Welcome

Welcome to this blog of my film reviews. Some have been drafted carefully on paper, others I have sat and typed. I'm going to make it clear right now that I don't expect you to agree with my (re)views, or to like my style of writing. However, I want my views to be just out there and open, as a person who wishes to express himself from deep within. Feel free to comment and debate with me, but I do ask that you are civil and not harsh, as any comments which are basically swear words and insults will automatically be deleted. Also any text that is in orange (and often bold) is a Hyperlink to either a source, or a previous post for background reference.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Shark Tale



***

Fed up of being a loser, young fish Oscar (Will Smith) can't believe his luck when a Great White (Michael Imperioli) is killed only inches away from him. Taking credit for the Shark's demise, Oscar becomes rich, famous and known as the "Shark Slayer". But things are about to get a whole lot worse when Oscar learns the Shark he "killed" was the eldest son of Mafia boss, Don Lino (Robert De Niro).

Before Shark Tale DreamWorks had had straight hits when it came to Computer Animated Features, with Antz (1998), Shrek (2001) and Shrek 2 (2004). Shark Tale, however, is their first in a long line of misses. The animation is very good, there's no denying that. It's nowhere close to the standard of Finding Nemo (2003) when it comes to animation, but it makes the undersea life very colourful and eye-catching. The characters, although the screenplay makes them very one-sided and underdeveloped, are an enjoyable bunch with some good gags, and it is so enjoyable to see the voices of major film names such as Will Smith, Jack Black, Robert De Niro, Renee Zellweger, Martin Scorsese and Angelina Jolie coming out the mouths of computer animated sea creatures. Plus casting Doug E. Doug and Ziggy Marley as a pair of moronic Jamaican Jellyfish is so funny to watch and listen to.

On the downside there is such an artificial feel to it. The magic of Finding Nemo was that it showed fish in their natural habitat, doing what they do best, but in Shark Tale it is a case of them living in a human world, but with a fishy spin to it, and there is no magic to it. The screenplay tries to make fish-human world gags that aren't well written, and the thought of fish living exactly like humans, but swimming everywhere instead of walking just feels so fake and artificial, and too much like an attempt to copy SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-). This and the cheesy screenplay with barely any character development are what stops this film from being hit, but it is still a good film to keep the kids entertained with.


2004.
U.
Stars:
Will Smith, Jack Black, Robert De Niro, Renee Zellweger, Martin Scorsese, Angelina Jolie, Doug E. Doug, Ziggy Marley, Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore, Peter Falk, David P. Smith, Fiona Phillips, David Soren, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Kamali Minter, Emily Lyon Segan.

Oscar nomination: Best Animated Feature (Bill Damaschke).

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Die Hard 4.0



***

A group of cyber terrorists lead by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) hack into the US Computer Grid, bringing most of Washington to a standstill, as they try to corner and take down NYPD Senior Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis), who, with the help of a young computer hacker (Justin Long) is the only one who can stop them.

The film and its action is very fast-paced, edge of your seat stuff from start to finish, and is full to bursting with explosions, crashs, car chases, machine gun fire and flying fists. As for Olyphant's Gabriel, he makes the antagonistic cyber terrorist truly cold-hearted and sadistic to a bone-chilling, spine-tingling level, quite frankly creating the best Die Hard villain since Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber in the 1988 original, though not quite up to that standard, let's face it that is a high standard.

On the downside, the plot feels so artificial due to the non-stop, hardcore action. The magic of the original, and the near-magic of the 1990 first sequel was that the plot, action and setting was all really believable, as it was written so well that you felt that any everyday cop could be in that scenario, and McClane felt like a real cop who would willingly do anything to save others, while the action here could kill a superhero - is McClane meant to be Superman in disguise or something? It is this that stops this film from being on a par with Die Hard 2, although it is more engrossing than 1995's Die Hard with a Vengeance.


2007.
15.
Stars:
Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Maggie Q, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Cliff Curtis, Kevin Smith, Jonathan Sadowski, Cyril Raffaelli, Zeljko Ivanek, Edoardo Costa, Sung Kang, Tim Russ.

Saturn nominations: Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Best Supporting Actor (Justin Long).

Friday, 29 October 2010

Toy Story 2



*****

Set around a year after the 1995 original, the narrative sees Woody (Tom Hanks) get toynapped by greedy collector Al (Wayne Knight), while Andy (John Morris) is on Cowboy Camp. Desperate to save his best friend, Buzz (Tim Allen) leads Rex (Wallace Shawn), Slinky (Jim Varney), Mr Potato Head (Don Rickles) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger) on a rescue mission across town. Meanwhile at Al's, Woody learns that he was the star of a '50s puppet TV show, Woody's Roundup, and that without him fellow stars Cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), Prospector Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer) and horse Bullseye will go into storage, maybe forever, but with him they will go to a Tokyo Toy Museum, meaning Woody has a tough choice - a few more years with Andy or eternity in a museum full of kids!?!

Every moment of this film is absolutely beautiful and glorious, which is down mainly to three major components.

Firstly, is the wonderfully well-written screenplay. The screenplay is fast-paced, with non-stop attention-grabbing action; a constant flow of well-written, hilarious physical and verbal gags; as well as a number of neat blink-and-miss references to other films and TV series, including Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-9), the first two Star Wars (1977 and 1980), Jurassic Park (1993) and A Bug's Life (1998). As well as all of these components to the screenplay, there is a significant amount of development for characters both old and new, making them characters you can really relate to and feel such a strong bond with.

Secondly, is the wonderful voice cast, whom, like in the original, truly bring their characters to a glorious life. Hanks makes Woody a strong, serious, yet charming character; while Allen makes Buzz a determined, powerful and driven leader, who won't stop at anything to rescue his friend. Cusack brings tonnes of energy and excitement to Jessie, making her such a very enjoyable and deep character; while Grammer makes Stinky Pete a well comically-timed character with some great one-liners, as well as a tough, rude, violent little brute of a Prospector doll. Ratzenberger and Rickles make the quick-witted tech expert Hamm, and the cynical Mr Potato Head an absolutely hilarious double-act; while Shawn is irresistably funny as the ever-nervous Rex, with his video game obsession showing an amusingly interesting new side to the character; and Knight makes Al a deliciously cheesy and entertainingly gross sleeze. On the other hand Varney makes Slinky a heartbreakingly loyal dog, with his pining for Woody really breaking the heart, especially thanks to his glum facial expressions, that will especially tug at the heartstrings, especially if you've ever seen a dog pine for the one (or master) that they are loyal to. However, it is, arguably, the mute Bullseye who steals the show, coveying all of the horse's feelings and emotions through a range of comical and brilliantly animated facial expressions.

Last, but most definetly not least, is the absolutely beautiful and spectacular animation. Every sngle tiny little detail of every single frame is animated to a standard of stunning definition, with not a single weak point in any of the teeny-tiny individual frames. Truly the animation department went all out to create a stunningly beautiful, truly eye-catching, glorious and spectacular animated feature.

Together these three main components are combined together in perfect sync and harmony, to make Toy Story 2 a truly stunning and glorious animated feature, and one of those ridiculously uncommon sequels that is at the very least equal to the original.


1999.
U.
Stars:
Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, Wayne Knight, John Morris, Annie Potts, Joe Ranft, Andrew Stanton, Estelle Harris, Jodi Benson, Jeff Pidgeon, Laurie Metcalf, Jonathan Harris, R. Lee Ermey.

Oscar nomination: Best Original Song (When She Loved Me - Randy Newman).

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Martin Freeman is set to play the lead role of Bilbo Baggins in 'The Hobbit'...will it work?

Last night on Film 2010 it was revealed to us Brits that comedian Martin Freeman would play the role of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, and there are a number of reasons why this could fail...

Firstly, Freeman is a comic actor/comedian and I can count on one hand the number of times he's ever played a semi-serious character, and when I say one hand I don't even get past the third finger. Also, Bilbo is a deep and fairly complex character, and the nearest Freeman has ever come to playing a character like that was Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), which, although enjoyable, is nowhere near in the same league as The Hobbit or anything Tolkien. Secondly, as it is Peter Jackson writing, directing and producing, each of the two films will be a good three hours, at least, and the whole six hours is to be carried by Bilbo - can Freeman handle that when he's only ever played a character for a total running time close to that long in The Office (2001-3)? Finally, he is generally one-sided and Bilbo's character development gives the character several sides.

