Movie Reviews postsFriday January 04, 2013
Bob Lundegaard's Reviews: Les Miserables (2012)
First I reviewed Tom Hooper's “Les Miserables,” then my 11-year-old nephew Jordy did; now my 80-year-old father, Bob Lundegaard, formerly of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and one-time inspiration for the Coen brothers, has a go ...
Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said that three generations of imbeciles is enough. Although there’s no truth to the widely held belief that he was referring to movie reviewers, one can’t be too careful in a family in which grandfather, father and son have all aspired to the craft.
I haven’t reviewed a movie in 30 years — I was once the film critic at the Minneapolis Tribune – but recently an opportunity arose that was too good to pass up. Our family went to the Christmas Day opening of “Les Miserables,” which meant that I sat right in back of my grandson, Jordy, who’s a frequent movie reviewer on Facebook.
We decided to have a friendly competition, dueling reviewers, with a third entrant, Jordy’s Uncle Erik, who lives in Seattle. I’ve seen several stage productions of the musical, but Jordy had a distinct advantage over me: He’s been in it, so he knows all the songs, even though he’s only 11 years old. A local high school, renowned for its stagecraft, mounted a production two years ago, when he was in 3rd grade, and needed a chorus of street urchins for the revolutionary Paris scenes. And to our delight, one of the chosen gamins was Jordy!
I’ve always had mixed feelings about “Les Miz.” The rhymes usually are telegraphed way before you hear them. “Give” invariably rhymes with “live,” for instance. “Bring him joy” leads to “he is only a boy” Not exactly Ira Gershwin. And the sentimentality can get overwhelming.
Not to mention Victor Hugo’s coincidences, which can put Dickens to shame. Why does Inspector Javert always happen to show up wherever Jean Valjean is living? And when Valjean and his adopted daughter catapult into a religious sanctuary while on the lam from the evil Inspector Javert, who should be tending the garden but a man Valjean had rescued from death years ago in a village far from Paris?
Still, it’s a powerful story, and much of the music can make you feel like standing in your seat and joining the revolution, so I brought an extra Kleenex or two. Turns out I needed them. The story is even more overwhelming on film, spearheaded by an Oscar-worthy performance by Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, the ex-convict with a heart of gold and the strength of a Samson.
Director Tom Hooper has personalized the epic proportions of the story by unremitting use of close-ups, so close you can see the nose hairs on Javert. I also liked Hooper’s opening innovation: Thousands of convicts trying to tug a foundering ship onto land. The ubiquitous Javert is their overseer. When they can’t manage it, he orders Valjean to bring him a flag attached to an enormous, stubborn log. Valjean does more: he lifts the log as well and becomes emblazoned in Javert’s memory forever.
The stolid Russell Crowe as Javert was, I thought, the least effective of the leads, though admittedly it’s a difficult role to shine in. Anne Hathaway does shine in the tiny part of Fantine, though she does return (with almost everyone else) for Valjean’s insufferable deathbed scene.
All in all, a good day at the movies, if only because Hollywood is making MUSICALS again. As someone who grew up with “Oklahoma!” and “My Fair Lady” on Broadway, I really miss them.
Richard Brody on 'Marnie': As Insane as His Beard?
Richard Brody, the grand old blogger for The New Yorker whom I generally admire, recently wrote the following as part of a post on “The Girl,” an HBO movie about Hitchcock and Hedren, or Alfie and Tippy, which premiered last Saturday, and which was not bad if one-note. Here's Brody's sidebar:
I’ve long thought that “Marnie,” not “Vertigo,” is Hitchcock’s best film—and, as such, is one of the greatest films of all time. It, too, is about disguise, deception, crime, and desire, about mental illness and unhealed trauma. The plot twists in “Marnie” aren’t as elaborate or as surprising, but it captures, more harrowingly, a sense of derangement—inner and outer, intimate and widespread—that reflects a world on the breaking point. Nobody would mistake Hitchcock for a political filmmaker, but “The Birds” and, especially, “Marnie,” are the work of an American Antonioni, whose psychological dramas are matched by architectural and symbolic ones, by a confrontation with the roiling chill of technological modernity.
But, yes, these movies also feature the performances of Tippi Hedren, which are not only the ultimate Hitchcock performances but—and especially that of “Marnie”—among the very best in the history of cinema.
I've long known that Brody felt positively toward “Marnie,” but... one of the greatest movies of all time? Among the best performances in the history of cinema? “Marnie”?
