[Happy 10th Birthday!] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

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Director: Garth Jennings

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, John Malkovitch

Screenplay: Douglas Adams, Karey Kirkpatrick

109 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, action and mild language.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was perhaps doomed from the start. A big-budget adaptation of the wackiest space adventure ever conceived could only accidentally succeed or admirably tank.

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Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) is fed up. His home is about to be demolished to form a hyperspace motorway, and he barely escapes thanks to a friend named Ford (Mos Def, The Italian Job, Begin Again) who might not even be human. As the two hitchhike across the galaxy alongside fellow Earthling Trillian (Zooey Deschanel, TV’s New Girl, Elf) and Galactic President-turned-fugitive Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell, Moon, Better Living Through Chemistry) in an attempt to find the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

From a script by original author Douglas Adams aided by Karey Kirkpatrick, the film has everything that made the novel great. The performances are quirky enough to serve the source material while real enough to fit the film. I love that director Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow) seamlessly blends the main story with interjecting narration from the talking Guide (voiced by Stephen Fry).

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I think the major problem that people had with this film is that if you hadn’t read the book, you didn’t know what you were getting into. The novel was considered somewhat unfilmable because of its innate sense of insanity. Many thought they would get an interesting sci-fi comedy but they hadn’t expected to see anything like the finished product, because there really is nothing like this finished product. Another example of a film being misrepresented by its marketing. Another example of a great franchise squashed far too early.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] The Imitation Game (2014)

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Director: Morten Tyldum

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong

Screenplay: Graham Moore

114 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Benedict Cumberbatch) [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Keira Knightley) [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Editing [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

Hey wait, before we begin, take a look at that MPAA rating. “Historical Smoking.” Seriously? Many of you know my thoughts on the MPAA, so this gives me a giggle. Of anger.

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I’m sure you’ve heard of Alan Turing. I have. But I didn’t know him. Not much. This is the story of a pivotal few years in Alan Turing’s life.

Mr. Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, TV’s Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness) has just hired to break a code. A code called Enigma. The only problem is, Enigma gets reset every night at midnight with a new cipher created by a machine, and people are dying every minute that it isn’t solved.

Alan has been charged to solve Enigma every day, when the odds are stacked against him. What can solve an unsolvable code?

The Imitation Game is an elaborate true-life thriller covering major pieces of the real life of Alan Turing, including his relationship with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Laggies).  The two performers (who are actually friends) have great chemistry in the roles. Fantastic supporting work from Matthew Goode (Watchmen, Belle) as Hugh Alexander, the man running the project to break Enigma, and Charles Dance (TV’s Game of Thrones, Alien 3) as Commander Denniston, the man just looking for a reason to fire Turing, who has some secrets of his own.

Cumberbatch here gives a pointed, tragic spin to Turing here, his performance is so deeply saddening, it is reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ great turn from 2013’s Captain Phillips. I love how we get bits of Alan’s life to fuel the story rather than just someone yelling at the screen “ALAN LIKES TO GO RUNNING!” When Cumberbatch shows us a man who has given everything to solving the puzzle that when the question is finally asked, “How do we thank him?” the answer is rather heartbreaking.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing with Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game.

The Black List (an annual list of the most popular unproduced screenplays) for 2011 had The Imitation Game smack dab on top and it’s hard to think of why it took so long for this film to reach the screen, but I’m happy it did. This is an engaging film for the all the action it doesn’t need to show and all the pure gold acting work given by the cast. Definitely worthy of its Best Picture nomination.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

 

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the work that Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) and his creative team has accomplished. Six films, two trilogies, and hours upon hours of extended editions have comprised the Middle-Earth Saga.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz) and the company of dwarves have just let the diabolical Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Penguins of Madagascar) loose on Lake Town. It’s up to Bard (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, Fast & Furious 6) to stop the evil dragon and reclaim their lives. Tempers soon flair up as the treasures of Erebor are up for grabs and Thorin (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm), consumed by greed, has decided not to honor the agreement made with Bard and his people. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) continues his battle against the dreaded Necromancer.

The finale to The Hobbit trilogy is a far different film from its predecessors, and with a very simple plot, revolves entirely around the Battle of the Five Armies, one of the biggest battles in Middle-Earth history. It is very similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, where the entire film revolves around the climactic ending as opposed to standing on its own. It is definitely my sixth favorite Middle-Earth film.

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Ian McKellan is a torn Gandalf here, caught between his allegiance to the Company of Dwarves and his commitment to reason and peace. McKellan continues to impress.

Evangeline Lilly (TV’s Lost, Real Steel) is great as Tauriel here, the elf who has developed feelings for the poisoned dwarf Kili. Her relationship with Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers) and his father Thranuil (Lee Pace, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire, Guardians of the Galaxy) are further delved into in this film and helps to increase her internal and external conflicts as the story progresses.

As far as the Company of Dwarves, we get more great but wholly underutilized work from Ken Stott (Shallow Grave, One Day) as Balin, the dwarf who will one day claim Moria, and James Nesbitt (Coriolanus, Match Point) as Bofur, the dwarf who, above all else, just wants his home back.

I also loved the continual references to future events and foreshadowing from The Lord of the Rings, like the cameo appearances from Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2), Ian Holm (Ratatouille, Lord of War), Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas). My only major issue was that I wanted more. Tolkien fans will know that Balin ends up in Moria with Oin, we know that Gloin has a son named Gimli, we know Saruman’s fate, but I wanted to see more in this film.

Director Jackson continues to prove he can handle action and large-scale battle sequences, the action here is incredible. His cinematography mixed with the amazingly well-put-together sequences, and Howard Shore’s deep and thunderous score.

It took me a while to really enjoy Billy Boyd’s final song, “The Last Goodbye,” but once I did, I really felt it tied together not just this film, but the trilogy and in fact the entire saga.

If you get the chance to watch Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance capture for Smaug and the Necromancer, do it. He is incredible to watch even without the CGI placed over it.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t Jackson’s best work, but it certainly is a perfectly fine finale to an epic series. I feel like the theatrical cut of the film is missing some key details, and I hope that the extended cut has the ability to expand this on the film and show us some more connective tissues.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

169 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

It took eleven years for The Hobbit to be made. I’m talking from the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring to the release of An Unexpected Journey. Difficulties with securing rights and two bankruptcies as well as shifts in director and a few actors, it seemed very unlikely that The Hobbit would ever see the light of day. Well, it took some time, but now we have not one but three Hobbit films to witness, but they certainly have a lot to live up to, so do they?

As Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Lord of War) gets prepared to disappear from his 111th birthday, he begins writing a book of his most important physical and emotional journey, which took place sixty years previously. His story involves the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) and a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm) on a quest to free Erebor, the dwarves’ home in the Lonely Mountain from the treacherous dragon Smaug. Along his journey, Bilbo will come across many perils, including trolls, rock giants, and a creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas).

You can bet your ass I was first in line for the initial Hobbit film, and I walked out supremely satisfied. There was a lot of nervousness standing in line. I mean, The Lord of the Rings was a massive tome squeezed into three films, and yet The Hobbit, shorter than any of the individual volumes was crafted into three movies. I worried about pacing, and also the nine years from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to then. So much of the film was up in the air.

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Ian McKellan worried me, as his performance, along with Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), who portrayed Saruman, completed their performances over green screen. My worry was met with joy as I found McKellan provided another powerhouse nuanced performance yet again.

Then there was Martin Freeman (TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz), newcomer to the franchise in the roll of young Bilbo, who had a lot of weight to carry. This wasn’t The Lord of the Rings, where large sections were split amongst several major characters. This was The Hobbit, and he was The Hobbit. Thankfully, given the comedy that features a lot more in the livelier of the two tales gave Freeman plenty of room to play and ultimately, he proved his dramatic chops nicely as well.

Richard Armitage’s role as Thorin was another importantly placed action, and another well-placed one. Armitage is virtually unrecognizable in the extensive dwarf makeup (for which the film was nominated for an Oscar) but still proves himself worthy of the dwarf prince.

Filling out the dwarven party are some terrific little performances for Bofur (James Nesbitt, Millions, Coriolanus) and Balin (Ken Stott, One Day, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) as well as, really, the entire party. The whole cast just fires on all cylinders here, including returning players Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2) as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) as Elrond, Elijah Wood (TV’s Wilfred, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Frodo and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

Director Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) wields the camera differently in this film, taking full advantage of his cinematography grasp with RED cameras, 3D sequences exploding off the screen, and 48 frames per second (which takes a moment to get used to, but really looks gorgeous when utilized).

I also really enjoyed the musicality of the characters here. We get some great musical moments here especially in the opening with “Misty Mountains” performed by the dwarven party. It is a beautifully realized moment to open the franchise on and becomes a truly hummable song through the entirety of the viewing.

As far as the visual effects go, I would have enjoyed a little more practical work, but with the grandeur of the franchise at this point and the physical limitations of the aging cast, I can understand, and it looks just fine.

Now for fans of The Lord of the Rings, there are certainly plenty of callbacks for characters including Gloin (Peter Hambleton) who is Gimli’s father and a member of the dwarven party. Fans will also recognize Balin’s name. It is interesting to note that many of the returning characters like Frodo, Galadriel and Saruman are not actually in The Hobbit, but they certainly help with the suturing of both massive stories into one large saga.

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I loved the first installment of The Hobbit franchise and I am so happy to see Peter Jackson behind the camera again. The film deserved to be nominated for Best Picture and it pisses me off that it was the first film in the Middle-Earth Saga to be snubbed, but such is life. We move on. Home is behind…the world ahead.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 8 – The World’s End (2013)

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Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

Screenplay: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright

109 mins. Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references.

 

I would say that a lot of people had high hopes for the concluding film of The Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy (beginning with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, sometimes called The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy) and in that way, I think people walked out of The World’s End feeling as though it didn’t stand up with its brothers in the world of hilarity. They would be wrong. The World’s End, much like its predecessors, takes warming up and multiple viewings to truly appreciate. As of today, I have enjoyed it more and more through the several times I have viewed it, and I will show you why later.

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The World’s End is the name of a pub. The final pub of a legendary pub crawl that, years ago, Gary King (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead, Mission: Impossible 5) and his friends attempted to complete. The night did not go as planned, and ever since, King has been stuck in a version of his teen years, but now, Gary is ready to give it another go, and to do that, he needs the help of his friends. All but Andy Knightley (Nick Frost, Cuban Fury, Hot Fuzz) are convinced fairly quickly that this could be a fun bit of nostalgia for the boys, but Andy has other memories of that night and the following years. As the friends begin to attempt “The Golden Mile” a second time, strange occurrences lead them to a realization. The small town of Newton Haven is being overrun by aliens.

The World’s End features Pegg’s best performance to date. When originally reading the synopsis, I was shocked to read the role reversal for Pegg and Frost, as usually Pegg would have been the hard-ass of the group and Frost would have played King. Not only does this reversal feel fresh, but Simon Pegg dials in a performance that is equal parts extremely comedic and painfully sad. Nick Frost also controls his controlling character Andy. Also in this film, we get a lot more comradery in the friendships they share with Steven Prince (Paddy Considine, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Double), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan, Sherlock Holmes, God’s Pocket). There is also solid work from Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice, Gone Girl) as Oliver’s sister and Steven’s love interest Sam. The entire cast masters their respective roles and the relationships between them are both complex and relatable. It is a story of bygone friendships, the past coming back to you, and trust, and the film becomes much more personal in that way.

Director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) handles the piece very well, offering us sweeping visuals and dazzling fight scenes (I just love the bathroom brawl). He treats this film, like his previous work in The Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy, as though they were of the genre he is parodying. The music of the film has a very 1980’s feel to it, from the songs to the score, it is an older electric mood, very befitting of the science fiction tale.

The costumes here as well are gorgeously put together, especially Gary’s, who has been wearing the same getup for over 20 years.

Now, I said I would mention some of the interesting background humor. First of all, pay close attention to the titles of the bars, as each one offers some laugh-out-loud hilarity. Notice as well, the background parking lots which contain an awfully staggering amount of the exact same vehicle (I looked it up, apparently it is a Vauxhall Ampera, an electric car, also funny). Now it is true that there isn’t as much callback in the dialogue as is fare in these films, but the callbacks are different. Wright and Pegg’s screenplay has emotional callbacks.

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The World’s End is a hard-hitting comedic gem that will gain appreciation with age, and it contains some of the finest performances of its very funny cast, including the best work from Simon Pegg yet. This film stays with you and gets better with each viewing. Start your callback with this one. Highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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