The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Review – The Return Of The Mediocre King


Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies has arrived and with it comes the finale to the longest running franchise this side of planet earth. Middle-earth is still the ever-expanding fantasy land of mountains, lush greenery, and tons of factions each with their own agenda. The action is all here in the final chapter of Jackson’s prequel trilogy, and though it does exactly what it says in the title – it sadly falls short of its own ambition.

The mood that Peter Jackson embeds within the start of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is one of sullen shock at the impending doom of Lake-town by Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), completely upset at being made an object of revenge for the Dwarfs ever since he took the Mountain. He sets off and sets Lake-town ablaze, for an opening of quite catastrophic proportions. The set pieces of the opening were rather small, but at the Mountain there was no set piece bigger than the acting performance by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in a delirious state of having finally acclimated to the impending kingdom that lays before him.  Bilbo Baggins argues that they have ruined Lake-town, and the scene is cut short with its harsh discordant cut to Lake-town burning, thereby adding more tension and prose to the opening.

After Smaug is dealt with (we won’t spoil how here), Jackson shows a Middle-Earth clearly divided amongst the line of broken promises, and the salvation of people in a role-reversal as the refugees come pouring in from the now ravaged Lake-Town to an embittered and delusionally greedy Thorin who “would rather have war.” Luckily for all involved, Sauron’s army of orcs descend upon everyone for control of the mountain, which is said to be strategic point. The storyline pacing remains rather simple in its plot focus towards the beginning which is appreciated, but just seems to lose all sight of character development that was the grace of the original Lord of The Rings Trilogy as the Battle of the Five Armies begins. As a result, the majority of the film was an uninteresting war with a predictable storyline of redemption as a leader all while falling by the wayside of a lesser scope to the original trilogy in terms of the Battle of Helm’s Deep. After the huge war is over, we cannot help but feel the central concept of this finale to the The Hobbit trilogy as completely underwhelming to the audience and something that leaves nothing but more to be desired for all the wrong reasons.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Posted By: Usman Ihtsham
ON Sunday, December 28th, 2014
6:57 PM

Rome’s Catacombs – The Journey of A Lifetime


Rome is a mystery on its own. But the greatest mystery of them all is the one under the vast Roman Colosseum, where there’s an ancient civilization buried deep.  It’s time we here take you beneath Rome’s underground and into the heart of a once very living civilization.

Starting from the 10th century B.C., Rome kept on multiplying in size until well into the 5th century. A historian by the name of Vegetius wrote on the military decline at this time, and Rome wanted to show its vast power to its people still in the form of sites such as Circus Maximus, the Baths of Caracalla and even the Mouth of the Truth. The original street level was still preserved from the buried and flooded ancient civilizations, and nowadays you can find shops sprawling the upper city amongst Rome’s seven wonders.

The catacombs are the underground cemeteries where Christians would bury their passed on loved ones, especially considering the religion itself was not tolerated at that time due to the idolism that early adopters of Rome’s cultures supported. Currently, Rome has many catacombs similar to those in France, with seven being available for the public’s eye. A nearly 65-foot advertised graveyard and a 12 mile walk over 37 acres is what you will find here according to the guide book. There are popes, clerics, and many unnamed people’s graves and the feeling is almost downright spooky as you traverse cautiously and wearily through the terrain. Quite possibly the best thing people will find in the tombs are the Crypt of the Popes, where 3rd century pontiffs are laid to rest – something encapsulating and a bit saddening at the same time. Nowhere in Rome do you truly see the archaic history than you do in the catacombs.

One can also explore the Catacomb of Priscilla, based on the noblewoman who donated her land for the cemetery for reasons unknown. This site has morbid frescoes that are still in-tact, and has the first image of the Virgin Mary (or what is considered to be the first). The Office of Tourism – Rome provided us a guided tour for the catacombs called the Walks of Italy’s Crypts – which allowed us not only early access to the tombs, but to bypass a good amount of the security checkpoint line. A guided tour also allows native English speakers to truly understand what they are seeing and is a benefit to all.

So, what are you waiting for? It is time to see the early Greek-Roman world and explore the underground catacombs of the beautiful city of Rome for a different and slightly darker look into history. Get the incredibly guided tour by Walks of Italy Tour Company, explore the Crypt of the Popes or Mithraea even. The catacombs and their daunting presence await your glancing eyes.

This article has been published courtesy of The Office of Tourism – Rome

Posted By: Usman Ihtsham
ON Sunday, December 28th, 2014
9:41 AM

Sunset Overdrive Review: The Apocalyptic Fun Has Just Begun


Insomniac Games has been creating some of the best franchises for Sony Computer Entertainment for a long time – most notably Ratchet & Clank along with Jak & Daxter. This time, they take their creative genius over to Microsoft with Sunset Overdrive – an open world action adventure which features zombies and a lot of heart in every part of the city. There is action here that ranged from jumping on railways speeding you to one dimension of the city, while being able to thrive and call the world your own.


Posted By: Usman Ihtsham
ON Monday, November 24th, 2014
9:03 PM

Foxcatcher Review: The Tragic Story of David Schultz


Foxcatcher has just been released, which is a film starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and lastly Sienna Miller.  Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), Foxcatcher is filled with intensely awkward moments, suspense, and a storyline that plays out very slow and quietly.

The story of Foxcatcher is based on a true story where an Olympic Wrestling winner Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is hired by reclusive millionaire John Du Pont (Steve Carell) to join Team Foxcatcher in order to achieve his goal of honoring the nation’s real heroes in the sport of wrestling. Wrestling is shown as a dying form of pride and nationalism throughout the movie, as MMA starts to take over in a tumultuous time for Mark Schultz. Not akin to the horse-racing and breeding his mother is known for, John du Pont wants to honor the heroes of the nation who he believes to be wrestlers, or so it seems. The acting is tremendous by Steve Carell as this almost unusual and unorthodox character, and the tension builds up through the film as you see the distance between John and Schultz grow. Eventually David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) is brought in to set the team on a winning path, and things spiral downwards from there. Foxcatcher is an intimate look into something that really happened and is sadly very unusual and bleak. Unfortunately the storyline ends up being too slow in terms of its pacing, and a lot of the reasons behind John Du Pont’s insanity is shortened down to a point where the audience is confused as to potential reasons documented for a tragic event.

Foxcatcher is a decent movie, even if its pacing is incredibly slow and its character development suffers from being something more memorable.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Posted By: Usman Ihtsham
ON Saturday, November 15th, 2014
3:25 PM

Nightcrawler Review: Los Angeles Was Never This Real


Nightcrawler is a mystery when it first starts out. You have no idea what you’re getting into with this suspenseful crime thriller set in the backdrop of L.A. Crime Journalism finally sees a voice in the most eerie way possible with Jake Gyllenhaal staring in this eerie night-time thriller.

Dan Gilroy, who penned the screenplay for the Bourne Legacy, has done an exceptional job translating the concept for the movies. Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is shown as this awkward and timid guy at first, but slowly things become a little sociopathic when we see the lengths he goes to in order to get something as simple as a watch and a sale. He is seen as an almost creepy yet charming personality with a salesman attitude, and the acting here is exceptionally built by Gyllenhaal on his character. The backdrop of L.A. at the nighttime is exceptional, something we have not seen since Ryan Gosling’s Drive – with Mulholland Drive  in Hollywood Hills being covered all the way to the Ocean Front Walk right here in Venice Beach, California. The extreme tension is built as you see how much ambition is in Bloom as he tries to work his way up in the crime journalism industry not just as a significant first-reporter on the scene, but someone willing to go out of his way to make an interesting story for his lead newscaster editor who trusts him. Their relationship is complex, and by the end of it all – seems vividly real and insane.

Nightcrawler really and truly is an amazing film in terms of everything from its storyline to even the cinematography and location planning. The film has symbolism in the most unlikeliest of places, and there is something eerie that one cannot forget about Nightcrawler even after the credits roll.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Posted By: Usman Ihtsham
ON Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
1:28 PM

Interstellar Review: The Flawed Sci-Fi Action


Christopher Nolan has finally made his voyage to space in the Science Fiction film – Interstellar. The sci-fi narrative is sure to please lovers of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and anyone who loves a space film that tries to aim for realism which is compounded by the vast unknown of space travel and dangerous missions that mean the survival of the human race.

While the motif of saving the human race has certainly been used up, Nolan’s interpretation of space along with Jonathan Nolan serves a storyline that feels right in terms of its 169 minute runtime.  Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is the down-to-earth Engineer turned farmer after the world faces critical famine and drought since the denigration of the government. After receiving a mysterious location from coordinates in his daughter Murph’s room, he ends up stumbling onto a secret government operation ran by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Brand (Anne Hathaway) that has long been underway to find a new habitable planet for the humans.  Soon after, he finds himself subject to a Deus Ex Machina of a rip in time-space that can prolong the life of humans, but only if the team of Endurance can succeed in their mission. While the premise seems rather annoyingly convenient in terms of a rip in the space-time continuum and indicative of flawed point writing, the rest of Interstellar shines brilliantly like a star in the night sky. As the film gets tenser with its interplanetary travel, the audience is left constantly guessing as to what happens next. The time dilation of the film is heartbreaking as several minutes in the gravity well of one planet, ends up being several years on Earth. These sequences serve heartbreak on a plate throughout the film, while making us feel like we ourselves are enduring a journey.

Interstellar is a film with an incredible journey and mood for the most part combined with a terrible first and last half which tainted by cheap writing tactics because it delves too far into the unexplainable and paranormal nature of other dimensions. The use of the Deus Ex Machina at the beginning and end of the film sadly undermine the exceptional performances of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in their respective bildungsroman, but the journey still feels oddly complete and not terribly done. Interstellar is sure to be a great ride into space for any viewer even with its writing flaws.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Posted By: Usman Ihtsham
ON Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
8:09 PM