The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Thanks to a last-minute save by my good friend Annie, I was able to attend an early screening of the final film in The Hobbit trilogy!

Oh man, what a ride this has been. The Tolkien fandom awoke after the end of the LotR trilogy ended. We get some more New Zealand tourism goodness. We got to see Orlando Bloom is his utterly glorious Legolas wig, even though Legolas isn’t in the novel. We get a beautiful Evangeline Lilly in her gorgeous wig, even though Tauriel isn’t a character in the book either.

Let me talk about the Tolkien fandom hype for this, eh? The hashtag for this film is #OneLastTime, as in what Thorin asks of his fellow dwarves: “Will you follow me, one last time?” But of course, for the fandom, it is One Last Time to see a fresh view of Middle Earth, One Last Time to have adventures with hobbits and wizards and elves and dwarves and orcs. The feels are powerful and iminent. This is our last time, folks. Let’s take some time to appreciate that all good things come to an end. (Unless/until they make The Silmarillion.)

If you didn’t feel the feels watching Billy Boyd sing “The Last Goodbye”, you’re probably not the target audience for these films 😛

Oh, hasn’t it been a great ride, friends? No matter your criticisms for these films, it’s been so much fun experiencing the epic proportion of Middle Earth and its inhabitants.

This final installment for the trilogy jumps RIGHT into things. If you had forgotten (as I had), The Desolation of Smaug ended with Smaug leaving the Lonely Mountain and making his way to Laketown to wreak havoc. So BotFA starts right there, with a deadly dragon ready to rain hellfire upon innocent people and the action gets going from the get-go.

(If you haven’t seen the previous 2 films, or even if you just don’t remember where the last film left off, you will definitely be a bit confused at the beginning of the movie. Why is this guy locked up again? Why is Kili dying on a table? Which dwarves went up the mountain and which ones stayed in Laketown? Who are any of these people? Where did Legolas and his golden locks go?)

LET’S JUST BE REAL: If you liked The Lord of the Rings, you liked the last 2 films in The Hobbit series, you’re going to like this final film.  You’ve got everything you could ask for:

  • Beautiful, breath-taking New Zealand scenery
  • Martin Freeman as the endearing titular character
    • He’s also so great with physical comedy and his facial expressions. We get great little doses of comic relief from him
  • Great comic relief moments overall
  • Interesting romance arc with Tauriel (who, again, is not a character from the canon, so all her storylines are made up)
  • Benedict Cumberbatch’s great voicework for Smaug and the Necromancer
  • Plenty of battle scenes (and I mean PLENTY, I mean it’s in the name of this film so)
  • Amazing cast members all around, truly
  • Terrific scoring by Howard Shore
  • Awesome effects

Can we also have Richard Armitage do a lot more voice work?

Non-spoiler-y comments:

  • There are POCs in this movie! Not very many, I think I saw maybe 2, but Laketown is a diverse enough town that there was at least one black person and one Asian person. Erm, okay, you can do better but you know, better than zero, I guess.
  • Even though many people didn’t like that there wound up being a bit of a love triangle in The Hobbit with the introduction of Tauriel (again, a non-canon character) and having Legolas in there (again, not in The Hobbit novel), I thought they handled it pretty well. I was satisfied with how they ended things. I’ll have some more comments on this below the trailer, but they could’ve done a lot worse. That being said, it did feel pretty unnecessary, but I guess they wanted us to feel more attached to these 3 characters? I certainly did.
  • There are really excellent moments of dramatic irony that point to events that will take place in The Lord of the Rings.
  • OKAY I did have an issue with a scene here and maybe some of the world building lemme break it down for you:
    • First of all, not sure how orcs are so easily beaten by men who seem to have zero battle experience?
    • At one point towards the end of the movie, Bilbo literally takes out orcs by throwing large rocks at them. Am I supposed to believe that he is killing them with these large rocks?
    • If Bilbo throwing large rocks kills orcs, how is it that he survives being thunked on the head with the hilt of an orc’s sword? (This is not a spoiler, obviously our titular character doesn’t die, we know he survives to the events of The Lord of the Rings.)
    • Basically, these orc extras seem way too easy to kill, even when compared to elf, men, and dwarf extras.
  • I do feel like, by this last film, I could start to differentiate the 12 dwarves that aren’t Thorin. That being said, I still can’t name half of them or tell them apart, really.
  • INTENSELY cool scene involving Galadriel (not in the book), Elrond, and Saurumon. We don’t see this much action from them in The Lord of the Rings so this scene was really fun to watch.
  • It’s also cool to see Lee Pace as Thranduil go to battle because, again, we don’t see much action from him in the earlier films, where he looks fabulous as always but in a very stationary way: standing fabulously, sitting fabulously, occasionally walking or pacing (!!) fabulously.
  • Would have liked to see a bit more fleshing out of Thorin’s dragon sickness. I feel like the trailer really set us up to watch this key character’s obsession and the corruption of his goals, but that was done a bit too weakly in the movie. It seems way more unreasonable than I thin it needed to seem, and then there’s just a very strange kind of hallucinatory sequence that just doesn’t carry much weight because the whole thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
  • It’s nice that we end at the scene from the first LotR film where Gandalf shows up at Bilbo’s door after his 111th birthday. It really helps to bring us full circle.

I would highly recommend refreshing your memory on the last 2 films before you watch this one, and it does help to have seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy because they make so many little nods to it in this film. But even if you do neither, you can still really enjoy this last Tolkien dream-come-true. One last time.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will be in theaters in the US on Wednesday, December 17. (Check your individual country’s release date.) (Very sorry Argentina, as I believe you will not be getting this movie until January 1.)

Spoilers below the trailer:

Read More »

The Wedding Ringer (2015)

A few weeks ago, I went to a VERY early screening of The Wedding Ringer, which will be released January 16, 2015. I didn’t know a lot about the movie going into it except that it starred Kevin Hart. Here is how I will describe the movie to you:

This movie combines a little bit of I Love You, Man with Wedding Crashers and even some Pretty Woman/Can’t Buy Me Love fun. Josh Gad plays a groom-to-be who is woefully without male friends. Enter Kevin Hart, who is a best man for-hire. CUE SHENANIGANS.

At this point, I trust Kevin Hart to really deliver when he’s on-screen. I always laugh out loud and hard when I am at his movies. This was no exception. It’s not exactly my kind of movie but it was HILARIOUS. I only knew Josh Gad from his voice work in Frozen (… I hate Olaf so much) so it was nice to see what he brought to the table also. I don’t really have anything to say about Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, I never really do.

There are a lot of great scenes, great references and nods to other movies and TV shows. (If you like catching those references in shows like The Mindy Project, you’ll like spotting them here.) Writing was just very ON POINT here and I laughed really really hard, I cannot stress that enough. There is dancing, there is fake identities, there is muddy football with senior citizens, there is fire, there is a car chase. This movie has everything, and it’ll all make you laugh.

The Wedding Ringer doesn’t come out for another month, but it’s definitely a fun one to catch with friends.

Favorite Holiday Albums

As promised last week, I compiled a little list of Christmas/holiday music albums. Because sometimes, Christmas radio isn’t quite what you want, ya know? Especially if you want to listen to one voice. Although you know what:

Now That's What I Call Christmas!

My family has “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” and it’s really good. A lot of my favorites, if you want a kind of one-stop shop for the songs I mentioned last week. So there is that.

But right, one artist.
For Christmas 2012, my brother told me he got me a Christmas album of my favorite Christmas singer. I exclaimed “Bing Crosby?!” Nope.

Christmas Songs By Sinatra

Oops. I do love Frank Sinatra, and his Christmas albums are great. This is the one that I have. Or had, until my mom snatched it and kept it for herself. (I no longer have the physical copy but I was able to put the songs on my computer first.) Mmmm, Frank Sinatra’s buttery jazzy voice is pretty great for the holidays, and really any of his Christmas albums will be great. (All of his music is pretty great, let’s be real.)

Last year, my brother remembered my little faux pas and got me this Bing Crosby album!

Christmas Classics

I’ll admit, this album cover is a little big scary to see when I’m not 100% awake. Of course, his classic “White Christmas” is always good to have as well. Bing Crosby is kind of THE voice of Christmas, isn’t he? It’s not quite Christmas without his voice cradling you in a warm holiday mood.  (Thanks again to my little brother for getting me these two albums!)

You see, when I curate my holiday music, I look for specific artists who I know have great Christmas albums. INCLUDING but not limited to:

(All images from / links to Amazon)

And….. I think that’s about right. Most orchestras have a great Nutcracker album that I would definitely recommend having on hand for the holiday season. Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but these are the albums and artists that I’m most familiar with. I am not quite at that pro level just yet, but I’m getting to the point where I can mostly identify the artists without looking when I’m listening to my Pandora Christmas station or when I’m driving in the car. (Despite my tendency to hop around stations when I drive, during the holiday season, I don’t even THINK about touching the dial on the radio because it is permanently set to my local holiday music station.) (Let me know if you listen to Delilah during the holiday season!)

Did I get your favorite albums?
What are your favorite Christmas/holiday albums?
And which newer ones should I be listening to? 
I am very biased, obviously, against the more current artists’ holiday albums.

Into the Woods (2014)

Last night, I got to watch an early screening of Disney’s Into the Woods, the adaptation of the Tony-award winning musical by Steven Sondheim.

First of all, I do need to say that I watched the original Broadway run of Into the Woods in class back in middle school. It was a long time ago, so all it really means is that I am familiar with the story and the songs. I would not call myself a die-hard fan but it does remain one of my favorite musicals.

That being said, I thought the movie was a pretty faithful adaptation of the stage version! It wasn’t going to be perfect, by any means, especially because Disney adapted it. As most musicals go, there are some less-than-G-rated moments in Into the Woods. During development, we heard a lot of rumors of songs getting cut for being too Disney-inappropriate, like “Hello, Little Girl” and “Any Moment”, but those songs both made it into the movie. There were a few plot changes, which I’ll go over in the spoilers section below the trailer.

For my spoiler-free portion of this, I do highly recommend you see this if:

  • You like the original musical
  • You like musicals in general
  • You like fairy tales
  • You like fairy tale crossovers
  • You like after ever-after fairy tale stories
  • You like any of the cast members
  • You like laughter

Even though Into the Woods can get a little dark a times, it is a really funny show, so expect to laugh. A lot. Comedic timing was done REALLY well, it definitely translated very well to screen. That was key for me, because I mostly remember laughing along with this show and I laughed a lot during the movie.

I do need to say things about this movie that bothered me a little:

  1. Maybe it was because of how close I was to the screen for this viewing, but the sound seemed a bit off. Some of the sound was WAY too loud but the rest of it was normal so I don’t know what went on. Let’s just say I definitely would not nominate them for a Best Sound Mixing Academy Award if that’s how they’re going to release the film.
  2. Some of the camera work was distracting. Tracking a character shouldn’t be something noticeable but I noticed and it distracted me. If you can’t track your actors properly then don’t do such a tight shot. Zoom out so that they have more freedom to move about the frame. I usually don’t notice things like that but I did here and that’s kind of the problem. (I did appreciate a lot of their framing, though.)

Some [spoiler-free] casting notes:

  • Johnny Depp as the Wolf was pretty perfect. What can I say, he’s really good at playing creepy dudes. (See Pirates of the CaribbeanWilly Wonka, etc.) Even though his screentime was tragically limited (I am so not used to him not being the star of his films, I realize), he really made the most of it. The Wolf is a fun character and adding Johnny Depp’s special flavor of fun to the Wolf’s fun was pretty perfect. He has this great command of the screen when he appears, and easily his few minutes were some of the best minutes of the entire movie. Just because we are used to him playing these interesting characters does NOT mean it does not require great talent for him to do so. I don’t know, I am talking a lot about an actor who is on-screen for less than 10 minutes but everything is SO deliberate about his performance. Every movement, every look, every note he sings. It’s all extremely deliberate and intentional and really perfect for this role.
    Johnny Depp as The Wolf
  • Meryl Streep can do no wrong, so obviously she was a fantastic Witch. There’s not much else I can say because we all know she’s awesome and amazing. The Witch is one of the MOST key characters in Into the Woods, and obviously Meryl made carrying a film look effortless. And you know, even though I don’t naturally think of Meryl for musicals, she does have a really expressive voice. “Stay With Me” was done so so well.
    Meryl Streep as The Witch
  • Chris Pine did great as Cinderella’s Prince, although I’ll admit that it doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge for him to play charming-to-a-fault types. (See Princess Diaries 2 and his Kirk in the Star Trek films.) But charming-to-a-fault is exactly what this role calls for and he delivers what he delivers best. Also, I didn’t know he was much of a singer until he was cast in this role and found out via this interview that he has a lovely singing voice. Pine Nuts, go crazy, this is Chris Pine gold.
    Chris Pine as Cinderella's Prince (also known as
  • To be totally honest, I thought that Anna Kendrick wasn’t really able to shine in her role as Cinderella. I absolutely adore her as an actress and as a person (I mean, have you seen her Twitter?) but this role felt so stifling in my opinion. It fell a bit flat for me. Even her songs just didn’t have that oomph that I was expecting from her. Most of all, I felt that she just wasn’t very expressive in this film. Both her face and her voice are very expressive but I didn’t get much of that in this movie.Anna Kendrick as Cinderella
  • Just have to share that I love that Lucy Punch plays a stepsister in this because she ALSO plays one of the stepsisters in Ella Enchanted. Apparently, it is the role she was destined to play. She’s great. Again, not much screentime, but she makes the most of it.
    Left: Lucy Punch (center) as Hattie in Ella Enchanted
    Right: Lucy Punch (left) as Lucinda in Into the Woods

    Also, the stepmother and stepsisters had AMAZING outfits for the ball. Ohmygosh, where can I get a black and gold gown like those?

  • Daniel Huttlestone is really making a name for himself in these musical film-adaptations. You might know him as Gavroche from Les Miserables and he plays Jack (of beanstalk-fame) here. Really good voice on this one, and I love what he does with his facial expressions. Looking forward to seeing more of him.
    Daniel Huttlestone as Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk)
  • I liked James Corden in his role as the Baker. It reminds me of his Doctor Who role as Craig in that he’s this sincere but kind of clueless guy with a baby. (Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All!) While I remember Chip Zien as this kind of scrawny guy playing the Baker, it makes sense to have a guy like James Corden play him.

(Character posters courtesy of International Business Times)

One thing to note about casting is that, for the stage version, there is a lot more dramatic irony with double casting of characters. For example, the Prince and the Wolf are played by the same actor, which makes their behavior make more sense when you realize it is essentially the same. These things get lost in the movie. Just like how we lost our Narrator and the Mystery Man. BUT of course, when you translate to film, you take advantage of talent wherever you can and you simplify things.

Overall, really solid and good movie, perfect for the holiday season. I’d give it 4.5/5 stars.

Here’s the trailer for Into the Woods, in theaters on December 25th. Definitely catch it when you can!

Read More »