BREAKING THE HOBBIT

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024

So after three years, we have The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies, director Peter Jackson’s final Tolkien adaptation. What is interesting is that the three Hobbit films have mirrored their Lord Of The Rings predecessors. An Unexpected Journey was alright but dragged quite badly, while The Desolation of Smaug was much better than the first film with a stronger script. The Battle of The Five Armies ends the Dwarf quest to retake their homeland of Erebor from the clutches of the evil dragon Smaug but there is the small matter of defeating the Orc armies led by Azog (Manu Bennett). With a  running time of only two hours and twenty minutes, it feels quite brisk compared with its progenitors but while it does wrap things up fairly well and sets things up for Lord of The Rings, it feels a little bit lightweight. The main battle doesn’t feel as epic and as grand as the battles in Lord of The Rings and the tension created by Jackson in something like the battle for Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers is absent here. Freeman is good as Bilbo and McKellen is always decent on screen but the sense of threat we had in the Lord of The Rings films feels like it’s missing here. It’s not a bad film by any means and if you enjoyed the other two, then this will neatly conclude the story for you. It will be interesting to see if Jackson can move away from Tolkien and try something different. A pleasant enough two and a half hours…

The Hobbit of a Lifetime?

desolation_of_smaug_poster_large

Last year, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien’s prequel to Lord of The Rings, was released and it was disappointing to say the least. Pacing was slow, the script felt laboured and childish in places and the 48fps took the audience out of the film. Fast forward a year and we have The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Martin Freeman has returned as Bilbo Baggins as has Richard Armitage as exiled dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield and obviously Ian McKellen as wizard Gandalf. The group’s quest to reach their former kingdom of Erebor continues but they are stymied by the machinations of the evil Orcs and the necromancer, who gathers his forces at the deserted fortress of Dol Goldur. The trailer looked promising but the question was whether Jackson and co would learn from the flaws of the first film. I am very glad to say that The Desolation of Smaug is a significantly better film than its predecessor. We are introduced to female wood elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) makes a return appearance here from Lord of The Rings. But unlike the scenes in the first film, with Galadriel and Elrond which feel shoehorned, Legolas works in The Desolation of Smaug. This is also a much darker film than its predecessor, with Jackson wasting no time getting into the action. There has been some thought put into creating the spiders of Mirkwood and visually they have taken a different approach to Shelob from the Return of The King, working well in the creepy surroundings of Mirkwood. Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of dragon Smaug is magnificent: his echoing tones fill the screen as Bilbo tries to outwit him. We are also introduced to the human inhabitants of Laketown including the wheeler dealer Bard (Luke Evans) who initially assists the dwarves but shows that his allegiances may not be as clear-cut as we first assume and the Master of Laketown, played by Stephen Fry. Again, the filmmakers have done a wonderful job of bringing Laketown to life. The Desolation of Smaug feels like it was made by a different director to the first Hobbit film and shows off the deftness of touch that Jackson displayed in the three Lord of The Rings films. Unlike last December, the viewer comes out of The Desolation of Smaug actively excited to see what he does with The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Jackson is back on form and The Desolation of Smaug will dominate the Christmas box office as it deserves to…

2013_oz_the_great_and_powerful_3d_movie-wide

MAGIC MOMENTS?
Sam Raimi has always seemed capable of merging his dark horror sensibilities with something more mainstream and so I had high hopes for Oz The Great and Powerful. An intriguing trailer and a decent cast that includes James Franco, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz meant that expectations were high. Franco plays Oscar Diggs, a magician of questionable ability who finds himself swept away to the land of Oz, where the grateful inhabitants greet him as their saviour and he has to decide whether he has it in him to be the man they believe he is capable of being. Diggs meets three witches, Glinda (Michelle Williams), Evanora (Weisz) and Theodora (Kunis) but all is not what it seems. One of the witches is responsible for the land’s troubles and he must discover who it is if he is to save Oz. Franco is good here, as he brings a certain amount of range to his performance and Williams lends Glinda a naive charm but Oz The Great and Powerful just doesn’t quite gel. When you are trying to revisit a subject that is so loved and revered by audiences worldwide, then you are already at a disadvantage before you start. Raimi was a good choice for this as he has shown his ability to shoehorn adult themes into children’s vehicles but the tone here is strangely uneven. The script comes across as hackneyed and overly familiar and it’s not quite dark enough to satisfy adult audiences but perhaps a little too knowing and arch to really connect with children. It’s a real shame as it’s not a total disaster (the introduction of the China Girl (Joey King) is nicely handled and the origin of the Wicked Witch is quite clever) but it does fall between the stools. Dramatically it is not as well made a film as 1985’s Return To Oz and it certainly falls far short of the 1939 Wizard of Oz. So disappointing rather than terrible, Oz The Great and Powerful is worth checking out with a number of major reservations…

The-Hobbit-Poster

SHORT ON INSPIRATION?
Peter Jackson’s three Lord of The Rings films dominated mainstream cinema last decade, offering a unique and exciting cinematic experience. So when it was announced that we would be seeing The Hobbit adapted to the big screen, I admit that I was interested to see what their approach would be. The film had a very chequered path to the screen, with MGM collapsing under the weight of its debts and director Guillermo Del Toro leaving the project. But at last The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is with us. At the screening I saw last Sunday, it was in 3D and at the 48 fps that has caused a little bit of controversy in the run-up to its release. The Hobbit is a far more slim book and one that is aimed at a younger audience than the Lord of The Rings, so it was always going to be problematic to give it the same sort of breadth and depth dramatically and emotionally as its three cinematic predecessors. I would like to preface my review by saying that I didn’t hate this first Hobbit film but there are flaws that need to be discussed. The plot is a simpler one than LOTR: a group of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), are brought to Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) by Gandalf (Ian McKellen returning) with the aim of reclaiming their kingdom of Erebor, which has been taken over by the evil dragon Smaug. Fate throws trolls and a group of vicious orcs, led by the White Orc, who defeated Thorin’s grandfather, King Thror, in the band’s path. Less is at stake here than Lord of The Rings, which does make it a less epic tale, so the question is whether there is enough meat on its bones to warrant another two presumably lengthy films? An Unexpected Journey has its pros and cons: Freeman is decent enough as Bilbo, Andy Serkis reprises his role as Gollum in the riddles in the dark scene, probably one of the stand-out sequences here, and Armitage as dwarf king in exile Thorin is suitably heroic and an interesting character. McKellen is always watchable and when he is on screen here, it does lift the film a little. The rest of the dwarves feel pretty interchangeable as they look similar and it’s hard to keep track of a dozen characters. Their slapstick antics are annoying on screen, although it’s easy to forget that this is pitched at a younger audience than its progenitors, so young children will probably enjoy it. Jackson and Boyens have shoehorned a trip to Rivendell into proceedings, which feels like an excuse to include elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) into proceedings and wizard Radagast (played by former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy) is a screen creation who really doesn’t work, coming across as oafish and laughable. The 3D is totally pointless as the visuals would have looked just as impressive in 2D and the 48 fps makes certain scenes look like you’ve just stepped into a 1970s BBC TV drama, taking you out of the action. Also, the battles lack any real emotional connection thanks to the 3D and they look artificial and unreal. Visually of course, there are some treats to be had (the goblin mine is nicely realised and we see a Rivendell in the fuller flush of its power).It feels like a film that outstays its welcome as the source material really doesn’t have enough to it to be able to flesh it out to a nine-hour extravaganza. They will really need to ramp up proceedings with the second film if they are going to come anywhere close to justifying this as a trilogy. I was a big fan of the three other films, especially The Two Towers but they all had something, and I was genuinely disappointed by the efforts here. It may work better in 2D and at the regular frame rate and it will keep young children amused but The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3D and at 48fps is a three-star film…

fowler-pic-25235






ALDISS AND MORE
The radio silence here has been because the last month has been insanely busy. As part of a book project that may or may not happen about sci fi and fantasy writers photographed in their place of work. I’ve been to see Christopher Fowler (Bryant & May) back in February and this week I was lucky enough to visit Brian Aldiss (Heliconia, Frankenstein Unbound) for the same project. I got some great shots and he was a gent as always. I feel very lucky sometimes that I do get to meet interesting people thanks to my job…

DIE_TR-25257E1


ENTRANCEWAY TO HORROR
The Door (Die Tur) is a German horror/ fantasy film starring Mads Mikkelsen, the Danish actor who is best known to international audiences as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale but was also in the excellent Flame and Citron, a Danish film set in Denmark during the Second World War. Mikkelsen plays artist David, whose life is torn apart when his daughter Leonie drowns in their swimming pool. What makes matters worse is that he feels responsible as he was too busy shacking up with Gia (Heike Makatsch) to keep an eye on his young daughter. For his wife Maja, played by Jessica Schwarz, the death of their daughter is the last straw. So we are moved forward five years in time. But then David finds a mysterious door in an overgrown garden in their neighbourhood, which appears to offer him a new beginning. But things are not as they seem. The door transports David back to before Leonie was killed and, as he prevents her death, he believes that he has rewritten history to patch things up. The problem is that the David of five years ago is still around and so, to resolve matters, the older David is forced to take action. Mikkelsen is an excellent lead and the gorgeous Schwarz as his wife is great to watch on screen. Director Anno Saul maintains the momentum throughout the film with everything shot at a slight distance to create an unsettling reality that doesn’t quite feel like the real world. The Door isn’t really a horror film so much as a fantasy but the Body Snatchers‘ type denouement is quite creepy, leading the viewer to realise that David’s not the only one who’s passed through the door. It’s available to buy now on DVD from Optimum and is recommended for fans of European horror films, especially ones that are a slow burn and are a little more cerebral than your average slasher movie…
www.optimumreleasing.com

Megamind-Poster



FROM BOY WIZARD TO SUPERVILLAIN
I have been to see two films at press screenings over the past two weeks and, while they are two very different movies, I thought I would review them in the same blog post. First up is Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now unfortunately with each Potter film that has been released, they make less and less of an impact on me as a viewer. Harry Potter is one of the few modern film franchises that seems totally impervious to critical response. As I write this, Deathly Hallows Part 1 racked up an opening weekend in the US of $125m and made over £18m just in the UK. So the audience for Potter is so huge around the world that it wouldn’t matter if every critic, every magazine and every newspaper slated it. So I am going to present my thoughts here knowing full well that it won’t make the blindest bit of difference. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1, directed by David Yates and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, adapts the first half of the final Harry Potter novel. School Hogwarts plays no part in this story as villain Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has his firm grip on the magical world and so The Deathly Hallows deals with Harry, Hermione and Ron attempting to avoid his agents while working out a way of foiling the evil magician’s diabolical plans. There are several problems with this film and the most heinous crime it commits here is that there is no concession to anybody who hasn’t lived and breathed Harry Potter for the past decade. Alright, this is the seventh part of a film series but anyone who isn’t conversant with the canon or the characters would not understand or really care if they sat and watched this film. Additionally, the opening sequence, where Moody (Brendan Gleeson) alters the appearances of several of the other characters to look like Potter so that Voldemort’s agents are thrown off the scent, is a nifty idea but one that is thrown away after the first 15 minutes and replaced by what feels like hours of turgid dullness with Harry, Hermione and Ron wandering through the forests and fields of the country, while all of the grand battles and action seems to occur off-camera. Two-and-a-half hours is a long running time for this, especially when a large proportion of this feels like filler and time-wasting. There are a couple of nice scenes, namely the chase at the beginning and the animated sequence where we learn what the title means is visually very impressive. But perhaps the other scenes were more powerful on the printed page but it slows the pacing down significantly. If all of the key plot moments occur in the second half of The Deathly Hallows, then Part 1 cannot work as a film in its own right. If you are a Harry Potter obsessive, then you would have seen this film already and if you are not a fan or interested in the genre, then you won’t see it anyway. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a very frustrating film…
Megamind is the latest animated film from DreamWorks and stars the voice talents of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Brad Pitt. Megamind takes the Superman story (alien gets rocketed to Earth from a dying planet) and turns it a little bit on its head. Megamind is the lifelong nemesis of square-jawed Metro Man but when he gets his wish and wipes Metro Man out seemingly for good, his life becomes meaningless. So he sets about creating a new superhero adversary for himself but that’s when things start to go wrong. Ferrell as Megamind is extremely good and Pitt ( Metro Man) and Fey (as reporter Roxanne Ritchi) are very talented vocal foils for him. The animation here is fantastic, using 3-D to very impressive effect. The flying sequences are particularly effective but the whole film utilises the format very cannily. Its script is funny and sharp where it needs to be and its mild subversion of superhero and comicbook tropes make it a much cleverer film than you might expect. Its running time of 95 minutes means that it never outstays its welcome and holds your attention throughout. Dreamworks has been one of the only animation houses to truly challenge Pixar’s dominance of the modern market and Megamind is a worthy addition to that canon…

where_the_wild_things_are_poster2


BEING SPIKE JONZE
Where The Wild Things Are is a film with a chequered history. Its director Spike Jonze had to reshoot it several times and there was even talk a while ago that it wouldn’t make it to the screen at all. But thankfully it has arrived and I went to see it the Vue Leicester Square with my fellow journalists. Where The Wild Things Are is a film based on a very slim illustrated children’s book by Maurice Sendak and Jonze has really fleshed out proceedings. Max is a lonely boy who lives with his mother (played by Catherine Keener) and sister Claire (Pepita Emmerichs). He doesn’t get the attention he wants and so he runs away, seemingly ending up as ruler in this place populated by the Wild Things of the title. Wild Things is only the third feature that Jonze has directed but it is an assured and accomplished effort with the hand of a true auteur at its helm. Where The Wild Things Are is a brilliantly allegorical look at the emotional turmoil of a young boy with each of his feelings manifested by the puppets brought to life by Henson for each of the Wild Things. They live in this dreamlike, slightly unsettling world which looks a little like reality but with a disconnect. The Wild Things, voiced by James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara and others, look fantastic on screen and there is a real sense of interaction between them and young boy Max. The faces were created using CGI but the bodies were suits and this makes a huge difference. The vocal talent here is impressive and Gandolfini especially as Max’s best friend amongst the Wild Things, Carol, is magnificent. Max Records, who plays the young boy, is also extremely talented. It’s a film that makes you think and stays with you after you leave the cinema. It’s a melancholy and bittersweet film and one that may unsettle children who see it but the best children’s fiction and literature should do that and so Jonze should be applauded for this film. After a summer of moronic robots and disappointments, Where The Wild Things Are is a real breath of fresh air. A film that will develop a cult following and will be talked about for years to come…