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Archive for the tag “2013”

“Gravity” (2013) Review

gravity-poster

Looking back, the last time I had been anticipating a movie as much as “Gravity” was probably almost a year and a half ago with “The Dark Knight Rises”. Between being a big sci-fi fan, having read reviews about the great visual presentation, and knowing Alfonso Cuaron (director of one of my favorite films, “Children of Men”) was directing, I don’t know how much higher my expectations could have been going into the theater. Despite these massive expectations, I was not ready for what I got with “Gravity” – a film that is a ground-breaking cinema experience and one of the best films I have seen in a long time.

While it’s easy to start by talking about the visual feast in “Gravity”, it is better to start by saying that “Gravity” is about more than just good looks… It is a film about survival. Space is a lonely and dangerous environment, one where Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) find themselves trying to survive in after debris destroys their space shuttle. Outside of a few opening scenes, this is the main overarching plot of the film – two astronauts trying to find a way back to Earth. This may sound like a shallow plot, but Alfonso Cuaron has developed a lot of depth within such a seemingly narrow framework. Conversations between Kowalsky and Stone are well-written, and reveal a nice depth of character that connects the viewer to the film’s main characters. This, in turn, makes each twist the film takes more impactful, leaving you wondering what will happen next.

Story aside, the most awe-inspiring part of the film is easily the overall presentation. Sure, I heard the visuals were amazing and broke new ground for the cinema world. However, “Gravity” doesn’t seem to be content with raising the bar for visuals in a film – it wants to create a new idea of what you can expect from a film. From the zero gravity physics, to beautiful shots of space and Earth, to the incredible detail in the debris, “Gravity” is a sight to behold. I can easily say that it is the best looking film I have ever seen, hands down. Even with the major effects and visuals, what really pushes it to another level entirely is the little things. There is a striking attention to detail present in every single scene that makes every piece of the film feel as realistic as possible. In the words of George Clooney’s Matt Kowlasky, you really “can’t beat the view”.

Above all else, "Gravity" is the most visually stunning film I've ever scene. As George Clooney's character rightfully remarks, you really "can't beat the view".

Above all else, “Gravity” is the most visually stunning film I’ve ever scene. As George Clooney’s character rightfully remarks, you really “can’t beat the view”.

Speaking of visuals, it is necessary for me to touch on the 3D effects in the film. As you know, I have felt that 3D film-making was more a gimmick than anything, never adding anything to a film – at best you get a few interesting touches, at worst it takes away from the experience with poor use of background blurring and effects that make each quick camera movement jarring. In “Gravity”, however, the 3D is spot on, and enhances the visual experience enough that I would highly recommend seeing the film in 3D over 2D. Between these 3D effects and the overall visual presentation, “Gravity” is an incredible film that must be seen in theaters at least once.

Further adding to my praise for the film is its sound design. The soundtrack itself is perfectly ambient and unsettling at times, fitting right in with the challenges faced in and emptiness of space. Also, the clever use of volume and suppressed noises and music to mimic the vacuum of sound in space is a nice touch that draws the viewer into the setting. In particular, I have to give credit to the opening credits and scene, where the aforementioned items start the film nicely.

Lastly, it is necessary to give mention to both Clooney and Bullock for their roles in the film. Both play their parts wonderfully, with Bullock in particular turning in a tremendous performance as Dr. Ryan Stone. When you are tasked with being the only two characters on-screen for basically the entire film, you need to be able to turn in a special performance. This is exactly what Clooney and Bullock have done, and through Cuaron’s direction, the character interactions become entirely natural and the audience quickly connects with the two on-screen.

“Gravity” is not just good looks. It is a complete package. It has been a long time since I can remember leaving a film in awe, but “Gravity” did just that for me. It is a complete package – from visuals and sound, to plot and acting, “Gravity” is about as perfectly executed as they come. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy one of the most incredible experiences you can see in a theater, or even wait for it to come out on DVD/Blu-Ray. Do yourself a favor and experience “Gravity” in theaters, the way it is meant to be seen. You will not be sorry.

