‘Les Misérables’: Review

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I hate to criticize a film by saying “It’s not really my type of movie,” or “I’m not really into this kind of genre” because it’s poor form from any type of “reviewer” or whatever the hell I’m doing on here, to dismiss a film just because it’s outside the norm of your favourite style or genre. I actually quite enjoy musicals (from some stupid reason I have seen every episode of Glee, and I keep watching…), where not only do you get some great songs usually, but these songs can expertly be used to display a bevy of emotions from each character, almost like an aside to the audience. A musical/period film really tests my nerves, especially clocking in at 158 mins., and although this isn’t my particular slice of bread (trying to stick with a Les Mis theme here), I tried to remain as partial as possible.

The one neat and unique device they used was that they legit sang everything, I mean everything. All the dialogue is sung, unlike in normal musicals where they talk for a bit and then break into song, everything is sung and then they segue into “actual” songs. I was unsure how they were going to sustain this without it getting annoying or bland, and it kind of just faded into the film for me and I hardly even noticed it anymore. I don’t know how much I’d like to see of it in the future, but it definitely was inventive for film. I also quite enjoyed how each actor had to sing their parts live on set instead of dubbing themselves over in post-production. This gave it a kind of “raw” feel that symbolized nicely the dirty and scummy post-French revolution world they all lived in. Sure, Russell Crowe may not be the greatest singer, but it fell in line with his character and felt true.

It runs way too long though, a lot of trimming could be made, especially around the Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter characters. Now I get that they were probably a fixture in previous editions, but their supposed purpose of adding comedy, doesn’t really work, and they just become a random distraction that takes away from the main story. While they do tie-in later, it is in no way through any major plot devices or resolutions, just a method to have them re-appear. I don’t think Hugh Jackman or Russell Crowe cultivate any new land with their acting skills here, but both are more than serviceable and up for whatever. Their gravitas and experience lend them well here, where especially for a character like Jean Valjean who doesn’t seem too complex, Jackman silently makes him work, where in lesser hands the balance of quiet and commandeering would fall out of favour. You won’t have to go any further than right here to find a bigger Anne Hathaway hater, and no she wasn’t bad in this, but I don’t really get all the buzz surrounding her performance that seems to be occurring. I will give her major props for her “I Dreamed A Dream” sequence/song that was some great, great stuff and by far my favourite part of the movie. People seem to think she might win the Oscar just off of that scene alone, and I hate to say it, but I could see it.

All in all, I thought it was alright. I know that’s decidedly “un-critical” and lacking depth, but that’s all I got. I was a little beaten up over the runtime as a lot seemed to drag on and serve little purpose. There was to be fair some wondrous moments of beauty such as that Hathaway scene and some nice set design and direction from Tom Hooper. Unfortunately, these moments were all too fleeting and the film suffered because of it. Not enough marshmallows in the Lucky Charms.

6/10

‘Life Of Pi’: Review

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“Life Of Pi” is one of those novels that I’ve always intended to read but never got around to for various reasons. I never really knew what it was about, but assumed it had something to do with math and tigers, both equally badass. I usually always intend to read the book before the movie, but this time around I was all “Screw it! I’m never going to read the book, lets just watch the movie.” Unfortunately I kind of spoiled myself when I read the synopsis for the film, which blatantly spoiled the “twist” (if you want to call it that), and made it clear what actually happens.

I mean like story-wise there’s not really much to the film, it’s just set-up to stranding Pi in the ocean with a Tiger where he not only has to battle the elements of surviving on the bare minimum of supplies, while also TRYING NOT TO GET EATEN BY A HUGE TIGER. I’m generally a big fan of survival shows or of castaway “stranded on a desert island” stories. While initially interesting and engaging I kind of got bored over the same repeated happenings that befell the film for much of its middle section. I’m not entirely sure the exact runtime of the “Pi doing random things to survive” scenes, but its got to be an hour plus (Note: I’m terrible at estimating time). I shouldn’t say I was completely bored, because while the lacking of a more complex story took me out of the film a little at times, the visual effects were very, very cool. I think Ang Lee knew this to an extent, where supposedly the book was un-filmable, and to counter-act the relatively stagnant narrative strands he made sure the film was absolutely beautiful to look at and that the effects never took away or cheapened the film, but propped it up as a visual experience. Seeing it in 3D was all well and fun, but I’m sure the film looks just as stunning without having to wear those wacky glasses.

While the film is obviously about faith in god and the presence and power of religion, to me it never felt like it too largely beat you over the head with it. It’s never really a proponent behind propping up one singular religion, but rather it indeed preaches for the harmony of multiple religions, and even more broadly or universally applicable, a peace among all people. Not being religiously inclined myself, I felt that the message of faith doesn’t entirely have to relate solely to religion, but the film also seems to just be sending out a message of general belief in yourself and surroundings, where whether everything is related to a higher power is subject to the individual person and not forced by the collective. Although religion and faith feature prominently in the themes of the film, you never feel like a message of Christianity, Islam or whatever religion is being shoved down your throat, but almost a perseverance of the human race

I really don’t have too much more to say about the film, I enjoyed myself for the most part, besides it sagging for awhile in the middle, but was in awe over the visual effects that Ang Lee and company had showcased. Even though I haven’t read the book, I can’t imagine fans of it not enjoying this, as it seems like the best possible job they could do for something so hard to capture and maintain in a feature film. While the nature of the story left me lacking in parts, the visual aesthetic was enough to keep me around and engrossed.

7.5/10

‘Zero Dark Thirty’: Review

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Zero Dark Thirty is a very, very good film, but falls a few strokes away from the masterpiece it so obviously strived to be. It suffers not from political or the supposed endorsing of torture, but rather through a more filmic presentation aspect, and the portrayal of its characters. The characters themselves are all archetypes, plug and play ideals that are infused into a well-known story, but who fail to bring much to it as themselves or as a distinguished character. Don’t get me wrong, every single actor/actress plays their role terrifically, but the limit on their character and who he/she is, only gives them so much material to work with.

Jessica Chastain as Maya, our lead character, is very good but plays your prototypical tough woman in a man’s world who doesn’t take shit from anyone and is driven at all costs to achieve her goal (killing Bin Laden). Jason Clarke is supremely awesome and badass, and should be getting more film roles (like now, please), but he’s your cool and smooth guy unsure of Maya at first, but hey wouldn’t you know they become the best of friends and co-workers. Jennifer Ehle is Jessica, the motherly-type to Maya and carries an emotional link that needs to exploited to provide motivation (If it sounds vague, that’s how it was intended). Kyle Chandler and James Gandolfini both plays bosses at first adverse to Maya’s in-your-face manner and her lack of a filter, but eventually are destined to follow her lead. I could go on and on through each character, but this is already boring enough already. The pursuit and killing of Bin Laden is a great story, and one beautifully told by Bigelow, never boring, providing a balance of action and drama that never persuades you to check your watch. It’s just a shame then that the characters had to be so standard and repetitious where their cookie cutter mentality often clouded a great script.

If you write anything about Zero Dark Thirty these days you kinda have to talk about people complaining it’s liberalist propaganda and that it supports torture. *deep breath* I honestly see none of that here, and maybe because it’s a side I lean to more politically myself, but it seems to be telling the story quite similarly to how it happened in real life, or what has been revealed to us (ie. Us in the public don’t fully know the extent of the torture methods used, but we have a pretty good understanding how far they went). As for the torture scenes, I see no such methods of endorsing it, just showing it to its full brutal extent, and the extreme methods that U.S. agents when to in extracting information from known or suspected terrorists. Just because something is shown as realistic, and doesn’t adhere to a “Hollywood” glossing over, does not simply make the creators proponents of this activity, but rather proponents of realism. It also doesn’t make sense to me how the same right wing could criticize the film for being left wing propaganda while also claiming it supports torture, as the right wing under the Bush (and Cheney) administration were the ones implementing these torture methods. I really hope that these criticisms don’t overshadow the core elements of this story and film, but sadly it looks like that’s already happening. I don’t know how this story could be told anymore perfectly and to criticize the happenings in the film is basically to criticize real life, whether you like it or not, this is how this story went down, and kudos to Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal for not shying away from a sliver of it.

My second paragraph makes me seem like I was really down on the film, but I largely wasn’t, it was just some character ticks and beats that I’ve seen plenty of times before, as this story deserved a lot more justice in that department. Having remembered  the morning of September 11th, hearing the news on a country radio station of all things as I rode the bus to school, this film holds a very interesting place in my head and heart. This is the first (at least to my recollection) historical film where I’ve actually lived through the whole ordeal and remember the majority of each of these events. It is a very weird thought to me that there are millions of young children who will see September 11th as a historical event, only knowing of it through textbooks and film. Zero Dark Thirty accurately and gracefully tells this story through its brutal truths and scars. There was torture and good and bad decisions made, but there remains a backbone that props up these happenings equally, and delivers us the defining story of the early century.

8.5/10

My Top 15 Favourite TV Shows Of 2012

1. Mad Men

Probably the best season so far in my mind, with a handful of classics. The Pete-centric “Signal 30” is probably my favourite episode the show has ever delivered. What can I say, I’m a big Pete fan. “The Other Woman” was devastatingly beautiful and nicely shook up the Mad Men format. It works expertly as a downfall of a season for many people, but individually works as a collection of impeccable short stories

 2. Parenthood

No show makes me happier or enjoy watching more than Parenthood. It’s not flashy and gets absolutely zero hype, but I love well-made family dramas like this, and Jason Katims is the perfect architect. Season four’s “cancer” arch with Monica Potter is the best storyline the show has ever done. The back-half of season three seemed to have started this roll with the awesome detour episode of “Road Trip.”

3. Homeland

While not as great as the first season (see the article I wrote on it), I still immensely enjoyed myself through season two. A little disjointed and less tight as the first season, but the risks they took and being not afraid to majorly shake-up the show instilled again a sense that anything could happen. I’m wary of season three, but the audacity of Gordon and Gansa promises the show will continue to be entertaining and engaging.

