* * * *
Cert 12A, 158 mins
Two years ago, British director Tom Hooper brightened up our dark, dreary early January days with a cracking film.
The King’s Speech went on to win four Oscars and I’m sure his latest film will pick up many award nominations – it’s already had nine BAFTA nods.
Both are fine productions, though very different in tone. While The King’s Speech was feelgood and uplifting, Les Miserables is often as miserable as the title. Don’t watch it if you’re feeling fragile or depressed, as it really puts us through the emotional wringer.
But do watch it if you want to see some heartrending acting and impressive singing to a magnificent score.
Adapted from Victor Hugo’s weighty novel, it faithfully follows the Cameron Mackintosh-produced musical.
It seems hard to imagine now that this sung-through epic received such bad notices when it first opened in 1985, as it is now a record-breaker seen by more than 60 million people in more than 40 countries.
Considering the musical is getting on for three hours (with an interval), Hooper has done well to keep the film fast-paced and to the point, with a bearable running time of about two and half hours without the credits.
The only addition to the action is an extra song, Suddenly, specially written for Hugh Jackman. It adds nothing except another chance for an Oscar nomination.
Jackman plays Jean Valjean, released from prison in 1815 after serving 19 years for stealing a mouthful of bread and trying to escape.
He breaks his parole to start again, turning his life around to become a factory owner and even mayor of the town.
But he cannot outrun his former captor, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who makes it his life’s mission to track him down.
Along the way, Valjean adopts a child, Cosette, after the heartbreaking death of her mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway).
Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) grows up to fall in love with young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne), though he is also the object of the unrequited affections of Eponine (Samantha Barks).
Amid the high drama, light relief is provided by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the thieving innkeeper Thenardier and his wife.
Bonham Carter is as wild-haired as ever, occasionally lapsing into what sounds a lot like a Brummie accent, but we could do without Baron Cohen’s ‘comedy’ French accent.
The fact that every conversation is sung may take a little time to get used to, but there is much to recommend this film.
Fans of the musical will not be disappointed and in fact it has several advantages over stage productions.
We get more epic scenery, like mountains and the rooftops of Paris, the fighting is more realistic and the scene in the sewers more graphically gruesome.
We can hear every word, which isn’t always possible in a theatre, and close-ups of the actors make sure we see every tear running down their faces. It certainly enhances the visceral impact.
The acting is top-notch, although I have heard better vocal performances on stage. While we feel every blow dealt to Valjean, Jackman’s voice is too weak to make Bring Him Home the powerful, passionate plea it deserves.
On the other hand, some actors surprise us with impressive voices we didn’t know they had, like Redmayne and Hathaway. Both are stunning.
Poignant highlights for me are Eponine’s On My Own and A Little Fall of Rain, and Marius’s Empty Chairs At Empty Tables.
It’s great to have a film which touches and moves you. Just be prepared to leave the cinema feeling emotionally drained. RL
Texas Chainsaw 3D
Cert 18, 92 mins
If you want to explore the cinema of fright, look no further than Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre – judged by the London Film Festival of 1974 to be the ‘Outstanding Film of the Year’.
Years ahead of its time, it combined a nasty subject matter with a quasi-documentary feel, jarring editing and a soundtrack designed to unsettle.
You would think that such ingredients would be easy to framework.
But, just like we seem to be incapable of making a modern building look as good as the classic Georgian examples that are plain for all to see, so Hooper was unable to use this film as a career template.
He had a big hit in 1982 with Spielberg’s Poltergeist, but the PG certificate didn’t exactly seem like his natural territory and so he never did become a serious rival to the likes of Scorsese.
Almost four decades later, Texas Chainsaw is the seventh film in the ‘series’ that isn’t even a series.
Sensibly losing the Massacre tag (the unfathomable rise in American school shootings has surely seen to that), it feels more like a non-scary ‘Scary Movie’ spoof than the real deal, such is its lack of genuine tension.
Relying far more on a sense of anticipation than gore, Hooper’s original was loosely based on the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, whose antics also inspired Psycho (1960) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) either side of it.
Here, director John Luessenhop takes us back to the end of the original Chainsaw film.
A baby is found and, years later, Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) has a big house inheritance to claim.
Out of the basement comes a man with, you’ve guessed it, a chainsaw.
Original star Gunnar Hansen guests as Boss Sawyer, while Leatherface is now played by Dan Yeager.
Once you’ve got used to the look of this film and given up caring why dates are missing from graves and newspapers, it does actually deliver one decent ‘3D’ moment out of the blue.
With a serious degree of gratuitous shots of scantily clad women, no opportunity to outline a feminine curve is missed, either.
And, of course, for those who want gore, there’s plenty of slicing and dicing (in what is, coincidentally, the 75th anniversary year of Spam).
The most interesting aspect of the film is that it stars Scott Eastwood as policeman Carl.
Now, 26, the son of Clint doesn’t get much of a chance to show what he can do as an actor.
But he’s a lot younger than his father was when he was getting his breaks in the movies and Scott can now claim to have been in a film that has knocked The Hobbit off its perch in the US.
Given that he’s an absolute deadringer for his dad, the unlikely success of Texas Chainsaw (the Saturday night preview I saw at Cineworld Broad Street was packed) might yet have consequences that will be more interesting than we might have otherwise thought.
Forget Leatherface. What’s Hollywood going to do next with a guy who looks just like a young Clint Eastwood? GY
* * * *
Cert 15, 113mins
The second feature to have been directed by Reuben Fleischer since his 2009 debut with Zombieland, Gangster Squad is an old-fashioned noir-thriller about the battle for the soul of Los Angeles.
It’s 1949 and the War is over. But the Tommy guns, they are a-blazing.
Is the dominance of East Coast bad boy Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) going to ruin life in LA for everyone?
Or will the good guys still have the stomach for a different kind of fight on home soil, one which might require them to break the law in order to protect it?
Will Beall’s screenplay has been adapted from a book by Paul Lieberman about Bugsy Siegel’s switch to Vegas creating opportunities for someone else.
The movie opens with Cohen sending out a body-ripping message. From his ex-boxer’s point of view, there can be no compromises.
Police chief William Parker (Nick Nolte out-gruffing his own persona) sees no point in killing Cohen, but wants him driven out of town as a warning to stop others taking his place.
Since the boss knows that many of his own officers are in Cohen’s pocket, Second World War vet John O’Mara is given a chance to fight, literally, for his homeland.
Parker knows he’s the right kind of no-nonsense kind of guy who can prevent evil from triumphing.
Josh Brolin, a square-jawed actor cut from Nolte’s own heavy duty cloth, might be a family man at heart.
But in the theatre of war he’s an all-action brute ready to create his own team of unlikely misfits who will, between them, have the brains, the skills and the nerve to infiltrate Cohen’s inner circle.
So who better to call upon than stars of the calibre of Ryan Gosling, Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena and Anthony Mackie.
Gosling’s character Sgt Jerry Wooters goes right into the heart of battle as a surely near-suicidal love rival for Cohen’s moll, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone): once bedded, fate sealed if Cohen finds out the truth.
And you are always concerned for O’Mara given the tender relationship he shares with pregnant wife, Connie (Mereille Enos).
So far, so good...
All that you have to do is to decide how you like your films from this period recreated in the modern era, with Gangster Squad aiming for some of the common ground shared by LA Confidential and The Untouchables.
It’s not always no such solid, filmic territory, though.
The look of the film and the way some of the editing and effects combine suggest it’s been over digitalised, even though the cinematographer is Dion Beebe, Oscar-nominated for Chicago and a winner for Memoirs of a Geisha.
Movies of this nature sit better on old-fashioned celluloid, as Michael Mann’s digitally-shallow Public Enemies certainly proved in July, 2009.
The dialogue doesn’t stitch Gangster Squad together as well as it might.
There are flashes of memorable brilliance (such as the “you can’t kill me” line from the trailer), but there’s a lack of plot dynamic about where we are heading, perhaps not helped by re-shoots after last summer’s real-life cinema massacre in Colorado left this film’s centrepiece shooting at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on the cutting room floor.
Although it’s pretty obvious from the set up which two figures will probably end up going toe-to-toe, there isn’t the same sense of anticipation that Heat (1995) developed in readiness for the Robert De Niro / Al Pacino face off.
Still, Brolin is impressive on his side of the fence.
And the under-used and therefore non-too-subtle Penn, when he gets the chance, is pure, super-coiled energy, with a face that seems to morph between horror creation Freddie Krueger and the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood.
One interesting visual aspect of the film is the use of the Hollywoodland sign high up on Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains – 1949 is the year it was abbreviated – and the end credit images are fabulous. GY