Les Miserables

Director: Tom Hooper

Nominated: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actress; Production Design; Costume Design; Make-up & Hair; Original Song; Sound Mixing

Although I came to Les Mis fairly late I am a huge fan of the musical and know the numbers inside and out. I was both excited and at the same time cautious when they announced a musical was to be put on the big screen. Thankfully my fears and worries were for nothing. Tom Hooper has done a marvelous job of translating one of the best-loved stage musicals to the big screen.

I love that Hooper has included a number of the actors involved in Les Mis on stage throughout the years most noticeably Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Val Jean, as the Bishop and Killian Donnelly as Combeferre.

Russell Crowe is pretty surprising as Javert although he’s not quite a strong enough singer in some instances. Having said that he is more than powerful enough in his character to play the dogged police inspector.

The costume design utilizes the costumes already associated with the story from the stage while at the same time creating a new look for the film. The film uses a slightly more muted color palette than the stage show but then it has the luxury of being able to do so. On stage the colors need to be more vibrant in order to be seen throughout the theatre. Key components of the iconic costumes have been kept  and expanded upon like the iconic rosettes and Enjolras‘ jacket. Cosette’s clothing is sumptuous befitting her position as the Mayor’s daughter. The best costumes in my opinion are those of the Thenadiers, and probably the most complex as they are forever adding to their costumes with the various items lifted from their unsuspecting victims. The Thenadiers Helena Bonham Carter Sacha Baron Cohen Les Miserables

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are hilarious as the Thenadiers, the much-needed comedic element in an otherwise fairly depressing story. They have excellent chemistry, each complimenting the other well. And as we all know from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007, Tim Burton) they are both surprisingly good singers.

Some of the lyrics have been changed ever so slightly – Val Jean has no brand so the lyrics “no more bourgeois when you scratch him than that brand upon his chest”, no longer makes sense. And then there is the new song “Suddenly” which is up for Best Original Song. I personally think it fits well and gives us an insight into how Val Jean feels at having adopted Cosette and instantly become a father.

Hair and make-up did a stellar job especially on the lovely ladies who frequent the dockside. Hugh Jackman is almost unrecognizable at the start of the film as the downtrodden convict 24601.

While everyone was incredible I was not entirely sold on Eddie Redmayne as Marius (I seem immune to the charm he has that has seduced so many others) or Aaron Tveit as Enjolras. Killian Donnelly would have been a much stronger Enjolras as he already knew the part inside and out having played the role on stage for years. And don’t give me all that  tosh about him being an unknown because they went ahead and cast Samantha Barks, an unknown when it comes to film but not to Mis fans, as Eponine. Samantha Barks Eponine Les MiserablesShe was stunning! Definitely the best person for that role. You really feel every note of pain and longing in her voice. Her “Little Fall Of Rain” was one of the standout moments of the film and reduced me to even more of a blubbering wreck then I already was by that point.Little Fall of Rain Eddie Redmayne Les Miserables Samantha Barks

Despite Anne Hathaway only being in the film for a short amount of time her nomination for Best Supporting Actress is so deserved. She was incredible – there is something so raw about her performance, which makes it all the more powerful. She really endeared the character to me which is a big thing coming from me because I have always found Fantine to be cloying and supremely annoying before.

Les Miserables Anne Hathaway Hugh JackmanSo now onto the subject of the main man, Jean Val Jean, played by Mr Hugh Jackman. Overall a powerful and moving performance that has been rightly recognized in the Best Actor category. I’m a massive Hugh Jackman fan and have always wanted him to use his musical theatre talent more so was very excited when he was confirmed as the lead. On the whole I was not disappointed although I have to confess that his rendition of “Bring Him Home” was a little underwhelming. It’s not a bad performance but it’s just I was expecting more from the most iconic number of the entire musical (I know I know everyone always says the most iconic number is “I Dreamed A Dream” but they would be wrong)

I would kind of love it if Les Mis managed to beat out all the other nominees for the coveted Best Picture Oscar as it is a beautifully shot film adaptation of one of the best-loved musicals worldwide. Tom Hooper created the same kind of magic with Les Mis as he did with the stunning The King’s Speech (2010) – it pervades the entire film. It sounds so sappy but you can feel the love and dedication of everyone involved in creating the best film they could to do justice to the epic story by Victor Hugo.

