Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hitchcock (2012) review

Hitchcock is the latest film to come from the Hitchcock craze that has struck America this year. Along with this film, which has gotten Oscar buzz, there has been an Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection released on Blu-Ray, and an HBO film titled The Girl which is a much darker film that highlights his sexual obsession with his leading lady, Tippi Hendren during the making of The Birds. Alfred Hitchcock is a legend and I highly recommend several of his pictures including the one that Hitchcock is about. This film is based on a book which tells the tale of the making of Psycho. Hitchcock personally financed the film and took a severe risk to make the film he wanted. If that sounds inspirational, don't go in thinking that because Hitchcock is far from inspirational. It's being marketed as a drama with comedic aspects but it honestly is a romantic comedy that tells a story of a romance between Hitchcock and Alma Reville, his wife and partner.

Hitchcock begins with the premiere of the Hitchcock classic North By Northwest, a big budget picture starring Cary Grant, Eve Marie Saint, and James Mason. A reporter asks Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) why he doesn't quit while he is ahead because he is 60. And at that moment, Hitchcock decides that he needs to do something new. He comes across Robert Bloch's book Psycho and decides that he will make a low budget horror movie. Hitchcock proposes the idea to the Paramount Executive Producer and he denies him, so he pays for the film himself. The production is out of control at first because his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren) is sick of his obsession with his leading ladies and crazy tendencies and goes off to work with Winfield Cook (Danny Huston). But eventually the film evovles into a romance between the two.

First off, I will say that despite several criticisms that I will list, I really enjoyed the film. It was a fun and well done homage to the Master of Suspense and one of my favorite directors. It really enjoyed all the Hitchcock and Hollywood references because after all I am a Hollywood buff and seeing that world come to life on the screen is a lot of fun. Anthony Hopkins is Hitchcock. I really bought him in the role and he honestly became the character. I know some people think he just did a Hitchcock impression but I found that his acting put me in the picture more because he was so much like Hitchcock. The cast is also impressive. There isn't an actor who did a bad job. Standouts include James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins and Mirren as Reville. She brings a power to the role and you can see how much Hitchcock relied on her.

And also, the picture seemed relatively accurate. I have studied Hitchcock and I did a project on him for school, so I know quite a bit and there were only a few things that I thought were inaccurate. First off, I'm not quite sure why Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) kept popping up in the film. It was rather odd. It didn't really bug me but it seemed to highlight the thing that annoyed me the most. Hitchcock, from my point of view, was a man who was fascinated by the dark side of human behavior and what the impulses are for people to commit violent crimes. Hitchcock at times depicts him as a man who himself was susceptible to violent tenedencies. Now that may be true but I doubt that it was as severe as the film portrays them. But with everything else, it is spot on. Hitchcock was truly obsessed by his blonde leading ladies and the way that this film portrays him with that issue, I think is accurate. Also, his disputes with some of the stars were based on real life and that was a sigh of relief for me.

I had one problem with the film and it is both small and big. The fact that it deals so little with the actual making of Psycho fascinated me. It honestly focused on Alma being fed up with Alfred and going off with Winfield Cook to write a script. It has a lot more to do with relationships than it does with the actual making of the film which I think would have been a lot more interesting. Also, while I really liked all the film references and discussion of previous Hitchcock films, it got to a point where it wasn't natural anymore and it was forced. Like in a scene, a character would randomly say: "I loved Strangers on a Train and Rope, Mr. Hitchcock" and I was like cool, I like Strangers on a Train but what's the point of saying that. I don't know, it just became a little over-indulgent sometimes. It wasn't as natural as in a film like Argo, which was done a lot better when it comes to movie references.

But I felt like overall, Hitchcock was a solid film. It was certainly entertaining and it was briskly paced and it was very funny but it sometimes walked that line too closely between comedy and drama. This is a dramatic story and I'm not quite sure why they put so much humor in it but it is funny so I can't complain. The biggest thing is that there are some moments where you just go: "Ok, why is this happening." I did that during the film maybe three times. For the most part, these are minor criticisms but they do detract from the film a little. But still, especially if you're a Hitchcock or Hollywood fan, check this film out because you'll enjoy it quite a bit. I love the first and last scene, which contain references to both The Birds and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I think that most people will have a good evening watching this film.

THE FINAL GRADE: B-                                            (6.8.10)

Image Credits: IMDB

Strangers On A Train (1951) review

Alfred Hitchcock is a filmmaker that I have studied; both is personal life and biography along with his films. Last year I recieved a box set of Alfred Hitchcock films that contained five of his masterpieces: Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho and The Birds. I watched all of the films and enjoyed four of the five (I didn't like Vertigo) and I wrote reviews of the films on this site. After watching those I just assumed that those were Hitchcock's best films and didn't bother to watch any of the other ones. I had read about and studied his other films but I never really cared to watch them. Until I picked up a book that had the greatest movies of all time ranked and Strangers On A Train was listed at #31. I was intrigued and I bought it at a store. I didn't watch it ever but the other day I watched it and I was blown away. This film is better than three of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces and definitely deserves recognition.

Strangers On A Train is the story of Guy Haines (Farley Granger), a tennis player who boards a train to go back to his hometown to finalize divorce papers with his wife so that he can marry the daughter of a senator, Anne Morton (Ruth Roman). On the train, he meets a man named Bruno Antony (Robert Walker). He complains to Bruno about Anne and Bruno proposes a murder swap. He would murder his wife, if Guy murdered his father. Guy laughs at the idea and doesn't really respond to him. He dismisses Bruno but Bruno really thinks that they have a deal. Bruno kills his wife and expects the favor in return. Guy doesn't want to do it but also is being tracked because he looks guilty in the case of his murdered wife. What happens next is a caroussel of action and suspense. I'm telling you, I could really write these summaries; if you've seen the movie you get the joke.

Of course, the directing is fantastic. Hitchcock was a master of film and the way he manipulates audiences and does different camera angles is apparent here. Hitchcock is at the top of his game. The acting is solid with one spectacular exception. Farley Granger is solid as Haines but a little wooden. Roman is also decent as Anne and is one of the only relatable and good characters in the film. Patricia Hitchcock is also a standout as the critical, biting sister of Anne. But the real standout is Robert Walker as Bruno Antony. Bruno is a really despicable character who is insane and violent but somehow draws people in and is friendly. All this is thanks to Walker's performance. I think that out of all the Hitchcock films that I have seen, Bruno is the most intriguing and most interesting. I think that he is well worth discussing and honestly the first serial killer character in film that I have seen.

One of the things that I found interesting is the way that Bruno manipulates people and turns them into monsters. There is a scene at a dinner party where Bruno is talking with some older women, sane and normal and asks them: "Have you ever thought of killing your husband?" At first, they reject the thought but as Bruno keeps talking, they are soon drawn into his mindset and start conversing about all the ways that they could kill them and why certain ways wouldn't work. It is a fascinating scene and one that I think draws straight from Hitchcock's life and mindset. I went to see Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock today and while I'm not sure it is entirely accurate, Hitchcock was in some ways obsessed by murder and thought that he was susceptible to commiting the acts of violence depicted in his films. So I wonder now, after seeing that film if Hitchcock put a little bit of himself into Bruno. Not much, but a little.

There are also two masterful sequences in the film, both taking place at a carnival. The scene where Guy's wife is killed by Bruno is drawn out over a suspensful ten minutes and ends with a brutal strangling. The final scene of the film is also fantastic. It takes place on a caroussel spinning out of control and is something that feels like it would belong more in an action movie from 2012 than a classic film. The film's last thirty minutes are some of the most fun I've had watching a movie in a while.

Strangers On A Train is a film you will enjoy even if you are not a fan of Hitchcock. It is just a fun film to watch and despite a bit of pacing issues in the middle, it is a masterpiece and a must-watch for all film fans. An underappreciated masterpiece.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Batman (1989) review

The Caped Crusader is probably my favorite superhero. I love Batman because he doesn't have any powers, he lives in a grungy, fictional city, and his rogues gallery is the best there is. I think that Batman is my favorite also because I read the old comics, which are the gold standard of Batman. I also love the Christopher Nolan films. Nolan is the best director around and his trilogy is everything that I want from movies. They are exciting, well made, and contain some of the best performances of the last decade. So when I sat down to watch Tim Burton's Batman for the first time, I really wasn't sure what to expect. It was certainly different and there are things I like and things that I dislike but I will say that it is a very good film.

