Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Well, it's an interesting idea, but it doesn't really come off. The movie starts as an interesting, deliberately-paced, surprisingly quiet movie about a motorcycle stunt rider (Ryan Gosling) who discovers he has had an infant son with a woman (Eva Mendes) he met while touring with a fair. For the first third of the movie, we follow Gosling as he attempts to do right by the son he didn't know existed, finally driven by desperation to start robbing banks. Eventually, he's cornered and killed by a cop (Bradley Cooper), and we follow the cop for the next third of the movie as he discovers the corruption in his department and tries to use his new status as a hero to leverage a job with the district attorney's office. Cooper's cop is haunted when he--a new father--discovers that the man he killed had a son of his own. The narrative then picks up fifteen years later, as both sons meet each other in high school and become friends, and old hurts that have never gone away bubble back to the surface. It gets less compelling with each narrative shift, and the thread of the narrative feels like watching three episodes of a miniseries all at once. It's two and a half hours long, but feels far longer, and becomes a punishing, joyless commitment. Like I said, it's an interesting idea, but the film doesn't manage to pull it off. The stuff about Ryan Gosling was interesting enough. The next hour and forty-five minutes ends up feeling like an extended epilogue that never ends. **

I really try to stay away from discussions of this kind of film anymore, because usually they're just long lists of all the ways people are dissatisfied for whatever arcane reasons. For me, the only thing this movie really suffered from is the second-act syndrome that most "middle-part" movies have, where there's no real beginning and no real ending, because they've got to continue narrative threads, starts new ones, and resolve none of them because they're setting up the final act. But I went in expecting that. No one seems to remember now, but this is the same way everyone felt about The Two Towers until Return of the King came out. Hell, if you go back and read reviews from 1980, you can see how many people were dissatisfied with The Empire Strikes Back for having no closure. It's the luxury of having a resolution in Return of the Jedi that makes Empire everyone's favorite Star Wars movie.

Anyway, I've said it before: I just love being in Peter Jackson's Middle-earth, and it did take me until the third time I saw An Unexpected Journey to get used to the more storybook type of design he's using in these movies, but now that I'm down with it, I love it, because it's more important to me that he gets the emotions and characters across. So, just to be different, here's a list of things I loved about the movie.

:: Far fewer shots this time of Thorin just posing like a romance novel cover. Really, all of the posing. Now that we know the characters, PJ can stop introducing them. And I still knew them all by sight, which I didn't think I'd be able to remember.
:: The CGI isn't always perfect, but it never gets in the way of enjoying the movie. Smaug himself is a tremendously impressive (and truly, truly scary) creation. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as his menacing voice.
:: More Sylvester McCoy is always welcome.
:: I am the first person to tell you how much he despised Kate on Lost the entire time it was on, but I adored Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in this movie. I do love what they're doing with her and Kili to emphasize how they'll be on opposite sides during the War of the Five Armies.
:: I also loved Orlando Bloom. When did he turn into such a badass? It's like a decade later he finally has the gravitas to make Legolas truly interesting.
:: I was really glad they kept in the spider dialogue.
:: PJ has a real knack for casting animals. Those magnificent ponies, those beautiful pugs in Laketown, Beorn's highland cows, and the most wonderful pig I think I've ever seen.
:: Lee Pace as Thranduil is really compelling--just perfectly not human--and his throne room is one of the most impressive sights from these movies, for me.
:: I loved the escape down the river on the barrels. Was it realistic? Who cares? It's perfect, fun, adventure-movie stuff. (Just like the highly-criticized escape from the goblins in the first movie; yes, they look choreographed, but so does ballet, and I like that, too.)
:: Somehow, all the stuff with Gandalf was the least interesting stuff in this movie to me, and I actually didn't mind that. Very curious to see how they'll resolve that in the next one, and if it involves Galadriel, because I'll never turn down more Galadriel.
:: I need that insane oil painting of Stephen Fry. Love how it looks like a twisted Vermeer.
:: He's not getting as much acclaim as some of the main cast, but I can't say enough how much I love Ken Stott as Balin.

