This month is loaded with intriguing films making their debut. There are at least eight films coming out this month that I want to see. Naturally, it’s pulled me out of my movie shell a little, including three trips to the theater in four days with even more to come over the holiday break. Throw in a few holiday films, a recent indie success, and a 90s Oscar nominee and you’ve got the movie weekend that was.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Let’s establish some ground rules first. I have zero experience with the Tolkien books, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Lord of the Rings films. In fact, when those films are on TV, I invariably watch a few minutes because I find them massively entertaining. I saw the first Hobbit film last year and was decidedly meh about it. I didn’t hate it, didn’t love it… it was just kind of there. And if I’m honest, there were points in the film where I almost slept. With that out of the way… The Desolation of Smaug was much more entertaining to me, much more action-packed, but a new issue arose. It’s loaded with cheese, not unlike a mediocre 80s action film. Sure, there’s a dragon and tons of orcs and lots of amazing visuals, but Smaug is a goofy action movie at its heart. And in general, both of the Hobbit films have felt more like they’re aimed at younger audiences than their trilogy predecessors, which took on a darker tone. It’s a fun film, one that I’m glad to have seen, but I hope that Peter Jackson brings the noise in #3. Right about now, it’s looking like the Hobbit trilogy will be Pacific Rim to the LOTR trilogy’s Band of Brothers.
I’ve seen both of the Hobbit films in the high frame rate format. I think it’s great that Jackson wants to use the medium to its fullest extent, but I’m not much of a fan of the way HFR films feel. It strips away some of the magic of seeing a movie when it’s THAT real, and it can be jarring during certain sequences.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Martin Scorsese’s latest is hilarious in really offensive, vulgar, and obnoxious ways. And it is completely brotastic, damn near a fraternity-and-drugs comedy about Wall Street guys with outrageous sums of money. It’s as if Scorsese saw a few Judd Apatow movies and said, “That’s all you’ve got? Watch this” and then dropped an epic 3-hour Judd Apatow movie on everyone. If you’ve seen After Hours (especially the frenetically comic final 20 minutes), it’s a little bit like that spread out over 3 hours with cocaine, quaaludes, and prostitutes. There’s also a fine subtext about how desperate people are to be wealthy, and how there are always people there waiting to exploit it. The common knock seems to be that the denouement gets a little tedious. And I agree with that assessment. So much of the film is built into the pure insanity of Jordan Belfort’s rise that by the time we get to the fall, it comes off anti-climactic. It’s just a small gripe as far as I’m concerned. I had more fun with The Wolf of Wall Street than I’ve had with any Scorsese film in quite some time, possibly ever. And I say that as big a fan of Scorsese as you’ll find.
I also dare you to find a better cinematic use of Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray.” You can’t do it.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)
Anchorman 2 is less funny than the original in a slapsticky way (no surprise there, really), but it’s very successful in mercilessly beating up the current state of journalism. In some weird way, it’s almost better than the first film because it’s a satire with modern teeth, and not just a spoof of local TV news in the 70s. It’s too long, and there were a few parts that didn’t quite work for me (a few scenes mine racism for humor, for instance), but overall it’s a fine sequel. There are a ton of great cameos towards the end, as well as a hell of a dig at the History Channel.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Frances Ha (2013)
There were a lot of films out this summer that featured the trailer for Frances Ha. And every time I saw it, I rolled my eyes. It looked like a Zucker brothers spoof of indie films. Black and white? Check. Quirky girl(s)? Check. Unorthodox relationship, in this case between two female friends? Check. Wacky music? Check. Faux art house veneer? Blech. But then it came out and a lot of people I respect had very favorable opinions of it, so I finally took a flyer on it. The good news is that it wasn’t quite as much of the massively obnoxious indie cliché that I expected. The bad news is that it suffers from the same issue I had with another indie/art house film about young New Yorkers- Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan (1990). Namely, I couldn’t stand any of the characters. There are three basic flavors- the rich kid hipsters, the over-the-top quirky girls with no concept of reality, and the status-seeking adults. I’m quickly becoming convinced that Noah Baumbach films simply aren’t for me, even if I did like The Squid and the Whale.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, though my actual enjoyment was around a 1.5
Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
It’s hard to tell what Adam Sandler was going for here. But whatever it was- a Christmas comedy for adults, a feel-good comedy for teens, a chance to showcase his talents- he completely missed the mark. The humor was painfully unfunny. It’s as if someone asked a 10-year-old to write a bunch of holiday songs and a screenplay that they figured would be edgy for adults. I took a chance on it just because I had the jones for a holiday film, and I thought maybe there was something I’d missed by not seeing Eight Crazy Nights. I was wrong. By a wide margin, it’s one of the worst holiday films I’ve ever seen.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Jingle All the Way (1996)
On the flip side of Eight Crazy Nights is Jingle All the Way. I watched it for the same reason- needing a holiday movie fix- and ultimately found a little enjoyment in it. That’s not to say that it’s a good movie, or even an average one. But unlike the Sandler film, I can at least see how it would work on a family film level. Now let’s never again speak of the time that Hollywood tried to convince us that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a businessman in Minneapolis with the last name “Langston.”
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Quiz Show (1994)
There’s a really fun underlying theme to Robert Redford’s Quiz Show. Essentially, it attacks just how real TV is, and just how easy it is to dupe the public. It’s P.T. Barnum’s “sucker born every minute” quote come to life. Quiz Show is a very impressive film, well-written and executed, with a dynamite performance from Ralph Fiennes as the affable Charles Van Doren to drive it home. It’s even tense, which you would never expect from a movie about something as innocuous as a trivia show scandal. It had the misfortune of earning a Best Picture nomination the same year as Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction. In a more forgiving year, this film easily could have won an Oscar.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars