Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Les Misérables 2012

I don't review books on this blog - but I feel compelled to mention the French historical novel, written by Victor Hugo and published in 1862, that I had the misfortune of reading in its unabridged entirety, some years back. Aptly titled Les Misérables, it was a miserable tale of a miserable man whose life is so beset by misery, that it's a mystery how he continues to live.

The idea that Jean Valjean's pathetic story could be used to create a musical, where people sing and occasionally dance, made absolutely no sense to me. The fact that that musical is one of the most successful ones out there, is even more shocking. Still, I refused to watch it. Having read the book, I refused to subject myself to more of Valjean's misery.

The story goes thus: Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread in his youth, to save his sister's life. He got arrested and instead of the five years he would normally serve for the theft, he spent the next 19 years in prison as punishment for his numerous escape attempts. Finally released back into society, he faces constant hostility for being an ex-convict and so when a priest actually treats him with kindness (despite Valjean stealing from the church), his heart fills with the love of God and His creation. The rest of the story is about him creating a new identity for himself, trying to be a good person, and finding some success and happiness - when *boom* Javert, one of the jail-keepers turns up round the corner and Valjean has to give it all up, go to a new place, create a new life, find some happiness, this time in the form of an adopted daughter...and yep, Javert turns up there too. This keeps happening over and over again - and Valjean barely gets 10 pages of happiness before he is made to run and be unhappy again. Yes it is really miserable.

But when the trailers for the film came out - with Hugh Jackman and Rusell Crowe leading the cast, my interest was piqued and I decided to bite the bullet and watch this musical, onscreen.

So, first off the camera work is pure perfection - from extreme close-ups to sweeping shots, the technique is flawless and the film is a delight to watch. The make-up is quite theatrical and therefore less perfect, but it is still very good (though Jackman's prosthetic teeth really bugged me throughout the movie). The direction by Tom Hooper and the performances he elicited from his cast - very, very commendable. And then there's the singing.

I have to admit, one of the factors that got me into the cinema was the opportunity to hear Hugh Jackman sing - and that was the most disappointing of all voices in the film for me. The songs just did not seem suited to his natural voice and he constantly seemed out of tune, which I am sure he wasn't. On the other hand, Russell Crowe, from whom I expected nothing, sang to his strengths and was really very good. Plus, he looks great in the film and Javert's role suits him perfectly. Besides these two, Amanda Seyfried (as Cosette) and Samantha Barks (as Eponine) do full justice to their roles and their songs. But it was Anne Hathaway (as Fantine) who completely blew me away. Her 'I dreamed a dream' gave me goosebumps, she is that good. And very surprisingly it was Eddie Redmayne (playing Marius), who was the other actor that made me react like that, with his 'Empty chairs at empty tables'. His rendition is exquisite. To be honest, all the actors sang beautifully, except for Hugh Jackman, who clearly can sing well, but his songs just seemed wrong for him.

Does this mean I enjoyed the film - and take back everything I said, like 'how can anyone sing about being so miserable'?
Having seen the musical now, in its cinematic avatar, I still think it's a terrible story, with misfortune upon misfortune ladled on one soul, and his 'goodness' is absolutely sickening. To hear them all sing throughout the film did not make me like the story any better, but instead managed to piss me off a little bit more about why they couldn't just talk to each other in a normal voice!

Still, for people who enjoy this sort of film, it is an excellent offering. If the genre is acceptable, and the story is not a problem, then Les Misérables is at the top of its game.

I really didn't enjoy it.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Pitch Perfect 2012

I know this is the 21st century. I know this because there was a big Y2K scare 13 years ago and just a couple of weeks back I celebrated the start of 2013. So, why are the writers of this latest Hollywood high school musical pretending that it's still the 1970s, when creating comedy with racial and sexual stereotypes was still considered funny?

Beca (Anna Kendrick), an angst-ridden teenager with lots of dark make-up to prove the point, wants to be a music producer in LA; but her professor dad persuades her to attend Barden University for at least a year, with the promise that if she hates it, he will help set up her music career. The condition he lays down is that she has to give university life, including clubs and societies, a real shot. In the meantime, the 'Bellas', an A Cappella club, are desperately looking for new members, after a humiliating loss at the previous inter-collegiate competition (projectile vomiting was involved).

Despite her reservations, Beca is enlisted, along with a bunch of other girls who are presented as clear misfits. There's Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), black AND closet-lesbian Cynthia-Rose (Ester Dean), nymphomaniac Stacie (Alexis Knapp), and silent but deadly Asian Lilly (Hana Mae Lee). Heading the Bellas is control-freak, blond perfectionist, Aubrey (Anna Camp) and of course, she has a trusted side-kick, Chloe (Brittany Snow). All these characters speak and act in extreme stereotypes (Fat Amy does not exercise and cracks food-related jokes; Cynthia-Rose tries to force CPR and grabs on to other girls' boobs every opportunity she gets; Stacie constantly thinks about and has sex; Lilly speaks so quietly that no one gets her, but she is dark and twisted inside; Aubrey is shrill and obsessive-compulsive about traditions; and Chloe lets Aubrey walk all over her). Of course Beca is the only slightly normal character, but she has oh such difficulty trusting anyone, because her dad left her mum. Her Asian roommate bizarrely detests her for no reason at all and treats her appallingly (which Beca never once reacts to) and she has almost no backbone with anyone except the one person who is good to her - Jesse (Skylar Astin), a member of the rival, all-male A Cappella group, called Treblemakers.

I will not go any further into the story and I have only explained thus far to show how unbelievably stale the premise is - and how awfully repugnant the stereotypes are. The script is replete with nerd jokes (they are weird), racial jokes (Asians are weird), disability jokes (DJ = Deaf Jews...and they're weird), lesbian jokes (gay people are desperate...and weird)....and when all else fails, there are puke jokes. Seriously.

The script was probably written on toilet paper, by monkeys who had no imagination at all. No sorry - scratch that. It was written by Kay Cannon (of 30 Rock fame), based on a book by Mickey Rapkin. Yup, that must be one literary masterpiece. Character motivation is a mystery throughout the story - and the film is completely devoid of any chemistry, between anyone and anything. After this, director Jason Moore should definitely return to television, where he has obviously done well.

Most disheartening aspect of this film was watching Anna Kendrick, who is a good actress, playing a freshman at the ripe old age of 27. If it wasn't for the excellent - and I really mean that - singing voices that almost all the actors possess, this film was the absolute pits. It could not have been more wasteful of cinematic space.

I'm really sorry that my Film 2013 has started off with this trash.