0 - No Redeeming Feature
1 - Poor
2 - Passable
3 - Good. Rent it.
4 - Excellent!
5 - Must See!!
Tom Hooper comes off the back of his success with The King's Speech, and with this sets about upping his own game; Les Miserables is an all-round bigger, more daring artistic undertaking. It seems that Hooper recognizes the stirring nature of the stage show, and that to adapt it for the screen there are two tricks necessary to play: don't fix what is not broken, and go balls-out to make it as big and dramatic as possible! It is obvious from the opening scene, however, that he is keen to do everything with this musical that cannot be done on stage, the camera giving us an epic scope, swooping in, out and through incredible sets and landscapes. It also gives us close-up, intimate interactions with actors as they work. I have seen it said that this is, at times, misjudged or distracting, but I can honestly say I did not find it to be either, although I did note his refusal to play that much in mid-shot, almost, it seems, on principle. This did not bother me, but I can understand it being frustrating to some.
Hugh Jackman is excellent in the role of Jean Valjeant; this is the bravest and best I have seen him since The Fountain. Russell Crowe is the strangest bit of casting imaginable for a musical such as this, and yet the film contends with it rather well. There has been some talk of Crowe being not as mean as the stage version of Javert, but it is in fact his presentation of a more complex man, struggling within himself, that makes his performance so vivid. When you can get an audience caring this much for who is ostensibly a rather bland villain, you have done something right, and I certainly found myself caring for him as a human being rather than viewing him as simply, the bad guy. In spite of being a bit out of his depth technically, in terms of singing voice, it is his finding of this character that somehow makes it work, and he actually delivers the song Stars with a striking beauty, a beauty which makes it one of the best scenes in the movie, and which highlights all the more why he works. Hearing the audio is not enough; you actually have to see it, but when you do, it makes sense. Bringing some light relief to what is otherwise a pretty heavy and dark affair are the very well cast Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, playing a couple of criminal inn-keepers, and looking like they've been dragged directly off the set of a not-yet-complete Tim Burton picture.
Intrinsic to the film because of the story is a sense of what I call "bittiness", one set of characters or set piece leaping to the next set of characters or set piece, which does jar at times, especially in the second half. Why Inspector Javert is quite so intent on finding the "dangerous man" Valjean, as to search for years, is something never really understood, and it makes for a frustrating sort of convenience that they are continually running into each other for the sake of driving the story forward. It will take some a little while to settle into the groove and feel of the film; something about everyone singing everything is a tad alienating, but we do reach a point where it settles in nicely. This said, a few scenes never get around feeling a bit awkward in their staging, which was an unfortunate, but only occasional issue for me. I must also admit that, where most of the music and songs are powerful, dramatic, raucous, exciting, and in one case even amusing, I could not help but notice some moments that don't work as well, with at least one song that really, for me, couldn't be over soon enough. I do, of course, understand this may be a case of taste.
The thing about this movie is, even at its weakest moments, there is an overarching feeling that everyone loves what they are there for, and that they are giving heart and soul to make it as staggering as they can; they intend to make you experience something worth every penny paid for admission. The more full-on, risky and daring it is, the more we can't help but think, "Like it or not, this is what cinema is all about!" In spite of the individual issues we may pick out, this behemoth production rocks you at a core level; it is rough around the edges, but it makes virtues of most of its flaws. Technically not the five-star show people know, but its bravery, gusto, and full-on determination to stir your spirits wipe out the negatives and power it through as a film, nay an experience, I found myself enjoying as though it were a masterpiece. Do not be surprised if some people cheer at the end, or you find yourself, at the final ensemble scene with goosebumps, wanting to start your own revolution.
At cinemas now.
Catch it if you like: The King's Speech, or the prospect of a risky musical spectacle with balls!
Opening with a sequence starring the legend Robert Englund (Freddy), following it up with a credit sequence set to Marilyn Manson's This Is The New Shit, and featuring a cameo by the great Tony Todd (Candyman), it is quite clear what Green's intentions with the film are; this is low budget, ridiculous, well scripted nonsense, full to the brim with bad cliche, and it is one of the most fun splatter-fests I've seen for a while. It is undeniably bad, but what elevates it is the sense that Green is so up on the genre, and so in love with the tropes, that he has set out to have some fun with it, hence the laugh out loud dialogue and the film's overload of self-aware irony. Make no mistake, this is no Wes Craven, it is more Romero with a knowing twist of self-ridicule. Granted, it does lose steam in its final third, but if you know what you're watching, and are not looking for something trying to be good, you could have a great time with this. I know I did.
Catch it if you like: The Cabin In The Woods, The Evil Dead, Scream, and B-movie schlock horror.
THE KID WITH A BIKE
Lena Dunham is a writer with a future; writing, directing and starring in a film is a trick only occasionally pulled off well by the big boys not preceded by their ego, but watching Tiny Furniture, you are aware she has some chops. A quick look at her IMDB page confirms the suspicion that she has had, and continues to gain, experience in many artistic fields, from the writing to editing to acting and now, directing. Here she plays Aura, a college graduate who returns to live with her mother and sister while she works out what to do with herself. This entails meeting a minor internet star and letting him stay at their home while her family are away, becoming a day hostess for a restaurant that never seems to have any custom, and unwittingly burning every bridge that could be important to her.
An off-beat drama featuring her very own mother and sister, pretty much playing themselves, it turns out, this feels like a Woody Allen piece. If this is evidence to go by, Dunham has some way to go before she makes a truly compelling film, however, given its shoestring budget and low-key nature, it is not without some charm and good ideas. It is also no doubt quite reflective of her own family, her mother actually having an artistic career not unlike the one presented in the film which, given some of the scenes in the film, make me wonder just how biographical the whole thing is. Some of the drama works, some of the humour works, and the final scene is a thoughtful footnote. Tiny Furniture, as the title suggests, is about small things, which turn out to be quite big things. Not wholly successful, but worth a look.
2.5 / 5
Catch it if you like: Ghost World and the like.