Les Miserables (2012)

It was the day after Christmas, and the 10:15 AM show played to a packed house in Sarasota, FL. Such is the drawing power of Les Miserables. The film, directed by Tom Hooper from the beloved theatrical musical of the same name, an adoption itself of the Victor Hugo novel, opened on Christmas Day.

Claude-Michel Schonberg’s music with lyrics by Alain Boubel was first performed theatrically in Paris in 1980. The show closed after a three-month run. In 1983, theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh was asked if he’d be interested in bringing it to the stage in London. It took two years for the English language version (lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer) to reach London audiences. It opened on October 8th, 1985. As they say, the rest is history.

The show has been performed in forty-two countries, and has been translated into 21 languages. But I am not someone who has had the good fortune to have purchased a ticket (60 million have been sold) to see a theatrical production of Les Miz. As such, I really didn’t know much about it at all. I hadn’t read the Hugo novel either. But I did see a bit of the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert from 2010 when it was broadcast on the televised PBS fund-raiser here last month. I knew the film was scheduled for release on Christmas Day, so I turned off the show after only seeing one or two songs. However, I was hooked and committed to seeing the new film version at the earliest.

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As the film opens, we watch a mighty struggle by the forced laborers (convicts) to tow a huge sea-going vessel into a dry dock in Toulon, France. After, the convict # 24601 – Jean Valjean – is granted parole, and freedom, we will later come to understand that he will never be completely free from his jailer, Javert, who promises Valjean, that if he doesn’t follow the letters of his  written parole document completely and exactly – Javert will be there to toss him back in prison. Javert offers a chilling reminder: Do not forget my name, do not forget my face. As Valjean departs, the prisoners sing Look Down, all under the watchful eye of Javert. That along with the film’s stirring closing shot of thousands of Parisians on the ramparts, enables us to say that the film is book-ended by images stunning in scope.

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There was another magisterial shot of Jean Valjean standing on the top of a promontory overlooking the sea that begins with the camera at his level and then we soar far above him by means of a seventy foot crane shot followed by a seamless transition to a view of the same from a rising helicopter. Yes there were these amazing shots to take your breath away.

But most of the film is shot with the scale down to human levels. And often in tight closeups during many of the songs. Now this particular directorial decision to shoot closeups of the singers has brought forth discussion that has been quite strong both in praise and condemnation. When you see a show in person, you don’t always get a seat in the orchestra level – sometimes you are in the ‘alpine’ regions of the balcony, and you have no chance at all to see facial expressions.You hear just fine, but the distance from the vocalists is not kind, even with opera glasses.

If you have dealt with being seated so high up that cannot visually distinguish the singers’ faces then you know what I’m saying. So Hooper brought his lenses up close and up tight. But that was criticized as well – the faces were not centered, the upper foreheads and/or chins were cut-off. Given that Hooper also decided to film the songs live as opposed to the actors lip-synching to prerecorded music, this was bound to happen. However this decision allowed the actors to have more creativity in their performances. But this is also risky as tight shots may often be too close, and when the singer turns his or her head, the cameras may find themselves slightly out of position.

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But I think that the pay-off of the closeups makes the songs all the more powerful. Why concentrate and make mention of a few less than stellar angles? When you see Anne Hathaway’s pain and anguish as the doomed Fantine, when she sings I Dreamed a Dream, you will truly understand the term ‘show-stopper’. Hathaway gave everything she had in this song. She held back nothing. It was a bravura performance.

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Cocktail (2012)

In my last review, we had a look at Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher which was filmed totally in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Cocktail, the 2012 film from Illuminati  Films is not bound to one geographical area. Cocktail begins in New Delhi, India, and shortly thereafter, we arrive in London, UK, where most of the film takes place. There’s a vacation in Capetown, South Africa, before the principals head back to London. Only at the tail end of the film do we return to New Delhi.

Cocktail is a film about relationships. Specifically – a man and two women. A love triangle? Possibly, but that would be a bit too simplistic. Actually it is a lot more complicated than that. Rather than just walk you through the plot, let’s have a look at three main players and how they all meet.

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First there is Gautam. He’s played by Indian film superstar Saif Ali Khan. Gautam is a player. Anything that moves while wearing a skirt is considered fair game. And if the female wearing the skirt is attractive, then the likely response from Gautam is Goddamn, or OMG, before he swings into action. He’s a software engineer, and despite his Mom’s protests that he not leave India without a bride, off he goes.

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At the Delhi airport, he spots a stunning beauty, Meera, played by the beautiful Diana Penty, making her film debut. He trots out a number of his best lines, but they’re not going to work. You see, Meera is off to London to meet her husband who is working and living there. Meera is a gorgeous girl, and easily fits the description of a well-mannered, traditional Indian woman . This is not to say that she isn’t a modern girl, but she is conservative, loyal, and religious.

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Meera and Gautam arrive in London together, or should I say, they traveled on the same plane, but did not travel together. Gautam again tries to pick up Meera at Heathrow Airport, and once again is sent packing. Of course he’s not about to stick around when Meera tells him that her husband is on his way to pick her up. Only as it turns out, the husband is doing no such thing and Meera has not discovered this just yet.

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Jack Reacher

 So who is Jack Reacher? He’s an ex-Army MP Homicide Investigator, and was pretty successful at it. But when he and the Army parted company, he fell off the grid. And has remained off the grid.

That is until a horrific shooting took place in which five seemingly random people were mowed down by a single sniper. Five people were shot to death in a matter of moments, on the Riverfront Walk in front of the baseball stadium in Pittsburgh, PA.

After the lead homicide detective brought in the suspect, based on very solid evidence, the DA gave him a choice – waive your right to an attorney and confess – or face a death sentence.

The suspect did not write out a confession. Instead he penciled on the notepad: Get Jack Reacher.

There’s this guy. He’s a kind of cop, at least he used to be. He doesn’t care about proof, he doesn’t care about the law, he only cares about what’s right.

Jack Reacher is played by Tom Cruise who has had plenty of success as an action-hero in the film business. Said another way, the Mission Impossible series sold a lot of tickets. Cruise also performed in another spy/action film called Knight and Day (2010) with Cameron Diaz as his co-star. That one was produced with a 117 million dollar budget. It has taken in 258 million world-wide. Let’s not forget a film called Top Gun either.

So rather than say he was miscast – which is true in the sense that the Jack Reacher, as described in the series of novels penned by Lee Child, is a very big man, with a commanding and imposing physical presence. He’s 6’5″ and weighs in at 250 pounds. Let’s say, on paper, that Cruise is far shorter and is not physically imposing at all, so he doesn’t fit the role. But the way this film is handled, it is not really an action film. So his size doesn’t matter.

Yes, they marketed it that way, as an action film,  -but the truth is that this film is about getting to the truth. Did the suspect actually shoot those people? Why were they shot? Yeah – that makes the film about the investigation. Yes, there are a number of set action pieces beginning with the shootings to open the film. Cruise/Reacher will have at least three fight scenes, a shoot-out and an obligatory car chase, including the done to death, one-car-driving-the-wrong-way-against-oncoming-traffic scene.

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This Is 40

 This is 40 is the brand new film from the laugh-meister Judd Apatow. As the poster says, this is sort of a sequel to Knocked Up (which I didn’t see). While there are some laugh-out-loud moments, you need not have seen Knocked Up to realize that this really isn’t all that funny. I’d venture to say that there are more cringe worthy moments than funny moments.

Apatow has assembled a series of riffs or bits that are loosely stitched together around the central theme – life at 40 sucks. That was my thought during the first hour or so of the film.

During the second half (the film runs 134 minutes so don’t take the word ‘half’ too precisely) I changed my thinking somewhat. Is this a comedy with some dramatic moments, or is this a drama with some comedic moments? The answer to that question won’t come easily.

The film begins with sex in the shower, and from there we visit various ‘neighborhoods’ like Viagra, blow-jobs, boobs, penis jokes, vaginal jokes, a visit to a proctologist, a visit to a gynaecologist, and by means of mirrors, lamps, and a hand-held camera, Paul Rudd as Pete does a DIY rectal examination. Continue reading

Shanghai

Before I get into the full review of Shanghai, lets look at a small list of short film descriptions:

1) Following the murder of a prominent leftist, an investigator tries to uncover the truth while government officials attempt to cover up their roles.

2) When an idealistic writer disappears during the Right Wing military coup in 1973 Chile, his wife and American businessman father try to find him.

3) On IMDB, we see this description: Prime leader of a campaign against a big government project is killed in what appears to be a road accident. An officer is ordered to probe the incident and the veils of falsehood begin to drop. Netflix describes the film: A young woman, a porn filmmaker and a bureaucrat join forces to uncover government corruption after a prominent activist is killed on the eve of the launch of an International Business Park designed to turn a small Indian town into the next Shanghai.

