Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hobbit 3: Peter Jackson's Freestyle Round

Just a sample of the non-stop, overlapping action that is most
of Battle of the Five Armies.
The Hobbit: Battle of The Five Armies was seen Monday night in crisp 48 HFR 3D.

Peter Jackson is much like a big kid with a huge Middle-Earth action play set. having dispensed for the most part with the events of the original novel in the first two movies, he gets to stretch out on the final battle scenes with greatly extended action sequences. His sense of cinematic place and direction is a good as ever, though, and the thousands of little CG soldiers on the screen never lose a sense of coherent action. And the ending is quite satisfying and presented without having to resort to the 6 endings of the last Lord of the Rings movie-- just one tidy ending, thank you.

Then again, the action on-screen versus the content of the original novel created a strange narrative situation where Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) the titular hero of the film, disappears from the narrative for long stretches of time. I'm reminded of the third Matrix movie, where Neo disappears for most of a movie in which he is the putative savior.


• I only counted four armies. My issue probably lies with Tolkien, not Jackson.

Tauriel, cute as an elf.
• Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel was by far my favorite character. Yes, I know she was an entirely whole-cloth, non-canonical character. But her presence is important: added to the movie version to correct Tolkien's paternalism and give us a break from looking at an endless succession of hairy faces.

We also get something sorely needed in big action franchises like this: a love story. Sure, Tauriel the silvan elf may have been invented to prevent it from being the sausage fest of the original book, but it's welcome. She falls for Kili the dwarf, fully two heads shorter than her, but their love-at-first-sight relationship carries resonance-- and this is a welcome break from the general tones of madness, hate and manly stoicism embodied by everybody else in the film.

 A lot of this has to do with Evangeline Lily. She was the best thing about "Lost:" a soulful, loving yet complex and hermetic character in a cast of caricatures and cyphers. Lilly is a remarkably expressive actor and the only shame is she hasn't been in more movies. Tauriel gets to show love and loss and longing in a keener and more immediate way than anyone else in the entire trilogy. It's either a complement to Peter Jackson's skills as storyteller-- or an anodyne, in that he cannot conceive of anyone capable of having softer emotional connections than a-- shudder-- female character.

• You can tell the various races of creatures in this film-- in all the Rings and Hobbit films-- by how they appear after a little wear and tear. Hobbits (Bilbo at least) and Wizards get completely filthy: in fact, the wizard Radegast the Brown has shown up in all three Hobbit movies with a wad of dried bird shit stuck to his head. Humans and Dwarves are sort of grungy all the time, never too clean or too dirty. Elves-- the overachievers of Middle Earth-- never have a hair out of place or a smudge on their clothes. Orcs are similarly neat, all things considered: the lead Orcs wear little bits of armor and show a lot of skin, and would not look out of place in a Pride parade.

• The HFR process: Much improved of the first Hobbit movie. It might be the outdoorsy settings overall, but the scenes seem brighter and more colorful than the dark, washed-out first installment. The 3D was remarkably restrained and natural-looking: There were only a few gimmicky shots of falling stones and billowing flame and whatnot. Whatever Peter Jackson's tech folks needed to do to get the look of 48-frame-per-second to not look like video gloss, they did it.

Peter Jackson, Tolkien: It's been a hell of a ride. The first film series raised the bar for fantasy films forever. The last three, while somewhat under-stuffed and not quite as novel as the first three, are still deserving of all the success they have reaped. If this is Jackson's victory round, he can and should be allowed to freestyle a bit.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Weekend Box Office Report

The color drained out, to express the bleakness of the winter season. Thanks and Kudos to!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Weekend Box Office Report

Don't let this picture discourage you from using a good camera instead of a smart phone. However, you might want to consider it off limits for selfies.

Thanks to Box Office Mojo, as usual!

Friday, December 19, 2014

North Korea Now Runs Hollywood

The Sony Pictures hacking and shut-down of the release of The Interview is the first truly successful cyber-attack-- and one of the most remarkable events in media history.

This is not the first time this has happened: In 1976, an extremist group staged an attack in Washington, DC to prevent the release of Mohammad: Messenger of God. They believed (without having seen the film) that Anthony Quinn was playing The Prophet on-screen, a depiction forbidden by Islamic law. He wasn't, of course-- but the premiere got pulled and the movie never recovered.

As a cyber-attack, the timing and roll-out was breathtakingly effective. They got into Sony's system via stolen admin passwords, pulled out every juicy document and let Gawker and TMZ do the rest. Only after the damage was done did the hackers state their intentions: Cancel The Interview, or else. Distributors freaked out and cancelled bookings: Sony was so demoralized by then they just went ahead and pulled it. I would not be surprised that we find out later that there were direct extortion attempts between the hackers and Sony execs even before the leaks started.

All you see of Mohammad in this film
is the end of his camel-driving stick.
This is one long bad event for everyone it has touched: Bad for Sony Pictures and everyone mentioned in every catty email. Bad for Hollywood in general. Bad for free speech. Bad for the US government, which needs to create a proportional response to this attack. It's even bad for North Korea, who did the goddamned thing in the first place-- and will catch hell for it. Point-to-point:

• The behavior of Sony Pictures in this whole episode has been nothing short of completely typical Hollywood: Fearful, herd-following and craven. Obama himself said canceling the release of The Interview was a mistake. Craven-- but not out of character.

The Interview is now fully and officially buried: All press materials and trailers have been withdrawn from public access. The hackers got everything they asked for, and then some. People are calling Sony spineless for caving to an unseen, unknown hacker threat, but really I see no deviation from how Hollywood usually works. As an example, it came to light today that Paramount has ordered the next Star Trek movie reworked to be more like, you know, Guardians of the Galaxy. Yikes.

The socialist-realist style poster for The Interview.
In a perfect world, a world where the brave people stand courageously for their principles (like most of the characters in the comic book movies that are keeping the lights on in most Hollywood studios) Sony would have told the hackers to fuck off, and seen-- as most of us can conclude-- that the threats to moviegoers had no real credibility, and released the film. But even if these feckless execs grew spines, the movie was doomed: Sony does not control distribution. Theater chains have everything to lose and nothing to gain if something bad happens during a screening of The Interview. Imagine if it actually got released-- it would be a field day for every lone dumbshit out there to call in a bomb threat for the sheer fun of it.

• Seth Rogen and James Franco are going to lose most of their shot-calling power for this. They'll still be in movies, but I sincerely doubt if they will have any juice to get anything greenlighted for quite a long time, if ever. All this over a film that early reviews and pre-release reviews called a mediocre and unfunny comedy. It's a shame-- not because they're amazing, magical talents (they aren't) but because the movie that will stunt their careers was so inconsequential.

• This is all and entirely North Korea's doing (maybe with the help of some paid proxies in China, which has experience in such things). But: why do this? Why risk an international incident and retaliation over some dumb comedy with weak prospects? There are two possible reasons:

Scene from The Interview where Kim Jong-un
(Randall Park) gets immolated. quite the laugh riot, no?
1. Western media is easier to access in North Korea than ever. Which means that it is quite possible for the wretched masses toiling under the ruling regime to get a chance to see this film-- a comic take on the assassination of Kim Jong-un. If this regime is in a vulnerable state, even something as frivolous as The Interview could upset the fragile ruling junta.

2. Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea who is the target of assassination in this film, is a movie buff. In his youth he would sneak into Japan to go to Disneyland. He knows how powerful movies can be-- and he probably took this film as a sort of personal betrayal.

But why would a sovereign nation even bother to instigate a hack on a private company to specifically force a lame-looking comedy film to go dark?  Because Kim Jong-un isn't Hitler or Stalin or even Mao: He's Tony Soprano. As the late Christopher Hitchens observed, North Korea is run by a "militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people." Extortion isn't what nations tend to do-- but it is exactly what gangsters do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Weekend Box Office Figures

Your tongue shall dig your grave, BoxOffice Mojo!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Weekend Box Office

Thanks and a tip of the hat (virtual) to Box Office Mojo

Tuesday, December 2, 2014