Saturday, 30 April 2011

Incredible Soundtrack #9: Forrest Gump (Silvestri)

The music attached to a film creates the environment, I believe, moreso than the literal environment depicted through the visuals...

Alan Silvestri I have always admired. His unforgettable score for Back to the Future I was always under the impression was John Williams, but Silvestri has in fact scored all of Robert Zemeckis' films including The Polar Express and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Outside of Zemeckis' movies, he has alaso got Predator, The Abyss and the up-and-coming Captain America: The First Avenger to his name. But alas, this is his most memorable...

1. I'm Forrest ... Forrest Gump - A gentle, soft beginning that summarises the fleeting nature of chance, whilst also encapsulating the fragility of life.

14. Jenny Returns - The Soundrack is available in two different editions. One version is a double-disc and includes two tracks by Silvestri - "I'm Forrest... Forrest Gump" and "Suite from Forrest Gump" whilst the rest of the soundtrack is music tracks that added to the context of the film - pop music including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and Randy Newman. Its amazing to think that Silvestri managed to fit into the film and important, memorable and definitive score behind so many pop tracks. The last two tracks are exclusively from the score CD and show the depth and emotion included - this tracks really highlights how personal some of those tracks are.

17. Run Forrest Run - Full of hope and success in a pretty depressing story otherwise. A boy who can't walk, whose mother sleeps with teachers to ensure her child gets the best education, an emotionally unstable, drug-addicted, abused-as-a-child friend who he loves so much, his best friend dies on the front line in a war many did not believe in. Truly fascinating that this inspiring track is one of many signature melodies Silvestri created.

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The Royal Wedding

I could've written a blog post on film but, c'mon, everyone should see this picture. It is already set to be on the front cover of Daily Mirror and The Guardian tomorrow morning

I think, in honesty, the little kid - HRH Prince William's Godchild - represents that small group of anti-republicans and their response to the Royal Wedding. I'm not obsessed with the Monarchy, far from it. But they are a huge part of British - and English - Culture.

Maybe, more disconcerting, is the shadowy figure behind everyone... and the future. Apparently the monarchy are hoping to change their image and role in society and, if true, that future may rest in Prince William's hands.  

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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Favourite Film Faces #16: Gerard Butler in 'Tomorrow Never Dies'

Having recently watched Tomorrow Never Dies, I was positive that some British television actors were on board the British ships. I was amazed to discover, that not only was a British cast member on board a ship - but in fact he was rumoured to be considered to be James Bond.

The thing is, too often in the James Bond productions, the actors know the 'big guns' - in Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli - before they take on the role. Take Timothy Dalton, originally considered way back in 1969, and then again, when Roger Moore was rumoured to leave following For Your Eyes Only. Then there is Pierce Brosnan - actually hired to be James Bond in 1987, but his contractual obligations on the TV-series Remington Steel, held him back! But alas, in both cases, they eventually became Bond in '87 and '95 respectively.

It would make alot of sense that, following Daniel Craig's three-film contract, they cast Gerard Butler, effectively a 'veteran' of the Bond franchise. He is currently 41 years old and, that might seem a little too old but bear in mind that Roger Moore was 46 in Live and Let Die and went on to make more James Bond films than any other actor ...

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A-Z #73: The Emperors New Groove

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#73 - The Emperors New Groove 

Why did I buy it?

I won't lie. It was a sweet, double disc special edition and it was a little lower in price. Back then it probably was £20 rather than £25. Some, may say I'm a fool, but at the moment this specific edition is one of the 'classic' Disney films locked in 'the vault'. On Amazon at the moment, we have two new ay £28.99... and thirteen used at £7.74... so maybe, with the internet, the 'vault' isn't as closed as it used to be.

Why do I still own it?

At one point, I do intend to purchase all the disney classics and have them all lined up on the shelf with matching spines and many, many special features to rummage around. Unlike Aladdin this is, completely fairly, not the best Disney. In fact, it was when Disney was trying to make films with a slightly more cynical slant - comedy that would entertain adults as much as kids. So, for example, at one point when it shows on a map the journey the characters are taking, marked by red-lines and purple-triangles, it cuts to the actual characters running and chasing after each other, only to find that these red-lines and purple triangle's are actually underneath their feet. Now, I like the comedy and I like some of the characters - notably Kronk (but, why oh why, did you bastardize him with Kronk's New Groove!). I think it is fun and I am well-aware that owning this - but not owning Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio or Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's - gives the impression of an exceptionally picky taste. No no. Its simple a matter of time and patience... now I know that I will eventually hunt down, at a bargain price I hope, all the 'Classic Disney' titles. On Blu-Ray.

I just need to get a HD TV first...
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A-Z #72: Elizabeth

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#72 - Elizabeth 

Why did I buy it?

