June 15, 2011
Action, Adventure, Film
3D, Angels & Demons, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, At World's End, Bill Nighy, Blackbeard, Chicago, Dead Man's Chest, Disney, DVD, Film, film music, Fountain of Youth, Geoffrey Rush, Gore Verbinski, Hans Zimmer, Ian McShane, Inception, Jack Sparrow, Jerry Bruckheimer, Keira Knightley, movies, On Stranger Tides, Orlando Bloom, Penelope Cruz, picture, Pirates of the Caribbean, poster, review, Richard Griffiths, Rob Marshall, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Sam Claflin, score, soundtrack, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, The Curse of the Black Pearl
Despite all the claims that “At World’s End” would be the last of Jack Sparrow’s escapades, the promise of booty in these waters was enough to tempt both Disney and super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. After all, despite lukewarm receptions from critics and most movie-goers, the second and and third films in the series earned Disney in the region of a billion dollars each. And so, having dropped Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and director Gore Verbinski, the pirates set sail once more with Bruckheimer promising a style closer to the swashbuckler spirit of the original. Aside from “Chicago” director Rob Marshall, new crew members include heavyweights Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, next to Geoffrey Rush returning as Barbossa and of course, the one and only captain Jack. Far from a face-lift however, the end product reeks of a dead formula and will have eyes rolling with yet-another-pointless-sequel dissatisfaction.
Picking up with a loose end from “At World’s End,” “On Stranger Tides” begins with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) captured and brought before King George (Richard Griffiths whom you may remember from the “Harry Potter” series) in London, charged with assisting expedition to the Fountain of Youth led by the now peg-legged, wig-sporting and privateering Barbossa. Sparrow being Sparrow and the British guards being incompetent as ever, Jack escapes but instead ends up on “The Queen Anne’s Revenge,” the ship of notorious pirate Blackbeard (McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Cruz), who are both after the fountain as well, for different reasons. The fountain, it is said will grant eternal youth to whoever drinks from it. Along the predictable routes of the quest, there’s zombies and mermaids to be fought, Blackbeard’s temper to fear and Depp’s still damn good comedic timing to contend with. Penelope Cruz is without doubt the best addition to the cast; she’s a good counterpart to Depp and the pair would have considerably more chemistry if the plot permitted it. Your ability to tolerate their nonsense will depend largely on whether you found Depp’s Sparrow charming in the first place but together their interplay amounts to all the film can muster in entertainment.
The actual fountain plot feels extremely tired in its entirety. Even though he’s an excellent choice to play Blackbeard, Ian McShane’s role can never top Bill Nighy and with the exception of one clever scene in which six pistols are laid out, there’s no evil to be felt. What drives him, why is he so evil? This is what made Davey Jones and Barbossa so compelling and Blackbeard has nothing to serve up in return. A romantic sub-plot involving newcomers Sam Claflin and French model Astrid Berges-Frisbey as cleric and mermaid respectively is equally devoid of all life, never mind believability. Perhaps worst of all, “On Stranger Tides” never leaves a moment to breathe, it tries to pile action upon action, as long as it’s always loud, with plenty of crash bang, people will be entertained, right? All these points draw inevitably to the main x everyone will mark on the map (enough with the pirate puns already!) as to reason for all this mayhem.
Marshall has his hands full, trying to keep the huge, lumbering ship on course but can never muster enough style to inject a breath of fresh air. But then, the director was never the problem of this series. The blame must be decidedly laid at the door of screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. The pair have become entangled within the mechanisms of a genius idea they once created, their personal fountain of inspiration dried up. While “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” were over-laden with confusing (but nevertheless interesting) storylines, the fourth entry is more straight forward in its quest plot but the dialogue feels tired, the puns lame and what little drama remains serves purely to move characters between action sequences. These set-pieces too simply feel like a rehash, from an early sword fight, suspiciously reminiscent of the workshop fight in “Curse of the Black Pearl,” and event the fountain set has reminiscences of the Isla deMuerta. Where is a three-way sword fight equivalent? Where is an all-powerful villain? Where the indomitable monster? And where, oh where is any sense of adventure and pirating spirit? Whether or not this extra dumbing-down is truly the fault of Elliott and Rossio or if pressure existed from Bruckheimer and Disney we will probably never know, this is an assignment they (or anyone else for that matter) should never have boarded.
