Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Reviews - Films of January 2013

Here are the movies I watched in January:

People Like Us
(watched at home on 4th January 2013)

Watching this film cemented something in me that I have been coming to terms with for a while - I kind of like Los Angeles now. I used to HATE it, and in a lot of ways I still do. A lot of it is ugly, dry, dusty. They don't look after their old art deco buildings. The roads are all broken. The kind of arid scenery they do have - palm trees, canyons and so on, I don't find appealing. The culture is strange. It's extremely difficult to get around it without driving, and I don't drive. The fact that everyone else does drive means that there are not many places designed for traversing by foot, nice places to walk around. The public transport is very limited and kind of scary, and there's barely anywhere that you can hail a cab. It is the opposite of New York and if there is a word stronger than 'opposite,' apply that to London. However, somehow, just by passing through over the last five years, I have discovered pockets, things scattered around the city, that I actually do enjoy, and since my most recent trip to the USA in July, my mind keeps treacherously wandering to these places and somehow, against my own will, I find myself wishing I was back in Los Angeles. Sitting in Intelligentsia in Sunset Junction after purchasing several bags of hand-made salted caramels at the Silver Lake Cheese Store. Shopping at Amoeba, drinking at the Cat and Fiddle, watching a Disney classic at El Capitan Theatre. The Los Feliz Farmer's Market on Sundays, where we bought local honey from a blind man and the best brownie in the history of creation from another stall. The stretch of Vermont that counts as Los Feliz is probably the most pleasant and civilised stretch of street I've found in all of  LA, except maybe down in Santa Monica, which is a whole other type of civilisation, shamefully taking 90 minutes to reach on public transport if you're coming from Hollywood. Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, ending up in the VIP loft at the Troubadour. The beautifully maintained entrance hall at Union Station. Griffith Observatory, for the Tesla coil demonstrations, the coyotes and the sunset. Paramount Studios, not only because they make some of the best TV and movie, but for the glory of Old Hollywood and how carefully that has been preserved. Even the shopping complex of Hollywood and Highland, if you ignore all the people in costumes - the mosaic artwork in the plaza telling the anonymous stories of those who've made it in LA and the outrageous lies or dodgy tricks the took to get there.

Los Angeles is a true character in this movie, in a way that reminds me of all the things I like about it. It would be nice if I had Chris Pine to drive me around in a shiny Mustang, though - I am sure I would start to love it in that scenario. Chris Pine, Chris Pine, Chris Pine. Is there anything he cannot do? If you do not like him, you are wrong. No arguments. You are wrong. He is wildly, wildly talented. His range as an actor is extraordinary, I have seen nearly every film he has made, they're all different, every character is vastly different, from “blind dude in a rom-com” to “neo-nazi punk in an action film” and he just always manages to elevate whatever he is doing to some next-level shit. If he is in a film, he will make the film good, even when the film should be bad. Even when the film is “Just My Luck.” He has a special quality about him, he is a masterful actor, and I am in love with him. He looks like a frat-boy ken doll and has an English degree from Berkeley. He is genius-levels smart and it shows in his work, particularly with dialogue – nothing he ever says sounds unnatural or like an affectation. He is amazing. He is perfect. However, this film, People Like Us, is a film about family relationships – about him as a brother who finds out about his secret half-sister as an adult, and about him as a son, dealing with his mother after his father dies. The iconic Michelle Pfieffer plays his mom, and Elizabeth Banks, who is sharply, sharply intelligent, plays the sister, and the result of putting Chris Pine up against women who are just as smart and talented as him means that their chemistry is off the charts – in a way that's a little inappropriate for family relations. To be fair, this may have been intentional – it's certainly part of the plot with the sister-who-doesn't-know-she's-his-sister, but even at the end, after the inevitable shitstorm, and he's begging her to let him be her brother, it still feels intrinsically romantic in some way. Like, it's just that intense, there's just that much chemistry, and you don't generally see family members talk to each other like that. God, he is good with Elizabeth Banks, they need to be in more things together, because I have seen him act against a lot of people and I have never seen him work better against someone – well, maybe Quinto, but this was something very unique. The sister's son, Chris's character's nephew, was also a fucking gift, one of the most talented child actors I have ever seen, and his interactions with Chris were priceless. The kid's name is Michael Hall D'Addario and I am going to be keeping an eye on him because he was genuinely brilliant. Everyone in this was brilliant, honestly, including the surprise appearance by Mark Duplass, and the magical Olivia Wilde, but that trio of Chris, Elizabeth and the child was something that I bet film-makers do ritual sacrifices in the hopes of finding. All in all if you like things that are good, you should see this movie. It had a smallish budget, which it didn't even make back at the box office, but was clearly a labour of love – it was made by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who co-produced Star Trek, and it was based on true events of Kurtzman's actual life. It is quite an odd film, quite startling, but it is genuinely very good, and really, honestly, nothing like any other movie that I have seen in a long while. I couldn't define it. It just is, and what it is is good.

