The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | January 8, 2014 | Add Comments

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) skateboards to a volcano in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 3 1/2 Stars

This was a great year for movies, but have any films made you laugh out loud from beginning to end? Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of those films. Stiller is excellent as director and actor, and the film is as bizarrely funny as it is cheerfully delightful. It’s not perfect but it’s still one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) lives his quiet life daydreaming about romance, adventure, and co-worker crush Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig). He works as a Negative Assets Manager in LIFE Magazine’s photography department.  But as LIFE moves online, and prepares for it’s final issue, Walter’s job is threatened.  Legendary photographer Sean O’ Connell (Sean Penn) sends in some possible cover photos for Walter to look at. Negative 25 (which Sean declares to depict “the quintessence of life”) is immediately selected for the cover. But when Walter can’t find the photo, he flees his job and flies to Iceland, to search the world for Sean. As he tussles with sharks, scales the Himalayas, and falls in love with Cheryl, Walter discovers living is a lot more thrilling than dreaming.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) with his co-worker crush Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a fine achievement for Ben Stiller, both as actor and director. As actor, he’s absolutely hilarious playing Walter. Stiller portrays Mitty as a hardworking daydreamer in search of excitement and gives the character soul and meaning. His performance is thoughtful and moving, and yet his deadpan delivery and quirky physical humor will make you burst out laughing. Even in the dramatic scenes, he’s wonderful. The supporting cast is solid too: Kristen Wiig, Patton Oswalt, Sean Penn (in a 5 minute role), and Adam Scott, as Walter’s obnoxious boss Ted, are all fine. But this is Stiller’s show and he’s subtly hysterical in a great role.

Stiller’s work as director, however, is even more impressive. From the gorgeous visuals to the layered script, his mark is all over the movie. He’s plenty experienced at making audiences laugh, and that’s quite evident here: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is easily one of the funniest movie of the year. But it’s not the jokes that surprise; it’s the fact that Stiller proves himself as a truly talented director. The movie is equal parts comedy, romance, and adventure and Stiller is equally adept at all three. The film is beautiful, moving, and enthralling, not least because of Stiller’s direction.

Ben Stiller’s directorial voice is eccentric, funny, and and adventurous, and his unique style often works…but not always. Stiller occasionally indulges in his comedy roots a bit too hard, as if he’s as afraid of the unknown, like Mitty. Some of the broader slapstick humor just isn’t funny and a few scenes feel weird for the sake of it (a Benjamin Button spoof, for example, is amusingly strange but has no reason being in the movie). As the film tries to wrap up, some scenes meander and drag. Though the poignant ending is perfect, Stiller takes too long getting there.

Despite its flaws, the film’s technical side is flawless. Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography is ravishingly expansive, while the special effects are remarkably effective. The soundtrack is a soulful compilation of catchy tracks including Of Monsters and Men, Jack Johnson, and others. Best of all, the appropriation of David Bowie’s Space Oddity in a key scene is perfectly hummable. Only Greg Hayden’s editing needs a little work; the film, as previously mentioned, is overlong at 114 minutes.

Steve Conrad’s script is also terrific. It feels timeless and topical at the same time, and the characters are well developed. The story is captivating and surprising, and I found the LIFE magazine and photography story-lines engrossing.  Still, plot points like these often get jumbled around. Conrad and Stiller sometimes have more food than they can chew, with all the one-liners, characters, locations, set-pieces, and product placements. Though most of this is entertaining, some scenes could’ve been expanded.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) meets master photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a funny, enthralling adventure that marks the arrival of Ben Stiller as a true director. Stiller is also hilarious in the title role, leading a fantastic cast. While it sometimes drags and Stiller’s directing skills still need a bit of work, Walter Mitty is as inspiring, hilarious, and heart-warming as any other film this year. There’s no need to dream. This is one of the most entertaining films of 2013.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 21, 2013 | Add Comments

Martin Freeman is back as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 2 1/2 Stars

With his latest film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson puts on full display the best and worst of his own filmmaking styles. The film is pretentious, noisy, overlong, and half-baked. It’s also spectacular, beautiful, thrilling, and brilliant. Desolation is cluttered but exciting. It didn’t always hold my attention, but there’s always something jaw-dropping to look atIn short, it’s a Peter Jackson movie.

Evangeline Lily dons elf ears to play fierce fighter Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)Unlike others, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series. I’ve read The Hobbit (good fun), read a tiny bit of the first Lord of the Rings (a.k.a. LOTR) book (kind of boring), and seen the the LOTR film trilogy (good fun, brilliant, and kind of boring). Of course, I’ve also seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The latest Hobbit film starts before the last one, which is confusing and unnecessary, with a somber meeting between head dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and master wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Next, we’re back to the now, where protagonist Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, who needs more screen time), Gandalf, Thorin, and the other eleven dwarves are still on their quest to enter a mountain, steal some treasure, and slay Smaug the dragon. Along the way, the heroes must fight spiders, argue with elves, ride barrels, and rally a village. There’s also some notable new characters, including down-on-his-luck rebel Bard (Luke Evans), and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), fierce elf fighters.

Peter Jackson lets his commercial side come out and play in action scenes like these in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)Peter Jackson’s direction is full of clashing instincts makes the movie the messy thrill ride that it is. The artist inside him knows that it’s the small character driven moments, that there are too few of here, that makes his movies great. But the corporate producer battling for control realizes that CGI drenched battles (perfect for 3-D, and IMAX, and 48 frames a second, and therefore making more money) that sell tickets. In Desolation, it’s the business oriented side that wins out too often. Which is a shame, because we know Jackson can do better.

The decision to split a 300 page children’s book into a thunderously thrilling trilogy of 3 lumbering 3 hour CGI extravaganzas often shows. Unlike LOTR, Peter Jackson takes a lot of liberties this time around. And sometimes they work. The elf scenes may feel like sacrilege to many, but they actually provides a human (well, elvish) element to the plot. But apart from Tauriel (a strong female character invented for the film) and Legolas (who gets more to do than in LOTR), there are less outright changes and more just extended versions of scenes from the book. Every two page episode of gentle adventure from the book has been stretched into a 15 minute battle sequence featuring beheadings, jump-scares, and explosions. I often found myself questioning Jackson, “Is this really necessary?”

An astonishing river chase in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)Basically…no it’s not. An early spider fight feels tedious and (considering we basically saw a better version of the same scene in the final LOTR film) a little “been there, done that”.  Actually, early all of the action scenes rely heavily on impressive but excessive CGI and gimmicky, halfhearted story concepts made to stretch out the running time longer than a dragon. I’m still not even mentioning all the improbable escapes that’ll make you think twice about the film’s logic. All that said, there are moments of true awe. The elves’ fight scenes are beautifully choreographed, the (CGI) locations are incredible, and there is one set-piece that truly feels exhilaratingly immersive. At around the halfway mark, we’re treated to an extended chase/fight/battle involving barrels, dwarves, elves, and orcs. Unlike the other action scenes, this one feels fun. You sense Jackson letting his inner 10 year old get out and play with all the fancy toys at his command, not get bogged down by them. The sequence ends up being far-fetched and overlong but it’s also, for once, entertaining. It’s easily the most riotously enjoyable 15 minutes of the movie.

Bilbo stands up to Smaug the dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

That sense of imagination is almost entirely squashed an hour later, by the time we get to the dragon’s lair. The Smaug climax could’ve been just as fun as the barrel scene. But, alas, no. It’s as lumbering and lengthy as anything else in the picture, and twice as preposterous. Honestly, why doesn’t Smaug just blow Bilbo on fire the moment he lays his beating red eye on him? Nope! Instead, we’re forced to endure another 45 minutes of running and jumping and hiding and yelling and fire-breathing. Even Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice performance is disappointingly bland. Yeah, Smaug the dragon does look kind of awesome. But by the time we get to see him stand up to Bilbo (a startlingly gorgeous image) you might be asleep.

So overall I wasn’t too happy with the film. It’s simply too long and features too many scenes that have no reason being in the film (i.e. every time Gandalf appears). But, that doesn’t mean die-hard fans won’t like it. And if, for some reason, you’re starting miss the summer movie season (the time of year when 3 sci-fi action epics are released every week) then this is your film. Even though I’ve read the book , the world of Middle Earth is one that’s worth visiting every so often. Sadly, this visit isn’t a satisfying one. So, I guess that means I’ll have to wait to see Peter Jackson smother every hope for a good Hobbit movie with dragon’s breath…next December. Nonetheless, I’ll be there to see it.

Flick and Flack Interview Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black!

Posted on | May 21, 2013 | Add Comments

Flick and Flack interview illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi and author Holly Black, who collaborated on the New York Times bestselling fantasy book series The Spiderwick Chronicles. Watch the fascinating interview above to see the two discuss Spiderwick (which was turned into a feature film, also discussed) and their favorite book to movie adaptions.; The interview took place at a book signing at Barrington Books to celebrate the 10 anniversary of the book series.

Jack and Oz: Which is the Fairest of Them All? (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | March 22, 2013 | Add Comments

The heroes prepare for battle in Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
Oz the Great and Powerful. Jack the Giant Slayer. Two fantasy epics based on classic stories. But which is the fairest of them all? Read on to find out…

Let’s start with Jack the Giant Slayer, a thrilling, adventure with a few issues. The film takes the viewer on an epic journey through medieval lands full of swashbuckling, revolting giants, and a damsel in distress. You know the tale; a boy named Jack takes sells his horse for magic beans, climbs a beanstalk, and slays a giant. Oh, hold on minute. You don’t know Jack. In this version there’s a princess who needs to be rescued (and married), lots of characters who need to be introduced (and get in a good sword fight), and an uncountable amount of  loathsomely grusume mo-cap madness creatures that need to be killed. What’s that loathsome stuff, you say? Giants. Nasty ones.

One ugly giant in Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

I may be sounding rather harsh on the film, but I did enjoy it. Sure there’s flaws. Some characters are under-developed (a sidekick character, Stanley Tucci’s Roderick) and some scenes are overlong. In fact, I didn’t even tell you about the mini plot holes. But what’s great about the movie? First of all, the actors. Many critics have noted that Nicolas Hoult, who plays Jack, has a bland quality. But to tell you the truth he actually turns in a perfectly solid performance (the best character) opposite the also strong Eleanor Tomlinson.

Bryan Singer does a mediocre job as director, with all his emphasis on battle. He maybe should have focused a tiny bit more on the characters (which are, at least, better than some movies). While I am complaining about the battle sequences, for what they are…well they’re extremely epic. The CG, actors, direction, the battle choreography. The climax is a terrifically executed lesson in crafting a big movie battle. Except there’s one issue. While there’s lots of explosions, flaming trees, and bows ‘n arrows I would’ve enjoyed a bit more classic sword fighting, which we only get a little of.

Throw in some giantly fantastic special effects, grand old sword fighting (though too short), and enough battle spectacle to make most critics angry and you’ve got a film that will suffice the needs of an action film seeking moviegoer. You want a highly exciting, though fairly flawed, candy bag of fairy tale fun? You got it!

Welcome to Oz!

Now onto Oz. I have to say it: I had LOW expectations for this Hollywood gamble. I thought it would be an un-pretty shameful cash in-rip off that would make fans off the original want to skip back down that yellow brick road and all the way back to 1939. Anyway, Oz turned out just fine. First off there is a very pretty opening credits sequence and an amazing old fashioned B&W homage of a half hour opener. And then we are quite literally whisked off into THAT magical land. We are treated to mind-rattling visuals and terrific Ozian back story.

The script is a mixed bag filled with bland lines-and witty ones. The story is great and filled with morals and monsters. The final scene is heartfelt and the best of the film. I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers cry. A fine mix of the excitement and emotion.

Onto the cast. Well they’re incredible. Each and every lead actor fills their role excitement and surprise. As Oz, James Franco creates a character of magic, wonder, and necessary annoyance. Meanwhile the three witches turn in incredible performances. Rachel Weisz is okay in a small role as Evanora the Bad while Michelle Williams plays Glinda the Good without falling into the goody two shoes character trap. But the one with the best performance is easily Mila Kunis (as Theodora the Good). Not only does she do a great job playing an easily fooled character, she also gets the spotlight in a great scene: a mid-way shocker that turns the story on it’s head with astonishment not seen in motion pictures of late. Too bad a review spoiled it for me (don’t read critic’s reviews of the movie because they’re filled with spoilers…except for mine of course!). As for the Franco’s two companions…well Zach Braff’s lovable and hilarious monkey completely outshines the sappy, predictable china doll played by Joey King. Why? A line about bananas.

Director Sam Raimi bests his work on the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy by combining laughs, thrills, fun, and creativity to create an amazing movie. The special effects are also incredible and surprisingly original. There’s bubbles, smoke, a monkey, a lion, and more to gasp at.

There are some things that don’t happen in the film that you think would. Why? Because they have to tell the story in a way that makes sense compared to the new film. I might’ve preferred one big battle sequence though  that wasn’t really possible considering the “good people of Oz” are NOT allowed to kill. Besides, it might have distracted from the story.

James Franco as Oz and Mila Kunis as Theodora escape trouble in Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

The second time (yes, that’s right!) I saw the film in 3-D. If you’re a 3-D fanatic you’ll like it but if you’re opposed to the added dimension this won’t win you ever. In other words, it doesn’t miraculously enhance the movie but gives a bit more excitement. Sadly there’s only one moment that made me duck and that was near the end of the film.

Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13. Anyone who’s older than 11 should be okay but there’s a bit of romance and LOTS of intense, gross (but never bloody) giant fights. Oz the Great and Powerful is rated PG. Anyone who’s over 9 should be fine but there’s lots of romance involving the wizard (he kisses four characters) and some frightening scenes. However, there’s no blood and little battle sequences.

The Fairest of Them All: Oz: The Great and Powerful beats Jack the Giant Slayer. Oz and Jack are filled with wonderful action, special effects, actors, and direction. Both are great films but Oz has a better story. And in the end, that’s what matters.

Coming Soon: Fantasy Double-Feature Review

Posted on | March 9, 2013 | Add Comments

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Flick and Flack are busy at the movies. A recent attempt has been made by studios to blockbusterize gentle fairy tales. The pinnacle of this was the first attempt: Alice in Wonderland. Do the two latest cash ins (or are they masterpieces?), Jack the Giant Slayer and Oz: The Great and Powerful, earn their grand scale? Flick and Flack will each be posting their own articles critiquing both films. Expect the posts next week…but first we’re off to see the movies!!! La, la, la, la!!!

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 28, 2012 | Add Comments

Bilbo Baggins and some dwarves in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

3 1/2 Stars

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey tells the beginning of Bilbo Baggin’s epic adventure. Bilbo lives a comfortable yet uneventful life in Bag End. But when Gandalf the Grey, a tall and powerful wizard, comes to persuade Bilbo to go on an adventure, things get complicated. 13 dwarves arrive at Bilbo’s house, eat all his food, and ruin certain parts of his home. Eventually Bilbo decides to go along with Gandalf and the dwarves. But what is this adventure, exactly? It’s a quest to reclaim the dwarves’ castle. Invaded many years ago by a dragon named Smaug, their home is filled with treasure! In an attempt to reclaim what is rightfully theirs’, Bilbo, and Gandalf face treacherous obstacles along the way during the first segment of (for Bilbo, at least) an unexpected journey…

I will start this review off by saying that I have read the book The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, but have not read The Lord of the Rings books or seen The Lord of the Rings movies. And as for the decision about making The Hobbit into three films, I am a bit skeptical though more excited by all the possibilities, than some at least.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey begins the way I expected it, based on all the critics’ reviews and the decision to make a trilogy out of a single book: the film starts off slow. We spend a long, long, long (I’ll just say overlong, to keep my sentence not too, too, too overlong..long…long!) time at Bilbo’s house. I must say the dwarves’ slapstick comedy as well as the funny dialogue (Gandalf talking about “the game of golf was invented” takes the cake, I just gotta say!). I also can’t think of anything I’d leave on the cutting room floor from the scenes in Bilbo’s house, but it just felt a little… uneventful (not unexpected).

