A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 574 – Barbershop

Barbershop – September 25th, 2011

Oh, I am so full of mixed opinions on this movie. I didn’t buy it and it was purchased after this project got underway. But it was also purchased before we set a hard rule about not purchasing things without getting the explicit approval from each other. The “To Buy” list is exempt, since by its nature it’s all things we both want to get. But anything picked up by one of us needs to be okayed by the other. Andy, however, bought this after we had a general conversation about how while the collection does have a fair amount of drama and a number of foreign films, much of the rest of it is pretty homogeneous. And that was something we were both sort of uncomfortable with. We talked about how we might want to consider buying things that were very clearly not marketed towards 30-something white guys and try to expose ourselves to things outside our own lives but still in the realistic genre, as opposed to fantasy and whatnot. Cause goodness knows my personal experience doesn’t involve any sea monsters, talking lions, vampires or Jedi. And then Andy bought this and Diary of a Mad Black Woman without speaking to me first.

On one hand, I honestly don’t know what I would have picked. It’s been years since I worked in a video store. Currently I work in a children’s library. My knowledge of current movies is fairly limited to things I went to see in the theater, which really disqualifies something from the “not in my wheelhouse” category, or children’s movies. I can tell you what’s coming out based on children’s books! Still, that would definitely fall under “aimed at me” by dint of my profession. So really, what’s my problem here? My problem is that I feel like I have very little right to be reviewing this movie. It is so emphatically not aimed at me and I am so very much not a part of the cultural experience that this movie is based in. What right do I have to critique this? If I say I dislike part of it, how much of that dislike is based on my own ignorance? I am ill-equipped here and very leery of stepping on toes. I’m sure I will and I apologize in advance and will try my best not to tread too heavily.

All that being said, I hated the first half hour or so of this movie. And I feel no qualms about stating that. I hated it and I hated it for a very particular reason. And that reason is that an enormous amount of the comedy in the beginning of the movie is of the “aren’t women crazy sex objects?” variety. I honestly don’t care why that’s a thing. All I know is that for the first half of the movie, the only woman treated with any respect is the main character’s wife. That’s it. And you know what that is? Tiresome. Frustrating. Irritating. It gets better later on, once the main plot starts coming to a head, thank goodness, but the beginning of the movie has a series of “look how insane women get! So wild and crazy! And look at their asses! Women are crazy and will beat up your car! Or you! But they have great asses!” I don’t care who’s saying it. I don’t want to hear that. It’s weak humor at best.

Fortunately for this movie’s sake (as well as my marriage’s) it does get better as the plot goes on. It’s largely a comedy, but with a serious core that’s three quarters Empire Records and one quarter It’s A Wonderful Life, strictly speaking plotwise. Calvin Palmer is a barber who’s inherited a barbershop from his father, who inherited it from his father. And Calvin is struggling to make ends meet. The barbershop does do some business, but Calvin has started to see it as a bit of a financial vacuum, with people coming in just to hang out and folks asking for free haircuts. He wants to provide something more than what he’s got for his wife and the baby she’s going to be having soon. So he’s had scheme after scheme to make more money. And when a local businessman, Lester Wallace, offers to buy the barbershop from Calvin for twenty thousand dollars, Calvin seriously considers it. Of course, when he does take Wallace up on his offer there’s a catch and it looks like the barbershop will end up being closed and reopened as a “gentleman’s club” called “The Barbershop.” Calvin looks around at the community his barbershop is in and realizes the importance it has for people in the area and then has to find a way to get it back from Wallace.

Meanwhile, a couple of guys have smashed into a nearby convenience store and stolen the store’s new ATM, hoping to crack it open for the cash inside. This is the comic relief. Now, there’s also comedy going on in the barbershop, which is where the vast majority of the movie takes place, but it’s very talky comedy. The ATM plot is almost all slapstick. And I can appreciate that. Of course, as soon as someone mentions that ATMs can often be turned in for rewards worth more than the ATM would have in it, I knew where that was headed. Or I suspected, because up until the very end the two plots don’t seem at all connected, aside from the local police eyeing one of the barbers in the barbershop because he’s done time in jail before.

Now, I say it’s a cross between Empire Records and It’s a Wonderful Life for two reasons. One, it’s about someone trying to save a business that has more than financial meaning to a community that needs it. Two, it’s got a focus on the owner of the business realizing not only that his business is important to the community, but that he himself is important to the community. And I’m a sucker for that sort of story so I’m on board there. I do think that the whole thing with Wallace and the cash happens very quickly, forcing Calvin’s change of heart to happen even quicker. And that’s too bad, because it’s a good story and I genuinely like Ice Cube as Calvin. If, say, the sale had already happened and he’d spent the money on things for the baby, like setting up a nursery in the apartment or something, there would be more dramatic tension there. Having him take all the money right back an hour later and be told “No, now you owe me double that, by 7:00” isn’t precisely unrealistic for a loan shark, but with no legally binding contract and one enforcing heavy shown on screen? That just doesn’t make me feel like there was as much of a threat until the very end, and by then the conclusion is only a few minutes away.

I did like the side plot with the barbershop’s one female barber, Terri, and her eventual rejection of her scumbag cheater of a boyfriend. It doesn’t quite make up for the whole apple juice rant at the beginning, but it definitely helps the end. All the little plots end up tying together rather well, even if it does happen much faster than I’d like. I’m still not thrilled with the beginning. I found it unpleasant to watch. But I didn’t hate it by the end, thanks to a solidly developing story and some good performances. I doubt I’ll end up watching the movie again, but I don’t regret owning it as much as I did fifteen minutes into it.

September 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Barbershop

September 25, 2011

Barbershop

I bought this movie specifically because I wanted to have some things in my collection to broaden my horizons. I had customers and employees in my store at Blockbuster who adored this movie. They couldn’t stop laughing about the hood with all the clearly stolen merchandise that he kept coming into the barbershop to sell. They couldn’t stop talking about Cedric the Entertainer’s character Eddie and how irreverent and hilarious he was. Of course I realised that this movie was not made for me – I’m a privaleged white guy and this is a movie about the Chicago ghetto. This movie depicts a culture I cannot claim to be at all familiar with, but that was kind of the point when I bought it.

As we started to watch the movie tonight Amanda said “So this is Empire Records but for a different audience?” Yeah, she pretty much hit the nail on the head there. It’s a day in the life of a group of misfits and colorful characters who work together in a simple old-fashioned Barbershop that is in danger of being closed. We get to see them fight and make up and realize just how much they appreciate each other and ultimately how essential the barbershop is to the community and themselves.

Ice Cube plays Calvin, the lead character who works every day trying to make ends meet at the barbershop left to him by his father. It’s a community hang-out for all sorts of folks from the neighbourhood, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes any money. We see that Calvin’s father was an old softy who used to give free haircuts all the time and who gave jobs in his shop to all kinds of reprobates who wanted just to better themselves. Calvin feels trapped in the shop though and wants to do something on his own – maybe open a recording studio. The result is that he makes an ill-advised choice to sell the shop to a local scumbag and loan shark, and only afterwards does he realize what a mistake he’s made. For the most part the rest of the movie is Calvin trying to find a way to keep the shop as we see just what a wonderful place it is and how much it needs to be preserved.

I actually rented this before I bought it. I watched it alone one afternoon because I knew Amanda had no interest in seeing it, and I really enjoyed it. The whole “must save the collection of misfits” plot is as fun and compelling here as it was in Empire Records. The characters themselves, broadly written caricatures though they may be, are great fun to watch. There are a lot of genuine laughs in this movie that even an outsider like myself can’t help but enjoy. Those things my co-workers and customers raved about? Yeah, they’re hilarious. The guy who keeps coming into the store with more and more ludicrous things to fence? He’s great. He has a store tag dangling from his hat. At one point he comes in with a pair of dogs to sell, and at another he comes in with a satellite dish in his hand. I can kind of imagine the prop department trying to think of the strangest things they could give him for his next appearance.

Then there’s Cedric the Entertainer. Ice Cube may be the star of the movie but it’s Cedric that stole the show. His curmudgeonly old barber Eddie has most of the best moments with his stand up routines about the civil rights movement and his outrageous opinions about absolutely everything. The best thing about his rants is that you feel slightly embarrassed for laughing at them. Director Tim Story does an expert job of providing just the right amount of disbelief from the other inhabitants of the shop. This movie is absolutely packed with great reaction shots and snappy comebacks to make the comedy come to life.

