Movie Man Jackson looks at: 2017 Music in Movies (Part 6)

Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t. Part 6 of the yearly Music in Movies series ends here. Even though I missed a few things (ahem…Phantom Thread), I promise, we’re done with 2017 finally. If you missed parts one, two, three, four, and five, they’re available here , here, here,  here, and here. Groove out.

I, Tonya (composed by Peter Nashel, soundtrack by various artists)

Devil Woman

How Can you Mend a Broken Heart?

The Chain

The Incident

Music doesn’t completely play into I, Tonya’s storytelling like Baby Driver did, but still, the licensed soundtrack definitely paints a rebellious, edgy, and grungy tone that supports the fourth wall breaking aspects of the movie. Often times, these songs serve to tap into the psyche of Tonya, which is far from rosy. However, The Incident stands as a moody, uneasy track for the obvious moment that everyone associates Harding for.

Lady Bird (composed by Jon Brion)

Title Credits

Played during the opening sequence of the film, Jon Brion’s opener sets the stage for a warm, offbeat, and quirky experience. C’mon, there are oboes heard extensively! It kind of sounds like an average high school woodwind band. Perhaps that was the affect, pulling on the nostalgia strings?

Drive Home

Rose Garden

Summer in Sacramento

Lady Bird

Brion’s motif heard in the above three tracks might be my favorite motif/theme of 2017. Using that word again, it creates a very warm feeling despite sounding a little cold. The pieces are so layered, I feel nostalgia, introspection, and a sense of yearning the minute those keys are played and the hi-hat clicks and the descending call-response part comes on. The titular track of Lady Bird simply serves as an amazing coda to the film.

The Shape of Water (composed by Alexandre Desplat)

The Shape of Water

Elisa’s Theme

The Shape of Love

Decency

The Escape

Rainy Day

So rich and so ethereal is Alexandre Desplat’s score of The Shape of Water. The sounds and melodies that Desplat crafts are broad, deep, dreamy, and lush, befitting of Del Toro’s fantastical production. It’s impossible not to get sucked in, whether during the thrilling and even pulse-pounding moments during The Escape, or the opening narration played over the title track.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (composed by Carter Burwell)

Mildred Goes to War

Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s score has a outlaw/last stand/revenge feel to it. Honestly, that sounds a lot more interesting than the score sounds. But, the opener above paints the picture as a vengeful, methodical, almost spaghetti-western like tale that promises a scorched Earth left behind by it’s main character.

The Post (composed by John Williams)

The Presses Roll

Deciding to Publish

The Court’s Decision and End Credits

With the urgency The Post champions, it’s only right that John Williams makes a score that carries a sense of fitting weight and urgency. There’s a lot of power in many of these tracks that is punctuated by Williams’ precise sharp strings and swooping brass orchestra; one can feel the intensity of putting pen to paper and fingers to typewriter and unearthing something important.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (composed by John Williams)

The Supremacy

A New Alliance

The Last Jedi

There’s that guy again. C’mon, it’s John Williams, Star Wars. Little more needs to be said. Even for a non-Force geek like myself who couldn’t tell a Porgi from an Ewok (kidding…I think), there’s something undeniably epic about a Star Wars score and every sound of Williams’ orchestra. Bold, energetic, and vibrant.

All the Money in the World (composed by Daniel Pemberton)

The Minotaur

We Are Kidnappers

Paparazzi

Masterpiece

Police Raid

Sold to an Investor

Money Drop

Visuals do a lot when it comes to painting a picture of setting or time period, but a well crafted score can be just as important, if not more so. Daniel Pemberton’s work in All the Money in the World continues his great recent work. Whether giving life to a retelling of King Arthur, or painting different periods of Steve Jobs’ life, his sounds are always unique and go different places than most composers.

AtMinW is no different, combining classical Italian opera vocals and melodic instrumentation with street sounds and electric spurts that play up the thriller aspect when applicable. A score that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Call Me By Your Name (soundtrack by various artists, Sufjan Stevens)

Futile Devices (Doveman Remix)

Love My Way

Visions of Gideon

For all the love that songwriter Sufjan Stevens is getting for his Mystery of Love track as a potential Oscar Best Original Song contender, his other contributions to Call Me By Your Name are actually stronger. The lyrics to Futile Devices and Visions of Gideon are painful to listen to, not because they are bad, but so relatable, in the sense that love can be hard to verbalize and worthless to do so, but actions are ever present in the former song. The latter song is heartbreaking, remembering something that was so real and vivid but almost too real, using the Jewish prophet of Gideon to draw light parallels to Elio and his situation. A flooring way to end the movie.

Darkest Hour (composed by Dario Marianelli)

The War Rooms

History is Listening

Dynamo

The piano is such a dynamic instrument, able to convey feelings of love and tenderness, but also aggression and importance. The tracks above by Dario Marianelli, paired with a full orchestra, get at the urgency and importance of the seemingly impossible task that Churchill had in convincing his party to keep fighting in the midst of despair. Very business and processional-like.

Molly’s Game (composed by Daniel Pemberton)

Staring Down a Mountain

Area Codes

House of Cards

Scars

All the Beauty in the World

I fittingly end my look at 2017 films and the music that accompanies them with, in my opinion, the most dynamic film composer working today in Daniel Pemberton. He may very well be the best in the game right now at crafting a style for a particular movie. Molly’s Game is crisp and smooth. Sounds like more an adult drink than a film score, but that’s the truth. The metronome in Staring Down a Mountain paired with steel drums and a funky electric guitar creates a 70’s-ish vibe with. The whole score, whether brimming with energy or more sedated like the somber and reflective Scars, feels like clockwork, apropos to the content in Molly’s Game.

Photo credits go to zimbio.com, tinymixtapes.com, filmmusicreporter.com, people.com, jwfan.com, slashfilm.com, billboard.com, stereogum.com, and focusfeatures.com.

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Going to try something different this year to end this yearly series. Instead of ranking my favorite scores of the past year in cinema, I’m going to list my top 25 favorite tracks in cinema over the past year, and, my composer of the year. Again, all subjective, and just because a movie may have been generally deemed great or awful by the masses, I could really love one or two, or hell, maybe three or more, of the tracks on its score and the movie may be stellar or poor. These are the tracks I have found myself listening to often, working out to, falling asleep with, humming randomly, or just thinking a lot about.

Composer of the Year: Daniel Pemberton (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, All The Money in the World, Molly’s Game)

Top 25 of 2017

25. Paradise Lost (War for the Planet of the Apes)

24. A Long Way Back (Life)

23. Hitman’s Bodyguard (The Hitman’s Bodyguard)

22. Demonstration (Atomic Blonde)

21. Project Monarch (Kong: Skull Island)

20. The Last Jedi (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

19. Wonder Woman’s Wrath (Wonder Woman)

19. John Wick Reckoning (John Wick: Chapter 2)

18. Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga (Get Out)

17. We Are Kidnappers (All The Money in the World)

16. Elisa’s Theme (The Shape of Water)

15. Staring Down a Mountain (Molly’s Game)

14. Visions of Gideon (Call Me By Your Name)

13. The War Rooms (Darkest Hour)

12. Original Score Medley (Logan Lucky)

11. Lady Bird (Lady Bird)

10. The Beast is on the Movie (Split)

9. History is Listening (Darkest Hour)

8. Supermarine (Dunkirk)

7. Growing Up Londinium (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword)

6. Futile Devices (Call Me By Your Name)

5. Main Titles (Logan)

4. The Shape of Water (The Shape of Water)

3. All The Beauty in the World (Molly’s Game)

2. The Mole (Dunkirk)

1. Sea Wall (Blade Runner 2049)

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The Shape of Water: Movie Man Jackson

Love doesn’t have to be traditional. Working as a nighttime janitor in 1960’s Baltimore is Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who is mute. Her responsibility, along with best friend coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is to clean the urine, feces, and all other matter that is left behind in the Occam Aerospace Research Center. When she’s not working, she’s often making conversation and viewing musicals with her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins). Minus the cleaning part, it’s not a bad life, yet far from a memorable one.

