Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Misérables - Review

Getting one of the biggest, most successful musicals of all time on to the big screen needs to be commended. Not deserving of an instant passable grade, mind you, but a nice little congratulations. Now that's out of the way, let's dissect director Tom Hooper's newest emotion puller: Like its source material, LES MISERABLES needed to be a bombastic theatrical experience. Unfortunately, despite its enjoyable fare and embellished but brief grand moments, it has been handcuffed significantly, focused more on the personal experience instead of an audience experience.

Jean Valjean is finally released from his 20 year prison sentence for the heinous crime of bread-stealing. Considering that the time is set during the pre-French Revolution, this is a mighty fair big deal. His parole casts a dark shadow on his life, as he is forever unemployed and constantly on watch by his former prison guard Javert. Moved by the generosity of a priest, he forges a new life and name. Time passes but he still fears the forever heat and anger of Javert, who will never leave him alone until he is shackled again. Valjean then gets caught up with the lives of a starving employee and her daughter, all the while the poor are starting to revolt.

This has to be one of the worst cinematography for a musical in recent times. Hell, even the losers who worked on ROCK OF AGES knew how to photographed a musical performance. The problem lies with the framing; Danny Cohen's rented camera is forever stuck in the closeup position. Sometimes, it gets worst and goes further into the actor's skin and nose. If you love being distracted by water droplets and the plentiful piles of phlegm during the many big songs, you will be overwhelmed with "delight". This intense, singular focus on the characters and the actors' much-hyped live singing ruins any chance to relish the world they reside in. All of the production designers should be rightfully furious that their hard work on the sets and costumes are completely obscured by large human heads. Even when a rare number is done with medium or, dare they, long shots, the viewing problems are compounded further by the dreadful quick editing by Melanie Ann Oliver and Chris Dickens. For instance, "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables", a very important song in the second act, is crafted only in two shots: one of a character rapidly planting a seat, then one long closeup of the character. That's right, the empty furniture and their significant metaphors are nowhere to be seen.

Of course, the only times where these detriments become advantages for the movie is with the performances. The absolute god-send for this close up direction is Anne Hathaway. Turning a walking plot point and transforming it into a real character, Hathaway does wonders with Fantine, the lowly, tragic working mother, most especially in her one take of the number "I Dreamed a Dream". Even if you are sick of hearing it everywhere in your modern life, the song becomes fresh and moving again, thanks to the bright lass. Coming up in second would be Hugh Jackman, whose Valjean exhibits a range of turmoils yet features a mighty fine voice. Except for the experienced and briefly delightful Samantha Barks as Eponine, the rest of the cast is genuinely adequate. The only failures, and the clearest displays of stunt-casting, would be Russell Crowe as Javert and Helena Bonham Carter & Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenardiers. Crowe may exude harsh justice in his brief acting lines but his sub-par booming singing style and doughy appearance make him seem completely out of place. As for Carter and Cohen, they snore their way through the songs that are supposed to be the show-stoppers.

I may be stringent with my assessments but LES MISERABLES was still an okay time. If you can stomach the two hours and ten minutes of Carl Dreyer-approved camerawork, you can relax and enjoy. A local traveling theater production of LES MIS is still the more ideal form of entertainment, though.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trailer Review - Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Charlie Hunnam as the narrator, Idris Elba frothing to "CANCEL THE APOCALYPSE!", a silent Rinko Kikuchi, and GLaDOS.


Briggs Breakdown: 4 giant mechs, 1 collapsing robot, 1 huge monster fight, 13 BRAHMM!s, and multiple car, train, plane and city destruction.

Effective?: Hell yeah! Except for all of the Inception stings.

Check it Out?: A certifiable yes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Killing Them Softly - Review

Like a Z-grade horror movie or anything that has the word "Vs." on the marquee, KILLING THEM SOFTLY doesn't answer the promises of its title. The title comes from the manner of which Brad Pitt's character Jackie Cogan chooses to execute people: shoot them from a distance to avoid audibly hearing the cries, pleas, and begs. It also gives the idea that this crime flick will be a grim yet entertaining brisk. Instead, it is an exhausting snore, stretching and yawning its way through a 97 minute running time.

Pitt has once again teamed with writer/director Andrew Dominik (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD) but to vastly diminishing results. Based on the book Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, the film trades Boston for New Orleans and the 1970's for October/November 2008. A couple of undesirable leeches, played by Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, willingly participate with Vincent Curatola to stick up a mob-run card game. The game is operated by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), a good-hearted but greedy guy who previously had one of his games robbed on purpose. The two plunder the establishment on the same night President Bush delivers a televised speech about the financial crisis on Wall Street. Subtle, Dominik is not. The mob send for their top hitman Dylan, only to get his disciple Cogan instead. Cogan meets up and talks with their stooge messenger (Richard Jenkins), all the while the radio is tuned to metaphor-laden political discussion. Cogan wants to get the guys responsible for this crime among criminals and also the now innocent Markie, since the talk on the street believe he was in on it again. If the public view isn't satisfied with the justice towards Markie, no one will play and no one will get paid. Wink, wink, get it?

This college film-like allegory is eye-rolling and never believable. Why would any of these low-lifes deliberately listen to talk radio every day? Don't they have more life or death situations to be truly caring about right now? The only character as the sole exception would be Richard Jenkins, since he is part of a mob with corporation mentality. Then, there's all of the speeches by Barack Obama, including his victory on election day, that are superimposed into the picture, all seemingly just for an easy cynical monologue right before the closing credits. It is a very flaccid ending, richly deserving a few tumbleweeds to blow past.

The rest of the story isn't really interesting either. You are better off just reading the Wikipedia plot outline; there's no surprises or major revelations in store. The only thing keeping this from being a major fiasco is the acting. Brad Pitt may not be as menacing as he should be here but he does have a slick coolness to the character of Cogan. MacNairy and Mendelsohn give it their all as the bumbling twosome, particular Mendelsohn, whose heroin addicted character is always drenched in sticky sweat and dirty hair. The rest of the cast are fine but are unfortunately wasted. For instance, I didn't even bring up James Gandolfini's character, who literally has three scenes and then leaves off-screen, making no impact at all to the overall plot. I guess Dominik was too busy making sure the stock CNN footage is presentable for the screen or crafting a maddeningly awful opening to even care about such things.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trailer Review - Man of Steel (2)

Man of Steel
2nd Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Henry Cavill as bearded Clark Kent/Superman, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the somber Kents, Amy Adams as concerned and mute Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as concerned and mute Jor-El, Michael Shannon as concerned and mute Zod, Christopher Meloni as concerned and mute guy, Lauren Fishburne as a panicky Perry White, and some dark woman(?).

Scene Pop: "Maybe".

Briggs Breakdown: 1 generic laser blast, 2 city explosions, 2 military standoffs, 3 spaceships, a major tornado, a wrecked bank, fiery man chest, and a recreation of The Sweet Hereafter.

Effective?: Yes.

Check it Out?: Sure. Warner Bros needs a lot of money and interest in order to get their take of the DC Movie Universe off the ground.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Trailer Review - Oblivion

1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Tom Cruise as the melancholic drone repairman/soldier(?) Jack Harper, Olga Kurylenko as his plain jane love interest/damsel in distress, Andrea Riseborough as a sterile office drone, and Morgan Freeman as...some guy.

Scene Pop: Freeman's epic match strike. Seriously.

Briggs Breakdown: 1 free-throw, several drone laser blasts, endless shots of Cruise staring down the iron sights, a barrel strike by a Burton Planet of the Apes extra, drone pinball, and a bear trap.

Effective?: Meh. Others might think otherwise but this trailer cut makes the film look like a Moon rip-off. Unless, the film truly is one.

Check it Out?: No, except as a second bill or DVD rental. Looks very boring, hence why I went to the trouble of having only one screenshot.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook - Review

Do you really need to fire up your brain cells and guess how this film will end? You absolutely do not, but dear heavenly lords above, you will wish it will come sooner or pray that you will not stumble upon a print with a more agitated alternate ending. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK has the makings of a romantic comedy yet is glutted with nervous energy, chemical imbalances, and extra crispy human angst. You'll give your mouth muscles a serious work-out, as you try to figure out when to laugh at the humor or shut up for the drama. If you're not snappy about it, you will feel guilty that you just loudly guffawed at someone's cry for help. Regardless of how strange it is, the film is provocatively excellent.

