November 7, 2011
Comedy, Film, Horror
Film, film music, movies, picture, poster, review, score, soundtrack
Cheap horror schlock has continually existed on the fringes of more mainstream horror most of which is thankfully condemned to the direct-to-video graveyard. With “Twilight” hysteria kicking into overdrive with “New Moon,” and the franchise bordering on parody or many viewers, 2009 saw a resurrection of a different sort but the days of Christopher Lee and Hammer horror sadly now exist as a distant memory. And with a title every bit as daft as the film itself, it may come as a surprise that anyone actually went to see it; at least no one can claim they weren’t warned. It is possible to view the whole affair with a belly laugh and a bunch of mates (and perhaps some alcohol) – the concept is obviously not intended to be taken entirely seriously. However, what Phil Claydon and his unfortunate cast and crew present is nothing short of a new and embarrassing low even in a genre that consists almost exclusively of lows.
It is doubtful whether any plot summary is even necessary. The story of two mismatched friends Fletch and Jimmy (James Corden and Mathew Horne), one of which bears an uncanny resemblance to Robbie Williams, who end up in a gothic rural village ridden by a terrible curse is a tale as old as time, even if the vampires of said curse are predominantly skimpily clad size-zero models with horrendous accents. There’s a few other bits in there somewhere, suffices to say it’s all an excuse for excessive amounts of pointy-toothed canoodling, lobbing of axes and swords with penis handles (appropriately given the title Dildao), and covering as many actors with copious amounts of the sticky creamy-white fluid which here plays the part of vampire blood. It seems what will be deeply traumatising for most of us, it’s as if the entire film plays as out as a highly bizarre wet dream for the writers. As previously mentioned, it would be possible to take the concept lightly and could even service as a time-killer (unintentional pun) if it weren’t so grossly devoid of real laughs. With innuendo jokes that would fall flat even at a drunk party, the writers have clearly not done their Kubrick homework (that would be a reference to the cut pie-fight scene from “Dr. Strangelove”).
Similarly, it seems utterly pointless to flag either the wooden acting, stale script or indeed fallacies of logic. Particularly this latter point, is a recurring problem for the film. As what it presents is essentially soft-core pornography, the vampires’ attraction to the male characters is curiously at odds with the concept and come to think of it, most of the homo-erotic “action” is understated as well, something that is sure to have certain feminist movements up in arms and leave certain other fetishists severely disappointed. Such discourse is of course a waste of valuable words but it all leads to an overwhelming conclusion: this is not a good bad film, it’s just a bad bad film, no in fact it’s an atrociously bad film or, as White Goodman might say, a skid-mark on the underpants of society. Even approaching the film with the lowest of expectations will fail to yield any satisfaction whatsoever. As such it’s a surprise that no Razzie awards were forthcoming (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” took that particular “honour”).
What confirms “Lesbian Vampire Killers” as a true film of paradox however is its musical score composed by Debbie Wiseman. Not a huge name in Hollywood, Wiseman did however seriously impress with her music for french crime-thriller “Arsene Lupin and this dreadful movie provides the perfect opportunity for a parody score of epic proportions. Removed from the context on album, the score really shines with both orchestral and choral bombast turned up to maximum levels throughout, ripping off almost every vampire score in history but also finding it’s own gleefully grand voice. The title theme whether performed by soaring vocals or blaring horns is an easy match for the best gothic horror score that even masters like Christopher Young could come up with. Picking out one highlight cue is nigh impossible but the six-minute “The Dawn of the Red Moon” is certainly a strong contender. A harmonious statement for Fletch and the Vicar (an ex-Doctor Who looking suspiciously like Kim Newman) heard in the middle of “The Crypt of Carmilla” is another of too many strong points to mention. All in all, this score reinforces the fact that sometimes the best music is written for the worst films. An excellent effort and though the score can in no way redeem the film, it’s a glorious listening experience on its own, deserving of the highest mark.
By all means invest in the soundtrack but otherwise run from “Lesbian Vampire Killers” as fast as you can. It’s viewing films like this that provides constant pessimistic reminders of humanity’s seemingly endless ability to produce trash, an utterly depressing fact, sad but true. You’d be better off watching “Twilight.” And that’s saying something.
Please don’t ever watch this film but if you do, please leave a comment about how bad it was. You can rate it by clicking on the stars above. Also, please follow me on Twitter. Thanks for reading and all the best!
August 20, 2011
Comedy, Film, Romance
Film, film music, movies, picture, poster, review, score, soundtrack
In a genre where only so many plots types exist it’s not rare that the success or failure of a rom-com hangs on the chemistry between its leads. In the case of Will Gluck’s follow-up to the smart and sassy “Easy A” it was written with two particulars in mind and hell, why not?! After all Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are two it stars of the moment, having both earned respect in Oscar nominated dramas, one as egotistical entrepreneur Sean Parker in David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” the other as the human incarnation of the “Black Swan” itself. Unsurprisingly taking an altogether lighten route, “Friends With Benefits” would have itself stand out not only through the sharp interplay between its protagonists but mainly through an abundance of witty and often edging on inappropriate dialogue and shagging. Lots of shagging. It’s more “Tamara Drewe” than “Notting Hill” but Gluck and his stars do manage to breathe some life into this very modern love story.
Fed up with relationships and especially break-ups, New York headhunter Jamie (Kunis) and art-director on-the-rise Dylan (Timberlake) enter into an agreement to play tennis with each other. Which is, you guessed it, essentially a euphemism for simple, inconsequential and meaningless sex without any personal feelings whatsoever. Right. With a premise this simple (comparisons with “No Strings Attached” will abound) and an outcome as predictable as Hugh Grant’s acting choices, the good news is that the film is still entertaining and engaging. Timberlake and Kunis make a great couple that are just as enviable when they fight as when they get along. She exudes most of the spice and wild energy that dynamically drives both the film and the more restrained Timberlake forward. It’s the combination of both that has a certain x-factor and makes large stretches of the film simply fly by. Even in the third act when Gluck significantly slows proceedings down and takes time to explore some heavier yet rather touching and believable backstory, the film does not falter.
And yet, the film deceives itself in one major point: The filmmakers seem to believe that simply by “achieving” an R rating, it will count as different and fresh. As the film winds down viewers will realise that simply dropping the f-bomb (amongst other explosives) and excessive sex isn’t really enough to qualify as being different. The plot simply lumbers through the gears meaning that “Friends With Benefits” boils down to the most pedestrian among rom-coms. There are several factors that hinder the chemistry between the leads from truly saving the film from floundering, chief among them a very, very terrible film-within-a-film that is supposed to illustrate how Jamie sees her dream life. In fact, the cheesy kitsch on display couldn’t be further from what defines the character and selling it off as emotional confusion or “damage” is very rich indeed. Supporting turns by Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson further liken events to generics and have nothing of interest to offer. A set-piece amongst the Hollywood sign is cringeworthy and reeks of “because we could” vibe. A further if minor quibble is the presentation of some wide-shots that betray over-saturated digital video that has nothing romantic about it whatsoever.
The film contains no original score. The prominent placement of source songs (as well as some source music composed by Halli Cauthery) is doubtlessly utilised as an emphasis of the contemporary New York setting and these feature on the soundtrack album released by Madison Gate Records. Titles by Steppenwolf, Peter Conway and most notably “Closing Time” by Semisonic are among the highlights of the CD. It’s not exactly a very romantic compilation and plays more to the spirit of the film’s two flash mob scenes – a very eclectic mix that will only be enjoyed in its entirety by a minority. It’s functionally sufficient to capture the spirit of the film but cannot elevate it in a way like the “(500) Days of Summer” soundtrack did its film.
Altogether “Friends With Benefits” doesn’t quite sit comfortably in any camp of rom-coms. It’s certainly smart and very enjoyable for a selection of more mature humour but for all the leads’ sparks, they can’t quite set the film alight on their own. However, it certainly cements the stars’ status as actors to watch.
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August 9, 2011
Film, film music, movies, picture, poster, review, score, soundtrack
After the triple whammy of Greg Focker, Derek Zoolander and Chas Tenenbaum, Ben Stiller could be forgiven for taking a few years off to recover. However, his comedic talent bounced into theatres yet again in the summer of 2004 in the form of White Goodman, his most outrageous character to date. Though the sum of its parts make it truly memorable, it is largely due to Stiller’s outrageous self- and fitness-obsessed gym owner that “Dodgeball” remains one of the most quotable and hilariously dumb movies of the new millennium. Like the true underdog that it is, the tale written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber fought its way past expectations and made it to the top, eventually raking in its modest budget eight-fold.
Owner of “Average Joe’s Gym” Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) and his loveable band of losers (that includes Justin Long, Alan Tudyk and Chris Williams) are stumped when hot-shot lawyer Kate Veach (Catherine Taylor) informs them that they have 30 days to repay their $50,000 debt before the bulldozers roll in. In desperation, they enter the national Dodgeball championships with their eyes on the healthy cash prize that would save the gym. However, the owner and founder of “Globo-Gym” (Stiller) who wants to build a parking-garage for his “beacon of human perfection” gym is also in the tournament, determined to see the foreclosure of “Average Joe’s” through. After a sorry display in a regional qualifying match (that they win only because a member of the opposing girl-scout team tested positive for beaver tranquilliser), our heroes get the backing of retired dodgeball all-star and coach Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn). With expectations low as ever, the team – also including the newly recruited Kate Veach – head to Las Vegas to have their shot at the final. It’s a non-stop rat-a-tat pile-up of gag upon gag that will take repeat viewing to catch them all. These take both a physical slapstick form and a highly intelligent one: On the one hand there’s something oddly satisfying about seeing people getting walloped by rubber balls (amongst other implements of pain) and on the other, there’s outrageously smart dialogue littered with kiss-off lines and bad jokes from Stiller that would put Arnie to shame.
But while White Goodman steals the show, there’s immense comedy delivered by the entire cast. Vince Vaughn is provided with one of the best roles of his career, sharing significant chemistry with Taylor (who is Ben Stiller’s real-life wife) and creating the sort of likeable (for lack of a better phrase) average Joe that grounds the movie when things threaten to get out of hand. Every supporting character gets his or her moments to shine, again with extremely humorous results. Rip Torn is clearly having a ball with his character, cheerfully throwing out politically incorrect insults (and wrenches) left, right and center. Strewn among the action are a set of great cameos from the likes of David Hasselhoff, Missi Pyle, Jason Bateman, Chuck Norris (!), Lance Armstrong and, in the film’s best sequence of a 30s sports infomercial, Hank Azaria as a young patches O’Houlihan. There are a few weak parts but even they are largely punctuated with great gags that breeze over these scenes and they are often acknowledged with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge poke by the filmmakers. For example, a spoilerific item towards the climax is conveniently labeled “Deus ex Machina.”
Theodore Shapiro is one of the least appreciated composers in Hollywood, one that tirelessly churns out low-key scores for romantic comedies or, well, Ben Stiller movies. As a rule of thumb, these scores rarely get released commercially and like “13 Going on 30,” “Dodgeball” is no exception. And that despite the fact that Shapiro gets to have more fun than usual here: Likeable electronics with guitars and light drums accompany Vince Vaughn and Co. which explode with full force into the sports anthems of the film’s latter half. It’s a powerful and enjoyable listening experience in the film as the score, like any good parody, simply plays it straight with heroics and does not focus too much on the comedy. The variety of styles are all comfortably handled by Shapiro and for fans it is well worth seeking out a rare promo score released by the composer around the time of the film’s release. In the meantime we can only hope that maybe, just maybe, someone might decide to give this score an official release.
Chock-a-block with laugh-out-loud moments, “Dodgeball” is by no means a weak entry in the Stiller cannon. Though often labeled as a “dumb” comedy, vast stretches of it are in fact very intelligent indeed. See it if you can and just take care of your balls – and they’ll take care of you!
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April 23, 2011
Film, film music, Jerry Lewis, Martin Scorsese, Midnight Run, movies, Paul D. Zimmerman, Peter Weir, picture, poster, Raging Bull, Ray Charles, review, Robert De Niro, Sandra Bernhard, score, soundtrack, The King of Comedy, The Pretenders, The Truman Show, Van Morrison
One of Martin Scorsese’s more uncharacteristic films is his 1982 follow-up to “Raging Bull.” Shunned by many on its release, “The King of Comedy” has gained in reputation and following of the years to attain certain cult status among many of the director’s fans though some would still debate on its merit. Their criticism isn’t entirely unfounded either, though perhaps they have been misled by the film’s light-hearted title. It is much less a comedy than a satire on celebrity culture and a rather disconcerting look at fandom and obsession connected with it. Its protagonist is in fact a psychopath and a creep, albeit a rather likeable one, which only adds to the film’s unsettling nature, something that will nest just outside most viewers’ comfort-zone. Despite that, “The King of Comedy” is a hidden gem and essential viewing for aspiring connoisseurs of Scorsese’s oeuvre.
Aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro – who else?) has but one goal in life – to get a stand-up show of his own. To get his big break he obsessively pursues his idol Jerry Langford (real-life comedian Jerry Lewis). In doing so he actively interferes with Langford’s private life and completely misinterprets the other’s attempts to rid himself of the clamouring fan. Getting increasingly desperate after his demo-tape is rejected, Pupkin teams up with fellow stalker Masha (Sandra Bernhard) to conceive a dastardly scheme that will get him not only access to Langford but also a way to perform his comedy-routine on the show. It’s an extremely well-constructed plot that sees De Niro turn from bumbling everyman with big dreams to cool psychopathic monster, while remaining light throughout. Pupkin’s frequent fantasies of fame and imagined conversations with Langford add a twist of the surreal, right down to the very conclusion which, it could be argued is also a figment of his fertile imagination. Some of his obsessions tend toward the fetishistic but are also tragically comic and Paul D. Zimmerman’s screenplay is perfectly nuanced for the viewer to pick up on these details. Sadly, a sub-plot involving Diahnne Abbott as the girl whom Pupkin loves is frustratingly underdeveloped and this is the film’s only major downfall.
In terms of look and style, many of Martin Scorsese’s usual trademarks are absent – indeed there is no one element that would point this out as a film of his and yet the director has a firm hold on the picture. The faux-futuristic production design, similar in style to what Peter Weir adopted for his “The Truman Show,” effectively add to the strange fantasy world the protagonist inhabits. Like fame itself, the setting is somewhere between imagination and reality. Similarly the allusions to celebrity culture with all its blessings and vices, pros and cons, have only grown in meaning and relevance since the film’s release and is in all probability timeless in nature. De Niro meanwhile is impeccable as ever and although this will not be remembered as one of his great roles, it is clear that he is very much at home in the comedy genre, something he would not explore again until “Midnight Run” six years later. A well-measured and funny (sometimes cringingly so) performance.
“The King of Comedy” contains no original score. A song compilation was released by Warner Bros. Records to coincide with the film’s release. This features music by “The Pretenders,” Ray Charles and Van Morrison. Their appearance in the film is unremarkable and on album they amount to a decent compilation if nothing more. Collectors of this kind of music will probably already have the songs scattered across several other releases and will find nothing new on the soundtrack.
Nowhere near Scorsese’s best (let’s face it: that bar is pretty high up) but “The King of Comedy” remains an intriguing picture leaving one to wonder what might have happened if the director and his favourite actor had devoted their entire careers to comedy. Very enjoyable if you don’t mind being pinched in the behind about a good reason not to become famous.
Have you seen “The King of Comedy”? Why not leave a comment with your thoughts on the film and my review. Thanks and have yourself a happy Easter!
