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!
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!
November 20, 2010
Adventure, Fantasy, Film
Alan Rickman, Alexandre Desplat, Bill Nighy, Bonnie Wright, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Radcliffe, David Yates, Emma Watson, Film, film music, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Imelda Staunton, J.K. Rowling, Jason Isaacs, John Williams, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, movies, New Moon, Nicholas Hooper, Part 2, Part1, Patrick Doyle Hedwig's Theme, picture, Ralph Fiennes, review, Rhys Ifans, Robbie Coltrane, Rupert Grint, score, soundtrack, Steve Kloves, The Deathly Hallows, The Hobbit, The Philosopher's Stone, Timothy Spall, Twilight, Warner Bros.
So it all comes down to this: the beginning of the end. And in order to adapt the finale in more depth than the previous escapades, Warner Bros. decided to split “The Deathly Hallows” into two parts. It’s the beginning of a trend perhaps (“The Hobbit” and the “Twilight” series have followed in the footsteps) with the purpose, some would argue, to milk moviegoers as much as possible. Be that as it may, watching this “Part 1” what becomes quickly apparent is that director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have indeed been able to include many more of fan’s favourite moments that might otherwise have ended up on the cutting room floor. Much of the novel’s first half is recreated quite faithfully, making this (with the exception of “The Philosopher’s Stone”) the film that sticks most closely to the source material.
Forget any notion of “this one is darker” or “Voldemort is getting stronger”. As Bill Nighy’s opening monologue explains we have moved from tensions lying dormant just beneath the surface to all-out war: The forces of evil as led by Lord Voldemort are rapidly tightening their grip on the wizarding and muggle worlds, taking over the Ministry and, in a final-solution like operation begin screening halfbloods, mudbloods and just about every blood in between. Somewhere in this carnage our hero Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) aided by his friends Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) must complete the task entrusted to them by the late Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), that is to locate and destroy the remaining horcruxes, pieces of the dark lord’s soul with which he can never truly die. However tales of a mysterious fairytale leads to the “Deathly Hallows”, three powerful magical objects that may also help to destroy He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Also, there’s no chance of returning to Hogwarts which has been completely infiltrated so “Part 1” becomes a road-movie of sorts, the trio travelling extensively across Britain as they try to remain undetected. This means that the film dispenses with many of the elements so familiar: the castle, the teachers, classes and (most) of the yo-yoing hormones. As always there’s an awesome supporting cast (perhaps one of the greatest British ensembles ever): Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Jason Isaacs, Timothy Spall and Imelda Staunton.
In parts the road-movie concept works very well. Yates is at this stage very adept at handling the magic and directs some truly great scenes at the beginning of the picture. Hermione’s farewell to her parents with a memory-wipe-charm is probably the best and something we never see in the book. Harry’s farewell to Privet Drive and the visit to his parents’ grave similarly set new heights for the series. In general the first act sets things up nicely, rolling at breakneck speed, filled with great action in the sky-battle, humour and at the same time finding the space for truly touching emotion and a sense of tragedy or impending doom. The trip to the Ministry to retrieve the locket from a certain Dolores Umbridge is also realised with a great eye for detail and is very entertaining. After the wedding escape though, things become a little hazy in the plot department. Unlike the novel where J.K. Rowling’s canvas to illustrate the to-ing and fro-ing is almost endless, the film struggles here. There’s a lot of woodland scenes which completely drain the energy, pace and urgency that graced the opening. In general there just seems to be nothing happening.
As such the film is also devoid of a truly satisfying climax. This is understandable in a way when one considers that the real drama and epic finale are still to come in “Part 2” but not really an excuse to neglect audience interest in the first part. It seems Yates is unsure how to proceed with the ever increasing sense of pessimism in the face of the overwhelming odds. To compensate for this downward momentum the filmmakers try to lighten things a little bit but this is something that comes across as trying too hard. The scene with Harry and Hermione dancing looks like it accidentally ended up in the wrong film. Most likely, when we’re able to view “The Deathly Hallows” in its complete form, the faults of part one will seem less significant but on its own, you will leave the theatre having seen some great material but dissatisfied nonetheless.
Following a lot of negative comments of his two Potter scores Nicholas Hooper did not return to write the music for “The Deathly Hallows”. In his stead rising talent, french composer Alexandre Desplat took the reins to carry the franchise further. Fans of the composer will find much to enjoy in his score and the soundtrack contains some really fantastic action material, the track “Sky Battle” is of particular note. Those expecting any sort of thematic consistency with the earlier films may be disappointed however as Desplat disregards all of the Williams, Doyle and Hooper material – with the exception of minimal statements of Hedwig’s Theme at the beginning. Neither does Desplat introduce a significant new theme as a replacement such as the elegant “New Moon” theme he wrote for the “Twilight” series. It’s a shame because this could well have been his magnum opus. Still, for most of us, this score will contain more than enough great music to chew on. And at this point it looks increasingly likely that Desplat will return to score “Part 2” so we can expect plenty more of the same.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” (bit of a mouthful, eh?) has an awful lot going for it. Fans of the franchise will find much to like about it. For everyone else it depends on whether or not you are willing to withhold your judgement until we see “Part 2” in July. It’s not the best “Harry Potter” of them all but should set up the really epic finale perfectly.
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