Baker to a powerful, more confident woman. Can you speak to your character and just the message of the theme overall?
Yeah. I was still drawn to Melanie because, as you said when we meet her, she’s very much a woman living her life on the sidelines and kind of consumed with self-doubt, worried that her choices that she makes and her needs aren’t important and are the wrong ones. So going on this journey with her, and it’s all at the encouragement of Danny, her best friend, who I think sees her for who she is and knows her potential better than Melanie does even. Going on this journey with her, where she discovers that she does have things to offer and she is powerful, and she can fight for herself and her worth in this world. I think that’s such a beautiful journey to watch a character go on, and it’s very relatable, and especially for me. I totally understood that journey and the vulnerability of putting yourself out there and saying you want something and saying you’re going to go for it is very scary. It takes a lot of courage. It was really satisfying to get to play a character who discovered that within herself.
Arm wrestling is such a simple thing. Everybody knows how to arm wrestle, but we see in the film that there are many nuances. Did you work on actually learning arm-wrestling technique for the film?
I did. There is a lot of nuances. There’s a lot of regulations with arm wrestling, and we shot the scenes with Dot-Marie Jones, who was just so amazing and so valuable to us, to the whole cast and the whole crew. She educated all of us on proper arm-wrestling technique and form and the rules and the regulations. She’s a professional arm wrestler and has won all of these championships. She brought all these belts and trophies with her to the set that we were just very lucky to have her. She trained Melanie in the movie, but then she also just trained all of us on that as we were shooting those scenes and how to do this properly. So I did learn a ton about proper arm-wrestling technique.
I love how much character there is with arm wrestling. You go from Freaked Out to a baker character. The pro wrestling influence is very high. Is that something you’d be interested in doing pro wrestling?
Oh my gosh. That is one of the most joyful parts of this movie. It’s so celebratory to see all these women who have adopted their own arm-wrestling personas and these alter egos. It’s so fun to watch, and it’s such a pure expression for these women of what they want to bring to the “ring.” I do think that, like with pro wrestling, there’s a very similar thing there, and hey, I’m not opposed to dabbling. I think I would need to train a little bit more than my arm, but I’m open to it. I’m open to it.
You were in one of my favorite shows, Comedy Bang! Bang! Do you have any like fun stories of that?
I mean, every story from Comedy Bang! Bang! is a fun story. It is a wild ride every single time. It’s just such a blast. Yeah. I, there’s so many stories…
Well, I had a really joyful time playing this character, um, when Kristen Ritter was a guest on the show. I played this character that insisted on using techniques from the animal kingdom to assert dominance in social situations. So like exposing my belly and doing these ridiculous things. One wonderful experience from that was getting to sit next to Kristen Ritter and make her laugh. That was something I’ll carry with me. I loved it.
There are a lot of great comedies coming out. So just give your pitch as to why our readers should check out Golden Arm? I’ll have a review up later this week, but I feel like they’d like to hear it from you.
Watch Golden Arm because it’s very fun. It’s very funny. You get to step into this vibrant, colorful world, and you get to follow these two friends as they reconnect and re-fall in love with each other. It’s a very relatable story. And at the heart of it is a love story between these two best friends that I think is super special. Also, it’s kind of like over the top, and how many movies can you say are like over the top? So just go watch it.
Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix’s episodic adventure game Life is Strange became a hit with critics and fans when it was released episodically throughout 2015. Telling the story of Max Caulfield and Chloe Price, it was praised for its unique time manipulation gameplay mechanic and its strong writing. While the game ended with two possible endings, the Titan Comics’ adaptation picks up after Max chose to save Chloe.
Featuring parallel worlds, romance triangles and plenty of new and old faces, the comic has lived up to the original game and its prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm. ComingSoon.net recently spoke to Emma Vieceli, the writer of the comic series, about getting to pen new situations for such iconic characters and about the series’ excellent LGBT representation.
Check out our chat with the writer behind the wonderful Life is Strange comic below:
ComingSoon.net: You’ve worked on some amazing franchises. Is there much pressure when you’re taking on a series that has characters that are as beloved as Max and Chloe? How satisfying is it to know how positive the reception to the comic has been and that the fanbase has embraced your depictions?
Emma Vieceli: Absolutely. There’s always a pressure there, not least of all when it’s a title I am such a fan of myself. I want to do right by players, the characters, those who put faith in me writing and the creators of the original. So yes, the reaction has been just wonderful, I can’t express how much.
Max and Chloe have such a beautiful romance. Can you talk a bit about what that means to you to be furthering that in the comics? There are some really vulnerable and tender scenes that are just as emotional as the game.
It means a lot to me. A whole lot. It’s no secret now that I was thrown a loop when we got extended after the first four issues. I think I went through the same grieving process as some of the readers, initially…unable to believe that I’d had to switch course from my original plan. But, oh boy, I wouldn’t change where we are now. Having this extra time to explore and to really take our time with building what these two mean to each other is so rewarding and will make the outcome all the richer. At this stage, the journey is the key. Telling a love story across worlds is special, but the analogy to processing our emotions and learning who we are is doubly so. Not to mention all the time we’ve had to look at other stories in the interim!
I also wanted to get your thoughts on what it means to have queer representation on such a large platform. Fans are very appreciative and I have to imagine that is rewarding as a writer and contributing to that.
It’s everything. Malin Ryden and myself have spent almost a decade telling BREAKS – our queer mystery drama webcomic. We do it quietly and in the niche spaces because, when we were first looking for a home for it, publishers weren’t ready. The industry, and the world, has changed a lot since then and I can only feel happy at that. We’ve still a way to go, but to have in my hands a mainstream title like Life is Strange that is unashamedly queer, and to never have been questioned about that by my publishers, or felt forced to justify that, or highlight that as a “feature” is so far from where we were in the early days of BREAKS. Love is love is love. Who you love, your choice to love, or not to love. Who you are and how much of yourself you share. How you present yourself; your choices. They’re all YOU. They’re all US. They’re not a story gimmick or something to be explained or ever, ever ashamed of; they’re part of the rich tapestry of life.
Music is such a huge part of the game series, and you’ve done a great job of making sure that music is still seen and is a part of Max and Chloe’s life. While there are limitations to how that is conveyed due to the medium, how important was it to have that represented in some form?
The original game soundtrack was so standout. You can’t hear those songs and not see scenes from the game; feel that emotion again. So yeah, the music is always in my head as I write. Hard to get that into the comics, for sure, but having the High Seas means we can play with that connection a little.
With the parallel universes and the time that has passed since the game, you’ve been able to create some great original characters that feel right at home in the universe. Is it difficult to find that type of balance and would you like to see one of your creations in a future game if it made sense?
I mean, I would love very little more than seeing Tristan or the High Seas turn up in a game! I suspect the chances are very slim, but just to know we’ve added characters to the world of Life is Strange means so much already.
Hey there, film score lovers! We’ve got another fantastic lineup for you in this edition of CS Score, including a terrific interview with the Emmy-nominated composer of This Is Us, Siddhartha Khosla, who dove into his scoring process and detailed his unique, Indian-influenced take on the music for the hit TV show. Plus, we also got a chance to talk to composer Dino Meneghin, who talked about his phenomenal score for Netflix’s animated series DOTA: Dragon’s Blood.
Finally, we also got our hands on La La Land’s 2018 Alien 3 Limited Edition 2-CD Set — and it did not disappoint!
ALIEN 3 LIMITED EDITION 2-CD SET ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL
Alien 3 remains one of the more unique blockbuster films ever made. Released on May 22, 1992, the highly anticipated follow-up to Ridley Scott’s horror masterpiece Alien and James Cameron’s rip-roaring classic Aliens was always going to underwhelm no matter which direction it took. Except, rather than play towards audience expectations, 20th Century Fox and first-time director David Fincher, after considerable and well-documented production turmoil, rolled out a decidedly bleak (and weird) science fiction drama that felt closer in spirit to Scott’s original 1979 shocker than the action-driven, crowd-pleasing spectacle of Cameron’s 1986 film.
