Les Misérables

Passion. Music. Love. Cinema.

Pic source: hollywoodreporter.com

The longest running musical, seen by over 60-million people worldwide and a much loved novel by Victor Hugo… Director, Tom Hooper took on a mammoth challenge when he decided to direct Les Misérables, the film.  He retained the musical format, which makes it a very different viewing experience, but also requires a little patience. At two-hours and forty-minutes, it is a long film with a lot of singing and even more heart.

Les Misérables is nothing short of magic on big screen – it looks spectacular and has outstanding performances by all the actors, who performed their songs live on the sets and not lip-synched. It is a triumph for Hooper and his brilliant team of writers – William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg (the last three are also behind the on-stage musical adaptation). After a spectacular start, the film does drag a bit in the second hour but the sincere and heart-felt performances by the actors keep you involved.

Set in the nineteenth century France, Les Misérables begins with a man named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being released from a prison after serving a nineteen-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. He is marked as a dangerous man with a life-long parole, which he breaks and is pursued by a law-obsessed policeman, Javert (Russell Crowe). While Valjean gets a second chance to turn around his wretched life, a beautiful factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is doomed after her co-workers find out about her illegitimate child. The film spans two-decades and we are introduced to numerous characters including Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen as a child and Amanda Seyfried as an adult); Cosette’s greedy care-takers, Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen); Thénardier’s children, Éponine (Samantha Barks) who is as old as Cosette and the young street urchin, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone); Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who loves Cosette and is also a student revolutionary along with Enjolras (Aaron Tveit). It is a great ensemble cast and I cannot point at one actor who did not live up to the characters they portrayed.

Pic source: Wikipedia

The film opens with a prisoners’ song, “Look down” where we see hundreds of famished prisoners pulling a ship to its dock, while Javert supervises them. It is a grand visual with the sea, large ships and so many wretched souls including Valjean. The film strikes the perfect balance between real emotions and a magical setting, which is almost unbearably sad at times. The costumes, the wigs and make-up, the production design and cinematography are all first-rate and make it a spectacular viewing experience. The music is from the stage musical (lyrics – Herbert Kretzmer; music producers – Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg) with an additional original song, “Suddenly” that is about Valjean finding Cosette and the sudden change in his life. It is performed beautifully by Hugh Jackman who is simply brilliant in the film. My other favorite songs in the film are Fantine’sI dreamed a dream” in which Anne Hathaway confirms her Oscar shot; young Cosette’sCastle on a cloud”, which has a haunting melody; the revolutionaries’ “Do you hear the people sing?”, which is still playing in my head and Valjean’sWhat have I done?” Apart from Jackman and Hathaway, I loved what the two little kids brought to the film. Isabelle as Cosette looks exactly like the famous portrait by Emile Bayard from the original edition of the book and Daniel as Gavroche is the star in the last forty-minutes of the film. Special mention for Aaron Tveit who plays Enjolras with so much conviction that you almost forget to look at Marius.

Les Misérables is made with passion, love and hope, which is visible on-screen. It may not be the most entertaining film you’ll see this year, but it is everything that great cinema can offer a true film-lover. If you like musicals then do not miss it on the big screen.

Watch this great video about the actors singing live while filming:

 

And here’s Fantine’s heartbreakingly beautiful “I dreamed a dream”:

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The Dark Knight Rises

A Fitting Finale

The world is not known for equality… there are the haves and the have-nots; there are the rich in pent-houses and there are the homeless; there are the Michelin starred meals and there are deaths due to hunger. We live in this world everyday and it is more apparent in a country like India. There is latent anger in a large number of people towards this inequality and financial disparity. We have heard and read about the Occupy Wall Street protest movement in New York, where the activists are protesting against greed, corruption and economic inequality. Closer home, Anna Hazare stages regular protests against corruption which brought the Government almost to its knees. What if this anger takes a violent form; moves from protests to terrorism? A storm comes and attempts to change the world order, creating complete chaos… The question actually may not be ‘what if’ but ‘when’. Christopher Nolan’s third and final installment in the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises takes us in the middle of one such attack that threatens to destroy the financial system and the world as we know it. Similar thoughts were brought up in the first film, Batman Begins (2005) as we understood the motives of the League of Shadows and its leader, Ra’s al Ghul. Unlike the earlier films where the city of Gotham is under threat and faces a few attack; in this film Nolan lets Batman’s city burn and destruct by the hands of a terrorist, Bane who aims to restore the balance in the world by destroying it, and particularly the Gotham city. The film’s tone and the conflict is captured in this one scene where Selina Kyle or Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) tells the billionaire, Bruce Wayne or Batman (Christian Bale), “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne… when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us”.

