Monday, April 20, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - 2014

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" - 2014
Dir. by Peter Jackson - 2 hrs. 24 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Yeah, it's kind of lame that I'm only now getting around to seeing the third Hobbit movie in the theatre.  But sometimes things get in the way, even of things you want to see.  Besides, past the first week of release, it's pretty much the same when you see something.  Some dork on TV will have already spoiled the movie, if one of your friends haven't already.  Anyhow, I read "The Hobbit" a couple of years ago, so I knew what was going to happen.  And all things considered, you probably ought to as well, so don't get your hackles up if one or two things get talked about without a precious "spoiler" tag, okay?

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" is the final of three Hobbit movies, and as the title might suggest, is largely the huge battle at the end of the book.  Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) sets his sights on burning down Lake-town near his lair, which is one of those win/lose situations.  Yes, there is ample opportunity to roast s'mores on the smoldering ashes of what was once a town, but Smaug also receives a most-uncomfortable piercing (right in the heart!) from Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) that snuffs out Smaug's fire forever.  The rest of the movie is mostly concerned with the battle of the five armies, over the immense fortune Smaug had hoarded over the years, that the crew of dwarves, led by Thorin II Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), have taken possession of.  Because everyone loves gold.

Of the three Hobbit films, this is the one that's probably least qualified to stand on it's own as a film.  There's a lot of things that have happened over the roughly five hours of screen time that precede this installment, and some of it is compelling!  We have gotten to know some of the players who are going to populate the giant final battle, and without that, you might as well just punch in a cheat code and go around killing things in a video game.  If all you want is action, "Five Armies" doesn't even match up to the second installment, which had a bonafide must-see action sequence (the one that starts with the river escape in wine barrels).  Yes, there are armies fighting, and one-on-one battles of great importance, but none of it is particularly memorable.  Enjoyable, yes, most definitely, but nothing here ever kicks into that extra gear that truly great action sequences have.  The action is like a solid B, bordering on a B+, except that when you take into account all the resources that were used to create these adaptations, it's definitely a B.

This isn't really an "acting" movie, either.  Director Peter Jackson basically spent five hours trying to get you to care what happens to these characters, and spends these two and a half hours answering those questions one-by-one.  The only character that really gets to do anything beyond fight and grimace is Alfrid (Ryan Gage), who is delightfully cowardly, and a welcome chance to catch your breath during what would otherwise just be wall-to-wall sword swinging.  I have a hard time judging the plot here, since I have read the book recently enough that there weren't going to be any surprises.  I very much wanted to be blown away by this film, and there were moments here and there that were spectacular (the New Zealand scenery, as always, and also the War Moose thing that Thranduil (Lee Pace) rode in on - I couldn't stop staring at the giant rack of horns it wielded), but my biggest problem with the series is that it only occasionally topped what was in my head when I read the novel (and in a couple of instances, fell way, way short).

So this third installment was more about delivering what had been promised, and Peter Jackson did that.  There weren't going to be any big surprises, and I had hoped for a little more, but I can't complain about what's here.  It's a solid work, and it'll probably be a very long time before anyone else tackles the same material, so we're all just going to have to get used to the idea that these films are the definitive film versions of "The Hobbit."  I'm largely okay with that.  I could definitely imagine blowing through the trilogy again, it was that good.  If "The Battle of the Five Armies" was the least of the three, that's because it's two hours of resolution without really presenting new questions to be resolved.  But I'm a bad example - not quite a super-fan, but I'm familiar enough with the material that I can't be surprised.  These movies are probably blowing some kid's mind somewhere, and that's good enough for me.

3 / 5 - Theatre

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Nick Offerman: American Ham - 2014

"Nick Offerman: American Ham" - 2014
Dir. by Jordan Vogt-Roberts - 1 hr. 18 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

I'm never sure if it's a good idea to write up a stand-up special that I've watched.  And, since there's no oversight here (or audience, for that matter), there's not really anyone I can consult on the matter.  I think that a fair rule would be that if a stand-up special approaches movie-length (meaning, closer to 90 minutes than 60), it's fair game.  But then again, what is there really to say about one of these things?  Netflix is littered with stand-up specials, and they're all pretty much the same deal: some framing device, a stand-up concert, some giggles, and then you're done.  "Nick Offerman: American Ham" is not wildly different from that, but the minor divergences are welcome.

This special is framed as Nick Offerman's ten pieces of advice for life, which actually comes off pretty well.  I enjoy stand-up as much as anyone, but just starting from a different point than a standard "is that weird?" is so, so useful.  I never really got the impression that Offerman was a traditional "stand-up" either, but then again, what the hell is the definition of a "one-man show?"  I don't have answers for that.  What I can tell you is that Offerman is pretty much Ron Swanson (with an added occasional stoner giggle that keeps popping up), but that doesn't mean that the advice isn't considered, or useful, or funny.

There are also a couple of songs that were part of the performance, but apparently got shut down over a misunderstanding over what exactly constitutes satire legally.  Instead, there are exchanges between Offerman (in his workshop) and a lawyer (Marc Evan Jackson) that are likely way, way funnier than the actual songs in question.  I haven't yet gone to YouTube to see what I've missed out on (as winkingly suggested), but considering how funny the workshop segments are, I don't really feel like I've missed out on anything important.

Obviously, how much you enjoy "American Ham" is going to depend heavily on how much you enjoy Offerman (or Ron Swanson), but if you're down for 80 minutes of life advice from Offerman, you'll enjoy this special.  It's not Earth-shatteringly great or anything, but it's a good time when you've burned through your DVR backlog and have to rely on Netflix to tide you over because it's just too early to go to bed yet, and there aren't any games on or anything.  And maybe it's a minor thing, but after decades of combative husband/wife relationships in comedy, it's kind of (no, it's totally) heart-warming to see someone who can't hide that's he's still head-over-heels in love with his wife.  Not only is it nice to see, it's a different dynamic and lends to different jokes than the kind you might be used to.  So, a funny 80 minutes that might include something to, as he puts it, "increase the deliciousness of your life," and a funny approach to gratitude?  You might not even notice the bacon jokes!

3.5 / 5 - Streaming