Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Les Miserables 2012 - So Much to Say, But Only A Little I Will Type

As a Christmas present, my older sister took me to watch the big screen adaptation of the epic stage musical Les Miserables.

As a child I would wait anxiously for the film adaptations of Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables. Phantom as we all know came and went on film in 2004. Cats was filmed onstage for home viewing. Miss Saigon really needs to be a film now if not just for the fact that onstage they have a helicopter flying out of it. Things that grand need to be put on film.

And then there's Les Miserables. Upon it's release as a stage musical, all the advertisements showed an illustration of a young poor cleaning girl. Who is that girl, I wondered. What's her story? Why is she, among this cast of hundreds, chosen to represent this grand story on a poster?

Of course every time someone tried to answer my question, I would get even more confused. Les Miserables has a very busy and involved story. I've seen it onstage several times now, and I'm pretty sure I'm only getting about half of the actual story in each viewing. The music though, is very beautiful.

I grew up on movie musicals. My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, Annie. I have grown used to musicals being adapted for film. Around the 80's and 90's a lot these big musicals appeared onstage, but sadly it seemed that the practice of bringing them to screen had stopped. Until now ;-)

The Les Miserables movie is immediately unique due to the fact that all the vocals are recorded LIVE. The only other movie musical I know that has done this is some of the vocals in Bette Midler in Gypsy. This is a huge step in the production of movie musicals and I hope it's a practice that keeps on happening. The result in Les Miserables is amazing.

The film adaptation of the musical takes original libretto and does a unique task of making the piece both grander, and intimate. We are exposed to these awesome sweeping shots, but once the characters have a moment to themselves, the camera is focused on their faces, with almost no cutaways, as they sing these great ballads. I have heard "On My Own" and "I Dreamed a Dreamed" many times whether it be onstage, on karaoke or at a (gasp) audition, but they felt very fresh in this movie. Hugh Jackman of course shines as our main hero, Jean Valjean. He did do musicals before he was a movie star. Vocally I was truly impressed with Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne. Anne, as the suffering Fantine, has long wanted to do a movie musical, and WOW, what a place to start. Eddie Redmayne, as Marius, does an outstanding job of externalizing the internal emotions of his character.

This movie has guts. It really dives into the story and music and takes us on this grand musical, opera-like ride. I am glad to say that Les Miserables, a movie musical that I kind of have been waiting for, is a pretty awesome and unique film that I'm sure I'll be watching repeatedly a lot, and not just because the story is so interwoven.

Friday, November 30, 2012

ParaNorman - You Probably Won't Watch This Movie, But You Really Should

There is so much that I can say about ParaNorman. It was a movie that came and went from the theaters and didn't get the proper attention it really needed. There is a terrible plague of bullying lately in our school systems and in the cyber social networking sites that most if not all of us frequent. ParaNorman addresses bullying, but in a way that doesn't beat you over the head with it. It is first and foremost a well written, well voiced and awesomely produced movie.

The film centers on Norman, a young boy who can see dead people. One can argue that this is how Haley Joel Osment's character in Sixth Sense would've ended up like. The living dead rise from their graves and it's up to Norman and his friends to send them back. He is joined by his older sister Courtney, his fat friend Neil, Neil's jock brother Mitch, and the school bully Alvin. All of these characters are a sort of teen movie or horror movie trope, but ParaNorman has fun in presenting these cliched characters and turning them around on the audience. Case in point, one of these characters is openly gay and you will not see it coming. Trust me.

Interesting fact: The voice cast includes Anna Kendrick voicing Norman's sister and Norman himself is voice by Kodi Smit-McPhee. Both actors have been in vampire films in the past. Kendrick in Twilight and McPhee in Let Me In. No stranger to horror tropes there.

Again, there is a lot I can say about this movie. I can talk about mob mentality, audience expectations, the many many clever horror references that are littered throughout the film; but this article will just have to end here with my opinion on the film. What I admire most about ParaNorman is that it's a well crafted movie. It looks amazing and it is amazing. The fact that it addresses serious issues in a fun way is just icing on the cake. You will love this movie.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rise of the Guardians - A Fun Ride

When it comes to Dreamworks Animated Films, I don't really care much for them unless the name Shrek is attached to the title. In the case of Rise of the Guardians, "wow this movie is good."

Based off of William Joyce's book series The Guardians of Childhood, Rise takes what we know of these mythical icons and builds on them to create these heroic archetypes. In this world, Santa, The Easter Bunny, Sandman and Tooth Fairy are the Guardians of Childhood. The story centers on the addition of a new Guardian into their team, Jack Frost. Together, these Guardians battle The Boogeyman, Pitch (Jude Law) who has a vendetta against our heroes.

