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Category Archives: Joseph Hagen
Review by Joseph Hagen & Jenny Memmott
As the lights went down and the opening strains of the film Les Misérables rumbled through the theater, my fiancée leaned over and whispered, “I have been waiting to see this movie my entire life.” She, as someone who has spent their life obsessively listening to the musical and attending every possible stage performance of the show, represents a good majority of rabid individuals who have waited years for a film version of the beloved musical to be released. However, creating a film version of a musical as hallowed as Les Misérables is tricky, as the expectations are incredibly high. Fortunately, Tom Hooper succeeds (for the most part) in translating this musical to the big screen and in the process, gives us a gritty, sweeping, challenging, emotional and fresh version of the musical that should leave all Les Misérables fans (and non-fans) satisfied.
Let’s start with the good. Firstly, Tom Hooper’s vision and conceptualization of the musical is incredible. The directing is absolutely inspired. The world Hooper creates in Les Misérables is all at once beautiful, gritty, and at times, challenging. The beautiful people in the film are certainly lovely, but Hooper does not shy away from showing the poor and downtrodden characters of the film as realistically as possible; they are dirty, diseased, emaciated and ugly. With frequent tight shots of the actors singing, it is impossible not to get sucked into the emotionalism of the film. Much has been made of Hooper’s decision to let the actors sing live in the film. I feel that this was a genius choice: the actors’ performances feel genuine and very much in the moment.
I cannot write this review without mentioning the performances of both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Hugh Jackman IS Jean Valjean. Aside from singing the role capably, he absolutely embraces this role and makes Valjean’s journey in the film believable. You can see every emotion in Jackman’s tired eyes and vulnerable face. I have to admit that in his last scene, I was wiping away a tear. As for Anne Hathaway, there is no other word to describe her performance other than devastating. Believe all of the hype that you’ve heard about her performance. She is absolutely incredible and should be a lock for Best Supporting Actress. Although her time onscreen is short, it is absolutely heart breaking. Aside from Jackman and Hathaway, the other main actors in the film are exceptional and well-cast. Samantha Barks makes a terrific Eponine and both Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide much-needed comic relief as the Thénardiers. Although I have always thought that Amanda Seyfried’s vibrato sounds sort of like a goat caught in a propeller, she is (almost) tolerable in the less than substantial role of Cosette.
The biggest weakness in the film is Russell Crowe. It is an absolute shame that Crowe was cast as Javert. For those familiar with the story of Les Misérables, one could argue that the role of Javert is equal in importance to Jean Valjean. Javert is the yin to Valjean’s yang and much of the story’s plot is driven by the complex relationship between the two. Although Crowe is a powerful actor and could likely pull off this character in a non-singing role, alas, this is a musical. Crowe is vocally outmatched by virtually everyone in this film. He weakness as a singer is made even more evident in his one-on-one scenes with Jackman. Crowe sings as if he has a runny nose and despite his obvious eagerness to impress in this role, he falls flat. As much as I loved this film, I think about how much more spectacular this film could have been with someone else cast as Javert.
All in all, Les Misérables is a triumph. Fans of the stage show will be extremely pleased. As for those who come to the theater with no prior knowledge of the stage show, I believe they will come away from the film with a favorable opinion of the film and will likely have the song “Do You Hear the People Sing” stuck in their head for days after the film is over.
Review by Joseph Hagen
In a nation divided by war, our 16th President pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery in his tumultuous final months in office. This is the stage for the film Lincoln. This movie is more than just an exploration of pro-America propaganda; instead, this film reaches beyond the known stereotypes of Abraham Lincoln and delivers a complete view of this slice of American history.
Daniel Day-Lewis. DANIEL Day-Lewis. Daniel DAY-LEWIS. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS! Honestly, I could end this review with that much said, and I say that with ZERO sarcasm. Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest actor of our time (and possibly ever) has blessed us with yet another transformative and spellbinding performance in Lincoln. The genius of Day-Lewis brings the legend, the history and most importantly, the humanity to an American icon. Through this performance, Day-Lewis will likely win his third Academy Award for Best Actor. From the first moment that Day-Lewis appears on screen as Lincoln, it’s like going back in time. His performance is absolutely uncanny: it’s as if Lincoln himself is on the screen in front of you. It’s that good.
An all-star supporting cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader, David Strathairn and Hal Holbrook make Lincoln a who’s who of actors. Not simply filling space, these performers were almost necessary to balance the genius of Day-Lewis. Anything less than quality, professional actors would seem out of place in comparison.
Steven Spielberg’s straightforward and surprisingly non-frilly directing allows the story to be told without distraction from strange camera angles and special effects. With long, sweeping shots, soft-focus, and a wonderful usage of lighting, Spielberg does not rely on his old tricks in Lincoln. With a blueprint on war footage shots, he could have relied on the Saving Private Ryan playbook, but refrains from using his standard tools, instead showing his wisdom and experience with the art of storytelling.
Riveting from beginning to end, Lincoln is a fantastic film sure to not only be a new stable in American history classes across the country, but also be revisited during Oscar nomination time early next year.
Opens: Oct. 12
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Review by Joe Hagen
Argo, the story of a CIA “exfiltration” agent tasked with getting American hostages out of the Iranian revolution, is a wonderfully paced, perfectly shot and fantastically acted film. An all-star cast spearheaded by actor/director Ben Affleck, Argo brings grit and honesty to a story that needed to be told.
With Academy Award caliber acting from talents such as Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and a show-stealing Alan Arkin, each actor brings the perfect balance of intensity and humor. Most notable is the performance of Arkin, who plays an absolutely hysterical Hollywood producer recruited to provide an alibi for the CIA. With so many moments of tenseness, Arkin’s performance of Lester Siegel allows the audience a chance to breathe, reflect on the levity of the events unfolding, and possibly most importantly, laugh.
Showing directorial flashes of brilliance in The Town, Affleck brings a maturity and vision to Argo. Using the right combination of flecks on the screen, sepia tones, tight camera shots, props, and a spot-on soundtrack, Affleck shows that he appreciates the larger conceptual themes at play in his storytelling.
With a fantastic “don’t say more than needs to be said” screenplay by Chris Terrio, it allows Affleck the freedom to explore the visual richness of the Iranian culture and gives a subtlety to the depth of each character. By flipping your pre-conceived notions about the film, Terrio allows a wonderful story to be told in a simple, straight-forward way.
Argo is an intense, emotional, funny story told in a complete and satisfying way. Top-notch actors combined with spot-on technical film-making that ultimately delivers a compelling and important story that is worth watching.
Opens: Aug. 10
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Review by Joe Hagen
When reviewing a movie like The Campaign, it is imperative to remember that you are reviewing a movie starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. Thus, the areas on which you might typically focus during a normal movie review do not apply. For example, if I were reviewing The King’s Speech, I might focus my review on the high-quality acting and directing, the beautiful cinematography, and the effective and touching script. Yet, let us not forget, this is a review for The Campaign. It would be more likely for this reviewer to focus on the number of times that Will Ferrell punches a baby, the number of times Ferrell displays his weird chest hair, and the quality and thickness of Zach Galifianakis’ mustache.
Although The Campaign lacks the depth and quality of a film like The King’s Speech, The Campaign succeeded in making me laugh. A lot. The Campaign is vulgar, pointless, and ridiculous. The plot is insanely flimsy: Cam Brady is a North Carolina Congressman up for re-election who gets into hot water after leaving a hilariously dirty message on what he thinks is his mistress’ answering machine. The Motch brothers (Dan Akyroyd and John Lithgow as an obvious play on the Koch brothers) then decide to fund inexperienced and quirky tourism director Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) as the candidate to unseat Ferrell’s character. Of course, the Motch brothers have their own agenda for picking Huggins as their candidate. And, of course, from there, the film is as predictable as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ divorce announcement.
The film is basically a “best-of” for both Ferrell and Galifianakis. Both men play variations on their best-known and most well-loved characters. Ferrell’s politician Cam Brady is basically a hybrid of his Saturday Night Live impression of George W. Bush meets Ron Burgundy, while Galifianakis’s Marty Huggins is basically his character from The Hangover with a fanny-pack, a weird Southern accent and a penchant for pugs. The characters are safe territory for these men, and they do not stray far from the path.
The Campaign succeeds the most in the moments where Ferrell and Galifianakis are actually playing off one another, either in a campaign debate or in a private conversation. These are two genuinely funny guys and although their characters are trite, they do have great comedic chemistry.
If you lower your expectations for The Campaign and expect nothing more than brain-numbing stupidity, you will like this film. This brand of “shock comedy” might be the only consistent element in a film that seems to be more concerned with setting up the next gag than producing any form of interesting plot line. Whether it’s inappropriate dinner table confessions, porta-potty “romance” or baby punching, The Campaign will likely prove to be the clear winner in this weekend’s box office election.
Opens: Mar. 9
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Review by Joseph Hagen
John Carter, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 11-volume Barsoom series is proof that great source material does not make a great movie. Riddled with plot holes, a terrible script, horrendous acting, spongy special effects, embarrassing 3D, generic music and pedestrian directing, John Carter is a mess of a film.
