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There are some obvious classics missing, like "Gone with the Wind" and "Ran", for the simple reason that I haven't gotten around to seeing them yet. So I can not fully recommend them, although I am sure they deserve to be here. I have also included, by most standards, some quite bad films, only because they are entertaining, but they will mostly find their spot at the bottom of the list.
The worst installment in the series thus far
About three minutes in to The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug we find ourselves back in the company of our merry dwarfs, a wizard and a hobbit as they yet again find themselves fleeing from Azog the incompetent orc, who is attempting to kill them. The scene is fast, action packed and not particularly exciting. When the scene is finally at an end we are served with some forgettable dialog where the company discusses the danger they are in, accompanied by some dramatic background music. It's a sign of things to come. This is basically how you will spend the next 150 minutes or so: long, drawn out action scene, short futile discussion with dramatic background score, new drawn out action scene. Throughout the movie I found myself desperately searching for moments of silence. Scenes that would allow the audience a break from this video game like narrative, but it was almost never to be found.
Now let me shoot in that I like to enjoy brainless action in movies and video games for that matter, but that doesn't mean that it's right for this movie. The Hobbit is an adventure film and should play out like fairy tale. But this fairy tale suffers from a lack of restraint. It has too much action, and amazingly, too much score. It has never been an annoyance in the past, but really, does every piece of dialog have to be accompanied by score? The source material for this film; the passages of the book which describe the long walk through Mirkwood forest, the escape from the elves and the arrival in Lake town are some of the funniest, most memorable and imaginative from the entire book. To my disappointment, all the charming little scenes where Bilbo runs around invisible with his ring to help the dwarfs out of new trouble, are cut short and hastily rushed through. You get the feeling that the director is short on time and has to get it over quickly, but to make room for what exactly? How on earth is it that a trilogy consisting of three 160 minute films, all based on a short book, doesn't have the time to fully delve in to the most memorable passages from said book? Especially when these passages would have given the film some much needed pacing and comical relief. The answer came towards the end. The reason for why the film needed to move quickly was to make room for new elaborate and drawn out action scenes - all of them completely unnecessary for the plot. Now, I am no Tolkien purist, and I don't mind a little creative freedom if it serves a purpose. In the Desolation of Smaug, the only purpose seems to have been to satisfy anxious producers that the film would have enough orc on dwarf/elf/human action, which they obviously see as the only factor that made the three first films a success.
There are no peaks and valleys. Only a succession of ever higher peaks. Every scene seems more action packed or dramatic than the next, with hardly any humor at all, leaving us completely numb to everything that happens. The criticism is one I could also direct at the first Hobbit movie, but it was nowhere near as unrestrained as this one. The Desolation of Smaug is more related to Peter Jackson's King Kong than the original trilogy, and one is left to wonder how the Fellowship of the Ring would have looked like, if it had been made with the same creative philosophy as the Desolation of Smaug. In all likelihood the most charming scenes would have been cut short to make room for an hour-long battle in Moria. Let us only hope that the next film manages to show some restraint in the build up the battle of the five armies.
The only redeeming qualities in this film are the set pieces, which have been wonderfully put together in the same manner of which we have come to expect from the previous films. The polish and color filters could have been toned down a bit, but visually the film is still a masterpiece.
Worth your while
I went to see Oblivion on premier night, and I had no expectations what so ever. But I must say that it was a positive surprise to me. The direction and style in Oblivion is close to flawless. A scene involving a swimming pool, close to the beginning, stands out in my memory as particularly well done - almost a work of art. All the visuals in this film are beautiful and full of imagination. The soundtrack by M83 is spectacular, and reminds me of Mass Effect.
The script, sadly, is not so spectacular. It's not so bad as to ruin the movie, but it has some plot holes and predictable outcomes. It also resembles another very creative script, which sort of makes it feel less original, even if the resemblance wasn't due to directly stealing.
