Tag Archives: film

And the Oscar goes to…

At the end of February, it will be Oscar night, and in what is soon becoming an annual tradition here at Mountains Beyond Mountains, we’ve written up our annual Oscar Preview. I’m on par with other years in terms of what I’ve seen so far (I’ve seen three), but there are five others still in theatres so I could potentially see 8 of the 9 quite easily before the big night. Still, like other years, it doesn’t stop me from coming up with snarky things to say about the nominees, whether I’ve seen them or not.

Let’s get right to it.

Amour

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From what I can tell from the poster and what little I’ve actually learned about this movie, it is about old people falling in love and having sex. Now I’m all for old people falling in love, but good LORD do they have to have sex? How about some nice cuddles? Or maybe a hug? Maybe they could do something nice and thoughtful for each other, like bake cookies or something. I’d pay money to see that, but no sex please.

Argo

Another candidate for my "Men with nice beards" Tumblr!

Another candidate for my “Men with nice beards” Tumblr!

Despite my inherent dislike of Ben Affleck, I really want to see this movie. I wanted to see it way back last summer when I saw the trailer for the first time, but forces beyond my control have prevented me from seeing it so far, and eventually my dislike of Ben Affleck will win out and I never will see it. Which is a shame, because I think I’d like it, just like I think I would like “The Town” but am avoiding it for the same reasons. It’s got the Affleck taint all over it. #taint

Beasts of the Southern Wild

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I actually saw this one a few weeks ago! The library had a copy checked in and I took it home. What can I say? Whenever my Mom sees a movie that she doesn’t like but she feels like she should like it, she calls it a discussion movie. I think this is a discussion movie for me. I have no idea how this movie even caught the attention of Oscar voters, but I’m kind of glad it’s in there among the big ones, if only to be a reminder that not every nominated film has to be a big budget spectacle. I didn’t hate it, but I’m not sure it was my kind of thing. I’m trying to come up with something funny or snarky to say about it, but I’m at a loss. Yay for the underdog?

Django Unchained

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I saw this movie over the Christmas holidays with my friend, Ed. It was his birthday and we sort of have a tradition of getting together and doing fun things, like going to get a free comic at this one shop in town that lets you pick out a free comic on your birthday, or go out to some “all you can eat” restaurant and literally eat all we can, or check out a movie. These days, with us both having small children, we don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like, and we were joking that the only free time we had was at 10:30 pm on a week night. So that’s what we did! We went to see this movie at 10:30 pm on a Thursday. We chose this one because we knew there was NO WAY IN HELL either of our respective wives would ever want to see it , and we were right. We were just so excited that we were actually out at a movie together, that I think we enjoyed this way more than we would have under normal circumstances. This movie was a real mixed bag for me. There were scenes and moments, particularly in the first three quarters, that I totally loved. The opening scene where Django gets unchained, the whole “team up as bounty hunters” thing, and the whole “launching the plot to get his wife back” thing were all wonderful. Sadly, it was only when Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was introduced that the film seemed to drag, and everything after the “dinner party” scene just got deranged, overblown, and almonst ruined the rest of it for me.

Les Miserables

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I HAVE NOT SEEN THIS, and yet I am quite sure it will win.  I am sure it is wonderful and deserves all the good press it’s getting. I’m happy that a musical is nominated for best picture this year. It’s been a while. There is something special about musicals, and I think you either “get” them or you don’t. Some people just can’t get over the fact that the characters will burst into song without warning. But I say to those people: it’s just what happens. It’s a MUSICAL. I’m not saying you have to like it, but don’t hate it just because that’s the form it’s in. My only complaint is that it has taken so long for this musical to be made into a movie. I remember about 15 years ago getting excited when a feature film version of “Les Miserables” was in production. It was going to star about bunch of A List actors like Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush and Uma Thurman. I couldn’t wait, until I found out that it wasn’t based on the muscial, but an adapation of the original novel. I was bitterly disappointed at the time, and still haven’t brought myself to ever watch it. What’s the point? It would be like doing a non-musical version of  “Annie”.

