It’s been a long old journey through Middle Earth after Peter Jackson first cleared a path for intrepid adventurers in 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring. The completion of The Hobbit trilogy, neatly bringing us full circle to the start of The Lord of the Rings is the main cinematic event of the week; one final chance to revel in hobbits, dwarves and dragons. Unsurprisingly, this occasion overshadows other releases, but there’s still space for espionage, epilepsy, and a part animated DVD free-for-all.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies looks set to dominate the cinema this side of Christmas. So far, the series has received mixed reviews, especially when compared to the praise bestowed on The Lord of the Rings. Jackson’s three part return to Middle Earth a.k.a. New Zealand has been seen by many as an unnecessary extension of a relatively thin children’s book. There may be some truth in that, the previous entry resembling a series of barely connected set pieces and a shocking love story, but with a reduced running time and defined ending, there’s every reason to hope it can once more scale previous heights. Don’t bet against hobbits yet. They’ve been known to surprise even the most venerable of dark lords.
Want thrills with more realistic spills? Try The Green Prince. Nadav Schirman’s documentary tells the story of Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of one of the founders of Hamas, who worked undercover for Israeli internal security for a decade. Both a gripping account of high stakes espionage and a personal study of the man at the heart of it all, a man unable to return to his family and former life for fear of reprisals, Schirman’s film carries itself like Jason Bourne while punching with real emotional depth. There’s a reason it’s been picking up awards on the festival circuit including the Audience Award at Sundance this year where it premiered.
Perhaps this is all too conventional for you. What’s a poor viewer in search of something different to do? The answer might be Electricity. Agyness Deyn stars as a young woman suffering crippling epilepsy attacks who sets out to track down her missing brother. Striking visuals and an accomplished central performance provide a fascinating experience with nary an overblown special effects laden set piece in sight.
And so to home entertainment where The Congress, Ari Folman’s first film since the superlative Waltz with Bashir in 2008 arrives this week. Largely ignored on release, this part live action part animated mash-up drawing on a Stanislaw Lem novel received mixed reviews from critics. Which is a shame because it’s magnificent. Robin Wright plays an actress who has her body digitally cloned by a major studio on the proviso she disappears from public and lets them make films with her never aging clone. From there, a fantastical animated world opens up as Folman digs a sharp knife in Hollywood’s ribs while exploring enough ideas to fill a philosophy course. Frantically mad and elegantly beautiful, it’s an experience not to be missed.
Well that should be enough to keep you busy. I’ll see you next week for a double Christmas edition that will take in biblical epics, war in the pacific and the return of two old idiots. See you then.