Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review Catchup (Pt. 4)

The final 3!  Woohoo!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I saw this movie for one reason only:  To see Peter Jackson do his special effects thing on a dragon.  I was not disappointed.

But, to give a slightly fuller review, this movie is more than the dragon.  It is a considerable step up, much more action packed and character driven than the first movie.  Instead of just focusing on Bilbo, and to a lesser extent Thorin, we get some bits on Fili, Kili, and Balin - not to mention newcomers (kinda) Legolas, Tauriel, and Bard.

The movie does make you wait to get to the dragon:  First the merry band of dwarves (plus one hobbit) meets Beorn, a shapeshifter, then they run into giant spiders (because there are always giant spiders), then they ride some barrels down a river as they escape Thranduil (Lee Pace), and finally they run into Bard (Luke Evans), who sneaks them into Lake Town (much to his later dismay).  Then, the dragon.

While everything before the dragon is enjoyable (indeed, the Wood Elves' Kingdom is great), Smaug is in the title, and it is Smaug we want to see.  Once Bilbo (Martin Freeman) descends into the ruined Dwarven kingdom in The Lonely Mountain to steal the Arkenstone from Smaug (voiced and motion-captured by Benedict Cumberbatch), the movie kicks it into high gear, and it was everything I wanted in a dragon-fighting sequence.  And even better (maybe not), they stopped midway through and will finish it in the third movie a year from now!

Damned cocktease of a movie (I would totally watch it again just for Smaug).  7.0 out of 10.

American Hustle
The movie is a bit of a mess, flirting with greatness, but never quite achieving it.  More of an actor's showcase than anything else, there are worse ways to spend two and a half hours.

American Hustle is a somewhat (mostly?) fictional retelling of the ABSCAM scandal in the 70's that got a whole bunch of Congressmen arrested for corruption.  When the movie focuses on this and the many ways it can go wrong, it is pretty amazing.  However, the movie wanders down plot threads unnecessarily and barely manages to hold everything together at points.

Really, everything to love about this movie involves the acting.  Christian Bale is phenomenal (please stop torturing your body though), Jennifer Lawrence is great as his scenery-chewing wife, Bradley Cooper slowly comes unhinged as the FBI agent who keeps going for bigger and bigger targets, and Jeremy Renner is lovably corrupt as the mayor whom Cooper's Richie DiMaso initially targets.  Even the bit parts get some love, with special mentions going to Elisabeth Rohm as Mayor Politio's wife and Colleen Camp as a cat-crazed FBI agent.

The true standout, however, is Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensley.  And she really should be credited twice, because Adams fully differentiates between the two identities during the course of the movie, and the scenes where she goes back and forth between the two are a marvel to watch.  Lawrence may be the easier one to love, but Adams is giving the better, more nuanced performance.

David O. Russell has had quite a string of movies lately (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and now this) and is obviously gifted with actors.  His direction here is solid, and I think that, much like 2001's Moulin Rouge!, the fact that the movie feels like it could fall apart at the seams at any moment is an intentional choice on the part of the director.

A solid film, if a bit messy.  8.0 out of 10

A black and white, silent film from Spain, this outside-the-box telling of Snow White is a must-see for cinephiles.

Blancanieves sets the story of Snow White in (what I assume to be) old time Spain.  Carmen (the titular Blancanieves, played in her youth by Sofia Oria and by Macarena Garcia once she is a teen/young adult) is the daughter of famed Matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho).  Antonio is paralyzed from the waste down during a bullfight the same day as Carmen as born (killing her birthmother, played by Inma Cuesta).  Carmen goes and lives with Dona Coñcha, her grandmother (Angela Molina) while he recovers, and Antonio falls in love with and marries his nurse, Encarna (Maribel Verdu).

Encarna swiftly takes control of the household and, once Doña Concha dies, Carmen - abusing both her stepdaughter and paralyzed husband while spending his vast wealth on whatever she desires.  She soon tires of both.  After successfully killing Antonio, she sends her lover to kill Carmen.  She ends up being rescued by 6 dwarven bullfighters with no memory of who she is.

All of this is told with minimal dialogue, and you do not get lost once in the entire endeavor.  Every now and then some exposition is thrown up on the screen, but it is used sparingly.  All of the actors give stellar performances, with special mention going to Maribel Verdu, who seizes upon her role and gives a full-bodied performance of careless evil.  The direction is solid, with nothing overtly spelled out ahead of time (despite the tale being well known across multiple languages) and smart asides and character details filling the screen throughout.

A thoroughly imaginative retelling of a classic, with more soul than any of the more recent 'updates' have managed.  9.0 out of 10.

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