Naturally, audiences dismissed the final product, which, by the time it hit theaters, had succumbed to any number of studio demanded editing changes and barely Fincher’s original design. The film flopped in the U.S. but had surprising legs overseas, where it collected over $100M.
Years later, in 2003, Fox pieced together an “Assembly Cut” of Alien 3 and included it on the terrific Alien Quadrilogy box set. While this release still failed to live up to its predecessors, at the very least, it shed new light on what can best be described as an ambitious misfire. Alien 3 works as a standalone film thanks to Fincher’s directing, Sigourney Weaver’s powerful performance, and a handful of unique ideas, but simply doesn’t work as a sequel to either Alien or Aliens; and fails to move the story in any interesting directions, even while serving, oddly enough, as a fitting end to Ellen Ripley’s journey.
That said, out of all the films in the franchise, Alien 3 entices the most mainly due to its behind-the-scenes production issues and the numerous hints at what could have been. Whether Fincher’s original design (or the many previous iterations) would have made for a better movie remains unclear, but the disastrous production remains a fascinating story in its own right.
All that to say that while the film itself doesn’t live up to the high bar set by Alien or Aliens, the score by Elliot Goldenthal absolutely smashes the barrier established in the earlier films. Hyperbole? Sure. But the score for Alien 3 has, ironically, become the sound of the franchise, what with its buzzing synthesizer, a cacophony of drums and orchestra and eerie boys choir. Where Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien captured the romance and horror of space, and James Horner’s Aliens pumped the adrenaline to maximum overdrive (in a very good way), Goldenthal’s score drags the listener into the cold, bleak darkness of space — a literal descent into Hell where death practically lingers around every, shadow-drenched corner.
Truly, the score for Alien 3 outclasses the film, which is never quite as scary as Goldenthal’s menacing soundtrack. Cues such as the “Main Titles,” which kicks off with a deliciously sinister recreation of the 20th Century Fox theme before plunging the listener headfirst into a literal nightmare, and “Alien’s Lair,” an atmospheric, even chilling composition, are downright terrifying despite their minimalistic design. While other cues, notably “The Cremation” and “Adagio” are grand in design, but ultimately little more than brief somber, even emotional detours from the darkness.
Yeah, this isn’t a happy score. Goldenthal refuses to lean on traditional horror beats or action motifs. While there are exciting cues such as “Explosion and Aftermath,” which utilize the blaring horns Goldenthal would later employ for Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, and the stellar “Bait and Chase” with all of its chaotic buzzing effects, such bits are more unsettling than exhilarating. Even the grand and heroic “Adagio,” played during Ripley’s final sacrifice, quickly gives way to dark and somber underscore that marks the end of our heroine’s sad story.
Goldsmith’s work may be the best of the bunch, Horner’s the most accessible, but Goldenthal’s Alien 3 is the only score that truly evokes an emotional reaction. It’s sad, dark and poetic … an absolute masterwork from start to finish.
Luckily, for fans of the score, La La Land Records has re-released its 2018 Alien 3: Limited Edition2-CD Set that expands the original 1992 soundtrack release with an additional 40 minutes of score presented in chronological order over two discs; and also includes alternate cues, previously unreleased tracks and a remastered version of the original album. Set also includes a booklet with in-depth liner notes by writer Jeff Bond and sharp art direction by Mark Banning.
