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Movies 2012- The Conversation Pt 3

With Oscar nominations on the horizon to discuss, we round out a somewhat random discussion of the year in movies 2012. Doug holds court on Django Unchained, Sarah welcomes Doug into the Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan club, and we both agree on what Alan Arkin might tell the Academy if he is snubbed on a best supporting actor nomination.

Doug: We’ve got to talk about Django Unchained if we’re discussing the best movies of the year. And beyond that, who would have thought that Quentin Tarantino, of all people, would make the movie that inspired the most sort of self-reflection for us as a society. I mean, Spielberg makes Lincoln, but it’s Tarantino that hits the hot buttons on race and slavery. I got into it all a bit in my review of the movie. But you’re going to have moments of uncomfortableness about what you’re liking and not liking about this movie. And what other people are laughing at, maybe a little too heartily. For me, Tarantino strikes the right balance, though, and he is really masterful in Django at steering the audience in the direction he wants them to be steered. He’s a master at that in general, but he really does it here.

Sarah: That’s true, he is a master at that. He’s obviously a master at staging violence for effect. And he’s also the best at rethinking how you present stories. In lots of different ways over the years. I haven’t seen Django yet. I was with my family over the holidays and when we were discussing which movies we should see when we were together, I flat out said I’m not going with my parents to see Django. Just not happening. But, yeah, Tarantino’s movies are always conceptual, and they always have a fresh take on how you tell the story.

Doug: Yeah, and I think Tarantino has earned his spot as the best writer, particularly of dialogue, of the great directors.

Sarah: I might disagree with you on Tarantino as the best writer of dialogue. I think I’d have to throw Kevin Smith in there. That’s all he’s really writing is dialogue. Might put him up as the best.

Doug: I always try to defer to you with respect for you Kevin Smith love, but…

Sarah: OK, I won’t try to say he’s better than Tarantino at dialogue. I just wanted to say he’s up there. For writing dialogue, Kevin Smith is up there. But they’re two completely different types of film makers, so it probably isn’t right to really compare them.

Doug: I’m not sure why this struck me so much in Django, but one of the reasons I say Tarantino is the best writer is because he so clearly loves his characters so much. For a guy who is killing so many of them off, he puts so much into them. He’s so all about the characters. Really, when you think of Tarantino’s movies, the characters are what you think about above all.

Sarah: And when you see them on screen, you completely understand them. Even the smaller characters. Obviously, John Travolta in Pulp Fiction isn’t a small role…

Doug: Well, Vincent Vega is a pretty big role.

Sarah: OK, yeah. But there were so many characters in that one that are memorable. And with Travolta, he’s so memorable that you almost forget he dies halfway through the movie, but Tarantino does the great stuff with the story where Travolta “comes back” into it. And it’s the characters that you remember from Pulp Fiction, as much as anything. John Travolta, Uma Thurman…

Doug : Samuel Jackson.

Sarah: Bruce Willis.

Doug: Don’t leave out The Gimp.

Sarah: So many more, too. And they’re all great, interesting characters.

Doug: Well, speaking of great characters, there are plenty in Django. Not the least of which is Dr. King Schultz. Man, the best supporting actor field is loaded this year, but I’d love to see Christoph Walz win again in another Tarantino movie after winning the Oscar for Inglourious Basterds. I’ve been enjoying doing my Dr. King Schultz impression around the house. So well written, especially the particularness and preciseness of the words he uses.

Sarah: I look forward to seeing it, because I have heard he is great.

Doug: In the first third to half of the movie, it’s sort of Dr. King Schultz’s show. But as the film moves along, Django and Jamie Foxx really takes over. Jamie Foxx builds to be one of the baddest asses you’ll ever see in a movie. And I don’t want to overlook the slow burn of his performance, which is key to the movie working. But, again, I give Tarantino full credit for manipulating the audience for the big payoff. Even with the violence. Almost all of the bad guy on good guy (usually white on black) violence is played very, very realistically. It’s visceral and super uncomfortable. But most of the good guy on bad guy (usually black on white) is cartoonish and over the top. You’re really cringing at the violence against the slaves. It walks right up to the line, and gets pretty edgy. Even Tarantino has said he had to pull some of it back, because it…

Sarah: Makes the audience too uncomfortable?

Doug: Yes. He talks about almost losing the audience. And not being able to get them back. In the end, this is a movie with a message, absolutely. But ultimately it’s a spaghetti western, a save the girl movie, a classic revenge film. Tarantino wants to pull the rubber band back as far as he can, so when it snaps back and you get the payoff the audience is primed to see it, and they want to see it, they want to cheer it. But you don’t want to pull the rubber band back so far that it snaps and you lose everything. I can’t speak for everybody, because I can completely understand a person who says Tarantino took things too far. But for me, he got it just right. I’d go so far as to say this is probably my second favorite Tarantino movie.

Sarah: Behind Pulp Fiction, of course.

Doug: Of course.

Sarah: Unless Tarantino puts John Travolta in another movie, and makes it like Django, you’re not going to back off that one.

Doug: You have to like that Tarantino is self-aware enough, too, to kind of no what he does well and stick to it.

Sarah: He could probably do a lot of other types of things, and do them competently, probably even very well. But he does what he does so well, it’s great that he has stayed focused.

Doug: Yeah, Django is on my top tier of movies for 2012, along with Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, and probably Dark Knight Rises and even Looper. There are a lot of other good movies from this year, but those 5 stick out in my mind the most.

Sarah: I saw that you liked Looper. It’s nice to see you finally get on the Joseph Gordon-Levitt bandwagon.

Doug: I’m all about some JGL now. JGL is my guy.

Sarah: Oh, and you’ve even adopted the acronym. Even better. You’ve finally come around, even though I’ve been on JGL for a while now. It all started with Inception. I’ve told you about this and you did put me in my place about it, that JGL didn’t actually conceive of this scene, he just played it. But such a great scene. The scene where they’re in the second level of the dream…

Doug: Oh, yeah, Inception. I loved it, even if I still don’t understand much of it.

Sarah: JGL has to figure out how to pull them from the second level to the third level. But on the first level, they’re literally dropping from bridges. There’s no gravity. So, JGL has to figure out what to do. He’s turning the room, he’s on the ceiling, fighting. Then he figures out how to tie his compatriots up, put them in an elevator, then blow everything up so the elevator plummets and they can get to the next level. JGL nailed that entire sequence. He just jumped to a whole new category for me in that movie, and that scene in particular. I knew from there that this guy could do some really awesome stuff. And that’s where I started my “They should put Joseph Gordon-Levitt in every movie” stance.

Doug: Maybe the reason I didn’t latch onto JGL then is because I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t understand it even after you just explained it to me. Inception was much more about a concept and style, I thought, than so much the acting. Even in Looper, the concepts are big.

Sarah: Well, we talked earlier about actors that are good at picking cool films and attaching themselves to good quality. He’s picking cool films and he’s getting the opportunities to be in them. Even in Dark Knight, he has some moments but he’s not incredibly strong in it.

Doug: Yup, I thought he was sort of just there in Dark Knight.

Sarah: Gary Oldman in that movie, as always, did more with less than just about anybody. But JGL has his moments. Particularly when he’s telling Batman without telling him that he knows who he is, or near the end when he’s helping take down the bad guys.

Doug: He has his moments. Although I have to say I’m not sure as Dark Knight Rises ended I was thinking, “I can’t wait to see a ‘Robin’ series with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin.” You just don’t. As opposed to Christian Bale, who was a brilliant Batman. I still wasn’t a JGL convert at that point. Even in Looper, I’m not going to say…

Sarah (laughing): That he should be in every movie? He’s already in a lot, with lots of different types of roles. Lincoln, Looper, 50/50, Batman, several others. He’s able to play lots of different roles.

Doug: I’ll say this, I used to think JGL and Shia Labeouf were pretty much the same guy. But definitely not now. I’m not sure I think Labeouf should be in anything. But I’m happy to see more JGL.

Sarah: And can I say that a lot of my JGL love has to do with his involvement in several small films and projects supporting civil liberties. So, just a few extra points for his cred. He did one where he was pointing out that you have rights to take photos and video of the police at things like protests at the political conventions. They aren’t allowed to take your camera as long as you’re not interfering with them.

Doug: And I would imagine if you’re a Hollywood hotshot walking up to them with your camera, that would be less of a problem than if you’re just some ham and egger from Haw River, NC doing it.

Sarah (laughing): Yes, and Gordon-Levitt was trying to let people know that they have rights. So, bonus points to him for apparently being a cool guy on top of his acting ability.

Doug: Points to him for that, for sure. So, maybe we’ll both do specific year end rankings elsewhere, but for me my top tier of movies would probably be some combination of Django, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty and Dark Knight Rises. Haven’t seen Amour yet, which is promising.

Sarah: And for me, it would be something like Skyfall, Paranorman and even The Hobbit.

Doug: I’ll say this, too. To pick a random movie, I liked Argo quite a lot, but I doubt it would make my top 10, or maybe even top 15, of the year. That’s how strong a year it was this year. And take Argo and throw it into last year’s movie crop, and it might be top 3 or 4.

Sarah: Well, I liked Argo probably more than you did. So, I definitely agree that it would have been one of the movies of the year last year. But I thought Affleck did a great job with Argo, especially with the suspense of the finish of it all. Argo is no Tinker, Tailor, as a comparison, but I’d put it right there on my second tier for this year.

Doug: Well, yeah, Argo is no Tinker, Tailor. Argo is quite a bit more fluffy than Tinker, Tailor. But going back one last time to the strength in the supporting actor category, Alan Arkin could win for one or two line readings in Argo. One of them was one word—“Taco”. The other was the always to be remembered…

Sarah: Argo f**k yourself?

Doug: Argo f**k yourself. If Arkin doesn’t win an Oscar, that’s what he should tell the Academy.

Sarah: You’re right, though, Argo would be ranked much higher in past years than it would be this year. I mean, I don’t know if I’d rank it higher than that black and white movie from last year, I can’t remember the name of it.

Doug: If you can’t remember the name of it, Argo is probably better than it. I think you’re thinking of The Artist?

Sarah (laughing): Yeah, if I can’t remember it, maybe it wasn’t that great, although I’m not sure I’ll remember Argo a year from now, either. For straight entertainment value, though, you can’t argue too much with Argo. Say what you will about it, Argo is well paced, it moves.

Doug: Yes, it does move. And you throw out there sheer entertainment value. I love Life of Pi. It’s really entertaining in its own right. But part of what I love about it is what it represents and the fact that a movie with a nice, simple message like that can still win us over.

Sarah: Yeah.

Doug: And Life of Pi is right up there. But for sheer entertainment, getting the juices flowing, and watching a movie for the love of movies, I might have to go Django as my favorite. If you think Django crosses too many lines, or you think using slavery is too sacrosanct of subject matter to use as the center piece of a cartoonish, spaghetti western revenge flick, I can respect that. But I am with it. And say what you will about it all. If you’re going to do revenge movies, can you think of two groups of people that you’d love to see get their comeuppance more than Nazis and slave owners. You’ve got to give Tarantino that. He does know how to pick his bad guys. Oh, and by the way, my name is Doug. The “O” is silent.

Sarah: And I’m Sarah. The “H” is silent.

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Movies 2012- The Conversation Part 2

Here’s part 2 of our generally pretty random conversation about movies in 2012, where we get into Zero Dark Thirty, the Bond franchise, and even touch a bit on what a good year it was for stop motion films.

Sarah: What do we do with all the good movies of 2012? Are we going to be able to rank them in some sort of order?

Doug: I don’t know if I can do a real order this year. There is probably a good top 20-25, but can I put them in a real order? It’s tough. Like, I just saw Zero Dark Thirty, probably the best reviewed movie of the year. And, for me, well first of all are you going to go see that? I know you’ve said you have mixed feelings about seeing it.

Sarah: I don’t know, there’s two things working against me seeing it, at least until it’s nominated for an Oscar. First, the concept of it all is not necessarily something I’d want to see. And, second, the previews for it don’t make it look all that great. Remember Crazy Heart? That had the opposite problem. Great previews, not so good movie. I think you said Crazy Heart would get an Oscar for previews. But, it sort of stunk. Zero Dark Thirty, the previews are making it look kind of bad.

Doug: For me, having seen it, I may have been too swayed by the overwhelmingly fawning reviews. This is a really, really good movie. But with all the gushing, it’s easy to get caught up in the whole “it’s not as good as everyone says it is” trap. Because it’s a great movie. But I know you’ve said you weren’t sure about how you’d feel about watching it considering the subject matter. Having seen it, your concerns are spot on. There have been a lot of movies made over the years based on real events that tweaked the truth a bit for dramatic affect. But for most Americans, there is probably no story more important or emotional over the last few decades than 9/11. And even though this is just about the hunt for Bin Laden aspect of 9/11 and not so much 9/11 itself, it still colors the way you watch Zero Dark Thirty. I mean, this movie is nothing if not riveting. If it weren’t a true story, you’d be sucked in totally. But you do find yourself wondering, “I wonder if this really happened this way?” and…

Sarah: And how would they know? Most of this stuff still has to be classified. How much of it could they really know they have right?

Doug: Yeah, and unfortunately before seeing it, I read enough conflicting information even about the Jessica Chastain lead character, she being the CIA officer that doggedly chases Bin Laden for years. Some things indicate areas where the film makers didn’t portray her correctly, and some reports even suggest that she isn’t even a she in real life. So, all of this does sort of cloud how you watch the film unfold.

Sarah: It’s got to be a fictionalized thing. And it’s interesting, in a way, to be able to do it in an effective way. Sort of cobble together true information and maybe some things you’ve got to fictionalize. But I do wonder how much I want to buy it or watch as a “true” version of events.

Doug: It’s a great movie to watch purely as a procedural. And even kind of as a pure workplace story, where Jessica Chastain’s character almost starts to be regarded as out there and delusional in her hunt for this one guy. In a lot of ways, the country itself had move on from Bin Laden. The movie portrays the CIA as not devoting as many resources to Bin Laden.

Sarah: He’s barely even relevant at a certain point. Some nice themes you’re talking about here. In some ways, kind of similar to Skyfall, the Bond movie.

Doug: We have to talk about that. With Zero Dark Thirty, as great as it is, I wonder if anything could be as edge of your seat, literally actually, as the famous photo of President Obama and Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton and others sitting there watching the actual raid. No fictionalized account can really make you grasp the seriousness of all of it as that one photo.

Sarah: Yes, just the looks on their faces is something I think you can’t help but be grabbed by. And for a movie to try to match that, it’s tough. And top of trying to do it at all, to try to do it so close on the heels of it actually happening makes it even tougher. How much of the information on what really happen is even non-classified right now. Think about how long it took for the information that Argo was based on to declassify.

Doug: Good point. It’s interesting, because I think part of this movie being made so close in time after the actual events says a lot about how quickly we are moving now as a society, how quickly we’re ready for a movie version of this.

Sarah: Well, and one big reason why I’m a little bit reluctant about seeing Zero Dark Thirty is that I’m not convinced I am ready to watch it. Maybe the rest of the country is, but I’m not sure I am. If I can convince myself purely that this is a fictionalized version of these events, then maybe it would be more acceptable to me to just say, “OK, I’m watching a movie here”, and that’s how I’d view it.

Doug: The problem is, intellectually you can tell yourself that, but you can’t always keep the thoughts about what is real and what isn’t from creeping in.

Sarah: Yeah. The whole time you’d be naturally questioning “is that how that happened?” or “was that person really like that?”. And what are they leaving out, and what are they embellishing?

Doug: It’s ultimately a 2 hour movie, so Kathryn Bigelow had to make choices. You’d likely be more interested in reading an exhaustive 500 page book about it all.

Sarah (laughing): You’d be more interested in reading a 500 page book about it.

Doug: Let’s talk about some more stuff. I know you really liked Skyfall. I did, too, so let’s discuss the return of Bond.

Sarah: I did like Skyfall. Probably in my top 5 for the year. One of the ways I judge how much I like a movie is to ask myself if I’d buy it on DVD when it comes out. And I would buy Skyfall. And let me just say I’ve already purchased Paranorman. That one is already in my house.

Doug: Is Paranorman your movie of the year?

Sarah: It might be close. But let’s go back to Skyfall.

Doug: Can I just say that another guy I really want to see with a nomination this year is Javier Bardem for Skyfall?

Sarah (laughing): His role is so bizarre in that movie. It seems like one of the themes we’ve developed is things are coming in twos. And there are two things about Bardem in Skyfall. The first is that he’s so not the typical Bond villain, at least I didn’t think so. The second thing is, he wasn’t even necessarily the major conflict in the film, which might be part of why I don’t think of him as a typical Bond villain.

Doug: That’s an interesting take, because one of the things I really liked about him is that I thought he actually was a bit of a throwback to some of the older Bond villain types.

Sarah: Well, I think you’re thinking he might be more like a SPECTRE type villain, the guy with the cat, Bardem had a little of that going on.

Doug: Bardem himself said he put a little of the guy who played Jaws in Moonraker, Richard Kiel I think was the guy’s name. The guy with the big grill of teeth. Which was great. And of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, this one was the most throwback-y, with a little tiny bit of cartoonish-ness here and there, even.

Sarah: Well, what they seemed to be trying to do when they rebooted Bond back around Casino Royale the Bourne movies were big, so there was a bit of a shadow there. And you had the Batman movies out there, too. And they were going for a grittier feel with Bond, with all those types of movies. But I don’t think they banked on how much people just kind of wanted their old, standby kind of Bond. Where maybe they were doing too much copying when Bond doesn’t need to copy.

Doug: And you’re taking a pretty big risk if you try to kind of copy, or at least take too much from, other movie franchises. Because you’re probably not going to be able to exactly duplicate what makes that other stuff good.

Sarah: Right, and now you’re getting grief for two things. One, you’re not a real Bond movie. And, you’re not as good as this other stuff you’re kind of trying to be like. I didn’t really think it was a smart move. It might be just one perspective, but I missed the old Bond style. But I’m someone who is willing to defend the Brosnan years.

Doug: Sure. I think Pierce Brosnan was a great Bond.

Sarah: He was a great Bond. Even if some of the Brosnan Bond movies were crap, he was still a great Bond.

Doug: Yes. I think Daniel Craig is a great Bond.

Sarah: I think he is now. But, honestly, after his first two efforts I was not convinced.

Doug: Really? That’s interesting.

Sarah: In fairness to Daniel Craig, I’m not sure it wasn’t that he was bad in Casino Royale, it was more that he was given a role that wasn’t actually Bond. He was given a role that was more like Bourne. You could say the same thing, in a way, about the latest Bourne, The Bourne Legacy. I like my Jeremy Renner, and there was some pretty good stuff there, but it’s not a Bourne movie. And they were trying to make Daniel Craig be like Bourne. But he’s supposed to be Bond. He needs his one liners, he needs his Bond girls. This isn’t supposed to be as deep of a character as they were making Daniel Craig play him. Where was the wit.

Doug: The scene in Skyfall that was classic for that, I thought, was when Bardem has Bond tied up and is getting, shall we say, a little frisky with him. And Daniel Craig plays it completely cool, with a little glimmer in his eye and says, “How do you this…”

Sarah: “Isn’t my first time?” That’s what I’m talking about. A great Bond line.

Doug: And can I say that the costume designer for Skyfall deserves to win an Academy Award purely on the basis of the orthopedic Velcro shoes the designer gives Bardem to sport.

Sarah (laughing): The Double Velcro orthopedic shoes! They were double Velcro. With what appeared to be some sort of janitorial suit on, as well.

Doug (laughing): Oh, my God. It’s gold.

Sarah: And combine it with the weird yellow hair that was just horrible. I don’t even…

Doug: All I know is I wanted more Bardem. That’s all I can tell you about Skyfall.

Sarah: But it’s Bardem with Bond that works.

Doug: You’re right.

Sarah: You can’t have it all work without Bond on the screen with Bardem.

Doug: For sure. But, of course, Bond is on the screen the entire time.

Sarah: Much of the time with no shirt on.

Doug: We can’t overlook that.

Sarah: Just have to lay that out there for the ladies.

Doug: Or the gentlemen, as the case may be.

Sarah: The Javier Bardem-esque gentlemen, apparently. They finally got it right for Daniel Craig with this Bond movie. I was totally all about when “Q” came on the scene. I was all about it. The perfect way to recharge Bond. Have the geek-y computer nerd sitting next to the old school Bond in his suit. That scene summed up for me the point of where they’re going with Bond now. There’s the old and the new and how Bond is going to make it all work. I loved it.

Doug: Paranorman, you loved it.

Sarah: Loved it. The stop motion, I’ll just do a list because it was a good year for stop motion. You had Paranorman, Frankenweenie, and even one I never reviewed but should have, Pirates: Band of Misfits.

Doug: We didn’t see Wreck It Ralph.

Sarah: No, we didn’t. I did see Brave, the Disney offering of the year. A lot of good stuff there. Some good archery in that one, another theme of the year with Hunger Games and its archery.

Doug: Are you a fan of archers?

Sarah: No, I’m not. But my nephew did get a bow and arrow for Christmas, and I was down in the basement trying to teach him how to use it.

Doug: Remind me to wear my protective gear when I’m around your nephew. Wait a minute, YOU were teaching your nephew how to arch? Maybe I need to wear protective gear around you.

Sarah: You might want to consider it.

 
 

The Hobbit: Three Hours of Awesome

Yeah, I know The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey opened almost a month ago and I am, once again, a little late on the draw, but it has come to my attention that upwards of a dozen people in North America have not yet seen this movie so this one is for them.  I, like many of you no doubt, spent much of the last few weeks visiting friends and family over the holidays and I got several questions about The Hobbit and whether is was worth seeing.  For example, my sister asked if it was “another movie about walking”?  She was referencing a, I’ll call it, notorious rant from none other than Kevin Smith about the Lord of the Rings trilogy in which he demonstrated the plot of the movie by taking a few steps on stage during “An Evening with Kevin Smith 2, Evening Harder” and then taking off his wedding ring and throwing it on the carpet near the mike.  This rant would later go on to be featured in Clerks 2.  I do enjoy Kevin Smith, but I have to disagree with his assessment of the Rings trilogy; saying that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is about walking is like saying any Kevin Smith movie is about talking.  A lot of the characters do a lot of talking, but the movies aren’t about talking, they just feature talking.  So, if you change the question to, is this another film that features a lot of walking, the answer is yes, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome.

First off, the film just looks amazing.  Peter Jackson has brought Middle-earth to life and, if it is possible, it is even more beautiful in this prequel to the Rings trilogy which is supposed to take place 60 years before Frodo makes his journey to Mount Doom.  Bilbo, still a relatively young hobbit, is hand-picked by Gandalf the Gray, a wizard to accompany him and a troop of dwarves on an adventure.  Adventures, in Middle-earth, almost always requiring a lot of walking, but this one also involves a visit with elves, treacherous fighting mountains, orks, and let us not forget the trolls.  And this adventure is not just a relaxing gamble about in the back woods, no Bilbo has been identified by Gandalf as very necessary in the endeavor to reclaim the dwarves’ home in the Lonely Mountain from Smaug, the dragon.  Yeah, that’s as far into the plot as I’m going to go, but there are plenty of different themes running throughout the book and film for anyone to enjoy.  My personal favorite is the idea that young Bilbo has always been respectable, never going on any adventures and never truly knowing what he is capable of – and he is capable of greatness!  Loyalty, cunning, mercy and what home means are also lovely themes to think about in The Hobbit, but I’m not here to get all deep on you.  I’ll leave that kind of thing to Doug.  All I’m here for is to tell you if the movie is good or not and this one is great, especially if you’re a fan of the book or the Rings trilogy.

The Hobbit looks even better than the Lord of the Rings movies did, if that is possible.  Rivendell is especially stunning and the dwarves are played to perfection.  The orks are suitably nasty and brutish and the fight scenes are tremendous, but the heart of this movie is, of course, Bilbo and Martin Freeman plays him to perfection.  Bilbo is just the rights amount of trepidatious, eventually throwing caution to the wind in order to join the travelling Company as their thief – because every adventure needs a thief – and Freeman brings a nice balanced sense of humor to the role that makes this hobbit absolutely endearing.  You root for him from the beginning.  Between the dwarves and the trolls, there are plenty of laughs in the movie too.  While in the book, the scene with the trolls is actually pretty tense, in the movie it is played almost entirely for laughs, but the comic relief was well placed.

I will admit that I think making The Hobbit in three parts and releasing it over the next several years as Jackson is planning to do has ticked me off.  In an effort to placate me, Doug reminded me that at the end of the day, I’ll have nine hours of amazing movie to watch and I won’t be ticked then, but I still say it is kind of a dick move to make a 300 page book into three separate movies and this brings me to my one and only criticism of the movie.  It is a long movie, almost three hours.  Not that at any point it felt long, but that speaks more to the beauty of the film than anything else.  The 3D, while not strictly necessary helped give Middle-earth depth and lend a quality of wonder to wandering through the woods and clamoring through goblin tunnels and then there was, of course, the precious.  Bilbo and Gollum play a game to determine whether Gollum will help Bilbo or eat him.  Again, Freeman plays this scene perfectly with just the right amount of humor and Gollum looks even more real and expressive than he did in the trilogy.  Andy Serkis described Gollum in this movie as the young and sexy Gollum, but he is far from that.  He is manic and frightening.  Bilbo, in obtaining the one ring from Gollum must be both crafty and daring and he learns through that experience, first winning the ring and then sparing Gollum’s life, exactly what he is made of.  It is exactly this daring and empathy that Bilbo discovers in himself that allows him to risk his own life to save the leader of his Company.  I can’t wait to see what the next film will bring us.  Tricksy hobbitses, indeed.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2013 in Reviews

 

Movies 2012–The Conversation Part 1

Before the Oscars get here, we offer a pretty decent, and at times pretty random, break down of the year in movies. At least as we see it. Here’s Part 1. Enjoy, or at least tolerate. Thanks for your time…

Doug: What did we think of 2012 as a movie year in general?

Sarah: I thought it was a good year, although I’m not sure I thought it was as good as you thought it was. I would say it was probably a pretty good year for Oscar contenders. I’m a little more about the bigger, epic movies, the super hero stuff, The Hobbit type movies. And there weren’t quite as many of those this year. It was a great year for stop motion movies, which I love, so that was good.

Doug: For me, I don’t think I can say 2012 was a year of all-time great, classic movies. But there were so many very good movies that I think made 2012 really good. We have this list of movies in front of us that we saw this year, and the list is longer than usual and is almost totally filled with stuff I enjoyed. I could probably list a good 20 movies that I liked, which is pretty unusual and definitely better than the last couple of years. So, how do we start? I forgot The Hunger Games was a 2012 movie.

Sarah: There you go. Certainly one I liked better than you did, the type of movie I like to see that we didn’t have quite as much of in 2012. You’re right, though, there was a lot of good stuff this year when you look at year end lists. And I think you have to be fair to The Hunger Games and remember that it’s just the first part of a trilogy. But I know we differed on what we thought of it, and folks can go back to our dueling reviews from early in the year if they want to revisit that.

Doug: I’ll tell you what, how about in 5 years when you get me The Hunger Games trilogy on closeout DVD from Ollie’s, I’ll sit down and watch it.

Sarah: And it will all come together for you.

Doug: One thing that I can say was great about The Hunger Games was Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. What an awesome year all the way around for her. We’ll get to some other actors who had great years, too. But she was brilliant in Silver Linings Playbook. She is on an absolute roll. So, Jennifer Lawrence… Go.

