Tag Archive: Hugh Jackman


Eddie-1Let me provide you with some context so that you can understand the mind-set that led to me enjoying Eddie the Eagle as much as I did. The day prior to seeing Dexter Fletcher’s latest film, I saw both Anomalisa and The Witch within an hour of each other. That was an ill-judged double-bill, as it left me in something of a funk, as neither film is exactly a bundle of joy. I needed a lift, I needed something to raise my spirits, something so unashamedly joyous to remind me that there are films which are designed to simply provide happiness. The story of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards is one such tale, and a very welcome one at that.

The year is 1988. Ever since he was a small boy, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) has had the dream of becoming an Olympic Athlete, despite not being all that gifted in the realm of sport. When it seems as though Eddie has exhausted all possible options in the sporting world, he stumbles across ski jumping, a sport that has had no British representative in six decades. Taking himself off to Germany to learn the sport, Eddie is initially met with ridicule, before being taken under the wing of disgraced ski jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman). Together, Eddie and Bronson aim for the 1988 Winter Olympics, an event where Eddie sets out to make British history, provided he doesn’t break his neck first.EddieAct2

This account of Edwards is largely a work of fiction, namely due to the fact that its main focus is on Edwards relationship with a mentor, a mentor who did not exist. It is an approach which allows the film to have a lighter, more whimsical spirit that marks Edwards story as one fit for an inspiring sports movie. Once upon a time this was set to be a Steve Coogan comedy, which probably would’ve treated Eddie more as a joke rather than a figure of inspiration. Which would have been a shame, because there is definitely something to admire in the determination that Eddie showed in the face of a wave of naysayers, persevering despite never being what one would call naturally talented at sport. It is an underdog story that is easy to fall for.

One of the main reasons we find Eddie easy to fall for is Taron Egerton. The rising star absolutely shines in the role, his first true lead performance, radiating a charisma that often over-shadows his co-star, who is none other than Hugh Jackman. The two clearly enjoy each other’s company, but the movie entirely belongs to Egerton, turning in a well-Eddie-3judged portrayal of Eddie, one that is very sympathetic towards its subject and as energetic as a dewy-eyed puppy.

Dexter Fletcher is a director whose two previous films, the refreshingly upbeat crime caper Wild Bill and the tad-too-saccharine Sunshine on Leith, have been films that have aimed to give one a sense that happiness is something that is attainable for any one of any background, as long as their spirits remain high. Eddie the Eagle is a perfect fit for his sensibilities, and he does well to construct a classically structured tale of a sporting underdog. It is a film that very much wears its influences on its sleeve, be it Cool Runnings (it takes place in the same Winter Olympics that saw the Jamaican Bob-sleigh team compete), Rocky or Billy Elliott, it is a tale that feels decidedly wholesome in a very British way. Eddie-4

Much of the narrative of Eddie the Eagle is driven by Eddie’s determination to master his chosen sport under Jackman’s wing. It allows for a series of highly energetic training montages set to a gloriously poppy 80’s soundtrack (Hall & Oates! Van Halen! Human League!), which does mean that there aren’t too many surprises, and much of the conflict that arises throughout feels somewhat forced; conflict for the sake of having conflict. Yet, it does not rob from the fact that the film effortlessly makes you fall in love with the underdog spirit of Eddie Edwards, ensuring that you remain enticed right until the final jump, even if you know the outcome.

4/5- sporting punchline is turned into a supremely charming underdog story, one with a soaring spirit that proves hard to refuse. Inspiring and incredibly good-natured. 

 

 

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Saturday marks the day of Halloween, the time of year to engage with all things, ghastly, ghouley and frightening. One of the best ways to do so is through the numerous horror flicks that the movie world has kindly unleashed upon us. To mark the event this year, I have themed a snack-time post with my thoughts on three films which dabble in horror in their own distinct ways. One is through straight up spectral happenings, another through Gothic romance. And one by being just so a horrifically terrible movie. I’ll leave you to guess which is which.

