[B+/85]The original story of The Hobbit was a gracefully colorful and economical quest-adventure yarn full of very subtle mythological underpinnings, but it never possessed the magniloquent moral and cosmic jeopardy of Tolkien's great trilogy. Nor the narrative breadth. When Peter Jackson set about forging his cinematic Lord of the Rings, years ago, he was faced with the conundrum of compressing that vast and multilayered saga into a relatively limiting medium that required a good deal of judicious excision to make work. The results were positive, but many purists lamented the literary moments culled from the pages of the books.
With Jackson's new Hobbit constructed upon the decision to stretch the tale into a full-blown three-parter reminiscent of the LotR successes, the predicament is exactly the opposite, and this time the necessity of patching in supplementary and complimentary material to fill in a rather much more efficient story will likely bedevil many purists and non-purists of The Hobbit alike. For it turns The Hobbit into something quite different than originally conceived, in scope and tone, and dresses it up in an extravagance of commotion (the battle of the stone giants comes to mind), War of the Ring backstory (including a meeting of the White Council, and the merry adventures of Radagast the Brown), and, especially, in legions of little liberties taken with Middle-earth historical dates and places and details from the hallowed legendarium.
This may all seem shambolic, but it does have the virtue of weaving the story more integrally into the significant forces of the later trilogy. And, anyway, the outcome is so considerably fun, amusing, and enchanting, even lifelong fans like myself are able to let a few liberties and indulgences slip by without too much fuss. To the contrary, many may be delighted that Jackson has managed to stuff in so many elements and references from the outskirts of the main story arc. And, in some ways, it has definitely been improved, such as actually peopling Thorin's Company with distinct, memorable characters (and all of them pretty well-acted, on top of it).
There's a great deal to get happily lost in here. It's far from perfect, and quite overly relaxed: don't expect the mystical tension and discipline of the other films, and at times there is a subtle but discernible shortcoming in emotional cinematographic atmospheres (honorable mention goes to a town of Dale that looks like a Renaissance fair in a European shopping mall), but generally The Hobbit is jolly enjoyable, and at least as entertaining as the Frodo movies.
[C-/50] This is a movie that one could partially recommend upon technical accomplishments alone (see all the other reviews, if you're not convinced). Indeed, what it offers visually is highly polished, atmospheric sci-fi sets and effects, as well as some rather magnificent vistas of the imagination, judged even by the standards of our gee-whiz cgi magic era. These aspects are undeniable and impressive, however there's scant much more to advocate for here, beyond perhaps Michael Fassbender's android, the one and only interesting and fleshed-out character in the whole shebang.
Otherwise, a ponderously unbelievable, semi-realized, overloaded plot debilitates most of the movie's potential, including the fear factor. There's little suspense and a surplus of banal, unlikable characters burdened with a colossal, mind-numbing narrative full of star gas. Magnificently garmented, but pretty empty.
[B-/70] A dramatic anti-thriller about a mercenary sent to hunt down and kill the probably-extinct Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) in the remote wilderness of Tasmania. What is already a strange and disquieting premise descends into a series of tense and mysterious encounters as the hunter finds himself inside a quietly simmering war between local environmentalists and loggers. There, amid the misty, preternatural sublimity of the countryside, he falls into the affections of a fatherless family, and uncovers evidence of murder. But what soon becomes clear is that the hunter's professional determination is a mask for a host of unspoken doubts, and that the farther he proceeds upon the tracking of his quarry, the deeper his inner conflicts grow. And so a favorite motif of the movie is the hunter repeatedly trying to wash himself.
It all plays out slowly, studiously, eliciting thought and puzzlement. The stark, heartbreaking climax doesn't offer any kind of nice closure so much as reveal an impossible rift in the hunter and, probably, the world, though it tries to find redemption in a kind of spiritual resolution and sacrifice.
We're not sure if this is entirely satisfying, but The Hunter is successful in making us think and feel, even if much of the outcome is ambiguous. Wilem Dafoe is excellent at creating a cryptic, multidimensional character with few words, though Sam Neill is mostly wasted on a muddled supporting role. But a strong feature of the movie is the lavish photography of Tasmania itself, which is truly something to behold.
[A+/100] Hollywood's brutally frank hate-letter to itself is a gripping melodrama performed with surreal panache, surefooted pacing, and masterfully subtle black humor. The tragic psychological dilapidation of an eerily proud but outdated silent screen icon dominates this movie's underlying web of loneliness, obsession, desperation, the fear of ordinariness, and absurdity, and Gloria Swanson is beguiling and unforgettable in her haunted role, but William Holden is also very excellent as the out-of-luck hack looking to hang on to the promise of Tinsel Town glory. His unusual predicament, his failings and prodigious self-loathing, his cynical fascination, and - most importantly - his pity, speak from the mirror center of this doomed romance with self-deception.
Nancy Olson and Erich von Stroheim are also real good. One of the great Noir works, not to be missed.