Two days, two cities, two very different films.
147. Les Miserables (A)
Tom Hooper's followup to The King's Speech
has proved critically divisive (though audiences seem to approve so far), for a variety of reasons. To an extent, the knives have been out for him since he had the temerity to beat David Fincher in 2010; the musical genre itself has detractors (and this one in particular); and Hooper makes some bold stylistic choices that will understandably attract supporters and critics. I think the style choices work, emphasizing the confined circumstances the characters always find themselves in (despite Les Miserables
generally being thought of as an epic, it's really only epic in toto, rather than scene-to-scene).
Among the actors, Jackman, Hathaway, Barks, and Redmayne are the top tier (as well a superb cameo by the original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson). I also thought Seyfried was quite good, in a part that is rather thankless (the actress who originated her jokingly described her as "the most boring soprano ever in an 80s musical"). Baron Cohen is, weirdly, doing a French accent despite everyone else doing English ones. Crowe isn't a great singer, but he serves well enough, I think. The immediacy of the live-singing really works, and there are a number of changes made that on the whole work well (as well as reincorporating various parts of the novel that weren't in the musical); there's one addition at the end that works wonders.
I saw this in Sydney, Cape Breton, on Christmas Day with my cousin Maggie, who had no knowledge of either the musical or the book, and she also loved it. It has flaws as a film, but as populist entertainment to invoke big emotions, it's a huge success, and I loved it.
148. Django Unchained (A)
The following day, after driving home to Charlottetown (which took about seven hours) to attend a family Boxing Day event, I went to the late showing of Tarantino's latest. Tarantino's filmography might be broken down into tree parts: the 1990s crime films (Reservoir Dogs
, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown), the early 2000s era of 1970s cinema homages (Kill Bill
1 & 2, Death Proof
), and now the historical epics (which also have homage elements, of course). This is another historical revenge fantasy (albeit without the heavy historical revisionist elements; perhaps we'll get a sequel where Django takes down Nathan Bedford Forrest).
The cast is uniformly strong, beginning with Christoph Waltz, who once again shows his effortless command of Tarantino's language (whilst playing a character the audience doesn't have to feel conflicted about liking). Jamie Foxx, in the title role, is much more subdued than most of the other actors (he's supposed to be the man of few words), but he's strong, and sells all the key moments. As the main bad guys, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson both deliver the goods. The latter delivers on one of my main hopes for the film, that Tarantino could get something new out of Jackson, who has been phoning it in for years; count on Quentin, I guess, since it was his Pulp Fiction
that established his persona to begin with. Kerry Washington is fine, but the role is rather underwritten for the main female in a Tarantino film.
Structurally the movie is a bit undisciplined (and I imagine there's been stuff cut out; Amber and Russ Tamblyn appear in the opening scenes in the background, without any dialogue), and there's a moment that feels like the climax, but isn't (though I can see the story reason why). Nonetheless, it's a lovely canvas, and Tarantino's music choices are as good as ever (Jim Croce's "I Got A Name" being my favourite).
Cinema: 53 (+2)
Home Video: 82