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Flickcharting

I’ve mentioned the website Flickchart a few times here on the blog, most notably in this post where I explained what it’s all about. In short, it’s a site that presents you with endless pairs of movies and has you pick which one of the two you like better. With over 26,000 such choices so far, it’s fair to say that I’m a big fan.

I figured it might be fun to do 10 random match-ups and talk about my selections here. Hopefully it will give some idea of what qualities I value in films.

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Summer of Sam vs Rosemary’s Baby

I’ve seen eight movies by Spike Lee. I’ve liked all of them to some degree, except for one: Summer of Sam (okay, maybe Crooklyn wasn’t too hot either.) While Summer of Sam is a finely styled period piece, it doesn’t have much new to say that Lee hadn’t already said, and the characters failed to grip me. Rosemary’s Baby, on the other hand, earns its reputation as a horror classic. I got fully invested in the fate of Mia Farrow‘s character when I sat down to watch it, and the sense of paranoia is potent throughout. Repulsion may be my favorite of Roman Polanski‘s Apartment Trilogy, but Rosemary’s Baby isn’t far behind.
Winner: Rosemary’s Baby

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Equilibrium vs Mrs. Doubtfire

One dystopian sci-fi action flick versus one crossdressing family comedy. It’s not an entirely easy choice, actually. Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire delivers the kind of high-energy performance that he’s so good at, and the story is sweet and effective. Equilibrium’s story isn’t particularly original, borrowing heavily from both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, but the action scenes are really damn cool – even if the whole gun kata thing doesn’t make much logical sense. It’s also a film that grew on me quite a bit on a rewatch, whereas Mrs. Doubtfire is more a case of what you see is what you get. Dystopia wins the day.
Winner: Equilibrium

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Les Misérables vs Borat

Sacha Baron Cohen showdown! These are two great movies, both 5/5 in my book. Borat is hilarious with a lot of thought behind it, and Les Mis… well, faithful readers know how that one floored me earlier this year. I can watch Tom Hooper‘s musical over and over and seemingly never get tired of it. If anything, it just keeps getting better. What a wonderful story it is. Even Cohen’s most iconic character can’t trump it.
Winner: Les Misérables

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Posted by on 13 August, 2013 in Misc.

 

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Monthly Report: May + June 2013

I didn’t do a Monthly Report last month. The reason why is that the number of new movies I saw in May was a less-than-impressive 1, and making a blog post on just that seemed silly. Fortunately, June proved a bit more fruitful. My movie interest is perking up again, it would seem. It’s just a shame that these two months didn’t have more really great films to offer than they did, but what can you do.

Breakdown (Jonathan Mostow, 1997)
Solid thriller, albeit with no real stand-out quality. Nothing worth going out of your way to check out.
3/5

Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, 2012)
Zzzzzzzzz…
1/5

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End of Watch (David Ayer, 2012)
The story is barely there. Just two cops doing their thing, presented partially found footage style that adds little to the proceedings. What makes the movie work is the convincing performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, as well as the many brief yet poignant insights into what it’s like to be a police. The movie manages to take familiar situations and tropes and show them in a way that make the implications of them really sink in for the first time. If that makes sense. This one’s worth checking out.
4/5

Kung Fu Dunk (Yen-ping Chu, 2008)
I was hoping for something similar to Shaolin Soccer. This one kind of was, only not as good. One problem was that the martial arts stuff felt shoehorned in and not played to full comedic effect. Even worse was the way too mushy and overly long ending. The early goings of the film did offer some giggles, but not enough to outweigh the bad.
2/5

Descent (Talia Lugacy, 2007)
Not to be confused with spelunking horror film The Descent. This is one of those movies that’s more interesting to think about afterwards than it is to actually watch. In its effort to keep the effects of rape “real”, it internalizes everything to too high a degree. The result is a viewing experience that keeps the viewer at too much of a distance. There are some interesting directorial choices here, and Rosario Dawson‘s performance is a strong one – that her character’s motives are kept somewhat in the dark seems to be the director’s choice – but once you realize what the movie is going for, you realize that it’s not enough to sustain its running time.
2/5

For a Good Time, Call… (Jamie Travis, 2012)
Not all chick flicks are bad. This one kind of is though, or at the very least “meh.” It’s generally a bad sign that when the end credits start rolling, you realize that nothing has really happened. Nothing has changed, there has been no real character growth, and there have been no laughs either – although some of the cameos are smirk-worthy. This film is also proof that dirty language alone is not enough to spice up a film.
2/5

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Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010)
A movie very much about its story. It’s full of intrigue and is told well – dual timelines can be tricky, but are pulled off without a hitch here – and I found myself more and more hooked as it went along. Sprinkled in are scenes of stark emotions and shocking violence, almost like interpunctuation. Check this one out if you’re in the mood for a tale with plenty of unexpected turns.
4/5

Hit and Run (David Palmer & Dax Shepard, 2012)
I really liked the dialogue here. The conversations and arguements, particularly the ones between Shepard and Kristen Bell – fiances in real life – had a way of drifting from the personal to the general that I dug like hell. Like, they’d start talking about who’s right, then it becomes about what’s right, then they take themselves out of it completely and try to see everything from the outside looking in. It’s hard to describe properly, but it stood out to me as something movies rarely do. The fact that it’s the same kind of conversations I often end up in myself might have something to do with my fondness for it here. Anyway, the rest of the film was cool too, with a story that hasn’t been done to death and fun characters. Could have done with tighter action scenes, perhaps.
4/5

