Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Case for the Hobbit - 3 in 1

So, the end is in sight.  In High Frame Resolution and in 3D as well. 

On the HFR – I am not convinced as while the image is sharper, it also seems to make everything look more fake.  As to the 3D, its rare I notice 3D after the first few minutes (except Hercules – well done the Rock!) and while there are some definite “3D moments”, I forgot about it for most of the film.

Technically, the film is amazing and beautiful after a fashion.  It looks almost more computer game than live action, which is both an achievement and a disappointment. 

As a film, on a level other than as a visual (and audio) spectacular, the third Hobbit film feels pretty flat.  Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins does what he can with a character cast adrift from anything that might make him likeable..  The many dwarves (now basically interchangeable apart from the tall one and the handsome one) likewise tend to talk at rather than with others, sometimes in slow motion and with extra bass for added tedium.  Gandalf (Ian McKellan), away for a bit but back for the final battle, doesn’t really have a lot to say or do either, though this probably has more to with the source material than a determination to sideline him  The Bowman, trying to save the town from the Desolation of Smaug, becomes the main hero of the first part of the film and then basically vanishes once the Elves arrive and the five armies start battling each other – presumably he ends up happily with his family rather than slain by the evil hordes.

Besides the characters cast adrift, there are the missteps too: the snivelling lackey in the second film becomes the wildly unfunny comic relief in this film and it’s a complete mystery why he seems to have more screen time than… well, anyone.  Billy Connelly shows up as a shouty dwarf, and what should be an amusingly unhinged turn as a belligerent general is obscured by some glaringly disturbing CGI that does obscene and unforgivable things to the man’s face.  And some cameos from the Lord of the Rings series hint at a better story elsewhere, and leave taking that with them.  

But then, the film really is about fighting and there is a lot of that.  Its all amazingly done, with swirling shots and incredible backdrops and death defying acrobatics and it all feels incredibly fake and almost completely unengaging, unlike the battles in Return of the King.  Legolas, looking older than ever, gets to do more ridiculously naff jumpy leapy things and is never in any real danger even though his presence dominates a lot of the fighting scenes.  I have to admit that I liked the big showdown between the big bad and the big (well, ish) good, though I had hoped it would have ended before it did and in a less… conventional fashion – probably again a book issue rather than a fault of the writers.

Overall, the film is incredible, amazing, and utterly underwhelming.  I thought there may have been a smattering of applause once the film concluded, as there sometimes is for these “event” films, but people just packed up and wandered off, no one seeming too blown away by what they had seen.  As one person said to me afterwards, “It has ended and I felt I had to see them all”.  And it did kind of feel that way too, more as a chore than a real pleasure.  Which is a total shame.  No need to buy these on DVD – I would rather go back to the Lord of the Rings methinks and remember the glory days.

Verdict: The Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies was the ending and thank heaven for that.  Remarkable in so many ways and yet not really a particularly enjoyable film, there are flashes of brilliance and excitement that are quickly buried beneath layers of CGI and the underlying feeling that the writers just wanted to get it finished and have finally got there.  3 Armies out of 5.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Case for Nightcrawling

Jake Gyllenhaal plays creepy disturbingly well.  When he gets thin, his big eyes look hollow, his wide mouth looks sinister, his intense stare looks… well, intense.  And all of these physical attributes, along side his robotic like delivery and focussed attention means he plays the amoral and psychotic Lou Bloom, a Nightcrawler, perfectly.

Lou is a petty thief who is incredibly smart but lacks a lot of social skills.  Then he discovers the world of L.A. crime journalism, chasing after accidents and murders with his video camera so he can sell his footage to the competitive local news networks.  It is grisly and almost inhuman, but the work can be lucrative, and so with his lack of boundaries and ethics, and with the assistance of a local morning news producer (a deliberately fading beauty in the gorgeous Rene Russo), he quickly becomes the man with the best gory crime footage in town. 

You never feel bad for Lou, which is great considering how repugnant what he is and what he does is shown to be.  But he is completely compelling, thanks to Gyllenhaal’s skill and a story which shows the world through his manic eyes.  

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but it’s a descent into depravity and manipulation and it is really good. 

It is a shame then that there were literally only about 5 of us in the main cinema of the Penthouse to enjoy it.  It was a nice day, and I know it was showing at some other screens in town, but really, how can the Paramount survive with attendance like that?  Fingers crossed it keeps its head above water.

But enough of that.

Verdict:  Nightcrawler was an intense and gripping thriller and totally worth watching.  It’s a pity it seems to have passed most cinemagoers by.  4 video cameras out of 5.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Case for Partly Sating the Hunger

Once again, another third book in a trilogy has been broken into two (cleft in twain?) to stretch out the movie revenue in a successful franchise.  But this time, with the Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1, it may actually work.

Why?  Well, for fans of the books, the finale is seen as the weakest in the link.  I tend to think its because the final book tells the story of revolution in Panem, and as the books are told first person from Katniss’s point of view, its hard to really experience all the disparate events that this might entail.

The movie though is not tied down to a first person point of view.  The film can go and see President Snow (the grippingly evil Donald Sutherland, just awesome) and what vile machinations he is up to; it can follow handsome Edward/Gael (Liam Hemsworth) as he does brave and manly things without needing to hang on to Katniss’s (the always incredible Jennifer Lawrence – can she be more perfect?) leather pants; it can show Jacob/Peter (Josh Hutchison) and his story in the Capitol; and it can show Julianne Moore and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Elizabeth Banks and all the other actors and their characters and really give us that overall picture of how things are changing.

That it doesn’t though is what makes the film a bit slow and feel very much like a placeholder.  Watching Lawrence is never a chore, but her change from Victor to Rebel Inspiration is slow and a bit tedious.  Without the Hunger Games making Katniss act the heroine, the film shows that she is less a force for good but more a canvas on which others put their hopes and dreams, with the occasional profound act to get you on her side.

That is not to say the story is bad.  The bigger world is painted (even if it doesn’t always make a huge amount of sense to me) and the rebellion spreads, including an interesting “bomb the dam” scene that had me bamboozled as to how anyone was able to successfully place bombs and who would have actually survived afterwards.  At any rate, the actors (if not the story) are enough to propel you through to the end, where the inevitable cliff hanger gets your ready for part two.  A year away.  Huh.

Verdict: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 is a long title on a longish film that throws a little bit of action and character development in amongst a whole lot of padding.  While it is an okay film, here is hoping Part 2 really lifts the Game.  May the odds be ever in its favour.  3 out of 5 explosive arrows.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Case for Being Stellar

Okay, I have to admit in advance that I am a big fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I will admit it is slow, doesn’t always make sense (to me), but it is beautiful, imaginative, and completely blows my mind (when it is not putting me to sleep).

So when I say that Interstellar reminds me a lot of 2001: A Space Odyssey, that is a very, very good thing, especially as it reminds me of the good parts!

The music for a start harkens back to the theme from 2001, and the robots look bulky and awkward and completely impractical, in their blank monolithic way.  The space scenes are extraordinary (as were the ones in 2001 and remember they were done 50 years ago) and the special effects extraordinary, especially the images of different worlds.

But enough of that.  The plot: Matthew McConnoghey continues his McConaissance as a Dad, Cooper, who chooses to leave his family behind to save the human race.  The Earth is not dying, but has become a place where humans are finding it increasingly difficult to live, with food shortages and wild dust storms and not really specified disasters that have decimated the population.  But how to save mankind?  That is the question.  And Michael Caine has the answer – but can Cooper live with his decision when he knows that he may never come back and if he does, due effects of relativity, he may come back to an Earth where time has marched much further ahead than he has experienced it.

Much like 2001, the film tries to stay faithful to how science dictates technology could work, though there is still hypersleep and AI (including “70% humour” settings – what does that mean?) and the incredibly versatile appendages of the block like robots that defy any current explanation but make for better cinematic spectacle.

And there is nothing quite like seeing Cooper drive away from his farm in tears with the music blaring and a countdown to lift off swelling in the background to make you feel like you are seeing an emotionally powerful film.  And nothing like seeing the tiny speck of a space ship Endurance passing quickly by the massive sphere of Saturn with no sound whatsoever save for the silence of the others in the cinema also admiring the beauty.

The story line is not fast, but it is definitely engaging.  The cast is also excellent, with Anne Hathaway channelling a very dry Barbra Feldon as the younger Dr Brand, Jessica Chastain playing Cooper’s older daughter Murph and of course the remarkable John Lithgow who is just awesome.  

Things do get a bit hairier near the end, though I can’t go into too much detail here for obvious spoiler reasons.  Suffice to say that its not necessarily as satisfying or makes as much sense as I would have probably expected.  It doesn’t necessarily need to make sense to be satisfying, but in trying (perhaps?) to do both, it to me doesn’t succeed in either.  Nonetheless, while I definitely knew I had been in the cinema for a long time (nigh on 3 hours), I enjoyed myself throughout and so time itself flew by – another miracle of relativity perhaps.

Verdict: Interstellar is an amazing film, filled with visual splendour and an interesting and emotional storyline.  It doesn’t do everything exactly right, but it hits enough good notes and has such an impressive cast that I was riveted and enthralled throughout.  8 wormholes out of 10.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Case for the Way of the Warrior

Another New Zealand film hits the movie screens, this time in a very local language.

The Dead Lands is a feature where the dialogue is entirely in Maori, featuring a cast of well built Maori thesping talent and a strange 1980s sound track that at first had me thinking that a helicopter was going to fly into shot.

It’s a strange mix of elements that, while all quite slick and well done, don’t really mesh together.  The tale is one that is common enough: young chieftain’s son Hongi (James Rolleston) sees his family slaughtered before him and goes in search of revenge on Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka) and his band of warriors from a neighbouring tribe.  He enlists the aid of the mythical killing machine "Warrior" (Lawrence Makoare) to help him in his quest, the two bonding as they inflict carnage.

All that seems straight forward enough, and it is fairly well done.  The violence is not gory but physical with liberal use of sound effects, and the talking is slow and quasi-profound and mystical. 

Inserted into this are the odd aside to the land of dreams where Hongi’s kuia (played by a fairly unconvincingly aged Rena Owen) provides cryptic and not so cryptic advice as to the path Hongi should follow, and once or twice there is a witchery scene that wouldn’t have seemed out of place with a soundtrack by Clannad as part of an episode of Robin of Sherwood.

So the story progresses well, jumping about jarringly every so often when it does try and be a bit more arty, until it gets to the final showdown and then things suddenly… stop.  Personally, I couldn’t quite figure out what really happened in the end – I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers but I got the impression that Hongi was meant to “win” though in reality I don’t quite think he did, or if he did, it was for reasons that were unclear and quite possibly were not going to last.

As Hongi, James Rolleston is very pretty, long eye lashes and serious face aiming for sadness and anger and achieving it in a vengeful teenaged kind of way.  The other cast members (including some of the women) are a lot rougher and more muscular, though some seem like they have stepped out of a Les Mills pump class rather than a neighbouring pa. 

Overall, the film kept me entertained throughout.  I had thought in my head that it would be a Maori Apocalypto, and it kind of was, in a less graphic and less coherent way.  Still, it was a good film, even if it probably was the weakest of the New Zealand films I have seen this year.

Verdict: The Dead Lands brings the Maori language to the big screen in a movie that you would find almost everywhere else.  The steps into Maori mysticism don’t always work, but it is hard to get a basic revenge story too wrong, and the cast make good work of the straight forward material.  7 tapu places out of 10.