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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 3 awards.
Nominated for Best Sound Editing (Brent Burge, Chris Ward), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson), and Best Visual Effects (David Clayton, Eric Reynolds, Eric Saindon, Joe Letteri).
Watched December 17, 2014.

 

In case you missed my review of the first Hobbit film, check it out here.  I would like to reiterate something that I emphasized last time.

“One of the great contrasts in story between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is at their core, their morality and grand stories are very different.  The Lord of the Rings largely explored good versus evil and how the worst evil can poison even the best of us.  The Hobbit explores lust and the unexplainable want of the wealthy to retain and maintain what they consider theirs, even if they never actually used it.  These moral explanations are overly simplified at best, but at their very core, that is what they are.  Perhaps The Hobbit‘s morality is less obvious or creates less of an impact.  This, combined with the more adventurous, lighthearted story as well as the long-winded three-part film idea, leaves critics disappointed.  In The Lord of the Rings, the good versus evil was obvious, the quest was epic, the seriousness and adult story telling nature created a complex world that will captivate for generations.  Although The Hobbit is first and foremost a children’s book, this reality is lost on many viewers and critics alike.”

After having seen all three films now, I’m disappointed in the added story telling employed to beef up the plot line to fill three release dates.  For the most part Peter Jackson and his exceedingly talented team captured the essence of The Hobbit and Middle Earth very well, but really should have pulled back into at most two films and allowed the children’s book to speak for itself.

The second film is good.  Not Lord of the Rings good, or new Star Trek good, but good.  It’s the middle of the road and leaves questions unanswered.  This is typically the drawback of splitting books into multiple films, or just series in general.  There are always loose ends.  My biggest disappointment was probably the title of the film in relation to the actual plot, but I won’t say much more than that in case I spoil something for those of you who don’t know the storyline yet.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and crew are back at it.  He, the dwarves, and Gandalf have escaped the Misty Mountains, the goblins, and Gollum to find themselves in need of help.  They stop at Beorn’s (who happens to be a shape shifter), rest up, and then head off for the dangerous Mirkwood Forest.  They encounter giant spiders and unimpressed elves, including our favorite Legloas (Orlando Bloom) and the invented Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), whom Kili (Aidan Turner), the surprisingly un-dwarf-like dwarf kindles an unconventional relationship with.  After many adventures and hardships, they make their way to Lake Town, where they meet Bard (Luke Evans–who looks remarkably like Orlando Bloom).  He turns out to be pretty important, and despite helping the dwarves get into the town safely, he isn’t always on their side.

In the end, Thorin (Richard Armitage) works his magic and wins over the town and its Master (Stephen Fry), who arm them, feed them, cloth them, and then send them to the mountain to meet the dragon whom the young folk don’t really believe in anyways, so long has he been hidden away with his great wealth.  It has now come time that Bilbo does was he was hired for, and that is to burglar.  By this point, the dwarves have become quite fond of him, but their close proximity to the Lonely Mountain kind of distracts them and puts Bilbo in a bit of a spot.  We’ll see more of that in the third film, however.

For the most part, there aren’t a lot of complaints I can make about the technicality of this film.  It is all exquisite, from the special effects down to the costuming and make-up.  These days our filmmakers like using special effects instead of make up and animatronics, which detracts from the reality of the film somewhat, but then again, they’re in Middle Earth.  Things are a little different there.  The music is epic, the scenery is, well, New Zealand so it’s beautiful.  The elves get a good amount of screen time, and although a lot of it is added from the additional story, it’s pretty bad-ass.  I love Evangeline Lily and think she makes an excellent elf, but I don’t think they should have added her story line at all.  Its benefits are that it shows a different dimension to Legolas that we haven’t seen before, and we as obvious Lord of the Rings fans get to spend more time with an already loved character, but for the most part Tauriel is unnecessary fluff to add screen time.

A good portion of the film is devoted to Bilbo and Smaug, who have a lengthy conversation towards the end.  Like his game of riddles with Gollum in the first film, book enthusiasts should like how much content the filmmakers use here.  It isn’t on the same level as the Gollum interaction, perhaps because we didn’t know Smaug before this film/book, but at least Benedict Cumberbatch voices him.

If there is anything you have to realize as the audience it is that this is not going to be Lord of the Rings.  It is a completely different beast unto itself that has the unfortunate big brother constantly hanging over it.  There is too much content, too much expected of it, and it doesn’t deliver precisely what we want to come out of Middle Earth.  Thorin is dramatic, Legolas does his classic eye acting, and Bilbo faints on occasion.  Kili is the boy band dwarf who doesn’t look like a dwarf who falls in love with an elf and somehow she falls back.  There will always be too much added story for the films to be what the Lord of the Rings series became.  Even without the book as reference, there is too much going on to make The Hobbit a great success.

I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, but I’ll own it and watch it over and over again.  If you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to discourage you.  Something from Peter Jackson and Middle Earth is probably better than a lot of the films out there these days, and its nominations are well deserved.  Share your opinions with me, whether they are the same or different.  I would love to hear what you think of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug!

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel) and Best Sound Mixing (Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland, Skip Lievsay).
Watched May 30, 2014.

Inside Llewyn Davis is cyclical.  It is the depressing period in one’s life after the death of a loved one and partner.  It is also a behind the scenes peak at the life and struggled of a folk artist in 1961.  More specifically, it is a week in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac).

At first we don’t know why, but Llewyn is extremely down on his luck.  He is hopping from couch to couch on the sometimes grudging shoulders of friends.  His sister is a hard love type of woman and his ex-secret lover is pregnant with his baby while her husband (Justin Timberlake) is helping him out with jobs and connections.  It is winter in New York and Llewyn can’t even afford a coat, that’s how unlucky his is.  We find out later why he is no longer a duo and his emotional scarring makes him refuse much musical help or the thought of joining a group.

He is a rough human being.  He heckles other singers and is angry and unforgiving, but somehow he is able to muster the responsibility of taking care of his friends’ cat who follows him out one day. His chase of the cat and his attempt to bring it home is a consistent theme in the film and adds a cute quirk to his character that was needed.  The snow, cold, and dark night clubs bring the depression level of the film down and Llewyn’s character arc doesn’t go very far in the span of a week.

It is clear that most of the characters in the film are sympathetic to Llewyn and what he has gone through.  He has a distinctive surliness that is tough to connect with, yet somehow I was rooting for him that somewhere in the film his life would turn around.  We know next to nothing about his history, which makes him a mystery.  That is definitely a weakness of the film, in my opinion.

It is very obviously a Coen brother film.  Having been away from art and filmmaking for a few years now, I find it a lot more difficult to appreciate dark and depressing films.  There are little to no redeeming qualities in Inside Llewyn Davis, and to be honest I was at a loss as to what the moral premise was.  I felt that the script needed to be more rounded out and complete.  However, the cinematography was certainly excellent and painted the mood of the film extremely loud.  The folk songs are particularly good and Isaac delivers a good performance.

I don’t think that I will ever watch the film again, but if you have love for the Coen brothers, Oscar Isaac, or especially a connection to music, this could be one that you would enjoy.

Gravity (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Gravity (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 10 awards, of which it won 7.
Nominated for Best Picture (Alfonso CuarónDavid Heyman), Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), and Best Production Design (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard).
Won Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón), Best Film Editing (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger), Best Original Score (Steven Price), Best Sound Editing (Gienn Freemantle), Best Sound Mixing (Chris Munro, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri, Skip Lievsay), and Best Visual Effects (Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould, Tim Webber).
Watched April 7, 2014.

  

What was undoubtedly this year’s overall “winner” at awards night, Gravity is a huge accomplishment in all areas of filmmaking.  To get ten nominations is impressive enough, but to walk away at the end of the night with seven wins is a testament to the skills behind this piece.  If that isn’t enough, the movie even lives up to the hype.  From story and casting to visuals and sound, the film is a feast for your senses.

 

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first space mission.  While out on a routine space walk making repairs, their shuttle is hit by debris and Ryan finds herself detached from the shuttle and spinning helplessly into space.  Luckily, her colleague Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who is vastly more experienced, was attached to thruster jets when disaster hit and he is able to tether Ryan to himself and begin a horrifying orbit around the earth towards a space station.  Every breath is terrifying as Ryan’s space suite constantly reminds her how little oxygen she has left.  She has to learn to overcome her fears and must refuse anything but survival as a possibility.

 

We know very little about the characters, but the back story that is revealed about them gives all we need to know.  The story is not simple and predictable, although it has the possibility to be that.  While Clooney’s performance is simple and to the point, his character is exceedingly impressive and calm.  Bullock commands attention, adding to the crescendo of sound and visuals that make Gravity hard to look away from.  Her nomination was extremely well deserved.

 

The film does not make a grand statement.  It revolves around the ideas of “you never know who might be listening” and that space is not able to be conquered–that life in space is impossible.  Almost right away Ryan says, “I hate space,” which sets up her character for what she is about to experience.  You might laugh, you might cry, and you will definitely be sitting at the edge of your seat.  I can only imagine what the film was like in the theatre in 3D, but even on my HD 47inch it was to die for.

 

Director, writer, and editor Alfonso Cuarón paired with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki are unstoppable.  I cannot rave enough about the imagery and the lighting.  To be fair, there was no weak link.  All of the puzzle pieces fit.

 

Clearly I would highly recommend this film.  It is one of the best films out of Hollywood in a long time.

Captain Phillips (2013) Reivew | Jamie Daily

Captain Phillips (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 6 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca), Best Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Best Film Editing (Christopher Rouse), Best Sound Editing (Oliver Tarney), Best Sound Mixing (Chris Burdon, Chris Munro, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Billy Ray).
Watched March 20, 2014.

There is some kind of magic between director and actor that sometimes happens.  When it does, the pair becomes inseparable, and the movie becomes something that is hard to forget.  Captain Phillips is one of those films, and the combination of director Paul Greengrass and actor Tom Hanks is a match made in heaven.

 

Tom Hanks is your typical go to guy to play a relatable hero who the audience feels safe with.  From Apollo 13 to Castaway, he has had some amazing roles and some amazing performances.  His role as Captain Richard Phillips is somewhat different, but that is certainly not a bad thing.

 

The screenplay is based off of a true story.  Captain Richard Phillips is a merchant captain whose assignments often take him far away from home.  He is a quiet man who takes to leadership well, following regulations and gently but sternly insisting that his crew does the same.  He is captaining a large container ship, the Maersk Alabama.  There is no fraternizing with the crew.  He is there to work, and once he receives an email about increased pirate activity off the coast of Somalia, he runs safety drills to the chagrin of everyone on board.

 

The Maersk Alabama became the first cargo ship in two hundred years to be hijacked by pirates.  Phillips is calm and collected, showing heroics in his leadership skills and his cool head, despite the fact that he is just an ordinary man.  He becomes a tour guide of sorts to the Somali pirates, and in trying to get the pirates off the ship and to keep his crew safe, he is kidnapped and finds himself on a lifeboat with four Somalis with guns and short tempers.  The Somali captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is young and often finds himself being influenced by Phillips’ logic (and obvious leadership), but the muscle of the crew, Najee (Faysall Ahmed) is much more free with the trigger finger and much less likely to listen to anyone but his own addrenalin.

  

The performances in this film are all top notch, but Tom Hanks towers above them.  His last scene will stay with me for a long time.  I would definitely consider his lack of a nomination an upset, and Abdi’s nomination a surprise.  For someone with no acting experience he had a stellar performance, but with no disrespect meant, I don’t necessarily think he deserved a nomination.  Despite these opinions, there were no weak links in the film.  It is a tense roller coaster from the beginning.  There is very little time spent on back stories, but the audience gets to know enough about these men as the film progresses to understand their simplest traits.  Phillips is a family man who is good at his job.  Muse is in a deadly, competitive environment where the emphasis is on money and not on family.

 

The editing on this film was seamless.  The pace has its peaks and valleys, but once they are in the lifeboat it just continues to quicken.  Despite minimal gunfire, the terror is rampant, and when Phillips puts his own safety at risk just to write a note to his family, the crescendo seems never ending.  If I can rave about anything in this film it would be the pace.  It never lets up.  The story never stops.  The director never lost control of his film and juiced everything he could out of every minute of screen time.

 

What an incredible nomination that received no awards.

 

I’m basically gushing about this film.  If you haven’t seen it already, you need to.

Lincoln (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Lincoln (2012)
85th Academy Awards
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 12 awards, of which it won 2.
Nominated for Best Picture (Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy), Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Best Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ronald Judkins), Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski), Best Costume Design (Joanna Johnston), and Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn).
Won Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Best Production Design (Rick Carter, Jim Erickosn).
Watched February 27, 2014.

I have heard a lot of good things about Lincoln, and perhaps these things, along with Daniel Day-Lewis’ win at the Oscars made me expect too much.  As much as I tend to enjoy the pristine nature of a good Spielberg film, the stage like dialogue, production design, and cinematography left something to be desired.

 

President Abraham Lincoln is perhaps one of the most well remembered Presidents.  This film focuses on a small period of time around his reelection, just months before his assassination.  He is gunning for the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery, much to the chagrin of his cabinet.  Even some within the Republican party were hesitant.  Everyone wanted peace from the Civil War.  They wanted their sons to stop dying in battle and for the South to come back to the nation.  The Democrats were vehemently opposed to the Amendment.

 

We all know what happens in the end, which takes away some of the mystery and suspense, although the filmmakers tried their best to keep the audience on the edges of their seats.  The representatives vote and threaten each other.  Lincoln is slow and yet eloquent.  He speaks strongly when needed but prefers a calm state and story telling.  In tense situations he commands the attention of a room by telling a story that might relate to the situation at hand.

 

The acting, particularly from Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, is top notch.  They deliver difficult lines and portray a wounded spirit very well.  My favorite scene involving Mary Todd Lincoln (Field) is when she defends her remodel of the white house to some extremists, showing a bit of the gumption that Lincoln must have fallen in love with in the beginning.  The loss of one of her sons has all but done her in, but in this moment there is fire in her eyes, much like in the President’s when he expresses how disgusting slavery is.

 

He and his political party dance the line between peace and the freedom of slaves.  They believe that if they declare peace with the south before the Amendment is brought to a vote, there will be no sense of urgency and it will not be passed.  They employ questionable and typical techniques to “buy” votes and stall envoys.

 

Some of the story is much too slow, or maybe unnecessary.  I understand why they included the story line of Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the son who wants to go to war, but it is so underused that it is more of a distraction from the main story than anything else.  It shows the fear of his parents and unearths more of their grief.  The emotions in these scenes are palpable, but the execution of the filmmaking is very staged.  There is a constant tug of war between filmmaker and actor in this film that I found very distracting.

 

Despite some negative attributes, the film is well done and deserving of its nominations as well as wins.  I would definitely watch it again, although I might not own it.  If you are a history buff you will probably really enjoy it.  I can recommend Lincoln as a good film, but you should expect it to be somewhat slow, dark, and quiet.