The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Following close on the heels of the previous installment, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), the adventure picks up as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) and the dwarves – led by the king-to-be; Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) finally find themselves close to Erebor, which they must reclaim from the terrifying dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

After Journey, I honestly didn’t have much hope for the second installment. While the first film was “ok” – it felt bloated and it was pretty boring overall, even though Jackson tried to spice things up by throwing bits from The Lord of the Rings in there. Thankfully, they amped up the action in this middle chapter (which makes total sense because the content in the film covers the middle, and most exciting, part of the book). This is a good thing in many ways, but I honestly felt like they could have summed up the first film with only a few scenes included in this second film (that was almost three hours as it was, I’ll give you that) and tacked it on, rather than Jackson making three films out of the book (which people seem to despise). This second installment really only covers five chapters worth of material, so the development still feels a bit thin in the big picture – just when the steam starts gathering, the film ends.

The other side of this is that Jackson introduced a new character, Tauriel, (Evangeline Lilly) in order to “expand the world of the Elves” and to create another female character in a mostly male-dominated character cast – which has been proven to be pretty controversial.

To be clear: I love Tauriel. Evangeline Lilly is great to look at, is very dynamic and kick-ass, and although her acting style hasn’t seemed to change much since her days on Lost, she brings another dynamic to the stuffy ways of the Elves. If you’re a Tolkien purist, you’re going to probably hate Tauriel – but in terms of cinematic enjoyment, she is the epitome. The true adaptation was lost in the first film, anyway, with lots of different aspects that Jackson introduced. As a separate entity that still pays homage to the original, I believe this film and the Tauriel character succeeds.

Still, the movie could have been a little shorter and on a side note: did Orlando Bloom look kind of puffy and weird in this film, or was that just me? Also, keep an eye out in Lake Town to see if you can spot Stephen Colbert! Yup. He’s in it!

JOE Rating: ★★★★

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Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: May 16, 2013
Director: J. J. Abrams

It seems that Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) of the USS Starship Enterprise has a hard time reeling in his rule-breaking habits. When he breaks the Prime Directive to save the life of his friend and crew member, Spock (Zachary Quinto) the ship is handed back to Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the ship’s original captain. When it seems that Kirk still has a lot of learning left to do, he pulls together when a Starfleet secret emerges to unravel the entire government in a play for revenge in the form of a one-man army, Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) – but all might not be as it seems.

This movie is essentially a remake of Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan but there are enough differences that it’s really only the same due to some characters and plot themes. If you’ve seen the original, you may prefer it to this newer incarnation but who knows.

The movie opens with a scene you’d probably find in a Star Wars movie, so I think JJ Abrams has his Star Wars cap on right now in anticipation of the 2015 films. With that being said, I think the same holds true for this second installment as held true for the previous Star Trek film from 2009 – some Trekkies may take issue with the fact that it feels more like Wars than Trek. However,  Into Darkness still has a lot to offer, especially for people like me who didn’t get into the original Star Trek films as much.

My major issues with the film were mostly some spots where terrible acting and some bad sound effects detracted from the action and story. Peter Weller had a terrible scene where I was just laughing because of how ridiculous he sounded during a rant. Also, one fight sequence on a ship made it seem like Abrams was using sound effects left over from Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules television series.

Other than that, some of the character interactions seemed a bit forced and tired, such as the Uhura/Spock dynamic, which I know they threw in because they needed a solid love story (because Kirk’s weird, borderline-bestiality womanizing isn’t enough)…but the dynamic isn’t exactly working because Uhura seems to just let her emotions overtake her while Spock, of all people, does the same – illogical. I was giving it a chance to work after Star Trek from 2009, but it just doesn’t feel right.

Alice Eve as Carol was very appealing to the eye, but her character is really just a plot device. I’m not going to complain about an underwear scene featuring her, other than that it seemed just thrown in there for sexuality’s sake and nothing else. Aside from her role as a plot device and as eye candy, she was pretty useless as a character.

All in all, this was a fun movie. Very good visually (aside from an entire scene with JJ Abrams’ signature lens flare blocking out the characters talking to one another) and I think Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting was the best part of the film. He made a damn good villain, for sure. (Also much less goofy-looking than his predecessor from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan – though they should have used an Indian actor for the role in this one, as much as I like Cumberbatch)

Star Trek: Into Darkness is not the worst Star Trek film I’ve seen, by any means, but it could have performed a little better. Still, it’s fun for a night out at the movies and I don’t regret seeing it.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Star Trek: Into Darkness

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Original Theatrical Release: December 14, 2012
Director: Peter Jackson

Before Bilbo Baggins’ (Martin Freeman) nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) ever set his hairy hobbit feet outside the Shire, Bilbo had an adventure of his own, and this was its beginning. Approached by the mysterious wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan), Bilbo is enlisted as a thief and lockpick because of his diminutive size to aid in the reclamation of Erebor for the Dwarven war party that comes crashing into his home. Along the way, Bilbo and his party must overcome great obstacles before reaching the mighty dragon, Smaug.

Okay, so this is a Lord of the Rings/Peter Jackson movie. I had extremely high hopes, and I will tell you that I wasn’t disappointed.

Overall, the film kept me engaged. The visuals were the same great quality I came to know while watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sweeping vistas, interesting creatures (especially a compelling encounter with Ian McShane as the Goblin King). We also got to see some neat tie-ins to the later movies, and I think when they’re all finished it will all fit together very nicely.

I know some purists will take issue with the content of the film’s story structure. That’s fine, but you must remember that the films and the books are still two separate entities no matter how close they get to the original source material.

The story moved a little bit slow, and I am not sure I liked the comedic aspect of the dwarves very much. Some of the dwarves looked like they were wearing prosthetic face applications while others looked like male models…not sure what the reasoning behind that was. Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) was also maybe a bit too silly, to be taken seriously as well. I know The Hobbit was more of a children’s tale, but it still had a serious heart. The dwarves were actually very unlikable in the film’s opening sequence, to be honest.

As the story unfolds, though, you are swept up in it and I think the coming sequels are going to be worth the wait.

JOE Rating:

Movie Trailer For The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey