THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, CAMILLE CLAUDE 1915 and THE GREAT PASSAGE



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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second installment in the trilogy that four writers, including director Peter Jackson, have carved out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel to The Lord of the Rings.  Basically, it’s just more of the same (even with the ton of plot added that’s not in the book).  The story’s structure seems based on the Perils of Pauline and/or a ride at Disneyland, but the effects aren’t that special anymore (though the dragon Smaug himself has some nice moves, but, god almighty, is he in love with his own voice or what?); the characters are becoming less interesting; and I’m not even sure why people are doing half the things they’re doing anymore (why does Gandalf leave; why does the necromancer care if the dwarves kill Smaug and get their treasure back; why did they need Bilbo along on this trip—I’m sure there are reasons, but I just don’t know what they are now).  No one dies (at least no non-Orc does) because the twists and turns seem borrowed from every James Bond movie in which the secret agent is not immediately killed, but left to die so he can escape to defeat the villain de jour.  Orlando Bloom as Legolas probably has the funniest line in the film when he tells Evangeline Lily as Tauriel that if he was an Orc, she’d be dead; since none of the Orcs seem capable of killing a mosquito with an atomic bomb, this statement is highly questionable (you even begin feeling sorry for the monstrous creatures since they just can’t seem to catch a break—they’re more easily slain than the zombi in Night of the Living Dead). 
In the new movie Camille Claudel 1915, about the sculptress and ex-mistress of the artist Rodin, Camille resides in a mental institution where there are only two sorts of patients.  There are the severely, and I mean, severely mentally retarded, severely autistic, severely psychotic (who are used by writer/director Bruno Dumont both for sympathy and horror as in Todd Browning’s film Freaks) and there’s…Camille, who barely seems to have a thing wrong with here.  That’s right; there’s no Snakepit gradations of mental illness here; no highly functioning people who think they are Napoleon or Jesus Christ; no mere sufferers of nervous breakdowns; no schizophrenics on the level of John Nash.  They’ve either made a complete, in for a penny, in for a pound, break from sanity, or they’re, say, well…Camille.
I’m afraid I had no emotional connection to Camille and her situation.  I believe this was mainly because I had no context for what was happening to her.  Is she someone who is mentally unstable and can’t be left alone (she does show signs of unreasonable paranoia and does think she still has an emotional relationship with Rodin, though they haven’t made contact for twenty years), or is she a poor creature more sinned against than sinning?  From Camille’s perspective, she’s a complete victim, but since every criminal in jail claims to be innocent and everyone confined to a mental hospital thinks they’re sane, her testimony is hardly objective.  So what are we to think of her?
 In the earlier 1988 version of Camille’s story, we clearly see Isabelle Adjani in the title roll slowly losing her mental stability and achieve a complete psychotic break.  But we have no such help here.  And it seems to affect Juliet Binoche’s performance.  Though she plays the part with a ton of energy, she also seems a bit at sea, as if she, herself, is unsure whether to play Camille as someone who is seriously ill or someone who has been put away because she is an inconvenience.
This is Dumont’s seventh film.  His first two films, Life of Jesus and Humanité, seemed so refreshing in their honesty and emotional power, suggesting an exciting new talent.  But since then, his films seemed to have lost something.  For both 27 Palms and Flanders, like this movie, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel, I wasn’t sure what he was trying to convey, I wasn’t sure why he wanted to make the movie, I wasn’t sure what interested him about the subject matter.  Sad to say, the emotional connection he had with his characters and the audience in his first two films seems to be slowly, slipping away. 
The Great Passage, the new movie from Japan written by Kensaku Watanabe and directed by Yuya Ishii, is that country’s entry in the 2013 Oscar category for best foreign language film.  It’s about the publishing of a new, from scratch dictionary and, sorry to say, is about as interesting as reading one (yeah, who didn’t see that joke coming).  The basic premise is the creation of a “living” dictionary that adds modern slang and common words with a more relaxed style to writing the definitions.  The project will take more than ten years to complete, which basically means that when the reference work is released, this “living” dictionary will be dead as a dodo and hopelessly out of date.  How you react to the movie will probably depend on whether you find the cast of characters to be eccentrically appealing on the level of a Cohen Brothers film or an Ealing comedy or not.  I didn’t.  Perhaps it’s best to say it’s no Ball of Fire and let it go at that.
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