Category Archives: Music

“The Shape of Water” Movie Review

Guillermo del Toro has officially called his new movie “a fairytale for troubled times.” There is no better description to be found. Seriously, there is none. This fantasy romance drama won the top prize, the Golden Lion, at the Venice Internation Film Festival when it premiered on August 31st of 2017. Following a lengthy festival run, it received a limited release on December 1st before expanding in the succeeding weeks. Made for the budget of just under $20 million, it has done considerably well in its limited run but it remains to be seen how successful it becomes when it goes wide. Primarily inspired by del Toro’s childhood favorite Creature from the Black Lagoon, it’s also believed that the full concept of the movie was conceived during a meal 6 whole years ago. 3 years were spent just trying to bring the updated Gil-Man to life, which means this was just as much of a passion project for the Mexican auteur as Pan’s Labyrinth. Set in Cold War America, (1962, to be exact) Sally Hawkins stars as a mute custodian named Eliza Esposito who has spent much of her life alone. While she’s working in a secretive government facility, she discovers that the authoritative Colonel Strickland is holding an ancient amphibian-humanoid captive for research. Out of pity and loneliness, Eliza befriends the creature, falls in love with it, and soon resolves to help it escape. Of all the movies that have been getting hyped up for awards season, none of them had me as excited as The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro’s work can usually be hit or miss for me, but he really hits it out of the park when he’s on top. And Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t just his masterpiece but it’s also my favorite foreign-language film of all time. The fact that this new movie won top honors at Venice only boosted my anticipation for it. A Cold War, adult version of the myth of Beauty and the Beast? Who wouldn’t want to check that out? And I can happily say that I was blown away by del Toro’s newest film. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the most hopeful movies of the year to come out. In the post-Obama era, several filmmakers have had no problem dealing out their feelings on the potential fallout from Trump’s presidency. Another film I’m looking forward to, The Post, addresses this rather directly. But most of these storytellers, no matter how good their intentions may be, come off as either stubbornly naive or relentlessly pessimistic. The Shape of Water addresses contemporary issues- such as prejudice against outsiders and trying to express yourself to people who won’t listen -but does it in a loving way. By avoiding the pitfalls of cynicism, we’re given a whimsical tale that never loses sight of its maturity. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen Sally Hawkins in much, but I hope that changes with her lead performance in this film. She does a lot without saying anything, her use of Sign Language and facial expressions being almost too real to think of as acting. Alongside Frances McDomand in Three Billboards, she gives perhaps the best female lead performance of the year, and it hopefully scores her a Best Actress nomination. Opposite her, in his sixth collaboration with the director, Doug Jones is fantastic as the god-like Amphibian Man. With spots on his skin that glow and moving gills, some viewers might be turned off by this type of romance. But the way that he moves around and expresses himself underneath the thick suit is so magnificent and even sexy. The supporting cast is filled out by Michael Shannon as the villainous Colonel in charge of operations, Octavia Spencer as the snappy work friend of Eliza, Michael Stuhlbarg as a reclusive yet brilliant lab scientist, and Richard Jenkins in his scene-stealing, career-best role as a closeted neighbor. But if I were to be honest with you, I would say that Guillermo del Toro is the real star of this picture. He brings his unique eye to the technical aspects without being clouded by a filmmaker’s ego. Dan Laustsen frames and moves the camera in ways that masters of old Hollywood would have been proud of. It’s steady, fluid, and several scenes are made as if they were shot on one take. There’s even a wipe scene transition, which cemented both its 1960’s setting and love-letter to cinema. Del Toro also flaunts his love of digital cinematography and specifically highlights the color green. Using it as its own character, it plays a factor in defining the future-obsessed setting and even contrasts with the ancient force of the Amphibian Man. Whether it’s the green Cadillac, the green walls of the facility, the green candy, or the green Jello, you’re gonna find a shade. One of the most criminally underrated film composers in the industry, Alexandre Desplat lends his unique talents to the musical score. And man oh man is it lovely to hear in a theater. Because this is still essentially a fairytale, there’s a whimsical quality to the sound, often incorporating plucked strings and soothing flutes. He also blends a French romanticism into the tracks with hints of the accordion and subtle bits of whistling. And the primary piano melody is so elegant that it makes it feel as though we’re floating through the sea. It’s sentimental for sure, but it’s not cheesy or manipulative. But again, there are bound to be people who will walk away from this film feeling cold because let’s face it: This is a story about a mute woman and a fish man falling in love during the Cold War. If that doesn’t scream “weird,” then I don’t know what does. For others like me, The Shape of Water is a gorgeous, warm-hearted love story celebrating the outsiders. By far one of the most impressive fantasy films of recent years, it’s also Guillermo del Toro’s finest English-language work. Given time, I may even say that it’s his best, if not his most mature.

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“Darkest Hour” Movie Review

I know that the advertisements for Darkest Hour sell it as the newest completely generic Oscar-bait biopic about the life of yet another highly revered historical figure. And while it’s tempting to make such a write-off, please give Darkest Hour some benefit of the doubt. This historical war drama premiered at the Telluride Film Festival at the beginning of September of 2017. Following another screening at TIFF 10 days later, it received a limited release on November 22nd, 2017. After it went wide a full month later, it has struggled to make back its $30 million budget. Directed by Joe Wright, after it was announced, half of the cast had to be replaced; namely, the late John Hurt. But Oldman was always the choice to play the central character. Set in May of 1940, the early days of Britain’s involvement in World War II come to a head when Nazi Germany shockingly encroaches in on their position. After Nevel Chamberlain is proven to be incompetent in wartime, Winston Churchill is appointed the new Prime Minister. Facing opposition from within his own party to surrender to Hitler’s regime, he must overcome the odds of politics and unite the nation against their enemy. If this had come out in 1999, this movie would have already been the clearest contender for Best Picture. But now after the Academy went through drastic changes following this year’s Best Picture debacle, many are looking at movies like this and scoffing with pride. “That’s just old-fashioned hagiographic garbage” they might say, and they’d be forgiven for saying so. Studios are afraid to make these kinds of movies anymore. Especially if they’re World War II movies, then they have to REALLY work hard to get some recognition from just beyond the middle-aged white man. However, I’m here to tell you that Darkest Hour is worth a recommendation to general audiences. What makes it so enticing is its handling of the famed Operation Dynamo, where 400,000 soldiers were to be rescued from the beaches in France. That rescue was the centerpiece of another excellent war movie from earlier this year, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The two make a perfect companion piece, quite possibly the best one in years. But whereas Nolan’s film was an experimental and neverending barrage of intensity, this movie shows the machinations and how Dynamo came to be. We see the surprising amount of opposition to continuing war against Hitler, despite Churchill having warned the country about him decades earlier. As the man himself puts it, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” Speaking of Churchill, the rumors are indeed true: Gary Oldman’s performance is something stunning to behold. Behind the thick makeup job and cloud of smoke from Cuban cigars, he gives us a man put into the right position at the wrong time. Energized by a ticking clock of Britain’s doom, a powerful orator is unveiled who is never afraid to speak his mind with an extensive vocabulary. But we’re still given a human being who is terribly conflicted on his job and has problems socializing with other people; the first time we meet him, he’s in a thin bathrobe in his bed. If Oldman doesn’t get a nomination for Best Actor come January, I will be very surprised. In fact, he’s so good that he almost overshadows the rest of the great cast. Although she isn’t given too many scenes, Kristen Scott Thomas does great work as Winston’s wife Clementine. A strong-willed woman, she is always at her husband’s side even as he fumbles in politics. Game of Thrones alum Stephen Dillane is given a lot to do as Foreign Secretary Lord Hallifax. Despite initial support for Churchill, his paranoia gets the better of him as his party seeks the agenda of peace talks. Ben Mendohlson is restrained and nuanced as the terrified King George VI, while the young and beautiful Lily James provides a nice surrogate for introducing us to the world of this man. As much of a showcasing for top-notch acting, Darkest Hour excels in its technical aspects. Previously nominated for work such as Amelie and Inside Llewyn Davis, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel plants us in the middle of these stuffy cabinet room meetings. Underneath a distinctive film grain, we see many colors desaturated into murkier shades of grey or white. This permeates the feeling of hopelessness felt in many during the time of this terrifying war. Most of the compositions are of close-ups, which makes sense since most of the movie is just talking heads trying to figure out what to do. But he makes sure to keep the audience on their toes as he never loses sight of the urgency of the story. While it’s all of Steadicam, there are many quick cutaways between conversations which makes it more riveting. Meanwhile, Dario Marinelli brings us a musical score that matches the grand urgency of the situation. With help from pianist Vikingur Olafsson, he crafts a slew of memorable melodies. The piano is almost always contrasted by swift strings or bouncing percussion such as the timpani. I definitely think that it shouldn’t be overlooked by the Academy in Best Original Score. Carried by the best male lead performance of the year and featuring some desperately needed speeches in these dire times, Darkest Hour is a rousing and energetic look at a powerful figure in history. Gary Oldman will most likely get a nomination and may even win, but it’s Joe Wright’s brilliant direction that brings the whole thing together.

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“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” Movie Review

Well, Star Wars fans, here we are. After The Force Awakens, we all begged for Lucasfilm to make a more original movie that didn’t mimic the same story beats as the Original Trilogy. And now we have this movie to unpack, so let’s dig in. The 8th main installment of this epic space opera series was released worldwide on December 15th, 2017. Having already accumulated the second-biggest opening weekend of all time domestically, the film is well on its way to breaking the $2 billion mark given the time. While critics have given strong reviews to writer-director Rian Johnson’s new entry, fans have been more mixed in their opinions. Admittedly, there’s a lot of density here in terms of storytelling and themes. And don’t worry, there are absolutely no spoilers to be found in this review. Picking up right after The Force Awakens, the Resistance is on the run after striking a victory against the First Order. Meanwhile, the scavenger Rey goes to an island on a distant planet to learn the ways of the Force from the last living Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker. All of this is happening as the young Kylo Ren continues to struggle with his allegiance to either the Dark or Light Side and his mentor Supreme Leader Snoke is hounding his every move. Like I said, this movie doesn’t follow the beats of the Original Trilogy. Whereas The Force Awakens had to play it safe in order to properly set up the new characters and put the plot on a path, The Last Jedi tosses franchise conventions out of the damn window to go in new, uncharted territory. Some fans may hate it for that, and I understand why. But to me, the second installment of this sequel trilogy had to shake things up in order to propel this series forward. And not only did it shake things up, it took the established structure of a Star Wars movie and threw it in a blender. That’s a long analogy of saying… I freaking loved it all. Rarely has there been an entry in a blockbuster franchise, especially one so beloved and iconic as Star Wars, that has felt this fearless and ambitious. It has no qualms about pushing the boundaries for the characters and turning the wheels off the main road. In that, a lot of fans may not like this movie because of what it does to certain arcs. One story involving Finn and a new girl named Rose dragged in the middle act, but I don’t want to delve into that. As a huge fan of Rian Johnson’s previous film Looper, it was very exciting to see him abscond with $200~ million of Disney’s money to make his own movie with his own voice. And that voice has a lot to say. Virtually all of the cast members from the previous film return here and they have all grown comfortable. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are particularly great as Rey and Kylo Ren, by far my favorite arc in the entire movie. Their dynamic dances back and forth like a ballet, playing off of each other’s conflicts and desires. In her last-ever film role, Carrie Fisher is as witty and charming as she always was as Princess Leia Organa. Though she’s bright with hope and optimism, it was difficult watching her scenes knowing her real-life fate. But the scene-stealer here is undoubtedly Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker in easily his best performance to date. Gone is the idealistic farm boy from Tatooine who wants to get power converters from Toshi Station. This is a tired, embittered old man who wants nothing more to do with the conflict of good and evil. In many ways, Rey has swapped roles with him as he’s hesitant to pass down the torch of the Jedi Order. On the directing side of the camera, The Last Jedi sings its singular vision with spades. As always, the visuals are astounding, switching (mostly) seamlessly from practical to CGI effects in one scene. Johnson’s collaborating cinematographer Steve Yedlin also makes sure to use a wide color palette, particularly that of red. The red throne room of Snoke, the red Praetorian Guard, red salt from the planet Crait. They take what’s normally a symbol of evil or wrong and make it beautiful. Along with Bob Duscay’s slick editing job, we get some of the best action sequences in the franchise. The lightsaber battles have never looked more precise and elegant than here with wide shots and fluid movement. And thanks to Industrial Lights & Magic, all of the computer-animated characters look like tangible beings. In a career spanning over 6o years and over 100 film scores, the legendary John Williams brings out his finest soundtrack since at least Raiders. Though he does recycle leitmotifs such as “Rey’s Theme” or “The Force” multiple times, he brings a harsh yet controlled sound to layer on top. Of particular note is one of the final tracks, “The Spark,” which is essentially a heroic riff on the Imperial March. Williams’ trademark of piercing horns and buoyant percussion are all here. But it’s the new concertos of low-strings that help elevate this to some of his best work. More than ever, The Last Jedi is concerned with exploring the themes commonplace in Star Wars; good vs evil, living up to a legacy, the courage to become a hero. But what if that legacy was overly romanticized by the ages? What if your hero was falsely judged by history? These are the questions the movie’s interested in asking. Luke spends so much time running away from his own legend, that he leaves his admirer choking on deceit. At 2 hours and 32 minutes, it’s the longest in the series yet, taking its time to unfold these ideas gradually. But with the way the story progresses, time is virtually nonexistent to me and it just flies by. I want to go more in-depth but I’ll wait for you to see the movie yourself. Though it has some pacing issues and one arc that could have been tweaked, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is a boldly dense and deeply satisfying emotional adventure. By far the best Star Wars movie under the Disney banner, it’s also my favorite one since The Empire Strikes Back. Thematically rich and bursting with memorable characters, this is a movie I can’t wait to experience on the big screen again and again.

