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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March 5, 2011
Drama, Film, Period, Romance
Alfred Molina, An Education, Carey Mulligan, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, film music, Judy Dench, Lindsay Lohan, Lone Schefrig, Lynn Barber, Mamma Mia, movies, Nick Hornby, Olivia Williams, Oscars, Paul Englishby, Peter Sarsgaard, picture, poster, review, Rosamund Pike, score, soundtrack
A fine example of an unremarkable film that is greatly elevated by its cast, Lone Scherfig’s retelling of British journalist Lynn Barber’s memoirs received considerable attention during the 2009 awards season. Treading in the well-worn footsteps of classic coming-of-age drama, the film will no doubt be best remembered for the breakout performance of one Carey Mulligan, launching the career of a talent more mature in mind than in years, a welcome change from the Lindsay Lohans of this world. Onscreen for almost 100% of the film’s running time, her outstanding acting is what propels the film and helps it across several potholes that would otherwise threaten to derail proceedings. In this regard an Oscar nomination for Best Actress was more than deserved.
Set in 1960s London, “An Education” tells the story of teenage girl Jenny (Mulligan), with her whole life built on schoolwork, instituted by her strict yet socially awkward father (Alfred Molina) who wants his daughter to attend Oxford University. Jenny’s fate takes a dramatic turn however when she meets the charming and much older David (Peter Sarsgaard). He presents to her an alluring if dangerous choice, offering a life of fun, escape, and introduced her to stylish couple Danny and Helen (Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike respectively), art, dinner clubs and, it seems, a much fuller life. Flouting her studies, her teacher (Olivia Williams) and her Oxford application, Jenny embraces this lifestyle, entranced by David’s endless riches and charms while increasingly aware that she is also being led into a world of deception, secrets and lies. Nick Hornby’s screenplay tries very hard to avoid the creepy images of a man taking advantage of a much younger girl and successfully manages this through long portions of the plot. And while it must ultimately confront the viewer with this truth, the film always lets you forget this before bringing the subject roughly into the foreground again. The social awkwardness penetrates all aspects of the characters however from the father – Alfred Molina, sublime as ever – who admires David almost as much as Jenny, to Rosamund Pike’s dim blonde who lives in a dream, albeit a first-class one.
As successfully as it presents these social mores however, “An Education” has nothing fresh to offer an old genre. In particular in the final third the film increasingly becomes an exercise at checking off all the cliches it can. Even viewers not well versed in these kind of dramas will be able to see where its going from the outset and not once does Scherfig make an attempt to step off this well-trodden path. There is no intent to surprise the audience, director and screenwriter satisfied to see its predictable conclusion through. Whether it’s a lack of ideas or simple laziness on their part we shall never know but the film’s sense of accomplishment is not as educating as it thinks itself to be. That said, “An Education” is more than bearable, held together Carey Mulligan in particular but by the whole cast, including a late appearance by the venerable Emma Thompson, yet another instance of fine British ensemble casting. For Dominic Cooper, the mysterious Danny allows him to make the leap from “Mamma-Mia” hunk to more serious dramatic actor. But really it’s crystal clear that the entire film is Carey Mulligan’s show. Her flowering Jenny is more than a little feisty but in the more reflective scenes she shows extreme maturity as an actress and it shows she is “the one” for a new generation of actors, a role that will see her becoming the next Emma Thompson or even, eventually, the next Judy Dench.
Much in keeping with “An Education’s” predictable nature is its original score provided by Paul Englishby. By all means pleasant, the score will however go unnoticed by most viewers, buried as it is, several miles beneath a layering of period songs. The songs which also dominate the soundtrack, are of course important in establishing the tone for the the film’s 1960s setting but it also means that Englishby’s contribution runs to just over ten minutes on the album. Taking a lead from Jenny’s musicianship in the film, the composer does integrate the cello into his music and the score is otherwise largely lead by a conservatively classic ensemble of strings, woodwinds and solo piano. In a way the score is at odds with the songs, representing perhaps the side of Jenny that is old-fashioned and resulting from the influence of her parents while the songs represent her more carefree and naive nature. It’s an interesting concept but leads to a very disjointed album experience with several score cues mixed in between the songs instead of forming the end of the album. Thus, it’s at best a pretty if average effort.
At the hands of a less-experienced and talented cast, “An Education” would have had its flaws more pointedly exposed. As it is, the film remains an enjoyable if very unsurprising effort that will make for relatively light viewing. But we must be extremely thankful to its makers for introducing us to the great Carey Mulligan.
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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!
