Category Archives: Favourite Films

Bourne Again

Last week I watched the new Jason Bourne movie. With no James Bond film on the foreseeable horizon – this seemed the next best thing (aside from The Night Manager).

In terms of Bourne, I’m in the minority who is not a fan of The Bourne Ultimatum (which most people consider the best). Whilst I can appreciate it on some levels (eg. the excellent Waterloo sequence) I’m a far bigger fan of the first two (The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy). Both of these films have the heart and humanity of Marie (Franka Potente) which is contrasted nicely against the duplicitous cunning of Abbott (Brian Cox). These characters are both sorely missed in the later installments. The new film (which isn’t a strictly necessary addition to the series) plays like a greatest hits album but with slightly different renditions. It’s fun, familiar but not as good as the originals – but that’s not to say it’s not still enjoyable.

I’m also a massive fan of the musical scores from the first two Bourne movies. John Powell’s score for Identity was rather unique at the time – mixing throbbing percussion, atonal electronics, stabbing staccato strings against occasional acoustic elements. Supremacy expanded on these themes in the best possible way and introduced some new material (‘To the roof’ being my personal favourite). Much like the films, by the third installment everything was feeling familiar (in fact they even dropped cues from the first film over the top of some parts). The most recent (Jason Bourne) score is credited to both John Powell and David Buckley. I was sad to learn that John Powell’s wife died earlier this year, I suspect this is why David Buckley has also been involved this time around. He does a good job of weaving together some of Powell’s familiar themes.

I decided for fun I’d also like to try to emulate John Powell’s style and create an imaginary Bourne score. Had tremendous fun writing this! That said it tested my playing ability (the end is some of the fastest track work I’ve done – probably a rebellious response to the torn ligament in my index finger I’m still nursing). Hopefully fans of these scores can have some fun trying to see how many of the original themes they can spot!

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Glory: James Horner (1953-2015)

Today started in an unusual manner. I woke on a normal school day and the children were already up and dressed (odd). Whilst making a cup of tea my wife told me to read the screen on her mobile phone. I read it, but it took a moment to fully digest: “Film Composer James Horner aged 61 dies in a plane crash”. I was quietly devastated.

The very first time I recall remembering his music was for the trailer of Backdraft back in 1991. I remember thinking “WOW”, that music has a real emotional punch to it.

When I watched the film I came away bitterly disappointed that this wonderful music was nowhere to be heard! What was this music? I needed to know and I discovered (long before the days of Google or Shazam) that it was James Horner and the piece was taken from the ending credits of Glory:

This is the piece I am going to remember James Horner for, it made me sit up and take notice (really at a point when I didn’t do this much). It feels more poignant today than ever.

James Horner (image by Getty)

It wasn’t long before I discoverd he had composed music to other film scores I loved – most notably Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (I honestly thought it was Jerry Goldsmith), Aliens (I’ve lost track of the number of trailers which use Bishop’s Countdown in them), The Name of the Rose (I still find those bells creepy).

He would go on to win an Oscar for both his Titanic score and the song ‘My Heart will go on’. He was nominated for six other films. At the risk of being somewhat controversial – I didn’t rate Titanic as one of his better scores, but he did so many other memorable scores such as Apollo 13, Avatar, Braveheart, Casper and Field of Dreams – that there really is something for everyone.  The thing about James Horner for me was the way he could emotionally connect an audience to the scene in a beautiful yet bittersweet manner. Knowing we will never hear another of his majestic scores makes me feel a little emptier inside. RIP James Horner.

Eye Spy

If you are a fan of the spy genre (which is my favourite) you are in for a treat this year. We have been spoiled with three new trailers just within the last week or so:

Spooks: The Greater Good
Based on the TV series (known as MI5 in the States). Great to see the wonderful Peter Firth back as Harry Pearce (plus Tim McInnerny playing the shifty Oliver Mace). Those familiar to the series will know no-one is ever safe, which should keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation
Rather aptly as abbreviated as MI5. This one was a bit of a surprise, looks great fun. Yes, Tom Cruise did that plane stunt for real! It was also filmed at nearby Blenheim Palace. I just hope it hasn’t given all the best bits away. It also has the original Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) who will hopefully add an additional degree of class.

