Movie Review: “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”

Starring
Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Ian McKellen, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom
Director
Peter Jackson

The conclusion to Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy is being marketed as “The Defining Chapter,” so why does it feel like less of a triumphant celebration than a weary sigh? It’s probably because the films as a whole have been such an exhausting experience, largely due to the decision to expand the initial two-part plan into three movies. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it simply wasn’t necessary, and that’s never been more evident than with “The Battle of the Five Armies,” a 144-minute marathon of masturbatory excess in which the titular set piece (one that’s contained within a single chapter in Tolkien’s novel) makes up almost half of its bloated runtime. The fact that “The Battle of the Five Armies” is the shortest of any of Jackson’s Middle-earth films proves the futility of the three-movie model, but that hasn’t stopped him from dragging it out anyway. After all, a two-hour film just wouldn’t feel as epic.

The story picks up right where “The Desolation of Smaug” left off, with the treasure-hoarding dragon flying towards Lake-town to wreak havoc on the city. While the townspeople flee as their homes are burned to the ground, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) manages to slay Smaug by shooting a dwarven-made black arrow into a weak spot in its armored scales. But when Bard and the survivors head to the Lonely Mountain seeking refuge and payment for their services, Thorin (Richard Armitage) – who’s since been consumed by the dragon sickness that plagued his grandfather – refuses to help them, believing that it’s all a ruse to steal his beloved gold. As Thorin and his fellow dwarves prepare for battle against the men of Lake-town and Thranduil’s (Lee Pace) elven army, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) escapes from Dol Guldur just in time to warn them of a much bigger threat: Azog the Defiler is marching upon Erebor with a battalion of orcs to seize the stronghold, and they’ll need to put aside their differences and fight alongside each other in order to stop them.

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Movie Review: “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

Starring
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director
Peter Jackson

There are a couple of reasons why the “Hobbit” movies, to date, have not had the impact that their “Lord of the Rings” predecessors did, despite having better special effects. The first one is obviously fatigue; Peter Jackson has now made what is for all intents and purposes the same movie five times. Five, times, and there is one more coming. The bigger problem, though, is this: five hours into the “Hobbit” story, the good guys have slaughtered hundreds upon hundreds of bad guys (both biped and arachnid), and they have not lost a single soldier. The lack of stakes for the characters, combined with the knowledge of which characters play a larger role in the subsequent “Lord of the Rings” books, undermines all attempts to establish a realistic sense of peril. Wait, Gandalf is in trouble? Whatever – he clearly lives to fight in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” so don’t sweat it.

This is unfortunate, because “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is quite entertaining despite the lopsidedness of the battles and needless “Clone Wars”-type political drama that director Peter Jackson foists upon the good people of Lake-town. A Tolkien-loving friend of ours swears that only five percent of the story in “Smaug” is in the original text. That is not nearly as much of a concern to us as the fact that no one dies in these movies.

Fresh from their escape from a pack of Orcs at the end of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” courtesy of a group of giant eagles, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen), and a band of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) continue their journey to reclaim Thorin’s family’s homeland in the Lonely Mountain, inside which are untold riches and a fire-breathing dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) who claims both riches and fortress as his own. Gandalf leaves them at the edge of the forest of Mirkwood to do a fact-finding mission. Bilbo and the dwarves find themselves in trouble almost instantly, battling giant spiders in the forest, only to be captured by wood elves afterwards. Bilbo uses the invisibility powers of the Ring to slip past the elves and free the dwarves, but the Orcs are soon on their tail again. To escape the Orcs, the group makes a deal with shipman Bard (Luke Evans), who smuggles them into the human-populated Lake-town so they can fulfill the prophecy and take back what is theirs. Smaug, however, is not inclined to go quietly.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Melissa George (Cinemax’s “Hunted”)

Those with a soft spot for Australian soap operas may forever think of Melissa George as Angel from “Home and Away,” but they’re doing both her and themselves a disservice by maintaining that mindset, because George has handily proven over and over again that she’s a far cry from being just another soap opera actress, be it by her Golden Globe nominated performance on HBO’s “In Treatment,” her work with David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”) and Steven Soderbergh (“The Limey”), or her despicable turn as Lauren Reed on ABC’s “Alias.” With her latest small-screen endeavor, Cinemax’s “Hunted,” George is returning to the spy side of things, but trust Bullz-Eye when we tell you that “Hunted” is on a completely different level of television than “Alias.” We talked to her in conjunction with the series’ premiere – 10 PM tonight and every Friday night for the next several weeks – while also quizzing her about a few other past endeavors, including working with Heath Ledger on “Roar,” getting the shaft on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and just barely missing out on being part of one of the most notorious sitcom flops in NBC history.

Bullz-Eye: To begin at the beginning, how did you find your way into “Hunted”? Was it an audition situation, or did they come looking for you specifically?

Melissa George: They were very strict about making people read. Some jobs, not so much, they know who they want. But “Hunted” is (being produced by) HBO and BBC together, and they were both having to choose and decide, so we had the English with the Americans, so that’s why the audition process was so long.

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I was walking on the West Side Highway in New York, and my phone rang. It was my agent saying, “I’ve just read the most dynamic role for a woman, it’s as complex as what you played on ‘In Treatment,’ with a bit of action, which you’ve done before. It’s shooting in Europe, it’s really good, it’s written by Frank Spotnitz, it’s an English and American production…you’ve got to get it.” That’s kind of what he said. And I hate when they say that, ‘cause that means no sleep for me. Because, y’know, of course if it’s that great I want to play it. And I was then shooting a movie with Julia Stiles in Los Angeles (“Between Us”) and I was busy with that, and I had a video camera set up in the hotel room, and I put together a scene. They asked me to do three scenes, but I just did one. It was the one where she confronts her ex in the apartment. Very emotional. And I remember I was just so choked up…and I was recording myself, not speaking to anybody, because I didn’t have an actor reading with me. And I was, like, “Oh, my God, I really love this part…” And I cut, printed, and sent it. I couldn’t do any more scenes because I was really upset. I felt really strongly about this woman. And I waited. I didn’t care, because I was shooting a movie.

Then I got a call saying, “They want you to meet with Frank and read a scene.” I was, like, “Oh, my God…” There were so many freaking people in this room. [Laughs.] So many people! I thought it was just going to be me. Every actor thinks that when you’re asked to read, it’s just gonna be you. But it was a lot of people, and I was on my own. But I met Frank, and he said to me later on, once I’d gotten the role, that he knew from when I put myself on tape, and when I went in to read, he said, “I just feel really connected to her.” But that was it. I didn’t hear for awhile after that, so I was, like, “Ugh, this is gonna be one of those jobs…” And then S.J. (Clarkson), who’s directing, got onboard, and…the director has a big say, so Frank’s got his choice made, BBC and HBO made theirs, but now I have to wait for S.J. to make hers. So I had to meet her. They fly me from New York to L.A. to have lunch, and all we do is talk about film, and then…I was the only girl, but I had to read with lots of guys. And none of the guys I read with got it. [Laughs.] But I was the only girl they were using, and yet still hadn’t told me that I’d got it! And I was, like, “What’s going on here?”

But I was so convinced that I was onboard that I went around convincing everyone else around me that I was. I was, like, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna be playing this role in a few months…” But I hadn’t heard anything, and I was going, “This is ridiculous! They’re going all over the world looking for this actress, every single country, and I’m, like, “Well, does she have to be from a particular place?” “No, they don’t care where she’s from, because she has to play so many nationalities, so many different languages and accents.” So I waited while they went around the globe, reading hundreds of girls, and they were losing me, because I was going, “Well, if they wait too long…” And then finally everyone was, like, “C’mon, S.J.!” So that’s the story. And it was so funny on set, because while we were filming in Morocco, S.J. would come up to me and speak French, then she’d say, “Oh, sorry, wrong actress.” Like she’d found a girl in France that she really liked. I was, like, “Shut up, I know you didn’t find anybody!” [Laughs.] It was one of those things where the joke went on forever. Like, the whole season of the show. “Sorry, what’s your name?” So I don’t quite know what happened that made it take so long to decide, but I know that when I seize on something, man, I’d better get the job. Because I was honestly delusional. I was, like, “Yes, I’m shooting London in a few months,” and everyone was, like, “But have they said ‘yes’?” “No. But I’m going to be shooting!”

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The Light from the TV Shows: 12 Shows to Look Forward to in 2012

Just as 2011 is sure to end in a few days, 2012 is equally likely to follow on its heels, which means that the January TCA tour is right around the corner. As such, yours truly is about to be bombarded with the best and worst that the midseason has to offer…and, fortunately, there’s a lot more of the former than the latter. Indeed, there are a couple of shows that the broadcast networks have been unjustly sitting on for almost six months, even though they’re a damned sight better than most of the dreck we got back in September. (Stand up, please, “The Playboy Club.” Or, you know, pick the program of your choice. That one’s just easiest ’cause it was the first to go.) Much as last week found me offering up 11 shows, give or take, that I was sorry to bid adieu to in 2011, this week I’ve pulled together a list of 12 shows that I’m looking forward to checking out in 2012. Keep in mind, however, that I’m basing my excitement either on a rough cut of a pilot or, in some cases, merely on the hopefulness I get when I read about the show. Yes, this does often come back to bite me in the ass, but such is the life of a TV critic. If I’m wrong, I’ll roll with the punches. In the meantime, though, these are my personal picks for what’s looking good in the new year…

The Firm (NBC)

So sayeth the network: Based on the best-selling novel by world-renowned author John Grisham, “The Firm” is a new drama series that continues the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere (Josh Lucas), who, as a young associate 10 years earlier, had brought down the prestigious Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which had been operating as a front for the Chicago mob. After a difficult decade, which included a stay in the Federal Witness Protection Program, McDeere and his family now emerge from isolation to reclaim their lives and their future — only to find that past dangers are still lurking and new threats are everywhere. Abby McDeere (Molly Parker), Mitch’s supportive, smart and resourceful wife, who had helped her husband expose Bendini, Lambert & Locke, is excited to start a new life in Washington, D.C., as a school teacher and mom to their daughter, Claire (Natasha Calis). Ray McDeere (Callum Keith Rennie) is Mitch’s charming, yet volatile, older brother whose work as an investigator in Mitch’s office is uniquely informed by his past stretch in prison for manslaughter. Despite a gritty past that stands in stark contrast to that of his Harvard-grad brother, Ray shares one key quality with Mitch – a loyalty that is unbreakable. Tammy Hemphill (Juliette Lewis) is Mitch’s feisty, sexy receptionist whose work life is made all the more tumultuous by her on-again, off-again relationship with Ray. With a personality as arresting as her ever-changing hair color, Tammy is leery when Mitch accepts a deal to partner with a top law practice, as she’s not cut out for the conservative culture of a white-shoe firm.

My take: I literally only just got the pilot episode this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but the combination of Lucas, Parker, and Lewis has me very intrigued, and the fact that Grisham himself is part of the mix makes me hopeful about the possibilities of where this series could go if it’s given the chance. That’s a big “if,” though, because this isn’t the first time a Grisham novel has made the jump to the small screen. Anyone remember “The Client,” with JoBeth Williams and John Heard? It’s become so obscure that there’s neither a Wikipedia page for it nor even a clip from it on YouTube. Let’s hope “The Firm” gets a better go of it than that.

(Premiere date: January 8, 9 PM; regular 10 PM timeslot begins January 12)

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