Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit is basically mandatory viewing for any fans of Lord of the Rings and probably any fan of fantasy.  So far, the reviews for the Hobbit are not the overwhelmingly positive reviews that the Lord of the Rings trilogy enjoyed, with some people criticizing its pacing and the strange effect that is created by filming the movie in 48 frames per second. I suspect that this movie suffers most from not being Lord of the Rings and if it had come out before the Lord of the Rings movies it would have been better received.  As it stands, the Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey,as good as it may be, will be perceived by most as just an inferior sequel.

 I’ll start off by saying, I was probably seeing the entire thing through rose coloured lenses.  I'm too much of a geek to not be in love with this movie. And I can't really see this movie as 'inferior', but rather just different.  It's not trying to be a dark, intense apocalyptic tale.  It's just a fun adventure.  That being said, I think I understand the criticisms about the length and pacing of the movie.  Think about it, this was supposed to be one movie originally.  No one complained.  Except studio executives I guess, who saw dollar signs and decided to turn the Hobbit, based on one book, into two movies. Alright, alright, it’s a business they want to double dip.  Can’t fault them for that.  Then a month later they decided to go for broke and turn the Hobbit, one children’s book, into an astounding 3 movies which will probably be about 3 hours each.

"I have to be in how many of these movies?  The first one is almost 3 hours long!?"

That my friends is gratuitous.  The episodic nature of the books translates to a movie where you almost feel like, they could have ended it anywhere after the two-hour mark and had the same effect as it did after 3.  After our heroes leave the Shire they go on one adventure after another until the movie seems to arbitrarily stop with them looking at their ultimate destination, the Lonely Mountain.  I also got the feeling that the movie had a lot of trouble getting off the ground.  It starts off way slow with old Bilbo, played by Ian Holm narrating his life story.  As if that's not enough,Elijah Wood as Frodo shows up to add some more padding to the movie.  Knowing that you have almost 3 hours ahead of you you find yourself asking, "Why?  Why Elijah Wood?  Why a flashback scene?  Can we just get to the point?  Or do we need to make sure there is enough material for 3 movies?"

 The slow narration brings us to Martin Freeman, a younger Bilbo Baggins, languidly smoking a pipe when Ian McKellen shows up as Gandalf. What follows is a long but rather long but enjoyable introduction of the 13 dwarves, who recruit Bilbo on their quest to recover their gold from the dragon Smaug. Now here is where I prefer the Hobbit over the Lord of the Rings.  Despite having so many characters introduced all at once in one scene, I find most of them to be far more interesting than the characters in Lord of the Rings.  Most of the characters in Lord of the Rings are these weird, other-worldy, sometimes alienating archetypes.  The dwarves who are central to this story have had their home taken from them by the evil dragon Smaug.  To fit into the world we’re told they have been forced to take jobs as craftsmen and merchants.  Something about their lost home really resonated with me.  Still, despite their tragic history, they can still turn around and party, without seeming impish and bizarre like the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings.  In short, I love the dwarves.

 I find Martin Freeman's Bilbo to be a more compelling protagonist than Frodo.  He just seems like he's a more decisive character, making choices based on compassion and a desire for adventure.  Frodo seemed to have been forced on his journey and is constantly overwhelmed, tormented and broken.  That's no fun.  I loved the grim and almost bitter character of Thorin Oakenshield played by Richard Armitage.  And even though the dwarves are mostly site gags, the scene where they intrude on Bilbo's home manages to hit a wide range of emotions from the dwarves.  For those who know the story of the Hobbit, it starts off when a company of dwarves crash Bilbo’s house and start partying, tracking mud all over his house and eating all of his food.  They’re singing and partying but when their leader Thorin finally shows up, the scene immediately becomes heavy and reverent. I was enthralled by the dwarves singing Over the Misty Mountains Cold, a lament over their lost home.  It was kind of touching.

