Skip to content

Movie Rundown: Holiday Favorites and Oscar Hopefuls

February 16, 2013

Now that we are about a week away from The Academy Awards, it’s time for me to give you my Oscar/Holiday Season movie rundown! While my school schedule doesn’t warrant me the time to give each of these films its own individual review, I’ve given the most popular of the past few months and the biggest Oscar contenders most of the focus here. I still have yet to see The Master, though the only race it’s really involved in are the Supporting Actor/Actress categories wherein it has absolutely no chance. I have also yet to see Amour. A friend and I keep trying to organize a viewing and it just keeps falling through. Though I vow to see it before Oscar night and will add a bit about it when I do. 

 

Skyfall

Skyfall

Skyfall was probably the most enjoyable Bond movie I’ve ever seen. I found the first two Daniel Craig Bond films only ok, the first being a little dull and the second entirely confusing and unwatchable. This one at least had a plot that I could follow-and don’t doubt my abilities to follow plots please; roundabout and cerebral mysteries are some of my favorites. The banter and rapport between Craig’s Bond and Dame Judy Dench’s M was at its best, and a familial relationship budded between them that finally gave Bond’s relationships some consequences. Javier Bardem was also brilliant as the villain, and it’s nice that a Bond film finally noted the capabilities of a single man and his computer wizardry, rather than the usual big corporation and its army. The only bit that I would complain about is the relationship between Bond and the concubine Severine. I mean, when you meet a woman who has been raped her entire life, and is visibly traumatized by it and the man who now owns her, the most logical thing to do is surprise her, naked, in the shower, right? I mean, certainly she’s not going to say no, right? So just take advantage of her inherent, long ingrained inability to refuse a man his sexual needs and just keep getting laid, right Bond? Ugh. As for the Oscars, I’m pretty sure Adele’s “Skyfall” has it in the bag, and the opportunity for the Academy to add a performance by Adele is one they should snatch up post-haste.

 

The Sessions

The Sessions

How in the ever-living hell did John Hawkes not get an Oscar nomination? Forget Ben Affleck. Forget Kathryn Bigelow. THIS is the snub of the 2013 Academy Awards. I’m a sucker for independent little movies with a focused plot and great performances, and this one fit into that niche nicely. The film was based on an article by Mark O’Brien, which addressed his life with polio, living inside and iron lung, and his “adventures” with a sex surrogate. Hawkes performance as a physically restricted but emotionally available man was fantastic and heart breaking. Helen Hunt’s wasn’t so bad either, and she’s the one who walked away with the Oscar nomination, which I suspect, had to do with her full nudity, sigh. Though, I did leave the theater wanting to now a little more about Hunt’s character, Cheryl. The film made it seem as if Cheryl was developing feelings for Mark by the end of the film, which I found to be an odd conflict that may not have been in the original article or in any of the interviews with the real-life Cheryl (which I admit I’ve yet to read.) I wanted to know more about how her husband and family felt about what she does, if they even knew the full extent. It was explored a bit with the incident with her husband and Mark’s poem, but not to the extent that I would have liked. How often does her profession cause conflicts in her marriage? I’m also more interested in the general concept of sex surrogacy and the arguments for and against it, which is a testament to how the film did a great job of leaving little thoughts in your brain to keep you thinking. Congrats to Hunt; Hawkes, you were robbed.

 

 

 Lincoln

Lincoln

Holy Crap! If C-Span were this exciting, I bet we would all know more about the inner workings of Congress. Tony Kushner’s script was absolutely brilliant, though I did find a few parts a bit slow-which is usually the one problem with many of Kushner’s scripts; roller coasters of excellent, witty dialogue with a few snoozy dips. I thought Daniel Day Lewis’ performance was fantastic, and I got over the high-pitched voice pretty quickly. Sally Field’s unfortunately misunderstood and occasionally crazy Mary Todd was also an award worthy performance (poor woman doesn’t have a chance against the cry-singer Anne Hathaway though.) I only wish that the film had ended differently. I agree with Mr. Samuel L. Jackson, who went on a rant about the film’s ending leading to this great piece in the L.A. Times. Jackson noted that, “I don’t understand why it didn’t just end when Lincoln is walking down the hall and the butler gives him his hat. Why did I need to see him dying on the bed? I have no idea what Spielberg was trying to do. I didn’t need the assassination at all. Unless he’s going to show Lincoln getting his brains blown out. And even then, why am I watching it? The movie had a better ending 10 minutes before.” I completely agree Mr. Jackson. The shot of Lincoln walking down the hall was gorgeous. His final line, “It’s time for me to go, but I’d rather stay,” was an ephemeral goodbye. We knew exactly what was going to happen, but none of us wanted to see it. The film really should have ended on his walkout, but Spielberg did what the L.A. Times described and just drew the thing out into Return of the King style 72 endings. Despite it’s botched ending, I’m pretty sure Kushner will take home the Best Adapted Screenplay to add to his numerous Tonys.

