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A Look Back: 2012 in Film (Part II)

Ruby Sparks

There’s an odd connection between actual aspiring writers and movies centered on writers that’s tough to pinpoint.  Ruby Sparks is like a vision coming into physical reality for writers, with a character transforming into something anyone else can see, touch and feel.  The initial promise of such a premise is taken in the directions you’d expect, before taking some surprisingly dark turns.  But fellow fictional writers will know that sometimes to truly understand your characters, you’ll have to put them through the worst possible hell.  It is, to borrow from another certain 2012 release, “a necessary evil.”  Ruby Sparks is, at the very least, compelling and leaves a relatively strong impression.  Things do end up a little to conveniently resolved, but given the road taken, such an ending can feel all the more rewarding.

The Expendables 2

Times at the cinema would be so much better if films like The Expendables 2 were easier to pick out.  Like its predecessor, this is a perfect break and escape from reality.  No, the film isn’t fantastical, but it’s a hell of a great time, suspending you amidst ridiculous action and one-linters.  While other cheap, campy B-grade action movies do little but bore, The Expendables 2 entertains and entertains and entertains.  There’s little serious merit here, but the fact you have so fun watching it the first time around makes everything else irrelevant.

Lawless

Lawless didn’t fear showing a generally grisly side to Prohibition-era America, which is showcased in a scene that makes me queasy upon the slightest recollection.  There are a number of ways to generically label Lawless, ranging from Tom Hardy’s Post-Bane Role to Wait, Shia LaBeouf Has Acting Capabilities?  Being one of the few non-haters of the latter actor, even I think he’s outclassed and generally unfit for such a role.  Thankfully, he’s not misplaced to the point of say, Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games, while every other performance from Tom Hardy to Jessica Chastain and Guy Pearce is spot-on.  It’s just a shame we only get two scenes with Gary Oldman, who completely owns both and shows us a side to Jim Gordon we might’ve forgotten after The Dark Knight Rises.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It’s not every day–or even every year–I can call a film truly resonant with how I generally feel, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower managed to be such a film.  Shame it was a bit of a sleeper, though.  This is a film equally earnest and honest, working better than it probably should thanks to how relatable and irresistible the characters are.  Even Paul Rudd, amounting to a simply sympathetic teacher, manages to bring us into the film more because his scenes with Logan Lerman work so well.  Sometimes comedic, other times seriously dramatic, but always enthralling, The Perks of Being a Wallflower more than earns a personal favorite mark from yours truly.

Looper

Looper was definitely one of the more highly touted films of 2012.  Many people seemed to think it would be the next “it” thing for science fiction action thrillers, with big comparisons being made to Inception.  The film met with almost universal acclaim but seems to have become little more than a dud on the windshield.  While this is a bit of a shame, the film does have, at its core, some very potential shortcomings.  To be fair, like Philip K. Dick’s works, most of these issues stem from the film’s deliberate approach to pose ideas without completely fleshing them out.  It becomes a bit of a backdrop to the story, rather than a consistently integral part.  Some say this works to the film’s strength, I say this is a story that belongs in novel form rather than on the big screen.  Don’t get me wrong, Looper is a very solid film in its own regards, it’s just many of the paths taken are unexpected in a way that necessarily fit.  For much of the second half I forgot we were in the future, or even an alternate reality.  This isn’t a movie you watch for spectacle or visions of another world, it’s a movie you watch for its surprisingly down-to-earth story with alternating thrills and drama.

Argo

In my original review of Argo, I mentioned that while a good piece of filmmaking, it’s not one I’d have honored with several Oscar nominations.  It seems the Academy felt surprisingly similar notions, except they got a couple things mixed up.  Give Ben Affleck the Best Director nom and possibly retract its Best Picture nomination, along with Alan Arkin, despite being one of the best parts of the film.  But I digress.  Argo had a lot to live up to in my books since I’m a huge fan of The Town.  Ben Affleck has a thing about surprising many of us, which is very welcoming.  For a film with so many characters and a rather forgiving runtime, Argo feels surprisingly whole and complete.  Outside of Victor Garber, I think everyone was sufficiently developed.  The plot is expansive in some ways, but the actual story at-hand is very focused.  Not to mention we get possibly the more intense final act of any film from 2012 in Argo, which isn’t in, how do you say, a bang-bang boom-boom kind of way.  Far from my top pick of the year, but definitely one of the most well made releases.

Skyfall

I can already hear the boos coming on this one: I’m not a James Bond fan.  The whole spy movie genre is a bit elusive to me, but I can set things aside to enjoy them if I so desire.  Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007 in Casino Royale does hold up as what you could call a good movie that just happened to be associated with James Bond.  Quantum of Solace, on the other hand, was about as solid as the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2.  Thankfully, Skyfall brought integrity back and offered a few eye-catching surprises along the way.  This is still very much a Bond film with some hard-boiled action/thriller elements pushing their way in for the final act.  Skyfall doesn’t transcend or turn its back on its faith, which means fans of the series will still get the most out of it.

Flight

I’m trying to remember if Denzel Washington has ever given a subpar performance, much less been in a bad film.  He’s able to easily outclass the best actors Hollywood has to offer and, go figure, his only Academy Award isn’t for one of his top-notch performances.  We can now add Flight to his almost intimidating resume, in which his character goes through so much in its accurate portrayal that it could be labeled synonymous with gripping tragedy.  Without giving anything away, the ending is a bit of a buzzkill and makes what comes off as a long, hard journey abruptly hit some sort of a roundabout.  Still, even for such a good year, you’re not going find many films with a lead performances that commands and demands as much Denzel does here.

Wreck-It Ralph

I can remember seeing the trailers for Wreck-It Ralph and thinking “whatever, just get Pixar out of their slump already!”  Then the film’s style brought comparisons to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and I suddenly grew intrigued.  Said film is among my favorites and one that I enjoy even more with subsequent viewings.  I can’t see Wreck-It Ralph achieving the same effect, but it was surprisingly fun, enjoyable and one I’d be all for seeing again and again.

Lincoln

We had quite a few Oscar bait films this year and Lincoln shamelessly abides the criteria.  If there’s any surprise we’re thrown it’s the amount of comedy, usually courtesy of Tommy Lee Jones.  Obviously an actor like Daniel Day Lewis brings the iconic personality we think of when we imagine Lincoln, though it can definitely become overbearing.  I must reiterate that this performance is literally 50% elaborate storytelling.  No, this is hardly a deal-breaker and, in the hands of Steven Spielberg, we have a nicely handled and borderline immaculate film.  The only downside is it isn’t the year’s most compelling release since it takes about as much chances as I do with the ladies.

Silving Linings Playbook

This is the movie that actually drove me to travel nearly an hour away just to see what the hype was about.  I’m a bit of a sucker for rom-com/dramedies since, when handled well, they strike me like few others.  Two hours of watching and cumulative driving later and I can easily say that it was a wait and trip well spent.  Silver Linings Playbook hits the dysfunctional character note like so few movies and the results are pure bliss.  Comedy and drama run equally high and effectively with no weak links.  Silver Linings Playbook is tough to describe and justify, but if I had to sum it up, I’d say go see the movie and experience it yourself.  Even if it doesn’t crack your top movies of the year, it’s guaranteed to be among the most entertaining and rewarding.

Life of Pi

A scene from Life of Pi showed before a screening of Prometheus and my reaction was, to quote my friend, “so confused.”  That scene was literally all I caught of the film before deciding to eventually see a 3D screening.  I always feel uneasy when thinking Ang Lee since I just can’t separate that name from 2003’s Hulk, a film that continues to leave a repugnant taste in my mouth.  But rest assured, Life of Pi is no Hulk.  Life of Pi is one of the most beautiful, fascinating, well directed and edited films of 2012, bringing an odd story to light that keeps us riveted, regardless of whatever crazy direction it might take.  One pleasant surprise is the ending, which avoids the happy Hollywood archetype but doesn’t take the slummy road either.  Simply put, Life of Pi is a wondrous piece of work and a movie I can’t wait to experience again from the moment it comes out on Blu-ray.

Killing Them Softly

I had my eye on Killing Them Softly for a few months, though shortly after I saw the summertime trailer it drifted off and became but a distant memory.  It’s fitting then, that the film itself will likely suffer the same fate as its previews.  Killing Them Softly certainly isn’t a bad film, it’s just a bit of a drag and feels too incomplete for its own good.  This is really a film that I thought was good for killing time, it’s just I wish it had been done with a better, more investible and worthwhile piece.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The whole idea of splitting film adaptations into multiple releases is just weird.  Monetary reasons aside, it kind of defeats the point of having an adaptation in the first place.  Typically a film adaptation is used to give us the short, sweet and entertaining version of a story.  If we’re lucky, we’ll occasionally get some good twists, but it’s often just the motion picture equivalent to spark notes.  So the fact we’re getting nearly 10 hours for a book that’s less than 400 pages is really just overkill.  Now, taken in its own regards, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a conflicted and inconsistent film.  It’s tough for me to tell whether the film wants to be a comedy or fantasy drama.  Even during its most serious moments, I kept thinking “is anyone on our side going do die?”  Granted, that’s probably the way the book is, but it cut back on the sense of urgency that The Lord of the Rings had.  That, I think, is a key reason this semi-adaptation of The Hobbit falters, in spite of retaining some laughs, entertainment and occasional majesty.

