Awight you pwopa nawty boys, oi oi! Brian Plank joins Steve Norman and Owen Hughes for a top, top podcast this week. We’ve got a review of Guy Ritchie’s new movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. It’s sick, bruv. Banterific. As well as the Kaiju drama(?) comedy(?) action(?) indie(?) flick, Colossal, starring Anne Hathaway.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, released slightly earlier than usual to try and push it out just before the end of International Podcast today (that’s today for the next couple of minutes, anyway!) As such, we recommend you check out our fellow podcast comrades Wikishuffle, Black Hole Cinema and Diamond & Human; all of whom are deserving of your time during your commute or whilst peeling the spuds, or whatever you do whilst you’re listening to us.
Joining Mexican assassin Steve Norman and intergalactic failed critic Owen Hughes for this week’s episode is Andrew Brooker, undertaking his unpaid work placement, as they review three new releases. They’re so new, in fact, that they are not even out in the UK yet! First up, Owen reviews new Ridley Scott sci-fi The Martian (which doesn’t feature any aliens – xenomorphs or otherwise) before Brooker seethes over the new Anne Hathaway / Robert De Niro comedy The Intern. There’s even room for a review of the much anticipated crime-thriller Sicario, starring Emily Blunt as an FBI agent working with Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro on the trail of the Cartel in Mexico.
Before any of that though we have our quiz (which Steve helpfully explains in detail) and news section where the team react to Sam Smith’s Bond theme replete with improv poetry, The Simpsons opening Smithers closet, and the Prometheus sequel details. This is followed by our usual what we’ve been watching section, which sees: Owen review cult 80’s horror From Beyond as he pleads for your HP Lovecraft recommendations; Steve runs through three first watches of Beverly Hills Cop, Cooties and Cop Car; and Brooker reminds himself of a time when De Niro could do comedy well with Analyze This.
Join us again next week as we review ‘the Scottish play’, Macbeth, and have a very special guest in tow for our Scottish triple bill: It’s the acclaimed author of the Three Realistic Holes trilogy of novels, Escobar Walker!
You know that feeling when you’re in the middle of a conversation with a group of people and, I don’t know, your mind wanders thinking about last night’s dinner or that episode of The Walking Dead you watched earlier and all of a sudden, you’ve got no idea what’s going on, the subject has changed, everyone is laughing and you’ve got absolutely no idea why? Yep, that’s pretty much how I felt coming out of the screening of The Intern tonight. A packed (and I mean PACKED – Not an empty seat in the house that was only half full for Sicario) cinema filled with people laughing themselves stupid at what may be the least funny thing I’ve seen this year. If THIS is the crowd that comedies are being made for from here on out, sweet baby Jesus, we’re all going to hell.
The Intern is a
comedy film. That’s it, it’s a film. It’s two hours of Robert DeNiro being Ben, a retired pensioner with far too much time on his hands and not enough to do. Apparently the laundry list of pastimes he lists in the opening scenes that include learning languages and doing yoga just don’t fill the hole that used to be filled with work. And so, after spotting an ad for “Senior Interns”, Ben applies for a job as a bottom rung lackey at an internet clothing company working for its owner, Anne Hathaway’s Jules, a workaholic nut case.
After several “you’re old” jokes, Ben stumbles into the news that Jules is being pushed into hiring someone to run her company and tries his best to help out by befriending her and lending his advice and years of experience. But what starts as lending a helping hand turns into a friendship that’s not only vital for Jules to figure her way through the next phase of her company’s life, but vital for Ben as well to help him feel like he’s part of something. Ben becomes such a big part of Jules’ day-to-day life that he becomes a part of the family and together, the unlikely pair will help each other through these completely different, but equally difficult stages of their lives.
I’ll be blunt. The Intern really pissed me off. I mean, I saw the trailer and knew it was going to be a bit rubbish, but holy shit! I sat for two hours without the film getting so much as a single laugh, not even a smirk from me. I watched for two hours as De Niro made a complete tit of himself, seeming to revel in the awfulness of a million old people jokes and sitting gleefully having the piss taken out of him for wearing a suit in a business filled with new-age, hipster douchebags who don’t seem to be able to tuck a fucking shirt in. Every single scene in this film angered me. From Anne Hathaway’s idiotic, workaholic imbecile who cycles around the office on a bike to save time and get some exercise in; to the other people in her office that don’t appear to have ever spoken to a pensioner before and acting really awkward around De Niro’s character seeming to think he’s just going to drop dead in the next few minutes. Oh, and the company has a bell they ring to announce pointless shit like the amount of likes their latest Instagram photo got! JUST FUCK OFF!
Among all the cringe worthy “jokes”, a working mum struggling with her work/life balance and a romance between Ben and the company masseuse, Fiona (a just as awful turn from the usually great Rene Russo), have been shoe-horned in for no reason other than the jokes about workaholic women and old men getting erections wouldn’t work without them being there. Not only do they feel jammed in to fill time, but no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t give less of a shit about them!
De Niro’s acting credibility can never be questioned, but his decision to get involved with this embarrassment of a movie absolutely can. We’ve all seen the man’s comedy skills, I still go to the Analyze… films every now and again because of how genuinely funny and self aware they are. I also believe Hathaway has a great comedy presence, the silly slapstick nature of films like Get Smart have me in bits and she’s great in it. But here, she’s just an awkward hipster twat who’s steering the douche canoe of other hipster twats on screen and I absolutely felt bad for her.
Friends, please, heed my words. If you want to watch a De Niro comedy, do the right thing; go find Analyze This on your VOD vendor of choice. Do not do what I did and go watch The Intern. It’s an abortion of a film that should never have been greenlit, it’s about as funny as having your pubes plucked out one by one by an angry monkey with paws made of fire and to call it a comedy is to redefine the word to include chemical gas attacks on animal shelters and dry prison rapes! It’s a fucking embarrassment of a film and I guarantee, GUARANTEE, that if you watch it, like me, you’ll spend the entire run time trying to figure out how to get out of the cinema as quickly as possible, possibly by faking your own death.
Incredible visuals, slightly iffy dialogue, a multitude of ideas and thought-provoking concepts orbiting a sentimental plot about a father and daughter relationship told in a slightly non-linear pattern, yet enormously entertaining. Yup, Interstellar is definitely a Christopher Nolan film alright.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
An occupational hazard of reviewing films for Failed Critics, whether on the podcast or on these written reviews, is that you see some films you really wouldn’t have otherwise been arsed about. Whether it’s with a slight resentment over the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last month, Transformers: Age of Extinction a couple months back, or one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, I, Frankenstein, optimistically hoping they’re better than you think they’re going to be, they were all seen by me in the name of this little website.
However, for every time I’ve forced myself out into the cold, reluctantly putting my jacket on and sighing to myself about the next three hours I’ll spend watching something I’ll probably not enjoy, there’s also been times when I’ve made the short walk from the car park to the cinema a bit giddy in anticipation. Given the recent so-called backlash that director Christopher Nolan has received over his $165m project, this past weekend, Interstellar joined the likes of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla on my “fingers-crossed walk from car park to cinema” list. I really, really, really wanted Interstellar to be good. I have not jumped on the anti-Nolan bandwagon just yet. To my mind, he still makes incredibly enjoyable blockbuster movies with more brains than your average multi-million dollar project. But I’ll come onto whether or not Interstellar lived up to my expectations in a minute.
Firstly, the basic plot revolves around Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a single father of two, in the not too distant future. He was once an educated, highly skilled astronaut-come-engineer, but due to the dwindling population crisis and apparent slow death of our planet, necessitating the need for a focus on agriculture rather than scientific exploration, he is now a farmer of corn; one of the few remaining crops not effected by blight or the constant dust storms. His ten year old daughter, Murph (so named after Murphy’s Law), experiences something she describes as paranormal activity in her bedroom; books fly off shelves, figurines break in half and the dust settles in a peculiar pattern. Eventually, the pattern begins to make sense and Cooper stumbles upon a research centre planning to shoot some folks off into space to find a new home across the galaxy after a message from them – and I don’t mean some giant man-eating ants.
And thus begins one small crews journey across space, time and, erm, gravity in order to save their species.
In all manner of speaking, both in terms of the good and the bad, Interstellar is a very Nolan-esque movie. From his first real breakthrough with Memento, to one of our listeners/readers top 10 movies of 2012 (The Dark Knight Rises), and all that came inbetween, his films have all had a certain visual flair. The way they look and feel can easily be recognised as one of his movies within the opening quarter of an hour. They’re epic in their depictions of scope and scale, yet often contain frames with just one or maybe two characters at a time appearing in them. He creates a fantastic realism, and what with a large proportion of this movie being set in space, on distant planets or inside a shuttle with a wise-cracking robot, that’s no mean feat. You get people interacting with each other, as people do, but all the while there’s an element of fantasy about what’s taking place. Some truly astounding visual effects that might even eclipse those of Gravity, released this time last year. It’s almost a type of poetic realism. You know, that realism that occurs when people travel through worm holes. But poetic.
Continuing along those lines, the dialogue also has a balance of authenticity and complete and utter cobblers. Attempts to weight scripts with what could be seen as real science talk is largely superfluous. This is a ship containing three men, one woman and a bendy iMonolith travelling to another part of the galaxy; it’s safe to say that I have already conceded that my disbelief will need to be suspended in order to enjoy this. There’s really not any need to convince me of the whys and hows that this star hopping is actually possible. Although, that said, it was a nice change to not be treated like a complete idiot by a movie. Sure, there’s the typical exposition that you get in all blockbusters these days, but to have explanations that aid understanding without especially dumbing down, for example David Gyasi embodying the spirit of Laurence Fishburne in Event Horizon to explain to fellow crew members Cooper, Brand (Anne Hathaway) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) how wormholes work, was a nice treat. It was relevant, informative but not bogging the film down in droll pseudo-scientific theory.
