Thursday, December 27, 2012

Spoiler Guys: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

After my exciting trip to Hobbiton it's time to come down to earth for the Spoiler Guys session on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

You'll hear us disagree, you'll hear us shamelessly namedrop, and you'll hear Marc sounding like he's in Gollum's cave (apologies). But hopefully you'll still enjoy what I found to be a fascinating chat about Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth.

Please subscribe to us in iTunes, download here, or stream below:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

TheVine: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It’s unspeakably wonderful to see The Shire safely back in Peter Jackson’s hands. The knighted director ventures back to Middle Earth, 60 years prior to The Lord of the Rings, to bring us J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved tale of dwarf-sized derring-do. 

The story, is surely familiar by way of cultural osmosis and/or school-time reading requirements. Our titular hero Bilbo Baggins finds himself in a company of 13 exiled dwarves, all of whom are determined to conquer Smaug, the gold-snavelling dragon who has driven them from their Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. Yes, dragon wrath notwithstanding, it’s a far more modest story than the end of the world antics of The Lord of the Rings. But that hasn’t stopped Jackson and his team from adapting Tolkien’s trim, 300-page novel into a blockbuster trilogy. But check your incredulity at the door, for if this first installment is anything to go by: then by Zeus we’re in for a good time! 

That is, you’ll have good time if you can handle the newfangled 48 frames-per-second (48 fps). Jackson is taking a gamble on launching this new technology on such an epic stage. The disarmingly clear, hyper-real quality of the 48fps requires an almost bodily adjustment. The characters are so precisely defined from their backgrounds that they look stuck on; aliens in their surroundings. Their movement often feels akin to a video game, which can threaten to jolt you out of the cinema experience, particularly in the daytime scenes. With 1000 of the 25,000 worldwide screens projecting the movie at 48fps, debate will no doubt ensue over the technology's successes and shortcomings. For this cinema-goer, the jury is still out.

Setting aside technological considerations, The Hobbit is nothing short of a joyous homecoming. Jackson and his screenwriting team—Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro—cleverly serve up the familiar faces of Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) in a prologue that neatly interlaces with the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring. We are then whisked back 60 years to meet young Bilbo (Martin Freeman), who is singled out by Gandalf (the onscreen treasure that is Sir Ian McKellen) to assist the dwarves in their quest to reclaim their homeland. 

Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo: the big-hearted homebody, who fusses over his plates and his pantry as the dwarves descend upon Bag End; later, the extremely averse adventurer who asks the company to turn back because he forgot his handkerchief! Freeman’s familiar traits as the stoic Dr. Watson in Sherlock, longsuffering Tim in The Office, or even the endearing amateur porn stand-in from Love Actually all find their natural home in a pair of hairy hobbit feet. And considering the film’s comparatively lighter, more comedic tone than it’s Lord of the Rings sibling, Freeman’s understated blend of heart and humour proves a galvanizing force throughout the film. 

Indeed, while Jackson clearly relishes the dark and dangerous forces at work against his pint-sized company, he is also keen to share some laughs. Moreover, burdened with the task of sharing screen time with thirteen hirsute dwarves, Jackson often uses humour as a means to individuate.  James Nesbitt’s larikin Bofur leads the way, mostly at portly Bombur’s (Stephen Hunter) expense. This distinguishes them from the so-called ‘hot dwarves’ Fili (Dean O'Gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner) and of course the company’s illustrious leader, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). 

This reviewer’s heart will forever belong to Aragorn, but Armitage has got some game. He and Freeman admirably lock horns over Bilbo’s inclusion in the company, but Armitage really comes into his own in the ‘hero shot’ stakes: with flowing locks and a steely gaze, he gives us Braveheart by way of 300 – epically cool. 

Another cracking turn comes from Barry Humphries. Unrecognisable, yet quintessentially ‘Barry,’ he voices the Great Goblin: a hulking, grimy, goiter-jiggling feat of fantastical CGI from that impossibly talented bunch at Weta Digital (though Guillermo Del Toro’s style seems evident here too). Cate Blanchett may make a rousing, unearthly return as Galadriel, but it’s the goblin underworld that steals the show. 

