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Review – The Hobbit III: The Battle of the Five Armies HFR 3D (12a) [2014]

The Hobbit III - title banner

Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Lord of the Rings TrilogyThe Lovely BonesThe Hobbit I & IIThe Adventures of Tintin II

Additional Writer:

  • Guillermo Del Toro – Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy I-III, Mama, Pinnochio

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The OfficeThe World’s EndSherlockFargo, Captain America III
  • Ian McKellen – Lord of the Rings TrilogyX-Men I-IIIX-Men: Days of Future Past, Mr Holmes
  • Cate Blanchett – Notes On A ScandalBlue JasmineCinderella
  • Richard Armitage – Captain America: The First AvengerBlack SkyInto The Storm
  • Aiden Turner – AlarmThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
  • Ken Scott – CasanovaCharlie Wilson’s WarOne Day
  • Graham McTavish – Rambo24: Day 8ColumbianaCreed
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyStar Trek II: Into DarknessThe Fifth Estate12 Years A Slave
  • Orlando Bloom – The Lord of the Rings I-IIIThe Kingdom of HeavenThe Good DoctorZulu
  • Lee Pace – The FallTwilight IV: Breaking Dawn: Part IILincoln, Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic
  • Evangeline Lilly – LostThe Hurt LockerReal Steel
  • Luke Evans – Clash of the TitansImmortalsThe RavenDracula Untold
  • Stephen Fry – V For VendettaAlice In WonderlandSherlock Holmes II: A Game of Shadows, Once Upon A Time In The Kitchen
  • Ian Holm – Lord of the Rings I IIILord of WarRatatouille
  • Christopher Lee – Lord of the Rings TrilogySeason of the WitchThe Girl From Nagasaki
  • Hugo Weaving – The Matrix TrilogyLord of the Rings TrilogyCaptain America: The First AvengerTransformers I-III, Strangerland

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings TrilogyHugoA Dangerous MethodThe Hobbit I II, Denial

(Please read my reviews of The Hobbit I: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug for context, as I won’t be going over points I’ve already made, such as the problems with the High Frame Rate, negotiations with the orcs, and the alterations that Jackson has made to the trilogy from the source material.)

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy was one of the greatest trilogies of all time. It was beautifully put together and held phenomenal emotional weight that made viewers care about the characters in the story. The same, however, cannot be said for the first two volumes of the prequel trilogy. Nevertheless, could the final volume of the prequel trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies, redeem The Hobbit trilogy?

Smaug the Dragon (voiced thunderously by Benedict Cumberbatch) is our of the Lonely Mountain and torching Laketown.

Smaug the Dragon (voiced thunderously by Benedict Cumberbatch) is our of the Lonely Mountain and torching Laketown.

The Hobbit III starts where The Desolation of Smaug ended: with Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashing his fury upon Laketown. But with the dragon now out of the Lonely Mountain, there is a huge treasure of gold to be had. The greedy leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), may not want to share it, but the people of Laketown, as well as armies of elves, orcs, and other dwarves come for their share of the treasure all the same. Thus, the battle of the five armies begins…

The Hobbit III is the shortest of The Hobbit films at 144 minutes and that is one of the movie’s saving graces. Well, that, the opening scene when the Cumberdragon burns Laketown, and the ending itself. The desolation of Laketown is done well, particularly as it’s given the right length of time, as well as the right amount of comedy, action and special effects for it to be spectacular.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) looking for the Arkenstone within a vault of gold so deep he could swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) looking for the Arkenstone within a vault of gold so deep he could swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

It is a shame that the ‘epic’ titular battle, itself, is neither spectacular nor given the right amount of time. It is 45-minutes of repetitive, pleasure-seeking action, devoid of the laws of physics, emotional weight, and should have been cut in half. One does not care what happens to the dwarves or the CGI orcs as they’re all synonymous and lifeless. Plus, if Jackson had comprehended the problems of the hour-long battle in Transformers III or the 40-minute fight in Man of Steel he would not have allowed his ‘epic’ battle go on for so long because it loses its sense of timing. Without the crucial ingredient of timing, the battle becomes snooze-inducing. But then again, the dwarves have always been synonymous throughout the trilogy, the (dark-skinned, deformed) orcs have been there merely to be slaughtered, and more or less every scene in An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug went on for too long, had no sense of timing and ignored the laws of physics. So there really was no hope Jackson learning his lessons and making The Battle of the Five Armies an emotionally fulfilling, succinct masterpiece.

Bard (Luke Evans) on a mule and the King of the Elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace), on a... reindeer? Anyway, they have arrived among an army of elves and men to claim their shares of the treasures in the Lonely Mountain.

Bard (Luke Evans) on a mule and the King of the Elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace), on a… reindeer? Anyway, they have arrived among an army of elves and men to claim their shares of the treasures in the Lonely Mountain.

And like the muddled titular battle, the rest of The Hobbit III is dispiritingly all over the place. That The Hobbit has had a troubled production history might go some way to elucidating why The Hobbit III, in particular, is so bad. (A film based on The Hobbit book was supposed to have been written shortly after the successful conclusion of the LOTR in 2003, but didn’t materialise. Guillermo Del Toro was appointed to direct The Hobbit at some point in the late-2000s, but stepped down for unspecified reasons. Jackson, subsequently, came to the rescue of the project, only for Del Toro to come back on board in some capacity. And, then, after initially deciding to make two films out of the 300-page book, Jackson decided to split the second film in two and shoot new scenes in 2012/13 to make The Hobbit into a trilogy in post-production.) But is the film’s troubled history truly a reason for why the dialogue is so clunky; for why the aftermath of Laketown goes on for too long; for why storylines (unforgivably) do no conclude; for why the central premises of the film/trilogy are (inexcusably) forgotten; and for why the eponymous character of the trilogy, Bilbo Baggins (played with charm by Martin Freeman), feels like a peripheral figure in the concluding chapter of his own story, among other things? The Hobbit III is so unsatisfying that the answers cannot boil down solely to a troubled production history, especially as Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) claimed earlier this year that the LOTR had a chaotic production too. This entails that the film’s/trilogy’s faults lie with Jackson, who has done nothing of significance since the LOTR and has now shown that he can muck up something he loves if he is not controlled.

Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) roaring an army of orcs toward the Lonely Mountain to kill the dwarves and everyone else.

Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) roaring an army of orcs toward the Lonely Mountain to kill the dwarves and everyone else.

One might have pardoned Jackson for some of the aforementioned errors in The Hobbit III (and the trilogy as a whole) if he had added something innovative to Tolkien’s universe. It would have made for interesting viewing if he had given audiences details of the backgrounds, cultures and religions of the peoples of Middle-Earth that Tolkien, himself, failed to put into his stories, or put in a Machiavellian-style character (like Littlefinger from Game of Thrones). But no, Jackson (depressingly) doesn’t do any of this, meaning that people go away from this bloated film/trilogy knowing nothing more about the wizards, men, elves, dwarves and orcs of Middle-Earth than they did after the LOTR. Simply put: this is not good enough, Jackson.

Over-all, one can breathe a sigh of relief that The Hobbit trilogy is over. While The Battle of the Five Armies has a couple of good moments, like the opening scene and the end credits, it is a mess and suffers from the same issues as The Hobbit I & II: notably, its swollen length to accommodate the extreme self-indulgence, tedium and sameness. Whilst watching The Hobbit III, it feels like one is watching a glutton stuff his/her face, whilst the problems within The Hobbit trilogy as well as the problems surrounding the trilogy’s production illuminate before one’s eyes. Worse, The Hobbit III and the trilogy as a whole show up the problems within Tolkien’s works, including the LOTR. Peter Jackson, how could you go so wrong?

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Review – Blue Jasmine (12a) [2013]

Blue Jasmine - title banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

Cast:

  • Cate Blanchett – The Lord of the Rings I-III, The Aviator, Notes On A Scandal, The Hobbit I, II & III
  • Alec Baldwin – Pearl Harbour, The Aviator, The Departed, Still Alice
  • Sally Hawkins – Layer Cake, An Education, Great Expectations, Godzilla
  • Andrew Dice Clay – Whatever It Takes, Foolish, Point Doom, Entourage
  • Bobby Carnavale – The Bone Collector, Snakes On A Plane, Parker, Imagine
  • Peter Saarsgard – Rendition, An Education, Orphan, Pawn Sacrifice
  • Daniel Jenks
  • Max Rutherford

Midnight In Paris was a renaissance for Woody Allen. After half a decade without making a decent film, Midnight In Paris won him another Oscar for Best Writing. More importantly, the film reminded us of his talents. Blue Jasmine continues Allen’s re-emergence as a brilliant film director and script writer.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), dressed to stun, and living the good life with her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), and so-called friends.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), in stunning garb, living the good life with her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), and their (so-called) friends.

Blue Jasmine centres round the fine-looking Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), who is struggling to come to terms with how her life has turned upside down. From living the glamorous life with her former husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), in New York, Jasmine takes a few steps down in the world and moves in with her adopted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Ginger lives in a small, cluttered apartment in San Francisco with her two sons from her previous marriage to Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), whilst doing a menial day-job and having a relationship with the loutish Chili (Bobby Carnavale).

With Jasmine’s situation hardly to her liking, she finds it difficult to sort herself out. In fact, after so many years of living the high life without doing or needing to do a day’s work, Jasmine is in the midst of a nervous breakdown that worsens with every passing day.

Blue Jasmine’s storyline is simple and well thought through. In a typical Allen way, like Midnight In Paris, Blue Jasmine skips back and forth between the (dour) present and the (glitzy) not-too-distant past, dishing us out with the necessary revelations at the opportune moments about why Jasmine left New York and Hal. This style may seem confusing at first. But one adapts to it quite quickly, and soon enough the movie’s approach becomes formulaic and predictable; not that these take anything away from the film.

Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), Jasmine's low-class adopted sister and brother-in-law. Jasmine and Ginger are so different, it is hard to believe that they were brought up by the same parents.

Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), Jasmine’s low-class adopted sister and brother-in-law. Jasmine and Ginger are so different, it is hard to believe that they were brought up by the same parents.

Blue Jasmine is intelligent, well-written and surprisingly amusing. Despite taking a detailed and dispiriting view on serious matters like cheating, fraud and (to an under-employed extent) people trying to make ends meet, the movie is littered with wry and cutting humour that many people, rich or poor, can empathise with and find funny. That Blue Jasmine is only 98 minutes long works in the film’s favour too. It answers all of its own questions efficiently and does not drag (unlike blockbuster bore-fests, such as Transformers III, Prometheus and Man of Steel).

Unquestionably, Blue Jasmine‘s script is superb and delivered with panache by the cast. Cate Blanchett’s performance is the most magnetic of them all. Blanchett encapsulates Jasmine’s ability to look wonderful, yet never be far from looking like a nervous wreck; to enjoy her lifestyle, yet turn a blind eye to the things she doesn’t want to see; and to be a melodramatic alcoholic about her existence, yet lie pathologically when she sniffs a chance to escape it. That Blanchett pulls this off so as to make Jasmine’s character (and breakdown) seem realistic, much like Joaquin Phoenix did in The Master, is noteworthy. One only has to look at how Natalie Portman’s (Oscar winning) breakdown in Black Swan became farcical by the end to realise the remarkableness of Blanchett’s skills, and that is without needing to compare it to Robert Downey Jr.’s feigned attempt at a nervous breakdown in Iron Man III.

While Blanchett is likely to take most of the plaudits for Blue Jasmine, the supporting cast play their parts to make the film noteworthy too. Sally Hawkins exemplifies an (immature) younger sibling, filled with inferiority-complexes, believing that none of her mother’s good genes were passed on to her. Alec Baldwin typifies a smooth-talking (slimy) businessman that has echoes of Bernie Madoff. Bobby Carnavale portrays a coarse, blue-collar working, beer-drinking, lad’s man in a down to earth manner. And Andrew Dice Clay plays the embittered (and somewhat broken), former husband well enough, although, he’s hardly in the movie; and when he does appear, he always has something significant to add to the plot that has a semi-contrived feel.

Jasmine, looking terrible after losing her wealth and status, looking like she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Jasmine, looking terrible after losing her wealth and status, looking like she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The only characters who are not detailed are Ginger’s two children, Matthew (Daniel Jenks) and Johnny (Max Rutherford). These two add little to the story, which begs the question of why they are in the film. A similar argument could be made toward the music that Allen adopts. The movie is set within the last decade, but the music sounds like it is from between the 1930s-50s, which is an odd choice as it appears out of place. But none of these issues should detract from what is otherwise a great film.

All-in-all, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is a smart, satisfying and entertaining movie about sombre issues. With a magnificent and engaging central character, and a convincing supporting cast, Allen’s excellent script is delivered with great sincerity and sardonic humour. Above-all, Blue Jasmine confirms Allen’s renaissance and cements his position as one of the best film directors and script writers that Hollywood has at its disposal. Long may the rebirth continue!

PG’s Tips

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