Here Are The 2018 Women Film Critics Circle Nominations!


BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN
Mary Shelley
Roma
The Favourite
Widows

BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Leave No Trace
The Kindergarten Teacher
You Were Never Really Here

BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER [Screenwriting Award]

Sara Colangelo: The Kindergarten Teacher
Debra Granik: Leave No Trace
Tamara Jenkins: Private Life
Audrey Wells: The Hate U Give

BEST ACTRESS
Toni Collette, Hereditary
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Viola Davis, Widows
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Kindergarten Teacher

BEST ACTOR
Ben Foster, Leave No Trace
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Hugo Weaving, Black 47

BEST COMEDIC ACTRESS
Helena Bonham Carter, 55 Steps
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Kathryn Hahn, Private Life
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST YOUNG ACTRESS
Elle Fanning, Mary Shelley
Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace
Amandla Stenberg, The Hate U Give

BEST FOREIGN FILM BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
Capernaum
Happy As Lazzaro
Roma
Zama

BEST DOCUMENTARY BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
RBG
Say Her Name: The Life And Death Of Sandra Bland
Seeing Allred
Shirkers

WOMEN’S WORK/BEST ENSEMBLE
55 Steps
Ocean’s Eight
The Favourite
Widows

SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

COURAGE IN FILMMAKING
Haifaa Al-Mansour, Mary Shelley
Sara Colangelo, The Kindergarten Teacher
Sandra Luckow, That Way Madness Lies
Jennifer Fox, The Tale

COURAGE IN ACTING [Taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen]Helena Bonham Carter: 55 Steps
Viola Davis: Widows
Nicole Kidman: Destroyer
Melissa McCarthy: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women
Call Her Ganda
I Am Not A Witch
On Her Shoulders
Say Her Name: The Life And Death Of Sandra Bland

JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD: For best expressing the woman of color experience in America
If Beale Street Could Talk
Life And Nothing More
The Hate U Give
Widows

KAREN MORLEY AWARD: For best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity
93 Queen
On The Basis Of Sex
Roma
Woman Walks Ahead

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN AWARD: [Performance by a woman whose exceptional impact on the film dramatically, socially or historically, has been ignored]

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Andrea Riseborough, Nancy
The Women Of Widows

BEST SCREEN COUPLE
A Star Is Born
Crazy Rich Asians
Disobedience
If Beale Street Could Talk

BEST FEMALE ACTION HEROES
Adrift
55 Steps
Black Panther
RBG

MOMMIE DEAREST WORST SCREEN MOM OF THE YEAR AWARD
Krista Allen, Party Mom
Toni Collette, Hereditary
Nicole Kidman, Destroyer
Jacki Weaver, Widows

BEST EQUALITY OF THE SEXES
Black Panther
Like Me
On The Basis Of Sex
Widows

BEST ANIMATED FEMALES
Incredibles 2
Liyana
Mary And The Witch’s Flower
Mirai No Mirai

BEST FAMILY FILM
Eighth Grade
Incredibles 2
Science Fair
The Hate U Give

WFCC HALL OF SHAME
Bryan Singer

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions for January!


How early can one predict the Oscars?

Well, it depends on how you look at it.  You can predict the Oscars at any time during the year.  However, predicting them correctly is next to impossible before October.  That said, I’m going to give it a shot!

Now, to be clear, this is not an attempt to predict who and what will be nominated later this month.  Instead, these are my predictions for what will be nominated next year at this time!  I’ll be updating my predictions every month of this year.

So, with all that in mind, here are my way too early predictions for what will be nominated in January of 2019!  As of right now, these predictions are a collection of instinct and random guesses.  For all we know, some of these films might not even get released in 2018.  In all probability, we’ll look back at this list in December and laugh.

