‘Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels’ Is Not Dreadful, But Tough To Watch

Courtesy: CBS DVD/Paramount/Showtime/Sky

Showtime and Sky’s Penny Dreadful spin-off City of Angels is an interesting addition to the franchise.  The 10-episode series, which ran for approximately two months this year from April 26 to June 28, is an interesting presentation.  While it only ran for one season, it is a presentation that will find its specific audiences.  That is due in part to the story featured in the program.  This element will be discussed shortly.  While the story does give audiences reason to watch, the general content that accompanies the story unarguably detracts from the show’s presentation to a point.  This will be addressed a little later.  The work of the series’ cast puts the finishing touch to the show’s program.  Together with the story, those two elements are enough to make up for the show’s somewhat overly gritty content and make it worth watching at least once.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is an interesting addition to Showtime and Sky’s original Penny Dreadful franchise, which originally launched in 2014 and ran for three seasons. It is a presentation that fans of hard boiled crime dramas will find at least somewhat appealing.  That is proven in part through its expansive story line, which spans the show’s 10-episode run.  Unlike the original series, which is based on a series of Victorian-era monsters and their experiences, City of Angels is centered more on the real world.  The gritty, hard-boiled crime drama takes place in pre-World War II Los Angeles, California.  It follows the murder of a well-to-do white family in Los Angeles.  The murder is initially blamed on members of the city’s Hispanic community, but of course the truth is eventually revealed at the series’ end, not to give away too much.  This frame-up highlights the racial tensions that did in fact exist between the white members of the city’s citizenry and its immigrant population, especially in the interactions between the city’s all-white police force and the members of the city’s Hispanic population.  Adding to the mix is the impact of the Nazi party in the region at the time.  As if that is not enough, Magda, in all of her various forms, keeps the tension high throughout each of the story lines that interweave throughout the series, adding even more intrigue to the story.  Her actions add to the never-ending discussion on whether human behavior and thoughts are innate or are influenced by external factors (I.E. the sociological discussion of nature versus nurture).  This is discussed in the bonus content that accompanies the series’ home release.  That overarching aspect makes for so much interest in this series.  Of course it cannot be denied that through it all, there are moments when all of the story lines do cause the series to get bogged down in itself.  Each of the story lines do ultimately tie together, but because there is so much going on, it was clearly easy for the writers to get lost in their project.  As a result, audiences end up getting a little lost, too.  Luckily that is not enough to completely ruin the series’ presentation, but it also cannot be ignored.  The fact that the story occasionally gets bogged down in itself is just one of the problems from which this series suffers.  Its general content creates its own problem for the its presentation.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels was intentionally presented as a gritty, hard boiled crime drama.  There is no denying that.  This brand of crime story is nothing new to audiences.  It has been around since at least the early to mid 1920s and 30s.  The thing is that this series takes the general elements of hard boiled crime to a new and somewhat controversial level.  The gruesome fate of the family that was killed is explicit to say the least.  It is reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s look of the Joker in The Dark Knight only far more extreme, complete with blood and gore, oh and nudity.  This is just one over-the-top element of the show’s content.  The overt displays of homosexual (and bi-sexual) intercourse are completely unnecessary, and another way in which the show’s content goes way too far over the top.  As if that is not enough, a moment, such as that in which a police officer’s neck is slashed with a razor and his body left naked and covered in blood (yes, this really is shown) is far too explicit, too.  Between these moments and all of the unnecessary foul language that is used throughout, the general content featured in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels proves to be anything but angelic.  Maybe that is because the show’s heads could get away with it, being on Showtime after all.  Regardless, the noted content (and more) does a great deal to detract from what could have otherwise been a great classic crime hard boiled style crime drama.

