Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Release Date: December 5th, 2002 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Two Towers 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 (Extended Edition), Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 179 Minutes, 235 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 228 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 171 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak I fought with the Balrog of Morgoth… Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountain side… Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time… The stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as a life age of the earth… But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I’ve been sent back until my task is done.” – Gandalf

I have seen all of these movies probably a dozen times but it has been several years now since revisiting them. From memory, I always thought of The Two Towers as the weakest of the trilogy but it is still a masterpiece and a perfect film for what it is: a bridge between the beginning and the end.

It also ups the ante quite a bit and is more epic in scale, as the two final battles alone are bigger than anything we saw in the first film, apart from the intro that showed the fall of Sauron millennia earlier.

But, really, the climax to this motion picture is absolutely amazing. If you are a fan of epic battles, this does not disappoint. If you are a fan of fantasy, this should definitely satisfy your palate.

All the key players are back and that includes Sean Bean’s Boromir, who died in the previous movie. Granted, he is only in a couple of flashbacks in the Extended Edition but it’s great to see him and to get more context in regards to how Gondor is run and the relationship between Boromir, Faramir and their father.

The return of Gandalf and the shift in power away from Saruman and to him is a really great moment that helps turn the tide towards the light. Ian McKellan was superb and his character’s evolution was incredible. The continuation of his battle with the Balrog is one of my favorite cinematic moments of all-time.

It is Viggo Mortensen who steals the show, however. While he was great in the first picture and was perfectly cast, he truly shines here and anyone watching this film would want to follow him, which is great considering what his role is in the goings on of Middle Earth and how this series ends in the following film.

If you are going to watch these films, you should always watch the Extended Editions, as they provide more story, better context and a heftier helping of the meat and potatoes. The Extended Edition of The Two Towers offers a lot of extra footage that isn’t in the original theatrical version. It isn’t so much that it makes it a different film but it certainly makes it a better one.

The Two Towers is perfect. It is a masterpiece like the other two pictures in the trilogy. It is the weakest, sure, but I’d rather be the weakest film in this trilogy than the best film in the Transformers series.

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

Comic Review: Aquaman, Vol. 1: The Drowning

Published: January 17th, 2017
Written by: Dan Abnett
Art by: Phil Briones

DC Comics, 173 Pages

Review:

I have heard nothing but good things about Dan Abnett’s run on Aquaman. Since I’ve been loving his work on The Silencer, I thought I’d finally give his Aquaman stuff a shot.

I wasn’t expecting what I got with this first volume in Abnett’s long run, though. This wasn’t just good, it was great. In fact, it was such a fun read that even though I started it while waiting for food in a diner, my food ended up getting cold because I read this whole story arc straight through.

The story kicks off with Aquaman, the King of Atlantis, opening up an embassy to help build a bridge between land people and those that live underwater. During the opening event, the embassy is attacked in what seems like terrorism. However, it is a personal plot by Black Manta, who is trying to hurt Aquaman at his core.

There is a fantastic battle between Aquaman and Black Manta that sets the stage for this series and really makes this comic an exciting one.

Things escalate and Aquaman is eventually arrested and detained by the United States. Mera breaks him out and we end up getting Aquaman and Mera versus the U.S. military with an eventual appearance by Superman, who is trying to ease the tension between all parties.

I loved this. Abnett’s story was top notch and he really understood the aspects of Aquaman’s character and world that make him interesting. Plus, the art by Phil Briones is stellar and helped round out this book into something pretty exceptional by modern era standards.

This is definitely a recommend, especially with the Aquaman movie coming out this month. I now want to rush out and pick up the second volume.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: anything from Dan Abnett’s glorious run on Aquaman, as well as the Drowned Earth crossover event.

Film Review: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Also known as: Blood of Frankenstein (working title), I, Frankenstein (alternate title)
Release Date: June 1st, 1958 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Leonard Salzedo
Cast: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Film Productions, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It should have been perfect. I made it to be perfect. If the brain hadn’t been damaged, my work would have been hailed as the greatest scientific achievement of all time. Frankenstein would have been accepted as a genius of science. Instead, he was sent to the guillotine. I swore I would have my revenge. They will never be rid of me!” – Dr. Victor Stein

The Revenge of Frankenstein was the first sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein. It came out pretty quickly, as its predecessor was released just a year earlier. Also, 1958 saw the release of another major Hammer Films movie that also starred Peter Cushing: The Horror of Dracula. Just after that, in 1959, we got The Mummy. Both of of those films kicked off their respected franchises for Hammer. Basically, Cushing was the king of the Universal Monsters remakes in the UK.

Now this isn’t nearly as good as Curse but it isn’t the worst of the Frankenstein sequels either. I feel that the creative process was probably hindered by Hammer Films being spread too thin due to a bunch of films being developed at the same time.

The script is still pretty decent and the story works well in keeping Baron Frankenstein alive and his experiments going.

However, this actually plays more like a drama than a horror film. Sure, there’s a monster but he’s hardly scary and then there’s a man who has been experimented on by Frankenstein and goes mad, dying in the doctor’s arms, yelling his name in front of a bunch of people at a party.

While Baron Frankenstein now exists as Dr. Stein and practices in another town, the yelling of his true name, combined with his likeness, makes the townsfolk very suspicious.

Frankenstein’s assistant in this film is much more on his side than the previous movie and he assists the doctor in faking his own death, once again, so that he can escape, move somewhere else and continue his work. I actually love the final scene in this movie and it firmly establishes that this film isn’t just a sequel but that it’s now an ongoing franchise.

This is an interesting and well crafted chapter in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, even if it is short on terror. It’s carried by the great performance of Peter Cushing, who seems more comfortable in the role and looks like he’s really enjoying the character, which is probably the best role he’s played over his long career.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is a solid outing by Hammer and another good performance by Peter Cushing. I also really enjoyed the performance by Michael Gwynn as a victim of Frankenstein’s work. Gwynn worked in other Hammer films, as well and is probably most recognized as the priest from Scars of Dracula.

Additionally, Francis Matthews was great as Frankenstein’s sinister assistant Dr. Hans Kleve.

In the end, Terence Fisher directed a pretty good sequel to his predecessor that built off of it and set the stage for the chapters after this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Book Review: ‘Kirby: King of Comics’ by Mark Evanier

If you love comics and you’re not a fan of Jack Kirby, you might be an evil alien from Apokolips.

Jack Kirby was the King. While this book actually tells you the tale of how Kirby got this name and how it bothered him, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the King, as far as the art side of comic book creation goes.

He’s a man that’s been around since the beginning of superhero comics and was instrumental in creating dozens of characters that people pay billions of dollars to see on the big screen, several decades later.

I have always loved Jack Kirby and this book is truly invaluable for fans of the man’s work.

The book is a biography but most of the pages are full of Kirby art, throughout his entire career, and this is almost more of an art book than it is a straight biography. But I love that this is really a hybrid of the two, as it’s nice to read the stories behind his creations while also getting to soak in the art associated with it on large pages.

This is a thick, over-sized book that presents Kirby’s work nicely. It feels good in your hands and I know that it is a book that I will always look through for years and years. I may even scan and blow up a lot of the art to make prints for my wall.

What I loved most about this, is it delves deep into Kirby’s life and his work and doesn’t put all of the focus on his time at Marvel and DC. There’s so much here that I wasn’t aware of and a lot of stupendous Kirby concepts and comics that I never knew existed and have never seen until now.

This is a book that all real comic book fans should own.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other biographies of comic book greats, such as Stan Lee’s “Exclesior” and “Will Eisner: A Spirited Life”.

Comic Review: Marvel Premiere Featuring Man-Wolf

Published: December, 1978 – February, 1979
Written by: David Anthony Kraft
Art by: George Perez, Frank Giacoia, Ricardo Villamonte

Marvel Comics, 38 Pages

Review:

I’ve been picking up old issues of Marvel Premiere lately. Mainly, because this anthology series predates the era where I first started reading comics and because Marvel’s ’70s fantasy stuff is pretty rad.

This Man-Wolf story was released over two issues, starting in the month I was born. Also, the Man-Wolf character is pretty damn cool when used in the right sort of story. This is definitely one of those stories, as this is where he becomes the super powerful Stargod.

The thing that really sold this for me though, was the George Perez art. His style has always resonated with me and his art was one of the factors that really got me into comics. When I first started drawing, I mimicked Perez a lot.

I think the thing that makes this a pretty cool story though, is the fantasy setting. Man-Wolf ends up in a weird place and becomes a god to a crew of barbarian type heroes. When you see him unleash his raw power, it’s absolutely ridiculous.

On the other hand, he was almost too powerful for this story and when the big showdown with the baddies happens, it felt a bit lazy in how easy it was for him to basically just turn into a friggin’ magic bomb. But I’m not complaining because the badassness of it is stronger than how convenient it was. Plus, it works for the narrative, as this was more about Man-Wolf becoming Stargod than fighting generic fantasy villains.

This was a really cool story to pick up. I think it would have been better though, if it was spread out over four issues and gave us a bit more depth and character development for Man-Wolf’s allies.

But comics are supposed to be fun escapism and that’s exactly what this is.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Man-Wolf stories from the era, most notably the issues that feature him in another Marvel anthology series, Creatures On the Loose.

Film Review: The Wolverine (2013)

Also known as: Wolverine 2 (working title), Wolverine: Inmortal (Spanish language title), Wolverine: Samurai (Japan)
Release Date: July 16th, 2013 (London premiere)
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Based on: Wolverine by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, Patrick Stewart (cameo), Ian McKellan (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 126 Minutes, 138 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“Your grandfather called me a ronin, a samurai without a master. He said I was destined to live forever, with no reason to live.” – Logan

The Wolverine did a pretty good job of making up for the mostly terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. Also, it was the film I wanted instead of Origins because when I first heard that they planned on a solo Wolverine film, I immediately hoped that they would tap into his Japan stories. I just had to wait a few more years for that, I guess.

Everything about this film is really good, except two things.

The first, is that it was drawn out a bit too much. I felt like it could have been whittled down by twenty minutes or so and had a much better flow to it.

The second, is the villains. I loved the story but the baddies were weak as hell and really uninteresting.

Viper has never been a character that’s been a big deal in the comics and I’ve never really cared about her. In this, she just never felt like a real threat. She spits acid but in a film where the hero is Wolverine, who heeled from a nuclear bomb blast in the first five minutes. So now I’m supposed to worry about him getting acid spit in his face?

The other villain is a more well-known character from the comics, the Silver Samurai. However, he isn’t really the Silver Samurai here, he’s just an old dying Japanese billionaire wearing a mecha suit. Sure, the suit is adamantium but whatever. Tear that shit open like a tin can and squash the dude’s head like a grape. And again, he’s just not the real Silver Samurai.

Getting back to Viper, she stuck out like a sore, disfigured thumb. The reason why is because her acting was abominable. Everyone else in this film gave great performances. I don’t think it’s her lack of experience in acting that’s the issue, it’s just that her poor performance is greatly contrasted by how good everyone else is in this. She would blend in to a lesser film but every scene that she is in here, is bogged down by her performance. It really hindered key moments in the film.

Getting to the positives, there are more of those.

The story is great and I do love how it develops and evolves. It could have used better pacing but once you get to Japan, things really pick up and there is just a bit in the middle that could have been edited down because I didn’t need as much attention given to the romance story as this film felt it needed.

All of the action sequences are executed superbly, most of the CGI is pretty good and Hugh Jackman proved that he is perfect as this character, even if hardcore fans still complain that he’s too tall.

I also really enjoyed Rila Fukushima’s Yukio. She kind of made a good sidekick in the movie and I wish she had carried over into Logan, even though it was set well into the future.

James Mangold did a fine job resurrecting this franchise. This was a good first outing for him with the character, which only helped to make his Logan pretty close to a comic book movie masterpiece.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other films starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Film Review: The Body Snatcher (1945)

Release Date: February 16th, 1945 (St. Louis premiere)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Philip MacDonald, Val Lewton
Based on: a story by Robert Louis Stevenson
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Edith Atwater

RKO Radio Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“He taught me the mathematics of anatomy but he couldn’t teach me the poetry of medicine.” – Donald Fettes

I’m a big fan of the horror films that Val Lewton produced while at RKO Radio Pictures in the 1940s. This one brings in Robert Wise, one of his top directors, as well as horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. It’s kind of like a perfect storm of talent. Not to mention that this is also an adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson story.

The main plot has to deal with a doctor that is also a professor and how the corpses he uses to dissect in his classes are actually stolen from graves by Boris Karloff’s John Gray. Gray blackmails the doctor, named MacFarlane, into performing an operation on a young paraplegic girl that he initially refused to do.

Fettes, a young assistant to the doctor, asks Gray for another corpse to help with the preparation of the operation. When the corpse arrives, Fettes is surprised to see that the corpse looks just like a street singer he saw near Gray’s place.

One thing leads to another and bad things justifiably happen to bad people. But, at least the little paraplegic girl is able to walk again by the end of the movie.

Like all the other RKO horror pictures of the 1940s, this one was very strong on atmosphere. I really think that RKO had the best cinematographers and lighting staff under their employ. Between the Val Lewton produced horror films and their masterfully crafted film-noirs, RKO just had very pristine looking movies that understood ambiance and tone.

Now The Body Snatcher looks great, is well acted and Robert Wise did a good job of giving life to a Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation. But it’s not terribly exciting. It’d a bit dry and while it seems like a lot happens within the film, it felt like it was moving too slow while I watched it.

Additionally, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi only share two fairly quick scenes. One of them is very good but Bela felt like an after though in this and I assume he was just used because of his name value.

Still, for classic horror aficionados, this is worth a look.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Val Lewton produced horror films for RKO: Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, The Leopard Man, I Walked With a Zombie and The Seventh Victim, which is actually much more noir than horror but it is still dark.