Category Archives: Favorite

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” Movie Review

Here we are, my friends. We’ve come to the end of all things. Well, at least when it comes to reviewing this saga of movies. I’ll always still be here for you guys. The final installment of Peter Jackson’s epic high fantasy trilogy was released worldwide on December 17th, 2003. It went on to gross over $1 billion at the box office, the second feature film to ever do so after Titanic. It also became a huge favorite with critics, scoring 11 Academy Award wins, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Let that sink in for a moment: A fantasy film from a big studio swept the Oscars and earned a record-high amount of trophies, tying only with Ben-Hur and Titanic. Picking up right where The Two Towers left off, Sam and Frodo are making their final push towards Mount Doom with Gollum acting as their guide. Meanwhile, Gandalf the White and Pippin make a plea with the kingdom of Gondor to prepare for Sauron’s impending invasion on the city of Minas Tirith. And as the armies of Rohan advance for aid, Aragorn sets off to fulfill a prophecy that would make him King of Men. Every trilogy has a challenge of closing out with a third installment that’s up to par with its two predecessors. But the sad truth is that that is a rarity in cinema. For every Bourne Ultimatum and Return of the Jedi, we still get films like The Dark Knight Rises and The Godfather Part III. When you add the massive success of the previous two Lord of the Rings films and the insane anticipation that was built up, this third entry seemed doomed to fail. But Return of the King not only surpassed all expectations, it became one of the greatest movies ever made. In fact, it’s my favorite movie of all time. Just as with the other two films, this one runs at over 3 hours long, even more so with the Special Extended Edition. And yet again, I iterate that there is not a moment wasted here. In fact, there are some scenes in the Extended Edition I feel are vital for understanding certain plot or character arcs. How one sequence involving Saruman was cut for theatrical release I will never understand. The pacing is perfect as well. I have seen films that are literally half as long as this one that feel like they drag on forever. Beginning with a shocking prologue directed by Jackson’s wife and co-writer Fran Walsh, and concluding with one of the most deeply moving endings in cinematic history, (Which doesn’t go on and on as some may lead you to believe) there is not a single thread that is left unsatisfied. Pretty much all of the major players were introduced in the first two entries, the one exception here being Denethor, played malevolently by John Noble. One of the most despicable human characters in cinema, his madness and grief intertwine in a scary and believable way. Another character I didn’t get to mention was Miranda Otto’s Eowyn, a strong-willed shield-maiden who wants nothing more than to prove her worth. Those type of characters can usually be annoying, but you grow to care and root for her. But the scene-stealer this time around is Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee. As Frodo grows weaker, Sam has to step it up and prove himself as the real hero of the story. Even for a series as technically accomplished as this one, Return of the King is one of the most visually striking films of the last 50 years. Containing 1,488 visual shots, the VFX work really comes to life during the battle sequences, particularly the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Nearly 20 times as large as the Battle for Helm’s Deep, but still just as personal, nearly every character in the cast, save for Frodo and Sam, gets a chance to shine in the conflict. It also better fleshes out some effects-heavy characters, such as the giant spider Shelob. That sequence scared me to death as a child, and it still sends a shiver down my spine to this day. Outside of CGI, the production design continues to be be impressive with some of the most elaborate sets ever built. The practical model for Minas Tirith is quite an awesome sight while Shelob’s Lair is creepy enough to make your skin crawl. And Howard Shore’s music has never been better than here. Each track is elevated to a level of epic proportions thanks to an operatic choir and fantastic strings. It all captures the right emotion of the moment, and earns that response from audiences. All of the leitmotifs we know and recognize are present, but they’re amplified to an insane degree of beauty. Upon all of that, the film closes its credits with an Oscar-Winning original song called “Into the West” by Annie Lennox. A cathartic ballad that brings all of the emotions drained out of your system back to where you began, it also serves as the perfect ending to the finale from the last few frames. And this really does feel like what J.R.R. Tolkien wanted as an end to his saga. There are definitely changes to the source material- much to the chagrin of his son and literary heir Christopher -but the spirit and the intent of the story is all still present. The novel is considered both the pinnacle and the model of fantasy literature in most corners of the globe. On a similar level, the film adaptation is considered to have created the template for how to adapt a story, regardless of genre. Many have utilized that template but none have quite mastered it like this film trilogy. Visually stunning, emotionally rewarding, and satisfying beyond words, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is an astonishingly powerful and endlessly beautiful masterpiece of peak filmmaking. I reiterate my earlier sentiment: This is my favorite movie of all time. It crafted the sci-fi/fantasy nerd you’re reading right now and ultimately showed me the magic of the movies. And it’s an example I measure all other films to come. If you don’t like this movie, well then you might as well just un-Follow me.

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“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” Movie Review

It’s official. J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium is getting the full-series T.V. treatment from Amazon, a prequel to be exact. Personally, I would much rather they do an adaptation of The Silmarillion than even try to touch these movies. The middle entry of the extremely successful epic high fantasy saga saw a worldwide release on December 18th, 2002, grossing nearly 10 times its $94 million budget. Unlike most trilogies, all three movies of the Lord of the Rings were filmed back-to-back and were finished in the years of their individual release. This is rather smart as it allows for more time to be given to perfect everything going into the final product. Picking up right where Fellowship left off, Frodo and Sam make their way to Mount Doom on their own, gaining the unexpected help of a mysterious creature called Gollum. Meanwhile, Aragorn, the Elf Legolas, and the Dwarf Gimli are drawn to the horse kingdom of Rohan to help drive a corrupt power tearing the nation by war. And finally, Hobbits Merry and Pippin find themselves negotiating with a mythical taking tree called Treebeard about their mutual enemies. Many film buffs argue over whether or not The Two Towers is better, on-par with, or worse than The Fellowship of the Ring. I personally don’t have any interest in these types of arguments. (The answer is Fellowship, by the way) Assessing these films as standalone is difficult because they were all meant to be watched in one sitting. As soon as the final shot fades from the first installment, you’ll immediately want to watch what happens next. And when a 3-hour movie makes you want to watch another 3-hour movie afterward, that’s an impressive accomplishment. And that’s what The Two Towers does. But I’ve always been of the opinion that the Special Extended Editions of the trilogy on Blu-Ray is the one to go for. Each movie is given about 45-50 minutes worth of additional footage, giving greater context to situations or characters. Including bonus features and behind-the-scenes extras, the trilogy now spans approximately 12 hours- and I have no problem sitting through all of it multiple times. Most “director’s cut” or “extended editions” of movies I’m usually against as it really just pads out the runtime and adds unnecessary filler. I want you to find me a single scene like that in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Go ahead, I’ll wait. This time around, we get even more characters to care about in the cast. Chief among them is Bernard Hill’s commanding performance as Theoden, King of Rohan. Almost Shakespearean, he faces a constant moral struggle of what’s best for his people, with the wolves of Isengard never too far behind his party. David Wenham is convincing as Faramir, a Ranger come between a rock and a hard place. As you learn more about his character, you actually grow to empathize with his hardships. Someone who I didn’t talk about