Pan-PosterPan (Dir: Joe Wright) 

Well, what the fuck happened here? The story of Peter Pan is one which has charmed children and adults alike for over 100 years through various forms. J.M. Barries’ timeless creation of a story of a boy who refused to grow up has had many a different take, from more traditional Disney fare to a ‘What if?’ scenario in Spielberg’s Hook. A true origins tale is not one that has been translated to screen, but one does exist in Barrie’s own writing, a dark tragic tale of a boy who ran away from home, only to be replaced by another child. What it doesn’t have is white-washing, ugly visuals, Southern Captain Hooks, or a cocky little shit as its lead. Just why all that exists here is anyone’s guess.

Peter (Levi Miller) is an orphan living in an Orphanage in World War 2-era London, an institute run by the cruel Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke). With children mysteriously disappearing, Peter soon finds out that Barnabas has made a deal with a gang of Pirates from another world, Neverland, a world in which Peter believes he may find his long lost mother (Amanda Seyfried). Once he is captured himself, Peter enters the world of Neverland to discover that he may be the prophesised saviour of the Indian tribe, driven into hiding by the dastardly Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Teaming up with the rogueish James Hook (Garret Hedlund), Peter sets out to discover his destiny and to find out what really happened to his mother.

There is potential in delving in to the origins of Peter Pan, but quite why it proceeds in this fashion is boggling, considering there is already a version of the origins worthy of adapting. Joe Wright, who is by no means a talent-less director, shoots everything in an incredibly stage like fashion, meaning that the proceedings end up feeling cheap, tacky, and garish.

The visual effects range from competent to utterly appalling, as we stumble through noisy set piece after noisy set piece. There is the odd thrill, particularly once Peter learns to fly, but it does not compensate for the bizarre decisions made throughout. Hedlund’s performance is baffling in its Indiana Jones-lite fashion, while Rooney Mara’s controversial casting as Tiger Lily is only made worse by the fact that the character is so thinly drawn and rarely allowed to kick ass as she should, simply becoming an object of affection for Hedlund’s Hook.

The only member of the cast that seems to be in on the joke is JAckman, who crafts an entertainingly campy pirate through Blackbeard, although many of the stylistic choices attributed to him remain ill-advised (‘Teenage Spirit’ as a work song? Why? Is it post-modern? I don’t even know any-more). The young Miller delivers an incredibly forced performance, over-annunciating every line, and crafting Peter into an obnoxious, smug and irritating hero who never does anything to prove himself worthy of being a hero, he just simply has everything handed to him.

The film becomes incredibly laborious very quickly, amounting in cinematic venture to Neverland that lacks true invention or anything all that worthwhile. It may distract kids with its garish imagery, but its script that is riddled with plot holes and its lazy design which rips off everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to Avatar drown an admittedly talented cast. Nearly everyone involved in this film has proven themselves to be incredibly talented in the past, but everyone seems to have taken an off day with this one, producing one of the most arduous cinematic experiences I have had this year. Congrats Pan, you get my first one-star review of the year. 1/5  

CrimsonPeak

Crimson Peak (Dir: Guillermo del Toro)

Now before you say anything, I know that this, Guillermo del Toro’s fifth English language movie as director, is not strictly a horror movie, what with it only having shades through its Gothic lashings within a dark tale of romance. Marketed as such though, Crimson Peak may disappoint those looking for much in the way of scares this Halloween. That being said, it is not without its creep-tastic imagery in the form of the ghosts which visit our heroine, budding author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), who is swept away to a crumbling mansion on top a clay mine when she falls for the charming yet mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Living with both her new husband and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith embarks on a dark tale that rival her own imagination.

Crimson Peak may well stand as the most ‘del Toro’ picture he has made in the English language, with much of the Gothic overtones recalling The Devil’s Backbone, and as a result is a delightfully gruesome and ravishing picture to behold. It is an utter master-class of production design, with the set designs brimming with pulsing life. Nearly every frame could be held and examined to discover more about the world in which del Toro populates his romantic characters. Allerdale Hall, the house atop the titular Crimson Peak, ripples with life, with clay seeping like blood from the walls of the hall that once held much grandeur but has since shed its life with the decline of the Sharpe name. The designs of the ghosts as well are capable of being quite terrifying when given their moment to shine, resulting in an incredibly unsettling atmosphere throughout.

Where Crimson Peak is not quite so finely tuned is within its screenplay. A great deal of time passes before we actually get to Allerdale Hall, with mystery surrounding the Sharpe’s being somewhat obviously established. While it is not afraid to delve into some dark corners, the film proceeds as you would expect, rarely pulling the rug from under your feet whilst you wonder the sumptuous halls of the Sharpe’s fallen estate.