October 27, 2010
Epic/Historical, Film, Romance
Avatar, Back to Titanic, Bernard Hill, Billy Zane, Celine Dion, Coronation Street, David Warner, Enya, Ewan Stewart, Film, film music, Fox Studios Baja, Frances Fisher, I Salonisti, Ioann Gruffud, James Cameron, James Horner, Jonathan Hyde, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Leonardo DiCaprio, movies, My Heart Will Go On, Oscars, picture, review, score, Sissel, soundtrack, Titanic, Victor Garber
The ultimate disaster movie, or movie disaster, that’s how things were looking for James Cameron and his “Titanic” team in 1997 with both studio executives and critics waiting to strangle him with delight on the film’s release. Why? Well, firstly the project was stuck in production muck for a very long time, the film delayed again and again, as Cameron tinkered with his three-hour running time (20 minutes longer than it took the actual ship to sink mind) and action pieces that were quite literally sinking millions of dollars by the hundred. Just like the ocean liner 85 years earlier, “Titanic”, it seemed was going to hit the iceberg when let out into cold waters. It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic of course, but Cameron (a man infamous in Hollywood for his short temper and over-sized ego) stubbornly stuck to his guns. The rest of course is history: The highest box-office gross of all time, a position it amazingly managed to hold for over a decade, until it was dethroned by Cameron’s own “Avatar”, and one of only three films to win 11 Academy Awards. Accepting his Oscar for Best Director Cameron famously declared “I’m the King of the World!” before heading into the wilderness for a decade. For the public, as for the Academy, however what began as a love affair, has eroded a bit with the years.
The cause of this disillusionment stems largely from embarrassment at the central and very old-fashioned boy-meets-girl love story. Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater alias Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet respectively, board the Titanic in Southampton, she in first class with her uptight family and cold fiancé Cal (a wonderfully slimy Billy Zane), he a last minute passenger in third class who won his ticket in a lucky hand at Poker. They meet fatefully and, captivated by the free-spirited Jack, Rose finds herself falling in love with him. It’s all to go Cinderella were it not for a large block of ice floating somewhere in the mid-atlantic. The stories and lore of the famous ship’s sinking and the terrible loss of life are well known and retold in remarkable detail and with great passion by Cameron from his own screenplay. Some viewers and critics attacked the screenplay in particular for a failure in creating credible or period-correct exposition or for the cheesy dialogue. Indeed they have fair grounds for argument, Jack and Rose would probably not look out of place in your average episode of Coronation Street but really, this was never Cameron’s intent. “Titanic” is meant to be, first and foremost an old-style epic romance and disaster film. And Cameron directs with such gusto and style that it is extremely hard not to be swept along with the pure cinematics and just enjoy it for what it is. Think back to the famous disaster films of the 70s, the same criticism could be made of those, yet nobody does.
Once the iceberg does hit (that can’t really count as a spoiler), about one hour in, it’s highly unlikely anyone will care because at that point it becomes the best disaster film ever made. And for the (largely teenage) hearts the film has captured from the start, it becomes one giant survival struggle. Both DiCaprio and Winslet do extremely well here, keeping the focus as human as possible amidst all the carnage. They are helped by a huge supporting cast, of which each one has their own storyline to follow, and all acted to perfection: Aside from Zane’s Machiavellian Cal there’s Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates as “the unsinkable” Molly Brown, Victor Garber, Jonathan Hyde’s cowardly Bruce Ismay, Ewan Stewart, Ioann Gruffud, the ship’s captain played by Bernard Hill, David Warner and of course the musicians that played to the very end (real life Swiss chamber music quartet I Salonisti) as well as many more.
Cameron’s obsessive nature transpires into the action as well. The costumes and sets are all authentic down to the very last detail. It’s clear to see just where most of the money was spent especially when you consider the amount of takes required when sending all this lavish excess under water. The sheer size of the Titanic model constructed to almost life-size at the specially built Fox Studios Baja complex becomes apparent when first we see the ship moored in Southampton. From there Cameron’s shots become increasingly expansive: From wonderful aerial views of the ship, utilising the latest in computer technology to the scenes in the engine rooms where dozens of men slaved away shovelling coal while the passengers relaxed on the upper decks. And water is portrayed with particular power, the seemingly harmless liquid seeping slowly up corridors before eventually becoming this huge destructive force of nature. In this authenticity alone this “Titanic” outdoes all the foregone adaptions of the story. And the director finds a horrible beauty in the disaster as well, the “Nearer My God to Thee” sequence is likely to send shivers down your spine or bring tears to your eyes. My only criticism of the film must be of its conclusion. Once the ship has gone under, all bar one of the loose ends has been tied but Cameron presents us with an extended coda that really sprinkles on the cheese. Either the director is himself unsure of how it should end or he’s just indulging which with Cameron is a real possibility.
Composer James Horner was riding the high wave of success in the mid to late 1990s and “Titanic” presented yet another fantastic opportunity to show off his skills. Inspired by the Irish elements of the story Cameron wanted singer Enya on the soundtrack. Instead Horner employed Norwegian vocalist Sissel, creating a sort of new-age sound that is today iconic of the picture. His intentions were to create a timeless sound through his use of synthesisers and the voice coupled with a traditional orchestra. The music is broken into three stylistic parts: The first is a distinctly Irish melody written as a love theme, the second a heroic choir-based theme which would serve for the triumphs of the Titanic and thirdly the action music for the sinking. All three work exceptionally well and the first forms the basis of the end-credits song “My Heart Will Go On” as performed by Celine Dion. Famously, Cameron didn’t want a song at the film’s end but Horner went away and wrote and recorded one anyway. On album, “Titanic” became the most successful soundtrack of all time, one of the rare occasions when a soundtrack really gains mainstream popularity. Subsequently a second album was released, entitled “Back to Titanic” and featuring extra score as well as some source songs including the beautiful “Nearer My God to Thee” hymn. It won Oscars for both score and song.
Love it or hate it (some people do), “Titanic” defied all expectations and stands today as one of the biggest and best films of all time. It wouldn’t be fair to call Cameron’s achievement anything less than that. As someone quipped, “They just don’t make movies like this anymore” and in a lot of ways this is true. “Titanic” is a throwback to the great epics of star-crossed lovers only, as with everything James Cameron tackles, twice as big as anything else.
What’s your own opinion of “Titanic”. Is it one of the best films of all time or should it better be left at the bottom of the Atlantic. Let me know – leave a comment. Your thoughts are always appreciated. Also please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. Thanks! Until next time, all the best to you!
October 24, 2010
Comedy, Film, Romance
Crocodile Dundee, Film, film music, John Meillon, Kozlowski, Linda, Mark Blum, movies, Oliver Stone, Paul Hogan, Peter Best, Peter Faiman, picture, Platoon, review, score, Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Varese Sarabande
1986 is a year fondly remembered by movie aficionados for the Tom Cruise vehicle (an airborne one anyway) “Top Gun” and Oliver Stone’s sobering Vietnam film “Platoon”. However the year’s biggest box-office success in comparison to its budget was an amiable comedy from the land Down Under. Made on under $10 million, “Crocodile Dundee” took cinema screens by storm worldwide, raking in an amazing $328 million. Taking the classic premise of a man taken outside of his comfort zone, much of its charm stemmed from comedian Paul Hogan in the title role.
Drawn into the outback by an amazing (and, as we later learn, largely fabricated) survival story, reporter Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) spends a week in the bush of the Northern Territory with local legend Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee (Hogan). En revanche she invites him to spend some time in her jungle, namely New York City, all the while falling in love with the rugged charmeur. Dundee’s encounters with the natives lead to general hilarity, as he fights street crime (That’s a knife!), unwittingly prescribes cocaine as a cure for a blocked nose, and grapples with the Big Apple nightlife. Indeed many of the gags are age old and would seem jaded were it not for Hogan who instills the various set pieces with real wit and superb comic timing. Kudos also to director Peter Faiman who has the opportunity to stage some really fantastic set pieces from an encounter with an Australian wild buffalo or the climatic subway shout-out both of which are superb in their execution and genuinely funny.
Once we’ve been introduced, Hogan rarely leaves the screen and when he does things immediately sag. A romantic sub-plot involving Sue’s newspaper editor Richard (Mark Blum) has no real spark and we really don’t know just why she would ever consider marrying him. That said, there’s a really excellent comedic turn from the ageing John Meillon as the Australian tour-organiser Walter Reilly, partially responsible for the high tales surrounding Dundee.
In addition to some source songs, the film’s score was composer by Australian composer Peter Best and has gained a certain amount of cult following. So much so that a soundtrack album was released by the Varese Sarabande label. Best takes his inspiration from the outback, utilising several speciality instruments from the continent to replicate the sounds of the bush. The main theme is presented on lazy electric guitar, at several intervals throughout the film, swelling to a great climax at the end of the film. Best of all, these Australian sounds are employed for the New York scenes as well, underlining the “double-wilderness” idea and it works nicely. Certainly it’s not groundbreaking music but it’s synonymous with the film and will bring back the memories (and possibly nostalgia) straight away.
