The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Viewed – 16 December 2014  Cinema

Although with mixed feelings over this trilogy compared to the seminal masterworks of The Lord of the Rings, I was still optimistic walking into this final entry in director Peter Jackson’s fleshed out (and fleshed out) adaptation of J R R Tolkien’s classic novel.  We join Bilbo and his merry band of Dwarves, headed by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) housed up in the misty mountain following resident dragon Smaug having broke free and now laying siege to the nearby city of Lake Town.  With riches beyond compare and the search for the Arkenstone underway, Thorin has become corrupted by the greed and lust to take his place as King, and only Bilbo has the power to help having stolen the stone in case it made the dwarf leader even worse.  Meanwhile with the mountain now dragon-free, armies begin to approach for their share of the gold, and war looms.

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Immediately this is a more dramatic and action-packed entry in the middle earth cannon and things are kicking off pretty much from the start, with the lead up to conflict pretty tense.  However the corruption of Thorin and the Dwarves hanging around the mountain is a tad drawn out and I was eager for something to happen – and oh, did it!  A massive,  immense battle with legions upon legions of elves, orks, humans and dwarves all fighting … yet it was also pretty difficult to care all that much when it seemed like everyone was just out for a bigger piece of the pie – battle for middle earth (or helm’s deep for that matter) this was not.  So then I was beginning to really find the dwarves annoying and wishing they’d never gone on their fabled journey, pissed off a dragon, causing countless deaths as a result.  The whole quest as I’ve said before just not really seeming as necessary as what we see in LOTR.  Are we really meant to care?  No, and not even the director does it seems when the much sort after Arkenstone gets forgotten about entirely in the final act (but will no doubt re-surface in the extended edition…).

That being said this was still a treat for CGI fans and does boast excellent fight sequences (the showdown between Thorin and the Ork baddie especially) and good turns from Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Sir Ian McKellen as the always excellent Gandalf.  Martin Freeman’s Bilbo remains a bit tiresome however for the lead, lacking the personality or depth of the likes of Elija Wood’s Frodo Baggins or Viggo Mortenson’s Aragorn.  As a conclusion, this had plenty of energy and spectacle but lacked much of the wonder, diversity of locations and the sheer fantasy appeal of the other movies in the series … and for me is the weakest of the trilogy.

Verdict  3 /5

This year’s disappointments


The end of the year is approaching and as always with this blog I will be posting my personal Top Ten, based on movies I have seen in the last twelve months.  It’s very difficult as a complete amateur movie critic as I am literally unable to watch every new movie that hits cinemas, so compile my list from the newest movies I have seen during the year, even if some came out the year before etc.FROZEN

Compiled below are a few movies that left me wanting, movies that although not a disaster, could have been much better – or were hyped to be much better.  You may or may not agree with my choices, and feel free to comment.  But for now these are my disappointments of 2014…

RoboCop

Remakes are never that great granted, but wasn’t this classic sci-fi thriller ripe for an update?  So what do we get … a re-tread of the original, but seriously watered down and completely devoid of both the violence and the social commentary that made the 1987 original so memorable.  Paul Verheoven must have been offended how much the director ‘didn’t get’ his vision, and even some pretty decent action and not-bad casting could not save this.

Frozen

When will I stop hearing about this pretty, fun but utterly generic Disney movie?  One memorable song, some fun comedy characters but typical Disney Princess fair that lacked ideas and originality.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good movie – but as good as EVERYONE goes on about …. no.  Give me Beauty & The Beast any day of the week.

Godzilla

This did a lot right, it did a lot wrong too.  A monster-mash that takes most of the movie to actually happen, and decent casting that is all but wasted.  Bryan (Breaking Bad) Cranston – that’s all I need to say, but nooo, let’s make Kick-Ass the star instead.  Wrong!  Great effects work aside and some nail biting moments, but overall this could have, should have been much more.

Jack Ryan – Shadow Recruit

Simple, how do you mess up a perfectly decent reboot of a popular franchise?  How about only one action sequence of any note and the casting of Keira KnightleyChris Pine, fresh off Star Trek does a good enough job, but this was mostly Bourne-light with a clichéd story and not enough boom for my buck.  Could have been superb, but was mostly ‘meh.

Wolf Creek 2

Rave reviews don’t mean a decent experience I am quickly realising.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of WC #1 but this promised everything that movie lacked, like a faster pace and tons more gore and violence.  Yet an overly tongue-in-cheek tone and way too many one-liners just killed this for me.  Could have been a first rate shit yourself slasher, but instead I got a second rate piss myself farce.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Still despite the best intentions this reboot of the blockbuster franchise still underwhelms.  I can’t get used to Andrew Garfield as Spidy/Peter Parker and even the casting of Jamie Foxx is embarrassingly poor.  The overly kiddie-friendly tone doesn’t help either.  Great special effects though.

The Wind Rises

Studio Ghibli is always an event to me, and their animation style can never be faulted.  However with this rather personal swan-song for director Hayao Myazaki the subject seemed rather niche and the characters not overly compelling, and the whole movie despite being well done, lacked that spark that makes Ghibli great.  Stunning to look at but not that memorable, even more disappointing considering it’s the famed director’s final movie.

X-Men Days Of Future Past

Another highly acclaimed movie, another one that left me feeling cold.  The plot was muddled, relied too heavily on you knowing what happened in all the other X-Men movies, and some fun time travel mechanics and a great cast of characters couldn’t save this fun, action-packed but ultimately confusing and messy movie.  Never get tired of Mystique kicking ass though.

There you go.  I may add to this list if December throws up any further disappointments, but with The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Exodus: Gods & Kings and also Guardians Of The Galaxy all to come (hopefully), maybe that won’t happen.  Also expect my definitive end of year Top Ten around New Year’s eve.

Nightcrawler


Viewed – 06 November 2014  Cinema

Two things sold me on seeing this … the excellent trailer and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, one of my favourites.  Now in recent years he’s slipped into the mainstream with roles like Prince of Persia and Source Code, but his routes are in unusual indie flicks like Donnie Darko.  This suits that heritage well and has him playing Louis, a somewhat unhinged loner, seeking out employment but not having much luck until he stumbles upon a highway car accident.  There he witnesses a group of freelance guys (headed by Bill Paxton) who rush to crime scenes or accidents in the hope of catching something on video.  They then sell it to the news network that will pay the most.  A potentially lucrative career opportunity Louis believes and is soon buying a video camera  in hope of making a name for himself.

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A clever and interesting concept with a brilliant turn by Gyllenhaal, who plays Louis with creepiness and menace beneath a brittle facade of friendly and charismatic.  I enjoyed watching him go to extreme lengths to get the sort of footage his rivals wouldn’t dare, and the slow burning uncertainty of what might happen next kept me glued.  Paxton is decent but a bit under-used but good to see this 80s / 90s veteran still turning up in things.  Better is Rene Russo playing the perfect sultry older-woman.  The movie has a strong similarity to Robert DeNiro classic Taxi Driver even if Louis isn’t as appealing as Travis Bickle – but the mood and the isolation from normal society is the same.  It also has a killer car-chase towards the end which took my breath away.

The plot does take a bit of time to hit it’s stride, and that ending was anti-climactic, and well, the whole show could have been even darker.  For fans of Gyllenhaal however, and if you’re after something a bit different – you can’t go wrong with this.

Verdict:  4 /5

Gone Girl


Viewed – 07 October 2014  Cinema

I wasn’t at first that fussed about this adaptation of the best selling novel, as I’m not the biggest Ben Affleck fan and usually any surrounding hype means I’ll generally not rush out to see.  Then I read a review and discovered one of my favourite directors was at the helm.namely David Fincher.  Forgiving his somewhat disappointing effort with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, generally Mr Fincher not put a foot wrong, with Fight Club and Seven being firm favourites.

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Ben plays a regular blue-collar guy who one morning arrives home to discover his beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike) has vanished, leaving in her wake evidence of a struggle.  Before long a media-circus surrounds her disappearance and Ben has to go on TV to seek out help in finding her, whilst all the time the public and the news scrutinize his every move.  Fincher’s expertise with a complex and investigation-heavy narrative makes this instantly absorbing and I was really pulled into the plight of Ben, his sister and the media attention.  Questions are raised and clues are discovered and like me you’ll have your own theories as the story progresses – but with the weight of the novel behind it, there’s more to this baby than meets the eye.  Affleck is very good in one of his more multi-layered roles and proved a lot more convincing than I’ve seen from him for a while.  Rosamund Pike is also first rate, even in flash back; beautiful, sexy and suitably vulnerable.

Towards the end some revelations seemed a tad rushed and there was a weird vibe to the final act that felt hard to roll with – was I meant to be amused or disturbed?  Also that ending left me with more questions than answers … probably not helped by some of the book’s event’s being glossed over (the stalker, the parents…).  However this remains a brilliantly acted and at times very powerful thriller with Fincher (helped immeasurably by Trent Reznor’s creepy score) very much back on form.

Verdict:  4 /5

A small update


Sorry for the lack of posts recently.  Been a bit busy sorting out some family / personal stuff but I think I’m getting somewhere finally.

I’m hoping to go and see the David Fincher / Ben Affleck hyped thriller ‘Gone Girl’ soon and also have my eye on the supernatural horror ‘The Babadook’ which is getting good reviews.  Other than that may do a write up about the new TV (need to actually watch a movie on it!) and then will eventually get around to other movie reviews such as the aforementioned The Wind Rises.

That’s all for now.  Keep your eyes peeled for more posts soon!

Craig.