Film Review: Les Miserables

For a musical that has been running in London since 1985, was based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel and is nothing short of a global phenomenon, it’s shocking how long it’s taken for a big blockbuster to be made. Despite the stereotype that musicals tend to be melodramatic, cheesy and overly optimistic forms of entertainment, ‘Les Misérables’ is quite the opposite, as its title suggests. It is nothing if not an emotional rollercoaster set in early 19th-century France among the backdrop of various points within the French Revolution.

The story follows excessively strong prisoner Jean Valjean on his quest to be a better man. After breaking his parole, he becomes a wealthy factory owner and the mayor of the local town, and when one of his factory owners Fantine is sacked and forced to become a prostitute to take care of her daughter, Valjean redeems himself through taking her under his wing. After her death, he does the same for her daughter and before long, the revolution is in full swing. Although the plot does exactly what it says on the tin and may come across as plain miserable, it is heart-breaking, full of hope and an outstanding piece of cinema.

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‘Les Misérables’ was released in the UK on the 11th of January this year, after it was moved twice so as not to conflict with the release of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (2012) and was directed by Tom Hooper, who also directed the immensely successful ‘The King’s Speech’ (2010). The cast is made up of an abundance of Hollywood famous faces, such as Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway as Fatine, Amanda Seyfriend, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha-Baron-Cohen. Regardless of the large dosage of tinsel towners, what really reflects a grasp of the form that made it famous, musical theatre, is the fact that the film is produced by theatre heavyweight Cameron Macintosh, who has produced shows us such ‘Oliver!, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and of course ‘Les Misérables’.

The play itself has been translated into 21 languages and the film has already won 3 Golden Globes and is nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including best actor for Hugh Jackman, along with many others. The stage-to-screen jump is always a tricky one, but no other musical has ever been better translated, with the actors even singing live on set to bring a sense of theatre to the movie. Hooper also wanted his actors to look as realistic as possible, even requesting Jackman to not eat or drink anything for 36 hours and Hathaway to lose 25 pounds.

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The attention to detail is also depicted through the impeccable costumes and make-up, as well as acting and vocal performances. Beautiful vocals were recorded with a 70-piece orchestra and with risk after risk thrown into the production, ‘Les Misérables’ was all dependant on the risks pulling through, which they well and truly did. The film will bring the timeless story to yet another generation and Hooper was clearly aware of the pressure for the film to be a success, so refrained from varying the plot. As long as the movie is, it almost sweeps past the secondary storylines, and focuses on the cinema-perfect barricade scene and even cuts when the stage musical’s interval would normally occur.

Fundamentally, the film is a stage production, but with multi-million dollar budget, it is unlike any other musical that’s been forced into filmic form. It also feels intimate and personal, possibly due to the live vocal performances and honest acting performances. For instance, Jackman illustrates an utterly broken man, a rich man redeeming himself and man dying in the midst of a revolution, and does all with flawless emotion, talent and strength. Anne Hathaway also depicts stand-out acting abilities, proving just how far she’s come since ‘The Princess Diaries’ (2001); she is nothing short of heart-rending when losing her job, dignity and eventually her life. Putting Russell Crowe’s passable vocals aside, ‘Les Misérables’ is authentic in its representation of the squalor and pain of the uprising in Paris, and is sure to have the audience singing the soundtrack under their breath for days after!

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The lavish set production, by Eve Stewart is more than deserving of its Oscar nomination; the gorgeous visuals are truly a feast for the eyes. These sets are shot beautifully with a variety of camera work, from steadicam to enhance sentiment, many establishing shots and views of how hard-hitting human emotion can really be. And with impeccable casting, ‘Les Misérables’ is a flawless as a film can be, and Tom Hooper has clearly employed all the right people to collaborate with. However Anne Hathaway’s performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ is stand-out even within such an enchanting film. It is hysterical, courageous and perfectly blends the utterly broken character with stunning vocals.

A story about unrequited love, broken dreams and redemption, ‘Les Misérables’ is utterly compelling and whether you are a fan of musicals or not, it cannot be missed. The musical and acting performances hold the film together and do exactly what they should; transport the audience into the story through evoking gritty emotion.

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Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Hobbit-an-Unexpected-Journey-Movie-PosterIn the impressive first chapter of J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings prequel, Bilbo Baggins, Frodo’s “first and second cousin once removed either way”, takes an unexpected journey.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first installment in Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of the best-selling novel(the last of which is scheduled for release in July 2014), is a movie fans have been waiting for since the credits rolled on The Return Of The King nearly a decade ago. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it made 84.8 million US dollars in its opening weekend at the US box office, but critics across the world absolutely hated it. Why?

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a Hobbit. Not an elf, imp or sprite, but an entirely not at all similar member of the little folk that lives a peaceful, comfortable and well-to-do life in a hole in the ground. But “not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smelly, nor yet a dry, bare, sadny hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort”.

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But all that changes when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and thirteen dwarfs- Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Stott), Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Bifur (William Kircher), Bofur (James Nesbit), Bombur (Stephen Hunter), Nori (Jed Brophy), Ori (Adam Brown), Dori (Mark Hadlow), Gloin (Peter Hambleton), Oin (John Callen), Fili (Dean O’Gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner)- turn up on his doorstep and employ him as an unlikely burglar on a dangerous quest to reclaim the lost dwarven kingdom of Erebor and evict the evil dragon that’s taken up residence there.

Thus begins The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in a sequence of three films that’ll see the unadventurous and timid Bilbo trek through mountain depths and wastelands, take part in a deadly game of riddles and gain a simple gold ring with a connection to the fate of all Middle-Earth, and discover within him a courage and will to survive he never knew existed.

Peter Jackson has been criticised, perhaps rightly depending on who you ask, for extending The Hobbit, a four hundred page book, into three films totaling around nine hours in length. The argument of course being that by doing so he’s going against the original novel and adding a lot of padding that shouldn’t necessarily have been there.

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But, really, is that a bad thing? In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a number of things have been added that either weren’t in the book at all or didn’t play much of a part. These include Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy), The Pale Orc, Azog (Manu Bennett) and a long backstory that pours nobility into the quest itself.

Peter Jackson pulled much of the extra material in the movie from The Lord Of The Rings appendices and, in doing so, he succeeded in making The Hobbit an exciting and multi-layered epic rather than just a children’s book adaptation like the arguably disappointing Narnia movies.

One of the finest things about An Unexpected Journey is the cast; Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf The Grey and is as impressive as ever, Richard Armitage creates a darkly deep and complex leader in Thorin, Martin Freeman adds additional layers to the character of Bilbo making him relatable and interesting, and Aidan Turner becomes a future heart throb in the same vein as Legolas with his role as the bow-fighting dwarf Kili.

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There’s a lot of talking in The Hobbit, in fact a large part of the beginning is dedicated to just that, but it isn’t at all boring. The clever casting, zany characters and dwarven songs absorb you into the movie and make you feel a part of it.

But as with any movie there are criticisms to be made about the movie. Well, one. Shot at 48 FPS as opposed to the 24 FPS rate that has been cinema standard for a century, the film has a much sharper image quality which mimics how we see the outside world. Though shooting at this frame rate means the picture is a lot better than it otherwise would’ve been, it also means that action sequences can be a little hard on the eyes. Critics have used this as a reason to attack the movie but, really, who cares?

There are some who would call An Unexpected Journey and its upcoming and already released sequels a little dull. That would complain the amount of talking and walking lower the pace of the story and drag it down. These people would be better served with movies more suitable for their less than capable minds like Anchorman, Twilight and The Hunger Games and, really, did they expect Peter Jackson to pop in a time machine and politely ask J.R.R Tolkien to rewrite the book so it more closely suits the needs of their goldfish-like attention spans?

Despite what some critics seem to believe The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an outstanding movie verging on perfection, one that fully deserves to steal the show at The Academy Awards 2013 but, really, is that at all surprising?

Movie Roundup 2012: April Part Two (The Avengers and Albert Nobbs)

2012 has been a great year for movies. With a superb array of films coming from almost every genre we at Sound And Motion wanted to celebrate this fact, and bring you our lowdown on what we think have been the key pictures this year, from January to December.


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THE AVENGERS

Released: April 26th.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansspn, Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Samuel L Jackson.

Directed by: Joss Whedon.

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The first in a line of three box office dominating super hero movies this year, Marvel’s The Avengers is Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon’s second triumph of 2012.

A movie long awaited, The Avengers takes some of Marvel’s most popular characters from page and screen, and brings them together in a move meant to defend Planet Earth from menacing, invading forces.

When the exiled Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) emerges through a portal and takes possession of the Tesseract, along with the minds of several S.H.I.E.L.D personnel including Dr Erik Selvg (Stellan Skargard), director of the international peacekeeping agency Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) activates the Avengers Initiative, bringing together Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

As Loki opens a gateway above the isle of Manhattan, an alien race known as the Chitauri pour through the dimensional gap, leaving The Avengers with no choice but to defend the city in order to prevent the invasion and keep the disgruntled god from taking control of the entire planet.

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Arguably inferior to Joss Whedon’s earlier offering The Cabin In The Woods, The Avengers is an absolute triumph, and utterly exciting. With a cast of actors clearly meant to perform alongside one another the movie raises the bar for future comic book adaptations, perfectly blending humour, action and threat into an ideal mix. Scarlett Johanson is, however, the least impressive star, clearly chosen for how she looks in leather rather than her ability. She’s not a poor actor, she just wasn’t allowed to shine here.

Visually stunning with special effects that look and feel real, The Avengers is one movie, along with the beautifully polished turd that was Avatar, that we really didn’t mind having to watch in 3D.

Albert Nobbs

ALBERT NOBBS

 Released: April 27th.

Starring: Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson.

Directed by: Rodrigo Garcia.

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The thirty-years toiled for adaptation of an off-Broadway play Glenn Close starred in in 1982, Albert Nobbs is the Oscar-nominated tale of a woman forced to live as a man in 19th century Ireland.

Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is a middle-aged butler working in the well-to-do Morrison’s Hotel, run by the stingy and controlling Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins), saving hard so that he/she may well one day have enough money saved to open up his/her dream business venture; a tobacconists. But Nobbs is no ordinary Butler. Dressed in men’s clothes Albert, as we only ever know him/her, hides his/her real identity, disguising shapely curves with a bowler hat and tightly strung girdle. In love with bimbo waitress Helen (Mia Wasikowska) Nobbs soon meets another in the same situation, Hubert Page (Janey McTeer), who teaches him/her that, much to his/her sheepish surprise, life can be lived differently.

Engaging despite its deliberately slow pace Albert Nobbs is a movie with expectations that suffers from under indulgence. A picture that seems to beg for awards it seems a husk of what it could have been, and really disappoints.

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From the outset the film is a little difficult to take seriously, initially because of its title. Close’s get up as Nobbs is almost laughable, with prosthetics that surely wouldn’t fool a child. Her character’s taste in women is also confusing; why would a woman on the edge of middle-age be so interested in such a ditzy young woman as Wasikowska’s Helen. Temptations of the flesh can easily be ruled out; Albert seems incredibly prudish.

But, to be completely dismissive of Albert Nobbs is unfair. A movie that will, despite what you may think, keep you interested throughout it’s well worth watching, and something you’ll unlikely encounter anywhere else.

The film also has the sob factor; often you’ll really feel empathy for the central character, sharing every rare smile, and every sadly commonplace heartache.

Overall Albert Nobbs is just a shell of what it could’ve been, like the “man himself”, it’s too tightly bound to allow itself to truly shine. Watch it, it’ll still leave you emotionally changed, even if you do find yourself asking; “what was that?”

Movie Roundup 2012: April Part One (The Cabin In The Woods and African Cats)

2012 has been a great year for movies. With a superb array of films coming from almost every genre we at Sound And Motion wanted to celebrate this fact, and bring you our lowdown on what we think have been the key pictures this year, from January to December.

 

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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

Released: April 13th.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Jesse Williams.

Directed by: Drew Goddard.

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What originally looked to be just another zombie movie with the typical formula of attractive characters and a backwater location, Drew Goddard’s directorial debut The Cabin In The Woods turned out to be one of the most surprising movies of the year.

Five college friends, Dana the “virgin”(Kristen Connolly), Jules the slut(Anna Hutchinson), Marty the stoner(Fran Kranz), Curt the jock(Christ Hemsworth) and Holden the token(Jesse Williams), drive off campus for a weekend of frolics and fornication at a cabin in the woods, but when they get there, after speaking to a creepy guy at a gas station, they find themselves cut off and completely isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world.

Settled in the friends get to partying- drinking, smoking, flirting- but they get interrupted when the cellar door opens up all by itself. In true horror movie style they all go down to investigate, and unwittingly unleash a family of deadly zombie killers intent on tearing them limb from limb.

But that isn’t the only terror waiting for them.

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From its beginning The Cabin In The Woods, as we said earlier, plays out like a bog-standard teen horror flick. Five friends, all of them filling well-worn slasher stereotypes, go off into the woods for a weekend of sinful fun, only to be killed off one by one by zombies. That seeming normality is its biggest ploy.

Relaxing the audience into believing they’re just watching a pretty funny retelling of the same subject matter they’ve seen and enjoyed before, Joss Whedon, the writer, plays a massive wildcard that no one, even the most wacky viewer, could possibly have seen coming. Many of you have probably seen this film by now, but for those that haven’t- we won’t spoil the surprise.

The Cabin In The Woods is, for some, the movie of the year and, while we won’t go that far before December ends, we think that’s a pretty fair thing to say.

 

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AFRICAN CATS

Released: April 27th.

Narrated by: Samuel L Jackson.

Directed by: Keith Scholey, Alastair Fothergill.

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African Cats, an epic tale set against the backdrop of the savannah, captures the real-life love, humour and determination of three majestic kings and queens of the Masai Mara Nature Reserve; Mara, a lion cub whose struggle to survive is aided by her mother’s strength, Sita, a fearless Cheetah and mother to five cubs, and Fang, a fearless leader who must defend his family from a once banished Lion.

Narrated by Samuel L Jackson the preconceptions of African Cats aren’t exactly favourable. A bit like March Of The Penguins but starring hairy critters with manes and claws that eat everything the movie is absolutely  stunning, just as you would expect, but the choice of storyteller seems strange at first; if Morgan Freeman were narrating a Lion chasing a Gazelle you might be tempted to side with the prey, urge it to survive. Surely Samuel L Jackson would make you want to yell “Die mother fucker! Die!”, but apart from a bit of weak scripting at times, apparently “Fang is the best dad ever”, he surprises, and does the job well.

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The perfect movie for animal lovers African Cats is a beautiful picture- the wildlife of the savannah is captured beautifully and aww moments are frequent- but life can be cruel at times, especially if you’re a Zebra, or Cheetah cub. Flashes of horror and tooth and claw are common.

Shot by Disneynature African Cats is a movie for kids that is perfection for adults too. Animal lover or not you’ll be captivated, and wonder at the nature of the African plains.

Movie Roundup 2012: March (The Raven and The Hunger Games)

2012 has been a great year for movies. With a superb array of films coming from almost every genre we at Sound And Motion wanted to celebrate this fact, and bring you our lowdown on what we think have been the key pictures this year, from January to December.

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THE RAVEN

Released: March 9th.

Starring: John Cusak, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally.

Directed by: James McTeigue.

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Sharing its title with the much admired 1845 poem, The Raven is a fictionalized account of the last few days of American writer Edgar Allen Poe’s life, as he pursues a killer whose murders mirror his finest works.

1849, Baltimore. Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusak) is penniless, alcoholic and forbidden to marry his sweetheart Emily (Alice Eve) by her father Charles Hamilton (Brendan Glesson). He writes savage reviews in the Baltimore Patriot newspaper, and is a shadow of his former self, shunned by critic and common man alike.

When a mother and her daughter are murdered in a locked tight room, bright detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) spots a clue within the mystery that reminds him of an Edgar Allan Poe tale. As bodies begin to pile up in ways inspired by his work, the police enlist the help of the broken poet as they frantically search for an intelligent killer that’s always one step ahead.

The Raven was universally despised by critics. Described as being thinly scripted, unnaturally acted and disgracing the legacy of the late writer, the film missed out becoming the cult phenomena it clearly wanted and, perhaps, deserved to be.

 John Cusack stars in Relativity Media's stylish gothic thriller The Raven.