 

Best Picture

Chappaquiddick

First Man

Lizzie

Mary Queen of Scots

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Mortal Engines

A Star is Born

Widows

Wildfire

The Women of Marwen

 

Best Director

Desiree Akhavon for The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Damien Chazelle for First Man

Paul Dano for Wildfire

Steve McQueen for Widows

Robert Zemeckis for The Women of Marwen

 

Best Actor

Steve Carell in The Women of Marwen

Jason Clarke in Chappaquiddick

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Jake Gyllenhaal in Wildfire

Joaquin Phoenx in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

 

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Widows

Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Carey Mulligan in Wildfire

Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen of Scots

Chloe Sevigny in Lizzie

 

Best Supporting Actor

Jeff Daniels in The Catcher Was A Spy

Bruce Dern in Chappaquiddick

Sam Elliott in A Star is Born

Robert Duvall in Widows

Hugo Weaving in Mortal Engines

 

Best Supporting Actress

Elizabeth Debicki in Widows

Claire Foy in First Man

Leslie Mann in The Women of Marwen

Kate Mara in Chappaquiddick

Kristen Stewart in Lizzie

 

Horror Film Review: The Wolfman (dir by Joe Johnston)


I have to admit that I’m always a little bit surprised to discover how many people really don’t like the 2010 film, The Wolfman.

I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that it may not have been the greatest film ever made but the amount of negative feelings that this film has managed to generate over the years seems, to me, to be a bit out of proportion.  Essentially, it’s just a silly film about a werewolf.

Yes, it is a remake of The Wolf Man and we’re all honor-bound to dislike remakes but, if we’re going to be absolutely honest, the original Wolf Man was sometimes pretty silly too.  If anything, the original’s success is largely due to the heartfelt work of Claude Rains in the role of the Wolf Man’s father.  Yes, the original Wolf Man is a classic but remaking it is not exactly sacrilege.

In the remake, Benicio Del Toro takes over the role of Larry Talbot, who is reimagined as a Shakespearean actor who has a history of mental instability.  Del Toro is not exactly convincing as an Englishman, though the same could be said of Lon Chaney, Jr.  However, nobody broods with quite the panache of Benicio Del Toro and that’s what was needed for the remake’s version of Larry Talbot.  If Lon Chaney, Jr. played Larry as being a dumb lug, Del Toro plays Larry as being a tortured artist.

Anthony Hopkins takes over the old Claude Rains role.  Just as it’s difficult to imagine Del Toro as being English, it’s next to impossible to imagine him sharing any DNA with Anthony Hopkins.  And yet, I’m really glad that Hopkins was cast in the role.  Of course, in the remake, the character of John Talbot has been totally reimagined.  He’s now something of a bitter and sarcastic alcoholic, a negligent father who always seem to be amused at some mean-spirited joke that only he can understand.  I imagine that if I asked Hopkins, he’d say that he did this role for the money but there’s nothing wrong with that.  Some of Hopkins’s best performances have been the ones that he subsequently claimed to have done only for the money.  Freed from any obligation to give a nuanced or subtle performance, Hopkins goes totally over-the-top and it’s actually a lot of fun to watch.  In The Wolfman, Hopkins turns the delivery of bitter bon mots and erduite insults into an art form.

Watching the film’s first half, we all know what’s going to happen.  Gypsies are going to show up in the woods near Talbot Hall and paranoid villagers are going to blame them for everything that happens.  Larry is going to get bitten by a werewolf and transform every night when the moon is full.  Larry is going to fall in love with Gwen (Emily Blunt) but, for her own protection, will try to send her away.  An arrogant but clever inspector, Francis Abberline (Hugo Weaving, playing a version of the real-life detective who inspired the role played by Johnny Depp in From Hell), is going to arrive from London to investigate all the recent deaths…

About halfway through, The Wolfman takes a totally unexpected turn.  I won’t spoil it here, just in case you haven’t seen the movie.  I know a lot of people don’t care much for the big twist but I happened to love it.  Yes, it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense and it’s all a bit overdone but so what?  It’s exactly the type of weird twist that a movie like this needs.  It all leads to a final confrontation, one that is as exuberantly silly as the original’s conclusion was somber and tragic.

The key to enjoying The Wolfman is to accept it for what it is, an occasionally dumb and definitely not-to-be-taken-seriously movie that features some appropriately atmospheric cinematography, gorgeously gothic production design, and some very talented actors.  (I especially enjoyed Weaving’s performance as Abberline.)  A classic it may not be, but it’s still a fun little movie if you’re in the right mood for it.

Film Review: Hacksaw Ridge (dir by Mel Gibson)


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To be honest, Hacksaw Ridge is probably not the type of film that I would usually watch.  I’m not a huge fan of war movies and the trailer really didn’t inspire much enthusiasm within me.  However, ever since the film was released last Friday, it’s been the subject of some Oscar buzz and … well, you know me and the Oscars.  There’s no easier way to get me to take a chance on a movie than to tell me that it might be nominated for an Oscar.  I’m a completist, after all.  If they’re going to nominate 8 to 10 movies for best picture, you better believe I’m going to make sure that I’ve seen all of them.

So, after voting yesterday, I saw Hacksaw Ridge and all I can say is, “Wow!”  Hacksaw Ridge left me with tears in my eyes and feeling totally exhausted.  This is one of those films that kind of sneaks up on you.  I spent the first half of the film thinking to myself, “Okay, this is good and all but I still don’t see what the big deal is.”  And then suddenly, that second half started and soon, I was totally struggling to catch my breath.

I’ll just say this right now: Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most powerful anti-war films that I’ve ever seen.  It’s also an incredibly violent film, one that will leave non-veterans amazed at the number of ways that soldiers can be shot, stabbed, blown up, and set on fire.  But, despite all the visceral action that plays out across the screen, Hacksaw Ridge never glorifies combat.  It never glamorizes the destructive power of war.  We may be happy when we see a certain soldier somehow manage to survive but we never find ourselves cheering.  Instead, often times, we worry what awaits that soldier after the war.  The combat in Hacksaw Ridge is so brutal and so terrifying that you find yourself wondering not only how anyone could survive but also how anyone could ever go on with “normal” life after seeing the horrors of war.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who served, as a combat medic, in the U.S. Army during World War II.  As a Seventh Day Adventist, Doss both refused to carry a rife and refused to train on the Sabbath.  Despite all the efforts of both his sergeant and his captain to convince Doss to leave the service, Doss stayed in the Army, served in combat despite refusing to carry a rifle, and became the first C.O. to be awarded the Medal of Honor.  In the film, Doss is played by Andrew Garfield, who is one of those extremely talented actors who has been miscast in several films.  Fortunately, he’s perfect for Hacksaw Ridge.  Though his rural accent occasionally slips, Garfield is convincing as both a relatively naive farmboy and a man of such strong convictions that he’s willing to risk being court martialed to uphold them.  If Hacksaw Ridge is about Doss proving himself to his fellow soldiers, it’s also a film about Andrew Garfield, who is still perhaps best known for being awkwardly cast as Spiderman, proving himself as a unique and interesting actor.

Garfield pretty much dominates the film but a few of the supporting performers do manage to make an impression.  Vince Vaughn is surprisingly effective as the tough and no-nonsense sergeant and Teresa Palmer is sympathetic as Doss’s wife.  Hugo Weaving plays Doss’s alcoholic father, a man who is still haunted by what he saw during the first world war and he does a great job.

I know that some people are going to be hesitant about Hacksaw Ridge because it was directed by Mel Gibson but you know what?   You may not expect Mel Gibson to direct one of the most searing anti-war films of the past decade but that’s exactly what he managed to do.  It’s an important film, one that reminds us that war is neither fun nor an adventure.  It’s a film that shows what our combat veterans had to deal with (and when we countless men lost their legs as the result of a Japanese rocket, it’s hard not to make the connection to the countless vets who have lost limbs in the Middle East) and, in its way, chastises a society that would abandon them after the war is over.  If Doss, working on his own, was willing to put his life at risk to save 75 wounded soldiers, how can we, as a society, justify not taking care of our wounded veterans?   Hacksaw Ridge is a film that works both as a tribute to our veterans and a reminder that the costs of war are all too real.

It’s a good and important film.  I recommend the Hell out of it.

Icarus Files No. 1: Cloud Atlas (dir. by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer)


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“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet, what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” — David Mitchell

Let me tell you about Icarus. He took flight with wings of feather and wax. Warned not to fly too low so as not to have the sea’s dampness clog his wings or to climb too high to have the sun melt the wax. Icarus heeded not the latter and tried to fly as close to the sun. Just as his father had warned him the wax in his wings melted as he flew too close to the sun and soon fell back to earth and into the sea.

A tale from Greek mythology that taught has taught us about ambition reaching so high that it’s bound to fail. One such ambitious failure of recent times has been the epic science fiction film Cloud Atlas directed by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer.

The film was adapted from the novel of the same name by author David Mitchell which looked to take six stories set in 19th-century South Pacific and right up to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. Each story’s characters and actions would connect with each other through the six different time and space. The film attempts to do what Mitchell’s novel did through several hundred dense and detailed pages.

CLOUD ATLAS

Just like Icarus The Wachowski and Tom Tykwer’s attempt to connect the lives and actions of all six stories amounts for what admirers and detractors can only agree on as an admirable and ambitious failure.

The film boasts a large ensemble cast led by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving. More than one of the actors in the cast would perform characters in each and every six interconnecting stories in the film which added a sense of rhythmic continuity to the whole affair, but also made for some very awkward and uncomfortable scenes of what could only amount to as “yellowface”. This was most evident in the story set in 22nd-century Neo Seoul, South Korea where actors such as James D’Arcy, Jim Sturgess, Keith David and Hugo Weaving have been heavily made-up to look Asian.

Cloud Atlas was and is a sprawling film that attempts to explore the theme that everything and everyone is connected through time and space. It’s how the action of one could ripple through time to have a profound effect on others which in turn would create more ripples going forward through time. The film both succeeds and fails in portraying this theme.

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It’s the film’s narrative style to tell the six stories not in a linear fashion from 19th-century to the post-apocalyptic future, but instead allow all six tales to weave in and out of each other. At times this weaving style and how it would seamlessly go from one time location to another without missing a beat made for some very powerful and emotional moments. But then it would also make these transitions in such a clunky manner that it brings one out of the very magical tale the three directors were attempting to weave and tell.

Yet, even through some of it’s many faults and failings the film does succeed in some way due to the performances of the ensemble cast. Even despite the awkwardness of the “yellowface” of the Neo Seoul sequence the actors in the scenes perform their roles such admirable fashion. One would think that someone like Tom Hanks who has become such a recognizable presence in every film he appears in wouldn’t be able to blend into each tale being shown and told, but he does so in Cloud Atlas and so does everyone else.

It helps that the film was held up from a very hard landing after reaching so high with an exquisite and beautiful symphonic score composed by Tom Tykwer, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. It’s a score that manages to accentuate the film’s exploration of emotions and actions rippling through time without ever becoming too maudlin and pandering to the audiences emotions.

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Cloud Atlas was hyped as the next epic science fiction film from The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer leading up to it’s release. This hype was further built-up with thundering standing ovation during it’s screening at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival. But once the film finally was released and more critics and the general public were able to see it for themselves the reaction have been divisive. This was a film that brooked no middle-ground. One either loved it flaws and all or hated it despite what it did succeed in accomplishing amongst the failures.

Just like Icarus, Cloud Atlas and it’s three directors had high ambitions for the film. It was a goal that not many filmmakers seem to want to put themselves out on the limb for nowadays because of how monumental the failure can be if their ambitions are just too high. It’s been the reputation of The Wachowskis since they burst into the scene with their Matrix trilogy. Their eclectic and, somewhat esoteric, storytelling style have made all their films an exercise in high-risk, high reward affairs that makes no apologies whether they succeed or fail. Each of their films have a unique vision that they want to share with the world and they make no compromises in how this vision is achieved.

One could call Cloud Atlas an ambitious failure. It could also be pop, New Age psychobabble wrapped up in so-called high-art. Yet, what the two siblings and Tom Tykwer were able to achieve with the film has been nothing less by brave and daring. If more filmmakers were willing to allow their inner Icarus to fly then complaints of Hollywood and the film industry not having anymore fresh new ideas would fade.

A Quick Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (dir by Peter Jackson)


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It seems kind of weird to do a quick review for a 144 minutes film that not only serves as the end of one epic trilogy but also as a prequel for yet another epic trilogy.

Well, so be it.  I hate to admit it but I really don’t have that much to say about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies beyond the fact that I saw it on the day after Christmas, I enjoyed it, and I thought Aidan Turner was really hot.  It’s not a perfect film but then again, The Hobbit has never been a perfect trilogy.  As opposed to the Lord of the Ring films, The Hobbit told a story that could have easily been told in two films.  As a result, whenever you watch one of The Hobbit films, you’re aware of all of the filler that was included just to justify doing three films.

But so what?  The Hobbit films are fun.  Despite the cynical economic reasons behind turning The Hobbit into a trilogy, director Peter Jackson’s love for the material always came through.  In the title role, Martin Freeman was always likable.  Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee made for properly enigmatic wizards.  Though apparently his inclusion caused some controversy among purists, it was nice to Orlando Bloom as Legolas.  I also liked Evangeline Lilly’s elf character, even if everyone else seemed to dislike her and her love story with Aidan Turner.  And then there was Benedict Cumberbatch providing a perfectly evil and self-satisfied voice for Smaug.

I have to admit that, with the exception of Aidan Turner, I was never a big fan of the dwarves.  They were all so surly and bad-tempered and it didn’t take me too long to get tired of Richard Armitage showing up as Thorin and acting like a jerk.  However, in the final part of the trilogy, Armitage’s surly performance started to make sense.  As Thorin grew more and more paranoid, I saw that The Hobbit was actually using both the character and Armitage’s performance to make a much larger point.  Power corrupts and most conflicts are ultimately all about money and property.  It was a good message.

When the Battle of the Five Armies started, I was shocked to discover how little I remembered about the previous two Hobbit films.  It took me a while to get caught up on who everyone was and why they were all fighting over that mountain.  As opposed to the LoTR films, it’s not always easy to get emotionally invested in The Hobbit films.  But, Jackson is a good director and he’s a good storyteller and, even though it took me a while to get caught up, I was still often enthralled with what I was watching on screen.  The images were so stunning and the battle scenes were so spectacularly done that I could handle being occasionally confused.

Battle of the Five Armies is a fitting end for the Hobbit trilogy.  It’s not a perfect film but it is exciting and fun and that’s really all that matters.  At the end of it, the audience in the theater applauded, not just for the film but in recognition of everything that Peter Jackson has given us over the past 14 years.

It was a good way to spend the day after Christmas.

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (dir. by Peter Jackson)


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It’s hard to believe that’s it’s been 11 years since Peter Jackson released The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on the masses in 2001. There were much trepidation from Tolkien fans that Jackson (who had been known mostly for low-budget splatter horror-comedies) wouldn’t be able to handle the monumental task of adapting what many consider the greatest novel ever written in the 20th century. Tolkien’s epic fantasy became the standard by which fnatasy epics would be compared to for decades to come and still do. To say that Jackson succeeded in this epic task would be an understatement. The Lord of the Rings trilogy would hoard awards from 2001 to 2003 and also box-office receipts to make any dwarf-lord green with envy.

It’s now 2012 and we finally have the release of Jackson’s next trip into Middle-Earth as he adapts another of Tolkien’s beloved novels. This time he tackles The Hobbit which for some Tolkien fans remains their favorite of the author’s works. It’s a novel that might not have the epic scope and breadth of The Lord of the Rings, but what it lacks in that department it more than makes up in being a fun, adventure tale of a curious hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, a wizard named Gandalf the Grey and a fellowship of twelve dwarfs led by one Thorin Oakenshield of Erebor.

The Hobbit was originally written as a children’s book, but in later years Tolkien would retcon some parts of the novel to better fit with his magnum opus in The Lord of the Rings.It’s this revised version of that children’s story that Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro would adapt for the big-screen. Initially a two-film set that would tell the story of Bilbo and his merry band of adventurers, but it has since been expanded to become a trilogy as Jackson and his writers take a page out of Tolkien’s bag of tricks and try to tie-in this latest trilogy to the Lord of the Rings which precedes it by a over a decade.

The first film in this new trilogy is called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and we begin by returning to sometime before the beginning of the first trilogy’s first film. We see the aged Bilbo reminiscing of his adventures 60 years hence and deciding to put it to pen and paper as a sort of memoir of that adventure to reclaim the lost dwarf-hold of Erebor. It’s in this opening that we get to see Frodo once more (played once again by Elijah Wood who doesn’t seem to have aged) prior to him taking up the One Ring.

Bilbo recounts to Frodo the realm of Erebor deep inside the Lonely Mountain east of the Shire to Frodo and how it’s wealth in silver, mithril, gold and precious gems became well-known throughout Middle-Earth. Yet, as Bilbo warns, it’s the very sickness of avarice by Erebor’s Thror the King which seals the dwarf-hold’s doom. We learn that hoards of wealth does more than light up the dwarf king’s eyes with greed but also brings the attention of one of the very last dragon’s in Middle-Earth. The arrival of Smaug to Erebor signals the death of not just that dwarf realm, but the surrounding human town of Dale. The surviving dwarfs of Erebor flee in a massive diaspora towards any safe haven willing to take them in. What was once a proud and powerful realm has now been sundered and it’s afterwards that we get to the meat of the film’s story.

Martin Freeman as a younger Bilbo Baggins was more than just great casting but one which the film needed if one was to believe that this young Bilbo would grow old to be the Ian Holm one fans of the first trilogy have come to know well. His performance as Bilbo Baggins of Bag End becomes the anchor from which the rest of the company would revolve around. When we first meet Freeman as Bilbo he’s not the adventurer that he would become, but a hobbit that’s respectable and one not for doing anything foolish like going on adventures. Yet, his lot in life changes as Gandalf maneuvers the situation so that he becomes embroiled in the quest by Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage) to retake his ancestral lands of Erebor and it’s massive wealth from Smaug who has taken it for his lair.

While many would think that a film called The Hobbit would focus on Bilbo I thought the way the film unfolded that this story was all about the dwarfs with extra focus on the single-minded Thorin who comes off initially as both condescending, superior and dismissive of poor old Bilbo. The film never fails to show how much Thorin thinks so less of Bilbo yet throughout the film’s two and a half and more running time we see cracks in Thorin’s ice-cold demeanor towards the young hobbit. By film’s end we see just how wrong Thorin has been of Bilbo’s worth and it makes for one of the film’s more emotional scenes when Thorin realizes this as well.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not just about a brooding dwarf prince and his motley band of dwarfs getting into one trouble after the next once they’ve left the Shire with Bilbo. The film also brings on a parallel storyline which tries to lay down the foundation that would tie this new trilogy with the first one. It’s the storyline of the Great Necromancer that Gandalf and a fellow wizard, Radagast the Brown, suspect might be the Great Enemy returned. We learn soon enough during the White Council in Rivendell (attended by Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman the White) that this so-called Necromancer might be Sauron looking to regain his former strength and gather an army to him.

It’s this second storyline that get’s sandwiched within the Thorin Oakenshield Fellowship quest that comes off a bit awkward in the film’s overall narrative flow. Where the film is all about fun adventuring and camaraderie when the dwarfs and Bilbo are on the screen, when they’re not and the film tries to tell us about Sauron’s eventual return the film slows down. These scenes are not uninteresting. On it’s own these sequences bring back the epic tone of the original trilogy and brings it into this film, but it’s that very grandiose theme that seems out of place in what is simply a “men on a mission” story.

Fortunately, we don’t spend too much time dwelling on this side-story. The final third of the film is all about Thorin and company needing to escape from one goblin lair and orc ambush to another. The last 45 minutes or so flies back swiftly after a very uneven first two hours that would make more than a few theater-goers look at their watch. The wait is worth it as we see that Jackson hasn’t forgotten how to choreograph and stage fantasy action scenes. While the use of CGI might be more evident this time around than the previous three films they’re still small compared to other blockbuster films of it’s type. It’s still all about WETA practical effects, make-up and costumes that combine to create a world that’s become familiar yet still have a sense of newness to them as we see new areas of Middle-Earth only mentioned in brief passing in the original trilogy.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a wonderful return to the world of Middle-Earth. It is not without it’s missteps and flaws, but it also gets saved by some great performances from the ensemble cast which makes up the dwarfs. The aerial shots of the New Zealand’s eclectic geography shows just how much cinematographer Andrew Lesnie has become such a major component of making Middle-Earth come alive. Even the return of Howard Shore as the film’s composer was a welcome that brought more than a few smiles.

There’s no way of talking about The Hobbit without bringing up the stylistic gamble Peter Jackson has taken in filming this film and the rest of the trilogy in 48fps instead of the traditional 24fps (frames per second) that filmmakers have been using for almost a hundred years now. It’s an aesthetic choice that gives the film a overly realistic look akin to watching a stage production live. Everything looks too perfect and the High-Frame Rate (HFR) takes away some of the cinematic look which many have grown up seeing every time they watch a film. This new filming style works in certain areas like wide shots of the outdoor scenes. Whether it’s the emerald green rolling hills of the Shire to the snowcapped Alpine peaks of the Misty Mountains, these scenes in HFR came out beautiful. It’s when the film switches over to a much more enclosed and personal space within rooms and halls that we get the unusual “soap opera” look some have complained about. It takes a bit of getting used to, but some make the adjustment quickly enough while others may never make the adjustment.

Yet, it is when the film shows a CGI-created sequence that the HFR fails. While the doubling of the frame rate during filming has made the 3D in the film come off smoothly it did make some of the CG-effects come off as too video game-like. A sequence earlier in the film where we see a flashback of Thorin and the dwarfs of Erebor trying to retake another fallen dwarf hold in Moria (Khazadum in dwarfish) looks like a cinematic cutscene as a dwarf army charges and battles it out with an orc and goblin force which had taken Moria as it’s own.

All the scenes where HFR fails to come off as believable turn out better when The Hobbit was seen in traditional 24fps. I actually think that downscaling the film from it’s original HFR to a more traditional film frame speed of 24fps gave the film an even more magical look than the original trilogy. Jackson and his team of filmmakers have two more films to release and hopefully take some of the criticism this first film has received about HFR that they tweak and work on making the new style much more believable instead of taking the audience out of the film’s narrative.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey doesn’t come off as grandiose as the original trilogy and for some that might come as a disappointment. Yet, as an adventure film it more than does it’s job to fully entertain it’s audience while, at the same, time reminding it’s audience how much this film and this trilogy will lead into The Lord of the Rings. I recommend that people just see the film and decide on their own whether it’s a worthy addition to the Middle-Earth saga as seen through the eyes of Peter Jackson. I, for one, think it is and with two more films left we shall see whether Jackson’s return to Middle-Earth has been a triumphant one or not.