Dallas returns! Downton brings us down…

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Last night brought the 2nd season of the revival of Dallas, one of my favorite shows from the 80’s. It got off to a great start as we begin the last stories of J.R. Ewing, greatest villain in TV history. His son, John Ross, took center stage as he begins putting his father’s lessons into action and prepares to take his place as the heir of the vilest man in Texas. Julie Gonzalo stands revealed as Pamela Barnes, daughter of long time JR rival Cliff Barnes, as The Good Guys, Bobby, Elena, and Christopher try to expand the Clean Energies part of the business. Mitch Pileggi, Skinner on X-Files, finds himself promoted to series regular this season, Emma Bell (Walking Dead) joins the cast as his daughter,  and Judith Light, Angela on Who’s the Boss, appears as his mother. Tons of double crosses, backstabbing, and classic Ewing drama unfold in the premiere . Worth watching.

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In international news, this past weekend brought us the death of Lady Sybil Branson, nee Crawley, of Downton Abbey. The cause of death was Eclampsia during childbirth. You’d think a real person had died with all the news stories on the internet about it. I even read a medical story on the particular complication that took the character’s life. Crazy, but as I can attest, fandom knows few limits.

Lincoln

It starts off slow, but ends with a bang.

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This is the one everyone and their mother was talking about. The tale of January 1865, and Lincoln’s attempt to pass the 13th Amendment through Congress and end slavery forever. Structurally, the film is very good. It is well directed, well shot, and has a great script. The one glaring flaw is the ending. There is a segment that runs a few minutes long depicting his death, and a scene from his last inauguration. I consider them to be quite out of place with the rest of the film. I know it seems counter intuitive to make a Lincoln film without the assassination, but this is not a comprehensive look at his life. It’s focus is One Month in the man’s life, and a short denouement in early April 1865 as the war officially ends. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but I think it was a misstep.

What sets this film apart from the rest of the pack are the actors.

Daniel Day Lewis

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This is probably my favorite depiction of Lincoln, ever. Seeing as Lewis shares some screen time with Hal Holbrook, who made a career of playing Lincoln, this is no small achievement. Much is made of his method acting, and the lengths to which he goes to bring a character to life. If it did not work, he would be labeled crazy and forgotten by the world. Fortunately for us, and him, it works wonderfully. You believe he is Lincoln. The actor vanishes and the 16th President appears. Of all I have seen so far, he deserves the Best Actor Oscar. I cannot see him losing.

Sally Field

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Sally has still got it. She portrays Mary Todd Lincoln- Abe’s wife. She is vulnerable, strong, and oh so amazing as she suffers through the dark days of the Civil War with her husband. I am not sure if she can overcome the Jessica Chastain train of Zero Dark Thirty, but Sally certainly deserves her place among the Best.

Tommy Lee Jones

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As Abolitionist Congressman Stephens, Jones comes close to stealing the film from Lewis, as a proper Supporting Actor should. Tommy does what he does best in this film, he is powerful, fiery, and very dedicated to the cause of ending the stain of slavery forever. His final scenes with his housekeeper are the finest in the film.

There is a virtual cavalcade of talent in every bit part of this movie. James Spader, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Jackie Earl Haley, and Jared Harris only to name a few. Spielberg can get the best when he wants them, and it makes a huge difference.

So, how does this compare to the other nominees I have seen?

I still prefer Django to this and Les Miserables for Best Picture. Les Mis was great, and this was a wonderful look at political horse trading in the 19th century, but Django just WENT FOR IT. I still think Inglorious Basterds was better, Django leads the pack for my sensibilities.

Next question: Does Lincoln effect my top 10 list? yes.

op 10 2012: (v4)

1: Skyfall

2: Django Unchained

3: Avengers

4: Moonrise Kingdom

5: Dark Knight Rises

6: Les Miserables

7: Lincoln

8: The Hunger Games

9: The Artist

10: The Hobbit

As good as Lincoln was, Les Miserables is a better film. Lincoln gets bogged down with vote trading and insider politics, while Les Mis goes to the heart of freedom, sadness, joy, love, all with some amazing set and costuming. Close, but not close enough. Better acting in Lincoln though.

removed:

11: Dredd- This was one of my absolute favorite movies of 2012. It had such innovative use of 3D, and really stood out as an excellent comic adaptation. If Zero Dark Thirty and Argo are as good as I’ve been hearing, the Hobbit  and Artist may be in trouble. Although, I am considering removing The Artist from the list. While I saw it in 2012, and it was a 2012 domestic wide release- it is officially a 2011 film, and was in last years oscars…hmmm. More on that after the next film.

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Les Miserables

Wolverine is on the run from The Gladiator because Catwoman left her baby at Borat’s house…

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My quest to see the remaining Best Picture nominees began today with Les Miserables. Confession- I have never read the book. I have never seen the previous non musical adaptations. I have never seen the play. This was first exposure other than knowing a few of the songs.

Holy Crap. I was blown away.

There is that moment, that occurs in all Motion Picture Musicals, when you stop and say “Oh yeah, they sing in this movie”. Once past that, I was struck by something fascinating- they were not singing to pre-recorded tracks. The vocals that we hear in this film are what was recorded live as they filmed. Normally films are lip synced, in this one the actors are acting as they sing. This might seem a strange thing to focus on, but it really makes a difference.

This is the story of a man named Jean, who serves 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread. He is portrayed by Hugh Jackman. His warden is played by Russel Crowe.  He is paroled, and decides to leave his old name and life behind and make a new one. This is of course against the law as he is supposed to check in with his parole officers.

Several years later, he is an upstanding factory owner. A young woman works in his shop. She is trying to support a child who is living with some innkeepers far away. She is fired and has to turn to a life as a prostitute. Jean discovers the horrible effect the firing has had on his former employee and he makes a promise to take care of her child, just as she dies. Russell Crowe catches up to him, so its away to find the girl. The rest of the story is Jean and the child living their lives. He is afraid of being caught, and she falls in love with a young man tied up in an 1830’s revolutionary movement.

Hugh Jackman

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If Daniel Day Lewis was not getting so much attention for Lincoln (which I have yet to see) the oscar would be Jackman’s. It is well known that he is a song and dance man, of the type Hollywood no longer produces. He is also a hell of an actor. He puts both skills together with amazing effect. This is a career defining role for him, on par with Wolverine. You really feel Jean Valjean’s pain as he tries to balance the scales with God. A powerful performance.

Anne Hathaway

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She will break your heart. Fantine, the woman who turns to prostitution to support her child. She is only in the film briefly, but she leaves a lasting impact on all that follows. She gets “I dreamed a dream” the most famous of the songs in the film, and she nails it. People listening just to the soundtrack are missing the true performance. The major complaint is that her voice cracks a lot, and sounds quite weak. This is not due to a detriment of Hathaway’s performance, but is BECAUSE of it. She is acting, and the song comes at the point where she is at her lowest, and wants to die. Whats even cooler is that she does it all in one take. ONE TAKE, no camera cuts. The few minutes of this song are the most emotional in the film- because of her acting. She deserves the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this one, despite stiff competition.

Russel Crowe

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No one told Russell that he was not in a rock opera. His style is a bit out of place in this film, but I cannot fault the singing. He is an accomplished musician and can belt out a tune. He was just an odd choice compared to the others. Then again, his character of Javert- who chases Valjean is supposed to be a bit out of step with our heroes. Bottom line- he is not the best fit, but does an admirable job. I applaud him taking the role.

Sacha Baron Cohen

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This guy amazes me. He will be forever remembered as Borat, Bruno, and any of his other “Mockumentary” style creations. I enjoyed his schtick, but pretty much wrote the guy off. Then he showed up in Sweeney Todd, quite memorably ad he started showing signs of being more than a one trick pony. Now he shows up here, absolutely playing up his comedic talents as the incredibly corrupt innkeeper that has been taking care of Fantine’s child Cossette with his wife- played by Helena Bonham Carter. She delivers a good performance, similar to things she has done previously, while Cohen damn near steals the movie. After the drama, and sadness of the first section of the film, his character explodes onto the scene and was a crowd pleaser. His next film is Mercury- a drama based on the life of Freddie Mercury of Queen. He can act, he can sing, and he resembles Mercury. That is one to watch for.

