12 Years A Slave (2014)

12 Years A Slave (2014)

A few weeks back I derided the fact that December-February brings about an onslaught of films that I deemed to be Oscar fodder. You know the types of film that I refer to: ones that focus on race, prejudice or persecution. Or generally a mix of all three components. I won’t lie – I’ve been cynical of these types of movies, as sometimes it seems that they were conceived only to give the writers, directors and actors a chance of accolade. Indeed, I’m still sure this is how the studios see these films; I doubt they’re concerned with the pathos or poignancy of a piece, merely how much revenue it can bring it. After all, it’s a business! Awards buzz = more ticket sales as people clamor to see what the fuss is all about. Then something happened to make me repeal my cynicism. That “thing” was 12 Years A Slave.

12 Years A Slave (2014)

12 Years A Slave tells the tale of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in the pre-Civil War USA. Solomon is a freeman, living up in the North East with his wife and two children. This all changes abruptly when he’s kidnapped and sold into a life of slavery with no proof as to his true origins. Over the next 12 years he sees himself overseen by various “masters”, from the more benevolent and forward-thinking Mr. Ford (Benedict Cumberbach) to the more oppressive and ill-tempered Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Solomon must witness all the untold horrors of slavery, whilst also keeping his past a secret lest he be lynched… slaves are paid to work, not to read, write, or think.

And 12 Years A Slave doesn’t pass up the opportunity to show you the horrors of slavery in the US. From what’s been told by director Steve McQueen, they actually chose to omit some of some of the acts that Solomon described in his memoirs (yes, this is a true story). Truth be told, you’d be surprised that that was the case. 12 Years A Slave is intensely visceral and sometimes makes for very uncomfortable viewing. It almost feels like you’re watching a snuff movie at some points. I defy anyone not to be unnerved by McQueen‘s unflinching decision to hold the camera on Ejiofor during a lynching scene… the cinematography, the noises and the background acting truly makes you want to look away or hide from the screen. Similarly, the scenes of lashings are also particularly harrowing. This isn’t a movie for the feint of heart, but is for people that want to acknowledge what actually went on in the past.

12 Years A Slave (2014)

Steve McQueen has done a fantastic job of sculpting arguably one of the finest movies in recent memory. The pacing of the film is sublime and the 120+ minute run time evaporates before your eyes. There’s no filler in this movie – it’s all top notch quality film making. And acting. Yes, a movie can only get so far on direction and story alone. The ensemble cast that’s been put together for this movie is beyond reproach. Although trailers and posters would make you believe this is a Brad Pitt fronted film (he does feature in the film… that much is true), that would be a huge disservice to the other actors, and indeed is a bit of a cheeky lie considering he doesn’t appear until the final act of the film.

British-born Chiwetel Ejiofor is  superb protagonist; capturing the joy, sorrow and adversity of the title character. I’d like to think that Solomon Northup himself would be pleased with this portrayal if he had the chance to watch this movie back. Ejiofor summons so much emotion that it’s hard to not be swept away and become emotional yourself when things don’t go his way (and that happens a lot). I feel more attention should also have been placed on Benedict Cumberbach and Michael Fassbender in the promotional materials, as both actors deliver in spades, even if this is the first time I’ve ever heard Cumberbach embrace an American accent. I really want to focus on Fassbender here though, as this is arguably one of his strongest performances to date. He embodies a vile, but critically broken man in an untold way. I was mesmerised by every scene that he was in, and he definitely deserves at least one gong for Best Supporting Actor at at least one of these upcoming ceremonies! If there’s any justice he will do anyway.

12 Years A Slave (2014)

Likewise, 12 Years A Slave as a whole, whether actors, director, screenplay or the film itself, deserves to be acknowledged for what it is: a spectacular piece of modern cinema. I expect big things for this movie over the coming month as the awards are handed out. I’m not normally one to be so taken with a film that’s a forerunner in these battles, but my mind has been changed. For me, it’s going to be a close battle between this and Captain Phillips. The true winners are however the audience… we’ve been spoiled, for sure.

12 Years A Slave is currently standing head and shoulders above all other contenders for Best Picture in our eyes at Film Phage. We’ve not been so moved and emotionally battered like this for a long time. Yes, the film is graphic, but why should the subject matter be sugar coated? Humans are a brutal species, regardless of race, gender or creed. It’s been the case since the first of our ancestors started to fight one another over territory or resources. Between Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbach, Michael Fassbender and a superb supporting cast, we have been blessed with a truly fantastic film to commence 2014.