Bruce Wayne faces the biggest challenges in this film, both at the physical as well as emotional level. The film is set, eight years after the events in The Dark Knight, where Harvey Dent is hailed as a hero who gave his life for the city of Gotham and Batman labeled as his murderer and a hero gone rogue. Bruce lives the life of a recluse until the clouds of war start looming again and his friend, Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) faces the masked terrorist, Bane (Tom Hardy). He realises that his city needs Batman again and his company, Wayne Enterprises needs a strong person to lead it and save its potentially dangerous defense assets. Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), an environmentalist and a business woman shows hope for both Wayne Enterprises and the troubled soul of Bruce. Apart from the Batman film regulars like scientist and President of Wayne Enterprises, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Bruce’s butler and father figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine); we are introduced to a young police officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who senses the danger his city is in, much before everyone else.

John Blake and Miranda Tate: http://www.thedarkknightrises.com

Amongst the cast, everyone is pitch perfect and Christian Bale once again shows his versatility as an actor; he is the strong, the invincible Batman and also the broken Wayne. Michael Caine brings emotions to the forefront while Gordon-Levitt adds freshness to the series. Marion Cotillard is enigmatic and beautiful as ever; a little bit more of her would not have hurt. Tom Hardy as Bane looks and behaves like a monster; he is not like the maniacal Joker and comparisons with Heath Ledger (who played Joker in The Dark Knight, 2008) are unfair. It’s a pity we get to see Hardy’s face only once in the film. The bright spark in the film however is CatwomanAnne Hathaway has done a fantastic job with the character; she is witty, unpredictable and kicks a**.

Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s script links back to many elements from the earlier films and closes many loops. The film does slow down in the middle but does not get boring. There are many predictable moments but an equal number of small and big surprises. Batman’s new air-borne vehicle, the Bat is beyond cool and so is his Batcycle. Spectacular special effects and scenes of destruction make your jaw drop and there are many moments that make you nervous. Hans Zimmer’s music is good and the Bane chant pumps up the tension. At about 164-minutes, it is a long film but I am not complaining.

For all its symbolism and grave themes, The Dark Knight Rises entertains and is a fitting finale to the best Batman story ever told on screen.

PS: Read my post on how Nolan made me a Batman fan here.

PPS: Do look out for the ‘Man of Steel’ (new Superman film) trailer with The Dark Knight Rises

Nolan made me a Batman fan

The Dark Knight Rises on July 20th

Pic source: Wikipedia

I enjoyed watching the 1960s’ American TV series, ‘Batman’ but was never really a fan of the character. The earlier film versions, directed by Tim Burton  (Batman, Batman Returns) and Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin) also did not really impress as they seemed to be stuck somewhere between the comic books and live action film making. Nothing seemed real in those films and most of them were laughable… in my opinion, they were neither suitable for kids nor for adults. Batman for me was Hollywood at its worst.

However, ace director, Christopher Nolan changed that with his version of Batman films. His 2005 film, Batman Begins revisited the character and told his story again but the tone was different – it was darker, serious and grown up. Christian Bale became Bruce Wayne and made us empathise with the character; he became Batman and we were in awe. Nolan’s reboot infused life in the franchise and I found myself interested in the series again. Then came The Dark Knight in 2008, which was not only the finest Batman film till date but also amongst the finest thrillers / superhero films made by Hollywood. While Bale was impressive as Batman again, the film’s real star was Heath Ledger who played the villain – Joker. Ledger who died months before the film’s release showed how menacing a character can get and how good an actor can be. With a stellar screenplay (Christopher & Jonathan Nolan), superb background score by Hans Zimmer and fantastic action sequences, The Dark Knight was gripping from start to finish. This was a film that did not allow you to look away from the screen for a minute or talk to the person next to you. It was Nolan’s magic that brought Batman to life again and made me a fan!

