We review this week’s new cinema releases, including THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (USA/12A/USA/New Zealand)
Directed by Peter Jackson. Starring Martin Freman, Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Orlando Bloom.
THE PLOT: We return to Middle Earth as Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the company of dwarves face the Mirkwood and journey onwards to the Lonely Mountain. Their quest remains the same; to reclaim the dwarf homeland and defeat Smaug, the usurping dragon.
THE VERDICT: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Aidan Turner, Richard Armitage and the cast of the first film return and, as always, it is a pleasure to watch their interactions with the beautiful world of Middle Earth, and the characters around them. Newcomers include Evangeline Lilly as elf Tauriel, Luke Evans as Bard and Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown, and it is with these newcomers that much of the story rests. Lilly obviously has a great time as Tauriel, and she certainly captures the balance between deadliness and beauty, Luke Evans plays a man who is conflicted but ultimately wise, and Stephen Fry ramps up the absurdity of the story as the egotistical and selfish Master of Laketown. These characters are the ones who move much of the story forward, and aid or thwart the company as they voyage through Middle Earth.The trouble, as before, comes with the running time of the film. The first 90 minutes or so pass at a gallop, but thereafter the film feels as though it is dragging its heels and some bolder choices could have been made to benefit the pacing since the story of the film is really rather thin. Having said this, THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is a vast improvement on AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, filled as it is with danger, mystery and some truly kick ass fight sequences.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is a definite step up from the first film in the franchise; the pacing is much better although the story is as thin, and the introduction of new characters injects some much-needed freshness into the franchise. Freeman and McKellen, as always, are a joy to watch on screen, and Cumberbatch’s deliciously resonant voice is perfect for the evil dragon. The final instalment of the trilogy is sure to be the best, but The Desolation of Smaug is not that desolate after all.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH!
FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOM UNGERER STORY (Ireland/15A/98mins)
Directed by Brad Bernstein. Starring Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, Jule Feiffer, Michael Patrick Hearn, Patrick Skene Catling, Steven Heller, Burton Pike, Patrick Joseph Sheehan.
THE PLOT:
Charting the highly eventful life of award-winning children’s author, political illustrator and part-time deviant, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough starts off with the 82-year-old Ungerer’s childhood in Strasbourg, during the Nazi occupation (when the family home was requisitioned by the Wehrmacht), and the early death of his beloved father. An illustrator even then, many of his schooldays drawings depicting the war have been kept by his mother, revealing a precious talent, but it’s not until Ungerer makes his way to New York in the late 1950s that recognition came. Inspired by New Yorker illustrator Saul Steinberg, Ungerer quickly began a double-life, writing award-winning children’s books (full of ogres, snakes and other unlikely heroes) for Harper & Row whilst his illustrations appeared in many of New York’s biggest publications. Posters denouncing the Vietnam War would follow, as would works of erotica. It was the latter that ended Ungerer’s golden run when a row erupted over a best-selling children’s author also publishing books his sex slave could enjoy.
With his children’s books withdrawn from shelves, and no publisher willing to work with him, Ungerer and his wife moved first to the wilds of Canada before, in 1976, settling in West Cork. In 1998, he received the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal, whilst in 2008, Phaidon began republishing Ungerer’s much-loved children’s books…
THE VERDICT:
A fascinating story wonderfully told, with a character who is, by his own admission, full of contradictions, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough makes for a compelling, complex and ultimately heartwarming documentary. Ungerer openly admits he’s still plagued by nightmares, and yet there’s rarely a smile or a chuckle far from his lips. He’s written some magical children’s books but also delved deep into the dark psychosis of war, and the tantalising, teasing world of S&M. Part Maurice Sendak (who cites Ungerer as a major inspiration), part Robert Crumb, and part Spike Milligan, it’s pretty much impossible not to love Tomi Ungerer. And it’s pretty much impossible not to love this film. All human life is here, from the cradle to the twilight that is West Cork.
RATING: 5/5
Review by Paul Byrne 

THE PATIENCE STONE (Afghanistan/France/Germany/UK/IFI/102mins)
Directed by Atiq Rahimi. Starring Golshifteh Farahani, Hamid Djavadan, Hassina Burgan, Massi Mrowat, Mohamed Al Maghraoui, Malak Djaham Khazal.
THE PLOT: After her brutish husband (Djavadan) ends up in a vegetative state after being shot in the neck, his wife (Farahani) realises she can finally speak her mind to him. Not only about how badly her husband treated her, but also about the devastation war has brought upon her country, Afghanistan. As the woman unburdens herself, she blossoms, finding a new-found confidence and joy in being open and honest…
THE VERDICT: Adapted by director Rahimi – from his own novel – with more than a little help from the 82-year old Oscar-winning French screenwriter and actor Jean-Claude Carriere, The Patience Stone may have taken a year to reach us, but, hey, it’s been well worth that wait. Farahani is magnificent as the unnamed woman at her volcano, whilst Rahimi (and Carriere) tease out her liberation and jubilation, making for an emotionally charged and politically potent film. Nice. RATING: 4/5
Review by Paul Byrne