On the other hand, this could work, as Jackson has always judged well when it comes to casting - let's face it the cast of The Lord of the Rings (2001-3) was truly perfect casting, so he must have felt Freeman was perfect for the role. After The Lord of the Rings I trust his judgement when it comes to casting so I am willing to give Freeman a chance. Whether it's a success or not will be revealed when The Hobbit: Part I is released in two years time.

Bee Movie



***

Upon graduating from college young bee Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) is set to work at Honex Honey Factory, a worker job he has to do for the rest of his life. However, he longs for more and ventures out of the hive. In the human world of New York he befriends a florist called Vanessa (Renee Zellweger) and loves his new life; but when he learns how the humans uses bees, their pollen and their honey he is horrified and decides to sue the human race.

The animation is to a very bright, detailed and all-round very good and eye-catching standard thanks to the stunning images, there's no denying that. Antz (1998) and A Bug's Life (1998) showed us how nature (grass, trees, et cetera) appeared so large from a bug's perspective, and that was very interesting to watch on screen. What Bee Movie (or Bee) does is show the urban human world of New York from the perspective of a flying bug, and it really is interesting to see just how much of the things we humans have in our everyday lives and in our very cities terrifies and intimidates such a tiny creature as a bee.

However, the film's major drawback is its screenplay. The jokes are below par throughout most of the film, while the characters are too one-sided - Barry is always serious and trying to appear refined and well-spoken; Vanessa is sweeter and sappier than the flowers she sells; and Vanessa's boyfriend Ken (Patrick Warburton) is macho and self-obsessed with both his image and how Barry impacts Vanessa's life, and how the impact would reflect on him. As for the plot - the whole idea of bees suing the human race over pollen and honey is underdeveloped and one-sided, giving it a seriously artificial feel. Bee may be visually wonderful and interesting to watch but it is these drawbacks that stop it from being on a par with Antz or A Bug's Life. It will entertain the kids though.


2007.
U.
Stars:
Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson, Oprah Winfrey, John Goodman, Rip Torn, Megan Mullally, Chris Rock, Ray Liotta, Sting, Larry King, Larry Miller, Jim Cummings.

Golden Globe nomination: Best Animated Film.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Die Hard with a Vengeance



***

To avenge the death of his brother (Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber from the 1988 original) Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) unleashes a string of terrorist attacks on New York and sends NYPD Leiutenant John McClane (Bruce Willis) and cab driver Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) driving all over New York in desperate bids to stop them in a sadistic, deadly game of Simon Says, while Simon steals $140 billion in gold bullion.

The action is fast-paced with quick editing that results in no dull moments, and that really is explosive and fast-paced, full of machine gun fire, car chases, crashs and explosions. The whole idea of the Simon Says game is also a very good idea, and makes Simon such a sadistic and cold-hearted antagonist, which a film of this genre usually needs. However, no events/incidents in the Simon Says game get any proper development, creating a real sense of too many ideas being crammed in to the just over two hours running time. As for Simon himself, he may be sadistic, but he is too one-sided and underdeveloped, making him a rather artificial antagonist. Die Hard 2 (1990) was nowhere near as good as the original, but these flaws stop this third film from being as good as Die Hard 2. It may be fast-paced and action packed, but it isn't well written, with little development.


1995.
15.
Stars:
Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Larry Bryggman, Anthony Peck, Nicholas Wyman, Sam Phillips, Kevin Chamberlin, Sharon Washington, Stephen Pearlman, Michael Alexander Jackson.

Saturn nomination: Best Action/Adventure Film.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Back to the Future Part III



****

After recieving a 70-year-old letter from Doc (Christopher Lloyd) telling Marty (Michael J. Fox) he's in 1885 Marty discovers that Doc was shot dead only days after writing the letter, so he uses the DeLorean (found in a mine) and drives into the Old West of 1885 to save Doc's life. However, three things complicate this. Firstly, the gas tank of the DeLorean gets a puncture making it impossible to be driven back to 1985, secondly, Marty gets on the wrong side of 'Mad Dog' Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), the guy set to shoot Doc and his own life is put at stake, and, thirdly, Doc falls in love with school teacher Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen) after saving her life.

After Back to the Future Part II (1989) I was slightly worried about watching this as Part II killed most of the magic of the original, and what hadn't been killed I thought would be done so with a Part III. I was, however, wrong. The set pieces are incredibly detailed with Saloons, blacksmiths, the works, creating a true Old Western feel, almost on a par with films such as The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). The costumes also help create this feel, with them designed so carefully to match the clothes people genuinely wore in the Old West - the boots, the ponchos, the hats, every item of clothing so lovingly detailed.

As for the narrative, it does what the narrative of Part II could not - stays fresh throughout. There is no sense of cramming of ideas, with significant character development and well-written gags. And it also feels so fresh as the narrative centres on Doc. Both the 1985 original and Part II centred on Marty and his family and by the end of Part II you just feel fed up of it all being Marty, Marty, Marty, and feel that Doc really needs some really good development as it's been almost nothing but Marty trying to save his various relatives past and present. Never before has Doc's character been so interesting and enjoyable to watch, and Doc becomes a relatable character who is strong-willed and carries the film just as Marty carried the original.

So, all-in-all, it can never match the magic and beauty of the original - let's face it how many sequels are on par with the original - but it is better than Part II and is beautifully designed, well-written and an excellent conclusion to the film series that made a star out of Michael J. Fox and Robert Zemeckis one of the biggest directors in Hollywood.


1990.
PG.
Stars:
Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, James Tolkan, Matt Clark, Christopher Wynne, Sean Sullivan, Mike Watson, Dub Taylor, Harry Carey Jr, Pat Buttram, Elisabeth Shue.

Saturn Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Thomas F. Wilson), Best Music (Alan Silvestri).
Saturn nominations: Best Science Fiction Film, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Supporting Actress (Mary Steenburgen), Best Costumes (Joanna Johnston).

Monday, 25 October 2010

Monsters vs. Aliens



****

On her wedding day Susan (Reese Witherspoon) is hit by a meteorite and grows to 50-feet-tall. A Top Secret military base take her into hiding/lock-and-key, where they keep several other monsters - B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a brainless, indestructible glenatinous blob; Dr Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist with the head and abilities of a cockroach; The Missing Link (Will Arnett), an amphibious fish-ape hybrid; and Insectosaurus (Conrad Vernon), a 350-feet-tall grub. However, a robotic alien probe the size of Insectosaurus has crashed to Earth and is destroying all in its path, and only the monsters can stop it!

Between Shrek 2 (2004) and Monsters vs. Aliens (or MvA), DreamWorks Animation had only two hits - Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and Kung Fu Panda (2008) - while everything else has been miss - Shark Tale (2004), Flushed Away (2006) and Bee Movie (2007) to name a few. However, MvA is most definetly hit. The animation is superb, full of so much care and attention to detail that you feel you could be watching a mega-budget live-action sci-fi. Everything that could and should be detailed is so - from the fur on Insectosaurus, with every strand given life; to the design/structure of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge - let's face it all major bridges (London Bridge, the many in New York, et cetera) are very intricately designed.

However, the film's characters are what bring it such lovely life. Supported by the witty, action-packed screenplay, full of substantial character and event development, Witherspoon makes Susan a character to sympathize with in the first half, but strong and determined in the second; Laurie captures the mad scientist down to a tee; Arnett makes Link quick-witted and full of energy; but Rogen steals the show as B.O.B., who gets great gags, brought to hilarious life by Rogen's impeccable comic timing.

Chuck in some neat blink-and-you-miss-'em references to big sci-fis such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Men in Black (1997), and what you have is a well-written, witty, fast-paced sci-fi that is beautifully animated, and all-round great entertainment for the whole family.


2009.
PG.
Stars:
Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Conrad Vernon, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Tambor, Julie White, Amy Poehler, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski, Ed Helms, David Koch.

Annie Award: Storyboarding in a Feature Production (Tom Owens).
Annie nominations: Voice Acting in a Feature Production (Hugh Laurie), Animated Effects (Scott Cegielski).

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Bruce Almighty



***

The film follows Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey), a down on his luck TV reporter, who seeks a promotion and a better life overall. After a series of misfortunes, which include getting beaten up for helping a homeless man (Jack Jozefson), Bruce yells to the Heavens, insulting God and claiming he is powerless. The next day, however, he comes face-to-face with God (Morgan Freeman), who gives Bruce his powers on a temporary basis to see if Bruce can do any better. Initially Bruce uses the powers to make his life perfect, turning his beat up old car into a Ferrari, parting traffic, and getting himself a promotion, but later on learns that he must use his powers to help others, which causes both successes and major problems.

