Tag Archives: *½

The Glass Castle *½|****

Naomi Watts and Brie Larson in The Glass Castle

Adapted from the best-selling memoir of the same name, The Glass Castle depicts the unorthodox childhood of writer Jeannette Walls (portrayed by Ella Anderson in flashback) as she moves from town to town with her parents and three siblings. Her father Rex (Woody Harrelson) seems to be full of inspiration and wisdom when speaking with his children but we soon learn of personal demons that manifest themselves through alcoholism and fits of anger that contribute to his inability to maintain a steady job. Her mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), an aspiring painter, doesn’t fare much better in attempting to support her kids but still remains hopeful even as their financial situation gets increasingly dire.

This backstory is intercut with scenes of Walls as an adult (Brie Larson) in late 1980s New York, now a writer for a gossip column who is happily engaged to a promising financial analyst (Max Greenfield). Her attempts to expunge the memories of her painful past fail when her parents turn up, desperate as ever, in Manhattan and they seek to reconnect Jeannette with the rest of her family in a series of doomed meet-ups. Her parents don’t give up, however, and through continued exposure with them, Walls rediscovers the fleeting moments of bliss that occurred during her rocky upbringing and aims to find resolution with her struggling parents before it’s too late.

The film and its director Destin Daniel Cretton seem to contend that Rex and Rose Mary are worthy of such absolution but based on the two hours that I spent with them, I can’t say that I agree with that stance. These are more than flawed characters trying to make their best out of a bad situation; these are narcissistic, negligent, selfish parents who demonstrate time after time that they’re ill-equipped to handle raising one child much less four. Not only does Cretton often seem to give them a pass on their reprehensible behavior but he tends to double down on his efforts by attributing bits of noxious pseudo-philosophy to their actions, as when Rex repeatedly throws Jeannette into the deep end (literally) of a public pool and then has the gall to follow up with “I can’t let you cling to the side your whole life.”

Rose Mary gets in on the action too and early on as well, as we’re only a few minutes in when she tells her hungry child (probably 3 or 4 years old at the time) to make her own lunch since she can’t be bothered to take a break from her painting and Jeannette’s attempt to boil hot dogs results in horrifying burns. What, exactly, is the point of opening the story this way if I’m to have anything but utter contempt for a woman who would allow something so despicable to happen to her young daughter? In case this wasn’t enough, the plucky strings from Joel West’s cloying musical score are a distressing reminder that this movie thinks it’s a quirky dysfunctional family tale à la Little Miss Sunshine when it’s closer to something out of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre spin-off.

If there’s a saving grace, it’s in the high-quality cast that’s been assembled and the generally excellent work (inconsistent accents aside) that they showcase even with such problematic material at the forefront. Harrelson and Watts do a reliably solid job but it’s Larson that again proves she’s the real deal following her Oscar win for Room, as she navigates through complex emotional territory without losing the audience in the process. Even the caliber and conviction of the performances doesn’t change the fact that I spent so much time rolling my eyes during the events of The Glass Castle that it’s possible I saw more of the ceiling in my theater than what was taking place on the giant screen in front of me.

War Machine *½|****

Brad Pitt in War Machine

Building upon the remarkable success that they’ve had with their original television series, Netflix has recently made a conscious effort to balance their programming with more original movies by releasing new feature films on a weekly basis since the beginning of this year. They’ve had minor triumphs in the form of smaller budget fare like The Discovery and Win It All but David Michôd’s War Machine represents an aggressive play by Netflix to compete against Hollywood and their first-run releases by nabbing one of its biggest stars. It’s a shame, then, that the end product is far from the crowd-pleaser that it should (and could) have been and is instead a would-be satire that’s constantly at odds with what it wants to be and how it wants to convey its message.

Brad Pitt stars as four-star General Glen McMahon (a loose variation on real-life General Stanley McChrystal), who is brought in by the Obama administration to resolve the increasingly tumultuous situation in Afghanistan by promoting counterinsurgency in vulnerable regions of the country. He is closely aided by a staff of men, including the hothead General Pulver (Anthony Michael Hall) and sleazy press advisor Matt Little (Topher Grace), who regard him as a living legend (their favorite nickname for him is “The Glenimal”) and would be happy walking to the ends of the earth if it meant pleasing him. The beats of their quixotic mission are framed in voiceover from a fictionalized Rolling Stone reporter who laments their circumstances and eventually enters the film as a tag along in McMahon’s military entourage.

