Monthly Archives: February 2013

Night Train Murders (1975)

Night Train Murders Crop 1

by Steve Habrat

Imitation was the name of the game in Italy from the mid 1960s until the mid 1980s, something that was both positive and negative. Sergio Leone gave birth to the spaghetti western genre in the mid 60s with the marvelous A Fistful of Dollars, a leaner and meaner version of the American western, and Lucio Fulci sent Italy into a zombie craze with his uncompromisingly vicious 1979 grindhouse film Zombie, which was marketed as a sequel to George Romero’s mega hit Dawn of the Dead. It is no surprise that Italy was also enamored with Wes Craven’s grainy rape/revenge horror outing The Last House on the Left. Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders is Italy’s answer to Craven’s horrifying redo of Ingmar Begrman’s The Virgin Spring, even marketed as the “new Last House” and using The Last House on the Left’s famous tagline, with minor alterations (“You can tell yourself it’s only a movie – but it won’t help”). Many have argued that Night Train Murders is actually a stronger and much more intelligent film than The Last House on the Left, but in reality, the film seems to be preoccupied with its graphic sexual assaults rather than really doing anything fresh or constructive with the story outside of some thin satire and a change in setting. It should also be pointed out that the film is poorly paced and (naturally) shoddily dubbed with eye-rolling dialogue. The only thing that saves the senseless clone is the acting, which is surprisingly strong for a controversial grindhouse throwaway.

Night Train Murders focuses on two pretty college girls, Margaret (Played by Irene Miracle) and Lisa (Played by Laura D’Angelo), who are taking an overnight train from Munich to Lisa’s parents home in Italy for Christmas. While on board, Margaret and Lisa cross paths with two thugs, Blackie (Played by Flavio Bucci) and Curly (Played by Gianfranco De Grassi), who hop aboard the train to avoid being arrested by the police. As they hide from the ticket collector, Blackie attempts to rape a pretty upper class woman (Played by Macha Meril), but is shocked that the woman begins seducing him and enjoying his advances. This promiscuous woman joins the two thugs on their journey, but the train is soon stopped after authorities get word of a bomb on board. The girls decide to hop on another train that guarantees they will reach their destination by morning and allow them to avoid the suspicious Blackie and Curly. As the girls settle in, they are shocked to discover that the two thugs and the woman who pursued them on the previous train are also on board. As night falls and the train cabins darken, Lisa and Margaret become the victims of rape and torture at the hands of Blackie, Curly, and the mysterious woman. As the night goes on, the girls begin to realize that no one is going to be able to save them and they begin wishing for death.

After the slow set up that hangs over the first act of Night Train Murders (the girls flirt with the thugs, Curly plays his harmonica, Blackie has graphic sex with the mysterious woman), director Lado settles in for almost forty minutes of graphic rape and jaw dropping torture that will certainly stir up the casual viewer, but frankly just exhaust the hardened horror buff. The initial first encounters during the lengthy rape sequence are certainly appalling (the deflowering with the switchblade comes to mind), but after a while, you are left checking your watch and wishing that Lado would move on with the story. When we do finally move past the nasty stuff, Lado seems to rush the confrontation between Lisa’s parents and these three sadistic individuals. If you are familiar with The Last House on the Left, you obviously know that the parents cross paths with the thugs and proceed to serve up a bloody plate of revenge. Night Train Murders approaches the sequence as almost an afterthought, and the way the parents figure out what has happened feels forced. When the sparks finally do fly, things do get bloody, but it never reaches the levels of violence that The Last House on the Left reaches. Amazingly, there is plenty of atmosphere during the final confrontation (the billowing fog and the whistling wind do send chills as Lado fixes his camera on a dead body), but the action feels a bit sanitized for a film that seems well aware that it is a knock-off exploitation film. It sadly never achieves the realism that Craven achieved.

Night Train Murders Crop 2

For an exploitation film, Night Train Murders does muster some above average performances from its leads. Miracle and D’Angelo are certainly sympathetic as Margaret and Lisa, especially when they realize that there is no hope of escape from these three maniacs. Especially effective is D’Angelo’s Lisa, a virgin who is violated with a switchblade and then left to bleed out. As far as the thugs go, Bucci and De Grassi will make your skin crawl as Blackie and Curly. One is just as bad as the other, the loose cannon easily being Curly, who happens to be an unpredictable junkie with a sinister harmonica. Meril’s mysterious woman (we never do learn her real name), who joins forces with Blackie and Curly, is probably the creepiest character in the film, a seemingly sophisticated upper class woman who conceals her darker interests in porno and smirks at the violence erupting around her in the final moments. It is frightening the way evil is lured out during an attempted rape, a horrific act that she enjoys. And we can’t forget Enrico Maria Salerno and Marina Berti as Lisa’s parents, Giulio and Laura, two more upper class citizens who erupt in quivering carnage even though they state their dislike for violence in society.

At times, Night Train Murders seems to have a bit more on its mind than simply rape and revenge, but the idea of violence lurking in the most civilized human beings seems stale and borrowed, much like the plot itself. The film is effective with its claustrophobic setting (very rarely does Lado’s camera venture out of the train cabin) and the image of a switchblade stuck between Lisa’s legs is certainly something that will not leave your memory any time soon, but the film never manages to sicken like it thinks it does. The middle section just becomes tedious and sadly, boredom begins to set in. It should also be noted that the film packs a beautiful and haunting score from Ennio Morricone, a nice little surprise for the viewer. Overall, if you’ve exhausted your copy of The Last House on the Left and you’ve admired Bergman’s staggering The Virgin Spring, Night Train Murders is worth checking out simply for the slightly different take on the story. However, if you’re an exploitation fan, Night Train Murders will leave you longing for the scummy realism of Craven’s film.

Grade: C+

Night Train Murders is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Advertisements

Argo Wins Best Picture!

Argo (1)

Congratulations to Argo for taking home the Best Picture Oscar!

And the Oscar goes to…

85thacademy

Hey readers,

The 85th Annual Academy Awards are tonight at 8:30! If you’re a film buff, you are more than ready to get the show on the road. For those who can’t watch or don’t really care to sit through the ceremony, Anti-Film School will have you covered with live updates of the winners. Watch the post throughout the show and I will indicate who takes the Oscar in every category. On with the show!

