Les Misérables

120px-Film-stripAnother quick review following another rushed cinema trip around work and baby duties. Friends had been giving it good to better feedback, so we opted for the big budget Hollywood version of the Schonberg and Boublil musical classic.

Les Misérables (2012)

“Can you hear the people sing?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: parolee goes on the run to turn a new leaf and gets caught up on French Revolution goings-on

See it if you like: actual proper musicals, not just plays with a few songs chucked in

I’ve never seen the stage version though I absolutely adore the CD set I bought about 20 years ago. As such my comparisons are inevitably going to be predominantly based on the audio side of things. On this front it comes off very well indeed, but I’ll get into that a bit more later.

Visually it’s stunning. Huge, impressive sets which seem authentic enough while still maintaining the feel of a stage show. In many of the scenes I could imagine the cast on an actual stage in front of me, but the production values are obviously far greater than any theatre could hope to match.

The opening sequence kicks things off in this manner with scores of men pulling on ropes to haul a stricken ship out of stormy water and into dry dock. You just couldn’t do that in any theatre. A perfect mix of scenery and CGI makes this scene simply enormous.

We’re introduced, at this point, to our two main characters: Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and the police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). It’s always a risk when you take someone famous for their acting skills and put them into a role where they have to sing a few words. To take two men known for action flicks and put them in as leads to a film that has about 0.1% spoken dialogue (the rest all being sung) must have involved a lot of auditions or a leap of faith on the part of the director.

On the whole, it’s paid off. Jackman certainly gives the acting performance of his career if his voice doesn’t quite match up to the task, while Crowe plays things a little easier but (on the whole) has the better voice.

Stand-out, though, is Anne Hathaway who plays the downtrodden Fantine. If she was auditioned alongside any of the original stage cast, she’d be up there with the top choices. Add to this an outstanding acting performance and you have one of the best displays of talent on screen I have seen in a long time.

Amanda Seyfried as the older Cosette rounds out the main cast and gives a good performance also. The remaining two well-known names are Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter who provide comic relief as the Thénardiers, a couple of the dodgiest characters you’re ever likely to meet. Both are suitably revolting and fit the parts perfectly.

The remainder of the cast are less well known and/or have performed in the stage show and managed to jump on board this celluloid version. They hold their own against the premium rate cast well, from rugrats like Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) and Isabelle Allen (young Cosette) to main members like Samantha Barks (Éponine), there isn’t a duffer in the bunch.

It’s a cracking story with highs, lows and a huge amount of passion. The songs are superb, though definitely more “acted” (by which I mean emotionally performed) than the CD version I have. I swear there were a small number of lyrical changes as well – very minor ones – but I could be wrong.

There is always a risk in taking something as hugely well known as this from one medium to another, and in many cases the simple expedient of chucking money at it results in a complete mess. This, however, is far from it. Big, glorious, and hugely emotional it’s as good a film version as could ever be imagined.

I know some people won’t like it (and didn’t), but I really did. I’d still love to go and see it on stage, I’m sure I will one day, but this will tide me over in the meantime. Hell, I think I’m going to dig out the CDs and pop them in the car. It’ll make a change from the Cavalera Conspiracy track that came on the stereo when we left the cinema!

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Rum Diary / In Time

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsTwo films for the first time in a while. It should have been three, but despite battling traffic (and a slightly dodgy sat-nav) to get to the cinema in time I arrived to find out that the performance of Tintin I had aimed for wasn’t on. Not for the first time has Cineworld’s web site lied to me. Boo. So, McDonald’s for dinner and then back across the car park for the first of two films.

The Rum Diary

“We’re out of rum.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Alcoholic writer arrives in Puerto Rico, gets involved in local (dodgy) politics. Weirdness and mild amusement ensues.

See it if you like: Slightly weird, off-kilter dramas and/or Johnny Depp.