Django Unchained

Tarantino is a very inconsistent director with me.  I liked but didn’t care much for Reservoir Dogs; Pulp Fiction is, as we all know, a classic; Inglourious Basterds did what I thought no Tarantino movie would do in boring me; and Kill Bill just never appealed to me, hence why I haven’t bothered with them.  While I figured I’d enjoy Django Unchained based on the trailers, I was completely unprepared for the unrivaled level of entertainment I got out of it.  If Django Unchained is simply entertaining, then Silver Linings Playbook is a snorefest.  Now, if we break the film apart there are points that can be criticized, but there’s so much fun and enjoyment to be had that any shortcomings quickly become irrelevant.  A true crowd pleaser, Django Unchained can definitely earn more than a couple wholesome theatrical viewings.

Les Miserables

And finally we have 2012’s last impression according to release date (and alphabetical order): Les Miserables.  I’ve gone on to call Les Miserables the most frustrating film of 2012 because of how much I wanted to enjoy and be soaked into its story, only to be let down at almost every corner.  Detachment, spontaneity and weariness are how I’d describe the adaptation we’re afforded, which only accomplishes the visual class of Hooper’s previous effort, The King’s Speech.  I’d want to give the film another chance down the line, but one sitting was laborious enough.

 
 

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A Look Back: 2012 in Film (Part I)

I’ve been contemplating just how and when to provide my thoughts on the films of 2012.  This is the year I saw more new releases than any other, with the current count topping 30.  I thought about doing the usual Top 10 list with a few honorable mentions, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this has been a very comprehensive year for me.  And with pondering came the idea to make this an equally comprehensive look back.  This is why I’ll be going through 2012’s releases over the course of a three part blog.  The first part will feature the first half of the movies I saw, according to release.  The second part will cover the remaining half and the third will provide my ranking of every film, along with the movies I wanted to see but missed out on for whatever reason.  With that, let us begin my look back at the movies of 2012.

Haywire

First up on the calendar is Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, one of the few films I actually held off on until it hit home video.  Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t pay a penny to see this shoddy mess.  If you look up “haywire” in the dictionary, you’ll find it means “erratic” or “out of control,” which is exactly what this felt like.  Except it’s erratic in a disjointed, juvenile and amateurishly handled way, as opposed to being genuinely gripping.  The plot is cluttered, the characters aren’t worth investing in, the acting borders on atrocious and the low budget production style lends nothing to a film that, in turn, lends nothing to us.

Wanderlust

Next we have Wanderlust, a film that seemed to divide audiences with both its content and humor.  I’m open to most any style of film so long as its done right, something Wanderlust doesn’t grasp.  Like Haywire, I caught Wanderlust after its home video release, and it was a weary reminder as to why I like to trust my sagging gut.  This movie commits a huge crime that so many comedies are guilty of: lacking laughs.  Hell, forget laughs, entertainment is an even more criminal absence.  Were it not for the fact this was one of the few films of 2012 I disliked, Wanderlust would likely remain in my forgotten bin.  So bravo, Wanderlust, you achieved memorability for being that much closer to sheer atrocity.

Project X

I enjoy a good time as much as the next person, with or without drinking.  Parties can be a fun break from reality, though they seldom are.  Project X looked about as promising as that gigantic end of the semester party littered with everyone you hate from middle school.  I just knew that if I got the chance to see it, I’d utter nothing but the most disparaging remarks.  Then the film itself caught my interest and before long, my attention was sustained.  Much of the key events in Project X are genuinely eye catching which, combined with its proper amount of exposure, makes for a far more engaging watch than I ever conceived.  Now, I can’t take things out of proportion and say this was a good movie, but it was surprisingly enjoyable.  What makes it even more so is that this came out when so few films could even achieve any form of entertainment.  As such, it was the perfect break from a long, lethargic slumber.

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street is yet another film I didn’t catch in theaters, primarily thanks to the unappealing trailers.  My gut impressions weren’t far from those for 2010’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which appeared dead, pointless and unconvincing.  But as you probably know, Rise was a very good film, remaining one of the greatest surprises I can recount.  In some ways, 21 Jump Street was also a pleasant surprise.  It’s definitely not on the same level as Rise, but what amazed me was that the film worked at all.  Laughs aren’t necessarily a constant, but entertainment was in sufficient supply, allowing my attention to actually go somewhere.  The film is very self-aware of its silliness, which is used to its advantage.  Is it a favorite?  Absolutely not.  Is it a good time regardless?  Very much so.

