The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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Hobbit 1

 

The first part of the story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins.

We had to wait a long time from first announcement to actual delivery of the movie, due in part to finance problems at MGM Studios which also led to initial director Guillermo del Toro dropping out and Peter Jackson stepping up to direct again.

If you have seen any of the Peter Jackson creations of The Lord Of The Rings, you’ll know precisely what to expect.  If you haven’t, where have you been for the last 10 years ?!!

I have read The Hobbit, though it was many years ago now (maybe I should rectify this) and so I was familiar with the story to come (loosely), certainly more than with the Lord Of The Rings books which I fear I abandoned long before completion (something else to retread at a later date).

As with The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, certain liberties have been taken in order to make the film series work “better”, though I haven’t heard as many complaints as when they overlooked the “Tom Bombadil” character in the Rings trilogy.  It is noticeable though that three movies of nearly 3 hours each from a book that is smaller than any of the 3 Rings trilogy individually I s going to need a LOT of padding out !

I don’t propose to go through all the differences between book and film, as to be honest I didn’t really mind.  I can’t quote the book verbatim, so wouldn’t notice extra lines added, or others removed, I’m not that worried.  Maybe it would matter to a true Tolkien aficionado, but to me I was far more interested in the entertainment value of the film.  Probably more important to me are cosmetic changes, such as Bilbo originally envisaged as being 50+ years old with a fat belly – something they clearly haven’t stuck to with Martin Freeman !!

Incidentally, if anyone REALLY wants to see the differences between text and screen, there are plenty of websites out there who can cater to your curiosity, such as http://www.theonering.com/complete-list-of-film-changes/introduction for example.

There is an extremely slow start to the film, just like the first of the Rings films, and I found myself getting restless waiting for some “action”.   Strangely, Tolkien’s son Christopher has been complaining in the press that he doesn’t think the books should be made into “action movies for young people aged 15 to 25″.  I’d say he hasn’t watched too many action movies.

The New Zealand scenery is as breathtaking as ever, and coupled with the fantastic quality of image and the incredible audio it really is an amazing feature.  I can’t comment on the 3D or “High Framerate 3D” versions of the film, as I haven’t had the opportunity to see either, though my previous exposure to 3D movies has not been encouraging – usually headaches and a noticeable drop in the quality of the picture.

Various actors/actresses return from the Rings movies, such as Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Elven Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Andy Serkis as Gollum, plus of course Bilbo Baggins played in a prologue by Ian Holm as the “old” version of the character, alongside Frodo played by Elijah Wood, which is a character that doesn’t actually appear in the book of The Hobbit.

There are other returning characters from the later Rings trilogy that don’t appear in the original Hobbit, but have been brought in to link the two trilogies together and show their overlaps – Cate Blanchett is Galadriel, Christopher Lee is Saruman.  Both are only in for a short reprisal of their later roles, and add a little welcome familiarity.

So, visually stunning, with a mildly bum-numbing duration, but plenty of action and adventure to keep you interested.

I had to “get into” the film, meaning that I persisted past the slow start and found that I became more entertained as it went along.  I also felt it ended in a good place, making me look forward to the next instalment, which I will be reviewing shortly.

8/10.  A bit too long to be perfect, but still a great movie.

In Bruges (2008)

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Bruges

 

I went in to this film unusually not knowing anything about it.  A friend had recommended it, so here I was.

The story of two Irish hitmen in hiding after an accidental killing of a child during an assassination, you have Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) out in Belgium waiting to hear from their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes).

Not a recipe for comedy, black or otherwise, or so I thought.  However, there’s plenty of amusement to be had.

The rapport between Ray and Ken is fraught, as while Ken is happy to be there and is off out sightseeing, Ray is  wracked with guilt for the accidental death of the boy, until he meets a local drug dealer and thief, Chloë (Clémence Poésy) who is working as a production assistant on a film in the town.

Ok so far, but a bit slow. Well, the second half of the film picks up the pace, the humour and the violence.

Ralph Fiennes plays the gangster boss Harry with principles who can’t excuse the death of a child, even if accidental, and so wants Ray to pay the ultimate price, and for Ken to do the dirty work.  So when Ken touchingly refuses, and tries to get Ray to escape, you know that an angry Harry is going to wreak havoc.

Did I see the ending coming ?  No, of course not.

I expected either Harry to get Ray, or Ray to escape somehow.  I was not expecting Harry to manage to injure Ray, but in so doing accidentally kill what he thought was a child, and therefore offing himself in order to stick to his own principles.

Ok, so a bit of overboard moralising, but even so, I enjoyed this film far more than I expected, especially since it had Colin Farrell and his world-record eyebrows in it.  He usually drives me to distraction.

So its gangsters with a small “g”, not a Godfather Part IV, but an entertaining story of loyalty, love and honour.

 

7/10.  Much better than I expected.

 

Escape Plan (2013)

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Escape Plan

 

Oh I so wanted this to be good.  Probably too much.  And it isn’t THAT bad – it just didn’t live up to expectations.

It’s a shame that they picked this fairly boring story over something more stereotyped (Commando vs Rambo ? Yes please !!), as they probably won’t do this again.  It didn’t light up the box office.

Stallone and Schwarzenegger together in their own movie has been in demand for 30 years.  Trouble is, it would’ve been cool then, but now they are (well) past their physical and box office peaks, and it is a bit slow and tired and decidedly low on proper “action”.

There isn’t a huge amount of point going into the plot, as it is largely irrelevant. You are watching it for the “Big Two”. It could’ve been a film about painting road markings or building dry-stone walls and those of us who we’re going to watch it wouldn’t have cared.

Trouble is, a film about prison escapes does limit the amount of car chases, gun fights and massive explosions you can expect.  Action on a par with Terminator-2 is not on the cards.  That is a pity.  A let down.

I’m also finding it increasingly difficult to understand a single word that Stallone says these days.

On the positive side, Vinnie  Jones plays a great corrupt prison guard, and Jim Caviezel plays an interesting prison governer.  You also get Sam Neill as the prison doctor.

So, in my book this is a missed opportunity.  A weak film where I wanted a high-octane action movie.

Yes, there are good bits, nasty bits, and corny bits.  Water torture, physical inmate abuse, and intimidation.

But the film just drags between points of interest.  Script to blame rather than bad acting.

Expendables 3 will have to restore my faith later in the year.

6/10.  If you want action, go elsewhere.

 

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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Drag

 

This was always going to be a no-brainer. I LOVE Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” movies, and though this has no actual connection to those classics, it has a LOT of similarities. No Bruce Campbell was a big concern, but I needn’t have worried.

The trademark big scares mixed with comedy works extremely well, and while some bits may have been less than convincing (the possessed goat at the seance springs to mind) for the most part this film is as good an example of its genre as I can remember .

Alison Lohman plays Christine, the damsel in distress of the movie. A meek and mild band worker.

Justin Long is her boyfriend Clay, college professor.

However, Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver) the old Hungarian woman who curses Christine after being “shamed” at the bank is the standout character for me.  Shame she is only a bit part, as she is a riot.

We have gallons of blood, disembodied spirits, demons and flying false teeth. Christine gets to sample all the delights that Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan could dream up. She gets icky, she gets thrown around and smashed into furniture, and she ends up dragged through a supernatural portal. It really does have a lot of welcome familiarity.

The Lamia spirit which is invoked by the curse is a nasty piece of work. Whilst it inflicts nasty amounts of wrath on Christine, it doesn’t get to the slapstick levels endured by Ash in the Evil Dead films. Sure, there is still plenty of slapstick, but it isn’t overdone.

So while this film is not an Evil Dead film, it is so much better than the more recent remake/reimage of Evil Dead was.  Far more jumps and scares.

9/10. As close to greatness as I’d hoped for.

 

I,Robot (2004)

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iRobot

As a fan of action movies and science fiction, I was looking forward to a film based on the short stories of Isaac Asimov.  This, however, is “based on a premise by Isaac Asimov”.

In other words, they pinched his 3 laws of robotics, and then used carte blanche for the rest of the creation.

To be more fair, it is true that there are similarities in there with certains characters from Asimov, though robots rebelling is something he specifically went on record against happening.

 

Will Smith plays “Del Spooner”, a Chicago cop, in 2035.  He’s called in to investigate the death of the co-founder of robotics company U.S.R. (United States Robotics), Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), who has apparently committed suicide. Lanning was previously known to Spooner, and he refuses to believe that he would’ve committed suicide, and embarks on a mission to uncover the truth. 

Key to the investigation is the fact that an old man like Lanning would never  have been able to break through the special safety glass of his office in order to throw himself to his death. This suggests that he was murdered, by either man or one of his robot creations.  This leads to the assumption that such a robot would be operating outside the 3 laws above.

It is an interesting premise, and I enjoyed the idea of rogue robots which were able to bypass the protective Asimov laws, or in the case of this film be “made” to bypass the laws by a central entity that had an uplink to each robot.  You are led to believe that it may be the other co-founder of the company,  Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), but that is a red herring.

Rather than using the usual “crazy bad guy trying to take over the world” plot, this instead has the machines evolving, developing new levels of artificial intelligence, which in turn allow them to start interpreting the laws of robotics in alternative ways. It becomes reasoned that it is acceptable to protect humanity as a whole at the cost of human lives.

That is quite a scary proposition, as where do the lines get drawn (and by whom) to say how much life could be deemed sacrificable if weighed against greater humanity.

In some ways, I’m kinda glad we’re living in an age where our technology isn’t quite there yet to create proper “movie-style” robots.  I find the idea of them to be a bit creepy.

Surely they wouldn’t all be as scary as “Maximillian” was in the Disney film “The Black Hole” from 1979, which I saw as a youngster (under the age of 10) and had nightmares about for years !  However, the fairly freaky-looking NS-5 robots in this film do get scarier when the red light goes on to say they are in bypass-mode.  I wouldn’t want to get in their way !

So, the story is enjoyable and makes you actually think a bit, the robots are good, and the acting in general is good.  Even Will Smith, and I don’t say that too often.

The only real problem I have is when the CGI gets ahead of itself.  The particular sequence I’m unimpressed by was the chase sequence where Spooner is driving his [Product Placement] Audi  in his [Product Placement] Converse All-Stars, and comes under attack from two transporters full of NS-5s.  Lousy.  I know its set in the future, and I know that I have to suspend my disbelief, but really that whole sequence was awful !

I lost count of the number of times that a robot landed on the car, only for it to flap around uselessly in front of him before being despatched.  He should’ve been dead 20 times.

And the CGI of the car driving around REALLY annoyed me.

The final “twist” (not a madman, but the supercomputer to blame, and the good Dr Lanning sacrificing himself so that the truth could get out) was good.

However, I didn’t buy the idea that a population that was really quite dependent on their robotic helpers would be able to suddenly decide to cast them all out and exist without them.  How would they cope having to do all the menial jobs that they’d give to their slave workforce ?!!

So for me, this may be my favourite Will Smith film (and it really is “his” film).  Well,  its this or Independence Day.

 

7/10.  Enjoyable action movie.  Though I could’ve done without quite so much product placement !!