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Recent Movies: Midnight’s Children; Rust and Bone; Les Misérables ****

January 30, 2013

Recent Movies

Midnight’s Children

The film is based on the novel by Salman Rushdie.  The main events surround India’s independence from Great Britain on August 14, 1947.  Babies born on that day have special magical qualities.  The story focusses on two baby boys born in the same hospital that night and the rich family of one of them.

This is a beautifully made epic film covers a lot of history – not only the fictional history of one family but also the actual histories of India and Pakistan.  It also explores many relevant themes including the universal extreme division between rich and poor.  This alone creates a major plot twist at the beginning of the film.

Occasionally, some dialogue was difficult to hear and understand, thus causing the feeling of missing parts of the story.  But, overall, it was a very well woven film and truly beautiful to look at.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

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Rust and Bone

Ali, an unemployed young man travels from Belgium with his young son to live with his working-class sister and her husband in southern France.  He becomes sexually involved with a killer-whale trainer, Stephanie, whose life is seriously altered in the early part of the film.

Much like ‘Holy Motors’, another recent French-language film, this film is one I might normally dismiss but I liked it because it was so well executed and acted.  In the case of ‘Rust and Bone’, my concerns were about the glorification of ultimate fighting and marine park zoos.  While these were still concerns by the end, I was moved by the film’s compassion for its characters and their life struggles.

As Stephanie, Marion Cotillard (so brilliant in ‘La Vie en Rose’) brings great talent to her role.  But the film truly belongs to Matthias Schoenaerts as Ali as the film gives more time to his character.

Ali seems brutal but he is really animalistic in a casual way that is not intended to harm.  Schoenaerts’s best work comes near the end of the film in a crisis moment.  The crisis event was predictable but cleverly filmed.  Ali’s catharsis is very moving and transforming leaving viewers with compassion for the kind of people we might normally shun in real life.

Rating:   * * *

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Les Misérables

Based on the very popular stage musical and the French novel by Victor Hugo, this British film chronicles difficult lives among a dozen or so French citizens in the 1800s including an attempted student revolution.

In the capable hands of director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), this film is always beautiful to look at.  The music is fine as well for the most part though not equal to the singing on the recording of the original stage version.  Many songs are well sung but lack the belting-out moments so frequent on the stage version recording.

This film would have had the same challenge as adapting “Mamma Mia” to the screen a few years ago.  A film version needs ‘famous’ film actors who might not sing as well as lesser-known stage actors who are brilliant singers.  Here, “Les Mis” does better than “Mamma Mia” though there remain challenges.

Russell Crowe isn’t a bad singer but doesn’t have an inspiring voice either.  Hugh Jackman gives a fine acting performance and also sings well.  In the pivotal song “Bring Him Home”, he causes many goosebump moments but it’s hard not to compare his version with that of the great stage actor Colm Wilkinson (who has a small role in this film) and feel that Jackman’s version is less powerful than Wilkinson’s.

Much fuss has been rightly made about Anne Hathaway’s version of “I Dreamed a Dream”.  Not only does she sing it beautifully but she is able to powerfully act out the words of despair as well without interrupting the flow of the song.  It’s unfortunate that her performance is so brief.  Also faring very well is newcomer Samantha Barks’s version of “On My Own”.

Other grand moments include the songs with many singers such as “One Day More” and the grand finale “When Tomorrow Comes” which is  heavenly in many ways.

Rating:   * * *

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