If you know of Hunter S. Thomson then you’ll know what to expect. Slightly off-centre characters, a touch of illegal drugs and a vat of alcohol form the basis of this entertaining story. Set in 1950’s Puerto Rico, Depp plays Kemp – a reporter brought in from the US to work for the slowly dying local rag.

Disillusioned and drunk, Kemp wants to write about what’s wrong with Puerto Rico. His editor, on the other hand, wants fluffy pieces about bowling alleys and sandy beaches. Unwittingly, Kemp ends up embroiled in one of the very corrupt escapades he despises.

Buddied up with a completely brain-fried Swede (Moburg played by Giovanni Ribisi) and a burnt-out photographer (Sala – Michael Rispoli), he soaks up the island, gets arrested, meets the girl of his dreams, annoys an underworld boss and rails against the bringing-down of the newspaper he was brought in to work for.

There are a handful of genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, and sadly the funniest of these is in the trailer. Other than that, it’s just continually amusing. Largely this is due to the performances from the cast as a whole. The dialogue is poetic and insightful in places, while quick-witted in others. A genuinely nice mix.

It is also, however, a little slow going and the last act does feel a bit “cludged together” just to get the story done.

I did enjoy it, but I don’t think it’s the rolloer-coaster ride of hilarity the trailer made it out to be.

In Time

“Don’t waste my time”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Time is now currency. Run out and you die. Have loads and you’re effectively immortal.

See it if you like: Sci fi thrillers with a twist, and not having to use your brain too much

I love the premise for this film. When you reach 25 years of age, a little clock kicks in on your arm giving you a year to live. Every second on that clock is currency which can be used to buy things. On the downside when it hits zero, your heart stops. In the meantime, your body doesn’t age.

But how is this currency controlled? What happens when people realise they’re running low, or if they manage to amass a fortune? In Time gives its answers to these questions along with a story of what happens if one man, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), tries to level the playing field a little.

This isn’t a brain-bender along the lines of Total Recall or Inception. It’s a far simpler and the premise isn’t explored beyond the fact that the world simply is like that. No history, no major twists. The overall theme would likely appeal to all those 99% protesters – isn’t it a little unfair that so many people struggle and suffer while a small percentage have the vast majority of the wealth?

Salas, living in the ghetto just getting by day to day as his job tops up his time, finds himself the beneficiary of a windfall. A hundred years. He decides to use it to get into the more exclusive districts and find out who’s controlling all this time. After all, someone’s making a profit from people “timing out”.

He ends up paired up with excessively-skinny waif Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried – seriously, could get legs be any thinner and still carry her weight?) while being chased by Time Keeper Leon (Cillian Murphy) as he fights to expose the high-end corruption that’s costing ordinary people their lives.

It’s a nice enough popcorn movie with some decent action sequences and, as I said, a great premise. It’ll never be a classic but I don’t think it’s trying to be.

Certainly not  waste of time.

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Rio / Red Riding Hood / Source Code

The plan for three films turned into a plan for one. Then two more. Which makes three anyway.


“I am not an ostrich!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: adopted macaw head to Brazil to discover his heritage and get laid.

I really wanted to avoid this film purely because it’s been used for the last three million years (or so it seems) to advertise Orange phones before every damn film I’ve seen. However, the kids wanted to see it (in preference to Winnie The Pooh and Hop) so off we went on Sunday afternoon. Oh, we saw the 2D version because Little Mister is under 6 and his older sister finds the glasses very uncomfortable. And I can’t bloody stand it.

It’s by the same folk who did the Ice Age movies, and it’s got a similar style of humour. It’s also definitely back on a par with the first of that series after the twee decline they went through. It  is a very bright and colourful movie with plenty of action to keep the youngsters happy although Little Mister didn’t seem quite in the mood to be engaged by it. Elder Sister really liked it.

The story is simple enough. A young macaw is stolen from the forests and finds a home in North America with a young girl (Linda voiced by Leslie Mann) who he grows up with. A Brazilian ornithologist arrives to beg that Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) be taken on a trip back “home” to pair up with the other last remaining macaw to save the species. Jewel (Anne Hathaway) turns out to be a little more of a live spirit and she and Blu end up going through a series of adventures.

The side characters and clever use of visual humour will keep adults interested as the kids giggle at the animated slapstick and ogle the visuals.

Not the best animated film ever, but definitely one that should entertain the sprogs if you have a spare afternoon. And that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

Red Riding Hood

“Grandmother… what big eyes you have.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A small village has been safe from the curse of a werewolf for twenty years when it suddenly strikes once again… but who it is, and what does it want?

This was one of those “we’re intrigued, but the times fit in with when we’re free” films. The two trailers we’d seen led us to think a) crap and b) hum, maybe not so crap. The reviews haven’t been kind, but I’d recommend giving it a chance.

It’s set in the middle ages, in a small insular village called Daggerhorn. Every full moon the villagers put out a sacrifice (goat, pig, whatever) and the local werewolf nabs it rather than killing one of the people. However, twenty years after the last human gets snatched, a local girl is eviscerated and questions start to arise.

The girl’s sister, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), is the titular Red Riding Hood and central character. It is she who is caught up in the mystery of the identity of the werewolf, a mystery that takes another turn when Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) arrives in town on a personal crusade against all things lycanthrope.

The story then becomes a half decent whodunnit combined with a some soap opera touches as family and relationship secrets are exposed. Friendships are strained, beliefs tested and Oldman overacts as wonderfully as only he knows how.

I think Gillian reckoned this was “OK”. I was quite impressed, largely as I wasn’t expecting much. It did take a little while to get going, but once things started ticking along I was guessing here and there as to who the werewolf was and why they were interested in Valerie. In true Murder, She Wrote style all of these details are revealed when we find out who the rampaging half-wolf is, along with brief flashbacks to the events we didn’t see clearly the first time.

Red Riding Hood won’t win any awards, and likely won’t do too well judging by the ratings I’ve seen so far. Which is a shame, as it’s not as bad as some people are making out. If there’s nothing else on, it’s worth 100 minutes of your time.

Source Code

“Oh boy.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Soldier time-travels (repeatedly) back to a commuter train to find out who blew it up and to prevent a major terrorist bombing.

Along similar lines to the likes of Deja Vu and Quantum Leap, Jake Gyllenhall‘s character Colter Stevens is part of a military-funder operation allowing tweaking with the timelines. The limitation with this expedition is that Stevens can only witness and interact with an alternative reality’s version of the last 8 minutes of his host’s life, taking place during events which have already occurred. Simply put, unlike Sam Beckett, he can’t put right what once went wrong… but he can hopefully collect enough information to prevent an upcoming event of much greater proportions from taking place.

The reviews and comments I’ve seen about Source Code are universally complimentary and a huge number are marvelling at the complicated twists and mystery as to what the “source code” actually is. Frankly, anyone posting comments like that on Twitter has never seen a sci-fi film. This is as linear as it gets, and although being a good story its twists have been done before. The “big twist” at the end is even explained by the central character, after a fashion, during the main body of the film!

As with most modern sci-fi, it’s best to disengage the believability circuits at the same time as you start shovelling popcorn into your gob. Source Code is nicely character-driven with a good premise, much of what made Quantum Leap so deservedly popular. Although it’s not difficult to stay a scene or two ahead of the screenwriters, Gyllenhaal really does make you care for his character.

He’s aided by the sympathetic “controller” Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who is overseem by the rather more self-obsessed Dr Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), while engaging with several characters on the doomed train – in particular Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who sits opposite him, and who he vows to save – despite being told that this is impossible.

I think Source Code suffered from the exact opposite problem as Red Riding Hood. After all the pizzaz, I was expecting it to be awe-inspiring. Instead it’s just “pretty good” so almost a let-down. Well-made, very well acted and not overblown it makes for a good film with a nice story but it simply isn’t the incredible movie it’s being made out to me.

