REVIEW: THE STRANGER (2020)

Hannah John-Kamen in The Stranger (2020)

Starring

Richard Armitage (Hannibal)
Siobhan Finneran (Boy A)
Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and The Wasp)
Jennifer Saunders (Minions)
Shaun Dooley (The White Queen)
Paul Kaye (Anna and The Apocalypse)
Dervla Kirwan (White Dragon)
Kadiff Kirwan (Mary Queen of Scotts)
Anthony Head (Buffy: TVS)
Stephen Rea (V For Vendetta)
Kai Alexander (Catastrophe)
Jacob Dudman (The List)
Brandon Fellows (Raised By Wolves)
Lily Loveless (Sket)
Tamica Greenaway

Hannah John-Kamen in Episode #1.1 (2020)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Aurora Burghart (October Faction)
Manoj Anand (Pennyworth)
Joey Ansah (THe Bourne Ultimatum)
India Brown (Hetty Feather)
Callie Cooke (Britannia)
Chike Chan (Everest)
Jemma Powell (Alice In Wonderland)
Ella-Rae Smith (Into The Badlands)
Chinenye Ezeudu (Sex Education)
Jade Harrison (Hollyoaks)
Misha Handley (THe Women In Black)

rewrewrwerwerewrSecrets! Everybody’s got ‘em. Sordid little lies tucked away behind incognito tabs and fake online usernames. Maybe you diddled your expenses or your mortgage application or your son’s clarinet teacher. Let’s say you robbed Peter to pay Paul, then knocked Peter over the back of the head with a golf club and fed his remains to Paul’s pig. Whatever foul canker you’ve shoved so far up inside your folds nobody could ever find it, you’d better hope that you don’t get a visit from the Stranger. The Stranger is Netflix’s new UK thriller, adapted by Danny Brocklehurst (Shameless, Exile) from the 2015 novel of the same name by crime mystery superstar Harlan Coben (The Five, Safe). It’s about a mysterious woman who goes around spilling people’s darkest secrets. She turns up, whispers a devastating truth about a loved one in your ear and then whoosh, she’s gone.TheStranger-04.04.19-1.14-3-d84d4b7Where, who, how and why are all questions the series dutifully ticks off over eight highly bingeable instalments. Be warned: this is precision-engineered viewing designed to keep you on the sofa lazily slurping up twist after twist. Every episode bar the last ends in three minutes of frenzied discovery that leave our characters tossed in a variety of perils. Watching it in one hypnotised go is more or less a contractual obligation. The Stranger’s binge-ability works greatly in its favour, because it keeps you too busy to reflect in any depth on what you’re seeing. The ‘hang on, what an enormous contrivance’ thoughts won’t arrive until you’ve rushed through the lot, and by that point, you won’t be thinking about it much at all. It’ll just leave you fed and full, like a tasty M&S carbonara.hqdefaultThe highlights are in the cast. Hannibal’s Richard Armitage is a strong lead as lawyer and family man Adam Price, while Happy Valley’s Siobhan Finneran is so capable and likeable as detective DS Johanna Griffin that if you were ever murdered, you’d want her as lead investigator in your case. The pair of them easily cushion any jolts over bumpy dialogue. The Stranger herself (gender-swapped from the book at Coben’s behest) is played by Black Mirror’s Hannah John Kamen. She wreaks havoc around the unspecified Northern town (it’s Stockport), unearthing shameful acts and confronting people with realities they don’t want to face. Some lies even come out without her involvement, as if her mere presence in the local area is a kind of laxative for difficult-to-pass truths.UntitledThose three are joined by Stephen Rea (Counterpart, The Crying Game) as a curmudgeonly former police officer whose legal battle Adam is fighting, Dervla Kirwan (Strangers, Ballykissangel) as Adam’s wife Corinne, Anthony Head (The Split, Merlin) as a local kingpin property developer, neighbour and colleague Shaun Dooley (Broadchurch, Gentleman Jack), Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) as a local café owner, and Paul Kaye (Vera, After Life). There are a dozen other characters, almost all with their own storylines and revelations on top of that lot. Underpopulated this series isn’t. Quite the opposite – it’s stuffed with character and incident. Like colourful pins on a whiteboard encircled by multiple threads, almost everybody we meet comes with a mystery to solve. Adam and Corinne’s eldest son Thomas (Jacob Dudman) and his schoolfriends are part of a parallel investigation that weaves in and out of the main story. The teen plot isn’t acted with many shades of light and dark, but it keeps things moving.Hannah-John-Kamen-nella-miniserie-The-Stranger-Credits-Netflix