last time was Saruman the White, played masterfully by the late Sir Christopher Lee. Initially being the White Wizard, his throwing in with Sauron makes you long for his defeat. He’s essentially the central villain of this film. However, Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the creature Gollum is, both from a technical and acting standpoint, an absolute revelation. Essentially the drug addict of Middle-Earth, he is brought to life by brilliant work from Weta Workshop and Serkis’ own facial expressions translate directly to the final product. Despite his gross outward appearance, you can’t help but pity the poor thing. He represents a metaphor for the toll that the One Ring can take on someone, and also serves as a reminder for Frodo to get going to Mount Doom. His performance was so great, it has prompted serious arguments about whether or not motion-capture qualifies an actor for the Oscars. (It absolutely does) And this series continues to be a marvel in the technical department. All of the behind-the-scenes crew from the last movie carry over into the installment. I would say that the sound design is much more crisp and sharp this time around. Every time an Orc was slashed with a sword, you could the crunching of their bones and the squishing blood. All aspects of this department culminate in the famed Battle of Helm’s Deep, one of the greatest battle sequences ever put to the big screen. Pitting 300 Men and Elves against 10,000 Uruk-Hai, (Orcs beefed on steroids by Saruman) the fight lasts from the rainy evening until the morning. How it cut away from the action to the women and children hiding away in the caves gave it this extra humanity. Howard Shore continues to impress as the musical composer of the trilogy. Carrying over many of the same leitmotifs from the first film and creating some new ones, the “Uruk-Hai” track is considered to be the main theme song of the entire saga. This time around, he seems to favor harsh horns and pulsating percussion for the antagonists, especially as they march toward our heroes. Meanwhile, the country of Rohan gets its own theme, made of a solo, melancholic violin that illustrates a nation’s uncertain future. How he got the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play for him I don’t know, but I’m glad he did. And unlike many fans of Lord of the Rings, I like the risks that this second installment took. While the tone itself has become a little more somber, the intelligent dialogue is taken in a really funny direction. The rivalry between Legolas and Gimli produces some hilarious moments. And I actually like the Ents. Yes, Treebeard and all of his slow-moving friends didn’t annoy or bore me at all. Like its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a stunningly beautiful fantasy brought to life with feverish passion. While not quite my favorite of the trilogy, I will never disagree with anyone who loves it most. Featuring even more interesting characters and a fantastic ending battle scene, this sequel is definitely worth it.

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“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” Movie Review

*If in the course of reviewing this and the other two movies, I’m unable to convey how incredible The Lord of the Rings is, I will consider it a personal failure.*

FINALLY! I get to talk about this trilogy! Deadline recently reported that Amazon and Warner Bros are in talks for a T.V. adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. While I’m not on board with that, I do get an excuse to review this amazing series. The first installment of Peter Jackson’s epic high fantasy saga debuted on December 19th, 2001. Costing $93 million to make, it went on to earn over $871 million worldwide along with dozens of accolades. Originally to be made by Miramax, the film was meant to be a two-part series, before internal pressure moved down into just one movie. God knows the neutered version we would have gotten, but New Line Cinema was shown a 35-minute concept video. Afterwards, after the executive asked why there weren’t 3 movies, the whole trilogy was moving forward. Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s celebrated novel and set in the fictitious landscape of Middle-Earth, the story centers on a mysterious Ring of Power. According to legend, the Dark Lord Sauron poured all his contempt for life and will to dominate into the Ring, which has since been in the possession of a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins for 60 years. When it’s adopted by Bilbo’s nephew Frodo, it’s revealed that Sauron’s power is regrowing for another assault on the world. Now, with the help of a Fellowship of 9 companions, he must set off on a quest to destroy the Ring by throwing into the very place it was created: Mount Doom in the heart of Mordor. This is probably going to sound insane, but I’d just like to put this out there: I have seen this movie more times than the original Star Wars trilogy. And that’s REALLY saying something. And it’s not just a piece of childhood nostalgia that I like to wrap myself in a blanket with. I have rewatched each film at least once a year and find more things to appreciate about it as an adult. And all these years later, I still love them. The first one is basically a masterpiece, and they came swinging out the gate with the trilogy. This time around, I tried to block out every memory I had of this film. I’ve memorized virtually everything; the dialogue, the music, the action. On this rewatch, I decided to try and watch the film with as much objectivity as I could, as if I were watching it for the first time. And what I noticed is how natural the worldbuilding is. Within the first 30 minutes, we learn everything needed to know about the history of the Ring through a brilliantly narrated prologue and get a glimpse of the rest of the world through The Shire. But halfway through, the titular Fellowship hasn’t even formed yet. You’re just appreciating all the awe-inspiring storytelling and character development. Growing up himself in the role of Frodo, Elijah Wood is fantastic as the leader of the massive ensemble. He shows a naive resilience to the corruption of the One Ring of Power. By his side for almost the entire movie is Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, a humble and caring gardener Hobbit. Never afraid to share his true feelings, he also proves himself adept at combat with nothing but a frying pan. Meanwhile, Aragorn is given an excellent introduction with Viggo Mortensen dominating the role. Apparently brought in at the last minute, his arc is extremely important and you really grow to care about him. But Sir Ian McKellen steals the show here as Gandalf the Grey. An eons-old Wizard, the Oscar-nominated performance sees him trading Old Toby with ass-kicking in just a scene. Meanwhile, from a technical standpoint, Fellowship is absolutely breathtaking. Filmed in Jackson’s home country of New Zealand, every single location is utterly gorgeous to look at. Thanks to both the outstanding production design and the swooping cinematography by Andrew Lesnie, we get the entire scope of Middle-Earth just through the camera.  Even the Hobbits and Dwarves are shortened using old-fashioned cropping tricks with the editing. Conceptual artists John Howe and Alan Lee clearly knew what they were doing when they had signed on. Meanwhile, the special effects are simply awesome. Then-emerging company Weta Digital put themselves on the map with huge battle setpieces and glorious creature designs that are ingrained in my eternal memory. Though some may complain that they look dated today, I still believe they are as convincing as they were the first time I watched it. They integrate perfectly with the beautiful costumes by Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor. I’ve waxed poetic about this film and not even mentioned the musical score by Howard Shore. Quite possibly the best soundtrack of 21st-century cinema thus far, the composer uses a full orchestra and choir to his best advantage. Whether it’s the eery strings regarding the history of the One Ring or the bright and homely woodwind of “Concerning Hobbits,” you can feel a true sense of immersion and worldbuilding through the music alone. It also features a song in the end credits by Enya called “May it Be,” which, like many other vocal tracks, utilizes lyrics written in various forms of Elvish. I genuinely can’t express to you how happy I feel every time I put the soundtrack on, whether it’s in the background or the foreground. What Peter Jackson accomplished with this movie, many considered impossible or “unfilmable.” He took a beloved novel and transformed it into a tangible fantasy world with fully realized characters and a clear mythology that was accessible. It’s the type of movie that Hollywood had never made before, nor is it ever likely to make again. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a monumental achievement of literary magic and cinematic art. Tolkien himself likely would have been proud, even if his son Christopher wasn’t.

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“The Thing” Movie Review

First of all, yes; I’m fully aware of how late this review is as October has ended. Secondly, we made it! I finally get to talk about this movie. This sci-fi horror classic was released on June 25h, 1982 by Universal Studios, only barely making back its $15 million budget. The film later became a cult hit on VHS and DVD and, like most of director John Carpenter’s work became revered only with time. A remake of The Thing From Another World by Christian Nyby, which itself was an adaptation of the story Who Goes There? by John Campbell Jr., the film was put through several different drafts, including one supposedly written by Tobe Hooper. And not only is this Carpenter’s 8th movie overall, but his first to be distributed by a major studio. Set in a frigid research facility in Antarctica, the story follows a group of scientists whose expedition is interrupted by a surprise visit by a Norwegian team. Shortly afterward, they discover that a monster, possibly from outer space, has invaded their outpost and can imitate a person down to their biological structure. With a blizzard rolling in and contact with the outside world cut off, the men must decipher which one of them is the creature before it kills them all. I’ve been asked for about a year or so what my favorite movie of certain genres are. Sometimes, they ask for action, other times for comedy, and even occasionally romance. But not horror. I guess they’re afraid to know what truly scares me at night. They might even be afraid to tell me what their favorites are. I’m here to say that I have absolutely no problem or hesitation when I tell you that John Carpenter’s The Thing is my favorite horror movie of ALL TIME. Which is odd, considering that most people didn’t really know what to think of this movie upon release. Much like his original Halloween, many critics were dismissive of it at first, calling it too gross and violent. The director of the original movie flat-out distanced himself from the remake entirely. This isn’t uncommon for Carpenter, as most of his movies came into recognition years after their release. Now, this is celebrated as a classic. It is honestly a product of a time when movies, especially horror movies, were made perfectly and studios should never remake them. There is a bit of leniency with the 2011 prequel, but the day that the film itself is rebooted for a shared universe franchise is the day I give up on cinema. Although not often regarded for its acting department, regular Kurt Russell carries the entire movie with his frozen beard alone. Despite regularly collaborating with Carpenter in films like Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China, I dare say that this the best performance of his career. In opposition, he tells a comrade, “If it takes us over, then it has no enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.” Everyone else, especially Donald Moffat and Keith David, does a great job in their limited roles. Like this year’s Dunkirk, we’re not given much backstory for their characters, but the bizarre and unimaginable terror they face causes us to root for them the whole. And the film contains, hands down, the greatest dog performance in any motion picture. Apparently, the canine Jed had wolf blood in it, which allowed it to ravage uncontrollably in the first half of the movie. And yeah, since this is a John Carpenter movie, you know this film is going to look gorgeous. Making full use of its 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen, every bit of action is captured by cinematographer Dean Cundey. It’s all captured using Steadicam, just the way Carpenter likes it. And of course, it also uses minimal lighting, which is perfect for the bleak and almost monochrome setting. Nothing is obscured by shaky cam sequences or hyperactively edited moments of action or even by being overlit or too dark. Each scene is perfectly rendered for the screen. But unlike almost all his other movies, Carpenter himself did not compose the musical score for The Thing. Rather, it was done by Ennio Morricone, and man did he deliver. It sounds just like if the director would do the soundtrack himself. Although the film itself does share similar characteristics with Westerns, the score is much different than anything Morricone has composed before or since. Most of the tracks are these droning low-note rhythms that perfectly capture the grim mood of the film. Mostly playing in the background, it racks up the nerve and tension to crazy heights. And during some of the more action-filled sequences, the synthesizers truly come out. And last but not least, I have to touch on the groundbreaking effects. Most horror movies from this period were incredibly cheap to produce and have aged horribly in the modern era. The Thing has some of the best practical and makeup special effects ever put to a feature film. Several of the cast and crew members have actually gone on record saying that they became physically sick because it looked so real. Brought to disturbing life by master Stan Winston, it still looks better than most CGI affair released today. It also enhanced the ever-present feeling of terror and dread because this monster could be anyone. There are two particular scenes that always get me every time I watch the film. Unlike Halloween, this film is practically driven by the gore and violence, but only as a way of telling the story. Dripping in aesthetic and haunted by master craftsmanship behind the camera, John Carpenter’s The Thing is an ageless cage-rattling exercise in paranoia and sheer terror. Even 35 years after its initial release,v it still holds up amazingly well today and keeps me coming back each Halloween season. P.S. it’s also my favorite movie remake. I’m very curious to know what your favorite horror film of all time is. Please share and do keep the love for this movie flowing.

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“The Silence of the Lambs” Movie Review

