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Movie Reviews


Movie reviews are written by a born and raised Hoosier, Dustin Heller.

Dustin is originally from Pittsboro and currently lives in Danville with his wife and son.  He says he has loved movies as long as he can remember. He worked in his small hometown video store all through high school and part of college.

He is a fan of all types of movies, but he says his favorite genres are independent and drama.  Dustin has attended the Sundance Film Festival multiple times and planning for the next one already.

Some of his favorite movies include, The Shawshank Redemption, Life As A House, Sling Blade, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Swingers, just to name a few.  He says he probably sees around 200 movies per year and tries to get to the big screen at least once every two weeks.

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Bears is the new nature documentary release from Disneynature in celebration of Earth Day on April 22.   Bears is the fifth theatrical release from Disneynature, the others being Chimpanzee, African Cats, Oceans, and Earth.  These four are among the top five highest grossing nature films in history.  The film is directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey which also co-directed African Cats.  Bears is narrated by the always reliable John C. Reilly of Chicago and Step Brothers fame.

The film follows a year in the life of a mother bear (Sky) and her two bear cubs (Amber and Scout) as they trek across the great Alaskan wilderness in search of food.  Along the way, the bears are taught many essential life lessons.  The journey begins as winter is coming to an end and the bears are coming out of hibernation.  They must cross miles and miles of snow-covered mountains all while steering clear of a possible avalanche.  As spring and summer approach, the bears are now on the hunt for food (especially salmon) in order to begin preparation for next winter’s hibernation.  The search for food isn’t an easy one for a mother and her cubs as they’ll face many obstacles along the way, namely rival male bears and a grey wolf that seems to always be waiting in the wings.  No matter what happens, the family must stay together on their adventure in order to survive.

Bears is cut out of the same mold as the nature docs that came before it, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The bear cubs are ridiculously cute and cuddly and the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking.  Whether its the swooping shots of the Alaskan snow-covered mountains and beautiful countryside or the intimate shots of the bears and other wildlife, this is a gorgeous film to look at.  It always amazes me the shots they’re able to get in the wilderness without harm coming their way.  Along with the look of the film, the score and music are spot-on and really help drive the emotion.  The narration by John C. Reilly is really good as well, as he is just the right amount of funny for the subject matter.    The story does drag on a bit as the entire movie revolves around the bears hunt for food in order to prepare for the coming winter hibernation, but that’s easy to look past with everything else going on.  With a duration of only 77 minutes, it might be hard for families to justify spending ten dollars per ticket.  If your family is really into nature and/or loves animals, then Bears is a must see.  Otherwise, it would be a perfect rental down the road for a family movie night.

Grade:  B

Bears opens in theaters on Friday, April 18.

Bad Words is the new dark comedy directed by and starring Jason Bateman, which also marks his directorial debut.  Bateman got his start in acting when he was only 12 years old on the set of Little House on the Prairie and has been working steadily in the entertainment business ever since.  He’s starred in such films as Teen Wolf Too, Juno, and Horrible Bosses to name a few.  Along with Bateman, the rest of the cast is made up of Allison Janney, Kathryn Hahn, Philip Baker Hall, and the youngster Rohan Chand.  The movie premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival last September and is rolling out wide on March 28.

Guy Trilby (Bateman), a middle-aged man who never graduated from the 8th grade, is attempting to compete in the National Quell Spelling Bee.  He has found a loophole in the rules that states anyone having not completed the 8th grade by a certain date is eligible to compete.   His entry is met with much resistance and animosity from everyone involved, especially the director of the bee, Dr. Bernice Deagan (Janney).  Guy’s companion in his quest is an online reporter (Hahn) that is interested in getting this big story, even though he doesn’t give her anything to work with.  Along the way, Guy befriends one of the younger contestants and ends up exposing him to things a child should not be exposed to.  Actually, Guy should end up in jail for most of the things that go on in this movie.  As the competition winds down and the reason as to why Guy is doing this is exposed, will Guy stand victorious or will he be the bigger man and bow out.

I’m starting to think my idea of comedy is completely different than the rest of the human population.  I can’t say that I found one thing about Bad Words the least bit funny or humorous.  With that said, it seemed the rest of the audience was in stitches throughout the majority of the movie.   One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to comedy is the use of profanity as the punch line, and that is exactly the type of comedy Bad Words brings to the table.  That, along with hurling obscene insults to people who don’t deserve it.  It seems very lazy to me and I just don’t get it.  Aside from it not being funny, the story felt empty and incomplete.  The story is centered around this secret as to why Guy is going to all this trouble to make a mockery out of the spelling bee, and the big reveal couldn’t have been any less uneventful.  I fully expected the end result to be how Guy had found a way to beat the system and cheat at a spelling bee, but that wasn’t the case at all (which would have made for a much better movie if you ask me).  The movie just never came together and so many questions go unanswered.  The one positive takeaway for me was child actor Rohan Chand; he is ridiculously cute and steals every scene that he’s in.  I’m normally a big fan of Jason Bateman and generally think he’s one of the funniest actors working, but Bad Words just didn’t do it for me.  My recommendation would be to skip this one altogether, but by the reaction of the crowd at my screening, I might be in the minority.

Grade: D+

Bad Words opens in theaters on Friday, March 28.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest film from writer/director Wes Anderson.  If you’re not familiar with Wes Anderson, some of the other films he’s directed are Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom to name a few.  It’s pretty easy to identify a Wes Anderson film by the overall look and his unique visual style, and he typically uses many of the same actors in all of his films.  Some of his favorites that make an appearance in this film are Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Edward Norton.  Also in the cast are Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, and Willem Dafoe along with a slew of other big stars.  The film is classified as a comedy-drama, but I’d say it should be classified as a Wes Anderson.

The story follows legendary concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gustave H (Fiennes), and his trusted friend and lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Revolori).  A client of the hotel (and former lover of Gustave) has passed away and left a priceless Renaissance painting to him in her will.  The deceased’s family is up in arms and want the family fortune all to themselves, so Gustave steals the painting and heads back to the hotel.  In the meantime, the family has accused Gustave of murdering the deceased and he gets sent away to prison.  With the help of Zero and some fellow inmates, Gustave manages to break out of prison and now he must clear his name and cash in on his priceless painting.

Wes Anderson films have a look and feel all their own, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly no different.  I think it’s a credit to the director that his films are so easily identifiable (there’s no mistaking a Wes Anderson film), but I guess that depends on whether or not you like his filmography.   With that said, I personally feel that Wes Anderson films are an acquired taste.  I remember seeing The Royal Tenenbaums back in 2001 and being bored out of my mind, not to mention how much I loathed The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.  I’ve revisited both films in recent years and can appreciate both of them much more now than I did then.  Even though his films all give off the same vibe, I think the quality is getting better with each one.  The Grand Budapest Hotel might be his best to date as it’s so brilliantly written and superbly acted.  The script is so detailed and intricate, I feel like I need to see it a few more times before I can fully appreciate it.   I’m sure it means something to an actor to be a part of a Wes Anderson film, and because of that he’s assembled an amazing cast.  Ralph Fiennes is as good as he’s ever been and absolutely steals the show here.  Even Tilda Swinton is in the film, although you wouldn’t know it by her old lady make-up.  The rest of the cast is great as well, and it just feels like they’re all having a great time making this movie.   The multi-layered story along with the lush canvas makes for an enjoyable and intriguing time at the movies.  If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson or even a fan of independent film, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a must see.

Grade: A-

The Grand Budapest Hotel opens at the Landmark Keystone Art theater in Indianapolis on Friday, March 21.

Need for Speed is the new action movie that is based upon the popular video game series of the same name.  There have been a number of other video games made into movies with varying success, such as Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie, five different Resident Evil movies, and of course Super Mario Bros.  Need for Speed is directed by Scott Waugh who is best known for directing the war movie Act of Valor which used real life U.S. Navy Seals as the actors.  The movie stars Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame, along with Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, and the original Batman himself, Michael Keaton.  The movie was post-converted to 3D and will be released in both conventional 2D and 3D.

Tobey Marshall (Paul) is a legendary street racer, but has fallen on hard times and is on the brink of losing his mechanics shop.  That is, until his rival, Dino Brewster (Cooper), offers him the job of a lifetime to finish building a Shelby Mustang that could sell for over two million.  The problem is that Dino isn’t to be trusted and Tobey accepts the offer against his better judgment.  The car gets finished and sold and Dino challenges Tobey to a street race for all of the profits.  Tobey agrees and Dino also allows Tobey’s friend Pete join the race.  The race ends in tragedy and Tobey goes to jail for a crime he didn’t commit.  Upon his release from prison, Tobey has only two days to get from New York to San Francisco to compete in a prestigious underground street race and face off against Dino one last time.  To do so, he borrows the Shelby Mustang from its owner promising half of the winnings of the race.  Its a race against time with many obstacles standing in the way just to make it to the race, and then upon arrival, he must beat some of the world’s best drivers in a high stakes deadly race.

Need for Speed is the early favorite for worst movie of the year, and I’d be very surprised if it didn’t finish the year in the top spot (or bottom, depending on how you look at it).  This is a complete mess of a film with really nothing at all working for it.  First off, there are a number of major plot points that must have been left on the cutting room floor that made the entire story meaningless.  There is this fierce rivalry between Tobey and Dino, but they never fully let us in on why all the bad blood.  Also, there is a some past with Tobey and Pete’s sister, but that was left out as well.  All of this to make room for more spinning tires and fish tail turns.  I realize that this movie wasn’t made for my demographic, but when a movie that takes itself so seriously goes so far outside of reality, it becomes impossible for me to watch.  The decisions that these characters make are out-of-this-world idiotic.  I know, I know, its just a movie, but Hollywood can do better than this.  The movie is over two hours long and I was ready for it to end twenty minutes in.  I kept thinking to myself that I cannot take another half hour car race, and that is exactly what happened.  Nothing about this movie came together for me.  On a different note, I do want to mention Aaron Paul and how great I think he is.  He has made a poor choice here, but the movie is hardly his fault.  I’m a huge fan of Breaking Bad and Aaron is a huge reason for that.  Also, on a side note, I got to see the world premiere of Aaron’s movie Hellion at Sundance this year and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy.  He stayed around after the Q&A and took pictures and signed autographs for every last person.  I’m a huge fan of Aaron Paul, but this was a big miss for him.  That said, I wouldn’t recommend anyone wasting their time or money seeing Need for Speed.  You could literally just rent the video game and watch it on demo mode for 2 hours and get the same amount of enjoyment.

Grade: F

Need for Speed opens in theaters on Friday, March 14.

Non-Stop is the new action thriller starring Liam Neeson.  The movie is directed by Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed Neeson in the 2011 psychological thriller Unknown.  Collet-Serra’s other directorial titles include House of Wax and Orphan.  Along with Neeson, the film boasts a pretty impressive cast in four time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame, Scoot McNairy, Carey Stoll, and 2014 Best Supporting Actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o.  In a few days from now, I might have to change that to 2014 Best Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong’o, but we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out.  Until then, you can check her out starting this Friday, February 28 in Non-Stop.

U.S. Federal air marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) has been assigned to travel on an international flight from New York to London.  He is a struggling alcoholic who can’t seem to get his affairs in order.  Upon take-off, Marks receives an alarming text message over a secure network that one person would be killed every 20 minutes if 150 million dollars isn’t transferred to an offshore bank account.  Marks takes the threat seriously and begins to try and solve the mystery, but his accompanying air marshal doesn’t feel quite as compelled.  As the clock ticks away, it becomes a race against time in order to save lives.  When mysterious things start to happen on the plane, Marks is no longer being viewed as the hero trying to help, but as the hijacker of the plane.  He must do all he can to prove his innocence and save the lives of everyone on board before time runs out.

Non-Stop is a one hour and forty six minute thrill ride that keeps you guessing from start to finish.  The level of intensity is very well paced and it kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.  I’m usually a pretty big critic when it comes to action movies because I often feel that writing a good script takes a back seat to the action and special effects.  I wouldn’t say that’s the case with Non-Stop, as it plays as much as a who-done-it as it does a big action movie.  Speaking of action, somehow Liam Neeson has managed to transform his image and career to become one of the biggest action heroes in Hollywood.  Mostly known for his dramatic work in the early part of his career, he has become one of the top go-to guys for action with his quiet but brutally tough demeanor.  Essentially, it feels like he’s playing the same character that he played in the two Taken films, but the story here is strong enough for this movie to stand on its own.  Aside from Liam Neeson, the rest of the cast is really good, too.  I’m a big fan of Scoot McNairy and Carey Stoll, and Julianne Moore is great in almost everything she does.  Another thing I enjoyed about this movie was the use of social media.  They did a really nice job of making the movie feel relevant to today’s society.  All said and done, Non-Stop is definitely worth the price of admission to the theater, just be prepared to be taken on a thrill ride.

Grade:  B+

Non-Stop opens in theaters on Friday, February 28.

Pompeii is the new big effects driven action/adventure movie from producer and director Paul W.S. Anderson.  He is most known for his work in science fiction and video game movies with big special effects.  Some of his previous films include the Death Race trilogy, Alien vs. Predator, and the Resident Evil series where he is currently working on the sixth film in the franchise.  Pompeii is being marketed as Pompeii in 3D in order to promote the huge CGI effects and the big set pieces.  The film stars Kit Harington from Game of Thrones fame, along with Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Kiefer Sutherland.  The movie is being released on Friday, February 21 in both conventional 2D and also 3D.

A young boy witnesses the murder of his mother and father along with his entire tribe and is then sold into slavery.  As he grows older, the slave transforms into a mighty gladiator and is sent to the Roman city of Pompeii to do battle in their arena.  The city of Pompeii is built right next to the active and volatile volcano, Mount Vesuvius.  The city has plans to grow and expand their empire, but they will need the blessing from Rome in order to do so.  Roman Senator Corvis is sent to Pompeii to hear of their future plans, but he has ulterior motives for his trip.  He has fallen for a local Pompeii girl who has just gotten home from Rome, but in turn she has fallen for our Gladiator hero.  As the intensity of their battle mounts, so does the instability of the active volcano.  As Mount Vesuvius erupts, our hero must defeat his enemies and save his love before the volcano destroys everything.

Pompeii was exactly what I thought it was going to be and maybe even a little better.  I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I actually liked it.  February is usually dumping ground for below average movies that will probably be forgotten shortly after release.  Pompeii is definitely this type of movie, but there were actually some pretty entertaining takeaways.  The movie really has three layers: gladiator fighting, volcano eruption, and the love story.  None of the three pieces really fit together with one another, but they all sort of work.  Of course, the love story part of it is extremely overdramatic and sappy.  It felt like they were trying to re-make Gladiator with a little bit of Titanic mixed in.  Then it takes a big turn when the volcano erupts and it turns into an end-of-times type disaster movie.  I will say that the special effects were very well done and that in itself is almost worth the price of admission.  A lot of times, we go to the movies to escape from reality and this is a pretty good movie to do that.  The acting was pretty hit and miss, as the emotion and intensity is maxed out by all the characters.  I did enjoy seeing Kiefer Sutherland as the villain, he did a nice job of making the audience hate him.  Granted, this isn’t the sort of movie that is going to win any awards or anything, but for a big action movie with huge special effects it actually works.  Pompeii is definitely a movie that was made to be seen on the big screen, and if you enjoy this type of film, I think you’ll have a good time.

Grade: C+

Pompeii opens on Friday, February 21.

Robocop is the new science fiction action movie that is a reboot of the 1987 movie of the same name.  This is the fourth installment in the Robocop franchise and is directed by Jose Padilha.  The Brazilian director is best known for his films Elite Squad, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, and the documentary Secrets of the Tribe.  The movie stars Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jackie Earle Haley.  This reboot has been talked about since 2005 and will finally hit theaters on Wednesday, February 12.

The year is 2028 and the use of robot soldiers for military purposes is taking over the world, but the United States is the last country to allow the takeover.  The corporation behind these “soldiers”, OmniCorp, is wanting to sell this technology for civilian law enforcement, but is being met with resistance by a new law called the Dreyfuss Act.  The main issue is that these robots don’t have feelings and therefore can’t feel remorse if they would happen to make a mistake.  CEO of OmniCorp, Michael Sellars (Keaton), and his head scientist, Dr. Norton (Oldman), figure out a way to give these robots some humanity.  In Detroit, Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) and his partner are working undercover and closing in on the bust of a major crime lord.  Circumstances happen and Alex gets blown up by a car bomb and is now the perfect candidate to lead this new initiative to place a human inside of one of these robots.  The result is a new form of super police officer, known as Robocop, but with this new technology comes many issues and new struggles over right vs. wrong and good vs. evil.

