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Entries in the hobbit (2)

Friday
Dec142012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Full disclosure: I’m not a Lord of the Rings fan. It’s not that I think they’re bad movies or anything—I completely acknowledge the skill put behind their creation—they’re just not my thing. Although a critic should be as neutral as possible going into a film, you can chalk my opinion of those up to personal taste. My reaction to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is largely the same: I admire it more than I actually enjoy it, but one thing is clear. This is not on the same level of Lord of the Rings. Revisiting Middle Earth here is like going to Disney World when you’re an adult. It’s still enjoyable, but you’re probably better off reminiscing over your beloved memories than taking a return trip.

It’s sixty years prior to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the titular hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), is a young man. He lives a comfortable life in his familiar home and doesn’t think much about the outside world, that is until Gandalf (Ian McKellen) makes an appearance, asking him if he wants to go on an adventure. Initially, he refuses, but as Dwarves begin piling in his house, he finds he has no choice and sets off to Lonely Mountain to help the Dwarves reclaim a stolen treasure from a dragon named Smaug.

If The Lord of the Rings is the popular kid in high school that was respected and loved by everyone around him, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is its wanna-be little brother. It aspires to reach the heights of its predecessors, doing its very best to mimic them, but never fully captures their true spirit. Comparatively, it’s a lot less epic and way goofier, though it hides under the guise of an epic. Every other minute, played out jokes, like smoke billowing out of someone’s ears, rear their ugly head. Characters actually go from telling cheap jokes to telling sad, dramatic stories all within the same sentences, occasionally even breaking in the middle of one of those stories to toss out another lazy gag. Even when they’re facing death, they’re joking around. I don’t want to say The Hobbit doesn’t know what it wants to be because it does. It just wants to be all things at once and never finds a solid footing because of it.

Those jokes even make their way into segues between scenes. Rather than finding a proper way to make that transition, the film uses random comedic interjections, very few of which are funny, though to be totally fair, it would be difficult to tie together what sometimes seem like unconnected sequences that are irrelevant to the greater story at hand, like when Bilbo and his gang of Dwarves find themselves in the middle of a battle between two stone giants. No context is put behind this moment. It exists only as a lazy way to add peril to what would otherwise have been a boring trek.

Frankly, that’s been the problem for the entire series as a whole. Its visual and creative ingenuity sometimes feel like they exist in the picture just to show off rather than to progress the already bloated stories (The Hobbit runs nearly three hours long). Luckily for this movie, the visuals are so mind blowing that such narrative inconsistencies are easier to forgive. At least in terms of art direction, cinematography and CGI, The Hobbit is utter eye candy, some of the prettiest you’ve probably ever seen, to the point where the computer animated characters would be indistinguishable from the actors onscreen if not for the fact that we know they don’t exist.

The big issue on movie fans’ minds, however, has to do with the much talked about 48 frames per second the film is being shown in. Some have claimed to get migraines watching it, others nausea. Although I suppose such reactions are dependent on the person watching it, it wasn’t a big deal for me or the others at my screening. It takes some time to get used to, roughly 30-45 minutes, but it shouldn’t detract much, if at all, from your enjoyment of the film. Only when the film gets really hectic does it become a bother; our eyes and brains aren’t used to the frame rate, so it’s occasionally difficult to keep up with the action onscreen. When it’s calm, though, it’s one of the clearest, crispest, most realistic things I’ve ever seen, to the point where it felt like I was peering through a spotless window into an alternate reality.

Critical reactions of the film have varied, mainly due to the wildly different viewpoints on the frame rate, and I suspect fan reaction will be the same. Those hoping for epic battles and sweeping adventure akin to its bigger and more successful brethren will be disappointed. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is no Lord of the Rings, but with any luck, its shortcomings will be rectified in the upcoming sequels. If nothing else, it does an admirable job of setting up the story and fluidly reintroducing familiar characters we’ve all come to know and love and it ends on a cliffhanger that promises better things to come. This may not be what many will hope and expect, but that certainly doesn’t make it a bad movie; just an underwhelming one that is nevertheless worth seeing.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey receives 3/5

Friday
Dec072012

Deadfall

With December finally here and the awards season right around the corner, one can’t help but wonder what the motivation was to release Deadfall right in the thick of it. It certainly doesn’t deserve a place among the more coveted films to be released this month, instead feeling more like a standard throwaway thriller that should have been released in January or February, when studios dump whatever garbage they have sitting around into theaters just to get it out of their hands. To be fair, Deadfall isn’t terrible. It’s just terribly boring. With movies like Skyfall behind us and The Hobbit in front, there’s no real reason to see this. Just wait the extra week until it inevitably vanishes from our collective memories.

Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) aren’t your typical siblings. They’re actually thieves who have just escaped from a casino heist gone wrong and are on their way to the Canadian border. However, when their driver crashes their car in an attempt to avoid a passing animal, they find themselves forced to make the trek on foot in a blizzard, splitting up and vowing to meet later. Eventually, Liza runs into Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a Silver medalist at the Beijing Olympics who has just been released from prison and is on his way to his parents (played by Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson) for Thanksgiving dinner. Liza and Jay start an innocent fling with each other, playing a game where they pretend to be together and go by different aliases, which puts a kink in Addison’s plan to reunite with his sister and cross the border, which Jay’s parents live very close to.

And, as expected, this leads to a final showdown at Jay’s household that plays out more like a whimper than a bang. Although it wouldn’t be right to spoil what happens, Deadfall is such a conventional thriller that all but those who are completely unfamiliar with the genre will be able to predict its sequence of events well before they actually happen. It plods along rather typically and banally; it’s not until that final sequence that the film manages to build up any excitement at all. When everyone converges on that house where Bana has taken the parents hostage and the game between Jay and Liza has blossomed into a full-fledged romance, everybody unaware of Liza’s true relationship to Addison, intrigue is built, but by then, it’s too little too late and it ends too abruptly, never allowing us to savor the feeling of watching certain characters get their comeuppance.

With such a boring, trite story, the least Deadfall could do was give us the pleasure of watching someone get what’s coming to them, but it instead favors wrapping up inconsequential side stories that were mostly uninteresting and laughable to begin with. The most egregious offender of this comes in the form of Hanna (Kate Mara), a police officer in this small, quiet town who has daddy issues revolving around sexism, blame and a lack of trust. Unfortunately for her, her dad is the Sheriff and she answers to him. It's a terrible an underdeveloped B-story and every exchange they have is forced to the point where I’m pretty sure the actors involved developed hemorrhoids. (When asked why she can’t go out and help in their investigation, he responds with a question about what she would do if something important came up. “What if you have to change your tampon?” he asks.)

Perhaps the only thing more bored than I was while watching Deadfall were the actors actually in it, most of whom seemed to be coasting by for a paycheck while they waited for their next big break, particularly Eric Bana, who has always been an underwhelming actor, even in critically lauded films like Munich. They all seem to put forth only the slightest bit of effort, as if they knew that pretty much nobody was going to watch their movie. If they somehow had that premonition, they’re likely to be right. Deadfall just doesn’t deserve our time. Put it out in the middle of February, when moviegoers have been numbed by at least a month of likely-to-be-bad films and perhaps it looks more appetizing, but now? We have plenty of better options.

Deadfall receives 2/5