Interview with CRISIS film’s writer/director Nicholas Jarecki

Hello all! Welcome to another interview edition featuring the award-winning writer/director of the critically acclaimed Arbitrage Nicholas Jarecki. His sophomore film CRISIS has just been released in select theaters and VOD. Check out my review of the film if you haven’t already. It stars Gary Oldman, Greg Kinnear, Evangeline Lilly, Armie Hammer, Luke Evans and Michelle Rodriguez.

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Synopsis: A drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation. An architect recovering from an oxycodone addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s disappearance. A university professor battles unexpected revelations about his employer, a pharmaceutical company bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market.

Set against the backdrop of the opioid epidemic, their stories collide in this dramatic thriller from writer/director Nicholas Jarecki.

In his acclaimed feature debut, Arbitrage (starring Richard Gere, which I gave a high rating in my review), the NYU graduate Jarecki set a suspense-thriller about love and loyalty against a backdrop of fraud and murder in the world of high finance. With Crisis, the writer-director now turns his attention to the opioid epidemic.

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I had the pleasure of chatting with Nicholas (Nick) Jarecki over Zoom to talk about his film, from the process of making CRISIS, casting, acting in his own film, and the personal crisis of Armie Hammer and how it affected his film’s release. Read on:

Q: Why did it take you so long from making Arbitrage (released in 2012) to this one? It’s almost a decade long.

A: Yeah, it was two years ago now. Because of the pandemic. We had to wait to bring it out. Yeah. I suppose, you know, making these films, these kinds of serious drama type films that ask questions, provocative questions, there isn’t as much support for that as you might expect.

But you know, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. So you’ve got to get it done. But it just requires a lot of tenacity.

Q: I learned that you had lost some people who are important to you, to this epidemic, to this opioid crisis. So is that the driving factor for you to make this, or was there any other inspiration for you to make this film?

A: Well, you know, I mean, look, you always want to make a good film that’s entertaining. First and foremost, it’s my job to entertain you. Write me your seven dollars and you want to have a good time to see something interesting, most dramatically interesting. But you know, what I would say is with this film, I had lost a friend many years ago to opioid abuse, gotten into pain pills and then went to heroin.

And we didn’t understand anything because he was such a nice, bright young man. Good family and all that. So I filed it away in the back of my mind. And then about five years ago, I think there were some reporters from the Los Angeles Times I teamed up with. And and they started to look into the role of opioid manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies in this issue.

What did they know or what didn’t they know? You know, was the product perhaps more dangerous? People had been led to believe, because now you see we’ve had this terrible epidemic in the country. You have these regular, normal people who are getting addicted in record numbers, hundreds of thousands dead. You know, they took a pain pill that was prescribed to them. But the way their body reacted, the way they developed independence, those are things I thought that was worth exploring.

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Q: The way these big pharmaceutical companies were being portrayed in the film, it’s as if there’s so much at stake in terms of profit that they even didn’t care when they’re told their product were not ready to hit market. All they cared about was the bottom line. Is that based on your research?

A: I mean, I think we wanted to look at that. You know, this film is very based on real events, real and very heavily-researched. So that is how drugs are developed and tested on mice. And, you know, it’s a fascinating world. And obviously, you know, I don’t think anyone set out to make a harmful product. So that’s not the issue here. The issue is, you know, were these pills overprescribed? Were they over-marketed? Were questions about their safety ignored? And so I wanted to put that into a thriller context, really see what Gary Oldman’s [character] eventually did, Armie Hammer’s and the rest of the great supporting cast… Michelle Rodriguez, you know, all these people. How do these drugs interact with our society? And, you know, looking at it from these different perspectives of the user, the criminal criminal smuggler, and the manufacturer inside.

Q: So it was originally called Dreamland, is that correct? And then it was re titled to to Crisis. What was the significance of that first title?

A: It was a working title. There was another film called Dreamland, so we couldn’t use that one. But, you know, we don’t want it to be confusing. But I might I just kind of like the idea that, you know, we were all sort of living in a fantasy. I think that’s a very American thing. I actually like that title, but I do love CRISIS. I think it’s very strong. And I like these one word titles like. I believe there hasn’t been a film with that same title since Cary Grant’s crime thriller in 1950.

Q: Now, in terms of timeline… how long did it take from, when you were writing the script, like, how long did it take you to work on this film, as there was a lot of research that you had to do. So how long is that process?

A: I wrote this pretty quickly. I wrote it over the course of about six months in 2017. So about a little over three and a half years ago. And then, you know, I had met Gary Oldman and I took him the script and and he liked it right away. He said, OK, let me let me come on as a producer and help you put the film together.

And then the film came together pretty quickly and took, you know, maybe six months to to get the other actors together, and then we started shooting in 2019.

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Q: And then so that was kind of that’s a good segue to talk about casting. Since you met Gary Oldman when you already finished with the script, are you one of those writers who have somebody in mind when you were writing the script? Because I feel like he’s so perfect in the role of Tyrone. So did you have someone in mind when you were writing this?

A: So I met Gary and then I was writing the script at the same time. This is kind of how this happened with Arbitrage. And so the character started to take shape a little bit in my mind. When I’m writing, it’s sort of like you only just see shapes, black, black box, you know, kind of shadow figures because you need the actors to bring it to life. So it’s kind of you know, it’s a strange process.

It’s a bit of an alchemical process, I would say. And but then, you know, once I have finished the draft and I gave it to him, then I really could see only him. And we worked together on this quite a bit, to tailor it. And I like to do that with all the actors. I like to rehearse for a few weeks, really get their perspectives on the character, get kind of deep into the research with them, go to labs, you know, with Veronica Ferres playing the [Pharma company] CEO, Armie and I also went with the undercover cop to go look at these pill mills, etc.

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Q: OK, so how did the Evangeline Lily came about? Did you you know her before making this film?

A: No, I didn’t know her. I sent her the script. I had been a fan of hers since I had watched all of Lost. I was obsessed, just like everyone else, with that show. And what I saw in her was she was an actress with a great range. She had really showed so many different sides of the persona, and I think she gives a tremendous performance in this film though she hadn’t really done dramatic work in a while.

You know, she had done she had a little part in The Hurt Locker, but she then kind of got into this Marvel world. Yeah. And I think she said that she really wanted to stretch her dramatic muscles again. She really came came hard on the film, and she went very deep into the characters, kind of method and, you know, she had to go to some very dark places to give you that performance.

Q: I didn’t even know that was you who played Stanley the DEA agent (Armie Hammer’s partner) until I looked up my IMDb. So what makes you want to be involved in front of the camera? Because I’m not sure that’s hard to be directing and acting at the same time.

A: Well, you know, it’s all you have to blame. Lenny Kravitz, the musician. Four years ago, he was making a music video in California and he wanted to cast a director, a real life director, to play a director directing him and going crazy. Yeah. So he cast me and and then we did it. And I had such a great time. People were saying to me, like, hey, you were really good.

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Jarecki as a DEA agent with Director of Photography Nicolas Bolduc

And and I thought, oh, my God, it’s like maybe that could be something fun to do. So we’re doing this film and I didn’t have anyone for that part. It’s kind of a comic relief type part. And so then somebody said like, well, how are we doing with that casting? And I said, you know what? And I thought, here’s my big moment. And, you know, I said, well, maybe I would do it. Well, there’s one less person to cast anyway, so you save some money. And then they were like, okay, great.

Q: I have to kind of bring up this elephant in the room. Surely you know about the personal crisis in regards to Armie Hammer. Did his involvement affect the reception of your film? How do you feel about the whole issue?

A: The thing is, you know, in terms of the audience, I think the film has been extremely well received. We’ve been number one rented movie in America when it was iTunes for two weeks. We opened up in 216 theaters. We were the number one independent film, the country, the number two per screen, second to Tom and Jerry. The number one film in limited release on less than a thousand screens. So audiences really sought out the film and continue to seek out the film that were opening around the world. We were doing, I think 900 theaters in the Middle East, we do a couple hundred in Australia this week, Canada. So, and audiences have rated the film very highly, we’ve had some very nice reviews, but we did take some heat from a lot of critics.

And it was, it was frustrating because I think you can look at something through lenses and you can say, okay, well, I appreciate where this is coming from. And you know, no film is perfect, it’s got its issues, whatever, but you can also really rip into something. And I think, unfortunately the timing of Armie’s personal problems, which I really know nothing about, I mean, he’s not my brother, he’s an actor that I hired to do a role and he did a great job. But you know, I think that [his involvement] may be colored some of the media. It’s frustrating, but I think, you know, all things have their moment. But I think people are starting to discover the film audiences are discovering the film and film writers are discovering the film and have been reacting more positively to the film.

That’s really the goal with this film. We just, we wanted to make an entertaining movie, uh, thrilling movie that you feel and captivate to with some great performances. And I think we did that, but then secondly, we really wanted to get this issue out to the public and get people talking about what are the responsibilities of these pharmaceutical manufacturers? How should law enforcement be done? How do we treat addicts? Do we treat addicts as the enemy, or do we treat them as our brother and sister our, you know, and understand that this is crossing all walks of life. It’s like a category five hurricane. And what we really need to do is to have some understanding, put some money towards treatment and to de-stigmatize and take away the, ‘oh, they’re bad people’ mindset.

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Q: Now, in regards to the multiple narratives. I feel like all these different three different distinct story, but yet related could be its own film. What was the biggest challenge for you to try to tell their stories in just two hours and make sure the story is coherent?

A: And it was, uh, it was a very interesting question that, I mean, I asked myself all these questions, you know, two of the stories, me, one story doesn’t mean, but in a way it does, because you understand that Gary’s up here, you know, it’s like almost like he’s fighting with the gods on Mount Olympus and whatever decisions are made in that room, in that board room or in the lab, then they come down and they touch these other lives. So for me, you know, it was, it was valid to have a metaphorical connection or an allegorical connection as opposed to ‘Oh, they’re students in his class or whatever, something that would have felt totally unrealistic.’

I liked the idea, you know, that the characters are struggling and then they can all help each other in some way. Gary helped them by the fight that he gets into, they help each other. So, certainly editorially putting all that together, a lot of time and effort went into that because you need to see, well, how do these stories inform each other, how do they touch each other? You know, how do we make a connection? That’s both for image based, story-based, you know, we move scenes around and, you know, take the script and I take some scenes and montage them and use these kinds of pre-lab dialogue. Like Robert Altman used to do or later Steven Soderbergh, they’re kind of the masters. So, some of it is trial and error, some of it is your instinct… it’s a kind of dance. And then also what is the footage and what are the actors, what are they giving you? Sometimes they can do things you don’t expect that are very beautiful.

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Gary Oldman, Luke Evans on set with Nicholas Jarecki

Q: My last question relates to the theme in your films. It seems your previous film deals with the wealthy, powerful people, and that’s also the case here both in the Pharma company and also the privileged school trying to maintain their place in society. I notice that power is kind of a running theme in your stories, so is that something that you like to explore more in your films? I was wondering maybe there is a third film that you’re doing, that its almost like a trilogy with these kind of similar theme going on.

A: Well, I think you pick up on that very well. Um, I mean, I think I’m interested in looking at, you know, there’s, there’s certain moral questions in here, right? And then there’s also like a balance of hearts. So Greg Kinnear, who’s been a friend of mine for many years, I asked him to play this role and he plays the dean of the university. And he’s obviously in conflict with Gary Oldman’s character, because he has discovered what he thinks is damaging information about this product and he wants to go public with it. But then he’s agreed not to do that. And this could really hurt the university because the pharmaceutical company provides the university endowment. So you can really see his point of view… and I said, we got to have Kinnear because he’s such a sympathetic person.

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So to see the dean in this conflicted situation, you know, I like those moral gray areas. It’s a balance of and saying, okay, are you sure you’re right about this thing? You know, maybe it’s science who knows, maybe you’re not right. Uh, you know, maybe it’s that experiment translates here on the, on the animals, but it doesn’t work for the humans. I mean, these are all complicated questions, but what you are going to do is you’re going to endanger the university and the university is serving its community of students. And it’s got tens of thousands of students that I’m looking out for. And I have responsibility to those people. So in the balance of harms, this may not be the one to do. And by the way, I don’t think you can win. And then, you know, whether or not (Gary’s character) Tyrone does win or not in the end, we have to leave for, for your viewers.

I like exploring the corrupting role that capitalism plays in the American society because it has, it’s so great and it encourages innovation and all that, but you know, when we go too far away, when we get to free market and we do whatever you want, well sometimes that encourages bad behavior, you know, safeguards. It’s like, you know, you have a runaway train, right? You’re supposed to have some circuit breakers, make sure the train doesn’t go off the tracks. And I think that’s the role of us, the public. So that’s part of why we make the film is to say, Hey, take a look at what’s going on. You know, maybe you don’t want to do anything about it, but at least you should be aware of it.


Check out the trailer:


CRISIS is now available on Video On Demand.
It’ll be released on Blu-ray and DVD in the USA on Tuesday April 20th


Thanks Nicholas Jarecki for chatting with me!

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FlixChatter Review: CRISIS (2021)

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I have to admit that though I’ve heard news about the opioid crisis, I’m not really that familiar with the subject. In fact, prior to watching this film I didn’t even know what Fentanyl was, which is apparently a powerful synthetic pain killers that’s similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It’s certainly an important subject matter, and even a timely one had our attention been completely absorbed by the Covid pandemic as this epidemic also kills people at an alarming rate.

The film features three main storylines that’s seemingly random at first, but you know they’d converge in the end. There’s Jake (Armie Hammer), an undercover DEA officer working to broker deal involving the lucrative Fentanyl between a Canadian supplier (code-named Mother) and some Armenian drug lords. This operation is a personal one for Jake as his own sister (Lily Rose-Depp) is addicted to OxyContin. Claire, an architect (Evangeline Lily) who’s a former addict tries to figure out the truth about what happened to her lost teenage son. Lastly, there’s Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman) in a David vs Goliath story battling a pharmaceutical giant Northlight when his research of their new “non-addictive” painkiller finds that the drug is even more dangerous than its predecessor.

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The multiple narratives naturally reminds you of Steven Soderbergh’s highly-acclaimed war-on-drugs drama Traffic, but I don’t think it’s fair to immediately brush this one off as this one is a pretty solid film in its own right. The opening chase sequence of a boy with a backpack full of pills in a wintry Canadian landscape is a good way to propels the story. It immediately intrigues me to find out what’s at stake for the characters we’re about to meet. Jake, Claire and Tyrone may be fighting against different types of people, but essentially they’re in the same battle, that is the war on opioids. The script is written by Nicholas Jarecki whose 2012 debut feature Arbitrage is an excellent film that also deals with power and corruption. Jarecki ups the ante here by not only adding multiple-layers to the story, but also by acting in it as Jake’s partner at the DEA.

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Out of the three narratives, I find Oldman’s scenario between the professor + big Pharma (with Luke Evans & Veronica Ferres as the faces representing the corporate giant) to be the most intriguing. Obviously the stake is high for each character, but Tyrone is fighting the big guns who puts this dangerous drugs on the market in the first place at the risk of not only his job but his reputation. Of course the university dean (Greg Kinnear) wants Tyrone to just look the other way as big Pharma is the school’s big donor. There’s a tense exchange between the two actors where Oldman yells that this is the worst medical crisis since tobacco. Some of the dialog like this one might be too on the nose, even clichéd, but the actors’ committed performances still able to make them work. I also appreciate that Jarecki don’t paint the protagonists as saints… they’re all flawed people who have made errors in the past but want to do the right thing and find the truth.

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Performance-wise, Oldman is excellent in a layered performance that allows him to be both intense and vulnerable. While he’s a well-respected professor, he’s also a husband and would-be father who fears he won’t be able to provide for his wife (Indira Varma) and family if his reputation is tarnished. His inner struggle feels believable and real and his charismatic screen presence always elevates any film. It’s interesting to see his character against drug addiction here, given the first role I remember him play is a pill-popping detective in Léon: The Professional.

I think Evangeline Lily is quite strong here despite some of the overly-melodramatic moments. I think I’d be fine with the extended scenes of her mourning her son, but it provides such a stark contrast when she suddenly becomes a vigilante. Her storyline stretches incredulity in parts, especially as she crosses paths with Jake as they suddenly have a common enemy. At the same time, the short interactions between them help ground her character.

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As for Armie Hammer, who at the time of this film’s release was undergoing a personal crisis on his own, plays a pretty run-of-the-mill cop here. Whether or not his involvement in this film impacts its reception is debatable, but it certainly seem to have taken over the discussion. Most of the commentaries on social media about this movie usually centered on his fall from grace. I think Hammer is generally a decent but not overly charismatic actor. Despite his good looks, somehow he never really lights up the screen, and that’s the case here. He’s either morose or angry for the entire film, where more capable actors could’ve added more nuance to this integral role. There are so many familiar faces in this film, Michelle Rodriguez and Kid Cudi also made a brief, but memorable appearance.

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Overall CRISIS is an engaging thriller that’s pretty easy to follow. The script might seem overstuffed with strings being pulled in several directions, but it didn’t become a tangled mess when they all converge. There are parts that are predictable that I saw a mile away, but there are still moments that surprise me as well. This one isn’t as stellar as Arbitrage but still a worthy sophomore effort from the talented writer/director. I’d be interested to see what else Jarecki will tackle next, hopefully it wouldn’t take him nearly a decade to come up with his next project.


Have you seen CRISIS? Well, what did you think?

Musings on the final Hobbit trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies

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Seems like it was ages ago since I saw the first Hobbit film. But in fact it was exactly two years ago that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released. There were – and still are – quibbles about how a 320-page book warrants a three-film adaptation, and I was actually one of those people who didn’t mind it. I LOVED the Middle-Earth universe that J.R.R. Tolkien built, and The Lord of the Rings is perhaps my favorite film trilogy ever and so in my mind it was a worthwhile journey. The second film introduced us to the best CGI-dragon ever conceived on film, and so The Desolation of Smaug was even more exciting second chapter in The Hobbit journey. I listed 10 reasons why I loved that movie, with the wine barrel sequence and of course Smaug himself being the major highlights.

For some odd reason though, the third and final film just didn’t give me as much of a rush as the first two. I mean, I saw the trailer, then the second one, but I wasn’t feverishly anticipating it. In fact I didn’t even post hardly anything about it until I finally saw it early this month at a press screening. Perhaps I’m not the only one who’s feeling meh about the final Hobbit. Per EW, though the film won the box office this weekend with $56 mil, compared to the rest of the Hobbit films, The Battle of the Five Armies didn’t fare as well: The first film in the trilogy made $84.6 million its opening weekend while the second took in $73.6 million. The studio marketing machine emphasized on the phrase “One Last Time” and how one feels about such sentiment depends on how one feels on this franchise. As for me, as much as I’ve enjoyed the excursion to Middle Earth, there and back again as it were, I was ready to bid my farewell to Bilbo & co.

There are a few things that I love about the first two films that I still like this time around, so let’s start with those…

  • I still love Martin Freeman as Bilbo, he’s just so easy to root for. He pretty much is the most selfless character in the whole Middle Earth, and he pretty much risk his neck every time he goes out of his way to prevent war. I’ve always liked his casting and not only he has a believable resemblance to Ian Holm but he has that manic energy and whimsical antics that makes him so fun to watch.TheHobbit3_Bilbo
  • The character arc of Thorin is a strong one here, and Richard Armitage shows that inner conflict convincingly. The role takes advantage of the actor’s specialty of projecting ‘dark, brooding, conflicted’ in a magnetic way. The scenes where he struggles with the dragon sickness is one of the main highlights in the film, though how he recovers from it seems too quick and too easy, and perhaps there’s more of it that’s left in the cutting room floor?
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  • The slithery Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is still awesome to behold. I’d say if there is one thing that makes it worthwhile to see The Hobbit movies in 3D glory, it’d be to see Smaug. Too bad the fire-breathing dragon didn’t quite have much screen time despite that awesome cliffhanger we saw in the second film. The action-packed sequence in Lake Town, involving Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) doing what he does best, is thrilling to watch. The special effects with Dolby Atmos sound is especially incredible in this sequence and I have to admit I wish Smaug had more screen time. But of course, he’s done his duties… that is to lead everyone to the main event: The Battles of the Five Armies.

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Now, people who have been anticipating the battle sequences, this movie certainly delivers. It’s amazing how in the book, the only reference to the battle only amounts to a sentence, but here we’ve got at least a whole hour worth of battle sequences. We’ve got the Dwarves, Laketown people, and the Elves fighting a whole bunch of Orcs and Goblins, including a whole army of the Dol Guldur Orcs that are supposedly VERY scary and powerful.

That brings me to the not-so-good things about this film:

  • You’d think that the battle would be the most exciting part of the film, I mean I was expecting something in the vein of Battle of Helms Deep in LOTR: Two Towers, which was one of the most amazing rain scenes ever filmed, but it’s not even close. Somehow I find the whole sequence to be rather boring and by the end of it, I was getting so battle fatigue I couldn’t care less who wins. It’s hard enough to keep up with the current participants as it is, we’ve got Thorin’s cousin, Dwarves of the Iron Hills, joining in. Led by Billy Connolly whose accent is so distracting it’s hard to concentrate on what the heck is going on. I have to admit that my mind wandered for most of the battle scenes. In fact, I started noticing the strange looking codpiece that Azog, the Orc chief, is wearing. Seriously, I never noticed that before but I couldn’t stop giggling once I noticed that.
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  • I think the battle would’ve held more meaning to me if I had a firm grasp just what’s really at stake here. But even those lovable dwarves in the first two films just aren’t so fun here as they’re barely even in the movie! Even the dramatic tension surrounding the Arkenstone of Thrain, that is THE single most important gem of the whole Erebor’s vast treasure, just wasn’t as compelling as I’d imagine. I get that it’s a family heirloom for generations until it’s lost to Smaug, but somewhere along the way, its significance to the people is dwarfed (pardon the pun) by the overwhelming visual spectacle and action extravaganza. What’s worse is that the two main characters, Bilbo and Gandalf, often end up in the sidelines during most of the action. I don’t know why Peter Jackson would rather give a lot of screen time to Alfrid (Ryan Gage), the conniving servant of the Laketown Master, that doesn’t serve the story much at all. He sort of became a comic relief by the end before he disappeared and never to be seen again.
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  • The unnecessary and uninvolving romance between Tauriel and Kili is once again aggravating because it’s yet additional filler on top of the already piled-up filler to make up the three films. I literally roll my eyes every time they appear on screen and the repeated farewell scenes. No offense to Evangeline Lily and Adrian Turner but really, I feel nothing for their characters and their supposed *relationship.* Meanwhile, Legolas (played by the eternally youthful Orlando Bloom) is reduced to nothing more than a Ninja Elf with his Matrix-like moves. Never mind the character inconsistencies with the follow-up movies, when the fight scene was over, some people actually applauded him in the theater.
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  • Despite all of those thrilling fight and battle sequences, I was left feeling meh and unfazed. Even when one major character perished, followed by yet another seemingly-endless farewell, I still remain emotionally-detached. I mean I cried when Boromir met his end and I still get teary-eyed thinking about that scene. Now, it’s no fault to the actors in The Hobbit as I think they all did a good job in their respective roles, but more of a problem with the script (done by no less than FOUR writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro).
  • The scenes with Gandalf, Galadriel and Saruman as they battle the evil Sauron seems disconnected with the battle of the five armies. I don’t know if it’s the choppy editing or that simply an issue that there are just too much going on. In the Lord of the Rings, it’s clear who the main enemy is, but The Hobbit trilogy overall lacks the focus that gives the quest real meaning.
  • [SPOILER WARNING]
    Towards the end, there’s all these references to The Lord of the Rings. Thranduil (Lee Pace) told Legolas to find Aragorn, even though he didn’t specifically mentioned his name, it’s obvious who he’s referring to. Now, I don’t know how old Aragorn is supposed to be during The Hobbit timeframe, but this scene just feels forced to me. Pretty much every reference to LOTR, whether it’s Bilbo playing with the ring, the appearance of the demon Sauron, feels like nothing more than nostalgia. I suppose the continuity is to be expected, but it just further proves how much The Hobbit as a franchise just won’t hold up on its own and it reinforces the fact that they don’t measure up to LOTR movies.

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In summary, the final Hobbit does have its moments and some of the action sequences are pretty entertaining. The attention to detail is amazing too, there’s really a lot to marvel in terms of visuals, and I remember ooh-aahing Thranduil’s Elven Elk with its majestic antlers. But overall, there are more bad than good here, which is pretty disappointing. I expected something more epic in terms of story, not just visual spectacle. It’s actually the shortest of all the Hobbit movies, only 144 min compared to 169 and 161 min of the previous two films, yet I checked my watch the most often whilst watching this. I’d think that even the most ardent Middle Earth fans should feel relieved that it’s finally over, if only it could’ve ended on a much higher note.

I don’t think I’ll be revisiting the Hobbit movies anytime soon, but for what it’s worth, it does make me want to rewatch my Lord of the Rings extended box-set.

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Well, what did you think of the final Hobbit movie? 

10 Favorite Things about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Much has been debated about whether or not it’s a good idea that The Hobbit gets the same trilogy treatment as The Lord of the Rings trilogy when there is only one book being adapted. Now, I actually didn’t mind it and given how much I adore the Middle Earth universe, I welcome the extended film adaptation.

My interest in these movies increased tenfold when the casting was announced. It’s chock-full of my favorite actors, with Richard Armitage topping that list, then Lee Pace, Luke Evans, the BBC Sherlock duo Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch, and of course the LOTR veteran Ian McKellen back as Gandalf. All of them did a wonderful job bringing their respective characters to life. Heck I even like Orlando Bloom as Legolas, I’m not fond of him as an actor but I can’t imagine anyone else in that role.

So here are 10 things I love about the second part of The Hobbit trilogy:

10. The livelier pace
Right of the bat, the film feels more energetic as we finally get to the quest in question. There’s a bit of a flashback scene with Thorin and Gandalf that sets everything up, and since it features my favorite Brit Richard Armitage, I certainly welcome this intro 😉

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There are half a dozen major action-packed sequences that really genuinely thrilling, so despite some slower moments, the 161-min running time still feels like a breeze. There is even more sense of urgency to get to Erebor and it definitely makes me even more eager to finally get there myself.


9. The fantastic special effects and set pieces
The technological wizardry is what you’ve come to expect from Peter Jackson movies. As I’ve posted the film production trivia a few days ago, you’ll see that it took a bazillion production workers nd extras, as well as props, prosthetics, sets etc. to bring the Tolkien universe to life. But it’s the endless imagination of PJ and his crews that really makes these films such a fun escapist experience. Ok so there are some sequences that look digitally animated but with a fantasy film like this, it certainly comes with the territory. I’ve also gotten used to seeing it in 3D High Frame Rate(48Frames/Second) and I have to say I enjoyed it even more this time around.

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I even enjoyed the Spider attack scene in the forest though the amazing details on those giant spiders did give me the heebie-jeebies! There are so much details to creating each character and creature, as well as the new settings such as Lake Town and the dwarves kingdom of Erebor that virtually transport you to Middle Earth.

8. The adventure in Lake-town
The addition of Luke Evans as Bard definitely adds more excitement to the story and there’s more adventure in store for Thorin & co. even just getting into the fictitious community of Men upon the Long Lake.

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They took a chance with Bard, not knowing if he’d betray him, so it adds to the suspense. It also features one of the funniest bits of the movie, which is a great continuation from the wine barrel escape (more on that later). There’s also some fun scene with always amusing Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-town, as well as some action packed sequence involving the Orcs and Elves. The town itself is beautiful to look at, apparently Peter Jackson and his crew built about 40 buildings on caster to make up the town.

7. The strong link to the Lord of the Rings story
Gandalf is separated from Bilbo and the Dwarf group this time around, working with his fellow wizard Radagast to get to The Dol Guldur. Inside the ruins is the creepiest sequence of all the film as Gandalf had to confront the Necromancer (once again voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

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The terrifying eye of Sauron once again makes an appearance, establishing just what is REALLY at stake beyond the quest involving the Dwarves getting their gold back from a dragon. The duel between Gandalf vs. Necromancer reminds me a bit of the scene where he fought the Balrog creature in an epic battle in which he fell down the Bridge. There’s something so sinister seeing an imprisoned Gandalf watch the Orc army marching off towards the Lonely Mountain and he can’t stop them.

6. The awesomely bad-ass Elves
I always like the elves from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but here, led by Legolas and the Woodland Elf Tauriel. She’s not in the book so I think purists might have a different opinion about her (and Legolas appearing in The Hobbit), but I quite like Evangeline Lily as the warrior Elven princess. As the head of the Elven guard, she’s definitely as bad ass as Legolas, who’s even more swift and agile with his bow and arrows. They both move at breakneck speed as they fight the Orcs, yet there’s something so graceful and elegant about their moves that are so fun to watch. There’s an interesting dynamic between Legolas and Tauriel, hinting at a romance between the two (though seems like Tauriel has more of a thing with Thorin’s nephew Kili, played by the gorgeous Aidan Turner, in this movie).

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One of my favorite scenes from the LOTR trilogy are those set in the ethereal Rivendell, now in this sequel, we’re taken to where the Wood-elves and its leader Thranduil live. I always enjoy the long shot of the lush and beautiful vista of the Elves’ dwelling place. Lee Pace‘s Thranduil has a bit more to do in this sequel, as there are memorable exchanges with Thorin as well as with his son Legolas.

5. Finally getting to Erebor
At the end of the first movie, when everyone was at the top of the large rock and saw the Lonely Mountain in the distance, I remember how I couldn’t wait for the gang to finally reach it. Well, it was so worth the wait!

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There’s something so emotional about the sequence when they finally reach that abandoned palace. It’s apparent that Bilbo and the band of Dwarfs are so weary after such a long journey, both physically and emotionally, so it’s such a huge joy to see them finally reaching their destination. Bilbo once again saves the day and we get to live vicariously through him as his REAL adventure begins as he reach the mountain of gold and jewels… and finally having to face the Dwarves’ arch nemesis!


4. Thorin! Thorin! Thorin!
It’s no surprise that I have a special fondness for Richard Armitage‘s character, but really, can you blame me? It’s one of the best casting choice in The Hobbit, a close second after Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Armitage has even more to do here (yay!) and he sure delivers with stately gravitas. Armitage didn’t sing again here, but he gets to showcase his thunderous deep voice of his in several occasions,  especially in the scene in Lake-town when he appeals to the Master and the people of the town about his quest. I also love that he gets to show his range here as an actor, obviously displaying leading-man charisma but also a certain vulnerability and even tenderness.

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There’s an emotional scene as the gang reaches Erebor, starting with indescribable joy that soon turns to grave disappointment. Thorin displays one of his rare smiles, he’s actually grinning ear to ear at the possibility of finally entering his palace once more, but within minutes we see how his high spirits quickly leaves him. It’s all on display on his expressive face as the camera zooms in on him. His humanity is palpable, here we really see Thorin as not just a leader on a mission, but a man on a very personal journey that means everything to him and the people he loves.


3. The Wine Barrel scene
There’s been many discussions of this escape sequence in many interviews and boy, it definitely lives up to the hype!! If you don’t remember anything about this film, you’d likely remember this one. The scene of getting into the barrel itself is a hoot, which was big enough to fit a couple of Dwarves (well one for the extremely obese Bombur). Once they get to the Celduin river, all hell break lose!

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It’s such a huge rush to watch this scene, no wonder filming this seems to be the most memorable for the cast involved! Not only do they have to survive being bounced around in the river, which runs from the Lonely Mountain south through the Long Lake with some fierce streams, they also have to battle the ugly and vicious Orcs (or Goblins as known in the Hobbit books). The fight scenes involving the three different races (Goblins, Elves and Dwarves) along that river are relentless and exciting, definitely one of the most exhilarating action sequences of the year.


2. Bilbo the hero
What I appreciate most about this film is that each challenges Bilbo, Thorin and the gang encounter built on their character. I think Bilbo’s character arc is even more fleshed out. He told Gandalf that he’s found his courage and though it was told as an alibi, he’s certainly not lying as he’s evolved to be a brave fighter of his own right. The way he rescued the dwarves from the giant spiders show his growing strength and deftness with the sword, but my favorite part is his scene in Erebor.

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He still has his whimsy intact, which makes me love Martin Freeman‘s casting even more. The way he moves and all his nervous gestures are part of his charms and why it’s so effortless to root for him. His zany-ness makes for pure comedic gold, even when he’s literally surrounded by gold trying to find the Arkenstone, which is like finding needle in a haystack!
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1. Smaug
The mythical dragon is everything it’s cracked up to be and more! When Bilbo inevitably wakes him up with all the ruckus, it turns out the lonely dragon is one chatty giant lizard. I guess he’s been all alone for so long with nobody to talk to that he simply can’t shut up, ahah. Benedict Cumberbatch did some motion capture on top of just providing the voice of Smaug, which gives it such a lifelike realism to the creature.

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We get to see every bit of Smaug in its glorious detail from head to toe, which is all kinds of awesome. He’s slithering about tormenting Bilbo with his enormous presence, but it’s the banter between the two that I enjoy the most. It’s dramatic as well as hilarious that I wish the Smaug sequence could’ve been longer! Nice to see the BBC Sherlock duo together again, Cumberbatch’s wit and that iconic voice certainly creates enough of a presence that it was fun to see him interact with Martin Freeman.

The final confrontation with Thorin & co. is thrilling as they’re trying to outwit and outmaneuver the sly Smaug. With Gandalf being away facing off against an even darker power of evil, Bilbo and the Dwarves are pretty much on their own. “If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together,” Thorin proclaims defiantly, and the fight in Erebor is certainly a fiery one.

I really enjoyed the Smaug sequences that when he flew away and the closing credits came on, I felt like it was a tad too soon!


Kili (Aidan Turner)
Kili (Aidan Turner)

Now, I wish I could give this film a 5/5 but there are some REALLY slow moments that I feel grounds the film to a halt. One scene in particular is the lengthy flirty banter between Tauriel and Kili. Now, as Tauriel isn’t even in the book, I can”t imagine that scene is crucial to the story. It’s also odd given that there was much talk about Tauriel & Legolas romance that we barely see. Kili gets a lot more screen time in this film, so I’m curious about his character arc in the final installment.

Overall, it’s a great follow-up of an epic journey. The ending promises that even more lives are at stake in Middle Earth with Smaug being unleashed. Boy I’m even more eager to see the final film.


 

So what do you think of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.