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.

Film Review: Death Race 2050 (2017)

Release Date: January 9th, 2017 (Turkey premiere)
Directed by: G. J. Echternkamp
Written by: G. J. Echternkamp, Matt Yamashita
Based on: Death Race 2000 by Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Gunter Brown, Cindy Brown
Cast: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler

Universal 1440 Entertainment, New Horizons Pictures, Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Europe, Asia, cancer; we kicked ’em all in the ass! The only thing that can kill an American is another American!” – The Chairman

There is a drastic difference of opinion on this film based off of critics and non-critics. The film has a 3.7 out of 10 on IMDb yet it has 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to Google, however, 55 percent of people have said they like this movie.

I think that the really low rating on IMDb is due to the fact that the average person doesn’t understand the context of this film and what it is supposed to be. Looking at it at face value with no knowledge of its lineage probably makes it too confusing, zany and bizarre to make a whole lot of sense. And I don’t think that this film should have to rely on knowledge of its source material to work, it should be able to stand on its own. But since I do know the source material very well, I see this much more positively than the average bear. I think that the professional critical consensus is high because the critics understand what this is.

The point is, this is supposed to be cheap looking, insane, shoddy and really f’n weird. It is both a remake and an homage to the 1975 film Death Race 2000. This was made to be a more accurate remake to the original film than that awful Jason Statham movie was, which itself birthed some awful sequels.

I was initially unsure of what this was because going into it, I didn’t know whether or not it was a sequel, a remake or what. But it is a remake that is updated to take in some things that reflect how technology has evolved since the 1975 original. There are now VR experiences, camera drones, a drone car and a bunch of other new stuff. Still, this is as true to the original as you can get.

But maybe it is too true and that sort of hurts this film. It takes some liberties here and there but it is generally the same film and since it isn’t anywhere near as good as the cult classic Death Race 2000, it almost makes this film’s existence kind of pointless. I think it would have been better to actually just go with a straight up sequel.

I did like the cast for the most part. It is hard to replace the great cast of the original, which boasted the talents of David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Kove and Mary Woronov. However, Manu Bennett played Frankenstein in this film and I loved him as Deathstroke on CW’s Arrow. Malcolm McDowell plays the Chairman, who is essentially the President. The rest of the cast is made up of virtual unknowns but Anessa Ramsey stole every scene she was in as Tammy the Terrorist. Additionally, I love, love, loved the character of Minerva, played by Folake Olowofoyeku.

Death Race 2050 was a good homage to Death Race 2000 and it was fun for fans of the original but without any knowledge of that 1975 film, I could see where this would just baffle and confuse people. It isn’t the type of film that works nowadays and the political and social commentary would just be over the heads of most.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and some of the modern grindhouse revival films: Turbo KidHobo with a ShotgunKung Fury, etc.

TV Review: Arrow (2012- )

Original Run: October 10th, 2012 – present
Created by: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Blake Neely
Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Rickards, Colton Haynes, Manu Bennett, John Barrowman, Echo Kellum, Josh Segarra, Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz

Bonanza Productions, Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 115 Episodes (so far), 40 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2014.

Comic books have not historically been well-represented in television form. Some people will argue that Smallville was great and that The Incredible Hulk was awesome. Both had some good moments. Ultimately though, neither were amazing, The 1970s versions of Spider-Man and Captain America were pretty awful. The 1960s gave us Batman, which is one of my favorite shows of all-time but as a faithful adaptation, it falls in more ways than it succeeds. In 1990, we got The Flash, which I particularly liked even with the villains being pretty bad (excluding Mark Hamill’s role as the Trickster). However, that show didn’t make it more than a season, despite a great Danny Elfman score and popping up on the heels of the super successful 1989 Batman movie (the first one with Michael Keaton). We got other shows based on superheroes like Heroes and M.A.N.T.I.S. but neither were adapted from a comic book and both had promise but fizzled. There were other superhero shows but nothing that really captured the essence of a comic book.

Then there came Arrow.

This CW show followed up Smallville and its ten year run. While there was a Green Arrow on that show, with this show, they decided to start from scratch and I am glad they did. Green Arrow was one of the cool things about the later seasons of Smallville but for the character to have his own show, it needed to be darker and more real. The climate changed between the start of Smallville and the end of it, as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films completely changed the game. Arrow is a reflection of that and a pretty solid contrast from Smallville.

The acting on this series is pretty damn good. Stephen Amell is great as Oliver Queen a.k.a. the Arrow. In fact, he may be close to perfect. His sidekicks played by David Ramsey and Emily Bett Rickards are quite awesome. The other main cast members also hold their own. Doctor Who and Torchwood alum John Barrowman owns it as the sinister Merlyn. I would say that my favorite character on the show thus far though, is Slade Wilson a.k.a. Deathstroke, who is played by Manu Bennett.

While the tone of the show is gritty, it often times doesn’t take itself entirely too seriously, as there are good lighthearted moments and some humor worked in. It also makes use of flashbacks very extensively, as each episode follows two stories – the story of the present and a story from five years earlier, when Oliver was trapped on an island.

Arrow is a unique show in that it feels like Batman Begins meets Lost. Two seasons in, it is off to a good start and I hope that the show keeps moving forward and improving as it goes. Its success has already led to a spin-off show for the Flash, which starts pretty soon. I hope Arrow and The Flash can maintain the quality I’ve now come to expect from this new era in DC Comics television shows.

Update:

Arrow lost some steam in the third and fourth seasons but in season five, it picks up steam again and gets closer to its roots. It becomes more of a flawed show as it progresses but cast changes and new threats keep it interesting enough to stick with it. At the end of season five, the game has seemingly completely changed going forward and I am still ready and willing to check out season six in the fall.