Other than getting out to see a movie with Ben on Sunday morning, I spent much of this week either at work, or half passed out on my couch. The holidays are not a good time for anyone who works in corporate retail. And I’m no exception. Physically and emotionally brutalizing, it’s left me with little ambition but to snack and veg in front of the TV, wishing I could sleep.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: The second film in the unnecessarily overblown adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel for kids is OK, but not as tight or dramatically packed as the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, or even as much as the first Hobbit film. It’s still watchable, and as I’ve brought up several times with friends, I really like Peter Jackson’s take on the setting, and would be completely willing to come back every few years for a new entry. A Silmarillion trilogy? I’m there. Children of Hurin? Sure. Those words scrawled on napkins and receipts and backs of business cards that Christopher Tolkien keeps mining to release new books? Yeah. I’ll watch movies of those, too. I also don’t mind the addition of characters this film features. It doesn’t get in the way, and provides for some elements of surprise. And as with Jackson’s other adaptations, the spirit remains true, even if the exact content doesn’t (often for the better…Tom Bombidil, I’m looking at you…or more importantly and thankfully, I’m not looking at you). I have three basic complaints about the film, and none of them are deal breakers. First, there is some serious tightening to be done in a few spots. Second, and related, several action scenes go on for far too long and aren’t especially well done. None are as unneeded and poorly executed as the canyon chase from Jackson’s King Kong (a movie I otherwise love, but that scene...oh, man...), but they could be trimmed/cut for the better of the whole. And last, but not least, the end credit song is bloody awful. I don’t love the credit songs from these movies, overall. But this is the first one I straight-up dislike. The singer sounds like ass and the song is far, far too modern. It doesn’t work. So, this second Hobbit movie is, as expected, more of the same; and I’m OK with that. With about 20 minutes cut out, mostly from the action bits, it would have been much better. Well, maybe cut some of Orlando Bloom and his weird CG'ed face.
Man of Tai Chi: An OK movie about a young, impatient student of Tai Chi who becomes a sensation in the world of underground, illegal fight clubs. There’s some kind of conspiracy, an intrepid police officer, and a shadowy villain in the form of Keanu Reeves. Nothing ground breaking or amazing here. But there are some pretty good fights and I always like seeing Karen Mok in a non-comic role. It’s not that good, but it’s worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a fight flick and don’t have anything in mind.
Gargoyles: I have to give ‘em credit for making the attempt. And the movie doesn’t play out in the way you expect from something like this. The monsters are just sort of matter of fact, showing up and doing their thing, without much mystery or magic. But the movie is also not all that exciting. It is never able to rise above its made for TV look and feel. I don’t know that it’s a good idea, but this feels like it could use a remake. Del Toro?
|"Technically, I'm a Grotesque."|
Upstream Color: Featuring hot foley artist action, this well prepared plate of What the Hell? is brain-breakingly weird. Like the best independent science fiction films, it demands careful thought, conversation, and likely repeat viewing(s). What’s going on? Who’s the pig farmer-foley artist? What are the secrets in the pages of Walden? What the heck did that guy pull out of that woman? And did he put it in a pig? Darned strange, and demanding. And beautiful. Fascinating. I guess I can’t be too surprised that this is from the guy who did Primer, probably the best time travel film ever made.
In the middle of the week I finished Sam Harris’s new book, Lying. Like his book, The Moral Landscape, it sure gives plenty of food for thought on living a better life, both for yourself and those around you.
A Matter of Life and Death: A darned peculier, but also darned fine film from the little spoken of masters Pressburger and Powell. It’s kind of hard to talk about the film, at least in a sense of its story or plot. What I can say is that it’s gorgeously shot and makes interesting use of Technicolor and black & white. In many places, the film feels very modern, while in others very much of its time. And it’s all profoundly British. Highly recommended. This should be seen.
The White Dove: A surreal film, in many ways almost a silent film, The White Dove is filled with interesting images and crazy experimental sounding music. I love the sequences with the artist as he tries various means of expressing himself. I don’t know that I ever understood the stuff with the girl on the beach, though some of it was beautiful. Where was the wheelchair bound kid’s parents? I don’t know. Overall, nice to look at, and generally pleasant. But also darned odd.
Byzantium: Vampires suck. They’re boring and played out. However, this movie is enjoyable, thanks in large part to the cast and direction. It feels rooted in Hammer Horror, dripping with Gothic atmosphere, but not cheesy. It’s a fascinating movie and very pretty to look at. This would probably make a good companion film to Let the Right One In (or the remake, Let Me In).
The Seventh Seal: Probably Ingmar Bergman’s most famous and popular film (Stateside, anyway), this Medieval meditation on the nature and meaning of life and death is beautifully shot and filled with meaning. It’s on the strange side of Bergman’s work, but is more approachable than The Magician.
Jaws: Though this movie never features on my favorites lists, nor is it a go-to watch, every time I do catch it, even in part, I’m reminded of just how darned good it is. The characters, the tension, the little human moments; it all comes together. The relentless, almost supernatural horror of the shark, lurking always under the surface. Intense. In some ways, this movie reminds me of The Thing. Partially it’s the seclusion, but it’s also the group of unique men, thrust together and forced to deal with some unprecedented horror. And like The Thing, there are lots of moments where the actors are able to raise the film above what’s in the script.