June 15, 2011
Film, Action, Adventure
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!
April 12, 2011
Crime, Drama, Film
Africa, Best Foreign Language Film, Blood Diamond, Bonginkosi Dlamini, City of God, District 9, DVD, Fernando Meirelles, Film, film music, Gavin Hood, Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Kwaito, Mark Kilian, Meryl Streep, Mothusi Magano, movies, Oscars, Paul Hepker, picture, poster, Presley Chweneyagae, review, score, soundtrack, South Africa, Stephen Dorff, Terry Pheto, The Power of One, Tsotsi, Tsotsitaal, Vusi Mahlesela, Zola
Films about Africa are usually much too hard-hitting to be able to strike a chord with mainstream audiences and with good reason: The picture of poverty that needs to be painted is so impossibly gruesome that viewers shy away. Hollywood has struggled with this in the past (Meryl Streep, Stephen Dorff et al) but for one of the first times, a South African film tackles the subject head on. Gavin Hood’s “Tsotsi” has had tremendous success at film festivals around the world and though a cinema release was limited, it seems people have sat up and taken notice. Aside from it’s obvious qualities in both acting and direction, perhaps part of its success can be attributed to the fact that it presents a somewhat hopeful picture, that despite the violence, disease and impoverishment, there are people who may be able to make a difference.
Very much inspired by both the tone and style of Fernando Meirelles’ “City of God,” Gavin Hood’s film tells of young Soweto gang leader, Tsotsi (meaning “thug” in the language of the townships) who, angry and confused after a confrontation with a friend hijacks a car, unaware of the baby on the back seat. After initial reluctance and coupled with complete helplessness the young man, played by Presley Chweneyagae, takes the young child with him, and looks after it in the harshness of the South African slums. With the threat of execution he attains the help of young mother Miriam (Terry Pheto) who has a child of her own and eventually cares for the baby on her own. This may not last however as both the police and the baby’s rich parents are after the young criminal. In a world too cruel to be believed by western eyes (yet every inch true, make no mistake), Tsotsi’s efforts are out of place but act as a fragment of hope for a society mired in poverty, lawlessness and crime. At the same time, the film is very much a desperate plea for help for people without any sort of direction or perspective, as Hood highlights through some of the supporting characters, a failed teacher student (Mothusi Magano) and a victim of the gold mines, now crippled and trapped in a wheelchair. The mixture of languages spoken by the characters – known as Tsotsitaal, thug language – adds a touch of odd familiarity and contributes to the film’s symbolism to a certain extent portraying people without identity or cultural heritage, never mind a chance of escape or a future.
The film relies on Chweneyagae’s portrayal of Tsotsi and the young actor commands his debut film with incredible power and depth. His character is one of few words and this yields a wholly different level of communication with the performer and the audience. The emotional connection most viewers will make is intense and although the film’s open ended nature does not permit a payoff, this is very much to the advantage rather than the detriment of the film. Two more conclusive endings were filmed but were both dropped by Hood in the edit (they are available as a DVD extra however) and though neither is very optimistic, to change anything from the final cut would probably take away from the emotional journey Tsotsi has gone through. Quite rightly walking away with the Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2005, “Tsotsi” does give a more hopeful impression than Meirelles’ slum-epic though it cannot equal it in terms of innovation and pure cinematic style. And though entirely different from “Distric 9,” “Tsotsi” too present a nation that is still caught up in the long shadow of its apartheid history. An awareness campaign launched in combination with the film and presented on some of the posters reminds of the figures that do not make for easy reading: South Africa reports over 18,000 murders per annum.
Though some original score does feature, selling point for the soundtrack were several songs performed by the South African musician Bonginkosi Dlamini, better known as Zola, who also plays a small part in the film. His merging of Kwaito and Hip-Hop are in keeping with many of the gangster aspects of the storyline, portraying “Tsotsi” at his most ruthless and cruel. To musically colour the rest of the screen-time and bundled into a second album is the original score material by Mark Kilian and Paul Hepker and featuring vocals by Vusi Mahlasela. The score is minimalist and, vocals aside not particularly African. Going almost completely unnoticed in the film (neither does the film require a lot of music), its album presentation is enjoyable with cues like “On the Tracks” and “Miriam Feeds Baby.” These serve as the main ideas in the score, the first for Tsotsi the second for the much more hopeful character of Miriam. Score fans looking for something to represent the African continent may do better with something like James Newton Howard’s excellent “Blood Diamond” or Hans Zimmer’s “The Power of One” however.
With “Tsotsi” Gavin Hood has made the leap to respected director and has been able to launch a Hollywood career though none of his follow-up works have been able to come close. The film presents terrible realities and does not make for easy viewing but neither is it entirely bleak in its outlook. Highly recommended.
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April 7, 2011
Drama, Film, Period
Atonement, BBC, Brenda Blethyn, Colin Firth, Dario Marianelli, Deborah Moggach, Donald Sutherland, DVD, Film, film music, Jane Austen, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Jennifer Ehle, Joe Wright, Keira Knightley, Matthew McFayden, movies, Oscars, picture, poster, Pride & Prejudice, Pride and Prejudice, Rachel Portman, review, Rosamund Pike, score, Simon Woods, soundtrack, Tom Hollander
For the fact that it remains one of the most universally popular books, Jane Austen’s deconstruction of 19th Century social politics has been the subject of surprisingly few direct filmic adaptions. Die hard fans generally proclaim the 1995 BBC mini-series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth to be the definite, though naturally a running-time of almost six hours does bring certain advantages in terms of authenticity and complexity that a feature film can never lay claim to. It was perhaps appropriate then that the reins on any new version should be given to a director with a background in television. To call the end product of Joe Wright’s labours accomplished would be an understatement, the film is both true to Austen’s original and contemporary, well able to hold its own against a multitude of British period costume dramas. And despite a few narks from a minority of Austen faithfuls, “Pride & Prejudice” did exceedingly well at the box office as well as walking off with four Oscar nominations.
Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) has but one goal in life, namely to find suitable husbands for each of her five daughters in 19th Century England. Things shape up with the arrival of two wealthy neighbours, the amiable Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) and the seemingly cold and distant Mr. Darcy (Matthew McFayden). There is an immediate attraction between the former and the eldest of the Bennet daughters Jane (Rosamund Pike) while animosities are nurtured between Darcy and our heroine, the free-spirited Elizabeth (Keira Knightley). Donald Sutherland keeps an eye on proceedings as the indolent Mr. Bennet. The story with its countless twists and misunderstanding (the pride and the prejudice in other words) is well known, correct and present though significantly sped up. Several plot strands and characters have been shortened or omitted entirely but what is left is the heart of Jane Austen’s novel. The social interactions between the sexes and the subsequent and inevitable awkwardness are well conveyed throughout as is the judgemental nature of all the characters. The segments of action that have been introduced – consisting largely of horse riding, ambient locations and pathetic fallacy – flow nicely around the “sitting around” static nature of the novel. Deborah Moggach has crafted a screenplay that manages to keep the atmosphere light despite the fluctuating emotions and the film is constantly witty, sometimes overly so.
A great actress in the making, Keira Knightley is pitch perfect as Elizabeth both in looks and performance, outdoing Jennifer Ehle in both departments. Her confrontations with Darcy carry all the passion from the novel though you’ll have to be on your toes to catch every word, so fast do the syllables roll off her tongue. It is also noticeable that Knightley (whether through instruction or not one cannot tell) adds a distinctly modern touch to the character. Her behaviour and actions seem altogether more feminist than the period would have allowed but in terms of updating the character she succeeds very well. Every performance will reflect its time and here it is certainly no detriment. Newcomer McFayden isn’t quite as convincing: His Mr. Darcy focuses on the character’s restraint and awkwardness than on the (if only seeming) pride. He simply looks in need of a jolt to wake him up. The rest of the cast perform remarkably however from Blethyn, Sutherland and the gorgeous Pike to a hilarious turn by Tom Hollander as clergyman-in-search-of-wife Mr. Collins. Likewise the entire production is authentically designed and beautifully captured through the lens of Roman Osin and as always with these period films, the sumptuous costumes are a dream. The only other caveat is an alternative ending shown to U.S. audiences and available as an extra on the DVD which piles on the cheese that Wright had done so well to avoid throughout. Very likely this was pushed by the studio that did not consider the existing denouement a big enough emotional payoff. But really, not necessary.
Earning his first Oscar nomination is Italian composer Dario Marianelli. He provides a score that is on some levels predictable but certainly superior to most other soundtracks in the genre. Seamlessly incorporating some English folk songs and a piece by Henry Purcell into his original music, the soundtrack for “Pride & Prejudice” is an extremely enjoyable and relaxing listen. The main theme is conveyed in the opening track “Dawn” and features exquisite solos by French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. A possible distraction for some listeners may be how the album breaks up the rhythm by inserting the lively dance music amongst the much more soothing underscore. Overall, Marianelli’s next score for Joe Wright would be the greater of the two but this score could well be taken as a great period score, on equal footing with much of Rachel Portman’s work.
“Atonement” two years later would prove Joe Wright’s masterpiece but “Pride & Prejudice” has much in its favour. The film should appeal to most sections of the Austen camp and to most viewers outside as well. At any rate it has no need to hide from the BBC version, and had it featured a better actor opposite Keira Knightley, it could very well have earned the highest marks.
Do you have thoughts on this movie or my review? I want to know – leave a comment to join the discussion. Please do also share this review with your firends on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks and all the best!
