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Posts Tagged ‘peter jackson’

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Dec. 13)

161 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

I am happy to report that “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a better movie than last year’s interminable “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Of course, this is a bit like congratulating grandma for outrunning great grandma.

Both movies are overpadded, meandering, and infuriating in their insistence on turning a whimsical  book for children into a lumbering behemoth of narrative and economic overkill.

Against their dramatic shortcomings, one must balance the undeniable technical creativity behind director Peter Jackson’s vision.

“Smaug” finds our Hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of waddling dwarves drawing ever closer to the mountain beneath which the dragon Smaug lurks with his vast treasure of stolen riches.

There are moments here that I recognize from my long-ago reading of “The Hobbit,” like the gigantic spiders that  wrap up the adventurers in the forest of Mirkwood, putting them into storage for future meals. Or Bilbo’s figuring out of a an ancient riddle that will open that secret mountainside doorway to Smaug’s vast underground realm.

But Jackson and his co-writers (Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens) have tossed in a lot of stuff that never appeared  in the book. Foremost among these is the reappearance of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas (a character from the “Lord of the Rings”) and the introduction of a lady elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), who has been cut from whole cloth.

Tauriel and Legolas are an item, sort of, but she is inexplicably taken with Kili (Aidan Turner), the least grotesque of the dwarfs … could a bit of Middle Earth miscegination be our future? Stay tuned.

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Damiel Echols...before his release from prison

Damiel Echols…before his release from prison

“WEST OF MEMPHIS” My rating: B  (Opens March 8 )

147 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The infamous case of the West Memphis Three – teens convicted of the Satanic 1993 murders of three boys – has already been the subject of three first-rate documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky: “Paradise Lost: The child Murders at Robin hood Hills” (1996), “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” (2000) and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” (2011).

Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis” though, benefits from being the first film on the subject since the three accused murderers – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. – were released last year after their lawyers successfully argued that new evidence (much of it disseminated through the Berlinger and Sinofsky docs) warranted an appeal in front of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“West of Memphis” (produced by Hobbit-lord Peter Jackson) tries to be encyclopedic…and with a running time of 2 ½ hours it not only recycles  well-known details of the case (sloppy investigative work, the prejudicial witch-hunt atmosphere during the trial) but takes side-trips into new revelations and accusations.

There’s some really fascinating stuff here, like an experiment using dead pigs to show that the marks on the bodies of the murder victims were not signs of ritual torture (as maintained by the prosecution) but rather were the results of turtle bites inflicted while the dead boys floated in a water-filled ditch.

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