The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit -  An Unexpected JourneyThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Release Date: December 14, 2012

Director: Peter Jackson

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Runtime: 169 min

Tagline: From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends

A curious Hobbit of The Shire, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is confronted by the magnificent wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who wonders if Bilbo would enjoy going on a great adventure. The quest is to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Bilbo soon joins Gandalf and thirteen dwarves, led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Amitage). They must gander through Middle Earth, fighting the likes of Goblins, Orks, and many other creatures. Their mission is to get to the East where the Lonely Mountain is, but the Goblins and Orks are close on their tail. Bilbo learns how to muster up enough courage that he didn’t even know he had, with a little help from the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis).

Mostly everyone knows that Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is a fairly innovative director. This time, he shows his innovative side by being the first person to film using 48 frames per second (f.p.s.). While it is an admirable experiment, it is mostly a needless one. The visuals have the tendency to get very distracting, even though the screen is very clear. However, the visuals are nonetheless beautiful and usually not that bothersome as other critics might say. It might deserve a second watch in a 2D regular 24 f.p.s. screening.

Everyone also knows that his features are usually lengthy (like The LOTR Trilogy, or his remake [more like new film altogether] of King Kong). He gives us another awesome, but long, adventure back to Middle Earth. He writes it with help from three other writers, including the also legendary Guillermo del Toro (writer/director of Pan’s Labyrinth) and it is adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. All the writers express that they are not afraid to insert some silliness and foolishness into a great Middle Earth fantasy story. However, they insert some jokes so relentlessly, that you may forget that any of the story is intended to be serious. Usually, though, it isn’t bad – and you just can’t help but laugh and have a good time. Especially when the great Gollum shows up. There’s an exuberant amount of comedic dialogue inserted in that specific riddle scene shared between Gollum and Bilbo, but it also makes for one of the greatest scenes in the film. This time around, some of the more talky scenes are the best; while the action sequences are simply visually stunning and intense, but the material we’ve seen before outweighs the new and fresh content.

I am unsure of how faitful the writing is to its source material, but the fun that the cast and writers had making the film is definitely present. The writing is very smart; and the introduction of Old Bilbo putting his journey into writing for Frodo is a perfect touch for any fan of the adventures of Middle Earth. The antagonists (like the Pale Ork or the nasty looking Great Goblin) are also fine and the backstories for some characters and the plot lines are great.

There is never a dull moment in this feature, but there are some scenes that could have been so not over-the-top. When Bilbo, Gandalf, and company, visit the land of Rivendell, the introduction of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is just too over-dramatic. Sure, she’s beautiful as anything, but it didn’t have to be over-done like that. Also, when Saruman (Christopher Lee) does his brief cameo, the audience (those who have seen Lord of the Rings) will feel a certain loathing because we know what this character will do in sixty years. Often enough, the problem with prequels is we know some good characters will turn evil (like Saruman) or we know some will survive. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LORD OF THE RINGS Like we do with Bilbo and Gandalf. END OF SPOILERS. It may take away from the suspense, but it’s all about knowing how they survive. The reappearance of certain characters (like Galadriel, Elrond, Gollum, Frodo) will be a treat for any fan of Tolkien’s magnificent universe. However, it’s a little difficult to get emotionally-invested with the new characters like we did the first time we saw the older characters.

There are just too many dwarves to keep an eye on. Thorin Oakenshield, the leader; Ori, the one with the slingshot; Balin, the charming elderly one; and Bombur, the chubby eater, are the ones that really stand out. If any dwarves decease, the viewer may feel sad for a minute, but it’ll soon wear off because there are many others. All share the same traits, and it feels as if the writers took traits from Gimli and Legolas (some dwarves are archers) and lent them to the new dwarves. The majority feel, unfortunately, expendable. They are just a little too alike, or don’t say much. Bilbo is both a new character, and an old one. Those who have seen Lord of the Rings are familiar with the older version of him. Now, we are introduced to the young Bilbo, before he learned all the life lessons or even left The Shire. He is great, and the fact we get to watch him grow is a scrumptious treat. Martin Freeman is the perfect actor to play him, as is the casting of the dwarves.

The first installment of a new Middle Earth trilogy is much like The Fellowship of the Ring; not a lot happens. They only complete a small amount of the journey, and upcoming antagonists and ones that are going to appear again in the series are established. However, please don’t forget that the story will all come together in the end of the trilogy. For what it is, it is a great experience, and there are enough action scenes to probably keep you satisfied. Though, some of those said action scenes are a little familiar. Am I complaining, though? Not particularly, because it’s still fun.

