While Hans Zimmer's scores have expertly matched the dark tone of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, it seems a shame that the rebooted caped crusader has been robbed of the blockbuster pop song in addition to a sense of humor, a concise running time and in the case of The Dark Knight Rises, a coherent plot. Indeed, Batman & Robin may have been slaughtered by critics for its style over substance, wooden performances and Mr. Freeze's horrendously corny one-liners, but at least it had a great theme tune. Here's a look at five of the best songs released during the Keaton/Kilmer/Clooney era.
Prince – "Batdance"
One of nine tracks The Purple One recorded for 1989's Batman, US number one hit "Batdance" might not exactly be his finest hour. But its slightly ridiculous mix of percussive dance-pop, slinky electro-funk and sampled dialogue certainly echoed the chaos caused by Jack Nicholson’s The Joker.
Siouxsie & The Banshees – "Face To Face"
Adopting the slinky feline persona of Catwoman, goth-punk icon Siouxsie Sioux sensuously purred her way through this appropriately tense waltz-like accompaniment to Batman Returns' revelatory ballroom scene.
Seal – "Kiss From A Rose"
Initially ignored on its 1994 release, "Kiss From A Rose" then topped the US charts a year later when it landed on the Batman Forever OST. Slushy it may be, but an impassioned Seal sells the pop madrigal as if his life depended on it.
U2 – "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"
Nominated for both a Golden Globe and a Razzie, this T. Rex pastiche divided audiences when it appeared on the soundtrack to Joel Schumacher's less-derided directorial attempt. But 18 years on, its majestic electro-rock production stands shoulder to shoulder with anything else U2 produced during the 90s.
The Smashing Pumpkins – "The End Is The Beginning Is The End"
One of the few good things to come out of 1997's disastrous franchise-killing turkey, Billy Corgan and co. picked up a Grammy for this suitably bombastic mix of crunching guitars and propulsive beats, a slowed-down remix of which was later used in the trailer for Watchmen.
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The Two and a Half Men star was fired from the hit sitcom earlier this year (11) due to his bizarre antics and subsequently replaced by Ashton Kutcher. He is rumoured to be planning a TV comeback in a show based on Jack Nicholson's 2003 movie Anger Management, and has now returned to acting with a role in a video for his rapper pals Simon Rex and Brother Marquis.
Sheen is seen chastising the pair as a restaurant manager in the promo for Steak and Mashed Potatoes.
He took on the role for free as a favour for his friends, according to TMZ.com.
As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.
The misadventures begin when amateur wine enthusiast Miles (Paul Giamatti) decides he's going to take his old college buddy the charming Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a relaxing trip to the vineyards of California's Santa Ynez Valley the week before Jack's impending nuptials. It would be nice if it were that simple but in actuality the two comically mismatched friends have some serious mid-life crises to work through: Miles is a sad-sack worrier who has been depressed for the last two years over a failed marriage and several failed attempts to get his novel published while over-sexed Jack faces his faded youth and fading acting career. Their journey denigrates into debauchery as trips like this is are wont to do and Miles and Jack soon find themselves sniffing swirling and downing wine while chatting up the local denizens--including the vivacious wine pourer Stephanie (Sandra Oh) to whom Jack takes a shine and the quiet wine-savvy waitress Maya (Virginia Madsen) who takes a shine to Miles. At the end of the week the guys eventually emerge from a haze of pinot noir sexual escapades and wistful yearnings to collide with the reality of heading back home.
Payne didn't want to cast what he calls "movie stars" for Sideways deciding to go with lesser known actors who could bring out the human drama in a more instinctive way (even though Payne probably could have brought out good performances in just about anyone; look what he did with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt). Casting the superb Giamatti as the beleaguered Miles however is a stroke of genius: The actor elevates the movie to another level turning in an unbelievably heart-wrenching performance. Sure Giamatti is the king of playing losers having played plenty of them in his career (American Splendor
Duets) but it's the surprisingly sweet and gentle way he becomes the guy who maybe just maybe gets the girl that knocks you out. Madsen as Miles's would-be paramour Maya also comes out of nowhere to give a very genuine portrait of a woman who's dealing with her own divorce while looking for some companionship. The actress has finally been given the chance to shine after a lot bad television (anyone remember
Just Ask My Children? My point exactly) and the movie's the better for it. As the other two players in the quartet Church whose been out of the loop since his days on TV's Wings does a wonderful job as Jack the cad who actually has a heart while Oh (Under the Tuscan Sun) adds a nice touch as the gullible Stephanie just looking for Mr. Right.
How about these quirky indie writer/directors these days getting all mushy and romantic? Charlie Kaufman started the trend this year with his terminally hip but eternally tender Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and even David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees
has its gooey moments weird and existential as they were. Now it's Alexander Payne's turn--and he's hit the jackpot. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Rex Pickett Payne along with writing partner Jim Taylor has crafted another exquisite slice-of-life movie to follow his brilliant efforts About Schmidt Election and Citizen Ruth but has also delved into the heart-ripping love story genre; Sideways is so painfully aching at times it hurts. The characters give eloquent soliloquies rather than come off as just talking heads spouting dialogue--Maya's explanation on why she loves wine so much; Miles' take on the delicate beauty of the pinot noir grape; Jack's tearful pleading with his friend to save him all hit home. Then of course there's the wine. Payne so vividly paints the artistry the tastes the pure love of wine as well as stylishly filming California's wine country that connoisseurs and novices alike will appreciate this movie. Heck anyone who just likes to drink the stuff is going to be mesmerized by the intimacy of it all. Speaking of which where's that bottle opener?
With its twisty-turning plot and military setting Basic could be the love child of an illicit affair between The Usual Suspects and The General's Daughter; it even borrows the star of the latter. In Basic John Travolta plays Tom Hardy a former Army Ranger and interrogator extraordinaire who's now a DEA agent in Panama suspended from duty on suspicion of bribery. He's hitting the rebellious law enforcement officer's requisite bottle of Jack Daniels heavily--until an old friend on the local army base Col. Bill Styles (Tim Daly) calls him in to investigate the disappearances and probable deaths of an elite group of trainees and their commander Sgt. Nathan West (Samuel L Jackson) during a training session in the Panamanian jungle. Staff investigator Lt. Julia Osbourne (Connie Nielsen) a plucky Southern gal who's none too pleased with Hardy's invasion of her turf is assigned to help Hardy question the unit's surviving members Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) and Dunbar (Brian Van Holt). As their stories unfold over a series of flashbacks the interrogators discover a military underworld of drugs murder and coercion--and the mysterious existence of a rogue Ranger unit called "Section 8." Now for an interrogation of our own. Is the plot convoluted? Sir yes sir! Is it too tricky for its own good? Sir yes sir! Thank you soldier. You may stand down.
The trigger-finger pointing winking cluck-clucking "gotcha" persona Travolta (Swordfish Domestic Disturbance) creates in Hardy is as appropriate to the story as it can possibly be; the way he manipulates his subjects under interrogation is much the same way the story manipulates its audience. He leads them--and the observant Lt. Osbourne--to believe one thing then pulls the rug out from under them to prove the old cliché of military movies: that nothing is as it seems. In Nielsen's (The Hunted One Hour Photo) Osbourne we're given a character who could lead us through the jungle of the plot (she discovers the "facts" at the same time as the audience so her reaction is meant I suppose to be ours) but since Hardy spends much of his time making her look and feel like an idiot she comes off as one and frankly so do we. The talented Jackson (Changing Lanes) mostly does the bellowing drill sergeant bit while Ribisi (Heaven) as the homosexual son of a high-ranking general talks like he has cotton wool in his mouth and moves and twitches like he's mildly brain-impaired. (His character's not supposed to be; he only got shot in the leg.) One bright spot in this movie is the featured role for hunky Van Holt (Windtalkers Black Hawk Down) whose chiseled good looks and heroic demeanor make him a shoo-in should anyone ever make a live-action Johnny Bravo movie.
Director John McTiernan has given audiences some heavy-duty action in Die Hard Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Hunt for Red October but he's also the director who brought us such gems as Rollerball and Last Action Hero so it's not surprising that in Basic we get some action and intrigue paired with the out-there story stylings and narrative confusion of some of his less successful work. Here each flashback brings new information that conflicts with what we've been told before and the story never really resolves those conflicts in any satisfying way. The "big twist" at the end instead of bringing it all together creates gaping holes in the plot or at least creates so much doubt in the story we've just spent an hour and a half watching that it's easy to get fed up with trying to figure it out. Naturally no one likes to be spoon-fed plot resolutions but in order for twists to work they have to give the audience something to focus its doubt on--they can't just call the whole kit and caboodle into question. We have to be able eventually to figure it out. But hey maybe we aren't supposed to work out the details; after all this movie with its catchy one-word title and colorful cast of characters is just begging for a sequel: Basic 2: Explaining the First Movie.