Thursday, January 08, 2015

Munchausen Weekend

The Hobbit - The Battle of Five Armies

Have these Hobbit films been any good? Well, that depends.

Were they absurdly stretched out? Were they leaden and somber where every word of the source material was light? Was every conceivable detail magnified to Brobdingnagian proportions, often flying in the face of narrative sense or common decency? Did the movies, which depended for their existence on an absolute fealty to every sentence of a short book still somehow take enough liberties to obscure everything charming and memorable about the original story? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions must be yes.

These movies were made the way they were made because there was money to be had, and without the participation of the Tolkien estate there will be no more films, leastwise until the rights change hands. (This is something of a shame, because there's lots of material in The Silmarillion and related texts that might make for decent films, without needing excessive padding.) Peter Jackson tried to resist but sure enough he loved playing around with these toys, and his affection - if not his fidelity - is manifest in every frame. Will I ever return to them? Probably not. I don't see them holding up as well as the Lord of the Rings films have, for all the same reasons why they are nowhere near as good as the previous series. But I don't regret having seen them in the theater, either. They were fun, if just that.

I long ago made peace with the fact that there is no use getting upset about the liberties these movies make with their source materials. I dearly love Tolkien's works and his world, and the quality or lack thereof of any movie adaptations does nothing to efface a single period or exclamation mark in the books themselves. (Let's just put aside the fact that, if Gandalf really did know for certain at the end of The Hobbit that Bilbo had the ring, there's no reason in the world they shouldn't have just marched to Mordor to destroy the thing as soon as possible. Cool story, bro.)

The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 1

I enjoyed this one far more than I think I probably should! I don't have the time to devote to actually reading the books themselves so I don't have any opinion on how good a job they do with these adaptations, but they feel sturdy and well-constructed in a way that too many similar YA adaptations do not. Get a good cast, some decent material with surprisingly heavy themes, and you're off to the races. There are some images of Katniss and her crew walking over mountains of cremated skeletons and rubble that genuinely surprised me in a movie of this pedigree.

The One I Love

Now here is a movie from which I expected very little but which actually turned out to be very good! We sat down to watch this more out of a sense of obligation to the people in it than anything else - Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass usually have very good instincts as far as these things go. Expecting some kind of bland mumblecore-esque relationship drama, we got . . . well, here's the thing. It is kind of that. But I can't say what else it is. It's bad enough that I even have to hint at something else to entice you. I've already said too much. Just ... go see it for yourself. I'll wait. Quite satisfying.


Here's another movie that zigs when you think it should zag, only difference being that this a horror movie and these things are expected here. It's a New Zealand movie, and if you didn't know that going in you could probably pick it up from one of the many aspects of the film that are poached wholesale from Dead Alive (AKA Braindead if you're feeling pedantic). There's also the small matter of the Wes Craven influence . . . but telling you which of his films Housebound borrows from most liberally would be spoiling the whole game.

So I'm of two minds. On the one hand, it was a very well made, enjoyable film that was genuinely unpredictable and featured game performances from a handful of charmingly deadpan actors who I've never heard of before. It wears its influences gamely on its sleeve and has a lot of fun riffing on the audience's expectations. But on the other . . . some of the decisions made in the second half of the film seem to actively undermine the potential of the first half. It's one thing to watch a movie and be surprised when what you thought was one thing turned out to be something else all along, but another to be left thinking that the first thing you thought might well have been more interesting than what you actually got.

The Fall (2006)

I knew in advance this movie would be terrible. I watched it anyway. It was terrible. Why did I watch it? You're better off not knowing. The best part is when Thranduil from The Hobbit tries to trick a little girl into helping him kill himself by stealing morphine from the hospital pharmacy. Oh wait, that's all the movie. Yay?

The Interview

James Franco is the most absurd person to ever walk the planet, but I do have a soft spot for the movies where he spends the entire running time making fun of himself. It's a good look on him. And that's basically what The Interview is about, geopolitics notwithstanding: Franco is a self-centered idiot who doesn't understand why no one else takes him seriously, and in this he finds common cause with a genocidal dictator. It's a good look. The dick-and-shit jokes are slightly above normal caliber, and a splendid time is had by all.

That a movie this intentionally modest and silly became a cause célèbre on the field of international relations is weird. That the movie has been adopted by some North Korean exile groups, not because of its quality but precisely on account of its pervasive dumbness, is interesting. An argument I've heard from more than one source is that the film, being a bog-stupid comedy, works better at undermining the regime than the most powerful dramatic treatment could. It's flattering to the sensibilities of an America that prefers its political engagement as disengaged as possible, but there's some truth there as well.

Obvious Child

This isn't the first time you've heard anyone talk about how great this movie is and it won't be the last, but it doesn't lose anything from hearing it again. it's a good movie! Not just because of the fact that it's got an abortion in it or anything, that's what it's "about" but it's only what it's really about if you're uncomfortable about the idea of an American movie treating abortion in anything but a critical manner. It's a character study of a fucked-up girl in the same way that we get a seemingly infinite number of character studies of fucked-up boys - the only difference being, if this were a boy's movie Jenny Slate's character would be played by Jonah Hill and the budget would have been somewhere around $40 million dollars instead of a half-eaten bag of shoestring potatoes and some Kickstarter spare change.

But most importantly, it's funny. In another world movies like this would get made all the time - you know, movies where being a woman isn't a problem to be solved but a fact of life for half the population. Calling it feminist just for existing is a poor complement, but that's the shitty world in which we live.

Trailer Park Boys - Don't Legalize It

By all rights Trailer Park Boys should have passed it's sell-by date a while back. The idea that a show about white trash Canadian petty crooks and the trailer park in which they live would have lasted fifteen years without any real interruption - even allowing for the series' rights changing hands in 2012 - is pretty improbable on the face of it. But they've managed to tap a surprisingly deep vein of class antagonism and scatology. Even if every season and movie from the very first tells the exact same story, they have shown remarkable ingenuity in switching around the component parts in such a way as to make it seem new with every turn.

The movies take place at a slight remove from the show, in terms of continuity and characterization. Whereas the show, eight seasons in, does a good job of maintaining a pretty rigid stasis for each character - the point being that they're all trapped in Sunnydale forever doing the same thing over and over again until the day they die - things change in the movies, people get married, actions have vague consequences. To wit, Bubbles finds out his parents have died, leaving him their "house." Ricky drives to Ontario with the purpose of protesting the impending legalization of marijuana, with the understanding that if pot is legalized, "small business owners" such as himself will be pushed out of the market for good. And Julian figures out a sure-fire way to make a lot of money selling clean piss from the nearby military base. As you might expect, none of these plans go exactly right. I keep expecting not to laugh anymore, to see that the jokes have gotten stale or the slapstick performances less inspired. But it hasn't happened yet.


If you're clever you can figure out the common thread between this, The Fall, and The Hobbit. That's how I spent my winter vacation.

Thing is, I'm a sucker for talking animal movies like Garfield is a sucker for lasagna. I enjoyed this more than The Fall, and probably more than The Hobbit. The only thing this movie didn't have was a scene where Billy Connolly rides a pig, and honestly I'm still not sure how I feel about that.


DanielT said...

FINALLY, someone else who didn't absolutely love Housebound!

But it seems as though I'm still the only one who didn't love Obvious Child. I can't really say anything against it; it just didn't work for me.

Seems like suddenly many people are turning on to The One I Love, which is great. Another movie very much like this that I also wasn't expecting much from but also turned out to be good was Coherence.

Arion said...

Well, Peter Jackson should've done just one Hobbit movie instead of a trilogy.

By the way, I love the action figures!