One of the most offending aspects of “On Stranger Tides” is the original score by Hans Zimmer. Having provided a grand and epic score for “At World’s End,” the only word suitable to describe this music is disaster. Not only is it mixed at excessively high and headache-inducing levels throughout the film, it is largely a copy-and-paste job from the previous three. The much publicised collaboration with guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela to illustrate the latin flair, amounts a minimal amount of score and is extremely uninteresting. Blackbeard’s theme is what one can freely term “Inception” while the only motif of interest for the mermaids borrows heavily from “Angels & Demons.” Zimmer’s application of themes is entirely nonsensical in its rationale. Why exactly is the theme for Beckett or the love theme for Will and Elizabeth present here is anyone’s guess. To top it off, the album presentation features under 30 minutes of score complemented with several (and all terrible) trance and dance remixes. If you thought the rubbish at the end of the “Dead Man’s Chest” album was bad, think again. Even Zimmer’s most hard-core fans have complained about this product. Run away, run away, run away!
Yes, “On Stranger Tides” is just another pointless sequel. Sadly, even the worst “Pirates” yet sets up another sequel at its end that will probably see another film or being made. The box-office reception (though bulged by 3D prices) would confirm the necessity for this to Disney. But really, it’s time to lament and reach for your “Curse of the Black Pearl” DVD.
Score in Film
Score on Album
What did you make of Captain Jack’s latest adventure? Please do leave a comment if you agree with my review or if you don’t. Also please follow me on Twitter and share the review with your friends. Thanks and all the best!
March 14, 2011
Action, Adventure, Epic/Historical, Fantasy, Film
3D, Alexa Davolas, Andromeda, Aphrodite, Armageddon, CGI, Clash of the Titans, Craig Armstrong, Crimson Tide, Elizabeth McGovern, Film, film music, Gemma Arterton, Greece, Hades, Hans Zimmer, Iron Man, Kraken, Liam Cunningham, Liam Neeson, Lord of the Rings, Louis Leterrier, Mads Mikkelsen, Massive Attack, Michael Bay, movies, Neil Davidge, Oscars, Perseus, Pete Postlethwaite, picture, Pirates of the Caribbean, poster, Ralph Fiennes, Ramin Djawadi, Ray Harryhausen, review, Sam Worthington, score, soundtrack, The Rock, The Transporter, Transformers, Warner Bros., Zeus
Just because we haven’t had enough of sequels and reboots already, Warner Brothers felt it necessary to push out a remake of the 1981 film of the same name into a spring season desperately lacking in good action material. Not that the original adaption of the Perseus myth was much good either, but it is fondly remembered by some for Ray Harryhausen’s quite excellent puppeteering effects. For the remake, the monsters of ancient Greece would be created in the computer, and Warners appointed director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter), assembled a cast with considerable talent and invested significant buck that included a late conversion to 3D to cash in on the post-Avatar hype. On arrival however, it quickly became apparent that the film would fail to fulfil even the lowest of expectations and come to represent the very worst that Hollywood has to offer. It is, to apply mythological rationale, a scourge of the underworld.
Perseus (Sam Worthington) is raised by the fishermen (Pete Postlethwaite and Elizabeth McGovern) who found him with his dead mother, unaware that he is in fact a Demigod, the son of Zeus himself (played by Liam Neeson). After they are killed, Perseus finds his way to the city of Argos, the population of which are angry with the endless squabbles of the Gods. Angry at loosing the humans’ love, Zeus sends Hades, God of the underworld (Ralph Fiennes) to threaten the city. If the king’s daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), whose beauty has been compared to that of Aphrodite, is not sacrificed in three days, then Hades will unleash the most terrible beast he has created, the Kraken. After learning of his true lineage, Perseus leads a band of warriors that includes Mads Mikkelsen and Liam Cunningham to exploit a possible loophole in Hades’ plan and thus save the city. There’s a bunch of other stuff, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s all just an excuse to cue one battle and action sequence after the other. Forget such worn out things as plot twists, clever dialogue or, dare we imagine it, character development, “Clash of the Titans” doesn’t need brains, this is about brawn, sculpted abs and overblown action. In many ways it’s masquerading as “Transformers” with mini-skirts, steroids and scorpions but on examination, Michael Bay’s flicks are highly intellectual stuff compared to this.
Not only is the action exceptionally brainless, as it’s presented without any cohesive flow, construction or narrative, the film presents a mish-mash of bits taken from different (and often more accomplished) films: The scorpions and their masters bear resemblance to the Oliphaunts in “The Lord of the Rings” while several gags and of course the Kraken are blatantly borrowed from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The Kraken may be a genuine feature of mythology but its implementation in the latter was infinitely more frightening than some of the shoddy CGI and green-screen work on show here. Furthermore, the film becomes an exercise in wasting as much acting talent as possible. Imagine the possibilities with two masters like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes on screen as arch enemies Zeus and Hades. Similarly Sam Worthington, complete with buzz-cut and Australian accent delivers a performance that is so cold he may as well have been turned to stone by Medusa. Never, not once does he, or the screenplay for that matter, make any attempts at believable exposition. And Gemma Arterton’s Io is about as interesting as the lacklustre conversion into the third dimension. What, beyond the promise of a large cheque would force these actors to take on projects like this, is beyond comprehension. A disaster like “Clash of the Titans” simply isn’t worth wasting your time, because not only does it show disrespect for the original (a poor thing in any remake), it is in effect giving the finger to the viewer who was dumb enough to see it. After all, it made Warners over $150 million at the box office. There are dumb action pictures that are well made and entertaining, this is a dumb action picture that is badly made and the most unbelievable bore.
Originally set to score “Clash of the Titans,” was Scotsman Craig Armstrong who had worked with Leterrier before on “The Incredible Hulk,” and who was in desperate need of such a large-scale film to show off his talents. As is the way in Hollywood however, Armstrong’s music was rejected at the last minute, making way for yet another of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control offspring. Ramin Djawadi and a team of ghostwriters provide a score that is just as cheap as the film, hammering out the same sound prevalent since “Crimson Tide” way back in 1995. Quite apart from the fact that the sound of electric guitars (a “collaboration” with Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge features) and synthesised bass has nothing whatsoever to do with ancient Greece, this music is just a cheap and botched repackaging of a familiar sound, more headache-inducing than everything that went before with the exception of Djawadi’s equally obnoxious “Iron Man.” There’s no point describing anything about it, you can listen to “The Rock,” “Armageddon,” “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” and you won’t notice the difference.
To call “Clash of the Titans” poor fare is very much an understatement. You’ll be glad to know that sequels are already in the works so we’ll only have to suffer through the same again twice more. Somewhere in the film’s flabby middle, and in a small attempt to insert a witty line, Liam Cunningham is asked how old a certain creature might be. His reply: “I don’t care.” And neither will you.
I suggest you never see this film. If however you did happen to like it, please leave a comment and tell me why I’m wrong. Feel free to follow me on Twitter or share this review with your friends. Just hit the buttons below. Thanks and all the best!