Another piece of progressive horror. I like it and want more. This bone-chilling horror thriller from director Jonathan Demme was released on Valentine’s Day in 1991, grossing over 14 times its relatively modest budget of $19 million. It went on to win the Big Five Oscars; Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Wait a minute: A horror movie released in February won a bunch of Oscars the next year? Could this be setting up for Get Out‘s potential success at award season?  Joking aside, the film, which went through a tumultuous pre-production involving the departure of star Gene Hackman, has been included on several “Best Of” lists. The American Film Institute even listed it as having the greatest villain in the history of American cinema. Adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name, which itself is a sequel to the novel Red Dragon, the story follows Clarice Starling, a young FBI recruit who is tasked with tracking down a serial killer named Buffalo Bill. When no leads come up, she turns to the cannibal psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter for help on the case. Now with the abduction of a state senator’s daughter, they must race against time to find Bill while learning to open up to each other. This is one of those “classic” films that are extremely difficult to review because of two reasons. 1) So much of it has already been said by other people. 2) I want to review it with objective eyes, blocking out all preceding praise heard of for this movie. I hadn’t even watched the damn picture until earlier in the month. Thankfully, I managed to get my hands on the Blu-Ray while Halloween shopping and waited until I was alone at home in the evening to watch it. And my God… I barely have the words to describe how brilliant and intense this film is. To give you some context, I was watching the movie with a warm blanket wrapped around my person. From the first scene until the end, I held that thing up to my chin as the film built and built and built in its tension and anxiety. I never got up once to go to the bathroom, I never even got up to feed my own dog her dinner. As I became invested in the fascinating characters and the believable dialogue, I realized that Ted Tally’s screenplay completely made this movie into something beyond a disturbing thriller. No, it’s something far more subtle and intricate than that, although that element is really good. It’s really a character study of a group of broken human beings who need each other more than they want to admit. Now while the supporting cast of people like Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Brooke Smith, Diane Baker, and Anthony Heald all doing great work in their own complex roles, it’s the two leads that really carry the whole thing. I can’t think of a better Clarice Starling other than Jodie Foster. She’s strong-willed, determined, and incredibly smart, yet you can also see how vulnerable she is. But she’s practically dwarfed by her counterpart Sir Anthony Hopkins, who delivers one of the best performances of the 20th century. An astonishing piece of acting and insanely iconic, you can’t help but respect Hannibal the Cannibal’s character, despite being a true psychopath. When describing his own personality, he tells Starling, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”  Not just a plot-focused film, The Silence of the Lambs is also very impressive on a technical scale. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography makes excellent use of close-up shots that add something a little more uncomfortable to the nature of the characters. Thanks to the minimal lighting and rather singular color tones, the scenes feel and look more dreary and lived-in. The way that certain conversations or situations are edited by Craig McKay help to wring out even bigger amounts of tension from the audience. But the movie is smarter than to give a piece of shocking string jolts that are manipulated to be like terror. It sometimes will draw a single take out, leaving you to see when it’s going to cut. A full decade before he brought Middle Earth to life with his Lord of the Rings score, Howard Shore composed the soundtrack for this film. Using a full orchestra, each track creates a foreboding atmosphere that perfectly captures the brutal, all-too-real world the people live in. This made the film far more sinister and unsettling, which is saying something. But this continues a trend which I call “progressive horror,” in that it tackles a real issue through the vein of horror. In this case, it’s a woman proving herself in a male-dominated society. Not only is it her workplace at the FBI where she’s looked down on, but also the field. Her first visit to the mental hospital is marred by rude advances from the head doctor and particularly troubling patients. As more of Clarice’s backstory is gradually revealed through either conversations or flashbacks, we see how much trouble she’s dealt with in the past to now. And now, this psychopath may be her ticket to getting out. But he doesn’t flat out save her. Instead, he gives her just the right tools to break free all by herself and show her superiors, in both work and society, she’s much more badass and powerful than expected. Even on first viewing, I genuinely don’t have any problems with this movie. It’s essentially perfect in most aspects of filmmaking. The Silence of the Lambs is a twisted and ominous look at the duality of sanity and genius, with fantastic performances. Truly genius and taut in every conceivable way, how this led to two sequels, two prequels, and a T.V. series I still don’t understand. The original is destined to be studied for a long time for its contemporary contributions to the genre.

