the songs of angry men

I got caught up on some movies this weekend.

First I saw Les Misérables. Definitely worth seeing, if you're down with the whole singing thing. I understand that some people aren't.

I loved the way it violated so many of the "rules" for screenwriting. If you gave this script to one of those three-act-screenplay gurus, he'd probably go hide under the couch until you took it away again.

(I guess. technically, spoilers follow.)

After all, this is a story where:

  • The protagonist and the antagonist are mostly missing from the second half of the story, and when they do have their final confrontation, it's resolved by the protagonist being so nice to the antagonist that he goes off and commits suicide.
  • The lead female character dies halfway through the story (see also: Psycho).
  • There's a "love triangle" where there's not a moment's doubt about how it will be resolved, and where our sympathies are entirely with the one who is spurned.
  • There's a big rousing finale, sung by characters who are all dead.

Plus, there are those theater (and Hollywood) staples: "Comic relief" characters who aren't in the least comic, and a completely unsuccessful attempt by a female character to pass for a man (which all the other characters accept, of course – see also: Sullivan's Travels).

I'm sure there are rules about all of this.

My other comments are:

1) Some people were surprised that Tom Hooper wasn't nominated for Best Director. I'm not. Just because you can direct The King's Speech, which was basically a series of conversations in rooms, that doesn't make you the right director for this. Some of the songs are shot very awkwardly, and in the battle scenes it's impossible to figure out what's going on. Directing a movie is more than how you use the camera, but that is an important part of it.

2) I have to start paying more attention to Anne Hathaway. This was the second movie I've seen this week where she was the best thing in it, by a significant margin (and the other one, The Dark Knight Rises, was a somewhat different kind of picture). I enjoyed many things about the second half of Les Miz, but I wasn't really moved by anything after Fantine died (though Samantha Barks as Eponine was really good, other than her inability to look anything like a guy).

I also saw Django Unchained. Tarantino's non-nomination for Best Director must have been because of the controversy, because it's difficult to believe that there were five films in 2012 which were better directed than this one. Fierce, funny, smart, with wonderful dialog and audacious (and perfect) use of music.

One specific comment, in the context of Tarantino's entire career. In my review of Kill Bill, I pointed out how his movies (until then) had been moving steadily from focusing on men to focusing on women. Since then, he's been going back the other way. He has said that he considers Shosanna Dreyfus to be the protagonist of Inglourious Basterds, but I doubt if a lot of people would agree with him.

In this movie, about the only disappointing element was how passive Kerry Washington's character was. Just waiting around to be rescued, and then not even participating in the rescue when it's happening. What would Beatrix Kiddo say? (Heck, what would Princess Leia say? 🙂 )

I read one article about Zero Dark Thirty (which I haven't seen) and it said that the problem is not that the movie depicts torture, but that the movie tries not to indicate any opinion about the subject. If I remember where I read the article I'll link to it, but my point in mentioning it here is that there isn't a moment in Django Unchained when you're not aware of how Tarantino feels about slavery (and everything that's connected with it). Not because characters sit around making speeches about it (the big speech in the movie is in favor of it, actually), but because of his control of the actors, the camera, the music, and all the other elements of a movie.

It is, if I can make the comparison, like reading Henry James – that powerful authorial statement about the morality of what's being depicted.

I could use some examples. but I don't want to give anything away. I'll suggest instead that you go see it.

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