Darke Reviews | The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Alright as we begin this review let me remind people of the rules:

  1. No spoilers from me. Even if I want to.
  2. I don’t typically read the book. It’s rare when I do. This lets me judge a movie strictly on its merits as a film.

So where do I judge this film? I don’t think it will be long into this review before you know how, but let us go through the motions. I say go through the motions as much with Hunger Games, you are either 3 or 5 movies in and thus committed to this franchise. I have absolutely no illusions I will keep anyone from seeing this or encourage someone to see it who is not already invested. The reality is I was just as invested, which is why I saw this. I am freelance, no one pays me. I see what I want, when I want, and review what I want. Phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty budget.

I think there was a time that Peter Jackson was heralded as being the savior of the Fantasy Genre. We have come here not to praise Jackson, but to bury him. Bury him in the mounds of money he has made on our faith. Bury him under the weight of his own misguided creativity. Jackson has stepped over the line from savior to damnation. He has saved us from films such as Eragon only to deliver us into the hands of a three movie franchise for something that at most should have been two. George Lucas has stepped aside from franchise and good will destroying madman to allow the King of Hobbits to take the throne. Any goodwill that Jackson built with the first franchise has long since been thrust into the fires of Mt. Doom. The movie with Jackson at the helm and at the pen, fails on so many levels.

But if you are still with me, allow me to explain:

Peter Jackson is director, producer, and screenplay writer.  With his collaborators (and wife) Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro. This is a fantastic combination for two things – cranking out the works of Tolkien into something digestible to the mass market and not being able to say no to each others ideas. I am sure there was some disagreement in the writing circle, thats inescapable. But if you are a writer like me, your friends can be the worst people to have read your work. They will support bad ideas (usually) and tell you how great it is when what you really need is the one friend who says “No.” I don’t think this crew had that. I don’t think they put limits on themselves and the studio certainly wasn’t about to after the dragons hoarde of money they have raked in over the past decade.

Background done, the movie fails on the simple level of evocative storytelling. A writer must have an understanding of the rollercoaster that is their story. There are rises and falls. Beats and pauses. This movie lacks that. I grew up in Maryland with my grandparents and due to that I watched probably more war movies from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s than most kids my age. I have seen all the greats. I have seen all the new greats in that genre as well. What they all have in common is the action beats are interrupted by relatively long pauses to let you breathe, to let you grasp what is going on, and most importantly to make you care and get to know the characters that are in this plight. Let me take you to Saving Private Ryan for a moment. A modern classic and that is an opinion that is hard to argue. I would be willing to bet most people have a character they remember and like. For me it was the sniper. I got him and his death was powerful and meaningful. Another film. Enemy At the Gates, under rated movie of Russians vs. Germans about one of the greatest snipers that has ever lived. Again everyone on both sides you get to know them and care or wish for their death. Classic film from a time before mine – Battle of the Bulge. Fantastic (in more ways than one) movie. You meet both sides and even can learn sympathy for some of the Germans in it, which is nigh unheard of at the time.

Not so here. I couldn’t tell you who half of the people were in the over an hour of battle this movie gives you. I also couldn’t care. Filli, Killi – which is which? It doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t let you care. There was no stake in this film. There was no passion to the story to let me care beyond a cursory level if *anyone* lived or died. The movie had no risk because you knew some characters couldn’t die. The ones beyond that you couldn’t care about, with few exceptions thanks to the actors. The story didn’t do them justice.

Second major failure. If you want to introduce things not in the book, by all means do so. I *encourage* it. You will be damned if you mirror the book near perfect (Zack Snyder) or deviate wildly (Jackson here). Might as well take the risk and do something fascinating; just make sure it is fascinating and for the love of all that you hold dear – have a plan. If you want to introduce all these new elements make sure you know what to do with them when you have to wrap the bow around the whole package. There were too many stories started here and so few of them were closed. There won’t be another film so why leave them hanging?

Now these two failures combined pretty much left me bored and not caring. There are other factors I will get too in a minute. The movie succeeds in two places. The first is Martin Freeman. I know he is not at risk, but at all times he makes me care. He manages to strike the chords that make me feel something while watching this. His acting is fantastic end to end without ever missing a beat that he is on screen. The second is Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. Yes I know she is created for the film, but again she actually makes me care.  I wish there was more to her and for her to work with because it actually worked.

No one else did. Really. They didn’t. Even Armitage a Thorin just doesn’t really do it. He gets close, but he almost tries too hard.

From a technical standpoint please allow me to say: DEAR GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO BIGATURES?! CGI IS NOT THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING!!!! It along with your high frame rate and 3D makes every single flaw look even worse. It isn’t good. If Manu Bennet (who is awesome in person) is wearing a make up while playing Azog its a really bad make up because it looks CG. If the make up is only enhanced by CG, then they failed. It looked bad. It looked really bad. Honestly, not a single shot in the movie looked good. They were trying too hard. They tried so hard they hit the ridiculous barrier. It wasn’t SyFy movie of the week bad, but it was way too much money spent on it bad. With all that WETA digital has done over the years, they apparently have not mastered light. It made every shot “enhanced” by the artificial light look worse. The CG horseback ride, was easy to see the green screen!

Creature design. What. The. Frak. It was patently ridiculous. I remember the first time you gave us a Cave Troll. It was bloody terrifying, even if it doesn’t hold up. The Battle of Helms deep?

TL;DR

As I said before you will see this anyway if you were going to. If you were on the fence, please heed my advice – Don’t see it.

I don’t actually hate the film, but I can’t give it more than an Ok. It didn’t make me smile. It didn’t actually entertain with only a handful of scenes as an exception. It gave me a solid meh and only a few eye watering moments to show for it.

If you absolutely must see this movie; if it is a moral imperative of Chris Knight proportions then go see it. Avoid the high resolution/frame rate, there were times it almost made me nauseous. 3D is ok, but you can save SOME money by catching the 2D and I don’t think you’ll be too upset.

So there it is…the end of a trilogy (hexology?). It started epic and ends with a whimper.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | V for Vendetta (2005)

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November

The gunpowder treason and plot
I Can think of no reason
That the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot…

8 years after the release of this film, it remains a hit amongst a select group of people but never truly reached the heights of fame it so richly deserved. I find that this vexes me some, and in fact for those who have not witnessed this one, I can only vow to convince you to do so.

I must advise of course that this film is based on a graphic novel by the acclaimed writer Alan Moore. A man who is so fed up with adaptations of his work that he refused to allow his name to be put on the film. The artist, David Lloyd had no such qualms. To be sure Hollywood can be seen as a villain in his eyes as their adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentleman left much to be desired and forced Sean Connery into retirement. He is also responsible for the original works of From Hell and Watchmen. As you can tell by the nature of the stories he tells he has opinions on government , law enforcement and the military.

It also needs to be mentioned that there were many comparisons to certain current American politicians when this film was released. Those, while perhaps accurate, were entirely coincidental in my opinion as the original work contained much the same vitriol towards government and was entirely focused on the Margaret Thatcher era in Moore’s native Britain. If any lines can be drawn between two different political terms a few thousand miles and decades apart then we are drawing them ourselves. I don’t necessarily believe this bad; as well written material such as a graphic novel and movie are art. Art should provoke. Art should inspire. If this particular work does provoke such conversation, right-wrong-or-indifferent, then it is a particularly successful piece.

The film is not a pure adaptation of the graphic novel however, and does contain some not insignificant changes. The changes lay at the hands of the Wachowski’s; formerly the Wachowski brothers now brother and sister (Andy and Lana). The Wachowski’s are best known for their other pro-thought films, the Matrix and Cloud Atlas. They are also lamented for other films such as Speed Racer (which may get a review later this month). Let’s be absolutely clear, V cannot as written be translated to any screen media with any ease. It needed adaptation. Having read the original a few times, and likely after this review, I can assure you the true message is there; if somewhat less vague and with less a veneer to it. What is left is surprisingly wildly successful on multiple levels. As stated it is enough to provoke; be it emotion, thought or discussion. It does blend humor with action and a horrifying dystopian future that we all see on the edge of the horizon in our nightmares and conspiracy theories.

The plot itself centers around a girl Evey Hammond, a lowly assistant at the state run television network. During a chance encounter she finds her life saved at the hands of a the vicissitudes of Fate entwine their lives closer and closer. V is forced to kidnap her to save her life once again while he conducts a one man war on the regime. V attempts to rouse the Vox Populi to be heard once more while being hunted by a Big Brother type government run by Chancellor Sutler. Along the way a simple detective by the name of Finch searches for a truth that no one wants him to find. A link between V, his victims and the regime. The movies climax is explosive in a way only celluloid can deliver.

There’s not much to say about the directing on this one. This isn’t to say that James McTeigue did badly. This was his first film directing on his own, which he followed with three largely unsuccessful films (The Raven, Invasion and Ninja Assassin). I look at his jobs prior where he was a second unit or assistant director. Sadly, his credits don’t get better. Street Fighter (OF COURSE!), Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and the Matrix films. I can neither blame nor laud him for the various successes of this film. I must instead place the value of success upon the actors.

One stands apart, but we will get to him in a moment. Natalie Portman (Leon, Black Swan, Thor) plays Evey. She is one aspect of our lens into the existence of V. She is the heroine of the film who undergoes a remarkable transformation through her experiences and in an amazing arc truly becomes something New. For those so attracted to her, I will mention her fetish costume in the film. That’s all you get. Stephen Rea is an amazingly underrated actor who is known for playing characters that can move a story forward but is never quite the center. His best film to date is Citizen X, about Russia’s first serial killer. His Finch seems to be the only person in the chain of command of the government who wants to know the truth. The truth about V, the truth about Evey, the Chancellor and even the truth about what kind of man he is. He wields the perpetual look of a man who knows the entire game is against him but keeps playing.

John Hurts Chancelor Adam Sutler is quite literally a Hitler-esque force of nature while he holds power. My terminology there is intentional. Stephen Fry steals whatever scene he is in as late night TV host Deitrich. He not only shows his comedic ability and sense of timing but the raw weight and gravity that he can bring to the fore when needed. Watch him and you will see a talent the United States barely knows and that is regrettable.

Though this review is tending to the unnaturally verbose time must be dedicated to the man known as Hugo Weaving; who plays V. If you don’t know him and call yourself a geek, turn in your geek card now. Just go turn it in. He is best known for his monotone delivery as Agent Smith in the Matrix, or Elrond in any of the Tolkein films, the voice of Megatron in the Bay Transformers, or Red Skull in Captain America. There are quite literally thousands upon thousands of actors out there. You will hear in certain interviews the difficulty of an actor displaying emotion through a thick make up or application. Challenges in showing their body language in concealing or dark clothing. To these actors, please ask Mr. Weaving for lessons. Through the entirety of the film he is wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, black wig and hat. His clothing is bulky over his frame making him look larger than he actually is. Throughout the film he shows the power of basics. His voice modulation is the best I have heard; and when matched with subtle but powerful movements of his head and shoulders he expresses more emotion in a single film than many actors do in their entire careers. He is in a single word – Incredible.

If you do nothing else after this review, watch the scenes with him and his amazing range and how you can tell what the emotion is without seeing a single actual facial feature.

So for those who found this verbiage voluble (OK, I’ll stop)

– TL;DR

I can only come short of begging people to take a chance on this film if you would not otherwise. Watch it to consider the original material being written in the 80’s. Watch it to consider the time it was made as a film and the political landscape then. Watch it NOW and consider the message it delivers and our own political landscapes. Watch it for the acting delivered by some amazing talents. Watch it for the beautiful cinematography and storytelling.

All I can say is watch it and let it provoke you to think, to act or to feel. I do not think you will be disappointed and as I said before if you can find parallels between 1982 when this was first written and 2005 or 2013 you bring them with you and there’s no shame in it!

V for Vendetta is a highly underrated film that needs to be watched and appreciated and I can only hope that it’s power can be seen in time.