Tuesday, January 15, 2013

“The Hobbit” is Fun


Three and a half stars

Some people are accusing director Peter Jackson of cashing in on “Lord of the Rings”, and yes, I understand, you might roll your eyes at I-HOP’s Hobbit breakfast menu, or the fact that he took a 300 page children’s novel and turned it into three films. Even as I watched, a part of me kept saying, couldn’t he have done this all in one film? It does run for two hours and forty six minutes. So, yes, he is milking Lord of the Rings a bit. However, I really enjoyed Peter Jackson’s film, and it didn’t feel like three hours. It moves along really nicely. As you know, (if you are a J.R.R. Tolkien fan) it’s the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a hobbit who lives in Middle Earth. One day, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) drops by and tells him that he needs him for an adventure. At first, Bilbo doesn’t want to go. He’s a quiet hobbit, living a hobbit life in middle earth.  However, he comes to his senses after Gandalf’s merry band of men invade his house, eat his food and ask him to sign a contract to join them as their burglar (funeral costs covered!) Hobbits are short, and he would be sure to be able to get past their enemies. So, Bilbo runs out of his house, yelling “I’m going to go on a adventure!” and joins the band of dwarves, who need him so they defeat the dragon which keeps the valley in fear, as he sleeps in the mountain, surrounded by gold.
Okay, so this isn’t really a film you go into, with your critic’s gloves on. Even describing the plot sounds like a total fantasy fiacre, and you know what? It is. There are a lot of chase scenes and mystical creatures and wizards and evil doers and dwarves. In one scene, they are captured by trolls that Bilbo outsmarts because they could eat the band of men. There’s capturing by evil creatures, chase scenes, battle scenes, and whatnot. There’s the first appearance of the Ring and Gollum (Andy Serkis). After all, this is the prequel to Lord of the Rings, so if you are a new comer to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, you are in luck. This is what happens before The Lord of the Rings. The visuals, no surprise, are really good, and it’s always beautiful watching them walk New Zealand, and it's really stunning seeing New Zeland in 3-D.

There are some great warm moments, like when one of the dwarves says to Bilbo that he was sure he shouldn’t have come, and that he knew it was a bad idea but then hugs him and says he was wrong. So, “The Hobbit” is a lot of fun, and Peter Jackson is really good at directing a fantasy epic. So, while splitting up “The Hobbit” only seems to make economic sense, as this stuff has a built in audience, on the other hand, I had a lot more fun seeing this than I did seeing “Les Miserables”. The story is great, and the acting is good. Its fun watching all these Shakespearian British actors recites lines about wizards and dwarves and defeating dragons and trolls.

So, in conclusion, go see “The Hobbit”. It’s a really fun way to spend your afternoon, and sometimes that’s what the movies are good for. I would say, even ignore my earlier criticisms about how he could of done this all in one movie. Just see it, because you know you want to, it’s visually nice, and it’s simply a good story with a lot of fantasy and adventure. So, don’t be a hobbit yourself, and set out to the theater. As Bilbo says, “I’m going on an adventure”. Good advice. I like this better than the messy “Les Miserables”, which was this year’s other big epic. I mean, you can’t really compare them but “Les Miserables” can be really upsetting in places, and this one you can bring your kids to. Your kids probably will sit spellbound through all three hours. Oh, and my spell check has all of the proper names for J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters. How cool is that.

Friday, January 11, 2013

"Les Miserables" Mess or Masterpiece?

Two and a half stars

After watching “Les Miserables”, I had a simple thought. I can’t decide if what I just watched was great or a total mess. I hate to knock this film, because it’s “Les Miserables”, and obviously a lot of effort was poured into this. So, I hate to report that as much as I wanted to love this film, for the most part, it was kind of a mess. It just seemed to be all over the place, and condensed a lot of themes and songs into two and a half hours without leaving any breathing room. The problem with a film like this is there are a lot of money and music and graphics and people singing to the camera. Yes, the music and story are beautiful but does it really work as a film? There’s hardly any dialogue in this movie. It rushes from one song to another. It’s very sad in places, and all the themes are there, but I did find myself looking at my watch, more than once.
One of the problems is the director, Tom Hopper, who keeps zooming in on people’s faces. They seem to be singing directly at the camera instead of to each other. Some of the songs, like a long one about a crazy hotel people stay at, where Cosette (Isabella Allen) works, as an orphan who sweeps the floors, goes on way too long. A lot of the songs seem to go on way too long. The film could have benefitted from some editing. I know, a lot of fans of the play are going to tell me I’m wrong. How can you edit out songs and cut down on scenes in “Les Miserables”? The problem is a play and films are different mediums. So, I’m sorry to say this, but I’m not sure that “Les Miserables” really works in the way that they put it together. This is not to say they are bad singers, or bad actors. Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, can really sing. Russell Crowe, as Javert, I’m not really sure can.

The best scene in the movie is when Fantine (Anne Hataway) signs simply her song about dreaming a dream. If any scene in this film will become iconic, it’s that one. I’m all for musicals, but the problem with movie musicals today and ones of the past is really a matter of budget. All movie musicals today are high budget. It’s not simply producing a good musical, but being over the top with everything. Now, maybe this isn’t the best movie for me to review because I’m not a expert on “Les Miserables”, and maybe it needed a high budget to succeed.

However, I do love costume dramas. I do love sweeping epics. So, in theory, I should have loved “Les Miserables”, but I couldn’t help feeling like this film is kind of a mess. As I said, it doesn’t leave any breathing room. Instead, it stuffs the film with way too many themes, songs, emotions, sweeping camera shots, close ups, and whatnot. I hate to knock a film that everyone involved obviously strongly believed in. When one goes to see a movie like “Les Miserables”, they have a choice to make. Are they going to determine if this works as a movie or not, or be swept away by the story, music, emotions and tearful moments that populate the film? It just goes from one huge theme to another huge theme, one big song number to another big song number, and doesn’t let the viewer really feel the emotions of the piece. That’s really important to a film, because you are watching it on a screen. When you are watching something on a stage, it’s more likely to give off that emotion.

However, I should also point out I’m a bit spoiled, as I do live in New York and I could see a stage play of this. Films like this are valuable to people in other parts of the country, where people may not live near stage productions of this stuff. If a kid is inspired to discover the theater because of a film like this, that is a service. While I do not really think this succeed as a film, I do think it’s a good thing that people in other parts of the country get to see a musical, brought to them by the movies. So, an audience member can either be swept away, and that’s not a bad thing, by a film like this or can determine if it works as a film. Either way, the choice is up to the audience member. If you are swept away by this, that’s fine. If you think it doesn’t really work as a film, which it doesn’t really, that’s okay, too.  Whatever your emotional reaction is, it’s fine. If you are a teenager in Kansas, who does school productions or simply a person who loves musicals, but doesn’t live near a big city, than this is a treat for you, and I totally understand that. "Les Miserables" can be a mess, or a masterpiece, it all depends on the viewer.