Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

Brick, Stories We Tell & Les Misérables

Monday, December 31st, 2012 4:58 pm—Film

Brick (USA 2005, Mystery), Writer/Director: Rian Johnson

Stories We Tell (Canada 2012, Documentary), Writer/Director: Sarah Polley

Les Misérables (USA 2012, Drama/Musical/Romance), Writer: William Nicholson; Director: Tom Hooper

Having seen so many great films in 2012—and with my movie excitement spiked thanks to the recent news that my short film, Bliss, got into the 2013 Vancouver Island Short Film Festival!!—I’m determined to play a bit of catch-up and write one last film post before the New Year strikes. (At least in my time zone.)

Here are a few shortish thoughts on a few of the films that made an impression on me in the past few months:

I rented Brick after discovering Rian Johnson’s brilliance in Looper (see the Looper review from October 2012). Brick is his first feature, and also stars the stupendously talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so I was keen to pick it up. (The last-minute endorsement from my buddy, CG, who hailed it as being even better than Looper, didn’t hurt either.)

Brick is a high school detective movie that elegantly transplants the film noir genre into a crowd of teenagers and comes out the better for it. It casts Brendan (Gordon-Levitt), a brooding loner hell-bent on solving the mystery of his ex-girlfriend’s disappearance, as the detective protagonist, muddling through the regular adolescent challenges such as eating lunch alone, crashing sinister mystery parties and de-coding cryptic messages scrawled on crumpled bits of paper.

The movie triumphs by treating its subject matter with all seriousness. It never makes a punch line of the ludicrousness of mom offering milk and cookies to the gang of villains, or the vice-principal standing in as a corrupt official. Brick is also triumphant because of a stellar performance by Gordon-Levitt and a brilliant, poetic screenplay by Johnson. The script’s lyricism (and occasionally enigmatic dialogue), and the tone Johnson cultivates through his direction, gives the film a special quality that sometimes reminded me of a less trippy Mulholland Drive (see the Mulholland Drive review from October 2010).

On to Stories We Tell. I saw this at the ByTowne in October, and always meant to write about it because it’s absolutely fantastic. Definitely my favourite Sarah Polley film so far, which is saying something, given that it comes after Away From Her and Take This Waltz (see the Away From Her review from July 2007 and the Take This Waltz review from May 2012).

Her latest work documents an unusual family discovery in her adult life: that she was the product of her late mother’s affair, and that the man who raised her isn’t her biological father. Interviewing the characters involved, including her siblings and two fathers, Polley takes an honest and highly intelligent approach to reveal the often contradictory versions of events that each player came away with, and to expose the fact that the stories we tell others and ourselves inform, and therefore sometimes distort, how we see the world.

By presenting these conflicting versions of events rather than marrying them in the editing room to create a single “truth,” she takes us behind the scenes, so to speak, giving us insight into the wonderful world of film and how it can be used to weave a story all its own. She further plays with the medium by intercutting remarkable recreations of her mother’s story (so convincing that I didn’t immediately realize they were recreations), and brings it all home with one last little reveal at the very end. Beautifully done.

Most recently, I saw Les Misérables, dubbed by my sister-date as “The best movie I’ve seen in a long time.” My grandparents took me to see the stage musical many years ago, and I wish they could have seen this film adaptation; they would have loved seeing it, too.

Tom Hooper, the skillful director behind The King’s Speech, really knows how to let his stars shine. In Les Misérables, the esteemed musical set in 19th Century France, he gives them the freedom to be creative in their delivery, occasionally speaking or choking out lyrics rather than singing each note to perfection.

There’s been some backlash to this approach. Critics and musical fans have said that it takes away from the songs’ grandeur. If that’s true, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. The interpretations of these songs certainly aren’t traditional and aren’t always pretty, but I think they pack a lot more emotional punch than do the more presentational versions I’ve heard. And this is an adaptation for film, a medium that allows for much more intimacy and emotional subtlety than the stage. It isn’t meant to serve primarily as a showcase for the music.

To me, Hooper’s approach to the songs works in the same way Christopher Nolan’s character exploration works in the Batman trilogy (see The Dark Knight review from August 2008), or Daniel Craig’s cerebral take on James Bond works in the latest installments of the franchise. They’re powerful and moving because they relate on a more human level than other campier interpretations.

Of course, allowing the acting to shine through the songs would only work with an excellent group of actors. So that’s what Hooper lined up. The entire cast is solid, but standouts include: Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean; Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Samantha Barks as Éponine (they share a beautifully synchronized trio with Amanda Seyfried as Cosette); the blond imps Isabelle Allen and Daniel Huttlestone, who respectively play young Cosette and the little French rebel Gavroche; Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the innkeepers; and of course Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Her I Dreamed a Dream is crushing, a truly stunning piece of acting.

There you have it—the year in review. Sort of. Three very different films, all very worthwhile. Feel free to let me know which movies you recommend for 2013 and beyond!

Happy New Year. I hope it brings wonderful things.

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