Rise of the Guardians tells it's story in a steady pace. We as an audience are allowed to really absorb ourselves into this fantasy world. Most importantly, we are allowed to really get a feel for these characters. The film's slow crawl and restraint is refreshing compared to the usual pop culture referenced jokes that have been littered in family films in the past. Not to say the film isn't a fun ride, because it truly is a fun ride.

And now.... our Childhood Guardians:

The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher)
A very different look for the character. Usually envisioned as a very Glinda type, this Tooth Fairy looks and feels like she was plucked out of Pan's Labyrinth. (Pan's Guillermo del Toro Executive Produced Rise.)

A cute mute character that proves also to be the team's most valued member. 

Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman)
A much more heroic take on the character. He now has boomerangs and a fighter's attitude. He is still very much into painting eggs and hiding them for children to find. :-) 

Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin)
Santa is now tatted up and has a Russian accent, but he's still jolly St. Nick. 

Jack Frost (Chris Pine)
Oh dreamy Jack Frost. Being the new guy, throughout the film, we are learning about The Guardians and their world as he is.

Here's hoping for some sequels :-)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Things I got Black Friday 2012

This last Black Friday I got some pretty movies for ridiculously cheap. I also didn't have to face a horde of evil green people to get at them. I shopped on-line.

First up, the buys:

"Speed Racer"

I have never completed this, but I love the first few moments I saw. The film really recreates the look and feel of the show. It likens to the live action version of the anime classic Cutie Honey.

"Becoming Jane"

Anne Hathaway excells in her portrayal of original chick lit writer Jane Austen. Her personal story and struggle rivals that of her own books.

"Prometheus - 4 Disc"

Originally titled Aliens: The Engineers. The Alien Prequel/Stand Alone movie blu ray set claims to have 7 hours worth of bonus features. I am most looking forward to the 40 minutes worth of deleted footage.  This movie is quickly becoming one of my favorites. I put it up there with Fritz Lang's Metropolis. It's sitting comfortably right next to my Alien Anthology Blu Rays.

"Alien Anthology" 

I've always had a love for this film series. Maybe it's the design and look of the films combined with the awesome writing? Maybe it's the time and care that at least the first two had in it's production? I don't know. Either way, I got all 4 films, complete with special edition cuts and hella' bonus features.


The movie that freaked Disney Studios out because it was that good. The movie that opened up Fox Animation Studios. While producer Don Bluth's masterpiece will always be The Secret of NIHM, this film, like NIHM, will truly stand the test of time.

"Moulin Rouge"

And ahhhh what a classic in it's own right already. The story of love, fer realz. Set in early 1900's Paris and told through the music of our time.... kinda.

...And now the Warner Archives purchases. Warner Archives sells exclusive movies through their webpage that they produce on disc on demand. These classics were being sold for 10 DVDs for real cheap.

"The Phantom Tollbooth"

A long forgotten classical animated musical. I see this as male lead Wonderland story. 

"Heidi's Song"

A musical version of Heidi. This was the first instance of this story I experienced when I was really really young, and then I never heard of it again. Gladly, Warner Archives has it. :-)

"Flinstones: I Yabba Dabba Do"

Pebbles and Bam Bam finally get married. This animated telefilm is so grounded and real, and not to mention funny. Starring a pre-Will and Grace Megan Mullaly (Karen Walker) as the voice of Pebbles Flintsone.

"Flintstone: Hollyrock-A-Bye Baby"

Pebbles and Bam Bam finally get a pair of twin babies. If your husband is named Bam Bam, it's innevitable really.

"Rockin' with Judy Jetson"

The Jetsons appear in this pop musical that features around my personal favorite Jetson, Judy. The future apparently is so 80's and a must for those that hated Tiffani voicing Judy in the theatrical Jetsons movie.

Now, onto shopping for my loved ones ;-)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Wreck it Ralph - Nostalgic, Timeless and Current

Imagine the movie Tron if that computer based world that those characters resided in actually reflected what's been trending in video games. That's Wreck it Ralph. A world where video game characters travel from arcade machine to arcade machine and meet and greet at a grand central gaming station - a power strip.

The story revolves around Ralph. Ralph is a villain in a video game called Wreck it Ralph. The look and feel of the game seems to recall the original Donkey Kong arcade machine in which Donkey Kong would hurl barrels at Mario (before he became Super Mario). In Wreck it Ralph, the game within the movie, Ralph damages buildings as the Mario type hero, here called Fix it Felix, fixes the damage done to said building. Ralph however is tired of being the villain and decides to venture out of his console into Hero's Duty to prove he is a hero. Circumstances land him in the ultra cute world of Sugar Rush, a racing game that recalls the cute look of anime and the awesome world of Mario Kart. Katy Perry would feel at home in this candy decorated world.

 Directed by Richard Moore from The Simpsons and FuturamaWreck it Ralph does the uneasy task of creating a film that is nostalgic, timeless and current.

Part of the beauty of Wreck it Ralph has got to be it's various cameos of characters from established video game franchises. Repeat viewings of the film are almost necessary. The video game characters represented reference everything from Sonic the Hedgehog, to Pac Man. From Call of Duty (Hero's Duty here) to Racing Car Games old and new. From Resident Evil to Street Fighter. I especially loved the shot of Cammy and Chun-Li walking across the screen, supposedly hanging out at grand central gaming station.

The movie is enchanting and incredibly eye catching. The soundtrack reeks of 80's nostalgia and the story represented is very multi-layered. This one is defintely going to stand the test of time, as all Disney films should strive to do.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Steel Magnolias (2012) - Uplifting

(This is not a review of a remake of a classic 80's chick flick. This is a review of a revival of a classic 80's play that was written in honor of the playwright's (Robert Harling) sister who passed away, and the strong women who supported her. With that in mind, this review will not reference the 1980's film version explicitly because even that one deviated from the source material. Example: The play was set entirely in the beauty shop and only featured the six main women.) 

This new film adaptation of Steel Magnolias already opens up away from The Beauty Salon. Featuring Shelby (Condola Rashad) arguing with her soon to be husband, the couple argue as they're driving in a car to her home at night about their wedding the next day. As morning arises, we are immediately taken into the craziness of Shelby's wedding and onto the center piece of the film: The Beauty Shop. It is here where all the women meet and discuss topics such as married life, wedded bliss, homosexuality, and each other.

 Queen Latifah is cast as Shelby's mother, M'Lynn, in a role that allows her to explore other facets of her abilities that Hollywood Cinema doesn't allow. Alfre Woodard is expertly cast as Ouiser, the grumpy yet sweet older rich woman.  Phylica Rashad is cast as rich eccentric Clairee, proving that she is under-rated and needs to be in every movie ever. The other women include Jill Scott as the shop's owner Truvy, Adepero Oduye as the new girl in town Anelle and Condola Rashad (Phylicia's daughter) as Shelby, who is central to the play and central to the film here.

While using the original stage script as a source, some changes had to be made. The script adaptation here is not the strongest point.  In adapting a play to screen, a few changes are inevitable, but the scenes in this film version that truly shine are when the six women are in the beauty shop. Any scenes outside of that setting seem a little stale and forced save for a few. The new opening with Shelby and Jackson in the car is very well acted, but was a car the best place to have that moment? The addition of a hospital scene between Shelby and M'Lynn is also very touching, but the fact still remains: the best moments in this film, are either when the women are interacting, or when we as the audience are taken into the beauty shop. It makes me wonder why a straight recreation of the play onto screen wasn't done in which the whole movie would take place in The Beauty Shop. The majority of the cast has stage experience and would've made it a different and enjoyable film.

Modern references had been put in as well. The original script was set in the 1980's. It is now 2012 and they don't let us forget. Sometimes they work, like when Ouiser references Beyonce. Sometimes they fail and detract, like when Truvy mentions Facebook.

 The movie as is though is well worth a view. It is a beautiful and gorgeous film that is truly set apart from Lifetime's normal outings.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Mikado (1939) - Now That's Yellow Face

I've been very familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado for most of my life but have never really had a chance to sit down and view it. I was always intrigued by how they masked British Satire under Oriental Make-Up.

The 1939 film version is known for probably being the closest to how the opera was originally seen onstage while also being watered down for Hollywood Film purposes as well. A prologue has been added, songs have been shortened and rearranged, and stars like Kenny Baker and Jean Colin join original Mikado cast members Martyn Green and Constance Willis join together to create this film version of Gilbert and Sullivan's comedic opera. 

Kenny Baker as Nanki-Poo, the smitten prince in disguise, plays his part as if he's in a dramatic piece, lending a certain air of camp to his character. His scenes with Jean Colin's are tender and beautiful and he is a rockstar in those solos.

Martyn Green is hilarious as Ko-Ko. Constance Willis as the spurned Katisha is another role that rises to camp level.

The cinematography, which received and academy award nomination, is gorgeous. The costumes and sets immediately take you into this highly fictionalized western version of Japan.

An enjoyable viewing experience.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Romeo X Juliet - I Wanna Watch it Again

Wow this show was amazing. I picked it up kind of on an impulse. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is one of my most favorite plays and what little I saw of this anime series intrigued me.

This series uses Shakespeare's play as a template. Romeo and Juliet are still star-crossed lovers and their families are feuding. The feud is more fully explored in this series. More so than any other adaptation of the classic.

  • "It's kinda what I've been craving in an anime series for awhile
  • it's character driven, the music is amazing, the dialogue is amazing, the story is intense, and the various references to other Shakespearian works are a nice bonus"

A lot of liberties are taken. Juliet has more of an active role in the story. This girl is now a warrior and appears to be of a much stronger physical strength as compared to the male lead, Romeo.

The fantasy world the characters live in never upstages the character driven drama that is presented.

A highly recommended series if you ever get a chance to view it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Valley of the Dolls - Get Your Wigs and Eye Liner Girls

This one is a movie that BEGS to be parodied.

I just might do it.

The movie starts typical enough. A small town girl goes to the big city and has various adventures with Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.

Okay for reals though. The film opens with Anne Welles (Barbara Perkins) moving away from her quiet life for the big city and she becomes friends with Neely O'Hara, (Patty Duke) a character who shares a lot of similarities to Miss Judy Garland; and Jennifer North, (Sharon Tate) a character who shares a whole lot of similarities to Marilyn Monroe.

The three friends go through love, loss and dolls. (A slang term used for dexedrine)

Based on the crazy sexy book by Jacqueline Susann, "Valley of the Dolls" takes a fun and campy look at the world of celebrity. This film is one of those "so bad it's so good" type of movies.

This also one of those movies that needs to be recreated with drag queens like the recent remake of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" retitled "Baby Jane?"

"Valley of the Dolls" was pretty and crazy. Very good combos in my book. I am definitely going to pick up this one to own.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Yellow Submarine - All You Need is this Blu Ray !!!!!

Yellow Submarine does not have the best pacing or the most original of stories, but it is no doubt a gorgeous beautiful animated masterpiece that everyone should enjoy.

The Beatles are taken on this magical journey to Pepperland to save the musical land from creatures called The Blue Meanies. Throughout this journey we are treated to various songs from the Beatles accompanied by the most striking aniamted visuals to make it to celluloid.

While the songs are perfomed by The Beatles, voice actors voice the band mates during the dialogue portions. You would never have guessed though. These actors are spot on and create a very seamless production.

Very trippy at times while still being a very sweet and loving tribute to The Beatles, Yellow Submarine is a must for all. Because we all love The Beatles... right?

If you liked this article, then you should read this:

The Tune - Bill Plympton's Masterpiece - Bill Plympton has said that his movie was inspired by Yellow Submarine.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rags to Riches - Totally Cool 80's Orphan Musical

Imagine a movie that combines Facts of Life with Annie and music from the 60s. That's what you get with Rags to Riches. 

What I thought was a movie from the 80's though is in fact an extended pilot for a TV series that lasted one and a  half seasons.

Like Facts of Life, you get the ethnically diverse cast of various ages, and shapes. Like Annie, you get the fun loving orphans who break out into songs. Songs from the 60s with modified lyrics to go with the plot.

The plot is a fairly typical fairy tale orphan story. A rag tag team of orphans get adopted by a grumpy rich guy. The girls end up with a father and a sense of structure in their lives while the grumpy rich guy ends up softening up. It's a very familiar tale, with a very familiar outcome, but the journey is real fun and glittered up with an adorable cast and these ultra cute 60s pop songs.

I am especially in love with their rendition of "Dream Lover," in this movie reworked as "Dream Maker," sung by the orphan girls in the hopes of keeping a home.

Joseph Bologna stars as Nick Foley, the millionaire who adopts the orphans. Also alongside Bologna is Douglas Seale (The Sultan from Disney's Aladdin) as a classy but cool butler. Among the cast of orphans are Tisha Campbell of Little Shop of Horrors, Martin and My Wife and Kids; Heidi Zeigler from Just the 10 of Us, and Drexell's Class; and Kimiko Gelman who recently appeared in The Hunger Games.

This is such a nostalgic trip for those who love the 80's nostalgia and 60's pop. 

You can find the pilot movie, and the rest of the series on DVD. Check it out ;-)

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Nate and Margaret - Comically Sweet

It's not hard to imagine an eccentric gay boy being friends with an awkward middle aged woman. Nate is a film student who is not too social, though he has friends that are. Margaret is his best friend, and Nate is her only friend. Margaret is old enough to be his mother.

And here we have our heroes in this really sweet semi autobiographical film by Nathan Adloff. Nate and Margaret had it's world premiere at Film Out San Diego. The film stars Roseanne's Natalie West as socially awkward stand up comic Margaret. Wise Kid's Tyler Ross plays Nate. The friendship between the two is portrayed as very sweet and only gets shaken up when Nate starts dating James, played to perfection by Conor McCahill in his first feature.

Gaby Hoffman is worth noting. Known for roles in "All I Wanna Do," "Now and Then" and "Uncle Buck," Gaby plays party girl Darla. She was a very welcome surprise. I'm glad she never stopped working. Go Gaby.

I highly recommend this movie. It is very well written and very well acted. The look of the film is very sleek. This one is sure to be enjoyed especially if it gets a wider release.