Film review: The Great Gatsby

My relationship with Baz Luhrmann films has evolved over time. When I first saw his take on Romeo + Juliet at summer camp when I was 14, I absolutely hated it. Then when we had to watch it in my freshman English class, I hated it a little less. It took me three tries watching Moulin Rouge! to get past the first half hour. When I finally saw the rest of Moulin Rouge! last year, I absolutely fell in love with it. After hearing Luhrmann planned to take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby, I was cautiously optimistic. The more I heard about his plans to have Jay-Z lead the soundtrack, the more I planned to just separate the book from the film adaptation in my mind.

Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised. I have not read Gatsby since my junior year of high school, but I remembered that I loved it. I had every intention of rereading it before seeing the film, but that did not happen. I remembered a lot of symbolism with eyes and lights. I read all the articles questioning how Luhrmann would translate the narrative structure of the novel into a quality film. Although it has been six years since I read the novel, it seemed like Luhrmann stuck close to the source material.

The biggest difference was in how Nick (Tobey Maguire) tells the story. In the novel, Nick is essentially treated like the author of the story. In the film, we see Nick writing a novel based on the summer, but he is in a mental institution while doing so. Luhrmann’s Nick is suffering from anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and several other things. I don’t really think that change was necessary, but it did not ruin the film for me.

As soon as Luhrmann signs his name to any film, the audience can be certain the movie is going to be a spectacle. It will be filled with vibrant production design, a mixture of modern and historical music, and sweeping cinematography. Many people were worried the use of a modern soundtrack would take away from the setting in the Jazz Age. However, Luhrmann actually used the music to highlight that. Although Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Kanye West are all on the soundtrack, their music really only appears during party scenes and is often mixed with jazz. It’s a really cool melding of the historical and modern that helps to illustrate how the story is still relevant. The music that stood out the most to me, though, was the songs used during the more dramatic portions of the film. In particular, Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” might as well have been subtitled “Daisy’s Theme.” The haunting repetition of “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful” helped to give Daisy (Carey Mulligan) more depth and better communicate her motives.

My biggest problem with the film was with the casting of Maguire, however. Nick is supposed to be this naive, idealistic young man. He makes a remark during the course of the film that he has just turned 30 years old. He is clearly supposed to be younger than Gatsby. Maguire was simply too old to play this part. Although he looks younger than his 37 years, there was not enough of an age difference between him and Gatsby. Leonardo DiCaprio was absolutely perfect for Gatsby’s part. He had the perfect mix of maturity and youthful hope that was needed to make his role believable. I would have much rather seen someone like Andrew Garfield, Jeremy Jordan, or Emile Hirsch as Nick.

There is no denying that Daisy is not exactly the most developed character in the story. She is essentially a prop for Gatsby’s hope and affection. Her role is to be beautiful and unattainable. However, Mulligan did a phenomenal job in making her more well-rounded. Her inner battle between her love for Gatsby and her attachment to her husband Tom (the fantastically terrifying Joel Edgerton) made me truly feel for her. I also wanted her entire wardrobe because everything she wore was completely beautiful.

The bottom line with this film is you’ll like it if you like Baz Luhrmann films. If you don’t want anything modern mixed in with the text of the novel, you probably will not care for this. I saw the film in 3D because of scheduling, but I don’t feel seeing it in 2D would detract from the experience. I will say the final ten minutes were absolutely astounding in 3D, but I think it would be just as powerful in 2D. I left the theater completely breathless and anxiously awaiting the next time I can go see it. It probably won’t be until it gets to the $3 theater near my apartment, but I’ll be there as soon as it gets there.


Oscars 2013 Liveblog!

7:30 It’s starting! So many lights at once! The theme is apparently Music in Film. This should be good. First joke about Ben Affleck getting snubbed. Seth MacFarlane is actually doing pretty well with the monologue, except for the fact that he made a joke about Rihanna and Chris Brown’s relationship.

7:35 Holy shit, William Shatner just got beamed in. He traveled back in time to stop Seth MacFarlane from destroying the Oscars. Apparently, he ruins the show with a song about all the movies featuring women’s boobs. It’s actually kind of funny. Shatner tells him to sing a song celebrating the Oscars.

