'Jack Reacher' (2013) review by Steve Oatney —
Oh man, I almost hate to admit that I liked what I would typically consider to be a cliché tough-guy flick featuring the ex-military expert gone rogue to catch the bad guys and make them pay. Alas, I have to admit it, I liked Jack Reacher and was far more impressed, walking out of the theater, than I thought I’d be, walking in.
I’ve already stated that I found the overdone plot didn’t initially grab me, and on top of that, I’ve never had much love for Tom Cruise. While I did enjoy some of his films from the eighties (The Outsiders, Risky Business, Top Gun, and Rain Man), I’ve just never given Tom his just due when it comes to acting chops, until now.
Yes, he did a fine job in A Few Good Men and Vanilla Sky, but overall I just never found him able to become the characters he played, well enough to compel me to be a Cruise-fan. Well, I take back all the bad stuff I’ve ever said about Tom, including the statement I made going into this film: “I just don’t think I can believe Tom in another tough-guy role where he’s the baddest dude around.” Now, I have to say, just the opposite. Jack Reacher, the character, may have been built on a foundation of clichés, but Tom Cruise raised him above that foundation in fine style. Kudos Mr. Cruise, kudos to you.
The story had enough Sherlock Holmes style investigative flair to keep me well interested, and as I said above, Tom really brought Jack to life in a believable way. Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, and Robert Duvall also played their characters well, but let’s face it, people will go see this film for Tom, because he is Tom. Luckily, this Tom is no turkey.
As the film follows shortly after very real-life tragedies that are all too similar to the criminal sniper’s actions in the film, I will warn you that it might touch a nerve, as it did in me. I wish that fictional tragedy could be left as pure fiction storytelling, but it all relates to our own realities and perceptions of realities. So beware, this film has some graphic action that is pretty horrific in nature.
To wrap up, again, let me just compliment Cruise on a job well done, and say that I now feel like going back and revisiting some of his previous work, with my new Cruise-fan’s eyes. —
'Les Misérables' (2013) review by Steve Oatney —
Do I recommend Les Miserables? Did you like the Broadway musical? Do you like musicals? Do you like movies with no talking, and singing only? I’m not sure I would recommend this film to everyone, because several of my male friends did not love it.
That being said, I LOVED IT! Let me say that again, I LOVED IT! I liked it more than The Hobbit. Apples and oranges, I know, but still it is a top fave of mine for the whole of last year. Russell Crowe is by far the weak-link when it comes to singing voices, but he did well enough for me to love love love the film, in its entirety.
It will be owned, and re-watched over the years, each time hoping it chokes me up like the first time. If red-blooded American men’s men cannot find the value, and like a sing-song movie, then forget them, Les Mis is pure and simple greatness.
Anne Hathaway’s performance is breathtaking and Oscar deserving. Amanda Seyfried’s voice is angelic. Jackman’s portrayal of Jean Valjean is impeccable and brilliant. Even Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter deserve recognition for portraying characters I loved to hate.
It is truly an astonishing accomplishment, to put together a film, into which I can escape, all the while singing the dialogue. By all accounts, I would have assumed that amount of singing could potentially take me out of their world, and remind me that it is just a motion-picture. Wonderfully, quite the opposite occurred, and it engaged me better than most films I see. I hope it does the same for you. —
REVIEW: 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' (2012) by Steve Oatney —
Letter grade A-. I think, strangely enough, that once I see it in 2D at 24fps, I’ll like it more, and raise to an A, or maybe an A+. Hard to say. Yes, there were significant changes from the book, but I think most, if not all, of them added to the story, and did not detract from it. The basic storyline and basic scenes are all there, with some modifications and additions. Additions are certainly needed if you are going to make a book into multiple movies.
Could The Hobbit be told in one three hour movie? Yes. Do I think that it would be nicer as two movies? Probably. Are three films “necessary?” Probably not. Sadly, making The Hobbit into three films will bring much more money to their bottom-line, as does making it 3D. It stinks that studios must focus so much on ROI, but I think this new trilogy could be better than good, considering the talent they have at their disposal.
Did I love all aspects of The Hobbit part one? No. Will I see it again? Yes, I cannot wait to see it again, in 2D. Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, in that I like the look of films in regular 2D, at 24fps, and even sometimes in black & white! Youthful moviegoers may see these advances in filmmaking with different eyes, and perhaps they’ll love the look & feel of The Hobbit. Much like Lucas’ Phantom Menace, this film will make a TON of money, as will the other two films in its trilogy, whether it looks strange to our eyes, or not.
