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Mike S

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Rating History

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
4 years ago via Flixster

Peter Jackson and the famous carrot are back. So is the slapstick though; fat jokes featuring Bombur and lethargic, overlong set pieces. Along with all new flaws and shortcomings that no Tolkien devotee should have to suffer. Out of the frying pan, but into the fire of poor timing, video game vibes and a seriously pissed off dragon.

Do not confuse devotee with purist, however. The Hobbit may be my all-time favorite book (and the only one I've read twice actually), but I don't get hung up on petty changes, or even more significant ones as long as it's handled in good taste. Case in point: Tauriel, a new female elf character played by "Lost's" Evangeline Lilly. Great casting choice and quite an interesting, well-rounded addition to the ensemble. Marred though, unfortunately, by a much-too-forced love triangle that adds little of worth.

There are improvements, but they're not many. The action is better and more consistent and it's nice to have Legolas kicking ass and taking names again. What's the deal with the new contact lenses though? Is there a point to that I have missed somewhere? Oh well. It was fun to finally see Mikael Persbrandt as Beorn (a big moment for us Swedes), even if his intimidating, bearded presence is just around for a couple of minutes. I suppose they're saving him for the last leg of the journey... quest... thing.

The great highlight for me was Smaug. I didn't care for the way he looked in the trailers, but the cinematic representation was a different beast altogether. Awe-inspiring, brilliantly realized and majestically voiced by the-man-you-can't-believe-isn't-a-fancy-egg-dish. O Cumberbatch, the stupendous!

A darker, less fluffy second chapter which comes closer in tone to the Lord of the Rings films, but too often feels like a repetition or remake thereof. "Darkness is upon us" this. "We shall have our vengeance" that. If the original trilogy was a person, the Hobbit flicks are like a younger, less talented sibling that desperately wants to be as impactful and admired. There's as much potential here as there are golden coins in Smaug's lair, yet two films into the trilogy it hasn't found a soul to match the beauty and depth of its predecessors. "The Desolation of Feels" would be a harsh, yet reasonably accurate title.

Two straight letdowns aside, I still felt positive about the sum of the experience. The sets and scenery look more breathtaking than ever. I saw it in 48 FPS, but didn't get the bothersome "fast-forward" sensation like I did when I saw "An Unexpected Journey". The clarity in the picture was even more astonishing this time, with an exception for the blurry haze that appeared whenever a lot was moving on screen.

A score of 4/5 is what the previous chapter received as well. On both accounts for the tremendous entertainment value; not so much the story, which I suppose was doomed from the beginning to fall short of the magic that wrapped itself around The Lord of the Rings films like the finest of silk.

The ultimate sign of my immediate relationship to this movie came when I exited the theatre and felt no desire to watch it again. Which is a little sad as I had planned to, but now altered those plans to a second viewing of "Catching Fire" instead.

I wanted to love this film, this trilogy. I wanted to cherish it for decades to come and pass it down to future grandchildren like a precious family heirloom. Now, I sense my edge-worn book will be all that they'll inherit.

Jobs (2013)
4 years ago via Flixster

The Man. The Myth. The Polo Sweater. Cult-declared Apple founder Steve Jobs was barely laid to rest before Hollywood initiated the transfer of his life to the silver screen. Sacrilege or not, he won't be turning too askew in his grave. Half a rotation possibly, but it could have been far worse. The depiction of the digital pioneer is, for the most part, serviceable and interesting.

Jobs is played by Ashton "Dude, Where's My Car?" Kutcher, which beforehand felt like a somewhat laughable choice. Something has transpired since his stoner days though. He has grown, even inhabits the role quite well, despite a strange, remarkably forced adoption of Jobs' peculiar walking style. Kutcher is moreover a striking look-a-like.

The worm in the apple is not the acting, but the shallowness in the portrayal. The film reflects many facets of its titular figure - the passion, the egomania, the dictatorial tendencies - but rather gives the impression of a list being checked off than an inspired study of a complex visionary soul. The college years are diddled away. The family subjects barely paid a thought. At the same time it wants to be moving, but achieves a mere so-so effect with its violin-playing over-sentimentality.

The upside, which makes it worthwhile, is the entertainment value in the journey. From circuit board-tinkering in the parents' garage to board meetings in fancy offices. Personally, I've never owned an Apple product. Neither iPhone or iMac. But it doesn't really matter here. Steve Jobs, the man and creative trailblazer, doesn't evoke any less fascination.

Just a shame I can't put any dots over the i's in "innovation icon".

Wreck-it Ralph
4 years ago via Flixster

Ralph suffers from an identity crisis. For 30 years he has been the villain of the arcade game known as Wreck-It Ralph. But he infers that it's not him, not his true self. Understandable, because who wants to be pigeonholed into a folder? When Fix-It Felix, the game's protagonist, bids to a 30th anniversary party, Ralph is not invited. He's ostracized, the elephant in the room, even though it's his own name that reads in the game title.

Dispirited, sitting on the pile of bricks that constitutes his home, an idea springs to his mind of how he can gain the veneration he so desperately desires. By "game-jumping" to Hero's Duty, a shoot-em-up game in the same arcade, he hopes to a win a shiny medal that is bound to be met with his colleagues' admiration. Something, however, goes disastrously wrong, letting loose a digital plague which threatens to obliterate all the games of the arcade. Unless measures are taken, it's "Game Over" for them all.

That Rich Moore is holding the joystick here doesn't surprise me at all. The director, who has previously worked on early seasons of The Simpsons and Futurama (back when they were still funny, that is) has conjured up a story that is as explosively fun as the effect of mixing Diet Coke and Mentos. The art direction, the savvy humor - it achieves impressive high scores on all levels.

Granted that I've always had a penchant for game-related adventures, but even if you haven't grown up with the likes of Street Fighter and Pac Man, it's a very touching parable about friendship and staying true to yourself. Neither too dark nor too saccharine, even if the little squirt known as Vanellope von Schweetz is about as cute and sassy as an animated girl can get.

Retro and contemporary all at once, it's a nostalgic and reference-brimming love letter to both the 8-bit icons of the past and their modern equivalents. That it also scores some major points with its stunning visuals, cements Wreck-It Ralph as not only a creation above the median, but also as the best to have happened to the animation genre since Toy Story 3.

Or as Q*bert so articulately put it: "@!#?@!".