REVIEW: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

the-hobbit

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage and Andy Serkis

Peter Jackson established himself so well with his take on The Lord of the Rings books that he became indistinguishable from them.  After the ill-received mix bag that was 2009’s The Lovely Bones, he has retreated back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s first Middle Earth novel, The Hobbit.  Jackson’s storytelling confidence has returned to him in spades here, though drawing out one book into three separate movies that clock in at close to three hours seems like a money grab, especially after viewing this somewhat bloated first installment.

Much like the last film in Lord of the Rings, this first Hobbit segment, called An Unexpected Journey, doesn’t quite know when to end, so it just keeps going.  It is full of the scenic New Zealand grandeur and sweeping camera motions that made the earlier movies so visually thrilling, but the tone is much more slapstick.  This is because the dwarves, which were largely comic relief in Lord of the Rings, are front and center here, along with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen).  Freeman and McKellen are both excellent, but there are few stoic, serious elves or gritty rangers to balance out the obnoxious dwarves.  When contrasted with the brutal fantasy series of HBO’s Game of Thrones, it’s almost child’s play at times.

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REVIEW: 13 Assassins

13 Assassins
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Daisuke Tengan (screenplay)
Starring: Kôji Yakusho, Garô Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, and Takayuki Yamada

It turns out the man behind the gruesome yet oddly beautiful Japanese horror film Audition has the blood for hard-boiled samurai action. 13 Assassins has perhaps the most gloriously choreographed battle sequence since Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings.  Yes, it is that good.

Outside of that nearly 45 minute slice of cinematic glory is a fairly standard if beautifully shot good vs. evil story.  The aging samurai Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) is taken from his quiet days of fishing and secretly tasked by an official in the Japanese Shogun regime to kill the tyrant Naritsugu (Garô Inagaki), who will take a spot on the council and inevitably disrupt the peace with his war-craving lunacy.

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Five movie characters who are older than they appear

This post is inspired by a recent cameo in X-Men: First Class that confirms for the film series what followers of the comic  have known for a while: Wolverine is older than Professor Xavier.  We thought it’d be fun to take a closer look at characters in movies that are much older than they actually look.

Wolverine (X-Men)- You wouldn’t think Hugh Jackman would be older than Patrick Stewart, but in the superhero universe anything is possible.  As Wolverine, he slices and dices through countless enemies (in a very PG-13 way, of course).  It’ll  come in handy when he needs to wait in line to sign up for Social Security.

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Our (Belated) List of Favorite Movie Directors

1. Martin Scorsese- It may seem unimaginable that nearly three years ago director Martin Scorsese had yet to hold an Academy Award in his hands, but it is the disappointing truth. The once would-be Catholic priest entered the film making world with hits like Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets which put him at the forefront of New Hollywood with his violent, audience-specific films. Though Francis Ford Coppola felt he was unfit to helm The Godfather: Part III, Scorsese quickly overshadowed Coppola to become an icon of his own, creating films filled with themes related to violence, machismo, Italian-American identity, immigration, Catholicism and New York City. Five decades of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, Scorsese set a style of quick editing, rock and roll soundtrack and frequent collaboration with actors and editors who claim Scorsese to be a living encyclopedia of film history. The film that did it for us: Though he’s created modern epics including a personal favorite, Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s talents are most apparent in Taxi Driver, a film with some of the most carefully constructed technical detail and powerful themes of isolation, violence, sex and how they are related and lead to destruction.

2. Stanley Kubrick– One of the unprecedented visual artists in all of cinema, it’s hard to not love movies when Stanley Kubrick makes them.  His gift for telling a compelling story is aided by those infamous distant shots, able to encompass the idiocy in The War Room (Dr. Strangelove) or gravity-defying in the great beyond (2001: A Space Odyssey).  He never told the same story twice, but each film carries with it his distinct visual flair,  helping him to create some of the most fully realized worlds the movies have ever seen.  Kubrick is one of the biggest influences on American cinema not only because of his artistic genius, though.  His ruthless dedication to his vision of the material led to feuds with his actors and the writers of the source material (both on The Shining.)  Perfectionism is costly, but with it he created many things that are, in fact, perfect.  The film that did it for us: There’s never been a more beautifully filmed comedy than Dr. Strangelove, and there are few as horrific.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (screenplay), J.R.R Tolkien (novel)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Sean Astin

Epic. All the way around. No need to keep this secret.

Almost a decade later Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings remains a cinema feat and a visual masterpiece, a classic at this point. It is an exposition and beginning to a continuing series of adventures, thrills, sentiments and technical wonders. Not much is needed to be said about these things because they are obvious and they are appreciated by nearly all. Consider Lord of the Rings the Star Wars of this generation, only an even longer time ago.

Despite its mastery in CGI, its enchantment, awesomeness and appeal to give it real nerd cred before anybody ever heard of Comic-Con, it has a lot more to brag about. There are elements in The Fellowship of the Rings and the rest of the trilogy for that matter, which would be a crime to overlook. Continue reading

Our (Belated) Best Movies of the 2000s

1. There Will Be Blood– Paul Thomas Andersen’s take on a corrupt, independent oil prospector at the turn of the century who just conned a family out of their oil-wealthy land is an epic exploration of two souls squaring off in a new world torn between spiritual and capitalistic ideals. The performance of Daniel Day Lewis gives Daniel Plainview flesh and blood thicker and blacker than the oil he devotes himself to drilling, carrying the film for nearly three hours and never skipping a scene that won’t enthrall. Those who can’t appreciate experimental filmmaking or principals of classic cinema like Citizen Kane will think this movie bores more than it bleeds. Though it’s a tragic tale, telling the American nightmare oppose to the America dream, it’s technically beautiful, if not perfect. The unconventional and strange cinematography and score are just a few of the elements that set Andersen up as rebellious poet, taking a stand against everything the digital film age embodies, and in doing so he creates something just as classic, magnificent and important as Citizen Kane, but clumping them together is injustice. There Will Be Blood mines deep into new territories and in the process, becomes a masterpiece.


2. The Departed– Martin Scorsese’s visceral return to the crime drama yielded extraordinary results.  Packing an unbeatable cast into a winning script by William Monahan, Scorsese creates a world where corruption starts young and gets more powerful with age.  Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, and Mark Wahlberg are all excellent, but as with most of his films, Scorsese is the star of the show. He laces this tale of Shakespearean magnitude with perfect music and pacing.  Two and a half hours rarely go by so fast.  You’ll have whiplash by the time the film reaches its bloody climax, and love every second of it.  With The Departed, Scorsese’s created a classic that stands with his best work. Continue reading

Ten New Movie Icons

As you learn more and more about the movies in America, a few faces stand synonymous with the silver screen.  Darth Vader, James Bond, Dorothy Gale, Dirty Harry- there are countless others I could name, but that’s not the point of this post.  What are the new screen icons, the characters that will join the ranks of those immortal celluloid figures 50 years down the road?  Here are my choices for 10 movie characters who burned their towering images into the silver screen.

1. Gollum- I choose this endearing figure from the Lord of the Rings trilogy not only because of the beguiling performance of Andy Serkis, but because Gollum also marks a transition in filmmaking.  If this is the digital age, it’s only because Serkis and Peter Jackson proved you could do it without sacrificing emotional intensity or credibility.  When Gollum talks to himself as his alter ego Smeagle, you believe in the new power of special effects.

2. The Bride- The blood-splattered angel of Quentin Tarantino’s gory genre exploitations is portrayed by Uma Thurman with both the suave of a genuine action star and the grit of a truly great actress.  The yellow jumpsuit-wearing, samurai sword-wielding incarnation will remain in movie watchers’ minds for years to come.

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