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“Thor: Ragnarok” Movie Review

So this must be what it looks like when the entire board of head bosses at Marvel starts tripping on acid. If this is the result, then I’ve gotta have a taste of it. Released on November 3rd of 2017, this sci-fi superhero comedy has thus far earned over $833 million at the box office worldwide. The 17th(!) overall entry in the most unexpectedly successful franchise ever to hit theaters, it also serves as the final film starring the God of Thunder in the leading role. The film serves as the first blockbuster for director Taika Waiti, who previously found success from indie comedies like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Set two years after the events of Age of Ultron, Thor finds himself in a new battle with Hela the Goddess of Death. After a freak accident, he is deserted on a distant alien planet where he’s forced to fight to the death, Gladiator style. With the help of Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk, who’s also imprisoned as a fighter, he must find a way to get back home in time to prevent Ragnarok, the prophesied ending of Asgard. I have an odd history with the Thor franchise. Even though I liked the first one by Kenneth Branagh, it just didn’t hold up upon repeat viewings. And the second one The Dark World was… one of Marvel’s worst films to date and one I never saw again after leaving the theater. So you can imagine my reaction when plans were announced for a third installment. But I suddenly became more excited when I heard that Taika Waititi was at the helm for it. What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are 2 of my favorite comedies in recent years, and seeing the little New Zealander moving into blockbuster territory was what ultimately got me to give in my ticket. And he has delivered to us not just the best Thor movie by a country mile, but the first straight-up superhero comedy in the MCU. The film is by far the most distinguished from the rest of its siblings by infusing every frame with a flaring personality. Jokes were cracked and gags were unleashed almost every other line. Waititi himself scored huge bits of stomach-hurting laughter as the voice of a CGI rock creature called Korg. On more than one occasion, a dramatic monologue would be interupted by a sudden physical gag. At times, it felt like there were too many jokes being crammed in at once. One thing’s for sure, though. The director 100% doesn’t care what you think of his movie. In an age where stories of clashes between studio profit and artistic vision are regular, it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker being allowed to let loose onscreen. At least, to a point. Having been one of the most boring characters in the MCU up til now, Chris Hemsworth is finally given the chance to be cheeky yet vulnerable as the titular protagonist. Stripped of his hair and hammer, he shows off great skills of improvisation and surprisingly on-point timing. However, for the third time in a row, Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba steal the show from right under him as Loki and Heimdall, respectively. Whereas Heimdall is a world-weary warrior coming down to his last stand, Loki is as deceptive as ever, yet there is a sense of genuine concern for his home and adopted brother. Jeff Goldblum shines as a pitch-perfect alien caricature of himself, while Mark Ruffalo gets one of the few quiet moments with Thor. Tessa Thompson may seem like a generic drunkard-turned well-intended badass, but Cate Blanchett is more so as a dime-dozen all-powerful villain. She does what she can, but she falls into the same lame archetype we’ve seen countless times already. However, whatever Thor: Ragnarok falters in for its story or characters is completely made up for by its technicality. Bright, saturated colors fill up the picture in every scene. By far the most visually interesting movie of the series, Waititi’s quirkiness seemingly never ends to shine throughout the 130-minute runtime. There are spare moments when the action starts to get super cut-up by Joel Negron and Zene Baker, as they try to keep everything as slick as possible. The way that Javier Aguirresarobe moves the camera from moment to moment keeps the audience immersed in a tale that never takes itself too seriously. I’m telling you, it was borderline psychedelic at times. Composer Mark Mothersbaugh moves from T.V. to film to give us one of Marvel’s most memorable scores to date. (That’s not saying much) The forgettable sweeping orchestras are replaced here with pulsating synthesizers and fitting electronic music. It matched the idiosyncratic space adventure unfolding before our eyes. The movie opens with an action scene using Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song,” which fits incredibly well and sets the offbeat tone to follow. That was immediately followed by a surprise celebrity cameo that had my entire theater roaring. This, along with the gorgeous color palette, makes it feel as though they were going for a vibe throwing back to the 1980’s, the golden age of cheesy adventures. And thank God they do. However, try as he did, Taika Waititi is still confined to the regular formula of the other Marvel movies. The film is at its best when it’s silly and weird, mostly on the alien planet. But when we cut back to Asgard, it’s moody and rather predictable. Now that’s not to say that the ending turned out how I expected it to be. In fact, without spoiling anything, it signals a huge shift for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. But up until then, nearly everything outside of the alien planet is uninteresting and nothing more than Hela giving extended monologues about why it’s her duty to rule the Nine Realms. But Waititi does his best, and that’s good enough in this case. Thor: Ragnarok lays endless jokes and appealing visuals on top of a patented superhero formula. Although not quite my favorite of the MCU, it’s leaps and bounds better than the previous Thor movies.

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“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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