Les Miserables BarricadesThe final shots of all those who lost their lives during the revolution atop the breathtaking barricade are beautiful and rousing. I came away from the cinema singing “Do You Hear The People Sing?” for days afterwards safe in the knowledge that I would once again “join in their crusade” which is exactly how you should feel having seen Les Mis and a testament to the outstanding job everyone involved in the film led by the capable Tom Hooper did in transferring from the stage to screen.Les Miserables

Mirror Mirror The Untold Adventures of Snow White

Director: Tarsem Singh

Nominated: Costume Design

Of the two films revolving around Snow White to be released in 2012, both of which are nominated in the Costume Design category, Mirror Mirror is by far the more fantastical of them. However fantastical is not necessarily a good thing here, I find Mirror Mirror quite ridiculous and much prefer Snow White and the Huntsman (2012, Rupert Sanders).

Mirror Mirror Julia RobertsJulia Roberts is excellent as the maniacal queen hell-bent on remaining the fairest of them all, with the added complication of having frittered away her entire fortune. Her frivolous appearance belies the core of strength and maliciousness that hides within her. Roberts is by far the stand out performance of the entire film and actually pretty much the only thing that kept me watching. She balances out the manic quality of her character with the mirror reflection – she is much calmer and more in control. I love the opening, telling the back-story through puppets, narrated sardonically by the queen.

The costumes are divine and sublimely ridiculous perfectly in keeping with the tone of the film. Extremely rich colours and textures, befitting the royal status, while the dwarfs have a more rugged and lived in quality to their costumes. Very cleverly designed trousers, effectively accordions, elevate the dwarfs to a more normal stature. The costume party held in honor of the prince is the very height of ridiculousness, with Snow wearing a swan on her head. And yet at the same time the design is gorgeous and cleverly creates recognisable animal costumes, including a tortoise, a bug and most impressively a walrus. Armie still manages to look dashing dressed as a bunny, with ears erupting from his top hat. There’s a period feel to the costumes, all enormous hoop skirts and corsets for the men and morning coats and wigs for the men. Recurring motif of feathers utilised in the costumes for he queen. Also used in the designs of the queens chambers.Mirror Mirror Armie Hammer

Armie hammer as the prince is pretty vapid and somewhat useless – repeatedly falling foul of the band of dwarfs. He certainly looks princely and has the vanity and sense of entitlement down to a tee. His valet, Robert Emms, is by far the more switched on of the two. And he definitely has the right take on the queen, immediately seeing the crazy that radiates from her.

Lily Collins is just too sickly sweet and vapid for me to really like or connect with. Even though she eventually leads the rebellion against the queen to retake her kingdom there is still this sense that she is passive. She just doesn’t come across as a warrior princess, which is what they are trying to portray her as.

Nathan Lane is excellent as the Queen‘s loyal servant, Brighton, maintaining that sardonic element he brings to all his parts.

I like the fact that the dwarfs are actually played by dwarfs, rather than merely being the body doubles for the regular sized actors. They each have their own unique characteristics and style, yet stays well away from those made iconic in the animated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937, William Cottrell) I think out of all of them Wolf has the best costume, the skin of a Wolf with the head turned into a hood and I love the fact he eschews a blade or gun in favour of a club carved into the shape of a wolf head. However Butcher, Martin Klebba, is my favourite, by far the grumpiest of the company. They have excellent camaraderie forming something of a dysfunctional family. There’s en easy banter between them all.Mirror Mirror Lily Collins

I have no issue with redefining a well-known story but I do have problems when that process results in the loss of the iconic images or elements that make up the story (much like the new Bond films but on get me started on that!) for instance there is no bite of the apple in Mirror Mirror and Snow doesn’t fall into a magically induced sleep. And the kiss is one Snow bestows on the Prince to break the spell he is under instead – turning the viewers expectations on their heads.

ParaNorman

Director: Sam Fell, Chris Butler

Nominated: Best Animated Feature Film

paranormanParaNorman has clearly been influenced by the visual style of Tim Burton with exaggerated body types. The final nominee in the Best Animated Feature category and the last stop-motion animation film. Although in truth it’s really more of a combination film utilizing CGI for the vast amount of dead people Norman sees. ParaNorman taps into the ever popular zombie genre, especially popular at the minute with the current success of The Walking Dead (Frank Darabont, 2010) and aimed it squarely at children.

Norman is just one of a bunch of misfits at the school; cast out because he can see dead people. Eventually, however due to the circumstances that befall his town he becomes the leader of this band of misfits thanks to the talent that separated him in the first place. Of course his parents don’t get him – he has a testy relationship with his dad at best. And his mum loves him but still doesn’t entirely understand him.