November 30, 2010
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Film
DVD, Extended Edition, Film, film music, Howard Shore, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Noble, Lord of the Rings, movies, Peter Jackson, picture, review, score, Sean Bean, soundtrack, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Return of the King, The Two Towers, Tolkien, Tom Bombadil
This is a review of the 2003 4-disc Extended Special Edition. For my review of the cinematic cut click here.
Living up to the expectations set by its predecessor, Peter Jackson and Co’s presentation of “The Two Towers” in its extended form, is an absolute mammoth of a picture. Coming in at 223 minutes (compared to the 179 theatrical cut), both Tolkien and film fans will be delighted to be able to explore the canvas of the story and its making in awesome detail. Just like the films continue to set new standards for cinema, so have these extended DVD sets defined just how these “director’s cuts” should be made. Jackson has argued that “director’s cut” is not in fact the right term to describe this extended edition as it is simply a different and longer interpretation of Tolkien’s source text.
And as has been noted when reviewing “The Fellowship of the Ring” Extended Edition, several sequences have been restructured to accommodate the extra material although in this second chapter it is, most of the time, a case of extension and insertion rather than reediting. These extra scenes add a bit of everything: There’s more battles, blood and gore with a sequence at the gap of Rohan where Theoden son was fatally injured, more humour, largely through Merry and Pippin with a neat little Tom Bombadil tribute at Fangorn. For purists and obsessive fans there’s also some great back-story scenes, mainly enlarging Faramir’s part through his brother’s victory at Osgiliath and subsequent departure for Rivendell. Thus Sean Bean gets another chance to make his mark on the series, his part of Boromir cut short by some Uruk arrows at the end of “Fellowship” and we get our first glimpse of John Noble’s Denethor. His father role will of course come to fuller development in “The Return of the King”.
In certain places however, the extra material confounds the different plot strands. The pacing is slowed even more in a film that was already a little slow in it’s middle section. There’s even more walking around endlessly in Emyn Muil for Frodo and Sam, never getting any closer to Mordor whatsoever. If you’re prepared to sit out the awesome running-time however, you will be truly rewarded at the end as Jackson has in no way lost his talents for storytelling. The score too, is seamlessly incorporated into the existing material. Never before has a composer gone back to rewrite and rerecord portions of his score to suit a special edition. And Shore’s job is by no mean a cut and paste one, the new music sounds like it was always meant to be there. All this combined makes for a truly mouthwatering finale and climax in “The Return of the King”.
Non-fans will probably complain at its length but really this is moviemaking at its glorious best. Offering more of everything, this box-set deserves its place in our collections alongside the trilogy’s bookends and among the greatest fantasy films of all time. No fantasy films do it better.
October 9, 2010
Adventure, Fantasy, Film
DVD, Extended Edition, Film, film music, Fran walsh, Howard Shore, Lord of the Rings, movies, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, picture, review, score, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers
This is a review of the 2002 4-disc Extended Special edition. For my review of the cinematic cut click here.
The theatrical cut of “The Fellowship of the Ring” runs to 178 mins. So if you thought a three hour movie is long, think again. As a special early Christmas present for fans before “The Two Towers” was released in December 2002, we were presented with this gorgeous DVD box-set which included a half hour’s worth of extra footage, some all new score by Howard Shore and two discs stuffed to the brim with special features documenting every aspect of the production.
It’s made quite clear that Peter Jackson was personally responsible for putting this DVD set together as it’s filled with the same meticulous attention to detail that made the original film so special. He clearly already had this in mind when editing “The Fellowship of the Ring” for the cinemas and was thus able to get away with dropping some great scenes that fans of the book would love but don’t contribute hugely to the story. With the immense amount of material that was shot it’s very nice to see some of these scenes reinstated. But what of this extra footage? Can it improve an already perfect film? Firstly it should be noted that the new scenes and music merge flawlessly with the cinematic cut, but not just extra scenes plonked in between existing ones but rather whole sequences re-edited with the bonus scenes. This does take away from the movie experience somewhat in terms of pacing but my verdict is as follows: As a film fan I must prefer the theatrical cut. The story just flows along nicer and for LotR illiterates might be easier to understand but as a fan of “The Lord of the Rings” I can really appreciate these scenes: The passing of the elves, some more Aragorn at Weathertop, and Lothlorien has been extended to include the gift-giving scene. So it’s not just the action and battles that get extended, every character in the fellowship is fleshed out more thoroughly.
The special features too are in compliment to and not in repetition of the stuff on the regular release. These documentaries give a unique insight into the making of the films and some of the incidents that are already legendary such as an encounter between a shard of glass and Sean Astin’s foot. The audio commentary also, provided by Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens is interesting as it is entertaining. This is truly the way DVD releases should be done.