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The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
Funny Start... but PAINFUL middle and angry bunny damages film overall
The first 20 minutes where we get to meet the characters (pets) and their families has some excellent writing and funny animal to human relations insights. The characters and story start off great and Louis CK strikes the perfect balance of the main dog voice. However, the film "jumps the shark" with the introduction of the absurd set of angry and fake characters with Kevin Hart's Snowball bunny. Snowball is angry, mean, and a total distraction. Terrible writing and direction here. These characters hate humans and have evil and totally unfunny intentions. Without this unwatchable middle section of angry and mean pets, the film has a great vibe and worth a watch. I've seen it about 100 times because our 4-year old loves the beginning and ending. We often skip Kevin Hart's Snowball and the middle section of the film.
Great acting. Important subject. Too dark at times. RFK is all wrong.
Natalie Portman is very good in the lead role and will get lots of acting recognition. The JFK story is amazingly compelling and still has many nuances to his story even though it has been told many times. This is a very different portrait of the era focused on Jackie and Natalie Portman draws an amazing portrait. Peter Sarsgaard is a bit sloppy as RFK and does not attempt the accent nor the charm that RFK is known for. This film paints a brilliant picture, but if differs so much from other known accounts of RFK and the other family members that it seems jaded against telling the real story of the Kennedy's. The film centers around dialogue between Jackie and a reporter narrative that is often awkward, flawed and beyond belief. The film is largely devoid of "warm" characters and many of the relationships feel false and plastic beyond reason. Many things are implied here about LBJ, Lee Harvey Oswald and others that leaves you a bit confused about where the film wants you to focus. This could have been a great film, but I will say it was misguided in the way it told the story... too dark, too foreboding and too many dry characters.
Color by numbers kids film. Borrows from many others. Good for kids.
We saw this with our 2-year old. She enjoyed it. It's compared to Frozen and has some of the same producers. However, this film is no Frozen. While it follows a similar structure to Frozen, the "color by numbers" themes, songs, and production feel a bit tired. I enjoy the South Pacific theme and feel they could have made this a great film, but they have made a good film that is good for kids. This empowered character uses the "sea" where Frozen used ice. The main songs are soaring, but not as memorable as Frozen. The "radio versions" of the songs seem overly commercial. The main male character's complexity is vastly cartoonish and overplayed. He's bad, then good. Ego- maniac, then humble. Moana is a sweet and empowering character that works well, but the story around her gets increasingly absurd and zany. Sorry, this is only a good film, not a great one.
Into the Forest (2015)
Interesting Concept, Terrible Execution. Someone lost their way.
We wanted to like this film. But we could not. It failed us. The premise is interesting and the acting starts off pretty solid and believable. The characters talk and act in ways that you can believe at the outset and you are drawn in by the mysterious direction of the plot. Then, something happens and the characters just keep plugging away as if nothing is wrong. There are so many outrageous inconsistencies and plot holes that you can't keep up. Without giving away the plot, I will just say that they go from one extreme to the other and the characters do not react as any person ever would. The story continues with more absurdity and tragedy. The characters continue to do mindless and illogical things. At this point, we lose interest in the story and follow along with half interest just to see where it ends. It can be said that there is some very good acting in this film. But the writing and direction drag this into two big thumbs down. Bizarre does not mean good. Sorry.
The Nice Guys (2016)
Started OK, the became TERRIBLE and Stupid
Two great actors and an interesting start. However, about halfway through, it became absurd beyond reason. Just terrible plot twists. A few funny moments can not save this terrible film. It is too long and too stupid for words. Hard to understand who gave this film high marks. I want my money back. The Good: Interesting Premise and great actors The Bad: a Totally unrealistic story that keeps twisting. The Ugly: You stop caring about the characters. One more good thing: An interesting soundtrack. One more bad thing: The description of the film gives away too much. Cartoonish and stupid. I reluctantly gave it 5 stars because of a few funny moments in the first half. Two thumbs down.
Funny for all ages. Clever, visually stunning and fast-paced.
This is a clever and well-written kids film with many smart moments for kids of all ages. The writers and director added a lot of humor that appeals to all ages. Excellent character development and set-up of inventive sub-plots.
The Good: - Great characters - Well written story with good plots - Smart and positive messages - Complex story that appeals to adults (and kids) - Fun and fast story - Excellent animation
The Negatives: - Occasionally too serious - Story gets very complex - Sometimes tries too hard
EXCELLENT overall kids and adults.