Batman centers on Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) after he has already become Batman. It doesn't tell his origin story but it sort of focuses on Gotham getting to know the Caped Crusader. District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and Jim Gordon get their first taste of Batman after he pushes Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) into a vat of chemicals. After that, Napier seizes Gotham by poisoning various toiletries and sends them into fear. But eventually he has a bigger plan to destroy Gotham and only the Dark Knight can stop him. Also in the film is Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), a love interest for Wayne and a Time Magazine photographer trying to know more about Batman.

First off I will say one thing about Tim Burton's version of Batman: his stylized version of Gotham city is amazing. One thing that I loved about Batman Begins is that Nolan gave Gotham a sort of noir makeover but Burton's Gotham is even better. It perfectly fits the more fun, and less intense tone that Burton gives his film. I can't really describe it but it fits the movie really well. Another thing that I loved about the Nolan version is the acting and the casts he puts together for any one of his films. Burton's cast is nowhere near as good as Nolan's but contains one fantastic performance: Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Heath Ledger's performance has been the gold standard for villain roles since The Dark Knight was released, but in some ways I honestly think that Nicholson is better than Ledger.

But I definitely had some problems with the film. It takes a while to get into. Unlike any one of Nolan's films, it takes a ton of time to establish the story and the characters, maybe a little too long. The action is also really choppy partly because Keaton can't move his neck in the batsuit. Also, for those people who complained about a Batman shortage in The Dark Knight Rises, go watch this film again. I guarantee you, the amount of Batman in this film will surprise you.

All in all, this film is a trip worth taking. I really enjoyed seeing a different take on the Caped Crusader and in a few ways, this film is superior, but Nolan's films are still much better. I apologize if I'm comparing the films too much but it's just my instinct. It is a very solid film with a great performance from Nicholson as the Joker.

Cool Hand Luke (1967) review

Paul Newman is one of the biggest movie starts to hit the screen after 1960. The age where the big stars were gone and the French New Wave cinema was coming in was beginning and the biggest films didn't necessarily have the biggest stars. Newman starred in tons of films and remains an iconic figure. He was in three era defining films: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Cool Hand Luke. And after watching all three, I can say that Cool Hand Luke is his best film and his best performance. I loved almost every minute of Cool Hand Luke but don't ask me why. Just like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it just has this weird quality about it that is so entertaining. But Cool Hand Luke even surpasses 2001 in entertainment value (although 2001 is a great film, it isn't all that entertaining), it just has this quality about it that doesn't involve action, or dialogue or even acting. It's just a great film.

Cool Hand Luke centers on the title character Luke Jackson (Newman) who is sentenced to around two years in prison for cutting off the heads of parking meters while under the influence. His prison is the home of a chain gang who's leader is Dragline (George Kennedy). Luke at first has trouble adjusting to life in the prison but eventually becomes a sort of idol for the prisoners and after many escape attempts, is pretty much their leader. The prisoners love him, but the guards don't and he is beaten senselessly multiple times.

That's pretty much it. There isn't a whole lot in terms of story but a whole lot in terms of entertainment value. Newman delivers an amazing performance as Luke and he fits right into the character. He is extremely subtle though and doesn't have a lot crazy moments or even much dialogue on screen. The flashiest performance belongs to George Kennedy as Dragline who also steals the show. He begins as a sort of villain but eventually becomes friends with Luke and a sentimental and good character.

Cool Hand Luke is an amazing film because it does so much with so little. It doesn't have much of a story but is one of the great entertainments not because of mindless action or corny dialogue but because it has characters that you care about and moves along at an extremely fast pace. It's depiction of prison life is both harsh and tender at the same time. I think that that was another one of the things that I found really interesting was the film's depiction of prison. I hadn't really ever seen a prison movie before and I thought that this film's depiction of it was very interesting and fun to watch.

