Les Miserables 2012 3/5 Stars

Les Misérables (2012) is a film adaptation of a highly acclaimed stage musical that has been part of American culture for decades. So why make a musical cinema adaptation? After making more money as a motivation that is … It was likely meant to appeal to the growing number of younger people who never saw the stage version or all ages who would not have access to a stage. The movie makers took on a lot in this respect.

There are mammoth challenges when recreating musical theater on screen. This film was unsuccessful in meeting some of those those challenges. For one thing, stage musicals are seen from just one seat in a theater. They don’t provide close-ups and the bodies on stage of all the performers figure into the grand illusion known as stage performance. In a movie, there are close-ups. Furthermore, the focus is on whoever the director chooses to embrace. This leaves us with a flat image of a musical that never lets us turn our eyes away or have our own visual interpretation. In short, the cinematic musical adaptation rarely matches the power of the stage. As a person who has seen Les Mis (as it has been commonly referred to) on the stage when he was much younger, I can tell you the movie fails to measure up to that experience. Still, for what it tries to do, portray Les Mis in a new genre to a new audience, it is quite successful. It also may be safe to say it’s nearly impossible to portray a stage musical with justice on the screen. If that is the case, they get a huge handicap (if this were a golf game) and I would say it represents a gargantuan effort to get the Les Mis art piece to newer viewers by means of theater. For that, this film gets higher marks.

I think younger people (20’s and below) who have never seen the musical will like the movie because the music is so amazing. Still, the two lead actors, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman, are not captivating singers. One has an annoying vibrato he must have cherished in Catholic school and the other is forced sounding. Most lines in the cinematic are sung. There are some excellent moments in the film make no mistake. The Ebony character was my favorite. I will be watching for what she does in future movies. Last but not least, Anne Hathaway does an incredible job with her 1 song. People her give her too much praise however should remember that she had only that performance to focus on. I wonder if her voice and presence would have grown old as a lead role? Just something to throw out there and suggest we think about. The movie is far too long, approaching 3 hours. I think this is a very tough genre to embrace on the screen. They tried it and unfortunately, in my view, failed.

The Snow Walker

The Snow Walker (2003) shows a more primitive side of love, a side that casts away material comforts in favor of simply the closeness of another. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and recommend it as a romance and adventure movie. It makes one wonder if the Eskimos knew more about love centuries ago than modern American culture does now.

It was directed and written by Charles Martin Smith known for being the actor who plays accountant that gets Al Capone in the Untouchables. He has been in a long list of other films through the years and is instantly recognizable in films. He doesn’t appear in this one but as I said, he wrote and directed it. The two main characters in this freezing love story are Charlie Halliday played by Barry Pepper, known for Saving Private Ryan. and Kanaalaq played by Annabella Piugattuk, known for Into the West.

This is the storyline from IMDB:

1953. Charlie Halliday, a former WWII fighter pilot, is a Yellowknife-based bush pilot. Like many of the white in the area, he does not associate with the Inuit except for what he can get out of them in bartering. On a personal plane trip, he runs across a small family of nomadic Inuit. The female of the group, named Kanaalaq, has what Charlie suspects is tuberculosis. In exchange for some ivory, Charlie agrees to fly her to a hospital in Yellowknife. En route back to the city, Charlie is forced to make a crash landing when the plane develops mechanical problems. Although both Charlie and Kanaalaq are unharmed by the crash, the plane is totaled, they are in the middle of nowhere, the radio doesn’t seem to be working, they have a meager amount of supplies, and Charlie’s whereabouts are probably unknown to others since he made a detour from his original route. Furthermore, they can’t communicate with each other as Kanaalaq only knows a few words of English.

The Snow Walker is a tough film to get through in the same way Dances With Wolves is. Both present  ironically touching love stories. Unlike Wolves, however, the emphasis in Snow is completely on the love story. Whether it is the romance we all dream of will vary person to person. Still, it shows a selfish man who comes to appreciate true and primal love in a way I hadn’t thought of before. I gave it 5/5 for a romance. It brings up valuable questions for a relationship. How far would you hike in the snow for the one you love? is one of those questions.

Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians is a CGI animated film for children based on a book by William Joyce. It is built around the invaluable moral of believing in yourself. Like other great movies I’ve seen recently, it was effectively directed by the book’s author. The film also had a second director: Guillermo del Toro. I was surprised to see del Toro’s name since he was the director of violent horror style movies like Blade and Pan’s Labyrinth. Still, his art shines through in a way that really works for children. The characters reminded me of the video game Legend of Zelda and the Disney cartoon Peter Pan.”

The story centers around Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine. He falls in with “The Guardians,” make believe legends including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman. In the beginning, Jack Frost is not convinced he is one of the chosen few but through time and testing, he comes to understand his place as a Guardian. Pitch is the villain. He represents fear. He is voiced by Jude Law and the character is quite scary. He reminded me a little of Hades from Disney’s Hercules. The elves are hilarious in the same spirit as Despicable Me‘s Minions. In the end, everything is set right as is customary in children’s movies. The theater was filled with applause at the end. It was an enjoyable ride watching this morality tale play out.

I must admit I was skeptical about this film at first but to my surprise I was very entertained by it. I greatly enjoyed this movie for my kids, who accompanied me there, but also for myself. Just like the Tortoise and the Hare, we get a bedside tale that teaches up something. In this case it is the power of believing in yourself and others. I’d say this film perfectly achieves what it sets out to do. Believing in yourself is a moral we never outgrow. That and some truly astounding CGI made the Legend of the Guardians a winner with my kids and I.

Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks is a romantic comedy written by Zoe Kazan. Ruby is a fictional character thought up in the movie by a successful writer in his early twenties played by Paul Dano.

Much to his surprise, one day Ruby comes to life and takes on the role of his real life girlfriend. After that a roller coaster of emotions and love lessons ensues. For me, the strongest message in the movie is about the power we try to exert over each other in relationships. It has a truly all-star cast including Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Elliot Gould, and many more. Though the film started slow for me, it picked up in the middle and became a very fun and emotion-filled ride. I read online while watching the movie that the actress playing Ruby, Zoe Kazan, is the actual writer of the movie. For this reason, the audience gets the perspective of a woman being invented and controlled by an actual woman writer. I was impressed by Miss Kazan and will look for more from her in the future.

Final Thought: Relationships are often funny but more often perplexing. This movie uses metaphor and satire in the form of this invented woman to address some of those difficult issues. Paul Dano does a very nice job as a young writer trying to figure out life and love. He has definite ideas about what Ruby should be and he writes them clearly. I felt a real-life connection to what he was doing when he “wrote Ruby.” I thought at one point, “How would I ‘write’ my wife if I had the magic typewriter?” Through most of the movie I knew I would not rewrite her one iota. I think that is the message of the movie. We want “the perfect spouse” but in reality, we don’t know what that is for us. Better to let our spouse have her/his imperfections than try to craft them into something “perfect.” If those themes sound interesting, you’ll love this romantic comedy. I give it 5/5 stars. In some ways for me it was a perfect film experience.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Emma Watson and Ezra Miller steal the show in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Miller often reminded me of a Jack Nicholson for a new generation. This book-turned-film pleases at every turn. It was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky known for the TV series Jericho. Lead actors include: Emma Watson as Sam, Logan Lerman as Charlie, and Ezra Miller as Patrick.

This movie is an adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s novel. Charlie is 15 years old and has trouble finding his place in High School. He learns to make friends in the context of a group of misfits. He learns about love, friendship, and his own mental illness in the same context. Lucky for him, it’s a warm, supportive context. It is in some ways the typical coming-of-age film but there is some originality here as well. There are a LOT of “mix tapes” changing hands, almost to annoyance. My wife reminded me the movie is set in 1990 so that might explain it.

I was able to shed my grown-up reason and enjoy this film as my inner-high-school self. Emma Watson is the perfect choice for Charlie’s first love because her face is so familiar and calming. When Charlie has some of his darker moments, she is there as a comforting force. Ezra Miller, who was terrifying in We Need to Talk About Kevin, moves into a new phase of his acting career. He is a delight to watch often showing humor akin to Jack Nicholson (in his own budding way). Logan Lerman does a fine job as Charlie. His piercing eyes really speak more than his lines but I found him to be engaging for the role. People are comparing this film to the Breakfast Club, I think that a hollow comparison. Both are about kids in High School but I don’t see Wallflower hanging around in the American mind as much. It’s a lot of fun with some great acting but fails to mirror the storms of adolescence as clearly as the Breakfast Club.

