Director: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, James D'Arcy
Running time: 98 minutes
For decades, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho has been a vital film of study as well as being arguably the original source of modern horror. It was also the first of a 30-year long but remotely pointless franchise and has been remade. However, the story behind the making of how it all began has yet to be made as a cinematic adaptation. Adapted from the non-fiction book by Stephen Rebello, Hitchcock's memorable work on Psycho finally comes to the screen for the first time. In the film, we have been expecting to see all the facts based upon the making of Psycho and to understand the cast and crew as ordinary people. Therefore, it was bound to excite avid film fanatics and as a result of this, Hitchcock had overwhelmingly high expectations. However, considering that it was fascinating regarding the facts but as a film, it was a disappointment.
As everybody knows, Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema but to make a film about him is challenging and perhaps requires an equally sophisticated director to take charge of behind the scenes. The privilege eventually went to Sacha Gervasi, whose only previous experience as director was for documentary Anvil: The Story Of Anvil. Therefore, he is making Hitchcock his directorial debut. A heavy weight would be on the shoulders of whoever was chosen to direct Hitchcock, but Gervasi's lack of experience really got the better of him here. Of course, he tried and his visual interpretations of some facts during that time were convincing but still, the project was too big for newbies in the film industry.
However, the film does not suffer entirely because of direction. The structure of the film is poor. It is a mixture of two central stories - the making of Psycho and Hitchcock's own marital problems with his wife. Therefore, it becomes a bio-pic and a romantic-drama that sends the audience in unknown directions and becomes a shamble. Furthermore, why does Hitchcock see and talk to Ed Gein? Psycho itself is based on a book from a few crimes that Gein committed and many moviegoers should know this by now, but screenwriter John J. McLaughlin adding that sub-plot into the script was pointless and served no meaning. The film clocks in at approximately 90 minutes and because it has mixed stories, it could have lasted for 2 1/2 hours in order for it to work. In that sense, it was flat and very rushed.
On the somewhat brighter side of Hitchcock were the performances. The great Sir Anthony Hopkins puts on a body suit and undergoes complicating make-up procedures to consequently become an almost exact replica of the Master of Suspense. Just like a strong director would be needed to make Hitchcock, an extremely talented actor is essential when playing Hitchcock himself. In the role, Hopkins expresses the features of Hitchcock through the same facial and figural expressions but in terms of on-screen chemistry between characters, he lacked the bitterness as well as the talent and commitment that Hitchcock put into Psycho. However, although the film has poor structure, it helped us see Hitchcock as a person, not only as a great filmmaker, through the marital storyline. Still, Hopkins was probably the best choice to play the Master of Suspense and he overall delivers in the role, but he was still a tad shoddy at times. Meanwhile, Dame Helen Mirren delivers a great performance as Hitchcock's wife Alma. Compared to Hopkins and the majority of supporting actors, Mirren's portrayal of Alma is perhaps the only one that is considered 'normal' and is almost like everybody else who does not have a popular celebrity status among Hollywood. Still, Mirren's performance is impressive despite portraying an highly repetitive character type.
Furthermore, the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh was an unusual but at the same time, curious decision. Of course, Johansson was a beautiful choice when portraying the beauty of Leigh, but in terms of performance, it was literally like she was playing herself and expressing her sex symbol reputation, not performing as a talented actress going into arguably the greatest thriller of all time. Therefore, she did not entirely fit into Janet Leigh's character. However, James D'Arcy is without a doubt the most accurate performer of the entire film as he was absolutely marvellous as Anthony Perkins. Although, he does not get much screen time, D'Arcy almost brings Perkins back to life with his timid and shy mannerisms. He even performs as Norman Bates on occasions through these sensitive ways that Perkins possessed. Jessica Biel makes a decent supporting appearance too as Vera Miles.