The story maintains your interest due in large part to the design, but also due to the fine work from its three leads. Wasikowska is very much suited to this type of Daphne de Maurier Gothic heroine, leading us through the proceedings with wide eyes and a candle stick in hand. Hiddleston is suitably charming and appropriately allusive in his approach. It is Jessica Chastain that steals the show however, bubbling with a sinister spirit before truly letting rip with a gloriously mad performance in the final third.

Guillermo del Toro thankfully has once again refused to compromise to more conventional ‘horror’ techniques, allowing this film to stand firmly as a Gothic Romance, marking it as a somewhat unique text within the pantheon of modern screen horror. It is first and foremost a romance, one which becomes warped and doomed as it proceeds via the nature of its atmosphere and the dark pasts of its characters. It is a visually rich and utterly ravishing piece of cinema, a richness which should only prove more rewarding on repeat viewing. 4/5 

ParanormalParanormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (Dir: Gregory Plotkin)

 The Paranormal Activity franchise is one that I have actively supported since the first instalment came along and gave a kick start to the flailing found footage sub-genre of horror. While further instalments in the franchise have not been particularly well received on the critical spectrum, but I have found all of them to be rather affectingly diverting and frighteningly fun (with number 3 actually standing as my favourite of the franchise). Yet, however, there has always been a common issue with every instalment. While many of the episodes do enough to increase interest in the mythology of Toby the Demon, all ultimately have quite underwhelming endings as it simply leaves another loose end to be tied. Well, now, we have The Ghost Dimension, the film that promises to be the final chapter, revealing the activity in full bodied glory. Was it worth the wait and dedication? Unfortunately, not quite.

A new family becomes victim to the prophecy that looks to see the demon Toby come to full bodied life. Yet, this time, the family happen upon a camera which allows them to see the demonic presence on tape. Now they only have to find a way to stop it.

The Ghost Dimension sells itself on the notion that there is now a camera that allows the activity to be seen. While an intriguing idea, the actual execution leaves much to be desired. For starts, the camera comes very much out of nowhere, with no information given to us as to who designed it (considering it’s nowhere to be seen in any previous instalments). While this could be forgiven if the film provided some truly fresh and scary imagery with the gimmick, but sadly the cheap as chips budget aggressively shines through, presenting terrible CGI forms in amateurish 3-D.

That being said, there are moments that work. The cast of unknowns work a treat, with the child performance particularly proving effective. There are also some rather successful moments of creepiness, mostly through plays on perspective and creepy child performances. It does things very competently, as it seemingly builds to a big and intriguing climax set within the titular ‘Ghost Dimension’, yet when the film gets there, its over incredibly quickly. The film does not allow us to bask in this new and exciting realm, one thinks because of budget restrictions. It results in a film with a significant amount of build up with limited pay off in what is supposed to be the culmination of this franchise. Time wasted. 2/5 

Chappie-1The third movie can often been more difficult than the first. Having established his aesthetic well and truly in his first two features, Neill Blomkamp must have been treading carefully when envisioning his next film. With his second feature Elysium failing to match the heights of his stunning début District 9 (although, Elysium does have its merits), Blomkamp seems somewhat at odds in regards to what tone to strike with his third film. Initially touted as a comedy, Chappie, comes across as something struggling to both stand out from Blomkamp’s previous efforts and respect the aesthetic and formula he has set down for himself.

Set in the near future, the high crime rate in South Africa is lowered day by day through the use of a new Robotic Police Force, designed by young engineering genius, Deon (Dev Patel). Despite the huge success of his creations, Deon is determined to develop the next step in Robotics, a concious A.I. When he finally cracks it but is vetoed by his company’s CEO (Sigourney Weaver), Deon uploads his program into a de-commissioned Robot. However, when he is kidnapped by a pair of gangsters looking for a big score (Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yolandi), Deon’s creation falls into their hands. The A.I., named Chappie (Shalrto Copley), who has to learn like a child, soon picks up the ways of the gangster lifestyle, but trouble is further faced when a disgruntled co-worker of Deon’s (Hugh Jackman) discovers the existence of Chappie, and looks set to wipe him out. Chappie

Artificial Intelligence is well-trodden ground in Science Fiction, and is ground well worth exploring in an age where A.I technology is developing at such a fast rate. Blomkamp’s creation is something quite astonishing. His confidence with visual effects creates a character with a bright and fully formed personality, brought to life with child-like glee by Sharlto Copley in what they have described as the poor man’s motion capture (acted on set, then digitally re-created, rather than tracking the movements through the latest ping-pong suits). He works as an original character, very sympathetic and quite adorable, even when engaging in the gangster activity. He remains a naive, yet volatile character, but one we enjoy spending time with, knowingly drawing upon the charm of 80’s robot characters from the likes of Short Circuit and *batteries not included. 

