Monday, December 31, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 169min - PG-13

I went to see this movie on Monday of last week and I just got out of the theater to write this review. It’s that long. Let's be clear on my feelings for this movie. I truly enjoyed the incredibly long, long ride. It takes liberties with the story much like the last films, but I enjoyed them. There were a few parts I didn’t care for but I am going to talk about them in the spoiler section. For its length and its use of a higher frames per second incorporated with the 3D presentation I say it is a win. This movie gets a green light from me. Yes it’s a long film, yes Peter Jackson is very proud of the sweeping landscapes of New Zealand, AND yes he is a good storyteller.

This movie starts off right at the morning of Bilbo Baggins's eleventy-first birthday party. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is working on his story and Frodo (Elijah Wood) is still young and unaware of the massive quest that awaits him. Bilbo reflects on all of the history surrounding his journey. This story is told in correct order instead of the information we gather along the way we see the historical events before Bilbo’s journey even begins. I usually go into a breakdown of the film and only talk about the highlight that on might see in the trailer. This time there is so much other stuff that I can’t spend the time talking about it. A good way to explain it is with this example from the book. When Bilbo and the dwarves meet back up after they are separated by the Goblin ambush, Bilbo says he burgled his way out, the dwarves say they had to fight their way out. We see both sides of the story and that’s what takes up a lot of time. When Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is off doing Wizardly things we see what he is doing

Andy Serkis brings Gollum back to life and does a wonderful job with his vocal and physical acting is outstanding. I know they put him in a suit and his actions are what we see with the Gollum body. We see him a lot more menacing this time around. He is still broken into two parts, but the evil part of him is far more powerful and extremely creepy. However the scene where Bilbo spares him is a very well done scene.

The company of Dwarves is great casting. All of them seem to be perfect fits. The one that stands out has to be Thorin (Richard Armitage). He does a good job of balancing the stubbornness with the wisdom of a kingdomless prince. He does have a kingly air about him. The other honorable mentions are Balin (Ken Scott), Fili (Dean O’gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner). The rest of the dwarves kind of blend together. I felt like Gandalf trying to keep track of them in a fight or while they moved or any time they were together really.

Peter Jackson made a few changes to the format of 3D and using 48 Frames per second. This gave the movie a more lifelike feel. In some of the better crafted scenes this was great it was like watching a play, but the down side was that at times it was very apparent that this was a mixture of CGI and real life. When the screen is more lifelike it’s harder to blend the two and it was a bit distracting at times.

With the additional elements in the story they broke the arch off at a great point. I think this is set itself apart for the previous versions of the Hobbit; Peter Jackson makes the story his own. I weighed the length against the quality and say it’s a good trade off and look forward to the other installments.

Warring Spoilers!!!! You have to have signed the dwarves contract to see them!!!!!

Ok, I have a problem with Radagast (Sylvester McCoy). He was a very long walk for at least this point in the story, very little payoff. I know he is the one who warns us of the evil that is rising but he was incredibly distracting, I could not take my eyes off the cackling of bird crap that was on his face. Every scene he was in I could not pay attention to what was going because of the facial decoration.

There is a lot of walking in this movie, at every turn the dwarves and hobbit are running there stubby legs across the New Zealand country side. Don’t get me wrong it’s beautiful countryside but there could have been some cuts made there. The journey does not take Gandalf as long actually he is taller…I mean a wizard, he moves magically.

Azog (Manu Bennett) the albino orc is a bit of a stretch to include in this picture. I can see where you would add him but not as a requirement for this film. It was again something that could have been removed and not harmed the story any.

My parting thought is what do you think the motivation for breaking it into three films was? Money grab? Overly long story telling? Or has Peter Jackson become so powerful that no one tells him no

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol – 120min - NA

I did not take in a movie this weekend because I went to this thing called a “PLAY”. See before there were movies people would put on a movie… err play, and it would be just like a movie only in really high definition. The down side of this medium is that it only happens in real time and only in small increments. So you will not be able to see the wonderful event that was presented in the town of Greely, Colorado by The Stampede Troup. I am going to make this the first installment of a different kind of review. I was so moved by the excellent performance that I thought I would expand into live productions on this blog. Besides, it was what was showing next. I give the cast and crew a green light for their presentation of this holiday classic.

In case you have no idea what this story is about I will do a quick recap. It’s Christmas and the main character is Ebenezer Scrooge (Noel Johnson) is a money lender; a cold hearted miser who has absolutely no joy in his life. His long dead partner, Marley (Andrew Sands), speaks from beyond the grave and warns him that he has squandered his life away and his afterlife is going to really suck. Marley tells him he will be visited by three sprits to show him the error of his ways. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Sami Harter), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Scot Ganon), and the Ghost of Christmas Future (Mike Shackley) each shows Scrooge how he has lost his way morally. Scrooge sees the error of his ways and mends his life and vows to keep the Christmas spirit in his heart all the year long.

The Smoke machine effects and door knocker transformation scene was good but they were secondary to the outstanding performances and dedication to the story. The settings and scene composition would rival any big screen production. An excellent example of this would be the scene in which Scrooge is brought to his old school and we see a lone students desk and a very young Ebenezer (Josef Dunn) looking forlornly at it. All he does is stand there and look at the desk but the way they blocked the scene blended the past and the present so well that the silent young Ebenezer provides an unspoken explanation of how this man has grown so dower and cold hearted.

Another outstanding scene is later in Ebenezer’s life he is in his yearly twenties (Zane Garcia). He is breaking up with the love of his life, Belle (Bailey Sande). She has come to the realization that money and success rule Ebenezer’s heart and he has no place for her. It is heart-breaking to see and Sande performs it with sorrow and hopelessness. She still loves him, but she also knows he will never love her as much as he loves success. Garcia also played Fred, Ebenezer’s nephew, who truly loves his uncle and really feels sorry for his situation. He tries to reach his uncle every year and does it with true charity in his heart.

You could tell that the cast had a love for this story and it was brought to life in the hearts of the performers and laid bare for the audience to experience. The Director (Diane Cays) obviously created an environment where the performers felt free to own the roles they performed. I have seen this show before and am well aware of its themes but I have to say that this production opened my eyes to a number of elements that in previous viewing seemed to escape me. It could be that I have seen it over and over again, but I think this cast has breathed a new life into the story that other renditions seemed to have glossed over.

I really wish everyone could see this play, it was exceptional. I would strongly suggest that everyone look into local theater companies and give them a chance where ever you are. I know it is odd for a movie critic to suggest you go see something other than a movie, but there are some wonderful and magical events happing all the time right there at your fingertips. They are not the big budget productions but the actors and crew who put them on play it as if it were. You are really missing out on a shared experience with the performers if you never go and see a play.

Look in your local paper and stop by a show for a change. If you are in Denver you can look at the Denver Post Theater Page for local performances.

My last question is going to be, what have you got to lose by going to a play, the movies will always be on Blu-Ray or On Demand. Plays are unique one-time events that you get to share. Why not go see one this month?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Life of Pi

Life of PI – 127min – PG

I read this book and was enthralled with how good the story was. When I heard it was going to be a movie I was relieved it was going to be directed by Ang Lee. I love his cinematic eye and his story telling. (I didn't care for his version of the Hulk but that’s a review for another time.) I made it a point to see this movie because I enjoyed the book. Because of the stunning visuals there are parts of the story that drag but I still give it a green light as it’s an excellent survival story.

Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and his family own a zoo in India and while transferring all of the animals over to North America the ship sinks. Pi makes it to a life raft and so do some of the animals. He is now alone on a boat with a zebra, orangutan, and a hyena. There is also another survivor, Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. The story explains Pi’s method of survival for not only his existence but his faith as well. The story is recounted to us by Pi as an adult (Irrfan Khan) while he entertains a writer (Rafe Spall) who is looking for a new story to write.

This is a very religious film without focusing on religion. Maybe the better description would be spiritual film. The central topic of the film is faith and having that faith tested. It’s nice to see a movie on this subject and not be a sermon. I am having a hard time recalling another movie like this that does not overpower the entertainment with a thump of the message from the pulpit.

Many films have a hard time balancing between message and entertainment. Some have been made by one organization or another and you their message of recruitment or degradation of thither beliefs is very thinly veiled. Or, these films are so watered down that they lose their way in trying to be palatable to more than just their own demographic.

Ang Lee does a wonderful job of making the movie seem mystical -- in part to give the viewer some of sense of PI struggling to hold onto sanity. It gives the viewer a new set of eyes to see reality. A man completely removed from everything finds comfort in the simplest things, like a small bit of shade. Pi struggles with the environment and his own mental well-being by keeping busy. The tiger is his way of staying focused on tasks instead of hopelessness.

I love how Yann Martel interwove three religions into one character, in this way people are more likely to identify with the main character. It embodies the essence of a person with faith dealing with very troubling times.

Warring Spoilers!!!! No more than 30 people can safely click on this to see them!!!!

The story takes place in three parts. Part one: set the stage. Explain all of the characters and where they come from. Part two: explain the events of what happened from two points of view. Part three: give the viewer ample opportunity to think about what happened and what they would do in similar circumstances. I would have loved to have a conversation about what other people thought of the movie. This seems like one that would spark a lot of conversation because each viewer can take away something completely different.

I like how Pi’s father is a logical, driven man. He sees no use in religion and finds it a waste of time, but he tries to get his son to believe in something instead of believing in everything. Faith can be a defense mechanism in times of great peril. A person with faith can weather hardship. I think it’s important to note that PI was a very intelligent person who had faith as opposed to a person who only has faith and nothing else. It was Pi’s intelligence and faith that allowed him to survive.

The duality of the stories that Pi told is the main focus for me. The struggle with the tiger is reminiscent of the struggle within us. We have to keep our inner beast under control. I can see the primal urge to panic is an ever constant struggle in that environment.

Obviously Pi has never seen a tiger mark his territory before, Ick. I saw that coming. At least his mouth was closed.

WWPD what would PI do? Or more to the point what would you do in his shoes…err boat?