January 19, 2011
Action, Adventure, Drama, Epic/Historical, Film
Acheron, Bach, Boccherini, Christopher Gordon, Film, film music, Gladiator, HMS Surprise, Iva Davies, Jack Aubrey, Jack Sparrow, Master and Commander, movies, Mozart, Oscars, Patrick O'Brian, Paul Bettany, Peter Weir, Picnic at Hanging Rock, picture, Pirates of the Caribbean, poster, review, Richard Tognetti, Russell Crowe, score, soundtrack, Stephen Maturin, The Far Side of the World, The Truman Show, Vaughan Williams
Released a mere three months after the other great sea-bound movie of 2003, “Master and Commander” could not be further in spirit, gravitas and demeanour from the swashbucklery and general nonsense of its cousin “Pirates of the Caribbean.” That is in all but the first name of their protagonists. Scallywags be warned, the world of Jack Aubrey and his adventures in the Napoleonic wars is gritty, dangerous and above all, deadly serious. And while Jack Sparrow instilled a genre long dead with a new, drunken swagger, director Peter Weir and actor Russell Crowe too were sailing into waters uncharted for decades, the high seas notorious for the storms they can wreak on filmmakers. But in reality, the adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s popular novels provides the sort of material that both the director and star love to get their teeth into.
Combining plots and ideas from several O’Brian stories, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” tells the story of “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Crowe) and his crew of the HMS Surprise, playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with French enemy vessel The Acheron, a ship with larger sails and more guns. Central to the plot is Aubrey’s relationship with the ship’s surgeon and amateur naturalist Stephen Maturin played by Paul Bettany. One a man of war, the other of science, their love for music connects them as their philosophies separate them. For Weir, always ready to take up challenging material – think of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” or “The Truman Show” – this duality in nature of the plot allows him to stage life on a 19th Century marine vessel in a manner of realism that has never been achieved on screen before. On the one hand, the thrills and deadly blasts of cannons, chase and sea battles, on the other, the monotony, strict routine and tragic deaths that regularly occurred. For Crowe, “Master and Commander” provides yet another opportunity to hone the sort of thinking-man action-hero skills he’s been polishing since “Gladiator.” An equally on-form Bettany makes a good compliment, trying to see some sense amongst the carnage.
It will be easy to approach “Master and Commander” with the wrong expectations and feel let down at its close. The sense of fun and daring adventure we have come to expect from similar picture has been all but sunk and the extended interludes between action pieces may well have you bored to death. At times it is hard to maintain interest and it becomes blindingly obvious that Bettany’s character is used repeatedly as a plot function simply to ask silly questions of the hierarchy aboard. That and to ask for explanations of the plethora of nautical terms scattered very liberally around the place. To dismiss the film on these grounds however would be to misunderstand the talents of Peter Weir and while the different elements don’t always gel, the film still provides very solid entertainment and reflection for its more patient viewers who will be duly rewarded. In any case the look of the picture, the cinematography, production design and visual effects are simply stunning and deservedly picked up an Oscar nomination or two.
To complement the large number of classical and traditional pieces of music featured live on screen as Crowe and Bettany play the violin and the cello respectively, three composers were hired to write original score, namely Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti. How it took three composers to come up with such a small amount of score is beyond comprehension, however what the trio achieved is an unobtrusive score that fits exceptionally well around the source music. In the film the score goes mostly unnoticed but on album, combined with music by Bach, Mozart, Boccherini and Vaughan Wiliams, it is a highly enjoyable listen. The score highlight is the opening track “The Far Side of the World” but it is still placed in the shadow by the classical music which is what listeners will also recall from watching the film. For the score alone, this soundtrack is not recommendable.
How much you will enjoy “Master and Commander” will depend on how much longevity in drawn out sequences you are willing to tolerate. For a throwback to stirring entertainment of a more serious nature (as well as for fans of the books actually), it will represent over two hours of great filmmaking with Peter Weir stretching back to the glory of his 80s and 90s success. And even though it is possible to enjoy both films equally, for most of those swept away by the slick “Pirates,” this will represent the most unimaginable bore.
