Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Release Date: December 10th, 2001 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis, Sala Baker, Peter Jackson (cameo)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 178 Minutes, 208 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 228 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 171 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“[Gandalf is standing on the bridge, in front of the Balrog] You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. You shall not pass!” – Gandalf

This was a definite treat to revisit, especially since I just revisited The Hobbit trilogy beforehand. I wanted to watch them in chronological order for the first time but having now seen this again, a film I have probably seen a dozen times already, I have an even greater appreciation for it, as it’s truly perfection.

Unlike those Hobbit movies, The Fellowship of the Ring and its two sequels, didn’t have identity issues. It has a consistent tone throughout and it knows exactly what it needs to be and how to accomplish that. This was Peter Jackson at his absolute best and this is a timeless movie and will continue to be for generations.

Being that this was the first major live action adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, makes its level of perfection something truly special and a feat that proves that the impossible can be possible. I should state, though, that the Soviets and the Finnish did their own live action adaptations before this but no one has really seen them and they weren’t done with the resources and budget that allowed this story to really live and breathe the right way.

I’ve tried to think of negatives for the sake of this review but the acting is superb, the directing and cinematography are flawless and the special effects are better than anything else that predates this film. Also, the issues that exist with The Hobbit films don’t exist with this one.

We have real human beings in prosthetics and makeup as the orcs and goblins. Also, the film isn’t afraid to rely on some other practical effects. Sure, there is CGI galore but the film doesn’t default to it and it’s why this looks better than The Hobbit films, which started coming out 11 years later.

The best thing about this film is its spirit. You immediately care about these characters, all of them, they mesh well pretty exceptionally, and none of them look stupid like most of the dwarves in The Hobbit. Gimli, the main dwarf in this story, looks like a real character and not a cartoon caricature.

Also, you care about the journey and how it is taking a toll on everyone in the party. You feel their emotions, their stress and their burden in seeing things through no matter what the cost.

The action is stupendous and the big battle at the end of the film is incredible. Also, the wizard battle between Gandalf and Saruman is incredibly badass.

Howard Shore, who scored all of these Tolkien pictures, did a much better job at creating the themes for these films than The Hobbit trilogy. The music here hits the right notes and it’s all become pretty iconic.

There is a reason why this film gave birth to Tolkien Fever in the early 2000s. Everything about it was just right and it was a real example of filmmaking and storytelling perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Comic Review: Aquaman/Justice League: Drowned Earth

Published: Octoberber 17th, 2018 – November 28th, 2018
Written by: Scott Snyder, Dan Abnett, James Tynion IV
Art by: various

DC Comics, 224 Pages

Review:

This was a big crossover event that was used to give us a cool and epic Aquaman story just as his first movie was set to hit theaters. It’ts spread over multiple titles in a similar style to the recent Wonder Woman/Justice League Dark: The Witching Hour event.

The plot deals with some Atlantean deities coming to Earth and drowning the planet with magic water that turns everyone into fish zombies. No, seriously, that’s the premise.

That being said, it still plays out really cool and as bonkers as it sounds, the writers commit to the bit and the story is just as fun as it is nuts. It’s also pretty damn intense, as the surviving heroes try their damnedest to not get wet while working to save the planet.

However, there isn’t much here that seems to hold any real weight over the DC universe, apart from how it effects just Aquaman and where his comic will go, as it moves forward with a new creative team.

This will probably be remembered for its insanity but other than that, it isn’t an event that will be remembered as anything more than a cash grab and promotional tool for the upcoming Aquaman movie.

It had a solid creative staff and is certainly better than DC’s current mega event Heroes In Crisis but this massive extinction level event went down and now everyone, except Aquaman, is fine and has moved on. In fact, most of the other DC titles didn’t even seem effected by this other than a few casual mentions of people being turned into fish zombies.

I did like tracking down all these issues, nonetheless. I’ll always think of it fairly fondly, simply because it was a wild ride and mostly exciting.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Aquaman stories leading up to this, as well as the recent crossover The Witching Hour. This also ties back to Dark Nights: Metal.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 1 – Spotlight on Todd McFarlane (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 1 Episodes, 50 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t have all of these VHS tapes when I was a kid but I did have a lot of them. Luckily for me, and all of you, these are on YouTube. I’ve wanted to revisit these for ages but I haven’t had a working VCR since the Bush II administration.

I was going to review the series as a whole. However, after watching the first episode, which featured Stan Lee interviewing Todd McFarlane, I felt that each episode probably deserves its own review.

This was great to see, twenty-seven years later, as I’m no longer twelve and I had a much greater appreciation of this now than I did back then.

First of all, it was fantastic seeing Stan Lee, still with some youthful vigor, interviewing Todd McFarlane and discussing art techniques and the history of the business, as well as Todd’s career.

It’s pretty clear that Todd would have been a great teacher, as he shows the how and why he employs the techniques he does. For those wanting to get into drawing comics, this is a pretty valuable tool and I’m assuming the other episodes in this series are too. That’s actually why I bought a half dozen of these back in the early ’90s.

All in all, I liked hearing Todd and Stan share stories of the comic industry. Watching them shoot the shit for an hour was a lot of fun.

McFarlane is one of the all-time greats and what makes this even more interesting, is that it came out when he was transitioning away from Marvel and Spider-Man and just gearing up to establish Image Comics and his greatest creation, Spawn.

I really enjoyed this episode and I hope the others live up to the precedent set with this first one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Film Review: High Sierra (1941)

Release Date: January 23rd, 1941 (Los Angeles, Louisville and Providence)
Directed by: Raoul Walsh
Written by: John Huston, W.R. Burnett
Based on: High Sierra by W.R. Burnett
Music by: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, Alan Curtis, Arthur Kennedy, Joan Leslie, Willie Best

Warner Bros., 100 Minutes

Review:

“Of all the 14 karat saps… starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog.” – Roy Earle

High Sierra came out just before The Maltese Falcon, which is one of the films from 1941 credited with the birth of the film-noir style. However, like a few other Humphrey Bogart crime pictures before it, High Sierra is very much film-noir.

The story sees an aged criminal named Roy Earle get out of prison, only to plan one big retirement job so that he can give himself a big nest egg before he hangs up his criminal ways for good. Along the way, he meets the young Velma and her family. Velma needs a surgery to give her back her mobility. Earle, falling for the young girl, has plans to do the job, pay for the girl’s surgery and then ride off together in the sunset. But a lot of curveballs are thrown and Ida Lupino’s Marie has her eye on Earle.

Even though Bogart plays a criminal, planning a big heist, he is a likable and charismatic character, often times acting with his hearty instead of his head. Watching the film, there is a part of me that felt that he was a character that could redeem himself by film’s end. But being that this is noir, bad things happen to people that don’t walk the straight and narrow.

The performances from all the main players were really good in this movie. Bogart and Lupino had fantastic chemistry and I feel as if the world should have seen them play off of each other more than what we got. I loved Lupino in this and Bogart was typical badass Bogart.

I also liked the dog that always tried to save the day and Willie Best’s character Algernon was a delight.

The movie has a sadness to it because you are pulling for Earle to make it out of this thing unscathed but you also know that it’s not possible.

The big standoff in the Sierras was really well shot and executed. Raoul Walsh was a fine director and his work here was no different. Also, he was working off of a script form John Huston, who would become a great filmmaker in his own right.

High Sierra is a very layered film with a lot of emotional depth from it’s two top players.

All in all, a great early film-noir with powerful leads and a good amount of energy and emotion in the big finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart noir and crime pictures: The Maltese FalconKey Largo, Dark Passage, etc.

Film Review: Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Also known as: Les yeux sans visage (original title), House of Dr. Rasanoff (alternate title), The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (US dubbed version)
Release Date: January 11th, 1960 (France)
Directed by: Georges Franju
Written by: Georges Franju, Jean Redon, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Claude Sautet
Based on: Les yeux sans visage by Jean Redon
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Édith Scob, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel

Champs-Élysées Productions, Lux Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, 84 Minutes

Review:

“My face frightens me. My mask frightens me even more.” – Christiane Génessier

Eyes Without a Face isn’t what I would call a scary horror film, as much as I’d call it a chilling one.

It’s sad, it’s tragic, it has great atmosphere, solid cinematography and incredible performances and all that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

There is something deep and introspective in this motion picture. It’s unsettling but it’s somehow sweet in a very twisted way. Yet that sweetness comes naturally and while you should hate the antagonists of this film, you understand that the horrible things they do is out of love. That doesn’t excuse their horrible acts but for a horror film released in 1960, it makes you sympathize with evil, which wasn’t too common back then.

That being said, it’s still great to see the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end, especially since it comes at the hands of the one they loved most.

The story revolves around a surgeon and his daughter, who has had her face completely destroyed. In an effort to restore his daughter’s beauty, he has his female assistant lure in young girls only to abduct them and steal their face. A lot of the scenes are terrifying, as all the girls seem sweet and innocent, as you know that they are being pulled into something horrible.

What makes things more difficult, is that the disfigured daughter, Christiane, is also a sweet girl who exists within very tragic circumstances. She becomes aware of what’s happening and it’s a sad realization and hard to watch unfold on the screen. But Christiane’s face is obscured by an almost faceless mask for most of the film. Édith Scob was able to convey Christiane’s emotions quite well though, considering that all she had to work with were her eyes and body language.

The surgeon’s assistant is played by Alida Valli, who you will recognize from the original Suspiria, as well as the near perfect film-noir The Third Man. Valli gives a stupendous performance here as she uses her charm to trap the young girls and deliver them to the mad surgeon.

The film also has an incredibly effective and very unique score done by Maurice Jarre. It has a real contrast to the tone we see on screen, as the music is lighthearted and almost comical in certain moments. I think that it was used to make things purposely disjointed and more unsettling in specific scenes. It may seem out of place and strange at first glance but by the end of the film, it works amazingly well.

There are also a lot of really stellar shots in the film. The scene where we get a bit of the face reveal of Christiane, when she comes face to face with one of her father’s victims is incredibly powerful and creepy. Also, the scene of Christiane walking outside, after releasing the savage German Shepherds and caged doves is beautiful.

Eyes Without a Face is more of an experience than a movie. It probably won’t resonate with modern audiences as well as it did with people in 1960 but if you love a film with an interesting atmosphere and something with real emotional depth to it, then you’ll probably dig this picture.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty unique but I like watching this with 1962’s Carnival of Souls.

Comic Review: Daredevil, Issues #254-256

Published: May, 1988 – July, 1988
Written by: Ann Nocenti
Art by: John Romita Jr., Al Williamson

Marvel Comics, 70 Pages

Review:

Everyone loves Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil. However, when I discovered the character, Miller had already moved on. It didn’t matter though, because I loved the stories so much that I picked this up nearly every month.

I came into this during the long Ann Nocenti run. I didn’t have the appreciation for it, at the time. I just liked Daredevil and everything that came with it.

Now, as a cultured adult, I understand what I love most about this era.

First, it’s Nocenti’s writing. She did some great things with all the key characters and really built off of what Frank Miller did before her. If I can be so bold, I think she improved upon it greatly and her run on the title is my favorite out of all the creators who have touched this character.

Second, the artwork of John Romita Jr. is incredible. I have always loved his style and he was the perfect artist for Nocenti’s Daredevil.

The three issues I’m reviewing here are pretty important, as this is the first appearance, origin and story arc for one of the best Daredevil villains, Typhoid Mary.

In recent years, I feel like Mary hasn’t been utilized well. Going back in time, reading this, and seeing how she was in the beginning was refreshing. I’ve always loved the character, more so than Elektra, and felt like she was a good foil with a romantic twist for the hero.

Here, she is just so sinister and the Romita art gives her so much life. She’s never looked cooler or more badass than she did when Romita was drawing her.

Overall, the story is also really good. I love how she comes into the plot, how the Kingpin brings her into the fold and how it all plays out, as she is on a mission to destroy Matt Murdock once and for all. And she doesn’t even want the money, she just thinks that ruining his life would be fun.

The story is dark, satisfying and a great example of how the team of Nocenti and Romita were one of the best in the late ’80s.

Once I start filling in some holes in my Daredevil collection, I’ll do more reviews of Nocenti stories.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: anything from the great Ann Nocenti run on Daredevil.

Film Review: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

Also known as: The Lodger (shortened title)
Release Date: January, 1927 (London premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Eliot Stannard
Based on: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Cast: Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney, June Tripp, Malcolm Keen, Ivor Novello

Gainsborough Pictures, Carlyle Blackwell Productions, 74 Minutes (National Film Archive print), 90 Minutes (TCM print), 67 Minutes (video version), 98 Minutes (Ontario version), 92 Minutes (2012 theatrical version), 90 Minutes (2012 restoration)

Review:

“Tall he was – and his face all wrapped up.” – Female Eyewitness

Being a big Hitchcock fanboy, I thought I really owed it to myself to go back and look at his really early work. So, with this, I went back to the silent era. This was also made before he made his way to Hollywood and became the premiere director of his time.

The Lodger is a dark and dreary film but it does have its lighthearted moments too. Hitchcock, even as early as 1927, was able to create a good balance between an intense thriller vibe and humor. This skill allowed him to lighten the tension, at the right moments, and he could do that like no other director from his era. And, in fact, seeing it used so well here, shows me that he was ahead of his time in how he constructed the narrative of his thrillers.

Another thing that was ahead of its time or, at least, much more advanced than the industry standard, was how Hitchcock did the title cards in his film. Many of them were animated and had a life and vibrancy that was unseen. He also used really interesting colors with them, which provided a bit more tonal context. You couldn’t watch this compared to what was common at the time and accuse this film of lacking energy.

Also, Hitchcock did a lot of interesting shots of people in close ups, reacting to things. While that’s not uncommon for the 1920s, he did it in a more avant-garde way.

Ultimately, this film really felt like Hitchcock was experimenting with a lot of techniques and style but it works really well here.

The story deals with a serial killer. He is only described as being tall and having a scarf around the lower half of his face. Not too long after that, a mysterious man moves into a room in the neighborhood and he fits the description of the killer, who is still at large.

I don’t want to spoil anything beyond that but this almost has a plot that feels noir in its style. But then a lot of Hitchcock films had noir qualities and tropes.

For 1927, this is a really solid motion picture. It was a very effective thriller that had me engaged from start to finish. It has an atmosphere that envelops you.

What The Lodger really showed me, however, is that Hitchcock was a pretty capable director from the get go and a true auteur.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other very early films by Hitchcock.