Friday, 18 January 2013

'Les Miserables', 'Quartet', 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' and 'American Mary': review round-up

'Les Miserables' - Dir. Tom Hooper (12A)

It's all swooping zooms and Dutch angles from 'The King's Speech' director Tom Hooper in his overblown, tortuously long production of long-running stage sensation 'Les Miserables' - a tonal mish-mash of bizarre shot choices that just about gets away with it by virtue of some fine songs, interesting production design and top-quality performances. Hugh Jackman - a Broadway song and dance man long before he was Wolverine - is predictably really great to watch as reformed convict Jean Valjean whenever he's on-screen, though it's Anne Hathaway's small but pivotal role as the tragic fallen woman Fantine that steals the show. Hathaway carries the show's signature tune "I Dreamed a Dream" with aplomb, acting it masterfully and creating this adaptation's most genuinely emotional moment, played in unflinching close-up. It's like the video for O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" all over again!

Russell Crowe fares far less well, basically shouting his songs as policeman Javert, whilst Eddie Redmayne is an incongruous presence as the film's most boring character - bland love interest Marius - with his deep voice at odds with his slight build and youthful face. However, he's far less irritating singing "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" - partly because that's his character's best song, but mostly because it's more introspective and he sings it in a more restrained way as a result. Elsewhere, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are perfectly cast as the swindling innkeeper and his bawdy wife. Likewise for Amanda Seyfied as object of Marius' affection Cosette - another bland and mostly thankless role - but she is one of the few people you could believe inspires the sort of love at first sight obsession seen here.

'Quartet' - Dir. Dustin Hoffman (12A)

It is exactly what you might expect it to be: a glossy, middle class fluff with some nice performances and a few charming moments. 'Quartet', for some reason directed by Dustin Hoffman, is a nice little film about old age, which places centre stage the hijinks of high-spirited retired people - the residents of a home for elderly musicians. The beats are familiar: a crisis threatens to close the house, a big reunion concert uniting the home's four biggest stars - opera singers played by Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins - is the home's only change. But there are internal conflicts to overcome first.

For one, the other members don't see eye-to-eye with Smith's harridan - least of all Courtenay's sensitive and dignified old gent, who still harbours deep heartache over their distant failed marriage. Connolly is trying to get it on with everything in a skirt (including their young doctor, played by Sheridan Smith) and Collins - the most tragic figure - is suffering from Alzheimer's. Aside from an ill-advised series of references to rap music and a sequence in which Courtenay explains why opera is relevant to a group of inner-city youths, there isn't really anything here to really irritate or offend those pre-disposed to hate this sort of thing.

'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' - Dir. David Gelb (U)

The slightly unbelievable true story of an 85 year-old man who runs a three-Michelin-star sushi restaurant in a Tokyo subway station, with seats for only eight customers, this interesting little documentary is more than a bit of food porn - even if it's dominated by HD close-ups of various exquisitely prepared minimalist dishes. Beyond the stuff about what goes into making the perfect sushi - from how the ingredients are sourced to the methods veteran chef Jiro employs to ensure the optimum serving conditions - there is a film here about the differing expectations and professional attitudes of generations, as Jiro's son's are press-ganged into the family business seemingly against their interests (at least at first). There's a little bit about Japan's relationship with the sea too, and the over-fishing that has led to certain once-abundant delicacies disappearing from Jiro's menu

Yet what struck me was how apt the film is at demonstrating the relationship between professionalism  masculinity and formal beauty in Japanese culture. In the UK, a man like Jiro - a determinedly hard grafter of working class origins who never takes a day off and strives to do his very best at his vocation - would not necessarily also be such an aesthete. Yet, in Japan, composed, considered beauty - such as the way Jiro's sushi is delicately presented - and masculinity do not contradict each other.

'American Mary' - Dir. The Soska Sisters (18)

Much buzzed-about after impressing at FrightFest last year, 'American Mary' is part torture-porn, part body-horror as directed/written by a pair of identical twin sisters from Canada. As regular readers will know, I'm not a huge fan of horror movies (so take my criticism for all it's worth), but I found this one a bit of a chore. It feels longer than its 103 minute running time would suggest, lurching between fairly tame sequences in which Mary (Katharine Isabelle) - a hard-up trainee surgeon - performs grotesque surgeries, joining the underground body-modification community to pay the bills. As if greed and desperation weren't enough of a motivation for the character, the Soska sisters have Mary date-raped half-way through the movie, enabling the second half to become a revenge fantasy type thing, which leaves a sour after-taste.

No comments:

Post a Comment