Neil is an endearing character, the cubby fat kid, who is surprisingly courageous, trying to befriend the reluctant Norman. There are little nods to the horror genre throughout with Neil wearing the hockey mask not intrinsically linked with Jason Voorhees and the Friday 13th series. The zombies are hilarious rather than scary but then I’m watching this aged 25 so I’d hope I wouldn’t be scared by animated zombies.ParaNorman Zombies

Of course the adults in the film are worse than useless causing obstacles to Norman’s rag-tag group who are actually trying to save the town. The mob mentality takes over and they run riot destroying the town. For all it’s a film about zombies there is a deeper message to it as well which is one of not giving into bullies and letting yourself becomes as mean and destructive as they are.

I enjoyed ParaNorman more than I thought I would, even laughing out loud at the zombie with a plunger stuck on its head, but there was something much more plastic about the stop-motion models used in ParaNorman than those used in The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! (Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt) and Frankenweenie (Tim Burton) and it became somewhat distracting.

Frankenweenie

Director: Tim Burton

Nominated: Best Animated Feature Film

frankenweenieI am a self-confessed Tim Burton disciple and love everything he’s done, well with the exception of the disappointingly unfunny Dark Shadows (2012) I’ve loved Frankenweenie since I watched the live action short (1984) many moons ago so I’m actually pretty excited to see the story extended into a feature-length animated film. Frankenweenie is the second stop-motion animated film to be nominated in the Best Animated Feature Film category at this years Oscars. And it’s one of the best vehicles for showcasing Burton’s unique visual style.

I love the stop-motion film within the stop-motion film! The music is beautiful and of course provided by Burton’s long time collaborator Danny Elfman. Frankenweenie has many resemblances to Burton’s past work – most noticeably Edward Scissorhands (1990) in terms of the landscape of suburbia and Victor’s resemblance to Edward as he should have been when he was completed. You can see Burton’s love of B movie monsters in the schoolkids, particularly the ones who look like Frankenstein’s monster and Igor; the poodle who looks like the Bride of Frankenstein and the footage of Christopher Lee’s Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958).Frankenweenie bride of frankenstein

Frankenweenie is a bizarre film with lots of strange elements but it is so quintessentially Burton. I know a lot of people who didn’t like or get Frankenweenie but they weren’t fans of Burton’s work. I on the other hand as I have already mentioned am a die-hard Burton fan and absolutely loved it! It’s pure Burton in every sense – slightly insane story with a heart of gold at its center, exquisite music and breathtaking visual style. It’s so much more atmospheric in black and white too really allowing sharp contrasts in the characters especially the iconic shadowed eyes that he’s known for.

Frankenweenie Rzykruski Martin LandauThe new science teacher, voiced by Martin Landau is delightfully creepy. He resembles a number of B movie greats like Vincent Price (who was much admired by Burton), as well as Bela Lugosi and Landau himself. Sparky is adorable – Burton has perfectly captured both the movement and characteristics of a playful and loyal dog.

At the minute having seen four of the five Best Animated Feature nominees it’s totally between Brave (Mark Andrews) and Frankenweenie for me personally. And it’s really close between them as well although I have to say I think Brave may be just edging ahead.

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!

Director: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt

Nominated:Best Animated Feature Film

The Pirates In An Adventure With ScientistsThe latest film to come out of Aardman Animations retains the iconic style of his most famous characters, Wallace and Gromit. It’s packed full of incredible British acting talent with Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed and Russell Tovey all lending their voices to the motley crew of misfit pirates and surrounding characters. Hugh Grant still somehow manages to be the charming bumbling Englishman as the Pirate Captain.

I love the little elements that Aardman throw in like the pet parrot being a dodo unbeknownst to the crew, cockney baiting being a sport and the Pirate with Gout having a Blue Peter badge pinned to his hat. I love stop-motion animation so I’m glad that there isn’t one but three stop-motion films nominated in the Best Animated Feature Film category at this years Oscars. There’s just something about stop-motion that allows you to create a really unique visual style, more so than computer animation.

The humor comes from just how inept the Pirates are – numerous failed attempts to plunder ships finally results in them encountering Charles Darwin (David Tennant). They are all stereotypes – an albino pirate, a woman masquerading as a pirate, pirate more wooden than human, the big burly black pirate and of course the irish pirate – and are known by their descriptions rather than anything resembling actual names. Martin Freeman is again relegated to the unappreciated sidekick position of Number 2, although here he is by far the more capable Pirate and the only vaguely sensible one in the whole crew.

