Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Hans Zimmer”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Dawn of Justice is the much-anticipated battle between two super-heroes that I previously thought were both on our side, but in any event, frankly it’s less interesting watching them tussle than you’d think.

One is a demi-god with exceptionally good intentions whose inner conflict involves a utilitarian fight between saving the love of his life versus the rest of humankind; the other is a jaded, middle-aged billionaire whose chance of emotional happiness was destroyed the moment his parents were murdered. Whether congenital or constructed, each has the super-human capacity to wreak havoc and save lives. But somehow they wind up having to fight each other. And it takes a very noisy, overlong two and a half hours for one of them to win.

Director Zack Snyder picks up where his Man of Steel set down: Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is now living happily with Lois Lane but is still unrecognisable to his colleagues at the Daily Planet newspaper; Bruce Wayne (now played by Ben Affleck) continues to sleep around and attend lacklustre cocktail parties while his butler Alfred (a refreshing update on the role by Jeremy Irons) delivers a cynical commentary.

Initially, the cinematography (particularly stunning in Imax), Snyder’s typically grim production design and Hans Zimmer’s extraordinary soundtrack (it’s just as well I like my music sledgehammer subtle…) deliver plenty of thrills, and with the introduction of a hyperactive Jesse Eisenberg as Wayne’s new nemesis, things bode well. Batman, in particular, feels credible in his fatigue and pessimistic outlook, while Kent and Lane’s burgeoning relationship carries a comforting domestic tone.

But once the battle begins, it’s simply too loud and too long. If one were inclined towards subtext, the continual theistic allusions might be compelling: Luther despairs/delights in the battle he is orchestrating being between gods and devils, and certainly Superman is played like a Jesus figure once lauded then pilloried by the very populace he once swore to serve. An apposite Easter movie, perhaps, but in every other way Snyder’s attempt to deliver meaning is scuppered by his idolatry of empty bombast. The real injustice here is for the fans.

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Rush

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 15th September 2013

“The name’s Hunt – James Hunt” declares a British-accented Chris Hemsworth, in this latest role which should provide him with an excellent James Bond audition tape in years to come. Sparkly blue eyes and louche blonde hair, he bounces from girl to girl like an over-energetic Tigger. A slug of champers, a toke on a joint, and he’s ready to race.

Formula One aficionados may remember Hunt as half of one of the sport’s great rivalries of the 1970s, as he fought off competition from Team Ferrari’s top driver, the Austrian Niki Lauda (played with aplomb by the hopefully no longer underrated German actor, Daniel Bruhl. You may not remember him from such films as Goodbye Lenin! and Inglourious Basterds, but you will after this).

Like chalk and cheese – Hunt is the charismatic, risk-taking womaniser, Lauda the blunt-talking strategist – these two characters share the voiceover and screen-time in a fascinating pseudo-biopic that focuses on the most dramatic moments in their careers behind the wheel.

While fleshing out the lead personalities in lively performances which show the two young actors at the top of their game, the film also delivers thrills and spills through expertly-rendered footage of races and crashes. (To this end, the less history you know, the more heart-in-mouth your experience will be.) The supporting cast of wives and girlfriends (notably Tron Legacy’s Olivia Wilde as real-life starlet Suzy Miller, and the wonderful Alexandra Maria Lara), team mates and F1 bosses are just as credible and engaging. Even the production design is top-notch, with hairstyles and costuming that are as faithful as Hunt is not.

Little wonder that the film seems effortless in its creation – veteran director Ron Howard has assembled his own team of hotshots to bring life to a screenplay by Peter Morgan, the award-winning writer who consistently accounts for some of the best cinematic tales (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland all shone thanks to him). Hans Zimmer provides an appropriately exciting score, and the photography is superb. The multi-lingual script lends an air of arthouse to the whole affair.

In the spirit of the superb documentary Senna, Rush manages to be as much a character-driven story as a story about driving. With energy and enough dramatic tension to keep you enthralled, it’s one hell of a ride.

