By Chris Azzopardi | Q Syndicate
Boasting of its eight Academy Award nominations, three Golden Globes wins and “perfect” picture and sound, the “Les Misérables” Blu-ray – all right, you got me with that velvet-soft slipcase, Universal – is as showy as director Tom Hooper’s stuffy, up-the-nose shots of his live “singers.” And if you want to hang out in Hugh Jackman’s nostril cavities, then by all means. Other reasons for seeing Hooper’s version of the Broadway hit: You like overwrought musicals where people sing about suffering, and then where they sing about suffering some more. For almost three hours. You are curious to hear just how bad Russell Crowe sounds. You want to see Anne Hathaway own that Oscar win as a prostitute in need of a shower, who sings better than Susan Boyle. That performance, and also Jackman as Jean Valjean, elevates one of the greatest misses of last year, but only so much. And not enough. If you want to see Anne (pretend to) get emotional discussing her character – and ogle a shirtless Hugh at the gym – the extras are for you, too.
For a half century, the James Bond franchise – including this one, that’s 23 films – has built a wildly heteronormative world based on chases and girls and beating the bad guys. So, of course madness and mayhem and machismo endure in “Skyfall,” but this exhilarating joyride doesn’t stop there: A bad call in the beginning puts Bond’s life in danger, things get complicated between 007 and M (Judi Dench, chewing up every scene) and a deranged arch nemesis (maniacal marvel Javier Bardem) puts the moves on his foe. Bond himself, played by Daniel Craig at his best, even suggests he’s maybe a little gay. (Oh, oh.) With a team of shrewd writers, and director Sam Mendes’ stylistic influence (he won an Oscar for ‘American Beauty’), Bond is more grounded – more human – than ever: He’s aging and his days are numbered. Mortality and loss are at the film’s rich, gritty center, but “Skyfall” – a major comeback after “Quantum of Solace” – soars with life. The hour-long doc “Shooting Bond” looks at the dashing stunts and psychedelic title sequence, which accompanies one of the best Bond themes ever by you know who: Adele.
Wins: Short Film, Animated (‘Paperman’)
People adored Sarah Silverman as the squawking tyke. They loved her rainbow-colored world. All the joyful nostalgia and turd jokes? They loved that, too. Not me. ‘Wreck-It Ralph,’ with Jane Lynch essentially doing an animated Sue Sylvester, is a genius concept that goes “game over” after a promising start – where the bad boys of arcade, including ransacker Ralph, sit in group therapy and discuss their aggressiveness – left-right-lefts into an obnoxiously grating ADHD nuisance. I kept wanting Ralph to wreck this and restart. That’s not to say “Ralph” doesn’t make clever gaming-culture cracks, but not nearly enough to justify spending almost all its time in the acid-trippy Sugar Rush, run by the stereotypical “nelly wafer” King Candy. If you wanna spend an hour in Candy Land, call your gayest friend and get the board game out. Extras aren’t so great, either. Though it does include Disney’s enchanting Oscar-winning short “Paperman,” and it’s better than the film itself.
‘Zero Dark Thirty’
During a short featurette, director Kathryn Bigelow says she wouldn’t do her Osama bin Laden docudrama – an unnerving and exceptional retelling of the arduous manhunt – without Jessica Chastain. And good. Chastain is an actress of immense versatility with an already impressive resume, and her Maya (which nabbed the star a Best Actress Golden Globe) is portrayed with feministic fierceness, strident determination, confidence and ultra badassery. She knows it, too. “I’m the motherfucker who found this place,” she tells an inquiring CIA agent. They believe her, at least enough to crash and shoot up bin Laden’s compound, because she believes in herself. The tense, gripping search then, with its false leads, suicide bombings, torture interrogations and eventual raid (spectacularly and realistically shot, by the way), becomes just as much about the man behind the 9/11 attacks as it does the woman – that’s right: the woman – who nailed him. With all the supplemental possibilities, it’s a shame only four featurettes – the best being the one on Chastain – round out the set.
Wins: Actor in a Leading Role (Daniel Day-Lewis), Production Design
Set during the Civil War just as Abraham Lincoln enters his second term, Steven Spielberg’s inspiring biopic “Lincoln” spotlights the landmark amendment to abolish slavery and the knuckle-clenching courtroom drama that ensued. As the Supreme Court hears arguments for gay marriage, “Lincoln” is both timely (see also: Obama) and hopeful (we know what happened then: equality prevailed). The first half of out scribe Tony Kushner’s meticulously focused script is dense and dry in textbook history – it’s all conversation (too much conversation) after that deceptive opening war scene – before delegates group for the big climatic vote that’s no less intense, even humorous at times, despite knowing the outcome. Day-Lewis makes a riveting Abe that, like Lincoln himself, will go down in history. Not only is the resemblance uncanny, he emancipates every scene with gravitas. Sally Field also does career-best work as wife Mary Todd. She gets to cry. Enough said. Special features are scant, but they decently skim all aspects of “Lincoln,” from the artistic production design to casting.
‘Life of Pi’
It’s perfectly normal to have Ang Lee envy. Aside from winning the coveted statue at this year’s Oscars for his soul-awakening masterpiece, the filmmaker (who’s luckier than you) also directed Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s spit-and-stick tent scene in “Brokeback Mountain.” Then Ang went ahead and made “Life of Pi” (the nerve!), an aesthetic dazzler that’s also a spiritually rich thinker, based on the bestselling book, about a boy who survives a shipwreck and fights for survival in the middle of the ocean on a raft with a gaggle of animals. Lee immerses you in an extraordinarily breathtaking CGI-enhanced out-at-sea adventure, with all the majestic wonder of a dream. At dawn, it’s rich and lucid; nighttime is celestial and shimmery. No film in 2012 looked better than “Life of Pi” (2-D and 3-D formats are available on Blu-ray). So, even if the allegory doesn’t click, you won’t be at all bored trying to figure it out. Extras include an hour-long doc covering the story’s novel-to-screen evolution and an entire feature dedicated to Richard Parker, the tiger.
Wins: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing
Nobody’s feeling sorry for Ben Affleck anymore. Probably not even Affleck himself. Though wrongfully snubbed of even a best director nomination, Affleck’s historical account took home The Big One – as it should have – for his life-or-death dramatization of 1979’s Iranian hostage situation, when six U.S. Embassy escapees hide in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (out actor Victor Garber). The plan to get them out? Shoot a fake sci-fi movie kind of like “Star Wars” but called “Argo.” You might already know how it all shakes out when CIA staffer Tony Mendez leads the rescue mission, but Affleck’s effective no-nonsense direction moves every scene along with nail-biting intensity – and, in the peripheral movie-planning parts, welcome comic relief – that no history book could possibly replicate. Besides an Affleck commentary, “Picture in Picture: Eyewitness Account” headlines an impressive bunch of historically informative extras on the actual crisis.
—Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at chris-azzopardi.com.