And now, we are only a few days away from the final installment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises is possibly the most anticipated film of this year and pre-booking in theatres started months before the release date. Everyone I know is excited about the film and fan-boys are counting each hour before they get to see Batman take on Bane, a terrorist who wants to destroy the Gotham city. Here are the top reasons I am excited about the final chapter in the trilogy (in no particular order):

Tom Hardy as Bane: There could not have been a better actor to play the villain who breaks Batman’s back. Why? Have you seen Tom in his earlier film, Warrior? He is not only physically suited to play the character but also can act well. He may not make us forget Heath Ledger’s Joker but am sure will make us remember his Bane.

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman: I hope she makes us forget Halle Berry and Michelle Pfeiffer’s outings as Catwoman. Hathaway of Princess Diaries and Bride Wars is an interesting choice and I am curious to see how she handles the character, especially when she is supposed to be Bane’s associate. She has got extensive focus in the film’s promos and even an exclusive trailer for the Catwoman character; I am sure we’d be surprised by Ms. Hathaway in this film.

Joseph Gordon Levitt and Marion Cotillard: I simply love these two actors and it seems Nolan loves them too; they were there in his Inception and they are there in The Dark Knight Rises now. They are both new characters and I am really looking forward to what Nolan has done with these two great performers.

Hans Zimmer’s music: This man is a magician and his pairing with Nolan is simply brilliant. In India, it’s like A R Rahman and Mani Ratnam together.

Christopher Nolan: Do I need to say anything else?

Oh, and I haven’t forgotten Christan Bale but have got used to him as Batman. He is an actor par excellence and that is the bare minimum one expects from him now. I am sure he will deliver once again…

July 20 is when The Dark Knight Rises.

Viewing recommendation:

Watch it on IMAX screen if there’s one in your city. Folks in the UK can enjoy the film at Odeon which has more IMAX screens in the country than any other cinema chain. For more information on ticket and viewing options check the The Dark Knight Rises at Odeon web page. In India, Nolan fans in Mumbai should only go for BIG Cinemas’ IMAX in Wadala as the rest is a waste. Cine-goers in Delhi will have to do without IMAX but look for a theatre with good sound (I am told that the best Dolby sound system is in place at PVR and DT cinemas in Ambience Mall, Gurgaon & Vasant Kunj; Promenade in Vasant Kunj; Select Citywalk and DLF Place in Saket).

Bride Wars

 

Chick-flick that didn’t click…

 

 

 

 

 

Bride Wars, poster courtesy: www.movieposter.com

Bride Wars, poster courtesy: http://www.movieposter.com

 

 

 

 

A perfect wedding… Hollywood loves the subject and there are a number of chick-lit and rom-com films dedicated to this theme. Some are genuinely enjoyable (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding), while some are just like stale popcorn (think Made of Honour). Bride Wars, starring Anne Hathaway (Emma) and Kate Hudson (Liv) clearly falls in the second category. A single episode of Sex and the City packs more punch that this ninety minute film.

Liv and Emma are best friends till they get to know that their weddings are scheduled for the same day by the almighty wedding planner, Marion St. Claire (played by Candice Bergen). None of them want to leave the much sought after venue, The Plaza and decide to stick to the date expecting the other to change. Friends-turned-rivals, both brides begin to plan their weddings and sabotage the other’s. The plot seems interesting till here, but the script is extremely flimsy after this point. There are a few funny moments but not enough to keep you away from checking emails or messages on your phone.

Performance wise, I enjoyed Candice Bergen’s (Miss Congeniality, Sex and the City) sugar coated, cold hearted wedding planner act and Kristen Johnston’s (3rd Rock from the Sun), self-obsessed, alcoholic bridesmaid show. Both Anne and Kate disappoint with extremely average performances. You do not connect with Emma the way you did with Andrea (played by Anne in the delightfully funny, The Devil Wears Prada) and Kate reminds you a lot of her mother, Goldie Hawn (not in terms of good acting but in age).

Overall, Bride Wars is a mediocre film by director Gary Winick, whose Charlotte’s Web and 13 Going on 30 were quite enjoyable.

My rating: * * Two stars

– Shrey Khetarpal