July 30, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

Our Rating: 4
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Yahoo Movies Critics: B
Yahoo Movies Users: B+

Featuring the voices of: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jakie Chan.
Directors: John Wayne Stevenson, Mark Randolph Osborne.

Jack Black is back, baby! Woohoo!
One of my favourite actors of all time (sorry, random fact, I guess), Messr. Black voices the animated panda, Po. Bumbling, overweight and often clumsy, Po still dreams of become a Kung Fu warrior (like his idols, the Furious Five).
Po's father, however, has different plans for him; Mr.Ping (daddy goose), you see, owns a flourishing noodle restaurant which, he hopes, Po will take over some day. For that to happen, Mr.Ping instructs Po in the art of noodle-making but constantly refrains from letting Po know the "secret ingredient".
Kung Fu Grand Master Ogway, meanwhile, gets a premonition that the dreaded Kung Fu Warrior Tai Lung will escape prison and threaten the Valley of Peace once more. To counter this, he announces that he will soon choose the new Dragon Warrior, the one fighter who will stop Tai Lung once and for all.
I won't spoil the fun and tell you how this happened, but what happens is that Po inadvertently gets chosen as the Dragon Warrior (like you didn't already know/guess).
What follows is an intensely hilarious tale of a coming-of-age blundering panda. Yes, there are foes-turned-friends, there are caricature villains, there's the inevitable disapproving-but-proud father track, but it's all been presented in one of the best ways ever.
But the most amazing thing about Kung Fu Panda is its hidden message (which only becomes clear towards the climax of the film): belief.
I won't expand on that, go watch the movie, but lemme tell you this: it's the stuff legends are made out of. The message might be lost on kids and adults alike, specially since it's being depicted in an animated film, but I'll go so far as to say this is the second best moral-driven, comedic animation flick ever (the first being The Lion King, of course).
The animation rocks. It's been superbly done by DreamWorks who, of course, prove time and again why they're one up on Disney and Pixar. The expressions of all the characters are nearly life-like, specially in the close-ups, the one place where you'd most expect the life-likeliness to fail.
As the voice of Po, Jack Black is phenomenal. I can just about imagine him in the studio, coffee cup in hand, going crazy with Po. This film is his stage to prove to the world, again, just WHY he was born. He rocks. I'm sorry if I'm gushing but I can't help it. I am a maniacal Jack Black fan and extremely proud of it.
Angelina Jolie's inclusion in the cast was much hyped but, frankly, she doesn't live up to it. Don't get me wrong, as the voice of Tigress, she's awesome-but there's nothing of the Angelina Jolie stamp in her this time, no extra zing like there usually is. At the end of the film, I realized that this was a role any female could've done, which is weird since I walk out of most Angelina Jolie films either drooling/foaming at the mouth or talking so loudly about her that my friends usually stand a few hundred feet apart pretending not to know me.
Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu is just perfect. I seriously cannot imagine any other actor whose voice would've suited the character more. Maybe, just maybe, Marlon Brando in his Godfather days but, sadly, this film is a few decades too late for that.
Jackie Chan's role, too, was much talked about. But as Monkey, he's there for hardly a few scenes (where he's required to talk. Otherwise, he's there in the entire film, like an animated extra). He's simply wasted but I guess including him was the producers' way to lure the audience (specially after the success of The Forbidden Kingdom).
Lucy Liu as Viper rocks. Again, it's a role that any other lady could've done, but Lucy Lui's good, no doubt about it. I'll give credit where it's due. :D
A very, very special mention to Randall Duk Kim, the man who voices the tortoise, Grand Master Ogway. He's TOO GOOD. He's hilarious and he's old and restrained and he's convincing and he's annoying all at the same time. Phew! Imagine one guy doing all of that in one sentence! That's Master Ogway/Duk Kim for you :D
I go with a 4/5 for Kung Fu Panda (only for the third time in my history-after The Shawshank Redemption and, more recently, The Dark Knight). If you walk out of this film without a smile on your face, you're out of this world....and I don't mean that in a good way.