(watched at home on 4th January 2013)

This was, by no means, of course, the first time I have watched this film. It is my favourite animated movie, far surpassing anything by Disney, and I have felt that way since I first saw it, which would have been at the cinema, sometime between 6th and 7th grade. I remember knowing I wanted to see it and asking a friend to come with me, and I remember the vague feelings of shame, or like I had to “convince” her or talk her into coming to see a cartoon. I can't remember if this was unfounded or not, like whether she readily agreed or whether I actually did have to beg her, but I remember feeling like I might need to because at that time, I was under the impression that people our age did not go to see cartoon movie without little brothers or sisters or whatever. This was something that followed me through most of high school – perhaps there were groups of people out there not giving a shit, but I cannot remember, as a teenager, anyone having any fondness or respect for “children's” things, like animated movie, Disney, etc. I know that I was invested in some afternoon television animated series, like The Animals of Farthing Wood and Madeline, at an age that was deemed “too old” and, again, had to make excuses about it. Aria and the Simpson were okay, but not stuff meant for actual children. I secretly read and enjoyed books that were considered “too young,” as well. Something I have noticed in the current day and age, in fandangos, on tumble, etc, is the stigma of all of this has melted away. This can only be a good thing. I have a lot of gripes with tumble as a random medium and the way it has spread the idea of certain subcultures to a much wider audience, some of whom really don't know how to behave, but I will say this – I have to hand it to the younger generation of kids who seem to no longer have any shame about hanging on to childhood – adults reading YA books, teenagers crying over Disney films, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Adventure Time. There seems to be a much more widely spread acceptance of all forms of entertainment and art, that people aren't ashamed or dismissive about appreciating things simply because of the recommended age bracket. I bet Harry Potter had a lot to do with that, and, as I said, the fact that “geek culture” and random behaviour is becoming less of a subculture. When I was in early high school, like, the four Goth kids in the corner would have had a Livejournal, at my all girls school. Nowadays, for better or worse, it seems like millions of kids have Tumblr, people make friends at school via Team StarKid references, and all that. I don't know. Maybe this was always happening, in some way, and I just knew the wrong people. But it does seem like there is a higher percentage of young geeks out there now, readers, lovers of culture, people who just like good stuff, and if I was twelve nowadays I wouldn't have had any shame in asking someone to come see Anastasia with me.

So yes. It's my favourite animated film, and on this re-watch, I think I figured out why. It's tonally so different to Disney, which I already knew, of course – it's really dark, really messed up, Disney would never tackle this kind of thing, though Hunchback gets really dark, for them – but the characterisations, as well. Now, we all love our Disney princesses, and there are strong women among them, in their own ways – Belle, Jasmine, Megara – but it isn't until you get to Mulan that you get a hardcore BAMF. And Anya, in Anastasia, is an absolute BAMF. She takes no shit, she is just so fucking cool, and she doesn't have to run away and pretend to be a guy to do it. The way she sasses Dimitri, constantly, is incredible, and the bit on the train where he's expecting her to hand him an axe and she hands him the dynamite? Also, in the end, she saves herself, and him, from Rasputin, which, yes, sort of happens in some Disney, but this is better. It helps that I am also obsessed with the lives of historical royalty, particularly the children of revolutions, because it's always super-sad and messed up. I have read countless, countless historical novels/diaries about people like this – the Tudors, Jane Gray, Marie Therese of France... so yes. Anastasia's story has always fascinated me, and I love how tough she is in this movie, because she was, she was a little terror. I've always been a little curious why they messed with the ages – she was aged 8 in 1916, in the movie, when in reality she would have been 14. They could have kept her as 14, and then had her meet Dimitri ten years later, at age 24? That's not super old, is it? Though maybe they wanted the audience – of children – to relate to a child, in the first scenes, and then when she gets kicked out of the orphanage it's at the “legal adult” age of 18. Whatever. I pretty much wept through the entire film on this viewing, god, the bit in “Once Upon A December” where she dreams of all the dancers and then her father cuts in and she bows to him? Kill me now. Also, the bit on the stairs at the opera in Paris, when Dimitri sees her in that dress. I want that damn dress. Someone make me the dress. I still don't completely understand the ending – why does she have to elope with Dimitri? Why, as a dethroned empress, can she not just marry who she wants and still be publicly acknowledged? She could totally grant him a title. But I just love them, I love the way they talk to one another, I love the way their faces are animated. The animation style has always been a big thing for me, it's a touch more “real” than Disney's, they look like real people, and Anya is just so gorgeous and feminine without being totally delicate. Like, they somehow make her look slightly out of place in her formal gowns, even though she looks amazing. Something about the way they've done it makes you just feel that she's wearing this as a costume, no matter how good it looks, as opposed to, say, Belle, who is equally at home in the blue pinafore or the yellow ball gown. This movie just feels, and has always felt, exceedingly natural to me, and I love that about it.

I also love the songs. So much. There have been rumblings about a Broadway adaptation of this movie for a long time and they actually did a reading/workshop of it in the middle of last year. Aaron Tveit read as Dimitri and I swear to God if he doesn't actually do the role if/when this thing makes it to stage, I will build a fucking barricade outside his house because I will just die if he doesn't do it after knowing he has been attached in some way. He would do this role flawlessly. His range is amazing, particularly as a screen actor, but as a Broadway romantic lead he tends towards flamboyance in a way that – for his Fiyero, for example, I didn't love – but that is perfect for Dimitri. Dimitri is a fucking drama queen, he throws his hands up, he swings his hips when he walks. I can literally see Aaron moving the way Dimitri is animated in the movie, I can visualise it, and his face looks right, his lovely nose and his voice is right. PLEASE give this to me, world. If it comes down to it, I wouldn't mind Darren doing this, of course, he would kill it, too (though they'd need a rather short Anya to match him) but Aaron is the Dimitri of my dreams and I am not just saying that because of Les Mis, but because I am a Broadway stan. Groff could do it, but he doesn't the right mix of innocence to his face – he either looks totally smarmy or totally sweet. Dimitri is a con-man, but not properly- much like Frank Abagnale, the role he originated in Catch Me If You Can, so there's that. Anyway. If Aaron does this role, I will be fucking flying to see the initial run of this when it is released (it will be Europe, maybe West End, but tipped to actually premiere in St Petersburg) and as a matter of fact I may still do that regardless of who is cast, because I want to see this show so, so, so much. Oh my GOD, you know who could totally do it? Jamie Parker.

I'm a little afraid about the music – they're allegedly only using five songs from the movie and adding 15 more – and I've stressed out over which movie songs they may cut. I have assessed that they HAVE to keep Rumour In St Petersburg, Journey To The Past, Once Upon A December, In The Dark Of The Night, and Learn To Do It, but I cannot imagine them omitting At The Beginning, even though it was a pop single/the credits song, because it was such a big hit. Rumour In St Petersburg is one of the best establishing numbers I have EVER seen in a musical, FYI, and the flawlessness that it will be on stage will be worth the cost of my plane ticket to wherever the show runs. I AM seeing this, when it happens, I will not miss the initial run of this show.

There is not a single person whom I know of who I can picture playing Anya, but I am sure she is out there somewhere.

Les Miserables
(watched at cinema on 11th January 2013)

Yes, again. I have a rip of the DVD screener sent out for the awards-show circuit, so there are certain bits that I have seen way too many times now, but I will be going a couple more times to the cinema before it leaves, and I will do a final assessment post about it then, because the feels, they keep on coming. For this viewing, I went alone, I sat in the front row, and I spilled popcorn all over the floor.

