Thursday, December 27, 2012

Les Miserables (2012 First Impressions) (Movie Review)

    Of all the classic Broadway Musicale’s, Les Miserables is one of my absolute favorites. I’ve seen the play and listened to the music countless times. It’s such an epic story and the music is just larger than life at times. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the story is massive and the musicale had to chop a lot of it down, but it worked well on stage and when I heard that they were going to make a motion picture of this phenomenon, I got really excited. It wasn’t the first time, there was another theatrical film rendition in 1998 starring Liam Neeson, however that version had no music and that made it feel incomplete. This time, we have an actual musical adapted from the play and the result is a mixed blessing.

     I went into this film with the wrong mind set, I was expecting the music to sound just as sensational as they sound on the stage or on the classic album, however the singing is only decent in this film by comparison to how stellar other renditions sound. However, the strength of this film comes from the stellar cast and emotional depth of the characters. In this regard the films shines, the performances are very passionate and the drama is deep. Take this part as an example, if you heard Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” on its own, then it’s just okay and you’d probably want to hear a really good singer like Susan Boyle instead. However, when you see Anne Hathaway in the movie singing, she just puts so much passion into it, and when you see all that emotion in her face, it just tugs at your heart strings. It gives you an even more powerful feeing then just hearing the song on its own.

      In regard to films in general, everything was done very well in this film, Hugo Jackman gives a stellar lead performance, Anne Hathaway is sensational, the rest of the cast dose their job very well and the emotional quality is strong. There are even a phew cast members from the actual play who are making their film debuts in this movie, most notably Samantha Barks who’s reprising her role as the character Eponine, her singing voice is still just as good as when she sang for the 25th anniversary concert of “Les Miserables”. I also like how the actors are actually singing directly in front of the camera as opposed to recording their voices and dubbing them over later, which is the method that’s usually done in musicals. My only real criticism is that a lot of this film feels a little too tight, literally, 75% of this film is spent zoomed in on someone’s face and that can get really annoying. Usually musicals will have breathtaking cinematography and a lot of wide shots, but this film only has a hand full. The opening shot is really good and there are a phew cool wide shots near the end of the film but like I said, most of this movie is filmed in a very confining way.

   Overall, if you’re going to watch “Les Miserables” just out of love for the music alone, then you’re probably going to have a better time watching this on the stage as opposed to the big screen. But if you want a good film with decent music then you’ll probably like this film just fine. I’m glad I saw it, even though the music didn’t sound as good in other play renditions, this was still a very good adaptation of one of my favorite musicals and the ending will certainly leave you with chills. I give “Les Miserables” 4 stars.         

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Top 20 Favorite Christmas Specials and Movies

    Christmas seems to be every Childs favorite time of year, they love the snow, presents, decorations and of cores the yearly Christmas specials. There practically a sub-genera within themselves, and I’m rounding up my personal top 20 favorite Christmas specials and movies of all time ... here we go. Now 20 specials is a lot to go through, so I’ll keep the comments short and simple.    

20. The Twilight Zone: Night of the Meek (1960)
 I’m sure it seems odd to have an episode from the Twilight Zone kicking of my list, but it really is one of my favorite holiday specials to ever air on TV. In this Christmas themed episode titled “Night of the Meek”, a poor, down and out man's life is in the dumps, but more important to him are the lives of those who are even more less fortunate than himself. So for his kindness, this man actually takes the role of Santa, giving gifts and cheer to all in need. It’s a simple story, with a wholesome message and the same thought provoking storytelling that The Twilight Zone is best at conveying.   

 19. Disney’s The Little Match Girl (2006)

 Despite the fact that this is only a seven minuet short, it still stands strong as a wonderful holiday gem. It's simply Disney at its finest, with great animation, and lots of drama focusing on the fragile nature of human life. It's a truly heartwarming story that focuses on the importance of hope, dreams and helping the innocent. “Little Match Girl” has always been one of my favorite Christmas stories and has always deserved its own holiday special, thankfully in the absence of a motion picture we have this terrific little short film.  