The acting was okay. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, a good actor, but not a particularly interesting character in this film. Morgan Freeman is good, but the role is small and also not very engaging. Olga Kurylenko is the weakest link, and I didn't find her very believable in her role. An English woman by the name of Andrea Riseborough, which I had never herd of before, puts on a wonderful act though. All in all it's worth the money to go see it, not just for the style and design of it, but also for a couple of entertaining hours.
Great idea, but flawed execution
New York Mafioso Frank Tagliano rats out his boss to the FBI and goes in to hiding. He fell in love with the small Norwegian town of Lillehammer after seeing it on TV during the 1994 Winter Olympics and demands to be settled there with a new identity, despite knowing very little about Norway or Norwegian culture. What he faces in Norway turns out to be something entirely different than what he expected, and he quickly moves to use his street knowledge to make the place feel closer to home. Thus the stage is set for a hilarious culture clash when this uncompromising American gangster does what he knows best in a completely naive and gullible town.
This show has been tagged in Norwegian media as a Sopranos set in Norway, owning to the star of the show, Steven Van Zandt, also known as the legendary "Silvio" in Sopranos. But to even compare this show to Sopranos is just wrong. If that's what you are expecting you're in for a huge disappointment. This is not Sopranos, and to be fair, it doesn't try to be. Whereas Sopranos was a television epic with intelligent character development and a subtle script, this is a light- hearted comical approach to the Mafia and culture differences. And this is also a part of the show's problem. It tries to be funny, but in many instances it goes too far. Although the show has some exceptionally funny scenes, it's also filled with cheap slapstick humour and some very two-dimensional characters that are there to offer comical relief. The foolishness of these characters is almost on Disney level and it somewhat destroys immersion. The idea is great and the scriptwriters have come up with tons of brilliant ideas for what a New York gangster would find strange in Norwegian society, but for every great scene there is an equally stupid scene.
If the show had been more disciplined with it's search for comical situations, it could have acquired a cult following. Instead you sit back with very mixed feelings. As stated earlier, you are offered a mix of some very intelligent black humour, and some scenes that just make you cringe with embarrassment. None the less, this is an original idea and the entertainment value still makes it worthwhile. Some of the characters are lovable and the general storyline keeps you watching.
More than it appears to be
When I was a bit younger I would valiantly work my way through almost every recommended film that came my way, regardless of genre or plot. But as I have gotten older, and time available has gotten smaller, I find myself lacking the patience for the more unconventional genres, or stories that don't interest me. When I read about this film it did not interest me one bit, and it held the promise of being unconventional, so I let it slide for quite a while. Despite awesome reviews and friends telling me it was the best thing they had seen in ages.
It's about a stuntman who also moonlights as a getaway driver. He falls in love with a girl, but she has an ex-husband who is in trouble with some gangster. As this becomes a threat to the girl and her son, our stuntman offers to help, but everything goes wrong. The idea that it was about a stuntman made me think about the tedious encounter I had with Tarantino's Death Proof. And the entire gangster genre has in my mind just spawned too many films. One grows tired of it. Yet, after many months of hesitation, I finally decided to sit down with this film, thinking that it might yet prove to be worth my time, and I am glad to say it did.
One thing I liked about this movie, was the fact that we never learn the name of our hero, and we never learn anything about his past. A bit like in the film Taken, with Liam Neeson, we first perceive him as quite a vulnerable type, but as the plot unfolds we learn, in part through some quite violent scenes, that we underestimated him, and possibly what kind of movie this is. It catches you quite off guard and serves to make the character even more mystifying and interesting. As for his relationship to the girl, this is one of those few films were two characters say very little to each other, but still manage to convey romance.
Apart from Taken, one could also compare Drive to films like Heat and Taxi Driver. Like these films, Drive has a wonderful cinematography, set mostly in the dark lit streets of LA. It has an astonishing soundtrack, which renders the film a melancholic backdrop that it needs in order for us to take it seriously. Without the artistic framework this film would have been a mediocre thriller. So, if you are like me, and have your doubts about whether or not to see this film, for one reason or another, my tip is to give it a chance, especially if you enjoyed films such as Heat or Taxi Driver. I also compared it to Taken, but despite having a somewhat similar story, Drive is a much darker and deeper film, and having love for Taken does not automatically make this a film for you.
The Thing (2011)
Lost potential, but worth a viewing
I am not a huge fan of horror movies, but I can definitely enjoy horror when it's done right. "The Thing" from 1982 is a good example of horror done right.
When I first heard about this project I was excited. In the first part of "The Thing" (1982) the main characters travel out to a deserted Norwegian research base to find out what happened there. The set design was perfectly conceived. To this day I think a lot of fans of the original find this very part among the most memorable. It really gets your imagination going and you continuously ask yourself: "what horrible things happened here?!" And that is exactly what the prequel is about; what did indeed happen to the Norwegians? It might be argued that this was a stupid topic for a film, as then its no longer a mystery. But that's a different discussion. I still think it's a cool idea for a project. However, when I went to see this film I didn't have a lot of expectations. Firstly because I can't think of a single frightening monster/horror film made in the last decade. That alone spoke against this project. I also knew that the writers had written in some mainstream characters in order to make the film more agreeable for the average audience, which I will come back to later.
My first thought after seeing the film was that it's not bad though. It's not really good, but it's enjoyable, especially if you haven't seen the original. The film's qualities lie in it's superb action/thriller scenes, which are almost identical to the ones in the original 1982 film. Plagiarizing some might say. As a fan boy, I would say that's exactly what we wanted. Another quality in this film is it's attempts to make tribute to the original. Great care is put in to telling us the story behind every little detail we see in the set of the original, which is really cool.
Sadly, the film also has its fair share of flaws. It's biggest problem, like so many horror films made today, is that it fails realize that no matter the considerable amounts blood and gore, shaky camera effects and high paced music you pour in to the mix, it's not really going to be a fraction as scary as the unknown. Blood and gore can be used to great effect to hint our imagination at how horrible a thing that lurks in the dark, but it will never make a film scary by itself. The filmmakers just fail to play with out imagination. It might be argued that even the original version of The Thing did too little to play with our imagination, but it had great character development and old fashioned special effects to boot.
A second problem with the film is it's rather implausible mix of characters. The main heroin is a beautiful, American scientist. The idea of putting in this character just stinks of trying making the film more friendly to the average audience. Of course, it's Hollywood, so they need to follow certain norms to make money from their films, but at some point it just makes for a bad movie. Which is really stupid, because then you are definitely not going to get your money back. I don't really have anything against amazons in horror films; it worked great in Alien, but The Thing (1982) is infamous for it's lack of female characters and the prequel should have followed in it's path. An all-male setting, isolated at that, may also serve to write in some enjoyable gallows humor and shallow masculinity, which fits perfect for horror films. It can be frightening to see these masculine environments fall victim to pure terror.
There is also a bunch of other American and a British characters in the film, and what was originally supposed to be an all-Norwegian camp ends up being this multicultural thing, with the Norwegians themselves left standing somewhat in the background to be eaten. This doesn't really fit well with how the camp is perceived in the original film. A better and arguably more successful film would have offered an all-male, all-Norwegian set of characters, consisting of mostly bizarre, masculine bearded types. The obvious choice would be to hire an all American cast, let them speak English, and just pretend that they are Norwegian. It's been done plenty of times before. K-19 immediately comes to mind.
Finally the film should have been darker, better paced and have more character development. The fact that they are in a hostile environment like Antarctica is very poorly conveyed. Even in the hottest months of the year the average high on the South Pole is – 26 degrees Celsius, yet here we see our heroes walking around in thin jackets, sometimes without caps, as if it's no problem at all. Some of the characters are even sitting and chilling outside! And way too often the characters appear clean, comfortable and warm, when they should be drenched in frost, ash and appear to be freezing their buts off. It should also be mentioned that some parts of the film don't take place in Antarctica at all, which somewhat ruins the feeling of isolation.
To summarize, this film is worth a viewing, but it could have been so much better. If you haven't seen the original you could perhaps see them both in concession, to great effect, because the very best part of this prequel is it's last two minutes, ending exactly where the original picks up. It immediately made me want to see the original again.