Life of Pi

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Another one I haven’t seen, although you have to hand it to Ang Lee: that dude knows his way around a movie camera. His films, from “Sense and Sensibility” to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, to “Brokeback Mountain” all have a stunning visual quality to them, and I’m sure “The Life of Pi” is no different. I read the novel years ago, when everyone was going on about it. I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember I didn’t care for it. It was a real slog and in the end everything you’ve just read (SPOILER) may or may not have even happened that way. It was a bit of a kick to the balls, I must say, and considering this movie is mostly playing in 3D, it would be a kick to the eyeballs too. I’ll pass.

Lincoln

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Spielberg’s “Lincoln” project seemed to be “on again, off again” for years. I remember all the way back to 2005 when his “War of the Worlds” came out that Spielberg was talking about getting his “Lincoln” project off the ground. And boy did he ever. A stellar cast led by Daniel Day Lewis, this is definitely on my “to see” list. I love stories about historical figures, especially stories about American Presidents. You always learn something you didn’t know before. For example, I just watched “Hyde Park on Hudson” with Bill Murray as FDR. All I knew about FDR before this was that he met with Annie and Daddy Warbucks and sung “Tomorrow” with his wife Eleanor. From “Hyde Park on Hudson” I learned that FDR enjoyed eating hot dogs and receiving hand jobs from his cousin (but not at the same time)! Oh, and also that his wife Eleanor lived with a group of lesbian furniture makers and made lovely lesbian furniture. I could relate.

Recurring Theme

Recurring Theme

Silver Linings Playbook

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I’m just going to say right up front that I am “no friend” of Bradley Cooper, and that I had very little interest in seeing this movie. The title is confusing, it has boringface Julia Stiles in it, and it seemed to be on the wrong side of quirky for me. The other night we were out at the movies, and our choices were “Les Miz”, “Lincoln” or this one. I would have been happy with either of the first two, but “Silver Linings Playbook” was the only one that hadn’t yet started, so in we went.

Boy, was I WRONG. I will freely admit it. This turned out to be one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. I’m going to gush here for a bit, so fair warning.

I LOVED everything about this movie. Bradley Cooper (I will no longer call him Bradley Pooper) was brilliantly adorable, as was Jennifer Lawrence. You really want to root for the two of them, and the movie pushed all the right buttons for me. It says a lot about the strength of the cast when Robert De Niro, although great, does not outshine everyone else. Whenever you see him you’re not thinking, “It’s Robert fucking De Niro!” You just see him as this blue collar dad who’s worried about his son and is doing the best he can. I could TOTALLY relate to those scenes where he’s trying to get Bradley Cooper’s character to sit down and watch the game with him. That was me and my Dad for real. That’s the other thing: the dialogue felt very real and raw to me. It all felt very natural, and I’m wondering how much of it was scripted and how much of it was the actors ad-libbing on set.

I think it helped that I didn’t know a thing about the movie going in. I just let the story work its magic on me, like when you finally find out that Daddy Warbucks is going to adopt Annie for realz!

The writer/director, David O. Russell, is a master at choosing the right musical cues for the right scenes. I still remember the soundtrack for “Three Kings”, and the way he used U2’s “In God’s Country” at the end of it. In “Silver Linings Playbook” he uses Dave Brubeck in two scenes to great effect.

Personally, I want this movie to win EVERYTHING, and I will need to be careful when I fill in my Oscar ballot that I don’t let that cloud my choices.

I’m not usually one to want to see a movie again, but I could SERIOUSLY go see this movie again in the theatre, and again, and again. That’s how much I loved it.

Zero Dark Thirty

The controversies surrounding this film just won't go away.

The controversies surrounding this film just won’t go away.

Well, I guess I tipped my hand as to which movie I’ll be pulling for come Oscar night, but I still need to finish this list. I think I’d like to see this movie, the same way I want to see anything by Gaspar Noe: I think it would be satisfying on a morbidly voyeuristic level. Technically, I’m sure the movie is finely crafted. Her last effort won Best Picture. I haven’t brought myself to see it, because spending a couple of hours with an army bomb squad in Iraq seems a little too stressful, like watching Annie get kidnapped by Rooster and Bernadette Peters.

