The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12/21/12)

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A young hobbit accompanies a group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain home from a dragon in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

On his 111th birthday, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) decides to write his memoirs for his young nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood). He describes how the dwarves lost their home in Lonely Mountain to a fearsome dragon named Smaug. A younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is tricked by wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to hosting dinner for thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Bilbo is enlisted for his role as the ‘thief’ although he has never stolen anything in his life. After a change in heart, Bilbo decides to make the journey to help the dwarves and the group sets out for Lonely Mountain.

There are a few things that I need to get out of the way about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – the 3D 48 frames per second treatment, the need for three movies, and how it compares to Lord of the Rings.

First, the native 3D 48 frames per second filming of The Hobbit is a first in the industry. Doubling the rate of a standard film at 24 fps, the initial reaction to The Hobbit is a bit jarring of an effect. I suspect that a few of the scenes were not actually shot in 48 fps and were sped up to this speed. I say this because early on, there are some camera pans that seem incredibly, almost comically, fast. A few of Ian Holm’s movements seem jagged and weird too. I’m not sure if my reaction is simply because I hadn’t adjusted to the speed or if I’m correct and they were artificially increase in post-production, but I will say that I was quite pleased with 48 fps about 90% of the time and it is likely the future of cinema. The use of 3D is absolutely splendid as well.

Since Peter Jackson is interjecting backstory from other Tolkien works, apparently namely from The Silmarillion, in The Hobbit. While this doesn’t bog down the story for An Unexpected Journey, it does beg the question why The Hobbit, a relatively short book, needs three movies. In my opinion so far, it doesn’t. There are a few parts that slow down the pacing and there are some scenes that seem entirely superfluous. Yes, the extensive Tolkien mythology is bolstered, but keep that stuff in special features on a blu-ray set or something. This first film alone is close to three hours long and knowing there are two more, likely equally long films coming is kind of off-putting.

The obvious comparisons to Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy are not entirely appropriate since The Hobbit is a much different source material than its successors. However, in practice, The Hobbit on film feels far too close to Lord of the Rings for its own good. The Hobbit is serious but it does have a bit of a sense of humor to it, which may rub some folks the wrong way. It’s a shame The Hobbit film(s) weren’t made first because it would set the stage for Lord of the Rings without relying on it instead of the other way around.

In the end, I quite liked The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It’s far from a perfect film on its own and I always struggle to judge a film like this as a part or as a whole. Technically, this is 1/3 of a single film and it remains to be seen if the whole thing is worthy of your time. For now, I’d recommend The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be seen in 3D and 48 frames per second, but be warned that it’s no Lord of the Rings.

I give it 4 animated Hobbits out of 5.

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Love Actually (12/19/12)

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At least eight different, intertwining tales of love at Christmastime in London come together in Love Actually.

The different stories –

  • Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is an aging rock star looking to stage a comeback with a new Christmas album with the help of his manager, Joe (Gregor Fisher).
  • Juliet (Keira Knightley) marries Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) but learns that Peter’s best friend, Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is in love with her.
  • A writer, Jamie (Colin Firth) finds his girlfriend sleeping with his brother and travels to a remote French cottage where he falls in love with the Portuguese cleaning lady, Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz), who doesn’t speak English.
  • Harry (Alan Rickman) finds himself attracted to his secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch), and his wife, Karen (Emma Thompson) begins to suspect something when she finds a gift for her.
  • David (Hugh Grant), the new Prime Minister, falls for Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a member of his household staff.
  • Daniel (Liam Neeson) and his stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster), mourn the loss of their wife and mother. Sam has also fallen for his American classmate and Daniel decides to help him win her over.
  • Sarah (Laura Linney) has had a crush on a coworker, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), for years but their relationship is constantly interrupted by calls from her mentally ill brother.
  • Unlucky in love in London, Colin (Kris Marshall) decides to travel to America to find a girl, or girls.
  • John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) meet while filming as body doubles for various sex scenes.

Wow, do you have all that? It’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds as each of the stories is short and all of them overlap in some way. Characters crop up in different stories and the golden thread of the film is love. Love Actually is surprisingly one of the best romantic comedies I’ve ever seen. Love Actually is incredibly charming, honest, and funny and it’s a Christmas movie to boot. In fact, it’s the only Christmas movie I can think of that has nudity, so that doesn’t hurt.

There is a lot to keep track of in Love Actually and some of the story lines play out better than others, but the film rarely feels like it is trying to pull in too much. The only real disappointment comes if your favorite story lines don’t wrap up as fully as others. The cast is so varied that even if you have an aversion to an actor, they likely aren’t on screen long enough to get under your skin. When I was reviewing Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, I noted that Keira Knightley bothered me in that film, but here she is pleasant.

I had seen Love Actually a few years ago and vaguely remembered a few of the characters and their stories, but the film felt fresh to me. I could see moving Love Actually into regular Christmastime movie rotation, but it’s also complex enough to have it be “new” every few years. Regardless, I know it’s past Christmas but let Love Actually into your heart and onto your screen when the seasons rolls around again next year.

I give it 4 “to me, you are perfect…”s out of 5.

PS – I could not have written this review without the help of Wikipedia.

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