It's a movie about repressed memories and feels as dated, and as relevant, as a late-'70s “M*A*SH” episode with Dr. Sidney Freedman. It's like that five-minute monologue at the end of “Psycho” where the shrink goes on and on about what's wrong with Norman Bates--but for an entire movie.
Here's my review of “Marnie” from a year ago. Let me know what I'm missing. Because I just don't get it.
“...a confrontation with the roiling chill of technological modernity.” Or a bad cold.
Anthony Lane on 'Argo'
First he gives us this laugh-out-loud line:
[W]e were wrong about Ben Affleck. Few of us, watching “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor,” could see a way out, or back, for an actor so utterly at the mercy of his own jawline.
Then he ties the film's super-dramatic ending to its earlier gentle mocking of Hollywood values, which include super-dramatic endings:
If you visit the C.I.A. Web site, you can read Mendez’s account of events in January, 1980. “As smooth as silk,” he calls the hostages’ passage through the airport, whereas Affleck, chopping up the action and spinning it out, insures that no nails remain unchewed. This is absolutely his right as a teller of tales, and “Argo” never claims to be a documentary. It struck me as a bit rich, however, to make such sport of Hollywood deceitfulness and then to round off your movie with an expert helping of white lies, piling on car chases that never occurred.
It helps, as it always does, that Lane and I are more-or-less in agreement about the movie. We're pleasantly surprised by Affleck, love ourselves some Alan Arkin, wish the last third had delved a bit more into character, particularly the character of the six embassy workers, rather than Spielbergian thrills--most of which, even as I watched them, I didn't buy.
But I bought “Argo.” It's one of the best movies I've seen this year: smart, funny, accessible.
Of course the year is just getting interesting.
Lane: “...and, most enjoyable of all, Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel, a producer so scornfully amused by Mendez’s request that he has no option but to obey it.”
Dana Stevens on 'Looper'
“Looper felt to me like a maddening near-miss: It posits an impossible but fascinating-to-imagine relationship—a face-to-face encounter between one’s present and future self, in which each self must account for its betrayal of the other—and then throws away nearly all the dramatic potential that relationship offers. If someone remakes Looper as the movie it could have been in, say, 30 years, will someone from the future please FedEx it back to me?”
--Dana Stevens in her Slate review, “Looper: Joseph Gordon-Levitt meets his future-self, and he’s Bruce Willis.” I agree with her, particularly on the above point (my review here), but we're in the minority. “Looper” is currently running at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Smashing Film Crit Hulk's Review of 'Dark Knight Rises'
My friend Tim directed me to Film Crit Hulk's review of “The Dark Knight Rises,” which I could barely get through. Hulk need editor. Hulk not use simple words but big college words. Hulk need to get to point. “BEFORE WE BEGIN” is bad way to begin. This made head hurt:
THE THING TO ALSO UNDERSTAND IS THAT MOST OF THESE THINGS ARE NOT THE KIND OF THINGS THAT PREVENT NOLAN FROM MAKING A BIG, ENTERTAINING MOVIE.
Hulk not rewrite Hulk's words? Hulk make plug for THING movie with so many THING words? Make Erik want to smash.
But the review did make me realize what “The Dark Knight Rises” should've been.
- In the first movie, Batman becomes a symbol of law and order in an anarchic world. In the second movie, the Joker represents an attack from the side of anarchy. So why not, in the third movie, have the villain, Bane or whomever, attack him from the side of law and order? Bane, or whomever, posits himself as a better vigilante and usurps Batman's role. Then he defeats Batman (who's wanted for murder, after all). Then he takes over Gotham to an unhealthy degree.
- A better option is closer to what we actually have. Batman is a symbol of law and order but also a symbol of the status quo. The new villain, or vigilante, could be, like Bane in “DKR,” more of a Robin Hood, and presented as such to us the audience. I.e., there is no Talia. There is no nuke. If there is an ulterior motive we don't see it until later. In the last few years the great criticism from the left is how, give or take a Bernie Madoff, none of those responsible for the Global Financial Meltdown are in jail. That would be Bane's criticism of Batman, too. He's fighting the wrong crimes. He's attacking the victims. He's maintaining a corrupt status quo. He's keeping the system unfair. Then you go wherever you go.
2) is more interesting to me but 1) would've aligned better with the ending of “The Dark Knight.”
Either would've been better than what we got.
“THE THING TO ALSO UNDERSTAND IS THAT MOST OF THESE THINGS ARE NOT THE KIND OF THINGS...” Who knew Hulk verbose?
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