But I’ve seen a number of Kathryn Bigelow movies over the years, and I’ve enjoyed all of them in their own way.

I remember seeing “Point Break” the summer that I taught myself how to windsurf, and so I felt like I had a connection, however tenuous, to the bank-robbing surfers. It was the summer my Dad died, and I just thought this was something I wanted to do. I spent a weekend at a friend’s cottage and his Dad was a windsurfer. He showed me the basics and then left me to it. I remember falling off that board so many times, and scraping my knees to the point that they bled and getting terribly sunburnt, but I didn’t give up until I could actually manoeuvre the damn thing with some small level of skill. I wasn’t going to be doing any tricks (or robbing any banks) any time soon, but I felt a certain level of accomplishment.

“Strange Days” still ranks up near the top as one of my favourite science fiction movies, and she does things visually in that movie that I’ve never seen done since.

I feel like I have a special connection to “K-19: The Widowmaker”, as part of the movie was filmed in a small town about an hour north of where I live. It was big news at the time. The film crew descended on this sleepy town on the edge of Lake Winnipeg for about a week to film one scene. It was the scene where the submarine surfaces through the ice near the north pole. The soldiers are given some R&R time to play soccer on the ice. The captain, played by Harrison Ford, addresses the crew from the sub’s tower. This whole scene takes up about 2 minutes of screen time, but it’s impact feels much bigger. I happened to be off work one morning when they were filming, and I thought I’d drive up and see what I could see. My Mom, always up for an adventure, called in sick to work and came along. Marla was working and didn’t come, but her MOM did.

The three of us headed up, wondering what we would see. It was actually pretty cool. The movie crew had built a full sized conning tower about 300 feet off shore on the ice. You could tell from the angle that it was just a backdrop (you could see the scaffolding behind it), but from head on it looked like the real thing. When we got there, it was lunch time for the crew, and the local hotel had the catering contract. The film crew had built an ice road from the shore out to the set, and there was a constant flow of ATVs, jeeps and full sized trucks back and forth. This was March, and I was wondering how thick that ice actually was, but I’m sure it was all checked out ahead of time. The big prize would be to spot Harrison Ford, obviously. He had arrived the night before and was probably out there near the set somewhere, or maybe he was up in one of the hotel rooms and he would walk through the lobby any second! We ended up having lunch at the hotel, and looking out over the set. We were far enough out that we couldn’t really see what was actually happening, although we could see a bunch of young guys with shaved heads (Russian sailors, no doubt), kicking a soccer ball around out in the cold. We couldn’t tell if they were rehearsing or actually filming, but it didn’t really matter. It was just cool to be “close to the action”. I assume Kathryn Bigelow was there too; I doubt this was all second unit work, but we never spotted her and more importantly, we never spotted Harrison either. But it was a fun way to spend a day off, and when the movie came out my Mom and I went opening night. We stayed until we say the “Special Thanks to Gimli, Manitoba” credit at the end.

Hollywood North.

Hollywood North.

So you have it: a rundown of the best picture nominations of 2013. If Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t win Best Picture, it’ll just be a reminder that it’s a hard knock life.

Til next time, amigos!

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Too much of a good thing? Let’s not make it a Hobbit

“I have had enough of dwarves for one day.” Gandalf

Even before “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was out of theatres over a decade ago, the internet rumours began: Peter Jackson should direct ‘The Hobbit!’ It was the natural and obvious reaction from fanboys and Tolkein nerds alike. After all, why not? He just completed what seemed to be an impossible task. He adapted Tolkein’s beloved series over three films and successfully brought “Middle Earth” alive for audiences around the world. After this accomplishment, “The Hobbit” would be a cinch. If you could do three movies back to back to back, The Hobbit as one movie would be like filming a James Bond pre-title sequence after you’ve proven you can direct an entire James Bond feature. You could even get Sir Ian McKellan to be Gandalf again if you didn’t wait too long. How cool would that be?

But then after a series of unfortunate events, including, but not limited to legal squabbles, personnel changes (Guillermo del Toro was on tap to direct before MGM went bankrupt), money woes, more money woes and even PJ’s health (ulcer), “The Hobbit” was going to be a reality and yes, Sir Ian McKellan, once again, was Gandalf.

But then we heard that “The Hobbit” wasn’t going to be one movie, it was going to be two. Making “The Lord of the Rings” into three movies made sense, as the story is generally grouped into three volumes (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of The King). But “The Hobbit” is one book, aimed at younger audiences, and could easily be adapted as a single movie. It would be a long movie, if you included everything, but you wouldn’t include everything, right? That’s what screenwriters are for. I’m not a fan of this whole “splitting a story over two or more movies” trend that seems to be the way things are done these days (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc). Doing this to “The Hobbit” seemed like an unnecessary craven cash grab. But then I remembered how I felt when I heard Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are” was being adapted into a movie. This is a 10 page children’s book with maybe a hundred words total, and I was skeptical, and yet Spike Jonze’s film was moving, brilliant and lovely and I took back every mean thing I said about it beforehand. Maybe “The Hobbit” was going to be the same way? Plus, as a Tolkein fan, why would I complain about having MORE Middle Earth? Crazy, right?

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Look at this teaser poster! I mean, it is such an invitation back to the familiar world of Middle Earth with a promise of adventure. How could it fail?

And then about a year ago, we saw the first trailer, and it looked and felt AMAZING, and all doubts were erased. But shortly after that, we heard that “The Hobbit” wasn’t going to be 2 movies after all (oh thank God!)…………..it was going to be 3. (Wot.)

At that point, I thought it was time to revisit the source material. I hadn’t read “The Hobbit” since Jr. High, so it was time for a refresher. I actually read it in one night, so that can give you an idea of how long it actually is (and I am not an overly fast reader). I read it the night before my colonoscopy, as I was up all night purging anyway and I wanted to read something easy and familiar and somewhat comforting. As I made my way through it, on the couch and in the bathroom (TMI?) I realized how much of it was the dwarves running around in the woods, in the mountains, in the caves etc and I thought to myself (there is going to be a lot of running scenes if they adapt this faithfully. And I sort of understood why PJ may have decided to pad the story for the movie. If he didn’t, it would just feel like watching a video game.)

Fast-forward to last Saturday night. Our daughter was back on her schedule (sleeping before 8 pm!). My wife was wrapping some presents and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life“, a movie I HAVE NEVER SEEN front to back, but I feel like I sort of know it through osmosis.

“You know, I could almost make it to a movie tonight,” I mumbled aloud.

“Why don’t you? You hate “It’s a wonderful life” anyway and you’ve been wanting to get out to a movie for awhile” was my wife’s response.

So I looked up movie times and lo and behold “The Hobbit” was playing in glorious 2D (don’t get me started) at 9:30 pm. It was too late to call anyone, and I knew some friends had made plans to see it on Christmas Day, so I toddled off to the theatre; my own personal ‘Unexpected Party” as it very much were.

Even though it was a Saturday night at a good time, the theatre was only half full, so I got a good seat. Maybe everyone else was going to the 3D showings, or the 48 FPS showings? Or maybe they were Christmas shopping. I was a little worried, as a couple of my friends, who were die-hard Tolkein fans and who had already seen it prefaced their reviews by saying things like, “Well, as a Tolkein fan, I would love anything in Middle Earth but….” or “Peter Jackson can do no wrong, but…” so even the superfans were hedging their bets.

Despite all that, I was ready.

Three hours later…

Okay, that was a hot mess. Peter Jackson needs an editor. It seems like he’s got the George Lucas, “I can do anything I want” syndrome now and that’s too bad. At least I sat through to the end. I counted about 10 people who got up and left and didn’t come back. I didn’t feel like I saw “The Hobbit”, to be honest. It felt like I wandered into a production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” when all I really wanted was to watch “Hamlet”. There was so much extra unnecessary nonsense, like the shit-stained Radagast, that I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Tom Bombadil and his hot wife showed up (there’s still ample room in Parts 2 and 3, though, right?)

The maddening thing is that the three scenes that really felt like “The Hobbit” to me: The supper with the dwarves, The Three Trolls, and of course the marvelous “Riddles in the Dark” sequence were all pitch perfect. I would love some clever geek out there to create a “pure” edit of the film, excising all of the extraneous stuff. It might just be 45 minutes long, but what of it? Who knows? PJ is just crazy enough that when all three movies are out, instead of “extended editions” (of which the theatrical versions, by definition, surely are), maybe he’ll release a “contracted” one volume edition of “The Hobbit” much closer to the novel. We can dream, right?

I realize this is an “adaptation”, people. And that Peter Jackson and friends can write whatever screenplay they want, and they sure did. I liked some of the changes. You have to tweak novels to make them cinematic, no question. For example, Richard Armitage is reminiscent of  an Aragornesque hero as Thorin Oakenshield, much more than as merely as a bumbling dwarf from the novel. Also, the dwarves’ quest is given an almost Zionistic quality: a return to their homeland, rather than just a revenge plot to get back their gold. It makes their quest a little more noble and gives it more weight. I even didn’t mind the embellishment of Azog “The Pale Orc” as a nemesis for Thorin. It reminded me of the head Uruk-hai from LOTR, and that’s fine. These are the artistic choices that are made, and you can agree or disagree. For example, the dwarf-tossing business and the arrival of the elves at Helm’s Deep in LOTR? Pure fantasy on PJ’s part, but it didn’t bother me. Aside from the “pale Orc”, there were other things (falcons, sweeping mountain shots, soundtrack etc) in ‘The Hobbit” that just felt a little “been there, done that”. I was constantly reminded of how good LOTR was and just wanted to watch that again rather than sit through this retread.

I would love to get the opinion of someone who has not read the novel, to see if the movie worked as a “movie” for them. I have a feeling I’m bringing a lot of baggage to this that might not matter to those going in “cold”.

As a fan, I would have much preferred a single movie. It would have been so much more satisfying. As it was, I was sitting in the theatre with a mental checklist of all the scenes that needed to happen before I could leave. “Gandalf and Bilbo meeting? Check. Arrival of the Dwarves? Check Trolls, Rivendell and Goblins? Check, check, check.” I never once got absorbed into the story. The only other time I could remember that happen to me  in a theatre was about 15 years ago in this film called “Conspiracy Theory” with Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. I was aware the whole time that I was watching a movie and couldn’t seem to shake it. The same thing happened at “The Hobbit”.

Hindsight is 20/20, obviously, but I think getting Peter Jackson to direct “The Hobbit” was a mistake. The tone felt more like “LOTR” than a children’s book, and he seemed to try at every turn to tie it into his former glory, even having Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee show up at Rivendell at the same time as the Dwarves. Rivendell is a Motel 6, apparently. A stroke of casting genius would have been to get John Cleese to play Elrond and you could have had all kinds of hijinks. “Don’t mention the WAR (of the ring)!” The Dwarves were already eating Waldorf salad, after all. A missed opportunity.

It would have been fun to get an animated version instead, maybe? (I KNOW there is already an animated version out there, people.) Jackson (and Spielberg) used animation to great effect with “The Adventures of Tintin” last year, and you could still get the actor’s voices from LOTR. Heck, you could even get Ian Holm to voice Bilbo. I love Martin Freeman, but he was a little underwhelming as the titular character. Maybe he’ll shine in parts 2 and 3? (You KNOW I’ll go, despite everything.) Animation would have really gone a long way to set a different tone from LOTR, and yet still tie the two stories together. Heck, Gollum is already CGI. Why not go all the way?

After the success of “The Lord of the Rings” books, Tolkein himself went back and tried to rewrite “The Hobbit” to bring it more in line with the tone and continuity of the longer series, but he gave up before he was done.

He said whatever he was writing, it just wasn’t “The Hobbit”.

Well, exactly.

Welcome to Rivendell!

Welcome to Rivendell!

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