I didn't. Sarah Did. The release of the sequel - Elizabeth: The Golden Age - was upon us and I think all the publicity and positive-press got to her. She bought it. We watched it. In fairness, I dig Cate Blanchett.

Why do I still own it?

Its not mine to sell, in the first instance, but I think you have some blistering performances. Interestingly, Joseph Fienne's appeared in this film and Shakespeare in Love, both of which were released in 1998 ...  I was hardly the middle-ages fan back in 1998, instead caring more about Deep Impact, A Bug's Life and Godzilla, but I would assume when people worry about actors being typecast, starring in Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth in the same year is a risky move. Geoffrey Rush plays another royal role in the guise of Francis Walsingham. Interestingly, Rush was also in Shakespeare in Love with Joseph Fiennes. Sir John Gielgud, Christopher Eccleston and Richard Attenborough also starred in this film so you can see that, as someone interested in Drama, there is muchos acting talent to appreciate.
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Monday, 25 April 2011

A-Z #71: Edward Scissorhands

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#71 - Edward Scissorhands 

Why did I buy it?

My sister was a huge Johnny Depp fan. She fancied him in a big way. Back when I was 8-years old or something, she had the posters and even went through a 'goth' phase. Now, I remember hearing Tim Burton and Edward Scissorhands come up in conversation so much, but only managed to truly realise its incredible fantasy quality when I borrowed this off a friend. Sure enough, following that watch, I had to purchase it. 

Why do I still own it?

I believe this is the definitive Tim Burton/Johnny Depp project - before Sleepy Hollow and Ed Wood. I may even go so far to say it is the definitive Tim Burton film. If I were to summarise BUrton, the gothic nature of Edward Scissorhands combined with the fairytale nature of the story... and the coming-of-age element. Art + Film = Tim Burton. And, then there is the soundtrack ...
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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Scream 4 at the Box-Office

I don't want to be a nay-sayer or anything but, judging by these initial box-office accounts, Scream 4 has not made as much money in comparison to ther other films in the franchise ... and Scream 3 didn't perform as well as expected ... i have a feeling Scream 4 will really upset some people... (the data is from Box-Office Mojo, so check out this link if you are reading this post one-week later and are unsure if the data is accurate...)

Total Grosses

Opening Weekends

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Across the Blogosphere ...

I love this SCRE4M poster in the style of classic SCREAM posters...
This seems to only take place once-a-month lately, but having said that, at least I have some damn good recommendations...

There is so much talk about Scream 4 it is difficult to sift through it all and find something you haven't heard before, well, via Final Cut, I found a new blog - Cinema Romantico - which i am keen to exploit due to the incredibly well written piece on self-referential cinema (that term is already copywrighted by moi) marked by Jay and Silent Bob turning up in Scream 3...

As is customary on these linking posts, gotta link to Mad hatter as his post on Speed Racer has, again, made me consider watching the film. I saw it for £5 on blu-ray the other day and was again, very close, to purchasing it... but decided not too. I know I will eventually satisfy this inevitable viewing of the Wachowski's follow-up to The Matrix trilogy.

Sebastian at Films From The Supermassive Hole states "Now, I may be alone on this, but I think the original Scream is absolutely brilliant"... Sebastian, you ain't alone, everyone knows Scream is better than all the sequels that followed it. Now, I may be alone on this, but you should read his review of Scream 4...

A friend of mine gave up beer for lent. It is nothing to do with Film, but is impressive at any rate. Well done Sir, we salute you. I think everyone should meander to his blog and tell him how great that achievement is!

Finally, Rory at Above the Line always reviews film in depth and always has something facsinating to say. His latest review of Four Lions, is incredibly well written and, I tell thee, you should throw some LAMMY nom's his way!

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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A-Z #70: Easy Rider

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#70 - Easy Rider 

Why did I buy it?

At the time I was reading Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind I had not seen this film so, prior to reading, I knew I had to watch the film and did so on a rental. I was blown away and checked out what versions were available... suffice to say that there was Special Edition with the original DVD disc and a documentary-disc on Peter Biskinds acclaimed book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls which included interviews with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. To top it off, included in the sweet edition was the BFI Classic on the film written by Lee Hill. I couldn't be more impressed.

Why do I still own it?

Since watching it once, I have watched the film multiple times and it has so many facsinating insights into the time-period and profound statements about the world - how can we live in harmony with the world? What is America [in the late-1960's]? Some astounding performances from Hopper, Fonda and - most importantly - Jack Nicholson as the free-spirit alcoholic-lawyer with his definition of what freedom truly is. The film is littered with iconic moments - from Phil Spector making the drug-deal in the first instance and the Steppenwolf title-sequence straight through to the infamous ending. I could watch it again and again ...

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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Incredible Soundtrack #8: Tron: Legacy (Daft Punk)

The music attached to a film creates the environment, I believe, moreso than the literal environment depicted through the visuals...

I think everyone has agreed that the best thing about Tron: Legacy was the soundtrack. On the one hand we have electronic duo Daft Punk creating the score. The use of pop artists creating scores goes right back to Simon and Garfunkel creating the soundtrack for The Graduate and Badly Drawn Boy composing the score - and songs - for About A Boy. In terms of electronic artists, who I love, we have Underworld who composed the soundtrack for Sunshine with John Murphy and, already discussed, Trent Reznor working on The Social Network with Atticus Ross, whilst The Chemical Brothers have only recently worked on the soundtrack to Hanna and, what looks like as part of their job, they are mentioned on pretty much every trailer too.

What is interesting is that Daft Punk, in the liner notes, thanks Hans Zimmer and John Powell. Aka, John Powell of The Bourne Identity and, recently Oscar-nominate, How To Train Your Dragon and, well, we all know Hans Zimmer. I think it is clear that some of their styles of soundtrack feed into Daft Punk's efforts. I'll mention it in the notes at any rate...

2. The Game Has Changed - This track presents how accomplished Daft Punk are in combining modern electronica with a more classical use of strings. I think, as previously mentioned, there is more than a hint of John Powell's Bourne scores influencing this track ...

13. Derezzed - This is just a Daft Punk track on a soundtrack. Works well in the film (when the musicians make their cameo) and, my only problem, is that I wish it was longer... 

20. Flynn Lives - This is my favourite track, by far. Daft Punk use the entire Orchestra to branch out and, as the song begins with the pulsating strings before the calming - what sounds like a heart monitor - continues the pace. The use of the 'Tron' theme is used throughout the soundtrack and this is where the theme is used to an epic scale as brass slowly, almost hum the theme, on the top of the strings in the background. I think this is where Zimmers influence seems much more apparent - and as a fan of James Newton Howard, I am sure that Newton Howard's Signs soundtrack may have played a part too. 

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Monday, 18 April 2011

Connect The Dots: The West Wing, The Da Vinci Code and QI

Now this will be controversial but, I'm guilty of feeling this myself...
I read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code during the Summer of 2003 as I visited my brother in Nevada. I remember feeling so engaged because it connected a huge bulk of interests that I have - namely a knowledge of Art History, Religion and Conspiracy. I was foolish enough to take some information as [mind the pun] gospel, but I think in some respects this is why the book - and film - were so successful. The book presented "facts" and, as you read this fictional book, you believed you were learning things. This was a time whereby Wikipedia was picking up steam and everyone became that much more interested in finding out stuff. Didn't matter what, everyone wanted to be an expert. Reading The Da Vinci Code was a quick-fix guide to knowing your controversial art-history and anti-Christian sentiments. In reality, there is much more to Leonardo Da Vinci than his Last Supper ... and there is much more to Christianity than the fact that John, the disciple on the left of Jesus, is regularly depicted as looking quite feminine.

I think that this happens alot. Incredibly engaging stories that present very 'intelligent' themes and ideas, when in fact, appealing to everyone. Using The Da Vinci Code again, it is a non-stop page turner. Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger. Every chapter is something-like 5-pages long. Its an easy read and not a theoretical understanding of Renaissance History. But it feels like it is something substantial because of the subject matter.
The West Wing, as I have argued before, in its first season presents stories revolving around prostitution, alcoholism and relationships but then purporting to be about politics. I can appreciate that the later seasons, with enough credability, ensured it could actually tackle the political points, but the foundations are about combining a [perceived] intelligent context - American politics - and throwing in some of the regular crowd-pleasing, lowest-common-denominator plots and character-arcs. I have had many arguments with friends about the merits of 24 - and more importantly, my belief that 24 is a better series through its non-pretentious perspective on bombs and cliffhangers. Going back to The West Wing, just like 24, it still relies on shock tactics and does something that would not be out of place in 24 by ending the first series with a assasiantion-attempt on the president.
A British TV-series, titled Qi presents a panel who are constantly confronted by tenuously linked facts and guess answers. The tenuous links, pretty much, mean it is difficult in recalling the information delivered in the programme but, again, it makes you feel as if you are learning. Stephen Fry, who I always enjoy watching on TV, comes across as an exceptionally intelligent University Professor, which only adds to this pseudo-educational programme.

I firmly believe that, though these films, books and TV-series are good at starting off an interest you cannot use them as the only starting point for an argument. You always find your Da Vinci Code fans who use Dan Brown's research as the basis for their own arguments. You find [too many] people who believe that Bartlett's polictical belief system is the only argument for democracy - disregarding other political stances and passing them off as simply foolish because "in West Wing it shows that equality can be achieved if...", presenting The West Wing as the basis for a perfect political system and having no personal knowledge of actual political positions that have worked - and not worked - elsewhere.

I think this happens alot. I think there are many more examples of programmes and films that make the viewer feel like they are learning something. The truth is that some programmes, use regular techniques and plots to engage the viewer and then sugar-coat it with an 'intelligent' context that makes the viewer feel that much more superior to viewers who watch American Idol or Two and a Half Men. But, ironically, the TV-series use the same comedic-timing and the same cliffhanger and characters to hook everyone in. Throw in a bit of sex every now and then include attractive cast members who are all attracted to each other and there you have it, lets be honest, the same TV-programme. Same with films ... same with novels ...

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Dr No (Terence Young, 1962)

"I admire your luck, Mr...?"
"Bond, James Bond"


I have not written an analysis of a film for months - trying to kick off the A-Z features, the Incredible Soundtracks is something I have wanted to do for many years and , to top it off, I am trying to catalogue my notes on a huge book titled A Critical Introduction to FilmThe idea of analysing a film seemed so time-consuming. But, one thing I seem to have consumed greatly in the last few weeks is the James Bond franchise. I am reading Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Franchise by James Chapman as I re-watch the franchise - beginning with Dr No. Whilst at the same time re-listening to The Hollywood Saloon podcasts, titled Bond Never Dies. Inevitably, I would highly recommend these books and podcasts as the vast majority of ideas and research would be credited to both these sources.

Dr No was the first James Bond feature-film at the cinema. The first Ian Fleming 007 book, Casino Royale, was made into a TV-film for a TV-series whereby they adapted classic books. The TV-film of Casino Royale had been adapted with an American 'Jimmy' Bond and was completely different to what soon became James Bond under Eon Productions. Harry Saltzman and Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli nabbed the rights and the first James Bond feature-film was in production.

Introducing the Icon

Introducing James Bond, even in Dr No was a moment that would never be forgotton. Sylvia Trench introduces herself - "Trench, Sylvia Trench ... and you are?", cure the Bond theme and Connery's impeccable delivery "Bond, James Bond.". It is worth noting that this beginning is actually incredibly fast-paced - finding out what he is expected to do, Bond (Connery) has 3-hours to get prepared and be on his flight to Jamaica - but not before Sylvia Trench lays herself at Bond's feet. In his shirt and playing golf. Women fall for James Bond but, though over the years the way this happens is changed and adapted, for the vast majority of the 60's and 70's, James Bond's charm and animalism ultimately wins over women and they give him what he wants. Dr No is no different in how women are subordinate to James Bond and, ultimately, men. This is iconic in James Bond - women are drawn to him and, though this seems quite possible with a young Sean Connery in role, the fifty-something Roger Moore in A View To A Kill requires a little bit more convincing and, to some extent fails.

Though iconic moments are constantly introduced in films following Dr No, the basic set-up is established including the gun-barrell. Goodfellas ends with an explicit reference to The Great Train Robbery (1903) and, to some extent you can see the similarity between this gunbarrel sequence and what became the only way to start a James Bond film ... until Casino Royale (2006). Chapman notes how Dr No is equally steeped in colour - "from the Pop-Art title-sequence".


One thing that is apparent in the vast majority of these films is the exceptionally racist elements in casting. Other than Professer Dent, the characters which are seen as inferior to Bond and the 'good guys' are, ultimately, not caucasian. Dr No and Miss Taro are of Asian descent whilst Quarrell - though initially introduced as dangerous and violent, when we find out he is 'one of the good guys' he is clearly used as the 'henchman' for James Bond - the animalism as he holds Marguerite LeWars, Dr No's 'oriental' photographer, and even hurts her. Chapman additionally notes how James Bond himself even orders Quarrell to get his shoes - hardly on the same 'level' as Bond and Felix Leiter.

Bond as a Cold Killer

Throughout the series, we see James Bond as an exceptionally cold-killer. In Dr No his execution of Professer Dent (Anthony Dawson) is cruel and heartless - though, in fairness, Dent clearly had no problem in killing Bond. Prior to shooting Dent, as Dent clicks-empty his gun: "That's a Smith and Weston - and you've had your six".