August 13, 2010
Animated, Comedy, Film
3D, Disney, Dreamworks, Film, film music, Finding Nemo, Michael Giacchino, Michael Keaton, movies, Ned Beatty, picture, Pixar, Randy Newman, review, score, Shrek the Third, Tim Allen, Timothy Dalton, Tom Hanks, Toy Story, Toy Story 3, Up
In terms box-office gross, “Toy Story 3” has already become the most successful Pixar film ever, passing out 2003’s “Finding Nemo”. This third entry brings to a close a franchise that caught on with children as well as adults in the mid to late 90s and keeps that very close at hand: Those children have grown up and will be the ones who understand the ‘grown-ups’ humour this time round. Fittingly then, the plot takes place as the Toys’ owner Andy is leaving home for college in a week and must decide whether or not he wants to throw out the things he hasn’t played with in years. As with every other Pixar movie to date, the underlying themes are decidedly adult – here it’s growing up and moving on. However not at any point does it get quite as nostalgic as last years fantastic “Up”.
Convince they’re set for the garbage the Toys desperately debate their preferred course of action. By a series of terrible coincidences Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang end up being donated to Sunnyside day-care centre rather than ending up in the attic. At first all of them, with the exception of Woody think it’s not so bad after all. The day-care led on toy-level by purple, plush, strawberry scented bear Lotso-O’-Huggin’ Bear “You may call be Lotso!” (voiced by Ned Beatty) seems like a quiet retirement home for them, a place where toys are peacefully played with by loving children. What they don’t realise is that Lotso in fact runs the place Mafia-style, complete with gambling, torture and punishment with toys first having to attain said retirement status, a task made near impossible by the unloving toddlers of the centre. Cue quest to break out!
This is by far the funniest “Toy Story” – for the adults anyway. Much of it is downright hilarious, all the characters providing laugh-out-loud moments: “This is the perfect time to be hysterical!” cries Hamm the Piggy-Bank and indeed it is: the characters, new as well as returning are an absolute delight, from the bitter Lotso to Barbie’s new-found friend Ken (Michael Keaton) who is desperately trying to shake off his reputation of being a “girl’s toy” and the ‘in-character’ Mr Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton). And while it may be a swipe in the direction of Dreamworks and Puss in Boots, Spanish Buzz will manage to squeeze every last drop of laughter out of you. In fact there is so much fun to be had here that all the heart-breaking emotional moments of owner-less toys who want only to be loved might bring you roughly back to earth. When they do appear, they are not overdone with cheese but are simple yet highly poignant. Pixar have always between masters at this stuff and it certainly matures further here. Those who grew up with the earlier movies may well shed a tear towards the end. A particular moment of holding hands while facing into almost certain death at a landfill site is the climax of this and makes one wonder just how terrified a five year-old would be at this point.
The one thing I cannot comment on is whether the 3D employed is any good. The version I saw was good old 2D which was just fine. Reliable sources tell me the technology was subtly employed here and not in any way spectacular. I’ll take their word for it. Not that it matters: The “Toy Story” movies have always been about so much more than just visual trickery despite being the first and probably best computer animated series ever. So as of now, this looks to be Woody and Co’s final adventure and it’s been ended perfectly.
Although he’s been replaced as Pixar regular by the hugely talented Michael Giacchino, Randy Newman has returned to score (and sing) this final chapter. Simply put, he doesn’t reinvent the wheel on this outing, listeners and fans of the first two will be on familiar ground with the mix of jazzy song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and the more muscular western Americana style that characterises Woody. There is also some stylish guitaring to portray Lotso and Spanish Buzz (and don’t forget the Spanish end-credits rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”!). In keeping with Disney’s (frankly quite stupid) no-CD policy, the soundtrack was released as a digital download only. But unless you’re sick of predictability this score is worth a listen.
We won’t be seeing any more of these characters but “Toy Story 3” brings the franchise to a very satisfying conclusion. It’s great comedy viewing with an adult twist but avoids silly pop-culture references that are now as tired as “Shrek the Third”. A triumphant effort!
Have you seen this summer’s best film? Well, which one is it? Let me know! Please feel free to leave a comment telling me what you thought of the film or my review. Discussion serious or not is always welcome. Also please subscribe to my RSS feed or follow me on Twitter. Until next time I wish you all the best!
