5 Jan 2014

The Hobbit II

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and                                   Guillermo del Toro, from the Novel by J.R.R. Tolkein.
Starring: Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo),                                    Richard Armitage(Thorin), Orlando Bloom (Legolas),                            Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Sylvester McCoy (Radagast),                        Luke Evans (Bard), Stephen Fry (The Master) and                                 Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug).

Yesterday I watched the second installment of the Hobbit trilogy, but this time in 48 FPS 3D.  I haven't had a great deal of luck with these movies. When we watched the first one we had rotten seats, and this time some overly selfish hippy parents brought their 7 year old who whispered throughout the movie and afterwards had to be carried out as he was terrified.  

But, like Bilbo, we soldiered on. 

The second installment starts off with some more exposition of the history of Thorin, then moves quickly to the Dwarves and Bilbo fleeing from Azog and his Orcs, through Mirkwood and Lake town to the introduction of Smaug. 

The hyper reality of 48 FPS 3D took a moment to get used to, but I think I liked it. However, if you do decide to go and see it I recommend that you sit in the middle as on the very edge there can be some blurring. It is certainly different and I think it is the next step in film.

As far as the story goes I enjoyed this considerably more than An Unexpected Journey. While I am not really sure that the exposition at the beginning added anything of value, and, like the previous film, Jackson has added combat where there was none in the book, this time it wasn't so tiresome. There were many points during the first movie when you could compare the antics of the Dwarves to a Keystone cops movie, however, Jackson appears to have found a better balance of action and humor here.

The look and production of the film was good; Lake town and Mirkwood looked fantastic. Lake town, especially with Stephen Fry as the corrupt master, has been well designed and had a great feel to it.

However, I think Jackson missed a great opportunity. Freedman is an excellent Bilbo and his performances were always good, and with the scenes between Smaug and Bilbo there was enormous potential for dialogue. Especially when you have the established relationship between Freeman and Cumberbatch to work with. But I thought the focus of the scene was not the dialogue, but the retrieval of the Arkenstone.  Also, the scenes with the Dwarves and Smaug seemed to drag on. I understand that Jackson wants to show off his wonderful dragon, but I think the execution was misplaced and the film suffers again for it.

While purists will be frothing at the mouth over the additions to the plot, the most controversial turned out to be the most enjoyable. Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel was a superb addition, and one of the best female characters I have seen in years. Her story line, while a departure from the book, brought a well needed feminine side to the story. It was also the most compelling. While I am usually on the side of the purists, the decision to add Tauriel to the story was probably one of the best creative decisions Jackson has made.

The new visuals work well and the film  doesn't drag on so much until the end. The performances were all good, and as you expect it is spectacular viewing. On the whole it was a better film than the first, but it still suffered a little from self indulgent film making.  I enjoyed it.

7 monkeys from me.

2 Jan 2014


Director:             Stephen Frears
Producer:            Steve Coogan
Screenplay:        Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
Book:                  Martin Sixsmith
Starring:             Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark,                                   Anna Maxwell Martin, and Michelle Fairley. 

One of the more curious things people have said to me is, "I was born in the wrong time, I should have been born in (insert historical period here)".  Now I get the appeal of history I really do, but I think I like toilet paper, medicine, international travel and not being oppressed by the local nobility even more.

But not everything about our recent history is an improvement, like the story of Philomena Lee.

Film synopsis:

In 1952 in Ireland, an unwed Philomena Lee got pregnant. She had her baby, Anthony, at the local convent. She worked in the nuns' laundry for four years and she was allowed to see Anthony for an hour each day.

Anthony was adopted out by the nuns during this time and Philomena never knew what happened to him. Once she left the convent she did not tell a soul about him, until fifty years later on the anniversary of his birthday, she finally tells her daughter Jane.

Martin Sixsmith was a foreign correspondent for the BBC in Washington and Moscow, before working for Tony Blair's administration. Martin lost his job over an email he sent, and is now out of work.  While contemplating his future and his past, Martin is approached by Jane to help her mother find Anthony. Martin decides that Philomena's story would make a good human interest piece and agrees.

Ensue the search for the missing child.

At its heart Philomena is a road trip movie. It's a journey of discovery both figuratively and literally for the jaded atheist Sixsmith, and the irrepressible Philomena. They are from different generations, and social classes, with different values and beliefs about tradition, religion and authority.   Philomena accepts and endures life and, solid in her faith, she never questions authority. As a journalist, Sixsmith questions everything, especially religion and authority. Philomena comes from a generation which was brought up to be polite, courteous and with her faith comes an optimism about humanity.  Sixsmith, as a busy and important journalist, is dismissive, cynical and somewhat impolite.

The search for Anthony is challenging for both Sixsmith and Philomena, and the reality of what happened to Philomena in 1952 affects them both. It tests their own world view and their faith in human nature and God. Interestingly, despite the convent's, and the church's treatment of Philomena, the film never portrays her piety disrespectfully. It gracefully avoids that and portrays her with a simple dignity.
(Steve Coogan and Philomena Lee. Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)(Credit: Chris Pizzello/invision/ap)
As you would expect Judi Dench is excellent as Philomena Lee. Her performance was also reminiscent of another important woman in history, my mum. In Dench's portrayal of Philomena I could see the mannerisms and the out look of my mothers generation. In reflection it brings home to me that Philomena's and Anthony's story could have been anyone's story in the wrong circumstances, even mine.

This is obviously a project that Steve Coogan was passionate about, and his performance shows that he is capable of more than Alan Partridge, but despite his thoughtful performance Dench's on screen subtle charisma steals most scenes.

In an age of three hour block busters, at 98 minutes Philomena seems to be over almost too quickly, but I think they get the balance right

The story is funny, thoughtful and horrible all at once. That is the thing about history, it isn't always fun, but it should always be told. It is a very good film, and I suspect it will put Dench in the running for an Oscar.

7 monkeys