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Christopher Lee (#110 of 8)

A Lucid Restoration: Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man

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A Lucid Restoration: Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man
A Lucid Restoration: Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man

Thanks in part to a gorgeous digital restoration, Robin Hardy’s darkly comic The Wicker Man, currently screening in a “final cut” in select theaters on both coasts, feels like a lucid dream. The 1973 film is tinged with lasciviousness and pervaded by jangly folk music, and its tone fluctuates madly, veering from the hysterical to the horrifying, from the fermata of promiscuous harmonies to the howls of a man wreathed in flames. Trying to get a grasp on the film’s sense of normality, of realism, is like trying to squeeze a flopping fish. The dichotomy of modernity and tradition transects the film; restored to the original look of glorious 35mm, it feels perversely modern and timeless. Like a passage from the Bible, or a 14th-century oil painting, The Wicker Man is at once epochal, rooted in a specific time (the wake of the summer of love) and place (a Scottish island village), and somehow transcendent of reality. You slowly sink into its bizarre charm, and by the time its sinister epiphanies begin to proliferate, you’re too deep to get out.

Locarno Film Festival 2013 Story of My Death, Costa da Morte, The Unity of All Things, El Futuro, & More

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Locarno Film Festival 2013: Story of My Death, Costa da Morte, The Unity of All Things, How to Disappear Completely, El Futuro, & More
Locarno Film Festival 2013: Story of My Death, Costa da Morte, The Unity of All Things, How to Disappear Completely, El Futuro, & More

It might be every major film festival’s claim to take over its host city, but for the 11 days over which the 66th Locarno Film Festival took place, the Swiss city was a colony of leopards. You couldn’t go anywhere, it seemed, without absorbing the sheer extent to which the place had been rebranded with the gold-and-black spotted cat, all the way down to the leopard-print sewing machine that sat in the window of a shop I passed on my way to press screenings every morning. The pardo, as the Italians name it, is a seemingly arbitrary choice for a festival mascot, but Januzzi Smith’s design and marketing strategy goes to show how far something simple can be taken to breed an infectious feeling of community.

Critical Distance: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Critical Distance: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>
Critical Distance: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>

The critical response to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first part in Peter Jackson’s new film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, suggests that it’s bloated and deficient of the propulsive energy that typified the Lord of the Rings films. The likely cause of dissatisfaction stems from Jackson’s approach toward adapting the book. Whereas Jackson and his writing team condensed each volume of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy into its own film, with The Hobbit they’ve opted to adapt a considerably more straightforward narrative into three films. Thus, An Unexpected Journey only represents a small portion of the book. Critics have seized on this and critiqued the nearly three-hour film for being padded and flabby. While not necessarily untrue, these charges have fueled an abundance of banal commentaries bereft of any real insight into or about the movie. What’s most discouraging about this is that An Unexpected Journey, though certainly vulnerable to criticism, is a more layered film than we’ve been led to believe.

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.

The Lord of the Rings: Moments Out of Time

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<em>The Lord of the Rings</em>: Moments Out of Time
<em>The Lord of the Rings</em>: Moments Out of Time

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has earned wide recognition as one of the most significant accomplishments in the modern age of cinema. The films translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose through popular filmmaking tropes and cutting-edge technology into a stunningly visceral travelogue of brotherhood, grief, sacrifice, and storytelling itself, enlivened by the panoramic vistas of New Zealand where they were shot. However, there’s a caveat to the retrospective glow that has steadily amassed around the trilogy since The Return of the King swept the Oscars in 2004. Perhaps due to the epic scope of the project, which forms an almost 10-hour opus when connected together, the long view of director Peter Jackson’s accomplishment deemphasizes the minutia tantamount to its success.

Therefore, as we await Jackson’s latest foray into Middle-earth with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the time appears ripe for a fresh look at The Lord of the Rings films. However, rather than focusing on where and how the pieces fit into a broader mosaic of the trilogy, an inside-out approach to these movies would make for a more worthwhile account of their riches.

For this piece, I’ve appropriated the concept of Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy’s “Moments Out of Time” annual look-back at a given year’s cinematic offerings. My hope is to highlight individual moments, disconnected not just from the trilogy’s story, but also from the generally accepted account of its collective achievement. Thus, the “Moments Out of Time” concept applies beyond merely the format of highlighting specific excerpts from the movies. These moments—some of which are individual shots, others extended sequences—aren’t necessarily the best or most pivotal within a certain context for evaluating the films.

Each of the following 10 moments illustrates a slightly different shade of the films’ fluid realization of a complex visual, thematic, and emotional spectrum. They encompass moments large and small, every one offering a distinct flavor of Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-earth, and all magnifying the larger accomplishments of the trilogy as a whole. I’ve limited my list to 10, though dozens more could arguably have been featured.

15 Famous Movie Mustaches

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15 Famous Movie Mustaches
15 Famous Movie Mustaches

Brightening theaters this weekend is Illumination Entertainment’s take on Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, which features Danny DeVito as the voice of the fuzzy and colorful eco-guardian. DeVito’s Lorax sports one bushy tuft of facial hair, its overgrowth stretching past the width of his waistline. The rest of cinema’s most memorable mustaches can’t boast that same disproportionate bulk, but they’re not to be undervalued. Two are among the most iconic physical traits in film history, four make up one big whiskery package deal, and one is so indelible that its wearer spawned the name for a whole style of ’stache.