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 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 ‘Young Guns’ Film Series (1988-1990)

Young Guns was kind of a big deal when it came out in 1988. It had hip young stars and it was a western in a decade where they weren’t too popular. It was like a gritty, Brat Packy action flick that saw our heroes face off against one of the greatest western villains of all-time, Jack Palance.

And then there was a sequel, which brought in some other young stars on the rise.

Since it has been awhile since I’ve seen these two movies, I felt like it was time to revisit them.

Young Guns (1988):

Release Date: August 12th, 1988
Directed by: Christopher Cain
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Anthony Marinelli, Brian Banks
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Casey Siemaszko, Terry O’Quinn, Jack Palance, Terence Stamp

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, Peppin. I see you got Charley Crawford down there with you.” – Billy the Kid, “Yeah, that’s right, Bonney. We got a whole…” – Peppin, [Bonney goes to the window and shoots Charley Crawford] “Hey, Peppin. Charley Crawford’s not with you anymore.” – Billy the Kid

While I still enjoyed this movie, so many years after I had seen it last, it isn’t a film that has aged well. Still, it has a lot of high adrenaline moments and a great young cast of up and coming talented actors. It just feels very ’80s and kind of hokey, at points.

Emilio Estevez is the star of the picture but he is surrounded by Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, who would also join him in the sequel, as well as his brother Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney and Casey Siemaszko. There is also Jack Palance as the villain, Terence Stamp as the mentor and John Locke himself, Terry O’Quinn, as an ally of sorts.

It is cool seeing these guys come together for a real balls to the wall adventure but the writing was pretty weak. This chapter in Billy the Kid’s life was interesting to see on screen but the movie does take some liberties, albeit not as many as its sequel.

Estevez is really enjoyable as William H. Bonney and he made the historical figure cool, even if he was a killer and not a very good person. He embraced the role, ran with it and gave it a lot of energy that someone else probably wouldn’t have been able to muster. At least not quite the same way Estevez did. Plus, I always like seeing him act with his brother. Sadly, Sheen doesn’t last too long and obviously didn’t return for the sequel after meeting his demise in this one.

Problems aside, Young Guns is still entertaining and a really fun movie. This one is considered the superior of the two but I actually like Young Guns II a hair bit more.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Young Guns II.

Young Guns II (1990):

Release Date: August 1st, 1990
Directed by: Geoff Murphy
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Alan Silvestri, Jon Bon Jovie
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, William Peterson, Alan Ruck, Balthazar Getty, James Coburn, Jenny Wright, Robert Knepper, Viggo Mortensen, Tracey Walter, Bradley Whitford,

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Yoohoo. I’ll make you famous!” – Billy the Kid

Young Guns II was a good sequel to the first. It’s far from a perfect film and has its share of issues but it feels consistent with its predecessor and I liked the additions to the cast in this one. And then there is the sexy bare ass scene with Jenny Wright that really got me excited when I was an 11 year-old in the movie theater seeing her majestic bum on a thirty foot screen. It was one of those special moments in life where you truly believe that God is real and he’s your best friend.

The soundtrack by Jon Bon Jovi makes the film feel dated but the instrumental versions of his pop rock song are still enjoyable and give the film an extra level of hipness that the previous picture didn’t have.

I really like the addition of Christian Slater here and he is my favorite character in this film series. I also liked seeing Alan Ruck and Balthazar Getty join the gang. Another plus for me was seeing Bradley Whitford get a small but important role, as I always liked him, even if I only knew him as being a dirtbag in several ’80s teen comedies. Whitford would go on to have a pretty nice career where he could show off his acting prowess much more effectively than his earlier roles.

While the big finale in the first film was bigger than anything that happens in this one, this film has a grittier feel to it, which I liked. I also liked that it told the Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett story, even if it took some big liberties.

The film also entertains the Brushy Bill Roberts story, where an old man back in the ’40s claimed that he was Billy the Kid and that he actually wasn’t killed by Garrett in 1881. Emilio Estevez also plays the older Bill, where Whitford plays the guy interviewing him.

Both films have some scatterbrained writing but that doesn’t make them hard to follow and not enjoyable. This chapter is more disjointed than the first but its positives give it an edge, in my opinion. The returning cast seemed more in tune with their roles and Slater was fun to watch.
Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Young Guns.

Film Review: Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

Release Date: January 12th, 1990
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: David J. Schow
Music by: Jim Manzie, Pat Regan
Cast: Kate Hodge, Viggo Mortensen, William Butler, Ken Foree, Joe Unger, Tom Everett, Toni Hudson, Miriam Byrd Nethery, R.A. Mihailoff

New Line Cinema, 81 Minutes

leatherface_tcm_iiiReview:

This film series just doesn’t hold a candle to A Nightmare On Elm StreetFriday the 13th or Halloween. Already, by the third movie, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise was dead in the water – unlike that magical waterproof and buoyant chainsaw at the end of this film. But if there’s something positive to be said, the film series does get even worse after this.

There really isn’t anything in this chapter of the series that is worth seeing. Sure, it has Viggo Mortensen and horror icon Ken Foree in it but they are also in much better pictures.

As far as personality, Leatherface is a completely different character in Leatherface. I guess he was supposed to be New Line Cinema’s take on the character, as they bought the rights to the series from Cannon Films in an effort to milk a new franchise and iconic monster like they had done with five Freddy Krueger movies before this.

The one takeaway from this movie, is how boring it is. How can a film with a crazy cannibal family and a chainsaw-wielding brute be boring? Somehow director Jeff Burr managed the impossible. Then again, he is also synonymous with directing awful horror sequels. I mean, he directed Stepfather IIPumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, as well as Puppet Master 4 and 5.

Viggo Mortensen and Ken Foree are about the only people with any sort of charisma in Leatherface. The acting is pretty atrocious, all around. The creepy cannibal girl is just bizarre in the worst way, the helpful girl in the woods is pointless and the two main actors weren’t likable. The cannibal family wasn’t even remotely scary, they just seemed like throwaway redneck side characters.

The final battle between Ken Foree and Leahterface is one of the worst fights I’ve seen in a horror movie from this era. I’m not sure how a chainsaw runs and floats in the water with the blade upright. Apparently, no one who worked on this film understands common sense physics.

Leatherface is an awful film.