Man of Steel

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 30th June 2013

If you were hoping for a fresh, new take on the Superman origin story, or even if you never knew the original tale, audiences should be more than happy to spend a couple of hours getting to know this new Clark Kent from scratch.

From the opening scenes it’s all-action – the planet Krypton is going into meltdown, and scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) must protect his newborn son from the evil machinations of fellow Kryptonite, General Zod (Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Shannon). The baby safely despatched through space to a foreign land, treachery and murder ensue. The tale then transposes to Earth, where a handsome itinerant worker is failing to make friends or leave a lasting impression, other than by his ability to single-handedly save a bunch of men from a burning oil rig, and then disappear.

As befits an origin story, the film flashes back and forth in time as the young Clark battles sensory overload and powers he doesn’t understand, while restraining himself against bullies. His unconditionally loving parents (an admirably plain Diane Lane and reliable Kevin Costner) support him, though dad recommends early on that the special kid keeps his tricks to himself. This backstory sits nicely against the action unfolding in the present day, as the older Kent is challenged, at age 33, with stepping up as either an enemy or saviour of Earth.

Twinkly blue eyes, dimpled chin and crooked Englishman teeth, with this role The Tudors’ Henry Cavill has shot, straight-armed and at high-speed, into the big time of blockbuster comic movies. Supported by a fine cast that mixes Oscar nominees with commercial dead-certs, Cavill plays the small-town lad with extraterrestrial powers as someone we believe in and even care about.

Unlike Thor and Iron Man, there are very few laughs, and the grainy, bleak aesthetic of director Zack Snyder’s palate espouses the sincerity which all the actors employ in delivering fairly standard “planet in peril” dialogue. Remarkably, given Snyder’s history on the considerably flashier Sucker Punch and Watchmen, he manages to convey gripping drama – albeit interspersed with long and loud fight scenes. No doubt co-writer and co-producer Christopher Nolan (with his solid comic credentials in the latest Batman franchise, and his élan in Inception) can be thanked for this.

That said, it’s not po-faced or humourless – and even though the suit is faintly ridiculous (with no explanation posited as to why a man who can hold up a toppling building even needs one), Cavill plays so earnest and well-meaning throughout that we accept his costume without a sneer. Similarly, his burgeoning love affair with a gutsy Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is touching rather than clichéd.

There are some clever touches – the alien enemy knows humans are umbilically attached to their TVs and smartphones, and the otherwise invincible race is literally deafened into submission (and thanks to Hans Zimmer’s glorious, Inception-inspired score, so are we).

Man of Steel does go on a bit long, there’s an awful lot of carnage, and some may be amused by the Jesus-like posturings of our 33-year old saviour. But if our planet is ever in peril, I know who I’m gonna call.

Spending ev’ry dime

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Among this film’s many incomprehensible clichés dressed up as witty truisms, Gordon Gekko says (and I’m paraphrasing – because frankly this was so incomprehensible and inherently unwitty, I have to break it down for you) – “Money is a bitch of a woman – she watches you sleeping, with one eye open, and you have to give her the attention she wants otherwise one day you’ll wake up and she’ll be gone”.

Huh?

Director Oliver Stone’s original Wall Street starred an as-yet unsullied and unlaughable Charlie Sheen as a young trader who makes millions, lives the high life, gets a conscience, and brings down the big guy (Michael Douglas).  Despite its mid-80s look ‘n’ feel, it’s still watchable and enjoyable in 2010, if only for the sake of living vicariously the lives of the disgustingly rich and Machiavellian for two hours.  And then shaking off the mucky feeling one gets from reading trashy celebrity magazines and coveting material possessions one doesn’t need.  Well, that’s just me.

Imagine my excitement when the trailer screened earlier this year: a haggard Gordon Gekko being released from eight years in prison – the warder details the belongings he went in with – a gold watch; a money clip with no money; a mobile phone… and with a clunk, the classic retro “brick” is placed on the counter.  Gekko walks out with fellow releasees, sees a limo drive up, goes to climb in – and is pipped at the post by a young African American in hip-hop street gear.  Gordon’s face says it all – what is this world he’s returning to?