The movie spins a delirious tale of a pair of screw-ups looking for love in a world ruled by judgment and intolerance, delivered with two gushingly capricious lead performances. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has spent eight months in a Baltimore mental hospital as part of a plea deal. The former teacher caught his wife Nikki with a co-worker, a history teacher with tenure, in the house shower and viciously beat him up. Seeing them bump uglies while playing Pat and Nikki's wedding song didn't help matters either. Pat's mom (Jackie Weaver) is barely able to get him out early, even though he still aggressively believes he can overcome his criminal mistake and recently diagnosed bipolar disorder to win Nikki back. For Pat, the world should follow the power of "Excelsior", seeing the world positively and working hard in order to reach the silver lining of life. Also, working out extensively while wearing a garbage bag top because it will guarantee better abs.

Though he is the one officially classified and treated as a walking looney tune, and as a possible violent threat to his former associates, he returns to his parents' home in Philadelphia to find that everybody gets a little crazy at times. His newly fired with no pension father (Robert De Niro) OCD'es when it comes to the Eagles, trying to keep the juju in check for a win every Sunday. His best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) is a volcano waiting to explode, due to his family life, new baby, and working as a house retailer in a down economy. Ronnie's wife Veronica (Julia Stiles) is a greedy shrew who constantly creates momentously difficult situations for others, all for personal schadenfreude. And then, there is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Veronica's younger sister who has also suffered severe and documented mental health problems, after the untimely death of her husband. Pat and Tiff's relationship evolves without a filter; they mock, arouse, insult, bond, implore, harass, accuse, err, awaken, and stimulate each other. They eventually come to an agreement: Pat will volunteer to be Tiffany's partner for a dance competition if she delivers a note to Nikki, restraining order be damned.

The story is simple to figure out yet the adapted script and direction by David O. Russell turns it into a roller-coaster of heightened emotions, often dipping low and high on a beat. The verbal disagreements, whether witty or violent, are crafted into montages, making each shout a physical and hurtful blow, as they pile up and up. However, when exploring the chemistry of Pat and Tiffany, the pacing glides safely, putting much attention to the oft-putting or delicate exchanges between the kindred spirits. Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography never really stands out and when it needs to be, the man resorts to head-slapping conventional shots that ruin the mood. There's also the typical indie film score by Danny Elfman of all people; It's okay but heavily overshadowed by the plentiful pop song selections, including Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash and Dave Brubeck.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are amazing. They are fantastically luscious separately but crescendo when placed together in scenes. They can radiate naked tenderness or erupt inflammatory hatred easily. I don't always absolutely recommend a film solely for the acting, but these two handily make an exception, most definitely for Lawrence's big speech at the crucial crossroads. You also get to view the return of Robert De Niro, former thespian of an entire generation. He doesn't auto-pilot the Oscar-friendly role of Pat's father; De Niro treats his character's irreconcilability in a more realistic manner. Jacki Weaver and a cameoing Chris Tucker also are nice when given a brief spotlight.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK may not be the new favorite for couples or a perfect date night choice. You know you are watching an odd rom-com when the manic pixie is both the guy and the girl, or where lies and frank insults are the norms of affection. Despite any reservations of witnessing volatile outbursts and uncertain courses of direction, you should take a trip through this wonderfully pleasing little yarn.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Poster Review - Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel

Yep, I finally buckled. I do film reviews, than I decided to incorporate reviews of promotional film trailers. Now I'm doing what every knee-jerk internet commenter does for a living, more quicker to form an instant opinion than it takes to write a YouTube rant. Unlike the other two review styles, this one will pop rarely to semi-regular status, whenever I'm in the mood.

To keep an explanation of why short, I have always loved movie posters. Also, these two very striking posters hit the web at the same time today and have been getting the same opinion.

First is the teaser poster for Star Trek Into Darkness. Even your bratty 1st grade cousin can easily tell you that this poster is a complete plagiarism of The Dark Knight Rises. Not to mention the fact that this was released 24 hours before the home video release of said film.

Really, Paramount? Really?

As for the second Man of Steel teaser, guess what, another Nolan-esque vision. Also, J.J. Abrams' favorite lens flare motif is here, which was done to death in Star Trek. Everything is connected with these three.

I still think that the teaser trailer was absolutely fantastic on the myth of Superman, showing an Americana vision of the hero with Malick-like cinematography and editing. This just follows after the snore-inducing first teaser, putting plenty of focus on the weirdly textured suit. As for the handcuffed and hostage by the army tableaux, I just hope this doesn't lead to yet another movie scene where a person deliberately gets himself/herself arrested just to cause havoc from the inside. You know, the plot surprise that was a signature of The Dark Knight?