Sunday, 3 February 2013

Do You Hear The People Cry?

It was one of the most anticipated movie musical adaptations in recent memory, and has been one of the most successful, recently overtaking Mamma Mia as the highest grossing movie musical in the UK. But does it live up to the hype? I'm personally not a musical fan, and I hadn't seen the West End show but I was still looking forward to seeing it. However, I think people need to calm down about it and stop getting so worked up about a film which they need to accept is flawed.

Okay, so a spoiler-free plot synopsis for those of you who, like me, have/had only the vaguest idea of what it was about. Convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is granted parole after he served twenty years because he stole a loaf of bread (really!) but skips his parole so that he can live a free life, reinventing himself as mayor of some French town. However, he is soon discovered by police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) and goes on the run with Cosette, the daughter of factory worker-turned-prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway). Then a few years later, there is some political disruption culminating in the June Rebellion of France, led by Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a bunch of students and a young waif. Needless to say, shit proceeds to go down.

Firstly, if you don't like singing, just turn away now. The film is 99% singing - I'm not exaggerating - with only the odd word or phrase spoken normally, which I don't really understand. Like, go all-in or do like most musicals and spontaneously break into song. Right, now that's out of the way, let's begin.

There has been a lot of talk about the performances in this film. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway both recently won Golden Globes and are nominated again for Oscars. I'll get onto hers in a minute, but starting with Jackman, it must be said that clearly he is having the time of his life. It's not a cheerful role by any means (hello, the clue is in the title) but he obviously relishes in what he's doing. However, the fact that I recognised this first time round is not necessarily a good thing. I was just very aware a lot of the time that I was watching him acting, rather than getting lost in his performance. It was good, but I've seen better in the last year that I would have preferred to be recognised over him.

And hey, speaking of being overrated, please step forward, Anne Hathaway. I'm not saying she's bad or that I didn't like her performance, but I think when you take a step back and look at the film from a wider perspective, for me she didn't actually stand out from everybody else. Yes, her rendition of I Dreamed A Dream was super emotional and brought a tear to my eye, but I don't feel that anyone deserves an Oscar for that alone. I won't say any more because my personal infuriation with her will come out (*coughblandcough*) but even after seeing it I'm still upset that she's the sure thing this awards season.

I think Russell Crowe has been getting a lot of unnecessary flack for his role. No, he's not a great singer, but he isn't appalling. I went in expecting Pierce Brosnan-in-Mamma Mia-esque screeching and really it wasn't that bad! But maybe that was because my expectations were really that low. Perhaps that should be my advice: expect Brosnan and it won't be awful! The rest of his performance was fine; he does villainy really quite well, probably because he has that sort of face.

But really the best performance of the film was Eddie Redmayne. I can't believe he isn't getting more recognition for his role as Marius, he was so brilliant. There was one song he did a capella where I was nearly on the floor weeping with how emotional it was. I just wasn't expecting to be so overwhelmed by his acting. He and his merry band of rebels (they're not really merry, of course) were engrossing and I wanted to wave a flag and build a barricade of furniture to help them. In particular Gavroche, the wee little street urchin, was a delight, though I think they maybe just borrowed the Artful Dodger from Oliver! that day because there seemed to be no difference in costume, accent or attitude. But I digress. The rest of the supporting cast are on top form too: Isabelle Allan as the young Cosette was just wonderful and she should have a bright career in theatre ahead of her with a voice like that. Amanda Seyfried is more than acceptable as the older Cosette; relative newcomer Samantha Barks plays her role as lovesick Eponine with grace and she delivers a heartbreaking number; and Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are predictably wonderful as a couple of innkeepers, and bring some much needed comedy to the proceedings.

But, as you may have guessed, this is not a happy film. Tom Hooper took the radical decision to record all vocals live to better enhance the performances and ensure the end songs were as raw as they could be. It really works, as for once I actually felt like singing wasn't just random in a film, but that I could feel the emotion and understand it better through song. However, there are some questionable accents, which maybe we should have predicted considering the number of non-Brits who have roles. But really, why did no-one have a word with Hugh Jackman when his singing started to sound a bit Irish... and then got more and more pronounced? And I really have no idea why Sacha Baron Cohen did a French accent when no-one else did. I know that the film is set in France and that they are all French characters but it did sound a bit odd that he was the only one.

And let's not forget, it's long. Coming in at nearly three hours, it's not an easy ride by any means. However, I think it actually adds to the effect: not only will you be emotionally drained, but you'll feel like you literally sat through the seventeeen years presented in the film until you just feel a sense of relief at the end knowing it's over, which adds to the catharsis. I do hope that is what they were going for and that wasn't just my own experience, because I've just made them sound clever for editing a film to nearly three hours, which no-one should do really. Also, they probably did overstretch it and it ended up kind of taking ages to wind down. I kept thinking, "this is the end now... oh wait, this is the end... okay, this is..." etc. It ended up dragging after the rebellion scenes and they could have probably cut it down into neater, slightly more managable size by doing something about that.

It's a beautiful film though; the cinematography really makes it feel like you're there, either nearly drowning as you try to haul a ship into dock or wading through a sewer or it gets you so close to the gunfights that you can almost smell the gunpowder. And the attention to detail is stunning, not just in sets but also in the costumes and make-up, and this is something that should be recognised. After seeing the film, where they had the budget and the time etc to do all that, I just don't understand how it could be a theatre production and have the same effect; certainly I don't see how it could be as grand and lavish, but maybe I'll just have to go to the West End and see for myself.

Verdict: As much as I enjoyed it and got very emotional, I was never 100% absorbed in it. It's like the cinematic equivalent of a teenage boy losing his virginity: it gets overexcited, it climaxes too early and too quickly and spends the remainder of the film dragging out a not-quite satisfying ending. It grabs you by the throat and emotionally punches you repeatedly for nearly three hours until you feel like you need a long lie-down to recover. And my final thought: give Eddie Redmayne some damn awards!



Saturday, 19 January 2013

Verdict: Oscar Nominations 2013

I'm annoyed for many reasons right now. The first, most obvious, is to do with my disgust at a lot of the nominations this year, which I'll come onto. But secondly, and most personally, because my first post of 2013 has to be a bitter, angry one about why the Academy has let me down this year, so much so that I'm not even going to watch the ceremony because I just don't care about any of them.

The Academy has in recent years descended into somewhat of a farce, becoming predictable and sterile and celebrating only a certain selection of films rather than diversifying a bit more. In other words, they're playing it safe, and it's boring.

So many films and performances have been overlooked this year it's unbelievable. Major unexpected snubs were Ben Affleck's work on Argo, who was omitted from both Acting and Directing awards despite the film itself being up for the big one.

On the other hand, people were unnecessarily surprised about some of the categories, expecting films to be included that weren't. Mostly I'm talking about Skyfall, which I never even entertained as to get a nomination in any of the major categories. For one thing, the Academy are probably too scared to do something as "out there" as put a Bond film up for major Oscars. But also, the BAFTA nominations were announced the day before, and if Skyfall was not up for Best Film at the BRITISH film awards then why would the American film awards include it? The same goes for Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig for Best Director and Actor respectively.

Two of my favourite films starring two of my favourite people should have been up. I can't believe that On The Road isn't up for any acting nominations. I know that the film in general divided critics so I wasn't hopeful that it would get any major nods, but whatever you thought about the film, the performances were brilliant. The main trio of Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart deserve recognition, as well as Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst. It's ridiculous that it was overlooked. Also the cinematography was stunning and that should have been up for something too.

And also Cosmopolis should have been up for, in my opinion, Best Actor for Robert Pattinson, Best Director for David Cronenberg, Best Supporting Actor for Paul Giamatti, Best Supporting Actress fr Sarah Gadon, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. The fact that this film was so overlooked not just in awards season but throughout the whole year makes me unspeakably sad, because it was genuinely incredible, one of the most intelligent, complex films of this year. I should actually do my own awards this year just to honour it, because I can't actually give it enough praise.

I was also quite surprised at the lack of recognition for Hitchcock, which I thought would be mingling up there with the rest of them. This isn't just the Academy, I admit - there's nothing at the BAFTAs either and hardly anything at the Golden Globes - but from what I've heard it's meant to be very good. I thought Helen Mirren would get a Best Actress nod, and maybe the film itself. The same goes for The Sessions, which did in fact get Helen Hunt a nomination but I thought would have got more, but that's probably because it wasn't prolific enough. And also The Hunt, which got rave reception at Cannes this year and I thought was a real contender for nods at the Oscars, but apparently they're ignoring most films that aren't major Hollywood blockbusters. I would have liked real recognition for Mads Mikkelsen who I think is brilliant, and also I think it would have done The Academy a favour to acknowledge a film with such sensitive material. The Master wasn't up for nearly as much as I thought it would be, with exclusions on the Best Director (Paul Thomas Anderson) and Best Film lists, which was again surprising from the amount of buzz around it and the rave reviews it got from critics.

Anyway, I'll crack on with discussing the major awards and pointing out why they're wrong and spoiling the ceremony by revealing the the obvious winners for you all.

Best Film

It will go to either Les Miserables or Zero Dark Thirty because they are the obvious choice. Les Mis is the sort of stylish tragic story the Academy love, though admittedly they haven't held favour with musicals for quite some time. Zero Dark Thirty is the gritty, real-life drama they also appreciate, and you can't overlook the similarities the film has to The Hurt Locker, which of course was also directed by Kathryn Bigelow and about recent wars. However, recent controversy surrounding the film may put it out of favour with the voters, so we'll have to see. I have yet to see any of the nominees (but I plan on seeing Les Mis, Django and Lincoln in the next couple of weeks so look out for reviews of them!) but at the moment I'm just really disappointed at the shortlist.


Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) seems to be the best bet at the moment, with the closest contender probably Joaquin Phoenix for The Master based on the rave reviews he got (but again, the Academy may be a bit peeved with him after his recent comments about them - he basically told them to shove their egotistic ceremony). The curveball here was probably including Denzel Washington (Flight) where one might have expected Jamie Foxx (Django), Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt) or Ben Affleck (Argo).

Best Actress

Jennifer. Bloody. Lawrence. People need to stop going crazy about her. The inclusion of her on this list made me so angry the other day I had a massive rant on Twitter for about 8 hours. I like The Hunger Games, okay? I just don't like her, and I think she's a massively overrated actress. If she wins, I'll never watch the Oscars again and the Academy will have lost all respect from me. I would like to see Jessica Chastain get it for Zero Dark Thirty, but we'll have to see. It's pretty much between those two, though. Well done too to Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) for being the oldest and youngest nominees respectively in this category, that's quite an achievement. Wallis especially makes me question what I've done with my life if she's nine and has been nominated for an Oscar.

Best Director

Affleck. Bigelow. Tarantino. Hooper. Where are they on this list? I understand that with five to ten Best Film nominees and only five Director slots, some people are going to miss out, but really, the wrong ones did. I don't understand this at all. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), really? I can't even say anything else because I'm so surprised and annoyed about the inclusions and exclusions on this list. Affleck has just won a Golden Globe! I would have put money on Bigelow and Tarantino being up. And Tom Hooper has famously been revolutionary with Les Mis by making his cast sing live, apparently with good results. The outcome of this strange list is harder to call than some other categories this year, but I'll go for Spielberg (Lincoln) or Michael Haneke (Amour).

Best Supporting Actor

I do like the line-up in this category (I know, I'm giving praise!) and I also like the fact that every nominee has already won this award. I don't know why, since maybe some newcomers should have been included, but anyway. The smart money is on Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) but I wouldn't rule any of the contenders out this year. I was expecting Leo DiCaprio to be nominated over Christoph Waltz if one of them was going to be up from Django, but I'll have to reserve judgement on that until I see it. I also personally think Garrett Hedlund should be up for On The Road, or Paul Giamatti for Cosmopolis, but hey, apparently the Academy and I are not on the same wavelength here.

Best Supporting Actress

It will go to Anne Hathaway. It's the most obvious result in recent Oscar memory, I don't even know why they bothered to nominate anyone else when they're all going to get overlooked anyway. It's another classic Academy view that actresses should suffer for their work (if losing weight and cutting off your hair is "suffering") and that they like tragic stories more than anything else. At least now maybe Hathaway will stop being so unbelievably desperate for recognition. And hey, maybe it will make her more interesting, because right now I find her to be the human equivalent of beige, i.e. so incredibly dull it makes me want to hurt myself to not look at or listen to her. Apparently, it should go to Amy Adams for The Master (but I'm just parroting what other people are saying, I haven't actually seen for myself), but really it's irrelevant, because it's not going to happen.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Not too sure about this one, because it depends what the Academy members are thinking when they're voting. It could go to Lincoln if they're feeling patriotic, or Life of Pi, which was the supposedly "unfilmable film", or Silver Linings Playbook because apparently they're in love with that. I don't think Argo is in with a chance because they seem to be ignoring this, sadly. Personally I think Perks of Being a Wallflower should be there, because I did not see a better page-to-screen adaptation this year. I think the problem with both screenplay awards is that they forget it's about the script and focus on the finished movie, which really kind of rejects a lot of films which may actually have better scripts than those nominated.

Best Original Screenplay

I thought for sure this was going to Zero Dark Thirty, but now based on all the incoming reviews and the fact that it won the Golden Globe last Sunday, I'd have to say now it's going to Django Unchained. Which I'm happy about, because any nod for Tarantino is a bonus in my eyes. He is the best writer/director of his generation and I'm glad he's still getting credit where it's due. Again though, a lot of these I can't comment on because I haven't actually seen them, but since the Academy seem to be celebrating the prolific films this year, I think Django's got this.

Danny Leigh of  BBC Film 2013 basically summed up the main points here, give him a watch. His hatred of Silver Linings Playbook is particularly apparent and he makes an interesting point about Kathryn Bigelow too. Also what he says about the inclusion of foreign and indie films is completely true. Ranting starts around the 13:25 mark (he's just wrapping up talking about The Sessions):

So the question is, will you be tuning in? I know I certainly won't be staying up to watch something I really don't care that much about. If there's a highlight show I might flick over to that but honestly, this "hooray for Hollywood" attitude they have going on right now is getting on my nerves too much to tolerate.