The first half of Blomkamps’ third movie does well to both appear like a aesthetic continuation of his previous films as well as proving to be something different. The location is familiar, a dystopic South African locale, but the attention to character is refreshing, choosing to devote all the action to Chappie’s understanding of the world and his upbringing in a gangster environment. It is an interesting decision to have Chappie grow up in a very particular section of South African culture, namely the parent-ship of Die Antwoord.

?????????????????I don’t quite understand why the film is so painstakingly constructed as a star-vehicle for the South African Rap-Rave group, particularly when they’re not the best actors. Yolandi is the better of the pairing, as she is given the more affectionate role, but ultimately, giving a vast majority of the run-time to the pairing proves more detrimental to the film than it does its benefit, as the blurring between the real world version of themselves and this fictitious depiction proves far too distracting.

Where the film falters is in its final act, which is in fact what has happened in the previous two Blomkamp movies. Rather than stay on course to develop what could be called a comedy, Chappie descends into the gung-ho action that characterised the final acts of District 9 and Elysium. With Hugh Jackman unleashing his ED-209 rip-off, the film veers into Verhoven levels of violence which doesn’t sit too well with the good-natured sensibilities that have been attributed to Chappie. It sends the film down the wrong path, which is worsened by a rushed resolution which is far too ambitious and very clumsily thought out. The film has not finished dealing with one big scientific notion before divulging in to another, leaving the climax to feel unsure, all too convenient and just a little bit dumb.  Chappie-4.2

Chappie has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism, only holding 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. While it is drastically flawed come the final act, it is most certainly as good as Elysium, if not better, due to its more personal nature and wonderfully designed central character. Blomkamp now has Alien 5 n his sights, and I think it will be to his benefit to play in a sandbox which is not originally of his own design. It should allow him to break away from his now all too familiar structure and deliver something fresher, but most importantly, it should allow him to finally escape from his own shadow.

3/5- Chappie is capable of being touching and exciting, but also muddled and frustrating, resulting in another sub-par effort from Blomkamp, but not one which makes you give up hope for the South African film-maker.

 

X-Men-1The X-Men franchise is one that has been plagued by a great deal of misfortune since the first installment way back when in the year 2000. A lot of the issues it has experienced largely comes down to Fox Studio’s caring very little for franchise continuity, amounting in a franchise which looked to have lost its way through convoluted spin-off’s, rushed sequels, and poor character judgement. Much of the blame is put upon the third film of the franchise, the Brett Ratner directed The Last Stand. Butchering a beloved comic-book arc, the film seemed to signal a downturn in the franchise, leading to filmmakers taking very little consideration and care for the characters and comics they were adapting, something Bryan Singer was very careful with respecting in X-Men and the franchise high-point that was (and still remains) X-2. Yet, something seems to be changing in this franchise. The arrival of X-Men: First Class brought with it a new cast of engaging stars, a new sense of direction, and most importantly, a sense of fun. With Singer back in the fold taking on the reins for Days of Future Past, combining key components from his first two movies and First Class, it looked like we had an X-Men film to get excited about once again. And not only does it succeed in re-stalling our hopes, it has created what could be an incredibly bright new future for the franchise. And we only had to trudge through two Wolverine spin-offs to get there.

