Film Review: Beauty and the Beast

I have mixed feelings about the current trend Disney have for live action remakes of their animated movies. While The Jungle Book worked for me, I was less fussed on Cinderella and Maleficent, and the fact that a live action Dumbo is on the way fills me with dread, although as I am soon to marry a Disney addict I have resigned myself to my fate. Taking on one of the studios best efforts was a big gamble, but thankfully this one pays off.

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The story is simple enough, a vain and selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) refuses to help an old woman shelter from the rain but it turns out she is actually a powerful enchantress. She curses him by turning him into a beast, and he will remain a monster until he learns to love and wins the love of another. The enchantress also curses all the residents of the castle turning them into objects related to their jobs, which seems a bit harsh and if the Beast doesn’t succeed in finding a love before the last petal falls from a magic rose they will become inanimate objects for good and he will remain a beast for ever.

Years later we meet Belle (Emma Watson), an intelligent and free spirited young woman who lives in the nearest town. The locals aren’t too sure about her, regarding her love of reading and individuality as peculiar, nonetheless her beauty has caught the attention of Gaston (Luke Evans), the local hero who is a vain, self centred braggart. She spurns his advances and dreams of there being more to life. Her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is a maker of clockwork machines and leaves to sell them at market, however, on the road back he is waylaid and finds a mysterious, crumbling castle. He attempts to take a rose for his daughter but is imprisoned.

Belle sets off to find him, and arrives at the castle, where concerned for her father’s health she volunteers to take his place. Maurice’s claims are dismissed in town, although Gaston sees an opportunity to exploit the situation.

Meanwhile, at the castle Belle befriends the Beast’s cursed servants and slowly begins to discover there is more to the Beast. Similarly, her presence serves to quell his anger and he begins to care for his hostage. Their relationship, encouraged by the servants strengthens but Belle misses her father and when she becomes aware of his troubles is upset. The Beast allows her to leave.

Will Belle be able to save her father? Will she return to the castle? What will Gaston do when he discovers the existence of the beast? And will the curse ever be broken?

This remake works for same reasons that the updated version of The Jungle Book did, by honouring the original through the use of certain aspects, but by giving characters a different spin and adding new touches. Characters like Maurice, Gaston and his sidekick La Fou (Josh Gad) are given more background and are slightly more complex.

Maurice is the best example, with Kevin Kline moving away from the clownish, mad-inventor of the animated version to create a sadder figure. Belle’s mother is long deceased at the start and his grief is evident throughout, and the backstory adds more emotion to the tale. Also, his character here rings truer with the clever, independent young woman he has raised.

But despite this the main strength is the magical, charming romance at the centre and here credit goes to the leads. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, and does a great job of making her a likeable, strong character. Belle is a great heroine, free thinking and brave, she nobly sacrifices herself for her father and faces the Beast fearlessly. Throughout she shows strength, intelligence and kindness.

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Belle: A great heroine

She handles the singing wonderfully, and is utterly charming throughout. Similarly Dan Stevens’ vocal work as the beautifully realised Beast is expressive enough for it to work, conveying the feelings that develop between them.

The central romance unfolds at a decent pace, and the film benefits from giving the Beast more backstory beyond that he was just a bit of a wanker. It also explains why the rest of the castle don’t hate him, feeling partly responsible for failing in to raise him to be a good man.

One thing the film does well is quickly cover up some of the plot holes from the original, like the fact that the town seem oblivious to the giant castle mere miles away, with the enchantress having cast a spell for them to forget all about it and the people are there. This also means there is a nice touch of when the mob storms the castle some feel deja vu and one of the villagers always has a sense of having lost something, it being revealed it is the loved ones he had at the castle…

These changes are well done and mostly serve to make the film play better as a live action piece as a straight adaptation might have suffered in translation. But there are plenty of moments that are retained, notably in costume and music. The ballroom scene in the original is an iconic scene and was groundbreaking for the time, and it helps that the castle is just as beautiful here and that the dance scene is one of the most moving moments in the film. The song remains an absolute wonder, and the scene is magical, prompting one small child in the cinema to actually cheer and applaud at the end.

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Other scenes are translated to varying degrees of success, the swagger of “Gaston” is a standout here, especially as fresh jokes are added and Josh Gad is brilliant as Le Fou. Luke Evans as well impresses, capturing the strutting, arrogant character wonderfully even though he isn’t roughly the size of a barge. While Evans is reliable as ever, I left the film suspecting that Dwayne Johnson would have been brilliant for the part, especially if he channeled the charismatic arrogance of his wrestling days.

However, for me “Be Our Guest” didn’t match the original, and Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere wasn’t half as charming as Jerry Orbach’s and the character design for him and Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth were made a bit too “realistic” and a lot less endearing or friendly looking than their animated counterparts.

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The old ones were a lot friendlier looking, I’m just saying

Similarly Mrs Potts isn’t quite as cute as her old self, but is voiced by the ever excellent Emma Thompson, who takes over from Angela Lansbury and does a stellar job.

