Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 3 (working title)
Release Date: December 1st, 2014 (London 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, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 144 Minutes, 164 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“You are changed, Thorin! The Dwarf I met in Bag End would never have gone back on his word! Would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin!” – Bilbo Baggins

While this trilogy lacks when compared to its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings, it was still better than most big budget movies of the last decade and I was pretty excited about revisiting the third and final chapter, even though The Desoltation of Smaug was weak by Tolkien movie standards.

And this is the best of the Hobbit film series.

This is also the shortest of the three movies and I think that says a lot about the structure and flow of this film, as a short novel didn’t need to be stretched out into three really long movies.

This one jumps right in where we left off, as Smaug flies out to destroy the nearby town on the lake. My only real complaint about that though, was that the battle with Smaug was a cliffhanger and once you get to it here, it’s resolved in just ten minutes. I thought that the Extended Edition would rectify this a bit but it didn’t. Still, the opening of this film is fantastic and one of the best sequences out of all the Peter Jackson live action Tolkien movies.

Once that’s quickly resolved, the rest of this movie pretty much just deals with a gigantic fantasy battle of epic proportions. Everything leading up to this was the real story and most of the context. This film just decides to throw down and give us a real war, up close and personal. And while that might not seem like the makings of a great film, this is still really good and definitely the most fun Hobbit film to watch.

And it’s not just action for the sake of action, there are some real creative things that come into play. I love the elves shooting a massive volley of arrows only for the dwarves to respond with their “whirly bird” giant arrows that immediately destroy the elves attempt at a strong and deadly offense.

Additionally, the battle and every phase of it serves the story well, moves things forward and finds time to explore the main characters and their true motivations while making them all sort of find the spot where they need to be going forward in life.

Apart from the giant battle and Smaug, there is the big confrontation in the evil castle that sees Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel do battle with the spiritual forces of Sauron. This was one of the Peter Jackson additions to the story that wasn’t in the book but this was a satisfying finale to my favorite plot thread in these films. Jackson did a stupendous job with this portion of the Hobbit series and even if it wasn’t initially supposed to be there, it fits very well within the overall story arc of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I also like how this movie wraps up, as it doesn’t give us a really long, overly drawn out resolution like The Return of the King.

The Battle of the Five Armies might not be Lord of the Rings good but it is still a pretty fine fantasy epic motion picture. And it has really got me excited to want to revisit The Lord of the Rings trilogy once more.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Documentary Review: Future Shock: The Story of 2000 A.D. (2014)

Release Date: September 21st, 2014 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Paul Goodwin
Cast: Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Dan Abnett, Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra, Alex Garland, Dave Gibbons, Scott Ian, Karl Urban, Nacho Vigalondo, various

Deviant Films, 110 Minutes

Review:

I don’t know if I’m just burnt out on these type of documentaries but this one didn’t keep my attention.

Reason being, it didn’t tell a story, really. It did go through the history of 2000 A.D. but everything was done in a heavily edited interview format. There was no narration and this felt kind of disorganized.

Being an American and not as familiar with this comic as someone from the UK, I was hoping for a good, comprehensive history on this. It probably works well for UK fans but Stateside I felt like it missed the mark.

Granted, it was cool seeing a bunch of creators, whose work I love, talking about 2000 A.D. with a lot of passion. I liked seeing the bits on Judge Dread and the stufff involving Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. Their two cents are always worth the price of admission when it comes to talking about comics of the past.

Still, even though this was full of people I wanted to hear from, it was quite long for what this needed to be and for how it was presented.

Maybe get some narration, organize the sections a bit better and tell a more cohesive story.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries of the last few years.

Film Review: Bubba the Redneck Werewolf (2014)

Release Date: October 25th, 2014 (previewed)
Directed by: Brendan Jackson Rogers
Written by: Stephen Biro, Mitch Hyman
Based on: Bubba the Redneck Werewolf by Mitch Hyman
Music by: George Shaw
Cast: Fred Lass, Malone Thomas, Mitch Hyman, Gary Norris, Sara Humbert, Chris Stephens, Gail Fleming

Two Rubbing Nickels, And You Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

This looked like my cup of tea and the IMDb rating seemed acceptable at 5.7. Plus, I have really been into the revival grindhouse trend in indie film over the last few years. Sadly, this was a big disappointment and I found it really hard to get through, even at just 80 minutes.

Apart from a few hot girls, there wasn’t much here that I wanted to see. Even then, there isn’t a good abundance of bare boobies, so this kind of just fails at being a modernized grindhouse style motion picture.

I can only really compare this to the shittiest of Troma Entertainment movies. It’s like a really bad Toxic Avenger sequel, which really, is all the Toxic Avenger sequels. I had hoped that this would, at the very least, have been on par with WolfCop but it doesn’t come close to it.

The humor was terrible and not funny at all. The special effects were abysmal but thankfully, not Birdemic bad. This just doesn’t do anything well or even mediocre.

I’m not sure who the audience is that likes this or found it engaging enough to hike that IMDb rating up to 5.7, as it’s not even close to that.

This is a tough movie to watch and it takes you to a place that is worse than just simple boredom. Boredom seems exciting by comparison.

The rockabilly band that did a lot of the music for the film wasn’t bad though.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Badass Monster Killer, Dreaming Purple Neon and Tarnation.

Documentary Review: Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker (2014)

Release Date: July 17th, 2014
Cast: Bob Uecker, Tom Berenger (narrator)

MLB Network, 60 Minutes

Review:

The MLB Network recently aired a short documentary about the life of Bob Uecker, as told by him and his friends and colleagues.

For those who don’t know, Bob is the funniest guy in the history of baseball. He wasn’t a great player but he went on to be a great broadcaster and had a good career beyond that, starring in films like Major League and the awesome ’80s sitcom Mr. Belevedere. As a kid, I also remember him showing up in the WWF (now WWE) to add a little flare to their broadcasting staff during Wrestlemania events. He was always funny and always entertaining.

The documentary pretty much interviews Mr. Uecker, Bob Costas, Al Michaels and others who have known Bob well over the years. It covers his baseball career, his broadcasting career and everything else. It even showcases his hilarious appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker is a nice little piece on a Hall of Famer and legend. It’s an intimate and fulfilling experience if you are a fan of this man. I am, so I enjoyed it greatly.

And since there isn’t a trailer available, enjoy one of Uecker’s Miller Lite commercials.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Battered Bastards of Baseball, No No: A Dockumentary, Ken Burn’s Baseball.

Documentary Review: Red Army (2014)

Release Date: May 16th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabe Polsky
Written by: Gabe Polsky
Music by: Christophe Beck, Leo Birenberg
Cast: Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Scotty Bowman, Vladimir Pozner

Gabriel Polsky Productions, Sony Pictures Classics, 84 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Gabe Polsky and Werner Herzog, now regular collaborators, worked together on this documentary. Polsky directed and conducted the interviews, where Herzog produced it.

This film follows the story of the Soviet Union’s last great hockey team, as told through their point of view. It follows them through their early days as kids in the system, through international competition, the Olympics, political and social turmoil, as well as their journey to North America and the NHL.

The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of legendary player Viacheslav Fetisov. He is dynamic, charismatic and, at times, an abrasive cantankerous jerk. But he does seem to tell an honest story and expresses his feelings and his tale pretty thoroughly. He’s straightforward and comes with a no nonsense approach, other than poking fun at the director here and there.

The most important thing about this film, is how intimately it portrays these young players relationship with the Soviet Union’s sports system and the hardship and challenges they faced. It also displays their loyalty to their country and the pride they had for playing on the national team but it evolves into their inability to trust their coach and that same system, as it holds them prisoner and doesn’t allow for them to have lives.

Through the broken promises and mistreatment over the years, many of these players eventually left the crumbling Soviet Union for the greener pastures of the National Hockey League in the United States and Canada. It then follows their struggles in the NHL and how these Russians adapted and then changed the game at it’s highest professional level.

This is a thought provoking and fast-paced documentary. It has something for everyone, whether you are into sports, politics or both. Truthfully, it is one of the best hockey documentaries that I have seen in quite some time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Of Miracles and MenMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

Documentary Review: The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

Release Date: January 20th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Chapman Way, Maclain Way
Music by: Brocker Wa

Netflix, 73 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a Netflix exclusive that just dropped this past weekend. It is the story of the short-lived Portland Mavericks minor league baseball franchise that was started and ran by Bing Russell, actor and father of Kurt Russell.

The Mavericks were pretty big in the ’70s. In fact, they were getting more press coverage than a lot of the major league teams. They also set some minor league attendance records during their existence. They were scruffy, tough and not your typical clean cut all-American team. They brought a hardened edge to baseball and a level of competition that not only surprised the City of Portland but also surprised the team.

This was a thoroughly entertaining, informative and enjoyable documentary. As a baseball fan that was born in the late ’70s, I’ve heard the stories of the Portland Mavericks but I wasn’t alive to witness it. This gave a lot of the stories I’ve heard, more insight and depth. It also added in a bunch of stuff I would’ve never known otherwise.

It was great seeing Kurt Russell and his mother adding their two cents to the documentary, as well as the interviews with all the old Mavericks and key people. The movie was well edited, well put together and seemed to fly by with ease. The short 73 minute running time may have something to do with that.

This is one of the better baseball documentaries that I’ve seen come out in the last few years. If you’re a fan of the sport, check it out. If you’ve got Netflix streaming, it’s free.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: No No: A Dockumentary and Ken Burns’ Baseball.

TV Review: Knights of Sidonia (2014- )

Also known as: Sidonia no Kishi (Japanese title)
Release Date: April 11th, 2014 – current
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Sadayuki Murai
Based on: Sidonia no Kishi manga by Tsutomu Nihei
Music by: Noriyuki Asakura
Cast: Pete Sepenuk, Ryôta Ôsaka, Takahiro Sakurai

MBS, TBS, CBC, BS-TBS, AT-X, Aniplus Asia, Sentai Filmworks, Animatsu Entertainment, Netflix, 24 Episodes (so far), 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

After really enjoying Attack On Titan, I decided to watch other modern anime series. Interestingly, Netflix just debuted an anime series under its own banner. That show is Knights of Sidonia.

What turned me onto this show initially, is that it seemed to have a Robotech vibe to it. Although set in deep space and not primarily set on or around Earth like the original run of Robotech, this series presents the all too familiar anime staple of following the lives of badass pilots in badass mecha. That is a compliment, as this is a formula that I doubt I will ever grow tired of and in a way, shows like this and Robotech give me what I always wanted in a Rogue Squadron film or series, which the Star Wars people have never given the masses.

The premise of this show reminds me of Attack On Titan except this takes place in space, as opposed to walled in villages on Earth. Also, the gigantic threat to humanity isn’t hungry man-eating Titans, it is gigantic humanoid rock creatures called Gauna that can shapeshift and rip things apart with massive tendrils. Gaunas can also grow to immense size like some sort of outer space kaiju.

Overall, this is a beautiful show and it was enjoyable. It is short, only having twelve 25 minute episodes, so it is a quick watch. Although from what I hear, there is a second season in the works.

The art, the style and concepts explored on the show are the selling point here. There is nothing exceedingly exceptional about the overall package of Knights of Sidonia other than it is pretty solid and well-balanced and the Gauna are a sight to behold. The mecha are pretty cool too but ultimately they make me miss the Veritech fighters of Robotech. Sorry, it is hard not to keep comparing this series to the one just mentioned again.

The weak point of Knights of Sidonia is that they spend quite a lot of time developing characters. While this shouldn’t be a problem, it does seem to be a waste when character development is such a focal point but all the characters feel one dimensional and stereotypical.

In the end, this was an engaging show. It is awesome visually and some sequences within the series were impressive.

I just hope that the second season fleshes things out more and that they speed things up story-wise.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: RobotechMacross stuff from Japan, VoltronNeon Genesis Evangelion.