A dwarf and a troll in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)Once the adventure does get going, however, I didn’t get much more pleased with the film. While the beginning is actually rather daring for a blockbuster (can you honestly name a big budget extravaganza from this year that spends 20+ minutes in one character’s house, without any action scenes?) the middle is overly conventional. We simply get one action scene. And then another… And then another… And then another… And then you get the idea, already! While the middle third of the film is no slog and some of the fight sequences are really entertaining the film doesn’t head in one, concrete direction.

Galadriel and Gandalf in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)Things slow down (and get a bit weird: Galadriel seeming in love with Gandalf and then just oddly disappearing) when we take time to visit Elrond, played nicely by Hugo Weaving, and some other visitors: Saruman, portrayed by Christopher Lee, and Galadriel, played by Cate Blanchett. This not in the book sequence is a nice break from all the action (and I assume) a chance for Lord of the Rings fans to catch a peek at former favorite characters, but it just didn’t grab me. Though it may be, as I already said, a good chance to “slow down” the movie it’s just not interesting enough for Peter Jackson to grant it an ability to be as lengthy as it is.

However to make up for the disjointed beginning we get an amazing third act. There’s the riddle packed Bilbo and Gollum confrontation, a big goblin battle, and a flaming pinecones filled fight with Thorin’s old enemy, Azoc. Honestly these three climaxes could’ve been in separate movies. Bilibo and Gollum in this one, goblin fight in the sequel, and the pinecone sequence in the last installment (with added Smaug). Or a better idea would be to have added the dragon to this film, saved some money for other films, and stopped all the criticism of expanding the story. And with just that they could have made one film, not three. Maybe two films would’ve been the right fit.

Martin Freeman is great as Bilbo Baggins, turning in a mostly comical role. All Freeman needs to do is win an Oscar, star in some other blockbusters, and complete The Hobbit trilogy. If he can survive all that he’ll become a full fledged movie star. Alot of the times the star of a movie series will disappear once their franchise has ended, but that normally happens to younger actors (Elijah Wood of The Lord of the Rings, just 20 when The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001, is a prime example). Freeman is 41 and, despite the fact that his biggest role up unto this point was starring as Arthur Dent in franchise hopeful turned disastrous flop The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, he’s great here. He shows just the right amount of comic verve and jolly vigor. He does a commendable job without ever turning into a bland macho man. It’s a fine performance…but just that… fine. There seems to be just a bit lacking there. It’s not Oscar worthy or classic, for that matter, either. But it’s good, nonetheless. And, FINE, I’ll stop complaining already!

The supporting cast is strong but unsurprising. Ian McKellen (as Gandalf the Grey) and Richard Armitage, as Thorin Oakenshield, are okay but nothing different than the normal type of actors who appear in fantasy franchises. Meanwhile, Ian Holm and Elijah Wood have totally unnecessary screen time, reprising their roles (Old Bilbo and Young Frodo, respectively) from The Lord of the Rings. They do NOTHING interesting in an opening prologue that isn’t returned to for the rest of the film. As for the dwarves, they’re “quite a merry gathering” though no single actor stands out.

Technically the film is wonderful, with dazzling sets, amazing effects (both sound and special), weird yet great make-up, and a terrific score by Howard Shore—featuring a hummable theme melody and the so-so Song of the Lonely Mountain by Neil Finn.

A rock monster battling the heroes in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)Now to quickly sum up my thoughts on seeing this film in IMAX 3-D; brilliantly incredible! Seriously, Hugo and The Amazing Spider-Man are the only films that could rub shoulders with The Hobbit in my pantheon list of The Greatest 3-D Films (if I ever did one!). And after seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark, back in it’s September re-release, and this (these are the only two IMAX films I can vividly remember watching) I now feel like IMAX is one of the ultimate ways to experience cinema in this day and age. Combine them together and shake the pot and…and…and…TA-DA!!! You’ve got movie magic, especially for a cinematic event such as this one (take note of the awesomely in-your-face moving and/or living rock mountain scene!)!

Gollum hiding from Bilbo in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Jouney (2012)

My favorite scene is the triple climax. I’ve already talked about the goblin battle and the Azoc-pinecone fight. But just to review: while the goblin battle is particularly thrilling the Azoc fight has particular emotional resonance, thanks to Thorin’s tragic connection to the made up big baddie. As for the riddle sequence, Andy Serkis turns in an unsurprisingly great as Gollum, even if he doesn’t pour emotion (as in Rise of the Planet of the Ape’s Caesar) or slapstick comedy (as in The Adventures of Tintin’s Captain Haddock) into the small role. But as for the scene there’s not much to it, apart from the fun yet creepy riddles. Nonetheless it’s probably the most satisfactory scene of the film for fans of the book. While each third of the climax may not be wholly satisfying on it’s own, added up they create an entertaining finale.

My favorite character is Bilbo Baggins. He’s not the ideal protagonist for a big budget fall film but that’s what makes him great. We spend a great deal of time seeing his decision making process of whether or not to go on an adventure with Gandalf. But despite this overlong showcase of one Hobbit’s predictable decision we still get to know the character and savor Martin Freeman’s witty performance enough to be happy with Peter Jackson’s big screen interpretation of one classic character (or I should say Hobbit!).

