Movie reviews: Shadow Dancer, The Quartet, Argo and Les Miserables

I’m not normally much of a movie goer but as I’m on holidays at the moment I’ve been able to get to quite a few.

Shadow Dancer, drama (Somerville)

Clive Owen stars in this film about a family caught up in the conflict between the IRA and England in the 1990s.  His character, Mac, is part of the English intelligence service who apprehends Collette (Andrea Riseborough) when she attempts to bomb an English train, but lets her return to Ireland after she agrees to pass information to him.  It’s well made, well acted and the violence is fairly restrained given the subject matter, though I found the love story unconvincing and unnecessary.  It’s a good but (to me) depressing film; pretty much everyone betrays someone and it doesn’t offer much hope for a better future for Ireland.

The Quartet, comedy (Ace, Subiaco)

This directorial debut by Dustin Hoffman has a strong cast – Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtney and Billy Connolly headline – and is set in Beecham House for Retired Musicians.  The four stars were once in a famous operatic quartet before two of them went through a bitter divorce, but now they are thinking about performing together one more time for the home’s benefit concert.

There are few surprises in The Quartet, and there were some continuity issues, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable three star film.  The use of music throughout adds another dimension, as many of the support cast really are retired musicians. Make sure you stay for the end credits to learn more about them.

Argo, drama (Bankwest Movies by Burswood, Bassendean)

Ben Affleck stars in and directed this thriller set during the hostage crisis in Iran in 1979.  Six Americans escape the embassy before it is seized, and hide out in the Canadian embassy.  Affleck is the CIA operative sent in to take them out under the guise of being of a film crew scouting for locations for Argo, a science fiction film with a Middle Eastern setting.

Based on a true story, the film is well made, well directed and very tense.  Affleck may be the star but he underplays his scenes nicely, and looks surprisingly good with a beard and shaggy hair.  I found the humour of the Hollywood scenes jarred a little with the suspense of those set in Iran, but it’s a minor quibble.  This is well worth seeing – four stars.

Les Miserables, musical drama (Event Cinemas, Morley)

The movie of the long running stage show – which is itself an adaption of Victor Hugo’s novel – has an impressive cast headlined by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried.

Set in 19th century France, it is the story of  former prisoner Jean Valjean (Jackman) who breaks his parole and is pursued by policeman Javert (Crowe). Valjean recreates himself as a businessman and, when one of his dismissed workers (Hathaway’s Fantine) dies, he takes responsibility for her daughter Cossette and later the two of them are drawn into revolution against the government and monarchy.

All the characters are larger than life: the reformed Valjean is impossibly heroic and noble; Javert pursues Valjean literally for decades; Fantine’s fall from respectability to poverty, prostitution and death is startlingly sudden; and Cossette and Marius fall in love in a glance, not even knowing the others’ name.

It’s almost three hours long, nearly every line is sung (some better than others) and pretty much everyone dies.  I’m not sure I enjoyed it but it is impressive in scope and narrative power. However, a minor point still bothers me: the setting is nineteenth century France, so can anyone explain why the street urchin and the innkeeper and his wife (Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) have Cockney accents?



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2 Responses to Movie reviews: Shadow Dancer, The Quartet, Argo and Les Miserables

  1. Myrtice Porritt says:

    Examining the nature of law and grace, the novel elaborates upon the history of France, the architecture and urban design of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. Les Misérables has been popularized through numerous adaptations for the stage, television, and film, including a musical and a film adaptation of that musical.*,^-

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  2. piracetam says:

    Purists, hear me out. We can start by agreeing that as Inspector Javert, Russell Crowe is the weakest link in a chain of actors with varying degrees of musical talent bringing the sung-through tale of the woe-begotten in early 19th century France to even more masses. Yet there is something almost democratic about someone who isn’t trained in stage performance having a shot at a coveted role, even if it was his famous face and name that likely landed him the part. Some of the leads have performed musical theater on Broadway, notably Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Samantha Barks (Eponine) and Aaron Tveit (Enjolras). But many of the performers aren’t nearly as polished: Amanda Seyfried warbles as Cosette, and Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter do more talking than singing as the Thénardiers. More than a line or two is practically drowned out by an actor’s sobbing, which the surprisingly good Eddie Redmayne (Marius) uses to great effect during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” But what else should we expect from “the wretched of the earth”? If there’s a musical that should not be so pretty, it’s “Les Misérables.” I’ve seen the stage production twice and listened to its music (the 10th Anniversary Concert is my favorite) countless times, but Les Misérables brought Victor Hugo’s story to life as I had never before experienced it. The narrative choices made to better the flow of the story on screen combined with the risks taken by the actors in their performances make the film a vital component in the sprawling “Les Mis” canon. It doesn’t replace the stage musical; it enhances it. Fans should embrace the flaws for the realism they bring to this story of redemption. This is the future of movie musicals.