Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

   Better late than never. That goes for seeing the film itself, and for writing this review, and good lord, have I been dying to write this down. I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on the fifth of January, and as I sit down to write this it's the fifteenth. It's been an odd combination of lack of time and lack of motivation that's been stopping me. But enough of that - it's safe to say that The Hobbit had been one of my most anticipated films for 2013. The Lord of the Rings are in my top ten films of all time, I devoured the books, and I really loved An Unexpected Journey. It would have been so easy for Smaug to crumble under the weight of expectation, and for some, it just didn't measure up. Not so for me. Maybe it's my blind love for Tolkien getting in the way, but I enjoyed every second of this film, and left the cinema feeling absolutely gleeful.

   The Desolation of Smaug picks up almost exactly where the first film left off. Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellan), and the Dwarves have narrowly escaped the Goblins in the Misty Mountains, but they're not out of danger yet. The Goblins are in pursuit. The Dwarves and Bilbo must make their way through the dark forest of Mirkwood, and the domain of King Thranduil (Lee Pace), if they are to have any hope of reaching the Lonely Mountain in time. If they do not find the secret door to the dragons lair before Durin's Day (the last day of autumn), then all hope if entering the mountain will be lost. Meanwhile, Gandalf can no longer ignore the threat of the dark power in Mirkwood, and sets off on his own to investigate the Necromancer...

   The second in this epic trilogy was packed with more action, more characters, and visuals that could put many a fantasy film to shame. The depth (especially with the 3D) and the intricacy of it all will leave you absolutely awestruck. The level of detail in the Elvenkings Halls, in Laketown, and most importantly of all, in Smaug's lair, are enough to match anyones wildest dreams. The action is kept tight and fast-paced, despite the films overall length, and nearly every moment is absolutely enthralling.

   Where Smaug is able to expand upon and better the first film, is in character development. Some of the dwarves, especially Fili (Dean O'Gorman), Kili (Aiden Turner), and even Balin (Ken Stott), stand out from the group, but the development is particularly strong when it comes to the main players of Bilbo and Thorin (Richard Armitage). Bilbo has changed a lot since his journey from the Shire - he has grown braver and bolder, but there is still the touch of the finicky hobbit about him, which Freeman brings across wonderfully in the smallest of gestures and movements. Now however, Bilbo has also found the ring. There is an absolutely brilliant moment in Mirkwood, in which Bilbo feels its evil influence, acts, then realises what has happened and what he has done. He's mortified - those familiar with The Lord of the Rings will recognise what is happening, and for those who aren't it's a shocking moment, brilliantly done. In the meantime, Richard Armitage brings new dimensions to Thorin, in a subtle but powerful performance. The Dwarf King, who in the previous film was so regal and aloof (even a little cold) has warmed up to Bilbo considerably, but the lust of gold is growing upon him, and his stubborn nature brings about more trouble than good, especially in his confrontation with Thranduil.

   Speaking of Thranduil, the newcomers are all brilliant too. Lee Pace brings us a practically sinister take on the Elvish King, showing us that while Elves may be considered the wisest and fairest, they are just as capable of selfishly looking after their own interests. He was a joy to watch. Luke Evans is Bard, a merchant and archer of Laketown, whose personal history is closely tied to that of the Dwarves. He is instantly likable. Orlando Bloom, returning as Legolas, is solid, but the real standout for me was Evangeline Lilly as the Captain of the Guard, Tauriel. She brings a much needed female presence to what is essentially an all-male movie, and it's great to see one who is smart, capable, and strong. I adored her. The entire cast are excellent on their own, but together, they form meaningful and emotional bonds. Thorin and Bilbo, Bilbo and Gandalf, Tauriel and Legolas, Tauriel and Kili - the audience becomes completely and totally invested in these friendships and relationships, which are at the heart of this monumental journey.

   I can't end this without saying a little about Smaug the magnificent - his appearance is suitably jaw-dropping, and his deep, guttural voice (courtesy Benedict Cumberbatch) resonates long after he has disappeared from sight. He does not disappoint.

   I stand by my love for An Unexpected Journey, but on a re-watch I did start to feel the length. I started to feel the length on this one towards the end as well, but overall I thought it was spectacular. These films are fantasy at their most epic.


Monday, 16 December 2013

ReelGood Reviews - DBZ, Short Term 12, and Philomena...

   Despite the weather in Melbourne being decidedly non-summer like, life has been relaxed and fun and full of social interactions for me these past few weeks. We wrapped season three of Live on Bowen with a spectacular Christmas special, which should be available to watch to your hearts content on Youtube very soon. I've got a few more reviews that I've been sitting on that will hopefully be posted either here, or on ReelGood, very soon, but for now...

   I love DBZ, and this was a massive nostalgia kick for me. I had a lot of fun, though if you're not already a Dragon Ball fan, you might find this difficult to get into...

   This really was special. So special. I want to take this movie home and wrap myself up in it over and over again. I definitely think I'm going to see it again in the cinemas. Go see it if you haven't already (out in Australia Boxing Day). 

   All hail Dame Judi Dench!

   Upcoming review - Frozen! See you then!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Review: Carrie (Kimberly Peirce; 2013)

   There have been rumblings against Kimberly Peirce's remake of the classic film Carrie since it was announced. To counter this, the filmmakers seem to have pulled out all the stops to try and ensure the film is a success, such as the casting of the brilliant Julianne Moore and that amazing marketing campaign. With so many people staunchly against a re-imagining of the classic Brian De Palma film starring Sissy Spacek, I really wanted this adaptation to succeed. It had that underdog feeling about it. Unfortunately, while I found some things to praise, Carrie did not exceed the heavy expectations placed upon it. 

   The story is by now familiar - Carrie White (Grace Moretz) is shy and an outcast amongst her classmates. She is overly protected, sheltered, and abused by her God-fearing, religious mother Margaret (Moore). Carrie is also in possession of strange telekinetic powers, and is slowly becoming more aware of them, and of how to control them. After a particularly cruel incident at school, classmate Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) feels guilty about the way Carrie is being treated and gets her boyfriend, Tommy (Ansel Elgort), to take Carrie to prom so that Carrie can have one special night at high school. Their classmates however, especially the spoilt and vindictive Chris (Portia Doubleday) have other plans...

   Right from the opening scenes, it is clear that the strong point and highlight of this film is Julianne Moore. She brings a wonderfully deranged, creepy edge to Margaret White. Margaret clearly has a strong emotional control over Carrie, and their relationship is perhaps more damaging to the young woman than anything that her classmates have ever done to her (thus far, at least). It's riveting, and Moore's performance brings out the best in Moretz. Their scenes together in the film are truly the most disturbing. 

   Sadly, this is where a lot of my praise for the film must end. None of the cast are terrible - I thought Moretz was able to capture a nice sense of timidity, and that Ansel Elgort was a good choice for the role of the likable, easy going Tommy. What they all had to struggle with was dialogue that often felt awkward and clunky, and a film that generally lacks any sense of originality. Yes, it is a story that has been told before, but that doesn't mean remakes don't have their merit. This just felt uninspired, and I struggled to maintain my interest. The final act in particular lacked tension, and Carrie's revenge, instead of being shocking or terrifying, just started to feel silly. 

   I feel absolutely ambivalent about this - to say I hated it would be lying, and courtesy of Moore, there were some enjoyable moments. But sadly, what started off fairly strong slowly went downhill. Don't feel too bad if you miss this one. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

ReelGood Reviews - Insidious Chapter 2, The Day of the Doctor, and more...

   It's been a busy couple of weeks for me - life-wise as well, but it's nothing serious, I promise! Let me bring you up to date with what I've had posted at ReelGood recently...

   Not quite as good as the original, but still pretty damn scary. I would be lying if I said I wasn't hiding my eyes. 

   I felt very privileged to have been able to see this - restored with the help of Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation, for a long time all copies of this pre-revolutionary Iranian film were considered destroyed. 

   I saw this directly after watching Downpour, and it was sweet and funny and very, very charming. Leila Hatami is wonderful, as is the films writer/director/lead actor Adel Yaraghi. Also, the script was co-written by the famed Abbas Kiarostami. 

   I didn't really have high hopes for this movie, and while it was better than I expected (with a surprising amount of heart and a good performance by Vince Vaughan) it still fell short of the mark for me. 

   And finally...


See you next round of posts!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Review: Adoration (Anne Fontaine; 2013)

   I had been looking forward to seeing Adoration since the start of this year...back when it was still called Two Mothers. Title changes and release dates being pushed back maybe should have set some alarm bells ringing, but hey, everyone wants their film to be the best it can be. I was still very keen to see it. Perhaps I should have just read a copy of the the short novel the film was based on instead (The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing). What we are ultimately presented with in Adoration is a beautifully shot, well-acted drama, that chose the wrong method to explore its main themes and ideas, and is ultimately one of the more frustrating cinema experiences to be had.

   Set against the gorgeous backdrop of the northern New South Wales coast, Adoration follows the lives of Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) over the course of many years. We are first briefly introduced to them as teen girls, and watch as they grow up together, marry, have sons, and remain the closest of friends. Roz is there for Lil when Lil's husband dies suddenly, and their two sons - Lil's son Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Roz's son Tom (James Frecheville) -  are also best friends. Everything changes when Roz and Ian begin a sexual relationship. Lil and Tom, at first hurt and shocked, soon begin a relationship of their own. The four soon decide to continue with their lives and their relationships, but keep it secret from Roz's husband Harold (Ben Mendelsohn) and the small, coastal community that would invariable judge them.

   For a film that should be about the extreme emotional turmoil that comes with such a situation, Adoration feels too calm and and very emotionally distant from its audience. The viewers are outsiders, looking in through a window into something that we don't really understand, at people we don't really know. For instance, Xavier Samuel's character Ian initiates the relationship with Roz, which starts the chain of events rolling (for lack of a better phrase), but there is never any kind of explanation or discussion. Physical attraction would be a perfectly understandable possibility, but the most Ian ever says about Roz is that 'She's been like a second mother to me.' It's easy to see how Lil and Tom started - but what began as a sort of revenge against a once-perceived betrayal by the other two quickly develops into a real relationship. Aside from a few moments in which the characters attempt to break up for the good of everyone, they seem to carry their lives on as normal. It's utterly bewildering. We are being asked to judge their actions, without actually gaining any insight into their thoughts. We never get beneath the surface.

   In a way, I understand why this was done. Adoration is supposed to be a portrait of ageing, cross-generational love, supposedly 'taboo' relationships, social conventions, and we are positioned as the everyday society. We know these people about as well as any of their casual acquaintances would, and it is left up to our own minds whether their actions are 'right' or 'wrong'. This could have been such an interesting opportunity to explore some great questions of morality, but when you are never allowed to get close to the characters, it becomes an annoying, even a dull experience. Having an older girlfriend or a younger boyfriend is nothing to bat an eye at (though that you would fall for your best friends son is a bit weird) - but I don't want to spend the entire movie puzzling over an enigma. The way Roz and Lil deal with each other, with their sons - it doesn't feel real.

   The actors do the best they can with what they have to work with. The four leading cast are quite excellent and Robin Wright especially had some moments that rang with real, sincere emotion. Occasionally, the dialogue is almost cringeworthy (I can't picture any of these people saying "lezzo's", I'm sorry), and Ben Mendelsohn's character, Howard, is given absolutely nothing to do. He wanders around oblivious and lost. The film looks absolutely gorgeous, the isolated locations further removing the characters from the confines of societal norms, but the score got to me as well. The main theme starts off as a bright, and almost whimsical, highlighting the carefree lifestyle that Roz and Lil have always known. As the film goes on however, the same main theme returns over and over, and by the end it is quite grating.

   What could have been a meditative, erotic, even romantic film is simply an incredibly wearying experience. A lot of decisions have been made in the making of Adoration that simply does not translate to a compelling story. I applaud the cast for their work, but without a strong story to back it up, this film simply does not resonate.



Sunday, 10 November 2013

ReelGood Reviews - Captain Phillips, Hola Mexico Film Festival, and more...

   I guess I've been a little busier than usual at ReelGood, though what I call 'busy' is probably nothing compared to other people! Still, here are all the articles I've got up there at the moment, with a possible three more on the way in the next week or so....

   Review: Captain Phillips

   Tom Hanks just blew me away - seriously, what a heart stopper this film turned out to be!

   Hola Mexico Film Festival - The Convict Patient

   An affecting documentary - if you have the opportunity, then definitely give it a watch.

   Hola Mexico Film Festival - After Lucia

   Tessa Ia, who stars in this, was just astounding. Strong performances all round in this film.

   Review: Kill Your Darlings

   Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan have amazing chemistry in this fantastic debut feature from John Krokidas.

   And finally...

   Interview: Iranian Film Festival Australia - Festival Director Anne Démy-Geroe.

   I had the opportunity to speak to Anne about the third Iranian Film Fest, which she has been running with colleague Armin Miladi. I was able to attend and see two films on Saturday night, and I look forward to writing about them soon. If my brain were functioning properly tonight, I'd do it right now, but I'm going to have to try for tomorrow morning. They'll be appearing on ReelGood sometime this week.
Downpour (Ragbar) which I was able to see at the IFFAus, fully restored, thanks to Martin Scorese's World Cinema Foundation

   Tonight, I was able to go and see Insidious: Chapter 2 with a couple of friends. All I'll say for now, is that I liked it. Review soon, either here, or at ReelGood.

   Until next post!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

DVD Review: World War Z

   I went into World War Z almost completely blind. I haven't read the book by Max Brooks (and from what I understand, the book and film could have almost nothing to do with one another), and the only thing I really knew going in was that Brad Pitt runs around during some kind of zombie outbreak. Expectations were neither here nor there, as I'd heard very mixed thoughts. What I discovered, was that World War Z is a surprisingly enjoyable film, if a bit uneven.

   The film opens with a clever montage of news reports, all blending together, one over the other, which tell the story of the initial discovery and outbreak of a mysterious disease. The origin is unknown. We are then introduced to Gerry Lane (Pitt), a former United Nations investigator, and his family. Stuck in heavy city traffic, Gerry and his family are forced to run for their lives when a wave of zombies suddenly attack the city. After escaping, and being taken onboard a US Navy vessel, Gerry is coerced into helping the UN discover the source of the the disease, lest his family be sent to a refugee camp. The journey will have Gerry traversing the globe, desperate to find the source and stay alive for his family.

   Brad Pitt is infinitely likable as Gerry, who is the perfect Hollywood 'everyman'. He'd prefer to stay with his family, rather than risk his life to help the cause, and carries none of that annoying sense of righteousness. Aside from Gerry, we aren't really given anyone else to root for until over halfway through the film (enter Daniella Kertesz as Segen, an Israeli soldier, who was awesome). Characters are introduced and sidelined - or completely gotten rid of - within minutes of us meeting them, and there isn't a lot of development given to anyone else. In fact, there isn't a lot of development given to Gerry either, but the nature of the film, and the fast-paced, frenetic journey he goes on doesn't leave much time for it.

   For the most part, the action and the zombies themselves are truly intense, and even scary. There are two types of zombies in the filmic world, it seems - slow and shuffling, or fast and rabid. Those in World War Z fall into the second category. It really adds a sense of urgency and tension, and it worked especially well in the beginning. Before being extracted by the Navy and the UN, Gerry and his family are desperately trying to survive in a anarchic Newark, New Jersey. It's almost like a game of cat and mouse, as they sneak around, and try not to attract the zombies attention, and it's all the more suspenseful because of it. Sadly, as the film goes on, it becomes less so, and occasionally reaches points of ridiculousness (like stacking up suitcases is going to stop these super-strong, super-fast zombies from moving from one section of plane to another? Really, guys?) In the same way, the final 'zombie encounter' in this film, which sees the characters returning to a similar fraught, creeping encounter in a medical lab, where the key is stealth not strength, has a lot of promise, and brought the film back to that same sense of unease which I loved at the beginning. The final solution, however, feels a bit contrived. The more straight-forward action though - the explosions and set pieces and such - are pretty spectacular, if you don't think too hard.

   This isn't the zombie film to define all future zombie films, but it definitely makes for an entertaining, fast-paced action flick - even if it is a little ludicrous at times.

3.5 / 5