Amour. Directed by Michael Haneke. I think I can safely say that it will be a long time before I watch Amour again. Prior to seeing the film, I knew that it had won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and I had skimmed a bunch of positive reviews. I had no history of seeing anything directed by Haneke nor any performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant or Emmanuelle Riva. (I’d seen one movie with Isabelle Huppert, the terrible I Heart Huckabees.) Therefore I could only assume how I would feel about the film. Ultimately it was simultaneously depressing and curiously unaffecting. The events depicted are objectively quite sad, but subjectively I could never get close enough to the characters to feel particularly moved by their situation. Maybe I should edit that statement; Trintignant gave a very emotional performance. I was so impressed by the nuance and depth in his acting that I want to see more of his films, especially A Man and a Woman and My Night at Maud’s. Riva, on the other hand, was very good but not in the same way. Whereas Trintignant is reacting to her suffering, Riva can only suffer pitiably as her capability to live slip away. Maybe it is callous of me to say so, but that inability to communicate made it harder for me to connect to Riva’s performance. It is much easier to be moved by Trintignant’s articulated reactions to slowly losing his wife. His performance is absolutely Oscar-worthy. Still, I don’t want to see the film again for a long time.
Big Miracle. Directed by Ken Kwapis. Big Miracle was an undeservedly big flop when it debuted in theaters back in February, recouping only $24,000,000 of its approximately $40,000,000 budget. It’s the inspiring story of people trying to save three whales trapped under ice near the town of Barrow, Alaska in 1988. Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski do well as the Greenpeace activist and reporter (respectively) who work tirelessly to alert the rest of the US to the whales’ plight. Dermot Mulroney and Vinessa Shaw have good chemistry as Colonel Scott Boyer and White House liaison Kelly Meyers, who fall in love during the process of helping out. The two characters are fictionalized versions of real people who were involved in the crisis. Ted Danson has a notable supporting role as an oil tycoon initially opposed to saving the whales, though he eventually supports the cause. Young actor Ahmaogak Sweeney is excellent as a Barrow boy who lives with his grandfather (another excellent actor, John Pingayak) and looks up to Krasinski.
Les Misérables. Directed by Tom Hooper. I must admit I knew next to nothing about Les Misérables, either as a story or as a musical, before seeing the film. I knew that the story takes place in France in the 1800s, the protagonist is Jean Valjean, the antagonist is a policeman named Javert, Javert hunts Valjean because he stole some bread, and Fantine sings “I Dreamed a Dream.” Yep, that’s all. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the film, shedding a tear or three along the way. I was most impressed by Samantha Barks’ acting and singing as the lovelorn Éponine. Personally I found her performance more deserving of awards than Anne Hathaway’s all-too-brief turn as Fantine. It’s true that Hathaway hits all the necessary notes, but Fantine is not given any backstory so I found it hard to automatically sympathize with her. If you ask me, Hathaway overacts the part in some moments. As for the other stars: Hugh Jackman does a good job as Jean Valjean, though his singing is not as good as his emoting; Russell Crowe sings manfully (to quote critic David Edelstein) as Javert; Eddie Redmayne is charming as Marius, complimented nicely by Aaron Tveit as fellow revolutionary Enjolras (I really liked their singing in “Red and Black”); Amanda Seyfried is decent as older Cosette; Isabelle Allen is quite good as young Cosette. Negatively, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are distracting as the Thénardiers, bringing too much silly comic relief to the proceedings. Daniel Huttlestone was also rather annoying as the impish child Gavroche, complete with a Cockney accent that seems better suited to an Oliver! production. Hooper’s direction and choice of camera angles can be aggravating at times (so many close-ups!), but the music, costumes, cinematography and art direction/set decoration more than make up for those other aspects.
Safe House. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. This forgettable thriller stars one of the blandest leading men in the movies, Ryan Reynolds. He’s likeable enough and is fairly believable as a CIA agent, but other than that he’s boring. Denzel Washington fares better in a more ambiguous role: an ex-CIA guy seen as an enemy for going rogue. (Or something like that; the plot didn’t make it clear when that happened, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention since the movie’s so mediocre.) Vera Farmiga has a throwaway role as a cold, angry CIA woman, while Brendan Gleeson does OK as a male CIA man. Like I said, forgettable stuff. Character names don’t even matter. Sam Shepard, much as I love him in both drama and comedy, is miscast as the chief. His soft-spoken conviction is more suited to the earthy men of Days of Heaven, Resurrection and Baby Boom than to the role of government/espionage bigwig. Anyway, the best scenes in the movie are a high-speed car chase about a half hour in and a real knock-down drag-out between Reynolds and another safe house’s “housekeeper,” Joel Kinnaman.
Safety Not Guaranteed. Directed by Colin Trevorrow. My aunt, uncle and school friend all highly recommended this film. I must say that it did not live up to my expectations, although there were certainly things to enjoy. Perhaps best of all is the song “Big Machine,” which is eligible for the Best Original Song Oscar. Mark Duplass, one of the mavens of the mumblecore film movement, sings the song and also stars as Kenneth, a loner who places an ad for a companion to accompany him on a time-traveling expedition (“safety not guaranteed” is part of the ad’s disclaimer). Aubrey Plaza is the film’s heroine, a mopy young woman curiously named Darius who interns at Seattle Magazine. She, her superior Jeff (Jake Johnson) and a stereotypically geeky Indian intern named Arnau (Karan Soni) seek out Kenneth in order to figure out if he’s actually built a time machine or if he’s just nuts. Romantic complications follow, not only between Darius and Kenneth but also regarding Kenneth’s former girlfriend, Jeff and an old flame and also Jeff’s attempts to get Arnau to lose his virginity. The film is hampered by many of the clichés you might expect from an indie (hipster) dramedy, not excluding the fact that Kenneth can play the zither. The film is pretty short – 86 minutes – and should have spent a little more time on a better ending instead of rushing everything, as though clocking in at less than an hour and a half was the primary goal.