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July 29, 2008

Money Hai Toh Honey Hai (Hindi)

Our Rating: 2
Yahoo India Movies Users: 3.5

Starring: Govinda, Aftab Shivdasani, Celina Jaitley, Manoj Bajpai, Upen Patel, Hansika Motwani.
Director: Ganesh Acharya

What could have been an immensely funny plot in the hands of somebody like David Dhawan becomes a semi-palatable khichdi with Ganesh Acharya.
Prem Chopra plays a psycho-industrialist who loses his mind when he remembers he has no heir to his fortune. To counter this, he somehow dreams up the numbers of six losers (Govinda, Aftab Shivdasani, Celina Jaitely, Manoj Bajpai, Upen Patel and Hansika Motwani) and names them the heirs to his empire. In doing so, he inevitably angers his long-time business manager Ravi Kishen (superb in the little role he has) who then starts plotting to kick the six off and usurp the throne for himself.
Where the movie fails is its treatment: Govinda’s made to ham as if his life depends on it (though, frankly, he still infuses enough of himself in his character to make him likeable. Plus, he dances like a dream); Upen Patel shows off more of himself than any decent movie-goer would like to see; Celina Jaitely is surprisingly restrained in her performance; Manoj Bajpayee is phenomenally awesome as the anti-Murphy, ever-optimistic “businessman”; Hansika Motwani is shamelessly exploited in cleavage-bearing, tight-fitting outfits that would put Celina Jaitely in a fix (which is saying something).
The music is a let-down, the cinematography is okay-ish and the costumes look like recycled hash from Govinda’s old films.
Speaking of Govinda’s old films, what’s with the crazy rap version of Main Toh Raste Se Ja Raha Tha? I mean, if you’re trying to pass Govinda off as a 20 year old, is that the only thing you could think of, Mr. Director?
Overall, I'd give the film a 2/5. Here's the break-up: 1/5 for Govinda, Manoj Bajpayee and Ravi Kishen and 1/5 for Esha Deol in that scorchingly hot avatar of hers in that one song. :D

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July 27, 2008


Our Rating: 3.75
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Yahoo Movies Users: B+

Starring: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, John Nolan.
Director: Christopher Nolan.

It doesn't contain any known actors (as can be divined from the 'Starring: ' field above). At it's time of release, the director wasn't as frighteningly well known as he is today (I mean, Chris Nolan, did, after all, make The Dark Knight). It doesn't have any high octane action, nor any real length. All that this movie has is a good story, an excellent script and lots of intrigue.
This is Nolan's first full length movie (clocking in a really short 70 minutes), but apart from the fact that it lacks just a wee bit technically, you don't ever feel that this is a newbie director. Even though it's been shot on a shoestring budget, the cinematography is pretty stylish, with the footage being completely black and white. Infact, the emphasis, technically, seems to be on innovation to best utilize the funds, yet the movie doesn't ever come across as a cheapskate impersonator.
The story revolves around Bill, a young wannabe writer (played rather competently by Jeremy Theobald), who, in order to develop his characters, follows people to observe their mannerisms. But one day, he runs into Cobb (Alex Haw), a rather sophisticated burgler, and things start to go awry for Bill as his he gets sucked into lies, deceit and murder. The twist at the end is pretty unexpected and really, it is only then that you realize just how much trouble Bill really is in.
Edited in typical Nolan 'fractured timeline' style, this voyeuristic movie packs in quite a punch. It is an intelligent thriller, utilizes all of its limited runtime quite well, and is generally, an amazing effort for a first timer working on a restricted budget.

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July 24, 2008

The Departed

Our Rating: 2.5 (that too, just because of Jack Nicholson)
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Yahoo Movies Critics: A-
Yahoo Movies Users: B+

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg.
Director: Martin Scorsese

Oscar winner? This movie?! 92% on Rotten Tomatoes? This movie?! No wonder critics are thought to be utterly pretentious and unreasonable! What does this movie have that all cops and moles movies don't? Well, there's Jack Nicholson, and then there's the disappointment of watching this movie. Make no mistake, Jack is AMAZING in this movie, but all the rest is utterly boring cliches stuck together.
You know a movie is special when it manages to send me off to sleep. In that respect, this movie is top-notch. It is ultra-special. One of a kind. Had it not been for Nicholson, this would've been even more 'special'. But then, Jack Nicholson plays Jack Nicholson to great effect in each of his movies. There's nothing new about that.
What is new, is just how low a great director like Arty-Marty will stoop just to give this film a gritty feel. Whoever said that cursing by the truckload on screen gives the movie a realistic, gritty feel, must've been born yesterday. No really, you can't count the number of times our beloved f-word has been uttered on screen. The only gauge of how ridiculous the dialogue sounds due to the infestation of the f-word (in its root form, not even as some imaginative hybrid!) is the fits of laughter I was sent into every time I heard it being uttered. Had I not known better, I would've thought that this was a spoof on the f-word. Seriously, it's been overdone to the point of ridiculousness. A little more effing restraint would've made the dialogue more natural and the movie more gritty.
The effing f-word isn't my only concern. The fact that, by their very nature, cop stories are supposed to be engrossing, and this particular one put my off to sleep, really tells you something about the loosness of the script. In fact, the character of Sullivan's (Matt Damon) wife, played by Vera Farmiga, does nothing to either entertain you, nor further the story. A lot of sub-plots are murky to say the least, and should have been dropped altogether. The pacing is extremely jerky, with the twistless ending being to bloody and abrupt. Yeah sure, all that blood spatter and all does look impressive, but you really have to ask yourself, what was the need? why are characters behaving the way they are?
It all boils down to the fact that not even Jack Nicholson can carry such a convoluted offering on his own, and he really could've done with some help, at least in the script department. Watch this one only to find out how over hyped movies can get...

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July 23, 2008

Are posthumous Oscars fair?

I ran into this poll (obviously fuelled by the posthumous Oscar buzz that Ledger is generating) on gaurdian.co.uk. I voted (in the affirmative, if you must know), and was more than just surprised by the results-I was alarmed! The results showed that it was a close race (59.4% for, 40.6 against), which really got me thinking about the fairness of posthumous Oscars....
Oscars, as I understand, are given for excellence in that particular field for that particular year. If that be the case, then why should it matter whether the person is still living or dead? The recipient excelled in that field, and that is the bottom line. He/She is being felicitated for that, and not for being alive till the time of the Oscars.
But having said that, if the candidate wins only because of the 'sympathy' factor, then, that Oscar isn't fair. From what I understand of the voting system, all the people associated with the various Guilds cast their votes to decide their winner. When we can trust the members not to be partial towards their nominated friends (or for that matter, themselves), I think we can also trust them enough to be emotionally unbiased. Also, deaths in the industry keep happening, but there has been just one case of a posthumous Oscar (Peter Finch, 1976) in all these years. This just shows that the jury can be trusted enough to be emotionally neutral and unbiased in all respects. And so, I think that posthumous Oscars are fair.

So, what do you think? Are posthumous Oscars fair, or not? Head out here and cast your vote.

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DVD Recco-In The Valley Of Elah

Our Rating: 4
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Yahoo Movies Critics: B+
Yahoo Movies Users: B-

Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron, James Franco.
Director: Paul Haggis

I recently caught this 2007 movie, In The Valley Of Elah on DVD and BOY does it rock (ok, just because I wrote digital video disk in abbreviated capitals doesn't mean that BOY stands for something as well....just thought I'd make it clear).

Directed by Academy Award (I'd produce the encircled 'R' if I could) Winner Paul Haggis (Crash), In the Valley Of Elah is an extraordinary tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Sounds confusing? Haha, read on.

Tommy Lee Jones is Hank Deerfield, a retired army military police sergeant, who learns that his son, SPC Mike Deerfielf, is absent without leave (AWOL). Hank immediately leaves for the army base in order to search for his missing son. When he arrives, he's shocked and shattered to find that his son has been murdered.

How he solves the heinous, brutal murder (Mike was chopped into lil' pieces and burnt up after that) forms the rest of the tale.

Supported ably by veteran Susan Sarandon (who plays his wife, Joann) and classy Charlize Theron (Detective Emily Sanders), Tommy Lee Jones shoulders a breathtakingly touching tale of a man who sets out to find the truth about his son.

In doing so, he unknowingly comes closer to Mike than he realizes (which is apparent through the introspective flashbacks that pepper the screenplay). However, this isn't a film about posthumous love. No, it's an out-and-out emotional thriller cum tragedy cum a tale of truth. (Frankly, whatever the specific genre, it works).

This can easily be described as one of Jones' best performances to date (I still think he was his best in Men in Black) though correct me if I'm wrong in saying that his ultimate best is yet to come.

Charlize Theron as the hassled, overworked, semi-cynical detective is simply awesome. It's a role which requires her to look menacing, calm and collected without her usual stunning looks to distract the audience. She pulls it off with elan. With considerable elan, in fact.

As Detective Sanders, Theron is convincing. The best in her comes out in that one scene where she finally puts her male, chauvinistic colleagues in their proper places. It's a treat to watch her nonchalantly whip their asses (pardon my French) into a fuzzy mess (pardon that, too). Their reactions are to die for :-D

Susan Sarandon doesn't have too much to play with, but her character helps support the story if not help progress it. She's extremely effective as the mother who's lost it all and the wife who's about to lose it all. Watch her in that scene where she curses Tommy Lee when he tells her Mike was murdered.

James Franco (Spiderman), frankly, is wasted. He's good, he's got cropped hair and he's wearing military uniform but you can't really imagine him as a senior commanding officer. The role doesn't suit him at all. Therefore, it's a blessing in disguise that his role is as minimal as it can get.

Mike Deerfield's played by some chap who doesn't really need to act since the most we see of the guy is in short video clips taken from a mobile phone. Oh yeah, just WATCH those lil' clips....they're amazing. It's just unbelievable the way they've been shot, almost as if they were taken real-time in Iraq. Without the clips, the movie would've been plain boring.

I like the supporting cast (the soldiers) but I don't know their names (in any case, there are too many of them to name). In particular, I like the Mexican runaway soldier who Tommy Lee degradingly calls "Chiko" (a degrading term used for Mexican refugees who inhabit America).

The ending. Oh man, what can I say? Haggis, sir, you're a god-damned genius, if there ever was one. In recent times, barring the Shawshank Redemption (yes, it's my favourite movie, live with it) and The Dark Knight, I haven't seen a better ending. It made me sit up and understand what you're trying to convey. It makes so much sense it's amazing no other movie with a war in its background hadn't thought of it. Simply brilliant.

Verdict? I'll go with a 4/5 for Paul Haggis' In The Valley Of Elah. It's a film you should miss at your own risk.

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July 21, 2008


Our Rating: 2.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Yahoo Movies Users: B+

Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano.
Director: Christopher Nolan.

Borrowing a line from Chris Nolan's Batman Begins, and updating it a little, I'd say that "This is a movie you'll never understand, and you always fear...what you don't understand...". But, having said that, I'll also add that when you do understand this, it'll turn out to be nothing more than a sleight of the hand, a common trick, a formulaic story wrapped in a lot of (distracting) fluff, to make it seem more interesting.
The original short story by Jonathan Nolan was novel and highly gripping, to say the least. But sadly, the film adaptation, in trying to stretch the story out, and thus fill the required 2 hours of runtime, loses the novelty. Along the way, you start feeling more than slightly tricked, and by the end, you're really uninterested. The twist at the end, also doesn't grip you, or make you jump in your seat the way normal Nolan endings do.
Guy Pearce goes about his role of Leonard Shelby, the guy who can't make new memories, looking extremely lost. He just about appears in each scene, mutters his line, and then the director cuts to another scene, where Pearce is again seen muttering his lines. No, actually, not even muttering, but puking out. Like he's just about remembering to say the lines. Like his heart's not really in it. What could have been a great tragic character in the hands of someone more capable, just about segues into a bumbling fool.
The worst thing about the movie is its editing. People have raved and ranted about it, but frankly, to me, it was just gimmickry. It does nothing, but distract from the actual story. Alright, it's a new approach, but seriously, the movie would have connected better if it would have been edited conventionally.
The best thing about the movie undeniably, is Joe Pantoliano (Baby's Day Out). He just excels in the role of John Gammell, who, you are told in the very last scene, is an honest undercover cop. Trust me, and take that guy's dialogues literally, and the movie will be clear as daylight. Joe just inhabits the role, and brings the right amount of warmth and deceit to the role. The way he plays the role, Gammell appears to be just a sleazy pimp trying to swindle Shelby, but it as only at the end that you realize that Gammell is actually one of the few good guys (if not the only one) in this twisted and convoluted tale.
This movie is actually one big lost opportunity. The director, in trying to befuddle the audience too much, loses control of the movie. The critics also hyped this movie too much, I think partly because they didn't really understand the movie. They weren't really looking carefully, because obviously, they "wanted to be fooled". This movie really represents the absolute nadir of Nolan's filmmaking, and thankfully, a guy of his obvious talent, went on to greater things (not just the Batman movies, but also The Prestige). Considering that his previous film (Following) and his recent films, have all been way better, this can only be considered as a momentary lapse of concentration, and not an alarming sign. Watch this one, only if you want to know what all the hype was about, and please, please don't fall into the trap of doubting Gammell.

