Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. 3D. HFR

SYNOPSIS: Once again we journey to Middle Earth, starting at the very beginning with Bilbo Baggins reluctantly joining a ragtag bunch of dwarves who are setting out to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, conquered by the dragon Smaug many moons ago. Little does he know just where this epic adventure will lead to...

We're on a road to nowhere...

One of the things about a movie like this is, that it is pretty much 'critic proof' which kinda makes any further words I write almost redundant. I said almost! But, the kernel of truth is unavoidable, no matter what we write, people are still going to see it regardless. They either won't care - or completely avoid reading reviews of this most popular film. The audience for this film was guaranteed from more than likely, the very first Lord of the Rings movie back in 2001. Once a filmmaker creates a world that is entrancing enough, then, like most addicts, you long to drink from that well - again and again.

So what if The Hobbit is being called overlong by a few? Who cares! I for one, just love that detail. The fact that a slim book is going to be made into a 3 part movie/series/franchise? Bring it on! You have to be living under a rock in this information age if you have no idea about the intended running time beforehand. No-one has the proverbial to your head - demanding that you have to see it. Attendance is not compulsory, but gratefully accepted. If a talented filmmaker devotes years, money and imagination to recreating a make-believe world where you can lose yourself for a few hours, then why on earth would you begrudge his decision to luxuriate in that tantalising fantasy world? After all, its only a film. A pleasant diversion from the confining straitjacket of everyday life. What's not to like?

I know you're dying to ask this rather pertinent question... whats all this fuss about HFR? (High Frame Rate Since you asked)... here's my take on it. It is a technological breakthrough for the industry, but much like the over hyped 3D (Here to stay. Like it or not - it ain't disappearing anytime soon!), this fledgling new approach will take some time, money and films under its belt before it gains any degree of mass acceptance. Even then, that's not a given. after all, if it don't make too many dimes, then it will be a case of NEXT! Most films since, ooh, the beginning, have run at a leisurely 24 frames per second. All well and good for the longest time, but then as movies have become increasingly more complex, especially in the visual sense, the strain on our poor old tortured eyeballs have quite frankly made them scream ENOUGH! Upping the rate to 48 frames, director Peter Jackson was striving to create a more natural experience, unencumbered by the limitations of the past. Early tests encouraged both him and the studio footing the bills (Worried? Them? Never!) that he was heading down the right track with this innovation. Alas, many have complained about this new-fangled visual style, citing such comparisons as cheap home movies/video games/HDTV to name a few. So, having seen this film, what do I think about HDR? Converted is one word to describe it. It certainly is noticeably different enough to identify that it isn't your normal 3D movie. I can sorta see why some might feel the look is glossy, but ya know, in the context of a fantasy film about dwarves, goblins, hobbits, elves and dragons, it enriches the visual pleasures onscreen. On the plus side, my eyes didn't hurt either! Still an entertaining movie in 2D and 'normal' 3D (24 frames) by the way.

As per 'usual' Peter Jackson & his amazingly skilled workers have created another worthy addition to the Tolkienverse. The sets, costumes, props, scenery, characters are brilliantly realised, as only he could. It would have been very interesting had not conflicting schedules prevented Guillermo Del Toro from taking the reigns on this project, what unique worlds he might have conjured up? We can but fantasize about that dream opportunity forever lost I suppose. 

All the various actors are great in their respective roles but I have to single out two for special attention. Firstly, Andy Serkis is GOLLUM/SMEAGOL. Absolutely riveting. And then some. His scene with Bilbo in the cave was epic. One of the scenes of the year. Any year if I'm being honest with myself. Stunning. The CGI is evolving rapidly, the line between what looks real - and what looks fake almost becoming invisible to the naked eye. Come the end of this decade, it will be nigh on impossible to tell the difference from one to the other. The other special mention goes to Martin Freeman's perfect embodiment of Bilbo Baggins. Perfect casting Mr Jackson. It is, as always, super-critical to the success of a movie. My guess is other directors would have definitely looked hard at him as well, if they were in Jackson's shoes.

The Hobbit at this time of writing has already made $886M, just passing Fellowship on $871M. Could it gain entry to the now 'magical' club of $1B? Wouldn't bet against it at this point, but still, little ways to go precious. Longs journeys must you travel.

I leave with the most appropriate quote that I think sums up my feelings nicely. From that esteemed Tolkien scholar, Mr Robert Anthony Plant...

"Leaves are falling all around, It's time I was on my way.
Thanks to you, I'm much obliged for such a pleasant stay.
But now it's time for me to go. The autumn moon lights my way.
For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it's headed my way.
Sometimes I grow so tired, but I know I've got one thing I got to do...

Ramble On, And now's the time, the time is now, to sing my song".

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Life of Pi

Synopsis: Yann Martel's award winning novel is given the cinematic treatment by Academy Award winning director Ang Lee. It tells the spectacular story of Pi, a young Indian boy whose incredible adventure surviving against all odds on a lifeboat with only one other companion - a tiger named Richard Parker - is an amazing journey to witness.

Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty, Purr Purr Purr...

I'd be best to start this review with a confession. I am a sucker for a visually driven movie. To me one of the absolute pleasures in viewing a film on the big screen is to bathe and radiate in the glow of gob-smacking, visually dazzling imagery that just takes your breath away. The talented people creating these works of art have a massive canvas from which to entrance, entertain, and wow film fans with astonishingly inventive pieces of cinematic magic. Pi is one of the latest entries into this category for me.

What Ang has created is truly special, a film which does the book absolute justice. Author Yann Martel has also endorsed the adaptation of his beloved novel, saying that he always felt the novel was 'cinematic'. He had faith that the right (i.e. most sympathetic) person would realise his vision into something to be shared on a bigger canvas. Early on, three other directors were attached to this project. M Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Last two I'd say yep, they would do it justice (More so Jeunet). But Shyamalan? Hmmm... Given his recent past... Think I'd skip it. Having said that, the trailer for "After Earth" does herald a tentative return to form. Then again, how often have you seen the trailer, then saw the movie and tried to figure out how you could join any dots between the two ?

Putting the eye-candy aspects to one side, the story (For those like me -unacquainted with the novel prior) delves into many themes about the human condition, covering such topics as love, loss, empathy, faith, survival, perseverance, respect, spirituality, friendship, tolerance, fear to name but a few. What I love about this approach is that it means you find your very own unique interpretations of the images presented - without them being spelled out for you. Of course, this tactic will only help solidify Life of Pi's ongoing success. Long after the cinema run has finished, it's inherent charms will be constantly evident via whatever medium viewers prefer.

This wonderful movie needs to be appreciated in the best possible way - on the nearest cinema screen in your location. And if you so desire, then I can recommend the 3D version very highly. Richard Parker does seem incredibly realistic. Not 'disneyfied' by a country mile. Thankfully! Failing that, make sure you then watch it on the biggest TV screen possible. Don't watch it on a bloody aircraft though. OK! Or a teensy smartphone! There is simply no justification for committing cinematic heresy by degrading this exhilarating experience with a woefully small screen. And if you don't have one, then buy a player capable of playing back a blu-ray disc. 2nd best alternative to the preferred medium. And, that's enough ranting for one review...

Jamie's rating?

J for... Jewel

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bowie. Back. Brilliant!

THE FUSS IS THIS: Woo-hoo, here we are, wondering about just where the hell is Bowie these days, MIA for close to a decade - and like the proverbial magician, welcome back to ground control Major Dave! Great to have you with us mere mortals again. Quite frankly, we've missed you immensely.

Where indeed, are we now?

Entertain this thought if you will: possibly this long silence has not been an accident? Just maybe it was a carefully crafted exit from public life which conceivably served a vast multitude of fulfilling purposes? A much needed mental health break from the rigors of being a fulltime rock icon, time to reflect upon his significant successes during his lengthy career as a musical & fashion innovator? Maybe the creative well which he dug from so effortlessly over the years finally reached a point where it had ceased to function like it used to back in the days of old. Certainly, he navigated rocky waters in the mid eighties, a period though where many other contemporaries were also sailing the same passage of musical calms, a vast flat area from whence the light to shine on them wasn't  - nor was there any vague signs of a rescue ship within range to tow them back to ports of life. Nope, well and truly adrift, floating, drifting, existing, so far out of range from the comforts of familiarity. Inspiration is the most vital tool for a creative person. Without it, you really have only two viable options. A) Surrender to your missing muse - and do what you can. What it creates is totally up to the individual. Or, B) Take a deep breath, step back and smell the roses. Go for long walks. maybe just do normal people stuff like housework, shopping for essentials, live a relatively quiet existence as best you can.

When your ready to resume your coveted role as a creative artist with talent to burn, you appear when it jolly well suits you. Not a moment sooner. March to your drum, don't attempt to work with other beats. It was Neil Youngs 'modus operandi' for significant chunks of that decade.

After the silence, what is the noise you bring today? That would be the stunning new song titled "Where Are We Now?" (On your birthday! Nice touch. Timing is, as always, everything). One listen and I can confirm the following statement. A Masterpiece of melancholy magic, harking back to that treasured period - The "Berlin Trilogy". Haunting video btw. Rate it as great as many of yours previous vids.

Naturally, there's more to come in the shape of a long player entitled "The Next Day" (FYI, album number 30 - for those that still care about this detail)  to be released, sadly - not tomorrow (Easy tigers! One small step for Dave, one giant leap of trust for us incumbent fans!) due in - insert here 'whatever format suits you best' - a 'store' from 8th March. This year no less!

 It can't come soon enough. It will be, worth the wait. I'm sure. Pretty sure Bowies sure as well. Your sure as well - right ???

It aint easy being you, but its hunky dory for us to have you back again, doing what you do best.

Creating magic. 

Click on the link below for more Bowie - from the 'horses mouth' no less...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Parental Guidance

Synopsis: It's all on in old vs new, traditional vs new age, as Artie & Diane find out how parenting is so different now compared to when they were bringing up a family many many years ago. After hastily agreeing to mind their 3 grandchildren whilst daughter Alice attends a conference with husband Phil, they soon learn the hard way how times have radically changed when it comes to dealing with kids these days!

So, Billy, here's the pitch... Our careers are not what they used to be, we're getting near retirement. The moneys good... How bad can it be ???

I'll be honest, when I first knew I had to write a review of this film, my initial thought was this: The temptation to be very frank about it's obvious shortcomings (In my eyes) was er, very tempting!  Or, maybe I should be more restrained? Shy away from being too negative and focus on the good aspects of this movie? Hmmm. And double hmmm. The dilemma of it all. Perhaps the best overall indications came from those in my audience who chuckled pretty heartily all the way through. More than a few were amused with the various antics and scenarios offered onscreen. Workmate 1 (Married with children) found it funny, workmate 2 (Single young guy) wasn't quite as charitable - but conceded how those with kids would be more predisposed to this kinda fare!

Although the first time pairing of Bette Midler & Billy Crystal is surprising in that it has taken this long to get them onscreen together, the chemistry is obvious between them. Mores the pity then, that they didn't do this earlier in their careers when they could have been more risque with this slight material. Twenty to thirty years ago, they would have injected much more earthy types of humour for which both were famed for prior to where they are now. Working with what they have in front of them, they try their best to inject as much personality as they can into making the characters alive, and funny. They do try hard, I'll grant them that. You do warm to the obnoxious little bratty 3 kids by the end of the movie, but lately, I've seen much better child actors in TV series than on the big screen. It's hard to critique Marisa Tomei & Tom Everett-Scott due to the fact they are really not in this movie, both barely registering any tangible presence at all. Hope the pay was acceptable guys, 'cause you clearly didn't do this gig for the $$$!!! (although you can put on your CV's: worked with Billy Crystal & Bette Midler. In the same movie! Woo-hoo! Er, no. No no no no NO!). Not the smartest move, but hey - Hollywood has plenty of other similar stories.

If you're a family person looking for easy-going, family orientated humour, that is not in the least offensive, something you can take both the grandparents & pre-teens along together, then Parental Guidance will provide you with 104 minutes of undemanding viewing. In this day and age, that's a rare thing indeed.

Kids. They ain't what they use to be like!

Jamie's rating?

J for... Job! ( I have to be fair, I compared Parental Guidance to other similar movies and it stands up ok. Can't compare it to a critically acclaimed title because it never pretends to be anything else but a good clean family comedy that will entertain some of you. The rest of you can read between my lines!)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Synopsis: With the levee about to break, Hushpuppy is confronted with the immediate reality of her situation - how best to help her alcoholic dad deal with the looming disaster that will reek havoc on their already fragile existence on the edges of the marshland they call home.

For Whom the Belle Tolls...
This entrancing movie has one big selling point. The astounding performance of newcomer Quvenzhan√© Wallis (pronounced "kwa van je nay") is a revelation that brings a tear to even the most jaded of eyes. For a young girl (5 when she auditioned, 6 when it was made, 8 at time of writing), her seemingly effortless ability to display maturity & wisdom well beyond her young age is, quite frankly, outstanding. As I've mentioned many a time in other reviews (It is fundamentally pertinent in respect to this film), if you get the casting right - the film has a substantial foundation to build upon. I've read that director Benh Zeitlin searched long and very hard for the right actress to play the role of Hushpuppy. He auditioned up to about 4000! different young people who he thought could do justice to the character. Young Ms Wallis initially came along with elder sister as a lark, not intending to audition. The rest, as they say, is history. But, what set her apart from all the other young hopeful's? What 'X-factor' did she bring to her audition that made her click with the producers? Unless we ever get to see 3999 other screen tests (We wont. Thankfully! Who'd want that task?), we'll never know. What we do know is that this is a young lady with potential for future greatness in the industry - should she choose it.

Beasts' story is centered upon Hushpuppy's gradual realization that she needs to rely on instincts - and retreat into the chambers of her fertile imagination to deal with the increasing awareness that all the adults around her are falling to pieces - specifically her alcoholic father (Another 'first-timer like Ms Wallis. Another natural as well!). Couple this backdrop with his inability to face his rapidly changing situation which is the fast approaching encroachment of his personal sanctuary by mother nature (Via the storms heading for the small barely held together ramshackle community of tortured souls who steadfastly refuse to heed the warnings of the dangers headed their way). Add some rampaging Aurochs rampaging their way due to global warming - melting icecaps sending them via Louisiana - and well, you have a tale like nothing else you've seen before. Although the fantasy-like elements of the story may put some of you off, it only adds to the inherent charm of this fable.

The only caveat to this film (For some people - understandably) is the use of a hand-held camera - for the duration of the running time. For me, it added to the story- rather than detracting from it. In fact, much of the charm would be lost if a conventional set-up was used.

Winner of the Grand Jury and Cinematography Awards at Sundance, Beasts also took the Camera d’Or for Best First Film at Cannes in May. It unquestionably, without reservation, absolutely deserved those merits

This visionary film is one that has no direct precedent - it is simply, in a class all of its own...

Jamie's rating?

J for... Jewel!