“You Call Yourself a Film Buff?” Movies I Still Haven’t Seen [Updated 10/3]

I confess: there are many classic, must-see (but I haven’t yet) films I have never seen, and yet I call myself a “film buff.” Call me hypocritical, but at least I’m willing to publicize this shortcoming. I decided that this post will act as my accountability to fellow movie bloggers, readers, and friends out there, to encourage me to dust off movie by movie until I’ve seen each of these.

I got the idea to make this list from Mettel Ray, who was inspired by Film Flare to make a “Shame List” (or list of movies she hasn’t seen but wants to) of her own. I have decided to narrow my list down to twenty movies, to make it more or less achievable for myself. After I watch one of these movies and cross it off the list, I’ll review it on AEOS, titling the review with a title that has “Shame List” and its number on the list. [Recent update: I made to this post includes recommended films friends have offered in the comment section that I included on the list with their names!] In order from earliest to latest, here is my “shame list” of movies I’ve never seen, but plan to watch over the next several months:

  1. Frankenstein (1931)
  2. Gone with the Wind (1939) – recommended by Mark B.
  3. His Girl Friday (1940)
  4. Citizen Kane (1941)
  5. Casablanca (1942)
  6. The Red Shoes (1948) – recommended by Matt R.
  7. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  8. Roman Holiday (1953) Review here.
  9. 12 Angry Men (1957) – recommended by Mark B.
  10. North by Northwest (1959)
  11. Some Like It Hot (1959)
  12. The 400 Blows (1959) – recommended by Matt R.
  13. The Apartment (1960) – recommended by Jaina M.
  14. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
  15. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  16. The French Connection (1971) – recommended by Jaina M.
  17. Solaris (1972) – recommended by Matt R.
  18. The Godfather (1972)
  19. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
  20. The Conversation (1974) – recommended by Jaina M.
  21. Annie Hall (1977) Review here.
  22. Manhattan (1979)
  23. Apocalypse Now (1979) – recommended by Matt R.
  24. The Warriors (1979) – recommended by Jaina M.
  25. The Shining (1980) Review here.
  26. Blade Runner (1982)
  27. Amadeus (1984) – recommended by Jenn G.
  28. Schindler’s List (1993)
  29. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
  30. American Beauty (1999)
  31. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

I added several of Stanley Kubrick’s films, because unfortunately, I haven’t seen many of his. I know Christopher Nolan was highly influenced by Kubrick’s work, and being a big fan of Nolan’s films, I can’t help but want to see what inspired Nolan’s filmmaking style. Most of the list’s additions are considered classics, and that’s always a genre that I’ve strayed from due to lack of opportunity, time, or interest. I know there are a great many classics out there, and with streaming services like Netflix at my disposal, the only thing truly holding me back has been time.

Image found via Google Images.

I normally turn the end of a post over to everyone else, asking a question or two. I’m hoping to gain more feedback than normal, just because I’m really wanting to know . . .

For those of you who have seen any of these movies, would you recommend it as a must-see film? What classics or must-seen movies would you recommend I view (if they don’t make it on the list)? Which movie(s) would be on your “shame list”? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts.

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AEOS Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Not Avengers. Not The Hobbit. Not the first of The Hunger Games or the last of Twilight produced the most anticipated hype for movies in 2012. I still believe that The Dark Knight Rises was the most anticipated film of the year. You can even add in a Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino flick near Oscar movie season, and I still hold firm in casting Nolan’s ending Batman in that top spot.

And with so much hoopla surrounding a film, only the inevitable seems probable, right? In other words, it’s not really possible for a movie to fulfill the impossible expectations that we, as film viewers, critics, audience, or even your average, everyday film-goers, have placed upon the film and shoulders of one Christopher Nolan, right?

Code language aside, The Dark Knight Rises was faced with an uphill battle the moment The Dark Knight hit theaters back in 2008. With a Batman movie receiving that kind of critical acclaim and love from critics and audiences together, how could the now much-recognized director deliver on an even higher and better level? He still has all the same people in his pockets–his brother, Jonathan, as co-writer; his cast with Christian Bale and Michael Caine leading; his composer, Hans Zimmer; his executive producer, Michael Uslan–the list goes on of course. But can the same team of people create an even better film?

With the unexpected death of Heath Ledger, perhaps there were minor (or major) script changes following The Dark Knight. Regardless, following TDK‘s massive success came the decision to finish the series with a final film, thus creating another trilogy film set–and according to some (and me in that group)–the best film trilogy made yet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This Is Not a Summary

I met up with my film buddy, Fredo, from FilmYarn yesterday to record a podcast on the film. When he posts it, I’ll be sure to include a link here. Before recording, one idea we talked about was how oftentimes many film reviews are just pretty summaries of the film. Am I guilty of doing that? Oh yes. Multiple times, in fact. But in order to offer something I hope will be a little fresher, I’m working extra hard with this “review” in order to make it not just a film review reiterating plot points, but something a little different, and hopefully something that will boost some outside-of-the-box thoughts and discussion from you guys.

My Initial Reaction(s)

I forced myself to not write this review until I had seen the film at least twice. Often when I see a film a second time, I have a very different reaction. I’m happy to say that this was the case, even though I didn’t even allow 24 hours between my two viewings.

After I saw TDKR for the first time, I loved it. Thought it was great. But I couldn’t dispose of the nagging feeling in my head that TDK was better, superior, and overall the better film of the two. And that was frustrating, because this was the END! Never again will I get to see a new Nolan Batman film and compare. Regardless, I went back the following day and caught an afternoon viewing with a friend who had yet to see it. The result this time?

Still, I loved it. But my complaints had narrowed considerably. I liked it probably ten times better than the first viewing. Partly, because I caught quite a few more things the second time around, and was able to better relax while watching. Any movie that has a decent amount of depth and plot usually requires me to view it twice minimum in order to get out as much as possible about a film.

