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Les Misérables (2012)
Sets the standard for all future film musicals. PS: Take tissues!
I'll declare my colours at the outset: Les Miserables is one of my favourite books and I love the musical. So I was really looking forward to this film.
It did not disappoint. This film will set the bar high for any future filmed adaptations of beloved musicals.
The way the shots are framed, the use of CGI and sets, the aerial shots to give you the scale of Paris, the brilliant scenery.... it's all amazing. But what is best is that the actors sing live - in other productions, even where the lip syncing is done well and the performers are great actors, it just feels a bit fake when they jump into song because they didn't do it live. There is none of that here. Singing live gives the actors a chance to lead the music, take charge and act the songs. The result is that if you adore the musical you might find yourself occasionally out of step when singing along (and I apologise to everyone sitting around me.... I did *try* to contain myself to just mouthing the words but think I got a bit carried away at times!) But the best result: the emotion is real.
Hugh Jackman is brilliant as Jean Valjean and should get an Oscar. Anne Hathaway has made no secret that she wants an Oscar for Fantine and is playing the Oscar game hard, but you know what? She'd deserve if she got it. Everyone in the cinema was sniffling and then bawling through Fantine's descent into hell and eventual death. Samantha Banks as Eponine is gobsmackingly good. Her version of On My Own will be THE version forever more, in much the same way that Elaine Page is associated with Memory.
While it was a little jarring to see some of the songs chopped down and the order of the songs shuffled around, it actually all makes sense - for example, it is far more powerful to hear I Dreamed A Dream after Fantine has lost her job, her hair, her teeth and started working on the docks as a prostitute. In the musical, it's after she loses her job and before she hits rock bottom. To hear "this hell I'm living" is so much richer and emotional when you see Fantine at rock bottom. Do You Hear The People Sing is a far better to rally to arms at Lamarche's funeral than after the revolutionary students' wine-fuelled rants.
But.... there is one but. Or maybe two.
I don't really get why they put in a new song, even if it did give Hugh Jackman another solo and a bit of extrapolation to get from the Theniedar's pub to the convent. When they are chopping down and out some others, why add more? But it didn't interrupt the flow of the film and added some storytelling, so I'm not overly phased.
Russell Crowe is not a theatrical singer. He can sing, far better than I expected. And he is good as Javert - he acts well and he sings OK. But that's just it: he's good, but he's not great. When everyone else is so great (and some of Javert's songs are the strongest in the score!) you need a strong Javert. He should have been spitting out the words "I was born with scum like you, I am from the gutter too!" but it felt like Rusty was just doing all he could to act, swing a sword and stay in tune - there's no power behind it, no matter how well pitched his vocals are. Stars was disappointing, but that's a personal thing - it's one of my favourite songs!
Go out and see it. But take tissues. You'll need them!
The Lorax (2012)
Hilarious - but not subtle!
First up, a confession: I was never a Dr Seuss fan as a child. Have never even read I Am Sam.
However, I loved this film. I giggled, snorted, hooted and cackled. It's funny! Whimsical! Kooky. And with an absolutely brilliant environmental message: if you exhaust the natural resources, you're left in a wasteland. Now what is controversial about that?!
Saw it in the cinema today in 3D - the 3D definitely helped amplify the kookiness and imaginative universe of Thneedville and the Lorax.
The stuff that made me laugh the hardest was often non-verbal - the singing fish, the facial expressions on the bears. The defibrillator bear scene made me honk with laughter. I pity the poor bugger sitting near me!
What seems to bug some other reviewers is that the green message is NOT subtle. Not at all. All the "bad" characters (apart from the Once-ler, eventually) are completely oblivious to the damage they are causing the forest and animals - or if they do notice, like O'Hare, they just don't care.
But I kinda liked that. That is rather the point of this story. "Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, things aren't going to get better. They're not." The lack of subtlety is to get us to think ... and care. Lest we end up being a society who is sold air?
The Coolangatta Gold (1984)
Pretty cheesy, but alright
I did laugh *at* lot at this film rather than with it, mainly because of the way 80s trends have dated so much more than any failure on the part of the film. e.g. it's just unfortunate that the band sequences are so terribly 80s specific that it renders that section unintentionally hilarious.
It is a fairly predictable story: bloke is good at his sport, here this is surf life saving. So is his brother. Father was in his day, but came 2nd in a major race and has never recovered. Now he pushes his elder son (the brother, not the main character) to achieve what he couldn't and bullies the main character. Along the way, the bloke meets a ballet dancer and falls in love. It's all pretty cheesy, all the boxes for drama are ticked: family drama, achievement against the odds, love story.
The Coolangatta Gold is now an iconic surf life saving sports marathon, but at the time it was an invention of this film. (The very first race was *this film*, with the actor's portions filmed around it). If this film did nothing else for Australian culture or cinema, it did leave that one remarkable achievement. For competitive surf life savers, the Gold is still the holy grail of endurance racing.
The surf footage is great. The love story is less good - it felt like filler, rather than a key point to the plot. The "dirty dancing" scene is fairly ridiculous!
