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    "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" Review

    Every journey into the past is complicated by delusions, false memories, false namings of real events.

    ~Adrienne Rich~

    In the case of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,  his journey into the past  is complicated by awkward pacing, hard to endure speeches riddled with mediocre comedic touches, and haphazard action. Barely able to peek out of the epic shadow that is The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, An Unexpected Journey struggles to spread out 1/3 of a rather small novel into almost three hours of 48 FPS 3D. Get comfortable in The Shire, because there are two more films being squeezed from this book.

    Nostalgia draws you into film right away with a hypnotizing combination of familiar music and the presence of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and the elder Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) engaged in family oriented banter in The Shire. However, once there, it takes Peter Jackson 45 minutes to convince Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) the young to shout out "I'm going on an adventure!" and run out of the safety of his Hobbit villiage. During this time there is singing, eating, and the cleaning of plates; as Fili, Kili; Oin, Gloin; Dwalin, Balin; Bifur, Bofur, Bombur; Dori, Nori, Ori; Thorin Oakenshield, and Gandalf attempt to convince Bilbo to man up and hit the open road with them.

    Martin Freeman is fantastic as Bilbo. He's charming and sincere, but plays the character with a twinkle in his eye as he attempts to prove himself worthy of the journey to this group of battle tested dwarves. Jackson allows you plenty of time to get to know the characters due to an extensive amount of dialogue which seems to act as "rest areas" for all the strolling, wandering, and roaming. When there is action, and there is quite a lot, it seems to drag on a little to long as if you're replaying your favorite video game after you've already beaten it.

    Ian Mckellen is his usual stalwart self as Gandalf. He's imposing and endearing with a little bit of that elderly crankiness that we've come to know and love. Although it did occur in a couple of instances during the LOTR Trilogy, Gandalf seems to conveniently disappear via stage left only reappear to save the rest of the crew from the most dire of situations. This occurs an annoying four times within the film. Reminds me of ancient Greek plays where one of the Gods would appear in a cloud and solve the human's problems while wrapping the story up in the neatest way possible.

    The special effects are mind blowing, some of the best I have seen this movie going season, and the groundbreaking frame rate was not a problem. The best way to describe it is an LED television on steroids with an adrenaline shot. Although the high gloss experience does somehow transform even the on location shots into something that looks like a Los Angeles sound stage. The picturesque valley of Rivendell will unhinge your jaw and the Goblin Mountain Lair is dark and never-ending. Speaking of special effects, am I the only one growing tired of Gollum? A riddle off between Gollum and Bilbo was especially drawn out and tiresome.

    It's hard to not wish for the grandeur and spectacle of the LOTR Trilogy when persevering through The Hobbit. The slow motion close ups of Theroin with wind blowing through his hair against a sunset almost seems humorous when compared to the importance of one of Aargon's speeches.  "I do not know what strength is in my blood, but I swear to you I will not let the White City fall, nor our people fail." Therein lies the difference, Peter Jackson presented the world of The Lord Of The Rings as important and worth protecting, while The Hobbit seems like a parody of the world he meticulously created and cared for.


    "The Amazing Spider-Man" Review

    It seems like only yesterday that Tobey Maguire was swinging over New York City via web in his sleek Spider-Man suit pining over Mary Jane Watson. Cut to 2012 and The Amazing Spider-Man takes a spin at telling what the studio marketed as "The Untold Story" even though the entire time you can't shake the feeling of deja vu. You can tell a studio suit was hoping this was going to be their Spider-Man Begins but instead somehow ended up with Spider-Man Returns.

    Andrew Garfield is more than solid as Peter Parker bringing an edge to the character even though his skateboarding shennigans scream more 90's Bart Simpson than modern superhero in the making. Though Garfield might not have completely embraced the sensitive side of Parker like Maguire did, the British actor was able to push the charming and sarcastic side of the character in the right direction. Parker finally dons the mask an hour into the film and it wasn't long after that I realized Garfield was doing a damn good job playing Spider-Man but Tobey Maguire IS Spider-Man.

    Emma Stone seems to have been forced to dumb herself down to the role of Gwen Stacy but despite some forced awkwardness not to be mistaken for realism, she enjoys some chemistry fueled moments with Garfield on screen. The first kiss takes place on the roof of her apartment building where Parker does his best Mortal Kombat impression and performs a "Get Over Here" maneuver with his web. You almost wish that in some alternate universe Stone could have somehow been cast as Mary Jane in the Raimi films.

    It's a shame that Rhys Ifans couldn't have been cast as Norman Osborn because then it would have meant he would have never had to turn into The Lizard. Ifans turns in an understated performance as the one armed Dr. Curt Connors, an OsCorp scientist attempting to find the proper equation for regeneration in order to correct his lack for limb. Once he morphs into a giant poor man's Godzilla and retires to a underground sewer lair, I completely lost interest. His plan to release a toxin throughout the city to create droves of invincible humanoids is a plan worthy of a 1960's Bond villain.

    The action is present but a good amount of it takes place with Peter Parker taking out thugs in dark alleys. After the nuttiness that was Avengers, audiences aren't going to appreciate the nuances of an alley chase scene as much as they might have pre-Avengers, but this is where director Marc Webb is comfortable. He seems to really understand how to further develop the reasons for Peter transforming into the webslinger, but once that mask goes on he loses control of the story, which you think would have been better scripted considering James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves,  were involved in penning the remake.

    Martin Sheen is like an all star playing for a last place team. He carries himself as a more hip to the game version of Uncle Ben but still meets the same fate in the end. The legendary Sally Field is completely wasted as Aunt May and spends most of her time not sleeping and begging for somebody to bring her home some damn eggs. You wonder whose decision it was to not put Dennis Leary on screen as much as possible, his blue collar turn as Captain Stacy screams for more screen time. I have to mention there is some pretty good 3D, although are you supposed to be able to take off your glasses during the non action scenes and see the screen almost perfectly?

    There are different actors and a different villain with a couple minutes of Peter's parents thrown in, but The Amazing Spider-Man is a sleeker, hipper, three dimensional, remake of 2002's Spider-Man. Although I'm struggling to figure out what happened to the untold story, I'm comfortable with this being a remake. Just like Superman Returns this film has it's place in the Spider-Man film universe, it just didn't live up to it's title. Amazing.


    "Mirror Mirror" Review 

    Mirror Mirror attempts to revamp and refresh the classic tale of Snow White for a new generation and although it hits some high notes the overall experience isn't going to shatter any box office records. The jokes will be a hit with kids and they'll be able to sit through the film and fantasize about being Snow White for a couple hours, but parents will be searching for ways to surf the web on their smart phones without getting the boot from the theater.

    Julia Roberts seems as though she is trying to make the most of her role as the Evil Queen embracing the sarcastic side of the insecure character. You just don't find her believable in the role and her performance spins out of control into a monotony of one liners and flippant remarks. The character's obsession with money and possible wrinkles on her strikingly perfect face makes for a one dimensional villain that not even Julia Roberts can recover from. To think that the striking Roberts is so concerned about her age to be jealous of Snow White will instigate a bevy of eye rolls from the audience.

    Lily Collins delivers a loveable performance as the soft but edgy Snow White. She handles the action like a grizzled veteran yet remains graceful while wearing an outrageous costume at the ball. Collins understands her role and seems to be enjoying her place in the classic fairytale. There certainly is a high level of chemistry between Collins and Armie Hammer who plays Prince Alcott of Valencia with a twinkle in his eye. It's good to see Hammer having fun on screen and not being afraid to embarrass himself for some laughs after his serious turns in The Social Network and J. Edgar. Good move by him.

    Nathan Lane would have been likeable with less screen time as the Queen's doormat assistant Brighton. His powdered wig alone is enough to annoy you but when he is magically turned into a cockroach for disobeying the Queen you want to step on him to put him out of his misery. Besides Lilly Collins as Snow, the seven dwarves are the best part of this film. Rugged thieves with names that veer far away from the original fairytale, the dwarves were banished from the town and labeled as "uglies" by the Queen before taking in Snow White after she proves her loyalty. The relationship between the Princess and the dwarves provides for the best on screen moments as the Octet connects on multiple levels.

    This doesn't look that much like  Tarsem Singh film, more like a Tim Burton movie that went through a plethora of budget cuts. The colors are bold and bright but the set pieces scream "I was filmed on a soundstage!". Outrageous costumes like something out of Max Shreks party in Batman Returns will either make you laugh or raise an eyebrow. One of the amazing instances of action involves the dwarves rapidly scurrying through the woods on acordian like stilts. The fighting sequences and coach robbery while on the stilts feel like they were done using practical effects. Impressive if so.

    Mirror Mirror is a film that young kids will enjoy and parents will be at least be able take solace in the fact that their kids enjoyed the experience.


    "Wrath Of The Titans" Review: The Gods Must Be Crazy With Action

    The action heavy Summer movie season doesn't "officially" kick off until May according to a rule of thumb of unknown origin, but somebody forgot to inform the inhabitants of Mount Olympus and the surrounding areas. Wrath Of The Titans is a pleasing onslaught of visuals featuring the dominance of the gods and the ferocity of the titans as they battle for supremacy alongside their human audience in well constructed 3D. The "powers that be" must have taken notes of the post-conversion inspired complaints from the 2010's Clash Of The Titans because the sequel is head and shoulders above the original in the 3D department and the CGI is surprisingly crisp, and dare I say near flawless.

    Wrath takes place some years after Clash in a world that has stopped praying to the gods which has in turn slowly started depleting their powers. Without their powers Zeus (Liam Neeson), Hades (Ralph Fiennes), and Poseidon (Danny Huston), are struggling to keep their father Kronos subdued in the underworld. Perseus (Sam Worthington) is once again thrust into the role of savior as he attempts to balance his life as a hero with fatherhood. His brother Ares (Edgar Ramirez) provides a full dose of sibling rivalry but with the help of Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and Agenor (Toby Kebbel), Perseus takes to air, land, and see to save humanity.

    Director Jonathan Liebesman jolts the audience in and out of action sequences using fiery explosions and mythical creatures that you can almost reach out and touch if not for the uneasy feeling you might not get your hand back. The action is so bold and personal that you find yourself imagining that you're on the journey with Perseus and company. The heroes encounter everything from a booby trapped forest inhabited by a family of giant Cyclops to a sweeping battlefield. While the film embraces it's action and latches onto it for dear life, the story gets lost somewhere in Minotaur's maze.

    At a certain point the plot becomes forgettable in a sea of swords and fire breathing monstrosities. The eerie calm deliveries of Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes don't balance well with the subdued performance of Sam Worthington. Worthington certainly has solidified himself as an able bodied actioner although the general public still haven't allowed him to be a household name despite his solid resume of well known films. Edgar Ramirez is a hurricane of intensity on screen as Ares and Rosamund Pike steals a couple of the few scenes she is in. The humor is injected into the film by Toby Kebbell who seems to be channeling a less annoying version of Russell Brand.

    Although I wish that writers Dan Mazeau & David Johnson put more focus on the mythology it's refreshing that the film doesn't take itself too seriously as evidenced when Hephaestus upon seeing Perseus remarks that he is of "Release The Kraken" fame. Wrath Of The Titans doesn't try to be any more than advertised, an action fueled spectacle satisfying all of your important senses. The film shouldn't need to apologize for it's faults, but if it did, it would do so with action.  One of the few films I would recommend as a must see on the big screen due to the vast improvement in 3D over the first one which will become a distant memory after seeing this installment.


    Film Review: The Trouble With Bliss


    Essentially, this is another middle-aged-guy-in-a-rut story, but it's not bad.  Based on the novel East 5th Bliss by Douglas Light, Michael C. Hall stars as Morris Bliss, a 35-year-old still living in his childhood bedroom in his father's apartment on New York's Lower East Side.  The centerpiece of his bedroom is a map covered with pushpins of all the cities of the world he wants to visit but will likely never travel to.  He has no job, he's entirely dependent on his father (Peter Fonda) - who he still refers to as "Daddy" - and doesn't seem of have a single aspiration to be anything but the loser he appears to be.  Even the 18-year-old high schooler he's dating (Brie Larson) wasn't by his own doing - she was the one who picked him up.

    However, it's the midlife crisises of everyone around him:  the best friend (Chris Messina) who's always inventing stories about being involved with international drug cartels, the sexually frustrated neighbor (Lucy Liu), the loser high school buddy (Brad William Henke) wanting to re-live their adolescent troublemaking glory who also happens to be the father of Morris' teenage girlfriend, that ultimately teach him how to break out of his perpetual rut and finally grow up. 

    I'm not sure how much you're supposed to like the other characters. The girlfriend was a brat (and, well, a teenager), the neighbor was clearly using him, the high school buddies were losers. There's also a strange subplot about a woman moonlighting as a homeless squatter that didn't quite feel like it belonged with the rest of the story.  The combination of all of them left Morris surrounded by people who were more lost than he was and he was just finally realizing it. 

    Directed by Michael Knowles, The Trouble With Bliss doesn't really tread new ground storywise, but the performances were decent enough, particularly Hall's, especially as he starts becoming a participant in the world he's living in.  His reaction just to seeing a local supermarket he'd never been to before was hilarious.  Larson's teenage girlfriend has a few good moments as well, although the movie seems to go out of it's way to remind the audience that she is 18 and that their relationship isn't as creepy as it sounds.

    At its heart, the film is simply about a guy trying to get his act together, and it mostly works, even if it's a story we've heard before.  Again, it's really worth it for Michael C. Hall's performance.

    The Trouble With Bliss opens in New York and On Demand on March 23, and additional cities nationwide starting March 30.

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