I also hate to admit how much I laughed during my first viewing at the over-the-top slapstick of Anthony Anderson as the comic relief who has stolen an ATM machine but can’t figure out how to get it open. There’s one particular moment, when he’s trying to get it down a flight of stairs and a big man in a red sweatshirt is trying to come the other way that still cracks me up. It’s stupid broad slapstick humor, but it still funny.

I genuinely enjoy this movie. I know that Amanda objected a lot to the way it treats many of the women in the beginning of the movie, and it does have a disturbing tendency to focus on their asses which is fairly uncomfortable, but for the most part I find this an enjoyable film full of fun characters and with some absolutely shockingly funny monologues. I hope it doesn’t come off as condescending that I view this movie as somewhat like a foreign film in regards to how I view it. It shows me a culture that I am not in any way a part of, and it treats that culture for the most part in a positive light. An argument could even be made that some of the slang being used might qualify it as a foreign language to me. It just doesn’t have subtitles. I honestly do feel that I need more movies like this one in my collection.

September 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , | Leave a comment

Movie 573 – The Return of the King (1980)

placeholderThe Return of the King (1980) – September 24th, 2011

Where do I even begin? I’d seen this ages ago and unlike the other two animated adaptations, this one just didn’t stick with me. I had vague memories of songs and unpleasantness and that was about it. Now I know, I must have blocked it out of disappointment. It’s a truly sad conclusion to the animated trio of movies and I’m going to have to watch the new version of the last book several times to get this thing out of my head. And while I’m more than happy to re-watch the new adaptations any time, it’s a sad state of affairs when one is watching them to clear out the memory of Meriadoc Brandybuck as voiced by Casey Kasem. Never should one have to wonder if Merry is going to say “zoinks,” though I suppose Hobbits do tend to smoke a lot so there is that to consider.

We really only bought this because it seemed silly to have the animated versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and not the conclusion. I don’t know, now, why that was so silly. We should have known better, really. Andy had a much clearer memory of it than I did and we still purchased it. Maybe he likes it better than I do. All I can say is that about five minutes in I started to tune out. Why? Because it became apparent that this movie was picking up from The Hobbit, character designs, singing and all. And while that style worked okay in a story that was intended for a younger audience, and the songs in that were taken from Tolkien’s writing, I honestly think it is terribly ill-suited to this story. And these songs? No. Not Tolkien. No.

It’s an odd sort of follow-up, having to deal with the strange pacing of the Bakshi movie that preceded it. After all, the last one ended in the middle of The Two Towers, with Helm’s Deep dealt with but the travels of Sam, Frodo and Gollum only just beginning. And on the flip side, since they had all that stuff from The Hobbit this version picks up from that too. I mean, why bother actually animating what was going on in this story when they could make flashback montages? Apparently it was always intended to be made as a sequel to The Hobbit, regardless of the Bakshi film, which I just find bizarre. Sure, let’s omit the entire first two books. That sounds like a grand idea.

There are some events in this one from the second book, but for the most part it is an extremely truncated version of The Return of the King. It’s heavily narrated and contains quite a few songs, making it feel more like an animated musical Cliff Notes version of the book as opposed to an actual adaptation. I’d go over the plot, but like I said, I tuned out. I know things happened, but I don’t really care. And I don’t think the movie much cared either, given the aforementioned narration. I do recall that a lot of time was spent on Sam carrying the One Ring and considering what he might do with it, making the world one huge garden full of beautiful plants. So instead of a Dark Lord they would have a Gardener? Not dark, but green and bountiful as the harvest? Riotous as the vines and stronger than the roots? All shall weed and despair? Whatever. I rolled my eyes whenever the movie tried to make it this big damn hero moment.

The movie does seem to focus mainly on the Sam and Frodo aspect of the story, but there are bits from the rest as well. The battle at Minas Tirith and Denethor’s madness and all that is indeed in there, but it has so much less impact in this movie than it should because there’s no real lead-in to it all. Who gives a damn that Eowyn pulls off her helmet and reveals herself to be a woman when facing down the Witch King in the Battle of Pelenor Fields when we weren’t ever really given any time with her prior to that? The whole Gondor aspect of the plot feels so much less for the lack of time spent on it. And this isn’t a long movie at all. It’s under 100 minutes all told, so the lack of details and plot was clearly intentional. Someone decreed that they didn’t matter so much and weren’t connected to The Hobbit so they didn’t have footage to do flashbacks from so they’re not there.

I just can’t bring myself to take this movie seriously. The songs alone would disqualify it but then there’s the goofy looking character design and the complete lack of several major characters and plot points. And yet they kept in things like the Mouth of Sauron. Come on, the Mouth of Sauron is supposed to be scary, as are the Orcs. How am I supposed to take either one seriously when they’re done by Rankin and Bass? I just can’t do it. Maybe if I could have forced myself to keep my attention on the screen I’d have found more positives to say about the movie, but I couldn’t. And that should be damning enough, really.

September 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Return of the King (1980)

September 24, 2011

The Return of the King (1980)

How can such a short movie seem so interminable?

After Ralph Bakshi’s strange rotoscoped Lord of the Rings movie ends abruptly after the battle at Helm’s Deep there was a need for a conclusion to the series. This movie, produced by Rankin and Bass like the Hobbit made for TV movie that came before it, is that conclusion. What’s bizarre about this movie is that it tries to follow up on the Bakshi movie, but it is also a sort of sequel to the Rankin/Bass Hobbit. It might have made more sense if they had re-made the first two books in the style of the Hobbit before moving on to this one, but I suppose there were rights issues, and it had only been a couple years since the theatrical animated Lord of the Rings film. So this movie attempts to be a sequel to the Hobbit that assumes knowledge at least of the happenings in the first two Lord of the Rings books but does not directly follow on to the Bakshi film.

The result of this odd choice is that this movie has to spend a LOT of time explaining what’s going on. We’re eased into the action by a lengthy prologue that takes place in the house of Elrond after all the events of the great war of the ring. The movie is told in flashback as the story of how Frodo lost his finger and the one ring as related to Bilbo. I suppose that from a story-telling perspective it’s slightly preferable to just a lengthy voice-over (although there are plenty of those later on) but it does somewhat eliminate any tension in the story since we know at the start how things are going to end up.

This movie also suffers from the problem the Hobbit film had, which is that the action scenes are necessarily truncated by budgetary restrictions. It’s not nearly as pronounced here as in the Hobbit, but it is still clear that the large epic battle at Minas Tirith cannot be fully realized in animated form. Oh, there are a lot of scenes of battle and carnage, but they all feel.. somewhat elided. We get to see little highlights of the battle, but for the blow-by-blow we must rely on the narration provided by Gandalf, who explains most of what’s going on.

All this narration and the prologue, and the internal monologues of the characters combine to make this a dreadfully exposition filled movie. I’d say there’s probably more exposition than actual dialog, which makes the movie rather tedious to watch. It is the ultimate example of telling instead of showing.

Then there are the songs. The songs in the animated Hobbit movie, constant as they are, at least for the most part use Tolkien’s words. These songs were written by producer Jules Bass, and they are not very well written at that. The male chorus constantly singing about the ring bearer/the ring wearer are just another form of exposition, really, in an already exposition heavy movie. This is the movie that has the song about “Frodo of the Nine Fingers” and the famous “Where there’s a Whip There is a Way” song. The incessant singing is irritating and insipid.

I will say that the animation in this movie is significantly better, in my opinion, than that in yesterday’s film. It shows its Japanese anime roots rather more than the Hobbit did, (Such as the glowing hero pose that Sam strikes while bearing the ring) but it’s a significant step up from that film. I enjoyed seeing the character design from the Hobbit movie brought over to this deeper, more expansive story. As a movie, however, this leaves much to be desired. Amanda commented as we watched it that it felt like an abridged book on tape of the Return of the King with some animation added in. I’m very glad that Peter Jackson gifted the world with his absolutely stellar live action trilogy based on the same books, because as soon as we were done watching this we put his Fellowship of the Ring in to fulfill our Lord of the Rings needs. For decades this interminable and plodding adaptation was all that Lord of the Rings fans had, and that’s a kind of sad thing.

September 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 572 – The Lord of the Rings (1978)

The Lord of the Rings (1978) – September 23rd, 2011

Following last night’s movie, we move on to a very differently done adaptation of Tolkien’s works. Instead of the very cartoonish style of Rankin and Bass, we have here the rotoscoped animation from Ralph Bakshi. I know it’s got a very mixed reputation and to be honest, I’m not really a zealot about it in either direction. That being said, I do like it. I vastly prefer the newer Peter Jackson version of the story, but I don’t dislike this. I will grant, however, that it is an odd taste and I am well aware that my opinion will not be shared by many others.

I first saw this movie long before I knew what rotoscoping was. I watched it and for some reason I really liked it, odd as it is, and so it remained in my head that it was something I enjoyed even long after the last time I’d seen it. Some years later I learned about rotoscoping and what it meant and how it was done. Personally, I think it’s fascinating and produces some very odd stuff. I don’t know if it was the best choice of medium for this particular story, but there are some bits and pieces that I think work very nicely. Oh, it’s far from perfect, and I have some very specific issues (such as the actor who played Gimli being only slightly shorter than the actors playing the humans and elves and this not being adjusted in post), but I don’t have any real hate for it.

The biggest issue I have with this movie is that while it does tell the story fairly well, it’s paced horribly. Part of it is that the original book is incredibly dense. Even the incredibly long special editions of the new versions are missing whole chunks of story and entire characters, so it’s no shock that the story is compressed more than a bit in this animated version and that certain things were lost. But add to that the odd choice to carry the story out of the first book and into the second and it just feels off.

I won’t go into detail about the story, since really, I don’t think I have to. The basic points are all ther. Bilbo Baggins decides to leave the Shire and handing over his home and the One Ring to his nephew, Frodo. Gandalf later realizes what the ring Frodo has actually is and sends him and his friends off to Rivendell. Once at Rivendell a fellowship of Gandalf, the four Hobbits, two men, an elf and a dwarf is formed to take the ring to Mordor to destroy it. Action ensues. But where the original book ends with Frodo and Sam parting ways with the rest of the fellowship after Boromir tries to take the ring, this movie continues. We follow Frodo and Sam and see them realize that Gollum has been following them, then we see them capture him to force him to be their guide to Mordor. We also follow the rest of the fellowship. We see Merry and Pippin meet up with Treebeard and remeet Gandalf and we travel to Rohan and see the confrontation between Gandalf and King Theoden. And finally we see the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Well, not finally. I believe the Frodo and Sam bit is the actual end of the movie.

Consider that for a moment. If you’re not terribly familiar with the original books it might not sound like a bad thing. After all, why not end with a big climactic battle? The trouble is that the big climactic battle is actually the big climactic battle from the first half of the second book in the trilogy. In the new versions it’s the climax of the second movie. Here it happens and then there’s no follow-up to it. I believe this was done in the hopes of making the trilogy into a pair of movies, each handling roughly a book and a half. But then the second movie never got made. Not by Bakshi, anyhow. This wasn’t a two movie deal or anything. So when it didn’t meet with critical raves the second proposed movie never got funded. Instead Rankin and Bass took up the reins again and we got tomorrow’s movie. Alas.

Here’s the thing: I think the semi-realistic, dreamlike and sometimes very dark animation style of the rotoscoping works. It’s a stylistic thing and somewhat a matter of taste, but I do find it interesting. Some day I’m going to have to go back and watch the movie far more carefully than I did this evening as I’m not sure if this was intentional or simply a side effect of the rotoscoping process, but there’s a tendency for the darker parts of the movie to have more texture left over from the original live action footage. And I can see how that could be used very interestingly indeed. The goblins and orcs, for example, tend to show up in darker lighting than the more heroic characters, so they end up with more artifacts from the live action, making them grittier and more shadowy. The heroes, on the other hand, are shown in brighter lighting, resulting in less texture and a more solid appearance. And I can see how this side effect of the process could be used artistically to portray the differences between the heroes and the villains. Unfortunately, I suspect not quite enough thought or effort went into it to achieve such a thing. Still, it’s one reason I really do like the rotoscoping.

There are quite a few changes made to the story, which is only to be expected. In this version it’s Legolas who meets them after Frodo is stabbed by one of the Nazgul. It’s actually supposed to be an elf named Glorfindel, who’s got a huge history associated with him from The Silmarillion but who is otherwise not really crucial to the story of Frodo and the fellowship. It makes perfect sense to me to have changes like that. What I’m not terribly fond of is the visual depictions of the humans in the movie. They’ve got a very barbaric quality to them, with both Aragorn and Boromir wearing tiny little tunics with no pants or leggings and Boromir wearing a helmet with horns on. The lack of pants had me giggling far too much, what with the “Gondor needs no pants” thing that came from the meme where key words in famous movie lines are replaced by the word “pants”. But it’s also bizarre to me. Apparently Aragorn is the Pantsless Ranger. Me? I’d want something on my legs if I was going mucking around in the woods in all seasons.

That being said, my issues with the movie are mostly small things. They’re certainly not enough to quash my enjoyment of it. It’s entirely possible that said enjoyment is driven by nostalgia, but watching it tonight with a more critical eye than I did when I was a kid, I still have to say I think it’s a solid movie. I don’t expect everyone to like it. I do expect that the animation style will turn some people off by its very nature. But I don’t really care. I just wish that the second movie had been made to follow this one and made by the same people. The dark semi-realism of the animation here is, in my opinion, far more suited to the story than the cartoonish goofiness of Rankin and Bass. But that’s a complaint for tomorrow.

September 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

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September 23, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 571 – The Hobbit (1977)

The Hobbit (1977) – September 22nd, 2011

I’m not sure which we bought first, this or the 1978 Lord of the Rings. This we have on VHS, so I suspect we’ve owned it for a while but I can’t say for certain. I know I bought Lord of the Rings at a library book sale, but I forget when. Regardless, we’ve been holding on to them for a while, waiting for today. Because today? Today is Hobbit Day. And since the first part of the new version is still over a year away, well, we started with this one. Happy Hobbit Day. Now, let’s sing some songs!

No, really, I’m totally serious. The songs are what I remember the most from this version. I suspect that the new one will have far less singing, even if Tolkien himself was prone to putting songs in his books. When my father read them to me he’d always skip the songs. “And then they sang a song… about breaking plates.” That’s what I got until I saw this. The song from the beginning of the movie really is in the book. I don’t think all of the songs in the movie are in the book, but they’re not all just tossed in there to make this into a musical. And hey, I have to admit, it was a successful thing for the movie if I remember the songs so clearly so long after last seeing this. It has to have been at least fifteen years.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, it’s a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, telling the story of Bilbo Baggins and how he came to have the One Ring in his possession at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. The story begins with Gandalf showing up in the Shire, maneuvering Bilbo into joining a group of Dwarves who are going on a quest to claim a huge pile of treasure from a dragon named Smaug. Gandalf claims Bilbo is a burglar, though he is no such thing, and off they all go. They have a number of little adventures on their way to the Lonely Mountain including Bilbo getting split off from the rest of the group and finding himself playing a game of riddles with a creature named Gollum. Up until then, Gollum had been the Ring’s owner, but Bilbo finds it on the ground in Gollum’s cave. Since wearing it renders one invisible, Bilbo finds it quite useful indeed as the rest of the story progresses. Eventually he faces off against Smaug, using his invisibility to make himself seem more formidable.

Towards the end there’s a big battle between the Men and Elves and the Goblins and it’s always felt a little lacking to me. I’d need to look at the book to determine if it really is, but if I’ve got three armies on a field I want grandeur and I’ve never quite gotten it from this movie. Also, I’m not entirely thrilled with the visual depictions of the Elves and Goblins. The Elves were supposed to be the first residents of Middle Earth, wisest and most beautiful and graceful. And instead we have these blueish-green dudes with spindly arms and legs, knobbly joints and oddly bulbous heads. The Goblins all remind me a little of Snarf from Thundercats, which is also a Rankin and Bass production so I suppose that at least makes sense. Come to think of it, that likeness also applies to Smaug so now it makes sense that I’ve always considered him somewhat feline in looks. Now, the Dwarves and Bilbo? I can totally get on board with all of them. Gandalf too, and Gollum. So I suppose I shouldn’t get too bogged down by the Goblins and the Elves, since the movie’s focus is on Bilbo and the Dwarves.
Overall, I do enjoy this movie. It’s cheesy and it’s got some questionable visual depictions, but it’s also got some serious nostalgia for me. I’m afraid I don’t have much more to say about it aside from that. It’s not masterfully made and despite having had the Fifteen Birds song stuck in my head since we watched it, I’d probably have to say I prefer my father’s way of dealing with the songs better. But I do like Bilbo and the Dwarves. And I do like Smaug, likeness to Snarf notwithstanding. It hits the major plot points that I remember and does do decently enough. I don’t think I’d use it to introduce any kids to the story these days, and I’m glad I was introduced to it through the book well before I watched this movie. But all that being said, I’m glad we own it.

September 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Hobbit (1977)

September 22, 2011

The Hobbit

To celebrate Hobbit Day this year we’ve chosen to start watching the three animated Tolkien movies we have in our collection. Tonight is the Rankin/Bass Hobbit. Both Amanda and I have fond memories of our fathers reading to us from The Hobbit as children. This tale of a simple Hobbit plucked from the comfort of his hole for a grand adventure is one of those iconic stories that defines my childhood. Here, as illustration, is a picture of me dressed as Thorin Okenshield for Halloween in 1979:

Andy as Thorin

So naturally this movie is a thing of great nostalgia for me. More for the story than for the film itself.

I will say that as we watched tonight it struck me how rapidly the story of the Hobbit was told here. The way this book is put together is very episodic – each chapter is its own quick adventure. This works wonderfully for a bedtime story if you’re hearing a chapter or two each night, but compressed into the timeline of a TV movie it felt rushed to me. Each episode was compressed into just a couple of minutes: the dinner, the trolls, Elrond, the storm in the mountains, fleeing from the trolls and being rescued by the eagles, Mirkwood and the spiders, the elves and escaping by river… it is almost overwhelming. The movie does slow down and allow a couple scenes to play out at length, and I feel like those are its strongest moments.

The first time the movie pauses is for the Riddles in the Dark chapter with Bilbo and Gollum. It allows most of the riddles to be told in full (although one is presented as a song – which is in keeping with the rest of this movie but seems a little strange and the one about the thirty-two white horses is missing.) I like having a little bit of a breather there before it’s back into the rapidfire attempt to fit more bits of the book into a very short space. Then the film pauses again for the interaction between Bilbo and Smaug, which is also a lot of fun.

Part of the reason that things feel so disjointed and hurried I think is that the animation budget for the film really didn’t include enough to have actual action scenes. It’s very strange. There are a couple places which clearly call for action, but instead involve flashy light-show overlays while still pictures spin around. I think this contributes to the jumpy nature of the film because you want there to be some action to provide resolution to the events of a particular chapter, but instead there’s a strange interlude, and then the movie dives directly into a completely different scene.

It has been many years since I last watched this adaptation, but it’s a film with a very distinctive style that sticks with you. The design of the characters can be largely summed up in a single word: noses. Seriously – these characters are all gigantic schnozes with faces tucked in somewhere behind them. I suppose it works for the most part, and it allows the characters to be distinctively non-human. It also fits the artistic style of the film. The gorgeous water color backgrounds that portray the world of Middle Earth really need a strong feel for the characters that will inhabit it, and the movie delivers on that very well.

The other lasting impression of this movie comes from the many, many songs. From “we must away ‘ere break of day” when the dwarfs meet Bilbo to the “greatest adventure” over the opening credits this movie sets the stage for there to be a song of some sort over just about every scene. Most of them come from the poems Tolkien littered the book with, so I suppose they’re faithful to the source material.

Anyhow, this is a distinctive and memorable adaptation of a little piece of my childhood – even if it does feel badly rushed a lot of the time. I was interested to note that the movie does a lot of setting up for the Lord of the Rings right at the end, particularly in light of the fact that Rankin/Bass did not actually end up making the animated Lord of the Rings movie that we are going to watch tomorrow – although they did get to do the conclusion to the series.

September 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 570 – Going Postal

Going Postal – September 21st, 2011

After watching the television adaptations of both Hogfather and The Colour of Magic, Andy and I were excited to find out that an adaptation of Going Postal was in the works. I do have to wonder what the thought process has been when choosing which of Pratchett’s many Discworld books to make into movies. I mean, I can’t imagine that it’s a matter of an effects budget, since Hogfather has a number of effects needed. And it isn’t that any one particular sub-group from Discworld is being followed. Hogfather is a Death book and The Colour of Magic is Rincewind. Going Postal is one of a number that focus on Lord Vetinari and the goings on in the city of Ankh Morpork, but not necessarily on Commander Vimes and the Night Watch, since they have their own set of stories. And aside from The Colour of Magic being the start of the entire series, these other ones aren’t so much. So how did they get chosen? No idea.

Not that I have anything against Going Postal! I really quite like it. But it does have a whole hell of a lot of characters who are introduced in other books. Here they’re just… there. Already. Unintroduced. I suppose it doesn’t much matter. I can’t imagine that these adaptations are really being aimed at the uninitiated who’ve never read any Discworld books. I suspect we’re expected to know who Chancellor Ridcully is and why there’s a vampire doing photography for the local paper. We’re supposed to know that the blond city watch officer who growls at our lead character is a werewolf. We’re supposed to know how Ankh Morpork works. I suppose this does make for a good stand-alone-ish adaptation, since the main characters and plot aren’t directly dependent on knowing all the rest of the canon. In that light, I’d love to see Pratchett’s Small Gods done, but only if it’s done extremely well.

Anyhow, we join the story at its beginning, meeting main character Moist von Lipwig and learning a little bit about how he’s a con man and good at it until it catches up to him and he finds himself being hanged for his crimes. The thing is, Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh Morpork, is a clever man. And he wants a new Postmaster to get the post office back in shape. How better to do that than hand it over to a man used to getting money out of people for very little in return? He puts Moist in charge and sets a guard on him (a golem in this case, which makes it difficult for Moist to slip away) and then it’s up to Moist to figure out how to do it. What Moist does is introduce stamps. And in the book I remember this being a fantastic part of the story. I remember it being a fairly large part too, figuring in throughout the book. Maybe I’m misremembering it. Maybe I inflated it because it tickled me so much. But in the movie it comes up, and then the perforated edges show up, and then… It’s not so big a deal for the rest of the story.

Sadly, it’s been a while since I read the book. Long enough that I’m not entirely certain what’s been changed and how. Oh, I know things have been changed, but the specifics are a little lost to me. The overall plot, with Moist and the post office and the Clacks (a sort of semaphore tower system that Pratchett has described as the internet if the world didn’t have computers or electricity) and all that? Yes. That is the plot. Moist is charged with reopening the post office to compete with the Clacks because the Clacks monopoly on communication has allowed it to take a dive in terms of quality and service. So, it needs competition and the post office is it. It’s the details I’m not entirely sure of. I remember Adora Belle, whose father was involved in the creation of the Clacks system. I remember Stanley the post office assistant and his pin collection (he soon turns his focus towards stamps – once they exist, that is). I remember the mail becoming alive. I remember the gold hat and suit Moist ends up wearing. And like I said, I remember the stamps. But I’m sure there are changes.

I’m going to have to reread the book to pinpoint the big differences, let alone the little ones. Overall, however, I didn’t think the plot suffered from anything that was altered. I could wish for more stamps and more post office weirdness, but the story of Moist rebuilding the post office and creating interest in it and making it a viable alternative to the Clacks? Yeah, that worked for me. I do have to admit, I’m not entirely sold on the Moist and Adora romance plot, but I don’t recall being terribly fond of it in the book either. Both characters? Yes, I like both characters. I just don’t really care if they get together. What did occur to me as the movie went on was that it was a bunch of little episodes in the development of the post office under Moist’s leadership and the storyline meandered a bit. But to be honest? I don’t really mind.

I get the impression from poking around online that I am going to be somewhat lonely in this opinion, but I absolutely loved the casting for this adaptation. I realize that Vetinari’s accepted look is less ginger, but Charles Dance had the perfect delivery for him. I did enjoy seeing David Suchet as the villain of the story, Reacher Gilt. Ian Bonar was wonderful as Stanley and I did quite like Claire Foy as Adora. And then there’s Richard Coyle as Moist. Maybe it’s that I’m biased towards him, having loved him in Coupling, but I really did enjoy watching him in the lead here. I’m sure other people have other opinions, but none of the casting really bothered me in the least.

The biggest issue for me here is that there’s a lack of a certain Discworldish flavor in the movie. Certainly, the creation of the stamps and the Clacks hackers and Lord Vetinari are as Discworldish as I could want. But the thing I love about the books is that they’re absolutely chock full of reminders that this world has much of what our world has or had, but done their way. The “computer” at the Unseen University (full of wizards), for example, with its parts powered by ants and label reading “Ant hill inside”? That’s a classic piece of Discworld humor and worldbuilding. And I don’t really know that this movie showcased what makes Discworld what it is. Fun as it was, it was lacking a certain something that makes Discworld special. And that’s a shame, because otherwise I really very much enjoyed it.

September 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Going Postal

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September 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment