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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

And with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the Hobbit movies mercifully come to an end.

No more stretching a one-hour story into three overly long films. No more Orlando Bloom making love to his stupid face with his own voice.

The third, much-unneeded chapter in Peter Jackson’s ill-begotten treatment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s wonderful novel is less an event than it is a final cash grab. If you must see it, don’t waste your money on high-frame-rate or IMAX options, because the result is a visual disaster. I stand by my guns: HFF technology is fine for the home theater, but it sucks balls on the big screen.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is reduced to a supporting role (in a film named after his character!) after the dragon Smaug is slain. Five armies—including dwarves, orcs, elves and … uh, who gives a shit—start battling over the riches Smaug gathered, with a glowing stone being the final prize. Thorin (Richard Armitage), a dwarf leader, gets “dragon sickness,” and things get dumber from there.

It all amounts to a big nothing, with the charms that were present in Jackson’s masterful Lord of the Rings trilogy lost in a sea of special effects and terrible, terrible acting.

A few years back, I was championing Jackson’s efforts to get this made. When Guillermo del Toro bowed out as director, I saw it as a blessing, because Jackson would inevitably take over.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I had the misfortune of watching the High Frame Rate 3-D version of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Man, do I hate technology sometimes.

Only a small percentage of movie theaters had the technology for 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but that has changed—so many of us now have the opportunity to see just how bad this technology looks when hobbits are involved. (In fact, four Coachella Valley theaters are showing the film in HFR 3-D.)

I am sure there will be films in the future that will be a proper fit for the High Frame Rate presentation—films that are primarily set outside, boast a leisurely pace, and don’t have too much makeup.

As for Peter Jackson’s decision to shoot The Desolation of Smaug in HFR 3-D, it’s a disaster: Like its predecessor, the film is a task to watch. The look of the movie simply doesn’t jibe with the technology, and the result is a visual nightmare, even after one’s eyes adjust to the stunt.

Smaug is guilty of the same flaws that marred the first film. It’s overstuffed; the dwarves are severely uninteresting; and the action scenes lack urgency. It’s just a big, boring stunt film with people looking silly in their getups.

The film starts with a flashback in which Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has his first meeting with moody dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage). (Actually, it really starts with a very obvious cameo by Jackson, who makes no Hitchcockian effort to blend in.) We then pop ahead to the end of the first movie—and the continuation of Bilbo Baggins’ long, extremely tedious journey.

As Bilbo, Martin Freeman labors to make things interesting during action scenes that feel redundant. (Hey, it’s another giant icky spider attack!) However, he stands out among the cast of otherwise bland actors playing bland dwarves. Oh, Gimli, how you are missed!

Jackson finds a way to bring back Orlando Bloom as Legolas; these scenes could easily be cut from the film’s 161-minute running time. Jackson has also created a new character in Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), an elf warrior and the apple of Legolas’ eye. Legolas and Tauriel were not present in the original Tolkien novel—and movie viewers would be better off if such were the case in this film.

Too many scenes feel padded and bloated. With each passing minute, Jackson is doing further damage to his legacy. His original Lord of the Rings trilogy was a major triumph, while these Hobbit films feel and look like parody.

From the moment the Warner Bros. logo comes up, the film looks weird. Movies aren’t supposed to be this crisp. The shots of mountain ranges are breathtaking—but every close-up of an actor’s made-up face destroys the illusion.

When Smaug the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) finally shows up, he easily becomes the best thing in the Hobbit films thus far. He should’ve arrived in the second half of the first film—and the whole damn thing should’ve been completed in three hours: One movie would’ve been sufficient to cover this story. These Hobbit movies are an overblown, messed-up slog.

The movie ends abruptly, with a big cliffhanger. Normally, that sort of thing would have me all huffy and disappointed. Not this time: I was simply happy to see the movie finally over.

I loved the Lord of the Rings films. They consistently made my year’s-best lists. Conversely, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is one of 2013’s worst.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

If you are not familiar with the case of the West Memphis Three, Amy Berg’s thorough documentary, West of Memphis (produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh), will get you up to speed.

Three young boys, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers, were found dead in a ditch in West Memphis, Ark., in May 1993. The circumstances of their deaths seemed to suggest some sort of satanic ritual—or so authorities thought. They arrested three teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., and eventually put them behind bars for more than 18 years.

The film presents much of the information shared in the three prior Paradise Lost documentaries, with a new emphasis on another stepfather and his possible involvement in the murders. If I have a bone to pick with these documentaries, it’s that they point fingers at other suspects, yet present little to no evidence to back their claims. (John Mark Byers, a stepfather of one of the murdered boys, was accused in the second Paradise Lost film; Terry Hobbs, another stepfather, is accused in this film.)

The three prisoners have been released—after accepting a deal in which they pleaded guilty while still proclaiming their innocence. Doing so not only got them out of jail; it saved Echols’ life. (He was the only one on death row.) As part of the deal, they can’t sue the state for putting them behind bars. Meanwhile, the real killer walks free. What these three went through is a travesty, and the state of Arkansas should be ashamed of itself.

In the end, the dude who directed The Lord of the Rings (and co-produced this film) had a lot to do with the West Memphis Three finally walking free. His generosity helped fund their law team.

Special Features: The package includes deleted scenes, film-festival interviews and, most notably, a commentary featuring Berg and Echols, a Blu-ray exclusive.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

After watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at home, I determined that director Peter Jackson managed to stretch The Hobbit into three movies by getting all performers to speak slowly … oh, so slowly.

Everybody in this movie speaks and moves as if they were drunk on Hobbit Amber Ale. Most of the dialogue is spoken at a snail’s pace with those not-quite-British, not-quite-American affected accents that make everything they say sound SO DAMN IMPORTANT.

I just can’t stand much of this movie. It has its highpoints for sure, especially the wonderful Gollum scene. Gollum alone almost makes the movie worth watching, and Martin Freeman does have great potential as everybody’s favorite Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. Freeman injects life into the proceedings, often bringing scenes back from the dead.

But on top of the encumbered speech patterns, I despise the scenes of dwarves eating and singing. They are dopey, long, Three Stooges-like, unfunny moments that stop the film in its tracks. And while I loved Ian McKellen in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, I can’t handle his strange mugging this time out.

The movie looked weird in cinemas, but it looks better on the home screen. I prefer it visually in 2-D on the home screen over the hard-on-the-eyes 3-D theatrical presentation.

Part 2 in the trilogy arrives later this year. That one promises massive dragon action. Let’s all hope that the dragon spends most of his time blowing things up rather than delivering massive, elongated, stilted soliloquies. Peter Jackson: Please pick up the pace in the next chapters, and keep the alcohol off the set.

Special Features: They include Peter Jackson’s production diaries, which are sporadically interesting, as well a short on the New Zealand locations and a code allowing you to witness Jackson’s March 24 online tease of the next chapter, The Desolation of Smaug

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing