Monday, 28 February 2011

VG Score Review - Shadow Of The Colossus: Roar Of The Earth (Ko Otani)




An Excellent Soundtrack... If you want an epic score that contains a technical genius not often found in the videogame industry.

Not So Much... If you yearn for strong thematic ties between tracks, with a large portion of the score taken over by repetitive action cues that do little to advance the main themes of the score.

This score hails from the Japanese Videogame Industry, and so is a fairly unique album, full of interesting instrumentation and melodic lines.
The concept of the Shadow Of The Colossus videogame is to search an absoutely huge wasteland for even huger beasts, or Colossi. Other than killing the Colossi, of which there are only sixteen, the rest of the game is spent riding on horseback exploring the wasteland as you see fit.
Because of the structure of the game itself, the score is fragmented into two halves. One half of the score consists of bombastic, epic and generally astounding battle music, to suit the size of the creatures that the protagonist is facing. Whilst these cues are thrilling on first listen, the scoring for the quieter moments in between each battle is what will keep you coming back. However, being a videogame soundtrack, each track lasts little more than a couple of minutes, and so the album jumps back and forth between quiet and LOUD and subdued and EAR-SHATTERINGLY LOUD!! a tad too abruptly.
Other than this, the score is near flawless. Whilst lacking in obvious John Williams-style themes, the atmosphere provided in the quieter cues is one that captures Wander's isolation superbly, with each track maintaining a deep melancholy that is rarely found in films, let alone videogames. This is most effectively conveyed in the tracks "Prologue: To The Ancient Land", "Prayer" and "Epilogue: Those Who Remain".
In conclusion though, it's pretty silly for me to be taunting you with this score, as it is quite difficult to get hold of. Having just checked on Amazon, the lowest price is in fact now £28.99, so it's really only for score enthusiasts. In fact, it may actually just be better to buy an old Playstation 2 and the game and get the whole experience, as Shadow Of Colossus was undoubtedly one of the (little-known) highlights of the console.




Rating: 9.0

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Score Review - Twilight: New Moon (Alexandre Desplat)


A masterpiece of a score... If you want a more classically oriented score compared to the original Twilight, one filled to the brim with some of the best gothic/romance themes in recent years.

Not so much... If you are hoping for some kind of thematic consistency between the scores in the saga. This score doesn't use any themes from Carter Burwell's original score, and Howard Shore's score for Eclipse rarely uses any themes from this score in return.

I shall start by explaining the background of my review for this score. I can not stand Twilight. I have many reasons as to why this is, but these are far too large in number to list here. The CliffsNotes version is that everything within my very being wants me to hate this score.

But I can't.

Alexandre Desplat has created a work so astoundingly brilliant that I can't hate it.
I can't even dislike it.
I can't even be indifferent to it.
I can't even just plain like it.

I love this score. Ever since I first heard the Primary Love Theme, I haven't been able to harbour any kind of significant bad feeling towards the Twilight Saga simply because it gave this score to the world. It just gets better and better from the beginning to the very end, with each new rendition of the Love Theme building upon it's depth. The theme is stated in full on the very first track, but is shattered during "Edward Leaves". The theme is then gradually rebuilt each time that Bella has a vision of Edward until the very end of the film, where the theme returns with a vengeance in the last minute or so of "Marry Me, Bella", and on into it's full arrangement again in "Full Moon".

This theme is the main backbone of this score, but there are other themes of note. Another, smaller, Love Theme is introduced for the relationship between Jacob and Bella. Whilst only fully explored on two tracks ("Almost a Kiss" & "Dreamcatcher"), it's subleties when compared with the Primary Love Theme are extremely commendable and a welcome break from Edward and Bella's overt romanticism.

These romance themes are undoubtedly the highlight, not just for New Moon, but possibly even for Alexandre Desplat's career in general. However, Desplat's suitably chilling theme for the Volturi would be a stand-out for any other score and perfectly captures the true nature of traditional Hollywood vampires, even if most of the vampires within the film itself can be likened more to a My Little Pony.
Desplat also provides the necessary 'thrilling action music' required for a film of this kind, although none of it is really worthy of any note against any of the already-mentioned themes.

Overall, compared to the 'modern', guitar-heavy score for the original Twilight, this score is just dripping with pure classical beauty like the sweat from a sparkly vampire's chest. It is definitely worth a purchase, not just for TwiHards or even for film score buffs, but for people that just happen to own a pair of ears.



Rating: 9.3

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Inception

"You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling"



Amazon Synopsis
Visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan (MEMENTO, THE DARK KNIGHT) writes and directs this psychological sci-fi action film about a thief who possesses the power to enter into the dreams of others. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) doesn't steal things, he steals ideas. By projecting himself deep into the subconscious of his targets, he can glean information that even the best computer hackers can't get to. In the world of corporate espionage, Cobb is the ultimate weapon. But even weapons have their weakness, and when Cobb loses everything, he's forced to embark on one final mission in a desperate quest for redemption. This time, Cobb won't be harvesting an idea, but sowing one. Should he and his team of specialists succeed, they will have discovered a new frontier in the art of psychic espionage. They've planned everything to perfection, and they have all the tools to get the job done. Their mission is complicated, however, by the sudden appearance of a malevolent foe that seems to know exactly what they're up to, and precisely how to stop them. Emma Thomas serves as producer, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, and Ellen Page rounding out the supporting roles.

Review
I'm not going to bother going into any siginificant amount of depth regarding the background or plot of Inception, as I'm sure most of you have seen it, and if you haven't then all I can say is... watch it.

I also won't focus on many of the good points about Inception in general, as you can go ahead and safely assume that most of it is brilliant. It's exciting, looks great and has top actors, specifically Joseph Gordon-Levitt moving past his previous, geeky roles:


To literally leaking more cool than DiCaprio as this guy:


However, the score is not great. It works alright for the film, I guess, but it doesn't really sound any different to anything else Hans Zimmer has produced over the past decade, and so doesn't really give Inception a musical indentity separate to, say, the Batman films. In this case however, Hans Zimmer doesn't have James Newton-Howard to save him with some awesome themes, so instead we get this:

Tone.

Tone.

Tension building group of tones.

More tension.

Some extra bass.

Tension.

Tension.






BOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!
BOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!
BOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!
BOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!
BOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!
BOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!

Which to be honest, is disappointing, but not really surprising.

The other, very small, negative about this film is the incredibly clumsy (to the point where it just stumbles into a scene midway through like an annoying drunk uncle at a wedding) expositional dialogue. It seriously should have been tightened up a bit, as even the brilliant actors can't convincingly repeat the rules of the film's reality over and over and over again, just to make sure that the audience doesn't have a brain-hurt. Anyhow, like I said, this is a small negative, and such simple and frequent exposition probably does help small children to understand the film...

Speaking of understanding the film, I feel that I'm going to have to offer my theories on what 'it all meant'. Because of obvious SPOILERS, the following will need to be highlighted for you to read it:

I honestly believe that it doesn't matter a single hairy elephant whether the film is all a dream or otherwise, as that is entirely against the point that the film is trying to convey.

On a character level, whether the spinning top keeps on spinning is irrelevant, as what really matters is the fact that Cobb simply doesn't care, and has found his own reality where he finally feels happy and complete. After obsessing over reality during the entire film, whether the reality where he is with his kids is 'real' or not finally doesn't matter to him, so it shouldn't matter to the audience.