Sarah: Well, she kicked it off big with Winter’s Bone, the movie that really put her on everybody’s radar. A lot of pressure to keep it up. Agreed that she was great in The Hunger Games. I know you loved her in Silver Linings, I thought she was more just OK in that. Not bad, not great. Not to suggest that you or I thought either one of them was bad in the movie, but I thought Bradley Cooper was better in Silver Linings than maybe you thought he was.

Doug: That’s fair. I think we’re both splitting hairs, and we both liked each performance, but…

Sarah: For me, Jennifer Lawrence had a bit of an easier role to play. She was mostly able to just play more out there the whole movie. Whereas Bradley Cooper had to be a little more nuanced. There were sections where he was really losing his shit, but he had to play the role of the guy trying to gain control, too, and that for me is a harder thing to pull off. Maybe it could be easier if he was playing a split personality, but he had to make all the sides into a coherent whole. And I thought he did it really, really well.

Doug: You know, I liked Cooper in the role and to be fair to him, maybe one of the things that distracted me from the performance is that he’s just such a pretty man.

Sarah: Maybe that’s why I liked the performance better because I don’t really find him a pretty man at all.

Doug: Now, I mean pretty in a complimentary way, by the way, since pretty might not come off as a big compliment for a guy.

Sarah (laughs): I get it, and I also don’t want to demean Mr. Cooper. He is a perfectly decent looking man.

Doug: I don’t want to get too negative about him, either, because mostly in the stuff I’ve seen him, he’s been fine. I shouldn’t make it about him, but one of the things that bothers me a little is that a guy like him can do so many blah movies and keep getting chances to finally hit, like he does with Silver Linings. That I’m fine with. But we were talking about Jennifer Lawrence. And I think we both know that if she had made a series of just sort of decent movies like Bradley Cooper did, as a young female actress she wouldn’t keep getting big second chances. She has to keep being great. Again, I’m not knocking Bradley Cooper, I like him just fine. I guess I’m hating on the game, not the player.

Sarah: We’ve talked about George Clooney in the past. And you were saying that he had the same sorts of chances. And look where he is now. You’ve talked about how Clooney is as good a chooser of roles as he is an actor. And maybe there’s the same sort of thing developing with Bradley Cooper, where he is good at putting himself in the right spots. But you still have to play the role. You can’t stink, I don’t think, in the roles you’re playing and keep getting chances.

Doug: Speaking of actors having good years, how about our guy Matthew McConaughey?

Sarah: Good segue, because Matthew McConaughey also reminds me of George Clooney in a way. Whereas George Clooney is often just George Clooney playing a role, it’s the same with Matthew McConaughey a lot of the time. It’s Matthew McConaughey as a lawyer, and the same Matthew McConaughey as a male strip club owner.

Doug: That’s true, but put McConaughey as McConaughey in the correct role, and it comes out as genius. His over the top, cartoonish Texas justice sheriff in Bernie was just right on the money.

Sarah: And some have pushed Jack Black as a fringe Oscar contender for that movie.

Doug: A pretty decent little movie, and Jack Black was spot on in it. And McConaughey was great in a smaller role there. But come on, McConaughey in Magic Mike? Genius in casting and acting. Why can’t a role like that get a nomination? Part of me says that they should do what they’re doing with Best Picture with all the categories. Not every year has multiple great performances, for example, but if a year is a really good one and they want to nominate more than 5 actors or actresses in a category, why can’t they. McConaughey deserves a nom for Magic Mike, and I’d love to see him onstage performing “Ladies of Tampa” as a best song nominee. What other songs, other than the Les Miserables stuff, do you remember from a movie. And, yeah, as for the nominations, if there are 3 good performances in a given year, nominate 3 people. If there are 20 good performances, nominate 20 people.

Sarah: Well, I’m putting out Jack White for Paranorman for best song. You know I love me some Jack White. Or Bruce Springsteen. I just wanted to say Bruce Springsteen. Why does a song have to be specifically written for a movie to be nominated, anyway? Just pick the best songs.

Doug: They’re not going to just pick the best songs. I’m still bitter from 1977 when the Bee Gee’s got snubbed on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. What sort of world do we live in?

Sarah: It’s crap, Doug.

Doug: I’ll never get over it. Speaking of songs, Les Miserables. Here’s where I ask the question I’ve been dying to ask. You are someone who has been involved in the theater, so what is up with your steadfast, almost antagonistic, stance against seeing Les Mis.

Sarah (laughing, and adjusting in her seat, as if preparing for a fight): Well, there are two reasons.

Doug (also adjusting in his seat, settling in for this one): I’ve been waiting for this.

Sarah: We’ve discussed this before. Generally speaking, I don’t want to go out of my way to see a movie that I know ahead of time is going to be horribly depressing. Just not how I want to spend my spare time. Alright?

Doug: OK.

Sarah: I read the book and, yep, it was horribly depressing.

Doug: I didn’t know anybody actually read the book. I thought people just saw the musical.

Sarah: Yeah, I read it at some point. Although, actually, I’m willing to bet money that there were sections of it I skipped. Because everybody just dies in it.

Doug: OK, that makes more sense. You didn’t really read it. What’s your second reason for not seeing the movie?

Sarah: Because I saw the musical, and it was even more horribly depressing. It was just a musical version of everybody dying.

Doug: I can’t really argue with a line of reasoning that says you’ve read the book the movie is based on, seen the stage musical the movie is based on, and hated them both, so therefore you won’t go see the movie. Pretty solid logic.

Sarah: Well, you and I commit to seeing as many of the Oscar nominated films as we can, so if it gets nominations, I will likely end up seeing it. But seeing it because I think I would enjoy it is not really on my radar. I don’t want to pay to be depressed.

Doug: I’d say you made the right choice skipping it. I was intrigued to see it, and was in the right mood to see it. I wanted to like it. But it missed on too many levels. I’m all for giving credit to sincerity of effort in anything, but I didn’t love the fact that with a couple of exceptions (Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks) the singing in a movie that was 100% about the music was not up to a professional level. Not to mention, the emotional punch, which for better or worse is the whole point of Les Mis, was sometimes there and sometimes not. It was so hit or miss overall. I’d love to see Hathaway and Barks get nominations. Anne Hathaway was sheer genius in this movie. There’s no way around it, and I actually found myself feeling sorry for any actors having to play a scene with her. She was that good.

Sarah: And some of the others can sing. Like Hugh Jackman. He can sing. But I hear what you’re saying, that you don’t necessarily want to subject yourself to whatever some of the others, like I’ve heard Russell Crowe was tough to sit through.

Doug: Even Hugh Jackman. He was fine. But if I’m going to watch a movie built around singing, fine really isn’t good enough.

Sarah: Having seen the “making of” vignettes, it seemed like they were taking some big risks with the way they did this one. And, like you say, respect has to be given to the effort. But if you’re left with a million closeups on Hugh Jackman’s face while he sometimes just says his lines in a sing song way instead of properly singing them, it may not come off.  And you told me that one of the problems you had with it was that it dragged at times. So, that all factors in with why I wouldn’t want to see it. It’s going to go on and on, and it’s so damned depressing. Everybody keeps dropping dead.

Doug: I sort of feel like we’re talking too much about a movie that doesn’t really deserve a ton of conversation. It wasn’t even really that depressing. It was just too often boring, and lacked a sense of place, both physically and historically. It didn’t stick.

Sarah: Ultimately, it’s a weird thing to try to do a story where everybody dies, and a huge war is about to break out, that is supposed to kind of still be uplifting. You’re invested in all of these characters, and they keep dropping.

Doug: We could probably have a debate about how the movie could have been done to make it uplifting, but it wasn’t done that way. It was just sort of blah mostly. So, I agree with you. But sticking to one of our themes. It was a great year for Anne Hathaway. Incredible in Les Mis, also awesome in Dark Knight Rises. Which is a movie that is going to end up sadly overlooked in this pretty good year. I liked that movie a lot, one of my favorites of the year. Christian Bale is always too taken for granted with what he’s done as Batman.

Sarah: Did you always think of Anne Hathaway as a bit of a lightweight as an actress?

Doug: I will confess, yes. But not anymore.

Sarah: She was good this year, and those two roles were very, very different. A lot of range there.

Doug: Here’s where I’m torn, though. As much as we loved Hathaway, I think we’re in agreement that we want to see Amy Adams win a best supporting Oscar for The Master.

Sarah: And some people are calling her the long shot now. Which kind of pisses me off, because you know that Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are both going to get nominated. If Amy Adams doesn’t at least get nominated, I’m going to be mad!

Doug: If she doesn’t at least get nominated, we’ll have an hour long discussion simply about that. Maybe the best performance of the year, in any category. Somehow they seem to be weaseling Hoffman into the Best Supporting category.

Sarah: They have. And he deserves to be in Best Actor. Flat out.

Doug: Agreed. The more I think about The Master, the more I think somebody completely different would have been better in the Joaquin Phoenix role.

Sarah: Absolutely. In fact, let’s throw Matthew McConaughey in that role.

Doug (laughs). Yeah. McConaughey. So, at the end instead of having Hoffman singing “Slow Boat To China” to Phoenix, we could have McConaughey wind things up by singing “Ladies of Tampa” and then sliding over and grinding a little on Amy Adams sitting in that chair. Loosen her up a little.

Sarah: Perfect ending to The Master. You know? Imagine McConaughey playing that role. In all seriousness, I can see him playing it in a way that really could have made more sense to the role and the character. Essentially all we had with Joaquin Phoenix was an actor doing actor-y exercises.

Doug: And I want to watch a movie. I mean, if somebody wanted to record his performance and play it for acting class, OK, I guess.

Sarah: His performance were the types of exercises that actors literally do before they go on stage or perform. So, I guess I can see why other actors would vote for him and praise the performance. It’s the kind of stuff other actors just loooove. They lap it up. Phoenix could even win it, and that would be another one that would just make me mad.

Doug: If it makes you feel better, I’d be mad, too. I did hear somebody say that one of the reasons they are pushing The Master is because they felt that it was movie you’d remember in 20 years as opposed to say, Life of Pi. Which I suppose is true, but probably not for the right reasons. And I loved Life of Pi.

Sarah: Speaking of performances, one of your nominations for Best Supporting Actor is Richard in Life of Pi, right?

Doug: Yes, if we are in agreement that Amy Adams has to win for Best Supporting Actress, then Richard Parker (playing himself) deserves to be the first tiger decked out in a tuxedo for Oscar night, too. Life of Pi sticks out, of for no other reason, because it’s just such a nice movie, with a pretty straight ahead, simple message that it might be nice for people to grab onto in an increasingly cynical, over analytical world. Plus, what Ang Lee does with 3D in this movie should be an absolute model for other film makers to follow. This is absolute genius visually.

Sarah: It was a great looking movie, #1. A good use of 3D. And if you think about the way that it would have had to have been made. I mean, that was a kid on a boat in front of one of those big blue screens. I love your Richard Parker nomination, but as we both know, he wasn’t even real. The directing and the performance of Suraj Sharma are what the entire movie hinge upon. Ang Lee has this elaborate vision that he has to transfer to the screen and that kid had to react to a non-existent tiger to put together his performance. Suraj Sharma won’t get a nomination, but he darn sure deserves one for the skill it took to make that role so powerful and real in a fake atmosphere. He’s out there by himself in a really, really tough role to play.  My two cents on Life of Pi is that it’s a really good movie carried by Ang Lee and Suraj Sharma.

Doug: If you think Life of Pi deserves nominations, and obviously we both do believe that, you’re right, they both should get nominated. Ang Lee really, really continues to impress with the breadth of range he has as a director. He is approaching genius levels.

 

 
 

Django Unchained

Let’s go ahead and get the Important Stuff out of the way. I mean, come on, who woulda thunk that Quentin Tarantino would be the one releasing the movie that has us talking more about Big Issues than any other director in 2012. If (and for your sake, when) you see Django Unchained, you’re going to get hit with several moments that are going to make you squirm, several where you’ll question whether your reaction is “OK”, and several where you wonder about your fellow movie goers. If you don’t, you’re not only going to want to check yourself in the mirror, but I’m a little worried about you. You might want to check yourself for the empathy gene. I’ve read some people actually referring to these moments as their Django Moments. They vary for everyone, but almost all of them refer back to one of the feelings I mention above.

The racial overtones are just impossible to ignore. At the showing where my wife and I saw Django, the theater was packed with as diverse (albeit mostly under 50) an audience I’ve seen a film with in a while. And there were absolutely moments where a tiny handful of the younger and, I’ll go ahead and say it, white members of the audience were laughing just a little too loudly and just a little too self-satisfiedly at some of the white on black violence. You can try to pretend you don’t hear it, but it’s there. But it’s not all about “other people” making you feel uncomfortable. You’re going to feel uncomfortable about yourself, too. How much is too much? What are you laughing at, and what are you laughing with? Is the violence cartoonish enough to not cross too many lines, or does it get too real?

The Django Moment that sticks out most for me was during a scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio as the evil slave owner Calvin Candie was mindlessly swirling his cocktail in a coconut as his “Mandingo fighting” slaves fought to the death for his entertainment. This was an incredibly violent scene, squirm inducing. And the insouciance with which DiCaprio watched the scene in front of him is meant to add to the shock of it all, and help establish the evil of Leo’s character. And it was as uncomfortable as it was meant to be. Having said that, I also quickly realized I was popping popcorn into my mouth with nearly as much casualness as DiCaprio’s character as I watched the “entertainment” unfold on the screen in front of me. I ended up squirming at myself as much as at the screen.

There are a several moments like the one I describe here. The thing is, all of this would be a ton more concerning to me if the awkwardness wasn’t all right out there, floating obviously around everyone in the theater, and if there wasn’t so much talk about it by those who have seen it. If people were just showing up to Django, cackling and high fiving over the violence, and going home to have a beer, I’d be pretty concerned for us all. I don’t think we can overlook the fact that there are a handful of people out there doing exactly that, but most thoughtful people are going to have a conversation about what it all means. As I was watching the movie, I was enjoying it a ton. After it was over, I was immediately self-analyzing in order to decide the exact level of enjoyment I was going to allow myself to have.