“A fish out of water” theme meshed with “learning to love again,” John Carter is 132 minutes of capture, escape, capture, escape, jump 30 times, capture, escape. Entire scenes of this film seem to be throw in so that the advertisers could have an “action packed” movie trailer… Meanwhile, the screenplay leaves characters feeling flat, with laughable dialogue and little motivation for the actions they are taking.
Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch, “jumps” from a monotone Southern accent, to a monotone John Wayne impression into a monotone James Franco after sucking on a bong. Kitsch seems to try to channel great action stars of the past, but does not have the presence, acting chops or charisma to pull it off effectively.
Dejah Thoris, played by actress Lynn Collins, is the princess of a Mars-town called Helium. Written to be the smart, strong, inventive and beautiful, Collins pulls off only the later. To be fair, a terrible screenplay positions her as an educated scientist one minute, a Mortal Combat style butt-kicker the next, and doe-eyed schoolgirl love interest the next with zero transition or motivation in between. I must have missed the part where they explained her split personality disorder… I also found it distracting that she was the only character that spoke with an accent on her planet.
Actor Mark Strong as Matai Shang, leader of the Therns, was a bright spot in the film. Mysterious and interesting, he is the character I found myself rooting for that the camera would dump John Carter and follow him around instead. One of the few actors in this film with REAL charisma, Strong seems to rise above the silliness happening around him and delivers an interesting and “deep” bad-guy character.
One other thing — I always find it funny that in a land where they have giant flying ships, hover bikes, guns, lasers and magic, but people still fight hand-to-hand with metal swords. Honestly, if this was a good idea don’t you think the U.S. Army would be placing billion dollar sword orders for our soldiers? I LOVE swords, but you need to add in some kind of plot device to explain it (George Lucas goes to great lengths in Star Wars to explain WHY the Jedi use lightsabers).
A disappointing mess, John Carter is proof that in some cases even a strong conceptual starting point is not enough to make a good movie. The three pillars of good movie making are wholly missing, being replaced with a terrible screenplay, bad acting and sloppy directing.
The Secret World of Arrietty
Opens: Feb. 17
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
A Movie Review By Joseph Hagen
BIG subject matters come to life in (physically) small characters in The Secret World of Arrietty from Japanese animation Studio Ghibli. Death, life, family and the quest to find purpose in life are a few of the issues wonderfully dealt with by Ghibli.
A visually stunning classically-animated film, The Secret World of Arrietty is absolutely charming from the first moment to the last. It’s lead character, Arrietty, is a four-inch-tall person who lives anonymously with her Mother and Father in another (full sized) family’s residence, surviving by “borrowing” items that will not be missed for their home. Strong, smart, pretty and determined with a longing for adventure, Arrietty is one of those incredibly likable characters that you cannot help but to fall in love.
In this film, there is no need for stupid talking animals, silly and irrelevant time-filling musical numbers and supposedly witty jokes specifically geared at “the parents.” The Secret World of Arrietty is a throwback film proving that quality film making with heart and THOUGHT is more than enough to entertain an audience of all ages. The animated versions of voice actors Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett do not LOOK like Mendler, Poehler and Arnett. They look the way that the story requires them to look, not for the way marketing people want them to look to sell tickets.
Apart from some the occasional bizarre and silly music, a short lag in the middle and one scene with some clunky dialog regarding life and death, The Secret World of Arrietty should entertain audiences of all audiences.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Opens: Dec. 20
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
A Movie Review By Joseph Hagen
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo catapults out of the best sellers rack at your local bookstore and into theaters this week. This is your film if you like any of the following: Short bangs, body piercings, motorcycles, and of course, ample amounts of tattoos. Although the film is incredibly dark, grisly and often disturbing, those familiar with the book will likely approve of this film version. Those who are not familiar with the book … good luck figuring what the heck is happening onscreen.
While there are plenty of things wrong with Tattoo, a big strength of the film is the performances of Daniel Craig as journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Their chemistry is a big reason to see this film. Both bring depth, charisma and balance to a screenplay that takes a long time to develop.
Many times during the film I felt that I needed a CliffsNotes study guide to figure out who was who, how they were related, whether the old guy that was talking and the young guy being shown in a flashback were the same guy, how people were related and whose back story went with who… By the time the WOW moment happens, I felt so confused that I did not even understand why it was a WOW moment.
With that said, I would guess that hardcore fans of the book will understand the complex relationships of the characters and enjoy this American version.
“I like working with you.” - Lisbeth Salander
Opens: Nov. 23
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A Movie Review By Joseph Hagen
I have a confession. Since I heard last year that Jason Segel was working on a revamped Muppet movie, I have been basically counting the months, days and hours and minutes until this movie was released. As a kid who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, the Muppets have always been a part of my childhood periphery. It is impossible for me to not smile when I think of Kermit, or Miss Piggy, or my personal favorite, Fozzie Bear. I still remember every word of the Muppet movie song medley I sang in Glee Club when I was in elementary school. So, with these warm sentimental feelings brimming in my heart, I have been anxiously awaiting this new Muppet film.
Within the first five minutes of the film, I knew that Jason Segel had done the Muppet’s proud. As the opening number (“Life’s a Happy Song”) started with Jason Segel and his Muppet brother Walter, in matching pajamas, brushing their teeth in rhythm to the music, I simultaneously smiled and fought back tears of joy in my eyes.
The premise of the film is simple. Jason Segel plays Gary, a good-natured guy who has lived his whole life in Smalltown, USA. His brother is Walter, a Muppet, who has grown up in adoration of Kermit and his gang. When Gary decides to take his long-time girlfriend Mary (played by the effervescent and charming Amy Adams) to Los Angeles for their 10-year anniversary, Gary decides to take Walter along to see the Muppets studio. On their arrival in Los Angeles, they find that the Muppets studio is in ruins and each of the Muppets have moved on. An evil oil baron (played by the hammy Chris Cooper) is preparing a sneaky scheme to destroy the Muppets studio and drill for oil. With these elements in place, Gary, Mary and Walter go in search of the Muppet gang and attempt to reunite them for one last show to save the Muppet studio.
The film is nearly perfect. It manages to produce some big laughs, but also gently addresses the fact that life has changed since the Muppets heyday in the 70’s and 80’s. In a larger philosophical sense, the movie is a metaphor for dealing with change while still maintaining a fondness for the past. The movie tugs on our heartstrings, but it is never too sappy or sweet. It is the perfect balance of joy, bittersweet and nostalgia.
When reviewing this film, it is imperative to mention the work of Music Supervisor Bret McKenzie (of Flight of the Conchords fame). McKenzie has managed to channel the joy of the old school Muppets music and modernized it into incredibly funny, hip and catchy tunes. The songs “Party of One,” “Life’s a Happy Song,” and the absolutely side-splitting “Man or Muppet” are pitch-perfect and flawlessly fit into the great pantheon of Muppet tunes.
Writing this review, I am still smiling thinking about this wonderful film. I honestly cannot think of a greater gift this holiday season than this new Muppet movie. Thank you, Jason Segel for breathing new life into the Muppet franchise. Thank you for giving all of us a reason to remember how much we love the Muppets. But more importantly, as emphasized in the film, thank you allowing the Muppets to give us one of the greatest gifts we could ever ask for, laughter (the third greatest gift, according to Kermit).
Go see this movie. It will make you remember that life is indeed a happy song.
“Mah Na Mah Na.” - Everyone
A Movie Review By Joseph Hagen
Moneyball follows the true story of underdog Billy Beane, the General Manager of the 2002 Oakland Athletics, as he battles the evil juggernaut of baseball financial overlords (New York Yankees) to change the face to professional baseball forever.
Filled with heart, Moneyball is more than just a good baseball film … it’s really just an overall GOOD film. With a fantastic script by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, great casting, strong character development, solid acting, beautiful cinematography and perfect pacing make Moneyball a wonderfully constructed film.
The part of Beane, a good-looking former ballplayer, was tailor made for Brad Pitt. His natural charisma meshes perfectly with the material. Not a usual fan of Pitt’s work, I was taken with this performance and can think of no other role in which he is more likable, funny and interesting.
Jonah Hill brings restraint to his usual shtick through his performance as the green assistant manager Peter Brand. Hill is charming, fun and acts as a much needed foil to Pitt.
Most baseball films, despite their best efforts, portray baseball as a cheesy, dramatic and overly sentimental game. Fortunately, Moneyball does not fall into this well. The film takes it’s time and gives enough depth to its characters that by the time the sporting climax happens, you genuinely care and root for the characters. No cheese. No slow-motion blur. No rock music build-up… it’s just straight-up good storytelling.
It is evident that the actors in this film playing ballplayers have actually picked up a bat and ball at some point in their lives. This is Moneyball’s other strength. There are no awkward Brendan Fraser/Matt LeBlanc swings here. One scene shows longtime All-Star David Justice, played by Stephen Bishop, hitting in a batting cage. Bishop’s swing is smooth and convincing, something typically not taken into consideration when casting a baseball film.
Moneyball is a really fun movie to watch. Heavy on the baseball references, it nonetheless has enough heart to keep both fans and non-fans entertained from beginning to end with the timeless theme of David vs. Goliath. Tons of heart and a top of the line script make Moneyball one of the best films I have seen this year.
“It’s hard not to be romantic about Baseball.” - Billy Beane
In Bad Teacher, Cameron Diaz plays teacher Elizabeth Halsey, a shallow and materialistic gold-digger whose only wish is to skim by until she can land a sugar daddy. Along the way, Diaz is the embodiment of all things “bad” by lying, cheating, bribing, boozing and dry humping her way to her goal—to get the boob job that Halsey believes will help her in her quest to marry rich.
Aside from the fact that the overall premise of the film and all subsequent motivations of the main character are built on her desire for breast implants, I was mainly disturbed by the way Diaz’s character was portrayed. I mean, her character is an awful human being. This woman has zero redeeming characteristics and shows no remorse for her actions throughout the film. She has zero back-story or reasoning as to why she constantly behaves in such an atrocious manner. Usually, in a film that presents such a terrible character, there is at least some growth that takes place during the film that makes you actually feel a bit of sympathy for the character. The fact that Diaz spends the film ruining several other character’s lives and still gets her happy ending left me feeling unsettled.
With that said, Bad Teacher still has its funny moments. Among them is a plethora of ogling Dads at a sexually suggestive car wash, an over-the-top cheesy love song from Justin Timberlake and quite possibly the best dry-hump ever caught on film.
The film’s only bright, genuine and truly funny moments feature Jason Segel as gym teacher Russell Gettis. An “every-man” gym teacher, Russell describes himself as a Terminator robot that will pursue Diaz forever. I am not sure what a good guy like Russell would see in Halsey, but I was thankful for his presence in this movie. Raunchy but good-hearted, Russell’s hilarious one-liners are a highlight of the film.
I suppose Bad Teacher was entertaining, if you like a movie without morals (which I do from time to time). The only thing I took away from the film is that boob jobs are the way to get to the top? Expect to leave the theater feeling a bit skeeved out and wondering about the state of today’s educational system.
“It’s medicinal, see I have a note.” - Elizabeth Halsey
When I sat down to watch a screening of The Green Lantern, I expected a typical summer blockbuster with
stunning special effects and exciting action sequences. Instead, I unexpectedly
sat through what might be described as the best comedy of the year. With its
terrible dialogue, abysmal acting, cheesy special effects and confusing plot–Mystery
Science Theater 3000, take your best shot. The
Green Lantern is right up your wheelhouse.
Most of the film, I felt like I was missing something. Was
there a kiosk of CliffsNotes next to the 3D glasses when I walked into the
theater? Did it explain what world was connected with what and who knew
who? Within the course of the first 10 minutes, I was completely lost during
the explanation of the origins of the Green Lanterns. Furthermore, Hal Jordan,
played by the usually affable Ryan Reynolds, seemed to have a pre-existing
relationship with almost every character in the film, of which none was
OK, the plot is confusing. But, this is a summer action
movie blockbuster, so the visuals and sound effects will save the film. Right?
Wrong. The Green Lanterns’ home planet of Oa is dark, cold, flat,
uninteresting, unimaginative and overall poorly done. The over-the-top CGI
special effects are “gooey” and generic. Hal’s costume was
distractingly weird with its pulsating colors. Honestly, why cast a guy with
8-pack abs if you are going to make him completely CGI?
Peter Sarsgaard plays the not-so-super villain, Hector
Hammond. I hope Mr. Sarsgaard was provided with gallons of throat spray in his
trailer, as it seemed his major acting challenge was to scream in nearly every
scene… Ahhhhhh!!! At one point in the film when the evil Parallax manifests
himself in Hector’s body (evidently, mostly in his forehead) it would have been
fitting to add bolts to his neck and call it a day.
The sad part about The Green Lantern is that it presents several potentially awesome
concepts that, unfortunately, don’t translate. For example, Green Lanterns are
able to form anything that they can conjure in their minds. Cool, right? Um,
you would think that in the year 2011, a superhero could come up with more
kickass objects other than:
- A ‘57
What’s next, a gramophone and old-timey bicycle?
Despite the film’s best efforts to make me a Green Lantern
hater, I couldn’t help but appreciate the film’s eagerness and delusions of
grandeur. Aforementioned, I laughed basically from the beginning of the film to
the end. The more serious a scene took itself, the harder I laughed. I do hope
that if nothing else, in 20 years, people will be lined up at midnight dressed
in their best Green Lantern garb a la Rocky Horror. This would be a fitting tribute for a
well-intentioned, otherwise terrible film.