As a Christian I find that the story is one to be disagreed with as God would never grant anyone his powers, but as a person I (and I'm sure everyone else) will feel the need to think "What would I do if I had God's powers?" It's human nature, no doubt about it. The film captures that and makes it so funny to watch with witty verbal and physical gags, as well as some very farcical moments, although at times the screenplay gets a little too absurd and predictable. Jim Carrey has perfect comic timing as Bruce, making him a very over-the-top and farcical character, and one of the all-time greatest comical characters that Carrey had played since the mid-'90s. Freeman makes God all-knowing and all-loving, yet also a very quirky and altogether charming character as well. Very good support is provided by Jennifer Aniston as Bruce's girlfriend who is such a heartwarmingly loving character, and Steve Carell, who provides some great comic moments with a range of hilarious facial expressions and voices. The stars make full use of a colourful screenplay, and work together very well to bring zany, comical life to the physical and verbal gags, and make Bruce Almighty a witty comedy, regardless of the occasional predictable moments.


2003.
12.
Stars:
Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell, Lisa Ann Walter, Steve Carell, Nora Dunn, Eddie Jemison, Jack Jozefson, Paul Satterfield, Mark Kiely, Sally Kirkland, Tony Bennett.

People's Choice Award: Favorite Comedy Motion Picture.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Back to the Future Part II



***

Picking up exactly where the original (1985) left off, Marty (Michael J. Fox) returns to 1985 from a brief visit to 2015, only to find an alternate, grim, bleak reality where billionaire Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) rules Hill Valley. Trying to piece it all together Doc (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty realize that the Biff of 2015 stole the DeLorean gave the Biff of 1955 a Sports Almanac containing all the sports results until the end of the 20th Century. To restore the proper reality Marty and Doc go back to 1955 where Marty must destroy the Almanac before Biff can ever use it, which is further complicated by the fact Marty must dodge the Marty of the original trying to get back to 1985.

The fact that there are so many ideas in the film is a problem, as you never feel like A) any ideas will get good development, with them coming one after another without a pause for breath and B) you feel such a sense of cramming in general. For example, when Marty and Doc go to 2015, the cars have really futuristic designs, like you would find in a futuristic sci-fi which is set in at least the 22nd Century; Jaws 19 is at the local cinema; cars fly; you play video games with your mind only - no hands; TVs are about ten feet wide with six sub-screens so you can watch at least six shows at once; and all of your clothes adjust to fit you and autodry. This simply feels ridiculous due to the fact that there could never be that greater advancements in technology in as little as 30 years - since 1985 we have barely even scratched the surface in the world's targets to one day make everything that technologically amazing; although it has to be said that it is all visually impressive. The other idea I feel didn't work was the DeLorean flying, as the magic of the DeLorean in the first film was the whole idea that Time Travel can be achieved in something as common as an everyday car, and make it an extraordinary flying car and that magic seems to go; though in all fairness if the car couldn't fly then that would have made it ten times harder for the third and final film (1990) to be opened and established and this film to end.

On the upside the film is fast-paced with not too much in the way of dull moments. There is a true lack of gags due to the fact this is all-in-all a much darker film, which works quite well as it builds up suspense, which makes it a fairly interesting film to watch; but also doesn't work as the Back to the Future films are meant to be comedies as well as sci-fis, and there's barely anything to laugh at, especially after the trip to 2015. Visually the whole film is very impressive with great effects in the lightning storm at the end, and naturally the journey to 2015 of course; which is enhanced by some very fast-paced and snappy editing, which features intricately created and memorable shots. There are also some neat references to the original in here as well, and it is quite fun both to spot them, and spot something that is used (possibly significantly) both later on in this film, and in the third.

So, all-in-all this is an enjoyable adventure, and, although it is nowhere near as good as the original, is still good fun to watch despite its flaws and builds it up for the concluding film.


1989.
PG.
Stars:
Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Elisabeth Shue, Billy Zane, Casey Siemaszko, J.J. Cohen, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman, Crispin Glover, Joe Flaherty, Jason Scott Lee, Ricky Dean Logen, Darlene Vogel, Flea.

Oscar nomination: Best Visual Effects (Ken Ralston, Michael Lantieri, John Bell, Steve Gawley).

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Hangover



****

The morning after a (presumably) epic bachelor party in Las Vegas, three friends (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis) wake up in the Villa of Caesar's Palace Hotel to discover a tiger in the bathroom, a baby (uncredited infant) in the closet, and that the groom (Justin Bartha), Doug, is missing. With no recollection of the night before the three of them treck across Vegas, looking for everywhere they had been to the night before to try to piece together what happened and where the hell Doug is.

Before watching this film I was genuinely worried that this would be another low-brow Hollywood comedy, based on its title, as that's what films such as Without a Paddle (2004) and Click (2006) were, and let's face it, those are some pretty dam uninspired titles. I was, however, wrong. Quick-witted, snappy and not afraid to offend, The Hangover delivers non-stop verbal and physical comedy. It's characters are hilarious, thanks to a top-notch cast, most especially of all Galifianakis as Doug's brother-in-law to be, who is basically a 9-year-old in a 35-year-old's body, bringing so much energy to the character, and making the whole moron thing so sincere and believable to a hilarious level, so his true skills at poker and card-counting (which wins them over $80k at a casino) comes as such a hilarious surprise; while Cooper makes his character a seriously cool and charming individual, and Helms makes Stu an irresistable nerd, and makes the fear Stu has of his nightmare of a girlfriend (Rachael Harris) quality humour, especially if you've ever lived in fear of a girl who calls all the shots.
Its situation is hilarious. If you've ever woken up with a massive hangover then, believe me, you can empathize with the torture their heads and guts are in - it seriously isn't something I'm proud to admit to - but the situation they wake up and find themselves in will make it a lot more funny to watch, and is one of the few times a hangover can be found funny due to the amount of confusion and nervous panic amongst the characters. Somehow I doubt anyone would want to get so drunk that they end up in that kind of hungover situation, and a cert to put you off going for a bachelor party/stag night in Vegas. Coupled with this all is a hilarious cameo from Mike Tyson, some more hilariously sincere characters in the forms of Heather Graham's stripper and Ken Jeong's Chinese gangster, and a really catchy soundtrack, which goes perfectly with the film and includes tracks from Phil Collins, Flo Rida, Wolfmother and Kanye West; and together all of these things make The Hangover a very adult, very well-written, memorable comedy, and one of the most hilarious comedy films of the 2000s. A must-see as a comedy, and quite an interesting, though worrying, advertisement for Vegas.


2009.
15.
Stars:
Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Sasha Barrese, Jeffrey Tambor, Rachael Harris, Mike Epps, Mike Tyson, Rob Riggle, Cleo King, Jernard Burks, Ian Anthony Dale, Michael Li, Matt Walsh, Nathalie Fay, Sondra Currie, Gillian Vigman.

BAFTA nomination: Best Screenplay (Jon Lucas, Scott Moore).

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Brides of Dracula



****

En route to Transylvania schoolteacher Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur) frees a young Baron (David Peel) from his shackles. However, the young Baron is in fact a vampire and soon he is biting the necks of his mother (Martita Hunt), and young women (Andree Melly, Marie Devereux) that become the (titular) brides. However, Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), who is passing through knows exactly what is happening, while the others are unsure, and makes it his quest to kill the Baron and allow give the girls bitten the chance to rest in peace.

Unlike many Hammer Horrors, including this film's predecessor Dracula (1958), the monster/villain of the piece is not the dominatory giant that is Christopher Lee (his domineering height of 6"5 making him the only British actor of the '50s tall enough to be cast as the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy, and his deep, cold voice he has used for countless villains over the years being one of the reasons for him being cast as Dracula). If, like me, you're a huge Christopher Lee, thanks to both his earlier films, and his more recent roles, such as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), then you will feel disappointed before seeing the film, as he, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price are, in my view, the best Horror film villains. However, any disappointment is brushed aside quickly once you start watching.
The lighting in the film is dark, and atmospheric, to a spooky level of spinge-tingling cold, and you can never be sure what to expect to come out from behind a tree. The mise-en-scene is as well, with a very gothic feel to the sets, and those old, spooky mansions and graveyards within the village feeling more creepy than they do in most horror films. The music is very tense and gritty, organ and violin stuff that will keep you on the edge of your seat in those tense, well-scripted scenes, and the character's nerves and fear become your nerves and fear as you watch on. For a 1960 film it really does also use vivid images full of sharp, eye-catching colours that help greatly to create the tenseness. Add to all of this a very good cast; with Peter Cushing being a truly gripping and powerful character as the hero of the piece and keeping you on the edge of your seat; Yvonne Monlaur being perfect as the character who sets off the whole story, making the character deep, complex and powerful; David Peel is both charming, cold and cunning as the Baron and will send shivers down your spine. However, Martita Hunt is the most memorable making her character seem cold, heartless and beautifully created, and feel like a character such as Rosa Klebb from From Russia with Love (1963).
Combine these elements together and you have a very tense, gripping, powerful and well-scripted horror film on your hands, carried by its ensemble of characters brought to life by a wonderful cast of actors. A very good film, but trust me, never watch it just before bed.


1960.
12.
Stars:
Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur, David Peel, Martita Hunt, Fred Johnson, Freda Jackson, Henry Oscar, Mona Washbourne, Miles Malleson, Andree Melly, Marie Devereux, Victor Brooks, Michael Ripper, Norman Pierce, Vera Cook, Michael Mulcaster, Henry Scott.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Final Destination



*

At the McKinley Speedway track Nick (Bobby Campo) has a premonition of the cars having a horrific, explosive pile-up that kills everyone. He and several others (Shantel VanSanten, Haley Webb, Nick Zano, Mykelti Williamson, Andrew Fiscella, Jackson Walker, Krista Allen, Justin Welborn, Stephanie Honor) leave the stadium just before the crash happens, destroying the stadium. In the weeks following Death stalks the survivors, killing them one-by-one in freak accidents, in the order they would have died had they stayed in the stadium.

All of its characters may die a premature death, but the Final Destination franchise keeps going, with a fifth film coming out next summer, despite the fact this was originally meant to be the finale. It's the same old formula and basically a recycled script, just with differently named characters and a different premonition - how much we crave some originality. The deaths are roughly the same as those in the first three films - crushed, decapitated, run over, et cetera. You know what to expect with these formulaic films, and the deaths come as randomly and gruesomely as ever, only difference being you see it coming. Unlike the originals however the deaths are actually anti-climactic in some cases; e.g. when Samantha (Allen) is in the salon the ceiling fan comes loose and falls, and while it comes loose you expect it to fall and decapitate, only for it to miss her by three feet and a stone riden over by a lawn mower flies and splats through her eye. Uninspired and anti-climactic or what? Like Final Destination 3 (2006) there generally is no creepy and suspenseful build-up to the deaths, which made the first two (2000 and 2003) so much more tense and watchable. A recycled, predictable screenplay, it fails to draw you in.

On the one upside there are some good effects, with the premonitions (yes, there's two, with the second one being the mall getting destroyed in a series of deadly explosions - such a pointless build up to an anti-climactic ending), featuring vivid and explosive images, that are eye-catching and sometimes gripping to watch. However, this is all-in-all a poor film and nowhere near as good as the first two, and is even worse than the third.


2009.
15.
Stars:
Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Haley Webb, Nick Zano, Mykelti Williamson, Andrew Fiscella, Krista Allen, Justin Welborn, Stephanie Honore, Laura Grice, Jackson Walker.

Final Destination 3


*

At the theme park a group of soon-to-be High School graduates board the Devil's Flight rollercoaster, and Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a premonition that it will crash, killing them all. She and several others (Ryan Merriman, Kris Lemche, Amanda Crewe, Alexz Johnson, Sam Easton, Texas Battle, Chelan Simmons, Crystal Lowe, Maggie Ma) either choose to get off, or are forced off just before the ride starts...and then crashs, killing all aboard. In the weeks following Death stalks those who got off and starts to kill them in the order the would have died had they stayed aboard the rollercoaster.

Once again questions about fate and predestination are raised, just like the film's predecessors (2000 and 2003), but the film fails to address them in detail and context as the predecessors did, with only a couple of brief references, which even include a tasteless reference to 9/11. The amount of deadly carnage is piled on more than I pile up my plate at all-you-can-eat buffet, but there's no purpose, no development, and, most horrifying of all, no tenseness. The first two really built up suspense with the deaths scenes and the build-up to said scenes through intricate shots and editing, as well as a creepily tense soundtrack, but hear the characters are talking, and then next second, WHAM - one of them gets shot or crushed by something. Like with the original two the cast give wooden, underdeveloped performances, but that's understandable, as they are playing underdeveloped characters who are written to be little more than props.

On the upside, some of the deaths are guarnateed to make you jump, they come so suddenly and so gorily, with the death of the first two survivors (Simmons and Lowe), as they are burned alive by sunbeds, being absolutely horrific to watch as they scream for help that won't come and their bodies catch fire as they continue panicking. And the rollercoaster crash of a ride is quite thrilling and fast-paced to watch. Other than that this is a pointless film, a lot worse than its predecessors, and not worth watching, unless you're into causing yourself depression and pain.

2006.
15.
Stars:
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Amanda Crewe, Kris Lemche, Alexz Johnson, Sam Easton, Jesse Moss, Gina Holden, Texas Battle, Chelan Simmons, Crystal Lowe, Maggie Ma, Ecstasia Sanders.

Saturn nomination: Best Horror Film.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie



***

Five and a half years after the Nickelodeon cartoon series started SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) and the rest of Bikini Bottom make their big screen debut in this cracking cartoon comedy.

Desperate for the recipe for the krabby patty so that he can make The Chum Bucket a success Plankton (Doug Lawrence) frames Mr Krabs (Clancy Brown) for the theft of King Neptune's (Jeffrey Tambor) crown. Krabs is frozen solid and sentenced to death, however, Neptune agrees to free Krabs on condition that SpongeBob and Patrick return from Shell City in six days time with the crown, resulting in the pair embarking on a long, dangerous, treacherous treck over the ocean.

A lot of critics and viewers had doubts initially as a children's cartoon often fails to make a good film (look at all those direct-to-VHS/DVD feature-length Scooby-Doo cartoons). However, there was little reason to worry. The screenplay is witty, farcical and full of very good verbal and physical gags, which the voice cast use to bring their characters successfully to glorious, humanesque/anthropomorphic life. It does, however, like most screenplays, have its flaws. Supporting characters such as Krabs, Squidward and Neptune have comical moments and are enjoyable, although they don't feature enough, while some of the gags are quite over the top and bland, which would fail to engage the older half of the audience, even if they are amusing.

SpongeBob's and Patrick's hyperactive, dim-witted childishness is much more heartwarmingly funny than ever before thanks to their very developed roles in the screenplay, and their development over the course of the film into much more mature men is well-written. Plankton is a deliciously cunning villain, which is made funnier by the fact he's about 1/80 the size of the other characters. Krabs's and Squidward's (Rodger Bumpass) respective personalities of money-hungry and grumpy are as entertaining as ever, although the the running gag of Neptune's baldness does get a little repetitive and predictable. Arguably, however, the show is stolen by Dennis (Alec Baldwin), a hitman hired by Plankton to stop SpongeBob and Patrick. His strong, intimidating personality is well created by Baldwin's top-notch vocal performance, which makes the character attention-grabbing and powerful.

In short, this is a good quality, well-written cartoon, carried from start to finish by the entertaining screenplay and a good ensemble of characters, brought to great life by an strong voice cast.


2004.
U.
Stars:
Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Doug Lawrence, Clancy Brown, Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Tambor, Rodger Bumpass, Alec Baldwin, David Hasselhoff, Jill Talley, Neil Ross, Carlos Alazraqui, Carolyn Lawrence, Mary Jo Catlett, Lori Alan.

Annie nominations: Best Animated Feature (Peanut Worm Productions), Directing in an Animated Feature Production (Stephen Hillenburg), Music in an Animated Feature Production (Gregor Narholz).

Monday, 18 October 2010

Final Destination 2


**

En route to an alcohol and drug fuelled camping trip with her friends (Sarah Carter, Alex Rae, Shaun Sipos), Kimberley (A.J. Cook) has a premonition of an explosive pile-up that kills dozens and blocks off the lane that leads on to Route 23, only a couple of minutes before the pile-up happens further ahead. While her friends are killed, Kimberley and eight others (Michael Landes, T.C. Carson, Jonathan Cherry, Keegan Connor Tracy, Justina Machado, Lynda Boyd, James Kirk, David Paetkau) who should have died survive. In the days following, however, the survivors are killed one-by-one in freak accidents and Kimberley seeks the help of Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), the only survivor of Flight 180 in the original film (2000), who agrees to help them cheat Death.

