(On Cable TV, April 2016) Any new Jean-Pierre Jeunet film is an occasion to be happy, even when they don’t quite work. While The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet doesn’t approach Jeunet’s finest films (the best of which remains Amélie), it still packs more visual inventiveness than any other three movies by other directors. The story is suitably eccentric, as the youngest offspring of a grieving western-USA family invents a perpetual motion machine (no points for hard science here) and sets out alone on a cross-country trip to deliver a speech in Washington. Shot in English in North America, this still feels like a very Jeunet film, marrying a quasi-retro vision of the world with frequent visual effects for a result that often tries for charm. For such a polished film, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet has flown under the radar for a long time and holds a few surprises: Canadian viewers will be surprised to see Rick Mercer pop us as a talk-show host in a film that also features Helena Bonham Carter (looking really good), and Jeunet stalwart Dominique Pinon. For all its qualities, though, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet doesn’t quite work as well as it should. Making grief a dominant emotion of the film undercuts some of its more whimsical moments, reminding us at odd times that there’s a big tragedy lurking under the quirkiness. It’s not easy to just sit back and enjoy the film, taking away what’s usually one of Jeunet’s strengths. Nonetheless, it’s time well-spent—the inventiveness of the film papers over some rougher moments, and any Jeunet film is enough to brighten a day.
(On Cable TV, October 2013) A quick trawl through these reviews will reveal that when it comes to movie musicals, I’m a very forgiving reviewer. I have embraced the musical in its post-Moulin Rouge era and a few disappointments aside, I’m usually fond of the genre. So imagine my surprise when I found myself annoyed, bored and exasperated by Les Misérables, surely one of the most instantly recognizable examples of the genre to come down the Broadway-to-Hollywood route. I groaned when I realized that Les Misérables would not only be wall-to-wall singing, but that nearly every song would sound the same and drag on forever. More than once, I left the living room for errands and came back minutes later to characters expressing the same emotion. For all of its nice cinematography and convicting re-creation of a troubled period in French history, Les Misérables plods on for more than an excruciating two hours and a half, on a musical register than barely varies from one song to the next. Perhaps my powers of concentration are gone; maybe I’m just picky when I should be forgiving. And it’s not as if the actors are slacking, given how many of them do well with parts that exceed their signing range. Seeing Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and a thoroughly unglamorous Helena Bonham Carter voice their miserable condition is interesting as in we-haven’t-seen-this-too-many-times-before, but they can’t make the pace move more quickly, or change the film’s intention to make nearly every line of dialogue sung. (Still, I note that the most memorable performance comes from musical-cast-member Samantha Barks, who makes the most out of a limited role as Éponine) Les Misérables is lavish filmmaking on the highest level –but it’s annoying for idiosyncratic reasons that I can’t fully articulate. Upon reflection, through, it occurs to me that I’m fonder of original-movie-musicals rather than straight-up adaptations of existing Broadway shows. Let’s keep the musicals on Broadway, and use the cinema screen for something that fully exploits cinema as a medium.