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Long but worth it for the great story it tells
"The Hobbit -An Unexpected Journey" is an enjoyable movie that lives up to the high standards of director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Some sequences are too long such as the feast scenes where we meet the dwarfs and the escape from the Goblins. However this doesn't take away too much from the high quality of the movie.
The story of a hobbit joining the dwarf's quest to recover their gold from a fierce dragon is just that - a great story- and Jackson tells it well, with plenty of help from a rousing score, New Zealand scenery and CGI effects.
The acting is good though none of the characters has a lot of depth. Martin Freeman, in particular, is good as Bilbo Baggins, who surprises himself by deciding to leave the quiet Shire to wander through Middle Earth with complete strangers. The scene where he meets Gollum, played by Andy Sirkis, s particularly memorable.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
Has enough quirky bits to be enjoyable
"Pitch Perfect" is an enjoyable comedy that will appeal to a wide audience. Anna Kendrick plays Beca, a girl starting college. She wants to go to LA to get involved in the music industry but as her father is a professor at the college she is getting free tuition. Initially she has no interest in mixing as she intends leaving as soon as she can but her father insists that she participate in college life so she joins an all girl "A Cappella" singing group in the college, because wouldn't you know it, she has a terrific voice.
The group came close to winning the National title the previous year but one of its leaders (Anna Camp) had an unfortunate nausea caused event on stage in the final, ruining their chances. Therefore the group's leaders are even more determined to do well this year. However they aren't interested in trying out new styles of performances that Beca suggests. Even more importantly members are not allowed to fraternise with members of the all male group in the college. You can see where this going.
There are rehearsals to find new members and a varied bunch of girls (including a black lesbian, and a whispering Asian) is recruited. This part of the movie has some good laughs in it. Of course Beca REALLY likes one of the members of the male group but as she finds herself taking her participation in the group more seriously she decides to avoid temptation by avoiding him.
There is nothing very original in the movie but it doesn't take itself too seriously and there are enough quirky characters and dialogue to stop it becoming too bland. The cast also seem to be enjoying themselves. Rebel Wilson has a lot of the best lines as "Fat Amy". The singing sequences are good and don't last long enough to bore viewers who aren't "Glee" fans.
Elizabeth Banks is a producer of the movie so I presume it was her own idea to play half of a commentating double act we see at each competition, along with John Michael Higgins. I think they are trying to something similar to what was done to good effect in "Dodgeball", with Gary Cole and Jason Bateman as the ESPN 8 commentators. However here the lines just aren't funny enough.
An undemanding but enjoyable comedy.
Two Lovers (2008)
Thoughtful movie about relationships
"Two Lovers" is a slow moving thoughtful drama that examines the lives of three vulnerable thirty something New Yorkers.
We meet Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) at the start of the movie, as he attempts suicide. He hasn't gotten over the break up of his engagement. He lives with his parents and has a job in the family business. His parents introduce him to Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a daughter of family friends. She is beautiful but shy and quiet. It is clear the parents of both people would like to make a "match". Sandra and Leonard get on very well so it looks like their parents will get their wish.
Then Leonard meets Michelle (Gyneth Paltrow), who has just moved into the same apartment building. They also get on very well. Leonard is very taken by her beauty and lifestyle, which seems much more exciting than his. She has a boyfriend, who is very rich and treats her badly at times and it clear that Leonard that wants to "rescue" her.
Of course things don't go smoothly in this love triangle as Leonard starts to go out with Sandra, while still keeping contact with Michelle in the hope that they will somehow become a couple.
The ending may not be to everyone's liking but I enjoyed the movie. There are good performances from all the three lead actors and I particularly loved Isabella Rossellini as Leonard's mother, always worried about her troubled son and hoping that he will find happiness.
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Less than the sum of its parts
Michael McDonagh's first movie as a director was the universally acclaimed "In Bruges" so I was looking forward to "Seven Psychopaths". Along with McDonagh's reputation as a writer and director the movie has an excellent cast including Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell.
However I was slightly disappointed. The movie starts slowly and I kept expecting it to "get going" but it never really did.
Colin Farrell plays a Hollywood screenwriter who is struggling to turn an idea, a movie about seven psychopaths, into a finished script. This may be because he spends a lot of time drinking with his deadbeat friend, Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is an actor between roles and wants to help Farrell's character finish the script but makes a living by kidnapping dogs and getting rewards from their owners when they are returned. Christopher Walken plays his partner in this "business". In the background we hear of a series of criminals being murdered by a vigilante type killer.
The dog kidnappers get in way over their heads after kidnapping the beloved dog of a mobster, played by Woody Harrelson.
From here the movie switches between comedy, violence and thoughtful ruminations on friendship and the creative process but doesn't deal with any of them in a completely satisfactory way. There are echoes of Tarantino's movies in the setting and dialogue of many scenes.
An enjoyable movie but one that is less than the sum of its parts.
Good police series set in Italy -surprised only one series made
I enjoyed the only series made of Zen and was surprised that the BBC haven't made any more. Each episode is 90 minutes long and features Aurelio Zen, a detective in the Rome police force. Zen, played by Rufus Sewell has a reputation for doing things by the book, a trait that doesn't seem to be shared by all of his colleagues.
This reputation means that he is asked to undertake specific "sensitive" investigations by representatives of the Italian government, who want them to be handled in a particular way. They also make it clear that if the results aren't to their satisfaction his career will be in jeopardy. The viewer wants to see how Zen can stay true to his morality without ruining his career. We also get to see his private life, which is also pretty complicated!
The series was shot in Italy but with actors playing the Italian characters being nearly all native English speakers. This is fine but then along comes Italian actress Caterina Murino playing one of the characters with strong Italian accent. This piece of casting jarred for me a little but since Caterina is gorgeous I've learned to be okay with it.
Rufus Sewell is excellent as the suave but vulnerable Zen, always trying to do the right thing, usually under difficult circumstances.
Killing Them Softly (2012)
Gritty crime movie
I loved Andrew Dominik's "Assassination of Jesse James". In "Killing Them Softly" he is clearly aiming to make more than just a run of the mill movie about criminals in "Killing Them Softly".
The basic storyline is about a small time crook in an unnamed and unpleasant looking US city who decides to rob a local poker game protected by the mob. He thinks he is very smart and that another local gangster will get the blame for this. He recruits two of the most hapless criminals you could find to do the job for him.
The movie really gets going after the heist as a mob lawyer (Richard Jenkins) is put in charge of sorting out who did what and ensuring everyone gets what's coming to them. He turns to hit-man Jackie (Brad Pitt) who sets him straight on what the criminal underworld expects to happen in these situations. There are some great scenes where Jenkins and Pitt sit in a car discussing in a very matter of fact way whether someone should be killed or just badly beaten.
Throughout the movie the soundtrack often plays US politicians including President Obama speaking about how they intend to bring the "true" America back to its former glories. Their rhetoric is in contrast to the matter of fact way in which we are seeing the criminal underworld sorting out its problems.
There is a lengthy diversion when Jackie brings in a New York hit-man, Mickey (James Gandolfini) to do some "work" for him. Mickey turns out to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown and a lot more trouble than he is worth. Maybe this is meant to show us that even mobsters can go off the rails in the end.
Jackie ends up getting his hands very dirty as he sorts everything out. At the end of the movie he says that, in contrast to what politicians say, the US is not a community of people "all in it together". He believes the true spirit of America is about looking after Number One.
I enjoyed the movie a lot. The gritty urban settings added to the sense of dread as the gruesome action is played out. However I thought the director was pushing his "message" about the dark heart of America a bit too strongly at times.
Excellent political thriller
Ben Affleck is developing a decent track record for himself as a director. Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now Argo are all very entertaining. More than just pretty face then! Argo is based on the true story of six American Embassy employees who escaped when the Embassy in Tehran was attacked in 1979 by protesters against the US giving the Shah sanctuary following his fall from power. They find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador and the US authorities have to find a way to get them out of Iran before the local authorities realise they are there.
Be warned though, from comments on the movie it seems clear the movie is a highly dramatized and not very accurate portrayal of what happened.
Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA agent specialising in these operations. He has contacts in Hollywood and comes up with the idea of setting up a fake movie to arrange a trip to Tehran to scout locations and bringing the escapees home on the way back as part of the crew.
The movie is good in showing us the tension felt by the escapees in Tehran and by Mendez in the US as he tries to make his scheme workable.
The tension builds as Mendez goes to Tehran and tells the plan to the trapped Americans. Some of them are understandably sceptical. However they have little choice but to go along with it and the final Tehran airport sequence is well done, though perhaps more than a little far fetched.
In fairness to the makers at the start of the movie some time is given to explain the historical background to the unpopularity of the US in post revolution Iran.
Definitely a political thriller I'd recommend, though maybe not for factual accuracy.
The Bank Job (2008)
Enjoyable heist movie
This movie is supposedly based on a true story from the 1970's involving compromising photographs of a prominent member of the Royal family.
Mainly though it is an enjoyable heist caper that succeeds because of good pacing, exciting action scenes and a talented cast.
Jason Statham is perfect as the part-time criminal given information about a huge robbery that will set him up for life. Little does he know that agents of the State are only using him for their own purposes. There are the usual scenes for heist movies where we are introduced to the gang members and a comic touch to some of the scenes as it clear that the gang may be out of their depth. Corrupt policemen and shady underworld figures add to the drama and we are left with an enjoyable if not wholly original movie.
A great laugh!
Definitely one of the first of the "film genre spoof" movies that became so popular (may be The Big Bus was first?) Airplane! is rightly seen as a classic.
I hadn't seen it in few years and the beginning wasn't as funny as I expected but once the plane takes off the great gags come thick and fast. However if you didn't like the last one, don't worry there will be another one in a few seconds.
Favourite moments: - Otto what a great idea! - The jive talk translator - Lloyd Bridges picking the wrong week to give up everything - "But that's not important right now"
A great laugh!
Entertaining Time travel thriller
If you don't think about the science too much (as Bruce Willis recommends during the movie) you will probably enjoy Looper as much as I did.
It is set in the near future. Further into the future again Time Travel has been invented and is used by criminals there to send people they want to "dispose of" back in time to be summarily executed by "Loopers". Our "hero" is Joe, a Looper played by Joseph Gordon Levitt. They are well paid for this work but know that is highly likely that they themselves, if they live long enough will be tracked down by their former employers and sent back in time to be killed by their younger selves before they know who their latest victim is, hence closing the "loop".
Suffice it to say, Joseph Gordon Levitt changes into Bruce Willis as the years go by and is sent back in time. I'm not giving much away by revealing that this particular loop closure doesn't go as planned. Both versions of Joe go on the run from the criminals that wanted him dead. Along the way they cross paths with single mother, Sara and her rather peculiar son, Cid. They have an interesting part to play in the plot also.
The movie is a satisfying mix of action, sci-fi and even a bit of romance.