aspiring film critic. hopeful cynic. narcissistic enough to have a blog.
~ Wednesday, March 20 ~
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Les review of Les Miserable

Overall rating: 4.5/5 stars

Originally published by lotswife.com.au

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Our very own Rusty and Jacko: all old and grey and desperately in need of more layers. 

Upon the release of Les Misérables, there was only one thing you needed to know: every single sound produced, squeaks and all, were done live.

Something needs to be said about the beauty of this land of live vocal magic. The film’s objective (as any good film should be) is to explore the humanity of its central characters and display their plight with believable depth and dignity.

Musicals have the advantage of ‘telling a-bit-more than showing’, as lyrics can be simplistic yet utterly overwhelming. The emotional clarity is enhanced with every beat of the opus, and a character’s quirks amplified with simple instrumental flourishes.

However, generally one only connects on an emotional level to either the acting or the swelling of the orchestra. Even during rare moments of magic one is constantly aware of the artificially auto-tuned red curtain, where the actors may look sad, and they may sound sad, but they sing like they have the lungs of a
boastful lion after a satisfied feed. It’s beautiful but phony.

Les Misérables manages to overcome this phony valley by combining the larger-thanlife essence of stage musicals with the nuance and reserved subtlety of cinema. It utilises the bombastic nature of stage to envelope the
audience and the rare quieter moments for exposition of character, effectively turning the formula inside out.

The protagonists inhabit a universe where they sing instead of talk. We hear the catches in their voices, the tears in their eyes and the mucous clogging up their voice boxes. It’s as if the characters really are lamenting and rejoicing out loud; they just happened to rise and fall to a melody.

This was done by design by director Tom Hooper, who felt the transition from dialogue to song lacked purpose, and consequently cut most of the talking. This risks becoming excessive and maudlin, as the storyline alone (in fact, its title: The Miserable Ones) is awfully tragic; to add song and dance is practically destructive (fake cough, Glee). Through live singing, however, the actors can display their emotions with the reserved dignity that the characters deserve, without compromising the sentimental integrity for perfect pitch. It’s not melodrama with flashy hooks. It’s painful, ugly, raw and completely captivating.

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I dreamed a dream I had great hair, while those around me looked all goofy.  I dreamed the tendrils flow like streams, and that my roots go un-dandruff-ed.‘

 Am I the only one who thinks they gave only Eddie Redmayne (and no one else) perfect modern-day-ish hair to further enhance his romantic appeal?

The perfect example of this lies in Anne Hathaway. Her performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ was earnest, gut wrenching and elegantly unadorned. It’s Hathaway at her best. It’s also reminiscent of a particular scene in The Princess’ Diaries – where Mia lies drenched in her dilapidated convertible croaking out ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’ through the rain as she tries to comprehend her hopelessness. She’s not actually performing; singing is just literally the only fathomable action left when nothing can be done.

I’m not trying to level Diaries with Les Mis; I’m merely trying to take the musical out of the musical context. Anne Hathaway is not singing. She’s crying, yelling and exploding. After all, how can you convincingly portray weakness when your voice booms through the crowd? ‘Stage voice’ is only employed when the character needs to lament loudly. And there is much to lament about.

The film does not hide from the devastating destitution in its storyline, for
nothing destroys spirit like poverty. You may not be visually afflicted, but emotionally there is little mitigation to your despair. What the film does magnificently with this gloom is demonstrate the genuine sense of hope and joy found in belief of a higher power. The story displays guilelessly how during moments of desolation there can be peace in faith. It’s not ironic, satirical or preachy. It’s refreshing to see what has brought millions a true sense of contentment and comfort be treated with earnestness in film. It is not one-dimensionally represented, however, as the other, more indifferent perspective is also depicted for moments where the omnipresent cross lies flaccidly in the background can feel like the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.

The film is an exercise in restraint. It has the right combination of all that is good with cinema and music. And like its characters, the audience leave the emotional joy ride with a greater appreciation of the arts, empathy for the poor and the promise of eventual peace.

Tags: les miserable les mis review hugh jackman anne hathaway russell crowe amanda seyfried eddie redmayne samantha barks tear jerker musical musicals
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~ Saturday, February 2 ~
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Procastination! Also, news!

lesmis

Exciting news! I will be writing for my university’s newspaper. Not so exciting news: I’ve avoided it due to intimidation and have now reduced to last minute mania. Writing the review last minute is not a good way to optimise publication chances. Curse thee procrastination and fear of failure!

Anyway, look out for either an extended version and/or photocopy of my review on Les Mis soon! :)

Tags: les mis les miserables publication film review late night ramblings
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~ Monday, January 28 ~
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The famous scene.

The famous scene.

Tags: cary grant Black and White north by northwest aeroplane running famous scene suspense alfred hitchcock hitchcock cinema classic
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A small wallpaper made for the birthday of an old friend. Possibly the most inspired piece I’ve ever made. 

A small wallpaper made for the birthday of an old friend. Possibly the most inspired piece I’ve ever made. 

Tags: daisy daisies late night inspiration illuminate illumination photoshop design
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~ Sunday, January 27 ~
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Shame: an emotionally confused review

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 awkward eye-contacts.

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The FassBender, acting like a BossBender.

There really isn’t anyway an amateur film reviewer can critique this without sounding pretentious or inadequate. I have tried (and failed) many times to express my thoughts on this masterpeice, yet the subject matter and the shear elusiveness of the film’s characters were too intimidating. To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s a photo of me briefly brainstorming for Snow White and the Huntsman:

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and here’s an unnnecessarily detailed and complicated mind-map of Pitch Perfect:

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The final review (which took way too long to write) can be found here.

And here’s all I had to say about Shame:

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I wanted to write about this film for so long but had no idea how. I was both entranced and disgusted, hopeful yet weary. I found it both an exercise in beauty and in ugliness. It was a whirlpool of mixed feelings and confusion - and yet I did not look away. I sigh. I watch the movie again. I grimace. I cry and I laugh. I remember to breathe. And in the end, I desperately wish for Michael Fassbender to stop taking public transport.

No amount of introspection can fully explore the nature of the film and its effects on me (and the intended audience).

So I figured I would write about that: the confusion and the ambiguity. Writing my introspection as it happens.

Deep breath.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a sex-addict. And when I say addict, I mean so-much-porn-that-his-work-computer-is-confiscated-for-being-so-virus-infected addict. He has an inexplicable need to achieve orgasm. And when I say inexplicable, I don’t mean a need so powerful and overwhelming that we cannot comprehend or describe. I mean that we, as an audience, is left in the dark as to why this need exists. What is motivating him? Is he trying to escape from something? Is it merely a distraction from a deeper pain? 

Does he believe that this instant gratification will fulfil him in some way? In what way? Well, it’s quite clear he knows the satisfaction won’t last. One does not experience shame unless one knows from the beginning that it was a mistake. 

Lastly, what happened to him in the past that has lead to his current state of thralldom? 

We meet Sissy, his sister, and get a glimpse into the answer for the last question. She’s a part-time singer and full time failure at love. She wants to move in with him for a couple of weeks while she performs at a posh restaurant. He reluctantly agrees. Intimacy is both needed but unexpressed, more so in him than in her. They laugh. They fight. She cries: over him, over her old boyfriend, over her new boyfriend, over a mysterious history. He listens from the other side of the door. He doesn’t cry. He remembers to breathe. And in the end no one gets what they need. 

You know there’s something wrong with the relationship. It’s not subtle, but neither is it contrived. It takes great skill to be able to play such impassioned (sometimes hysterical) characters with such intensity without appearing bombastic. It’s not Macbeth mulling about the feebleness of life. It’s dirty and messy and incomprehensible. Fassbender and Mulligan both extract from their experiences with their siblings of the opposite sex and bring that to the table while raising the tension. They’re both the same person with the same desperate needs. They behave like normal siblings, but at times this normality amalgamates with an intensity and anger that mutates the dynamic into something atypical, but nonetheless completely realistic. It’s both a refreshing and a disturbing experience. 