The map work is wonderful, full of amusing vignettes … I especially like the duty-free run in Calais … all set to The Clash’s ‘London Calling’. An encounter with a kitchen volcano (baking powder and vinegar) leads to seeing Darwin with his iconic beard.

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! is faintly ridiculous and yet at the same time that’s entirely where it gets its charm from; it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I enjoyed this film in some ways I find it more enjoyable watching Aardman films for the little elements they throw in than for the actual story.

Wreck-It Ralph

Director: Rich Moore

Nominated: Best Animated Feature Film

After having scared the absolute bejesus out of myself watching The Woman In Black (James Watkins, 2012) over the weekend (Daniel Radcliffe is truly outstanding on a side note!) I decided to watch Wreck-It Ralph in an attempt to calm myself down. And I’m pleased to say it worked.

Wreck-it RalphThis seems to be one of the most hotly anticipated movies of 2012 but I didn’t really know what to expect from it. I was never really into computer games when I was younger and we didn’t have the same type of arcade culture over here in England so it didn’t resonate with me. As such many of the little things added for fans kind of passed me by.

The animation is pretty good and combines all of the unique styles of many of the worlds most recognized computer games, including Mario, Street Fighter, Sonic, Pac-man and of course Fix It Felix. The soundtrack is clever, utilizing all the in-game sounds.It takes the same sort of premise as Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995) in that it takes us into the lives of characters once the humans leave, in this case once the arcade shuts down for the night.

Ralph is an endearing character well voiced by John C. Reilly. The relationship he forms with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) while on his quest to win a medal and become a hero, is one of surprising tenderness. The side story of the blossoming romance between Felix Jr (Jack McBrayer) and the somewhat emotionally damaged Calhoun (excellently voiced by Jane Lynch!) provides the expected romantic element. Alan Tudyk once again excels at playing the deranged villain of the piece – King Candy.

It was an entertaining movie although not a particularly funny one which for some reason is what everyone seems to equate animated films to be. And I did enjoy it despite I suspect many of the elements passing me by. However I still think Brave is much better, and I can’t really see that changing as I watch the other films nominated in this category.

Brave

Director: Mark Andrews

Nominated for: Best Animated Feature Film

It’s certainly not a surprise that the latest offering from the Disney Pixar studio is one of the nominees for the Best Animated Feature Film in this years Oscars seeing as they are still considered to be the cream of the crop in the animation field. What makes Disney Pixar the stand out studio for animation is the combination of excellent technical abilities and moving, magical stories for the whole family, something some of the other animation studios still don’t have in quite the same way. The animation is once again exceptional with the wisps being particularly good as non-corporeal elements have previously been notoriously difficult to create with any sense of weight of believability.

Being half Scottish this film made me chuckle at the stereotypes being lovingly portrayed – you have every type of Scots man you can have represented in the four clans; the painted faces like those seen in Braveheart; a Glaswegian who’s almost incomprehensible. The bickering between the four clans provides much of the humor of the film. There are some really interesting angles used throughout the film but especially during the Games, (held to win the hand of Princess Merida) which have all the classics … tossing the caber, hay-bale toss and so on.

Everything quintessentially Scottish is included like highland cows wandering around, people playing bagpipes and of course everyone is wandering around wearing kilts. One of my favourite scenes, where I roared with laughter, that sees the clansmen shimmying down the tower has kilts playing an integral part to it. And was somewhat of a shock – you just don’t expect to see bottoms in a Disney Pixar movie!Brave Kilt

Billy Connelly is epic as the burly king – his voice is perfect for that character! Princess Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, is awesome! She’s so headstrong and sure of herself, totally unsuited to being a princess and yet at the same time perfectly suited to be the future Queen of the bickering four clans of Scotland. I love her hair, a shock of ginger hair which is the perfect visual representation of her fiery nature. Plus she’s an archer and archers have come back in a big way in the last 12 months of movies with characters like Katniss (The Hunger Games, Gary Ross), Hawk Eye (Avengers Assemble, Joss Whedon) and Kili in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson) all deftly mastering this difficult skill (and of course there was the Olympics which also raised the profile of Archery!)

It’s a lovely story – one that is ultimately about the relationship between mother and daughter. It just takes one of them changing into a bear for them to finally understand one another. The characterization of the Queen once she’s been transformed into a bear is spectacular, but then Disney excels at anthropomorphizing animal characters.

I really enjoyed Brave. I will always love films that come out of the Disney Pixar studio no matter how old I get and that I think is the root of their success. They are creating films that move beyond childhood and yet remind you of it at the same time.Brave