Music heard on Album
Do you prefer MAC or Pirates (let’s not get a MAC vs PC debate going here…)? Why not leave a comment with your thoughts? If you liked the review please share it with your friends on Face book and Twitter. Thanks and all the best!
July 21, 2010
Action, Adventure, Epic/Historical, Film, Western
3:10 to Yuma, Alan Tudyk, Christian Bale, Dallas Roberts, Dances With Wolves, Ennio Morricone, Film, Gretchen Mol, James Mangold, Logan Lerman, Marco Beltrami, Peter Fonda, picture, review, Russell Crowe, score, Unforgiven, Walk the Line
Westerns are a rare breed these days. Gone are the days of the 50s B movie where good and bad are clearly defined and where smart talking hunks sit in saloons or ride around on beautifully manicured horses. Make no mistake, the westerns of today, when made, either take a more understanding and contemplative viewpoint (Dances With Wolves) or else tell dark, gritty and graphically violent tales (Unforgiven). “3:10 to Yuma” fits roughly into the second category, though not completely eschewing mature themes.
Interestingly, James Mangold’s film builds on a concept that would be very much at home with matinee entertainment, reluctant hero Dan Evans (Christian Bale) forced to protect the villain outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), but twists and melds this into a gruelling, unforgiving, yet ultimately very human journey for both characters and their support as well. Evans is up to his eyes in debt for example, his water supply has been cut off and angry creditors burn down his barn. Only at the promise of $200 dollars reward for taking Wade to the titular train and so to trial does he take up the mission. This sets up fascinating relationships between him, his wife (Gretchen Mol) and particularly his elder son, who feels it his duty to follow and assist his father and prove himself.
However, the plot’s main focus is on the relationship between Evans and Wade, and plaudits must go to Crowe and Bale, both are superb. While Crowe lays on the charm, a continuously scheming and necessarily violent outlaw, Bale’s performance is one of restraint, his character very much a broken man (a U.S. Civil War vet as we come to understand) given one last chance and determined to take it. Naturally it all ends in quite a lot of bloodshed, but something about this man manages to crack between the outlaw’s toughened skin. The supporting cast are excellent also, Peter Fonda and Alan Tudyk deserve a mention and Crowe’s ruthless gang are truly frightening, especially front-man Dallas Roberts. And the movie’s great discovery may just be Logan Lerman who gives a very mature performance as Evans’ fourteen year-old son.
It is clear that Mangold (who previously directed a certain Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line”) is in the driving seat, whether directing intimate character moments or large scale action sequences. Of these there are many, the ambush on the carriage near the film’s opening is thrilling! However one sometimes gets the feeling that it’s brutality for brutality’s sake – in particular the climatic shoot-out (what else?) is a bit too much, when the focus is clearly what is going on between Bale, Crowe and Lerman. I won’t spoil it for you but let’s just say Crowe pulls his trigger a few time too many and is realy a quite unintelligent way of doing away with a plot obstacle. That aside though, it’s all very stylish and the cinematography is quite simply exquisite. The landscape shots don’t need to be showcased, their awesomeness is just there, yet they, just like the storyline are unforgiving. One recurring image is that of an extremely bright sun, beating down on the characters, time after time.
Marco Beltrami who scored the film is one of those composers that has become stuck in an endless loop of cheap horror films when in fact his talent would reach into many more genres. This is one of those genres! The music he delivers for the film is perfect, an emulation of Morricone spaghetti western but with his own flair. Harsh guitars, both acoustic and electric playing rhythms with percussion, and those trumpet solos are just gorgeous. This is by far the best Beltrami score I have heard.
Overall “3:10 to Yuma” is a very entertaining film, thankfully one that is made for an adult audience unlike so many of other recent action films which treat you like a ten year-old. It’s also nice to see westerns making a small bit of a return. Of course it’s not really comparable to the great Leone or anything like that but it fulfils its purpose remarkably well. It’s just a shame that some people seem to rate a film along the lines of how violent it is.
