B o o k s and m o v i e s

HITCHCOCK: GREAT FOR MOVIE LOVERS
7/10 * * * * * * * 

It is here first! After a preview, here is the review before Hitchcock is released in South Africa this Friday 5 April 2013.

The year is 1959. One of Hollywood’s legends is filming what is widely recognised the greatest work of his career. Just mention Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho to any movie lover and a nod of approval is likely to follow.

We have seen a lot of movies about icons the past few months: Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth, and Abraham Lincoln. Hitchcock is a tribute to one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock. But it is exactly that – a tribute.


In a sense we expect a lot from movies about famous and influential people, because they are based on larger-than-life figures. Don’t get me wrong Hitchcock is a good movie, but you must love movies and the history of cinema. As a movie for the general public it might not be so successful.

Hitchcock tells the story of the influential filmmaker struggling to make the most important film of his career, Psycho. The troubling relationship between himself and his wife, Alma (played by Helen Mirren), reach a culmination point during this time. We see the effort it took to create the infamous shower scene and how many people were against this movie. 

The most impressive thing of Hitchcock is without any doubt Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of this Hollywood legend. Not only is his physical transformation with the fat suit remarkable, but one can see Alfred’s mannerisms and personality coming through. Mirren also delivers a strong performance and she compliments Hopkins well.  

The movie succeeds in capturing the spirit and geniality of Hitchcock, his movies and conventions. It is quite true to reality, and this might be the problem viewers will have with it: Not enough happens. It is not the conventional, dramatic Hollywood recipe. If you love movies and history, go see this movie. If not, I would rather stay away. 

                                              

QUARTET: SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW . . . 
* * * *
Hollywood is concerned with young, perfect, energetic people. It tends to not make movies about the old and undesirable. But Quartet breaks away from this tradition and old-age is looked at from a different perspective. This movie is in many ways “fresh” and “new”, however overused these words might be.

It tells the story of the residents at Beecham House, a home for retired musicians. It centres around three ones, Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) who was part of a famous quartet. The newest arrival is none other than the fourth member, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). But all is not as well as it seems. Jean and Reginald has a history and in order to save the home from bankruptcy the four must perform together one last time at a special gala. But will Jean agree? 


What makes Quartet a winner is a combination of music, themes and solid acting. The humour and light mood in which complicated themes are being conveyed makes it a pleasant experience.

Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith and Pauline Collins acting really impressed. Maggie portrays the forgetful character of Jean quite believing and interesting, and Billy and Pauline both bring to the table far more than just the superficial. In both their characters the complexity of old-ages is subtly portrayed.

The theme of old-age being difficult (but possibly joyful) after a fulfilling life is some of the golden threads of the movie. Yes, there are other movies about old people, but nothing on this scale where almost an entire cast is filled with talented old people.

What’s more; there are not just sad, sick old people – on the contrary. Most of the characters have more life and humour than many young people, and it is in this fact that the true beauty of the movies lies. Finally old people are portrayed as just that – people. They have a passion for life and are not simply objects that society can cast aside.

One can’t help but walk out of the theatre feeling sympathetic y towards old people and how society treats them, but at the same time, recognise that they are still humans and have the same needs and passion for life as young people.

                                              

PURE MAGIC: LES MISERABLES
* * * *
It is not very often than a simple story can keep me captivated for almost three hours. The pure, beautiful and often breath-taking Les Misérables did just that.

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo a prisoner, Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman), breaks his parole to create a new life for himself. Meanwhile a poor girl with a child, Cosette, turns to him for help. She falls in love with a student of the rebellion, Marius. 


The acting in this movie is superb. Hugh and Anne Hathaway (who plays the girl from the streets) deliver Oscar worthy performance. The moving, intense acting really grabs the audience. The boy (Daniel Huttlestone) who is part of the rebellion is quite outstanding. He delivers an emotional and touching performance. A bright career is certainly in the near future.

Some people complained about the singing, saying the actors are not all great singers and Hugh Jackman could have done much better. But to me no actor had an unbearable voice and especially Anne Hathaway actually had a very good voice. The singing parts gave some depth to the movie – it’s not easy to act and sing and do both very well.

The theme of turning one’s life around and the message of through hard work, you can accomplish a lot, is commendable. One leaves the theatre with a touch of inspiration and knows this musical will go down as a classic in Hollywood history.

                                              

NO SILVER LINING HERE: SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
* * * 
Let me get straight to the most important thing: Silver Linings Playbook is not Oscar-worthy, especially not eight nominations. It is a good movie, but not outstanding. For the lack of a better expression the only silver lining in it is Jennifer Lawrence’s acting.

After spending eight months in a mental institution for a plea bargain, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) returns home to start a new life. His wife has left him and he is without a job. In his search to regain control of his life, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a troubled-girl. But together these two somehow manage to support each other and see the light at the end of the tunnel. 


The main theme of the movie is the one of always seeing the bright side. Pat really tries to stay positive and change his life – he lost a lot of weight and is going to therapy. The movie delves into family values and the complexity of mental illness – for this it should be commended. On a thematic level Silver Linings Playbook is superb. 

Unfortunately, one cannot say the same of the acting. Pat’s character is so rich and complex and Bradley Cooper does no justice to him. His acting is, at times, quite mediocre and disappointing. We don’t see any internal struggles and Pat doesn't look like somebody who came from an institution for beating the guy his wife was cheating with. Lawrence on the other hand delivers a great and Oscar-worthy performance. There’s depth in her portrayal and not just a superficial, above-the-surface portrayal. The other commendable actor is Pat’s father (portrayed by Robert de Niro). He adds some variety to the movie is often a welcomed break from Cooper. 


Being a romantic comedy one expects a certain amount of cliches – and we did. Silver Linings Playbook is cute and funny at times, but predictability is unfortunately also one of its qualities. I guess this is what I wanted from the movie: there were no real moments of pure emotion. Not once did I feel a moment was outstanding or pure genius. I kept watching, hoping for a so-called “big moment”. Even the ending is pretty dull and predictable.

Maybe that’s precisely the point of the movie: Life is not always eventful and with or without medication for mental illness, one can get caught up in life and not truly live. Don’t rush to the theatres to see this movie though. There’s absolutely nothing that won’t be as good when the DVD comes out. 

                                              

THE OSCARS: MY (FEW) WINNERS

It is that time of the year again - Oscar time! Although the committee may choose different movies, here are my personal winners. Also, I did not give a winner in every category (only those which I felt I have enough knowledge to make a prediction). 

BEST PICTURE
Life of Pi 

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Hugh Jackman - Les Misérables

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook



DIRECTING
Ang Lee - Life of Pi

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

MUSIC - ORIGINAL SONG 
"Skyfall" from Skyfall (by Adele) 

                                               

A LIFE UNIMAGINED: LIFE OF PI
* * * * *
Once upon a time I walked into a cinema and expected to see a great movie. What I got instead was two hours of the most beautiful, enchanting and captivating cinema I've ever seen. Life of Pi is, simply put, purely magical.

The young Indian boy, unfortunate to have the same name as a concept in mathematics, and his family are the owners of a zoo, but due to potential financial troubles are forced to move to Canada. On their journey the ship (with all the animals) sink.

With his family dead, Pi finds himself on a small lifeboat with a giant Bengal tiger. The next part of the story is almost too amazing and you simply have to see it for yourself.


A big part of the movie is the struggle between religion and science. Pi's father is a firm believer of science, but too Pi there must be more to life. This believe, however, is tested to the extreme, when he is left to not only survive the ocean, but the giant tiger.

What makes Life of Pi such a fantastic experience is definitely the mise en scène. One's senses are completely engulfed (and I use that word in the most positive way possible) by what you see on screen.

Ang Lee did the seemingly impossible: He made a spectacular movie out of the almost "unfilmable" book by Yann Martel. He took a simple story and make it spectacular.

The acting of the young Pi (Suraj Sharma) is purely superb. One believes in him and can almost feel his internal struggles. Quite remarkable when you think that a large of the movie rests on his shoulders.


Go and see this breathtaking movie. After writing this review I feel like I haven't done justice to it. Maybe I've used too many adjectives (that are used so often). Maybe no all of you will even like the movie. But what I do know is this: Life of Pi will go down in the history books as one of the greatest movies ever made. One can understand why it received no less than 9 Golden Globe awards.

                                            

CRUISE SAVES FILM: THE REACHER
* * * 

Tom Cruise has still got it. After a year where the Top Gun actor has been in the news for things other than his acting, fans were wondering if he can still pull it off. But rest assured; he is back in the swing of things.

Cruise plays the character of Jack Reacher; a tough ex-soldier who is a little bit of an urban legend – he doesn't have a fixed residence and owns one set of clothes at a time. He never stays long at a place, but is an intelligent observer. In this movie he works with attorney Helen (played by Rosamund Pike) to solve a murder mystery to prove the innocence of the accused. 


The movie starts of fast and intriguing and has the makings of an action thriller, but pretty soon it slows down. Guys expecting rough Jack to be involved in several adrenaline-filled action scenes will be disappointed. There are a few, but not enough to satisfy die-hard fans who are used to seeing Cruise jump out of a moving car.

Cruise delivers a commendable performance and portrays the hardened, but intelligent and smooth Reacher in a believable way. One can see the sub text in his acting and the combination of rough sexiness and sensitive intelligence is just right. It is actually his acting that saves the movie from being flat (especially the second half).

What is remarkable is that there is not a single sex scene of even a kiss in the movie. With the sexual energy between Cruise and Pike that appears from time to time, one would expect the two to at least kiss at the end of the movie. I guess this makes it less predictable, but a functional sex scene has never hurt a movie!

As a movie for the holidays, I would give this one a skip. There are far better movies that are showing now. This is not a family movie and there are no scenes that would not be as spectacular on a television screen – rather wait for the DVD to come out.

                                            

TAKE THE RIDE: SKYFALL
* * * *

I have a confession to make: Before watching Skyfall, I've never watched a full James Bond movie. Yes, this may come as a surprise to you, but after watching the trailer I decided I simply have to see this movie.

And my first experience of agent 007 was simply spectacular. Many critics say this is the best Bond movie ever - there's less of the action scenes and gadgets and more of a story; without compromising the former.

Right from the action-packed opening scene to an emotional scene at the end, Daniel Craig, who plays this famous special agent, delivers a stellar performance. Although not fully explored Bond's state of mind is not all that well in this movie. Craig portrays the internal struggles of the character quite subtle, but on the spot.


But too me the main star if the movie was Judi Dench as the head of the Secret Service, miss M. One can almost feel her coldness, but at the same time feel the warmth of miss M. Judi is one of the few actresses who can portray intense emotion without facial expression.

As for the camera work and action and sex scenes, Skyfall was a real treat. Craig revealed just enough of his abs to make women gasp for breath and men wishing they looked like him. The arty display of the cast at the beginning and the interesting camera work deserve to be praised.

Go and see this movie. It is definitely worth the almost three hours in the cinema. Die-hard fans of Bond might be a bit disappointed because there's less action and sex, but there's till enough to call this a Bond movie. And for every Bond virgin out there: This is a great start to the series.

                                             

SIMPLY DELIGHTFUL: RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
* * * 

What do you get when Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy and a fierce Eastern Bunny meet? Guardians who rise to the occasion, of course! It’s been quite a while since I've watched a really good animation that will not only entertain children, but also keep my attention for longer than ten minutes. Rise of the Guardians entertained me for not only ten minutes, but the full 97 minutes. 


The storyline is pretty simple, but also very unique. It is fresh and released and this the right time of year. With the guardians and the insecure Jack Frost trying to save the world from the Boogie Monster, this movie will not fail to delight.

There are many humorous moments and the main theme of believing that something better is possible will instantly cheer you up.

But beware: If you do not like fluffy, cute and sentimental movies; rather stay away from this one and go see Skyfall.

                                             

ONLY STREEP BRINGS HOPE: HOPE SRINGS
* * * 

I will watch any movie with Meryl Streep in it. This Oscar winning actress is always a delight onscreen, so my expectations for Hope Springs were high. Although I’m not disappointed in this comedy-drama, my expectations weren't fully met.

The story is simple: After thirty years of marriage, a middle-aged couple attends an intense, week-long counselling session to work on their relationship and especially to regain their sex life. This is pretty much the entire movie is about. The plot of the movie is a bit too simple and, despite several humorous moments, there are not enough dramatic moments or tension.


Not even the powerful performances of Meryl and her male lead, Tommy Lee Jones, could jazz op the storyline. The movie addresses important issues that we as a society conveniently ignores: sex between middle-aged people, pleasuring a women, being stuck in a rut and the women as somebody who does all the housework. It’s great that we open up this dialogue.

So, should you go and see this movie? Yes, even if it is just to see Meryl’s portrayal of the sad, unhappy women. The finer nuances in her performance are quite superb. And it is worth-while to see Hope Springs for these moments.


FOOD FOR THOUGHT: CLOUD ATLAS 
* * * *

When was the last time you walked out of a cinema and thought: Wow, that was an epic movie? Cloud Atlas is the first movie in a very long time that I think deserves being called “epic”. Don’t get me wrong: This is not the best movie I've ever seen. It is not even the best acting or storylines(s) I've ever encountered. But it is epic. 

For almost three hours this exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, captured me. It makes you think about the meaning of life and your impact on other people. You walk out of the theatre knowing there is a bigger picture.


I think reading the script; one must think it is impossible to make this movie. A multitude of fascinating stories are being told simultaneously. What is more impressive is that each story is being portrayed in a different genre: From science fiction to drama and action. It is a recipe for disaster. But somehow the directors succeed in merging the different styles. The transition is smooth and not disturbing.

Most of the characters play more than one role in different time periods. Especially Tom Hank, Hugh Grant and Doona Bae deliver stellar performances. Although Halle Berry could have done better (I did not see a huge difference between the different characters she played) Ben Whishaw and the legendary Jim Broadbent’s acting was really superb.

