Category Archives: Martin Freeman

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

“You see Mr. Powers…I love gooold!” Image via WhatCulture

If insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again expecting different results, then it is the perfect word to describe my viewing of the “Hobbit” series.

“The Desolation of Smaug” is at least a little better than its predecessor “An Unexpected Journey.” However, it still feels like a lot of filler space for a trilogy that did not need to be a trilogy.

“Smaug” begins with a prequel-to-a-prequel introduction where Gandalf (Ian McKellen) meets Thorin (Richard Armitage) at the Prancing Pony (a fun callback to “The Fellowship of the Ring”), and the two of them set the entire “Hobbit” adventure in motion. This little scene is there simply to declare that Thorin, and not Bilbo (Martin Freeman), is the main character of “Smaug.”

That may be where the biggest problem in “The Hobbit” movies lies: backstory and character development are constantly at odds. “Smaug” has some solid world-building, as the tension between all of the different races on Middle Earth is more in depth than ever. This is all entertaining to see, and it makes Middle Earth even more alive. Yet, the more “Smaug” adds on to itself, the less it focuses on its central characters. While the main goal of “Smaug” is to help the Dwarves win back Lonely Mountain, throwing Bilbo off to the side seems unfair. The Dwarves are constantly praising Bilbo for his newfound sense of bravery. Bilbo has been reduced to somebody who can get other characters out of central situations. His own safety and well-being seems irrelevant in “Smaug.”

It really is too bad that “Smaug” didn’t utilize Bilbo more, because he is one of the best characters J.R.R. Tolkien ever created. Bilbo utilizes his short stature, as if he likes to be underestimated. What he lacks in height he makes up for in courage and cunning. Watching Bilbo work his way out of a giant spider’s nest is the highlight of the film. It’s an exciting sequence that makes Frodo and Sam seem like wimps when they battled Shelob in “Return of the King.” It stands in deep contrast to the rest of the film’s action set pieces, which often come off as cheesy.

Unfortunately, the biggest battle in the film, and the promise of the title, is something of a letdown. Smaug himself is a CGI marvel, even if he does look a little too much like the dragon from “Shrek.” et, it takes so long to get to him and it almost doesn’t feel like it was worth the wait. There is a rule of film that what we see is better than what we don’t see, and buildup to the unknown makes it even better once it is revealed. However, the buildup to Smaug never feels like a Jaws effect. Instead, it points to one of the film’s central problems: it just feels like its stalling.

“Smaug” runs much smoother than “An Unexpected Journey,” and there much more of a sense of connection between events. “Smaug” feels more like filler space than an actual film of its own; it is simply a bridge between the setup of the original and the final battle that will likely occur in the conclusion (so long as Peter Jackson doesn’t split it into another three parts). Despite the more concrete Middle Earth that is established, “Smaug” still ends with what feels like more loose ends than cliffhangers.

Brain Farts From The Edge (Some Minor Spoilers Ahead):

  • Smaug totally got Goldfinger’d.
  • Guillermo del Toro is listed as a writer. As much as I admire Peter Jackson’s work, part of me wishes that del Toro could have gotten the chance to direct.
  • I really hope that Mr. Jackson takes all of the money and clout he has earned from “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies and uses it to make another weird sci-fi fantasy along the lines of “Heavenly Creatures.” 
  • Is it too late to get all of the writers from “Game of Thrones” to rewrite “There and Back Again”?
  • I saw “Smaug” in 2D, and I noticed that there were many shots specifically made for 3D, which were thus ruined. For instance, the underwater shots during the barrel sequence looked like footage from a Six Flags commercial. Did anybody else have this experience?
  • While I am grateful that “Smaug” didn’t contain 45 minutes of Dwarves singing, I wish it least had something half as entertaining as that to fill the dull hour or so before they all finally reach Lonely Mountain. 
  • After Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) heals Killi (Aidan Turner), he confesses his love to her. This scene is marked by some soft lighting, and the only thing that could have made it cheesier is if they played “Dream Weaver” in the background. Or if Killi had just gotten up and done this.
  • I am now taking bets on the likelihood that Gandalf will use his giant eagles to get himself out of this mess. 