The future is a hostile environment. The Earth has been ravaged by a War led by robotic beings known as the Sentinels. Designed to exterminate mutants, the machines evolved to destroy any human capable of reproducing children with the mutant gene, leading to an apocalyptic wasteland as both sides fight for survival against the unstoppable machines. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), in a last attempt at ridding the world of the Sentinels, devises a plan to use Kitty Pride’s (Ellen Page) abilities to send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) conscious back in time to 1973, where in the body of his younger self, Wolverine can attempt reunite the young Charles (James McAvoy) and young Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) at a time when they couldn’t be further apart in order to put a stop to an event that will in turn end the war before it ever begins.X-Men-2

From very early on in Days of Future Past, you become aware that you are watching an X-Men film that genuinely FEELS like an X-Men film, a certain vibe that Singer only seems to be able to generate in this world, a sense that we are about to experience a film more akin to the first two installments. This is aided by a huge wave of nostalgia that comes from hearing John Ottman’s theme returning to the franchise for the first time since X-2,  as well as the presence of the original cast. The opening sequence kicks things off with aplomb, until getting bogged down in the important, but heavy-going, expositionary set-up to Wolverine’s time-travel escapades. But once we hit the 70’s, boy, do things get groovy.

The most successful aspect of Singer’s return to the X-fold is the tonality; this film is ridiculous, silly, and a hell of a lot of fun. Much of this comes to light once we hit the 70’s, with Singer clearly enjoying the opportunity to craft an effective period setting as well as evoking time-travel classics (namely The Terminator), whilst also reveling at the chance to work with the newer cast members of the First Class clan. Not only that, he also clearly enjoys establishing new characters, as the scenes involving Evan Peters’ Quicksilver prove to be the highlight of the film, through both visual creativity and the boundless energy generated through Peters fun performance. Where the film perhaps struggles is in generating a palpable sense of tension and threat to the characters we have an emotional stake in.

Days of Future Past ultimately acts as a reset button for the X-Men franchise, and as a result the film has a tendency to feel like simply a necessary step in the correction of the X-Men franchise, without actually having much conflict within itself. The film struggles to X-Men-3establish a clear antagonist, namely through Peter Dinklage’s Trask, the mind behind the Sentinels, who is given little in the way of motivation and characterization for him to appear all that villainous. Most of the villain duties seem to come down to Magneto yet again, but even he isn’t treated as all that villainous, his motivations are justified, all he does is act like a bit of prick for most of the run-time. This is somewhat of a distraction, and ultimately proves to be one of the film’s downfalls. Perhaps if more time had been devoted to the dystopian future, this would not have been too much of a problem, as within that time-line our heroes are fighting the threat of the Sentinels, who prove to be very intimidating but are only given a chance to display their destructive glory at the bookends of the film. It begs one to wonder, should a film have been made depicting the War before rushing in to a feature that aims to prevent it? The time-travel aspect of the movie does provide it with an ambitious spirit, but there is the sense that we could have been better eased in to it.

The film is also a very crowded affair, leading to a lot of performances from very talented actors getting lost in the shuffle, given very little to do in the proceedings.  Ultimately, the reason why certain characters are left on the side-lines is because they do not serve the story, leading to a more focused and stream-lined affair, and not a sprawling mess as some may have initially feared.. While the likes of Jennifer Lawrence look somewhat bored in a more physical than emotionally demanding role as Mystique, James McAvoy proves himself worthy of a role also inhabited by Patrick Stewart, by providing much of the pathos in the proceedings as a younger, darker Xavier. Jackman is very comfortable as Wolverine now that the role is practicallyX-Men-4 second nature to him, leaving McAvoy as the sole cast member who seems to be truly delving into a keen sense of the conflicts that wage inside the mind of Xavier, leading to some stand out scenes of dramatic outbursts.

Perhaps what is most impressive about this movie is its pacing. Rarely does the film slacken across its 130 minute time-line, efficiently building to a taut climax that wonderfully cuts back and forth from past to future. But the film’s greatest success has to be the confidence that it has restored in the X-Men franchise. At a time when many of us may have been suspecting that there wasn’t much gas left in the tank of the Uncanny Marvel Mutants, Days of Future Past has managed to open new doors for further stories and adventures for this franchises’ future, as well as firmly closing ones behind it. It may be a cluttered affair, but this is the best X-Men movie since the second, taking what worked well in First Class and combining it with the qualities of the first two to present an X-movie that feels fresh, fun, and exciting once again.

4/5– Crowded, yet also ambitious, fun, and exciting; Days of Future Past pulls the X-Men franchise out from its pit of despair and sets it back on the path as a superhero franchise to beat.

 

 

Snack Time: Review Round-Up!

Greetings readers! I do apologize for my lack of posting. It’s not because I haven’t been watching any films. That will never be the reason. It is always down to being too busy to commit enough time to writing up a review, what with starting back at University and finding myself already over-whelmed. But life finds a way, and I shall do much better to sort out my timing to deliver full reviews once more, but for now, to wet your appetites, here is a round-up of what I have caught most recently, and be sure to expect two full reviews coming very soon…

RushPosterRUSH

Ron Howard as a director is one many have often had a troubling relationship with. He is undoubtedly a talented film-maker, which he has proven many times in the likes of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. Yet, he also devotes his time to delivering painfully boring Dan Brown adaptations as well as churning out cringe-worthy comedies (The Dilemma). However, when ever the red-headed maestro sets his sights on a movie based on a true story, he hits gold every time. Following on from the sophisticated Frost/Nixon, Howard’s latest takes on another famous rivalry; Hunt/Lauda. Rush concerns itself with the rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) during the 1976 F1 Championship. And the results are positively exhilarating. Teamed with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire & Dredd) Howard has produced a technical marvel. The film brings F1 to life on the screen in ways you have never quite encountered before, through impossible angles and daring framings. Peter Morgan’s script, while struggling to escape from the bio-pic cliches (and throwing in one too many montages) balances the relationship between Hunt and Lauda particularly well, questioning each of their individual reasons as to why they would pursue such a dangerous and volatile profession, if never quite answering it in a satisfying manner. Hemsworth piles on the charm to make for a suitably hot-headed Hunt, while Bruhl walks away with the film as the calculated and somewhat cold Lauda. A well-oiled machine with plenty to offer under the hood. 4/5

About Time PosterABOUT TIME

Richard Curtis is one of the all-time great writers when it comes to considering the benchmarks in British Comedy. He has created many an iconic character, both on the small screen and the large, from the colourful characters in Blackadder to Four Weddings and a Funeral. When it comes to Curtis as a director, however, many of us (especially me) have a rather difficult relationship with him. A terrible self-editor, he never quite knows when enough is enough, resulting in painfully testing run-times. Love Actually suffered greatly from it, as did The Boat That Rocked (a film I much prefer to Love Actually, an opinion not held by many). Therefore, About Time was not a film I was hotly anticipating. That being said , I fell head over heels for the tale of Domhall Gleeson’s Tim, who discovers that the men in his family have the ability to travel back in time. Naturally, he uses this gift to try and get a girlfriend, in the form of the impossibly adorable Rachel McAdams. About Time is not a Rom-Com. Let’s get that straight. Sure, romance plays a rather significant part in the proceedings, but ultimately About Time is about familial relationships, namely that between a father and son. Yet, Curtis’ touching script touches upon a multitude of relationships, making this film relate-able to anyone who has been a son, a daughter, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, heck, just about everyone! It suffers once again from being over-cooked, and huge inconsistencies concerning the time-travel prove distracting, but the charming performances, lightness of touch and utterly human story paper over the cracks to deliver a film that is near-impossible not to love. 4/5

Prisoners PosterPRISONERS

Autumn releases do tend to hold many a fine surprise in terms of the quality of films that are deliveredwith Prisoners proving to be a truly outstanding piece of film-making and one of the more impressive features of the year thus far. It is a thoroughly bleak tale, concerning the investigation of two abducted young girls, as a Detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) struggles to get the truth, and one father (Hugh Jackman) takes matters into his own hands. The Roger Deakins shot film is beautiful yet hauntingly so, evoking desperation and depravity into every frame of Denis Villeneuve’s impressive first English-language film. Armed with a hugely talented cast that also includes Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo, the film is a piece of expertly paced genre fare, never letting your attention go for a second, despite its 150 minute run-time. If you have a good deal of knowledge concerning the knowledge, you’ll see through many a red herring and end up numerous steps ahead of the cast, but that is hard to care about when a genre film is this proficient and impressive. A unique beast, with powerful performances, particularly from Jackman who deserves an Oscar nomination for this as much as he did for Les Miserables earlier in the year. A dark tale into the underbelly of American suburbia. A film that will not leave mind in a hurry. 4/5  

Blue Jasmine PosterBLUE JASMINE

Woody Allen continues his trend of being an incredibly inconsistent director. Forget Allen being ‘on form’, he’s never on it enough for such a form to truly exist. Allen’s filmography of the last decade has gone hit-miss-hit-miss-hit-miss. His picture of 2011, Midnight In Paris, is perhaps the best he has been since his prime in the 1970’s (when even then his film’s were a mixed bunch). Last year saw the release of To Rome with Love, a self-indulgent magical realist portrait of the city and the numerous stories that take place within it. So, naturally, his next film had to hit the bullseye. And boy did it. The film tells the story of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a New york socialite who finds herself penniless after her sleazeball husband (Alec Baldwin) is found guilty of extortion. After an emotional and mental breakdown, she moves to San Francisco to stay with her sister (Sally Hawkins) in order to establish where exactly her life goes from here. So far, so Streetcar Named Desire, but the similarities end at the plot set up, as Allen’s script is very much its own beast, a cynical, bitterly hilarious and enlightening tale of sisters, love, and money. Always one to garner a star-studded cast, Allen’s film is led by a stunning and effortless performance from Cate Blanchett, who will surely be clearing up come awards season. She modulates through numerous emotions within one moment; a masterful piece of screen acting from a immensely talented actress. The rest of the cast play second fiddle but are charming in their own unique ways, Sally Hawkins particularly leaves an impression as the put-upon sister who is equally as lost in her own world as her suddenly penniless sister. Blue Jasmine is an example of quite how good Allen can be, as well as proving that he is brave enough not to sugarcoat a situation with a film that takes no prisoners and ends in, quite frankly, the only way it could. 5/5

How they rank:

1. Blue Jasmine
2. Prisoners
3. About Time
4. Rush

LesMis-1Les Miserables is a property that has seen many an incarnation since Victor Hugo first took his pen to page to deliver the epic tale of revolution, love, loss and hope in 19th Century France. With its vast array of incredibly detailed and layered characters set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, Hugo’s novel was instantly recognized as a classic for the ages, as history has gone on to prove. Many an adaptation of Les Miserables have been conceived over the years from numerous television series to two previous film incarnations, but I am sure everyone would agree that the most successful and popular adaptation has been in the form of Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s juggernaut of a Musical Stage production. The most successful and longest running West End production to date, the stage musical is undoubtedly one of the greatest experiences one can have at the West End, what with its large catalogue of beautiful and heartfelt songs that faithfully express Hugo’s prose in a different format. A film adaptation surely was inevitable. And after nearly 30 years, we finally have it, and it’s certainly an entirely different experience.

The tale of Les Miserables is a hard one to describe, spanning many years and featuring many characters and sub-plots.  At its core, it is the tale of one man; Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). A prisoner for 19 years, Valjean is released, but on a strict parole. After being touched by the mercy of a Priest, Valjean finds himself in the position in which to completely re-invent himself, complete with a new identity. However, he is forever pursued by the police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) who lives only to uphold the law that he has sworn allegiance to. Hiding in secret under a new alias, Valjean comes across the tuberculosis riddled Fantine (Anne Hathaway), an ex-factory worker of his who has been driven to a life of hardship and prostitution in order to pay for the care of her young daughter Cosette. He agrees to raise Cosette, whilst continually staying one step ahead of the ever-preying Javert. As the years go by, Cosette grows in to a beautiful young woman (Amanda Seyfried) and gains the heart of the young revolutionary student Marius (Eddie Redmayne). However, though this new love has only just begun, it is soon threatened by the imminent and inevitable threat of revolution.LesMis-2

The film, the play and the book deal with an incredibly epic scale, presenting a tale concerned with the strength of human spirit, the hardships one faces and the power of hope. There are some very intimate character tales, but placed against the larger canvas of the Revolution backdrop makes the tale a truly epic piece. And this sense of grandeur has not been lost in its big screen translation. If anything, the free camera and the wonderful production design inject the film with the grand sense it needs to differentiate itself from the confines of a stage. The film form benefits the material in many ways, and much has been made of the live-on-set singing done by the cast. And yes, it very much adds an extra layer to the visceral and gritty nature of Tom Hooper’s style, allowing the very talented cast to convey every emotion possibly and give it their all; the environment effects the performance so therefore the singing, creating the most grounded and innovative musical I’ve most certainly seen in years. But it is also in Hooper’s employment of a very intimate style of camerawork that benefits the material. Hooper uses close-ups to brilliant effect, very intimate, hand-held camerawork, thrusts us in to the moment with the respective character, whilst also allowing us to see the actor’s veins literally pop out of their necks as they give their all in their performances. This is certainly something you could never experience when watching a stage production; a new level of intimacy that perfectly fits the highly emotional story, making certain characters fates feel all that more devastating. The make-up and hair department have also down a tremendous job to give the gritty, decaying feel to some of the more poverty-riddled characters, grounding the film in a deeper and incredibly visceral reality.

Hooper has been as faithful as he possibly could to the original musical, omitting only one notable song (Dog Eat Dog) and re-ordering others to allow for a clearer and more emotionally driven narrative progression (I Dreamed A Dream has been placed in a position that makes much more sense in terms of the character development). It is a delight to hear your favourite songs done in such a unique way that it feels like you are hearing them for the first time again, and this is largely thanks to the performances of the films cast who, for the most part, turn in fantastic performances; the ensemble number One Day More, the bare-boned Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and the resounding finale are particular stand outs (more on THE stand out later).

LesMis-3The film rides on the very capable shoulders of Hugh Jackman, whose impressive and incredibly powerful performance and singing correctly paint Valjean as the strong and noble sort-of antihero that he is. He struggles on the particularly hard numbers, but carries the notes on through with utter commitment, crafting his most impressive performance to date. Russell Crowe was a pleasant surprise; his voice is very unconventional and not what you’d expect, but it contrasts effectively to Jackman’s more conventional musical prowess. Crowe I believe has the hardest character to play, and he fully understands the conflicted layers of Javert, and his voice is both authoritative and equally emotionally driven and, just simply, works. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Boham Carter have fun as the Thenardier’s, but are ultimately too jokey for the highly-realistic styling of the film. Baron Cohen threatens to send the film off its rails with his bizarre accent and general lampooning, but is thankfully not on the screen long enough to have too much of a damaging effect. Seyfried is delicate and sweet as Cosette, and Eddie Redmayne does very well for the most part as Marius. His singing is questionable at times, taking on the apparent inspiration of a certain Kermit the Frog. However, he delivers where it counts (Empty Chairs at Empty Tables). The relationship between Cosette and Marius is a hard one to swallow due to its spontaneity so the two young actors do struggle in that dynamic, but do still impress, if only because they make a good looking couple. It is Samantha Barks as Eponine, the third corner of this young love triangle, who makes a much grander impression with the much better role.

Now to the stand out song and performance of the movie, and they only last very briefly. Much has been made of Anne Hathaway’s brief performance as Fantine and her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream, what with a Golden Globe in the bag and a Oscar practically a certainty, and it is not hard to see why. Hathaway’s fragile and heart-wrenching performance is driven home by the angry and passionate rendition of the song that Les Miserables is arguably most famous for. She reclaims the song from the likes of Susan Boyle to give a version that is truly unique and all her own. It is also this scene that best demonstrates what such a stroke of genius it was to record the songs live, with authentic emotional and physical wains apparent on Hathaway’s tragically sad face, stirring the emotions in even the coldest of hearts. If Hathaway does end up walking away with the Bald Guy come the ceremony, it will certainly be a well deserved honour, as her performance LesMis-4creates an emotional benchmark for the rest of the film; a benchmark which it certainly struggles to, and never quite, reaches again.

My criticisms of the film, funnily enough, match the criticisms that I have of the stage musical itself. The second half, which is more devoted to spending time with the student revolutionaries is much less engaging then Valjean and Fantine’s tales which make up the majority of the superior first hour. A stage show also benefits from an intermission in which to stretch your legs, grab a drink or what have you; with a film, you aren’t given that luxury (unless you’re watching it in Alderney). As a result, the film feels like quite an exhausting task come the end of it, although you do feel you have accomplished something by managing to make it through to the end. Hooper has made choices that will not disappoint fans of the show, but that is at the cost of a lengthy running time that does test ones patience (and bladders). However, that does not stop his screen adaptation being as equally rousing and as stunning as the masterpiece of musical theatre from which it is based.

4/5- At times an exhausting journey to the finish line, but at the end of the day it’ll be worth it. Les Miserables is a suitably rousing, emotionally driven and passionately performed piece of musical cinema unlike anything you’ve quite seen before.