One of the best things about Cool Hand Luke is that I came away with a lot of questions during and after watching the film. Why did Luke want to escape so badly? He had friends in the prison, it wasn't like he was miserable. What is the film saying about Luke's rebellious behavior. Maybe the film is a commentary on the Vietnam War protests of the time. I don't really know much about this film so I found it interesting to disect the themes. One thing I can say for sure is that I loved Cool Hand Luke and will be revisiting it again and again.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) review

I wanted to start this review off with an iconic quote for this great film but I don't think there is one. There isn't that much in terms of great dialogue but Christmas Vacation is the perfect film to put you in the spirit for one side of Christmas. The side where everything centers around the presents, the decorations, the food, the tree, the cookies and the lights. But Christmas Vacation represents only one half of the Christmas equation. In addition to the material side, there is also the spiritual side and the humanity that comes with the season. That is represented by It's A Wonderful Life, which is not just a Christmas Classic but a Classic in general. Now in no way am I comparing Christmas Vacation to It's A Wonderful Life; they compare in no way and one is far supreme. What I'm saying is that if there are two definitive Christmas films, it's these two. Now some people would argue for A Christmas Story (which I hope to watch for the first time on Christmas) and Miracle On 34th Street (which has been on all week but I haven't gotten through it) but I think that these two films are the best.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation centers on the hijinks of the Griswold family led by father Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and mother Ellen Griswold (Bevely D'Angelo). The Griswold family is having a big family Christmas with all the relatives coming. I can't really come up with a good summary for this film because there isn't a ton of plot that I can describe about the movie. But all you need to know is that it will put you in the spirit and it is pretty dang funny.

Chevy Chase is once again very funny in his defining role as Clark Griswold. He is amazingly stupid and also very funny. The rest of the cast is great as well and it's a true ensemble. For a Big Bang Theory fan like me, it was also great to see Johnny Galecki as Rusty. But Randy Quaid steals the show as Cousin Eddie, whos is absolutely hilarious in the second half of the film. Overall, I don't have very many complaints about the film except that it gets a little too serious for five minutes in the midst of all the stupidity and it took away from the tone a little bit.

Christmas Vacation is the perfect film to get into the spirit of the season. I watched this film a few days ago and I felt more excited and happier than ever that Christmas was only four days away. It has all the ridiculousness and humor of a Chevy Chase film with the spirit of Christmas. And Christmas can get a little ridiculous, so I guess Christmas Vacation is a perfect embodiment of that insanity.

Die Hard (1988) review

Yippie-Kay Yay! It's John McTiernan's holiday classic Die Hard. Although this is far from a "Christmas" film, it has some Christmas songs and is set around Christmas time. The action in Die Hard is pretty awesome but it is the dialogue the crackles and lights up the screen even more. Bruce Willis delivers all his lines with awesome wit and power at the same time. Along with that, Die Hard has a great villain in Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Add it all up and Die Hard is worth watching again and again because of it's entertainment value but also because of its smarts.

Die Hard centers around John McClane (Willis), a New York cop who travels to Los Angeles to celebrate Christmas with his estranged wife, Holly and kids who moved out to LA after a job opportunity came up for her. McClane heads to Nakatomi Plaza to attend his wife's holiday party but soon a group of terrorists led by Hans (Alan Rickman) and Karl (Alexander Godunov). Their goal is to take the money in the safe of Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta) and escape with a few other tricks up their sleeve. But McClane escapes before Hans can round him up and he leads a one man attack against Hans and his army.

First off, Die Hard is very entertaining. There is lots of action, lots of gunfire, and lots of twists. And it is a relatively simple plot, which is refreshing for a change. It's one of those films that you can just turn on and jump right into with out having to think too much. All the acting is great. Bruce Willis is stunning in his career-defining role and Alan Rickman is equally as good in his second most famous role after Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. The action is also expertly crafted. There isn't a ton of explosions or stunt-work, just good-old fashioned gunfire and fist fights.

My only complaint is that it is sometimes too simple. There are times where Die Hard plays a little too much like a video game. Okay, McClane killed this guy, let's see who's next. That is the plot of the middle section of the film. But no video game I have ever played is a smart or has as much great dialogue as Die Hard. That is what separates Die Hard from being another generic action flick. It's like this year's The Avengers, except with a lot more f-bombs.

Die Hard is definitely a film worth watching again and again. It is mindless and fun but also hilarious and well-done. On a side note, since most readers of my blog are kids and teens and I am
14 years old, I figured I would add that Die Hard is rated R and contains an almost constant stream of profanity and some moments of graphic violence. It's bloody but not gory. I won't suggest an age because that isn't my job but I figured that I would add that for readers.

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) review

If I had a one word to describe George Clooney's 2005 film, it would be smoky. Most of the film takes place in smoke filled rooms with various CBS workers discussing their plan to expose Senator Joseph McCarthy, chairman of HUAC (Hearings for Un-American Activities Committee). McCarthy blindly chose people and named them as communists just for attention and put the majority of the country in fear. But thanks to Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly and a team of journalists at CBS news, the tide changed and McCarthy's position was taken away from him. This is a big story and it is told very well by director George Clooney but unfortunately the film is too cramped, too fast and not long enough.

As I said, Good Night and Good Luck is about Edward Murrow's (David Strathairn) plan to expose Senator McCarthy and for the first time in the history of television, take an opinion on the news instead of just report it. Murrow has help from his friend Fred Friendly (Clooney), Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.) and Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels) with some opposition from his boss (Frank Langella).

First off, Clooney's direction is fantastic. Good Night, and Good Luck was filmed in black and white and it helps the movie tremendously. There is so much Clooney does with the shadows and the smoke and the setting, you would think that he was a master at work. What he does with black and white is something I hadn't ever seen in a film besides Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Honestly, I shouldn't give all the credit to Clooney; whoever did the cinematography should have won a lot of awards in 2005. The cast is also a fantastic ensemble. Everyone has a small role except for Strathairn and Clooney but everyone contributes something to the film.

But there is one big problem in an otherwise gripping, entertaining, and interesting film: it's way too short. It feels like Clooney decided to play it safe in his directorial debut and make just a short, high quality film. But there is way more material than what is in Clooney's film. This story is so interesting and so good, that you just want to see more but Clooney doesn't put it in the film. The film runs for 93 minutes but you wish it was more like 123, because the content is surely there.

I can say that I really liked Good Night, and Good Luck but it felt very rushed and moved a little too fast for my taste. But it is definitely a film that you should watch and enjoy but I think that it is a bit of a disappointment because there is so much more that could have been done with the material provided.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dr. No (1962) review

"Bond. James Bond." The legend begins in Dr. No. Everything iconic about the super spy begins in this film. The beautiful girls. The stunning landscapes. The gun shot through a barrel opening. The memorable characters that would be in all Bond films to come. Felix, Q, M, Moneypenny; they're all here. Dr. No is not a great film but it is so memorable because it establishes everything we love about Bond in great style. There is not much action and there is some bad acting (Quarrel) and it isn't as outlandish as some other Bond film but it was the first and without everything that it does, we wouldn't have James Bond.

Dr. No has Bond traveling to Jamaica to investigate Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), a member of SPECTRE that is planning something against the US space program. In Jamaica, Bond teams up with Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), Quarrel, and Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) to stop Dr. No and save the US space program.

First off, I will say that Dr. No is pretty slow. Compared to other Bond films, this is like a PBS documentary. There is not much in terms of gun play or fighting and more time spent establishing the character. The villain also is very weak. Dr. No comes into play only in the final twenty minutes of the film and even then his screen time is minute. His plan is never very clear and Joseph Wiseman doesn't quite have the charisma like the other Bond villains that helps him to just control the screen with his performance.

But where Dr. No fails is fixed in the Bond films that came after and the precedents it set are still used in Bond films today. The beautiful girls, the Bond formula, and the characters are timeless and have helped sustain the Bond films for the past 50 years. While Dr. No is not necessarily a great film, it is iconic and must watch for any fan of the franchise. After watching several Bond films and then watching this one, it brought a smile to my face to see it all begin. Dr. No is something that all action fans and all Bond fans must watch.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Artist (2011) review

A very dark and depressing Singin' in the Rain. That is how I would describe The Artist. It essentially follows the same plot as that classic musical for a while but it goes off in very grim and bleak directions. The main character loses everything, fires his beloved chauffeur (James Cromwell), destroys all his films and even puts a gun in his mouth. It isn't the most fun movie to watch but it is an interesting and well made homage to silent films.

The Artist follows George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a big-time silent film star who is at the top of his game when the talking films show up. His boss (John Goodman) proposes them to Valentin and he rejects them and it completely derails his career. Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) starts as an extra and rises up to be a talking movie star. She becomes the star of Hollywood and a very famous actress. Miller's rise happens during Valentin's fall and his resistance to talking films results in empty movie houses for his silent film. But eventually they come together and make for a happy ending.

One thing I will say is that I don't understand how this won best picture. 2011 was a strong year in my opinion and the prize should have gone to The Descendants or Moneyball, both very good and very entertaining films. I only found the first hour of The Artist to be entertaining. I liked some of the silent film homages and the overall atmosphere but it gets way too depressing way too fast. I didn't think it was great.

The acting is good. Bejo and Dujardin are quite a duo and I would say that Dujardin was deserving of his best picture Oscar (although Brad Pitt was also very good). The direction is good as well. I really don't have that much to say about this film. It's decent but it is nothing special. I think that even major movie buffs could find this film boring and it doesn't have enough upside for it to be a great film.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey review

It took me a long time to watch Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. I always sort of dismissed it as something that I wouldn't want to watch and just never did for a while. I finally did this summer and I loved all three with Return of the King being my favorite. They were epic, exciting and emotional: everything you could possibly expect from big-scale blockbusters. I would say that after watching those films I was genuinely excited to see The Hobbit. After seeing it, I have a lot of mixed feelings.

The Hobbit tells the story of how Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) went on an adventure with a group of dwarves, whose names are Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin and their leader Thorin Oakenshield. The dwarves want to take back their homeland of Erebor which was taken by the dragon Smaug. And basically that is it. There is also a subplot involving the Necromancer, an evil spirit and of course the ring. The Hobbit tells of how Bilbo Baggins found the ring which is the foundation of Peter Jackson's fantastic trilogy.

The Hobbit is a short fantasy novel that is aimed at kids and with not a ton at stake. Why Peter Jackson expanded this book into three films is unknown. There really is no reason beyond money. Jackson is known for doing extended cuts of his films on DVD and if there is one for The Hobbit, I will be amazed. I don't think anything was cut. This is not enough material for a trilogy. The whole film consists of the dwarves wandering around Middle Earth while being chased by Orcs. There isn't enough to keep the entertainment level of Lord of the Rings going in The Hobbit. Peter Jackson started with this franchise a long time ago, where he planned to make The Hobbit one film and then two Lord of the Rings films. New Line told him to make three and now somehow he's making three Hobbit films. I don't understand. Not everyone is up for a three hour long Middle Earth epic and certainly not three of them.

After my rant, I will say that once again Peter Jackson makes this high fantasy material easily accessible for audiences. While I have read The Hobbit, I haven't read Lord of the Rings or Tolkien's footnotes so I'm not an expert like Jackson. So I don't honestly know that much about Middle-earth. Jackson still makes it a fun ride, keeping the time spent wandering mindlessly through the forest on par with the amount of fighting. And he manages to reclaim some of the magic that he captured in Lord of the Rings. But certainly not all of it. And certainly not enough to make the Hobbit a great film or maybe even a good one. I have to say that the future is promising for this trilogy. I think that the ending puts Desolation of Smaug in a good position.

Now for the good. The special effects are amazing, with Middle-earth looking as great as ever. But the effects are also misused. The acting is pretty good. I really liked Martin Freeman and Richard Armitrage. They both fit their roles nicely and add some more memorable characters to the Lord of the Rings canon. The action sequences are good, if a little bit clunky. They aren't quite as smooth or as big as some of the scenes in The Two Towers or The Return of the King. But the final battle before the final battle is really good and clean and the scene with Gollum is really good.