 

 Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Again, I did not see this in 3D. I’m sort of done with 3D. Though I still found the cinematography utterly gorgeous. The ship-wreak itself was on par with Lost‘s heinous pilot plane crash; disturbing and nightmare inducing, but quite realistic. The story was epic, tear jerking, and beautiful, and the allegorical pieces were the stuff of spiritual reflection. I think, however, the placement of some of the flashbacks and present day scenes were annoyingly done. When the interviewer first meets the older Pi and begins his story, the flashback scenes were too often interrupted by a cut back to older Pi and the interviewer. I would rather stick with the younger Pi and see what’s happening, or hear voice over narration, than cut back to a shot of two people on a park bench talking. That, in my opinion, was the only real flaw in a really beautiful movie. I don’t think it has a shot at Best Picture, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Ang Lee snagged Best Director (since it’s pretty clear at this point that Picture and Director aren’t going to match up), and I think it also has a good shot at winning Cinematography and Visual Effects.

 

 Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

Really the only thing this film had going for it was the utterly beautiful costumes and sets. The whole film suffered from a poorly constructed theatrical environment. Everything was confined to a theater, and every scene, the balls, the bedrooms, the trains, took places within that theater. The only time we ventured into the outside world was when the character Levin went out to his country estate. His exit from the theater into a snow covered landscape, with actual natural sunlight made me gasp in shock at an exterior. Believe me, I totally get it. The world and society of Anna Karenina is phony like theater, and all of the men and women merely players in an unfair, sexist, and disingenuous play. The reason that Levin is permitted to leave the theater is because he doesn’t take part in the pantomime of their society. I thought, though, that what might have been a creative choice more appropriate for actual theatrical production was way too constricting for film. I felt so suffocated watching it that it ruined the entire movie for me. That said, the performances were fine, with Jude Law’s standing out a bit more then the rest of the cast’s, and it has a good shot at winning the Oscar for costume design.

 

Les Mis

Les Miserables

Eh. See my lengthy review.

 

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

Just a caveat: I’m really tired of the 20-year-old girl and 40-year-old man falling for each other trope. It’s creepy and getting really old. That aside, I did like this film. The story was great, the actors fantastic, and the setting is what wins the game! OK, well, youse guys all know I’m from Philly, and the Eagles love, the Llanarch Diner (that’s MY diner!) and the actors’ attempts at the truly bizarre accent really won me over. I did feel that Jennifer Lawrence’s character lacked detail. Did she actually have her own mental illness, or was she just eccentric and slutty? I also wished that they had addressed Robert DeNiro’s clear OCD and own mental issues as a genetic pathway to Bradley Cooper inheriting some of the same problems. Though, I have to admit, despite the creepy age difference, the chemistry between Lawrence and Cooper was quite adorable, and the fact that they’re both such humble actors willing to make themselves look ridiculous added to their charm. The dance contest (which I’m still not really clear about; why was Tiffany doing that again?) was a fabulously hilarious scene and their reactions at getting a 5 was gif-worthy. I think J-Law might nab the Oscar for Best Actress (and good on her, because she’s great both on and off screen) though I think standing in her way might be Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty or Emanuelle Riva, the 85-year-old nominee from Amour.

 

 Hobbit

The Hobbit

Let me preface this snippet of a review by saying that I did not see it in the 3D, high frame rate, but regular old two dimensional movie viewing. The movie was beautifully shot, characters were great, and the LOTR world that Peter Jackson has created is an amazing feat. That said, WOW what a snooze fest. I remember thinking about 45 minutes into the film, “Isn’t this movie called ‘An Unexpected Journey’? Why haven’t they gone anywhere yet?!” The film also suffered from being a serious, serious sausage fest. When Cate Blanchett appeared on the screen about five hours into the film, I caught myself internally screaming, “Ehrmagherd! A lady!” Also, how many of the same Hobbit-fights-creature-bigger-than-him battles can I watch over and over again without getting bored? Also, is it me or are the evil creatures all starting to blend together? I can’t really tell the difference between and Orc, a Goblin, and an Urukhai. Also, at the end of the movie when the Eagles swoop down and save them, why the hell didn’t they just fly them the extra like 10 minutes over to the mountain that they were heading for?!? Come to think of it, why didn’t Gandalf just hire an Eagle to take the ring of doom back to the volcano in the original movies?!?! If I find this first Hobbit film so incredibly tedious, how on earth will I get through two more freaking movies? 

 

Django Unchained

Django Unchained

I must admit I was a bit hesitant to see this film. I was never a huge Tarantino fan to begin with, though I really liked the Kill Bill‘s and was surprised at how much I enjoyed Inglorious Basterds. However, once this film started, I was immediately into it. The revenge plot was kickass and decidedly Tarantino. I liked the characters, especially Christoph Waltz’s performance as the eccentric and gentlemanly Dr. King Schultz (and his horse Fritz!) I liked the journey that these two opposites embarked upon together, and there was a clear goal set ahead for Django. Everything was going well for me until Tarantino showed up… in his own movie that is. There was a logical and expected ending to Django Unchained and Tarantino completely ignored it and made the film about 40 minutes too long. The additional Australian characters, returning to the mansion, the second giant shootout, it was all completely unnecessary and I found myself zoning out. It was because of that extra and unnecessary 40 minutes that I started having what Gawker author Cord Jefferson calls a “Django Moment” when you find yourself asking whether or not you find any of the violence funny anymore, or even if you should find it funny. Jefferson says, “And since Django runs close to three hours long, at a certain point you start to catch yourself laughing where you shouldn’t or—worse, even—hearing others laughing at something you don’t find funny at all. Eventually, you begin to wonder if you’re being too sensitive, or if the movie and everyone else around you are insensitive. Then you start to consider whether any of that even matters.” There were definitely moments in Django where people I was watching it with were laughing at scenes I found severely difficult to watch. Those moments seemed to increase after that natural ending point where everything afterwards just felt gratuitous and sensational. I think this film had a shot at being great, but Tarantino did what he does best and took it a bit too far. If it had ended where it should have and not included that unnecessary 40 minutes that just acerbated the violence, I think it would be an A+ film. That said, I think that Christoph Waltz has a great chance at taking home Best Supporting Actor, and even Tarantino might even take home Best Original Screenplay.