Final Score: 10/10

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“Evil Dead” (2013) Review

Evil Dead 2013 poster

In order to make a great film, at least one of two things needs to be present. The film must either have a unique/interesting story or find another way to be highly entertaining. Recently, the majority of wide-release horror films have lacked both of these criteria. These films are often riddled with poor, recycled plots (how many exorcism films have there been over the last few years) or uninspired serial killers. It seems that horror films have spent more time trying to implement more jump scares or find the next fad (from zombies, to exorcisms, to paranormal activity) rather than taking a step back and remembering to make the experience entertaining. Evil Dead is here to bring horror back to its glory. With Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s blessing, Fede Alvarez has crafted an incredible experience that outdoes its source material, and what I can say is the best horror film I’ve seen in years.

For those unfamiliar with the original film, Evil Dead focuses on a group of young adults who take a trip to a cabin. There they find the “Naturom Demonto”, or Book of the Dead, which awakens evil demons in the surrounding woods that then begin possessing members of the group leading to a sequence of violent and gory deaths. The reboot happens to take the plot of the original film and add some extra layers and twists to better flesh out its tale and make its characters (slightly) more three-dimensional. Though the plot may not be overly complicated, its tale is still entertaining to watch unfold – especially for fans of the original, as the reboot takes some new twists and turns with its cast of characters. However, where the film stands out is in its tongue-in-cheek scenes and sequences that make this campy film so good.

Evil Dead is surely expected to be a gory, violent film – an area in which it does not disappoint. It must be noted that Alvarez chose to avoid CGI in creating the effects for the film and go with purely practical effects and camera tricks. This is a great tribute to the pre-CGI era of horror films – one that is by no means a hinderance to the film. Its effects are a sight to behold, with its over-the-top violence becoming laughably entertaining at points (I will say now that if you don’t find humor in Evil Dead, you are missing out on the point and a good amount of the fun to be had here).

The film pays homage to its source material at many points - as a fan, you will be glad to see the treatment the chainsaw gets.

The film pays homage to its source material at many points – as a fan, you will be glad to see the treatment the chainsaw gets.

In addition to the effects, the film’s other parts all work to enhance the experience. The cast is (for the most part) surprisingly adept at fulfilling their roles. Jane Levy, in particular, really does a wonderful job with the lead role – she is tasked with a constantly shifting role, and never falters in her performance that is much more than your typical female screamers in horror films. Also, the film’s soundtrack is nicely fitting and well implemented (something I rarely note in horror films).

One last piece that deserves some attention is the cinematography done by Alvarez. He chooses to saturate the film with certain colors – mostly dark colors, black, and red. This both makes the visuals quite striking, but really aids the special effects. The plentiful blood spilled looks much more stylish with Alvarez’s work in the visual department.

More often than not, a remake/reboot/re-imagining does not manage to do its source material justice. Even more rare, is the remake that enhances its source material, lifting it to another level. Fede Alvarez’s re-imagining of Sam Reimi’s cult classic, Evil Dead, does just that – it transcends the original. In doing so, to put it simply, Evil Dead is horror done right. It manages to be scary, tense, and campy all at the same time, making this one of the most fun and entertaining horror films I’ve seen in a long time. Fans of the original series will find much to enjoy (including many nods to the originals that will make fans smile), while unfamiliar horror fans should still be greatly entertained by this one. Let me know what you thought of the film, and what you hope for with the continuation of the series.

Final Score: 8.7/10

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (2012) Review

Perks of Being a Wallflower poster

To preface this review, I will say that I never read the book this film recreates nor knew anything about its story prior to viewing “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. That being said, the film as a whole is rather average. It certainly has its good parts, but has many flaws as well that tend to not be easily overlooked in the context of the entire experience.

Starting out, the plot of “Perks” is interesting, but becomes underwhelming. It focuses mainly on a high school freshman who befriends two unusual seniors who take him under their wings and into their group of friends. I have never been a fan of overly exaggerated high school scenarios, and this certainly fits right in with the teen angst feel. While the plot that occupies the majority of the film is decent, there is, however, a deeper story than that which is presented throughout most of the film. Once this deeper story is revealed, it is unexpected – not in a good way, but in a way that lacks the type of development that makes these revelations impactful. Again, I haven’t read the book so I don’t know if anything changed for the film (though I doubt much did since Stephen Chbosky, the original book’s author, also directed the film). The ensuing scenes spiral quickly and feel underdeveloped – a poor change compared to the rest of the film which develops its characters very well. In fact, the characters in this story are what really make the story work. They have such intricate personalities and their actions feel genuine. Without them, the plot would drag and fail to draw the viewer in.

