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.

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, 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 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.

TV Review: Halt And Catch Fire (2014-2017)

Original Run: June 1st, 2014 – current
Created by: Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Paul Haslinger, Trentemøller
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss, Aleksa Palladino, Annette O’Toole, Graham Beckell, James Cromwell, Annabeth Gish, Matthew Lillard, Anna Chlumsky

AMC, Lockjaw Productions, Gran Via Productions, 30 Episodes (so far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

AMC’s Halt And Catch Fire is one hell of a show. In fact, while people are mourning over the loss of Mad Men, this show can easily fill that void and is, in some way, AMC’s spiritual successor to that great long running show. I also think AMC knows that, as despite having abysmal ratings its first season, Halt And Catch Fire was renewed to many people’s surprise.

In the beginning of their runs Mad Men and Breaking Bad weren’t ratings hits but AMC stuck with them and both shows took off to become two of the biggest shows of their generation. Halt And Catch Fire could and deserves to follow suit.

The show follows a cutthroat business man in the early 1980’s computer industry and his quest to imprint his mark on the world. He is backed by his savvy, his ruthless approach and his burning desire to usurp the evil IBM. Employing a dream team of geniuses who have either failed at greatness or who are misfits, the journey from creation to completion in the first season is pretty remarkable.

Now having just started its second season, the show has already proven that it isn’t going to just stick to one formula, as it has veered off into unseen directions due to how the first season concluded. There really is no way to know where this show is going to go, how it is going to explore this interesting industry during its most interesting time and how this will all eventually wrap up, assuming it makes a lengthy run. I hope it does.

The acting is superb, once the ball gets rolling, and the casting just seems perfect. The actors are more than comfortable in their shoes and each character plays off of one another brilliantly. There is a natural dynamic between all of the characters on this show and the scenes just flow organically.

Like Mad Men before it, this show captures the essence of the time with great music selections, whether they are songs from that specific era or more modern tunes that assist in bringing the world of Halt And Catch Fire alive. This show has a distinct vibe and the music plays a big part in that, as does the attention to detail whether it be the culture of the time, the look of the era and the knowledge of the writers in regards to such complex subject matter.

Sure, the biggest tech head could find issue with things in this show but then again, a 1960’s advertising executive probably found discrepancies with Mad Men. Hell, as realistic as Breaking Bad felt, the chemistry wasn’t always on point. This is television and the narrative is the point, as is bringing the viewer into a believable world. Halt And Catch Fire succeeds in that and then some.

There aren’t a lot of shows that I am really enthused about. Halt And Catch Fire is one of those shows, however.

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Release Date: July 21st, 2014 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Based on: Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Peter Serafinowicz, Seth Green

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 122 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I’ve been anticipating Guardians of the Galaxy since it was announced, as I knew it would be incredibly unique and very different from all the Marvel Avengers-related films. I was right.

Out of everything that Marvel has done, this right here, is the cream of the crop. Yes, that is a bold statement and yes, I raved about Captain America: The Winter Solider but this is the magnum opus out of all their films, which started with the first Iron Man in 2008.

Director James Gunn (Slither, Super) did an insanely amazing job with this film. I’d actually like to see him direct every Marvel picture going forward but that would probably drive anyone mad as we get two-to-three of these things per year now. Also, as great as this film is, that doesn’t mean that it can be replicated over and over again. And frankly, that’s probably why this is so good, because it stands above everything Marvel has done to this point and I don’t just mean Disney’s Marvel franchise, I am including Sony – who has Spider-Man, Fox – who has X-Men and the Fantastic Four, as well as Lion’s Gate – who had Daredevil and The Punisher.

The cast in this film is pretty great and they really feel like a solid unit. Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation, Zero Dark Thirty) is bad ass and charismatic as the group’s leader Peter Quill a.k.a. Star Lord. Then you have the girl who seems to be in every sci-fi franchise now, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek, Avatar) as Gamora. The only other human actor on the team is Drax the Destroyer, who is played by the wrestler Batista (The Man With the Iron Fists, Riddick) and contrary to what people think about wrestlers acting, Batista owns this role, is tough as shit, menacing and more often than not, hilarious. I’d rather watch a string of Drax movies than another one of those horrible Riddick films.

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hangover) voices the coolest character, Rocket. Rocket is a talking, fighting raccoon that was created in a lab. His sidekick is a humanoid tree named Groot, who is voiced by Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious, Riddick). Both of these characters came off extraordinarily well on screen. Truthfully, when first hearing about this film, I was most concerned with how they were going to pull of a talking raccoon and a humanoid tree. What they gave us was nothing short of exceptional. If you don’t fall in love with these two characters, you have no soul.

The cast also includes Lee Pace (Halt & Catch Fire, Pushing Daisies) as Ronan the Accuser, the film’s main antagonist. Pace had a very strong and powerful presence in this film. There is also Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, Cliffhanger) who plays Yondu, a pirate and father figure to Peter Quill. Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Selfie) plays Nebula – Ronan’s right hand. Benecio Del Toro (Traffic, The Usual Suspects) plays the Collector, who we first saw in Thor: The Dark World. Josh Brolin (Goonies, No Country For Old Men) provided the voice and motion capture for the character of Thanos, who will become the biggest villain in Marvel’s film franchise; he was first glimpsed at in The Avengers. You also have Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou and an actor who doesn’t get as much recognition as he should, Peter Serafinowicz. There are also cameos from Lloyd Kaufman – the top dog at Troma, Stan Lee and Nathan Fillion. Rob Zombie even voices a computer.

Moving on, the visual style of this film was mesmerizing. It was colorful yet dark and each location our heroes visited felt entirely different and unique. The action was superb, the CGI effects were beautiful and well-developed and everything just flowed pretty seamlessly. The most powerful x-factor with this film however, was how it maintained a balance between lightheartedness and seriousness. Chris Pratt, with his experience on Parks & Recreation, was the perfect guy to pull this off and he exceeded my expectations. If he doesn’t become a huge star after this, something is wrong with the world. Luckily for us, we get to see him star in Jurassic World next summer, as well as the next Guardians of the Galaxy film in 2017 (one could also assume Avengers 3 in 2018).

I’ll be honest, I haven’t had this much fun at the movies in a long time. I’ve seen better films, sure. However, this picture is a big overflowing barrel of fun and awesomeness. It is the space adventure I have always wanted since being let down again and again since Return of the Jedi blew my 4 year-old little mind. In fact, Guardians of the Galaxy is what I wanted out of The Phantom Menace 15 years ago but never got.

Oh, and if you want to see the reboot of the title character of a little Marvel related movie that George Lucas produced in 1986, stay until the end of the credits.