Comparison to Its Older Cousin, Spiderman 2

Although this may seem like an odd comparison, I felt like I kept seeing parts of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 while watching. Spiderman 2, was, in fact my favorite of Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, as well as the best-reviewed of the three. That point aside, consider the plot of Spiderman 2. In the opening scene, Peter Parker loses his job. Mary-Jane is with another guy. Peter gives up being Spiderman for a short time. The guy is picked apart and stripped down. It isn’t until he hits his lowest point that he regains speed, reclaims his title as Spiderman, fights the bad guys, and reunites with the girl.

In TDKR, in an effort to not spoil or give anything away (in this section), I’ll hold off on revealing too much. Essentially, however, the same idea takes place; any person who has viewed the trailer can piece that together. The idea is in the title–the action on Batman’s part, “rises”–implies that he must be low in order to rise. This idea moves me into the next thought I had . . . .

Metaphorical vs. Heavy-Handed

Fredo and I argued about whether TDKR treated its theme as a metaphor in a literal sense, or was it really just Christopher Nolan being heavy-handed in over-exaggerating the theme? I, for one, vote on the side of metaphorical. Picking up where I left off, Batman is in a low place, and therefore must rise. Several parts of the film adopted the idea of being low in order to rise. Various scenes were filmed underground. Bruce Wayne/Batman started off the film in a low place–weak mentally, physically, and emotionally. Even the time of day/weather played a role in literally rising.

Fredo saw this use of emphasizing the theme of rising as more like banging the audience over the head with a hammer constantly. It wasn’t just enough to have Batman rise to the occasion, to rise to the problems of Gotham and put his best foot forward; Nolan had to emphasize the idea of rising in multiple outlets and formats throughout the film. While I very much appreciated the purposefulness of it all, others, like Fredo, did not.

For those of you who saw the film, would you consider the film more metaphorical, or handled far too heavy? For those of you who have not seen it, please take this idea in mind and let me know what you think when you do see it!

It’s Such a Nolan Film

Anyone who has seen multiple Nolan films will agree that TDKR follows the same formula of his other films. Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action, every tangible and intangible element has a purpose and point for being in its place at its time in the film. Everything is planned out. His films are literally puzzles, and each scene acts as a piece that must be placed at a specific time and place in the correct space.

The element of time, while is important for the film, doesn’t bear the necessity it does in his other films. In Memento, the time functioned in a more nonlinear structure. In Inception, time could be extended in various levels of dream stages, thus elongating itself in order for certain actions to take place. Nolan’s Batman films don’t quite restructure time like his others; however, time plays an essential role in certain actions needing to take place.

The film contained quite a few flashbacks in order to successfully tell the story. Nolan loves him some flashbacks. He makes great use of the device in The PrestigeInception, and Memento. The flashbacks tell a great story that reveals pertinent information in the film. 

Ensemble Cast from Heaven

In his review of the film, Richard Roeper called watching this cast work as “movie heaven.” Even with TDKR‘s flaws, the cast really pulled out all the stops. There wasn’t a weak force on screen. Anne Hathaway was a stand-out just for not screwing up the role. Viewers went into the film with the lowest expectations for her, and she turned around and surprised many of us, including me.

Complaints have been made regarding Tom Hardy’s Bane. I talk more about his motivations in the Closing Thoughts/Queries section, but speaking just on his performance, I’d have to say he was nothing short of excellent. Talking with that device over his face had to be pretty difficult to deal with. He was menacing and expressed himself through his eyes, and while he might not have “stolen” scenes, he certainly took center stage when he was on screen.

The scenes shared between Christian Bale and Michael Caine were some of the strongest. My one big frustration (SPOILER) was Alfred going MIA the entire second half of the film.

Full Circle . . . for the Fans

SPOILERS AHEAD! 

And now I can’t hold back from spoiling parts, because in order to appreciate the idea that TDKR fulfilled Nolan’s Batman in such a satisfying way, one has to point out those lovely gifts Nolan wrote into the film. Getting to see Liam Neeson in a few short scenes as Ra’s al Ghul was such a treat. To learn of his connection in TDKR with Miranda Tate as his daughter, his heir who desires to finish his legacy, really makes it feel like we’re watching a finished, fulfilled version of Batman Begins.

Cillian Murphy returning for a couple short scenes as a crazy version of himself (was he really being Scarecrow?) felt like Nolan just saying to the fans, “Here ya go, fans. Enjoy.” Even when the prisoners were released to run about and eventually engage in battle, I was again reminded of Batman Begins. I felt like TDKR had quite a few parts that mirrored Batman Begins.

Closing Thoughts/Queries

SPOILERS AHEAD!

  • What did you think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin? Do you think the idea of leaving the Batman legacy to Robin was a smart choice? I, for one, enjoyed the reveal at the end, even though there were little hints dropped throughout the film if you hadn’t already caught on that JGL fit the Robin profile exactly.
  • Did the ending feel like Inception to anyone else aside from me? Two different people afterwards asked me if that end scene was a dream. I’m not sure whether to laugh or consider the possibility! But really, I don’t believe it was a dream.
  • Can someone please fill me in on what exactly Bane’s intention was? He kills, kills, kills. He constructs these nearly flawless plans to destroy Gotham and its inhabitants. You can’t tell me he did this all for the love of a woman. While the fake-out at the end revealing Miranda Tate as the villain was a little surprising, it really makes Bane’s motivations fall apart at the seams.
  • Did anyone else wish that the Joker story would have been closed? Every villain in all three films–except the Joker–was brought up in some way. Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, Two-Face/Harvey Dent, and of course the two in the film, Catwoman and Bane, all had a place.
  • So many films end with the hero sacrificing himself by destroying something bad in order to save a place. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo sacrificed himself to destroy the Ring to save Middle-Earth. In The Avengers, Iron Man sacrificed himself to destroy a missile to save New York City. In Captain America, the captain sacrificed himself. Even Jack Bauer in 24 was about to fly a plane down in order to save the world, or something like that. The Dark Knight Rises follows suite: Batman sacrifices himself to destroy a time bomb to save Gotham. Yet all the heroes live in the end. Would it have been a better ending for Batman to die?
  • We have to compare (of course), so did you dig The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises more? Was either one a better film than the other? While in some aspects I consider The Dark Knight the better film, I couldn’t imagine Rises being any better than it was. It completed a trilogy. It brought the series full circle. It even had hints of humor that the previous two films lacked. It pulled out all the stops, was epic in almost every proportion possible.

I’ll really miss this series. I believe it’s the best film trilogy made yet. Although the goodbye is bittersweet, I can’t help but wonder, what is Christopher Nolan going to do next?

Guest Post — Accomplished Directors and Their Film Debuts

My friend, Matt, has gladly agreed to guest post once again for me so I can have a little break from blogging. Last month, he did multiple Q/A blog post sessions on the Oscars with me. He’s an excellent writer and he continues to build his film knowledge with research, discussion, and film viewing. Be sure to check out his bio at the bottom of the page to get more acquainted with who he is and what he’s been up to.

–Kristin

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By Matthew Roth

Ever heard of Firelight, The Bellboy and the Playgirls, or The Pleasure Garden? How about Piranha Part 2: The Spawning? What if I told you those were the debut features of the men who brought us Schindler’s List, The Godfather, Rear Window, and Avatar? Everybody has to start somewhere. It’s enjoyable to see a filmmaker’s creative process from first feature to Lifetime Achievement Award. Some filmmakers seem like they were born to make movies; others really have to work to become great.

Film should be studied the way we study any other art. In most cases, we can’t look at movies on an individual basis; the study of film should always come back to the author of the picture, perhaps a producer or writer, but usually a director. Just as you wouldn’t study The Great Gatsby without learning about F. Scott Fitzgerald, so you shouldn’t view a film without, at some point, doing a little research about the director and his body of work.

Someone recently made a statement online saying that the director spends his life trying to make the perfect version of the same movie. Obviously, that oversimplifies things; however, there still is a good deal of truth in that statement.

When studying film, it’s good to go back to a director’s first feature. What genres, techniques, visual styles, and themes inspired the author to start making pictures to begin with? Often you will find the things a director explores in his first film show up in many that follow; with each subsequent film, he tweaks characterization, plot, themes, and visuals in an attempt to create a perfect version of that first film.

Not every director is like this. Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to look at the first features of some of the directors I admire, and how their debut film relates to their work today.

The Coen Brothers: Blood Simple

Usually, it’s difficult to pinpoint just what genre of film a Coen Brothers’ movie is. They include elements of the crime, comedy, drama, and thriller genres. Their films are a unique blend of those elements; in reality, the Coens have created their own genre. Ironically, Blood Simple is the only film by the Coen Brothers I’ve seen that is not instantly recognizable as a Coen Brothers’ movie. That’s not to say, however, that this film fails to match their future brilliance. As their movies tend to be, Blood Simple is extremely entertaining. It also contains elements that are prevalent in many Coen Brothers movies: an abrasive but memorable character; a wealthy, powerful man the audience loves to hate; an ordinary protagonist thrust into an extraordinary and dangerous situation; oh yeah–and loads of violence. Visually, the film’s style foreshadows their later work, even though the brothers were yet to team up with the fabulous Roger Deakins. Highly recommended.

Christopher Nolan: Following

Nolan’s first film is a thriller about a writer who follows people in order to acquire material for characters in his stories. As far as content, Nolan’s films have been fairly diverse. The constant of his work seems to be the non-linear structure in which he molds his stories. Following is cut up into several pieces randomly strewn about, its scenes jumping forward and backward on the story’s timeline. Often this would disorient an audience; with Nolan’s film, it sets the the audience on edge. Because of the vast, unexplained changes in the main character’s appearance (a black eye, a new haircut, different style of clothing), we become curious about the events we obviously have missed. Suspense is created through missing pieces. We pay closer attention because we want to find out just what we have missed. Nolan’s first feature seems like a dress rehearsal for Memento, a film in which the non-linear storytelling serves a justified purpose. Nolan uses a non-linear storytelling device once again in The Prestige. He masters this device in Inception, where he jumps between the past, and the many layers of the dream world’s present. Following is a wonderful debut film, proof that Nolan doesn’t need $185 Million to make a great movie. Great things can be done with as little as $6,000.

Terrence Malick: Badlands

Malick’s movies have been called many things. Polarizing things, really. Few directors simultaneousy carry the title “brilliant” and “pretentious.” Perhaps this is because Malick stretches the conventions of film in all of his movies. For those who find Malick more pretentious then brilliant, Badlands may be just the film for you. This film does contain both a plot AND a linear structure. While it is without a doubt his most accessible film, Malick’s debut feature is by no means conventional. You can find one of my favorite film blogger’s video review of  Badlands here.

In his first film Malick introduces us to the detached narrator, a device he would use to an even greater extent in his following feature, Days of Heaven. Narration can be a tricky business. To me, it usually seems like the easy way out in storytelling. Malick’s narration in Badlands proves how useful the device can be. Rather than using the narrator as a crutch, Malick’s narrator allows us to actually learn something about that character, not only in the things she does say, but also in the things she doesn’t. With great cinematography, acting, and a haunting score, Badlands may possibly be my favorite Malick film.

Alfred Hitchcock: Blackmail

So you probably know that this isn’t actually Hitchcock’s first film. The “Master of Suspense” did not always make thrillers; he worked his way up, sweating and toiling on–you’ll never guess it–romance pictures. The Pleasure Garden and Fear o’ God were both commercially unsuccessful. It wasn’t until Hitch started making the type of pictures for which we know him that he became a commercial success. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog was the first of his films we would label Hitchcockian. The Lodger is a film that tries to crack one of the most perplexing crimes of all time: the murder of Jack the Ripper. Now, I know I should have watched The Lodger; however, it was about 2 last night when I finally started watching. The online copy was horrible, so I opted to watch Hitch’s second thriller, and one of the first talkies in Britain, Blackmail. The first thing I noticed was Hitch’s use of the Kuleshov Effect, a now standard but once groundbreaking editing technique that Hitchcock popularized. The story is about a young girl who finds herself in a difficult situation after killing a man in an act of self defense. Many of Hitch’s movies involve normal people being thrust into dangerous situations due to their curiosity or foolishness. This film follows that pattern to the letter. Other sequences made me think of both Psycho and Vertigo. While it is a flawed film, I found it definitely worth my time. If you do view the film, you will find little snippets that foreshadow the greatness that was to come. You can view it on Hulu here.

For those of you not familiar with the Kuleshov Effect, the first two minutes of this video explain it a lot better than I could by writing about it.

What are some of your favorite debut films, and how do they (or don’t they) point to that director’s future work?

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Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

New Production Video Released for The Hobbit

Having finally caught up on all of Peter Jackson’s production videos for The Hobbit, I was pleasantly surprised to watch a new one that was released just yesterday. I read the book last month, so it’s nice to have that extra insight into the film, especially while watching these early videos.

For those of you have read the book, maybe you too wonder how on earth Jackson is going to bring some of the creatures and “barriers” to Middle-earth and have it not look crazy. With the little footage here and there that I’ve caught throughout the production videos, I’m getting more and more excited to see it on the big screen. I’m also happy to noticed that while he’s using some green screen in the film, that after scouting locations for a while, he’s found several beautiful parts of New Zealand that were not in Lord of the Rings to shoot The Hobbit.

Despite all the new information I can glean from the videos, my biggest question has yet to be answered–where will they be cutting the first half of The Hobbit for the first film? There’s some key scenes early on in the book, as well as the most famous that happens to include the devious character, Gollum. I won’t say anything more so I don’t spoil the fun for those of you who haven’t read the book. But I’d highly recommend reading it if you have time! While the Lord of the Rings series is long and in parts heavy to read, The Hobbit is under 300 pages and a relatively easy read. Read the first chapter on Amazon.com–you might decide that you need to read the book now!

This latest production video features a lot of the on-location shooting with both Jackson and his 2nd unit director Andy Serkis. Check out the video below! You can view the previous five production videos in a row here, or you can head over to The Hobbit website for all upcoming news on the film. And if you’re really into getting info on The Hobbit, then you can bookmark Peter Jackson’s Facebook page, because it seems like that’s the first place new information on the film lands.

No doubt this is not the last video we’ll be seeing from Jackson. The Hobbit parts 1 and 2, while filmed together, have been filmed in three separate stages, or blocks. I’m pretty sure this video ends the diary of block 2. That leaves block 3, which will probably be either in a new location or back on set. In the mean time, I will be finishing reading the “Two Towers,” and then watching the extended versions of the three films for a book/film comparison. See you guys next week!

Happy 80th Birthday, John Williams!

Today marks John Williams’s 80th birthday. And what better way to celebrate it, than with two Oscar nominations for War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin.

No one needs to point out that John Williams is a legend. Say his name, and everyone around you–most likely, even the younger generations–are going to have at least heard his name, much less be aware of some of the famous compositions he’s created throughout his lifetime.

Right around the Oscar nominations announcement, many recognized and acknowledged that Williams, now with 47 nominations, is the second most nominated person following Walt Disney. Disney had 59 nominations in the bag and would be 110 years old today. I’m not sure whether Williams is aiming to top Disney’s number, but I would agree that with two nominations this year, that he’s well on his way if he continues to compose.

To break it down, Williams has won 5 Academy awards, 4 Golden Globes, 7 BAFTAs, and 21 Grammy awards. His Wikipedia and IMDB pages are deliciously long, making mention of each score he composed and/or conducted, received nominations for, and many of which he went on to win multiple awards for.

John Williams brought Superman, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and E.T. to life, to name a few. “John Williams” is one of those names that will go down not only in film history, but also in U.S. history as a prestigious creative mind of sorts.

Perhaps Williams’s great collaboration in the film biz is his connection and friendship with Steven Spielberg. Williams has composed for all of Spielberg’s major feature films with the exceptions of The Color Purple (1985) and Duel (1971).

Everyone has their favorite John Williams’s soundtrack(s), be it one of his well-known or more obscure ones, not that many of his scores have hit the point of obscurity. My favorites are Superman and Star Wars. They both scream epicness in their ability to communicate themes that have been used and remixed throughout the years to give us parody videos and hilarious commercials and remakes (well, for Superman . . . definitely not Star Wars!)

Also, make sure to check out Ruth from Flixchatter’s excellent post commemorating John Williams on his birthday as well, offering a brief history of Williams and then including her top 10 Williams’s film scores.

Below are some videos of my favorite themes from the celebrated composer:

John Williams conducts the Superman theme:

London Symphony Orchestra performs the Star Wars theme:

What’s your favorite John Williams score?

Guest Post – Will Tom Hooper Be Able to Tackle Les Miserables?

Hey all! I’ve been in need of a serious break from blogging, so today, my sister, Jennifer, will be guest posting on the Tom Hooper’s upcoming adaptation of Les Miserables. The first half of the post is more introductory on the story of Les Mis, and the second half is a “Recast Edition,” a fun type of post where the author will recast a film if he or she thinks there is a cast who can better fill the roles. Feel free to chime in and share your opinions below. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out more about Jennifer!

–Kristin

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By Jennifer Griffin

A Little Introduction to Les Miserables

There’s been a great deal of hype regarding the upcoming film adaptation of the novel (Victor Hugo) turned musical Les Miserables (Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg). According to director Tom Hooper and cast member Hugh Jackman, the casting is still being finalized, and the actors are just being to learn the music this month.

Les Miserables has been credited as the most successful musical ever written. A little over three decades ago, Boublil and Schönberg finished adapting the novel to musical format and premiered the musical in Paris. Five years following the premiere, the musical opened in London as a 3-month touring group engagement. The show sold out within the first week, and the box office received several record orders. Two years later it hit Broadway and did not close until after 6,680 performances. Les Mis is the third longest running Broadway show today and has been since revived on Broadway as one of its most successful shows. Altogether, the musical has been produced in 38 countries and translated into 21 languages, with over 70 different official recordings.

All of that to say . . .

Hooper obviously has a huge legacy to live up to in his bold decision to make this musical a successful film. Despite already having 6 film adaptations, Hooper’s version will be the first to actually have the musical–not just the book (or dialogue only)–adapted for film. Converting Les Mis to a musical film production will be an incredible task for Hooper to take on for several reasons:

  1. The music is extremely hard for actors who are not trained singers to perform.
  2. The novel is one of the most well-known pieces of historical fiction, and like adapting any novel to the film format, doing it justice is not easy—(it was debated that writing a musical based on the novel would be “sacrilegious”—there are many negative reviews in England and France if you look at articles from the 1980s!)
  3. The musical itself is extremely beloved, so living up to it in film with singers who can equally sing/act the roles is a challenge.
  4. Finding a cast that have ample acting experience both on stage and screen is normally necessary when making this sort of film—actors like this are not as common as they used to be.
  5. A great nonmusical film adaptation of the book with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush came out in 1998 and was very successful, possibly making this film version look unnecessary until more time had passed.
  6. The resources—the elaborate prison, battle, and abbey sets, the rights to the music, the large stage and off-stage chorus needed, the orchestra, etc.—are very expensive.

While I look forward to seeing Hooper’s take on Les Mis, I have two major reservations:

  • the cast
  • the way Hooper has decided to film/record the singing

Recast Edition: Tom Hooper’s upcoming Les Miserables

Below is Hooper’s main cast, and who I would cast in place of them:

Jean Valjean: Hugh Jackman

Character Description: Dramatic tenor—very, very high voice in this musical—burly French peasant imprisoned for 19 years who vows to turn his life around after he escapes prison and in so doing helps Fantine and later adopts her daughter, Cosette.

Hugh Jackman actually does have screen and stage experience as well as singing experience, but Jean Valjean is probably one of the top 2 hardest tenor roles in all of musical theatre (the other one being the Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera). Perhaps Hooper feels like he needs an actor with a big name in the title role in order to successfully market this movie, but in the case of casting this particular character, he would actually do well to err on the side of screen experience because of the difficulty level of musicality as well as vocal range and ability the role demands.

My first choice for casting Jean Valjean would be Alfie Boe because he has a great deal of screen and stage acting experience, and he played Valjean in the London 25th Anniversary version of Les Mis (check out the video here). Other singer-actors I would choose include Matthew Morrison (Glee) and James Marsden (EnchantedHairspray), although both would have to buff up.

Inspector Javert: Russell Crowe

Character Description: Baritone—high officer of the law, sets out to bring Valjean to justice.

I believe Crowe is miscast altogether. The police inspector is a commanding force in the novel and the musical, but not physically. He is commanding because of his reputation as a successful inspector, his reputation of dedication to the law, and the nobility as well as the rest of the police force supporting him. Javert needs to be smaller than Valjean, not bigger; plus, Javert is a vocally-demanding role. I have never heard Crowe sing, and I fear that this will remind us all of the “lovely” singing of Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia (2008).

Norm Lewis (25th Anniversary edition as Javert) or Michael Ball (the original London cast of Les Mis as Marius) tie for my first spot in casting Javert, because both have a great deal of screen acting experience. Philip Quast would also be an interesting choice, despite his older age.

Fantine: Anne Hathaway

Character Description: Mezzo-soprano or alto—sickly woman that sells everything, including her body, to support her daughter Cosette after Cosette’s father leaves her.

Based on a couple of instances on SNL, the Oscars, and Princess Diaries, I think Anne Hathaway sings decently. The role of Fantine, however, is known as one of the toughest belter roles in all of musical theatre, including the iconic “I Dreamed a Dream” song. I wish Hooper would have picked someone with more singing experience. The only trait about Hathaway that matches Fantine’s description is the that the character looks like she is dying of consumption or suffering from anorexia.

My first choice for Fantine is Kerry Ellis. She was in one of the original casts of Wicked as Elphaba and in the televised version of Chess in London a few years ago. Depending on the age of the Valjean casted, other options I would consider include Lea Salonga, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Idina Menzel.

Eponine: Taylor Swift Samantha Barks

Character Description: Belter or low alto—daughter of the Thénardiers, peasant, tom-boy in love with Marius.
As of January 31, Taylor Swift is no longer in the works to play this role. In her place, Hooper has chosen Samantha Barks to fill the role of Eponine. Barks’s experience includes screen acting on BBC television as well as playing Eponine in the 25th Anniversary edition performance of Les Mis.

Despite Swift no longer filling the role, I did want to give my opinion on the casting: most well-trained singers and musicians do not like Swift for the sheer fact that she is rarely on pitch when she sings live, her voice is weak, and she tends to whine. I won’t say any more as to not offend anyone who is a Taylor Swift fan, but nevertheless, it was a 100% miscast if nothing else.

Aside from Barks, my next choice for Eponine would be Lea Michele (Glee, Les Miserables).  Other options I would consider include Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) and Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible). I’m sure there are many others that would be better for the role than Swift, but these are the first ones that come to my mind.

Cosette: Amanda Seyfried

Character Description: Soprano—innocent, beautiful, cultured daughter of Fantine, adopted by Valjean, in love with Marius.

I am extremely excited about this casting; Seyfried is typecast and sings very well.

If Seyfried couldn’t play Cosette, other people I would consider include Emmy Rossum (Phantom of the Opera, film version), Hilary Duff (Raise Your Voice), and Katie Hall (25th Anniversary edition).

Marius: Eddie Redmayne

Character Description: Baritenor—student revolutionary, friends with Eponine, in love with Cosette.

I have never actually heard Redmayne sing, but he has both a big screen acting and musical theater background, so I will be eager to see what he brings to this role.

My first choice in casting Marius would be Josh Groban, because he is absolutely typecast in looks and voice. Darren Criss (Glee, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) would be my runner-up, and other considerations include Zac Efron (Hairspray), Ben Feldman (Drop Dead Diva) and Jamie Campbell Bower (Sweeney Todd).

Enjolras: Aaron Tveit

Character Description: Baritenor—leader of the student revolutionaries, good friend of Marius.

Tveit is the other cast member I have yet to hear sing, but he has a nice resume as well including both screen acting and musical theater.

Ramin Karimloo (25th Anniversary edition) is the first person I would cast as Enjolras. Other people to consider include Adam Pascal (RentChess), Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, original cast), and Neil Patrick Harris (Rent, Dr. Horrible).

Madame Thénardier: Helena Bonham Carter

Character Description: Alto—married to Monsieur Thénardier, Eponine’s mother, Cosette’s aunt, despicable pickpocket and thief who manages the inn with her husband.

I am also excited about Helena Bonham Carter in the role of Madame Thénardier. She’s also typecast and sings well (Sweeney Todd).

After Bonham Carter, other options to consider for the role include Bernadette Peters (Mack and Mabel, Annie Get Your Gun), Brooke Elliott (Wicked touring cast, Drop Dead Diva), or Dot-Marie Jones (Glee).

Monsieur Thénardier: Sacha Baron Cohen

Character Description: Baritone or tenor—married to Madame Thénardier, Eponine’s father, Cosette’s uncle, despicable pickpocket and thief who owns the main inn in town.

Sacha Baron Cohen fits the role characteristically and physically; however, has anyone even heard him sing? I just don’t know about this one.

Jason Alexander (Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, The Producers) has an incredible singing voice, so he would be my first choice to play Monsieur Thenardier. The only other option that came to mind was Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd).

The second issue is due to the way Hooper has decided to record the singing. Hooper plans to record the scenes with singing live as opposed to pre-recording with lip-synching in the actual scenes like most musicals are filmed. Normally, as a singer myself, I would be all for this; however, when you have a cast in which most are mediocre singers and fairly inexperienced musicians, I don’t think it is such a good idea. Those who are Broadway vets are obviously used to having to sing, dance, act, and do crazy staging all at the same time. Those that are not used to all of these aspects will struggle though, and it will come out in the recording process.

Again, I am very excited that they finally are making a film version of this awesome musical, but unfortunately I do not have the highest hopes of it coming close to measuring up to actually seeing it in a theater live with well-experienced singer/actors. I hope Hooper and the rest of the cast prove me wrong.

The seventh film adaptation of Les Mis will hit theaters December 7.

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Jennifer Griffin is an Adjunct Music Professor at Northern Illinois University. With two Masters degrees in Vocal Performance and Musicology at the ripe age of 25, she makes music a priority in her life. In her free time, Jennifer teaches voice and piano at private studios, accompanies singers and instrumentalists, and daydreams about making it big someday at the Lyric Opera. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter at @jgprimadonna

Tim Burton’s Upcoming Projects

It has long been known that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have collaborated on many films, from Burton’s latest take on Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to some of his 90s films such as Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow. Regardless of his take on whatever film, viewers can safely assume that it will be dark, edgy, weird and perhaps the combination of all those adjectives–unique.

This year, Burton has his name on three film projects going out the door: Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and a remake of the 1984 Frankenweenie.

Two years before its inception, the original Dark Shadows TV series creator Dan Curtis had a dream on a train and told it to the ABC network. Soon after, Curtis received the green light to begin the proejct, and from 1966 to 1971, Dark Shadows, pegged a gothic soap opera, aired on television.

Courtesy of Wikipedia, a synopsis of Burton’s film adaption of Dark Shadows:

In 1752, the Collins family sails from Liverpool, England to North America. The son, Barnabas, grows up to be a wealthy playboy in Collinsport, Maine and is the master of Collinwood Manor. He breaks the heart of a witch, Angelique Bouchard, who turns him into a vampire and buries him alive. In 1972, Barnabas is freed and returns to find his manor in ruin. It is occupied by dysfunctional descendants and other residents, all of whom have secrets.

Burton will serve as director and producer on the project, and it’s no surprise that Depp will be leading this cast, especially given the fact that as a child, he actually wanted to be Barnabas Collins. Aside Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller, and Helena Bonham Carter will star. Danny Elfman, no stranger to working with Burton (Edward Scissorhands to name only one of the many), will be composing the soundtrack.

Although pictures have been leaked from the film since September of last year, Rotten Tomatoes recently posted three photos of the film on their site. Dark Shadows will be released in theaters on May 11, 2012.

Only a little over a month later, Burton’s second project, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, will be hitting theaters. Burton will be acting as producer along the film’s director, Timur Bekmambetov.

Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the book the film is based off, adapted his novel for the screen as well. IMDB summarizes the film as follows:

President Lincoln’s mother is killed by a supernatural creature, which fuels his passion to crush vampires and their slave-owning helpers.

I’m very excited to see this film, although I’d like to take a crack at the book first. Grahame-Smith also put an interesting spin on the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice by inserting a few zombies and zombified-language of sorts, re-naming the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It is no wonder that Burton had a hand in bringing Abraham Lincoln to the film format.

In 1984, Walt Disney released Burton’s short film stop-motion animation film, Frankenweenie. Burton now is recapturing it, bringing it back to the big screen for a second time. The black and white film will be shot in 3D, which may serve the format well, given that it is stop-motion.

Frankenweenie will be the second stop-motion animation film under the direction of Tim Burton, Corpse Bride being his first. According to WikipediaFrankenweenie will pay ” homage to the 1931 film Frankenstein based on Mary Shelley’s book of the same name. In the film, a boy named Victor loses his dog and uses the power of science to bring it back to life. Once the others learn of his secret, they set out to create their own monsters, each based on their respective pets and personalities.”

Burton has written, directed, and produced Frankenweenie.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is set to be released on June 22, 2012. Frankenweenie will hit theaters October 5, 2012.

Backstage Spotlight: Dan in Real Life Bonus Features (2007)

Bonus features, special features, extras–whatever you want to call them–are usually on most movies you end up renting or owning. I find them particularly fun to watch, if I have the time. What’s crazy is that I’ve seen Dan in Real Life a handful of times over the past 4 years, yet I never took the time to check out the bonus features until last night.

Let’s break it down.

Behind the Scenes

Writer-director Peter Hedges’s ultimate goal, it seems, is to make films that are different. That’s one of his big points in the “behind the scenes” featurette on the DVD. Dan in Real Life  supports his idea of being different by really being its own movie. Hedge has written a few films across the board throughout his career, from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) to About a Boy (2002). Hedge acts as director and co-writer for Dan, bringing to life Pierce Gardner’s writing. That cast had only great things to say about Hedges (of course!), but many of them noted that he was much different than the typical director in that he was very down to earth and was always bringing something different to the table.

One really interesting thing I caught from the featurette was that the entire cast, spare Steve Carell, came onto set a week before shooting to rehearse and hang out in the house where the majority of the movie was filmed. As much as I’ve seen the movie, I really felt like the cast was a family. It’s now only evident that the week they spent getting to know one another paid off in the end product.

About the Score: Sondre Lerche

This segment of the Bonus Features was my favorite. Typically, there isn’t anything expressed in detail regarding the score of a film listed within the special features, especially with someone considered less known, like Sondre Lerche. Dan in Real Life introduced me to this impressive, one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter-composer. No doubt there are a million other Sondre Lerche singer-songwriters floating around, but Lerche separates himself from the rest with his added talent of film composition. Before Hedge contacted Lerche, he had never heard of him, much less could pronounce his name. Hedge’s goal was to bring the film and soundtrack together by finding music that represented the title character, Carell’s Dan. In a nutshell, Lerche fulfilled that goal for Hedge, and a fantastic collaboration was born.

The rest of Lerche’s band flew in from Norway to sing and play in the background of the end scene in the film. Sondre Lerche might not be everyone’s cup of tea (such as Roger Ebert, who specifically called the film out on it!), but in my opinion, his music fit Dan in Real Life nicely, and didn’t come across too literal.

Deleted Scenes

Dan in Real Life might hold the record for the largest number of deleted scenes. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but viewing 11 new or extended versions of scenes got exhausting and boring fast. There was only one deleted scene I might have even appreciated in the film, and it wasn’t even memorable. Each of these scenes–and probably a few more from the final cut–deserved to be on the cutting board.

Do you ever watch the Bonus Features on your favorite films? What did you think of Sondre Lerche’s score? Did you notice that Office alum Amy Ryan costarred in the film with Steve Carell?

AEOS Review: Cameron Crowe and his Elizabethtown (2005)

This post, I’m focusing on director Cameron Crowe, and in particular, his film Elizabethtown, the mediocre-reviewed film considered a flop on the director’s resume.

Similar to the reviews Elizabethtown received, the movie reflects the low points a person must go through in order to learn about a little thing called life. To start this post off, here’s a quote from Crowe himself, published only 3 weeks ago in Vulture magazine regarding the critics’ poor reaction to the film Elizabethtown:

To me, only if something comes from an inauthentic place should you feel vulnerable to the things that anybody might say.

He defends the film insomuch without actually coming across as defensive, a feeling that would have been understandable considering the rough reviews it received.

I’ve read several negative reviews/comments regarding Cameron Crowe and his films since few believe any of his movies have lived up to his most well-known films, Almost Famous (2000) and Say Anything (1989). I have to applaud Crowe for the way in which he has handled the criticism, because as a filmmaker and an artist, he gets it. He goes on in Vulture:

I stand behind it [Elizabethtown] and didn’t feel savaged. It was a little brutal. But I get that people want to express themselves. I express myself, too.

Crowe is one of those filmmakers who makes movies that resonate, even if they don’t connect with a wide audience. Crowe is an autobiographical filmmaker. There aren’t many of those out there–filmmakers who live, write, and then direct a movie that mirrors one’s own life. In a sit-down, unscripted interview with Orlando Bloom, the film’s star, both filmmaker and actor answer questions written in by viewers, and questions each have compiled for one another. Bloom asks Crowe what is the one thing he looks for in an actor, and without hesitation, Crowe replies, “Authenticity.” He goes on to say how he looks for authenticity in a person’s eyes, and that’s how an actor can connect with an audience, because the performance given is not just a performance, but something true and honest that viewers can find relatable.

After watching the film a few times, I started to wonder. . . how the heck did Crowe get Orlando Bloom to sign on to this movie? It’s nothing like Bloom has ever done before, and despite criticism on the Brit’s American accent (which really wasn’t bad!), Bloom sold it. But before he joined, could you imagine Ashton Kutcher filling the role? Well, he was hired until Crowe decided to call up Bloom. It’s amazing to think that James Franco and Chris Evans auditioned for the role too.

When it comes to writing, the old cliche goes, “you should write what you know.” That is what Crowe does, and Elizabethtown is example of that. At the end of the day, Crowe doesn’t care that many people–namely, critics–didn’t like Elizabethtown. And as a big fan of the movie, I don’t care that they didn’t get it either. Yes, there were some cheesy parts, or lines that were a little far out, but guess what I got out of it? A lot of heart, something Cameron Crowe films are filled with.

If you read or watch any interview with Crowe back from 2005, you’ll learn that the movie was a tribute to his late father. The movie, made over a decade after his father passed, was meant to bring to light those moments where you get to know your parents better after they passed because you failed (or in this movie’s case, Drew Baylor failed) to spend that vital time with family before they were gone.

I’ve seen Elizabethtown maybe a dozen or more so times. I always try to put several months between each viewing, because there’s nothing like noticing things you didn’t see the first, second, or eighth viewing, and this time around, it was no different.

Most of my friends that I beg to sit down and watch Elizabethtown with don’t take away what I’ve taken from it. What makes the Elizabethtown stand out to me? Well, the soundtrack, for one. Before Crowe and Nancy Wilson divorced, Wilson collaborated with Crowe on the soundtracks for many of his films. She composed a fitting score for Elizabethtown, combining a lot of string instruments, namely guitar and banjo, to blend with the rich soundtrack including a laundry list of classic artists, from Patty Griffin to Tom Petty to I Nine to Elton John to My Morning Jacket, who posed as the fictional band “Ruckus” in the film. Perhaps my favorite score song of all time is on the score soundtrack, titled “River Road,” by Nancy Wilson. I love how it captures the feeling of the movie and the characters without being boring or just adding sound to the background.

Another aspect I really appreciated was the tone of the movie. There’s a scene where Drew (Orlando Bloom) walks in and is literally bombarded with all these crazy, random southerners who know all about him and his success with his job, while he returns hugs and looks to people he’s meeting for the first time. It’s one of the best movie representations of southern charm and family and the way they express themselves, and Bloom easily portrays a fish out of water in the setting.

I could go on about several different moments that I especially enjoyed from the movie, but I guess the point I’m trying to get across is that Elizabethtown isn’t for everyone. And for those who have already seen the film and disliked it, I’m not going to convince, no matter how great I believe the movie is, or how heartwarming I express Crowe as a filmmaker and writer to be. But for me, Elizabethtown is one of those movies I will watch again and again, because the movie captures little moments in life that I’ve experienced, and it’s a great reminder about what’s important in life–not success, but time spent with the people who matter. About taking life a step future and contemplating who and what is significant to be spending time with.

And this just in . . . 

I tweeted Cameron Crowe about Elizabethtown and got a reply from him! Check it:

Women in the Director’s Chair

The latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter, due to come out December 16, is titled “The (Female) Directors,” with Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2) gracing the cover.

Originally, when I saw the cover, I was really confused as to why Angelina Jolie, of all people, would be on the cover. I couldn’t think of a single film she has directed or was slated to direct. According to this article in that THR issue, Jolie’s directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, is set to hit theaters in limited release on December 23. Given her international political resume, I can’t say it’s a surprise that Jolie’s debut is a Bosnian war film. It’s neat to see the female directors together again since Nelson directed Jolie in Kung Fu Panda 2, which is only the second animated film to ever be directed by a woman (first was The Tigger Movie).

Last year marked history for female directors with Kathryn Bigelow being the first female director to ever win the Oscar for Best Director for her movie The Hurt Locker. Also mentioned in the another THR article from the same issue, “The Femmes to Watch,” include the only other three female directors to ever get nominated for Best Director:

“Only three other women before had been nominated in the category: Lisa Wertmuller for Seven Beauties in 1976, Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993 and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2003.”

It’s interesting to watch the rise of women in the film industry. Shakespeare in Love includes a great example of when women weren’t allowed on stage, and men portrayed women. Later, the Bechdel test was invented to show the type of role women are represented in movies. Perhaps you’ve even read a post about a certain type of character some female actresses constantly fall into, like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Women no longer take the backseat to men in film anymore. They’re in front of the camera, and more are starting to get behind it as well.

Kathyrn Bigelow’s Acceptance Speech:

(upon winning the Oscar for Best Director for The Hurt Locker)

“This really is when … there is no other way to describe this. It’s the moment of a lifetime. First of all — this is so extraordinary to be in the company of such powerful — my fellow nominees — such powerful film makers who have inspired me and I have admired for — some of whom — for decades. Thank you to every member of the Academy. This is again the moment of a lifetime.

I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for Mark Bohl who risked his life for the words on the page and wrote such a courageous screenplay that I was fortunate enough to have a great cast bring that screenplay to life. Jeremy Renner. Anthony Mackey and Brian Garrity.

And I think the secret to directing is collaborating and I had truly an extraordinary group of collaborators in my crew: Barry Akroyd and Kelly Juliason, and Bob Murawski, Chris Innis, Ray Beckett, Richard Stutzman. And if I could also just thank my producing partners, Greg Shapiro and my wonderful agent Brian Suberal, and the people of Jordan who were so hospitable to us when we were shooting.

And I’d like to dedicate this to the women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world and may they come home safe.

Thank you.”