The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies review

So this should be, in theory, the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s middle earth double trilogy extravaganza. In some ways I’m relieved. Instead of The Battle of the Five Armies maybe this should have been called Elves v Orcs: The Final Smackdown, although as events happen before The Lord of the Rings it’s not really a final anything.

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The title gives away all you need to know. Following events of the last film where Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves – led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) – managed to wind up the dragon Smaug, who then took off to torch the nearby Laketown, home to the manly Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), we pick things up mid action where the dragon is wreaking havoc.

Bard does his thing with a bow, some elves pile in to help and the dwarves, realising the dragon (spoiler!) is dead, retreat into the mountain to claim the gold for themselves. We then end up in a sort of Middle Earth Mexican standoff, with elves and laketown men outside the mountain demanding the dwarves give up some of the booty. At the same time Sauron is on the rise (initially as a necromancer hellbent on keeping Gandalf locked in some sort of birdcage) and so he sends orcs and trolls and other beasties to claim the mountain for its strategic value.

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With this (hopefully) being the final outing of Middle Earth, you can see Peter Jackson and the gang have put a lot of love into the making of this film and they really don’t want to let this world go. Yet go it must. And with the final film being basically an epic battle, the challenge was to ensure the audience can find a way in – if it’s just elves and dwarves smashing into orcs then we’ll have moved too much into Michael Bay territory, which no one wants to do.

The key to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was that, at every step of the way, you really cared about each and every one of the characters. They got lots of screen time to develop, so that when they got into battle situations you wanted them to make it. I am not sure the same can be said as much for The Hobbit trilogy, particularly this final film. As ever, Bilbo is our way in and the story is (mostly) told from his point of view. With so much going on in terms of dragons, battles and so on, he gets a little lost, in the same way he did in the preceding film, The Desolation of Smaug.

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Granted, he gets a few good moments, but it almost seems (despite the film being the third in a bloated trilogy) that he doesn’t get the time on screen we’d like him to have. Also, Jackson doesn’t tug on our heart strings in anywhere near the same way he did for the Rings films. Perhaps it’s just the nature of this type of story. It’s a journey to a mountain, a face off with a dragon, then a big battle. And that is that.

In order to inject a bit more emotion for the audience Jackson introduced a female elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) in the last film. She got a bit of a love story with the best-looking dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), and that was further developed this time round. Book purists will probably sneer at this, but I honestly didn’t mind it. She was a good addition as a character and helped give the audience an emotional outlet – as Tauriel’s chemistry with Kili felt genuine, unforced and refreshing in an otherwise testosterone laden environment.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Throughout the five armies battle (dwarves, elves, men, orcs and, er, bats and eagles possibly?), the most interesting battles were the one on one contests, as we can relate to them. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) gets his fair share, as do a few of the dwarves and elves, leaving the best one to Thorin, facing off against what can only be described as a giant orc with anger management issues.

Originally this story was written as a children’s book, an adventurous romp with perhaps a few scary bits, but overall something that was designed to entertain. I think perhaps, in order for Jackson to tie up the two trilogies, he’s moved the tone quite quickly from adventure to something altogether darker and more brooding. There’s a few moments where the playful exuberance you’d have hoped he would bring to it comes out (the barrels down the river sequence in the second film springs to mind), yet these are occur less and less as the trilogy wears on.

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There’s basically no fun to be had in this final film at all. You could say it’s a big battle so that’s to be expected, but just the odd line or two to lighten to mood wouldn’t have gone amiss. Jackson managed this perfectly well in the Rings trilogy, why not here too?

Ultimately, there’s some inventive moments to this film (Thorin’s descent into madness is quite well handled for example), yet it half collapses under its own seriousness. And you get the sense that the filmmakers are so sad that they’ll no longer be making these movies anymore, their sadness seeped through into the film’s overall tone – which made for a slightly depressing ending in a way.

Fargo: first season review

The first season of a new show based on a film could go one of two ways… obviously. In that it could sink like a soggy souffle or it could surprise and delight both fans of the original film – directed by the Coen brothers – and bring in new fans alike.fargo-episode-4-stills-synopsis

Largely this show has, pleasingly, done the latter. Following in the footsteps of the Coen brothers is no easy task, yet show creator and writer, Noah Hawley, has done just that, delivering a dark, witty and suspenseful tale, one that’s already meant the show has scooped a slew of awards and been renewed for a second season. It’s also followed the theme of a single story arc per season. The same format that the recent – also quite brilliant – True Detective has done in its first season.

Whilst the mighty script played a large part of Fargo’s success, good writing alone isn’t enough, the cast were, simply put, rather darn good. It helps to have A-list film actors from which to draw of course. And yes, I think we can safely say that now, after the body of work he’s built up, Martin Freeman is indeed A-list.

His performance drove the story along yet… rooting for him as your main protagonist was always going to be a tall order. Freeman’s ability to come across as likeable yet unsure of himself, determined yet afraid, a man with a moral compass yet, at times, completely immoral in terms of his actions, meant that, throughout the season you feel compelled to watch him to see how he will react in any given situation.

Fans of Breaking Bad will recognise a great deal of Walter White in Freeman’s Lester Nygaard. Both are characters that, in trying to change the course of their lives, end up doing despicable things… Yet you find yourself rooting for them. In a way.
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Then you have the straight up bad guy, Billy Bob Thornton’s elusive hitman Lorne Malvo. A man that seems to have a soft spot for Lester. The two cross paths only a few times throughout the season, yet their actions ripple out to affect most other characters in the show in fairly profound ways. Thornton’s performance was loaded with charisma to the point that it reminded me of George Clooney’s in Dusk Till Dawn. Both violent men with a dark side, but allow them to turn on the charm and then sit back and watch the way they hold a room – and, by extension, the audience – in the palm of their hand.

Honorable mentions should also go to some key players in the supporting cast including: Allison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson (the only person smart enough to figure out the various crimes committed and doggedly pursue them to the bitter end. Our real protagonist, if ever there was one); Bob Odenkirk as kindly Police Chief Oswalt (slippery lawyer Saul from Breaking Bad if you didn’t realise); and Colin Hanks as spineless Officer Gus Grimley (another who gets a surprising and satisfying character arc come the season finale).
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Whilst show creator, Noah Hawley, has said that season two will have entirely new characters and a new story, some must surely remain? You can see stalwarts like Molly Solverson and Gus Grimley surfacing from time to time. But maybe it will play out a bit like The Wire, where the show focuses on other towns and goings on in neighbouring parts of America, occasionally revisiting old characters so they keep their hand in and thus the Fargo world expands.

Either way, this show was a nice surprise, in that I came to it with little knowledge or expectation, but was drawn in regardless. To repeat the trick for a second season will be tough, but there’s still a lot of this world for the show’s creators to explore, so we can but hope they’ll deliver.

The desolation of Peter Jackson?

the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaugAs titles go, it’s divisive I know. Now I’m not trying to start an argument but… has Peter Jackson been given too much creative freedom on The Hobbit trilogy? Is he wandering the wastelands of creativity, choking on his own noxious gases of invention?

Having just seen The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug I cringe a little inside when I ask these questions because: he’s a phenomenal director and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy are among my favourite films of all time; I highly rate Jackson as a director in general and think studios should allow creative people to do what they do best; and finally, I like the story and characters J.R.R. Tolkien created – to spend more time in Middle Earth is a privilege.

Yet… yet, something is not quite right with this trilogy. Judging something that’s part of a series is never advisable, but a film is still in a film in its own right, even if it’s part of a trilogy. I suppose one of the main problems I have – which was a problem from the get-go – is that, not only is each film too long, but also that we have three in the first place. Now Jackson has said having three is great because there’s so much material to draw from, not just the main book but The Silmarillion and other supporting material Tolkien dreamt up. Ok, if that’s the case, why invent characters?

Go see the film and you’ll notice a certain she-elf in a fairly prominent role as part of a love triangle. She was never included in Tolkien’s tales. Granted she’s a nice addition as a character and balances out the male-heavy lineup, but she wasn’t needed. taurielthehobbitShe’s filler to pad out the story so Jackson can have three, excessively lengthy films. And that’s just one example, there are more from The Desolation of Smaug and An Unexpected Journey, but we’ll be here all day if we go through them.

However… Now that we’ve got the bad stuff out the way, let’s look at the good. Ranting and raving like an angry dwarf aside, there’s a lot to love about this second instalment of Bilbo’s tale. More action, more adventure, with some great set pieces – in particular the way the company escape the elves of Mirkwood in barrels down the river, this is Jackson at his finest.

Also, despite him not featuring much in this part of the books (filler again), it’s nice to see Legolas back. Indeed he gets some great set pieces, including a face off with a brutish orc, reminiscent of one of Aragorn’s fights from the original trilogy.

And let’s not forget the showpiece of this particular tale, the slumbering yet deadly beast… Smaug. He needs to look big, fearsome and genuinely scary, and he does. Hats off to Jackson for brilliantly bringing him to life. Voiced (almost unrecognisably) by Benedict Cumberbatch, the final third of the film almost becomes the Smaug show, with hobbit and dwarves trying to stay a step ahead of his wrath and deadly fire.

There’s other nice touches too. Laketown is well realised; a damp and dismal fishing village that has seen better days. It also gives us an introduction to Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), who fits effortlessly into Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth. bardandlegolasHe gets some key scenes and will no doubt have more to do in the final film too.

From the final instalment it would be great to see more character development, as this seemed to take a bit of a back seat this time round in favour of the action and moving the story along, but that’s a small point.

All in all, my misgivings aside, it’s a very good second film with much more of a swing in its step than the first. Tonally, it’s darker, and therefore closer to Rings – something which will no doubt continue to develop in the final chapter. So, in answer to my initial question, Jackson’s desolation really depends on your point of view. Keep the focus on Bilbo and the characters and he embraces the goodness of the Shire, indulge in long, lingering shots of countryside and needless exposition and he goes the way of Mordor.

Best twenty films of 2012

It’s been an epic year for films across a variety of genres. This list reflects my taste in films so I hope you enjoy. Sorry Twilight, you didn’t make the cut!

  • Skyfall
    skyfall-craigStrangely there are people who don’t like this film and say it’s not classic Bond. I think it’s the closest to Fleming’s Bond since Connery. To celebrate 50 years of Bond, the dream team of Mendes, Craig, Bardem and Dench pulled out the stops to make this film truly special.
  • Argo
    Can’t believe people still give Affleck a hard time for his early career. How many decent films does he need to direct before people will admit he’s a real talent? First Gone Baby Gone and The Town and now this. A proper, intelligent thriller.
  • Moonrise Kingdom
    This film is a great companion piece for The Life Aquatic, my favourite from Wes Anderson. As always, a great cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton. Although focus is on the two, young actors who confidently carry the story. A sweet and quirky tale.
  • Looper
    Rian Johnson and Gordon-Levitt are fast becoming a match made in heaven. First Brick and now this time-travelling sci-fi tale of assassins. This film had an interesting mix of futuristic and retro, plus it marked Gordon-Levitt out as a leading man in the making.
  • Silver Linings Playbook
    SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKForget Hunger Games, this ranks as my favourite Jennifer Lawrence film, just edging Winter’s Bone. She has great chemistry with Bradley Cooper, both of them playing flawed characters in this acerbic, edgy and alternative type of rom-com. Highly recommended.
  • Chronicle
    Earlier this year this film was released and flew somewhat under the radar. Shown in found footage style, the best way to describe the first half is Jackass with telekinetic powers. It then goes darker as it builds to an epic finale. Thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.
  • Dark Knight Rises
    The final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s game-changing bat franchise. Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Gordon-Levitt as Boy Wonder in the making. This was an emotional, visceral ending to the best set of Batman films of all time.
  • Avengers Assemble
    Despite my last comment regarding Batman, Marvel Studios has firmly staked its claim as the lighter, more upbeat side of the superhero world. Joss Whedon pulling off an incredible trick to balance a film with a host of big characters, letting them all shine equally.
  • Ted
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    Macfarlane knows his comedy. This film was his vision and really paid off. From script and direction through to mo-cap acting, he was the driving force. Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg added their dramatic and comedy talent to make this one of the funniest films of the year.
  • Life of Pi  
    Ang Lee’s tale of a young boy shipwrecked at sea with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker is a visual masterpiece. Taken from a Booker prize-winner novel, it makes you question the nature of belief and how you perceive the world. An uplifting and life-affirming tale.
  • The Raid: Redemption
    Combine the talents of a Welsh Director and up-and-coming action star in Iko Uwais and you get an unexpected, kick-ass treat. Introducing us to pencak silat, an Indonesian form of dance and self defence, it’s breathtaking to watch when used to beat up bad guys.
  • The Hobbit
    Peter Jackson has worked wonders yet again. The dwarves are great and Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo. His ‘riddles in the dark’ scene with Gollum is brilliantly scripted. If you’re even a fleeting fantasy fan you won’t want to miss this exhilarating tale.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
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    Critically well received, this fantasy film has drawn comparisons with Pan’s Labyrinth and is well worth seeing. It tells the tale of six-year-old girl Hushpuppy who, when looking after her ill and hot-tempered father, must learn the ways of courage and love.
  • Rust and Bone
    It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Marion Cotillard – there’s a permanent picture of her on my blog. Here she beautifully plays a killer whale trainer who forms an unlikely romance with a bouncer. Jacques Audiard directs this passionate and moving love story.
  • The Master
    Possibly a career-best film from Paul Thomas Anderson and performance from Joaquin Phoenix? Ultimately, this film is about the fascinating interplay between war veteran Freddie (Phoenix) and movement leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
  • Seven Psychopaths
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    From the Director of darkly comic film In Bruges, this tale of kidnapped dogs and gangsters is hilariously scripted and brilliantly acted. With a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson.
  • End of Watch
    Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena put in the hours with cops on the beat in South Central LA to form a real bond prior to filming. The results paid off, as this thriller cop movie has real believability and chemistry between the two leads.
  • Magic Mike
    Ladies of Tampa‘, croons Matthew McConaughey, before he smashes his guitar and strips in front of a horde of screaming ladies. This film, though, belongs to Channing Tatum. Before acting he was a stripper – this film gives an intriguing glimpse of life back stage in that world.
  • The Grey
    It’s Liam Neeson, he’s cold, he’s angry, wolves are trying to kill him. In a minute he’s going to get really mad – what’s not to like? This bleak adventure sees a bunch of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash – in the middle of a wolf kill zone.
  • 21 Jump Street
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    Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill team up in this cop buddy comedy remake. Tatum is – surprisingly – very funny, with great comic timing. Jokes are often set up and don’t pan out how you might expect, which is a good thing. Also, Johnny Depp has an outstanding cameo.

There and back again – Martin Freeman’s tale

the hobbitI recently heard – well, a few weeks ago – that The Hobbit would not be a single film, but a trilogy. Apparently the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy will be drip-fed to us Middle Earth fans in three instalments. The first, An Unexpected Journey, is out this year. Secondly, The Desolation of Smaug, is out in 2013. Finally, the third instalment, There and Back Again, is out 2014. That should keep fans busy at least.

In some ways this decision – presumably by Warner Bros – is both good and bad. There’s more than enough material in Tolkien’s world for a trilogy to happen. The cause for concern is that it was announced after filming. At least that’s how I understand it. So it’s essentially getting turned into three films in post production.

Some say this is a bad thing, an afterthought, a chance to cash in. Perhaps it is, however there is no need to fret little Tolkinites and Tolkinistas, it’s Peter Jackson. He knows what he’s doing. In case we need reminding, let’s just watch the trailer for the upcoming film below.

Something that’s had nearly 20 million hits and over 100,000 likes suggests that, whilst expectation is huge, this film will be truly epic. I’m quite excited at the thought of another trip back to Jackson’s Middle Earth – whether that’s as a single film, a double whammy, or a trilogy.

Anyway, this post so far has literally been my ramblings as usual. What I wanted to discuss was Mr Martin Freeman aka Bilbo Baggins – that tricksy hobbit!

Peter Jackson aside, a massive reason for my excitement about this film is his casting. I’m SO glad they chose him. It’s been discussed before by others the reasons he got this part – his comic timing, everyman qualities, the awkward, hesitant nature he instils into characters. Don’t believe me? I’ve compiled some of his best moments for your enjoyment.

  1. Tim kisses Dawn – The Office
    I’m not talking about their proper kiss where he finally wins her over. No, in this instance – in relation to why he’s going to be a great Bilbo – I mean the moment where he first kisses Dawn. Awkward, tender and sweet.
  2. Arthur’s factory trip – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    The sense of wild-eyed and innocent wonderment he shows here suggests he’ll be a great Bilbo, in terms of giving the character that sense of adventure.
  3. Dr Watson – Sherlock
    In case you were concerned he doesn’t have the emotional depth to play Bilbo, watch this scene in BBC’s Sherlock.  He won a BAFTA last year for his portrayal of this character.
  4. John gets his kiss – Love Actually
    Putting Martin Freeman and Joanna Page (Stacey from Gavin &  Stacey) together for this film was pure casting genius. Both totally sweet and adorable. You end up pulling a big, stupid grin when they kiss for the first time.
  5. Tim gets rejected – The Office
    I probably shouldn’t just make this a list of his top moments from The Office, but I had to include one more. The moment where Dawn rejects him is hard to watch. You wish you could save him the embarrassment.

We’ll just have to hang on until the first Hobbit instalment is out this December. I feel I should leave you with some sort of fantastic sign off. So, in the words of Looney Tunes, that’s all folks!