Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Frozen

Shot on location during a harsh winter month, Frozen is the story of three young college students stuck on a ski lift. The perfect series of mistakes are made, leaving the three kids up on that lift without hope of rescue for at least a week. And while it sounds like a simple story, I know what might be running through your mind as you read this: All the ways in which this couldn’t possibly ever happen, all the things you would do if you were in this situation, and writer/director Adam Green obviously had the same thoughts you had. This is a simple story, but its telling will rip your nerves ragged and leaving you wincing and near tears. This is hardcore and it will not stop tearing at you once these kids are stuck, ripping at your heart and your soul as you see them make mistakes. The simple act of touching becomes harsh and vicious when frostbite sets in, and then the unflinching burn from a relentless sun simply beats down on them all day long. There is no merciful reprieve for our main characters; no clever till turn of chance and opportunity that lands a pizza on their laps. They are stuck and time is working steadily against them.

Two boyhood friends regularly take the mountain ski trip in order to get away from the stress of their school life. They’ve made this trip on dozens of mountains, sharing jokes and camaraderie in the way so many men have. They’ve been bound by a lifetime of familiarity and experience. But now the girlfriend of one of the two wants to tag along wants to learn how to ski, wants to spend time with the man she loves and share in his experiences. This is a triangle dynamic where two people hide their resentment of one another for the sake of their one point of common concern. So as much as this film is about three people facing the rigors of nature, this is also about a group dynamic that seems destined to crumble from the very beginning. The acting is unbelievably intense with an unbelievably deep performance from Sean Ashmore that finds greater strength than we think him capable of at first.

Look, going any further with regards to this film will spoil it for any future viewer. I’ve seen many horror films, as my blog attests. I love the genre, from the gory and sometimes comedic to the serious and oftentimes disturbing. “Frozen” falls into the latter category. My nerves were shot through with panic, fear, and pure horror. I was left a ragged little ball of tear-stained misery by the end. Green presents a film that is intimate and personal with a kind of horror I rarely ever find in this day and age. He drives a proverbial fist to the gut, yanks you back by the hair, and spits on what is left of your dignity with a cocky smile and dismissive drop to the ground. That damn Green just has a knack for doing sadistic things to my mind, I think.

5 out of 5.

Les Miserable.... IN YOUR FACE!!!!

Les Miserable

I’ve only recently developed a kind of love for musical theater, having had very little exposure throughout most of my life but having been given a great deal of exposure in the recent years through friends in the theater community. However, you’d kind of have to live out in the middle of a third world country with almost no exposure to popular culture in order to miss having heard at least a few songs if not the entire soundtrack of “Les Miserable”, a musical based on the paperweight novel by Victor Hugo. It’s not the first, last, or most faithful adaptation of the source material but it is probably the most successful and has played throughout the world to sold-out audiences. It’s a masterpiece, it’s critically acclaimed, and it’s credited (along with “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera”) with bringing big musicals back to prominence during the Broadway renaissance of the 80’s.  And while I’m familiar with the music, the rough outline of the story, and the characters, I have never actually seen the show in its’ entirety.

Adapting a stage musical to screen production comes with a great many challenges, especially a production as popular and well known as Les Mis. Casting, set design, and everything else along the way is going to face severe scrutiny from the shows fans and you also have to utilize a wholly different medium to its best advantages. Previous film productions like “Phantom of the Opera” faced similar scrutiny and never really achieved the kind of success seen by the original production. Time will tell whether Les Mis will find a bigger audience, but it did have a higher budget and much more production than the previously mentioned show. I’ll just offer my thoughts on the show…


Okay, so that’s a little short and non-descript. Let me just state that putting the majority of the show across the shoulders of Hugh Jackman in the central role was a terrific decision on the part of casting. Jackmans’ voice is strong, his acting is top notch, and he’s someone the audience can cheer, feel, and understand. It’s easy to see why many of the actors were chosen for their roles, including a few Broadway cast reprisals. But I have to give an amazing amount of credit to Anne Hathaway for her portrayal of Fontaine. “I Dreamed a Dream” is an amazing song on its’ own, but Hathaway takes the song to a new level for me. The camera remains fixed on her throughout the rendition, never cutting to a new angle or using some trick in editing to cover or stylize the performance… it’s honestly raw and brutal and heart-wrenching to see her break down throughout the song, to watch her find the character in a way that I can’t help but admire.  

Ah, but you hear a but in there somewhere, don’t you? Okay… while I loved the movie, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the few things that took away from the show for me. There were two major issues for me so let me address them.

Along with every other person who is criticizing this movie… Russell Crowe falls short on several occasions. Inspector Javier is supposed to have a voice that is strong and certain, but when he is singing across from the powerful Jackman, Crowe’s voice seems less than adequate. He does manage to carry his solos quite well and the big one near the end is powerful and fully captures the moment so he’s not as bad as everyone claims.  So if you’re letting reviewers convince you to stay away due to this performance, don’t… Crowe is reasonably acceptable and matches Jackman so far as screen presence as acting. His voice isn’t horrible, it just isn’t what one expects from the character he is playing.

The second issue may take some more getting used to… there are some amazing shots in this film with regards to cinematography. Sweeping set design, beautiful architecture, and flawless costuming… most of which will be missed if you don’t have a quick eye because the director’s vision included keeping the camera about two feet away from every single performer. We are close enough to each and every performer to take in every bubble of snot in their nose, to count every wrinkle on their face, and to note every single edit from one angle to another. In some shots, this technique works… the aforementioned solo with Fontaine, Marius’ solo in “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”, and a few other songs. But when you have a huge ensemble piece like “Lovely Ladies”, the technique falls apart as we rapidly cut from a focus on Fontaine to the featured bits and pieces of random ladies on the street. It’s no more blaringly a miss with regards to “Master of the House”. It feels like some of the songs are sung AT us. This, however, was obviously an artistic decision and I may simply be of a different taste from most audiences.

All in all, I really loved the movie and encourage audiences to give it a shot.

4 out of 5.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit: (OR... how I trash a print review)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (… OR… how I trash a print review.)

I have been known to occasionally savage films that I didn’t necessarily enjoy. I’ve used strong words like “insipid”, “Wretched”, and “miserable” while describing the Transformers movies, the Avatar film, and various other productions that didn’t necessarily deliver on what I was either expecting or wanting. I was, however, always “fair” regarding the merits of the film… from whether it had good special effects to the music soundtrack, I do try to find some light of positive energy to mention for those who actually read my blog.

With that said, we have a weekly newspaper here in this county and I often check the print for movie times, reviews, and other such stuff. It’s considered an “alternative” newspaper, which pretty much means it’s the most “liberal” minded paper. This includes their film reviews, which have featured both negative or positive reviews regarding the political content of a given movie. I don’t often agree with the reviewer, but never have I been more blown away by just how incredibly WRONG the review was  with regards to “The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey”, which garnered a whopping 2 ½ stars from this incredibly moronic writer whose expectations, knowledge, and taste is woefully poor at best.

Let us start with the assumption that “The Hobbit” is supposed to act as some sort of a prequel to Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. While filmed by the same director, written by the same author, same setting, and featuring many of the same characters… “The Hobbit” is a stand-alone story with an entirely different theme, many different elements, and entirely different mood. Elements featured in the later story are much less prevalent, and Bilbo Baggins is an entirely different main character than Frodo. The writer comments that the ONLY scene he felt was justifiably dragged out was the one introducing us to the older Bilbo from the original film and some dialogue between he and Frodo. Yes, the only scene that actually does NOT have a place in the book itself is the only scene the writer thought was justifiable.

The Hobbit was always intended as a CHILDRENS book! It came out long before “Lord of the Rings”, it enjoys just as much popularity and acclaim, and the writer is acting as if the Hobbit is a prequel “follow-up” to the second story as if this were Star Wars. The mood, the tone, and everything is supposed to be vastly different than that of the laborious and emotionally grinding pathos found in “The Lord of the Rings”. This isn’t some romanticized “return” to Middle-Earth, this is the very cornerstone foundation upon which the other works have been built.

When the writer laments that this “return” to Middle Earth focuses too much on the dwarves he displays an unbelievable display of ignorance regarding the fact that the story is about 13 Dwarves and a Hobbit!!!  The complaints are no more keenly proof of ignorance than in his expression that the audience is forced to sit through two (“Whole!”) songs by the Dwarves… both of which are incredibly important to the mood, story, and characters of the Dwarves themselves. No, this scene which actually IS important to the story is pulled out for far too long. The songs? The first is a flashback to the much beloved Rankin-Bass cartoon and is actually featured in the book itself as a playful number describing how the Dwarves take to a fun party atmosphere. The second is a lament to all that the dwarves have lost, all they’re missing, and what this “Unexpected Journey” is really all about. It’s also one of the most important turning points for Bilbo, who begins to see the importance of this journey and what it could mean to these men who are fast becoming his friend. The fact that this song touches Bilbo is lost to subtlety for the writer of the review, the fact that there’s something of an adventurer within the lead character is lost with regards to his youthful exploits and the playful jibes with Gandalf. For the writer of the review, there’s “No explanation” as to why Bilbo decides to join this quest. This is how to build a story, my dear critic… not with one-liners, gags, and prolonged exposition.

This is a sweeping fantasy film with fun adventure, chilling danger, monsters, a looming threat, and heroes who decide to take a stand when others might bend their knee or fall. An earlier article in the same paper discussed why we, as an audience, might actually need the kind of story that this movie is supposed to elevate… how a small person could make a difference in the world. The writer of that piece mentioned that it’s something we can’t do here in the real world, with billionaires and politicians in positions of power and how a small person will never have the sweeping effect the hobbits have in these films…. I recommend that the writer go back and watch those films, because those small people didn’t set out to change the world. None of them accomplished a feat that not a single one of us couldn’t do ourselves… whether we simply inspired through an example of courage, such as Merry… or inspired through a display of honor unexpected, like Pippen, or if we just cook a meager meal and help carry bags like Samwise, it is the small people that will always make a difference. It’s the small people who change the world in small ways, the ways which truly count, the ways which show the people in power who it is they are working to protect and serve.

The films length, which may seem daunting, is appropriate for the material covered. The writer fails to understand this, and so he tries to make it seem as though the material isn’t justified. Jackson includes some elements from other materials that Tolkien has written, and embellishes other elements to flesh out the story. What may have been spoken through exposition in the books is, here, shown in its entirety… we see the Dwarves driven from their kingdom, we see the discovery of the Arkenstone, we see the brief battle over the Mines of Moria, and we see Radagast’s discovery regarding the mysterious “Necromancer”. The book often features the disappearance of Gandalf here and there, but we see here precisely what is keeping him at various points. And through it all we see the growth of our two primary characters… Thorin Oakenshield and Bilbo Baggins, each burdened with a certain sense of responsibility to those they have sworn to lead and aid, respectively.

That’s not to say some scenes couldn’t have been trimmed, because there are moments that maybe drag a little. The ones offered by the writer of the review were far from the worst culprits of Jacksons’ directorial and editing style, and I continue to look forward to the additional films from the franchise.

So, the writer of the review I offer you two hands with a single finger salute from each… you, sir, are an incredibly ignorant piece of manure. From acting, to effects, to cinematography, to the “new technology” you actually did praise, this film has exceeded in every conceivable manner.

5 out of 5.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


I haven’t been spending a great amount of time with my son the past few months, so Saturday was going to be a big “make-up” day regarding the time we lost. And our way of bonding is to go to the movies and check out something on the big screen… he gets his own tub of popcorn, a drink, and we lounge back in the seats with constant looks at one another during the tense, funny, and exciting moments of the show. This movie was going to have an interesting twist however. He was allowed to pick any movie under an “R” rating… and he picked “Skyfall”, the new outing from 007.

Why doesn’t that sound special to you? My son has never expressed an interest in Bond, has refused to watch any of the movies when I asked him to, and I never even really expected him to be aware that it was out. But school friends and neighborhood friends were yapping about it and he got it in his head, and off we were for the boys first experience with James Bond. And it paid off in dividends!

I could tell you about the plot; it featured Bond returning to action after having been assumed dead in the line of duty in order to find a terrorist with a list of undercover operatives. The villain was significantly portrayed by Javier Bardem, of course. There were “Bond Girls” and this may be chauvinistic of me, but I /really/ do not care about the sexism inherent in Bond films. (If “Fried Green Tomatoes” can literally cook up a man to fulfill female revenge fantasies, than James Bond can jetset through exotic locations with exotic women.) And Daniel Craig continues to deliver one of the best performances for 007 since Sean Connery and Tim Dalton! But you know what? None of it really matters in the end… here’s what I’m going to really tell you about the movie:

My son walked out of the theater with his fingers in a gun position, he was loudly humming the theme song, and he was throwing his body out in elaborate dives to mimic one of his brand new cinematic heroes. It was amazing Father-Son Bonding.

5 out of 5.