Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 1 (working title)
Release Date: November 28th, 2012 (Wellington, New Zealand 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, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 169 Minutes, 182 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” – Gandalf

When these movies first came out, I was really disappointed with them. Granted, they were still mostly enjoyable but they lacked the magic that made Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so spectacular a decade earlier.

I finally revisited this, as I got a great deal on the entire set of Hobbit films in their Extended Edition format, which is also the versions of the Lord of the Rings films I own. And like the other Extended Editions, this beefed up version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey became a better, more fleshed out movie.

Also, I’ve had six years to let this movie digest and I did find it more palatable this time around. Although, some of my issues with it are still there.

To start, this feels like a disjointed film, tonally. It’s as if it isn’t sure what it needs to be. Frankly, the tone of Lord of the Rings was perfect and this should have mirrored that. There isn’t really any reason why it couldn’t, as it had the same creative team behind it.

The film suffers from being too hokey at times and its the kind of hokey that is cringe. The dwarves look goofy as hell, the humor is usually off key or unnecessary and the musical bits, whether or not they exist in the book, really bogged this movie down and made it exude Disney level cheese but really bad Disney. I’m sorry but Aragon and the Mouth of Sauron didn’t break out into song and dance in Return of the King.

There’s also weird moments like the dwarf snoring and breathing moths in and out of his nose. And then there are strange, unnecessary things like Radagast the Brown having bird shit crusted to the side of his head. I also can’t leave out the insane physics of this movie and how the dwarves and Bilbo are seemingly indestructible and have incredible balance between the Stone Giants fight scene and sliding down a massive rock chute without splattering all over the place or breaking every bone in their bodies.

Another thing that hurts the film is that it relies on CGI much more heavily than its predecessors. The Lord of the Rings films had a bunch of guys in fantastic orc makeup and they looked real and totally badass. Here, we have computer animated orcs that look more like video game characters than something organic on the screen. Granted, I love that Manu Bennett plays the orc leader.

But the reason why CGI orcs don’t work for the film is because practical effects, if they can be utilized properly, just look better. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was heralded as being a huge step forward in special effects on every level. The Hobbit movies, however, are just stagnation.

The film has some strong positives though.

All of the new main characters were well cast. I loved Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin. It was also really cool seeing Lee Pace as the Elvenking, Thranduil. He wasn’t in this chapter very much but his role gets bigger in the two pictures after this one.

I also liked the additions to the story, at least in this film. The side story with the Necromancer is really cool and I liked seeing Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond come together to discuss the rising darkness in Middle Earth.

The problem with this trilogy, which becomes more apparent in the second and third film, is that this didn’t need to be a trilogy. The Hobbit is a short book when compared to the Lord of the Rings novels. This could have been expanded into two films and even included some of the additions to the story but three movies spreads the narrative too thin. Especially for movies roughly around the three hour mark.

An Unexpected Journey doesn’t quite work in the way that it should but it is still a hell of a good time for fans of Lord of the Rings.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

Also known as: Resident Evil 5, Resident Evil 5: Retribution (working titles), Re5ident Evil: Retribution (alternate spelling)
Release Date: September 3rd, 2012 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Based on: Resident Evil by Capcom
Music by: Tomandandy
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Kevin Durand, Sienna Guillory, Shawn Roberts, Aryana Engineer, Oded Fehr, Colin Salmon, Johann Urb, Boris Kodjoe, Li Bingbing

Constantin Film, Impact Pictures, Screen Gems, 96 Minutes

Review:

“You were the only one to successfully bond with the T-Virus, to fully realize her powers. Well, now I have need of you. The old you. So I’ve given you back your gift. You are the weapon.” – Albert Wesker

Well, it took five films but I got to the chapter that was a big step down in overall quality. That being said, this was still entertaining and fit well within the film series, even if all its predecessors were better.

My biggest gripe about this one is that it is a total clusterfuck from the writing to it wedging in characters from every previous film and in some cases, multiple versions.

This one was hard to follow. I mean, I got the gist of the plot but dead people have been cloned, there are two Michelle Rodriguezes because when one can ruin an entire movie, maybe having two will cancel that out… I don’t know. But this was a narrative mess.

The special effects and fighting scenes are pretty consistent with the other films. It’s all a mixed bag of sometimes shoddy CGI and an overabundance on Hong Kong style wire work. I’ve learned to accept these flaws, at this point, because I’m five films into this and how dare I have expectations.

The highlight for me was Alice fighting two of the axe/hammer wielding behemoths, as opposed to just the one from the previous movie. However, this fight was over way too quickly and it does what this series has always done and that’s to take the big hard challenge from the previous film and turn it into a joke. I’m not sure if this is to show how badass Alice has evolved from movie to movie or if the filmmakers just don’t give a shit. It feels like the latter.

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far into the Resident Evil films series, you might as well just finish it up. This isn’t a total buzzkill, it’s just not a coherent story and felt more like poorly crafted fan service.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Resident Evil films, as well as other horror video game films from the same era: the Silent Hill series and Doom.

Documentary Review: Contamination: A Convention Story (2012)

Release Date: August 10th, 2012 (Wizard World Chicago)
Directed by: Corey Logsdon
Music by: Kevin McLeod
Cast: Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Alex Hyde-White

State of Mind Productions, 61 Minutes

Review:

Watching this documentary made me realize something, all of these fandom/convention documentaries are pretty much all the same. There have been solid documentaries on the topic but now there are so many of them that they just all bleed together into one big amorphous blob in my brain.

Ones like this that are about one specific convention just don’t serve much of a purpose other than being an hour-plus advertisement to the convention itself and not a really effective advertisement at that.

The problem is, I don’t live near St. Louis and even though I like horror, it’s just not enough to get me to make a trip there for this one convention that doesn’t feel special in any way because all these documentaries do is show that they’re all pretty much the same.

Look, I’m not trying to shit on this documentary or this convention but these films aren’t effective when they’re a dime a dozen and are just random ass clips of talking heads talking about how rad this thing is. These films often times have a few small celebrities in them but they are mostly comprised of regular joes giving their two cents on their fandom. I’m into geek shit and I don’t care.

Now my critique is more about these types of films and not this one in particular but this is the one that broke me. I can’t watch these things anymore, unless there is more to it than just talking to people at a con.

These con specific docs are probably cool to people that frequent these specific cons that are featured but for everyone else, it’s like, “Oh, St. Louis has a horror convention with some people there. I’ll just see those same people when they come to that con an hour away from my house in six weeks.”

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries about various fandoms: Heroes Manufactured, Comic Book Independents, 24×36, Atari: Game Over, Way of the Puck, Nintendo Quest, VHS Massacre, Going Attractions, Vinylmania, Out of Print, Records Collecting Dust, Mai-Tais, Toques and Tikis and 24 Hour Comic.

 

Documentary Review: River of No Return (2012)

Release Date: April 18th, 2012
Written by: Kathleen Wisneski
Music by: Chris Biondo, Lenny Williams

Rubin Tarrant Productions, PBS, 54 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

River of No Return was a pretty enjoyable episode of PBS’ long-running show Nature.

This episode or short film, as that’s what it is, follows biologist Isaac Babcock and his wife Bjornen on their “honeymoon”. Newly married, they set off on a year-long adventure to Idaho’s “River of No Return” where they observed the behavior of wolves, an animal that Isaac has carefully studied for over 13 years at the time of this journey.

The film is light-hearted and fun and it shows the rugged wilderness of Idaho in a way that I haven’t yet experienced. Isaac and Bjornen weather the elements and travel on foot to all the places that they expect to find the wolves they’re there to observe. The elements are often times harsh and Bjornen struggles with her arthritis but ultimately, they are able to accomplish their goal and capture the wolves on film for the viewer to enjoy.

I feel like the 50 minute or so running time was a bit short for two people who went on a year-long adventure but it is pretty customary of PBS’ time constraints for their Nature series.

If you like wolves, this definitely worth a watch. It is currently available on Netflix.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other PBS Nature episodes.

TV Review: Lilyhammer (2012-2014)

Release Date: January 25th, 2012 – December 17th, 2014
Directed by: various
Written by: Anne Bjørnstad, Eilif Skodvin, Steven Van Zandt
Music by: Frans Bak, Steven Van Zandt
Cast: Steven Van Zandt, Trond Fausa Aurvåg, Steinar Sagen, Marian Saastad Ottesen, Sven Nordin, Kyrre Hellum, Anne Krigsvoll, Tony Sirico (cameos)

Rubicon TV, Renegade TV, NRK, Netflix, 24 Episodes, 43-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I’ve loved Steven Van Zandt since I first saw him on The Sopranos, as the character Silvio Dante. On Lilyhammer, he plays an almost identical character. I’m not complaining, I actually quite enjoy it. In fact, this feels like it could be a sequel to The Sopranos and in a spiritual sense, it is.

The plot, in a nutshell, is about a top mob guy giving up his new boss in exchange for witness protection. He requests to be sent to Lilyhammer in Norway because he loved the ’94 Winter Olympics and he feels that it is the last place anyone will look for him. What happens is an awesome series of events that makes this show one of the best new shows of the last few years.

The cast of characters in Lilyhammer are unique and thoroughly entertaining. There is the sidekick and partner Torgeir, who thinks his new life is a Tarantino movie, his brother Roar, who is stupidly hilarious, Jan, the king of bad luck, and several others who round this thing out.

At first glance, this show doesn’t tread on new territory but once you get into it and see this Sopranos-like world unfold in Norway, the situations that follow are great. In fact, out of all the Netflix shows that are streaming now, I’d have to put this in the top three. It is a perfect balance of drama and comedy and Van Zandt shines as the focal point of this series: no longer being one of many secondary actors like he was on The Sopranos.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The Sopranos

Film Review: The Avengers (2012)

Release Date: April 11th, 2012 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Paul Bettany (voice), Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Harry Dean Stanton, Ashley Johnson

Marvel Studios, Paramount, Walt Disney Studios, 143 Minutes, 173 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“The Tesseract has awakened. It is on a little world. A human world. They would wield its power, but our ally knows its workings as they never will. He is ready to lead. And our force, our Chitauri, will follow. The world will be his. The universe yours. And the humans, what can they do but burn?” – The Other

There was a time when this was the big culmination of all of Marvel’s achievements in their cinematic universe. I don’t think any of us realized how small the universe was then. It felt grand but now, in 2018, things have grown to a monstrous size, to the point where it’s hard to imagine how the upcoming Avengers movie is even going to work. I mean, this had six heroes in it, plus a few more characters. The next Avengers movie has to balance roughly sixty characters. It’s gotten insane.

Anyway, this was the first time we saw a big group of these characters crossover.

In this film, we see Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Mark Ruffalo replacing Ed Norton as Hulk, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. We also get Sam Jackson returning as Nick Fury, Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson and Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, all important SHIELD characters and support for the Avengers team.

On the villain side, Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki and he has an army of Chitauri aliens gifted to him by The Other, who is a minion of Thanos.

The story does a decent job of uniting these heroes against a common and very large threat. The first act of the film is very good and I enjoyed it. The final act is also better than decent, even if the aliens are generic and unexciting. The middle act is what really soured me on this picture and it brings down all of the other parts that are actually good.

The middle of the film is pretty much just the heroes hanging out and gabbing on the SHIELD Helicarrier. Some shit pops off and we get to see the Avengers go into action… to fix a damaged propeller. The fact that a gazillion dollar SHIELD helicarrier doesn’t have some sort of emergency protocol for a failed or destroyed propeller is a gross mismanagement of government funds. You’re going to build a vehicle that costs more than the entire GDP of most countries and you don’t have emergency parachutes or balloons to guide the vehicle down to Earth? Good thing Iron Man was there to fly in circles and Captain America knew how to flip a switch.

Joss Whedon helmed this picture though and I’ve never been a fan, even though he is like Jesus to nerds. Does he know how to handle an ensemble cast? For the most part, but his experience is mostly in the realm of cheesy teen TV drama or the severely overrated Firefly.

While the last act of the film gets things back on track and exciting, I hate the Chitauri aliens. They’re drab, boring and ride around on some flying Sea-Doos shooting shit lasers. Then there are the giant flying worm creatures that didn’t do a damn thing other than chase Iron Man and crash into shit. What were they supposed to be doing? Couldn’t they have had aliens on their armored hulls and been more like weaponized battleships? Kinda like living Star Destroyers? I mean, a six year-old could have made them more interesting. In the end, the aliens should have been the Skrulls or even the Kree. I know that Marvel lost the movie right to the Skrulls, at least at the time, but damn, give us something more imaginative and cool.

The Avengers has its problems and I’m spending more time pointing them out than anything else but it is still an enjoyable film. It’s not as good as the best solo hero movies but it is hard to balance an ensemble and to focus on developing and enriching characters when there are so many. But that’s why the solo films are better movies, as these big team-up pictures are just spectacles or special events, the Royal Rumble of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But making this work was a giant undertaking and a tough challenge. It’s more positive than negative and the real highlight is seeing these characters exist in the same space at the same time.

Plus, it has Harry Dean Stanton in it.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Phase One films from the Marvel Cinematic UniverseIron Man 1 and 2The Incredible HulkThor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – The Modern Era (2012- )

Original Run: October 4th, 2012 – current
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn

Grant Naylor, Baby Cow Productions, BBC, Dave, 18 Episodes (so far), 28-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the success of Red Dwarf: Back to Earth in 2009, Doug Naylor and the Red Dwarf crew came back together for a full season in 2012. Since then, we’ve had seasons in 2016 and 2017 with even more on their way, from what Naylor has said.

I was hugely impressed with the tenth season when it debuted in 2012 and it was my favorite season since the sixth, way back in 1993. Everything about it just felt right. Additionally, I loved the look of the show. While Red Dwarf had lots of set changes from season to season, this one had my favorite sets since the first two seasons of the show. Plus, the writing for Red Dwarf X was absolutely stellar and there are episodes in this series that I consider classics now.

I didn’t like Red Dwarf XI as much as X but it was still pretty damn satisfying. I wasn’t a fan of the set changes but for the most part, I was captivated by these episodes. Again, good stories and great execution of the material from the cast, who, at this point, are so comfortable together that they feel like actual family.

The most recent season, Red Dwarf XII just debuted a few months ago. I got to check it out with my Britbox add-on for my FireStick. It was a pretty good season but out of the modern stuff, I still like Red Dwarf X the best. The last episode of the season was nice though, as there were some cameos of old school Red Dwarf characters that haven’t been seen since the classic run of the show in the ’90s.

The modern era of Red Dwarf is a great continuation of the series that is more in line with the show at its peak than Back to Earth and the last few seasons of the classic era.

To be honest, I would watch Red Dwarf till the end of time and there’s a part of me that hopes that we get to check in with these guys once in awhile for years to come.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Anything Red Dwarf.