However, I have a feeling that some of you won't find that satisfactory to shall list a few things that you may or may not have noticed that could lean the film in either direction:

Every single scene in the film is a dream
  • The foot-chase sequence early in the film is strong evidence for the dream theory, as it involves several instances of dream logic, such as narrowing corridors and Saito and his car just happeneing to be in the exact right place at the exact right time.
  • Saito himself is incredibly covenient, being able to buy out entire airlines on a whim as well as clearing complex murder charges with a single phonecall. Could Saito have just been a projection of Cobb's wish to go home?
  • Why is Mal sitting on the opposite ledge from their hotel room during her suicide scene? The window is open and the lights on in the opposite room, and yet no one appears to be home. It seems odd that they would book two rooms for their anniversary, so is this another case of dream logic in what Cobb thinks of as 'reality'.
  • It also seems odd that Ariadne shares her name with the character from Greek Mythology that helps Theseus escape the minotaur's maze. This may just be an artistic decision on Nolan's part, or may be something more.
Only the Inception and Extraction sequences are dreams
  • Although it seems that Cobb's children don't appear to age or change their clothes between Cobb's flashbacks and when he meets them again, the credits do show that two actors of differing ages play each role. Their clothes, whilst similar, are also slightly different, as are their shoes.
  • Cobb appears to wear a wedding ring during all of the obvious dream sequences, but not for any of the 'reality' scenes, including the final scene. This is obviously a subconscious projection within the dreamworld of his desire to be with Mal, so is it safe to assume that the absense of a wedding ring is a reliable indicator of scenes that take place in reality?
Another way to view Inception doesn't involve which realities in the film are real, but instead looks at the entire film as a metaphor for itself and other films.
DiCaprio has stated in interviews that he has based the entire character of Cobb on Christopher Nolan, and Cobb often appears to take on the role of a 'Director' within the story of the film. Arthur on the other hand, appears to be the producer, organising all of the practical aspects of each job. Ariadne could quite easily be the screenwriter or set-designer, creating the world that the dream/film will take place in, taking care not to alter the reality of the dream/film to the point where the subject/audience can't believe it. Meanwhile, Eames so obviously fits the role of Actor that he changes his appearance whilst sat in front of a traditional Hollywood vanity cabient. Finally, Saito is the guy providing all of the money for the dream/film. He obviously tries to get involved in the inner-workings of the dream/film but only serves to screw things up for everyone else.
Overall, this team aims to create a false reality in order to plant ideas in their subject's head. This is exactly what the film itself does to it's audience, with the idea planted being: "What is real?"


Here are the scores:
Acting: 9
Cinematography: 9
Script: 7
Soundtrack (in the context of the film): 7
Soundtrack (in the context of Hans Zimmer recycling the same stuff over and over and over and over and over and over): 2
Overall: 9 (not an average)

Here is a video that I've found on Youtube that quite adequately shows the ridiculous boring rubbishness of the scoring technique that Hans Zimmer himself calls "Transcendent":


Wednesday, 16 February 2011

VG Score Review - The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Michael Giacchino)


Before I carry on with my list of DVDs, I'm just going to write a quick review of the score for The Lost World: Jurassic Park Videogame by Michael Giacchino.


Hunt it down, tranquilise it, and bring it back to San Diego... If you can work around the limitations of a videogame soundtrack and will enjoy one short, bombastic cue after another.


Leave it to live in peace... If you prefer a subtler type of score. If so, see A Single Man.


Although it may not seem like much at first glance, this score is one of the most important of the nineties. The primary reason for this is that it was the first videogame score ever to make use of a full orchestral soundtrack, thus paving the way for videogame soundtracks such as Medal of Honor to rival the scores of their equivalent films in quality (And yes, that's me saying that Medal Of Honor kicks all kinds of bunk out of John William's score for Saving Private Ryan).
Thye other reason is that this is also one of Michael Giacchino's first ever jobs writing a full score. After this, Giacchino will slowly work his way up through the industry, through the Medal of Honor franchise up to the TV stage, scoring such shows as Alias and Lost in the early noughties, whilst writing the occasional Pixar film on the side. Further and further he'll climb, moving on to score major blockbuster films including Mission Impossible 3 and Star Trek (2009) until he eventually wins an Academy Award for best soundtrack for his work on the Pixar film Up.


And it all starts with this score.