With a core idea both interesting and unique, at least in the case of Poe, The Raven should really appeal to unfamiliar viewers and fans alike, thanks to its deeply woven plot and tense atmosphere, but its lack of distribution in cinemas meant it was grossly under-viewed.

Here at Sound And Motion we very much enjoyed The Raven. Quite, but not massively, familiar with Poe’s work it had us on the edge of our seats throughout, constantly pondering and trying to predict what sort of grisly and macabre murder would happen next, and which poem it would be taken from.

Sure, The Raven isn’t the most groundbreaking story ever, and yes, the ending was one seen many miles off, but Cusak played the aging writer with intense virility, and we have to tip our top hats to him, and the director, for this one.

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THE HUNGER GAMES

Released: March 23rd.

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz.

Directed by: Gary Ross.

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Based on a plagerised trilogy of books that should never have been allowed to see the light of day, The Hunger Games is a foolish, weightless hash of a movie that was boring to watch but great to mock.

Adapted from Suzanne Collin’s 2008 novel, The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future where, in the totalitarian  nation of Panem which is divided and segregated into twelve districts and a capitol, twenty-four children aged between twelve and eighteen are picked to participate in a televised fight to the death.

Two children, one boy and one girl, are chosen by a lottery to represent their district in the games, partly as entertainment for the upper classes in the capitol, and partly as punishment for a past rebellion.

When Primrose (Willow Shields) of District 12 is chosen to take part, her older sister Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) does the unthinkable and volunteers to take her sister’s place in the combat, joining her male counterpart Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in the arena.

Katnis and Peeta are treated as athletes and superstars while awaiting their entrance into the fray, as is tradition, but they soon find themselves up against children that have trained for the fight their entire lives, like Clove (The Orphan’s Isabelle Fuhrman)a female tribute from District 2.

The bottom line is that The Hunger Games shouldn’t have been made, let alone gone on to make a worldwide box office total of $686,533,290. Anyone familiar with the plot of Battle Royale can see that Suzanne Collins ripped it off completely and, somehow, managed to get away with it.

But it wasn’t just the fact that The Hunger Games was a stolen idea that annoyed us, in general it was just an awful movie.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as 'Katniss Everdeen' in THE HUNGER GAMES.

With ridiculous costuming, awful editing and amateurish direction the film was seemingly put together blindly and, for a large part, was like watching paint dry.

Battle Royale and The Hunger Games are both films with, just going by the plot, the potential to be overwhelmingly exciting and gory. Battle Royale managed this. Those behind The Hunger Games on the other hand managed to make a film about school children murdering each other with guns, bows and knives very dull and tame. Gary Ross, the man in the chair behind Seabiscuit and Pleasantville, must have found that very challenging indeed.

The Hunger Games’ single redeeming factor was the performance of Jennifer Lawrence, who managed to bring life to a hollow and lifeless character.

We feel we should end this review on an overused but absolutely perfect joke that made its way around the internet a few times after this film’s release; What do you call The Hunger Games in Europe? Battle Royale with cheese.

 

Movie Roundup 2012: February (The Woman In Black and Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close)

2012 has been a great year for movies. With a superb array of films coming from almost every genre we at Sound And Motion wanted to celebrate this fact, and bring you our lowdown on what we think have been the key pictures this year, from January to December.

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THE WOMAN IN BLACK

Released: February 10th.

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Sophie Stuckey, Jessica Raine, Janet McTeer.

Directed by: James Watkins.

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A movie full of scenes that hammer home the impossible to overstate point that children are some of the creepiest creatures to walk this land and should not be had by anyone, The Woman In Black sees Daniel Radcliffe move away from his role as Harry Potter, into something entirely different.

Young London lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) still mourns the death of his adored wife Stella (Sophie Stuckey), who died delivering their son Joseph (Misha Handley) four years ago. Given one last chance by his employer to keep the job his suffering is causing to slowly slip away, he is sent to the remote village of Cryphin Grifford in North-East, England to examine the documents of the recently deceased Mrs Drablow of Eel Marsh House. On arriving, after befriending wealthy local Daily (Ciaran Hinds) on the train, Kipps finds the locals very inhospitable, and is practically escorted back onto the train to London.

