Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

As successful and magical as any of the other original films from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sure, there is an argument to be made that Jackson and company trumped up another trilogy from J. R. R. Tolkien's slim first book for business reasons, but that argument only holds if the films don't work. And this one does work, especially if you are willing to settle into the world of Middle Earth and spend some time there. Critics were especially harsh about the extended opening sequence in the Shire, when Bilbo Baggins is descended upon by Gandalf and thirteen dwarves. I loved this sequence, especially when the dwarves break into song (yes, that happens), and especially the way Bilbo is torn between the comforts of home and the lure of adventure.

The set pieces that occur after the group embark on their way toward Lonely Mountain (spoiler alert: they don't get there in this movie), are all fairly amazing. There are mind-blowing action sequences involving goblins, mountain giants, orcs on wargs. Peter Jackson manages to utilize state-of-the-art special effects and still make the film seem from another, more old fashioned time.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Poetry Monday

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

by James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

While I was sick ...

I watched a few movies, and one television series. Here are the highs and the lows:

The Shipping News (2001). A bunch of hooey with some nice scenery.

The Bedroom Window (1987). A well-constructed thriller from the 1980s. Not helped by some less-than-sharp dialogue and by Steve Guttenberg as a poor man's Fred MacMurray.

Separate Lies (2005). A slowly unfolding infidelity drama written and directed by Julian "Downton Abbey" Fellowes. The acting, by Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson, makes it worth sitting through, but it doesn't add up to much. And Rupert Everett with his plastic surgery just looks creepy to me.

Navajo Joe (1966). Entertaining revenge flick from Sergio Corbucci. An obvious influence for Django Unchained. Burt Reynolds plays the title Indian. He kills a lot of sniveling bad guys. Great music, natch, by Morricone.

Ghost Town (2008). A rewatch, but it confirmed my belief that this is the best romantic comedy of the last ten years, if not longer. Ricky Gervais is funny and soulful in a role that Alec Guiness might have played in an Ealing comedy.

Dexter, Season 5. The worst season, so far, as Dexter goes up against Colin Hanks (no, really) as a religious nutjob-cum-serial killer. Still, I prefer a bad season of Dexter to no season of Dexter. Especially if I'm sick.

The Price of Murder

Published by Dell in 1957, this thriller is MacDonald working at the top of his game in sordid, quick entertainment. Like a lot of his best books, this is multiperspective, as MacDonald explores the history, motives, and actions of a group that circle around a couple of grisly murders, and a heist gone wrong. There is no true protagonist, although there are good people. There's no love story (actually an oddity for MacDonald) but the pages fly by.

I just heard that Random House is re-releasing all of MacDonald's books, either in bound editions or e-books. This is amazing news. I had just resigned myself to the fact that MacDonald was disappearing from the public consciousness like cigarette smoking from bars. I hope he picks up a few new fans. He deserves them.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Poetry Monday

Sorry for the long break, but I've been battling that flu bug that is apparently everywhere. In my feverish funk I managed to watch Kenneth Longergan's infamous film Margaret, which I thought was pretty great. It's a long sophisticated take on an Upper West Side prep school girl's emotional breakdown after witnessing a horrific accident on the street (that she may or may not have caused). Anna Paquin is perfect as Lisa Cohen, who is often unlikable but completely real; she seems gripped by emotions that she does not remotely understand.

I hope Lonergan gets a chance to make another movie. This one had a delayed release because of his inability to turn in a 150 minute cut to satisfy the production companies. Lawsuits were filed, and in the end, Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker edited the film. That's pretty good punishment for being unable to do something yourself. It's actually a brilliant edit: moody at times, but incredibly paced.

There is no character named "Margaret" in the film. The title comes from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem "Spring & Fall: to a Young Child." Here's the justly famous poem:

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Innkeepers

I really love Ti West's directing style; he has a formal elegance to his two low-budget horror films--House of the Devil and this one--plus an amazing restraint. He really knows that scares need to be doled out with extreme prejudice, a fact that almost every horror film director has now forgotten (or has been induced to forget). In this film, Sara Paxton plays a bubbly hotel worker going through the motions on an inn's last night in business. It's all slow build, and genuinely creepy at the end, even if it's a tad ambiguous about how much horror there really is in this horror film. What I like least about Ti West's movies is the slacker vibe of his character's; this would have been much more effective had our protagonists had a little more backstory and depth than being Schlitz-drinking wage slaves.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ten Favorite Films of 2013

I like to do this imaginary list before I do my Top Ten Films of 2012. This list is easier, but will it come true?

10. Carrie
Not as good as the original, but the best horror film of the year, by far.

9. The Two Faces of January
Moody and murderous, and better than the Patricia Highsmith novel it's based on.

8. Stoker
This freaky gothic melodrama has the best performance of the year, from Mia Wasikowska.

7. Under the Skin
This might be just an arty version of Species, but I also loved Species.

6. A Most Wanted Man
Another excellent Le Carre adaptation. This is a quiet, intelligent thriller with a great performance from Rachel McAdams.

5. Star Trek Into Darkness
J. J. Abrams should make every summer popcorn flick.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis
I suspect this one will grow on me even more over time, like almost all Coen Brothers movies. 

3. Before Midnight

The conclusion to one of the great trilogies. See number 1 for another trilogy ender.

2. Gravity
Unbelievable technical achievement that doesn't skimp on intelligence and emotion.

1. The World's End
Pure brilliance from start to finish. Will stand with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz as the greatest comedy trilogy ever.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Poetry Monday


by Simon Armitage

And if it snowed and snow covered the drive
he took a spade and tossed it to one side.
And always tucked his daughter up at night
And slippered her the one time that she lied. 

And every week he tipped up half his wage.
And what he didn't spend each week he saved.
And praised his wife for every meal she made.
And once, for laughing, punched her in the face. 

And for his mum he hired a private nurse.
And every Sunday taxied her to church.
And he blubbed when she went from bad to worse.
And twice he lifted ten quid from her purse. 

Here's how they rated him when they looked back:
sometimes he did this, sometimes he did that.