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Burn in the Forest

posted on Jul 25, 2014
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Check out my story on Exposure.

Did Peter Jackson just jump the shark?

posted on Dec 23, 2013

I was stoked for the 2nd installment of The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug. Peter Jackson had so far proved himself an adequate steward of Tolkien on the big screen. I didn't agree with all of his artistic decisions, but I understood them at least, and could forgive him the occasional gaffe simply because he got most things right. I'd give him a B+, perhaps even an A- for his work on the Lord of the Rings, and the first installment of The Hobbit looked like it was going to continue in this tradition.

Spoilers Below!

The Hobbit is not a large book. So stretching the middle third of it out into a 2.5 hour movie was going to involve some creative plotting. But that's okay, there were actually quite a few little adventures the dwarves and Bilbo got into while crossing Mirkwood, plus I knew they would be delving into auxiliary material covering Gandalf's adventures with the Necromancer, so I wasn't too concerned.

So I was a little surprised and concerned when the band got through Mirkwood, apparently in less than 1 day. Literally, "We're going in circles, oh no, spiders!" and then they were in the Elven King's dungeons, and Mirkwood was dispensed with. Jackson apparently wasn't going to spin out the movie with the awesomeness of the dark forest. Shame, so much potential for medieval mythic imagery, and the Faerie-like trickery of the dark sylvan elves. But he just phoned it in, recycling old Elvish art direction from Rivendell and Lorien, despite the differences in the elf cultures described by Tolkien.

To make up for dropping all of the Mirkwood potential (perhaps the DVD will reinsert them as bonus scenes), he added a ridiculous barrel-riding chase scene, and an extended Laketown sequence that tried to evoke political intrigues for no apparent reason. It was here that I began to get deeply concerned about an impending shark jump. Jackson split the dwarf band in two, leaving behind 3 dwarves in Laketown, which then led to an orc attack, and an elvish counter-attack... inside Laketown. Perhaps I am alone in wondering how this could go down in a fortified town of hardy northern men without any of them getting involved. This skirmish did nothing to advance the story, so I can only assume that there is more nonsense to come that will only become apparent in the next movie, so we have that to look forward to.

Meanwhile, Thorin and the rest of the company rush to the Lonely Mountain in a single day, get into the secret side door, and send Bilbo in on reconnaissance. Another hasty rush through essential plot points--which is alarming, because there is close to an hour of movie to go.

And then the movie goes completely off the rails.

I'm not going to dissect it in detail, because frankly, it was just plain stupid and I have no desire to re-live it. But suffice it to say that the 10 remaining dwarves get into a running battle with Smaug the dragon, and defeat him by taking a few minutes out to smelt more gold than exists in the whole world, cast a huge statue of a dwarf, and use it to flabbergast Smaug long enough that they can attempt to drown him in a veritable lake of molten gold.

In a feat of 1990s-level CGI, Smaug emerges from the gold like a glistening T-1000, and decides at that point that he should just abandon his lair and gold to these intruders, and fly off to Laketown, because... well who the hell knows at this point!? I'd like to say "because that's what he did in the book!" but that clearly was not a concern during the preceding 45 minutes of fucktardery.

I'll be looking forward to the fan re-edit of this one--one that drops the idiotic "action" sequences that do nothing to advance the story, and restores some of the faerie whimsy tone that was enticingly present in the first instalment. I'll also spend a lot of time wondering what Guillermo Del Toro might have done instead.

10 worst best films of all time

posted on Apr 30, 2012
So Roger Ebert just added Tree of Life to his 10 best films of all time list. Which I don't get because it was poorly structured, unmemorable, and tedious, which is a pretty friggin' impressive achievement for a movie with dinosaurs and Brad Pitt in it. And that Hallmark greeting card version of the afterlife at the end--complete with sunsets, waves, and wheeling birds--was like a Sunday school orientation video it was so unspeakably clichéd and dorky.

And he chose this over Synecdoche, NY. I guess some things in life just defy analysis.

But this does raise the question: what are the absolute worst best films of all time? Here's my list, and I'm putting Tree of Life in the #1 position, just because it's annoying me right now.

  1. Tree of Life - I was ready to cut my own throat after the first hour, but I was pretty sure that the film would redeem itself in some way before the end. Perhaps a character would show up that we cared about. My money was on Sean Penn, since his purpose in the film was otherwise inexplicable. (I lost that bet. He talks about uninteresting things to someone on the phone, and he rides an elevator, and he looks annoyed about the stupid role that he has to play.) Perhaps something resembling a plot would become evident. Okay, forget plot--maybe something would just HAPPEN. Anything, please! Nope. The most exciting part of the movie for me was when the end credits started to roll. Yes!
  2. Forrest Gump - Here's a movie that celebrates how mental inadequacy and the American Dream go hand-in-hand. Seriously, wut?
  3. Citizen Kane - It's like the old joke about Shakespeare: it would be better if it wasn't so full of clichés. Except, it probably wouldn't. I think movies should at least be memorable, and the only thing I can remember about this film was the "Rosebud..." ending, which has been repeated in so many places, it's probably now a false memory that was implanted by a Simpsons episode.
  4. Vertigo - I just start laughing when the psychedelic effects start in. Okay, maybe there was a time when that shit actually worked, but it stopped being that time somewhere in the 1960s. And we are talking about the greatest films of all time, after all, not films that were great for 3 years until their special effects technology became comical.
  5. Raging Bull - I like De Niro. I like Scorsese. But I can't remember anything about this film. I think I didn't finish it for lack of interest. I figure that's got to count against you.
  6. On the Waterfront - To be honest, I can't think of any Marlon Brando lead roles that I've actually liked. We'll pick on this one, just because I was forced to sit through it in film class.
  7. Platoon - Hollywood loves Oliver Stone. But the dude's a bit of a hack, isn't he? He tackles issues that are sensitive to Americans, but that tricks Americans into thinking he's brave and nuanced. But he's actually a bit ham-fisted, which doesn't become clear until you see how he handles non-American subjects. Alexander, anyone?
  8. Empire Strikes Back - Okay, this was actually an eminently enjoyable film. I'm putting it here because most people say it was the best of the Star Wars movies, when in fact the first film stands head and shoulders above it as a piece of art. Empire is a boilerplate sequel--more action, better one-liners, upgraded special effects, and a cliff-hanger ending setting up a ridiculous third movie. It's actually nothing more than an extremely-well-executed piece of shite. But still a lot of fun.
  9. Star Trek II - Wrath of Khan - Same story as Empire, above. This one's a favourite of the nerds, who apparently just want their movies to be big-budget TV shows. The cinematic, Kubrickesque pretentions of the first Star Trek movie got swept into the garbage with this one, and the franchise rapidly went downhill after that.
  10. No Country for Old Men - This was actually a really good film, and I adore the Coen brothers and everything they do. Why pick on this film, in that case? Because they botched the ending. Just as the tension and storyline gets wound up to the snapping point, the filmmakers simply look away. They literally look away, and we don't see the end of the movie. We see Tommy Lee Jones looking a bit baffled by the ending, but he doesn't get it, so he goes and talks to his old dad about it, but he doesn't get it either. It's like the film broke, or the DVD was scratched and unplayable for the last 5 minutes, and we just have to hope that it was a good ending after all. But mostly I'm just annoyed that of all the Coen Brothers' films, this is the one that got an Oscar.

Recent articles

The Solar System to Scale, posted on Sep 18, 2015

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Ice Queen, posted on Nov 17, 2014

Combat Juggling, posted on Aug 26, 2014

Burn in the Forest, posted on Jul 25, 2014

Did Peter Jackson just jump the shark?, posted on Dec 23, 2013

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