Tuesday, 25 March 2014

In-Flight Movies (2014)

I was very fortunate to be able to go to New Orleans for a conference last month.  It took three flights to get there, but as one of them was transatlantic, I got the rare opportunity to watch several films.  Now, back in 2011 I had been very impressed with the choice of in-flight movies that KLM had to offer.  We flew KLM on our return journey, and though the choice was good, I was staggered (really staggered, it was incredible) by the choice that Delta had on the way out to the US.  I could have watched Gravity, or Desolation of Smaug, or Walter Mitty, or Thor: The Dark World!  I think there were literally hundreds.  But I decided on some of the lesser yet still incredible films.  But if this flight was anything to go by, I always want to fly Delta to the States.

Chronicle (2012)

Chronicle is not like other superhero movies; actually I don't think the characters are superheroes at all, rather they have superpowers.  After the discovery of some weird alien crystals, 3 friends soon find, after blacking out, that they have mysterious powers (think Force pull/push).  Naturally the first thought is not to use these powers to benefit mankind, but to do what any teenage boy would in this situation: abuse it for their own entertainment!  This is where the film is strongest, and certainly the most entertaining; perhaps it's because I'm a bloke but I could completely relate (I think empathise is too strong) to the sense of awe and excitement that the 3 main characters feel.  By the climax of the film this sense of wonder has been replaced by a requirement for the film to actually go somewhere, which (like Angry Birds, is hilariously fun initially but becomes a bore as you try to get maximum points) isn't so interesting.  But I can understand why.  The main 3 lads are fine, as I say, as I was able to relate to them; anyone else was really incidental.  The special effects are all great, very understated in a Monsters kind of way, used to bring the story to life and concentrate on the characters rather than overwhelm it with CG.  Chronicle doesn't do anything spectacular, but it's very cool, great fun and entertaining nonetheless.

Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion is one of the many films I wanted to see last year, but I just didn’t get the chance.  I’d heard mixed responses to the film so I was keen to take a gander myself.  Tom is usually good to watch, and Oblivion is no different.  Morgan Freeman is the other big name, but I felt he was mostly wasted, rather like in Wanted.  Andrea Riseborough is good as Victoria, the soulless robotic woman who is Tom’s partner, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister) is fine as Morgan Freeman’s head of security without really being able to excel as he does in GOT.  The design was terrific and the effects were top notch, though overall I thought the film was missing something.  All the best Sci-Fi has something to say about human nature, and I'm just not sure what this was saying.  Maybe it's because it borrowed from some of the best Sci-Fi: there were definite strains of Planet of the Apes, Moon, Logan's Run and perhaps even Silent Running; the result is quite a mish mash of themes.  A very enjoyable film (with an excellent soundtrack), just lacking that little bit extra to make it a really good film.

The World's End (2013)

Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two fabulous movies from the minds of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the so-called blood and ice-cream movies.  Now along comes The World’s End to complete the Cornetto Trilogy.  With possibly the most star-studded cast of the trilogy (featuring Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, David Bradley, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Pierce Brosnan among others) the movie remains true to Wright’s roots and is quintessentially British.  Simon Pegg’s character is the driving force of the movie but the interaction between the whole group of friends is excellent, though this estimable ensemble results in the usually brilliant relationship between Pegg and Nick Frost being diluted a little bit.  The truth about the residents of Newton Haven doesn’t sit quite as naturally as a plague of zombies or an extreme neighbourhood watch; but once, introduced the idea works well, and certainly won’t get in the way of Pegg’s character finishing that pub crawl.  Perhaps not as incessantly clever, inventive and relentlessly funny as it’s predecessors, The World’s End is still tremendous fun and of course features ice-cream, falling over fences and a pub brawl.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Perhaps not fully appreciated on a small screen set in the back of the chair in front, but it was still possible to appreciate the horror that plantation slaves had to endure daily.  This abhorrent episode in human history is captured not only in some horrible scenes of trading the human cargo but also by a couple of stand-out gruesome torture scenes.  Steve McQueen lets the camera linger on one of these moments, prolonging the agony while the audience is desperate for it to stop.  The opposite is true for the other awful scene as the camera is whipped around between victims and perpetrators, echoing both Chiwetel Ejiofor’s state of mind as well as the torture itself.  Surrounding the excellent Ejiofor is tremendous support including Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch and Lupita Nyong’o (Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress).  A lot happens for a film just over two hours long, but it never feels rushed, which is a testament to both the screenplay and the direction.  An excellent and important film which I must revisit on a screen worthy of its power.

But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 17 March 2014

10 Scores that are better than the Movie

This is an idea that's been brewing for some time now.  I listen to soundtracks more than anything else, and I'd noticed how quite a few of the ones I really like are from films that aren't considered that great.  I couldn't initially think of 10 movies, I think I only got as far as 8; but thanks to the wonders of social media I was helped by others.  So, many thanks to +Steve Nixon +Jaina Mistry +Daniel Silva +Josh Murphy +Valerie J +Benjamin L. Harris and +Alain Kemp for their help, ideas and discussion.

So here is my final list.  Maybe you agree with me, maybe you think I've missed some howlers, or (more likely) you think I'm being unduly harsh on Up!  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

For those on Spotify, the playlist of all these scores is here.

So, in no particular order:

TRON: Legacy (2010)
The Film:
Practically a re-run of the original 1982 movie, Legacy is surprisingly stale given the potential for excellent effects and Jeff Bridges; but Bridges is kinda cancelled out by Garrett Hedlund who is clearly trying to be as dynamic as Sam Worthington.  Great fun perhaps, but an unnecessary remake/reboot.