But you know what, with the exception of it being a scene or two long, and the fact that female characters have very little place in the plot, except to be saved by the male characters, this is a freakin’ great movie. Sure we all should keep a perspective on what we’re watching, but it’s not our responsibility to assign the proper levels of guilt to everyone else in the theater, or to not be allowed to look at Django as the absolutely great movie entertainment that it is. And while Tarantino was obviously looking to tweak us all and push us into (to quote a line from his own Pulp Fiction) a few “uncomfortable silences”, he’s ultimately looking to do it in an as entertaining and mishmashed package as possible. No one uses cinema the way Tarantino can. And he delivers here with an awesome combination of spaghetti Western homage, exploding male id revenge fantasy to the nth degree, first rate buddy flick, boy saves girl, and ultimate good guy takes out ultimate bad guy story. If you’re not into any of that, don’t see it. But if you are, queue it up, my friend. Because you’re going to love it.

The first half of the movie shows off Tarantino at his best in terms of dialogue, particularly in the droll particularness of delivery from the brilliant Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Shultz. The doctor hasn’t practiced in years, and is now a smooth talking bounty hunter. As the movie opens, he needs the help of Jamie Foxx’s slave, named Django (“the D is silent”) to help him find his next quarry, the evil Brittle Brothers. Django knows what Shultz’s the brothers look like, and Schultz promises Django his freedom if Django helps Shultz track down the notorious bros. As it turns out, Django is a natural at the bounty hunting game. Shultz recognizes a winner when he sees one, and promises to help Django track down and reunite with his enslaved wife if Django will work with him as a bounty hunting partner through the winter.

Waltz as Shultz really shines in this first half of the film. Tarantino is nothing if not an incredible writer, and the first half of the movie shows that he still has it, the best in Hollywood at writing a comic scene that tells a precise story, and has you hanging on every word. Foxx and Waltz have a perfect chemistry. Foxx has a tough role to play, an uneducated slave who you know is going to emerge as a badass. He works the meek to hero transition perfectly. You know all along that his Django is the coolest cat in the West, even as he struggles with learning the bounty game. And his laser like focus on it all being about saving his wife is at the forefront of the story throughout. Foxx slow boils through the entire film. There’s never any doubt that he’ll save his wife, and that there’ll be hell to pay. The only mystery is how it is all going to go down. In the hands of Tarantino, you can’t wait to find out.

It’s interesting that two of the best films of 2012, Django and the upcoming Zero Dark Thirty are ultimately revenge epics. You can make an argument that the desire for revenge can be one of the most visceral, and ultimately, ugly of all human instincts. Which is why, when handled effectively, the ability to let off the steam for that revenge desire through the movies has worked so well over the years. And come on, if you’re going to make a revenge movie with a higher overall theme than one guy getting revenge on another, what better theme to cash in on than slavery? Who doesn’t want to see the slave owners get their’s? When you stop to think about it, you have to give this to Tarantino. Between Nazis and slave owners, the man knows how to pick his bad guys.

In Django, nobody appears to have more fun chewing scenery than Leonardo DiCaprio as the ultimate evil slave owner Calvin Candie (owner of the, wait for it, Candyland Plantation). Articles have mentioned that Leo himself was concerned that Django went too far. But once he was convinced to roll with it all, he obviously had a blast twirling his moustache and building us up to the thrill of seeing him and his entire crew cashed in. The acting all the way around in Django is an absolute thrill to watch. Waltz, DiCaprio, and a deliciously despicable Samuel Jackson as DiCaprio’s toady are standouts, and Tarantino gives us his usual roundup of interesting and fun cameos throughout, including a Colonel Sanders-like Don Johnson. With all the macho star power circling around him, it is an absolute testimony to Jamie Foxx that his Django is still the center piece that everything revolves around. His Django is a straight bad ass in the classic Tarantino and spaghetti Western tradition, and Foxx makes it all his with the slow burn and focused sizzle he brings to the role.

For Tarantino completists, Django absolutely fits nicely with the rest of his output. I’d actually go so far as to say this is one of his best. One thing that makes Tarantino a cut above even the best of Hollywood directors is his aforementioned writing ability, which is here in abundance. But it is also his unadulterated love for his characters. It’s funny considering how many people die in QT’s movies, but no one writes characters and knows them (even the smaller roles) as meticulously and with as much affection as Tarantino. He’s also the master manipulator in this movie. After all, what’s the point of doing a revenge movie if the audience isn’t built up to despise the bad guys and get a big payoff when the good guys finish off the baddies? In Django, Tarantino is the expert puppet master.

Even with the way he uses violence, which is hard to watch at times, Tarantino plays the audience. There are exceptions here and there, but almost exclusively the white on black violence is portrayed much more realistically, designed to build the hate you have for the bad guys (mostly the whites). When the payoff comes and the Candyland bastards are blown to smithereens, the violence is much more cartoonish. It’s still squirm inducing at times, and certainly it can be argued that it lingers a bit too long in spots. But your visceral side cheers as the villains get what’s coming.

This isn’t a perfect movie, by any means. Tarantino probably does get a bit too happy with himself with one too many false endings. And even though the main story line here is the old male fantasy of the macho hero saving the damsel in distress, in 2012 it would still be nice to see the female character with a stronger place in the outcome of the story. There’s also no way around the racial aspects that everyone is talking about, the violence, etc. Everybody is going to have a different reaction to all of that. I’m not here to tell anyone what the right answer to it all is. But for me, in the end, this is a great movie, a first rate entertainment from a master storyteller and manipulator in the absolute best Hollywood sense. I was more than happy to fall in line, root for the bad guys to get their’s, and see the girl get saved by the hero. Add in the buddy flick aspect, the genius homage to spaghetti Westerns, and you end up with what is a solid candidate for the best movie entertainment of 2012.

 
 

This Is 40

On the off chance (approximated at .0000001%) that Mr. Judd Apatow ever reads this, hey, sorry man. I like you’re stuff. You’re a funny guy. But this review has to be written. This Is 40 stinks.

In fact, fun with alternative movie titles. How about This Is 40 (Minutes Too Long)? Or keep it simple. Go with This Is Boring. Something a little more descriptive? Let’s try This Is 40 (Ounces Of Malt Liquor—You’’ll Need It To Make It Through This Film). I’ve got a million of ‘em, and I’m here through the weekend, but I think you get the picture.

To be fair, comedy is tough to do successfully, and Judd Apatow has been one of the best at it recently. But who knows what he was thinking with this one. I mean, come on, 2 hours and 15 minutes for a movie as flimsy as this one, with so little going on? At one point, I checked to see how far we were into the movie, and it was something like an hour and 10 minutes. And the first act wasn’t over yet. I knew I was in big trouble.

I really felt most sorry for the two leads. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, as a married couple (with two kids) just turning 40, were as good with the material as they could possibly be. They were genuinely cute together at times, and in the few scenes that worked, they had that movie cliché quirky couple chemistry down reasonably well. But cliché and tired are, unfortunately, the watchwords for this movie. It started right with the first scene. Rudd and Mann are having birthday shower sex. It’s great, but Rudd is on Viagra. And Mann is none too happy about him feeling the need to take the blue pill on the day she’s turning 40. They’re funny together in the scene, but the material is right out of the middle aged comedy textbook. Oh, yeah, the guy needs some help getting it up, and the woman flips out because she thinks she’s not pretty enough for him anymore. Have never seen that one before. But it’s going to get better, more original, more imaginative. Right? It’s Judd Apatow, afterall. Please.

Wrong. I’m not going to bore you with a ton of plot points, it’s not really worth it. But if kids cursing, adults cursing at kids, the generations hating each other’s music, and a million other mid life crisis clichés are your cup of tea, by all means go for it. Just be warned that you’ll see every joke coming from several miles away. At one point, we were set up for the 11th or 12th scene where either an adult was screaming and cursing at a child (or vise, versa, or screaming at another adult, maybe, it all sort of ran together eventually). The kid looked like a little Tom Petty. I said to my wife, “That kid looks like a little Tom Petty.” Then Leslie Mann said in the movie, “You look like a little Tom Petty.”

Most of the movie was that predictable. When you’re telling the jokes before they happen, they’re usually not that funny. Add in the fact that it goes on and on for the 2 hours and 15 minutes I mentioned earlier, with most of the last half of it having a super strong undercurrent of misery and, to be honest, meanness and really, you just want it to end. And the editing and pacing. It was all over the place. I actually thought at one point that we were watching a rough cut. I couldn’t believe it was meant to flow, or not flow, the way it was moving (or not moving). It was jarring, nonsensical, and disappointing, particularly from the people involved. Quick aside, by the way, regarding one of the people involved and clichés.  Will someone please find another role for the, by all accounts, talented Melissa McCarthy other than an overbearing, screeching person. It’s played out. Thank you.

All of this might have been harmless cream puffery without the meanness involved from it trying to be “real”. Plus, other than Rudd and Mann, all the other performances seemed mailed in. John Lithgow as Mann’s father, I think, may have literally mailed in his performance. I never saw his facial expression change the entire time he was on screen. I highly suspect his appearance was a cardboard cutout facsimile of him, sent via UPS, with a voiceover dubbed in later.

You know what, let me stop. The thing is, I like Paul Rudd. And Leslie Mann. And Judd Apatow. I’ll give them a break and a free pass on this wild misfire. I am more than happy to see what they come up with next. But I still felt like you need to be warned to stay away from this one. If it was a 90 minute movie and somewhat funnier it might be worth a Netflix stream, but at a bloated, relentless 135 minutes, watch a few episodes of your favorite TV show instead.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2013 in General Film, Reviews

 

Les Miserables

I don’t pretend to be a Les Miserables aficionado, or to have any real knowledge when it comes to musical theater or quasi opera, which I imagine Les Mis works as on stage. I went into the film version more intrigued than anything else. So for those who are Les Mis geekazoids, I apologize for my lack of expertise. One thing I would think everyone can agree on about the film, though, is that the effort and desire to pull off something groundbreaking is 100% sincere and full throttle. The last thing this film feels is mailed in or half assed. The actors put themselves completely on the line. And director Tom Hooper’s choice of filming the actors singing live in every scene, often in extreme close-up, is a bold and genuine effort to deliver the emotional punch Les Mis is supposed to hold.

The problem is, it just doesn’t connect with the depth of emotion that it really should. It may have just been me, and I can’t put my finger on why it didn’t completely work, but I wasn’t always feeling it. To be sure, there were individual scenes here and there where I was wiping away a tear. No two ways about it, when Anne Hathaway is on screen, you are fully invested, feeling every bit of her pain and singing along in your mind with her Fantine. I felt sorry for the other actors when they had a scene with Hathaway, or following her up. Fantine is a character that only appears briefly, but Hathaway stole the film.

The weakest link in the movie for me was Russell Crowe. Oddly enough, it wasn’t just the fact that he doesn’t have the singing chops to pull off a movie musical that had me not connecting with his performance. It was as much a lack of intensity from Crowe in the role of the strictly by the book, fundamentalist police inspector Javert that left me a little flat. He wasn’t mean enough, there was not enough fire there. As the centerpiece of the movie, Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean fares better, singing just well enough and delivering most of the movie’s feeling outside of Hathaway. While not a perfect performance, Jackman does have you feeling the combinations of desperation, nobility and humanity that tear at Jean Valjean throughout the story. The rest of the cast was competent, with special attention for me has to go to Samantha Barks as Eponine, on the outside looking in on the Cosette-Marius romance. Her performance, along with Hathaway’s, and to a lesser extent Jackman’s, provided most of the feeling that there was to be had in the movie.

There are certainly moments to be recommended in Les Miserables. But instead of being a quality whole, it was more a tapestry of scenes, not interconnected enough to work, and of hit or miss quality. It was sort of like the pieces of a mish mashed patchwork quilt before they’re put together. Some of them are pretty to look at, some of them aren’t, and they don’t work as a quilt without the thread. The lack of thread is one of the areas that Les Mis comes up short. There is so much focus on the songs that there is not enough back story and meat to attach yourself to. On the stage, or as an opera, this near complete focus on the songs to tell the story is going to work a lot better than it will on film.

Movies are, at their heart, a story telling medium. And Hooper’s style of filming, at least here, is less about storytelling than it is about simply staging scenes. Plus, his penchant for filming so much of the singing close up, while sometimes effective in delivering on the emotion the characters are feeling, has the unfortunate side effect of completely taking you away from any sense of place or historical placement. It’s not that the story isn’t clear or is hard to understand. It’s that the time and place of it has as much to do with the character’s makeup as the characters themselves. And when that sense of place isn’t developed or presented clearly enough, it leaves a crucial element of the feel of the story out of the equation.

Without deeper story development, we’re left with mostly a filmed stage production of a famous musical. And that leaves us with the singing. Again, you absolutely cannot criticize the effort. The actors, most of whom are not professional singers, are out there without a net performing their scenes live. Some, like Hathaway and Barks, knock it out of the park. But most of the rest of the cast is what they are. Non-professional singers trying to deliver professional quality vocal performances, many of which go on for looong periods of time. You end up with what you might get at a Broadway show when the A-list stars are sick and replaced by the understudies. Some might be capable of delivering, some not so much. It may not be completely fair to expect more from actors who aren’t singers, but in the end we as the audience are paying to watch a filmed musical with people that can’t really sing at the highest level. Some singers can act and some can’t. Some actors can sing, and some can’t. Despite the efforts, it’s hard to give completely high marks to a movie with so much singing where so much of the singing varies in quality.

In the end, I put Les Miserables in the noble effort, not quite connecting, category. There have been some years recently where the quality of movies being made would have left Les Mis pretty near the top. In a year with so many good movies as we had in 2012, though, the effort without the delivery simply isn’t good enough. I can see Hathaway getting award nominations for her performance, and I think it’s a film worth seeing (particularly for those who are Les Mis fans in general). But there are plenty of other movies from 2012 that would be more worth your time.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in General Film, Reviews

 
 
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