It all keeps moving. The Stranger is thoroughly plotted, with carefully allotted motivations and mini-mysteries for all, even if none manage to reveal any particular human truths. A does X to B because they’re jealous of C, which makes C do X to get back at A. It’s a thriller with all the planning Post-Its in all the right places. Wherever there’s a question, there will be an answer – if you haven’t already guessed some of the more generic twists. Seasoned thriller viewers will predict many, but there’s such a high volume that another surprise will be along any minute. Its humour is another highlight. A stab of Brocklehurst’s former writing gig on Shameless comes through in some of the more comedic and unexpected elements, adding blessed brightness to a genre often mired in noir. Unnatural thriller elements like car chases and lengthy foot pursuits are softened by naturalistic humour, helped along by Kadiff Kirwan’s DC Wesley Ross (or ‘the infant’ as Johanna calls him) sight-for-sore-eyes Jennifer Saunders, and Shaun Dooley’s matey neighbour Tripp.ptWcWGKwIt’s an enjoyable and entertaining series that, while it doesn’t leave a lasting impression, also doesn’t allow any time for boredom. The transition from the US-set book – a world of lacrosse clubs, guns, domestic flights and ad execs proselytising on the American dream – is successfully done and keeps the whole thing’s feet on the ground, give or take a little tedious stoner philosophising inherited from the novel about whether secrets are cancer or whether they could even be like, maybe, good? All in all, there’s plenty to recommend it, and plenty of lesser ways to spend six and a bit hours in front of Netflix. Have at it.

REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

CAST

Chris Evans (The Losers)
Hayley Atwell (Cinderella)
Sebastian Stan (Spread)
Tommy Lee Jones (Batman Forever)
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix)
Dominic Cooper (Dracula untold)
Richard Armitage (The Hobbit)
Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)
Samuel L. Jackson (Jackie Brown)
Toby Jones (The Hunger Games)
Neal McDonough (Arrow)
Derek Luke (Glory Road)
Kenneth Choi (The Terminal)
Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones)
David Bradley (The Young Messiah)
Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who)
Amanda Righetti (Friday The 13th)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Simon Kunz (City of Ember)
Anatole Taubman (Taken)
Laura Haddock (Guardians of The Galaxy)

MV5BMTMxNDU2NDYxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzc4MjIwNQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,756_AL_In the present day, scientists in the Arctic uncover an old, frozen aircraft. In March 1942, Nazi officer Johann Schmidt and his men steal a mysterious relic called the Tesseract, which possesses untold powers, from the town of Tønsberg in German-occupied Norway.41aaA5+UHWLIn New York City, Steve Rogers is rejected for World War II military recruitment because of various health and physical problems. While attending an exhibition of future technologies with his friend, Sgt. James “Bucky” Barnes, Rogers again attempts to enlist. Overhearing Rogers’ conversation with Barnes about wanting to help in the war, Dr. Abraham Erskine allows Rogers to enlist. He is recruited into the Strategic Scientific Reserve as part of a “super-soldier” experiment under Erskine, Col. Chester Phillips, and British agent Peggy Carter. Phillips is unconvinced by Erskine’s claims that Rogers is the right person for the procedure but relents after seeing Rogers commit an act of self-sacrificing bravery. The night before the treatment, Erskine reveals to Rogers that Schmidt underwent an imperfect version of the procedure and suffered permanent side-effects.
MV5BMTQ2ODc0MjI2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODg3NTAyNw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,748_AL_Schmidt and Dr. Arnim Zola harness the energies of the Tesseract, intending to use the power to fuel Zola’s inventions, mounting an offensive that will change the world. Schmidt discovers Erskine’s location and dispatches assassin Heinz Kruger to kill him. Erskine subjects Rogers to the super-soldier treatment, injecting him with a special serum and dosing him with “vita-rays”. After Rogers emerges from the experiment taller and more muscular, an undercover Kruger kills Erskine and flees. Rogers pursues and captures Kruger, but the assassin avoids interrogation by committing suicide with a cyanide capsule. With Erskine dead and his super-soldier formula lost, U.S. Senator Brandt has Rogers tour the nation in a colorful costume as “Captain America” to promote war bonds while scientists study him and attempt to rediscover the formula. In 1943, while on tour in Italy performing for active servicemen, Rogers learns that Barnes’ unit was MIA in a battle against Schmidt’s forces. Refusing to believe that Barnes is dead, Rogers has Carter and engineer Howard Stark fly him behind enemy lines to mount a solo rescue attempt. Rogers infiltrates the fortress of Schmidt’s Nazi division Hydra, freeing Barnes and the other prisoners. Rogers confronts Schmidt, who removes a mask to reveal a red, skull-like visage that earned him the sobriquet “the Red Skull”. Schmidt escapes and Rogers returns to base with the freed soldiers.
MV5BMTY4MzgzMjEwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTgwODYzMw@@._V1.._SX1777_CR0,0,1777,755_AL_Rogers recruits Barnes, Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, Jim Morita, James Montgomery Falsworth, and Jacques Dernier to attack other known Hydra bases. Stark outfits Rogers with advanced equipment, most notably a circular shield made of vibranium, a rare, nearly indestructible metal. Rogers and his team sabotage various Hydra operations. The team later assaults a train carrying Zola. Rogers and Jones succeed in capturing Zola, but Barnes falls from the train to his assumed death.[c] Using information extracted from Zola, the final Hydra stronghold is located, and Rogers leads an attack to stop Schmidt from using weapons of mass destruction on major cities around the world. Rogers climbs aboard Schmidt’s aircraft as it takes off, and during the subsequent fight the Tesseract’s container is damaged. Schmidt physically handles the Tesseract, causing him to dissolve in a bright light. The Tesseract burns through the plane and is lost in the ocean. Seeing no way to land the plane without the risk of detonating its weapons, Rogers crashes it in the Arctic. Stark later recovers the Tesseract from the ocean floor but is unable to locate Rogers or the aircraft, presuming him dead.
MV5BMTUzODkyNDE2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzEzNTIzMw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Rogers awakens in a 1940s-style hospital room. Deducing from an anachronistic radio broadcast that something is wrong, he flees outside and finds himself in present-day Times Square, where S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury informs him that he has been “asleep” for nearly 70 years. In a post-credits scene, Fury approaches Rogers and proposes a mission with worldwide ramifications.MV5BMTUwMjc2MTgzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjg0ODI4NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1355,1000_AL_Overall, I enjoyed the immersion into the era that Captain America: The First Avenger takes you back into. The performances are capable and Johnston’s vision is convincing, and it makes for entertaining viewing.

REVIEW: THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES – EXTENDED EDITION

Starring

Martin Freeman (Black Panther)
Ian Holm (Alien)
Ian McKellen (X-Men)
Richard Armitage (Hannibal)
Luke Evans (Dracula Untold)
Orlando Bloom (Pirates of The Caribbean)
Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Manand The Wasp)
Lee Pace (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Graham McTavish (Outlander)
Ken Stott (Fortitude)
Aidan Turner (Beautiful Darkness)
Dean O’Gorman (Young Hercules)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Mark Hadlow (King Kong)
Jed Brophy (Heavenly Creatures)
Adam Brown (The Emoji Movie)
John Callen (The Rainbow Warrior)
Peter Hambleton (A Twist In The Tale)
William Kircher (Shark In The Park)
James Nesbitt (Jekyll)
Stephen Hunter (Blue World Order)
Cate Blanchett (Hanna)
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix)
Christopher Lee (Star Wars – Episode II)
Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who)
John Tui (Power Rangers SPD)
Billy Connolly (The Man Who Sued God)
Stephen Fry (V For Vendetta)
Ryan Gage (Outlaw)
Mark Mitchinson (Mortal Engines)
Sarah Peirse (Heavenly Creatures)

