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: Marvel Premiere Featuring Weirdworld

Published: October, 1977
Written by: Doug Moench
Art by: Mike Ploog, Dave Cockrum (cover), Rudy Nebres (cover)

Marvel Comics, 19 Pages

Review:

This one issue story appeared in the 38th issue of the long running Marvel Premiere comic book series.

I have never really read much of the Weirdworld stuff but this was the second story from that realm of the Marvel Universe. It was also supposed to be something that was expanded on but there were some behind the scenes issues with that and it went away for quite some time before there were other Weirdworld stories.

Unlike the later Weirdworld stuff, this didn’t feature any known Marvel characters or anything else that could connect it to the broader universe.

This was marketed on the cover to be similar in style to The Lord of the Rings. I’d say that the only real similarity is that it’s fantasy. This is more of a sword and sorcery story than an epic fantasy like something at the scale of most of Tolkien’s work.

The main character is an elf warrior that discovers an elf girl and the two go on a pretty quick adventure that sees them meet a wizard with questionable intentions as well as coming face to face with a dragon.

I wish there was more to sink my teeth into. This was a really cool short story that is very similar to the late ’70s and early ’80s fantasy stuff. It reminds me of old school Dungeons & Dragons.

I thought the art was really good for the era. The story was well done and kept me enthused from start to finish and really, I just want to dig up more old school comics in this style.

I mean, how f’n cool is that cover?

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel Premiere releases, especially the strong fantasy stuff.

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.

Comic Review: Justice League Dark, Vol. 1: In the Dark

Published: October 29th, 2013
Written by: Peter Milligan
Art by: Mikel Janin

DC Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

Since I have been really enjoying the current run of Justice League Dark, I wanted to go back and check out its roots from five years ago.

I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as I have James Tynion’s work on the title, thus far. This volume serves to setup the larger story and form the team but it didn’t excite me quite the same way.

If I’m being honest, the team is a bit weak and only shares two members with the most recent incarnation. Those two being Zatana and John Constantine. And while Deadman is a member of this newly formed group in this series, he’s not officially in the current group.

This squad is made up of some obscure characters. I didn’t even know who Rac Shade or Madame Xanadu were until I read this. Also, Dove is here without Hawk. I’m not sure if he died or something but all this New 52 stuff messed up the continuity I was most familiar with.

The main antagonist here is the Enchantress and the story surrounds a girl that is sort of drawn to her or possessed by her. It’s hard to explain and the story did get a bit confusing as to what was going on. There were a lot of characters doing different things and the group isn’t a team here, so much as they are all working things out in their own way and find themselves crossing paths.

I did enjoy the art and the story isn’t bad, it just didn’t peak my interest in the way that would make me jump right into volume two. I already own that one and I’ll get to it but I hope it builds off of this in a good way and makes me want to stick around because the newer version of Justice League Dark has been spectacular.

On this volume alone, I’m not sold on the series. But it wasn’t a waste of time, either.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the volumes of Justice League Dark that follow this, as well as the current Justice League Dark series by James Tynion IV.

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: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Also known as: Elvira (Philippines English title)
Release Date: September 30th, 1988
Directed by: James Signorelli
Written by: Sam Egan, John Paragon, Cassandra Peterson
Music by: James B. Campbell
Cast: Elvira (Cassandra Peterson), W. Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Jeff Conaway, Susan Kellerman, Edie McClurg, Kurt Fuller, Frank Welker (voice)

NBC Productions, New World Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Please, I don’t think we need to resort to name calling. I think what Calvin is trying to say is that this Elvira is a person of easy virtue, a purveyor of pulchritude, a one-woman Sodom and Gomorrah, if you will. A slimy, slithering succubus, a concubine, a street walker, a tramp, a slut, a cheap whore!” – Chastity Pariah

This film hasn’t aged well. But I used to love it as a kid. And really, I think this only works if you’re already a pretty big fan of Elvira. If that’s the case, you should definitely give this a watch.

It kind of has a similar vibe to the Pee-Wee and Ernest movies from the ’80s. It’s a cheaply made comedy based on a fictional character that was super popular at the time. I liked the trend of these types of pop icons getting to try out film as a new vehicle for their careers, even if Ernest was the only one that achieved real cinematic longevity.

Lumping this in with those other films, it’s the best of them all after the original Pee-Wee movie, 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. But that was also directed by Tim Burton in a time when the guy could do no wrong.

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark does a good job with the pieces it had though. Cassandra Peterson is truly a comedy master. She owns the Elvira character, delivers her lines like a champ and is willing to really put herself out there to let Elvira flourish. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Peterson and how she performs her craft. She absolutely was the best horror host of all-time and could perform at a level that other horror hosts couldn’t. That may be a controversial statement to some but I stick by it.

This movie was a great vehicle for her because she got to spend 90 minutes, hamming it up in her unique style, uninterrupted by bad movies and commercial breaks. I wouldn’t call this the highpoint of her career, as she has continued on for decades, but it is the one body of work that best showcases her talent in the most complete way.

I thought the story was decent, the acting didn’t really matter and you just sort of have to roll with this and enjoy it for what it is.

Edie McClurg was perfect as the small town busybody trying to make Elvira’s life hell. I’ve loved McClurg in so many different things but I liked that she wasn’t just a small character in this.

This film is goofy, funny as hell and it’s hard to feel down if this is on the TV. But it won’t be for everyone, not that it needs to be. Elvira fans should be pretty satisfied with it, though.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other oddball comedies of unique people stranded in podunk communities: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and Son In Law.