Of the many miscalculations present in War Machine, the most glaring is the mannered and terribly overdone lead performance by Pitt, which strikes a wrong chord from minute one and only has glimmers of redemption for the remainder of the time. With his cockeyed facial expression and his mouth fixated in an overbite that forms something of a permanent grimace, it seems Pitt wants McMahon to be a sort of larger-than-life buffoon type but it doesn’t jive with the level of respect that his staff seems to show him. The movie also can’t figure out how we’re supposed to feel about this character; if we’re intended to laugh at Pitt’s cartoonish mugging and quirky tics, then why does it so often try to make this a more dramatic personal story about McMahon’s struggles?

The answer to that question, sadly, is brought forth from Michôd’s positively aimless direction, which casts the film in wildly varying lights from scene to scene and doesn’t have the clear vision to pull a satire like this off, much less give us a useful comedy or drama in the meantime. The cheeky opening monologue properly sets the stage for a satire on a certain type of hawkish military mentality but it loses its target early on and is rendered toothless by its lack of focus and by an absence of genuine comic payoffs. Michôd doesn’t know what kind of story he wants to tell us and he doesn’t have any sort of attitude towards the material that could have given the comedy the kind of edge that it needed or the drama the kind of poignancy that it could have discovered.

Even more jarring are the misguided cameos from the likes of talented actors like Tilda Swinton, who is given a one-note role as a pestering new reporter, and Ben Kingsley, who is completely lost in his portrayal as the figurehead Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai. Other actors, like Meg Tilly as McMahon’s wife and Keith Stanfield (who gave another excellent performance earlier this year in Get Out) as a disillusioned Marine, make the most of their small roles and even steal the spotlight from Pitt in the scenes that they share with him. War Machine is about a mismanaged conflict with no clear strategy, so it’s perhaps fitting that the movie turned out to be such a mess but if Netflix wants to go to war with Hollywood, it will need to bring more to the battle than this.

Beauty and the Beast *½|****

Dan Stevens and Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast

Disney continues their incessant parade of live-action remakes with this soulless and garish recreation of one of their most beloved classics and the only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture before the genre received its own award category in 2001. Beauty and the Beast directly copies so many elements of the 1991 original that it threatens redundancy during every scene and seems to profess its inferiority with each passing minute. I wasn’t the biggest fan of last year’s Jungle Book rehash but at least that film had an engaging visual strategy and a fresh perspective on the source material, aspects that are sorely needed in this bungled attempt of an adaptation.

The story once again introduces us to an arrogant prince (Dan Stevens) who is transformed into a hideous beast by an sorceress after she is scornfully denied shelter in his mansion, only to be turned human again when he earns the love of another. We then meet a free-spirited bookworm named Belle (Emma Watson), who lives in a quaint French village with her charming father Maurice (Kevin Kline) while fending off the lecherous advances of the haughty townsman Gaston (Luke Evans). After Maurice is imprisoned by the Beast for trespassing, Belle offers to take his place in the haunted castle instead but after spending time with her captor, an unlikely romance begins to bloom.

Director Bill Condon has the unenviable task of essentially trying to improve on perfection, which includes carbon copying all of the successful portions of the 85-minute original and adding unnecessary plot details and extra musical numbers until we reach a bloated 130-minute runtime. To his credit, his film is paced rather well considering all of the superfluous baggage that threatens to weigh it down but he also doesn’t even attempt to make his own mark on this story either. Nearly everything in Beauty and the Beast is overdone, from the murky visual style (I can’t imagine how drab the 3D version must look) to the embellished effects work that hits its low point with a visually incomprehensible version of “Be Our Guest”.

In keeping with the overly polished aesthetic, the majority of the vocal performances (especially those by Emma Watson) come across as very “processed” with noticeable amounts of pitch correction being applied to singers who may not even need it in the first place. In contrast to this, Watson does her best to lend some naturalistic touches to her acting, which can be a tricky thing considering she’s mainly acting against a cast that’s added in post-production. Dan Stevens, who I loved in The Guest, doesn’t fare nearly as well in this conception of the Beast that obscures any emotive possibilities with weak motion capture and a lack of clarity that renders his character a moody mess.

