Sunday, 20 January 2013

Les Miserables

I'd never seen the musical production before seeing Les Miserables, but I was still a little dubious that a screen version of a stage play could work. I've loved some filmed musicals (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Grease, Burlesque) and loathed others (the newer version of Fame, any of the multiple 'dance off' films), but Les Miserables certainly falls into the 'loved' category.

The whole thing is so grand and enormous; everything from the sets and the landscapes to the multiple backing singers/extras in every single scene. Tom Hooper has shown he is a pro at creating dirty, dank, muted worlds with The King's Speech and he has done that again (or the set designers and lighting guys have I suppose).

The whole film is stirring and epic and I felt strange not clapping at the end. It was awesome.

Silver Linings Playbook

I knew very little about this film before watching, which is probably a good thing. It was a nice surprise, if a flawed one. I will try and explain why without giving away too much of the plot.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a man with bipolar who has recently been let out of a correctional mental facility. Cooper moves in with his parents, played by De Niro and Jacki Weaver, and meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) through friends.

The film starts very heavy, with performances to match. It's nice to see Cooper use his acting chops, playing a glazed-eyed, emotionally unstable man in a very convincing way. Lawrence gets her chance to shine too, playing a woman who has recently lost her husband and is also going through the effects of multiple types of medication.

There is a point in the film, signposted a mile away, in which Cooper realises that Lawrence has lied to him about something extremely important to him. Instead of reacting in the way his character would have reacted during the first two thirds of the film, Cooper's character does a complete flip flop and he becomes Bradley Cooper, completely charming and and in control, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING LIKE HIS CHARACTER. I realise that the idea is that his mental health is improving, but it is ridiculous and completely unrealistic.

That being said, it's still a very nice, feel good ending and I'm sure that this film will do very well, even with the awful, awkward title that it has. It was just a bit of a let down that there is a huge logical chunk missing for me which threw me and made the third act a lot less enjoyable than the start of the film.

2 Days In New York

I'm a little bit in love with Julie Delpy, or I should say I was before I watched 2 Days In New York.

She's shown that she can write very well with Before Sunset, and she can put together a decent film. 2 Days In Paris wasn't amazing by any means, but it was kind of charming and fun. All of that charm and wit is completely lost in her latest film.

Delpy plays Marion, and her partner, Mingus, is played by the comedic genius Chris Rock. The two of them live in an apartment in New York with their children from previous relationships. Marion's family comes to stay and they don't all speak English. This is a pretty great setup. Culture clashes ensue, and they could have been hilarious, but it all just smells "off".

For example: an early scene involves Delpy explaining to Chris Rock that she has to regularly clench her "pussy" muscles. Another scene involves Delpy telling her neighbour that she has a brain tumor and not long to live, lying so that they stop complaining about the noises from her apartment. I'm not anti films being provocative or in "bad" taste. Honestly, Freddy Got Fingered is one of my favourite comedies of all time, but I can honestly say that Delpy's jokes in 2 Days In New York are far more offensive and harder to swallow than Tom Green's extreme, shock, gross out sense of humour. I can't quite put my finger on why that is either. It just all feels icky and embarrassing. Even the charm of Chris Rock couldn't save this turd.

Admittedly, I didn't finish watching. About 45 minutes in, Delpy is changing her son's nappy and Delpy's sister, the kid's aunt, remarks that she thought the kid's penis would be larger, so they get out a measuring tape to inspect the length..... After feeling awkward for 45 minutes, that was pretty much the end of my tolerance for this film.

Linklater's Before Midnight, co-written by the stars Delpy and Ethan Hawke, is released later this year. I REALLY, REALLY hope that it meets the very high expectations set up from the first two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Hopefully the bad taste left in my mouth from this 2 Days piece of shit will be gone by the time Midnight comes.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Liberal Arts

Josh Radnor (Ted from How I Met Your Mother) wrote, directed and starred in Liberal Arts and it appears he can write, direct, and act very well.

Radnor plays Jesse, a guy in his 30s who returns to the college he graduated from for his professor's retirement party. While there he meets Zibby, played by the stupidly attractive Elizabeth Olsen. She's 16 years younger than Jesse, but they have a connection and begin a relationship of sorts.

This isn't a plot heavy film. It's more about how the characters interact and grow, and it's very good. All the performances are natural, the writing is witty and clever, and I hope Radnor makes more films like this.

House at the End of the Street

Jennifer Lawrence plays Elissa, a teenage girl who has just moved into a new town with her mum, Elisabeth Shue. The house is on the same property as another house where a double homicide took place, a daughter killing her parents. The brother of this crazy family still lives in the House at the End of the Street.

This is a pretty slow moving film. It's all very by-the-numbers, until about half-way in. There's a twist which turns this from one type of slasher film into another, and I have to admit that I didn't see it coming. I appreciated that there was a little mystery at the end, the film makers letting the hints tell us what happened rather than spelling it all out for us, but it's hardly David Lynch. This is still pretty average stuff, but it was watchable.



It's a nice surprise when an unheard of, low budget film turns out to be a bit of a gem.

I knew nothing about Compliance when I started watching it, so when the premise became evident it was incredibly creepy. I will, however, spoil it here, so don't read on if you think you'll watch this.

Dreama Walker plays Becky, a young girl who works at a fast food place. The work day starts like any other, until the police call. Becky's manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) is told that a complaint has been made and that Becky stole some money from a customer's purse earlier that day. Sandra is asked to take Becky into the back room, search her items for the money, and eventually strip search her. The tension is palpable.

The twist is that the man on the phone is not a police officer but just some creep prank phone caller. The events of the film almost become ridiculous, but the performances and the way that it's put together are so good that I kind of forgave it for that and just went along with it.

This is 'Inspired By True Events'. Whether that's just BS to make the whole thing seem scarier is unknown, but it does feel like something that could actually happen. Some people just comply to authority figures unquestioningly, and this film is an excellent illustration of that. There are also issues of gender roles and trust at play.

I'll definitely watch this one again.


The Factory

Surprisingly nothing to do with Andy Warhol, The Factory is a gritty, crime thriller. John Cusack plays Mike Fletcher, a detective who is obsessed with some unsolved missing persons cases. His partner Kelsey, played by Jennifer 'Dexter's sister' Carpenter, is helping him with this complex case.

There are a million thrillers just like this one, where the villain is a creepy guy who keeps girls locked up in his basement, and while this is not the most original film, it's put together very well. Cusack's daughter is played by Mae 'Roxy' Whitman, rounding out a very watchable cast. The visuals are really grimy, similar to something like seven. It was generic, but very solid generic.