The film really does boast some excellent effects, especially in the premonition pile-up which is easily one of the best car crash scenes I have ever seen, with some seriously vivid, shocking and eye-catching explosions, and is really well shot to make the skidding of the cars, et cetera, fast-paced, eye-catching and gripping. The editing is also good in the death scenes, which feature some  intricate shots, and is combined well with the soundtrack to make the scenes creepily tense, and the images vivid, bloody and bold to a throat-lumping level.

On the downside the performances aren't that brilliant, feeling forced and underdeveloped, just like the characters, who are scarcely more than props in a story of how the force of Death stalks its victims till they die, tying up loose ends. And even many of the deaths are simply stupid, not even managing to look the slightest bit believable, with the characters who die looking like they're made of clay when they die Like the original the idea of Death being a force is underwhelming, poorly written and just feels so artificial, it is angering.

All in all this film is tense, gripping and even enjoyable at moments, it is inferior to its predecessor, and an altogether overly flawed film.

2003.
15.
Stars:
A.J. Cook, Michael Landes, Ali Larter, T.C. Carson, Jonathan Cherry, Keegan Connor Tracy, Justina Machado, Lynda Boyd, James Kirk David Paetkau, Tony Todd, Sarah Carter, Alex Rae, Shaun Sipos, Andrew Airlie, Noel Fisher.

Saturn nomination: Best Horror Film.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King



*****
"Sauron moves to strike the city of Minas Tirith. His defeat at Helm's Deep showed our enemy one thing. The heir of Elendil has come forth. Men are not as weak as he supposed. There is courage still - strength enough left to challenge him.
Sauron fears this. He will not risk the peoples of Middle-Earth uniting under one banner. He will raise Minas Tirith to the ground before he sees the return of the King."
Released a year after The Two Towers (2002), The Return of the King is the concluding installment to Peter Jackson's big budget multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955), which is the most successful film trilogy of all time, and the most spectacular, highly rated in this critic's view.

The film opens with a prologue set the best part of six centuries before the main plotline. While fishing out on the River Anduin to celebrate hobbit Smeagol's (Andy Serkis) birthday, Deagol (Thomas Robins) discovers The One Ring, lost for over two and a half thousand years. Drawn to its power Smeagol kills Deagol and retreats into the Misty Mountains with it where gradually over time he is reduced to the creature Gollum, mangled, animal-like, and psychologically disturbed, with the entire process of the transformation narrated by Gollum as he tells of how he became what he is today and what he forgot about the life he once had.
There are a number of reasons, not just the fact it is so interesting to see Gollum's story, why this is such a powerful, heart-wrenching and engrossing opening to such an outstanding film, three of which I shall write about...
Firstly, the makeup! When watching the first two films one will wonder how a hobbit could become such a mangled and warped creature, especially when comparing Gollum to Frodo (Elijah Wood), Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Sam (Sean Astin). However, the process is shown to be a very gradual one, with each shot showing the hair thinning more, the body becoming skinnier and bonier, the eyes bulging more, the teeth becoming sharper and fewer, and the use of his limbs becoming more warped and animal like, with his voice getting huskier and higher pitched at the same time. The makeup shows just how much The Ring's power transformed Gollum from a hobbit into what he and emphasizes just how much it ruined Gollum. The images of the makeup are also fairly disturbing to look at and are also very striking, so they are guaranteed to stick in your mind as you look upon them.
Secondly, the voiceover! The narration by Andy Serkis in his voice of Gollum which is both husky and high-pitched, and seriously spine-tingling, thanks to the voice being altogether creepy in the first place. Aside from that it also makes it clear how much there has been suffering for Gollum from his point of view and provides some significant character development as you watch the torture The Ring unleashes upon him unfold before your eyes. Third and finally is Serkis's performance. Serkis makes Smeagol icily cold and gripping in the murder of Deagol to a gut-wrenching level. The pain and writhing in the emotions Serkis expresses and the physical movement are truly well-created and feel so realistic that you will be unable to tear your eyes away, with the display in front of you making you sympathize so much for the character's predicament and, in some people's views, weakness, and, will effect the way you view the character in the rest of the film.

Now for the main strand of the film's narrative, which picks up almost exactly where The Two Towers left off. The film sees three parralel narratives, which go something along these lines to carry the film from start to end...
The first narrative follows Frodo and Sam being lead ever closer to Mount Doom by Gollum. Little do they know that Gollum is plotting to kill Frodo and reclaim The Ring, but not before turning Frodo against Sam. Things are also further complicated by the fact that The Ring's power is taking ahold of Frodo, and he is getting ever more loving of it.
The second and main narrative starts with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Theoden (Bernard Hill), Eomer (Karl Urban) and Gamling (Bruce Hopkins) taking Merry and Pippin from Isengard to a 100% safe place in Edoras, with Pippin finding Saruman's (Christopher Lee) Palantir in the water at the base of Orthanc after Saruman is killed by Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) and falls from the top of the tower, and Gandalf taking it for safe-keeping. During the night, however, Pippin looks into it again and sees a glimpse of Sauron's (Sala Baker) plan to destroy Gondor, with the enemy assuming that Pippin has The Ring. From here this narrative splits into three parralel narratives...
Gandalf takes Pippin to Minas Tirith to keep the young hobbit safe, and to persuade Lord Denethor (John Noble) to prepare the city's soldiers for battle. After the 600,000 plus orcs and trolls take Osgiliath and kill all of Faramir's (David Wenham) men, Gandalf leads Minas Tirith's soldiers in the defence of the city as it is attacked left, right and centre by the hoards of orcs and trolls, as far as the eye can see on the Pelennor Fields, lead by Gothmog (Lawrence Makoure, with the voice of Craig Parker), and by the nine Ringwraith-ridden Nazgul, lead by the Witch-King of Angmar (Makoure, with the voice of Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, Theoden and Eomer lead over 6000 riders to Minas Tirith in a battle to the death against all the orcs and trolls, and a large group of Mumakil, ridden by hundreds of Haradrim. While all this goes on Aragorn, having been given the sword of Elendil (Peter McKenzie in the first film) by Elrond (Hugo Weaving) - who convinces Aragorn to follow his destiny, leads Legolas and Gimli into the Paths of the Dead to convince the ghosts of soldiers Isildur cursed over 3000 years ago to fight for him and bring them victory on the Pelennor Fields.
The third narrative sees Arwen (Liv Tyler) choose a mortal life with Aragorn, and convince Elrond to reforge the sword of Elendil and give it to Aragorn so he may lead the peoples of Middle-Earth to victory and reclaim the throne of Gondor (see the end of second narrative). However, Arwen's fate becomes bound to The Ring, and unless it is destroyed she will die.

I am aware that I emphasized this in my reviews of the first two films, but it has to be said that yet again Peter Jackson proved that filming the entire film in his native New Zealand was a truly outstanding creative decision. In The Return of the King Jackson makes great use of everything, from forests and lakes, to cliffs and snow-topped mountains, creating a stunning Middle-Earth to perfection. Although I am aware that many will disagree with this, I feel that the most beautiful use of New Zealand was in the lighting of the beacons scene, where Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and his team (from a helicopter) take a series shots from the peaks of a range of snow-capped mountains. These fine shots are so beautifully eye-catching and breathtaking to look at, and will truly make you long to travel to New Zealand.

Like its predecessors, it will come as no surprise to those of you who have seen The Return of the King that it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, by, quite frankly, topping the special effects of both The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Two Towers. Even a person who openly hates the fantasy genre with passion will be unable to deny just how fantastic the effects are and will find it impossible to take their eyes off the beautiful effects before them. Where the special effects are concerned, the all-time highlights include the siege of Minas Tirith, which leads to the Battle of Pelennor Fields; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli's confrontation with the King of the Dead (Paul Norell); Sam's battle with giant arachnid Shelob; and, most of all, the film's climactic destruction of The Ring, which, upon The Ring going down into the lava of Mount Doom causes the eye of Sauron to implode, causing Mordor to collapse in on itself, and Mount Doom to erupt, destroying the three surviving Nazgul and the Ringwraiths that ride them with balls of fire and molten rock, and great rivers of lava to flow down the sides of the volcano. Each and every one of these outstanding visuals is created with so much great care and attention to detail, making them memorably stunning, impacting and vivid that you will be unable to take your eyes off them as they wow you, and bring you to the edge of your seat. Shelob is a masterpiece of CGI, and just feels so realistic and intimidating through the sheer size and ferocity that the effects department created through said CGI, that she will be impossible to forget and an absolutely incredible character to watch on screen, so full marks to the effects department for her truly successful and outstanding creation.
However, just like in The Two Towers, it is Gollum who once again captures our hearts and attention more than any special effects. Based on Andy Serkis's cat and lizard based motion capture performance, what is truly incredible is the fact that Gollum is seriously disfigured and animal-like thanks to the CGI, yet is still feels really realistic and is 100% believable as a character, making it impossible for your attention to be distracted from this completely and utterly eye-catching and gripping character, and is a true masterpiece in CGI creation.

Like its predecessors, the film doesn't rely on the jaw-droppingly eye-catching visuals to carry the film, but rather uses its characters to carry the film from start to finish. The human characters of Aragorn, Theoden and Eomer are all such strong-willed and determined leaders and are fantastic in the battle sequences, while Eowyn (Miranda Otto) follows her heart by disguising herself as a man in order to battle, Faramir shows just how determined he is to protect Gondor by leading his men on a suicide mission, and Denethor truly shows just how much the loss of a child can affect a parent, as his grief over the death of Boromir (Sean Bean) causes him to give up, and his despair over Faramir's apparent death (which - if Faramir were dead - would mean the loss of both his children) drives him to suicide.
As for the characters that aren't humans, but are instead various elves, wizards, hobbits and dwarves, like with the fist two films, they are all rather, well, human. Merry and Pippin conquer all of their fears and anxieties shown in The Fellowship of the Ring, and charge into battle against the forces of Mordor, slaying many foes, and showing just how much they have truly grown up since they left the Shire. Frodo struggles on his quest and eventually comes to terms with the fact that he isn't strong enough to complete his quest alone, while Sam proves to be a great source of comfort to his best friend, and shows just how courageous he has become over the course of the trilogy, as the toughness of their quest hits them hard in the chest on the slopes of Mount Doom. Even, Gollum, can be seen as human, certainly in the first half of the film, as he has his usual moments of creepy schizophrenia, and starts to doubt whether he has the strength and courage to kill Frodo. Even more surprisingly, is the fact that over the course of the film Gandalf starts to become more and more human, and his great power and skill in battle slowly dwindles. Although he is an unstoppable battler and a truly courageous leader in the siege on Minas Tirith, after his staff is destroyed by the Witch-King, it becomes clear that he is struggling to battle as hard and courageously as before and that he is becoming weaker and even more frail, yet he still maintains a great status of power and strength.

In spite of all the above mentioned elements of the film, it is the relationships, the bonds and the decisions that the characters make that make the film as powerful as it is. Friendship, love and self-sacrifice are truly prominent, as is an ever growing, powerful sense of mortality, with the final scenes of the film showing that no matter how noble a victory can be it can still come at a great cost, as Frodo decides he must leave Middle-Earth and make a fresh start, due to the physical and psychological scarring his journey caused. Tolkien fought in the trenches during World War I, and it is easy to draw parralels between his personal experiences, and the ultimate melancholy tone that surrounds the trilogy's conclusion. For many the heart of the film lies in the moments following The Ring's destruction, as Frodo and Sam lie on a large hunk of tall rock, the lava flowing all around them, and sadly reflect on the fact (they think) they will never see the Shire again, and Frodo say "Glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things". It is a heartbreaking moment, particularly if A) you've never seen the film before, and B) you've never read the books before; due to the fact that these are characters that you have come to love and after going through three films with them you feel such a close bond with them; but it is so touching to see that their journey has made Frodo and Sam as close as possible and that Frodo can't think of anyone he would rather have beside him when he dies; and it is moments such as these that elevate not only the film, but the entire trilogy, from blockbuster to genuine masterpiece.

In short (the irony considering this is the longest review I have ever written) The Return of the King is a truly well-written, beautifully and intricately created masterpiece of a film, that is deep, dark and emotional. A stunning conclusion to this epic trilogy, which truly earned those eleven Oscars, and is undeservedly only the third highest grossing film of all time, behind Avatar (2009) and Titanic (1997) - The Return of the King deserves the top spot.


2003 (Original Edition), 2004 (Extended Edition).
12.
Stars:
Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Billy Boyd, Andy Serkis, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Lawrence Makoure, Craig Parker, John Noble, Bruce Hopkins, Paul Norell, Sala Baker, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Thomas Robins.
Christopher Lee, Bruce Spence, Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only).

Oscars: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh), Best Director (Peter Jackson), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens), Best Editing (Jamie Selkirk), Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek), Best Costume Design (Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee), Best Makeup (Richard Taylor, Peter King), Best Original Score (Howard Shore), Best Original Song (Into the West - Howard Shore, Annie Lennox, Fran Walsh).

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Films in the IMDb Top 250 that I've Seen - How Highly do I Rate Them?

-The Shawshank Redemption (1994) *****
-The Godfather (1972) *****
-The Godfather: Part II (1974) *****
-Inception (2010) ****
-Pulp Fiction (1994) *****
-Schindler's List (1993) *****
-Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) *****
-The Dark Knight (2008) *****
-The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) *****
-Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) *****
-GoodFellas (1990) *****
-Toy Story 3 (2010) *****
-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) *****
-Rear Window (1954) *****
-Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) *****
-Psycho (1960) *****
-The Matrix (1999) *****
-Se7en (1995) *****
-The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) *****
-Leon (1994) ****
-Forrest Gump (1994) ****
-Vertigo (1958) *****
-Alien (1979) ****
-Saving Private Ryan (1998) ****
-WALL-E (2008) ****
-The Shining (1980) *****
-A Clockwork Orange (1971) ****
-The Departed (2006) *****
-Spirited Away (2001) ****
-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) ****
-Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) ****
-Pan's Labyrinth (2006) *****
-Back to the Future (1985) *****
-Raging Bull (1980) *****
-Modern Times (1936) *****
-Some Like it Hot (1959) *****
-Singin' in the Rain (1952) *****
-Braveheart (1995) ****
-Up (2009) *****
-The Maltese Falcon (1941) *****
-Gladiator (2000) *****
-Sin City (2005) ****
-Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) ****
-Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) ****
-Jaws (1975) *****
-Die Hard (1988) *****
-Batman Begins (2005) ****
-Oldboy (2003) ****
-Slumdog Millionaire (2008) ****
-Blade Runner (1982) *****
-Hotel Rwanda (2004) ****
-No Country for Old Men (2007) *****
-Princess Mononoke (1997) ****
-Heat (1995) ****
-The Wizard of Oz (1939) *****
-Avatar (2009) ***
-District 9 (2009) ****
-Kill Bill: Volume One (2003) ****
-Platoon (1986) *****
-The Lion King (1994) ****
-There Will Be Blood (2007) *****
-Into the Wild (2007) *****
-Toy Story (1995) *****
-The Wrestler (2008) *****
-Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) *****
-Finding Nemo (2003) *****
-Trainspotting (1996) *****
-The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) *****
-The Terminator (1984) *****
-Stand by Me (1986) *****
-Amores Perros (2000) *****
-V for Vendetta (2006) ***
-Ratatouille (2007) ****
-Star Trek (2009) ****
-How to Train Your Dragon (2010) ****
-The Incredibles (2004) ****
-Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) *****
-In Bruges (2008) ****
-Kick-Ass (2010) ***
-Rocky (1976) ****
-King Kong (1933) *****
-Kill Bill: Volume Two (2004) ***
-Rope (1948) ***
-The 400 Blows (1959) ****
-Brief Encounter (1945) *****
-Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) ****
-My Neighbor Totoro (1988) ***
-The Truman Show (1998) ****
-Toy Story 2 (1999) *****
-Crash (2004) ****
-Monsters, Inc. (2001) *****
-The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) ****
-Little Miss Sunshine (2006) ****
-Edward Scissorhands (1990) ****

Mrs Doubtfire



****

Robin Williams stars as Daniel Hillard, a divorced, out of work voice actor who barely sees his kids (Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence, Mara Wilson). Desperate to see more of them he has a brainwave when he sees that his ex (Sally Field) is advertising for a nanny, so with help from his brother (Harvey Fierstein) and his brother's partner (Scott Capurro) disguises himself as an old Scottish nanny called 'Mrs Doubtfire' and gets the job.