 

 Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

I wasn’t as wild (heh heh) about this film as most of the other critics. I think I expected either a little more fantasy or a little more reality and I thought the film was too wishy washy about what ground it stood. The environment was too recognizable of a place to be a “fictional” community or a fantastical location, and yet it was too obscure to reflect any actual community. I suppose that was the point. Though when it came specifically to the prehistoric hog creatures, I wasn’t really clear what I was supposed to be viewing. The film depicted them to be “real” outside of Hushpuppy’s narration or imagination. The girls at the end were screaming and running away from them. If they were only objects of her imagination, why did the other girls see them? If they were only a metaphor, why did the film depict them as real? If they were only a part of her imagination, why is this film considered a “fantasy”? If it were clearer that they were imaginary, then I would have rolled with it. If it were clearer that they were actually, physically real, I would have rolled with that too. The problem was with how the film represented them, as both real and imaginary, and never seemed to make up it’s own mind about them. Performance-wise I thought that Quvenzhané Wallis was charming and a joy to watch. Though I think her Best Actress nomination is more a reflection of Ben Zeitlin’s Best Director nomination. And on that note, since I didn’t totally love this film, I feel like Zeitlin’s nomination is thieving a nomination for Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow.

 

 Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Guys, I’m not even going to get into the argument about torture, the CIA, war tactics, revenge, or the wars, because good grief those are years long arguments that won’t end and no account of them in a film will be able to encompass their reverberations throughout the world. I’m just going to talk about Zero Dark Thirty  as a film; a film that I thought was very well done. The story is naturally gripping; we all know it, minus the extreme details.  We all connect to the catalyst of 9/11. What Bigelow did here was show us the inner workings, put faces to unknowable people that we will never recognize, and provided humanity to people we think are supposed to be machines. Jessica Chastain’s performance was tough, driven, and ruthless yet ultimately human. And can I just say bravo to a modern war film on passing the Bechdel test?! Also, some think that the raid sequence was the weak link of the film when I thought it was the very best part. The entire 25 minute sequence had me breathless and really showed off Kathryn Bigelow’s directing chops. Because of the controversy, this films is not going to take home Best Picture, though if anyone’s got a shot at a statue it’s Chastain. One thing I will add is a question: Do you think that the controversy surrounding this film is what cost her a Best Director nomination, and do you think that the result would be the same if she were male?

 

The Impossible 

The Impossible

Yikes, guy. Talk about a harrowing story. While this isn’t a film that will go down as introducing anything game changing or being a must see picture, it was beautifully acted, and heartbreaking to watch. I think the film suffered from being just a straightforward tale of a family’s attempt to reunite after a devastating natural disaster. The plot was a straight line from A to B. That said, focusing on one family during a larger scale disaster was a smart one, though I would have liked to begin Ewen McGregor half of the storyline at the impact of the tsunami, just as they had with Naomi Watts’. I think the film could have been improved with a more interesting structure, maybe simultaneous scenes while the two facets were separated, or like I said, going back to McGregor’s experience with the impact. Though this might not stick out in my mind as one of the best of the year, the performances from Watts and McGregor were moving and the overall accomplishment of the film is its portrayal of the perseverance of hope and family.

 

 Argo

Argo

Ladies and Gents, I give you your Best Picture*. It was a slow burn with Argo. When it came out back in October it got great reviews. Then as the other holiday films started pouring in, Argo was forgotten. When the nominations started coming out, Argo and director Ben Affleck were on them as expected. But then, BUT THEN, the Oscar Nominations came out. There was Argo, but…where’s Ben?!? That’s when it all started. The snub articles, the race to see Argo in theaters, the speculation that the Academy was too old fashioned and crotchety to allow the kid who played Daredevil and Gigli win an Oscar. (Personally, I don’t understand HOW a film can be nominated for Best Picture and not get a Best Director nom.) But then came the Critics Choice, where Affleck won Favorite Director. Then the Golden Globes, where Ben won for directing and Argo took Best Drama. Then came the AFI’s where both won again. Then the PGA Awards and the DGA awards. Then finally the BAFTA’s where Affleck and Argo won again. That’s a hard train to stop. And while there’s a good chance the Academy could go full on old and crotchety and give the whole director/picture shebang to Lincoln, I have to say that would be a pitiful mistake. Argo was my favorite film on this whole list. It was suspenseful, despite knowing what happens in the end. It was funny. It was wonderfully cast, and the design and cinematography of the whole film was just downright cool. I’m not talking too much about the actual film here because I want you guys to go see it. See it before Oscar night, it’s about to come out on DVD, and see it before it become one of the few Best Picture winners to take home the top trophy while it’s director got snubbed for a nomination.

