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Thor Ragnarok – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ Theatrical Review

Baby Driver  

Wow, I haven’t posted anything since February?  Okay, I get it, I’m really behind in my reviews, and I did see Thor in theatres… back in probably December…  It was great!  I loved it.  There was maybe a bit too much humour to it for some, but I still loved it.

Now, there were lots of trailers, and lots of clips, I have to say that Marvel knows how to put those together.  The trailers left me wanting more and put more questions in my mind as to how things got to where they were, even though the trailer pretty much plays out the same order of events as they happen in the film.

Thor returns to Asgard with the helm/skull of Surtur, a fire demon who according to prophecy will bring about Ragnarok, the Asgardian apocalypse.  With Surtur defeated, Thor sets about finding his father Odin, who Loki hypnotized and left on Earth at the end of Thor 2: The Dark World.   At least that’s what I think happened, I can’t honestly remember, as it’s been quite a while since I saw that one.  All I know is that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) took the throne, impersonating Odin (Anthony Hopkins).  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has figured this out, and once he publicly unmasks Loki, the two brothers set off to find their father, making a side trip to the Sanctum Sanctorum where Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) sends Thor and Loki to Odin.  Nice bits of comedy here, and nice to see Doctor Strange, but the scene really just seemed like an extension of the “after the credits scene” from his own movie.  The sons of Odin meet up with Odin in Norway one last time, as he surrenders his life force and moves on, freeing his trapped first born child, Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) who breaks Thor’s hammer (as we saw in the trailers) and sends he and Loki through space via the Bifrost, where they become trapped on a planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).  Loki arrived several weeks earlier than Thor and has aligned himself with the Grandmaster, leaving  to be captured by a woman known as “Scrapper 142” (Tessa Thompson) to be thrown into the arena to fight for the Grandmaster’s amusement.  Thor’s first opponent is the reigning champion, the incredible… Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Fighting and fun, the two heroes eventually bury their differences and escape the planet with Loki and Scrapper 142, who is in fact an Asgardian Valkyrie.  Returning to Asgard to stop Hela who has killed and enslaved much of the population, Thor and his team set out to free their people, but can the Prince of Asgard win without his hammer?

Okay, that was a rather long-winded summary, and I left out a lot of key things.  The story was great fun, and it was full of great comic-book action.  It worked in a lot of great new characters from the comics, and I think it laid some very important groundwork for Avengers Infinity War, and the future of the entire MCU.  The scene after the credits leads directly to the opening scene of Infinity War (I know because I saw it the other day).

As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of humour in the film.  I personally loved it, but I can see where some fans of comic book movies might be a little put off by it.  Thor Ragnarok still had some rather serious plot points and undertones, but I think director Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows, Flight of the Conchords) balanced the humour and the darkness masterfully.  I think that is something that Marvel does better than DC does in their movies, and that can be very divisive in the comic book and comic book movie fandoms.  I like my heroes to be powerful and fun, not dark and brooding all the time, but that’s just me.  To each their own.  Check it out, it was fun.

Bottom Line: My favourite Marvel movie was the first Thor for the longest time, but then Doctor Strange came out quickly becoming my favourite, but now….Ragnarok may have put Thor back into first place again….at least until there’s a Doctor Strange 2…


Doctor Strange – ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Theatrical Review

doctor-strange-poster5.0 Stars

Thank you.  Marvel did it again, and they continue to do it right.  As Doctor Strange is my favourite comic book character (I love magic, sorcery and a good redemption storyline) I was very nervous and unsure what we were going to get when Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) joined the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  Strange is not the most popular or well known character in comicdom, what are his powers?  What does he do?  Where did he come from?  All questions that need to be answered in an origin tale, and that is what this movie was.  This was Doctor Strange at the end of his surgical life and the beginning of his life with the mystic arts, and long before he would become the Sorcerer Supreme.

