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!
May 10, 2011
Action, Film, Sci-Fi
Anthony Hopkins, Asgard, Avengers, CGI, Chris Hemsworth, Film, film music, George Lucas, Hamlet, Hans Zimmer, Harry Potter, Henry V, Iron Man, Kat Dennings, Kenneth Branagh, King Lear, Marvel, movies, Natalie Portman, Patrick Doyle, picture, poster, Ramin Djawadi, review, score, soundtrack, Star Wars, Stellan Skarsgard, Steve Jablonsky, The Mighty Thor, Thor, Tom Hiddleston
In Marvel’s scramble to grant each of their superheroes a franchise before a possible united outing, the choice of Kenneth Branagh as director for “The Mighty Thor” was without doubt the best decision. To draw parallels between the mythically-inspired comic and the godly authority of the accredited Shakespearean with a pedigree that includes everything from “Henry V” to “Hamlet” was a stroke of genius that translated into the most anticipated hero-picture of the summer. Similarly a good decision was to cast a relative newcomer, golden-locked and uber-muscled Chris Hemsworth in the hammer-wielding title role alongside heavyweights like Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman.
After a folly mission, young and arrogant god of thunder Thor (Hemsworth) is banished from Asgard by his father Odin (Hopkins) and has his principle source of power, the hammer Mjolnir stripped from him. Exiled to a world called Earth, he first meets with scientist Jane (Portman) and her assistants Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings. Concurrently, Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been eying the throne of Asgard for himself and has agreed a devious deal with the feared Ice-Giants that would see Odin dead, Thor permanently banished and said giants rise to their former glory. If that weren’t enough, the mysterious SHIELD agency (Introduced in “Iron Man”) is also after Thor’s hammer. As the forces of evil unite, Thor must prove himself worthy, regain Mjolnir and (of course) defeat Loki and thus save Asgard. As expected, Branagh’s influence saturates the picture, lending an epic touch to the exposition that may not quite rival the Bard himself but is a terrific – and the correct – direction in which to take a superhero film. The entire plot has hints of “King Lear,” minus the insanity. Yet Branagh rightly distinguishes between dramatic proceedings in Asgard and more casual ones on Earth, with surprisingly humorous results. Quite a large portion of the film’s middle third contains some hearty laughs that certainly come unexpected but also function as reassurance that Branagh isn’t taking it all much too seriously.
Hemsworth to does well in slipping into his godly shoes, though far more believable when able to ham up the headstrong and foolhardy side of Thor than when purporting love for his father, brother and country. His chemistry with Portman is fine though their relationship misses a crucial middle floor in her coming across a homeless hunk in the desert to believing him to be a god from another world. Portman is never bad in a role but maybe this one wan’t quite suited to her. There are further caveats to register, mainly the underdevelopment of the chief villain. Not only is it clear from frame one that Loki will play bad, his motives are so thoroughly scrambled that many a viewer will be scratching their heads. The screenplay thinks itself far too clever here, seemingly presenting a complex character but comes up short by having his behaviour be illogical. Many will also find fault with the presentation of Asgard itself, as it looks like a rather bad mutation of some of Lucas’ “Star Wars” worlds and oh so CGI. Too much so, especially in the huge crowd scenes and battle set-pieces that should by rights rock the floor like the Battle of Agincourt. Finally, a series of off-angle establishing shots stick out like sore thumbs. If these were intended to be a stylistic device is unclear but in any case no stylistic device should jump out and say look at me!
Patrick Doyle has always been Branagh’s composer of choice and like him, this was Doyle’s first dabble in the genre. Having also previously graced the fourth “Harry Potter” with music of epic proportions, the Brit certainly has the know-how for an appropriately large effort this time round as well. What surprised many listeners and deterred some was Doyle’s choice (or perhaps at the insistence of the studio) to venture into the grounds more usually tread by Hans Zimmer and his associates: That definitive “blockbuster” sound with power-anthems, orchestra plus synth elements and an abundance of driving percussion. Though it’s a departure for Doyle, the style fits the film well and is, unlike some of the efforts of Steve Jablonsky, Ramin Jawadi and indeed Zimmer himself, a score of intelligent construct. The main theme is powerful, the string ostinatos vary as appropriate and there’s almost excessive material for the percussion section to gnaw on. It would certainly have been interesting to hear Doyle apply his more conventional music but that may well have been far too romantic for the film. This score may very well mark the beginning of a comeback for Patrick Doyle who had slipped off the Hollywood radar somewhat in recent years. Definitely recommended.
Overall “Thor” makes for good entertainment. The continuation of style Branagh nurtured on the Elizabethan stage is the film’s strongest playing card though several poor choices, some not directly related to the director prevent it from being an ace up his sleeve. That said, it’s a great kick-off for a summer with a full-up superhero offering. Should a sequel come to pass, definitely bring Kenneth Branagh back to the table.
Have you seen “Thor” yet? If you have, please do join in the discussion by leaving a comment and sharing this review with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. 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.
