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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!

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Writing-Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola).

“Anderson’s movies often mark out their own weirdly regressive, faintly dysfunctional space, from which the modern world has been politely excluded, and where the occupants communicate in a kind of modified, private language” (The Guardian).

“Moonrise Kingdom” is both bizarrely weird and fabulous at the same time.  Wes Anderson is well known for his unique, artistic view of the world and way of telling a story through film.  This story of two young lovebirds in a tiny island community with interesting takes on reality is no different.

Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan who has been with the island’s scout group for some time.  An outsider with pyrotechnic tendencies, he meets Suzy (Kara Hayward) at a church play and is immediately smitten.  They become pen pals and after much planning decide to “run away” and take a camping trip together.  Sam, after all, is an experienced scout.  Suzy, on the other hand, seems to know nothing about camping but quite a lot about music composition and interesting library books.

The adults are not absent.  On the contrary, they are deeply concerned for the well being of their charges.  They take a break from their own disfunctions to be preoccupied by the young couple’s and spend a good portion of the movie searching for the two, and then trying to keep them apart.  Suzy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are pretty normal, including the untoward relationship between Mrs. Bishop and Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).  Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and his troop are the most unique characters and other-worldly story line of the entire film.  As they search for the twelve-year-old love birds and try to bring them back to reality, a storm brews off shore that will turn the small community upside down.

Each scene and shot is picturesque.  I really enjoyed the cinematography.  It was like watching a photograph come to life.  The presentation itself was a bit awkward and unique, but that is typical of Anderson’s films.  It is all about the emotion and desire.  He makes the ordinary seem magical.

This film isn’t for everyone.  It’s a bit artistic and out there.  Its timing is even unique and takes pauses in awkward places.  There is a constant reminder that you are watching a film and it won’t allow you to get sucked in.  The scenes including the Scout Master and his troop are so out there that the absurdity is comical–in a good way.

If you are in the mood for an artistic film in which you suspend a bit of your own reality to watch the absurdity of this 1965 community, then I would definitely recommend this film.  If it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, definitely watch something else.

Curfew (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Curfew (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Live Action Short Subject (Shawn Christensen).
Watched July 22, 2014.

I adored this short film.  In my opinion, it is everything that a short film should be.  There is symbolism, experimental and artistic cinematography, strong story telling, solid acting, and a cohesive whole that definitely deserved to win the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Subject in 2013.

This film does not need to be longer.  It is complete in and of itself.  Sometimes full length features are left too open to sequels, as is all the rage in Hollywood.  Once you find a formula that sells, you just keep selling it.  Curfew stays out of that trap and is phenomenal on its own.  Just the opening shots scream “this is a winner.”

Richie (Shawn Christensen) is in his bathtub, clearly in the middle of committing suicide by razor blade, when his phone rings.  It is Maggie (Kim Allen), and apparently Richie is the last person she would ever call but she needs his help.  Richie gives in, cleans himself up a little, and heads out to meet his niece whom he hasn’t seen in years.  Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) is a force to be reckoned with, just like her mother.  Strong, and independent, she knows how to stick up for herself, which may be because she grew up in New York, or maybe it’s because of her mother’s example.  She thinks very little of her Uncle Richie who supposedly messed up really badly when she was little and has been cut out of their lives since.

He is a mess.  He has huge circles under his eyes, his wrists are bandaged, and a cigarette hangs from his mouth.  He takes Sophia to the only approved place (the bowling alley), where things get a little weird and people start dancing, but it actually works incredibly well with the story line and character arc.  It is night time in new york, therefore the lighting stays pretty dark, but the filmmakers use a strong contrast that works well for the film.  He forms a tentative relationship with Sophia who is slow to let down her guard, but she seems to get the measure of him pretty quickly (which is good since this is a short film).

The short uses the landscape of New York City nightlife very well.  It follows the growth of their one-night relationship and makes you root for everyone, even the mom.  Christensen wrote, directed, and acted in the piece, which surprisingly works out pretty well for him.  Honestly, Curfew is the type of piece I would have adored in my intellectual, artistic filmmaker university days, but at a level that the more consumeristic side of myself can enjoy just as much.  It is a great film.

If you have twenty minutes, or even if you don’t, this is a short I would definitely recommend that you watch.  If you have never really sat down just to watch a short film, I would suggest that you start here.  It is that good.

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.

Redemption (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Redemption (2013)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject (Jon Alpert, Matthew O’Neill).
Watched June 30, 2014.

Redemption is a unique view of life in New York.  On the very doorstep of nice homes and large buildings, condominiums and the Empire State Building itself, the impoverished of the city spend endless hours, day in and day out, collecting bottles and cans from trashcans in order to redeem them for five cents a piece.

This documentary short follows a basic premise to tell a sad story.  It follows different people, from veterans and the elderly, to immigrants and single mothers.  Some of them live on the streets and band together from a mutual need of safety.  Others live in a one room apartment with at least six other people.  Some New Yorkers help the collectors, while others turn a blind eye.

The one bedroom apartment is like a scene from hoarders.  It makes the situation more real and brings the message of the film home.  It doesn’t matter where you come from.  There is a woman who worked for Microsoft for years, but now her Social Security benefits don’t cover everything and she has to can all day, fighting with an angry and overly competitive Chinese woman who will steal your cans right from under you.  Each person has a story.

The film is very transparent.  It doesn’t seek to hide its message or motives under artistic camera work or in-studio interview footage.  It is all on the streets.  There is little to no symbolism.  It is simple.  This probably makes it more powerful, and yet from an artistic standpoint it is very blah and unimpressive.  It transitions from character to character well, and it tells their stories even better, but there is nothing else to it.  Perhaps its length limited it, but its rawness was a negative for me.

The documentary is less than half an hour long.  If the story sounds interesting to you, then I would definitely recommend it.  I am a lover of documentaries and don’t consider my time wasted by viewing it.  It did open my eyes a bit more to the poverty around us, which is probably the biggest goal of the film, and therefore it did its job.  However, in my opinion, a film should exceed the bounds of just “doing its job” in order to deserve an Oscar nomination.