March 21, 2011
Comedy, Drama, Film
About Schmidt, Alexander Payne, Dermot Mulroney, Election, Film, film music, Hope Davis, Jack Nicholson, Jim Taylor, June Squibb, Kathy Bates, Louis Begley, movies, Omaha, Oscars, picture, poster, review, Rolfe Kent, score, Sideways, soundtrack
Alexander Payne is one of Hollywood’s unsung heroes, the man behind several top-notch drama films produced at the turn of the millennium, films that often take an unconventional look behind the mores of our accepted society. To follow up to the excellent “Election,” Payne takes us once more to Omaha, Nebraska to tell the story of a man examining his life on retirement, questioning what purpose he has served in this transient world and what difference he has made. Despite containing fewer satyrical aspects than its predecessor, “About Schmidt” nevertheless manages to be much more than just a comedy about old age and senility or, for that matter, a vehicle for its lead to show off the wackiness with which he so often performs. It is an examination and a reflection though with a keen eye for humour and cynicism and based on the novel of the same name written by Louis Begley.
After working at an insurance company all his life, Warren R. Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) finds that life after retirement isn’t all it’s made out to be. Yes, he and his wife Helen (June Squibb) have been married 42 years and own one hell of a camper-van, but Warren is increasingly frustrated with his empty life. As a distraction of sorts, he sponsors an African child Ndugu Umbo and through letters tries to pour out all the ill feelings in himself. When his wife dies however, he sets out to stop his daughter Jeannie’s (Hope Davis) marriage to Randall Hertzell (Dermot Mulroney with craziest hair and beard), a mattress salesman of whom Schmidt highly disapproves. His journey, in the aforementioned, oversized vehicle, becomes one of self-discovery as he revisits the important stations in his life, the house of his birth and his Alma Mater amongst others. These are of course the roles that Jack Nicholson loves to have fun with, and not for anything was this performance Oscar nominated. While he still gets the chance to play a deranged sleaze, the genius of his dual performance lie in his lengthy monologues with himself, providing not only great laughs but hit right on the man’s frustration and loneliness. Nicholson is spellbinding to watch both within comedy mode and without. He is the star of the show and while this does take away from the rest of the cast to a certain extent, the film wishes to show Schmidt’s journey and this is thus justified.
Proceedings get increasingly out of hand with the arrival of Randall’s relatives in the lead-up to the film’s climax. Led by Kathy Bates, they are a troupe of hippyish characters and the absolute opposite of everything the hardworking and conservative Schmidt stands for. Warren’s acceptance of their identity is never forced in a stereotypical direction by Payne and his screenwriting partner Jim Taylor however, rather sinking into obscurity just like Schmidt himself as he realises his whole life has had no meaning. The emotional distance between him and those around is painful to watch but neither does the script dwell on this, inserting a stab of comedy at the craziest of moments. The pictures, particularly the scenes in Omaha, have been desaturated, giving the film an atmosphere of gloom jarringly at odds with the comedy, just as intended. And while the colours do brighten on occasion, they are at one with Schmidt’s dejected feelings. Certain similarities with Payne’s other films will certainly be spotted by his fans. Overall, “About Schmidt” remains one of the most curious and at the same time accomplished films of the last decade. Not quite as captivating as “Sideways” perhaps – that film being the pinnacle of Alexander Payne’s talents – but certainly one to return to.
For “About Schmidt” Payne’s regular composer Rolfe Kent wrote a selection of themes that are instantly recognisable on film and separately on album. Led by a mainly string ensemble and notable appearances of bassoon, Kent’s score exhibits the quirky charms and diversity of the character’s emotions. The main ideas are presented in sequence in “The End Credits of About Schmidt” and consist of the fullest and greatest performance of the themes. However, the melodies have a remarkable ability to be used in countless different thematic settings, from tender harp solos to an off-beat, almost russian styled march in “The Fury of Schmidt.” The soundtrack to this film is a hidden gem (a very rare album to boot) and is very easily enjoyable. Kent’s superior thematic variations make this a score for repeat listens and can only be awarded the highest rating.
With “About Schmidt” Jack Nicholson has once again proved why he is one of the acting world’s top dogs. If his performance were to be the only reason to watch the film, it would doubtlessly be more than worth it. Combined with Payne’s excellent screenplay and direction, it becomes an outstanding film and constitutes the sort of solid drama the Hollywood is still capable of producing. Very much recommended.
If you’ve seen the film and liked it, why not leave a comment. Your feedback is always ver much appreciated. Also, please share this review with your friends on Facebook and twitter. Thanks for reading and all the best!
March 18, 2011
Alexandre Desplat, Amy Adams, Chris Messina, Doubt, Film, film music, Hans Zimmer, James L. Brooks, Julia Child, Julie & Julia, Julie Powell, Margaret Whiting, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, McCarthy, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, movies, Nora Ephron, Oscars, Paris, picture, poster, Rachel Portman, review, score, Sleepless in Seattle, soundtrack, Stanley Tucci, Time after Time, When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail
Not since 1998’s “You’ve Got Mail” have audiences been able to enjoy the sort of charming comedic and romantic fluff that writer and director Nora Ephron used to produce with ease. Her output in the noughties has been lacklustre at best and therefore “Julie & Julia” was perhaps received with lower expectations than her previous films. And while her ode to culinary arts can’t quite reach the heights of her early 90s form, it does remind us of Ephron’s not insignificant talents. Perhaps the first significant point to be noted is that it operates around a dual-storyline form which has become an Ephron trademark as much as Meg Ryan, though in this case the two strands do not intertwine in a physical sense as the characters are separated throughout. It’s a format that can work well though here it also serves to highlight the film’s flaws.
Sick of her day job and at general crossroads in life is Julie Powell (Amy Adams), an aspiring author with a great love of cooking. Following a suggestion by her husband Eric (Chris Messina), Julie decides to cook her way through the greatest cooking bible there is, Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and to keep a blog about it. 365 days, 524 recipes. In parallel we follow the tale of Julia herself – played with great vigour and alacrity by the great Meryl Streep – as she writes and tries to find a publisher for the book. With her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) working for the American embassy in Paris, the food-loving but cooking-illiterate Julia begins taking classes to pass her time as much as anything else but soon finds love for the pastime. Both women struggle through the highs and lows of their chosen tasks, taking both their happiness and frustration out on food. Based on the memoirs of Julie and Julia (and also claiming to be the first film based on a blog), each story is given its necessary screen time, neither strand coming up too long or too short, often a problem with films like this. Switching between the settings of France and New York, Ephron’s screenplay thus manages a healthy balance of opposites and even though the denouement isn’t particularly mind-blowing, the film can maintain enough likability to maintain the viewer’s interest throughout.
Meryl Streep’s performance has been much praised and is very much in keeping with the real Julia’s rather exaggerated and eccentric personality. To the casual viewer unaware of the likenesses, Streep may however come across as completely overblown and just that, exaggerated. As a result, while this does not always lead to believable results, Streep all the right notes of the Child nuances that doubtlessly made the latter’s shows so enjoyable in the first place. Amy Adams on the other hand is generally more low-key but this serves as a good counterpoint to Streeps performance. The pair had already worked together on “Doubt” one year earlier and it is clear that each has knowledge of the other, the acting adjusted accordingly. There are problems however: As a comedy, the film is far less funny than it would like itself to be, too often relying of “French charm” to entice laughs rather than being truly witty itself. Furthermore, an attempt to insert a more serious note into Julie’s strand at the end of the second act to parallel with the McCarthy investigation of Paul (which is well handled), comes out of the blue and lacks believability in its execution. Worst of all the film fails to make the viewer truly hungry, a detriment to any movie about food. Nevertheless, driven largely by Meryl Streep, the film will remain amusing to most, of not one that will be revisited too often.
Rising French composer Alexandre Desplat composed the original score for “Julia & Julia,” perhaps the most “appropriate” assignment he has received in Hollywood. The film provides a great opportunity for Desplat to explore his roots, and rise to the challenge he does. Separating out the two storylines, charming accordions and strings play to Meryl Streep while a more jazzy rhythms form the basis of Julie’s theme. As always with Desplat, there is great orchestral precision in the music, highlighted on the album in tracks like “The Original French Chef Theme” and “Eggs.” It’s an accomplished effort, with styles more often heard in romantic comedies by the likes of Rachel Portman and Hans Zimmer’s work for James L. Brooks. Musically charming, the soundtrack to “Julie & Julia” is a score that will never win any awards for originality, nor is it a groundbreaking score by any means but an easy-going, very enjoyable score. The placement of songs like “Time after Time” by Margaret Whiting on the album however, makes for a bigger distraction than it does in the film, even though they help set the time period for one of the film’s halves.
Make no mistake, this is not “Sleepless in Seattle” or “When Harry Met Sally” but Nora Ephron has proven she can still churn out very likeable fare that makes for easy viewing. Outside of Meryl Streep’s Oscar nominated performance however, it is unlikely that “Julie & Julia” will linger very long in the mind.
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March 3, 2011
Animated, Comedy, Fantasy, Film, Musical/Dance
Aardman, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Sarandon, Coraline, Danny Elfman, Edward Scissorhands, Fall Out Boy, Film, film music, Henry Selick, Jack Sellington, Ken Page, Marilyn Manson, movies, Nightmare Before Christmas, Oogie Boogie, picture, poster, review, score, soundtrack, This is Halloween, Tim Burton, What's This
It’s a commonly held misconception that Tim Burton directed “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” And while the directorial reins were in fact taken by Henry Selick who would later go on to direct “Coraline,” the immensely successful film does have the former’s thumbprint all over it. Indeed, it is defining of Burton’s filmic style and imagination and has over the past fifteen years not only become synonymous with his name but also with a whole generation of goth and emo sub-culture taking inspiration from his zany visuals. Established as a cult classic of sorts and certainly not everybody’s cup of tea, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” masquerades as a children’s movie when really it is everything but, containing the sort of dark humour that is firmly aimed at an adult audience, yet doing away with the endless pop-culture references that would suffocate some of the animated genre in the new millennium. Originally conceived as a poem by Tim Burton in his days as an animator, the film tells its story as a musical and with over 200 puppets animated through stop-motion that owes a lot of similarities to the British Aardman studio.
In a fantasy world where every holiday season or occasion is run by its own town, we are introduced to Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon and Danny Elfman) and his gang of monsters, demons, ghosts and other nasties responsible for Halloween. And although he’s the Pumpkin King, Jack is tired of the endless scares and feels that something is missing in his life. After a chance discovery of “Christmas town” he becomes obsessed with this second holiday, introduces it to his friends and decides that this year he wants Christmas for himself. The citizens of Halloween are well meaning and eagerly prepare, unaware that their unconventional methods will ruin the festive season for everyone else. As a complication, the head of Christmas town, the brilliantly named Sandy Claws is kidnapped and ends up in the hands of the dangerous Oogie Boogey (Ken Page). Only the efforts of rag-doll Sally (Catherine O’Hara) who has feelings for Jack might be able to set things right on time. The tale is exactly as weird and crooked as it sounds and is brilliantly staged from start to finish. Credit is due to Burton, Selick and indeed all the animators who executed such an uncanny concept with a love that shows on screen in all the tiny details (most of which will probably go unnoticed on a first viewing) of their twisted fairytale.
The character creation and production design is at the forefront of the film’s quirky charm – just think of that iconically twirled hilltop – although it is divisive in so far as it will be a deterrent to some viewers, as it will entice others. That is not to say “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a love it or hate it affair. Except for younger children that is, who will probably spill some tears on the filmmakers’ gleeful destruction of their favourite holiday. But therein lies the genius of the film: So different is its approach, it is instantly memorable. The portrayal of Oogie Boogie’s casino-like lair in the film’s second half is at odds with the rest of the film’s visuals and his song too does not fit in although of course a boogie would the most appropriate kind. Curiously a sub-plot between Sally and her creator, the mad scientist Dr. Finklestein is also left hanging in the ropes at the film’s conclusion, offering no closure. But then, these are small detractions and do not affect the overall impact of the film that is a very positive one.
The film’s other great strength of course, lies in the artistic talents of a certain Danny Elfman who not only wrote all the songs and underscore but also voices several of the characters including Skellington Jack. His vision has always been at one with Tim Burton’s and is very much in evidence as images and music are clearly tailored for each other. From the opening “This is Halloween,” wondrous discovery of “What’s This?” to the lament that is “Sally’s Song,” Elfman’s music overflows with theme and style that is deeply emotional as it is off-kilter and schizophrenic. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as well as earlier collaboration with Burton on “Edward Scissorhands,” forms the culmination of the composer’s career. Which of the two tops the list will differ for every listener but “Nightmare” has an exceptionally strong case with beautiful thematic music that perpetrates the underscore as well as the show-piece songs. Elfman’s abilities to combine the two is demonstrated by the strong end-credits suite that neatly sums up all the main ideas from the film. On album, the score has received several treatments, but sadly all of Disney’s double-disc efforts have yielded only disappointing and in some cases truly terrible remixes of the Marilyn Manson and Fall Out Boy kind. Restricted to the first disc however, you will be treated to a masterpiece not only in the animated or musical film genres but some extremely sticky (in a good sense) material. By rights it demands its place in every score collection.
This is truly a film that needs to be seen to be believed. And that is by no means a criticism: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a visual treat and can transcend the sub-cultures that adore it most and be appreciated by the regular viewer. It’s Tim Burton at his demented best. Except it’s not Tim Burton. Oh stop…
Songs & Score
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February 9, 2011
Comedy, Film, Romance
Adam Sandler, Andy Roddick, Bailee Madison, Beach Boys, Bee Gees, Brooklyn Decker, CGI, Dave Matthews, Dennis Dugan, Film, film music, Friends, Griffin Gluck, Grown Ups, Harry Gregson-Williams, Hawaii, Heidi Montag, Jennifer Aniston, Just Go With It, movies, Nick Swardson, Nicole Kidman, picture, poster, review, Rihanna, Rupert Gregson-Williams, score, soundtrack
After the all-round catastrophe that was last year’s “Grown Ups,” Adam Sandler and director Dennis Dugan have re-teamed once again to thrust an improbable comedy in the way of movie audiences. The only real hope for “Just Go With It” was the thought that maybe, just maybe, the pair had hit rock-bottom and that from here the only way was up. And while you certainly shouldn’t approach it with any expectations whatsoever, this film does better than several of its predecessors, allowing us at least a reminder that Adam Sandler can actually be funny. However, mere glimpses of talent do not a good film make and highlights just how pedestrian Dugan’s output in the new millennium has been.
A mush of different rom-com threads, “Just Go With It” tells of cosmetic surgeon Danny (Sandler) who, in an attempt to bed as many women as possible without fear of commitment, wears a wedding-ring despite being single. This romping lifestyle becomes a problem however when he meets the woman of his dreams Palmer (Brooklyn Decker) who does not wish to break a marriage apart. Desperate not to loose her, Danny invents an elaborate tale of divorce that soon involves his assistant Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) and her two children. As the lies start piling up, the troupe all fly on holiday to Hawaii, accompanied by the demented Eddie (Nick Swardson) who can only add to Danny’s problems. Check off all the usual comedic shenanigans, awkward situations and some silly pranks including a gross case of animal-abuse and you have yourself almost two hours’ cheap entertainment. This would flounder immediately if it weren’t for Jennifer Aniston who resurrects a good dose of the humorous expertise she nurtured during the ten seasons of “Friends.” Her scenes with Sandler, particularly within the first half-hour, are without doubt the film’s best, managing to keep things on track. Much less interesting is Brooklyn Decker whose basic function as supermodel eye-candy is so blindingly obvious it’s embarrassing. Her maths teacher role is about as credible as her shallow motivations and eventual change of heart.