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“Pan’s Labyrinth” Movie Review

This review marks two occasions. First, it’s October and I wanted to get out some reviews of scary-ish movies for Halloween. But also, Guillermo Del Toro’s new feature, The Shape of Water, is due out in early December. So I figured, why not just revisit his masterpiece, El Labyrinto Del Fauno? This Spanish dark fantasy film earned back over 5 times its $19 million budget when it was released stateside on October 20th, 2006. This follows its in-competition premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a 22-minute standing ovation, one of the longest in the festival’s history. That’s right, a fantasy film centering on children got one of the best receptions ever from the most prestigious film festival in the world. According to Del Toro, he wrote the screenplay from the creature doodles of his notebooks as well as experiences of lucid dreaming from childhood. It’s also supposedly a spiritual sequel to his 2001 film Devil’s Backbone, and Del Toro even did the English subtitles himself. Set in fascist Spain during World War II, Ivana Baquero stars as a young and innocent girl named Ofelia who is obsessed with fairy tales told to her by her mother. When her mother remarries Captain Vidal, she tries to escape from reality at her new home by proving herself in a newly discovered fantasy world in a labyrinth just out near the garden. Encouraged by a mysterious faun to prove her loyalty as the reincarnation of Princess Moanna, Ofelia has to balance out the horrors of both the real world and the fantasy world. I said in my intro that this movie is somewhat scary and I stand by that observation. In particular with a scene to discuss later on, but at the forefront, the themes are the scariest thing about it. Throughout the 1 hour and 59 minute-long narrative, we see enough compelling evidence of how flawed both of these two beautiful worlds are. Reality is shaken by bullets exchanged from fascist soldiers and the republican rebels, while the fantasy world is populated by some truly horrifying creatures. And in a way, you’re left to wonder which world would be better to live in. You’re also left to wonder whether or not that fantasy was real or if she made it up in her head. I personally subscribe to the latter theory, but you’re welcome to interpret it at your own volition. In any case, just watch this movie. It’s truly amazing. My first experience with this film was in a course studying the relation between horror and fantasy fiction, as something of a Segway for the two. I had not known a single thing about the movie prior to watching it. All I knew was that it was a Spanish movie about creatures by the same guy who made Hellboy and Pacific Rim. The second the film ended, every single student, including myself, stood up from our seats and applauded it. This was one of only two times that ever occurred in the class. (The other time being Tim Burton’s Big Fish) Someone referred to it as Alice in Wonderland on crack after it calmed down. To say that would be mismarketing the film. Ivana Baquero gives an incredible performance as Ofelia, one of the best ever given by a child. We see the horrors of both words presented through her eyes and truly empathize with her every step of the way. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Captain Vidal is one of the most despicable characters to emerge in recent cinema. Played masterfully by Sergi Lopez, he’s a cruel and deranged villain who is not afraid of sacrificing his humanity for the cause of fascism. While Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil, and Alex Angulo each do a nice job with their crucial supporting roles, American actor Doug Jones steals the show as the Faun. He completely loses himself in the role of a mysterious, ancient creature who moves like an especially rusty Tin Man. With a raspy, crickety voice, he tells Ofelia who he is by saying, “I’ve had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce.” That really makes me excited for his work in The Shape of Water. The film is also technically accomplished in almost all departments. The production design of both the mill and the labyrinth itself is stunning. Both are dreary and weathered down by time, even in the bright daylight. Guillermo Navarro’s camerawork is setup and progressed the way Del Toro likes it: smooth yet almost disorienting. It helps immerse the audience into both of these worlds simultaneously and rather deepens the sense of imagination. Some of the CGI looks pretty dated by today’s standards, but I’m willing to forgive it. Especially because the practical makeup is so impressive. The most memorable monster in the film is the Pale Man, again played by Doug Jones. With the cinematography and editing, it was an absolutely terrifying sequence that made me nearly piss myself on a rewatch. Combined with Javier Navarrete’s beautiful score of choirs and violins, there’s almost no reason to hate this movie. Touching on themes of fantasy vs reality and a marvel of imagination, Pan’s Labyrinth is a haunting fairytale brought to life by a sheer commitment to vision. In fact, it might just be my favorite foreign language film of all time, right beside The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Simply a masterpiece. Be sure to check back on my blog this month for reviews of Bone Tomahawk, Shaun of the Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Thing.

