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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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Epic Movie Scenes: Final Rap Battle/B-Rabbit vs. Papa Doc (8 Mile)

There comes a time we all step outside our comfort zone.  4-5 months ago, I gave in to a more drunk-induced tone.  No, I’m not out and about drinking jet fuel on the clock (yet), but a couple White Russians and Flying Grasshoppers aren’t a bad way to make you forget, least of all those horse piss drinks everyone calls beer.  Likewise there’s a movie featuring the good ol’ Slim Shady that pleasingly takes me out of my heavy metal comfort zone.  Linkin Park posers aside, we metal fans like crap-rap being kept out of our credible metal.  Go figure then that 8 Mile, a movie high on character and low in style, frequently turns out to be worth my while.

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about that final rap battle, damn it!  At this point the chips are down and our buddy B-Rabbit has been made out like a clown.  Crap has hit both the floor and the ceiling, so now he’s ready to rap down the door with so much pure feeling.  If my rhymes are sounding forced at this point, do us all a favor: Relax and take up a joint.  Drugs, violence, alcohol, to those upper-class slugs it’s all same while they stand and talk all tall.  Take it from me, at this point in the movie, cheesy sounds quite breezy.  So don’t let your superior, cynical and critical self turn you away and move the movie off your shelf.  Suck it up and enjoy the moment like anyone wasting two whole precious hours.  And if my sad attempts at rhyme and rhythm aren’t enough to influence your curriculum for the day then maybe a blunt, simple “**** it” will do.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Blog, Film, Movies

 

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Epic Movie Scenes: Stampede from The Lion King (SPOILER)

Here we have the first of many posts that I’ve decided to simply call “Epic Movie Scenes.”  Is this original or creative?  Not in the least bit.  But this is less about what I’m pointing to and more about what these sequences offer.  These are often the scenes that you almost have to see in theaters to truly experience.  But even if the scene doesn’t necessarily mandate that, they’re guaranteed to catch and keep your attention.  And given the post I made teasing this new feature, I figured why not start with one of the most iconic scenes from many of our childhoods?

Unfortunately, the poster of this video has disabled video embedding, but here’s the link to the video on YouTube itself.  And if you actually haven’t seen The Lion King yet, I beg you to just rent or buy the movie and watch it all yourself before seeing this specific clip (or reading ahead):

Why is it so epic?

Now rather than just touting and posting videos, I also want to set some space aside to talk about just what makes the scenes I post so great, spectacular and memorable.

Right from the first part of this clip we’re given an idea of just how big the scene will be with a shot of the steep gorge.  Then we have a nice, slow panning shot out of the gorge and showing the amount of wildebeest that will soon flock and dominate the scene.  And for one last touch of build up (and convenience to work in Scar’s favor), we hear Simba’s roar echo off the walls, immediately followed by the trembling stampede and easily one of the best “oh, ****” reactions on film.

So much is packed into this scene that it really makes for a better high point than the film’s (intended) climax at Pride Rock.  We see the villain’s plan come into play as the scene literally heads toward and ultimately around us.  There’s a perfect mix of tension and suspense as Simba clings to the weak tree which ultimately snaps as Mufasa heads into the quaking gorge.  And of course we have the gasp-inducing betrayal at the end by Scar, topped off with Jeremy Irons’ perfect, demonic delivery of the line “long live the king.”  It’s one thing to get a fast-paced action or chase scene, but to get one that legitimately brings emotion and investment in like this is something else entirely.

Another part that definitely helps sell this scene is Hans Zimmer’s composition, which was nicely handled and mostly untouched in the sound mixing.  I’m always of the belief that something as simple as a film score can make an ordinary scene come off as epic.  In this case we have an epic scene matched with epic music, and the results are staggering.

And if we needed any more reason to prove how monumental this scene remains, it apparently took 2-3 years just for the three minutes of footage.  Now THAT is dedication!

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Film, Movies

 

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Coming Soon: Epic Movie Scenes

We all know that feeling; what happens when the nerves under our skin gleefully sear and leave us paralyzed in our seats.  Whether it’s the panning of a wide-scale battle, every cut and shot in a pulsating chase sequence or the sheer effectiveness of underscoring perfectly set to the right moment, these are among the greatest, most powerful and memorable of scenes in film.

I’m of course referring to what can only be described as epic movie scenes.  What’s great about scenes is that so many can work on their own level–you can watch them outside of the rest of the movie and they’ll still strike you.  Even bad movies can have a scene or two of redemption which somehow makes it seem like less of a waste of time.

I’ll be compiling an ever-growing list of movie scenes to share with you.  Many of these will likely have spoilers, which will be marked in the post title.

In the meantime, here’s a mash-up trailer done by BMoneyrulz on YouTube:

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Film, Movies

 

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Theater Feature: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Welcome to the latest in a long line of adapted material made for film: Snow White.  The industry is at a point where originality is hardly of concern for writers, producers and studios.  What else can help to explain the early release of the comical Mirror Mirror prior to the serious, superior version?

As for Snow White and the Huntsman on its own, what we have is a film that surprises as much as it disappoints.  The film looks beautiful, but that only cuts so deep.  The action and circumstances get crazy and interesting, but often with the absence of vital explanations and details.  Nevermind the abrupt opening, because even for a two-hour flick Snow White and the Huntsman feels very underutilized.  A lot of ground is apparently covered, which would be fine if everything didn’t come up so conveniently.

For all the darkness and divergences, Snow White and the Huntsman is still fundamentally the fairy tale it takes inspiration from.  But even then so much feels made up along the way.  The result is a lack of true fulfillment and the occasional eye-rolling moment.  It’s all a shame too, as there’s a lot of potential here.  If the film was really going to work with everything it had in place, then it should have gone all out with its epic characteristics.  Snow White’s latest is pretty and certainly creative in many regards, but underneath is little more than skin and bones.

 
 

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Quote Review: Titanic (1997)

“You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you.”

Love it or hate it, James Cameron’s Titanic is still here and will continue to leave a strong impression on its viewers.  At the very least, it’s a mesmerizing and often thrilling piece of work, even before the iceberg sets peril in-motion.  Even when the dialogue and script don’t work to the film’s benefit, the stars, sets and overall production take advantage of what’s available.  As it turns out, what’s available with this film is quite a lot which, combined with the still impressive and epic sinking sequences and spectacle, makes this a theatrical experience you won’t want to miss (whether in 3D or not).

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Film Review, Movie Review

 

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Quote Review: Dances with Wolves (1990)

“The only word that comes to mind is harmony.”

Probably Costner’s single greatest accomplishment, the story told in Dances with Wolves is one that’s every bit as familiar as it is resonating. There’s a definite level of honesty throughout as the cast give the Sioux Native American tribe justice. Enough emotion is created without going overboard, and it’s nice to see that the film doesn’t end on a preachy note. It might be lengthy, but because of all the enrichment present, anyone interested in the film’s tale shouldn’t have a problem staying seated for 3 hours (or longer for the even more fulfilling extended cut).

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Film Review, Movie Review

 

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