Pitch Perfect

I surmise Pitch Perfect was written for 3 genres: 1) Crude College Humor like American Pie, 2) Teen and Twenty-Something TV like Dawson’s Creek, and Broadway Musical-Made-Into-Movie like Rock of Ages. While the A’Capella music and some of the humor in Pitch Perfect works well, the other writing falls short of any genre. It was directed by Jason Moore, known for Dawson’s Creek. There are many known actors including Anna Kendrick as Beca, known for Twilight, Brittany Snow as Chloe, known for Prom Night, and Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy, known for the movie Bachelorette. There are a lot of other familiar faces in this film. My synopsis: Beca, starting out as a freshman at Barden University, is stifled in her dream of being a DJ and instead joins The Bellas, an A’Capella all-girl singing group. While the seeming band of misfits has some enjoyable talent, Beca brings some new talents out of her DJ bag that shake things up.

Most of the audience will appreciate the Chris-Farley-like humor of Rebel Wilson as Amy. I always applaud overweight actors that seek to promote healthy weights from the silver screen. It’s a better message to girls growing up today than the usual one of the need to be thin to be love able. Onto the relationships: there are no love stories here to “get into.” There is the obligatory one where the girl breaks up with the guy and the guy moves on and the girl runs back to the guy … yadda yadda. It is all written in such a shallow way. And then there is the music … I have no complaints there. As I close I must mention the projectile vomiting. The song leader does that when she’s nervous. It happens 3 times I think and the 2nd time one singer lays down and does a snow angel in it. It’s probably pudding but it made me nauseous. It seems like one genre mentioned above always has to have that good old projectile vomiting. Pitch Perfect some ways does everything it’s supposed to according to its market. In my analysis, Pitch Perfect is a good movie for its music but not great in any way.

Fist Fight (2017)

This is one you can ignore most of the critics on. It’s a very funny movie that scored low but one you may laugh very hard at. As a teacher I found it relate-able and silly and stupid and lame and laugh-a-minute. Sometimes the stupidest comedies are the most fun. If you agree raise your hand and leave me a comment. Come join my club.

Fist Fight (2017)
R | 1h 31min | Comedy | 17 February 2017 (USA)

When one school teacher unwittingly causes another teacher’s dismissal, he is challenged to an after-school fight.
Director: Richie Keen
Writers: Van Robichaux (screenplay), Evan Susser (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
Stars: Ice Cube, Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan

It’s funny to see what people think about teaching in a film like this. It’s not a documentary and it’s likely the writers didn’t do much research about the profession apart from their own perception and experience. Good thing their view of the job is downright hilarious. There are other movies who are just ignorant and even unkind to the profession of teaching. This one just has a load of fun poking fun at a profession and an idea about it. Of course you know I am a teacher so I’m just a little more observant about the characterization and plot details of films about it. This one portrays very little in an accurate way but the jokes are so damn funny anyway. We’e ALL been students. What a funny premise that teachers get into a fist fight!

Ice Cube is a street level teacher. Charlie Day is the stereotypical dorky teacher. He drives a boring white minivan and his wife is pregnant. He’s at the same horrible school as Ice Cube but responds to the unruly students with his tail between his legs. There is an altercation that causes Ice to challenge Charlie to a fist fight, a parking lot brawl. This is funny because teachers don’t do this: kids do. It carries the air of an Adam Sandler movie.

The director Richie Keen is a director and actor, known for Fist Fight (2017), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005) and Hooked (2006). Clearly he has a background in edgy comedy.

Final thoughts
Again, many films show disrespect for teachers amidst their comedy. I can laugh along with that, be a good sport and all. This film was a little insulting at times but so very funny at others. I went back to replay certain scenes for my wife when she had left the room and it was worth it to see her laugh like I did. It’s raunchy comedy and not for everybody but if you want a good belly laugh at teacher jokes, go see this one.


There Will be Blood

There Will be Blood is an epic film released in 2007 that gives a close look at a truly hateful opportunist. Having said that, believe it or not, it’s wonderful. It’s directed by Paul Thomas Anderson known for Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, and the Master. It stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, and Ciarán Hinds.

IMDB says it’s “A story about family, greed, religion, and oil, centered around a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.” The protagonist’s name is Daniel Plainview. He is a shrewd and relentless oil prospector who almost dies a couple times before he strikes black gold and untold fortune. There is hardly any blood in this movie so don’t let the title steer you wrong. It takes place around 1900 but there are scenes before and considerably longer after that.

Plainview is one of those characters you detest with all that is human but at the same time you can’t take your eyes off his journey. This film treats us to the life of one man. I can see parts of myself in him and at the same time, I see a heart as black as midnight I would never compare to my own. We learn early on he hates people. That should be a clue about what’s to come. The ending is horrendous and somewhat unpredictable. I imagine a lot of people hated the ending. As for me? I can’t really see a better way to complete Plainview’s story. The question lingers for me: is Daniel Plainview’s money worth the human cost? While great in my view, it lost points by not having much real humanity portrayed. One example is, there are hardly any women in it. It could have been stronger if it showed more ordinary life. That would have served to contrast and showcase Plainview’s twisted madness. As it is, that is all we see. It could be better, but it’s great as it is.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises was a failure in my opinion, even in spite of its awesome motorcycle, due to boring and pointless scenes and under-developed characters. Excessively long and pointless scenes follow an initial airplane hijacking that is admittedly one of the few innovative and exciting scenes. Unfortunately however, the boring stuff begins immediately after that and really never stops throughout the course of its seemingly unending 2hr 44min runtime. I think a lot of these boring scenes are due to the fact that the director didn’t try as hard because it’s part of such a successful franchise. Once a franchise is famous like the Dark Knight, movie makers boosted my McDonalds Value Meal Deals, action figures, and clothing lines likely lose their inner conscience about just making a good movie. They think whatever they do under that banner will be accepted and will make money. It appears that is the situation in this case, which is unfortunate. I think movie makers should always strive to make a movie interesting and engaging, regardless of the coattails of its predecessor. I found The Dark Knight Rises to be uninspired and completely off the mark of the 2 other prequels.

Under-developed motives for Bruce Wayne also left me cold on this one. There is little or no chemistry or motive in his love relationship with cat woman. In fact, cat woman nearly kills him a couple of times. His response to this is to fall in love with her and make her his partner? Bruce Wayne’s fortune is another bone of contention with me. He has lost every cent at the hands of his enemy and yet he has the means to appear healthy and relaxed drinking coffee and winking at Alfred at the end of the movie. What money bought the latte Bruce? We are in this scene as well as so many others expected to suspend disbelief. I have to say I grew tired of that mental exercise after the first hour. Besides that, the return wasn’t much to speak of.

Based on my negative impression of this film, I am not planning on seeing the next sequel which clearly will contain a Robin figure. That’s right, believe it or not, I am still not interested.

47 Meters Down (2017)

Now streaming on Netflix! This is a spoiler free preview. We may have one of the scarier, thinking-person’s shark films here. Its minimal presentation but only works to make you sit up straight amidst the terror.

47 Meters Down (2017)
PG-13 | 1h 29min | Horror, Thriller | 16 June 2017 (USA)
Director: Johannes Roberts
Writers: Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera
Stars: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine

The director’s name I hadn’t heard until I looked him up as is conventional with me. He directed The Other Side of the Door, along with several other large release films that are impressive in number though he hasn’t had what I’d call a “hit” yet. Still, so many directors never get this many chances to make movies. I am impressed with his resume. He might be worth checking out as far as his other work. I’ll let you know as I intend to look at some of them in future reviews.

Like the film I mentioned, this could be classified as horror. His past work in the genre certainly would make him able to create suspense and jump scares. At the same time, shark movies like Jaws or The Shallows march to different drummers and therefore need extra skill to be made well.

I was overall impressed with the direction here. I’ll be curious to read what other critics say. There are many choices he made that work and just a few that I question, mostly the ones about what is happening 47 meters “up.” He chose to keep that minimal, maybe a bit too much.

Mandy Moore’s days in PG and R movies may have passed. I think she does great in Tangled and I am sure her name sells tickets. I love her in This is Us. Still, she has a shrill scream of a weak woman in my opinion. It irritated instead of terrified. Put her up against Blake Lively in a shark film and I’ll choose Lively hand over shark. Still, she is a familiar face and voice when she’s calm and we keep wanting her to be strong. Again, you may disagree about her performance. I thought she was miscast. So much of casting these days is done by demographic and in order to keep a movie in the black. I’ll save that for another post but it is VERY VERY sad that’s the situation we are in. Hundreds of other actresses of her paygrade could have done it better imo. She is still great to watch, I may be splitting hairs.

Claire Holt is the other young woman. She was well cast and more fun. I had to do a double take because she looked a bit like Alicia Vikander with more freckles and a tan. Both the women in this film are attractive, which I am somewhat ashamed to say … always helps.

This is not as good as Jaws but certainly has scares as you would expect. To sum it up: 2 attractive young women, with sharks, and the ocean is blue … what more could you want for a Summer escape? There is also a very clever ending I’d love to talk about with you. If you have a desire to do so, please start a conversation with me in the comments about the ending! I allow spoilers there.