Category Archives: Film / Tv / Theater Review

Oscar Funk You Up!

Kicking off Oscar weekend with “Uptown Funk” (by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars)—which has served as the inspiration for quite a few cinema dance mash-ups. Check ’em out! Lotsa fun!

Classic Movie Stars Funk it Up!

Take 2:

Take 3:

And finally, Take 4 (100 movie-scene mash-up):

Tomorrow and Sunday, two more Oscar-oriented treats, part of my “Song of the Day” series …

Song of the Day #1860

A fortuitous “Song of the Day” in light of today’s verdict in the Chauvin trial.

Song of the Day: Strange Fruit features the words and music of Abel Meeropol (though credited under the pseudonym, “Lewis Allan,” because Meeropol was a member of the American Communist Party at the time). It was recorded on this date in 1939 by the great Billie Holiday (who was born on the 7th of this month in 1915). This song is at the center of the plot to the 2021 film, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” which shows how the FBI and other political authorities persecuted the singer (played brilliantly by the Oscar-nominated Andra Day), as a means of stopping her from performing this powerful protest against the lynching of African Americans. It remains what jazz musician and historian Leonard Feather once called “the first unmuted cry against racism,” as important on this day as it was over 80 years ago. Check out the original 1939 Holiday recording, and renditions by Diana Ross (from her 1972 Oscar-nominated performance in “Lady Sings the Blues“), Nina Simone, and, from the 2021 film, Andra Day [YouTube links]. I’ll be featuring two more selections from film music this coming Oscar weekend.

Epic Films for Holiday Weekend!

For the first time in memory, television networks are showing two epic Biblical films in prime time, on consecutive nights. First up, tonight, is TCM’s 8 PM (ET) showing of “Ben-Hur” (as part of their A to Z tribute to “31 Days of Oscar“). Second up is tomorrow night’s annual ABC showing of “The Ten Commandments” at 7 PM (ET).

Charlton Heston has the distinction of having starred in what many consider to be the last great “costume” epic of its time (“The Ten Commandments“) and in the first great “intimate” epic of its time (“Ben-Hur“). The former film remains a stunning Cecil B. DeMille achievement that has forever given new meaning to the phrase “A Red Sea Moment” to describe any remarkably monumental special effects sequence on the big screen. The latter film remains the all-time Oscar champ (11 Oscars, tied with “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King“), directed by William Wyler, which ushered in a new kind of epic for a new era, one heavy on intimate characterization that is never eclipsed by its action sequences, including an unforgettable real chariot race, that makes CGI look fake by comparison.

Of course, what would a post like this be without at least one Sciabarra footnote. Aside from Heston, one of the key things that connects these two films is that Martha Scott plays Heston’s mother in both of them!

I could just as easily throw on the Blu-Ray of either film, but there’s still something charming about the fact that they’ll be on this weekend back-to-back. They remain truly notable achievements in the history of the cinema, however you might view them, critically, symbolically, or from a religious standpoint. Of course, nothing beats seeing these films on the Big Screen; I was lucky enough to see “Ben-Hur” for the first time, in 1969, on its tenth anniversary re-release in glorious 70mm at New York’s great Palace Theatre and “The Ten Commandments” a couple of years later at the wonderful Ziegfeld Theatre. Lacking that, find yourself the biggest TV screen to appreciate their artistry.

Epic-scale films with epic-scale scores—Elmer Bernstein’s great soundtrack for the DeMille classic and Miklos Rozsa’s spectacular Oscar-winning soundtrack [YouTube links to their “Soundtrack Suites”]—still worthy of your attention after all these years.

Song of the Day #1859

Song of the Day: The Wizard of Oz (“Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”), music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, is one of the highlights of this 1939 film classic. Check out the original film version [YouTube link], along with many other renditions: Ella Fitzgerald (and here too), Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney (with solos by Scott Hamilton on tenor sax, Ed Bickert on guitar, Dave McKenna on piano, Warren Vache, Jr. on trumpet), a swingin’ Sammy Davis, Jr. with the Buddy Rich Band, Barbra Streisand with Harold Arlen himself and alternative versions by The Fifth Estate and Klaus Nomi. And with that, our Seventeenth Annual Film Music February comes to an end! Tonight is the airing of the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards, where some of the composers we’ve featured in this year’s series are nominated. But we’ll have to wait till Oscar weekend (24-25 April 2021)—at which time I’ll feature a couple of additional Film Music tributes—to find out who takes home the prizes for the cinema music categories. Stay tuned!

Song of the Day #1858

Song of the Day: The Karate Kid (I-II-III-IV) (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link], composed by Bill Conti (well known for his soundtracks to the “Rocky” franchise), brings a perfect combination of energy, contemplation, and triumph to the whole film series (1984-1994). I recently re-watched the original films in their entirety—the first three with Ralph Macchio—as a prelude to the fun Netflix “Cobra Kai” series (see Xolo “Miguel Diaz” Mariduena’s FB page), in which Macchio reprises his role as Daniel LaRusso [YouTube link to the hilarious “Sweep the Leg” video by No More Kings]. I enjoyed the films on a whole other level than I did when I first saw them. Maybe it was a wider appreciation for all the wisdom coming out of the mouth of Mr. Miyagi! It’s not Bruce Lee, but it’s got a special poignancy for me.

Song of the Day #1856

Song of the Day: Motherless Brooklyn (“Main Theme”) [YouTube link] was composed by Daniel Pemberton, who brings a Miles Davis-influenced sound to this 2019 film. The score also includes some classic jazz recordings along with other original songs, performed by such artists as trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Song of the Day #1855

Song of the Day: Ice Station Zebra (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link] was composed by the late, great Michel Legrand, who was born on this date in 1932. The score to this 1968 espionage film was orchestrated and conducted by Legrand himself with a 75-piece orchestra. It has been described as a brilliant “Cold War ballet.”

Song of the Day #1854

Song of the Day: Black Panther (“A New Day”) [YouTube link], was composed by Ludwig Goransson, for this 2019 superhero film, based on the Marvel-ous collaboration of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, starring the late Chadwick Boseman. With its predominantly black cast and black director, this trailblazing, absorbing film broke many box office records. The orchestral score embraces a global sound, while also incorporating original songs by Kendrick Lamar.