*My Prediction

 

Advertisements

Trailer Watch: Star Trek Into Darkness

February 3, 2013

EHRMAGHERD you guys! Star Trek!

New(ish) Music: Delta Rae

January 29, 2013

A friend of mine introduced me to Delta Rae over a kick ass vacation we took recently.  They started out as a sibling group back in 2009 and have grown along the way. Their debut album “Carry the Fire” was released back in June, 2012, but like most new bands took a while to get around to the masses. They’re perfectly tailored to blend well into the Americana/Folk Rock trend that’s plowing through the music industry with Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, The Civil Wars and others leading the way. Their drum-slamming, guitar-strumming folksy sound was perfect for our sunny, cocktails-by-the-pool vacation. Give a listen:

 

This song has permeated my brain and I keep singing t over and over again. Despite the slight cheese-factor of the video, I love the Southern Day of the Dead vibe they’ve got going on. Their great instrumentations are accompanied by some powerhouse vocals, especially from the tiny youngest sibling Brittany Holljes. Listen to these pipes:

 

While I do think that their album can get a little disjointed-there are a few songs that don’t seem to fit, sounding a little too “adult contemporary” for my taste, and one that sounds downright musical theater like-I think i’ts a brilliant debut and even if this Mumford “trend” is just that, I think they’re talented enough to have a long future.

Les Misérables: Do You Hear the Movie Stars Sing?

December 29, 2012

Greetings CBC readers!

I have been inactive a long time now, for noble reasons I assure you. I’ve started graduate school and that has kept me busy for the past four months since my last entry. But I thank you all for sticking with me, and I simply HAD to come out of the woodwork to discuss the holiday season’s biggest film; something theater nerds, musical lovers, and cinephiles are talking about with varying opinions all over:

lesmisposterscifidrive

When the announcement was made that they would turn this over 25-year-old, Tony Award winning, epic musical into a feature film, one opinion among fans of the musical was unanimous: casting would be key. How little we knew that would only be one part of the process, and how little we thought of whether or not this musical SHOULD be made into a feature film.

I myself was dubious, especially when I heard that they would be performing the songs completely live, instead of pre-recording them in a studio. Those cast, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, etc. were not stage-worthy singers. How could they sing these epic songs live without the aid of a swelling orchestra or technological advancements of the recording industry? Then, I saw this little featurette, and I thought that it had changed my mind. The fact that they were singing live, and filming it the way that they were, seemed much more conducive to the medium of film. Instead of being grand and pretty, the film would be gritty and real, and for a while, that premise excited me. However, I realize now that the musical itself is not conducive to the medium of film. The musical itself is much more suited for the stage. There were times when the orchestrations were so faint, that I missed much of the famous musical themes. These songs need to be SUNG, not whispered, not held back, not made smaller because the camera is right in your face. I think, ultimately, that’s where this film fails. But regardless of it necessarily not being suited for film, the movie on the whole is pretty good, though not great. As my playwright friend Jennifer Lane stated, Les Mis the film was, “A valiant attempt to be as good as live theatre. It is not, however, as good as live theatre.”

LesMis6 Boat

The first 30 minutes or so of the film were its best. When the opening chords of “Look Down” began, the camera flying over an enormous ship, the small prisoners visible in the crashing waves, my jaw dropped over the grandiosity of the scene. Here was where film outshone theater; offering a grand visual we could never have on the stage created for us on a big screen. (I did miss the actual melody of the prisoners’ “Ah-UH, Ah-UH” that opens that song. Instead we were given simply rhythmic grunting). My eyes widened again just after “Valjean’s Soliloquy” where he ripped apart his convict papers and threw them out over a cliff across the French countryside. The opening chords of that gorgeous transition to “At the End of the Day” began and I was officially swept up and ready to dive into the meat of the show (er…film).  I didn’t even mind the overly illustrated CGI of those moments. They had a kind of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia thing going on, but I thought they were quite beautiful.

anne-hathaway-short-hair-crying-in-les-miserables-2012

After the eight-year transition, we finally meet Anne Hathaway’s Fantine. I’ve always enjoyed Hathaway’s past work; everything from The Princess Diaries to The Devil Wears Prada to Rachel Getting Married. However, I had honestly gotten quite annoyed at Ms. Hathaway’s slow burn style of introducing her singing to the masses, beginning with her seemingly impromptu performance with host and future co-star Hugh Jackman at the Oscars a few years back. Then there was her singing bit honoring Meryl Streep on last year’s Kennedy Center Honors. Then there was the singing at her own dismal Oscar hosting gig. Then there was her singing on SNL. It was some sort of tiring, repeated audition, almost as if she was saying, “Do you like it? You do? Should I do it some more?” I kind of wish she had just jumped into this or another musical film without all of the pre-emptive singing (kind of what Amanda Seyfried did with Mama Mia). That said, Ms. Hathaway was utterly brilliant in this role. Her singing was fine, perfectly passable, not amazing. It was her acting however that blew “I Dreamed a Dream” out of the water.  (Also, the change of moving this song to after “Lovely Ladies” made perfect sense). She was seriously heartbreaking and captured a side of Fantine that I don’t think anyone had ever looked for or anticipated. Director Tom Hooper’s decision to shoot the entire song in one long take was jarring at first, but once we were there, I didn’t want him to cut away, and staying with Fantine’s desperate face was all the more moving.

Unfortunately I think that’s where Hooper’s odd usage of close ups, short focal lengths, and un-focused camera work should have ended, but more on the cinematography later.

Moving on to the rest of the cast: I had high hopes for Hugh Jackman, and knew well of his musical theatre background. I thought his performance was well done, though I thought at times he made some strange nasally sounds, and that some of the songs were way north of his comfortable register, especially some of the moments during the pivotal “Bring Him Home”. Though, I think his acting was great and he suited the character well.

movies_les_mis_promo_pics_6

The Thénardiers were perfectly cast with Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, though I think in the attempt to make the film grittier and real, much of the fun these two usually provide was lost, and the humorous “Master of the House” became a bit dull.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette was perfectly adequate and she had a lovely high voice, though her intense vibrato was at times grating. Eddie Redmayne was a charming Marius and together the pair made suitably pretty, sweet young couple.

The casting of Eponine was a closely followed process, especially by Gen Y/Millennials like myself who sang her parts in the shower throughout the 90s. Rumors and reports blanketed the blogosphere. At one point Taylor Swift was rumored cast as the heartbroken and tragic third-wheel. (Thank goodness that didn’t happen). Instead the role went to British reality star Samantha Barks, who had been playing the role on stage and who was quite wonderful in the 25th Anniversary concert that everyone (me) has been watching on PBS for the past two years. Her casting earned a collective sigh of relief from Eponine fans who were thankful that they cast an actual singer in the role.

les_miserables_interview_samantha_barks_eponine

Now, while they successfully cast someone who could actually sing the part, Hooper and the scriptwriting team significantly diminished her character. Changes like cutting verses out of “Attack on Rue Plumet” and “A Little Fall of Rain”, were unfortunate and made her seem less important to Marius, when she was anything but. To rub salt in the wound, they even cut Marius’ reference to her in “Beggars at the Feast” when he insinuates that the Thénardiers cared nothing for their daughter and that she brought him to Cosette. And even that was vague, since they changed some of her significant actions in the show to the charming cherub Gavroche. The popular song and fan favorite “On My Own” was moved to right before the show stopper “One Day More”, when in the show it is one of the highlights of the second act. This gave Eponine’s character less time to develop, and the song had less time to shine. I even feel that poor Samantha Barks was instructed to hold back on her singing (she definitely has more power in her) lest she outshine the star and potential Oscar winner Ms. Hathaway. Slate writer Rachael Maddux adequately explains the hold that this musical has had over my generation for many years, connecting the hook of the love triangle to extreme teen angst: “Reports of kids weeping the first time they saw the show live are not uncommon, and it’s usually the fault of “On My Own.”” The kicker, for me, was removing Eponine from “Valjean’s Death/Finale”. True, it never really made sense that she was there. However, the parallels between Fantine and Eponine cannot be ignored. They both do everything they can for happiness that they will never possess and end up dying for those that they love. Their harmonies together during that closing number are some of the most beautiful and emotionally wrought in the entire show. I’m totally fine with the unusual addition of the Bishop (brilliantly played by original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson) but the removal of Eponine? Bad move, Hooper. Bad Move.

Les-Miserables-Russell-CroweAnother highly discussed casting choice was Russell Crowe in the role of “villain” Javert. I for one immediately thought that Crowe would suit the character of the straight spined, law obsessed corrections officer turned police chief. The problem was that his singing experience is one of a rock background, having been the lead singer of the band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. Could he do justice to one of the most beloved characters in all of musical theater? The answer is mixed. I thought Crowe acted the part wonderfully and had some great character moments throughout the film, especially when he pinned his medal on Gavroche’s tiny dead body. Unfortunately, “Stars”, the characters most famous song, was not one of those great moments. While I think he did satisfactorily with the recitative parts and the rest of the show, “Stars” is the moment where this role needs a truly amazing singer (say for example Norm Lewis or Phillip Quast) and Crowe unfortunately could not cut it. Yes he was on key and hit the notes, but there was no power behind them. (Also, dude behind me in the theater singing along, you cannot cut it either, so please shut up). To give Crowe a little credit, I also thought that entire number was poorly shot. The camera swooped around as if on a roller coaster, almost trying to distract the audience from Crowe’s mediocre singing voice. If Hooper really wanted to focus on the method of making every song more introspective and down to earth, what he should have done is this: Take advantage of Crowe’s poor singing voice and have him sing this song even softer and more reflectively. Have him inside, perhaps in a chapel, staring out a window at the stars instead of outside on a grand ledge. Perhaps kneeling in prayer as a nice mirror image of Valjean’s earlier soliloquy. I think a scene like that would have added much more to the character and Crowe’s weak voice might have worked.

The film on the whole made me, as my friends and I like to say, “have the feels” and the tears, but not to the extreme that I usually experience while watching the stage production. For instance, the young student revolutionaries came across like a small rabble of punks, with a poor plan and little clout. This, of course, is more historically accurate.  I often forget that the play depicts the June Rebellion of 1832 and not the actual French Revolution. Yet, the stage production made the whole incident feel grander, more important, and that the stakes were higher. I suppose to gain historical accuracy, grandiose and swelling scenes had to be sacrificed. I can get behind that. I did think that moving “Do You Hear The People Sing” to after “One Day More” was a brilliant move, and the whole environment of the funeral procession and the crowds gathering to sing that song was gorgeously done.

Other movements and cuts did not work so well for me (I’ve already discussed my disappointment in the movement of “On My Own”). I realize that cuts had to be made, though sadly, the story suffered because of them. You could tell that the filmmakers were desperately trying to keep the film as close to 2.5 hours as possible. But a lot of the cuts, especially in the later half of the film, took away from the characters’ development. The transitions seemed hasty, and songs weren’t given a moment to settle before we were rushed off to the next scene or the next song. That might be a byproduct of being used to the stage production, though I genuinely felt like a lot of the second half was hurried. If anything, I would have ADDED a few bits, for example the song I Saw Him Once that usually starts the Love Montage (which was a Cosette number that was cut from the original London production before the Broadway production) which gives the love-at-first-sight story line between Marius and Cosette a little more heft.

Though, I’d have to say that what bothered me most about the film was the cinematography. I had prior warning Hooper’s extreme close-ups and was prepared, though I did eventually get tired of them. I think the use was brilliant during “I Dreamed a Dream”, but after that, with almost every song shot at an extreme close-up, I was begging for a medium shot, an establishing shot, anything but the Blair Witch Project up the nose shot. There was a moment when Eddie Redmayne, beautifully singing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” (though no one can compare to Michael Ball) turned his face to the camera at such a close proximity that I actually recoiled; afraid his red nose and what was dripping out of it would come hurling out of the screen.

Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen used an extremely narrow focal length to enhance the drama and closeness to his singing subjects, the problem then was every time the actors moved even the slightest bit, they shifted in and out of focus. The lighting was also distracting at points. There was a good length of time when Hugh Jackman was singing “Valjean’s Soliloquy” in complete shadow, and not an intentional shadow that added to the environment, but an unfortunate looking, accidental darkness. The excessive Dutch angles combined with the excessive close-ups was too much at more than a few points, particularly during “Beggers at the Feast”, when the Thénardiers were carried out of the wedding. With one shot up Sacha Baron Cohen’s crotch, and another showing just the top of Helena Bonham Carter’s head (and both extremely close) as the two tried to sing important plot points was just awful. And why was Helena Bonham carter wearing sunglasses?!

end

Ya know what though? Despite my nitpicking, I did enjoy the film. I didn’t LOVE it like I do the show, but I do appreciate the attempt to bring a live theatrical experience to film and make it as close to the source material as possible. Like other Les Mis fans, there was probably no world in which I was going to hate this film, as I love the source material too much. Ultimately, I don’t think Hooper’s vision of toning down the music for a more intimate experience wasn’t a great choice for this particular piece, and that while fans of musical theatre often beg and plead for film versions of their favorite shows, perhaps they’re not always a good idea.

Prometheus: I’m Still Thinking About It

June 27, 2012

Greetings CBC readers! I went out with a few friends and the hubs the other day and finally saw Prometheus, the Ridley Scott directed, Damon Lindelof co-written, not quite a prequel to the Alien franchise. I had set out over the next few days to write a really detailed, overly analytical post about the philosophical meanings, and various other allusions throughout the film. Kind of like a lot of my Lost posts on OMGWTFLOST. What I ended up doing these past couple of days is reading, reading and reading a lot of Prometheus stuff and getting all gobbedlygook in the brain. (Kind of like a lot of my Lost readings). So instead, what I’ve opted to do here today is…links…lots and lots of links. I’m basically going to throw down a bunch of links to other articles here that have already discussed all of these things here and address bits and pieces of them with my own responses and give you guys all sorts of theories. Which actually is also…a lot like what I did with my Lost blog, and something that I know my readers enjoy. So here goes!

All in all, I really liked this movie, and even more I LOVE the conversations it’s initiating. People are arguing all over the place about it. Some love it, some hate it. My homeboy Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars, while this guy from Forbes even called it a, “visually stunning, epic failure.” He’s taking the whole film WAY too literally. I like that this film is as divisive as it is. I liked that it asks questions that no one knows the answers to. It was well acted, it was gorgeous, and it had plenty of the scary-gross that the Alien franchise utilized. This is probably why I still enjoyed (despite 80% of the world hating) the ending to Lost, and will probably always enjoy Lindelof’s writing. Why does everything need to be so specific when you can make it more universal? Why should an allegory only apply to some? Why do you need every…little…detail spelled out for you?

Now, if you’re a little confused about the actual, represented plot, this Screen Rant article explains the whole film quite nicely and even clarified a few things for me. One being that the black ooze from the canisters is not inherently a weapon as it is more a mutagen with unknown consequences. I much like the idea that the Engineers were out to change rather than simply destroy (which in and of itself can be a result of change). Leading us also to assume that the ooze merely mutates what it comes in contact with. For example: Ooze contacts space mealy worms resulting in that gross snake that killed the Biologist Guy. Ooze is ingested by Charlie and mutates his sperm into crazy mutant sperm, which then gestates into the squid/giant facehugger. This would make total SENSE, since the facehuggers are ultimately tools of implantation/impregnation, just like a sperm. Ooze comes in contact with Geologist Guy, ultimately just turning him into a freak show and mutating the hell out of him until they kill him. So really the ooze found in these larger canisters, is the same as the ooze ingested by the Engineer from his small canister at the very beginning of the film, and acts as a catalyst for mutation.

Folks were a bit annoyed that Prometheus didn’t exactly lay the groundwork for the beginning of the Alien franchise. Yet another Screen Rant piece details “5 Simple Changes That Would Make Prometheus Better For Alien Fans”, which includes ideas such as making the derelict planet in Prometheus the same as in Alien, or having Prometheus end with the Space Jockey sitting in the big chair while the new xenomorph bursts from his chest. To these ideas I reiterate: do people really need stuff like that spelled out for you so literally?? Scott already declared numerous times that Prometheus was never going to be a direct prequel, but people still cannot seem to make the connections for themselves. They want Prometheus to be point A and Alien to be point B, when in reality it’s more like Prometheus is point A and Alien is Point D or beyond. We don’t know how exactly it’ll get there, but there are many ways and many possibilities (and I for one wouldn’t mind to see B and C in well-rumored sequels).  In the comments section of that piece, reader Bman believes most viewers are asking the wrong questions. Instead of , “Well how did that xenomorph get from that planet to the other planet?” Bman asks more interesting ones like, “What on earth happened to Dr Shaw and David? How many other ships where on the planet they escaped from? How many other engineer crews are still in cryo-sleep on that planet? What will happen when Shaw and David reach the home-world of the engineers? Why was the spaceship at the start of the film completely different [than] the derelict ship? Are the engineers at war with their own kind? Are humans a failed bio weapons experiment that needs to be erased? Are humans bred for the sole purpose of hosting chestbusters (like cattle)? What did David say to the engineer? [Do] David and Shaw ever return to earth? How come Weyland-Yutani and specifically Ash already know about the alien on LV-426? (he calls it a perfect organism) – My theory is it may take 1, 2 or even 3 more movies to answer all of these questions.”

To tackle the allegorical and referential elements of Prometheus, I direct you to a few places. Cavalorn on Live Journal (yes, Live Journal!) has put forth such a detailed analysis of the religious allusions in Prometheus that is a really fun an interesting to read. I especially love his theories on why the surviving Engineer reacted so poorly to David’s question from Weyland, and it’s ties to Leviticus 2.23 (referenceing the planet LV-223) which states, “Say to them: ‘For the generations to come, if any of your descendants is ceremonially unclean and yet comes near the sacred offerings that the Israelites consecrate to the LORD, that person must be cut off from my presence. I am the LORD.” This is also addressed in Brad Brevet’s fantastic piece here.  He also ponders the motives of the Engineers and doesn’t believe, as I do, that they were heading out to destroy humanity. In discussing the Engineer’s murderous rage, he states, “What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be to the superman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment.[-Nietzsche]…First there are the Engineers (which I think we could easily compare to the “superman”), looking down on mankind as “apes”. We never hear what David whispers to the Engineer at the end of the film, but the way he reacts is almost as if he’s been insulted. How dare this “thing” approach me as an equal! What’s worse in David’s case is he’s an artificial construct of the “ape” he sees as an embarrassment and on top of that, not knowing what David actually said creates a scratch that must be itched, but we’ll get to that soon enough.” Ah but we DO sort of know what David said. From EW.com, “In Prometheus, a projection of Biltoo acts as David’s language tutor, and in real-life Biltoo worked as a consultant on the film. According to the doctor, the line of alien dialog David speaks in the film “serviceably” translates as ‘This man is here because he does not want to die. He believes you can give him more life.’ ” Hm, no wonder the Engineer got pissed. Brevet’s article includes all of the Viral Promotional videos which are fantastic, and goes more into David’s role as an android, the role of Vickers (Charlize Theron) as a potential female equal to David (referencing Genesis’ creation myth) and even into Frankenstein-type connections of a creation’s attempt to destroy its creator. Those two pieces are the best I’ve read so far at asking the big questions about the film.

Now, regarding David, I’ve got to say Michael Fassbender (yum!) gives one of the greatest performances of the year as this installment’s token android.  He’s cold, calculating, vengeful, and yet funny and touching all at the same time. I for one wouldn’t mind a Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender flying off to find the Engineers sequel. This review on io9 goes further into the idea of the android race in all of the Alien films. “David and the aliens [The Engineers] have something in common. They hate humanity, for more or less good reasons, and will do anything to destroy us. All the movies in the Alien franchise (save for the AvP flicks) have played with this idea, comparing and contrasting the motives of the aliens and the robots. But here in Prometheus this idea finally comes to fruition. David’s arc is so brilliant and compelling that I’m temped to say that this movie is about the consciousness of robots, and that fighting aliens is just the setting where a story about human-robot relations of the future takes place.” I also find it interesting that David fits into the already established tropes of the Alien franchise androids, yet take them even further. “Demeter and Persephone in Space”, an incredibly long but extremely interesting analysis of the feminist theories imbedded within the Alien movies, has a bit to say about androids that totally shaped David as a character. “Ash [from Alien] is a type of the “effete Englishman” in U.S. culture. The satirical regard for the figure, generally an implicit one in popular culture, has been increasingly visible in the past two decades, Witness, for example, the backlash against Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard as a tea-drinking effete who doesn’t go on away missions as opposed to the apparently more masculine Trek Captain, William Shatner’s James T. Kirk; the aged English queens played by Brit-stalwarts such as Ian McKellan (Gods and Monsters, 1998) and Nigel Hawthorne (The Object of My Affections, 1991); or Giles and especially Wesley of Buffy fame. Ripley’s increasingly heated opposition to and increasingly violent conflict with the English Ash has suggestive implications not only for this film but for the others that follow. In the United States, English and European masculinities have historically been associated with European “decadence,” artificiality, and effeminacy in contrast to the sturdy, manly “authenticity” of U.S. manhood. Though only intelligible within an U.S. context, the construction of English/European manhood as both effeminate and artificial finds a significant embodiment in Ash.” Aren’t these characteristics also relevant to David? His British accent. Touching up his blond roots. I’m not sure what the effeminate characteristics of the androids say about the similar goals of the androids in the franchise, but it’s an interesting observation. By the way, if you’re looking for an amazing feminist analysis of the franchise, read that whole piece.