GREAT CAMEO VOICES. Try to spot them.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Moments of great acting, but painfully long and excessive
A number of Tarantino's films are great. The over-the-top excess of the stories and characters worked brilliantly in Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Inglorious Basterds. Here, however, it's just too much.
Think of it this way, while everyone likes a little salt on their food, dumping the entire salt shaker on your meal ruins it. This film has an interesting premise, a unique story and great characters, but at times it's so over-done you may get bored by the excess.
It's also way too long. It clocks in at around three hours on most versions of the film. That's way too long for this story. This is not Gandhi, this is a Western drama. Tarantino has been given too much freedom to run this long without a good reason. In fact, the film would likely be a full star better if they cut 30-40 minutes from it.
On the positive side, the characters are often brilliant and the acting is top notch. But the story is so over-the-top and excessive that we found ourselves rolling our eyes and losing interest too much for a film like this.
Some moments of the film are a 9, others a 5, so the average score of a 7 fits for now. This is sad because had they made it more compact and shown a little restraint--this film could have been a 9 and of the best of 2015.
Great concepts and great acting, but badly flawed execution hurt this film.
Subtle and methodical. Great acting, but characters you do not care much about.
Great films create a compelling connection to the actors and characters. You care about them as individuals and you come to love, hate or relate to their quest. Spotlight does not really deliver on this. It is a good film, and it tells an important story with an important message about the fourth estate. Well, actually, the film is also largely about the flaws of the first estate, second estate, and third estate, but the fourth estate (the press) is the one that rebounds from its flaws.
This methodical telling of a true story about the importance of a vigilant press is rated highly by critics this year. It is a story about how the press, politicians and religious leaders all conspired to protect a terrible group of people. This is an important story in that we must prevent this from ever happening again by any people in our society.
But the importance of the story itself is not how you rate a film. This film is well crafted, well acted and very well cast. But its mission is quite methodical and we gain few emotional insights about the key protagonists.
The film deserves much praise in that it may help teach us to never be silent again when dark and evil behavior in among us. The mission to end this evil is important and for that reason, it is an important film to see.
We can hope this film helps prevent future wrongdoing and helps people to speak out when they see things that are truly wrong.
It is a very well-crafted film with an important message. The message may be more important than the film itself.
Steve Jobs (2015)
Painful. Misdirected. Off-track and dark version of a visionary story.
After reading countless negative reviews of this film about Steve Jobs, we were reluctant, but finally decided to watch on Apple TV after it received praise for acting. Yes, there are some great acting moments. But to what end? The writer and director have grabbed some of the most absurd and off-key moments of Steve Jobs life to create a dark and mythical character.
Why was the Mac great? Ignore that. Why was his push for design so important? Make that a negative. Why did he revolutionize the modern era? He was narrow and flawed.
This movie would have you believe the whole era of Apple was based on a few childhood fears and an obsession for working too much. At times, it felt like Steve Jobs was running for president and the writer and director ran the opposition campaign. Dark and negative without any window into to why he was great.
Good acting in a faux story that is focused on damaging a reputation of a visionary... this film was widely criticized and lost a lot of money... but it would have you believe Apple and Steve Jobs were the failure.
We liked the acting... to a degree. But the direction was terrible. It built up three key speeches and presentations that changed Steve Jobs and Apple and our lives. However, it never gave you a taste of what they really were about.
Even people who were Steve Jobs critics say this film overlooked his charm, visionary roles and personality.
Apple sold hundreds of millions of products based on his vision... but in the end, this film just wants you to know that he was not that happy, not a devoted father, and not very good at relationships. Change the title and our historical knowledge of Steve Jobs and you just have a boring story of a man who was flawed.
Steve Jobs was flawed, but this film is far more flawed than he was in every way. I hope someone makes a biography that shares the real story.
Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Painfully slow film. Lots of wasted talent.
We had high expectations after seeing previews to this film and our group made it a night out to see the latest Coen Brothers film. Our entire group left the theater deeply disappointed. Slow story, bland acting, too much inside Hollywood nonsense. We are big fans of the Coen Brothers. What went wrong here? Too much freedom, bad advice, bad studio input? Who knows, but this film is a dud. I am shocked by the positive reviews here and on RottenTomatoes. NOTE that user reviews across the board are not good. This film is Rotten. It has a few mildly entertaining moments, but the plot drags us into a strange Hollywood insider debate about who deserves credit from a bygone era. Cameos come and go and are largely wasted. I got more entertainment from the preview than the entire film. Watch the preview and be glad you did not waste a full evening seeing this bland and misguided film. Worth a 99cent rental on a Monday night on Apple TV? Maybe. A big maybe. Almost fell asleep about 75 minutes into this film. Boo Brothers Coen. Try again.
Great Subject Matter. The story that ended Dan Rather's career. (from Redford's view)
Interesting, but this film is hard to take. We found ourselves rolling our eyes a few times. Our group found the story very interesting, but grossly flawed.
Acting: Good B+ (clearly, they representing a liberal perspective, but they don't go as far as a Michael Moore)
Filming is well done and the story is engaging. That said, having followed this story closely, they really push the "Dan Rather was a Hero" and "George Bush is Evil" storyline. With layers and layers of conspiracy from big business, media, finance and politics, it bends facts a bit too much.
The movie suggests that Dan Rather was only a talking head and did not really play any role in the journalistic decisions that were made (and made wrong). It was his 60 Minutes Team that dropped the ball. Hard to imagine. They spend the entire movie trying to keep Rather unblemished.
The focus of the story is Mary Mapes. Again, this film was written to suggest she's a hero and had no political motivation in her attacks on Bush. It's hard to imagine someone pursuing any story with this much personal passion and then suggest they really do not dislike Bush.
Redford feels that this story of Rather/Mapes is our generations Woodward and Bernstein. That's not just a stretch, it's painful to even make that connection. Clearly, these reporters had flaws, but they also did some great work over their career.
REMINDER: REDFORD WAS WOODWARD in the film All The Presidents Men. Another media film about taking down a Republican president. However, the All The President's Men Story was about journalism and anxiety to do what is right. In this case, Truth pushes some VERY big buttons to get you to consider what may have happened, even though the evidence is to the contrary.
Had this film been directed and written by a moderate and non-political person, it could have been great. It's an amazing story, but in this film, Truth is told from Redford's view, which is quite biased.
Love & Mercy (2014)
BRILLIANT. Great story, great movie. Paul Dano deserves an Oscar Nomination.
Great great movie. Compelling, amazingly relevant and timely. Paul Dano is a serious contender for an Oscar and captures a lot of the essence of Genius Brian Wilson. I realize this movie has some flaws and is not perfect, but it is worthy of great praise. The Good: Acting, great story, documentary style brilliance, time capsule of great music. Paul Dano is BRILLIANT. The Bad: Cusack is not the right casting. Paul G. is well cast, but chews a bit of scenery. Sometimes too long. Relationship story has challenges. Paul Dano is one of our finest. AND, it features PET SOUNDS, ranked by Rolling Stone as the greatest album in history, #2 is Sergeant Pepper.
Great cast, but lots of flaws in direction. Interesting storyline. Not a great film.
I had high hopes for this film which is winning awards and getting some Oscar buzz. The cast is amazing and the storyline is very interesting. However, there are some very gross flaws in the direction and characters in the film that caused me to give it a 7 (maybe even a 6) out of 10. The handful of great moments of intensity make it worth a 7, but this is not a best picture nominee. Without giving away any spoilers, I can say the following: THE BAD:
* Emily Blunt character does (or fails to do) what you expect she would. She fails to ask questions or show some basic skills you would expect for someone in her position. * She is not believable in her professional or personal behavior. We don't really get her. Yes, she's conflicted, but there are 4-5 times where it makes no sense. * The story gets confusing and convoluted. Who are they going after and how and why and how does it all work out. Beyond implausible, it's like they edited 50% of the film away and left us with some gaping holes. * Governmental agencies are jumbled and confusing to an absurd level. * A few action scenes are absurd. * Random locations with random people where you do not know who they are nor why they are there.
What I love about feature films in theaters is the level of realism, acting and storytelling is generally FAR superior to any TV show or movie. In this case, the director handles the character development and action scenes more like a TV movie. The cave scene being the most absurd and the main character (Emily Blunt) feeling like a poorly written TV character.
Benicio and Josh Brolin have their moments of greatness, but their characters are too gruff to care much about them. There is another storyline about a Mexican police officer that is also poorly developed.
THE GOOD: You will feel like you understand the complexity of the Mexico-US drug crisis. For those who feel doing illegal drugs does not harm anyone, this movie will give you a clear picture of the dangers to society and the corruption that exists along the border. Clearly, we have major issues that must be addressed.
Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
Very entertaining for all ages, funny for adults
This is a smart and funny claymation style film that reminded me a great deal of Wallace and Gromit. We put this movie on for our 15 month-old, but I think we found it more entertaining. Despite the lack of dialogue, the characters deliver a great deal of emotion and heart with expressions. The story goes a bit zany at times, but the constant injection of witty humor keep this movie flowing. Two thumbs up. Fun and funny for all. The Good: great characters, redeeming story lines, funny, smart The Bad: the villain is a bit over the top, there are a few dull spots. Lack of dialogue is hard to adjust to, but it does work. Who should watch it: Great for all ages.
Amazing and Intense. Harsh reality of war. Not for all.
I can highly recommend this film to anyone who can handle the intensity of a gruesome war film. The film starts slow and is filled with typical tough guy war banter and then the intensity jumps dramatically as the film re-creates a real story for Afganistan where soldiers are trapped in a minefield. Gripping, intense, sad, fierce and powerful. It is not a political film, but will get you to think deeply about the wars of the middle East and how we fight them.
A very well made film that often feels like a documentary. Flawless filming and acting to make you feel there.
This film is NOT for everyone. This film is quite gruesome and captures the reality of land mines.
NOTE: The heavy British accents required us to turn on captions.
I wanted to score the film an 8.5, but upgraded to a 9 based on powerful filming, intensity, real-ness and solid acting.
Surreal entertainment with some glaring flaws
We were excited to see Lucy based on some excellent reviews. We made this a prime-time movie night selection as soon as it was available for rental. It was somewhat entertaining, but ultimately disappointing. Our take is that the first half was fun and curiously "realistic" sci-fi. The concepts explained by Morgan Freeman were very crisp and enlightening (although a bit academic.) We were quite engrossed in both the academic and gangster story lines. About 2/3 of the way through, the film "jumps the shark" with some absurd sci-fi leaps. We would give the first half of the film a solid 8 and the second half of the film a 5. Average is a 6.5, so we'll round this up to a 7. This film had great potential to reveal some breakthrough new ideas, but it lost its way.
Brilliant Disaster of a Movie
Rewatched this visually impressive, yet terrible film this week and decided to update my review...
Star Wars is one of the greatest film series of all-time. The (original) Star Wars, Empire and Jedi are all amazing feats of cinematography and storytelling. They are brilliant and game-changing.
I recently re-watched this one, The Phantom Menace, and it's a disaster on so many levels, but it earns a few points just for being related to the original films.
The bad: acting, casting, accents, Jar Jar, the young Anakin goof ball kid, dry performances, stiff dialog, bizarre politics, terrible special effects (e.g. Jar Jar) and overall a laughable storyline.
The WORST: The young Anakin kid is like a bad Nichelodeon character. Jar Jar is much worse than I remember, and I recalled hating his character before. Natalie Portman is a great actress as is Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson--they are all wasted here with terrible stiff dialog and no chance to really act. Blah.
The good: there are a few great visual effects and the story has moments of interesting flow. Conceptually, this could have been a good film, but so poorly assembled and feels like a "B" movie throughout, despite massive budgets for everything. One other good thing is that it is here just to connect the dots in the overall Star Wars saga. It's like the really bad salad you get at an event before you get your steak fillet entrée. You hope to rush through it in hopes the next course is better.
Looking forward to the 2015 release in hopes they never make these mistakes again and get a whole new generation interested in this Saga... go back to Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Run from the Phantom Menace.
I'd sell this DVD for $1 and feel like I may have ripped the buyer off. I want those 3 hours back.
The Drop (2014)
Unique and Compelling, but filled with character flaws
I appreciate the good reviews for this film and we are glad we saw it. The characters are unique and interesting and the shadowy drama is a compelling story. Each of the characters is carefully crafted and the settings have been flawlessly filmed. The main issues with this film are the series of small flaws and errors that may cause you to doubt the stories and characters. The characters react in a way that sometimes makes you shake your head and doubt their words or actions. Great dramatic films pull you in to unique situations and give you a strong sense of the characters. A good drama can pull you in so far that you feel part of the film and have your own interpretation and reaction to the situations faced the characters. This film was well written and mindfully directed. That said, there are quite a few times where the characters (in many cases the primary couple in the film) do and say things that may support the story, but seem totally implausible. Many of the reviews give this a 9/10, but it's more like a 7.5 out of 10 due to these poorly structured transitions between scenes. Some of these character mysteries are solved by the end of the film, but enough oddities come up that you may feel like you watched a TV movie... and that's not a good thing. I recommend this move, but with reservations.
PAINFUL, Flawed and Absurd. Massive plot holes destroy this film.
I must agree with the reviews that are tearing this film apart for absurd plot holes. I realize futuristic sci-fi films ask us to suspend disbelief, but this film has 20-30 absurd plot errors that make the film almost unwatchable. I cannot understand the positive reviews. Our theater was full and no one around us appeared to enjoy this film much, often laughter or groaning could be heard as the plot went haywire.
The initial concept was promising, an environmental disaster freezes the earth, but the train workings, the absurd characters and the illogical attacks drove us mad. Often, when we see a film in the theater that is "so-so," we tell others to wait for it on Apple TV or DVD. This one was so bad I cannot recommend it to anyone. Just because it has an interesting premise and a message does NOT mean this film is well made or worth watching. I want those two hours back. Ouch.
Wildly Entertaining Snapshot of Youth in the late 90s
With a dozen crazy characters, Doug Liman paints a vivid and bizarre picture of life in the late 90s for a group of LA teens and twenty-somethings. The humor and wildly hip and entertaining characters paint a very memorable portrait and take you a on a magical ride of emotions, wild situations and great music. While Doug Liman's "Swingers" will remain his masterpiece, this film still feels fresh, funny and new nearly 15 years later.
Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr and Timothly Olyphant do some of their best acting and draw you in to a story that feels like a roller coaster ride that you want to take again.
Thanks Doug Liman for a memorable 90s film.
The Butler (2013)
Pseudo-Historical film marred by heavy-handed directing
There is a bit of great acting in this vaguely historic film, but Director Lee Daniels uses so much made-up and absurd pseudo-history that the story trips over his heavy-handed political lessons. Why is Lee Daniels' name above the title and who gave him this much license to re-write history after only one other film we've heard of?
That said, Forest Whitaker is compelling as the lead in this story about a White House butler that had an amazing life, but it is 90% made up. While there was a butler who served many presidents, the screenplay is actually fiction. While somewhat entertaining, these comical characterizations of U.S. presidents often feel like a made for TV, kids history channel special.
Oprah plays his wife and there are a dozen or so entertaining cameos with some unique acting choices. The cameos kept it interesting even when the story of The Butler dragged on.
If Lee Daniels had let go of the politics and heavy-handed directing, this pseudo-history lesson may have earned an Oscar nomination for Forest. But, in the end, you can see why the Academy cannot reward this artificial and revisionist history tale. With this much effort to tell us a 60 year history lesson, I just wish we knew if more of it were true. Instead, it's a mixed bag. 7/10.
We Are What We Are (2013)
Absurd, Bizarre, Gruesome, Over the Top
Hard to watch. Bizarre and gruesome beyond reason. While this film tries to be innovative, it's just so absurd and hard to watch that it falls flat. Extreme horror film meets insane story line. The story has a few unique elements and some interesting twists. However, ultimately, you just don't believe the characters or the story. Most movie fans will laugh, sigh or roll their eyes and this story unfolds. I wanted to like this film, but it's just too bizarre and absurd... I guess this is typical these days. 5/10 for the concept... But execution is painful. Final Analysis: If slow-building, outrageous and gruesome horror films are your thing, you may enjoy this. If you want to be scared and believe the story... keep looking.
Jack Reacher (2012)
Complex and Layered Story, Nice Moments, but Falls Flat by the end
I wanted to like this film, but could only give it a 6 out of 10. It had great potential... a highly regarded book, complex story and characters and some good actors. But it feels over-long and has too many twists and turns. The big issue is that we do not really understand the motivations of the lead characters and some of the side characters are not believable.
The concept of the film and the complex story about solving the crime have a few "aha" moments, mostly related to plot twists. But by the end of the film I felt fatigued and cared little about the characters. The biggest issue is the relationships between various key characters... I won't say any more because it would be a spoiler, but in the end, we just don't know why people do what they do or feel what they feel... In some ways, a "6" is generous. I was disappointed.
That said, if you like the book--see the film. It's stylish and unique. Just not that good.
Fantastic, Original, Cheesy, Fun, Brilliant.
As a kid, this movie was a marvel... entertaining, fun, songs you could sing, etc. I watched it again a few times as an adult and found it amazingly smart and fun for completely different reasons. The music was nominated for an Oscar in 1972. Gene Wilder was nominated for Best Actor in the 1972 Golden Globes. Today, the movie is a cult classic. The special effects are odd, but fun for 1971.
The stories about the spoiled kids holds to true even today. Brilliant. Inventive, bizarre, over-the-top and still original.
The remake got a ton of publicity, but never had the same charm of this truly original film. A+ for heart and creativity.
Les Misérables (2012)
An Epic, Powerful and Long Acting Lesson (But not a singing lesson)
Overall, I'd give Les Miserablés the 2012 movie a big thumbs up. I've seen the musical five times, three of which were on Broadway. I own the original cast recording and have listened to it probably 40 times. But I was unsure what to expect when Tom Hooper tried to convert it to the big screen.
However, this is director Tom Hooper (director of Oscar Best Picture winner, "The Kings Speech") with a cast of superstars (Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, etc.) Hooper is an expert at both driving awesome character acting and historic epic drama. Which will he focus on for Les Mis? And what about the fact that this is the biggest "musical" of all-time and has millions of devotees worldwide---how do you keep them happy too?
Well, they way I look at it, it's like the Designated Hitter in baseball. You focus on acting or on singing. The DH would be like having actual Broadway style singers sing and actual Hollywood actors act... they have their role (AL style.) To ask a pure actor (e.g. Russell Crowe) to sing would be like having pitchers bat (NL style.) So, in effect, you can't easily excel at both. You must choose. Hooper chose actors to act and sing and decided to film them live for each scene, obtaining raw facial expressions and emotions, but sacrificing quality of voice.
As a result of this epic confluence of film, I decided to pick ten things I like about Les Mis (2012) and an equal number of things that do not work. In brief, here they are the ten that work. Will post 10 that do not separately.
This is a three-hour film and nearly four-hour musical, so there's a lot to discuss.
This will only make sense if you've seen the new movie or know the musical, story or book: CONTAINS SPOILERS
> 10 Things that Work: <
1) Crisp, Great Storytelling: Director Hooper manages to make this absurdly complex story with dozens of characters flow very, very well. Even if you've seen the musical, the characters and story flow and come alive very well. I found a number of people who did not know the story (amazingly) and this movie was a solid introduction to the story. He deserves an Oscar nomination just for making this movie work on screen, not because it's the best film of the year.
2) Hugh Jackman is brilliant in almost every way. Wow. He hit both great acting and solid singing and was more than believable as the troubled yet loving Jean Valjean. His makeup and aging was very real, and he owned the character. Kudos to Jackman and Hooper for bringing Jean Valjean to life like never before.
3) YES! Javert is complex, not evil. Most productions of Les Mis get this all wrong! They portray Javert primarily as pure evil. However, the complexity of this character--one who sees the world through the lens of the law and in the black and white of right and wrong--this nuance is often destroyed by the live show. In 2012, I saw a touring version of the show in which Javert is evil and vengeful 100% of the time. That's just wrong. He's not meant to be hated, he's meant to be there as a complex anti-hero.
4) Éponine by Samantha Barks: Often in the Broadway show, the young new star with a great voice gets this role, so she soars on each song. Barks had both the emotional draw to understand her dilemma and the voice to sign it out right. Great performance.
5) Sacha Baren Cohen as Thénardier: He's over the top, but so is the character in the theatrical production. Baron Cohen is perfectly cast and lightens the film when it direly needs his comic relief, midway through this three-hour film. I thank Hooper for casting him. Jack Black and many other similar comedic actors would not have worked in this role.
6) The student revolution: During the live musical, the student revolution is part of a complex array of story lines that erupt in the second half. Often the rationale for their revolution and their loyalty to the general get lost in all the other stories. This time, it works. You can understand their goals and motives much better.
7) The Paris and countryside cinematography: There are four or five awesome moments in cinematography that explode on the big screen. For those waiting to see this on DVD, forget it--this is a big screen movie and you'll lose it in your living room. But it's fantastic in a big theater.
8) Saved by the Bishop. The storyline of the faithful and merciful Catholic Bishop changing Jean Valjean's view of the world is very important to the story. It's the turning point for the main character and often gets brushed over in the musical or you just don't believe the story. The bishop is sincere and believable in the movie. He also appears later in the film to remind you of his importance. Well played, Hooper.
9) Action scenes and editing: The opening scene totally changes our view of the "chain-gang" compared to the musical. You get how risky their work is and how truly imprisoned they are in their lives. The battle scenes are also strong as are some of the fight scenes, escape scenes, chase scenes and Javert's death--which is always a key moment.
10) The Thérnardier's Inn: This scene is important in the musical to lighten it up and give you a sense of the role of travel and Inns from that era of history. This over-the-top version of the Inn loses all believability to exaggerate the badness of the innkeepers, but it totally fits and makes you laugh and cringe at the same time.