Despicable Me

Name: Despicable Me
Year: 2010
Rating: G
Running Time (minutes): 95
Description: In a happy suburban neighbourhood surrounded by white picket fences with flowering rose bushes sits a black house with a dead lawn. Unbeknownst to the neighbours, hidden beneath this home is a vast secret hideout. Surrounded by a small army of minions, we discover Gru, planning the biggest heist in the history of the world. He is going to steal the moon. (Yes, the moon.) Gru delights in all things wicked. Armed with his arsenal of shrink rays, freeze rays and battle-ready vehicles for land and air, he vanquishes all who stand in his way. Until the day he encounters the immense will of three little orphaned girls who look at him and see something that no one else has ever seen: a potential Dad. The world’s greatest villain has just met his greatest challenge: three little girls named Margo, Edith and Agnes.
Stars: Steve Carell, Jason Segel and Russell Brand
Genres: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

Liked it a lot, though I lost interest during the last 10 minutes. Also, the newsreader at the beginning is rather bland.

The score was excellent.

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Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Name: Harry Potter 8 The Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Year: 2011
Rating: PG
Running Time (minutes): 130
Description: The final chapter begins as Harry, Ron and Hermione continue their quest of finding and destroying the Dark Lord’s three remaining Horcruxes, the magical items responsible for his immortality. But as the mystical Deathly Hallows are uncovered and Voldemort finds out about their mission, the biggest battle begins and life as they know it will never be the same again.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
Genres: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy

Story-wise, things are all right, but the Deathly Hallows plot remains elusive and I still don’t understand why Harry keeps trusting Dumbledore. How did Dumbledore get the Resurrection Stone anyway, did he buy it in a local shop? Also, a much more glaring mistake occurs in the flashback sequence: we hear Trelawney’s prophecy about Pettigrew returning to Voldemort instead of the one where she is predicting Harry’s birth. Then again, Thompson delivered that prophecy much more dramatic in 3 and it sounds pretty good mixed with Desplat’s music as well. Ollivander’s ability to measure wands without any tool remains a mystery as well. What I do love about this film is that the opening scenes clearly tell you that this is it, the end, and that you’d better get reayd for an epic finale. Yates finally uses the Harry-Voldemort vision bond to its full extent. I didn’t even mind Daniel Radcliffe this time, but I don’t understand how Aberforth got rid of the Death Eaters and Voldemort definitely says more in Parseltongue than the subtitles reveal. The film version of Ginny isn’t really my thing either and the way the Pensieve just floats towards Harry is cheesy. I don’t understand why Harry is so upset by Snape and Lily’s identical Patronus either. Snape’s death is extremely moving, however: I’ll never forget hearing his last line for the very first time and even today, Fred’s death made me shiver, as did the memory sequence. Ralph Fiennes is terrifyingly awesome, but at times I felt sorry for him, which doesn’t make sense because Yates seemed to be so intent on presenting him as an empty villain.

Desplat’s score was a pleasant rediscovery as well, though I missed the trio’s/mission’s theme: its few references, though sometimes very effective, were not enough and the disappearance of the villain theme is stupid too, now it’s just a generic action motif. On the other hand, there’s plenty of fantastic music to be heard here (Gringots espace, the procession and statues scene), that these are only minor issues, but Giving Voldmeort’s end no theme is a total disgrace and, no, using an old Williams cue during the epilogue is not enough. The thematic opportunities in this entire franchise were uncountable and nearly all of them were simply ignored. The overall package for this one sounds too different from Part 1 too, as if its aim is to please the masses rather than showcase Desplat’s abilities and intelligence: some renditions of the overused Hedwig’s theme are masterful. And, again, I hate those unscored moments that should have been scored, especially the scene after Voldemort’s death sounds raw and unfinished and, for the love of God, whoever would not score the trio’s goodbye after the memory sequence? At least, the sound mix was glorious.

Di Langford explained that Harry is about to speak to Griphook when he says ‘Griphook’ two seconds afterwards. And I know that Imperio is a spell and that Dean Thomas is a student, thank you. You don’t announce an alarm before it’s activated either and she mentions that Molly Weasley helps conjure the protective shield around Hogwarts. I’m not against that idea, but her voice is most definitely not Julie Walters’. And of course, some sounds were described in advance.

The Lord Of The Rings – The Return Of The King

Name: The Lord Of The Rings – The Return Of The King
Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Running Time (minutes): 201
Description: While Frodo and Sam continue to approach Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring, unaware of the path Gollum is leading them to, the former Fellowship aid Rohan and Gondor in a great battle in the Pelennor Fields, Minas Tirith and the Black Gates as Sauron wages his last war against Middle Earth.
Stars: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen
Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama

Why are Frodo and Bilbo leaving the Shire? Are they going to some sort of paradise or is it supposed to be a euphemism for suicide/dying or… what is it? When are we getting a sequel about Sam and Rosie’s children? And is it me, or do the Mordor armies chant ‘Azog!’ at one point? I really like the ‘long has he foreseen this doom’ guy in Gondor and loved Gollum as he finally acquired the Ring. Shelob’s sound effects are masterful and Pippin is annoying when he shouts/screams. Speaking of shouting, why haven’t I turned off Annie Lennox’s song yet? Aragorn’s voice still irritates me a bit as well and he has severe problems pronouncing ‘Mordor’ and ‘Isildur’s’. And a very special thank you to Legolas for explaining what a diversion is. What a dumb moment. I mean, what was the point, to teach the populace the meaning of the word ‘diversion’ or to explain one final time what the plan was, to make sure they got it?

This score was horribly mistreated in the film. It all felt so raw and chopped up. Especially the first half of the film contains too many unscored scenes. Also, why does Shore always start distorting/changing/getting very creative with his themes after having done the exact opposite with them during the previous entry? For instance, Rohan receives excellent variations throughout this entire score, but not in The Two Towers. It’s still my least favourite LOTR score, though there are plenty of moments filled with Middle Earth greatness (yeah, you take that, Desolation of Smaug and Battle of the Five Armies) and satisfying thematic continuity and conclusions (also take that, The Hobbit), though I still want more Nazgul choir à la Fellowship of the Ring, no matter all Doug Adams’ explanations for its absence. Oh, and if you’re looking for a nice moment to stop the film and take a little break, do it just before the epic Ringwraiths choir kicks in during the siege of Gondor. Works splendidly.

The overall volume and surround sound was really extraordinary this time, even scary at times. At other times, there was still a ridiculous focus on the choir, while at other moments you could hardly hear the music at all and the track had some distortion again.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Name: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Running Time (minutes): 146
Description: Voldemort’s power is growing stronger. He now has control over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Harry, Ron and Hermione decide to finish Dumbledore’s work and find the rest of the Horcruxes to defeat the Dark Lord. But little hope remains for the trio and the rest of the wizarding world, so everything they do must go as planned.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
Genres: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy

I really liked it this time! Way better than how I remembered it. Quite intense, fast-paced and mostly well-acted. A few issues remain, however: Radcliffe really sucks. Apparently he doesn’t only have the same expression on his face throughout the entire film (thank you for that observation, mother), he mostly sounds the same as well: moody and bitter. No matter where they are, no matter what they’re doing, he’s always sulking! If you don’t like playing Harry anymore, just stop playing Harry! Also, Yates implies so much but tells us so little: Mundungus Fletcher isn’t handled properly, Dumbledore’s backstory is a complete mess (but maybe that was a deliberate decision), same goes for Harry’s animosity towards Kreacher and Scrimgeour (but then again, he hates everyone, so…) And if Harry hears all the Horcruxes in the final two films, why not in Chamber of Secrets? Did he go and see an ear doctor in the meantime? When the Weasleys are preparing the wedding, you clearly hear dialogue from HP5 and why is it so important to name the two Death Eaters who attack them in the café? Hermione mispronounces ‘Muffliato’, but her overall performance, as usual, is fantastic.

Desplat’s score really impressed me this time. Not only did he bring back the magic, he created lots of memorable themes, though their meaning isn’t always clear to me. Even Hermione has a theme in this score. Only the synthetic bass makes my head ache, my room vibrate and my housemates ask what the hell is going on. I still don’t like the thematic break with the previous scores either: Dobby already has a theme, use it. This is a particular problem here because so much of the score actually sounds like John Williams music. Yates also still doesn’t really know how to handle music (Ron Splinched, Hermione crying over Ron’s departure etc. are unscored, which totally kills the scenes for me, but maybe the images speak for themselves). There can’t be a reason why Yates decided to strip the music playing when the trio are on their way to Lovegood of all its magic, though. It just sounds terrible now.

The surround sound is glorious in this film. Every channel is used to its full extent. It must be pointed out, however, that the entire movie suffers from extremely dynamic range, which might scare you to death in a cinema and certainly isn’t nice when you’re at home. Some of the great music is also barely audible.

The audio description was good, but Di Langford explains too much: I know Hagrid is a giant, that Pettigrew’s nickname is Wormtail and that a Thestral is a winged horse (and is Voldemort really The Dark Lord?) At other times, she didn’t explain unclear sounds. They also repeatedly muted background dialogue during the narration, which I didn’t really like.

The Lord Of THe Rings – The Two Towers

Name: The Lord Of The Rings – The Two Towers
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Running Time (minutes): 179
Description: Sauron’s forces increase. His allies grow. The Ringwraiths return in an even more frightening form. Saruman’s army of Uruk Hai is ready to launch an assault against Aragorn and the people of Rohan. Yet the Fellowship is broken and Boromir is dead. For the little hope that is left, Frodo and Sam march on into Mordor, unprotected. A number of new allies join with Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Pippin and Merry. And they must defend Rohan and attack Isengard. Yet, while all this is going on, Sauron’s troops mass toward the City of Gondor, for the War of the Ring is about to begin.
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen
Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama

Great film, though I still don’t like Arwen. Saruman was very enjoyable, on the other hand, even more because he stopped singing.

The score is great again, if a little less exciting. Still find it unfortunate the Nazgul music receives different variations and I really don’t like that woman who sings Gollum’s song. Way better end credits suite, though.

The surround sound dynamics were a lot better in this one and the distortion was minimal. There were issues with the volume of the music, though: loud sound effects made it go quieter, but then there were moments where the choir was so overwhelmingly loud that it was almost comical (when Gandalf shows up for the first time, for instance).

Needless to say, the audio description is still fantastic. Way to go, James O’Hara and co.

Titanic

Name: Titanic
Year: 1997
Rating: PG-13
Running Time (minutes): 194
Description: 84 years later, a 100-year-old woman named Rose DeWitt Bukater tells the story to her granddaughter, Lizzy Calvert, Brock Lovett, Lewis Bodine, Bobby Buell and Anatoly Mikailavich on the Keldysh about her life set in April 10th, 1912, on a ship called Titanic when young Rose boards the departing ship with the upper-class passengers and her mother, Ruth DeWitt Bukater and her fiancé, Caledon ‘Cal’ Hockley. Meanwhile, a drifter and artist named Jack Dawson and his best friend Fabrizio De Rossi win third-class tickets to the ship in a game. Rose explains the whole story from departure until the death of Titanic on its first and last voyage on April 15th, 1912 at 2:2 in the morning.
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Billy Zane
Genres: Adventure, Drama, History, Romance

I was glad to have finally watched it so that I could join the club bashing the original soundtrack releases (and now loving the 20th anniversary CD). Very nice story, although I had some difficulties liking Rose and Jack in the beginning, but that changed a bit later. I loved the class clashes in the story and my only negative remark is that some of the dialogue sounds very artificial at times, as if the actors were bored to death, but then at other moments, it’s heartbreaking.

The score was exquisite. Horner had this gift of telling me everything with only a few notes. In The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, one piano chord sufficed and when A Building Panic started here, the approaching disaster needed no further illustration whatsoever. The romance music is extremely moving too: never has a piano touched me so deeply.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

Name: Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
Year: 2009
Rating: PG
Running Time (minutes): 153
Description: In the sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and in both wizard and muggle worlds, Lord Voldemort and his henchmen are increasingly active. With vacancies to fill at Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledore persuades Horace Slughorn back from retirement to become the potions teacher, while Professor Snape receives long-awaited news. Harry Potter, together with Dumbledore, must face treacherous tasks to defeat his evil nemesis.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
Genres: Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Mystery

Dumbledore really has some dumb lines here: ‘Could be anything. Most commonplace of objects.’ Oh great, let’s just look for Horcruxes in every dustbin, shall we? ‘You remember the conditions on which I brought you with me?’ What does he think Harry is, a goldfish? Why not cover Voldemort’s past? Oh yes, because Yates wasn’t interested in Voldemort’s past. Yeah, who would care about background information on the villain? Why did we spend so much time with Draco pulling a sheet off a cabinet instead? the Pensive scenes have unnecessary reverb that wasn’t there in Goblet of Fire. Also, Mrs Weasley sounds rather drunk and it’s unrealistic that Harry and Ginny suddenly take a liking to each other from the start of this movie after having ignored one another for such a long time and the ‘give or take a few years’ joke is stupid. I really don’t like Daniel Radcliffe in this one and his awkward girl talk moment with Dumbledore is both ridiculous and inappropriate, but Jim Broadbent is fantastic, Michael Gambon is brilliant, Watson’s emotional scene with Harry is a treat and Alan Rickman is, well, Alan Rickman. There’s too much focus on the teenage romance, though, especially taking into account how endlessly gloomy the previous film was. Are we trying to make amends, Mr Yates? And why does Snape just let Harry off the hook after he curses Malfoy? I do think it’s great that two things are set up in this movie already: Harry being a Horcrux and Snape’s secret affairs with Dumbledore. But what is it with Death Eaters and smoke?

Then, the music. The ‘intricately woven tapestry’ becomes so terribly intricate here that it totally vanishes. Possession is back, but who is being possessed by what/whom now? Dumbledore’s Farewell still makes me shiver (scene and score) while his actual killing is a musically missed opportunity, Hermione’s grief almost makes me want to cry too, the Unbreakable Vow music is spot on and the cave music and Inferi ending is great, though Possession doesn’t add up thematically during that rescue, but never mind. More thematic errors are at play when the liquid luck music suddenly sounds more like Ron and Hermione’s love theme. The Slughorn theme is good and used quite consistently, though, and the Potions class music is as magical as can be, but I can’t help wondering what Patrick Doyle would have done with the romantic cues that were scored by someone who was reminded of European films here. Also, there’s some very clumsy editing going on during the Quidditch try-outs and Mrs Weasley calls ‘Ginny’ twice in the exact same way while Hermione repeatedly cries similarly, but the Quidditch match, itself is great, while Sectumsempra is feeble at first. And I’ll say it yet again: What IS it with Yates and no music? Malfoy/Harry’s duel is unscored and even the scene after Dumbledore’s Farewell has no music! And the end credits are an outrage. Dumbledore just died, show some respect and leave the joyful stuff for romantic comedies, please.

The audio description was mostly good, but they forgot to elaborate on clearly audible sounds, like the Weasleys sleeping, and don’t explain that Dumbledore’s hand is blackened by the ring. Finally, they make one huge mistake by mentioning that Dumbledore’s wand is the Elder Wand and the entire AD track constantly messes with the film volume.

The Lord Of The Rings – The Fellowship Of The Ring

Name: The Lord Of The Rings – The Fellowship Of The Ring
Year: 2001
Rating: PG-13
Running Time (minutes): 178
Description: An ancient Ring thought lost for centuries has been found and through a strange twist in fate has been given to a small Hobbit named Frodo. When Gandalf discovers the ring is in fact the One Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron, Frodo must make an epic quest to the Cracks of Doom in order to destroy it. However, he does not go alone. He is joined by Gandalf, Legolas the elf, Gimli the Dwarf, Aragorn, Boromir and his three Hobbit friends Merry, Pippin and Samwise. Through mountains, snow, darkness, forests, rivers and plains, facing evil and danger at every corner, the Fellowship of the Ring must go. Their quest to destroy the One Ring is the only hope for the end of the Dark Lord’s reign.
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and Orlando Bloom
Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama

Every time I watch these films, Frodo gets more annoying. ‘I wish this, I wish that…’ And why is he allowed to take vital decisions regarding the paths they take? Why is he the only person who can destroy this ring? I understand why men can’t do it, but what’s so incredibly unique about this one particular, whining, pathetic little Hobbit? I also wish the filmmakers had relinquished one or two of Tolkien’s archaic phrases, for they sound stilted and shall always make me cringe, whether the birds of yore are returning or to Erebor not. Oh wait, that’s something else. Part of me would have preferred Sean Bean as Aragorn, but then again, he’s such a brilliant Boromir (Vigo’s voice really doesn’t work). Apart from Frodo, everything is mostly great, though, except for the fact that the film doesn’t explain a number of things, like why the Evenstar is such a big deal, why there is an Elvish password on a Dwarf door etc.

The score is of course top-notch, but the mixing of the choir is a big problem, especially in the first half of the film. The choir in the symphony recording (and Belgium’s very own Fine Fleur’s spectacular live performance, for that matter) sounded so much closer, clearer and more vibrant. You barely hear them in this film at times and at one point it’s blatantly obvious that they were recorded separately, not to mention their overused vibrato technique. Nevertheless, the Nazgûl music kicks ass and there’s hardly a minute of uninspiring music in the whole film, except perhaps for the end credits: if you write a work of such magnitude, is it really necessary to revert to a cut-and-paste approach?

Long have I desired to watch this motion picture in surround sound as well and this afternoon, the opportunity arose as my companions have temporarily left the residence in which we usually dwell. Surprisingly, it took the film nearly an entire hour before the rear channels were used to their full extent. Also, why on earth did they have to remove that PAL speed-up so clumsily? Now the soundtrack is now full of ‘hiccups’. One does not simply defile Howard Shore’s score like that. ‘Tis a foul and evil thing to do.

The audio-described versions of these films are masterful as well: James O’Hara really loses himself in the story and you can clearly hear he was having the time of his life reading the descriptions put together by this brilliant team.

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

Name: Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Year: 2007
Rating: PG
Running Time (minutes): 138
Description: After a lonely summer in Privet Drive, Harry returns to a Hogwarts full of ill-fortune. Few of the students and parents believe him or Dumbledore that Voldemort is really back. The Ministry has decided to step in by appointing a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher that proves to be the nastiest person Harry has ever encountered. Harry also can’t help stealing glances at the beautiful Cho Chang. To top it off are dreams that Harry can’t explain and a mystery behind something Voldemort is searching for. With these many things, Harry begins one of his toughest years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
Genres: Adventure, Family, Fantasy

And so the violent decline of the franchise begins. The story is mostly told rather well. I especially liked the humour this time, particularly the fireworks scene. A few things really bother me, though: it is mentioned that Cho betrayed the DA because of Veritaserum. So why did Harry forget all about her in the film world? Did he just decide over the summer she was totally useless or what? But wait, the team talked to a bereavement counsellor, so it’s all good. Also, the prophecy plot really is handled extremely clumsily, a terrible mistake given its importance. But wait, the centaurs have their own language, so it’s all good. At times, I didn’t really like Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Radcliffe and even Emma Watson’s performances. There’s just something dark, something… depressing and raw about this film that I can’t appreciate.

And the score… Hooper’s work really annoyed me. He clearly feels very comfortable writing upbeat music (most of it is very nice too), which is kind of problematic if you’re working with a director who doesn’t seem to understand words such as joy, emotion and happiness and if you’re doing a story that’s anything but amusing. Someone once wrote that Hooper’s music ‘fills space’. I think that’s a huge compliment. At times, his music is just completely counterintuitive: Harry’s expulsion from Hogwarts receives comical music, the flight sequence is scored in such a way you’d think Harry and co were going on a little holiday, the DA meetings sound like a playground get-together… What’s more, Hooper seems unable, or unwilling, to use the full power his orchestra could unleash, it’s all so superficial and simple. Yates really, really doesn’t understand the function of music either, no matter its mood. So much stuff that has musical potential is left unscored, maybe because they realised Hooper just wasn’t up to the task: Harry sulking at the Dursleys’, Harry seeing Voldemort at the station (and as Hermione is looking concerned, cheerful Hedwig’s Theme variations kick in!), Harry being rushed to Dumbledore after the snake vision, DUMBLEDORE AND VOLDEMORT DUELLING… And then about this so-called possession idea. It’s introduced during Harry’s final vision. Great setup of a theme. Williams, Doyle and Desplat’s themes all registered immediately when I first watched the films, but Hooper’s possession idea never did. Granted, Possession isn’t bad at all, but its setup is the huge problem. He also completely forgets to include Umbridge’s theme, which underplays her dangerous side by the way, in key moments. Why? Why did WB approve Hooper? Or Yates for that matter? And what happened to all the previous themes of this franchise that could be used here? No, Hedwig’s theme isn’t the only thing written for this series… Or are the characters too ‘different’ for them?

Di Langford described some actions before they happened again, but what was a bit more annoying was how she kept her information about the Occlumency lessons deliberately vague: ‘happy and terrifying memories’… Overall, not bad at all, though.

The Martian

Name: The Martian
Year: 2015
Rating: PG
Running Time (minutes): 144
Description: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring ‘the Martian’ home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible, rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return.
Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig
Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Drama

I really like Kate Mara. Too bad she doesn’t live long in House of Cards. What’s more, I didn’t even mind Matt Damon this time, who I sort of gave up on after wasting two hours watching The Bourne Identity. The story is sort of ‘American’, but who wouldn’t want a happy ending after two hours? For me, there was enough doubt about whether Damon would be rescued or not at first to keep me invested in the story, so it wasn’t all sentimental. The balance between the NASA storyline and the him-on-the-planet storyline was perfect too. If you don’t have at least two storylines, the result is 127 Hours. God knows how I sat through that one.

After watching this film for a second time, I still really like it and was also able to appreciate the score a lot more. It’s nice, airy and very functional, but I somehow wanted it to be a little better. What I did not like was the constant rumble throughout nearly the entire movie. No idea whether this was Harry Gregson-Williams’ doing or the sound effects, but I’m starting to notice this phenomenon in a lot of recently released films: everything has to make your room explode, everything needs to bang, boom and blast and I just can’t reduce the basses, no matter how hard I’ve tried to configure my sound system.