S.G. Browne

The Desolation of Smaug: This is Not a Movie

A little background…

I never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, so when I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on it’s release date on my birthday in 2001, I had no idea the film was the first in a trilogy.This was likely in part to the aforementioned fact that I hadn’t read the novel and in part to the four or five shots of tequila I’d had at Dave & Buster’s while celebrating my birthday beforehand.

None of my friends who joined me knew the film was the first in a trilogy, either. And apparently neither did half of the audience. Or else, like me, they hadn’t read the book, as a good portion of the movie theater patrons let out a collective post-midnight groan when Frodo and Sam set off on the path to Mordor and it became clear they weren’t going to get there before the end credits started rolling.

Anyone who is a Star Wars fan knows this feeling well from the second installment of that series (and arguably the best of the three), The Empire Strikes Back. That was my first experience watching a film where I was left hanging in disbelief.

Wait a minute? The music is rising. Everyone’s staring out through the window. This is the end? It can’t be the end. What about Han?!

Twenty years after that adolescent mind fuck, the initial installment of The Lord of the Rings got me again.

Fast-forward to last year, when I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Now, I hadn’t read The Hobbit, either, but I knew it was a single book, approximately 300 pages, so there was no reason to think this film was also going to be the first in a trilogy. But then it ends with Smaug’s eye opening beneath a pile of gold and I thought:

Son of a bitch! They did it to me again!

So when I went to see The Desolation of Smaug in IMAX 3D on opening day with a couple of friends, I knew to expect an unfinished story. What I didn’t expect was to find a story that wasn’t really a story at all.

Let me explain:

When you’re creating trilogies, be they films or novels, we as viewers and readers know there’s more to come. (Presuming, of course, that we realize they’re trilogies in the first place.) And while I was left wanting at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Empire Strikes Back,  at least those films resolved one crisis as another one loomed. Even The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey got our heroes out of one sticky situation before setting up the inevitable confrontation with the slumbering dragon. But in The Desolation of Smaug, there is no resolution of anything. The film just stops in the middle of the action. Literally stops. In the middle. Of the action. Cut to black. Roll end credits.

So technically, the film has no ending.

And back to my point about the story not being a story. In addition to not having an ending, this film doesn’t really have a beginning, either. After a short flashback to set up a few key plot elements, it just picks up where the other one left off. So with no real beginning and no real ending, it’s not really a story. It’s just an excerpt. Two-and-a-half hours of cinematic connective tissue.

But at least the cinematography is awesome.

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Filed under: Move Review Monday,Movies and Books — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 9:11 am

Seven Films (2012-2013) No One Saw But Should

Lately it seems like the only movies anyone talks about are the big Hollywood tentpole films where pathos and plot and nuance take a back seat to action and explosions and CGI special effects. Films like World War Z, Pacific Rim, and Fast and Furious 6; not to mention all of the superhero sequels and reboots and remakes.

While popcorn movies are fun to watch on occasion, I tend to prefer films that have a little more going for them than blue screens and action sequences. Below are my seven favorite film I’ve seen over the past two years, at the theater and on Netflix, that garnered little fanfare or box office success.

Why seven films? Why not five or ten? Because these are the first films that came to mind without me having to think twice about them. And I stuck with the last couple of years because otherwise this list would be at least twenty-five films long.

Four of these films earned less than $5,000,000 domestic gross while all of them have earned less than $30,000,000. Many of these are also from first time writers or directors. Or both. If you enjoy smart, funny, or thoughtful films, or a little of all three, then there’s something here for you.

(Oh, and feel free to share your favorite under-appreciated films in the comments.)

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Killer Joe
If you’re a fan of dark comedies and inept seedy characters, this is the film for you. Fun performances turned in by Thomas Haden Church, Juno Temple, and Emile Hirsch. And even if you can’t stand Matthew McConaughey, you’ll love him as the titular character.

Jeff Who Lives at Home
An engaging, amusing, and thoughtful film about relationships, unfulfilled dreams, and destiny, with Jason Segal as a live-at-home stoner searching for his destiny and Ed Helms as his asshole big brother, with Susan Sarandon as their frustrated mom. Written by Jay and Mark Duplass (The League, Cyrus).

Young Adult
While Diablo Cody is best known for her Oscar-winning script for Juno (which I loved), I think this is the best of her three scripts, starring Charlize Theron as an emotionally stunted young adult author who goes back home to recapture her glory days. Great turn by Patton Oswalt as her unlikely romantic interest.

Safety Not Guaranteed
A quirky little film about a team of reporters (Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson) who investigate a classified newspaper ad asking for a time-traveling companion. Mark Duplass plays the author of the ad who seems a little crazy. But then, aren’t all geniuses a little nuts?

Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs, and stars in this in-your-face romantic comedy about a modern-day Don Juan who has a predilection for online porn. Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore are perfectly cast as the women in his life, while Tony Danza as Gordon-Levitt’s father is absolute gold.

The Way, Way Back
A sweet, smart, and funny coming-of-age story about a lost 14-year-old boy who struggles to find himself while on a summer vacation. Good writing and a great ensemble cast with Toni Colette, Robb Cordy, Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carell playing against type as an emotionally-abusive future step-father.

In a World…
First-time writer/director Lake Bell (Children’s Hospital) stars as the daughter of a voice-over king in a world where men dominate the theatrical trailer landscape. But when she gets a chance to lend her voice to the upcoming Amazon Games trilogy, the world turns upside down. Smart writing and a cohesive ensemble cast.

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Movie Review Monday: Eight is Enough

No, this isn’t a review of a film adaptation of the late 1970s TV series starring the Bradford family, so if you were hoping for a Willie Aames or a Lani O’Grady sighting, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Instead, this blog post is an accumulation of brief thoughts about a number of films I’ve seen that were released this year. Eight, to be exact. Since I didn’t bother to mention them individually, I decided to share them all in one place. It costs less that way. More economical. And I’m a stickler for good deals.

So in alphabetical order, here are the eight films I’ve seen over the past couple of months that I thought were worth mentioning:

Argo – I’ve been on the Ben Affleck train for a while now, ever since he directed Gone Baby Gone in 2007, and his latest is not a disappointment. It takes a talented director to take a story about which everyone knows the outcome and make it compelling. Personally, I think The Town (which Affleck directed in 2010) was better, but this is still good stuff.

Flight – A heavy story peppered with humor (mostly in the guise of John Goodman) about an airline pilot in denial about his substance abuse. Good acting and the story seems to hit most of the right notes. Oh, and the crash sequence that sets up the plot is pretty cool.

Life of Pi – I read the book ten years ago and was excited to see what they did with it, so I forgave the first thirty or so minutes of slow back story. Yes, the 3D was visually enjoyable but I don’t think it added much to the tale. Fun to watch but for me, this is definitely one of those “read the book” films.

Lincoln – Starring Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and Abraham Lincoln. Seriously, where the hell was Daniel Day-Lewis? He was Lincoln, as far as I’m concerned, which helped to make me feel like I was watching history. A bit heavy on the political machinations of mid-19th century but well worth the price of admission.

The Master – I’m a Paul Thomas Anderson fan and loved Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch Drunk Love. While this one tends to drag a little and the story (to me) doesn’t really matter, the acting, especially by Joaquin Phoenix, is superb. It’s a shame that Phoenix will likely lose out to Daniel Day-Lewis when it comes to award season, because he deserves to win.

Seven Psychopaths – If you liked In Bruges and/or enjoy dark, twisted comedies, you won’t want to miss this gem from Irish playwright/screenwriter/director Martin McDonagh. Plus it has Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson. Win!

Silver Linings Playbook – While it’s probably not going to win any awards for best picture, it was the best movie I’ve seen this year. Good acting, good script, good story, with lots of emotional pulls in various directions. Now I need to read the book.

Skyfall – Is it just me or are the last few Bond films lacking in any warmth or charm? Unlike with Connery and Brosnan, I don’t have any connection with Daniel Craig’s 007. He’s just so humorless and so are the films. Meh.

Okay, those are my takes on these eight films. If you’ve seen any of them and want to share your thoughts, fire away. Or if you have other films you’ve seen recently that you’d like to recommend, that works, too.

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Filed under: Move Review Monday,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 11:54 am

Movie Review Monday: Oscar Edition

In light of the fact that both The Town and Ben Affleck were left off of the list of 2010 Oscar nominees for Best Picture and Best Director, I’m dedicating this week’s Movie Review Monday to some of the biggest snubs by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences over the past twenty years.

Feel free to agree or disagree…

1990 Best Picture (Goodfellas)
Scorsese had to wait until 2006 to finally get a Best Picture and Best Director win for The Departed, but it should have happened sixteen years earlier with Goodfellas. Instead, it lost out to the painfully long Dances With Wolves. This was probably the most disappointing end to an Academy Awards show I ever watched, second only to…

1997 Best Picture (L.A. Confidential)
When Titanic won for Best Picture, I threw up a little in my mouth. Two-dimensional characters, a predictable ending, and a forbidden romance apparently makes for an Oscar-winning combination. L.A. Confidential was a far superior film on all counts. It shouldn’t have even been close. But the Academy likes its grandiose, epic films with clear cut good guys and bad guys. This is me, giving them the finger.

1999 Best Actor (Jim Carrey)
Being a Kevin Spacey fan, I can’t say I wasn’t happy he won for American Beauty or that he didn’t deserve the award. But the fact that Jim Carrey wasn’t even nominated for his portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon was just ridiculous. Even more so than his snub for The Truman Show the year before.

2001 Best Actor (Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce)
I didn’t think Denzel Washington’s portrayal of a villainous cop in Training Day was anything special. Of the five nominees, I felt Russell Crowe deserved to take home the gold for Best Actor in A Beautiful Mind. Considering he nabbed the Golden Globe and the SAG, I’m not the only one who thought Crowe was more deserving. But if you ask me, Guy Pearce should have won for Memento, but he didn’t even get nominated.

Those are just the top few that come to mind and are obviously just one writer’s opinion. What are some of your biggest Oscar snubs?

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Filed under: Move Review Monday,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 9:14 am