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Brandon, despite his lack of qualms about masturbating at work, is able to keep his two worlds separate. No one really knows this side of him and at times you believe he doesn’t either. It’s as though the appearance of his sister disrupts this equilibrium. She’s bringing something from the past to a present that he so neatly preserved. She then starts dating his married boss after a short conversation, things start escalating, and we learn about more Brandon’s character. You begin to unveil his character through observing his relationships with others. 

It is during these moments that Fassbender and the direction of Steve McQueen really shines. There is one sequence in which the camera tracks Brandon as he jogs down the streets of New York accompanied by a simple piano solo in the background. This is reminiscent of the famed My Dinner With Andre ending whereby Wallace Shawn rides a taxi home with with the ever-so-pensive Erik Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1 playing the in background. 

What is it about Classical music that is so alluringly cold and enigmatic? It’s as though the music demands to be appreciated deeply.

The difference is Andre’s mystery encourages introspection while Shame’s mystery lies in its characters. It frustrates you. The music is less maternal and more paternally distant. It hints at methodical repression, and possibly bubbling distress? 

And catharsis is just around the corner.

The film forces you to experience the enslavement of addiction, and makes you appreciate the word that is nowadays used frivolously. You become immersed in the struggles of both characters. You desperately wish they’d lean on each other and heal, but you understand deep within your heart they possibly never will. It is an exercise in empathy and self-preservation. 

There is something to be said about the (in?)famously graphic nature of the sex scenes. It does not shy away from realistic love making (if you could even call it that). And for a candid film about the nature of addiction, you can almost justify it. It’s not pleasurable or gratuitous. It’s disturbing. And excruciating. And you can’t look away (although I must admit that for about 10 minutes near the end I watched the film through the contours of my closed fingers). It’s almost Freudian in nature. 

But you admire them all the same. If ‘Shame’ is its title, then ‘Brave’ is its execution, and ‘Grace’ the results. What’s that saying again about courage being grace under pressure? 

The film gives that aphorism a whole new perspective. It’s a difficult film to watch, but if you’re brave enough it rewards you with something incredibly, and confusingly, beautiful. 

Worthy mentionables:

  • I feel like this fits under both the review category and the ramblings category, because it’s less a discussion about the quality of the film and more on how it affects me as an audience member.
  • Director Steve McQueen practically forbids Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan to discuss what their theories on the history of the two siblings. It’s understandable, but do you think knowing would diminish the viewing experience in some way? Is it even worth speculating about?
  • Is it still art when you watch someone pee?
  • To what extent is this voyeurism?
Tags: shame steve mcqueen 2011 in film michael fassbender carey mulligan film reviews
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~ Sunday, January 20 ~
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Pitch please, it was da bomb: A ‘Pitch Perfect’ Review

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 classic musical puns

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“You don’t like this movie? Well, now I know why you don’t know how to have fun.”

The problem with teen flicks these days is that there seems to be a confusion between whether or not to realistically portray teenagers in all their gooey glory, or to celebrate them and their unadulterated ability to enjoy life (resulting in nostalgia for its viewers). To observe a real teenager is to be both concerned and slightly terrified, while watching a swarm of handsome young people relishing in their good fortunes and talents is off-putting (and masochistic, if you’re honest to yourself).

Make them all sing and the rocking chairs suddenly materialise beneath you whilst you shake your dentures at the dickens horsing around on your lawn.

The fact is, unless John Hughes was involved, there is no flawless way to merge the joys of puberty and the universal pain of, well, puberty.

‘Pitch Perfect’ however manages to avoid the pitfalls of trying to compromise the two conflicting genres and turn what would have been a shameful exploitation of pubescent mindlessness and consumerism into a celebration of all that is good about the world of organised nerd singing - which sounds like an over-exaggeration, considering its predecessors ‘Glee’ and ‘High School Musical’.

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And on the 35th day of shooting, the creators said “let there be manic fighting between the womenfolk. And let them womenfolk be as berserk as though ‘tis the eve of lady Aphrodite’s festival of wombic regeneration.” And he saw that Rebel Wilson smile in recognition, and it was good.

How? Well, unlike Glee, it is not taking advantage of teenage mindlessness via a constant barrage of fallaciously placed itunes top hits vaguely related to the artificial theme of friendship and tolerance RYANMURPHYYOURUINMYDREAMS! but rather a celebration of music and youth, despite the film being is just as formulaic, its characters cliched, and its music full of the addictive pop beats of radio stations no proud music lover will ever admit to liking.