4. Breaking Bad

Season four was the season that really made me love this show. I’d always liked it but season four finally put it on another plane for me. The show kept getting darker and Walter kept getting further and further buried under the weight of himself. The final scene of “Gliding Over All” delivers what we’ve all been waiting for, and looks to set-up a classic string of the eight remaining episodes. The train robbery of “Dead Freight” was one of the greatest sequences in both TV and movies I’ve seen in a long while.

 5. Louie

As I’ve wrote earlier, Louis CK is in a position on TV different than any other. This show is painfully Louis’ as he’s in control of pretty much everything, delivering beautiful pieces of work. “Miami”, “Daddy’s Girlfriend (Part 1)”, “Late Show (Part 3)” and “New Year’s Eve” were all perfect episodes for me and even months later I still remember the feelings I had watching these episodes. “New Year’s Eve” features one of the most beautiful endings and touching moments to end a season on that also included an insane sex-crazed Melissa Leo.

 6. Treme

I’ve been meaning to write longer about this show forever, and I will one day, especially that it has a final shortened season up ahead. Watching Treme is basically just soaking in the great New Orleans culture for an hour, as plot is always secondary to the feel and atmosphere of the show. We’ve known these characters for so long now that our emotional connections to them are at a peak, and when characters intertwine our history with them proves as a little treat.

 7. Luck

Luck had an unfortunate life span, one that should’ve continued into a second season were it not for some behind-the-scenes troubles. I don’t know that you could pick better collaborators than David Milch, Michael Mann and Dustin Hoffman, and somehow they didn’t disappoint. Milch and co. made all the seemingly boring horserace scenes incredibly cinematic and a counterbalance to the great drama outside of it. It’s incredibly regrettable that we’re not getting another season of it, but I’ll enjoy looking back on this great “mini-series.”

 8. Justified

Nothing could top Margo Martindale’s perfect performance as the villainous Mags from season two, but the tandem of Neal McDonough and Mykelti Williamson gave it a pretty good run. McDonough was especially notable as his character became more and more manic and weird as the season progressed. Goggins continues to outshine supporting actors all over TV and Olyphant makes Givens a supreme badass with a sarcastic wit. It  gets critical praise, but is still not recognized to the level of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones etc., but it constantly puts in great work with a fantastic setting and a unique setting not seen too much on TV.

 9. Archer

The funniest show on TV, and season three only solidified it. The jokes are so smart and layered that there’s many that I don’t even know what they’re referencing. H. Jon Benjamin remains one of the best voice actor today (along with his equally great work on Bob’s Burgers), complimented by some nice guest voices by Burt Reynolds and Bryan Cranston. Few things illustrate the hilarity and off-the-wall nature of Archer than the great two-part finale “Space Race.”

10. Game Of Thrones 

Not being familiar with the book, the first season of Game Of Thrones was completely overwhelming for me. It was good, but it was hard to keep track of all the characters, storylines, locations and the extent of their relationships. Season two put me on better footing though, knowing all the characters and how they knew each other which greatly skyrocketed my enjoyment for the season. These fantasy types of shows aren’t usually my thing, but much of the politics and posturing is reminiscent from HBO golden age shows, just with a different backing.

11. Veep

Like Archer, just incredibly smart and hilarious jokes. From the brilliant minds of The Thick Of It, it mixes the political satire of that show with the awkwardness and situational humour of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is perfect in the lead role, providing a great mix of bitchiness obliviousness. Watch the great third episode “Catherine” to see the show firing on all cylinders.

 12. New Girl

When this show started I never thought it would reach any type of list like this for me. The backhalf of season one really kickstarted the roll its on and showcased the different show it had become. Moving slightly away from so much of a focus on Zooey Deschanel and making it more of an ensemble show did wonders for it. Not to mention my favourite comedic performance by anybody on TV currently, Jake Johnson. Just watch Jake Johnson reel off a bunch bunch of rapid-fire lines in succession, and you’ll see why he deserves the honour.

 13. The Middle

Consistently the funniest show on ABC’s Wednesday block of comedy’s. Supremely more funny and consistent than Modern Family and never goes off the deep end with its tones like Suburgatory often does. Very plain and not flashy, but solid jokes and nice to see a “poor” situation being portrayed on television. *cough* Modern Family *cough*

 14. Boardwalk Empire

A lot of characters and storylines to wade through, but after the kickstart of the end of season two, season three continued to deliver solid TV. Will never reach the quality heights of a Mad Men or Breaking Bad but consistently delivers good episodes with the penchant for great ones every so often.

 15. Happy Endings

Again, another hilarious show with smart and inventive jokes. Maybe the best laugh-a-minute show outside of Archer. The jokes you see here are supremely unique, and you’d be hard pressed to find them treading over common ground. Elisha Cuthbert is the MVP, makes the “dumb blonde” trope feel fresh.