Tag Archive: Hugh Jackman


My Top 20 Films of 2017

Good Lord, has it been a year already!? Greetings fellow movie-goers, and welcome back to another re-cap of 2017 at the movies! I hope this post find you well and in the midst of excitement for the New Year and not too full from the Christmas period. Hopefully you have room to digest just one more ‘best of’ list before we see in 2018 (it’s good, but I would say that, it is a list of my personal preferences after all). 2017 has had its low points, but I am sure many will agree that this year in cinema was a fruitful one, providing us with a number of both great original and franchise hits that worked to surprise, enlighten and entertain. This year has been a particularly hard one to rank, so do keep that in mind as you look over this list of films (*insert lists are arbitrary argument here*), as I do love every single one of the movies that you are about to discover below! I hope you enjoyed your year at the cinema as much as I did and have kept up with my writing over at The Hollywood News and The Scruffy Nerf Herder.  Without further ado, let’s get into it. (All the films featured and considered for this list were released in UK cinemas and/or available on platforms between January 1st and December 31st 2017).

Honourable mentions 

Elle (Dir: Paul Verhoeven, SBS Distribution)
The Big Sick (Dir: Michael Showalter, Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)
Thor Ragnarok (Dir: Taika Waititi, Marvel Studios)
Mudbound (Dir: Dee Rees, Netflix)
Loving (Dir: Jeff Nichols, Focus Features)

20. War for the Planet of the Apes (Dir: Matt Reeves, 20th Century Fox)

Sure to be remembered as one of the finest blockbuster trilogies of this early century, let alone as one of the finest examples as to how to reboot a franchise, Matt Reeves’ trilogy closer matches the quality of its predecessors Rise and Dawn and then some to deliver a conclusion that is as emotionally satisfying as it is visually astounding. The achievements made by the visual effects department cannot be emphasised enough. The confidence of their application is nothing short of spectacular, with incredibly detailed close-ups of numerous apes often occupying the frame allowing you to bask in the pixelated glory of the motion capture techniques that have been put to use. The fact that you often forget you are watching a special effect is a testament to just how seamless the technology is here, led by a highly emotive performance by Andy Serkis as Ape leader Caesar. Reeves applies old school techniques of David Lean and John Ford to mount the cutting-edge techniques, delivering a story that is part Western, part POW flick and part biblical epic, amounting in an emotionally engaging and rousing blockbuster spectacle.

19. Good Time (Dir: Ben & Josh Safdie, A24)

If you ever find yourself in an argument over whether or not Robert Pattinson is a good actor (frankly, whoever is arguing against him clearly hasn’t seen enough of his films), make that person sit down in front of the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time. Largely taking place over the course of one night as Pattinson’s Connie attempts to make up for a bank heist gone wrong, Good Time is an exercise in escalation and desperation, as Connie goes from one situation to the next without giving much thought as to the consequences of his actions; he just wants to keep moving and make some money any way he can. The Safdie’s create a volatile and dangerous landscape across the streets of New York, aided by up-close and personal cinematography, a Tangerine Dream-esque score from Oneohtrix Point Never and a Pattinson performance which evokes the wide-eyed frantic-ness of a young Dog Day Afternoon-era Pacino (seriously, he’s that good). An unpredictable and wild ride that marks the Safdie brothers as a directing duo to look out for.

18. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dir: Rian Johnson, Lucasfilm)

The reaction  to The Last Jedi, Episode 8 of the Skywalker saga, has been nothing short of divisive. Those that were angered by the safe approach of The Force Awakens, seem equally (if not more so) irked by some of the unexpected directions Rian Johnson takes in this superior entry. It just goes to show that there is no pleasing some people when it comes to properties such as Star Wars. For me and many others, The Last Jedi has come to represent the type of Star Wars film that we have been waiting for since it was announced that more adventures in a galaxy far, far away were going to be made. Johnson plays with ideas of the mythology and expectations of character in surprising and bold ways, crafting the most thematically engaging Star Wars film to date. It is also probably the most cine-literate Star Wars film awe well, as I can’t think of any Star Wars film that would even bother referencing shots from Wings to Hitchcock and cues from The Last Goodbye as fluidly as this does. It is a franchise film which takes unexpected turns and valiant moves in changing the course, taking our expectations of the franchise and bending them in a manner which sets up a future for these characters that feels unpredictable, fresh and exciting.

17. David Lynch: The Art Life (Dir: Jon Nguyen, Soda Pictures)

Have I just included this documentary to talk about Twin Peaks? No, not entirely, but it is probably a good point in which to say that Twin Peaks: The Return is without a doubt the best thing I watched this year, but it won’t make this list as it was released episodically on television. It has been a good year for Lynch fans, what with the return of Peaks and this utterly captivating documentary. Lynch is notoriously allusive when it comes to providing meaning to his work, be it his films, TV shows, or his paintings. This documentary very much proceeds in this vein as it follows Lynch (having a cigarette at pretty much every opportunity) in his workshop creating paintings all the while divulging tales about his upbringing and early career, with the film and his recollections ending just before the release of Eraserhead. It is a unique visual memoir, dropping pieces of information willingly but never out-right stating what effect certain experiences have had on the man himself or his work: any associations you make are entirely your own. The Art Life is utterly fascinating and an essential for any Lynch fan that feels enlightening even though it maintains the enigma of the great man himself.

16. The Florida Project (Dir: Sean Baker, A24)

It was always going to be interesting to see what Sean Baker would follow up his dynamic debut Tangerine with, and he certainly has not disappointed with The Florida Project. The film follows six-year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives with her mother in the Magic Castle motel in Florida which rests just outside of the Walt Disney World Resort. The film largely follows Moonee’s point-of-view across one summer as her and her mother (Bria Vinaite) try to make ends meet in their pocket of American life. The Florida Project takes a a pastel-coloured look at an under-represented area of the American population, a life of struggle and poverty that still manages to be be a playground for fun and mischief when viewed through the eyes of a child. Largely shot on 35mm, Baker provides a unique and vibrant view of the world, one where harsh realities lay just on the outside of the frame, threatening to take over at any point but often kept at bay by the care-free attitude courtesy of the outstanding performances of the children at the centre of the film.

15. Jackie (Dir: Pablo Larrain, eOne Films/Wild Bunch)

There have been many images that have stayed with me throughout the year, and one that has been playing on my mind since January is that is of Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy getting drunk in the White House listening to ‘Camelot’ in the wake of her husband’s assassination. There are countless more images that I could list from this film alone that have stayed with me (the aerial shot from the ceiling during JFK’s funeral being chief amongst them), a testament to the searing effect that many of Larrain’s images invoke throughout the course of this examination of Jackie Kennedy, one of the most looked upon figures of the mid to late 20th Century. Portman’s pitch-perfect performance drives this intimate and often unsettling look at the defining moment of
Jackie’s life as she attempts to navigate the tumultuous aftermath of her husband’s assassination. It is a captivating, frightening, unforgettable and deeply intimate account of one individual’s battle with grief on the world stage for all to see.

14. A Ghost Story (Dir: David Lowery, A24)

A film in which its lead actor spends most of the time hidden behind a white sheet as he plays a ghost may sound absurd, and that is because it is. It is also quietly powerful, perplexing, meditative and bizarrely engrossing. Taking such a crude supernatural image and putting it front and centre of a film which explores themes of life, death and what lies beyond gives A Ghost Story  a sense of whimsy and humour that you may not expect alongside its art-house sensibilities. Shot in a ratio of 1.33:1, the film boxes in its subjects as we join Casey Affleck’s blanketed spectral form as he moves untethered through time, observing the coming’s and going’s of those who inhabit the house he once shared with his wife (Rooney Mara). Lowery shoots with a hazy poetic grace, allowing you to ruminate in the often beautiful imagery that he conjures, be it mist rolling over the neighbourhood or Rooney Mara eating a whole pie in one sitting. It is a strange and beautiful journey if you are willing to allow yourself to be open to its contemplative and quite literally spiritual journey.

13. Get Out (Dir: Jordan Peele, Universal Pictures)

One of the most profitable and critically praised films of the year, Jordan Peele’s Get Out has featured at the top spot of many lists, and for good reason. Boasting the most thematically rich screenplay of the year, Peele has crafted not just an exceptional genre movie but also a searing and bitingly prescient satire on the attitudes of white liberals in both America and beyond. Those familiar with Peele’s comedic background shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that he is a deft hand at satire, but they may be surprised to hear just how commanding he is as a filmmaker, crafting startlingly visuals that burn deep on the psyche, as well as drawing out exceedingly creepy thrills across the film’s tightly controlled run-time.  It is a ferocious directorial debut and a film which demands repeat viewings, be you looking out for more of its subtleties, techniques, thrills or simply looking for a film that both entertains and makes you stop and take a long hard look in the mirror.

12. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (Dir: Chris Smith, Vice/Netflix)

Jim Carrey is an actor who I am very fond of, having grown up with most of his big studio comedies as well as being a big fan of his more dramatic roles in the likes of The Truman Show and Man on the Moon. The latter film is the one that takes the focus of this documentary, charting Carrey’s method approach to his portrayal of comedian Andy Kaufman for Milos Foreman’s 1999 film. There has been many stories concerning Carrey’s bizarre level of commitment, and as it turns out, much of the behind-the-scenes experience was captured on film, presented for all to see in this warts-and-all documentary, inter-cut with a new interview featuring Carrey reflecting on the experience. Not only does the film give you full access to the often startlingly and down-right outrageous extremes Carrey went to on the set of Man on the Moon, but it also paints a very melancholic portrait of both Carrey himself and the figure of Kaufman. Carrey’s own testimony of the experience dovetails between humorous anecdotes and moments of very raw and touching segments of soul-bearing that are both emotional and illuminating. A must for any Carrey fan and those interested in the process of performing, with Jim & Andy proving to be a fascinating examination of both.

11. Moonlight (Dir: Barry Jenkins, A24)

It is a shame that Moonlight‘s Oscar-glory will always be associated with the now infamous envelope mix-up as it should not over-shadow the fact that this is the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBT film to win Best Picture. Not only is it one of the most significant films of recent history, it is also boasts one of the most finely tuned structures of the years’ following the character of Chiron over three periods of his life; as a small boy, a teenager and as a man. It offers the chance for three actors to contribute to this sprawling yet intimate narrative, and the work of Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes in their respective segments is nothing short of spellbinding. They are also supported by exceptional work from the likes of Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae and an Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali. It is a beautifully performed, poetically structured character study that also boasts gorgeous cinematography and the one of the most memorable posters of the past decade.

10. The Death of Stalin (Dir: Armando Iannucci, eOne Films)

Armando Iannucci has been responsible for some of the finest political satires of our time. From The Thick of It to In the Loop and his tenure on Veep, Iannucci has a knack for spotlighting the ridiculousness of bureaucracy and Western politics, all the while staying keenly aware of the harsh realities of our political systems. All of his talent for wit and satire is on full display in The Death of Stalin as Iannucci casts his eye to the past of the East to deliver a riotously funny and anarchic account of the events following the sudden death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 Soviet-era Russia. With a gallery of exceptional character actors  at his disposal including Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Rupert Friend, a scene-stealing Jason Isaacs and a never-better Simon Russell Beale, Iannucci displays the increasing madness as the Committee members all vie for a position of power in the wake of Stalin’s death.  It is rib-ticklingly funny but also never forgets that this regime was one built on intimidation, violence and persecution. Quite possibly Iannucci’s finest work to date.

9. Logan (Dir: James Mangold, 20th Century Fox)

Not many actors can go 17 years playing the same character, but that is the case when it comes to Hugh Jackman and the role of X-Men‘s Wolverine. After first ‘snikitting’ onto our screens with 2000’s X-Men, Jackman finally hangs up the claws with the brutal, bloody and great Logan. With director James Mangold by his side, Jackman makes his last outing his best with a comic-book movie deeply drenched in the roots of Western cinema, giving Wolverine his Unforgiven and going out on a sombre yet blood-splattered note. Standing very much apart from much of what has come before, Logan gives Jackman and Mangold the freedom to do all that they have wanted to do with this character, and that includes lashings of blood and the odd expletive here and there, crafting a genre film that is devoted more to character than it is blockbuster spectacle. They have ensured that they have left this character with no sense of regret or missed opportunity, putting their all into a tale of last gasp redemption that proves to be thrilling, heartfelt and shocking in equal measure. Not just the best Wolverine movie, not just the best X-Men movie, but one of the finest comic-book movies ever made. Who says the genre has run out of steam?

8. Baby Driver (Dir: Edgar Wright, TriStar Pictures) 

 ‘All you need is one killer track.’ Well, if you’re Baby Driver, you have about 20. With one of the best soundtracks of the year coursing through its veins, Baby Driver delivered on the promise of a fast-paced gloriously entertaining thrill-ride from one of the most energetic directors working today in the form of Edgar Wright. Cutting his action scenes to the beat of a number of toe-tapping numbers such as ‘Bellbottoms’, ‘Hocus Pocus’ and ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’, Baby Driver drifts its way on to its list on the sheer cool-ness of the film-making techniques that it employs. From its meticulous editing to the joy of seeing real tyres screech and squeal on the streets of Atlanta, Baby Driver 70’s-esque approach to action film-making, driven by Wright’s infectious behind-the-camera glee, helps gives Wright’s most successful film to date a unique energy that other films can only dream of matching. It is a ride I’ve taken numerous times this year and one which never fails to entertain!

7. Call Me By Your Name (Dir: Luca Guadagnino, Sony Pictures Classics)

Largely taking place over the course of one summer in 1983, Northern Italy, Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous tale of young love is a triumph of coming of age cinema. We follow Timothy Chalamet’s Elio who begins to fall for his father’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) student, the dashing and charming Oliver (Armie Hammer). Northern Italy cries out to be shot on 35mm, and Guadagnino, with his cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, make sure that every frame looks like the most sumptuous postcard you have ever seen, a sun-drenched canvas for which this 17-year old’s sexual awakening can take place. Call Me By Your Name is an incredibly sensual experience, taking pleasure in everything from touch to taste to the human body, be it in the flesh or ancient sculptures. It is intellectual without being pretentious, lyrical and gorgeous to bathe in, beautifully scored and performed by Chalamet and Hammer, while Sthulbarg’s character makes a strong case for being the most forward thinking parent in cinematic history. Call Me By Your Name is a pleasure to get lost in, delivering a story of passionate summer love that we can all relate to in one way or another.

6. God’s Own Country (Dir: Francis Lee, Picturehouse Entertainment)

2017 has proven to be quite the year for queer cinema thanks to the likes of Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name and Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. All three have presented stories that are to be cherished in their own way, with God’s Own Country proving to be (at least for me) the most emotional, the bravest and most relate-able of the three. Set in the hills of Yorkshire, God’s Own Country follows twenty-something Johnny (Josh O’Connor) who works and lives on his family farm, spending most of his downtime engaging in random sexual encounters and getting drunk his local pub. When Johnny’s father hires a new farmhand in the form of Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), the two soon form a relationship that finally gives Johnny something in his life that gives him meaning and something to truly hold on to and rely upon. O’Connor and Secareanu give two of the most achingly beautiful performances that I have seen put to screen, concocting palpable chemistry and forging an endearing love story that you crave to see end happily. A beautiful piece of home-grown cinema that stays with you long after you’ve seen it.

5. Manchester by the Sea (Dir: Kenneth Lonergan, Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)

No one film in memory has quite captured the stages of grief in as affecting, heart-breaking, or as human a fashion as Kenneth Lonergan has in his strikingly raw drama Manchester by the Sea. When Casey Affleck’s handyman is brought back home to Manchester, Massachusetts in the wake of his brother’s death, he is forced to address not only the notion of having to care for his brother’s son (a brilliant Lucas Hegdes), but also the terrible tragedy which forced him to leave home in the first place. Lonergan has a knack for writing dialogue that feels natural and believable, crafting situations which are often alleviated with moments of wit or deepened by awkward encounters and revelations that are truly devastating. All the performances deliver Lonergan’s words in an effortless fashion marking Manchester by the Sea as one of the most elegant, melancholic, touching and surprisingly funny dramas of the year.

4. Raw (Dir: Julia Ducournau, Wild Bunch/Focus World)

Easily the most fun I’ve had with an audience in a cinema this year, Raw elicited such an incredibly colourful response from the crowd that I urge you to see it with as many people as you can possibly muster. People will gasp! People with laugh! People may well gag, all as a result of watching the most ferociously original coming-of-age film of the year. Raw follows young life-long vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) as she begins her new life at University. After a hazing ritual forces her to eat meat, Justine soon quickly develops a taste not just for raw meat but for human flesh! Raw‘s absurd premise is all in aid of a devilishly clever allegory on everything from blossoming womanhood, to sexual curiosity to the pressures of academic study and parental expectation, with all of it being conducted with a glint of knowing mischief throughout the increasingly grisly proceedings. Some of the body horror elements may prove a little too much for some (some of the truly testing scenes involve the relatively mundane act of scratching a rash), but if you can stomach it you are in for a treat. Marillier is astoundingly game as the lead with Ducournau’s sure-handed direction leading her through the increasingly gruesome and extreme situations with confidence and bravery. A wickedly fun film, if you’re brave enough to take a bite.

3. Paddington 2 (Dir: Paul King, StudioCanal)

While Paddington 2 may not seem as important a film as some of the other’s listed above, it perhaps offers the greatest service of all – it provides an adventure of unpretentious, un-cynical and incredibly heartwarming fun, that makes you forget about all your worries for at least a couple of hours. If you thought the first Paddington film was near-perfect, you won’t have any complaints about this sequel which takes everything that worked so well the first time around and plays them to the tune of a new engaging adventure for Michael Bond’s marmalade loving Peruvian bear. Utterly charming without being sickly sweet, with visual inventiveness that gives the character the finesse of the finest silent movie stars, Paddington 2 is a celebration of just how much joy a piece of film-making can give to an audience of all ages, proving to be very funny, often stunning to look at and heartfelt to the cuddly extreme. If the ending doesn’t have you wiping away at least a little bit of moisture from your eyes then I’m not sure I can trust you. A pure unbridled delight from start to finish.

2. La La Land (Dir: Damien Chazelle, Summit Entertainment)

The film that I have perhaps had to defend my opinion of the most this year (just let me have it guys), La La Land suffered from the annual case of ‘awards-favourite backlash’ that seems to befall at least one film a year as a result of awards-season hype. For me, every time I have returned to La La Land expecting the air to sputter out of the balloon I have only loved it more and more. An affectionate letter to musicals and a vast array of cinema from both Hollywood and European cinema, La La Land is crowd-pleaser that is technically and visually dazzling with all involved coming together to make something with love, care and passion. Its musical numbers have been playing on my mind all year, its colour palette a constant feast for the eyes, and the performances always coming across as palpable, charming and affecting. La La Land also isn’t all tap-dancing and toothy smiles, as an air of melancholy runs through the proceedings, giving this musical more weight than most modern musicals, giving this example of the genre a contemporary twist all the while indulging in the techniques of the old school. La La Land never fails to put a spring in my step or a smile on my face and for that reason alone I adore it!

1. Dunkirk (Dir: Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros.)

My number one spot goes to the film which I found to be the most immersive experience of the year: Christoper Nolan’s Dunkirk. Not only is Nolan’s latest a technical marvel, but it manages to breathe a sense of vitality into one of film-making’s oldest and most tried and tested genres; the War epic. With a daring structure that plays with time and perspective on land, in the air and on the sea, Dunkirk had me gripped from the first rattling gunshot. Witnessing Nolan’s epic in I-MAX was a soul-shaking experience with the intense sound design thrusting you into the middle of the action, alerting your senses and doing everything it can to make the experience feel genuine and terrifying. My jaw dropped as spitfires roared through the sky, my heart was in my throat at every attempt to leave the beach and my nerves were shredded at every hairy moment on the open water. There is a level of authenticity to the proceedings that has an undeniable impact, with the audacious score and narrative structure allowing the film to feel like a sensory experiment, testing the limits of the film form to dramatise one of the most tentative events of World War Two. Dunkirk is Nolan’s finest work to date,  a director working at the top of his craft to deliver a purely cinematic experience that is quite simply a triumph.

So there you have it, another year over and a new line of films to enjoy for years to come. I managed to hit a personal best by seeing 100 of 2017’s releases, so if you didn’t see your favourite of the year anywhere in this list (or want to tell me what I missed and should’ve seen instead of Geostorm), you can check out my full ranking of the 100 films I saw by clicking here. As always, I will leave you with a super-cut of this year’s releases, courtesy once again of Nikita Malko. May 2018 bring you all you wish for, both on the screen and off. See you at the movies!

 

 

 

 

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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. 

 

 

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.