Looking back I can understand why this is one of the most expensive independent films of all times and why it received a ten minute standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival. Even though this is not the best movie ever, it is a grand production. One that will engage you long after the credits rolled over the screen. As film critic Roger Ebert said: “[This is] one the most ambitious films ever made.”


FRESH AND FUNNY: THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT
* * * *

In a sense Hollywood has lost the plot with romantic comedies the past few years. Think Crazy Stupid Love. Think Valentine’s Day. So even with the charming Jason Segel as a co-writer and lead actor of The Five Year Engagement, I really didn’t expect much.

How pleasant to prove myself wrong!

The storyline is pretty simplistic. Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) are in love and decide to get engaged precisely one year after they met. The only snag in their wedding plans is Violet’s career as a lecturer in Psychology. This turns their engagement into a stretched-out affair and leads to complications in their relationship.


But it is not the story that makes this movie worthwhile; the quality of Segel and Blunt’s acting lures and invites the viewer into their ordinary, but complex lives. One believes in them and the ups and downs they experience. There is a great synergy between comedy and romance and the audience is taken along on the spectrum of emotions.

Having said that, don’t expect intriguing drama or intense acting. The director deliberately keeps the mood playful. For some people their might actually be a bit too many fluffy moments. I wonder that if there were no humorous scenes if the movie would still be so appealing.

Nonetheless you should watch The Five Year Engagement if you are tired of Hollywood’s hackneyed romantic comedies. But steer away from it if you despise the genre. This might be a depiction of what the genre should be, but it won’t convince you to like romantic comedies.



SILENCE IS GOLDEN: THE ARTIST
* * * 

In 1929 the last Oscar was given to a silent movie. This year The Artist, the first silent movie in many years, won no less than 5 Oscars, including best picture and best male actor for Jean Dujardin. Critics loved it and said Hollywood has returned to its golden age.

With all this in mind I walked into the theatre. The expectations were high and in retrospection I don’t I quite knew what I expected myself. All I know, to put it bluntly, is that I expected more. 


Don’t get me wrong: The Artist is a good movie. You, and every movie enthusiast, should go and see it. The acting is indeed superb. One often forget that acting in a silent movie is a unique skill altogether and Jean’s acting is very impressive. The overall nostalgic feeling of the movie is spot-on and the camera work and music contribute towards the success of the movie.

Having said that I think there are better silent movies out there. Charlie Chaplin for instance has done some marvellous stuff. I think critics were swept off their feet simply because we have not seen a silent movie in many years — it is so different that one can’t help but notice it.

The screenplay could certainly have been more creative and interesting. Just because a movie is silent doesn’t mean it can’t have creativity.

Yes, silence is indeed golden and there is certainly a place for silent movies in this modern era. We just need to find a way to do it better. We have mastered animations, large explosions and everything in between. But for some or other reason a simple silence we just can’t perfect. I am glad, however, that this film has opened up a dialogue about silent movies. 

Who knows, maybe the next one will take my breath away.


SMITTEN ON MARILYN: MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
* * * * *

The word “bedazzled” is so over-used in reviews and other pieces of writing that when one genuinely means it, people simply don’t believe it. Well, I can only hope you are going to believe me when I say that My week with Marilyn bedazzled me. I am completely smitten. I fell head over heels for this movie, Marilyn Monroe and Michelle Williams (who plays the part of this iconic actress).

My week with Marilyn plays of in 1956 and portrays the time Marilyn filmed one of her movies in Britain. A young, aspiring filmmaker, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) falls in love with her whilst her husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) is away on holiday. Like so many any other men, he falls for Marilyn’s charm, but will her love for him be strong enough?


The acting in the movie is really outstanding. For the first time ever I am actually glad I am not one of the Oscar judges. How does one choose between the superb acting of Michelle Williams and the legendary Meryl Streep (who is nominated for Iron Lady)? 

Michelle’s performance in this movie is almost faultless. She manages to capture the troubled, yet playful Monroe very successfully. Her portrayal of the subtext is some of the best I have ever seen and it is rare that an actress is in possession of such a magnetic power.

The music plays a huge part creating a specific mood. Most of the songs were composed by the American composer Conrad Pope, but other songs that were featured included “Memories are made of this” and “Autumn Leaves”. Throughout the movie the music almost places the audience in the 1950’s.

What is so remarkable to me is that millions of people adored Marilyn when she lived. Then they made this movie and the actors in the movie adore her. What is even more fascinating is that we as audience members are smitten on Marilyn (who we all know is just an actress pretending to be the movie icon). She must have had an immense presence.

At the end of the movie I felt like love is something beautiful and something that we should just take a chance on. One should be spontaneous and not think about consequences or what other people’s opinion of it will be. Now, if only we all had the power and presence of Marilyn to do just that – even for just a week.

My week with Marilyn is now in South African movie theatres.