‘Pitch Perfect’ stars Anna Kendrick as Beca, an alternative girl indifferent about the values of a good education and dreams of making it big on the anti-broadway scene of DJ-ing. She has the obligation of reluctantly fulfilling the stereotype by joining a group of eccentric misfits; and it is these misfits who eventually melt her cold, cold heart so that she can eventually find joy in life through lasting friendships.

Fortunately, thanks to the bribery of her plot device (father) and one deliciously strange shower audition, Beca finds herself thrust into the womitderful world (yes? It can be a real word. I’m making it a thing) of collegiate acapella, where she joins forces with seniors Aubrey (portrayed wonderfully by Anna Camp) and Chloe (Brittany Snow), the breakout star Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and other eccentrics who in real life would have nothing to do with each other.

The group’s rivals, an all-boys band named The Treblemakers (great pun, second only to Elizabeth Bank’s all-female band: The Minstrel Cycles. Also this guy.), are perpetual victors of the annual sing-off. Their new recruitment is Jesse (Skylar Astin) the perennial nice guy, whose boyish wooing must win over Beca’s sexy feelings before she shuts down her angry cynical heart forever.

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“Are the bonds of mutual appreciation for synchronised oral magic as strong as the carbon-carbon bonds?”

“They do in teen flicks. Although not as strong as ties formed by mutual appreciation of musical puns.

“Exactly. If you cant-a-bile to see the joys of fanatically bad punnery then we shouldn’t have to concer(n)to ourselves with your drone.

“You tell it like it is, clef-er boy!”

So why does this film win nerdy points while ‘Glee’ continues to spiral down the pit of guilty pleasure (for those too lost to be saved)? Well, it all comes down to careful scripting - the archetypal characters develop depth, the dialogue provides punch and personality, and the language aims for cleverness and flair (rather than lazy narration about teenage issues that provides prelude to an absurdly melodramatic Top 40s hit). Most importantly, the songs are used to perpetuate the story, develop tension, and provide insight into characters’ emotions.

Readers, I can give you many examples on how it does this perfectly, but to do so would spoil the film. Let me just say that it was especially apparent in the ending number, whereby the level of romance felt by myself was so elevated, I was both emotionally and relationally confused. The female lead does something which, if you’re a lonely self-absorbed hipster like I am, spoke so much romance and acceptance that for a moment I identified myself as both male and female coutnerparts. I was both giving love and receiving love; I accepting the most romantic gesture in my life while also participating in its presentation. You’ll just have to trust me on this.

This highlights how the film overcomes the predicament I mentioned previously. Yes it’s not profoundly original, deeply insightful, or perceptively realistic. But that doesn’t mean it had to dumb down and lose its dignity. It knows how escapism works and its determined to do so with intelligence, etiquette, and a great love of characterisation. Also, it’s very funny.

When its characters sing you don’t perceive it as boastful or arrogant, but as sympathetic nerds delighting in each other’s company and flair. You feel affection rather than annoyance. Originally dirty/egotistical songs about booze, booty and bling is transformed into playful songs about cheesy dreams through its enthusiastic delivery.

Yes it is not interested in replicating real life. This balance of depicting realistic relationships between mean teens keen on being seen (wearing jeans?), and depicting and ideal college experience dreamed by every parent, can be messy. Summer movies need to be idealistic, and yet reasonable enough to reward us for accepting the deceit and providing depth and meaning to an otherwise annoying group of good-looking kids with talents and hopes in life.

As an audience member, we only give in to the escapism when it’s worth falling for, and if we’re clever (which quality movies assume you are) then it’s going to take a lot of puns for it to work. Basically, the art-appreciation version of finding boyfriends.

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The Trebles don’t respect us, and if we let them penetrate us, we are giving them our power.”

Ladies, listen to Aubrey.