Spectre
Last but definitely not least – the new Bond teaser. This one also filmed at Blenheim. I must confess, I was worried it would be eclipsed by the MI5 trailer. I needn’t have worried! It is very much its own beast and wisely takes and entirely different (and more broody) approach than the usual slam-blam antics of other trailers. It does exactly what it should – it leaves you wanting more. Fantastic to see a washed-up Jesper Christensen spouting some lovely dialogue in amongst all of the stunning cinematography (which I think looks even more impressive than Roger Deakins efforts for SkyFall).

The only thing I wasn’t entirely convinced about were the toy-chromatics at the end, followed by familiar trailer blasts (I would have opted for something more creepy/less cheesy). But hey, it works well enough.

I should also give an honorary mention to The Man From Uncle.

This looks like Guy Richie keeping his lighter tone and substituting Sherlock Holmes with the 60’s TV series – much like his former collaborator Matthew Vaughn did with violent comic-books (Kickass’ superhero antics vs Kingsmen gentleman spies – yet another spy film which was released this year). For me it offers the opportunity of watching short-listed Bond candidate Henry Cavill in action.

There is also Steven Spielberg’s cold-war thriller “Bridge of Spies” starring Tom Hanks which I can’t wait to see. Also nice to see the ladies get a shout as well in the comedy “Spy” (which stars Rose Bryne who made the short-list for Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale). But right now for me – it’s all about that Bond teaser!

It looks like 2015 is shaping up to be the year of the spy.

Day 23: Favourite Christmas Movies

Disclaimer: This is my own personal list, but feel free to agree, disagree or add more in the comments section below.

In alphabetical order:

Batman Returns (1992)
I’m sure I’ve called this the most criminally under-rated Batman film recently. I’ll stick by that!  Tim Burton mixes Gothic and Christmas together to brilliant effect. Gotham has never looked better than this offering amidst the snow. Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it!

Batman Returns

Black Christmas (1974)
This cult film is for those who have overloaded on Christmas sentimentality. The perfect anti-Christmas film in many ways, directed by Bob Clark who would later go on to make another genuine Christmas classic “A Christmas Story” (although I’ve not seen it). This film was the inspiration behind John Carpenter’s Halloween. Rich on atmosphere and character without relying on shock jumps or gore (but *is* disturbing and gets under your skin – even 40 years on!). Avoid the horrible remake. Billy!!!

Black Christmas

Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)
Personally I wasn’t a huge fan of the other Christmas offering from “Richard Curtis” – Love Actually, but I know I’m probably in a minority. This is the one which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy (in that Vicar of Dibley kind of way) – right down to the naff woolly jumpers, and scenes of snow falling majestically. Just don’t mention the terrible follow-up!

Brigdet Jones

Die Hard (1988)
“This *IS* a Christmas movie!” (said in the voice of Argyle the  limo driver). And you already know this film is the best in the series thanks to Alan Rickman. Honorary mention to Die Hard 2, which “tries harder”, brings the Christmas snow, but just isn’t in the same ball-park (despite still being reasonably solid).

Die Hard - Hans Gruber

Gremlins (1984)
Remember kids, pets aren’t just for Christmas. This has a largely uneven tone – but is essentially a Christmas monster movie for kids (just not really for young kids). Currently enjoying a revival in cinemas (Christmas Eve) for its 30th Anniversary. Who can forget that heartwarming story Phoebe Cates’ character recalls of her dad playing Santa and coming down the chimney. Aww – bless!

Gremlins

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra’s classic is set around the heart-warming tale of a suicidal man played by James Stewart. Sounds a bit dark? Well strangely – probably the most uplifting film on this list! Sure it’s got its fair share of cheesy moments and over-sentimentality. It does however remind us money is not what makes us rich (and what better time to remember this than the over-commercialisation of Christmas). No man is a failure who has friends.

Its_a_wonderful_life

Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
So is Kris Kringle the real Santa? That would be giving the film away surely! This covers some darker themes also, but essentially at its heart is another feel good Christmas movie. Richard Attenborough’s remake makes for a more colourful and accessible Kringle, but Edmund Gwen is the real deal. I now want to go and shop at Macys.

Miracle

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
There are only so many interpretations of the classic Dickens novel I can include!  But this one has the Muppets in and Michael Caine as Scrooge (sorry 1951 version), so enough said!! This one also put Muppet movies back on the map after a bit of a break.

Muppets

Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
Once again Tim Burton mixes macabre gothic with Christmas to great effect. Okay so this one is perhaps more Halloween based, but watching Jack’s awe at discovering Christmas Town singing “What’s this?” never fails to puts me in the Christmas spirit. Kidnap the Sandy Claws!

Nightmare Before Christmas

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Had to get Bond in there somewhere. This is one of the rare exceptions where a Bond film takes place during a named season (most are nondescript). The fact that the main part is set in Swiss alps helps tremendously (even if the ending isn’t full of the usual festive Bond cheer). Do you know how Christmas Trees are grown?

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The Polar Express (2004)
This isn’t Robert Zemeckis’ only performance capture Christmas film, but this one (his first) is the best. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched parts of this one on TV over the past few weeks. It is pretty much one set-piece and cliché after another. Even so, it has everything you need to put you in a feel good mood for the festive spirit.

Polar Express

Scrooged (1988)
Once again another Christmas Carol remake, but much like the earlier inclusion – this one has Bill Murray at his cynical best. Enough said! Honorable mention (and perhaps double-bill) to Blackadder’s A Christmas Carol – which covers similar ground (just in reverse). Bah Humbug!

Scrooged

The Snowman (1982)
A bitter sweet work of art (long before the days of CGI which now make this sort of thing easier). Sometimes shown as part of a double-bill with Raymond Briggs’ other Christmas classic “Father Christmas” – voiced by Mel Smith. It transcends the language barrier even when “we’re walking in the air”. Who can forget that ending?

The Snowman

Trading Places (1983)
As we know – Christmas is a time for giving and remembering those less fortunate than yourself.  This is a deliciously twisted role-reversal comedy which I remember watching for the first time with my parents a few years ago (sorry Mum, I know now that in the 80’s Eddie Murphy swears a lot). How can you not enjoy watching Dan Ackroyd as the original Bad Santa?

Trading Places

Not so super

The other night I watched the latest Spiderman film (The Amazing Spiderman 2), Spiderman 2.2 if you like. There was a lot to like about it on some levels: it looked fantastic, it was exciting + well paced considering the two and a half hour runtime, the lead characters (Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone) were superb and had genuine chemistry. In fact I’d even go so far to say that Garfield is pitch perfect as both Peter Parker and Spiderman (especially if you are familiar with the comics). Yet despite having much in its favour, there was an awful lot “off” about it.

Spidey

1. Some scenes were far too convenient for their own good. Plausibility was beyond breaking point in the same way Silva calculated all of Bond’s moves in Skyfall (and interestingly one such scene is also set in an abandoned subway station).

2. The baddies were all under-developed (a shame as Dane DeHaan did some fine work here). Everything plotting their fall from good to evil felt rushed, incomplete and false. It appears they tried to juggle too many baddies in a single installment again, generally a recipe for disaster (even if it is isn’t anywhere near the disaster Batman and Robin or Spiderman 3 were).

3. It seems the script-writers were ticking boxes for the studio. The actors are let down by a clunky/poor script which is more interested in setting up merchandising and future installments rather than actually telling a good story (Iron Man 2 syndrome)!

4. The core problem (which ties in with the other points): it was really two movies masquerading as one. So instead of having two good movies with genuine punch/pay-off we end up with a frustrating mess of a movie.

5. Inappropriate music. Songs are shoe-horned in but they don’t fit the tone of the film (the end-credits in particular). Hans Zimmer (the “new” Danny Elfman?) turns in another bland super-hero score – the “wub-wub” stylings trying too hard to be edgy and cool (no – it’s like every other damn action trailer I’ve seen in the past two years). Shouldn’t it be “ELECTRO” rather than “DUBSTEP” anyway? The score feels a mixed bag (much like the film itself) despite a nice rousing brassy-blast for Spidey’s theme and suitably sinister motif for Osborn (which is itself ripping off Inception and Inside Man). Personally I like more consistency in my scores. The last three Spidey films in the franchise have all had different composers/themes, time to give Mr Elfman a call again!

Ultimately what is my real problem? I’m suffering Franchise fatigue towards Superhero films (which seem to be all that play in cinemas these days – thanks very much Marvel!). The initial blame could perhaps be leveled at The Dark Knight. Now we have Marvel setting up The Avengers universe and releasing a new film each year, DC trying to get in on the action with Superman/Batman/Justice League. X-men has already had spin-offs with Wolverine, there is a new X-men film out this summer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Mystique film in the near future. Now there is Spiderman setting up The Sinister Six. The Spiderman franchise was already rebooted in its relative infancy and everything still feels a retread of the Raimi films. I’ve just read that Daredevil will be the next to get the reboot treatment. Great, we all want that one!

To be perfectly blunt – this genre is becoming dull and clichéd. Even the marketing falls into cliché: the director of the current installment always announced in advance as being the director of future installments (ala Captain America 2/3, Man of Steel/Superman vs Batman/Justice League, X-men, The Amazing Spiderman 2/3) as if to create a false sense of spectacle. Of course the next installment will always be bigger better etc. and will end in yet another destruction of some city. And please remember to stay for the end-credits if it’s a Marvel film (This new Spiderman film features perhaps the most bizarre “Easter Eggs” ending of all – completely unrelated to the franchise). I’d love to see this genre take a sabbatical and come back when it has something which is fresh and new to say. Sadly this doesn’t appear to be the case and it looks like we are going to endure many more years of spin-offs and “the same old”. Hmm – perhaps Batman and Robin wasn’t so bad after-all!

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)

Yesterday the world learned the sad news that stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen had passed away. To me he was one of the most important special effects geniuses within the film industry, with a career spanning 5 or so decades. It all began for Ray after watching the original 1933 version of King Kong. This clearly inspired him and he began making his own stop-motion films in his garage. It wasn’t long before his talents were spotted. He went on to create some of the most startling on-screen beasties, although for me the most impressive was his skeleton army for Jason and the Argonauts back in 1963. Yes 1963!

This really upped the ante from his original (but also brilliant) solo skeleton fight in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), by a factor of seven. It has proved so enduring that even popular video games such as Golden Axe (one of my favourites as a youngster) paid homage to it.

GoldenAxe

Anyway, point being – without his work would we have had the likes of Henry Selick, Peter Jackson, Phil Tippet, Rob Bottin, Aardman, Tim Burton, ILM or countless other talented animators? They are all clearly big fans and indebted to his efforts. Personally give me his stop-motion animation over most of the glossy but clinical Computer Generated Imagery we see today.

The web and YouTube are rightly being flooded with tributes, so to end here is a short compilation of Ray’s creatures:

Die Hard-R

R vs PG-13. Fight!

Warning: wild rambling post alert!

Recently I watched two rather similar films back to back. One was The Raid (still loving the viseral punch of this movie) and the other was Dredd (which  has more meat on the bones). The reasons for watching these could be attributed to the strains of making a small bear who can walk! I’ve already covered The Raid. So I’ll just write a couple of quick lines about Dredd.

dredd

After the mis-guided mid-90’s Stallone effort (which I see more as a sequel to Demolition Man than a Judge Dredd movie), you could say I was “Dredding”  this film. Thankfully the latest incarnation is a significant improvement. In particular I would single Olivia Thilsby out as the heart of the movie. Then there is Karl Urban who grunts his way through the movie as the eponymous character mixing in some elements of Dirty Harry and Robocop (both iconic characters and movies in their own right).

Similarities between Dredd and The Raid are unavoidable – even if Dredd is set in the future. Both were released at roughly the same time (despite the fact Dredd was made much earlier and had a much longer post-production period because of all the special effects). They have the same exactly the same premise : underdog protagonist(s) trapped in a high-rise building with vast hordes trying to make sure no one escapes. There are nasty slimy villains who do their own dirty work when necessary but are more happy to hide behind technology where possible. Both are ludicrously violent.

