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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Monthly Report: January 2013

I have no idea how this happened. I thought December was very movie-intense at 30 new films seen. Well, in January, I saw 42. Plenty of good stuff was at hand, including two terrific Best Picture Oscar nominees that stuck in my head for days and required multiple trips to the cinema. I did quite a bit of last minute catching up on documentaries and foreign language films of 2012 for award nominating purposes, too. Gotta love Netflix. February will have more work on its plate for me, so I expect there to be less time for movies. Then again, you never know…

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2010)
Fitting choice to open 2013 with, don’t you think? This is a more accessible and to me far more enjoyable film than what Miike tends to put forth. The first half is decent enough talky set-up; it’s nothing mind-blowing, but it does what it’s supposed to. The second half is the real gem here though, featuring some of the most badass samurai action I’ve ever seen. Just tremendous stuff, and a great way to kick off movie year 2013.
4/5

All Good Things (Andrew Jarecki, 2010)
I’m not sure why this film has to exist, or why anyone should have to see it. It’s not bad or anything; in fact, there are scenes that are quite impressive, especially the ones focusing on the central characters’ relationships towards each other, which are more complex than what one first suspects. The actors all put in solid efforts, too. It’s just that the story as a whole, despite being based on true events, doesn’t really feel like it’s anything special. There is some awkwardness to the way it jumps around in its timeline. It’s a watchable movie, but by no means a must-see.
3/5

ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, THE SECRET OF THE UNICORNThe Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, 2011)
Oh, this was a joy to watch. I grew up with the Tintin comics, so this had a lot of nostalgia value for me. It’s way more than just that, though. It’s a hilarious movie, with Captain Haddock providing the lion’s share of laughs, but pretty much all the humor is right on the mark. The animation is teriffic and offers such beauty that it made me wish I had seen it in theater. The action is cool and imaginative, with the astounding “long take” chase scene being just the crown jewel of a big old pile of gold. What I found most impressive was how well Spielberg utilizes the animation format, smartly employing angles, shots and effects in cool ways that would have been tricky to pull off in live action. All in all, this is a teriffic film. The 2015 sequel can’t get here soon enough.
5/5

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Posted by on 31 January, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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Top 5 favorite song numbers from the Les Mis film

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5 – Look Down

No, not the opening number that’s also known as “Work Song”. I’m talking about the film’s second usage of the tune. Though the stage musical has other ideas, to me, Act 2 of the film starts with the 9 year time skip after Valjean adopts Cosette. “Look Down” begins this part, and it accomplishes two major things: it shows the revolution element that governs the plot of most of the film’s second half, and it introduces new important characters Marius, Enjolras, and Gavroche, the last who handles most of the singing in this song. It’s a dynamically staged number with the young orphan and his friends running around and stealing food from the rich, and with the kid hitching a ride on a stage coach for the second verse. Daniel Huttlestone in his film debut does nice work, showing the anger that resides among all the poor. I’m also fond of how the chorus chanting is used here compared to the film’s opening number. At the start of the movie, it’s the lowly prisoners reminding themselves to not dare meet the eyes of their guards who rule them. Now, it’s a call by the people at the bottom of society towards the rich, urging them to notice the inequalities in Paris. The difference encapsulates the new themes of the film: the weak is rising up.

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4 – Master of the House

I’m not a big fan of the singing of either Sacha Baron Cohen or Helena Bonham Carter in this film – both did much better vocally in Sweeney Todd – but their big signature number “Master of the House” is still a highlight of the movie. You might think it’s just a case of standing out in a crowd, as it’s a comic relief number surrounded by serious drama acts, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a very funny number, for one, and with so much going on, I keep discovering new things every time I see it. There is an impressive array of swindling and stealing going on by the Thénardiers, much of which you’re likely to miss on the first go. It’s also a great way to introduce us to the two characters and the dynamic between them, with Cohen bragging and playing the big boss, and Carter dryly berating him from the sidelines. Cool stuff, and after the emotional Fantine arc of the story, a bit of up-tempo fun is just what the doctor ordered. Every time I see the film, I find myself looking forward to this one more and more.

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3 – On My Own

I don’t know much about the technical aspects of singing, so maybe I’m way off-base here, but in my ears, Samantha Barks is the best pure singer in the whole cast. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her character Eponine’s one big solo number, an ode about her unrequited love for Marius. The staging of it is simple, with Barks just walking down a street in the rain and singing her heart out, but that’s arguably all the song calls for. A proper tearjerker.

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2 – Valjean’s Soliloquy (What Have I Done?)

The first instance of Tom Hooper keeping the camera close to the actor during the intimate song numbers. “Valjean’s Soliloquy” is the climax of the film’s prologue, and it lays the foundation for everything that is to come. Valjean has been shown kindness by the bishop, betrayed his trust, and seen the other cheek turned. Now he wrestles with himself over his very nature, and it signals a turning point for him. He paces back and forth in the church, marvels at the bishop’s selflessness, and decides that he needs to become an honest man. Hugh Jackman is great here in the film’s first big acting scene, going through confusion, doubt, anger, and determination, before storming out into the world and declaring that “another story must begin”. Cue swelling orchestral score, panning up to the sky, and the start of the film proper. Epic.

Anne-Hathaway-I-Dreamed-A-Dream-Les-Miserables

1 – I Dreamed a Dream

Yeah, you knew this was coming. “On My Own” is powerful and all, but for the film’s true emotional highpoint, nothing tops Anne Hathaway crying her eyes out while letting us know just how miserable her life has become. A key difference between the two performances is that while Barks is a great singer, Hathaway is a great actor, and she acts the hell out of this song in one long unbroken close-up take. Even after seeing the film four times, this part still gives me goosebumps.

What were your favorites?

 
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Posted by on 29 January, 2013 in Lists

 

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Crazy about Les Mis

Crazy about Les Mis

I’m obsessed with Les Misérables. I had no experience with the story in any form until this past Friday, when I saw the new movie by Tom Hooper. Since then, I’ve seen the film again, Youtubed live performances, listened to various cast recordings on Spotify, and read about various differences between novel, stage musical and film.

I would not have gotten into the whole Les Mis thing if not for the movie. That doesn’t mean that the movie is amazing or anything, nor that it should be fully credited for my new-found fascination.

The Les Mis story is like the most beautiful thing ever. It’s about redemption, self-sacrifice, love, romance, morality, the harshness of life and the hope for tomorrow, garnished with comic relief and action. The more I think about the story, the more I love it.

The other major strong point is the songs, obviously. The melodies are catchy and powerful, and the lyrics have hidden complexities beneath the simple surface of their words. There are heart-breakers like “I Dream a Dream” and “A Little Fall of Rain”, powerful songs of soul-searching like “Valjean’s Soliloquy”, the funny “Master of the House”, the dramatic “Confrontation”, the morale-raising “Do You Hear the People Sing”, the awesome “One Day More”, and tons more. I won’t say it’s all great stuff, but it’s not too far off, and it all gels together perfectly.

Neither the story nor the songs were created by the people who made the movie. The songs I have now experienced in other – generally superior – versions. The story itself I’ve still only taken in through Hooper’s vision.

Do I love the movie? I don’t know. I reckon I’ll always be thankful to it for introducing me to the whole Les Mis thing, but there are certainly things I don’t like about it very much. Russell Crowe has the physical presence required, but he does not have the singing voice to pull off the antagonist Javert character, with both his big solo numbers in the film coming off really flat and unmemorable. Comic relief duo Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter bring the funny for sure, but both have a tendency to mumble and Carter seems to mostly be reprising her Mrs. Lovett character from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The new song “Suddenly” which was written specifically for the film version is the dullest of the whole movie and despite being brief still grinds the movie to a halt.

Overall, however, the film is a major success. Hooper’s decision to have the singing done live on set is not as revolutionary as has been suggested – Across the Universe did the same thing back in 2007, for instance – but it does work wonders here in allowing more free form performances. “Valjean’s Soliloquy” is a great example, with Hugh Jackman pacing back and forth, into and out of light, battling with doubt with it the struggle clearly present in his face and his voice. It seems unlikely that lip-syncing to prerecorded singing would have the same effect. The other much debated style decision by Hooper is to use close-ups for many of the song numbers. Some call this suffocating; I call this intimate and effective. It’s not like it’s everywhere, as some suggest. Mostly, it’s kept to the more personal songs. There is a tune or two where a wider scope would have been preferrable, but as a whole, Hooper did a fine job here. He had a clear vision, and he followed through with it. Les Misérables is a stronger film overall than The King’s Speech, and certainly directing-wise.

Apart from the actors already I’ve already criticized, the cast ranges from good to great. The two clear standouts are Jackman and Anne Hathaway. The former pulls off a career-best transformative performance as Valjean, having me fully invested in the character’s journey while never making me think “Oh, it’s Wolverine singing.” Hathaway, of course, has the best scene of the film – and most likely of all of 2012 – with her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream”. The first time I saw the film, I was stunned and had goosebumps alll the way through her song. It’s such a heart-wrencher. She sings very well indeed, but even more impressive is the sheer power-acting involved. Her Fantine is truly a woman broken by all that life has thrown at her, and it’s expressed devastatingly here. It’s a major tear jerker. On my rewatch, I kind of steeled myself against it a bit, thinking I knew what I was in for. Then that penultimate verse hits, where Fantine first sings how she hopes her love will come back to her, but then she goes “But there are dreams that can not be”, and Hathaway throws her head back a bit and there’s a tear racing down her cheek, and fuck! Raw, powerful, amazing, and heart-breaking.

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But this wasn’t meant to be a review of the film. The point I want to make is that while the movie is very good, my love for it is smaller than my love for Les Mis as a whole. Or so I assume. What is it that I like better, really? I haven’t seen any full stage performance in person – though I now desperately want to – and what clips I’ve seen on Youtube are just singled out songs. The albums I’ve listened to are great, but is an album better than a film? It’s apples and oranges, no?

I can’t seem to find enough of an outlet for this new-found obsession. The film isn’t the kind of thing I can call all my friends and tell them that they just have to go see it. It’s not a film that can be discussed that much on an analytical level. I could read the novel, but past experiences have told me that me and old books don’t mix well. There are no live performances of the musical anywhere near here. I can – and will – listen to the songs again and again, but this is not enough, I fear. I feel like I’ve tweeted about Les Mis more than I should have already, and yet it’s all I can think of. My head is full of Valjeans and Fantines and Eponines and Thénardiers, all swimming around in an intermixing ocean of songs. I’m overwhelmed by it all.

Les Misérables is not the best movie of 2012. It’s no The Grey. It’s no Life of Pi. I’m not sure it’s even a The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers. And yet it has done something that no other film from last year has been able to.

For better or for worse.

 
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Posted by on 23 January, 2013 in Misc.

 

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14 actors I really dig

There’s a bit of a meme going on in Swedish film blogging circles. The idea is simple: list your seven favorite male and female actors. I’m participating too, although loosely. I’m not saying these are my very favorites, as that tends to change from day to day and I might have forgotten someone. These are, however, seven men and seven women whose work I really enjoy, either because they constantly deliver great performances, or because they possess some hard-to-define quality that makes my brain happily go “ding!” whenever I spot their names on a cast list.

First, some honorable mentions…

Kevin Spacey: Had I written this post 10 years ago, he’d be a shoo-in for sure. Alas, he hasn’t had many truly great roles lately.
Kirsten Dunst: She has been underrated ever since she lit up the screen in Interview with the Vampire in 1994, and only recently has she started getting the critical acclaim she deserves.
Al Pacino: Another one whose heyday is behind him, Pacino has tons of maniacally energetic performances on his CV.
Rosario Dawson: Effortlessly charming, possibly the hottest woman on this planet, and probably with her best work still ahead of her.
Jason Statham: The bona fide action star of the millennium.
Ellen Page: At 25 years of age, she has already amassed a number of impressive lead and supporting roles. What does the future hold for her?

On to the list proper. This is in randomly generated order.

MV5BMTMzODkzOTU4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzU0ODE5NA@@._V1._SX640_SY920_Catherine Keener

When I watch Keener play one of her evil characters, I can not imagine here ever being good. When I watch her play one of her good characters, I can not imagine her ever being evil. Her impressive range is perhaps her strongest quality and she has proven to only get better with age. When she got her first Oscar nomination for playing manipulative seductress Maxine in Being John Malkovich, she was already 40 years old. Since then – and before – she has kept putting in affecting performances no matter how small or large a part she plays.

3 great performances
Living in Oblivion – pulling off the difficult task of acting like you’re acting, both badly and well.
Being John Malkovich – toying with John Cusack with equal measures of bitchy and funny.
An American Crime – playing one of the most despicable abusive mothers in recent history.

Anthony_Hopkins_0001Anthony Hopkins

While there is a lot to be said for physical transformations and chameleon actors who are nigh-unrecognizable from one film to the next, perhaps even more impressive is someone like Hopkins. He always looks more or less the same, and yet he disappears into roles like few others. A master of mannerisms, body language, and voice, Hopkins portrays clearly defined characters utterly convincingly. Never one to turn down a paycheck, he appears in many films that might not make full use of his talents, but you will never see him slumming it or sleep-walking through a role. Hopkins always delivers.

3 great performances
The Silence of the Lambs – somehow making a mere 16 minutes of screen time into the one thing people associate the film with.
The Remains of the Day – redefining “emotionally restrained”.
The World’s Fastest Indian – completely inhabiting a man jovially dead-set on accomplishing his dream.

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Posted by on 18 January, 2013 in Misc.

 

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When we movie-lovers are useful

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This past Monday night, me and two friends – let’s call them Harvey and Wayne – hung out at my place and streamed Jeff Who Lives at Home. We all enjoyed it. Harvey mentioned something about how he had been meaning to watch Adaptation for a long time, but had never gotten around to buying it. Since I own the DVD, I lent it to him instead. I then let my eyes wander over my DVD shelves to scan for more stuff he might like. I knew he’s interested in the way people talk and interact with one another, so I picked out Roger Dodger for him – a movie all about a cynic trying to teach his nephew how to pick up women.

Last night, Harvey wrote on my Facebook wall about how much he had enjoyed all three films. Three films in three days that he in one way or another saw through me. It was very gratifying. A real spirit-booster, in fact. I was happy for him having seen great films, of course, but there was more to it than that. After thinking about it a while, it hit me just why this made me so glad.

It’s the one way my love of film benefits others.

Think about it. Many hobbies or pastimes can be applied for the purpose of helping people. My brother, for instance, is into computer stuff. Whenever our parents have some problem with their computers or router or something, they call him. His computer hobby is thus beneficial. Another friend of mine loves to tinker with cars, so he’s the one to talk to if one has automobile trouble. Others love pumping weights at the gym; they’re way more useful than I am when you need help moving. As far as hobbies go, being into movies is something that doesn’t offer much to others.

Through these three films, however, I served three different helpful roles: Scout, Curator, and Oracle.

SCOUT. We movie-lovers are always on the look-out for new things to see. We forge ahead into the unknown, keeping our eyes and ears open to find out what’s going to hit theaters in the future, what new projects have been green-lit, and what underappreciated gems have just hit Netflix or the DVD and Blu-ray market. Plenty of my fellow online film fanatics had had good things to say about Jeff Who Lives at Home, so it had been on my radar for a while. Flipping through Netflix trying to find something for us to watch, I highlighted that film and said I had heard good things about it. Bam, settled! We hit play. As a Scout, I had spotted that film. And it was good, said Harvey.

CURATOR. I may only have been into movies in a big way for 5 years, but in that time span, I have collected a fair amount of films on DVD and Blu-ray. Sometimes I worry that I’m collecting for the sake of filling out my shelves, but that’s not really the case. The reason I buy movies is so that I know they will be available if there is a need for them. Whenever I get the urge to see Lost in Translation, I need to have it at my beckoning. I don’t want to have to rely on Netflix to have it available on that particular month, or worry about the local rental store having gone out of business. I have movies available for my own needs, but also for others. If someone knows a film they want to see, I might have it and can lend it to them. If someone gets the idea to fill in some gaps on the IMDB Top 250 list, I can help them out by letting them borrow DVDs from me. As a Curator, I had put Adaptation in my collection so that Harvey could borrow it. And it was good, said Harvey.

ORACLE. Assuming this role is to dabble with the art of film recommendations. Strictly from the viewpoint as a movie fan, this is the most difficult role we serve as, because it requires knowledge not tied to movies: knowledge of what the person we’re recommending to likes and dislikes. What goes into a succesful movie recommendation could fill an entire blog post of its own, but suffice to say that it’s a tricky business. We do what we can with the information available to us. As an Oracle, I predicted that Roger Dodger would be to my friend’s liking. And it was good, said Harvey.

We don’t always fully succeed in playing these roles, of course. That Monday night I performed further tasks as an Oracle, for instance, and the results are still up in the air. To Harvey, I recommended and lent ensemble dramedy Beautiful Girls, on the basis of it having a similar feel to other films I know he likes. I don’t think he has watched it yet. To the other friend, Wayne, both me and Harvey recommended Before Sunrise. This is a risky pick as romance isn’t his preferred genre, but one of the key elements he enjoys in film is dialogue, and there’s certainly plenty of that in Before Sunrise. I also lent him Jack Goes Boating, which he had been meaning to see for some time – here I put on my Curator hat again – and Being John Malkovich, which was a combination of “not having seen but should have” and “you’re gonna dig it”. We can fill two roles at the same time occasionally.

Hopefully, both Harvey and Wayne like all the films they went home with. If they do, I’ll be at least as happy as them. I’ll be happy about having leveraged my “selfish” hobby into being of benefit to others, and happy about having done a good job in my roles.

 
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Posted by on 10 January, 2013 in Misc.

 

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Wishful thinking and surprise predictions for the Oscar noms

I haven’t done any real blogging on this current awards season we’re in, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping an eye on the race. This year’s is more interesting than most, since a lot of the major categories lack a clear front-runner. Sure, everyone knows Anne Hathaway is taking Best Supporitng Actress for Les Misérables, and Best Actor is Lincoln‘s Daniel Day-Lewis‘ to lose, but everything else is still refreshingly open. There are at least four films I could see win Best Picture at this point that wouldn’t cause me to bat an eyelid.

As I’ve said before, awards season to me is an event for the brain and not for the heart. By that I mean that it’s fun to think about and predict the Oscars, but to invest hopes and emotions in the process is a fool’s game. The Oscars are determined by a large number of voters, who all fill out their ballots according to their own opinions – at least in theory. They are as entitled to like what they like as I am, so you won’t hear any cries of “so-and-so should have been/didn’t deserve to be nominated!” when the nominations are announced this Thursday.

That said, if I had a ballot, there are some things I would put on there that the Academy members may or may not be likely to spring for. Here are a few of them.

Wishful thinking

Skärmavbild 2013-01-07 kl. 13.52.34Best Supporting Actor: Tom Cruise – Rock of Ages & Garrett Hedlund – On the Road
Tom Cruise for showing that an old dog can still learn new “sex drugs & rock n roll”-fuelled tricks. Garrett Hedlund for announcing the emphatic arrival of a new young powerhouse actor. Both for giving some of the year’s best performances.

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Posted by on 7 January, 2013 in Oscars

 

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Monthly Report: December 2012

In the middle of the christmas hoopla, I found a surprisingly large amount of time for movies. At 30 films seen, December is probably my most intense month of the year cinematically speaking. Surprising indeed. There was a lot of good stuff, and little that was outright bad, so it’s a good slew of movies to close out the year with.

American Reunion (Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg, 2012)
Well, it’s better than the last four straight-to-DVD American Pie films. Not that that’s saying much. The nostalgia factor is what makes American Reunion work, in two ways. First, by having the audience remember the first parts of the series, and then by having a fondness for the old times be a centerpiece of the plot as well. It’s a good thing this is handled effectively, because the actual humor is often derivative, and while there are certainly some laughs to be had here, they don’t always hit the mark. If this is the end of the series, it’s a respectable way to close the doors, at least. Except there’s reportedly another film being planned, so I guess not. God damn it.
3/5

The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2011)
What a terrific survival film. All the visceral elements were extraordinarily well done. I felt the plane crash. I felt the snow. I felt the cold water. And then there’s the wolves, who are as menacing as any movie monster I’ve seen in recent memory (except maybe the shark in Jaws.) Add in the spiritual elements of the story, and you have one great awesome package of a film. I mean, hell, it made me spontaneously applaud in my couch. That never happens.
5/5

Silent Night (Steven C. Miller, 2012)
Malcolm McDowell is really funny here in an Alan Rickman Sheriff of Nottingham way, where it seems like he’s not even part of the same movie as everyone else. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is weak humdrum slasher stuff. Skip this one.
2/5

harry_brown03

Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009)
Gran Torino‘s story in Attack the Block‘s setting, only with the violence ramped way up and with Michael Caine in the lead. This is certainly to oversimplify things, obviously, but it should give you some idea of what the film’s about. While the subject of a retiree turning vigilante is a field ripe for social commentary, there’s nothing done along these lines. No, this is a bloody revenge thriller through and through, and as such, it works really well. Caine is great, and it’s a treat to see him in a lead role these days.
4/5

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Posted by on 2 January, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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