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

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ryan Gage, Billy Connolly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Sylvester McCoy, Stephen Fry, Manu Bennett, John Tui

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: The highest of high.


The Hobbit, as a whole, is hands down one of the most entertaining fantasy films out there, and The Battle of the Five Armies is perhaps the most entertaining piece of the trilogy. The idea that the films are bloated and stretched too thin remains somewhat incomprehensible to me. I can understand if you think the Tauriel/Kili love story is unnecessary — because it totally is — but it also allows for elves to hang around and do a bunch of slick elf stuff, so I don’t really see a problem. In any case, the richness that three films brings to this adaptation is exceptional. I can’t even imagine a one-film version, or even two films. If that was the case, so many of my favorite “unnecessary” moments would be left unseen.

This film picks up immediately after the events in Desolation of Smaug, as Smaug flies towards Laketown to burn it a new one. This is one hell of a thrilling opening, and it whets the appetite for what’s to come… basically two solid hours absolutely bursting at the seems with thrills. I can’t really think of a film quite like it. It’s nothing like either of the previous Hobbit films because the adventure the party set out on is essentially complete. The dragon has been slain, Erebor has been re-taken, what’s left but to dive headfirst into the gold like an unkempt, bearded Scrooge McDuck? Apparently a lot! The Battle of the Five Armies is also nothing like the Lord of the Rings films, so don’t expect anything with the weight of Return of the King just because this is the third film of a trilogy. The Hobbit is and always will be a lighter tale that happens before everything in Middle Earth went to hell in a handbasket, so it’s just wrong to expect it to hit the same way as Lord of the Rings.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Hobbit2_1Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Manu Bennett, Lawrence Makoare

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: The highest of high.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is both better and worse than its predecessor. While An Unexpected Journey focused on Bilbo and his character arc, The Desolation of Smaug is more about the action and the adventurous journey. Even though we find ourselves exploring previously unseen regions of Middle Earth, there isn’t the same sense of wonder draped over The Desolation of Smaug. We’re no longer just seeing this world through Bilbo’s eyes, and while this leads to some incredible set-pieces and a lot of fun, without the wonder it’s much harder to be dazzled by this film in the same way.

But like how An Unexpected Journey did not dazzle in exactly the same way as Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings films, The Desolation of Smaug is its own beast and should be allowed to flourish in its own way. And it does. Rather well, actually. This is a much darker, almost purely adventure section of the journey, which the film’s muted color palette helps to convey, but coincidentally this is also Jackson’s funniest Middle Earth film. Well… as long as you are on-board with Jackson’s dark sense of humor, where the biggest chuckles come from creative decapitations and other grisly treats. (Is this a record for decapitations in a PG-13 movie? I should think so.)

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Heavenly Creatures (1994)

heavenlycreatures_1Starring Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse, Diana Kent, Clive Merrison, Simon O’Connor, Jed Brophy, Peter Elliott, Gilbert Goldie, Geoffrey Heath

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: Moderate. The last time I saw this a few years ago I told myself that I’d seen it enough times.


Having risen to mythic status in genre cinema, Peter Jackson next turned his focus towards something a bit different: the true story of a New Zealand murder in the 1950s. Heavenly Creatures isn’t completely separate from his early genre efforts, though, as the film’s female protagonists have healthy, vivid imaginations which Jackson explores and brings to life. This makes Heavenly Creatures both an indie drama and a film that could have only come from the FX-minded Jackson. It definitely separates Heavenly Creatures from the pack, and it made Hollywood take notice. Just a few years earlier he was going gonzo with lawnmowers and an endless supply of fake blood, yet for his next film he receives an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay? Nobody saw that coming. For just about everyone but the gorehounds, Heavenly Creatures is the film that put Peter Jackson on the map, and is perhaps the most important film of his career.

In her first role, Kate Winslet plays Juliet, an English girl who’s just come to New Zealand with her parents. They regularly move around the world, so she is rich, cultured and a bit spoiled. She quickly makes friends with Pauline (Melanie Lynskey, also in her first role), a depressed loner and native New Zealander who lives a simpler life with her parents. Their family has boarders staying at their home to help pay the bills, but her parents are nice people who do what they can to care for Pauline. The girls bond over their shared love of things like opera star Mario Lanza, art, writing and their sickly childhoods. Pauline lived a fairly solitary life prior to meeting Juliet, and she revels in the joy of finding someone who shares so many common interests.

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Dead Alive (1992)

deadalive_1Dead Alive (1992)
AKA Braindead

Starring Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, Brenda Kendall, Stuart Devenie, Jed Brophy, Stephen Papps, Murray Keane, Glenis Levestam, Lewis Rowe

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: Very high. It’s been too long since I’ve seen this.


No matter how many films I review, there will always be those that I am hesitant to write about. Dead Alive is definitely one of those movies. With something as whacked-out as this, I just don’t see the point of trying to write about it. It’s meant to be experienced. So if you haven’t seen Dead Alive, and you consider yourself in any way a fan of gore or horror films, go watch it. You don’t need a review, you just need to watch it. Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to relate some of why I think the film is so amazing.

Dead Alive‘s story is pretty unique among horror movies because it’s so much more than a simple tale of a few people trapped in a location. There is definitely some of that at certain points, but never — not even once — during any of these moments will you be thinking of another film. The on-screen thrills are so powerful, visceral and literally never-ending that you won’t have time to think of anything else. But back to the story… the heart of the film is a romantic struggle. Lionel has become romantically entangled with Paquita, but his overbearing mother doesn’t approve. This pays off in ways that I guarantee not a single audience member has EVER successfully predicted, creating the pinnacle of Peter Jackson’s early work that also still stands stall as the goriest, most outrageous, FX extravaganza ever put to film. And realistically, I don’t see anything ever coming close to topping Dead Alive in that regard.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Hobbit movie poster JapanStarring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High, but guarded because of so many people’s negative or mediocre responses to it so far.


When The Hobbit was first announced as a two-film series, I balked. I said to myself, “There’s not enough there for two movies; they’re just milking it because Lord of the Rings was popular. What a shame.” Then when they announced it was going to be three movies, I thought something similar, but Jackson’s video diary about it led me to believe that despite my fears, he had something up his sleeve. And boy, did he ever! The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is everything I could have ever hoped for and much, much more. My memories that there wasn’t enough story in the novel for two movies were insane, as Jackson gives us a thrilling journey to remember based on only the first third of the book. Things that are just a few pages in the book become incredibly unforgettable sequences, perfectly adapted from the page to the cinematic medium. Where others might call this lengthening a misstep, it allows Peter Jackson the room necessary to deliver a rich, fulfilling journey that explores the material in depth, and fantasy is all about the journey. The Hobbit is definitely not for fair-weather fantasy fans, it is made by and for people looking to get lost in another world.

You probably read the book at some point during your high school career, but for those without a history, The Hobbit is the tale of Bilbo Baggins and his great adventure with a company of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf. It takes place 60 years before the events of Lord of the Rings, and the book has a much lighter tone than that later work. The film also features this difference in tone — perfectly captured, I might add — but where the novel is fairly light throughout, the film does its best to weave in lines that connect with the Lord of the Rings films, pumping up the grand action whenever it can. And by “does its best,” I mean “it’s fucking awesome.”

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