The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Hobbit - Five ArmiesDirector: Peter Jackson

Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, and Orlando Bloom

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies marks a real milestone. Sure, it marks the end of Peter Jackson’s epic, 6-film Middle Earth saga, but it also marks the first entire trilogy that I’ve reviewed in real time as The People’s Critic. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was the 20th film I reviewed and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will be my 130th!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens with an action-packed preamble that satisfies the cliffhanger left by The Desolation of Smaug. With the treasure now back in the possession of the dwarves and Thorin (Richard Armitage) back on the throne of Erebor, it would seem all is well in Middle Earth. However, when the news of Smaug’s defeat spreads, the treasure of the Lonely Mountain suddenly seems up for grabs. Bard and the men of the now decimated Lake Town, Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace) and the Elves of Mirkwood, Sauron and the rising army of Orcs, as well as the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountain all emerge to battle the dwarves over their claim to the treasure – hence that whole “Five Armies” thing.

This film is ultimately a showcase for a final cinematic showdown in the land of Middle Earth. Where the past two films have been criticized for their lack of action, Five Armies may catch criticism for the exact opposite. Jackson’s skill with this subject is on full display and Five Armies boasts some of the finest battle scenes in either trilogy, but overall, there’s not much to this film; it is too simplistic and underdeveloped. Some complexity is infused with Bilbo’s (Martin Freeman) realization of Thorin’s corruption upon reclaiming his crown as well as the budding relationship between elven guardian Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and dwarf, Kili (Aiden Turner). Still this is the most scaled down film of the six, and that’s not really a good thing.      

Jackson’s Hobbit films have struggled with the what it should be/what it needs to be/what it could have been dilemma far more than his Lord of the Rings films. In the case of this film, what it should be and needs to be is a fitting conclusion to this series of films. It more or less accomplishes that, but what it could have been is a great dovetail into Fellowship of the Ring. There are a few throwaway lines that refer to events yet to come, but they are a bit hokey. The decision to pursue a simplistic cap to the Hobbit films rather than an ambitious lead in to the Lord of the Rings films is evident in its title. The final Hobbit film was originally to be subtitled, There and Back Again but was changed to The Battle of Five Armies. There and Back Again feels like the film Jackson was hoping to make and the one I wanted to see, but The Battle of the Five Armies is the movie that was made. If The Battle of the Five Armies had to battle the other five films, it would lose that battle five times. B-

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 24 minutes.

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Oscar Predictions: Part 2 – Songs, Styles, and Sets!

Oscar Predictions: Part 2 – Songs, Styles, and Sets!

This week’s set of predictions rounds up the lower tier categories and begins the accent to the major ones. As stated last week, The People’s Critic has decided to unveil predictions on all 24 major categories over a four week period leading up the big day on February 24th. This week’s predictions will focus on the six categories that make up the atmosphere of a film: Original Song, Original Score, Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup, and Film Editing. Readers are invited to continue to weigh in with their own opinions by submitting to the public polls following each category’s predictions.

7. Best Original Song:

Nominated songs are “Before My Time” from Chasing Ice, “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted, “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi, “Skyfall” from Skyfall, and “Suddenly” from Les Misérables

This is an interesting category in that its number of nominees varies from year to year. Current prerequisites for a nomination require that the song is originally written for a film and that the song is completely original and not partially sampled from another source (as was the case with 1995’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” from Dangerous Minds). This year there is a full set of five nominees, but that is only a formality since there is a clear and overwhelmingly obvious frontrunner, and it’s not the one that came from a musical. It is also definitely not the one that was a gift to the host of the Oscars, Seth Macfarlane. Songs from Bond movies have a storied and often kitschy past, but this year Adele’s “Skyfall” will raise that bar. The Peoples Critic Selection: “Skyfall”


8. Best Original Score:

Nominated Films are Anna Karenina, Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall

John Williams (Lincoln) may have five Oscars, but he has been nominated 48 times suggesting that he is not an Academy favorite. Additionally, the five Oscars he has are for scores much more memorable and powerful than Lincoln’s. The film with the most substantial use of music is Life of Pi.The People’s Critic Selection: Life of Pi


9. Best Costume Design:

Nominated films are Anna Karenina, Les Misérables, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror, and Snow White and the Huntsman.

The key to this category is not to get too caught up in the film itself but rather focus on the creativity, authenticity, and accuracy of the costuming. Period pieces are favorites in this category and we have three of them along with two fairy tale films. This year the period pieces have the edge. Lincoln may seem like a strong contender, but designer Joanna Johnston is rarely recognized for her work, although she has designed costumes for some of the most iconic films of all time including Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. Thus, the toss up goes to the lavish Anna Karenina. This is Karenina’s Jacqueline Durran’s third nomination and she’s yet to win. The People’s Critic Selection: Anna Karenina

10. Best Production Design:

Nominated films are Anna Karenina, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, and Lincoln

The Oscar for Production Design goes to the art director who best accomplishes the appropriate mood for an audience’s experience through visuals, movement, and other varieties of art direction. This can be a complicated job, and an A.D.’s success relies on whether or not an audience is appropriately affected psychologically by a film. From a psychological standpoint, these films all offer wildly different ways of using style and motion to affect an audience. However, performances aside production design is the only other reason Les Misérables could possibly nominated for best picture. The People’s Critic Selection: Les Misérables

11. Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Nominated Films are Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and Les Misérables

In a year of impressive films, it’s hard to believe that only three of them included Oscar-worthy makeup and hair. Last year, this went to the team behind the subtle transformation of Meryl Streep into Margaret Thatcher for the film The Iron Lady; but typically this award goes to wildly imaginative, over-the-top makeups and hair. Two of the three previous Rings films won the Oscar for this award, and Peter King (nominated here for Hobbit) was part of the team that won for Return of the King. The People’s Critic Selection: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

12. Best Film Editing

Nominated films are Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty

This is an impressive award to win and the Academy does not treat that lightly. The winner for Best Film Editing has often been the film that wins Best Picture, and it is no surprise that all five films nominated here are also nominated for Best Picture. The editing of a film is nearly as important as the direction since it affects the story, the pace, and the tone. Often, great editing goes unnoticed by the viewer because of how seamless the story has been woven together. The major consideration here is that William Goldenberg is nominated for his work in both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Argo is the better of those two films especially given its genius and flawless balance of tones throughout the film. We also have an editing legend nominated in Michael Khan for Lincoln who has won three Oscars from seven nominations. Also not to be counted out, Jay Cassidy’s avant-garde style has mostly been seen in documentary films, and it is refreshing and interesting to see that style in a feature film like Silver Linings Playbook. This is a tough one and could add to the controversy of Affleck’s snub as Director for The People’s Critic’s Selection: Argo.

The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Films of the Year

Top Ten2012 has been a juggernaut of a year for the cinema. With a record-breaking box office year thanks to big blockbusters like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Breaking Dawn Part 2, and The Hunger Games, ticket sales have been the highest they’ve ever been. However, the quality of films released this calendar year has been excellent, rivaling 2007, my favorite release year in recent memory with There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men. While Oscar nominations will be announced this Thursday, January 10th, a more important announcement is being made right now. Without further ado, I present The People’s Critic’s Top 10 films of 2012.

10. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson presents one of the year’s most original films with his coming of age pageant of a film, Moonrise Kingdom. Chocked full of Anderson’s trademark set designs, deadpan dialogue, and Norman Rockwell-on-acid plot, Moonrise is a nearly perfect cinematic experience. Edward Norton’s portrayal of Scoutmaster Ward is hands-down the best part of this movie, but the film is enjoyable from start to finish and welcomes multiple viewings.

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyWhile it lacks the epic quality and complex narrative of The Lord of the Rings films, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a beautiful and energetic film. The groundwork is truly set for an excellent companion trilogy that is fun, technically impressive, and brilliantly respectful to fans and film lovers.

8. The ImpossibleThe Impossible is the true story of a family’s disastrous experience during the Thailand tsunami disaster of 2004. Ewen McGregor and Naiomi Watts are the key reasons for this film making the top ten. There are a couple of scenes in this movie where the audience is forced to experience the emotions attached to the most unforeseen natural disaster one can imagine, and it is absolutely raw, heartbreaking, and powerful. Rarely does a film manage to showcase such relatable energy.

7. Flight Like number 8, Flight is also a ‘disaster’ movie, but a very different type of ‘disaster’ movie. It is an excellent narrative that explores the dangers of addiction in an impressively unique way. This is a strong film that expertly demonstrates the talent of its cast and its director, Robert Zemeckis.

6. The Dark Knight RisesThe Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end to one of the strongest trilogies in cinema history. I think, taken as a whole, what director, Christopher Nolan can be most proud of is that he has captured the attention of a massive audience and taught them that escapist entertainment can be thoughtful and precise. This is miles beyond what any other so-called “comic book” movie has achieved or has even been capable of so far, and thus it deserves special accolades.

5. Lincoln Lincoln offers plenty for history buffs to sink their teeth into, and yet the story is accessible to all audiences. Director, Steven Spielberg takes some narrative chances to use unknown history to make well-known history compelling and interesting, especially in the film’s final act. Writer, Tony Kushner deserves special attention for some brilliant writing while Daniel Day-Lewis turns out the performance to beat. This is Spielberg’s finest effort in some time.

4. Argo Argo was the first great movie of the fall season and delivered as both a historical snapshot and an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Ben Affleck certainly has solidified his reputation as a director. Regardless of predictability, Argo is a deeply involving film, and it is a perfect team effort. At its heart, there is a tremendously powerful and amazing story told in an uncomplicated way, which is just what every good movie needs at its core.

3. Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell’s movies are traditionally about passion, and none have better successfully illustrated that theme than Silver Linings Playbook. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper play Pat and Tiffany, two people full of passion who have lost their way. Both turn out Oscar worthy performances, and it should not surprise anyone if they both win. Furthermore, Russell’s screenplay is excellent as he also manages to give Robert DeNiro something he’s finally worthy of acting in.

2. Life of Pi Life of Pi is a low-key masterpiece. It sneaks up on you and while not complicated, welcomes multiple viewings. Ang Lee presents a very enjoyable and thought-provoking version of Martel’s widely admired source material. It was said that Life of Pi was one of those unfilmable stories- that it can exist in the mind of the reader and nowhere else. Lee has proven those skeptics incorrect. Furthermore, no film, including Avatar, has achieved this level of visual grandeur with 3D technology. Lee’s careful precision as a director, takes full advantage of every opportunity to amaze the audience with wonder.

1. Django Unchained Django Unchained is the year’s best film as well as a front-runner for one of Quentin Tarantino’s best films. The cast is impeccable, the script is original, and the style is enjoyable. Few films ever combine such intriguing dialogue with such ambitious storytelling, and the film deserves sincere consideration from the academy in all major categories. It is a difficult film to watch at times, but not a scene is wasted or unnecessary.

Honorable Mentions (and an angry side-note) – Films deserving honorable mentions are Looper, To Rome with Love, Friends With Kids, The Avengers, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Wreck It Ralph. Also, this was a year that saw a Christopher Walken trifecta as the distinctive and unparalleled actor appeared in three films this year: Seven Psychopaths, A Late Quartet, and Stand Up Guys.

On an ANGRY side-note – Year after year, films vying to qualify for Oscar eligibility will open their films in the minimal markets (LA and New York) and then choose some obsequious and noncompetitive weekend in January to open wide to audiences. This year the film most guilty of this is the controversially acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty (An additional film guilty to a lesser degree would be The Sessions with John Hawkes and Helen Hunt). The buzz is that Zero Dark Thirty will be the one to beat, but major film critics and academy members are the only ones who will have seen it before the nominations are revealed later this week. Films should have to be widely released in the year that they wish to be nominated. Audiences should have access to all academy qualified films and an opportunity to share their points of view before the “so-called” powers that be cast their votes. The films listed above all played fair and deserve to be seen and commended. Shame on you Zero Dark Thirty, shame on you!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

11162899_detThere was once a beloved trilogy. One day, its creator decided a series of prequels were in order, so he directed…Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom Menace. Thus was born mankind’s apprehension and speculation over prequel trilogies. A case is yet to be made for why Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit requires three parts. Nonetheless, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a very good film…whew, what a relief!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes place sixty years before Frodo takes his first step towards Mordor. The story is simple this time around, as we return to Middle Earth. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is persuaded, or rather coerced, by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to assist a party of 13 dwarves in their quest to reclaim their lost kingdom. Freeman is very effective as the neurotic, Woody Allen-esque, Bilbo. His nuanced touch to the role gives the audience a very likable and enjoyable central character arch that is only accentuated by our familiarity with him from Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings films. McKellen slips seamlessly back into his gray robes as Gandalf. While Gandalf is always wise and sensible, McKellen portrays him here as slightly less “urgent” given the lessened threat to Middle Earth and existence that occurs in The Hobbit. This lack of urgency translates to the entire film, which may disappoint die-hard Rings fans. There are more scenes in the “silly” category here than in the previous trilogy. Additionally, there is simply a lowered sense of critical doom and immediacy in this storyline. The film’s opening scenes go on for quite a while and while enjoyable, the end result is a slightly bloated film.

These criticisms are certainly legitimate, but they are truly its only faults. The film looks beautiful and lives up to what one would expect from Jackson’s take on the Tolkien mythology; New Zealand should probably be nominated for best supporting actor. The adaptation of Tolkien’s book is developed in such a way that it will lead up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy very nicely. Familiar characters appear along the way, and they are not unnecessary or false. All of them further the story and add something to the film, which is a credit to the host of screenwriters including Guillermo del Toro and Jackson himself. Furthermore, the dwarf plotline is elevated from the childish mood reflected in the novel to one that feels a bit more mature. This is a good decision and while younger kids can enjoy this film (if they have a long attention span), it is clear that the Hobbit films look to maintain a similar tone to the previous films in the series. At the end, there is quite a bit to like about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. While it lacks the epic quality and complex narrative of The Lord of the Rings films, the groundwork is set for an excellent companion trilogy that is fun, technically impressive, and brilliantly respectful to fans and film lovers. B+