The return of Robocop didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped it would.  To be honest, I stopped getting my hopes up for the 80′s remakes years ago even though I have fond memories of the original.  With that said, I figured I might at least get to see some over-the-top action sequences and big explosions.  That really didn’t happen either, at least not to the extent I was hoping for.  Aside from the lack of big action, there were really three other aspects of the film with which I had a problem.  First, and probably the biggest issue, was the lack of character development.  We really don’t get to know much of anything about any of the characters involved, especially the villains.  Even Alex Murphy, the man inside of Robocop, isn’t fully developed, at least not enough to where I cared one bit about his character.  This sort of leads me to issue number two, the movie spends way too much time on the creation of Robocop and not nearly enough time on Robocop actually fighting crime.  I’m pretty sure that everyone going to see Robocop already knows that a man is put inside a robot to stop the bad guys and clean up the streets.  I couldn’t count the number of times that Robocop would start to do something cool, but would have to turn right back around and be brought back into the “shop” for repairs and tweaking.  They needed to cut out about 30 minutes of set-up and use that time to develop characters and show Robocop fighting crime.  Finally, the third issue I had was with the terrible acting.  The stars of the movie did a fine job, even though their characters were under-developed, but the supporting characters were downright awful.  It felt like they just pulled some extras off the street and had them read lines.  All three of those things added up to me not really enjoying the movie and really wishing they hadn’t remade it in the first place.  For those wanting to escape for a couple hours and not have to think much, Robocop might be right down your alley, but I wouldn’t recommend wasting your time.

Grade: D+

Robocop opens in theaters on Wednesday, February 12.

The Monuments Men is the new comedy/drama movie from director, co-writer, and star George Clooney.  The movie is based on a true story from the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel.  This is the fifth film that Clooney has directed and fourth he’s co-written, with most of his others being extremely well received by fans and critics alike.  The Monuments Men boasts an amazing cast that probably only George Clooney would be able to muster up.  Along with Clooney, the film stars Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, and Hugh Bonneville.  The film opens this Friday after months of anticipation.

The end of World War II is drawing to an end and the Allies are inching closer to Nazi Germany.  In the meantime, Adolf Hitler has been stealing priceless pieces of art from all over Europe with plans to build the world’s greatest art museum in Germany in his honor.  In response, a platoon of seven art aficionados whom all have a respect for the preservation of these artifacts are sent to Germany to find and return the stolen artwork to their original owners.  After some very basic training, the team is dispersed into different sections of Europe to protect pieces that hadn’t yet been stolen and also hunt for the already missing items.  The team is unsuccessful in their mission until they receive some unexpected help from a French art historian.  From here, it is a race against time as Germany has surrendered and Hitler has sent down orders to destroy all of the art.

I have to say that I have been looking forward to The Monuments Men for quite some time now.  The movie was originally scheduled to be released on December 18, 2013 and was expected to be a major player in the year-end awards race.  Even though the release date got pushed back (which is rarely a good sign) into early 2014, it was still hard for me to temper my expectations due to the amazing cast and the involvement of George Clooney as director and co-writer.  That said, I felt very disconnected to movie and because of that didn’t really enjoy it all that much.  It is a movie that I will need to re-visit down the road to see how I feel about it then, but after a first watch it came off as very flat.  The story itself is very interesting and should have been excellent source material for a great film, but the movie really misses out on making this a thriller and instead is quite dull.  I guess I was hoping for something more like Argo in terms of tone and pacing, but instead of rescuing humans they were rescuing priceless pieces of art.  The name of the book alone sets the bar pretty high calling it the greatest treasure hunt in history.  The movie isn’t a total failure by any means and the cast is really great.  It really felt like these guys were just having fun making a movie together and that chemistry came through on-screen.  There are a handful of laughs along with some pretty somber moments, but overall the movie just really didn’t work for me.  I would say it is definitely worth a rental down the road just based on the acting alone, but not necessarily worth the price of a ticket to the theater.

Grade: C

The Monuments Men opens in theaters on Friday, February 7

Lone Survivor is the new wartime action movie starring and produced by Mark Wahlberg.  The movie was written and directed by Peter Berg; the actor turned director is most known for directing big tent-pole projects such as Hancock and Battleship.  The movie is based on the true life autobiographical book of the same name written by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson.  Its said that Berg drew much of his screenplay from Luttrell’s eyewitness accounts, as well as autopsy and incident reports related to the mission.  Along with Wahlberg, the movie boasts an amazing cast with the likes of Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, and Eric Bana.

The movie is set during the War in Afghanistan where a team of four Navy SEALS are sent on a mission (Operation Red Wings) to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a leader of the Taliban.  The mission is pretty cut and dry; the SEALS will land, hit their spots, find the target, and get out as quickly as possible.  A problem arises when the team is unable to get a clear signal on their electronic devices and they are forced to move farther than planned.  As morning comes, the team is caught off guard by some local sheep herders and they now have a decision to make; do they kill them or abort the mission altogether?  Upon the decision, the four are now on the run from the Taliban and trying to locate a signal to communicate with their base.  Time is running out and the men are running out of places to hide.  It is here where we see the character and bravery of these individuals shine through.

Lone Survivor is one of the best war movies I’ve seen in years.  The true story of these Navy SEALS is truly gripping and the filmmaking is excellent.  Having such great source material to work with, the movie captures all the emotion and intensity just perfectly.  Peter Berg might have had a big miss on his hands with his last film Battleship, but he’s at the top of his game here.  The movie has a genuine gritty feel about it which is spot on.  Aside from the Berg’s writing and directing, the acting is top notch as well.  I was a bit skeptical of this sort of role for Mark Wahlberg, but he’s fantastic along with the rest of the cast.  In general, war movies aren’t usually my cup of tea, but there’s no denying the greatness of the movie.  On a side note, I was fortunate enough to see the world premiere of this movie in Los Angeles at the AFI Film Festival back in November.  The coolest part was not necessarily seeing the movie with Mark Wahlberg and some of the other stars in attendance, but seeing it with Marcus Luttrell in attendance.  As amazing and thrilling as this movie is, it was a real treat to hear Marcus talk about his real-life experience and what this movie means to him.  A really cool moment for me and my wife.  With that said, Lone Survivor is a fantastic movie experience and well worth the price of admission, a must see in theaters.

Grade: A

Lone Survivor opens in Indianapolis on Friday, January 10.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the new fantasy adventure movie from co-writer, producer, and director Peter Jackson.  This is the second of three movies based on the 1937 novel, The Hobbit, written by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Aside from this Hobbit trilogy, Peter Jackson is best known for directing the Academy Award winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The first movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was released last year and the conclusion of the trilogy, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, will be released in 2014.  This new trilogy serves as a prequel The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Most of the cast members are back from the first movie with the likes of Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, and Richard Armitage along with some new faces in Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, and voice work provided by Benedict Cumberbatch.  The movie is being released in 3D and also conventional 2D.

Bilbo, Gandalf, and the company of 13 have now successfully moved past the Misty Mountains and continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.  On their way to the forest of Mirkwood, they encounter the skin-changer Beorn and make a new ally.  Gandalf then leaves the company in order to find out the true identity of the Necromancer.  As the company is making their way through Mirkwood, they are attacked by giant spiders and all but Bilbo are captured.  They manage to escape only to be taken hostage and imprisoned by the Wood-elves.  From here the elves come under attack from the Orc’s and the company manages to escape once again.  The next stop on the journey is Lake-town where they meet up with another new ally in Bard who is a descendant of the original Lord of Dale.  This then leads company to the Lonely Mountain and a certain confrontation with the dragon Smaug.  How will their journey continue?

In my opinion, The Desolation of Smaug is a much better movie than An Unexpected Journey for a number of reasons.  For starters, we finally get into the meat of story in this movie as opposed to what seemed like an extremely long unexpected journey in the first one.  Also, the action and battle scenes are far superior in this new movie.  It picks right up where the last one left off as Bilbo now has the ring in his possession and our company of 13 dwarfs are making their way to the Lonely Mountain.  I love that this movie can stand on its own as a complete film, even though it is the middle part of a trilogy based upon one book.  With that said, as the movie got closer and closer to its conclusion, I began to question whether or not there was actually going to be a third movie.  It was a little over two hours into the movie and so much had happened and was currently happening that I was questioning how in the world they were going to be able to fit in another entire movie.  I read the book when I was younger, but really don’t remember too much about it to know where the final movie will take us.  Let’s just say that there is a lot going on in this movie and you definitely get your money’s worth no matter what happens in the next one.  It is a very long movie, clocking in at just over two hours and forty minutes, although it didn’t feel that long sitting in the theater.  The special effects and CGI are top notch which is to be expected with Peter Jackson at the helm.  I saw the 3D version, which was good, but so much of the cinematography is dark that it really didn’t add too much to the overall enjoyment.  Also, I must warn you that this is not a movie for kids; there is a lot of killing and gruesome acts of violence.  I have to admit that I wasn’t overly impressed with An Unexpected Journey and had really lost quite a bit of interest in the entire trilogy before seeing The Desolation of Smaug.  That has all changed now and I can’t wait for the final conclusion when There and Back Again hits theaters next year.  This is a must see on the big screen and a fun time at the movies over the holiday season.

Grade: A-

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens on Friday, December 13.