The Hunger Games

Not counting re-releases, The Hunger Games was my first theatrical viewing for 2012.  I went into this film almost completely blind, knowing only that it was similar in premise to Battle Royale.  Ultimately, it proved to be a fulfilling watch, remaining a memorable piece despite losing some of its edge after subsequent viewings.  The marketing was surprisingly well done, since very little of the actual Hunger Games were shown.  Lawrence puts on another solid performance alongside Woody Harrelson and, to my surprise, Lenny Kravitz.  We get a lot of brief looks into the depicted world, which is visionary without being self-indulgent.  This helps avoid overexposure, but I can’t help but want more, even with a nearly 2 1/2 hour runtime.  I’m actually about halfway through the first book, and have to say what I’ve read is adapted rather faithfully.  Both the book and film are solid works; neither are the top players of their respective styles, but there isn’t too much I can complain about.

Lockout

The title of this movie is Lockout.  I’d call it Guy Pearce’s One Liners.  Beforehand, I figured this would at least be a fair sci-fi romp.  Not long into the movie, I was ready to call it a night.  There’s a distinct lack of personality here, aside from how ineffective everything is.  The premise?  Tired and occasionally sporadic.  Main character?  Schwarzenegger would be proud.  Our villain?  A poorly handled maniac.  Investment?  Minimal to the very degree.  Lockout did little beyond slowly tiring and annoying me, only to become a film I’m happy to push out of memory.

The Avengers

Now we have The Avengers, the big money-maker of 2012.  There’s really no hiding the fact few films even touch The Avengers for sheer entertainment value.  The nerd and geek spectacle here is Category 7.  If nothing else, the final act warrants the price of admission alone.  Comical and awe-inducing moments run a constant, with just enough drama to remind us this isn’t merely a playful simulation.  Most will probably agree when I say this is a film you watch simply for fun at its most pristine level.  Anyone who actually doesn’t want that should stay away.  Those same people should also get their priorities straightened out.

The Dictator

Hopes for fun times ran high after The Avengers, something The Dictator couldn’t deliver enough of.  Crudely offensive and gratuitous material is what Sacha Baron Cohen is all about.  While it worked in a movie like Borat to wonderful degrees, here the comedic effects began to feel increasingly forced, leading to less and less fulfilling moments.  I can recall a considerable number of scenes from Borat, having seen it only a couple times.  The Dictator?  I’d be lucky to recollect half a dozen.  To say The Dictator was completely lacking is a harsh exaggeration, but I wouldn’t enthusiastically sit through it again.  It’s a load of heavy-handed offense, sprinkled with sparingly (but crassly) enjoyable moments.

Men in Black 3

Once again, we have a film I skipped out on seeing in theaters.  Almost nothing in Men in Black 3’s previews grabbed me, and despite not feeling so negative about the second film, I couldn’t justify spending primetime money on a stale-looking threequel.  Skip ahead one at-a-friend’s home viewing later and I’ll say it’s actually worthwhile in some regards.  The emotional arc, though debatably inconsistent, does make for a good way to help things come full circle.  Laughs are far from frequent, the villain is beyond weak and entertainment is in the so-so to relaxing range.  But our characters are colorful, usually fleshed out and when all is said and done, we could’ve certainly had a worse conclusion.

Moonrise Kingdom

The journey to Moonrise Kingdom was one ripe of frustration for yours truly.  I say this since no theater around me showed it, which mixes horribly with high anticipation.  Thankfully, by the time I did see this strange, unorthodox product, I had little to complain about.  Moonrise Kingdom definitely gets a nod for most unique feature of the year, as well as the most quirkily charming.  The ensemble cast is in terrific form, with the younger actors proving to be among the best in my entire memory.  These aren’t easy characters to play, especially considering their age, but they fit the roles wonderfully.  Even when deadpan and alarmingly stoic, you can’t help but be brought in.  Moonrise Kingdom is just like opening an odd yet colorful children’s book, one that withstands repeat readings through adolescence and into adulthood.

Snow White and the Huntsman

I have a sneaky suspicion that Snow White and the Huntsman’s relationship with me isn’t far from how everybody’s first special someone turns out.  The more I saw leading up to it, the more interested and hopeful I grew.  Then the film came out and I was left feeling…stumped.  A number of things definitely worked, namely the look and atmosphere.  Charlize Theron generally made for an effective villain, but she wasn’t as fully realized as I longed for.  Something that truly crippled the film was Snow White herself, who hardly says or does anything.  Aside from “you should know, you’re the one hunting me,” I can’t remember a single line she spoke.  Kristen Stewart isn’t a bad actress, but she isn’t up to par for silent emoting, which is an improper direction to take with Snow White’s character.  There’s a great movie here, but it’s buried underneath a slumbering mud pile which we endure for too much of the runtime.

Prometheus

Even with the likes of Bully and Zero Dark Thirty, I don’t think any film has or will top the controversy of Prometheus for some time.  Outrage has followed and literally ravaged this film from every angle.  I suppose I can consider my shield null and void when I reaffirm my praise for the film.  I’ve always been fascinated by the universe and lore of the Alien franchise from a conceptual standpoint.  The ideas and glimpses we’re afforded are always enjoyable and, if nothing else, visually interesting.  Call it a tease, bait and switch or complete and utter ploy if you must, Prometheus at least maintained my attention.  Do tired cliches of its genre(s) make their way into the current cut?  Yes.  Does the idea of waiting even longer for more answers frustrate me?  To a degree, but that’s part of the point.  A few questions are answered while more are posed, and just because we have questions doesn’t mean each will (or should) be resolved.  This is something the film poses at its very core during at least one scene, which rings true with the very beginning of the Alien plotline, as well as our own impulses as human beings.  It’s the kind of film that gets you thinking more and more the deeper you dig down, which in itself is something I personally admire.  An arbitrary compliment, perhaps, but someone or something has to ignite further discussions for us.

Rock of Ages

I once described Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as an excellent case for the legalization of select substances.  Subsequently, Rock of Ages is a film that I urge adults (of age) to see with drinks lined up for sips and shots aplenty.  Oh, and they might want to have 9-1-1 on standby.  Here we have a movie cheesy enough to make cholesterol levels spike to terminal levels.  Let’s just say it’s a miracle people weren’t diagnosed upon leaving their theater.

Brave

Two things kept me from watching Brave in theaters: audience and reception.  Disney and Pixar cater to kids, which oftentimes translate to some of the worst possible moviegoing experiences.  That and despite a generally positive recommendation, some people really picked the film apart.  It wasn’t until the end of my recent Pixar wrap-up that I decided to sit down and watch the film.  The first and most obvious part to address is that Brave looks incredible.  Several scenes and shots are convincingly life-like.  People make arguments that animation still has a ways to go before it can make a convincing case for reality.  To them I say watch Brave on Blu-ray.  For me, Brave was what you could call a tease.  The set up and setting promise something big, bold and interesting.  In a way that’s what we get, if by big we mean big to a child, bold referring to the sheer concept of the film’s catalyst, and interesting in regards to what’s suggested throughout.  The film seems to promise more than it delivers, and when there’s so much at the studio’s disposal, it comes off as underwhelming.  Now if we take the film for what it is, at face value, it’s not bad at all.  It is rather silly, I’ll admit, but if you go along with it the story can maintain your interest, providing a good dynamic between two of the characters.  To say it’s better than Cars 2 is a given, but the same can’t be said for it returning Pixar to their former glory.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

It seems to have become a pattern for the worst movies I experienced this year to be utterly forgettable.  If not that, then they fail to make much of an impression for much of the runtime.  Seeking a Friend for the End of the World sadly fits the latter category, since this is a film I really wanted to enjoy.  It simply never managed to grab me.  Much of what we need is in place: an impending scenario, decent character types, motivation to keep at least one of them going, moments aiming for comedic and dramatic effect, etc.  Yet none of it ever pulled me in.  Much of the movie falls on its characters who, in some ways, are different from what we typically get.  This would be great if I had a care in the soon-to-end world for them, which I didn’t.  And a film that fails to make me care fails to get more than a shrugged mention.

The Amazing Spider-Man

I’ve already mentioned that a couple films took me by surprise in 2012.  But if I had to pick one which completely exceeded my expectations and became a true favorite, it’d be The Amazing Spider-Man.  Not every promise made from the previews and trailers was kept, but at the very least we got a more grounded and realistic origin story.  Granted, this means a lot of familiar ground is covered, but the film shows it’s less the content and more the execution that matters.  The characters, especially Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively, are tough to not get behind.  Their interactions and dynamics, among others, are why I felt so gripped and transported.  Not many films get me hoping for them to go on for double their runtime (or more), but The Amazing Spider-Man achieved just this.  I don’t care if we’re seeing much of the same stuff or if our villain is less than remarkable, there’s so much more that I managed to cling to and joyously savor.  For that, it effortlessly holds up as one of my favorite movies from 2012.

