Tag Archives: Russell Crowe

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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Love & Other Drugs / The Next Three Days / The Way Back

Ah, been a while since I did three films in a day. In a bid to avoid take a break from working hard, I headed over to the Cineworld in Edinburgh for one romcom, a thriller and a historical drama. I like a nice mix.

Love and Other Drugs

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Boy meets girl. Shags her. Meets another girl. Shags her. Meets another girl. Shags her. Meets another girl. Shags her, but likes her. Sells some pills along the way (legally).

LaOD is definitely more “romantic” than “comedy”. There are some genuinely funny moments in it, but it focusses far more on the story than it does on laughs. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. It is. Hugely so.

This is largely due to Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. And this is partly due to the amount of flesh they show. One thing that’s always annoyed me about films is the way a couple can be all over each other, then the scene cuts and they insist on keeping themselves covered with sheets. Not so in this film! That’s not to say it’s remotely pornographic – unless you’re from the Bible Belt, in which case curved table legs are fairly hard core.

The performances are fantastic, especially Hathaway who plays a character with onsetting Parkinsons Disease. The writers have managed to make this a major point (as it should be) without turning things schmaltzy.

Jamie (Gyllenhaal) grows up as the film progresses, and he portrays this with some strength. Moving from the easy-going playboy to a dedicated partner in stages as the film progresses, he matures over the course of the two hours or so.

Josh Gad is also excellent as the comedy relief, Jamie’s brother. He pops up in just the right places to give some laughs and does manage to steal some of the scenes he’s in. Basically, he’s there for the guys who are taking their partners to see this film on a date.

A great story with passionate performances from the leads.

The Next Three Days

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A woman is jailed for a crime she didn’t commit (or did she?) and her husband starts to plot a way of getting her out. Only he’s not that great at it.

This isn’t the first “damsel in distress and amateur husband/partner comes to the rescue” film by any stretch. It is, however, ever so slightly more realistically portrayed than most others. Hubby (John – played by Russell Crowe) is a school teacher. He isn’t ex-military and doesn’t have a keen interest in survivalism.

His wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), is jailed for murdering her boss which she denies. However, there’s a lot of doubt as to the truth of this. This simple fact does make the film a bit more interesting. Will the actually get away with John’s plan? Should they? After all, there’s every chance she did it.

Indeed, John keeps screwing up. As ever, I’ll avoid spoilers, but his methods don’t always work out too well. Of course, where’s the fun in a film where everything is easy? You’ll end up with something like Law Abiding Citizen which has been done.

Despite a 2-hour running time, The Next Three Days doesn’t overstay its welcome and maintains interest right the way through. It does use some classic cinema tricks to maintain tension which are woefully predictable, but they only detract slightly from the film.

The Way Back

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A small group escape from a Russian gulag in Siberia then travel 4000 miles – on foot – to freedom.

There’s some debate as to the truthfulness of the book on which this film is based, but there’s enough fact in there to make it a wonderfully emotional work. Starting in the work camps of frozen Sibera (all 5 million square miles of it), the group head south in search of freedom. This takes a lot longer than they expect.

The group is made up of Russians, Poles, an American… quite a mix and indicative of the fact that Communism didn’t care who it trampled as long as it got its own way.

Not all the actors are from Eastern Europe, despite paying characters from there. Ed Harris does play the lone American, but Colin Farrell puts on a pretty acceptable accent as the mad knife-wielding lowlife who forces his way into the escape party.

The majority of the film depicts the group’s journey through harsh snow, mountains, plains, lakes, and desert as they make their way south to India and freedom from the reaches of Communism.

It does seem to rush a little as the time goes by. The early stages of the trek take up the most time, and each lengthier stage takes less and less screen time as the story progresses. Still, I suppose there’s only so much you can show of people walking with the sun beating down on them, or snow blinding them.

There’s a great story here with some compelling performances. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’s quite classic material. Far better than some of the brain-numbing crap being thrust on us these days, though.

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Robin Hood – no Bryan Adams in sight

Robin Hood 2010 poster
Robin Hood (2010)

Well, I had a pretty awful day but I’m glad to say that I passed at least a little of it with some escapism in the form of Ridley Scott‘s Robin Hood – a film better than the trailer would have had me believe.

Robin Hood

“Rise, and rise again. Until lambs become lions.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Random longbowman becomes knight, then outlaw. All in a measly 2 hours and 10 minutes.

The first thing I really liked about this film was the fact that it was hugely different from any Robin Hood film I’ve seen in the past. The main reason is that Robin isn’t an outlaw in it until the very end. This is the story of how Robin Longstride becomes Robin of the Hood. And a very interesting tale it is, too.

If you’re expecting an update of Kevin Costner‘s Prince of Thieves then you’ll be disappointed. However, if you found that to be a Hollywood-ised mess full of historical inaccuracies and geographical nonsense then you may well prefer Scott’s vision.

There’s no way a truly historic tale could be woven, simply as there’s not even any proof that the man existed. Even if he did, the stories about him vary so hugely that we don’t even know if he was a commoner or aristocrat, or if his name was indeed Robin. Perhaps that came about because he wore red. Or was it Lincoln green? The stories can’t even agree on the colour of his clothes!

Historically, and based on the facts we do know of this period, the version here is definitely far more accurate than Costner’s. Certainly, it’s got one simple fact right – that Richard the Lionheart died in France so his appearance at the end of a film (portrayed by a Scot…) to make everything right again is hardly going to happen. Hell, Scott’s even managed to factor in the fact that the person who killed him was (possibly) a cook. And that he was shot by an arrow in the left side of his neck. In one five minute segment, Scott (and scriptwiter Brian Helgeland) have more historical accuracy than Costner managed in his entire movie.

In the interests of balance, it must be said that this version isn’t as “entertaining” at Prince of Thieves. After all, it hasn’t got Alan Rickman in it. However, it is a very different type of film. Both have their merits – the older one is more fun, frankly, whereas this has a much superior story.

Russell Crowe isn’t bad as Robin. At least he tries at an English accent. Which one, however, is anyone’s guess. One moment he’s Yorkshire, then more Scouse. At times he even drifts as far as having an Irish twang. To give the guy some credit, though. He’s a Kiwi who’s been putting on an American accent for years.

The film certainly doesn’t have the scale of the pair’s earlier Gladiator, but there’s no taking away from the impressive sets and scenery. I’m sure historians would happily point out a thousand discrepancies, but it looks alright to me.

I genuinely had no hope for this film based on the trailer. However, the film advertised certainly isn’t the one I saw. It’s far better written and more interesting than the action-fest I was ready to tolerate.

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