Not only does December bring us the holidays….It brings us great movies. The theaters are full of all types of flicks from big to small. Studios unload their most prized films in hopes of bringing home some hardware during awards season. There is always 4 or 5 movies that I have been greatly anticipating for months. I plan to see all of them but if you need help deciding then hopefully this helps. I also will give you my quick thoughts on two movies currently in theaters.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
This is Peter Jackson’s second installment in his Hobbit trilogy. While the first film had a lukewarm response, I enjoyed many aspects of it. It managed to capture a goofy escapist pleasure that was like a campfire tale. But it’s far from the level of filmmaking in The Lord of the Rings. In The Desolation of Smaug the hobbits are still on their quest to Lonely Mountain where the evil dragon Smaug resides. The first film certainly had a lot of set up and it’s pacing was slow at times, but there was a sense of fun and adventure I miss in films nowadays. The issues found in the first film are still apparent in The Desolation of Smaug, but it finally takes us to some pretty cool places. Like….Elves, and a Dragon! The level of fun and adventure is high on the charts when the film is paced right, but the second and third acts begin to get bogged down. However, the first half wonderful moments of whimsy. There’s a barrel sequence that unquestionably is one of the best action scenes of the year. It also amazes me that after five films in Middle Earth they still can find inventive ways to kill orcs. Certain orc kills in this are applause worthy.
Along the way we meet some new characters, and see some old faces (Legolas). Among the new faces are Evangeline Lily of “Lost” fame as the elf Tauriel and Luke Evans as Bard who is a mysterious man that lives in Laketown, which is found under the Lonely Mountain. Both are nice additions and fill a void in character that the first film desperately needed. At 2 hours and 40 minutes the film is still far too long for the narrative. The third act primarily focuses on Smaug, and while Benedict Cumberbatch does a charming job, the sequence lingers on for much too long. Pacing is still the biggest problem with the movie as well as an unbelievable amount of CGI. It’s literally a talking dragon for 45 minutes and if it was anything but a giant Dragon it’d be quickly tiresome. If the book had been just made into one movie or even two, it would’ve gotten rid of the problems these films have. The visuals of the film are pleasing in terms of the colors and the surrounding world is huge in scale, but once again there is far too much CGI and business in frames. The Lord of the Rings (2000) is light years more impressive in special effects, makeup, and practical effects.
This is a world where the men pride themselves on their idea of honor and duty as well as their belief in nobility. That’s where these films try to find their depth and character. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work for a trilogy of three hour movies that has the narrative for only one… maybe two. I still don’t know the dwarves names…. These Hobbit films are not like the Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was a children’s book that fancied itself an adventure of simplicity, while The Lord of the Rings was a philosophical and epic war story. Just look at the villains of each series. Orcs actually provided major problems in LOTR. In The Hobbit they simply are getting in the way and don’t present any real menace. When The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug embraces its kid like roots, it works amazingly well. Luckily it embraces them enough here. It’s perhaps a movie of higher highs than its predecessor because this time the adventure is amped up, but overall it lacks a consistent adventurous spirit. Viewing it as pure fairy tale story gave me enjoyment. The film has overlong scenes and far too much CGI, but there is imagination, and occasional fun adventure. Behind Gravity and Catching Fire, it’s the best blockbuster of the year.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
10 years later we finally get a sequel to one of the best comedies. Upon release Anchorman only did modestly at the box office and critically it wasn’t hailed as the next great thing. In the years since it has found popularity through DVD and it’s status in pop culture is huge. Comedy sequels almost never work. It’s just a hard thing to accomplish. Let me put it this way, how often are the same jokes funny again? How long can someone keep you laughing if they do the same thing? That’s exactly the problem comedies face. So how does Anchorman 2 fair? It’s a complete and utter disappointment. Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy is now a forced presence on screen, and these jokes are a lot harder to do the second time. The story essentially involves Ron getting his team back together and heading to New York to work at the first 24 hours news network.
The film is constructed a bit different from the first. The first film almost effortlessly told us a story and simultaneously introduced us to a host of hilarious characters by keeping itself centered on Ron Burgundy. Basically it moved along and kept its quality consistent and the story was focused. I can’t think of one character in the original that felt off or didn’t work. That movie was pure comedy gold. The actors here feel as if they’ve forgotten how to be those characters and this is their best imitation. The movie has too many side stories that don’t ever really pay off. For example, Ron and Veronica get separated, Ron has a kid and they try to build that relationship and for some reason they give Brick a bigger role. It’s just so unbalanced and often feels pieced together like a bunch of kinda funny SNL skits that just go on for a bit too long.
This is a movie with talented performers that make people laugh for a living. Most of the jokes use the SNL improv style and they tackle race, gender, and media in the most ridiculously stupid ways possible. But that’s the appeal, I guess. I can’t recommend rushing out to see it unless you’re a huge fan of the first… but even then this is hard to watch at times. I’d honestly recommend waiting for it at red box and then fast forwarding through the bullshit narrative stuff. But, amazingly, the climax is ridiculously awesome and almost worth the price of admission alone. The cameos in it are absolutely perfect. While the film is nowhere near the quality of the first, it’s worth a rental. This Is The End mops the floor with it though. Anchorman 2 will get a few laughs out of you, but you will cringe just as much.
Christmas Movie Preview:
I’m more excited for the movies coming out these next few days than I am for the usual Christmas festivities. These are the flicks you should consider seeing during the next few weeks. I’ve ranked them in terms of my own anticipation.
6. August Osage County: This is about a dysfunctional family that returns to their childhood home after a family crisis. Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep star in this drama. Expect a lot of crying and plate smashing that the academy goes nuts over.
5. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Ben Stiller stars and directs this movie about a guy who finds himself day dreaming vividly. The visuals look great but I do wonder if the story will hold up. If I had to guess, it’ll be decent family flick but probably has a lot more to show than it does to tell you.
4. Saving Mr. Banks: Tom Hanks as Walt Disney? Sounds good to me. I’m interested to see how Mary Poppins was made. The behind the scenes stuff interests me very much. I can’t say I expect a whole lot but It looks like it will be a solid heartwarming movie for the whole family.
3. American Hustle: After The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell has made quite a name for himself by taking basic genre flicks and making the characters the most important aspect. I wish he’d be more daring with his stories and this might be the one that does it. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner headline this flick about con men vs. con men vs. cops. This is gonna be an entertaining watch.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Dicaprio? TAKE MY MONEY. I’ve been waiting for Scorsese to do a flick like Goodfellas and Casino again. That’s his bread and butter. Now taking that style and applying it to a movie about Jordan Belfort who became the king of Wall Street is going to be legendary. Expect smart and confident humor, satire, and a story that will keep your eyes on the screen from beginning to end. This is where I’ll be on Christmas.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis: This is the one movie I cannot wait to see. I’ve heard this is one of the Coen’s best films, and I’m a huge Coen’s fan. The story is about a man named Llewyn Davis who is a folk singer in the 60’s. The film follows a week in his life. Expect interesting characters and a super dense examination of ideas and themes. You’ll likely be scratching your head after and wondering what it all meant. The Coen’s are anything but normal. This has a chance at being my favorite of the year.