But, determined to complete his task and keep his job, Arthur makes his way to the rather stereotypical Eel Marsh House which, isolated from the mainland by the tide, he soon finds to be haunted by a vengeful spirit.

His first film role since The Deathly Hallows Part Two brought an end to the current Harry Potter saga, The Woman In Black proves without a shred of doubt that Daniel Radcliffe is more than capable of moving completely aside from the role and movies that made him a household name. Though some audience members may have been too ignorant to accept this fact or to resist yelling “You’re a wizard, Harry!” at the screen or “Avada Kedavra!” at the ghost, we at Sound And Motion can’t wait to see more from the boy that first graced the small screen as a young David Copperfield back in 1999.

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The Woman In Black is a scary movie. With bags of tension and moments that’ll have the most nervous of viewers jumping right out of their skin, it’s the ideal sort of ghost story; one with twists and turns that’ll keep you interested till the end.

That said it isn’t without its problems. We won’t go into too much detail and reveal too many spoilers, but we can’t help but point out that, really, would anyone actually be able to hang themselves using a rocking chair as support? No, not without a great deal of difficulty anyway, and they wouldn’t bother either, not with all those tables to hand. Bullshit.

With a sequel apparently on the way, The Woman In Black is definitely a highlight movie of the year. Daniel Radcliffe performs superbly, and who doesn’t love a good ghost yarn. Keep screaming.

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EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE

Released: February 17th.

Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hearn, Max Von Sydow.

Directed by: Stephen Daldry.

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After Oskar’s father dies in the World Trade Centre attacks he becomes convinced that he has left one last message for him hidden somewhere in the city. Feeling distant from his grieving mother and driven by a relentlessly active mind that refuses to believe in things that cannot be seen he begins searching New York City for the single lock that fits a key he found in his father’s closet. His incredible journey takes him through the city’s five boroughs and away from his grief, leading him to gain a greater understanding of the observable world around him.

Featuring some big name, mainstream stars led by an art-house director “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” has been nominated for two Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards and, along with other similarly casted and directed movies like “The Tree Of Life”, had been predicted by many to be a huge success. So why has it been so universally despised by the critics?

Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel the film opens with the truly haunting image of Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) falling in slow motion against a beautiful blue background. Though very short the image is perhaps one of the most provocative that the film has to offer simply because it’s one that so many of us saw so many times as footage flashed about the world on that fateful day. But what’s surprising about it is the way in which it manages to stir up difficult to hide emotions that the real ones didn’t, probably because many of us simply didn’t let them. With such a remarkable and moving beginning it’s therefore even harder to understand exactly how and why the rest of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” fails to deliver.

The premise of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” centres around a game Oskar and his father used to play- reconnaissance expedition, a game designed to encourage the boy to step outside of his lonely shell and talk to people in the real world. Sadly the game helps his grief escalate after the fact.

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The last time Oskar ever heard his father’s voice was when he returned home on “the worst day”. Unaware that anything was even wrong he switched on the TV and heard messages left by his father, his father who was at a meeting in one of the towers. These messages reflect the madness of the day, and the feeling of unknown those inside would have felt. The use of these messages has the desired effect, they bring a lump to the throat of anyone watching, but they highlight something the movie is guilty of; instead of mourning the tragedy the film capitalises on it, using its impact to gain maximum empathy from an already pained audience.

“Extremely Loud &a Incredibly Close” was a great idea, even if does play out against a setting the movie world needs to step away from. What’s wrong is the way that director Stephen Daldry never sticks to one flow, instead jumping events around and making the whole thing seem even more nonsensical. The characters are another problem; Oskar is interesting, he’s afraid of everything and very quotable, but he doesn’t seem real, like the others he emits all the humanity of a plastic Ken doll. The movie also sabotages its moments of real emotional promise with distracting camera angles and shoddy film making. All in all it tries to be something new and powerful, but falls down flat on the pavement of the city it’s based in.

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” doesn’t delve deep enough into its subject matter. It’s afraid to cut deep into the tragedy it tries to paint a picture of, and fails as a result.

Movie Roundup 2012: January Part Two (The Grey and Underworld: Awakening)

2012 has been a great year for movies. With a superb array of films coming from almost every genre we at Sound And Motion wanted to celebrate this fact, and bring you our lowdown on what we think have been the key pictures this year, from January to December.

