Category Archives: Book based

Review – 12 Years A Slave (15) [2014]

12 Years a Slave - header2

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Steve McQueen – Hunger, Shame

Cast:

Music Composer:

It is with great relief and pride that state-sponsored slavery has been consigned to history in the West and in most other parts of the world. From ancient times through to the mid-20th century, enforcers of slave-based systems at times demonstrated the worst aspects of human nature. Despite America’s ideology of freedom and democracy for all peoples, the country started off with a terrible stain on its record due to the racially-aggravated slave-based system that was predominantly practised in the South of the country. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave brilliantly gives us a window into the harrowing world of the treatment black people suffered at the hands of white slave masters in the South before the Thirteenth Amendment came into force in 1865.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

12 Years A Slave is based on the true story and memoirs of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Born and raised in New York as a free man, Solomon is invited by two ‘artists’ to share his skills with the violin and make some good money by playing in Washington DC.

But after making some money in the capital, Solomon is drugged one night and wakes up in chains in a dank underground cell. Despite his protestations of being a free man, Solomon is shipped to the South and sold into slavery.

Somehow, Solomon must stay alive, maintain his dignity, and return to New York to see his wife and two children again.

12 Years A Slave is a powerful, tear-jerking and distressing film from the off. Nothing by way of raw brutality is left out to illustrate how badly black people were treated under slavery. By starting the film with Solomon in slavery, having all his moments as a free man via flashbacks, Steve McQueen immediately enables audiences to sympathise and pity Solomon’s situation.

Sometimes (to be really pedantic) in order to rub salt into Solomon’s sorrowful predicament, the film indulges itself a little. This has the dual effect of giving Solomon so much screen time that it is as if the world revolves around him (especially due to the fairly long scene sequences that McQueen favours); and it pads out the movie’s running time to 134 minutes by putting in scenes that have no material effect on the plot. But these minor criticisms should not undermine the effectiveness of 12 Years A Slave.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

The movie, however, would only be half as potent if it were not for the great performances from all the cast members, but in particular from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender. Ejiofor captures the anger and the despair of his character. Moreover, he portrays the sheer willpower of Solomon to survive with (some of) his dignity intact splendidly. Whenever Solomon looks back at the life that was taken from him, viewers cannot help but feel Solomon’s pain, and credit must be given to Ejiofor for enabling audiences to feel such strong emotions.

On the flip side, Fassbender also makes viewers feel strong sentiments with his performance as Edwin Epps, the ‘N*****-Breaker’ as his character is proudly nicknamed. It would have been easy for Fassbender to fall into the trap of a pornographic nastiness (as Ramsey Snow from Game of Thrones and the villains in Hostel and The Human Centipede all gleefully jump into). But by Fassbender playing Epps as an eccentric and quasi-comical human being, with problems of his own, Fassbender provides us with a powerful performance of a sadistic, yet troubled soul that feels entirely natural under the circumstances.

Fassbender can be seen to represent some of the worst facets of slave owners (and humanity in general when given licence). Nevertheless, 12 Years A Slave makes a point to show audiences that some slave owners were not as bad as Epps, and that they lived in fear of men like Epps and their own henchmen because of it.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Being afraid, of course, does not excuse keeping slaves or their actions. But as honest as the film is regarding the cruelty of the slave-system in the South, it is equally honest about why some people, who would have probably been good citizens in the free North, perhaps did not do enough (or anything at all) to help bring down the system. Steve McQueen must be applauded for this, like he should be for virtually everything else in this movie, as it would have been easy to inaccurately portray all slave owners as the Devil incarnate.

Over-all, 12 Years A Slave can be best summed up in the words of one of the actors in the film: “amazing… and none of it good.” Through outstanding performances from the cast, the film powerfully reveals the horrors and brutality of the slave-based system in the South of America in the mid-nineteenth century. One is likely to leave the film feeling numb and distressed, but also with the knowledge that not all the slave owners were wicked and that good men like President Abraham Lincoln put an end to the reprehensible system almost 150 years ago.

