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The latest entry of The Hobbit franchise is called The Battle of the Five Armies, and I guess I have to first say that I found the title a tad puzzling because I only counted four…armies, that is. There were elves, dwarves, man and orcs.
I guess the fifth comes about if you divide those orcky things into two different factions, but, I don’t know, that sorta felt like cheating to me.
At any rate, I think the story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel to The Lord of the Rings could be used as a metaphor for filmmaker Peter Jackson and his production of this final installment of the adventures of a little person called Bilbo Baggins. Read the rest of this entry »
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have been very successful in the past in combining two genres and/or styles in one film. They began, of course, with the hysterically funny, zombie satire Shawn of the Dead (perhaps the only living dead film that has shown one whiff of originality since the early days of Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead). Hot Fuzz, their next venture, was a buddy cop film combined with that peculiar genre of the British cinema, the something is rotten in the state of a Miss Marple like quaint English village mystery/horror film.
The World’s End, as their new outing is called, is a combination of the old friends reuniting years later story with a sci-fi, Invasion of the Body Snatchers hook, line and sinker. The basic idea is that a slacker alcoholic (played by, who else, Simon Pegg) looks to relive his youth by talking his more successful friends into returning to the scene of their high school graduation so they can do what they didn’t do then, travel the Golden Mile—that is, go on the piss and have a pint at twelve different pubs, ending up at the conveniently and titularly named The World’s End; but they arrive at their home town in time to find that immigration reform is in full swing as the city will just let any alien in that wants to come.
I would like to say that three’s the charm here, but it looks like Pegg/Wright tried to light one two many cigarettes with the same match. I’m afraid to report that this time the dynamic duo never quite manages to bangers and mash these two genres together in any satisfactory way. In fact, it’s somewhat of a bollocks up operation all around (FYI, google search is great for finding British slang).
The screenplay is sloppy and never seems well thought out. The introduction of the sci-fi elements are clunky and out of nowhere at best (elegant is not a word that immediately leaps to mind in describing the structure here). The story never really makes a lot of sense (though I must say, everybody works their bum off—see FYI note above—to hide the fact, though they can’t quite do it). It felt like the reason for the invasion took a lot of constant explaining, over and over again, including a lengthy scene at the climax where the movie almost literally stops so it can all be explained yet again. And even after all that, though I sorta, kinda got it, I’m still not sure I did.
It all ends with one of those apocalyptic finales that is oh, so popular these days (I tell you, an apocalypse follows one writer home, and suddenly every writer on the block wants one of their own). But for me, this was so out of place with the rest of the movie, it just reinforced everything I had thought about the movie up ‘til then. In fact, it felt like one of those endings that was thrown together because no one really knew how to resolve the blasted, bloody (FYI, etc.) thing in the first place. In the end, the whole movie comes across as one of those great ideas that once agreed upon, no one quite knew what to do with it.
What it does have, though, is one of those spot on ensemble casts that outside of perhaps Woody Allen and the late Robert Altman, can only be found in British films (see Quartet, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and almost any Harry Potter film). It’s a talent we just don’t seem to have mastered locally since the days of the studio.
This illustrious list of thespians is headed by Mssr. Pegg, who gives a desperate and intense performance playing a desperate and intense character. Supporting him are Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, one and all with remarkable chemistry and comic timing of the crack variety. They lob their often funny and/or witty lines at each other as if they were playing ping pong with a Monty Pythonesque rhythm. The give and take is so pitch perfect, it’s like being in a storm where the thunder comes almost immediately upon the flash of the lightning.
Unfortunate to say, I didn’t quite find that enough to compensate for the faults here and all in all, perhaps its best to say that The World’s End is just a bit of a cock up and let it go at that.
I went to see the new indie Dark Tourist (or as it’s sometimes called The Grief Tourist, which is a better name, though perhaps a bit too esoteric—though after watching the film, I did wonder why anyone would ever think doing something not esoteric could possibly help the movie commercially) at one of the local LCD (lowest common denominator) theaters; you know the kind, the one that shows blockbusters and other crowd pleasers. I’m not sure how Dark Tourist ended up here; whatever else you may think of it, the last thing you would accuse it of being is LCD.
No, Dark Tourist is about as indie as you can get. It revolves around Jim, a night watchman by night, what’s called a “grief tourist” by day, someone who travels from tragic location to tragic location, often the scenes of monstrous crimes, just to check it out. That’s not the only odd thing about Jim: he’s scared of germs; has more than a touch of OCD; and is a sociopathic liar. So far so good, and Michael Cudlitz (of TV’s Southland) does a nice, unsettling job of playing the title roll, at least for the first two thirds.
But a little more than halfway through, the film starts going a bit wibbly-wobbly. One problem is that the movie starts at such a high level of tension, mood and anxiety (it’s one of those indies in which everything looks overcast, filmed as if a storm is about to deluge itself at any moment) that when the director Suri Krishnamma and writer Frank John Hughes try to up the ante and throw in a shock or two, the movie suddenly becomes a little camp and over the top (accompanied by unintended tittering). It probably doesn’t help that the shocking twists are only shocking in that you can’t believe the writer and director would think they are shocking in 2013. And then as the writer tries to explain why Jim is the way he is, the less persuasive the movie becomes (the basic theory seems to be: gang raped as a young boy and you’ll grow up to become OCD and a serial killer of pre-op transsexuals—I can’t really prove the cause and effect wrong, I’m no psychiatrist, but it does feel a wee bit on the questionable side to me).
At the same time, it must be said that the movie does have is a first rate supporting cast with special to be taken of the sorely, sorely missed Melanie Griffith, an actress who has yet to receive her due, and who gives a touching and deeply moving performance as a kind hearted waitress that Jim treats very cruelly, as well as Suzanne Quest, in a strong performance playing one of the shocking twists.
After finishing the two and a half hour The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (which is still only one third of a three part movie), I was trying to figure out why the film was holding together as well it was. Was it due to director Peter Jackson’s spectacular and thrilling visuals (backed by a superlative design team)? Was it because of Howard Shore’s part thundering, part wistful music score? Or was it maybe, just maybe due to Martin Freeman’s gift for the double take? By the time it was all over, I wasn’t sure, but I strongly suspect it was the double take gift thing, mainly because whenever Freeman isn’t on screen, the story tends to lag a bit at times, while at other times, it tends to lag a bit more than a bit. But when Freeman is on screen, the movie is pretty much everything you could hope for.
The basic story, for those of you who have just returned from a trip to Alpha Centauri, is a prequel to J.R.R. Tolkein’s magnum opus The Lord of the Rings, which has already been filmed (boy, has it been filmed). This time it’s the story of Bilbo Baggins, a rather well contented hobbit very satisfied with his lot in life, who is convinced by the great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, natch), with all the finesse of a psychiatrist with unlimited payouts from insurance, that he is actually very unhappy with his miserable lot in life and is in serious need of years of therapy. Gandalf’s suggestion: join up with a bunch of dwarves to help them win back their gold that has been stolen by a dragon (in modern politics, if you’re conservative, that would make Gandalf the Koch Brothers, the dwarves Boehner and the Republican Congress, Bilbo the tea party, and the dragon Obama and the 47 percent; if you’re a liberal that would make Gandalf Obama, the dwarves the middle class, Bilbo the democratic congress and the dragon the Koch brothers—with Grover Norquist sticking his head in as Azog every once in awhile; but, hey, the election’s over, so there’s no point in beating a dead orc).
In many ways and for most of the movie’s endurance, this is a pretty nifty film. It’s not perfect by any means and its sins are mainly structural. It tends to stop dead whenever one of two things happen: when the Dwarves start singing as if they’re an earlier incarnation of those damn Von Trapp kids; and whenever there’s a flashback to fill in some plot point or other. In other words, from the moment that the tale is told of Thorin’s battle with Azog until the dwarves sneak off from Rivendell the movie is, well, a bit of a rough going.
The main problem, I suspect (and this is based upon my having read the book forty years ago—yes, forty years, you wanna make something of it?), Jackson, and his co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro, are not just trying to do Tolkein’s The Hobbit, which was a rather light and fun little read. They are trying to tie Bilbo’s story into the larger one by saying that the events of that trilogy of books actually began not just with the discovery of a ring. In Jackson’s The Hobbit, the evil that comes close to destroying Middle Earth can be found in a larger series of events independent of Bilbo and Gollum’s little pax de deux, with tales of a necromancer; orcs and trolls not knowing their place and encroaching on more civilized peoples; and forests dying. (BTW, it just occurred to me—why would anyone call the era Middle Earth if there hasn’t been an era after Middle Earth yet; isn’t that like calling World War One World War One before there was a World War Two? But I digress.).
But once everyone’s on the road again, things really pick up (boy, do they pick up), the story reaching both it’s action and emotional highlights when it gets split between a breathtaking fight in the goblin kingdom (with Barry Humphries reprising his Dame Edna roll as the king, but with a smaller double chin) and the more restrained, more intimate scenes of Bilbo finding the ring and encountering the pathetic, schizophrenic Gollum (a triumph of CGI and Andy Serkis’s amazing performance). One may be over the top (and employ every SFX known to man) and one may be more of a chamber drama (and employ almost every SFX known to man), yet both are equally exhilarating and emotionally gripping, and great credit must be given to both the writers and director here.
The ending of this section of the Tolkein triptych is a bit clunky. And again it’s a structural issue. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brings down the first act curtain with a battle scene that comes too close to an earlier battle scene, which dilutes this second’s climactic fight. Well, at least at first. Once you get past the opening salvos, everything gets smoothed over and the film soars again (both figuratively and literally). And it’s hard not to want to see what comes next.
So, my ultimate opinion? Okay, it’s not perfect. But in the end? I pretty much found the whole thing to be pretty awesome.