As a stand-alone feature, this is an awesome adventure-fantasy film. Compared to the likes of The Lord of the Rings, it is simply satisfying and usually visually stunning. Some of it is familiar, the visuals are distracting, and the dwarves are a little too alike. However, there is never a dull moment – even when one moment is over-dramatic. The cinematography, the visuals, the writing and the performances are stellar. The silliness is very enjoyable, especially the scene shared between Bilbo and Gollum (and Precious, of course). Simply put, this is the beginnings of a fine, new Middle Earth trilogy.

75/100

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Bernie (2012)

Bernie

Release Date: May 4, 2012

Director: Richard Linklater

Stars: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

Runtime: 104 min

Tagline: A story so unbelievable it must be true.

  Oscar nominated writer (Before Sunset) and director Richard Linklater, known for directing such comedies as Dazed and Confused and School of Rock; and such dramas as Before Sunset and Me and Orson Welles. Now, he’s back in the directing chair after a three-year hiatus and back in the writing chair after five years, with this clever dark comedy.

 Meet Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) the nicest [closet] killer you’ll ever know. Bernie’s the local funeral director in a small town in Texas, called Carthage. He’s the nicest guy around town, as he has a great ability to make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world. He’s the best at what he does, he has a magnificent singing voice, and is just about the biggest legend around town. After Bernie strikes up an unusual relationship with the town female Scrooge and recent widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), and changes her for the better, for a short time. When she turns even bitter to even Bernie; he reaches a breaking point and must put on a whole charade, hilariously, to hide his dark secret from the whole town.

It’s a well-made little comedic docudrama that had me laughing at all the comments of Bernie from the townspeople. I liked the way it was made, it’s a little low-key and the documentary-style of it made it a fairly unique viewing experience.

Before this, Jack Black’s best work was in School of Rock (a project also with Linklater), for his great comedic timing – but Black has proved himself as a great drama actor too; even though this film combines all elements of comedy, drama and crime. The great acting he brings to this film though, is even better than his work in King Kong.

Jack Black is equal parts funny and dramatic. Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine also bring solid acting jobs here. MacLaine’s character isn’t overly hysterical, she does a great job at playing this overly cold woman. McConaughey does get a few laughs here as the District Attorney Danny Buck. The people who get the most laughs are the locals offering some insight and commentary to the situations in the film.

The whole true story of it all is the most interesting aspect of the flick, but it really all is pretty bizarre (making the tagline [A story so unbelievable it must be true] a very accurate statement). It’s funny in the worst of situations, and that is one thing that is admirable about it. Some of it feels quite dragged out, and the morals of it are all a little twisted. You definitely don’t want Bernie going to jail, because he’s just so likeable. It’s one of those films where the main protagonist is a criminal, and then MacLaine’s character and McConaughey’s are the antagonists.

Bernie is a film that may not be for everyone, but is definitely an interesting experience. It’s a pretty controversial (because you may relate to the criminal) witty dark comedy that offers low-key crime entertainment and pretty solid performances by the three main stars.

80/100

August 28 Birthdays

There’s a few celebrity birthdays today: Jack Black (43), David Fincher (50), Sarah Roemer (28), Jennifer Coolidge (51) and Daniel Stern (55).

Jack Black

This comedy actor just turned 43 today. He’s been in School of RockTenacious D in the Pick of DestinyTropic ThunderNacho Libre, and he’s been the voice talents for Shark TaleKung Fu Panda, and in Ice Age; he’s also a pretty good dramatic actor, showing those abilities especially in King Kong. I haven’t seen Bernie just yet, but I heard he was pretty good in that. I like this guy’s funny antics and his ability to be a pretty good drama actor as well as a silly one.

David Fincher

This guy right here’s one of my favourite directors. A lot of his films are just so pleasantly dark and I like the atmosphere of them. When I collected films and didn’t really pay attention to directors, I found out that I really liked this guy’s movies as I had most of them. The only flick of his I don’t have is Alien 3. And the only films of his I haven’t seen is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Alien 3.  A good director to me is when they really bring a signature atmosphere and also when I have a really difficult time picking my favourite by them. His other films include Seven (a.k.a. Se7en)The GameFight ClubPanic Room, ZodiacThe Social Network and the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

 Well, there isn’t a lot to say about this one. She’s a pretty face, who’s a pretty good actress, who just turned 28. I’ve only seen her on a few things, being the TV show The Event, and the films Disturbia and Fired Up!

           Jennifer Coolidge

This picture doesn’t do her a lot of justice, but I didn’t feel like finding another. She’s best known as Stifler’s Mom in the American Pie (original cast) films; and she’s also known as the wicked step mother in that Hilary Duff flick, A Cinderella Story.

Daniel Stern

 This guy’s best known as the idiotic burglar, Marv, in the first two Home Alone films. That’s really all I want to say about him.