When ranting on the internet pays off…

Posted on June 7, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , |

Yesterday I had a bit of a rant. Part of that rant was aimed at Mark Kermode’s recent comments on Radio 5 Live about Pirates 4.

Today I got an email from the BBC. And then a phone call. And now I’m going to Manchester on Friday to the Kermode and Mayo 10 year anniversary broadcast, where, with the help of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, they will be talking through some of the most famous movie scores of all time.

How the hell did that one happen?

Pure luck from the fact that Kermode’s name was on my blog I reckon, but who am I to turn down a chance to hear the Phil play live? Unfortunately due to some ridiculous train scheduling by Virgin, I have to miss the formal evening concert, but being in the audience for the live broadcast should be a lot of fun.

And for those who are wondering, if I get the chance, I will repeat to his face what I thought of Kermode’s take on Jack Sparrow. (Perhaps in slightly nicer words)

I’ll hopefully be writing up the trip before the end of the weekend. Until then you can read what I’ve had to say in previous posts about movie music.

For my Top 5 Movie Scores

And some general ramblings about Genius Composers

If anyone else has had a similar invite let me know and I’ll look out for you!

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It’s that time of year again…

Posted on February 25, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , |

I’ve been a bit absent recently, and I thought I’d better write a quick post to warn you it’s only going to get worse.  If you’re one of the eccentric individuals who has been reading this blog since the early days you will have heard me mention The Opera before. Well folks, it’s opera time again, which means I am rehearsing all hours of the day and night while at the same time trying to hold down my degree. Doesn’t leave much time for watching movies or writing random blog posts about who looks better in spandex.

For the tiny minority of you who live near London, I am going to shamelessly plug what is honestly the best show I have ever been in.  Set in 60s Spain, it’s a classic farce of mistaken identity and forbidden love.  With some nuns and scantily clad pool boys and waitresses thrown in for good measure.  One of those three is me. 😉

Anyhoo, unless I get an overwhelming urge to chat to you guys I wont be posting until the end of March.  So if you start to miss me, I guess you’ll just have to come and see it!

Get your tickets here!

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Top 5 (Non-Disney) Animations

Posted on February 20, 2011. Filed under: Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Following on from my post about childhood Disney memories, I thought I’d draw your attention to some non-Disney animations which are just as good, if not better, than some of the Disney standards.

5. Spirit

A film about a horse, with next to no dialogue besides a voice over by Matt Damon.  Not your standard movie pitch, but this somewhat unknown film actually has some great moments.  It’s entirely made by the music; a combination of Hans Zimmer’s dramatic orchestration and original music by Bryan Adams which serve to fill in for the missing dialogue.

It would have been so easy to tell this story with talking animals, just like nearly other animated feature out there, but the  fact that they didn’t makes Spirit just that little but different.

4.El Dorado

Another one by Dreamworks; this is just plain fun.  Voiced by Kevin Kline and  Kenneth Branagh, Spanish con artists Tulio and Miguel set out in search of the lost City of Gold and then have to decide what they value more, money or friendship.  It could be an incredibly schmaltzy story, but in fact it’s packed with laughs, more often for the grown ups than the kids, and with another knockout soundtrack.  This time Zimmer is joined by John Powell and the legendary Elton John, again letting the music tell the story in a way that feels more organic than having the characters bursting into song (although they do once).  Incidentally, this is one of the many outings of Zimmer’s “pirate theme,” which turns up in nearly every movie he’s worked on.

Dreamworks seem to have cornered the market in more “grown up” animations, which is probably why they dominate this list.

3. Happy Feet

This one tends to divide people, but at risk or repeating myself, it’s the music again that makes this one for me. John Powell has written a beautiful score, and I just love the way that various classic songs get mashed together.  The interplay of Mumble’s tap dancing with the music is also a brilliant touch.

But we’re sick of me gushing about music right, so what about the story? I will admit it slows down considerably in the middle where it teeters on the edge of getting that little bit too preachy about global warming, but I’m willing to forgive that on the basis that it’s a really original idea, with some loveable characters (stand up Robin Williams’ array of Adelie penguins) and a lot of heart.  The animation is also very well done, particularly in the rare glimpses of the human world, where, if you’re paying enough attention, you can spot a few famous names who helped with the mo-cap performances.

2. The Iron Giant

When this turned up on Ross McG’s list of films he watched over Christmas it made me smile, even if he did only catch 10 minutes of it. The Iron Giant is a fantastic film which far too few people have heard of.  Directed by Brad Bird, who went on to become one of the Pixar Gods, and with voices from Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston and Harry Connick Jr, this film contains lines that I still quote on a regular basis (“Sir, you’re in the road…”).  Set in a paranoid cold war America, the animation has a period feel to it, but the script is razor sharp and the story is heartwarming without being sickly.  If there’s one film on this list that I really want you to go out and watch, this is it.

1. Shrek

I tried to think of a less obvious number one. I really did. But you just can’t beat  Shrek. When it came out, everyone’s jaws dropped in unison…and then we started laughing.  Here is a move which takes everything Disney has been doing for the last 50 years and, as I once heard poetically put in an interview, “bitch slaps it.”  The Knight in shining armour is an Ogre, his side kick is an irritating Donkey who wont stop singing. The villain is knee height and voiced by John Lithgow. Every moment of the film was built for maximum laughs and hits the mark every time.  The first time I saw Shrek inflate a frog to make a balloon I nearly choked on my popcorn.

The thing I love most about Shrek though is the fact that it refuses to conform.  While every other film about someone who doesn’t quite fit in (Disney or otherwise) ends with the lead character becoming just like everybody else, in Shrek, our Princess finishes up the movie as an Ogre living in a swamp.  And that is exactly why it is one of the best animations to come out of any studio in the last decade.

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Top 5 Original Movie Scores

Posted on September 16, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Way back when this blog was just a baby I wrote a post about the importance of movie music and how I thought we should hold the film composers up against the classical masters.

Continuing on that idea I thought I’d write a post about my 5 all time  favourite pieces of movie music.  I’m restricting myself to individual movements rather than whole scores, all of these being instrumental pieces that I think are simply fantastic.  Narrowing down to just five was very tricky, so I’ve tried to pick a variety of music and composers.  I doubt any of my choices will shock you, but I’m interested to read your comments and find out which bits of movie music do it for you.

The best way I could think of to get the music onto the blog was to provide links to the Spotify tracks, since that shouldn’t upset any copyright laws as the music is freely available.  So hit the links to have the music playing while you read.

**I’m trying not to put spoilers in this, but it’s hard, so if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know then maybe skip that section.**

5. Father Kolbe’s Preaching-Burkhard Dallwitz-The Truman Show

Play

I’ll forgive you for not having heard of this guy, ‘cos even I hadn’t.  This particular piece of music plays right at the end of the film and is a perfect fit to what is happening on screen.  The simple piano and strings are tragic but at the same time seem to have a kind of optimism and the slow processing rhythm is a great match for the semi-biblical dialogue going on between Truman and Kolbe.

4. Star Wars theme-John Williams-Star Wars

Play

This man is the God of movie music.  I have no idea how he does it. Everything he writes is an iconic masterpiece, but I think if I had to pick just one track to sum up the genius that is John Williams it would have to be the Star Wars theme.  Every time that first brass note leaps from the screen I jump, even though I’ve seen Star Wars more times than I can count.  It’s such a triumphant march, giving way to the more fluid strings of Han and Leia’s theme, which take on a fantastically ethereal quality as the flutes echo the main theme in the background.  There are so many layers in that one piece of music it’s incredible.  And I dare you to find me a single person on the planet who can’t hum it.

3. He’s a Pirate-Klaus Badelt-Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Play

I’ve never wanted to stand up and cheer at the end of a movie more, (in fact, me and my friends did the second time) and a big part of that is this awesome piece of music.  It just has pirate stamped all over it.  It works better when played through from the previous piece (One Last Shot) as the sudden drums and pace are an impressive contrast to the sweeping strings from before.  It’s a great example of a piece of music being custom-made to fit a scene.  In my head, the music always starts with the words, “Drink up me hearties Yo HO!”

2. Freedom/The Execution/Bannockburn-James Horner-Braveheart

Play

I know I’ve been on about this piece of music a lot recently but it really is magical.  The deep drum beat is symbolistic of death, and the strings are quintessentially tragic, but interweaved with the celtic pipes (I think it’s a chanter, it’s definitely not full bagpipes) we have a score which is both moving and able to transport you to a time and place in order to make the film seem more real.  The fact that one movement takes us through three key moments in the films finale shows how each event influenced the next, and the tone of the music adapts accordingly.  I particularly love the solo flute towards the end, and how it dissolves into what is essentially a roaring cheer in instrumental form.

One of only two pieces of music that will make me stop what I’m doing and just listen if it happens to come up on shuffle.  The other is my next choice.

1. The Breaking of The Fellowship-Howard Shore-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Infuriatingly the real version of this isn’t on Spotify so I’m forced to use a YouTube link.

I know nobody is shocked by this choice but this was the moment I fell in love with LOTR.  I absolutely love this score.  Howard Shore has this amazing ability to tell a story with music, which in a film like this is so important.  You can listen to the score and know what’s going on without needing to see the images that go with.

For me, this is the perfect orchestral capturing of Hope.  James Galway’s flute (I am a sucker for those things) is gorgeous and the understated horns are a great backdrop for the sadness after the loss of Boromir, but at the same time support the dialogue between the remaining Fellowhip members as they promise to stay true to eachother.

The piece moves from an achingly beautiful solo string to the dramatic revival of the Fellowship theme and then back to the restrained strings and flute as we watch the two hobbits picking their way across Emyn Muil.  Ben Del Maestro’s vocal kicks in just as the credits begin to roll, using lyrics from Tolkien’s own hand.  It’s both an ending and a beginning as we know that there is a whole lot more to come for the characters we have just been introduced to.

Honorable Mentions:

Here are some of the pieces that didn’t quite make it to the top 5, but I strongly suggest you check out.

Craig Armstrong: Love Actually

Alan Silvestri: Forrest Gump

Hans Zimmer: Gladiator

Gustavo Santaolalla: Brokeback Mountain

Stephen Warbeck: Shakespeare in Love

OK, I’m done with being artsy now. Your turn.

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Top 5 Tear-jerkers

Posted on August 1, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Carrying on with my Top 5 posts (an idea not even slightly nicked from Ross vs Ross) let’s look at those lump-in-the-throat moments we for some reason can’t get enough of.

I am absolutely useless when it comes to crying at movies.  In the right (wrong?) mood I will end up crying at the most pathetically not sad things.  Despite this distressingly girly quality it is ironically quite often boyish movies that get me going.  So without further ado, here are my Top 5 tear-jerker moments. *Sniff*

**Beware Spoilers and thanks again to all the YouTubers**

5. Mufasa dies

I think everyone of my generation has this scene burned into their consciousness.  It was our “Bambi’s Mum,” except this time, and for the first time in Disney history, there was a dead body on screen.  Scary stuff for little kids.  Add to that Hans Zimmer’s score and you have a really moving scene.  Don’t worry though kids, he’s up in the clouds keeping an eye on things.

4. Billy gets into Ballet School

Even though you can sort of guess where it’s heading, the tension is so high by this point that when that letter appears on the table we are right there with his family waiting to hear what happened.  There is almost no dialogue and a very sparse piano accompaniment to go with some great acting from the young Jamie Bell.  This scene is also the first time we see Billy’s family really getting behind him, as they all are obviously desperate for him to succeed.  The fact that Jackie’s joy is so short lived brings us smack back down to Earth, emphasising what Billy is escaping, and how lucky he is to get out.

(It’s the first 5 minutes you want.)

3. Armageddon Goodbye

I think this might have been the first film to really make me cry.  I know that it tops the list of films tha make most men cry too, and I bet I don’t even have to tell you what scene I’m talking about.

I can flick to this film while I’m watching anything else on TV and the effect will be almost instant.  From here to the end of the movie is a cry fest for me.  I’ve only managed to get through it dry eyed once, thanks to two friends (you know who you are) continually checking to see if I was crying yet.

I always think Ben Affleck has had a bit of a rough deal when it comes to criticism, but he’s pretty good in this movie.

2. “You died on a Saturday morning.”

Everything that happens in Forrest Gump is about him trying to get back to Jenny, which makes the ending all the more heartbreaking.  Tom Hanks is fantastic as ever, and the dialogue is simple but effective.  I love the final scene where he sits on the stump watching the school bus leave, because we know he is probably going to sit there all day waiting for Little Forrest to come back home.

(Start from 2:15)

1. “They fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom.”

As I’ve said before, I can honestly only watch Braveheart once a year.  I know that there are huge embellishments in this movie, but it is still essentially a true story.  I’ve been to Bannockburn and I’ve been to the Wallace memorial; they are both incredible places.  The part of this scene that always gets me is Robert the Bruce’s voiceover telling what happened to Wallace’s body, because that part at least is true, and shows just how ruthless the monarchy used to be when it came to so-called traitors.

Despite being hugely outnumbered, with no resources and having just watched their leader being brutally tortured, the remains of his army still stood against the English.  God I wish I was Scottish!  James Horner’s score is absolutely magical.  It holds all of the power of this scene.

Hope I didn’t depress you all! I promise my next post will be more upbeat.  Meanwhile if you want to share you’re favourite weepies please do.

Interestingly, 3 of these movies made it into my Desert Island Discs picks.  Guess we all need a good cry to keep us going.

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Top 5 Magical Movie Moments

Posted on June 6, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Yet another post inspired by channel hopping to films on TV.  Back in October I told you about my Top 5 fight scenes, but today I want to get you thinking more generally about those moments that are just great pieces of cinema.  The ones where the direction, the acting, the score, the cinematography, everything just comes together for a scene that makes you think “wow.”  When I was thinking about what I’d put down, I realised that for a lot of these scenes, it’s the combination of the action and the music that really makes it a perfect scene for me.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a great score can really make a movie.

Although I’ve called it Top 5, these aren’t necessarily in ascending order.  It’s more 5 great moments.

1.Where does my allegiance lie if not here?

This is the scene that got me thinking.  Now, we all know that I can rave about LOTR until the Orcs come home, but before you start rolling your eyes hear me out.  This scene really is pure magic.

Howard Shore’s score is so perfectly matched it’s scary, building the drama and then breaking away for Billy Boyd’s (self-penned) haunting melody.  What I think really makes this scene though is the foley work.  As the score takes over, we lose some of the sound.  The commands of the men and Orcs are silent screams, but the creaking of the bows remains, really hammering home the suicidal misson that faces the brave riders. It’s just epic.  Add to that the juxtaposition of Denethor almost frantically eating while he tries to ignore what’s happening, with blood running down his chin, and you end up with an awesome movie moment that is just melodramatic enough without over doing it.

2. At the Moulin Rouge you’ll have fun!

I have written about this scene before but I just couldn’t exclude it when talking about my favourite cinematic moments.

Energy and colour are what Baz Luhrmann does best, so when it comes to Moulin Rouge that first scene when you’re taken on a rollercoaster ride through the dance hall is just mindblowing!  In one 3 minute scene we get a mash up of no less than 6 songs culminating in a supercharged Can-Can.  The best thing about the scene is that we’re seeing it from the same position as Christian, so we too are bewildered and enthralled by all the flashing colours (and flashing flesh!)

3. Welcome to Port Royal Mr Smith

Best. Entrance. Ever.

Before he even says one word we know eveything we need to know about Captian Jack Sparrow from his incredible entrance to Port Royal. Who else would stand so proudly on the top mast of a ship which was more than three quarters sunk?  The best part is it doesn’t even seem to faze him.

As soon as he set foot on that board walk I knew I was going to love this film

4. He is The One.

Another great moment for movie music.  This scene is slightly marred by all the crazy superman stuff we see Neo do in the two Matrix sequels, but when he first stands up and stops those bullets I always want to jump up and cheer!  I love how effortless it all becomes for him, he just turns and says “No.” He even fights with one hand behind his back!  It’s a great turn around having just watched him have the crap kicked out of him.  The music is perfect here too, that great strings slide that runs through the film really captures the idea of being in a dream while still sounding artificial, but the addition of a choir brings back the human element, mirroring what’s going on on screen.

5. Oh Captain my Captain

I know it is incredibly cheesy. And I know that it is orchestrated to be a heart wrenching moment. But cynicism aside it’s still a great scene.  Ethan Hawke makes it for me.  It’s not so much the getting up on the desks that has the magic but the obvious guilt and pain of Hawke as everything he has been taught not to believe in is once more forced down his throat.  And Robin Williams is a better actor than he lets on…(may have to come back to a post on that later)

Those are mine, what are your stand out moments of cinema?

**Disclaimer: thank you to all the YouTubers whose clips I’m borrowing.**

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Public Enemies

Posted on July 1, 2009. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while and, despite reading a bad reivew, was determined to see it on the day it came out.  As it turns out, I caught a preview 2 days early. 🙂

Public Enemies is effectively a typical ’30s gangster movie, but with the added bonus of it being a true story (and Johnny Depp).  Depp does brilliantly as the lovebale bad guy while Christian Bale is stiff, but I think intentionally so.  The more time he spends in Hollywood, the less he seems to act, but as the intense and single minded Melvin Purvis, the Keanu Reeves approach to acting works.

The review I read criticised Michael Mann’s use of handheld cameras, and on this at least he had a point.  The extreme close ups and shaky photography during most of the shoot outs can be hard to watch, simply because your eyes can’t keep up, but I can see what Mann was going for.  The Peep Show style of first person photography is a good idea, but the action is just too fast, especially in the opening scene when you’re still trying to work out who’s who.  I reckon on the DVD release it’ll actually come across better because the screen wont be as big.  Luckily, the handhelds don’t make up the majority of the film, so you get a chance to focus, but a lot of it does seem to be shot either from Depp’s shoulder or on a camera mounted to his face!

Other than that I have no criticisms for the film.  It’s not going straight into The List, but I would definitely watch it again and recommend it to all of you.  The plot moves at a good pace, and while none of the characters bar Dillinger are particularly developed, they don’t feel empty.  Dillinger himself is brilliantly characterised, with a lot of help from Depp, so that you find yourself really rooting for the bad guy, no matter how many FBI agents he shoots.  The one moment where the front drops and the reality of his crumbling prospects dawns on him is backed by a magnificent score (Elliot Goldenthal) and features (I think) the first time we see Depp cry on screen.  Goldenthal’s score, sparingly used, is always effective, emphasising the two most poignant scenes with sweeping orchestra while upbeat Jazz and guitar riffs accompany the bank heists.

The script may not be groundbreaking, but a couple of lines raised a chuckle and they manage to steer clear of steriotypical wiseguy dialogue.  Marion Cottilard also plays well as Dillinger’s muse Billie, a part I fear was written in for Hollywood but which actually gives a crucial motivation to some of the more daring of Dillinger’s exploits.  There are also some brilliant moments to look out for, in particular: the cinema, the cloakroom and the FBI office.

A trip to the hallowed pages of Wiki filled me in on the real man.  The film seems to have captured the essence of Dillinger, particularly his reputation as the modern Robin Hood.  The details aren’t too bad either, which is impressive.  They even allow the conspiricists to argue about whether Dillinger actually died (I’d like to believe not, but logic tells me he did.)

So, Mann has managed to make a film based on historical events which pretty much tells the truth while at the same time having enough action and adventure to fill the box office.  It’s not exactly a high octance thriller, but Depp’s Dillinger is so engaging, and 30s America is just one of those time periods that will never fail to draw a crowd.

If you want to escape the heat for a bit and relax in an air conditioned cinema, I can’t think of a better way to spend the time than with Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, some very snappy suits and a few machine guns. 😉

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Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99

Posted on May 24, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Following up on my Ramble about the genius of Tim Burton, I wanted to write another post about a director with an equally distinctive style, namely Baz Luhrmann.  Over the last month I’ve watched 3 out of 4 of his major hit movies, all of them linked by his trademark fast pace cinematography and hyper energetic story telling.

Luhrmann is best known for the Red Curtain Trilogy AKA Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.  All three begin with a red curtain rising, and the rules state that the end of the movie must be given away in the first scenes.  On top of this they’re all linked by some unusual form of expression, for Strictly its the dancing, Romeo and Juliet has Shakespeare’s words and Moulin Rouge, of course, has the music.

All three are great movies, but Strictly is slightly overshadowed by the other two, understandable since it was his directorial debut.  It’s another one on the list of films I need to see again, but its a genuinely funny film following a slightly obvious but still fun plotline about a national dance competition.  Made in 1992, it does show its age a bit when compared to the other films, but while it may not be the best film ever made, if you’re a fan of Baz you’ll definitely like it. (Calling a film made in 1992 old makes me feel ancient…)  Like many of his other films, Luhrmann shows his Aussie patriotism and both sets and casts the film in his home country.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how good the other two parts of the trilogy are.  Romeo and Juliet is an absolute masterpiece.  Every scene of that film has been planned as meticulously as Shakespeare’s play, from the costumes at the ball (Romeo is a knight, while Tybalt is the Devil and Juliet is an Angel) to the overall design, which puts the Montagues in bright Hawaiin shirts while the Capulets (bar Juliet) dress almost exclusively in black and red.  It’s one of my all time favourite films, partly because as I’ve said before, I love Romeo and Juliet as a play, but more because I love what Luhrmann has done with it.  Keeping Shakespeare’s original text and placing it in a modern setting is brilliant, and the conversion of the scripted swordplay into stylistic gun play is a master stroke.  There’s a reason most kids have to study this film for GCSE; each scene is dripping with symbolism, as Luhrmann plays close attention to Shakespeare’s metaphors and combines them with his own to make the film visually stunning.  My only minor quarrel is the directorial license at the end, which sees Juliet waking up before Romeo dies, mainly because it’s crueler to the audience than Shakespeare would allow, but we’ll let him off.

Never was there a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo

On to Moulin Rouge (I’m ignoring the superfluous exclamaton point in the title) another of my top ten movies.  My first reaction to this film was, “Oh my God Ewan McGregor can sing!”  My second was, rewind and watch again (I’ve since upgraded to DVD).  The rescoring of modern music is so perfect you’d think it had been written for the film, especially the epic Show Must Go On.  Music is something Luhrmann truly understands, with the score of Romeo and Juliet a perfect backdrop to the action.  In Moulin Rouge, it takes centre stage, with some knock-out performances from actors we never knew could sing.  The best part of the film, in my opinion, is the first whirlwind ride through the Moulin Rouge.  This scene exemplifies everything that makes Baz Luhrmann great, the camera twists and spins to capture the energy of the dance hall and every second is filled with vivid colours and flashes of the underworld (including a mermaid in a fish tank).  The music of this scene is also faultless, combining the FatBoy Slim remix Because We Can with Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lady Marmalade, Children of The Revolution and some original music for Jim Broadbent.  It’s dizzying and a complete assault on the senses, just as that first experience must have been for the naive Christian.

At the Moulin Rouge you'll have fun!

I could rave about the Red Curtain Trilogy for days, but what about Luhrmann’s latest offering, which steps outside his well known framework?  Austrailia may not quite hold up in comparison, but I think it perhaps needs a fairer chance than it’s been given.  It’s difficult to follow the two amazing films that have gone before, and perhaps the step away from his established format is what upset some critics, but Austrailia is a beautiful epic, with a realtively simple but still engaging stroyline.  The feel of the film is different to the Red Curtain, although there are enough Luhrmann quirks to let you know who directed the film, and the stunning scenery of the Austrailian outback could easily stand up against the words/music/dance that have gone before as the main device for this story.  Luhrmann recasts two of his Moulin Rouge stars (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) rounding off the predominantly Aussie cast with Hugh Jackman.  Jackman seems to be the Marmite of Hollywood at the moment, but I think he’s good in the role, not that its much of a stretch for him (as he quipped at the Oscars).  Luhrmann, like many directors, definitely has favourite actors who turn up repeatedly in his films, with John Leguizamo also making repeat appearances as Tybalt in R+J and Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin RougeAustrailia is long, and it does seems to be two films joined together, but it kept my interest and filled a rainy Sunday afternoon pretty well.  It might not match the standard of its predecessors, but this is Luhrmann’s first step away from very insular and tightly controlled settings into a historical epic in the real world.  It’s not nearly as easy to manipulate, yet he still manages to put his instantly recognisable stamp on it.  Again, music is a big part of it, with The Wizard of Oz making a repeat appearance.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Of course the one thing I haven’t mentioned is what exactly I’m on about in the title.  If you’re the same generation as me, I doubt it passed you by.  If it did, take a look.  Sometime after Romeo and Juliet, Luhrmann stumbled on the famous speech and remixed it with Everybody’s Free (written for the movie).  You may not agree with everything I’ve said, but I hope if you haven’t yet you’ll give Luhrmann a go.  But trust me on the sunscreen. 😉

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It’s a comedy: Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s daughter.

Posted on May 20, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

OK, this should be a quickie, since I have an exam tomorrow and am (clearly) not revising for it, but I wont be able to concentrate until I’ve blogged. (I think it’s becoming an obsession).

Last night a rediscovered a film I hadn’t seen in ages and I wanted to remind you all of it ‘cos I’m willing to bet most of you have forgotten about it too.  Depite the fact it won 7 Oscars.  In fact, the reason for me not watching it for so long was that I only have it on video…that was an old school experience.

The film in question is Shakespeare in Love.  It’s a brilliant movie, imagining how the great writer came up Romeo and Juliet based on his own experience as a star cross’d lover.  With an awesome ensemble cast featuring everyone from Ben Affleck to Geoffrey Rush via Martin Clunes the film is pretty much flawless; both funny and tragic (not unlike the play).  This was the film that gave Gwynnie her Oscar (I think she’s still crying) and also features a brilliant Joseph Fiennes-the far superior Fiennes brother but much overlooked in favour of his irritating brother Ralph (even more annoying because it’s pronounced “Rafe”).  Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for the film, all the more impressive since she’s on screen for less than fifteen minutes.  She’s just that good.  Not one member of the cast lets it down, and the (Oscar winning) writing is perfect.  The score (Stephen Warbeck) is also one of my favourites.

The juxtaposition between the on stage rehearsals and the writing process is brilliant, particularly when Fiennes recites Juliet’s lines to Paltrow’s Romeo.  And for Bard scholars (or just people like me who can recite a few Sonnets) the film is littered with references to  the other great works.  Keep an eye out for Sonnet 18, a definite Banquo’s ghost moment and of course, Twelfth Night.  Not to mention some nod’s to the Kit Marlow conspiracy and an appearance from a young (and disturbed) John Webster.

In Shakespeare in Love, you’re really getting two movies for the price of one, as most of the play is also seen.  While it may be a complete work of fiction, it’s beliveable enough that Shakespeare could have been inspried by a muse like Viola, particularly if he looked like Fiennes rather than the bald guy we’re used to.  Having recently watched Moulin Rouge, I have an idea where Baz Luhrmann’s inspiration came from, but as a plot device, having the writing and rehearsal of a play taking place simultaneously is really engaging.  The cast being so good, I always end up wanting to see their version of the great tragedy.  I have a feeling it’d be pretty awesome.

Hmmm....who do we prefer....?

You may well have seen it before, but if you haven’t I defintely recommend it.  In fact, I’m keeping my eye out for a DVD  so that next time I watch it the picture isn’t a bit wobbly (I’d forgotten the dodgyness of the old VHS).  It helps that Romeo and Juliet is my favourite play, but even if you hate Shakespeare I defy you to dislike this film.

Right…revision….really…

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Mozart, Beethoven, Bach…Williams?

Posted on April 3, 2009. Filed under: Ramblings, Trivia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

OK, first, right click here, open in a new tab, press play, and then read while you listen. I wanted to add the track myself but it was the wrong file type and I’m not clever enough to convert it.  Hopefully they’ll appreciate the hits.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll probably have noticed that music is something of a big deal to me.  When it comes to film scores, I’m becoming more and more convinced that composers like John Williams, Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer are the new classical masters.  Modern classical music (oxymoron?)  tends to be the more contemporary Maxwell-Davies style, which is definitely not to everyones taste, while the great sweeping scores seem to be left more or less to the movie composers.

Movie scores are quite often beautiful and I would argue comparable to the greatest symphonies.  (Before you start, I’m expecting to get shot down in flames for that, and I am fully aware that my classical knowledge is limited at best, but I do have some idea what I’m talking about).

Take Howard Shore for example.  I’m a firm believer that a huge amount of the success of Lord of the Rings is owed to his breathtaking score.  The orchestration mirrors the plot so perfectly that you could almost remove the dialogue and still understand what’s going on.  Of course, it helps that he’s also got the stunning New Zealand backdrop to set it off.  Shore’s The Breaking of the Fellowship the final “movement” of the Fellowship of the Ring (to which you are currently listening, I hope) is quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard, and I know that it forms a big part of why I love that film.

In the case of someone more prolific, John Williams has penned some of the most famous themes in history.  Not every man on the street will be able to hum Beethoven’s 9th or Mozart’s Requiem, but ask him to sing Star Wars or Indiana Jones and he’ll definitely know what you’re talking about.

*Random trivial aside* The Indiana Jones theme is actually part of the Star Wars theme played backwards, an in joke by Lucas and Williams, go ahead, try it.

Williams is responsible for most of my library of movie scores, from Jaws, Jurassic Park, and even Home Alone to Harry Potter (which I hate but still love the score of).  He’s the most famous movie composer of all time, and deserves the respect he has.  In fact, I think he deserves more. Why shouldn’t he sit with Beethoven as a modern classical master?

Other composers I urge you to look out for are Hans Zimmer, the man behind Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean (along with Klaus Badelt) who has a particular theme he re-uses in all of his movies as a kind of signature (once you’ve heard it you can’t miss it, its even in Rain Man!) and James Horner, the genius creator of the heart breakingly beautiful score to Braveheart.  Coming second only to LOTR in my favourite scores of all time, he magically combines traditional Scottish themes (and pipes) with sweeping orchestration which undoubtedly plays a major role in the effect that film has on me (read: unecessary floods of tears)

And it’s not just the original scores that can transform a movie.  As Watchmen showed, the re-use of modern or even classical music  can be just as evocative.  The moment in Equilibrium when Christian Bale hears the first movement of Beethoven’s 9th is a perfect example.  Layer Cake also springs to mind, with a soundtrack that brilliantly reflects the action, especially the Ordinary World scene.  Billy Elliot is also one of my favourite films for soundtrack, with songs like Town Called Malice and London Calling perfect reflections of the rioting and conflict on screen, not to mention the iconic opening to Apocalypse Now (This is the End), or the perfect settings of Philadelphia, Good Morning Vietnam, Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate

I could carry on like this for hours. Believe me.  I guess the point of this post is to make you listen as well as look.  I remember once remarking on the beautiful strings in the final scene of Pirates while watching it with a friend, and she was surprised I payed that close attention to the music.  So this is me asking you to open your ears.  The underscore of your favourite film will have already had a big effect on why you love it, you just might not have realised it yet.

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