Although I really wanted to do a full review about the hilarious This is the End I find I am unable to really categorize that as Old Entertainment as of yet. However, the consumption of Milky Way bars in this household has shot up by about 386%.
The past week of Old Entertainment brings me to one movie I patiently waited to see and a trilogy of movies I know too well and wish I didn’t: Hitchcock & the Mummy movies.
Hitchcock, unlike Hancock of a few weeks ago, is a movie I tried to see when it was new and had some difficulty finding a convenient theater showing it. At the time, I thought that was odd, especially in the light of Sir Anthony Hopkins portrayal of the well-known director and the film’s clear motivation to get into the Academy Award nominations. At long last, the Netflix DVD arrived and watch this movie I did.
What a delight! My better half admitted during the movie that she wished she knew Hitchcock’s movies a little better, but the film does a fantastic job of laying on a certain amount of deliberate “Hitch-schtick” that mimicked his style quite nicely. Interestingly, the movie has much to do about director Alfred Hitchcock’s making of the film Psycho, but much more to do with the relationship between he and his wife, Alma, portrayed by the brilliantly reserved Helen Mirren. Hopkins and Mirren trade withering sarcasm, genius wit, and passive-aggressive flares in two very sharply written parts that was a pleasure to watch. They were a perfect couple, too, in that when one wasn’t filling the screen with acerbic banter, the other stepped in to do the job.
This movie hit every nail on the head, for me, it was exactly what I wanted it to be! So why no box-office or award love? The Hitchcock makeup on Hopkins didn’t really make him look all that much like Alfred H., but he certainly had the correct profile and figure. There’s not a true and dynamic threat in plot of this movie, which might be being overly critical since it is a biopic, but the cute and quick-thinking dialogue of the film more than made up for any lack of dramatic weight. Come to think of it, the shooting of the famous Psycho shower scene with Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson is a thrilling moment… I have no clue as to the lack of this film’s success. I highly recommend it.
Hitchcock gets a score of 9 birds (and a chipmunk) sitting outside your window. Looking in. Right at this moment.
I’m going to give the Mummy series with Brendan Fraser a little credit: the 1999 “loose” remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic is a fun movie. It’s not Pirates of the Caribbean, but the two movie trilogies deserve a strong comparison as to where the three movies fit with one another. Just to have something on in the background while I work, or while playing, I put movies I know really well on in the background, so I recently put The Mummy in the player and gave it a half-view. Some minor plot-points aside, The Mummy holds up rather well. I’m not sure why, but Arnold Vosloo is a fun guy to watch in that little cloth diaper as he stalks about ancient ruins and crowded Cairo streets. Brendan Fraser does his thing, and I am accepting of that, only because Rachel Weisz strikes gold as the befuddled, yet still librarian-sexy Evelynn, and we also get the mysterious and likable Oded Fehr playing the guy trying to protect the secret of the mummy’s tomb (I could tell you his character is named Ardeth Bay, but who remembers that? I just want him to play the Red Viper in Game of Thrones, Season 4!). If only movie studios had the restraint to leave a good thing be. To let it rest and retire like a cowboy riding off into the sunset.
Alas, The Mummy Returns was made two short years later with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hyped up in the billing. The Rock is in The Mummy Returns for about 6 and a half minutes, I think. I had to re-watch the beginning of this movie a number of times just to see his line deliveries in made-up ancient Egyptian. Did you ever have to make film projects for foreign language classes in high school? Delivering your lines with little or no inflection or modulation whatsoever? That’s the Rock before he became comfortable on screen as Dwayne Johnson.
The Mummy Returns is the kind of movie described in Hitchcock as “stillborn.” It’s almost insulting, like someone specifically made this movie only to provide wasted1930’s chase scenes to life. There’s the mummy/double-decker bus chase scene in London, the atrocious CG of Imhotep’s face as a tidal wave chasing a blimp through a narrow canyon, the awful plot montage of Fraser & Weisz’s son leaving sand-clues as they go from one iconic Egyptian structure to the next. Most of the so-called plot is thrown aside anyway in favor of poor CG-monsters like Anubis’ jackal-headed army of death, pygmy skeleton warriors, and the triumphant center-piece of this pu-pu-platter: a hybrid man-scorpion demon with the Rock’s head superimposed on the top. Best part about re-watching The Mummy Returns? Realizing that the female antagonist character is played by the same woman who portrayed Arrested Development’s Marta – Patricia Velasquez. I don’t know if one role yielded the other for that actress, but one phrase for her must have been familiar: “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Then, for no sane reason, they made The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. I think someone noticed in 2008 that neither Jet Li and Brendan Fraser were doing anything in particular or maybe these two got drunk at a club down on Sunset Blvd? Regardless, this movie was made, without Rachel Weisz and without the Egyptian setting. The movie succeeds in a few areas, namely any scene that had Michelle Yeoh in it, Jet Li turning into a dragon or shooting firebolts out of his eyes, and all the scenes acted by the hard-working and woefully underpaid CG-Yetis. This movie was won, and the plot, too, on the backs of CG-Yetis.
OK, the first offering is good and then the movie studios tried to wrench blood from a turnip with sequels – this is the story of both The Mummy and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. What I never understood about The Mummy Returns and Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is how the script tried justifying Brendan Fraser’s ridiculous character. He’s portrayed in the first sequel as a man unable to retire (at his golden age of what – 38?) and in the second sequel as a man unable to connect to his son, who’s also a wooden actor unable to correctly portray an emotional range (oh, cruel irony). I would have dispensed with the justifications and seen Fraser do his funny-faced shouts and gun show.
As a whole, I would give the Mummy movies score of 4 tombs plundered. The first in the series was grand, but the series presented as a whole is dreck.
Although I’m not ready to review them as yet, I have been re-reading both my Sandman Chronicles, by Neil Gaiman, and the subsequent spin-off Lucifer, by Mike Carey. Sandman is past iconic, it’s a building block of modern comics and a key piece of meta-physical fantasy and as such I cannot review them. They are past review.
Lucifer is different. Few I speak to know of it, but those who do really love it. The premise alone is worth the ticket price: the angel Lucifer abdicates the throne of Hell and opens a classy piano bar in Los Angeles. From there the series explores themes of divinity, control, destiny, fate, free will, and the end of the world. It will get its own review as I continue to re-read, but one should know already that I love it and you should give it a shot.
I should begin with saying that I am a Marvel man through and through, which bears some weight, I think. In my opinion, DC Comics only ever had one chance to grab my attention as a kid growing up in the 90’s and that was with the Death of Superman event. The actual event and comic worked, but the events afterwards with the 4 different “Supermen” wasn’t captivating. Marvel did nearly everything right with the Saturday morning cartoon version of the X-Men and that bought my patronage from there.
The comic book Superman works for me as interesting dual personas, but less as a superhero because I feel he has too few weaknesses. Movie Superman is a little different. When we get Movie Superman, he’s usually dealing with being accepted as an outsider rather than being the pinnacle of heroism. He achieves that pinnacle by the end of the movie – it’s a part of being a re-launch, but I like how that plays as opposed to the established Superman fighting the new threat.
So, it is as a Marvel fan that I went to go see Man of Steel recently. As the title suggests, I found 5 things that i liked about the movie and one over-arching thing I did not like:
1. Henry Cavill
The Superman in this movie is Henry Cavill, whom I did not know very well. There’s a scene about 10-20 minutes into the movie where you see Superman sneaking through a town looking for new clothes to replace the tattered ones he’s wearing. The scene serves as eye-candy, but Henry Cavill is HUGE. He’s not in the camp with the 80’s beef like Stallone and Arnold, but Henry Cavill is right there with Hugh Jackman as the new apex of screen muscle. He made Chris Hemsworth(Thor) look small.
OK, so he’s muscle-y. So what? You get that scene early on, but then the rest of the movie he’s able to hide in street clothes and look pretty normal. He looks like a ripped Don Draper the whole movie, in fact, and played a sensitive and tiny-bit shy Clark Kent. Looking at IMDB, I found that Henry Cavill’s other headlining role is in Immortals, a movie I turned off after 15 minutes. He impressed me with his dynamic range in this movie, while looking and acting the part of the true hero. He did a better Christopher Reeve than Christopher Reeve, at times. He proved himself worthy of the high mantle in a small amount of screen time in the movie. You’ll probably see him every summer for the the next decade.
2 The plot as told by flashback
The story in Man of Steel does a lot of showing, rather than telling, and it does so in a great number of flashbacks. In the first 30 minutes of the movie, it is hard to tell if this is a story that’s going to be told chronologically or not, but is done in such a way that this isn’t a concern by the viewer. You go back to see Russell Crowe on Krypton, travel to see Clark kent as a child learning some hard life lessons, see him learn from his adopted father, and him trying to learn his true identity. Each flashback was clear, the lessons learned were essential and relevant, and no one was left confused as to where the story had gone with each change.
Consider the flashbacks of Mystic River, Inception, and Shutter Island – those are movies that play with the timeline of the story by showing out of order scenes. At points I was left with the feeling of, “Hey, are we going back to that?” or “Are we sure that person is really thinking of that incident from 10 years ago right now?” Man of Steel shows restraint and patience, while being clear and concise with its story-telling. As a movie-goer, I really appreciate that.
3 Restraint with “the kiss” and humor
From the minute you see that there’s a Lois Lane in this movie, you get the feeling there will be a kiss between her and Superman. Why wouldn’t there be, right? Those two characters are put together in some dangerous and intimate situations many times in the movie, but there’s a realistic and sensible restraint on the screenwriter’s part (and Lois, too) to hold back a kiss between them until the end of the movie. It’s a great point and a great scene and there’s only one! I really liked the simplicity of that.
There’s also a sense of restraint in the movie to not go after some of the cheap or easy laughs. The Avengers movie, for example, goes for some easy and sometimes creative humor throughout the movie, but it does so often enough to make you stop to think, “C’mon, the Black Widow is a serious woman” or “Nick Fury does not joke around.” Man of Steel isn’t necessarily a serious movie, but it presents itself well as an identity story as well as being an action/comic book movie. Again, good simplicity.
4 Emphasis on the alien
Superman is an alien and that is heavily emphasized. It’s funny that this isn’t a regularly perceived notion, but the movie establishes and then repeats the fact that Superman is an alien that is hiding amongst the people of Earth. Nevermind that he is a superhero, the movie goes from the premise that this is a pseudo-E.T. hiding from the moment of his crash-landing.
I think the movie producers might have been influenced a bit by the Thor movie and the reaction that the other Marvel movies had to Thor’s arrival, but it makes perfect sense to making a big deal about Superman and his arrival.
5 The Fathers
Of course, no one goes into the creation of a movie with the premise of, ” Let’s honor fathers with this movie and release it on Father’s Day weekend!” However, if there was a perfect Father’s Day movie, it is Man of Steel. Superman has two fathers – and that’s in a way that even Fox News can get behind!
Russell Crowe makes for a fantastic Jor-El in the beginning of this movie. The first ten minutes are completely his – the prologue of the movie is almost a seperate movie by itself. He starts with the serious-faced Crowe that made him great about ten years ago, then gets to stay in the movie as a hologram version with sensitive compassion. He was very likeable – a graduated version of the Gladiator/Master & Commander-Crowe as opposed to tired and broken Russell Crowe seen in Robin Hood and Les Misérables.
Kevin Costner was also great! There’s something about serious Costner that I like – maybe it’s the graduation he’s finally made into playing the older gentleman, but he fits the bill as Jonathan Kent. Maybe it’s blue-collar Costner that I like, but gone is his miserable snark and in its place is an earthy and sympathetic man. He’s a teacher, a farmer, a dad, and the great sacrificial example that Superman is built on top of – much in the same vein as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben. I mean, all Superhero stories run along the lines of “with great power comes great responsability,” but the moral backbone that the two fathers show off in Man of Steel was a pleasure to watch.
OK, so I liked all of those things, here’s the one I did not like about Man of Steel:
1 – The indiscriminate and overwhelming destruction
Everything gets destroyed in this movie. One could say that the amount of destruction wreaked upon Smallville and Metropolis as Superman and the other superhumans fight is a realistic portrayal of what might happen. However, it was highly violent and destructive! It looked like a Michael Bay movie at times with the sheer amount of particles and shredded building flying through the air.
I’m almost 30, my high school and college years were immediately post-9/11, and I was kinda disturbed by the visualization of the MANY falling buildings in the movie. And I’m not even a New Yorker! I have a problem with how that was handled and I think the repetitive destruction in the movie was overdone and inappropriate. I think the movie collapsed three buildings from a pedestrian’s point of view. There’s a line between portraying the wreckage of this movie’s climax and then there’s excessive bad form. It crossed that line.
I also had an issue with the amount of destruction and Superman’s either inability or unwillingness to stop it. The Superman I know protects the public, the weak, the innocent, and there looked to be too much collateral damage for his sense of morals. I wanted him to stop the bad guys from hurting others, even at his expense, and this movie gave me the impression that wasn’t a Superman agenda, yet. Not until the movie’s climax, at least.
Somewhere along the lines, someone decided it was time for Hollywood to push the envelope of what was OK to portray in terms of 9/11-like destruction. They deliberately chose images and scenes that looked very similar to the falling World Trade Center and I think someone should have stopped them from doing that, especially in a Superman movie. Let Michael Bay do that in Transformers 7 – Superman has an ethical standard to uphold and the 20 minutes of crumbling buildings in Man of Steel violated that. Overall, I really enjoyed the movie, but I was left with a bone to pick about all of that destruction.
As a final grade, Man of Steel gets 7 Father’s Day ties.
In rather interesting developments (I got Dani to play a video game!!), I have a mix of mediums for this week’s review of old entertainment: The Witches and Hancock on the film side of things, and the Playstation 2 game Final Fantasy X!
The Witches is a fun Jim Henson production from 1990 based on a Roald Dahl book and starring Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jasen Fisher, and Rowan Atkinson. It gets things started properly by having a little spooky bedtime story about how witches are evil, hairless, soulless creatures that want to kill little children because they smell dog droppings when in their presence. Our protagonist, the tiny child Luke, loses his parents and nearly loses his grandmother all in the first 15 minutes of the film – and even has a really creepy encounter with a witch. When I learned about this movie, I did not know of its Jim Henson connection, but even without the creatures this film does a fantastic job of being eerie through superb make-up and casting (where do they get all those people with eyes so far apart in England?). Straight off the bat, I knew if I has seen this film as a child, I might have had nightmares about it and that, today, gives this one thumb up already.
To give the plot away, the boy and his grandmother inadvertently stay at a hotel where a coven of witches is having a summit where they plan to kill every child in the UK. the boy gets caught and turned into a mouse – things get the royal Jim Henson treatment from there. The movie is fun, childish, and follows all of those Roald Dahl orphan stories to a unique solution. My favorite things about the movie were Rowan Atkinson’s normal oafishness and the initial idea that these outcasts from society are having a meeting at a nice sea-side hotel and the one person who should not be around them (a child) is there to witness the proceedings. I knew this setup from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, where a young girl and her travelling companion end up at a Georgi motel playing host to a convention of serial killers. It’s a delicious trick and one that should be seen more often.
My girlfriend Dani had seen this back in her childhood and explained before viewing that, beside the creepy witch parts, this is the sort of tale that sets up other movies later on for fantasy success. Could Hocus Pocus, Addams Family or even Harry Potter have had as much success without The Witches preceding them?
It was good. Some of the creature effects don’t hold up as well since this is a mixed fantasy with reality movie, as opposed to something like Dark Crystal that has no human actors, but still worth the view. I’d give the Witches a score of 8 rat-transmogrifying hexes.
I don’t know if it was because of the release of Arrested Development’s fourth season, but the Netflix queue was starting to look Jason Bateman-heavy. The pairing of him with Will Smith for the 2008 super anti-hero flick Hancock looked decent enough when I saw previews, but this movie didn’t quite grab me enough to pay for a ticket back then. I didn’t even know this movie had Charlize Theron in it, so her involvement in the major elements of the plot was both surprising and enjoyable. How could they not let people know that Charlize Theron is in this movie? She’s the Oscar winner in the bunch! Plus, she and Bateman were brilliant together in Arrested Development’s third season. Hancock under-sold itself by relying on just Will Smith to bring people to the movies.
Hancock has some bizarre twists. Will Smith is Hancock, the perpetually drunk superhero with Superman-like ability. He can fly, is strong enough to rip open cars and stop moving trains, and impervious to bullets. The first bizarre twist involves Hancock taking an admiring groupie home to his trailer and some nasty ejaculatory humor. Yeah… Then we introduce all of the other players – Jason Bateman as a PR guy that gets saved by an act of “heroism” by Hancock and Charlize Theron as his wife. Immediately there’s strange looks between Theron and Smith that threw me. Was she disgusted my Hancock? Turned on? A mix? The look said bedroom eyes, but the characterization in the plot/story said disgust. I wuz confuzzed.
SPOILER – SKIP TO THE SCORE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW – the twist of the movie is that Charlize Theron and Will Smith are both superhumans. They’d been husband and wife for thousands of years, but a bout of amnesia for Hancock allowed her to escape the immortal lifestyle and embrace one as a mortal. Did anyone else expect this sort of Grecian god aspect to the movie? It kind of threw me and I’m not sure why. The explanation for the how and why this hero has his powers took a much larger role in the movie than the parts I liked, which was mostly Hancock trying to rehabilitate his reputation as an upstanding superhero and not a drunken asshole. Maybe this was more of a twist than I was expecting, but the last half to third of the movie felt disjointed from the idea of the movie that the first half presented. I don’t think they even needed to go into why and how this superhero got his powers, I liked the movie that was trying to dry Hancock out. The actors did a great job, the problems in this movie are script-based.
I’ll give Hancock a score of 5 bottles of bourbon, which is definitely less than the number of whiskey bottles broken in the movie.
The interesting twist to the last week was about a two hour stretch of Saturday night where I got Dani to play Final Fantasy X on the Playstation 2. My gf does not play video games on her own, but we do play silly, simple games together on the Wii like Dr. Mario, Tetris Party, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and Wii Sports. Somehow, I convinced her to play 2001’s Final fantasy X for 45 minutes. In fact, we had to negotiate the time she would play beforehand, but humored me as her adventure wore on.
Listening to her play was hilarious. She’s familiar with the Final Fantasy series from my own enthusiasm for the games, and from watching college boys play FFX – you know, back when it was a relevant game. She mocks and mimics the whiny main character, Tidus. She ad-libs new reactions and criticisms of the plot in the manner of a Mystery Science Theater critic. She even confuses gameplay with the many cut-scenes that begin this adventure. “I have no idea how I’m doing this,” was her favorite phrase as the game showed off cut scene after cut scene.I think her actual enjoyment of the game only started after the first hour – when she was finally deposited 1000 years into the future and marooned with a gang of Al-Bhed forcing her to do work. She got to a decent stopping place after getting to Beseid and meeting Wakka, he of the awesome faux-Jamaican accent and red-plume coxcomb hair. It was a great first step for her.
I’ve played Final Fantasy I thru XIII. I admit that I’ve only finished half of those, but I’m a huge fan of the series. Final Fantasy X deserves some praise for the leap it made from Playstation 1 to 2, and for being one of the most solid plots of a fantastic story series. It’s also the first to have voice acting, but like the next installment on the PS2, FFXII, that voice acting has its moments. Tidus is whiny, edging on sappy and nauseating, especially with that high pitch. Dani didn’t get to Yuna yet, but I find her to be vapid and uninteresting. The surrounding characters are more interesting, especially when you get to their individual twists. Despite twelve years of technology, the colors and textures of the realm of Final fantasy X hold up to similar games of today. Sure, it’s not both gritty and clean like a Modern Warfare, but the 3-D world still looks good.
I’m not sure if it grabbed Dani enough for her to put in the 50 or so hours to finish the game, but I’ll see what I can do to make that happen. That time frame is based on if she doesn’t play any Blitzball. And she might play some Blitzball…
Final Fantasy X, as a game to be played in 2013 and beyond, gets a solid 7 and a half cut scenes to be endured. The other cut scenes you want to see.
Who knows what old thing I’ll review next week? One sneak peek: the Hitchcock biopic with Anthony Hopkins is slated next on the queue. 🙂
In addition to reading the same books over and over, I’ve come to the realisation that I’m also catching up on older movies that I missed in the theater. These days it takes a true blockbuster like Star Trek or something that’s really in my wheelhouse like Arrested Development for me to see it as soon as it’s released.
So, I’m going to be coming back to this feature I’m calling “The Week in Older Entertainment” to talk about things I’m only now seeing. I’ve got a decent of movies trio to start out with: Jennifer’s Body, Margin Call, and Wimbledon.
Jennifer’s Body was a 2009 release that served as a vehicle for the fresh-outta-Transformers Megan Fox as a girl possessed by a demon that eats boys in her high school. I remember seeing the advertising for this and being intrigued. I can admit being intrigued in a Megan Fox movie the same way that wolves are intrigued with looking at flocks of sheep – and it’s that exact avenue that producers of the movie were hoping to capitalize on and sell tickets. I didn’t see the movie until this past week. The advertising crew of this movie did their project a serious injustice. It isn’t just some slasher with a hot girl, it’s a fun, geeky, teen comedy wearing a thin, horror-movie veil. Going in, I didn’t even know the main character of the movie is actually a nerded-up Amanda Seyfried, who happens to be the wing-girl for little-town hottie Megan Fox.
The movie is written by Diablo Cody and follows some of the same themes and environment as her hit, Juno. Both are tales of growing up in middle-of-nowhere Minnesota, poking fun at the locals, and pointing out the differences between life there and in “the city.” However, Jennifer’s Body has to do with demonic possession where Juno deals with teenage pregnancy. They’re really close. The first half hour of this movie does a great job of doing the creepy horror things that movies do with false anticipation and jumpy scares, but the middle and end of the movie is all teenage snark and really decent jokes. Jennifer’s Body feels like the child of Juno and Carrie, but was baby-sat by Mean Girls and weaned on those few episodes of the X-Files that took place in high schools. Yes, I like watching Megan Fox, but I wanted to see either more of her in this movie with her CG demon-face or more of her with a tired, no make-up face. The movie even has Juno-vet J.K. Simmons as a one-handed high school teacher with a really bad ponytail. What’s not to love?!?
Jennifer’s Body was way better than expected and deserves a second look by any who missed it. I give it a score of 8 demons in one body.
I missed 2011’s Margin Call because of its limited theater release, and rued missing its star-studded cast of Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci. Margin Call is about a nameless Wall Street company noticing the impending housing market crash of 2008 and off-loading their investments before the shit really hits the fan. The movie shows that, at least it skims the surface of how that event unfolds, but it does a much better job at highlighting the disparity between different levels of management at this Wall Street firm. There are stock guys, then management, then the uber-alles top – all of whom make much more money than anyone that reads this blog could ever make. 😉
Zachary Quinto is totally believable as a MIT-grad number cruncher (actual degree in rocket science), Kevin Spacey does a very good “I don’t understand the numbers, but I can read and relate to people” boss, and Jeremy Irons plays the man at the very top of the pyramid forcing everyone to do very bad things with a louched obliviousness that rides the line of “either believable or not quite oblivious enough.” I like the theme and message of the film – it’s pointing a finger at these companies for several things (awful mass layoffs, apathy for the people they’re affecting, the lack of human responsibility involved in their day-to-day dealings), but its also trying to bring out a human side to Wall Street, especially with the characters that exist at the lower end of the totem pole. It’s showing that the people who do the actual work for the firm are people doing a job – people who have objections to the work put in front of them, people with families and pets, people who tried to care and avoid the situation. Margin Call puts the blame for the 2008 financial crisis squarely on the fat cats of Wall Street.
That’s nice, but I kind of expected more out of this movie. I felt as if the script was too vague. I mean, I don’t know much at all about the financial business, but it seemed to me that not many of the characters in the film did either. Many of them asked for the situation to be explained to them in childish terms, but I don’t know if that was for the audience’s sake or for the script writer’s. And no one dared to mention Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, or Goldman Sachs for fear of libel suits, the characters are forced to meekly mention “this company” in the third-person throughout the movie. I was also waiting for an enormous dramatic moment, some sort of thrill or climax or even a conflict between characters, but never got one. The movie lacks balls, but perhaps that’s a statement of actual human realism on the film-maker’s part. No one really stepped out and tried to stop this from doing what it did, everyone was slowly bought off before losing their job and what’s so dramatic about that?
Margin Call only gets about 5 and a half point investment.
I really like Paul Bettany for some reason. He’s charming and selective about his roles (Legion and Priest notwithstanding), so Wimbledon ended up on the queue. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I usually can’t stand Kirsten Dunst, but once I discovered that Game of Thrones’ Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was in the movie, I had to see it. Wimbledon is surprising, it is less a romantic comedy and much more of a silly British movie about tennis and sex. In fact, the first 30 minutes of the movie can be summed up as tennis and sex, which is great! The last hour of the movie goes by rather predictably, but mostly in a good way with charm and wit.
Wimbledon also sneaks in a fantastic supporting cast with Sam Neill as Kirsten Dunst’s father/coach, James McAvoy as Paul Bettany’s loser brother, and Bernard Hill as Bettany’s loony father living in a tree house in the backyard. Everyone looks good, the actual tennis looks better than most sports movies (I am not a tennis enthusiast, however), and the script hit every joke and tone that I as a viewer wanted it to. I would have called it a guilty pleasure if it hadn’t turned out as funny-sexy as it did.
Wimbledon gets 7 balls that land right on the line.
And that’s the week of June 6th in old entertainment. I won’t be limiting myself to talk about movies, however. This hopefuilly regular feature will stretch beyond movies to television, books, video games, my own geeky game tastes, and other things. And if I run out of old entertainment, I might even refresh a few cat memes from 2009, how does that sound?
I love, and emphatically repeat the word love, J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and world of Middle-Earth. They shaped and molded my imagination when I was twelve, awkward and completely unsettled as a human being. I absorbed them: Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Silmarillion whole. I never went on a family vacation for many years without one volume or the other.
And so, I waited until I saw The Hobbit for the third time before sharing my thoughts on the movie. My sister, best mate, and girlfriend all agreed with me en toto about the film. We thought it was beautifully brilliant, an entertaining film, and completely in line for what we were expecting for this adaptation from Mr. Peter Jackson. I am an unapologetic Jackson fan. The man makes what I want to see.
So, why was I hearing and seeing awful reviews and absolute pans of the movie all over the place? Reviews from the Atlantic and Denver Post were abysmal (the Post gave out 1/2 star out of 4!) and general consensus was that reviewers were not impressed. My sister and I were concerned. Sure, people like us (read: nerds) were going to flock to it, but would the rest of the country like it? Would the franchise suffer backlash? Would New Zealand’s GDP crash after such a glitzy gamble?
So I went today to the movies with this in mind: what’s wrong with this movie? Why did the Hobbit, which I will acclaim higher than Fellowship of the Ring as it is the originator/patriarch/alpha centauri of nearly all that is the Fantasy genre, Dungeons & Dragons, role-playing games, video games and the like – why did the Hobbit not receive world-wide praise?
Observation One: this is an awful preview season. Is EVERY movie in 2013 going to be about the world ending and rebuilding on an abandoned Earth? After seeing the coming attractions for Stark Trek: Into Darkness, After Earth, Oblivion (starring Tom Cruise as Jack Verb-er, sheesh), and Pacific Rim, my cousin turned to me in the theater and said, “I don’t think they want us to live on Earth any longer…”
Seems the only thing the Mayans affected was Hollywood.
So I’m trying to analyze The Hobbit. The beginning has all the same great music, Shire appeal, rich palette, and adventurous panache I’ve come to expect. I love everything about the first ten minutes of the movie. The backstory of Erebor, Smaug, and Thorin Oakenshield is rich, unexpected, and particularly well done. The dwarfs arriving at Bilbo’s house? Giddy. The conference of Thorin & Company plus Burgler and some dwarf-dirging? Lovely. I’m especially impressed with how well they’ve mixed in the Tolkien songs (which I admit to skipping over while re-reading as I am particularly unmelodious) and creating this haunting dirge that plays over and over and over in my head like chippy 80’s pop songs often do.
In comes the walking. I like it. New Zealand needs it. But there’s a lot of walking. It can’t be an epic Middle-Earth movie now without fifteen different scenes of a group of people crossing a mountainous prairie, but I still forgive these. I like looking at New Zealand and counting off in my head, “OK, that one’s Kili, Bifur, Bofur, Gloin, Ori, Dori…” It works for the fan, maybe not everyone else. I accept a 1/2 point loss for these on the review scales.
Then there’s the problem of the dwarfs themselves. How many people have difficulty recalling the Seven Dwarves of Snow White? And those are at least English names with corresponding states of being – not 13 rhyming names of Tolkien’s own linguistic origin. Non-book readers won’t get the dwarfs’ names, figure out who was who, nor which ones they liked most and least. I could tell you each of their occupations… what a damnable nerd. (Aside: poor Nori has one line in the whole film! Bifur at least has the ax-blade wedged in his skull to differentiate him as the “weird dwarf”) That was going to be an issue ANY adaptation of The Hobbit, let alone this adaptation. I cannot accept loss of points/stars here.
But then I came upon the film’s over-arching problem in its last hour: CGI.
Amazing and breakthrough things have accrued through the development and production of Peter Jackson’s interpretations of Tolkien’s books. Whole systems and software were created that made these movies as possible and successful as they’ve been. Gollum is more life-like a character than anything Hayden Christensen has ever attempted (including any meals he’s tried to order, awkward teenage experiences, or awful family gatherings he’s had). The three trolls (Bert, William, and Tom) are wonderfully warped & dim and their interaction as humorous and comical as I wanted it to be without going over a line.
The real problem is when the main characters, fourteen of them, are running through a completely CGI wooden shanty town fighting off 7,419 pale, grubby goblins. For twelve minutes. With little to no dialogue except for battle grunts.
The twelve year old in me loves dwarf on goblin violence. OK, I lied. The twenty-nine year old in me loves dwarf on goblin violence, too, but it can get old, repetitive and over-engrossed. Not only are you asked to suspend disbelief over a fantasy setting with dwarfs, goblins, wizards, and hobbits, but then asked to do so again for thrilling chase stunts where the heroes time perfect leaps, defend themselves without loss while on the run, smash arrows out of the air with their swords, and survive ramshackle avalanches of debris. All made in post-production after the actors staged it in front of that ugly shade of green. Loss of a full point for leaning too heavily on the CGI crutch.
Now, if there was one bone for me to pick, and I had this problem from the first viewing, its the “main” bad guy in this film, Azog the Defiler. What a smooth, albino mess of CGI. I fear nothing about this bozo orc because I see no cunning or emotion, just a fourteen year old geek’s very descriptive essay on the most awesome bad guy ever (Never mind the fact that this is Thorin’s cousin Dain’s nemesis, not Thorin’s. Nor do I care now[I did get “miffed” initially] about Azog and Thorin’s very protracted duel in the film’s climax). Somehow they goofed on this guy when they already had wonderfully done Gollums, Trolls, Balrogs, Nazgul, Eagles, and Ents. But that’s only one poorly done monster out of …..300?
This film is at its best when the camera is directed at the wondrous weapons, armor, props, sets, hairdos (even the fake ones for the dwarf ponies), and food that were created and crafted by hand for this movie. Every detail is pain-staked and exquisite.
When CGI is called for to recreate a thousand rushing goblins and twirling dwarf fighters, the movie suffers. A bit. Not 1/2 a star outta 4, but a bit.
It’s a great movie. I’m waiting for the next two and already loving everything about them.
Seriously, I would watch Gollum fishing for eyeless trout underground in the dark for days on end rather than watch Hayden Christensen give me money.