Sunday Short Reviews

Every Sunday, Gill delves into his archive of over 800 movie reviews and randomly selects three for your enjoyment! Here are this week’s…

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Peter Jackson’s prequel trilogy to The Lord of the Rings series failed to meet many peoples’ expectations with its first instalment The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. While I enjoyed the film as a fun little fantasy adventure, it was nowhere near the standards set by the LOTR films, but I’m thankful to report that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug comes closer. Desolation gets off to a fast start and keeps that energy up throughout the film with lots of action, thrills and humour to keep things moving. A first act action sequence involving barrels rushing down a river in the middle of a battle between elves and orcs is inspired stuff, and reminded me quite a lot of the mine cart chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. As always, the production values in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug are top notch, and Middle Earth has never felt more real on screen, especially with the help of the IMAX 3D format. The performances are mostly good, with Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, and Luke Evans as stand-outs. Lee Pace is also worth mentioning as the bitchy elf king Thranduil. Orlando Bloom is also playing a much snootier version of the Legolas we saw in Lord of the Rings. In terms of annoyances, The Desolation of Smaug feels about twenty minutes too long, and most of those minutes occur during the third act, where the action intercuts between the dwarves fighting the dragon Smaug (awesome) and Evangeline Lilly kicking ass while Aidan Turner’s dwarf Kili is sick and dying(dull). This subplot felt completely extraneous to me and took up far too much of the film. Besides that, however, I consider this a solid action fantasy, and it got me excited to see the third Hobbit movie. If you can manage it, try to view the film on its own merits instead of comparing it to Lord of the Rings. I know that’s asking the impossible, but do try.
4 out of 5

It’s a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life feels like a film cliche nowadays, but its popularity is not unfounded, as the film gives us a sweet, well-written, funny, heartfelt tale that people of all ages can enjoy – especially around Christmas. It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, a man who never puts himself first, as he grows up, falls in love, and takes over the family business. But when the business faces financial ruin, George wonders if he isn’t better off dead. He’s saved by an angel named Clarence, who shows him how terrible things would be if he never existed. It’s sort of the reverse of A Christmas Carol, where the protagonist is given a new lease on life because of divine intervention, but in this case, things are worse off without him. All of this leads up to one of the most famous endings in movie history, and while, again, it feels cliche, it still tugs at the heartstrings. Both Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed give great performances in the lead roles, playing off each other with terrific chemistry. They also manage to portray the characters’ evolution as they age in a way that is believable but also subtle. Adults will love the well-told tragedy, teenagers will enjoy the love story, and kids will like the comedy and the goofy angel at the end. It’s a movie for everybody, and a true classic.
5 out of 5

Die Hard 2: Die Harder
In my opinion, Die Hard 2 does not come close to matching the awesomeness of the first Die Hard, which may well be the greatest action movie ever made, but it still manages to be an entertaining film. John McClane is in trouble again around Christmas – this time there are terrorists at the airport, and they want to hijack a plane to save a revolutionary leader. You would think that having terrorists controlling the navigation of a whole bunch of passenger planes would feel like higher stakes than terrorists at an office Christmas party, but somehow it isn’t. Perhaps this is because the villain, played by William Sadler, isn’t given many memorable moments, as after all, half of the fun of the first Die Hard is Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber. John McClane is still his wisecracking self, but this time around he has an ally around just about every corner, with the obvious exception of Dennis Franz’s police captain (a role which I’m convinced was written for Joe Pesci). This eliminates the one-man-against-the-odds fun of the first Die Hard as well, so what we’re left with is fun for an action flick, but doesn’t inspire the same excitement as its predecessor.
3.25 out of 5

See you next Sunday for three more thrilling short reviews!

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