Movie Review: The World’s End

“The World’s End” marks the end of the Cornetto trilogy, a trilogy connected only by theme and named after ice cream. It’s as much about a trilogy of humans as it is about a trilogy of movies: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost have created a pitch perfect cinematic universe where the code of law is alcoholism and arrested development.

Clearly, I will stay away from all possible spoilers, yet it is important to know that “The World’s End” comes full circle in the most, well, circular way possible: it starts and ends with people talking in a circle. In the beginning, it’s Gary King (Simon Pegg), a man who is a former shell of himself. Gary is a recovering alcoholic who can’t quite erase the memory of the best night of his life: The Golden Mile Pub Crawl.

The pub crawl covered all 12 pubs in his small English hometown of Newton Haven. Craving to relive the magic of that night from 20 years earlier, Gary reunites his whole gang. While they’ve all advanced forwards, he’s stayed exactly the same. Gary has some unfinished business in form of the World’s End, the last stop on the pub crawl and the one place they never got to.

The beginning of the film compromises of a bunch of montages of misery as Gary attempts to reunite the team. All of his friends have now split off and got respectable office jobs, wives, and children. Gary thinks that because he has no responsibilities, he has absolute freedom. What he doesn’t realize though is that having nothing doesn’t always help you get to a better place.

I wish I brought a timer into “The World’s End,” because the buildup is so impressive. It goes an extensive stretch of time as a buddy comedy about a bunch of friends getting drunk and reminiscing. That would be a fine movie by itself, but what makes it even better is the fact that Edgar Wright then takes it to the complete next level. The buildup is what makes the stakes so much higher once the robots invade and bleed blue paint everywhere. Yes, you read that right.

It takes a really long time for “The World’s End” to get to the robots, but that makes the first attack even more surprising and worth the wait. Up until that time, Wright and the guys show their brilliant knack for recurring jokes. The beautiful thing about “The World’s End” is that I already feel like I need to watch it again because of how much I must have missed the first time around. In one subtle sight gag, Gary drives his old, beat up, gas guzzling car past a billboard for an electric car. Few directors are as good at understanding visual humor as Edgar Wright.

“The World’s End” is yet another of Wright’s satires of small town life. In making fun of suburbia, “The World’s End” eventually brings life to the mundane. It is in the little everyday things that Wright seems most interested in, which is why watching a beer get poured in one Wright’s movies can be as cool as watching a robot get his head kicked off. And yes, the fight scenes are better than any Hollywood movie I’ve seen this summer.

“The World’s End” also shows Wright’s proficiency in the language of cinema. “The World’s End” is a perfect sci-fi homage. It borrows from everything from “Blade Runner” to “Minority Report” to movies I haven’t even seen. However, Wright is no thief. He takes things from different genres, blends them together, and then adds his own thoughts to it. What brings it to the next level is that it is also a perfect look at the nostalgia that runs popular culture. Just like the zombies in “Shaun of the Dead,” the robots of “The World’s End” aren’t too different from the humans. Like Gary (who could be a stand-in for a lot of the people who attend Comic Con), the robots are programmed with selective memory.

Of the three characters that Pegg has played in the Cornetto trilogy, Gary is by far the most pathetic, but ultimately the most entertaining to watch. If the Oscars took movies like “The World’s End” seriously, Pegg would be a frontrunner for Best Actor. His self-denial is as sad as his snark is hilarious. Luckily, Pegg is backed up by a great supporting cast, especially Nick Frost, who is one of the most talented comedic actors working today. He spends most of “The World’s End” as a subdued recovering alcoholic. Once that does change (that’s not a spoiler because come), Frost becomes a master of casual slapstick. Oh also this cast includes the guy who plays Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as well as Pierce Brosnan, who sports a Trotsky/Evil Abed goatee.

Perhaps if “The World’s End” does well, people will start taking comedy a lot more seriously. Maybe a line like “he’s my cock!” doesn’t belong in a movie like this, but it is a line of dialogue that this story needs. It is the humor that gives “The World’s End” life and ultimately what makes its satire even sharper. Here lies the best damn movie so far this year. While “The World’s End” heavily debates the idea of slavery and whether freedom can be obtained by being a slave to something. Maybe I am missing the point by saying this, but Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost have my undivided attention and servitude for the rest of their careers.


Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It took just one musical cue from “The Hobbit” to remind me why I fell in love with the “Lord of the Rings” series in the first place. Perhaps it has been widespread anger on the Internet that’s given me nothing but low expectations for “The Hobbit.” The result is better than I thought it would be: it’s a movie that’s all over the place, but one that is very good at being all over the place.

Seeing as the film version of “The Hobbit” was released after the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson gets to give us some nice little winks to a series that ended nine years ago, especially with some surprise cameos. “An Unexpected Journey,” the first part of this “Hobbit” trilogy, opens with a long prologue providing more details on the history of Middle Earth. To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded if this prologue went on longer. It gave even more life and depth to this imaginary world. From the perspective of someone who didn’t read the books, “The Hobbit” succeeds best when it is providing small details and expanding the mythology of Middle Earth. With that, this movie has a true purpose.

“The Hobbit” gives us a closer look at those tiny, hairy-footed folk who inhabit The Shire. The Hobbits are comfortable with their land, and they don’t see any reason to ever leave it. This is especially true for Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who would prefer sitting outside with a pipe and a book more than anything else in the world. That proves impossible when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) shows up at Bilbo’s door with a small (pun maybe not intended) army of Dwarves. The Dwarves pile into Bilbo’s home for a long comic set piece that is basically the Middle Earth equivalent of the State Room scene from “A Night at the Opera.” The Dwarves eat, drink, and sing a lot.

“The Hobbit” also does good in turning the Dwarves into the most interesting race of creatures on Middle Earth. In fact, every race is much more fleshed out in “The Hobbit.” This time, it is more than just one representative from every race. There is a sense of history to this imaginary world.

Quite frankly, Bilbo is a much more interesting hero than Frodo was. The film version also manages to flesh out a very good arc for him. Despite the fact that this is just a portion of one larger book, there still manages to be a sense of a complete character arc. While Bilbo becomes something of a warrior, it is most entertaining to watch him rely on his cunning to defeat his enemies.

“The Hobbit” is a “Lord of the Rings” movie made for fan boys. It may be a prequel, but it is filled with references to “Lord of the Rings” installments of the past. It feels weird to have nostalgia for something that came out only a decade ago, but that’s just the state of our culture. The return of Gollum (Andy Serkis) was most welcome for me. Gollum may be weird and hard to look at, but he is one of my favorite Tolkien creations. Watching him tear himself apart for his “precious” is sometimes funny, but mostly sad.

Even though this is only part one, Peter Jackson has a lot to balance here. The biggest problem with “The Hobbit” is that it may be a bit overstuffed. Most of it feels necessary, but at times it seems to have a problem knowing what moment is most important. An epic battle with Goblins (which was, no doubt, awesome) gets in the way of an epic battle with Orcs. The original “Lord of the Rings” had spread out battles that built up to one big one. At times, “The Hobbit” felt less like it was building up, and more like it was going all over the map.

As a result of this, “The Hobbit” also suffers from Multiple Ending Syndrome. It runs under three hours, yet I definitely saw many instances where it could have concluded and I would have been satisfying. However, I can understand why they built up to the ending they did, as they needed a good cliffhanger. As far as cliffhangers go, it happens to be an excellent one. It immediately made me ready to see part two.

“The Hobbit” is certainly not the most meaningful installment of the “Lord of the Rings” series. However, in a way, it is the most fun and most expansive. One of the most important parts of storytelling is world building. To me, the more realistic and creative the world that the characters inhabit is, the better the overall story is. Television has gotten really good at that, but film often forgets how to do it. “The Hobbit” does it right. While prequels are often made as an excuse to get more money out of a series, this prequel deserved to be made. There is one very meaningful part of it I would like to share, though. With all of the violence that has been shown lately in the media, “The Hobbit” includes this one amazing trinquet of wisdom from Gandalf: “True courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.”