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The Hobbit part 2 should be better than this. Two strong documentaries and some seasonal series offer alternatives

Middle Earth comes alive again but there’s excess  in the second Hobbit film


Few films want to take on The Hobbit this weekend. Medea’s Christmas is trying but not too actively and with no preview screenings locally. I do have two excellent documentaries that are willing, and able. I also have space to give you a heads up about four special retrospectives for the holidays.

Here’s the List:

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug:  3 stars

The Crash Reel:  4

The Trials of Muhammad Ali:  4 ½

Woody Allen “winter” films: --

Coen Brothers comedies: --

Jacques Demy fantasies: --

Yasujiro Ozu masterworks: --


THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG:  Part one of this trilogy, which arrived exactly a year ago, is now also out on blue ray in an extended edition. This second part feels like it’s already the extended version. It starts well, indicating it might be better than the meandering first, bogs downs for long stretches in the centre and by the end has becomes a real chore to watch. Peter Jackson has given in to excess. The film is too long (161 minutes) and the characters are overpowered by spectacle. The battle scenes become wearying because there are too many, they go on too long and their fast editing and movement are hard to watch in 3-D. The violence is boosted. An Orc’s head is chopped off and thrown right at us (in 3-D).  Several times there are arrows shot through heads. Middle Earth is darker than we’ve seen it before.


Having got that off my chest, I’ll admit there are pleasures here too. The dragon, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, for instance. He’s a beautiful creation slithering on his pile of gold and trading menacing dialogue with Bilbo (Martin Freeman). Bilbo, of course is there with a band of dwarfs to kill him and thereby take back the land he seized. The third part, coming next year, should finish the job. So far the dwarfs haven’t accomplished anything but get to him. They’ve been chased through a forest by orcs, been wrapped up by giant spiders and raced down a river and waterfall in barrels; fine sequences all. They’ve been given sanctuary by Legolas (Orlando Bloom, in bland mode) making an appearance that J.R.R.Tolkien didn’t write. Also newly added is a female elf Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly who grew up in Abbotsford and became famous on TV’s Lost.

She adds a simmering love interest and something even more key these days: a woman handy with a bow and arrow. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) appears only briefly and Gollum not at all, although his voice-actor (Andy Serkin) does some directing work. Middle Earth is brought to dazzling life again but allows our interest to wander off too soon. (5th Avenue, The Dolphin, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5

THE CRASH REEL: Here’s a sobering antidote to those extreme sports films that show daredevil stunts in pretty pictures accompanied by thumping alt rock music. Some of that must be dangerous, I’ve often thought. This gripping new documentary by Lucy Walker, proves it memorably. She’s a two-time Oscar nominee and last weekend won a big award with this one at the Whistler Film Festival. She has made one of those films that has me asking how did she get the camera into all those places? What’s most extreme about this film is how intimate it gets.


It follows snowboard whiz Kevin Pearce of Vermont in late 2009 as he prepares for the Vancouver Olympics. We get the thrills of the sport, the spectacular moves and his sunny optimism and then, in a shock, an accident. He wipes out off the side of a half-pipe and lands face first. His eyes and mouth are bloody; his brain is damaged. While his best-friend and frequent rival Shaun White went on to win gold up at Cypress, Kevin was into a long period of rehabilitation. The family is warned he may not be the same after this. The film takes us inside of it all, from old family movies of Kevin snowboarding off a roof on to a trampoline, to his victories and then  to doctor visits and close ups of his brain scans and most surprisingly, family arguments over dinner. Kevin wants to snowboard again; he’s urged to think about the pain he’s causing people around him. His Downs syndrome brother pleads “I don’t want you to die.” Kevin retorts: “You have no faith.” It’s dramatic and emotional and, in also showing how the sport is getting more extreme, serves as an important caution. Freestyle skier Sarah Burke, of Whistler, soon to be inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, died after an accident on the same training course that got Kevin . (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5   

Playing in tandem with …

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As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

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Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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