Save for a few lines of new dialogue and a revised musical score by composer Alan Menken, I struggle to recall a single thing that this remake does that the original didn’t do better in the first place and while watching it, I found myself often wishing that I could watch the animated version instead. Its storytelling is much more efficient, its hand-drawn technique is superior to the standard issue computer-generated effects and most surprisingly, there’s a wit and comedic timing to the original that is completely absent from this rendition. Disney had the opportunity to re-contextualize this “tale as old as time” but by playing it safe and sticking to the profit-oriented playbook, they did a disservice to one of their greatest achievements.

High-Rise *½|****

Elisabeth Moss and Tom Hiddleston in High-Rise
Elisabeth Moss and Tom Hiddleston in High-Rise

Based on J.G. Ballard’s dystopian science-fiction novel of the same name, High-Rise is a baffling mess of a film that begins with glimmers of promise that slowly give way to increasingly turbulent waves of disappointment and, ultimately, dissatisfaction. It works so hard to come across as a scathing social commentary about class warfare and urban decay but director Ben Wheatley doesn’t articulate any of his points with any kind of original perspective or even with much coherence in the first place. He seems almost willful in his attempts to muddle any possible character motivation or to obscure promising narrative threads for the sake of being “unconventional” in his storytelling. If that seems like a frustrating proposition, that’s because it certainly is.

We are introduced to Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) 3 months after he checks into a luxurious high-rise tower block, where living conditions appear to have descended into total chaos. We then flash back to the chronological beginning (a cinematic convention that I’m starting to loathe) to find Laing moving into an apartment on the 25th floor of the comparatively civilized complex. Beyond the favorable living quarters, the building also sports higher level amenities such as a built-in supermarket and even a primary school, ensuring that tenants hardly ever have to leave the premises.

Shortly after moving in, he strikes up a relationship with single mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and a friendship with pregnant couple Richard (Luke Evans) and Helen (Elisabeth Moss). We soon learn of a hierarchy that exists within the high-rise, where members of the upper class, led by the building’s architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), are rewarded with higher level accommodations while those in the middle and lower class fare in the lower dwelling apartments. This disparity, along with continuous power failures that disproportionately affect the lower class tenants, causes dissension and outbursts of violence throughout the tower.

As the anarchy picks up, Wheatley and his screenwriter Amy Jump concoct scenes that seem to have very little consequence or bearing on the tenuous narrative at hand. Unsurprisingly, repetitive shots of tenants (edited at an obnoxiously swift pace by Wheatley and Jump) engaging in drunken dances at wild parties don’t add up to an especially interesting story. Any advances to the plot, as when one character mandates that another character undergo a lobotomy, seem to come completely out of left field and don’t allow for any kind of engagement with the characters on an emotional or psychological level.

The high points of the film come down to spot-on, chic 1970s set design and Laurie Rose’s steely-eyed, often breathtaking cinematography but there’s not much to grab onto outside of aesthetics. Even the usually brilliant Clint Mansell can’t find his footing with a musical score that meanders through various genres without building any kind of memorable motifs in the process, although two instances of ABBA’s pop song “SOS” are used creatively in back-to-back scenes. There may be a method to High-Rise‘s madness but as long as the storyteller remains so unwilling to meet the viewer halfway, there’s no good reason to seek it out.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice *½|****

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Two titans of the superhero genre square off for the first time on the big screen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a needlessly dour and overwhelmingly senseless affair that hopelessly squanders an intriguing premise. Director Zack Synder’s follow-up to Man of Steel is one of the most distracted and disjointed action films I’ve ever seen: a result of way too many ideas being thrown around carelessly with no guiding vision. Even the incoherent plotting and the muddled character motivations could have been overlooked if this movie was any fun but it even manages to forget how to have a good time at all.

We pick up two years after the events of Man of Steel, where a devastating battle at the heart of Metropolis has led to intensified scrutiny surrounding Superman (Henry Cavill) from numerous parties. Most notable among his newfound objectors is neighboring city Gotham’s Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who views him as a lawless alien and an imminent threat to the safety of the entire planet. After being coaxed by Metropolis business magnate Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Wayne seeks an opportunity to face off against Superman as Batman and save their collective cities from any further destruction.

