Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Les Misérables

So I watched another movie today! (Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate, by the way.) And once again I'm struck by the sudden urge to EXPRESS MYSELF in the general direction of the internet via my blog, haha. I wonder why I didn't feel that urge for all those movies I watched in Taiwan in the past two years. Probably because there were people willing to hear me vent — my family isn't so obliging, haha. (Though they do read my blog posts, I'm told.)

// Anyway, SPOILER WARNING again for those of you who have no idea what happens in Les Misérables. //

First of all, let me start out by saying that this was a really great movie! I loved the musical and am so excited to see a movie version. I definitely cried — and more than once! — as did the person who sat next to me who didn't want to be mentioned on my blog after reading my post from yesterday. Haha. Of course, I still have some criticisms, but there's some praise sprinkled in there as well. ;)

I thought Hugh Jackman did a great job, for the most part. I didn't even recognize him when he first showed up on screen! He looked really different. His singing was pretty good, though for some parts he struggled. I mean, Valjean's part is really hard to sing in the first place, and a lot of sections just aren't particularly melodic, so I suppose there wasn't much he could do about it. Like in the 10th Anniversary concert (which I'm listening to now, hehe), I thought there were parts where it sounded off, even though it was being sung by Colm Wilkinson (he played the bishop in the movie!). It's a difficult part, so I guess I'd cut him some slack. He wasn't perfect, but he was pretty good.

I understand that one of the advantages of movie vs. stage is that we get to see the actors' expressions close-up, but it was way overdone in this movie. As great as Hugh Jackman is, I got tired of seeing the same type of shot of his face over and over. Seriously, some mid- and long-shots for variety, especially when he;s singing, wouldn't kill you! I know you're proud that they're singing live for the take and not lip synching (quite a feat, I know) but you don't need to shove it in our faces. I definitely could've done without constantly staring at people's faces in extreme close-up. And it was awkward when some of the characters looked like they were actually looking into the camera. So weird. And people's eyes looked so buggy. Jackman, expecially. Plus there were some places where someone's face would briefly go out of focus. Is it possible I just imagined that? But I saw it more than once, so I'm super confused. Things like that shouldn't happen, right? Hm.

Next, Russel Crowe was terrible as Javert. TERRIBLE. His acting was bland enough, but his singing? UGH WHY DID THEY CAST HIM??? He can't sing! His voice is mediocre to begin with, but there wasn't even any emotion or dynamic to make up for his technical flaws! The whole thing was just incredibly flat. I was SO disappointed at the way he sang "Stars" and "Javert's Suicide." He definitely didn't do any justice to those songs, which should be powerful and gripping but became completely lifeless whens sung by him. Plus, as mentioned previously, his acting wasn't very good. He was completely non-threatening, non-sinister, and non-compelling as Javert, which shouldn't be the case! It was just so boring to watch him and it made me unhappy whenever he opened his mouth to sing because he's not a good singer. And since a lot of the other people in the cast can actually SING he appeared very lack-luster indeed in comparison. Such a disappointment. They should've chosen someone better! Ugh. He was just so entirely bland and boring and expressionless and his singing sucks. That might be why he didn't get the camera-in-face treatment for as much of his solos, compared to the other people — they probably didn't want the audience to be too focused on his crappy singing, heh.

In contrast, Anne Hathaway blew me away with her voice. I was definitely impressed — I had no idea she could sing! And so well! I thought her rendition of Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" was amazing. But again, I was disappointed by the decision to keep to the exact same close-up shot for the vast majority of the song. I mean, she's pretty and is very expressive, but I didn't need to stare at her face the entire time, you know? It really bothered me that the camera never zoomed out or changed angles or ANYTHING, just stayed trained right on her face for most of the song. It just got awkward after a while. It would've been perfectly fine to have some different shots for the middle part and then zoom back in for her breakdown. At least in my opinion. I almost cried during her song, but I didn't really cry until she was confronting Valjean and the mayor. That was when my tears came.

The Thénardiers were pretty entertaining! Ok, Sacha Baron Cohen's singing wasn't the best — the enunciation wasn't great, so it was kind of hard to tell what he was singing at times, but he and Helena Carter Bonham definitely fulfilled their role of Comedic Relief, so they get points for that. They got laughs out of me and successfully lightened up an otherwise very melodramatic story. Not perfect, but I approve and thought they did their job. Yay for funny characters! (And I wasn't upset at "Dog Eat Dog" being cut since signing isn't really his strong point.)

Isabelle Allen as young Cosette was just ok, though. I didn't find her "Castle on a Cloud" convincing — she seems unable to sing and act at the same time — and so my heartstrings didn't feel properly tugged. Her acting was slightly better, but then she didn't really have to do anything difficult, just act like she liked Valjean better than the Thénardiers, which can't be very hard. As for the other young actor in the film, I thought Daniel Huttlestone was great as Gavroche. He grew on me, and even though I knew what was coming, I was so sad when he died! Poor guy. Definitely a better actor than Allen.