-Theater Management (Steve)

Best Picture:

“Amour”

“Argo” WINNER

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”

“Django Unchained”

“Silver Linings Playbook”

“Zero Dark Thirty”

“Lincoln”

“Les Miserables”

“Life of Pi”

Best Director:

David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Ang Lee, “Life of Pi” WINNER

Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”

Michael Haneke, “Amour”

Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Best Supporting Actor:

Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained” WINNER

Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”

Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Alan Arkin, “Argo”

Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”

Best Supporting Actress:

Sally Field, “Lincoln”

Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables” WINNER

Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”

Amy Adams, “The Master”

Best Actor:

Daniel Day Lewis, “Lincoln” WINNER

Denzel Washington, “Flight”

Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”

Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”

Best Actress:

Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”

Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”

Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook” WINNER

Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”

Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Best Original Screenplay:

“Zero Dark Thirty”

“Django Unchained” WINNER

“Moonrise Kingdom”

“Amour”

“Flight”

Best Adapted Screenplay:

“Lincoln”

“Silver Linings Playbook”

“Argo” WINNER

“Life of Pi”

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Best Animated Feature:

“Frankenweenie”

“The Pirates! Band of Misfits”

“Wreck-It Ralph”

“Paranorman”

“Brave” WINNER

Best Foreign Feature:

“Amour” WINNER

“A Royal Affair”

“Kon-Tiki”

“No”

“War Witch”

Best Visual Effects:

“Life of Pi” WINNER

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

“The Avengers”

“Prometheus”

“Snow White and the Huntsman”

Best Cinematography:

“Skyfall”

“Anna Karenina”

“Django Unchained”

“Life of Pi” WINNER

“Lincoln”

Best Costume Design:

“Anna Karenina” WINNER

“Les Miserables”

“Lincoln”

“Mirror Mirror”

“Snow White and the Huntsman”

Best Documentary Feature:

“Searching for Sugar Man”. WINNER

“How to Survive a Plague”

“The Gatekeepers”

“5 Broken Cameras”

“The Invisible War”

Best Documentary Short:

“Open Heart”

“Inocente” WINNER

“Redemption”

“Kings Point”

“Mondays at Racine”

Best Film Editing:

“Lincoln”

“Silver Linings Playbook”

“Life of Pi”

“Argo” WINNER

“Zero Dark Thirty”

Best Makeup:

“Hitchcock”

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

“Les Miserables” WINNER

Best Music (Original Score):

“Anna Karenina”

“Argo”

“Life of Pi” WINNER

“Lincoln”

“Skyfall”

Best Music (Original Song):

“Before My Time” from “Chasing Ice”

“Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from “Ted”

“Pi’s Lullaby” from “Life of Pi”

“Skyfall” from “Skyfall” WINNER

“Suddenly” from “Les Misérables”

Best Production Design:

“Anna Karenina”

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

“Les Misérables”

“Life of Pi”

“Lincoln” WINNER

Best Short Film, Animated:

“Adam and Dog”

“Fresh Guacamole”

“Head over Heels”

“Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’”

“Paperman” WINNER

Best Short Film, Live Action:

“Asad”

“Buzkashi Boys”

“Curfew” WINNER

“Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)”

“Henry”

Best Sound Editing:

“Argo”

“Django Unchained”

“Life of Pi”

“Skyfall”

“Zero Dark Thirty” WINNER

Best Sound Mixing:

“Argo”

“Les Misérables” WINNER

“Life of Pi”

“Lincoln”

“Skyfall”

A trailer you have to see… And Oscar news!

Hey readers,

From time to time, I’ll post a trailer for a movie I can’t wait to see. As many of you know, I’m a HUGE Batman fan, so I was really excited to learn that there is a documentary about Batman and his impact on his fans on the way. This is a small, independent documentary that I really stand behind and I sincerely hope it gets to reach a mainstream audience. The film is called Legends of the Knight and boy, does this look like a moving experience.

Also, if you’re a film buff, you know that the Oscar’s are tomorrow evening. Last year, I did live updates of the winners on the site and I will be doing the same thing this year . I’ll be re-posting the list of nominees tomorrow afternoon and throughout the show, I will be posting the winners as they are called. So, if you can’t see the show, keep an eye on Anti-Film School. I’ll keep you filled in.

Also, a review of Night Train Murders is coming Monday. What better way to follow up the Oscars than with a review of a sleazy Last House on the Left rip off.

-Theater Management (Steve)

The Beyond (1981)

The Beyond (1981)

by Steve Habrat

Italian director Lucio Fulci (the “Godfather of Gore”) is the man responsible for some of the most extreme horror films released in the late 70s into the mid 80s. Probably best known for his 1979 grindhouse gross-out Zombie, Fulci is also celebrated, at least by horror buffs, for his unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy. Beginning with 1980’s City of the Living Dead and ending with 1981’s The House by the Cemetery, the series peaked with The Beyond, the second film in the zombie-filled trilogy. Loved by both horror fans and exploitation gurus (Quentin Tarantino has said he is a fan and his Rolling Thunder Pictures even re-released the film into theaters a few years back), The Beyond is a surreal zombie nightmare that boasts a number of striking images combined with the director’s trademark carnage that every horror fan has come to expect when watching one of his films. It really doesn’t take the viewer long to understand why the film has earned the cult following that it has, especially when Fulci starts out by diving head first into a nasty sepia-colored crucifixion. Looking at The Beyond today, the effects are dated, the dubbing horrendous, and the acting about as over-the-top as you can get, but Fulci still manages to craft a fairly solid horror film that surprisingly gouges its way under your skin (that is, when you’re not chuckling at it).

The Beyond begins in 1927 Louisiana, with an angry mob storming the Seven Gates Hotel and brutally killing an artist named Schweick (Played by Antoine Saint-John). The mob believes that Schweick is a warlock, but little do they know that when they spill his blood, they will unknowingly open a gateway to Hell, which happens to be nestled underneath the Seven Gates Hotel. When this gateway is opened, it allows the dead to enter the realm of the living. Several decades later, a young woman by the name of Liza (Played by Catriona MacColl) has inherited the dilapidated Seven Gates Hotel and is planning on re-opening it once renovations are finished. As the renovations continue, strange apparitions spook the workers and some are seriously injured in freak accidents. To make things worse on Liza, the hotel comes with two suspicious servants, Martha (Played by Veronica Lazar) and Arthur (Played by Giampaolo Saccarola), who are constantly snooping around Liza’s room. When a plumber is brutally murdered and a rotten corpse turns up in the basement of the hotel, Liza teams up with Dr. John McCabe (Played by David Warbeck) to get to the bottom of the bizarre events. Their search leads them to Emily (Played by Sarah Keller), a mysterious blind woman who warns Liza about the hotel’s gruesome history and the dead who roam the basement.

In typical Fulci fashion, the plotline of The Beyond is an absolute mess, but you’re not really here for a satisfying story. No, if you’re stepping into Fulci’s world, you are there for the stomach churning gore, which usually revolves around the eyes (Fulci had a thing with the eyes). The Beyond is more than eager to deliver the violence we have all come expect from the “Godfather of Gore” and it certainly will have some reaching for the barf bag. Eye balls are gouged out, heads are impaled by jagged nails (complete with popped-out eyeballs), faces are eaten off by acid, people are crucified, one character is horrifically whipped with chains, another character has a massive hole blown into their head, man-eating tarantulas eat a character’s face off, and another character has their throat ripped out by a rabid dog. If that is not enough, wait until the zombie-filled climax, with the undead shuffling around a seemingly deserted hospital in search of an all-you-can-eat buffet of entrails. If you’ve seen Fulci’s Zombie or City of the Living Dead, you already know that these ghouls shuffle slowly, are decayed beyond belief, and moan through deep, heavy breathing. They certainly are impressive and Fulci is well aware that they are absolutely disgusting. Yet despite how gross The Beyond can be, Fulci still coughs up a few creepy images (as well as bloody vomit) that will certainly cause a few sleepless nights. Silhouetted zombies shuffle through the cobwebbed hotel, the blind Emily waits for Liza in the middle of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, and a rotting apparition appears in the bathroom of a supposedly haunted hotel room. It’s freaky stuff!

The Beyond (1981)

The Beyond also happens to boasts some fairly decent acting, a rarity in both Fulci’s work and exploitation cinema. MacColl is likable enough as the frightened Liza, a New Yorker who doesn’t believe in supernatural ghouls. Warbeck gets by as the pistol-packing doctor who just can’t seem to understand that you have to shoot the zombies in the head. Even if he never learns how to slay the undead, he’s good as the macho hero. Keller is easily the best as Emily, the blind girl with more than a few secrets of her own (her eyes will make your skin crawl). Her character gets the creepiest introduction, standing calmly right in the middle of the causeway as Liza’s car speeds towards her. Lazar and Saccarola are hilariously suspicious as the creepy servants that roam the hallways of the hotel. The best of the duo is easily Saccarola, who mopes around sweating and always looking terrified of something we never see. For horror buffs looking for a neat little Easter egg, keep an eye out for a cameo from Fulci, who appears as the librarian who leaves an architect to be eaten by an army of tarantulas.

Perhaps the strongest film from Fulci, The Beyond is certainly the artiest offering from the Italian horror master. He takes a little more care when putting his gothic images together and he really puts some effort into building a menacing atmosphere deep in the bayou. While the zombie climax is certainly fun, you can’t shake the feeling that it is a sequence that has been tacked on. Apparently, the film’s German distributor wanted to capitalize on the zombie craze that was ripping through Europe at the time, so they demanded that Fulci write in some undead cannibals. At least they look really creepy! You may also catch yourself chuckling at the music, which seems like it would have been more at home in a daytime soap opera rather than a ultra-gory horror film. Overall, The Beyond certainly has its fair share of goofs and flaws, but you just can’t resist its midnight movie appeal and its jaw-dropping violence. If you can, see it on the big screen with a bunch of horror enthusiast or watching with all the lights turned out. This one is guaranteed to make squirm even if you are laughing at the obviously fake tarantula eating a guy’s tongue out.

Grade: B+

The Beyond is available on DVD. If you can, try to pick up Grindhouse Releasing’s copy of the film.

The 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2013

2013

by Steve Habrat

After some of last year’s massive releases (The Hunger Games, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit), you had to wonder if 2013 could even hold a candle to what blockbusters blasted their way through the local Regal Cinemas in 2012. It turns out that 2013 looks to be packing some seriously entertaining movies that will be luring us in droves to the theater throughout the year. So, without further ado, here are ten movies I just cannot wait to see this year. I’ll see ya at the theater.

Monsters University

10.) Monster’s University

Let’s be honest, in the past two years, Pixar has sort of been tanking. Absolutely no one but a rabid bunch of seven year olds was asking for a sequel to Cars and Brave had its heart in the right place but it fell short of being a true classic. Enter those lovable spooks Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc, who may just be able to shake Pixar out of their frustrating funk. If you haven’t seen the trailer for the movie, do make sure you check it out. It’s absolutely hilarious. Acting as a prequel to Monsters, Inc, Monster’s University shows us all how Mike and Sully met in college and how they formed their friendship. There is a lot riding on this, Pixar, so don’t screw it up.

Pacific Rim

9.) Pacific Rim

Since 2008, visionary director Guillermo del Toro has been busy playing the role of producer to some middle of the road horror movies and some lackluster animated features. This summer, the director of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth returns to the director’s chair with Pacific Rim, an apocalyptic science-fiction epic about giant monsters emerging from a portal under the sea and ripping humans to shreds. Well, it just so happens that the humans have developed giant robots that are capable of kicking monster ass. The trailer looks like the coolest B-movie you will ever see and the action looks like it will shake down the walls of the theater. Count me in, Mr. del Toro. I’ll be there wearing a pair of 3D glasses and a smile from ear to ear.

World War Z

8.) World War Z

Everywhere you look these days, it is all about zombies, which isn’t a bad thing. Naturally, Hollywood is taking notice (again) and bringing World War Z, the zombie epic from Max Brooks, to the big screen. Yes, the trailer isn’t a complete knockout and it is directed by Marc Foster, the director of the forgettable Bond movie Quantum of Solace, but it did appear to have some MASSIVE zombie action. If you’re looking for another plus, look no further than Brad Pitt, who is starring as a terrified family man in this epic adventure of the undead. While I don’t expect it to match the quality of the book, it has been a while since there has been a really great zombie movie in theaters. It’s about time we got another zombie fix!

Evil Dead

7.) Evil Dead

Initially, I wasn’t sold on this spiffed up remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic but then I laid eyes on the gore-drenched trailer. My jaw was on the floor and I considered jumping onto Fandango to grab an advanced ticket right then and there. Produced by Raimi, original star Bruce Campbell, original producer Robert G. Tapert, and directed by Fede Alvarez, Evil Dead looks like it will be THE horror movie to see this year. The trailer has it all, the boomstick, arms being sawed off, showers of pus, firehose blasts of blood, tongues being cut in half, and, yes, those frisky trees. If you are a fan of horror or Raimi’s terrifying original, you’re probably already in line. I’m going to call it now and say this movie is going to rock.

The Great Gatsby

6.) The Great Gatsby

Originally supposed to be in theaters on Christmas day 2012, this lavish interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic story looks like it is going to pack enough eye candy to fuel a dozen blockbusters. It’s directed by Baz Lurhmann (Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge), so you know it will be hip and stylish, and it stars none other than Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, which automatically makes it a must see (Did you see him in Django Unchained?!). Certainly an odd release for summer 2013 (and in 3D?), it should be interesting to see how the film lands with critics, especially since it is never a good sign when a release date is tinkered with, and how the film stacks up against its superhero (Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, Man of Steel) and science fiction (Star Trek) competition.

Kick Ass 2

5.) Kick Ass 2

I’m a superhero nut. If you haven’t figured it out by now then there may be something wrong with you. I absolutely LOVED 2010’s Kick Ass, a film that ended up making my ten best of that year. It was bizarre, controversial, funny, smart, exciting, and just plain unique. With director Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf, Never Back Down) taking over original director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake), I fear the film may not hit you across the face like the first film did, but with Jim Carrey signing on as ex-mobster-turned-superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes and even more of Chloe Grace Mortez’s foul-mouthed Hit Girl, how could you not be intrigued?

The-Lone-Ranger-2013-e1349266452792

4.) The Lone Ranger

Many people are already trashing Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, labeling it a dud before it even hits theaters. Give it a chance, people! I understand that Cowboys vs. Aliens left a bad taste in your mouth but this should be infinitely more fun than that piece of trash. With the very talented Armie Hammer (The Social Network) behind that famous mask, Johnny Depp bringing heaping amounts of weird to Tonto, and plenty of smashing and crashing trains, this should be a big, loud, and rollicking adventure across the west. Plus, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was really good and Rango proved that Verbinski is up-and-up on his westerns. So, can we stop judging this before we see it?

Star Trek

3.) Star Trek: Into Darkness

If you are one of the people who has yet to see J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie, you may want to just run out and pick up the Blu-ray now. It’s THAT good and I’m not even a Star Trek buff. After a lengthy wait, we FINALLY get a follow-up that looks like it will smash the first film to smithereens. Cities are leveled, Pine’s Captain Kirk looks like he has finally met his match, Zachary Quinto’s Spock looks like he is finally getting with Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, and Benedict Cumberbatch looks like he is going to make your skin crawl as Khan. Who’s up for the midnight showing?

Iron Man 3

Thor

2.) Iron Man 3/Thor: The Dark World

A tie at number 2?! Come on, guys, we can kinda lump these two together. The Avengers kicked major ass and you know full well these two films will be working hard to both set up The Avengers sequel and sort of tie in with each other. Plus, the first Thor was a pleasant surprise and Iron Man 3 looks like it will have some rip-roaring action that will have you jumping back in line for seconds. I mean, did you SEE the Super Bowl trailer for Iron Man 3? I thought so. We have yet to see a trailer for Thor: The Dark World but I’m confident it will be just as impressive. Keep up the good work, Marvel. Don’t let us down now.

Man of Steel

1.) Man of Steel

Being a massive DC comics fan (my favorite superhero is Batman), I’m always rooting for their movies but I think we can all agree that they have produced some major duds over the years. The last time we saw Superman, he was hovering around Metropolis in Superman Returns, sulking over Lois Lane, fighting Lex Luthor (again), and creepily watching a kid he believed to be his son. It was a huge disappointment and also the cure for insomnia. Thankfully, Brandon Routh and Bryan Singer are out and Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan are in for Man of Steel. Yes, I know Snyder has directed a few questionable films (300, Sucker Punch) but he did a bang up job with Watchmen (I’m sure many will disagree with me there), and Nolan managed to produce the greatest superhero trilogy of all time (The Dark Knight Trilogy). Together, it appears that they may have successfully reinvented Supes and made him exciting again. The two trailers we have seen so far have suggested a darker atmosphere and a brooding tone, but boy, does this movie look exciting. With an all-star cast in place and General Zod being the villain (excuse me while I nerd out for a minute), Man of Steel is shaping up to be the must-see film of the summer.

Didn’t see the movie you’re looking forward to on this list? Leave a comment and tell me which movie you can’t wait to see. I love hearing from you!

Side Effects (2013)

Side Effects (2013)

by Steve Habrat

Rumor has it that Side Effects, the slinky, sexy new psychological thriller from busybody director Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike) will be his final motion picture. If this is true, Side Effects is certainly a high note to bow out on. An edge-of-your-seat exercise that would please Alfred Hitchcock, Side Effects threatens to take aim at prescription drugs and the long lists of side effects that may come with taking them, but half way through, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns decide to double cross the viewer. What comes next is a glossy, upper-class murder mystery that creeps up behind you and sends a chill down your spine. It certainly isn’t the film you expect it to be, mostly because Side Effects has been advertised as a hazy tale of prescription drug side effects spiraling those who pop the anti-depressant Ablixa, the fictional drug prescribed to those suffering from depression within the film, into a murderous daze. You will be surprised by what the filmmakers have in store for you and, more importantly, you will not be able to resist the sensual pull of the story. And then there is the haunting performances, mostly from the unpredictable Rooney Mara, who constructs another firecracker of a character.

Side Effects follows 28-year-old Emily Taylor (Played by Rooney Mara), the wife of Martin Taylor (Played by Channing Tatum), who recently returned home after serving a 4-year prison sentence for insider trading. As Martin figures out a way to get their lives back on track, Emily suddenly attempts to commit suicide. After recovering, Emily is sent to Dr. Jonathan Banks (Played by Jude Law), a psychiatrist who puts Emily on a number of anti-depressants that appear to do nothing for her. With every option exhausted and Emily still contemplating suicide, Jonathan decides to put Emily on the experimental drug Ablixa. Ablixa appears to be helping Emily and her life with Martin seems to be getting back on track, but one evening, Emily viscously attacks Martin in a daze. Emily is arrested for the attack and the police begin an investigation that could threaten Jonathan’s practice. Growing desperate to get to the bottom of the mysterious attack, Jonathan seeks out Victoria Siebert (Played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), Emily’s former psychiatrist who offers up disturbing new information. As Jonathan digs deeper into Emily’s past, he stumbles upon secrets that will not just destroy his career, but also shatter his happy marriage.

Side Effects turns out to be a very difficult film to review, as the second half of the film is ripe with surprises, some being very clever and some flirting with silliness. The film really gets by on its element of surprise and its best you don’t know much about the story going in. Despite some far-fetched touches to the script, the film does keep you intrigued with where it is going to slither off to next. If Side Effects turns out to be Soderbergh’s last film, he can retire knowing that he delivered an extremely well-made film. Some scenes begin out of focus, with characters or objects slowly revealing themselves to the viewer. It is a nifty touch that subtly mirrors the secrets of the plot slowly becoming clear to the viewer. It also gives the film a surreal feel, making the lavish New York City penthouses, offices, and apartments seem chillingly distorted or generally off-putting. Soderbergh then drenches the sets in a warm orange glow with plenty of ominous shadows creeping over the characters, their lavish worlds slipping into a darkness. Then there is the inescapable erotic atmosphere that hangs over the shady events, a seductive mood complimented by sexy trip-hop tunes on the soundtrack. It certainly is a hip and pretty package that is eager to compliment its four photogenic leads.

Side Effects (2013)

Bringing the sexual sparks she brought to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rooney Mara sizzles once again as the glassy-eyed Emily, a woman drunk on wealth and distraught over it disappearing in the blink of an eye. She is bone chilling as she descends into bizarre sleepwalking spells that find her fixing dinner for three even though she has no children with Martin (another plot twist that rattles the viewer). When she blankly jabs the knife into Martin’s stomach, more than a few people in the showing I attended jumped and erupted in horror and disbelief at what was occurring. It is clear that Mara is aware that she is very good at doing crazy and she really brings the crazy here. It is said that Blake Lively was originally up for the role of Emily but thankfully it went to someone with more talent. Tatum does a fine job as the confused yet understanding husband, who is well aware of the grief he has brought on Emily. He is given a supporting role here but he doesn’t resort to phoning the performance in. Law wins us over as a victim caught up in a web of lies and deceit. You really feel for him as his life crashes down around him and you’ll smile to yourself as he devises way to stay one step ahead of those trying to bring him down. Zeta-Jones is as vampy as ever as the sinister Victoria, a woman who acts as if she wants to help the troubled Emily any way she can yet conceals disturbing behavior in the past.

At an hour and forty-five minutes, Side Effects is practically over in the blink of an eye because, frankly, there is never a dull moment. Soderbergh is constantly framing a fascinating image, capturing a spine-tingling performance, or making the hair on your arm stand at attention when Emily slips into a daze. You can’t shake the feeling that the film would have fared better if it would have kept its attention on prescription drugs and their seemingly never-ending list of side effects. Still, Soderbergh and Burns refuse to dumb themselves down in the second act even if they do get a bit carried away with a certain relationship (you’ll see what I mean). Overall, Side Effects is a surprisingly beefy film that is glaringly out of place for this time of year. A handsomely made and clean-cut thriller that isn’t afraid to send the viewer away deep in thought. Side effects may include your stomach twisting into knots, a desire to see it twice, an unwillingness to take any medication you may be on, and an incurable fear of Rooney Mara. See it before all the surprises have been spoiled.

Grade: B+

Night of the Creeps (1986)

Night of the Creeps Crop 1

by Steve Habrat

If you happen to be a horror nostalgia nut and are looking to relive the glory days of the genre, you most certainly have heard of or seen Fred Dekker’s 1986 nod to 50s science fiction, zombie flicks, and B-movies Night of the Creeps. Basically a Heinz 57 mash-up of everything including zombies, the slasher genre, the hardboiled detective, 50s alien flicks, and Ed Wood’s schlocky classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, Night of the Creeps is a fairly satisfying, if a bit flawed, tribute to the horror genre. Wearing its influences on its bloody sleeves (the characters are all named after legendary horror directors), if you’re a diehard fan of horror (or 80s movies), you’re going to find plenty to chuckle over for 90 minutes. Night of the Creeps puts quite a bit of emphasis on its zombie angle and Dekker knows how to deliver the zombie action, but in places, the film appears to be juggling too many references and some fall flat. Still, Night of the Creeps stands as one of the stronger efforts in the zombie genre, and it also gets by on its nifty black and white opening sequences and some truly memorable performances from Steve Marshall as the handicapped J.C. and Tom Atkins as the heartbroken detective Ray Cameron who shouts “Thrill me” when he arrives at a crime scene.

Night of the Creeps begins in 1959, with a deadly alien experiment accidentally being unleashed from a UFO and crashing to earth. Meanwhile, a young college man picks up his date and the two head to a local make out spot to gaze at the stars despite warnings of an escaped homicidal maniac roaming the woods. As the two stare off into space, they spot an unusually bright shooting star that crashes into the woods. The young man dashes into the woods to investigate and leaves his date alone in the car. Naturally, the homicidal maniac stumbles upon the girl and hacks her up with an axe and the boy is exposed to strange alien-like slugs that attack him. 28 years later, nerdy college students Chris Romero (Played by Jason Lively) and James Carpenter “J.C.” Hooper (Played by Steve Marshall) are prowling Corman University’s campus searching for girls. Chris sets his sights on cool girl Cynthia Cronenberg (Played by Jill Whitlow), a sorority sister who seems to only be interested in fraternity guys. To impress Cynthia, Chris and J.C. decide to join a fraternity. As part of their pledge, Chris and J.C. are forced to steal a cadaver from the university medical center and leave it on the steps of Cynthia’s sorority house. While snooping around the medical center, Chris and J.C. stumble upon a mysterious cadaver that has been frozen and sealed off in a top-secret room. Chris and J.C. attempt to steal the body but they are scared off when the cadaver wakes up and tries to grab them. As Chris and J.C. rethink how to impress Cynthia, the mysterious cadaver begins prowling the campus and unleashing the alien worms, which infect the students and turn them into zombies. Meanwhile, Detective Ray Cameron (Played by Tom Atkins) investigates gruesome deaths around the campus, slowly realizing that he may be battling the walking dead.

As a tip of the hat to horror subgenres, Night of the Creeps is pretty solid but some of the tributes don’t gel like they should. The film attempts to work in a slasher angle that seems glaringly out of place and it is sort of left dangling at the end. However, when Dekker remains in the science fiction/zombie realm, the film is really a lot of fun. Being mostly a zombie movie, you naturally expect the violence to be cranked up to eleven but Night of the Creeps never gets too out of hand with its carnage. The zombies have some nasty wounds and there are a few glimpses of dead bodies with their heads split open, but Dekker never embraces Romero or Fulci levels of zombie violence. Still, that doesn’t mean that Dekker is soft on the viewer and doesn’t deliver the zombie mayhem. There is a fun little siege on a sorority house that finds Atkins storming in and announcing, “I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.” It is morbid little gems of dialogue like this that really make up for the lack of gut munching and blood slurping. The lack of overly elaborate special effects has helped Night of the Creeps age a bit more gracefully than some 80s horror movies but the film does shoot itself in the foot when it tosses in a few zombie pets. Sure, the viewer is supposed to take them with a wink and a big slice of cheese, but they certainly are not convincing. At least Dekker uses a zombified kitty to pay respect to Lucio Fulci’s blood-soaked classic Zombie.

Night of the Creeps (1986)

As far as the acting goes, Night of the Creeps turns out to be a mixed body bag. Atkins does most of the heavy lifting as the massively entertaining Ray Cameron but his character does suffer a bit because he is linked to the slasher side story. It adds depth to his character and it allows him to connect with Lively’s Chris, but it still seemed unnecessary. Marshall is also a stand out of the sarcastic J.C., the handicapped best bud who does everything in his power to get his best buddy laid. He gets in a number of good jabs at the obnoxious fraternity brothers that torment them. Lively tries his best to hang with Marshall but his Chris is lacking the feisty personality that J.C. possesses. Still, he gets by and we do sort of root for him to pull the girl. Perhaps the worst of the main players is Whitlow’s Cynthia, a pretty girl who just can’t seem to stop flirting with beer chugging goofballs and flashing her boobs. Her character seemed a bit too whiny at times and there simply for eye candy, but she does step up in the final stretch of the film. I suppose a flamethrower can make anyone look cool. Alan Kayser also shows up as the ultimate bully douche bag, Brad, who enjoys tormenting poor Chris and J.C. He shines as the dimwitted oaf and he is even better as a cloudy-eyed zombie who shows up at Cynthia’s door.

While Night of the Creeps is never very scary, the movie does have more than enough raunchy teen comedy to go around. The exchanges between Chris and J.C. are pretty great and Atkins is hilariously over the top as the hardboiled detective. There are a few tense moments here and there, especially when Chris and Cynthia get trapped in a garden shed as zombies attempt to get in from every side. Fans of 50s science fiction will also be giddy during the marvelous black and white opening sequence. Every horror fan will also have a blast with the names of the characters and spotting references to their favorite classic horror film. Make sure you stay alert for references to George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), John Carpenter (Halloween), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), James Cameron (Aliens), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), David Cronenberg (The Fly), and Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2). Overall, Night of the Creeps is more of a big college party than an all out horror fest and there are plenty of surprises to keep you hooked, but some shaky acting and clunky tributes prevent the film from reaching a classic status. It doesn’t matter though, because you’ll keep coming back and screaming “thrill me” right along with Atkins.

Grade: B+

Night of the Creeps is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

The Best and Worst of 2012

Best of 2012

by Steve Habrat

I’ll be honest with you, folks, this was a difficult list to do this year. There were a ton of really great movies released in 2012. While I haven’t even come close to seeing every film released, I did try to catch all the biggest movies that made their way to the local theater. I was hoping to have this list up last week but I have fallen behind due to coming down with the a nasty case of stomach flu. So, without further ado, here are my picks for the finest films of 2012, some honorable mentions, and the five biggest stinkers I sat through. Oh, and number 10 is a tie. Please don’t hurt me.

THE BEST: 

Frankenweenie

ParaNorman

10.) Frankenweenie/ParaNorman

This might be cheating but I’m sort of lumping these two together. Usually, Pixar’s animated offerings are snagging a spot on my top 10 but for the second year in a row, Pixar failed to live up to the quality of their previous films (Up, Toy Story 3, Wall-E).  Plus, maybe I’m a sucker for macabre stop motion animation. After two massive duds (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows), Tim Burton finally returns to form with the black and white Frankenweenie, a touching story about a boy and his undead pooch. Maybe you have to be an animal lover and have a soft spot for the Universal Monsters, but I have a feeling that this film will gain a following in the years to come (hopefully by more than just the Hot Topic crowd). Then we have ParaNorman, the hilarious and relentlessly clever zombie romp from Laika about a misfit named Norman who can talk to the dead. It is really hard for me to pick one film over the other but if I honestly had to, I think I’d go with Burton’s big-hearted and downright adorable creature feature. I know what it is like to loose a pet that you love very much and Frankenweenie really nails that feeling. Don’t get me wrong though; both are extremely sweet movies that are infinitely better than Adam Sandler’s obnoxious Hotel Transylvania.

Killing Them Softly

9.) Killing Them Softly

Some dismissed Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly as too heavy handed and about as subtle as a sledge hammer to the teeth. Who cares?! Killing Them Softly is a chilling, apocalyptic, atmospheric, and darkly hilarious gangster film that sends the viewer away more than a little freaked out. Using the 2008 presidential election and the recession as the backdrop, Dominik’s film contains little to no hope and is a grim reminder that in America, we are all on our own. No politician is coming to save us and put us back on our feet. Featuring a powerhouse performance from Brad Pitt (No Oscar love?!) and some truly disturbing sequences (Ray Liotta receives a shockingly brutal beating in a rainstorm and Pitt blows a gangster away as Ketty Lester’s haunting ‘Love Letters’ echoes on the soundtrack), Killing Them Softly is a black-as-night gangster thriller that will stick with you for the rest of your life. I think John over at The Droid You’re Looking For can back me up with this one making the list.

Moonrise Kingdom

8.) Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s whimsical tale about young love in the last days of summer is his quirkiest and most heartwarming film yet. It is the type of film you would want to watch on a warm summer evening with someone you love. Credit should go to the two irresistible leads, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, the runaway tykes who have more of a grasp on true love than the warring, irresponsible adults who look after them. While Moonrise Kingdom belongs to the kids, the adults certainly do their best to match them. Bruce Willis is outstanding as a heartbroken cop hot on the trail of the runaways while Bill Murray and Frances McDormand steal every scene they are in as dysfunctional parents. And we can’t forget Edward Norton’s bumbling Scout Master Ward, who gets the film’s best line (Jiminy crickets, he flew the coop!). Brimming with innocence and adventure, Moonrise Kingdom may just be Anderson’s masterpiece.

Beasts of Southern Wild

7.) Beasts of Southern Wild

Talk about a film that could move mountains! Benh Zeitlin’s radiant fable about six-year-old Hushpuppy and her life in the Louisiana bayou called “the Bathtub” possess a grimy beauty that took the cinema world by storm earlier this year at Sundance. It went on to be the little film that could over the summer. While I was worried that Beasts of Southern Wild would become a victim of its own hype, the emotional beating the film dishes out and the stark reality of the environment left this viewer staggered. It also didn’t hurt that it contains a jaw dropping performance from the pint-sized Quvenzhané Wallis as the curious little Hushpuppy. You’ll beam as the film focuses on the complex relationship between Huspuppy and her unpredictable father, Wink, who is battling a mysterious illness, and admire the resilience of the individuals who call “the Bathtub” home. Optimistic and brave even in the face of devastation, loss, and heartbreak; Beasts of Southern Wild is a film that overflows with hope and courage. Seek this one out immediately.

Silver Linings Playbook

6.) Silver Linings Playbook

Let’s be honest for a moment, the romantic comedy has seen better days. Most of the romantic comedies that come out of Hollywood today seem sugarcoated and downright clichéd. Well along comes David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, a gritty, hilarious, and touching story about love lost and love found. Credit should go to Russell, who presents serious character meltdowns with a stinging sense of humor, inviting us to laugh at the extreme ways love makes us behave. The film also owes a lot to the performances from Jennifer Lawrence, Jacki Weaver, Robert DeNiro, Chris Tucker, and Bradley Cooper, an actor that I am usually not a big fan of. Bravo Silver Linings Playbook for making me a fan, at least until the next Hangover movie comes out. In addition to being a sweet love story, the film is also a delicately handled family drama that reminds us that no matter how tough life gets, we can get through it with a little help from our loved ones, even if they sometimes seem crazier than we do.

Lincoln

5.) Lincoln

For the few people out there who still argue that Steven Spielberg is a big budget action hack, I point you towards Lincoln, one of the finest and most accomplished films of Mr. Spielberg’s career. A warts-and-all look at the final months of the 16th president’s life and his push to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, Lincoln is an unflinchingly rich glimpse inside the world of politics that demands to be seen twice. Meanwhile, Daniel Day Lewis slips into the role of Abraham Lincoln and then completely disappears into his skin like you wouldn’t believe. It is the performance of the year that all but guarantees him the Best Actor Oscar. At over two hours, Spielberg consistently refuses to adhere to the normal biopic rules and smartly ignores Lincoln’s early years. Instead, he simply paints a portrait of a man with a heavy heart and in the process he managed to humanize a larger-than-life hero. 

Zero Dark Thirty

4.) Zero Dark Thirty

Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s controversial look at the hunt for Osama bin Laden has been skewered by both political parties, one side claiming that it glorifies torture and the other screaming that it glorifies the Obama administration. How about you all shut up and take Bigelow’s film for what it is— a (mostly) honest if a bit fabricated-for-the-sake-of-story thriller that is essential viewing for all Americans. Zero Dark Thirty ultimately belongs Jessica Chastain’s tough-as-nails Maya, who oversees this seemingly never-ending firestorm with white-hot confidence. You’ll marvel at her no-nonsense approach to eliminating her target, the self-assured woman in a room full of skittish males who him and haw over how to attack our enemy. And I can’t forget the brilliant, white-knuckle final sequence, when the SEALs finally close in on that now famous compound in grainy night vision. While not nearly as tense as the almost flawless The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is a brooding morality tale that is left on the table for debate.

The Dark Knight Rises

3.) The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Batman trilogy is just as epic as he promised and just about as bleak as comic book movies come. While I’m sure this is a controversial choice to have in my top 10 of the year, I argue that Nolan once again expertly uses Gotham City to mirror our troubled times. There are hints of the Occupy Wall Street movement here and explorations of the War on Terror there, but it is the sheer scope of the film that truly holds us. Many say it takes a back seat to 2008’s game changer The Dark Knight but I have to go with this snarling beast over the other. It isn’t without flaws and Nolan is juggling a lot of ideas here, but The Dark Knight Rises reminds us that summer blockbusters do not have to simply be candy colored fluff. It demands that the comic book movie genre be taken seriously as high art and it plays by its own rules. This is a fitting and towering climax for one of the best trilogies of recent memory.

Argo

2.) Argo

After delivering two impressive Boston set thrillers (Gone Baby Gone and The Town), Ben Affleck goes global with Argo, which deals with the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. Argo finds Affleck smoothly navigating through astonishing but true events while measuring out a pinch of nostalgia for film buffs everywhere (I loved the retro Warner Bros. logo at the beginning). Perfectly paced, funny and light when it needs to be, and nerve racking where it really counts, Argo is a film that is the true definition of a crowd pleaser. When you aren’t hanging on how well made the film is, be sure to take in the wonderful performances from Alan Arkin as a cranky movie producer, John Goodman as the wisecracking Hollywood makeup artist, and Affleck himself as CIA specialist Tony Mendez. It may all be a bit predictable but you just can’t turn away from this liberally charged plea for peaceful approaches to violent conflicts. A must see of the highest order.

Django Unchained

1.) Django Unchained

Dare I say that Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s best film yet? Even better than Pulp Fiction? You better believe it is. Alive and gushing with the love of cinema and exploitation flicks of the 70s and 80s, Django Unchained is the most entertaining and satisfying movie of 2012. While many have complained over the unflinching use of the N-word and accused Tarantino of using slavery simply for escapist entertainment, I argue that he certainly doesn’t sugarcoat this dark chapter in American history (what we see here is pretty horrific if you ask me). At nearly three hours, this blaxploitation/spaghetti western epic is constantly witty, charismatic, and downright refreshing. It is bursting with some of the best performances of the year (Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson are all top notch) and it gets better every time you see it (I’m currently at two times and debating a third trip to the theater to see it). Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Django Unchained is Tarantino’s ultimate masterpiece, a blood-drenched valentine to the cinema of yesterday. I’m not kidding when I say that Tarantino had me smiling from beginning to end.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: 

The Avengers is an earth-shaking superhero mash-up that beams with jingoism.

Les Misérables is a bloated but soaring musical with knockout performances from Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman.

Skyfall is one of the most exciting and playful Bond films yet.

Looper is a refreshingly original science fiction drama.

Lawless is a chilly look at Prohibition.

The Cabin in the Woods gives the horror genre the jolt it has been searching for.

21 Jump Street is a raunchy and downright hilarious action comedy.

THE WORST: 

Silent House

5.) Silent House

Marketed as being one single shot and presented in real time, this cheeseball horror flick about a girl trapped in a house with what may or may not be a supernatural killer suffers from poor acting and a completely preposterous climax.

Rock of Ages

 4.) Rock of Ages 

This bland musical set to rocking 80s tunes is all glammed up with nowhere to go. Not even a superb Tom Cruise could wake the party up.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

3.) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

The abrasive follow up to the god-awful Ghost Rider finally gives the fans what they want and shows them what it looks like when the demonic hero urinates.

That's My Boy

2.) That’s My Boy

Adam Sandler goes R-rated and manages to produce one of the most offensive and unfunny films you will ever see. Keep away from it at all costs.

Total Recall

1.) Total Recall

The remake no one was begging for, this poor excuse for a science fiction thriller is like watching someone else play the dumbest video game ever created. I may never forgive you for this, Colin Farrell. Not even the three-breasted alien prostitute could make it interesting.

Les Misérables (2012)

Les Misérables (2012)

by Steve Habrat

Two years after Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech took the world by storm and made off with the Best Picture Oscar, the British director returns with a film so immense and extravagant, you won’t be able to believe your eyes. Hooper’s Les Misérables is certainly a worthy follow up to The King’s Speech, but in size and scope, Les Misérables blows it right out of the water. As epic as they come, Les Misérables is a big Hollywood blockbuster (and a shameless one at that), one sure to run away with awards like Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Production Design at the Academy Awards, but just like its predecessor, the film bowls over the viewer with one gigantic tidal wave of emotion after another. Just when you thought you’ve recovered from one heart wrenching moment, Hooper unleashes another one almost instantly. The film, and the stars who inhabit it, belt their hearts out as tears stream down their muddy faces, singing live over having the lyrics dubbed in post production. Each and every one of them will give you chills, especially Anne Hathaway’s teary-eyed “I Dreamed a Dream.” For as high as this film flies, it could still have stood to have at least forty minutes cut from it, mostly because by the final act, we do begin to feel it’s epic runtime of two hours and forty minutes. It appears that Hooper was wildly faithful to the musical and the novel by Victor Hugo, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Beginning in 1815, prisoner Jean Valjean (Played by Hugh Jackman) is released on parole by chilly prison guard Javert (Played by Russell Crowe) after serving a brutal seventeen-year sentence. Valjean is cast out into the world without any food or a home but is soon taken in by the kindly Bishop of Digne (Played by Colm Wilkinson), who offers him a hot meal and a bed. In the night, Valjean steals some of the Bishop’s silver and then flees, only to be quickly caught by local authorities. The Bishop insists that he gave Valjean the silver as a gift and demands that they let him go free. Moved by the Bishop’s kindness, Valjean breaks his parole and sets out to make a better life for himself. Eight years pass and Valjean, who goes by a new name, is now the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer and a factory owner. Employed at his factory is Fantine (Played by Anne Hathaway), who is discovered by her co-workers to be an illegitimate mother sending money to her sick daughter, Cosette (Played by Isabelle Allen), and is fired by the foreman. Desperate, Fantine turns to prostitution to make money but one evening, Javert confronts her after she attacks a belligerent customer. Javert tries to haul her off to jail but Valjean quickly stops him after he recognizes her from the factory. Near death, Fantine begs Valjean to find her daughter and to take care of her. Valjean agrees and sets out to find Cosette, but Javert begins to suspect that Valjean is the prisoner who broke parole eight years earlier and he begins hunting him down.

Each and every frame of Les Misérables looks like it cost almost $100 million dollars to project onto the screen. The makeup effects are absolutely astounding, especially the aging of Jackman’s Valjean as the story progresses. Every smudge of dirt and speck of filth so perfectly splattered across each actor’s face. Another standout moment is when Valjean trudges through the sewer with rebellious student Marius (Played by Eddie Redmayne) and human waste covers them from head to toe. It is appropriately nasty to the point where you can practically smell the stench. The costumes are all wildly detailed and eye catching, especially a jacket worn by Valjean with a massive collar. Then there are the special effects, especially the overhead shots of small villages and growing cities that are so fussy, they make you want to tear your hair out. Hooper hurls his camera directly at them to focus in on one specific character standing on the edge of a cliff or riding a horse through the streets. Later in the movie, there are one or two scenes that feel more like indoor sets rather than outdoor locations, which sort of take us out of the moment. I couldn’t help but wish that Hooper would have at least attempted to shoot them outside but I can’t imagine that he would have been able to pull off some of the environment detail that he was going for if he chose to shoot outside.

Les Misérables (2012)

The other big draw to the big screen adaptation of Les Misérables is the live singing done in front of the camera rather than the music studio. While many critics and audience members have complained that it was a failed experiment (I don’t really understand why they think it was a failed experiment), I personally liked it and found that it adds a layer of realism to the bombastic gloss of this expensive epic. It allowed Hooper to apply long takes of his actors doing the thing that pays them millions of dollars— act. Sure there are a few brief cuts here and there, but Hooper lets the camera sit (and sometimes pace) with all the actors. We get up close and personal views of brokenhearted emotion heating up and then boiling over as the viewer hangs on the frame in a state of awe. While some of the voices are certainly not going to nab a record deal (looking at you, Mr. Crowe), you still have to admire their confidence to let their voices soar. The lack of a true professional makes things all the more realistic and down-to-earth. Some musicals (not all) loose me when the actors sing like trained professionals.

While Les Misérables is beautiful to look at, the film wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for the downright incredible performances at the heart. While I’ve never downright hated Jackman as an actor, I could never really see the big deal about him but with Les Misérables, I am a true believer now. This guy is fantastic as Valjean, the tortured ex-prisoner who had his life turned upside down over stealing a mouthful of bread. While it is Jackman’s show, the one who makes off with the movie is Hathaway as Fantine, a woman forced into a life of hell. I promise that you will practically fall out of your seat when she performs “I Dreamed a Dream” as she battles back tears of embarrassment and defeat. It is a rare scene where the audience member actually wants to leap to their feet and break into applause. Crowe is great as the relentless Javert, who is always hot on Valjean’s heels. I can’t say too much for his vocal performance but the fact that he is really trying is good enough for me. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter drop by to add a bit of (grotesque) comedy to the mix as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, a couple of pick pockets who are taking care of darling little Cosette. Amanda Seyfried is a bit stiff as the adult Cosette, as is Redmayne as her suitor Marius. They get a last act love story and while it is effective, neither of them make us root for them like we should. Samantha Barks is also present as the Thénardier’s daughter Éponine, who secretly loves Marius. Barks wins our empathy with a lovely but painful solo performance in the rain.

While Les Misérables won’t win over every single viewer over, if you’re a fan of the book or the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, you are going to gush over Hooper’s achievement. I’d also say that if you enjoy musicals like I do, you are probably going to be hooked for a good majority of the movie. If you’re a casual moviegoer, be prepared for the longest two hours and forty minutes of your life. I still felt that the film ran a bit too long and some of the musical numbers could have been trimmed for a tighter and more inviting runtime, but there really isn’t one weak number of the bunch. Another minor complaint I had with the film was the fate of one of the characters, which just seemed downright bizarre and random. Overall, Les Misérables is overblown, funny, thrilling, mildly romantic, raw, repulsive, and most importantly, moving. It may have its flaws but is has everything a film fan could want in a movie and it really is a beautiful work of art to lay your eyes on. A phenomenal achievement for the very talented Mr. Hooper and the musical genre.

Grade: A-