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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Review

30 Dec

Well, this is it, ladies and gentlemen. Since 2001, I’ve enjoyed taking my theatrical trips to Middle Earth and seeing some of the most amazing fantasy adventures ever brought to life onscreen. That may seem cheesy, but it’s true. Now we have the last film of the entire saga of Middle Earth, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. This is the big one. This is what everything in the last two movies has been leading up to, and this is also the bridge that takes us into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so this movie has some pretty big boots to fill, Hobbit feet sizes to be exact.

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Picking up right where The Desolation of Smaug left off, the movie begins with the evil dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) attacking Lake-town, but upon his defeat the kingdom under the mountain, Erebor, and all of its riches are up for grabs. Thorin (Richard Armitage) claims it, and commands the dwarves and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to obsessively search for the Arkenstone that he and Smaug so coveted. Meanwhile, Bard (Luke Evans) and the elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace) begins moving on Erebor to get their share of the treasure, while Azog (Manu Bennet) and his army of goblins, orcs, and trolls get ever closer to attacking the mountain, themselves, and ending Thorin’s bloodline once and for all.

What’s great about the title of this movie is that it really is one of the more accurate titles to a movie I’ve ever seen. It’s called The Battle of the Five Armies, and that’s pretty much exactly what the movie is: one enormous battle. You can kind of see similarities with The Return of the King, that movie also pretty much being one huge battle, but that one did it far better. There are a lot of small problems that find their way into The Battle of the Five Armies that don’t quite ruin the experience, but they really stand out when I think about the movie. Still, this is a superb fantasy film that was a satisfying last trip into Middle Earth.

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Here’s the thing. This movie is almost non stop and at times, that began to wear on me. At a point it is just a battle with scene after scene after scene of fighting. Now, don’t get me wrong, this movie is epic and the battle scenes are great, but there seems to be so much going on that the special effects go completely haywire. There’s one character in particular who looks like Jackson grabbed him from The Polar Express, put dwarf armor on him and just threw him into the movie. It was distracting as all hell and pulled me out of the movie on more than one occasion. Another issue is that this movie feels like a log flume with no splash. The entire movie, hell the entire trilogy, is building up to that big splash at the end, and it just isn’t as impactful as it should have been. Now, I’m sick of being negative here. Let’s look at the positives.

As always, everyone in this movie is great. Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage (playing an almost Shakespearean character), and Benedict Cumberbatch all knock it out of the park. They’re characters we love, or characters we love to hate so it’s always a blast seeing them all again. I said before that the fighting started to wear on me, sure, but it is an epic battle nonetheless. Seeing dwarves and elves working together against orcs is just breathtaking to see, but add a hobbit with a ring of power and a wizard with amazing abilities, and it all equals exactly what I want to see when the lights in the theater go down and I’m transported to Middle Earth.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies may not be the best in the entire saga, but after some thought, I think it might be my favorite of the Hobbit trilogy, with The Desolation of Smaug giving it a run for its money. Hell, they might even be tied. There are flaws with the special effects, a boring love triangle, and some odd pacing (and I don’t mean Lee Pace and his elk), but that’s not to say that this isn’t a great experience. To see how these movies and the Lord of the Rings movies come together and all of the battles that went on before the real Battle for Middle Earth began is just awesome. These movies, this one included, will never be as recognized or appreciated as Jackson’s previous Middle Earth films, but this is still a really great movie, nonetheless.

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My Top 10 Horror Movies

30 Oct

Halloween is upon us, which means it is the best time to completely numb your senses with fear with your favorite horror movies. The horror genre isn’t the genre that is the most respected or taken seriously, but part of that is what makes it so great. Film makers don’t always have to worry about the dramatic presentation or the production values of their horror movies, because it’s all about the scare. I love me a good horror movie, so in light of this wonderful holiday, I’d like to share my 10 favorite horror movies of all time.

10. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

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I remember watching the trailer for this movie when it first came out and thinking how insane it looked, but I really had no idea until I actually sat down and watched it. Antichrist is the story of a Man (Willem Dafoe) and a Woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who retreat to their home in the woods after the sudden death of their young child. What happens next can only be seen to be believed. Demonic talking animals, the brutalization of the most sensitive of body parts, and a twisted and depraved sexual escapade into the most primal and dark parts of the human psyche. Lars von Trier is an amazing film maker and his work on Antichrist is incredible, and while it’s one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, it is also one of the most visually beautiful and haunting.

9. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

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I firmly believe that some of the most frightening movies are from the silent era of film. The fact that there is no sound is odd enough, but the soundtrack and eerily grainy visuals is enough to make me squirm. One of the finest examples of this is Nosferatu, a movie about “Dracula” that came way before the Universal classic. While the vampire is known as Count Orlok (played by Max Schreck, in one of the most mesmerizing performances ever put onscreen), the story is still based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. There are images in this movie that will stick with me until the day I die. One being Orlok’s shadow as he’s walking up the stairs, and the other being his rise from the coffin. Sure, there’s no sound or dialogue in this film, but Schreck’s performance and the nightmarish visuals are out of this world.

8. Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)

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Here we have another silent film (sort of) that was actually released in the beginning of the sound era of film. That being said there are some sounds in this film, but it is still all about the visuals. Not only the visuals, but the amazing special effects that still have me baffled. Shadows dance along the walls and a man’s spirit leaves his body for a haunting walk through a field. Like the previous film, Vampyr is also the story of a vampire. In this film we follow Allan Gray (Nicolas de Gunzburg), a traveling student of the occult who becomes mixed up with a family who has been attacked by a vampire. When I say this movie feels like a nightmare, it really feels like a nightmare, one that I’d be excited to wake up from. The story plays out at a slow pace and the camerawork plays tricks on the viewer in ways that was surprising for the year 1932. Not only is this an outstanding horror film, it’s also, in my opinion, one of the most important movies in film history.

7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)

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Now we’re really getting into the gritty stuff. Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains one of the most brutal and no holds bars horror movies ever, even though it had its 40th birthday this year. This is the story of a group of friends on a road trip to a graveyard when they come across a sadistic and murderous family of cannibals who begins killing them in gruesome ways. This film introduced the now iconic character Leatherface (played by Gunnar Hansen in this film), and spawned a series of sequels and remakes that never came close to Hooper’s original vision. The actors and film makers were put through hell making this movie with uncomfortable and cramped sets and heat that made many of them sick. While it was shot on an unreasonably low budget and starred a group of unheard of actors, this film has still become a landmark in the history of horror, not because of how beautifully shot it is nor how well acted it is, but simply because of the terror that it evokes.

6. Dead Alive/Braindead (Peter Jackson, 1992)

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Before making the record breaking Academy Award winning Lord of the Rings series, Peter Jackson and the rest of his crew were making much more different films, one of them being the cult class Dead Alive. Originally released in its home country of New Zealand under the title Braindead, it was soon released in the United States under the title Dead Alive. Not only does this movie combine horror and comedy almost seamlessly, it has also been crowned the goriest movie ever made, and that’s just awesome. In this film, the timid Lionel (Timothy Balme) has to fight an endless horde of zombies caused by a mutated rat-monkey, while taking care of his mother (Elizabeth Moody) and winning the heart of the girl of his dreams (Diana Peñalver). Probably the most notorious scene of the movie features Lionel face to face with a room full of zombies armed only with his trusty lawnmower. The result is what can only be described as geysers of blood, which confirms the hundreds of gallons that Jackson went through making this movie. Not everyone could probably stomach the gore in this movie, but you just have to remember how much fun you’re actually having watching this ridiculous film.

5. Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987)

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In the same vein as Peter Jackson’s gorefest, I bring you the only other horror comedy that could possibly top it: Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II. In 1981, Raimi and his friends made the first Evil Dead on a shoestring budget that had some pretty impressive effects and scares, but was ultimately still viewed as a horror comedy. After the surprising success of his first film, he released the sequel in 1987, but this time upping the gore and the humor, as well as turning Ash (Bruce Campbell) into one of the best heroes you’ll ever see. This film pits Ash against the demonic forces in the forest that possess household objects, kills his girlfriend, and even takes over Ash’s hand forcing him to cut it off which results in his trademark arm chainsaw. This movie isn’t necessarily scary, but it still does have horror tropes like the undead and demons, but you’ll be laughing too hard at this movie to be scared. I absolutely love this movie.

4. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)

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Here’s a movie that is widely considered the best horror movie ever made, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. This is the movie that is known for making grown men cry like babies, and for good reason. The idea of the devil and demons is scary enough, but the idea of them taking over your mind, body, and soul is probably one of the worst things ever, which is exactly what happens to the poor little girl, Regan (Linda Blair). The best parts of the movie, however, are the scenes where the two priests (played by Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) face off against the demonic forces that are harming the child. The effects are unbelievable and the sound design is probably the most horrifying part of the story. What is really frightening about The Exorcist is the understanding of what’s happening to the characters in the movie, and anyone who has seen it will testify just to how jarringly disturbing Friedkin’s masterpiece is.

3. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)

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What’s different about this movie is that it can be argued that John Carpenter’s The Thing is actually a science fiction film more than it is a horror, but I believe it is exactly the opposite. Sure, the story is about a microscopic alien that invades the workers on an Antarctic base, but the horror is what really makes this film memorable. First of all, let me just say that this movie is my pick for best special effects ever. There’s no tricks with computers or digital effects, but instead all of the effects are achieved by practical effects and concrete creature designs and puppeteering. Still, what is just as terrifying as the creature effects and the gore that results from the different transformations is the paranoia and isolation that the characters experience throughout the movie, and how the close knit bonds between them are completely shattered by something that can’t even be seen. I couldn’t recommend this movie more, and I would even say choose this one over the 1951 original, The Thing from Another World. Carpenter’s version is far superior.

2. Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987)

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Clive Barker is a name that goes hand in hand with paranormal and surreal horror. His masterpiece, in my opinion is the 1987 film Hellraiser. While Barker is mostly known as an author, penning the books that inspired Candyman and Midnight Meat Train, he still has the credit of directing Hellraiser, while also being responsible for writing the book and the screenplay. This is one of the most demented horror films I have ever seen, and much like Antichrist, succeeds at turning sex into something repulsive. The story is almost too strange to give a one sentence description, but all you need to know is that it revolves around a box that summons beings from another dimension that will take you back to their world and torture you for all eternity. Death is not the end with the beings called the Cenobites, the pain lasts forever, but their goal is to give the taken what they describe as the ultimate in pleasure and pain, which is where the bizarre sexual themes come into play. The make up and effects are great, but so is the story and the suspense, making this one of my absolute favorite horror films ever. But there is still one more…

1. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

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Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my favorite horror film of all time has to be John Carpenter’s Halloween. I chose this film for multiple reasons. First of all because of the character of Michael Myers, but also because of the soundtrack, the suspense, and the nostalgia. This is the one that started it all for me. I wouldn’t love horror movies as much as I do if it weren’t for the “night he came home.” Michael Myers is a horrifying icon of horror, with the expressionless mask (which is a Captain Kirk mask spray painted white), the black eyes, and the slow way he chases after his prey. Much of the movie is actually pretty slow, mostly with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) babysitting the neighborhood brat, but also of Michael just watching everyone. Some of the most terrifying horror movies are the ones that could actually happen, and someone stalking and murdering people is one of those things. The fear really comes on strong when Myers’ theme begins and the chase between him and Laurie begins. Nothing gets me ready for Halloween like Halloween.

 

Horror movies are a special kind of movie that make being scared into something to enjoy. So turn off the lights, grab a beer, and check out some of these movies if you haven’t already. Happy Halloween, fellow cinephiles!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Review

30 Dec

Last year, I was thrilled beyond belief to return to Middle Earth in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Upon leaving the theater, I was pleased with the film, but was kind of disappointed with some of the pacing issues. It felt way too long and dragged in too many scenes. The Desolation of Smaug, however, is a huge improvement over its predecessor and is packed to the brim with excitement, action, adventure, and a dragon that will go down as one of the best villains in the history of cinema.

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Picking up directly after the events of An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin (Richard Armitage), and the brave band of dwarves are being chased by a group of orcs led by Azog (Manu Bennett). Sensing a dark trouble, Gandalf separates from the group and moves to investigate Dol Guldor which may house the evil spirit of the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, the dwarves encounter the Elves of Mirkwood, two of them being Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), both of whom begin hunting the orcs who are hunting the dwarves. Finally reaching the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo and the dwarves meet Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch again!) the dragon who has been sleeping on an immense pile of gold for many years, and the fight is on to kill Smaug and win back the kingdom of Erebor.

So much happens in this movie, it’s almost ridiculous. This film is dense with characters, action set pieces, battle sequences, villains, returning characters, references to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, etc., etc. This makes for a lot of awesome moments in The Desolation of Smaug, but it also is the cause of a run time that made me fidget a lot more than it should. I remember when I saw Return of the King when it first came out. I was still in grade school when I saw it, which is hard enough to believe, but I also never got fidgety. That’s because that movie, for as long as it was, was covering the content of an entire book. The Desolation of Smaug is covering about five chapters. I never read Tolkien’s book, but I know that a lot was added in, and despite all of the awesome adventure, there are a lot of really boring scenes that didn’t need to exist, thereby trimming the movie down a great deal.

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And that is where the problems with The Desolation of Smaug end. The rest is an outstanding adventure through Middle Earth that Peter Jackson has brought to life in such vivid detail. Jackson and his entire team have brought a fantasy world to life in a way that no one has ever done before. Mirkwood Forest, Erebor, and Lake-Town all have very distinct personalities and are a marvel to look at with so much happening on screen at one time. Even the all of the Middle Earth creatures look fantastic. The CGI created orcs, wargs, and, of course, Smaug look better than ever. Still though, Smaug steals the show in this department as well. He is huge and moves like you would expect a psychotic dragon to. Cumberbatch studied the movements of different kinds of lizards in order to perform the motion capture as well as he can.

As if just being in Middle Earth again wasn’t enough, seeing Bilbo and the rest of them all again feels like a great, big reunion. We’ve come to care about these characters, especially the ones that we already know from the Lord of the Rings. Jackson couldn’t have found a better young Bilbo Baggins than Martin Freeman, but I think I said that in my review for An Unexpected Journey. Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage play their roles great as always, and I was surprised with how much I enjoyed Lee Pace’s performance, even though he wasn’t in the movie all that much. My two favorite characters, however, were Smaug (obviously) and Legolas! Orlando Bloom is back again and even though he’s pretty shoehorned into the movie, he provided some of the coolest parts of the movie that made the whole auditorium give “oohs” and “ahs” of appreciation.

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I feel like The Hobbit movies are never going to live up to the excellence of the Lord of the Rings, but The Desolation of Smaug sure has come close. I stick by my opinion that these films might have worked better if there were only two of them. The fact that this is meant to be a trilogy based off of a book that really isn’t all that long makes for some really bad pacing problems that hurt this movie in ways that I wish didn’t. Still, despite some fidgeting, The Desolation of Smaug is a major improvement over An Unexpected Journey, complete with an ending that robbed me of any breath and makes me demand a quick 2014 so I can return to the theater once again for the final installment of this trilogy.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Review

31 Dec

J.R.R. Tolkien has created a world unlike anything anyone has seen when he wrote The Hobbit and the follow up trilogy, Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson finally brought the trilogy to life in 2001, but there’s more to the story than was shown. Now, Jackson returns to Middle Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first film of a new trilogy.

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Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a hobbit who loves his books, his garden, good food, and peace. Adventure comes looking for Bilbo in the form of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Gandalf recruits Bilbo to join in an adventure with a group of dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), to travel to the Lonely Mountain and retake the dwarves’ lost kingdom of Erebor from the dragon, Smaug. Along the way they encounter other wizards, trolls, orcs, elves, goblins, and a very familiar ring.

When I first heard that The Hobbit was going to be three movies, I wasn’t too thrilled to hear it. I automatically assumed that it was all a cash grab and that the movie was going to be so strung out and thin that it was going to be not as enjoyable. In the beginning of the movie, I believed my suspicions to be true because it took so long for the story to get started. I really enjoyed the scenes with Bilbo trying to stop the dwarves from destroying his house, but I also ready for the actual adventure to start. As the movie progressed, however, I realized that there is so much to tell in this story that three movies actually seems appropriate. Once the adventure got started, I was completely sucked in.

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Middle Earth and its various creatures look better than they ever have. Every effect is detailed to what seems like the point of obsession. This makes the experience of seeing this movie so much better than it could have been if time and effort weren’t spent making these creatures look the way they do. Gollum, played by Andy Serkis, has the best scene of the movie where he engages in a battle of wits with Bilbo. His facial expressions and movement look as clean as ever. A lot of tho might have to with the movie being shot in 48 fps. I did notice the difference between the typical 24 fps and the quicker 48. There are scenes that are so crisp, I couldn’t help but notice. Some people are complaining about this, but I was quite pleased.

The tie in with the Lord of the Rings made me giddy. I loved seeing Elrond, Galadriel, and even Saruman interact with these characters 60 years before the events of the trilogy I have grown so familiar with. I loved putting the connections together and thinking about their characters now as opposed to how they are in the other films. There was a lot more references and cameos than I thought there was going to be, and I really appreciated all of the actors getting back together to travel once again to Middle Earth (or New Zealand).

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To me, it’s too early to compare The Hobbit with Lord of the Rings because one is a trilogy and the other just has one film out. I will say that I was nervous I wasn’t going to be too impressed by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but I was blown away once again by Peter Jackson. He has recreated Middle Earth and it looks better than it ever has before. While the movie is a little slow out of the starting gate, it soon picks up and becomes an excellent adventure/fantasy. I can’t wait until next December to continue the story, but for now, I’m very happy with this movie.

Braindead (Dead Alive) – Review

28 Jun

Peter Jackson. There’s a name that everybody knows very well, even if movies aren’t your forte. He’s most known for directing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a remake of King Kong, and an adaptation of the book The Lovely Bones. But let’s pretend that they haven’t happened yet and the year is 1992. Peter Jackson’s first film, Meet the Feebles, was a small cult hit but he would need something bigger to really start his career. How about making the “goriest film of all time?” Now we have Braindead. 

Lionel (Timothy Balme) is a push over who spends his days doing whatever his mother (Elizabeth Moody) tells him. After his mother gets bit by a Sumatran rat monkey in the local zoo, she begins to get sick and eventually dies…but not for long. Soon, the undead begin to run amok and it’s up to Lionel, who is new girlfriend, Paquita (Diana Peñalver), and his scheming Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) to destroy these zombies any way possible with unbelievably gory results.

I was excited to see Braindead. Really excited. I mean, come on, this is supposedly the king of all gore movies, and I can now honestly say that it is and then some. I could not believe the amount of blood, limbs, intestines, and all the other miscellaneous appendages that I saw fly across the screen. In one particular scene involving a lawnmower, five gallons of blood were blasted from the device per second. What other movie can brag about that?

The scene below is pretty gross. Just wanted to let you know if you want to watch it.

Don’t let the amount of gore and general yuckiness give you the wrong idea. You will be laughing hard at 90% of the jokes in this movie. Lionel was both likable and frustrating, but definitely a character we can relate to on some level. The supporting characters were appropriately good and evil, with the exception of Uncle Les who went above and beyond the level of douche baggery.

What I also mean by not letting the gore intimidate you is also the fact that when there are loads of body parts flying across the screen, it is normally in a slapstick fashion. There were never any parts in the movie, besides the one above scene, that really grossed me out like Anti-Christ did. Instead it was just a lot of fun to see how far Peter Jackson would go with his gore crazed scenes. I have to say, it exceeded my expectations.

This is the scene that I mentioned in the beginning and is probably the goriest scene of the movie.

Stylistically, Braindead hits the mark perfectly. The film is loaded with dutched close ups that are both funny to look at because they are kind of cheesy, but they also cause a feeling of disorientation at times. There are also some great green and purple filters used in scenes towards the end that make the rooms in the zombie filled mansion almost other worldly.

Braindead or Dead Alive, whatever you want to call it, is a fantastically awesome early film by Peter Jackson. I can vouch for it and say that it is, at least, the goriest film that I’ve ever seem and that’s saying something. I don’t just recommend it for that reason, however. I recommend it because it is really funny, has style, and also has great characters. This is a very well rounded movie in a aspects and I really loved it.