The King’s Speech

The King’s SpeechKings_speech_ver3

Its Oscar time once more and try as I might, there are just too many films to see – and not all are available to watch.  My wife and I really wanted to see this one though.  I enjoy drama when it focuses upon historical material most of all, as “The King’s Speech” did.

The film follows the speech-impaired “Bertie”, known to history as the father of the current Queen of England and as King George VI.  Bertie was thrown into his kingship at the advent of WWII, when England sorely needed a strong leader.  His father passes away and the throne passes first to Bertie’s older brother, Edward VIII.  Alas, poor Edward wants to marry Wallis Simpson an American divorcee.  His impending marriage threatens the stability of the Empire and Parliament will not stand for it.  So, Edward abdicates the throne in favor of Bertie.

The film chronicles the events well, and shows us the attempts made by the once-Duke and Duchess of York to cure his stammering.  The nation wanted someone that could speak for them, and this man had a big problem in that very department.  I found the film to treat the material with grace and kindness, which I would expect since this is an English film.  But it was the actors that made this movie Oscar material.

Colin Firth may very well win at the Academy Awards for his portrayal of the Duke of York as he ascends the throne.  Helena Bonham Carter was also superb in the film.  These two would have been enough to make the movie a smash hit with the critics, but it was the addition of Geoffery Rush as the Duke’s unorthodox speech therapist that seals the deal.  Rush is positively brilliant in the movie and he makes Colin Firth shine all the more in the scenes with just the two of them.  Firth has always been a very talented actor that never seemed to be cast quite right.  In “The King’s Speech”, his talent is showcased and I have a hard time imagining anyone else playing the role so well.

Carter’s portrayal of the Duchess of York is subtle and very sincere.  You believe her as a wife that cares so much for her husband that she’d do anything to help.  She and Rush both seem to do just the right amount of support for Firth, who in turn delivers a stunning performance.  How on Earth anyone can fake a stammer and a little lisp that is so subtle as to be almost inaudible is beyond me!  Kudos to the Director of the film, Tom Hooper, for utilizing such a fine cast with such a deft hand.

So, without having seen a lot of other Oscar-nominated films, I can’t say “the King’s Speech” is a sure winner for Best Picture.  However, I CAN say that Firth, Carter, Rush, and Hooper are all extremely strong candidates for winners in all their respective categories.  I highly recommend this film to anyone with an interest in speech therapy, history, or just drama.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

 

The Help

The HelpHelp_poster

Wow.  That’s what I need to say about this movie.

I was reluctant to see this movie at first.  I cited the worst moniker around: “chick-flick”.  But, I wised up and started to pay attention to what the film was about.  Let that be a lesson to all you “guys” because this film is incredibly worthwhile!

The Help” is about a book.  It’s the story of a young author that decides to tell the story of life in Mississippi in the 1960s, but not from the well-do white women’s point of view.  It is instead told from the view of the help.   Now, I don’t need to extrapolate on what exactly that means, but I will stress that the timeframe for the setting of this film would not have worked in any other situation.  I guess I kind of knew that from the trailer, judging by how people were dressed, but it didn’t really sink in.  I will also say that in a most fortuitous turn of events, I just recently watched “the Ghosts of Mississippi” on TV not long ago.  That helped me gain a better understanding of events that would play out in “the Help”.

First of all, any film that deals with the issue of segregation in America in the 1960s is bound to strike a nerve.  For many of us, that issue never touched our lives because we lived too far away.  I myself grew up in an area where I did not even meet a member of another race until I was in high school, really.  I always looked at this issue at arms-length, because what did I really know about it?  In school, you begin to grasp some of its importance.  In college, it really starts to strike home.  That’s how it went for me.  In this day and age, when I see such stories played out in film and television or even a theatre, I think of two incredibly important men.  What a strange country this is, that 2 great men like Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King were killed for supported a principal inherent in all that America stands for.  All men are created equal.  Another way I like to think of it is “equality for all, or none”.

Now, I bring this up because this film is poetic, poignant and very compelling when talking about this issue.  It is displayed with sensitivity and brutality – all at the same time.  Oh, there’s humor to much of it as well.  But I was truly affected by the performances in this film.  These actresses were all STUNNING in their roles!  As a long-time watcher and predictor of Oscar-worthy performances, I can say without hesitation that “the Help” will be nominated for the following: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costuming, Best Actress (Viola Davis), Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain), and Best Actress (Bryce Dallas Howard). THAT is how good this film is and THAT is some incredible talent at work in this film.  Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if “the Help” stomps all over the Golden Globes as well this year!

There are parts of this story that are universal and very heartwarming, and some other parts that just reach you on a personal level.  For myself, I loved the relationship between Miss Minny and Celia Foote.  It was powerful, deftly handled by the director, and those actresses nearly stole the movie!  But let’s not overlook Emma Stone as the young author or Allison Janney as her mother; these are great roles for both of these fine actresses.  Their relationship was so well done!  I cannot overstate how impressive the entire cast was in this film!

So, in summary, I HIGHLY recommend “the Help”.  This will win Best Picture hands down – and if it doesn’t, I will eat crow.  A superb story, a top-notch job by the entire cast, great directing, and just an overall fantastic movie, “the Help” is my pick as Best Film of the Year.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog MillionaireSlumdog_millionaire_ver2

Okay, so I rarely if ever buy a movie that I haven’t already seen.  Even more of a rarity is me buying a movie on the basis of the awards it has won.  Yet, I found myself at Wal-Mart last night looking at “Slumdog Millionaire” and I thought I might give it a shot.  The last time I purchased a movie that won Best Picture at the Oscars – and I had not yet seen it – was when I bought “Schindler’s List”.  That shows you just how far in between these rare moments truly are!  I love good movies, and this one was a very good film.  It had a very unique concept and I found myself engrossed in the story.

One of the features of this film that I really enjoyed was the way in which it was filmed.  Some of the angles are brilliant, and even some of the sequencing of a scene is just outstanding!  I look at this film and I realize why it won so many awards.  It is beautifully put together, has a charming lead, has a very “fresh” look to it, and a unique concept behind it.  These elements together make for a powerhouse at the Oscars.  A note to any would-be Oscar guessers: always look for a film that has a combination of elements working for it (minus Costume Design, which seems to be a lot more hit-or-miss these days).

Dev Patel plays Jamal the lead character of the story and I think this young man has a brilliant career ahead of him.  He has a sincerity to him and a purity that comes out in his performance.  It is wonderful to see such new talent that has a lot of depth to what he can bring to the screen.  I just hope that he isn’t misused in the future.  SOMEBODY find this young man a vehicle to star in!  Please, don’t put him in some silly comedy filled with Indian stereotypes.

The young actors who really play in much of the movie are directed very well.  I’m not sure how much was Danny Boyle and how much was his counterpart in India.  I don’t have much of a sense as to which director worked on what aspect of the film.  Regardless, the execution of their talents, separately or combined, is worth the awards given.  The film just has a style to the way in which it was shot that is eye-catching and very clever.  There is a lot of very bright back-lighting of the actors which causing a sort of silhouette in the foreground.  It’s rather brilliant!  The end result is when actors come in front of the lighting they block it out and suddenly seem to be highlighted.  I thought it was ingenious!

The story has a lot going for it.  Told mostly through flashbacks, the film takes you (at the beginning of the film) from nearly the end of the film and regresses to the main character’s childhood.  Featuring the game show of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” as the centerpiece of the story, the story explains how the character knows the answer to each of the questions asked on the game show.  More importantly, there is the lead character Jamal’s interaction and relationships with his brother Salim and his love interest Latika.  We see how his relationship with both of these characters evolve as the story unfolds.  It was fairly predictable as far as outcomes, but the film was so engrossing that I found I didn’t care.

One last note about the film: the end credits dance number was very cool.  Heck, the ending of the film itself is positively exquisite.  Okay, so I am a romantic sap, but I loved the ending!  There is something really touching about the way the movie ends.  The end credits were worth watching for the juxtaposition of the lead actors as adults over the child actors.  The end credits feature the hit song “Jai Ho” and a very Bali-wood dance ensemble piece.  Some could argue it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the film, but I thought it was a fun way to really end the film.

So, if you are feeling up to a good solid movie, complete with a catchy look to it and a clever story – and powered by a fine young actor – then I highly recommend “Slumdog Millionaire”!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

Lincoln

“Lincoln” Lincoln_2012_Teaser_Poster

If you enjoy history, particularly American Civil War history – then you should enjoy “Lincoln”.  Steven Spielberg is at it again and bringing one whopper of drama into theaters just in time for Award Season.  “Lincoln” is filled with greatness.  I overheard some folks that are familiar with the business fuss about the technical aspects of the movie.  WHATEVER!  Folks, do yourselves a favor and go see “Lincoln”!  Every American should watch this movie, really.  Probably the greatest criticism I can give to this film is that I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie.  I felt like I was watching history unfold.

Daniel Day-Lewis is astounding as Honest Abe.  He is without question the frontrunner in every award race this season for best actor.  His performance is so good, that I would rank it right up there with anything that Meryl Streep has done.  Yeah, his performance is THAT good.  If he doesn’t win Golden Globe/Oscar/SAG award, then the movie industry is just plain imbalanced.  His mannerisms are so natural that I was swearing to myself that surely that is what Mr. Lincoln must have sounded like.  His walk, his voice, his hand gestures – everything about him seemed so right!  I wondered if the stories he tells in the movie were really anecdotes that the President actually said.  The line between fiction and reality is so wonderfully blurred by Lewis’ performance that I wanted to give him a standing ovation at the end of the film!

The film is a dramatic piece and it focuses on the political proceedings surrounding the amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery forever.   It is part Civil War “West Wing” and part courtroom drama.  Both appeal to me, so it was all good.  The best part about the story was seeing how close we came as a people to shelving this crucial Amendment.  It was Lincoln that altered that course of history and every time I read about his choices as President I am simply astounded.  Abraham Lincoln was truly a great President.  You want to know what a magnificent leader he was?  I suggest you watch this movie!  I know a lot of films like to embellish the truth a little (or a terrible amount, depending) to make a better movie.  I get it; it’s fiction – not a documentary.  Still though, “Lincoln” seems to give it to you straight as well as handing you the periphery storylines concerning some of the other key players.  Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones) was one such tale.

I saw so many wonderful other performances in this film too. James Spader is fantastic, and so too is Sally Field!  Tommy Lee Jones is fairly brilliant as well, but that could also just be chalked up to GREAT casting.  Sally Field as Mrs. Lincoln was just simply perfect; I don’t think anyone could have done a better job with that role.  Hal Holbrook, Jason Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce McGill, and Jackie Earle Haley, and Jared Harris (that’s Moriarty!) are all brilliant in the film as well.

I can say that without question, this film is a masterpiece.  It is utterly realistic and wonderfully executed.  Kudos to Speilberg once more!  This is a holiday treat worth every penny and at 2 hours, 30 minutes, it makes you feel like you have truly gotten your money’s worth.  BRAVO, Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis!!!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Life of Pi

“The Life of Pi”  Life_of_Pi_2012_Poster

This film has its merits, without question.  It is at least worth talking about.  It is based on the 2001 novel by the same name.  I am unfamiliar with the book, but apparently it was long been sought after as material for a feature film.  “Life of Pi” is a narrative told through a middle-aged Indian named Pi to a novelist that is intrigued by his story.  The novelist is further intrigued by the cryptic message at the beginning of the tale that by the end of it “you will believe in God”.  Like I said, the film has merit.

The story is intriguing and we are pulled right in.  There is a lot of CGI and a lot of stunning visuals that simply are breathtaking. There is a lot of artistry at work in the film.  Ang Lee won for Best Director for this film, and his talent shows a LOT in this film.  I’m not very keen on the over-usage of visual effects in the film, but it is gorgeous to see.  There’s a lot of stunning imagery throughout the film and the film literally looks positively splendid.

The acting is odd.  It takes you a little while to grow accustomed to the accents used in the film.  I really enjoyed the older Pi (played by Irrfan Khan) as he narrates the tale.  As for the rest of it, it honestly isn’t much there.  We have Pi on a boat with a Bengal Tiger.  He talks.  The tiger doesn’t.  Fortunately, “Life of Pi” takes you backwards in time to flesh out the tale.  It isn’t so much an explanation of only how Pi came to survive a shipwreck after several years.  It is rather – truly about his life.

As for the ending – no spoilers here, I promise – what I can say is that it was effective.  At the end of film, you are presented with a choice as to how you would like to end the film.  It is an uncommon way to end a film and I am sure it left a sour taste in many movie-goers mouths.  I think it was pretty cool, and certainly thought-provoking.  It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting!

As for a recommendation, I can say that it is a worthwhile watch.  It deserved its place among the Oscar nominees for this past year, surely.  I am happy that Ang won, but I am equally confused as I am happy.  If the Academy wanted to acknowledge his work, they did so, but why then did they go for “Argo” for Best Picture?  Between these two films, “Life of Pi” is without question the superior film.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Les Miserables

Les Misérables”  Les-miserables-movie-poster1

Before I begin on writing this review, allow me to state this very clearly: there are only 3 ways you will see this movie.  By “ways”, I mean the perspective that you have entering the theater.  These perspectives will change what you think of this film IMMEDIATELY – even before the previews start.

Here are the perspectives:

1)      You have seen the musical on Broadway, or part of the National Tour, or in London, or the 25th Anniversary concert on PBS.  You probably have seen it multiple times.

2)      You have either read the obscenely lengthy novel by Victor Hugo OR you have seen a movie adaption of the story, possibly the 1994 version starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Claire Danes, and Uma Thurman.

3)      You have no frame of reference for either the story or the musical, having seen neither.

Those perspectives change what your reaction to this film will be.

Here are your probable reactions that match the perspectives:

1)      You will dislike some aspect of this version.  Guaranteed.

2)      You wonder why the actors have to sing seemingly every line.  It annoys you.  You’d like just a sentence or two of just straight dialogue.

3)      You think the acting is pretty awesome, but you could do without some of the songs.

Regardless of what else I may say, these perspectives alter what you may think of this filmed version of this adored musical.  I know that promoters love to hype things, but the phrase “one of the most beloved musicals of our time” really is not quite accurate.  Les Miserables as a musical is simply THE most beloved.  Cats may have run longer, Phantom of the Opera may have made more money, but I don’t see either one of those enjoying the success that belongs to Les Miserables.

Okay, so now on to the “players” of this film.  Tom Hooper directs.  He did “The King’s Speech”.  Very nicely done – he got an Oscar to prove it.  Hugh Jackman was cast as bread-thief Jean Valjean, and Russsell Crowe is cast as Javert, the policeman that hunts the criminal Valjean.  Anne Hathaway plays the tragic Fantine, the single-mother-turned-unwilling-prostitute.  Amanda Seyfried is Cosette, Valjean’s adopted daughter.  Eddie Redmayne is Marius, Cosette’s love-interest and student-turned-revolutionary.  Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter play the villainous Thenardiers.  Newcomer Samantha Barks play Eponine, daughter of the Thenardiers, who is in love with Marius.  The film is produced by Cameron Mackintosh (the creator of the musical).  The music is all courtesy of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the creators of the music for the musical.

Now, allow me to speak to few technical aspects of the film.  The makeup of this film is OUTSTANDING, to the point that I would give the Oscar to “Les Misérables” without question.  The look of Valjean at the beginning of the film is such a transformation that I did not even see Hugh Jackman.  The job that was done on Anne Hathaway for her prostitute look was superb!  In the vein, I also though the costumes were stellar as well!  I don’t know that it is guaranteed an Oscar, but it will certainly be in the running.  It will be up against the stiff competition of “The Hobbit” and “Lincoln” to be sure.

Okay, so now that I have gotten my technical joys of the film out of the way, and told you who was cast in the film, and whom the powers behind it are, allow me to state some not-so great things about this film.  The editing of “Les Misérables” is lack-luster to say the least.  If it is not the editor’s fault, then the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Tom Hooper.  There’s a lot of choppiness to the film as the story progresses and that was more than a little disconcerting.  In fact, for “Bring Him Home” this choppiness reaches its apex and it ruined the scene for me entirely.  The song is a sweet prayer and to have it broken up by the camera movement as it follows Valjean through the ruined tavern was atrocious!

As for the pacing of the film, Tom Hooper took a major misstep.  There are scenes where the film jumps from one song piece to another with nothing in between the two points.  There wasn’t any dialogue, sung or otherwise, there to serve as a bridge.  There wasn’t a sweeping score to carry you from point A to point B.  In other words, there was no build up, no pause to serve as the “breath” you take in between belting out those songs.  I didn’t like that aspect of the film AT ALL.  I know this isn’t the musical – of which I am a fan – but this is about pacing the film, which is in the hands of the director.  In this case, it should have been in the hands of someone more suited to the task.  Hooper’s direction is good, and I enjoy his close-ups on the actor’s as they sing, but there are moments where a wider angle would have served the film better.  His over-head shots are a little too contrite to be useful here and there were far too many of them in the movie.

When it comes to performances, Jackman’s portrayal of Valjean during “Valjean’s Soliloquy” is one of the greatest scenes ever from a filmed musical.  It is heart-wrenching and Jackman deserved a standing ovation right then and there!  Jackman’s performance is unique to the character, namely because of this this singing-live approach to the film.  There are prettier voices for Valjean.  There could be better actors for Valjean.  Truth is, in this version of the tale, Jackman does a marvelous job.  I believe as an actor this is THE performance of his career.  He was frightening to behold at first – and unrecognizable.  He looked French, if there is such a look.  I just thought he did a great job at acting his way through this film.  Sadly, there are noticeable lacking moments in his vocal talent.  In particular, “Bring Him Home” was a travesty.  I was uncertain if it was the pacing of the film, the choppy editing, the weird camera angles, or just a rushed performance by Jackman that was to blame.  Regardless, it is without question the worst version of this song I have ever seen performed.

I was blown away by Amanda Seyfried’s voice – how does she DO that???  She sounded like a songbird, truly.  I don’t remember her sounding like that in “Mama Mia” either.  But you know what?  I liked her singing as Cosette and I thought she was perfectly cast in the part.  Eddie Redmayne I did not know at all (I have not seen him in “My Week with Marilyn”) but I thought he was pretty terrific as Marius.  His performance during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is beyond brilliant.  How he was able to cry like that and then pull back from that emotion to continue singing was a stunning display of control!

Anne Hathaway has created what I am sure will go down in the history books as the most impressive performance of Fantine EVER.  I guess when you have seen it performed on stage, you get used to the vocal stylings used for “I Dreamed a Dream” and you come to expect it.  You judge each actress on how she sings that song.  It is perfectly natural to do so.  That’s one of the 3 IT songs from the musical, and you CANNOT stress enough how important that song is to the whole story.  Anne’s performance during that song is STUPENDOUS.  It is fragile, vulnerable, and filled with heart-break.  Her acting throughout the song is more than Oscar-worthy.  I saw so much coming through in her performance there that I was stunned.  I love the “pretty” versions of that song (to quote Anne herself), but I have to say that for this movie her way of performing the song was THE way to go and man, is it good!

As for Russell Crowe, well he was fine as Javert.  I heard a lot of people criticizing his singing in this film.  I didn’t find it all that bad.  I love Javert as a character; I find him to be a very complex character and there is just something very intriguing to the role.  (Everybody always wants to state who they would be in the musical, which character they would want to play, well mine is Javert.)  The Inspector is supposed to be ‘the bad guy” I know, but he’s this wonderfully determined policeman that just won’t quit.  I admire that.  Anyway, Crowe’s performance as a singer was pretty good I thought, but his acting wasn’t as great as it could have been.  I expected more from the Inspector.  That’s just my opinion.

The WORST aspect of the “Les Misérables” was Sacha baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers.  “Master of the House” was utterly awful in this film because it lacked any real charm.  These characters are meant as the comic relief in the musical and there is this Disney-esque villain quality to them: you dislike them but they are somehow charming nevertheless.  My problem with these two actors being cast in these roles was that neither of them seemed to enjoy their parts.  The acting wasn’t particularly funny – if anything it was the one thing it should NOT have been: campy.  The songs were butchered to the point of being nearly unrecognizable.  The way in which Hooper decided to shoot “Master of the House” was dull, witless, and completely without any real passion for the project.  It seemed to me that Hooper didn’t care enough about this part of the film to make it worthwhile.  It is meant to be a rousing number in the musical, and filmed-version or not, it should have been the same here.  The humor that Cohen and Carter attempted to through into the movie was completely out of place and inappropriate – not to mention the “Master of the Feast” version in this film was uninspired and “the Moon Looks Down” is omitted from the film entirely.

The cameo performance by the great Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne was an absolute delight.  His usage in the film will bring any fan of the musical to tears.  His serves as the voice of God and it is beyond symbolic when the Bishop gives Valjean the candlesticks.  That scene was worth the price of admission right there.  If you don’t know Colm, you should really acquaint yourself through DVD, YouTube, or a CD or two.  He is an amazing performer!  Colm was the original Valjean & has portrayed the character more times on stage than any other actor.   Frances Ruffelle, the original Eponine from the Broadway & West End productions of the musical also has a cameo as prostitute. Her voice is unmistakable!

I didn’t care much for the students either.  The actors who portrayed them in the 25th Anniversary Concert of “Les Misérables” were fantastic by comparison.  I felt nothing for them or their revolution, sadly.  Aaron Tveit was Enjolras, the leader of the students and he was adequate at best.  But why – in the name of all that is sacred – does Gavroche have to have SUCH a thick British accent?  I have never understood that aspect and I find it so out of place with the story.  It throws me every time I see the musical, in any form.  The young boy that plays him in the film is Daniel Huttlestone, and he did a fine job.  I just cannot stand that accent being used in this FRENCH story.

Overall, there were aspects of the film I loved, and others that I out-right hated.  All I can say is that for any fan of the musical, there is bound to be some aspect of “Les Misérables” that you will not like.  If you want to see the stellar acting and singing performances of Seyfried, Redmayne, Hathaway, and Jackman then you MUST go see this film!  The problem I felt with the film was that these standout numbers have no bookends.  There is no sweeping score to move you from point A to point B.  There is almost no dialogue – sung or otherwise – to serve as that bridge between the big numbers either.  I would have preferred to see those in the film, no matter what the runtime would have ended up being.  I was not utterly disappointed in the film, though.  Please don’t assume that.  I really enjoyed a great number of parts in the film!  I just believe that Hooper or somebody needed to understand that those bridges NEED to be there for this story to work.  Oh, and the casting of the Thenardiers was WRONG.

Take your perspective and go see the film.  I am curious to hear what everybody thinks of “Les Misérables”.  Are you in agreement with me?  Am I way off base?  I’d love to hear back from readers on this review most especially.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE