Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Major spoilers throughout!

And with this final installment of The Hobbit, it strikes me most interestingly how similar Peter Jackson's prequels-to-a-masterpiece are to George Lucas's. The only significant difference is that Jackson had a much bigger budget at his disposal. But I did manage to put aside the mental image of PJ rolling in his oodles of cash and giggling, and enjoyed this final Middle-Earth movie for what it was.

Sometimes it was beautiful.

And often, it was funny. I rolled my eyes with good humor at Bard riding that wagon down the hill, nearly killing his children in order to save them, and raised my eyebrows at the trolls that looked like grumpy old geezers. I definitely chuckled at the Catapult Trolls, and the one who had chains for eyes was disturbing.

Legolas, Captain of the Obvious and Ridiculous (Orlando Bloom) gets to one-up his Lord of the Rings era antics several times, like when he rides a giant bat in a scene straight out of Peter Jackson's King Kong. (He figured we'd all slept through that moment or forgotten it by now, but I remember!) "These bats were bred for a single purpose: so I can be awesome at no creative expense of the director!" But that was nothing compared to his fight with Bolg and how hard I laughed when Legsie lightly springs off stones as they fall, jumping to safety, and ignoring those pesky laws of physics.

"What are we doing here, Legolas?" "I'm not sure... making sure this movie really, really long, I guess." "Cool." "Let's be dramatic for a second and then head back to the action."

But at least Captain Obvious wasn't annoying. I spent the whole movie tolerating the scenes that Alfrid hijacks on the confidence that he would get his just deserts before then end. And does he? No -- so why again was he taking up all my beloved characters' screen time?
Additions were mostly laughable, but when it came to changes, indifference was the best I could manage. Two changes are worth mentioning because of the importance I put on them: Firstly, the deaths of Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his nephews. I was neutral for the most part on Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel's (Evangeline Lilly) romance, because while I thought it was a little silly I knew it couldn't come to anything, and figured it could do no harm. I was proved wrong when Kili's developmental focus was shifted from loyalty for his uncle to infatuation with an elf lady. In the end he died for her, not for Thorin, like he and Fili (Dean O'Gorman) nobly do in the book. Here Fili gets an even worse fate, as he hardly get any development at all, and then is killed as a taunt to spur the other two doomed dwarves on. Still, while I don't approve of the context, Fili and Kili's deaths were certainly affecting -- Fili's perhaps the most, so that's good for him -- and forgetting anything that had to do with ice, Thorin's death was good, and in fact quite moving as he makes his peace with Bilbo.

Why Tolkien, why?

And secondly, the death of The Dragon. (The Magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch) As you know, I had high hopes for this scene. It is my absolute favorite part of the book -- Bard, a regular man, takes his last arrow, a regular arrow, and with knowledge of the dragon's weakness fires that regular arrow from his regular, trusty bow, and it finds its mark and sinks in, "barb, shaft, and feather." And the Great and Terrible Smaug is brought down by such a little thing because of his carelessness, vanity, and pride. PJ's version becomes overly complicated for no clear reason, and all but destroys the power of the moment. Still, after the arrow sinks in (not all the way, I noticed with disappointment) the rest of the scene was exactly as it should have been, and therefore great.

I did like that they gave Smaug some more dialogue. He can have all the dialogue he wants!

In the realm of characters, the most compelling was the King Under the Mountain himself Thorin. The madness of King Thorin was a thing to behold, and handled well from all aspects. Richard Armitage really was, and proved himself to be a great choice for the king, from his distinctive voice to his expressive eyes and perfect nose, to his remarkable ability to be so convincingly violent, and then equally convincingly kind and affectionate.

On a totally different note, I suddenly feel a need to watch North and South...

Next, our hero Bilbo Baggins. And I will only ever have praise for Martin Freeman's iconic performance as the iconic Hobbit, but this film doesn't give him as much to do as the previous two. Still, obviously, what he does do never fails to add continuous sparks of life to a film that often borders on boring from being so drawn out. I loved his dilemma over the Arkenstone, and how all that played out so similarly to the book. The conflict between him and Thorin was probably the best thing about this movie, from the very beginning through Thorin's death scene, their relationship was nothing but quality.

The scene of Thorin gifting the Mithril mail to Bilbo was just perfect.

And then there's Bard, (Luke Evans) my favorite side character, and after he kills Smaug his role is only just beginning. Even though in the book he was in a position of power from the first, this Bard's transition from Bard the Bargeman, to Bard the Bowman, to Bard the Leader, and a man who can hold his own while counseling with a wizard and an elf king is as natural and believable as anything, because that's simply who the character is. He did rather disappear into the confusion of the climax though, which was too bad, and the plot line about he and the Lake Town people getting their money was left hanging.

Bard the Negotiator.

And speaking of elf kings -- Lee Pace. Thranduil's character development had some interesting drama in it. His final approval of Tauriel and Kili's romance was a bit too much and a bit too silly, but otherwise his conflict with Tauriel was interesting, and with Legolas even more so. He has such a striking appearance and cool, majestic presence; so that when he becomes confused or doubts himself it's done so subtly, yet is somehow jarring to see. He is also the first and only elf to really impress on me the weight of the immortality of the elves -- he makes it believable and a important part of him.

He's also the most fabulous elf-king in all of Middle-Earth!

All the dwarves besides Kili and Thorin are basically left alone for this movie, and as always, I wish some of the pointless action sequences had been traded in for more character for those on the sidelines. Fili and Balin (Ken Scott) get their tiny bit, and Dwalin (Graham McTavish) gets his second to show of fighting skills, but my favorite, Bofur (James Nesbitt), who actually had a part in the last movie is forgotten, along with Bifur (William Kircher), Bombur (Stephen Hunter), Dori (Mark Hadlow), Nori (Jed Brophy), Ori (Adam Brown), Oin (John Callen), and Gloin (Peter Hambleton).

And Bofur if that guy who hides behind someone's head in the group picture...

The dwarf king Dain Ironfoot (Billy Connolly) was a short but fun addition to the dwarf ranks though. I loved how Scottish he was, and how his beard looked like tusks. His ride -- well, I won't go there. Late-to-the-party Beorn was a sight for sore eyes, but his appearance was turned mostly to an excuse to see him turn into a bear whilst falling from the sky, which was quite a sight I admit, but seconds after he lands, we never see him again. As for Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the members of the White Council, and their adventures; Sauron was cool, because his name is Cumberbatch, as were the Nine, but overall nothing happened, and that plot line was useless.

Interestingly, I actually started liking Azog (Manu Bennett) in this one. Perhaps because this is where he finally fits in and has a part to play.

On the technical side it is definitely worth commending the CGI quality which was disappointing in An Unexpected Journey, but wasn't noticeably bad here, and therefore must have been good. Or maybe I got used to it. The cinematography was occasionally nice to look at, (like in the scene of parley between Thorin and Bard, which was great and a great scene besides) but more often, it looked tired, which makes sense. The directing and writing was tired as well -- there was a lot that was a bit too familiar. In the score's case though, the familiarity was a pleasant quality. I still love the Bard and the Lake Town themes, and enjoyed the variations on those, and a few others. And then of course there was Billy Boyd's song played in the credits, and it was fitting and lovely.

And so, I bid The Hobbit a very fond farewell. And I was fond of these new films -- mainly the wonderful, endearing, magnificent characters that populated them -- but the fondness of this goodbye is more out of my sentiment than a reluctance to see them leave.

Roads go ever ever on
  Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
  By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
  And through the merry flowers of June
Over grass and over stone,
  And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
 Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
  Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
  And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
  And trees and hills they long have known.

Friday, December 5, 2014

About Time

This review is spoiler-free.

I will refrain from puns -- it's about time I refrain from puns! After that one, after that one...

The day Tim turns twenty-one, his father takes him aside and tells him the family secret. Like most family secrets, it's not exactly the sort of thing you'd want to go blabbing to everyone, but that's where the similarities end. Tim even has a hard time believing it. "This is such a weird joke..."  he says hesitantly after his dad solemnly delivers the punch line of, "all the men in this family can time travel." Swearing revenge on his father for such a strange prank, he goes in search of a dark cupboard. Inside, he closes his eyes, clenches his fists, and thinks of the past -- yesterday's terrible New Years Eve party. When he opens his eyes again he's still in the cupboard, but he's wearing different clothes and music is blaring. Knowing what will happen, he takes the opportunity to fix a few things: not knocking over a table of drinks onto a couch full of the cool kids, and planting a kiss on the girl standing by him at midnight -- before returning to the present, full of questions.

On his father's advice, he opts not to use his abilities for the gain of wealth, but for the gain of happiness. In his words: "I'd really like to get a girlfriend." But even with time at your disposal, love can still be a very complicated thing to figure out.

In fact, the option of time travel can make it even more complicated.

My sister and I are currently in the middle of a long search for "the perfect classic rom-com." It's an elusive little critter, and I was tempted to end the search with this movie, but honestly, About Time is far too extraordinary to fall simply under the category of "rom-com." Although it is primarily made of romance and comedy, it is not at all formatted like a rom-com, and never comes close to the sugary fluff that defines the genre.

The most glaring difference to me is that this movie is all about the guy. Played by the absolutely adorable Irish ginger Domhnall Gleeson. You may recognize him as Ron Weasley's brother; you may recognize him in Star Wars 7 come May, provided he hasn't landed a part as an prosthetic-covered alien. I discovered him this summer when I found every single ginger actor in the UK in an attempt to figure out who the 12th Doctor should be/have been. Having seen him act now I think he'd be a fantasic Doctor... but I'm straying from the point. Gleeson is an exceptional lead here -- by any genre. The movie is about him (and time) and he is unquestionably the best of it. Tim can be awkward and dense, and makes mistakes, but we are always on his side no matter what. He is completely charming, kind, gracious, and caring, and downright hilarious in a wonderful, classic British high comedy sort of way. And that last bit goes for the whole movie too.

Romantic comedies with leading men always seem to be the best.

The supporting cast is brimming with talented faces. Like Bill Nighy as Tim's dad. Everything he does is, of course, masterful. Lindsay Duncan is quirky, or, rather, slightly off, and amusing as his mum. Lydia Wilson of "The Making of a Lady" is Kit Kat, the sister, and almost completely unrecognizable under the persona of a loopy and care-free hippie. The gorgeous Tom Hughes makes appearances as her troublesome boyfriend. And Tom Hollander is outrageous as the disturbed playwright uncle who hates everyone and everything. I laughed so hard at one of his scenes we had to rewind after we were finished as our laughing bled into the next scene. Every side character has the quirks to make them totally individual, and the natural portrayal to make them believably realistic.

Even the smallest side character is unique and smartly portrayed.

And then, and then, there is Rachel McAdams. She is technically the second main character, as the love interest, but she is one of two things (albeit the lesser of the two) that puts a slight damper of the magnificence of this film. It's probably all my fault; I'm just not a fan of McAdams. She just doesn't charm me. I like her considerably better when she plays... dislikeable people, like in Midnight in Paris, and here, her character Mary, the American living in London, insecure, sweet and sassy, only occasionally (and perhaps unintentionally) borders on... dislikable. But as far as her likable characters go, this is her best by my reckoning.

They were cute, but I did think she was a little out of his league -- opposite of the way we were supposed to think.

The bigger dampener is the R rating, and the content that caused it. The language exceeds a PG-13 by a count of about 4, and otherwise, there were two scenes left unwatched. Not the worst it could have been, but would the film suffer if it were tamed down a notch? I wouldn't think so, but that's not accounting for the butterfly effect. (It is a time travel movie after all.) If the maturity of the content had been brought down, perhaps the maturity of the message would have been dragged down with it. I can't see why it would, but I do know I've never seen a more appropriate rom-com with a theme equal to this one; in significance, or sincerity.

We and Tim go through life in this film together, and see the truth of real life reflected in its simple and honest artistry. He learns, and we are reminded -- that worrying instead of living through life is never profitable; that it's better to give out love than receive it, and that every day -- every moment -- is a gift worth appreciating. They are common themes, a dime a dozen in movies with no better ideas, but the true, sincere concept of Tim's tale. Through his eyes you see that these ideas may seem insignificant and frivolous until they are applied with powerful effect to one's own extraordinary, ordinary life.

No time travel necessary.

See you again a long time ago! (In a galaxy far, far away!)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Upcoming Movie Roundup - December

Happy December everyone! I hope all your Thanksgivings were full of joy and, well, thanksgivings! Last month, even though I was seriously considering going to the theater for three different movies, I only ended up seeing the one I knew I absolutely would; Mockingjay Part 1. We even went to the Thursday night premiere, which I was not a little nervous about, because I am afraid of teenaged fangirls when they are massed together and excited, but the audience was surprisingly mature, and it was a fun experience. Click here to read my review! And Big Hero 6 and Interstellar are still on my to-watch list -- in that order. December sees the next movie I've been excitedly anticipating for a year, and few others that could potentially make my list.

What movies did you see in November, and what are your plans for December? Let me know in the comments!

Exodus: Gods and Kings
Dec 12th; PG-13
It's been 16 years since the classic The Prince of Egypt, so I wouldn't mind another film version of this event, and it's looking very epic. But, then again, Noah looked pretty epic as well, and wound up being hands down the worst movie to masquerade as a bible story ever, so I won't let my hopes go too high before I can read some opinions on the film from a christian perspective. That being said, Christian Bale as Moses, and Joel Edgerton as Rameses are two very good reasons to get ones hopes up... and the trailer promising a huge epic battle and shying away from including God is good reason to remain wary. But man, does it look good...

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Dec 17th: PG-13
We have reached the end of the journey -- there and back again, as it were (as it was, until it was changed). Even though I tend to nit pick these movies, and will probably never love them as much as I do The Lord of the Rings, I can't begin to describe how glad I am that these Hobbit movies were made (even if I don't agree with the way they were made %100). Martin Freeman's Bilbo is absolute perfection, and I wouldn't trade that for anything. Plus the individualizing character development for all the dwarves, (and other characters underdeveloped in the book) making them all unique and familiar. And Smaug the incredible and magnificent, the richest fictional character in history, is actually done justice, and that is mind-blowing. I am going to be very sad to bid all these characters, and this amazing world "a very fond farewell."

On that note, here's the music video for Billy Boyd's song "The Last Goodbye" to be played in the credits of BotFA. Here, with clips from The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, it is effectively saying goodbye to all things Middle-Earth, and it is wonderfully heartbreaking.

And here's the main trailer, in case you have a hanker to see it again (I hope you've seen it before!):

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Dec 19th: PG
The third Night at the Museum movie gives The Hobbit as run for its money for "longest movie title of the month award," but comes up just short. In this one, the gang all goes to London to try and figure out what is wrong with the artifact that magically makes them come to life at night. My main interest in this comes from the fact that Dan Steven is in it... as Sir Lancelot no less! But even besides him, the film would still be on my radar. Ever since The Secret Life of Walter Mitty I've had considerably more respect for Ben Stiller's work, and the series so far has certainly been good enough to make a third seem like a worthy endeavor.

Dec 19th; PG
"It's the hard-knock life" -- remixed! Quvenzhane Wallis stars as Annie in this modernized remake of the classic musical. There's also Jamie Foxx as Daddy Warbucks (now Will Stacks), Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan, and Rose Byrne as Grace. Though I seriously anyone could match the amazingness of Alan Cumming's Rooster, and Kristen Chenoweth's Lily St. Regis in my current favorite version (if they even have the characters in this one) I'm definitely excited for the potential that this may be a very cute, upbeat, and modern version of the story.

American Sniper
Dec 25th (limited); R
And on the complete opposite side of the spectrum from Annie is Clint Eastwood's new movie about the real-life Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper. And since I've been slowly becoming more and more of a fan of Cooper's after writing him off as a pretty-boy at first, that's the main reason for my interest in this. This appears to be his Oscar-grab attempt for the year, so that guarantees a good performance. And I also imagine that if anyone can make a good movie about a soldier other than Kathryn Bigelow, that person is Clint Eastwood.

Into the Woods
Dec 25th; PG
Woah! I totally forgot about Into the Woods! And sure, I may not be as obsessed and excited for this as some of the people I know, but that's mostly because I've never seen it, and only heard a handful of the songs. But I am a fan of musicals... and fairy tales... and this is a musical fairytale, so... that's kind of a no-brainer. And with a cast list that sound like this: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, and Johnny Depp -- yeah, I'm definitely interested in this one, and it's looking very promising!