Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Image via MovieWeb

Rating: 3 out of 5

Sigh…after more than a decade in the universe of Middle-earth, I’m so sad that the journey is over. However, I’m more depressed that it ended with such a disappointing finale.

In “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” there are so many loose ends to tie together: Smaug must be defeated, Lake-town must be rebuilt, and Erebor must be reclaimed. Not to mention, all the plot lines that have to be connected to bring the story full circle.

Unfortunately, the pacing was so off that you walk away without a true sense of closure. Smaug is defeated within the first 20 minutes, and the build-up to the battle seems more significant than the battle itself. When the company of dwarves loses its beloved members, the rest of the fight is simply forgotten with Bilbo ready to bail without saying goodbye. The ending of the fellowship, this sure isn’t.

Granted, it’s been forever since I’ve read the book, so I could be mistaken to call the movie’s tone inauthentically cold. Unlike “The Return of the King,” in which I bawled during the last half hour, I didn’t feel much of an emotional connection to the characters. The film was sterile, simply going through the motions.

It certainly didn’t help that the emphasis on CGI and special effects made you feel like you were watching a very long video game cut scene. All the uniqueness of the previous two films’ technical advancements felt overdone during a massive battle scene. No epic speeches to rally the troops, no panoramic shots of landscapes previously based on paintings or set miniatures, just a whole lot of computerized soldiers on a digital landscape.

While I enjoyed the character development of Thorin as he fell victim to the dragon-sickness of greed, there was little other acting of depth. Ian McKellen was reported to be so miserable from acting in front of nothing but a green scene that he thought about retiring from acting altogether. “The Return of the King” won 11 Academy Awards; I’ll be surprised if this movie wins any.

Sure, there are enough redeeming qualities to make this film enjoyable, but I’m such a die-hard Tolkien fan that I couldn’t imagine not watching this in theaters, no matter what the critics said. But I also couldn’t imagine that the final installment of this series would be so lackluster. Goodbye Middle-earth, we leave you going out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Exactly how I feel too, Thranduil!

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Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1

Image via ComingSoon

Rating: 4 out of 5

Over Thanksgiving break I watched “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1” more out of obligation than anticipation. I’ve been vocal about how much I despised the ending of The Hunger Games trilogy, so this movie is just one step before the major letdown.

That being said, I enjoyed the film more than I thought that I would. Even though it stops short after Peeta’s rescue mission, it was engaging enough during the buildup to keep things interesting.

I also liked the casting of the new characters: Alma Coin, president of District 13 (played by Julianne Moore), and the district’s Roman-inspired squad consisting of Cressida, Messalla, Castor, and Pollux. I’ve always loved Natalie Dormer (of “Game of Thrones” and “The Tudors” fame), and I look forward to her role as Cressida growing in “Pt. 2.”

Similar to “Gone Girl,” this movie emphasizes how media can influence events by spreading certain messages via mass communication. The emerging rebellion on the Capitol is not nearly as important as the cat-and-mouse game that Katniss is forced to play with President Snow through her various propaganda videos and the district’s hacking into the Capitol’s telecom system.

As for Katniss herself, I much preferred her character on-screen than in the book, because readers of Mockingjay are limited to her point-of-view–which, let’s be honest, totally sucks because she’s a crazed, drugged-up trauma survivor suffering from PTSD. She’s still that same person, but fortunately she must share screen time with all the other characters who are actually getting things done.

And despite his infrequent appearances, I give major props to Josh Hutcherson for deftly expressing Peeta’s torturous mental and physical decline. Buzzfeed insightfully reported that “Mockingjay: Pt. 1” challenges Hollywood stereotypes by inverting the “damsel in distress” trope. Here, Peeta is the vulnerable victim and Katniss is the action hero who must save him.

In fact, I would argue that all the characters in this saga are more nuanced and multi-dimensional than the plot as a whole. I may hate the way that Suzanne Collins ends this chess game of hers, but damn do I love the pawns. I can only hope that these amazing actors can evolve in such a way that transcends the fate that awaits them in the final installment.

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Image via Wikipedia

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One thing you should know about me is that I am a total wuss when it comes to things that are even remotely scary. I never watch horror films, and I avoid most crime shows, because “CSI” gives me nightmares.

This is because I’m more frightened by scenarios that have real-life potential. I’m totally fine with White Walkers, Nazgul, and Dementors, but serial killers and kidnappers? No thanks!

So I surprised myself by going to “Gone Girl,” the adaptation of the bestselling thriller by Gillian Flynn. I hadn’t read the book (see reasons above), but I had heard enough about it to know that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea. However, I figured that since the twist had been spoiled for me by the blogosphere, I could handle the suspense.

Holy moly, was I on the edge of my seat! I made the mistake of seeing this movie in theaters at 10pm, causing me to lose a lot of sleep. Be forewarned: your mind will be reeling from replaying scenes over and over–not to mention, it will make you doubt your trust in your loved ones and go to bed with one eye open!

For those few readers unaware of this story, it follows Amy Elliott-Dunne, who has gone missing on her fifth anniversary to her husband Nick. Nick is immediately suspected for her disappearance, especially after investigators discover her diary that describes his past aggression and violent attacks toward her.

Image via E! Online

Once the public hears that Amy was pregnant and Nick had been committing adultery with one of his students, all hell breaks loose and he is branded as a wife-killer. It’s up to his legal defense and his sister Margo to help him escape imprisonment and possibly the death penalty.

What I wasn’t aware of was how early the twist is revealed. I won’t spoil anything, but once the plot develops, it becomes an exhilarating new kind of story. Between the two unreliable narrators, it’s a race to the finish on who will be the more convincing.

As a former journalist and student of media studies, what I loved most about this film was its spotlight on the importance of public perception during high-profile court cases. One only has to look at the cases of O.J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony, and even Darren Wilson to understand that how people view you is infinitely more vital than your verdict.

And the media holds all the power…

Whether you’re guilty, innocent, or awaiting judgment like Bill Cosby, your reputation is everything. Nick Dunne was fighting not only for his life, but also for his name. It’s intriguing to theorize how “Gone Girl” would have been different if Nick and Amy swapped genders or if they were people of color. Privilege is often the greatest ally you can have to protecting your perception.

If you’re looking for a movie that will keep you up at night thinking, then “Gone Girl” is for you. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are absolutely fantastic in this Oscar-worthy film directed by David Fincher (the genius behind “Fight Club” and “The Social Network”) and written by author Gillian Flynn herself; Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry are excellent at playing their parts as well.

I may not have planned to see this movie, but I’m so glad that I did!

Movie Review: The Normal Heart

Image via Wikipedia

Rating: 4 out of 5

Typically, my Sunday nights are spent engrossed by “Game of Thrones” and “Silicon Valley,” but this week HBO had other plans for me. When I heard that Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, and Jim Parsons were starring in “The Normal Heart,” I was intrigued despite its heartbreaking subject matter.

The film is based on the 1985 play by Larry Kramer, an autobiographical work chronicling Kramer’s activism in New York City during the AIDS crisis. Ruffalo plays the Kramer-esque character Ned Weeks who founds the Gay Men’s Health Crisis after several close friends become victims to what was called the “gay cancer.”

However, Ned quickly becomes embroiled in a series of fights: one with his older brother who does not accept his homosexuality, one with an apathetic society in which the government, media, and straight culture are ignoring this epidemic, and one with his own peers who fear that his aggressive, confrontational personality will jeopardize their activist efforts.

Fortunately, Ned finds support in Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts), a survivor of polio and one of the few physicians willing to study this disease. He also falls in love with NYT reporter Felix Turner (Matt Bomer), a relationship that is put to the test when Felix learns that he is infected.

Image via Instinct Magazine

By end of the story’s timeline in 1984, 7,239 cases of AIDS and 5,596 deaths were reported. Twenty years later in 2004, those numbers climbed to 940,000 cases and 529,113 deaths. The CDC reports that today over 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, and 50,000 people are newly infected every year.

Obviously, this movie is a tear-jerker. I had not seen a story surrounding the AIDS crisis since the 2003 HBO miniseries, “Angels in America.” In both, I applaud the network for detailing the disease honestly and without judgment. Nothing is sugar-coated as you watch the decline of these men suffering from sores, incontinence, and massive weight loss.

More tragic than the physical effects of AIDS is the feeling that everyone has abandoned and neglected you for simply loving the same sex. Although we know now that AIDS can infect anyone, not just gay men, much of the stigma and discrimination still remains. Jim Parsons’ character put it well at yet another friend’s funeral:

“Why are they letting us die? Why is no one helping us? And here’s the truth. Here’s the answer: they just don’t like us.”

The only silver lining to “The Normal Heart” was that it seemed slightly out-of-place given how much progress has been made regarding LGBT rights. AIDS is not the death sentence that it once was, as treatments have drastically increased lifespans. And although we still have a long way to go to combat homophobia and bigotry, it’s no longer controversial when a film about AIDS is produced.

I wrote this review because the movie has literary origins, but it’s also extremely relevant on Memorial Day. In one scene, Ned discusses why it is so important to teach gay history:

“Did you know that it was an openly gay Englishman who’s responsible for winning World War II? His name’s Alan Turing and he cracked the Germans’ Enigma code. After the war was over, he committed suicide because he was so haunted for being gay. Why don’t they teach any of that in schools? A gay man is responsible for winning World War II. If they did maybe he wouldn’t have killed himself and you wouldn’t be so terrified of who you are.”

I agree completely that Alan Turing and other LGBT historical figures deserve equal representation in education. I cannot recall my high school having this lesson in its curriculum, a travesty anywhere in America, but especially in the more tolerant state of California.

So on this day, I salute all of the men and women who sacrificed their lives to protect this country, and specifically gay members of the military who faced greater struggles and scrutiny merely because of their sexuality. Since the repeal of DADT, I hope that all personnel are respected for their service and granted equal rights.

It’s been almost 30 years since “The Normal Heart” was first performed. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take another 30 for America to finally realize that…

Movie Review: Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 2

Image via Screen Rant

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

I’m not sure what I’m more embarrassed about: that I spent my Friday night watching “Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 2,” or that it took me almost a year and a half to finally get around to watching it (see Pt. 1’s review here).

Either way, I’m glad to say that I’m finished with the series. It seems so long ago when I read the books before the movies were released and found myself on this bandwagon. While I liked the supernatural, forbidden love between Edward and Bella in the beginning, I felt that Stephenie Meyer ruined everything in Breaking Dawn.

For those who are blissfully unaware of this story, let me summarize this outrageously far-fetched, poorly designed plot:

  • 18-year-old mortal Bella Swan is celebrating her honeymoon with her vampire husband Edward Cullen, and even though vampires don’t have blood running in their veins, he somehow manages to impregnate her.
  • Bella is almost killed by her hybrid baby, who is growing at an abnormal rate, but is “saved” when Edward turns her into a vampire.

Team baby!

  • Bella falls in love with the daughter that almost destroyed her from the inside out, and names her Renesmee, because combining the names of your mother and mother-in-law is a totally normal thing to do. Nicknaming her “Nessie” is even more normal, by the way.

I know, right?

  • Bella’s other love interest, werewolf Jacob Black, imprints on Renesmee, which means that he found his soulmate in a toddler and now has to wait years before consummating anything. But don’t worry, she ages quickly!
  • The Volturi, aka the vampire mafia, hear word that a supposedly bloodthirsty immortal child has been born, and seek to annihilate it and the entire Cullen coven.
  • Things escalate into this huge battle between vampires and werewolves against the Volturi, but since Renesmee is actually only half-vampire and not immortal/dangerous after all, the Volturi discover that it was all a big misunderstanding and leave. Happily ever after ensues.

Yeah, no kidding!

Ugh, that summary was painful to write; I don’t know how Meyer could stomach the entire novel. She has a disheartening way of building up tension and then completely deflating it, whether it was ruining the highly anticipated honeymoon with a fatal pregnancy or foreshadowing an epic battle that never actually happens.

The saving grace of the film version (besides the sexy Lee Pace as Garrett!) is that Meyer changed the script slightly so that it wasn’t as downright boring. Disappointing still, but an improvement nonetheless. But young-adult fiction fans of other action-packed blockbusters like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games will fall asleep during this snoozefest.

Thank goodness for Lee Pace keeping me awake!

It’s unfortunate that authors can’t seem to find that happy medium between making the finale a bloodbath and eliminating all obstacles with little sacrifice. Because what’s frustrating about Breaking Dawn is just how easy it all seems.

Bella is blessed with powerful defensive capabilities as a vampire despite her lack of grace, intrigue, or uniqueness as a human. Like her new relatives, she becomes strikingly beautiful and strong, but without the thirst and pain of adjusting to her undead lifestyle.

It wouldn’t be that difficult for young female readers to interpret the message of this saga as “Find a prince to marry and have babies with, and all your problems will be solved! Love conquers all!”

Seriously!

And what’s more upsetting about Renesmee than her disturbing aging special effects is that she’s branded by a man since the moment of her birth. Sadly, she inherited from her mother a lack of autonomy; instead of having the opportunity of making her own decisions, she’s immediately defined by her partner.

I could go on and on about how the Twilight saga needs a hearty dose of feminism, but I’d be writing for as long as vampires live. All I’ll say is that I’m relieved that this bandwagon has finally come to an end. “Breaking Dawn, Pt. 2” was better than the book, but given how bad it was in print, the silver screen couldn’t make a significant enough improvement to warrant recommendation.

Self-explanatory

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Image via IMDB

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Oh wow, did this movie make my entire year! I think that all of us Tolkien fans have approached this trilogy with much-deserved skepticism, given that director Peter Jackson is stretching The Hobbit into three movies and padding the plot with a lot of invented material. Even as much as I love Legolas, I was worried that his cameo and the creation of Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, weren’t going to add much value to the already amazing story.

However, I am so glad that this sequel lived up to my expectations, because very seldom has a 2 hour, 40 min movie been this exhilarating! Even my friend Celia, who is not familiar with the novel, enjoyed herself.

And how could you not? Every scene, from the lighthearted barrel escape to the dramatic confrontation between Gandalf and Sauron, kept you on the edge of your seat. It’s funny that despite already knowing the fates of these characters, every danger they faced still riveted me in suspense.

Of course, the magic of Tolkien is greatly enhanced in the 3D version. It’s still mind-blowing to see how far cinematic technology has come; watching the film with its high frame rate elevated the experience by immersing the audience in Middle-earth. You’ll appreciate each release of an arrow or buzz of a bee so much more if you spend those extra couple bucks and view the film the way it was intended to be viewed.

If you’re more impressed by acting than action scenes, not to worry either. It was easy to relate to each character, because they all had very specific motivations: Thorin and the dwarves to reclaim their homeland, Thranduil to protect Mirkwood from the evils of Dol Goldur, and Bard to make up for his ancestor’s failings and save Laketown.

That’s not to say these characters are one-dimensional. Martin Freeman did an amazing job portraying Bilbo, as we got to catch a glimpse of how the One Ring is slowly corrupting his mind. This usually good-natured hobbit is beginning to succumb to the darkness which will only be destroyed on Frodo’s own adventure.

But if you’re simply nodding your head impatiently, because you only care about one particular character, let me cut to the chase: Smaug has got to be the best depiction of a dragon that I have ever seen. Dare I say, possibly the best monster on film ever.

No image online will ever do Smaug justice!

I absolutely cannot wait to watch the behind-the-scenes footage to learn more about Smaug’s creation, because holy moly was he fantastic! And I’m not just saying that because he was voiced by the charming Benedict Cumberbatch, but let’s face it, that certainly helped!

I only docked this movie a half-point because with so much going on, oftentimes I felt that scenes changed too abruptly–especially during important moments like the one between Kili and Tauriel! And of course, the biggest abrupt change is the ending: yet another frustrating cliffhanger that forces fans to wait another year for the much-anticipated conclusion.

Let me know what you thought of “The Desolation of Smaug,” and be sure to check back soon for my final book review and my summary of 2013!

Movie Review: Catching Fire

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Apologies for the delay, but I’m finally recovering after suffering a cold for the past couple days. But I’m back and ready to share my thoughts on November’s biggest film!

I may anger a lot of fans by beginning my post this way, but here it goes: I know that The Hunger Games gets compared to Twilight simply for being blockbuster series with teenage love triangles, but a part of me now understands the comparison.

Point taken, but I still went there!

Hear me out!

The similarity has mostly to do with my opinion of each story’s ending rather than anything serious, like female autonomy and benevolent sexism. It’s just that at this stage in my life, I’m watching these movies just to go through the motions because I’m dreading how it all will conclude.

Those who have been reading Book Club Babe know how much I despised Mockingjay, so it makes sense that I was only moderately excited about seeing “Catching Fire.” (If you want to see me ecstatic, join me at the “The Desolation of Smaug” premiere!)

One more week until the gratuitous inclusion of Legolas! #SorryNotSorry

But just like “Breaking Dawn” was so horrendous that I haven’t even gotten around to finishing the final film, I’m feeling lukewarm about this dystopia. To me, the genre needs a well-deserved break because this bandwagon feels two years old.

(Speaking of outdated, here’s another inflammatory opinion: “Divergent” sounds like a cheap knockoff riding the dystopian wave, and watching the trailer before “Catching Fire” only reinforced my belief that I’m so ready for something new).

That being said, I’m not here to judge a movie based on its inevitable sequel. I actually have little negative to say about “Catching Fire,” like so many other viewers.

All the actors in the film did a great job, from Jennifer Lawrence suffering nightmares as Katniss to Stanley Tucci as the sickeningly sycophantic Caesar Flickerman. I was simultaneously admiring and scorning the Capitol’s display of weath, with their flamboyant costumes and ostentatious parties.

In fact, it was interesting to watch this movie with both my parents this time, since my dad and I are the only ones in my immediate family who have read the book. My mom hadn’t even seen “The Hunger Games,” so all she knew was the quick explanation we gave her on the way to the theater.

Ever filled with kindness, my mom found it difficult to stomach the story, and I don’t blame her. The unnecessary violence and disparity in socioeconomic power is disgusting and infuriating. I can only hope that people desire the same change in our own society as they want for Panem.

They didn’t call it “panem et circenses” for nothing!

All in all, watching “Catching Fire” was timely during Thanksgiving, reminding me to grateful for all that I have. And even though this whole splitting the finale into two films is another trend that won’t die, I’m just thankful that such a disappointing ending will be recreated by an amazing cast and crew.

Now move over dystopias, and make way for the hobbits!