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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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (IMAX)

OK, that’s a long film title. Because Little Miss hadn’t seen any of the Harry Potter films at the cinema before, we decided to make this one a little special and took her to the IMAX to see it. Advice for future – check the performance times and get there early enough so we’re not sat off to the right of the front row…

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Hogwarts is threatened! Man the boundaries. Protect us!”

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 CommonsPlot-in-a-nutshell: Go read the book, you lazy arse

See it if you like: finding out what happens at the end of stories you’ve been following for 11 years and are too lazy to read a damn book.

The single biggest opening in US cinema history (possibly worldwide, too), so I’d expect you all to know about this film. But is it any good? Short answer: yes. Certainly it’s far better than Part 1 which was all character development and not a lot of incidence. How you can scene-set for 2 hours and expect kids to sit through it is beyond me.

Part 2 has a load of great action sequences in it, and – no surprise – faultless effects. The IMAX 3D is, of course, far superior to the crap you get in the mainstream cinemas and it’s used to full effect here. As I mentioned in the introduction, though, do make sure your’e sat somewhere good to make the most of it. The picture was rather strained and warped where we were.

The story definitely moves along faster than the previous movie and it’s over fairly quickly, or so it seems. As per the books, pretty much everything is nicely tied together although as you would expect there are some details missing in the adaptation.

It’s also not surprising to see that the acting has improved as the years have gone on. In the early films I could have punched Emma Watson for being so flipping gushy and annoying. Now, she’s a very accomplished actress as are the rest of the now-mature cast. Top marks go to Helena Bonham Carter for her portrayal of herself being portrayed by Hermione, though. Very well done.

Is it worth spending the extra to see this film on IMAX, though? Given the price difference between this screening and the equivalent 3D showing at a regular cinema then definitely. If you’re remotely bothered about 3D then cough up the pennies. It’s far, far, far superior. If you’re only bothered about the story then do the usual and catch it in 2D. At least there’s still an option to do so, thankfully.

There’s no point in recommending the film though. If you’ve seen the other seven then you’ll see this. You have to. If you’ve not seen them then don’t watch it. It makes no sense at all otherwise!

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Season of the Witch / The King’s Speech

The King's Speech
The King's Speech

Two films on a Friday – back to a semi-regular way to round off the week with Gillian. We opted for a nicely opposing pairing this weekend. One silly action film and another deemed somewhat of a classic from the previews.

Season of the Witch

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Absconding knights offer to take an alleged witch across country for trial so they don’t get executed. Like a road movie with armour.

Behmen and Felson (Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman) get a little sick of being told to kill innocents in the name of God, so decide to turn their backs on the Crusades. Popping through a small town, they are discovered as deserters and sentenced to death. As luck would have it, the town is suffering a plague brought on by a witch and in exchange for offering to transport her to a monastery to undergo trial, they’re given their freedom.

That pretty much covers the plot. Other than that it’s moderately average action / medieval fare. Cage and Perlman get all the good lines and there is some decent banter. The effects are passable (until the end when there’s some CGI that makes Doctor Who look big-budget) and the acting’s tolerable.

It’s not a classic, but even by Cage’s standards is just not up to par. Certainly, it’s not a complete heap of arse like Ghost Rider (seriously – they’re making a sequel?), but there’s just not a lot to it. By the end, there’s a feel that you’ve watched an over-long TV drama rather than a decent motion picture.

The King’s Speech

“I have a voice!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: true story of a king-to-be who has a speech impediment, and the work done by a therapist to get him through it.

Short review: See this film. See it now.

Longer review: This is a heartwarming tale of royalty meets common-folk set in the 1930s as Britain gears up for war and the royal family goes through some upsets. King George V doesn’t have long to live and his son (the soon-to-be King Edward) is filandering with a twice-divorced American. Marrying her would mean he can’t be king, and his younger brother Bertie would take the reins.

Bertie (better known historically as King George VI, and played magnificently by Colin Firth) has a problem. His job is to be head of state, he need to give speeches… and he has a very pronounced stammer. At the insistence of his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) he does the rounds of speech therapists, eventually ending up with the rather unusual Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Thus begins a story that takes us from Bertie’s small speeches as Duke of York through to his first – and famous – speech as King just as Britain announced that it was to go to war with Germany for a second time.

The film very much focusses on the relationship between  Lionel and Bertie. The Australian voice doctor much preferring to be informal with his patients initially sits very badly with the occasionally bad-tempered King-in-waiting, but the two do gel as time goes on.

