Some movie reviews, I think. I’ll try my best not to be spoilery, but I make no guarantees. You wanna roll with me, boy, that’s the chance you take. Sorry to lump them all together, but some won’t be long enough to support a post all on their own.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Okay, I loved the Lord of the Rings movies. I thought loving The Hobbit wouldn’t be an issue; I’ve read the book easily 100 times. But I’ll be damned if Pete Jackson isn’t making me feel like I might not even buy it on DVD.
Everyone hates snobby readers who insist the book is better, but honestly, it’s not only better but a hell of a lot shorter. It could easily fit into one movie if they would stop putting in all kinds of crap that wasn’t in the book.
Let’s begin with the most egregious: Legolas (and with him, the special lady elf Evangeline Lilly). Not in the book. Shameless pandering to LotR fans who I guess are incapable of enjoying a Middle Earth film without the blonde bombshell. In fact, that whole detour to see the elves was a fabrication with probably the only purpose being to drag these two in (as well as head elf Thranduil or, as he’ll always be to me, the Pie Maker. Sorry, Lee Pace. I really, really loved that TV show).
Romantic Kili: No, no, no. The dwarves in the book, with the exception of Thorin, were a step above Snow White’s clan in character development (or maybe below — at least hers had helpfully descriptive names). I don’t understand the need to give Kili a romantic subplot, but I’d be more upset if Aidan Turner wasn’t even bigger eye candy than Legolas.
I’d go so far as to say we don’t even need Legolas with Kili around. Wonder if this isn’t an attempt at drumming up a Twilight-type rivalry among fangirls. Please, god, no.
The politics of Laketown: Boring, and again a fabrication. Bard wasn’t a troublemaker, just a guy that was very, very good with a bow. And no sinister local government. Don’t know why anyone should care about this when there’s a very large dragon living next door.
The dragon: Of course this part was my favorite, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. One tiny quibble would be he’s nearly unrecognizable with all the effects piled onto his perfect voice. If Pete had ever heard him as the Angel Islington in the BBC radio remake of “Neverwhere,” he’d know the man can pull off supernatural and terrifying just fine without enhancements. Chills, I tell you. Here he could practically be anyone.
And what’s left for #3? From what I remember (and I remember perfectly), this movie leaves off smack in the middle of act three. I read a blurb where Pete said “Everyone thinks the story is about the dragon. It’s not.” Which means, I guess, we’re in for a 2-1/2 hour Battle of Five Armies, which is all that’s left. Sounds exhausting.
12 Years a Slave: How could we not see this given all the hype? Not to say it doesn’t deserve it. It’s powerful and appalling and moving, and like Schindler’s List probably only watchable once. Michael Fassbender deserves the award for his portrayal of an unhinged, unpredictable owner who prefers his slave Patsy to his own wife, and of course Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free man who suddenly finds himself a slave, shipped several states away with absolutely no way to contact anyone for help. His helplessness and frustration are palpable, and the scene when a cruel overseer pushes him an inch too far and he retaliates by turning on him and beating him will have you cheering (until he faces his punishment for it). My one complaint is, after the agony of his captivity, his release and salvation is over far too quickly and unsatisfyingly. Even more so when the end titles reveal that his kidnappers escaped prosecution. But we need to be reminded how terrible and barbaric this part of our history was. Yes, we all know intellectually slavery was bad. But this movie drives it home in a way we haven’t seen since Roots, and might have forgotten.
CBGB: I love Alan Rickman. There aren’t many actors I’ll go back twenty years for to watch every single minute they’ve ever put on celluloid (and Benedict Cumberbatch may be joining this category soon). But I’ll be the first to admit that as my Alan gets older, film makers seem to be forgetting that he can play romantic and sweet (Snow Cake), or passionate and slightly demented (Rasputin), even slapstick comedy (Search for John Gissing), and not just irritated and slightly put out… constantly. Sadly, that’s what we get with his Hilly Kristal, the man who wanted a bluegrass club and instead launched the careers of an unbelievable number of punk legends. He sulks through most of the movie, with the exception of one beautiful little scene on his parents’ farm when he sings a lovely tune.
The film was mildly entertaining I suppose, if nothing else so you can see Ron Weasley as a little punker. But nowhere near one of Alan’s finest moments.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: I went into this heavily prejudiced in favor of loving it just from watching the trailer (which seems to be the opposite of others’ experience, based on Amazon reviews. Most people expected another Tropic Thunder or Zoolander, I guess; which makes no sense at all if you watch the trailer):
I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed. Not in the slightest. Quite the opposite: Fifteen minutes in I knew this was going to be a purchase, new, Blu-ray.
Walter has a habit of drifting into vivid fantasies, sometimes mid-conversation, which isn’t endearing him to the team that’s arrived to liquidate Life magazine, where he’s in charge of the negatives archive. A neg roll has arrived from legendary reclusive photographer Sean Penn, with the message that #25 is his best ever and should be on the cover (which will also be the last printed cover). The problem is that slot 25 is empty and Sean is totally off the grid and incommunicado.
To save his job, Walter sets out in search of him, which brings him to Greenland, Iceland and beyond, having some pretty serious (yet still mostly believable) adventures along the way.
At the risk of spoiling you a bit, he finds him. Sean’s performance is memorable, the perfect combination of larger than life and down to earth. And also perfectly brief — he doesn’t stay around long, but leaves a huge impact. As soon as you see his heavily tanned face, deeply creased forehead, and profoundly spiritual demeanor, you’ll wish you could be a nature photographer who doesn’t carry a cell phone.
I won’t tell you what shot 25 was. I thought they wouldn’t even show us, since it was built up to impossible expectations. But when you see it, it’s unexpected and heartbreaking and, at risk of an already overused word, perfect.
This movie is about breaking out of your shell and getting out there and experiencing some life, and not just to have something to post to Facebook (Walter starts the film with a tragically empty eHarmony profile. By the time he has something noteworthy to put on it, he finds he doesn’t really care about the site anymore).
There’s humor, but not as much as you’d expect (and certainly not Stiller’s usual style). It’s got it’s flaws (I highly doubt he could get cell phone coverage in the Himalayas, or for that matter get a passport at a moment’s notice), but it’s mostly just amazing, well written, stunning cinematography, and a pitch perfect soundtrack.
There’s that word again: perfect. To me, this was just about the perfect movie. Ignore the critics and the people who somehow don’t get it; this movie deserves to be seen. Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.