Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 12 Dec 2014

The subtitle of the first in Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films adapting JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit was An Unexpected Journey – a play on the opening chapter of the book. It wasn’t particularly unexpected that Jackson returned to Middle Earth, but it was, at least initially, surprising that we were to be given three films. Show the rest of this post…

Like Dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who in this film becomes maddened by greed, distributors Warner Bros simply couldn’t resist the temptation of another money-spinning three-film extravaganza. Predictably, that decision has hurt the artistic credentials of Jackson’s new epic adaptation. We are lucky, I suppose, that Jackson is comfortable enough in Tolkien’s world that the films have not failed entirely, though it is equally true that Jackson’s vision – essentially pumping up The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings proportions – has caused problems in itself. One wonders where we’d be if Guillermo del Toro had been kept on as director.

I went into The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies no longer expecting an adaptation of the book, so much as a continuation of the uneven, padded out, but generally still enjoyable trilogy which began a couple of years ago. In that respect I got precisely what I was expecting.

At two hours and 20 minutes, The Hobbit 3 is the shortest of the three by some distance, but it doesn’t begin particularly well. Smaug the dragon is reintroduced and dispatched within the opening 10 minutes, then there’s a good deal of set up for the titular battle, which involves a number of parties all interested in laying claim to the mountain, Erebor, which Thorin and Bilbo’s (Martin Freeman) party have just recaptured. While Thorin’s sense of honour dwindles in the face of his mounting greed and selfishness, armies gather outside, and there’s a bit of politicking while the various parties decide who they’d most like to violently slaughter. This stuff is fairly enjoyable, as the key players – including the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), leader of the Elves Thranduil (Lee Pace) and Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) – sort out their allegiances. Meanwhile Bilbo (Martin Freeman), increasingly a supporting character in the trilogy named after him, acts as a sort of go-between until the action kicks off.

When the battle begins, we’re reminded on occasion that Jackson can do big set pieces, and do them well, but actually the fighting is rather anodyne, perhaps because the various parties aren’t hugely well established. The battle begins to drag a little, but thankfully Jackson refocuses his film in the final half an hour to focus on individual battles, and individual outcomes. This is a gratifying and ultimately rewarding decision. Most of the best stuff in The Hobbit 3 comes at the end, which leaves a pleasant taste as the trilogy grinds to a halt with a touching nod to the Lord of the Rings films. I was reminded in these final scenes of how good Jackson can be at working character moments into action films, and pleasingly a decent amount of characters get enjoyable goodbyes.

Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo has probably been the element of Jackson’s films which most closely adheres to the book, and it’s still fun to watch him in the role, even though the films abandoned telling things from his perspective some time ago. The trilogy has simply become too big for its diminutive hero.

Generally speaking, Jackson and his two co-scriptwriters, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, do a decent job with the script (the three of them, plus occasional others, have scripted all six of Jackson’s Middle Earth epics), but there are a few moments of pretty risible dialogue in here. The scripts of this trilogy have never been as sharp or as powerful as those of the previous one, nor have the technical aspects ever risen to quite the same levels. The CGI here, while impressive in places, still lacks the beauty Jackson captured previously, and the soundtrack, while again strong, doesn’t ever reach the same heights.

So it’s pretty much more of the same, but to expect otherwise would’ve been wishful thinking. Thankfully, Jackson bows out of Middle Earth on a relative  high, and fleetingly reminds us how great he once was in this world. Three stars would’ve been four if the first hour and a half could’ve matched that rousing final act.

3/5

Pixar look at what goes on inside your mind in the first full trailer for the smart and hilarious ‘Inside Out’

Posted in Film, Previews, Trailers
By Sam Bathe on 11 Dec 2014

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The first of two eagerly-anticipated releases from Pixar in 2015, Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc and Up) and Ronnie del Carmen’s (Dug’s Special Mission) Inside Out steps insides the minds of pre-teen Riley and her two parents. Follows the young family who uprooting their Midwest life for a new start in San Francisco, though a teaser in the summer let on little about the characters of the film, here we’re introduced to the snappy and hilarious interplay between emotions inside the mind and our failed attempts to communicate with each other.

Starring Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Diane Lane, Lewis Black, Kyle MacLachlan and Phyllis Smith, Inside Out is shaping up to be another Pixar classic when it hits theatres in the States on 19th June 2015, and 24th July 2015 in the UK.

The London List Abroad: Ecuador’s Quilotoa Crater Overlook offers spectacular views over an 800-year-old volcano craterThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 10 Dec 2014

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Deep in the Ecuadorian Andes and some 12,000 feet above sea level, the Quilotoa Crater Overlook teeters over the edge of a collapsed volcano and the stunning Quilotoa Lake. The glass-fronted double platform is made from pre-weathered teak, designed to compliment and blend into its surroundings, and offers two viewpoints from either the top deck “producing an almost vertigo-like sensation” or the lower stairs, “a space for passive viewing.” A project from the Ecuadorian tourist board, the Quilotoa Crater Overlook supports the indigenous Shalalá community who run the area’s facilities and was designed by architects Javier Mera, Jorge Andrade and Daniel Moreno.

A house tuner provides clients with an odd service in Michael Tyburski’s offbeat drama ‘Palimpsest’

Posted in Film, Short Films
By Sam Bathe on 9 Dec 2014

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Starring Joel Nagle and Kathleen Wise, offbeat short Palimpsest follows a successful house tuner who provides clients with a bizarre form of therapy. Visiting houses to fine tune their living space, Michael Tyburski’s film was co-written by producer Ben Nabors and is a bizarre yet captivating short about the little quirks that make us tick. Beautifully shot by Todd Banhazl, the visual style of the film really sets the tone from the start.

A house escapes its suburban foundations and sets off on an epic journey in ‘Home Sweet Home’

Posted in Film, Short Films
By Sam Bathe on 8 Dec 2014

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The final year film for Supinfocom Arles graduates Pierre Clenet, Alejandro Diaz, Romain Mazevet and Stéphane Paccolat, Home Sweet Home follows an adventurous little house that gets up off its foundations and sets off on a grand journey into the unknown. Reminiscent of the Pixar classic, Up, Home Sweet Home is a charming and adorable short about an unexpected protagonist. Selected for numerous film festivals around the world, hopefully there’s more to come from the talented filmmakers in the future.

Kyle Reese has to fight a new fight when he’s sent back in time to save Sarah Connor in franchise reboot ‘Terminator: Genisys’

Posted in Film, Previews, Trailers
By Sam Bathe on 5 Dec 2014

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In the midst of a 2029 fight for humanity’s survival, John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to thwart SkyNet’s Terminator programme and save his mother’s life. Only the past isn’t what they had expected. After being orphaned at the hands of a Terminator when she was just nine, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) was raised and protected by another Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), as the three are left to fight a new fearsome enemy, with everything at stake.

While the plot seems a little preposterous even for a Terminator movie, given there are sequels already penciled in for 2017 and 2018 the rebooted franchise could really do with getting off to a good start. Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World, Bored To Death) as director is a match made in heaven, plus some stellar talent amongst the cast, let’s just hope another shonky performance from Schwarzenegger doesn’t bring the film to its knees. Terminator: Genisys hits theaters July 1st, 2015.

Instrmnt’s minimalistic 01 watches channel classic Braun industrial design

Posted in Products, Style
By Sam Bathe on 4 Dec 2014

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Reminiscent of early Braun industrial design, Instrmnt’s minimal 01 watches remove all unnecessary details, save for the time and date. Designed in Glasgow, the watches feature a quartz three handed Swiss Ronda 585 movement and sapphire crystal glass, while the casing is made from PVD-coated 40mm steel. The 01 Watch is available in four colourways, each with an 18mm leather strap, and is available for £160 from the Instrmnt online store: www.instrmnt.watch

Berlin-based photographer Anke Nunheim traverses the glacial lakes and lava fields of Iceland

Posted in Art, Photography, Travel
By Sam Bathe on 3 Dec 2014

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On a road trip through the stunning natural landscapes of Iceland, photographer Anke Nunheim takes in vast waterfalls, black beaches, glacial lakes and lava fields. The country’s sheer size and scale is a sight to behold. Show the rest of this post…

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Check out more of Anke’s photography on her site: www.nishini.de

Film Review: The GrandmasterFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 2 Dec 2014

So here, at last, is The Grandmaster, Wong-Kar Wai’s long-delayed, dream-like imagining of the life of Ip Man, who famously trained Bruce Lee in the martial arts. In a sense it is a martial arts film, but it’s primarily a drama dealing with that recurring Wai theme of fleeting, unfulfilled love, which formed the centre of his most widely known film to date, In the Mood For Love. Show the rest of this post…

That film, like this one, starred Tony Leung, a tremendous screen presence who has worked in practically every genre over his career, including martial arts films – notably Hero, in which he co-starred with Zhang Ziyi, who plays his love interest in this film, and Wai’s own Ashes of Time. Here he plays Ip Man, who is selected by his martial arts peers to represent southern China in a bout against the north. Later, he is forced to flee the country and begins to teach martial arts in Hong Kong.

His northern counterpart is the beautiful Gong Er (Ziyi), with whom he shares a balletic and touching fight scene roughly half way through the film – touching, because although the two actors share remarkable chemistry on screen, it’s one of the few scenes in which they actually make physical contact. It’s indicative of Wai’s approach to the martial arts element of the film that this central fight scene plays out like a lovelorn dance – somehow tender, and perhaps more instructive than a thousand words could be.

Indeed, the action scenes in the film, and there are a fair few, are notable for a number of reasons. There are some intricately constructed battles in here, but Wai only periodically allows the fighting to become his focus. His camera spends a lot of time dwelling closely on the movements of his actors – on the swishes and swoops of their clothing, on the impacts of and reactions to their moves, rather than the moves themselves. Initially it feels like his style is getting in the way of Yuen Wo Ping’s choreography, but actually the blend of sharp routines and Wai’s focused direction make for a unique and uniquely shot martial arts experience, which is precisely what I wanted when I heard Wai was returning to the genre. If you’re looking for detailed, impactful fight scenes in the manner of, say, The Raid, you won’t find them here – The Grandmaster is more interested in the beauty of the dance than the violence it contains.

The film is a period piece in as much as Wai allows it to be, but the vision of China we see here is dreamlike and focused intently on the key players in the drama. Wai’s very recognisable ‘close in’ style is present and correct here, even in the fight scenes, and that style reflects the fact that the film is more interested in its smaller scale dramas and moments than it is in the wider historical context of the period. The Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930s is given a brief moment of effective prominence, but in general the historic events are pointers in Wai’s own story. To that extent we can say that the film is not, nor does it intend to be, an exhaustive account of either the history of the region, or even of the life of its main character.

As it happens, the phrase ‘main character’ does Zhang Ziyi’s performance a disservice. She becomes almost as prominent in the story as Ip Man does, and it’s a joy to watch her and Leung in these roles. They both have moments when their steely veneers are penetrated, and both convey these beautifully. The piece de resistance is a closing discussion between the two, which aches with what might have been.

Around the halfway point, The Grandmaster shifts in tone and focus, and evolves into a passionate love story, the likes of which those who have seen Wong Kar-Wai’s films will be familiar with. Aided by his sumptuous visuals and a gorgeous, moving score, Wai has constructed another convincing portrayal of love in which his protagonists barely get close to one another, let alone make declarations of their feelings.

The narrative structure is a little shaky at times, and it perhaps inhabits too many genres to be fully su ccessful in any of them, but my goodness it’s compelling. I would happily watch Leung and Ziyi on screen for hours, and am grateful to have been given another opportunity to do so.

4/5

Tanner Goods team up with Pendleton for the stylish ‘El Malpaís’ pattern Dopp Kit

Posted in Products, Style
By Sam Bathe on 1 Dec 2014

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A collaboration for Native(X), an online art gallery representing artists within Native communities, Tanner Goods have teamed up with Pendleton Woolen Mills to produce the stylish ‘El Malpaís’ pattern Dopp Kit. Designed by Dustin Martin as a “homage to the dynamic volcanic landscape of the southwestern badlands,” the Dopp Kit is constructed from a combination of 100% virgin wool, rich Chromexcel leather and solid brass hardware. The ‘El Malpaís’ pattern is also available as a scarf, both on sale from $110 from the Tanner Goods online store: www.tannergoods.com

FAN THE FIRE is a digital magazine about lifestyle and creative culture. Launching back in 2005 as a digital publication about Sony’s PSP handheld games console, we’ve grown and evolved now covering the arts and lifestyle, architecture, design and travel.

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