Sunday, 3 November 2013

Les Misérables

This is often called the Glums by those that appear in this on the stage, it’s known by a whole load of other names by those who see it. It was a film that I came to with some trepidation I must admit. I have never been a fan of modern musicals, by which I mean ones written since the 1970s. So I was braced for not a great evening and well it may be damning with faint praise but it was better than I expected. It wasn’t a massive calamitous disaster, just not that great.

I did not expect the film to be 90% singing, had I been living in a cave? Anyway I found a lot of the singing, the music and the lyrics to be awful. I found myself waiting for the songs to end and for the story to progress, too much introspection. There were high points; I Dreamed A Dream and the songs about the barricades were stirring. Hugh Jackman did well carrying the film and Anne Hathaway did okay as well.

The production design was fantastic, all the sets inside and out of Paris and Montreuil had been lovingly built, as well as the ship being pulled in by the convicts at the beginning. I found that the story was quite saggy throughout and wasn’t helped by the continual differing version of the same song over and over again. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter annoyed me intensely; I never understood why he sang in a French accent when every one else sang in an English one, even Russell Crowe (ish).

I was expecting truly dreadful, it wasn’t as quite as bad as that.


I had been warned that the first ten minutes of this film would be harrowing and heart wrenching. They were not wrong on Twitter, we are presented with the story of Carl and Ellie as they fall in love and plan for their adventure to Paradise Falls in South America. This is inspired by the derring dos of the pilot of an airship that they see in a newsreel. We see them grow older and we see time take its toll, Carl makes a promise to Ellie that they will make it there.

The story then is about the fulfilment of this promise. At the age of 78 Carl attaches thousands of helium balloons making the house float. He steers to house south on the way to Paradise Falls. He is aided somewhat in this by Russell, a scout who needs his helping the elderly badge so that he can become a senior scout.

The film and the story are pretty well executed as most Pixar films are. I did find that some of the lessons learnt by the characters may have been similar to those in Toy Story. They learnt how to adapt to change and how these changes necessitate a change in perspective. There are also the themes of ageing and finding purpose in life on evidence here as well.

The film drops in a few references to Star Wars, the Wizard of Oz and King Kong here and there. It features a pack of talking dogs and the vocal talents of Ed Asner and Christopher Plummer.

It all ends up being about how friends are perennially more important than things and possessions, so true.

Saturday, 19 October 2013


A compelling and, at times, exhilarating film about the eponymous Grigris and his life in Chad. Despite a major physical disability he dances in a night club to the delight of everyone there. They see him dance in a graceful, fluid and energetic fashion that takes the breath away. He especially gains the attention of Mimi; a woman of negotiable affection.

He earns money from his dancing, as he does from a number of other jobs and activities he takes part in. He helps his mother to distribute washed clothes around the town and he helps his step-father in his tailor’s shop where Grigris takes photos in the studio in the back. It’s here that he first speaks to Mimi, as it turns out that she’s an aspiring model. Their relationship blossoms from there, whilst suffering a few ups and downs. His step-father is taken ill however, and this leads Grigris on a path to make large amounts as health needs to be paid for.

Within all this the theme of loyalty is explored plentifully in the film. This leads Grigris to work out how all of these priorities maybe contradict each other. At times in doing the right thing by someone he ends up doing the wrong thing by someone else. This is exacerbated by Grigris becoming involved in petrol smuggling which has of course potentially more serious effects, and if you piss these people off they generally stay pissed off.

Mimi’s character is very interesting as well. In working as a prostitute she does need to have good customer service skills and be welcoming to people. The film however ably explores the vulnerability of her situation and the potential dangers that she has to expose herself to. In effect her safety is only really guaranteed by the attitude and the behaviour of her clients. It’s telling that she looks like a different person when she’s working and when she’s not, as if there are two different persons.

The film does slip into some twee moments sometimes, but that maybe the relative experience of the actors used in different scenes. There are a number of scenes in a Chadian village and I got the impression that the characters there were portrayed by amateur actors. It seems to be a common theme in films these days but there is the difference between city life and rural life that seems to be becoming more pronounced these days.

Friday, 18 October 2013

A Long and Happy Life Долгая счастливая жизнь

This is the story of Sasha who, despite his own initial intentions, fights the local landowners when they try and liquidate the farm he runs in Russia. They offer him compensation and this make his girlfriend, Anna, very happy as she knows now that they can get an apartment together in the city. His co-workers though decided otherwise and when Sasha puts the offer to them they tell him in no uncertain terms that they will fight to stay and farm the land. Even with compensation they won’t have the means to make a living. Sasha then risks his future plans and relationship in confirming his solidarity with them.

We are presented with a few dichotomies here in the film. It’s about how the world of modern offices, dyed blonde hair and Hyundai cars these days come up against the world of old, wooden agricultural buildings, manual land management (i.e. non mechanised) and basically a hand to mouth existence. In a way it’s concerned with a theme of how the world has modernised in places and how it hasn’t in others. There is the recognition as well that some people do not want to take part in Westernisation and are happy with their life as it is without relative progress.

I like the way in the film that the actions are really allowed to speak for themselves and that we are shown and told as well. It is made as well in a manner not dissimilar to cinéma verité, or I suppose Kino-Pravda as it’s a Russian film. I’m sure that on many occasions the actors have improvised and have been given an idea of where they need to get to with their dialogue. There are some delicious scenes when at one point the farmers are telling Sasha that they will refuse to leave and are showing a complete sense of assertiveness in not being afraid at all of contradicting him. It doesn’t seem long after that though that they’re calling him the master, and insisting that he goes to the head of the queue in the shop. It’s a film that’s rough round the edges in the production and the acting, but it’s none the worse for that.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

So this is the twelfth Star Trek film, but it’s also worth pointing out that it is the second of this particular series. As with the first film, or the eleventh, characters reappear and are reimagined. For instance Carol Marcus appears in this story, this time with an English accent, maybe that’s due to Vulcan being destroyed, but of course without the knowledge of what she and Kirk got up to in a different timeline. I’m sure Spock would not tell them.

This film is concerned, mainly, with a man hunt for the criminal John Harrison. He destroys a Starfleet facility in London and eventually heads off across the galaxy to the Klingon homeworld, which I always think sounds like a DIY store. Captain Kirk, after being demoted and then reinstated, is sent after him with the orders to kill Harrison.

There is as well the ever burgeoning relationship between Kirk and Spock. In the original series it took decades for Spock to work out that to become a rounded individual that it’s useful to be in touch with your emotional self, even if you’re half Vulcan and half human. In these films it seems to have taken no time at all. Kirk’s character development seems to involve him discovering that a sense of duty is useful if you want to be a good Starship captain.

Peppered throughout the film are a number of in jokes, who knows what Section 31 is, who knew where Kronos was before it was explained in the script, who indeed knew who Carol Marcus is, what’s with the Motion Picture uniforms? To be honest though the whole film is one long in joke about the Star Trek series, however well-made it is. The only film I have ever seen, whilst being so aware of in jokes was the 2009 Star Trek film. Don’t get me wrong this doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

The context that needs to be taken into consideration is that of when the film was made. The film references events of terror that are happening today. We see attacks on cities in retaliation for previous events. We also see a regime willing to change itself root and branch in a reaction to these events. It seems that regimes are often willing to sacrifice the innocent to reach their aims.

The film is as thrilling, funny, well made and well written as the last one. Alongside the development of Kirk and Spock’s characters it’s encouraging to see how Scotty, Chekhov, Sulu and Uhura are being developed as well.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Cloud Atlas

I shall forever associate Cloud Atlas with three other books I read at the time; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, On Beauty by Zadie Smith and Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. All of these novels take different approaches to character and narrative. David Mitchell in Cloud Atlas takes the more complicated route, in that there are six interlocking stories, with six narrators that fuse together to make one narrative and eventually one story. The stories unfold chronologically rather beautifully, and if you know nothing of the book there are glorious surprises that appear from page to page.

The film of Cloud Atlas does not share the same structure. It takes the six stories and generally moves around in time more. I suppose this is for storytelling and structural reasons. The stories and time periods are introduced and then throughout the film the stories and characters develop until their conclusions. In a way this does enable the links between the stories to become easier to identify which is inevitable really seeing as the different amounts of time we invest in novels and films. It does have the advantage as well of not ending up like the Yellow Rolls Royce as well.

We see from pretty much early on that there is this theme of reincarnation in the film. The actors are reincarnated throughout the stories as well. What is clever though in the use of actors is how they are deployed as heroes and villains. Except that is for Hugh Grant, throughout time in this film, he plays horrible people; generally he’s the baddie in history. I don’t know how significant this is but if you were to plot Tom Hanks’s characters relative goodness, on a graph, it would be up and down through history. The downside of actors playing different characters of differing nationalities is that there are some curious facial prostheses on display in the film, and some questionable accents attempted as well. This is a shame because this takes attention away from the story and in once instance from a dramatic conclusion.

There is however good use of music in the film. The name Cloud Atlas comes from one of the characters writing the Cloud Atlas Sextet which permeates throughout the film and the stories, binding it together. It has been said that this novel was unfilmable because of the complexity of the novel. I at the very least admired parts of the film; some of the sentiments about the nature of the individual and the beautiful escape of the residents from the old peoples home for instance. The film doesn’t besmirch the novel either, but it could have been better.