Now, despite all of that hyperbole, I am definitely not saying that The Lost World is anywhere near the quality of Giacchino's later work, nor does it compare to John Williams' work on the films. However, it is very interesting to see Giacchino's roots, and many of his techniques used in this soundtrack will serve him well during his time with the Medal of Honor franchise.


The limitations of being the first orchestral videogame soundtrack are also evident. There is but a single track on the entire CD that breaks past the 2:20 barrier, excentuating the fact that Giacchino was hired to write short, concentrated bursts of music that could be easily mixed and shaped around the dynamic world of the videogame. Whereas Williams is able to explore all of his themes fully through his knowledge of how exactly his music will synchronise with the film, videogame soundtracks require that the music be able to change dramatically at certain checkpoints as the player moves through the game so as to give the illusion that the soundtrack is synchronised with the game, despite the fact that one player might take 10 minutes to complete a level whilst another player could do the same in 2 minutes.


With all of these limitations in mind, Giacchino does an absolutely fantastic job with what he is given. Each track contains at least one moment of genius that the listener can latch on to. Giacchino also manages to create a thematically consistent work around his restrictions, writing themes and motifs for a number of characters and creatures that recur at significant points in the game rather than just providing generic action/scary music.


Rating: 7

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Score Review - A Single Man (Abel Korzeniowski w/ Shigeru Umebayashi)

Because reviewing every one of my DVDs just isn't enough to satisfy the fact that I'm a crazy person.




Buy it if... You want your heart to be broken every few minutes by some of the most gorgeous music written for a film in recent times.


Avoid it if...You dont.


Despite the fact that the majority of 'great' soundtracks come from fantasy or science-fiction films, due to their abundance of thematic material, A Single Man, is that rare soundtrack for a drama that doesn't just 'get the job done' but sticks in your mind for days after having seen the film.
That's not to say that this score is especially bombastic or catchy. It's beauty lies in it's minimalism, and the recollection of the score doesn't involve epic brass fanfares but rather a piano playing soft arpeggios going around and around and around your head.
A good way to explain this would be to tell you that about a year or two ago, I made the mistake of watching Superman Returns before bed whilst indulging in piles and piles of what was effectively pure sugar. Instead of sleeping, I ended up lying in bed all night, shaking, and humming this tune at about 5x it's normal speed:
However, with the Single Man soundtrack, I could quite easily fall asleep fairly quickly (in a good way) and have dreams about trees soaked in the sunset of a summers day blah blah blah blah blah.
The score itself is perfect for the film it accompanies, striking the perfect balance between grief and hope, and giving the listener a rich emotional tie to the main character of the film.
Written by two composers, the surprisingly young Abel Korzeniowski with Shigeru Umebayashi of House of Flying Daggers fame, the soundtrack is remarkably consistent both with itself and the overall tone of the film.
Korzeniowski's leading theme for the film, first stated in Stillness of the Mind, is truely something to behold, sinking deeper and deeper into melancholy as variations are revealed throughout the score. However, like in the film itself, the score offers hope in some of it's unlikeliest passages.
Unlike almost every other film score out there, A Single Man, is purely reactionary. Rather than acting as an emotional failsafe, explaining to the audience what they are supposed to be feeling before they feel it, A Single Man works in absolute harmony with the film, building on rather than introducing, the emotional anchors of the film.
The soundtrack CD also includes a number of songs, even including a beautfiul selection from the opera La Wally. Each of the songs included fit within the 60's setting of the film, although I can't help but feel that (though I know it was featured in the film) the track Green Onions feel massively out of place when put against the rest of the tracks on this release.
Overall, this score is one of the most perfect I have ever heard, even though I usually tend to find drama scores overly repetitive and dull. This album is truely a breath of fresh air, and I would recommend it to anyone,  film score enthusiast or otherwise.



Rating: 9.5

M:I-iii

"I've got a charge in my head, I'm going to die unless you kill me"



And now for the first review in what has turned out to be a J.J. Abrams double feature, Mission: Impossible 3.

Amazon Synopsis
J.J. Abrams, creator of small-screen hits ALIAS and LOST, makes his feature film debut with the third installment of this successful series based on the hit 1960s television show. Secret Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has decided to take it easy and lead a somewhat normal life. He's even found his perfect woman, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), and is engaged. But when newbie agent Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell)--whom Hunt mentored--goes missing while on assignment, the reluctant agent finds himself back in business. Soon, with his old buddy Luther (Ving Rhames) in tow, along with team members Zhen (Maggie Q) and Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Hunt is traversing the globe on the trail of Farris's captor, Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an elusive international weapons dealer. The stakes increase when the villainous Davian gets a hold of Hunt's fiancee and uses her as a bargaining chip. A raucous combination of spectacular chases, explosions, amazing stunts, and elaborate schemes takes the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) team to Berlin, the Vatican, and Shanghai. With fascinating hi-tech tools these secret agents can impersonate virtually anyone, scale walls in an instant, infiltrate the tightest security system, and blow up the evidence when they're done. But facing their most formidable foe ever, Hunt and his fellow agents are fighting the clock to keep Julia alive and get Davian the mysterious weapon he is demanding. Cruise's personal involvement in the stunts lends a nice air of authenticity to Hunt, who also shows his emotional side in this outing as he juggles his secret life and his new love, as well as possible betrayal by someone inside the IMF. Laurence Fishburne also stars as IMF's Director Brassel, and Billy Crudup appears as his somewhat timid right-hand man, Musgrave.

Review
For Mission: Impossible 3, Alias writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci team up with Alias director J.J. Abrams, Alias composer Michael Giacchino and Alias editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey to move from a small-budget spy TV show to a big-budget action blockbuster spy movie. Oh, and Tom Cruise is involved in there somewhere.
Although this is the Bad Robot crew's first attempt at an action film on this scale, they do a very commendable job that is better than, not only Mission: Impossible 2 (which was pants), but possibly even the original film.
Although Tom Cruise acts as Producer, the guys from Bad Robot truely make this film their own, adding their trademark mystery-for-the-sake-of-mystery mysteries, as well as some subtle references to Lost and a ridiculous number of tense countdown sequences. Whilst not a perfect movie by general standards, this film is perfect with a massive tub of popcorn and a comfy sofa. This sequel is also a marked improvement over the previous instalments action-wise, but it also brings some emotion to the proceedings, allowing ample opportunity for Tom Cruise's intense face.
Whilst J.J. Abrams occasionally suffers from pacing issues at a couple of moments in the film, his ability to stage a brilliant action sequence with a number of elements in play is clearly on show, especially during the 'epic' bridge sequence midway through the film. He manages to get across important information during these scenes, even though he films a tonne of it out of focus and in Bourne shakey-cam stylee.
Michael Giacchino provides a more-than-adequate if not memorable score for the film, making excellent,but sparing, use of Lalo Schifrin's Mission Impossible Theme, whilst providing the standard action music with a tad more emotional heft than has been done previously.
Philip Seymour-Hoffman is effective as the menacing lead villain, although in typical Mission Impossible style, the number of fake-outs and double-crosses in the plot does become a wee bit silly. Speaking of silly, fear not for the film does also contain the required cringe-worthy one-liners scattered liberally throughout.
Overall, the film is brilliant for a thoroughly enjoyable two hours of action escapism, but doesn't really extend much further than that.

Here are the ratings:
Acting: 7
Cinematography: 8.5
Script: 7
Soundtrack: 8

Overall: 8 (not an average)



Saturday, 12 February 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet...

...is rubbish.
The End

Moon

"I think we've got a live one"


And now for one of my favourite movies of 2009, and one of my favourite sci-fi films of all time, Moon.


Amazon Synopsis:
Sam Rockwell (Matchstick Men) stars in this thought-provoking science fiction film. After spending three years on the moon as a solitary miner, Sam Bell (Rockwell) is almost ready to return home to his wife and daughter. But as his homecoming approaches, he begins to experience strange things that can't be explained and his employer may have a sinister plan in mind for him. Moon is the directorial debut of commercial helmer Duncan Jones.


