29 Jan 2013



It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good partner must be available to watch musicals.
And such was my case when my lady asked me to go on a date with her to the Roxy (The old movie theatre that Peter Jackson did up). She loves Les Mis and wanted to share it with me. So of course I agreed.
She also asked me to blog about the film objectively. While she loves the musical, she wanted to know my thoughts as someone that isn’t going into it as a massive fan. I was hesitant because I find musicals jarring, and don’t generally like  the songs but I thought I would give it a go.
SPOILER ALERT
Now I understand that people that want to see this film will already know the story but however I am obliged to alert you.
So a musical synopsis. Oh by the way I think I have invented a drinking game. Get some booze and every time you read Jean Valjean take a drink. It’s madness!
It is France in the early part of the 19th century and Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman)has been granted parole at the end of a 19 year sentence after stealing a loaf of bread for his staving sister. Before he gets his parole he is confronted by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who hates criminals and does not believe in rehabilitation. Javert assures Jean Valjean that they will meet again.  
Finally free of his chains Jean Valjean starts his life anew. But society rejects Jean Valjean, he can’t even sleep in a stable. So after months or even years of abuse and neglect when a kindly priest takes him in, Jean Valjean steals a fortune in silver from his benefactor.  The local militia/ constabulary find Jean Valjean, beat him and drag him back to the preist. To everyone’s surprise the priest tells the constables that he gave Jean Valjean the silver as a gift and to set him free.  Confronted by this act of saintly compassion and forgiveness Jean Valjean comes to terms that he has lost track of his own humanity and resolves to start afresh, a better man to save his own soul. He discards his old identity and starts anew. However by doing so Jean Valjean breaks his parole and becomes a fugitive.
Several years later we find Jean Valjean as the mayor of a town which prospers under his guidance. He is a man of means that owns and operates several local businesses.  Life is good until the new police inspector arrives and it is Javert. Jean Valjean panics but Javert does not fully recognize Jean Valjean in his guise as mayor. 
Meanwhile in a factory owned by Jean Valjean, a young woman called Fontaine (the lovely Anne Hathaway) is harassed, by the factory foreman(who can blames him!) , and disliked by the other workers.  (I could not ascertain why they disliked her, it could be that they were fans of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman?)  One of the workers finds out that Fontaine has a daughter who is being cared for at an inn and narks to the foreman that Fontaine could be a woman of ‘low character’.  The foreman suggests that a unmarried woman with a child must be easy to Fontaine and gets a well-deserved slap to the mouth. But then the Foreman throws Fontiane out into the street. 
Jean Valjean does not intercede because he is distracted by his confrontation with his past. While he and Javert are walking they come across a man who is trapped under his cart. Jean Valjean instantly leaps to his rescue and lifts the cart off the man enough for him to be rescued. But in revealing his superpowers, (sorry wrong film), Javert  thinks he recognizes the mayor as Jean Valjean. Javert knows that Jean Valjean broke his parole and has been seeking him ever since!
Dun dun dunnnnn
Back to Fontaine. On the streets and with no opportunity for work she sells her possessions, her hair, her teeth, and finally her body in order to support her daughter Cosette.  Fontiane falls afoul of  Javert, but as Fontaine is about to be taken away Jean Valjean appears and hearing that he might responsible for her plight takes her to hospital in front of a suspicious Javert.
Javert writes to his superiors accusing Jean Valjean of being Jean Valjean! (I think he had a fake name, but seemed to be just known as mayor?)   But is horrified when he learns that the Paris authorities have captured Jean Valjean. He immediately reveals his actions to Jean Valjean, apologizes and demands that as mayor Jean Valjean sacks him. Jean Valjean refuses to and lets Javert leave.
But Jean Valjean has a conflict of conscience. This case of mistaken identity frees him to live out his life free from suspicion and fear of capture. But can he let a stranger be punished for his crimes! Jean Valjean confesses to the court that he is Jean Valjean! But as a gentleman the courts ignore him and convict the other man as he is poor and Jean Valjean is rich.
Javert on the other hand believes Jean Valjeans confession, and confronts him in the hospital. Jean Valjean flees after promising to adopt Fontaines daughter Cosette. Javert is thwarted again.
“JEAN VALJEAN!” Javert screams into the night waving his fist in rage. (he didn’t but that would have been cool)
Jean Valjean finds Cosette in the care of  Mr. and Mrs Thénardier, a couple of thieving nasty’s (played by Sacha baron Cohen and  Helena Bonhama carter). Jean Valjean pays them off and takes Cosette away. Javert appears but too late! “JEAN VALJEAN!” Javert screams into the night waving his fist in rage.
Please turn the record over now.
So years later and Cosette (Amanda Seyfreid) is a beautiful young woman in Paris.  While in the street she falls in love at first sight with Marius a handsome but dimwitted ginger student, who belongs to a group of second year university students who after reading half of Voltaire who are going to revolt against the corrupt state.  Marius asks his friend Eponine (who is the daughter of the the Thénardiers) to find Cosette. She agrees even though she is in love with Marius. 
Meanwhile across Paris Jean Valjean and Cosette are accosted by the Thénardiers again. Before blood is spilt (and I would put a fiver on Hugh over Sacha) Javert appears and arrests Thénardiers and their gang. Jean Valjean and Cosette take the opportunity to slip away.
Eponine leads Marius to Cosette and they express their love. And after Marius runs off to join his revolutionary brothers, Eponine remains to pine for Marius. Suddenly Thénardiers and his gang of hoodlums appear to burgle Jean Valjean. Out of loyalty to Marius Eponine raises the alarm, gets a slap for her trouble but saves the day. Jean Valjean fearing that it is Javert  is determined to leave the city and flee to Britain, tearing Cosette away from her new found love.
Merde!
Marius finding that Cosette has left joins the stupid students and their deluded revolution. Jean Valjean discovers through the art of a young rap scallion called Gavroche that Marius loves Cosette. 
The revolutionaries take the opportunity to hijack the hearse of a popular general from his friends, family and troops for their political gain and hide behind a barricade. Javert and Jean Valjean, Eponine (dressed as a boy) and Gavroche all sneak in amongst the revolutionaries. The boy Gavroche recognises inspector Javert and the revolutionaries give Javert to Jean Valjean to kill. But Jean Valjean will not. He recognizes that Javert is just a policeman doing his job and lets him go.  The revolutionaries discover that like most second year social science students that they are completely disconnected from reality and the people don’t want to join their revolution they just want to be left alone.  The army arrive offer the young men an opportunity to surrender, but they would rather die as heroes than live as idiots. So they die as idiots. But Jean Valjean rescues  marius Shawshank styles through a sewer, and there is a final confrontation between Jean Valjean and javert. Javert finds that he cannot kill the man that has spared him twice, so a professional to the end he jumps off a bridge.  
Jean Valjean confesses the full story to Marius, gives him his blessing to marry Cosette then leaves not knowing that Javert is dead. Marius and Cosette marry, discover Jean Valjean is dying. Meet, reconcile and Jean Valjean dies.
 
Phew!
And that is why I usually just write hijinx!
So what did I think?
Except for a part at the beginning the cinematography is excellent. The film is colorful and dramatic with poignant personal scenes and dramatic panoramas of the city of Paris. I enjoyed the imagery immensely.
The reason I did such a long and detailed synopsis is to discuss the story. It is a pretty standard romantic drama, Love at first sight, miscommunications, secret pasts, children being rescued from evil step parents to a life of prosperity etc. The original story was written by Victor Hugo, a writer and politician known for his views on the injustice between the rich and poor. Throughout the musical there is the theme of the injustices against the poor and the privilege of the wealthy elite. No example more blatant than when Jean Valjean confession is ignored by all but the dogmatic Javert. I found these elements and the overarching history more interesting than the main story. But then I love history. 
I found the suicide of Javert interesting, and I felt that something was lacking form it. I am not sure if the fault was with Russell Crowe or the story. My understanding of the suicide is this, Javert was born in a prison the child of convicts, his hatred of criminals led him to be a famous inspector. But his success was driven by his hate which created a black and white perception of the world. The Law is good, people are good, until they break the law, and then they are criminals and criminals are bad. Even himself is not above his own morality when he confesses to Jean Valjean that he was unprofessional and made a false accusation. Eventually Javert comes to the conclusion that Jean Valjean is not a bad man, which creates a shade of grey into his world. He questions everything eh has ever known. This not only challenges his perception of the world, but also his very nature as a man. The sundering of his reality drives him to realize that there is no place for him in this world. To me Javert is in fact one of the more tragic figures. This is why Jean Valjean spares him, because he  is not a bad man, he is just driven by an over developed sense of dedication to his role. 
The acting was good, for those who are unaware of this Hugh Jackman is a very talented singer. I wasn’t sure about Russell Crowes voice, but he was perfect for the part of Javert. Sacha baron Cohen and  Helena Bonhama Carter were fantastic as comic relief, as was the Daniel Huttlestone who played Gavroche. The girl they had to play the part of the young Cosette  is identical to that famous picture of a child that symbolizes Les Mis.

  

I had a love hate relationship with the students. The did such a great job of portraying a bunch of idealistic young men, desperate to save the world, whether it wanted to be saved or not. While they may have understood the nuances of why the government was corrupt, they were completely detached from the populace they believed they represented. I don’t know about you but I met more than one of these types at Uni. I was the honor guard for my dead general and a bunch of spotty swats hijacked his carriage I would have stabbed them too!
But was it good? Well the entire theatre was in tears apart from me, and apparently it was very true to the musical. My lady and my friend H both loved it and talked about for ages afterward very enthusiastically  about the music, songs, and cast.  I think as a production I am going to give it a 7. Not as a reflection of how I enjoyed it, but as a reflection of what it was. I think that this film is a good production which is loyal to the musical and its fans.  But if you do not like musicals then this is not for you in any way shape or form.

27 Jan 2013

The best of Ford


Some guys at work asked me;  Han Solo or Indy?


This is a difficult choice as these characters are two of the most influential and coolest characters of my generation. Women want them and men want to be them. Hell women want to be them!
 


 Do I prefer Han the lovable rogue with a heart of gold over the maverick academic adventurer whose ethics outweigh scientific and financial gain?
 
I need to examine the characters more carefully.
 

Han Solo


Han is a swashbuckling smuggler, an unashamed  criminal who will kill to survive. Han shot first!
He flies a souped up space ship which can out fly and out shoot anything else in the galaxy.   His companion is a is a giant alien warrior who manages to sound threatening and whiny in the same conversation. 

Hilarious! 

Han, gives up his life on the edge and joins what seems to be a lost cause out of friendship. That choice of loyalty for his friend not only saves the day but changes the fate of the galaxy. He becomes a general without losing his independence or changing his nature.
 
He marries a Princess, and by joining the rebellion gives up a life of smuggling and shoots space Nazis.
 
Also on a mythological front like all the central characters in the star wars movies (episodes 4,5,6) he is a classic archetype of narrative. The trickster who transforms into a warrior.
 

Doctor Indiana Jones

 
Indiana Jones is a highly intelligent academic, whose expeditions to recover lost treasure in the golden age of adventure take him around the globe. He battles evil villains, find lost tribes, gets beat up a lot, kisses beautiful girls, avoid death traps, punches Nazi’s and has Sean Connery as a father.
 
Unlike Solo, Dr Jones has always exhibited a high degree of ethics.  While he is no stranger to death, it is obviously not something that he is entirely comfortable with.  However when the stakes are high he will face that consequence straight on.  Also unlike Han,  Dr Jones is his own character. While born out of the dilettante gentlemen  adventurers of the late 19th century to the 30’s, his character is of a style than an archetype. After Raiders of the lost ark he inspired thousands of boys (and  girls) to become archaeologists and to injure themselves with bull whips.  He also blew up a tank using a horse.
 
