Film Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 2 (working title)
Release Date: December 2nd, 2013 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Stephen Colbert, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Ken Stott, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 161 Minutes, 186 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“There is something about you. Something you carry, something made of gold… but far more precious…” – Smaug

I’ve been rewatching these, as I haven’t seen them since they were in the theater. And like the Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films, I’m hoping that the Extended Editions of this trilogy help to make the films richer and give them more depth and context.

Where my disappointment with An Unexpected Journey was somewhat fixed, the Extended Edition of The Desolation of Smaug didn’t do much to make this film any better and in fact, stretched it out more than it needed to be.

The extended scenes in the previous film seemed to make things better. But here, it drags out some of the scenes that could have been even shorter in the theatrical version.

All the stuff that featured Smaug was pretty good but it felt really stretched out in this film. But as I said in the previous review, they didn’t need to stretch out a short novel over a nine-plus hour trilogy. It’s friggin’ overkill, even with the narrative additions to the plot that weren’t from the original book.

Watching the extended version splits the movie up onto two discs. In all honestly, it showed me just how inconsistent the film is. The first half is not very good but the second half is much better.

The first half of the film was dragged down by things that didn’t need to be there. I get that Beorn is in the book but his inclusion in the film was unnecessary and didn’t really serve the plot in any meaningful way. They spend a half hour on this and all that comes out of it is that the dwarves get some ponies to ride for about two minutes. Just cut the whole thing out. It didn’t fit in the film, it slowed things to a crawl and it didn’t help the narrative and should have been omitted just as the Tom Bombadil stuff was left out of the Lord of the Rings movie adaptations.

Also, the forest with the giant spiders was a pretty weak sequence overall and even though giant spiders exist in Middle Earth, it felt more like a rehash of something we already saw just a few years earlier in one of the Harry Potter movies. Although, it does serve the purpose of pushing Bilbo towards being more of a badass.

Then there was the whole sequence of the dwarves getting captured by the elves, escaping really easily and then giving us the barrels down the river scene, which is the worst part of any of these Lord of the Rings related films. That whole scene is the worst kind of cringe and it pulls you right out of the movie and almost makes you embarrassed for liking these films. It felt like over the top Disney blockbuster schlock.

Also, the dwarf and elf romance felt really forced and awkward as hell.

Once you get to the second half, things get much darker tonally, which contrasts the goofiness of the first half so greatly that it doesn’t feel like the same movie. But this is the superior half, even if it is also drawn out too much.

I really liked Luke Evans as Bard though. I also enjoyed the bits with Stephen Fry.

The best part of the whole film is when the dwarves finally reach the mountain and Bilbo Baggins comes face to face with Smaug. For fans of the BBC show Sherlock, this is extra exciting, as Bilbo is Watson and Smaug’s voice is Sherlock. At least I thought that was a cool aspect of this film’s casting. Luckily, both men also were brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last few years.

I can’t say that this is the worst of the three Hobbit films, as of yet. I still need to rewatch The Battle of the Five Armies. But from memory, I think I did like that one better than this chapter.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Also known as: Körkarlen (original Swedish title), The Phantom Chariot, The Stroke of Midnight, Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness (alternate English titles)
Release Date: January 1st, 1921 (Sweden)
Directed by: Victor Sjöström
Written by: Victor Sjöström
Based on: Körkarlen by Selma Lagerlöf
Music by: Mattie Bye (1998 restoration)
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg

AB Svensk Filmindustri, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t fret over those poor souls now, Sister Edit. You’ve done enough for them.” – Maria

I love silent era horror films, especially German Expressionist films. While this isn’t German, the Swedes created something that feels right at home alongside films like NosferatuThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Golem.

Körkarlen or The Phantom Carriage, as it’s called in English, has a real cinematic magic to it. It also isn’t quite horror, even though it features the embodiment of Death. Mostly, it is just dark and creepy. It’s also enchanting and mesmerizing.

What works most for this film is the atmosphere. It’s gloomy but it’s comforting in a strange way. The special effects are really good for the time and they hold up quite well for a picture as old as this.

I love the look of Death and his carriage and the symbolism that is littered throughout the film in regards to mortality and life.

The story is similar to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but without it being a Christmas story. It follows a man, as he travels through his past with Death at his side.

If you like silent era horror pictures, then you’ll probably love this. It’s a dark fairytale that wraps you up in its magic and doesn’t let go until the 104 minute carriage ride is over.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: a lot of the German Expressionist horror of the time and I actually watched this back to back with 1932’s Vampyr, which flowed nicely with it.

Comic Review: Batman: Secret Files

Published: October 31st, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 39 Pages

Review:

Other than Detective Comics and White Knight, I haven’t been a big fan of Batman comics as of late.

I hoped that this was better than the current run of the regular Batman title but it mostly wasn’t.

This is an anthology. I’m not sure if this is a one-off or a miniseries but I won’t pick up the second issue if there is one.

Anthologies are always a mixed bag but this one was pretty pointless and most of the stories didn’t resonate with me at all. In fact, I only liked one tale in this and it was the one that co-starred Detective Chimp.

I can’t knock the art though, most of it was pretty good but it doesn’t necessarily blend together well, as each chapter in this already short anthology is done by a different creative team.

But hey, I’m only out $4.99 and the foil cover is a nice piece of art to add to my comic book collection.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: modern Batman stuff.

Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption II (PlayStation 4)

Perfection is a hard thing to achieve but Rockstar Games did it in 2010 with Red Dead Redemption. But then they did it a second time with this long awaited sequel.

And maybe I see this as better than it is due to my undying love for the last entry in this series but this is a more refined version of the game we got and it’s damn fun!

There wasn’t a lot to complain about with the first Red Dead Redemption. I thought the story was terrific, the game play was exciting and the mechanics, which can make or break a game, were very good. Red Dead Redemption II takes what worked and fine tunes it, making it better and much more fluid.

Additionally, this game adds a lot of new stuff to the mix. There are a ton of side quests and random encounters but you get to sell stolen valuables to fences, hunt down a large amount of legendary animals, catch legendary fish and chase down a lot of bounties. While some of these things existed in the predecessor, there seems to be more here and they’re less cookie cutter.

It’s also cool that this game’s map is massive. You do get to return to two of the previous areas from the first game but not until you get through the main story. Once you do, you see that the size of the map of the first game is very small in comparison to the world you’ve been traveling in in this game. Also, there is a secret area that has its own map when you’re in Chapter 5 of the story. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll leave it at that.

In this game, you also need to take care of yourself and your horse. Make sure you’re both well fed. I liked this aspect of the game, even if I screwed up and didn’t eat too often because I was looking for action and popping open a can of beans, every so often, just got in the way of my robbery sprees.

If I had to point out some negatives I’d say that I miss the inclusion of the area based off of Mexico. That was my favorite place in the previous game and it is sorely missed. However, the new secret area sort of makes up for it but the sad thing is that you can’t return to the secret map once you leave it in the story.

Also, the game is long. Really, long. I was completely immersed in the story but you get to points where you just want to get towards the next big narrative step or the resolution. I’m not saying that there are bad or even boring missions but a few parts seemed to drag just for the sake of trying to beef up the story’s length and not necessarily it’s depth.

Regardless of that, however, the ending is pretty damn satisfying once you play through the final mission of the second epilogue. And this game ends in a great spot for you to go back and pick up the previous one again.

I don’t buy new games as often as I used to but this was pre-ordered a while ago and I anticipated the moment where I could finally slide this game into my PS4.

In the end, this did not disappoint and I’m still playing it, even though I’m done with the main story. I’m a completeist with games I love and all the extra bits I’m still working on are just as fun as the main game itself.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the first Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Revolver, the original game.

Film Review: Humoresque (1946)

Release Date: December 25th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jean Negulesco
Written by: Clifford Odets, Zachary Gold
Based on: Humoresque: A Laugh On Life with a Tear Behind It by Fannie Hurst
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Joan Crawford, John Garfield, Oscar Levant, J. Carrol Naish, Joan Chandler

Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“Tell me, Mrs. Wright, does your husband interfere with your marriage?” – Sid Jeffers

I wasn’t sure what to think about this film going into it, as I didn’t know much about it. It pops up on a lot of film-noir lists but if I’m being honest, it’s barely film-noir.

At its core, Humoresque is a romantic drama with a nice musical touch to it, as John Garfield’s character is a well renowned violinist, whose musical career is central to the plot.

The film stars Joan Crawford as an alcoholic socialite mess that is enamored with Garfield’s violin skills to the point that she pretty much starts managing his career.

As the film rolls on, she falls in love with him and we get a bunch of turbulence that ultimately ends pretty darkly.

I think the noir aspects of the film are the cinematography and the twists and turns of the plot. Even though this is focused on romance and business instead of crime and murder, it does have strong similarities to the noir style.

Plus, Crawford dabbled in film-noir quite a bit and this fits better with her noir work than many of her other films.

The acting was absolutely stellar and Crawford was exceptional from your first glance at her up until that powerful final moment.

This isn’t really my cup of tea but I still enjoyed it for the performances, the music and the visual style. It’s certainly a very well made motion picture and I can understand why it’s beloved by some classic film aficionados.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Joan Crawford noir-esque pictures: The Damned Don’t Cry, Mildred Pierce and Possessed.

Comic Review: Farmhand

Published: July 11th, 2018 – November 7th, 2018
Written by: Rob Guillory
Art by: Rob Guillory, Taylor Wells

Image Comics, 165 Pages

Review:

I hadn’t read Chew by John Layman (with art by Rob Guillory) but I’ve heard good things. So I figured I’d check out Guillory’s Farmhand when the first issue came out back in July. I was glad I did because this is one of the most unique comic books that I’ve read in years.

I’ve always liked Guillory’s art style, as I’ve seen a lot of his work in Chew. The reason I never picked it up is that I was turned on to it kind of late and I really need to go back to it’s genesis and pick it up from there. I plan to in the future.

Anyway, Guillory’s art is great in this but he also goes to show that he has a talent for writing as well.

The story is about fathers and sons and really, family in general. Beyond that, the story deals with science run amok. There are lots of Frankenstein-esque things in this story but instead of bringing together dead body parts, this looks at the melding of human and plant DNA.

I’d say more but I don’t want to spoil things more than I may have already with my cryptic plot synopsis.

Farmhand is just a really interesting comic with several neat ideas that come to life quite well on the page. I know that there are plans for a sequel miniseries and I definitely want to see where things go beyond this story, which really just whets the palate for something bigger.

But with that being said, the comic feels small and cozy. You feel at home with these characters and their small town farm life.

Image Comics has been really hit or miss for the last several years but this is definitely worth the investment. Especially if you just want to experience something very original and enjoyably bizarre.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Chew and Rob Guillory’s upcoming follow up to this.

Film Review: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)

Release Date: March 23rd, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Alan Burnett
Based on: Suicide Squad by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, John Ostrander
Music by: Robert J. Kral
Cast: Christian Slater, Billy Brown, Liam McIntyre, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Gideon Emery, Tara Strong, Vanessa Williams, C. Thomas Howell, Greg Grunberg

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, DR Movie, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I know I’m going to Heaven – anyone who can put up with Mr. J deserves a break.” – Harley Quinn

It seems as if these DC Comics animated movies are getting better and better. Pretty much most of the stuff that Sam Liu produces and directs is top notch. Also, I love that these are for an adult audience.

While I pretty much hated the live action Suicide Squad movie, I’ve been a fan of the comics for some time. This animated feature does a pretty good job of capturing that magic in a way that the live action film completely missed.

The voice cast in this was really good too and I especially enjoyed Christian Slater as Deadshot. I hope he plays the character more in the future and if this spawned its own series, I’d watch the followups.

This movie is violent but it works, as this film is presented in a grindhouse style. Now the look of it is crisp and clean like other DC animated films but it has that modern grindhouse edge to it in it’s credits sequences, editing style and musical score. While the modern grindhouse thing really peaked with Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse movie over ten years ago, it’s interesting seeing that style in this format.

The story is also good and it sets up a situation where these characters have a sort of loophole to work around the protocols the government has in order to control these villains forced to do good. There is a lot of back stabbing, twists and turns.

This also features a ton of villains whether they are members of the Suicide Squad or not. And while a lot of characters are crammed into this 86 minute picture, everything flows well.

This is solid. It’s one of the better DC Comics animated features to come out.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC animated features for adult audiences.