Lady Macbeth Doth Protest Too Little

Lady Macbeth started and ran strongly for about the first two-thirds, before running into territory that was a bit mishandled, and less than optimal even if handled perfectly.  Still though, very good and fully engrossing — and the biggest reason is the film’s star.  Adam Graham, The Detroit News:

With quiet menace, [Florence] Pugh chews through director William Oldroyd’s handsomely composed period thriller like a rat gnawing through a wall.  She’s a force to be reckoned with, and her nightmare stare lingers longer than any poor sap who dares to get in her way.

Cath Clarke, Time Out London:

This brilliantly feminist British indie film plunges a cold, sharp knife into the back of bonnet dramas.

Indeed.  A lot of (evil) fun to be had here.  Maybe think of as a companion piece to The Little Hours, which is sticking with me enough that I’m considering bumping it up a notch.  Every time I think of it I smile inside.  As for Lady Macbeth: 8/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Les Amants Criminels, Lars von Trier films, especially Breaking the Waves; Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), The Last Seduction, The Housemaid, Marie Antoinette.

Film Brief: The Little Hours

The Little Hours is an odd little film, a period piece featuring contemporary foul language.  Mick LaSalle, SF Gate:

Though very funny, “The Little Hours” remains low-key and subtle in its effects. There’s no winking or nudging, no straining for laughs.

He thought it more funny than I, but there were a number of good laughs, and I liked the tone.  Tone is important.  Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

The Little Hours coasts along breezily on the oddball rhythms of its actors. The cast also includes John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, who cap the whole crazy enterprise in a surprisingly tender coda. It doesn’t hurt that Baena and cinematographer Quyen Tran shot the picture in sun-washed Tuscany. Looking for a break from the Black Death, or even just the summer heat? The Little Hours is just the thing.

7/10

Film Brief: The Witch

The Witch - poster

Not much to see here, folks.  Not nearly as much as you would think.  I was so very much looking forward to The Witch, and so even the more disappointed.  An exceptionally strong pot of potential, but nothing exceptional about the movie.  The Witch is not without its assets, but this one’s a pass — another miss by A24.  5/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Antichrist, The Visit, Breaking the Waves

ALL HAIL, CAESAR!

Hail, Caesar! - poster alt

Not to sound lame-brained, but Hail, Caesar! is the most literal example of a FEEL GOOD MOVIE in recent memory.  I was loathe to go see it, based on the ads & trailers.  I made avoiding it something of a quest, Coens be damned!  Plus I had this running theory of Clooney + Coens = STAY AWAY!  But it seemed to have legs.  After a month or so something snapped; I broke down and headed with great gusto to the cinema.

Hail, Caesar! - text blockAnd wow do the Coens know how to put together a movie.  Hail, Caesar! is a thoroughly entertaining, sumptuously gorgeous picture made by absolutely consummate filmmakers at the top of their game.  My only fault was a lack of any real dramatic peril: this is not Fargo or No Country for Old Men.  Otherwise we’d be talking 9-territory; as it is, on the high end of 8/10.

Sit close to the big screen for this one — it’s a visual treat, I found much more so than even The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Comparison Notes: Recommended: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Chinatown, Mulholland Dr.; Not recommended: Inherent Vice, L.A. Confidential

A Christmas Carol

Carol - poster

When you’re halfway through a film teetering on whether or not you like it, that’s not a good sign.  But when, at the same time, you never lose interest, there’s hope.  And it’s always better when a movie starts slowly and ends strongly than the other way around.  The final act of Carol builds in quiet understated power, enough to cast everything that comes before as requisite groundwork.  8/10

Arc de Triomphe

Les Misérables is a sumptuous, gorgeous, beautifully produced period musical.  It is unabashedly musical: almost the entire film is sung.  If you are not interested in a movie which is sung, stay away.  You will know within 5 minutes of the beginning whether or not you’ll like the movie.  I was quickly enrapt by the engaging choral performances and unexpectedly good story development, and felt like I was watching something special.  The film creates an immersive experience by way of its fully fleshed out and elaborate sets, its costumes and art direction, and the ever-present soundtrack.  Story is present here, too.  The classic conflict between officer Javert (Russell Crowe) and ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) forms a great foundation on which to lay the ensuing action.

And then Anne Hathaway as Fantine performs the film’s signature piece “I Dreamed a Dream” and I was pretty much blown away.  This in my mind is one of the great solo performances ever presented on film.   I felt like applauding right there in the theater, but the silence at the end of the song cued me to bind the applause within my heart.  If the remainder of the film were a flop, which it is not, Hathaway’s performance alone would be worth the price of admission.

Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables

Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables

Now, although the musical performances as a whole I found delightful and entertaining, the cast here are more so professional actors than musicians.  As such, do not expect singing on the highest level of musicianship as you would find in, say, an opera, or a great solo pop song.  But then again the lyrics do not work that way in the first place.  The actors’ performances here are well suited to the format of Les Misérables.  In fact, the stature of these great actors only helps to add weight to the collective experience.

A down note: at around two-thirds through the movie, it becomes disjointed and disconnected from its earlier stages.  The resulting fragments cause harm.  There is a love story and a latter-day French revolution story that do not work nearly as well as the story elements that ran earlier.  And the grand finale did not quite live up to my expectations.

Nonetheless, Les Misérables is the success that Sweeney Todd never was, and I am not just saying that because Helena Bonham Carter is in both.  It will restore your faith in the period musical that might have been lost in that earlier Broadway-brought-to-film production.  Sacha Baron Cohen also impressed me here.  I had thought that he would find it difficult to follow up Borat, but with his role here and his turn in Hugo a year ago, he is proving to be quite the good theatrical character actor.

Another small negative: what is with movies these days never showing any beginning credits or titles?  I mean, at least give me the title of the movie.  Think of how titles can embellish a film’s start: the original Superman, 2001, Star Wars and Star TrekThe Doors.  In the beginning moments of this movie, there were a couple opportunities to show the resplendent title screen it deserves, and a certain richness is lost by omitting it.

Overall, though, Les Misérables is a rich and grand production, a triumphant arc that delivers more than can be expected from big Hollywood these days.  8/10, but take it as it is and forgive its trespasses.  And make sure to see it in a theater with good sound.

Now a question: What was the better 2012 musical?  This or Rock of Ages?  Good question.