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Review – The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug (12a) [2013]

The Hobbit II - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Lovely Bones, The Hobbit IIII, The Adventures of Tintin II

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The OfficeThe World’s End, Sherlock, Fargo
  • Ian McKellen – Apt PupilLord of the Rings TrilogyX-Men I-IIIX-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Cate Blanchett – Notes On A ScandalBlue Jasmine, Cinderella
  • Richard Armitage – Captain America: The First AvengerBlack Sky, Into The Storm
  • Aiden Turner – Alarm, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
  • Ken Scott – Casanova, Charlie Wilson’s War, One Day
  • Graham McTavish – Rambo, 24: Day 8, Columbiana
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Star Trek II: Into Darkness, The Fifth Estate, 12 Years A Slave
  • Orlando Bloom – The Lord of the Rings I-III, The Kingdom of Heaven, The Good Doctor, Zulu
  • Lee Pace – The Fall, Twilight IV: Breaking Dawn: Part II, Lincoln, Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic
  • Evangeline Lilly – Lost, The Hurt Locker, Real Steel
  • Luke Evans – Clash of the Titans, Immortals, The Raven, Dracula Untold
  • Stephen Fry – V For Vendetta, Alice In Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes II: A Game of Shadows, Once Upon A Time In The Kitchen

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings TrilogyHugo, A Dangerous MethodThe Hobbit IIII

In December 2012, Peter Jackson started audiences on another nine-hour trilogy into Middle Earth, nine years after the last one ended. But anyone expecting The Hobbit Trilogy to be of the same quality as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy should have looked at the size of their respective source materials. With The Hobbit book having less than a third of the pages of The Lord of the Rings, it was unsurprising that The Hobbit I: An Expected Journey was overly-stretched, self-indulgent and stuffed with scenes that added little to the adventure. Well (predictably), The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug suffers from the same syndrome, but it is a vast improvement on its predecessor.

Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Scott) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish, furthest left) looking for a the secret entrance.

Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Scott) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish, furthest left) looking for a the secret entrance.

In The Hobbit I, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) left the Shire to help Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the dwarves of Erebor reclaim their gold and homeland from Smaug the Dragon. By the end of An Unexpected Journey, after a long and dull trek (that mimicked the journey of the fellowship in The Fellowship of the Ring), some chases, and some fights with goblins and orcs, the eagles rescued Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves, and flew them to within sight of the Lonely Mountain and the ruins of Erebor.

Now, it is up to our new fellowship to make their way to the Lonely Mountain and retrieve the Arkenstone, the legitimising gem for the dwarf king. Yet, in order to regain this precious pearl, someone will have to be brave enough to snatch it from under the clasp of a dragon…

The plot for The Desolation of Smaug is straightforward and fun. The storyline also runs at a much faster pace than that of An Unexpected Journey, which is a good thing (since last time out it took 43 minutes just for Bilbo to leave the Shire).

Another noteworthy matter is that Peter Jackson has somewhat rectified two of the faults of the last film by adding in a major (albeit made up) female character (Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly); and by giving some personality to Balin, Dwalin and Kili so that they can differentiate themselves from Thorin ‘wannabe Aragorn’ Oakenshield and the other nine (synonymous) dwarves.

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the uniquely badass elf, showing the orcs what she's made of.

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the uniquely badass elf, showing the orcs what she’s made of.

Moreover, the dragon has been done superbly well. The special effects, combined with Benedict Cumberbatch’s rich, rumbling voice make the scenes with Smaug some of the most creative dragon scenes ever seen in a movie. Undoubtedly, the arrival of Smaug is one of the best features of The Desolation of Smaug and makes the film worthwhile.

However, in a similar vein to An Unexpected Journey, at 161 minutes The Desolation of Smaug is long. (Couldn’t the eagles have flown the protagonists to the Lonely Mountain and spared us two hours?). Worse, The Hobbit II is bloated with the disapplication of the laws of physics, an overuse of CGI, too many fight scenes, some (Logger’s Leap-style) fairground rides, irrelevant sub-plots from old and new characters, and an unnecessary love triangle (stolen from that wreckage of a pentology known as Twilight) to cap it all. All of these add nothing to the story and should have been edited out.

Yes, the water rides might be as entertaining as the love triangle is contrived and pointless. But there is something troubling about the continued mowing down of the orcs by the protagonists. Why couldn’t Peter Jackson have had our heroes at least try to negotiate peace with the orcs? Is it because the orcs look deformed that they can’t be negotiated with?

One may argue that as no negotiations take place in the source material, it cannot happen in the films. But, first, we are in 2014 (not the 1930s when the book was published, or the 1960s when the book became a sensation, or even 2001 when the first of The Lord of the Rings films came out). And in 2014 peace negotiations with peoples different to our own must be given every chance to succeed. Second, Jackson has changed so much from the book that merely to state the excuse of ‘not in the source material’ is neither convincing nor valid.

Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), usurper and desolator of Erebor, awakening from his slumber to reveal his awe-inspiring (and frightening) size.

Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), usurper and desolator of Erebor, awakening from his slumber to reveal his awe-inspiring (and frightening) size.

Perhaps, if Bilbo had posed the above-mentioned questions, it would have enriched the story and given the film a deeper moral dimension. More to the point, it would have been in character with Martin Freeman’s excellent portrayal of Bilbo and made The Desolation of Smaug a more gratifying and thought-provoking film.

Over-all, The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug is a step up from An Unexpected JourneyThe Desolation of Smaug moves at a decent pace; has some, if too many, enjoyable and imaginative action scenes; and a fantastic looking and aptly sounding dragon to make for an entertaining spectacle. Nevertheless, there is no getting away from The Hobbit II’s swollen running time. The Desolation of Smaug, like An Unexpected Journey before it, is burdened by the numerous, purposeless, Jackson-invented side-stories that have ruined all that is good about the first two instalments of The Hobbit Trilogy, and that are also surreptitiously sullying The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

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Review – Captain Phillips (12a) [2013]

Captain Phillips - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Paul Greengrass – Resurrected, Green Zone, Bourne II-III & V

Cast:

  • Tom Hanks – Philadelphia, Toy Story I-III, Saving Mr Banks
  • Catherine Keener – The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Into The Wild, Nailed
  • Barkhad Abdi – Eye In The Sky
  • Barkhad Abdirahman
  • Faysal Ahmed
  • Mahat M Ali
  • Michael Churnus – Love & Other Drugs, Men In Black III, Glass Chin
  • David Warshofsky – Public Enemies, Unstoppable, Now You See Me
  • John Megaro – The Big Short

Music Composer:

Piracy at sea is nothing new. Ships have been hijacked since the dawn of time and the problem is still rife in many parts of the world today. Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips shows us superbly what it can feel like when a ship gets taken over by a gang with guns.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) on the look out for pirates... and worried by how quickly they're advancing toward his ship.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) on the look out for pirates… and worried by how quickly they’re advancing toward his ship.

Captain Phillips is based on the true story which occurred in 2009 and the book, which came out the following year called A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, NAVY seals, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Captain Richard Phillips, himself. The film is about when the Maersk Alabama, a large cargo ship, is seized by Somali pirates near the Horn of Africa, and the crew are taken hostage.

The plot for Captain Phillips is straightforward, grounded and gets to the crux within 20 of its 134 minute running time. From them on the film is tense; so tense, one’s heart pounds in sync with the background beats, and one’s arms shake almost as much. Also, as the film is long, one feels as if the situation is being drawn out in real time. This is despite no lawyers appearing in the film, and little attention given to events behind the scenes in instances of hostages at sea (unlike the very good Danish film, A Hijacking).

The pirates on their little speed boat, eager to seize Maersk Alabama and gain a reward for it back in Somalia.

The pirates on their little speed boat, eager to seize Maersk Alabama and gain a reward for it back in Somalia.

That Somali piracy is a current and serious issue enhances the horror of the situation for Captain Rich Phillips and his crew, and the close up shots (Greengrass’ trademark) enable viewers to see the fear of captain and crew at hand. Although, there is a law suit presently being waged against Captain Phillips, claiming that the movie does not portray events aboard the Maersk Alabama in the run up and during the hijacking truthfully, the film feels (for the most part) chillingly realistic. Some may argue that the realism becomes less convincing as the movie goes on; for example, neither captain nor crew complain of hunger throughout the ordeal. But in the main, Captain Phillips seems sincere, irrespective of the outcome of the lawsuit.

