For most of my life, I have lived in the UK - a country renowned for three things: tea, the Queen, and shit weather. Like everywhere else on Earth, we experience the four seasons; we understand that Winter is cold and Summer is hot(ter) - yet, every year, Britain is brought to a standstill at the first sight of a snowflake. Trains are delayed, roads are blocked, schools are closed, and flights cancelled - for when we open our windows in the morning, and see a dusting of fresh snow upon the rooftops, two words spring to our minds: Day Off. Visitors to our fair country on these days might grumble and accuse us of being inept at handling changes in weather conditions, but really, the truth is we're all just bloody lazy. No one wants to work when it's snowing. It's just not natural. So, on these magical, snowy days, I nest. I shack up in bed, put the TV on, scatter the surrounding area with provisions, plump up my pillows like an old lady, and just sit. And, if the state of the train services are anything to go by, the rest of you are doing exactly the same.
So, from me in my bed to you in yours, here is the second instalment of Film Fest Fridays - I hope you have a fabulously frosty weekend.
Les Misérables (2013)
IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
My Rating: 5/10
Ok, so I should probably admit to something before I begin: I cannot stand musicals. This does not mean I have no appreciation for music (as I hope you've been able to tell by my Tune Tapes) - in fact, I play 4 instruments, so have far more musical understanding and appreciation than most. I'm not a boring fun-sponge, either - my fun-dometor is resolutely set to Spongebob levels of enthusiasm. Having had a Grandmother who loved Rogers & Hammerstein almost as much as her own children, I have been subjected to a fair few musicals over the years, precisely three of which I have enjoyed: Moulin Rouge, The Sound of Music, and My Fair Lady. You might have noticed that 'Les Mis' is not one of those three. For nearly 3 hours, I sat in a darkened room with a bunch of strangers and listened to not only the on-screen warblings of the two-dimentional characters (and I mean two-dimentional in every sense of the word) but also those of the audience. I don't know when or where it became socially acceptable to sing along to musicals in the cinema, but let's get one thing straight: it's fucking annoying, and by the end of it, my 'fun-dometor' was set to 'murderous'. The story, based upon Victor Hugo's 19th century novel of the same name, centres around the character of Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) - a thief-turned-gentleman, and his life-long run from his former prison officer, Javert (Russell Crowe). During the course of this game of cat-and-mouse, Valjean encounters a number of salubrious characters, the interactions of which are all (poorly) set to song. While this might seem quite quaint when it begins, by 45 minutes in I am gagging for a spoken word. But there is no respite. To quote Jan Moir in the Daily Mail*, I still had 2 hours of this "tattered-trousered, undernourished, yodelling despair to go." And it just got worse. Russell Crowe sounds as if he's drunkenly karaoke-ing to Meatloaf. Anne Hathaway (who astonishingly has been nominated for 'Best Supporting Actress' for precisely 15 minutes on-screen) warbles her way through 'I Dreamed a Dream' before promptly dying, and Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seigfried inanely twitter at each other at helium-high pitch for the last hour. By this time I was more Misérables than any of those in the film. Oh, but there's more. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but when I go to the cinema, I expect to watch a film. If I wished to watch a play, I would go to the playhouse, and if I wanted to watch a musical (humour me), then I would go to the theatre. What I'm trying to get at is there are different 'aesthetics', if you will, for these different genres of visual entertainment. Les Mis does not look how a film should look. It looks like a stage. This bothers me. However, it wasn't all bad. The film has been nominated for countless awards this season, but the only one I truly think it deserves is for costume design. I have to hand it to them - the characters do LOOK great. Whether or not they're entirely historically accurate is another point, and one I'm probably not qualified to comment on, but the clothes really are quite incredible. Secondly, you cannot fault the story. Like most great 19th century novels, the paths and fortunes of the characters are so wonderfully and organically intertwined in a way that makes you understand what separates a good book from a great novel. It is unfortunate, and perhaps slightly ironic, that the characters in Victor Hugo's novel are so much more alive than those we see in the musical - somehow the music detracts from not only the characters, but also the severity and poignancy of the story. The message - which in the book is so wonderfully memorable - is lost in a cloudy fog of out-of-tune crooning, which, quite frankly, pissed me the fuck off.
*If you'd like to read Jan Moir's full review, clickety-click right HERE.
Spirited Away (2001)
IMDB Rating: 8.6/10
My Rating: 9/10
My favourite childhood film is Alice in Wonderland (the animated one, not the 2010 version - don't get me started). The idea of another world existing just beyond our own, where anything was possible and conventions were turned on their heads, has captivated my imagination ever since. Which is why my friend Ed was so amazed that I'd never seen Spirited Away. For those who haven't seen it, the story follows a little girl, Chihiro, on an adventure in a world full of witches, spirits, Gods and monsters. The plot runs almost like that of a dream; scenes melting seamlessly into one another, twists and turns when new characters arrive, worlds turned inside out and upside down. Chihiro, like Alice, is both fascinated and terrified of the situation in which she finds herself. To get out of this dream-world alive, she must complete a series of tasks, which ultimately witness her evolution from a spoilt, dependent child into a free-spirited girl - ready for whatever life has to throw at her. Along the way, she encounters such characters as a spider-legged man, a mud-monster, a giant baby and a river God - all in the bath house of 'Yubaba', a controlling witch who confiscates the real names of her employees in return for their service in her establishment. Watching Spirited Away is - if you'll forgive the cheesy expression - a feast for the eyes. The imagination and creativity that has gone into constructing this other-world is astounding. It's a work of art, and, dare I say it, even better than Disney. There's something magical about hand-drawn, 2D animation. Perhaps it's the human input - the unmistakable imprint of a real person - that makes it (to me, at least) all the more impressive and captivating. Unlike a lot of films I've watched, when I'd finished Spirited Away, I felt like I'd actually done something worthwhile with my day. It touched me in a way that very few films do - it lifted my own spirits, and gave me hope that the art of filmmaking is not totally lost.