April 19, 2010
Animated, Comedy, Film
3D, animation, Disney, Film, film music, Finding Nemo, Michael Giacchino, Monster's Inc., movies, Oscars, Pete Doctor, Pixar, Ratatouille, review, score, The Incredible, Toy Story, Up
Pixar, Disney’s computer animation division has over the past fifteen years enjoyed success that has even outdone the more traditional hand-drawn output of its owner. Let’s not forget that these are the people behind “Toy Story” and its sequels(s), “Finding Nemo,” ”The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” and the movie is directed by Pete Doctor who previously worked on “Monster’s Inc.” As it was released in cinemas in the new 3D format, this film pushes new boundaries in animation technology but thankfully the story and character creation never suffer under this. The result is 90 minutes of unabating fun and adventure and a new masterpiece to add to Pixar’s ever growing collection.
Carl Fredricksen is a young budding explorer who dreams of adventure just like his hero Charles Muntz. One day he meets another enthusiast Ellie and together they go on an adventure of a different kind: That of life. Fast forward to the present day and Carl has grown old and grumpy, his beloved wife Ellie has died and his cosy house is threatened by construction diggers on all sides. Following an alternation with a construction worker he is forced to enter a retirement home. However instead of giving in, Carl begins on a quest to fulfil Ellie’s dream – to have a house at the top of Paradise Falls in the Amazon, he ties thousands of helium balloons to the house, literally take it there. What he hadn’t counted on is enthusiastic young wilderness-explorer-boy-scout Russell who accidentally ends up on his porch when the house takes off. The house is blown away into a storm and sets the unlikely duo off a new adventure in South America, with an eventual reunion with Carl’s boyhood hero.
What Pixar have always managed very well is to make children’s movies that contain very adult themes (such as parenthood in “Finding Nemo”) and this trend continues here and many of the images on show here may be hard for young children to swallow. Indeed some of “Up” may well make you cry. One of the film’s most heart-rendering comes close to the beginning as we see Carl and Ellie live through the trials and tribulations of life – the loss of their child, the chasing of a childhood dream that will never be realised while the pair are alive. Not a word of dialogue is needed to portray the love, care and ultimately heart-break that defines their relationship, Doctor confident in letting the images and the music (more about that later!) speak for themselves. But when dialogue is employed, it’s smart and genuinely funny.
That’s not to say however that up isn’t funny and many Pixar and Disney trademarks are present here: Enthusiastic but inexperienced youngster. Check. A strong sense of childhood awe and wonder. Check. Annoying but loveable talking animal. Check! This is arguably the studio’s most enjoyable, exhilarating and funniest film to date, every frame filled with incredible detail and colour. Each character is meticulously and lovingly realised and there is never a dull moment. The film’s main emotional heart lies with the contrast between Carl and Russell, on one side the grumpy but kind at heart Carl and the youthful and innocent concrete-explorer Russell on the other. While Carl’s character, his emotions and ticks are clearly the centerpiece of the show, it’s Dug the adorable (and talking) dog that gets some the film’s biggest laughs. His dopey and oddball energy are simply hilarious and if his exclamation of Squirrel!!! doesn’t crack a giant grin on your face you must be dead inside.
The music for “Up” was composed by Michael Giacchino. The composer enjoyed a bumper year in 2009 with “Star Trek” and “Up” as well as the score for the “Lost” TV series. And that is before we even mention the truckloads of gongs heaped on this score during awards season! Giacchino is well versed in animation as well of course having supplied excellent score to “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” and in many ways “Up” is a continuation of that style. Waltzes, comedy and light jazz are prominent throughout and the highlight of the score is the cue Married Life which accompanies the sequence described above. Unfortunately Disney never released this album on CD and it is only available as a digital download at inferior quality. However by all accounts a great score.
Up was the deserved winner of the Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars. It is perhaps one of the best animated films ever and defines the genre as it exists today. It’s a damn near perfect film so see it if you can.
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