(watched at cinema on 29th January 2013)

I know nothing at all about Alfred Hitchcock, but the trailer impressed me and basically, I love biopics. I tend to get invested in people via their story, rather than objectively by their work (see: The Libertines, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Oscar Wilde) – that is not to say, whatsoever, that I don't like their work objectively, or that there aren't many creators of whom I simply like the work, and don't know about the person behind it, but if I know someone's story, and it moves me, I get really, really, really invested in them, and the point is, I don't think I have ever actually seen a Hitchcock film, but it did not stop me wanting to see this movie, because it looked interesting. It was interesting, however, the way that Hitchcock was portrayed as rather sad and sympathetic confused me, as I had had the distinct impression that he was quite awful. Apparently this was not an unfounded impression, and that in this movie he was altogether too nice. There was a HBO biopic of him released last year as well, which apparently went too far the other way, I read an article saying "...Hitchcock was depicted in his twin biopics as either a charming but troubled genius or a monstrous sexual obsessive..." neither of which are probably completely true. Helen Mirren was, of course, awesome, as was Toni Colette who played their assistant – Toni Colette is possibly my favourite actress ever and she and Helen Mirren, as a team, gave this really cool dynamic of power. I also loved ScarJo as Janet Leigh, and I am not usually ScarJo's biggest fan. It was interesting to watch the film-making process, like to see them editing reels by hand – god, that job must have been so incredibly hard – and there is stuff I still can't work out whether is true or not, like Hitchcock taking the knife and doing the stabbing himself while filming “the shower scene” of Psycho. I was also not 100% sold on the whole thing of Hitchcock being followed around and haunted by Ed Gein – I do not think that happened to him in real life, and I am not sure what it added to the picture. The other thing I kept thinking about was the Hitchcocks' massive and beautiful house and the fact that they seemed to not have any staff – like that they just cooked for themselves and ate in the eat-in kitchen of this giant mansion. Understandable later in the film, when they start cutting expenses, but the entire way through, they lived a very small life in a very big house and it was just something I kept wondering about. Perhaps that was true and was just a lifestyle thing. Anyway, I liked the film well enough, but it had some serious oddness about it. Fun Fact: I saw this in the exact same cinema that I saw the above showing of Les Mis, and I knocked the popcorn over again. However, I was not as fail as the woman sitting behind me, who was having the loudest and stupidest reactions that I have ever heard from someone in a film audience. Oh my god, she was hard to tolerate.

Rise of the Guardians
(watched at cinema on 30th January 2013)

This was a really creative and interesting movie that I had been keen to see due to the animation and the voice actors. This film is based on a book series but set around 200 years after those books take place, and I would be quite interested in reading those books, the origin stories of each of the Guardians. The lead character is the figure of Jack Frost, the spirit of winter, and aside from being crush-worthy gorgeous, he is voiced by the amazing Chris Pine, whom I waxed lyrical about earlier. The concept of all the elemental spirits was quite unusual, particularly their version of the Tooth Fairy – and the Sandman, of course, when compared to my dear Dream King – but it was really nice world-building. It was a cute, and sad story, with a pretty scary villain. Jude Law scares me at the best of times, and his character was definitely causing some childhood trauma to the rest of our audience. Some parents can't gauge their kids' reactions very well, because there were children there scream-sobbing the entire way through. That was somewhat off-putting. But the movie had some really, really funny bits – North's (Santa) stuff was all really, really funny and he may be my new favourite Santa of all time, kudos Alec Baldwin for that. If you have seen it, the bit where he was marching along on the spot excitedly with the elves? I died. And I loved the rest of them trying to do Tooth's job when all her fairies were trapped. Jack, of course, was lovely and sassy and gorgeous and sad, and I’m sure the film-makers thought they were putting in a slight implication of him and Tooth getting together, but dude, I was shipping the hell out of him and Hugh Jackman's Easter Bunny. There was one bit, where Jack pretends to fall off the sleigh, and Bunny's reaction, where I was like “dammmmn.” Yeah, it's a giant anthropomorphic rabbit, so what? Tooth is mostly hummingbird. They're elemental spirits, I'll ship who I want. Okay, wait, I've checked AO3 and people totally ship it. Good to know it's not just me being weird, I haven't been this relieved at “not being the only freak shipping this” since I discovered that no, it wasn't just me, the major ship in Little Miss Sunshine IS Dwayne/Frank. Oh my god, that movie is intense and if you do not vibe that ship there is something wrong with you, honestly. Look at me, bringing cross-generational incest into my review of a children's movie! Keeping it classy as always. Anyway, I am not someone who goes into anything – particularly not children's movie - wearing slash goggles – if I vibe something I vibe it, I don't set out to start shipping people – so the fact that I vibed it in this means that it must be legit. Amirite? Probably not. Oh well.

Coming up... February so far:
The Silver Linings Playbook
Looking For Alibrandi
The Castle

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