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THE GREY

Released: January 27th.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, James Badge Dale, Nonso Anozie.

Directed by: Joe Carnahan.

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A film that sees him play a more damaged, broken version of a character he’s been plenty of times before, Liam Neeson stars in The Grey, the story of a group of oil workers and their desperate, enduring journey through the wilderness to hope and civilisation, with hungry, merciless wolves snapping at their heels and biting at their necks the whole way there.

Based on Ian MacKenzie’s short story, Ghost Walker, The Grey opens to John Ralph Ottway’s (Liam Neeson) mournful words- “A job at the end of the world. A salaried killer for a big petroleum company. I don’t know why I did half the things I’ve done, but I know this is where I belong, surrounded by my own- ex-cons, fugitives, drifters, assholes. Men unfit for mankind”. As he prepares to end his life Ottway glimpses a wolf nearby, and chooses to remove the rifle barrel from his own mouth in favour of shooting dead a defenceless animal, something that serves to dampen audience opinion of him for the rest of the film.

John, along with a group of rowdy and argumentative oil workers, boards a plane home which soon crashes in a blizzard, leaving them stranded in an icy wilderness. While out cold he sees a vision of his wife (Anne Openshaw) urging him to not be afraid, something that recurs often throughout the film and makes more sense towards the end.

As the survivors recuperate around the crash site one of them, Hernandez (Ben Bray), is killed by two wolves, alerting Ottway and the workers to the real danger they are in.

Led by John, the survivors set out through the wilderness in search of help, but their hopes are continually dashed by the hungry jaws of a pack of territorial wolves, led by a single, black alpha. As they continue on and lose more and more of their party, their chances of survival seem ever slimmer, and their weak bonds prove useless against the icy determination of inevitability.

An actor terribly type-cast of late, Liam Neeson’s role as John Ralph Ottway is nothing audiences won’t have seen before. He’s a strong, determined individual born to lead, and he does his best to keep his companions alive at all times, but we see very little of his true nature.

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A common theme throughout the movie is the comparison of the events taking place to a poem that used to hang on the desk of Ottway’s father, one he often recites- “Once more into the fray, into the last good fight, live and die this day, live and die this day.” This poem, along with the repeated visions of the wife, echo the torment that fills Ottway’s soul, and makes his determination to survive all the more surprising.

Are these themes necessary? We aren’t sure. Really, The Grey just seems to play out as a typical animal attack movie, with people dropping like flies and a sporadic amount of action throughout. It tries to be a movie with real depth and believable emotion, but it only manages that task to a small extent.

The Grey is a movie that matches the colour it shares its name with. One that vilifies wolves, and wastes Liam Neeson’s talents. It’s watchable, and it’s better than others like it, but it’s one that’ll surely be forgotten soon enough.

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UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING

Released: January 20th.

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rae, Michael Rae, Theo James, Kris Holden-Reid, Charles Dance.

Directed by: Mans Marlind.

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Another Underworld film with just as many black outfits, black environments and, well, black everything, as the previous four, Underworld: Awakening sees Kate Beckinsale reprise her role as deathdealer Selene, a former member of the vampire fighting elite that betrayed her kin by falling in love with a werewolf.

On discovering the existence of vampires and their mortal enemies, the Lycans, or werewolves if you prefer, mankind begins a regime of merciless eradication, with the sole aim of purging the inhuman plague from existence. After she and her Lycan lover Michael (Scott Speedman) are attacked by humans in the harbour, Selena is thrown into a cryogenic sleep by a grenade that sees her come-to years later in the Antigen laboratory.

Finding herself in a dangerous world where the hunter has become the hinted, Selena discovers she and Michael are still connected through a powerful daughter called Eve (India Eisley) that she and David (Theo James), another vampire, must protect from werewolf and human alike.

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As mentioned in the introduction of this review, Underwold: Awakening is, at least in colour terms, a very black movie. Though suiting its tone this is one of the first things that really lets the film down as, at times, things can be a little difficult to keep track of in fast-paced action scenes.

Of course action is what people watch the Underworld films for, that and Kate Beckinsale in Leather, and action if something that’s here in abundance. With fight scenes straight out of the Matrix and Equilibrium, the movie is packed with death defying stunts, heart stopping fire-fights and big bad monsters, all tied up with a decent plot and some very sexy actors.

Underworld: Awakening is the fourth film in the vampire sage to be released thus far and, though the whole thing might seem a bit tired to some, proof that the undead, werewolves and guns are always a great combination. Provided Stephanie Meyer isn’t involved.

Movie Roundup 2012: January Part One (Warhorse And The Descendants)

2012 has been a great year for movies. With a superb array of films coming from almost every genre we at Sound And Motion wanted to celebrate this fact, and bring you our lowdown on what we think have been the key pictures this year, from January to December.

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WARHORSE

Released: January 13th.
Starring: Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, and Tom Hiddleston.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg.

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With hatred and fear rife on opposing sides, men share humanity and compassion towards the animals that serve them in Stephen Spielberg’s latest masterwork “War Horse”, the tale of a young thoroughbred taken from a farm in Devon that changes and inspires the lives of everyone he meets.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) falls instantly in love with a young horse his father brings home after a bitterly fought auction battle. A racing stallion of little use on the hard draft fields Joey is a clear mistake from the beginning, but through love, determination, and a desire to prove wrong a hated landlord (David Thewlis) he soon becomes as valued a family member as any other. All changes though as war breaks out when Albert’s father (Peter Mullan) is forced to sell the horse to the sympathetic Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), wrenching horse from boy.

Across the channel we see Joey’s place in the great war change, from a misguided cavalry charge, to the home of a French farmer’s granddaughter and the muddied and bloodied fields of the Somme, as he moves from one side to another, working as a slave pulling artillery, and experiencing the horror of a new age of war.

But despite some spectacular and tragically real visuals and some of the most touching animal acting seen on the silver screen in quite some time, “War Horse” is missing something; Joey and Albert are separated early on and we lose track of the young farmhand for most of the movie, therefore we are robbed of the sense of loss we could otherwise have been made to feel.

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Nonetheless the film is a vivid depiction of a time when the world changed, drastically and often violently, ushering in a mechanised age, and leaving behind the days when the horse was a core part of any army.

“War Horse” is moving and charismatic, and features one of John William’s finest scores, but it is not, believe it or not, the tear jerking, heart-string puller that Steven Spielberg was hoping for.

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THE DESCENDANTS

Released: January 27th.
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Patricia Hastie.
Directed by: Alexander Payne

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In a voiceover that sounds like the one Baz Luhrmann did for “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”, Matt King (George Clooney) begins Alexander Payne’s adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings novel “The Descendants” by shattering the common misconception held by the rest of the world that Hawaii is a paradise on earth. In a brief rant, accompanied by images of poverty and grime, Matt tries to show the audience the truth, but his own life is hardly one of low social standing.

Though he tries to keep his life low key Matt is a real estate lawyer and about as close as an American can get to being an aristocrat, with a family tree with roots that stretch back to white settlers and indigenous royalty; a proud bloodline that has since become a gaggle of loud shirts and entitled douchebags.

But life isn’t all Mai Tais and relaxing on the beach for our charming protagonist; his wife (Patricia Hastie) lies in an irreversible coma after a boating accident, and to make matters worse he soon learns that she was having an affair.

Without being cliché or overly sentimental the movie manages to be moving and often very funny. There are many unlikely moments – Robert Forster’s character punches an annoying teenager, and Matt’s youngest daughter Scotty (Amora Miller) often acts like a crazy person, but not once is the film anything but believable.

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Some of what happens in “The Descendants” is familiar enough territory – Matt must deal with his own crushing heartbreak while dealing with the pain of those around him, but there are many other plots and subplots that make the film interesting. Its best quality, however, is its pace, unhurried and loose, and the people within it.

The characters in the film are allowed to be free, almost living their own lives, without following along a line like in most movies. That is what makes us love them, and feel for them in their saddest moments.

“The Descendants” is a remarkable film, one that paints a beautiful picture of human imperfection and the importance of family. Sure to leave a lump in the throat of even the hardest of souls it reminds us that it’s often hard to say goodbye.

Look out for part two of our January pick featuring The Grey and Underworld: Awakening.