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!
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.
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January 1, 2011
Comedy, Film, Romance
Alan Rickman, Andrew Lincoln, Ant, Bill Nighy, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Mack, Christmas is All Around, Colin Firth, Craig Armstrong, Dec, Emma Thompson, Film, film music, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Girls Aloud, Harry Potter, Hugh Grant, Joanna Page, Joni Mitchell, Jump, Keira Knightley, Kris Marshall, Laura Linney, Lúcia Moniz, Liam Neeson, Love Actually, Love is All Around, Martin Freeman, Martine McCutcheon, movies, My Family, Nora Jones, Notting Hill, picture, poster, review, Richard Curtis, Rodrigo Santoro, Rowan Atkinson, score, soundtrack, Sugababes, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Wet Wet Wet
With films like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Notting Hill” Richard Curtis is one of the few makers of British films enjoying considerable and consistent success across the Atlantic. His assault on the US box-office continued during the 2003 pre-Christmas season, taking on not one but all of eight love stories within a single film. For what was initially a three-and-a-half hour love fest (the final version has been boiled down to a much more bearable 135 minutes), Curtis assembled an awesome cast ensemble of well respected actors and one of the most comprehensive showcases of British talent with the exception perhaps of the Harry Potter series. For good measure some American faces are included as well. “Love Actually” also marked Curtis’ debut as writer and director and while the film doesn’t quite reach the heights of his previous projects, it has since established itself as a firm Christmas favourite.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the film follows the lives of several London citizens and their quests to find or reaffirm love. Led by newly-elected amiable Prime Minister (Hugh Grant – let’s hope that never materialises) who spends his time casting glances in the general direction of Martine McCutcheon’s thighs rather than running the country, all the stories are loosely connected and influence each other. Many characters fit quite neatly into stereotypes, some parts are typecast and it’s all a little predictable, the film nevertheless musters enough charm to remain likeable even through it’s most cheesy moments. Author Colin Firth’s blossoming romance with attractive Portugese waitress Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz), Andrew Lincoln’s love for a married Keira Knightley and Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s troubled relationship are the highlights. As humorous as they are tragic, these three cores (as well as the PM one) provide most of the film’s heart. Bill Nighy meanwhile is clearly having a ball as old-time Rock star Billy Mack, trying for Christmas No1 with an adaption of Wet Wet Wet’s “Love is All Around” and carries most of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments. Then there’s Kris Marshall’s Colin who, in a dumb role almost identical to his Nick Harper in “My Family” who jets off to America in the hope of finding hot girls to sleep with. All in all it’s quite complex yet it remains easy to follow and repeat watches may help to catch some of the smaller connections.
The film is not without problems however. As the end-credits roll, there’s a lingering feeling that the balance wasn’t quite right. Some of the plot strands are sadly neglected, like turns from Martin Freeman and Joanna Page in a very unconventional love story. Laura Linney’s attempts to bed her work colleague Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) but is cruelly prevented by a commitment to her mentally ill brother, is another strand that goes unfinished. Instead, the horribly tacky “love story” between Liam Neeson’s son (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and a school sweetheart, could have and should have been shortened considerably. A look at the deleted scenes on the DVD reveal some of the material that should perhaps have made the finished product. In any other film, these factors would contribute to a sagging in the rating, but Curtis handles it all so well and inserts some excellent cameos (Billy Bob Thornton! Ant and Dec! Rowan Atkinson!) that “Love Actually’s” faults are relatively easy to forgive.
Scotsman Craig Armstrong was hired by Curtis to compose original music for the film. Squashed in between a collection of songs by everyone from Girls Aloud via Sugababes and Nora Jones to Joni Mitchell, Armstrong’s score is based primarily around three love themes which are adapted and arranged as necessary. These are the Glasgow Love Theme, the PM’s Love Theme and the Portuguese Love Theme. From beautifully restrained piano to expertly over-the-top heroism, the score is a great if a little short work by the composer. Three tracks were included on the European album, only one on the American edition. Also included is the Billy Mack version of “Christmas is All Around.” In addition, a 20 minute for your consideration promo score is available. Overall, the music is fluffy and certainly lightweight but like the film it is highly enjoyable. As for the songs, well, that depends if you can picture the British Prime Minister dancing around Downing Street No10 to the sounds of “Jump” by Girls Aloud.
“Love Actually” resides on the guilty pleasure lists of some and is ardently adored by others. Its enduring popularity with audiences on this side of the Atlantic and the other is testament to Curtis’ talents and to those of the awesome cast that make it so memorable. At Christmas this film is, actually, all around.
Does “Love Actually” feature on your Christmas movie list? Why not leave a comment with your thoughts or any feedback you might have. Also please share this review with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks and all the best!