Once in Hawaii, several of the film’s more unsavoury elements crowd out the interactions between Sandler and Aniston: There’s a sub-plot involving an egotistical Nicole Kidman as Aniston’s high-school “pal” and musician Dave Matthews which is instantly forgettable. A supposedly damaging insight into the cosmetics industry (i.e. clearly CGI’d and absurdly deformed victims of silicon) is low comedy that might elicit a snigger but no more. Worst of all is the decidedly unfunny Swardson, sporting hugely magnifying specs and a faux-German accent. It’s the collection of these separate strands that make portions of “Just Go With It” almost intolerable. Aniston’s two kids played by Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck have their moments, particularly when practicing Mafia stares and extorting money from Sandler but the presence of a cockney accent on it’s own amounts to little style and no substance. Celebrity cameos by Heidi Montag and Andy Roddick simply go unnoticed. Dugan and the somewhat lazy screenplay are largely to blame for the film’s misfortune and despite the lead duo’s best efforts, they cannot entirely prevent the end product from sinking.
The music for most rom-coms are lead by song compilations and “Just Go With It” is no exception. As an addition, several songs by the likes of Rihanna, The Bee Gees and The Beach Boys have been mixed together as sort of mashups that would be most obnoxious on album, were one to be released. That is looking unlikely however. Equally unlikely to get a release is the film’s original score composed by Dugan regular Rupert Gregson-Williams (brother to the more successful Harry). The score too falls into the mainstream rom-com music category – mostly soothing or else quirkily plucked strings form the basis of a score that is pleasant if unremarkable and remains anonymous throughout the film. The recognisable songs are understandably pushed to the forefront by the studio. Rupert Gregson-Williams is a young, talented composer who deserves to get better gigs than this.
“Just Go With It” is at best a baby-step in the right direction though still testament to Hollywood’s over-reliance on stock fare that will soon disappear into the forgotten-films graveyard. It will entertain you once but no more than that.
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January 13, 2011
Comedy, Film, Romance
As Good As It Gets, Film, film music, Hans Zimmer, How do You Know, Jack Nicholson, James L. Brooks, movies, Oscars, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, picture, poster, Reese Witherspoon, review, score, soundtrack, Spanglish
James L. Brooks has cranked out some really great romantic comedies in times gone by, culminating in the Oscar nominated “As Good As It Gets” in 1997. “How Do You Know” marks his return to the genre after a six year hiatus and it seems that like his protagonist, the master is somewhat past the top of his game. For while cleverly managing to avoid many of the pitfalls that make up other rom-com fluff, some of the film’s blunders are nearly as unforgivable as the lack of punctuation in its title. That said, “How Do You Know” is very watchable, even likeable, if one is able to ignore Brook’s attempts to pointedly squeeze out a serious emotional message in order to escape convention, an attempt that comes across much too plumply.
Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa, an international softball player past her prime. At the age of 31, she is unceremoniously dumped from the team and ends up in a limbo of sorts, between job, further education and romantic involvement. As a distraction she launches into an affair with womanising and overly-narcissistic Baseball pro Matty (Owen Wilson), a relationship that is set to yo-yo from the outset. At the same time she ends up on a blind date with George (Paul Rudd) who is at a similar low-point in life, unemployed, broke and pursued by US Government lawyers for financial irregularities in the company owned by his father (Jack Nicholson). A premise like this spells formulaic in the extreme, but Brooks channels different, more unusual paths, creating an uncomfortable situation comedy with romance often sidelined to make way for reflections on life. But this is exactly where “How Do You Know” hits stormy waters: Witherspoon and Rudd have enough comic chops between them to carry the film but the screenplay is incapable of creating enough laughs to sustain a running time of over two hours. The heroine spends most of her time sporting an awkward crooked smile and (admittedly cute) puppy eyes, generally feeling sorry for herself rather than being truly funny. Considering Brooks wrote the part especially for Witherspoon, it’s a shame her talent couldn’t have been exploited more. Rudd meanwhile is likeable and has fun with his scenes but isn’t able to pull a rabbit from an empty hat either.
Even the great Jack Nicholson, who relishes roles like these and usually has enormous fun, is given a part so cold he can’t ham up to his usual deranged comic self. Instead he comes across as completely soulless and deserving of some prison time to think about his misdemeanours. Really the only reason you would want to watch this movie is for Owen Wilson’s surprisingly hilarious turn. He gets to be dumb and self centred and truly capable of love at the same time, and even though we know he doesn’t stand a chance at the end, we can’t help but like the guy. But for every scene he’s onscreen, there’s a half-rendered sub-plot wasting our time, like Witherspoon’s Softball coach, a part confused and confusing. And when in the end, some order finally comes to proceedings, the credits roll. It’s a wasted opportunity in many ways, of a good premise and of fine acting talent, the sort of film that generates paycheques in between other projects for these actors but will soon end on the dumpster end of the Hollywood conveyer belt.
Between scoring huge blockbuster movies, Hans Zimmer maintains a healthy career writing for romantic comedies and is a regular Brooks collaborator. Both “As Good As It Gets” and “Spanglish” proved excellent assignments for the composer, yielding some truly enjoyable music. His approach to “How Do You Know” to similar to the above and his Nancy Meyers works, though limited mainly to the lush strings. Pleasant by all accounts, nothing we haven’t heard before but nothing trying to be either. No soundtrack has been released, and probably won’t be considering the film’s abysmal performance at the US box-office. As it is, the music complements the film nicely but stays relatively anonymous in the background amid some popular song placement.
Overall, “How Do You Know” just about manages to stay afloat due solely to Owen Wilson. The rest of the cast perform adequately so the blame must be laid at the feet of James L. Brooks. Because we know what he is capable of writing, this can only count as a disappointment to his fans.
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January 1, 2011
Comedy, Film, Romance
Alan Rickman, Andrew Lincoln, Ant, Bill Nighy, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Mack, Christmas is All Around, Colin Firth, Craig Armstrong, Dec, Emma Thompson, Film, film music, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Girls Aloud, Harry Potter, Hugh Grant, Joanna Page, Joni Mitchell, Jump, Keira Knightley, Kris Marshall, Laura Linney, Lúcia Moniz, Liam Neeson, Love Actually, Love is All Around, Martin Freeman, Martine McCutcheon, movies, My Family, Nora Jones, Notting Hill, picture, poster, review, Richard Curtis, Rodrigo Santoro, Rowan Atkinson, score, soundtrack, Sugababes, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Wet Wet Wet
With films like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Notting Hill” Richard Curtis is one of the few makers of British films enjoying considerable and consistent success across the Atlantic. His assault on the US box-office continued during the 2003 pre-Christmas season, taking on not one but all of eight love stories within a single film. For what was initially a three-and-a-half hour love fest (the final version has been boiled down to a much more bearable 135 minutes), Curtis assembled an awesome cast ensemble of well respected actors and one of the most comprehensive showcases of British talent with the exception perhaps of the Harry Potter series. For good measure some American faces are included as well. “Love Actually” also marked Curtis’ debut as writer and director and while the film doesn’t quite reach the heights of his previous projects, it has since established itself as a firm Christmas favourite.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the film follows the lives of several London citizens and their quests to find or reaffirm love. Led by newly-elected amiable Prime Minister (Hugh Grant – let’s hope that never materialises) who spends his time casting glances in the general direction of Martine McCutcheon’s thighs rather than running the country, all the stories are loosely connected and influence each other. Many characters fit quite neatly into stereotypes, some parts are typecast and it’s all a little predictable, the film nevertheless musters enough charm to remain likeable even through it’s most cheesy moments. Author Colin Firth’s blossoming romance with attractive Portugese waitress Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz), Andrew Lincoln’s love for a married Keira Knightley and Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s troubled relationship are the highlights. As humorous as they are tragic, these three cores (as well as the PM one) provide most of the film’s heart. Bill Nighy meanwhile is clearly having a ball as old-time Rock star Billy Mack, trying for Christmas No1 with an adaption of Wet Wet Wet’s “Love is All Around” and carries most of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments. Then there’s Kris Marshall’s Colin who, in a dumb role almost identical to his Nick Harper in “My Family” who jets off to America in the hope of finding hot girls to sleep with. All in all it’s quite complex yet it remains easy to follow and repeat watches may help to catch some of the smaller connections.
The film is not without problems however. As the end-credits roll, there’s a lingering feeling that the balance wasn’t quite right. Some of the plot strands are sadly neglected, like turns from Martin Freeman and Joanna Page in a very unconventional love story. Laura Linney’s attempts to bed her work colleague Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) but is cruelly prevented by a commitment to her mentally ill brother, is another strand that goes unfinished. Instead, the horribly tacky “love story” between Liam Neeson’s son (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and a school sweetheart, could have and should have been shortened considerably. A look at the deleted scenes on the DVD reveal some of the material that should perhaps have made the finished product. In any other film, these factors would contribute to a sagging in the rating, but Curtis handles it all so well and inserts some excellent cameos (Billy Bob Thornton! Ant and Dec! Rowan Atkinson!) that “Love Actually’s” faults are relatively easy to forgive.
Scotsman Craig Armstrong was hired by Curtis to compose original music for the film. Squashed in between a collection of songs by everyone from Girls Aloud via Sugababes and Nora Jones to Joni Mitchell, Armstrong’s score is based primarily around three love themes which are adapted and arranged as necessary. These are the Glasgow Love Theme, the PM’s Love Theme and the Portuguese Love Theme. From beautifully restrained piano to expertly over-the-top heroism, the score is a great if a little short work by the composer. Three tracks were included on the European album, only one on the American edition. Also included is the Billy Mack version of “Christmas is All Around.” In addition, a 20 minute for your consideration promo score is available. Overall, the music is fluffy and certainly lightweight but like the film it is highly enjoyable. As for the songs, well, that depends if you can picture the British Prime Minister dancing around Downing Street No10 to the sounds of “Jump” by Girls Aloud.
“Love Actually” resides on the guilty pleasure lists of some and is ardently adored by others. Its enduring popularity with audiences on this side of the Atlantic and the other is testament to Curtis’ talents and to those of the awesome cast that make it so memorable. At Christmas this film is, actually, all around.
Does “Love Actually” feature on your Christmas movie list? Why not leave a comment with your thoughts or any feedback you might have. Also please share this review with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks and all the best!