The Score:
Daft Punk's thumping soundtrack is definitely the best part of the film: brilliantly complimentary to the digital world of The Grid and loud!  My go to album of choice if I need to wake up.

The Wolfman (2010)
The Film:
Style over substance is the order of the day in Joe Johnston's version of a classic story where the effects are great but the characters are generally bored.

The Score:
Though I'm not generally a fan of Danny Elfman, his score here is very atmospheric and combines with the great Gothic design of the the film to give a lasting impression; shame the rest of the film doesn't.

Pearl Harbour (2001)
The Film:
A typical Michael Bay overblown stodgy mess of a film full of characters no-one cares about.  The film features a couple of dramatic set pieces strung together with lots of boring nothingness.

The Score:
Hans Zimmer has composed some of my favourite scores, Gladiator got me into orchestral soundtracks.  Even for a turkey the size of Pearl Harbour, Hans manages to rise above it and create a sense of longing and loss that Michael Bay could only dream of.

Transformers (2007)
The Film:
Another Michael Bay film on the list, but actually this is rather a guilty pleasure of mine.  For all the appalling failings of the next two films, Transformers actually has (I think) moments of style, and a main character that we can get on with.  I freely admit that this isn't a great film, I just think it's hugely enjoyable.

The Score:
For all I enjoy this film, I like the score even more and I listen to it a lot.  Without a weak track Steve Jablonsky's score is rousing, full of excellent themes and generally fantastic.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
The Film
An over-bloated over-storied and overly-complicated entry into the POTC series, but at least Geoffrey Rush was back in it.  There are a few nice moments in it, and it's kinda fun if you ignore all the ridiculous crosses and double crosses, but overall the film is just a big mess.

The Score
The second Hans Zimmer score on this list, and he again proves that sub-par movies are no obstacle to a composer of his talent.  There are many tunes on this soundtrack that are great, but Up is Down is brilliant and is also rather a fun part of the film.

UP (2009)
The Film
Now I know that lots of people really like this film, but it just did my head in.  Other than the first 20 heartbreaking minutes, I just found the whole thing daft and unnecessary.  So essentially from the point when Russell turns up, the film just becomes completely un-entertaining and downright annoying.

The Score
Michael Giacchino's score however is elegant, moving and perfectly uplifting.  Indeed the piece that I've picked as representative, encapsulates the best part of the film.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
The Film
What can I say that hasn't already been said about The Phantom Menace?  Jake Lloyd, Jar Jar Binks and Ewan McGregor's plummy accent.  Rather than Death Stars, asteroid chases and AT-ATs we are treated to politics, trade negotiations and Darth Vader shouting Yippee!  It's a good Sci-fi film (with an amazing light sabre fight), it's just not a good Star Wars film.

The Score
John Williams rarely disappoints, and the score to The Phantom Menace is no different.  Perhaps not as amazing as his Empire Strikes Back score, but ranging from the military themes of the Droid army and some great fanfares to the dramatic Duel of Fates this score is nonetheless very good.

Clash of the Titans (2010)
The Film
Rushed out with post-production 3D in the wake of Avatar's successes, this is a real train wreck of a film.  Confusing, headache - inducing 3D (at one point I took my comedy glasses off to massage my sore head and realised that the glasses were making no difference to the image) and featuring personality vacuum himself; Sam Worthington.  A truly bad film.

The Score
From the man who gave us the brilliant score for Game of Thrones, Ramin Djawadi has composed another top notch soundtrack to this abomination.  There are plenty of dramatic themes as well as a few surprisingly thumping tunes too.  Listening to it, I almost want to see the film again, but not quite.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
The Film
Starts out promisingly, but by the time Logan escapes following his adamantium treatment, the film degenerates into inconsistent contrivance and farce.

The Score
Harry Gregson-Williams score is a fairly dramatic affair (unlike the movie) with some great themes and a real cinematic feel to it.

Man of Steel (2013)
The Film
Possibly the biggest disappointment of 2013, I was looking forward to seeing Snyder's interpretation, but instead of a Superman we got a morally questionable weapon of mass destruction.  A completely preventable Jonathan Kent death and a pointless Lois Lane completed a completely mediocre unnecessary film.

The Score
The third and final Hans Zimmer entry on this list, and another cracker.  Clearly the usual Superman themes were given a wide berth, and the score is all the better for it.  Where John Willams originally went for a score as iconic as the character himself, Zimmer went for real power and the result is quite tremendous.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Hammer’s seminal Frankenstein movie is just as much a departure from Mary Shelly’s novel as the Universal “classic”, but for me it doesn’t grate half as much.  That’s not to say there aren’t departures from the text or silly points in the plot, but at least there are no huge leaps or ridiculous name changes, and it starts with the right idea of Victor telling someone about his terrible deeds.

At the heart of it all is a, yet again, superb Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein; and in particular his banter with Robert Urqhuart’s Paul Krempe is excellent.  Unfortunately Hazel Court’s Elizabeth is rather a wet fish; your usual Hammer damsel, rather than the relatively strong character she should be.  Christopher Lee is good as the creature, though as he is silent (like Boris Karloff’s monster), it’s hard to fully appreciate him.  Strangely when we first see the creature, he looks more like Al Pacino than Christopher Lee!  Even the young Frankenstein (not the Gene Wilder one; he actually looks a bit like Armando Ianucci) is actually very entertaining, it’s a shame there isn’t more of him.

The Curse of Frankenstein is very well paced, packing in enough plot while still allowing Cushing and Lee to chew the scenery (if a mute part can chew scenery).  While not the whole story and not a patch on Danny Boyle’s stage production, Hammer’s version is very entertaining and very watchable thanks to the strong main cast.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.