By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 0 Comments
Bill Murray might have made a good Hobbit, back in the day. Playing Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, may seem like a stretch. But in Hyde Park on Hudson the FDR role fits Murray like an old pair of slippers. As for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Martin Freeman, makes a solid impression as Middle-earth’s mild-mannered Bilbo Baggins. But sadly neither film lives up to expectations. And because the expectations surrounding The Hobbit has been so huge, the hollow thud of disappointment is more resounding.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
First let me put my biases on the table. I’m not a Tolkien fan; I’ve always found his up-hill-and-down-dale prose tedious. But I was duly impressed by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, or at least the first and final episodes. So I was expecting the same level of spectacle, character and story from The Hobbit. But I’m not sure if I even saw the movie Jackson intended to make, because I found it so hard to get past the film’s vaunted, and now controversial, 48-frame-per-second format, now acronym-ed as HFR (high-frame rate). Having tinkered with frame rates myself as a videographer, I never thought I’d see the day when they would become a subject of a mainstream media wonk. But like a lot of critics who saw The Hobbit in 48 fps 3D, I found the results disastrous.
A quicker primer. Movies have been shot at 24 frames per second since the early 20th century. That speed is part of what makes film look like film. It gives the moving image a softness and texture. So when directors started to shoot on video, they choose to shoot at 24 fps, because the more typical TV video speed of 30 fps tends to look too “crispy.” Well, Jackson has cranked the speed to 48 fps to smooth 3D camera movement, reduce strobe-like flicker and create a more immaculate sense of realism. You can see the logic behind what he’s doing— even the best 3D movies have trouble making fast action scenes look smooth. But to these eyes, The Hobbit looked even more video-like than a daytime soap opera. Everything was way too clear—the sets looked like sets, the costumes looked like costumes, the makeup like makeup. Paradoxically, everything appeared so real it looked fake. Filmmaking magic is a conjuring trick, an art of illusion. So a movie devoted to magic set in a mythical world, the contemporary video lustre of the scenes was distracting to say the least. It reminded me of watching behind-the-scenes B-roll footage of a movie being made.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 4:29 PM - 2 Comments
This weekend offers a trio of movies for every taste—an overripe blockbuster (Lovely Bones), a gritty Canadian gem (High Life), and an austere German masterwork (The White Ribbon). Of the three, Michael Haneke’s White Ribbon, which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes last May, stands out as the most important and accomplished work. It has swept the critics awards in the foreign-language film category, and is emerging as a leading Oscar contender. High Life, by Winnipeg writer-director Gary Yates, is inconsequential, but it’s a blast. Witty, well-acted and full of surprises, its a Canadian answer to the Coen brothers, with a Tarantino kick. And The Lovely Bones, a keenly anticipated drama from Peter Jackson, is a colossal disappointment.
The Lovely Bones
Following up his triumph with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand director Peter Jackson—who I’ll always remember as the Hobbit-like creature who conducted LORT interviews in his bare feet in a Manhattan hotel room—scales more mature dramatic terrain with this adaptation of the Alice Sebold novel. While it’s a less ambitious project than mobilizing the massed armies of Middle Earth for Armageddon, The Lovely Bones still presents a steep challenge, and despite a couple of strong performances, the film painfully underscores Jackson’s limits as a filmmaker. Set in the 1970s, the story is a murder mystery in which the audience knows the identity of the killer from the outset. The victim, 14-year-old Susie Salmon, tries to influence events from the grave, or more precisely, from the threshold of heaven, as her family remains haunted by the unsolved crime, unable to bury the past.
Saoirse Ronan, who was so effective as the young heroine of Atonement, is best thing about the movie: she has compelling radiance as as the murdered girl. And Stanley Tucci, who is unrecognizable in the role of her killer, George Harvey, is sufficiently creepy as the psychopath next door with a fetish for building doll houses. But the movie never finds a consistent tone. Jackson hurls himself into creating computer-graphic vistas of paradise, as we follow Susie through wedding-cake layers of the afterlife, as if the director himself would much rather spend his time chasing digital rainbows of pure fantasy than grapple with the finicky nuances of human psychology. The narrative back on earth—involving the bereaved Salmon family and her father’s dogged, half-crazed search for the killer—is pedestrian, clunky and contrived. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 1:50 PM - 4 Comments
Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t just the star of the ‘Terminator’ movies. He was the Terminator. Can the franchise survive without him?
It’s rush hour at Toronto’s Yonge-Bloor subway station, and startled commuters are milling about, snapping photos with cellphones as a movie star strikes a stiff pose on the northbound platform. There was no red carpet or limo to herald his arrival. He showed up in a cube van, packed in a wooden crate, and rode down the subway escalator on a tarpaulin, with six handlers hoisting the dead weight like pallbearers. His skull travelled separately, in a cloth grocery bag. Seven feet tall, and weighing 580 lb., the visiting Hollywood luminary is a T-600 robot from the set of Terminator Salvation. The subway stunt is part of a studio campaign to make this US$200-million movie the season’s biggest blockbuster. Opening May 21, it’s the fourth movie in the franchise built by Arnold Schwarzenegger—and the first in which he’s not the star. Which begs the question: can the Terminator franchise survive without Arnie? If the man famous for saying “I’ll be back” is gone for good, what happens to the world he left behind?
Schwarzenegger wasn’t just the star of the Terminator movies. He was the Terminator. Having adopted the role as a personal brand, he was still using its catchphrases as he morphed from Terminator to Governator. In 2003, he tried to save the world for the last time in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, then settled for trying to save California, which has become a losing battle. Schwarzenegger agreed to a brief cameo in the new movie, but on the condition that he would not perform—like a robot assembled from scrap, he makes a virtual appearance, scavenged from footage of him in the first Terminator. Still, the 61-year-old California governor is keeping his options open. He told a U.S. blogger he was happy to see the franchise revived “in case I want to jump over again and get into the acting when I’m through here.” (Or when “here” is through with him.) But it’s likely he won’t be back. And although the new film begins a projected trilogy, the Terminator’s salvation may prove elusive without Arnold—the ghost in the machine.