The dialogue between the two fizzes, even when Firth is stammering away. One of the therapy sessions includes the funniest swearing sequence I think I’ve seen since Steve Martin’s car hire rant in Planes, Trains and Automobiles – a segment which initially earned the film a 15 rating due to the number of “fuck”s. It was downgraded to a 12A with the warning that it was “language in the setting of speech therapy”. So remember, kids – it’s acceptable to swear at your doctor.

There isn’t a single bad member of cast in the entire movie. A small surprise for me was seeing Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill. A far cry from the labourer he played all those years ago in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Derek Jacobi is superb as the pompous Archbishop of Canterbury, a man obviously used to getting his own way.

Firth plays the Prince/King very well and the script portrays him as a troubled man who underwent a harsh childhood being by far the second most important behind his elder brother. Despite this, he’s a good father to his two daughters and by all accounts was a popular king before being succeeded by our current monarch.

I’m no royalist, but this is an incredible story and certainly one that deserves two hours of anyone’s time. With some excellent dialogue, funny moments and a story that doesn’t stop with a ton of history and trivia thrown in it’s great value for money.

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Alice, Girlfriends and Green Zone

I didn’t quite manage four films yesterday – the scheduling was slightly out around 4pm so I couldn’t fit the extra one in – but I still caught Tim Burton‘s Alice in Wonderland 3D, My Last Five Girlfriends and Green Zone.

Alice in Wonderland – 3D

“Off with their heads!!!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell – girl falls down hole into bonkers world.

Of course, everyone knows of the original Lewis Carroll stories and the old Disney animated version for many moons ago. It does seem the ideal environment for Tim Burton to let his insane mind run riot. Talking rabbits, animated playing cards, scary creatures… all very dark and scary.

Only it simply doesn’t work, partly due to the story being a bit weak. There’s no denying the visuals are superb – the Cheshire Cat is particularly well done – but the story just doesn’t back it up. Even the usually dependable Johnny Depp fails to bring much life to this film.

Thing is, we’ve seen Johnny Depp in a top hat being mad before. It was called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’ve not seen that one but I hope it’s better than this mess. There’s just no real “grab” to this film. I wasn’t interested after the opening and the move from real world to fantasy.

Mia Wasikowska is OK as Alice, but nothing special. Helena Bonham Carter just tries to to her impression of Miranda Richardson from Blackadder II, lisp included.

The 3D didn’t add anything either. One of the trailers which was also in 3D engaged me more than any of the film.

Sorry, despite all the publicity and so forth – “miss”.

My Last Five Girlfriends

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A man contemplates suicide after five failed relationships.

This is a rather quirky little number, with some very imaginative sequences. A mixture of film, animation, special effects and so forth it has a slightly disjointed and dreamlike quality but it’s very imaginative and holds the attention. Otherwise it’s not a hugely original story, but the way it’s told really makes it.

Brendan Patricks plays Duncan, the central character. He narrates as well as plays the central character and the dialogue is quite chatty and lighthearted. Anyone who’s been through relationships will be able to relate to at least a few of the situations – do you lie about how bad those shoes she bought really are? How do you tell someone you love them? What is your reaction when you find out your partner’s been seeing someone else?

I wasn’t really sure what to expect an the film is just a little off-kilter in how it’s told. While I got bored of the bizarre scenes of Alice (above), I quite liked the way it had been weaved into Five Girlfriends. More of a narrative tool than reason for the whole narrative in the first place.

Probably not for everyone but I enjoyed it.

Green Zone

Plot-in-a-nutshell: America invades Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein and destroy his weapons of mass destruction… didn’t it?

Matt Damon returns as Action Man in a new thriller giving him a break from the Bourne films. This does make a change from that series, though it’s directed by the same guy. Fast-paced action films, some good tense moment and a fairly political plot that certainly won’t please the last Bush administration. Which is another plus point.

Damon plays “Chief” Miller, a unit leader who’d getting more than just a little upset about his team wasting time, energy and lives in the attempt to find seemingly non-existent WMD. The story progresses into a CIA v FBI thriller with some incredibly well-filmed scenes in the streets of downtown Baghdad (well, Morocco, but it does a good impression).

The story does twist a little, though the ending doesn’t come as a huge shock. However, the journey there is an enjoyable one. Constantly tense and very well filmed, it’s dirty, messy and mirrors the scenes of Baghdad we saw on the news those years ago very well indeed.

While certainly not a classic, it’s a very good contemporary war film which is definitely worth a couple of hours of your time.

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