Posted on 7/30/13 06:50 PM
Call me a square, but I shed tears no less than three times during ‚Les Miserables,‚? Tom Hooper‚(TM)s gritty, not-so-subtle movie-musical adaptation of the Broadway hit written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Sch√∂nberg.
Originally performed in Paris and London and based on the novel by Victor Hugo, ‚Les Mis‚? tells the story of unfairly persecuted peasant Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a convict who steals a loaf of bread and serves 19 cruel years on a chain gang under the rule of a crueler police inspector named Javert (Russell Crowe).
Once Valjean violates his parole and seeks a new life as a factory director and mayor, Javert‚(TM)s obsession grows and Valjean is forced into a life of fear, which is not a free life after all.
Much of Hugo‚(TM)s tale is about Valjean‚(TM)s quest for redemption and freedom from the law. He adopts the young daughter of one of his former factory workers, a broken, dying woman named Fantine (Anne Hathaway), he faces confrontations with Javert throughout his life and must try to escape his fate while also protecting his adopted child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen).
After nine years pass, Cosette (played as an adult by Amanda Seyfried) and Valjean have moved and live near the site of a group revolutionaries, one of whom is named Marius (Eddie Redmayne). Cosette and Marius fall in love, Valjean faces the impending doom of Javert‚(TM)s ever-looming presence, and all of this takes place in the middle of a revolution.
Hooper‚(TM)s movie makes for loud, relentless melodrama, and all of the elements that have allowed audiences to connect with the stage musical for decades come together more or less intact in adaptation on screen. ‚Les Mis‚? certainly has hit a cord or two with me since I first became aware of it as a kid, and to see it come together on screen so well is a joy.
The music is uncanny in its ability to pierce the soul. Boublil and Sch√∂nberg had angels on their shoulders when they originally wrote the musical, and in their composition of a new song in Hooper's adaptation, the same angels have returned.
Hooper and his crew even returned to Hugo's novel to draw out some of the details previously left out in order to enrich and tie the story together a bit better for the screen. Some added bits with Fantine's suffering and the adjusted string arrangements of "Lovely Ladies" brought to mind Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream." Indeed, some of this material has never seemed darker than it does now in the film, as the filmmakers drill down and find frightening places in which to place the beautiful, passionate songs.
What must be discussed first is Hooper‚(TM)s brilliant choice to have the actors sing live on set rather than record a soundtrack months ahead of time, the technique nearly every movie musical every made has used. The tremendous, raw live performances in the movie are crucial to the integrity of the music.
Jackman, Hathaway and Redmayne are the highlights in terms of both singing and acting, and Crowe plays Javert in a refreshingly different way, more quiet and tortured by his obsession. Despite his weaker singing chops, he delivers an intense, brooding performance that does justice to the character.
"Les Mis" should be the standard for all future movie musicals until something more effective is realized because it charges forward through its own world without flinching and unapologetically tells its story to the audience with a special passion not found often enough. Hooper directs with confidence, even when he gets ahead of himself from time to time. His is a faithful adaptation that should satisfy existing devotees of the show, including myself, and garner some new ones.
Through dark, dirty and gritty streets, Hugo's characters continue to plead, sing and suffer, and we continue to listen.
Posted on 7/30/13 06:50 PM
What do you end up with when you put Seth Rogan, James Franco, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson under one roof while the Rapture is going on outside, turning the Hollywood Hills and (presumably) the rest of the world into ashes and hellfire? Fortunately, you get what is undoubtedly one of the funniest movies of the year, nay, of the past decade.
"This is the End" features a truly ingenious cast in an equally ingenious premise: All of the above mentioned celebrities play obnoxious, cantankerous, whiney versions of themselves trapped inside James Franco's luxurious Hollywood home - definitely not the worst place you could hold up during the apocalypse.
All of them are there to begin with because they are partying with all of their famous friends, including, but not limited to: a perverted, coked-up Michael Cera who is hitting on Rihanna, Jason Segel, who laments the predictability of working on a network show like "How I Met Your Mother," Emma "Hermoine Granger" Watson, who scores some of the biggest laughs in the film, and Paul Rudd, who accidentally steps on and crushes a girl's skull once the chaos begins.
And once it begins, things get very bad and uproariously funny very quickly, with a bunch of hilarious actors lampooning their own careers, and their ineptitude and spoiled lifestyles in the face of such apocalyptic challenges as food and water shortages, lack of masturbation privacy, demonic possession, and loss of humanity.
That last one is important in this film, because the very reason why none of these guys has been Raptured, or saved, is because they are not worthy. So of course, throughout the movie they figure out they need to correct that and do good things in order to be allowed into the light. Doing good things, selfless things: that ends up being the most daunting task, especially for McBride, who revels in the darkness of his devilish end-of-the-world persona.
"This is the End" is the directorial debut of writing partners Rogan and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad," "Pineapple Express"), and they nail it. From scene to scene, the film never slows an inch and is incredibly consistent in its timing and laughs. I laughed so hard so many times that I'm sure I missed a number of jokes slipped in there in the dynamite script, which must have left a lot of room, too, for improv - I dare anyone not to lose it when Franco and McBride argue passionately about the overabundance of a particular bodily fluid that Franco has noticed around the house.
In a way, "This is the End" represents everything that last year's "The Watch," also co-written by Rogan and Goldberg, should and could have been. Fortunately, now we have a thoroughly funny and successfully mediation on similar ideas, featuring one of the best comedy ensembles I've seen and a surprisingly effective and emotional penultimate sequence featuring a certain famous Whitney Houston song I won't mention by name, but I'm sure you know what it is already.
Posted on 7/16/13 08:21 AM
The opening scene of "Despicable Me" reveals to us that someone has stolen the Great Pyramid of Giza and replaced it with an inflatable knock-off. Who stole it? It certainly was not Gru (Steve Carrel), a marginal super villain who lives in the suburbs and cares more about being famous for his villainy than actually unleashing it on the world. He surrounds himself with hundreds of yellow, pill-shaped minions who only live to applaud and support Gru in his evil-doings. Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) is Gru's mad scientist assistant, who is about eighty years old with a slight hearing problem that leads to some invention mishaps. These characters alone would make for some pretty entertaining short animated films, particularly when Gru moseys down the sidewalk, terrorizing young children with juvenile antics that satisfy his equally juvenile and sadistic sense of humor.
The movie expands on these simple characters by throwing in another, more successful super villain named Vector (Jason Segel) who drives Gru mad with Jealousy, as he attempts again and again ŗ la "Looney Tunes" to break into his fortress to steal the all-powerful shrink ray. Gru's plan for the device: to shrink and then steal the moon. While staking out Vector's lair, which is far more decadent than his own, Gru's plan falls perfectly into place as he watches three young girls selling cookies waltz right in through the gate. The children turn out to be orphans, who reluctantly work for Miss Hattie (Kristin Wiig), the manager of the orphanage. To sum up Miss Hattie, she has a cardboard box in her office designated for bad children, labeled: BOX OF SHAME. This is fairly dark stuff for an animated movie, and I like it.
I greatly admire Jason Segel's previous work, but I think that he is wasted here. Vector is not very funny, except to small children, and he is even annoying sometimes. I much preferred Gru and his minions, which leads me to believe that they could have written a funnier and tidier animated short without all of the Vector business. What I enjoyed most about "Despicable Me" was Steve Carrel's voice work and his relationship with the three orphans, particularly a surprisingly sweet scene where Gru reads them a bedtime story about three kittens. Steve Carrel is an actor who always manages to create characters that are convincing and funny, and here he creates a memorable villain who sounds like a Russian-German-Swedish Nazi, and has a tall, lean physic capped off by a bald head, a long sharp nose, thick eyebrows and eyes with dark circles around them. This brings me to the animation. It didn't occur to me until hours after I saw the movie how unusual the animation is. I laughed a lot at the appearance of many characters, including Gru and Dr. Nefario, whose smile is hysterical. Something about his teeth dug right into my funny bone.
Director's Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud have done a nice job at crafting a cohesive and swift movie. Renaud previously work as story artist on "Dr Seuss' Horton Hears A Who" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs", both of which I enjoyed. I look forward to seeing more of their work. There is a very unique look to this movie, and I would like to see it explored in more depth with future projects.
There are some scenes obviously crafted for 3-D, like a trip to an amusement park and a sequence involving the yellow minions gathering for a house meeting. I saw it in 2-D, which is what I highly recommend because of how good the animation looks. This summer's "Toy Story 3" set the bar very high within the animated arena, as Pixar has become accustomed to doing. "Despicable Me" is not part of a franchise, and so it has had to make a name for itself from scratch. Although I was never really bored during the film, there were times when I reached the verge of boredom. However, at these moments, I usually heard very young children laughing, such as Vector's response to being stranded on the moon. There are a lot of jokes that can be shared by adults and children alike, but there are also plenty that will reach children alone. In that respect, I think that writers Ken Daurio and Sergio Pablos have come up with a decent, if forgettable, summer family film.
Posted on 6/24/13 11:38 AM
A huge improvement of "V/H/S." I want to see a feature-length adaptation of Gareth Evans' "Safe Haven," which is by far the best of both anthologies.
Posted on 6/23/13 01:59 PM
Director J.J. Abrams' second journey aboard the starship Enterprise, "Star Trek Into Darkness" is a fast-paced injection of pure, unabashed cinematic entertainment. Although everything moves at a breakneck pace and, despite the title, we can sense the joy with which this movie was made by Abrams and his cast and crew, it never manages to break any new ground in either the "Star Trek" universe, or the science fiction genre as a whole.
Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof don't waste anytime throwing us right into the action: While on an exploratory mission, Enterprise Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew get in serious trouble for interfering with the development of a primitive culture by preventing a volcano from erupting and destroying an entire tribe of natives - in a feat of fantastic bravery and unusual recklessness, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is lowered into the volcano to set off a device which freezes the eruption and saves the planet from ruin.
As punishment for violating the Prime Directive (non-interference) Kirk is relieved of his position as captain and replaced by his mentor/father figure, Starfleet Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who in turn allows Kirk to serve as his first officer.
All of this is set up for the movie's main concern, a terrorist named John Anderson (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is hell bent on wreaking havoc within Starfleet, but who also has ulterior motives which slowly are revealed as the story unfolds. (Hint: if the villain's name seems suspiciously unremarkable or disappointing to you, have no fear. You are on the right track.)
Everyone seems to having a good time regardless of the lightweight story. Simon Pegg's work as Scotty is particularly good, as is Cumberbatch's ominous, cold and calculated performance as Starfleet's enemy number one. Pine and Quinto bring a sufficient amount of gravity to Kirk and Spock, once again proving that a new generation of "Star Trek" fans can continue to rejoice that their favorite characters continue to be played with sincerity and depth, even in the alternate timeline that Orci and Kurtzman have created in diverting from Gene Roddenberry's original television series.
As in Abrams' first "Star Trek" in 2009, "Star Trek Into Darkness" features a lot of terrific action sequences all woven together by well-constructed scenes of dialogue and layered with humor, including abundant references and Easter eggs for devoted "Star Trek" fans.
But unlike that film, much of this one's drama hinges on one secret, one twist that, once revealed, ultimately leaves the rest of movie hanging by its set pieces without much to be marveled at in the story department. It's topical with its shades of domestic terrorism, but transcendent it is not. "Star Trek Into Darkness" will likely be the kind of movie that goes in one ear and out the other, a wispily designed feature and a minor work in Abrams' filmography, and in the "Star Trek" canon.
Posted on 5/30/13 04:44 AM
I chewed my nails and broke a sweat watching Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," one of the darkest, most suspenseful films of the year. It is Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal's follow-up to their 2009 hit, "The Hurt Locker," which won Bigelow her first directing Oscar, Mark Boal his first screenwriting Oscar and the movie Best Picture.
I don't predict "Zero Dark Thirty" to be quite as successful, but for all it's worth, this taut thriller about the decade-long events leading up to killing of Osama Bin Laden by a Navy S.E.A.L. team manages to chill your blood and raise your heart rate. In another excellent performance in an already impressive career, Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a character based on the woman who was the brains behind the entire operation.
In the film, there is a scene where she stands in a meeting room with fellow C.I.A. agents and their director (James Gandolfini), who asks for percentages of confidence that Bin Laden is in fact living inside a large, heavily surveyed compound nearby the Pakistan Military Academy. On the table the agents are standing around is a model of the compound and its surrounding geography. Everyone but Maya seems to think there is a 50/50 chance that Bin Laden is inside the compound. Maya says she is 100 percent sure. This is the place, and she knows it.
This scene, in part, defines what "Zero Dark Thirty" is interested in showing, Maya's long and painful struggle to convince everyone of her confidence. She becomes obsessed with finding the man behind the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and devotes her life, and often risks it, to get the job done. There are some harrowing scenes of torture, which have come under much scrutiny by critics who say they glorify or misrepresent the truth.
From my perspective, they are a vital part of the film, and go a long way toward lending hard gravity to the film's final shot. There is not a doubt in my mind that the C.I.A. has tortured, and in trying to learn Bin Laden's location, I cannot help but believe at least the essence of what went on post-9/11 is reflected on screen here by the filmmakers. They are difficult to watch at times, but as parts of a whole they are necessary to the story - after all, this is a story based on true events, not a documentary feature.
As in "The Hurt Locker," there are long periods of silence and waiting in "Zero Dark Thirty," punctuated by scenes of quick, blood-curdling violence and action. Bigelow's direction is not as stylish as David Fincher's, but the overall pacing of this film is reminiscent of Fincher's "Zodiac," in that it tracks the search for one man over the course of many years and captures the obsession that develops in the course of trying to do so. "Zero Dark Thirty" is the lesser film for a lot of reasons, including some editing issues that rob a number of scenes of suspense, and an annoying, inconsistent series of title cards that seem redundant in hindsight, and unnecessarily split of segments of the movie.
The final 30 minutes of "Zero Dark Thirty" alone are worth the price of admission for this movie, as they capture the actual storming and killing of Bin Laden. No spoiler here, we all know he is killed at the end, so all that remains is the execution of the sequence, and Bigelow directs the hell out of it. A lot of silence and pure suspense, punctuated by some truly jarring explosions, all shot in night vision, leads up to what can only be described as the ultimate anti-climax, but that is the exact ending this film needed to prove the point it is trying to make. The amount of violence, torture, interrogation, death, tears and political tactics that went on between the 9/11 attacks and the actual death of Bin Laden leads Maya and all of us thinking, what now?
It is a far more bittersweet, morally ambiguous ending than a lot of filmmakers would have approached, and that is why Bigelow and Boal are a great pairing. They take incredibly controversial subject material and, after Hollywood churned out a series of failed, preachy Iraq war movies, they made "The Hurt Locker." Now, they have made "Zero Dark Thirty," and once again they get it right, more or less.
Posted on 1/18/13 07:54 AM
I am a great admirer of Judd Apatow and his work. From his work on two of the best television shows ever to air, "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Freaks and Geeks," to "Funny People," one of the funniest and sincere films of 2009, the writer/producer/director has been consistent and honest in his work, and has yet to make something I haven't been able to enjoy in some way.
Unfortunately, I have to draw a line in the sand when it comes to his newest film, "This is 40," his least cohesive work to date and a semi-autobiographical reflection on middle-age and dealing with the troubles and inevitable obstacles that come with getting older and raising children.
Advertised as a "sort-of-sequel" to Apatow's brilliant 2007 comedy "Knocked Up" starring Seth Rogan, "This is 40" catches us up with two of the supporting characters from that film, Pete and Debbie (played again by Paul Rudd and Apatow's real-life wife, Leslie Mann) and their children, Sadie and Charlotte (played again by Apatow's real-life children, Maude and Iris). The movie begins with Debbie's "38th" birthday party, what actually is her 40th birthday party, but she wants to avoid that awful number as much as she can.
Throughout the rest of "This is 40," Debbie and Pete argue and make up several times, and try to take control of their lives as they feel things slipping away. There is no way to explain the story without being vague because one of the biggest problems with the movie is that it is made up of a lot of nice moments, some laughs but ultimately nothing sticks and nothing comes together. The parts don't add up to any memorable whole.
Until now, Apatow has written movies featuring scenes of raunchy but organic laugh-out-loud humor interwoven with scenes of painfully sincere conversations and confessions among deeply explored, human characters. The problem this time around could be a number of things, but the first that comes to mind is the lack of structure in "This is 40." Apatow tends to allow for improvisation in his films, but this movie comes off as a loosely strung together series of potentially funny ideas, underdeveloped and rushed into an undercooked end product.
There are some terrific cameos by Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi, both returning as their characters from "Knocked Up," and Melissa McCarthy, who unsurprisingly manages to steal all of the big laughs as an unstable mother to school bully (Ryan Lee, the pyromaniac from J.J. Abrams' "Super 8).
Rudd and Mann are okay, but almost on autopilot for most of the movie, and Apatow's kids are sincere enough. But "This is 40" lacks the scene-to-scene laughs that his previous work always had. It's all too soupy and forgettable.
One of the biggest disappoints of the year for me, "This is 40" marks a regrettable decline in substance for Apatow, who usually is brilliant and on point in his story and characters. Maybe because this is a continuation of characters from another story, and maybe it's because Apatow's formula has become tired. Funny People broke the mold from "Knocked Up," but this returns to painfully familiar ground.
Posted on 1/18/13 07:53 AM
In the year 2012, filmmakers Larry and Lana Wachowski ("The Matrix Trilogy") teamed up with filmmaker Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run," "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer") to adapt David Mitchell's acclaimed novel "Cloud Atlas," which consists of six stories set in different times (a few in different worlds), for the screen, a challenging task considering the complexity and richness of the source material.
Here is a brief breakdown of the stories:
In the year 1849, a young American lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) travels by sea to the south pacific to finish singing a business contract for his father-in-law. On arrival to his destination, he witnesses a brutal whipping of a slave named Autra (David Gyasi), who plays a crucial role in Ewing's return journey to San Fransisco.
In the year 1936, a gay English musician and composer named Robert Frobisher (Ben Wishaw) begins working for famed composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent), all the while working on what will be his own masterpiece, "The Cloud Atlas Sextet," and writing letters to his distant lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy).
In the year 1973, a journalist named Louisa Rey (Halle Berry) tries to uncover a nuclear conspiracy, and in the process becomes targeted by hired hitman Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving).
In the year 2012, 65-year-old publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent again) unwittingly ends up in a nursing home while on the run from some dangerous Irish gangsters.
In the year 2144, the world has undergone drastic changes and become an Orwellian dystopia. In New Seoul, Korea, a genetically engineered fabricant called Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), before her execution, recounts her journey from being an enslaved server at a fast-food restaurant to leading a revolution against a totalitarian government.
In the year 2321, referred to as "106 winters after the fall," all technologically advanced civilization has left earth, most others have died and the only remaining people live in a series of tribes. Some of these tribes are made up of peaceful hunter-gatherers, while others are violent barbarians. One peaceful tribesman named Zachry (Tom Hanks) experiences visions of a grotesque being he calls Old Georgie (Weaving again).
After witnessing the death of his brother-in-law at the hands of cannibalistic tribal leader (Grant again), Zachry returns home to his village where a woman named Meronym (Berry), a technologically advanced visitor, has arrived in search of an outpost station called Cloud Atlas. Meronym needs someone to guide her, and after she saves his niece from a venomous bite, Zachry agrees to lead the way.
Were the Wachowski's and Tykwer successful in their endeavor? My answer is yes and no. Yes, because "Cloud Atlas" is a mesmerizing, beautiful film, and the work of passionate and dedicated artists who handle the material with brilliant visual style. They succeed in restructuring Mitchell's story in order to give the six different stories - seven including a sequence by which the film is bookended - better pace and shared meaning in the moment. The special effects are tremendous but used sparingly; this is a dialogue driven film with instances of violence, suspense and humor.
But even though the film works on so many levels, where the incredibly ambitious "Cloud Atlas" occasionally stumbles is in the story department, as many of the finer details slip through the cracks, particularly in the two final segments. The filmmakers skim over a lot of concepts involving the exact hierarchy of humans in the future. There is mention of "pure bloods," and I suppose everyone else is an "impure blood," but I had trouble understanding who is who and why. I want to understand this more, but "Cloud Atlas" moves right along and I just ended up accepting there are bad guys and good guys in the future, which ultimately left me feeling less attached to the 2144 segment of the film.
Some similar issues occur in the final segment, but these become a little clearer the more I think about them. They do not take away from the overall experience.
The performances in the film are consistent and entertaining, surrounded by gorgeous art direction and production design. Nearly every main actor appears in each of the segments, sometimes disguised by brilliant make-up effects to the point where I didn't recognize otherwise very recognizable people. This is an incredible ensemble cast that works together in so many different ways that I kept sensing that "Cloud Atlas," on top of being one of the most ambitious movies this year, could have been such a disaster under the weight of so many terrific actors in one place.
Fortunately, a disaster it is not. Tom Tykwer composed a beautiful score, and Cinematographers Frank Griebe and John Toll capture striking, memorable images that I won't soon forget.
Aside from some story development issues, the Wachowski's and Tykwer have done a fabulous job interconnecting the stories of "Cloud Atlas." The directing duties were split between them. Tykwer handled the middle three segments, which I think are the best, and the Wachowski's shot the first and final two, which are good but not great. But because they made the brave decision to intertwine the stories rather than present the movie as an omnibus of sorts, where each story is told separately, "Cloud Atlas" soars.
Posted on 12/29/12 08:48 PM
Peter Jackson does not believe in skimping on the details, as is evident in his newest movie and return journey to J.R.R. Tolkien‚(TM)s Middle Earth, ‚The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.‚?
At nearly three hours, Jackson takes his time telling Tolkien‚(TM)s story while introducing a lot of supplemental material that enriches and deepens the history of the characters. Having seen it twice now, I can say there are one or two sections of the film that run a little long, but I expect nothing less of the director who turned ‚King Kong,‚? previously a 100 minute feature, into a three-hour-plus epic.
‚The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey‚? begins with a brief history of the Lonely Mountain, where the once great dwarf Kingdom of Erebor is destroyed and then seized by a fire-breathing dragon called Smaug. The dwarves are forced out of there home to wander and search for a new way of life, in hopes that one day they will be able to return home to the Lonely Mountain.
This brief history is told by an elder hobbit called Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) as he sits down at his desk to begin writing his memoir, ‚There and Back Again.‚? He then begins to reminisce about long ago, when he was a young hobbit and all of his adventures began. Young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is smoking his pipe and enjoying a peaceful day in the Shire, the grassy rural land of the hobbits, when he is approached by a tall, bearded wizard called Gandalf (Ian McKellen).
Gandalf, aware of the hobbit‚(TM)s legendary, monster-slaying ancestors, implores Bilbo to join him on an adventure. Bilbo declines, but later that evening, thirteen dwarves show up at his hobbit hole in search of food, drink and shelter, leaving Bilbo with an empty cupboard and a flustered demeanor.
The pitch is that the dwarves are heading back to the Lonely Mountain to at last reclaim their kingdom and destroy Smaug, and Bilbo is needed for his small size and stature to sneakily steal back the dwarves‚(TM) treasure. Although Bilbo refuses at first, his unexpected urge for something more than his quiet, simple life eventually wins over, and the journey begins.
The main villain of ‚The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey‚? is a scarred, one-handed white orc called Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett), and he has a particular hatred for the head dwarf in Bilbo‚(TM)s crew, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Azog makes his way in and out of the movie, as his army tracks down Bilbo‚(TM)s group.
Jackson has split ‚The Hobbit‚? into three movies, and the first part shows strong signs of success for the trilogy. There are plenty of fun scenes of adventure and danger including a run in with hungry trolls and a capture by subterranean goblins. There is even a scene where Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves become ensnared in a fight between two mountain giants‚"that is, the mountains themselves come to life and start throwing huge boulders at each other while the gang ascends them.
But for all of its fun and excitement, and another brilliant performance from Andy Serkis as the now iconic Gollum ‚" seriously, Serkis runs away with this movie ‚"
‚The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey‚? somehow falls short of all of Jackson‚(TM)s ‚Lord of the Rings‚? installments, as a standalone movie, at least. The weight of everything seems less in comparison and the stakes are lower, which immediately drops the tension of the drama one or two notches.
That said, Freeman is a revelation as a younger, more na√Įve Bilbo Baggins, and plays the part as if he was born for it. His previous iconic roles include Tim on Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant‚(TM)s ‚The Office‚? and Dr. Watson in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss‚(TM) ‚Sherlock‚? opposite Benedict Cumberbatch, who shows up in the next two ‚Hobbit‚? movies voicing the dragon, Smaug. Freeman is a subtle, superb actor to watch on screen, and is one of the reasons why I am so excited to continue the journey with him in the next two movies.
The movie also benefits from the always-reliable McKellen, Serkis and other returning actors including Hugo Weaving as Elrond of the elves, and Christopher Lee as the white wizard Saruman, and newcomer Armitage gives a passionate, exciting performance as Thorin. Jackson has a gift for storytelling, and this cast provides a solid vessel through which to tell Tolkien‚(TM)s tale.
Composer Howard Shore also deserves praise for his typically brilliant, chugging score and melodies accompanying Tolkien‚(TM)s dwarf songs. Shore has worked with Jackson multiple times, including on the ‚Lord of the Rings‚? trilogy, and the result always is magic.
There are several different versions of ‚The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey‚? out in theaters. I saw it in 2D and 24 frames per second, and I imagine that is the best format in which to see it. Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie shot the movie in an experimental higher frame rate at 48 fps, but I have heard rotten things about the new format.
Combined with 3D, the higher frame rate supposedly causes headaches and eliminates the cinematic filter of the images on screen. I applaud Jackson for giving it a try, but I am satisfied with a regular 2D, 24 fps format.
Posted on 12/29/12 08:43 PM
From the mind and pen of writer/director Quentin Tarantino, and in the style of filmmakers Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leone, "Django Unchained" is a blood-splattered spaghetti-western set in the south two years before the Civil War, a tale of a former slave's quest for revenge as he journeys to save his wife from the plantation to which she was sold.
The man's name is Django (the "D" is silent) and he is played by Jamie Foxx in one of his best performances. While being transported along in a chain gang, his buyers, the Speck brothers (James Remar and James Russo) cross paths with German dentist/bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is looking to purchase Django, who can identify the Brittle brothers, a new bounty the Schultz is trying to track down.
The Brittle brothers -- Big Jim (M.C. Gainey), Lil Raj (Cooper Huckabee) and Ellis (Doc Duhame) -- are a nasty bit of business and the only the first of many dangerous encounters Django and Schultz must face on their path toward Django's wife, Broomhilda "Hildy" von Shaft (!) (Kerry Washington).
When the two bounty hunters finally find out where she is, they come up with a plan to infiltrate the plantation, owned by notorious slave owner and Mandingo fighting enthusiast Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Francophile who cannot speak French and insists on being called Monsieur Candie. His plantation is called Candieland.
All of these characters are classic Tarantino, as is every drop of this violent, epic love letter to spaghetti-westerns. Indeed, "Django Unchained" may be termed the first spaghetti-southern, as it deals with America's dark history of slavery in a profoundly subversive way.
But even while there are some brutal and disturbing events on display, Tarantino above all is an entertainer who balances the history with pure cinematic bliss, merging fantasy and fiction with a reality many would rather forget. It's a real showstopper, and in both showings I sat through, the audience reacted with overwhelming enthusiasm and standing ovations once the end credits began to roll.
As in "Inglourious Basterds," Waltz's delivery of Tarantino's words is masterful, and proves that these two are meant to work together. The same goes for Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson, who steals scenes a plenty in "Django Unchained" as Calvin Candie's head house slave, Stephen. Jackson has been featured in five of Tarantino's films including this, and as always, sparks fly when they join forces.
DiCaprio's first part in a Tarantino movie is a juicy one that he has blast with. Tarantino has said Candie is the only character he has written that he hates, and indeed Candie is a vicious, immature monster who enjoys seeing black people tear each other apart in arranged fights. He has brown, rotted teeth. He drinks fancy mixed beverages from a coconut halve and considers himself an intellectual of sorts when it comes to the science of phrenology -- the differences in skull shapes among slaves and their white owners.
Once again, all of the elements that make a Tarantino movie so good come together in "Django Unchained," from the sublime music selections (including an original song by Ennio Morricone) to the stylized violence and the rhythmic dialogue. It's better than "Inglourious Basterds" and shows that at 49 years old, the master filmmaker is better than ever.
I'm calling it: "Django Unchained" is the best film of 2012.