RSS

Monthly Archives: December 2012

Les Miserables (2012) Review

Between The King’s Speech and now Les Miserables, Tom Hooper has already earned the Oscar Bait Director award from yours truly.  His choice of casts are solid, if not quite A-list quality; the sets and costume designs are elegant, realistic and plausible; strong direction is sufficiently provided throughout, if with some inconsistencies; and he’s not afraid to add more meat to the runtime either.  Yet where The King’s Speech offered a simple and familiar yet effective story thanks to investible characters, Les Miserables falls apart at the heft of its own ambitions as an adaptation.

At first, the journey of Jean Valjean (admirably played by Hugh Jackman) feels worthwhile and suggests potential for an impressive story.  By the time we transition from Anne Hathaway’s emotionally searing rendition of Fantine, to the meeting of both Jean and Cosette, we’re ready to join them on a path to something that holds mystery, tension and possible wonder.  Then we literally skip to the second act.

Right when we’re thrust into the French Revolution, Les Miserables buckles under immense pressure that seems to come out of nowhere.  The introduction of Marius and the actual development of Cosette (assumed by Amanda Seyfried), both pivotal characters, are both incredibly short-changed.  In fact, I think I missed any and all opportunity for Seyfried to leave her mark.  What’s more is that these two are supposed to have some sort of a connection, something that feels sudden and almost out of a Shakespearean play.  But even the loosest of Romeo & Juliet adaptations gave their characters time for establishment and some sort of growth.  Half the characters in this rendition of Les Miserables, on the other hand, feel like plot devices leading to a constant, vicious cycle of what could be labeled bait-and-switch.

Even Jean Valjean is shafted amidst scenes of emphasis on our new characters.  Each scene quickly begins to become less of a seamless transition between each other and more a desperate game of Leap Frog in attempt to cover what is too much ground for a feature film.  At 157 minutes, Les Miserables drains both energy and attention from the viewer at most every corner.  Thus we have a huge predicament, which turns into possibly the film’s biggest problem: it’s too long while being completely rushed.  These cracks even show during the film’s opening minutes, with quick camera cuts becoming an odd distraction as Jean Valjean travels about the land of France.

All these shortcomings are unfortunate to the point of being tragic, since effort is very abundant.  The work put into the look of the film is very noticeable, which stems from how deep-seated the very fabric of the story is in its setting.  Although there’s little for almost any of the characters to consistently leave their mark, they give their all.  Jackman is in good acting form, even if his singing voice isn’t the most captivating.  Samantha Barks gives as much heart and emotion to Eponine as possible, given the aforementioned shortcomings.  Really the only person who seems consistently developed and attended to is Russell Crowe as Javert.  He’s the closest thing the movie comes to feeling complete, much less having a properly handled character.  Javert might be the antagonist, but we see his motivations constantly brought into question, making him that much more human and, dare I say, fascinating.  This is what the rest of the film is in desperate need of, but just can’t come to grasp.

Even in the hands of a capable director, Les Miserables seems meant not as a single sitting viewing, but as a deliberate read.  Whether Victor Hugo’s novel jumps and stumbles as much as Hooper’s coerced attempt I have yet to see.  But it’s difficult for me to imagine such an encompassing piece being translated to the big screen without an incredible amount of compromise.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Blog, Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Django Unchained (2012) Review

Some match-ups are literally made in heaven.  Lies and lawyers; beer and puking; Tarantino and Christmas.  I can comfortably say that both Die Hard and Pulp Fiction make an ideal Christmas double feature, while Iced Earth and Emperor compel me to hit the neighborhood doors for carol singing.  It’s a nice change of pace, especially compared to going through 24-hour marathons of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story on television.  So, naturally, Tarantino has sewn together slavery, gratuitous violence and undeterred profanity to keep our holiday cheer in check.

Django Unchained pays gleeful homage to the spaghetti Western genre, giving us two acts of glee-induced entertainment stemming from its characters.  Christoph Waltz sets the standout performances up, boasting a wonderfully articulate persona, expressing equal parts humanity and insanity.  Dialogue and grizzly sections embody the 2 1/2 hour runtime, but it passes with next to no qualms.  Assuming, that is, you aren’t the least bit squeamish.  Remember the Saw movies at their most gruesome?  Imagine a colorfully entertaining version of all that with a relatively cohesive plot and good characters.  Did I say entertaining?  I meant, to quote one elegantly maniacal Leonardo DiCaprio, rambunctious.

With the exception of one 10-15 minute stretch in the last act, Django proves almost unrelenting in its dark, twistedly fun sense of personal amusement.  Yeah, there’s history and reality at the backdrop, but adult-edge slapstick violence remind us this is less a drama and more a crazy blend of comedy, action and tension.  Talking is in heavy supply here, but even the smaller ongoings help break up and compliment the wonderfully burst-like pace.

Those who know and enjoy Tarantino’s techniques, along with the style paid tribute to, are bound to get the most out of it.  Several people won’t react kindly to the film simply because of its content, regardless of the fact it’s almost too deliberate for its own good.  But the more open-minded (or secretly cynical) viewer will get a lot out of Django, the least of which is a bloody good time that’ll make you want to shout “play it again” when the end credits begin.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 26, 2012 in Blog, Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Pixar Retrospective: Toy Story (1995)

To discuss Pixar around this time of the year is rather odd; not just because films from said studio tend to come out during the summer, but because Doug Walker’s Disneycember has returned.  So yes, I am guilty of copying Mr. Walker’s idea and format with a Pixar retrospective.  But I feel these films are deserving of such attention that another person might venture their opinion over the internet.  They’re always a joy to discuss, regardless of quality or the common verdict.  Films by Pixar bring people together like few others, which makes them all the more fitting for another person to discuss.

Toy Story

It’s tough to find a movie trilogy as unanimously recommended as Toy Story.  Pixar’s first full-length feature took the film industry by storm, literally invigorating animated works at the exact time Disney started slipping with audiences.  Toy Story seemed to be that rare film which easily lent itself to marketing while simultaneously proving itself a terrific standalone piece of art.  So yes, you could say this film held a certain place in the heart and mind of one silly five-year-old.

A story of toys coming to life when humans aren’t looking is certainly going to ignite interest from less tidy viewers.  In fact, I’m almost amazed a similar attempt hasn’t been shoved out, featuring keys, cell phones and wallets in the place of dominantly action figure-esque toys.  But I digress.

Quite a number of things make Toy Story work as well as it does.  Despite beginning to show age, the world is very believe simply from a design standpoint.  The human characters and environmental glimpse we’re offered rings true to our world, taking pointers sans comedic jabbing.  Making such a comment is admittedly odd, as this is a film about children’s toys.  But said establishments help us believe this story so much more.  To a child who’s naturally out of tune with the over-complications of life, this is plausible reality.

There’s just enough surrealism at work to both suspend and compliment our beliefs and knowledge.  The fact we have characters this colorful yet honest certainly isn’t of harm to the film, either.  Tom Hanks and Tim Allen have one of the best, most realistic and memorable relationships ever put on screen.  They’re really at opposite ends of a spectrum while retaining similar fundamentals.  Woody and Buzz walk a road of rivalry-to-friendship that goes from initially implausible to completely believable.

To my (recent) surprise, the film is rather short on laughs.  Most of these come from the at-times riotous supporting characters, namely Mr. Potatohead, Ham and Rex.  Otherwise, this actually feels like a serious drama to a more adult viewer.  And this is where I feel Toy Story completely succeeds as a film for all ages.  Children get a world that looks fun and feels real, adults get a collection of completely memorable characters fronted by a bonding many of us still need to learn from.  I’d be a dead-faced liar in court if I said this is one of Pixar’s more entertaining features, but I’d be just as guilty if I said it isn’t one of their most effective.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Blog, Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Review

I’d have a difficult time blaming one if, upon watching the trailer for Silver Linings Playbook, they predicted nothing but an archetypal end-of-the-year rom-com.  David O. Russell’s directorial follow-up to 2010’s The Fighter isn’t exactly imposing ground with its still-restrained theater count.  It’s a face smacking shame too, as the movie rises above so many (wider) releases.

As a character-driven force (which I’m a sucker for), it feels more like a study and less a piece with emphasis on story.  Yet much like Flight and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the key players really are the story, who come into their own, be it quick or through a barrage of encumbering roadblocks.

Bradley Cooper (Pat Solitano) and Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany) are at the forefront of a band of–how do you say–dysfunctionalism.  Bipolar disorder, depression and OCD are simply the initial troubles these people place on a very crowded table, all of which sound so easy to dismiss.  But the film wastes literally no time getting us behind (or into) these people, who are so enthralling that they become oddly relatable.  And so begins a journey both joyously comical and emotionally clenching, not unlike Pat’s own personality.

Mr. Russell keeps the audience on their toes, only letting up when the comedy brings you to slap your legs in breath-seizing laughter.  So much is communicated between words, eye contact and body language that one could forget they’re watching a movie.  Credit must be given to the directing style once again, which is only as colored as it needs to be.  Shots and sequences are bestowed in a way that’s less conventional, but equally fitting (if occasionally distracting).

I hold a particular admiration for Silver Linings Playbook; not just for its characters, chemistry, emotion and realism, but for its accomplishment in audience-to-film connections.  What we have here are characters who feel like people, with issues many of us might have neither full nor just grip on.  And somehow we feel for these characters, as if a part of us is in them.  The small bits add up in a way that’s dangerously effective; the lows get very down while the highs are properly proportionate.  And sometimes, for our benefit as the audience, both arrive simultaneously.  No matter what direction Russell takes us, there’s always something to savor.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 16, 2012 in Blog, Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Russell Stover Big Bite S’mores Bar


Look at that mallow filling!

I’m what you’d call a messy individual.  As such, I always welcome a bit of extra convenience; the less I have to worry about, the better.  This is why I find Russell Stover’s Big Bite S’mores bar to be a bizarre addition to their line-up.  Okay, so I’m a bit behind with my review of this peculiarity.  But both this and the Big Bite Pecan Delight have made, well, big waves at my store, so even a late review was irresistible.

When I think Russell Stover, I think neat, elegantly assorted chocolates.  Along with Whitman’s Reserve and the like, they’re the richer sweets that stick their noses up at all those Snickers and KitKat flavors, be it here or in Japan, respectively.  Like so, the worst mess you should face with them is a sprinkle or two left in an otherwise empty spot.


Not quite the case here.

Now, when I think s’mores, I think nature.  I think of the night, when wolves and coyotes are deciding which fatty of our clique to indulge in; I think of mosquitos sucking your blood out because you’re not in a loving, sharing mood.  I also think about how your epic s’mores concoctions fall apart easier than lettuce and black olives slipping out of your Subway sandwich.

Needless to say, the fact these two worlds are being combined is what a stereotypical English instructor would call an aberration.  But it can work.  This is Russell Stover, after all, so whatever mess is left should be relatively negligible, right?


You got your crumbs in my filling!

A co-worker actually treated me to one of these before, saying they wanted see my reaction (smile).  Apparently there’s a ritual of enjoying this ever-degrading, mallow-y treat before gathering crumbs aplenty on the floor.

As for my initiation, I was quite pleased.  Everything about the bar was what I thought it should be.  The graham crackers could’ve been crispier, but the marshmallow filling was enjoyably chewy which, combined with Russell Stover’s wonderful milk chocolate coating, made for a scrumptious treat.  That chocolate covering feels thicker than it looks, as it seeps throughout the crackers and filling to the point that you know precisely where those 25 grams of sugar went.

The bar that I purchased (and saved) for my blog was similar, all told; except the graham crackers were on the soggy and stale side.  You know how store-brand graham crackers tend to feel chewy even when they’re right out of the box?  That’s what this was.  And since they’re the first things you bite into, it makes for an off first impression.  Until the rest of the bar works its magic, that is.  When your tongue and teeth begin savoring the real delights of this bar, the crackers become an afterthought.

In Short: Messy and inconsistent, but ever so tasty.

Purchased At: Walgreens
Purchase Price: $0.99 (on sale)

Other Reviews

Candy Blog: http://www.candyblog.net/blog/item/russell_stover_giant_smores_bar
Junk Food Guy: http://junkfoodguy.com/2012/09/17/russell-stover-big-bite-smores-awkward-mondays-the-sunday-after-a-wedding-and-announcing-retro-cereal-week/

Nutrition

Serving Size: 1 bar
Calories: 230 (60 from fat)
Total Fat: 7 grams (3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat)
Cholesterol: Less than 5 milligrams
Sodium: 140 milligrams
Total Carbohydrates: 42 grams (1 gram of dietary fiber, 25 grams of sugar)
Protein: 2 grams

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Blog, Food, Review

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Man of Steel Trailer 2 Impressions

You know you’re on the internet when you yourself begin jumping on multiple bandwagons (yes, “you”).  Hardly a day after a new movie trailer hits the net and half my film oriented subscriptions have their impressions up.  But I have something worth talking about with the first full-blown (and widely available) trailer for Man of Steel.  Although I’m hesitant to call this a trailer, simply because it feels like an extended teaser trailer.  Outside of the fact we have a more–you guessed it–realistic, grounded origin story, we’re not exactly handed a whole lot of plot points.  Obsessed viewers might be able to piece stuff together from the end montage, but many of us less discerning viewers take at face value.  A lot of it almost boils down to action, action, conflict and action.

But hey, that last minute sure looks nice.  This is one potential advantage to a more realistic reboot: by the time everything has been set up, we as the viewers are all the more invested when things finally liven up.  I hope this is the case because, frankly, Superman has never been that interesting to me.  Might as well throw out that I’ve only seen Superman Returns from start to finish while I’m at it.  Heck, I’ve been so sheltered from the original movies that when someone brings up the popular score I either nod, shrug or think “which score was that?”

Point is, I’ve never felt motivated to watch Superman; yet Man of Steel is at least doing a better job grabbing my attention.  Early on we see Clark in a disagreement with Kevin Costner over what I assume is the fact he saved a bus full of children.  Clark feels he should do the right thing while Costner essentially tells him it might have been best to let them die (no joke).  At least now I know who not to trust my kids with when disaster strikes.  With that in mind, I’m wondering how they’re going to handle Clark’s identity as Superman.  I don’t recall any shots in which he’s wearing glasses, so will he be completely open and public about it?  Could make for an interesting dynamic, especially since Green Lantern took a similar approach but didn’t take it very far.

Yet the real question on my mind is how Henry Cavill can handle being the Man of Steel.  Cavill is still a bit of a no-name in Hollywood, and the only film I’ve seen him in is Immortals.  Let’s just say neither him nor the film itself left me craving more.  I haven’t heard anyone mention a great previous performance by him which, combined with the horrible response to this year’s Cold Light of Day, still leaves me skeptical.  Not to mention Cavill gets maybe two lines in the trailer, both of which are narrated.

As you can probably tell, Man of Steel continues to leave me with more questions than it does answers.  I’m not sure it even answered anything after the first trailer, since I got a similar feel from that one.  I am enticed to see how this movie will play out and will likely catch it opening weekend.  This is a tough trailer for me to judge since so much of it is visual with very little of our lead star showing or saying anything.  For now, I just hope I don’t end up feeling like the kids on that bus prior to being saved.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 12, 2012 in Blog, Impressions

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Weekly Stumblings (12/10)

Here’s the latest in an ever-growing series of Weekly Stumblings.  I wonder how long it will be before I accidentally re-post something.

34 Two-Ingredient Recipes, because calling for any more than two demands a top chef: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/1ayor4/www.buzzfeed.com/peggy/34-insanely-simple-two-ingredient-recipes/

That High, like an oven-baked cake flying over the Eiffel Tower: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/4AIYms/alligator-sunglasses.com/post/36982386878/that-high/

20 Christmas Food Hacks for when you skimp out this holiday season (if you haven’t already): http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/9pd69k/www.nceasyfood.org/top-awesome-20-christmas-easy-food-hacks/

A Psychological Cold Reading coldly reminding you that you are not unique: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/92cEAG/www.psychologistworld.com/cognitive/psychology_reading_test.php/

25 Tricks for You Daily Life.  You know, assuming your daily life is actually interesting: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/8JPsMM/www.fullpunch.com/random/25-simply-awesome-tips-and-tricks-for-your-daily-life.html/

A DIY Filmmaker’s Toolkit.  Now you can show all those billion-dollar hacks how to make a real movie: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/22CudP/wistia.com/blog/the-diy-filmmakers-toolkit?view=infographic/

And an R/C Car Race that might make Electronic Arts feel just a tad bashful: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/1oblz7/carbuzz.com/news/2012/10/20/The-Greatest-R-C-Car-Chase-Ever-7711243/

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Blog

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,