I should start off by admitting that I’ve never been one of those people who worships the ground that writer/director Christopher Nolan walks upon. In fact I’ve had quite an up-and-down, ambivalent relationship with his work over the years: I absolutely loved Inception for example, but never warmed to Batman Begins. I much preferred the follow up to the latter film, The Dark Knight, but I suspect that was more to do with Heath Ledger’s stunning reimagining of the role of the Joker than it was the film itself which still felt overbaked to my taste. I liked Nolan’s breakthrough feature Momento well enough but it didn’t feel to me to have much in the way of rewatch value once you got the hang of the gimmicky structure, and the follow-up Insomnia was fine with a career-high performance from Robin Williams but nonetheless not a match for the Norwegian original.
As a result I came to Interstellar half expecting to be disappointed or at the very least non-plussed, especially after all the early Oscar-hype for the movie petered out almost the minute it opened at the box office. Word of mouth from those who have seen it has also been somewhat mixed to say the least. Even so I was still keen to see this one as soon as it arrived on home media, because credit where it’s due: the one thing Nolan incontrovertibly delivers is ambitious and risky art house projects on a big blockbuster scale. In an era dominated by studios bankrolling ‘safe’ comic book superhero films and never-ending franchises I really admire anyone attempting to make a bold and innovative film attempting to address some of the biggest ideas and themes there are in storytelling. While I might not have always liked the end result of Nolan’s films, I’ve certainly always appreciated the fact that he’s trying to achieve things that other directors don’t even dare to think about. Read the rest of this entry »
Long-term die hard fans of the enduring musical phenomenon need not worry or put off seeing Les Misérables in fear of disappointment or betrayal. This is the most perfect film adaptation of a stage production that it’s possible to imagine, incredibly loyal not only to the structure of the original production but also its original spirit.
I’m not a long-term or die hard fan of Les Misérables myself, having come to it relatively recently and only seen it through once (and then just the Blu-ray of the 25th anniversary concert performance at that.) But the one viewing at least meant I knew what to expect, and the film reminded me what an appalling shambles the first half of the musical really is in story terms. Its bedrock is the story of former convict Jean Valjean who breaks his parole in order to embark on a new life, which he does successfully to become a wealthy businessman and town mayor only to find himself once again chased down and hunted by his nemesis Inspector Javert. Along the way he adopts Cosette, the young daughter of a destitute former employee, and becomes embroiled in the 1832 Paris student uprising after a grown Cosette falls in love with one of the would-be revolutionaries.
It’s all got so much detail from Victor Hugo’s novel to cram in that the first half of the story has to hustle through a welter of different locations and times, and introduce a large array of characters at such speed that many you assume will be lasting stars of the story basically appear, suffer and exit in consecutive scenes as brief vignettes. It’s easy to see why early critics of the original production at the Barbican thought this was a fair disaster when it opened. Virtually all of the first act feels like prologue and scene-setting, and it’s not until the cast combines for the ensemble performance of “One Day More” that you really feel that the story is finally coming together, everything is at last in place and the strands are properly entwining. Even though the theatrical intermission that follows in the stage version is absent from the cinematic performance, you still feel the moment when it falls and afterwards – as the barricades arise on the streets of Paris – the story really takes off and delivers. But that’s not to say that there aren’t still plenty of highlights in that first half of the show; indeed, the need to run through all this material so quickly requires the production to dispense with any and all subtlety and go flat-out for every melodramatic device in the book, not least of these bringing its formidable musical arsenal to bear on the problem (it’s still amazing that it took the better part of 25 years for the top-notch, insanely addictive score to finally spawn a hit single spin-off.) Eventually, given such a relentless sustained juggernaut assault on the senses and emotions, any cynicism and resistance you came in with simply has to give way and succumb, battered into submission and surrender. And you’ll be glad it did. Read the rest of this entry »
Rio is another film on the seemingly never-ending production line of family friendly CGI-animated films that seem to arrive at cinemas every few weeks.
In terms of plot, there is absolutely nothing new here whatsoever. It sticks so rigidly to tried-and-tested formula that it’s almost fun to play “spot the homage” and work out in which previous film or films the same plot device, storyline or scenario has previously appeared. The opening, for example, is pretty much Finding Nemo – although without the wheedling, annoying father having angst over his son being kidnapped as a pet macaw for humans. (Linda – his eventual human ‘owner’ – becomes the substitute for the questing father later on in the film.) Strangely the subject of Blu’s parents is never raised – they never appear (although the mother’s voice is heard off-screen) and so they never die, although when it emerges that Blu is the ‘last male of his species’ it’s pretty much clear that they’re long-goners just without the tears to upset the kiddies.
Blu eventually returns to the land of his birth – the rain forest around Rio de Janeiro – and quickly picks up the usual motley entourage just like … well, just like every CGI family film there’s ever been. There’s good guys, there’s bad guys, there’s even a bulldog doing a reasonable approximation of Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo, and the whole thing progresses to the inevitably satisfying happy ending.
But the thing is that it really doesn’t matter: the film’s strengths are really to do with the stunning visuals, with the rainforests and the vibrant city of Rio the film’s real stars and breathtakingly well done in high-res. There’s eye-popping vibrant colours throughout, and some wonderful Brazilian music and songs that give the film such a delightfully different flavour from the usual films of this kind that it genuinely wins you over despite how it’s in cruise control mode in other areas.
The film doesn’t overdo the celebrity voices, with Anne Hathaway on good form as the macaw’s love interest Jewel and Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement doing a scene-stealingly wicked villain of the piece as the inevitably-British bird ‘heavy’, Nigel. But for my money the film hinges upon Jesse Eisenberg pulling off the Woody Allen-esque neurotic, flightless Blu at the heart of the story that makes or breaks the film: and fortunately he’s well up to the task and he and his character manage to take you along for the ride no matter how churlish you might be feeling be going in.
There’s no post-modern ironic edge, no real attempt to add ‘something for the adults’ to the film’s mix like Pixar of old would have done. It’s just a straightforward kid’s film that adults will enjoy (or not) at the same basic level: as part of an undemanding but fun evening of family entertainment. If you need something with intellectual heft then give this one a miss; but if you just want to sit back and enjoy with your brain in neutral and drink in the music and gorgeous visuals, then it would be hard to find better this week.
If nothing else, it’s a delightful antidote to the chilly autumnal weather outside, and the overload of Hallowe’en fare on the television!