If you have seen “Tsotsi” or have any opinion on the subject I want to know! Please do leave a comment or share this review with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. You’re the best!
March 18, 2011
Alexandre Desplat, Amy Adams, Chris Messina, Doubt, Film, film music, Hans Zimmer, James L. Brooks, Julia Child, Julie & Julia, Julie Powell, Margaret Whiting, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, McCarthy, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, movies, Nora Ephron, Oscars, Paris, picture, poster, Rachel Portman, review, score, Sleepless in Seattle, soundtrack, Stanley Tucci, Time after Time, When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail
Not since 1998’s “You’ve Got Mail” have audiences been able to enjoy the sort of charming comedic and romantic fluff that writer and director Nora Ephron used to produce with ease. Her output in the noughties has been lacklustre at best and therefore “Julie & Julia” was perhaps received with lower expectations than her previous films. And while her ode to culinary arts can’t quite reach the heights of her early 90s form, it does remind us of Ephron’s not insignificant talents. Perhaps the first significant point to be noted is that it operates around a dual-storyline form which has become an Ephron trademark as much as Meg Ryan, though in this case the two strands do not intertwine in a physical sense as the characters are separated throughout. It’s a format that can work well though here it also serves to highlight the film’s flaws.
Sick of her day job and at general crossroads in life is Julie Powell (Amy Adams), an aspiring author with a great love of cooking. Following a suggestion by her husband Eric (Chris Messina), Julie decides to cook her way through the greatest cooking bible there is, Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and to keep a blog about it. 365 days, 524 recipes. In parallel we follow the tale of Julia herself – played with great vigour and alacrity by the great Meryl Streep – as she writes and tries to find a publisher for the book. With her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) working for the American embassy in Paris, the food-loving but cooking-illiterate Julia begins taking classes to pass her time as much as anything else but soon finds love for the pastime. Both women struggle through the highs and lows of their chosen tasks, taking both their happiness and frustration out on food. Based on the memoirs of Julie and Julia (and also claiming to be the first film based on a blog), each story is given its necessary screen time, neither strand coming up too long or too short, often a problem with films like this. Switching between the settings of France and New York, Ephron’s screenplay thus manages a healthy balance of opposites and even though the denouement isn’t particularly mind-blowing, the film can maintain enough likability to maintain the viewer’s interest throughout.
Meryl Streep’s performance has been much praised and is very much in keeping with the real Julia’s rather exaggerated and eccentric personality. To the casual viewer unaware of the likenesses, Streep may however come across as completely overblown and just that, exaggerated. As a result, while this does not always lead to believable results, Streep all the right notes of the Child nuances that doubtlessly made the latter’s shows so enjoyable in the first place. Amy Adams on the other hand is generally more low-key but this serves as a good counterpoint to Streeps performance. The pair had already worked together on “Doubt” one year earlier and it is clear that each has knowledge of the other, the acting adjusted accordingly. There are problems however: As a comedy, the film is far less funny than it would like itself to be, too often relying of “French charm” to entice laughs rather than being truly witty itself. Furthermore, an attempt to insert a more serious note into Julie’s strand at the end of the second act to parallel with the McCarthy investigation of Paul (which is well handled), comes out of the blue and lacks believability in its execution. Worst of all the film fails to make the viewer truly hungry, a detriment to any movie about food. Nevertheless, driven largely by Meryl Streep, the film will remain amusing to most, of not one that will be revisited too often.
Rising French composer Alexandre Desplat composed the original score for “Julia & Julia,” perhaps the most “appropriate” assignment he has received in Hollywood. The film provides a great opportunity for Desplat to explore his roots, and rise to the challenge he does. Separating out the two storylines, charming accordions and strings play to Meryl Streep while a more jazzy rhythms form the basis of Julie’s theme. As always with Desplat, there is great orchestral precision in the music, highlighted on the album in tracks like “The Original French Chef Theme” and “Eggs.” It’s an accomplished effort, with styles more often heard in romantic comedies by the likes of Rachel Portman and Hans Zimmer’s work for James L. Brooks. Musically charming, the soundtrack to “Julie & Julia” is a score that will never win any awards for originality, nor is it a groundbreaking score by any means but an easy-going, very enjoyable score. The placement of songs like “Time after Time” by Margaret Whiting on the album however, makes for a bigger distraction than it does in the film, even though they help set the time period for one of the film’s halves.
Make no mistake, this is not “Sleepless in Seattle” or “When Harry Met Sally” but Nora Ephron has proven she can still churn out very likeable fare that makes for easy viewing. Outside of Meryl Streep’s Oscar nominated performance however, it is unlikely that “Julie & Julia” will linger very long in the mind.
If you liked “Julie & Julia” why not leave a comment with your thoughts? Please do share this review with your friends on Facebook and Twitter as well. Thanks for reading and all the best to you!
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!
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.
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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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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.
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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!