So after a bit of an extended hiatus I’m back at writing reviews again. Please feel free to leave a comment. You can also subscribe to my RSS, e-mail or follow me on Twitter. My next review has already been written and will be online shortly. Until then – all the best!
May 16, 2010
Action, Adventure, Epic/Historical, Film
1492, Cary Elwes, Conquest of Paradise, Errol Flynn, Film, film music, Gladiator, Hans Zimmer, Iron Man, Kevin Costner, Kingdom of Heaven, Léa Seydoux, Marc Streitenfeld, Marion, Mark Strong, Max Von Sydow, Media Ventures, Morgan Freeman, movies, Oscar Isaac, picture, Prince of Thieves, review, Ridley Scott, Robin Hood, Russell Crowe, Saving Private Ryan, score, Sean Connery, Sherlock Holmes, The Dark Knight, William Hurt
There have been countless adaptions of the tale of English medieval anti-hero in Lincoln green, from the classic 1938 Errol Flynn swashbuckler via the shcottish Sean Connery in “Robin and Marian,” the, er, Californian with blonde highlights Kevin Costner for the 90s “Prince of Thieves” and its subsequent rip-off at the hands of Cary Elwes. Why there’s even been an animated Disney version with a fox playing the title role! So what could a new interpretation of the legend possibly have to offer? However when Ridley Scott decides to make a film (much like when Morgan Freeman talks) you sit up and take notice! Sir Ridley Scott as he’s rightly known is the undisputed master of the historical drama genre (1492: Conquest of Paradise, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven) and with this latest entry I can gladly confirm those are two titles he can keep.
If what you expect is Russell Crowe running around Sherwood Forest at the helm of a bunch of loutish brutes charging to the rescue of the dashing maid Marian from the clutches of the evil Sheriff, be warned. Scott and his actor of choice have chosen here to explore and flesh out the back story before Robin Longstride became the man of legend. We therefore spend time with our hero on his return from the crusades with King Richard the Lionheart, besieging French castles and on the King’s untimely death battling against a scheming King John (Oscar Isaac – in wonderfully slimy mood), his taxes and politics. Returning to Nottingham he begins to learn about his past through Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow) who appoints him guardian of his house and husband to Marion played by Cate Blanchett – great as ever. Soon however it falls to him to unite a torn country in order to prevent a French invasion in the form of King Philip and bald and scarred baddie Mark Strong (Whom you may recognise from Sherlock Holmes). It all culminates at Dover with a French beach landing à la “Saving Private Ryan” and a fairly awesome cavalry charge. Needless to say the story plays havoc with history.
Whether or not you actually like this new Robin Hood or whether, critically, we can call it a good film depends I think on what the filmmakers set out to do. If Ridley Scott wanted to challenge our perceptions of the age-old myth and reinvent it for the 21st Century as it were then the film will most likely fall at the first hurdle. If however his sole aim was to make an entertaining action movie that is somewhat above the fodder summer blockbusters we’ve seen over the last few years (ie the kind that features rebooted superheroes or pale blood-sucking vampires with an average audience age of thirteen and a half), it’s easily the best thing since “The Dark Knight” two years back and so much more than the Gladiator-with-bows-and-arrows many were predicting. Because entertain the film certainly does: The battles are well staged, there’s at least some political intrigue to keep adults interested and medieval England looks fantastically grimy and a place full to the brim with adventure. There’s even a generous dose of humour in the form of the merry men, here reduced to the number of three, mainly Russell Crowe’s musical pals.
The characters too are generally quite three dimensional. While Robin certainly isn’t another Maximus and his goals are much more clear cut, Crowe plays it straight, not always the action hero yet not getting overly troubled or bogged down by having to sow some grain for Marion (in the field of course, it’s only 12A…) and her troubled homestead. Blanchett too does well as a woman who has had to become hard against the elements, her husband having disappeared to war two weeks after they were married. William Hurt and Max Von Sydow add the necessary gravitas which is a joy to watch but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is it’s villains. As mentioned the Sheriff of Nottingham is sidelined – although he makes an appearance and bears a little resemblance to Alan Rickman’s camp character! Instead Mark Strong rides around England falsely collecting taxes, creating unrest among the Britons and preparing for the French invasion.