Now for the bad: it's a butt-numbing three hour film that takes a long time to get going and when it gets going, isn't really sure where it wants to go. The first hour is pretty good actually. I know a lot of people are not a fan of it and say that it is two slow but I think it was perfect to set up the story and get you back into Middle-earth. Some of the few moments where I recaptured the feeling I got when I first watched LOTR were in the first hour. The second hour is where it really gets you. I was kind of bored during that part at times. I think Jackson wanted to have the source material to make a film that could stand up with the LOTR films but he didn't have it. His result is a series of meaningless chase sequences with little bits and pieces of plot thrown in to move the story along just enough to keep the audience's attention. And the stuff he does thrown in doesn't always make sense. One of my few problems with Lord of the Rings is that they were huge and they were high fantasy which means breesing by things that are important yet might not make sense to the audience. I found that frustrating at times. And with three films for one book, Jackson had a real chance to take his time with the important things. There was some bit about some Necromancer. I had no idea what was going on. And they never bring it up again after Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) talk about it.

Another thing that could have been handled better is the dwarves. There is thirteen and I could recognize about four. I hope the sequels go through the backround of the rest of these dwarves into greater detail. The effects are also overused. Lord of the Rings had some great special effects work but also a lot of practical effects use. The Hobbit is all over-animated, over-done, obviously computer generated effects. It was just too much. Even my little brother said after the film: "It was good, but there was too much animation." There is no reason for Jackson not to ground Middle-earth in some reality. The Orcs are less scary because they are less real. I hope they have some practical effects in The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.

But overall, I would say that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is worth it. Beneath all my criticisms, there is an entertaining film in The Hobbit. I think that Jackson will improve with his next films but I have one more problem that I would like to bring up. His multiple endings show up again. There is a battle scene that finishes up and then another starts and then that ends and then there is finally the end scene. I don't know it just bothers me. One thing you should go in thinking and knowing is that it is not Lord of the Rings (even though the narrative is very similar to The Fellowship of the Ring). If you know that, then you will enjoy the film much more. But it is entertaining and worth seeing in the theater.

THE FINAL GRADE: C+                                           (6.1/10)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Live and Let Die (1973) review

Roger Moore finally gave some stability to the Bond franchise. After bouncing around from actor to actor (it went Connery to Lazenby to Connery), producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli finally settled on Roger Moore. Moore went on to play the superspy until he was 56, starring in seven Bond films. Live and Let Die was his first and it is actually pretty good. It starts off nicely, lags in the middle, and has a fantastic final hour.

Live and Let Die sees James Bond hunting down Dr. Kamanga (Yaphet Kotto), a leader from the island of San Monique. He is responsible for the death of three MI6 agents, who all died on the same day. Bond first heads to New Orleans to investigate and discovers that Kamanga is self growing heroin and plans to get the world heroin market under his control. Bond also meets the beautiful Solitaire (Jane Seymour), Kamanga's fortune teller who falls in love with Bond.

Replacing Sean Connery was no easy task. And I'm not saying that Moore is nearly as good as Connery or even Daniel Craig. But he does a solid job of filling in the characters shoes and making it so that the Bonds that Connery and Moore are not drastically different. While the Bond films are different and certainly less action oriented, I felt that Moore did a solid job of filling in some big shoes.

Live and Let Die is an interesting Bond film because it is so different. Most Bond films take place in beautiful, lush locations. Live and Let Die takes place in New Orleans and an island that isn't exactly pretty. So there it is the complete opposite of the previous Bond films. But it works for Live and Let Die. It just feels so right for the film.

Kananga's plan is a little muddled. It isn't explained well in the film and there are a lot of henchmen and double crosses involving Kananga's people. But I think that that is what makes it so interesting at times because you don't know what is going to happen next. And the last half is a blast. It is non-stop action. One minute Bond is about to get eaten by crocodiles, the next they're on a speedy boat chase and the next Kananga and Bond are fighting in his underwater tank. It is very exciting. And Jane Seymour is very good as Solitaire. The voodoo aspect is interesting but it isn't always explained very well with what it means for the story.

Overall, Live and Let Die is a pretty good film and worth a watch. The score is amazing and the theme is the best ever. Without question. There are some missteps, but I would say that this was a pretty good start to the Roger Moore era.

Thunderball (1965) review

Thunderball was Sean Connery's fourth film as the secret agent James Bond. It is considered to be a step down from the series' previous films which included classics such as Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. And it certainly is. Thunderball includes some memorable moments but it isn't much fun until the end and it has a villain that isn't fleshed out and way too much focus on the Bond girls. Plainly, Thunderball is a mess. It has a beautiful setting but its story is as generic as they come and it just isn't much fun.

Thunderball has James Bond going to Nassau in the Bahamas to stop Largo (Adolfo Celi), a SPECTRE commander from detonating two nuclear warheads and sending the world into chaos. Bond heads down and meets two girls, Fiona (Luciana Paluzzi) and Domino (Claudine Auger) who both help and hurt him in his quest to stop Largo. The film has several underwater sequences including a final epic underwater fight that is the most fun the film ever has.

Thunderball is mostly boring. There is not much going on and there is hardly no action until the final sequence. All the focus is on the Bond girls it seemed like to me, and they are both barely discernible from each other. It just seems like it goes on for a long time. And the film gets off to a weird and slow start. Connery is not as strong as he is in Goldfinger but the thing that bothered me the most was the villain.

Largo is a member of SPECTRE. He is the basis of the Number Two character in Austin Powers (in fact there are several things in this movie that Myers took inspiration from). But there is no motive. There is no reason that Largo is doing what he is doing. I guess that you are supposed to just assume that he is evil but I'm used to more complex villains like Darth Vader and even Silva from Skyfall. It just seems so weak. And with someone that wants to kill a million people, you expect that they either have a reason or they are just crazy. Largo has neither. It just seems like there isn't enough there for a villain and that this guy just felt like killing people. I don't know, I wasn't a fan.

The only fun part of Thunderball is the underwater fight sequence at the end of the film. It's such a cheesy end to the film that it only feels right for a poor movie. There is a bunch of spears and guns and sharks and it is really stupid. But it is a lot of fun.

Thunderball has a few good things about it. I liked the theme song and the opening credits sequences and the ending but that is not enough to justify a watch. There are plenty more Bond films that are better than this one.

Goldfinger (1964) review

Goldfinger is often known as the gold standard of the Bond franchise. While it may be surpassed by Skyfall, it certainly is a fantastic action film that is smart, witty, and packed with virtually non-stop action. This is one of the best of the series and it is helped by iconic set pieces and of course, the definitive Bond, Sean Connery. It's a blast.

Goldfinger is the 3rd film adventure of super-spy James Bond (Sean Connery). This time, he is in Miami, spying on Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), a man that MI6 chief M is worried about. He falls into bed with Goldfinger's assistant Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) but she ends up dead, covered in gold paint. Bond follows Goldfinger's trail and it eventually leads to more iconic set pieces and characters including a scene where Goldfinger threatens to saw Bond in half, the air pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) and a final battle at Fort Knox.

As I have said, I love the Daniel Craig Bond films. Casino Royale is amazing, and Skyfall may very well be my favorite movie of 2012. But Connery IS James Bond. He first played the character and it just feels like everything he does is iconic. And Goldfinger is full of iconic moments. "Martini, shaken, not stirred." was originated in Goldfinger in fact.

Also, it is entertaining almost from start to finish. There is a ton of action and a ton of special effects that you are almost always entertained. Another reason this Bond film is so good is that it is the perfect mixture of everything we love about the Bond franchise. There is tons of action, sex, and witty remarks but it is all balanced perfectly so that you don't feel like there is too much of anything. That is one area where I feel that other Bond movies lack. Thunderball is too much about the girls. Skyfall is too much about the action sometimes. Goldfinger lies right in the middle and that is the best thing about it.

The action is stunning too for an older film. It still holds up as exciting, entertaining and awesome. The final battle at Fort Knox has an amount of machine gun fire unrivaled by almost any other Bond movie that was released before 1990. The film has some problems with continuity and plausibility but isn't that the endless appeal of the Bond franchise? I mean, there is not a plausible story out of the bunch and in the real world Bond would be shot in a minute and not put into elaborate death traps. Bond is the ultimate guy. He gets all the girls, he gets to kill bad guys for a living and he gets to go on all sorts of exotic vacations. And he never ends up dead. That is the whole appeal of the franchise and Goldfinger shows off how awesome these movies are with extreme ease. It's one of the best I've seen so far.