You’ve got to taste the irony in my introductory paragraph don’t you? I talk at length about prejudice, and then air my own prejudices against flagrant Oscar-baiting movies. Although several are still to be unleashed in the UK, I doubt any will prove to be as worthy of praise as 12 Years A Slave. I don’t think I have any more superlatives to throw down here. Simply: see this film, or miss out on a true highlight. Done.

Phage Factor:

5 Star

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American Hustle (2014)

American Hustle (2014)

I like it when a director shows favouritism towards working with certain individuals. I really believe it brings the best out of the actors. Perhaps one of the most notorious directors for this is Quentin Tarantino, who makes no great secret of the fact that he favours using Samuel L. Jackson at every opportunity, as well as Uma Thurman and Christoph Waltz when the opportunities arise. Another pairing that’s recently come to light is Neil Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley who will soon embark on their third outing together. So, when I saw the billing for David O. Russell‘s American Hustle, I won’t lie; I was excited. He’s seemingly done a great job of welding together the casts of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook to deliver his latest outing. How does Russell‘s Frankenstein’s Monster turn out though?

American Hustle (2014)

The cast of American Hustle is like a glorious chef’s recipe: 2 parts The Fighter (Christian Bale and Amy Adams), stirred with 2 parts Silver Linings Playbook (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence), folded in with new turns from Jeremy Renner and a host of others. What’s delivered? A delicious slice of 1970’s Americana revolving around blagging, conning and a whole host of escalating events. To break it down, Irving (Christian Bale) is a con-artist – small time – but a con-artist all the same. He takes this up a notch when he falls for Sydney (Amy Adams), who completes his criminal duo perfectly. The first problem? Sydney isn’t his wife. Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) is his wife. The second problem? Well, don’t try and con an undercover FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), as you’ll get enveloped into working with one wild agent. And third? Don’t make friends with your next con; especially when he’s the Mayor (Jeremy Renner)… Believe me, there are numerous other problems for our cast, but that would be spoiling things somewhat!

American Hustle (2014)

The strength of American Hustle is clearly in its cast, but the same too can be said of its plotting. But let’s first dwell on the performances. It’s no secret that The Phage is a huge fan of Bradley Cooper. We tell you this every time we see him in a film, and indeed, tell you at numerous other times too. Cooper is again on sterling form, with a role that’s got more in common with The Place Beyond The Pines more than his “typical” Hangover-esque portrayals. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even fair to use The Hangover roles to describe Cooper any more; he’s done far too many other films. Similarly, Christian Bale is on great form too, clearly relishing the role. Likewise, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence deliver solidly in their performances. I’m a little surprised to see Lawrence up for BAFTAs and Globes with her performance here, which isn’t as captivating as that of Silver Linings Playbook, but that’s mainly because she’s not strictly a main character here. I was pleasantly taken aback by Jeremy Renner’s turn here too. He’s new to the David O. Russell stable, but his role was interesting and deep.

Indeed, it’s this level of “deepness” that makes American Hustle as interesting as it is. It’s not some ham-fisted attempt at a con film, as each character has flaws and dilemmas. It’s not Oceans Eleven. Thankfully. The plot continues to thrust forwards, leaving you wondering just who is going to come out on top. I like the fact that films don’t necessarily end happily nowadays, as this introduces a lot of guesswork on the audience’s behalf as they try and second-guess where the film’s ultimately going to end up.

American Hustle (2014)

Having said all of this, the film isn’t perfect. It’s got a meaty run time, that perhaps almost outstretched its welcome. Considering I’m a fan of all people involved in the movie, that says something. Quite what I’m trying to say? I’m not sure; it’s just that there’s fat that could otherwise have been trimmed here. Even just a swift 10-15 minutes hacked off the run time could have done wonders. That’s not to say it makes the film back… it just stops it being a “classic”.

American Hustle is a wonderfully vivid movie set against the backdrop of the 1970’s. David O. Russell contnues his directorial run to deliver a beautifully written and shot film, albeit with a little extra fat than was perhaps absolutely necessary. As awards’ season looms large, I wonder whether we could see any wins for American Hustle; it’s certainly a great film, but in a year with so many enormously strong contenders, can it walk away with any of the big ones? Time will tell.

All of this just makes me interested to see what David O. Russell will deliver next, and who he’ll be using in his next ensemble piece. Although Nailed is cited as being his next production, it deviates somewhat from the more serious / likely to get acclaim films that he’s become synonymous with in recent years. We just want more Bradley Cooper, but who didn’t see that coming from us?!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Sequels, prequels, alternative imaginings… they’re everywhere. When did straight-up sequels become so boring? We now need accompaniments and side-films to ‘bolster’ the original. We’re apparently hungry for them. This can sometimes lead to a bit of confusion with the cinema-going audience: when exactly is this film set? This should be less of an issue when a franchise follows the traditional numbering of 1, 2, 3 etc. You’d naturally expect 2 to follow on from 1, and so on and so forth. But no. There’s something spooky going on with Hollywood’s numbering system right now, primarily driven by the Paranormal Activity series. So with that being said, where does the fifth instalment, which drops the numbering, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, fit in?

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

This really is the question: where does it fit in? The Paranormal Activity franchise has been going for some years now. It began with a fresh take on the found footage format and introduced is to Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston) – the latter of which was haunted / followed by a demon that would later possess her and send her on a killing rampage. Then, in Paranormal Activity 2 we got an immediate prequel about how Katie got the demon onto her, but also finished after the events of 1… in 3 we got an even deeper prequel to 1 and 2 of Katie and her sister being haunted as kids… in 4 we got a sequel to 2 (keeping up here?), which showed Katie and her stolen nephew. So, where does Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones go? And why bother with the change in numbering? For all intents and purposes this is Paranormal Activity 5, although that would then confuse things considering Paranormal Activity 5 will be released later in 2014…

Yes, it’s a confusing mess. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was hinted at as a post-credits scene in Paranormal Activity 4. Apparently, this series of films is huge in the Hispanic community, so they decided to focus onto a Hispanic family living in southern California. The film follows Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his family after he wakes up with a bite on his arm. He develops all manner of seemingly supernatural powers and ends up being able to communicate with an entity that’s following him. Over the course of the film we follow Jesse’s corruption by the spirit. which changes him from the good time guy he used to be into something more… demonic.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

So, it’s semi-familiar territory here. We have our favourite invisible demonic force back again for the fifth time. Plus, we’ve ditched the fixed cameras and resorted back to the Blair Witch Project-esque handicams. Although this shakes up the Paranormal Activity format, it also loses one of its reasons for being charming: increasing audience familiarity with the surroundings. It’s this fact that had you surveying every scene like a detective to pick up on the slightest twitch of curtains or grunt and groan. Although this format has been somewhat worn out after four instalments, it’s a trademark of the series… which has been lost.

But what of the scares? Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones still relies on jump scares and loud noises. It still has that ominous sub-bass rumble to accompany the tense scenes (a marvellous trick to get you on edge), but the scares are all too forced / LOUD NOISES. That being said, it was nice to see a slight variation introduced into the scare cauldron. We actually see some demonic powers being used for the first time; it’s no longer just an invisible creature stomping around (although the powers are only seen through the possessed individuals). I’m almost hoping that at some point they reveal this demon. Although that’ll have the Jeepers Creepers effect (i.e., the creature ceases to be scary), it’s needed. After all, this series is going to have to end at some point isn’t it? Why not bring the demon out? Having said all that, I’d say Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones succeeds at scaring more than its immediate predecessor.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Fans / followers of the franchise will ultimately be rewarded / disappointed though. As I mentioned at the outset, the series has chronology issues for sure. This film will just add to this confusion. Despite the rebranding, this isn’t a separate entity; it still fits into the existing set of events as some sort of bizarre prequel / sequel / accompaniment. That’s spoiling nothing, and keeps EVERY option open for you!), but it’s true!

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones isn’t the shot in the arm that the franchise has been calling out for recently. It seems like we’re constantly spinning in a demonic vacuum and not advancing the overarching plot all that much. There are scares there for the more nervous amongst us / those with hearing aids turned up too loud, but again the film fails to capture the magic of the original Paranormal Activity. Paranormal Activity 5 best advance things along with this Katie plot, or it can expect me to deliver an even more damning verdict…

But then again, Paranormal Activity may be another bloody prequel. The sequencing currently stands at 3, 2, Marked Ones, 1, 4… and I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t taught that bizarre numbering order when I was back in school. Let’s end this review in a similarly odd way: And that’s all I have to say about that really / Or I may unleash my own demonic rage / Something that truly reinvigorates the franchise again / Firstly, I’m hoping for something new and inventive.

Phage Factor:

2.5 Stars

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

There are some actors that I don’t know how to feel about. I used to like some of their films, then they produced several off-the-boil films that did nothing for me. They were well meaning, but weren’t good. No, I’m not talking about Adam Sandler, who has produced several great movies years (and years) ago, but has been producing dross ever since. They weren’t “well meaning” films… they were just dross. Pure dross. Ok, I’m done with typing “dross”. Unfortunately, Will Smith is falling into this category now, as he’s not produced a solid hit in a little while now; it seems like his golden era is behind him. But this isn’t a review of a Will Smith film… it focuses on Ben Stiller

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a big screen adaptation of a decades-old short story, this time starring and directed by Ben Stiller as the eponymous character. Walter works for a magazine called Life (imagine National Geographic), which is now coming to a close. Walter works in the photographic department and is charged with producing the front covers. So when the “perfect” picture arrives from illusive top photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) and it’s missing… well… this causes some problems for Walter. But that’s not all; Walter is a dreamer. A day dreamer of the greatest magnitude. His life is very “routine” and orderly, but he often escapes into a land of fantasy, cooking up elaborate visions of the world around him. But questing off after Sean adds a bit of spice to this ordinary life…

So, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has two sides to it: the mystery of “where is the picture, and how do I track down Sean?” and the fantasies cooked up in Walter’s head. This is also a bit of a problem with an otherwise charming and heart-warming film. The root of this problem lies with the fact that the story cannot decide whether it’s a comedy, or an adventure film. Some of Ben Stiller‘s past work has been very cut-and-dry: comedy or drama. This? Well… this veers between the two.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The strengths of the film lie in the dramatic adventures that unravel for Walter, and not the comedy. The comedic elements start off entertaining, but the more the plot develops, the more of a hindrance these jokes become. They come across as jarring and terribly out of place. However, if you can get past these jokes, you’ll uncover what is a beautiful story that’s lovingly shot and brought to the big screen. What really worked was Stiller‘s attention to cinematography, helped along in no small measure by shooting on location in Iceland and Greenland. Further, the accompanying music really adds to the “epic” nature of the film.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The plot was genuinely fun and it developed in an interesting way. Even the love story secondary subplot managed to twist enough to not be entirely contrived. Hell, it’s nice to see a single mum (played by Kristen Wiig) shown as the desirable love interest for once in a movie! But I need to return to the comedy element. At first, Mitty’s zoning out introduces excuses for either bombastic action sequences or for Stiller to dress up in costume and exercise some of his comedic muscles. Sure, he is funny… but it seems out of place considering the tone of the rest of the film. The light-hearted comedy that “flows” naturally into the pace of proceedings does work really well though. I understand that the tearaway sections are integral to the Walter Mitty story, but I just found myself more drawn to the “normal” story and the character arc of the protagonist. Sure, this arc is predictable and you can see what’ll happen from the outset, but it’s still fun to see. And ultimately, it proves one thing: growing beards makes you far more rugged and adventurous. Best grow myself a beard then…

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a heartwarming film perfectly suited to the Christmas period. Sure, some of the film’s tone is uneven and the comedic and dramatic elements don’t gel too well, but this can be overlooked, as the core story is exciting and enraptures. I’ve been dubious about what to expect from Stiller in recent years, as I can’t say I’ve actively sought out one of his movies since Tropic Thunder, but this was definitely worth the trip.

So I’ll admit it… I was pleasantly surprised by Ben Stiller here. I can’t say I was actively looking forward to the film, as the trailers made it out to be another case of “let’s dress in funny wigs and have accents”, but it wasn’t! Maybe Will Ferrell will be next to produce a film that goes against the grain and is genuinely good… Wait, it’s a bit early for an April Fools joke isn’t it?

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

Anchorman 2 (2013)

Cult status. It’s a bit of a ‘buzz term’. Typically, it means a film that came out at the cinema, didn’t do too well / attract too much buzz, but went on to become a hit in the home market thanks to DVDs and TV showings. These types of films then become quotable, and quotes permeate into daily discourse. These start off being quite cool – “oh yeah! I saw that movie too! Great line!”, but typically descend into overuse in no time at all. Several of these films have emerged and spring to mind for The Phage. Oddly, quite a few of them seem to feature Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, or a combination of the two. Funnily enough, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is the sequel to what I would regard as the most over-quoted and over-referenced film in recent memory… So can this long-gestating sequel add more quotes to the library or are we… Well…

Anchorman 2 (2013)

Let’s get one thing clear from the get go: I’m not a fan of the original Anchorman, nor am I the greatest fan of Will Ferrell‘s schtick. It all comes off as too staid, too low brow and down-right too unfunny. It just grates. I saw the original Anchorman, found it mildly amusing in places, but never felt the urge to return to it over and over again, like so many others. Plus, what has Will Ferrell produced in subsequent years that has been of note at all? You’ll struggle. He’s had cameos here and there, but none of it has been remotely funny. It just consists of him shouting combinations of words. That’s not humour. Or maybe it is, and I’m just too old for it?

Regardless, Anchorman 2 “picks up” where the first film left off: Ron Bergundy (Will Ferrell) and his new wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are San Diego’s top news anchors, but it all falls apart when Ron is fired. He’s subsequently asked to join GNN – the first 24 hour news network over in New York City; thus leading him to reunite the gang (Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Steve Carrell) to make TV history. Add in a few random plot twists (read: random, not clever) and you’ve essentially got the premise of the film right there.

Anchorman 2 (2013)

Now, it’s not the basic nature of the plot that bothers me. Dumb & Dumber, which is another “cult” film that’s highly quoted (that I truly love) had a plot revolve around delivering a briefcase. It wasn’t big, nor was it clever, but it was funny. This is something that Anchorman 2 fails to be on all levels. The jokes either wear out their welcome very fast (see the image earlier), miss their mark entirely or are just copy and pastes from the original. Really, I shouldn’t have expected any less from Will Ferrell, as he’s not a gifted comedian given recent evidence.

The humour quickly resorts to trying to “shock” the audience with race jokes, which miss their mark entirely, or focus (and then come to rely upon) Steve Carrell‘s Brick character. You remember the “I love lamp” jokes from the first Anchorman? That was funny, right? Well, imagine that same type of humour on repeat, but becoming more stupid and more infantile every time to the point that it just becomes awkward to watch. It eventually turns into “oh no… here comes another Brick joke”. Yes, we get it, he’s mentally challenged, or slow, or whatever angle you’re gunning for…

Anchorman 2 (2013)

It’s quite telling that the most memorable moments were the cameos. It had people gasping and nigh-on applauding to see some of them. Although I won’t ruin the fun for anyone here, it’s easily the best bit of the film: seeing who else is in here! It’s ruining nothing to say that the film of course has walk ons from some of Will Ferrell‘s acting buddies that he’s appeared in numerous films with. Plus, within the first two minutes of the film you have a walk-on from Drake (who won’t be the only hip-hop star to grace the screen). What’s more interesting is the calibre of some of the actors that appear in the closing 15 minutes. You’ve got some true A listers of comedy, film and musuic, and some true movie whores too; ones that’ll seemingly appear in anything nowadays. The fact that the “ooo, who’s next?” was the best bit of the film is rather telling… as it didn’t actually feature Will Ferrell all that much.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is a legend that is hopefully now concluded. Surely this cannot be stretched into a trilogy?! But I guess if the money pours in at the box office, then we may inevitably see Anchorman 3: The Legend Concludes. Ultimately, if you enjoyed Anchorman and could laugh over and over again at those jokes, then this film will probably appease you. If, like me, you found the first film a bit “too” stupid, then this will do nothing to change your mind.

We’re just hoping that Dumb & Dumber To doesn’t fall into the same bin as Anchorman 2. Surely Jeff Daniels & Jim Carrey can pull out another classic as Harry and Lloyd? But that’s the risk… if you produce a “cult” classic then return to it several (or nigh-on 20 years later for Dumb & Dumber) you’re running a huge risk. I’ve yet to see it work for a comedy if I’m honest, as the temptation’s there to just repeat past jokes. Here’s hoping Harry and Lloyd had done wonders with that worm farm… and it’s not just that Petey’s head’s fallen off. Again.

Phage Factor:

2 Stars

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

What is it with “Part 2″‘s right now? They seem to be everywhere. 2013 – the year of the Part 2-er. Mainly, this comment is coming off the back of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire releasing only a few short weeks ago. Back in that review I mentioned the curse of the second in a trilogy, so I’m not going to trip over myself reciting what I’ve already written. Go on – go and have a look, and then come back. Good? Good! Essentially… there’s a lot of pressure on a Part 2. However, the pressure is doubled when one of Part 1’s best characters, Gollum, played by Andy Serkis never appears again in the trilogy. Time to introduce a bloody big dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbach then right?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Yes, The Hobbit: The Desoluation of Smaug, or The Hobbit 2 as we’re going to go ahead and call it to save us typing out that long, long subtitle over and over, picks up where The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ended. Thankfully, we don’t need to retread the same turid opening scenes as the first entry though. Further, now that I’m used to the “slightly too fast” 48fps filming, it was much easier to get into than the first entry. This is a solid gold star in The Hobbit 2′s homework book. Essentially, our titular Hobbit, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) must now continue his journey with his band of dwarves so that he can enter through a hidden door in The Lonely Mountain and steal back a jewel for them so that they can restore the glory of the Dwarven Kingdom. Only problem is that a huge fire breathing dragon is sleeping atop it… and he gets disturbed easily.

At the outset, this description would make out that The Hobbit 2 is far more action-packed than its predecessor. And indeed, it certainly begins with a damn sight more action than its predecessors “let’s lay the table and have a sing-song” scenes. This time you have giant bears, orcs and spiders. Take THAT last film. But… well… these action sequences just didn’t captivate me in the same way that the original Hobbit’s eventual action scenes with goblins, orcs, trolls and stone giants did. In the original Hobbit these scenes blew me away or made me smile and laugh. Here? Not so much. Spiders? Yeah, we’ve seen those before in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. They’re not giant golems are they?! Sure, the film’s eventual climax / third features the huge dragon, and there is some orc action, but for me it wasn’t at the same level as before.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

At least the plot whisks along fairly well and we don’t become stuck in a mire for too long, unlike the first entry. One minute we’re with the elves in the forest, the next we’re in barrels, then a human settlement – it’s all rather brisk. We also get reunited with our favourite archer Orlando Bloom, who takes up a rather central role in the film and becomes involved in a weird love triangle that doesn’t seem to actually go anywhere. Lots of tension, not much affection!

Visually, the film is as you would expect: beautiful. Particularly, Benedict Cumberbach’s Smaug “feels” real enough and is one of the most animated and well-realised dragons that I can remember. You truly feel his personality coming through. Which, for a CGI dragon, is pretty tough to do. Whilst on the subject, it’s probably worth talking about the acting. Arguably, this film belongs to the titular dragon. Martin Freeman is likeable, sure, but he’s not really a “star” here. No, once again, the title of “best character” for a Hobbit film is computer-generated. Cumberbach provides the perfect voice for this character: very English, but at the same time distorted to such a degree that it’s truly menacing and intimidating. Indeed, the FINAL lines of the entire movie are fantastic.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

But that’s the thing… once again, we have a cliffhanger ending. More of a cliffhanger than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and about on par with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Audience members were left bamboozled and disappointed, again. But at least it shows they were engrossed in the story I guess! To me, the film just felt a tad… empty. There were no closing of story arcs (at all) and too many threads were left open. Sure, keep the majority going, but close some, at least? The film just didn’t sate me in the way that I expected it to, which is a shame. But then again, I’m sure next year’s conclusion can pick up where this left off.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a more immediately accessible watch than Peter Jackson’s first foray into prequel-ville. You’re thrown right into the action, and it never relents. However, I just felt it somewhat lacking. The creatures didn’t impress as much as in the first entry into the trilogy, but at least the 48fps shooting rate wasn’t a distraction this time around. Also, once again, we have a mo-capped character as my favourite. Replacing Gollum was hard… and I’m not saying Smaug totally makes up for this… but at least he’s there to draw the eye and the mind.

At least this is the end of sequelitis for now. Oh, wait… it isn’t. No, not with the new Anchorman on release right now. Sure, we’re heading out to see that soon – but thankfully, it’s not the part of a trilogy. Or so we’d hope. It never stopped The Hangover did it? And look at how well THAT franchise turned out! Thankfully this precious little franchise isn’t even in the same game as thos imposters…

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star