Captain Phillips’ genuineness is helped by the pirates looking bloody scary and behaving in a frenzied fashion. Tom Hanks is likely to gain much of the plaudits come Oscar season, and his display is absolutely brilliant as the heroic (though this point is legally being disputed) and beleaguered captain; indeed, the grimmer the situation becomes, the better Hanks performs. However, the actors playing the pirates do just as much, if not more, to make the film as thrilling (stressful) as it is, since viewers are never sure how the pirates are going to react to movement on the ship, or outside of it.

The pirates, having taken the ship and Captain Phillips hostage, telling the captain that they're in charge.

The pirates, having taken the ship and Captain Phillips hostage, telling the captain that they’re in charge.

What is quite remarkable is that the film makes us empathise with the pirates’ predicament. Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M Ali, the four men playing the pirates (lacking all the glamour and savvy of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow or Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV), show us why some Somalis turn to piracy, as well as the problems that await them should they return home without large sums of money, or at least with a great bargaining chip to acquire large amounts of money. One almost comes to pity the pirates’ plight… but for the small matter of them holding a crew (and Tom Hanks) hostage.

All-in-all, Captain Phillips is a nerve-shredding, finger-biting thriller. Granted, the film almost exclusively focusses upon events on the ship and little else. But the movie is grounded and, regardless of its factual accuracy, it feels honest in every respect. Furthermore, Captain Phillips makes viewers experience the terror of modern-day pirates seizing a vessel at sea.

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Review – Les Misérables (12a) [2013]

Les Mis - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

At the beginning of 2012, audiences were treated to the silent film, The Artist. It was unexpectedly charming and something different in an age of formulaic, clichéd blockbusters. A year on, and audiences are treated to something different once again in the form of the marvellous Les Misérables.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

The storyline is based upon the 1862 historical-fiction novel by Victor Hugo and the subsequent theatre production. It loosely centres round Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Javier (Russell Crowe). Jean Valjean is a convicted man, who breaks his parole and seemingly vanishes in his bid to start a new life. Javier, the Inspector, upon discovering what Jean Valjean has done, is determined to find Prisoner 24601 and bring him to justice.

The plot for Les Misérables is more detailed and layered than that, especially as it has a large cast all with roles to play before the story ends. Unlike the stage version, the film does a good job of keeping the narrative understandable and easy to follow, despite having to take out chunks from the book. This is no small achievement, considering that more or less the entire movie is sung. Credit should rightly go to Tom Hooper for this, as well as for successfully turning a theatrical play into an Oscar-nominated film. (It should be borne in mind that The Woman In Black was the last time a director attempted to translate a play into a movie, and the less said about that film the better!)

However, in spite of Hooper cutting out sections of the book, the film still seems too long and somehow bloated at 158 minutes. The Artist, it should be noted, is only 100 minutes and, consequently, does not feel over-stuffed. Part of the reason for why Les Misérables feels this way is due to the numerous sub-plots taking place throughout the story, many of which have only questionable importance to its outcome.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Yet, more significantly, does the story actually matter? When one watches Les Misérables in the theatre, one is more likely to be awed by the music and the mechanics of the stage, than taken in by the (slightly contrived) narrative. But the movie does not have an innovatively-devised podium. Additionally, it suffers from a cast that, while stellar in name, generally lack the powerful vocals of their stage counterparts.

Russell ‘wannabe-Napoleon Bonaparte’ Crowe and Hugh Jackman, the two leading men, are particularly guilty of this. It is not that their performances are bad, it is just painfully obvious that they are actors first and singers a distant second. One might argue that this is what Hooper desired as he claimed to want the vocals ‘raw’ and conversational, rather than melodramatic. (Then again, he could have been saying this as a defence of his cast, in hindsight, after realising that he should have used stage actors instead of Crowe and Jackman.)

Also, the more one sees and hears the supporting cast, the more Crowe and Jackman are shown up; in particular, against Anne Hathaway. Hathaway, as Fantine, might look pale and terribly thin with her skin, bone and flesh emaciated a la Natalie Portman in Black Swan, but she most certainly can sing. In Rio I, Hathaway showed that she can sing well and nicely. But in Les Misérables she takes her talents to a new level, acquiring immense vigour in her voice, despite clearly lacking in nourishment.

No-one else looks starved like her, but Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks, as the rebel Marius and Éponine, respectively, have very good voices; Amanda Seyfried, as Cosette, illustrates that she’s a better singer than actor (and that she can exist without her incongruous pink lip-gloss, unlike in the medieval-themed Red Riding Hood); while Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, respectively, show us that they may not have noteworthy vocals, but that they can still make us laugh whilst in tune.

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Yet, if one is truly bothered about the singing not being up to scratch with the stage performers, one can still admire the sceneries and the visuals. Cinema, as opposed to theatre, is not limited by the area of a stage (however impressive the mechanics of it may be), and Hooper uses this to his advantage to give viewers a true feel for the (miserable) neighbourhoods that our characters come from in a way that the theatre perhaps can’t convey as deeply.

All-in-all, Les Misérables is very impressive theatrical production-cum-film. The cast’s vocals may not be as strong as those actors on the stage, and the movie lacks some of the charms of the theatre. Nevertheless, like The Artist, Les Misérables is something different, and it should be celebrated that an operatic-style film can be delivered in such a superb and entertaining manner.

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Review – The Hobbit I: An Unexpected Journey HFR 3D (12a) [2012]

The Hobbit - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Brain Dead, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong, The Hobbit II & III

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The Office, Love, Actually, Svengali
  • Ian McKellen – Apt Pupil, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, X-Men I-III, X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Blue Jasmine
  • Barry Humphries – The Dame Edna Treatment, Finding Nemo, Justin & The Knights of Valour
  • Hugo Weaving – The Matrix Trilogy, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Captain America: The First AvengerTransformers I-III
  • Christopher Lee – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Season of the Witch, The Girl From Nagasaki
  • Richard Armitage – Spooks, Captain America: The First Avenger, Black Sky
  • Ian Holm – Lord of the Rings I & III, Lord of War, Ratatouille
  • Elijah Wood – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Green Street, Open Windows
  • Andy Serkis – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Hugo, The Hobbit II & III

<<guest review by KJF>>

Eleven years after the first of Peter Jackson’s magnificent two Lord of the Rings-related trilogies hit our screens, its prequel has finally arrived. What has alarmed many viewers even before getting into auditoriums to see The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey is that it is three hours long, and only the first of a proposed nine-hour trilogy covering the events of JRR Tolkien’s beloved, but not particularly lengthy children’s book, first published in 1937. The result is that An Unexpected Journey is a lengthened, over-indulgent spectacle that will be welcomed by Middle Earth addicts, but might alienate the average cinemagoer.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) bewildered as the dwarves invade his home unexpectedly and immediately make themselves at home by gobbling down his food and liquer.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) bewildered as the dwarves invade his home unexpectedly and immediately make themselves at home by gobbling down his food and liquor.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is the home-loving hobbit of the title, living in a cozy hole in the ground in the Shire, a rural idyll in the western part of Tolkien’s vast imaginary world. Bilbo’s part of a community of small beings with hairy feet who love the good life, preferring nothing better than eating, drinking, smoking and sleeping.

Bilbo’s personal tranquility is interrupted by the arrival of the wizard, Gandalf ‘the Grey’ (Ian McKellen), followed hot on his heels by a gang of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). The dwarves are desperate to recover their homeland, the kingdom of Erebor, from the clutches of the evil dragon, Smaug, who rather inconsiderately destroyed it all, and who now spends his days drenched in all its treasure. So Bilbo is recruited into the party – as a ‘burglar’ of all things – and the adventure begins.

The early part of the film manages, quite successfully, to recreate the gentle humour of the book. Freeman, so good at playing the everyman (as in TV’s The Office), is an inspired choice as Bilbo, looking on in wondrous, mostly wordless amazement as Gandalf and the dwarves take over his home; the latter gang eating him out of house and hole. But then as events progress (at the aggravating pace of a snail), spectacle and action take over and the early charm is lost.

Yet, the spectacle is truly spectacular! The detailed recreation of Smaug’s attack on Erebor is a wonder to behold, filling the screen with the terrifying destruction he reaps, while only tantalisingly giving us a glimmer of what the monster looks like. There’s much else to goggle at with all the scrapes Bilbo and the party get into: dodging trolls, wargs and orcs overground; as well as goblins underground in the depths of the MistyMountains.

Jackson has, of course, been here before and it’s to be expected that the mise-en-scene of Middle Earth has been beautifully and lavishly re-created. Jackson again fully utilises the picturesque New Zealand landscapes to his advantage.

Bilbo attending a secret council in Rivendell, the home of the elves, along with Thorin (Richard Armitage), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and another dwarf.

Bilbo attending a secret council in Rivendell, the home of the elves, along with Thorin (Richard Armitage), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and another dwarf.

Nevertheless, unlike with Lord of the Rings, Jackson has shot The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at 48-frames-per-second, known as the Higher Frame Rate (HFR), rather than the standard 24-frames-per-second. Although the HFR was meant to make everything appear more realistic, it is more likely to bring about the peculiar feeling of watching a TV programme with a substantially greater budget. Actors might appear very clearly in the foreground, but the computer-generated backgrounds come across as just that: computer-generated! This sadly lessens the ‘reality’ that Jackson was aiming for, and the 3D element doesn’t add much either (other than a few quid onto the ticket price).

It’s a shame that with all the technical innovations Jackson hasn’t focused more on ramping up his creative approach. There are some nice sops to Lord of the Rings fans, particularly having the elder Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) appear at the beginning. After a while though, a sense of déjà-vu creeps in, whether it is in the use of musical riffs from the original trilogy, or the overlong focus on the re-introduction of Gollum (Andy Serkis).

What further acts as a ballast for the film’s 169-minute running time are events and characters not in the original narrative, but picked out from other of Tolkien’s writings. One would have thought that if Jackson had wanted to be so cavalier with the original source material, he would have done something that was truly necessary, such as putting in some more prominent female characters to spice up the narrative. Yet, aside from Cate Blanchett’s brief reprisal as a more-youthful Galadriel, other women in the movie are virtually non-existent. Indeed, Jackson has seemingly forgotten to even put them in the background for the orcs and goblins (which naturally prompts some interesting questions on procreativity).

Gollum (Andy Serkis), enhanced thanks to modern technology, playing a game of riddles with Bilbo.

Gollum (Andy Serkis), enhanced thanks to modern technology, playing a game of riddles with Bilbo.

In all of this, it is also hard to pick out distinctive characters throughout the film. Martin Freeman is superb as Bilbo, Ian McKellen once again gives a magisterial performance as Gandalf, and Barry Humphries is great as the voice of the Goblin King. Yet, aside from grumpy Thorin ‘wannabe-Aragorn’ Oakenshield, it’s hard to tell one dwarf from another, since they all seem as one-dimensional, hairy and gruff as the next. Considering that The Hobbit is about the dwarves trying to reclaim their homeland, this is not sufficient.

Thus, Part I of The Hobbit has started us on another unexpected journey through Middle Earth. Already though, after almost three hours (and with another six to go), it feels like we are on a long and bloated trek that possibly has the power to undo all that was good about Lord of the Rings.

KJF

Review – Snow White and the Huntsman (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Hollywood has a thing for bastardising stories. With varying enjoyment, films like Troy, Kingdom of Heaven and Eragon all had little to do with their original narratives to the extent that one might be surprised that their respective creators bothered to keep the right names for the characters. Similarly, Snow White and the Huntsman might be entertaining, but it has little to do with the German folklore tale, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’, that was first written down by Brothers Grimm in 1812.

Queen Ravenna, in all her splendour, furious to learn that there is one fairer than her.

The film opens with three drops of blood falling onto snow after Queen Eleanor (Liberty Ross – Thinly Veiled, W.E.) pricks herself. Eleanor is praying for a beautiful and fair daughter with raven-black hair, and the strength of a red rose against snow. Yet, not long after she gets her wish and gives birth to Snow White (when young played by Raffey Cassidy – Dark Shadows; when of age played by Kristen Stewart – Twilight I-V, On The Road, Still Alice), Eleanor dies. Shortly afterward, King Magnus (Noah Huntley – The Chronicles of Narnia I, Your Highness, Jappeloup) marries Ravenna (Charlize Theron – Monster, Prometheus, Hancock I & II), a woman with terrible supernatural powers to keep her forever looking young and strikingly attractive.

No sooner is the king betrothed to Ravenna she usurps the throne and locks up her young step-daughter. As the years go by, Queen Ravenna regularly turns to her magic mirror to remind herself that she is the fairest of them all. That is, until one day when the mirror tells her that Snow White is fairer. It is then that Ravenna orders her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell – The Hurt Locker, Defiance, Enemy of Man), to bring her the imprisoned princess.

But it is then that Snow White escapes, fleeing to the Dark Forest where Ravenna has no power. So Ravenna hires Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth – Thor I & II, The Avengers Assemble, Red Dawn) to find and kill her…

Snow White and the Huntsman is an enjoyable movie. Set in a medieval-like world (even though the story originates from around the eighteenth-century), the sceneries are fitting, and the towns and villages, not to mention their inhabitants, are filthy in a realistic way for the period.

Snow White, wet and filthy, trying to defend herself against Eric the Huntsman in the Dark Forest.

Nevertheless, the plot has as much accuracy to the Grimm Brother’s tale as Patroclus does being Achilles’ cousin in Troy (when he is meant to be his lover) and Arya having reddish-brown hair in Eragon (when she is meant to have raven-black hair). Indeed, Snow White and the Huntsman has a multitude of storyline deviations, such as Queen Eleanor shedding three drops of blood (since that comes from another folklore story, called ‘Snow White and Rose Red’) and the huntsman being hired by the evil queen to find Snow White (since in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ he helps Snow White escape to the Dark Forest to save her from Ravenna).

Ravenna as the ‘evil queen’ is one of many clichéd characters in the film. On screen, Ravenna rules in a typically cruel manner and is invariably screeching wicked commands at her advisers; Snow White is an idyllic (dull) angel who hardly knows how to hold a knife, let alone kill someone with it; the huntsman is the stupid, axe-wielding, drunken lout turned noble protector of the princess; and the seven dwarves (at least that stays true to the original story) are almost as one-dimensional as in the 1937 Disney cartoon animation.

Thor… Eric the Huntsman ready to bury his axe into anyone attempting to hurt Snow White.

Due to the lack of depth in all of the characters, the cast has little room to show their talents. Oscar-winner Charlize Theron gives a distinctly ordinary performance as Ravenna; Sam ‘Anders Breivik lookalike’ Spruell is nothing short of wimpish and pitiful; Kristen Stewart gives a stronger performance than she does in the Twilight saga, but she only ever has one expression on her face throughout the film, and her pre-battle speech is laughably appalling; Chris Hemsworth’s display is ostensibly the same as his hammer-swinging one in Thor and The Avengers Assemble, just with a humorous Scottish accent and minus the overt arrogance; and Ian McShane (The Golden Compass, Pirates of the Caribbean IV, Jack the Giant Killer), Bob Huskins (Hook, Made In Dagenham, Aleksander Rouge), Ray Winstone (The Departed, Edge of Darkness, The Sweeney), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Paul, Cuban Fury) and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hunger Games, The Girl) are all funny as the gruff dwarves, but they pale in comparison to Peter Dinklage’s performance as the deeply complex, witty Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones.

All-in-all, Snow White and the Huntsman is an enjoyable film with decent settings and an attractive cast. The actors might give average performances and the characters they portray might be over-simplistic caricatures of good and evil, but it is the movie’s drift away from the original tale that is most striking. Just like with The Iliad, the history of the Third Crusades, and Eragon, Hollywood has shredded a good story in an attempt to make it fit a narrative supposedly more suitable to modern day audiences with a derisible outcome.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Hunger Games (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Over the last decade, there have been a multitude of reality TV shows/series targeted for children and teenagers. Big Brother, The X Factor and The Apprentice are three such programmes that have gripped the nation, despite becoming sterile in recent years. Based on a similar, yet darker premise, The Hunger Games entertains its audience prior to running for too long.

Katniss (Jeniffer Lawrence) hunting in the woods to find food for her family, wherein she meets her childhood friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

The Hunger Games is based on the book with the same title by Suzanne Collins. It’s based in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic country called Panem, which was once territory in North America. As punishment for a people’s rebellion, each one of the twelve now-impoverished districts has to put forward their boys and girls, between the ages of twelve to eighteen, to compete in a tournament called the Hunger Games. At random, one boy and one girl are chosen to compete in the games, which are watched by thousands throughout the country. The tournament, controlled by a repressive leadership, is a fight to see who will survive. Only one, out of the twenty-four chosen, will return home.

After her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), is picked to compete in the tournament, 16-year-old Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past) volunteers to take her sister’s place. Katniss has spent years illegally hunting with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth – Knowing, The Last Song, Independence Day II: Resurgence), for food in the woods outside of District 12. Now, taken to the affluent capital for pre-tournament training, along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson – The Polar Express, The Kids Are Alright, Red Dawn), Katniss must use her skills and learn other arts from her mentors, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson – No Country For Old Men, Friends With Benefits, Seven Psychopaths) and Cinna (Lenny KravitzThe Rugrats Movie, Precious, The Blind Bastard Club), to survive the games.

The plot for the film is quite accurate to the book, despite missing the Avox sub-plot and changing the skin-colour of some of the characters, such as Katniss and Rue (Amandla Stenberg – Texas Killing Fields, Colombiana).

Katniss’s main opponent in the games, Cato (Alexander Ludwig). He is vicious and ruthless.

Nonetheless, The Hunger Games is an interesting movie, not least due to its brutal, Orwellian premise. (Note how down-trodden and miserable the common people are in comparison to the powerful elites.) Moreover, the film offers a refreshing change to the fantasy/science-fiction genre by having an outwardly tough, mentally-strong woman in a combatant role as the lead character (unlike the feeble Bella from the Twilight series).

However, at 142 minutes, The Hunger Games is far too long. A movie needs to be something special to hold its audience for that length of time, and The Hunger Games loses its viewers almost as soon as Katniss enters the tournament. One feels little suspense during the games, and one also feels that Katniss is never in real danger (unlike in Game of Thrones, where one never knows how long any of the characters will live).

Furthermore, the film lacks the violence it deserves. In 2000, a Japanese film with a comparable theme, called Battle Royale, was released. (Suzanne Collins denies being influenced by the movie.) That film acquired an 18-rating, due to the vicious content. But, just as The X-Factor has to adhere to rules so minors can watch it (even if Christina Aguilera and Rihanna stuck two fingers up to those in 2010), director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, The Free State of Jones) had to make the violent aspects of The Hunger Games implicit to the movie’s detriment. It makes the film less realistic; and, by merely shaking the camera, Ross makes the fight scenes hard to follow.

Fighting for one’s life in a forest is what the games are about. Yet, Katniss appears remarkably relaxed throughout. One only has to watch Vietnam War films, such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon, to realise soldiers’ edginess whilst in the jungle. Katniss, though, not only sleeps well, she’s even willing to help out others (seemingly unbothered that they could kill her when she’s not looking or asleep). It is astonishing that for someone so mentally hard, she’s unwilling to do what’s necessary to survive.

Despite Katniss’s inherent contradictions, Jennifer Lawrence gives a credible performance as the lead character (who always looks lovely and clean after rolling around in the dirt). Likewise, Donald Sutherland (The Italian Job, The Eagle, Sofia), as the pitiless President Snow; and Woody Harrelson, as the alcoholic mentor, also perform decently. But the rest of the cast, including Josh Hutcherson, as the wimpy Peeta; Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Company You Keep), as Caesar Flickerman, the daft-smiling hand of the president; and Alexander Ludwig (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising), as Cato, Katniss’s nasty and fierce opponent in the games, give pathetic, one-dimensional displays.

Katniss, looking much like Tulisa Contostavlos, in tightly-fitted leather, training before the games with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She and him are receiving advice from Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) on how to beat Cato and his gang.

It is a shame that most of the actors give poor performances. The movie has been put together nicely, James Howard (Love And Other Drugs, The Tourist, Snow White And The Huntsman) has composed a respectable score, and the special effects are brilliant. Panem’s capital has been wonderfully constructed and is a sight to behold.

All-in-all, The Hunger Games has a strong, but flawed, main character, with an intriguing, 1984-like basis to a reality TV show. But, ultimately, the movie has been hamstrung to cater to children and teenagers. Consequently, it is predictable and, like most reality TV shows/series, the film peters out before it ends.

PG’s Tips