 After that you feel like there are a few slow unnecessary scenes.  Where the Hobbit novel is a brisk tale about Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit movie is a meandering epic about the Hobbit, a bunch of dwarves, surprise cameos from the other movies and some pot smoking, hippy wizard named Radagast who rides a sleigh pulled by rabbits (the rabbits must be jacked up on steroids or something). It's not as focused and I think the movie would have had more of a punch if it was centered on Bilbo rather than 3-4 characters at once.  Of course, if you know who Radagast is (and have his Middle Earth customizable card game card…which I do), then you may not mind the added detail.

Look!  It's everyone's favourite character, Radagast!  I have his trading card!  Seriously!
The story does finally take off and when it does, it's a lot of fun.  I wondered if the over the top cartoonish action scenes would be off-putting to some.  I liked them.  To compare this to Lord of the Rings, I would say that although the Hobbit can hit a few dark notes from time to time, overall it’s a funner, lighter adventure than the often morose Lord of the Rings.  I can’t write this review without mentioning the fantastic job they did with the Riddles in the Dark chapter from the book which is of course where Bilbo meets Gollum.  Again, Andy Serkis is just brilliant as Gollum in a scene that’s funny, scary and sometimes sad.  That scene had everything I love most about this movie, namely its ability to hit all those emotional notes without betraying the tone of the story which never strays too far from being a light-hearted adventure.

 Concerning the 48 fps.  Well, have you ever been watching a blu ray, or a movie in the theater and thought to yourself, “Man, I wish the frame rate was faster!”  Of course not, but clearly the same people who would try and make 3 movies out of 1 book, would also be very interested in introducing a new gimmick to sell their movies.  This is that gimmick that no one asked for, 48fps!  I found the faster frame rate little strange.  It makes the movie look like it’s being sped up. You would have to see it to get the full impression, but it is noticeable.  Allegedly, this faster frame rate is supposed to make the 3D effects easier to swallow. Now I am a person who likes 3D movies when done properly.  This year I saw Men in Black 3 and Prometheus in 3D and thought those movies looked amazing.  The main reason is, 3D glasses normally make a movie look dark, so the movie itself has to be projected brighter than a normal movie would.  For the movies I just mentioned everything seemed bright enough that you can enjoy the 3D effects without losing the colour and detail of the picture.  I also saw the Amazing Spiderman in 3D and didn’t think it looked so good at all.  Everything was too dark and the movie ended up looking like crap.

This looked awesome in 3D.
Now, we all know that Peter Jackson is in love with New Zealand and though some people might find the grandiose shots of the mountains in Middle Earth to be unnecessary and self-indulgent, I was totally into it.  I think the 3D effects added to the feeling of being on a cliff or looking out over a vast landscape, or falling into the cavernous pits of the Goblin layer. I would go as far as saying this is among the best uses of 3D in a movie I have seen yet.  If you like 3D movies, I would say you're in for a treat.  I don't understand people who say that 3D movies give them a headache, or say that it's distracting or insist that it is a trend that won't last.  But if you're one of those people, you know what to do!  I’m still undecided on whether or not the increased frame rate is necessary, but it didn’t bother me too much at all. 

Whatever the format, if you’re a fan of fantasy, you’re going to see this movie at some point.  You might need a little bit of caffeine to carry you through the somewhat bloated 3 hours, but it seems you’ve already read this  review so you are already an expert on ‘bloated’.  As a fan of fantasy, seeing orcs battle dwarves, seeing wizards throw fire balls at wolf monsters, seeing a dragon sleeping under a mountain of gold made my inner kid go crazy. The Hobbit is a welcome addition to the world of Middle Earth. It is different enough in tone and atmosphere to not feel like a tedious repeat of what we've already seen and fun enough that I will definitely be seeing it again, while I eagerly await sequels.

 4.5 steroid enhanced rabbits out of 5.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Twilight : Breaking Dawn Part II

It’s the end of an era.  The Twilight movies are finally dead!  For those of you who don’t know my story/excuse for going to see these movies is long ago, before we started dating, the woman who I am now married to went with me to see the first Twilight movie.  And it was terrible.  But since then we have made it a point to see all of these in the theatre.  Sometimes we could enjoy the unintentional hilarity of the movie, bask in the sheer incompetence of the storytelling, all the while enduring how incredibly boring it is. For those of you who are not in the know, the following is not really a review but a snarky synopsis of the movie.

Well, Twilight 5 : Breaking Dawn Part 2 is not so much a movie as it was a 2 hour anti-climax and a final cash grab.   When we last left our cast in Twilight 4 : Breaking Dawn Part I, Bella had just given birth to a vampire baby, whom they name Renesmee.  Bella was turned into a vampire because essentially giving birth to a vampire killed her.

There were of course a few loose ends to tie up.  For starters, Jacob the werewolf, who has been in love with Bella for 4 movies, gets a consolation prize having lost his true love to the vampire Edward.  His consolation prize is… wait for it…Bella’s daughter!  You’re probably asking, “Wait, that guy without a shirt is in love with a baby?”  Basically, but the baby grows up super fast and the movie implies that in 7 years, he will be able to have carnal wolf relations with Bella’s daughter.  Sure, she would only be 7 years old, but would probably look much, much older.  And that makes it socially acceptable.

Twilight's new power couple : a werewolf and a 3 year old kid. Do I hear spinoff?
See, in the Twilight universe, werewolves imprint on people involuntarily.  If I remember correctly, when Jacob first sees Bella’s baby in the last movie, he makes an orgasm face and that means that he’s imprinted on her and they’re soul mates.  That is addressed in this movie resulting in a hilarious scene where Bella screams out, “You imprinted on my baby?!?”   And then she beats the crap out of Jacob, kicking him so hard that he goes flying into trees.  Then she gets bored of beating him up and stops.  I guess I’d be upset too if someone imprinted on my baby.  Nothing gets imprint stains out.  Just ask Clinton.

Other loose ends include the mandatory scenes of Bella lying to her dad, a dutifully executed a sex scene where Bella sparkles and a scene where Bella kills a mountain lion.  Because vampires sparkle and kill mountain lions…  And they also arm wrestle.  For some reason there are a few scenes showing that Bella is the strongest vampire of all.  She even beats this guy, and then breaks the rock they were arm wrestling on.  She's so badass and strong!

With all that out of the way, we can get to the plot.  At some point Edward’s cousin sees the new Cullen baby and freaks out.  Why?  Because turning children into vampires is forbidden!  And so Edward’s cousin goes to Italy to tell the evil vampire council that Edward and Bella have made a vampire baby.  The punishment for this crime is death and the vampire council goes to the US to kill both parents and child.  But technically, they didn’t turn a child into a vampire, the child was born a vampire, which turns out to be totally legal.

So the whole plot is based on a horrible misunderstanding.  The Cullen’s plan is to explain this to the vampire council when they arrive.  To strengthen their case, Edward and Bella call upon friends and family to be witnesses that our young couple have done nothing wrong (except being largely responsible for some of the worst movies in history).

For The whole second act of the movie vampire stereotypes from all over the world come to the U.S. to somehow help explain to the evil vampire council that Renesmee is not a child who turned into a vampire, but rather a child who was born as a vampire which is okay.  The vampires who come to the Cullen family’s aid include vampires with Irish accents, vampires with Italian accents, Indian vampires and Brazillian vampires (the brazillian vampires don’t have cheesy accents but we know they’re brazillian because they wear loin cloths… ?).  As an added bonus, all the vampires have super powers!  There’s a vampire with electricity powers, there’s a vampire that can control the elements, we even discover that Bella can make vampire force fields.  All vampires can jump super high and move at super speed.   The take home lesson from all of this is that even though they don’t intend to get into a fight, they would be ready for a fight should one ever occur.  *wink*

Now, even though these vampires from around the world show up in minutes, it takes the evil vampires the entire movie to show up.  The movie ends when all these vampires explain that Renesmee is not the bad kind of vampire child, but the good kind.  The vampire bad guys actually agree, “Yeah, she’s not evil and no threat to us.”  But, for some reason the bad guys want to fight anyway. Luckily, there’s a psychic vampire on the Cullen’s side who convinces the evil vampires that if they fight, lots of vampires will die, including the evil vampire boss, played by a delightfully hammy Michael Sheen.  And so the bad guys decide to go home to avoid unnecessary loss of life.  The end!  You think I’m joking?  That’s how the Twilight Saga ends with shrugged shoulders and everyone going home.  I was not amused.  

Here's a video of me after seeing the ending to Twilight.

Perhaps you’ve seen the trailers and posters and you’re thinking, “Wait, wait… I’m sure I saw some fighting in the movie.”  Well, here is where I am tempted to say there was 10 or so minutes of the franchise that didn’t totally suck.  Before everyone goes home, in order to convince the evil vampires that they shouldn’t fight the Cullens, the psychic vampire gives the evil vampire boss a vision of the battle that would have ensued if they actually did fight each other.  So we get to see a battle that didn’t really happen.

The good news for the viewer is, the only way to kill a vampire is to rip off its head.  So there are about 10 minutes of graphic decapitations.  I don’t know if it’s my imagination but it seems to me that the battle basically proceeds this way. 

Phase 1: A bad guy vampire kills a good guy vampire’s boyfriend by ripping his head off.  Then they scream, “NOOOOOOOO!!!” Then a good guy vampire kills a bad guy vampire’s boyfriend by ripping his head off.  Repeat.

Phase 2: The vampires bust out their super powers.  Electricity, earthquakes and Bella forcefields abound!  At one point the Indian vampire opens up the ground beneath them and obviously, 100 feet down there is hot magma.  Presumably that is the Earth’s core and the earth is approximately 250 feet in diameter.  So some werewolves and vampires fall into the magma.

Phase 3: they start ripping off the heads of the B-list celebrities.  They rip off that guy’s head.  A wolf rips off Dakota Fanning’s head with its jaws.  Then Bella and Edward rip off Michael Sheen’s head.  That decapitation was particularly graphic with Bella and Edward pulling on Michael Sheen like he was a wishbone until ‘pop’! his head flies off.  But the head is still alive, so they take a torch to the head and burn it up! Best love story ever.  It was awesome and for a while I was worried I would have to admit that I actually legitimately enjoyed about 10 minutes of Twilight.

But then they kind of wake up and you realize none of that awesomeness actually happened.  Does the scene still count if it didn’t really happen in the movie?  Can I safely say I’ve seen the entire Twilight series and didn’t enjoy any of it?  I guess not.  The movie ends with a montage of other scenes from Twilight just in case you have forgotten how bad these movies are.  I got some good laughs, especially at the pictures of Edward looking constipated and creepy.

"Ummm... Could you maybe give me a few inches? You're making me very uncomfortable."
In conclusion, I don’t think Stephanie Meyers knows what a vampire is.  Or what or where Brazil is for that matter.  Oh well, as my wife said, we have closed our loop (a quote from an actual good movie, called Looper, you should go see that).  We even went back to the crappy cinema in the Cavendish mall where we first went to see the first Twilight movie over 4 years ago.  When we walked into the lobby, there was me and my wife, 4 people at the concession stand and 1 person to take our ticket.  No one else!  It was super quiet, almost spooky.  There were a few people in the theatre.  There was something appropriate about seeing the last Twilight movie in the almost completely desolate cinema.  I felt like we were being given a semi-private screening as a reward for enduring so much.  And now it’s finally over.

Burn in hell, Twilight movies! 

1 pedophile werewolf out of 5.