Reel Voice

“The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

I am a fantasy literature & movie nut.  I often reflect that part of my enjoyment of such derived from WHEN I grew up.  I was 7 years old when “Star Wars” hit the movie theater and changed my life forever more.  There were a lot of fantasy movies being done during my adolescence.  A lot of fantasy literature was building during the late ‘70s and unleashed onto the scene in the ‘80s.  This plethora of fantasy films that were released in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were based upon the almost forgotten treasure trove of fantasy literature from a far earlier time.  Amazingly, this concoction of the literature and film world included the good “Conan the Barbarian” and “Dragonslayer”, but also the truly dreadful “The Barbarians” and “Deathstalker”. 

In 1977, the awesome team of Rankin & Bass brought us “The Hobbit” as an animated film targeted to children as a musical of sorts.  It was the first time anyone had been daring enough to tackle the granddaddy of all fantasy literature.  The technology to do this as a live-action film just wasn’t there.  In animation, you can create whole worlds.  A marvelous touch to this project was the voice-over work of John Huston as Gandalf.  (Sadly, the sequel project of a two-part animated film of “Lord of the Rings” never quite fully came to fruition.  The project was only partially completed and yet was still released.)  None the less, the Rankin/Bass film of “The Hobbit” was well received.  To this day, I still can sing the lyrics of the “Crack the Mugs, Crack the Plates” song. 

When Peter Jackson’s masterpiece of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy came out, it was a long-awaited day for me.  Indeed, many of my fellow fantasy fans had waited a lifetime to see the Holy Grail of fantasy literature come to life on the big screen – and to be taken seriously.  When news reached me that there was talk of The Hobbit receiving a similar treatment, I was excited but cautious.  Originally, Jackson was not to direct this project.  My 1st thought: ARE YOU CRAZY?!?!?!  After much back and forth as to the identity of the director, it was decided that Jackson was at the helm once more.  Suddenly, the next word was that this would not be one film but instead was slated for THREE films!  “Ecstatic” is one way you could have described my reaction.  Many might believe that this story doesn’t warrant a 3-movie treatment.  Well, my belief is that I don’t want anyone to short-change Tolkien’s “prequel” to Lord of the Rings .  I will gladly pay top dollar to see all of this movie franchise.  It’s a beautiful piece of work and I think it will be long-remembered in the annals of film history. 

This 1st installment is entitled “The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey”.  The 1st thing I want to say about it is that Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis, and the great Christopher Lee all reprise their roles from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  They are all marvelous.  Ian McKellen will forever be Gandalf in my mind.  (I think he echoes John Huston is some regards with his voice, and that really cements it for me.)  It’s all perfectly brilliant; that they came to reprise their iconic roles was an unexpected surprise to me.    Speaking of reprising their roles, Howard Shore returns as the composer.  Unfortunately, I didn’t hear anything that sounded like “I must own the soundtrack immediately” – which I did for each of the previous 3 films. 

We are returned to Rivendell through this tale and I have to just say that I have never seen anything so beautiful in all my life.  Modern, real-world architecture is so awful that it is revolting compared to this grace and beauty.  I know people will say that it is all fantasy and that it doesn’t exist, but the truth is: it could.  With all of our technology today, why SHOULDN’T we be building like this?  Sadly, it comes down to money and that’s the real tragedy.  Regardless, Rivendell is more than just a fantastic location for a fantasy film to be shot (which of course is actually New Zealand).  It is what we should aspire to be like.  Tolkien wrote it that way, and that’s exactly what I got from Jackson’s portrayal of it here in film.  See it for yourself and see if you feel the same way.

The newness of the “An Unexpected Journey” is Martin Freeman (from “Love Actually”) and he is perfect as Bilbo Baggins.  Not adequate, not sort of good, but exactly what was needed to be Bilbo.  I was astonished when I realized where I knew him from!  Bravo, Martin – BRAVO!  This is the kind of role you dream of, if you are fan of the literature – and I have yet to hear anyone truly bash Tolkien.  Freeman personifies the character.  He is lovable & charming in his simplicity and yet there seems to be something deeper at play within him.  I don’t remember how I felt when I read the book for the first time, especially about Bilbo.  However, I think Jackson really has something here and Freeman is delivering the goods!  It’s tangible and yet just out of reach – it is that kind of a thing going on with the main character.  It adds so much more to the tale!

As for the Dwarven Company of Thorin Oakenshield and his band of 12 Dwarves, the costume & makeup departments deserve credit in spades for bringing the animated characters from the Rankin/Bass animated film to life.  They look like those cartoon characters!  Oddly, they came to life as believable characters too.  I don’t know who is to thank for that: the writing, the directing, or the actors.  Maybe it truly is a combination of all three.  Regardless, all the actors deserve praise and the inclusion of that song I know so well was amazing!  (It wasn’t even tacky!)

The journey of Bilbo Baggins is much different than the one of his nephew.  As such, you have a very different film here with “An Unexpected Journey” compared to “Fellowship of the Ring”.  There is fighting and adventure, but I always thought it was fascinating that Bilbo is described as the company’s burglar – and yet he isn’t greedy in the slightest.  There’s a greater depth to these “prequels” than to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and mostly it has to do with the objective.  In LOTR , Frodo must destroy the One Ring and thus defeat the most Evil foe ever imagined.  However, in The Hobbit , Bilbo is out to reclaim the mountain home of the Dwarves by defeating a fire-breathing dragon.  Sure, both foes are Evil – but the dragon isn’t interested in coming out of his mountain abode and laying waste to EVERYTHING. 

So the good guys in “An Unexpected Journey” are set upon the path of evicting the angry tenant of their once great home.  The Dwarves don’t much like Bilbo, but Gandalf insists that he be their burglar.  Bilbo doesn’t much like the Dwarves either, and I think he doesn’t much trust Gandalf either.  Yet Bilbo cannot deny that Gandalf hit a nerve when he tells Bilbo that he thought he had the blood of an adventurer in him.  In a way, the story of Bilbo is more about forming friendships & discovering the true value of your friends.  The story is very compelling, but the characters are more so.  I think the characters are actually better detailed and more understandable in this film than the characters in the 3 previous films.  That’s what comes out in this film and I thank Mr. Jackson for doing right by us fantasy fans once more!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

 

“Les Misérables”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“Les Misérables”

Before I begin on writing this review, allow me to state this very clearly: there are only 3 ways you will see this movie.  By “ways”, I mean the perspective that you have entering the theater.  These perspectives will change what you think of this film IMMEDIATELY – even before the previews start. 

Here are the perspectives:

1)      You have seen the musical on Broadway, or part of the National Tour, or in London, or the 25th Anniversary concert on PBS.  You probably have seen it multiple times.

2)      You have either read the obscenely lengthy novel by Victor Hugo OR you have seen a movie adaption of the story, possibly the 1994 version starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Claire Danes, and Uma Thurman.

3)      You have no frame of reference for either the story or the musical, having seen neither.

Those perspectives change what your reaction to this film will be. 

Here are your probable reactions that match the perspectives:

1)      You will dislike some aspect of this version.  Guaranteed. 

2)      You wonder why the actors have to sing seemingly every line.  It annoys you.  You’d like just a sentence or two of just straight dialogue.

3)      You think the acting is pretty awesome, but you could do without some of the songs.

Regardless of what else I may say, these perspectives alter what you may think of this filmed version of this adored musical.  I know that promoters love to hype things, but the phrase “one of the most beloved musicals of our time” really is not quite accurate.  Les Miserables as a musical is simply THE most beloved.  Cats may have run longer, Phantom of the Opera may have made more money, but I don’t see either one of those enjoying the success that belongs to Les Miserables . 

Okay, so now on to the “players” of this film.  Tom Hooper directs.  He did “The King’s Speech”.  Very nicely done – he got an Oscar to prove it.  Hugh Jackman was cast as bread-thief Jean Valjean, and Russsell Crowe is cast as Javert, the policeman that hunts the criminal Valjean.  Anne Hathaway plays the tragic Fantine, the single-mother-turned-unwilling-prostitute.  Amanda Seyfried is Cosette, Valjean’s adopted daughter.  Eddie Redmayne is Marius, Cosette’s love-interest and student-turned-revolutionary.  Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter play the villainous Thenardiers.  Newcomer Samantha Barks play Eponine, daughter of the Thenardiers, who is in love with Marius.  The film is produced by Cameron Mackintosh (the creator of the musical).  The music is all courtesy of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the creators of the music for the musical.

Now, allow me to speak to few technical aspects of the film.  The makeup of this film is OUTSTANDING, to the point that I would give the Oscar to “Les Misérables” without question.  The look of Valjean at the beginning of the film is such a transformation that I did not even see Hugh Jackman.  The job that was done on Anne Hathaway for her prostitute look was superb!  In the vein, I also though the costumes were stellar as well!  I don’t know that it is guaranteed an Oscar, but it will certainly be in the running.  It will be up against the stiff competition of “The Hobbit” and “Lincoln” to be sure.

Okay, so now that I have gotten my technical joys of the film out of the way, and told you who was cast in the film, and whom the powers behind it are, allow me to state some not-so great things about this film.  The editing of “Les Misérables” is lack-luster to say the least.  If it is not the editor’s fault, then the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Tom Hooper.  There’s a lot of choppiness to the film as the story progresses and that was more than a little disconcerting.  In fact, for “Bring Him Home” this choppiness reaches its apex and it ruined the scene for me entirely.  The song is a sweet prayer and to have it broken up by the camera movement as it follows Valjean through the ruined tavern was atrocious!

As for the pacing of the film, Tom Hooper took a major misstep.  There are scenes where the film jumps from one song piece to another with nothing in between the two points.  There wasn’t any dialogue, sung or otherwise, there to serve as a bridge.  There wasn’t a sweeping score to carry you from point A to point B.  In other words, there was no build up, no pause to serve as the “breath” you take in between belting out those songs.  I didn’t like that aspect of the film AT ALL.  I know this isn’t the musical – of which I am a fan – but this is about pacing the film, which is in the hands of the director.  In this case, it should have been in the hands of someone more suited to the task.  Hooper’s direction is good, and I enjoy his close-ups on the actor’s as they sing, but there are moments where a wider angle would have served the film better.  His over-head shots are a little too contrite to be useful here and there were far too many of them in the movie.

When it comes to performances, Jackman’s portrayal of Valjean during “Valjean's Soliloquy” is one of the greatest scenes ever from a filmed musical.  It is heart-wrenching and Jackman deserved a standing ovation right then and there!  Jackman’s performance is unique to the character, namely because of this this singing-live approach to the film.  There are prettier voices for Valjean.  There could be better actors for Valjean.  Truth is, in this version of the tale, Jackman does a marvelous job.  I believe as an actor this is THE performance of his career.  He was frightening to behold at first – and unrecognizable.  He looked French, if there is such a look.  I just thought he did a great job at acting his way through this film.  Sadly, there are noticeable lacking moments in his vocal talent.  In particular, “Bring Him Home” was a travesty.  I was uncertain if it was the pacing of the film, the choppy editing, the weird camera angles, or just a rushed performance by Jackman that was to blame.  Regardless, it is without question the worst version of this song I have ever seen performed. 

I was blown away by Amanda Seyfried’s voice – how does she DO that???  She sounded like a songbird, truly.  I don’t remember her sounding like that in “Mama Mia” either.  But you know what?  I liked her singing as Cosette and I thought she was perfectly cast in the part.  Eddie Redmayne I did not know at all (I have not seen him in “My Week with Marilyn”) but I thought he was pretty terrific as Marius.  His performance during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is beyond brilliant.  How he was able to cry like that and then pull back from that emotion to continue singing was a stunning display of control!

Anne Hathaway has created what I am sure will go down in the history books as the most impressive performance of Fantine EVER.  I guess when you have seen it performed on stage, you get used to the vocal stylings used for "I Dreamed a Dream” and you come to expect it.  You judge each actress on how she sings that song.  It is perfectly natural to do so.  That’s one of the 3 IT songs from the musical, and you CANNOT stress enough how important that song is to the whole story.  Anne’s performance during that song is STUPENDOUS.  It is fragile, vulnerable, and filled with heart-break.  Her acting throughout the song is more than Oscar-worthy.  I saw so much coming through in her performance there that I was stunned.  I love the “pretty” versions of that song (to quote Anne herself), but I have to say that for this movie her way of performing the song was THE way to go and man, is it good!

As for Russell Crowe, well he was fine as Javert.  I heard a lot of people criticizing his singing in this film.  I didn’t find it all that bad.  I love Javert as a character; I find him to be a very complex character and there is just something very intriguing to the role.  (Everybody always wants to state who they would be in the musical, which character they would want to play, well mine is Javert.)  The Inspector is supposed to be ‘the bad guy” I know, but he’s this wonderfully determined policeman that just won’t quit.  I admire that.  Anyway, Crowe’s performance as a singer was pretty good I thought, but his acting wasn’t as great as it could have been.  I expected more from the Inspector.  That’s just my opinion.

The WORST aspect of the “Les Misérables” was Sacha baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers.  “Master of the House” was utterly awful in this film because it lacked any real charm.  These characters are meant as the comic relief in the musical and there is this Disney-esque villain quality to them: you dislike them but they are somehow charming nevertheless.  My problem with these two actors being cast in these roles was that neither of them seemed to enjoy their parts.  The acting wasn’t particularly funny – if anything it was the one thing it should NOT have been: campy.  The songs were butchered to the point of being nearly unrecognizable.  The way in which Hooper decided to shoot “Master of the House” was dull, witless, and completely without any real passion for the project.  It seemed to me that Hooper didn’t care enough about this part of the film to make it worthwhile.  It is meant to be a rousing number in the musical, and filmed-version or not, it should have been the same here.  The humor that Cohen and Carter attempted to through into the movie was completely out of place and inappropriate – not to mention the “Master of the Feast” version in this film was uninspired and “the Moon Looks Down” is omitted from the film entirely.

The cameo performance by the great Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne was an absolute delight.  His usage in the film will bring any fan of the musical to tears.  His serves as the voice of God and it is beyond symbolic when the Bishop gives Valjean the candlesticks.  That scene was worth the price of admission right there.  If you don’t know Colm, you should really acquaint yourself through DVD, YouTube, or a CD or two.  He is an amazing performer!  Colm was the original Valjean & has portrayed the character more times on stage than any other actor.   Frances Ruffelle, the original Eponine from the Broadway & West End productions of the musical also has a cameo as prostitute. Her voice is unmistakable!

I didn’t care much for the students either.  The actors who portrayed them in the 25th Anniversary Concert of “Les Misérables” were fantastic by comparison.  I felt nothing for them or their revolution, sadly.  Aaron Tveit was Enjolras, the leader of the students and he was adequate at best.  But why – in the name of all that is sacred – does Gavroche have to have SUCH a thick British accent?  I have never understood that aspect and I find it so out of place with the story.  It throws me every time I see the musical, in any form.  The young boy that plays him in the film is Daniel Huttlestone, and he did a fine job.  I just cannot stand that accent being used in this FRENCH story.

Overall, there were aspects of the film I loved, and others that I out-right hated.  All I can say is that for any fan of the musical, there is bound to be some aspect of “Les Misérables” that you will not like.  If you want to see the stellar acting and singing performances of Seyfried, Redmayne, Hathaway, and Jackman then you MUST go see this film!  The problem I felt with the film was that these standout numbers have no bookends.  There is no sweeping score to move you from point A to point B.  There is almost no dialogue – sung or otherwise – to serve as that bridge between the big numbers either.  I would have preferred to see those in the film, no matter what the runtime would have ended up being.  I was not utterly disappointed in the film, though.  Please don’t assume that.  I really enjoyed a great number of parts in the film!  I just believe that Hooper or somebody needed to understand that those bridges NEED to be there for this story to work.  Oh, and the casting of the Thenardiers was WRONG.

Take your perspective and go see the film.  I am curious to hear what everybody thinks of “Les Misérables”.  Are you in agreement with me?  Am I way off base?  I’d love to hear back from readers on this review most especially.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

 

 

“Lincoln”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“Lincoln”

If you enjoy history, particularly American Civil War history – then you should enjoy “Lincoln”.  Steven Spielberg is at it again and bringing one whopper of drama into theaters just in time for Award Season.  “Lincoln” is filled with greatness.  I overheard some folks that are familiar with the business fuss about the technical aspects of the movie.  WHATEVER!  Folks, do yourselves a favor and go see “Lincoln”!  Every American should watch this movie, really.  Probably the greatest criticism I can give to this film is that I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie.  I felt like I was watching history unfold.

Daniel Day-Lewis is astounding as Honest Abe.  He is without question the frontrunner in every award race this season for best actor.  His performance is so good, that I would rank it right up there with anything that Meryl Streep has done.  Yeah, his performance is THAT good.  If he doesn’t win Golden Globe/Oscar/SAG award, then the movie industry is just plain imbalanced.  His mannerisms are so natural that I was swearing to myself that surely that is what Mr. Lincoln must have sounded like.  His walk, his voice, his hand gestures – everything about him seemed so right!  I wondered if the stories he tells in the movie were really anecdotes that the President actually said.  The line between fiction and reality is so wonderfully blurred by Lewis’ performance that I wanted to give him a standing ovation at the end of the film!

The film is a dramatic piece and it focuses on the political proceedings surrounding the amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery forever.   It is part Civil War “ West Wing ” and part courtroom drama.  Both appeal to me, so it was all good.  The best part about the story was seeing how close we came as a people to shelving this crucial Amendment.  It was Lincoln that altered that course of history and every time I read about his choices as President I am simply astounded.  Abraham Lincoln was truly a great President.  You want to know what a magnificent leader he was?  I suggest you watch this movie!  I know a lot of films like to embellish the truth a little (or a terrible amount, depending) to make a better movie.  I get it; it’s fiction – not a documentary.  Still though, “Lincoln” seems to give it to you straight as well as handing you the periphery storylines concerning some of the other key players.  Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones) was one such tale.

I saw so many wonderful other performances in this film too. James Spader is fantastic, and so too is Sally Field!  Tommy Lee Jones is fairly brilliant as well, but that could also just be chalked up to GREAT casting.  Sally Field as Mrs. Lincoln was just simply perfect; I don’t think anyone could have done a better job with that role.  Hal Holbrook, Jason Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce McGill, and Jackie Earle Haley, and Jared Harris (that’s Moriarty!) are all brilliant in the film as well. 

