Monday, December 22, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - 1 1/2 stars

The third movie in the Hobbit trilogy is like watching someone else play a video game.  It’s maybe 20 minutes of story stretched into a two and a half hour movie.  Most of the running time consists of a giant battle between dwarves, elves, humans, and orcs.  The entire time, I just kept wishing Bilbo Baggins would just quietly sneak away and go home. 

When we left Bilbo and company in the last movie, The Desolation of Smaug, they had found their way into the mountain and awakened the dragon Smaug.  Now Smaug is attacking nearby Laketown and killing everyone he can.  Bard the Boatman is the only one who can stop Smaug, and he’ll have to break out of prison first. 

The fight with Smaug is the most exciting part of this movie.  Unfortunately, Smaug is dealt with in the first 10 minutes.  After that, the survivors of the town need a place to stay.  Bard decides that the Lonely Mountain is the best place for them.  Also, Thorin promised them he would split the treasure with them so they want some of that.  But Thorin is starting to develop dragon sickness, which basically means he’s paranoid and thinks everyone else wants to steal the treasure for themselves.  So he refuses to let the humans in.  Then the elves show up, and they want some of the treasure too.  Just as the humans and elves are about to attack the dwarves, an army of orcs show up.  They fight for a couple of hours and then the movie mercifully ends.

Remember how cool the Battle of Helm’s Deep was in The Two Towers?  That was something we’d never seen before.  The scale of it was incredible, and the special effects were amazing.  But it didn’t go on for too long, and we cared about what happened to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli.  Then Peter Jackson thought he had to top that battle in Return of the King.  So we got the battle for Minas Tirith which went on way too long  But once again, we knew and cared about the characters involved.  And the movie was about more than just that battle.  We had Sam and Frodo’s journey to get back to.
In this third Hobbit movie, there’s nothing else going on.  The battle is it.  And Bilbo was just in the background most of the time.  It’s hard to care about the outcome of a battle when you barely know the characters involved.  I’m not even sure who the five armies are.  There are humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs. 

I’m sure Peter Jackson wants us to care about the love triangle between the dwarf, the female elf, and Legolas.  And I’m sure he wants us to care about Thorin Oakenshield and whether he’ll come to his senses.  But I didn’t.  I just wanted the movie to end.

As with the first two Hobbit movies, the laws of physics don’t apply.  Characters jump and swing 30 feet in the air and land safely.  If something big is about to fall on our heroes, it misses them by a few inches.  At one point, Legolas is on a collapsing bridge.  As he runs, blocks are falling out underneath his feet, but he is still able to run and jump to safety.  The blocks are suspended in the air just long enough for him to step on them.  You’ll know it when you see it.  The movie has turned into Super Mario Bros.

I remember an interview where Peter Jackson was talking about the challenges of writing The Lord of the Rings.  He said whenever they were unsure how to structure the movies, they just focused on Frodo.  His quest to destroy the ring was the central focus of the movies.  Bilbo Baggins should have been the focus of these Hobbit movies.  But it seems like he was just a supporting character, which is a shame because Martin Freeman was a great choice for Bilbo.  I would love to see all three of these movies edited down to a 100 minute movie with Bilbo as the focus.  I’m sure someone will create a fan edit on youtube that will be way better than this trilogy.

The more I think about this movie, the more annoyed I get.  The first two were overly long, but at least the characters were on a journey.  There was a story there, and I wanted to find out what was coming next.  This time, the story feels wrapped up when Smaug is killed.  Then we have to sit there for two hours and watch these armies fight.  I’m not anxious to watch the first two movies again, but I could never sit through this one again.

Annie - 2 stars

Instead of the 1930s, this Annie is set in Harlem in 2014.  Annie (Quevanzhane Wallis) is a tough kid living in a foster home with several other girls.  The foster home is run by Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), who doesn’t do much but drink all day and yell at the kids.  Instead of Daddy Warbucks, Annie is taken in by cell phone tycoon Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), who’s also running for mayor.  His staff thinks that taking in a foster kid will help his image.

One of the things that bugged me in this movie was the music.  First of all, they didn’t include very many of the songs from the original.  A few are there, but they’ve been remixed and given more of a hip hop beat.  Most of the songs were written for this version, and they aren’t very memorable.  And none of these actors should be doing a musical.  Wallis is cute and sounds ok, and Jamie Foxx has a good voice, but the rest are embarrassing. 

The story isn’t bad, and the scenes between Annie and Will Stacks are sweet.  Of course he starts off as kind of a jerk, and by the end he loves Annie.  Their scenes together have heart and there are some genuine laughs.  But aside from that, the movie doesn’t have anything else going for it.  Stacks’ assistant (Rose Byrne) has a crush on him for some reason, and his campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale) is a boring jerk.  When a couple pretends to be Annie’s parents show up and take her away, it takes like five minutes before she’s rescued.

But the worst thing about this movie is the casting of Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan.  Diaz is a good actor when she’s given the right material, but she’s all wrong here.  Anyone they cast would have had a hard time comparing to Carol Burnett, but Cameron Diaz?  Really?

Wild - 3 1/2 stars

Based on the bestselling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, this is about how Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles by herself as a way to overcome her demons.  After losing her mother to cancer, she became a heroin addict and ruined her marriage.  So the hike was like a form of therapy or a spiritual cleanse for her.

Reese Witherspoon gives her best performance in years as Cheryl.  As the movie opens, she’s sitting on a mountain and taking her boots off.  Her boots are too tight, and one of her toenails is almost completely ripped off.  She accidentally loses a boot, and after yelling a very appropriate obscenity, she hurls the other boot down the mountain.

As she hikes along the Pacific Coast Trail, we learn about her past through flashbacks.  We see her relationship with her mother, and we see how devastating a loss that was for her.  We see her starting to hook up with random guys and getting into drug use, and the effect that has on her husband. 

She wasn’t an experienced hiker when she began the journey, and she does things like bringing the wrong kind of fuel for her camp stove or running out of water.  But the most dangerous encounters are with other hikers.  Some are friendly and happy to help, others not so much.  As a man, I don’t normally give much thought to what it must be like to be a woman and on your own.  But watching this movie, I felt her fear whenever she encountered a man and had to figure out his intentions.  The encounter that sticks with me the most is when she ran into two hikers right after running out of water.  A couple of simple jokes about her being by herself and very attractive make her nervous and uncomfortable, and she can’t relax until she’s sure they have left her alone.

The movie did a good job of showing Cheryl’s transformation without hitting you over the head with it.  There’s no big emotional moment where the soundtrack swells and she has some profound realization, like in Eat, Pray, Love.  Although to be honest, I don’t remember Eat, Pray, Love that well but I’m pretty sure there was some sappy over the top stuff like that. 

In this movie, I don’t even remember much of a soundtrack.  Sometimes less is more, and this movie has a stripped down quality, that makes it even more profound and life-affirming.  This is a really good movie.