February 13, 2011
Action, Film, Sci-Fi
300, Alan Moore, Batman, Billy Crudup, Bob Dylan, Christopher Nolan, Danny Elfman, Dave Gibbons, Don Davis, Dr. Manhattan, Film, film music, Hans Zimmer, Jackie Earle Haley, James Newton Howard, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Laurie Jupiter, Malin Ackerman, Matthew Goode, movies, Ozymandias, poster, Quentin Tarantino, review, Richard Nixon, Rorschach, score, Se7en, soundtrack, T.S. Eliot, The Comedian, The Dark Knight, The Matrix, The Waste Land, Tyler Bates, Warner Bros., Watchmen, Watergate, Zach Synder
Thanks to Hollywood’s continuing obsession with adapting comic books and graphic novels for the big screen, it was inevitable that one of its most famous, “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons would eventually be made into a live-action movie. A figurehead of the phrase “studio development mess,” the picture finally ended up in the hands of director Zach Synder who had previously shown expertise in the genre with his brutally stylish “300.” Considering the fact it came with an R rating and had no star names were attached to it, the project was a success with older mainstream audiences as well as fans of the source material who praised Synder’s vision and retelling as particularly faithful and true to the original.
Set in 1985 at the height of the Cold War, the film presents an alternative history with super heroes, the “Watchmen,” who acted as humanity’s guardians and protectors but have long been disgraced and made political pawns in America’s struggle against the Soviet Union. In this dark and dreary world where it always rains (“Se7en” anyone?), Watergate never happened, Richard Nixon is still in power and the nukes are just a red button away, annihilation it seems, is ticking ever closer. In the midst of this carnage, a former superhero, Edward Blake also known as The Comedian (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is brutally murdered. The masked Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) believes this to be a conspiracy, that all the superheroes are being targeted, and begins to investigate. In parallel, Matthew Goodes’ Ozymandias yearns for the good old days of the superheroes, and kindles a romance with troubled Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) while Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan is having second thoughts on whether earth is really worth it all. Synder tries to keep all these different story strands on a leash as they weave in, out and around but the finished product remains a confusing mess. The damning statements the screenplay wants to make about humanity’s fall from grace and doomed fate are all lost amidst the violent action and Rorschach’s gravelly monologues. These journal entires present a mood similar to T.S. Eliot’s dark “The Waste Land” but their spoken hoarse growl is more akin to Batman in the Nolan era and equally irritating.
Particularly in the last third, the film becomes increasingly unsure what it really wants to be about. Hovering somewhere between satyrical insight, serious message and apocalyptic action movie, “Watchmen” becomes a victim of its own weight, Synder labouring to hit his “300” stride again. It is of course perpetrated by a similar visual style: From a visual point of view, utilising some of the same bullet-time effects pioneered on “The Matrix,” the film is unique and indeed impressive, every location showing the consistent and fully fleshed out vision the screenplay so desperately lacks. The action set pieces meanwhile, as stunning as they may be to look at, merely present violence for violence’s sake. Perhaps it’s all supposed to represent man’s inhumanity to his fellow man or is a neat swipe in the direction of more conventional superheroes but the film never leaves room for such philosophising, so obsessed is it with trying to portray the violence as grotesquely as possible, be that with a butcher’s cleaver or a steel saw. If this was Synder’s intent, he’s clearly succeeded but even the most grossly choreographed punch-up feels tired, seeking an excuse for violence yet never, for all its stylishness, achieving in its satyrical portrayal as, say Tarantino might.
Iconic songs such as Bob Dylan’s “The times They Are a Changing” are as important to Synder’s style as the visuals. Their placement therefore is prominent, much more so than the original score by Tyler Bates, Synder’s regular composer. Bates who caused a stir when it was openly revealed (by Warner Bros. in part) that large parts of his “300” score were in fact plagiarised, approaches “Watchmen” in much the same way that Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard did for both their “Batman” scores, namely dark brooding atmospherics. Regardless of your opinion of the pair’s work, Bates’ effort is little more than a cheap rip-off, failing to ignite any interest in the film or on the album. While managing to avoid a lawsuit this time around, Bates does borrow significantly from Danny Elfman and Don Davis’ “The Matrix” as well as the “Batman” pair leaving us with a very disappointing score overall. The song compilation, released separately, offers a much more satisfying listen.
Who watches the Watchmen? You shouldn’t, and certainly not more than once. As faithful as Zynder is to the graphic novel, the film is overlong and a mush of ideas that fail to gel. Praise it for visual panache if you will, “Watchmen” is nowhere as deep or as engaging as it’s made out to be. As far as superhero movies go, this is not one to recommend.
A Lot of people do like the “Watchmen” film. What about you? Why not leave a comment or share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter? Thanks for reading!
November 7, 2010
Action, Adventure, Film
Akator, Cate Blanchett, CG, Christopher Nolan, Cold War, David Koepp, Film, film music, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Holy Grail, Indiana Jones, James Bond, John Hurt, John Williams, Jurassic Park, Karen Allen, Korngold, Marlon Brando, movies, Peru, picture, Ray Winstone, review, Sci-fi, score, sequel, Shia LaBoeuf, soundtrack, Star Wars, Steven Spielberg, Tarzan, The Dark Knight, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Last Crusade, The Lost World, Transformers
It’s been almost twenty years since the world’s favourite archeologist last donned that fedora that makes him as iconic as any James Bond. Naturally with this large a gap between sequels many Indy fans approached this fourth entry with a certain anxiety and apprehension, some arguing that a perfect trilogy should remain just that. Besides, Harrison Ford had just passed 65, not exactly a prime age for an action and adventure hero. But the ultimate question was had wonder-boys Spielberg and Lucas still got the flair of their 80s heyday? The former’s hadn’t made a “fun” movie since 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and hadn’t made a really good “fun” movie since the original “Jurassic Park” way back in 1993. Lucas meanwhile had tinkered with his “Star Wars” prequel trilogy and it is generally agreed that the new films don’t even come close to rivalling the originals. And while “The Crystal Skull” was met with mixed reactions from both fans and critics, the good news is that they have largely succeeded.
Fittingly, this fourth film takes place a full decade after “The Last Crusade” and thus into a whole new era. The focus of the American struggle has clearly shifted as the 50s arrive and we are plunged into the Cold War. From the outset, Spielberg is firmly in control of these changes as we are introduced to the film’s villains in the form of Soviet femme fatale Irina Spalko (the ever excellent Cate Blanchett) and her minions as they infiltrate a secret U.S. military base, and everything filmed in beautiful pastel colours of soft browns. The opening act will have Jones hardcores squealing with glee at the various in-jokes and subtle details (it’s The Lost Ark!) while the more casual viewers will still be swept away with the whole stylishness of it all and the beginnings of an excellent old-fashioned adventure romp. Back in his more familiar surroundings at University, enter story proper in the form of Mutt, an enthusiastic and Marlon Brando-esque teen played by Shia LaBoeuf. We can criticise LaBoeuf all we want for his turns in “Transformers” among others but “Crystal Skull” is without a doubt his best role yet. He brings Jones a coded message from an old friend, who has lost his mind in search of a lost city in the Peruvian jungle supposedly made entirely of gold.
Travelling to Akator – accompanied by the requisite map transitions and orchestral swell – the pair track down a mysteries skull made of pure quartz which will give the owner powers over the aforementioned city. Of course, Spalko is after the skull and city as well, as is an old flame of Jones’. I’m not going to give it away but let’s just say that Karen Allen also stars. Supporting characters include John Hurt as Oxley and Ray Winstone who plays sly sidekick Mac. But a crucial question still remains unanswered: can Indy still kick ass and wise-crack like he did all those years ago? The answer there is a resounding yes! Even better, David Koepp’s screenplay actually pokes fun at the ageing archeologist (“Damn, I thought that was closer!”), but no way has Ford lost his edge. And this time he really needs to use his wits, especially when seconds away from nuclear annihilation. It’s in these early action sequences, leading up to a great chase through the University that the old “Indiana Jones” feeling really returns and we can applaud the filmmakers for their craft and daring to take on another sequel.
But “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is by no means without faults. Some of the action, the jungle chase and the ants sequence suffer from CGitis. Not because the visual effects themselves aren’t properly rendered but because the audience aren’t as closely involved, as we were for example with the tank chase in the last film. A Tarzan tribute is also completely ridiculous and out of place, and the conclusion (i.e. what the entire skull plot hinges on) is just too Sci-fi. Elements of the supernatural have always been a part of the Jones series but never have they featured so prominently as here. And while we suspended disbelief for the Ark and even the Holy Grail, it’s difficult not to raise an eyebrow at some of the contrivances we are asked to swallow here. As a result the second half of the film sags slightly, once we reach Akator the film never again gets as high as the awesome ride of the opening act. Had Spielberg been able to maintain this high-octane tempo, it would probably have been a real classic. Thus the film can’t quite compete with the original three but nevertheless remains a really fun adventure picture that easily eclipses most other action blockbusters out there. Indeed were it not for Chris Nolan and his “Dark Knight”, this would have been in with a real chance for film of the year in the genre. And the very final scene hits a great Jones moment right on the head.
Indiana Jones needs his hat, his whip and, very importantly, he needs his theme tune. I would go so far as to say I would have downright refused to see this film if the still peerless John Williams did not return to score. After a three year break, it could be argued that Williams himself is not too dissimilar from Indy – he’s in his late seventies now. The result too is much like the film, not Williams’ best work but still a really good listen. The composer does reprise many of the old themes – Marion’s theme or the Map Room – but adds a few new ones to his palette as well. The skull and Irina Spalko both get great mystery, the latter with a distinctly Russian flair. Mutt too gets a great theme in the style of a Korngold swashbuckler. It all culminates in “The Jungle Chase” cue which is the best on album.
This latest instalment in the series does not feature Spielberg at the top of his game, but he really comes very, very close. And with the score hitting all the right notes as well we can truly say welcome back Indy! And that is a very warming thought indeed.
What were your personal thoughts on the Indy sequel? With Indy 5 in the works as well, why not leave a comment and let us know? Also, please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the e-mail and RSS feeds. Thanks for reading an until next time, all the best!
August 4, 2010
Action, Adventure, Film, Sci-Fi
Batman, Christopher Nolan, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Film, film music, Gotham, Hans Zimmer, Inception, Johnny Marr, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, movies, picture, review, The Dark Knight, The Matrix, The Smiths, Tom Hardy, Wally Pfister, Warner Bros.
In a deliberate ploy, Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan kept his followup to the 2008 phenomenon “The Dark Knight” shrouded in mystery for a very long time. Cast and crew were tight-lipped also, only small fragments of information were let slip: Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime the tagline taunted, sci-fi then, an intense thriller set within the realm of virtual reality, dreams to be more precise, visual effects galore and a stellar cast to take us there. One thing was sure – it was going to be big. That is on both setting and financial scales, the project apparently devouring several hundred million dollars. One could certainly call it a gamble. Could whatever Nolan had dreamt up (pun intended) be another cash cow for the studio as Batman Begins #2 was, could fans be satisfied when not knowing what to expect and, perhaps most importantly could it ever live up to all the hype? To those of you waiting with bated breath let me put it simply: It’s a huge and resounding Yes!
The film’s plot revolves around Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb, a con-man who’s day job consists of stealing ideas from the minds of his victims, but takes up a different task: Inception. That is to plant rather than extract an idea. The stakes are high – should he be successful he may see his two children again, if not he will be trapped forever in “limbo”, a dream-wasteland of the mind. A team is quickly assembled, consisting of his regular co-worker Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the young architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) and others including Tom Hardy and the actual contractor, Ken Watanabe’s Saito. The target of the whole operation (which of course goes horribly wrong at the first corner) is Cillian Murphy, who as a rich business man’s son should (for Saito’s business interests) break up his dead father’s empire. Complicated? Believe me, this synopsis barely scratches the surface.
Yet Nolan manages to keep both film and audience on track with professional ease. Because it’s not like “Inception” is exclusively intellectual. The movie is equally concerned with explosions, gun-fights, fist-fights (in zero-gravity no less, “The Matrix” should watch its back!) and all round action entertainment. It’s a delicate balance but Nolan keeps all the mayhem in check, so it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on all the time. Central to this is clearly the mentally unstable Cobb. Tortured by his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) as well as his children, loosing grasp on what is real and what is not, DiCaprio’s performance is his most mature yet (and that, by now is quite mature) and weighty, most of the movie’s heavier emotional moments resting on his shoulders. That is not to say the rest of the cast are merely sidekicks or serve comic-relief functions: Gordon-Levitt is quietly dangerous, Murphy excellent in crumbling slowly from the inside and, well, there’s something about Ellen Page. Quiet, too, unconventionally attractive and the the film, thankfully, never asks her to portray a love interest.
Best of all are the visuals. Firstly, the constructs of the worlds in dreams, the set pieces as you might say. “Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange” Cobb says. Whether rain-soaked metropolis or mountain peak snow-fortress, these worlds feel real to the viewer. Only like this can it take a van 30 minutes to hit the water after driving off a bridge without our interest waning. The second is Wally Pfister’s sweeping cinematography. Like in Gotham, Pfister’s camera keeps a fantasy world rooted firmly in reality. Combine these with the photo-real CGI and the results are breathtakingly spectacular.
Hans Zimmer who wrote the original score for the film is now officially Nolan’s composer of choice. Let’s not forget that it was Nolan also who convinced Zimmer that a film’s music should meld flawlessly with its sound effects. But, there comes a point in everyone’s life when one is fed up with simplistic writing, endlessly looped string ostinatos and low brass roars. For me, “Inception” is that point. I’m a huge Zimmer fan, don’t get me wrong, I even tolerated the Batmans, but this just goes too far. Any creativity left in Zimmer’s previous work has gone right out the window. Frustratingly, in his own opinion the composer seems to regard these sound-effect landscapes as intelligent constructs and hired Johnny Marr (guitarist of “The Smiths” fame) to prove it. Bottom line: it’s not intelligent, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s overly simplistic, an adequate but nowhere near good effort by Zimmer, in short it’s lazy writing. Doubtlessly I will be criticised for this rant but in my opinion he’s just gone down the wrong road.
Whatever about the music, “Inception” is the blockbuster movie to see this summer. An intelligent sci-fi epic with enough to please most camps of the movie-going species, this is quite simply a compelling 148 minutes. I will say that repeat viewing is advised, your appreciation of the complex plot and powerful performances can only grow. So beyond our wildest expectations Christopher Nolan has done it again! Bring on Superman and Batman 3…
I promise that from now on my reviews will start to come a little faster again – I just need to force myself to write regularly! If you have any comments at all I’d love to hear from you so please leave your thoughts. Also please follow me on Twitter or sign up for the RSS feed above. Until next time I wish you all the best!