The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

Pratt By Douglas PrattPratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: Snowpiercer

So, the science is at best dubious, the drama, while engagingly performed, is hardly profound, and the story, even aside from the fantasy parts, is illogical and is a mad amalgam of genres. Why, then, is Snowpiercer so entertaining? The answer is simple, it’s a train movie.

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DVD Geek: All That Jazz

Not only Bob Fosse but screenwriter Robert Alan Aurthur died too young, doubly reinforcing the vivid spiritual premonition of All That Jazz, Fosse’s transfixing 1979 show business musical that blatantly anticipated his own death (eight years later) and Aurthur’s, who died before the film was finished, with Roy Scheider (who died 31 years later but still much too soon) in the autobiographical role of the stage and film director who smokes too much, ingests too much and works until he drops, creating brilliant art every step of the way.

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DVD Geek: 12 Years a Slave

How can the random displacement of humans being distributed as property sustain a consistent intrigue of character? How can modern actors embody any of the characters, black or white, truthfully, without going insane? McQueen oversees all of these challenges, creating a powerful, beautiful work—no more or less violent than many great films that have addressed violence—that is entertaining and exciting throughout its 134 minutes.

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DVD Geek: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

One of the greatest aspects of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies was the astounding sweep and gripping nature of its action scenes. They were stupendous, as great as anything ever created for the cinema, and nothing in An Unexpected Journey comes close. There are many smaller moments that are joyful, and several scenes that are legitimately thrilling, but the movie is missing the tentpole moments that made the other three films so exceptional.

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DVD Geek: Pacific Rim

The 62 minutes of excellent production featurettes that accompany the film reveal how incredibly thorough del Toro was in overseeing the movie’s creation, which is why, boxoffice shortcomings or not, the film is going to be around for a very long time to come. As he explains, “This movie was made by people who love giant monsters and robots, for people who love giant monsters and robots.”

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DVD Geek: The Killing

More and more, movies seem like short stories and TV shows seem like novels. It took two ‘seasons’ (actually, each is a half-length season) for the murder mystery program, “The Killing,” to reach its highly satisfying conclusion. Set in Washington State, it is stocked with more red herrings than Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market, and there are rumors of fans having to buy new shoes and new televisions each week for having tossed the one into the other at the end of each episode.

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DVD Geek: Cloud Atlas

Directed by the Wachowski siblings Lana and Andy, and by Tom Tykwer, the film, like Intolerance, is broken into different stories set in different eras, with dazzling editing that jumps from story to story like fingers sweeping down the keys of a piano. The prominent cast members have multiple roles, figuring centrally in some stories and peripherally in others. Tom Hanks is top billed, and his performances are no stunt—he’s really, really good in each of his highly varied roles. Running a grand 172 minutes, the film is dazzling and intelligent, and is never tedious or introspective. It will take multiple viewings before people begin to recognize how elaborate its breakdown of religion is—how events that happen hundreds of years earlier change in the telling across the centuries while retaining the essen It is a thrilling movie, and is easily the best theatrical feature to come out of 2012, not only for its unrestrained entertainment, but for the boundaries it breaks as it advances the art of filmmaking.

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DVD Geek: Red Hook Summer

Once Spike Lee made Malcolm X, he seemed to lose all of his relevance as a filmmaker, thus reinforcing the adage about being careful what you wish for. But he really has only himself to blame. His first films were genuinely edgy, exciting, and revelatory. Other than his documentaries, his later films have all been flailing around in the dark, trying to find any kind of edge at all. His 2012 feature, Red Hook Summer, is heartbreakingly bad, because it almost isn’t.

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The DVD Geek: Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man doesn’t just deserve the Oscar nomination, it deserves to win. Running 87 minutes, it lulls you into believing—or perhaps even not believing—the story of a few enthusiastic South African fans that attempt to uncover the biography of an American balladeer from the early Seventies called ‘Rodriguez,’ who had a smooth, articulate voice, reminiscent of Jose Feliciano (with his dark glasses, he also looks a lot like Feliciano), and adept recording engineers that brought a detailed complexity and color to his orchestrations.

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DVD Geek: Lawrence of Arabia

One of the greatest color films ever produced, David Lean’s 1962 Lawrence of Arabia shows the Earth unadorned by its decorative vegetation or man-made blemishes, with landscapes so vast that humans are no more than tiny specks passing across the surface, hardly larger than the grains of sand beneath the feet of their camels. Set during World War I in the Middle East, the film concerns not only battles, but the political maneuvering which would set the stage for power equilibriums in the region that are continuing to this day.

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DVD Geek: This is Cinerama

Cinerama is dead. It died before our grandmothers did. To see the Cinerama format in a movie theater as a child, however, was to associate its startlingly wide image with life’s future, the grand possibilities that are spread out before one. And so to relive that experience now, on Blu-ray, is to grasp, with all the fleeting, orgiastic thrill of grasping a ghost, the hopes and dreams and safety and anticipation of childhood. By the time the helicopter was flying over Niagara, the tears were flowing from our own eyes with a fervor equal to the Falls.

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The DVD Geek: The Strawberry Statement

The further they recede in time, the more fascinating the campus riot movies become. Despite the brief resurgences of similar sentiments in the Occupy Wall Street movement, there is something very alien about the militancy of the youthful rebels. And while violence as a means of suppression by the authorities has continued as a practice, usually of last resort or near last resort, that practice has not been depicted in popular entertainment since the spirit of the Sixties subsided.

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DVD Geek: The Artist

The black-and-white image is crisp and captivating. The quality of the BD presentation enhances, among other things, the film’s fabulous production design, so that the locations—such as the Bradbury Building stairwell, evocative of a Jerry Lewis production design, which shows Dujardin’s character on the way down meeting Bejo’s character on the way up, as extras breeze past them and around them in a mysteriously perfect rhythm—and costumes pelt the viewer continually with refreshing stimulation.

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DVD Geek: The Rape of the Vampire

The greatest bad movie ever is Plan Nine from Outer Space, but coming in a close number two is Jean Rollin’s exquisitely ridiculous The Rape of the Vampire, which has been released on Blu-ray no less, by Kino Lorber Incorporated as a Redemption title. For one thing, it is in that hoity-toity language, French, which connoisseurs of badness embrace as the language of their superiors. For another thing, it has lots of topless women, which in itself is not a bad thing at all—just ask a nursing infant—but is really dopey when there is no particular narrative reason as to why the women should choose not to drape themselves respectably, particularly when there are a bunch of grunting, farmer-looking types, chasing after them with pitchforks.

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DVD Geek: Camelot

One can speak derisively of Blu-rays for their operational legthargy, but there are amazing things that the format can accomplish, and a very good example is that they can turn bad movies into good movies. Musicals have always played by different rules than other movies, and that is what is at work here. Rather than dwelling on the film’s failures, the BD enables one to embrace what does succeed in the film, and allows those glories to reign.

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DVD Geek: The Magnificent Ambersons

Exactly 15 years after DVDs were introduced to the home video market place, Warner Home Video has finally released the last significantly important, classic motion picture in the format, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” and like the opinions of the townspeople on the fates of the characters at the end of the film, no one cares.

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DVD Geek: My Week With Marilyn

First, you have to see “The Prince and the Showgirl.” It is a film that will continually make you smile. Its story is cute and its cast is legendary. Then you watch “My Week with Marilyn” … The 2011 film is not about dishing dirt on the production. It is, rather, and in some ways very much like “The Prince and the Showgirl,” about the ephemeral nature of love.

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DVD Geek: World on a Wire

Way, way before The Matrix, before Blade Runner and before umpteen Japanese anime tales, Fassbinder not only understood the epistemological paradoxes of cyberworlds, he understood how to communicate those paradoxes to viewers in an entertaining and engrossing manner.

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DVD Geek: Design for Living

Made before the Production Code cleaned up his innuendos and flagrant sexual metaphors, Lubitsch constantly teases the viewer with his balancing act of sharing and hiding what the characters are thinking and doing. Almost as an afterthought, each man’s fortunes rise because of his association with Hopkins’ character, and yet, for each, it is a downward trajectory of spirit when she turns her attentions elsewhere.

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DVD Geek: Godzilla

No other land or people have suffered from the effects of manmade atomic destruction as Japan has, and the monster, Godzilla, is a metaphor of that destruction that has proven to be as far reaching and enduring in its truthfulness as the creature itself has been in popularity. Even America, which is as symbiotically entwined with Japan’s nuclear catastrophes as the American version of the film is with the Japanese version, has embraced the subliminal power that is conveyed by the rubber-suited monster, and its later, upgraded special effect iterations, raging across the captivating miniature landscapes and cityscapes.

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“Yes, good movies sprout up, inevitably, in the cracks and seams between the tectonic plates on which all of these franchises stay balanced, and we are reassured of their hardiness. But we don’t see what we don’t see; we don’t see the effort, or the cost of the effort, or the movies of which we’re deprived because of the cost of the effort. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice may have come from a studio, but it still required a substantial chunk of outside financing, and at $35 million, it’s not even that expensive. No studio could find the $8.5 million it cost Dan Gilroy to make Nightcrawler. Birdman cost a mere $18 million and still had to scrape that together at the last minute. Imagine American movie culture for the last few years without Her or Foxcatcher or American Hustle or The Master or Zero Dark Thirty and it suddenly looks markedly more frail—and those movies exist only because of the fairy godmothership of independent producer Megan Ellison. The grace of billionaires is not a great business model on which to hang the hopes of an art form.”
~ Mark Harris On The State Of The Movies

How do you make a Top Ten list? For tax and organizational purposes, I keep a log of every movie I see (Title, year, director, exhibition format, and location the film was viewed in). Anything with an asterisk to the left of its title means it’s a 2014 release (or something I saw at a festival which is somehow in play for the year). If there’s a performance, or sequence, or line of dialogue, even, that strikes me in a certain way, I’ll make a note of it. So when year end consideration time (that is, the month and change out of the year where I feel valued) rolls around, it’s a little easier to go through and pull some contenders for categories. For 2014, I’m voting in three polls: Indiewire, SEFCA (my critics’ guild), and the Muriels. Since Indiewire was first, it required the most consternation. There were lots of films that I simply never had a chance to see, so I just went with my gut. SEFCA requires a lot of hemming and hawing and trying to be strategic, even though there’s none of the in-person skullduggery that I hear of from folk whose critics’ guild is all in the same city. The Muriels is the most fun to contribute to because it’s after the meat market phase of awards season. Also, because it’s at the beginning of next year, I’ll generally have been able to see everything I wanted to by then. I love making hierarchical lists, partially because they are so subjective and mercurial. Every critical proclamation is based on who you are at that moment and what experiences you’ve had up until that point. So they change, and that’s okay. It’s all a weird game of timing and emotional waveforms, and I’m sure a scientist could do an in-depth dissection of the process that leads to the discovery of shocking trends in collective evaluation. But I love the year end awards crush, because I feel somewhat respected and because I have a wild-and-wooly work schedule that has me bouncing around the city to screenings, or power viewing the screeners I get sent.
Jason Shawhan of Nashville Scene Answers CriticWire