In mentioning the characters, I must speak about the cast who brought them to life. The young group of actors and actresses in the film do a very good job of making everything feel natural. From Watson to Miller to Lerman, there is a talented bunch on display here that it is a shame that the plot fails to hold it together in the final section. Still, despite the plot fumblings, it is hard to find fault with any of the performances in “Perks”.

While its overall plot is interesting, "Perks" handles its most weighty story haphazardly, making its conclusion sloppy in its execution.

While its overall plot is interesting, “Perks” handles its most weighted story haphazardly, making its conclusion feel sloppy in its execution.

Outside of the plot and cast, the other pieces that make of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” are generally well done. The soundtrack has its mix of tracks from Sonic Youth to David Bowie, while the cinematography has its fair share of nice shots. The dialogue is well-written, yet has a pretentious feeling to it (like dialogue trying to sound smart only for the sake of seeming complex). On the whole, though, there is little here that really lifts the movie to above average, nor makes up for the stumbling finale.

For those with interest in “Perks of Being a Wallflower”, I’m sure you will enjoy the film. Honestly, it is a great effort up until the final quarter or so of the film, once it reveals its main plot twist. From there the film unravels and can’t put itself back together, marring the overall experience. Still, the characters, acting, and soundtrack are great and keep the majority of the film interesting.

Final Score – 6.2/10

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Second Opinion:

“Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a wonderful film. There is a great cast, a wonderful soundtrack and cinematography work, but most importantly it has a storyline that is truly refreshing for me. Though it may not be the perfect storyline, and did have some obvious flaws when it came to how the story was laid out and timed, it was still enjoyable.

The plot did have some unique twists that added to the depth of the movie. Though there were those over dramatic high school scenes, such as the new kid sitting alone at a lunch table, or getting beat up in the middle of the lunchroom with no teachers around (all of which NEVER happen in real life), it didn’t distract much from the quality of the story. Despite some flaws, it was truly a movie that I enjoyed and could watch again and again. It gave me that feeling of reliving your teen years – the depression, the bullying, the unknown, trying to fit in and finally the overwhelming realization that you don’t need to fit in to feel loved and accepted by the friends around you.

 I really enjoyed the story, the acting and the soundtrack, which made it such an enjoyable movie for me. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys similar style movies, nothing too over the top trying to make you think; yet nothing too flat like most romantic movies or comedies. See it for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments!

Final Score: 7.7/10

Thoughts on the 85th Annual Academy Awards

85th Academy Awards

Now that the 85th Annual Academy Awards have come to a close, I want to take a quick look back at tonight’s ceremony. On the whole, the show was better than I had anticipated, though I can’t say I agree with some of the awards (everyone has their own favorites). That being said, I’d like to share my thoughts that I had throughout tonight’s show. As these are disjointed, this will be more of a list than a flowing post. Here goes:

    • Starting off, a solid win for Christoph Waltz, an extremely talented actor.
    • I like the move to the “Jaws” theme as the wrap-it-up queue. Idea for next year – keep the music and bring in a “Jaws” recreation that pops out of the stage at the award recipient scaring them off the stage once they ramble a decent amount into the theme song.
    • How did Helen Hunt get nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar, but John Hawkes didn’t get a Best Actor nod?
    • Also, how did Dwight Henry not get a Best Supporting Actor nod?
    • While I’m on a roll, why is “Cloud Atlas” missing from the nominees, especially in the make-up department? And one nomination for “Moonrise Kingdom”? Seriously?
    • Shirley Bassey nailed “Goldfinger”, even now, so many years after her original Bond recordings. Enjoyed her much more than Adele (who still did a decent job with the vocally underwhelming “Skyfall” theme)
    • Speaking of singing, the cast of “Les Miserables” did a nice job live….. Russell Crowe, not so much (please, Russell, stop singing)
    • A tie for sound editing? How does the Academy not pick one winner. If there was a tie vote, then I think they should have a second vote removing the other nominees. If that still ends in a tie, or all else fails, have the two nominees have an on-stage contest of some sort to decide who wins – joust, rock-paper-scissors, something…
    • I’m glad “Lincoln” didn’t sweep the awards like I was anticipating. Personally, I am not a fan of Daniel Day Lewis’ voice, nor Tommy Lee Jones’ completely fake-looking hairstyle.
    • And yet, for some reason, “Life of Pi” played the role I thought “Lincoln” would have occupied in receiving a bombardment of awards. I still don’t understand why the film received so much praise.
    • Seth MacFarlane was actually a decent host. With the downhill slope “Family Guy” has been on for a while, I was unsure how he would do, but I really didn’t mind him.
    • Nothing against Jennifer Lawrence (a talented actress), but I’d take any other nominee in that category before her to win Best Actress for their roles.
    • Continuing on the leading roles, I have to say that the group of nominees for Best Actor was weak this year (in my opinion). Out of the given group, I’d take Jackman easily…. Still, this was Hawkes’ award.
    • Jack Nicholson is crazy, as always.
    • Finally, at least “Argo” won Best Picture ahead of “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi”. Still would’ve taken “Beasts of the Southern Wild” any day, but not bad, Academy.

There you have some of my random thoughts on the Oscar ceremony. I hope you enjoyed the show, and hopefully, some of your favorite films won. Let me know which of your favorites won and who you thought should have won in the comments.

“Side Effects” (2013) Review

Side Effects poster

Though not being a major fan of Steven Soderbergh in the past (the “Ocean’s” films never really did anything for me), his recent effort in “Contagion” was a uniquely thrilling film. That being said, after “Side Effects” popped up on my radar, I was instantly intrigued by another thriller set in the medical world. If you have any interest in “Side Effects”, you will likely not be disappointed, though the film is not without its flaws.

Starting out, the plot of “Side Effects” feels too contrived and exaggerated. As someone working in the pharmaceutical industry, the plot felt like too much of a stretch for the first 20-30 minutes or so. Stick with it, though, and the true nature of the plot begins to unfold through many unexpected twists and turns. As the characters develop and their intentions come to light, the story in “Side Effects” becomes a complex web that Soderbergh spins skillfully. If you work in the medical field, pieces of the plot become even more interesting. Either way, Soderbergh has an absorbing plot here, as the characters are well-designed and the developments, while still somewhat farfetched, keep you on the edge of your seat trying to figure out the next plot twist.

With the characters being well-written for the film, it helps that the cast does a great job of making each scene intense and believable (for the most part). Relative newcomer Rooney Mara delivers a great performance as Emily Taylor. As I’ve said before, I have become a big fan of actress Brit Marling over the past year due to some great work, and Rooney Mara feels like a lesser version of Marling (I mean this as a compliment to Rooney, not a detriment). Jude Law also does a wonderful job as always. The one who really brings the cast down, however, is Channing Tatum. I was hoping that being in a more sophisticated release, and with Soderbergh behind the camera, Tatum would bring something to the table that I hadn’t seen out of him. Needless to say, he didn’t – even the scene that should have been his most emotional left me groaning inside. Still, Tatum doesn’t get a large amount of screen time, so the rest of the cast are able to shine.

Relative newcomer, Rooney Mara, delivers a great performance as Emily Taylor.

Relative newcomer, Rooney Mara, delivers a great performance as Emily Taylor.

Another thing that “Side Effects” really has going for it is its cinematography. Soderbergh does a great job with some wonderful lighting and color saturation. Combined with his usual knack for quick movements and cuts and you’re left with quite a well done film. Not to mention, Soderbergh produces a really cool way to tie together the opening and closing sequences of the film.

To augment the cinematography and bring the whole film together, there is a well-crafted soundtrack. From calm to intense, the music varies to match each situation nicely. This is one film of the recent ones I’ve seen whose soundtrack I actually noticed as a highlight.

“Side Effects” is another nice entry into Soderbergh’s body of work. It has many good things going for it, and for the most part, really succeeds at being an interesting thriller. Yet, for all its good pieces, there is enough bad to keep it from being really great, or reaching the level of “Contagion”. For those who enjoyed “Contagion”, or looking for a tense thriller, “Side Effects” will be a great experience. Though it stumbles early, once it gets going it is hard to not become embroiled in its twists and turns.

Final Score – 8.0/10

“Hope Springs” (2012) Guest Movie Review

Hope Springs poster

By: Jamie

Hello all, the time has come again for me to put in my two cents on a recent film. To be honest, I had high hopes for “Hope Springs” with wonderful actors like Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones playing the leads. How can this be bad, I asked myself. Well, let’s just say that it was not what I was expecting – it was more like “Hope Sinks.”

Classified as a drama and romantic comedy, I was expecting a lot of laughs and some wonderful heartwarming “Awww” moments, especially with Steve Carell as their relationship therapist. However, what I got were some very awkward scenes that not only made the actors cringe, but the audience as well. There were some laughs, but they were so few and far between that many times I forgot they even occurred.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some beautiful moments when Arnold would realize how much he loved Kay and wanted to make things right. The ending was especially emotional and heartwarming and it has some great life lessons for a happy marriage or relationship sprinkled throughout, but I would have rather learned those lessons on an episode of Oprah or Katie instead of 100 minutes of awkward scenes talking about or displaying various sexual scenes and desires.

The scene above is just one example of a scene that both of the actors seem uncomfortable with, and makes the audience feel the same way.

The scene above is just one example of a scene that both of the actors seem uncomfortable with, and makes the audience feel the same way.

Overall, it was a cute movie that gave you some things to think about for your relationship or marriage. However, the lack of real emotion and chemistry between the actors, the awkward or overdone scenes, and the lack of a decent soundtrack and story line all made the movie just “ehh”.

My opinion may be somewhat biased as it took me almost 2 hours to get through the movie due to technical difficulties since I rented it from Redbox (beware of scratched/skipping disks when renting, I’m 3 for 3 this past month). This made me aggravated and annoyed, making the movie feel longer than it really was and me wanting it to end as soon as I started experiences problems. Other than that, I still think it was a miss, when it comes to a romantic comedy and a disappointment compared to all the hype surrounding the movie. I still love Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell, but this was nowhere near any of their best work. Feeling adventurous or bored, watch it for yourself and let me know if you agree in the comments!

Final Score: 5.0/10

“Intruders” (2011) Review

Intruders cover

I’ve never been a big horror movie fan. It’s not that I don’t like the genre; it’s more so that I have become bored by the clichés of the genre (personally, I loved “28 Days Later” and “Let Me In”, high quality films with interesting stories that stand out among the more bland horror offerings). Reliance upon jump scares, barebones/convoluted/poorly pieced together plots, and excessive gore have all become genre staples, and are all ingredients that don’t appetize me in the least. Being a Clive Owen fan (“Children of Men” is one of my favorite films), I had an interest in “Intruders” which is supposed to be more of a psychological horror film.

The main plot of “Intruders” revolves around a childhood nightmare about a being known as Hollowface. This main premise is spread across two settings/timelines. The story starts off decent enough, and throughout the film remains tense. Yet, I could see the ending coming early in the film. Further, though the ending effectively wraps up both sections of the story, one conclusion is much more satisfying than the other, with the lesser being quite disappointing.

This plot is carried nicely by a brooding atmosphere that relies more on tension and unease than on the typical jump scares. This atmosphere is something that really works for “Intruders”. It’s a shame, then, that this environment is wasted on a mediocre villain. Hollowface effectively represents a classic childhood terror of things that hide in the dark, yet it just doesn’t quite feel as creepy as his back story would have you believe.

On the other hand, the main characters do a nice job of making this psychological terror seem real. Clive Owen is always great, and though this role is a step in a different direction for him, he works nicely as John. The children are decent as well, and the supporting cast are serviceable.

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Clive Owen and Ella Purnell work nicely together as father-daughter pair, John and Mia.

The other pieces that make up “Intruders” (soundtrack, cinematography, etc.) all work in the context of the film, but overall are nothing special. There are some interesting sequences involving Hollowface that are well done, and other scenes that have some nice touches, but there are just as many bland story sequences. As for the soundtrack…. well, I don’t really remember anything of note.

In the end, “Intruders” avoids many horror standards and branches into a cool psychological territory. There is some great potential here, and at points, the film is quite tense. Yet, “Intruders” squanders its potential with some sloppy story execution as the story progresses, and falls into a generally average experience due to the lack of some stronger pieces. Fans of psychological horror will find the film interesting, but not anything outstanding.

Final Score: 5.6/10

“The Darjeeling Limited” (2007) Review

Darjeeling Limited Poster

Wes Anderson is a highly skilled director with an uncanny ability to create some very unique, and highly entertaining films. Having been a big fan of his past work (most recently, the wonderful “Moonrise Kingdom“), I have been meaning to see “The Darjeeling Limited” for a while now. After experiencing the film, I can say that this is another great entry into Wes Anderson’s body of work, albeit not without a few glaring flaws.

“The Darjeeling Limited” focuses on three brothers who have agreed to take a trip across India together to try to reforge familial bonds. This sets up the trio of Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman for an adventure they will not forget. What makes this story most intriguing is the development of the relationships between the brothers and their interactions with the world around them. The characters become more mature throughout the film, and the events that slowly cause this evolution are interesting to say the least. Wes Anderson’s ability to create such unique stories and characters shines through here, and this keep “Darjeeling” entertaining from start to finish.

Unfortunately, for how great the plot and characters are during the film, there just seems to be something missing from their back story. The viewer gets a sense of the brothers’ past, but I always had this feeling that I was not fully in-the-loop on what made them who they are. Without a more fleshed-out back story to this family, some scenes lack as much of a punch as they could have had.

Despite this one glaring flaw, the plot is still highly entertaining. The story is made all the better through some great dialogue and set/costume design. The dialogue has that unusual, and smartly hilarious touch that Wes Anderson always brings to the table. The sets are also eye-catching, ranging from many scenes within the small compartments of the train to villages to Indian country-side. All the sets and costumes have splashes of color that exaggerate certain objects and treat the audience to a visual treat.

A good amount of the film takes place on the train, but Wes Anderson creates such great interactions between characters that this small set never feels cramped or boring.

A good amount of the film takes place on the train, but Wes Anderson creates such great interactions between characters that this small set never feels cramped or boring.

Another positive for the film is the acting that Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman bring to the film. They capture each brother’s personality perfectly, and make their situation believable. They work quite well together, and make each scene enjoyable.

One last thing of note is the film’s soundtrack. While I typically love Anderson’s film soundtracks (including the Portuguese David Bowie touch to “The Life Aquatic”), this one left me underwhelmed. It is certainly not bad, but just not nearly up to the standards I would expect.

“The Darjeeling Limited” is clearly a Wes Anderson film. It has all his hallmarks stamped upon it, and for the most part, it is a great movie. The passable soundtrack and lack of back story on the brothers detracts from the experience somewhat, but the high quality of the rest of the film’s pieces still make this a must-watch for Anderson fans or any fan of indie dramadies.

Final Score – 7.8/10

“Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episodes I and II” Mini-Review

Sonic 4  Title Screen

I remember my Sega Genesis from when I was quite young. I spent many hours of my life sitting “too close” to the TV screen playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog games. To this day, I remember the locations of many of the hidden secrets and the cheat code patterns for those games. That being said, the series has been on a steep decline since those days with many fans, myself included, longing for a return to the style of those original titles. With the announcement of the episodic “Sonic the Hedgehog 4”, promising a return to the series’ roots, I was quite excited. Do the first two episodes of this series entry bring Sonic back to his glory days?

With the return to side-scrolling gameplay, it seems at first the team knows what they are doing. The 3D models of Sonic, Tails, Dr. Robotnik, and all the enemies look great against the colorful and well-designed backdrops that bring back some styles of classic Sonic levels. This idea of capturing some of the nostalgia of the older titles while bringing Sonic into the modern gaming world resonates throughout the episodes. However, it never comes close to reaching those classic highs.

For example, while the graphics are a perfect upgrade for the series, the soundtrack is poor. Even the worst of tracks from the original titles surpasses the best of tracks in episodes I and II. Further, the gameplay fails to capture the feel of the classics. Sonic may reach some fast speeds, but his movement is quite stiff. This leads to some frustrating errors as there is no sense of momentum. Also, Sonic now has a lock-on ability, where at the press of a button, he can quickly attack an enemy or hit a bounce pad. This ability fails to make the experience any easier, and in fact seems to add some more frustration. With these gameplay issues, it is a shame that the level design also suffers from some very poor choices, with some incredibly frustrating segments. Did I mention the experience is, at many times, frustrating? Okay, good. To sum it up in a way any classic Sonic fan would understand, many levels become a similar experience to the water levels of old, such as Labyrinth Zone.

While Sonic 4 manages to be a return to form for the blue hedgehog, many segments and design choices mar the overall experience.

While Sonic 4 manages to be a return to form for the blue hedgehog, many segments and design choices mar the overall experience.

Bosses and special stages return, with the special stages being a highlight of the titles. They are quite fun, yet do suffer from some of the similar gameplay issues (i.e. lack of momentum in the controls) as the main levels. Bosses now occupy their own stage, as opposed to being an end of a level highlight. The bosses are decently designed as evolutions of some old Robotnik designs, yet some fall into cheap territory.

“Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episodes I & II” is an unusual experience. On one hand, it takes the old formula and builds upon it. On the other, it reconfigures many of the things that made those original titles so great, dragging the experience down in the process. For fans of the old titles, this is a nice way to take an unfamiliar trip down a nostalgic road. Just don’t expect to relive your glory days with Sonic without a few major bumps in the road.

Final Score: 6.5/10

“Les Misérables” (2012) Review

Les Miserables Poster

Being somewhat familiar with the premise of “Les Misérables”, I was not really anticipating the film adaptation. Yet, with all the praise it has been receiving now during award season, I had hope that the film could well exceed my expectations. That being said, a musical film is much different to review, as there are differences in the style in presentation.

Starting off, “Les Misérables” features a plot that has both positive and negative aspects. On a positive note, though the plot has some stereotypical aspects, it features some well-rounded characters. Through their development, the audience is drawn in making certain scenes have a heavier impact on the story and the viewer. Yet, at many points the plot itself feels a somewhat drawn out and a little too coincidental.

The characters themselves are well-played, with the cast giving some wonderful performance. Hugh Jackman is enthralling as Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathway is terrific as Fantine. The best thing about the cast’s performance is that they all did quite a job with each musical piece, except for Russell Crowe who just sounded poor to me (he’s a great fit for Ridley Scott epics, but not musicals). I have to give this group credit for stepping outside their boundaries, and succeeding, on this one.

In line with the vocals, the soundtrack is wonderful. The composition for this musical is one of the best I’ve heard in any musical I’ve been to. With the larger scope used for the film (as opposed to what would be captured on stage), the bombastic nature of the soundtrack is perfectly fitting. Overall, the sound department gets my seal of approval for the production. Yet, one downside is that nearly (~99%) of all the dialogue in the film is sung. I know “Les Misérables” is a musical, but with everything being sung, it takes away the impact of each individual song, and doesn’t allow for the same type of interactions had certain sections been spoken. Further, the dialogue itself is unimpressive, though that seems more a fault of everything having to be designed to be sung, limiting some dialogue possibilities.

Hugh Jackman gives a great performance as Jean Valjean. Both he and Anne Hathaway are well-deserving of their Oscar nominations.

Hugh Jackman gives a great performance as Jean Valjean. Both he and Anne Hathaway are well-deserving of their Oscar nominations.

Outside of the musical side of things, one major issue I had with the film was the camera work. The camera seems to always be much too close to each character’s face, with a close-up being used for every main song. This becomes even worse when you have multiple characters singing at the same time, as the camera cuts from face to face as if it’s some sort of hip hop montage. To make matters worse, the camera never seems to actually stay fixed. I don’t mean on one character or setting, but I mean that the person holding the camera has a knack for being very shaky. This poor camera work doesn’t ruin the film, but definitely detracts from the overall experience.

Taken as a whole, “Les Misérables” is a decent film. It’s not bad, not great – just decent. The cast is surprisingly great, and the sound presentation is perfect, but the shaky camera work, constant singing, and average plot make the complete experience hit-or-miss. Everyone will have a different level of enjoyment with this one, and if you have an interest in seeing the film, you will enjoy yourself. For those on the fence, you will likely be disappointed.

Final Score: 6.2/10

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