Siddhartha Khosla is a two-time Emmy-nominated film and television composer, singer/songwriter, and producer of the critically acclaimed band, Goldspot. Khosla received Emmy nominations in 2020 for “Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics” for his original song “Memorized” (shared with Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith) and in 2019 for “Outstanding Music Composition For a Series” for his work on NBC’s Golden Globe and Emmy-winning drama series, This Is Us, now in its fifth season. Khosla has the distinction of being the first South Asian person to be nominated in the Primetime Emmy score and song categories. Khosla’s music can also be heard on the critically acclaimed Hulu limited series, Looking for Alaska; Marvel’s Runaways on Hulu; the 2019 Netflix hip-hop drama feature Beats, the award-winning indie drama feature, The Sounding, from director Catherine Eaton; and more. Khosla’s upcoming projects include Hulu’s comedy/crime series Only Murders in the Building; Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly’s comedy film Queenpins; and Jason Orley’s comedy film I Want You Back.
ComingSoon.net: What drew you to the world of composing music for film and TV?
Siddhartha Khosla: You know I’ve always I’ve been making music since I was a kid, and for many years I had a band that I still — the band is called Goldspot — and a friend of mine, Dan Fogelman, he and I went to college together, Dan called me back in 2014 asking me if I wanted to score the second season of his show The Neighbors. He was showrunner of that show. And I took the gig, and I kind of fell into it. And it was something I fell in love with. I didn’t know that this was what I wanted to do. Earlier on in my career, I had aspirations of being the singer/songwriter of a band; and so I kind of fell into it when Dan called me. But it also sort of started this whole other chapter in my career, which has been so exciting. I can’t believe this is not something I knew I didn’t want to do before, given how much I love doing this.
CS: What specifically made you fall in love with it?
Khosla: I think generally with film and television you’re serving the need and the goal of whoever wrote, you know, whoever wrote the film or the show. So, with that, there’s like this really beautiful collaboration that comes from it. I think I spent so many years in my band where I did collaborate with other people in my band, but oftentimes it was sort of just me in a room by myself for several months, and telling my own stories about my own experiences and writing about them. A lot of these records were my vision. What’s really nice about this work is that this is not just about my vision, you know, it’s about fulfilling somebody else’s story in a way — fulfilling the telling of someone else’s story. And I just find that collaboration to be really beautiful. There’s friendships that come out of this. I’ve worked very closely with a lot of the editors on our shows, and I’ve become really tight with them and on my movies, as well. When you spend so much time together with people over many years, friendships emerge, too. And so there’s a little community that sort of develops around these projects. That just feels special. And I think that’s what draws me to it. There’s this sense of an artistic community that forms around each of these projects.
CS: What would you say is your process?
Khosla: I think it varies project to project. You know, there are some projects that are show run by the same group of people and those where the process stays the same. I see a very early cut that comes from editors and directors before producers are even involved, where I can respond to the picture a little bit and come up with some thematic material that can be helpful for the editor and director to cut with. So, my process generally is that where I can come in early enough where I let the pictures really inspire what I’m doing. I very rarely, in most of these projects, very rarely do we have any sort of temp music in there — temp music is placeholder music that composers have to ultimately replace with their own music. But what’s nice about this is that it allows collaboration with editors and directors early on. And for This Is Us, particularly, so much of what I do on that show is inspired by the performances of our amazing cast. In one of our episodes this year, the “Birth Mother” episode with Sterling K. Brown — you know, Sterling K. Brown is an incredible artist to collaborate with behind the scenes. I don’t really collaborate with him directly, but in a way, I am because I’m collaborating with his performance. He and Susan Kelechi Watson were unbelievable in that episode, as was the actor that played his birth mother. So, you know, when you have actors like that, like Sterling K. Brown, it’s a dream to get like, to get a picture where he’s delivering an incredible monologue, and I get to score it.
CS: Your music is very cinematic, and I would think that speaks to how much television music has evolved over the years …
Khosla: Yeah, television is everywhere. We’ve been in this Golden Age of television now for some time, and it’s really, really exciting for composers. I mean, this is the best time ever to be a television composer. I think a lot of it is that the bar now is so high for content to sort of cut through — first of all, there’s so much content, and everyone that I seem to be working with is making an effort — it’s really cool — and making an effort to do something really, really special, because they know that there’s so much content out there, and we have to find ways to differentiate ourselves from the rest. And so what you’re starting to find is a couple of things. One way you differentiate yourself is that you create something that’s original, and that’s unique, that no one else does, and This Is Us is a perfect example of a show like that. It starts with Dan Fogelman’s storytelling, which is such an original concept for television. Even though at the core, this is about a family, and there have been stories about families for generations, but the beauty is that it’s being told through a very different lens where we’re seeing multiple versions of the same characters at different stages in their lives. That inspires a pretty original take on the sound of that score, for example.
