The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

 

Let’s get this out of the way up front. The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies is not at good as the first 2 Hobbit films. But it provides much to enjoy and, as it’s the end of the trilogy, it delivers resolution.

2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had a wonderful bit of light-hearted fun as the dwarves engaged Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to be their burglar. The mix of hilarity and peril was in perfect balance. The scene with Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis) trading riddles is classic. Director Peter Jackson created a film that was beautiful to look at and set the table for further adventures.

2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ramped up the peril and introduced new characters, including the fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Oliver Bloom) are brought aboard to provide eye candy. And the Laketown village was visually stunning.

The start of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings Smaug out of his cave to attack the Laketown village with fire and taunts. Without spoiling, I’ll just say that the dragon is decisively neutralized.

The film’s main course is battles aplenty. But there’s a problem: when all the various factions face off, you can’t always tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. It’s like in Syria, where so many factions are trying to gain traction. But, as in Syria where everybody opposes ISIS, so too in Hobbit III, everybody hates this one particular group of Orcs.

The final showdown up on the mountain involves several fierce one-on-one hand-to-hand battles. It’s classic, violent, enthralling stuff that provides the film’s real soul.

Afterward, Bilbo and Gandolph (Ian McKellan) hoof it back home where the locals are busy auctioning off Bilbo’s goods, presuming him dead. A brief coda flashes forward and provides a satisfying conclusion for the hobbit, setting him up for what’s to come in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One could argue that lengthy battle scenes with director Jackson’s terrific effects are what the audience wants. And one could reasonably argue that it’s appropriate for the Hobbit films to get progressively darker. But I still like the first 2 better.

 

 

 

 

Maleficent

Like many of the fairy tales we heard as youngsters, Disney’s Maleficent contains some plot elements that are head-scratchers.

We meet the young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) when she’s an innocent girl fairy, living an idyllic life of flapping her wings and flying around an apparent paradise. She shares this happy universe with a number of creatures that look like refugees from Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies.

She forms a friendship with a human from the neighboring land of kings and queens, young Stefan (Michael Higgins). As they grow into teenagers, they continue as chums. But when they become adults, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie with cheeks sharp enough to slice bread) and Stefan (Sharlto Copley, who we met in District 9) see their relationship take a strange turn.

The dictionary definition of maleficent (“doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious”) gives a clue that things may not always continue to be goodness and light for her.

The king of Stefan’s home kingdom leads an ill-fated invasion of the fairyland and his guys are turned back thanks to Maleficent’s power. The king declares that whoever gets Maleficent’s wings will be king when he dies. Stefan, her old friend, sneaks in and manages to do the dirty deed and gains power while Maleficent loses some, but not all, of hers.

She places a curse on Stefan’s daughter Aurora (the remarkably cute Elle Fanning) that dooms her to go to sleep at age 16 and not be awakened until she gets a kiss that comes from true love. Aurora is raised in the woods by 3 fairies, characters that should be charming and memorable, but somehow lack those qualities.

Maleficent is always hovering nearby, monitoring the child’s growth. She has her sidekick Diavil (Sam Riley) alongside, turning him into whatever creature she fancies. He could pass for Orlando Bloom’s less good-looking younger brother.

Eventually, most of the characters live happily and others get by as they can. As mentioned, some of the things that happen are head-scratchers. For instance, just when we think we have Maleficent figured out, she changes her mind—like with that curse thing.

Maleficent is a good-not-great movie, with many wonderful and amazing images. Director Robert Stromberg’s lengthy movie resume is mainly as an effects guy. He does an excellent job of mixing live action by human actors with computer-generated effects.

But the big question remains: Is this movie too scary for little kids? I say yes. As an overprotective dad, I might’ve rated Maleficent PG-13. But it has been deemed PG. This ensures that a good number of little kids will have nightmares. Thank the MPAA, mom and dad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The visual effects in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug are incredible. The movie looks great from first frame to last. But the movie lacks the perfect mix of peril and playfulness that made last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey one of my top ten movies of 2012.

The second movie of any planned trilogy has a primary function: to set up the concluding episode. TH: TDOS does that. And it entertains along the way.

The dwarves and their hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continue on their journey to reclaim their homeland, addressing dangers along the way. The Orcs pursue the dwarves on a river chase that is one of the all-time great movie chase scenes. A bit of welcome help comes from new character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who has excellent battle skills and looks gorgeous.

Tauriel adds tastefully sexy eye candy for the guys and offers real girl power for female fans. The appearance of Legolas (Orlando Bloom), a Lord of the Rings character, may be another ploy to make The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug more appealing to women.

Following a visit to the village of Laketown, the clever Bilbo manages to find his way into the mountain lair of Smaug. The dragon Smaug is frighteningly menacing in appearance and, importantly, in sound. (That’s Benedict Cumberbatch providing the Smaug voice.) While Bilbo deals with the dragon, the wizard Gandolf (Ian McKellan) is off on a different mysterious path, leaving the dwarves behind.

As with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, much is accomplished in this second segment, but plenty more is left unresolved. To be continued, as they say, in 2014.

I mentioned to a movie promotion person that, while I did not enjoy The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as much as last year’s Hobbit film, I can’t wait to see this new one again. Last year’s film felt somehow fresher, yet TH: TDOS has much to offer. See it and make your own comparison.

 

 

The Bling Ring

Not much going on in The Bling Ring. It’s an hour and a half of high school kids in Los Angeles robbing stars’ homes, smoking dope, snorting coke, Facebooking and partying. Everything happens to the accompaniment of a contemporary, mostly hip-hop, soundtrack. And then they get caught. The End.

Their modus operandi is to monitor gossip websites, find out when famous stars are out of town, Google their addresses and break in. It’s all too easy. These stars apparently haven’t heard about security alarms and systems that summon police when tripped. Paris Hilton leaves a key under her front doormat. That’s hot! She also apparently leaves her dog and pet monkey at home alone. This movie is supposedly based on true events.

The clothes and the shoes and the bling and the stars homes are spectacular. Some of the cars, including a Porsche that gets taken for a joyride, are also nice.

The five kids pulling off these capers (four girls and a boy) are based in Calabasas, in the hills just west of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. They are little more than caricatures. The best-known star in the movie is Emma Watson, who stars as Nicki, a party girl. Rebecca (Katie Chang) is the ringleader. Marc (Israel Broussard), a young man who seems to be coming to grips with his sexual orientation, is the geek who follows stars activities online.

Director Sofia Coppola’s movie is mainly about settings and props. The capers and the loot are the focal points, not the characters. Among the movie’s best scenes is a long static shot that shows Rebecca and Marc running around inside Audrina Partidge’s home in the Hollywood Hills, up and down stairs, lights flashing on and off. It stands out in contrast to the film’s otherwise frenetic pace.

Coppola’s movie rubs up against real life by mentioning the stars names whose homes are robbed: Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Orlando Bloom, among others.

But the action that drives the movie’s flimsy plot is repetitious. Home invasion after home invasion, looting after looting, party after party. As someone once said about a boring city, “There’s no there there.” There’s not much there here in The Bling Ring either.

Rated R.