Review:
Back in 2009, every sci-fi fan was waiting in intense anticipation for what could be one of the greatest sci-fi films of the decade. This film was Avatar, a film that is familiar to many of you, about xenophobia on a planet full of blue CGI aliens. 
For those who could see through the shallow plotting and characters of that film, a safe haven was waiting for them. This took the form of District 9, another film about xenophobia that also involved CGI aliens, although much less attractive ones.
What few people were expecting though, was that the decades greatest sci-fi film, one that easily sits within the pantheon of classic 70's and 80's films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Alien, would be about this guy...
...and this guy alone.


It's fitting that director Duncan Jones' first film would involve this subject matter, considering as his Dad wrote many songs about lonely guys in space for a living. You may have heard of him. His name is David Robert Jones, but for showbiz purposes, he replaced Robert Jones with the slightly more catchy 'Bowie'.
For Duncan Jones, previously an ad guru for French Connection UK, this is an incredibly confident debut, with Jones trusting his audience enough to not waste any time on meaningless exposition, and instead letting Sam Rockwell (pictured above) do his thing whilst telling a focussed and affecting story about what it means to be human. The only background given for the film is that the human race has solved it's energy crisis by mining Helium-3 on the moon, and that Sam Rockwell's character alone has been the man in charge of this effort for the past 3 years.


Despite obvious comparisons to the genre classics listed above, Jones does his best to subvert any assumptions that the audience might have, especially in regards to moon-base AI 'Gerty' (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who immediately invites comparisons to HAL9000 from 2001.


Without wanting to give too much away about the plot, all I can say is that the true stand-out of this film is undoubtedly Sam Rockwell's measured performance. He is not only the sole actor within most scenes of the film (all other characters are viewed through pre-recorded messages), but he is also required to perform a character at one stage of his life opposite the same character at a different stage in his life (the specifics of which I won't spoil here). It is truely ridiculous that he got snubbed for an Oscar, as his performance in this film is easily within the top performances of that year. In fact, after multiple views of this film it becomes apparent that every aspect of it perfectly contributes to the tone and overall quality of the film. Jones' controlled direction is beautifully complimented by Gary Shaw's cinematography and Clint Mansell's subtle, but gorgeous, score.


I'll finish this review by stating that this film not only does everything that I'd want a sci-fi film to do, but also everything that I'd expect from a top-class drama. This is a definite recommendation for anyone reading, whether they are into sci-fi or not.


Here are the ratings:
(Sam Rockwell's) Acting: 10
Cinematography: 9
Script: 9
Soundtrack: 10
Overall: 9.5 (not an average)

Friday, 11 February 2011

THE BEST FILM EVER?

I think so....

How To Train Your Dragon

"Thank you for the breast-hat"






Yes, I know How To Train Your Dragon isn't actually on my list seeing as I don't own the DVD. However, after watching it again tonight, I decided I'd make more writing for myself by reviewing a film that I don't actually have to review, 'cause that's how my geekiness rolls. Therefore, however, although, this review will be fairly short.


Amazon Synopsis:
From the creators of Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda comes How To Train Your Dragon, an animated adventure comedy set in a mythical world of burly vikings and wild dragons, based on the book by Cressida Cowell. The story centres around a viking teenager, who lives on the island of Berk, where fighting dragons is a way of life. Initiation is coming, and this is his one chance to prove his worthiness to his tribe and father. But when he encounters, and ultimately befriends, an injured dragon, his world is turned upside down.


Review:
Yes, I know that if you haven't seen this film, the synopsis above is setting off all of your excessive-cheese alerts. However, I'm going to go right out and say it.... I enjoyed How To Train Your Dragon ever-so-slightly more than Toy Story 3. And believe me when I say that I love love love love love Pixar and everything they do.


BUT


I just found How To Train Your Dragon a lot more exciting than the latest Toy Story. This may be because the story was more action-packed, or because it had more 'that was awesome' moments, or the fact that Toy Story 3 had to live up to the films before it, or because the HTTYD soundtrack kicked Randy Newman's effort all the way across town and back to pre-school (if you haven't noticed by now*, I'm a sucker for a good soundtrack).


Sidebar:
One thing I will admit is that Toy Story 3 was funnier, although I think this was primarily due to Mr Potatohead and Spanish Buzz.


SPOILERS (HIGHLIGHT TO READ):
Another possible reason for this is that I felt a bit cheated by the furnace scene in Toy Story, whereby they all get miraculously saved at the last second by the Pizza Planet Aliens, which I thought completely undercut the emotions established just seconds before. In HTTYD however, Dreamworks go so far as to cripple their hero to strengthen the bond between him and his dragon at the end.


Anyhow, feel free to let me know your opinions about the two films in the comments section.


Here are the ratings:


How To Train Your Dragon
Voice-Acting / Animation: 8
Art Direction: 7.5
Script: 8
Soundtrack: 10
Overall: 8.2 (not an average)

Toy Story 3
Voice-Acting / Animation: 10
Art Direction: 8
Script: 7.2
Soundtrack: 2
Overall: 8 (not an average)

What the Toy Story 3 Soundtrack should have been:

*Where have you been?!?!?!




 

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

"Sorry about the ruckus every morning."




The next step on this (not really) perilous journey into the (not really) unknown has veered off into the Anime stylings of Art Director Nizo Yamomoto, with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Tonight's review will be slightly shorter than yesterday's, simply because I got a bit carried away talking about The Big Lebowski, and I am also hoping for an earlier night tonight!

Amazon Synopsis:
There is a future that we can't wait for. What would you do if you could 'leap' backward through time? When tomboyish 17 year old Makoto Konno gains this ability after an accident in her high school chemistry lab, she immediately sets about improving her grades and preventing personal mishaps. Before long, however, she realizes that even innocuous changes can have terrible consequences. Changing the past is not as simple as it seems, and eventually Makoto will have to rely on her new powers to shape the future for herself and her friends. Featuring brilliant character design by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Neon Genesis Evangelion) and stunning art direction by long time Studio Ghibli. Nizo Yamamoto's The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a feast for the eyes as well as the heart.


Review:

For those that have been hesitant in regards to anime, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a perfect place to start. Rather than bombard the viewer with hundreds of weird creatures and/or robots at once, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has a very measured pace and is set entirely in a normal contemporary world. True, the main plot device is time travel (leading to the hilarious line "I think you'll find that most girls start to time leap when they reach your age"), but this is dealt in a fairly simple Groundhog Day style. At it's core, the film is about two young best friends who fall in love over the repetition of a single day.


As anime, this film is absolutely gorgeous. Although a lot of the animation is rough around the edges, the detail of the world in which the film takes place is staggering when compared to western 2D animation. The director, Mamoru Hosoda, really allows time for this world to breathe, often employing a very minimalistic approach to sound design, and not being afraid to have characters be quiet for an extended period of time. In fact, the unquestionable highlight of the film takes place when, due to various plot reasons, time literally stops and Hosoda gives his focus to what would otherwise be insignificant details, such as traffic lights, pieces of rubbish floating down the street, and birds frozen in flight high above the city. These types of moments occur in accompaniment to Kiyoshi Yoshida's subtle, yet effective soundtrack that often consists almost entirely of a solitary piano.


In short, whilst the animation is lacking, and the story has been done before, the art direction and soundtrack combined with some beautiful character moments, elevate this above the standard anime fare, and is a perfect first step into this style of film.


Scores:
Voice-Acting / Animation: 6.5
Art Direction: 9.5
Script: 7.5
Soundtrack: 9.0


Overall: 8.5 (not an average)

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Big Lebowski

"I myself dabbled in pacifism once, not in 'Nam of course."




I am beginning this quest through the dungeons of my film collection with one of my all-time favourite comedy films, The Big Lebowski.


Amazon Synopsis:
Jeff Bridges plays Jeff Lebowski, known as the Dude, a laid-back, easygoing burnout who happens to have the same name as a millionaire whose wife owes a lot of dangerous people a whole bunch of money--resulting in the Dude having his rug soiled, sending him spiraling into the Los Angeles underworld.




"In a perfect world all movies would be made by the Coen brothers."
A product of the master film-makers Joel and Ethan Coen, The Big Lebowski, released in 1998, was initially given a luke-warm welcome by film-goers and critics alike. However, over the years as it's layers and layers of subtext have been revealed through repeated viewings, it has become one the ultimate cult films across a number of generations, spawning an annual 'The Big Lebowski What-Have-You Fest' whereby thousands upon thousands of 'Little Lebowski Urban Achievers' have gathered to bowl and quote lines from the film. These 'Achievers' have also taken to dressing up for this event, with many dressing in typical 'Dude' attire, whilst others take the opportunity to dress up as The Dude's Landlord, a Creedence Tape and even as The Queen In Her Damned Undies! For more on the global effect of The Big Lebowski on the global community, visit The Church Of The Latter-Day Dude


Through it's unconventional uses of both dialogue and visuals, The Big Lebowski not only works exceedingly well as a ridiculously silly and nonsensical comedy film, but also as a surprisingly deep commentary on a number of themes, primarily 'What makes a man in contemporary America when compared to masculine stereotypes derived from classic-era Westerns and Detective movies?' and 'The Effect Of Repetition in Language in an Increasingly Convoluted and Confusing World'.


As is evident in the trailer above, The Big Lebowski is a melting pot of genres and styles, with only two constants. The Dude (a.k.a Jeffrey Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges).... and Bowling. The film is essentially a mix-tape of various plots that, in the end, have no real meaning or affect on The Dude himself. Ironically, despite the plot that spoofs the twists and turns of the traditional detective movie to the Nth degree, it is actually far easier to understand than the film that it takes it's primary inspiration from, The Big Sleep (another film on my list). Also of note, This obsession with The Big Sleep runs so deep that many scenes could be taken from each film and, played side by side, would reveal a number of striking similarities in both the structure, settings, dialogue and mood between scenes.


I won't spend too long on the humour that makes up The Big Lebowski, as it really cannot be effectively communicated outside of the film itself, and really just has to be seen. However, I will spend a small amount of time on one of the themes mentioned previously as a demonstration of the many layers present in this film.




"In The Parlance Of Our Times"
One of the primary, yet relatively subtle, themes in The Big Lebowski is the repetition of language and how it can be taken out of context to mean something completely different. The script makes use of a vast number of leitmotifs that occur throughout the film, passing from one character to the next.


For example, the character of Walter quotes from a number of sources extraneous to the film, including Shakespeare and Herzl with little regard to context. A perfect example of this is when The Dude tries to repeat this same method of argument, but failing miserably:


Dude: It's like Lenin said, you look for the person who will benefit and, uh, you know...
Donny: I am the walrus.


Another aspect of the viral nature of language begins in the very first scene of the film. As The Dude purchases some Half-and-Half at the local superstore, a news report in the background shows George Bush Snr.  using the phrase "This aggression will not stand" in reference to the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. During his encounter with 'The Other Lebowski', the Dude re-applies the phrase when arguing about who should take responsibility for his soiled rug, stating "This will not stand, ya know? This will not stand, man!". In fact, the entire sequence of events in the film spawns from a scene where a name is taken out of context, with Jackie Treehorn's thugs mistaking the obviously unemployed Jeffrey 'Dude' Lebowski for the millionaire philanthropist Jeffrey Lebowski.


The depth of this film means that I could literally go on for hours and hours about all of it's subtext (and I haven't even mentioned the fact that it has one of the greatest and most appropriate selection of songs for it's soundtrack). However, I won't spoil any more of this brilliant film for you and shall leave you to discover (or re-view) this film for yourself.


Here are the scores:


Acting: 8.5
Cinematography: 10
Script: 10
Soundtrack: 9.0


Overall: 9.7 (not an average)