I grew up in India. My parents came here from India in the late 70s and then I was born here, and they had to send me back to India to be raised by my grandparents for some time, while my parents tried to make the food on the table here. In my formative years, there was a lot of Indian music that became a part of my DNA. And so, on this show, I was asked to write something based on the picture that I was seeing. And as I started seeing that this show was about the larger connectivity of life or this idea that your great grandmother made a choice or a decision that ended up affecting her child and that child; and that affected the child that came after and ultimately affects you … and then whatever affects you affects your lineage, as well. I started bringing in the sounds of my childhood. And so, if you listen to the score of This Is Us, it has a very Indian classical feeling, very subtly. That’s another example of what we were talking about with this age of television. When you have original content and cool content, it just inspires you to do interesting stuff. You would never expect a very Indian-sounding score on network television, let alone the biggest drama on television for the last four or five years. So to your point, as authentic, original stories are being told, the need for originality in the music becomes that much more important.
CS: How do you believe the music has evolved on This Is Us over the course of 85 episodes? And how do you keep it fresh, not just for yourself, but for the audience?
Khosla: Frankly, I love this show so much. I live and breathe this show. So, for me, when I get a new episode, I’m just so excited about creating a new theme and coming up with a new sound. For me, it’s like I’m making a record every week. I feel like I’m back in my band days where I’m — because on the score of This Is Us, I basically play everything on the score. Everything that you hear I’m performing in my studio, whether it’s playing the drums and percussion — I’m using my fingers on a wooden table to create all those sounds — to piano to these cool little analog effects that I have, to guitars, everything! You know, with the exception of cello — I work with wonderful cellist Ginger Murphy, that plays on the score — I kind of do everything here in my studio. And so it feels very sort of me, you know, and it’s so much fun. Honestly, I’ll be so sad on the day that we stop doing this show and keep thinking about it. So, I guess for me, the desire to evolve the sound and develop it comes from my love for the show. And it’s what I want to give back to the show, and what I want to put into the show, really.
CS: What would it mean to win an Emmy for your work on this particular show?
Khosla: It would mean a lot. We’re five seasons in, and I’ve put my heart and soul into this project. Frankly, I don’t do it for the awards. I do it because I just want to put work out there that I’m really proud of; and that Dan Fogelman and the rest of the producers and writers and directors and editors are proud of as well. So I guess for me, it would be an icing, or like a cherry on top type of situation. But it’s certainly not something I aspire to get. For me, it’s just I aspire to do great work and work that I’m proud of. And if it results in accolades, then great! And if it doesn’t, then that’s great too, because I feel so artistically fulfilled it doesn’t really matter.
INTERVIEW WITH DINO MENEGHIN
Composer Dino Meneghin (Lore, Teen Wolf) composes an astonishing score for the fantasy adventure series Dota: Dragon’s Blood and creates an entirely unexpected score – electronic, synthy, and sometimes even abstract. It’s really something marvelous to experience, especially in context to the high fantasy atmosphere of Dota, and both fans of the video game and newcomers alike are in for an auditory treat!
ComingSoon.net: So what drew you to Dota: Dragon’s Blood?
Dino Meneghin: Well, Ashley Miller and I had worked together on a show on Amazon, and he was the one who mentioned it to me. He said, ‘Hey, I’m doing this animated thing with Netflix. Would you be interested?’ And then we got together and talked about it, and it just sounded so wild. The way he described it to me, the first time we talked about it, I really didn’t understand what the show was about because I didn’t really understand all the lore and all the interconnecting storylines. But it just sounded like such a cool world. And it just seemed like it’d be something we could do a lot of fun stuff with. So it was really, honestly, it was really Ashley that drew me to the project because he just had so many great ideas for the music, and he was so open to experimenting and trying different stuff.
CS: What was your approach to this particular show?
Meneghin: The main thing that I think I came to it with was the idea that, well, there were two things: one, because we were coming to it from this huge already established property, I wanted to make sure that I understood the world of Dota, and understood the characters, and really did them a service. But as far as the music itself, I was trying my best to include some elements that weren’t, maybe, typical of the fantasy genre. Because I wanted to try to keep the show from feeling like it was of a particular place or time, I wanted the viewers to feel like this could be happening — that this could be happening in the past, it could be happening in the future. Because in Dota, there’s a lot of metaphysical aspects involved with the Invoker and all the different timelines, and so things are kind of happening all over the place.
CS: Was there a particular moment in the show that helped inform the musical style for the rest of the score?
Meneghin: Yeah, there actually was a scene … when Ashley and I first met and talked about the show, I pitched him the idea of having it not be an orchestra forward show, having it be more synth and guitar-heavy. So I said, ‘You know, I can tell you what I’m going to do, but why don’t I just do it, and then you tell me if you like it.’ So, I eventually was able to get a hold of an animatic, which is like a — it’s not a fully rendered animation, it’s just sort of like a rough animation — for the scene in episode three when Mirana is in the cave with the crystals. That scene really was the first thing I scored. And that was the thing that sort of crystallized the idea of — that one is probably the most extreme version of what we were trying to do with Dota. That was the most sort of synth forward — there’s a lot of sampled manipulation and stuff like that in that piece, and we sort of worked backward from there. But that piece became our touchstone.
CS: How does a project like this differ from a live-action project like Killing Gunther?
Meneghin: You know, honestly, it really doesn’t. The only thing that’s different with this is that — you know this is, as opposed to a live-action thing, if you’re doing it on like a cable or a network schedule where you’re delivering 42 minutes of music in five to seven days if you’re lucky! With this, we have more time because of the animation — because if there are any changes made to the animation, a lot of things have to be redrawn and re-rendered. So there’s a lot more time to experiment. With his being [produced on] a streaming platform, and also it being animated, it stretched out the schedule a bit. So it’s allowed us to have the freedom to go where I can say, ‘Hey, what if I try it like this?’ And, and then, you know, Ashley Miller, who is normally the person I talked to about music, he’ll say, ‘Yeah, try it!’ And if he doesn’t like it, then there’s time to rewrite it. You don’t always have that luxury on a different kind of schedule.
CS: How has composing for an animated TV show changed over the years?
Meneghin: Well, in the early to mid-2000s, TV used to kind of be this place where, if you were a TV composer, it was like, ‘Yeah, okay, but when are you gonna do a film?’ And then TV became a much more prestigious place. And then you had a lot of film composers, just like you had a lot of film actors all of a sudden showing up on TV. All of a sudden, TV became incredibly competitive. And I think the thing about animation that I — this is the first animated thing I’ve done, so I can’t speak to it from the perspective of having worked in animation for, you know, 10 or 15 years. I think in America, it’s taken a while for us to understand the potential of animation. I think that when you look at DreamWorks and Pixar, what they’ve done, they make just beautiful, beautiful movies with great storytelling, but Studio Ghibli was making beautiful animated movies a long time before we got that in this country. I think that just like in America, that perception of what you could do with an episodic format for TV has changed. There’s also been a change in the perception of cartoons — it’s not a cartoon just for kids. This is just another way to tell a story is through animation. So that’s why you see a lot of these very different views towards what you can do with animation.
CS: For Dota, do you have music in mind for Season 2 when that (hopefully) comes out?
Meneghin: We would love to have a Season 2, and I feel pretty positive that there’s been a very positive fan response. So, I feel like it should hopefully happen. With any show, you’re always planting seeds for a possible next season. There are a lot of character themes that can carry on, but when you’re writing a lot of times, you might talk to the writers or the producers, who will be thinking to two or three seasons ahead because they’ve already mapped out an arc. So they’ll say, ‘Okay, yeah, but when you do this scene with this character, this is actually going to turn into this next season — if there is a next season.’ You’re always aware of those things because, obviously, you want to set it up so that if you have the opportunity to do a second season or a third season or whatever, that the groundwork is laid. So yes, you’re always kind of working toward that following season.
CS: Is there a particular theme for a character or a motif that you’re excited to re-explore or expand upon if there is a season two?
Meneghin: That’s a good question. I think one character that has a lot of layers that I haven’t gotten to explore as much as I wanted to is the Invoker. His theme is very metric. It’s very cool. The Invoker is never shaken or surprised by anything, and I hope that I get to explore some different aspects of his character.
CS: Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
Meneghin: Nothing that I can talk about yet, but hopefully some stuff before the end of the year that I can talk about. I’m excited about this year!
Warner Bros. Pictures provided ComingSoon.net with the chance to chat with the cast of the highly-anticipated Mortal Kombat movie! We took the opportunity to ask them what martial arts movie they think would pair well in a double feature with Mortal Kombat. Check out their answers in the player below!
“I would watch The Raid,” explained director Simon McQuoid. “That’s actually spectacular. That is an amazing movie, and Joe’s in it! So maybe it’s a Joe Taslim double feature.”
“We resonated really well, me and Simon,” Taslim said of his director, who is clearly very fond of his performance in 2011’s The Raid. “Somehow in the process of shooting, we were on the same page about almost everything. I’d look at him, he’d look at me, and then he’d just nod and we knew that we got the shot.”
“It would be funny to see a Rush Hour combined with Mortal Kombat,” said Max Huang, who was a member of the Jackie Chan stunt team. “I wonder how that would go. Maybe Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee, because it’s also a tournament film, right. I think originally Mortal Kombat was inspired by Enter the Dragon, if I remember correctly.”
The diverse international cast of Mortal Kombat includes Joe Taslim as Sub Zero; Ludi Lin as Liu Kang; Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade; Josh Lawson as Kano; Tadanobu Asano as Raiden; Mehcad Brooks as Jackson “Jax” Bridges; Chin Han as Shang Tsung; Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion; Max Huang as Kung Lao; Sisi Stringer as Mileena and Lewis Tan as the leading character Cole Young.
Inspired by Midway Games’ best-selling video game that was based on the original idea by Ed Boon and John Tobias, the film centers around MMA fighter Cole Young, accustomed to taking a beating for money, is unaware of his heritage—or why Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, an otherworldly Cryomancer, to hunt Cole down. Fearing for his family’s safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade at the direction of Jax, a Special Forces Major who bears the same strange dragon marking Cole was born with. Soon, he finds himself at the temple of Lord Raiden, an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm, who grants sanctuary to those who bear the mark. Here, Cole trains with experienced warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao and rogue mercenary Kano, as he prepares to stand with Earth’s greatest champions against the enemies of Outworld in a high-stakes battle for the universe. But will Cole be pushed hard enough to unlock his arcana—the immense power from within his soul—in time to save not only his family, but to stop Outworld once and for all?
Directed by Simon McQuoid from a screenplay written by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, the film is produced by James Wan (The Conjuring universe) and Todd Garner (Into the Storm, Tag) with Larry Kasanoff, E. Bennett Walsh, Michael Clear and Jeremy Stein serving as executive producers. The creative team is also comprised of director of photography Germain McMicking (True Detective, Top of the Lake: China Girl), production designer Naaman Marshall (Underwater, Servant), editor Scott Gray (Top of the Lake, Daffodils), and costume designer Cappi Ireland (Lion, The Rover).
Mortal Kombat opens in theaters and on HBO Max this Friday, April 23!