I thought the students were great! Aaron Tveit as Enjolras was pretty good, no complaints from me. The one who really got my attention was George Blagden as Grantaire — he was so awesome and cute! I never really appreciated Grantaire until I saw Blagden's take. He's funny and has quite the personality. Definitely my favorite out of the students, and I wish he got more screentime! Maybe if they hadn't cut "Drink with Me" short... Anyway, it was heartbreaking to see how young and foolish those students were, and how few of them fought at the barricades, and how they were abandoned by the townspeople who'd been so willing to contribute to the barricade but refused to join in or even grant them asylum when it was clear all was lost. So, so heartbreaking. Sigh.

Marius was ok, I guess. By which I mean Eddie Redmayne. He was fine, not much I want to say about him. Cute enough and a decent singer/actor, though not particularly engaging emotionally. But it wasn't until I watched the movie that I realized how much of an asshole Marius is, so instead of ranting about the actor I'll be ranting about the character. Because first of all, I don't approve of the whole love-at-first-sight thing. But the thing that convinces me he's an absolute asshole is the way he let Valjean leave because he's afraid he'll bring shame to their family. SERIOUSLY? WHAT AN ASSHOLE. And he didn't insist he stay for the wedding or to say goodbye to Cosette himself? What is wrong with him? Even if he's worried about Valjean getting discovered and bringing scandal to their uppity wealthy family, he should still go to the wedding and say goodbye to his daughter! Ugh stupid selfish shallow idiot Marius. He only decides otherwise when he realizes Valjean saved his life. So if Valjean wasn't the one who saved his life he'd be perfectly ok with him missing out on his daughter's wedding and leaving without a goodbye to her and dying on his own? (Well he didn't know about that last one but it'd still be his fault.) WHAT A JERK. I HATE YOU MARIUS.

Cosette, the character, was slightly better, though she's still guilty at the love-at-first-sight thing. Amanda Seyfried was ok too, I suppose, given what she had to work with. I don't understand why Cosette has all these impossibly high notes. It pretty much sounds terrible no matter who sings it and makes me dislike Cosette more than I would otherwise. The warbling just sounds so shrill! Not a fan of Cosette's songs, in general. They're not particularly engaging, emotionally, and those high notes are just ugh. Also, the part where Cosette and Marius were supposed to sing in harmony in "A Heart Full of Love" sounded awful. They sounded out-of-sync from each other. Is it supposed to be like that? The issue wasn't that pronounced in the 10th Anniversary version, so while listening to them I kept feeling like Redmayne and Seyfried were singing it poorly and it really bothered me. But anyway, Seyfried doesn't sing with as much vibrato in her voice as Judy Kuhn does, so I did find her voice less annoying.

In contrast, Redmayne's duet with Samantha Barker in "A Little Fall of Rain" went a lot better. They actually sounded in sync with each other and the harmony didn't sound totally off. Kinda ironic how he's better at singing with Eponine than with Cosette. But yeah, Barker was pretty great! I did definitely feel more sympathy for her unrequited love than for Marius and Cosette's stupid infatuation with each other. And she can actually sing, so yay, points for her! "On My Own" was pretty good — her rendition isn't my favorite version, but no major complaints from me (though I'm sad it was shortened). And she actually had some different shots during her solo so that was good, though by the end of the song it was still camera-in-face. And I thought it was great that in the movie she got the wound from saving Marius's life — it makes her more heroic and selfless, especially compared with the stupid Marius and Cosette, neither of whom willingly sacrificed anything for their supposed "true love," unlike everyone else around them who were dying left and right so they could live and be happy. Seriously, Marius and Cosette look so spoiled, silly, and shallow next to the kind of self-sacrifice shown by Eponine, Fantine, and Valjean. It is kind of sad that Eponine got cut from "Valjean's Death" since her duet with Fantine is awesome, but given the story it does make more sense that only Fantine is there since Eponine didn't exactly leave a huge mark on Valjean himself. But yeah, her parts were great. Love Eponine! (Even if she did fall in love with someone who turned out to be a jerk. But at least they were friends first, and he wasn't actually that much of a jerk until he saw Cosette. But yes, she probably should've gotten over him once he fell in love with Cosette and left him to die at the barricade — she deserves someone who loves her!)