This couldn’t be truer in the case of Gollum. Gliding straight over any “uncanny valleys”, Andy Serkis makes a triumphant return as our precious antihero. Serkis not only reassumes his groundbreaking performance-capture creature in effortless fashion, but proceeds to outdo himself in a jaw-dropping showdown with Bilbo. 

Rehearsed as a theatrical chamber piece, the famous ‘Riddle Game’ gives goosebumps; Serkis and Freeman are superlative together in this battle of wits, where the laughs stemming from Gollum’s frayed psyche somehow manage to both relieve and amplify the tension. Jackson matches these stellar performances with superb editing, cinematography and that impossibly impressive CGI, in what will surely become a classic scene in cinema. 

With so much action and so many moving characters/pixels, the simplicity of this two-hander comes like a breath of fresh air. Which is not to say the adventure elements are found wanting. On the contrary, the stone-soldiers battle and the goblin shantytown are just two standout sequences that use 3D to beautiful and hair-raising effect. However, the tale’s gormless trolls—Bert, Tom, and Bill—probably galumph around too long, stretching the laughs a bit too far. Then again, that scene should play very well with kids. 

For ultimately The Hobbit is a children’s story. And Jackson et al have done a masterful job of bringing life, depth and impossibly intricate detail to Tolkien’s fantasy world.

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 26 December 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a very merry Santa Day!

Totally un-cinema related: here I am proudly holding aloft my Xmas pudding - which I baked from a recipe handed down from my great-grandmother. I love how the holiday season brings families and memories together. I hope you're all having a wonderful time.

Boxing Day movie madness to follow*!

*In fact it's kicked off early over on The Spoiler Guys

Monday, December 17, 2012

Spoiler Guys: Pitch Perfect

That's right! The Spoiler Guys are in session and this time we're singing along (badly) with the a capella comedy Pitch Perfect.

Tune in below or, better yet, please subscribe to us in iTunes!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hobbiton on The Film Programme

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll be well aware that I made the trip to New Zealand for the world premiere of The Hobbit. And aside from live tweeting the press conferences and the red carpet (where I  quickly became familiar with Richard Armitage's adoring Twitter fan base!), I was also let loose on Hobbiton!

The giddy smile on my face above should help you gauge my excitement level!

Now you can hear me discuss my adventures with the wonderful Francine Stock on this week's episode of BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme. You can download the podcast here, or subscribe via iTunes.

I am beyond delighted to have been invited back on the show (you can read about my previous appearances here and here) - especially seeing as Australian audiences still have to wait until Boxing Day to meet The Hobbit! Sigh...

But if you're keen to read my review beforehand, please head over to TheVine. And if you have any questions, I'll be over here...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

TheVine: Paul Thomas Anderson

It’s hard not to psyche yourself out before an audience with Paul Thomas Anderson.

One of the most intriguing and talented contemporary American auteurs, ‘PT’ Anderson (above left, with Joaquin Phoenix on the set of The Master) is understandably adored for bringing audiences modern classics like Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia and of course, There Will Be Blood. His rich characters and striking formalism are embellished with stunning aural and visual sequences. This filmmaking alchemy continues in his sixth feature, The Master, which draws on the history of L. Ron Hubbard and the beginnings of Scientology as the settling for a truly spectacular character study of a drunken, damaged soul, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and his friendship with his titular ‘saviour’ (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

As TheVine sat down with the director in Sydney one recent sunny afternoon – Anderson apologetically struggling with jetlag, and weighing up his options now coffee had ceased to have any effect (“do you try a white wine?”) – life was definitely imitating art in the idolatry stakes. And yet humble and softly spoken, Anderson quickly transforms from a filmmaking god into a considerate cinephile; someone who admits that such hero worship gives him a ‘stomachache’.
I wanted to start with saying welcome to Sydney, where your film career began, if only in name [PTA's first film, the crime thriller Hard Eight, was originally titled Sydney].

They wouldn’t let me call it that because they thought people would think [the film] was about Sydney Australia. I thought that was ridiculous. 

We gamble here too!

There’s casinos here, right?

There sure are. Congratulations on The Master - your sixth feature and your fifth collaboration with Philip Seymour Hoffman – can you two still manage to surprise each other after all these years?

Good question. Yeah, yes! And we wouldn’t be doing it if…yeah, great question! I hadn’t thought of it that way. We wouldn’t be doing it if [that wasn’t the case]. I can only speak for my point of view, [but] he does still surprise me and he makes me hungry to work with him and see what he does and comes up with. [The Master] was something that I came up with because I wanted to spend more time with him. We’d worked together a lot, five times. But it was never enough. It was a supporting part or something like that. It never felt like we’d gotten super dirty enough together. And probably in some selfish way, if your best friend is an actor, they’re elusive because they go off to work and he lives in a different city than I do. So I wonder if, underneath, it was just a way to grab hold of him and be closer to him for a period of time. 

Well you also succeeded in getting [Philip Seymour Hoffman] to sing again (after Mangnolia) – is that how you get him out of his comfort zone?

No! I like him in his comfort zone. Because he takes care of pushing himself out of his comfort zone. Usually invading somebody’s comfort zone is an exciting thing with another actor; it’s not something that a director should do. It’s like getting into a position with Joaquin where you know you’ve gotta concentrate; you have to pay attention, you have to be listening closely. At its best, you’re going to do something that feels very, very, very intimate.

This is your first collaboration with Joaquin, though I understand you’ve been wanting to cast him for years. What won him over this time?

Probably it was the part. The part was right and it was the right time in his life. Joaquin is a good actor in that way; he does make choices based on his life and what’s good for him, not just like what’s a good career move. So this was just the right time.

These are two powder keg lead performances -- in that regard, do you consider yourself an actor’s writer? You consistently give rich characters over to the actors.

You know, when I started writing, when I was making a short film, I had John Reilly and Philip Baker Hall and I kinda learned from them, because they both taught me that actors don’t read any of the writing in scripts, they just read their lines [laughs]. And I remember thinking, “OK, so in other words, don’t just write a bunch of stuff. Be very economical. Don’t write what they’re feeling. Don’t try and pretend like it’s a novel. Just give them very simple things so that they can do work.” That was good advice that I’ve tried to follow. So sometimes, the less writing you can do, the better. 

Phoenix and Seymour Hoffman

Amy Adams’ [playing Master’s wife Peggy Dodd] is astounding as almost a Lady Macbeth figure. What did you give over to her?

It’s like, the distance between here and there is huge; between what you write down and what they do. 

Is that exciting as a writer/director?

Very! Very exciting. Especially if it’s good; what they’re doing is right. And sometimes it can’t be so clear right away. You shoot films out of order – you start with the end at the beginning and weird things happen like that – but you kinda know it, you know? Like when you see somebody in a costume when they’re standing there and doing something and you kinda know when it feels pretty good. 

There’s alchemy at work.


There’s a skepticism about Scientology which some people will bring to this film no doubt, but what struck me is that you take a more historical view of Dianetics. What was it that most grabbed you in your research of those early years?

Just the way it was formulating, the way that it was building. The idea they had – it’s not a particularly new one – but just that the problems you might have in your life may not just be about this life [but] possibly another one. I liked that. I liked…the beginning of anything is always really interesting because it’s the start! You feel everybody is excited about possibilities, hopeful and optimistic and everything feels like a discovery. 

There’s a real energy….

Yeah, absolutely! 

It struck me that the time travel and the past lives aspect is a perfect analogy for a filmmaker. In your films you’ve traveled through time to create these amazing characters. Is that something that you brought to the project?

Yeah for sure. When people start talking about time travel it doesn’t feel that far off, because if you’re making a film about another era, you’re trying to do the best you can. You’ve got to reach back and put yourself in that time. Who says time travel is impossible? It’s like, it is, until it isn’t! You know?

I was remembering Tom Cruise character Frank Mackey in Magnolia – infamously calling for people to “Seduce and destroy.” I wonder if you consider same holds for your characters here – is it a leitmotiv?

No. I think that’s different. I do. I don’t see Master that way at all. Master seems – at least in our time of the film – much more open to learning and discovering. [Dodd] seems less cut and dry about what he thinks. Maybe as he goes along and faces more opposition, he has to shore up and become more rigid in what he thinks. Maybe in the sequel he’d end up more like [Frank Mackey]. 

How you like to consume films: do you like watch them multiple times? 

I’m terrible. The ones that I like I watch over and over and over again. Yeah. I don’t see as much new stuff as I should. 

Any favourites?

Bad Santa. I must have seen Bad Santa more times than anybody should. The Big Lebowski. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Surely there are those who have drawn the life-imitating-art comparison with Master, and the fealty that your fans feel towards you and your work. Is that something you’ve reckoned with?

It’s not lost on me the similarities between being a film director and what the Master is going through. You’re convincing somebody to come along on some crazy thing that you’re going to do for three months, and you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re going to pay them not that well; you’re going to feed them not that well, but hopefully you’re going to have fun. Yeah, you have to kinda kick yourself up into a state of frenzy and hopefulness that you’re going to get something good. Yeah, it’s very similar. 

But that’s with your filmmaking compatriots. What about your fans worshipping at the altar of PT Anderson?

Well there was a review [where] Peter Travers said that. Ohhh! I know what he meant, but it kind of gave me a stomachache! [Laughs]

I understand you sat at the foot of your own master– Robert Altman in A Prairie Home Companion.  What was that experience like?

That was sort of one of the best summers of my life. For a number of reasons. My girlfriend was pregnant with our first child, and we were making this film, and Bob was sick…

Are you just a sponge in that situation?

You definitely shut up and [laughs]. You definitely don’t talk more than you need to, for sure. But he was pretty frail at the time. That said, I was there just in case anything happened, and he was getting chemotherapy on Thursdays. So everybody kind of expected Friday would be a tough day, [but] he never missed a day; he never missed a moment. So yeah.

Wow. If that’s not a lesson in tenacity…


Sonically your films have always been really intriguing, but this ongoing collaboration with Jonny Greenwood especially so – how are you two developing?

[Laughs] You know he’s coming here? Yeah, Radiohead is coming down here. Gosh, I don’t know, I’m trying to think.

Have you been worshipping at the altar of Jonny Greenwood?

I definitely have! For sure! It’s hard to be his boss. [Laughs]

How so?

Well, he only looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. [Laughs] He’s so great. He’s so great! 

When I grew up making films, John Williams’ music for Steven Spielberg’s stuff or Bernard Herman – they went hand in hand. And I loved that, and I always thought that’s how a film should be. So having Jonny’s sounds over our films…every time his music comes on I’m incredibly proud and excited. It’s still something to be proud of when I watch the film. It’s hard to stay excited about what you’ve done – maybe the way you’ve lit it or something like that – you sort of get slightly nauseated by it. But when Johnny’s music comes on, I still get excited. It’s a kid kind of feeling. 

Published on TheVine

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Giveaway: Liberal Arts

School might be out for summer, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take a cinematic trip back to college with Liberal Arts

Thanks to the lovely people at Icon Films, I have ten double passes to give away to Josh Radnor's nostalgic romp, which also stars the luminous Elizabeth Olsen - if you haven't already been totally gobsmacked by her talent in Martha Marcy May Marlene, then her easy charm here will surely win you over. 

To win one of ten double passes simply email me (subject: Liberal Arts) with your name and address (Australian residents only - sorry!). Winners will be notified by reply. 
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