Amanda Seyfried

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An actress that is on the cusp of something special. She first popped up on my radar in Big Love, and then she branched out into film with Mamma Mia, and a few unmemorable horror films. Now she pops up here, and has a few high profile pictures in development. She plays the adult Cossette, and has a lovely singing voice.

Eddie Redmayne

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Cossette’s love- Marius is played by Eddie Redmayne who impressed me last year in “My week with Marilyn”. He’s been in a few other productions and looks to be an up and comer.

Tom Hooper:

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Hooper is the director of the film. He first came to my notice a couple of years ago when he made “The King’s Speech” which won everything that year. He also directed a fantastic Mini Series called “John Adams”. You may have heard of it. This is three projects in a row that work for me. Hooper is going on my list of Directors to follow closely.

The question: Does this effect my top films list of 2012? Absolutely. The Cinematography, Costume, Set design, and SHEER QUALITY of this film catapults it into contention.

Top 10 2012: (v3)

1: Skyfall

2: Django Unchained

3: Avengers

4: Moonrise Kingdom

5: Dark Knight Rises

6: Les Miserables

7: The Hunger Games

8: The Artist

9: The Hobbit

10: Dredd

Removed:

11: Prometheus- I am sorry to see this one drop off, but its been a great year.

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The Oscar race is on!

Here are the best picture nominees for 2012:

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Amour, Django Unchained, Argo

I have only seen Django. This needs to be remedied.

Some of these are just not playing near me anymore- Beasts of Southern Wild, Amour. Beasts in on Netflix, and at the top of my queue.

My plan is this: See them, or at least most of them. Argo cleaned house at the Globes and SAG awards, so this should be a priority. It is sadly only playing at night, at a Mall that I have never had a good movie experience at. Now, the hooligans will likely not be lining up to see Argo, but the threat of stabbing will keep me close to home. Argo shall remain a mystery unless it gets expanded release this month. Life of Pi is also at this Mall. Which is sad, as I like Ang Lee films.

Next in likely liquidity is Les Miserables. I wanted to see this, Tatum did not- so I never saw it. I expect it to vanish soon, therefore I shall check it out tomorrow and report back! That only leaves:

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Lincoln

Zero Dark Thirty

Silver Linings Playbook

 

Definitely doable by Oscar Night.

I would add The Master to this list (due to several acting noms) but its not on video, or at a theater near me. Its DVD release date is RIGHT AFTER the oscars, so it will also be missed. Oh well.

Comix This Week!

After 25+ years of weekly comic book reading, I have cut the cord of my favorite hobby. When I first started reading and collecting this awesome little slices of heaven, heaven was cheap: about 75 cents. They slowly creeped up over the decades to the current price of 2.99-3.99 on average. Some are higher. If this was 1987, and I am only reading 3 comics, the expense is manageable. As my addiction hobby has matured, it was not unheard of for me to leave the store with 8-10 comics a week. That’s right, 30-40 a week on average. As I juggle car payments, mortgage, student loans, credit cards, utilities, a massive food bill (enough for a family of orangutans) I finally reached a breaking point in December and I cancelled all of my subscriptions.

How I have navigated the last several years with this weekly money sink is beyond me. I tried to limit myself to a 1 0r 2 of digital comics a week, but week one saw me download 5 and week 2 brought another 7 comics, all without the useful discount my local store provided. My last purchase of a comic was Superior Spider-Man #1, and that’s where I am leaving it. I graduate from college in May (please God, please) and with it will hopefully come some gainful employment that will allow me to support myself like a normal human. I doubt that I will ever be able to dive back into comics to the tune of 90+ a month, nor should I endeavor to. There is a particular bible quote that always pissed me off “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” I have spent the majority of my adult life rebelling against this notion. I’ve tried to keep that child-like sense of wonder and excitement with me as I traveled through this world. The various “childish” interests I have cultivated over the years gave me a direct line to that frame of mind.

Last summer I sold off my action figure collection. Hundreds of pieces including a near complete Star Wars collection. I sold off a large number of comics books as well. I even parted with my complete Star Wars Novel collection, as well as hundreds of other pieces of nostalgia. I cancelled my World of Warcraft account, and unsubscribed from comic books. I still have plenty of bric-a-brac on my desk at home, but they are the last vestiges of the collection. From maybe 1,000 items to a dozen. Even some of them are soon to go. My love of film is still intact, and I will continue to Geek out over the latest films and TV programs, but I sense that a piece of me is gone. I don’t know if it vanished when I sold my collection to pay the bills. Perhaps I lost it as I was freezing in the woods of New Hampshire, trying to fulfill my dream of being an actor. Then I watched in horror as that dream crumbled to pieces when the film halted production. My costars encouraged me to audition for other films, but something inside was definitely broken. While I’ve been surviving and “being myself” for the last 4 months, I have to admit that I have felt lost. Looking back, I can see now that it was some sort of depression that took hold. I did not want to leave the house, I ate garbage, and felt no desire to engage the world. Then I cancelled my comics and realized how hollow my life has been.

Then, as I started to feel really low, the plague struck. I came down with the harsher of the influenza strains spreading in the country and was knocked on my ass. To compound it, I then developed pneumonia and was bedridden for DAYS! A person really gets a chance to reflect on life when you are laying in bed, gasping for air, between hallucinations brought on by fever. The time off gave me time to think through where my life has been, and where it is going.

Now, aside from a slight cough, things are better. I will finally finish College and move on from this long section of life that I started in 1997. Perpetually in school, taking courses here and there, traveling the country to every comic and sci-fi convention that caught my eye, and living just above the poverty line. I can’t say it has not been fun, its been a blast. Yet, it has grown tiresome. I have spent the last 15 years living the dream. I have met the majority of my heroes in the Geek world, and my 14 year old self could not be happier. But the 33 year old me is ready for something new. For the first time, in a long time, I have some hope.

I will still post here, and there will be precious little change in the types of things I write. My love affair with movies will never die. I will always enjoy a good book, and good music. If anything, I hope that I can share some other things with all 2 of you readers. Things that will interest you, and reflect a life worth living.

-MP

Kolchak, Community, Red State, and Ironclad

The last few weeks have been a time of quiet reflection, and review of my life. Mostly because I am flat broke and sit around the house doing nothing when not at work. In an attempt to distract myself from the snoozefest my life has become, I watched a lot of TV over the holidays.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

I briefly discussed this recently as my favorite old show discovery of 2012. Kolchak started in the early 70’s as a couple of tv movies which was then upgraded to series for 20 episodes before being cancelled. It is one of those series that I have been aware of, but never seen. I am certainly glad to have remedied this situation. Kolchak is played by Darren McGavin- an actor who earned a place in my pantheon with his turn as the father in “A Christmas Story”. Kolchak is the story of a newspaper reporter who prowls Chicago searching for stories, and coming across supernatural threats instead. A major influence on X-Files, this show also launched the career of David Chase- creator of The Sopranos as well as featuring stories written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis who would later team up to create Back to the Future. McGavin’s sense of humor is present throughout, and the supporting performances of the others in the newsroom, give the show a lot of heart. Keenan Wynn makes a couple of notable appearances as a police Captain who keeps running afoul of Kolchak. A grueling schedule, and studio politics led to the show’s cancellation in 75. Amazingly it lives on, being a popular download from Netflix, spawning a short lived remake, and even comic books. Kolchak is a great show.

Community

From old to new! Another show that is constantly dancing on the periphery of my viewing habits is NBC’s Community. It is the story of Jeff, former lawyer a who is caught not having a real college degree, being forced back into school or face disbarment. He falls into a study group for Spanish class which then has all manner of misadventures. Easily the funniest show on tv of the last several years. Like 30 Rock, it is intelligent, and so SO bizzare! There is nothing quite like it on tv right now, and I am a bit sad that it is not finding much of an audience other than the vocal geeks on the internet.

Red State

Kevin (Clerks) Smith’s first “horror” film isn’t really a horror film, more of a gory action film. I enjoy Smith, but this was a bit of a misfire for me. Three teens find a woman online soliciting sex and they travel to her trailer for some fun. Instead, the whole thing is a set up by a Westboro Baptist Church type group who is rounding up homosexuals and fornicators and killing them in the name of God.  The ATF is called in to raid their compound for illegal guns, and a shootout commences. It aims really high, hoping to tell a story of religion, free speech, government abuse, 9/11, and gay rights. It never really comes together sadly. John Goodman plays a great ATF agent, and the phenomenal Michael Parks is the Pastor of the church. Parks really hits it out of the park and elevates this film higher than it probably deserves. Kevin Smith is a great writer, and a favorite director of mine, but even he is admitting that he doesn’t have much left in the tank. He is making one more film (Clerks 3) and then retiring from film to focus on other projects- TV, internet etc. While this makes me sad, I have reached a point in my life where I can realize when its time to go, you go.  Smith has earned his rest.

Ironclad

Its been sitting in my Netflix queue for a while now, waiting to be seen. Well, it was seen.

In 1215, the Barons of England fought a rebellion against King John (perennial villain of Robin Hood). Facing defeat, John was forced to sign Magna Carta- the document that stated that the free men of England had rights, that the law of the land was supreme and even the King was beholden to it. Well, John did not like this, and he immediately hired an army and attempted to crush all the Barons. This is the story of that war following Magna Carta, specifically the siege of Rochester Castle.

It takes some serious, SERIOUS, liberties with history, almost insanely so.

James Purefoy- terrific actor from Rome (Mark Antony) plays a Templar Knight.

Brian Cox

Baron d’Aubigny, leader of rebellion. He is brutally killed in the film. In reality his character lived another 20 years.

Paul Giamatti

King John. Insane casting, but he pulls it off.

I honestly do not know what to think of this. I like historical accuracy, but this was not as bad of a film as is being touted. The actors were fine, and the story as presented is fine. The problem is that it is total bullshit. The film ends as the King is about to conquer the Castle. He has killed d”aubigny 20 years too soon and used a “Pig Bomb” to blow a hole in the wall. In reality, he used pig fat to grease support struts under the castle which he then set on fire. He did not send an army of pigs, set ablaze, to blow a hole in Rochester castle. About to seize victory, he is thwarted at the last minute as King Louis of France arrives and drives off the King’s forces- saving Rochester Castle….

What the fuck.

Rochester castle is regarded throughout 800 years of history as one of the most ingenious sieges EVER. Right up there with Caesar’s battle with Vercingetorix. Rochester Castle is a legendary VICTORY for King John. The rebels, including d’Aubigny, surrender to the King in the face of his superior siege warfare. They are sent to jail and the King rides on and takes Southern England. 6 months later, King Louis arrives from France and starts tearing up England. John later dies of illness while retreating. This film turns John’s victory into a defeat. Its like making a Napoleon film where he WINS at Waterloo! Drivel.

Moonrise Kingdom

Oh Boy. When I made my “best of post” I mentioned that I would watch a few more movies and revise my best/worst of 2012 film list. Right off the bat, we have a top 5 movie.

I enjoy some of Wes Anderson’s stuff, not all, but some. This is a great movie. Simple, expertly made. Well Cast. Exceptionally shot, as always, by Robert Yeoman. It was filmed all around Narragansett Bay, which is where I live. Due to this, I think the film touched me a bit more than it likely would have. After all, what we are seeing on screen is my home, and that makes it special.

A story of two kids who fall in love, and the lengths they have to go to be together. Its simple, and it is great stuff. The actors are superb, and the story is good. That goes a long way in the hands of a skilled filmmaker.

Revised top 10:

1: Skyfall

2: Django Unchained

3: Avengers

4: Moonrise Kingdom

5: Dark Knight Rises

6: The Hunger Games

7: The Artist

8: The Hobbit

9: Dredd

10: Prometheus

Booted off-

11: Get the Gringo. Sorry Mel.

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Entertainment Analysis by Superponte