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The Lord Of The Rings (#110 of 8)

Poster Lab: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Poster Lab: <em>The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug</em>

As Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) famously told Frodo (Elijah Wood) when he set out for Mount Doom, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” The greeting-card-ready, underdoggish sentiment is one to which Peter Jackson has hewn closely, and surely one that was paramount for J.R.R. Tolkien too. It was the philosophy that fueled The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it’s the one that now pilots The Hobbit saga, as freshly evidenced by the teaser poster for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Rarely do you see a protagonist appear so miniscule on a major movie poster, especially one that’s part of a mega-budget blockbuster franchise. The effect, however, is superbly achieved. Having set out from his homeland (or rather, finally left his home, as the last film’s poster illustrated), Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is now deep in the wilds of Middle-earth, surrounded by craggy danger and dwarfed (so to speak) by a mounting gloom. Like Frodo, he’s a mere speck when measured against the powers of this world, and this one-sheet elegantly succeeds in depicting lofty stakes, which many felt would never compare to those of the earlier films. Gone is the warm and welcoming sun that beckoned Bilbo out of his Hobbit hole, and in its place is the steam and ember-yellow glow of a dragon’s breath, which emanates from inside The Lonely Mountain.

Back There Again: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Back There Again: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>
Back There Again: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>

Once the distinct, familiar sense of wonder took hold, I felt a sharp pang of guilt watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, part one of Peter Jackson’s long-gestating Lord of the Rings prequel. Here’s a movie that so many, myself included, regarded with great prejudice, sizing it up as a cute jaunt that had to be seen along with the other year-end contenders, yet reeked of folly, diminished stakes, and outright opportunism, its attachment to a trilogy making excess seem like one more strike against it. But, then, as Jackson’s camera began scanning New Zealand’s topography, with majestic Howard Shore accompaniment, this arrogant miscalculator (and ardent Rings fan) sat humbled and corrected. Jackson may not boast a sterling track record post-Return of the King, and The Hobbit may have suffered a heap of development hell, passing from Jackson to (eventual co-writer) Guillermo del Toro like a certain burdensome bauble, but shame on all who doubt the enduring, enveloping power of Jackson’s Middle-earth, an immersive and comprehensive filmic world if ever there was one. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought me right back to a place I didn’t realize I was missing, a widescreen realm that seems to exist to widen the eyes.

15 Famous Movie Masters

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15 Famous Movie Masters
15 Famous Movie Masters

This weekend brings us our first big baity film of awards season, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a supposed Scientology allegory that truly explores crises erupting from a modern man’s lack of structure and authority. The faithfully well-composed film, which includes big, beefy performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, got us thinking about other masters who’ve passed across our movie screens, be them masters of a trade, a servant, or even a universe. You thought Dolph Lundgren, Meryl Streep, and Darth Sidious couldn’t co-habitate. You were wrong, Padawan.

15 Famous Movie Blackbirds

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15 Famous Movie Blackbirds
15 Famous Movie Blackbirds

In what’s unfortunately one of the lesser films about a literary great, John Cusack wields a quill and a gun as The Raven’s Edgar Allen Poe, a legend who would’ve skewered this thriller in one of his sharp-tongued newsprint critiques. What’s perhaps best about the movie is the eerie mood that’s established, a mood symbolized by the titular winged creature. Blackbirds have been harbingers of doom in many a dark tale, and otherwise added spooky style to countless filmic palettes. Even in lighter fare, they point to something sinister, be it imminent attack, loneliness, or even racism.

A Half-Baked Puppet Show Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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A Half-Baked Puppet Show: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
A Half-Baked Puppet Show: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The original Planet of the Apes series was an unsubtle yet striking response to the turbulent times from which the films were made. In its own way, Rise of the Planet of the Apes seems to be branching off from a kind of apolitical unrest, not sure what it’s fighting against but mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore. While the human characters are presented with mild sympathy (particularly the attractive lead actors, James Franco and Frida Pinto), the audience is clearly intended to side with the apes. Maybe because the culture watching this film is generally dissatisfied, yearning for more, and not necessarily articulate about how they want to make it better, but it sure feels good to see the old system torn down.

Through Fresh Eyes: Monster House, Cars, and the Evolution of CG Animation

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Through Fresh Eyes: <em>Monster House</em>, <em>Cars</em>, and the Evolution of CG Animation
Through Fresh Eyes: <em>Monster House</em>, <em>Cars</em>, and the Evolution of CG Animation

We are in a golden age of cinema right now—the golden age of computer-generated (CG) animation. Every year brings a new breakthrough in technology or storytelling. It is fast coming into its own as an art form with an ability to take well-worn film genres—plus bits of grammar and technique refined over a century—and make it all seem new again, simply by translating it into a new medium. Already Pixar is building a body of work than rivals Disney in its pioneering heyday (the 30’s and 40’s); and there are now so many new CG animated features released each year that when we go to see one in a theater, all the previews are for other movies of the same ilk.

Pixar’s Cars and Sony’s Monster House were the two that stood out this summer, and I was much more impressed with the latter. A basic haunted house story that’s way too scary for tots, Monster House held me almost to the end, when its need to hit all the notes of a conventional action/suspense climax finally wore me down a little.

The title structure is a demonic eyesore in an otherwise pleasant suburban neighborhood, situated on a lot right across the street from our young hero D.J. (voiced by Mitchel Musso). All the neighborhood kids are frightened to play near it; if they lose a basketball or even so much as set foot on its lawn, old man Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) will storm out, (“Get away from my house!”) shoo them away and punish their trespassing by stealing any toys they leave behind. When D.J. thinks that sole proprietor Nebbercracker has died from a heart attack, he becomes convinced (and rightly so) that the house is angry and wants to punish him. It’s Halloween eve and D.J.s parents are away on a trip. Under the not so watchful eye of babysitter Zee and her beer-swilling loser of a boyfriend Bones (wonderfully voiced by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jason Lee), D.J. enlists the aid of best friend Chowder (Sam Lerner) and new girl Jenny (Spencer Locke) to help him destroy the house.

5 for the day: Authority and Subordination

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5 for the day: Authority and Subordination
5 for the day: Authority and Subordination

D.A. to Callahan: “Where the hell does it say you got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects? Deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must’ve heard of the fourth amendment!”

Back in school, my friends and I routinely joked about making compilation videos of certain formulaic scenes that appear in movies, so you would have, for instance, a four hour video of episodes where the good guy cop visits the captain’s office to get his orders or a (new) partner or an ass chewing. That’s more or less where this 5 for the day topic starts: the relationship between an authority and its subordinates - police chief and beat cop, captain and sailor, lord and vassal - there are infinite manifestations of this relationship expressed in countless genres beyond cop thrillers. Each picture has something a little different to say about authority and the people below it—though invariably, when discord between the authority and the individual develops, sympathy goes to the the individual, never the authority.