Archive for December, 2012

Les Misérables

Posted in Movie Reviews, Musicals with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1815, convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released on parole by prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) after serving a nineteen-year sentence. He is offered food and shelter by the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson), but later steals the Bishop’s silver during the night. He is caught by the authorities, but the Bishop says that the silver was given as a gift, and secures Valjean’s release. Ashamed by the Bishop’s generosity, Valjean breaks his parole and vows to start an honest life under a new identity. Javert swears he will bring the escaped convict to justice.

Eight years later, Valjean has become a factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Fantine (Anne Hathaway), one of his workers, is discovered to be sending money to her illegitimate daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), who lives with the unscrupulous Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) and their daughter Éponine (Natalya Angel Wallace), and is dismissed by the foreman (Michael Jibson). Left with no option, Fantine turns to prostitution. During an argument with an abusive customer, Javert, now a police inspector, arrests Fantine, but Valjean intercedes and takes her to a hospital.

Later, Valjean learns that a man believed to be him has been arrested. Unable to condemn an innocent man, Valjean reveals his identity to the court before departing for the hospital. There he promises a dying Fantine that he will look after her daughter. Valjean finds Cosette and pays the Thénardiers to allow him to take her, and promises to be like a father to her.

Nine years later, Jean Maximilien Lamarque, the only government official sympathetic toward the poor, is nearing death. Students Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) and Enjolras (Aaron Tveit), together with street urchin Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone), discuss fomenting revolution. Later Marius catches a glimpse of Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), now a young woman, and instantly falls in love with her. Meanwhile, despite Cosette’s questioning, Valjean refuses to tell her about his past or Fantine.

At a café, Enjolras organises a group of idealistic students as Lamarque’s death is announced. Meanwhile, Éponine (Samantha Barks), now Marius’s friend, leads him to Cosette, where the two profess their love for one another. Lamenting that her secret love for Marius will never be reciprocated, Éponine fatalistically decides to join the revolution. Later, an attempted robbery of Valjean’s house makes him mistakenly think that Javert has discovered him, and he flees with Cosette. As they leave, Enjolras rallies the Parisians to revolt, and Marius sends a farewell letter to Cosette.

The next day, the students interrupt Lamarque’s funeral procession and begin their assault. Javert, disguised as one of the rebels, spies among the revolutionaries, but is quickly exposed by Gavroche and captured. During the ensuing gunfight, Éponine saves Marius at the cost of her own life, professing her love to him before she dies. Valjean, intercepting the letter from Marius to Cosette, goes to the barricade to protect Marius. After saving Enjolras from snipers, he is allowed to execute Javert. When the two are alone, Valjean frees Javert and fires his gun to fake the execution. Initially disbelieving, Javert wonders at Valjean’s generosity.

With the Parisians not joining the revolution as the students expected, they resolve to fight to the death. Everyone is killed but Marius, who is saved when Valjean drags his unconscious body into the sewers. Thénardier, scavenging the dead bodies, steals Marius’s ring. Valjean recovers and escapes the sewers carrying Marius, but is confronted at the exit by Javert. Javert threatens to shoot Valjean if he doesn’t surrender, but Valjean ignores him. Unable to reconcile the conflict between his civil and moral duties, two things which he always considered the same, Javert commits suicide.

Later, Marius mourns for his friends but Cosette comforts him. Revealing his past to Marius, Valjean tells him he must leave because his presence endangers Cosette, and makes Marius promise never to tell her. Marius and Cosette marry; the Thénardiers crash the reception and testify that they saw Valjean carrying a murdered corpse in the sewers. Thénardier unwittingly shows Marius the ring that he stole from him as “proof.” Recognising the ring, Marius realises that it was Valjean who saved his life. Marius and Cosette rush to Valjean after being told his location by Thénardier.

As Valjean sits dying in a local convent, he perceives the spirit of Fantine appearing to take him to Heaven. Cosette and Marius rush in to bid farewell. Valjean hands Cosette his confession of his past life, and the spirits of Fantine and the Bishop guide him to paradise, where he joins the spirits of Enjolras, Éponine, Gavroche, and the other rebels at the barricade.

REVIEW:

My freshmen year of college, we opened our marching band show with the music from Les Miserables. It may come as a surprise to some, but up until a few minutes ago, I had no idea what the songs were that comprised that 2 1/2 minute medley. I just listened to it again, and found myself singing along, as if I knew the words as well as an Earth, Wind, & Fire song.

What is this about?

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, ‘Les Miserables’ travels with prisoner-on-parole, 24601, Jean Valjeun, as he runs from the ruthless Inspector Javert on a journey beyond the barricades, at the center of the June Rebellion. Meanwhile, the life of a working class girl with a child is at turning point as she turns to prostitution to pay money to the evil innkeeper and his wife who look after her child, Cosette. Valjean promise to take care of the child, eventually leads to a love triangle between Cosette, Marius who is a student of the rebellion, and Eponine, a girl of the streets. The people sing of their anger and Enjolras leads the students to fight upon the barricades.

What did I like?

Stage to screen. In the Golden Age of Hollywood, musicals were all the rage. Some of them were real close to their Broadway counterparts, while others shared only the name. I cannot say for certain, but it seems as if this film didn’t try to do anything special with the sets, other than find and/or build real life version of what was used in the stage version. You have to give them credit for that, as audiences these days want bigger, better, more, as opposed to simplistic and authentic.

Better than the rest. Earlier this year, when the Grammys were on, someone asked me, “I wonder how it feels to be Adele and know that you are hands down the most talented singer in that entire room, and probably the world?” The same thing can be said for Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. They are far and away the most talented members of this cast, though, I see some budding young musical talent in Samantha Parks and Aaron Tveit.

Casting. In the good old days, actors were actually trained, as opposed to being picked up off the street because they had “the look”. This is how we got people like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Julie Andrews, Ginger Rogers, and their ilk. These talents were trained to not only act, but sing, and possibly dance. These days, that is such a rare occurrence, but Hugh Jackman has proven over the last few years, that it may be a good idea to go back to those days. This whole cast, with the exception of Russell Crowe, seems as if they were trained in musical theater. A couple of them, I know for sure, have been starring in London’s version of Broadway (I forgot what it is called, sorry). The one weak link is Russell Crowe. I’ll get to him shortly. Also, how perfect casting can you get than Anne Hathaway and Amanada Seyfreid. They both have those big “anime eyes” and could actually pass for mother and daughter because of some similar facial structure. Don’t forget young Cosette, who I think they did an exhaustive search to find someone who looks that much like Seyfreid. There is no way they could have been that lucky to have just come across her.

Dream. Susuan Boyle made us all sing “I Dreamed a Dream” all over the place a couple of years ago but, believe me when I say this, Anne Hathaway will blow you away with her rendition. Once you see the context in which that song is placed and watch Hathaway give, arguably, the performance of her career as she tears your heart out with each note, showing that she is more than a pretty face, but a true acting and singing talent.

What didn’t I like?

Length. I don’t believe they cut anything from the original stage version, so this is pretty much the same show you would see on Broadway, just on a grander scale, obviously. However, and this may because yesterday I sat through two nearly three hour movies and have a two more sitting in the living room waiting to be watched, but I felt that this was a scoche long. Having said that, I can’t really say where you could cut anything out.

Opera. Since there are very few lines not sung in this musical, some have called it an opera. I won’t go into a big spiel on the actual definition of an opera, but just because everyone is singing doesn’t make it an opera. Think about it like this, the Star Wars saga (that includes the prequels that people seem to hate so much) is often called a space opera, and other than that weird singing alien George Lucas added in to Jabba the Hutt’s palace, there is no singing, that I can recall, except the Ewok celebration after everything is over.

Opera mouth. Keeping on the subject of opera, I have to mention this because it sort of bugged me. Eddie Redmayne has some real chops, but he needs to do something about his facial movements when he sings. Watch a Broadway or opera singer perform, or you can watch Jessica Simpson sing, she does the same thing. You’ll notice that they move their mouth when they sing long notes, and so does Redmayne. It wouldn’t have been such a bother, except no one else does it!

Crowe. Russell Crowe impressed me with his singing skills. With this and his role in the upcoming Man of Steel, it looks like the guy is on his way to reviving his career. Here is the problem, though, his vocal chops don’t do him any good, especially against the likes of Jackman. He wasn’t as bad a Piece Brosnan in Mamma Mia!, but I still cannot help but think they should have gone with someone else. I’m sure Gerard Butler wouldn’t have minded dusting off his singing chops for this, or they could have gone with Paul Bettany, who was rumored to have originally been cast in the role.

Comic relief. I’m the last person to have issue with comic relief, especially in something that’s more on the serious side, as this film is. However, if you’re going to have comic relief, they cannot be a nuisance, but I found Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s characters to be nothing more than your typical lowlife vagrants. I’m not sure if that is how they are actually written in the book and/or musical, but I wasn’t a fan. Seems to me that they could have done something else, like be funny narrators, for instance.

Accents. This whole film is set in France, except maybe the opening scene, but I think that is just off the coast of France. At any rate, here we have these French people all speaking with British accents. I cannot be the only one that noticed this! I don’t get why they chose to give them all British accents. The little street urchin, Gavroche, has a cockney accent, as do the hookers and other peoples that mess chop off Fantine’s hair and send her to a life of, shall we say, less that wholesome living?

The few complaints that I have about Les Miserables are minor and can be considered nitpicky. I don’t intend to come off as if I didn’t enjoy the film, because I did. A few tweaks here and there and this very well could have been a stronger(er) contender for my top film of the year. I believe that the niche audience for this will not be disappointed and neither will the general public. This director was ale to find a way to please everyone. Maybe he should try his hand at a comic book movie! I highly recommend this, so go see it NOW!!!

5 out of 5 stars

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Caligula

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Caligula (Malcolm McDowell), the young heir to the throne of the syphilis-ridden, half-mad Emperor Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), thinks he has received a bad omen after a blackbird flies into his room early one morning. Shortly afterward, Macro (Guido Mannari), the head of the Praetorian Guards, appears to tell the young man that his great uncle (Tiberius) demands that he report at once to the Island of Capri, where Tiberius has been residing for a number of years with a close friend Nerva (John Gielgud), a dim-witted relative Claudius (Giancarlo Badessi), and Caligula’s younger stepbrother Gemellus (Bruno Brive) (Tiberius’s favorite). Fearing assassination, Caligula is afraid to leave, but his beloved sister and lover Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy) convinces him to go.

At Capri, Caligula finds his great uncle has become depraved, showing signs of advanced venereal diseases, and embittered with Rome and politics. Tiberius enjoys watching degrading sexual shows, often including children and various freaks of nature. Caligula observes with a mixture of fascination and horror. Tensions rise when Tiberius jokingly tries to poison Caligula in front of Gemellus. After Nerva commits suicide on the prospect of Caligula’s rule, Tiberius now dying is at the mercy of being murdered by Caligula but Macro halts Caligula’s action and commits the deed himself by choking Tiberius and thus hastening Caligula’s ascent to the throne.

Late one night, Macro escorts all the spectators out of Tiberius’ bedchamber to allow Caligula the opportunity to murder his great uncle, but when he fails, Macro finishes the deed himself by strangling Tiberius with a scarf. Caligula triumphantly removes the imperial signet from Tiberius’s finger and suddenly realizes that Gemellus has witnessed the murder. Tiberius is buried with honors and Caligula is proclaimed the new Emperor; he in turn proclaims Drusilla his equal, to the apparent disgust of the Senate. Afterwards, Drusilla, fearful of Macro’s influence, convinces Caligula to get rid of him. Caligula obliges by setting up a mock trial in which Gemellus is intimidated into testifying that Macro alone murdered Tiberius. With the powerful Macro gone, Caligula appoints Tiberius’s former adviser Longinus (John Steiner) as his right-hand man, and pronounces the docile Senator Chaerea (Paolo Bonacelli) as the new head of the Praetorian Guard. Drusilla endeavors to find Caligula a wife amongst the priestesses of the goddess Isis, the cult they secretly practice. Caligula only wants to marry Drusilla, but when she insists that they cannot marry because she is his sister, he marries, Caesonia (Helen Mirren), a priestess of the Goddess Isis and a known courtesan, but only after she bears him an heir. At her home, Drusilla had arranged Caligula’s introduction to many of the priestesses of Isis, and while she would have been happier had Caligula chosen someone other than Caesonia, she did not strongly object

Caligula proves to be a popular but eccentric ruler, cutting taxes and overturning all the oppressive laws that Tiberius enacted. The Senate begins to dislike the young emperor for his eccentricities and various insults directed towards them. Darker aspects of his personality begin to emerge as well; he rapes a bride and groom on their wedding day because of a minor fit of jealousy, and orders the execution of Gemellus merely to provoke a reaction from Drusilla.

After he discovers Caesonia is pregnant, Caligula suffers severe fever, but Drusilla nurses him back to health. Just as he fully recovers, Caesonia bears him a daughter, Julia Drusilla, and Caligula marries her on the spot, at first thinking that she had bore him a son. During the celebration, Drusilla collapses in Caligula’s arms from the same fever he’d suffered. Soon afterwards, Caligula receives another ill omen in the guise of a black bird. He rushes to Drusilla’s side, prays to Isis for her recovery, and watches her die, but, initially, cannot accept that she is dead. Caligula has a nervous breakdown; he smashes a statue of Isis and lovingly attends Drusilla’s body, but then fully accepting her death screams hysterically. Now in a deep depression, Caligula walks the Roman streets, disguised as a beggar; Caligula then causes a disturbance after watching an amateur performance mocking his relationship with Drusilla. After a brief stay in a city jail, Caligula proclaims himself a god and becomes determined to destroy the senatorial class, which he has come to loathe. His reign becomes a series of humiliations against the foundations of Rome; senators’ wives are forced to work in the service of the state as prostitutes, estates are confiscated, the old religion is desecrated, and he initiates an absurd war on Britain to humiliate the army; the army never actually fights in Britain, but is ordered to attack stalks of papyrus on the shores. It is obvious to the senators and the military that Caligula must be assassinated, and Longinus conspires with Chaerea to carry out the deed.

Caligula wanders into his bedroom where a nervous Caesonia awaits him. The blackbird makes a final appearance, but only Caesonia is frightened of it. The next morning, after rehearsing an Egyptian play, Caligula and his family are attacked as they leave the stadium in a coup headed by Chaerea. His wife and daughter are brutally murdered and Chaerea himself stabs Caligula in the stomach. With his final breaths, he defiantly whimpers “I live!”

As Caligula and his family’s bodies are thrown down the marble steps and their blood is washed off the marble floor, Claudius is proclaimed the new Emperor.

REVIEW:

While I was watching Caligula this evening, I was talking to my friend Kasey and wondering WTF?!? was I watching. I need to let you know that the version Netflix supplied me with was the unrated version, complete with explicit sex scenes, nudity, and graphic imagery, such as that final scene. I am not sure how much of the “real” scenes were edited, though. With all that said, I don’t really know much about Caligula, other than stories about his highly sexualized nature.

What is this about?

The rise and fall of the notorious Roman Emperor Caligula, showing the violent methods that he employs to gain the throne, and the subsequent insanity of his reign – he gives his horse political office and humiliates and executes anyone who even slightly displeases him. He also sleeps with his sister, organises elaborate orgies and embarks on a fruitless invasion of England before meeting an appropriate end.

What did I like?

Two youts. These days, Malcom McDowell and Peter O’Toole seem like that have always been ancient. As it turns out, Malcolm McDowell was actually young, at one time, Peter O’Toole, though, appears to always have been ancient. This film is nearly 35 yrs old, and he was an old fossil back then. Still, it is always nice seeing some of out older actors in their younger days.

Life and times. The factor that we all find appealing about biopics is that it tells us a little bit of a life story of historical figures. Sometimes they are more rooted in accuracy, like The Queen, and others they are based in truth but exaggerate every chance they get, like Amadeus. The film is a mix of both, but I can’t help but thing it swings more towards the latter. Still, it was a nice little bit of history on a guy that most of this stuff isn’t really told in the history books. Come to think of it, I don’t they even mention the guy.

Sets. In college, I always went to plays and musicals that the theater department was performing. That’s what happens when you’re good friends with a couple of theater majors. I noticed that many of these great sets seem to hearken back to those crude sets. I love that they did that, though, I have to wonder why they didn’t just go all out with some expensive sets like Cleopatra did.

What didn’t I like?

Helen. Just like Amanda Bynes’ films have become a sort of birthday tradition for me, it appears as if Helen Mirren has become my end of the year treat. Normally, I’d say she’d be the reason to see this, then I remember how bad Hussy was! Mirren isn’t given much to do, and when she does have some lines, it is almost as if she doesn’t want to be there. The final scene, though, she does show signs of life, but I fear it is too little, too late.

Orgy. WTF?!? As I mentioned before, this is the unrated version of the film, and there are plenty of orgy scenes to go around. Given the fact that this Caligula, I let that slid, but I can’t get over the fact that this was pretty much a porn. I’m not exaggerating, either. There are scenes of masturbation, penetration, bondage, and every other sexual act you can think of. These scenes do no involve the main cast, either (I was highly disappointed to not get a nude Helen Mirren). Don’t even get me started on the fact that they are just, pardon the pun, thrust in there and go on and on and on. I guess that’s what you get when Penthouse is a producer, though.

Follow. I had a hard time following what was really going on in the flick. The first half was fine, but somewhere around the time Caligula goes to the temple of Isis, things get befuddled and the audience, or maybe it was just me, can’t really keep up. Making matters worse is that by that time, we are wondering if we really care.

Caligula didn’t really disappoint me, as I had no real expectations, but I did expect more from Helen Mirren. I’m wondering, though, if I would have a different view of this film had I watched one of the other versions that didn’t have the gratuitous sex scenes. I would love to say that this is a film that you should see, but I can’t. It just isn’t something that I can do so in good conscience.

2 1/3 out of 5 stars

Django Unchained

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Django (Jamie Foxx) and his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) are sold at a slave auction. While Broomhilda is sold to an unknown buyer, Django is bought by the Speck brothers (James Remar and James Russo). When Django and a number of slaves are being transported across the country, the Brothers are confronted by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter who uses his former profession as a dentist as a cover for his bounty hunting activities. Schultz frees Django and kills the Speck brothers. He reveals that he sought out Django because Django can identify the Brittle brothers—Ellis, Big John and Little Raj—a band of ruthless killers with a price on their heads. Schultz and Django come to an agreement: in exchange for helping locate the Brittle brothers, Schultz will free Django from slavery entirely and help him rescue Broomhilda from Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a plantation owner who is as charming as he is brutal. On his plantation, Candyland, male slaves are trained to fight to the death for sport, while female slaves are forced into prostitution. Django agrees, and the two go after Candie and the Brittle gang. Shultz confesses that his profession of bounty hunting is opportunistic but he also mentions to Django that he “despises slavery”.

After hunting down and killing the Brittle brothers, Schultz takes on Django as his associate in bounty hunting. Django is initially uneasy about his newfound role, but soon proves himself to be a talented bounty hunter. After collecting a number of bounties over the course of the winter, Schultz and Django confirm that Calvin Candie is Broomhilda’s current owner. After scoring an invitation to Candyland, they devise a plan where the two of them pose as potential purchasers of one of Candie’s slave fighters in order to reach Broomhilda. Upon their arrival, Schultz introduces Django as his equal, which causes hostility at Candieland, where racist attitudes are considerably more pronounced than on other plantations. They are shocked to witness Candie execute a slave by having attack dogs tear him apart, but quickly come to an agreement to purchase a fighting slave. Schultz improvises on their plan and also purchases Broomhilda, claiming that as a fortuitous coincidence he noticed that Broomhilda speaks German and felt that she would help alleviate his nostalgia for his mother tongue.

The plan goes awry when Candie’s head slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) realises that Schultz and Django are more interested in Broomhilda than purchasing a fighter. Correctly deducing that Django and Broomhilda are husband and wife, Stephen informs Candie, who, armed with this information, demands $12,000 for Broomhilda or else he will kill her in front of Django. Left with no other choice, they agree, but Candie’s humiliating behaviour enrages Schultz, who kills him after the paperwork finalising the sale is completed. Schultz is shot as Django tries to escape Candyland, slaughtering most of the household before being subdued. As punishment, Stephen arranges for Django to be sent to a coal mine and worked to death. En route to the mine, Django convinces the slave drivers that he is a bounty hunter, showing them the handbill from his first kill as proof of his claims. Once freed, he kills the slave drivers and rides back to Candyland.

Once inside the plantation, Django continues his slaughter of the household, planting dynamite as he goes. He leaves Stephen alive inside the mansion and takes the certificate of freedom that Candie signed for Broomhilda as part of the purchase agreement before his death. Finally free, Django and Broomhilda ride away from Candyland as the dynamite explodes, killing Stephen and wiping Candyland off the map.

REVIEW:

This time last year, there were three movies that I was super excited to see. One of them got pushed back to the coming spring, while another went on to be the summer’s and one of the year’s biggest hits, The Avengers. Then we have Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s ultra violet, controversial, spaghetti western. A flick that I’ve been looking forward to since I found out what it was about.

What is this about?

Former dentist, Dr. King Schultz, buys the freedom of a slave, Django, and trains him with the intent to make him his deputy bounty hunter. Instead, he is led to the site of Django’s wife who is under the hands of Calvin Candie, a sadistic plantation owner.

What did I like?

No fear. Earlier this year, when Red Tails came out, the African-American community all but crucified George Lucas for basically making a film about how they were treated when he wasn’t of the same race. The same kind of thing is going on here with Tarantino and his handling of slavery and people’s attitudes during the time, but I’ll get to that a little later. Personally, I don’t care what color the filmmaker is, as long as he makes a good film. Tarantino is one of the few in Hollywood with the balls to try this.

Leo. I remember when he was nothing more than a recurring guest star on Growing Pains. Now, Leonardo DiCaprio is a bona fide movie star, arguably one of the biggest names in Hollywood. He turns in a great performance as Calvin Candide, the sadistic plantation owner. Not only is his performance over-the-top, in terms of southern charm, but the intensity he brings to the table (figuratively and literally) is something that we haven’t really seen from him before. A critic I was reading the other day said that this is the performance of his career and that this could possibly get him that Oscar nod, if not for the controversy this film is steeped in.

Story. Quentin Tarantino has never been known as someone who can’t tell a great story. Look at his other films, if you question his story telling. You can argue the point that this may very well be his best work, in terms of storytelling, and many would agree with you. I’m not sure where I stand on that, but it definitely is up there. He really knows how to mix comedy and the more serious tones that were taken in parts. The yin and yang, if you will, make for an entertaining time.

Jackson Waltz. Christoph Waltz is one of the actors who has really gained fame here in the last few years, along with the likes of Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender and, to a lesser extent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As we saw in The Green Hornet, he does have some comedic chops to go with his immense acting talent. While Jamie Foxx’s character is a man of few words, Waltz takes lead and carries the film, until the time when Foxx grows some balls and gets excited about “getting paid for killing white folks”. Samuel L. Jackson (how can this be a Tarantino film without him?) gets to really flex his more comedic chops as the head house slave. I really think they didn’t even write some of these lines and he just ad-libbed most of his lines.

Bloody. Let me be perfectly clear on this. If you cannot stomach seeing people get their heads blown off and copious amounts of blood, then there really is no reason for you to be watching. I’m not one for blood and gore, but when it is over the top as it is here, I’m all for it, plus this is a western, so I was loving it from the get go. I know some people are going to say that the gushing blood was too much or that it was unrealistic, but for me, it was perfect! There are plenty of other “real” things going on in this film.

What didn’t I like?

Length. Every one of Tarantino’s films has been way too long for its own good and this is no exception. Someone needs to get ahold of that man and shake him until he stops dragging these things out so. There was no need for this to be nearly 3 hours long when he could have very well just cut out a good 30-45 minutes worth of useless filler.

Big Daddy. Don Johnson was a great southern plantation owner, not as good as DiCaprio, though, but I have to wonder why this career comeback he’s on has him playing these racist characters. First, he was all about killing Mexicans in Machete, and now he’s all about owning slaves.

Music. Tarantino is known for not using original music for his films, which is fine. It actually sets him apart, but there is a scene here where they are riding through the countryside, but they play some kind of rap song. I’m not a big rap fan in the first place, but this really seemed like it was out of place, even more so in a western. If he wanted to use that song, then the credits would have been the place to use it.

N word. The elephant in the room is the frequent use on the N-word. Tarantino is known for using it in every one of his films, but for some reason he tries to pull a Randall from Clerks 2 and apparently take it back, since he uses it some 200 or so times. There have been some critics tearing the use of the word. Spike Lee, he of such upstanding racial views, has said he is boycotting because it offends his ancestors. While I don’t particularly care for using it so many times, this is a movie about slavery, so you can’t expect it to be used a few times. Also, if two prominent African-American actors don’t have any issues with it, then why is everyone making such a big deal about it? The N word is one of those that stirs up lots of emotions and Tarantino should have known better than to use it so much.

Django Unchained has been one of the films here at the end of the year that has become a critics’ darling, along with Les Miserables. I totally enjoyed the hell out of this film, with its mix of action, comedy, suspense, drama, and a slight love story. I would love to recommend this to everyone, but I can’t. This just isn’t the flick for everyone, as it has a few elements that are sure to offend. For those of you that aren’t easily offended, though, I highly recommend it. As a matter of fact, why aren;t you rushing out to see it right now?!?

5 out of 5 stars

What Women Want

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews, Romantic with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Nick Marshall, a Chicago advertising executive and alpha male, who grew up with his Las Vegas showgirl mother, is a chauvinist. He is skilled at selling to men and seducing women, including local coffee attendant Lola. However, just as he thinks he’s headed for a promotion, his manager, Dan, informs him that he is hiring the talents of Darcy McGuire instead, to broaden the firm’s appeal to women.

Also, his estranged 15-year-old daughter Alex is spending two weeks with him while his ex-wife Gigi goes on her honeymoon with her new husband. Alex is embarrassed by Nick, and resents his being protective when he meets her boyfriend.

Needing to prove himself to Darcy and Dan, Nick attempts to think of copy for a series of feminine products that Darcy distributed at the day’s staff meeting. However he slips and falls into his bathtub while holding an electric hairdryer, shocking himself. The next day, Nick wakes up able to understand his maid’s thoughts as she cleans his apartment. As he walks through a park and encounters numerous women, he realizes that he can hear their thoughts, even those of a female poodle. This proves to be an epiphany for him when he hears the thoughts of his female co-workers (some of whom have slept with him and regretted it). When he goes to a previous therapist, Dr. Perkins (who also disliked him), she realizes his gift: “If Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and you can speak Venutian, the world can be yours.”

Nick eavesdrops on women’s thoughts and uses their ideas as his own, but also begins to develop real friendships with his co-workers. But as he spends more time with Darcy, he is attracted to her. However when he tries to get closer to his daughter, she resents him for trying after so many years of neglect. Nick shrewdly suspects that her boyfriend, who is considerably older than Alex, plans to sleep with her and then dump her, but she does not want Nick’s advice.

Nick and Darcy begin to spend more time together, and ultimately they kiss. When he manages to trump Darcy out of her idea for a new Nike ad campaign aimed at women, he later regrets his selfishness, especially as it leads to her being fired.

Nick loses his gift during a storm while trying to find a company secretary, Erin, who (as his telepathic ability has shown him) is contemplating suicide. He is also reconciled with his daughter when her boyfriend rejects her. Nick finally visits Darcy and explains everything. She regains her job and Nick gets fired. But she forgives him, and agrees to save him from himself, to which he responds “My hero”.

REVIEW:

A question that has and will always plague us men is surely something we could get the answer to in a film entitled What Women Want, right? Not so fast! This is a film produced and directed by women, so you can imagine the point of view, right? Not so fast on that account, either!

What is this about?

Nick, a somewhat chauvinistic advertising exec hot shot, has his life turned haywire when a fluke accident enables him to hear what women think. At first all he wants to do is rid himself of this curse, until a wacky psychologist shows him that this could be used to his advantage! His first target is Darcy McGuire, the very woman who got the promotion he wanted. But just as his plan is beginning to work, love gets in the way…

What did I like?

Mel. First of all, this is way before he lost his mind and become anti-semitic shell of a man that he is now. With that out of the way, I have to say that he was really good. He brought a mix of machismo, comic timing, and a pinch of dramatic acting to the table and is one of the reasons this is such an enjoyable flick.

Women’s thoughts. The things these women think of throughout the course of the film, be it something as inane as Mel Gibson’s “sweet cheeks”, or their own body insecurities, or even the ramblings on about how they might kill themselves, it is interesting, as a guy, to hear these things. Now, if only someone would find a way to do this for real!

Lounge. I love, love, LOVE the soundtrack, or at least the musical cues that this film has. Using the vocal stylings of the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bobby Darin was a great choice. Each of these songs fits the tone of their respective scenes perfectly. Fret not jazz haters, there is also a little Meredith Brook and Christina Aguilera, among a few others thrown in there to keep you happy, as well.

What didn’t I like?

Cause. It seems that Gibson’s ability to hear women’s thoughts is related to his accident with the hair dryer in the bathtub. That happens in a scene that just can’t be put into words. Needless to say he’s wearing pantyhose, nail polish and doing other feminine things as research. Anyway, as the film nears its end, he ends up losing these powers as this old Asian lady leads him down an alley and power lines rain sparks down on him. It is assumed that electricity and this woman have something to do with it but I can’t help but be curious as to what it is that really caused this phenomena.

Hunt. Helen Hunt is one of those actresses that I have a crush on in one thing I see her in and then loathe her in another. This time around she seems to be showing signs of aging, which isn’t necessarily a turnoff, but it does make me wonder if that was because they wanted her to look a bit older or if she missed a Botox appointment. Either way, it is her acting that gets my goat. She is playing a character that is meant to be a bit of a hard ass hellcat executive, but with a softer side as needed. The problem is that she comes off as wooden throughout the whole film. There is a little emotion shown after she gets fired, but even that isn’t really convincing. I just felt as if she could have given more.

Dumb and dumber. I love Gibson’s two assistant (I’m not really sure what they are), played by Delta Burke and…her name slips me at the moment. Unfortunately, we don’t get much of them. A few quick glances, a couple of one-liners, a crack about their empty heads (he can’t hear anything they’re “thinking”), and that’s it. Seems to me that characters like this should be given a bit more screentime. I’m hoping that it just ended up on the cutting room floor, rather than being written like this.

Alright guys, I cannot tell you What Women Want. As we see from this flick, not even they know what they want, no matter the age or station in life. What I can tell you is that this is a nice little romantic comedy worth seeing, if for nothing else than just a cute little story. Men will love seeing a guy go through all this stuff, while women will fall all over Gibson being shirtless for a good portion of the film. I highly recommend this!

4 out of 5 stars

 

Art School Confidential

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Independent, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Starting from childhood attempts at illustration, young Jerome pursues his true obsession to art school. Jerome enrolls in Strathmore, an urban college. His roommates include aspiring filmmaker Vince and closeted-gay fashion major Matthew. Jerome looks for love amongst the coeds, but is turned off by them all, before falling in love with the art model, Audrey. In his art classes, he forms a friendship with perennial loser, Bardo, who guides him through the college scene and introduces him to a failed artist, Jimmy, a belligerent drunk.

As Jerome learns how the art world really works, he finds that he must adapt his vision to the reality that confronts him. The community has been wracked by a serial killer, the Strathmore Strangler, who has confounded the police. As Jerome slowly loses his idealism at art school, he finds himself In competition with a strange newcomer, Jonah (an undercover detective), both for Audrey’s affection and for artistic recognition.

In a wild attempt to win a prestigious art competition, Jerome asks for, and gets, Jimmy’s paintings, all of which are of the Strangler’s victims. Jerome leaves a lit cigarette in Jimmy’s apartment by accident, setting a fire and burning up the apartment and Jimmy. The police arrest Jerome as the Strangler (who in fact was Jimmy); Audrey realizes that her true love is Jerome and that she was stupid to be in love with Jonah (who is actually married); and Jerome is sent to prison. Jerome’s paintings, especially one of Audrey, become prized by collectors; Vince scores a huge hit with his documentary of the Strangler called My Roommate: The Murderer. In prison, Jerome continues to paint and sells his works at high prices, not caring that people think he is the killer, while all the while Audrey is still in love with him. At the end, Audrey and Jerome share a kiss through the protective glass.

REVIEW:

Art School Confidential was suggested to me by a friend from junior high who, strangely enough, is an art teacher now. I actually had no intention on rushing to see it, but would get to it at some point in time, but that plan was scrapped by Netflix rushing to take it off instant streaming (and me not wanting to waste an actual DVD slot for it) in the next few days. The real question, though, is, was this worth seeing?

What is this about?

Jerome, a kid from the suburbs who loves to draw, goes to New York City’s Strathmore College for his freshman year as a drawing major. Competition and petty jealousy consume faculty and students, with an end-of-first-semester best-student award held out as a grand plum. Worse, a strangler is on the loose, killing people on or next to campus. The idealistic Jerome falls in love with Audrey, a student who models for life-drawing classes and who responds to his sweetness. But he has a rival: the clean-cut, manly Jonah, also a first-year drawing student, whose primitive work draws raves and Audrey’s attention. As cynicism seems to corrode everything, Jerome is desperate to win.

What did I like?

Supporting cast. The true shining stars of this film are the supporting cast, with the likes of Anjelica Huston, Jim Broadbent, Ethan Suplee, and in slightly larger roles, John Malkovich and Joel David Moore (is it me, or does it seem like he pops up in just about everything?). Each one makes the two actual leads seem like total amateurs.

Nude models. You know how in some films and/or TV shows we’ll see someone modeling nude and it seems gratuitous? Well, in a film that is based in an art school, you can’t exactly do that. The nude models here are about as generic as they come and don’t really try to do anything more than just sit there and do their nude thing. When they’re done, they don’t go around trying to have sex with all of the students, they just put their robe back on and leave. I’ve never been in an art class, but I would imagine this is how they actually act, though I imagine one or two wish they could have a giant orgy with the class, honestly.

What didn’t I like?

Yawn. As far as independent film go, one can expect there to be a certain level of, shall we say, not-so-interesting-ness, but there is usually something there that piques you interest enough to at least stave off boredom. Sadly, this is not the case with this film. It seems that, save for the scenes with the aforementioned supporting  cast taking center stage, the film gets worse as it goes on.

Lead. Drumline has a line in it that says, “You have to learn to follow before you can lead.” Someone should have really told Max Minghella that before he took this role. The guy just does not have the chops and charisma to carry a film. You may ask who this guy is, and that is because he hasn’t really been in anything since, at least in leading man capacity.

Killer. This whole subplot about the serial killer strangler that is going around campus might have actually helped the film be a bit more interesting if they would have made it a bit more central to the film, as opposed to an afterthought that is suddenly pushed to the forefront in the film’s final act. Granted, that might have pushed this more into the horror/suspense/thriller category, as opposed to dramedy, but at least there would have been something going on that was interesting.

Art School Confidential is an independent film from the same guy who brought us Ghost World. Where that was actually a somewhat entertaining and arguably memorable film, this one leaves the audience with nothing to talk about after the credits roll, except for how utterly forgettable it is. No, I do not recommend this, unless you’re looking for a cure to your insomnia, or need something playing in the background while you study or work on some big project for work.

2 out of 5 stars

Footloose

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Ren McCormack (Bacon), a teenager raised in Chicago, moves with his mother to the small town of Bomont to live with his aunt and uncle. Soon after arriving, Ren makes a friend named Willard, and from him learns the city council has banned dancing and rock music. He soon begins to fall for a rebellious girl named Ariel, who has a boyfriend, Chuck Cranston, and an overprotective father, Reverend Shaw Moore (Lithgow), an authority figure in the town.

After trading insults with Ariel’s boyfriend, Ren is challenged to a game of chicken involving tractors, and despite having never driven one before, he wins. Rev. Moore mistrusts Ren, forbidding Ariel to see him. Ren and his classmates want to do away with the no dancing law and have a senior prom.

Ren goes before the city council and reads several Bible verses to cite scriptural support for the worth of dancing to rejoice, exercise, or celebrate. Although Rev. Moore is moved and tries to get them to abolish the law, the council votes against him. Moore’s wife is supportive of the movement, and explains to Moore he cannot be everyone’s father, and that he is hardly being a father to Ariel. She also says that dancing and music are not the problem. Moore soon has a change of heart after seeing some of the townsfolk burning books that they think are dangerous to the youth. Realizing the situation has gotten out of hand, Moore stops the burning.

On Sunday, Rev. Moore asks his congregation to pray for the high school students putting on the prom, which is set up at a grain mill outside of town. Moore and his wife are seen outside, dancing for the first time in years.

REVIEW:

One cannot help but get up and start doing the infamous dance that is associated with the title song and some may even go so far as to say that it is the reason Footloose is such a big hit. I have long been curious about this flick and this evening said curiosity has been satiated.

What is this about?

Kevin Bacon plays Ren McCormack, a decidedly urban teen who’s transplanted to a small Midwestern town where dancing is outlawed. Recruiting his best pal, the quiet Willard (Chris Penn), and his girlfriend (Lori Singer), a clergyman’s daughter, Ren starts a revolution by moving to the beat.

What did I like?

Soundtrack. Aside from the title track, this film has a soundtrack that consisted of many tunes that were or would go on to become huge hits in the 80s, such as Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”,  Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”,  Mike Reno and Ann Wilson’s “Almost Paradise”, amongst others. As a child of the 80s, hearing these songs always brings back memories, but hearing them in a film made and based in the time when they were actually released was a true treat.

Zealot. John Lithgow, in his days before 3rd Rock from the Sun, was quite the serious, accomplished actor and could really pull off the villanous type roles at the drop of a hat. It should come as no surprise that he gives a masterful performance as the kind of religious nut preacher that wields the kind of power which allowed him to get a law passed that outlawed dancing! The only thing missing was the stereotypical southern accent that evil preachers seem to have.

Bacon. This may very well be the role that brought Kevin Bacon to the attention of moviegoers everywhere and launched his career into superstardom. With good reason, too, as he is the perfect mix of  as one critic put it, “cocky and likeable”.

What didn’t I like?

Law. How in tarnation does a law pass that bans dancing? If you look up strange laws, you’ll find some weird ones, like a town that doesn’t allow you to eat chicken after 6 pm on the third Tuesday of each month. This law, which is more or less the major plot device for the whole film, doesn’t seem to make sense, or at least the fact that Lithgow brainwashed the town into getting it passed and no one has bothered to challenge him on it until Bacon comes to town, doesn’t.

Rebel. So, the preacher’s daughter is rebellious. Who’s really surprised by this, really? Heaven forbid we come across a preacher’s daughter who isn’t some sort of rebel and/or nymphomaniac, as opposed to the doting, holier than thought, perfect little angel that their father would like them to be. I wasn’t really a fan of this character and, truth be told, she didn’t really inspire me to have any feeling for her. Instead she just seemed like the kind of random hot chick that is the object of affection for the main character and, guess what, she is.

Book burning. Maybe I missed something, but the whole book burning thing that occurs near the end seemed to serve no purpose, and yet they kept trying to push this issue of bad books. Personally, I didn’t get it, but like I said, maybe I missed something.

Footloose stands as a great mixture of film and music without actually being a musical, thought it did make it to the Broadway stage as one. Also, it was sadly remade last year, and while the critics were all for it, audiences weren’t exactly jumping for joy to go see it. Needless to say, I won’t be rushing to watch it, either, but I’m no fan of remakes, so that’s no surprise. Stay away from that one and watch the original. You can never go wrong with the real deal!

4 out of 5 stars

The Sound of Music

Posted in Classics, Movie Reviews, Musicals with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Maria (Julie Andrews) is found in a pasture, exulting in the musical inspiration she finds there (“The Sound of Music”). Maria is a postulant in Nonnberg Abbey, where she is constantly getting into mischief and is the nuns’ despair (“Maria”).

Maria’s life suddenly changes when a widowed Austrian Navy Captain, Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) writes to the abbey asking for a governess for his seven children. Mother Abbess asks Maria to take the position on a probationary basis; previous governesses, though, have not lasted long. She is worried about what awaits her at the von Trapp household, but is determined to succeed (“I Have Confidence”).

Maria, upon arrival at the von Trapp estate, finds that the Captain keeps it in strict shipshape order, blows a whistle, issues orders, and dresses his children in sailor-suit uniforms. While they are initially hostile to her, they warm to her when she comforts them during a thunderstorm (“My Favorite Things”). Liesl (Charmian Carr), the oldest, who is “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, sneaks into Maria’s window after a secret meeting with a messenger boy, Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte). At first she is adamant that she “doesn’t need a governess”, but Maria offers to be her friend, and she acquiesces. Maria teaches them how to sing (“Do-Re-Mi”) and to play, sewing playclothes for them from discarded drapes in her room.

The Captain entertains a visit from a lady friend, Baroness Elsa Schroeder (Eleanor Parker), a wealthy socialite from Vienna, along with mutual friend Max Detweiler (Richard Haydn), who is intent on finding an obscure musical act to launch at the upcoming Salzburg Music Festival. The Captain becomes aware that Maria has been taking the children on picnics and bicycle rides, climbed trees with them, and taken them in a boat on the lake adjoining his estate. When the boat capsizes, Maria and all of the children (wearing their clothes made from the former curtains) fall into the water. The Captain turns his wrath on her and Maria begs him to pay attention to the children and love them, but he orders her to return to the abbey.

When he discovers the children performing a reprise of “The Sound of Music” for the Baroness, he changes his mind. Maria has brought music back into his home, and he begs her to stay. Things get better at the household. She and the children perform a puppet show (“The Lonely Goatherd”) that Max gave to them. He announces that he has entered the children in the Salzburg Festival; the Captain, however, forbids their participation. Maria and the children insist that he sing a song, knowing that he used to play and sing with a guitar, and he agrees (“Edelweiss”).

At a soiree thrown in Baroness Schroeder’s honor, eleven-year-old Kurt (Duane Chase) observes guests dancing the Laendler, and asks Maria to teach him the steps. The Captain cuts in and partners her in a graceful performance, culminating in a close clinch. At that moment, she breaks off and blushes. The children perform “So Long, Farewell” to say goodnight to the guests, receiving enthusiastic applause. The Baroness, jealous of Maria, convinces her to return to Nonnberg.

Maria leaves the estate and returns to the abbey, where she keeps herself in seclusion until Mother Abbess gently confronts her, urging her to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” in search of God’s will for her. At this command, she returns to the von Trapp family, finding that the Captain is now engaged to the Baroness. However, he breaks off the engagement, realizing that he is in love with Maria. He meets Maria in his gazebo and they declare their love for each other. The Captain and Maria share a kiss for romance (“Something Good”). The two wed in an elaborate ceremony at the Salzburg Cathedral, with many of Austria’s elite, as well as the nuns from Nonnberg Abbey, in attendance.

While the new couple is away on their honeymoon in Paris, Max grooms the children to perform in the Salzburg Music Festival, against the Captain’s wishes. At the same time, Austria is annexed into the Third Reich in the Anschluss (actual date was March 12, 1938). When the Captain returns, he is informed that he must report as soon as possible to the Nazi Naval Headquarters in Bremerhaven, to accept a commission in the German Navy. He is opposed to Nazism, and stalls by insisting he must perform with his family that night in the Salzburg Festival, now politicized and showcased as a Nazi event under the patronage of Hans Zeller (Ben Wright), recently appointed as the Nazi Gauleiter. Zeller agrees, but orders the Captain to depart immediately after the performance. The choreography of the final song, “So Long, Farewell”, allows the family to leave slowly, a few at a time, and as the winners are announced, they flee. At first they hide in the abbey, but are discovered by Rolfe (who had joined the Nazi party), who threatens to shoot the Captain despite being visibly scared of having to do so. The Captain unsuccessfully attempts to persuade Rolfe to join them; he calls for his lieutenant instead, and the von Trapps flee again. The Nazis are unable to pursue them, as the nuns have removed the spark plug wires and ignition coils from their cars. The final shot shows the von Trapps climbing over the Alps into Switzerland, as “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, reprised by a choir, swells to a conclusion.

REVIEW:

It has been brought to my attention recently that there are some truly immortal classic films that I have yet to review, one of which is The Sound of Music. As far as holiday traditions go, this must be one of them as it seems to be on every Easter (when they’re not showing The Ten Commandments) and Christmas. Some would say that a true classic like this deserves to be on even more!

What is this about?

In Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest collaboration, a feisty postulant named Maria (Julie Andrews) is sent to care for the unruly, motherless Von Trapp children. She soon tames them — and finds herself falling for their stern father (Christopher Plummer).

What did I like?

Scenery. The film opens with the very definition of sweeping cinematography as we zoom in on Maria singing in the hills and mountains overlooking Salzburg. Captain von Trapp’s estate is apparently on some kind of lake/river and is just gorgeous beyond words. The abbey isn’t too shabby, either, as far as abbeys go. Whoever it was that scouted location for this flick really knew what they were doing.

Light. Musicals, in my opinion, should not be heavy dramas, but rather lighthearted musical romps. The subject matter her is kind of heavy, if you think about it. Teen love, older man who is love with another woman while his new employee who is quite a few years younger than him is falling in love with him, Nazis…this is the kind of stuff that makes for good drama. Luckily for us, it never gets to that point and they keep things light and fun, with an occasional dip here and there into the melancholy.

Cast. Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer…enough said.

Music. The greatness of Rodgers & Hammerstein cannot be questioned, and this may be some of their most popular, if not their best work. Nearly every song is memorable and the songs feel natural as opposed to random bursts of song (a ploy that works only in certain works). I dare you to watch this and not come away singing “Do-Re-Mi”, “My Favorite Things”, “The Lonely Goatherd”, or one of the other songs that make this truly great.

What didn’t I like?

Children. Something that I never noticed before tonight was how that the children are basically extras who may get a line or two, except for Liesel, who has her own song and dance routine with the delivery boy. You can also make a case for Greta, since she is the cute one who ends “Edelweiss” and is the first to run into Maria’s room during the thunderstorm, but that’s a bit of a stretch. I felt as if more could be done with the children, especially when they go to the abbey looking for Maria. That would have been the perfect time to allow them to grow.

Wedding. The ceremony was beautiful, but where did all those people come from? That was like a royal wedding! Captain von Trapp was a big to do military officer and all, but as far as I can tell, Maria was just another young girl who has run away to the abbey. I suspect that her parents were in attendance and maybe a few friends and other family, but hardly enough to fill a church the size of a small town. This is a minor complaint, more of a nitpick, really, but it has always bothered me.

The Sound of Music was quite a few awards when it was released, is currently ranked on a few of AFI’s top lists, and has forged quite the legacy for itself. If you are one of the handful of people who hasn’t seen this, what is wrong with you? This is a must-see film for the whole family. To date, I have only met one person who doesn’t like it. As for me, I love it!

5 out of 5 stars