3 Stars

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 3 awards.
Nominated for Best Sound Editing (Brent Burge, Chris Ward), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson), and Best Visual Effects (David Clayton, Eric Reynolds, Eric Saindon, Joe Letteri).
Watched December 17, 2014.

 

In case you missed my review of the first Hobbit film, check it out here.  I would like to reiterate something that I emphasized last time.

“One of the great contrasts in story between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is at their core, their morality and grand stories are very different.  The Lord of the Rings largely explored good versus evil and how the worst evil can poison even the best of us.  The Hobbit explores lust and the unexplainable want of the wealthy to retain and maintain what they consider theirs, even if they never actually used it.  These moral explanations are overly simplified at best, but at their very core, that is what they are.  Perhaps The Hobbit‘s morality is less obvious or creates less of an impact.  This, combined with the more adventurous, lighthearted story as well as the long-winded three-part film idea, leaves critics disappointed.  In The Lord of the Rings, the good versus evil was obvious, the quest was epic, the seriousness and adult story telling nature created a complex world that will captivate for generations.  Although The Hobbit is first and foremost a children’s book, this reality is lost on many viewers and critics alike.”

After having seen all three films now, I’m disappointed in the added story telling employed to beef up the plot line to fill three release dates.  For the most part Peter Jackson and his exceedingly talented team captured the essence of The Hobbit and Middle Earth very well, but really should have pulled back into at most two films and allowed the children’s book to speak for itself.

The second film is good.  Not Lord of the Rings good, or new Star Trek good, but good.  It’s the middle of the road and leaves questions unanswered.  This is typically the drawback of splitting books into multiple films, or just series in general.  There are always loose ends.  My biggest disappointment was probably the title of the film in relation to the actual plot, but I won’t say much more than that in case I spoil something for those of you who don’t know the storyline yet.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and crew are back at it.  He, the dwarves, and Gandalf have escaped the Misty Mountains, the goblins, and Gollum to find themselves in need of help.  They stop at Beorn’s (who happens to be a shape shifter), rest up, and then head off for the dangerous Mirkwood Forest.  They encounter giant spiders and unimpressed elves, including our favorite Legloas (Orlando Bloom) and the invented Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), whom Kili (Aidan Turner), the surprisingly un-dwarf-like dwarf kindles an unconventional relationship with.  After many adventures and hardships, they make their way to Lake Town, where they meet Bard (Luke Evans–who looks remarkably like Orlando Bloom).  He turns out to be pretty important, and despite helping the dwarves get into the town safely, he isn’t always on their side.

In the end, Thorin (Richard Armitage) works his magic and wins over the town and its Master (Stephen Fry), who arm them, feed them, cloth them, and then send them to the mountain to meet the dragon whom the young folk don’t really believe in anyways, so long has he been hidden away with his great wealth.  It has now come time that Bilbo does was he was hired for, and that is to burglar.  By this point, the dwarves have become quite fond of him, but their close proximity to the Lonely Mountain kind of distracts them and puts Bilbo in a bit of a spot.  We’ll see more of that in the third film, however.

For the most part, there aren’t a lot of complaints I can make about the technicality of this film.  It is all exquisite, from the special effects down to the costuming and make-up.  These days our filmmakers like using special effects instead of make up and animatronics, which detracts from the reality of the film somewhat, but then again, they’re in Middle Earth.  Things are a little different there.  The music is epic, the scenery is, well, New Zealand so it’s beautiful.  The elves get a good amount of screen time, and although a lot of it is added from the additional story, it’s pretty bad-ass.  I love Evangeline Lily and think she makes an excellent elf, but I don’t think they should have added her story line at all.  Its benefits are that it shows a different dimension to Legolas that we haven’t seen before, and we as obvious Lord of the Rings fans get to spend more time with an already loved character, but for the most part Tauriel is unnecessary fluff to add screen time.

A good portion of the film is devoted to Bilbo and Smaug, who have a lengthy conversation towards the end.  Like his game of riddles with Gollum in the first film, book enthusiasts should like how much content the filmmakers use here.  It isn’t on the same level as the Gollum interaction, perhaps because we didn’t know Smaug before this film/book, but at least Benedict Cumberbatch voices him.

If there is anything you have to realize as the audience it is that this is not going to be Lord of the Rings.  It is a completely different beast unto itself that has the unfortunate big brother constantly hanging over it.  There is too much content, too much expected of it, and it doesn’t deliver precisely what we want to come out of Middle Earth.  Thorin is dramatic, Legolas does his classic eye acting, and Bilbo faints on occasion.  Kili is the boy band dwarf who doesn’t look like a dwarf who falls in love with an elf and somehow she falls back.  There will always be too much added story for the films to be what the Lord of the Rings series became.  Even without the book as reference, there is too much going on to make The Hobbit a great success.

I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, but I’ll own it and watch it over and over again.  If you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to discourage you.  Something from Peter Jackson and Middle Earth is probably better than a lot of the films out there these days, and its nominations are well deserved.  Share your opinions with me, whether they are the same or different.  I would love to hear what you think of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug!

The Croods (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Croods (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film (Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco, Kristine Belson).
Watched August 28, 2014.

If I could suggest one thing when viewing “The Croods,” it would be to not read too much into the plot and characters and just enjoy the story for what it is.  A pre-historic cave family has their home destroyed and must set out across the unknown in search of safety and a new cave.  With the help of a slightly unwanted stranger, they discover what it is to embrace change and to face adversity together as a family, even if your family is stupid.

That synopsis might not sound too bad until you get into the grit of things.  Grug (Nicolas Cage) is the father, and he is fiercely opposed to any kind of change or outside thinking.  When his daughter Eep (Emma Stone) tests the limits and then meets an outsider named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who is also an inventor, he does what any typical dad would do and tries to lock her in the cave.  When their home gets destroyed, everything changes and Grug reluctantly follows Guy and Eep, along with his wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), crazy Gran (Cloris Leachman), son Thunk (Clark Duke), and little one Sandy (Randy Thorn) across the unknown.  They face perilous adventures with wacky creatures and explore lands full of vivid colors.  Grug is obstinate the entire way and refuses to accept a new way of thinking.

This is where things could get weird.  The parent is refusing to see another point of view and won’t listen to his teenager.  On the other hand, the teenager thinks she knows best and is drooling over a boy.  The boy seems like the most level headed character, even though he has a sloth for a belt and he invents things like fire.  He is all about progress and moving forward and sees little value in tradition.  The dad is stuck in his ways and resists change to a fault.  He apparently doesn’t use his brain, according to the film.  The black and white representations of opposing sides of society could be that, or just a typical plot point in a children’s film.  You make the judgement call.

The story telling is predictable, albeit entertaining and funny.  There are some basic plot points, although surprisingly both parents last at least the majority of the film, whereas most films for kids feature a dead parent.  The kids have to go through some great emotional turmoil to make them understand the value of family, even when they’re being stupid, and nature continues to beat the cave people into submission.

I feel like this review came off more negative than I intended.  Like I said, the colors are fabulous, the film is entertaining and funny, and I enjoyed the animation.  I don’t know how quickly I would watch the film again because, let’s face it, it’s no Shrek, but it wasn’t the worst film of 2013, that’s for sure.

If none of the things I mentioned above bother you, and especially if you have kids, then I would recommend that you see “The Croods!”

Mirror Mirror (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Mirror Mirror (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Costume Design (Eiko Ishioka).
Watched June 23, 2014.