The film is not without its problems of course. Comparisons with “Gladiator” are redundant as these are, to coin a phrase, two very different kettle of Ridley but there are some things that could have been done differently. It would have been nice to develop the character of King John’s lover, the French Isabella (Léa Seydoux) a little more and the same goes for Eileen Atkins’ Elanor of Aquitaine, the woman in whose hands the country would be a lot better off. Also disappointing was the marginalisation of a group of children that live as outlaws around Nottingham. Their role would have been interesting as this is what Robin himself will ultimately become.
To the score then. Marc Streitenfeld is a relative newcomer from Hans Zimmer’s cloning factory otherwise known as Media Ventures. This however is more than a little unfair as the music he has written is firstly, right for the period and secondly it definitely adds to the onscreen spectacle. A female voice floats above the carnage and some more traditional tunes are also heard from time to time. What struck me most was a sequence of repeating notes as a sort of danger-motif used usually when Strong’s character was riding onscreen. It is by far the most effective score of Streitenfeld’s career though some might criticize his relatively minimal approach, this composer does have future promise.
Robin Hood has flaws but when viewed as a piece of action entertainment it’s a pretty good movie. I’ve already thrown the word sequel around with my friends and this is certainly one of those rare instances were a sequel would be merited to explore the actual legend. But maybe that was never the idea behind Scott’s thinking and even standing alone I cannot but be impressed by the awesome visuals on screen. And although it has so far lost out to Iron Man 2 at the box office this is summer blockbuster filmmaking as it should be.
As you know this will be my last review until July. However please feel free to leave a comment with your feedback and thoughts, to share or subscribe to my blog. Thanks and au revoir!
May 9, 2010
Amadeus, Atonement, Berlin, Birds, Blood Diamond, Cate Blanchett, Crouching Tiger, Das Boot, Film, Forrest Gump, Gladiator, Hidden Dragon, Hitchcock, Independence Day, JFK, Leaving Cert, North By Northwest, Psycho, Rain Man, Robin Hood, Russell Crowe, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Se7en, Seven, Shawshank Redemption, The Last of the Mohicans, Titanic, Vertigo
As many of you will know, I will be extremely busy over the next two months. The Leaving Cert is a looming just around the corner and the amount of study ground I still have to make up before then is unfortunately immense. After a short respite I will then be helping my parents relocate from Cork to Berlin in July however this will most likely not prevent me from writing reviews to the films I already know pretty well.
So then, I regret to announce that from now until Tuesday, June 22nd (Chemistry – last exam and then freedom!) I will be able to write only one more review. That review will be for the new “Robin Hood” film starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. I’m looking forward to seeing it and will have to review it straight away.
However once the LC hurdle has been jumped I intend to write a good few reviews over the summer months. This may see more than one review a week being posted. ‘Sur how bad… as we might say. Here then is a list of some of the films I hope to review then. This list is by no means definitive, titles may be added and removed as I see fit.
From June 22nd onwards (In alphabetical order):
- Amadeus (1984)
- Atonement (2007)
- Blood Diamond (2006)
- Das Boot (1981)
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
- Forrest Gump (1994)
- Gladiator (2000)
- Independence Day (1996)
- JFK (1991)
- The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
- Rain Man (1988)
- Saving Private Ryan (1998)
- Schindler’s List (1993)
- Se7en (1995)
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- Titanic (1997)
As you may have noticed I have not chosen any movies earlier than the 80s. The reason for this is that newer films will generate more interest than old ones however I do intend to review some of the Hitchcock masterpieces such as “North By Northwest,” “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” and “The Birds” at some point in the future.
To all my regular and irregular readers I hope you can bear with me while I complete my exams and look forward to a new batch of reviews in the Summer. “Robin Hood” should be posted next weekend.
So for now it’s adios amigos!
P.S. If you have any comments, feedback or indeed exam encouragement (!) feel free to leave a comment. Or if you have any suggestions for other reviews that you think would be important and do not feature on my list please do the same.