Life’s Too Short Season 1 DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Life's Too Short DVD Cover

Life’s Too Short Season 1 DVD Review

Starring Warwick Davis, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Rosamund Hanson, Steve Brody and Jo Enright

Series created by Warwick Davis, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

Written and Directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

The team behind The Office and Extras, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, are back with another HBO/BBC co-production: Life’s Too Short, now available on DVD from HBO Home Entertainment. Life’s Too Short stars Warwick Davis, star of Willow and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, as he plays an egotistical and self centered version of himself. Returning to the faux documentary style with great success in the Office, the question remains will that style work for them a second time in Life’s Too Short?

The seven episode series centres on Warwick Davis, or a fictional version of him, who is one of Britain’s preeminent dwarf actors, or at least he is desperately attempting to hold on to the title. Warwick also runs an agency dedicated to finding for other dwarves: Dwarves for Hire, along with his dimwitted secretary Cheryl (Hanson). Some feel Warwik abuses this position in order to keep the roles for himself. Warwick is also going through a divorce from his wife Sue (Enright). Davis is also frequently visiting the offices of Gervais and Merchant, playing versions of themselves, who quite frankly cannot be bothered dealing with Davis and frequently offer him terrible advice.  We follow Warwick through a series of embarrassing and uncomfortable sequences, but despite his brash and callous posturing, we still find a way to cheer him on in the long run.

Life's Too Short 1

Life’s Too Short is sort of a mixed bag of a series. The show is very hit and miss, but when it hits the results are hilarious. A lot of the series focuses on putting Davis into very awkward social experiences, which can still be funny, but do tend to become monotonous as a lot of them focus on Warwick’s height. Warwick is really good here in the role of a smarmy, creepy and outright despicable at times former ‘star’ desperately trying to hold on. His treatment of people, especially the women in his life, is callous and unforgivable for the most part, but comes from a deep seeded desire to succeed as fame and fortune continue to slip away. Gervais and Merchant are here in supporting roles, popping up for a couple of minutes each episode in their office. Warwick’s right hand is the loveable Cheryl played with aplomb by Hanson. Her Cheryl is responsible for some of the biggest laughs from the show regulars.

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Much Like Extras, Life’s Too Short features a litany of guest stars from famous friends. This time around we get Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp, Sting, Steve Carrell, Helena Bonham Carter and Cat Deely. Neeson’s turn is almost worth buying the disc alone, as his appearance ranks as  one of the best things Merchant and Gervais have ever written and will have you doubled over in laughter. But the Depp and Bonham Carter turns are underwhelming, especially Depp’s turn which makes him look petty and creepy. Much like The Office, Life’s Too Short features very minimal locations and keeps the filming to a simple handheld style. The faux documentary style does not stay static though, as with the Office, there are the times that the camera is roaming and does not stick strictly to the documentary style to move the story along.

The set includes a half-hour making of special, half an hour of behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes and outtakes. The making of special is very funny, with a lot of Ricky Gervais busting out laughing on set and a hilarious take with Gervais refusing to call cut at the end of the featurette. The behind the scenes segments are fun, though most are repeated from the ‘making of ‘special. The outtakes are mainly busted takes as people on set laugh uncontrollably.

Life's Too Short 3

Life’s Too Short is not a perfect series, there are many areas that fall flat, are genuinely uncomfortable to watch or are just not funny. But the series when at its best is one of the most insightful and funny pieces of entertainment out there, shedding light on issues that dwarves deal with every day mixed into the ludicrous antics of Davis and his own issues with his height. These moments are when the series tend to work best. With a sale price under $25 on Amazon, Life’s Too Short is worth a buy for some of its best moments, the Neeson appearance alone, and is well worth a rental. Life’s Too Short is a recommend.

Till Next Time,

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Les Misérables Review (Kirk Haviland)

Les Miz Banner

Les Misérables (2012)

Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, with Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen

Based on the Original Stage Musical: Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables

Screenplay by William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg

Directed by Tom Hooper

The director of 2010’s multiple award winning “The King’s Speech”, Tom Hooper, is back with his latest Oscar baiting offering, an adaptation of the award winning and long running play based the Victor Hugo  book “Les Misérables”. The production is a huge undertaking and has assembled a high profile cast under Hooper’s guiding hands to bring the tale to the screen. But is Hooper ready to helm a film that is well beyond the scope and scale anything he has ever done?

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story full of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption and stands as a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.  Ex-prisoner Jean Valjean (Jackman), after breaking his parole, has managed to start a new successful life under the guise of Monsieur Madeleine, a small town mayor and factory owner. But all the while Valjean is being hunted, for decades, by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) who is determined to see Valjean back on the chain gang after breaking his parole.  When Valjean agrees to care for former factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever. Valjean raises Cosette (Seyfried) until she is a young woman, but as the french student revolutionaries poise themselves to make their first strike against the government led by Marius (Redmayne) and Enjolras (Tveit), Javert has picked up Valjean’s scent yet again.

Les Miz Eddie Redmayne

Tom Hooper’s take on Les Misérables is very successful, but is not without its flaws. Not having seen a stage production of the play, the film is very long at 2 1/2 hours, but keeps a reasonable pace throughout. Audiences who do not like musicals should know that the combined amount of dialogue not sung in the film is probably half an hour of the runtime at the most. Some of the staging of the songs and placement of intro and outros do come off as awkward. The songs are quite good, the play has been around for decades because of its writing, and Hooper plays it mainly straight here without different interpretations. In fact many scenes are staged as they were on a stage instead of for film, with very mixed results.

The performances are just as varied here. Hugh Jackman is likely one of the few in Hollywood with the traditional chops to take on Jean Valjean, and he gives a solid performance in the role. Sadly his counterpoint is Crowe playing Javert and Crowe struggles mightily with the performance as many times the songs he is required to perform are well beyond his range. Anne Hathaway is phenomenal as the tragic Fantine. Her performance is strong, fragile and tragic all at the same time, and she delivers a brilliantly stirring rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”. Matching her brilliance is Redmayne as Marius. This is a star making performance for Redmayne as his performance outshines all of the other males here. And in a supporting performance, Samantha Barks in the role of Éponine is simply divine.

Les Miz Hathaway

Some of the films missteps, other than Crowe’s, come in supporting roles and overall staging. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the innkeepers are performances that start strong but become very distracting towards the end. One of the bigger set pieces of the film is the barricade set up by the revolutionaries after they ambush a public official’s funeral. The siege at the barricade is where Hooper’s limited experience in shooting action comes to light as the sequence becomes a mish-mash of quick cuts, screams and people barking orders. The sequence is poorly shot and seems out of place with the pacing and tone of the rest of the film. Where the final shot staged in front of the French parliament buildings works brilliantly being set as if on the stage, the barricade being built as a stage style prop, does not help the action sequence at all. But these missteps do not hinder the overall enjoyment of the film.

Les Miz Jackman

Some amazing performances and fantastic music make Les Misérables as extremely satisfying cinematic endeavour. The film will be relevant around awards season and hopefully the performances from Hathaway, Redmayne and Barks do not go unrewarded. For these noted performances alone Les Misérables is a strong recommend.

Movie Junkie TO

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Dark Shadows Review (Matt Hodgson)

Dark Shadows (2012)

Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earl Haley, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Christopher Lee

Directed by Tim Burton


Tim Burton, the great visionary behind Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, and many other films is at the helm of an adaptation of one of the oddest soap operas of all-time, Dark Shadows. Burton’s entourage is also on the scene as Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter play central roles in the gothic, supernatural, horror-comedy. I had personally never seen an episode of Dark Shadows despite there being 1225 of them. One would think that I would have bumped into one on the telly by now, but I suppose the fact that I wasn’t alive when the show was airing from 1966 – 1971 might have had something do to with my unfamiliarity with the vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp) and the rest of  his equally enigmatic family.

I’m not sure what the story-arc is like in the television soap, but Dark Shadows the film follows the accidental discovery and releasing of Barnabas Collins, who like many vampires before him, has been cooped up in his coffin and buried underground for nearly 200 years by a witch. Well maybe not all vampires have received this cruel treatment, but at least upon being freed Barnabas can return to the Collins estate. After all, the Collins’ have always been one of the wealthiest families in Collinsport. However, Barnabas soon discovers how quickly the world has changed since the date of his original imprisionment, most importantly, the family fishing business has been all but replaced by competitors. After some interesting introductions to his living descendants, Barnabas makes it his top priority to restore the family business to its former glory, no matter what the costs.

Tim Burton has been in this territory before, and so has Johnny Depp. The characters of Edward Scissorhands and Barnabas Collins have a lot in common – extraordinarily strange men in a normal time (to us), which happens to be very difficult for them to adapt to or fit into. For this reason I expected that Dark Shadows would excel on the comedic side of things as Burton and Depp could draw on their previous experience. Also, the trailer for Dark Shadows was quite good, despite giving away nearly every scene and plot device in the film. Despite these encouraging signs going in, I’m sorry to say that Dark Shadows is one of the dullest films I’ve had to sit through in the past few years.

The movie starts off with a recap that would be much more appropriate preceding a television episode. Maybe this was a nod to the soap of the same name, but such heavy handed use of narration should be reserved for much less experienced filmmakers than Burton. It’s almost as if Burton forgot he was dealing with subject matter that oozes atmosphere. The only thing that could have destroyed that atmosphere was the voice of a narrator recapping events from 200 years ago.

The cast itself also seems much more appropriate for TV. The quality of the actors is quite high, but to feature them all in a two-hour film is ridiculous. Depp and Green are the only two who get enough screen time for actual character development, the rest feel cheap and quickly assembled. It seems like Burton simply expected the audience to accept who he said these characters were and move on to something more important. For example, Carter’s character has an alcoholic drink at the dinner table, she also has a hangover another morning – there’s your character development! She’s an alcoholic! The large cast would be much more appropriate for something like…I don’t know…maybe a 1225 episode soap opera…oh wait. The screen time given to Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) is particularly ridiculous given that she is a central character. There must have been 20-minute stretches during which she didn’t even make an appearance or deliver a line of dialogue.

Finally, even though it’s a comedy, the plot behind Dark Shadows feels of miniscule importance. A vampire returns from a 200-year imprisonment and his goal is to get the family business back? Really? It may have worked with more whimsical and endearing characters, but not with the characters we watch onscreen. Sure Depp is good, but his eccentric characters are beginning to blur together for me. Perhaps it’s time for Burton and Depp to take a break from each other. I know that I’ll be taking a break from Burton.

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