Category Archives: Culture

Film Review : The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies

Finally the dwarfs and Bilbo Baggins have reached the lonely mountain and met Smaug, who promptly flies away to wreck short-lived revenge upon Laketown. With the dragon dispatched, Thorin Oakensheild should be a happy dwarf but now his thoughts turn to how to protect his golden hoard. And where did that Arkinstone get to?

Thorin Oakensheild on a pile of gold

This was always my favourite part of the book, the quest is over but the characters have to deal with the consequences of their decisions. The actual battle itself is secondary (and not even described in the novel), it is Bilbo’s actions that drive the plot, and only now does he really become the main character in the story.

Of course, being a Hollywood fantasy epic, The Battle of the Five Armies has a go to great length to show five armies battling. Peter Jackson is an old hand at this and the battle is actually reasonably compelling, although I don’t want to ever again see a character raises his eyes to a distant ridge just in time for a host of warriors to appear. It happens at least twice in this film alone – don’t these mighty leaders ever send scouts out? It’s all about basic situational awareness, people!

Everything is very pretty and well directed but The Battle of the Five Armies just doesn’t know when to stop, especially with the individual fights. The titular battle is eventually ignored as half the characters go dwarfo e orco in another location. The film establishes that the average orc dies immediately from the merest scratch (even a small stone thrown from a child-sized hobbit can completely flatten them), but orcs with names take forever to take down. It is always entertaining watching Ninja-Legolas dance around but Thorin’s final struggle comes to a perfect conclusion and then … keeps going. It just will…not…end.

On the other hand, the film itself doesn’t draw out its ending after the climax. Once the battle is over it quickly moves to the amusing denouement of the novel with a couple of minutes left over to finish off the tedious wrap-around story started over 8 hours of screen-time ago.

Of all the three films, I enjoyed this one the most. It has the possibly the least plot but by this stage the characters are well developed and you can’t say it is boring. Even Gandalfs pointless and padded side quest is despatched with quickly.

As a Hobbit film, TBotFA is still impossibly violent and lacks the charm of the book, but the it succeeds on its own terms and you can’t really argue with that title.

Recommended for completists or if you like this sort of thing

Book Review – Hellstar

Hellstar by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry

Cover picture from HellstarEarth’s first colony ship to the stars is going fine, several decades into its trip to a distant habitable planet. The 8000 inhabitants are healthy and happy in their metal torus. But slowly things start going wrong – mechanical failures and strange physical phenomena manifest themselves with increasing frequency, and soon the population starts showing the strain. A serial killer and a dangerous recreational drug don’t help things either.

Hellstar, despite the terrible title, is actually not a bad hard scifi (with a few mystical overtones) thriller. By no stretch of the imagination is it a good book, but it is well-paced and its only real major crime was being written in 1986. It’s time to bring out The Eighties Scifi Paperback Checklist:
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The Freedom Trail, Various Wildlife Refuges, and Three Pieces of Performance Art

This entry is just a collection of random stuff I have experienced recently. In no particular order:

The Freedom Trail

Bunker Hill MonumentThe Freedom Trail is a self-guided walk that winds through central Boston, passing various sites of historical interest on the way. Boston is very proud of its history, being the site of the American Revolution (boo hiss) and the abolitionist movement (better late than never) and its role in the American civil war (hooray).

About 40% of the sites on the trail are connected to Paul Revere, I was pretty sick of hearing about him by the end.

At the end of The Freedom Trail is the Bunker Hill Monument. Technically (and confusingly) not on Bunker Hill, the monument commemorates The Battle of Bunker Hill (which was also not actually on Bunker Hill). In any case, you can climb to the top of the monument (294 steps!) for a cramped, hot, and majestic view of the city. This picture is looking vaguely west along the Charles River in the background.
Boston from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument

4th of July

The fourth of July is one of the important holidays, and one Boston celebrates with gusto. The public celebration was brought forward one day because of the bad weather forecast for the 4th, so I went down to the Charles River Esplanade to see how things were done. It was basically like Symphony Under the Stars in Auckland but with more security (and armed police wandering around). We were treated to various patriotic songs by the Boston Pops Orchestra and some hits from a Beach Boy. The crowd had a very lucky escape when Joey McIntyre couldn’t make the rescheduled event.

I learnt that nobody really knows the words to the America national anthem, and fewer people actually have the range to sing it. I also learnt that Americans get annoyed if you sing the correct lyrics My Country, Tis of Thee, which more properly begin “God save our gracious Queen.”

The concert was cut short due to the encroaching rain, and we were treated to the best fireworks display I have seen. It must have been visible from most of the city. The best part were the shells that exploded into reasonable attempts at a giant smily faces.

5 minutes after the fireworks ended, the thunder storm took over the skies. Boston gets proper summer storms, the lightning lasted for over an hour and for a while you could almost read by it, so frequent were the flashes.

Sharknado

I don’t really have much to say about this. Sharknado is a (terrible) made-for-TV film that became a minor hit a while ago. This was a special presentation by the guys behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000 which consisted of them playing the film in its entirety, but making jokes over the top. Despite being fairly inept, Sharknado is quite entertaining, and with added jokes makes for a good evening’s entertainment.

My only other observation is that in America, a small coke at the theatre is approximately 1 litres worth.

The Phantom of the Opera

The tragic story of a hideous man who sits backstage playing the keyboard all-the-while lusting over a beautiful actress he will never have. Wherever does Andrew Lloyd Webber get his ideas from? </old joke>

This was a lavish production, with pyrotechnics and all sorts of stage trickery. It turns out I had completely misinterpreted the story, so the ending was a complete surprise to me. The Boston Opera house is pretty amazing just by itself. It is a little like the Civic is Auckland but about twice the size. This photo doesn’t really do it justice.
Boston Opera House (from the cheap seats)

Ipswich River and Great Meadows Lake Wildlife Sanctuaries

Finally some photos from two wildlife sanctuaries I have visited in the last few weeks.

Beaver Dam at Ipswich Wildlife RefugeThis is a beaver dam (the pile of sticks, not the bridge – beavers are neat but not that good at building). I have seen several of these constructions in various parks, but no beavers as yet.

Lillypads at Ipswich River ReserveThis pond was absolutely filled with turtles of various sizes. American ponds seem a lot more alive than back in New Zealand, with frogs, insects and small mammals all vying for space. The lilypads are nice as well.

Triple Feature – All Three Transformers Films

Red Letter Media is a company that produces humorous film reviews. I have linked to these guys before, when they released the amazing takedown of The Phantom Menace.

Here is something different. A little film called Transformers 4 : Age of Extinction is coming out soon, and what better way to celebrate this milestone than to watch the first three films? Simultaneously.

Personally, I have only seen the first Transformers. It was terrible.

Epic Rap Battles of History

My current obsession is the Epic Rap Battles of History youtube channel. What could have been a stupid idea is redeemed by clever editing, well produced music, and just a whiff of actual research. They also somehow managed to get some pretty big guest names to play some of the characters.

They also show clear signs of improving with each season. Season 3 is currently being released, but they already have a large back-catelogue of good material.

Here is my favorite so far:

Some others I like:
Hulk Hogan vs Kim Jong-il
Bruce Lee vs Clint Eastwood
Gandhi vs Martin Luther King Jr.
Mozart vs Skrillex
And finally, Rasputin vs Stalin, quite possibly the best summary of Russian history since Boney M.