Positive Press... and not a fan of Connery

Critics were well aware that this was the first of many James Bond films and this, to some extent, divided critics. Some praising the accepted norm of Bonds characterisation - "all in the day's work, now for the next please" noted Dilys Powell, but ironically, on the first outing Connery was not accepted whole-heartedly as the Film Monthly Bulletin notedhow "Sean Connery is such a disappointingly wooden and boorish Bond". Derek Hill claimed Connery was a "telly-commercial salesman"

Reference Points

As Chapman observed, the colour - and some film posters - were clearly influnenced by Pop-Art and the work Andy Warhol and Lichtenstein whilst the sets, designed by Ken Adam, had an almost German Expressionistic style to them - especially in Dent's phone-box room to Dr No. I personally felt that the sleek curves and simplicity evoked work from the Bauhaus too. At the time, the film was released two years after Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and even drew comparisons with the "sado-masochistic" aspects prevalent in both films - the casual sex and cold-blooded violence inevitably playing a part to this. Ironically, Chapman notes additionally how Bond is a voyeur at multiple points - think of the iconic Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean in bikini, knife on her side, shell in hand... Bond spies her, without her realising, only emerging to flirt and seduce her.

In Closing...

Despite some negative press, the film was ultimately a success. The films were edited so that the sex and volence was limited - no blood squirting from wounds when characters are shot. In many cases, there is no blood. Additionally, the sex is hinted out and we never see excessive nudity. It aims for a broad audience and manages to achieve this. Ian Fleming seemed to appreciate the film - noting how "those who've read the book are likely to be disappointed, but those who haven't will find it a wonderful movie".

Fact is, Dr No was successful in England and in parts of Europe, but it did not break the world yet. The film was perfect to begin the Bond franchise with - small scale, simple in execution,. limited - but visually tourist-like location. The next film needed to improve upon what had been established... and it did so ... 

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A-Z #69: E.T.

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#69 - E.T. 

Why did I buy it?

This was tough to get hold of. In the initial release, they released two versions. One which was a two-disc 'Special Edition' version of the film ... whilst another, special-er edition, had three discs... the third disc including the original theatrical cut. And believe me... you need the theatrical cut. Because no one wants to see full-body completely-CGI E.T. muckin' around in the bathroom. It. Is. Crap.

Why do I still own it?

Because it is an example of pure entertainment of an exceptionally high level. Spielberg, at this point, knew exactly what he was doing. John Williams, composing, knew exactly what he was doing. Even E.T. himself, modelled as a combo between Mother Theresa and Einstein. With Hair. Perfectly pitched. Close Encounters of the Third Kind showed Spielberg exploring a similar event from the eyes of an adult - an adult who becomes obsessed with the visitor, whilst E.T. shows the childs perspective as they become friends with the visitor and even learn to love the visitor. Who wouldn't own this film?

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Monday, 11 April 2011

Incredible Soundtrack #7: The Dark Knight (Zimmer/Newton Howard)

The music attached to a film creates the environment, I believe, moreso than the literal environment depicted through the visuals...

As previously mentioned, James Newton Howard is one of may favourite composers and Hans Zimmer would come pretty high up if I was to mount a list. So a combination of both Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard was going to inevitably perk my interest.

I think we can all agree that The Dark Knight and Batman Begins both have incredible soundtracks, but what is fascinating about The Dark Knight is the off-kilter, screwy 'Joker' element thrown in to the mix. The tracks I have chosen represent that additional element to some extent and show how it is possible that The Dark Knight soundtrack is superior in this single element. Having said that, I do not own the Batman Begins soundtrack so if you would counter-argue, please do so in the comments below.

Here we go - the chosen tracks ...

2. I'm Not A Hero - I think the first time I heard this track, track two, I knew I had made a worthy purchase. It often happens that you choose a soundtrack and find the one track which is good whilst the rest are not as strong. Not with this album. This track alone begins with such a plucked-pace that you cannot help but feel undercover and as if you are some sort of secret agent.

8. Like A Dog Chasing Cars - My favourite track on the album. The throbbing pace and pulsating percussion shortly after 1.08, whilst the strings continue the pace as if to introduce the theme. Flawless.

14. A Dark Knight - A whopping 16.15 in length this is deepply brooding and unsettling. The, almost tragic ending of The Dark Knight is acted out upon this section of soundtrack. Batman has seen his love, Rachel, die. Two-face - The White Knight - has destroyed himself and Batman must turn himself from a hero into the enemy for the sake of Gotham. The romance, tragedy and fear and path that this leads to ... is unknown. Until The Dark Knight Rises.

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A-Z #68: Duel

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#68 - Duel 

Why did I buy it?

This is where things get interesting. This isn't mine. This is Sarah's. (See, I told you that - outside of Bridget Jones and Dreamgirls the girl has increidble taste!). Sarah has some vivid memories of watching this and I has to always endure the shame of Sarah reacting appalled by the fact that I haven't seen Duel. It was only a matter of time before she purchased the film - and I was more than happy to sit down for a viewing.

Why do I still own it?

During my Spielberg-a-thon a while back this was inevitably the start. I got as far as 1941, and I made the first decision to sell 1941 as it was so ... unfunny. Especially considering it is a comedy. At any rate, Duel is classic Spielberg. You think of the simplicity of Jaws it traces back to Duel. It is an example of how a filmmaker, alone, is the guy who builds up the tension and the fear. In no other circumstance are you afraid of a truck ... except here. Even more interesting is the author of the story - Richard Matheson of I Am Legend. Again, I Am Legend is a simple set-up that, from the position of one man, the story expands to become more fearful and discomforting. A gripping story that forces you to root for the lead and imagine what you would do in such a situation.
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Sunday, 10 April 2011

A-Z #67: Dreamgirls

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#67 - Dreamgirls 

Why did I buy it?

Don't blame me - it is Sarah's. But I was interested. At the time it was the come-down for musicals - Chicago, The Singing Detective - and at the same time the music-biopic was popular - Walk The Line, Ray - so this film seemed to balance out the two. A clear parrallel between the Dreamgirls and The Supremes and the rise of Diana Ross and Motown. I like Motown and we all like Beyonce so, yeah, though I wouldn't buy it myself, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested.

Why do I still own it?

Well, its not a bad story. Nothing spectacular and nothing incredibly new, but a good story nevertheless. I think Jamie Foxx and Danny Glover are great at what they do but, in fairness, the hat is off to Jennifer Hudson. I have always believed that the likes of American Idol or Pop Idol and X-Factor here in the Uk generally ruin the potential credibility of a musician and this proves otherwise. Hudson came 7th (Fantasia Barrino - who the hell is that? The winner...) in American Idol's 3rd season before embarking on her own pop career. Starring in Dreamgirls sent her worldwide. Recently, she played Winnie Mandela in a TV-biopic of the South-African politician. Credit to Beyonce too for taking a role that, lets be honest... could've drawn comparisons with her success and departure from Destiny's Child...
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Saturday, 9 April 2011

A-Z #66: Dr Strangelove (or How I Stopped Worrying and Loved The Bomb)

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#66 - Dr Strangelove (of How I Stopped Worrying and Loved The Bomb) 

Why did I buy it?
Because its Kubrick. I mean, seriously, it is Kubrick and you don't know nowt about film without knowing your Kubrick. That goes without saying. This is Peter Sellers playing multiple roles and this is the classic line: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room". This has to be bought.
Why do I still own it?

I have only watched it once and that is reason enough to own a copy ... so I can watch it again. I think, like many of the films I still own, I know I may enjoy it more on a second viewing. I have to watch it again to truly know whether it is worth selling off. I think I may sell this at some point ... so that I can enjoy an entire Kubrick collection in a special box.

I doubt anyone will argue to sell this one...
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Thursday, 7 April 2011

Incredible Soundtrack #6: Edward Scissorhands (Elfman)

The music attached to a film creates the environment, I believe, moreso than the literal environment depicted through the visuals...

Danny Elfman, if I'm honest, I'm not a big fan of. Half the time he has that samey Men-In-Black/Spiderman music used to open films - the whole chunk-chun-chunk-chunk thing and thats a little frustrating. But he has been used multiple times and, the first time you hear the Men In Black theme or his 'hero' theme, it does sound pretty cool. Intrestingly, he has also composed other themes that are a far call from this style - namely The Simpsons opening-credits music and the multiple scores he has composed for Tim Burton, including The Corpses Bride, Sleepy Hollow and - my personal favourite - Edward Scissorhands.

Interestingly, the soundtrack is split into two acts - 'Edward Meets The World' and 'Poor Edward'. This corresponds with the film, but I don't think adds very much to the soundtrack. Infact, my final choice of song, though placed firmly in the 'Poor Edward' feels like quite the opposite. At any rate, lets get stuck straight into the three choices:

7. Edward Meets The World: Ice Dance - this is the most memorable theme. It is in equal-part full of wonder and amazement and yet still childish in true fairytale form. You literally feel you are being gently lifted into this alteranate gothic universe which is, rather than dark and morbid, it is heavenly and beautiful.

9. Edward Meets The World: Edwardo The Barber - The more playful side to Elfman comes through on this track. The fact that his Simpsons theme soon followed is no suprise. The track shifts gear as, in the film, Depp's Edward Scissorhands creates different masterpieces of women's hair. 

15. Poor Edward: The Grand Finale - This is primarily a reprise of the Ice Dance, but this time it is muhc more sweeping and grand - opening the theme to include a much broader range of instruments. The entire orchestra, rather than a chorus, bringing the theme to the forefront as if to ensure that we know that, what is beautiful, is Edward himself.

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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2009)

"What if I told you that instead of gettin' older, I was gettin' younger than everybody else?"


