Les Misérables

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In news that will shock few of you, Tom Hooper is not a great director. Sure, he won Best Director for 2010’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech, but that award – as many will attest – was spurious at best, given that the film was, like its central figure, a modest one. In short it was fine but, mercifully for Hooper, buoyed by the gift of a terrific Colin Firth performance and a good one from Geoffrey Rush to boot.

So naturally, Hooper’s follow-up to it has been subject to much anticipation. It felt like a make or break moment. “Here,” the universe said, “show us what you can do with an adaptation of one of the most well-known and revered musicals of all time.” Having seen the film, it now feels like he was set up to fail. Trading an intimate tale of a meek man triumphing over moderate odds for an epic, grandiose fable of love and compassion. The problem, then, is that Hooper has decided to approach the latter in the manner of the former, leading to a two-and-a-half hour film that feels like a few episodes of television stitched together. Suffice to say, I have many problems with it.

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Skyfall

Having first been introduced to Bond films at an early age by my dad, I like to think I have a relatively well-tuned ability to appreciate the franchise. It’s hard to describe the boyish thrill I felt when first seeing the updated Casino Royale, but it suffices to say it was an incredibly nostalgic experience. Quantum of Solace, however, didn’t have the same impact. Coming two years after the previous instalment, it felt rushed and this was reflected in the quality of the film (that heinous Jack White/Alicia Keys collaboration on the theme song didn’t help, hard to believe they passed over a Shirley Bassey contribution for it).

But four years seems like the perfect amount of time to wait for a new Bond. Like the four years between Die Another Day (ugh, I just remembered that Madonna song) and Casino Royale, it gave time for the franchise to breathe. It’s common belief that massive film franchise are subject to significantly diminishing returns, and usually this is the case – look at the precipitous drop from Iron Man to Iron Man 2. Skyfall has waited this long, and the hype has built and swirled around it for some time now – with no small thanks to the promise of Sam Mendes’ direction and Javier Bardem’s casting as the film’s villain. Mercifully, the wait was not for nothing.

Typically, the film opens with an action-packed set piece. Motorcycles, bazaars, trains, that sort of nonsense; it’s reminiscent of the excellent one that sets the stage for Casino Royale. In this case, the initial sequence segues beautifully into the mostly terrific title sequence, which is let down only by two things: bad CGI for Chinese dragons, and the slightly underwhelming nature of Adele’s titular theme song, which is good but never great. Even in a cinema with terrific sound, it lacks the punchiness of a classic theme. That said, it’s certainly the best of the three Craig films.

After a failed mission, Bond (Daniel Craig) disappears. Obviously, he’s not dead, and so we find “grief-banging the entire Pacific Rim”, to quote Archer. If you haven’t watched that phenomenal TV show, I suggest you do so either before or after Skyfall, there are an alarming number of parallels – appropriate since the show’s lead character is loosely based on Bond, but even moreso because several plot points in the film bear more than a passing resemblance to episodes of Archer. An attack on MI6 headquarters reveals that M (Judi Dench) is in danger, so Bond returns to help fight the threat.

The threat is revealed through Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe in an excellent appearance) to be Silva (Javier Bardem), whose past connection to M proves him to be a considerably menacing threat. Skyfall is very preoccupied with the idea of new versus old. Bond is seen to be part of the old guard, a parallel pushed by the introduction of the new Quartermaster, or Q, played by Ben Whishaw. Whishaw’s role has been talked up a lot by some but I didn’t feel his presence was a particularly significant one. The whole thing seems very much like the franchise wrestling with itself to separate it from the Bond of old and the Bond of new.

And distinct categories they are. Those who rush to proclaim this the “best Bond ever!!!!!!” are wildly off the mark. This is a distinctly different Bond, clearly influenced by Christopher Nolan’s game-changing take on the Batman franchise. The Bond films of old were coloured – and I use that word deliberately – by a sense of the fantastical. Camp, if we’re being honest. These days, however, grittiness is what it demanded, and grittiness is given; this is not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but I think a line definitely has to be drawn somewhere. And I draw that line just before Skyfall being babbled about as the best Bond film of all time. It is excellent and deserves inclusion in the Bond canon, but newness lends itself to hyperbole.

Craig is solid as ever as the tortured Bond. He has the perfectly expressive face to portray this incarnation’s tortured self, tough but sad in equal measure. Performances and casting are great all round, with Naomie Harris and Ralph Fiennes giving good turns, and a terrific Albert Finney bringing light and depth in a relatively brief role. Bardem as the villain Silva is, typically, fantastic. Intimidating, menacing, and just a touch of the flamboyant, he feels like a nod to the Bond of old both literally and metaphorically. A brief scene of “sexual intimidation” that Silva initiates is clever for the way it directly addresses the inherent and often overwhelming homoeroticism of the Bond character and films.

Judi Dench also gives a notable performance as M, a character she has played since 1995, and it’s nice to see the character explored in a little more depth. The film is photographed beautifully by Roger Deakins, proving that cinematography is hugely key to the modern action film. Deakins’ use of space and colour hugely enhances Skyfall as viewing experience, and helps give John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade’s script both lightness and weight where required. The set pieces are uniformly great, fight sequences well-choreographed and photographed, and the seemingly daunting two hour and twenty-three minute runtime flies by.

Realism in Bond is something I can now appreciate but still struggle with to some degree, solely because part of the fun of films like Goldfinger and so on are their sheer silliness. Realism in a film like this also raises intriguing moral conundrums – mostly about innocent casualties, in the case of Skyfall. I’d like to see one of the future films explore the impact of terrorism on a larger scale. Presently, Craig’s Bond is extremely bogged down in the personal, and it almost makes the character come off as selfish despite the film’s insistence otherwise. There are many roads down which they can take 007 beyond his 50th year, so hopefully the 24th and 25th movies are willing to think a little bigger. So no, not the best Bond ever, but a damn good one all the same.

Grade: 8.3

2012 Emmy Nomination Predictions – Drama / Miniseries & Movie / Reality

Hi there! Welcome to the first in a two-part post about this year’s Emmy nomination, which are set to be announced by Nick Offerman and Kerry Washington on July 19. We’re coming off the back of an insanely good year in TV – Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Parks and Recreation, Community, Louie, Archer, Homeland, Game of Thrones…there are a LOT of amazing shows and actors around at the moment which makes something like the Emmys rather hard to predict. Emmy voters are a fickle bunch. They can alternately be painfully conservative in their choices, or surprisingly forward-thinking. Now, I’ll admit right now that I’m not as up-to-date on the dramatic shows as I am on comedies, so where some of my predictions are coming from a place of my own knowledge, in other cases I am gauging them based on the opinions of other critics. So here goes!

Outstanding Drama Series (preferred winner italicised, otherwise in the order of likelihood to win)

Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire

I only watch four of these six shows – neither Downton Abbey nor Boardwalk Empire are really my thing – and I’m not up to season 5 of Mad Men (just yet, I’m halfway through season 4 and watching rapidly), but I’m pretty confident about these six nominees. There is a slight possibility that Dexter will be nominated again solely because the voters feel obligated, but by all critical accounts Dexter is just being edged out of the nomination field after an uneven sixth season. Mad Men has won four times in a row, and as much as I want Breaking Bad to win – its 4th season was one of the best ever, in my opinion – I think Mad Men will continue its streak. But here’s hoping Breaking Bad scores at least one win for being one of the best TV dramas ever made.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm, Steve Buscemi, Kelsey Grammer, Hugh Laurie, Damian Lewis

Bryan Cranston is the one to beat here, although I feel bad for Jon Hamm. He truly is brilliant as Don Draper, and he was absolutely robbed last year, no matter how happy I was for Kyle Chandler. However, this feels like the inverse of the Drama Series category, where Cranston will dominate and Hamm hopefully scrapes an award by the time the shows ends. Cranston is lucky in this category because he is such an anchor for the show, whereas Mad Men often gives way to supporting characters like Peggy, Pete, and Joan. Breaking Bad has a laser focus on the life of Walter White, and Cranston’s performance is one of the absolute best, and he has the advantage of being given material with far more gravity than Hamm. Not 100% sure that Damian Lewis will scrape into a nomination, but I think he truly deserves it, as anyone who has watched Homeland will attest.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Claire Danes, Elisabeth Moss, Julianna Margulies, Elizabeth McGovern, Glenn Close, Mariska Hargitay

Claire Danes will win this award. That is honestly without dispute. Her performance in Homeland is often-times literally breath-taking, and she deserves this award. I feel somewhat conflicted, however, because I want Elisabeth Moss to win SOMETHING for playing Peggy Olsen. Having recently watched ‘The Suitcase’, I realise now that she absolutely should have won last year. Peggy is my favourite Mad Men character and Moss kills it in the role, but by all accounts her role in Season 5 was muted by comparison and she would be more at home in the Supporting category, where she could or would very likely win. The last three here I’m not 100% on, especially Close and Hargitay. But those two slots are up in the air, with Mireille Enos, Emmy Rossum, Jessica Pare and other all in contention in varying degrees. I don’t believe for a second that Hargitay deserves a nomination here – not that she is a poor actress – but I think she’ll managed to get nominated again out of regularity. Glenn Close will be nominated because Glenn Close.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Giancarlo Esposito, Peter Dinklage, Aaron Paul, John Slattery, Mandy Patinkin, Alan Cumming

This is one of the most stacked categories this year, with a serious embarrassment of riches in terms of great performances. I’m predicting a bit of an upset, solely because I can’t imagine anyone watching a Giancarlo Esposito submission episode and not vote for him. Gus Fring is one of the greatest villains in history, and yet he was somehow a villain you rooted for in small measures. Aaron Paul is brilliant in the same show, and Peter Dinklage is the returning winner and coming off a season in which he was at the forefront, but by comparison Dinklage just doesn’t have the material to best Esposito in my eyes. Slattery and Patinkin are welcome additions – depending on Homeland’s second season, watch for Patinkin as a possible favourite next year – and Cumming, while a great actor, will likely scrape in though there are likely more deserving nominees, like John Noble, Joel Kinnaman, Johnathon Banks, and so on.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Maggie Smith, Christina Hendricks, Kelly MacDonald, Christine Baranski, Archie Panjabi, Anna Gunn

Look, I love Maggie Smith to death. And from what I’ve seen of her on Downton Abbey, she’s great. But it’s not award-great. She can play an arch bitch with aplomb, but it’s such a nothing role for her, and this is a drama actress award. Which is why I’d give it to Christina Hendricks, even though I don’t think she quite has a chance against Smith who is an awards juggernaut in almost every capacity. Hendricks has done some insanely heavy lifting over the seasons on Mad Men and I strongly feel she deserves recognition, and this seems like the best year for her to do it. It’s close, but Dame Maggie will likely prevail, but I would be equally unsurprised for Hendricks to snap up her first Emmy. The rest of the field I don’t really care about because they are all on shows I barely watch, except Anna Gunn, who I think is seriously underrated as Skyler White. She cops it a lot from Breaking Bad viewers because the character is not terribly likeable, but Gunn does an excellent job with the role she has.

Outstanding Movie/Miniseries

Game Change, American Horror Story, Hemingway and Gellhorn, Sherlock, Hatfields and McCoys, The Hour

No personal prediction from me here because I don’t care, but what used to be (and I wish still was) Downton Abbey’s category is now wide open, and I daresay Game Change will take it.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Movie/Miniseries

Clive Owen, Idris Elba, Woody Harrelson, Bill Nighy, Benedict Cumberbatch

Again, I don’t really care, but I’ll go with Idris Elba because he’s great in everything and this Emmys is turning out to be a depressingly white affair.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Movie/Miniseries

Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Emily Watson, Connie Britton, Rachel Weisz

The other four don’t matter, JuMo has this hands down.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Movie/Miniseries

Ed Harris, David Strathairn, Martin Freeman, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes

Another bland category, but Harris will likely ride the Game Change wave.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Movie/Miniseries

Jessica Lange, Judy Davis, Sarah Paulson, Gillian Anderson, Frances Conroy

I’m extremely glad that American Horror Story has been submitted as a miniseries, even though that’s a bit of a dubious classification, because I don’t like the idea of Lange, who somehow won the Golden Globe and SAG, detracting from the chances of more deserving winners. Because while I love Jessica Lange, American Horror Story was a big, but entertaining, piece of shit.

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program

I’m not making any real prediction here, I just need to say that any show that isn’t RuPaul’s Drag Race is heinously undeserving.

Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program

Ditto above, but for RuPaul. It’ll probably be Jeff Probst again, which, ugh.

There we have that! My Comedy/Animated/Variety picks will be up in the next day or two. When the nominations are announced I’ll come back and see how I went!