Mid-winter Movie Reviews

The Hobbit
To be fair, I have to state that I’m a complete LOTR (Lord of the Rings) geek. I’ve read these books (including The Hobbit) almost yearly from the late 60s on. Really, there’s not much Peter Jackson could do that wouldn’t have me giddy with enjoyment. He’s no Ralph Bakshi, thank goodness.

So, yeah, I liked this movie. For my taste the movie was better in the lower speed 2d version. This could be due to my inability to watch anything in 3d longer than a few minutes without getting a slight feeling of carsickness. The movie does lose something when you spend half the watching time with your eyes closed, waiting for the nausea to stop. I saw it in 3d with my daughter, who was able to keep the glasses on for the full movie. She liked the 3d but felt the movie looked too glossy, with the characters not seeming quite real. I’d like to give my opinion, but as I mentioned I wasn’t able to watch enough of it with the greater speed to have an opinion.

I was able to watch the entire 2d version. There wasn’t a single moment where I thought, “wow – if only this were in 3d”. It was great to see the same characters, and kudos to the makeup artists for subtle details that made the almost-immortals of elves and wizards look slightly younger to show the 60-year difference between The Hobbit & LOTR.

Tolkien wrote The Hobbit a decade before LOTR. He spent a lot of time on Lord of the Rings; his goal was to create a British mythology. One of the interesting things he did was to create a lot of extra material added as appendices to the final printed edition. The appendices contain additional information not included in the main books. Some of these dealt with the dwarves, providing greater information on their history and culture. Jackson mined these for additional materials, and that is where the extra story lines come in.

That’s an expansion I don’t mind. The expansion of battle scenes is one I do. Tolkien was not attempting to write sword and scorcery novels and he never wanted the action to be focused on fighting. He was interested in the different peoples of Middle Earth, and their interactions. Battles were a part of that, but his prose spends little time on them. I realize that battle scenes make great cinema, but there’s a similarity from fight to fight that, for me, gets boring. I could have done with about 30 minutes less fighting.

Still, I liked the movie and will be there in line next December, money in hand, for part 2.

Silver Linings Playbook
I saw this movie before the Oscar buzz happened. The story line – two people who’ve each faced loss in their life – resonated with me, and the trailers looked amusing.

What a great surprise. The movie is a deft interweaving of a serious story told in a comic way. The main character is Pat Solitano, a Philly born and bred 30ish guy who’s spent the previous 8 months in a psychiatric lockup facility after severely beating the man he found showering with his wife. During his incarceration he’s been diagnosed as bipolar and been given a boat load of medications to deal with that. He’s also been through a lot of therapy and decided that he can recreate his life to be better. Better, in his case, means getting back together with his wife, who in the meantime has filed for divorce and taken out a restraining order on him.

A married friend invites him to dinner, where he meets the friend’s sister-in-law; an attractive young widow, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who dealt with the loss of her husband by sleeping with everyone. The two initially bond over a pretty hilarious discussion on the merits of different psychotropic medications. They bond more seriously over a plan; she needs him as a partner in a dance contest, and he needs her to smuggle letters to his soon-to-be-ex-wife. While they don’t realize it, they also bond as two souls who’ve both been hurt, badly, and can help heal each other.

There are lots of delightful little quirks to this movie. Robert De Niro plays the father of main character Bradley Cooper, and actually seems to act instead of falling back on his now-standard routine of quirky tics. His character has been banned from the Eagles stadium due to excessive fighting, and is trying to raise money for a restaurant by bookmaking. His anger management issues and clearly OCD behavior, none of which has seemed to cause him much grief in life, beggar the question of who is sane and who isn’t. He ends up making a huge bet on both the Philadelphia Eagles and the dance contest that becomes the climax of the movie. Chris Tucker shines in a small role as a friend of Pat’s from the psychiatric facility.

It’s not hard to realize that this is a classic rom-com and that, of course, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence will end up falling in love and realizing it only at the last possible moment. There’s nothing new about that. But the movie is well written, well acted, and genuine. The people in it may do things that are funny, but they are never caricatures. The acting is sensational, and even the small parts seem real and honest.

Downton Abbey & Manor House
I know, not a movie; but I hadn’t seen this during its first 2 years here in the US. While on vacation I watched a few episodes a day on my tablet and got hooked. The acting is superb, the costumes are gorgeous, and mostly it’s just a great relief to watch these people and realize that the days of the aristocracy are (mostly) behind us.

While watching Downton Abbey I’ve been thinking a lot about another BBC show that came over here about 10 years ago. Called Manor House, http://www.pbs.org/manorhouse/theproject/making.html this show took modern Brits and put them into an Edwardian manor house for 3 months. Most participants were cast as servants; one lucky family played the aristocrats. The show wasn’t great; it was done early on in the reality TV world, and at times it seemed to repeat itself, but it was fascinating to see how quickly the “lord’s” family started thinking of themselves as being entitled to the level of care and servitude being given by an ever more unhappy group of servants.

I enjoyed this when it was first run on PBS, and think it would be a great follower for Downton Abbey.


2 thoughts on “Mid-winter Movie Reviews

  1. I’m starting to think we should plan a movie date…! I love your reviews, and taste in movies. I was just considering going to the Hobbit this weekend, but have not had the courage yet for a solo movie outing, so keep resorting to Return of the King on tv. Thank you for your kind feedback on my blog, I am still so scattered, I have a hard time replying, but I, too see a lot of similarities in how we describe our experiences. I’m serious about a movie date…mind if I send you a personal email? I believe I can do so via your comment on my blog…if you are not interested, that’s fine too, no offense will be taken.

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