The Dictator (Larry Charles, 2012)
Nowhere near as good as Borat or Bruno. Felt more like an excuse for Sacha Baron Cohen to try out a new accent for 80 minutes. I did like the helicopter scene and the climax, though.
2/5

A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001)
I’m not convinced the movie need to go on for as long as it did; the ending did drag a bit. Overall, though, this was a fascinating story, helped along by two great performances by Russell Crowe (never better) and Jennifer Connelly.
4/5

Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010)
This was fine. The acting is decent enough – I was particularly impressed by Andrew Garfield – and the story is a cool and unique one. I would highly recommend reading the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro instead, though. That one is superb.
3/5

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Kiss Me (Alexandra-Therese Keining, 2011)
Not as good as that other Swedish movie about lesbians, but still fairly decent. As much of an infidelity drama as a gay romance, this one struggles a bit with an occasionally flat story – remove the homosexuality and marvel at how humdrum the whole thing would seem – but the two leads (Ruth Vega Fernandez and Liv Mjönes) have good enough chemistry and put in strong enough performances to carry the film to a passing grade.
3/5

eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)
I don’t get it.
2/5

Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011)
Just four talented actors doing what they do best, with Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly in particular providing stand-out turns. The end felt a bit abrupt, but then it always seemed to be headed that way, so it’s not a huge drawback.
4/5

Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh, 2012)
Cool and clever film through which I was never sure what was going to happen next. Strong cast too. After In Bruges and this one, McDonagh is certainly a director to keep a close eye on.
4/5

The Campaign (Jay Roach, 2012)
Not the most subtle of satires I’ve seen, to say the least. There are some funny scenes here and there, but a lot of the humor just feels forced and hamfisted. I’m a fan of both Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, but neither manages to do much with what they’re given here. The ending is really damn weak, too.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 16
Average score: 2.9 / 5
Best film of the months: Seven Psychopaths
Worst film of the months: Cosmopolis

 
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Posted by on 1 July, 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.

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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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9 director/actor team-ups that need to happen

The title for this blog post should be fairly self-explanatory, but to clarify, I’m talking specifically about directors and actors that (to the best of my knowledge) haven’t worked with one another before on film. I’m also limiting myself to pairings that could happen today, i.e. no dead or retired persons.

Woody Allen + Rosario Dawson

Considering the sheer volume of Allen’s cinematic output, it’s no surprise that he has crossed paths with tons of actors over the years. But not Rosario Dawson, which is a shame. Allen’s trademark humor would be a good fit for the actress. Remember Clerks II, another talky comedy? She was so great and charming in that one! Allen could get something even better out of her, I’m sure.

David Fincher + Viola Davis

I believe it was In Contention‘s Kristopher Tapley who mentioned in a podcast that he would love to see Viola Davis as the star of an action franchise. I can only agree. Fincher may lean closer to the thriller-side of things in general, but he has a good track record with female characters, from Alien 3 to Panic Room and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (not that I love all those films, but at least the protagonists are strong). This needs to happen sooner rather than later, as Davis’ star is currently brighter than ever.

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Posted by on 26 March, 2012 in Lists

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2006

When I start putting one of these lists together, I first check which movies I’ve given high scores to during the years to get a general selection of likely candidates. Then I pick my favorites. No attempt is made to add variety to the list just for the sake of variety. I simply try to determine which ten films I liked the most from that year.

This 2006 list is very heavy on comedy. I count five clear-cut comedies and three more where humor plays a substantial part. That 2006 was a great year for this genre of film isn’t something I have reflected upon before, but there it is. It’s no secret that I’m very fond of films that make me laugh and smile, so one of these years were bound to pop up sooner or later in this series. The way things look at the moment, the eventual 2005 list will feature an unusually high amount of films of a different genre. Again, not a concious decision.

This doesn’t mean that 2006 was a weak year for more serious film. Plenty of great stuff from a variety of genres was released upon the world. The multitude of comedies on here is not due to a lack of competition. It’s just that I happen to love these funny movies so much.

As usual, this is 2006 as listed on IMDB. Also note that this is a list of my favorite films of the year, and nothing more.

10 – LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (Paul McGuigan)

“You mean this isn’t the first time a crime lord asked you to kill the gay son of a rival gangster to pay off a debt that belongs to a friend whose place you’re staying in as a result of losing your job, your apartment, and finding your girlfriend in bed with another guy?”

A smart crime thriller in which a young man (Josh Hartnett) finds himself caught in a war between two crime lords due to a case of mistaken identity. The main draws here are the funny dialogue that has its own unique rhythm to it, and the contrived but delightful plot. And Lucy Liu, whose role as hyperactive neighbor Lindsey surprisingly steals the show despite her being in the presence of some of the all-time greats in Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Bruce WIllis and others.

9 – TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY (Adam McKay)

“Hakuna matata, bitches!”

Sitting down to watch a Will Ferrell comedy is a bit of a gamble, as he has about as many misses as hits on his resume. This one is hilarious though, as his standard idiotic man-child character meets the world of NASCAR. A lot of credit needs to go to the supporting cast, especially John C. Reilly as his held-back team mate and Sacha Baron Cohen as the stereotypically French antagonist. Holds up surprisingly well on a rewatch, too.

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Posted by on 8 November, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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