Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

Peter Jackson’s final instalment of the Tolkien franchise, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies offers similar strengths and weaknesses to the director’s previous concluding film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and his band of dwarves have roused the dragon Smaug, who flies out to destroy Lake Town. Meanwhile, the mountain and its riches attracts various armies…

The third and final part of The Hobbit, The Battle of the Five Armies functions as a prolonged climactic scene. The majority of the duration is filled with this action, allowing for cutaways to other key players in Tolkien’s universe.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies begins in the midst of the action, carrying on straight after the end of The Desolation of Smaug. The opening gambit is an impressive one; viewers are launched immediately into a frantic episode. The sustained nature of the film’s central battle, however, loses the peaks and troughs expected of an adventure such as this. As the fighting lasts for much of the duration, it is difficult for viewers to muster the excitement these sequences usually bring. Battle sequences are finely executed, but the duration does hinder enjoyment.

There is some appealing foreshadowing in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which should please fans of The Lord of the Rings. The characterisation in the film is decent, although Bilbo’s earnestness  is overplayed at times. Production values are up to the standard expected from director Peter Jackson.

There are some great individual sequences in the film, even though there is a lack of momentum building overall. Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee reprise their roles with aplomb. The film maintains a sombre atmosphere, with a few breaks for humour.

Whilst An Unexpected Journey moved at a glacial pace in terms of action, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies offers an abundance of action. The Hobbit trilogy may not be as satisfying as The Lord of the Rings, but the films still offer decent entertainment for fantasy fans.

Stuff To Look At

The brand new teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens! Plus Pan, Jurassic World, Cinderella and more this week…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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How exciting! The first proper look at the new Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This teaser does not reveal too much about the film, although it is a mighty relief that there is no sign of Jar Jar Binks. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set for release in cinemas on 18th December 2015.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Oh my, there is a pug in this film! But if you need any more swaying, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an action comedy starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Caine. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Secret Service is out in UK cinemas on 29th January 2015.

Jurassic World

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Dinosaurs in the sea! Genetically modified dinosaurs! Even after the events of the first three films, they still decided to open Jurassic Park. Steven Spielberg returns as executive producer for Jurassic World, which is due for release on 12th June 2015.

Pan

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Fascinating fact: some of Pan was filmed mere meters from where I am sitting right now. A new live-action take on the classic story, Pan stars Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried and Garrett Hedlund. The film is scheduled for release in July 2015.

Cinderella

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Here is the first trailer for Disney’s new live-action fairy tale Cinderella. Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter, it will be interesting to see if the film can replicate the success of this year’s Maleficent. Cinderella hits the big screen on 27th March 2015 in the UK.

Into The Woods

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Here is a featurette on upcoming musical Into The Woods. Meryl Streep certainly looks like a force to be reckoned with as the witch. Directed by Robert Marshall, Into The Woods is out in UK cinemas on 9th January 2014.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

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Here is a clip from Ridley Scott’s upcoming biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings. Starring Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton and Indira Varma, the film is a retelling of the Moses story. Exodus: Gods and Kings will hit the big screen on Boxing Day, 26th December 2014, in the UK.

Paddington Cast and Crew Q&A

Paddington filmmakers

Last weekend, Paddington‘s writer-director Paul King, producer David Heyman, and cast members Hugh Bonneville, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin gathered in London for a question and answer session following a screening of the film. Here is what they had to say…

On bringing Paddington to the big screen…

David Heyman: My mother gave me a Paddington Bear when I was around five years old, and this was the beginning of the journey. Rosie in my office around eleven years ago said “why don’t we do Paddington?”. I mentioned it to my mum, who is a hoarder, and she brought out that Paddington Bear. Then I met Paul King, who cam along to write and direct Paddington. When you find the right person, the film all of a sudden takes shape. And Paul was the right person. He is Paddington Bear! My son was born six years ago, and then comes the urgency to get things going. It’s not often that you get to make the film that your young child can go and see.

Paul King: I was very keen to get it right. I met David and we had the same sort of ideas about the character. Part of you does sort of fear the idea of doing a Paddington film because I loved the Ivor Wood [illustrations] so much. We thought there was a proper, movie-sized story to be told about Paddington.

On the appeal of Paddington…

Hugh Bonneville: It was sort of like, “you had me at Paddington” really! Like millions of people, I grew up with this beloved bear as part of my childhood. I was concerned when the script arrived, but when I read it, I was in. I was surprised at how moving the script is.

Madeleine Harris: I knew of Paddington before the auditions, but as I went through the auditions, and when I got the job I learnt so much about him, so much about the story of him.

Paddington dog

On the technical achievements in the film…

David Heyman: The ability to put a bear, to have a central digitial character, was just not possible [many years ago]. Technology really has moved on. Fur, for example, you just couldn’t do it. And now we can.

Hugh Bonneville: I think it is astonishing; the work of Framestore and all the other effects teams that worked on the film. It shows the level to which animation and digital effects animation has got to. I am so convinced that bear is real, and that we worked with him!

On casting the film…

Paul King: We asked, and Nicole Kidman’s agent said that it’s definitely not going to happen, but they would send her the script. And she said “Paddington Bear? I love Paddington Bear!”. She read the script overnight, and the following morning, she got on the phone saying she would love to do it. She was the easiest person to cast.

David Heyman: Much easier than Bonneville!

Paul King: Ben Whishaw wasn’t our first choice for the voice of Paddington. We started with Colin Firth, and we worked with Colin for a while and we recorded him for a piece of the film. And you heard the voice, and you didn’t believe that it was coming out of this small creature. We sat down and we all felt it wasn’t working.

David Heyman: To give Colin his credit, he sensed it before even we did.

Paul King: It all worked out brilliantly. I think Ben is wonderful; he’s got a lighter, younger, slightly sort of ‘other’ voice. We’re thrilled with the results.

Paddington is out in UK cinemas on 28th November 2014.

Film Review: Hockney

HOCKNEY

Documentary Hockney offers an interesting portrait of artist David Hockney, despite not being a fully satisfying film.

Charting the course of famed British artist David Hockney’s life and career, director Randall Wright’s film explores the artist’s humble beginnings in Bradford through to his time living in Los Angeles. The film looks at how the artist’s work has developed over his career…

Randall Wright’s documentary Hockney is less an encompassing look at its subject, and more a delve into particular areas of the artist’s life and work. The film is not a chronological look at Hockney’s life and career; rather it examines particular eras and pieces.

The documentary benefits from interviewing not only David Hockney himself, but many close contacts from different eras in his life. The anecdotes revealed in Hockney help to build up a picture of the artist, revealing a down to earth individual, in spite of his success.

The film ponders on the ideas behind David Hockney’s art. For some pieces, the film examines the precise inspiration. Nonetheless, there is a certain shallowness to the documentary. The documentary looks into the artist’s early life but jumps rather abruptly to other periods without really giving a feel to what happened in between. Moreover, the chronology of his career, and more recent developments are not clear.

Music in the film can be overpowering at times. For those less familiar with David Hockney, it would have been more instructive to identify contributors and their relationship to him in a less ambiguous fashion.

Overall Hockney does illuminate at times, even if it is not the essential documentary viewers may have been hoping for.

Hockney was screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2014.

Film Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick’s landmark science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey returns to cinemas. This re-release offers an opportunity to see the iconic film on the big screen.

Charting the progress of mankind and civilisation, mysterious black monoliths appear to influence prehistoric apes in their development, and later astronauts involved in a secret mission, aided by computer H.A.L. 9000…

2001: A Space Odyssey is a prototype for much science fiction cinema that followed. From Alien to Gravity, the influence of Kubrick’s 1968 film is clear.

The film’s multi-act narrative works well. The most compelling section is the middle, and longest, part. The first and third segments are successful on a sensory level. The power of 2001: A Space Odyssey is that it effectively combines a narrative with less linear sequences.

The themes present in 2001: A Space Odyssey exhibit the best in science fiction in that they illuminate and generate anxiety. The non-linear style of the film gives the audience time to ponder the images and ideas they are presented with. Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke offer a view of civilisation that several other sci-fi films have played with in the intervening years. This view is presented, allowing audiences to come to their own conclusions, rather than being force-fed a particular viewpoint.

2001: A Space Odyssey still holds up well in terms of special effects, despite being almost fifty years old. Unlike so many effects-laden films of previous decades, Kubrick film does not look dated. The cinematography is fantastic, as is the art direction. 2001: A Space Odyssey has a very distinctive look. The sound design is also on point; the use of a classical score is as striking as it is memorable. Performances in the film are good, particularly Keir Dullea and Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL.

Science fiction aficionados and casual viewers alike should take this opportunity to see a true genre classic on the big screen.

2001: A Space Odyssey is released from 28th November 2014 at the BFI and selected locations nationwide. See here for full details.

Film Review: Paddington

Paddington

Paul King’s Paddington is a perfectly pitched comedy adventure that should satisfy all demographics.

Paddington is a young bear in darkest Peru who is brought up b his aunt and uncle. When he travels to London to look for a new home, Paddington is spotted by the Brown family, who offer a temporary home…

Based on Michael Bond’s books which first appeared in the late 1950s, Paddington could have easily misstepped the mark in bringing the character to the big screen for contemporary audiences. Thankfully, the film avoids this, instead offering a lovingly crafted picture that is sure to win over audiences.

Director and screenwriter Paul King has created a film that will appease fans of the original series of books, whilst also attracting a new audience. Paddington works well because it suits different audiences without alienating any demographic.

The film is peppered with humour from the very beginning. Whilst some of this is the more physical kind aimed at young viewers, for the most part the film with have older viewers laughing throughout. The narrative is a simple one, but one that works well thanks to the endearing characters and good pacing.

Themes in the film are conveyed successfully. The main theme of the outsider is effective in this context. It is a theme that feels pertinent in the landscape of contemporary British politics. Paddington does offer emotion as well as laughs. The more dramatic or pensive moments never become too mawkish, thankfully.

Ben Whishaw is well cast as the voice of the title character. Nicole Kidman appears to be having fun in her role, while Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are believeable are the Brown parents. Special effects in the film are excellent; particularly the rendering of Paddingon’s fur. Music also works well in the film, especially with the appearances of the band.

Paddington is a delightful film, which should prove to be highly entertaining for children and a most pleasant surprise for adults.

Film Review: Horrible Bosses 2

Horrible Bosses 2

With Horrible Bosses 2, director Sean Anders offers more of the same in this crime caper sequel.

Sick of dealing with awful bosses, Nick, Dale and Kurt decide to launch their own business. Things look promising, until an investor pulls out leaving the trio in a desperate situation. With limited options, the group turn to crime…

Horrible Bosses 2 is undoubtedly a silly movie. However, this is not to say that the film is not entertaining. The humour continues in the same vein as Horrible Bosses. Those left unimpressed by the first instalment will find this film equally unappealing.

The comedy in Horrible Bosses 2 often appeals at the basest form. The jokes can be a bit hit and miss, but the spirit of the film is amiable. What makes Horrible Bosses 2 enjoyable is the camaraderie between the main characters. The actors clearly have good chemistry, and this shines through into the film.

Director and co-writer Sean Anders keeps the action moving at a good pace. Plotting in the film is not exactly convincing, but this aura of unlikeliness adds to the film’s zany nature. The plot twists are predictable, but there is enough humour to negate this.

There are a few overt reference to a particular point of view that Horrible Bosses 2 takes. The stance is not particularly groundbreaking, but offers more of a message than the first film. Nevertheless, for the most part, Horrible Bosses 2 concentrates on comedic elements. The insinuation at the end of the film harks back to an aspect of the first film that some viewers found questionable.

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis reprise their roles with the same energy as the first film. Jennifer Aniston pushes further into crudeness with Julia, setting the character as an even starker contrast to the roles she is usually associated with. Chris Pine is a good addition to the cast.

With a good soundtrack and enviable cast, Horrible Bosses 2 is a decent comedy sequel that should satisfy its intended audience.

Film Review: My Old Lady

My Old Lady

Writer-director Israel Horovitz’s My Old Lady is a suitably decent comedy drama that offers strong performances from its three leads.

American Mathius is eager to see the Parisian apartment he has inherited. When he arrives in Paris, however, he learns that his inheritance comes with a complicated extra…

Isreal Horovitz’s feature debut is an entertaining watch. My Old Lady boasts good writing from Horovitz. This is particularly true of the development of Mathius. The character is depicted in a way which renders him believeable. Moreover, the progression of his character during the film’s duration is convincing.

My Old Lady combines comedy and drama in a way that is complementary. The humour does turn to drama, as is necessary for a film of this nature. Some of the scenes are quite dark, but this does not feel out of step with the overall film. My Old Lady moves at a good pace, allowing for both characters and relationships to develop in a natural manner.

A significant driver in My Old Lady is the fallout from an event in the past. The film exhibits the detrimental effects of this, on all the characters involved. The ending of the film is a little predictable, but it plays out well nevertheless.

There are some emotional moments in My Old Lady. Although these are in keeping with the overall mood of the film, viewers may not fully invest in these moments. Despite good writing, sometimes the impetus is not there in Horovitz’s film.

Kevin Kline delivers a strong performance as Mathias. He is solid in both humorous and darker moments. It is also good to see Maggie Smith showing off her talents in a different type of role. Kristin Scott Thomas is also convincing.

My Old Lady will have a definite appeal to those who enjoy mature dramas tinged with comedy. The performances from its leads make the film a worthwhile watch.

Film Review: Third Person

Third Person

Paul Haggis’ ensemble drama Third Person displays shades of 2004′s Crash. The film is mostly engaging viewers, if not wholly satisfying.

Michael is holed up in a Paris hotel trying to finish his latest book when his lover comes to visit. American businessman Scott wanders into a bar in Italy where he meets a beautiful but stressed young woman. Meanwhile in New York, a former soap actress hopes to win back custody of her young child…

Third Person follows the blueprint of Crash with its seemingly separate narrative strands. Writer-director Paul Haggis’ latest film shows more poetic licence with entwining them, however. Initially, there is enough in these individual strands to capture the viewer’s attention. Little is revealed about the main characters to begin with, allowing their stories to gently unfold.

Some of what occurs in Third Person is predictable. However, this is not the film’s main problem. Third Person seems to play with themes, but does not have a lot of coherency in terms of narrative. Whilst there is a particular theme that connects the stories, this is rather loose. What is presented is shells of narrative strands, without a satisfying group of stories. The later connection of these strands appears ill-thought out. If Haggis wish to play with elements in a less rigid context, these themes or husks of story needed to be captivating. As it stands, they hold some merit, although not enough to justify the run time.

Some of the cinematography in Third Person is beautiful in a polished way. The score is a good accompaniment. Performances from the ensemble cast are good overall. Olivia Wilde stands out in particular, whilst Mila Kunis, Liam Neeson, and Kim Basinger in a small role, are decent.

Despite a stellar cast, Third Person ultimately disappoints due to a lack of strong direction in narrative terms.

Film Review: The Drop

The Drop

Not everything is quite what it seems in The Drop. Nevertheless, the film is an engaging watch.

Bartender Bob Saginowski finds himself at the centre of a robbery of his cousin’s bar. Things get more complicated as the bar is used for a ‘money drop’; a way of funneling money to gangsters…

Based on Dennis Lehane’s short story, director Michaël R. Roskam’s The Drop is an intriguing character study. The sense of ambivalence offered by the film is certainly a selling point. The narrative could head off in a number of directions; the premise of the film is open enough for this to be a possibility.

The story in The Drop unfolds at a good pace. This allows for characters and back stories to evolve in an organic fashion. Protagonist Bob becomes more interesting as the film progresses. The supporting characters are a little more one-dimensional, but this is not a hindrance with the focus on Bob.

The Drop initially appears to be a straightforward gangster film, with its focus on underworld activity in Brooklyn. However, the film develops into something more interesting than this. The character of Bob is well constructed, and as the film focuses more on his personality and motivations, it becomes more engaging. Whilst movement in the plot is vital, it is the development of the central character that really drives this film.

Roskam’s direction is effective but understated. Art direction is good; the film has almost a gauze of dirt; emphasising the seediness of the locale perhaps. Performances in the film are solid. Tom Hardy is aptly quiet but wholly believeable as Bob. James Gandolfini is as reliable as ever in his final role.

The Drop is something of an unassuming picture, but one that most audiences will find satisfying thanks to well-crafted direction and decent performances.