Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Hobbit

In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the titular Hobbit, played by Martin Freeman, is invited to join an unusual quest to help a bunch of dwarves regain their home from the dragon that invaded it and drove them away decades ago.  Accompanied by the wizard Gandalf, they encounter friendly elves, not-so-friendly goblins, hungry trolls and plenty of in-fighting.  Based on the popular children's novel by J.R.R. Tolkien and brought to life by Tolkien fanatic Peter Jackson, An Unexpected Journey tells the first third of the Hobbit's story.

The problem is, there is absolutely no reason for The Hobbit to be three movies.  I write this as a person who is a big fan of Peter Jackson's extended editions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and who tries to watch them about once a year.  That story may not have needed twelve hours to tell, but it rarely felt as though it was dragging or stretching out what didn't need to be stretched.

The Hobbit feels like that for most of the film.

Like many, the more successful he becomes, the more impervious Peter Jackson becomes to a judicious editor (see also, J.K. Rowling, Tom Clancy, others).  And a judicious editor would have helped The Hobbit immensely.

After all, the film has a lot going for it.  Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as Bilbo, the cautious but quietly brave protagonist.  Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis reprise their roles from The Lord of the Rings with aplomb.  The music and production values are simply lovely.  The story is an interesting one, full of twists and humor and action.

It's too bad everything feels so muddled and stretched out.  The film begins in flash-forward, with Ian Holm's Bilbo writing down his story for nephew Frodo, again played by Elijah Wood.  While I liked both of these actors quite a bit in Lord of the Rings, their parts were entirely unnecessary here.  This was a continuing trend throughout the film.  Two films with tighter editing and a few unnecessary pieces cut would have served this story quite well.  Three is doing it a disservice.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell's new film, Silver Linings Playbook, is at times chaotic--but purposely  so.  The chaos helps the audience understand, on some level, the mindset of the main character and those who surround him.  Overlapping dialogue builds a sense of unease in an audience, and the more it builds, the harder it can be to watch.

When Pat (Bradley Cooper) is released from the mental hospital following a court-ordered eight month stint, he moves back in with his parents and stays fixated on his one major goal: get back in his estranged wife's good graces so they can be together again.  Those around him know it's not a very realistic goal, but Pat will not be persuaded.  He reconnects with some of the people from his old life, including his psychiatrist and a good friend's sister-in-law Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence)--herself a medicated, depressed young widow--trying to piece his life back together.  Tiffany and Pat share a connection most can't understand and some actively try to disrupt, but while their story doesn't hit the typical notes it seems to work well enough for them.

Unlike most romantic comedies (though there's much more to it than that label would suggest) Silver Linings Playbook feels honest and, for the most part, unforced.  These characters are messy, and not in cute or 'adorkable' ways.  Everyone has issues he or she is dealing with--or pointedly not dealing with--and those considered crazy by most may just be the ones most in touch with themselves.

That's not to say that those crazy people are all that put together, either.  Their problems don't have easy solutions, and while the film holds to that idea for the most part, it falters at its end.  The film ends on a winning, if somewhat false, note--one that seems to solve things and thus doesn't quite feel earned.

It doesn't fit quite as "comedy" or "drama," but does a great job mixing tones and averting typical expectations.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Patently ridiculous.  Completely unrealistic.  Bizarre and unsettling villains paired with gorgeous and exotic women.  Intense, absurd fight sequences.

Yes, that's right--James Bond is back, and just maybe better than ever.

Skyfall, arriving with the 50th anniversary of Bond on film, is a blast.  It's got all the great Bond moments: an action-packed opening sequence transitioning into a fever dream of a credits sequence, complete with a haunting Adele melody; beautiful and sexy women whose company Bond, well, enjoys; cleverly choreographed action and fight sequences; gorgeously shot exotic locales; and a suave, unflappable James Bond.

When some shadowy and powerful enemy (Javier Bardem) sets his sights on MI6--and particularly Judi Dench's M--an aging James Bond must, of course, come to the stylish and suave rescue.  Aided (and challenged) by new cast members Ralph Fiennes (as a bureaucrat with whom Bond butts heads), Ben Whishaw (a geek chic Q), and Naomie Harris (a head-strong, sexy field agent), Bond travels to far-flung locations to track down and take out this creepy threat.

Bardem does a nice job as a Bond villain--he's over-the-top, he's unsettling, he's driven, and he's clearly crazy.   He has ridiculous hair.  He spouts off long monologues about rats and flirts with/threatens Bond with ease.

The cinematography of this film is frankly stunning.  Back-lit fight scenes in Shanghai skyscrapers and captivatingly gorgeous shots along the Scottish moors in the film's climax enhance the movie's very cool, put-together feeling.  Director Sam Mendes got his money's worth out of the location shooting, to say the least.

Sure, there are plot inconsistencies and questionable character choices one could look toward.  Nothing about the film is particularly--or really, even remotely--realistic.  Lines are delivered and plot points thrown in merely for the sake of being "cool."

And if you, as a film viewer, take issue with any of those things, well, a James Bond movie is probably not right for you.