18. Nicholas: The Boy who Became Santa (1990) 

We all know about Santa Claus right? Well, lets hear his story from the point of view of the historical Saint Nicholas for once, that only seems fair. In just 30 minutes and with a small animation budget, “Nicholas” conveys a touching moral about charity, along with subtle religious themes and depicts Santa as more than just a colorful holiday icon. 

 17. A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004) 

Here's yet another great version of “A Christmas Carol” that's a personal gem of mine. Adapting The Charles Dickens classic into a musical was a very clever idea, giving audiences a fresh take on a popular story. While there have been several musical renditions of A Christmas Carol”, this is my favorite version, thanks to it's wonderful song numbers and a delightful overtone.   

16. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)
 This is a very personal favorite of mine, why, because Mickey Mouse has always been my all time favorite cartoon character from child hood, and it was a real joy to give him and all the other classic Disney cartoon characters their own little animated Christmas movie. It's an anthology film with several story’s, and each one is packed with thoughtful morals, great animation and some relatively funny scenes. It’s just nostalgic holiday gold from beginning to end, and it captures that timeless, magical quality that only Disney and Christmas can provide.

15. Miracle on 34th Street (1994) 

 This is a rare case in which a remake of a classic movie can hold its own relatively well. Sure it’s not quite as great as the original classic, but there are some improvements here and there, most notably the ending, which holds up so well by comparison to the first. Plus, I love Sir Richard Attenborough as Santa, he’s just such a warm and gentle old man who captures the spirit of the character perfectly and for all the movies faults, it still has its own little charms that make it worth annual viewings.  

 13. Joyeux Noel (2005)

 Based on an incredible true story that takes place during the First World War, this film shows how even the most violent of people at war with each other can still find peace and love in their fellow man. It’s powerful, inspiring and it should stand as a staple for other Christmas movies to draw inspiration from, it’s just that good.  

13. The Small One (1978) 
 Now here’s a true gem that many people seem to overlook. It’s the story about a boy who has to sell his donkey because he’s getting to old, and from that simple premise, you get a Christmas special that’s sad, engaging and it all leads to one of the most heartwarming endings you’ll ever see. With the combined magics of Disney, Don Bluth and Christmas all wrapped in one package, “The Small One” still stands as one of the best and a personal favorite.  

12. Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury (2011) 

Well ...  DreamWorks “How to Train Your Dragon” is personally one of my favorite animated movies of all time, so naturally it's holiday special is a personal favorite that I just couldn't keep off my list. Aside from being a terrific continuation of that story, it still feels like a proper Christmas special. It looks amazing, it's funny, and it has more then enough warm feel good moments that you just love seeing in holiday specials of this sort. 

11. The Grinch (2000)
 I’ll admit that this film may be just a little too dark and unpleasant for some kids, but then again ... like other holiday specials, the more intense you make the character and his story, the happier the resolution at the end. Sure it’s not as good as the original animated classic, but there are still so many things that I love about this film, the jokes at times are funny, I like its otherworldly look and feel, the music is great and of cores, it’s the always fantastic Jim Carry who completely steels the show. For all its negativity, there’s still a lot of warm holiday cheer and a simple, good message to boot.

10. The Nativity Story (2006)
 Well ... there just isn’t any other Christmas story that’s more proper or more important then the birth of Christ. It’s heartwarming, thoughtful, inspiring, uplifting, and I think it's told fairly well in this film. While I'll admit, the final product could have been a pinch stronger, especially when considering it's biblical source material, but it's still done well, and the version that I find myself watching the most often around Christmas. 

9. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
 This one’s harder to explain, but it just feels very genuine, like there's nothing manipulative about it. Plus, it's one of those gems that most kids grow up with, and still watch around the holiday season. it’s just a strait forward holiday special that’s charming, unforgettable and personally my favorite of all the Charlie Brown specials.