The first is for the 1969 film Z directed by Costa-Gavras. This film won 2 Oscars. The second is the 1982 film called Missing which was also directed by Costa-Gavras. This film won 1 Oscar, and was nominated for three others. Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek starred. Number 3 is Shanghai which was directed by Dibakar Banerjee and opened rather recently in June of 2012. Banerjee also co-wrote the screenplay with Urmi Juvekar and they adopted their story from the novel Z written by Vasilis Vasilikos which was the source for the Costa-Gavras film.

So straightaway we know what kind of film Shanghai will be. You’ve got to like the pedigree. And if you’re still not sure of what kind of film Shanghai is, here is a description voiced by the director himself: This is a red-blooded, full-on thriller. It’s a who-done-it? I’s a chase. It’s a mystery. It’s a drama. It’s all those things rolled into one.

Okay – a few basics: In a particular city in India, an outfit called IBP (International Business Park) has decided to copy the business plan which was extremely successful in Shanghai, China. Pudong, which is across the Huangpo River from the historic center of Shanghai was once a little developed agricultural area. Farmland and countryside would be an apt description. In 1993, the Chinese government set this area up as a Special Economic Zone. Then the plan was put into play: Acquire land and buy up the properties on the land. Call it urban renewal, relocate the dispossessed residents, apply bulldozers, then start new construction of skyscrapers, parks, high-rise apartments, shopping malls, and the necessary infrastructure. Pudong now has a population of over 5 million people, and since 2000, the population has increased by nearly 2 million.

So the idea was to do the same thing in Bharatnagar. Only nothing was done on the up and up. People were given little or no choice. Take the meager money, be relocated far from the city. That’s it. If you didn’t want to move – you’d be forcefully dispossessed. Announcements were made in limited number, the bidding resulted in just one bid, and government insiders got in on the ground floor. A good deal for IBP, and for the politicians they had in their pockets. But the way it was handled did not go unnoticed.

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Enter Dr. Ahmedi (above – played by Prasenjit Chatterjee) , a social activist. He decides to come to town, give a speech, name names: in short shine a bright spotlight on the dirty deals that surrounded the entire project. The hall hired for his speech backs out and cancels. His permit to speak at a large public gathering is revoked. So Dr. Ahmedi decides to speak ad hoc in the streets, and does so. Only violence rears its ugly head.

Was it an accident or was it a pre-meditated act of murder?

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

hb4“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

That’s how J.R.R. Tolkien began his novel, The Hobbit, which was originally published 75 years ago in 1937. Not surprisingly, that is how the Peter Jackson helmed film, named The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, began. For those of you born this morning, or even as far back as a fortnight ago, I will not bring forth a discussion of what a hobbit actually is.

The hobbit in question is named Bilbo Baggins, and he lived, like nearly all hobbits, in the The Shire in the world known as Middle Earth. Now Bilbo was the uncle of Frodo Baggins, the erstwhile star of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, also directed by Mr. Jackson. In the LOTR series, Bilbo was played by Ian Holm.

Mr. Holm return to this film as Bilbo, and at the time he says the words, In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit, he’s about to set down his adventures in writing for his young nephew Frodo. Bilbo’s adventures were 60 years earlier than the time of the LOTR. So the framing device, a written memoir, is the method used by Jackson and his script writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, to launch this film.

So once again, Holm, the actor, plays only a supporting role. The hero of this film is Holm’s character, Bilbo Baggins, but as a younger hobbit, who is played by Martin Freeman. Still, getting cast in the role of Baggins will ensure that Holm’s name will always be linked with The Lord of the Rings, with Peter Jackson, and of course with J.R.R. Tolkien. For those of you with long memories, which once again excludes those of you born in the last fortnight, Ian Holm was notable for losing his head, literally, in Alien, back in 1979, when he played the robotic medical officer, Ash, who had a nasty encounter with the monstrous extra-terrestrial alien.

Ian Holm as Ash (top) and Bilbo Baggins (bottom). He looks sp much better when he's altogether.

Ian Holm as Ash (top) and Bilbo Baggins (bottom). He looks so much better when he’s not at loose ends.

The Hobbit film is a story of an epic adventure, not into outer space, but rather into the world called Middle Earth. Bilbo was just a young man enjoying life in The Shire when one day, he is visited by the wizard Gandalf (once again played by the peerless Ian McKellen), who asks Baggins to join him, and others, for an adventure. The others were a collection of dwarves who sought to regain their homelands, Erebor and the Lonely Mountain, which were now under the control of the evil dragon Smaug.

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Nashville: Sn 1 Episode 8 – Where He Leads Me – Recap

 So is the good news the fact that ABC’s Nashville series is taking a month off? Or is it something else? Episode 8 – entitled Where He Leads Me, billed as the Winter Finale, was also tagged with ‘All your questions will be answered.’ Not sure that happened, but let’s have a look at what we did see.

Last week closed with the Rayna JaymesJuliette Barnes duet as they sang The Wrong Song at the Ryman Auditorium, which sets the stage (no pun intended) for this week’s opening:

01 – Rayna Jaymes’ dressing room at the Ryman – It is almost party time as Liam, Bucky, and even Marshall Evans, the head of the label, are there celebrating how successful the pairing of Rayna and Juliette was. Never mind that the gals can’t stand each other. They’ll surely remain at odds – I mean isn’t the entire show built around the frisson of these two? Yet Rayna says, That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Teddy arrives and offers his congratulations then says, Are you good to go? Rayna says, You wanna have a glass of champagne first? Teddy: We can have a glass at home. He’s heading out to take the girls home. Once again, Rayna perceives that Teddy is a bit ‘off’. We know why, don’t we? After all, he’s got that fessin’ up to do.

02 – Rayna’s home – Teddy and Rayna finally get to have that talk.

Teddy: Coleman has these photos of me and Peggy talking. Then we hugged. It was just a hug. Rayna [not buying Teddy’s explanation] : I find it hard to believe that anyone, especially Coleman, would leak photos of two people talking. Why would Coleman do this.Teddy: I’m winning the election and Coleman thinks a fabricated affair would make me drop out. Rayna – Is it fabricated?

03 – Sean is again with Juliette who is still trying to light his fire. He turns down sex once again. But he does ask to her to meet his folks at their church tomorrow. If we could, we would bet our last dollar that Juliette will be on her best behavior.

04 – Deacon shows up at an old buddy’s house. He and his old pal used to run together back in the day. But now – The Revel Kings are all about music. Sex, No Drugs, and Rock ‘N Roll is how they describe their sober selves. Anyway, they offer Deacon a job. A two year guitarist job with an opportunity for more. A sober band – who woulda thunk it? Deacon says he’ll consider it, and his friend says – Hey, Deacon, what is keeping you here in Nashville? Deacon doesn’t answer but we can – all together now – Rayna!

05 – Hailey is speaking to Scarlett. Seems Hailey knows this band, and this band could use a beautiful gal to sing in front of them. Isn’t it nice that Hailey would do something so special for Scarlett. Yeah, only that isn’t why she’s doing it. She wants Scarlett away from Gunnar. No surprise to that is there?

Avery 'WOWS!' Domino

Avery ‘WOWS!’ Domino

06 – Avery sings for Domino Welles. Wells is impressed – his word of the day – WOW! Wells asks Avery to come to Atlanta with him – on his private jet.

07 – Scarlett and Gunnar are working on a song called When the Right One Comes Along. Scarlett mentions Hailey’s offer to help bring her together with that band. Scarlett goes on to say that she’s not interested. Writing songs with Gunnar and waittressing is fine with her. Only when Scarlett mentioned what Hailey did – that caught Gunnar’s attention. Big time. As predicted in my recap last week – the triangle of Gunnar, Hailey, and Scarlett needed some propulsion, those folks all can’t be miserable. So stay tuned for more.

08 – Also as predicted – Rayna shows up at Coleman Carlisle’s HQ. She’s all set for a proverbial shootout with Coleman. Coleman answers Rayna’s claim that Teddy is not having an affair with Peggy by saying he thinks the same way but – he has these pictures. He shows them to Rayna. Though the pictures include a huge hug – they’re relatively tame. After all, everyone in the photos is still wearing their clothes.

Coleman: If that’s not an affair – then you tell me, what is it then?
Rayna: It’s none of your damned business is what it is ….

Rayna is plenty pissed. At Coleman, at Teddy. She exits the Coleman HQ….and we go to the break.

09 – Sean and a demure, as in properly dressed for church, Juliette arrived at the church. Everyone is introduced, and things seem quite pleasant. Juliette even agrees to sing in front of the congregation with the choir as back-up. Of course, we can see from her face that she’s calculating the positive PR that would come out of this.

10 – The sisters: Tandy and Rayna sit down to talk about Teddy’s issues. Coleman has an agenda. Coleman has pictures. Tandy swears there’s nothing going on. Tandy reminds Rayna that Teddy would make a good husband and a great father. Then Tandy says, We’ve got a meeting to put an end to all of this.
Rayna: Who’s we?

I guess that means more issues for Rayna, don’t you?

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