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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!

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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.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood) and Best Visual Effects (Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Michael Dawson, Neil Corbould, Philip Brennan).
Watched February 26, 2014.

  

Snow White and the Huntsman is an entertaining film worthy of its nominations–no more, and no less.  Recently we have been treated to new spins on old tales and for the most part, this rendition of Snow White is pretty good.

 

Snow White (Kristin Stewart) is supposed to be incredibly beautiful, not just in appearance.  Her mother the queen was well loved and poured that love out to her daughter.  When the queen dies, the king remarries (fairly quickly) to an incredibly beautiful woman who kills him immediately and takes the throne.  Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is perhaps the best part of this film.  She clings to her beauty and must take the youth of young virgins in order to maintain it.  Otherwise her skin sags, her hair thins and grays, and she loses all beauty.  Her magical mirror informs her always what she must do to remain the fairest in the land.

Snow White is kept prisoner in her own castle and when she comes of age, she must escape to save her own life.  The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is brought before the queen and ordered to track Snow White and bring her back.  This is the twist of the film–the Huntsman has a strong part to play, and he soon falls under the charm of Snow White, just as the dwarves and other rebels of the land.  In this rendition, there is still an apple and a prince charming, but there is also war and evil knights made of glass shards.

 

As much as I loved this movie, I would not give it five stars.  Charlize Theron was brilliant, although I think she was riding the edge of the knife between “perfect crazy” and “too much crazy” the whole movie.  A lot of the focus of the film was displaying just how crazy she was.  I did love, however, how discontent she was.  From fits of rage to silent tears, her range of emotions was amazing.

Another downer was, of course, Kristen Stewart.  To be honest, I do think she’s pretty–not necessarily fairest of the land pretty, but pretty.  Her method of acting came in handy when it came to her wandering through the dark forest.  She was confused, scared, disoriented–I think she played that part well.  I also thought she did a good job during her monologue at the end.  However, I did not have much faith in her character.  She not only represents life, but in actuality IS life.  Snow White was a challenging character in comparison with Bella from “Twilight,” but I do not think that Stewart pulled it off.  She was not believable as Snow White.  She was instead a girl running around in a big medieval dress, trying to be a great beauty.  Snow White is supposed to capture everyone’s heart, but Kristen Stewart did not capture mine.

 

My personal favourite was, of course, The Huntsman.  Chris Hemsworth–tall, muscular, brunette (yeah, I missed the blonde hair too), and with a Scottish accent.  Whether you are male or female, you should have a crush on this man.  I thought he did a good job with “Thor,” but when he did his monologue in “Snow White,” I could tell we are going to be seeing good things in his future filmography.  Hopefully he will not just be the brawny action star who plays the same role all the time.

 

I loved the special effects.  I expected more of the glass-demon knights we all saw fighting in the previews.  I was a little disappointed they had such a small role.  I didn’t notice the editing, which must mean it was good because trust me, I notice when it is bad.  The symbolism was blatantly obvious–death versus life, red apples being eaten, etc.  I liked the cinematography.  I think my favorite aspect was probably character development.  Before the end of the film, I knew who each of the characters were and understood their decisions.  We were given enough information about their pasts to understand their present.  While rooting for the good guys, I had a sick desire to see the queen succeed because Theron captured me with her crazy ways.

 

If you are not looking for a deep film, or even a frivolous film, I would definitely recommend Snow White and the Huntsman for a Friday night entertaining movie.  It is rated PG-13 so it is certainly not as kid friendly as the original Disney animation, but other than that it is a good family film.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 3 awards.
Nominated for Best Production Design (Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright), Best Makeup (Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane), and Best Visual Effects (David Clayton, Eric Saindon, Joe Letteri, R. Christopher White).
Watched November 13, 2013.

Over ten years ago, The Lord of the Rings films swept over the world and created fanatics and returning obsessors of the famed and well written (although overly detailed) works by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Now, director and producer Peter Jackson is back at it, this time dividing The Hobbit into three parts.

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first installment.  The next, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is out this month and I have high hopes that it will redeem the first film’s slightly disappointing results.

 

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.

  

The story is set some sixty years before The Lord of the Rings but stars a good friend of ours, Bilbo Baggins, this time portrayed by Martin Freeman.  He is visited by a strange wizard whom he does not remember and refuses quite sensibly to indulge the old man’s proposal of an adventure.  Galdalf (Ian McKellen), of course, thinks Bilbo will be perfect for the job, and it is because of this that a large unexpected party shows up on the hobbit’s doorstep soon afterward, expecting food and speaking of dragons and treasure.

 

The party of dwarves were once one of the richest clans.  They had dug so deep and so far that they had discovered the heart of the mountain.  However, the dragon Smaug ran them from their home, and now just this small group of 12 is willing to fight their way back home.  They have come to Gandalf for help, who has come to Bilbo, for they are in want of a burglar.

 

The film dwells quite a long time in setting up the story, and the dinner scene itself takes up almost a full third of the film.  It is funny and there are two musical numbers.  Gandalf’s performance is a bit more waspish and fun loving than the desperate man we have grown accustomed to previously.  Bilbo refuses to be their burglar but a bit of sleep and a quiet house in the early morning light seems to change his mind and he runs after the group.

 

The rest of the film is almost just setting up the story, with a few adventures in-between.  Bilbo is an outsider of the group, and King Thorin (Richard Armitage), who is remarkably good looking for a dwarf, is the most unwilling to accept him.  There are orcs, goblins, giants, and trolls that interupt their journey.  They even make a pit stop in Rivendel where Gandalf has a show stopping (not in a good way) discussion with Saruman and some other key players where they discuss the dark signs of the land and whether or not they should support the dwarves’ vain adventures.

Probably the best scene in the entire film is when Andy Serkis returns once again to embody Gollum, the once Hobbit like creature who lives in the dark and has an unhealthy obsession with his Precious.  If you aren’t familiar with Gollum, he plays a very large role in The Lord of the Rings and his meeting with Bilbo signifies a great shift in the fate of Middle Earth.  The motion capture work and animation in this scene are unreal.  Serkis is exquisite and Gollum is perfectly chilling during his schizophrenic performance in their game of riddles, which should hopefully capture the hearts of fans and newcomers alike.  Although the scene slows the pace of the film almost to a stand still, one can hope that new viewers won’t get lost but can appreciate what a perfect scene it is.

 

For the most part, An Unexpected Journey is an excellent film.  Is is the first part, therefore it is not resolved, the adventure is not over, and there is much more yet to come.  I would advise watching this film before watching The Lord of the Rings and not the other way around.  I did that last year and was sorely disappointed, but in doing the reverse this year I can appreciate The Hobbit much more for what it is.  The 3D and 48 frames per second makes it a bit too realistic and much less magical than one might like, but the views of New Zealand will never grow old.  Peter Jackson wanted very much for the world to seem bigger than ever, but I’m not quite sure that happened in most cases.

 

If you can accept that An Undexpected Journey is based off of a children’s book and is the first in a three part series, I think that it is much easier to see the good in it than to nit-pick at the bad.  The performances are solid, the music is stunning, the camera work is top notch, and the special effects are out of this world.  The comedy is somewhat childish, the story wanders a bit from its main goal, and it takes an awfully long time for Thorin to loosen up.

 

I would one hundred percent highly recommend this film to anyone.  It will one day soon be a part of my own home library and I will watch it multiple times in the not too distant future.  If you can take my advice and perhaps lower the expectations that The Lord of the Rings trilogy created in you, I hope that you will not be disappointed.

Prometheus (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Prometheus (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Visual Effects (Charley Henley, Martin Hill, Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood).
Watched October 28, 2013.

  

Reviewing Prometheus is one giant spoiler alert waiting to happen.  Even its trailers did a good job of keeping the target audience in the dark, which is perhaps why everyone thought it was going to be much more groundbreaking than it actually turned out to be.  With all of the potential and the execution from the talented special effects team, one hopes that the story of Prometheus could step up and deliver an unexpected sci-fi plot, but alas, Riddley Scott employs the same story-telling techniques from the 70s and falls short of expectations.

 

That being said, coming from someone who loves sci-fi but hates aliens, I really enjoyed Prometheus for what it is.  A small team of miss-matched people have been hired to embark on a trillion dollar expedition to an unnamed planet in 2093 because a couple scientists have found some prehistoric drawings in caves around the world.  Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is what they call a true believer.  She, her partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), and the ancient man funding the trip are searching for answers behind humanity’s existence.

 

The beginning of the film is slow.  It explains things well, introduces a few key characters, and lets everyone in on the purpose of their trip.  You can tell everyone is there for a different reason, but for most of them it’s just the money.  They find a place to land their ship pretty quickly–nature doesn’t build in straight lines–and find a giant dome structure where they spend the majority of their time on the planet.

 

Without revealing too much, things obviously go a little wrong while on the planet and the movie only answers a few questions about the cosmos and humanity, while leaving the rest unexplained.  Certain characters like Janek (Idis Elba) have a small but important role as captain, others like Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) are woefully underused.  David (Michael Fassbender) is the resident android and he quickly steals the show, seconded by Dr. Shaw.

 

I thought the acting was good, the special effects were seriously phenomenal, and the story had potential.  I enjoyed that it left questions unanswered but it either tried too hard to be a horror film or didn’t try hard enough to be a sci-fi exploration film.  There were certain elements that were executed well and I liked the dynamic between David and Shaw quite a lot.  Maybe it is because androids rarely play the good guy but I was wary of David from the beginning.  I won’t reveal what side he’s on and the reasons for his actions, but he is certainly a scene stealer.

 

Although Life of Pi won Best Visual Effects, Prometheus one hundred percent deserved its nomination.  While character development and plot were a B-grade film at best, the special effects were A plus all the way.

 

If you enjoy sci-fi, I would definitely suggest Prometheus.  It was just enough suspense for my taste and had a good pace that never left me looking at my watch.  A couple characters and performances make up for some of the other downfalls as well.  Even if you can’t handle movies like Alien, you might be alright watching this film, although if you’re looking for more of a thrill you might be a bit disappointed.