Sadly, this film did not feel, to me, to be cut of the same cloth as the LOTR series. LOTR was darker, and a bit grittier, and had a mythological, yet real-world feel to it. The Hobbit lacked that realistic feeling. It felt more like an animated cartoon, than a live action adventure. I attribute that to the 3D visual aspects, as well as the 3d camerawork which made me all too keenly aware of the cameraman, of whom I never want to be conscious. My sincere hope is that 2D will correct much of my issues with the film, and that when I do see it in 24fps, that it will further fix that soap opera tv feel.
OK, on to spoilers (DO NOT READ FURTHER, if you do not want to know details)… Ian McKellan is great, as always, playing Gandalf to perfection. Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett also continue to perform triumphantly as Elrond and Galadriel. Andy Serkis, as Gollum, may be some of the finest acting and voice-talent that this generation may ever see. His motion-captured creature is a continued favorite on into The Hobbit. Elijah Wood’s Frodo may not have been needed, necessarily, for this new story, but it was nice to see him, and to tie the LOTR to this new series.
The newbies!!!: Martin Freeman… BINGO! Nailed it! Spot on! Cheers! I can’t imagine anyone else playing Ian Holm’s more youthful persona. Bewildered in the beginning, played to a T. A reluctant and inexperienced adventurer, performed beautifully. Development into a courageous and soon to be heroic member of the team? Well, the book certainly tip-toes Bilbo much more slowly into heroism, but I like Peter Jackson’s earlier push for Bilbo to man-up.
The dwarves!!!: All in all, I’m in love with these thirteen short and stout men of honor. Though, almost none of them fit the imagery in my head (except Bombur), from reading the book, I was quite pleased with the casting and visual representations of the novel’s beloved characters. Stand out dwarven performances? I really liked the old-looking, white-haired Balin, who seemed wise and loving of his race and friends.
Effects & creatures: Mountain-trolls, beautifully animated. Rock-giants, while not in the book so much (that I remember), they were kickass expansions! Orcs and especially the Orc-King, (also whom I do not remember with such importance, in the book) were grotesquely realistic. As were the goblins, and most specifically the Goblin-King. All digital effects were brilliant and well done, and even, dare I say it, too well done? Back to the 3D and 48fps (sorry), everything looked “too good,” in that the colors were vibrant and textures were overly detailed. I can’t believe I’m saying that is a bad thing, but it just added to that cartoony feeling I mentioned above. The giant, epic, sweeping shots of New Zealand, and digitally edited Middle-Earth, were breathtaking, just as expected.
Lastly, on the topic of humor, levity, and comedy-relief… as again, with The Phantom Menace, and Jar-Jar Binks, too much silliness is a bad thing (in a serious story, that is). I don’t feel that any of The Hobbit's characters were on Jar-Jar's level, nor do I think that Peter Jackson was as focused on making the movie accessible to young children, as George Lucas was with his sequels. Yes, The Hobbit starts much more light-hearted and humorous than The Lord of the Rings, but it was pretty much that way in the book. I believe the next two Hobbit films will darken, but this first one begins with the silly and fun introductions of the characters, not only to the viewer, but also to one another in the story. Fantasy films with monsters and evil, and constant combat and battles, do need moments of pause, so we can catch our breath and smile. Frodo’s journey left little room for smiling, and Bilbo’s journey is similar, but different. Merry and Pippin were our comedy-relief in the LOTR, whereas Bilbo and a few of the dwarves are our giggles, here, and I’m glad of it.
OK, enough typing. All in all, a really good film, that I know I will own and watch again and again, just not in the same way it was presented on the big screen.
Review: 'Rebel Without a Cause' (1955) by Steve Oatney —
I had not seen this classic film, in its entirety, until last week. Lufthansa was playing it in-flight, so I glad to have it available to me. As with many classic films, its pacing is quite a bit slower than modern day movies. Once you accept that, and relax, it affords a pleasant and relaxing viewing experience.
Alright, so is the film as amazing as people tend to make it out to be? Was James Dean a tragic loss to the acting world, when he was killed at such a young age, in a car accident? Well, the truth is, I didn’t find the film, nor Dean, to be overly exceptional. However, I did enjoy both the film, and Dean’s unique portrayal of a troubled teenage youth just trying to find normalcy in the world. I would very much liked to have seen how he might have developed as an actor had he lived a longer life.
A bit sadly, I kept thinking about what Hollywood would do to remake this movie, today. Likely, it would be approached either like Twilight or High School Musical, is my guess. I think the reason my mind kept wandering back to a potential remake is that the suspense in the film never really grabbed a hold of me, as strongly I would have liked. Modern day directors have a greatly different approach to building suspense, which I guess I’m all too used to.
OK, so I just discovered that there WAS a remake in 1991, called Cool as Ice. Apparently it was rap-oriented spin, with Vanilla Ice in the lead role. Someone please remind me not to catch that on Netflix, thanks. I’ve also discovered a bevy of rumors about a future remake. As guessed, the rumor-mill is casting Robert Pattinson, or James Franco (like, duh) in the James Dean role. Franco has already played Dean in a 2001 TV movie called James Dean.
So sorry, back to the real review, not the silly speculative. Natalie Wood plays the almost believable love interest and Sal Mineo plays the new found best friend who is even more troubled than Dean’s Jim Stark character. Some interesting actors were to be found in there, as well. Jim Backus, later to star in Gilligan’s Island, played Jim Stark’s ineffective father. A very young Dennis Hopper even played one of the greaser goon antagonists. Also, Edward Platt of TV’s Get Smart played a cop, just to name a few familiar faces.
While I cannot give Rebel a five-star rating, I am glad I saw it, and look forward to watching more classic films showing us the progression of filmmaking over the decades and century.
'The Dark Knight Rises' Review by Steve Oatney —
Well, I started writing this review yesterday, before the tragedy in Aurora Colorado happened early this morning. I’ve been finding it ever so difficult to Finish writing my review of a film that is now tainted with the real-life spilled blood of the victims of the horrific event. Again, my heart and thoughts go to those directly, and indirectly affected by the shootings.
Having said that, I still feel it is necessary to review what I consider to be one of the best films of the year, and one of the best superhero films, to date, so here we go…
Two hours and forty-four minutes passed without a thought. TDKR is a long film, but does not feel excessive, save the last few minutes that could have been edited, or perhaps removed. Not to spoil, but the epilogue vignettes are somewhat unnecessary, though I didn’t dislike them as much as my film critic friends apparently did, in our post-film discussions.
Let’s do some comparisons, how does that sound? Let’s start by comparing the character Bane in TDKR and Batman & Robin. While I would have liked to have seen more of Tom Hardy’s full-face, as acting with a mask covering one’s face presents serious difficulties, I have to say his Bane was MUCH more realistic and believable than Joel Schumacher’s in 1997. The difference is that Christopher Nolan did not follow, in any way, what Tim Burton, nor Schumacher did with their respective story telling of the Bruce Wayne legend which began in comic books, so many decades ago. Less of a cartoon, and more of a modern-day warrior psychopath, makes Tom Hardy’s Bane a fearsome and formidable foe for the Bat. For those who know the comic book storyline, the character may deviate in some ways, but some of his his actions stay ever true to canon.
For those who may not know, there have been A LOT of Catwomen on the big, and small, screens. Live-action actresses Eartha Kitt, and Julie Newmar played the cat-burglar on television, and Lee Meriwether, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Halle Berry brought her to the big-screen. In my opinion, Pfeiffer is the only comparison to make against Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman, as the other actresses were either working within the limited campy versions of the character, or were not given powerful enough stories with which to work. While I loved Pfeiffer’s Cat, I have to say that Hathaway’s updated character not only works well, but surprised me, pleasantly, that she could pull it off without it coming off overdone and overacted.
OK, how about we briefly compare Nolan’s three Bat films, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. While TDK has firmly planted itself as one of the best superhero films of all time, Batman Begins was no slouch of a film in the sci-fi category. TDKR is a Nolan film, in the vein of both of his prior Bat-films, but it stands alone as its own entity. It is a whole new hero’s journey (much like Batman Begins), but with a healthy dose of darkness (like TDK).
What about our returning actors, you ask? Well, first off, Michael Caine as Alfred needs some recognition here, as he is given more than one good slice of dialogue which he delivered with practiced accuracy and seasoned talent. Morgan Freeman (one of my all-time favorite actors) is given some significant screen-time, but his character isn’t as integral and interesting this go-round. Christian Bale passed the Bruce Wayne test, and was again believable in that character, but Nolan didn’t seem to demand anything new from his portrayal, other than starting him off as out-of-shape and ill. Gary Oldman (another all-time favorite) reprised Jim Gordon with a good helping of being a key player in the film, which was well appreciated.
One last bit on actors [spoiler-less]. The new faces of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and Matthew Modine really upped the ante for quality actors and their characters had developing depth which were perfect additions to the film’s story arc.
Two last things. 1) Will those in the Occupy Wall Street movement be pleased with this film? My guess is no. Direct comparisons can be made between the film’s criminal element, and the OWS, painting them in a less than flattering light. 2) Was The Dark Knight Rises BETTER than The Avengers? How dare you ask me that? That is like asking me to choose between DC and Marvel comics. However, I must say that while I’ll watch The Avengers more often, over and over, once I own it on Blu-Ray… I might have trouble calling it “better” than Rises.
SteveO's Film Fun Fumblog: I Live in Denver, Colorado -
As you know, I review films. What you may not have known, is that I live just a few short miles from Aurora, here in Colorado. Aurora is a suburb East of Denver proper.
This morning, I’m finding it quite difficult to focus on finishing my review of 'The Dark Knight Rises,' as I am feeling intense sorrow for the families affected by the shooting at the midnight showing, last night. I’m also harboring a great deal of anger towards the killer.
My thoughts are with the people caught unaware in that theater, and the people of Aurora, who may now think twice about going to see movies in their city.
As a fan of Batman, for over three decades, I will get around to posting my review of the film, later on. I will do so, with a heavy heart, but I will wait a while, out of respect for the dead, and for those suffering. Lastly, I’d like to send out a quick “thank you,” to those who have worked all night on aiding the injured and distraught, and to law-enforcement who have hopefully captured the guilty criminal and will see him brought to justice.
- Steve Oatney steveosfilmfun
Mini-Review: 'Snow White and the Huntsman' by Steve Oatney —
Surprisingly well done! I went in with somewhat low expectations and was ever so pleasantly surprised with this retelling of the classic fantasy tale. SWATH seemingly attempted to follow a bit in the footsteps of Lord of the Rings, and didn’t fall as short as you might think. I’m not saying that Rupert Sanders’ Snow White is on par with Peter Jackson’s incredible trilogy, but there are distinct comparisons found between them, and pleasantly so. If you are going to follow good fantasy storytelling, then LOTR is a superb role-model.
I was not disappointed in the acting, story, nor action and effects, and was even inspecting closely to find flaws in the effects of making the dwarves… well, “dwarvish.” Considering that the dwarves were all full-size actors (or at least their heads were), I have to give them kudos for the special-effects used to make them all appear so small. Conversely, I have to agree with the little people actors who were angered at the studio’s not utilizing their group’s ready-made talents.
Overall, I liked Snow White and the Huntsman, and look forward to seeing it again.
1st Annual DENVER COMIC CON review —
Colorado finally hosts a worthy comics/pop-culture convention! I know what I’m talking about as I am one of the previous promoters of the Rocky Mountain Comic Convention renamed Majesticon, then sold and renamed The Comic Super Show, then sold and renamed ComicFest by StarFest (the only sizable geekfest Colorado could previously claim). I’m glad to say that the DCC promoters started with a bang!
The DCC's portion of the venue held in approximately 100,000 square feet within the Colorado Convention Center. Saturday afternoon was jam-packed and reminiscent of bigger cons around the nation. The Denver Post reported an estimated weekend attendance might reach 20,000 people! Not sure what the final count was, but all in all, a very respectable first show!
While a small-by-comparison first show cannot pull in the same caliber or quantity of A-list celebrities, as San Diego or New York (yet), there were still plenty enough there to attract autograph seekers in droves. As the show grows, so will it’s star appearances. Same goes for it’s featured guest artists, an impressive list that will surely become more so with each year to follow!
Artist Alley was pretty freakin’ enormous, I must say, in comparison to the overall size of the convention, and had more than a few top-notch artists on hand for sketches, commissions, and autographs. Look for me behind a table there, next year. ;-)
The DCC was hosted by Comics In The Classroom, a group dedicated to promoting literacy through comics. Nice work team! Thanks for everything. Keep it up. see you next year!
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