As previously established, Hitchcock is a large project that has many trails behind it and has so much going for it. It may have been challenging to pull off but it still had the potential to be a truly great film, but unfortunately it became rather dull that progressively reached a flat end. Admittedly, audiences can become over-psyched with this and expect it to be as superb as how Alfred Hitchcock himself would film it, but for that reason, the film should have been placed in the hands of a more experienced director and screenwriter. Nevertheless, despite that Hitchcock provided enough facts to keep the audience interested and most of the acting was a hit, it was still a let-down and, thus, did not become the great film that it could and should have been.
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Adil Hussain
Running time: 127 minutes
Country: USA, China
In most recent years, we experience that one hit which embarks us on an unforgettable adventure and will want to continuously revisit. Following in similar footsteps to Avatar and Hugo, the audience are whisked into a magical world that is filled with stunning effects. Visually, you cannot go much higher than what is in Life Of Pi and the film also gifted for the breath-taking experience in 3D and makes it worth every penny. On the other hand, along on this jaw-dropping and eye-popping journey we venture on an emotionally engaging ride that could bring tears to the audience's eyes. Therefore, director Ang Lee balances the scales of visual magic with thought-provoking drama and results in a piece of cinematic treasure.
Based on the novel of the same name by Yann Martel, Life Of Pi was adapted onto the screen by director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and in his latest feature, we go on an adventure beyond anything he has ever done. Life Of Pi has themes and moral ethics all over it which play a vital part in the film. For example, it has a firm hold on elements of religion. The relationships between the characters are representations of tragedy as well as the beauty and faith that religion beholds. It also shows the goodness in the world and how both mankind and beasts signify this through communication and natural instincts. Life Of Pi is evidently Lee's greatest visual achievement so far and with his use of restrained emotions trailing behind from his previous films, this is another one of his masterpieces.
In the leading role of Pi is Suraj Sharma who, similar to Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire, takes the audience on his courageous journey from a somewhat poor Asian environment to exposing his inner self. Pi is a character filled with passion and bravery. So, when he survives the shipwreck and is cast out to sea on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, the audience are literally there with him. In Sharma's remarkable performance, we experience a lot of heartbreak, love, loyalty and at times, suspense. Sharma's portrayal of Pi is not quite close enough for Academy Award consideration but it is still one of the greatest young star performances of the year. Meanwhile Irrfan Khan, who ironically had a role in Slumdog Millionaire portrayed Pi as an adult who is telling his story to a young writer. Although Sharma's performance indicates exactly what the experience is like when you're there, Khan's portrayal is slightly different and perhaps more thought-provoking as the elder Pi tells the audience of the after-effect and influence it had on his life. Therefore, both actors portrayed the character from two different perspectives and exemplified an important time in one's life about self-discovery and love from within the heart.
Computer-generated imagery has always been the most ideal gimmick to boost a film's profits following its release and most of the time; films have delivered only in that area. However, although Life Of Pi certainly does deliver on that visual standard with outstanding CGI effects, the film provides a new meaning and purpose to them. Practically every animal is fully computer-generated but the most important is the Bengal Tiger. This is not just any piece of impressive effects, let alone any tiger. What we have is that this animal has personality and we see this through its body language and facial expressions. It still has its predatory instincts by wanting to kill and eat its prey on the lifeboat, including Pi but at the same time, we can emotionally relate to him, especially after being given the unofficial name of Richard Parker from Pi. Therefore, considering that it is a full CGI character and that it is a tiger, 'Richard Parker' is a solid supporting character that creates a firm but unlikely connection between beasts and mankind.
If you observe Life Of Pi at a grand scale, you'll notice that it delivers the same type of charm and inspiration from the Indian culture as Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, but at a slightly higher scale of emotional warmth. The film may have had an occasionally slow build-up to the shipwreck, but Life Of Pi will make you chuckle, make you feel a balanced mix of joy and heartbreak and will leave you with a huge grin on your face. As far as Academy Awards are concerned, it has a strong chance and it has shown that there is even more to 3D and computer-generated effects than eye candy and a money-grubbing gimmick. Nevertheless, Life Of Pi welcomes all audiences to enter the magic within and provides an unforgettable experience.
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried
Running time: 158 minutes
To adapt a stage musical, an extremely popular one at that, onto the big screen requires a tremendous amount of determination, co-ordination and most importantly, a high level of knowledge. For director Tom Hooper and co to produce Les Misérables from the play is no easy task, especially when not only trying to be as faithful as possible to the original source but at the same time, to make a few steps away from it. Many stage musical adaptations have worked in the past, particularly in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, because they managed to grasp both a staged and cinematic atmosphere onto the screen. Thankfully the same can be said for Les Misérables but it still has weak links.
Following his Oscar winning success for The King's Speech, Tom Hooper took charge of behind the camera and once again, provides sublime direction. The stage play and Victor Hugo's novel has depression written all over it and there is so much negativity. However, along with practically every song in Les Misérables, Hooper created a great deal of passion. With this in mind, the songs became a way for each of the characters to entirely expose their inner selves and added such strong energy from within. However, Les Misérables is structured into three different stages and at times, it slightly lost a little steam. With the story being so broad and especially the 2 1/2 hour duration, you eventually grow out of the songs and the story occasionally aims nowhere. The first two acts were rushed but the third one was slow. Still, Les Misérables needed to provide something more thought-provoking to the audience other than making them weep and listen to songs; and it did that admirably.
To cast actors in a feature without them being a solution for profitable advantage is difficult, especially when this one is based on such a popular musical. Also, the ability of passionate singing has to count for something. Still, Hugh Jackman cracked out of his shell and delivered a genuinely heartfelt performance as Jean Valjean. We see this character in three different stages of his life - as an imprisoned thief, a wealthy factory owner and a caring guardian. This guy suffers throughout the majority of the film and through Jackman's surprisingly impressive, energetic singing; we can emotionally connect to Valjean through these moments of his life. Jackman has always been a strong leading performer and once again, he did just that. Furthermore, Russell Crowe has received mixed responses not only regarding his singing abilities but his general performance in Les Misérables. Although he expressed signs of inner passion within police inspector Javert through singing, he was perhaps miscast for the role. He was not quite as despicable or as cruel that he should have been. Don't forget, this is the guy who played Maximus, Robin Hood, Jim Braddock and is about to play Jor-El and Noah! He is a great actor but he has 'hero' all over him. Therefore, his antagonist role in Les Misérables did not entirely work.
Meanwhile, Amanda Seyfried's performance as Fantine's child Cosette was somewhat flat. Seyfried may have had the physical attributes of Cosette but acting-wise, like Jayne Wisener in Sweeney Todd, she was not a very convincing central character and she mostly failed to grasp the emotional depth to her performance. Despite this, her singing was decent enough. The same can be said Eddie Redmayne too. He may have succeeded as a singer but he was also miscast in the film as he lacked the sophisticating charm of Marius Pontmercy and failed to grasp a realistic emotional connection between him and Seyfried as Cosette. However, Samantha Barks becomes easily the best of the youngsters as Éponine, a teenage girl madly in love with Marius. This character and performance from Barks becomes what Seyfried should have been.
Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen became the more eccentric additions to the cast as the Thénardiers, two housekeepers who are the parents of Épione and serve as Cosette's temporary guardians. Together Bonham Carter and Baron Cohen provided a little comical humor and added more sophistication from a past musical adapted from a play (Sweeney Todd). Nevertheless, the obvious stand-out of Les Misérables is Anne Hathaway, who delivers the performance of her career as Fantine, a young factory worker turned prostitute. This character summarizes the entire film's heart-breaking and emotionally shattering tone as we see this desperate young woman trying to support her child but results in despair and tragedy. Hathaway will steal and then break your heart to pieces, especially when she sings "I Dreamed A Dream". She deserves an Academy Award for that song alone!
Although Les Misérables is not strictly a historical film, it does have certain set-pieces of the past behind it. It worked perfectly for Tom Hooper in The King's Speech and once again, grasping a historical atmosphere miraculously worked for him in this musical. Depending on what they're hoping for, fans of the stage play (or even Victor Hugo's novel) should be at least satisfied with Hooper's adaptation of the tale. Nevertheless, this film adaptation has a few problems with acting and pacing but it still expresses a deal of depression and misery in a form of energetic passion and, thus, becomes a well-accomplished and gifted musical.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
Running time: 165 minutes
Django Unchained marks the second film from Quentin Tarantino that mixes his old-school trademarks of violence, recurring themes, creative dialogue and badass soundtracks within a setting loosely based on historical events. Tarantino already interpreted his own climax of World War II in Inglourious Basterds through his passion for cinema and he does this again with his latest feature. This time, he tackles a story set in Deep South America where he adds his own adjustments about black slavery, a widely controversial subject. Despite this, Tarantino used elements from his past films in Django Unchained which leave their mark and, therefore, adds more oppressiveness as well as originality to the storyline. Furthermore, it is important to note that Django Unchained does not focus on historical accuracy of that era, but in his own way Tarantino creates a second revenge-fantasy masterpiece which at the same time, pays homage to classic spaghetti westerns.
Quentin Tarantino has caused a series of controversies making Django Unchained as he has had accusations of racism thrown at him due to storyline and dialogue. However, the beauty of Tarantino's screenplay in Django Unchained is that he is simply presenting, in his own creative style of writing, the animosity from white people towards blacks during that period and the general horrors of slavery. Therefore, Tarantino twists history and forges it into his movie-maniac mind, which is what we have with Django Unchained. Furthermore, he continues with his old-school elements of black humour. As proven in many of his previous films, humour has been one of Tarantino's strongest points because he somehow makes funny jokes that are not always considered that way. It becomes worthwhile in Django Unchained as he still makes violence humorous to watch but at the same time, he doesn't deliver all the dark comedy that we have seen before. The film contains a series of witty one-liners, particularly from Dr Schultz, and at times hilarious jokes that don't have to step above the bar to be funny. Therefore, it climbs above Pulp Fiction as Tarantino's funniest film to date.
Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx delivers his best performance in years as Django. Originally, the role was offered to Will Smith but Foxx ultimately displays the true nature of this character. Django is a newly-freed slave who becomes a deputy bounty hunter along with Dr. King Schultz but has the desire to rescue his wife from the ruthless Calvin Candie. So, along the journey, Django becomes this badass individual that we all want to see and was seen in spaghetti westerns. On the other hand, regarding his wife he is at times a sensitive being. Still, the purpose of Django is not spilling out emotion with his wife and thankfully, Tarantino does not main this his key focus. He is merely on a mission of revenge against his former enemies as well as to make something of himself. Nevertheless, Jamie Foxx takes a little while to get into the role of Django but when he does, he was absolutely fantastic! It's just a shame that he was overshadowed particularly by Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Christoph Waltz literally stole Tarantino's previous film Inglourious Basterds and deservedly earned an Academy Award for his role as Colonel Landa. Waltz stars in his second Tarantino feature and delivers another stand-out performance as dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. Although the character was written purely for him in the first place, Waltz's charisma as an actor made him fit perfectly into the role. In that sense, Waltz does this through hilarious one-liners and the simplicity he beholds. The film is surrounded by oppression and animosity but Schultz represents the conscience of the human mind and becomes a character that is balanced and non-judgmental figure. Furthermore, Leonardo DiCaprio suddenly jolts away from his heart-throb status as an actor and goes into a much dirtier, sinister and racist role as he portrayed antagonist Calvin Candie. The name 'Candie' and his plantation location 'Candieland' sounds quite friendly but how Tarantino handles it is quite sadistic. Like Colonel Landa, Candie is a charming psychopath and DiCaprio did this incredibly well. Therefore, you can now see why Tarantino originally wanted him as Landa. Samuel L. Jackson delivers one of his greatest performances as Candie's black house slave Stephen and Kerry Washington is great too as Broomhilda, the woman in the centre of it all. We also get great cameos from Jonah Hill, Franco Nero, Don Johnson and Quentin Tarantino himself.
Evidently, Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino's most controversial film to date but like the truly great artist that Tarantino is, he manages to take it to whole new depths through his gifted old-school style and sends us on this Old West journey where he pays his own respects to spaghetti westerns. Django Unchained is, of course, horrifying and pretty gut-retching due to the racism and slavery but it unusually contains heart-to-heart moments (very unlike Tarantino) and sparks a bond of friendship between Schultz and Django and finally, very much like Tarantino, it is hilarious to watch. Nevertheless, Django Unchained perhaps is not on the same level of brilliance as Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, but it is still another Tarantino masterpiece that his biggest fans should enjoy.
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler
Running time: 157 minutes
It has been less than 2 years after the actual death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and we have already been provided with the feature film that re-tells the events on the big screen. Following their Academy Award winning triumph in The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal collaborate once again to tackle Zero Dark Thirty, another thriller set during an on-going war. In terms of historical accuracy and whether Bigelow and Boal can improve even further than The Hurt Locker, expectations were high. Considering this and that Zero Dark Thirty has a few issues of over-complicating dialogue and slight lack of character development, it still displays the history behind such a controversial event in fine forms of suspense, psychology and drama.
Although we knew from the beginning what the ending was going to be, one of the most impressive aspects of Zero Dark Thirty was pacing. Clocking in at approximately 150 minutes (excluding the ending credits), the film amazingly jumbles in 10 years of history illustrating what bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have done without being slow or rushed. In that sense, the film keeps a firm grip upon its audience that helps them follow along the mission to that fateful night on 2nd May 2011. In the opening few minutes is merely audio from the day of 9/11. After only 12 years, we have already seen footage of that day's events expressed in different ways. So, in an interesting move, Bigelow leaves the audience to imagine through the discomforting sounds what is happening.
Furthermore, suspense within Zero Dark Thirty remains intact throughout the 2 1/2 hours and we see this through the film's central theme - entrapment. It is displayed from both perspectives. Of course, Bin Laden himself is trapped because he is the most-wanted man in the world and the CIA are progressively closing in on him. On the other hand, we see the CIA in vulnerable, trapped situations. They can't leave Pakistan without catching Bin Laden but whilst there; they're still being under attack. Therefore, Bigelow's work on Zero Dark Thirty is much stronger than in her previous effort The Hurt Locker as she adds a much more realistic tone and provides to the audience the ugliness of the events occurring in the War On Terrorism today.
At 35 years old, Jessica Chastain only began her film acting career in 2008. Before Zero Dark Thirty, she had been in mostly supporting roles and had not been given the opportunity to shine as a leading actress. However, Zero Dark Thirty marks her first major leading role as she delivers an outstanding performance as young CIA officer Maya. Although we get a rather low supply of Maya's background story, the physicality of Maya is somewhat cold that adds a cooler chill to the film. She is obsessed with catching Bin Laden and she will stop at nothing to achieve that. Chastain deserves the Academy Award for Best Leading Actress. Meanwhile, Zero Dark Thirty's supporting cast are overshadowed because of Chastain's performance but a solid entry was from Jason Clarke as Dan, Maya's fellow CIA officer. This guy is often displayed as an American slowly losing his humanity through interrogation and torture of Pakistani suspects in order to provide information. So, we get a supporting character with bitter coldness to him. Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Ehle become other decent additions into the supporting cast.
The whole idea behind Zero Dark Thirty can be misunderstood for a film that makes Americans feel somewhat justified after 9/11 as well as being a lesson behind the complex history of Bin Laden's demise and Al-Qaeda. However, it went beyond that. Not only does Zero Dark Thirty deliver on every technical level, particularly editing, and still manages to be a beautifully-executed thriller, but it could have worked as a documentary. Kathryn Bigelow's work on The Hurt Locker was impressive but she does an even better job here. Finally, Zero Dark Thirty is a challenging film to endure for 150 minutes due to the coldness of the plot but the overall satisfaction that the film brings is not only towards Americans.