Oh, and the Quantum Leap quote I put at the start of the review? The classic “Oh boy”? It’s in there. And it’s the first words spoken by the very actor who made them famous. Good luck spotting them!

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Angels, artists, adultery and (secret) agents

From Paris with Love (film)
From Paris with Love

A busy day at the cinema today as I played catchup on some films. Four in all – Legion, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Chloe and From Paris With Love. Three more tomorrow if I can fit them all in, too.


“Don’t be afraid. I just want to play with the baby.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: God’s a bit bored with humanity so decides to wipe it out – but one angel stands in his way.

Legion is fine a simple B-movie kind of way. Paul Bettany is about as far away from his verbose Chaucer (A Knight’s Tale) as could be while still managing to be cool and rather scary as a fallen Michael.

The entire film, near as dammit, takes place in a diner in the middle of nowhere where a pregnant woman holds the fate of humanity in her womb. Why, we don’t know. Just that if her child survives then God is a bit screwed in his attempts to wipe our humanity.

Actually, virtually nothing is made clear over the length of the film. If God sent a flood the last time he got pissed off, why is he sticking to vulnerable possessed human bodies this time?

Basically, the whole film makes about as much sense as the British legal system. Luckily it manages to be slightly more entertaining. Not bad if you switch your brain into neutral.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Mad video cameraman becomes mad artist

Rhys Ifans narrates this rather unusual documentary about a documentary about street art. The central character is one Thierry Guetta – who goes on to become Mr Brainwash, an artist who takes his inspiration from street art and makes a mint. He did the cover art for Madonna’s Great Hits a couple of years ago, doncha know.

Guetta begins as a compulsive cameraman with thousands of hours of footage of street artists at work. This he gains by telling them he’s filming a documentary. Which never existed. Frankly, the guy’s a nutter – but one who takes gambles that seem to pay off.

The film follows his adventures in getting this footage and then his own leap into the world of art.

Star of the show, though, is Banksy who Guetta befriended. As well as being quite a talented and controversial artist, the man has the most perfect comic timing. I think pretty much every one of his lines raised a laugh in the audience.

Not your normal cinema fare, but a very watchable documentary on a fairly contentious subject.


Plot-in-a-nutshell: A woman suspects her husband of infidelity and hires a prostitute to see if he really is straying. With disastrous consequences.

I’ve never seen Fatal Attraction but I have a feeling this has pinched a bit from the basic plotline. Catherine (Julianne Moore) has an inkling that that her hubby (Liam Neeson) is cheating on her when he “misses a flight” home from work one weekend. In a bid to test him she hires a prostitute, Chloe (a very hot Amanda Seyfried), to approach him and see if he is prepared to stray.

Of course, it gets complicated.

Now it’s fairly predictable even if the acting’s OK. And the ending is a little bit of an “easy out”. But at least there’s a rather hot sex scene which did keep me awake for a minute or two. Hey, I have two little dogs sleeping in my bedroom at the minute. One of them snores and they both wake up at 6:30am.

This isn’t a classic but I’ve seen worse films of this type.

From Paris With Love

“Now tell me that’s not some impressive shit.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: government worker gets dragged into “proper” secret agent work with his new less-than-mild-mannered partner.

Remember when you first saw Lethal Weapon? They way your straight-laced police officer partnered so well with a psycho? That magic is actually back (unlike the attempt they made with LW4) with John Travolta‘s latest effort.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is James Reece, a diplomatic aide with aspirations to become a “proper” agent. His chance comes with the arrival of Wax (Travolta) on the trail of some drug pedlars and terrorists. Oh, and it’s set in Paris hence the title. And the nice scenery. And the excellent car chases.

Yes, I have decided that the best car chase scenes all seem to be in European films. Sure, the American ones are bigger but can you top the class of the likes of The Transporter, Ronin or The Italian Job (original version)? Trust me, you can’t. It’s my blog and I’m right.

Travolta is both utterly mad and incredibly cool. He swears a lot. He fires big guns. A lot. And he kicks much ass. While swearing. Profusely.

From Paris is the best kind of buddy/buddy action film. Utterly over the top, pretty violent, action packed, stereotype bad guys, throwaway lines and cracking dialogue. Oh, and a great reference to Pulp Fiction. Just as an extra.

Perfect popcorn viewing.

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Film Saturday

Just for a change, a Saturday visit to the picture house and what a change it made crowd-wise. While I much prefer an empty theater (as people are generally selfish, noisy buggers in this country) it is good to see that the cinema is still a popular place to go. The queue was pretty big at 1pm, and by the time I walked past at 3pm I was glad I’d picked up the ticket for my second film in advance – the queue was out the door and up the street!

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Weird title, weird film. Apparently based on a weird book – which I actually remember seeing in the Popular Science section of Waterstone’s many years ago.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: a journalist with a failed marriage heads for Iraq to write a war story. On the way he encounters a retired soldier who claims to have been part of an elite psychic soldier outfit. And this is apparently based on a true story…

The main cast is astounding: George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin SpaceyRobert Patrick is headlined, but he’s only in it for five minutes. They’re all damn good as well. McGregor managed to pull off a decent American accent without sounding stupid while Clooney pulls off stupid without looking… well, stupid.

This is a film about complete mentalists. It’s hard to tell where the line is drawn between docu-drama and complete fiction. I’d guess that the book is the same, partly as it just seems to far-fetched. Yet how unlikely is it that armies were throwing cash a potential psychic “weapons”?

There are laughs a-plenty, most of them quite dark. The fact that McGregor’s character ends up in a quest to become what the psi-ops regiment called a “Jedi” is not lost on the viewing public either.

Overall a good film that doesn’t outstay it’s modest running length.

Jennifer’s Body

The last decent female-based teen horror film was Ginger Snaps and that was released ages ago. Jennifer’s Body goes more down the “monster” than “werewolf” route but does it well with some great black humour. And two hot girls snogging.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Town bike Jennifer turns from slut to blood-hungry psycho, requiring the blood of scared teens to survive. Her best friend is the only one to know her secret and she doesn’t like it.

When I saw the trailers I thought “rubbish – move on”. Then I saw some reviews, and not just from the likes of Baz Bamigboy and Jonathan Ross‘s far less talented sibling who will say anything is the “Best film of 2009” if it gets them a free bag of popcorn. The schedule fitted in with my free time so I took a chance.

The film opens after the end of the main plotline with one of the characters putting us into the scene. The story then jumps to the beginning and is more or less linear from there except for a brief jump back to explain exactly what happened to Jennifer (Megan Fox). Fox, incidentally, is hot. Scorchy hot. I-would-give-a-limb hot. But credit must also go to co-star Amanda Seyfried who plays the frumpy best friend, Needy – “frumpy” in the sense that as soon as she takes off her glasses and shakes out her hair she’s also typically sexy.

Everything happens at a good pace with the characters not being too stereotypical. The gore isn’t over-the-top and the effects are good. What I liked most, other than the humour, is the way the two main characters act opposite each other and how Needy develops.

You can pretty much guess what happens, it’s the ending that’s fairly original. Although not a huge twist, it’s definitely well written.

Don’t avoid this film just because it has obvious eye candy in. Don’t get me wrong. Fox isn’t that great an actress, but her hotness is actually useful in this film. And you get to see her with her tongue down another hot chick’s throat. Admittedly this scene was made somewhat less erotic by one numpty in the cinema crying “YAY” in a dull monotone, resulting in a huge outburst of laughter and a smattering of applause.

Still, that’s a throwaway moment in the film in my opinion. The main reason to see it is Seyfried’s performance. And the poor jokes.

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