Tag Archives: Hans Zimmer

Frost/Nixon (2008, Ron Howard)

Once upon a time (in Hollywood), there was a bald director (who always wore a cap) who first got famous on television as an actor, then as a director of comedies, who then started making excellent mainstream Hollywood pictures. Then he started making mainstream crap and then it got worse.

The question of Frost/Nixon is the question of Ron Howard’s (mainstream) artistic solvency. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite so simple–oh, Howard does a fantastic job and would certainly be on the road to a new artistic period if it weren’t for a couple things. First, the trailer of his Da Vinci Code 2 played before this film. Second, if Howard could always turn off the crap-production–if he could recognize good material for the screen (he and writer Peter Morgan were on NPR talking about how Howard jetted to London for the play’s opening and snapped up the rights immediately), if he could not use scripts from Akiva Goldman–why hasn’t he done it before now? Did the critical drubbing of Da Vinci force him to prove he was competent? These are all valid questions, but they do distract from the film. So enough.

Frost/Nixon finds Richard Milhous Nixon, as usual, to be a fantastic character for examination. During the film’s third act, with Nixon laid bare–Frank Langella’s performance is so utterly captivating, talking about it in depth might get boring–creates one of cinema’s greatest antiheroes. His humanity–his recognition of his shortcomings and his bottomless regret–it makes Frost/Nixon a significant achievement. There’s a great argument scene–between Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Matthew Macfadyen and Oliver Platt–early on about the goal of the interview–to make Nixon look sympathetic or to make him accept responsibility for Watergate. The beauty of the film, which I suppose anyone familiar with the interviews would already know, is Nixon is never more sympathetic than when acknowledging his criminal culpability. And that early scene never foreshadows that possibility. Howard keeps the film surprising from each scene to next, even though–until the coda–the direction is muted.

As Frost, Sheen oscillates between being the film’s protagonist and a passenger. This transition happens at odd times too–the film is never, after the first fifteen minutes, about David Frost… it just takes the film a while to recognize it. But that condition is one Sheen works with beautifully. He can be the lead, he can be supporting, he can be off-screen. He’s fantastic. The most stunning part of Sheen’s performance is when the film gets to the interviews, watching his on-camera persona and trying to reconcile it with the off.

Rockwell, Macfadyen and Platt are all excellent. Rockwell’s got the most to do–and the film’s most difficult task of turning a boring character into an engaging one throughout. Rebecca Hall, who has a thankless female role–she’s only in it so Diane Sawyer isn’t the only female character–is so great, she makes it seem like an essential facet. Kevin Bacon’s good. Toby Jones has a fine small part.

I can’t ignore Langella any longer. His performance is heartbreaking. The complexities he achieves, in a role rife with laughter-producing dialogue (I don’t think anyone’s ever portrayed Nixon with more self-aware humor… in fact, he’s usually portrayed without it), are amazing. See, I told you it’d be boring.

I left Frost/Nixon elated. It’s great mainstream Hollywood cinema, something it seems this century has been, so far, lacking.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Peter Morgan, based on his stage play; director of photography, Salvatore Totino; edited by Mike Hill and Daniel P. Hanley; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Brian Grazer, Howard, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Frank Langella (Richard Nixon), Michael Sheen (David Frost), Sam Rockwell (James Reston Jr.), Kevin Bacon (Jack Brennan), Matthew Macfadyen (John Birt), Oliver Platt (Bob Zelnick), Rebecca Hall (Caroline Cushing) and Toby Jones (Swifty Lazar).


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The Da Vinci Code (2006, Ron Howard)

Hans Zimmer did the score for The Da Vinci Code? I hope he apologized to James Horner for all the plagiarisms (particularly from Horner’s two Star Trek scores and then Aliens).

I don’t know where to start with The Da Vinci Code, except maybe to say it’s the finest film of its kind. It’s actually amazing–even to me, someone who tried to watch Bloodsport–but The Da Vinci Code is the most soulless film I’ve ever seen. It’s not even in a bad way. It’s just perfectly clear absolutely no one involved with the film, from Ron Howard cashing his paycheck to Tom Hanks cashing his, cares at all about the motion picture they are making. The cinematographer–Salvatore Totino (whose work I am unfamiliar with)–doesn’t even care if the lighting in an interior (shot on set) scene matches. At the start, I at least thought–as Howard needlessly spun the camera around–the photography would be professional. It is not.

My degree in fiction writing is only at the master’s level; studying the fine work of Dan Brown is, I believe, a select post-doctoral program–possibly involving lots of French actors speaking English (Jean Reno and Audrey Tautou) and British actors doing poor Spanish accents (Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina). In other words, I have no idea if the most interesting aspects of The Da Vinci Code are from the source novel or from Akiva Goldsman’s magic quill. For example, Hanks’s apparent superpowers. He can do some weird thing where letters flash white and rearrange themselves. He can also conjure up holographic representations of the past or faraway objects. Tautou has a similar power, but she can interact with these conjured apparitions. Her powers are different, because she’s the descendent of Jesus. The movie never makes clear where Hanks gets his powers from, but it might have something to do with his hair looking really stupid.

If I were Steven Spielberg and George Lucas–and could pay someone to read the novel to make sure the elements aren’t in there first–I would sue Howard and company. The Da Vinci Code not only borrows full scenes from the third Indiana Jones and lines from the first, Howard and Goldsman go so far as to steal the Force. They steal the Force and give it to Tom Hanks and his bad hair. There’s something wrong about that one.

