21 October 2008

"The Bourne Ultimatum" Review

I finally, after some hilarious Netflix hiccups that were entirely my fault, saw the last installment in the Bourne trilogy. Though only nominally related to the plot of the book from which it takes its name, it was easily the best film of the three, and included some lovely developments of John Powell’s now undeniably iconic score.

The film is beautifully paced — the first hour is non-stop cat-and-mouse chase that is never boring and all of which furthers the meta-plot. Powell is given huge expanses of action and extended dialogue-less sequences that he fills with music. The silences are well-chosen, and the film is overall impeccably spotted. There are about 3 or 4 major themes — all of which have been well-established at this point — that he is given ample opportunity to use to good purpose. It also features new and quite sophisticated developments of the motivic material that compellingly serve the subject matter and contribute in a massive way to the success of the movie. His use of middle-eastern (or ersatz middle-eastern) harmonic structures, and the ever-shifting cello licks and hot (seriously!!!!) guitar vamps are as iconic to me as anything Don Davis or John Williams has done, but in a wholly original way. It was exciting and cool and satisfying, and I commend Powell for making such simple ideas so compelling — even when stretched over three longish films.

Also, Albert Finney!?!?! Hell yeah!!!

All-in-all, an excellent conclusion to the trilogy.

Film: 4.5 stars Rating: ★★★★½

Score: 5 stars Rating: ★★★★★

12 October 2008


(Note: I've been invited by up-and-coming film composer Daniel Vendt to contribute film/score reviews to his new website, filmscorereview.com. My reviews there will also be cross posted here. This is my first one.)

Greetings faithful readers.

I went to see Fernando Meirelles’ ( Amores Perros, The Constant Gardener ) long-awaited cinematic adaptation of José Saramango’s 1995 novel, Blindness, this evening. The trailer was awesome, and with an excellent cast — including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Gabriel Garcia Bernal — I was quite excited to see it.

To say that this is a difficult movie would be a huge understatement. This is tough stuff, and is not without controversy. The film depicts unnamed characters in an unnamed country who start falling blind for no reason. The military-political complex starts quarantining the suddenly sightless masses into “wards”, which appear to be little more than rather nasty warehouses. Julianne Moore, as the strangely unaffected wife of a stricken opthamologist (Mark Ruffalo), fakes blindness to stay with her husband, as he is carted off by guys in hazmat suits. Everything then devolves into a violent, nihilistic Lord-of-the-Flies-esque nightmare, including human squalor and rape-for-food scenarios. The subject matter — and the unflinching eye of the director — are excruciating, but, mercifully, the cinematography is stunning and the performances are subtle and focussed.

Unsurprisingly for a film about the loss of sight, the sound design is amped way up. All ambient sound is cranked, and the score frequently is as well. This is an effective narrative device, but it is quite abrasive and unnerving in places.

But so then…

The score by Marco Antônio Guimarães (his first major score) is a nice idea, horrifically executed. He chose glassy timbres — mostly vibes, autoharp, other metals, harmonica, and electronic instruments - to good purpose. Sadly, though, the timbral choices are the best thing about the score, since it seems to have been recorded with a, like, $10 microphone at Radio Shack and mixed by an enthusiastic 7-year-old. Also, there were times when I simply couldn’t discern what he was trying to do — is there happy music as the women march down the hall to be gang raped so that they don’t starve to death there to cushion the blow, or are we supposed to feel jolly about the fact that soon they’ll have food? Still stuck on that one. Everything is hot in the mix with no reverb, and then the mix is cranked up as loud or louder than the sound effects — even in strange places. I think that some of the score would have worked had it been well-mixed and balanced nicely in the sound field, but it wasn’t. I wonder if that was on purpose?

Either way, I felt that the score didn’t work at all, though I did like the sound colours used. The film is pretty brutal, but it sparked an interesting discussion with my boyfriend afterwards, so it might be worth a look-see.

Film: 2.5/5 Stars Rating: ★★½☆☆

Score: 1 Star (for timbral inventiveness) Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

(One point of housekeeping: I have no problem with sex and nudity in films. I think that Americans are whack-a-doos about letting people see lots of gratuitous violence, and then being bugged by naked people. I have no problem with fantasy and horror violence for the most part, cos it’s s’posed to be like that, either. So when I talk about a film being disturbing and stuff — and I have a strong stomach — it usually implies that there is quite visceral and brutal violence that feels a little too realistic for comfort. This movie definitely goes to some of these places. Be warned.)