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“The Defenders” T.V. Show Review

Talk about a one-off show that tries its most damn to be the best it can be. Some things worked and others didn’t. Let’s divulge it all. This highly anticipated crossover superhero T.V. show premiered all of its 8 episodes on Netflix on August 18th, 2017, receiving high viewership figures from the streaming services subscribers. But it was also followed by a historical drop in people watching it week-by-week. A culmination of the previous Marvel/Netflix collaborations, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, it’s believed that there won’t be a second season for it at least for a long time. And after watching the series, I can understand why. Following the events of each series, our titular protagonists are brought together by the secret organization known as The Hand. While dealing with their enigmatic leader, played by Sigourney Weaver, they must also investigate what their plan is for New York City. With the help of Stick and handful of side characters from the other shows, they must unite to stop evil from destroying their home. Daredevil season one, back in 2015, was, in my opinion, the best live-action superhero show ever made. And although I didn’t love season two as much, I still really enjoyed it for how it introduced The Punisher. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were equally amazing, giving us some relevant drama with intriguing action. And for those of you who hadn’t been Following my blog earlier this year, Iron Fist is one of the most disappointing T.V. shows I’ve ever seen in my life. A bland protagonist, underwhelming action sequences, a horribly unfocused story that went on for far too long, redeemed somewhat by good side characters. And after that trainwreck, I was actually really nervous about The Defenders series and if it would deliver. None of the advertisements really grabbed me like previous shows did and not enough compelling information was released in order for me to truly get invested in it. But alas, I’m a sucker for tempered expectations. Make no mistake, I have some legitimate issues with this series, but for the most part, it stuck the landing. Getting it out of the way, all four of the titular heroes work well together. I like how each one had their own motivation for joining the war on The Hand. Daredevil wants to quit his life of crime-fighting but feels compelled to help his old mentor. Luke Cage has an obligation to the people on the streets as their protector. Iron Fist believes it to be his destiny to take down The Hand. Jessica Jones only comes along because she’s on a case. Charlie Cox, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, and Kristen Ritter share convincing chemistry in their scenes together, especially the dramatic ones. Danny Rand still comes off as an annoying, whiny punk, but he’s given more to like about and is far less insufferable than he was before. Meanwhile, the inimitable Sigourney Weaver shines as the main antagonist of the series Alexandra. A mysterious, wealthy woman, she isn’t just some mean bitch or wants to destroy New York because she’s evil. She has a motivation, and you can see how desperate she is to keep her organization alive in the modern era. Her counterparts in the Hand are pretty uninteresting overall, but they were serviceable to keep the plot running. Action sequences have been a mixed bag for the Marvel/Netflix shows. Whereas Daredevil was lean and gritty, Luke Cage and Iron Fist were underwhelming. But for the most part, they keep it fair and balanced here, with the third and fifth episodes having great setpieces involving all four heroes. But it does fall into the trap of dark corridors with hyperactive editing to conceal obvious stunt doubles. That doesn’t happen often, though. Through the nice camerawork and some rousing music from John Paesano, we are thrown in and made to care for the people present. As far as the story goes, The Defenders is pretty inconsistent. It has the cliche of immediately trading off action sequences for extended scenes of exposition and backstory. Most of it is delivered through the character of Stick, played masterfully by Scott Glenn. As much of a badass as he is, I think he may have oversold the magnitude of their war against the Hand. Because in the last two episodes, when their true plan is revealed, it seems almost inconsequential to the rest of New York City. It felt as though the writers had bigger plans, but they had to find a way to condense it into 8 episodes in order to satisfy Marvel. Another thing of note: I understand that you want to bring over supporting players from the previous shows to have a big crossover effect. But that doesn’t change the fact that some of them were just flat-out useless here. Maybe they’re setting up for character arcs in later seasons of their respective shows, but for now, it felt distracting. Far from any television masterpiece but still entertaining enough to get you through to the end, The Defenders is a mostly satisfying blend of superheroes grounded in the urban streets. It still feels like a prelude to a bigger story, as each episode implies a bigger picture of what’s going on. But for now, it’s a bit of intriguing and fun entertainment. I cannot wait for The Punisher coming this Fall.

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