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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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If I wasn’t already in the minority thinking that Peter Jackson was right to turn J. R. R Tolkien’s beloved, timeless classic “The Hobbit” into three films. I definitely asserted myself as an outcast raving over how formidable Jackson’s first outing “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was and how it placed the forthcoming flicks on impeccable footing. Now, we’re a year down the road, and I feel no different about it. It’s been a year between chapters, that’s a long wait, especially for an enthusiast such as myself, but the second chapter of this soon-to-be epic trilogy is finally upon us and I’ve stayed true to my fanboy title. Rushing, nervously and excitedly to my nearest theatre late Thursday night to behold the first showing of Jackson’s next masterpiece, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in IMAX 3D, and not just for Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” teaser either…that’s just a bonus. How’d I feel about the film, you ask…let’s just say, I wasn’t disappointed…

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Now, I know what you’re all thinking, “this guy is supremely biased” and you’re not wrong in concluding that. You may choose to skip my review for a more neutral, honest take and I won’t hold any blame against you. But before you do, consider this. The hard truth of it is, if you can’t enjoy this, you’re probably not a fan of Jackson’s LOTR universe to being with and shouldn’t be judging it in the first place…and I never cheat my readers out of the truth and honesty. If the “The Desolation of Smaug” had flopped, believe me, I’d be the first to let you know. Thankfully however, this isn’t the case. It’s a definite improvement in nearly every aspect while also capitalizing on the errors of its predecessor, not that there were many to begin with. And despite having similar themes, Jackson is able to make the content seem fairly new and exciting. He captures a lot of the magic that made his LOTR trilogy so superlative and successful, which is, quite frankly, the most reassuring aspect for the upcoming finale and is all any good-hearted fan could ask for.

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There’s a lot here that is reminiscent of the LOTR trilogy, but it’ll never be the LOTR, so let’s just get that comparison out of you head right now! If there’s one thing holding back “The Hobbit” trilogy, it’s no fault of its creators, rather, the viewers simply expecting LOTR all over again. That’ll never happen! Honestly, I consider the LOTR trilogy to be cinema’s greatest achievement. I know a lot of you will fight me on that, but that’s just how I feel. Nothing will ever live up to that comparison, so stop holding this series against it. The source material for both series differ greatly, I can’t stress that enough. If you’ve read the series, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. “The Hobbit” is directed to younger readers, it’s more cliched, nostalgic, simple. I wouldn’t go as far as to recommend completely cleansing your thoughts of any relation to the LOTR, simply because you’d miss out on a few awesome easter eggs and shout-outs to the original trilogy. That being said, the less you stack up Jackson’s two trilogies, the greater your experience will be.

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It may end on a bit of a cliff-hanger, which hampers most middle films, but if anything, it only really sets its hooks in deeper. A nagging, stinging, aching anticipation for next year’s finale that is proves useless to try and shake. Nonetheless, let’s stick to what’s available to us now. There’s a lot of new faces presented in this sequel, but of course there’s only one newcomer on everybody’s mind. There’s no question that the highlight of “The Desolation of Smaug” is of course, Smaug himself. It’s all any die-hard Tolkien fanatic has been waiting for since the series was first announced. You’ll be waiting till roughly the last forty minutes of the film’s nearly three hour runtime for Smaug to finally appear, but when he does, you’ll find yourself watching one of the greatest cinematic achievements of 2013.

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Apart from this greedy fire-breather, Orlando Bloom’s Legolas draws a substantial amount of excitement. Jumping weightless amongst the striking scenery of Middle Earth (provided by the always breathtaking New Zealand which Jackson once again utilizes to full effect) and dismissing countless foes. He might be a little more edgy than you remember, but a thrill to watch nonetheless. Luke Evans’ Bard really was a pleasant surprise. Gritty, emotional, and whole-heartedly invested, Evans truly added another complex, impressive layer to this fantastical spectacle. The final addition, Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel still reigned supreme, for me at least. Rarely have I ever become smitten with someone so striking who could also beat me to a bloody pulp at the drop of a hat. A quick shout-out to the cast of dwarves who’ve finally been allowed to expand their emotional range. The serious tone really allows them to show off their depth instead of trotting around uttering witty, cliched catchphrases.

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Smaug is played by the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch, who, aside from giving voice to this monstrous dragon, also provides the facial expressions and movements, much like that of Andy Serkis’s Gollum. Emerging from a baffling pile of riches, it’s the dark, malicious, egotistical voice that first strikes fear into your gut as Smaug himself dances amongst the shadows. Then, when the big reveal hits, you’ll find yourself struggling to pick your jaw off the sticky cinema floor. Agile, gargantuan, and devilishly clever, Cumberbatch’s Smaug is, without question, the biggest “wow” moment of the year. As for Martin Freeman, he’s still the only young Bilbo for me. His reluctant courage and comical movements are inspiring and hilarious. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who could successfully deliver just one of those facets. Sadly, Gandalf takes a bit of a back seat on this one, but it’s Ian McKellan, it’s the role he was born to play. So those brief moments he’s present are just as rewarding and nostalgic.

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“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is another magnificent entry into Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. The visuals are as superlative as ever. Whether it’s Smaug, the bewildering, gloomy Mirkwood and Laketown, or panoramic shots of Middle Earth, Jackson never seems to lose his form. The progression of the story isn’t a strain to endure and keeps the viewer glued with heart-racing action and genuine emotion. The dialogue doesn’t feel so contrived and each character is given more than enough importance to thrive. It still doesn’t rank with the best the LOTR trilogy has to offer, but it isn’t a steep decline either. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” will undoubtedly stand the test of time and is a terrific set-up for next year’s big finale.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: 9 out of 10.

The Prestige (2006)

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If you’re looking for a film that keeps you guessing, is full of tricks, and will leave you infatuated with its characters till the very end, The Prestige just might be for you. In my opinion, The Prestige is Christopher Nolan’s best and most complete film. Written by Christopher and his brother Jonathan, The Prestige is the ultimate magic trick that keeps on giving, viewing after viewing. Christian Bale (Batman Begins) leads a superb cast that includes: Hugh Jackman (X-Men), Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation), Michael Caine (Children of Men), and Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings). With its nonstop twists and a script that never undermines the audiences intelligence, The Prestige is full of sacrifice, guilt, and struggle. With Nolan behind the scenes and a stellar cast up front, The Prestige is not to be missed.

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Nearing the end of the nineteenth century in London, Angier (Jackman) and Borden (Bale) are a couple of stagehands for a friend while learning some tricks as both are upcoming magicians. One night during a routine performance, Angier’s wife dies and he places the blame on Borden. Angier and Borden continue to work at their craft as enemies and competitive rivals. As both come into their own, fame begins to bestow itself upon them. Their competitions become more violent and elaborate while both attempt to sabotage the others career. When Borden perfects and begins to perform the greatest trick the world has ever seen, Angier becomes obsessed with discovering the secret and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

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In the history of cinema, I don’t believe there has ever been a rivalry quite like this. Nolan has proven with every feature he has helmed that he is the creator of instant masterpieces and the mental kick the film industry has been waiting for. With the exception of Following (1998), Nolan’s full length feature debut, The Prestige is possibly his most underrated piece. Christopher and Jonathan provide the foundation of anguish, loss, and loyalty through a clever screenplay adapted from the Christopher Priest novel of the same title. Nolan’s ability to control and manipulate his cast into the perfect tones, external movements, and emotions is unparalleled. Bale and Jackman steal the show as usual as they both hurdle head first down a mountain of regret and anger. Through a vicious competition they had no hand in starting, Caine and Johansson are remarkable as they try to decipher their loyalties and scramble to make the right decisions. The Prestige is intelligent, violent, and at times very disturbing, but is a definite must see.

The Prestige: 9 out of 10.

Just a quick note. As the blog has just been started, for now I will only be posting reviews of some of my personal favourites and lesser known pieces of film genius. Reviews for current and upcoming films will begin this weekend starting with Chan-wook Park’s Stoker.