Screened Out: Epic Characters

By : Stephen Miller
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Are you ready to go back to Middle Earth? Of course, you are. Like Star Wars, we’re looping back to the prequel (which Tolkien wrote first and then edited later). It’s graphic, epic, and fun – but less life threatening than the Lord of the Rings series.

The Hobbit is still worth the trip. Peter Jackson has a sure hand at this grand mythological material by now.

How did a quiet hobbit procure both the famous sword Sting and “Precious,” the evil ring? Bilbo (Holm, Freeman) is writing it down now for Frodo. (There’s a nifty reference to the beginning of the LoTR series.) We still never quite know why Gandalf (awesome Sir McKellen) picked the Baggins family. All we know is that innocent Bilbo must go with the dwarf king Armitage and his short, swarthy, singing band of compatriots. They must fight a dragon and recapture their once-glorious mountain city and its gold.

If you know LoTR, you have some idea of how this ends, so The Hobbit is about filling in the detail. The film mostly succeeds, but any fan with half a sense of humor will find plot holes to poke fun of in this meandering tale.

Jackson’s crew also seems to have more fun – there are more laughs and even musical numbers! And, honestly, watching mountains box is cool, but goblins aren’t that threatening when you can slew dozens with one deft sword swing.

This movie says that Hitchcock was a genius, but it never quite shows it. Where are the droll humor and the innovation? This biopic about the making of Psycho and the director’s marriage to Alma Reville is sadly ho-hum.

Anthony Hopkins – under a great make-up job – plays Hitchcock. The film reveals nothing new: Hitch, as he was called, was obsessed with blond bombshells. He also was a bit creepy and cold, even sometimes controlling.

Wife Reville (wonderfully played by Mirren) was his foil, editor and censor. She mostly stood in the background, but any little digging into production history will show her work. She polished scripts, provided an opinion, and agreed to mortgage everything they owned when the studios refused to green-light Psycho.

Hitch also was a master at self-marketing – inventing new styles of promotion. He confounded audience expectations about movies. He surprised us.

So, why is this biopic nice but not at all surprising? Very few of Hitchcock’s cool camera tricks and story twists are utilized. Johansson as Janet Leigh and James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins seem underutilized. Even the gimmicks employed to show the inner workings of Hitchcock’s mind are lacking shock.

Hitch comes off as petulant, flaccid and boring for most of the movie (minus one brilliant scene at the end). That wimpiness might be the film’s pathetic revelation. It also lessens the genius so many generations have enjoyed

Too late; you didn’t kill anything softly, you just killed it.

No one will ever accuse Quentin Tarantino of being subtle. He doesn’t want to be; this film lover wants to be wildly entertaining.

Django is really an updated version of a blacksploitation film. (Tarantino did it once before with Jackie Brown.) This time, it’s a Western where former slave Django (Foxx) exacts revenge on slave owners while searching for his wife. The man who trained Django in gun slinging, lying, wheeling and dealing is Christoph Waltz (who won an Oscar in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds). DiCaprio is the creepy slave-owning jerk. His right hand man is a sycophantic old coot (Jackson), who helps enslave his own kind.

Just like in all Tarantino films, there is the odd mix of long, almost stagey scenes with elaborate and ridiculous moments of violence. Also, there are the cheesy titles and anachronous music choices – 1970s jazz as people ride horses through 1850s Texas. However, there is also the common message of the oppressed getting revenge. Remember the Jewish girl taking on Nazis in Basterds? The stuntwomen in Unstoppable also seek justice. They thought they killed Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, and she came back to get even. (Perhaps Tarantino will one day shoot a film with a rage-filled gay?)

So, if you can stomach the absurd violence, the incongruity, the camp, the long scenes (the film is nearly three hours), and copious use of the N-word, Tarantino has fashioned another way to wallow in filthy, fun vengeance


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