That changes once Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings an Asset (Doug Jones) to the compound in the form of a mysterious amphibian monster that can supposedly help the United States get an advantage in the Cold War. After testing, no secrets are made about the asset being killed. He’s already abused and berated consistently. In between these abuse periods, Elisa begins to build a strong bond with the monster, and realizes that she must do whatever it takes to get him out of this facility.

Death, taxes, and Guillermo del Toro melding polar opposite genres together into something unique. There’s dark fantasy, and then there’s del Toros’ dark fantasy, as seen in Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, and now, The Shape of Water, which takes del Toro’s love for the otherworldly and combining a love story to the likes we’ve probably never seen before. At the very. very least, it’s certainly unique and memorable.

In a cinema world often derided for the lack of auteurs as it pertains to directors, Guillermo is one of the few who makes his vision and creates art. Two well-worn inspirations in Beauty and the Beast and Creature from the Black Lagoon are evident, but even video games like Fallout and Bioshock and literature such as Stranger in a Strange Land appear to help build the 1960’s world showcased here.

Aesthetically, this Baltimore is a surreal-looking locale, coated perpetually in green and teal tint sharing similarities with many monster movies. But, the color symbolizes more in life, sickness, hope, inexperience, and—most importantly—love, all themes that The Shape of Water delves into. A high point tension-wise is a surprisingly tense and unpredictable heist scene. Something’s wrong with the major cinematography awards if Dan Laussen doesn’t get recognition for the cinematography that is present, and a score composed by Alexandre Desplat accentuates the fantastical production.

The Shape of Water is a spectacular production with a solid story and generally great execution, but it isn’t without pitfalls. The actual union feels a little rushed, and it is testament to the lead talent at hand that they sell the believability of it by film’s end. While the Cold War setting seems to initially hint at more integration into the plot, the tale could have easily been told in any other era with little impact. Lastly, it is fair to wonder if some additional subtlety by del Toro would have gone a long way towards garnering more intense emotion. There’s one scene that ends with the door closing, telling us all we need to know, and it’s well done. Other scenes come off as a little too self-indulgent, even cringey and/or corny, to the point that they drew me, personally, out of this world.

But, as much credit as the director and his technical team are deserving of, it is the cast and specifically the lead performers that sell what’s going on. Working backwards, supporting veteran castmates in Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg add a level of sophistication and gravitas despite their characters, save somewhat for Jenkins, being light on meat. Out of the supporting characters, Michael Shannon chews scenery from the moment he’s introduce as the simply pure evil and tunnel-vision focused Colonel. But of course, it’s Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins who come away as the talking points of The Shape of Water. Both hardly say any words but their non-verbals and chemistry is in full force, and the performance of Hawkins runs the gamut from loneliness to levity to pure bliss.

Save for a few odd-fitting moments, The Shape of Water takes its many genres and melds them into a fully formed fantasy and distinct view worth going into the deep for.

B

Photo credits go to indiewire.com, joblo.com, awardsdaily.com, and trailers.apple.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Movie Man Jackson looks at: 2014 Music in Movies (Part 5)

reelmusic

Continuing with the series, today comes Part 5, which will, in all likelihood, conclude the series. Again, this is not a comprehensive list, just of things I have seen. Let me know what I have missed or need to hear below! For parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, click herehere, here, and here.

Full soundtrack from Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Had to go with the full soundtrack as opposed to the usual singling out of tracks, for two reasons. 1) It was extremely hard to find these tracks standalone on YouTube, and 2) Like the cinematography found in the movie, the score is pretty continuous. Listen/look closely and breaks may been heard/seen in each, but it is a masterful job done by drummer Antonio Sanchez to convey a multitude of feelings all through a pair of sticks and a foot pedal. Perhaps more than any other track or soundtrack that appears in this series, this goes best with actually hearing in context. Still, if time is had, it is great listening to throw this on in some headphones and find the groove.

A Game of Croquet, from The Theory of Everything

Forces of Attraction, from The Theory of Everything

At the end of the day, The Theory of Everything is less of a life story and more of just a love story. While it is a little more miss in places than it should be for yours truly at least, some of the moments hit as intended thanks to a moving score composed by Johann Johannson (Prisoners) that covers a swath of feelings, from optimism to despair. The sound is very traditional, simplistic, and old-school, almost as if it was composed by Beethoven or Mozart himself.

Immortals, from Big Hero 6

Fall Out Boy pens this one, made exclusively for the movie. The lyrics may not say a ton, but thought from the perspective of Hiro Hamada and to an extent Baymax, they make a little sense. Above all, it, like Everything is Awesome, is just a catchy song that goes along with the scene it appears in well.

Nerd School, from Big Hero 6

Hiro Hamada, from Big Hero 6

The interesting thing about so many of the tracks that appear in the score of Big Hero 6 is also the odd thing. Within the tracks themselves, they don’t really feel all that cohesive. This approach may be a problem for another movies, but composer Henry Jackman makes it a positive here. In many of these pieces, many different “ideas” can be heard. These ideas give a brief look into the futuristic world of San Fransokyo, as well as capturing the ever-evolving, flip-on-a-dime adolescent temperament of Hiro Hamada.

Huggable Detective, from Big Hero 6

One of the Family, from Big Hero 6 

Streets of San Fransokyo, from Big Hero 6

It is nice to see that even though Big Hero 6 has those similar sounds one may expect to hear when watching a superhero action movie (yours truly hears a lot of Spider-Man and Iron Man vibes throughout the score), it really commits itself to its distinctive setting and world. Blending traditional orchestral work with techno/electronica bits creates a unique sound that pays homage to superhero movies and anime. Even the more emotional moments are accentuated with a sound not heard too often in not just animated films, but non-animated films as well.

The Imitation Game, from The Imitation Game

Alan, from The Imitation Game

Alan Turing is a gifted man. He is also a very troubled man for some reasons beyond his control. Alexandre Desplat again lends his talents to create an amazing score (Godzilla, I feel ashamed in saying I still have yet to see The Grand Budapest Hotel), this one full of equal parts elegance and darkness as well. It is also a really nice touch to see a great amount of focus on the piano, which exists in most, if not all of the pieces and adds a nice level of underlying mystery.

U Boats, from The Imitation Game

The Machine Christopher, from The Imitation Game

Even though Turing and company may not be on the frontlines of the war, their task is just as stressful. Tracks like the ones above showcase what it must have felt like to have so much riding on whether this code was cracked. They are”subtly intense” pieces, not hitting you over the head with a high volume of sound, but still being effective by getting under the skin.

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And with that folks, that concludes my series! Going forward, I am sure the structure of the series will change, from different postings to contributors to perhaps not saving it for just the end of the year. Again, there are a few things I was unable to see, and without viewing them before listening to their respective scores struck me as being a futile attempt, especially as I like to include a little bit of context (specific scene or the entirety of the film) when posting a track.

Hopefully you guys had as much enjoyment I had in hearing these scores/soundtracks. Please, continue to let me know what I have missed! It has been a hell of a 2014 (started late January) and an inaugural year of moviemanjackson.com. From reading and interacting with so many of you, I’ve learned a lot.

Here’s to 2015 and more great analysis.

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Photo credit goes to wbjc.com

All music credits go to the men and women who composed them, and YouTube for acquiring the license to make them available.

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The Imitation Game: Movie Man Jackson

theimitationgamestub

“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

Sometimes it is the extremely brilliant people who have the hardest time assimilating into society. This brilliant person in The Imitation Game is Englishman Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a renowned mathematician and logician, among other titles. In the early 1940’s, the war between the Allied and Axis powers continues to be fought, with the Axis powers currently having a major advantage due to the impenetrable Enigma code utilized by Nazi Germany.

To seize momentum away from the enemy, the code must be cracked, which is where Turing and his intellect comes to the forefront. With time not the side of the Allies, the British government puts together the country’s brightest individuals like Turing, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), and others to devise a solution. To compound the stress of essentially being responsible for the direction the war goes, Alan harbors a secret: He is a homosexual in a time and place that doesn’t support people of this ilk.

computer

The story of Alan Turing seems to be a largely unknown one, which The Imitation Game sheds light upon via the silver screen. Helmed by director Morten Tyldun, the passion and care towards this project is very noticeable, and all in all it is pretty solid. Aside from telling the story of the gifted individual, this also seems to exist for a pretty clear goal: getting those award nominations.

By no means is The Imitation Game a terrible movie, far from it really. Again, Tyldun exhibits much care and attention to detail with regards to the screenplay. While not being familiar with the man, nothing that appeared here struck yours truly as being too embellished or completely shoehorned in. It is Hollywood, taking liberties here and there but not necessarily abusing them. In a surprise, the movie carries a totally natural humor that helps to minimize the heaviness.

Additionally, the director really nails the feel and atmosphere of 1940’s England, from speech to dress to lighting to exterior. Being shot on location most likely made this a slightly easier feat, but still, it takes skill to get the past right in an aesthetic sense on screen. The production is of great quality, as is the introspective and moving score put together by Alexandre Desplat, who has quite the notable and diverse 2014 with scoring Godzilla, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and now this.

AP FILM REVIEW THE IMITATION GAME A ENT

Sticking with the look at the screenplay however, there are a few qualms. For all of the focus that Tyldun brings to telling the story and its consistent pacing, there is a lack of both in the final part of the film, to the point where it actually becomes haphazard and somewhat harder to follow. Also (and this may be a very personal feeling) the story simply isn’t all that interesting or intriguing. In no way am I diminishing what Turing did, it is just that his story may not be one, as a whole, that lends itself to film effortlessly. The story is compelling in moments, but also stuck in molasses here and there, being just as drab as the well-crafted scenery.

Much like another flick taking a look at a brilliant man’s life and events, The Imitation Game features a brilliant performance from a man who portrays the main character. What Benedict Cumberbatch is able to do here is pretty riveting. He is a guy to get behind because of why he is doing this, but he is clearly also a difficult guy to be around on a daily basis, either intentionally or unintentionally. The performance is precise and systematic, full of attention to detail. Cumberbatch is one of the best working in the industry today.

christopher

Lending some star power to the cast is Keira Knightley, starring as Joan Clarke. While she is good in her role, there isn’t a ton of note here, and the previous allusions made by yours truly with regards to embellishment apply here. The relationship between Clarke and Turing in this feels more romanticized than it probably was, and while the movie occasionally hints at this, it seems to want it both ways, wanting there to be something but nothing at the same time. Adding another level of star power is Mark Strong, who despite his tough appearance, turns in mellow and amusing work as an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service. The rest of the cast comprising of Turing’s colleagues are definitely serviceable and do what is needed when asked.

Anchored by rock-solid acting by Benedict Cumberbatch and with what would appear to be a mostly grounded telling of Turing, his difficulties, and his tide-turning accomplishment, The Imitation Game is a nice, albeit a bit dry, look at a World War II story that probably gets lost in the bigger rubble more than it should.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to neonreels.com, entertainthis.usatoday.com, and servingcinema.com.

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Movie Man Jackson looks at: 2014 Music in Movies (Part 1)

reelmusic

It is December, which means it is the end of the year. Which means that people are rolling out or are getting ready to roll out their year end list of their favorite flicks. I love reading and seeing the trends on the lists, but I thought I would do something different, or something at the very least not seen as much.

Many films by themselves can be great, but sometimes it is the brilliance of a visionary composer or the superb usage of licensed music that carries a piece of cinema to legendary heights. Even an average scene can be more memorable or important than it really is because of perfectly aligned music. I’ve always been enamored with the melding of music and films.