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)Reaching the finish line of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy is an accomplishment for both viewer and director. The film picks up seconds after The Desolation of Smaug ends: The great, fire-breathing dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) descends upon Laketown, bathing its residents in a sea of fire. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the dwarves watch in horror from Erebor, while Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) battles the dragon in Laketown, earning the respect of its people. Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) remains the captive of the Necromancer – aka Sauron (also voiced by Cumberbatch) – as Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) conspire to free him. Soon Thorin, like Smaug before him, becomes obsessed with the Lonely Mountain’s treasure, and incites a war with the elves, led by Thranduil (Lee Pace) and trailed by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Also approaching is Azog’s orc army, which threatens to overpower any one of the protagonist armies. If you’re counting armies, that’s the dwarves, elves, men from Laketown, orcs, and wild wolves, who also show up to claim the Arkenstone.Richard Armitage in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)This extended cut adds approximately twenty minutes of new footage, much of which is incorporated into the battle sequences. This version actually earned an R rating, which again proves that the MPAA is scared of its own shadow. Other than some CGI blood splatter and an over-the-top scene where Legolas decapitates a couple of orcs while hanging upside down, this is decidedly PG-13 material. The opening battle at Laketown is the film’s most exciting, as the circling, taunting Smaug remains a visually and narratively compelling character thanks to Cumberbatch and some incredible visual effects.Martin Freeman and Ken Stott in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)This extended cut does provide a few welcome character moments that improve the film. Jackson really underwhelms with the too-brief Gandalf/Sauron fight he previewed in An Unexpected Journey, but at least that is given a bit more screen time here. Better are added moments between Bilbo and Bofur (James Nesbitt) and extended scenes where Thorin contemplates whether or not to engage in battle against the elves and men. We also see the annoying Alfrid (Ryan Gage) die on screen, so there’s that to look forward to.Luke Evans, John Bell, Peggy Nesbitt, and Mary Nesbitt in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)At the end of this epic, This film stands as a decent conclusion to Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy. the film is presented here with 20 minutes of additional footage. Fans will no doubt want to own this extended edition, which offers fantastic picture and sound quality and hours upon hours of extras.

REVIEW: THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

Starring

Martin Freeman (Black Panther)
Ian Holm (Alien)
Ian McKellen (X-Men)
Richard Armitage (Hannibal)
Luke Evans (Dracula Untold)
Orlando Bloom (Pirates of The Caribbean)
Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Manand The Wasp)
Lee Pace (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Graham McTavish (Outlander)
Ken Stott (Fortitude)
Aidan Turner (Beautiful Darkness)
Dean O’Gorman (Young Hercules)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Mark Hadlow (King Kong)
Jed Brophy (Heavenly Creatures)
Adam Brown (The Emoji Movie)
John Callen (The Rainbow Warrior)
Peter Hambleton (A Twist In The Tale)
William Kircher (Shark In The Park)
James Nesbitt (Jekyll)
Stephen Hunter (Blue World Order)
Cate Blanchett (Hanna)
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix)
Christopher Lee (Star Wars – Episode II)
Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who)
John Tui (Power Rangers SPD)
Billy Connolly (The Man Who Sued God)
Stephen Fry (V For Vendetta)
Ryan Gage (Outlaw)
Mark Mitchinson (Mortal Engines)
Sarah Peirse (Heavenly Creatures)

Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)The Battle of the Five Armies proves to be an accurate title for the last entry in the series. This entry picks up directly where The Desolation of Smaug left off with the impending doom of Laketown because of the approaching dragon Smaug. The people of the Laketown struggle during their confrontation with Smaug and try to defeat the dragon. It is ultimately up to the heroic Bard (Luke Evans) to try and stop Smaug from obliterating everything in the path and save Laketown. Thranduil (Lee Pace) now seeks the sacred jewels of his people and arrives with the elves to get them back from the dwarf kingdom. The humans of Laketown seek shelter and gold so they can rebuild their town. The dwarves, having been without their home for so long, unite and fight to protect the reclaimed mountain kingdom. Increasing chaos ensues as the orcs arrive and bring with them bats bred for war and goblins. The threat of the rise of Sauron (the Necromancer) looms in the background.The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)As the story progresses, it becomes clear a war is brewing in Middle Earth between the dwarves, the elves, the orcs (under the separate commands of Azog and Bolg), and the men of Laketown (who are fighting alongside Bard). Gandalf (Ian McKellen) must try and prevent the battle that looms but is faced with escaping the grasp of the necromancer with the help of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). Upon arriving outside of the dwarf kingdom before the battle begins, Gandalf tries uniting the men, dwarves, and elves as he senses the impending war approaching with the orcs and wants the armies strengths combined so they can defeat the orcs. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) also tries to unite the divided armies of men, dwarfs, and elves. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) continue to be an aid to the dwarfs as needed and are thrust directly into the ensuing battle.Jed Brophy, John Callen, Martin Freeman, Peter Hambleton, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Dean O'Gorman, Ken Stott, Stephen Hunter, Aidan Turner, and Adam Brown in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)Dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) has become obsessed with finding the Arkenstone: the heart of the mountain. It is kept by Bilbo Baggins as he dislikes the way that power and greed has overtaken Thorin’s mind. Bilbo tries to remind Thorin of his important duties to those in need. Thorin, blinded by gold and the rage of his past, has to overcome his demons to fight as a hero once more before the war has ended. Bilbo, a true friend to Thorin, remains by his side as he faces a inner struggle to regain his sanity and to fight for what is right.Evangeline Lilly and Peggy Nesbitt in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)Following An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, The Battle of the Five Armies is easily the most action-packed of the three films. The entire film serves to act as a concluding act to the series. It concludes the story that was established in the first Hobbit film and brings additional closure to the entire six-film saga as it creates a bridge between series. With great adventure, action, and dramatic closure, The Battle of the Five Armies is another excellent experience in the cinematic land of Middle Earth. The performances are impressive across the board in this film. Martin Freeman serves as a sort of anchor to the proceedings with his lovable performance as Bilbo. Richard Armitage brings dramatic weight to the character of Thorin with his remarkable performance. As always, the great Ian McKellen makes Gandalf one of the series most beloved characters.Richard Armitage in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)Rightfully so. Evangeline Lilly does a superb job in the role of Tauriel. She brings her best to the part and makes an excellent action-hero. It’s a lot of fun to see Orlando Bloom bringing the character of Legolas back. Cate Blanchett is as good as always and Luke Evans brings something uniquely special to the film with his role as Bard. These performances mesh together remarkably well and help the film to succeed during both moments of spectacle and dramatic events occurring between the characters.

REVIEW: THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG – EXTENDED EDITION

Starring

Martin Freeman (Black Panther)
Ian McKellen (X-Men)
Richard Armitage (Hannibal)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange)
Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Manand The Wasp)
Luke Evans (Dracula Untold)
Lee Pace (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Stephen Fry (V For Vendetta)
Orlando Bloom (Pirates of The Caribbean)
Graham McTavish (Outlander)
Ken Stott (Fortitude)
Aidan Turner (Beautiful Darkness)
Dean O’Gorman (Young Hercules)
Mark Hadlow (King Kong)
Jed Brophy (Heavenly Creatures)
Adam Brown (The Emoji Movie)
John Callen (The Rainbow Warrior)
Peter Hambleton (A Twist In The Tale)
William Kircher (Shark In The Park)
James Nesbitt (Jekyll)
Stephen Hunter (Blue World Order)
Cate Blanchett (Hanna)
Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Stephen Ure (Deathgasm)
Ryan Gage (Outlaw)
Peter Vere-Jones (Xena)
Mark Mitchinson (Mortal Engines)
Ed Sheeran (Game of Thrones)

Luke Evans and John Bell in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 3D Blu-ray delivers stunning video and reference-quality audio in this exceptional Blu-ray release.We Return to Middle Earth where the dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. The 3D Extended Edition release of The Desolation of Smaug includes five BD-50 discs: two for the 3D version of the 186-minute feature film (with a break midway through the extended cut), one for the 2D version of the EE (with no breaks or disc swaps to be had), and two more discs devoted to more than ten hours of high definition bonus content. Thankfully, both the MVC-encoded 3D and AVC-encoded 2D presentations are virtually identical in quality; to each other and to their April 2014 Blu-ray counterparts.Lee Pace and Evangeline Lilly in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)Similar to the palette shift that occurs when moving from The Fellowship of the Ring to The Two Towers, The Desolation of Smaug is a much darker, bleaker film than An Unexpected Journey. The same goes for Warner’s 1080p/AVC-encoded 2D and MVC-encoded 3D video presentations. Shadows are greedier, the cloak of night more oppressive, delineation less forgiving, and crush a bit more of a nuisance than before. Even so, the two transfers are excellent examples of the benefits high definition affords; each one rich in detail, lovely to behold, and utterly faithful to Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie’s dramatic digital color grading. Skintones are perfectly saturated (or desaturated, as is typically the case), black levels are satisfying (albeit a touch muted in Mirkwood and Erebor), and contrast is spot on, with very little in the way of distractions. (The few that do arise trace back to the filmmakers and/or the FX.) Clarity is also remarkable in both 2D and 3D, with crisp edges free from aliasing and ringing, refined textures that capture every last subtlety of the film’s production design and costumes, and a pleasing veneer of grain that doesn’t hinder the image in any way.Richard Armitage, Jed Brophy, and Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)In 3D, the experience is perhaps even more stunning, with a level of depth and dimensionality reserved only for the best of the best 3D releases. The aforementioned bleakness and darkness doesn’t take a toll on the MVC-encoded 3D presentation, nor does it muddle Jackson’s imagery in any way. Orc swords pierce the screen. Forests extend into the distance. Mountains spill back to the horizon. Rivers rage as barrels race to safety. Elves leap overhead. Spiders lunge at the viewer. Drawn bows point arrows beyond the bounds of the film. The streets of Laketown snake into the city. Dwarven monoliths tower above Bilbo and the Company. And Smaug looms larger and more menacingly above the fray. Then there are the veils of cobwebs, sea of trees, canopy of leaves and butterflies, crowds of onlookers, sheets of dragon scales, oceans of gold, and columns that allow one to sense the vastness of Erebor’s halls. All of it is convincing and oh so immersive, with wide vistas boasting as much 3D oomph as the most intimate close-ups. Add to that a lack of significant aliasing, shimmering, ghosting or other issues associated with 3D and you easily have what’s already one of the finest 3D releases of the year.Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)Better still, artifacting, banding and other significant enemies of the crown are held at bay; again, both in the 2D and 3D presentations of the film. There are a few negligible instances of banding and artifacting, but nothing that takes a serious toll, and nothing that will be noticed by anyone who isn’t scanning the shadows, smoke and fog looking for something to overreact to. (A half-dozen unsightly, lower definition GoPro Camera shots pepper the barrel escape sequence, and irritate me every time I watch the film. But each one only appears for a split second and, again, should be laid at Jackson and Lesnie’s doorstep, not Warner’s.) All told, The Desolation of Smaug is gorgeous regardless of which version you choose to watch. Jackson’s rabid fans will be rewarded for their allegiance.

REVIEW: THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

Starring

Martin Freeman (Black Panther)
Ian McKellen (X-Men)
Richard Armitage (Hannibal)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange)
Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Manand The Wasp)
Luke Evans (Dracula Untold)
Lee Pace (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Stephen Fry (V For Vendetta)
Orlando Bloom (Pirates of The Caribbean)
Graham McTavish (Outlander)
Ken Stott (Fortitude)
Aidan Turner (Beautiful Darkness)
Dean O’Gorman (Young Hercules)
Mark Hadlow (King Kong)
Jed Brophy (Heavenly Creatures)
Adam Brown (The Emoji Movie)
John Callen (The Rainbow Warrior)
Peter Hambleton (A Twist In The Tale)
William Kircher (Shark In The Park)
James Nesbitt (Jekyll)
Stephen Hunter (Blue World Order)
Cate Blanchett (Hanna)
Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Stephen Ure (Deathgasm)
Ryan Gage (Outlaw)
Peter Vere-Jones (Xena)
Mark Mitchinson (Mortal Engines)
Ed Sheeran (Game of Thrones)

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)The tales are still unravelling and a lot of the characters are still telling their backstories. However, Peter Jackson and co. don’t allow this picture to go without any action. The orcs continue to follow the protagonists from one place to the next, with the intention of killing each one of them. As this danger comes upon each village, audiences are introduced to a batch of insanely entertaining action sequences. One of the most impressive happening down the rapids of a fast-moving stream.Ian McKellen in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)Even through the more subtle scenes, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has a much better sense of pacing that keeps it moving. Gandalf explores numerous environments, as he ventures the darkness of the curses that threaten the entire world. This team of writers don’t need to have constant battles in order to keep their audiences engaged. While some of the dialogue is intentionally cheesy, the majority of it holds its own fairly well. As expected, the film is humorous when it wants to be. There are a lot of gags against the stereotypes of dwarves that will surely gain some laughs from moviegoers. This works extremely well in bringing a change of tone to the picture every now and then. While the team continues to fight towards the mountain in which Smaug is underneath, they encounter a wide variety of different people and creatures. It’s all a matter of being able to tell the difference between friend and foe. Of course, a lot goes wrong along the way.Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)Despite having Smaug’s name in the title, he’s the antagonist held for the third act of the feature. This dangerous dragon makes for a meaty portion of the running time, as Bilbo attempts to sneak around the beat’s chamber without being detected. Once the group is faced with the task of fighting off the dragon, they’re forced to draw deep inside themselves in order to find the bravery and courage needed to at least put up a fight. There’s plenty of running around and fighting here, but Smaug gets quite a bit of time to speak with Bilbo before things start spinning out of control. Not only is the dragon threatening in size, appearance, and name, but is actually rather witty in his dialogue. This makes for a great final act that pulls everything together.

REVIEW: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY – EXTENDED EDITION

Starring

Martin Freeman (Black Panther)
Ian Holm (Alien)
Ian McKellen (X-Men)
Richard Armitage (Hannibal)
Cate Blanchett (Hanna)
Hugo Weaving (V For Vendetta)
Elijah Wood (Sin City)
Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who)
Andy Serkis (King Kong)
Lee Pace (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Stephen Ure (Deathgasm)
Christopher Lee (Lord of The Rings)
Barry Humphries (Finding Nemo)
Jeffrey Thomas (Hercules: TLJ)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange)
Ken Stott (Fortitude)
Graham McTavish (Outlander)
Aidan Turner (Beautiful Darkness)
Dean O’Gorman (Young Hercules)
Mark Hadlow (King Kong)
Jed Brophy (Heavenly Creatures)
Adam Brown (The Emoji Movie)
John Callen (The Rainbow Warrior)
Peter Hambleton (A Twist In The Tale)
William Kircher (Shark In The Park)
James Nesbitt (Jekyll)
Stephen Hunter (Blue World Order)
Jarred Blakiston (Power Rangers Dino Charge)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)The release of the three Lord of the Rings Extended Editions were something of a revelation a decade or so ago, particularly for J.R.R. Tolkien fans that wanted to immerse themselves even further in the cinematic landscape of Middle-earth. The nature of the LOTR novels dictated that the film adaptations would be packed to the brim with characters and locations while still excluding a wealth of material that couldn’t possibly be included in the movies, so introducing more material made for a fuller experience.John Callen, Dean O'Gorman, Stephen Hunter, and Aidan Turner in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)Peter Jackson and company have taken a similar approach with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition Blu-ray release, but the new cut of the film doesn’t feel like the definitive version that the LOTR extended cuts did. Instead, a movie that is already stretched too thin simply becomes longer, feeling like an indulgent director’s cut rather than a noteworthy superior cut.Richard Armitage in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)All of that being said, An Unexpected Journey Extended as a Blu-ray release is still a worthwhile purchase for fans of the movie or the universe. The real selling point is the continuation of the Appendices, which even pick up the numbering from the LOTR Extended Editions so that this set holds Appendices 7 and 8. Spread across two different discs, the documentary material is just as rewarding to watch as the LOTR Appendices were, spanning about nine hours of in-depth production footage and interviews. The Appendices cover all aspects of building Tolkien’s world, from returning to the original LOTR sets to casting the new characters to developing the culture of the Dwarves to the score and even the early involvement of initial director Guillermo del Toro.Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)For fans of Middle-earth or just the process of making a film, these Appendices stand as the most thorough documentation of blockbuster movie-making in recent memory. But perhaps the most engaging part of the behind-the-scenes footage is the depiction of the friendships and bonds forged in the trenches of making a movie of this stature. For such a large scale production, seeing these relationships blossom in this footage is inspiring. The only downside to the Appendices is that unless you opt for the “Play All” option from the beginning, each segment will kick you back to the main menu after it ends rather than just continuing on from where you begin.Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)The commentary track from Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens is insightful and entertaining, even if a lot of the same content is covered in the Appendices at various points. Still, their rapport was amusing enough to keep me engaged throughout the length of the movie. The other special feature included on the movie disc is the “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth” featurette that’s a holdover from the initial Blu-ray release of the movie.Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)The first Hobbit Extended Edition feels bloated as a movie, but the bountiful supplemental content and absolutely stunning audio/visual presentation