For all that the content displayed in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels does to detract from the series’ presentation, it is not enough to make the series completely unwatchable.  The work of the series’ cast on camera works with the story to help save it at least somewhat.  Most notable of the cast is star Nathan Lane.  The veteran actor, Lane serves as a supporting cast member here.  Even as a supporting cast member, he still shines both by himself and alongside fellow cast member Daniel Zovatto (It Follows, Lady Bird, Don’t Breathe).  Lane is known typically as a comedic actor, but his dramatic turn here is so powerful.  When he’s by himself, he stands out so much because he takes the full chance to let Michener’s personality develop.  His years of experience on stage and screen comes through fully and fully entertaining.  When he is working alongside Zovatto, who shines in his own right as Tiago, he never tries to outdo the younger actor.  Rather, the duo works so well together, sort of building their characters’ personalities together.  Natalie Dormer meanwhile shines in her own way as Magda as she takes on her various roles.  Among the best of her moments comes as she portrays Alex, clerk to Councilman Townsend.  The way in which she basically plays him is classic clerk to an evil business.  At the same time, she makes her evil intentions just barely noticeable enough really balance things out and make her character so wonderfully despicable.  Going back to Zovatto, the way he presents Tiago’s personal identity struggles as he works with the police and tries to balance that with his identity as a Latino is moving in its own right.  There are moments when he hams it up a little too much, but for the most part, he takes on his portrayal quite well.  In the same vein, the way in which Tiago’s police counterparts take on their roles is fully believable, too.  There is no way that doing and saying what they did could have possibly been easy, but sadly there is a lot of reality about those racial tensions even in that era.  To that point, the actors made it easy to have a strong dislike for their characters and their awful behavior.  That means that they did a good job of showing the vile nature of how horribly they treated minorities even back then, so they are to be commended for that, as difficult as it must have been, morally.  Taking in the performances noted here, that of Lane’s fellow veteran actor Brent Spiner (who does well in a rare non-Star Trek role), and those of all others involved, it can be said easily that the work of the series’ cast plays well into the overall presentation of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.  Together with the story, they do just enough to counter the questionable content featured within the story, and make the series worth watching at least once.

Showtime and Sky Network’s short-lived series Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is an interesting addition to the franchise, which started six years ago as a fantasy type series.  Its overall story, which incorporates multiple story lines does relatively well to engage audiences.  Given those story lines do bog the series down at times, but not enough to make the series a failure.  The content that is displayed throughout the series does quite a bit to make it difficult to watch, as has been noted here.  It goes way above and beyond the content presented in classic hard boiled detective novels and movies, basically throwing it all out the window just for the sake of having something shocking.  It really is the series’ biggest detractor and makes the series difficult to watch more than once.  The work of the series’ cast works with the story to make up for the problems created by the content at least somewhat.  Those two elements are positives, and do make up for the problems posed through the content to a point.  Taking everything noted here collectively, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is a powerful addition to Showtime and Sky Network’s franchise that crime drama fans will find worth watching at least once.  Hopefully if another addition to the franchise comes along, it will not be as explicit as this series and worth far more.  If not, then the franchise has closed out on a difficult note.  It is available now.

More information on this and other programs from Showtime is available online at:

Website: http://www.sho.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/showtime

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Showtime


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Match Is A Good “Match” For Any Dramaphile

Courtesy:  MPI Home Video/IFC Films

Courtesy: MPI Home Video/IFC Films

The practice of adapting plays to both the small and big screen is nothing new to Hollywood. Film makers have been doing just that as far back as records were first kept. So when it was announced that writer/director Stephen Belber had adapted his own play Match into a feature film last year it should have come as little surprise to most. The story centers on a highly successful dancer named Tobi. Tobi is confronted one day by a young man named Mike Davis and his wife Lisa as Mike suspects that Tobi is his long-lost father. It is not the most original story by any means. There is no denying this. Despite this, Belber’s story still somehow manages to keep audiences fully engaged from the story’s outset to its end. It actually proves to translate quite well from stage to screen, unlike so many other movies adapted from plays. This collectively is the center of the movie’s success. As successful as the play’s small screen adaptation proves to be in its translation, it is sadly not perfect. It does tend to struggle with its pacing at times, slowing things down a bit more than necessary at certain points. Luckily it doesn’t hinder the story to the point that the presentation fails in whole. While the story’s pacing proves to be an unavoidable issue in its overall presentation, the work of Sir Patrick Stewart and Matthew Lillard is to be highly commended. It more than makes up for the story’s pacing problems. Being that it does, it and Belber’s script come together to make Match a movie that is a good *ahem* “match” for any lovers of drama.

IFC Films’ recently released drama Match is a good “match” for any lover of dramas. The main reason for this is its script and said script’s translation from stage to screen. The story behind this movie centers on two men–Tobi (Sir Patrick Stewart–Star Trek: The Next Generation, A Christmas Carol, Blunt Talk) and Mike (Matthew Lillard–Scooy-Doo, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Be Cool Scooby-Doo)–connected by Mike’s belief that Tobi is his illegitimate father. Mike and Lisa (Carla Gugino–Watchmen, Night at the Museum, Sin City) try to figure out if Tobi is indeed Mike’s father by having Lisa pretend to be a writer for a famous dance magazine. Given the central plot is not exactly the most original work ever crafted either for stage or screen. But even with that in mind, Belber manages to make his story stand out from other similar stories of its ilk thanks to the story’s execution and its ability to translate so well from stage to screen. As Lisa interviews Tobi and Mike reveals that he’s a police officer, audiences are actually led to believe that there is something more sinister than what is actually revealed to be the pair’s real plan. To that extent, Belber deserves applause for maintaining that element of surprise even early on. As the story progresses, Tobi’s growing relationship of sorts with Lisa will keep viewers just as engaged. That is because it aids in Tobi’s character development. His discussions with Lisa serve to make him a truly sympathetic character. On the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily serve Gugino in any way. She remains little more than a foil to Willard and Stewart throughout the course of the movie’s roughly ninety-minute run time. By the story’s final act, audiences will look back and say to themselves that they should have seen the final reveal coming, giving themselves that v-8 moment of sorts. The fact that Belber could keep from making the story predictable all the way to that point makes the script that much more worthy fo applause. Keeping all of this in mind, it makes clear exactly why the script lies at the heart of the overall success of Stephen Belber’s small screen adaptation of his hit stage play. It is just one part of what makes the script so important to the presentation’s success, too. The actual translation of the play from stage to screen is deserving of mention here, too.

Stephen Belber’s script for Match is in itself a solid reason that drama fans will enjoy this presentation. The original play’s translation from stage to screen is just as worth mentioning in its overall success and enjoyment as the script itself. Believe it or not, a play’s translation from stage to screen is very important in how it goes over with audiences. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s take on author Victor Hugo’s beloved novel Les Miserables is a prime example of the importance of a play’s translation from the printed page to the screen. Hugo’s story has been adapted and re-adapted time and again throughout Hollywood’s rich history. This includes both on the big screen and small. Some of those adaptations have translated relatively well while others obviously haven’t done so well. Mel Brooks’ big screen adaptation of his movie The Producers is yet another example of the importance of a play’s translation from stage to screen. The play itself was not that great. And its translation from stage to screen was just as unsuccessful. There was just something about its feel and look that did not work. In the case of Match, quite the opposite can be said of the story. Even those that go into the movie without knowing it was adapted will notice in its minimalist backdrops that it must have come from a play. That is meant in the most complimentary fashion, too. Even with the use of so few sets, it still looks impressive. Belber and the movie’s crew didn’t just try to re-hash the play on screen. They actually made the attempt to make the story look believable. Thanks to those efforts, Belber and company are to be complimented even more. The combination of those efforts to give the story a believable look and to make the story itself one that would keep viewers engaged makes for plenty of reason for dramaphiles to see this movie. Of course for all of the success derived from the movie’s script and its successful adaptation from stage to screen, it is not an entirely perfect presentation. One would be remiss to ignore the story’s occasional pacing issues. Thankfully the issues in question are the movie’s only real cons save perhaps for lacking any bonus commentary. But that’s not necessarily a con in the traditional sense of the word. And it will be discussed at more length shortly.

Match proves in the long run to be a movie that any dramaphile will appreciate. That is thanks in large part to its script and its largely believable look. For all of the success generated by these elements, the movie is not a perfect presentation. It is hindered to a point by its pacing. There are points throughout the course of its roughly ninety-minute run time that it tends to slow down seemingly unnecessarily with the end result being that it loses viewers at least in those moments. Luckily those moments are not so prevalent that they make the movie in whole a fail for Belber and company. But they do happen enough that there is no way that they can be ignored. Thankfully they are the movie’s only con in the more traditional sense of the word. If the movie had come with commentary by perhaps Belber and/or Stewart it would have been a great addition considering minutia such as the framed pictures in Tobi’s apartment, and Stewart and Lillard’s obvious on-screen chemistry. Having no commentary doesn’t take away from the movie by any means. But it would have been a great addition to the overall viewing experience. All things considered here, Matchs’ pacing is a con in the movie’s overall presentation. But it isn’t so overpowering that it makes the movie fail in whole. Neither does its lack of bonus commentary. That lack doesn’t hurt the movie. But this critic personally believes that it would have helped make up for the pacing. Perhaps there could have been commentary on that issue. Regardless, Match still proves in the end to be a movie that any dramaphile will want to see at least once.

The pacing behind Belber’s script for Match is an issue in its overall presentation. While it is an issue that cannot be ignored, it is not so overpowering that it makes the movie a fail. The movie’s script and its successful translation from stage to screen are still enough of a collective success that they make up for the story’s occasional pacing issues. They are not all that make up for those problems, either. Stewart and Lillard’s combined years of experience play just as important of a role in the movie’s success as its look and its script. Stewart shines as he takes over for Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon, Good Night and Good Luck, Superman Returns), who took on the role in the story’s stage presentation. From the movie’s early moments when Tobi thinks that he is being interviewed to the story’s more emotional moments, Stewart shines. His years of experience both on stage and in front of the camera show through clearly as he makes Tobi a character for whom audiences will root throughout the movie. On the other side of the proverbial coin, Matthew Lillard is just as impressive. most audiences that are familiar with Lillard’s work remember him from movies such as Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo 2, and some of the most recent animated incarnations of Hanna Barbera’s long-running franchise. That work, along with his work in SLC Punk, Homerun Showdown, and others is completely different from his portrayal here. Considering his past body of work, his portrayal of the emotionally troubled Mike is a massive departure for Lillard. And he is quite convincing, too. It goes to show the diversity of his talents even more. Viewers can’t help but feel some sympathy for Mike as it becomes evident that Mike’s anger issues have arisen from the fact that he did not have a father figure for the majority of his life. Just as interesting is his seeming change in the movie’s final story’s final scene. It’s like a weight has been lifted from him that had weighed with the weight of the world on Atlas’ shoulders. And in turn, it leaves viewers hoping that things will be better between him and Lisa, that weight having been lifted. It is yet one more way in which the work of both Stewart and Lillard presents so much talent and depth. That talent and depth combined with the story’s script and its overall believable look in its adaptation makes for a movie that any dramaphile will want to see at least once. This is despite its occasional pacing issues and regardless of audiences’ familiarity with the work of either Stewart or Lillard. All things considered, Match proves in the end to be a “match” for any dramaphile.

Stephen Belber’s small screen adaptation of his play Match is a movie that is a good “match” for any dramaphile. It takes an all too oft-used plot and gives it new life thanks to its execution. Its translation from stage to screen adds to its enjoyment as it boasts a completely believable look even with the use of minimal sets. The combined efforts of Sir Patrick Stewart and Matthew Lillard are just as impressive in the grand scheme of things. Their efforts combined with the story’s script and its look more than make up for its occasional pacing issues. They do so much good for the movie that even with those pacing issues Match still proves in the end to be a good “match” for any dramaphile and an equally good “match” for any critic’s list of the year’s best new independent movies. It is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other titles from IFC Films is available online now at:

Website: http://www.IFCFilms.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/IFCFilmsOfficial

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PBS’ Broadway History Documentary Hits All The Right Notes

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS has shown time and again that it is the last bastion of true kid friendly programming on television.  It has also shown just as many times why it is the last true bastion of worthwhile family friendly programming with series such as Nova, Great Performances, and Nature.  Now, the network has shown yet again why it is one of the best networks out there with its six-episode miniseries, Broadway:  The American Musical.

Broadway: The American Musical is just one more feather in the cap of what is not just a great television network, but a virtual American institution in itself.  This six part documentary series takes audiences on a journey through time.  It takes them from Broadway’s roots in the famed Ziegfeld Follies up to modern day Broadway.  Host Julie Andrews was an excellent choice to lead audiences on this musical journey through not just Broadway’s history, but also America’s history.  Being a seasoned veteran of both screen and stage, Andrews makes the entire presentation worth experiencing.  The inclusion of interviews with other professionals from around the entertainment world (E.g. Mel Brooks, Carol Channing, Tim Robbins, etc.) makes the story even more interesting.  There’s even discussion on some of the greatest names in Broadway’s history, including: the famed Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, Cole Porter, and of course Rogers and Hart just to name a few.  The stories shared around these figures illustrate not only their careers, but the influence of their works on America through each one’s career.  They also serve to illustrate just how important each one was and still is today to both the entertainment world and the world in general.

