Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Ciné File Vol. 11

This week I've fully immersed myself in Middle Earth by spending the majority of the week rewatching the first two Hobbit films in preparation for a final journey to Tolkein's universe with The Battle of the Five Armies. It's not a perfect trilogy by any stretch of the imagination - it's no Toy Story - but I'm definitely a fan...

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DVD // 2003

"Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their love lives in various loosely interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England."

I think you either love or hate Love Actually and I fall firmly in the 'love' camp. It's cheesy, unrealistic and definitely ridiculous at times, but that doesn't detract from the fact that the plot is an ingenious concept that has a quirky British charm that's proven impossible for Hollywood to replicate to the same success (the terrible American versions of Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve were beyond embarrassing).

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Netflix // 2012 // DVD

"A reluctant hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sets out to the Lonely Mountain with a spirited group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain home - and the gold within it - from the dragon Smaug."

I can't express how much I hated this film when I first saw it. I wasn't too big of a fan of Lord of the Rings, and only went to see the first Hobbit as everyone was talking about it and I didn't want to be left out. If I remember correctly, I fell asleep in the cinema during what is essentially three hours of beautiful New Zealand scenery and 12 dwarves on a walking holiday. Unfortunately, it's not exactly riveting stuff.

It's only after numerous viewings over the last year that I'm come to appreciate that it's not as bad as I previously thought. It's just as grand and visually stunning as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the improvements in special effects are a welcome addition to the films. Annoyingly though, it's as if technology has become so good over the last decade that director Peter Jackson is keen to shoe-horn it into every shot, and as a result scenes that could have looked vaguely plausible in reality now look so far detached from it it's occasionally hard to engage with what's presented. There's no getting away from the fact that it's all made up - the legions of orcs and a hobbit don't help - but at times it looks fake, which is less than ideal.

Overall it's actually a good foundation film, and sets the tone and plot for the rest of the trilogy. Sadly it's doesn't live up to the reputation of the trilogy that precedes it and is ultimately a little too slow to have the desired effect.

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Netflix // 2013 // DVD

"The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. Bilbo Baggins is in possession of a mysterious and magical ring."

I found it ridiculously hard to believe The Desolation of Smaug is almost three hours long - when the credits began to roll the first time I saw it I didn't want it to be over and was beyond shocked to discover so much time had passed since I walked into the cinema. It's action packed from start to finish, and is a huge improvement on An Unexpected Journey, showing that although Peter Jackson may have initially lost his way he's well and truly back on track here.

It's insanely gripping, and unlike in the first film the graphics here seem appropriate and truly excellent. In these circumstances it's easy to appreciate just how good the storytelling is and how getting swept up in Middle Earth and all Tolkein's universe has to offer isn't difficult at all. This film is the first where I can actually understand why fans of the series are so passionate about it.

It's impossible to talk about the film without mentioning Smaug, who has to be one of the best dragons ever created onscreen. Benedict Cumberbatch has the most astonishing voice anyway, and I sincerely doubt anyone else could have bought such depth and terror to the role. The last few scenes are nail-biting, and as Smaug unleashes his rage on Laketown you don't want the action to end. Luckily, a brilliantly haunting Ed Sheeran song over the credits soothes the pain of having to wait for the next one...

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2014 // In UK cinemas now

"Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the terrifying Smaug from acquiring a kingdom of treasure and obliterating all of Middle-Earth."

There's so much hype surrounding The Battle of the Five Armies, not only because it concludes the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the company of Thorin Oakenshield, but because it also signifies the audience's last opportunity to engage with Tolkein's world and loose themselves in Middle Earth. Therefore there's an awful lot of pressure on the cast and crew to live up to such lofty expectations, and unfortunately given how high the bar has been set there was never any hope of Peter Jackson actually achieving it. It might be a fantastic film, but it's extremely disappointing.

The last two films have been building up to this, the epic battle between Thorin's Company of dwarves and an array of combatants, while simultaneously keeping Smaug from destroying Middle Earth. In a way everything that's come before has been pure filler, padding out the plot in order to build to this epic crescendo, but the problem is that audiences are now faced with over two hours of ridiculously CGI'd battle sequences and very little else. The fighting is incredible - there's no disputing that - and seeing so many fantastical creatures clash with such ferocity is a real sight to behold. However it takes all the attention from truly excellent character driven scenes, such as those focussing on Thorin (Richard Armitage) succumbing to the same sickness of his ancestors when finally faced with the gold in the Lonely Mountain. Armitage is brilliant, but he's lost in amongst hoards of computer generated orcs.

It's a good, fitting end to the trilogy - and I'm sure fans of the series will be pleased - but for me it just isn't as wonderful as I was expecting, and there wasn't the emotional heft behind certain scenes that it really needed.

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Netflix // 2009 // DVD

"A pushy boss forces her young assistant to marry her in order to keep her Visa status in the U.S. and avoid deportation to Canada."

The Proposal is the type of guilty pleasure film that doesn't require your full attention to enjoy - it's so easy to watch that it can be forgiven for being so unashamedly predictable and formulaic. Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds have fantastic chemistry, and as far as romantic comedies go, it's not too bad at all.

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Sky Movies // 2014 // DVD

"An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners."

On paper, The Monuments Men seems to tick all the boxes, but this George Clooney extravaganza (he writes, directs, produces and stars in it) is very schmaltzy and not at all as emotional as it's obviously intended to be. It's the type of film that ends on such a high, and swells with such emotion and depth in the final half an hour that when it finishes you can't stop singing its praises. It's only on reflection that you remember that the majority of the film is excruciatingly slow, and it only picks up at the end.

Once again America wins the war, but this time not only on the battlefield but morally too by spearheading an allied campaign to recover millions of pieces of artwork and sculptures stolen by the Nazis in the Second World War. The cast is insane, but they don't make up for a dull story. It turns out half of Hollywood simply isn't enough to make this work.

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Film4 // 2009 // DVD

Good lord this is rubbish. Even JK Simmons, Michael Keaton and Jane Lynch can't save it from being a horrendously dull. Do yourself a favour and don't waste your time.

So what have you seen this week? Are you fans of Middle Earth or do you avoid it at all costs? Do let me know in the comments below!

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