I can say that without question, this film is a masterpiece.  It is utterly realistic and wonderfully executed.  Kudos to Speilberg once more!  This is a holiday treat worth every penny and at 2 hours, 30 minutes, it makes you feel like you have truly gotten your money’s worth.  BRAVO, Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis!!!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

 

“Wreck-It Ralph”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“Wreck It Ralph”

This is just a clever story.  Sadly, there are few arcades any more.  There used to be.  In my teenage years, THAT is where you went to “hang out”.  What “Ralph” has is a little nostalgia for the arcade gamers of the ‘80s and some great references to the early console games of the both the ‘80s and the ‘90s.  As a concept base for the plotline, this is a pretty great foundation.  It reminds me of “Toy Story” because it is a concept that has a LOT of potential!  True to Disney form, they keep it simple and focus on the moral of the story.  That moral dilemma is: can a bad guy actually be a good guy? 

While the writing of “Ralph” is simplistic, what it focuses on and plays upon is this moral question.  In keeping it simple, the theme became much more effective.  It also allowed the writers to have a lot of fun in general when writing the characters.  It shows on every level.  The basic plotline is bad guy attempts to prove that he can be a good guy by acquiring a medal.  To this end, Ralph (the bad guy in question) decides to leave his own arcade game and travel to another video game to win such a prize. 

The villains of multiple video games gather together and have a group therapy session to discuss their issues with being “bad”.  Video game characters gather at the local pub – another video game called Tapper’s – after hours to throw a few back.  Out-of-work game characters like Q-bert beg for food in the terminal that is the nexus between all the video game worlds.  They even reference a video game character that went rogue known as “Turbo” – whose name is now synonymous with game-jumping and how awful it can be.  Truth is, if a game is perceived as “glitch”, that game is retired forever.  So, nobody wants any of that because Turbo apparently did so and ruined not only his own game world but also the game he jumped into.

Set into this background is poor Ralph who is a little tired of not having any friends and is always despised by the people of his video game’s world.  When he returns home from his villain support group to find the people of his world celebrating the 30th anniversary of their game and throwing a lavish party to honor Felix, their game’s hero, Ralph loses it.  He decides he is leaving his video game to win a medal and prove to the people of his video game that he is more than just the bad guy.  Of course, Ralph leaves and now the game is deemed “glitchy”.  If Ralph does not return in 24 hours, the game will be unplugged!  Now, Fix-It Felix has must actually play hero outside of his game in order to save the game before it is turned off (Oh NO!) and marked as OUT OF ORDER permanently!

The voice of John C. Reilly is perfectly matched to Ralph, as is Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweetz.  The animation is great and the lingo of video games is everywhere in the film.  So, if you are a gamer of the ‘80s or ‘90s, you will really enjoy this movie.  Still, “Wreck-It Ralph” has a lot for the kids and is truly a Disney movie: plenty of funny and plenty of fun.  It may not measure up to the quality of “Brave” and its story is little less mature than “Brave” as well.  If you have younger ones, this may be the better movie for your kids.  Over all though, “Ralph” is thoroughly enjoyable and worth seeing for something refreshing that I guarantee you have not seen before.

…that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

 

“Somewhere in Time”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“Somewhere in Time”

When it comes to time travel stories, I tend to be EXCEPTIONALLY critical.  I just hate it when brainless storylines just run rough-shod right over basic quantum mechanics.  (Okay, so I am a bit of a geek.)  The truth is that many science fiction stories related to time travel just fail.  Ironically, the original tale by Jules Verne of “the Time Machine” is one of the best.  I say this is ironic because many time travel stories – especially in film – have failed ever since.  The list is long, I assure you – I will spare you the exhaustive plethora I have unfortunately borne witness to over the years.  Now, there have been some pretty great ones, and they are almost always NOT a film based on science.  That is a great start.  Reason being: you can’t argue against such a film if there is no real science to it.  Besides, it’s much more imaginative that way!  (A brief glimpse into some of these: “Kate and Leopold”, “Butterfly Effect”, “Groundhog Day”, “13 Going on 30”, “From Time to Time”, “Frequency”, and best of all “Donnie Darko”.)

Standing apart from all of these time travel movies is “Somewhere in Time”.

Where do I begin to speak to the mastery of this story?  Well, for starters, there is the story.  Written as a short novel by the great Richard Matheson called Bid Time Return , this story was adapted for the screen by Matheson himself.  You MAY have heard of him as an author, but certainly you know his work as films – such as “I am Legend”, “Last Man on Earth”, “The Omega Man”, “The Martian Chronicles”, “Stir of Echoes”, “The Box”, and of course “The Legend of Hell House”.  I told you that you MIGHT have heard of him!  The guy is a fantastic author; I have read Stir of Echoes, Legend of Hell House , and I am Legend and each novel was a pretty fascinating book.

This story follows a young playwright just finishing college and about to launch a very successful career writing plays for Broadway.  On the eve of this great career’s very start, the playwright – Richard – meets an elderly woman who greets him strangely and gives him a pocket watch and leaves him with the cryptic message: “Come back to me”.   Fast forward 8 years and Richard is struggling with writer’s block and emptiness courtesy of a girlfriend that has left him.  Trying to clear his head, he takes a long drive and ends up at an old hotel.  It is here that Richard discovers an old photograph of a beautiful woman that was a famed actress of the ‘20s that acted upon a stage right at this hotel. 

The story is the backbone of this film, but the actors are the ones that carry it off.  It is the sincerity of Christopher Reeves (yes, Superman!) as Richard Collier that draws you in first.  He just seems like this completely earnest guy – likeable to a fault.  He doesn’t come off as headstrong or foolish – just really sincere.  I think many of us overlook the qualities of an actor once they are typecast (or worse still, cast in a franchise).  It is best to view as much of their body of work before casting judgment, I know, but sometimes you just don’t even know they were in such a film as this.  That is why I write this review: to expose Christopher Reeves other work.  I hope that you with watch this film just on this recommendation alone: Reeves is truly marvelous in this role!

Jane Seymour plays the actress and she could not have been more perfectly cast.  She was to me at the time I first saw this film the prettiest woman in film.  I was never in love with her, but she struck me as the very embodiment of the word “pretty”.  Better still, she has this demure attitude coupled with this refined dignity that comes with most British actresses.  It fits so well with this role that you wonder if Matheson didn’t write this role for her specifically!  Throw in Christopher Plummer as the gruff manager determined to thwart Collier at every turn and you have this magnificent trio of actors that could carry this off as a 3-person stage play!

Of course, the time travel aspect is very Romantic.  The music in this film is like a trance.  The score is beautiful but throughout the film is the recurring music of "Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43, Variation XVIII".  (I could not place it until I looked it up!)  That makes this a haunting film, truly.  I don’t know what it is with me and 1920’s and hotels but it speaks to me on MANY levels.  The setting is like a fuzzy-edged picture, covered with a patina of age that suddenly comes to life. 

“Somewhere in Time” ranks as a great romance film, filled with great talent that seems to echo across time itself.  It is – in a word – timeless.  Do yourself a favor: clear a day of chores and errands, curl up with your wife on the couch under a fuzzy blanket and savor this movie for all it is worth.  You will not be disappointed!  Time travel, romance, great acting, fantastic storyline, enchanting setting – what more could you ask for???

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

 

“Zookeeper”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“Zookeeper”

Not all films are going to be great cinematic experiences.  Sometimes, you just come up with a decent story and have some fun with it.  That’s what I got from “Zookeeper”.  I hate to say it, but keep your expectations of this film low and you’ll really enjoy it.  There really isn’t anything all that awful about the movie.  Isn’t that refreshing to hear?

“Zookeeper” follows the misadventures of Griffin played by Kevin James.  I really liked Kevin in “Hitch”, but since then I don’t think there’s been anything all that great about the work he’s done.  (I recently saw “Grown Ups” and there was nothing there either.)  In this story, James is playing a dedicated zookeeper that truly cares for his work and the animals, but his love life is in shambles.  When the threat of Griffin leaving the zoo leaks to the animals, the animals decide to take matters into their own hands.  It turns out the animals can talk!  They try to patch together Griffin’s love life thinking this will keep him at the zoo.

The love life storyline is predictable, but the great part is: I didn’t care.  Rosario Dawson turns up in this movie out of seemingly nowhere.  I can’t remember the last thing I saw her in!  Anyway, she is fantastic in this and I couldn’t help but think that maybe Rosario should try her hand at more romantic comedies.  There’s something very down-to-earth about her and it plays well in this genre.  Hello, Ms. Dawson, are you listening?  Try it!

As for the talking animals, they could have been funnier.  The voices of Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Adam Sandler, and Nick Nolte all help to create a colorful cast but they are ultimately underused.  I kept hoping for something really gut-busting to happen with the animals.  Don’t get me wrong there are some good moments!  I guess I was just hoping for a little more.  All in all though, “Zookeeper” kept me entertained and chuckling through most of the film.  It’s nothing to go crazy for, but if you need a little no-brainer kind of a movie for a chuckle then this could be the film for you!

Predictable love story, some funny scenes with talking animals, charming actors in the leads, and a easy to watch story make “Zookeeper” worth the time.  Enjoy!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

 

“The Tourist”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“The Tourist”

Johnny Depp is really quite the actor – and in “the Tourist” he doesn’t even rely of wacky costumes, strange accents, or Tim Burton.  Seriously, I was trying to remember a film of his before the Burton-era and the only one that came to mind was “the Ninth Gate” (I LOVE that movie!).  He’s just a likeable actor doing what he loves to do, but in “the Tourist”, Depp is playing a high school math teacher caught up in a game of mistaken identity.

Depp plays his character with a quirky innocence, but also somebody that has been burned out by life.  So – like many others of his ilk – he has turned to Europe for answers, or at least a vacation.  It is in Venice that he makes the acquaintance of Angelina Jolie’s character on a train.  What we know of her character is that she was romantically involved with this thief who stole billions and she has not seen him in years.  She is being watched by Interpol daily, as they hope the thief will get back in touch with her.  The thief dies indeed contact her.  He sends her a note and instructs her to go choose somebody on a train that looks like him and convince Interpol that it is in fact him.

Here’s what I have to say about Jolie: sweet Mother of Mercy, she is turning into a caricature of herself!  She’s supposed to be this model-like beauty.  Really?  The last time she looked really good was as Laura Croft in “Tomb Raider”.  Seriously!  Her arms are like twigs with scary musculature in her shoulders, her forehead looks plastic and her lips look like a fish any more.  Angie, what have you done to yourself?  Regardless of her beauty issues, there’s the fact that the casting is all kinds of wrong.  Jolie is not a model, doesn’t look like a model, and just didn’t have the exotic European flair for the fashions she was wearing in this film.  Worse still, the character called for someone with this mesmerizing sort of charisma that would draw you in.  Jolie did not have it in this film and it became clear to me that this hindered the entire movie.  Marion Cotillard would have been a better choice perhaps.  No matter though, because the major problem in “The Tourist” was the lack of chemistry between Depp and Jolie.  There was zero in the film when there should have been TONS.

Over all, the film lacks a very compelling story.  It is predictable and kind of lazy in its pacing.  The “twist” in the tale is not surprising and seems almost an after-thought.  The plot gets muddled along the way with the thief “repaying his debt”.  I don’t care for films that try to sucker you into believing the film will end in a stereotypical ending only to supposedly trick you into another.  I saw the end long before it arrived, both the sucker-ending and the “surprise” ending.  Even worse was the part where the Interpol agent that has hinted the thief for years suddenly “figures it out” at the VERY end.  It is SO cliché.

This one you can pass right over.  It lacks any action, sharp dialogue, chemistry between the leads, and compelling story.  Still, Depp is a fine actor and he shows it here.  This is not enough to save “the Tourist” though. 

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

 

“From Time to Time”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“From Time to Time”

These days, anything with Maggie Smith is worth watching.  If it is a film written, directed, and produced by Julian Fellowes, I am SO watching it.  Yes, I am a Downton Abbey nut.  It cannot be helped!  (And I like it that way!)  Oh, it also stars Hugh Bonneville and at least 2 other Downton Abbey cast members.  Yes, this film was from 2009, before the awesomeness that is Downton Abbey began, but it is interesting that Julian apparently knew some of the folks he really wanted to work with.  Anyway, I was excited to run across this little gem amidst Netflix.  So, my wife and I were excited to give it a go.

“From Time to Time” is not Downton Abbey, but in a way there are strong elements of the mega-hit here at work in this film.  A stately manor that is the centerpiece to the film sounds very familiar.  Hugh Bonneville plays the head of the household, not unlike the Earl of Grantham he plays on Downton Abbey.  However, the comparisons really stop there.  The film is set in 1944 at the close of WWII in Europe.  A young boy awaits news of his father’s return from a German POW camp at his grandmother’s estate in the country while his mother is off in London.  The boy has not been to see his grandmother in many years, as there seems to have been a falling out between the boy’s father and his mother (the grandmother), played by Maggie Smith.  In short, this is the story of a boy coming to learn about his ancestors and this lovely estate via his stay with his grandmother.

Of course, how the boy learns of such is really the interesting part of this film.  “From Time to Time” is part ghost story and part time travel tale.  I don’t want to spoil anything for you here, but if these kinds of tales might interest you, then I highly recommend taking an hour and 36 minutes to check this one out.  It’s a great story, cleverly written, and some fine actors lead you through the tale.  Unfortunately, the boy actor that plays the main character Tully is not so good.  In fact, I didn’t like him at all.  Bad acting and casting on someone’s part. 

It’s not Shakespeare, but it is engaging enough to make an impression.  Thus, I write this review.  Julian Fellowes has a gift (or a knack at least) for providing us the spirit of turn-of-the-century England.  There’s this battle between dated ideals and aristocratic dignity and a more modern age, one filled with change.  I find it fascinating to watch differing perspectives from within the same culture at the same time period clash with each other.  I can’t think of a time that was filled with more change on a social level than this time period and specifically the British culture. 

So, if a period piece set in England that features a sort of ghost story interests you, this is a very interesting choice.  Try not to expect a whole lot and you will find “From Time to Time” a pleasant surprise.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

 

“The Grey”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“The Grey”

Okay, I have to share some odd thoughts about the latest film to star Liam Neeson. 

