New This Week
Most of the negative reviews of Tom Hooper’s film of the Alain Bloublil – Claude-Michel Schonberg – Herbert Kretzmer musical version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables were from people who either don’t like musicals or don’t like this particular musical. I love musicals, but all too often film versions of Broadway treasures leave something to be desired. Such is not the case with this film, which I found to be better, a lot better than the stage version.
On stage, the spectacle of Les Mis tended to overpower the story, but Hooper pulls the audience into the film with a myriad of close-ups that provide an intimacy that was impossible on stage. He and the screenwriters have also restructured the story somewhat, providing more Victor Hugo than was contained in the stage version.
The performances are all splendid with Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway’s Fantine, Eddie Redmayne’s Marius, Samantha Barks’ Eponine and Aaron Tveit’s Enjolros coming off best. Even so, Russell Crowe as Javert and Amanda Seyfired as Cosette are better than some of the reviews would have you believe.
The film deserved its three Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Hathaway); Makeup and Hairstyling and Sound Mixing as well as a few it didn’t win including Best Picture..
Les Misérables is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Another early awards favorite at the end of 2012 that came up short was Zero Dark Thirty which ran afoul of some powerful U.S. senators who mistakenly believed the film was pushing a false agenda that torture led to the finding of Osama bin Laden. The negative publicity limited the film to five Oscar nominations, of which it only won one, a shared award for Sound Editing with Skyfall.
Although the film makes no overt statement that torture helped find bin Laden, the first third of the film focuses on the systematic torture of a prisoner by a sadistic CIA interrogator. The film actually makes it clear that only when the prisoner is treated humanely does he give up information. The second third of the film focuses on the long hunt for bin Laden and the last third on the Navy S.E.A.L. raid that culminates in his killing.
Jessica Chastain earned an Oscar nomination for her difficult portrayal of obsessed agent Maya, but the character of necessity has no back story and nowhere to go once her mission is accomplished making it difficult for Oscar voters to really about her. Despite her early front-runner status, the actress really had no chance of winning.
Zero Dark Thirty is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Surprisingly good, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of three films in a trilogy from the director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Surprisingly, because The Hobbit unlike JRR Tolkan’s later work, which was published in three volumes, was not. It was, in fact, a book written by Tolkien for his children, that he was persuaded to publish in 1936. The book became a worldwide sensation and the epic Lord of the Rings was written as a sequel.
The Hobbit is simple and uncomplicated and the idea of it being stretched out over three almost three hour-long movies seemed way too much, but Jackson and his screenwriters have done an excellent job of fleshing out the characters such that time spent in their company seems to fly by. There are excellent performances by Martin Freeman as the younger Bilbo Baggins; Richard Armitage as the dwarf king and Ian McKellen who returns as Gandalf the Grey. The supporting cast includes cameos by Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis reprising their earlier roles and Benedict Cumberbatch and Lee Pace whose roles will be expanded in the coming sequels. It doesn’t at all seem like a “been there, done that” project as I had feared.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
An emotional tour-de-force, Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone is about two damaged people who find each other and overcome their emotional handicaps, as well as their physical pain, together.
Marion Cotillard is, as just about everyone in the world must know by now, an orca trainer who loses both legs below the knee in a freak accident. She goes through a period in which she loses all interest in life, but once she rebounds she does so without fuss, adapting to her prosthetic legs quickly. This is not your typical movie about disabilities.
Matthias Schoenaerts is a Belgian who relocates to Antibes with his five year-old son after his ex-wife goes to jail for drug smuggling. He meets Cotillard before her accident in the bar where he has a temporary job as a bouncer. He later works as night guard in a store and earns extra money as a street-fighter while helping with her recovery. Armand Verdure is excellent as his young son with problems of his own.
Cotillard’s character is obviously in love Schoenaerts, but he sees her only as a friend with benefits until a near-tragedy in his own life makes him realize he loves her, too. Cotillard’s failure to secure an Oscar nomination for her seminal performance was one of the awards year’s most outrageous snubs.
Rust and Bone is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Lorraine Levy’s The Other Son is another excellent French film, albeit one that takes place in Israel.
A routine blood test reveals that the soon to be 18 year-old son of an important Israeli military official and his wife is not their son. Born in Haifa during the Gulf War, they learn he was switched at birth with the child of a Palestinian couple. While these kinds of stories are usually fodder for Hallmark and Lifetime TV movies, the film avoids many of the clichés of the genre due to the unique clash of cultures that the situation provides.
Performances are excellent across the board, with standout work from all seven major players – Emmanuelle Devos and Pascal Elbé as the Jewish parents; Areen Omari and Khalifa Notour as the Palestinian parents; Jules Sitruk and Mehdi Debhi as the boys switched at birth and Mahmoud Shalaby as the older brother of the Palestinian.
The Other Son is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
New releases this week include Lincoln and A Royal Affair.