7:39 Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron come out to dance while McFarlane sings “The Way You Look Tonight.” My hopes for Tatum’s tear away tux are dashed. Shatner tells him his performance is a little better, but he still sucks because of his reenactment of “Flight” with sock puppets. This is actually kind of awesome. Can we have sock puppet reenactments of all the movies?

7:42 Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt come out to sing and dance “High Hopes” with McFarlane. So much beautiful on the stage.

7:43 McFarlane’s performance is up to mediocre, but Shatner said McFarlane sexually harassed Sally Field in the greenroom with his Flying Nun impersonation.

Continue reading “Oscars 2013 Liveblog!”

Oscar Predictions

And so another awards season comes to a close. This has been arguably one of the most interesting Oscar seasons in recent years. Going into tonight’s ceremony, there are still several races that are too close for predictors to call. It will be nice to have a little mystery during the ceremony, since it’s normally just a night full of honoring the same people that have been awarded for the past five months. Only a handful of accountants know the results now, so let’s take this chance for some last-ditch predictions.

Come back later tonight if you want to join me for the liveblog. The show starts at 7:30 CST.

Best Picture
Nominees: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
Will Win: Probably Argo, but it could very well be Lincoln or Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty. It was the most all-around solid film of the nominees and it’s a real shame it got torpedoed so early on in the race.

Best Director
Nominees: Michael Haneke (Amour), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Will Win: This is another race that is totally wide open. My gut is going with Lee, though.
Should Win: Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow, but the Academy was stupid and didn’t nominate either of them.

Best Actor
Nominees: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Denzel Washington (Flight)
Will Win: Day-Lewis. One of the few solid locks of the night.
Should Win: Honestly, my favorite performance this year was John Hawkes in The Sessions. It’s a travesty he wasn’t nominated.

Best Actress
Nominees: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
Will Win: It will likely be the phenomenal Lawrence, though it is definitely within the realm of possibility for Riva to pull an upset.
Should Win: Lawrence. She was completely amazing and probably the best performer in a ridiculously talented ensemble.

Continue reading “Oscar Predictions”

Film review: Amour

Full disclosure: I saw this film at 10:00 in the morning and I drifted off a few times. John kept elbowing me, so I’m pretty sure I saw most of the film. It was just a bit foggy.

Michael Haneke directs this film, which centers on the relationship between the elderly Georges and Anne. Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) deeply loves  his wife Anne (Academy Award nominee Emmanuelle Riva), but she is slowly losing her grip on reality. The couple are in their mid-eighties and Anne is steadily becoming more and more senile. She will periodically forget who she is, where she is, who her family is, and so on. The film tells the story of Anne’s first attack and how Georges comes to deal with it. Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) comes to visit, but Georges is hesitant to let her see her mother.

That is pretty much the extent of the plot. The film is not plot-driven at all. In fact, I spent a lot of the time waiting for something to happen. It is a very quiet character study of this elderly couple. And when I say quiet, I mean it is almost silent at times. The score is basically non-existent. That certainly did not help in my quest to stay awake during the movie.

Haneke is an extremely skilled director. His previous film, The White Ribbon, is probably the best foreign film I have ever seen. The problem with Amour is that it is just so dull. This movie is a prime example of why the Academy should have never expanded the Best Picture category to more than five films. There is no way Amour is Best Picture caliber. There’s no denying that it is a good film, in terms of craft, but it is nowhere near the best. I would also argue with Haneke’s nomination for Best Director, especially considering Ben Affleck got snubbed in the year when he should be the winner. Riva does a phenomenal job as Anne. There is no doubt that she deserves the Academy’s nomination for Best Actress, although I would still argue Jennifer Lawrence deserves the actual award.

I wish I had more to say about this film. Its pacing was extremely slow, but it was not a bad movie. It just was dull. There’s nothing wrong with a dull film. I simply do not have much to say about it.

Liveblog: 2013 Golden Globes

7:00 Let’s get this party started! Tina Fey and Amy Poehler look amazing. Their relationship is precious. This monologue is fantastic. See, this is what happens when you have hosts who are phenomenal comediennes and talented writers. If you get a chance, look it up on YouTube and enjoy.

