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Film Review: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has everything a Middle Earth fan could hope for.

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Everything a Middle Earth fan could hope for and more.

While some, including myself, might have been slightly underwhelmed by the first offering, let me just start by saying this movie is awesome. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has everything a Middle Earth fan could hope for; expertly choreographed action sequences, more breath-taking set pieces, more characters complete with more character development and of course Smaug.

Thankfully Peter Jackson has reeled back on the forced LOTR references so annoying in An Unexpected Journey and allows The Desolation of Smaug to become it’s own magical, fantasy-filled beast. Picking up where the first instalment finished The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug finds Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin and the rest of the Dwarves (who I still have trouble telling apart let alone naming) still travelling east intent on reaching the Lonely Mountain before the ‘last light of Durin’s Day’ and re-installing Thorin Oakenshield as the rightful King Under the Mountain. Along they way they meet an assortment of beings of assorted shapes and sizes, most notably the giant spiders of Mirkwood and the less than welcoming wood elves, including Elvin archer Legolas (who is moodier and much more of a badass). Luckily Bilbo has his magic ring and is able to break the dwarves out and escape in empty wine barrels right under the noses of the rather lack lustre and drunk Elvin guards (who knew elves like to get on the sauce?). What follows is a spectacular, over-the-top barrel ride down a fast flowing river where the company are pursued not only by elves but orcs who have found them again. The absurdity of some of the stunts will have you laughing with the film, rather than at it (indeed some even clapped in the viewing I attended). Bilbo and the dwarves escape but not without injury and make it to human Lake Town and more importantly one step closer to the Lonely Mountain. The movie spends more time in Lake Town than the book did but this does allow for an excellent cameo by Stephen Fry as master of Lake Town. Then it is on to the Lonely Mountain and finally the reveal of Smaug.

With almost a two movie build to this reveal there was a danger of it being a colossal disappointment but Jackson handled the gem-encrusted Smaug and his golden lair with expert hands. The images on screen are genius and straight out of the most vivid imaginations. Smaug (voiced with seductive evil by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Bilbo’s exchange of dialogue is one of the best scenes of the movie. Indeed the movie is at it’s best when the extensive scenery and action are dialled down to let the diminutive hero of the story shine. Freeman seems to get the duality of hobbits better than any who’ve donned the big feet and ears so far. His nervous reticence combined with constant look of bewilderment serve well to contrast the great acts of bravery hobbits are capable of making. As Tolkien suggests, it is not your size but the size of your heart that defines you.

This second instalment in The Hobbit trilogy is fantastic eye candy and a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. However, it does still have its issues; at 161 minutes long this film is not for the weak of bladder and some points feel slightly dragged out, especially when the film diverges from the events of the book. Having said that, Evangeline Lilly’s original Elvin character Tauriel really is an inspired addition. As pretty much the only female in the movie Tauriel dominates over her male counterparts not only in combat but compassion and sincerity. And the hint of interspecies romance is a nice touch.

Knowing where this film ends, I have to wonder what Jackson and his team will come up with to fill another three hours in There And Back Again. But regardless of my reservations, I will be waiting with eager anticipation for the conclusion to the series, just as I will be waiting eagerly in line to see The Desolation of Smaugonce again.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom
Released by: Warner Bros.

Film Reviews

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers

Save the world, save the girl?

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Spider-Man

Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.

You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.

The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.

However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.

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Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.

There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.

Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.

Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.

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