art films music

Hans Zimmer, the Maestro

I’m a huge fan of the compositions of Hans Zimmer,  the German musician and composer known for his soundtracks for movies such as Gladiator,  The Thin Red Line,  Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, 12 years a slave and Inception.

Zimmer aims for a minimalist sound with grand production.  4-5 chord motifs explored with great dynamism by orchestral players and innovative arrangements. I’m not alone in my admiration for Zimmer as his critically celebrated works have garnered him four Grammy Awards, three Classical BRIT Awards, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award.

His creative relationship with Christopher Nolan has proved particularly fertile including his work on the Dark Knight Trilogy.  but not even Nolan gave him the free rein he received from legendary auteur-director Terence Malick who played the music on set during the arduous filming of his war epic, The Thin Red Line.  Malick let Zimmer’s score set the tone for each scene,  instructing.

In my opinion, his most successful score is his development of the themes within the Thin Red Line for the psychological thriller Inception.  The movie simply wouldn’t work so well without Zimmer’s score which moves to each beat of the plot and beautifully punctuates the shifts from action to introspection that take places throughout the movie.  The use of an electronically distorted and slowed version of Piaf’s most celebrated song Non, je ne regret rien is a delicious piece of whimsy.

The standout musical works in Inception, for me,  are The Dream is Collapsing” and the closing piece “Time”.  Nolan’s movie is fantastic in my opinion but I can’t imagine it with another score. I’ve often felt that when reviewers write glowingly about some movie scenes they’re actually paying homage to the music choice, for instance the use of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs in the movie Fearless.


Batman v Mulder

The alternative title for this blog post is “Why Cosmo Landesman’s reviews in the Sunday Times are a complete waste of time.”. This is not the first time this has occured to me. He writes well but his views are often uninformative. There have been many instances when Mr. Landesman made a dramatic attempt to show his artfulness and artiness with a willfully bad review of a good if populist movie. However, his review of the latest Batman movie is excrement. R & I saw it last week and we both thought it was marvellous for the most part. Indeed, R never liked comic book adaptations but was surprised at how good a movie it was, transcending its pulp genre with stunning camerawork, great acting, some neat plot twists and good dialogue. Let’s not forget that the movie has to overcome the premise that a grown man wants to dress up as a bat, yet it does so convincingly. Heath Ledger’s joker is almost as good as advertised and contrasted nicely with Day Lewis’ Daniel Plainview in “There will be blood” which we also saw last weekend.
Indeed, The Dark Knight may be as good a movie as Paul Anderson’s oscar winner. This is due in part to the former exceeding and transcending expectations while the latter being overhyped.
Mr. Landesman would have you believe that the Dark Knight is spoiled by politically correct yet implausible vexing on the part of the hero about whether he is blameworthy for the deaths of innocents at the hands of his nemesis. This ignores a large and plausible part of the plot whereby the joker calls on our bat obsessed hero to publicly unmask himself. The review appeared dismissive, glib and ultimately unworthy of the spectacle provided by the Nolan brothers.
On the other hand his review of the X Files gives it the same 2 star rating. To say that these movies were on a par is about as sensible as suggesting the moon is made of a refined extra -mature cheddar. It’s clearly edam. The X Files is a woefully mediocre movie. It’s not terrible but its flaws are so large they stick in your craw, upsetting digestion for hours after the movie is finished. On first inspection you’d think Billy Connolly would be a terrible choice as a paedophile priest “blessed” with some kind of sixth sense. Actually he’s rather good in this slightly hammy role. Nor is the problem “a lack of ideas” as attributed by Cosmo Landesman. The basic premise which drives the plot is actually fine. The problem is that the movie has no idea what its about.
There’s a smattering of love story but it feels phoney. Why, after the series ended, do two lovers who’ve been living together for over a year still refer to themselves by their surnames? This conceit of the earlier episodes of the show is gone by the feature length denoument. Why is there so much time spent on the sick kid? He’s a shallow plot device. It doesn’t work. Why do we learn so little about the techniques and motivations of the limb transplanting bad guys. They’re definitely cartoon baddies as we’re afforded nothing in the way of character development and there’s little clue as to why they’re practicing their abominations. (always liked that word :-)) There are interminable scenes of implausible emotional angst between the two leads, where Scully decides she might have to leave Mulder because of all this “darkness”. This comes across as more high-grade crapola. Appaling and silly character development for the leads. Having watched the TV serious which was so brilliantly scripted and directed by Carter, Wong and Morgan, I can’t believe 10-13 productions couldn’t do so much better.
“I want to believe” feels like it was directed and most particularly editted by a committee, without a single autocratic vision to guide them. Even the wrong vision would have been better than the mish-mash that unfolds.
However, this isn’t an awful movie. The acting is good, most of the dialogue is fine and there are some witty moments. Also, the series has been on tv recently so anyone dismising this as the review of someone who has halcyon romanticised recollections of the series is mistaken. Many episodes of the series really were that good. Genre-defining and defying in the way that only the Nolan brothers and Guilermo del Toro have achieved in recent memory.
With a clearer focus this could have been a very good movie. All the ingredients for a first rate omelete are there 🙂 As it is we’ve been left with a disappointment which is leading to some even more caustic reviews at rotten tomatoes.


Holding out for Hero

The chinese martial arts movie “Hero” has just been released in Ireland. Entertainment Ireland have a brief review here
I must confess I thought it was a wonderful movie. I’ve read quite a few reviews that compare it unfavourably with “crouching tiger, hidden dragon” but I disagree. Also my immediate memory of “crouching tiger” doesn’t permit me to make a direct comparison but my first impression is of a movie that I liked far more. Overly worthy perhaps but satisfying all the same.
The plot goes a bit like this.

For over a decade the King of Qin has lived in fear of assassination from a trio of powerful warriors in the unconquered regions. This time has come to an end with the arrival of Nameless, a middle-ranking official in his kingdom, who brings news that he has defeated them all. As Nameless claims his rewards in the presence of the King he relates his story of how he defeated the assassin Sky and used the love between Broken Sword and Flying Snow to defeat them. However the King questions some of the things that he is being told

I won’t tell you any more about the plot, instead urging you to see the movie.
However I read quite a few reviews of the movie that would have dissuaded me from seeing it so I’ll use this opportunity to say why they’re all wrong, the critics misguided and why in my not-so-humble opinion it’s near perfect.
All the critcs agree that this film looks absolutely fantastic. The cinematography is inspired. A colourful cavalcade of sweeping shots, lithe balletic movements and bold, dramatic scenery. And that’s just the first 10 minutes. So many hollywood directors could learn from Yimou Zhang’s masterful integration of light and sound, colour and contrast to form a seamless whole. Indeed, such is the beauty of the spectacle that the dialogue may be superfluous. There are many scenes where the ‘connectedness’of actors and their surroundings is evident. All the elements (wind, water, earth and fire)articulate the characters emotions. Typical chinese martial arts movie then!
Ok so here’s what I think of the criticisms:

  1. The plot is convoluted and doesn’t work. I found it interesting, not overly complex and the juxtaposition of the story, the unravelling of truths and the cinematic shifts in colour that accompanied this were a joy to behold
  2. It doesn’t have the emotional resonance of crouching tiger Who the hell cares? In my opinion it’s a more accessible movie, more entertaining and it definitely has an emotional resonance. Perhaps not one that many western audiences will want to see because it expouses the sacrafice of the individual towards a greater good. (This ain’t a hollywood movie kids)
  3. We never empathise with the characters, they’re not developed as human beings, more as stereotypes of their Fidelity, Love and Idealism This is a silly criticism. The movie is clearly supposed to be fable. It’s not some bloody soap opera or reality TV show. When expect the characters to be well rounded when the whole movie is about high morals, contrasts, archetypes and their portrayal with a rich tapestry of colour

For me this movie had two important lessons that we often ignore.

  1. There are times when the good of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Human history has thought us this time and time again as painful as it is to learn.
  2. Hatred infects all aspects of our lives and ultimately those we love suffer most because we choose to hate.

To summarise. Go see the movie, you may like it!