It may be playing in cinemas but I’m not entirely convinced that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — and, by extension, the forthcoming Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again — is actually cinema. At least not cinema the way that this particular old geezer remembers it. First, let us put aside the technological innovation for a few paragraphs and focus on the story. These films have been been created to deliver an experience to existing fans of the Lord of the Rings films and is arguably even more tailored to their needs than, say, the Twilight franchise is to their fans. It certainly makes as few concessions to the neutral.
Fans from Bratislava to Beirut want to spend as much time as possible in Middle Earth and writer-director Peter Jackson delivers — to the extent that several familiar characters make inelegant cameo appearances and the audience gets to spend considerable time acclimatising. It really doesn’t matter that I think the whole thing faffs around for far too long and already feels hyper-extended. Criticising The Hobbit for length is falling in to the trap of reviewing the film you wish you were watching instead of the one in front of you.
I believe that it should be illegal to even mention the word Christmas in any month other than December. Yup, illegal. No one should be allowed to even breathe it, let alone have parades, display mince pies in supermarkets or throw staff parties. If, as a once-great nation, we can restrict firework sales to three days before Guy Fawkes I’m sure we can manage to pull our collective yuletide-obsessed heads in for a few weeks and focus all that attention on only one month a year.
At least that’s what I thought until last Friday. That was when I saw the new picture from England’s Aardman Animation, Arthur Christmas. I was prepared, based on my aforementioned bah-humbuggery — and some unprepossessing trailers — to be scornful and yet I was won over. Won over to the extent that I might as well be wrapped in tinsel with a fairy on top. Arthur Christmas made me believe in Christmas a week before I was ready.
This film is digital 3D rather than the stop-motion clay models that made Aardman famous, but the invention, wit, pace, structure and commitment to theme are all securely in place, brought to life by an awesome UK voice cast (Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy both do outstanding work) and some brilliantly clever visuals.
I don’t know what the French did to be so roundly insulted at the movies this week but I’d advise them to steer clear of Wellington cinemas for a while — perhaps until their film festival gets under way again next year. Firstly, crass action auteur Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) attempts to reboot a franchise from one of France’s most cherished pieces of literature but then makes The Three Musketeers without a single French person appearing on screen.
Actually, I’m teasing a little as neither the 1993 Charlie Sheen version or the 1973 Oliver Reed one had any significant French involvement, but to populate the latest film with Danes (Mads Mikkelsen), Austrians (Christoph Waltz), Germans (Til Schweiger) and Ukrainians (Milla Jovovich) does seem a bit on the nose.
I love it when a film raises the stakes. Done with wit, it can drag you back in to a film you might have been drifting away from. Done with smarts, like Susanne Bier’s Danish drama In a Better World, it can drag you to the edge of your seat.
About two-thirds in to the film there’s an event that forces a central character to confront his own principles — values he has been carefully (and selflessly) teaching his kids — and he has to question whether those principles are really doing him any good in a world that refuses to honour them in return.
The character is Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a Swedish doctor working in a sub-Saharan refugee camp where — in addition to the usual litany of drought-related problems — he’s patching up pregnant women brutalised by the local warlord. He’s troubled by the circumstances but smug about his role in the aid process. Perhaps he should be paying more attention to back home though, as his oldest son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is being bullied at school and taken under the wing of cold-eyed psychopath Christian (brilliant William Jøhnk Nielsen), grieving the cancer death of his mother and taking his quiet rage out on the world.
It’s been a weekend made for movie watching with cinemas across the city groaning under the weight of patrons escaping the filthy weather. It’s been so busy, in fact, that I failed to get in to either screening of The Last Station that I tried to attend — sold out at the Lighthouse and the Penthouse. Obviously, I should know better than to not book in advance on a holiday weekend but it means that I’m one down on the reviews I planned to offer you this week.
Instead of Tolstoy and his Russian cultural legacy, then, we kick-off with Sex and the City 2, a film that already has had some notoriously vicious reviews, and it deserves every single bit of vitriol the world can throw at it. SATC2 is an artifact of pure evil, a hate crime disguised as a puppy. I thought that the first film was pointless and dumb, but didn’t realise how offensive and pernicious the values on display actually are. There’s not a character in this film that isn’t a narcissistic whiner, stuck in their privileged little bubble, willfully ignorant of anything other than themselves and the fantasy world they live in.