Monday, 21 January 2013

The Oscar nominees came in recently and I’m afraid to say that I looked at the list and thought “I’ve only seen one of the Best Picture nominees.” On further inspection, there was good reason for this – half of them hadn’t come out in Britain yet. Well, now I’ve seen one more, and, following up from the promise at the end of my Gangster Squad review, I can certainly understand why Les Miserables is worthy of the nomination. 

This is the latest film from Tom Hooper, who’s already taken that big award with The King’s Speech and is raising his ambitions once again with a large-scale, clearly high-budgeted adaptation of the hit musical set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. 

Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict who makes a new life for himself and finds himself protecting Cosette, the daughter of penniless prostitute Fantine, as his past catches up with him in the form of the obsessive and duty-bound Inspector Javert. 

With his background in musical theatre, Hugh Jackman is a perfect choice to lead the cast as Valjean, brilliantly capturing the fugitive’s strong character arc and highlighting both his darker and more caring sides. Though it may not always seem like it, Valjean is a good man at heart, and so is an easy character to get behind and one who ties all the plot lines together.

The stand out performance, however, is Anne Hathaway, who gives a brief yet beautiful and tear-jerking performance as Fantine. If you're not moved by her ‘I Dreamed A Dream’, you're not human – shot in close up, she genuinely looks like a woman who is destitute and dying, yet still she captures the camera’s attention and shows that she can sing really well. This scene on its own pretty much guarantees her an Oscar, and especially considering her admirable public refusal to speak about how she lost weight for the role, she deserves all the praise she can get. 

If it’s sounding a little too morbid so far, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide scene-stealing comic relief as unscrupulous innkeeping couple the Thénardiers. Their fast, jaunty number ‘Master of the House’ is up there with ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ and ‘One Day More’ as  a highlight of the musical. 

The one weak link, however, is Russell Crowe, whose singing is not much better than his Robin Hood accent (but don’t tell him I said that). I also can’t get out of my head the fact that one of his costumes makes him look like a Thunderbird and that his character poster features the quote ‘I am the law”, which is Judge Dredd’s catchphrase. As much as I’d be open-minded to the idea of a Thunderbirds-Dredd crossover starring Mr Crowe, that’s not a good way to describe Les Mis.

In terms of the narrative, my only problem is the love story between Cosette and revolutionary Marius, which, compared to the arcs of the other characters, is a little twee. I guess I'm too cynical to believe in love at first sight.

Nevertheless, Hooper once again shows he’s talented at getting great performances out of actors, made even more remarkable by the unusual fact that the singing was mostly recorded on set without ADR. To differentiate the film from the stage production, the director uses a lot of wide, sweeping, action-packed shots to establish an epic scale, alongside a lot of close-ups, getting close to the characters’ thoughts and expressions. In the end, that’s what great filmmaking is about – epic and enthralling backdrops to captivating, intimate personal stories. Les Miserables is tragic and heartbreaking but simultaneously immensely cheering; one of those films where you leave with a tear in your eye, a smile on your face, and an overwhelming urge to tell everyone about it.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Here's a funny joke I saw on Twitter (credit to @bazecraze) regarding Ruben Fleischer's new film Gangster Squad:

"I'm on the phone with the studio right now! They want to know the title! Yes, right now! Come on, think!!" "Um, uh...Gangster Squad?"

Before I saw the film, I'd have loved to believe that this was truly how it got its title. Unfortunately, I now have to believe that the screenwriter genuinely believed that Gangster Squad is a good title, for the same lack of subtlety or imagination is evident throughout the film.

The eponymous squad are a group of cops in 1940s Los Angeles, but not just any cops - these are the toughest, hardest cops in the LAPD, working beyond the boundaries of the law to tackle the corruption occupying the city. It's like a historical The Expendables, except without the central premise that these are actors well known for ridiculous over-the-top action films playing on their reputations. Rather, the film actually has some talented actors - Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn - but wastes every single one of them with one-dimensional cardboard cutout characters. It's like they've all been assigned a characteristic - "Josh Brolin, be rugged; Ryan Gosling, be sexy; Sean Penn, be evil; token black guy, be black" - and Stone's seductress, who's got herself tied up with a mob boss and needs Ryan Gosling to save her, is one of the most annoying clichés present. 

With a background in comedy (Zombieland and the reasonably enjoyable Thirty Minutes or Less), it seems director Fleischer is uncomfortable in this genre and the film is more pastiche than original story; every single gangster movie convention is there and not one is used originally. The action is flashy and expensive, but so is the action in Skyfall, and that action is not only better but backed up by an interesting story (there are many films I could name here, that came to mind because it's brilliant).

Yeah, so, I wouldn't recommend Gangster Squad. I promise to be more positive about the next film I review.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

On 5.1.13 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

Hopefully you'll agree I've remained reasonably fair and balanced and not just gone on a mad rant about how 3D is rubbish and it's too long.

Shortened version of review: 3D is rubbish, it's too long.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Another year over, a new one just begun... I spent the first day of 2013 celebrating my survival of another apocalypse by watching films and playing board games, but, with the awards season coming up again, now is an appropriate time to look back on the year and choose the films that have made 2012 for me.

10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - A charmingly funny ensemble piece which showed that comedy isn't all about young people, sex and tigers.

9. Dredd - No, really. I don't expect the Academy to pick this up in their Best Picture nominations, but, as a fan of the sci-fi genre, I look back on it as one I'd happily rewatch. A million miles better than the Stallone take on the character, Karl Urban's gruff Judge Dredd stuck to the comic book character while Olivia Thirlby's well-developed Anderson gave the film a strong emotional heart. Like a futuristic Die Hard, the film was stylish, well paced and easily watchable. What's more, the 3D was the least annoying 3D I've seen and - dare I say it - actually contributed to my enjoyment at points.

Admittedly, a lot of people have compared Dredd unfavourably to The Raid, an Indonesian thriller with a similar plot and remarkably stylish choreography. I haven't seen The Raid so can't make the comparison; perhaps this list would be different if I had.

Honourable mention in the sci-fi genre goes to Iron Sky, which, while ridiculously clunky in terms of acting, scripting, directing, and quite a bit more, had an absolutely brilliant concept behind it and an inspired visual design, making it a load of fun for those willing to deactivate their 'taking things seriously' circuits.

8. Marley - The first of two documentaries in this list, Kevin MacDonald's passionate biopic of the reggae legend gives fascinating insights into his family life, his Rastafarianism and his music. If you've not seen it, get the DVD and watch it with a cup of tea and some Bob Marley branded doughnuts. They've got jam in.

7. The Woman in Black - Perhaps Daniel Radcliffe was an odd choice to lead Hammer's latest scare-fest, as his character is a widowed father and the young actor still looks freshly graduated from Hogwarts, but he nevertheless pulled off all the right emotions (primarily 'worried' and 'scared') to carry this period tale. What's more, it was very, very scary, with a dark, spooky atmosphere and genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and was a good old traditional horror, not resorting to any of the annoying gore-themed tricks made simultaneously popular and tired by the Saw series.

6. The Dark Knight Rises - An epic and fitting conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Nolan is one of the best directors currently working in Hollywood and has an amazing ability to produce films that fill in the mainstream superhero blockbuster checklist while dealing with genuinely interesting themes and feeling potently relevant to our times - this time, in a fable reflecting modern America's rejection of a powerful and potentially corrupt elite, Tom Hardy's mumbly Bane led a rebellion against Gotham's one percent, foreshadowing the real-life Occupy movement while bringing Bats out of retirement, Dark Knight Returns-style. The Dark Knight Rises was a thoughtful, majestic, and above all, entertaining piece of filmmaking, but loses out on a top spot in this list due to not living up to its predecessor. The Dark Knight, to this day the peak of the superhero genre and of Christopher Nolan's career, wins out due to its more manageable length and Heath Ledger's show-stealing Joker. As good an actor as Tom Hardy is, with his face covered and his voice heavily processed, he didn't really do much acting in Rises, making me miss the tense, unpredictable confrontation of Batman versus Joker, of order versus chaos, that lay at the heart of the previous film.

Honourable mention in the superhero genre this year goes to Avengers Assemble, which paid off its five-film marketing campaign by balancing its ensemble cast remarkably well, with each Avenger having space for developing against its madcap backdrop. A pity that backdrop was a little weak in terms of plot or depth.

5. Killer Joe - A tense, unsettling drama from the director of The Exorcist. It's also nice to know that Matthew McConaughey has stopped leaning on romantic comedies and can actually act pretty damn well. Just don't watch it with a bucket of fried chicken.

4. The Imposter - This thrillingly assembled documentary's story starts out as unusual, with the disappearance and not-quite reappearance of a teenage boy, and just becomes weirder. I'm reluctant to say much, for fear of giving it away (also because I was too busy to review it at the time so have nothing to copy from). Just watch it; it'll blow away all your expectations and have you gripped.

3. Sightseers - Towards the end of the year, Ben Wheatley brought us this brilliantly macabre comedy - a love story of two outsiders on a caravanning trip through the English countryside which turns into a murder spree. The juxtaposition of sudden moments of gory violence with the trivialities that lead to it, such as a man dropping his Cornetto wrapper on a vintage tram and later finding himself under the caravan's wheels as a consequence, provides for some brilliant laugh out loud moments. If you're of a certain twisted frame of mind, that is...

If your comedic tastes are more mainstream, however, I'd suggest Ted as the best comedy of 2012 for you. But another brilliantly funny film is in my number two spot...

2. The Muppets - There were two films this year which kept a smile on my face throughout and left me giddily dancing down the street shouting "that was ****ing excellent" at passers-by and waterfowl. Not by coincidence, these films are in my top two spots. Bringing together all the well known and loved characters from the classic TV series using the old "putting the band back together" trope, the jokes come fast, there's a perfect mix of cleverness and silliness, and a good deal of celebrity cameos. Plus, the story is peculiarly touching. If anyone doesn't enjoy this film, they're neither man nor muppet.

An iconic hero coming out of retirement for a celebration of a beloved franchise... this seems to be a story that's done well this year, both for Kermit the Frog and for...

1. Skyfall - After the seriously disappointing Quantum of Solace, the James Bond franchise needed to do something impressive to regain its appeal. And, with Skyfall, it did. An outright and unashamed celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the series, Skyfall combined the gritty realism of the Daniel Craig reboot with the outrageously fun action of classic Bond at its best. The film started with a chase involving a car, a bike, a train, and a digger on a train and only got better from there. Not only that, but, unlike many Bond films, Skyfall had a thematic heart - exploring the aging of Bond as a character, the relevance of traditional spies in the modern world, and the position of M as a mother figure. Making this work were undeniably excellent performances from Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and Javier Bardem as a very threatening villain, the first really memorable villain of the Craig films, not forgetting Ben Whishaw's sexy take on Q. Behind the camera, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins made Skyfall a visual spectacle, with fast paced action, slow paced tension, and a rich colour palette. A perfect Bond film, the perfect celebration of 007's fiftieth.