One of the most interesting of the stories in the special comes in its third episode.  The song, ‘Buddy Can You Spare a dime’ is discussed early on in this segment.  It’s noted that the song was a response to what was going on in the Great Depression.  And if it hadn’t been included in a Broadway play, the powers that be might have kept this extremely important song from every having become known to anyone.  It shows the power of the unseen men in suits even back then.  And that it resonated so much with American audiences today shows its continued musical and cultural importance, especially in this nation’s current economic and political state.  From this point, the program expands on this topic, explaining how musical theater increasingly became the voice of Americans as they weren’t able to voice their own opinions openly.  In simple terms, it shows how musical theater really became the voice of the voiceless, so to speak.

The story behind ‘Buddy Can You Spare a Dime’ is just one of so many at which audiences will amaze.  Equally interesting are the stories of how Disney helped to bring Broadway into a new age and of a working class man’s rise to fame with his original play, “Rent”, his untimely death, and the reaction to his play and passing.  That moment alone will leave any viewer feeling at least somewhat emotional.  It makes for one of the documentary’s more memorable moments.  Just as memorable as that moment are the extra performances included in the triple-disc set as bonus features.  Each disc includes bonus performances of acts from each highlighted era.  They are more than just bonus footage.  They serve to help illustrate the type of performances being held during each era.  And the very fact that the oldest of footage has stood the test of time so well is just as impressive as the stories included throughout the program’s length.

The stories and the footage together make for quite the viewing experience for any Broadway lover.  There is at least one more factor that makes this set the complete item for fans of the theater.  That factor is the set’s packaging.  PBS has hit the mark on the head with the set’s packaging.  All three discs included in the set are placed on their own spot inside the set’s box.  The first two discs are placed back to back on opposite sides of an insert, while the third disc is placed on the backside of the box.  Placing the discs in this fashion protects all three and thus increases their longevity.  Looking at the set from this vantage point to that of the presentation itself, PBS has assembled a documentary that is fitting both for students of the theater arts and of any lover of the theater.  It’s available now.  It can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store, at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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Top 10 Major Motion Pictures Of 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2012

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

1.  The Artist:  While it originally made its debut overseas in 2011, it wasn’t until January 20th of this year that The Artist actually made its nationwide debut in theaters across the U.S.  Before then, only the lucky few at the big festivals got to see it.  That being the case, it should be considered a 2012 release.  So what makes it 2012’s best?  So much could be said.  At a time when so much of what Hollywood churns out is prequels, sequels, and remakes, this story—distributed by Sony Pictures—went the total opposite.  How simple and ingenious is it to make a silent film in a movie of major flash-bang-boom films?  Because the movie’s only sound is its music, viewers are forced to watch.  And the cast was force to really put on its best possible performance, rather than rely on everything else that most movies use to distract audiences from poor performances.  The music is quite enjoyable, too.  And of course, the general cinematography is just as impressive.  It all combines to make for a movie that any movie lover should see at least once.

Mirror Mirror BD2.  Mirror, Mirror:  Some of you might shake your heads at this pick.  But the reality is that this is really a fun and family friendly movie.  Both boys and girls will enjoy it as will parents.  While young Lily Collins (the daughter of superstar Phil Collins) is billed as the lead star here, it’s the dwarves who are really the story’s stars.  Their antics make for more than their share of laughs.  Though watching Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer—The Lone Ranger) put under the evil queen’s puppy love spell is pretty funny, too.  It’s obvious that this spoof of the classic fairy tale was aimed both at boys and girls.  With its mix of wit and charm, it will always be one of the best takes on the old Snow White story.

Courtesy:  Disney Studios

Courtesy: Disney Studios

3.  The Odd Life of Timothy Green:  This is another truly enjoyable family movie.  The general story is one to which any parent can relate and will enjoy because of that.  Though the concept of what happens with Timothy might be a little bit tough to discuss with younger viewers.  The beautiful backdrop adds even more warmth to the story.  And the cast’s acting makes suspension of disbelief so easy.  Sure it’s sappy, emotional, and all that jazz.  But that can be forgiven as it’s such an original and heartwarming story.       

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

4.  Skyfall:  This is where things begin to get a little bit touchy.  Skyfall is by far the best Bond flick to come along in a very long time.  That’s not to say that the previous two were bad.  But this one brought back memories of the old school James Bond that everybody knows.  It’s got the gadgets and the humor and none of the melodrama that weighed down the previous two Bond flicks.  The only downside to the movie is that it tends to drag in the final act.  Other than that, it is a nice return to form for the Bond franchise and gives hope for any future Bond films….that is at least if Christopher Nolan doesn’t get his hands on the franchise.

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

Courtesy: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

5.  The Avengers:  The Avengers was a very nice way to cap off the build-up created by Marvel Studios with the recent bevy of comic book based movies.  It had great special effects.  Its story was simple and solid.  And the shooting was equally impressive.  Considering all the action going on, audiences weren’t left feeling dizzy to the point of wanting to walk out (or in the case of home release, just turn it off).  But like so many ensemble cast movies, it suffered from a common problem.  That problem was the movie’s run time.  Most of the characters in The Avengers had already been introduced through their own separate movies.  So there was no reason to re-introduce them all over again this time.  A lot of that extra time could have been spared.  Hopefully those involved have learned from that and will present viewers with a shorter movie in the second of the Avengers movies.

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

6.  The Dark Knight Rises:  I am just as much a comic book fan as anyone else out there.  So it goes without saying that I was excited to see this movie.  It did a good job of wrapping up the trilogy.  The problem is that it did too much of a good job, as David Goyer and the Nolans tried too hard to cram everything into one movie.  Word is that this latest installment of the Batman franchise left many people checking their watches when it was in theaters.  It might have been better served to have been split up into at least one more movie because of everything added into the mix.  And having what seems to be a lack of commentary on the new home release, fans can only guess what the logic was in cramming so much into one story.  Much like The Avengers, the shooting and the special effects were great.  So it has that going for it.  But the writing was the story’s big problem.  Here’s to hoping that whoever takes over the Batman franchise next (whenever it’s re-launched) won’t make the same mistake as Christopher Nolan and company.

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

7.  Prometheus:  This semi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s hit Alien franchise was met with mixed reviews.  There seemed to be no gray area here.  Audiences either loved it or hated it.  Truth be told, it worked quite well as both a prequel and as its very own stand-alone movie.  Sure the special effects are different from those used in the original movies.  But times are different.  So viewers should take that into account.  And the shooting was just as impressive.  While it may not be as memorable as Scott’s previous works, at least audiences can agree that it’s better than the movies in the AvP franchise.

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

8.  Les Miserables:  This latest reboot of Victor Hugo’s classic story of love and redemption in one of history’s darkest eras is not bad.  But it’s not great, either.  Audiences who know the stage play will thrill at how director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his staff of writers paid tribute to the stage play both in its writing and its shooting.  At the same time, Hooper tried so hard to pay tribute with his shooting style and the transitions that the whole movie felt dizzying to say the least.  The shooting and transitions felt like nothing more than a bunch of cuts from one shot to the next.  There was never a total sense of fluidity anywhere in the story.  It was almost as if despite staying true to the stage play, the script for this latest big screen adaptation was written by someone with ADHD.  Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway did a superior job with their performances.  But despite that, odds are that the movie will sadly be remembered more for its flawed shooting and transitions than for its award-worthy performances.  Nonetheless, it’s still a good movie for any fan of Les Miserables or for fans of musicals in general to see at least once.

Courtesy:  CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

9.  Salmon Fishing in the YemenSalmon Fishing in the Yemen is without a doubt an original story.  It’s next to impossible to find anything like it out there or present.  But it suffers greatly from an identity crisis.  It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a drama, a romance, or a little bit of both.  It’s nice to see the simple message of something as simple as fishing being able to bring the world’s people together peacefully.  But it really seemed to let the romance factor get too much involved.  As a result, it got bogged down in itself.  Had it not had the romance subplot, it might have been better.

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

10. Arbitrage:  It was once noted that three factors more than any other are the causes of crime.  Those factors are:  money, power, and sex.  Arbitrage has all three of these.  It’s an interesting movie.  And it definitely wastes no time noting the latter of the trio of factors, as it lets audiences know that Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is having an affair with another woman.  And also, Miller’s boss has a very firm talk with him early on letting him know that he knows about the financial inaccuracies that he’s causing.  It doesn’t take long to know where this story goes.  It’s something of a tried and true story.  Add in this critic’s pet peeve of movies, the “whisper scenes” and it makes for a movie that as good as it is it could have been better.  For those wondering, the “whisper scene” is exactly as it sounds (bad pun there).  The “whisper scene” is one in which actors essentially whisper throughout the scene against overpowering music to make the scene more emotional and powerful.  But put against the sudden transition to normal volume scenes (and above normal volume scenes), it becomes rather annoying as one has to constantly change the volume on one’s TV as a result of that.  It’ll be interesting to see if it gets the Golden Globe for which it was nominated.

There you have it folks.  That is my personalist of the year’s ten best major motion pictures.  You are more than welcome to share whether you agree or disagree and what your top 10 list would look like.  2013’s already shaping up to be an interesting year.  As the movies start to come out, I’ll have reviews of them, too.  To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Mirror, Mirror’s not your parents’ Snow White story

Mirror, mirror on the wall, which Snow White Tale is the fairest of them all?  The answer there is this brand new spoof of the classic fairy tale.  This is not your parents, Disney-fied version of the classic story.  Rather, it’s a wholly tongue-in-cheek story that’s a laugh riot for the entire family.

The movie opens with Julia Roberts’ evil queen setting up the story, explaining how she came to be Snow White’s stepmother.  Is it just coincidence that in these classic stories, the stepmother is always portrayed as evil?  Random thought.  The key to remember in the story isn’t so much that Snow White received her father’s dagger.  Though it does come in to play later in the story.  But the more subtle nuance of the two moon shaped necklaces.  Roberts does a great job playing the evil queen.  America has come to know Roberts as this loveable character in every role she’s done before.  But now, audiences will love to hate her character of the evil queen.  That means that she’s doing her job, and doing it well as an actor.  So kudos to Mrs. Roberts for her role in this movie.

Of course, Roberts isn’t the only star of the movie.  One could argue that in a sense, Mirror, MIrror is another ensemble movie, considering how everything was executed.  And typically, ensemble movies don’t work.  But this one does.  Every star has their part.  And every star executes said part wonderfully, to make for plenty of laughs all the way through the story.  Fellow veteran actor Nathan Lane was hilarious as Brighton, the King…er…queen’s servant.  Kids’ll love watching his reaction as he gets turned into a cockroach, and later reaction when he finally turns back to a human.  Parents will get a kick out of the joke he makes, too, about it.  That’s not giving away too much is it?  The chemistry between Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) and the dwarves made for plenty of funny moments, too.  And of course, there’s Snow White (Lily Collins), too.  We can’t forget her.  On another random note, she [Snow White] looks oddly like legendary actress Audrey Hepburn, especially at the story’s end.  So perhaps congratulations are in order to the makeup and costume department for that.  Snow White in this story is a great role model for young female audiences, as she’s a very self-assured, empowered character, rather than the typical damnsel in distress that most renditions present her as being.

Getting back to the dwarves. They were their own comic element in themselves.  It could be argued that they were the real stars of the movie.  Forget the dwarves that everybody recalls from the Disney-fied tale of Snow White.  These dwarves aren’t Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, etc.  But comparisons to those dwarves can be made.  These dwarves are bandits, not miners.  But they’ve got heart.  And Snow White brings it out of them without eliminating their great comedic timing.  One of them even has something of a crush on her.  That alone makes for its own share of funny moments.

One of the story’s really funny moments (Brighton being turned into a cockroach aside) is the sword fighting scene between Snow White and Prince Alcott.  Anyone who has seen The Mask of Zorro will see an instant comparison to the scene from that movie with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas.  Whether that comparison was intentional or not, it’s still there.  Wolf asks Butcher if they should help Snow White.  When she knocks the Prince off his feet, butcher laughs and says he thinks she’s doing fine on her own.  That will make any viewer laugh.  There is also the scene in which the dwarves are trying to get the Prince from out of the Queen’s spell.  They don’t know what to do at first, so they try all kinds of outrageous things, from hitting him to blowing a horn, to boxing his ears, and more.  That moment will get audiences young and old alike laughing.  Mirror, Mirror has so many more enjoyable moments that one could ramble on for ages about all of them.  That having been noted, all of those moments, combined with great acting make this movie a great lead in for the upcoming Summer mnovie season.

Whether for the great acting by everyone involved, or the fanciful set designs, or the simple tongue-in-cheek manner of this movie, MIrror, Mirror is really an enjoyable movie for the whole family.  While it may be about Snow White, the main focus is spread to each member of the movie’s main cast.  That balance, combined with plenty of funny moments, makes for a movie that while it may not be totally memorable, is still a great watch every now and then for audiences of any age.