Tag Archives: Tom Hooper

The Danish Girl (2015)

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Artwork courtesy of Sydney artist Hubert Widjaya

With the 88th Academy Awards less than 3 weeks away, I’ve been amping up my preparations by speeding through all the major nominees. The latest to tick off the list is The Danish Girl, a historical fiction drama about married Danish artists Gerda Wegener and Einar/Lili Elbe (portrayed by Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne), the latter of whom — and this is not a spoiler as it is the premise of the movie and apparent from any trailer or poster — began identifying himself as a woman.

Based on the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl is said to be a very loose adaptation — “inspired by”, if you will — by Gerda and Lili’s story. As the narrative goes, Gerda and Einar were both quite well-known artists living in Copenhagen in the 1920s. It is made plain early on that despite the era they lived in, they were both very liberal and open-minded people unafraid of sexuality and traditional gender barriers. But the lives of this once happily married couple would change forever after Einar discovers that he had been suppressing his desire to be a woman — or that he always felt deep down inside that he was a woman — all his life, thus sparking his journey to becoming Lili.

I don’t know the exact details, but apparently historians are up in arms over the historical inaccuracies and the way the characters and their relationship have been portrayed. So like Steve Jobs, it’s perhaps best to treat the film as a work of fiction that happens to borrow the names of real people.

Inaccuracies aside, The Danish Girl didn’t really do a whole lot for me. I think it’s a good film powered by two outstanding performances, albeit one that is considerably weaker than director Tom Hooper’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech. 

The dramatic elements dealing with Lili’s struggles along her journey of discovery and change are well-executed. She’s repressed her true self for so long that once the gates are opened there’s no stopping the internal transformation. However, as an unconventional love story, Lili’s relationship with Gerda felt lacking, primarily because Lili isn’t a particularly likable character. She’s so self-absorbed and is a downright biatch time and time again to Gerda, who, considering the circumstances, was about as supportive and accepting as anyone could have possibly expected. Yes, Lili was going through a lot, but it becomes hard to excuse her behaviour when Gerda’s giving everything and getting nothing but petulance. As a result, the film often made me more angry than sympathetic. I simply couldn’t buy this tale of transcendent, unconditional love the film was trying to sell me (the trailers and promos actually did a better job).

That said, my issues with the movie have nothing to do with the performances of Redmayne and Vikander. I know they almost never hand out Oscars to the same actor in consecutive years, but Eddie Redmayne (who won last year for The Theory of Everything) sure made it very difficult for voters to ignore him with his astounding performance as Lili. Those who have seen Redmayne as himself will know that he’s actually quite a masculine guy, but here he is utterly convincing when dressed up as a woman, and even when he’s dressed up as a man you can sense the femininity through subtle gestures and body language. He conveys Lili’s desires, fears, courage and sensuality to such perfection that he almost makes you forget this.

Alicia Vikander has had a blazing year with Ex Machina and The Man From UNCLE, and now it seems The Danish Girl will be the icing on the cake as she storms towards the Oscars as the favourite to take out the Best Supporting Actress gong. She’s phenomenal as the loving and tormented Gerda, pulling off the adjustment to life-changin challenges with a stoicism that few actresses would have been able to replicate.  In fairness, however, I would have nominated her for Ex Machina instead. And yes, she should absolutely have been in the Best Actress category, but I suppose they were looking to maximise her chances by submitting her in the less competitive category. When The Martian can win for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes I guess anything is possible.

At the end of the day, performances alone can’t carry a movie, and while it is a solid effort I enjoyed on several levels, I agree that The Danish Girl isn’t good enough to make the Oscar’s Best Picture nominee list. In some ways it is similar to another high-profile movie released around the same time, Joy, in that both feature strong casts and top-class central performances, are pleasant to look at and have a skilled director at the helm, though these attributes don’t quite propel the films into the elite echelons.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Les Misérables (2012)

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I’m sorry, but Les Misérables is overrated. Or perhaps more accurately, it just wasn’t for me.

Director Tom Hooper, coming off his 2011 Oscars triumph with The King’s Speech, appeared to have a winner on his hands. One of the most beloved musicals of all-time. The likable singing and dancing Hugh Jackman as the protagonist Jean Valjean. Probably the hottest actress on the planet right now, Anne Hathaway, to play poor Fantine and sing the classic “I Dreamed a Dream.” Amanda Seyfried. Russell Crowe. Even Helena Bonham Carter and Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen). It was a sure hit and an Oscar certainty.

But Les Misérables ended up getting mixed reviews from critics, and I find myself siding with those who didn’t fall for its charm. Those who love the musical will love this film no matter what, but I  personally found it to be an exhausting and often dull experience that I couldn’t really get into until it was almost over. Technically, the film is supposedly quite a remarkable achievement, with spectacular sets, strong performances and a lot of long single takes and live singing (rather than recorded in post-production like most other musicals). But really, who cares about all of that if the film isn’t any good in the end?

I had never seen a stage production of the musical so I’ll assume there are others who aren’t familiar with the plot. The story is set in 1815 and Jackman’s Valjean is a thief who is paroled by Crowe’s ruthless prison guard Javert after years of imprisonment. Basically, Valjean decides to turn his life around and be a good guy and Javert can’t seem to let go of the past. It’s a miserable time to be alive (hence the title) and the remainder of the film focuses on the struggles of the masses, Jackman trying to be good, and Crowe not letting him. It goes on for years and years.

The biggest problem with Les Misérables is that 99.9% of all vocal interactions between characters is sung. There is essentially no dialogue except a stray word here or there. As a result, we get a lot of long singing monologues where we have to listen really carefully to the lyrics (which is not always clear) just to figure out what the heck is going on.

That can get annoying and takes time to get used to, but fine, it’s a musical, so I get that. What bothered me more was that most of this talk-singing was awful to listen to. Not that the actors’ voices were bad — it’s just that there’s no real tune or melody. It just sounds like a bunch of people playing a lame game where they have to sing everything and are making up the tune as they go along. It’s really monotonous and challenges the audience not to tune out, so to speak, after a little while.

Yes, there is a handful of REAL musical numbers that are pretty good, with Hathaway’s much-lauded “I Dreamed a Dream” number being the highlight, as well as Carter and Borat’s “Master of the House” (which I was familiar with through that Seinfeld episode with Elaine’s dad and Jerry’s inside-out coat), but these are few and far in between. The vast majority of the film was dominated by this crappy talk-singing or sing-talking and I just could not stand it.

The performances were good, I’ll admit that, but was Hathaway’s performance really that good? Oscar-favourite good? I personally think it’s a little overrated, especially considering (spoiler alert!)  she only has a few minutes of screen time. Then again, Judi Dench won for something like 9 minutes of acting in Shakespeare in Love, so why the heck not?

I do, on the other hand, have to defend Russell Crowe a little bit here. Crowe has been panned for his singing, but I thought he was perfectly adequate. A little wooden, perhaps, but he’s freaking Pavarotti compared to Pierce Brosnan in Mama Mia.

Anyway, Les Misérables turned out to be a huge disappointment. It probably would have been great as a stage show, and Hooper has basically shot an extravagant stage show on film, but that’s why we have different media formats. I finally got into the story and the characters towards the latter part of the film’s third act, but by then it was too little too late.

2 stars out of 5

PS: Dang, the trailer made the film look so awesome. If only it really was.

Movie Review: The King’s Speech (2010)

My first impression of The King’s Speech (before I actually saw the film) was BORING!  A movie starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush about a stuttering British Monarch and his speech therapist set in the 1930s?  Forget about it.

But as it turned out, everyone — and I mean everyone — was raving about this film, and all of a sudden it was a frontrunner at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars.  So I put aside my prejudices and went to watch The King’s Speech, fortunately, not knowing a whole lot about it apart from what I wrote above.

And well, I was immensely impressed.  Given my aversion to such films, I find it extraordinary that I found The King’s Speech to be one of the best films of the year.   While it may or may not make my top 10 list (not sure until I put that post together — very soon!), I don’t hesitate in saying that it might very well be the best acted film of 2010, and I think Colin Firth has a terrific chance of nabbing his first Oscar.  Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce — everyone in it was exceptional, making the film a delight to watch.

At it’s core, The King’s Speech is about the relationship between two very different men — Albert, the Duke of York (Firth), who is a horrible stammerer (not a desirable attribute who someone that has to speak publicly all the time) and Lionel Logue (Rush), an unconventional Australian speech therapist.  Much of the film is dialogue, but the screenplay (by David Seidler) is so wonderful and the direction (by Tom Hooper) is so skilled that I was never bored, despite the admittedly slow pace.

There’s tension, light humour and charming banter, plus plenty of heart.  And really, it’s actually quite a fascinating story, handled with intelligence, subtlety and care.  It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but if even I can enjoy it as much as I did, then there’s hope for everyone.

4.25 stars out of 5!