Category Archives: Film Review

review: les misérables

Anne Hathaway as Fantine (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

Anne Hathaway as Fantine (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

Let me start by warning you that Les Misérables is one of my favourite musicals of all time — in fact, perhaps my favourite musical, period. Thus, my perception of Director Tom Hooper’s film adaptation is viewed through the tinted glasses of a die-hard fan:

Adapting the stage show based on the lengthy novel by Victor Hugo is no easy feat, and while this film is not perfect, Hooper has captured the original show’s immense impact and its powerful themes of sacrifice, redemption, love and compassion. From the sweeping shots of a decrepit 19th century Paris to the intimate close-ups on a tragic prostitute reflecting on her life, Hooper shows a true understanding of what makes this musical so powerful: one minute it fills you with revolutionary fervour, and the next, with tears. Les Mis needed a gutsy filmmaker to bring the musical from stage to screen, and Hooper’s brave choices – including the daring decision to have his performers sing live on set – really pay off. The live singing, a novel technique, allows each vocal performance to resonate much more deeply. These raw vocal performances combined with Tom Hooper’s often critiqued extreme closeups truly allows you to connect with each character.

Hugh Jackman is an absolute wonder as the convict Jean Valjean. He truly is the heart and soul of the film and delivers a masterful and Oscar-worthy performance. Jackman will definitely be giving Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln a run for his money.  Anne Hathaway’s role as the factory worker turned prostitute Fantine is very small but her performance is absolutely mighty, and is sure to garner her an Oscar nomination (and a likely win). Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” is a total showstopper – she brutally slays the song with immense force and pain and made this die-hard fan feel like I was experiencing the song  for the first time. Russell Crowe is surprisingly sympathetic as Javert, the relentless policeman chasing Valjean across the years. At first Crowe seems slightly out of place in the company of powerful performers such as Jackman, Hathaway, and Aaron Tveit (who delivers a very strong performance as the revolutionary Enjorlas). However, while Crowe lacks the vocal power of the Javerts of the West End and Broadway, his voice has a calculated control to it which I believe actually suits Javert’s dutiful nature and desire for order.  Eddie Redmayne, as Marius, a young student torn between newfound love and his revolutionary cause, is surprisingly talented. While many have been aware of this Cambridge-educated actor’s strong acting chops for the past few years, Redmayne’s vocal performance cements him as a breakthrough star. Redmayne’s solo, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is heartbreaking. Samantha Barks is a revelation as Eponine. Her part seemed smaller than I remembered it from the show, which was a shame because Barks is incredibly powerful and relatable. Amanda Seyfried’s soprano voice is light and pretty, yet her performance as Cosette is the weakest of the cast (however she isn’t helped by her underdeveloped character who tends to be problematic in the stage musical as well). Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter succeed in providing much needed comic relief, although Bonham Carter’s Madame Thenardier seems to have stepped off of a Tim Burton set. And while Baron Cohen’s skill for crafting quirky characters is well used, his accent flip-flops between a strange French and Cockney brogue, and is very distracting.

As you can probably tell, the cast’s performances are the film’s strongest assets. Ultimately Les Misérables, running just under 2 hours and 40 minutes, is quite lengthy. For those who do not know the show or novel’s plot, this film adaptation can be quite an exhausting experience. The film is bombastic and unrelenting, and could have occasionally been more subtle with its themes and imagery here and there (we get it, Valjean is a Christ-like figure!). The editing is at times sloppy and jarring. However, the courageous and talented performances given by the film’s terrific cast outweigh these directorial imperfections.

P.S. Look out for a brief yet terrific performance by Colm “The Voice of God” Wilkinson as the Bishop. Wilkinson originated the role of Valjean on both Broadway and the West End.

4/5

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film review: beginners

What makes a good film? Forget the perfect structure that we’re taught makes for a great plot (you know, the “Put a man up in a tree, throw stones at him, and either take him down or let him starve to death” plot line…*)  For me, a great film makes me do two things. It makes me feel, and it makes me think.

Mike Mills’ exquisitely crafted Beginners made me feel and think. I can’t remember the last time a single scene made me go from laughing to crying in a matter of seconds. Beginners, set in 2003, is about Oliver (Ewan MacGregor) whose father Hal (Christopher Plummer in the role that won him his first Academy Award at the age of 82) comes out as gay after Oliver’s mother passes away. Soon after, Hal is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

From the film’s premise I expected lots of laughs and tears, but what I did not expect was a brilliantly and subtly acted and directed exploration of how love, loss and fear affect the young and old. Oliver meets Anna (Inglorious Basterds’ Melanie Laurent), an actress, shortly after his father’s death, and their relationship is portrayed with relatable vulnerability. Yet this primary relationship is actually the weakest of all the relationships in the film – although Laurent’s understated performance is captivating, her character, who quirkily pulls Oliver out of his isolation and fear of commitment,  occasionally veers on the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope. What I found more interesting was the way in which we discover how Oliver’s individual connection with his mother and father influences his new approach to love. We view the film through Oliver’s eyes and are both painfully and happily whisked through time as his snapshot memories with his parents are delicately unfolded. At times, Mills’ smooth and crisp filmmaking feels more like a melody than a story.

Melanie Laurent and Ewan McGregor in a scene from Beginners (source)

Both McGregor and Plummer give spectacular performances and Mr. Plummer’s much delayed Oscar is nothing but well deserved.

My only issue with the film was its ending. SPOILER ALERT!  While I love how a film that ends with two people bravely choosing to plunge into the deep end and stick together looking at each other with that “So what do we do now?” quasi-cliffhanger evokes an incredibly realistic sense of the unknown that we face daily, this type of ending has been incredibly overused (see the endings of Garden State and 50/50).

Regardless, I highly recommend Beginners and I’d love to know what you think about it.

4.5/5

*I promise that is how I was genuinely taught the typical plot line for writing stories.

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film review: inside job

While on the plane ride home for spring break I finally was able to watch Inside Job, this year’s Best Documentary winner at the Oscars. The documentary is about the 2008 financial crisis. Don’t understand how the economy got so bad? Or how Wall Street was able to get away with massive fraud for so long? then this is the film for you. I’ll be honest, as someone who took the lowest math level in high school, the ecomonics jargon was a bit confusing but the film’s incredible detail regarding the cause, conflict and aftermath of the crisis, makes it well worth a watch. What’s most mindblowing is the number of people who knew what was going on, but were so blinded by greed to do anything about it. The best interviews are with former Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer and Kristen M. Davis, former madam to Wall Street.

Oh, and Matt Damon’s narrating voice is just delightful.

Directed by Charles Ferguson

5/5

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