Long story short: enjoyed the hell out of it, can not wait for the next one. I love that, at its heart, it's a war story. It's a unit of guys behind enemy lines trying to recover a treasure in an old fort. As long as Peter Jackson doesn't waver from that central idea, and as long as his love for the characters continues to shine through, I really don't care what he adds to the story to fill out time. I'm still being entertained, and that's the one concern that overrides everything else. ****

I never read this novel as a kid, so I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew about it is that there were kids in an attic and some incest happens. I wasn't prepared for how much emotional turmoil I was going to go through with this--especially with it being a Lifetime movie, so I guess I expected something much trashier and more exploitative. This movie is pretty committed to how emotionally wrenched around the kids are after their father dies and they movie in with their grandparents, only to find they have to be shut up in a room, their existence kept secret for the sake of propriety. I was pretty worn out after it all, but I thought it was quite good. Credit especially to Ellen Burstyn as the grandmother, who goes for a simmering menace instead of the histrionic screaming I was prepared for. And Heather Graham, as the children's ever-more-unbalanced mother, is quite good. Well done, Lifetime. This one was like a real movie. ***1/2


Tallulah Morehead said...

I was under the impression that The Empire Strikes Back is generally considered the best Star Wars movie, and that, thanks to the Ewoks, Return of the Jedi was generally the least-liked of the original trilogy of films.

I loved The Desolation of Smaug. Saw it opening day (Matinee, so I was in a small audience, devoid of costume-wearing superfans to annoy me) in the 48 fps and 3-D, and I ate it with a spoon. And I share your admiration of Ken stott's Balin. I'm afraid I do not share your admiration of Lee Pace's performance. I found him odd-lookng and too precious. His reading of "Do not speak to me of dragonfire" was an example of over-actng at its most affected and false, and actually made me snort at his acting, which is to say that it took me out of the movie, a really, really immersive movie.

But apart from Pace, I loved everything about it. Loved, loved, loved. The only way it could be improved would be to get Kili's clothes off.

So, did you spot Stephen Colbert?

SamuraiFrog said...

In JW Rinzler's excellent The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, he reports on the critical and fan reception of the time; many people just didn't like the unresolved cliffhanger ending, which is probably a factor in its not making as much money as the original. Sure, it's the best-loved of the movies now, but I think that's in large part because we no longer have to wait three years to see it resolved. For a group of people who pride themselves on creative thinking, genre fans don't seem to take cliffhangers very well. (Personally, the original is still my favorite of the three.)

I was just glad to finally get out to see Smaug; the weather here has been too overwhelming to go out in, especially since for most of the film's run I've been down with bronchitis again. But that did mean a nice, quiet showing at 4:30 on a Thursday evening.

I saw Colbert as soon as he turned into the camera and flipped his eyepatch down. But I had had it spoiled for me already by Tumblr, alas. Glad to see him get in, though, being such a fan for Tolkien.

My wife warned me that her first words to me at the end of There and Back Again are going to be "When is The Silmarillion coming out?"

Roger Owen Green said...

Feel like I SHOULD see Pines - filmed in Schenectady!, right next door to Albany, but I just haven't. I will, probably, some day, maybe.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Once again, you make me glad that I live in Southern California.

I saw The Empire Strikes Back the first time at its second screening at the Hollywood Egyptian Theater, 2:30 AM. I didn't get off work (at The comedy Store) until 1:30 AM, so a bunch of us from the club, including comics whose names you would recognize, dashed off to the theater to see the second show, the first having been at midnight.

My personal experience was that no one I was with or knew or spoke to was at all dispapointed in the cliff-hanger. Of course, we were adults in our 30s (I turned 30 that week), and show business professionals, but we all enjoyed the cliff-hanger. Everyone was too busy being stunned by the revelation of Luke's parentage.

The one really, really negative part of the experience was a small group of super-fan assholes who had been in the first showing (and probably in line for days, as opposed to us who had jobs and who were in line for 20 minutes), who came out of the theater and ran down the line of us waiting to get in, shouting: "Darth Vader is Luke's father! Darth Vader is Luke's father!" at all of us, determined to spoil the movie's big twist for everyone seeing the second show. I'd still like to see those douchebags tortured to death slowly. What fucking assholes. (It's been 33 years, and I am still angry at those fucking pieces of shit.)

In a novel of mine not yet sold, I have the protagonist, a horror movie actor who's a cross between Vincent Price and Sir Christopher Lee, playing Morgoth in a trilogy of The Silmarillion: Part One: The Unrest of the Noldor, Part Two: The Darkening of Valinor, and Earendil and the War of Wrath. Of course, part of the joke is what unsuitable movie material The Silmarillion is.

You beat me. I did not spot Colbert. I'd intended to keep an eye out for him (Pun intended) but got too caught up in the movie to keep up my vigil. After I saw the movie, I learned online where he was and saw a screencap.