Tag Archives: Ian McKellen

Philomena

philomena filmWalking into this movie, I knew nothing about it. I knew it starred Steve Coogan and Judi Dench, and that Judi Dench was nominated for her 7th Oscar for this role. Not much else you need to know, really.

I’m glad I didn’t know the plot of the movie beforehand (it’s based on a true story, but not one I was familiar with).  It had some unexpected twists, even though it’s not the type of movie that relies upon plot twists to keep you entertained and interested.

Steve Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, an ex-journalist who recently lost his job in the Blair administration–the movie takes place in the early 2000s. He’s a smart, cynical, atheist…a bit of a misanthrope.  Steve Coogan co-wrote the movie.  It seems he really enjoys playing these disaffected, cynical intellectuals who quote Coleridge or T.S. Eliot, and are always accompanied by a cheerier, more functional person.  I found a lot of similarities between this movie and The Trip, partially because of that odd couple camaraderie.  Instead of Rob Brydon, Coogan’s co-star is Judi Dench, playing the real life Philomena Lee.

Philomena, an Irish girl, fell pregnant when she was still a teenager. Relegated to a nearby abbey, she was at the mercy of the nuns there.  They helped her survive childbirth, they took care of the child, and they took care of her.  But she had to work 4 years at the abbey without pay, in exchange for that. There were many young girls there, unmarried ‘sinners’, and their children.  The children were put up for adoption.  Much to Philomena’s horror, they take away her son Anthony without giving her any chance to say goodbye, without even telling her he is leaving.

She keeps her secret for nearly her entire life, only revealing it to her daughter 50 years later.  Her daughter happens upon Martin Sixsmith, who thinks he might use the story to get back into journalism. The unlikely duo begin an investigation to find Anthony, to meet him if possible.

I won’t give anything else away. Here’s the trailer:

Steve Coogan does a great job being simultaneously an understandable, if grumpy figure, and also being somewhat rude, selfish, and lacking in compassion.  As a bit of a misanthrope atheist myself, I can be pretty empathetic about that.

Judi Dench, though!  Amazing.  Look, Judi Dench is a dame, an incredibly accomplished actress, and a very imposing figure. I saw video of her as Lady Macbeth (Ian McKellen was Macbeth), and she was terrifying. Daunting, physically.  And we’ve seen her play Queen Elizabeth I, and be just as empowered, just as daunting.  And M in the Bond movies is not exactly Blanche Dubois.  They’re all very powerful, independent, strong women.

Philomena Lee is a very strong woman, a very brave woman.  But she’s not intimidating.  Not the way Judi Dench plays her.  She’s strong, but she’s soft and simple.  Not simple meaning stupid, simple meaning…uncomplicated by all the bullshit most of us spend our time on.  Able to enjoy simple pleasures, able to be pleasantly surprised by the endings of thoroughly repetitive romance novels. Someone who takes pleasure in conversation, in new experiences.  She’s compassionate, open-minded, and has a lot more wisdom than Steve Coogan’s character. And Judi Dench plays on that perfectly.  When Philomena Lee works up her strength to make something happen, she does it.  You can see frailty and age in her movements and her face, but you also see a complete resolution and an obstinate nature.  She, an elderly Irish woman, holds her own against Sixsmith, a published journalist, ex-civil servant, a loud, opinionated man.  She is, actually, a really great character.  Perfectly played by Judi Dench.

I said I wouldn’t give any more away, but I will just say this.  I always knew there was a reason I didn’t trust nuns. They’re terrifying.

And since I’ve mentioned The Trip, I’ll also mention that they’re making a sequel. It’s called The Trip to Italy, features more Michael Caine impressions, and comes out in May.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

movies-the-hobbit-desolation-of-smaug-posterI’ll go see Martin Freeman in just about any movie he cares to make, so, dutifully, I’ve gone to see the second Hobbit movie in the theater.  Before you complain that this is not a British movie…I disagree.  Tolkien was British, and (besides Martin) there are a plethora of Brit actors in the cast–Ian McKellen, ex-Doctor Sylvester McCoy, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, Stephen Fry (!), and Benedict Cumberbatch (as the eponymous dragon, Smaug).

I was disappointed with the first Hobbit movie last year. Part of this was due to the high frame rate technology they used to make the film.  It was difficult to watch and made some actions seem slow and others preternaturally fast.  I don’t think they used the same technology on this film, because I didn’t notice anything strange about watching it.  I ended up enjoying it, partially because my expectations were a bit lower this time around.

I still dislike that it is spread across 3 movies.  I know there are a lot of extra storylines from the Appendices and maybe the Silmarillion that have been added to flesh out the story, but I think it was better without the extra stuff.  But it’s been so long since I read the book, that I can’t be certain what was in it anymore.  I don’t think Legolas made an appearance in the book, but he is certainly in the movie.  The elves of Mirkwood imprison the dwarves along their journey to the Lonely Mountain.  We see their great forest home with a truly impressive and ridiculous throne, upon which sits their king, Thranduil.  And honey, you should see him in a (ludicrous) crown:

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I must confess that in looking for that picture, I’ve stumbled across some pretty horrifying Thranduil erotic fanart.  Pass me the eye bleach when you get a chance…

We also meet Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly (Lost), a character completely made up by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, showing that he’s gone (literally) off-book.

220px-EvangelineLillyAsTaurielLook, we all know that Tolkien didn’t include many female characters in his stories. Hardly surprising, when you consider how much of his writing was based on his experiences in World War I. I’m glad to have a badass lady in the mix, but I am not a fan of Evangeline Lilly.  I haven’t been since Lost.  So I didn’t feel much attraction to her character, though her skill (with bow and with medicine) did come in handy. On an unrelated note, is it just me, or did they dress her like Robin Hood?

The story of the second movie weaves and wavers through time a bit.  We see Thorin Oakenshield when he first meets Gandalf and we see that this entire quest happened at Gandalf’s urging. In the present, the company of dwarves (plus 1 wizard and 1 hobbit) is running from a band of Orcs, and also from a wolf (actually a skin-changer named Beorn). Shortly after, Gandalf goes off toward Dol Guldur, to investigate reports of a dark power there.  (Spoilers: It’s Sauron.  It’s always Sauron.) Bilbo and the dwarves head through the Mirkwood forest toward the Lonely Mountain.

We see Bilbo use the ring to protect himself, use the ring to save his friends (from giant spiders, imprisonment, etc.), but we also see him kill to keep the ring in his possession.  He kills some sort of underground giant arachnid thing, so it’s not exactly the same as if he killed Gandalf or something.  On the other hand, it’s perfectly clear that he is killing for the ring, to keep it.  IF it weren’t clear, they make it even more clear when (picking up the ring again) Bilbo looks at the dead spider, points at the ring, and says ‘MINE’. It’s a wonder the guy could hold onto it for another 60 years without being a total monster.

After the spiders, they’re imprisoned by the elves.  They escape in empty wine barrels, and what follows is a slightly ludicrous, slapstick action sequence as they whitewater raft barrel down the river away from Mirkwood. Kili (aka the cute one) is hit with a poison arrow, thus making me very upset.  They happen upon a bargeman, Bard, who agrees to take them (secretly) into Laketown, the nearest town to the Lonely Mountain.  During this time, Gandalf gets himself captured by Sauron and his forces, so he’s of no use whatsoever.  He’s always getting himself captured at pivotal moments.  And if he ever claims he’ll meet you at this place or that place, he never shows up.  Properly unreliable.

In addition to a Peter Jackson cameo (still eating a carrot in Bree, even 60 years before the Fellowship?) and a Stephen Colbert cameo, we see Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown, doing his best impression of many a corrupt 17th century English monarch.  We have to endure a decent amount of foreshadowing about how it was Bard’s ancestor who failed to kill Smaug during the first attack. We get it, he (like Aragorn), will prove he is better than his ancestor.  There’s also some foreshadowing about Thorin–the Arkenstone corrupted his grandfather the king; will it corrupt him too, etc., etc.  It’s a little heavy-handed, to be honest. Not so much foreshadowing as fore-neon-signing.

Finally, it’s just down to Bilbo in the Lonely Mountain, searching the halls of Erebor for the fabled Arkenstone. He awakens Smaug (of course he does) and all hell breaks loose.

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We get a bit of the dwarves pulling together to help Bilbo, but they cannot defeat Smaug.  We all know why (because of the foreshadowing!).  Smaug, very aggravated, heads off for Lake Town to kill everyone.

Most of the reviews have included lines like ‘better than the first’ or ‘not as bad as the first’.  I agree, it was better than the first one. Partially because there are no ludicrous choreographed dance numbers that make you feel as if you’re in a kid’s movie.  But I still think it’s too long, and there’s something missing with almost all of the characters.  Even though it’s too long, we don’t seem to get to know anyone or to feel empathy for them.  Bilbo is charming and comic, but there’s something about the way they’ve edited the story, or maybe the way Martin acts, that lacks any seriousness.  Very very different from Ian Holm in the same role. Part of the problem is that the Lord of the Rings films were so good. They struck all the right notes, bouncing effortlessly from gross comedy (usually involving orcs, or Merry & Pip) to the love lives of immortal elves, and included believable moments with humanized characters.  That just seems to be lacking here.  The dwarves are too comedic, the elves too aloof.  Gandalf has spent more time off on his own than with the dwarves, so that it’s no wonder they don’t care to wait for him to finish their quest.  I did enjoy this movie more than the first, but I also spent more time (especially in hindsight) wishing it was as good as the LotR trilogy.  And that makes me sad.

Movie Review: The Hobbit

THE-HOBBIT-AN-UNEXPECTED-JOURNEY-PosterCan I start this post by saying how much I love Martin Freeman and how perfect he is for Bilbo Baggins? He’s the reason I’m reviewing this movie for this blog. Technically, it’s not a British film.  It was shot in New Zealand with Kiwi director, producer, and writer(s).  The cast, like the Lord of the Rings films, is multinational. But, Martin Freeman is such a feature on this blog, and my ever-growing adoration of him requires that I comment on this film.

I actually prefer The Hobbit to all of the Lord of the Rings books.  So perhaps my expectations were slightly too high, because I was disappointed by the movie.

First, a word about some technical aspects involved in the film.  Normally, I couldn’t care less about frame rate or resolution, and don’t think it affects my viewing of most movies.  I bring all of this up because The Hobbit was shot in a faster frame rate than a normal movie, and it is very noticeable. Normally, movies are shot at 24 frames per second. The Hobbit was shot at twice that, 48 frames per second.  This is noticeable in a few key ways.

1-There is no blur.  When characters are doing fast paced action scenes, the normal blur isn’t seen.  This is kind of cool, but on the other hand the human eye can only move so fast and take in so much.  Some people find it dizzying.

2-Everything is in focus.  It is almost like an HD nature film. The depth of field is really large.  Some scenes make this really interesting, and some scenes make it bothersome. The experience also seems to vary depending on whether you see the movie in 2 or 3-D, in IMAX or on a regular screen.

3-Some motions seem too fast.  Small things, like the actors making motions with their eyes or standing up, can seem overly dramatic and fast. This isn’t anything against the actors–they’ve honed their craft for a specific medium, and this isn’t the same one.  If this frame rate was adopted by everyone, I think actors would learn to act in a way that works for it, but they haven’t had that chance yet.  Sometimes it affects your enjoyment of the film, takes you out of the action.

4-The CGI technology that we’ve developed thus far isn’t very good at this frame rate.  Since twice the amount of frames are being presented to the human eye, twice the amount of computer information would have to be presented for it to look as real as it would at a normal frame rate–if I understand this correctly.  So, the bottom line is that the CGI in the Lord of the Rings was great  and the CGI in this movie didn’t look as good, or as real.

It’s important for directors to take chances and innovate, but I can’t say I thought this was successful or particularly necessary.  But, I imagine that Peter Jackson will get better with each movie and I may be a huge fan by the third in the Hobbit franchise.

Which brings me to a minor gripe.  The Hobbit is a fairly short book, compared to, say, Return of the King.  Since there is nowhere near enough plot to make three movies out of this one story, they seem to have taken all the information from Tolkien’s appendices and the Silmarillion.  Example: Radagast the Brown (a wizard friend of Gandalf’s) is mentioned in passing during The Hobbit (book), but in the movies he is a major character and introduces a separate plot with the Necromancer.  This is just sort of touched upon in The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey), but it will be (I think) a major part of the second Hobbit film. Also, bonus for me–Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the Necromancer.  I like having the extra movies, but I don’t like the feeling that New Line and Peter Jackson are just trying to bleed my wallet dry.

Okay, so now that I’ve rambled about the technology and the differences between book and movie.  What about the movie itself?

I didn’t care for it as much as the Lord of the Rings films.  I found it more childish.  There are two or three songs, and unlike the songs in the LotR, these seem to have been written professionally and planned ahead of time. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.  They didn’t have the soul and the folksy character of the hobbit songs in LotR–those seemed to be truly born from a time when people composed poetry and songs to pass the time. These were too slick and overproduced.  One accompanies a scene of the dwarves invading Bag End and eating all of Bilbo’s food, and then doing his dishes.

The dwarves are hard to keep straight, mostly because they all have beards and wear similar outfits.  The most memorable are:

Thorin:

ThorinA prince among dwarves, on a journey to reclaim the riches that belong to his family.  He is played admirably (but unrecognizably) by Richard Armitage.

Kili:

FiliThe only eye candy you’ll find in the movie.  I love you Martin Freeman, but big hairy feet and a mop of hair are not a good look for you.  Kili and Fili (his brother) are the youngest and fittest of the company, so they get some of the more action-oriented scenes.

Bombur:

bombur

Whatever the opposite of ‘youngest and fittest’ is, it applies to this guy.  There’s a lot of waffle in this movie about Bilbo not being able to keep up with this company of dwarves, being a hindrance, etc.  Are they kidding? Have they seen this guy?  I found him really repugnant. I mean, for one thing, is that braid made of beard hair or head hair?  Or…some other hair I don’t want to know about?

The dwarves are barely given enough screen time to figure out who half of them are. Most of the time is devoted to Thorin, Bilbo and Gandalf.  I can only hope some more time will be set aside in the next movie to make them distinguishable.  In Fellowship of the Ring, we meet four hobbits, a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, and two men within the space of a few minutes, but their characters are very well developed by the end of just that first movie. I’m disappointed that they weren’t able to distinguish the dwarves as well in the Hobbit. But I hold out hope for the future.

So, do I have anything good to say about the film after ranting about the frame rate and the childishness of the plot?  Well…despite the fact that it’s too long, it does pick up speed in the second half.  The first half an hour is quite dull, but by the end of the piece I didn’t mind the length.

Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen are great in this movie.  But I love everything they do, so perhaps I’m not the best judge.

As much as I rather hated Tolkien’s books, no one can deny that he created a wonderful world and wonderful characters in it.  After I saw the LotR movies I was struck by how much Peter Jackson had changed and had improved on the cannon.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say the same for this movie.  But we are still in that same world, and there is still the same sense of fate, of bravery, and of small beings accomplishing great feats.  We see the scene with Gollum, when Bilbo first gets the ring. We see Bilbo, like Frodo, pushed out of sedentary agrarian life and into adventure and danger.  We see Bilbo alone being brave enough to defend Thorin in desperate times.  As someone of relatively small stature and absolutely no importance, I can always appreciate the underdog.  Even though I found the movie experience disappointing, it was enough for me to be back in this world.  Like the Star Wars fans that will keep going to whatever tripe-infested rubbish George Lucas puts on screen, I will keep going to see whichever of Tolkien’s tales Peter Jackson chooses to tell. Let’s just hope things don’t get as bad as Attack of the Clones.