I’ve intentionally left out the innumerable contrivances that lead to these two figures being pitted against each other but it’s important to reiterate just how overstuffed and out of control this narration is. Characters are introduced and re-introduced at such a breakneck pace that plausible development and motivations don’t have a chance to manifest themselves organically from the story. If you don’t already have at least a passing familiarity with most of these comic book characters, I can’t imagine how confusing this movie will be for you. Each scene vacillates so wildly from one narrative thread to another without the slightest sense of tactful cohesion or thoughtful storytelling. There’s just no time for anything meaningful in Batman v Superman.

Beyond the whirlwind of narrative disconnect, just about any shred of spectacle or wonder is undermined by the oppressively brooding nature of the film’s look and feel. Zack Snyder collaborates with his go-to cinematographer Larry Fong to create a vision of Gotham and Metropolis so glum, it makes Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy look positively buoyant by comparison. I don’t have a problem with dark storytelling in comic book adaptions (recent Netflix series Jessica Jones did an excellent job of this) but it’s not enough to just be “gritty”: there has to be an underlying intelligence that informs the stylistic choices.

I sat through Batman v Superman thinking “why does something like The Avengers work so much better than this?” It turns out that there are plenty of answers to that question but most importantly, Marvel has done an excellent job in taking their time to flesh out their characters before bringing them all together. Clearly this is DC’s attempt at creating their own version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but they spend so much time trying to bring these superheroes together that they forgot to create a standalone movie that’s worthwhile on its own merit. It seems comic book fans will need to wait a bit longer for a film that does their legacy justice.

Terminator Genisys *½|****

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys plays out like a crash course on how not to reboot an ailing franchise, as if the writers compiled a checklist of losing ideas and then proceed to sullenly tick off each box during its two-hour runtime. It is stunning the degree to which this film chooses to alienate both allegiant fans of the series, who will no doubt feel betrayed by the pandering attempts to “upgrade” storylines from the original movies, and attentive newcomers, who will no doubt be baffled by the ludicrously convoluted plotting. The persistent thought in my head while watching was “who is this movie for?” and I’m still not sure I have a good answer.

We start in Los Angeles 2029, with Human Resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) and sergeant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) squaring off against the evil AI force Skynet. In events that mirror those of the first Terminator film, Skynet sends a Terminator back to 1984 to kill John’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) to effectively negate his existence. To combat this, the Resistance sends Reese back to protect her but when he arrives in the past, he finds the circumstances to be radically altered as Sarah is far from helpless and has instead acquired another Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as an ally and confidant.

Bare in mind, I’ve only covered about the first twenty minutes there and if you’ve seen onslaught of marketing over the past few weeks, you’ll know that there are at least two or three other big plot reveals that I’ve chosen not to spoil here. Over the past few years or so, Hollywood has developed a worsening habit of giving away too much in trailers or TV spots in order to sell their movies and the promotion for Terminator Genisys may be the worst that I’ve seen so far. I accept that trailers are essential to selling a film and I even think they can be effective forms of mini-storytelling but it can’t be at the expense of ruining major plot points for potential moviegoers.

Despite this, I can’t say that I fully fault the poor saps at Paramount who were saddled with the insurmountable task of making this mess of a film look approachable. Of course the myriad callbacks to the original film are derivative and lazy but even the action sequences play out like rewarmed leftovers from better films, as when a school bus flips over front first à la the Joker’s 18-wheeler in The Dark Knight. At least there’s an attempt at a practical effect there, as the rest of the setpieces rely more on distractingly subpar CG effects that look much less convincing than those in the now 24-year old predecessor Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

That’s just one reason why that film works so much better than Terminator Genisys but Terminator 2 had another important aspect: it kept it simple. Once the characters and their motivations are established, the story progresses organically and at a reasonable pace. I gave up counting the number of times that characters in Genisys needed to stop and explain what was happening and even at that, plot holes and logical lapses crept up at a daunting rate. Even the best efforts of the charismatic Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t save this cumbersome and overcooked retread.

Entourage/Spy/Insidious: Chapter 3

Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier, Jerry Ferrara and Kevin Dillon in Entourage
Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier, Jerry Ferrara and Kevin Dillon in Entourage

After a surprisingly successful eight season run on HBO, Entourage has finally hit the big screen for the first time. For the uninitiated, the series follows movie superstar Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his closest friends as they navigate through the ups and downs of a hyper-stylized, alternate version of Hollywood. In addition to the main players, the film also includes Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osment as co-financiers for the newest Vinnie Chase vehicle titled Hyde, which he chooses to direct and star in. Beyond the production of his movie, Entourage also features various other subplots of little consequence and an overwhelming menagerie of underwhelming celebrity cameos.

I suspect director Doug Ellin’s intention was to make this feel like a “super-stuffed” version of a typical episode, which it does, but the results are largely disappointing. The show was a breezy and enjoyable enterprise in its first few years but it’s no secret that the quality dropped drastically in subsequent seasons. I had a difficult time overcoming the simple fact that these characters are getting too old and played out at this point to make a new outing with them feel fresh or fun. Those unfamiliar with the series may find enough new in Entourage to merit a watch but there’s not enough here to recommend for existing fans like myself.

*½|****

 

Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law in Spy
Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law in Spy

Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig team up for a third time in the wildly uneven but often amusing espionage spoof Spy. McCarthy plays Susan Baker, a CIA analyst who is promoted from her desk job at Langley to become a full-time secret agent after a field mission goes wrong. Her primary target is Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) and the rogue nuclear weapon that is in her possession, as she also receives help (perhaps “help” is more accurate) from another spy in the field (a hilariously self-aware Jason Statham). Together, they doggedly pursue Boyanov across Paris and Budapest as Baker proves to be more resourceful than expected by her colleagues.

It’s clear that McCarthy is giving it her all here and she does a great job of selling the movie’s funniest moments. My biggest obstacle was that her character became very muddled for me as the movie progressed. She’s characterized very well in the opening scene with Jude Law but this foundation seems to be forgotten around the halfway point when it turns into a contest of improv one-liners and insult humor. It still works on a certain level but it’s not as effective as it could have been if McCarthy had played a consistent character throughout. Factor in some ridiculously dubious action sequences, particularly one involving auto-pilot on a private jet, and Spy unfortunately comes up just short of hitting the mark.

**½|****

 

Lin Shaye in Insidious: Chapter 3
Lin Shaye in Insidious: Chapter 3

Actor/director Leigh Whannell takes over the Insidious franchise with Chapter 3, which actually serves as a prequel to the original Insidious film. Newcomer Stefanie Scott stars as Quinn, a teenager who recently lost her mother to cancer and reaches out to a psychic named Elise (Lin Shaye) in an attempt to reconnect. After her meeting, she begins to see visions of a decrepit man waving at her, one such occurrence leading to her to be accidentally run over by a car in the middle of the street. With both of her legs broken, Quinn’s hallucinations grow more severe as she discovers that the man seems to be a demon that has somehow attached itself to her.

While this initially seems to be a new approach for this series, everything that follows is remarkably similar to events seen in the previous two movies, though not done with as much enthusiasm or creativity. The “Further” sequences here are particularly derivative, offering little to no scares in what should be the climax of the film. Of course, horror movies like this live or die on jump-scare factor and Whannell does his best to subvert expectations even within the rigid guidelines of the genre. Despite his efforts, Chapter 3 doesn’t offer enough new material for even die-hard fans to get excited about.

**|****

Fifty Shades of Grey *½|****

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey

Based on the bestselling E.L. James novel that has somehow sold over 100 million (!) copies worldwide, Fifty Shades of Grey proves itself shockingly inept at being either a convincing romance tale or a tantalizing erotic thriller. It’s an oppressively dull and obnoxiously moody affair, one whose source material apparently originated as Twilight fan fiction and doesn’t seem to have improved much on the formula of its predecessor. I can’t speak for fans of the book, as I have not read it myself, but those who come into the movie uninitiated will no doubt leave the theater in confusion as to what the fuss was all about.

The story revolves around the chance meeting of journalism student Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson, and billionaire businessman Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan. The two have an instant and inexplicable connection, one that slowly leads to an obsessive sexual relationship revolving around bondage and sadomasochism. As their relationship progresses, Christian asks Ana to sign a non-disclosure agreement that negotiates the terms of their relationship as a romantic couple and as BDSM partners. The latter half of the film alternates between softcore, Cinemax-level sex scenes and Christian doting on Ana to sign the aforementioned contract.

If it sounds boring, that’s because it is. There are many problems with Fifty Shades as a movie but at the foundational level, this story simply does not work. It’s phony and unconvincing every step of the way, led by two main characters who are one-dimensional and altogether uncompelling. Any attempts that there are of character development are sophomoric at best and laughable at worst, especially when it involves any of the secondary or tertiary characters. It also doesn’t help that the dialogue is as stilted and implausible as the film’s central relationship, with lines like “I’m incapable of leaving you alone” that will no doubt inspire torrents of giggles theater-wide.

This puts Johnson and Dornan in an unfavorably position, to say the least, and it’s clear that they’re doing the best that they can with the material. Unfortunately, it’s still not good enough. Johnson does bring some grace and intelligence to her role but Dornan gives a performance that seems like the result of director Sam Taylor-Johnson whispering “dark and mysterious” into his ear over and over again. Whether he’s sullenly draped over a grand piano or glumly jogging through busy Seattle streets, his Christian Grey ultimately proves to be a colossal bore who lacks the charm or charisma necessary for any level of engagement.

The highlights are few and far between. I did enjoy a playful negotiation scene between Ana and Christian that incorporated much needed moments of levity and self-awareness to the otherwise stifling proceedings. The handsome, if one-note, production design is also first-rate, though its only true goal is to make audiences drool over wide shots of Grey’s luxury high-rise penthouse. It could be argued that the film’s exaltation of wealth is more pornographic than any of its sex scenes. Regardless, Fifty Shades of Grey is nothing more than a transparent tease of a film.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies *½|****

The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies
Ian McKellen and Luke Evans in The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies

Those who like their movie franchises unnecessarily drawn out and bloated, fear not: the final chapter of The Hobbit series is upon us at last and I fear that not even the most staunch Tolkien devotees will find much to like in the joyless obligation that is The Battle of the Five Armies. The whimsy and wonder of the previous entries has been replaced with stilted dialogue and endless barrages of computer generated chaos. In fact, this film was previously subtitled There and Back Again but unfortunately, The Battle of the Five Armies turns out to be a more fitting title after all, as the majority of the run time is dedicated to the titular conflict.

We pick back up right where the previous movie left off, with Smaug on his way to terrorize the small town of Esgaroth as Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman, and the Dwarves look on from the Lonely Mountain. After the great dragon is vanquished by Bard, played by Luke Evans, the fate of the vast treasure at Erebor becomes uncertain. Led by the fearless Thorin, played by Richard Armitage, the Dwarves defend their treasure against the Middle Earth armies of men, Elves and Orcs (frankly, I couldn’t tell you after seeing the movie who the Fifth Army is).

From the Helm’s Deep battle in The Two Towers to the battle at Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King, large scale showdowns were an integral part of the success of the Lord of the Rings franchise and they used to be one of director Peter Jackson’s fortes. Some of the sequences in this film feel like a parody of Peter Jackson’s directing style, whether its characters taking long pauses to speak amongst hundreds of characters fighting around them or the hilarious over abundance of Orc beheadings that used to be treated as a novelty in the LotR series but is literally done to death in Five Armies.

When the screen isn’t filled wall to wall with incoherent and increasingly implausible action, we’re treated to meaningless subplots that crop up sporadically throughout. The most noxious are those involving an Elf-Dwarf romance that inspires some amazingly mawkish lines of dialogue like “he is my king but he does not command my heart.” This could possibly be forgiven if the acting was worthwhile but it consistently appears as though the majority of the actors are bored to reprise these roles. Least compelling among these actors is Lee Pace, who has proven again to be a colossal bore in his antagonistic film roles after his charming lead part on ABC’s Pushing Daisies.

While plodding through its comparatively gracious runtime of 144 minutes, there’s an unshakable sense of looming déjà vu as one watches this entry in the Hobbit series. It’s the feeling that everything we’re seeing has been done better before and even by the same production team, which is unfortunately the case here more often than not. I personally can’t wait for the day when all the Hobbit films are available on Blu-Ray and someone clever on the internet condenses the three into one cohesive piece of filmmaking. Until then, I can’t suggest that even diehard fans go out to see this thud of a conclusion.