“Crocodile Dundee” is not a great film but it works it’s magic, either for its associated period or simply for some good, light entertainment. The sequels diminish the original’s charm somewhat so you’re best off just watching this one.
This was one of the first films I ever saw and no matter how many times I watch it (which by now has been quite a few), I never tire of Mr. Dundee and Co. If you have any feedback, advice or just want to say hi please do leave a comment. You can also follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. Until next time then, keep cool!
September 24, 2010
Action, Epic/Historical, Film, Romance
Armageddon, Ben Affleck, Clint Eastwood, Cuba Gooding Jr., Doris Miller, Empire of the Sun, Faith Hill, Film, film music, Hans Zimmer, James Bond, James Cameron, Jerry Bruckheimer, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Letters from Iwo Jima, Michael Bay, movies, Pearl Harbor, picture, review, score, Titanic, Transformers
One thing that was clear even before “Pearl Harbor” hit cinemas in the summer of 2001 was that super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay were trying to create a “Titanic” clone. In other words they were planting a love-story into a significant historical event and hoping for equally titanic box-office success. And really, that’s pretty much what they managed. With Bay (“Armageddon”, “Transformers”) at the helm nobody could really claim they were expecting plot or characters of Shakespearean quality, nor would the film strive in that direction anyway. Like the ocean-liner epic, this picture follows the lines of a very old-fashioned love story, extending it to a triangle, with an abundance of sappy exposition which is then replaced at some point with all-out action amongst the film’s awesome production values. However, what James Cameron succeeded in doing and where “Pearl Harbor” ultimately falters and even stumbles is in the creation of characters that cling to the teenage hearts for which they are intended.
Plotwise, it’s pretty simple: Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) grow up in Tennessee as best friends and enlist in the U.S. Air Force bound by their eternal love of flying. During this time, Rafe meets and falls in love with beautiful nurse Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), a relationship troubled from the outset by the looming World War II, and he eventually leaves her behind to fight with the British in Europe, and subsequently shot down in a dogfight with German planes. Stricken with grief while posted in Hawaii, Evelyn and Danny get ever closer, eventually realising they’re in love. Suddenly however Rafe turns up, only presumed dead. And at about the same time the Japanese forces in the Pacific carry out their planned attack on the titular navy base.
While it’s all very ambitious and visually impressive, one must question why the love story was inserted in such length when Bay really only wants to get to the action sequences. This is of course an inherent flaw in all his films but it stands to reason that the man had better become a second unit director where he could have all the fun with the action and leave the drama to someone else, like what has been done in many James Bond films. Bay is simply not capable of transmitting to the audience a story or characters we can care about. Instead of fleshing out the roots of Rafe and Danny’s friendship or the back-story of the political intrigue, he chooses to create horrible schmaltz next to the Queen Mary liner (a scene Bay wrote himself) and have Affleck smacked bang in the face with a champagne cork. In a film with a running-time of just under three hours, this would have been a real opportunity with plenty of time left over for multiple love stories and plenty of smooching. What’s presented instead are many plot threads which aren’t knotted together at any place. Take for example Cuba Gooding Jr.’s excellent portrayal of Doris Miller, the first African-American to be presented with the Navy Cross for his actions at Pearl Harbor. In itself it’s a very touching story but one which bears no relationship to the main plot whatsoever. A film about his life would have been so much more interesting.
Another irritating point is the portrayal of the Japanese. Every scene, they feature in is extremely beautiful from a visual perspective yet their function is little more than to say exactly what they’re planning to do for the history-illiterates in the audience. No thought (be it negative or otherwise) is invested in the Japanese ideals of honour or what exactly dying on the battlefield meant for these soldiers and pilots. “Empire of the Sun” managed far more in much simpler ways. Needless to say the film was not well received in Japan even after some changes had been made to the final cut that was screened in the country. Not until Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima” five years later could western audiences really explore these values. Naturally “Pearl Harbor” is being made from an American and Hollywood viewpoint yet some of the scenes in the final third are so patriotic it’s almost embarrassing. Maybe it’s just something I as a European cannot identify with.
There are some good points. As already alluded to, production design and cinematography are top-notch. Additionally Bay manages to build in some powerful moments during the attack, for example the nurses who had never seen a patient up to now are suddenly thrown right into the centre of the carnage or the destruction of the battleships is pretty realistic. Unfortunately scenes like this are few and far between. As for the climax of the story, well this too could have been handled differently. The action clearly climaxes with the “Pearl Harbor” attack. The love-triangle plot could also have been sorted out neatly here. For some reason the screenplay is extremely reluctant to have characters die at this point and so we are launched into a bombing mission that could have filled another film in itself.
Jerry Bruckheimer has always collaborated with Hans Zimmer or his associates and together they have defined a “blockbuster sound” for the nineties and noughties. For “Pearl Harbor” however Zimmer focuses mainly on writing a melodramatic love theme for the story. In the film this only helps to accentuate the schlocky love-story despite not being period-correct but makes for much better listening on the album. Coupled with the Faith Hill end credits song, it’s surprisingly devoid of Zimmerish action material (although there are volumes of it present in the film). A very recommended album for fans of the German composer.
“Pearl Harbour” is ambitious but overlong, a typical brainless blockbuster that tries to be more and with a bit of effort could have been so much better. In rating the film it’s easy to pass over all it’s redeeming features. I have tried to avoid that but know that it wins one full star for the visuals alone. As expected “Pearl Harbor” became the blockbuster it was meant to be, almost quadrupling it’s $140 million budget but quite frankly, if it’s tales of troubled love in war you seek, you can do a lot better.
Is it just me or are my reviews getting longer? Do you like this or do you prefer things short and sweet? Let me know: Please feel free to leave a comment. Also please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my E-mail sub. Thank for reading and all the best!
April 23, 2010
Comedy, Film, Romance
(500) Days of Summer, Film, film music, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marc Webb, movies, picture, Regina Spektor, review, romantic comedy, score, Sundance, Temper Trap, The Smiths, Zooey Deschanel
“This is not a love story. This is a story about love.” If cheesy tag-lines tend to put you off watching a film then it might be a hard decision to put this in the DVD player on a Saturday night. Once that hurdle has been surpassed however this will most likely be one of the better rom-coms of 2009. Then again, it might not be entirely fair to call it a that either because (500) Days of Summer sits somewhat oddly between genres mixing rom-com with with indie sensibilities and pure oddball comedy. The film is genuinely funny and very original and should be equally enjoyable for both audience genders.
Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) firmly believes in true love and has always waited to find “the one” when he meets the free spirited Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) who, unfortunately, does not share this belief. After some initial doubts the pair begin a relationship that blossoms and grows but will ultimately end. Like the tag-line says: This is not a love story. The film follows various episodes of their relationship out of chronological order and it is these often funny, sometimes sad episodes that the real emotional heart of the film is to be found. For what we witness aren’t moments covered in Hollywood gloss but the moments that make up real relationships, those bits and pieces of conversation and everyday existence that usually end up on the cutting-room floor in regular rom-coms. Notice for example how the pair meet quite simply at their place of work whereas Hugh Grant would have to spill some orange juice first.
Perhaps the reason the film has caught on with moviegoers both male and female is because most people can place themselves in the shoes of either character. Tom and Summer work as a couple just one falls in love and the other doesn’t and the relationship ultimately ends. And even though the film could possibly have become mired in over-sentimentality, director Marc Webb always keeps things fresh and quirky, switching from Tom’s exhilaration (saying hi to Han Solo and dancing in one of the film’s best sequences) to his utter heartbreak and depression within seconds. One of the film’s most powerful ideas plays out on two halves of the screen, juxtaposing both expectation and reality in one single frame.
Both actors play their parts superbly, Gordon-Levitt in particular shines as the average-Joe who is swept off his feet by a girl and Deschanel is very down to earth and quietly pretty, excellently portraying her character’s difficulties with relationships after her parent’s divorce. When watching the short videos created for the movie’s marketing campaign it is clear that the two actors clearly had a ball on set and that their on-screen chemistry (for lack of a better word) is genuine. They are in fact the very definition of a great screen couple and it can only be hoped that the film can serve as a launch-pad for both their careers.
Music plays a very central part in the film, particularly on indie rock; indeed Tom himself regularly sports T-Shirts of various bands. While there exists an original score by Mychael Danna, the focus here is on songs by the likes of Regina Spektor, The Smiths, Carla Bruni (yes you heard right, France’s first lady!), The Temper Trap and Wolfmother and unsurprisingly it’s these songs that have made the album. Pick of the crop are undoubtedly “Us” by Regina Spektor and “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap, both very much in keeping with the characters’ slightly offbeat styles and evoking all the right emotions from the listener. As an introduction to the genre the album works very well but for seasoned collectors it is unlikely it will cover much new ground.
With (500) Days of Summer forming part of the Sundance selection for 2009 and the praise it’s received from a slew of critics, it’s impossible to be negative about it. Not that that’s necessary of course as it makes for excellent viewing. For reaching across the borders of the conventional romantic comedy and being just huge fun I award it.
As ever comments or feedback are appreciated. Please feel free to add your opinions and discuss. Until next week then!