Thorin Oakenshield prepares to battle Azoc in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. I agree but would add that anyone over 11 or 12 will be fine, depending on your level of sensitivity. NOTE FOR THOSE OF ALL AGES: The flashback to the death of Thorin’s father is revoltingly gross, no matter how old you are.

The movie wants to be a comedy. It wants to be an epic. It wants to appeal to toddlers, teenagers, and people who read The Hobbit when it was first published. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn’t. But no matter what, this is a journey worth taking. A precious fantasy adventure that is is flawed, fun, and ferociously thrilling all in one. Bring on the sequels to a prequel! But for whatever reason Peter Jackson has decided to make three Hobbit movies. And that’s the way this epic trilogy will play out. I kinda want to shout out “Bring on the sequels to a prequel!”, but something tells me not too. At least we get some emotional highpoints, even if not nearly enough. “From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends.” reads the poster’s tagline. But from one book expanded into three films we get a visually awesome (especially in IMAX 3-D) yet overall ho-hum first installment.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | December 18, 2012 | 1 Comment

4 1/2 stars

Bilbo Baggins, an adventure hating hobbit lives quietly in the Shire. That is until a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield and overseen by Gandalf, turn up at his door. They are looking for “a fourteenth member of their company”, as thirteen is unlucky. Gandalf believes he has found that member. What say the other dwarves? They couldn’t disagree more. But, Bilbo joins and their perilous journey to take back the dwarf”s home begins.The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey is not your average blockbuster. Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is helming this epic saga. Saga? That’s right! Jackson’s initial plan was to split J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit in to two films. The same was done for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the same will be done for the next Hunger Games film, Catching Fire. And the same was also done for the final Twilight book, Breaking Dawn. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise when Jackson gave us the news. So why is this Hobbit film business so unlike anything else? That’s because Jackson uncovered roughly 125 pages of notes from Tolkein, “deleted scenes”, if you will. He will be interspersing them throughout the films, and has already included some in An Unexpected Journey. Jackson thinks that with all of the notes he has found he’ll have enough material for a third film. “Count em’ on all three fingers: it’s what we call epic!” That’s what some think of this plan. While others are leaning towards “HE’S GONE MAD! MAD! JACKSON IS A MAD MAN!” Personally, I do think that the scheme is aimed to make money and will result in at least one very, very poor film. But for now we can merely speculate about this first film. So I will…

After all of the hullabaloo about the fact that this is going to be a trilogy, can we actually enjoy this film? I can and I did. I think the film is entertaining, and found it to be surprisingly funny. Jackson included just about everything from the first six chapters of the book, climaxing with a Gandalf, dwarf, and Bilbo vs. Orcs battle. Plus, there are some extended and added parts from the notes! Because there is not a central villain in the book (except for Smaug towards the end), Jackson has decided to add an Orc who has a long and dark past with Thorin. I’m not sure if this was found in the notes or what, but it works okay for the film. I don’t have too much of a problem with adding this character, but I would prefer for Jackson not to tamper with the books so much. The Rivendell sequence, on the other hand, is gloriously designed. Characters from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy that were not in the book are included in this sequence. They include Elrond, played by Hugo Weaving, Galadriel, played by Cate Blanchett, and Saruman, played by Christopher Lee. The actors are all wonderful and their is some humor and mystery thrown in there, so all in all, it adds up to an enjoyable sequence, if a bit long.The film received a mere 65% rating from critics on rottentomatoes.com. Many critics found it boring, tedious, and way too long. And, of course, they are remembering that two more films are on their way. But I, for the most part disagree. Yes, the film could have completely cut about three of the action sequences. Some of the sequences are beautiful, especially with the glorious IMAX and 3-D .

The film does at times start to feel, not boring, but certainly tiresome. The nearly three hour running time starts to show and my popcorn was gone long before the halfway benchmark. And I’m not a fast popcorn muncher! Let me explain how I could help Jackson out in the editing room. Jackson uses the 3-D to great effect when Bilbo and the dwarves are struggling to stay on the cliff. That’s exciting and wonderfully choreographed, but the moments of the rock giants bashing each other is not nearly as exciting. I would rather it to be replaced with…nothing! Jackson and his longtime editor, Jabez Olessen could have trimmed a good half hour. If Smaug was thrown into the climax this could have ended here! Okay, okay, I guess that’s not correct. There are many more moments to cover: the dwarves in the river, more added scenes, the final Smaug confrontation, and much, much more. And yet…as I sat in the theater watching the film, I couldn’t help but think in the back of my mind: two more three hour IMAX 3-D extravaganzas will be coming soon!

I said that I would get to the IMAX and 3-D critiques later. So now I’ll get to them.  First off, the IMAX. Originally, the plan was for us (Flack, our family, and I) to view the film in IMAX and only IMAX. But at Providence Place theaters, you can only watch the film in regular format or IMAX and 3-D. Nevertheless, we saw the IMAX and 3-D version. I will admit that the IMAX screen is unbelievably massive. I know all critics say this and you’re probably not believing me (I didn’t believe the critics), but it really is about seven stories tall and you can tell. There were several moments during the film where I could feel the ground literally shake. My shirt moved a centimeter or two. Even though you have to empty your pocketbook for this massive screen and “earth shattering sound”, I think for a film like this that you can truly title an event, it’s worth it.

Onto the 3-D! I don’t dislike 3-D as much as some do, but I will admit that the glasses I was given at this showing were unusually annoying. But after the first hour, I did get used to it and I managed to just sit back and enjoy the show because this 3-D is spectacular. It’s absolutely thrilling in every sense of the word. There are a few scenes in particular that stand out. They include: rocks chipping off mountains falling into your eyes as rain drips down and Bilbo and co. struggle to keep their lives and the final climactic battle is given an interesting depth that involves flaming pinecones (I don’t want to give anything else away). There is also a very long trailer for J. J. Abrams’ Summer 2013 sequel, Stark Trek Into Darkness that uses 3-D wonderfully (more on that in the future).I’ve told you about all of the 3-D and IMAX and chit-chat about the fact that this is a trilogy, but is there any emotion behind the action? Yes, in fact there is. I will be purposefully vague as to not give anything away, but I will say that there is a nice portion of emotion at the end and every so often throughout. In other words, on the whole, this is a journey worth taking. WARNING: SOME UNEXPECTED THREE-DIMENSIONAL ROCKS MAY MAKE YOU JUMP. JUST A WARNING!

My favorite character is Bilbo because of his human qualities. He is the central protagonist, but fortunately Jackson paints him as a human and relatable character. Plus, he has some fun action scenes and those hobbit ears…Oh my!

My favorite scene is the adaption of “Chapter 6: Riddles in the Dark” because of…GOLLUM! It’s been nearly a decade since The Lord of the Rings Trilogy began (I haven’t seen the films, but I can judge from photos and trailers), so the Mo-Cap technology has evolved enough to create a truly creepy 2012 Gollum. Howard Shore’s score is just about at it’s best here with the track merely titled Riddles in the Dark. The last reason? That wonderful quote: “What has Bagginses got in it’s pocketses?”. Pure, genuine Gollum.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is rated PG-13 and I agree. There are some creepy off-headings that will push you to keep the youngsters home.

A cinematic event if there ever was one. A true spectacle with some emotional tidbits. Highly entertaining, if overlong.

Arthur Christmas (Flack’s Holiday Recommendation)

Posted on | December 8, 2012 | 1 Comment

Poster for Arthur Christmas (2011)

4 1/2 Stars

Arthur Christmas tells the story of the Claus family. There’s the current Santa named Malcolm, the classic looking ho-ho ho man; there’s Steve, the modern and selfish one who’s next in line; and then there’s the Grandsanta, who’s been retired for a while but still quite lively. Of course there’s also (and surprisingly just one) Mrs. Claus and lots and lots of elves. Every year they go around delivering 2 billion presents around the world, despite some years with glitches. This year they succeed. “Mission accomplished!”, yells Santa! It’s Santa’s 70th year and he’s expected to retire (the balloons say “Congratulations Steve”, for goodness sake) but he doesn’t. And then Arthur the silliest, youngest, and most anxious (for Christmas) member of the family discovers one kid’s been missed! A girl named Gwen wants a pink bicycle and even wrote a nice letter about it but she’s now in danger of getting 0 presents! So along with Grandsanta, a stowaway wrapping expert elf, and all eight reindeer Arthur travels to return this present in a hobbly, wobbly sleigh. And let’s just say this one present isn’t delivered in the 18.4 second average a character mentions early in the film. On Arthur’s journey he encounters many obstacles. Lions in Africa, a government that thinks he’s in a UFO, reindeer that keep falling, and more are all big hurdles. We also get to see the spaceship Santa travels in. That brings in another problem: perhaps Grandsanta didn’t want to help Gwen out and perhaps he just wanted to prove to Santa and Steve that traveling in hi-tech sleighs and going down chimneys can still be done. But can they deliver the Christmas present before Gwen wakes up?

Arthur Christmas and Grandsanta in Arthur Christmas (2011)

This is the perfect Christmas movie: it’s short, funny, and has mass appeal for the whole family. Once the journey gets going you can tell how almost every scene is going to play out. But the overcalculation never really bugged me. Anyone over the age of 9 will know how the story is going to turn out (if they’ve seen other movies) but that’s not the point. The film is so joyous that you’ll get too wrapped into the fun to care about the flaws.

The jokes are wonderful. There’s slapstick comedy, hilarious one liners, and terrific gags about the Santa buisness: in other words those of all ages will find something to laugh at! The script by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith is incredibly well done. Aardman is a bit underappreciated, in my opinion. If you ask some one if they’ve heard of the company they’ll probably just say “Oh didn’t they do Wallace and Gromit!?” And the answer is yes, but not only. They’ve also made Chicken Run and The Pirates! Band of Misfits (among some others), which are also great holiday family viewing for once you get tired of ho-ho-ho films. Aardman is arguably the British Pixar. The animation is always amazing and the films themselves appeal to the whole family.

Here’s a link to our article about seeing the premiere of The Pirates! Band of Misfits and meeting Peter Lord (the director of Pirates! and producer of Arthur Christmas) at TIFF Kids (Toronto International film Festival Kids).

Long time Aardman fans might be a bit surprised by the fact that the film isn’t stop motion, the way their films are typically made. But the CGI didn’t bother me. It’s as sleek and different from clay puppets as can be but works well for this film (the visuals are much more complex and intricate than Wallace and Gromit, for example).

Arthur Christmas and Grandsanta in Arthur Christmas (2011)

One last, great thing is the voices. James McAvoy as Arthur and Bill Nighy as Grandsanta are the two standouts but Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie, and Ashley Jensen are terrific in supporting roles. As for the nameless elves there’s an unbelievable amount of star wattage. I couldn’t tell that many of these actors played minor elf roles (Andy Serkis, Robbie Coltrane!). Click here to see the full cast and crew.

The movie also has a great moral: when others give up on something you think is worthwhile accomplishing, don’t back off. “Be the change you want to see in the world as Arthur (I mean Gandhi) once said. Arthur is committed and even if he’s occasionally foolish he’s not one to back down from something that’s right. Anyone who watches this movie can learn something from this message.

Arthur Christmas in Arthur Christmas (2011)

My favorite character is Arthur Christmas because he (as mentioned in the paragraph above) is strong willed and smart. He may seem nonsensical and foolish but, more so than anyone else in his family, he proves that he cares that every child gets what they want for Christmas. James McAvoy is great as the voice behind the character.

My favorite scene is the opening. We get to see the visually astonishing sled spaceship for the first time as well as the process of delivering presents. Go to iTunes to watch the first 9 minutes and 47 seconds of the film for free and understand fully what I am talking about.

Arthur Christmas has been rated PG for some mild rude humor by the MPAA. I completely disagree. Everyone always complains about how few G movies are released. That’s a true statement and one way to solve that problem would be if the MPAA rated movies (that should be G) G. I would rate it, Arthur Christmas, G but note that there is some intensely perilous action sequences that may be frightening to younger viewers.

Arthur Christmas and Bryony in Arthur Christmas (2011)Who It’s For: Arthur Christmas is a must for those tired of the Christmas classics viewed time and time again, year after year. Original, beautiful, exciting, filled with adventure, and appealing to 5 year olds and 95 year olds this exactly what a great holiday family movie should be.

Don’t forget to check back for more holiday movie recommendations (with Who It’s For special paragraphs) from Flick and Flack coming soon!

Happy Halloween from Flick and Flack!

Posted on | October 31, 2012 | Add Comments

Happy Halloween!  Despite Hurricane Sandy, the scariest, most candy filled holiday of the year is still on! Here are our suggestions from last year! This year Flick will be Indiana Jones and Flack will be Lawrence of Arabia! But along with dressing up in costumes and eating more sweets than you should, a movie doesn’t hurt. It’s best to watch a feature film before Halloween night, because it’s already a very busy time.  Shorts, such as It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! (25 min.) are well, great! But if you have time or want to continue the festivities past the holiday itself, here are some suggestions:

Frankenstein (1931)

Dracula (1931)

King Kong (1933)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Beetlejuice (1988)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Monster’s Inc. (2001)

King Kong (2005)

Monster House (2006)

ParaNorman (2012)

Frankenweenie (2012)

Here are some we haven’t seen (though we will soon) but that we think look worthwhile some more (the Abbot and Costello movies) than others (Hotel Transylvania)!

The Abbott and Costello horror movies

Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

Corpse Bride (2005)

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

We also haven’t seen Halloween TV shows such as The Addams Family and The Munsters but are anxiously anticipating for when we do!

And last and least, try to avoid King Kong (1976)!

Happy Halloween! Don’t forget to have lot’s of candy and fun! Have fun with your costume too!

What are your favorite Halloween movies and what’s your costume? Don’t forget to comment and tell us your answers!

An Epic of Intricately Complex Proportions

Posted on | October 26, 2012 | 1 Comment

Cloud Atlas (2012)In the following article Flack talks about the Wachowski siblings career and how they have teamed up with German director Tom Tyker to create the visionary, mind bending Cloud Atlas, out today.

The Wachowski siblings have had an extremely respectable career. If you’ve ever wanted to be a Hollywood director you probably wouldn’t mind being in their position. But lately they’ve been faltering. Lana (previously Larry) and Andy debuted with the crime thriller Bound in 1996. Not everybody loved it but Roger Ebert did, calling it “Pure cinema spread over several genres”. The film made $6 million but cost $4 million to make. But the sibling had much bigger plans. In 1994 they completed a script for a sci-fi trilogy called The Matrix. In 1999 the instant action classic was released to commercial and critical success. As Rotten Tomatoes says the movie is “An ingenious combination of Hong Kong action, ground-breaking Hollywood FX, and an imaginative vision.” This, so far at least, is the high point of their career.

The Matrix (1999)After a massive blockbuster there’s always the same route. Make a sequel! And the Wachowskis did that. In 2003 a collection of 9 animated short films titled The Animatrix were released on DVD, though some were available online and one showed before the 2003 Stephen King adaption Dreamcatcher. The shorts were produced and in some cases written by the Wachowskis but they directed none of them, leaving the job to others. On May 15, 2003 the highly anticipated The Matrix Reloaded was released, which showed out of competition at the Cannes film festival that year. On November 15th The Matrix Revolutions wrapped up the trilogy in the same year. Both sequels cost $150 million each and were shot at the same time but while Reloaded is the highest grossing installment of the series, Revolutions is shockingly the lowest.  And even though the original film has an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes the sequels have a 73% and 36%, respectively. On the whole, the sequels are not remembered fondly and was often a tragic shoot. However one reason the Wachowskis should be proud of the series altogether is that they made a lot of money. So how to follow it up? Wait five years before releasing a new film. But on May 9, 2008 Speed Racer (the only Wachowski film that’s not rated R) was released. The project had been in development since 1992 and is based on a Japanese anime TV show from the 60’s. But the movie didn’t even earn it’s budget back in worldwide grosses, let alone make a profit. Critics nor audiences were fans of the movie and is thus reflected on as a candy colored, unnecessary flop.

Cloud Atlas (2012)But after the harsh reaction to their recent movies the Wachowskis are poised to make a comeback with an epic of intricately complex proportions. The movie is titled Cloud Atlas and is also co-directed by the man behind Run Lola Run, Tom Tyker. Together these three directors have taken the book Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, and turned it into a film. The book and film feature six different stories of different genres that eventually connect. On top of that the many, many actors play two roles each, while Halle Berry and Tom Hanks play six each in different stories. The movie is a mishmash of ideas, stories, and genres. The first story is set in the 19th century and tells the story of a lawyer sailing from the Pacific to California. As he sails home he records his voyage in a half finished diary which eventually resurfaces to a poor musician in 30’s Belgium, in the second story. The pianist’s friend also appears in the third episode in which Halle Berry as a reporter falls in love with Tom Hanks as a scientist during 1975 set against a possibly deadly nuclear conspiracy. The story of Berry’s character next lands in the hands of a murdering publisher who gets trapped in a prison taken care of by a very nasty care worker in the fourth adventure set in early 21st Century London and once again featuring Tom Hanks this time as a gangster type author. The publisher has ties with Sonmi-451, a clone trying to gain her humanity with the help of a man trying to bring down a totalitarian society in the near hi-tech future. In the final installment a tribesman played by Hanks (living after the apocalypse called The Fall) tries to escape Hugh Grant as a cannibal and a recurring evil, Devil type creature along with the help of companion survivor Meronym, played by Berry.

The Wachowskis and Tom TykerThe movie cost about $120 million to make and just by watching the trailers you can tell. But the directing trio has called it an independent movie despite the fact that it’s being distributed by Warner Bros. Still even the gigantic budget doesn’t seem large enough. The novel by David Mitchell was published in 2004 and was greeted by acclaim, awards, question marks, and mixed reviews. While on the set of V For Vendetta, written and produced by the Wachowskis, the star of Vendetta, Natalie Portman showed Lana, Cloud Atlas a book she’d just read and loved. So Lana read it, then Andy, and within a year they had written a first draft. They had wanted to work with Tom Tyker for a while and knew this would be the perfect opportunity. So the three of them spent a year in a Costa Rica writing more drafts and laying out index cards and rearranging them. Natalie Portman was promised the role of Sonmi-451 but had to drop out. James McAvoy and Ian McKellen were both considered for roles but the cast is extremely respectable as it is. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturges, Ben Winshaw, Doona Bae, Keith David, James D’Arcy, and many more are among the stars.

Cloud Atlas (2012)Despite these big names, will audiences actually turn up for a movie that is so long and complex? Well it’s not just confusing mind boggling interconnecting story lines you’ll find at this film. You’ll also receive the bang for your buck. The fifth story especially features lots of action. Watch the trailer and you’ll see what could be the best chase scene of the year. And of course there’s lots of special effects throughout. But the movie is 172 minutes long and there’s a guarantee that it’s not a 2 hour, 52 minute action scene. But no matter what you’re wanting or expecting from Cloud Atlas you’re going to get something. How good is that something? Well, reviews have been flooding in since the 10 minute standing ovation that the movie got at it’s premiere at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival. (Flick and I attended the kids version April of this year). Some critics LOVE the film some critics DON’T. Roger Ebert (and the Wachowskis) have compared the film to 2001: A Space Odessey in a good way. Ebert gave it 4 out of 4 stars while others have been much less kind. But most like Bob Mondello, who largely disliked the film says “Cloud Atlas is now a film, for better or worse. Mostly worse I’d say, but give these folks credit …” I think the film, no matter what, was worth making. The Wachowskis and Tyker have reportedly had a great time working on the film, and so have the actors. There have been plenty of advertisements on TV, talk shows, and the Internet as well as a five and a half minute trailer released over the summer, a second and shorter trailer, and three behind the scenes featurettes. The movie however is rated R, which always reduces the number of viewers. Yet it is in IMAX, which costs more (thus adding money). But you don’t have to see it in IMAX. There are so many reasons why it will and won’t be a blockbuster success. If I was allowed to see the film I would see it opening day in IMAX. However, not everybody feels that way and so I’m guessing the movie will debut to $9.5 million on it’s opening weekend. Terribly disappointing but sadly likely. However I’m guessing the movie will do great internationally, thanks to the German Tom Tyker and partly foreign cast, and can at least make back it’s budget.

Tom Tyker (who composed the music for Cloud Atlas before shooting began) has no upcoming films he is currently working on. The Wachowskis are producing, writing, and directing a sci-fi action adventure starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum and set to be released sometime 2014. Jupiter will likely be commercially successful. And so after all the future may be bright.

Now go see Cloud Atlas and remember everything is connected. When you see Cloud Atlas there is one word that will come out of your mouth (to quote a certain other Wachowski film): whoa.

Cloud Atlas (2012)Tell us if you’ve read the book and then your opinion in the comments after seeing the movie (and what you think of these director’s other work and if you even want you see the movie)!


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