Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Those of the mind to see the final chapter of Peter Jackson's fairly bloated staging of Tolkien's The Hobbit must come to peace with the film being good but not great (by Jackson's standards), too "spectacular" by half and an unblinking bore in the final reel. Jackson and his team of screenwriters have hammered a decent screen narrative but the core struggle of one man's, er, dwarf's battle with his inner demons is overwhelmed by too much swordplay and an irritating clownish hamming. As Thorin, the British actor Richard Armitage has three or four solid Macbethian moments as his greed for the golden riches within the mountain chambers once guarded by the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) turns him ever more indifferent toward his kin and paranoid. But once the dragon is defeated, the former flotsam of Middle Earth come a-knocking. Thorin's  moments of introspection are replaced by the Sturm und Drang that both of Jackson's trilogies have centered around, that is, scads of indistinguishable grotesqueries battling on one side against the scrubbed beauty of the Elves, led by the effete but deadly Thranduil (Lee Pace), his son Legolas (Orlando Bloom also of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and the dashing she-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly of Lost) and on the other by the hapless though hearty forces of mortal men, led by the archer Bard (Luke Evans). As always Ian McKellen's Gandalf is on hand to dole out wisdom and crack a few skulls with his staff and Martin Freeman's amiable Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit of the title, provides ample heart to help keep the magical mayhem grounded.  Recommended.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Top Five

Chris Rock's Top Five is the densely comical and thought-provoking story of a former standup comedian and costumed film star whose "funny" was stolen by alcohol. (Whisky shtick?) On the wagon now with the help of his babalicious reality TV star fiancee (Gabrielle Union), Andre "Dre" Allen (Rock) is celebrating both the release of his first dramatic feature -- Uprizing, an unintentionally ludicrous recounting of a slave revolt  in Haiti, the first such revolt in the Western Hemisphere -- and his marriage to his Dream Girl. Allen is being interviewed by a skeptical and, herself, "recovering" New York Times arts writer played by Rosario Dawson. After they lay down a few ground rules about the interview, they have some interesting conversations about fame and family, love and trust, sex, sanity and sobriety. These Rock has explored in his stand-up routines for years. Rock, who also has written and directed this entertaining romp, is offering two things to his fans: (1) a soulful and insightful statement about celebrity, and (2) a house party to which he has invited a couple dozen of his favorite people -- Cedric the Entertainer, JB Smoove, Jerry Seinfeld, SNL's Lisa Jones, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, among them. Rock smartly maneuvers this picture between the rocky shoals of race, class and gender politics and comes out, in the end, with an enormously enjoyable piece of work. Highly recommended.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...