Anybody see that cable commercial a while back that’s about how you can start watching a film in one room and finish it in another?  There were two versions: one with two robots fighting and then another with some rough-looking woodsman in an arctic scene dealing with wolves.  Anyone?  Well, regardless, a while back that commercial with the arctic scene and the wolves must have been stuck in my head as I went to bed one night because I dreamt of going to the movies and watching a film centered on that very subject matter.  In less than a month “the Grey” was released.  Weird, right?

On another very strange note, “the Grey” doesn’t use real wolves in it.  I don’t think there was a single real wolf in the film!  I think CGI is great stuff, but come on!  Are there no wolves available to be filmed for a project like this?  Okay, maybe this is a little off-subject, but it kind of offended me.  I like it when real animals get some screen time, and I love canines.  So, what gives with this film not using real wolves?

As for the story of “the Grey”, I can sum it up in a single word: depressing.  This is not a survival tale.  SPOLIER ALERT!!! This is a tale about plane crash victims.  It is also about a group of men that have managed to carve a semblance of a life for themselves in a truly miserable setting.  They drink, brawl, work, and sleep – and they have no intention of either leaving this life or changing their ways.  There seems to be not a single character in this movie that had a stable lifestyle or a wife for that matter.  Maybe a girlfriend (or two or three) comes into the picture, but I got the impression that all of these men did not have a sense of commitment to any relationship.  None of them seemed really all that friendly either.  So, forgive me for saying so, but with irredeemable characters that have to survive in the wilderness, I didn’t really care if they lived or died.

It should come as no surprise that all of these men die in the course of the film.  It really shouldn’t.  Of course, you want to root for these guys – somebody … ANYBODY – to make it out of this situation alive.  This is a classic bad-situation-turns-worse kind of a story.  A group of men crash land in arctic conditions.  They have to battle weather and food shortages and sickness and injury, but the biggest threat is a huge pack of wolves that are “defending their den”.  Everybody dies.  No happy endings.  So, I can spare you all the 2 hours it takes for this tragedy to unwind.  Liam is fantastic – and is it just me or as he gets older, is he becoming a truly legendary tough guy?  However no Scotsman could save this film.  “The Grey” is not worth the effort.  Maybe that’s why the wolves weren’t in the movie.  They boycotted it. 

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

 

“Charlie Bartlett”

by Jef Cliber. 0 Comments

“Charlie Bartlett”

What’s not to like about Anton Yelchin?  I see him and I think of his dead ringer portrayal of Chekov in J.J. Abrams sensational reboot of “Star Trek”.  I remember – albeit vaguely – hearing about “Charlie Bartlett” some time ago and its plot was loosely focused around a high schooler that becomes a psychiatrist for his classmates.  That’s all I remembered about it, honestly.  Then I happen to run across it the other night and I saw that Robert Downey Jr. was also in it.  (As many of you readers know, I am HUGE fan of RDJ.)  So without hesitation, I plunged right into watching this little indie comedy.

Allow me to say that sometimes, a film can have great actors cast and a great story to go right along with it and it needs very little else.  That’s what “Charlie Bartlett” is like.  In this way, it reminds me of “Donnie Darko”.  Some films just don’t need much else because they’re that good.  With RDJ as a high school principal – and a stressed out & drinking single father – the pieces are already in place.  Good concept, great actor – need anything else?  Yes!  You need a decent lead to carry off the wonderful role written for the titular character.  In this case, you get that in Anton Yelchin. 

This kid has talent and diversity and is really enjoyable to watch on screen.  He reminds me of…well, a young RDJ in a way.  I would pay close attention to his career and see where it goes from here.  (He and Keir Gilchrist from “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” are two up & coming talents that will be worth watching.)  There’s a sort of manic energy he has on screen and he is totally unafraid to “go for it”.  I don’t know if that’s exactly the right phrase for what I am trying to explain, but I think it works.  Anyway, there’s a lot to like in his performance in this film.  He’s charming in a sort of quirky manner, and combined with his manic expressions, it makes for a lot of fun to watch.

If “Charlie Bartlett” has a down side, it is Kat Dennings who plays the romantic interest in the film.  She’s not particularly captivating enough to hold your interest in the film.  There are moments when you glimpse some real acting talent, but those moments are short-lived.  The character was written well, but I was left wondering if it had been someone with more of a powerful presence on screen, then this movie would have been hailed as a truly great film.  Her performance wasn’t horrible, but Kat lacked any real chemistry with Anton and that didn’t help matters any.

The story has this delightful character at its core and without question that is what carries the film.  The support of many of the other actors and characters helped the film go even further to wrapping you up in this tale.  They really were pretty amazing.  It’s just a really kind of compelling story told from an exceptional teenager’s perspective, and I thought it was really well done.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.