Lately a lot of fairytale remakes have been surfacing.  The summer of 2012 saw two different takes on Snow White.  Snow White and the Huntsman took a darker approach with impressive special effects and love triangles.  Mirror Mirror is a comedy first, excellent display of costuming second, and pretty okay movie all around.  It was a corny, good kid friendly movie and my inner child really enjoyed it.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of Snow White, know that the film follows the basic plot line with some stabs at originality.  The Queen (Julia Roberts) married the King (Sean Bean), who promptly disappears, leaving behind his beautiful daughter named Snow White (Lily Collins) who is abused by the jealous, youth obsessed Queen.  She meets a Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) but is chased from the kingdom by the Queen who wants her dead.  She comes upon seven dwarves, who are not named things like Grumpy, Dopey, and Doc in this version, and joins them after some resistance on their part.

There are other unique aspects of the film, but the biggest is the comedy.  There is a cute, although fairly childish bit in which the Queen accidentally switches a love potion with a puppy love potion and the Prince’s affections for her become something other than what she wished for.  The dwarves are also outcasts who enjoy robbing people instead of mining and Snow White learns some moves while she stays with them.

The costumes are clearly a highlight of the film.  Both original and mostly colorful, I really enjoyed their unique flavor.  The whole film seeks to add new spins on a classic story.  The dark forrest, the village of the kingdom, the court life, everything in-between has an unrealistic quality that adds to the charm of the storyline.  To be quite honest, the film isn’t a knock-out artistically, or even technically, but it was certainly entertaining and fun.

Roberts is definitely a standout as the Queen.  Her brand of crazy is more comical and magical.  She undergoes ridiculous beauty treatments and her “mirror on the wall” is certainly depicted differently than one might expect.  The romance is sappy, the plot is predictable, and the roles seem less than challenging, but as a whole the fun and colors won me over and Mirror Mirror is probably going to become one of my guilty pleasures.

I would definitely recommend this film if you have kids or if you are a Julia Roberts fan.  I had no desire to see the film from the marketing, but upon seeing it I truly enjoyed it.  If you have the time, it might be worth a watch if you can stomach the cutesy execution.

The Sessions (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Sessions (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Helen Hunt).
Watched May 6, 2014.

“A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest” (IMDB).

Well if that concise synopsis isn’t enough to at least pique your interest, I don’t know what is!  This idea and plot line could have gotten very heavy very quickly, but instead the writers and director did an excellent job of keeping the story on point and moving.  I wasn’t expecting to like the subject matter… at all.  Instead I found it kind of beautiful, in a weird sort of way.

Mark (John Hawkes) is a writer and a devout catholic.  More than that, he was crippled in childhood from polio and has had to spend a significant amount of his life in an iron lung.  He has feeling all over his body but cannot control his muscles.  He can only move his neck a little bit.  He lives alone but has multiple caretakers, and while living to be 38 is something of an accomplishment, he feels very unfulfilled because he has never had sex.  He finds an unlikely and very accepting confidant in a priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), who is torn between his convictions and the reasonable arguments that Mark puts forward.

After seeing a therapist, Mark is referred to a sex “surrogate” named Cheryl (Helen Hunt).  Their sessions are a big focus of the film, and while it is certainly rated R and Hunt is nude for most of those sessions, her very straight forward and yet learned dialogue sort of distracts the audience.  She will only see Mark for six sessions, no more, and as they begin she is surprisingly clinical.  The brilliance of this film is its specificity.  Cheryl and Mark are both very vocal about everything that is happening.  Father Brendan is a somewhat comedic relief that represents the part of the audience that is thinking, “this is bizarre and yet I get it.”  Mark’s aids are extremely supportive and defensive of him, and as the story moves along, we begin to see the positive effect that he has had on the women in his life because they have learned to love unconditionally a man who, by all means has every excuse to roll over and hate his life, but instead he fights back for what he finds most important, and that is the love of a woman.

The story is definitely unique, and while I would not necessarily watch it all of the time, I found the experience strangely rewarding.  It isn’t about the nudity–it is about Mark and his approach to life.  The performances of both Hawkes and Hunt are magnificent and demanding.  They treat their characters seriously and with respect–so much so that they embody them fully.  I didn’t expect to find the story touching, but I really did.  While its cinematography, editing, production design, and other aspects were all right and somewhat average, I like that The Academy recognized the film (and Hunt) in this small way.

Hawkes’ role was incredibly demanding.  Physically, but especially emotionally, he rules the film with his performance.  He has a self deprecating humor that shadows his deeper and more conflicting emotions that Hunt’s character Cheryl pulls out of him (through dialogue, mostly).  He is very bare in his emotions, while Hunt is bare physically and much less emotionally.  She has an extremely professional manner, but we get to see a little of her vulnerability in her home life where she has a family.

I don’t recommend the film to everyone.  I think one needs to approach it with an open mind, although even with a closed mind one might still enjoy it.

War Witch (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

War Witch (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Canada, Kim Nguyen).
Watched April 21, 2014.

This year’s thought provoking war film comes from Canada, but they leave their polite compassion at the door in bringing War Witch to the screen.

 

Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is a young African girl whose small village is attacked by the rebel army.  She is forced to kill her parents and then follow the rest of the kids she has grown up with into a war of the jungle.  They are handed heavy assault rifles and drink “magic milk” (which is probably high in alcohol content, among other things) before going to fight.  When Komona sees what she calls ghosts who communicate the hidden location of those they are fighting against, her leaders take notice and she is promoted to the status of War Witch.  This is less of a privilege and more of a very precarious position–war witches don’t last long.  Their job is to keep their group safe so that they win.

 

Back at camp, the girls are sexualized objects among the men.  Knowing this, the Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), an albino who creates talismans, has fallen in love with the leader’s War Witch and after drinking the magic milk, he convinces her to run away with him and get married.  She tells him what her father always said–that if he wants to marry her he has to bring her a white rooster, which according the film is incredibly rare and hard to find.  They hide out at Magicien’s uncle’s house, and in perhaps an interesting twist, the uncle’s name is The Butcher (Ralph Prosper) and he is the kindest character in the film.

 

Not willing to lose his War Witch, the Grand Tigre Royal (Mizinga Mwinga) who leads the rebel army, comes after her.  It is not long after that Komona finds herself pregnant and still haunted by ghosts–specifically the ghosts of her dead parents.  In an attempt to finally put the ghosts to rest, Komona must do something drastic for both herself and her baby.

 

The film is not just about the reality behind child soldiers in Africa, but it is more deeply about family and loneliness.  In a very powerful scene, Komona gives birth alone, at the side of a river, and rises above it.  She shows strength beyond her fourteen years, but that is because the loss of her family and her circumstances have forced her to grow up too quickly.  She shoulders more burdens than even the men who would claim her, and yet she still comes out on top.  Her parents, as is evidenced very clearly, are always with her and she carries that guilt every day.  She knows she could die any day, but she is not willing to stop fighting for herself and for her family.

 

Despite the content, the filming style is very still for most of the film.  It shows Komona’s world in a very frank, matter of fact way.  It becomes chaotic when they consume the magic milk, but otherwise we become accustomed to small people caring big guns and fighting for their lives.  We get to see a glimpse into the horror of child soldiers kidnapped from their homes, but we also see the hope and the love that others are still willing to offer despite what human beings are capable of doing to one another.

 

War Witch was not my favorite film.  It is surprisingly slow, despite having a phenomenal story.  It is about Komona and her experiences and we see very little of what the other kids experience.  In that way, the story was very narrow, but that is perhaps because so much happens to her that other side stories would become too heavy for the narrative.  I got a little bored while watching it, but I found the ghosts property creepy, I bit my nails a lot, and was stunned when Komona gave birth to a healthy baby at the side of a river and then continued to paddle down stream like nothing had even happened.  I can’t really place my finger on what I disliked.  It was slow, and quiet, and perhaps too calm for what was happening.

 

It is an intense film, and for that reason I do not recommend it for everyone.  If my review, or the trailer piques your interest, then by all means you should see the film.