Second films have a storied background in the history of cinema. The creative shackles have been broken and the filmmaker, usually a crafty and brilliantly storyteller, is free to tell the tale they want to.
Evil Dead is a remake of the Sam Raimi classic of the same name. While most remakes often suffer artistically from being confined to the original framework and audience expectation, this particular remake has the dubious problem of overcoming not only a classic, but one beloved by a pretty voracious fanbase.
Olympus Has Fallen is a sure fire action film that will have viewers rightfully comparing it to Die Hard. A lone gunman fights his way through the bad-guys to save the kidnapped, in this case, President and his staff. It’s been done and seen before elsewhere, including Air Force One, but now the action has landed in the White House.
Les Misérables is a remarkable production. Intended for the stage, it has been a struggle for many years to accurately portray its power and emotion on screen. Tom Hooper has managed to create an elegant adaptation that maintains the original theatricality while allowing for a newfound intimacy.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the musical Les Misérables is based upon Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel. Often regarded as one of the greatest novels of the 19th Century, it centres around ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption. The theatrical production follows the character interactions closely, focusing on Valjean’s constant evasion of the ruthless officer Javert.
Having stolen a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and nephew, Valjean was arrested, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, extrapolated to 19 for attempting to escape. Eventually breaking his parole, he fled, and created an alternate identity for himself after receiving some unexpected mercy from a Bishop.
Along the way, he encounters the poor, ill-fated Fantine, mother to an illegitimate child, Cosette. Taking responsibility for Fantine’s fate, Valjean cares for Cosette as if she were his own. The two proceed to live a life on the run, isolated from the others around them, and constantly on the watch for the ruthless Javert.
Les Misérables is a story of struggle, suffering, loss, and redemption. Beginning in 1815 with Valjean’s parole, and culminating in 1832 after the June Rebellion, it highlights some of the most heart-wrenching atrocities a person can endure.
On the stage, such heartbreak is most effectively translated through moving emotional musical numbers. The beauty of the cinema is the camera’s ability to get into intimate crevices, so as to capture every emotionally wrought second. Hooper’s used the medium to its full advantage, not only accurately translating Les Misérables’ power and emotion, but amplifying it.
His approach of having the actors sing live while filming, as opposed to studio recordings later dubbed into the film, was perhaps his saving grace. In a featurette released in September, Anne Hathaway, who plays Fantine, said “there seemed to be something selfish about trying to go for the ‘pretty’ version.” This method of performance allowed the actors a rare opportunity. They were given the ability to act and sing with an immediacy normally reserved for the stage. The result was, as Hathaway pointed out, the uglier side of a beautiful score. The reality of the characters’ heartbreak shines through without inhibition, and the agony of their story is put front and centre.
As a result of this intimate shift in tone, we’re given new versions of songs many people will already be familiar with. You’ll never listen to “I Dreamed a Dream” the same way again. Hathaway gave us a Fantine you simply cannot see on the stage. The theatrical version is just that – theatrical. Stunning, and moving, it’s still in a world governed by perfect tone and pitch, her suffering found below they veil of a flawless performance. Here, Hathaway has stripped her bare, and succumbs to the heartbreak in the words as she sings them.
The result is breathtaking.
Hugh Jackman gives a powerful turn as the famous Jean Valjean, prisoner 24601. He fully embraces the immediacy of the medium, adding a level of depth to the already complex character. He presents us with a slightly more tender, and moderately more tortured Valjean. A man who’s never fully forgiven himself of his trespasses, Jackman allows us a fresh take on the classic character. He sings with a different pain, and emotes with a greater fury that the stage would allow. He fully embodies Valjean’s torment, and does the role justice.
Russel Crowe unfortunately falls flat. Though he sings outside of his acting, he sings rock which doesn’t require much in the realm of pitch and tonal range. His singing here is monotonous, and unfortunately so is his acting. Javert is an equally complex character as Valjean, if not more so. We get a glimpse of this during “Confrontation”, in which Javert and Valjean duel directly following Fantine’s death.
In the theatre, it’s hard to catch exactly what they say as they verbally duel. Here, however, Hooper made a point of allowing Javert his uninterrupted airtime. He emphasizes how he was born in a prison, and was raised around thieves like Valjean. With such a deliberate attempt to highlight the character’s motivation, Crowes acting should have elevated the part. Rather than depicting a man so tortured by his origins that he unquestioningly abides by the law and the Lord, we’re given a robotic human being who spouts his lines as if they were rote. Instead of misguided malice and piousness, we’re given an unfortunately vacant performance.
Eddie Redmayne, a Tony winner, gives easily one of the most polished musical performances in the entire production. While this isn’t entirely what Hooper was aiming for, in the realm of the love story, it fits. He embodies Marius, the romantic rebel with a cause. Alongside Amanda Seyfried as the grown-up Cosette, they melt together like butter. Their romance is so believable, with a wonderful, collaborative earnestness, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the part.
When word broke of the casting choices for the film, I was apprehensive about every selection – with two exceptions: Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thénardiers. And what a delivery! Baron Cohen is the flawless embodiment of the dubious buffoon innkeeper. A gifted physical comedian, he fit neatly into the role as if it were made for him.
Bonham Carter, on the other hand, was surprisingly off kilter for me. The nastier of the two, Mrs. Thénardier is supposed to be far more villainous than her moronic husband. It’s clear that she runs the show. She was missing a certain sharpness for me. A kind of jagged prickliness. Instead she was almost lithe and serpentine, which seemed out of place.
The performances that truly stood out for me are surprising, as, for the most part, they’re secondary characters. Aaron Tveit, as Marius’ compatriot Enjolras, was stunning. It’s as if he came out of nowhere to steal the show. A fellow soldier in the rebellion, Enjolras has never stood out for me as a remarkable character in the theater. Tveit made him unique, and absolutely floored me with his performance. With a powerful and elegant voice that still maintained the immediacy of the moment, he acts with a steely grace that’s completely captivating. It’s hard to believe that his most recognizable role to date was as Trip van der Bilt on the now defunct WB series Gossip Girl.
Also remarkable were the children – Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, and Isabelle Allen as young Cosette. When they sang, I thought I was listening to the original Broadway cast. Both newcomers offered up remarkable performances, with perfect vocals and excellent dramatic ability. I sincerely hope to see more of them in the future.
For those familiar with the musical, I urge you to prepare yourself – this is not what you expect. But while the performances are not as poised and polished as those in the theater, they are far more raw and, in many ways, more powerful. The urgency in every scene is palpable, and the performances will move you to tears if you let them. This is a horse of a different colour – we are not watching a literal translation from the stage. You’re witnessing a reimaging that retains the integrity of the original, while offering an entirely new cinematic experience.
The result is outstanding.
Dead Sushi is the latest film by Director Noboru Iguchi. Known for such cult classics such as The Machine Girl and RoboGeisha. His latest film is a horror-comedy romp of epic proportions. Light and mocking, it never takes itself, or even the premise, very seriously.
When Keiko (Rina Takeda) runs away after her overbearing Master Sushi chef father (who wants her to be a boy) berates her for not being good enough at either making Sushi or martial arts, she finds a job in an inn that specializes in Sushi. Keiko doesn’t get hired to make it, only to serve as waitress. The other employees mock her and the owners scold her. The only friend she has is Sawada (Shigeru Matsuzaki). When the management of Komatsu Pharmaceuticals shows up at the end, disgruntled employee, Yamada (Kentarô Shimazu) infects sushi with a reanimating drug. What ensues is mayhem and chaos, with Keiko and Sawada teaming up to try and save the hotel and its guests from the food gone wild.
While this ridiculous premise might seem too far beyond good taste and acceptable filmmaking, it the blended concoction of action, horror, farce and slapstick works quite well together. The playful manner with which Iguchi uses the cast and crew helps the material and cast bring this cartoonish movie to life. With an eye squarely set on the fantastically funny, the over the top effects and situations never stop amazing and amusing. Not only do the individual pieces of sushi and sashimi kill, but they fly, mate, mock and even sing. Keeping the pace and tone throughout it 90 or so minute runtime might seem like it’s either overly long or could be tiresome, but is funny enough and whimsical enough to carry the entire film through without getting boring or tedious.
Some people may be offended or confused by cultural differences, on top of which there are multiple outrageous, violent, gory scenes that will bother others. The effects are a mix of CGI and old school props, but they never rise above the cheesy quality the film so richly deserves and gets. Had they gone for real effects, it would have ruined the mood of parody so carefully created. Takeda carries much of the film on her shoulders. Cute and vulnerable, she also comes across as tough and determined as she kicks and chops her way through the film. A completely gonzo spirit marks her performance, as well as the film, as she gives it her all. The band of back up performers, most notability Sawada as a knife phobic sushi chef, are as dedicated and fun to watch as she is, but she is the star, and the star attraction.
While a fun and fantastic film, it will not be for everyone. Horror fans will find much to enjoy here, as it’s lightly, enthusiastic mocking of monster films does so with knowing what fans find funny, and gives them a reason to laugh at the genre, and themselves.
Sushi Girl is a crime thriller set to the tune of revenge and redemption. Exuding violence and intensity, it spins a yarn of a robbery gone badly, and the length men will go to get the spoils they stole. Featuring a star studded cast giving stellar performances, the film grabs you early and doesn’t let go until the final frame.
Fish (Noah Hathaway) has spent six years in jail and upon the day of his release, is picked up by a limo while Duke (Tony Todd) is busy setting up a dinner for him, and greeting gang members Crow (Mark Hamill), Max (Andy Mackenzie) and Francis (James Duval). Dinner consists of Nyotaimori, the practice of serving sashimi or sushi from the body of a woman, typically naked. After all the assembled criminals are gathered, Fish explains the meal before them and suggests they eat. Fish, thinking the only reason for the assembly is to get information about the missing loot from the robbery that sent him to jail, insists that whatever ill plans they have for him commence without all the niceties. The group is more than willing to fulfill that request. Interplaying the gang’s attempts to elicit information from Fish are flashbacks showing exactly what happened on the day of the robbery, and ultimately, what became of the loot.
Hyper violence is intermixed with intensely intimate moments, giving rise to a series of characters driven as much by their greed as their desire to commit violence. Mark Hamill is brilliant as Crow, a bloodthirsty sadist whose temperament and style is nearly a mirror image of fellow psychopath Andy Mackenzie‘s Max. Hamill’s gay character is light spoken and intelligent, Mackenzie is a lowbrow lout whose one redeeming feature is a willingness to kill. It seems two things keep them from killing one another. The desire for money, and the calm nature of ringmaster Duke. Tony Todd excels as being charmingly menacing while directing the focus on obtaining information from Fish. Todd oozes style and instills fear. Never does Fish have confusion about why he is in this room, or what his ultimate fate will be, to him, it’s just a matter of how long. James Duval has an interesting role as Francis, an addict just off the wagon who is less interested in participating in the extraction methods than he is why. Through the long periods of dialogue, we are given expanding details about the men, their actions and how this group dynamic works. As for the Sushi Girl (Cortney Palm), she comes off as merely a prop to the criminals, but her subtle performance conveys a wide rance of emotions, mostly fear and disgust, that laying still under Sushi might not immediately seem possible.
Overall, the mystery of the missing loot, diamonds, is central to the films construct. While the setup early in the film is sex, money and food, the real reason for the gathering is torture. And there is plenty of that to go around. This is a violent movie, graphically violent. The banter and bickering between Crow and Max goes deeper than mere mutual dislike, its professional jealousy over the conflicting styles. This actually works very well to create some fun and interesting moments between the two, as well with the rest of the group. Several times Duke has to insist on one or the other stopping or the other from just killing Fish outright. Fish, well, he actually has made peace with his fate, and has no problem confronting and mocking his tormentors. All the time, the girl lays with Sushi on her, the men eating bits as the interrogation continues. First time director Kern Saxton co-wrote the script with Destin Pfaff. His treatment of the material shows an understanding of the medium that belies his limited experience.
Stylishly shot, it takes place mainly in a single room, with minimalist sepia shots during the flashbacks, and only the restaurant exterior. Such spartan settings allow the characters room to move and come alive without overly complicated filming techniques. With the exception of the flashbacks, it precedes much the same as a stage production might. Bright and colorful, it is wonderfully lit for maximum effect. The score weaves its way into and out of the film in a predictable, but no less excellent way. It emphasizes the action taking place rather than trying to set the mood alone.
While some may understand where the film is heading long before it gets there, the purpose of the film isn’t the destination, but the journey. It’s watching veteran actors playing angry, psychopathic criminals in action. It shouldn’t be nice, and it isn’t. It’s rough and graphic, harsh and mean, and ultimately it is exactly as it should be.
Recommended for those wanting an adult, dark crime thriller with more than just a touch of violence.