I cried SO MUCH when Jean Valjean died at the end! Really admire him for always trying to do the right thing and for working to right his wrongs. And he even let Javert go! A bit too optimistic, in my opinion, but I guess Valjean thought he was just doing his job. Anyway, Valjean is a great hero, and Cosette and Marius treated him shamefully. They are awful people and it's so sad that Valjean and Fantine's sweet darling Cosette turned out to be such a shallow and insipid woman. But I did like the part at the end when all the dead people are singing on the barricades. It's a ridiculous representation of the afterlife, but a nice hopeful end to the movie, especially since I got to see all my favorite actors/characters one last time and none of the ones I hated or disliked. Ha.

So yeah, despite my complaints about the awfulness of Russell Crowe and jerkassness of Marius, over all, I did very much enjoy seeing Les Misérables on the silver screen! :)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Thoughts on Skyfall

I just got back from watching Skyfall with my family. Some aspects of the movie seriously pissed me off and I need to vent. However, my sister Diane is absolutely uninterested in hearing me rant about the faults of the movie — she prefers to just sit back and enjoy and not think too critically about something that's meant to be entertainment. (She thinks I'm a terrible person to watch movies with, and also a terrible person to play games with. She's probably right.) So I've decided to rant on my blog instead, lucky you.

// WARNING: Major spoilers for Skyfall ahead. If you haven't seen the movie, proceed at your own risk. //

The movie began pleasantly enough, with a fun action sequence to start us off. I was much entertained by the motorcycle chase, with Bond and the mercenary riding up stairs and on roofs and through windows. The theme song and intro impressed me, too — so creative and haunting. The great opening definitely raised my expectations for the film.

Things were good for the first half. I thought it was great that we got to see Bond struggle with his uncooperative, imperfect body instead of having everything come easily to him. It made him less boring. The very understated gadget exchange was different and amusing. And his big fight in Shanghai was visually interesting, too, with the lights and glass doors and changing images.

(Though when he got to Macau, I did wonder if the komodo dragons were really that dangerous in real life, or if they were victims of character assassination. But the movie is right about this: according to Wikipedia, komodo dragons are hunters whose diet consists mainly of deer, and they have been known to attack humans.)

The first (and main) thing that really pissed me off happened on Silva's island. Silva ties up Severine, the Bond girl, and ties her to a boulder. He places a shot of scotch on her head and tells her to stay still, then tells Bond that whoever shoots the shot off her head wins. Bond goes first, and, having had difficulty with his marksmanship due to his earlier injury, misses both her and the shot glass.

And then Silva straight up shoots Severine, and she DIES, and the shot glass falls to the ground, completely unscathed. "A waste, isn't it?" asks Silva (paraphrased), and Bond says, "A waste of good scotch" (paraphrase again), then proceeds to take out all of Silva's henchmen.

UGHHHHHH SERIOUSLY??? I was soooo upset that Severine was allowed to die, and that Bond didn't even show any remorse for failing to save her. She was forgotten, and his only reaction at her death was a quip about the scotch — probably to throw Silva off, but still! A person dies right in front of him because he can't shoot straight and shouldn't have been allowed to go active, and he thinks the scotch is a waste?! I hate that she's shown as expendable. She'd asked for help, she'd shown such fear of Silva, she'd wanted freedom so badly, she'd given Bond what he wanted and hoped he'd free her... and then he betrayed her and let her die. I can't believe he freaking let her die. Pisses me off so much. Stupid, incompetent, useless Bond. I get that Bond girls don't always have happy endings, but she definitely did not deserve to die that way, when she'd feared so much and hoped so much. She didn't deserve to be used and cast aside by both Silva and the man she'd helped and hoped would help her. And they both just forgot all about and never gave her a second thought — ugh I hated Bond so much when that happened. Heartless psychopath.

(Side note: my sister didn't even realized she'd died in that scene! She thought Silva had shot the glass, but I reminded her the shot glass was whole when Severine slumped over and the glass landed on the ground. I don't think she felt as incensed as I did even after I pointed it out, though. But she might've just been trying to get me to shut up.)

And Bond's incompetence doesn't even stop there. Maybe I've seen too many heist movies, but when I found out they'd moved all of Silva's stuff to the MI6 base and was attempting to crack into it there, I immediately thought, "Dude, this is such a BAD IDEA. Don't you know that you should never bring anything created by the enemy into your most secure hideout?" I mean, there have been so many plots where someone wanted to get something into a highly secure area and the only way to do so was to get caught or let the enemy capture it. And then they hook up their own system to the villain's machine and start messing around on it with no precautions whatsoever?! Dear god, what a bunch of idiots. I was not at all surprised by what happened next, because honestly, have you guys never heard of a Trojan horse? Especially after he's already shown that he can totally hack your system to bits? Stupid idiots.

So then they manage to keep Silva from killing M or anyone else important, just nameless policemen there to serve as redshirts. Bond's brilliant plan after that? Take M to Bond's family mansion in Scotland and wait for Silva to catch up to them. He, M, and his huntsman have incredibly limited resources to work with, and they decide to set up booby traps in the mansion. Seriously, that's his brilliant plan. Go somewhere and to hell with weapons and technology, because apparently he and M are too old to keep up with all the newfangled tech available nowadays.

It's the stupidest idea ever. Three people, all middle-aged or older, hiding out in a mansion with a few guns and a couple homemade booby traps, against a man who is rich and clever enough (or should be) to hire a huge number of trained mercenaries, high-tech weapons, and surveillance equipment? Look, that's such a stupid idea the writers even had to dumb down the villain to get Bond out alive. Seriously, for someone who is supposedly a top agent, James Bond is severely lacking good decision-making skills.

This is evidenced by the way he totally failed. Look, they already made Silva dumber than he ought to be, just to give Bond a chance. First he sends some mercenaries on foot with what seems to be very little reconnaissance, planning, protection, training, or communication. I get that it's supposed to be a surprise attack, but it wouldn't hurt for them to be a little more prepared, or at least have some stuff other than guns. So they all wander willy-nilly to the mansion, get gunned down by Bond hiding in his car, and then fall to booby traps and two old people with guns. Definitely seems like Silva could have afforded to outfit his guys with better gear and more information.

I guess he underestimated Bond, but these people know they're in danger and went there to hide for a reason, and they're MI6, so I dunno, it makes sense to prepare for at least some defense, even if you're expecting it to be a surprise attack, right? I mean, there could've been hidden minefields all over the grounds and his mercenaries might've blown sky-high before they even got to the mansion. Some advance thinking would've been a good idea, and from the elaborate planning we saw from him earlier in the movie, it's hard to believe he would suddenly switch from that to "hey you guys just go walk in the mansion and kill them" and that's it. Which makes me think he had to be dumbed down because Bond's plan was so stupid, but whatever, let's just say he was overeager and overconfident and so he didn't really think it through.

Anyway, Silva shows up in a helicopter, except he only has one, which is a shame because I'm sure he could've afforded to bring more vehicles and equipment than one helicopter. But he makes do and throws grenades in the house, which is a good move, except why didn't he give the other team some and tell them to just stay outside and try to smoke them out? Anyway, it's working, and the huntsman and M run out of the house and start wandering around on the grounds, basically defenseless. Great plan, Bond. Seriously, once you guys get smoked out of the house there is pretty much nothing you can do against a bunch of mercenaries and helicopters. And that totally should've been Silva's strategy from the beginning, except him being an obsessed villain means he wants to deal with M personally, which is kinda his downfall (in addition to the other stuff, I mean). If he'd been ok with blowing up the house in the first place, things could've moved more quickly. And also why didn't he have any more backup? And why wasn't he taking better advantage of the vast resources at his disposal to make sure his surprise attack can't fail? Seriously, everything had to be dumbed down for Mr. Bond because he can't come up with any good plans.

And the stupidest thing is that, despite all that, Bond didn't even succeed in the end. Silva basically got everything he wanted. Sure, he'd have preferred a murder-suicide with M, but in the end, they both died, so that's effectively the same, right? Oh fine, I guess Bond can comfort himself with the fact that M didn't die in the exact way Silva wanted, but she still died, so I'd say he still failed. And it's not like him killing Silva was really a big victory, except symbolically, since Silva would've died anyway had things gone his way.

So all in all Bond had a stupid plan that was so badly executed it gave the villain everything he wanted, except maybe not in the precise way he wanted, but hey, what's a couple of small details. M died, he died, his entire elaborate plan got him his end goals. Congrats to the antagonist; well-played. Too bad your opponent was useless.

I mean, seriously. Bond's struggles in the beginning made him interesting, sure, but as the movie went on and his incompetence grew rather than decreased, I became more and more frustrated at him. Not only was he just as bad as Silva in using and discarding Severine, he was a complete idiot who fell headfirst into Silva's trap and also devised a plan of his own that would've failed miserably had Silva not come down with Sudden Idiocy Syndrome. And even with Silva on a sub-prime intelligence level, Bond still managed to get M killed. Good job, loser. Honestly, the only good thing about his plan was that he probably saved a bunch of civilians, but I'm pretty sure that was an unintentional side effect since we've already seen how heartless he is. Sure, he cares about his fellow agents, but civilians who get in the way? Psh, they don't count as people.

So yeah, that pretty much covers the issues I had with Skyfall. You can probably see why I didn't really enjoy the movie much (and maybe even why my sister had no desire to listen to my rant). Sure, there are ways to rationalize away some of these complaints, but I'm just not willing to grant this movie the benefit of the doubt because I'm so pissed off. Deal with it.

The song was great, though! Too bad it was wasted on this crap.