“The Hobbit”

The books “The Hobbit” and “Life of Pi” are each about 300 pages long. So why, then, does “Pi” translate into a satisfying two-hour movie with a beginning, middle and end, while “Hobbit” requires three movies that’ll each come in around three hours long?

(“Life of Pi,” incidentally, is awesome.)

I kind of hated “The Hobbit” before I saw it. A great director in Guillermo Del Toro left the production because the studios were making him wait too long to get legal agreements in order before he could start filming. Then Peter Jackson, who was to produce the film only, stepped in to direct. Jackson helmed the “Lord of the Rings” films.


As cool as those three movies were, the last installment left a sour taste at the end. The whole story centered around destroying the ring, right? Yet once Gollum and his precious fall into the lava of Mount Doom, the movie keeps going for another hour. “Return of the King” didn’t need to be more than three hours long, but it chose to. That sucks.

So now we have the relatively short book “The Hobbit” being turned by Jackson into a trilogy. Everyone who read that book as a kid remembers the dragon Smaug. He appears in the new movie only as feet and a long tail. Jackson is making us wait for the second film (hopefully), to get a good look at him.

Again, that sucks. “The Hobbit” cartoon I loved so much when I was a kid ran 77 minutes. How come cartoonists can condense the book into something short and watchable but Peter Jackson can’t?

Thing is, this first “Hobbit” film is pretty great. Bilbo is a much cooler character than Frodo, and the story doesn’t lack for monsters. Azog the Defiler, for instance, is a total badass, with a freaky hook hand and scars that run all over his body like tribal tattoos. Jackson’s orcs got a lot scarier in the years between “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” Many of these monsters are entirely digital (I think), but they look totally real. The sense of scale is incredible, as creatures are often towering over the main characters.

Much has been made of “The Hobbit” being shot at 48 frames per second, twice the speed of a normal film. I saw it on the XD screen in Albuquerque’s Century Rio 24 theater, which projects at that rate, and it looked amazing.

I see it like this: I’ll be back to watch the sequels in the theater, because they’re too amazing to skip. But Jackson cost himself a shot at a classic by stretching the story out. We all like sitting down to watch a normal-length movie at home, and we’ll never have that option with Jackson’s “Hobbit.” It’s kind of a shame.


Jordan vs. LeBron Just Happened

Michael Jordan’s ice-cruel assists and free throw shooting were the difference Thursday afternoon, as he led the 1995-’96 Chicago Bulls to a 63-60 win in Miami over LeBron James and the reigning-champion Heat.

The home fans got a show, even if they’d hoped for a different outcome in this time-transcending matchup. James, whose first-half acrobatics dazzled, missed a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded that would have sent the game to overtime.


Five minute quarters

Jordan scored 32 points and added seven assists, none bigger than the kick-out to Bulls point guard Ron Harper for a 3 that gave Chicago a four-point cushion with 30 seconds left. Jordan continually thwarted Heat double teams, often finding open teammates like Harper, who took a Jordan feed for a wide-open dunk with 1:30 left.

Scottie Pippen had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists. His one-handed alley-oop off a fast-break feed from Jordan may have been the showiest play in a game packed with flashy dunks by James.

Pippen’s frequent attempts to defend James one-on-one were courageous but futile, particularly in crunch time as James repeatedly bulled to the basket and scored.

James finished the game with 22 points, three rebounds and five assists. His only 3-point shot attempt was the missed buzzer beater, which he released just above the outstretched hands of both Jordan and Harper.

Dwyane Wade scored 10 points against the harassing defense of Jordan. The two shooting guards spent much of the second half talking trash to one another. The third member of Miami’s “Big Three,” Chris Bosh, scored 12 points but was a non-factor on the glass, with just one rebound.

Jordan hit five of six free throw attempts over the game’s final 20 seconds, as the Heat purposely fouled to extend the game.

Dennis Rodman was scoreless, with five rebounds.

When Reporters Really, Really Hate Their Jobs

Reporters are making residents in Newtown miserable. Check out this quote from Jonny Dymond of the BBC:

“British outlets alone must have sent 100 people to this tiny place. And the American networks and cable news channels must each have sent dozens of staff here, for their news bulletins and their programmes; CNN has rolled from Newtown pretty much non-stop since the massacre. On the networks, programme after programme has been anchored from the town.”

There are signs going up that say “no media.” “Go home, please, go home, all of you,” Dymond said he was told. “It’s unbearable. What do you all want? I know four or five of the families who lost kids and it’s too much for them, with all the media here. What do you all want?”

Everyone should know it’s the bosses who make this happen, not the reporters. My experiences are nothing compared to Newtown, but they’re relevant. In 2008, a bunch of freshman football players at Robertson High School were sexually abused by upperclassmen at a summer football camp. Some were raped with broomsticks. Every single day we had ediors telling us we had to get another story in the paper, insisting we check in with family members or anyone else directly affected by the incident.

I went to a football practice at Robertson and sat next to a big, older guy in the bleachers who was watching practice with his arms folded. He kept them folded as he looked at me with hatred in his eyes and said “Now why would I want to talk to you about that? I don’t think you should be here.”

A year later, a car accident involving alcohol killed four Santa Fe teenagers. I attended several memorial services, seeking out criers. I would tell them who I worked for, ask if they would answer some questions, and hate myself for it.

Again, we had to have heavy, heavy coverage of major tragedies, because the bosses demanded it. We have so much news media now and the people who decide what to cover make stories like Newtown a priority and hand out horrible marching orders to reporters.

Reporters are fighting with their bosses to get off this story, I’m certain. They want to step away and let it breathe and let the families and that community grieve. But reporters don’t win those fights. They’re told to get more quotes for more stories, and they do it because they need their jobs.

Which sucks, because politics is so corrupt at every level. If CNN covered THAT nonstop, you would see some positive systemic change instead of seeing a battered community begging to be left alone.

“Flight” is an Awesome Denzel

Is Denzel Washington’s performance in “Flight” better than what he did in “Training Day”? He is constantly wasted in “Flight,” and that makes him scary. The movie has an amazing plane crash in its opening act, but the real suspense comes from Denzel’s performance. We want him to pull through, to be healthy and safe. But he’s lost himself. It’s a really good movie.

Probably a better movie than “Training Day.” But is it a better Denzel? Hard to imagine. His character Alonzo in that flick is a villainous classic, a dirty cop feared by even the gangsters. Then again, what about “American Gangster”?

Or “Glory”? Watched that movie lately? Angry and brave in the face of oppression and the Civil War, he’s totally inspiring. “Glory” is an almost-forgotten classic.

It’s a fun debate. You can do the same with Morgan Freeman. Think about it: What’s the best Morgan Freeman? “Shawshank Redemption,” right? But what about “Unforgiven”? Or “Seven”? He was so good in both those. He won an Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby.” Maybe that’s the best Morgan Freeman.


“Like I give a shit.”

Tom Hanks. “Flight” is to Denzel what “Cast Away” was for Tom Hanks. (Same director: Robert Zemeckis.) Can “Cast Away” possibly be Hanks’s best performance when he won back-to-back Oscars for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump”? Remember how amazingly good he was in “Saving Private Ryan,” as a school teacher whose hands shake, leading men into huge deadly battles?

Brad Pitt’s a good one. My favorite Brad Pitt is “Fight Club.” He totally gives that movie its swagger, and “Fight Club” will hold up forever. But he owned “Moneyball” as a Major League general manager who juggle dozens of weird personalities by mixing toughness and confidence. “12 Monkeys” got him an Oscar nomination, and he was awesome in “Inglourious Basterds.” And how about “Troy”? Just kidding.

What’s the best Russell Crowe? “Gladiator” is. But anyone with spirit could totally argue for any one of the following: “3:10 to Yuma,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Insider,” “Cindererlla Man.” You could even go O.G. and say “L.A. Confidential.” Remember how tough he was, smashing a chair with his hands and then busting into the interrogation room?

It’s a fun game, and we should celebrate whenever a great actors comes out with another classic performance. Just remember that Daniel Day-Lewis is too good for these frivolous little debates. *Cough*”There Will Be Blood!”*Cough*

Watching “Watchmen” and “300” and “Sucker Punch” While Waiting for Superman

If director Zack Snyder had cared so much about his “Watchmen” movie living up to the book, he would not have exploded an innocent blond woman’s calf with a bullet and then blasted away two of her fingers. In slow motion. And if he was willing to dumb down and raunch up one of the most beloved comic book series ever (“Watchmen” made Time magazine’s 100 Best Novel of All Time) how can we trust him with Superman?

The full trailer for “Man of Steel,” the new Superman movie, is online. It’s… hard to decide how to feel about it. On the one hand, the music and imagery is pretty affecting. On the other, we already know Superman can fly. Milking his blast off as some big reveal seems dumb.

What’s fascinating, though, is that it’s Snyder who’s been entrusted to direct this film. Does the studio not care if it’s good? Does the studio want a movie that’s pure action? It’s baffling.

Snyder is a crazy director. Crazy. Let’s look at his last four movies:

“300”: Famous for the rock-hard abs of the Spartan warriors who face a vast Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae. And for the distinctive, gloss-shined look that saturates scenes of yelling and slow-motion violence. An entertaining hit, the effects in “300” nonetheless rendered one of the great true stories of human history into a fake-looking fanboy jerkoff fanstasy.

“Watchmen”: In the 1990’s, Terry Gilliam (“12 Monkeys”) was hired to direct a “Watchmen” movie. He wound up quitting the project, saying “Reducing (the story) to a two or two-and-a-half hour film… seemed to me to take away the essence of what Watchmen is about.” Snyder did not mind essence-stripping. While claiming he wanted to honor this holy tome of superhero storytelling, he instead made a confusing mess with stupid slow motion action scenes and completely gratuitous violence. That stuff wouldn’t be there if he cared about making a good “Watchmen” movie. The ambiguity that gave “Watchmen” its soul is nowhere to be found. And the book’s writer, Alan Moore, famously said “I’m never going to watch this fucking thing.”

“Guardians of the Legend: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”: A 3-D cartoon with an evil owl inspired by Hitler and Joseph Kony. From my review when this movie was released in 2010: “I don’t think a movie already as bad as ‘Legend of the Guardians’ should rub in its awfulness by including a scene where a girl starts retching as though to vomit, then slowly produces a poop from her face. It really looks like it hurts.”

“Sucker Punch”: I dare you to watch this movie. It’s Snyder’s only movie that wasn’t based on someone else’s work, and you’ll never guess what it’s about… … … sexy mental-patient stripper prostitutes who battle zombie cyborg Nazi soldiers and a giant dragon who’s furious with the sexy mental-patient stripper prostitutes because they slit its baby’s throat. This is what Snyder comes up with when the story’s up to him. Check out a screen shot:


It is what it is, right? I’m not saying any of this to diss Snyder. Not really. It takes a real artist to put these wild visuals up on screen. The guy’s talented in the sense that his movies are cool to look at, they just aren’t good the way good movies are good. Depth and characterization and cohesive storytelling are not the man’s strong suits.

I’m saying all this simply to note that he is a weird choice to direct “Man of Steel.” His stuff has all been incredibly fake-looking, and I don’t think that’ll fly (get it?) on a “Superman” movie. It’s gonna have to look real. And Superman is a tricky character because he’s invulnerable, right? This is why so many of the Superman movies feature Lex Luthor using Kryptonite to make Superman weak, because otherwise there’s no suspense. His powers make it challenging to come up with a challenge for him. Is Snyder really the guy to take that on?

We’ll see. The trailer has spaceships and General Zod, who was the villain in Superman II and has powers equal to Superman’s. Maybe Snyder will make a Superman movie that’s like his past flicks: Full of crazy action but lacking heart and smarts. Would that be so bad? I don’t know how I feel, personally, but I think it’s interesting to ponder.

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