These kids have the perfect combination of idiosyncrasies to make them both refreshing and hilarious. Anna Camp portrays the main villain tinkering on the edge of desperate helplessness (so much so that you can’t help but sympathise with the poor control-freak), and Anna Kendrick’s unforced delivery of otherwise cheesy lines makes the film that much less single-faceted. Lastly, one has to comment on the antics of Rebel Wilson, whose lines are so perfectly matched to both her character and the comedienne she is in real life that one begins to wonder how much of that is improvised (“Les-be honest”) and how much of the comedy lies in the mischievous script by Kay Cannon.

If there were any complaints it would have to be in the unfortunate lack of characterisations in some of the other leads - Brittany Snow’s character Chloe has to reluctantly blend into the background after her moment in the shower lights, and Skylar Astin’s boy-next-door charms will only work on me. But this comes with the territory of the genre. Yes, this again validates the notion that pop-corn flicks can be clever and enjoyable for those who don’t like to turn their brains off; Just because the characters are cardboard cut-outs doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice personality. Kay Cannon’s script allows the minor characters to flourish under their limitations: Chloe lets conflicting traits explode, the quiet chick has great one-liners, the sex-obsessed wears her rape-whistle around her neck.

It may sound like I am over-praising the film, especially since its an inconsequential movie about singing stock characters. And you may be right. But when you judge the film based on the genre’s own criteria, it excels beyond that of many (if not all) contemporary teen flicks about singing and acceptance of nerds. It’s not trying to be something that it’s not (a realistic exposition on the sad, sad life of acapella) and it excels at being what it is. It is rare to find an enjoyable summer movie whereby one does not have to leave their brains in the foyer before watching. It’s even rarer to find one with lots of puns. You should watch it before my minor flat jokes harmony one else.

Worthy Mentionables:

  • The film’s soundtrack contains a track titled ‘Toner (Instrumental Suite)’.
  • ‘This ginger needs her jiggle juice’.
  • The main couple of the film has no duets. Good thing or bad thing?
  • Many thanks to my dear mate secretsunday (whose insightful blogs you should all read) for making me finish this silly review.
Tags: pitch perfect film reviews fat amy rebel wilson anna kendrick acapella puns musical pun popcorn flick teen film comedy musical
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~ Monday, December 10 ~
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The untriumphant return

Dearest void,

You may not be interested to know that the unannounced (and un-intended) hiatus from blogging will hopefully (and intentionally, though intention and will are two different things) be ending. 

I’d love to say that an exciting life has brought me away from you, dear indifferent readers, but I must admit the unsurprising truth lacking in adventure and debauchery and tell you that I was simply lazy. Lazy and hopelessly too self-absorbed in myself to focus on changing myself. In retrospect I regret not writing down some of my thoughts, for the ones which were written down proved to be of the most pathetically hilarious (hilariously pathetic?). Exhibit A:

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Among other words to define in Vietnamese include ‘moustachioed’, ‘gentlemen’, and ‘unbearably sexy’. 

And hence, uninspired wits like these leave me discouraged from writing. However, better to have written and lost than to never write at all? I am determined to being a writing routine whereby I post up whatever I have, no matter the quality (for it is my judgement of the quality that prevented me from writing) and from this grow to be better.

[resists urge to delete everything and cry self to sleep].

Tags: late night ramblings
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~ Thursday, June 7 ~
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Fifty shades of Green? Hell yeah!

Tags: john green chris colfer gifs funny
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reblogged via demi-harry
~ Thursday, May 31 ~
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mass collage post!

I figured posting one thing at a time is not only labour intensive but also a little self-absorbed. So I’m posting everything at once. These collages were apparently done in 2008. It’s like I had nothing better to do but photoshop and study. 

ALSO I got the first two photos from two photographers on deviantart. If these are yours feel free to message me so I can credit you :)

Tags: art beautiful disaster collage fallen angel feels like home frame jon mclaughlin late night inspiration photoshop poster sunflower sky
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~ Wednesday, May 30 ~
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Gemma Ward channel the effortlessly hypnotic Brigitte Bardot.

I dislike posting works by other artists, hence I avoid reblogging.

These photos are, however so mesmerising I must have it on my page to flaunt my awesome taste in the arts of fashions and photography. Was so tempted to turn them all black and white to be even more pretentious. 

Tags: gemma ward bardot brigitte bardot 1960s fashion photoshoot
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