The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
Directed by: Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”)
Written by: Fran Walsh (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Philippa Boyens (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Guillermo del Toro (“Pacific Rim”)

When “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was released in 2003, there was the sense of celebration, a victory lap for the trilogy as a whole capped off by a huge box office haul and Oscars for both the film and for newly-minted A-list director Peter Jackson. Here we were, right in the middle of a collective indifferent, angry shrug reaction to the “Star Wars” prequels, when along came a new fantasy trilogy to sweep us off our feet, selling enough extended edition DVDs to fill up Mount Doom. Fast forward 11 years, though, and Jackson’s own prequel trilogy based on the slim tale of “The Hobbit” has been greeted with a sense of resignation and, personally, relief that the whole thing is finally over.

Picking up where “The Desolation of Smaug” left off, the gold-hoarding dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is laying waste to Laketown. While others flee, Bard (Luke Evans) manages to fire the shot with the only arrow capable of slaying the dragon. Meanwhile, inside the Lonely Mountain, hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman, essentially wasted in this whole trilogy) and the other dwarves watch helplessly as their king Thorin (Richard Armitage) has caught “dragon sickness” from all of the gold and treasure and his search for the Arkenstone. At the same time, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is being rescued by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Sauruman (Christopher Lee), and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) as Sauron attacks. Back at the Lonely Mountain, armies of man, elves, orcs, and dwarves begin amassing at the gate, each looking for their share of the dragon’s gold.

Much has been said the last three years about the decision to extend the slight novel into a trilogy of nearly three-hour-long films, but by now the fatigue is real and it begs the question: “What would these movies look like if there were less of them?” The years spent bringing “The Hobbit” to the screen seem to have burned Jackson out. Where the “Rings” trilogy featured Jackson working at the top of his game, combining camera trickery and physical effects with state-of-the-art CGI, these “Hobbit” movies see a director willing to give in to shiny, physics-defying computer-generated effects, robbing the films of the handmade, visceral quality that made their predecessors so effective in the age of George Lucas’ misguided prequel trilogy and all its digital manipulation. Sadly, Jackson seems to be channeling the worst of Lucas here, filling the last film he’ll likely get to make in Middle Earth with grating, groan-worthy comic relief and endless fan service that does little more that connect the dots to the “Rings” trilogy that no one needed spelled out for them anyway. Thankfully the journey is over.

Into the Storm

August 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh
Directed by: Steven Quale (“Final Destination 5”)
Written by: John Swetnam (“Step Up All In”)

As ridiculous and more accessible as made-for-TV/straight-to-video natural disaster B-movies have become in recent years (thanks in large part to companies like SyFy and The Asylum), makers of these campy flicks, which include titles like “2012: Ice Age,” “NYC: Tornado Terror” and the pop cultural phenomenon that is “Sharknado,” know their ideas are incredibly easy to mock. Destroying cities by way of speeding glaciers, electrically charged vortexes and airborne great whites isn’t exactly Shakespeare. Still, studios involved with these movies usually embrace the stupidity, especially since they’re cheap to produce, easily digestible and give Dean Cain something to do when he’s not counting his Superman money.

Herein lies the problem with “Into the Storm,” a disaster film that takes itself so seriously, moviegoers will wish its generic title ended with a phrase like “of Radioactive Sea Slugs” or “of Batshit Crazy Tea Party Zombies.” At least they’d know what third-rate garbage they were getting and could consume it while falling asleep on their own couch at 2 a.m. Instead, director Steven Quale (“Final Destination 5”) and screenwriter John Swetnam (“Step Up All In”) try to create a narrative where the emotional heft is as powerful as the film’s 300mph winds tossing around 18-wheelers and commercial airliners. What they end up with is fake sentiment coming from a collection of pitiful characters delivering cliché, throwaway dialogue like “This is the biggest tornado I’ve ever seen!” and “I’ve never seen anything like this!” and “This one is bigger than any storm that has ever been!” – all with a straight face.

If that’s not enough to make audiences cower under a desk, Quale adopts the often-annoying and gimmicky (albeit ever-so-popular) “found footage” storytelling device, but never owns up to it. He arms almost everyone in his cast with a camera (storm chasers are making a documentary; high school students are shooting time capsule testimonials; stereotypical yokels are filming stunts hoping to get YouTube famous), but then decides to use other random perspectives that make absolutely no sense when taking under consideration the impossibility of capturing all these shots when a 3-mile-wide cyclone is mowing everything down. There are plenty of times during the movie when there’s no telling from what vantage point this tired mess is unfolding.

It’s obvious Quale and Swetnam wanted to follow a similar path of destruction as a summer blockbuster like 1996’s “Twister,” but even that mindless Steven Spielberg-produced moneymaker had a few laughs and intense moments. Ignore the missing logic, unconvincing performances, and tinge of environmental proselytizing and simply focus on the computer-generated wind ripping apart a computer-generated barn (sans cows), and “Into the Storm” still lacks the force it would take to blow out a candle on a birthday cake.