7:08 Bradley Cooper and Kate Hudson present Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. They get straight to it and don’t mess around with any banter. The award goes to Christoph Waltz. He’s so sincere and adorable. Apparently, the Waltz/Tarantino pairing equals awards show gold.

7:11 Dennis Quaid and Kerry Washington come out to present Best Supporting Actress for Television. The Globe goes to Maggie Smith for Downton Abbey. McGonagall!!!!! Sadly, she’s not there.

7:16 Eva Longoria and Don Cheadle come out for the Mr. & Miss Golden Globes introduction. Clint Eastwood’s daughter and Michael J. Fox’s son are doing it this year. Fox’s son is the spitting image of his dad. Longoria & Cheadle then present Best Miniseries or TV Movie to “Game Change,” shocking no one. Let’s talk about Eva Longoria’s dress for just a moment. The slit is so far up her leg that it is almost going up the curve of her ass. Like if she moves her legs too far apart, we’re about to see all up in her business.

7:20 Cheadle and Longoria stick around for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie. Amy Poehler is in the audience as a joke nominee. Just a subtle joke, but hilarious. Julianne Moore wins for “Game Change” and comes out from backstage to get the award. “Game Change” is going to clean up tonight. Love it.

7:23 Catherine Zeta-Jones comes out to introduce “Les Miserables.” Her dress is absolutely beautiful. A couple clips from the film and it’s phenomenal, of course.

7:28 Tina Fey and Amy Poehler introduce the HFPA president. They tell us that the HFPA picks their president through a Hunger Games-esque process and then play “I Will Survive” as she comes out on stage. Y’all, she looks exactly like Liza Minnelli from the side. She ends her speech by asking Bradley Cooper to call her. Hilarious.

7:30 Rosario Dawson shows the clip package for “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” One of the most overrated films, but I love the actors in it.

7:32 Salma Hayek and Paul Rudd come out to present Best Actor in a TV Drama. Damien Lewis wins, of course, because this is still the year of “Homeland.” He starts talking in his British accent. Can he just keep talking, pretty please? Yum. He ends the speech by dedicating it to his mom and he is precious.

7:34 Hayek and Rudd stick around for the Best TV Series – Drama announcement. They pause for an awkward moment. I’m guessing the teleprompter wasn’t working. Shocking absolutely no one, “Homeland” continues its streak of awards. The HFPA loves new, flashy things. They might as well go ahead and hand Claire Danes her award while she’s on stage.

7:42 John Goodman comes out to present the clip package for “Argo.” Onstage with him is the real-life Tony Mendez, also known as the man Ben Affleck played.

7:44 Jennifer Lopez comes out in one of the most hideous dresses of the night. Seriously, J. Lo, just be a nudist if you want to. We get it. Your body is fantastic. Your dress looks like it’s just a bunch of pasties all over your body. Her and Jason Statham present the award for Best Original Score to “Life of Pi.” Cassie points out that Mycahel Danna (the composer) looks exactly like Bill Nye.

7:47 Lopez and Statham stick around to present Best Original Song. In another non-surprise, Adele wins for “Skyfall.” Taylor Swift looks pissed she lost. Adele acts shocked. Apparently, she’s the only one who thought she wouldn’t win. She is apparently there with one of her friends who is also a new mom. She said in their speech they’ve been “pissing themselves laughing all night.” Can Adele win all the awards? I love her speeches.

7:54 Jessica Alba and Kiefer Sutherland come out to present Best Actor in a TV Miniseries or Movie. It’s Tina Fey’s turn to do the fake nominee thing. Just a subtle joke, but done fantastically. Kevin Costner wins for “Hatfields & McCoys.” I really wanted Benedict Cumberbatch for “Sherlock,” but he’ll probably get his after the last season of “Sherlock.” Costner gives what almost sounds like a goodbye speech to acting, or life. Seriously, does he have like a terminal illness or something? Or is he going to just stick to directing from now on?

7:58 Bill Clinton comes out and the crowd loses its shit. Lena Dunham’s reaction is particularly hilarious. Clinton introduces the clip package for “Lincoln.” His will clearly be the longest introduction.

8:00 Amy Poehler comes out and gushes over “Hillary Clinton’s husband.” Tina Fey comes up in her fake nominee costume to freak out about “Bill Rodham Clinton.” They introduce Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, who are also freaking out over Clinton or being on the stage. They present Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical and heavily imply they have no idea who any of the nominees are. “Judi Dench! Where did she come from?” Tommy Lee Jones does not look amused by this introduction, though everyone else is. Jennifer Lawrence wins for “Silver Linings Playbook.” She thanks Harvey for killing whoever he had to kill for getting her on that stage tonight. She thanks her dad and brothers. She better get used to giving these speeches.

8:12 John Krasinski and the adorably pregnant Kristen Bell come out to introduce Best Supporting Actor on TV. The Globe goes to Ed Harris for “Game Change,” continuing its streak. He’s not there, so we zip right on to Jamie Foxx presenting the clip package for “Django Unchained.”

8:14 Jonah Hill and Megan Fox come out to present Best Supporting Actress in a Movie. They have a little banter about Jonah not calling her back. It pretty much falls flat, so they move on quickly. Anne Hathaway wins for “Les Miserables,” once again shocking no one. She starts her speech by quoting Tina Fey. “Blerg.” So much love. She’s come such a long way since “The Princess Diaries.” She says she’ll use her award as a blunt object against self-doubt. She thanks Sally Field in particular for being such an inspiration. She has this speech thing down, which is good because she better get used to it. She’ll be doing it again on February 24th.

8:23 Amanda Seyfried and Robert Pattinson come out to present Best Screenplay. The winner is Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.” Not totally surprising. I think Tarantino will probably win the Oscar. He thanks his actors for having everything go right and he thanks his friends for letting him bounce ideas off them. He thanks them for the “damn surprise.” Tarantino grows on me every time I see him.

8:25 Jeremy Irons comes out to present the clip package for “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” I’m so glad they’re showing this clip because I can guarantee no one there saw this film. “Salmon Fishing” is this year’s “The Tourist.”

8:27 Lucy Liu and Debra Messing come out to present Best TV Actor in a Comedy or Musical. Their dresses are huge. So help me if Alec Bladwin wins again. Don Cheadle wins for “House of Lies.” I’m not a huge fan of the show, but I have so much love for Don Cheadle. He’s so incredibly down-to-earth and I just adore him.

8:33 Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger come out to present Best Foreign Film because English is a foreign language to both of them. The winner is “Amour,” shocking no one. Nice touch that an Austrian got to give the award to a fellow countryman, though, which Michael Haneke points out.

8:36 Nathan Fillion and Lea Michele come out to present Best Actress in a TV Drama. I bet Lea Michele thought her dress would have the highest slit tonight, but it looks almost Amish compared to Eva Longoria. Shocking absolutely no one, once again, Claire Danes wins for “Homeland.” Fun fact: Danes is apparently 4 for 4 with Golden Globe wins.

8:44 Sacha Baron Cohen comes out, drink in hand. Anne Hathaway is apparently just now getting back to her seat. It seems like Sacha Baron Cohen is trying to take over for Ricky Gervais in the insult category. Totally inappropriate introduction to the Best Animated Film category, considering he only talked about the Les Miserables cast. Ugh. Just ugh. Best Animated Feature goes to “Brave.” I’m pretty shocked. “Frankenweenie” has been getting a lot of these awards, while “Brave” has been largely shut out. I’m not mad, though. Loved this movie so much. One of my favorite Pixars yet.

8:48 Liev Schreiber comes out to introduce the “Life of Pi” clip package. He mentions how people thought the story was unfilmable, which I pretty much had agreed with.

8:50 Jason Bateman carries out Aziz Ansari to introduce Best Actress in a TV Comedy or Musical. Aziz acts like he’s completely high and says the “Downton” cast has some great pot backstage. I love Aziz, but this isn’t necessarily going over very well. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are acting like they’ve been out in the audience. Fey is cuddled up with J. Lo and Poehler is sitting on George Clooney’s lap. Lena Dunham wins for “Girls,” further proving that the Globes love everything new and shiny. She seems like she’s having a lot of trouble walking up to the stage, but she’s absolutely precious. She typed out her speech and it’s just so damn earnest.

8:58 Tina and Amy are back, drinks in hand. They act like they’re completely sloshed, now that they’ve lost their category. Glenn Close acts like she’s drunk…or having a seizure. Tina tells Taylor Swift to stay away from Michael J. Fox’s son. They go on to introduce Robert Downey, Jr. who presents the Cecil B. DeMille Award to Jodie Foster. In his introduction, he says the award says as much about the presenter as it does the recipient. Oh, RDJ. I absolutely adore you. Apparently, Jodie Foster said in a 1974 interview that she wanted a hamster, so RDJ and Mel Gibson teamed up to give her her pick of hamsters. Some of the jokes are falling a little flat, but RDJ is just so funny. And now for the retrospective of Jodie Foster’s work.

9:05 Jodie Foster comes up to accept her award. She jokes about how she’s fifty. I think it’s an SNL reference, but I don’t really get it. She looks great, but the straps on her dress look like duct tape. It’s kind of a bizarre speech, but I really enjoy it. She’s had such an amazing career and talks about her desire for privacy in her personal life. A little preachy, but she does it very eloquently. Her sons are absolutely precious and they keep doing close-ups on them. Seven minutes later and we go to commercial. I’m glad they always let the Cecil B. DeMille winner go on and really get their moment, but it does tend to drag. Her speech was great, though, so it wasn’t as bad as some years.

9:17 Halle Berry comes out to present Best Director. Her dress is another major miss. She’s talking a bit frantically, so I bet they’re starting to run behind. There’s no messing around here. Ben Affleck wins for “Argo.” He looks shocked and the crowd gives him a standing ovation. He’s running out of time. Just when I think he’s about to forget to thank Jennifer, he pulls through.

9:20 Josh Brolin comes out to introduce the clip package for “Moonrise Kingdom.”

9:21 Tina and Amy are back to introduce Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon. Amy still has her drink. They’ve got some great banter that is basically implying that it’s time for Jay to move on and let someone else have a shot. Agreed. They present Best TV Comedy or Musical to “Girls,” continuing the new and shiny trend of the night. Lena seriously can’t walk in those shoes and dress. She looks great, but she’s struggling. Lena gets up there and starts shrieking. This is so endearing. I’m seriously going to have to start watching this show, apparently. That was so precious. I love when people are genuinely excited about winning.

9:29 Christian Bale comes out to introduce the clip package for “Silver Linings Playbook.”

9:31 Jennifer Garner comes out to introduce Best Actor in a Movie Comedy or Musical and quickly thanks Grant Heslov and George Clooney because Ben Affleck forgot to do so when accepting his award. She goes on to present the award to Hugh Jackman for “Les Miserables.” Oh, Hugh. If it weren’t for Daniel Day-Lewis, you would totally be getting an Oscar this year. Apparently, Hugh is just getting over the flu. I guess someone stole the wheels off Hugh’s bike while he was auditioning for “Les Mis,” but Hugh says they’re all good now. Hugh goes on to thank his wife for being the most wonderful woman in the world and asks that she come up on stage later if he forgets to thank anyone.

9:38 Jeremy Renner comes out to introduce the clip package for “Zero Dark Thirty.” They’re so not messing around anymore. They just are getting straight to the point and moving this thing along.

9:40 Dustin Hoffman comes out to introduce Best Picture – Comedy or Musical. He makes a quick reference to his film “Quartet” and moves on. The question of the night: Will it be “Les Mis” or “Silver Linings?” “Les Miserables” pulls off the win and the cast and crew head to the stage. Anne Hathaway apparently forgot to thank her manager and rushes to the microphone to quickly thank her. The producer then goes on to give a very short speech before they cut him off.

9:47 Tina and Amy introduce a presenter who makes “Young George Clooney” look like garbage. It’s “Middle Aged George Clooney.” He quickly congratulates Ben Affleck and goes on to present Best Actress in a Drama to Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty.” It’s official. The Best Actress Oscar race is pretty much just Chastain and Lawrence at this point. Sorry to the other three nominees. They’re just filling out the category. Chastain gives such an endearing speech. I kind of adore her. She thanks powerful and fearless women, which makes me love her.

9:50 George Clooney goes on to present Best Actor in a Drama since Meryl Streep is under the weather. In another non-surprise, Daniel Day-Lewis wins for “Lincoln.” Just go ahead and hand him the Oscar now. Unless we find out he likes to punch kittens in his spare time, he’s got this sewn up. He is kind of surprisingly funny and gives a really great acceptance speech.

9:57 Last award of the night. Julia Roberts comes out to present Best Drama. And the winner is…”Argo.” Not surprised it won with the HFPA. It’s a little flashier than the other nominees. It’s going to have a much tougher road with the Oscars, though. Grant Heslov accepts the award and gives a great speech. So happy to see this win. I really loved this film.

10:00 Tina and Amy quickly wrap up. They wish us good night and say they’re going home with Jodie Foster. Really solid show this year. Much better than the Gervais years. I vote Tina and Amy host all the shows now.

Good night, everyone. See you again for the Oscars liveblog on February 24th. There will of course be other posts between now and then, though.

Film Review: Les Miserables

Considering the title of the movie is essentially “The Miserable Ones,” there was no way I was going into the film expecting a light-hearted romp through the streets of Paris. I have never seen any version of this musical before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it would be sad and there was a lot of singing. Beyond that, I basically went in blind.

The story spans several decades in post-revolution France. Everything centers on Jean Valjean (the phenomenal Hugh Jackman), a prisoner who broke his parole and went on the lam with a new identity. Over the years, he is essentially stalked by Javert (the horribly miscast Russell Crowe), a general who supervised Valjean during his imprisonment. Literally every time Valjean turns around, Javert seems to be there. Even 30 years later, Javert is still pissed that Valjean got away. And seriously, his crime was stealing a loaf of bread. By the end of the movie, I wanted to just give Javert a loaf of bread so he would get the hell over it. Anywho, at one point, Valjean crosses paths with the horribly tragic Fantine (future Oscar winner Anne Hathaway), who has had to turn to prostitution in order to support her daughter Cosette. Valjean ends up taking in Cosette (played as a child by Isabelle Allen and as an adult by Amanda Seyfried), who has basically been a child slave to innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter). Valjean and Cosette basically go into hiding and live their lives for several years. Cosette meets Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who falls horribly in love with her, although the Thenardier’s daughter Eponine (played as a child by Natalya Wallace and as an adult by Samantha Barks) is also in love with Marius. Valjean discovers that Marius is in love with Cosette and eventually comes around to the idea of them being together after seeing Marius in action with the other revolutionaries, including the adorable little boy Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone). Just about everyone meets a tragic end.

The cast of the film is pretty much phenomenal. Jackman is an amazing singer and makes a perfect Valjean. Hathaway is beautiful as Fantine and deserves the Oscar for her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” alone. She is certainly going to be the Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner in February. Redmayne does great with the role of Marius and we are going to see a lot more of him in the future. Cohen and Carter provide much-needed comic relief as the Thenardiers, and I’ve discovered that I greatly enjoy Cohen when he is not writing his own material. Seyfried and Barks don’t have a ton of material, but both do fantastic with what they have. Finally, the children are absolutely fantastic. In particular, Huttlestone as Gavroche is precious and I just wanted to hug him. The major misstep was casting Crowe as Javert. He is not nearly a strong enough singer to handle the role. Considering the dialogue is 95% song, Crowe was just not up to the challenge of this role.

The other major problem was having Tom Hooper direct the film. I hated so many of his directorial choices. He used close-up shots for a good 75% of the film. Close-ups can be very effective when used sparingly. During really moving ballads or tense moments, the close-ups could have been very striking. The problem is that when everything is in close-up, the actors can’t play off each other as well. Everything is in really soft focus as well, which got annoying. The film is 2 hours and 38 minutes long, so it already dragged at times and those directorial choices kept pulling me out of the movie.

The standout moments of the film are definitely Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” and Barks’ rendition of “On My Own.” There’s a reason those are the two most well-known songs from the stage musical. It’s because they’re heartbreakingly gorgeous. The art direction and costuming is fantastic. I just wish we had seen more of it than the constant close-up shots allowed. There is no doubt this is going to be nominated for Best Picture, and rightfully so. It’s a very solid adaptation of the stage musical and certainly one of the top films made this year. However, it is not going to be the winner.

Film & Book reviews: Struck by Lightning

Basically, everyone who has ever met me knows I’m a touch obsessed with television. I go through phases with various television shows. Currently, one of my biggest obsessions is “Glee.” Once again, not a shock to anyone who reads this blog or has ever talked to me in real life. There are two actors on the show who I absolutely adore: Chris Colfer and Darren Criss. They are two of the most talented young people currently working in Hollywood.

Chris Colfer is 22 years old. He has won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Kurt Hummel on “Glee.” His debut children’s novel “The Land of Stories” was a New York Times bestseller. He recently wrote and starred in his first feature film “Struck by Lightning,” which he then turned into a novel. Seriously. He’s three months younger than me and I feel like the biggest slacker in the world when I look at his list of accomplishments.

The basic plot of the story follows a high school senior named Carson Phillips (Colfer). His sole mission in life is to get out of his hometown of Clover. He dreams of attending Northwestern University and eventually becoming the editor of the New Yorker. Unfortunately, he has to put up with the general close-mindedness so commonly used in portrayals of small towns. All Carson wants is to be a writer. He is the editor of his school’s newspaper. The other members of his staff don’t care about getting the paper published. The one exception to this might be Malerie (Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect), who really tries but just doesn’t quite get it. When he finds out that just being editor of a school newspaper isn’t enough to impress Northwestern, his guidance counselor (Angela Kinsey, The Office) gives him the idea to start a literary magazine.

The literary magazine is a great idea, but the problem is that it can’t just feature Carson’s work. He needs to have submissions from other students. Carson doesn’t necessarily get along with his classmates…or people in general. He tries to get submissions by just asking for them, but pretty much insults them in the process. He gets a submission box full of garbage, literally. After catching two boys making out in the bathroom, he essentially blackmails them into writing for the magazine. Carson realizes that there are surely more people with secrets at the school and picks out a select few to extort. His targets include the cheerleading captain, football coach, class president, and a few other very popular students.

The quest to get the literary magazine up and running is pretty much the sole plot of the novel. Colfer writes it as a series of journal entries documenting the school year, so everything is from Carson’s point of view. The novel and the film are almost exactly the same, but there are a couple noticeable differences.

The novel spends some time going into the interactions between Carson and the people he’s blackmailing. Carson tries to inspire them in his own way by getting them to write. He has a couple meaningful conversations with these students. However, in the film, we only see the conversation between Carson and cheerleading captain Claire Matthews (Sarah Hyland, Modern Family).

The film also develops the relationship between Carson and his mother Sheryl (Allison Janney, The West Wing) a lot more than in the book. In general, Sheryl is far more developed in the film. She is an extremely compelling character, mostly because Janney is such an amazing actress. After divorcing her husband Neal (Dermot Mulroney), she spirals out of control and becomes a non-functioning alcoholic. She is addicted to basically every prescription drug. She is hateful towards Carson at every turn and takes every opportunity to remind him that dreams don’t come true. Colfer and Janney were fantastic in their scenes together and their relationship was the most interesting of both the film and book. Neal’s new fiancee April (Christina Hendricks, Mad Men) is also a character that is hardly mentioned in the novel, yet plays a much bigger role in the film. Janney and Hendricks play off each other so well and their scenes together are beyond fantastic. They basically represent the before and after of what a stressful relationship can do to a person.

The final piece of the puzzle is the relationship between Carson and his senile grandmother (Polly Bergen, The Caretakers). Bergen doesn’t have a huge role, but every scene she shares with Colfer is memorable. The film really needed this relationship. Carson is incredibly sarcastic with everyone else and would easily come across as an acerbic asshole without this relationship.

The balance between the sarcastic wit and the more sentimental moments make the novel and film magical. I was bawling by the end of the film. The major shortfall of the film is that it is so short. At only 84 minutes, it would have benefitted from maybe another 10 minutes to better flesh out Carson’s relationships with the other students in his school. Currently, the film is only available on demand or iTunes. It will be released in a small number of theaters January 11 and will hopefully be in wide release by the end of the month. The film is directed by Brian Dannelly, who also directed Saved!, another fantastic film about high school.