Archives for the month of: June, 2016

It is mesmerizing to me that someone once looked at roughly twelve pounds of Victor Hugo’s nonsense and thought, “I bet that would make a great musical.” I resisted the musical for a long time, because I had read the book and success seemed unlikely, and also because little girls are taught “Castle on a Cloud” in music class, and Cosette was rather a wet blanket. But Pandora had other ideas, and the rest of the show is mostly better, and there we were in 2012 and I went to the cinema and was not greatly disappointed.

Most people, when they saw Les Mis the film, were disappointed because the singing wasn’t that good, or that Samantha Barks was thrown to Broadway diehards like a pacifier to a fussy infant. And they hated both Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. I’m not particularly interested in those factors, and neither are you, three and a half years later.

My problems stem from twin causes: changes the musical had to make because it wasn’t three years long and Marius had to be likable, and choices the movie made from the musical that exacerbated those flaws.

Marius Pontmercy, in the book, is extremely handsome. So far, so good. He’s dark where Eddie Redmayne is incipiently ginger, but that’s all right. The other thing about Marius, though, is that he’s a drip. He has cards printed calling himself a baron (his father was vaguely entitled to do so), has stupid fights with his rich relatives, is too lazy to do the very undemanding work that his school friends find him when he needs money, decides that the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen is named Ursule (I mean, come on), and after talking to her once decides that he’d rather die than lose her, so he belatedly cares about the revolution in which his friends ardently believe. They, unlike him, are interesting and varied.

This is my main problem with the show. I love everything to do with these lads. They’re not viciously useless, like Fantine’s lover’s crowd. They’re not venal, like the Thénardiers. They’re not hopelessly boring, like Cosette. They’re crazy, and probably wrong, and criminally naïve, but they’re more like people than anyone else Victor Hugo limned. Hugo’s Enjolras is a glorious lunatic Adonis. The musical’s Enjolras is a mildly nuts co-firebrand. Tom Hooper’s Enjolras is a handsome, scarlet-clad, interchangeable sidekick until the moment of his death (not Aaron Tveit’s fault). Except for one sublime second of mad joy when he first scrambles behind the barricade, Enjolras is just like all the others, aside from the jacket. Now, I get it. Marius has to believe in the cause, because otherwise Marius is an unappealing moral tourist, so he takes half of Enjolras’s revolutionary vim, and Enjolras just gets to be a moderately self-righteous scold.

And this is why you shouldn’t cut any of “Drink with Me.” Because then it’s not just about Marius, and you give the boys a little more time to be different from each other. A little more time for Enjolras to have crazier eyes, or for Grantaire to be noticeably drunker than everyone else, or for us to learn which one Courfeyrac actually is. A little more time for you to see that they do care, and not just because they have a crush on some blonde they’ve hardly met. Maybe a little time to see why Grantaire claws himself out of a hangover to die next to Enjolras. Too much to ask?

Still, though. I am at home for ruffly shirts and barricades, and this movie is gorgeous.

Stray observations:

  • We do not need to see Javert’s back break. No, thank you.
  • The early 1830s had bad sleeves, huh.
  • I hate the Thénardiers so much, but since you’re supposed to, I’m not sure I can dock points for it.
  • Grantaire is my spirit animal. There is no chance I won’t be hungover when the revolution comes.

Director: Tom Hooper
Rating: PG-13
Length: 158 minutes
Score: 4/5

This is one of those movies where bad things happen to a mild-mannered man because women are crazy and dishonest, and yet, I did not mind as much as usual, because Jemaine Clement is a genius.

No, honestly. Will (Clement) is a graphic novelist, and the film begins at his twin daughters’ fifth birthday party. He’s looking for matches, and he walks in on his girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) having sex. She moves in with that guy (who is a monologuist, helpfully glossed as “stand-up comedy without the jokes”), starts taking improv, and then decides she believes in marriage after all. Because she’s that woman from the movies, who is the worst. Meanwhile, of course, Will is just trying to be a good dad, and teach his class on graphic novels, and not jerk around a woman he meets (Regina Hall’s Diane). He is very put-upon and can’t even throw his cup in anger without getting his drink all over himself.

I hate these sorts of things, as a rule, but it is impossible not to root for Clement as Will, even though you probably think that unshaven graphic novelists deserve most of the nonsense that comes their way. His gentle brand of satire and occasional flashes of anger are very effective, and his daughters are adorable. He is evidently trying to be a grown-up, which is a pleasant change from all characters in films ever.

Also, if you enjoy that now largely standard low-key slightly arty New York vibe, you’ll love this.

Stray observations:

  • When I typed “she believes in marriage after all” above, I first typed “magic” instead of “marriage.” So.
  • Will and Diane have sex in her office. She is a college professor. So am I, and that is not a call I would make.

Director: James C. Strouse
Rating: R
Length: 85 minutes
Score: 4/5

This movie could have been substantially worse. But let me run a few things by you:

  1. Mystique is angry at everyone and lectures people about mutantdom or something (and basically acts a lot like Katniss Everdeen, which isn’t more attractive if you’re blue and naked).
  2. Erik Lensherr needs to be reminded that humanity is probably worth saving, Nazis and other bigots notwithstanding. But first people are awful and somebody dies.
  3. Somebody gets into Charles’s head, and it’s a problem.
  4. Some long-latent cosmic power is defeated with suspicious ease by an unlikely bunch of mutants who realize at the last moment that they need to work as a team.

Does that sound like…every X-Men movie?

Everyone’s phoning it in at this point, with the exception of Rose Byrne’s Moira McTaggart, who remains the only person in these movies with any sort of consistent and rational appeal. This is the point of Moira, of course. Jennifer Lawrence is just recycling her pouting noxiousness, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are visibly bored (which is understandable), and Oscar Isaac is unrecognizably painted blue, so you can’t really tell if he’s acting. The kids have very little to do–there are too many characters to bother caring about them, particularly when Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is given practically no dialogue (or clothing!). Conversely it’s probably a relief that Jubilee (Lana Condor) is barely there.

The fights are fine; the effects are fine; the Egyptian stuff is Mummy levels of insane nonsense, but who really cares.

Hmm. Maybe I just need to stop watching superhero movies until they seem less samey and dumb. Except Ragnarok: Once Thor with Feeling. I am going to see that a hundred times.

Stray observations:

  • Apparently Ally Sheedy has a small part. I didn’t notice.
  • “I’m blue! I’m Kurt!” Nightcrawler is always going to be the most charming.
  • Young Scott is not handsome enough.

Director: Bryan Singer
Rating: PG-13
Length: 144 minutes
Score: 3/5

If you’d like to watch a romantic movie with multiple generations and Vanessa Redgrave, watch Letters to Juliet, which is silly but palatable. Do not watch Evening, which is self-serious and terrible.

Anne (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying. Her daughters, Connie (Natasha Richardson) and Nina (Toni Collette), come to stay with her, and notice that she starts mentioning names they have never heard. It goes without saying that Connie has a husband and kids and a Range Rover where Nina has a boyfriend in a band and a bad dye job (hers, not his), and that they are mutually awful to each other.

The audience sees the people behind these names in flashbacks: young Anne (Claire Danes), Harris (Patrick Wilson), and Buddy (Hugh Dancy). Anne’s friend Lila (Mamie Gummer) is getting married in Newport; Buddy is Lila’s brother and Harris is their housekeeper’s son, now a doctor. Anne is their impecunious artistic friend, as we learn because she’s not blonde and has heard of Greenwich Village, even though it’s the fifties. Since my dad sub-let a flat from a sitar player in the Village at about this time, and my dad is hardly an espadrille-wearing anarchist, this seems laid on a little thick. It can be galling and awkward to be a poor relation at a Newport wedding, but if the bride really wants you to be her maid of honor, you could maybe try to handle it with a little grace.

Buddy is…something. He’s constantly drunk and on the verge of writing a novel and has carried around a note from Anne for four years but kisses Harris and drunkenly jumps off a cliff but is fine. Constantly drunk and jumping off cliffs is standard Newport wedding behavior, as, probably, is being on the verge of writing a novel. One supposes that kissing Harris seems odd for the fifties, or would, if the movie didn’t have every single character stress that absolutely everyone was irresponsibly in love with Harris. So much for Buddy.

Harris, of course, is Anne’s great love too, but circumstances and expectations conspire against their eternal happiness. She regrets this on her deathbed, as she has evidently forgotten that Harris, as we have seen him, had approximately the personality of damp celery. But, of course, Anne’s choices are now being borne out in her daughters, somehow. They realize she was doing her best, and now they’re doing their best, and everything is fine. It’s offensively pat.

On a formal note, the flashbacks don’t mesh especially well, and it can be difficult to discern why, exactly, we have flashed back, or why, for instance, Eileen Atkins (as the night nurse) is now wearing an evening dress. It’s charming to have Meryl Streep play the older Lila, but not worth it for an unnecessary framing device. It’s not as bad as, say, The Notebook, but that’s only because it isn’t quite as cynical.

Stray observations:

  • They don’t even let Claire Danes commit to the ugly cry. They do let her slap people and over-dramatize herself, though.
  • Why did Glenn Close sign up to be Lila’s mom? Any actress could have done that part.
  • Seriously, you don’t have to be poor and artistic to have the capacity to feel. And name-checking The Great Gatsby doesn’t fix the hackneyed way you’ve dealt with class.
  • A character is hit by a car, and a bridesmaid observes, in scarily flat tones: “Oh my goodness, the blood, it’s everywhere.” That’s the worst piece of dialogue, but the rest of the movie runs a close second.

Director: Lajos Koltai
Rating: PG-13
Length: 117 minutes
Score: 2/5