Whilst these are two things that you could transfer to pretty much any films in Nolan’s back catalogue, one thing that is virtually out of his hands is that of the performances from the cast. The ever-reliable Matthew McConaughey (who would’ve thought that could be a thing three or four years ago – certainly not James) puts in a performance that is (pardon the pun) out of this world (I did say “pardon”!) It more than likely won’t grant him an Oscar for the second year in a row, but for a film of this magnitude with such high profile stars in it (Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon and so on) who are all on form, for him to outshine them in the way that he does is pretty extraordinary.
As said earlier in the review, I wanted this movie to be good. I can see how that might suggest the potential for me to be lying to you – and maybe even myself. However, I honestly do believe that Interstellar, whilst not without its problems, is quite probably the best film Nolan has created… objectively speaking. Everyone has a favourite Nolan. He has seven movies in the IMDb Top 250, with one of those currently sitting in fourth place and a further two in the top 15! He’s an incredibly popular filmmaker and not without reason. My personal favourite may not be Interstellar, but it’s his most sophisticated, well made, and intelligent movie yet. Yes, better than Memento before anybody suggests it.
Owen, Steve and Carole will be chatting about Interstellar (and no doubt Nolan in general) on the upcoming podcast.
by Callum Petch
24 hours before seeing Rio 2, I pushed play on Rio. I figured that I should probably do my research before I went to go and see the new one and be a good film critic and all (one who, this weekend, has entered his fifth year of attempting to do this thing, woop woop). Despite major trepidation on my part going on, it turned out to be pretty good. It was often funny, had pretty great animation as long as no humans were heavily involved, some good songs, a great villain in the form of the Jemaine Clement-voiced Nigel and was, overall, pretty entertaining. It also had a very formulaic and by-the-numbers plot, an unconvincing relationship between its two main characters, some dire voice acting from at least half of the cast and an air of disposability to proceedings. Rio touched greatness enough for me to be disappointed and slightly annoyed that it never fully grasped it but, I must admit, it gave me a tonne of hope for Rio 2.
If I had seen Rio at the time it came out and written a review of it (and if my work from 2011 didn’t cause me to crawl into my skin and die every time I re-read it), I would likely have simply copy-pasted that review here, futzed around with some of the particulars and simply left this review at that. Quite literally, bar two key new criticisms, this is the exact same way I felt once the credits rolled on the original Rio. It’s not the same movie, but it has the exact same feel and the exact same things going for it and the exact same things working against it and it has been three years since the original you’d think they would have at least tried to fix those issues with the first one!
Here would be where I describe the plot to Rio 2 except that I’m still not entirely certain what the overall plot is. Outside of Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, still surprisingly adept in the role) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway, still surprisingly underserved in the role) taking their children to the Amazon once their owners Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro, still really not very good in the role) and Linda (Leslie Mann, still all over the place in the role) discover a tribe of other Blue Spix’s Macaws, meaning that Blu’s family aren’t the only ones anymore, it’s a free-for-all. Compared to Rio’s laser-sharp focus in plotting, although it was overstuffed in regards to characters it kept its plotlines down to two and both were related to each other, Rio 2 seems content to act as a feature-length version of one of those Simpsons episodes where the characters travel to far off places and stuff happens to them.
Naturally, this leads to a lack of focus, generic-ness in regards to the majority of the scenarios and certain plots being better than others. Best of the lot involves the return of Nigel, now rendered flightless after the end of the first film and currently stuck in the Amazon as a street performer, whose passion for vengeance is reignited when he spots Blu and sets out to deliver it with the help of a dumb aardvark and a hopelessly infatuated poisonous frog named Gabbie (an excellent Kristin Chenoweth). These play a lot like Ralph Wolf trying to catch himself a sheep, to begin with, but then Nigel keeps inadvertently wandering into other plots which switches up the formula and keeps it from getting stale. He’s also, sadly, not in it enough which is damn shame as, especially, his scenes with Gabbie are comic gold, primarily because Clement and Chenoweth are that great in their roles.
The most main of the main plots involves Blu trying to fit in with the tribe, led by Jewel’s long lost father Eduardo (Andy Garcia). This goes almost exactly as you’re expecting: Blu, a domesticated city-bird at heart, doesn’t acclimatise well to his new surroundings, Eduardo stops short of all but derisively shouting “CITY BOY!!” at him, his attempts to fit in screw things up for the tribe, Jewel shames his legitimate inability to fit in by all but going “it’s not this place’s fault, you’re just the selfish arsehole!” (which is a route I would very much like kids’ films, actually just all films in general, to stop going down for reasons that are too lengthy and off-topic to properly address here) until an outside threat causes Blu to step up and prove himself worthy of the tribe’s respect. It couldn’t be more by-the-numbers if it tried but there are at least some good jokes here and a very fun football setpiece at the 2/3 mark, plus the final setpiece, which clumsily tries to link all of the other plots together, is very exciting.
As a subplot of that main plot, Blu also has to contend with feelings of inadequacy when Jewel is reunited with her childhood sweetheart Roberto (Bruno Mars; yes, really) and the strain on his relationship with Jewel caused by her homecoming and burgeoning desire to never leave again. I will commend the film, by the way, for not making Roberto and Blu battle for Jewel’s affection. Instead, Roberto completely respects the relationship that Blu and Jewel have and never once tries to make a pass at her. It felt good to see the film sidestep such an obvious relationship roadblock, one designed purely for drama’s sake. That goodwill is, of course, mostly evaporated by making Blu the unreasonable one in him and Jewel’s “should we or should we not stay in the Amazon” arguments despite having the more sympathetic viewpoint and mining that for drama’s sake, although it stops short of having the two break-up for five minutes. Instead, Jewel shames him and then Blu seems ready to reluctantly make things work. So… baby steps? It’s too formulaic for me to get worked up over.
We’re still not done, though, as another subplot involves the returning will.i.am, Jamie Foxx and George Lopez as Black Comic Relief, Slightly Less Black Comic Relief and George Lopez, respectively. They’ve followed the Blu family over to the Amazon in order to scout out talent for Rio’s upcoming Carnival but are really only here to make some very easy gags (or, in the case of Black Comic Relief, saying a bunch of random and often not funny words and sentences in a self-consciously wacky way in a vain attempt to make them funny) and to provide an excuse for the film having a couple more musical numbers. On the subject of those, they’re fine if forgettable. The best of them are Poisonous Love, which is at once hilarious and surprisingly poignant near the end (mostly because Chenoweth absolutely slays the Broadway-style number), and a parody of I Will Survive that retrofits certain lyrics to Nigel’s situation and throws in rap sections, dubstep breakdowns and pointless, lampshaded auto-tune in a very self-aware effort to be as stupid as possible. The rest blend into one another, but at least there’s nothing on the “oh gods, make it stop” level of the various will.i.am numbers from the last film.
Finally, we have the adventures of Tulio and Linda as they attempt to pinpoint the exact location of the tribe of Blue Sphix’s Macaws and end up running afoul of, and I kid you not here, an illegal logging operation run by a thin, non-moustached Burt Reynolds lookalike who genuinely and frequently refers to the pair as “good-for-nothing tree-huggers”. These guys are unrepentantly evil and the film plays every scene involving them as straight and dark as possible which is the worst possible thing it could have done. Look, I get that Rio 2 wants to get its environmentalism message out there to the younger generation and good on it, it has every right to and should be doing, but it also leads to major tonal whiplash as we cut from Blu’s goof-ups at trying to win Eduardo’s approval to scenes of Linda being hunted through the forest by people who, and it’s all but explicitly stated, want to kill her. And the film rarely comes back to this plotline, as if even it realises how misguided and out-of-place it is but ended up building its climactic final setpiece around it and, therefore, can’t just jettison it. It’s from a much different film and should either have been severely rewritten or just plain dropped.
Oh, and if you’re looking forward to spending some quality time with Blu and Jewel’s kids, prepare to be disappointed. They basically wander in and out of the film whenever they want. Although, considering the overly stuffed nature of the film’s 101 minutes, that’s probably a wise decision.
I’ve spent so long running down the quality of each of Rio 2’s various plotlines because it helps elongate a review that would otherwise have been me making the exact same criticisms and praises of the first film. The animation quality, for example, has both progressed greatly in the 3 years since Rio and, at the same time, seems to be stuck in 2011. The stuff that looked great in the first film, mainly any of the animals and especially nice wide crowd shots of anything at all, looks excellent here; there definitely seems to be more detail when it comes to the way that individual feathers look and move than before, for example. The stuff that didn’t look so good in the first film, namely the humans, still doesn’t look so good, only that “not good”-ness is now further enhanced by the great stuff looking fantastic. Specifically, human movement still sits at an uncomfortable halfway house between realistic and cartoony, which creates a very uncanny and distractingly fake result in anything except wide and distant crowd shots. Also, there’s still a suspicious-looking amount of Chroma Keying going on here (where the backgrounds and the characters are animated separately and then layered onto one another later in production), much like in the first film, and it’s very noticeable if you’re aware of the process.