It turns out his world is one of “frugal” living in a penthouse apartment overlooking Manhattan, a nonexistent relationship with his daughter Winnie (latest English rose, Carey Mulligan, accent wavering), and the attentions of Winnie’s fiancé, Wall Street trader Jake (the dashing Shia LaBeouf, doing his best with mature material but still in my view far too young and unconvincing for the role).  Gordon wants back in Winnie’s life; Jake wants in on Gordon’s expertise.

Apparently Oliver Stone and his crew wrote this film as the 2008 GFC (Global Financial Crisis – keep up now) shattered the jaw of the worldwide banking industry.  I thought this was ingenious – bring back Gordon Gekko as a harbinger of doom, a Sybil that (of course) everyone ignores.  Watch it all go up in smoke.

But instead the film is a mish-mash of complicated (and dull) dialogue about stocks and trades and hedgefunds or something, made “simple” for us non-bankers by use of a split-screen (in case we can’t keep up with who the characters are, and need to be shown who Jake is on the phone to) and fancy computer imagery of fusion energy and… um, they lost me there.  Not that I cared.  What about Jake and Winnie?!  Will she mind he’s been secretly meeting her dad?  Has Gordon’s leopard really changed his spots?  What’s weird about Shia’s hairline??

Stone obviously pulled in a good cast – we get cameos from Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, and the return of Sylvia Miles as the realtor who lets Jake his apartment (having rented to Charlie Sheen back in 1987).  Josh Brolin, doing well with a 2-dimensional character and boring dialogue, plays the baddy.  Probably one of the most exciting moments (which says it all) was Sheen’s Bud Fox turning up at a fundraiser with two girlfriends.  Nice to see art imitating life.

While I expect so much from Oliver Stone, having been a big fan of JFK, Platoon and even Natural Born Killers (well, it was very of its time), this film disappointed on many levels.  It is flabby and overlong, completely unexciting, and there is nothing at stake for anyone (some of the father-daughter scenes bordered on emotional, but were then dampened by subsequent goings-on).  The real-life chemistry of Mulligan and LaBeouf had some beautiful moments, but couldn’t save the heartlessness of the story.  Probably my greatest annoyance is reserved for the appallingly inappropriate score – a combination of lacklustre David Byrne and Brian Eno songs, and composer Craig Armstrong rehashing his music from 1999’s Plunkett & Macleane (“original music”, my eye).  Never has a movie about stocks and bonds had greater need of some Hans Zimmer to tell us when the stakes are high and lives are in peril.

Incredibly, the film opened today in the States as well as here in NZ (wow! I feel unusually on the ball).  Just in time, then, for me to manage people’s expectations.  I can’t predict how much this will make worldwide, but I suggest Stone sleeps with one eye open to ensure his Money doesn’t walk out in the middle of the night.

Don’t dream it’s over

Thoughts on Inception

(Spoiler alert – though frankly if you haven’t seen it by now, you’re presumably not going to)

If you haven’t seen Inception yet, just go.  Trust me.  Especially if you don’t go to the cinema regularly – hire a babysitter, get decent seats, and make sure you go to the bathroom beforehand.  And stop reading now – with this film, the less you know in advance, very much the better.

SO.  I saw the trailer months and months ago and I think I even did my involuntary quick-hand-clap-of-excitement the minute it said “From Christopher Nolan”, as Hans Zimmer’s wonderful bass soundtrack pounded my brain.  Here’s another example: Anyway, there were shots of cliff-edge cities crumbling into the sea, of Parisian cityscapes folding onto themselves, of backdrops exploding in slow motion while the characters sat, unscathed and oblivious, in the foreground.  Leonardo getting serious.  Joseph doing Matrix-style moves down a corridor.  That lovely Marion Cotillard from La Vie En Rose.  Awesome and exciting.

Months, and a whole heap of hype, later – Inception is so good I’ve seen it twice.  Not that I didn’t understand it the first time – remarkably (for me), I followed the story and its many, many layers and it totally clicked.  But the second viewing enabled me to capture every nuance, appreciate every line, as well as re-enjoy some of the more satisfying performances (Tom Hardy in the bar in Mombasa boasts some of the most natural acting I’ve seen in a long time; Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acrobatics in the hotel have me in thrall every time).

For me, Inception‘s beauty is all about the concept.  Just as A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s brilliance lay in the fact we all have to fall asleep at some stage, Inception riffs on the various elements of the dream state – something every audience member can identify with (regardless of whether they might question the science of some of the assertions).  It’s true – dreams seem real when we’re in them, and it’s only when we wake up that we realise something was in fact strange.  Sure enough – the action in our dreams feels like it last hours when in reality we’re only asleep for minutes.  The film uses the mystery of our subconscious to great effect – poignantly in the notion that our bugbears will hijack our happiness or good intentions, and ingeniously when the people populating our dream treat us suspiciously the moment we (in the dream) sense that things aren’t quite as they should be.

The very notion of being able to enter someone’s dream, share that dream with others and communicate with them within the dream in full knowledge that it’s only a dream, is frankly mind-blowing.  Further concepts of pain and death within dreams have a basis in our existing experience (that if you die in a dream, you wake up in reality – but if you’re injured in a dream, your brain feels the pain just as intensely as if it were real, since the brain reads pain on an emotional level).

One key element is of course the dream-within-a-dream motif.  The fact that this is stretched further into not just a third, but a fourth sub-dream, makes this all the more fascinating.  On first viewing, I must admit to losing interest in the 4th level towards the end – the action in the snow scenes, necessarily slowed down to allow us to watch the progress within the other three dream levels, is purely perfunctory.  As, appropriately, is the central plot – Cillian Murphy has to change his mind, for himself (not suggested by others), and thus change the course of his future.  Considering the method by which this is achieved has to be so complex, it’s entirely right that the quest is straightforward.  But the other three levels are brilliant, and I gained great pleasure from my second viewing in terms of tracking the characters’ progress in each mini adventure.

Viewers will be divided over Leonardo DiCaprio’s role and performance, but I like him.  I heard a veteran screenwriter say recently that the most important thing is that we (the audience) connect and empathise with the protagonist.   Of course, we know this to be true, and I think this was well achieved over the course of the film’s two and a half hours.  Leonardo’s Dom Cobb can’t return to the US to see his children because of a slowly-revealed criminal charge.  In itself that’s not so interesting.  But Cobb is wanted for the murder of his wife Mal (the lovely Cotillard) who threw herself to her death because she believed she was still dreaming – and as we all know, if you die in a dream, you wake up.  The fact that Cobb carries the guilt of effectively leading her to that place where she could no longer discern dreaming from reality, is compelling and horrific.  We may bear him no ill-will for it, but we still want to see him set her, and himself, free.  The love story in the film is frequently beautiful in its rendering, and Cobb’s unrealistic idealism of his marriage ultimately redeemed by his admission that he can no longer see Mal with all her faults and complexities that made her real to him – hence his ability, finally, to let her go so he can return to reality and move on with his life.

I enjoyed some of the in-jokes (doubtless there are many I did not pick up).  Marion Cotillard is best known for her Oscar-winning role as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, and the “wake-up” trigger song in Inception is Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”.  It’s also nice when a director re-uses favourite cast members: Cillian Murphy (from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) and of course Michael Caine (from the same).  He used Carrie-Anne Moss in Memento just after she had shot to stardom in The Matrix, echoes of which abound in this film.

Once again, Nolan has created a film that plays with memory (as in Memento) and riffs on perception (Insomnia and The Prestige), tying in spectacular special effects (many of which were done old-school, that is to say with specially constructed moving sets, rather than as CGI) with a meaningful, universally-accessible story and some entertaining performances.  The set-pieces are breathtaking in their execution (I could watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt leaping and floating around that hotel for hours), and the concept is thought-provoking and compelling.  Even after 148 minutes I didn’t want to wake up.

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