The brilliant but arrogant surgeon loses the use of his hands in a car accident as he’s discussing new cases to undertake, one of which was for a paralyzed military colonel who was injured while wearing an exo-suit of armour.  To me this was an obvious reference to James Rhodes/War Machine’s injuries in Captain America Civil War and it has been hinted that the “woman with schizophrenia with an an electronic implant in her brain struck by lightning” is somehow related to the upcoming Captain Marvel movie starring Brie Larson.  At the end of the film’s credits we are reminded to not drive distractedly, and are also treated to two post credit bonus scenes.  Well, one mid credits which was more humourous and one post that was of a more serious nature.  Seeking help to repair the nerve damage to his hands, he spends his last dollar to travel to  Kathmandu, Nepal seeking out Kamar-Taj and the fabled “Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton) who leads him into the mystical world.  Strange is tutored by Kamar-Taj masters Morodo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) and together they band together to protect the world from the sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his zealots who had stolen a forbidden ritual from the Kamar-Taj library and now seek to use it to gain the power and immortality promised by the lord of the Dark Dimension, the Dread Dormammu.

The film as I said was pretty much everything I wanted it to be.  It was true to the character, and showed the change Stephen Strange made in his life.  Strange adjusts to the world, and finally accepts that everything isn’t about him.  That’s not something that a Tony Stark could do.  Stark will always think things are about him, Strange realizes it isn’t.  Stark will change the world to make it better, while Strange changes himself to make the world better.  Doctor Strange was more humorous than I expected.  When I heard that Scott Derrickson, a noted horror film director was at the helm of the film, I definitely didn’t expect much humour.  I was kind of expecting scary monsters and demons popping out from around every corner, and I’m glad that didn’t happen.  Instead we got a Cloak of Levitation that had some hints of personality and possibly consciousness?  The film balanced the humour with a tremendous amount of character, and incredible effects.  There were scenes in the film that looked just like some of the surrealistic extra-dimensional Ditko panels from the original 1960s comic pages.  Brilliantly rendered and I will say that this was a film that really used the 3D to its fullest advantage.  Most times I pass on 3D, thinking it doesn’t really add to the experience, but I am actually very glad that I saw it in 3D.  I will likely see the film again, and for budgetary reasons may opt for the 2D way, so it will be interesting to compare the experience.

As I said, Doctor Strange is not the best known character, but I enjoyed how Marvel drew in supporting characters from the comics for the true fans.  Nicodemus West is an important character in the 2007 Doctor Strange The Oath story written by Brian K. Vaughan, and there were several scenes in the film that were lifted directly from it.  There may a bit too much reliance on The Oath, but it is kind of understandable, the filmmakers did want to draw in new and old fans alike, and the book was very popular and is still readily accessible, unlike some older stories like Into Shamballa from 1986.  Rachel McAdams plays a former love interest of Stephen Strange, and fellow surgeon who is similar to the Night Nurse character, but reportedly not as Night Nurse is being played by Rosario Dawson in the Daredevil and Luke Cage TV series.  Benedict Wong as Wong showed a nice touch of comic relief at times, but also was a wonderful mentor character for Strange in addition to the Ancient One.  The Ancient One herself is an interesting discussion.  Much was made of the whitewashing of the character.  Originally the character was an Asian male, now we have a Celtic female for the Ancient One.  I really liked the interpretation and loved Tilda Swinton’s performance.  A lot less of the rumbling about this issue has been heard since the film has released, and even the actress herself said that everyone should just wait and see the film before criticizing the decision.  People were far less quick to judge the decision to cast black Chiwetel Ejiofor in the part of Mordo who was always white in the comics.  For the record, I think he did an incredible job too.  Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, and he took the role seriously.  I think he was perfect and developed a very real character, and showed the fall and the rise of a changing person as he embraced his role as Stephen Strange surgeon, the fallen Stephen Strange, the mystic student Stephen Strange, and as Doctor Strange.  I think that on the whole, Doctor Strange proves that by casting strong actors you don’t just have another comic book movie but you can elevate perception of the film have simply an excellent movie with comic book stuff added to it.

The hero of any movie is only as good as the villain, and to be truly invested in any antagonist you have to appreciate their point of view.  The best villains are the ones who don’t realize that they’re even a villain.  In Doctor Strange, you have Kaecilius has a strong point of view that he believes in.  This puts him obviously at odds with the Ancient One and her students including  Mordo who also has strong beliefs to counter those of Kaecilius.  Mads Mikkelsen was a legitimately dangerous villain, even though he turned out not to be the ultimate big bad guy.  Dormammu I thought was really well done and I learned after the film that Cumberbatch did the motion capture for Dormammu.  The thoughts behind the realization of the character were that this godlike being did not really need a true physical form, and though it wasn’t obvious that it was Cumberbatch’s face on the Dread One, you could see some similarities which lends to the idea that Strange was fighting himself.  The climax of the film to me was a believable way to defeat Dormammu.  You have to trick a cosmic godlike being, and the way the film handled it really emphasized the change in Strange, the selflessness, the sacrifice, the oath to save lives, and the willingness to think and use magic creatively unlike Mordo, which was another key point of the story.

I really loved it and I can’t wait to see it again.

Bottom Line:  There will be a sequel.  We know this from the second post credit scene, if I were Marvel, I’d name the second film Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts, and since Marvel movies seem to come in threes, I’d name the third film Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme.  Show his progress through the series of films, but that’s just me.

Marvel’s Doctor Strange: my movie anticipations

Imitation Game – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Imitation Game4.5 Stars

First, pneumonia sucks.  I went from two months of daily reviews and posts, to taking more than three weeks off, as I had a nice case of walking pneumonia that started Easter weekend, and while I have recovered, I just haven’t had the spark or energy that I needed to get my fingers typing up some reviews.  But, I’ll force myself and try to power through this one, even though it has been almost a month since I saw the film.

The Imitation Game tells the real life story of Alan Turing, the lead of the team that cracked the Nazi “Enigma Machine”, that scrambled and ciphered German communications in WWII.  Turing was a mathematical genius who was brought to Bletchley Park with other experts to break the code, but at first their methods conflicted.  The others on the team were working the cypher the old fashioned way, with pencil and paper, but their calculations that were not fast enough given that the machine’s settings were changed every day.  Turing proposed building a computing machine to do the work for them, and once they realized that there were certain constants in the German communications; such as the daily weather report followed by a “heil Hitler”; the machine did it’s job, but set forth a new batch of problems.  If the Allies started intercepting and thwarting every coded attack the Germans planned, they would know their Enigma Machine was compromised and would encode their messages another way.  They had to find a way to stop just enough attacks and sacrifice just enough lives.  Again they turned to Turing, who used statistical analysis to help decide which attacks would be stopped and which would be allowed to proceed.  Hardly easy decisions, but by doing so, they did shorten the length of the war considerably.  A war that would have gone on unforeseeably longer if the Germans discovered their code had been cracked.

That’s not the only thing about Turing though, The Imitation Game picks up just before the end of his life, just before he killed himself after being forced to take behaviour altering “treatments” after being arrested for being a homosexual.  The father of modern computing was gay at a time when it was illegal in England.  Though he hid it well and for a long time, he was found out, and was given a choice, medical treatment or prison.  After choosing the “treatment” alternative, Turing eventually killed himself.

First, I didn’t really know much about Alan Turing, I had heard of his test to prove or disprove artificial intelligence, that is to ask a series of questions to determine whether the person on the other end of the conversation is a real person or a computer programmed to act and respond like a real person.  I had heard some things about his work during WWII, and his work on breaking the Enigma Machine, but I don’t think I knew the details about his life, or the ending of it, until I saw the film.  I did hear through the news that he was gay only after he was given a posthumous royal pardon.  As for the rest of the story, I have to accept what the film has told me.  I assume it to be fairly accurate, but I’m also certain liberties have been taken in the name of entertainment.

The film was quite entertaining, and quite informative.  I am always in awe of films “based on true events” when they still manage to build in suspense.  I know who won WWII, I know the code was cracked, but I was still; quite often; on the edge of my seat as I watched this film.  For that, I have to applaud the director, and of course the lead, Benedict Cumberbatch who you must believe is at the top of his craft right now.  Every role he has taken he has poured himself into and (in my opinion) done an incredible job.  (This makes me even more anxious to see him as Marvel’s Doctor Strange next year, as Strange is my favourite comic book character!)  Keira Knightley was excellent as well as Joan Clarke, the only female member of Turing’s team.  My only complaint about the film was that I personally wanted to learn more about the machine and the way that they cracked Enigma.  I suppose that could have pushed the film more towards documentary and less biography, but I think a few lines of dialogue could have been spared to have Turing explain to one of the members of the team how their machine functioned.  Still, all in all, it was highly enjoyable.

Bottom Line:  Could the way the “Christopher” machine functioned still be classified or top secret?  Could that be why they didn’t give me that bit of exposition?

Penguins of Madagascar – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Penguins of Madagascar4.0 Stars

Keeping with my “spy movie” theme of this weekend, I watched The Penguins of Madagascar.  I had hoped to watch it with my kids, but they’ve already seen it, and wanted to watch more Doctor Who… I guess I can’t complain about that, and I watched the movie on my own.  Now, I’ve never seen any of the Madagascar movies, but I have watched the Penguins spin-off tv show.  I found it absolutely hilarious.  I can believe that these characters stole their scenes in the three films, and that popularity has earned them their television show and now their own feature film.  Funny, that is actually one of the plots brought up in the film.

Dave the Octopus (voiced by John Malkovich) is out to destroy all penguins, blaming our flightless foursome when the penguin exhibit causes him to be shipped to another zoo.  And when that zoo gets penguins too, Dave is again shipped out.  And it continues as Dave is bounced out of zoo after zoo when more and more penguin exhibits open.  The penguins are too cute, and no one wants to see an octopus, no matter what tricks he can perform.  Could this be a villain too big for the penguins?  The North Wind think so.  A well funded, highly trained, super secret spy organization comprised of Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), Eva (Annet Mahendru) and Corporal (Peter Stormare), dedicated to helping animals who can’t help themselves (like penguins); the North Wind take charge of the mission to stop Dave.  Of course this doesn’t sit well with Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights).

The story was fun, and the evil villain’s plot was “Saturday Morning Cartoon” ridiculous, but I still loved it.  There were plenty of laughs, lots of puns (“Kevin, bake on!  We’re still going to need that victory cake!“), and several good messages to the story at the end.  The whole film was really a story about the importance of family, as the movie opened with a quick “origin story” and we see the penguins “adopt” the newly hatched Private into their ranks as they set out from Antarctica for adventure.  The action is fast and funny, and we learn that everyone is a meaningful and valued member of the team.

Tom McGrath voiced Skipper and is the only voice actor to handle their character in both the movies and television series.  I’m not sure why they couldn’t have gotten the rest of the original film actors to voice Kowalski, Rico and Private for television, or to have replaced the film voices with the television actors for this outing.  I would have thought the television series would now be more popular with the children in the audience than the films, given the eighty plus episodes it has aired, and casting them in the feature film might be less confusing or more favourable for the fans.  Either way, the film was very good and a laugh a minute for me.

Bottom Line: “Never trust a Dutchman in a tulip fight and Canada is secretly training an army of sasquatch.”  — Skipper when asked to tell the North Wind everything he knows… I love this humour!


Mr. Holmes

Sherlock As many of you know, I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan.

I’ve read all of Conan Doyle’s stories, and watched a lot of Holmes movies and television shows, and there seems to be an endless supply of new material being produced.  A few years ago, I received a copy of Anthony Horowitz’ House of Silk for my birthday.  Horowitz was the first author to receive an official endorsement from the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle to write a new Sherlock Holmes novel.  He has also been chosen to write a James Bond novel by the Ian Fleming Estate.  In recent years on the small screen we have seen two modern adaptations with the BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary which sets Holmes in New York City.  With Robert Downey Jr having two films already as Holmes, it seems that the most popular detective of all time, is still climbing towards the peak of his popularity.  I’ll still say that Jeremy Brett is my favourite film Holmes, but I’ve heard excellent things about a Russian version with Vasily Livanov that ran between 1979 and 1986.  I just need to find either a Russian translator or a nicely subtitled version.

I am really enjoying most of these “additions” to the existing works and cases of Sherlock Holmes.  Some have been straight adaptations, and others gracefully add to the canon.  This year will see the release of Mr. Holmes, starring Sir Ian McKellen as the title character.  It is 1947 and an aging Sherlock Holmes returns from a journey to Japan, where, in search of a rare plant with powerful restorative qualities, he has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare.  Now, in his remote seaside farmhouse, Holmes faces the end of his days tending to his bees, with only the company of his housekeeper and her young son, Roger. Grappling with the diminishing powers of his mind, Holmes comes to rely upon the boy as he revisits the circumstances of the unsolved case that forced him into retirement, and searches for answers to the mysteries of life and love – before it’s too late.  The first clip of the film was released yesterday, and having seen it, I am looking forward to the movie even more.

One of my favourite themes in movies (or books) is that of the “returning hero”.  When things are looking bad, but all we need is our rejuvenated hero to come back on the scene to save the day.  Hopefully I get some of that out of Mr. Holmes.

I must thank Writing Suzanne for bringing this film to my attention, as I first saw mention of it on her blog (check out all her posts on Holmes here). 

Mr. Holmes is directed by Bill Condon and also stars Laura Linney, Hattie Morahan, Hiroyuki Sanada and Patrick Kennedy. It is set for release later this year.

I’m always on the lookout for neat and interesting Sherlockian things, one day I’ll cross the visit to 221B off my bucket list, and perhaps even find myself an original copy of a Strand Magazine with a classic Holmes story.  If anyone has any they want to part with, I’m rather partial to The Adventure of the Norwood Builder or Silver Blaze or The Musgrave Ritual

Sherlock vs Sherlock….(Elementary actually)


A while back the I purchased the first season of Elementary.  Elementary stars Jonny Lee Miller as a recovering addict and consulting detective named Sherlock Holmes, living in present day New York City and solving crimes alongside the NYPD with the help of his “sober companion”, former surgeon Dr. Joan Watson played by Lucy Liu.  I was quite leery about watching it, so the DVD sat idle on my shelf for several months.  I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan so I had been biding my time waiting for series three of the BBC’s Sherlock to air.  Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a “high functioning sociopath” and consulting detective named Sherlock Holmes living in present day London and solving crimes alongside Scotland Yard with the help of his friend, former army surgeon Dr. John Watson played by Martin Freeman.

I couldn’t wait any longer for Sherlock Series 3 and needed a Holmes fix so I finally decided to watch Elementary.  Of course being the fan that I am, I took great interest in the complete contrast between the two series.  I suppose the first thing I should get out of the way is that while I enjoyed both, but that I vastly prefer Sherlock.  I enjoyed Elementary, but there were just some things about it….

I suppose neither show is really that faithful to the original books, but in a way Sherlock does a better job with that.  The obvious differences arising in Elementary are that first, Watson is a woman and second they aren’t in London.  Actually a female Watson works well in their series and with Miller’s Holmes.  I haven’t seen the second season yet (which I believe is airing right now on television) but I have read a few episode summaries quickly and see that they do go back to London for a few episodes, I’ll touch on this more in a few minutes.  Sherlock references the original tales a lot, and while the stories are original they lovingly include links to the source material.  I think that picking up on these clever nods is part of the fun (did anyone else pick up on the Giant Rat of Sumatra and Sumatra Station mentions in Sherlock’s The Empty Hearse?)

As I watched Elementary, it slowly started to feel like just another cop show set in New York, with characters that just happened to be named Holmes and Watson.  The “magic” that is Sherlock Holmes was missing.  Some episodes really reminded me of Castle, as the cases were nothing really out of the ordinary and Holmes was just a consultant with the NYPD.  Cumberbatch’s Holmes is tall, clean shaven and well dressed svelte while Miller’s Holmes is covered in tattoos, and wears jeans and t-shirts, and just looked scruffier.  That is at he did at first.  Somewhere in the middle of season one, Elementary started referencing a bit more of the Holmes’ lore, even bringing in a Miss Hudson to clean Holmes and Watson’s brownstone.  Holmes started dressing up a little bit, though the character did still come off like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory at times.  Those moments made me cringe by the way.  Either this was done intentionally from the beginning showing Holmes’ progression as a recovering addict, or (and I think this more likely) the producers realized they were in danger of no longer being a Sherlock Holmes show and had to right the ship, as it were.

In Elementary, Watson begins as Holmes’ sober companion with a set contract, so we are to assume she will leave him and move on to her next client, but as she gets to know him and his work, Joan stays on with Sherlock after her contract is up to continue her training to become an investigator, so we really get to see both characters growing.  In Sherlock, Sherlock and John meet through a mutual acquaintance who suggest the two share rent and become flatmates (as was their introduction in A Study in Scarlet).  They become best friends, and we see their relationship develop much the way it did in Conan Doyle’s stories.

The best thing about Elementary is that it is American.  That means there are full seasons, so for twenty-odd weeks there are new forty-five minute episodes all the time.  Sherlock has had nine ninety minute episodes since 2010.  As great as Sherlock is, it’s nice to have Elementary to fill in the gaps.

Sherlock Series Three has finished airing in the UK, and is just making it’s way to North American airwaves….though I suppose they’re not really using airwaves these days…  The BBC does seem to take care of their fans, even though it has been an incredibly long wait between series two and three, I appreciate the time and quality they put into the little things like this mini-episode that helps bridge the gap:

Bottom Line: both shows have their own merits and you can safely watch both….
Bottom Line 2: Of course, my favourite Holmes is still Jeremy Brett….though this guy looked pretty good at Hallowe’en last year….and yes that was me.
Bottom Line 3: When Sherlock is all said and done, I’d love to see Cumberbatch and Freeman do a one-off period/historical episode.  Set them in 1890’s London, I think they’d make an amazing job of it.
Bottom Line 4: It’s nice that Cumberbatch’s Holmes wears a hat once in a while….


Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Theatrical Review 4.5/5 stars

Hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_ver15_xlg  4.5 Stars

I’m  a little out of practice, so bear with me. Last year, I went and saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in theatres.  I had watched all the previous Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films in theatres so it seems appropriate to catch The Hobbit films on the big screen as well.  An Unexpected Journey holds the distinction of being the first movie I went to the theatre alone to view.  I also watched the Desolation of Smaug alone tonight.  This probably works out for the better because no one has to put up with me if I go alone.  I like to sit all the way through the credits to catch any teasers or treats the filmmakers may decide to reward the loyal watcher with, and I realize that not everyone likes to sit through all that.  In case you’re wondering, there was nothing after the credits for Desolation of Smaug.  I was a little surprised to see how many people actually went to see the film tonight, with it being a Wednesday and with the film having been out for five weeks already.  While I did get to sit in what I thought was an “ideal” seat, I became a little disappointed that I had to share the row with a couple.  Fortunately they did sit a few seats away, but still they were a distraction.  My disappointment stemmed not out of my anti-sociability this time, but because the guy had his phone out for more than half the film texting or reading or doing whatever he was doing and the glow from his screen was really starting to bother me.  Plus he had to go to the bathroom.  Twice.  Which meant walking past me.  Four times.  Normally not a problem, but he also had a remarkable case of BO.  Ah well, c’est la vie, let’s just talk about the movie shall we?

One would think the film would pick up right where the last one finished, but instead we had a flashback to a meeting between Thorin and Gandalf a year before their quest to the Lonely Mountain.  I actually really enjoyed this scene, but it ended a little abruptly by bringing us back to the “present day” story.  I wanted to see Gandalf in a bar fight.  It probably would have been a lot like Ben Kenobi in that cantina scuffle…  Ah well, the story progressed quite well, and quite quickly but with a lot more differences between the book and the film than the previous entry had.  I did enjoy the divergences for the most part, but there were a few times that I wished they had stayed more faithful to the original story.  After hearing some people’s complaints about the differences, I think mine are actually quite minor.

I wanted to see more of Beorn, and wished they had stuck with the introduction used in the book.  The way they introduced the company to Beorn (the skin-changer) in the film was a lot more action packed than the book.  In the book it was quite a light-hearted, almost comic relief piece that I think could have still worked in the movie, and they could have kept most of the action they used.  In fact, I think it would have balanced it out nicely.  Beorn didn’t really look the way I had pictured him, but that’s a minor thing.  When Beorn was a bear, it really did look good and I can’t wait to see him in the final film at the Battle of Five Armies.  At least I certainly hope we get to see him again.  (I cheated, IMDb says Mikael Persbrandt is in There and Back Again).

I also really enjoyed the Tauriel character played by Evangeline Lily.  This is a new character created by Peter Jackson’s team for the movie.  Her inclusion served several purposes, it gave a strong female character for one (as the book really didn’t have any female characters that I can remember; though it has been a long while since I’ve read it); and she also helped with Legolas’ involvement in the story which reaffirmed the link between the films of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien universe.  Aside from the extra bits written into the film that were not present in the original works, there were several other points of divergence but for the most part they worked well and will in all likelihood sort themselves out in the third and final film.  I should mention that I am really enjoying the development that they are giving to the other members of the company (such as Kili played by Aidan Turner) that they really couldn’t do if they had stuck completely to the book or if they hadn’t split the characters up for a time.

I was forced to see the film tonight in 3D but that really didn’t bother me this time.  I was kind of let down by the 3D effects in  An Unexpected Journey, not that they weren’t good, but I didn’t really see anywhere that it made a giant difference.  This time the 3D seemed better for some reason.  Bees flew off the screen (I actually caught myself wanting to swat at one early on), rocks flew, arrows soared.  This film was visually amazing.  Even more than any of the past Jackson/Tolkien films.  Of course this time we not only had giant spiders, wargs, orcs, elves and dwarves but a dragon too.  And what a dragon.  Smaug was incredible.  His motion; his look; his emotion; were all perfection.  Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) played this incredibly.  While J.J. Abrams may have dropped the ball by keeping audiences in suspense by not telling them Cumberbatch was playing Khan in the latest Star Trek film, the suspense built by not showing Smaug in the first film paid off perfectly for Peter Jackson.

I guess the bottom line is that I really enjoyed The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, but just slightly less than I enjoyed the first film, and that these are definitely films that should be enjoyed on the big screen.  Also, after seeing the commercials for the film, I was frustrated when I thought I had been mispronouncing Smaug for all these years.  I think it was just a bad voice over job on the commercial.  Though it may not be “smog” the pronunciation of Smaug in the film was (thankfully) a lot different than the pronunciation in the commercial that I found very annoying.

And for added good measure, I saw this the other day.  I need to learn some origami…


Review of Star Trek: Into Darkness or just me ranting and raving…

Product Details4 Stars

Before the summer blockbusters came out, I compiled a list of the ones I wanted to see, that list has now evolved from a “to see” list to a “missed it” list, but now I’m crossing off number two, with the J.J. Abrams Star Trek sequel Into Darkness.  It was enjoyable enough but difficult to review without spoilers, so be warned, I’ll try to be careful, but there are a few things I need to talk about.

First, there thankfully seemed to be less lens flare than the first one.  Second, there is something about these Abrams’ Star Trek films that just doesn’t seem Star Trek to me.  Not all the time, but sometimes things slip in, and I just have to sigh a little bit.  There doesn’t seem to be the big message of exploration, discovery, acceptance and social and moral responsibilities that the Roddenberry Trek had.  They are there, but just not addressed enough to make it Star Trek enough to me…I know that some fans will grow up only knowing these newer Star Trek movies, just like there are children who will grow up thinking Jar Jar is representative of Star Wars.

I was talking to a co-worker tonight about Into Darkness, and learned that he hadn’t seen Wrath of Khan.  I don’t think you can appreciate either of these new Trek films without having seen TWOK, since both borrow so much from it.  Remember the Kobayashi Maru test in the last one?  Where do you think it came from?  TWOK.  The Into Darkness villain?  Khan, and the worst kept secret of the summer.  I do like what Abrams and company tried to do by keeping the villain’s identity a secret but in this day of blogs, Twitter, the IMDb and the antiquated print media known as magazines, this secret was spilled long ago.  It’s also spelled out in the first line on the back of the DVD box so I guess Paramount gave up on maintaining the suspense too.  Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) was revealed to be playing Khan Noonien Singh, the villain from the classic series episode Space Seed and of course Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, played both times by the legendary Ricardo Montalban.  I’ll give Abrams and his crew some more credit: they do seem to do their homework, as parts of both the TOS episode and the film were adapted for Into Darkness.

This will be the spoiler paragraph, so skip this if you don’t want to know details, or HIGHLIGHT to read what’s blanked out. Okay, I liked how things were reversed yet still mirrored TWOK, even the way the lines were swapped about worked for me.  This time Kirk is trapped in the radiation flooded compartment, not Spock.  This time Kirk “dies” but the resolution to that was so blatantly obvious.  They almost spelled it out half an hour earlier in big neon letters!  “Look what I discovered this will do to this dead tribble Jim!”  Though the way they went about it didn’t make much sense to me…. HIGHLIGHT TO SEE: They need Khan’s blood to resurrect Kirk, fine.  I’ll even accept they need him alive for the blood to work for some reason…but how about those 72 other genetic super beings frozen in the cryotubes, couldn’t they just use some of their blood?  They’re frozen so you don’t really need to chase them down….

My biggest complaints about the new Star Treks are that they don’t really seem to use the “trinity” that existed in the original Star Trek properly.  There was very little Kirk-Spock-McCoy, which made up the core of The Original Series; Spock being the mind, McCoy the heart and Kirk the balance.  Now, Kirk is not yet a balancing factor and McCoy has been replaced by Uhura, which I suppose is a big step up from answering the phone on TOS, but for an old fan like me, it’s just not the same….  I’m still a little unclear why Spock needs a love interest, but as she has this role, Uhura does fit nicely as the new “heart” of the franchise.  I would have liked to have seen more of Karl Urban, seeing his McCoy truly acting as the heart would have been very satisfying.  After his excellent performance in Dredd 3D I wanted to see more of his acting range.  They seem to have made Scotty a bit too much of a comic relief character, perhaps because they Simon Pegg.  I suppose if you’ve got a fairly well known comic actor, you might as well use him for the comedic parts, but they can’t forget Scotty’s “genius” just for the sake of humour.  I suppose these changes also come from having a primary crew of seven (or eight) characters and casting “name” actors for each.  You have to make sure that every actor gets their screen time, but too many cooks spoil the broth.  I’ve got to say that I have really enjoyed all the casting decisions for the rebooted Treks, and hope that if they continue, Alice Eve returns as Dr. Carol Marcus.  After each scene, I wanted to see more of both the character and the actress.

My bottom line on Star Trek: Into Darkness is that it was fun, the action was good, but the sci-fi or Star Trek elements were a little down played for my liking.  I would have to say this was a must see for Star Trek fans, though maybe not Star Trek enough for die hard purists.  If you’re a newer fan, you definitely need to watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, though I’m not sure if you would benefit more by seeing it before or after Into Darkness.  I know that after watching it I wanted to pop TWOK in right away but think I’ll save that for the weekend, and watch it with my kids, who have never seen it, but did see Into Darkness before I did.

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