Meanwhile, the voice cast pick up from where they left off in the first film. Jesse Eisenberg is still surprisingly great as Blu, although that might be because the role plays to his pre-Social Network strengths. Anne Hathaway still makes as much of an impression as her character does, which is little. Jemaine Clement again gives the best performance of the entire cast seeing as he puts in this little thing called “effort” that Andy Garcia couldn’t be bothered with; the only reason Garcia isn’t the film’s worst voice actor is because william and Tracy Morgan return from the first film. Kristin Chenoweth nails every single line and is clearly having a tonne of fun but the big surprise is, and I swear that I am being completely serious with you, Bruno Mars. As Roberto, he spends most of the film delivering his lines in a breathy, rather emotionless kind of manner, like he thinks he’s portraying the epitome of suave and “HAVE MY BABIES” when he really, really isn’t. Initially, I thought it was a bad performance. And then he gets a freak-out scene, and he nails it so spectacularly that it made me realise that his earlier work wasn’t unintentionally bad, it was so purposefully bad that I didn’t realise the intention until he showed off how good he is at material with energy! Give him a round of applause, he deserves it!
Rio 2, then, is a sequel to Rio that manages to be exactly as good as the original. It has the same strengths (Nigel, some good songs, great animal animation and a good successful/unsuccessful gag ratio) and weaknesses (clichéd nature, poor human animation, half of a voice cast that’s either untalented or not bothered, and little desire to innovate or stick out in anybody’s memory more than a few hours after having seen it) as Rio but with the added caveat of having had three years to fix those problems. I feel that Blue Sky could make a great Rio movie if they wanted to, but they instead seem content to settle for creating an above-average way to pass the time. And whilst I can’t deny that I had some good fun with Rio 2, I hope it’s an attitude the company moves away from fast. For if this same attitude gets applied to their upcoming Peanuts movie, then I and every other animation lover on the planet will be queuing up to burn their offices down.
I’ve always loved film soundtracks, but ever since I’ve been film blogging they have pretty much replaced radio and MTV in being my primary channel for discovering new music and previously undiscovered classics. So, just as l did last year, here is my ‘Cinematic Soundtrack of the Year’, starring my favourite musical moments from film in the last twelve months.
Cuddly Toy by Roachford – Alpha Papa
Unfairly overshadowed by another Oscar-winning, tightly shot close-up musical performance (more on that later), the sight of Steve Coogan lip-syncing to forgotten 80s ‘classic’ Cuddly Toy while driving to work in his sponsored car let me know that everything was going to be okay with the one film I was desperate not to fail this year. It stayed true to the spirit of the TV show (in fact it’s very reminiscent of Alan’s air bass guitar to Gary Numan’s ‘Music for Chameleons’ in series 2), while laying down a marker for how this very British sitcom was going to expand onto our cinema screens by spending 3 minutes on one joke, which would have been unthinkable in a 27-minute programme.
Silver Lady by David Soul – Filth
Filth’s soundtrack is one of my favourites of the year, featuring a great Clint Mansell score as well as a number of interesting covers and rediscovered classics. However, the pinanacle of the film’s marriage of bizarre imagery and 70s soul comes in a scene where David Soul arrives in a car, picking up Shauna Macdonald (playing the wife of James McAvoy’s Bruce Robertson). The ensuing car journey has Soul singing his own ‘Silver Lady’, complete with glamorous backing singers in the back seat. Utterly bizarre and hilarious.
I Follow Rivers (The Magician Remix) by Lykke Li – Blue is the Warmest Colour
This must have been a huge hit in France, not only featuring on the soundtrack to Rust and Bone (my film of 2012), but even more memorably in this year’s Palm d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour. In a picture notable for its lack of a conventional score, the party scene where Adele finds some much needed familiarity with her friends and family comes to life with this brilliant track.
Can’t Forget by Cliff Martinez (feat. Mac Quayle & Vithaya Pansringarm) – Only God Forgives
Like Nicholas Winding Refn’s last film Drive, Only God Forgives is scored superbly by Cliff Martinez. The highlight for me being the karaoke performance of a softly spoken, samurai sword-wielding police office played with an unearthly grace and calm by Vithaya Pansringarm. The scens of him singing his heart out to a room of impassive stony-faced colleagues was unnerving and almost Lynchian in its banal nightmarish qualities.
Space Oddity by David Bowie (and Kristen Wiig) – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Pipping the films use of the brilliant Arcade Fire track Wake Up is the moment where Kristen Wiig enters a bar in Greenland, dressed in winter clothing and with a guitar slung over her shoulder, and starts to sing David Bowie’s Space Oddity. A wondrous collision of incredible music and Ben Stiller finally seizing the day as my cinematic proxy made this one of my favourite moments in a cinema all year. Seriously, it was like porn to me.
Let’s Go Fly a Kite by Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak, and Emma Thompson – Saving Mr Banks
Any film featuring the near-perfect songs from Mary Poppins was always going to end up on this list, but even I was surprised by how affected I was by this film’s exploration into the themes and motivations behind the creation of Disney’s finest film. The moment that PL Travers (Emma Thompson) and the song-writing Sherman Brothers (BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman) finally reach a moment of understanding and conciliation over the climactic Mary Poppins is a joyous scene.
Let It Go by Idina Menzel – Frozen
This Disney musical is huge return to form for the animation studio that has struggled in Pixar and Dreamwork’s shadow over the last decade. But while other studios stagnated this year, Disney produced their best film since the renaissance of the early nineties. Frozen, based on a classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale, looks absolutely fantastic and features songs comparable to Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, but with a post-Wicked twist. Idina Menzel’s (who has history as a Disney princess from Enchanted) performance as Elsa at the mid-way point of the film is the perfect marriage of stunning animation and incredible vocals.
I Dreamed a Dream by Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
I simply couldn’t look beyond this as my choice for musical moment of the year. I’ve been a huge fan of the original musical ever since my wife persuaded me to grow up and forget my preconceptions about musical theatre, and it has been a long wait to see the musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel finally make it to the big screen. Luckily, the film didn’t disappoint (let’s just pretend Russell Crowe didn’t happen) and Tom Hooper’s film gained Oscar nominations and a place in my films of 2013 list.
The moment of the film that most sticks in the mind though is that incredible sequence where Anne Hathaway rescues one of theatre’s great songs from the hands of Susan Boyle. The close-up, the impassioned vocals, and the sobbing endeared Hathaway to a legion of new fans, and rightfully won her an Oscar.
These tracks, and more, are available on this collaborative Spotify playlist. We’d love you to add your favourite soundtrack music that we missed.
I wrote the obligatory Les Mis review back in January, after its (Leicester based) premiere on the big screen. Since then, I’ve been to see it more times than I went to the cinema in the whole of 2012. Which, admittedly, was only about four times. But still, what a loser.
Today it is released on DVD. No longer must you attempt discreet silent sobbing into a single Kleenex Balsam while sharing an arm rest with a stranger. Instead you can watch it the privacy of your own home, clutching a loo roll in the fetal position on your sofa, the way Victor Hugo would have wanted.
It’s about 3 hours long which, I agree, is quite a commitment. So here are my must see moments, in their painstaking, obsessive, chronological entirety.
1. Enter Colm Wilkinson (0:07:14)
The first few minutes of the film are a little disconcerting, even for a hysterical fan such as myself. I was still reeling from the fact that Hugh Jackman was Irish and Russell Crowe couldn’t sing, when suddenly Colm Wilkinson (who originated the role of Valjean in the West End AND Broadway, so he knows his shit, people) turned up as the kindly Bishop, brandishing those candlesticks, and reassured me that it was all going to be ok.
2. Fantine nods (0:16:03)
At this point she’s still part of the factory chorus. Though she stands out a mile off because she’s a) the only one wearing pink and b) Anne Hathaway. “Pay the landlord, pay the shop. Keep on working as long as you’re able.” she sings, with the steely determination of someone who knows she isn’t going to be in a job much longer. Not that job, anyway.
3. The sniff that won the Academy Award (0:29:40)
This performance is perfect for many reasons, not least because it represents the moment everyone stopped associating the song with a reality TV contestant. I Dreamed a Dream is filmed as one continuous tight shot of Hathaway’s Oscar winning face. But my favourite sniff in particular occurs here.
4. When Jackman gets it (0:37:37)
These songs have been performed on stage for 18 years. Those are some big boots to fill, and at the beginning Hugh’s shoe size waivers. But it’s in the gathering up his belongings (candlesticks, mainly) section of Who Am I? when he suddenly makes the role his own. Glancing up at the heavens during his surprisingly subtle utterance of the line “my soul belongs to God, I know, I made that bargain long ago”, he nails it.
5. Valjean stealth failure (1:00:32)
Jean Valjean is many things; world’s strongest man, Mayor, bread thief. But he certainly isn’t an expert when it comes to stealth. This is showcased earlier in the film, when he attempts to steal some silver platters from the Bishop by drop kicking them out of an open door (0:08:39). However he surpasses this moment when stumbling into the church yard, whispering “we need to disappear” and then immediately launching into song at the top of his lungs. Brilliant.
6. Size zero Eponine (1:07:45)
We get a few glimpses of Eponine mooching around in the background, batting her grubby eyelashes at Marius. But this is the first time we see a full length shot of her, and her eye watering corset. My official scientific calculations put her waist at half the size of a Cadbury Creme Egg. Or something. I couldn’t be bothered to get off the sofa to measure it.
7. Vacuous Cosette (1:08:10)
Cosette is a bit of a nothing character. Her main purpose is to sing the really high twiddly notes that no one else can hit during the group numbers. Aside from that she just stands around looking dead eyed to the point where you wonder if her bonnet isn’t tied a bit too tight. It’s kind of a testament to Amanda Seyfried that she pulled this off to perfection.
8. Marius & Enjolras walk into certain death in order to save face (1:34:48)
You know when you’re on a night out with your mates and an elaborate drunken plan is hatched to go to Blackpool for the weekend, and then the next morning you all play cancellation chicken, because you don’t want to be a spoilsport, but you really don’t want to drive to Blackpool? That’s essentially what Marius & Enjolras do at this moment.
9. The shit barricades (1:35:56)
Books rely entirely on your imagination to create a vivid picture. Theatre relies on basic set and a suspension of disbelief. Films are supposed to do all that for you. On stage, the barricades are an all singing, all dancing, revolving masterpiece. In the movie, which had a not insubstantial $61 million budget, the barricades are built from a couple of old chairs.
10. Enjolras’s death back-flip (1:57:50)
There are multiple deaths in this movie, from the tragedy of Fantine saying goodbye to her daughter, to the exquisite crunch of Russell Crowe’s vocal chords snapping in the sea. But Enjolras hanging backwards out of the window, red flag in hand, is a wonderful chest punching nod to the theatre goers in the audience.
11. The Shawshank Redemption homage (2:00:38)
After dragging his future son-in-law (rather than just a bag of shoes and some money laundering paperwork) through endless sewers, Jackman emerges covered head to toe in shit, save for his beady white eyes. Liquid cinema, in every sense.
12. Grandpa Marius crashes the party (2:09:21)
Alright, so they gave Marius a bit of a back story, made that sacrifice all the more poignant. And, fair enough, Grandpa and his bucket-loads money put on a pretty fancy wedding for the kids. But that does not give him the right to muscle his face into A Heart Full of Love reprise. Dude, wind your wrinkly neck in.
13. The Jackanory bit (2:10:21)
Marius is a sweet kid. When Valjean settles down to have what is obviously a serious important discussion with his new son in law, Marius reacts with an excitable grin, like he’s about to get a bedtime story.
14. The making of Marius (2:11:57)
Moments ago he was grinning like a loon. Then suddenly Marius understands that Valjean is doing a runner, and he’s going to have to pick up the slack. Never mind all that revolution nonsense, this is the moment Marius becomes a man. His voice suddenly and inexplicably breaks, and he practically growls the line “for the sake of Cosette, it must be so”. HOT.
15. Do you hear the people sing? (2:15:30)
Basically, the second the film cuts to the convent (beginning of chapter 19), it’s time to brace yourself for the big finale. It’s a stunning scene, but the bit where Valjean stands up out of the chair with Fantine (2:21:20) is particularly well done. Then the whispered singing, a proper set of barricades, and all the clapping and crying I can muster. Marvellous.
Shall we watch it again?
Do you hear the critics sing?
Podding the thoughts of angry men,
They are the musings of a people who won’t watch Rock of Ages again,
When the bleating of the fool,
Echoes the bleating of the drunk,
There is podcast about to start when tomorrow comes!
That’s right, James has finally managed to persuade the critics back into the cinema to see another musical, and hopefully this time they won’t want to kill him afterwards. Also on our big return we review new releases Gangster Squad, The Sessions, The Impossible, and Quartet.
Join us next week as we review Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The D is silent, the podcast won’t be…
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first of all. And no, I don’t mean the actual Elephant of the Bastille monument that the students lark about on in later scenes. I mean Russell Crowe‘s really shit singing. Here’s a little tip for any other theatre producers thinking of transferring their global phenomenon stage musical to the big screen: if there are rumblings about one of your leading actor’s singing not being up to scratch, don’t give him the opening line of the sodding film! My first thought was ‘oh god’. My second thought was ‘I can’t work out what he sounds like and it’s going to bug me for the next 157 minutes’. And my third thought (don’t worry, I’m not going to document every thought that entered my head throughout the film, that would be terrifying) was ‘oh yes, I’ve worked it out’.
The first few minutes are all a bit random really. Crowe’s Javert is great at riding a horse, and being downright menacing, so long as he isn’t carrying a (nasal) tune. Hugh Jackman‘s Valjean looks as rough as someone who’s spent 19 years in prison lugging boats around has every right to and, when he speaks, he sounds like he has a mouthful of spoons. That, coupled with the fact that they’re doing this weird sing/talk hybrid, and I can see why newcomers and reluctant viewers might have been a little put off. I struggled to enjoy it at first, and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Les Mis fan. Ideally, they should have swapped it around a bit, and started the film with one of the more solid performances. But I guess they felt that telling the story out of chronological sequence, Pulp Fiction style, was unbecoming. Bloody theatre snobs.
Luckily, while I was still wondering whether this was actually going to be any good, Anne Hathaway turned up, had all her hair chopped off, sang a song, won an Oscar, and promptly died, all within the space of about 15 minutes. Nailed it, Hathaway.
By now, eight years have passed and Valjean’s had a chance to have a wash and remove all those spoons from his mouth, and scrubs up pretty nicely indeed. Hello Mr Mayor! It’s like that bit in Friends where Monica & Rachel mistake some guy for a yeti, but then he cuts his hair and he’s really hot. Or, you know, a reference to something far more highbrow. He sets off to rescue little Cosette (neatly skimming over the fact that he was kind of responsible for her mother’s untimely death) and give her a better life. Which means that she’ll get to wear pretty bonnets and no longer have to fetch water from that scary well, but she’ll never have any mates ever, and will always have to be ready to abscond at a moment’s notice, because her dad’s in some kind of unexplained, self imposed witness protection scheme.
At this point you should insert a new song, which we all know was crowbarred in to add one more Oscar nomination to the haul. The lyrics should be reminiscent of something Westlife would sing, while perched atop stools on a Top of the Pops stage.
Another nine years pass and, while the French revolution rumbles away in the background, Javert is still hunting for Valjean. Tip: he’s the one lugging the giant candlestick wherever he goes. Meanwhile Cosette falls in love, Valjean prepares to do another runner, and some students get pissed and shout ‘red’ and ‘black’ over and over again. This is all leading to the most rousing, and my absolute favourite, song of the stage show, One Day More. On screen I’m not entirely sure it meshed perfectly, but I’d have to see it again to be sure. At the theatre, this juncture would be your interval. But there’s no time for a gin & tonic at the cinema, people. The bleakness is unremitting as we immediately plough on with act two.
The thing is, I don’t actually find it all that gloomy. Within the context of 19th century France, I’d say they’re quite a cheery bunch really. Nonetheless, the Thénardiers are important for the purposes of comic relief. You would have thought that noted comic actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter would have pulled this off with aplomb. But I’m sad to say they did not. Master of the House felt like a dress rehearsal of something that could have, eventually, been great; while other killer lines are lost in the direction altogether. Shame, really.
While I don’t want this review to be entirely about Russell Crowe’s singing (I only want it to be 95% about that), his performance of Stars cannot go unmentioned. Stars is Javert’s big moment. His Anne Hathaway, if you will. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that the director was more concerned with having him balance along the edge of a really tall building than hitting some/any of the big notes. But Stars has been dumbed down so much it is rendered almost meaningless. And I know these songs, let me tell you. I’ve seen Les Misérables probably five times on the West End, plus a couple of school/college performances, and have driven the length of the M5 listening to the CD on more than one occasion.
There is plenty of enjoyment to be gained for fans of the show. The always ridiculous runaway cart becomes the fallen cart, seemingly because they couldn’t even be arsed to push it down a hill this time. The obligatory Cockney kid screaming ‘Vive le Francais!’ is good for a wry smile. And Enjolras pulls off a very fine version of the barricades death back-flip. There is also the amazing moment where, after dragging his future son-in-law (rather than just a bag of shoes and some money laundering paperwork) through endless sewers, Jackman emerges covered head to toe in shit, save for his beady white eyes. It’s brilliantly horrific.
I’m a fan, I’m predisposed to like it. There is good (outstanding) and bad (embarrassingly disappointing). But, ultimately, Les Misérables is more than the sum of its parts. Even if one of those parts is a New Zealand-born Australian actor who sounds like he’s making a three pints down attempt at “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears on Sing Star.
One final note of thanks to the impeccably behaved audience of the completely sold out 8pm showing at Leicester Showcase on Friday night, who watched the film in total silence and applauded at the end. You restored my faith in cinema-going.
Holy half-baked opinions Batman! This week our very own Rogues Gallery of Villains (Gerry – The Joker, Owen – The Riddler, James – The Penguin, Steve – Catwoman) not only review The Dark Knight Rises, but also tackle all things Batman in a bumper 2 hour Batman Special.
In the opening section we discuss our randomly-allocated Batman films of the past – including Gerry’s near-breakdown over the 1966 movie and Owen looking for the positives in Batman and Robin. Plus Steve puts us all to shame with his tales of heroism. Well, sort of.
This week’s Triple Bill sees the critics giving us their favourite performances from the actors that have played the Caped Crusader in the last 25 years.
Then finally (at 1hour and 19 minutes if you want to skip) we review the most anticipated film of the year. Does it live up to expectations? Was it a worthy conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy? Could we understand a word Bane was saying?
We’re away next week, but will return on 7th August with a review of Ted and our favourite sporting movies.