Sunday, December 30, 2012

Les Miserables: Anything But

Les Miserables

             When I saw the initial trailer for Les Miserables, my mouth hung open as the dormant inner theater kid came out.  Over ten years ago I saw the musical in London, have read a version of the story, listened to a radio theater production, and seen the Liam Neeson non-musical version.  Needless to say, I love the story   of God, Jean Valjean, Marius, Eponine, Fantine, and the people of France (with British accents of course, because that is logical).  I love the music equally, which made the news that all of the actors would be singing live during the shooting of the film all the better.

           Does the film version hold up to the musical Les Miserables?  Absolutely.  It does not have identical theatricality, but instead highlights the emotion of the story as the camera zooms in on the actors' faces.  The majority of the actors don't go for the pretty version of the song either, which only makes the listener actually feel the meaning of the words. Director Tom Hooper doesn't shy away from the religious themes of Les Miserables through the life of Jean Valjean either. While there are a few slower moments, as a whole the story and music stick.

          As for the actors who were wonderful, I'd have to point out Samantha Barks as Eponine.  Everyone is  mesmerized by Anne Hathaway's performance as the tragic Fantine, but I believe Samantha does just as well.  The story of Eponine becomes all the more heartbreaking in her performance.  Hugh Jackman's emotional range and theater skills made him well suited to the ultimate role as the prisoner who is transformed by a single act of mercy.    Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide needed comic relief to the story, creating vivid swindlers, while  Eddie Redmayne's voice carried his role of Marius, the idealistic revolutionary.  Still, the two characters who stole the film were Enjolras (Aaron Tveit), the best friend of Marius, and Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone), the little boy who joins the cause of the French revolution.  I kept thinking that Aaron Tveit could have easily played Marius as well, with his passion and voice so powerful in the film. I never paid so much attention to the role. As for Gavroche, well he's the heartbreaker of the story.

           While I loved the young version of Cosette, I wasn't crazy about Amanda Seyfried's voice. She did well, it just was a little high.  Russell Crowe acted beautifully as Javert.  His voice, a little on the bombastic, always loud side, was a little distracting.

          All in all, I'm still singing the songs of the film, remembering the story, and appreciating that millions more will discover the beautiful story of love, hope, suffering, bravery, sacrifice, and redemption.  It was wonderful.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Rave: Divergent

Divergent, Book 1

          Looking for a series with the edge and heart of The Hunger Games?  You will find it in Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy.  While I wouldn't say the series is quite on par with The Hunger Games, it is certainly on the cusp of the next big thing.  Following the young Tris (who acts beyond her sixteen years), Divergent takes place in a dystopian Chicago which controls and contains its population into five distinct factions: Abnegation the selfless, Candor the honest, Dauntless the brave, Erudite the curious, and Amity the group.  When Tris turns 16, she leaves Abnegation and chooses Dauntless, undergoing a gruesome training.  If she fails, she ends up in the Factionless-the mysterious underbelly of the society.  Divergent is an easy read with lofty ideas.  Can humans really be resigned to one type of personality?  Are we not more complex?  The second book, Insurgent, delves deeper into the Factionless and the mystery of a city gate locked from the outside.   While Divergent was the stronger of the two novels by far, Insurgent left me ready for the yet to be released third and final installment.
           A movie is already in the works and both books can be devoured in days.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Doctor Who: Winter is Coming

Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman

             Coming into the new Doctor Who Christmas special, especially knowing that the most recent beloved companions were no longer going to be there (Oh Ponds), I was anxious to see how they were going to pull off bringing in Clara, the new companion played by Jenna-Louise Coleman.  Last season, Coleman played Oswin, a modern girl who tragically and heroically died after realizing she was a Dalek.  How then, would the writers of Doctor Who bring her back from the dead?  While the episode only added to the mystery, it managed to offer some truly  terrifying carnivorous snow.  In no particular order the episode was an above par Christmas story for the following reasons.

1.  Matt Smith, the Doctor, grieved for the Ponds, but ultimately couldn't resist the call to save the world and don a bowtie, because bowties, quite like snow, are cool.

2.  The Doctor pretended to be Sherlock Holmes, which is a wink to fans of the BBC's other brilliant show Sherlock, which is also headed by Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat.  If we can't have new Sherlock episodes until 2014, at least we get a bone.

3.  Gandalf played the voice of the evil snow.  I kept telling my little brother that the villain's voice sounded like Sir Ian McKellen, and was very happy to verify my guess with IMDb.  I kept wanting the snow to shout, "You shall not pass!"

4.  Multiple times, the phrase, "Winter is coming" was uttered.  I love a good Game of Thrones reference.  At least, I really hope it was intentional.

5.  Did I mention that Gandalf was in the episode? That is pretty much the best surprise of all.

6.  The END!  When Clara revealed that she remembered being Owsin, I screamed.  Clara is full of such energy and stands to bring a new, shiny spark to the show.  Her pluck and brains, and of course the mystery surrounding her make her an ideal companion for the show.  As much as saying goodbye to the Ponds made me weep, it was in the spirit of regeneration.

I am so ready for the new season and all the surprises and energy it will bring.  Doctor Who is truly a wonderful Christmas gift, and this year's special was no exception.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

How I Met Your Mother-Fake Out End

            Besides the recent proposal episode, How I Met Your Mother has really outworn its welcome.  A few years back when I stumbled across the popular CBS sitcom, I felt like I was meeting Friends 2.0.  Now however, as the stories grow repetitive and the premise of the show serves as its downfall, I want to bang my head against a wall.  Now, I'll get to do it for another season.  HIMYM will be back for a ninth season.  A good show needs to know when to end.  This lackluster season doesn't deserve another one.  Perhaps though, HIMYM can redeem itself in the final season next year.  That's how I'll look at it.  Otherwise, I may just be tuning in for the finale and nothing else.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Impossible

              While I've heard good things about The Impossible, the film based on one family's experience during the tsunami, it wasn't until reading Reese Witherspoon's raving letter to Naomi Watts and watching the trailer that I realized how profoundly good the film will be.  Coming out days before Christmas, it doesn't have the pomp and hype of Les Miserables, but still appears to paint the human condition tragically and beautifully.  Watch the trailer for it here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit Review: Great Expectations

               The famous Dickens book Great Expectations is quite good.  Possessing great expectation for something, on the other hand, can lead to great disappointment or great reward (a theme in Great Expectations, go figure).  There is no doubt that Peter Jackson's journey back into Middle Earth carries the burden of great anticipation and the weight of, well a ring.  There are not enough positive adjectives to describe the sheer brilliance of his Lord of the Rings interpretation. However, there are not words to describe how misguided Jackson's King Kong film was. Thus, when  approaching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I tried my best to taper my high expectations.  I knew The Hobbit to be a simpler, less apocalyptic story than The Lord of the Rings, but couldn't help but revel in some of the near-nostalgic hype of a new Tolkien movie.
                How then, was the first in the three Hobbit movies?  Well, it's hard to fully answer the question.  Peter Jackson pulled a King Kong in the first 35 minutes (aka he left in unnecessary things that should have just been cut).  I kept wanting to steal Sting from Bilbo and use the blue blade to slice at several scenes.  It took a bit of time to fall into the story because of the first chunk of the movie.  Once I did, I was able to appreciate Thorin the almost Dwarf King (Richard Armitage) and the battles with talking trolls, goblins, and the like.  I wasn't a huge fan of Thorin's almost comical foe The White Orc.  Still, I enjoyed Martin Freeman's hesitant but ultimately brave Bilbo and was grateful to see more of the Middle Earth (and let's face it New Zealand) that I've come to love.  Setting itself up for a battle with a dragon, the possible emergence of a necromancer, and the annoyingly stupid White Orc, The Hobbit featured the truly creepy and inevitable riddles game between Gollum and Bilbo and let us peak into the pre-Rings lives of Gandulf, Bilbo, Elrond, and Galadriel.

             So then, how was the movie?  I still haven't answered the question.  It wasn't the same as the Lord of the Rings.  It isn't the same story though, so really that isn't a fair assessment.  It was entertaining, and featured some lovable dwarfs, wizards, and of course, a hobbit.  With a childlike plot (not necessarily bad, just different), The Hobbit was, by itself, a good film.  Was it great?  No.  Am I still excited about the next two films and incredibly annoyed to wait a year for the second film?  Absolutely.  In fact, I'd say I have rather high expectations for the next films, and only a little trepidation.  After all, to quote Bilbo in the end of the first film.  "I do believe the worst is behind us."  The Hobbit wasn't the worst.  It just wasn't the Lord of the Rings, and could stand to lose 30 minutes, and gain a more interesting villain. From the set up for the next film, it would seem that the stakes are raised and the story will be more action-driven in the sequel. I for one, will still be back next December for another journey.  May it be as worthy of great expectations as Lord of the Rings.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Star Trek's New Trailer Reveals an Enemy Within

              Though J.J. Abram's first reboot of the Star Trek film series carried emotion heft, especially in the first few harrowing moments of the film, it appears that Star Trek was almost lighthearted compared to Star Trek Into Darkness.  The new trailer, which debuted today, places the lives of all of the beloved characters in jeopardy.   Their fates are left to the Captain.  Images of futuristic coffins do little to comfort the desperate reality of life and death.  As for the villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (Gosh I love his name.  Say out loud. Say it three times out loud. It's awesome.  Also, watch Sherlock.  I can't tell people to do that enough), it would appear that he is an enemy from withing.  The image of him in uniform, as well as the voice over pretty much confirm as much.
          I for one am ready for a weighty and emotional ride.  It raises the stakes.  Seeing Captain Kirk at his end, in duress makes for a great potential film.  Check out all of the gravitas here, in the trailer.

Sarah's Haunting Key

                 When I finally got around to watching the 2010 French film Sarah's Key, based on the wildly popular novel, I knew I was in for an emotional experience.  I wasn't prepared for the devastating reality.  If you've heard of the novel or movie before, you may know that the story follows Julia, a journalist who discovers her apartment once belonged to a French Jewish family who were rounded up by the French police and sent away to camps. Haunted by the urge to uncover the past, Julia unlocks devastating truth. The film's other protagonist is Sarah, the young girl in the Jewish family who hides her little brother in a closet before being rounded up with her family.  Escaping and fighting to make it back to her brother, Sarah's life is irrevocably altered by the choices she is forced to make.
          The heartbreak of the story is acute.  It's the kind of altering films that almost makes you wish you hadn't watched the movie, but somehow unwilling to actually wish it unseen.  Regardless if you see or read Sarah's Key or not, at least listen to a taste of the Max Richter's (Shutter Island) soundtrack.  The music alone offers a slice of the film's overwhelming, poignant emotions.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Happy Hobbit Soundtrack Day

The Hobbit Soundtrack

           I haven't gotten the chance to fully listen to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey soundtrack yet, but will get cracking with Rolling Stone's free player.  Listen to Howard Shore's score here.  If you are anything like me, you loved his work in The Lord of the Rings and have eagerly awaited for the new music.  What I've heard, I like.  Happy week of Hobbits.  Enjoy the music.

Do you reject Superman?

Man of Steel

         The new Man of Steel full length trailer has dropped.  I'm the first to admit I'm not a big Superman fan.  I always found him too super and not man (flawed, vulnerable) enough.  However, the trailer, much like the teasers that played before The Dark Knight Rises, displays a grittier, more trouble man played by Henry Cavill (The Tudors).  The trailer also gives us glimpses of his parents, Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and of course the signature costume.  What I most like is the simple, thought provoking idea Superman asks in the end.  In voice over, he asks if the world will be ready for him, or reject him, as his father feared?  Weighty stuff for a boy, and heavy stuff for a man.  I may just like Superman after all.  Check out the trailer here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Star Trek Into Darkness Trailer

Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness

            My quick reaction to Star Trek Into Darkness releasing a trailer: Benedict Cumberbatch should narrate every trailer ever.  If you haven't seen the British google commercial featuring his voice talents, you should look it up here. He's basically the British Morgan Freeman.
           As for the film, it looks apocalyptic and ultimate in the brief teaser.  Watch it here, and look forward to more debate over which villain Cumberbatch is playing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Warm Bodies: A Zombie with a Heart

             I've now got a new book and movie on my radar. The fact that the two are are about the adventures of a zombie who falls in love with a living girl is just gravy.  When I first heard about Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies, I was a little put off.  The zombie craze is huge now, but really, I wasn't sold on the idea of a mostly nameless zombie who may or may not make a snack out of the girl he loves.  After watching the trailer for the film adaptation, I feel very differently.  Not only do I want to read the book immediately, but I really want to see Warm Bodies, which seems like a great companion to the truly hilarious Zombieland.  Look for the film, starring Nicholas Hoult February 1, 2013, just don't eat your heart out.

Merlin's Final Bow

                While I will admit to veering into geeky cool pop culture more often to not, there are some shows that are on the edge of what I like. Merlin, a show mostly unheard of by mainstream culture, has managed to keep me watching for four seasons despite occasional cheese and repetition.  This coming year, the fifth and final season of the BBC production will be released stateside.  Chronicling the early adventures of Prince and ultimate King Arthur and his servant Merlin, the show celebrates the legend while also adding fresh characterizations and relationships.  In this version of the tale, magic is outlawed under penalty of death, forcing Merlin to often play the simpleton servant while actually saving everyone from chaos and death.  The highlight of the show is Arthur and Merlin's deep, sometimes ridiculous bond as they survive King and court.  If you are into weekly adventures that mix a dash of campy fun with surprising deep moments, catch the first four seasons of Merlin on Netflix, then see Merlin's final bow on Syfy January 4, 2012.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Star Trek Into Darkness Debuts Poster

Star Trek Into Darkness 
           Man did I love the newest version of Star Trek.  It was shiny and fresh with emotional gravitas to boot.  The long await sequel, helmed by the modern sci-fi storyteller J.J. Abrams, has just released a new poster.  Featuring Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame, the poster clearly shows Cumberbatch's character among the devastation he assumably caused.   The name of the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness has yet to be revealed, though it's rumored to be Khan.  While some have been quick to point out the similar look of the poster to The Dark Knight Rises poster, I say, is it such a bad thing to be compared to another great movie?  Look for more teasers and trailers in the months to come.  You don't have to be a Trekkie (I'll admit, I am not at all) to appreciate the building anticipation for what is sure to be an excellent film.