Review: “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”

There are few things in this or any other world as satisfying as the completion of something. Like finishing a big project, eating an entire wheel of cheese, or watching the last film in a trilogy that had no right being a trilogy in the first place. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies gives you that euphoric rush of fulfillment, partly due to the bombastic ending, and partly due to finally reaching the end of this severely elongated trilogy.

We return to Middle Earth for possibly the last time. Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) is on his way to destroy Lake-town. He is harpooned by Bard (Luke Evans), but not before he sets the whole town  ablaze. Meanwhile, our plucky group of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) have take over the mountain, but now they must defend from not one or two armies, but 5. Thranduil (Lee Pace) comes with his army to take the mountain for himself, but then changes sides when the forces of darkness attack, wanting their piece of the prize.

Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian Mckellen) is being held captive by Sauron and his forces while Sarumon (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) come to save him. Gandalf quickly gets to his feet and rushes to the battle, trying to save the situation and unites the forces of elves and dwarves. The only question is, will they be enough to take out the massives battalions of orcs and goblins?

I’ve been a long fan of Tolkien, Middle Earth and really any underdog tale involving hobbits, but this particular film trilogy took a toll on me. Everything in The Battle of the Five Armies is really the only moment I was excited to see this story created cinematically, and it Peter Jackson did a good job bringing it to life. Good, not great. The CGI explosion of fighting at the end seemed overly bombastic with a lot less emotionally invested, and a little too reminiscent from our first Middle Earth trilogy. Namely Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, except that in the vast armies we still felt a connection to the conflict. This time around, we are bombarded with a full screen, small scale battle, not really caring which side wins or loses because that is not the focus of the film. The pay-off was as satisfying as it could be, but at the same time it did not merit a trilogy.

There is little that made this entire trilogy worth even watching up to this point and it was Martin Freeman and Ian Mckellen. The charismatic and quirky Bilbo, played by Freeman, gave life to the stagnant panoramic shots and the sometimes glacially paced scenes. Coincidentally, one of my favorite scenes in the film didn’t actually occur in this book, but in “The Silmarillion”, and the sequence was also the most originally done (cinematically) in this second trilogy. That scene is when Gandalf went to face Sauron and then was saved by his friends. That intimate (in comparison) battle is what won me over this time around because it didn’t leave me feeling like I was lost in a crowd. With the heavy handed CGI and heavily watered down story, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies manages to finally draw to a close this long, drawn-out trilogy with a feeling of satisfaction.

RATING: ★★★★★★ (6/10 stars)


Review: Chris Rock Is In His Prime In “Top Five”

I’ll admit, when I was in elementary school, I was a class clown. I was always quick to crack a joke, make a pun, and just overall lighten any mood. I was never taken seriously, and as a child, I was fine with that. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I wanted to be taken seriously, but the title stuck. Everything I said was thought to be a joke, and even the serious things were thought to be jokes; unfunny ones at that. Top Five is all about the comedy and tragedy behind trying to become something more than what people think you should be.

Recovering alcoholic and stand-up comedian/film star Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is trying to break out into different genres, unsuccessfully. Being critically panned for his high grossing, low brow costumed bear films, he has aspirations of doing something more serious. Like say, a film about a Haitian uprising. On the eve of his film’s release, his bachelor party and his wedding to reality star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union, he agrees to have a writer from the New York Times shadow him for a day. Writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) is much more than she appears to be, and suspects that Andre Allen is also, as she prepares to find out more about his life, his past and hopefully, his future.

This isn’t Chris Rock’s first attempt at the writer/director/actor trifecta, but this is the first time he was a resounding success. His humor has always been pretty much on point, but in “Top Five” we are given it in controlled doses. This helps bring his point home because at its core, this film is about control. It’s seen not only in his nimble use of humor in a sentimental narrative, but also in the story of overcoming alcoholism. The feelings don’t come off as false or forced, and that is because they come from a place of truth and genuineness. Less than a decade ago, Rock lost his brother to alcoholism, and you can feel his remorse in Top Five as we witness a story that might ring a little truer to Rock’s life than we have any right knowing about.

There also romantic aspects mingled with social commentary about celebrities and public perception vs. real life. Rosario Dawson and Gabrielle Union personify this concept perfectly as they each play Rock’s love interest. They weren’t the only stand out cast members, but if I listed every comedian and celebrity cameo in the film, you would already by on your way theater to see the movie rather than finish reading this. This film was co-produced by Kanye West and Jay-Z, so naturally their tracks makes up the film’s soundtrack, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I laughed, I let out a sympathetic “Awwwww”, and I cried (because I laughed so hard). Top Five is a hybrid, not without its flaws. This clearly self-referential “dra-medy” is just the right mixture of Chris Rock’s best of comedy, and thoughtful, emotional depth to show us that he is much more than just a stand-up comic proficient in situational humor and quippy one-liners. This film will take a well-deserved spot in your “Best Comedies of 2014” lists. Might even be in your Top 5.

RATING: ★★★★★★★★(8/10 stars)

Review: “Exodus: Gods and Kings” Is A Plague All Its Own

There are old stories that are so well known that they transcend the genre they belong to. We all know them, even if we don’t believe in them. One such story is the sordid past of rampant whitewashing in films. The other is the story of Moses. Exodus: Gods and Kings unnecessarily reminds us of both.

We know the story well. Moses (Christian Bale) and his brother (in the comradery sense) Ramses (Joel Edgerton) were both the Pharoh Seti’s (John Turturro) favorite, with Seti favoring Moses a little bit more. Seti’s wife and mother of Ramses Tuya (Sigourney Weaver) hated this fact and would find any reason to banish/kill/imprison Moses. After meeting with Hebrew elder Nun (Ben Kingsley), and being told he is also Jewish, Moses kills a guard and leaves the other for dead. Tuya finally has her excuse so with Ramses’ blessing, he is exiled to the dessert where he meets a woman, has a child, chases some sheep into the mountain, has a grave head wood, sees God as a British child, and sees a burning bush. Hallucinations be damned, he goes into Egypt, under the occasional guidance of child God, also with the help of Joshua (Aaron Paul), and demands the freedom of his people. Then the plagues come into play, only to placate us until the climax that should have been parting of the Red Sea. It was, like the rest of the film, anything but climactic.

There is no point in retelling a story that has been told so many times before unless you’re adding something new to it. Despite Noah‘s many flaws it did at least introduce original aspects, unlike Exodus. Hell, we’ve even seen this story whitewashed before in The Ten Commandments, and whitewashed Egyptians in Cleopatra, so what does this film have to contribute to the already over-produced story of Moses freeing the slaves from Egypt? Nothing, but some fodder for religious skeptics and more than a few angry religious believers. The only reasons The Ten Commandments and Cleopatra were able to get away with it is because not only was is a completely different time in American cinema, but also because of the grand scale of the production.

This production was grandiose in it’s own way. The sheer amount of computer generated people and battles will make you think you’re in Middle Earth instead of Egypt. That’s not all! The accents will make you think you are in England. The only thing that keeps this over-the-top production from being an outright joke is Christian Bale’s completely serious and professional approach to it. He portrays Moses with a sort of respect even though everything else about this film is disrespectful on more than a few levels.

There will not be a mass exodus from Exodus: Gods and Kings. Frankly, the people who will go see it, those not part of the #BoycottExodus protest against the film’s whitewash casting, won’t get a chance to make their exit until the end. You will be left in the theater long after the credits have ended, only to be woken up by the theater usher telling you that you need to go so they can clean up. Despite Bale’s performance, there is very little reason to go see this film. This is one of those films that deserves to be watched if only so you can tell your friends how right they were to boycott it/not see it. It commits many cinematic sins, but the two most unforgivable ones are that it wastes your time and it wastes your money. Neither of which you can ever get back, no matter how much you pray.

RATING: ★★(2/10 stars)

Check Out The Chicago Film Critics Association Nominees!

"Birdman" seems to have soared to the top of most of the categories.
“Birdman” seems to have soared to the top of most of the categories.

Being based in Chicago, the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) Awards are kind of a big deal to me. Their nominees are as follows (with my personal pick to win being italicized):

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Under the Skin

Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
David Fincher, “Gone Girl”
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Christopher Nolan, “Interstellar”

Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
David Oyelowo, “Selma”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Scarlett Johannson, “Under the Skin”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”
Laura Dern, “Wild”
Agata Kulesza, “Ida”
Emma Stone, “Birdman”

“Birdman”, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
“Boyhood”, Richard Linklater
“Calvary”, John Michael McDonagh
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Wes Anderson
“Whiplash”, Damien Chazelle

“Gone Girl”, Gillian Flynn
“The Imitation Game”, Graham Moore
“Inherent Vice”, Paul Thomas Anderson
“Under the Skin”, Walter Campbell
“Wild”, Nick Hornby

Force Majeure
The Raid 2
Two Days, One Night

Jodorowsky’s Dune
Last Days in Vietnam
Life Itself
The Overnighters

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
Tales of the Princess Kaguya

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into The Woods
Only Lovers Left Alive

“Birdman”, Emmanuel Lubezki
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Robert Yeoman
“Ida”, Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal
“Inherent Vice”, Robert Elswit
“Interstellar”, Hoyte Van Hoytema

“Birdman”, Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrion
“Boyhood”, Sandra Adair
“Gone Girl”, Kirk Baxter
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Barney Pilling
“Whiplash”, Tom Cross

“Birdman”, Antonio Sanchez
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Alexandre Desplat
“The Imitation Game”, Alexandre Desplat
“Interstellar”, Hans Zimmer
“Under the Skin”, Mica Levi

Ellar Coltrane, “Boyhood”
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Belle”/”Beyond the Lights”
Jack O’Connell, “Starred Up”/”Unbroken”
Tony Revolori, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”
Agata Trzebuchowska, “Ida”

Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”
Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”
Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook”
Jeremy Saulnier, “Blue Ruin”
Justin Simien, “Dear White People”

The winners will be announced December 15th, so keep an eye out for them. You also have a few days to watch every movie on this list you can, so get on that.

72nd Annual Golden Globe Nominees

The 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards are just a month away, but here are the nominees. [psssst, my picks will be italicized]

Motion picture, musical or comedy

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Into the Woods”
“St. Vincent”

Motion picture, drama
“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”

Actor in a motion picture, drama
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
David Oyelowo, “Selma”

Actress in a motion picture, drama
Jennifer Aniston, “Cake”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Actress in a motion picture, musical or comedy
Amy Adams, “Big Eyes”
Emily Blunt, “Into the Woods”
Helen Mirren, “The Hundred-Foot Journey”
Julianne Moore, “Maps To The Stars”
Quvenzhané Wallis, “Annie”

Actor in a motion picture, musical or comedy
Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
Bill Murray, “St. Vincent”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Inherent Vice”
Christoph Waltz, “Big Eyes”

Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Ava DuVernay, “Selma”
David Fincher, “Gone Girl”
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Animated feature film
“Big Hero 6”
“The Book Of Life”
“The Boxtrolls”
“How To Train Your Dragon 2”
“The Lego Movie”

Foreign language film
“Force Majeure Turist”
“Gett: The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem Gett”
“Tangerines (Mandariinid)”

Actress in a supporting role in a motion picture
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Meryl Streep, “Into The Woods”
Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”

Actor in a supporting role in a motion picture
Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Graham Moore, “The Imitation Game”

Original score, motion picture
Alexandre Desplat, “The Imitation Game”
Jóhann Jóhannsson, “The Theory Of Everything”
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “Gone Girl”
Antonio Sanchez, “Birdman”
Hans Zimmer, “Interstellar”

Original song, motion picture
“Big Eyes” from “Big Eyes”
“Glory” from “Selma”
“Mercy Is” from “Noah”
“Opportunity” from “Annie”
“Yellow Flicker Beat” from “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1”

TV series, comedy
“Jane the Virgin”
“Orange Is the New Black”
“Silicon Valley”

TV series, drama
“The Affair”
“Downton Abbey”
“Game of Thrones”
“The Good Wife”
“House Of Cards”

TV movie or miniseries
“The Missing”
“Olive Kitteridge”
“The Normal Heart”
“True Detective”

Actress in a TV series, drama
Claire Danes, “Homeland”
Viola Davis, “How To Get Away With Murder”
Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife”
Ruth Wilson, “The Affair”
Robin Wright, “House Of Cards”

Actor in a TV series, comedy
Louis C.K., “Louie”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”
Ricky Gervais, “Derek”

Actress in a TV series, comedy
Lena Dunham, “Girls”
Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Gina Rodriguez, “Jane the Virgin”
Taylor Schilling, “Orange Is the New Black”

Actor in a TV series, drama
Clive Owen, “The Knick”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Kevin Spacey, “House Of Cards”
James Spader, “The Blacklist”
Dominic West, “The Affair”

Actress in a TV miniseries or motion picture
Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Honorable Woman”
Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”
Frances McDormand, “Olive Kitteridge”
Frances O’Connor, “The Missing”
Allison Tolman, “Fargo”

Actor in a TV miniseries or motion picture
Martin Freeman, “Fargo”
Woody Harrelson, “True Detective”
Matthew McConaughey, “True Detective”
Mark Ruffalo, “The Normal Heart”
Billy Bob Thornton, “Fargo”

Supporting actress in a TV series, miniseries or motion picture
Uzo Aduba, “Orange Is the New Black”
Kathy Bates, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”
Joanne Froggatt, “Downton Abbey”
Allison Janney, “Mom”
Michelle Monaghan, “True Detective”

Supporting actor in a TV series, miniseries or motion picture
Matt Bomer, “The Normal Heart”
Alan Cumming, “The Good Wife”
Colin Hanks, “Fargo”
Bill Murray, “Olive Kitteridge”
Jon Voight, “Ray Donovan”

Don’t forget to watch the Golden Globes on January 11th. It should be as funny as last year with the comedy duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler!

Review: “Still Alice” Doesn’t Let You Forget What’s Important

Still AliceExcerpt: Still Alice, based on the novel of the same name by Lisa Genova, is more of a question than a statement. When our mind starts to betray us, taking away our memories, our experiences and even our independence, are really still the person we used to be? Are we still Alice? Julianne Moore’s inspired performance may sway you one way or the other on the topic, but ultimately leaves it open-ended. Aside from the great performance, it’s earnest sincerity elevates what could easily come off as a made-for-tv Lifetime film. Instead, it leaves you understanding what going through that type of situation feels like, even if you’ve been fortunate enough not to have witnessed Alzheimer’s effect first hand.

RATING: ★★★★★★★★(8/10 stars)

To read my full review, go to TheYoungFolks