Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Release Date: December 1st, 2003 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Return of the King 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, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee (Extended Edition only), Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only), Bruce Spence (Extended Edition only), Sean Bean (Extended Edition only)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 201 Minutes, 254 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 263 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 192 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” – Aragorn

Having taken a break from seeing this for several years helped me look at this film, and the two before it, much more objectively. I loved this film when it came out and I watched the Extended Editions of all three films almost monthly for a few years. But I actually haven’t seen this now since before the first Hobbit movie came out in 2012.

My biggest takeaway from seeing it now is that this is a perfect film, at least in the form of the Extended Edition. There’s nothing I would change, add or take away from it. It is a great adaptation that took a few liberties but all those liberties worked and made this a richer story in a cinematic sense.

The acting is superb and everyone in this film was at the top of their game. But really, there are two actors who carried this film, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Mortensen was the perfect choice for Aragorn and if you aren’t willing to follow him into battle after watching this movie, you might be dead inside.

However, Sean Astin is the real star of this chapter in the franchise. As Samwise Gamgee, he is the true hero that sees things through. When Frodo, the one chosen to bear the burden of the ring is emotionally and physically drained, it is Sam who carries on, getting Frodo to the finish line by literally carrying him on his back up a flaming volcano. It’s one of the most badass and touching moments in motion picture history and really, all the credit has to go to Astin for just how damn good he was in this film. Where the hell was the Oscar nomination? I know that this was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won all eleven but it was short one for Astin’s performance.

I also can’t deny the greatness that was Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in this chapter.

The special effects are still top notch and at the time that this came out, this film had the best effects of all-time. Everything was great over the course of all three movies but the grandiose scale of this epic picture called for a massive amount of effects work. Everything was executed masterfully and it’s almost unbelievable to think that these movies came out just a year apart from each other.

This is a story about friendship, honor and loyalty and it’s hard to think of a better example of these things in any other film. The Return of the King knocks it out of the park in that regard and is pretty inspirational because of it. It taps into the best qualities of human nature, overcomes immense adversity and sees hope and goodness succeed in the face of enormous and seemingly unconquerable darkness.

Again, The Return of the King is a pillar of perfection. It’s so good that I wish I could give it an 11 out of 10 rating.

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

Film Review: Superman Returns (2006)

Also known as: Superman V, Superman Reborn (working titles), Red Sun (fake working title)
Release Date: June 21st, 2006 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, Bryan Singer
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: John Ottman, John Williams (original themes)
Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Parker Posey, Kal Penn, Sam Huntington, Kevin Spacey, Marlon Brando (archive footage), Richard Branson (cameo)

Legendary Pictures, DC Comics, Peters Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Warner Bros., 154 Minutes

Review:

“You can print money, manufacture diamonds, and people are a dime a dozen, but they’ll always need land. It’s the one thing they’re not making any more of.” – Lex Luthor

I haven’t seen this film since it first came out. There were things I liked about it but I never had much urge to revisit it. Seeing it again, twelve years later, I was reminded why.

To start, this is a motion picture that had it’s heart in the right place. It was an homage to the style and tone of the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films. In fact, this is a loose sequel to those; it ignores SupermanIII and IV.

But while this does have its heart in the right place, it was lacking a soul. It tried quite hard to pull off the magic that existed in the first two Reeve films but it lacked its spirit and its charm.

That being said, I did like Brandon Routh as Superman and I thought his Clark Kent was good. But if I have to compare him to Reeve, he is short on personality. I don’t think that’s his fault though, as he is pretty damn charming in a lot of other films and television shows he’s been in. He’s one of the shining stars of Legends of Tomorrow. But I feel like he was sort of forced to give an understated performance here. And maybe the studio was too afraid to make him too Reeve-like but if he is playing the Reeve version of Superman, there should be some consistency.

I wasn’t crazy about most of the cast, despite the fact that most of them are talented. Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane also seemed to lack the energy and spirit she needed. She didn’t have the spunk of Margot Kidder and felt less like that version of Lois than Routh felt like the Reeve version of Superman.

Kevin Spacey was okay as Lex Luthor but he also didn’t feel like the Gene Hackman version.

So are you starting to see the problem here?

This film exists as a new Superman III but the new cast doesn’t quite fill the shoes of the first two movies. I think that this comes down to the script, as none of the characters are written in the same way as they were in those Richard Donner directed classics from 1978 and 1980.

Another big issue I have with this is that the story is boring and Lex’s evil scheme is mundane. Maybe this was all done to setup something bigger in the future but since this didn’t get any of the planned sequels, all we got was a lot of drama and Superman throwing a continent into space. Hell, the scheme in the real Superman III was much better than what they came up with here.

As far as positives, I did like the score and the inclusion of the original John Williams themes. Honestly, the Williams theme immediately gets you pumped up during the credits and it actually makes this film better. Ultimately, as I said, the heart was there and the tone felt right. But then again, the tone sort of loses its essence. As the film rolls on, it doesn’t seem to go anywhere and we’re given a threat that doesn’t create any sort of exciting battle or action.

Most of the action in the film is vehicle action: a runaway car, a seaplane in danger, an out of control airplane hauling a space shuttle and Lex’s helicopter escape.

This film came out in a time when digital effects could do anything but all Superman really did was lift a large land mass. They could have had him fight Darkseid, Brainiac, Metallo, Mongul, Doomsday or any other great villain from his large rogues gallery.

I wish that this would have been a great film. I wish it would have birthed a new series of films. It just didn’t resonate with me, most critics and or the audience.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the first two Christopher Reeve starring Superman films and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy.

Film Review: The Spirit (2008)

Also known as: Will Eisner’s The Spirit (poster title)
Release Date: December 25th, 2018
Directed by: Frank Miller
Written by: Frank Miller
Based on: The Spirit by Will Eisner
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson

OddLot Entertainment, Lionsgate, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead.” – The Spirit

I really wanted to like this. I really did. But alas, it was as bad as everyone has said. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad but even the positives couldn’t save it. I’ll explain.

To start, I really liked the visuals for the most part. It’s very similar in style to Sin City. In fact, it feels like a spinoff of it, even though it has no real connection to it, other than the visual style and the director, Frank Miller, who directed some of the scenes in Sin City. However, in the previous film, Miller also played third fiddle behind all-stars Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

The opening to this movie was really strong. The scenes of The Spirit running from rooftop to rooftop during the credits was fantastic. Initially, I also liked the score. It did, however, sound like it was trying really hard to channel the feel of Danny Elfman’s work on the 1989 Batman score.

That being said, the score did end up being a problem for me, though.

While it started off cloning Elfman, it was inconsistent throughout the picture. It would get jazzy at times, like it was trying to accent the noir look of the picture and then it seemed like it was mimicking Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, primarily those used in the Sergio Leone films of the ’60s. The score just had multiple personality disorder and none of it seemed wholly originally, it just seemed like homages to other things that don’t necessarily fit well together.

Then there is the plot itself. I do like the origin story of The Spirit and how it ties to the villain, The Octopus. But apart from that, everything else seemed overly stylized, ridiculously hokey and nothing was fluid. The film felt like a bunch of scenes sewn together without any regard for pacing or a consistent tone.

Humor was used a lot in this movie and most of it just doesn’t work. Everyone feels like a caricature and therefore, is lacking any real depth. Without depth, you don’t care about them, can’t relate to them and don’t even find them to be all that interesting. Sure, The Octopus changes his look in nearly every scene and he usually looks cool but when doesn’t Samuel Jackson look cool? Also, when doesn’t Scarlett Johansson look stunning? Here, she always looks great but she delivers her lines like she’s dead. I don’t blame her for that, I blame Miller’s script and his direction.

The only actor I actually liked in this was Dan Lauria. His role here felt tailor made for his personality. But I’ve always loved Lauria since The Wonder Years and I thought it was cool seeing him essentially play the Commissioner Gordon of this movie, even if he felt more like Harvey Bullock.

The Spirit lures you in with its credit sequence and its overall look but after about twenty minutes, you grow tired and bored of it. The humor is bizarre, the tone is confusing, the music is distracting and the actors deliver their lines like they’re in a film that should be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

It’s no wonder why there was never a sequel to this, even if the ending leaves things open for one.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the Sin City and 300 films.

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.

Documentary Review: In Search of Steve Ditko (2007)

Release Date: September 16th, 2007 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Boyd Maclean
Cast: Jonathan Ross (host), Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Joe Quesada, Mark Millar, John Romita Sr.

Hot Sauce, BBC, 59 Minutes

Review:

In Search of Steve Ditko was a one hour documentary special hosted by Jonathan Ross in 2007. It aired on one of the BBC channels but I’m not sure which one. I’ve had a DVD-R of it for a decade though and I figured I should revisit it, especially since Ditko passed, earlier this year.

Also, it’s on YouTube, so anyone can watch it if they want to.

The purpose of this documentary was two fold.

First, Ross wanted to do a biography piece on Ditko and interviewed a lot of other iconic creators to talk about him.

Second, Ross wanted to track down Ditko and meet him, possibly for an interview, but mostly to express his love of the man’s work.

While Ross does get to meet his hero, it happens off camera and we don’t get to see the reclusive Ditko appear. I’m fine with that even if others may be let down, as I believe in respecting the man’s privacy. And if you love Ditko, this is still a fine retrospective on his career and his influence on the comic book medium.

There are some great interviews here with Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Mark Millar, John Romita Sr. and even Stan Lee, who discusses who should get the credit for creating Spider-Man.

All in all, this was a good watch and for fans of Ditko, this is a nice, quick rundown of the importance of his work in comics.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries like The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

Film Review: Watchmen (2009)

Release Date: February 23rd, 2009 (London premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David Hayter, Alex Tse
Based on: Watchmen by Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore (uncredited)
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Stephen McHattie, Matt Frewer

Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lawrence Gordon Productions, 162 Minutes, 186 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 215 Minutes (Ultimate Cut)

Review:

“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me!” – Rorschach

When Watchmen first came out, I was super excited just based off of the trailer alone and having just come off the greatness that was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. However, once seeing the film, I was pretty disappointed. Because of that, I never watched it again until now, ten years later, shy of two months.

I really wanted to give this another shot but if I was going to watch it, it had to be the Ultimate Cut. I needed to see the director’s complete vision and adaptation of the comic, which I have loved since first picking it up in the early ’90s.

I don’t know if it’s because I finally watched the Ultimate Cut or because all those years ago, I saw this three hour epic at a midnight showing and grew dead tired but this was not the same experience. This was something much greater and even closer to what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ great comic was supposed to be. I’ve been hard on Zack Snyder before and while this isn’t perfection, it’s still a stupendous adaptation that hits the right notes narrative wise and tonally.

I think that one major issue I had with it initially, is that it is almost a panel to shot recreation of the comic. I thought that it should have taken a bit more creative license but seeing the complete version, I’m glad that they didn’t and my initial assessment was wrong.

It’s been so long since I saw the theatrical version, so it’s hard for me to tell what wasn’t in that one and what was added to this version but the most notable addition is the inclusion of the animated bits, which tell the story of The Black Freighter, which had its story sprinkled throughout the original comic. The movie felt like it was missing that in the original version and the way that they use it here is really cool. Also, the animation was incredible and also matched the tone of the comic quite well.

The only big difference between this and the comic is the omission of the giant kaiju monster that wrecked New York City. It’s replaced here with a more realistic threat but I felt like the kaiju thing was always really cool and I feel like it would have worked in the film. But it’s exclusion doesn’t really hurt the movie. I’m just baffled as to why it was changed when everything else is so damn close to the source material. Plus, kaiju make everything better.

I thought that the acting in the film was exceptional and as great as it is, there are two people who really stole the show: Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian. These two guys had an incredible presence when they were on the screen. This was also the first time I noticed Morgan and I’m glad to see him carve out a fine career since this picture.

Malin Åkerman and Patrick Wilson carry the bulk of the acting duties, as the story seems to feature them the most, even though it balances all these characters very well. I thought both of them put in solid performances. But I can’t really knock anyone in the movie for not carrying their weight and doing the source material justice.

This was and still is the greatest thing that Zack Snyder has ever directed. I’m not trying to knock his more recent work but I feel like he’s always trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that he had here and it just isn’t working on the same level for him.

The Ultimate Cut is very long, almost four hours. However, it moves swiftly and a lot of ground is covered in that time. As I get older, I don’t have the attention span to sit and watch long movies like this in one sitting but the length didn’t bother me here. I was glued to the screen and sucked into this universe.

I’m glad that I finally got to revisit Watchmen and that I went with the Ultimate Cut. This should be the version that everyone watches and the only one that exists.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty damn unique but I guess if you needed to pair it with something, Blade Runner or The Dark Knight.

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.