Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Banks
Director: Tom Hooper
The 2012 screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel of 19th century France, Les Miserables, hits your eye like a big pizza pie! And like the pizza, it's huge, and messy, and satisfyingly delicious. Add to that the surprise of seeing that some unlikely bedfellows, e.g., Russell Crowe and Sacha Baron Cohen, can actually sing (passably). Though I wouldn't quit my day job to join the opera just yet, Sacha, as you're much too naughty, and those large-lunged divas would punch your lights out. .
Hugh Jackman heads up a stellar ensemble cast as Jean Valjean, a man who served 19 years at hard labor for a petty theft. As a free man, he breaks his parole and goes undercover, becoming a respected citizen. Russell Crowe, as Inspector Javert, is the long arm of the law who pursues Valjean relentlessly, and is one of the tragic figures in the story. Anne Hathaway is Fantine, a young woman who resorts to prostitution to survive. She becomes pregnant with Cossette, played here as a young woman by Amanda Seyfried. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter--who have a lot in common because they both have long names--are the innkeepers Thenardier and Madame Thenardier, who become the young Cossette's foster "parents." They add some levity to the mostly serious proceedings with the bawdy antics occurring inside their establishment. (Valjean later bribes them to to let him take the child.) As time skips ahead, Marius, a student who joins the impending revolution, (Eddie Redmayne) and the blossoming Cossette fall for one another. Eponine, (Samantha Banks) the Thenardier's daughter, is also smitten with Marius, but her love is unrequited.
The stage musical of Les Miserables has been around in one incarnation or another since 1980. Now its true potential is reached, lending itself to the giant screen so effectively because the street battle scenes can be played out to scale, with stark and bloody realism--and while you normally would't expect to have people singing while they're shooting each other, that's the musical for you, and you'll soon get in the swing of it.
Anne Hathaway is likely to get a nomination, mainly for her visceral rendering of "I Dreamed A Dream." But for my money, it's gotta be Jackman's achingly beautiful "Bring Him Home." Other songs feature multi-layered harmonies that build to a soaring crescendo that is guaranteed to raise the hair on your back (unless you've gotten it waxed recently). And of no lesser genius is the deft jump cut editing here.
Two minor annoyances. Many of those who have solos are shot in that kind of ubber closeup that was popularized by the spaghetti westerns of the sixties and seventies. Literally "in-your-face." It isn't necessary (or aesthetically pleasing) to see the size of every pore on someone's face, or whether or not they brushed their tongue beforehand. (You should always brush your tongue when you get up in the morning, because a layer of sulfur forms on it overnight, which can contribute to your friends giving you a wide berth when they are around you.) The other thing is that the movie runs two and a half hours and then some, so it feels a tad long. These things I will forgive in light of a preponderance of the evidence that Les Miserables is a work of considerable genius.
That and the fact that I always like a good revolution.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Genre: Biopic/ Drama
First off, don't even bother with this movie if you haven't seen Alfred Hitchcock's signature film, Psycho. Hitchcock, which is about the making of Psycho, interwoven with the legendary director's difficult relationship with his wife, Alma Reville, simply contains too many inside references and tongue-in-cheek memory joggers relating to the film--and to his long running television series, (e.g., his shadowy silhouette upon the wall) that you just wouldn't get it otherwise. Fortunately, for the sake of my labors here, most everyone besides the very young and those who just stepped off the boat from Timbuktu are familiar with Hitchcock's work...so let us proceed.
Anthony Hopkins, in a fat suit, has the late director's mannerisms and pretentious speech patterns down pat, but the small beef I have with his performance is the same one I had with Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn, in which the actress plays Marilyn Monroe too close to her public persona--that of the dumb blonde--even in private. I can't imagine Alfred Hitchcock, in intimate moments, saying "Gooood ev-en-ing " in that oft caricatured way to his wife as he's about to plop on top of her like a grand piano falling from a fifth story window.
What will be truly revealing to most about Hitchcock is the role that Alma played in the making of his films (the veracity of this information comes from the writings of their daughter, Patricia). A talented editor and screenwriter, Alma was the wind beneath Alfred's wings--acting in the background as collaborator and sounding board to the great director.
Helen Mirren , superb as usual, plays Alma as a woman who is fooling herself, as well as her husband, about the nature of her "working" relationship with screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Hitchcock's well known eye for the ladies is only referred to in passing, but it gives the viewer some insight into one of the reasons why the couple's relationship was strained, and why Alma's eye may have been roving as well.
Scarlett Johansson brings a subtlety to her role as Janet Leigh (the star of Psycho UNTIL...) that I felt was spot on.
As in most films about real figures from the past, strict attention to detail is not sacred here. For example, in Psycho's famous shower scene, it is implied that Johansson/Leigh is nude, and that they are trying to work the camera angles so as not to reveal too much--as this was the day of heavily repressive censorship in the movies--but in reality Leigh had some semi-sheer fabric strategically covering her in critical areas,. which gave the impression of nudity in some of the quick out of focus shots in that scene.
With all that was working against Psycho getting produced--as in the studio balking on the making of the film to begin with; the perverted censors (as all censors are) breathing down the director's neck; and the couple having to pony up their own funds to finance the film--Hitchcock leaves us with the impression that Psycho stumbled its way to success. But I think maybe that was for dramatic effect. They didn't call Alfred Hitchcock a genius for no reason, and now we know that at least part of that genius came from his "better" half.