Doesn’t this sound familar to another action movie? Possibly the most iconic action films of recent times? The title of this post has given it away. Let’s just say there is a reason people use the phrase “It’s Die Hard in/on a …”. For me, I doubt Die Hard will ever be bettered in this particular genre. I also enjoy many of the other  mid-to-late eighties Joel Silver action films (Commando, Lethal Weapon 1/2, Predator). They were daft, spectacular, over the top with a charming/witty quality about them – a quality sorely lacking from today’s gritty post 9/11 films.  Plus I wasn’t quite old enough to watch them legally in the cinema, which only increased their appeal.

DieHard

Today it seems most films are marketed at the teen-market PG-13 (or 12A in the UK’s case) audience rather than an adult R rated (15/18) audience to increase the demographic. They did this with the fourth Die-hard installment and this is where the franchise lost its way. I have lost count how many recent “horror films” I’ve seen which have a PG-13 rating.

Recently the movie going public were inflicted to yet another Die Hard movie. I say this although I must confess I didn’t see it (thanks to the terrible looking trailers and scathing reviews). I really wanted to rally behind this film, but it was clear from that this franchise is out of steam. Long gone is the original under-dog blue-collar cop John Mclane (who now just seems Bruce Willis playing a gruff wise-cracking – er – Bruce Willis for a hefty pay-day). There was no memorable side-kick. There was no memorable uber-villain. The focus shifts to his offspring (presumably as some sort of cynical passing the batton exercise). The film was colour-graded so much so that it looks sterile. It was handled by a sub-par director. Sure – it is pretty noisy, flashy and looks slick – but nothing really separated it from any other action film. Just like the previous entry (but at least this one was going to be R-rated – hence wanting to like it). However reviews made it clear that there was very little in the film to make it R-rated bar some curse words. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they originally intended it for the PG-13 market – which clearly isn’t the Die-Hard I remember.

Thankfully these Die-Hard sensibilities were satisfied by the gloriously “dumber than a bag of spanners” Olympus has Fallen (“Die Hard in the White house” – you just know this is how it was pitched!). In some ways the timing is interesting being as it has a group of North Korean terrorists on the war-path (I’m sure this country has been in the media about something recently?). My expectations were admittedly low going in and yes – it can be argued it is mostly predictable/generic – yet it knows exactly what it needs to do. It follows the gritty violence trend a bit too much which detracts charm despite the daft premise. It pilfers mercilessly from the original Die Hard as well as other clones Under Siege and Air Force One. So much so it was almost laughable spotting these liberally lifted scenes – which DID give it a certain charm (for me anyway). I was willing to forgive some of the mortar-sized plot holes as this is clearly a “switch your brain off” movie. Actually I’d wager this is by far a more satisfying Die Hard film than Die Hard 5  is. Much like Dredd/The Raid, there is another film with exactly the same premise out later this year (Roland Emmerich’s White House Down). This practice is not uncommon in Hollywood. However, I’ll bet that one is a PG-13!

Olympus2-620x349

Technically both Dredd and The Raid were not traditionally made Hollywood films. With Olympus it’s nice to see someone in Hollywood has identified that the adult audience doesn’t always want profound works of art or teenie stuff. Now they just need to lighten up a bit with the “gritty” stuff. Sadly – news such as this won’t help the cause much.  News like this hopefully does!

I’m not sure if this in part inspired me to write the following track:

I really enjoyed making this one even if I was originally intending to do something more along the lines of Hans Zimmer (who I find a bit Marmite at times). The plan was to make it feel less orchestral and more electronic (I even had some dub-step elements in at one point). For whatever reason these didn’t make it in and this was the result. To be fair it is normal for me to compose a section but later realise – even if I like it – it should be removed. I will share one such unfinished moment with you from this current track which you can download from here:

Hostile Takeover outtake (mp3)

Anyway hope you enjoy and sorry for the rambling post!