Finally, and I know this whole entry has just been a mish mash of theories, ideas, and other articles, but in my opinion, movies like Prometheus, and shows like Lost, and other such pieces of art that only offer questions are a big part of the POINT of cinema and its purpose. The thing that I love about this film is that everyone leaves with their own ideas, their own theories, their own thoughts on creation and destruction and can be universally applied to one’s already established beliefs. Writer Damon Lindelof said it perfectly when discussing the character Deckard from Blade Runner, and whether or not that character was an android: “During this film, I found myself in the room with Ridley, literally the one person who can answers that question that I’ve been debating for 25 years. And honestly, I don’t want him to tell me. It might shatter my own theory, and having that theory, and that debate, that’s part of the fun of the film.”

Indeed.

More fun things to read about Prometheus:

Doc Jensen has a few thoughts

Movies.com Interview with Ridley Scott

Prometheus in 15 Minutes

More Feminism in the franchise

MORE feminism

Representations of the human body in the Alien movies

Rooting for Newsies on Tony-Eve

June 9, 2012

Hey there gang. I just wanted to pass along my Newsies support for tomorrow night’s Tony Awards! If you’re interested in what I thought of the show, I didn’t write another full review when I saw the Broadway Production, since my review of the Paper Mill production was pretty much the same and they only changed a few minor things. Feel free to check it out. GO NEWSIES!!!

The Secret Garden at APAC

May 3, 2012

Last night I was fortunate enough to check out the final rehearsal for the musical The Secret Garden, opening tonight from The Astoria Performing Arts Center. Everyone in NYC should take a quick trip to Astoria, Queens to check out this lovely production (and have a delicious dinner at one of Astoria’s crazy good restaurants as well).

From APAC’s Website: “Living in a lonely manor house in 1906 England, Archibald Craven yearns for his beautiful, late wife. He blames his crippled son, Colin, for his wife’s death and has left him neglected and isolated. Their quiet routine is turned upside down when young Mary Lennox, a rich, spoiled child, is sent to live with them following the death of her parents by cholera in India. While living at the manor house, Mary discovers a secret walled garden hidden in the grounds and releases the magic and adventures locked inside, changing their lives forever. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman, in collaboration with composer Lucy Simon, achieved Broadway success with the moving book and lyrics adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved 1911 novel. Using the classic form of the traditional American musical, they have fashioned a faithful rendition of the novel, equally appealing to children and adults, to devotees of the novel and to The Secret Garden newcomers as well.”

This has been one of my favorite musicals since I first saw it as a young girl when the touring company traveled the country back in the early 90s. I’ve known the words to all of the songs ever since, but this production made them fresh and new in my mind and revitalized old memories. One of my favorite lines in the show is when young Mary asks Uncle Archibald if everyone who dies becomes a ghost. His reply is the melancholy, “They’re only a ghost if someone alive is still holding on to them,” which reflects the themes of letting go, moving on, and especially regrowth, both garden and personal.

Highlights of the show include an utterly gorgeous set designed by Michael P. Kramer that turns an old church theater into a stunning English manor. Stoic paintings and ornate accents give way to a lovely transformation that I won’t reveal in this write up, but the outcome is simply gorgeous. Patrick Porter delivers a heart wrenching performance as Archibald Craven, Mary’s reclusive uncle who continues to mourn the loss of his wife while his lonely son lives on, quarantined away. His “Race You to the Yop of the Morning” was surprisingly funny, yet bittersweet. Porter’s heartache, his lovely numbers and the close of both acts moved me to some unexpected tears. Hannah Lewis puts forth a feisty, rebellious Mary Lennox and Benjamin J. McHugh creates a Dr. Neville Craven that somehow garners sympathy; a feeling I had never had for the character before. Jennifer Evans is a lovely Lily, with a peaceful tone and hypnotizing presence. Her ghostly duet of “Come To My Garden” with the young Colin, the adorable Sam Poon, was particularly moving and reminded the audience that little Colin is also mourning a loss; something Archibald perhaps never noted. With direction by Tom Wojtunik, whose slight alterations provide fascinating results, this production of a little seen musical is a fantastic addition for this blooming theater company.

The Secret Garden opens tonight, May 3rd and runs Thursdays-Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm until May 19th.

Location:
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
30-44 Crescent St (@30th Rd)
Astoria, NY 11102