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Top 7 Movies of 2012

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This was a fantastic year for movies, so I just had to make a list. Keep in mind that these are the movies I personally enjoyed the most and may not be for everyone. I did leave out some great movies on this list, so I will be doing honorable mentions at the very bottom.

7. Rise of the Guardians (PG)

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What? Pixar didn’t make my favorite animated movie list? Honestly, Brave didn’t even beat out Hotel Transylvania for me. I found it bland, boring, and ultimately underwhelming, especially for a Pixar film. No, Rise of the Guardians makes this list because it simply was the most enjoyable animated film I saw this year. It could have easily been a contrived mess, cashing in on the exciting premise of seeing Santa, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost and the Tooth Fairy fighting the Boogeyman. Thankfully, the movie has some great storytelling behind it thanks to the series of books it’s based upon, making it an action-packed kid’s movie with some interesting, sometimes deep themes. Plus, it was great to see The Sandman actually being the “strongest” of the guardians. Definitely glad I went out and saw this one.

6. Dark Knight Rises (PG-13)

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What a great way to conclude a trilogy. I have to admit that I wasn’t as impressed as everyone else with The Dark Knight, but I more than appreciated how well they crafted such a phenomenon. I had my doubts that DKR would even manage to come close to meeting expectations fans had for this film, but I was pleasantly surprised. Put simply, the movie did it for me. It had plenty of flaws and gaping plot-holes, but it was still an enjoyable ride from start to finish, and they managed to end the trilogy in a way that pleases pretty much everyone. I call that a win.

5. Les Miserables (PG-13)

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What more can I say besides the fact that Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman were so good at their roles that absolutely everything else I disliked about the movie pretty much meant nothing because, holy crap, I got to see some of the best acting of the year done to a musical. See this in theaters while you can.

4. Chronicle (PG-13)

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What a fantastic movie this turned out to be. At a time when we’re getting bombarded with the “handheld camera” style of filmmaking (Paranormal Activity 4 anyone?), I was relieved to see a studio really nail it with Chronicle. The movie already wins points on not being an adaptation or sequel. It was just an ambitious project that was filmed extremely well and ended up being one of my favorite movies of the year. It worked because it was simple and well-executed with believable characters and, of course, the powers these kids used evolved from entertaining to epic, making the final battle scene one of the best superhero finales I can say I’ve seen.

3. Ted (R)

Image Courtesy of filmofilia.comI hate Family Guy these days. Ever since the end of season 6, I have been extremely disappointed with the show and have completely given up on it. Sure, I watch episodes every so often to “check-in” and see if the show has managed to fix whatever it is that they broke. Hasn’t happened yet, but maybe that’s why I enjoyed Ted so much. Seth McFarlane, the mastermind (and pretty much every voice) behind Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show produced this movie, and it really was like the spirit and humor of past Family Guy were revived. Ted was easily the most funny movie I saw this year, and the reasons it worked go beyond the humor. Just look at how they handled Mila Kunis, who we probably should have hated but ended up empathizing with. The casting was the most well-done aspect of this film, with Ted becoming one of this year’s biggest new stars. Not bad for a teddy bear.

2. Skyfall (PG-13)

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I’ve been an avid fan of the James Bond franchise since I was old enough to watch them back when Goldeneye came out. To be honest, however, I haven’t enjoyed a Bond film (with the exception of Casino Royale, though even that was disappointing in part) since The World is Not Enough back when I was just 9 years old. The charm and mind-splitting plot of James Bond just hasn’t been there until we received Skyfall, a Bond movie that finally took some serious risks. They say that Bond films are most successful when they reflect the taste of the times. This is why Cold-War, macho villainy, and gadget hi-jinks were so popular back in the baby boomer days. Now, we’ve finally received a Bond film that adapts to the audiences of today. It was a fantastic action film that utilized the gritty realism and introspection we have come to expect thanks to Christopher Nolan. The villain ended up being the best movie villain of the year, I’d say, thanks to a brilliant performance by Sam Mendes. Just the fact that Skyfall actually took the risk of showing us a more emotional Bond without polarizing what makes him iconic is a testament to how well this film was made. 

1. The Avengers (PG-13)

I just enjoyed this film the most, okay? It wasn’t the most well-made film that came out this year. It wasn’t the best story. It didn’t have the best special effects. It didn’t have the best characters. Still, this was the most fun, escapism movie I saw this year. I lost myself in watching some of my favorite movie heroes fighting alongside each other against my favorite villain from their string of movies. I laughed and cheered alongside hundreds of people watching this movie, which is an experience I’ll never forget. When I think back, I waited four years for this movie, starting with Iron Man, so I easily could have been disappointed if just one of the characters fell flat. Not the case. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk lived up to my expectations perfectly. Thank you Marvel Studios.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Argo
  • Lincoln
  • Django Unchained
  • The Hobbit
  • Cabin in the Woods
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Wreck-it Ralph
  • Looper
  • Life of Pi

Like what you read? Connect with me further via twitter @JonNegroni. I’ll follow back if you seem like a real person.

Don’t forget to check out THE JON REPORT every day, updated at 8am for a list of today’s main headlines as selected by my editorial team (me) 

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Review: ‘Les Miserables’

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People have been waiting a long time for Les Miserables to hit the big screen. Constantly regarded as one of the greatest musicals to ever hit broadway, this piece of work has, until now, been an undertaking some would call “unfilmable.” Well, I’m here to let you know that, yes, this movie works, and it just might be the best movie you’ll see this year. Maybe.

BIAS

I have no bias with this work. I had never seen the play, read the book, or known any crucial plot points before seeing this film (not for lack of wanting. I had tickets to the broadway play in 2008 but the show was canceled due to the writers’ strike. I’ve been charred ever since.)

So this review is coming from the words of someone completely unfamiliar with the source material, so take my opinion for what it is. I won’t be in the business of trying to compare the movie to the book or play, since I simply can’t.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Image Courtesy of projectqatlanta.comIf you don’t know much about the story or backdrop, know that you will be entering a biopic of sorts centering around the character of Jean Valjean played by Hugh Jackman, with his story taking place over a period of about 20 years (40 if you count the unseen prologue) in 17th century France.

Yes, the movie has plenty of supporting characters, but the story really revolves a long chase scene between Jean Von Jean, a convict who broke parole but is seeking spiritual redemption, and Javert, the ruthless policeman who hunts him played by Russel Crowe.

The movie carries many themes, with one of the most prominent being freedom. Halfway in, the story coincides with the second French Revolution that took shape in the 1830s. The story coincides beautifully with these events, making it a fitting period piece.

This movie is truly a musical, with characters constantly singing and very, very rarely speaking out of song. I don’t have to have seen the broadway play to know that the music is one of the world’s most celebrated scores, constantly pulling at your heartstrings throughout the movie’s long 2.5 hours.

Oh yeah, the movie is long. If you don’t have the RunPee app (an app that shows you when the best times are to take a bathroom break) GET IT. I did and benefitted greatly, since the movie is constantly introducing new characters and jumping forward in time, though there are plenty of long song sequences you can cut short.

Back to the music, you may have already heard that the movie has pioneered a new method of recording the music. Rather than produce all of the singing in a studio months before production, most of the singing recorded is actually being sung on camera, and it shows. The raw emotion in the sound this creates is extremely noticeable and provoked many in the audience to tears, literally.

WHAT WORKS

Pretty much every scene with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who plays Fantine, is pure gold. Their performances overshadow most everything else about the film, and awards will most likely be handed out. The music is phenonemnal, though the only songs that really did it for me were “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Red and Black,” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” Everything else was fine, but there was just so much singing that many of the others songs were cluttered and forgettable. Something I’m sure purchasing the soundtrack would cure.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK
I’m not going to say that Russell Crowe did a poor job. He really didn’t. I’m just burdened with having to compare him to Hugh Jackman. The performances were far apart in my opinion, mainly because of Crowe’s lack of emotion, though perhaps that’s what the character of Javert calls for.

The sets are hit or miss. They ranged from epic in scale, especially towards the beginning, but then meander to looking like something out of a Lemony Snicket novel. It was too noticeable for me to forgive.

I know British accents are all the range, but do we really lack the capacity for pulling off French accents in America? It’s annoying to watch a French Revolution movie where the 8 year old is leading one of the most epic battle songs sounding like Kelly from Misfits. 

On a more serious note, I hesitate to judge the story, which I frankly found rushed. Yes, this is a different medium. Movies can’t do what books do. I just wish that more explanations between time skips could have occurred. You absolutely have to pay close attention, or you will be yearning for more.

I also wish they could have done more with Cosette, played by Amanda Seyfried, though I’m appreciative that they took full advantage of Sacha Baron Cohen, who played Thenardier the Innkeeper.

IS IT WORTH WATCHING?

For most people, definitely yes. It’s pure drama with some action, so don’t expect much humor. If you want to get truly involved in a long, gripping, and performance-rich musical, you will get what you paid for with Les Miserables. Almost everyone can appreciate the beauty behind the music, but the movie is definitely not for everyone. If you couldn’t even handle the music breaks in Phantom of the Opera, for example, then this is definitely not the movie for you.

For fans of the source material, I can say with confidence that every person I know that has seen both the play and the movie have greatly enjoyed this. I’ve yet to hear of disappointment from the fans. There was a standing ovation at the very end, which turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever witnessed. Not a dry eye in the house.

I highly recommend that you see this in theaters! I can’t imagine the sound being better in your living room. On a final note, here is my favorite quote from the movie that gave me chills: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

 

Review: ‘Arrow’

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I HATE the CW. It doesn’t even try to make shows for my demographic, and hey that is alright. But with Arrow, the superhero biopic based on the quasi-well-known D.C. superhero Green Arrow, could just might show a more balanced network on channel 5.

Having premiered back in September, I’ve given the show 6 episodes to prove itself, so this review is based on my impression of those 6 episodes alone.

The first thing you need to know about this new show is that it has absolutely no connection with the Green Arrow of Smallville fame, which is great news for probably most people. That version of Green Arrow differs tremendously from this new envisioned hero. It’s like comparing pop music to rock n roll, or at least that’s how I make sense of it.

Arrow relies on the kind of gritty storytelling that borrows somewhat from Chris Nolan’s Batman and, surprisingly, Lost. I never really got into Lost having only watched 10 or so episodes, but if there’s one thing I took away from their storytelling, it’s the use of ongoing flashbacks to bolster the story. So, imagine a superhero television show that paces itself like Lost.

In a nutshell, Arrow is about a 20 something billionaire named Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) who was shipwrecked at sea for 5 years. He returns from his isolation with an agenda: to use his superhuman  skills acquired mysteriously from his time on the island to the right the wrongs of his father, who acquired his wealth by taking advantage of the poor.

Yes it’s Robin Hood mixed with Batman with the show Revenge for good measure. One of the show’s strong points is that we are introduced slowly to the character of Oliver Queen. We begin with his return to his home of Starling City, as he juggles reconnecting with his estranged family/friends and taking down the crony capitalists that are choking the city to death. arrow-stephen-amell-cw

That’s Arrow’s biggest strength: character development. Oliver is interesting and constantly changing. One minute he is a brooding anti-hero unafraid to kill someone who stands in his way. The next minute he is a detective, figuring out the best way to subdue his well-protected enemies. Then we have the minutes where Oliver is an actual person, struggling to fit back into the lives of his beloved family who thought he was dead for years. Oh, and let’s not forget that we are treated to excellent flashbacks to his 5 years of desperate survival that turned him into the character we already know. The show goes out of its way to make Oliver Queen a great character.

I wish I could say the same for some of the other characters. With the exception of Oliver’s mother Moira (Susanna Thompson) and Oliver’s bodyguard Dig (David Ramsey), the rest of Arrow’s cast are either one-note or should be one-note. This is more apparent early-on with Laurel (Katie Cassidy), Oliver’s girlfriend before the shipwreck, of which he cheated on her with her sister, who did not survive the shipwreck. Yikes. Although this character is ripe with great plot opportunities for drama, I did not find Cassidy’s portrayal of the character very compelling or fun to watch. Watching her be a lawyer is especially frustrating and full of one-liners like, “I’m the only one who cares about this city!” and “I will always fight for the little guy!” Sorry Laurel, Rachel Dawes did it better.

I could go on and on about the lackluster characters, but instead I’ll focus on how the show ultimately redeems itself via the excellent pacing, memorable villains, above-average action scenes, and the show’s fantastic commitment to comic-book tie-ins. Even the people who don’t recognize the nuance references to the D.C. comic universe benefit from the rich universe this show borrows from. It works.

The show is on a good path, and it’s only main flaw (again the characters) is improving weekly. If there is one thing that can really make this show a must-watch, it would be the implementation of more moral “real world” dilemmas that we all know and love from D.C. stories such as Batman (at what point do you become the villain you’re fighting against?) and Superman (security versus freedom). Arrow has teased us with these deep questions, such as how Oliver Queen has readily murdered dozens of bodyguards and security personnel to accomplish his missions. At first we rolled our eyes at the inconsistency of this, but then a major villain early on actually points this out to Green Arrow and it sunk in. Oliver then begins to show how his torture on the island made him callous and depraved. These are great themes more than suitable for a D.C. character.

So yes, Arrow is definitely worth watching for most people. It has the beautiful actors and supernatural-ish world and characters CW watchers crave and it has the fantastic storytelling and action that is usually witnessed on ABC and Fox. It’s a fun show that can sometimes throw drama-infused curveballs, and I can’t wait to see how the first season turns out.

-On a side note, I am very much against D.C. copying Marvel for a superhero team up movie in the form of The Justice League to rival The Avengers. Shows like this prove that D.C. belongs on the small screen, and a team up using this version of Green Arrow would be 10 times better than using, say Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern. We’ll see if I eat my words once Man of Steel comes out.

 

Why I Love Commercials

And it’s not because other people hate commercials. I’m not a contrarian (or at least, I try not to be). Also, It’s really a coincidence that I am writing this after one of those politically advertised elections of all time–I actually just wanted to talk about this today.

Anyways, I love commercials. I haven’t always loved them, but over the past year I have noticed something very interesting about the trajectory this form of traditional advertising is on.

Think about it. The advent of on-demand television and Netflix has made commercial advertising trickier than ever. I don’t think I need to really emphasize just how easy it is for us to bypass commercials altogether. The unintended consequence of this new reality is that advertising quality and creativity have only made commercials better.

Gone are the days when commercials could just blanket every market because executives were confident their message would be seen no matter what. Here are the days when more money than ever before is being spent on market research, target demographics, and well, production.

Even over the past 4 years, I’ve noticed a sharp increase in commercial quality across the board on the same channels, especially cable networks such as FX, TBS, and Comedy Central. Compared to just a few years ago, I find myself more engaged and more likely to respond to television advertising, which let’s face it, is necessary during these changing times.

Commercials are now more interactive. They share ideas with social media. I saw a commercial the other day that made me laugh out loud, and that never happens. It may not even be that the content is that much better than it was a decade ago or the products are better. It’s really just that advertisers are doing a better job of capturing our attention.

Just look at the commercial I used as this post’s featured image (clicking on it will take you to the youtube video for the commercial). Amazing right?

How am I so sure that this is a result of more challenging advertising hurdles? Well, I’m not. Correlation is not akin to causation and all that. Still, I can’t help but believe this is a case, due to the fact that I find myself actually enjoying commercial advertising for the first time, even on Hulu.

Whatever the reason for this perceived increase in commercial quality, I find myself being a person that enjoys people trying to sell me things in-between my favorite shows. Let’s just hope this won’t have an adverse effect on my wallet.

JN

Review: ‘Revolution’ Pilot

If you haven’t watched the pilot yet, I strongly suggest you do before reading on. You can watch for free here: http://www.nbc.com/revolution/video/pilot/1415378

The basic premise of Revolution follows one key theme: what would happen if all of our man-made electrical devices just stopped working? Cars, airplanes, lighting, even batteries are now completely useless, as something has disrupted electrical currents.

Revolution follows this idea opening with the “blackout” which takes place during the present, and we see how this sudden change immediately affects the world. The show fast-forwards 15 years to our main characters, who are embarking on a mission to save a family member from a ruthless militia. Along the way, we are shown hints to why the blackout happened and who knows about it, and the show teases us with flashbacks to the day the blackout happened a la “Lost.”

It’s an interesting mystery for sure, but what has people really rooting for the show is how it lends itself to spirited adventure with the reasonable implementation of muskets, swords, and crossbows. The action scenes are actually dynamic and fun to watch, making it a lot like Pirates of The Caribbean meets Fallout if that makes any sense.

That said, the pilot has its issues. Mainly the characters. I don’t really like Charlie, the female lead, as she seems like a pretty boring narrative device. Her main function is to bring the other characters together, but it’s not very exciting yet. I’ll give her more episodes, but I don’t like what I see yet. The other characters standing alone are much more well-conceived, especially Maggie and Miles. Maggie is a botanist that uses trickery to win her fights, although she doesn’t seem to fit in the cast ensemble just yet and doesn’t get much screen time.

Miles could be the show’s saving grace as the reluctant hero who bests an entire platoon of militia soldiers single-handed. Easily the best action scene you’ll see on TV these days.

Other characters don’t make much sense yet, such as Nate, the show’s villain yet hero who works for the militia and has a thing for Charlie. Aaron is a former Google employee who is nothing more than a comic relief who we’ll hopefully see come to his own as this group’s “Sokka.”

Oh and how could I leave out Giancarlo Esposito, who can only be described as Revolution’s own  Gus Fring. His performance was great, of course, but we really need to see him evolve beyond his usual sharp-tongued villainy.

Overall, the show has plenty of promise. Enough, at least, for you to get plugged in now and see where this goes. As long as the characters begin to find their rhythm amongst each other and the writing continues to catch us off guard (the second-to-last plot twist was very well-done), we could have an addicting (for a good reason) show on our hands.

Also, people are crying foul over supposed plot-holes surrounding how this world has been shaped after 15 years. All I can say is wait. I’m sure we’ll see valid reasons for why society has developed into what we see in the pilot, and I’m confident they can pull it off.

Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

Long story short: It’s no Spider-Man 2.

Short story long:

I love Spider-Man. I went into this move stoked to see Spider-Man do spider…well things, and I wasn’t disappointed. The action was superb and the way everything was set up made the reboot do just that: refresh our perception of Spider-Man.

Unfortunately, the movie suffers one major ill: post-production. The whole time I was watching this movie, I couldn’t get over the lack of cinematic flair. From the first time we see Peter Parker dawn his mask to the Lizard’s transformation, there is just a terrible structure to everything, which is typically what you address in editing.

There’s also an underwhelming attention to pacing, resulting in a final product with the right ingredients, minus a cohesive flow.

I won’t even complain about the web shooters or off-putting glow-lights appearing out of Peter Parker’s wrists. These lore updates are welcome to a worn franchise. The only re-imagining that I had any real issue with was how they dealt with the death of the Uncle Ben (played well by Martin Sheen), arguably the most important character in the Spider-Man mythology for how he prompts Peter Parker into a life of superhero servitude. Unfortunately, the execution of this arc and others was sloppy to a fault.

The love interest, Emma Stone performing admirably as Gwen Stacey, will be most folks’ favorite aspect of this film. The rest of the supporting cast, including a weak-willed Flash Thompson, standard police captain antagonist, and an even less interesting antagonist in the form of “The Lizard,” bring The Amazing Spider-Man down to earth from its web slinging heights.

Grade: C

Extra Credits:

  • Five years is far too short to reboot a film franchise, especially if we’re doing another origin story.
  • The mystery surrounding Peter’s parents doesn’t amount to as much as the marketing would have moviegoers believe. This isn’t necessary a flaw of the film itself, just a missed opportunity.
  • Another key difference that seemed inevitable: No Mary Jane or Harry Osborn, though I doubt that will remain the case with future installments.
  • Amazing Spider-Man certainly excels at core characters, but if I had to put my finger on the key difference between both franchises, it would have to be the absence of any style here compared to the straight-out-of-a-comic-book approach of the Sam Raimi films.
  • Thankfully, they didn’t do a poor job with the Stan Lee cameo.

 

 

Why Can’t We Buy TV Theme Songs?

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Here is one of my out-of-nowhere ideas. Make classic television theme songs available on the web. That simple. 

Go on…Why Can’t We Buy TV Theme Songs?

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