The Dark Knight Rises

Now the big guns are coming out.  As of my initial viewing(s), The Dark Knight Rises stormed onto the top of my favorite movies of the year, looking down at the competition with disdain.  Here we had a re-envisioned character coming full circle in a tour de force, featuring another great villain, visual/audio marvels and strong emotional payoff throughout.  By the time I saw the film a third or fourth time, however, things began to look gloomy for what is, in itself, a gloomy movie.  The Dark Knight Rises is a tough film to get into on that level without exposing certain details, the least of which is its ending.  What I’ll leave this brief recap at is that the film remains enthralling, if inconsistent.  Scenes with a scene-commanding Bane and scene-stealing Catwoman are among the film’s best moments, while parts getting into the nitty-gritty plot are, much like The Dark Knight, less engaging.  Subsequent viewings have only made its cracks all the more apparent, which might not cripple it the way they do Bruce Wayne, but they’re not doing it any favors either.

 
 

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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.

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

 

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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.

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

 

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Killing Them Softly (2012) Review

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Killing Them Softly plays out like a rough draft; watching it makes you feel like a professor grading one of his student’s submissions.  You find worth and potential along with one or two things it really wants to get across.  But too much gets in the way.  There are scenes which drag on into filler territory, parts that fail to engage the audience and, sadly, it all leaves us watching something, as opposed to experiencing it.

The mob/hitman story here is very localized, which does lend some grounded reality.  It’s actually refreshing to see mob card games being run in a sub-par household, as opposed to (just) an underground location with space to walk and stand.  A very heavy-handed theme is meant to drive home this low-life persona the film just bathes in, even when the scenes take place in a luxury car.  The problem, however, is that the message isn’t driven so much as barreled through you like the elders speeding into (and around) the houses from South Park.

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A few good stands are assumed by the talented cast who, though usually underutilized, work with what’s available.  While Brad Pitt is convincing he isn’t stealing scenes from anyone.  If anything, Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, portraying embodiments of the aforementioned low-life persona, are the real stars.  Much of this is thanks to the fact that, for the first 20-45 minutes, it feels like the movie belongs to them.  Pitt isn’t even on-screen for much of the first act and by the time he’s introduced, it’s tough to imagine him having a larger role.  He ultimately feels like a smaller piece, meant to carry something that’s just too heavy for his shoulders.

Without a sense of cohesiveness or decisive direction, Killing Them Softly winds up sifting when it should be exploring.  Sadly, the extent of its exploration is too forced for what could’ve stood so much better without any of the overdone finger-pointing.  If there’s anything the film has to say that it doesn’t repeat more times than a pop song chorus, it’s that projects don’t work without being consistently handled or truly overlooked prior before submission.

 
 

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Argo (2012) Review

The common verdict seems to be that Ben Affleck is now three-for-three with his directorial efforts.  Though I can’t speak for Gone Baby Gone, The Town is definitely one of my top picks from 2010 and a personal favorite.  Now imagine my excitement when Blu-ray.com, a website every bit as informative as they are off in their verdicts of new releases, gave the film a perfect 10.  Between that and some equally impressed reviews from other everyday reviewers I (don’t) know and trust and we have an excited little boy biking to his local theater.

Argo sets the stage with a brief but encompassing introduction so you’re not totally lost when going in.  I say this because, like so many other Oscar-hyped films, I was probably the only person in my theater under 60 years of age.  You have any idea how awkward and alienating it is to be the 22 year-old in that situation?  It’s weird as hell.

After our informal introduction things kick into gear with protesting in the streets which essentially leads to six people hiding in Iran with a Canadian.  And South Park would have you believe Canada have done nothing important; Matt and Trey might need a new history book for an upcoming apology episode.  Cut to America and we have Ben Affleck playing Tony Mendez, who gets the brilliant bad idea to make a fake movie so the six escapees can, well, escape.  Again.

This is a movie that almost comes off like you need to pay more attention to it than is necessary.  The film is fundamentally a suspense thriller with the occasional political and social commentary.  But if that’s not your thing PLEASE don’t be turned off, because these are more supplementary to the plot at-hand.  To that degree this is a very solid film, one that knows when to step outside of the story and when to return.  Tension rides high, much like The Town, and the climax definitely keeps you on-edge.  Characters are also detailed to just the right degree which, given the two-hour runtime, is saying quite a lot when you have almost a dozen people to follow.  The real standouts, however, are Ben Affleck and the irresistibly entertaining Alan Arkin, who almost feels like stark contrasts of each other.

Now there has been A LOT of Oscar hype behind this movie with critical acclaim to boot.  As you can tell, I’m definitely in the fan crowd for this movie.  But as far as being the best movie of the year I have to raise up my hands and say “whoa, let’s back up for a moment.”  Argo is definitely another strong offering for 2012 and proof that this has been a fantastic year for film, but I wouldn’t say it’s contending for my Top Film spot of 2012.  Heck, I wouldn’t even place it on-par with The Town.  Like I said, this is solid, satisfying entertainment in the way a more or less gritty suspense film should be.  Definitely well made and a Best Director nomination should at least be a guarantee here.  Just don’t expect this to crack my Top 5 of the year if the movies I still haven’t seen are as good as I expect.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Blog, Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) Review

Nostalgia’s a real tough bitch to calm.  No matter how deep down in the landfills the past gets, we seem preset to look back on it as a beautiful night of snowfall.  The only problem is that that those snowflakes bring frigid air and terrible living conditions with them.  Hardly a reconcilable trade-off.

But like an ever-traditional opening to a pathetically sarcastic-yet-serious article, my point is that some of us wish the past could be relived.  This exact feeling is what drove home the Chbosky novel-turned-film The Perks of Being a Wallflower for me.  A tale of a high school freshman meets high school seniors (we all know how probable that is), the film wastes literally no time assuring us this isn’t another shallow attempt at coming of age.  Rather, with a proper use of narration to show and tell us what’s going on–as well as what formerly happened, we’re taken on a gradual journey that refuses to let go.

It might seem a crazy comparison, but I’d group The Perks of Being a Wallflower with films like Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy in that there comes a point you just don’t want it to end.  Instead of making your viewing a visit, you want it to be a permanent stay.  Exactly like those twisted lies that are your memories.  Speaking of which, without specifically giving anything away, this becomes a bit of a recurring theme, though not initially in the way the film lets on.

The characters here are about as authentic as they can get, nailing all sorts of personality types and (not so) general cutouts.  Looking back, it’s a movie I’m not quite sure which character I liked the most.  I mean yeah, I know which two I identify with the most, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best characters, per se.  And this is just part of what makes the film so strong, resonate and memorable.  That is, there’s always someone to root for and think about from more than just an observational standpoint.  It’s also proof that not all young people are thin-layered embodiments of stereotypes; most people aren’t.  This film, much like a (good) John Hughes picture, does justice to the conflicts of the more inexperienced but equally human individuals.

 
 

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The Dark Knight Rises: Full, Spoiler-Free Review

Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are among the few you can get away with coming to a verdict on before even seeing.  The big reason is that, regardless of what we’re given, it’s going to be quality work.  At this point it’s, well, pointless to talk about Batman Begins and The Dark Knight since they both live up to said pedigree.  And just like the initial skepticisms for those two films, concerns are beyond cast aside in The Dark Knight Rises.

Not many films get the idea of effective marketing, but The Dark Knight Rises really has it down.  The trailers often showed similar footage and, beyond the limited release of the prologue, all we had to work with were fragments.  As such, this is less a movie to spoil and more one to discuss in limited detail.

The film is set eight years after The Dark Knight, with Gotham’s criminal activity apparently at an all-time low.  During that time, the city has thrived off of a lie which has taken its toll on those who know the truth.  Much of the film’s first half reacquaints us with just what consequences have followed, which is played off as the more immediate threat ensues.

Enter Bane, who we all know from the trailers as the man who’ll become “Gotham’s reckoning.”  In a recent behind-the-scenes video, actor Tom Hardy said “The Joker wanted to watch the world burn.  Bane’s here to pull the pin on the grenade.”  There’s really no other way to say it, as Bane is pretty much the embodiment of a Batman villain in the form of a terrorist.  It gets to the point that you almost forget this is based on a graphic novel.  That is, until one or two tiny parts creep up and remind you that nothing is quite off limits, even under Nolan’s direction.  The presence and role Bane has is infrequent but significant.  It’s just a shame that his lines are still tough to make out, despite addressing the concerns of many fans (including myself).  Eventually it comes down to actions speaking louder than words, but it’s still tough to get a first impression when much of what you hear sounds like sheer distortion, bass and accent.

The villains from the Dark Knight films have been perhaps the most memorable.  And while Bane does more than enough to leave an impression (or two), we thankfully get a bit more of our heroes a la Batman Begins.  Superb as The Dark Knight was, the film was really about the Joker; his show-stealing scenes almost took away from our actual hero.  Not so much the case here.  Christian Bale puts on his best performance as Bruce Wayne and Batman, with the rest of the main cast matching his commitment.  In fact, while we’re on that subject, Michael Caine deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance.  He has hardly three or four scenes, but those moments really count and stick with you.

It’s a good thing we have these characters to enjoy and invest ourselves in, because without them, the story would definitely cripple.  Plot points almost come off like small details at first, but quickly play bigger and even pivotal roles.  To the more indifferent viewer, these are bound to be potential problems, but to the film’s credit, it’s at least trying to take itself and its audience seriously.  If you can’t get the entire picture, you’ll at least get the gist of things.

What The Dark Knight Rises manages to be, more than anything, is an effective concoction.  For a while it brews and swells with set ups and potential before utilizing the last hour to build the intensity with more than a few gripping, boiling points.  It leaves you panting, losing breath but still wanting to be subjected.  The universe is deeply grounded with characters pulling you in while the action and tension leave you immobilized.  It’s a fine, worthy conclusion that shows it’s less about matching or outdoing its predecessors, but more about ending the series on a proper note.

 
 

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Quote Review: 21 Jump Street (2012)

“They teenagers, man. They really stupid.”

There isn’t much room for another adaptation or update like 21 Jump Street to stand out in overly crowded field.  The laughs and fun are certainly present, but it hardly trumps most of the average, molding comedies as of recent.

 
 

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Theater Feature: The Amazing Spider-Man

It’s safe to say that many haven’t gotten over the fact we’re already getting a Spider-Man reboot half a decade after Spider-Man 3.  I for one am in the minority of people who didn’t mind the third film, even if it was the weakest in Raimi’s trilogy.  Not to mention we sort of got a reboot with The Incredible Hulk five years after the Ang Lee version, and I don’t recall many people complaining about that.  But I digress.

Needless to say, when The Amazing Spider-Man was announced, I simply rolled my eyes and spewed a “screw you, Hollywood” phrase so unoriginal it’d probably make them sigh in response.  Then footage started coming out and while I still wasn’t entirely sold, my enticement at least crept upward.  Generally speaking, the early reviews have been favorable, though I’m surprised people aren’t more immensely gratified.  Then again, the two sites I consistently visit have glowing reviews for that abominable Katy Perry movie, so I took the reception with more than a single grain of salt.  Thankfully, two YouTubers I’m fond of (Chris Stuckmann and Jeremy Jahns) both had great things to say about the movie, so I went in quite hopeful.

The end result: I freaking loved it.

As you’ve undoubtedly heard, the film covers very familiar territory, especially at the beginning.  Yet what ultimately matters is just how well everything is told, which The Amazing Spider-Man accomplishes very successfully.  Aunt May and Uncle Ben felt way more developed in this film, which makes the subsequent events hit that much harder.  The level of depth and interaction between them and/or Peter is so much more realized and complete than the Raimi version.  Another area the film really works well is the chemistry between Peter and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey, which is so much more believable and strong than Peter and MJ in Raimi’s trilogy.  The fact Emma’s a way prettier face than Kirsten Dunst is a nice plus too.  What’s more is that Andrew Garfield is a way more interesting Peter Parker and Spider-Man.  Sure, Tobey Maguire might come off to some as the quintessential Peter Parker, but Garfield’s performance is just more interesting and varied.  As a result, we identify and grow to like him even more.

All of this is even more important when the story has to be told, because without investible characters there’s not much left to care about.  I came to love these characters, their interactions and the entire movie so much that I didn’t want it to end.  I can already tell that this is one movie I’ll be watching over and over on Blu-ray simply because it does so much so well.

In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I liked this movie more than The Avengers.  Yes, send the outburst-filled posts my way, my mind is clear.  The Avengers might be the bigger, more action-oriented film but when you break it down The Avengers is superhero action done right, whereas The Amazing Spider-Man is a superhero story done right altogether.  Of course the action scenes and final 30 minutes of The Avengers is better than any of the action here, but there’s simply more (and arguably better) development in the latest Spidey iteration.

There were honestly very few things I didn’t like about the film and I have no major qualms.  Anything holding the film back simply involves our villain, the Lizard.  He’s not a bad villain per se, but there’s a good chance I won’t remember him much down the line.  The CGI is really most apparent when he’s on-screen and his shifting motivations are very jumbled to say the least.  In many ways The Lizard is merely a plot device, which I suppose is a serious problem, but it does lead to an at least decent climax, so I’m not too bothered by it.

Even if you’re a huge fan of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, I think this version by Marc Webb is definitely worth your time.  The cast and characters are great, the story holds up, the action and choreography all suffice and it ends in a way that keeps us guessing.  I can safely say that I’m all for this version and can’t wait to see just where it’ll be taken next.

 
 

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