43 posts categorized "Fantasy"

December 13, 2012

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

COLE SMITHEY

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HobbitPeter Jackson has formally moved away from the artistic act of directing, and into the business of creating synthetic movie “product.” “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is to cinema what “pink slime” is to food. Jackson’s unfathomable infatuation with a 48-frame-rate makes “The Hobbit” look like a bad HD soap opera. Has the once highly respected filmmaker has gone too far in the wrong direction to ever return to the potential he once held?

Doubtlessly feeling the pressure of carrying the weight of New Zealand’s version of Hollywood on his shoulders, Jackson has made a prequel movie — to his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — that effectively negates their existence.

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Martin Freeman gives an empathetic if misspent performance as Bilbo Baggins, a “burgler” hobbit chosen by the wizard Gandalf (reliably played by Ian McKellen) to accompany he and his ragtag band of dwarves on a journey to regain their mountain home. A terrible fire-breathing dragon drove them out, and still resides there. Enter an interchangeable parade of dwarf characters — roughly 14 — to make a mess of Bilbo’s cozy earth-sheltered home. An hour goes by before anything happens. Once on their journey, it’s the same old dog and pony show. A series of battles with Orcs and various chase scenes lead our vista-loving travelers to a brief stay-over in Rivendell to seek the advice of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Saruman (Christopher Lee). Yawn. Audience eyes water uncontrollably behind 3D glasses. More yawning. Check your watch. Yawn again.

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The film’s big moment finally arrives when Bilbo comes face to face with Gollum (Andy Serkis) for the first time. Except that this Gollum turns out to be much crazier than the one represented in the “Lord of the Rings” films. This time around, Gollum is off the bat-shit scale of loopy. No more eating of fish. This Gollum wants human flesh. Most bizarre is the complete lack of meaning or context given for the “precious” gold ring that the burglar Bilbo makes off with.

In the mindset of a paying audience member, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” would be enough to insure that I not return for the final two installments if this atrocity. However, as a critic, I will no doubt be called upon to set aside the prejudice this first chapter has earned.

Rated PG-13. 166 mins.

2 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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October 22, 2012

CLOUD ATLAS

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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Connection Lost

The Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer Play The Wrong Loops

Colesmithey.com“Cloud Atlas” wants to be more than it is. For a movie pitched as a Meta-Meta exploration linking all of humanity through the distant past to the recent past to the faraway future, it nosedives before getting out of the gate. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturges, Doona Bae, and Ben Whishaw take the hit. Recycling its primary cast members beneath various layers of make-up disguises as six different characters each, the six-plot movie looses inertia as it goes along. None of the story threads is strong enough on its own to effect much of an emotional connection with the audience.

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The incongruent narrative fragments seem like something emanating from the mind of an overachieving high school dramatist rather than from an accomplished author. “Cloud Atlas” might be based on David Mitchell’s novel, but you won’t likely be inspired to track down the book after seeing this collage film treatment from the collaborative writing-directing team of Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) and the Wachowski siblings — Lana and Andy (“The Matrix Trilogy”).

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More insipid global-melodrama than condensed world history-epiphany, the ostensibly dense narrative unpacks a story about Tom Hanks’s Zachry, a remote island native living with his farfetched tribe in the distant future. Zachary is a coward whose self-preservation during an attack by a rival clan haunts him. Hanks also shows up in an 1850 sea tale about Adam Ewing (Jim Sturges). Onboard a ship sailing through the South Pacific, Dr. Henry Goose (Hanks) is slowly poisoning Ewing in order to steal his chest of riches.

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In 1930 Cambridge, composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) hires the assistance of Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), a young gay amanuenses to rapidly transcribe Ayrs’s musical ideas. The ambitious Frobisher is concurrently working on his own symphony piece, the Cloud Atlas Sextet. Frobisher’s musical motifs hardly make a mark on the overall film, in spite of their ostensibly relevant potential to do so.

‘70s era San Francisco is the setting for Halle Berry’s hotshot newspaper reporter Luisa Rey to engage in a bit of hazardous investigative journalism regarding corporate corruption. Like a snippet set in 22rd century Korea — called “Neo Seoul” — the story is primarily an excuse for a series of television-quality chase sequences.

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Such are the dramatically limp yarns that flip about like dying fish on a dry dock. Scene by scene, there’s never enough dramatic meat to evince more than a deliberate chuckle or blush of disapproval at the comic book moments on display.

“Cloud Atlas” is a cut-up anthology of stories that simply aren’t very good. The source material is too shallow to be placed under the magnifying scrutiny of a film. You end up staring down a large vessel at an artificially reflective — read meaningless — surface. It’s the opposite experience of a cinematic transformation of a short story by an author such as Philip K. Dick, whose loaded microcosm mini epics have been expanded into enormously gratifying cinematic experiences — see “Minority Report.” David Mitchell’s work isn’t anywhere near as fertile as that of Philip K. Dick.

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As directors, the Wachowski siblings have fallen off the map since “The Matrix Trilogy” ended with a whimper rather than the promised bang the series seemed to indicate. “Speed Racer” (2008) was too much of a guilty pleasure for the under-ten-set. For all of the Wachowski’s innovative work on the film, “Speed Racer” registered as an embarrassment.

“Cloud Atlas” is a curiosity. Faint gestures pointing toward humanity’s powerless nature as changeable creatures emerging from the same steaming brine, hint at the sex-reassignment that Larry Wachowski — now Lana — went through.

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If indeed humanity is doomed to implode by a death of a centillion cuts — as “Cloud Atlas” indicates — then the filmmakers here have done their part to make that demise all the more dreary.

Rated R. 163 mins.

2 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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May 30, 2012

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 

Snow_white_and_the_huntsmanIn spite of its many flaws — a script that lacks a narrative center, zero chemistry between its two miscast leads, and a senseless proclivity for incongruous battle sequences — “Snow White and the Huntsman” manages to entertain.

Much of the credit for the film’s marginal success goes to Charlize Theron as the black-hearted Queen Ravenna. She eats the hearts of baby birds from the cradle of their tiny broken eggs. Theron doesn’t merely chew the scenery; she makes it levitate and shatter around her. So long as Theron is on-screen, the movie soars. When she is not, the film flags like a boat with a not-so-slow leak.

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Coming fast on the heels of Tarsem Singh’s comically oriented version of the same story, newbie director Rupert Sanders’s broodingly violent adaptation sticks in the mud as much as it glides. A more experienced director was clearly called for, considering the film’s ambitious artistic scope. Kristen Stewart carries her agape-mouthed characterization from the “Twilight” movies too much with her here. A clunky attempt at posing Stewart’s Snow White as a Joan-of-Arc-knock-off sends the movie spinning out of control in the third act. Still, the worst bit of miscasting falls on Chris Hemsworth, whose Hollywood saturation level has past its due date. Let’s just say, Hemsworth is not the next Heath Ledger that casting agents imagine him to be.

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The special effects team performs an admirable job of inventing compelling creatures and fantasy atmospheres. An especially neat trick involves shrinking down actors such as Ian McShane, Nick Frost, and Toby Jones to dwarf-size. Sadly, the script doesn’t take as much advantage of the “seven dwarves” opportunity as Tarsem Singh did for his lighthearted version.

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The film’s triad committee of screenwriters, that includes “Drive’s” Hossein Amini, clearly want to pull the Snow White fairy tale into the realm of pure horror. Blood drops on white snow present a gothic vision straight out of a Hammer Horror film of the ‘60s. Queen Ravena’s dark shenanigans spray an inky black splatter wherever she directs her attention. Nonetheless, unintentional plot devices — such as a white horse that appears on a desolate beach — jar the viewer with unintended humor. There’s a lot to appreciate, and a lot to ignore in a movie that needed a more experienced director to properly pull off.

Rated PG-13. 127 mins.

3 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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