Pilgrim's Watch: movie reviews

Reviewing What I Watch.


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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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When I look back to my earliest memories of browsing through the school library, looking for books to devour, The Hobbit leaps to mind as one of the very first that completely captured my imagination and forever solidified itself as one of my all-time favourite novels and the reason for my continued love for the fantasy genre. And so to see this on the big screen was like having all my childhood memories come to life. I guess I mention all this to give something of a ‘heads-up’ that there may be a haze of nostalgia surrounding my view on the film, but as always I will endeavour to be fair in my review.

So for those who are asking ‘what’s a Hobbit?’, here’s a quick overview: ‘The Hobbit’ is J.R.R. Tolkien’s first work of fiction and was an instant hit, becoming something of a standard by which fantasy writing would forever be influenced by. It is based 70 years prior to the events of the later written book, which you may have heard of, called ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ (LotR). The Hobbit was always a more family friendly story lacking in much of the darker fantasy elements of its much larger predecessor. Hobbits are peace loving, proper creatures that enjoy their quite lives and go to great pains to avoid any sort of disturbances. So when the Wizard Gandalf the Grey appears before one such Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins and offers him an opportunity for adventure, he his promptly asked to move on and have a nice day. This book follows the story of Bilbo and the adventure he eventually finds himself on to help a band of Dwarves reclaim their kingdom from the dragon Smaug who decided to take up residence there some years earlier. While being mostly independent from the LotR in regards to plot, there lots of background events that help to setup the story for the larger world, and also how Bilbo comes by the One Ring that is later passed onto Frodo.

Peter Jackson has returned to create these movies, which has now become a trilogy, the reason for this, besides the obvious grab for cash, also includes the expansion of the story based on Tolkien’s notes and his other works such as the Silmarillion. Part 1, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ covers the first five chapters of The Hobbit and accomplishes this with a frightening and welcome level of accuracy, some scenes being almost completely verbatim, especially the ‘riddles in the dark’ scene where Bilbo and Sméagol match wits.

One of the criticisms of this film is that it is slow paced and painstaking on detail, however you can’t come into this film expecting the climatic scenes you last saw in the final chapters of the LotR. The first chapters of any book consist mainly of exposition and plot development, and couple that with the fact that this is a true fantasy movie, meaning that there is always lots of traveling, so don’t go into this movie expecting an action film with people dressed up like fantasy creatures, this IS a fantasy film with a great balance of plot and character development and yes moments of action as this fellowship fights its way through not only Goblins and Mountain Trolls but a mountain full of Trolls!

The ground breaking aspect that Jackson has (and please forgive some of the tech jargon here but it’s pretty cool) added to the creation of this film is his decision to pioneer High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D filming. Historically films have always been shot at 24 frames per second (fps), Jackson decided to increase this by doubling it to 48fps. The reasons behind this where mainly twofold; firstly that is increases the quality and clarity of the picture and secondly it reduces many of the setbacks that have come with 3D movies such as motion sickness and tired eyes. I did get to see the film in HFR3D and honestly I thought it looked fantastic. But heads up, it does take about 10-15 minutes to get accustomed to it, at the beginning everything seems to move faster than it should, but the feeling passes. And as with HD filming, there comes a higher level of effort required to make thighs look ‘realistic,’ so while I never thought I was looking at a film set at any point, there are some moments (if you’re looking harder than you should when enjoying the movie) where one might be able to spot makeup and special effects tricks. In the end it is new technology and there is room for perfecting it. For all this, the 3D looks clearer than I’ve ever seen and it is never ‘in your face,’ being used perfectly and merely as an enhancement to the film, so if you have the opportunity to watch it how it was filmed then I highly recommend that you try it out. I can almost guarantee that this technology will be here to stay if it doesn’t become the new standard for the film industry.

The whole movie is well put together and Martin Freeman delivers a solid performance as Bilbo as does the rest of the Cast. Andy Serkis reprises his role as Sméagol (otherwise known as Gollum in LotR) and it is a masterpiece moment of cinema, for which he will sadly never receive any awards though he completely deserves them.

So should you watch this movie? Yes if you like fantasy, and you enjoyed LotR, especially if you, like me, enjoyed the opening scenes of the ‘Fellowship of the Ring‘ which were based in The Shire as this films defiantly keeps that feeling throughout its progression, epically with a mob of Dwarves that are like the most rowdy group of brothers that I’ve ever seen. There is defiantly no reason to avoid this film, unless you have some irrational fear of hairy Hobbit feet or oversized eagles, by all standards this is a solid film, and a great introduction to the fantasy genre just like the book.

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Les Misèrables (2012)

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Les Misèrables is only one of the ground breaking films to hit the cinemas this Christmas. And just in case you’ve been living under a cultural rock for your entire life, Les Misèrables is the book written by the French writer Victor Hugo. A historical piece following the story of the protagonist, convict Jean Valjean leading into the early days of the French Revolution. Valjean is shown incredible grace by a priest from who he stole silverware and as a result Valjean seeks to escape his life as a judged man and to live a new life, trying to make a measure of difference in the world. Valjean’s ‘archenemy’ in this story is found in Javert, an officer of the law whose whole existence is given value by his ability to uphold the law. This book has had countless film adaptations over the years and one extremely popular stage musical, and it is this musical which is been recreated as a motion picture.

I first saw Les Misèrables performed when I was a young teen in high school, and it absolutely rocked my world and birthed my love for musicals, the arts and music in general. So when I heard that they were adapting it for the big screen with the likes of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried I almost fainted with excitement, and when I heard Anne Hatheway sing ‘I dreamed a dream’ in the first trailer, well fainting was the least of my worries and I knew right there that I was going to need tissues to get through this film.

I mentioned before that this film is ground breaking  and this is because of how they did the audio recording with the movie. In any musical film done to date, the actors are ushered into recording studios months before getting on set to record all the songs. Then once on set they simply act out the scene and mime along to the recording. However the director, Tom Hooper, felt this always held a level of falsity and disconnect from the heart of the songs, so instead of following the traditional method, Hooper decided to give the actors hidden ear pieces and got them to sing each song live on set. The idea was to give the actors full control over the direction and impact of the song as they were performing it, and it comes across powerfully in the finished product.

Because of this, the songs are performed differently from the musical versions, and this is actually a very good thing. You see, on stage, actors cannot portray emotion solely through their faces and body movements; they are simply too far away, so everything must be exaggerated and technically perfect in order to convey the message of the music. However, on film the camera allows for the actors to focus on acting the songs rather than performing them. And that is one of the many reasons why this film is so amazing.

Each of the actors are in fine form in this film, Hugh Jackman is in his element playing Valjean and Russell Crowe, who many were unsure of and undoubtedly many will criticize, plays the character of Javert perfectly and offsets Jackman in both singing and acting with a subtly that is wonderful performed for both the development of his own character and that of Valjean. Anne Hatheway, who I have been longing to hear sing again ever since her performance of Queen’s ‘Find me somebody to love’ in Ella Enchanted, is simply amazing in this film and deserves every award that comes her way and all those that don’t. Perhaps the only weak point in this film is Amanda Seyfrieds performance as Cosette, and this may simply be that of the Character herself who isn’t really given much depth in this portrayal of the story, especially when set against the character of Èponine who is given such depth and beauty by actress Samantha Barks. There is also an amazing cameo by Colm Wilkinson, who played Valjean in the London and New York stage performances of Les Misèrables, poetically playing the role as the Priest who gives Valjean his chance at new life. The last worthy mention goes to both Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen who provide the comic relief and it’s done perfectly, one moment I was choking up over the orphaned and neglected child Cosette dreaming of her Castle on the clouds and the next I’m laughing at these two innkeepers as they swindle customers in all sorts of hilarious ways all the while I’m wondering what is going to hit me next on this emotional roller-coaster of a movie.

Les Misèrables will undoubtedly see many well-earned awards heading its way as it really is almost close to a perfect film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t eventually make its way into the curriculum for many institutes to teach not only literature and performance, but also for the portrayal of the historical period which is shown as a heartbreaking reality.

So should you see this film? Yes, everyone should watch this film; it is an extremely powerful story of grace and redemption. And if I hear any men beating their chests with a false bravado claiming that ‘real men’ don’t watch musicals, then do yourselves a favour  suck it up and watch this movie, the interplay between Valjean and Javert touches powerfully on the true heart of masculinity and how that looks in the face of despair and hope. The final scenes deliver a powerful challenge from the barricade to the viewer, asking what you will do to see the tomorrow that you want to come, which left me in tears and properly fragile for hours after, this is such as powerful film if you haven’t already seen it then I urge you to head to the cinemas to witness something very very special.