The film’s notoriety–and the Vatican’s denunciation of it–is misplaced. It’s such an absurdly terrible film, I can’t believe the Vatican didn’t get behind it all the way. Besides it being sacrilegious and all, it’s so stupidly handled, it’s not going to convince anyone of its credulousness.

The film is not, however, intentionally incompetent. It’s just such a giant paycheck for everyone involved (except maybe Goldsman, who did better writing work on his first great epic, Batman & Robin). Ian McKellen, so terrible in all the films he can’t stop lauding, is actually kind of funny here. Almost every delivery is mocking the film and the dialogue–one could really study the dialogue Goldman writes for Hanks… it’s particularly stylized and recognizable and atrocious; McKellen even goes so far as to mock Hanks, whose performance might be the film’s worst (except for Bettany, Tautou, Reno and Molina). Jürgen Prochnow, who has done the made-for-cable tripe Da Vinci belongs with, brings some humor to his performance as well.

I’m not exactly sure how Howard and Hanks, who made Apollo 13 for you know who’s sake, rationalized making this project. They didn’t demand it be good or even attempt to be good. The film moves well-enough, the frequent stupidity and the short scenes keeping up a decent pace, and surely some good screenwriter could have come in and tried to make something enthusiastic out of the material. With all the special effects and the terrible music (Zimmer sets a car chase to some classical movement in an astoundingly incompetent sequence), with Hanks summoning a miniature solar system, it’s bewildering. There’s a lengthy scene with Tautou and Hanks trying to find some hidden secret–the clues are all written in sweat, only visible under black light, all encrypted so only Hanks can decode them. Just to stretch this asinine scene out, there are three different messages. If only Hanks can read them, why not just one? Howard doesn’t even try to disguise the pointless material.

The whole film–given the competency of everyone involved (except Goldsman, who’s always awful)–is something of a mystery. It’s a fine example of the sad state of Hollywood filmmaking. But at least it’s really, really funny. I’ve never had a movie so vehemently refuse to engage my brain–I’m even considering writing a monograph about it, examining the film scene-by-scene.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown; director of photography, Salvatore Totino; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Brian Grazer and John Calley; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu), Ian McKellen (Sir Leigh Teabing), Jürgen Prochnow (Vernet), Paul Bettany (Silas), Jean Reno (Bezu Fache), Alfred Molina (Bishop Aringarosa), Jean-Yves Berteloot (Remy Jean) and Etienne Chicot (Collet).


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As Good as It Gets (1997, James L. Brooks)

As I recall, there were lots of production issues with As Good as It Gets, specifically in terms of boosting Cuba Gooding Jr.’s role (after winning his Oscar) and maybe shortening Skeet Ulrich’s. It all shows, as does the uneasy rewrite Brooks did of Mark Andrus’s script. I have no idea what Andrus’s original script read like, but the filmed version is a confused mess. A lot of As Good as It Gets feels like the filmmakers grafted the Helen Hunt character and plot on to the Jack Nicholson, Greg Kinnear, and cute dog plot–especially given how there’s a natural flow to that plot, but not a natural one to the romance. The final scenes with Kinnear and Nicholson play really well, while the final scene with Nicholson and Hunt plays like a romantic comedy unsure how to finish and doing the best it can.

The problem with As Good as It Gets–one encompassing the script problems too–is the lack of atmosphere. It’s competently directed, but artlessly made (John Bailey’s photography is dull and Hans Zimmer’s score is trying for cute). A lot of it filmed in California–sitting in for New York–and while it doesn’t quite show, the tone is wrong. It feels like a sitcom, especially in the first hour with the scenes at the restaurant. It’s as real as an episode of “Friends” and a lot of the pseudo-quirky casting lends itself to that tone–Jamie Kennedy in a practically dialogue-less role, Harold Ramis popping in (even if Ramis is really funny). And the lack of weight to Hunt’s kid’s medical problems. Seven and a half years of dire medical problems get wiped away in order to make for an easy movie. The lack of any real medical reasoning for Nicholson’s condition (he’s a bigot, where’s he get the pill to fix that one?). The absence of resolution to Kinnear’s assault… As Good as It Gets wipes them all away.

The (very) general filmmaking competence and good performances carry it. Gooding is a lot of fun and any additional scenes for him are welcome. Ulrich is awful, but he’s barely there. The Oscar-winners… well, neither of them deserved them, especially not Hunt. She’s fine, but all of her acting tricks are the same she used on “Mad About You.” And her sometimes implied Brooklyn accent is mistake. Nicholson’s good, but it’s kind of pointless. It’s not an ambitious performance for him–and the scene where he talks about playing the piano, bringing up Five Easy Pieces, just reminds he should have been doing something much better. Then there’s the one who didn’t win, Kinnear, who certainly deserved it. Kinnear’s performance is fantastic, as he brings this cookie cutter character to a real level. Only Kinnear manages to convince he’s not a sitcom character.

Given James L. Brooks’s pedigree, As Good as It Gets ought to be a lot better. But it’s amiable and well-paced for two hours plus and occasionally real funny. And a lot of the acting makes it worthwhile… but it’s a shame about Brooks.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James L. Brooks; screenplay by Mark Andrus and Brooks, based on a story by Andrus; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Richard Marks; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Bridget Johnson, Kristi Zea and Brooks; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Melvin Udall), Helen Hunt (Carol Connelly), Greg Kinnear (Simon Bishop), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Frank Sachs), Skeet Ulrich (Vincent), Shirley Knight (Beverly), Yeardley Smith (Jackie) and Lupe Ontiveros (Nora).


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