Category: Movie Reviews

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

the hobbit posterHwæt!  If you don’t want to witness me taking this movie waaaay too seriously and drowning my keyboard in tears of anger during long sentences of painfully earnest prose, skip to the end and the more easily digestible “WTF Moments” section.

Also, if I thought this movie could be spoiled, I’d be warning you about spoilers right about now…

The Hobbit may be a slim book, a classic adventure tale for children, but it is written skillfully, with wit and humour, character development, a sense of the epic and a mythological backbone that makes it not inconsistent with its titanic offspring, The Lord of the Rings.  Because of this, I hoped (even expected) that it would be treated with the same respect, creativity and slavish attention to detail that J.R.R. Tolkien’s works had previously received at the hands of Peter Jackson.

The only image I could find online of my beloved version of the book (Unwin Paperbacks 1966), Though mine is much more worn around the edges.

The only image I could find of my beloved version of the book (Unwin Paperbacks 1966), Though mine is much more worn around the edges.

At worst, I reasoned, the first installment of a ~9 hour film treatment of a 278 page novel would suffer from additions, not deficiencies.  It would allow the audience to luxuriate (perhaps even excessively) in the details of the book, brought to life with no time or budget constraints (no missing Tom Bombadils or scouring of the Shires this time), and any additions would be understandable concessions to the film medium.

Sadly, Peter Jackson removed almost as much material as he added (which was a lot), and all with a blithe senselessness that left me very, very angry.  Tiny tidbits from the book, certain individual lines, props and scenes were a pittance, tossed at the audience as if they were generous concessions, a sort of shoulder nudge for the fans, “see, we read the same book as you” thing, while the larger portion of dialogue and plot details were straight from a movie trope library.  There is much I could have forgiven in a shorter film from an unproven director, but this is 3 hours of Peter Jackson doing Tolkien – it has to be so bad in order to be bad.  And it was.

Bilbo who?

Bilbo who?

Over and over, the film disregarded actual drama and interest straight from the book in favour of tired, shallow cliches:

  • For example, instead of exploring the psyche of dwarves and their dubious motivation for the quest, everything was blamed continually on the idea of “omens” and it being “the right time,” like that explains anything.  Bilbo’s little Hallmark speech about how he wanted the dwarves to have a home and sense of belonging was pathetic and gratuitous.  Sorry, the dwarves were totally in it for the gold and revenge and sense of belonging be damned.  And Bilbo didn’t even want to be there most of the time.
  • Any drama surrounding the Eagles (…was it a rescue or a take-out lunch…) was replaced with “Oh no, Thorin’s deadish, I mean, he looks kind of dead, his eyes are closed, gee, I hope he’s not dead… of course he’s not, because apparently he’s the main fekking character in this film.”
  • Instead of letting Bilbo simmer in the psychological discomfort of his uncertain position in the company of adventuring dwarves, gradually proving himself as his character changes and grows (which is, indeed, the entire point of the story), the film first treats him as a bystander, then has him randomly save Thorin’s life, earning the chief dwarf’s goodwill and dispelling the drama of Bilbo’s position with one boring cliche.  In fact, all the book’s little revealing psychological insights into Bilbo that make the reader love, empathise with and understand him are completely absent from the movie.

So much was needlessly and painfully spelled out:

And get this, folks, it actually turns BLUE when goblins are around!  Blue, blue, BLUE!

And get this, folks, it actually turns BLUE when goblins are around! Blue, blue, BLUE!

  • For example, the audience supposedly couldn’t be trusted to understand the joke when Bilbo slips up, describing himself to the trolls as “a bur – a hobbit,” so it’s changed to “a burgler hobbit,” which isn’t a joke anymore at all, it’s just stupid.
  • It was carefully explained that Sting burned blue in the presence of Goblins, when the few people not already aware of this could easily have been shown it, not told.
  • The audience had to actually see Gollum drop the ring.  This took away the sense of mystery and discovery that is so enjoyable about the original scene in the book.

Many details from the book that would have been easy to include in a movie of this length and budget were glaringly disregarded.  No coloured, hooded cloaks on the dwarves, no wet and weary pony rides with Bilbo reminiscing about his cozy hobbit hole (not for the first time), few songs, no blue, red and green pine cone firebombs from Gandalf, no darkness in the Goblin tunnels, no Glamdring and Orcrist flashing about during the fights, no this, no that.  But here, have some random scenes featuring Radagast hugging a hedgehog.

No review is complete without addressing positive aspects and I have to say that the riddle scene was quite brilliant.  I thought that it was well-done, entertaining, funny and delightfully consistent with the portrayal of Gollum in the LotR films.  It almost made it worth watching the whole film.  Also, Martin Freeman did a very good job, though no doubt he was confused to see his name in the top billing, given the lack of focus on his character in the film.

Your mom wishes.

Your mom wishes.

In conclusion, sure, it was a spectacle, but then so is your mom doing a 3 hour long rendition of “Mein Heir,” complete with fishnet stockings and a chair of dubious stability.  Call me a purist, but I was hoping for something spectacular instead.

Notable WTF moments:

  •  the first 10 minutes of the film – like a giant screensaver slideshow of New Zealand, with the picture changing before you’ve had a good chance to look at it.  Then you remember what you came to your computer for but shaking the mouse doesn’t wake it up.
  • every single shot that was a direct re-enactment of a shot from LotR (Gandalf glowering/dimming the lights, the Ring falling onto Bilbo’s finger, the moth-whispering, etc.).  What kind of person includes homages to their movies in their own movie? The charitable assumption is that Jackson was in a rush or
    Peter Jackson's ego, gorillafied.

    Peter Jackson’s ego, gorillafied.

    suffering from amnesia or maybe just hated The Hobbit.  Otherwise, he is seriously misapplying the “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” quote and letting his ego go all King Kong on us.  I’m actually having a hard time believing that Jackson directed this at all; LotR was full of clever, interesting cinematography and beautifully composed shots, while The Hobbit is full of pans and copied material.

  • the moment I realised that Azog, who merits a one-sentence mention in The Hobbit (“Your grandfather Thror was killed, you remember, in the mines of Moria by Azog the Goblin” (24).  That’s it.  Oh, and a footnote on page 257), was destined to replace both Bilbo’s character development and the quest itself as the focus of the movie, while the Rivendell part (which occupied an entire chapter in the book) was about as long and interesting as a bathroom break.
  • the shaggy fat suits that were loosely Velcroed to what were otherwise, no doubt, quite acceptably pony-like ponies.
  • fart jokes in the troll scene.  Really?  And since when has any creature that considers sitting on dwarves to squash them into jelly an acceptable cooking method been worried about things like parasites?
  • the interminable episode where Radagast leads the goblins and wargs in spirals on an open plain around Thorin & Co. in an exhibition of what has to be the worst decoy technique ever.

    Thorin & Co arrive at Smarmdell, Kinkade style.

    Thorin & Co arrive at Smarmdell, where gay elves go to die (or rather, live forever).

  • Rivendell looking like a bad forgery of a Thomas Kinkade painting.
  • Galadriel dematerialising like some sort of Cheshire cat.  Also, the celestial choir gargling loudly in our ears during her first appearance.
  • the Gandalf/Elrond/Galadriel/Sauruman scene – so long, boring and pointless I can only assume it was done on purpose for reasons beyond my ken.
  • stone giants  – pre-SFX footage from the next Transformers movie.
  • the Goblin King’s high-pitched voice.  Add a Cheetos-stained white tank-top and his vibe would be complete.
  • the cosy, warm colour palette for all the goblin scenes, which suggested renovation not retreat as the best plan of action.  Seriously, brew me a cup of tea, light a nice fire, slap on some wallpaper and I’d never leave.
  • the whole goblin escape scene via rope bridges, etc., which was one Nicholas Cage look-alike away from being a very respectable remake of the last few scenes of National Treasure.
  • when I realised that someone got paid to write (and someone paid to deliver) the line “You’ve got to be joking,” uttered shortly after the deceased Goblin King fell on top of the company.  So many good lines from the book left unsaid and yet “You’ve got to be joking” will forever exist in this version of The Hobbit.  The screenwriters literally could not have picked a more cliched, banal phrase.  It just makes me want to cry.
  • Gandalf “healing” Thorin by muttering some sort of shopping list in the general direction of his forehead.  They both looked surprised when it worked.  In fact, the only entity that was thoroughly unsurprised was the audience.
  • the Azog fight at the end of the movie.  What, a story containing encounters with trolls, goblins, Gollum, wargs, giant spiders, unfriendly wood elves, and a dragon, ending with the Battle of Five Frickin’ Armies, needs some extra fight scenes?
Advertisements

Notting Hill

This is the most chick flickiest chick flick I have ever seen.  Ever.  It is like the Rambo of romantic comedies.  Pretty Woman and You’ve Got Mail are ham-fisted action movies in comparison.

Picture being made of pink cotton candy and slowly drowning in a sticky vat of melted Jane Austen novels, warmed by the currents of heated air wafting from Hugh Grant’s eyelashes every time he blinks, while someone slaps you in the eye repeatedly with rose petals….

I’m a female, but this movie made me want to dunk my steak in a pitcher of beer and bump shoulders with the guys, drawling “Women, eh?  Can’t live with ’em, can’t live with ’em.”

Hamlet (2000)

Hamlet movie 2000

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!! Almereyda’s Hamlet (“starring” Ethan Hawke) is one of the most atrocious films I have ever seen! How in the name of all that is holy did this movie win awards and get mixed reviews? Don’t even get me started on its portrayal of the play, which is heart-wrenchingly, mind-crushingly deficient. No, my complaints are much less subjective.

For example, someone forgot to inform the actors that Shakespeare left spaces between the words, so mostofthelinessoundlikethisbutdeliveredwayfasterthanyou’rereadingrightnow. The cameraman seemed to be using his elbows to maneuver the camera. The b-roll footage appeared to be lifted from an entirely different movie by an editor with ADD. Right at the beginning, there is a speech dubbed over video of an actor who is obviously forming completely different words with his mouth. The visuals were cluttered, the sets sloppy, the shot compositions senseless and the staging horrendous (examples: action cramped awkwardly into the half of the frame that isn’t being taken up by a curtain, dialogue where one person’s head completely blocks the view of the other person’s… I could go on, but I don’t have 72 minutes like the director of this hideous film did).

But the most original, startling, thought-provoking performance of all was from that boom mic, yes an entire boom mic, that reflected boldly off a window and right into my narrowed, unbelieving, pained eyes. In the director’s inept hands, the characters’ [usually tragic] deaths were mercy killings that finally released both them and me from the textbook enactment of film gaffes that is Almereyda’s Hamlet.

Jane Eyre (2011)

jane eyre film 2011This version of Jane Eyre, preceded by at least 10 other movie/TV adaptations, does not build on its rich literary and filmic heritage, but is instead a limp, insipid, soulless, uninspiring husk of a movie.  It is so bland and anaemic that providing detailed criticism feels a bit like punching a supermodel in the face with a hamburger.

Every aspect of the film is stifled by an overwhelming sense of apathy; instead of chemistry between actors, there are gaping black holes that suck up all the dialogue and energy. Fassbender delivers his lines in a peculiarly preoccupied way – as if he literally isn’t being paid enough to make him care and might have been illegally double-parked during filming. The screenwriter apparently decided that all the best and most dramatic scenes in the book had had their fair share of attention in previous films, so they were left out, replaced by bespoke episodes of almost painfully poor dialogue that did little to develop the characters or propel the plot.  The film is only recognizable as a pale shadow of the original story. To replicate it, I would give a sleep-walking director three colors, a bored cameraman and a script composed by the grandmother of someone who had once had the story of Jane Eyre told to them while they were busy getting stoned.

Eclipsing all these failings is the unforgivable fact that the movie bored me. There was no passion, no emotional connection, not even the smug sense of superiority that comes from hating a movie for really inconsequential, snobby reasons.  If you feel that you simply must watch this film, your best plan of action would probably be to make yourself a bowl of popcorn and then eat it while waving the DVD cover rapidly in front of your face for an hour. You can then throw up into the empty popcorn bowl, having had a slightly more interesting and inspiring experience than watching the actual movie.

Of course, if you are at all interested in the story, you should see the A&E version with Timothy Dalton. This version is nice because it doesn’t make you want to throw up (among other reasons).

Firefly

Well, I just finished watching Firefly and quite enjoyed it, with only a few caveats.

Likes:
1. The characters were interesting and displayed some development as the series progressed.
2. The SFX were more than acceptable – better than some shows now (I’m thinking of Eureka in particular), which is especially remarkable given that Firefly was from 2002.  The only exception would be all the battle scenes from Malcolm and Zoe’s back-story.  For some reason, those felt really cheezy.
3. Some of the writing was downright excellent, with occasional one-liners that were laugh-out-loud funny.  I especially appreciated the way that “native” languages and colloquialisms were incorporated (mostly successfully) into the script.  Also, the writers somehow managed to use poor grammar to good effect.
4.  I liked the music in general (especially the unusual use of fiddles) but thought the theme song was a little tacky and unprofessional sounding.
5. The acting was quite good in general, with even some memorable performances from auxiliary characters, such as the bounty hunter in the last episode.
6.  I liked how the makers didn’t let the futuristic setting take over – instead of trying to make every aspect of the show feel futuristic, they kept it to a more familiar-but-different level.  For example, the kitchen in Serenity was very homey…but then you realise that it’s on a space ship.
7.  The season was very cohesive – there were references to the events of past episodes and the writers’ main goal didn’t seem to be to make episodes that would simply stand on their own.

Dislikes:
1. I passionately hated Kaylee and her stupid “romance” with stupid Simon.  Seriously – could she be any more obnoxious?  In fact, almost all of the sexual tension in Firefly seemed really cliche, predictable and poorly executed.
2. Serenity is hideous looking – possibly the ugliest space ship I have ever seen.  It looks like an arthritic, pot-bellied praying mantis.
3. I know that some will argue that the whole “space western” thing is what makes the show unique, but I think that, while fun, the western themes made the show unrespectable.  It felt like they were looking for something cheap and handy that would utilize an excess of western props –  a cop-out.
4.  At times, the cinematography was absolutely horrid.  In one scene in the first episode, I actually stopped and went back to see if my computer had glitched out or something, but no – the shoddy cuts and disorienting voice overs were built in.

In conclusion, my main reaction is surprise that this show was canceled.  It seems superior to many other popular scifi shows and, if it continued, I would watch it.

Public Enemies

*SPOILERS*

I mentioned spoilers above, but please realize that the only way I could spoil this movie is by suggesting that you watch it. Picture this: fedoras, 1930s cars, submachine guns, pretty women, and Christian Bale clenching his jaw while inexorably tracking down an insouciant and gallant Johnny Depp. There. You just experienced the best this movie has to offer and if that were all, I would probably be its biggest fan. Unfortunately, there is more and, what is more, more to hate.

This movie is more self-conscious than a bald man in a barbershop. The camera was so distracting that it should have been given a name and listed in the credits in the role of “drunken eyewitness.” I could speculate that the director was going for a docudrama style, but that would be mere guesswork. What is certain is that there were several scenes, throughout the movie, where the action was framed in an incredibly distracting way. For example, twice, a straightforward walking dialogue shot was framed so tightly that the actors bounced up and down in the screen. Not only did it make them look like they were walking on springs, it distracted from the actual dialogue. I literally gasped in horror at later instances of camera shake so severe that I immediately pictured the camera operator, jacked up on energy drinks and suffering from muscle fatigue looking down at his watch and heaving a sigh as he realizes that lunch is still two hours away. This is an example of the medium distracting from the message in an unacceptable way. Watching it was like reading a book printed on insect wings – it’s hard to pay attention to the story when you’re wondering what the heck the publisher was thinking.

The camera work was not the only thing that marred the movie for me. Throughout, I kept noticing that the locations were sets, the clothes were costumes and the characters were modern actors – it all just wasn’t believable to me. At first, I couldn’t figure out why, since there was nothing really wrong with the props and acting, but just now, I had an epiphany! The reason I wasn’t convinced by Public Enemies is because I have watched so many movies that were actually made in the 1930s and ’40s. Compared to the acting styles of that age, modern actors’ mannerisms, intonations and body language seem blaringly anachronistic when set in the ’30s. At various intervals, a character would appear in Public Enemies who would be jarringly 21st century, despite a convincing costume. Why is this? I think it bears further analysis, but by someone more informed than I. I would be interested to hear the opinions of other people on this topic. Have others watched movies and noticed actors that do not fit the time period for some indefinable reason?

You may consider the previous points to be demented rantings on issues that don’t affect the average moviegoer, but let me give you a real rant about an issue that almost everyone would consider irrelevant. At the end of Public Enemies, Dillinger goes to see a 1930s Clark Gable gangster movie, Manhattan Melodrama. Clark Gable is cool, but I was more excited by the fact that this movie also starred William Powell and Myrna Loy, two of my favourite 30s actors, whom I have seen in numerous movies. I couldn’t believe it when Public Enemies included spoilers for Manhattan Melodrama in the scene! Why is that okay? How would Michael Mann feel if a director of the future included pivotal scenes from Public Enemies in a movie? It’s a disrespectful and cheap act.

Overall, I think that Public Enemies makes a good poster – crisp, pretty, atmospheric, and two-dimensional. The lack of character development and prevalence of clichés makes it seem that the main goal was to cash in on the popularity, action, romance and drama of the gangster genre. The characters were all archetypes we’ve seen a million times before – the morally ambiguous antihero, the loyal moll and the hardnosed lawman. If you want to watch a gangster movie with classic characters and storyline, then why not step outside your comfort zone and watch the originals. Sure they’re in black and white and the actors are unrecognizable, but consider it an education.

But wait, there’s something more!
Rules for living…in Dillinger’s world, but feel free to apply them to your own life, for maximum hilarity:
1. Tinted glasses and a tiny mustache shall be sufficient disguise for notorious criminals.
2. Ammo is unlimited and the enemy are bad shots, but keep in mind that your friends, unlike you, are not playing on God Mode and will be killed at regular intervals.
3. Women transform into willing accomplices if called “Doll,” “Sister,” or “Darling” and given a hideous fur coat.
4. Wanted. Bank Manager. Must be skilled at unlocking vaults under coercion and being used as a human shield.
5. Females with criminal friends may, with minimal interference from the authorities: date them, harbour them, lie to the police for them, spend their stolen money, or betray them. However, females must under no circumstances accompany them on missions, carry a gun, or help them escape from jail.
6. Notorious criminals on the run should under no circumstances significantly alter their appearance, such as by cutting their hair.
7. All you need to break out of jail is a wooden gun and a large man with a stick (sounds like the beginning to a great country song).
8. As a general rule of thumb, you must offer a lady your coat once for every four men you murder in order to keep in the public’s good graces.
9. If the new guy says about a hideout, “Don’t worry, no one will find us here,” he really means, “Don’t worry, no one will find us here until very early tomorrow morning.”
10. It is good form to have at least one epic train robbery in the works. Whether the heist actually happens is entirely irrelevant.
11. Three men in dark suits and fedoras can strut into a bank with their hands in their jacket pockets, look around forbiddingly and spread out to cover left, right and center without raising suspicion.
12. Even hardened killers like to snuggle sometimes. Just remember, it doesn’t have to be with you. Unless he says it does.
13. Your escape vehicle should have approximately four too few seats, since some of the gang members are required to stand on the running boards, clutching the vehicle with one hand and ineffectually shooting Thompsons with the other.
14. The guys with the chevron moustaches are up to something.
15. A movie theatre is an acceptable place to meet and hatch schemes.
16. If your double shoulder holster suddenly seems too formal, throw a handgun into your trouser pocket.

The Proposal

I walked into this one with my eyes wide open. At best, I hoped for a feel-good romantic comedy containing just enough plot twist and humour to overcome the pervasive taint of mass-production. At worst… was what I got: a lame mish-mash of The Devil Wears Prada and Shall We Dance. Add in a little “it’s the family I never had…sniffle…sniffle” and accidental mutual nudity and you have a spectacle that is an embarrassment to the movie industry and and an insult to audiences everywhere.

The only surprising thing about this movie is that there is, in fact, NO twist. The Proposal trudges, knee-deep in sap, down the trail of loathing to love with the tenacity of a fat man, holding an extra large fries, looking for ketchup. Yeah, we know that he and she have to end up together, but at least let us pretend that it could not work out after all. It’s like riding a rollercoaster – we know we won’t die, but the excitement is that little nagging in our minds telling us that something could go horribly wrong.

I wonder if I am alone in failing to experience any kind of connection with the main characters. Oh noooooooo! Will the gorgeous, heartless, highly successful, workaholic business woman be able to make it with her handsome, millionaire Alaskan assistant and his charming family? Dun dun duuuuuuuun! Though I must admit that the stakes are high – deportation back to Canada! Now there’s reason to blackmail your assistant, who loathes you, into an illegal marriage. I mean…Canada?! Cambodia, maybe, Columbia, definitely, Cuba, I’d marry a monkey, but Canada? Do they even have electricity there? Would the main character have to give up her career as editor in chief at a publishing house in order to skin whales with the Eskimos or hose down the ice for hockey players? Basically, the audience is supposed to be vitally concerned that the people in this movie might have to experience change in their lives, whether it’s returning to the motherland and starting a new career, or falling back on your family’s numerous, lucrative businesses in scenic Alaska. Why should I care? Even post-worst-case-scenario, their lives are considerably more privileged than mine!

I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not true. I do not have a personal vendetta against romantic comedies. I enjoy the occasional chick flick and Singing in the Rain is one of my favourite movies. My ire is not limited to specific genres, but rather to those movies which fail to exhibit any shreds of originality, respect for the audience or significance. The movie industry must realize that we do not want the same mindless drivel over and over, we want it repackaged and varnished so that we don’t know it’s the same mindless drivel until 15 minutes after the credits stop rolling. I know this cliched plot works, but camouflage it, dammit. Wrap it up in some clever disguise and hit me on the head instead of feeding me through a straw. Risk a little. Maybe throw in some miscegenation or perhaps some polygamy, but for pity’s sake, do not ever feed me that bland paste of old pureed plots again!