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Wreck It Ralph

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I have been waiting in baited anticipation for this film Ever since I saw its trailer months ago. Wreck it Ralph is the latest family adventure from Disney and follows the story of Ralph, the bad-guy in an 80’s arcade game, who has become tired with his thankless lot in life and seeks to move up in the world. In efforts to show the ever chummy crowd of gaming world protagonosts that he too is worthy of a winners medal, Ralph leaves and seeks to find his fortune by jumping into different games in the Archade, which eventually lands him in a cutesy racing game where he meets a shunned glitchy character who also seeks to prove her own worth. And while that sets the basic premise for the direction of the film, the plot is filled is enriching side stories and some interesting backstory. All of this is well explained within the movie so one is not expected to know anything about gaming in anyway, that being said, there is a polethera of gaming refferences that adds to the enjoyment of the film for anyone who grew up around arcade and video games.

This aspect of the film is worth pointing out for a quick moment as it helps to build something of the atmosphere of the movie. Disney wrote the plot and premise for the film and took it to all of the gaming companies and basically said if they wished to be apart of the film then they would be welcome to add thier characters into the feature. And in a wonderful turn, showing that the geeks who grew up playing games are now running those same companies, all the gaming companies threw their game licenses at Disney and so Wreck it Ralf is filled to the brim with gaming references and it tickled every nostalgia geek bone in my body to see the likes of Sonic, Bowser, Pacman, Chun-li and countless others that will have you searching every scene for as many old school and new characters as you can lay yours eyes on.

Had Disney simply collected all these characters, thrown them together with a mediocre story then this film would have been enjoyable and entertaining, but Disney actually went out to make a good movie and they succeeded. The Plot is great and moves along at a good pace, it can be somewhat predictable in direction at times, but this gives a refreshing feeling of knowing what’s going on, feeling like a stereotypical video game, rather than giving any measure of frustration. The characters are very well developed, likable and relatable and have great balance of humor and heavier moments of reality which almost caught me off gaurd, but reminded me what Disney is capable of. The themes demonstrated in this are akin to Toy Story or Antz, that one may not change ones lot in life, but you can change what you do with it.

So should you see this film? Well I took my kids to this with thier uncle and we had a great time, so I will recommend that this is a great film for Dads to take thier kids along to. Both boys and girls will thoroughly enjoy the film as there is plenty of cutesy girly stuff and action hero boy scenes and is honestly fun for the whole family that everyone will enjoy, actually this is probably the best family flick to grace the screens this summer. You would probably avoid this film if your not into the more modern Disney films, even though this is Disney shining brightly, it defiantly not anything classic like Tangeled was, this is more like Toy Story. But even so, if you ever played video games then this film is a must watch. One last final note; I went and watched this in 2D and its was great, but there were moments that screamed that the 3D would have pushed the ‘epicness’ of the scene, and not in those annoying ‘look-this-stuff-is-flying-at-you’ (thankfully we seamed to have moved beyond that for the most part), so while I can’t recommend this film in 3D from experience, it was defiantly animated with this in mind as an effective tool.
You will be able to see Wreck It Ralph in cinemas starting Boxing Day.
GAME ON!


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Rise of the Guardians

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The latest animation epic to come from Dreamworks pictures, and one of the very few kids movies, with anything resembling a Christmas theme, to show this holiday season is Rise of the Gaurdians. Loosly based on the combined worlds of William Joyce’s books in ‘The Gaurdians of Childhood’ and the short film ‘The Man in the Moon.’ The story follows the antics of Jack Frost (voice by Christ Pine aka the new Cap’t Kirk) as he is enlisted to join the elite group of folklore characters that Gaurd the children of the earth…well at least those who belive in them, the rest are left to fend for themselves, its something is a self preservation thing rather than a noble defence of childlike innocence. The big four are none other than Santa Clause (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and Sandman who is without voice but probably has the greatest about of gumption of the lot. The Boogieman (Jude Law), who is given a more modern namesake of ‘Pitch Black’ then shortened to ‘Pitch’, just to clarify in case you begin to thing the antagonist here has a thing for baseball or building arcs, has returned to strike hopelessness and nightmares among the children of earth in order the break belief in the ‘Big Four’ and somehow transfer this belief to himself thus making himself manifest to rule the world of children’s imaginations for ever and ever untill they all go see phycitricsts and/or grow up.

I was a little cautious walking into this film knowing that one of the big publicity stunts surrounding this feature was the release of Reel FX, which is a open source piece of software the Dreamsworks developed in order to make all of the particle effects in the movies, mainly everything that Pitch and Sandman do with (wait for it) Sand! Which In all fairness look absolutely phenomenal, but as I said, i was cautious as I’ve seen this stunt before and a movie can offen suffer as its goes to extremes to show off its shiny new package and like a disco dancer wearing extraordinarly tight hot pants, you might not mind the dancing but you just didn’t need that much information. And while, in some regards my fears were being realized, its was never overly distracting…that being said I didn’t watch this film in 3D so that might prove a different story.

Plot wise the film has fairly good pace, there is always something big happening and my kids never lost interest, and for the most part niether did I. The characters are comical but largley lacking in depth, Santa is the only one given any real time to expand his character so, for me he comes the driving force for most of the film, I also found Baldwin’s Russian take on St Nick to be rather hilarious and heartwarming in some instances. Frost’s story is one of self discovery and becomes his driving purpose to find out about his past, and mentioning anything of it would be pressing into spoiler territory, but suffice to say while the details may ellude you, the quest to undertand what Jack’s center is resides somewhere in your first guess. But all this ofcourse should be tempered with the fact that this is a kids films and thus one should not expect massive depth in character development and plot, but also on the flip side, with recent Dreamworks releases including works like How to Train your Dragon and the Kung Fu Pandas its also reasonable to expect a high standard in these areas.

So should you see this movie? With the lack of much of anything kid friendly showing up this year then if you have kids then Yes, it’s a good fun family film that will be enjoyed by all that you get to tag along, there’s nothing really scary for the younger kids and plenty of verbal combat between the characters to entertain the adults. But if your expecting the high quality of solid filmmaking that Dreamworks has been demonstrating of late, then this is probably one of the weakest in thier line up, not to say the film is bad, there’s no need to avoid it or shoot it down or anything akin to that, its just lacking that heart that Dreamworks has been using to give thier films that spark of life.


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Father Of Lights

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Father of Lights is Darren Wilson’s third documentary in his, now, trilogy of discovering God. While the first, ‘Finger of God,’ dealt with Darren’s journey to come to terms with miracles, and the second, ‘furious love,’ challenging his understnading of Love in the face of evil, this film is somewhat more epic in its topic and approach. ‘Father of Lights’ takes the viewer on a journey across the planet to attempt to come to an understanding of not only what it means to have a heavenly ‘Father’ but also how does that look in the world today?
As this is probably something unheard of to majority of my readers, feel free to check out the trailer here: http://youtu.be/eKpPVkHlDQU

As a documentary this film stands independent and it is not a requirement to have seen the previous works in the series, however, there are many people that were introduced in the eariler documentaries that reappear in this one. Also there is a certain understanding of Darren’s journey that really impacts what is shown and how he approaches certain topics in this final one. But while some of the impact and journey may be lost on those who view this documentary without those pervious, ‘Father of Lights’ still stands as an extremely powerful and beautiful work of film.
As yet another success story of the KickStarter website (a crowd sorceing website where the average person like you and I can help to fund certain projects), ‘Father of Lights’ is primarily fan funded, and this shows in the final product. Whereas the pervious two films were made mostly out of what the director could scrounge together himself, the overall quality of this documentary excesses those that came before it, both in film quality and overall polish.

I’m going to review this film with a rather different approach in comparison to my usual style, as In many ways its hard to recount what happens in this documentary without giving spoilers and ruining the overall experience. So I will give something of a personal experience response, after all a documentary is primary purposed to teach and impact the viewers life and view of the world.
Each of these doco’s has impacted my life in profound and powerful ways, forcing me to relook at many of the presumptions I held regarding the topics being raised. ‘Father of Lights’ was no different, and perhaps was these things more so than the others, as this film turnes its topical eye on the church and that of being a christian itself. Especially in my role as a bible college student, training to be a minister, this film helped to challenge and solidify much of my stance towards these topics and how they should look in the world. Essentailly these films WILL impact you, and I belive wholehearly that it will happen in all the good ways.

Should you watch this film? Yes, I can’t think of any reason that anybody should not see this piece. If you are not spirutality or of ‘faith’ then this will honestly give you a good and different view on what Christianity is at its heart and a couple of glimpses as to where it might have gone wrong. If you are a christian then I might even suggest each of these documentaries be watched regularly, as I said, they give a very good understanding and demonstration of the Gospel message and its implications. Father of Lights is all about the practical, asking the question, how does it look to have a Father of Lights in our lives in the world today? Darren Wilson manages to show these things in extremely powerful ways to show God in a light that is often lost in the words spoken by preachers as they echo down the isles of churches or those written in books and online.


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Ice Age 4: Continental Drift

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One again the happy herd of misfits return in Yet another Ice Age film. Looking back I remember seeing the first of these movies back when I was quite young, and while there are other franchises have been hit and miss, Ice Age has been constantly entertaining with each passing release. So after forming their herd, surviving the meltdown and defeating the dinosaurs all whilst successfully navigating the mammoth dating; marriage and pregnancy scene, we find our now familiar friends dealing if the next logical historical conundrum of the continental drift.

All of the favorites are back, plus Manny’s now teenage daughter Peaches and Sid’s grandmother, aptly named ‘Granny’, who is introduced in a brilliant rendition of the Beverly Hillbillies. And while we’re on the subject, these films have honestly gotten better the older I have got, there is such a smorgasbord of pop culture references that children will find entertaining while parents are left picking themselves off the floor in tears of laughter. The team of writers on these films have learnt the golden sweet spot between witty and slapstick humor, and they are getting better and better at it with each film. I would also like to give similar kudos to the animation team, after years of development in this field the style of the movies has never changed, they stuck to their guns and have simply polished their films more and more in every detail. And this is in step with my overall position on the film, its Ice Age! Only better than the last one, which was better than the one before that and so on and so forth.

Just a couple of highlights: Peter Dinkalage (one of my favorite actors) delivers a stella performance as the Monkey Pirate King; Sid, who is honestly one of the greatest comic relief characters in family movies ever, is superbly offset by Granny and all of those little heartwarming movements that make these movies a joy to watch.

So should you watch this film? Yes! Both of my kids gave it BIG thumbs up, and my wonderful wife recommends as there is more than enough to keep adults and children alike thoroughly entertained. And if you’ve never watch Ice Age, or if you never liked it then give it another go, and learnt to laugh a little at the stupid things in life that just might be the most important.


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The Amazing SpiderMan (2012)

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Of all the superheroes to grace the silver screen in the recent years there are two that have always stood out as my favorites, those being The Hulk and SpiderMan. So I was super excited to see this new take on SpiderMan.

So just to clarify a couple of things. Firstly, The original SpiderMan films directed by Sam Raimi are among some of my all time favorite films, well the first two are, the third rests the dark recess of my mind where happiness goes to die.
Secondly, Marvel has done an outstanding job with all of its new franchises, so it’s sad to see that Spidy is still owned by Sony pictures. Could they keep up with the heart that Marvel has been putting in its films and do the web slinger justice with this reboot?

Yes, this is a reboot, once again going back to the origins of Peter Parker’s story, but this time following the ‘amazing Spider-Man’ comic run which largely focuses on the hero’s life during highschool. So there will be a couple of changes from what you may expect the story to be, and in a lot of ways they have made a great effort to be true to the original story.

Andrew Garfield does a great job in his portrayal of a young, awkward Peter Parker. One of the key aspects of SpiderMan’s character that were missing in the original trilogy was his witty, dorky humor and one-liners, and Garfield shines in his ability to balance this humor with a dash of teen angst. Not to mention a rather touching moment where Spidy saves a child form a burning car which truly sums up the entirety of SpiderMan and what he stands for. There is good chemistry between Peter and Gwen Stacey, who is a much smarter; stronger version of Mary Jane.
The baddie in this film is ‘The Lizard,’ and is one of those wonderful comic book baddies who is something of an innocent victim of extenuating circumstances. Needless to say the special effects budget goes a long way to make The Lizard look impressive.

If there are any negatives to this flick it would be found in the somewhat predictable plot with a few small holes and also the lack of polish that one would expect from a Marvel production. Keep in mind I critic this within its context as a Comic movie, so I feel little need to poke holes on the genre as I’m sure you already know what to expect when you pick up the film.

Just as a last note, I did get to see this film in 3D at the cinema, and it’s fairly well done, nothing distracting and a few moments of pretties.

So should you watch this movie? If you enjoy comic movies then yes, it’s as solid as any of the films in the genre, but even if not SpiderMan is a very enjoyable film filled with memorable characters, laughs and awkwardness in that kinda sweet geeky teenage kinda way.