As a passionate surf life saver, I found the attitude of the father really, really distasteful. In the junior side of SLS, we try to foster an environment where parents are NOT encouraged to live vicariously through successful children (we try to make it as far as possible in the other direction!) The same goes for the senior competition, but it's harder to avoid there and I've seen people like this character in real life. Those people are as unpleasant in real life as this guy is on film and I find it really disheartening that the film's climax and pay off vindicates the way he has behaved during the film. That really left a sour note at the end of the film which took off a few stars in my rating.
Center Stage (2000)
Great dancing, average story
The first time I saw this film, it was at the behest of friends - "this is the greatest film ever!" Bit of an exaggeration. I offended this friend by saying about halfway through "er... this is just Fame, redone for dance school." And it is - it's the plot of Fame, with the American Ballet Academy substituted for Juilliard, and dance scenes substituted for songs.
But you know the weird thing? I hated Fame, but I love Centre Stage. Can't explain why! The dancing is brilliant, the plot is transparent but let yourself be swept up the dancing and that becomes a bit irrelevant. Then it's just a fun film with some amazing choreography.
Spice World (1997)
Good for what it is - schtick
Let's face it... the Spice Girls were never going to make a high-brow movie.
I love this piece of fluff for it being just that... a piece of fluff. As infuriating as the whole "Girl Power!" while flashing your boobs thing was, it was an interesting phase in pop culture. And for once it was women doing it! The film is actually surprisingly funny. Very well written, the witty lines totally surprised me (didn't expect them to have the collective grey matter to pull it off...) A classic case of a good comedy being put together by having a good team behind them. Lots of fun poked at themselves, which is what makes it, I think, very funny indeed - the girls aren't afraid to completely take the p**s out of themselves. (or they weren't afraid, in those days - the progression of Victoria "Posh" Beckham into pop culture paranoia makes you wonder if they'd do it as well now) All up, take it for what it is - a cheesy flick about a pop band phenomenon. Quite funny, but never likely to break any major ground!
24 Hour Party People (2002)
This is a brilliant movie about a brilliant time in music history. I'm too young to really remember Madchester, but have subsequently got into electronic music and adore the Joy Division/New Order sound.
I loved this movie, because I love the music and I knew a bit of the history of the bands, the Factory story and the Hacienda. Not sure how accessible it would be to people who don't have any knowledge of this history, as some of the funnier moments rely on in-jokes.
Due to the tragic nature of some of the story, knowing the history of the bands can be a burden, e.g. the suicide of Ian Curtis. The scene preceding it where he goes to talk to Wilson's first wife is horrible to watch, because you know what he does next and can sense his desperation. Sean Harris should've got some sort of award for this role, he plays Curtis to perfection.
The madness of the Mondays is hilariously captured and you wonder how they managed to produce any music at all, let alone the great stuff they did. The DVD could be used as a powerful anti-drugs message too, as the interview with Shaun Ryder on the 2nd disc is unnerving to watch - poor bugger's been so shattered by drug use that he can barely string a sentence together and can't sit still (is constantly jiggling about).
But the movie chooses to follow Wilson's journey through this time period, and the bands are secondary. Given that the easiest way to look at this period is to look for the central connecting factor: Factory Records, and build the story around that, this makes sense. I also liked the way it took the Chopper Reid approach to "history" (ie. "Never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn") and how it openly acknowledges that this is no true account of what happened, but a story created around the persona of Tony Wilson (the "I definitely don't remember this happening" scene is classic!) In a way, this is appropriate - Factory is a fairytale, and was run on fairly ridiculous principles of management where art and not profit was the bottom line (how much better the world of music would be if this approach actually worked!!) But fairy tales don't work in real life, unfortunately, and 24HPP shows what happens when the arse falls out of the fairytale quite well.
Also like the God cameo ("You're right!" "I usually am.")
As far as criticism of the dialogue goes (the "I couldn't understand the accents" line) - get over it! Not everyone speaks Yankee English, or BBC English, and the regional accents of the world are what makes the English language interesting. If you have problems understanding Mancunian speak (or any other Northern dialect), unplug your ears of prejudice and listen. It's not hard to understand. And if it is... well, that's what subtitles are for on DVDs!!
The Castle (1997)
Brilliant Australian film
Of all the excellent comedies the vastly underrated Australian film industry makes, this is the only one which I insist that every single friend I make from overseas must watch.
This is the quintessential Aussie film - a simple story about a family trying to keep things the way they are, not afraid to have a go at those in power who think they would like to "develop" these people. It's brilliant.
Basic plot: The Kerrigan household is a happy one, but a knock on the door one day changes that. Faced with a compulsory acquisition notice, the family's patriarch decides to take on the system, and to prove for once and for all that a man's home is his castle.
The jokes are funny, but are very Aussie-centric. I'm really surprised at the amount of positive feedback in these reviews from non Aussies, I've always felt that this is one movie which requires a 'native speakin' translator' if you are to get all the jokes! (And tend to recommend overseas folk watch The Dish, made by the same film team but is far more accessible and wider in scope than the very narrowly aimed Castle, which is really just driven by Australian humour, language and colloquialisms).
A true gem, very vibrant movie. For anyone who grew up in a similar location (not next to an airport, but in a 'bogan', working class suburb or small town) it will remind you of so many things you saw as a child. Profanity? Get over it, that's how we talk!