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This Week's Film Reviews (Dec 14, 2012)

14 Dec 2012

THE HOBBIT is the big film opening this week.  Other Christmas blockbusters inch their way into the festive season beginning next week

Dickens films make a run at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (USA/NZ 2012) Top 10 *****

Directed by Peter Jackson

New Zealander Peter Jackson’s latest J.R.R. Tolkien film is a very expensive $270 million production that might break Warner Brothers just as AVATAR could have done to 20th Century Fox.  Fortunately, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is the BEST film that I have seen this year, and also the best of all his LORD OF THE RING trilogy films.  This is the first of again 3 films based on the 1937 novel.  The film has everything good riding on it except for bad press regarding animal abuse during the making of the film.  One wonders why, as Jackson’s CGI is so good in the film, he could have dispensed with the problem by using computer graphics.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY has the Peter Jackson imprint all over it.  His early works such as BRAIN DEAD (released in Canada in video after censorship cuts under the title DAED ALIVE) and MEET THE FEEBLES are also evident in this film, so Jackson cineastes will have a field day identifying past influences.  The film is stunning to behold, courtesy of cinematographer Andrew Lesnie with the film resembling New Zealand country combined with a video game look.  The segment with the Hobbits running along the paths as if on a gigantic map is a prime example.  The 3D effects are the best I have seen in a 3D film this year!

The story takes place 60 years before THE LORD OF THE RINGS.  When the film opens, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) and his nephew, Froggo (Elijah Wood) quibble about a party in the uncle’s home in the shire.  Bilbo later sits outside smoking his long pipe when the film flashes back 60 years earlier when Bilbo (now played by Martin Freeman) was still sitting at the same spot visited by Gandalf (Ian McKellan) the wizard.  Gandalf pulls a fast one on the young Bilbo by inviting 13 dwarfs led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to his house for a party while recruiting him on the quest to aid the 13 fight to retrieve their stolen Kingdom.  Hence, he embarks on the unexpected journey of the title.  The film ends with the lot just entering the Lonely Mountain where the dragon sleeps and the fight for the Kingdom will likely continue with the next two films.

For a 170 minute film, Jackson’s film moves really fast.  It feels only about 90 minutes when his film ends.  He knows how to tell a story with zest, spirit, excitement and humour.  The long sequence, for example when the 13 dwarfs invade Bilbo’s home is an extended 20 minute sequence, but it is so entertaining and hilarious.

There are lots of familiar (and new) faces in this nostalgic film.  The familiar faces of McKellan, Wood, Holm, Hugo Weaving and even Andy Serkis (as Gollum) should delight LORD OF THE RINGS fans.  There is a visitation to a segment of how Bilbo obtained the ring dropped by Gollum in quite a lengthy but thoroughly amusing where the two pit their wits on riddles.

As far as entertainment goes, Jackson delivers on all fronts.  The film contains lots of spectacle, action, humour and magic without leaving out the human element.  This is also the coming-of-age story of Bilbo in which he discovers the elements of chivalry and sacrifice.  It is this human element that makes the film works its magic.

Jackson’s THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (Smaug is the name of the evil dragon that stole the dwarf’s Kingdom) and THERE AND BACK AGAIN should both be worthy waits for the festive seasons of 2013 and 2014 respectively.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (USA 2012) **

Directed by Roger Michell


Roger Michell’s (NOTTING HILL with his best film being PERSUASION) is a carefully crafted, often stunning film to look at but suffers much from the script by Richard Nelson.

Much can be foreseen from the film’s opening scene when fifth cousin Margaret Stuckley (Laura Linney) is summoned from her home to keep company with President Franking R. Roosevelt (Bill Murray).  The narrative tells of a depressed America with most of the population out of work.  Margaret takes a brown dress in front of the mirror.  The next segment has her wearing a blue dress, whisked off to see FDR.  There is nowhere else in the film that hints of a poor impoverished America.  The President and company are shown throughout the film dressed in fine attire, enjoying fine dining with loads of expensive decor surrounding them.

But these are just two frivolities that hint of bigger problems in the film.  The film appears to centre on the secret affair between FDR and Margaret.  But the actual relationship is never fully revealed.  The film also meanders towards a more important event in history – the meeting of the King of England George V1 (Bertie) – the same stuttering Royalty figure that was featured in THE KING’S SPEECH.  During this weekend meeting, the bond between the U.S. and Britain was supposed to be forged, which was as, we all know, instrumental to their alliance during World War II.  But this important event is trivialised for a misunderstanding between FDR and Margaret.

Fortunately both Murray and Linney are excellent in their leading roles.  The banter between King George VI and FDR on their disabilities in the night segment is touching and moving. Odd too, that British actress Olivia Williams from Camden Town, London got the role of Eleanor Roosevelt.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON has got mainly mixed reviews since its opening at the Toronto International Film Festival.  It is easy to see why.  Michell’s film moves at a slow pace, meandering all over the place without apparent purpose.  It is only at the end, that all is put to a neat closure with the narrative instructing on the conclusion of the odd affair between FDR and Margaret.

MEET THE FOKKENS (Netherlands 2012) ***

Directed by Rob Schroder sand Gabrielle Provaas

The American title of a doc about prostitute sisters says the real thing.  Meet the F**kers!  The twins are Louise and Martine, past their prime (they are both now 69) though Martine still works as one.  Louise has to quit after suffering from arthritis and now unable to spread her legs.

Rob Schroder sand Gabrielle Provaas’ documentary is light and easy going.  No need for the audience to concentrate or get angry on any of the issues on display.  Watching the film is akin to strolling the streets of the red light district – and taking in the sights.

For anyone who has been to Amsterdam, the sight of women in windows tapping on the glass for attention is a familiar sight.  MEET THE FOKKENS follows this business, past and present, as told from the points of view of the twin sisters.  The camera still displays the cheerfulness of the two, be in dancing on the street, bathing at the sea-side or greeting their neighbours while wearing matching floral outfits.

On the darker side, the two talk about the past – how they were forced to give up the space they had bought.  They also quip about the hassles from the government but mostly the violence and abuse they endured from their pimps.

The film also provides a first-hand look (mainly humorous, with commentary from the twins) at Martine’s rendezvous with clients as she gives them what they ask for while remaining ever in control.

It is hard to sympathize with Louise and Martine.  They chose this difficult life.  But they made more money than working in the factory making lampshades.  They have paid the price, being beaten, having to provide services for the undesirable and so having their neighbours look down upon them.

Though MEET THE FOKKENS does not inform any new revelations, the directors and the twins do teach us that no matter what profession or what one has done in the past, human beings still deserve respect.  And that is one important lesson the film teaches!

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Film Playing: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Action: Skyfall

Best Family: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Foreign: Holy Motors

Best Documentary: The Imposter

Best Drama: Anna Karenina

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