But these are minor quibbles and the movie does well in bringing new things to the table. There is a new musical number, performed by the Beast that is genuinely moving and as I mentioned earlier the characters and some story aspects are changed. The fact that the servants are becoming increasingly inanimate is a heartbreaking touch, with them all moving towards losing their humanity. In fact a sequence where they are transformed is an emotional gut punch that had my eyes a little watery.

Before it’s release a lot was made of the fact that Le Fou was being turned into a gay character. The fact is that Josh Gad’s character is far more complicated than the original and his sexuality is only a part of that. Le Fou is loyal and clearly in love with Gaston, but it is suggested that the two have been together a long time, having served together in an unspecified war. Le Fou’s admiration for his friend is clear, but what is a nice addition is the fact that he is not just a dimwit who goes along with everything. His conscience starts to peak through, and there are moments when he acts as a calming, soothing presence for Gaston, staying his hand.

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Le Fou tries to calm Gaston

As Gaston’s obsession with Belle grows and he reveals his true, selfish nature Le Fou realises he has made a mistake and tries to make it right. It’s nice that a secondary character, largely a buffoon is given a bit more depth and Gad is consistently amusing.

All in all this is a very successful film which tells a familiar story in an utterly charming way, beautiful to look at and entirely engaging. I was sucked in early on and utterly captivated, in much the way that six year old Chris was back in 1992. In fact, I’d say this packs more of an emotional punch than the original.

It’s a delight from start to finish, with the familiar and the new combining to make a film which is great in it’s own right. MWF loved it as well, so hardcore Disney fans can rest assured that it doesn’t let the house of mouse down.

Verdict: A wonderful, magical experience which uses the animated version as a jumping off point to go in new directions and add greater depth. Moving, amusing and utterly, marvelously charming. 8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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

Warning! Some spoilers ahead.

Of all of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies this is the one that drags the least, yes, some of the fight sequences go on a bit too long, but it hits the ground running and doesn’t really let up until the finale.

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When we last left Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and most of his dwarf mates they’d just taken back the Lonely Mountain, having evicted the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who was flying towards Laketown in a bad mood.

In Laketown were the rest of the party, along with elf maiden Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the family of Bard (Luke Evans), who’d been locked up by the corrupt Master (Stephen Fry). With the dragon on the way everyone decides it’s a good time to get out of town, with Tauriel and the dwarves trying to get the kids to safety while the Master and his assistant Alfred (Ryan Gage) try to haul ass with as much gold as they can.

The only person willing to hang around is Bard, who breaks free, grabs his bow and heads up the bell tower to try and take out the fire-breathing enemy. Which he does, slaying the beast with his final shot.

The survivors of Laketown want Bard as their leader, but he is reluctant. Tauriel reluctantly leaves Kili (Aidan Turner), the dwarf she is falling for as she learns of her banishment from her home. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) tells the bearer of this message that he will stay with Tauriel, and they set off to see what the orcs are up to.

Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is being held captive by the necromancer and is weakened. Luckily for him his friends are on the way and soon Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) rock up to bust him loose. They face off against the ghostly nine kings and finally free their friend, although the spirit of Sauron appears. Galadriel banishes him back to Mordor and Elrond wants to pursue, but Saruman advises him to care for Galadriel and leave it to him. Which if you’ve seen Lord of the Rings doesn’t work out too well.

At the mountain, Bilbo begins to worry for Thorin (Richard Armitage), who’s changed since getting his gold back. Suffering from “Dragon sickness” he becomes increasingly greedy and paranoid, obsessed with finding the Arkenstone and beginning to suspect and doubt his friends. Bilbo actually has the Arkenstone, but fears that giving it to Thorin will only make things worse.

Bard and the survivors camp in the ruined city of Dale, and Bard plans to get the gold Thorin promised Laketown so they can rebuild. Also arriving are the elvish army led by Thranduil (Lee Pace), who have come for some gems in the mountain and seem to be keen for war. Bard wants peace and goes to speak to Thorin about his promise and the gems, only to find the King Under the Mountain refuses to honour his word, even though he only has 13 fighters.

Gandalf arrives to warn them that a massive orc army is coming, led by Azog (Manu Bennett) and that dwarves, elves and men must unite, but Thranduil doubts him, especially as there is no sign of the army.

Bilbo sees a chance for peace, taking the Arkenstone to Dale, and telling Bard and Thranduil to offer it in exchange for what they want from the horde in the mountain. Gandalf, impressed by his cleverness and bravery advises him to leave but Bilbo defies him, sneaking back into the mountain to stand along his dwarf friends.

And so battle approaches, with elves and men facing off against the dwarves, who receive reinforcements in the form of Thorin’s cousin, Dain (Billy Connolly, who’s recognizable as soon as he speaks from a distance) but then gets distracted by the orcs rocking up.

I really dug this movie because as I said, it starts strong. The sequence where Smaug torches Laketown is done magnificently, with genuine terror and destruction gripping the town. Jackson never loses touch of the human side, with the different reactions of the residents and there’s even comedy in the form of Fry and Gage’s greedy fleeing characters.

It’s hear that Luke Evans really takes command as the heroic, noble Bard. In a film with this many characters it’s hard to stand out, but for me Evans’ Bard is one of the strongest. He’s quite an old school hero, uncomfortable with power and extremely honourable, and Evans makes him a convincing badass, and the kind of man others would rally to.

Evans as Bard

Evans as Bard

The rest of the cast are all on fine form, even if some are underused. Blanchett, Lee and Weaving rock up at the start, kick ass like some kind of prog band fused with the Justice League and then leave the proceedings. Ian McKellen is still impressive and likable as Gandalf, but even he is sidelined for much of the movie.

The main focus seems to be the growing bromance between Bilbo and Throin, with the simple hobbit helping the King have brief flashes of the dwarf he was before the dragon sickness took hold. Armitage should be applauded for conveying this decline in a relatively understated way, the only slightly hammy moment being a sequence where he hallucinates.

Martin Freeman is still likable enough as the fussy, still slightly cowardly Bilbo, although he shows increasing reserves of courage when needed and proves to be quite useful. I also liked that true to the books they have him get knocked cold for most of the climactic fight.

Which brings me to one of the major issues I had with the film, the eponymous battle. While it kicks off with some epic scenes and a few nice touches (the dazed battering-ram troll made me chuckle), it gets a little repetitive after a while and you lose track of the major players in the main battle.

Bard, Thranduil and Dain all get little moments of glory, but Jackson then splits onto two fronts, with Thorin, Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili and another dwarf going after Azog, and ignoring much of what goes on below aside for a few moments with Bard and his family.

I’m not saying we needed to see every one of the dwarves in action, because quite frankly there are too many. Aside from Thorin, Fili and Kili the only one I can name is Balin (Ken Stott), the kindly one who looks after Bilbo the most, these aside the only one I was invested in was James Nesbitt’s character (Wikipedia says it’s Bofur), and that’s only because it’s James Nesbitt.

In fact I was a little disappointed that one of the dwarves survived, as he’d been annoying me since the first movie. It was this fella, Ori (Adam Brown):

Urgh.

Urgh.

The problem is that while the major battle rages below we’re treated to a smaller skirmish on the hill- Bilbo and a dwarf vs some orcs, Bolg (John Tui) vs Kili, Tauriel and Legolas and the main event Throin vs Azog. Thorin and Azog’s showdown on the ice is rather well done, but the Bolg vs everyone scrap goes on far too long. Bolg beats down everyone basically, killing one, wounding another before Legolas finally takes him out.

The fight has a few moments, but there’s a moment where Legolas runs up falling boulders like he’s Mario or something and at that point it lost me. I get that it’s a fantasy, but we’ve already seen that Middle Earth has gravity so it’s utterly stupid.

Also, I never fully bought into the Kili and Tauriel love story, as it felt like it developed far too quickly and never resonated right with me. The actors involved do well, and as the fight plays out it does pack an emotional whallop, but for me a death elsewhere was more powerful.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

These minor niggles aside it’s still a very enjoyable movie and does whip along at a good pace, it didn’t feel like I’d been there for almost two and a half hours.

Special praise should also be reserved for Ryan Gage as the cowardly, mono-browed Alfred, who gets a lot of laughs from the creeping, cringing character.

Peter Jackson has done fantastic work bringing Tolkien’s work to the big screen, and even though you feel The Hobbit could have been done in one, maybe two films, the journey from start to finish has still been a fun one and well worth it.

It’s been reported that due to rights issues this may be Jackson’s last foray into Middle Earth, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m not a massive Tolkien fan (I enjoyed The Hobbit, but never finished the LotR books) but even the fans I do know admit that the two pieces Jackson’s adapted are the best, and a few have even confessed to struggling with his other writings.

Jackson has made two strong trilogies, which are gripping, entertaining and clearly lovingly crafted fantasy epics, and any filmmaker should be happy with that.

Verdict: The most action packed of the series and a satisfying conclusion to the story. Some of the flaws are still there, but once you go with it this is a fun, exciting epic and captivated me fully. In an ensemble cast some fade into the background, but everyone acquits themselves well. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

When it was announced that the X-Men’s next onscreen adventure was to be based on the Days of Future Past storyline from the comics there was a bit of a geek meltdown. DoFP is one of the most famous X-stories out there, and featured a dystopian future where many of the Marvel heroes had been killed by mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. Startling bleak in it’s depiction of the nightmarish future the plot hinged on Kitty Pryde (aka Shadowcat) having her mind sent back in time to her younger body, where she had to stop events which would lead to her hellish future.

It was a great storyline and worked because of the dark tone, and the fact that Kitty Pryde was the group’s sweet, innocent youngster but could/would become this battle hardened woman who would witness most of her friends die. It was a great idea for a movie and would also feature a crossover between the casts of the original X-trilogy and the prequel X-Men: First Class.

Changes would have to be made, in the movies Kitty Pryde, played by Ellen Page was only a minor character, could she carry a movie for the fans? And also, to reach the First Class cast was tricky as Kitty wouldn’t have been around. And so, the decision was made to make the focus of the movie be Hugh Jackman’s Logan aka Wolverine.

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I’ve seen a lot of criticism for this online, with many people complaining that Wolverine has been the main focus for all the movies (First Class aside), it’s not exactly untrue but it misses the point- Wolverine is a big fan-favourite, probably the most popular X-Man and Hugh Jackman’s work in the role has been superb, with him putting in charismatic performances even when the movies have been lacking (see X-Men: Origins: Wolverine).

Also, it makes sense to have Wolverine go back in time to his younger self, as he is one of only a few characters to legitimately cover both time periods. The movie also plays a trump card in suggesting that Wolverine is the ideal candidate as his healing factor means he will survive the trip better.

The movie starts in the future where the Sentinels have hunted and killed many mutants, and a small band survive underground. Kitty and a group of Professor Xavier’s former students survive by staying one step ahead, when the Sentinels attack Kitty transports Bishop’s (Omar Sy) mind back a few days so they can get out in time.
Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) meets them accompanied by Wolverine, Storm (Halle Berry) and former advesary Magneto (Ian McKellen). They plan to send someone back to 1973 where they hope to stop shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), a former ally of both Xavier and Magneto, from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the man who invented the Sentinels.

Kitty Pryde (Page) showing off her time travel skills

Kitty Pryde (Page) showing off her time travel skills

 

Trask’s death fuels anti-mutant feeling and the captured Mystique’s DNA is what enables the Sentinels to adapt, making them able to counteract mutant powers and be even more effective killing machines.

The problem is that to convince Mystique to stop in her assassination will prove difficult as she had become increasingly militant and embittered, and Xavier alone would not be able to convince her, they need Magneto’s help too. However, in ’73, Magneto and Xavier are enemies and convincing them to work together will prove challenging.
Wolverine goes back and finds the young Xavier (James McAvoy) a very different man, stripped of his powers, afraid and self-hating. Convincing him proves a challenge, and he is less help than anticipated, but Magneto (Michael Fassbender) represents a greater challenge, being locked up in a high-security prison.

Meanwhile, in the future the Sentinels plan to launch a massive attack on the remaining X-Men, who can’t flee while Kitty is holding Wolverine’s mind in the past.

Can they hold the line in the future long enough for Wolverine to succeed in the past? And if Wolverine, Xavier and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) do break Magneto out will they be able to get him onside? Will that be enough to stop Mystique in her quest for revenge?

The 1973 X-Men- Wolverine (Jackman), Xavier (McAvoy) and Beast (Hoult)

The 1973 X-Men- Wolverine (Jackman), Xavier (McAvoy) and Beast (Hoult)

I really dug this movie, and thought that it worked. The X-Men movies have never fully succeeded in my book, being rather fun and well done, but often flawed thanks to changes to the characters and casting (Halle Berry continues to disappoint and lack the gravitas and power to be a good Storm, and Hoult’s Beast is nowhere near as funny or lovable as the comic book version)

However here the cast are one of the greatest strengths, with Jackman still proving charismatic as the clawed Canadian, and playing it just right. The tone of the movie is such that there are some nice character moments and plenty of humour amidst the superheroics. Jackman’s Wolverine differs from his comic counterpart, and has always lacked the underlying edge that made the character so popular, but he’s managed to create a compelling onscreen character and has great presence.

Also impressive are McAvoy and Fassbender as the younger Xavier and Magneto. McAvoy has the harder job as the whining, self-loathing Charles is less than sympathetic, but he does a good job in showing us the reasons why and a glimmer of the decency which will help him become the Xavier of the future, and he also displays fantastic comic timing, getting several of the film’s biggest laughs. Fassbender meanwhile is tremendous, capturing the fire of Magneto along with the easy, commanding presence that McKellen bought to the role, but with more youthful vigour and an impulsive, angry nature.

Angry young mutant- Fassbender as the young Magneto

Angry young mutant- Fassbender as the young Magneto

 

McKellen and Stewart do their roles with ease and capture the sense of two friends who have set aside all disagreements for the greater good and convey that there is genuine affection there.

Jennifer Lawrence impresses as Mystique, despite not being on screen as much as I’d like. She manages to capture the character’s icy determination, while also managing to convince that there is a fragile, damaged young woman beneath it who has turned to violence out of desparation and disillusionment.

Lawrence as Mystique

Lawrence as Mystique

The future X-Men are a little underdeveloped, and even Ellen Page doesn’t get much to do. They have cool powers, and as a Bishop fan it was cool to see him on screen, but I never found myself that invested in any of them.
Hoult and Berry continue to struggle with watered down versions of their characters, and while Hoult has some chemistry, Berry continues to be woefully lacklustre as Storm, one of my favourite comic book heroines.

Representing the non-mutants and impressing throughout is Peter Dinklage as Trask, in a powerful, commanding performance. Dinklage has great on screen presence and the film should be applauded for not making him a textbook nutjob. Trask believes himself to be the good guy and Dinklage does well in making it clear that the nightmarish future is not what the man wanted, and that he saw the war on mutants as a way to unite mankind and bring about lasting peace.

He’s misguided and short-sighted, and there is a nasty side to him, mixed with rampant egotism, but Dinklage ensures that he remains human and believable throughout. In the middle of a vast ensemble cast Dinklage, and his impressive ’70s ‘tache is one of the standouts.

Impressive- Dinklage as Trask, rocking a quality 'tache

Impressive- Dinklage as Trask, rocking a quality ‘tache

The plot works well as long as you go with it, and it zips along at a decent pace that kept me engaged throughout. There’s also a nice vein of humour running throughout the movie and the movie thankfully avoids just making tons of ’70s jokes. The plot is simple enough to follow and the cutting between past and future works well, especially as climactic fights kick off in both time frames. (The denouement is a little cheesy and didn’t work for me).

For an Marvel fan this is a solid movie, providing a lot of the action you require from a blockbuster, but grounding it in compelling characters, strong performances and a sense of humour. Not all of it works, but for the most part it’s a success and it’s great to finally see the Sentinels on the big screen, and they do make for an impressive, terrifying threat (even if the design does seem rather similar to the Destroyer from Thor).

Sentinels

Sentinels

Verdict: It’s not perfect, but it’s an immensely enjoyable and successful big screen version of an iconic X-Men storyline. Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and Dinklage are the standouts, as many of the supporting players get lost in the crowd. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Post-credits sting: A tantalizing glimpse of one of the most powerful and impressive X-villains.


Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Warning! Here be spoilers.

I’m still not entirely convinced they needed to make this into three movies, but credit to Peter Jackson for making another exciting and charming fantasy movies.

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Picking up from where the last movie left off, we find hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) still traveling with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the band of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) as they seek to reach the lonely mountain and take back Thorin’s underground kingdom from the clutches of Smaug, the dragon.

Pursued by orcs who have a grudge against by Thorin they try to continue on their way, encountering a variety of characters and dangers along the way. Also they lose Gandalf, who travels to investigate a mysterious and evil force which is emerging.

They travel through Mirkwood where they escape giant spiders but are, apart from Bilbo, captured by the elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace), who offers Thorin a deal that is rejected, leaving the party in the elves’ dungeons. Bilbo, using the ring he nabbed in the first part and helps the dwarves escape. The orcs attack but the dwarves are helped by two of Thranduil’s fighters, his son, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and she-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).

Legolas has feelings for Tauriel, but his father has warned her that this is not possible, and she also appears drawn to Kili (Aidan Turner), one of the party. Kili is injured during the escape, struck by a poison arrow, but the group reach Laketown, a settlement of man, aided by Bard (Luke Evans), a bargeman who is popular with the townsfolk and loathed by the town’s master (Stephen Fry). The dwarves are arrested by guards, but they are linked to an old prophecy that will return the town to it’s former glories. Bard, who hails from the town the dragon destroyed says that they should not disturb the beast, but the Master uses the mob’s greed to gain popularity and aids the party.

The wounded Kili is left behind along with some of the others to tend to him. Tauriel is following to help and Legolas joins her.

The continuing party reach the mountain and Bilbo enters to steal the Arkenstone (a big shiny rock which will allow Thorin to claim his place as King Under the Mountain and unite the dwarf armies, but also corrupted his grandfather). However, in the process Smaug is awoken and while Bilbo tries to flatter and convince him that he’s acting alone the dwarves are discovered and pursued by the dragon. Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) realizes that Laketown must have aided them and takes flight towards the town, leaving Bilbo and the dwarves behind.

Bilbo gets rumbled by Smaug

Bilbo gets rumbled by Smaug

I really dug this movie and felt it was an improvement on the first part, which I did enjoy, but was overly long. There’s still stuff that could be cut out here, but it has been a few years since I’ve read the book so it might be that things I think are irrelevant may come back to be important in part three.

Some of it I’m fairly sure wasn’t in the books, like the Legolas-Tauriel-Kili love triangle (from what I remember Tolkien isn’t big on romance) but this works in the film’s favour, adding a little bit more of an emotional impact, and while it’s a tad rushed I found the scenes between Tauriel and Kili rather sweet. Evangeline Lilly should be applauded as well for her fine work as Tauriel, who appears to be a lower order elf and so manages to add a more human/earthy quality than the rest of her ethereal species, and has a few outstanding action moments.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

Other new additions prove themselves well enough, especially Cumberbatch’s booming vocals as Smaug and Luke Evans (fast becoming a man crush of mine) as Bard, who exudes a quiet nobility and who seems able to handle himself. His distrust of the dwarves seems well placed and he convinces as a man carrying a heavy burden of responsibility. I’ll be interested to see what the character gets to do in the third film.

Evans as Bard

Evans as Bard

The real star of the show is still Martin Freeman, who makes Bilbo a likable character despite his fussy mannerisms, and also succeeds in capturing the early signs of the influence of the ring as well as the character’s emerging and strengthening courage. It’s a warm, amiable performance and I find myself rooting for Bilbo more on screen than I ever did in print, which is testimony to Freeman’s strong performance.

Emerging courage- Freeman is the standout as Bilbo

Emerging courage- Freeman is the standout as Bilbo

Jackson is comfortable behind the camera, and the film is predictably gorgeous. His handling of the action sequences is sublime and he shows great skill in the way he shifts focus through some of the film’s skirmishes, but the stand out sequence for me was the escape from Mirkwood, with the questing troop riding barrels down the river. It’s a thrilling, fast paced sequence which shows a wealth of invention and humour and kept me engaged throughout, unlike the rather

There are flaws, of course, Gandalf’s investigations into evil may help build to the Lord of the Rings movies, but they feel bolted on and don’t add much to the actual plot, and it seems odd that if Sauron is regaining strength here that it’s still 60 years before he properly kicks off.

Also, there’s the appearance of Legolas, which makes sense and will please the fans, but Bloom looks considerably older than his last outing in the pointy ears and as my sister noted regarding the Tauriel angle, it feels silly to introduce new characters when you haven’t properly developed the ones you already have, and it’s true that most of the dwarf party continue to be largely anonymous or reduced to one characteristic.

The other problem I have is a personal one, in that I really don’t want Thorin to succeed in regaining his throne. I mean, Smaug’s gotta go, but Thorin’s just such a douche. There are flashes of compassion and decency, but they’re smothered by his obsession and blunt manner with people, and also he seems to be finding others to blame throughout (the elves for not helping, Bard’s granddad for missing the shot at Smaug).

However, these are minor quibbles and for the most part Jackson and co. should be applauded for creating a film which while epic in length and scale still includes some nice character touches and a sense of fun and thrills. Better than part one, and leaves you eager for the conclusion.

Verdict: Jackson’s direction and view of Middle Earth continues to impress and delight, and most of the cast are on fine form, even if some aspects are underwritten, but for the most part it succeeds and is properly entertaining. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I’ll admit I went into this movie with a bad feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies although I’ve always been aware that it wasn’t to the same extent as a lot of other people and rewatching the movies over Christmas kind of reminded me that while I like them I still have problems with the flicks.

The reason I was apprehensive over this movie was because unlike LotR I’ve actually read The Hobbit and while it was a good few years ago I definitely remember that it was a fairly short book so the fact it has been split into three movies of around 3 hours in length suggested that either (a) it was going to be long and boring or (b) Peter Jackson/the producers were really desperate to milk as much cash out of their fanbase as possible. Either way, it didn’t inspire confidence.

hobbitposter

Still, it’s a big event movie and I figured it’s probably worth catching it on the big screen if you can, so I checked it out today.

I was pleasantly surprised.

As I said, it’s been years since I read the book but the film keeps fairly close to the general plot with fussy, pampered hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) being recruited to join a quest a bunch of dwarves are mounting to retake their lost city, kill a dragon and get their gold back. Bilbo is chosen for the task by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who convinces the group’s reluctant leader, Thorin (Richard Armitage) to let the hobbit join them.

Wizard, hobbit and the 13 dwarves set out but along the way must deal with orcs, trolls and Bilbo engages in a contest of riddles with a mysterious creature called Gollum (Andy Serkis) who’s magic ring he steals.

Meanwhile, the orc hunting them appears to have a personal grudge against Thorin and there’s a suspicion that others might be after the gold that lies hidden in the mountain. Also there are omens that a dark power is rising, something which Gandalf fears but which his fellow wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) is dismissive of.

I said fairly closely to the book because as far as I can remember all the stuff about the dark power has been added in, possibly to make it tie in with the Lord of the Rings movies more but also to include the interminable appendices Tolkien added to his books. It does mean that familiar faces from the LotR trilogy turn up here- not just Christopher Lee but also Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett as the elves Elrond and Galadriel. Elijah Wood appears in the prologue as Frodo along with Ian Holm playing the older Bilbo as he sits down to write his memoirs.

Jackson does seem to have made other changes and seems to have added far more fizz to proceedings than I remember, it may start off slow but once things get going it’s almost a chase movie for much of the film with the company fighting and fleeing orcs and fighting their way out of an orc infested mine. The action sequences are amazing as in the previous films and again Jackson gets the spectacle right, with New Zealand looking beautiful again as it doubles for Middle Earth.

The tone may mimic LotR at times, and the same music is used, but The Hobbit was always a simpler, more kid-friendly read and the movie reflects this, being far more light-hearted and jokey than the previous films, there are dark elements and plenty of fight scenes, but for the most part it’s rather quaint and sweet. There are moments where the burping jokes and slapstick elements grate slightly, but Jackson should be applauded for making a 3 hour movie that kids can probably sit comfortably through.

One of the best tools he has in making this movie a success is his leading man. Martin Freeman is a reliable performer and yet again he delivers a wonderfully amusing and human performance, making the film his own and being the best thing in this flick.

Freeman as Bilbo- The best thing in this flick

Freeman as Bilbo- The best thing in this flick

 

Bilbo always runs the risks of being pompous or whiny, but Freeman does a good job in making him sympathetic. He nails the comedy and also captures the fact that as predicted by Gandalf, Bilbo does want adventures, with excitement and courage slowly starting to grow inside him. Freeman’s exasperated reactions to the scrapes Bilbo finds himself are endlessly entertaining and he’s a far more engaging hero than Wood’s Frodo was.

Also his confrontation with Gollum which comes near the end of the film is one of the standout scenes of the movie and shows the character’s cleverness, resourcefulness and compassion, three good characteristics for a character to have.

The second best performance in the movie is McKellen reprising the role of Gandalf. It’s the Grey incarnation of the character so there’s this lovably eccentric and bumbling side to the character which sadly he loses when he becomes Gandalf the White in the later films and becomes annoyingly self righteous and straight-laced.

Ian McKellen as Gandalf- Lovably eccentric

Ian McKellen as Gandalf- Lovably eccentric

Here he messes around and seems to get genuine joy from the antics of the dwarves and Bilbo coming out of his shell. McKellen never lets the character be too soft though and subtly implies that Gandalf, for all his warmth and easy going charm is still a powerful dude and not to be trifled with, kind of like a kindly grandfather who you later find out was a badass soldier during a war.

One of the film’s most emotional scenes is when he explains why he chose Bilbo to join them and explains his outlook on the world and coming events, showing that despite his experience and fears he’s still an optimist and it’s the same idea that drives both of Tolkien’s major works, the small characters changing the course of events:

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.

The film is not perfect and one of the problems comes from the dwarves. With 13 in the film some are bound to get short shrift but it’s astonishing how many of them merge into one dwarf. The only one that’s developed a bit is their leader, Thorin who’s given real gravitas and an aura of toughness by Armitage, and has a believable bitterness within him.

A handful of others do stand out, but given their similar names became simplified down to characteristics, kind of like the dwarves in Snow White. There’s old and kindly dwarf, bald and tough dwarf, likable James Nesbitt dwarf, fat and stupid dwarf, good looking bloke from Being Human dwarf and dwarf who can’t talk.

Three of the film's dwarves- Fat and stupid, James Nesbitt and Dopey.

Three of the film’s dwarves- Fat and stupid, James Nesbitt and Dopey.

All 12 do the best with what they’ve got and you like them as a group, but they’re not really that engaging on their own and I fear that if some of them get bumped off in the following movies (I can’t remember if all 13 make it through the book) I’ll find it hard to give a damn, unless it’s James Nesbitt or the bloke from Being Human, who plays one of the younger, goofier dwarfs and makes the character likable and entertaining.

The other problem the film has is that it suffers in comparison to LotR in some ways, notably there’s not such an epic nature to the story and while the lighter moments make it a sweet, enjoyable films there are moments when it veers dangerously close to Disney-style tweeness.

But Jackson should be applauded for making a 3 hour movie that doesn’t really feel that long and for justifying his decision to stretch out the movie as there were only a few minor parts that I could see might have been cut here.

Verdict: Jackson succeeds in creating an enjoyable and engaging fantasy adventure film, helped by strong performances from Freeman and McKellen and a wise decision to play up the story’s action elements. A sweet and rather charming family adventure. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Top 10 Best Comic Characters to Screen Transfers

Following yesterday’s post here’s the other side of the coin, which I’m writing on Wednesday evening. Again, they’re in no real order.

1. Iron Man

As seen in: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk and Avengers Assemble (2008-12)
Played by: Robert Downey Jr

I know I said I wasn’t doing these in order, but I’m kicking off with my personal favourite. RDJ is Tony Stark, he perfectly captures Tony Stark’s swaggering bravado, as well as conveying the conscious that drives him to become a hero. Its an effortlessly cool performance and RDJ drips charisma, and almost steals the Avengers movie too. I’m eagerly awaiting seeing more of RDJ’s Stark in Iron Man 3 and the Avengers sequels.

RDJ as Tony Stark- effortlessly cool,

2. Magneto

As seen in: X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class (2000-11)
Played by: Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender

Two great actors give great performances as the X-Men’s major nemesis. McKellen plays the older Magneto, zealously pursuing his plans to place mutants on top, the anger and bitterness he carries from his experiences in the concentration camp the driving force as he refuses to be oppressed again, yet his actions force him down a dark path, and its implied he’s not entirely comfortable with what he may be becoming. He’s a charismatic leader, oddly charming with an eye for recruiting alienated mutants for his team.

McKellen and Fassbender as the master of magnetism.

As the younger Magneto in the prequel Michael Fassbender steals the show, his Eric is all tightly wound rage as he doles out vengeance on the Nazis who robbed him of his childhood and experimented on him. He’s given a chance of redemption through his friendship with Charles Xavier, but believing that humans will never accept mutants they go their separate ways.

Both actors convey the intense anger that burns within the character and their motivations and methods, while extreme always seem in keeping with the character and they never completely lose the audience’s sympathy.

3. Superman

As seen in: Superman, Superman 2, Superman 3 and Superman 4: The Quest for Peace (1978-87)
Played by: Christopher Reeve

Reeve is the definitive Superman, utterly iconic in the role. He captures the Man of Steel’s simple, noble heroism and does a fantastic dual performance playing the bumbling awkward Clark Kent so effectively that despite the weak disguise you wouldn’t instantly connect the two.

The late, great Christopher Reeve. The best Superman.

4. The Joker

As seen in: The Dark Knight (2008)
Played by: Heath Ledger

Proof that you can tweak a character without ruining them. The comic book version of the clown prince of crime is one of the best villains in comics, but wouldn’t work in the more realistic world of Nolan’s bat-movies, and so they give a refreshing new spin on the character. Heath Ledger is phenomenal as the utterly demented Joker, portrayed here as a deranged, highly intelligent villain who’s only motivation is a love of chaos and panic. Ledger adds some nice flourishes and a manic energy throughout. Best of all when he tells the story of how he gained the scars on his face he later tells a different version, meaning he remains shrouded in mystery and keeps the audience guessing.

5. The Punisher

As seen in: Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Played by: Ray Stevenson

I really dug this version of the Punisher, and for my money its the best cinematic version, keeping with the darkly comic, violent vision that Garth Ennis brought to the character during his run as writer on the books. Stevenson has immense physical presence and looks like he can handle himself. He’s silent for much of the film but Castle’s never been a chatterbox and its nowhere near as cheesy as some of the Thomas Jane version was.

6. Spider-man

As seen in: The Amazing Spider-man (2012)
Played by: Andrew Garfield

Garfield brings the perfect mix to Peter Parker of the awkward geekiness and the cocky, gleeful side he’s allowed to unleash when he gets powers and pulls on the suit. You can see more of why I thought it was ace in my review of the movie a while back.

7. The Comedian

As seen in: Watchmen (2009)
Played by: Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Watchmen is loaded with interesting, complicated characters, and in the movie the cast all do great work bringing them to life, but for my money its JDM who does the best job.

JDM as the Comedian

The Comedian is an odd character, he does some truly heinous acts and should be utterly reprehensible, but somehow he’s also an oddly sympathetic. Warped by his experiences and plagued by inner demons, its apparent that despite beginning as a Robin-like teenage hero the dark side was always there, and JDM perfectly conveys the bitterness and cynicism that infects the character as well as the remorse he seems to feel and the horror he feels when he uncovers the central plot shows that at some level that he’s retained what drove him to become a costumed crimefighter.

8. Nick Fury

As seen in: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers Assemble (2008-12)
Played by: Samuel L Jackson

For me, Nick Fury will always be a grizzled Second World War vet chewing on a cigar, but the Ultimate universe reboot of the character is undeniably cool. They revamped him as a badass black guy clearly based on SLJ, so who else were they going to tag in when it came time to putting him on the big screen?

SLJ in action as the badass Nick Fury.

SLJ brings gravitas to the role and makes Fury totally badass, a good guy who’s not adverse to manipulating others to get what he needs. Despite being just a soldier he maintains authority among his super powered associates and it never phases him. He’s cool, in charge and gives a vibe that he’s not to be underestimated.

9. Batman

As seen in: Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (2005-08)
Played by: Christian Bale

Nolan’s revamping needed a strong Batman, and Bale is probably the best live action Bat (the cartoon Bat is still the best). Bale’s good playing all aspects of the character- the smooth, frivolous public persona he adopts as Bruce Wayne is perfectly realized and he makes a far more convincing playboy than say Keaton did.

Bale brings real intensity to the character, and a steely edge. He manages to convincingly show us Batman’s obsession and devotion to his cause. And when he fights Bale convinces as a proper hard case, and he has the look about him of someone who could be extremely vicious, which is a good vibe to have when you’re playing Batman, and which no previous screen-Bat has ever really nailed.

But they keep him human when we see that part of him longs to hang up the cowl and make a life with Rachel, believing that Harvey Dent can save the city. When Bruce talks to Alfred after her death its a really heartbreaking tender moment as he says they can’t tell Harvey that Rachel was going to chose Bruce, made even sadder by the fact he’s mistaken.

There’s also a sly humour to Bale’s bat, especially in his scenes with Alfred, which I like as it matches the tone of the comics, and doesn’t tip over into goofy banter and quipping.

The Dark Knight Rises will be Bale’s last outing as the caped crusader, and you gotta feel bad for whoever they tag in for the next reboot, they’ve got some big Bat-shoes to fill.

10. Captain America

As seen in: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Avengers Assemble (2012)
Played by: Chris Evans

Like with Superman, Captain America is a character who could all to easily have been extremely cheesy, a kind of outdated concept of a star-spangled, all American hero, but Evans does a good job of showing the simple decency that drives Rogers to volunteer for the super soldier program. Evans plays Cap as still being deep down the small, awkward guy and means that he retains his noble decency and seems an obvious choice to lead the Avengers. I’m interested to see what they do with Cap adjusting to the modern day in the sequels.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.