Han Solo is a hero of high fantasy, Doctor Jones is an intelligent adventurer,  both characters are fun, funny, tough and cool.
 
I think I would have to choose……
 
Indiana Jones. 

Indy has more depth to his character, his relationship to his father, his fear of snakes, his imperfect relationship with the women he loves.  I think that he is the more developed character and we can relate to him more.  Han is swept up in a space opera that doesn’t allow us to delve too deeply into him as a character. Han is certainly cool and we want to be him, but we can identify with Indy.
 
Tough choice but I am ok with it. 

While discussing this a friend threw in Jack Ryan into the mix. This got me thinking that it is no coincidence that these three great characters are played by Harrison Ford. Also that as I age my choice may change as well. As a  boy I liked Han Solo, as I grew up I preferred Indy. Maybe when I older and a father I will prefer jack Ryan, a kick arse dad saving the day, and his country?

Perhaps, but for now I think I will dream of exotic locations, swords, hidden treasure and the lovely Karen Allen. 

But I am interested what do you think, Indy or Han?


19 Jan 2013

Paranorman


Today was movie day for my family and we had two options to consider. Both were animated films  with paranormal/horror themes, Frankenweenie by Tim Burton and Paranorman. Frankenweenie is a basically the story of Frankensteins monster, but with kids and a dog as the monster. I usually enjoy Mr Burton's work, and I don't mind adaptations, but this story seemed too derivative to me. We all agreed that based on the trailers Paranorman seemed more fun.


So a paranormal Synopsis:

Norman Babcock is a nice polite good natured boy who is ostracised by the  kids at school, and misunderstood by his family. They all think he is freakishly weird because of his obsession with the dead. Norman he thinks he can talk to the dead. But one of the biggest problems for Norman is the dead talking back. But Normans gift will be the only thing that can save his town from a witches terrible curse that will cause the dead to rise.

Cue Zombie Hijinx

Paranorman is made by the same people that produced Neil Gaiman's Coraline. So if you liked that style of animation you will enjoy this. Paranorman is less dark and more funny than Coraline, and I enjoy the stop motion style of the film.

The voice talent does a great job of bringing the characters to life. The cast and crew are all experienced, but the only name you may know is John Goodman. Again proving that you do not need to have an A-list cast and crew to produce a good movie.

The witch's curse in the story touches familiar ground with the Salem witch trials. The writers succesfully parallel the paranoid mob mentality which surrounded those dark times with the alienation and persecution that occurs in high school and how easy it is for people to turn on anything they don't understand and subsequently fear. The themes of Paranorman are pretty standard; stand up to bullies, your real friends and family people will accept you for who you are, and doing the right thing might be scary, but it is OK to be scared sometimes. 

The themes are familar, as are the characters, I wondered if Norman and his only friend Neil were inspired by the sucessful  Diary of a Wimpy kid movies. Or perhaps they are just familar as the sort of kids that always get persecuted. Certianly nothing in the movie seemed rehashed, and the films morality is never forced down the audiences throat. There were enough laughs to keep the film from becoming at all preachy or trite, andthere are lots of horror references throughout the movie which are really fun. Onl it appeared that only my partner and I were horrorfans, as we were the only ones laughing.


A little gripe now, just because it is an an animated film I don't understand why some people think it is OK to bring little kids to it.  Paranorman  is not Madagascar 7 or the chipmunks, I mean it's not Halloween either but bringing toddlers?

Anyway we all enjoyed the movie, it was funny, with a good story.

6.5 monkeys from me

15 Jan 2013

Conan III, Cashing in or coming home




In 2007 Republicans in California were debating a change to Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which requires the President be a natural born citizen.Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggerwas being primed for the white house, and I believe that given his popularity with both parties that it was more of a probability than a possibility.  But that dream is nothing but a foot note to history now, because he screwed up his personal life. The American public might be able to forgive jingle all the way but not cheating on his wife. 

You could argue that a man whose career in politics has detonated after such a personal disgrace is desperately looking to return to his cinematic career , that career which made him an international celebrity and exceptionally wealthy.  But at 65 and not being credited with the talent of Al Pacino or Michael Gambon his options are limited.  I suspect he will not be the next version Broadway production of King Lear or cast in the next The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?  As an ageing action hero what options does he have? 

In December last year LA times reported that Arnold Schwarzeneggerhas signed on for the final Conan the barbarian movie The Legend of Conan.  Ignoring the ludicrous drivel of the Jason Momoa travesty of 2011, this film will be the third in the Conan/Arnold Saga., where an aging Conan is faced with a final adventure in the winter of his years

Is he just selling out!


I hope not.  The producer Dino De Laurentiisalways envisioned that the Conan films would be a trilogy.  Arnold signed a three picture deal on that basis.  Especially as Conan the Barbarian was such a success.  But the third film Conan the Conqueror was never made apparently due to contractual issues. 

Universal studios and Arnold are pressing that The Legend of Conan will not be a pulpy sequel. Universal are buying the rights off lionsgate , and Arnold is playing a 65 year old Conan trying to get to grips with old age and his place in the world.  I have read some of the releases and the studio seem to recognise that throwing money and 3D special effects at a project does not necessarily make it successful or even enjoyable.  The studio wants to have a good writer and director on board, and have Schwarzenegger as Conan. 

I love the Conan movies, and to clarify the Schwarzenegger movies not that recent vomit laden mess. The 80’s Conan movies are great and both can be enjoyed with a cold beer and a nice rare steak even now.  I am quietly hopeful that this film can be not only a success, but a very good film.  There is even a rumour that it will be filmed in New Zealand. 

While I may not have depicted him as such, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a very smart man, and an astute business man.  Roles like this could define his return to acting and create a career for him.  But only time will tell of course, but I and hoping that this is a case of Mr. Schwarzenegger coming home to a role that he can execute well. 
Add caption
I just want to add one final thing

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY WONDERFUL SISTER!

13 Jan 2013

Lockout

In an effort to keep with my new years resolution  I am going to be more prolific. Not crazy prolific, I have a procrastination level to keep up.

Today's review is the DVD movie Lockout with Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace.


To the synopsis.

It is 2070 and Snow is asked by his friend to back him up in a deal. When the deal goes south,  his friend, a US colonel is killed in the cross fire, Snow is arrested and convicted is for the colonels murder.  Meanwhile up in low earth orbit, MS1 a maximum security prison is being visited by the presidents daughter Emilie Warnock. She has suspicions about the facility cryogenicaly freezing inmates. Unfortunately for her, during the visit there is a prison break out and she is trapped on the orbiting prison. Snow is offered his freedom if he can infiltrate the prison and rescue the presidents daughter.

Let the escape from New York MS1 hyjinks begin!

Luc Besson wrote and produced this film and I do not know what inspiration he had for his idea, but it is hard not to compare Lockout to John Carpenters cult classic Escape from New York from 1981. The stories arevery similar, as are the main characters Snow and Snake. Both are rebellious, wise arse ex army specialists who are on the wrong side of the law and are forced to break into a prison to save some one. In John Carptenters Escape from New York it was the president, and in Lockout it is the presidents daughter. I could talk about the ideological differences between the two movies, but I want to focus on Lockout.
Snake vrs Snow



 I had my concerns about this going into it. It appeared to be a rip off, and some of the CGI at the beginning is a bit 'gamey'. Frankly some of the scenes are just ludicrous, but in saying that it is good watch for a muggy Sunday afternoon.

Lockout is a fun story with a good mixture of humour and action. Despite its obvious flaws you do get sucked into the story.  Guy Pearce as Snow is great as a the wise cracking irascible action hero, and Maggie Grace as Emilie dies a reasonable job as the compassionate frustrated first daughter.The cast do a great job with the script, even if the characters are very stereotypical.

It was pretty obviously a green screen shot movie, and there is one bad sequence at the beginning, but it cleans up after that and you can focus on the story. 

For me it was a return  to the 80's action movie. Pretty girl, tough hero, bad guys, explosions, Lockout has  a good mix of humour and action. The film seems very derivative, but the main cast carry it, and it does comes together as a funny and entertaining movie.

I give it six monkeys.

11 Jan 2013

American Horror Story



I am not intending to blog about TV but I think this show deserves a special mention. In this terrible time of Kadashian sisters reality TV and Wayan brothers sitcoms there has been a bit of a renaissance of excellent television at the moment. Game of Thrones, Downton Abby, the new TMNT reboot and American Horror story. 

This twelve part story surrounds the Harmon family. After Mrs Harmon miscarries their son, and the husbands subsequent infidelity with one of his students they family are seeking a new life in LA. Unfortunately for the Harmon's they have chosen to live in a haunted house, filled with vengeful and murderous ghosts including a ether addicted surgeon with Frankenstein complex, and a  maid who appears differently to different people. 



Each episode is a disturbing look at the horrible and bloody history of the house and how it affects those inside it, living and dead. Even the opening credits are scary! Bloody china dolls.

The series was created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, if those names sound familiar you may know the as the creators of Nip/tuck or Glee. And while that may surprise many that these guys can turn from Glee to this I don't. I dislike musicals, and putting on television is a stroke of evil genius.

The cast includes Zachery Quinto, Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton and the amazing Jessica Lange. I want to give a special mention to Jamie Brewer who played the psychic child Addie. Both a sympathetic and disconcerting role.  Addie being locked in the punishment room was a particularly disturbing

episode.


Jessica Lange won a golden globe and a emmy for her role as Constance Langdon, the ageing southern belle who was the previous owner of the house. Her performance is excellent, stylish and sinister, Charming and brimming with malice at the world. her performance was so good she is also in the next season which is a entirely new story.
 
The series is a clever take on famous American  horror stories, the haunted house, the monster in the cellar, the inbred child that lives chained in the attic, bloody Mary etc. The writers have taken these urban legends and woven them into the history of the house. It is a clever catalogue of American horror mythology combined in a well written story.

If like horror give this a try, but it is not for the faint hearted, or those that think this is a strange version of Glee.

eight little monkeys hiding behind the couch

3 Jan 2013

The Life of Pi



So we start the new year with a brand new film the life of Pi.

Synopsis

A struggling author is looking for inspiration for his next book. he is told to hear the amazing story of a man named Pi. Pi was born in the Zoo his parents ran in Pondicherry, French India. Pi's life is turned upside down when his family decide to sell the zoo and immigrate to Canada. During the voyage a terrible storm sets Pi adrift in a life boat with another survivor, and adult Bengal tiger both on a journey of survival and enlightenment.

Ensue watery Hijnx

The film is based on the booker awarding winning novel written by Yann Martel. And unlike the Hobbit which was a disappointment despite expectations, The Life of Pi exceeded mine. As you may know I enjoy the aesthetic of a beautifully shot film, and this film is exquisite. The colour and the cinematography is a pleasure on the eyes. A major achievement given that this is mostly about a boy on a boat sitting in the middle of the Pacific ocean.  The 3D like the CGI, is not gimicky at all, but blends into the narrative as such effects should. Director Ang Lee has taken a work of fantasy and made it a reality.


This is Suraj Sharmas, who plays Pi, first major cinematic role and he gives a performance to equal any you will see this year. And Richard Parker steals every scene he is in. Who is Richard Parker? Well I think I will let you find out for yourselves.


The life of Pi is not a sophisticated story, it is a tale of a young mans physical and spiritual survival. It is Pi's journey of faith and questions our perception of the world we live in. It might be simple, it is also a wonderful story.

If this is standard of film I am to watch this year I am very excited.

Eight and a half Monkeys!