8. The Snowman (1982)
 Here’s a film that I never full appreciated as a child but I’ve really grown to love it over the years. It’s a classic tale of a snowman coming to life, the experience he shares with a young boy, and even though there isn’t a single line of dialog, a lot of character still shines through. I just love how simplistic the experience is, the look is very unique, the atmosphere is wonderful, the story telling is light as air and the music is absolutely breathtaking.

7. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
 Hands down the best movie to portray Santa, as he’s both jolly and fun but also sophisticated and dignified. A lot of that has to do with the terrific lead performance from classy actor Edmund Gwenn, who simply shines in the role of Santa. Add in Maureen O’ Hara as the closed off yet hopefully optimistic mother and Natalie Wood as the bright eyed and charming little girl, they all add a chief ingredient to a wonderful film, that of gentle sentimentalism and a warm holiday message. It’s just a classy, joyful movie that just gets better with age. 

6. The Polar Express (2004)
 I personally adore this film, why, because it’s nothing more than an experience. Just like with “The Snowman”, it’s a simplistic story with a unique premise and from begging to end, it feels like you’re having a dream. The colors are beautiful, the music is very warm, the atmosphere is great and the 3D animation is just dazzling. Personally, films don’t always need a stellar story, sometimes I just want to experience something, and “The Polar Express” is a film that I look forward to experiencing again and again every year.  

5. National Lampoons Christmas Vacation (1989)
 Hands down, the best Christmas comedy of all time. This one just finds that perfect balance, with lots of slapstick and laugh out loud moments, but also some really simple holiday charms and details. It's the perfect offset to what we usually get around Christmas, and yet it still feels like a holiday classic in it's own hilarious way.    

4. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
 Even though I love this movie, I honestly never look at it as a Christmas film, it's just a great movie that happens to take place around the holiday season. Having said that, "It’s a Wonderful Life", is still the timeless story about how one man’s life could have such a huge impact on the lives of others, which is just as inspiring as it is enduring. In the end, this film reminds us what a wonderful and beautiful life we truly do have. With a solid direction from Frank Capra, an outstanding lead performance from James Stewart, and a brilliant premise, “It’s a Wonderful Life” still proves to be a near flawless film.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
 Do I even need to explain why this is one of my favorites, I think most people would call this one of the best. The music is unforgettable, the poetry is fun, the beautiful colors just pop off the screen, and the message at the end still stands as strong today. Plus, the Grinch himself is just an iconic character and so much fun to watch. It’s simply the classic holiday cartoon that we all grew up with, and never grow out of.

2. A Christmas Carol (1999) 
 This is my personal favorite version of “A Christmas Carol” by far. Even though I’d seen many kid versions of this film beforehand (like “The Muppets Christmas Carol”) this is the version that really showed me what a wonderful and timeless tale this truly is. It’s just such a great story about looking back on who we once were, comparing it to what we are now and who we hope to be in the future. It's a story of redemption, remorse, regret and the beauty of life all in one beautiful package. Plus, I love Patrick Stewart in the role of Mr. Scrooge, he just nails ever emotion perfectly, even when acting over the top. Now any version of "A Christmas Carol" is great and worth viewing but it’s this version from 1999 that left the biggest impact on me personally.    

1. A Christmas Story (1983)
 This is absolutely the perfect Christmas movie, it’s funny, it’s dark, it’s nostalgic, it’s warm, it’s innocent, it’s cheerful, it’s simply perfect all around. I love how this movie is told from the perspective of an adult who’s sharing a story of his childhood with us, because memories do play a big part in Christmas. Even though I didn’t grow up in the 50’s, this film seems to represent a childhood that’s very similar to my own and watching it from beginning to end is like looking through a window to the past, while also having a lot of fun. Plus there are so many simplistic little details throughout the whole film that just elevates its holiday charms. It’s for this and so many other reasons that “A Christmas Story” will always stand as my all time favorite Christmas Movie or Special.   
                                              The End