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.

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 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.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 3 (working title)
Release Date: December 1st, 2014 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 144 Minutes, 164 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“You are changed, Thorin! The Dwarf I met in Bag End would never have gone back on his word! Would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin!” – Bilbo Baggins

While this trilogy lacks when compared to its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings, it was still better than most big budget movies of the last decade and I was pretty excited about revisiting the third and final chapter, even though The Desoltation of Smaug was weak by Tolkien movie standards.

And this is the best of the Hobbit film series.

This is also the shortest of the three movies and I think that says a lot about the structure and flow of this film, as a short novel didn’t need to be stretched out into three really long movies.

This one jumps right in where we left off, as Smaug flies out to destroy the nearby town on the lake. My only real complaint about that though, was that the battle with Smaug was a cliffhanger and once you get to it here, it’s resolved in just ten minutes. I thought that the Extended Edition would rectify this a bit but it didn’t. Still, the opening of this film is fantastic and one of the best sequences out of all the Peter Jackson live action Tolkien movies.

Once that’s quickly resolved, the rest of this movie pretty much just deals with a gigantic fantasy battle of epic proportions. Everything leading up to this was the real story and most of the context. This film just decides to throw down and give us a real war, up close and personal. And while that might not seem like the makings of a great film, this is still really good and definitely the most fun Hobbit film to watch.

And it’s not just action for the sake of action, there are some real creative things that come into play. I love the elves shooting a massive volley of arrows only for the dwarves to respond with their “whirly bird” giant arrows that immediately destroy the elves attempt at a strong and deadly offense.

Additionally, the battle and every phase of it serves the story well, moves things forward and finds time to explore the main characters and their true motivations while making them all sort of find the spot where they need to be going forward in life.

Apart from the giant battle and Smaug, there is the big confrontation in the evil castle that sees Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel do battle with the spiritual forces of Sauron. This was one of the Peter Jackson additions to the story that wasn’t in the book but this was a satisfying finale to my favorite plot thread in these films. Jackson did a stupendous job with this portion of the Hobbit series and even if it wasn’t initially supposed to be there, it fits very well within the overall story arc of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I also like how this movie wraps up, as it doesn’t give us a really long, overly drawn out resolution like The Return of the King.

The Battle of the Five Armies might not be Lord of the Rings good but it is still a pretty fine fantasy epic motion picture. And it has really got me excited to want to revisit The Lord of the Rings trilogy once more.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 2 (working title)
Release Date: December 2nd, 2013 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Stephen Colbert, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 161 Minutes, 186 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“There is something about you. Something you carry, something made of gold… but far more precious…” – Smaug

I’ve been rewatching these, as I haven’t seen them since they were in the theater. And like the Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films, I’m hoping that the Extended Editions of this trilogy help to make the films richer and give them more depth and context.

Where my disappointment with An Unexpected Journey was somewhat fixed, the Extended Edition of The Desolation of Smaug didn’t do much to make this film any better and in fact, stretched it out more than it needed to be.

The extended scenes in the previous film seemed to make things better. But here, it drags out some of the scenes that could have been even shorter in the theatrical version.

All the stuff that featured Smaug was pretty good but it felt really stretched out in this film. But as I said in the previous review, they didn’t need to stretch out a short novel over a nine-plus hour trilogy. It’s friggin’ overkill, even with the narrative additions to the plot that weren’t from the original book.

Watching the extended version splits the movie up onto two discs. In all honestly, it showed me just how inconsistent the film is. The first half is not very good but the second half is much better.

The first half of the film was dragged down by things that didn’t need to be there. I get that Beorn is in the book but his inclusion in the film was unnecessary and didn’t really serve the plot in any meaningful way. They spend a half hour on this and all that comes out of it is that the dwarves get some ponies to ride for about two minutes. Just cut the whole thing out. It didn’t fit in the film, it slowed things to a crawl and it didn’t help the narrative and should have been omitted just as the Tom Bombadil stuff was left out of the Lord of the Rings movie adaptations.

Also, the forest with the giant spiders was a pretty weak sequence overall and even though giant spiders exist in Middle Earth, it felt more like a rehash of something we already saw just a few years earlier in one of the Harry Potter movies. Although, it does serve the purpose of pushing Bilbo towards being more of a badass.

Then there was the whole sequence of the dwarves getting captured by the elves, escaping really easily and then giving us the barrels down the river scene, which is the worst part of any of these Lord of the Rings related films. That whole scene is the worst kind of cringe and it pulls you right out of the movie and almost makes you embarrassed for liking these films. It felt like over the top Disney blockbuster schlock.

Also, the dwarf and elf romance felt really forced and awkward as hell.

Once you get to the second half, things get much darker tonally, which contrasts the goofiness of the first half so greatly that it doesn’t feel like the same movie. But this is the superior half, even if it is also drawn out too much.

I really liked Luke Evans as Bard though. I also enjoyed the bits with Stephen Fry.

The best part of the whole film is when the dwarves finally reach the mountain and Bilbo Baggins comes face to face with Smaug. For fans of the BBC show Sherlock, this is extra exciting, as Bilbo is Watson and Smaug’s voice is Sherlock. At least I thought that was a cool aspect of this film’s casting. Luckily, both men also were brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last few years.

I can’t say that this is the worst of the three Hobbit films, as of yet. I still need to rewatch The Battle of the Five Armies. But from memory, I think I did like that one better than this chapter.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 1 (working title)
Release Date: November 28th, 2012 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 169 Minutes, 182 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” – Gandalf

When these movies first came out, I was really disappointed with them. Granted, they were still mostly enjoyable but they lacked the magic that made Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so spectacular a decade earlier.

I finally revisited this, as I got a great deal on the entire set of Hobbit films in their Extended Edition format, which is also the versions of the Lord of the Rings films I own. And like the other Extended Editions, this beefed up version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey became a better, more fleshed out movie.

Also, I’ve had six years to let this movie digest and I did find it more palatable this time around. Although, some of my issues with it are still there.

To start, this feels like a disjointed film, tonally. It’s as if it isn’t sure what it needs to be. Frankly, the tone of Lord of the Rings was perfect and this should have mirrored that. There isn’t really any reason why it couldn’t, as it had the same creative team behind it.

The film suffers from being too hokey at times and its the kind of hokey that is cringe. The dwarves look goofy as hell, the humor is usually off key or unnecessary and the musical bits, whether or not they exist in the book, really bogged this movie down and made it exude Disney level cheese but really bad Disney. I’m sorry but Aragon and the Mouth of Sauron didn’t break out into song and dance in Return of the King.

There’s also weird moments like the dwarf snoring and breathing moths in and out of his nose. And then there are strange, unnecessary things like Radagast the Brown having bird shit crusted to the side of his head. I also can’t leave out the insane physics of this movie and how the dwarves and Bilbo are seemingly indestructible and have incredible balance between the Stone Giants fight scene and sliding down a massive rock chute without splattering all over the place or breaking every bone in their bodies.

Another thing that hurts the film is that it relies on CGI much more heavily than its predecessors. The Lord of the Rings films had a bunch of guys in fantastic orc makeup and they looked real and totally badass. Here, we have computer animated orcs that look more like video game characters than something organic on the screen. Granted, I love that Manu Bennett plays the orc leader.

But the reason why CGI orcs don’t work for the film is because practical effects, if they can be utilized properly, just look better. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was heralded as being a huge step forward in special effects on every level. The Hobbit movies, however, are just stagnation.

The film has some strong positives though.

All of the new main characters were well cast. I loved Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin. It was also really cool seeing Lee Pace as the Elvenking, Thranduil. He wasn’t in this chapter very much but his role gets bigger in the two pictures after this one.

I also liked the additions to the story, at least in this film. The side story with the Necromancer is really cool and I liked seeing Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond come together to discuss the rising darkness in Middle Earth.

The problem with this trilogy, which becomes more apparent in the second and third film, is that this didn’t need to be a trilogy. The Hobbit is a short book when compared to the Lord of the Rings novels. This could have been expanded into two films and even included some of the additions to the story but three movies spreads the narrative too thin. Especially for movies roughly around the three hour mark.

An Unexpected Journey doesn’t quite work in the way that it should but it is still a hell of a good time for fans of Lord of the Rings.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: The Shadow (1994)

Release Date: July 1st, 1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: The Shadow by Walter B. Gibson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, James Hong, Al Leong, Frank Welker (voice)

Bregman/Baer Productions, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll be there… around every corner… in every empty room… as inevitable as your guilty conscience…” – The Shadow

The Shadow wasn’t shy about what it was trying to be. It was Universal’s answer to Warner Bros. massive success with Batman and Disney’s pretty popular Dick Tracy. It is almost like a blend of the two and I guess The Shadow was the right property to adapt at the time, if you wanted to marry both of those other franchises into one thing. Granted, it also throws in some Asian mysticism but ninjas and Oriental magic were pretty popular back then too.

I wouldn’t call the finished product a big success though. This film pretty much bombed, critics didn’t like it and it felt like it was trying too hard to be those other things that it wasn’t. It’s sad because The Shadow could have actually been a really great movie. It has so many things working for it that you almost have to try to make it not work.

Granted, this film is far from terrible and I like it quite a bit more than I dislike it. It’s just that those bad elements really held this motion picture back.

For starters, Alec Baldwin was boring as hell as the Shadow. He was dry, tried to come off as overly manly and sexy and it just felt silly. His Bela Lugosi illuminated eye trick when he was using his psychic shtick just didn’t work and I’m a huge fan of that method when used correctly. But maybe that only worked well in old black and white Universal Monsters pictures. His weird facial prosthetics also didn’t work for me and just made him look strange.

I also didn’t like John Lone as the villain, who is essentially a resurrected Genghis Khan. At least I think he was, his explanation was kind of weird and confusing. He kind of sounded like Tommy Wiseau with a little Asian flourish to his accent.

I did like the rest of the cast. Penelope Ann Miller was alluring as hell, Ian McKellen was delightful and Tim Curry stole the show, as he always does.

I also liked the score by Jerry Goldsmith. It was made to sound a lot like Danny Elfman’s scores for Batman and Dick Tracy but it wasn’t a total ripoff, it had a very strong Goldsmith vibe to it.

The look of the film was nice but it really was just an amalgamation of Tim Burton’s Gotham City and The City from Dick Tracy. It was actually New York and had the iconic landmarks but the night shots used sweeping cameras weaving around building’s ala Burton’s Batman and featured gargoyles with waterfalls coming out of their mouths and other things that didn’t seem very 1930s New York.

The film did its best to be exciting but it just wasn’t. It was as bland as Baldwin’s performance and to be honest, unlike similar films of the era, I never had the urge to go back and watch this until now. I have seen Batman and Dick Tracy and even The Rocketeer a few dozen times.

Although watching it now, I really liked the sequence during the final showdown in the hall of mirrors. It was a bit hokey but it still looked beautiful and was the best visual moment in the picture.

The Shadow isn’t a complete waste of a film. It’s less than two hours and is a decent time killer, especially if you’ve never seen it and are a fan of similar pictures and 1930s style.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The two films it borrows heavily from: 1989’s Batman and 1990’s Dick Tracy.