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Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Hobbit

The Hobbit

Synopsis

The first part of a trilogy from Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings.  Bilbo Baggins entertains dwarves and travels with them and Gandalf.  The dwarves want their Kingdom back.  Bilbo comes along because he can steal.  There is a dragon, it’s name is Smoug.  They meet giant trolls, then the Brown Wizard who helps them when Orcs attack.  They have adventures in the Orc cave, elves help them, Bilbo encounters Gollum.  More fights with Orcs…

Criticism

Critics have complained that Jackson’s Hobbit is too long but this, I think, misses the point.  The forest is a place you can linger in whether or not you are a fan. Furthermore making three films from a much shorter book than Lord of the Rings might seem like using a pile driver to crack an egg, but I don’t agree, why can’t Jackson expand the original story which is hardly great literature in the first place.  This is as much Jackson’s film as Tolkein’s story.  Admittedly the dwarves’ party at Bilbo’s house does last too long but generally The Hobbit goes along at quite a pace.  The trolls are disgusting giants, there’s nothing antiseptic about this world, for all the ‘Dingley Dell’ cutesiness of the language.  I bet such giants would stink terribly.  Bilbo is played by Martin Freeman who is quite down to earth and likeable, which is a relief after those google eyed midgets from The Lord of the Rings.  Ian McKellan is a wizard for all seasons and anchors the film with his good acting.  He is like Bilbo’s father and he is his mentor, effortlessly assuming these roles.  The dwarves themselves are the usual prosthetic midgets with too much beard and anger issues.  The ‘Tolkein Scary Appearance Award’ must go to the Orcs who hound Bilbo and the dwarves.  The big King of the underground has a huge goitre and the Orc leader who chases them has a creepily detailed face.  The Orcs in Hobbit look more individualized than those of Lord of the Rings with their indistinguishably dripping wax masks.

There is general agreement that the star of The Hobbit is Gollum, played by Andy Serkis.  It’s truly entertaining to watch the latexed lemur facial expressions.  He crawls around like a white tanned anorexic in a squirming snivel, compensating for deviousness with pantomimic wit that usually runs rings (pun intended) around hobbits.  The Brown Wizard is covered in birdshit and looks like a fairytale maniac as he drives around on a sled drawn by rabbits.  We had a lot of running  around in Lord of the Rings and we got the same here, but the forest scenes are quite impressive, dense with fantasy.  The elves are a bit of a joke, they’re so pompously dignified you hope a dwarf will chuck rotten fruit at them.  Cate Blanchett looks like a fashion statement on tranquilizers, her sonorous intonations can be unintentionally funny.  It’s nice to see Christopher Lee upsetting the elfish pieties at the council table, no doubt preparing for his future as a bad guy.  The elvish Kingdom is all pre-Raphaelite spectacle.  This film is good fun.

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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Synopsis

From the Dickens story about the coming into fortune of Pip a blacksmith’s apprentice, Magwitch his benefactor, and Estella the love of his life.

Criticism

The film with all others must be compared is David Lean’s 1946 Great Expectations.  That film is in black and white and is threaded with exciting cliff hangers and is reputed to capture Dicken’s spirit;  after all his novels were initially serialised and illustrated in newspapers.  The Lean film is exhuberant and unconcerned with the perils of editing.  This latest film follows on from last year’s BBC adaptation of Great Expectations which starred Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham.  In this film Miss Haversham is played by Helena Bonham Carter who looks like she’s auditioning for an old rock music video.  I’m not sure that Helena Bonham Carter’s twitchiness is apt for this role.  There is great story in Haversham’s ritual of grief and revenge, here we just get a film set trying to approximate to our conventional imaginings from the book, there’s no attempt to get beyond the almost pantomimic familiarities.  She looks like she’s gurning for one of her partner’s films, let’s say Tim Burton’s “The Mad Bride”.

Pip himself is a snob, the fact that it’s easy to understand his social climbing nastiness does not mitigate the offence.  John Mills in the Lean film allows Pip a certain redemption, his gentlemanly conscience subsequently bothers him as he later treats Joe Gargery properly whereas Jeremy Irvine as Pip merely changes his attitude to Gargery because changed circumstances compel a minimal decency.

This latest Great Expectations is populated with actors who try to outdo each other in Victorian weirdness, which is more frenetic than imaginative. Estella also goes through the well worn routines we know from other adaptations, it’s as if she is merely trying to get a bit ahead of us reading the lines for her.  Robbie Coltrane plays Jaggers the lawyer, his lawyer’s office has none of the dense weirdness that Lean’s black and white film showed us.  Minor characters seem to have more freedom than in previous versions.  Sally Hawkins relishes playing the brutalized termagant trapped with the simple Gargery, she lashes out in quotidian frustration (admittedly this is not a demanding role). Jason Flemyng  as Joe Gargery is a bit more complicated than the holy fool played by Leans’ Bernard Miles, he rejects Jagger’s offer of payment for Pip with wounded pride.

The famous graveyard scene in Lean’s film is impossible to beat, the wind bleakly dramatizes the black and whites as Pip gets into a Wordsworthian terror about the surroundings marshlands.  It reminds me of that scene in The Prelude when young Wordsworth steals a boat and his guilt becomes a threatening mountain.  In this latest film this scene looks like museum workers dressing up for a picnic.

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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in All-time favourites, Film Reviews

 

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Synopsis

Set in the bayou of Louisiana at the time of a flood (like Katrina?).  It’s about a small girl, Hushpuppy, who lives with her father Wink and their life in this region known as the “Bathtub”.  Their house is cast adrift in a storm, then they are taken in by social services, then they escape back to the swamp.  Hushpuppy has been taught by ecologically aware teachers and she shares their mystical attitude to nature.  She meets partygoers on a ship…

Criticism

This is quite an art house film and as such it smugly flaunts its offbeat credentials.  Hushpuppy is a partygoer on a modern Noah’s Ark they’ve made of their floating house.  In one scene we see its roof porcupined with planks so it looks like a Maurice Sendak lodge (Where the Wild Things Are).  Some of the scenes on the water seem timeless, it wants to be prehistoric or post-apocalyptic (reminders of J.G.Ballard’s Doomed World), so this ‘atemporality’ appears to give the images a mythic quality but it’s really very much of the present time.  It pretentiously punts away from an industrial reality it is parasitic upon.  I was also reminded a bit of Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast, but without that film’s wit or humour.  We’re supposed to be awestruck by this precocious kid (six years old) and we’re meant to think the actors are inspired amateurs adrift in an innocent artiness.  The film wants us to share Hushpuppy’s sense of wonder at the oddities of the surrounding adult world.  Social service workers are treated as insolent intruders on this world, they are given no credit for trying to help so I think the film sides with Hushpuppy and her pals.  Her father clearly needs medical attention, he has some sort of blood disease.  Hushpuppy has a cutesily animistic scene with her mother’s spirit, so we know she’s ever so sensitive.  At the start of the film Hushpuppy and her classmates are told about extinct aurochs cattle and later we see giant wart hogs that are supposed to be like those creatures and this is magical realism, very arty my dear.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is in love with its quirkiness which masquerades as originality of vision.  It too easily sentimentalizes the child’s lack of self consciousness, a sort of primitive performance art.  The Cajun music and shots of southern colourfulness are like UN promo films, a contrivance that wants to be poetic but is a capricious farrago of visions.  We’re used to films set in deep south being ‘exotic’ (featuring inbreeding, alcoholism and suspicious rednecks), all that’s missing is the magnolia and the pet iguana.  An overblown, self important film.

 
 

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