I have had a gander at some of the older reviews and analysis and thought to myself, hey, I've been blogging for a few years and some reviews didn't get that much attention. Especially from 'back in the day'. This is one of them - published in June 2009. I love David Fincher, but its fair to say that I hate The Curious Case for Benjamin Button. Even now, nobody really mentions it anymore. But lets re-light that debate and flash back to 2009 and this misjudged movie.

I watched the film in the run up to the Oscars and - as a huge fan of David Fincher, Brad Pitt and Eric Roth (Well, Forrest Gump is one of my favourite films) - I had no intention to dislike the film so ... be prepared for a review that contains explicit language.

Quick Synopsis

We start in New Orleans, whereby Daisy Williams is on her deathbed hours before hurricane Katrina hits, and she begins to recount a story to her daughter, Caroline. First she tells of a clock-maker whose son died in war. Because of this tragedy, he makes the clock turn backwards so that everyone knows he wishes he could go back in time and keep his Son alive. Following this, Daisy asks Caroline to read out loud the diary of Benjamin Button - a man whose affliction is growing old and getting younger. Beginning life as a diseased, dying old man, Benjamin defies expectation and lives, getting younger and healthier as each day passes. Initially raised by Queenie, Benjamin also gets many morals from her that he keeps throughout his life - specifically a statement: "Just be thankful for what you got". Daisy met Benjamin through her grandmother, who was a resident at Queenie's care home - the home where Benjamin was raised. Throughout their lives, both Daisy and Benjamin stayed in contact meeting up briefly in their twenties - where Daisy's career as a dancer was stopped by a car accident - and then meeting again in their forties, whereby they both matched in age. When finding out about Daisy's pregnancy (of the woman this story is being recounted to), Benjamin decides to leave knowing that his affliction will be problematic in raising children. Years later, Daisy is in a new relationship with a new husband - who her child believes is her actual Father - and Benjamin, now as a teenager - turns up. They have one special night together and part. Many years afterwards, Daisy sees Benjamin as a child, having lost his memory and then, eventually becoming a baby, dying in her arms.

After this, I was unsure how I could explain the finale, but it was summarised best on a detailed synopsis on IMDB:

"Fully spent by this story, [Back on Daisy's deathbed with her daughter] Daisy and her daughter share a sense of relief and closure that comes with the revelation of long-hidden truths. In the background, Hurricane Katrina is getting dangerously near the hospital and soon diverts Carolines attention away from her mother. Daisy looks to the window and sees a hummingbird approach and then fly away into the storm. The camera pans out to reveal hospital staff scurrying to evacuate patients and transport medical supplies. We then see a montage of some of the memorable characters from the film, spoken of by Ben himself, and ending with the hurricane's waters washing into a storeroom where sits the old clock, still ticking backwards."

Special FX and a Timeless Narrative

This is really quite a film. The special effects are flawless - and showing the range of ages of Benjamin and Daisy does look quite smooth and in no way affects the watching-of-the-film. Basically, these groundbreaking effects, do not interrupt the narrative. The narrative has enough problems.

First off, the 'New Orleans' context. Whats the point. Why? They might as well have set it on Greenwich Street, NYC on September 11, 2001. Or any other major historical event - the idea of Hurricane Katrina somehow linked to this fictional story, if anything, is quite insulting to the actual people who were affected by the disaster. Not to mention the simple fact that, as a viewer, you are interested in Benjamin Button, not Granny's tale. Eric Roth used a similar 'flashback-to-the-events' in 'Forrest Gump', but that's because the bus-rider who sat next to Forrest on the bench was in a state of awe as he recounted his life, while - first off - Caroline, is more concerned about her dying mother and the disaster waiting to hit the hospital, so - understandably - she is not in the same position as the bench-sharers in Gump. She might simply be interested in the bunch of secrets her mother kept from her - secrets that she didn't really have to keep. Whatever the case may be, it was unnecessary and simply stalls the story. It would have been better to simply cut out the entire 'Titanic' rip-off sequences.

Is it wrong to not like Brad Pitt?

Next point is Brad Pitt. I have never had a problem with Brad Pitt. 'Seven' and 'Fight Club' I would put amongst the best films in the 90's -'Fight Club' possibly the best. So David Fincher directing Pitt again was a brilliant combination, but alas, Brad Pitt is not playing a young, arrogant, self-satisfied smug character. He's playing a slow-speaking, slightly nervous, old/young man and, the fact of the matter is, he's not that interesting. Now my blame for the film goes to Brad Pitt (could he have made the character a little bit more interesting) and Eric Roth (the script has so many problems I feel). But I don't want to dwell on how shit Brad Pitt is but, put it this way, I got bored of his gormless look. His semi-awe, semi-astonishment with eyes half-asleep. Where the hell was his passion? Maybe he is positive about life, maybe he lives by his sounds-a-lot-like-life-is-like-a-box-of-chocs "Just be thankful for what you got" statement, but - unlike Gump - Benjamin Button isn't stupid, he is actually quite perceptive and knows a lot so why on earth do they not dwell on these factors? why do they insist on zooming-in on Pitt's face as if his face-of-astonishment is good enough to clarify what he says?

To add to this, why does he not utilise his getting-younger affliction. He might as well have a scarred face or be burn victim, because other than his patronising attitude to life, he seems to be completely unaware that he has this amazing gift. Cate Blanchett's 'Daisy' goes through her own lots-of-boyfriends phase and pursues a dream and fails - all very interesting life situations which many people can relate to. While Benjamin Button seems to not have any dream - he just loves all the people he meets, and during his thirties and twenties, we see about 5 minutes of flashbacks showing him travelling. These five minutes could have been the film itself - showing how he is tackling being a young, Brad Pitt: maybe an opportunity for the smug arrogance Brad Pitt can do so well! (Probably wouldn't work). Does Benjamin Button go through any emotional turmoil? Considering the problem he has, you would think there is scope for real anger, frustration or desire but alas, this is never seen. If I recall, at one point he gets angry telling Daisy that his daughter needs a 'father not a playmate'. This is the most emotional he gets - even leaving Daisy asleep, leaving her all his assets, he does not at any point seem unsure. You don't feel him longing to stay, but aware he has to go. He simply skulks away quietly - patience showing thought I guess - and gets on his very cool bike wearing very cool clothes. Him, breaking down as he leaves wold have been too much to ask. Maybe he doesn't cry - another affliction that doesn't bother him.

In closing...I can't believe it was even nominated for Best Picture, it really falls flat on any emotional level. I really am unsure how to approach the next David Fincher - a flawless legend prior to this piece of trash.

Originally Published: 20th June 2009

[It's nice to know that the next David Fincher was The Social Network ... Fincher you are okay in my book now!]

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Top 5 Leonardo DiCaprio Films

I have mentioned many times how I believe, currently, Leonardo DiCaprio is the best actor in Hollywood at the moment. More importantly, he is better than Matt Damon. Filmspotting regularly have their own debates whereby Matt Ballgame, as I recall, defends Damon whilst Kempanaar supports DiCaprio. I am firmly standing on the latter side. Can you see DiCaprio in an Ocean's film? No. Why? Because he is better than that. Can you imagine DiCaprio playing Jason Bourne? No. Because he is better than that.

Inevitably, as DiCaprio gets older and new actors take his mantle, this opinion will change in due course, but while the iron is hot, I shall name my favourite DiCaprio roles. In fairness, I haven't seen The Quick and the Dead, Basketball Diaries or The Man in the Iron Mask. So, if these are in fact his 'best' roles than I may have missed a trick. But I believe that they are not. The one glaring omission is What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Marvin's Room - two films I have not seen, but I know he has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Oscar-nomination for Whats Eating Gilbert Grape and Screen Actors Guild-nomination for Marvin's Room) so forgive me if these are gaping holes.

5. Romeo in Romeo+Juliet -

Young, in love and romanticised. I have a feeling that if I watched Whats Eating Gilbert Grape, this film would be shuffled out. But I'm hardly going to put Titanic as better than his performance in Romeo+Juliet.

4. Frank William Abegnale Jnr in Catch Me If You Can -

The film which crossed him over from teen-idol and into credible actor. Happy days. An actor playing a role, playing a role. We shall come back to this type of role again ...

3. Dom Cobb in Inception -

Why on earth for this year did DiCaprio get so little love from awards folk. This was a blistering performance that ensured that the emotional-heart to the film was firmly beating.

2. Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island -

Yeah, not a big fan of The Aviator. I appreciate the effort on his part, but I think the role - and the film - seemed prolonged and all-over-the-place. This role required him to be conflicted and real whilst also appearing as if he has lost his grip on his sanity. We were seeing everything from his perspective and, if he faltered, the whole film would fall. And it did not fall - it stood majestically high due to his performance. The scene as we see him come home and find his children is flawless and the best acting I have ever seen.

1. Billy Costigan in The Departed -

Again, an actor playing a character who is playing a role. DiCaprio seems to often find himself playing these double-sided characters. The reason why he plays these so well is because he can pitch a perfect balance between how he is presenting the character - and what is actually going on inside. My favourite performance as DiCaprio is so comfortable in the role - Costigan is going against the grain and trying to work his way up from the criminal-background his family has brought him up within. Not a shred of arrogance - just a desire to escape.

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