So, yours truly has decided to look at some of the standout score tracks and licensed tracks that made their way into 2014 movies. For every release I have seen this year, I have listened extensively to every full length OST I have been able to get my hands ears on. However, there are surely magnificent pieces of music I am missing simply because I haven’t had the time to look at every noteworthy movie in the year. Let me know what you liked, and what I still need to listen to.

With that said, I’ve been able to catch a good deal. This isn’t a ranking, but rather just a series to spotlight some really solid tracks, both of original score and licensed music, that have appeared throughout the year in film. And dealing with score tracks, sometimes the titles of them do give away specific moments in the film. Not always, but occasionally, so there may inadvertently be slight spoilers. Make sense? Let’s begin…

Everything is Awesome, from The Lego Movie

What more can be said about this one? It sounds so simplistic and harmless and inspiring, and in many ways it is. But seeing it in the context of the film alludes to the dangers of being too team-centric. It is really a clever song if you think about it. I originally disliked it, but the more and more it came on I fell into its infectious charm and wittiness. Too hard to resist.

Lemurian Star, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Hearing the swelling begin in this immediately makes the fact known that TWS is a different Marvel movie, one that is more grounded and serious in its nature. The feeling is evident that the stakes, even without knowing what they particularly are yet, are raised. Awesome opening music.

Fury, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Aptly described track here. Not only does it refer to Agent Nick Fury, but the specific moment in the movie where the entire Marvel Universe is changed forever. And this moment itself is furious, filled with intensity and uncertainty punctuated by the jagged electronic noises and energetic strings.

The Winter Soldier, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Talk about build in a track. The Winter Soldier track does a brilliant job of utilizing some off-kilter sounds with minimal production at the beginning of it to build a sense of awe and wonder when you-know-who makes finally makes his long-awaited arrival into the film. It is almost horror-ish and frightening in its tone. Once the real meat comes in the song, it hits like a ton of bricks.

Godzilla!, from Godzilla (2014)

Appearing right at the start over the opening credits, this theme sets the tone for the latest iteration of “The King of Monsters” by taking a nod from the past. It is by no means a carbon copy of the 1954 theme, but listen closely and similarities can be heard:

The new theme feels exactly how Godzilla should be: bold, processional-like, full of strength, and I don’t like to use this word often, but epicness. Also, another nice nod when this theme was playing? Taking an interesting, historical look at the origins of the big guy.

The Power Plant, from Godzilla

Godzilla’s soundtrack was composed by Alexandre Desplat, a man not known for lending his talents to blockbusters (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The Queen). Never would have guessed it, as throughout the score, he really seems to have a feel for what is needed in the movie. After a few listens to just the first few tracks, it is quite evident that Desplat has a soft spot for robust strings and horns of all varieties. This one is no different, fitting perfectly into the critical scene it arrives in with tons of fortissimo, driven not just by the punctuating horns but the relenting Japanese drums. But when the scene mellows out, so does the back end of The Power Plant, taking on a more somber feel.

Raise Those Hands, from Neighbors

A movie based around not growing up and endless partying needs a killer party scene, accompanied by equally killer electronic/dubstep. This does the job here, literally making the viewer feel like we’re right there in the party with the glow sticks, dance battles, endless supply of alcohol, and sex going on in the other room.

 Hope (Xavier’s Theme), from X-Men: Days of Future Past

Yours truly may not have adored Days of Future Past like others (and that is of course fine), but this singular track may be up there with the best I’ve heard all year in anything. Aided by layers of strings, a deliberate piano, and with what I’d describe as a restrained brass section, it all comes together to create a theme that invokes uncertainty, sadness, but most importantly, hope and belief that things can change for Professor X in his time of self-doubt. Really poignant and touching.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

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Photo credit goes to wbjc.com

All music credits go to the men and women who composed them, and YouTube for acquiring the license to make them available.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson