Avengers: Age of Ultron is Worthy

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is the sequel to the wildly successful original Avengers movie. Returning to the franchise is director/writer Joss Whedon, and the big 6: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Helmsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Scarlet Johanson (Black Widow).

The film opens with The Avengers taking down one of the last remaining Hydra bases (remember them from Captain America:Winter Soldier?). The objective is twofold, search for rumored alien tech that fell into Hydra’s hands after the Battle of New York and specifically retrieve the Scepter of Loki.

This opening battle sequence is a great set piece to start the film and helps establish how our heroes have meshed together as a team since the first film. It is revealed that Hydra is using their discoveries to try to create their own soldiers with super powers. We get to meet the cinematic versions of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Quicksilver is capable of running at unbelievable speeds and gives a serious challenge to the team. However, a bigger threat is created by the Scarlet Witch. At this point in the film she uses her powers to reveal each characters greatest fears. These fears drive the rest of the film and provide the basis for the seeds that will culminate in Captain America: Civil War.

Tony Stark (Iron Man) has just discovered Loki’s scepter when the Scarlet Witch uses her power on him. Turns out that Tony’s biggest fear is that he will be responsible for the destruction of the world and the deaths of his teammates because he will be unable to stop the next alien invasion. I won’t go into everyone else’s fears here. Just know that they will tie in nicely to the dissension that begins to eat away at Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and will continue to propel this franchise.

Tony convinces Bruce Banner (Hulk) to help him use the power of the Scepter to help construct a artificial intelligence peacekeeping program he has been working on called Ultron. As luck would have it, the duo is successful. TOO Successful, because Ultron has achieved sentience and has decided that there will never be peace as long as humanity exists. Therefore, he must exterminate the human race. Ultron is played in all his CGI glory by James Spader. Mr Spader does a wonderful job of voicing this iconic Marvel villain (my personal favorite villain) and balances the role between psychotic and humorous with ease.

The rest of the film follows the machinations as the Avengers attempt to shut Ultron down but discover that he can download his consciousness into another body as easily or even more so than you can log on to various computers.

There are some incredibly complicated action sequences and I can’t begin to imagine the number of hours it took to choreograph, film and integrate with all the CGI. The battle between Hulk and Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor (lovingly called “Veronica”) is tons of fun and an epic battle to witness. There are several other smaller battles and everyone gets a moment to shine

Eventually, The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver realize how they have been misled by Hydra’s propaganda and Ultron’s lies. They decide to help the Avengers and begin to turn the tide.

The final battle is exactly what you would expect. It is grand, Wagnerian in nature and not without consequences. The stakes are the existence of the very planet and you have got to give the crew that put it together credit for putting such a thing on film. It looks fantastic!

Of course the Avengers save the day (they ARE heroes, after all) But its a victory that comes with a cost. The fears that they have are still working their ways into the decisions that are made and give rise to a new team. For those of you that are interested, you get a great Stan Lee cameo, the trademark Joss Whedon banter and humor is abundantly present and there is a nifty Mid Credit tag ending that reminds you of who and what these films are ultimately leading up to (Infinity War!!!). However, there is NOT a final tag ending after the credits are completed.

I think this is a great film. Enjoyable, layered and tons of Marvel easter eggs for the hardcore fan. Marvel fans will definitely squeal with delight as Ultron’s “Vision” is revealed!

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

GRADE A-

 

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Chappie is, well, you know…

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I can see it now. Director Neil Blomkamp, still full of hope and promise after District 9 and only slightly tarnished from Elysium, goes into a meeting to pitch his next project, Chappie

“I have a vision for a movie about a robot. It’s a mashup of Short Circuit and Robocop. It’ll be great! And to ensure that we get the young adult crowd, we’ll give it a hard R rating!! Whattayasay???”

Investors are still unconvinced and so he continues on:

“Look, I’ve got a stellar cast lined up. We’ll have Sharito Copley do the motion capture for Chappie, my buddy Dev Patel will be the scientist/creator, Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja will be the criminals you can’t help but love, Sigourney Weaver will be the clueless CEO and Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman will be our villain!! Heck, I’ll even get Hans Zimmer to do the music It can’t miss!!! Whattayasay?????”

Of course, the movie gets greenlit. It does sound great! Unfortunately, the reality is far removed from the vision.

Chappie depicts a world in the not too distant future where Robots are being used as the main force in augmenting the abilities of the local police to combat crime. They are called Scout Drones and are the creation of  Deon Wilson (Patel). His main rival is Vincent Moore (Jackman), who has created another type of robot called MOOSE that is the mother of all overkill in modern weapons. Moose is big, has machine guns, as well as Cluster bombs.

Wackiness ensues when Deon, who is ready to test a program that will make artificial intelligence sentient, uses the new program on a Scout that is scheduled to be scrapped. Through a series of events, Vincent discovers what Deon has done and plots to use the situation to discredit Deon and gain support for his MOOSE program. Things are complicated when the now sentient robot, called CHAPPIE, winds up being “raised” by a group of criminals that want to use him to pull off one big heist. He winds up talking like the gangsters that are raising them and even emulates their body language. 

Chappie excels in the integration of the motion capture work of Sharito Copley to bring the sentient robot to life. The cinematography is exceptional and creates a believable atmosphere of squalor coupled with technological achievement. The scenes where Chappie is abandoned and experiences the cruelty of man firsthand can be jarring and echoes incidents of abuse that are all too often parts of our reality.

The film breaks down with incredibly huge, gaping holes in its internal logic. Chappie has the intelligence of a newborn when he first awakens. However, without explanation, he matures mentally to a young teenager. I can accept that the AI can develop more quickly than a human, but there is no context to show how fast he learns or how he gains the knowledge to use the skills he demonstrates. He also makes an unexplained leap from the mind of a child with no experience regarding computer science, programming or computation to being able to develop a way to transfer a consciousness from one body to another.

I could ignore these potholes and chock it up to editing, however there is one major plot point upon which the movie turns, that is unforgivable. Chappie possesses a CPU that acts as a “key”. It connects him to the rest of the Scout drone network.  In a particularly disturbing scene, Vincent captures Chappie and removes the key so that he can disable the network and create a situation that can only be resolved by deploying the MOOSE unit. The plan is put into effect and the network is shut down. INCLUDING CHAPPIE. HUH? He’s not connected to the network anymore so how is this possible? Later in the movie, Chappie is able to accomplish a major plot point by entering the network, BUT HE STILL DOESN’T HAVE THE KEY! 

In my opinion, gaping lapses in story logic is an unforgivable sin that ruins  my ability to enjoy a film.

Ultimately, Chappie is a disappointment because no matter how well intended the allegory, if you don’t follow the rules you set up in your story, your message doesn’t matter.

Chappie-C

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2 Bad

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Let’s get this out of the way first. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is bad. It’s really bad. It’s so bad that it took me days to figure out what to say about it. This film was made by people that actually have credentials in filmaking and acting. Steve Pink is the director and writing credit goes to Josh Heald. It stars Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke and Adam Scott. Gillian Jacobs, Collette Wolfe and Bianca Haase provide the eye candy for this film.

Characters from the first Hot Tub Time Machine movie (minus a very wise John Cusack), return for more time hopping shenanigans. In the present, Lou is grievously and supposedly hilariously wounded. Lou, Nick and Jacob use the hot tub time machine to go back in time to stop Lou’s assailant. However, they somehow wind up in the future with Adam Jr. and wackiness ensues that affects the time stream.

I’m not really sure if the working script used to film this thing was anymore complicated than my previous paragraph. This film is lacking a coherent plot, logical sense of direction and is a waste of the actors talent and an insult to its audience. I really enjoyed Craig Robinson and Clark Duke in The Office and Adam Scott does a terrific job in Parks and Recreation. However, they are working with material that is incredibly weak and they try to do the best they can with it.

When I look at the full cast and crew on IMDB for this film I am amazed at the hundreds of people that worked on it. There are some truly talented folks that were involved with this project. I place blame on the studio that ok’d this project and the writer and director that provided such poorly conceived material.

Hot Tub Time Machine F

The Imitation Game is Riveting

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The Imitation Game is the Oscar nominated film directed by Morten Tyldum, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander, and Rory Kinnear as Detective Robert Nock. It is based on the book titled Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

People tend to forget that when a film is portrayed as being based on something that it means exactly that. This is not a documentary and is not a faithful, historical recreation of Alan Turing’s life. What this film does is take 3 specific time periods in Alan Turing’s life and weaves a story about the race to break the codes of the Nazi Enigma machine to help hasten the end of WW II. 

Tyldum does a masterful job of creating an interweaving story that shows Turing’s relationships with the men (and woman)he worked with on the top secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, the impact of his experiences as a young boy in boarding school and his friendship with Christopher Morcom, and finally, the consequences in 1951 for Alan Turing after  he is investigated by the police for suspicious behavior.

The film works on so many levels. It is a thriller, a mystery and a tale of prejudice and discrimination. We get a glimpse into the turmoil that Turing must have experienced during his life as a gifted genius who also happens to live in a society where homosexuality is a crime punishable by either prison or chemical castration. It serves as perfect metaphor for so many people today who may be gifted in a variety of areas, but are experiencing prejudice and discrimination in their own lives.

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A director working on a biographical/historical film has a couple of innate problems that must be dealt with, regardless of the subject matter. In an interview with Time magazine, Mr. Tyldum is quoted as saying:

“It’s a huge responsibility when you’re dealing with real-life persons and real-life events to do it accurately. Of course, you have to compress a lot into two hours, and there’s no way you can be totally accurate. You have to convey the emotional accuracy—how did Alan Turing feel at this time?—and to do that, you sort of have to dramatize events.

That’s why I wanted it to feel like a thriller. He was 27 years old when he came to Bletchley Park, where the code-breakers worked. Here was this man plucked straight out of Cambridge. And he ends up with all these incredible secrets being dumped on his shoulders and all this incredible pressure. It would be as if he was living in the middle of this wartime spy thriller, so that’s what we wanted to convey.

One thing people have been saying is it’s not accurate that the machine he built was named Christopher. Here’s the fact though: The machine was inspired by Christopher. We know this because he wrote letters to Christopher’s mom his whole life. We know that from his journals, his obsession about recreating a consciousness that he lost—Christopher. How do we communicate that onscreen without making it a lecture? By naming the machine Christopher.”

The Imitation Game is not the only Oscar nominated biographical film to come under scrutiny this year. American Sniper has had its own share of critics for not being an accurate portrayal of Chris Kyle.

The biographical film will hopefully accomplish several goals. It should give the audience a snapshot of the subject and the circumstances that make this a significant period to observe. It should also create a need to know. What’s the full story? Why did this happen? What impact does it have on my life? In my case, I felt both films were very successful. I researched the lives of both men after I saw those films. When I discovered the differences it did not make me feel like I had been cheated or lied to. Instead, I felt that I was now more educated about events and issues that I had previously been ignorant about.

See The Imitation Game. You might discover some things you didn’t know before. It’s then up to you to find out if you were manipulated or educated.

 

The Imitation Game-A

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service may not be what you think

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We’re all familiar with the James Bond tropes before the current Daniel Craig outings. The typical plot line goes something like this: There’s an over the top threat to the world and James must save us by infiltrating, seducing and fighting his way across several exotic locations before a final showdown where he barely defeats the villain and is rewarded with copious amounts of sex as credits roll. Be assured that there are plenty of quips and double entendres along the way and that there is a diabolical henchman involved possessing some skill or physical attribute that makes it seem like our hero has no chance of victory.

Kingsman: The Secret Service takes these familiar plot lines and gives it a hard R twist with its violence. It is loosely based on comic titled The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.  It is directed by Matthew Vaughn and stars Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton , Samuel L. Jackson and Sophie Cookson

The film opens in 1997, where we see 4 men interrogating a captured terrorist. The terrorist raises his head to reveal a grenade pin in his mouth. One of the interrogators throws himself on top of the terrorist, thus saving the others. Colin Firth’s character, Harry (codename Galahad), was in charge of that mission. Harry visits his fallen friend’s wife and attempts to give her  a medal in her husband’s memory. There is a phone number on the back of the medal in case she needs a favor, and to say “Oxford’s not brogues” to confirm her identity. She rejects the medal and so Harry give the medal to her son, Gary.

17 years later, another Kingsman operative is attempting the rescue of a kidnapped Professor. The operative is almost successful until he is killed in over the top fashion by Gazelle, a female assassin with bladed prosthetic legs. 

This opening sequence sets up the plot threads for the film. Harry takes the teen, Gary, under his wing and begins his training to become a member of the Kingsmen. The scenes trade off between Gary and other candidate’s training and those that further reveal the villainous intentions of Sam Jackson’s Mr. Valentine.

Kingsman entertains with action set pieces that defy physics and ramp up the budget for blood spatter. One of the highlights of the film is an extended  sequence that takes place in a church. Mr. Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, speaking in only the 2nd most annoying voice this year, has created technology that uses cell phone signals to turn people into murderous hordes. His first test case of the mass murder network he created is in this church. We see an incredibly choreographed sequence of death and destruction in excruciating detail and slow motion that leaves Harry as the sole survivor. Upon emerging from the church, Harry regains his composure and has a fateful encounter with Mr. Valentine. This sets up the plot for the final act of the film.

Kingsman is a fun action movie for its demographic. My problem with the film is that I’m not sure how to take violence that is shown in such gleeful, glorious detail and I’m definitely uncomfortable with the notion of a female character offering sex as a reward for her freedom. (Admittedly a staple of the Roger Moore James Bond years, but at least it was inferred and not graphically described).  

Should I take this as just a modern take on an old formula or should I take it as where we’ve come as a society because we are so desensitized to sex and violence in today’s cinema? I think the answer to this may unfortunately say more about us than it does about the film.

Kingsman: The Secret Service-B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jupiter Ascending Sinks Under its Own Weight

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Remember The Matrix? Remember how groundbreaking that movie was? Do you remember how it was hailed as an instant classic and how it became an iconic film? Remember how the Wachowski’s were being anointed as the next wunderkind of Cinema? Now think about the reception of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions achieved. These films came nowhere close to fulfilling the promise that was first seen in the Wachowski’s future.

And such is Jupiter Ascending. A film that is the brainchild of Andy and Lana Wachowski. It stars Mila Kuinis as Jupiter Jones and Channing Tatum as Caine.

The film is a rehash of an old Space Opera Trope. Jupiter is the reincarnated Queen of an alien race. The current rulers somehow miraculously know of her existence and must either kill or gain control of her or else their way of life is over. (Why? Who knows? Just roll with it.) A dashing hero is dispatched to protect Jupiter and help her save Earth as well. Wackiness ensues, yada, yada, yada, explosions, love blooms, roll credits.

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It’s really not anymore complicated than that. The story is pretty bare bones and has some cringeworthy dialogue (“Bees are genetically engineered to recognize royalty” comes to mind.) It’s also the home of one of the strangest acting choices in recent memory. Eddie Redmayne plays Balem Abrasax, the current ruler of this part of the universe. He speaks with such oddly annoying tone to his voice that he comes across more as laughable than credible.

However, the film excels in its cinematography and special effects. It is a gorgeous film to look at. The designs of the ships are creative and other worldly looking. The battle scenes, whether on the streets of Chicago, or in deep space draws the audience in and provides a roller coaster type experience that is difficult to find in a movie theater.

Mila Kunis does a great job in the title role. She is capable of playing the range of emotions necessary of this role to make her truly enjoyable to watch. Channing Tatum was a good choice for the role of Caine and has good chemistry with Ms. Kunis.

This could have been an epic film if the script had received as much attention as the cinematography and effects. As it is, we have something that is pretty exciting to look at but very dull to listen to.

 

Jupiter Ascending: C

 

Project Almanac Fails

 

 

 

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Project Almanac is a sci-fi film done in the quasi documentary/lost footage/shaky camera style made popular by much better films such as The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Chronicle. It is directed by Dean Israelite and stars Jeremy Weston as David Raskin, Sofia Black-D’Elia as Jessie Pierce, Sam Lerner as Quinn Goldberg , Allen Evangelista as Adam Le and Amy Landecker as Kathy Raskin. This is the first full length film to be directed by Mr. Israelite and although his intentions are good, the result  is a film that travels down familiar roads, doesn’t add anything new or different to time travel tropes and has significant problems with its pacing.

David Raskin is a brilliant high school senior that hopes to get admitted to MIT. His project proposal,while impressive, gains him admission but not a high enough scholarship to make his dream affordable. David prowls around in the attic, looking for inspiration from his father’s notes and projects. (It’s not really made clear if David’s dad is missing or dead.) He discovers an old video recorder and starts looking at footage of his birthday party when he turned 7. David discovers his reflection in a mirror at the party.

David continues searching through his dad’s things and discovers plans for the construction of a time machine (Ta-da!). Naturally, he starts building  the machine and enlists the aid of his closest friends and his sister. Along the way David meets Jessie and develops a crush on her and thereby hangs the conflict that drives the last 1/3 of the film.

Naturally, the time machine works (who knew all you needed was a few car batteries and some hydrogen from the high school locker room to power a time machine!) The time machine works and with a few modifications, our fantastic five are ready to make some history! 

Wackiness ensues in the form of getting payback on a bully, winning the lottery, retaking a test ad nauseum and the longest sequence involves the gang spending the day at Lollapalooza. It is during this scene that David blows a chance to develop a relationship with Jessie but he solves it by going back in time by himself and responding differently so that they become a couple.

Eventually the gang discovers the ripple effect of their actions and decide that they need to undo the things that they have done so that things are put back, yada yada yada. However, David doesn’t want to do this because he doesn’t want to undo his relationship with Jessie (the guy is actually having sex now, so what do you think is more important to a teenager?)  David tries to undo some things and leave others alone, but each action makes things worse, until he finally decides that he must travel back to his 7th birthday party and talk his dad into destroying the machine and its plans so that it is never built. 

Don’t worry there’s a little epilogue that give David and Jessie a happy ending (hooray for teenage love!).

This film suffers from several problems. The manner it which it was filmed is not logical. Supposedly David’s sister is the one who records and chronicles everything. However, there are plenty of scenes filmed in the same manner that don’t fall into this premise. We also have plenty of quick shots to give the (presumably) male members of the audience a gander at cleavage, legs or just a lingering look of the female form. And why would you cut your footage into a long musical montage????

The script suffers from similar lapses in logic. There is a scene where all 5 friends travel back to the same point in time to allow one of them to retake a test. However, there is no explanation as to why they don’t run into their previous past selves who were doing the same thing. Things occur for the sake of convenience and with the hope that the viewer won’t ask questions.

The actors are all quite serviceable in their roles and do the best they can with this stuff. I hope they are able to move onto to better projects in the future. 

Project Almanac is one of the worst films I’ve seen in quite some time. If you want to watch a good time travel movie, watch Looper or 12 Monkeys. If you want a good lost footage film then watch one of the 3 I referenced at the beginning of this article. Just don’t watch Project Almanac.

 

I give Project Almanac a grade of D.

 

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American Sniper is an important film

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American Sniper is the film directed by Clint Eastwood about the life of Navy Seal Sniper, Chris Kyle. It stars Bradley Cooper as Kyle and Sienna Miller as Kyle’s wife, Taya. The film is based on the book of the same name by Chris Kyle.

American Sniper is not so much a biography as it is a character study of the pressures and trials that members of our military face on the battlefield as well as the challenges they face when they return home to their families. There are certainly events in the film that actually occurred to Kyle, but there are also scenes and characters that are amalgams of  other incidents. Some are factual and some are not. Some have criticized the film as an oversimplification of war and a glorification of Kyle. I don’t think that was the goal of the film. I took it as a film with 2 purposes: 1. to show the life and times of the ones who were the “boots on the ground” and 2. to show how their return home could be a crippling experience for both the soldier and his family.

The film follows Kyle as he decides to enlist, through his 4 tours of Iraq and the difficulties he had in reintegrating into his family when home. It opens with a scene that effectively shows the essence of his mission and the mental stress that could occur. Chris is perched on a roof, scoping out the path of a convoy through his rifle. He spots a man talking on a cell phone and reports him on his headset. He’s given the green light to use his discretion, but is unsure. His backup suggests that maybe he’s just talking to a girlfriend. The man leaves, but a few moments later a woman and a young boy appear in a doorway and walk toward the convoy. Kyle reports the duo and sees that the woman hands the boy something. No one can confirm his observation. He watches the woman and realizes it’s a grenade. He again gets the green light, but his backup warns him that he will be sent to prison for shooting a child if he is wrong. At this point the film cuts to a scene of Chris as a little boy on his first deer hunt with his father. Through several scenes we see how Chris’ upbringing has instilled a black and white morality  and has given him a strong sense of being willing to do what is necessary to protect others.

This is the crux of the film. The members of the military that Chris represents were given great latitude to make their own decisions about whether to act….or not. Either way, people died. The correct decision would save American lives. The incorrect decision could result in being sent to prison as a murderer. Regardless of what Chris Kyle decides to do, how does he live with the ramifications of that decision and then go out and do it again and again? 

We see Chris go through 4 tours of Iraq and how his reputation grows with each mission. He is referred to as “The Legend” among his peers and has the most kills of any sniper in American Military History. The film creates an adversary in the guise of Mustafa. He is supposedly a Syrian sniper who was an Olympic medalist and now works for the terrorists. (In fact, Mustafa is only mentioned in one paragraph of Kyle’s book and Kyle says that he believes he was killed by another unit). 

Chris goes through difficult times when he returns home on leave and after his eventual discharge. He can’t enjoy ordinary life and is unable to verbalize his feelings to his family. He grows increasingly distant and may have the beginnings of tendency towards violence. It affects his relationships and is on the verge of threatening his marriage. Eventually Chris receives some counseling that helps him channels his need to protect and save people by talking with soldiers  through a VA hospital. (In fact, Kyle was quoted as saying that he never had any bad feelings about what he did in the service. However, this does not diminish the need to bring awareness to a very tragic problem for many military personnel.)

Bradley Cooper does an incredible job in the role of Chris Kyle. He disappears in the role and his Oscar nomination is well deserved. The scenes between he and Sienna Miller as Taya are both touching and often heartbreaking as well. The battle scenes in Iraq are realistically constructed. The danger is palpable and the violence is shocking.

American Sniper is not a perfect film but it is an important one. It highlights the dangers to both our military and their families in these complicated times and helps to show why we can have conflicting feelings of pride and sadness in today’s world.

My rating for American Sniper: A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the 5 Armies

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The Battle of the 5 Armies is the final installment in Peter Jackson‘s adaption of The Hobbit, a beloved fantasy novel (perhaps THE beloved fantasy novel) by JRR Tolkien. It is also the culmination of a 13 year journey for Jackson, who has painstakingly and reverently brought The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings trilogy to life.

Every film that Jackson has made in the series has been nominated for Best Picture. The Return of the King actually won the Best Picture award in 2004 and was one of the most decorated films of that year. As each film was released, audiences expectations rose accordingly. Jackson and his team were truly innovators, developing cutting edge techniques in all aspects of film making, up to and including the development of higher film speed ratios to deliver some of the most beautiful, fully immersive cinematic experiences of all time. High standards indeed.

The Battle of the 5 Armies stars Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly. Benedict Cumberbatch provides the voice over work for Smaug.

The Hobbit film trilogy has generally been regarded as a let down after the triumph of The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Jackson has conceded that filming the Hobbit was more problematic simply because it is a relatively shorter story and is tonally different from LOTR. Portions of the novel are shifted in the film to form a better bridge to the tone of the LOTR movies. Evangeline Lilly’s character , Tauriel, was created by Jackson as a way to expand material introduced in the book. Such moves have caused discomfort among some of the novel’s most ardent fans.

If one sets aside those considerations and just watches the film for its own sake, we are still left with a film that succeeds more than it fails.

The film opens with the dragon, Smaug, unleashing his fiery wrath upon the people of Lake-Town. The scenes of Smaug’s attack and his subsequent death by Bard the Bowman of Esgaroth are outstanding and do much to create the atmosphere of despair and inevitability that permeates this film. Once Smaug is dispatched and the dwarves reclaim their treasure, we begin to see the downward tailspin that comes from the curse of greed and power as the armies of Dwarves, Men, Elves, Orcs and Eagles converge.

While the entire cast is topnotch, I feel it is important to note that Richard Armitage gives an Oscar worthy performance as Thorin Oakenshield. You can see and hear how one of the most important protagonists of the 1st two films is gradually corrupted and leads his people into an unnecessary war. A truly landmark performance.

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Martin Freeman does a great job as Bilbo Baggins, the little Hobbit that serves as the moral conscience of the tale (yet with his own, Precious, secret) and helps inject the need to persevere agains all odds that gives us hope in this film.

Ian McKellan once again triumphs as Gandalf and it is an amazing feat to consider that he has played this character in every film since 2001.

Howard Shore has done another great job of building on his already iconic work on these film scores.

I think I’m going against the general consensus when I say that I believe this was my favorite of the 3 Hobbit movies. I felt it was successful in drawing this story to a satisfying conclusion and serving as a bridge to The Fellowship of the Ring. I feel like the biggest weakness of the film lies in 2 points.  The unrequited love story between Tauriel and one of the dwarves feels contrived and unnecessary. The other thing that bothered me (and boy, is this a small quibble) is that in the battle scenes we see different types of giants and monsters used as WMD’s. Every time they wind up being comic relief. I think they went to that well too often as well as making me wonder why would any self respecting army commander put a giant idiot at the front of the attack?

 

My grade for The Hobbit: The Battle of the 5 Armies is A-.

 

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Into The Storm Leaves A Big Mess To Clean Up

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I’m pretty familiar with tornadoes. I grew up in West Texas. I went to college in the panhandle of Texas. The majority of my relatives live in Oklahoma, and I currently live just north of Dallas. As you can see, I’ve been in tornado alley just about my whole life. In fact, I was on the road when the Jarrell tornado hit with all its F-5 fury in 1997. My family and I were spared from a brush with that particular monster, but we did take cover in a BBQ Shack when another tornado formed on the road directly in front of us and then worked its way towards our location. For some reason, known only to God, this twister bounced over the shack we were hiding in and hit the mobile home park behind the restaurant.

As you might imagine, I have always had a healthy respect for these storms. In fact I’m on the waiting list to get a state of the art storm shelter built in my home.

I was intrigued with the previews of Into The Storm that I had seen. I entered the theatre today with a heart full of hope and my head held high! Unfortunately, I did not leave the theatre in the same way.

Into the Storm is a story about a group of storm trackers, thrill seekers and the people of a fictional town in Oklahoma as they are besieged by several tornadoes in one day.

It stars Richard Armitage as a high school asst. principal trying to find his son, played by Max Deacon, as well as Sarah Wayne Callies in the role of one of the intrepid storm chasers.

The film does a credible job of showing the randomness of the life of one of these killer storms. The paths of destruction and the way that something may be obliterated while something right next to it remains untouched rings true to documents cases.

It also does a good job of showing the types of equipment used by professional storm chasers. The Titus vehicle is inspired by types of vehicles designed for this activity.

The film falls short in inexplicable actions by various characters. The initial storm approaches during a high school graduation (being held outdoors, natch). Instead of heeding the warnings that are alluded to at the beginning of the story, they go on. Now, I could go along with that (because I’ve lived through a situation just like that!) However, It’s writing for the sake of sensationalism to think that the administrators of this school would not have their own lightening detectors, storm warning systems and communication with police and EMS services to make sure that their students are safe. School personnel will constantly monitor weather conditions in this type of situation so that they can make the best decisions possible regarding their students.

In fact, it seems like that there are no police, fire or EMS at all in this town. This town doesn’t even have school bus drivers. Luckily, the crime rate it so low that all the school buses are left unlocked with the keys in the ignition!

Of course there are some scenes where spines would be shattered, limbs would be broken, but our resilient heroes just bounce right up and keep on going. They aren’t really sure WHERE they are going. The geography of Silverton is as mysterious as the geography of Springfield in the Simpsons (and believe me, the geography of Oklahoma ain’t that hard to figure out!)

One of the running gags that most people might think of as the most ludicrous in the movie is actually one of the things that I thought was the most believable. There are two redneck drunk characters (named Donk and Reeviss), that spend their time drinking beer and filming Jackass types stunts to post on Youtube. Donk and Reevis see the storm chasers go by and are inspired to make their own videos showing them in the path of the storms. You would think they would be killed (or maybe you’re hoping), but as luck would have it, its a case of the drunks getting to survive because they were too drunk to be severely hurt.

The actors do what they can with the story they have to tell. Its just too bad that its not a more credible story.

Grade: C for weak writing

 

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