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July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

Our Rating: 4.75
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Yahoo Movies Critics: A-
Yahoo Movies Users: A

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine.
Director: Christopher Nolan

It wasn't just the hype, but rather the confluence of such amazingly talented people that had me waiting for this flick like I haven't ever waited before. I had such great expectations out of this movie, that good movies would have crumbled before them. And, that is exactly my point-this film isn't just good, it's 'dark knight' good, a classic. Right up there with the very best of cinema. This isn't just a superhero movie, rather it's a smartly packaged crime drama with enough twists and turns to make the head spin. But then, Chris Nolan, being the director he is, packages these extremely well in the 140 minute run time, even finding time for some really well choreographed action sequences. There is never a dull moment, never an implausible twist, and certainly no loopholes in the script.
The film starts of with a brilliantly conceived and staged bank robbery. The Joker and his goons, wearing clown masks, break into the mob's bank. Through the robbery, we never get to see the Joker, only hearing about him from the other goons. As the robbery progresses, the sheer brilliance of the Joker's plan starts to emerge. Playing on his goons' fears and distrust for each other, the Joker manages to make of with all the money himself. It's a theme repeated often in the film-the Joker is shown as the purveyor of anarchy, playing on others' fears to his own advantage, or rather, pleasure. He isn't "looking for anything logical" and just wants to "watch the world burn". Heath Ledger doesn't just play the character, he actually becomes the character. All the mannerisms and mood swings come naturely. Nothing is forced, nothing is put-on. Ledger disappears so completely into the role, that it's hard to imagine him in any other role.
Bale plays Batman as a tragic and flawed hero. It's clear from the very first scene that Batman is bleeding and has too much on his plate. Not only is he fighting off the mob, but also a horde of his imposters. The general public can't decide whether Batman is the messiah Gotham needed, or just a common thug who should be locked up. The cops treat him like a criminal, with only Gordon seeing him for the man he is. With the introduction of the Joker and his anarchy, the debate becomes stronger, with the public blaming Batman for creating the Joker. While Begins focussed on the creation of Batman, this movie focusses on the struggles of being Batman. The personal sacrifices and hard decisions are beautifully protrayed in the movie, with the ending taking the cake, and justifying the movie's title. By the end, Batman isn't just a vigilante in a costume, he becomes something else, something much more heroic.
Eckhart excels in the role of Harvey Dent, the courageous new Gotham DA. He is the 'official' version of Batman, someone who has vowed to clean the streets of Gotham while working within the framework of the law. His arrival even prompts Bruce Wayne to consider hanging up his boots and start leading a normal life. But then again, things don't go exactly according to 'plan', and Harvey ends up as the villainous, coin flipping Two-Face. How the transformation takes place is the actual crux of the movie, and thus, I'll steer clear of it.
The supporting cast (if you can call them that) of Michael Caine (as the butler, Alfred), Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox, the Wayne Industry inventor) and Gary Oldman (as Lt. Jim Gordon, the only honest GCPD cop), all bring their A-game to the movie, instilling a never-before-seen earnestness to their roles. Maggie Gyllenhaal adds gravitas to the pivotal role of Rachel Dawes (which was played by Katie Holmes in Begins), the love interest of both, Dent and Wayne.
The film raises important social questions about the corrupting nature of power and vesting too much power in one individual, all within the framework of a superhero movie. The scale of the movie is epic, the action is better handled than in Begins, and generally, this is one of the better movies dished out by Hollywood. It's so good, that the hall actually burst out into applause once or twice during the show I was in. This is one of the few films that entertain, and still have a shot at the Oscars, and for that, it's really one to be seen!

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July 16, 2008

(Soundtrack) The Dark Knight

Our Rating: 4
SoundtrackNet Critic: 3.5
SoundtrackNet Users: 4.5

Music by: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Okay, I'll be frank. I'm sick and tired of Zimmer and movie soundtracks-after a while every score starts to sound the same. Having said that, the only reason why I heard this soundtrack was because I thought that the soundtrack might give some clues about the movie. I mean, I've been waiting for this flick for a really long time, and with so little information available about it, I had to resort to trawling the soundtrack for clues about the movie!The soundtrack begins on a really irritating note with Why So Serious? which, obviously, contains Joker's theme. Not a very good start to the whole listening experience, but towards the end of the track, we hear the Joker's theme as a counter-weight to the two-note Batman motif. The brass swells up and you expect the Batman motif to be played, but the second (descending) note in this motif is a different note, thus establishing (musically) the fact that Joker and Batman are same in a lot of ways, but still different, two sides of the same coin...
I'm Not a Hero introduces us to the theme that Zimmer and Howard wrote for the previous movie, but didn't use it then. There's nothing heroic about the theme, it's more about Batman introspecting and generally feeling burdened with the task at hand. Infact, much of the score is all based on the same thought, with just the last 3-4 tracks establishing Batman as lashing out against the chaos around him and trying valiantly to bring order back to Gotham city. I'm Not a Hero also contains some reprises from Batman Begins, tracks which were used in the movie, but not included on the album. These reprises, though pleasing to hear, reek a bit too much of techno beats. Infact, that is one major grouse I have against Zimmer and Howard-the reprises all have David Arnold-isque techno beats.
Harvey Two-Face, as the name suggests, is the suite for Harvey Dent aka Two-Face. Just like the Joker theme was the counter-weight of the Batman theme, Dent's theme is the counter-weight of Bruce Wayne's theme from Batman Begins. Infact, both start of in the same way, but while Dent's theme becomes optimistic after that, Wayne's theme plunges into pity, remorse and introspection. This suite greatly fleshes out Dent's character-it embodies optimism, the 'whiteness' of Dent, and his sense of purpose, and is carried on in Blood on My Hands.
Aggressive Expansion starts off with a really pleasing reprise of the orchestral swell from Barbastella. Again, the orchestra pounds away the Batman theme in full glory. It then adds on more reprises, often adding more weight to the themes. The reprises continue with Always a Catch, which has Nycteris in an almost unaltered form.
Like a Dog Chasing Cars, And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad, Agent of Chaos, Introduce a Little Anarchy and Watch the World Burn, though not action cues in the traditional percussion pounding way, can be nothing but those. These epically performed tracks exude the sense that Batman is trying to bring order to the anarchy unleashed by the Joker. These tracks contain bits of Molossus, the new Batman theme (performed valiantly/heroically) and the Joker theme, all inter-mixed in real foot tapping fashion, and if these tracks are anything to go by, the movie's going to be really really epic in scale!
A Dark Knight is the longest track of the disc, clocking in at more than 16 minutes. It isn't fast enough to be an action cue, and I can't see any way how there can be a 16 minute track for introspective scenes. So, the only conclusion I can draw is that something really special is going to happen in the finale of the movie. The track also suggests thus, swinging between heroic and introspective with utmost ease. The 16 minutes fly by and the album is wrapped up on a nice note with the two note pounding Batman theme, followed by a really muted rendition of the Joker theme.All in all, this album is something really grand and entertaining. What is interesting to see is that while the Batman theme has many variations, right from introspective to tragic to valiant to down right heroic, the Joker theme is always played just the way it's fist heard right at the beginning. The weird little theme, though irritating at first, really captures the essence of the Joker very well. All the tracks are worth mention and this album, like the movie, is something really special....

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July 7, 2008

(Soundtrack) Batman Begins

Our Rating: 4
SoundtrackNet Critic: 4
SoundtrackNet Users: 4.5

Music by: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
Additional Music by: Ramin Djawadi and Mel Wesson

Many fans complained about the deviation from the original Danny Elfman score in this reboot of the Batman franchise. While Elfman's score for Batman and Batman Returns was majestic and as proclaimed by Elfman fans, genius, for this reboot, acclaimed composers Hans Zimmer (Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Rock, The Da Vinci Code) and James Newton Howard (King Kong, The Village) collaborate and completely change the music of Batman. Gone are the gothic and (at times) silly Elfman-esque themes. They are replaced by themes which could truly become the voice of the future Batman movies.
I've always maintained that music is the actual voice of the film-even masterfully shot scenes require good music to actually lift them up from the mundane. But this score, it left me totally speechless. It not just becomes the voice of the movie, but also of Batman. The tragic yet heroic tone of the music is a welcome departure from the more action oriented writing of Elfman and Elliot Goldenthal (Batman Forever, Batman and Robin). For the first time, someone's actually gone inside Batman's head and realized that it ain't all about the action, instead, it's more about the character and what drives him than the action (which doesn't, for a moment take anything away from the fact that the album features some pretty good action cues too).
The album begins with Vespertilio-a percussive piece that uses rhythmic pounds to simulate the effect of a giant bat flapping its wings (or, as a friend pointed out, an approaching storm), which are repeated quite often in the album. Midway through the cue, a two note rising and descending motif takes over. This is the central theme and the best use of it is around the 4-minute mark in Barbestalla, when by mixing it with percussion and a full orchestra, Zimmer and Howard create a sudden and unexpected uplifting theme.
The album also features some cues that could so easily have fit into a horror movie (and thus, blend superbly with Batman Begins' central theme of fear). Whispers and dark ambient textures are used well in Artibeus and Tadarida to create an atmosphere of fear.
The action writing makes its first appearance in Myotis, a fast paced track that ends nicely on an emotional note, introducing us to Batman's main theme. Antrozous is also a pretty decent track, starting out on soft, tension creating track before degenerating into an overdrawn (yet enjoyable at times) cue. It was better represented in the movie, but for some strange reason, the good bits didn't make it into the album.
Hands down the best track on the album is Molossus. Once it starts, it never quits (often running in my head for a day or two after listening to it!!). The orchestra really rises to Zimmer's writing to give us the best rendition of the Batman theme in a long long time. Set to coincide with the freeway chase, this track too is better represented in the film (but is awesome on the album too!!).
The emotional and tender writing is undoubtedly Newton Howard. The sweeping treble melodies and the stringy approach create one rising melody after the other. While Zimmer's basses became the voice of Batman, Howard's strings became the voice of Bruce Wayne. They not only made us feel for Wayne, but also understand what actually drives him. The alleyway cue (when Wayne's parents are shot to death) could so easily have resulted in melodramatic writing by a novice (which would most probably have completely put the listener off), but Howard chooses a much more restrained approach to create something really moving. Eptesicus, Corynorhinus, Barbastella and Macrotus feature some of the best tender bits in a long time, and are definitely worth a listen.
To wrap it all up, I'd say that even though a lot of good cues were dropped from the album and some were cut short, and this might not be as much fun as Elfman's albums, this album is definitely a better piece of writing. While Elfman seldom wrote for Wayne, Zimmer and Howard created stirring cues for him too. And, the action bits are pure genius. More importantly, the score complements Nolan's vision flawlessly, thus uplifting this movie from the mundane, and into a masterpiece.

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(Soundtrack) Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Our Rating: 3.5
SoundtrackNet Critic: 4.5
SoundtrackNet Users: 4.5

Music By:
Hans Zimmer

The Curse of the Black Pearl (by Klaus Badelt, in collaboration with Hans Zimmer) was fun, Dead Man's Chest (by Hans Zimmer) was silly, and now with World's End, Zimmer rounds off his Pirates' bounty of soundscapes with a mega flourish-not always gripping, but mostly flourishy, silly and yes, with the swashbuckling swagger so important in a Jack Sparrow film. If ye liked the old themes from the Pirates movies, be warned, there aren't many reprises of those. Heck, even the Jack Sparrow theme from Dead Man's Chest makes just fleeting appearances in its original form. Forget about the Klaus Badelt themes, you really need to be alert to pick them up in I Don't Think Now Is The Best Time and Drink Up Me Hearties. But having said that, these reprises are quite pleasing. Surprisingly, the Tia Dalma theme from Dead Man's Chest gets more time than Jack Sparrow.
Moving on to original music written for this movie, Zimmer basically wrote two extremely lengthy themes-the Pirates Theme (based on the song Hoist the Colours) and the Love Theme. These, he broke up and wove them really well into the almost every cue. Personally, I found the Love Theme to be more heroic and flourishy than the Pirates Theme. Funny, considering that this was a Pirates movie, not a romantic caper. But, this theme lent the flick a certain grandeur and scale, missing from the first two movies. But then again, maybe this film is really about the love between Will and Elizabeth. Certainly fits in with the surprise ending, that you can see coming just before the climax.
The album starts with Hoist the Colours, which I think is a traditional pirate/seaman's song (but since I was too lazy to actually check this up, I might well be wrong...), and seeing its use in the film, I get goosebumps each time I listen to it. This gets reprised a number of times, without the vocals. We then move on to Singapore, a pretty decent track which incorporates the East India Company/Beckett theme from Dead Man's Chest with the theme for the new pirate character, Sao Feng. Multiple Jacks and the Brethren Court are equally silly tracks, having an "off", out of tune rendition of Jack Sparrow. Seeing that they are for an extremely silly, self centred and moronic bunch of pirates, they actually do make sense in the movie and, on the soundtrack, they can be used to irritate someone, much like the Willy Wonka track from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I Don't Think Now Is The Best Time is the big action piece of the movie. Big, in terms of orchestration and length. At 10:46, it's a wee bit too long. But then, it has good reprises of many of major and minor themes from the previous two movies and, woven exquisitely in to all this is the grand Love Theme. In the movie, it plays out during the climactic fight sequence (which, by the way, is very funny), it is quite brisk. Playing for most of its 10 minute running time, underneath the main orchestra, is a moving line, much in the style of Zimmer's Da Vinci Code. It certainly adds a bit of extra motion to the whole track.
Drink Up Me Hearties rounds off the album with re-orchestrated He's A Pirate theme from Curse of the Black Pearl (which, Dead Man's Chest so sorely lacked). This blossoms into a beautiful rendition of the Love Theme, performed strongly in an epic manner. It comes to a close with final orchestral swell, and the album comes to an end.
Problems with the score: the lack of the reprises, and its slow/choiry tracks (the ones where the Tia Dalma theme gets inordinately long reprises). But mostly, one track: Parlay. WHAT THE HECK IS AN ELECTRIC GUITAR DOING IN A PIRATE MOVIE!?!!! And that too, in such a thinly veiled manner. It's a western influenced track, an ode to Ennio Morricone, but still, you can't just so blatantly have an electric guitar in a movie set so clearly in the pre electricity era. Dead Man's Chest also had something like this-what everyone mistook to be electric guitars in the Kracken theme. Instead, it turned out to be a regular orchestra pumped out through a guitar amp. Besides the point. What I really mean is that that track used the electric amp effect so well. While in this, when I first heard it, I thought that something was wrong with PVR's audio system, that music from some other movie was being played. And then, the dialogues begun, and horror, horror, I realized that that trashy piece of populist writing was indeed Zimmer's, and that too, for this movie only.
Well, mostly the soundtrack was a pleasant listening experience, Parlay notwithstanding. Certainly not the best Zimmer effort, but quite good. It brought the swashbuckling pirates element (which really was missing in the first two soundtracks) into this franchise, and for that I'd recommend this soundtrack. That, and the amazing Love Theme....

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Our Rating: 2
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Yahoo Movies Critics: B
Yahoo Movies Users: B-

Starring: ET, Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf.
Director: Steven Spielberg.

First things first-I haven’t seen the previous 3 Indiana Jones films and am judging this film purely on its own merits and not on the reputation built up by the previous 3 flicks.
The first thing that strikes you about this movie is just how boring it is, the whole mountain out of a mole-hill joke notwithstanding (it’s a visual joke involving the mountain in the Paramount logo). At least on that count, the film is consistent-the beginning’s boring, the middle’s boring and the ending, is well, absurd. And boring.
The story is one twisted pile of mumbo-jumbo involving a crystal skull that has the power to influence people’s thoughts. Woven into all this is some more mumbo-jumbo about the power of thought and “the space between spaces”. The movie has just too much of plain, dry, drabby dialogue to keep you engaged for a span of more than 5 minutes.
Indy is portrayed as some super-archaeologist who can decipher clues before you can say “Dr. Jones” and survive a nuclear blast by sitting inside a lead lined fridge. But one thing has to be said, he really hasn’t slowed down. The stunts that guy manages are pretty decent, the high point being the bike chase culminating inside a library. That to me, was also the best sequence of the film, but sadly, it came too close to the beginning and from there, the film was pretty much sliding way south. Very quickly.
To his credit, Shia stands his ground against the likes of Ford and Blanchett as the James Dean style greaser. The attention he constantly endows on his hair provide some nice little comic relief. Sadly, the rest of the support cast is just wasted. Even the main baddie, Irina Spalko (played by Blanchett) has little to do, other than look cold and aloof. John Hurt as Professor Oxley, the man because of whom the whole quest for the crystal skull starts, does little to further the story, and a lot to cloud your mind by spouting philosophical mumbo-jumbo at every opportunity he gets. It is really sad seeing someone of his calibre wasted in a role like this.
For all of Spielberg’s talk that this movie was going to be CGI free, the ludicrous climax DOES feature A LOT of CGI which just cramps Indy’s style. In fact, the CGI comes out with a vengeance as soon as the story shifts to the jungles. A lot of scenes look embarrassingly artificial.
The music by the otherwise dependable John Williams is just clumsy and boring to say the least. Williams shows complete lack of imagination while scoring the action bits and the bike chase I mentioned earlier lost a lot of its steam because of the music (which, I can only guess, was dance music at best) playing in the background. Williams neither builds upon, nor rehashes his old Indy themes, leaving a rather sore ear at the end of it all.
All said and done, this movie shows what poor scripting can do, with the combined likes of Ford, Blanchett, LaBeouf and Williams at a complete loss about what to do. Watch it only if you have to. Although, I would strongly advise people to give this one the miss.

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