Looking at all of his recent work it is hard to believe that Robin Williams was once one of the funniest men in Hollywood. However, Mrs Doubtfire is one of the best examples of Robin Williams's comedy and shows just how talented he once was. Williams displays immaculate comic timing, breathing true life into the wonderful screenplay, which features both verbal and physical gags and bringing them to hilarious on-screen life, which makes both Daniel and the Mrs Doubtfire alter-ego charming and heartwarmingly entertaining.

The kids are also a heartwarming trio, both charming and entertaining, and are in perfect sync with Williams, creating one of the most powerful, heartfelt parent-child relationships that I have ever seen in a film. Fierstein, and Pierce Brosnan (as the kids' future stepdad) are great support and provide a lot of light-hearted comic moments, and work together so well with the rest of the cast to bring the wonderfully witty, charming and family friendly screenplay to a gloriously entertaining life.

In short, Mrs Doubtfire is a wonderfully entertaining, heartwarming comedy that shows just how truly valuable family is and how important it is to have close, strong, loving relationships with your family, and provides truly wonderful entertainment for the whole family.


1993.
PG.
Stars:
Robin Williams, Sally Field, Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence, Mara Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Fierstein, Scott Capurro, Robert Prosky, Polly Holliday, Anne Haney, William Newman, Martin Mull.

Oscar: Best Makeup (Greg Cannom, Ve Neill, Yolanda Toussieng).

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Back to the Future



*****

At 1:20am in a deserted car park Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) unveils his DeLorean time machine to teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox). However, the terrorists (Richard L. Duran, Jeff O'Haco) who supplied Doc with the plutonium to run the time machine on turn up and gun him down. To escape them Marty drives off in the DeLorean and, upon hitting 88 miles per hour, travels back in time to November 1955. Confused and freaked out he unwittingly stops his teenage parents (Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson) from meeting for the first time and puts the existence of himself and his elder siblings (Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber) in jeopardy. So he has to find a way to get his parents falling in love, get home to 1985 with great help from the Doc of the '50s, and find a way to save the life of the Doc of 1985, which is further complicated by the fact that his dad is constantly bullied by Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) and his gang (J.J. Cohen, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane), with Biff constantly trying to woo his mom, who has fallen in love with Marty.

The film's screenplay is fast-paced, well written, exciting and really witty. The physical and verbal comedy is very cleverly created and hilarious to watch, and include some really neat references to the culture of the 1950s. These references include visual references, such as the slicked back hair styles, leather jackets and turned up trouser legs for the fashion, and the layout of the diner to reference mise-en-scene; the verbal references, that include a neat reference to Chuck Berry, by his fictional cousin, Blues' musician Marvin Berry (Harry Waters Jr), the fact everyone assumes A) that Marty is called Calvin Klein as it is labelled/branded on his undies and B) that Marty is a lifeguard or sailor, due to his puffy body warmer, and the fact Marty's working-class grandparents (George DiCenzo, Frances Lee McCain), mother, aunt (Maia Brewton) and uncles (Jason Hervey, and two uncredited child actors) of the '50s refer to TV as new and incredible and don't know what a rerun is; and music references in the use of Mr Sandman and some swinging '50s dance and blues music.

The film also boasts some excellent special effects, which are really enhanced by the intricate editing, making the time travel scenes and the lightning bolt scene in particular bright, fast-paced, visually exhilarating, adrenaline pumping and truly memorable.

In spite of the witty, top-notch screenplay and really good effects and editing the film is carried by its cast. Fox and Lloyd make a great double act/team and make their characters really exciting and memorable, with Fox making Marty a seriously cool and charming teenager, and Lloyd capturing the mad scientist type down to a tee. Glover captures the nerd type brilliantly and makes him very entertaining, while Thompson makes Lorraine gorgeous and seductive, and Wilson is seriously powerful and intimidating as Biff. These five leads work in perfect sync both with each other and with the great support cast (including Cohen, Siemaszko, Zane, Waters Jr, McClure, Sperber, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Donald Fullilove and Norman Alden) and bring the above mentioned screenplay to a glorious, really entertaining and truly memorable life.

All in all Back to the Future is a hugely entertaining and truly memorable sci-fi adventure with a brilliant screenplay and an outstanding cast, making it a great film for the whole family and one you will watch again and again.


1985.
PG.
Stars:
Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, J.J. Cohen, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Harry Waters Jr, Donald Fullilove, Norman Alden.

Oscar: Best Sound Editing (Charles L. Campbell, Robert R. Rutledge).
Oscar nominations: Best Screenplay (Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale), Best Sound Mixing (Bill Varney, B. Tennyson Sebastian II, Robert Thirlwell, William B. Kaplan), Best Original Song (The Power of Love - Chris Hayes, Johnny Colla, Huey Lewis).

Coming soon to Cinemas...

                                                     The Social Network

In cinemas tomorrow is the story of how one 19-year-old Harvard student revolutionised the internet and social networking existence by creating Facebook, and the lawsuits its creation sparked off. It looks set to be a very powerful, very deep film, with a well-written screenplay and great actors, and has already recieved some serious critical acclaim. From the clips I've seen so far I'm not surprised by all the positivity and I wouldn't be surprised if we have a Best Picture Oscar nominee on our hands.

                                                          Despicable Me

This is the latest computer animation and has had a lot of positive reviews and has made over $245 million at the US box office. From what I've seen so far it looks set to be a very fun adventure with some great characters voiced really well by Steve Carrell, Julie Andrews and Russell Brand. I can guarantee it won't be in the same league as Pixar films (then again how many are in that league?), but it will probably be worth a viewing.

                                                            Megamind

The next DreamWorks animation, and the third this year, looks like it will be a good'un. DreamWorks computer animations started out as hit with Antz (1998), Shrek (2001) and Shrek 2 (2004), and were then miss with Shark Tale (2004), Madagascar (2005), Over the Hedge (2006), Flushed Away (2006), Shrek the Third (2007), Bee Movie (2007) and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008). However, with the exception of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the last 30 months have all been hit with Kung Fu Panda (2008), Monsters vs Aliens (2009), How to Train your Dragon (2010) and Shrek Forever After (2010), so let's see if this will be just as good. I'm certainly willing to give it a chance.

                                                        Vampires Suck

Judging by what I've seen so far it is clear that this will be a lousy spoof of the Twilight Saga (2008 to present). Just think of lousy spoof films such as Scary Movie 4 (2006), Epic Movie (2007) and Disaster Movie (2009), and use them as a great excuse not to see this film.

                                   Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

David Yates took over as director after The Goblet of Fire (2005), and the standard of the films has dropped since then. The Order of the Phoenix (2007) and The Half-Blood Prince (2009) merit three stars apiece from me as, although the visuals were superb, the editing was fast and well done, and the mood tense and dark, the screenplays weren't that great, the performances were getting worse, and the action and duels felt artificial, plus they weren't very loyal to the books, and that really angered me as I am a die hard Potter fan and have been for more than half my life. The Deathly Hallows was the best book, and judging by the trailer the film is set set to be loyal, explosive, action-packed and really exciting, so personally I can't wait.

                                                              Yogi Bear

It looks like some harmless kids' entertainment, but like Scooby-Doo (2002) and Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) before it, it seems this is going to be another shameless killing of a classic cartoon by trying to go live-action, so the chances of it being a good film are very slim.

         The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

So far the Narnia films have been 3 star films for me - wonderful visually, with some fun characters, but not very well scripted, and an artificial feel to a number of scenes, plus the Christian messages are dumbed down. However, looking at the trailer, I'm certain it will be superior to Prince Caspian (2008) at least. Dawn Treader was one of the best books in the series so I have high hopes for this film, especially now Fox has taken over the films from Disney, because let's face it, live-action Disney has been to a generally rather low standard of film since Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).

                                                               Tangled

Disney's take on the classic fairy tale of Rapunzel, this film will be the fifth mainstream Disney computer animation, after Chicken Little (2005), The Wild (2006), Meet the Robinsons (2007) and Bolt (2008). All of these films, apart from Bolt, were disappointing, so I'm certain that many will have their doubts about this film. However, judging by the trailer this looks certain to be a very enjoyable, action-packed adventure that will be great entertainment, and after the very good Bolt I'm perfectly willing to give this film a chance.

                                                            Tron: Legacy

There are two ways this film could go. It could either fail due to the fact that the 1982 original is looked at as a film of its time, plus 28 years is a hell of a long time to wait before releasing a sequel, or the film could succeed thanks to the outstanding quality of computer animation these days, and having the brilliant Jeff Bridges in the lead role again. We shall see this Christmas which of the two it will be, though I don't have particularly high hopes myself.

                                                            True Grit

This film is a remake of the 1969 original, which won John Wayne the Oscar for Best Actor. The leading stars are Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin and they are outstanding choices for leads. Bridges is a truly talented actor and has proved it multiple times in films such as The Last Picture Show (1971), The Big Lebowski (1998), Seabiscuit (2003), and Crazy Heart (2009), among numerous others; the standard of Matt Damon has been shown in films such as Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and Invictus (2009); and Josh Brolin has in recent years proved just how talented he is in films such as American Gangster (2007), No Country for Old Men (2007) and Milk (2008). The film is directed by the Coen Brothers, who have proved just how talented they are as directors with Raising Arizona (1987), The Big Lebowski (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007) and A Serious Man (2009) among others, and judging by the trailer it is set to be a well-made, really exhilarating and action-packed Western.

                                                          127 Hours

This film is a biopic of Aron Ralston, a hiker and climber who gets trapped in an isolated canyon in Utah with his arm crushed under a boulder, and spends five days drinking his water and urine as slowly as possible, before freeing himself by breaking his arm and amputating his lower arm with a blunt penknife and pliers that are part of the cheap multi-tool in his pocket. In the early hours of this morning the last of the Chilian miners reached freedom and I suspect that their story will be a film by 2020, and like their story, this is a great story that everyone knew would make a film some day, just as the Argentinian rugby players stranded in the Andes after their plane crashed became a film in 1992. This film premiered at the London Film Festival yesterday and will be released in nationwide cinemas at New Year and looks like a really gripping, tense film that will capture our hearts. Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting (1996), Millions (2005) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) directed this film, with Slumdog screenplay writer Simon Beaufoy having written the screenplay, and if that isn't enough to sell it to you then what is?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Final Destination



***

Just as a school party board a plane to Paris, Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) has a premonition of the plane exploding mid-air, and he and six others (Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Seann William Scott, Kristen Cloke, Chad Donella, Amanda Detmer) get off the plane just before it takes off and almost immediately explodes, killing all other passengers. In the weeks following, however, Death starts to stalk them, killing them one-by-one in freak accidents, in the order they would have died had they stayed aboard the plane.

The film boasts some very good effects, particularly in the premonition plane explosion, which has very vivid images and very bold fire effects. The editing is also very good, especially in the death scenes, which feature some really intricate shots; and for the death scenes, and the build-up to said death scenes, the editing and cinematography is combined perfectly with the soundtrack and makeup to make the scenes creepily tense and gripping, and the images bold, bloody and vivid to a rather heartwrenching level.

On the downside the cast don't give particularly good performances, with them feeling forced and underdeveloped, similarly to their characters who are little more than props in the story of how Death stalks those that intends to kill. As for the whole idea of Death being a force, it is underwhelming, under-written and has a really artificial feeling to it, even for a low budget Hollywood horror.

In short, the film is quite tense and has some enjoyable, gripping scenes, and is worth a viewing, in spite of the fact it is rather flawed in a number of places.


2000.
15.
Stars:
Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Seann William Scott, Kristen Cloke, Chad Donella, Amanda Detmer, Daniel Roebuck, Roger Guenveur Smith, Tony Todd.

Saturn Awards: Best Horror Film, Best Performane by a Younger Actor (Devon Sawa).

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith



***

The third and final prequel to George Lucas's Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983) is set three years after Attack of the Clones (2002) and sees Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) reveal himself to be Darth Sidious and have the Jedi killed in cold blood, as well as manipulating Anakin (Hayden Christensen) into joining the Sith, leading to Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) fighting his way through the Sith's army to get to Anakin and try to get him back on side, even if it means a fight to the death, while Padme (Natalie Portman) is pregnant with Anakin's twins.

First things first, the graphics, effects and mise-en-scene are at their best, most outstandingly stunning quality yet, with George Lucas's 'galaxy far, far away' being really visually impressive and engrossing to look at, thanks to the top-notch use of CGI, which also succeeds in making the battles, flight scenes and saber duels (especially the climactic one between Anakin and Obi-Wan over a boiling river of lava) more action packed, fast paced and exciting than a number of those featured in the original trilogy, and, unlike those in The Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones, are well paced and consistently enjoyable and engrossing to watch. Surprisingly it didn't get nominated for the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, making it the only Star Wars film so far not to.

Revenge of the Sith is also quite interesting for us big fans of the originals as it tells/completes the story of how Anakin became Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones); Luke (Aidan Barton) and Leia (also Barton) ended up orphaned, adopted and living on totally different planets; and why Obi-Wan and Yoda (Frank Oz) were forced to go into hiding nineteen years before the events of the original.

On the downside there are a couple too many action/battle sequences, which stops a number of characters from getting any real development. Generally the cast don't give don't give particularly good performances (though Christensen and McDiarmid make their characters cold, gripping and seriously psychopathic), and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) are all greatly underused. Fortunately though, Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) only appears for about a minute.

So, all in all, this is a good conclusion to the franchise despite its flaws, and all major questions relating to the originals are answered with clarity. It is definetly the best in the prequel trilogy, and despite its flaws, is definetly worth a viewing.


2005.
12.
Stars:
Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew Wood, Jimmy Smits, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Temuera Morrison, Silas Carson, Peter Mayhew, Christopher Lee.

Oscar nomination: Best Makeup (Dave Elsey, Nikki Gooley).

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers



*****
"The World is changing. Who now has the strength to stand against the armies of Isengard and Mordor? To stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman and the union of the two towers?
Together, my lord Sauron, we shall rule this Middle-Earth."
Released a year after The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers is the second installment in Peter Jackson's big budget multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955), which is the most successful film trilogy of all time, as well as the best film series of all time in this critic's view.

The film starts off with a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) battling the Balrog (an ancient fire demon) on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum and being pulled off by the falling Balrog into the near bottomless chasm to die while the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring (Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Bean) look on in horror. However, the scene goes on to show what Gandalf did after falling; while falling the wizard catches his sword and continues to battle the Balrog and the scene then cuts just as the pair are about to fall into a lake of water at the bottom of the chasm. This is a truly memorable opening thanks to three components. Firstly, is the effects and mise-en-scene, with the Balrog being an visually outstanding creation and truly fierce and terrifying through the incricate design of its face, and the sheer power of the flames that engulf it; while the chasm is so detailed, with the great rock walls being seriously sharp and eye-catching and becoming the perfect place for such an epic battle, as the whole being walled in brings forth for the two battling the realization that there is no escaping. Secondly, the editing and sound effects make the battle truly fast-paced and gripping with no dull moments, and a lot of visual exhilaration. Thirdly and finally, is the amount of passion with which Gandalf battles; the raw power and determination he puts into the fighting is truly gripping to watch, and displays more passion in battle than almost any other character in film history, and truly shows just how powerful and driven a character Gandalf is. With all of these combined it truly is a powerful, and memorable prologue.

Now for the main strand of the plot...
The film picks up almost exactly where The Fellowship of the Ring left off, with the Fellowship broken, and sees five parralel narratives...
The first narrative follows Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) who are hopelessly lost in their attempts to reach Mordor, with the Ring very gradually gaining a hold over Frodo. In the hills of Emyn Huil where the pair are lost they capture the Ring's former owner, Gollum (Andy Serkis), who had been stalking them for the majority of their journey since they left Rivendell. To have his life spared Gollum swears allegiance to Frodo and agrees to lead them to Mount Doom and it genuinely seems that he is willing to stay true to his word. Along the way they are taken by Gondorian ranger Faramir (David Wenham), leader of a large number of rangers, and brother of Boromir (Bean) and it soon becomes clear that Faramir's intention for the Ring's fate is just like that of his brother's.
The second and main narrative follows Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (Rhys-Davies) as they track the Uruk-Hai that kidnapped Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd) over the vast open spaces of Rohan. In Fangorn Forest they come across the newly resurrected Gandalf the White, who, after assuring them that Merry and Pippin are safe (see third narrative), makes it clear to them that they must help King Theoden (Bernard Hill) and his niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto) evacuate the citizens of Edoras to Helm's Deep, where they lead the armies of Rohan and Lorien elves in an epic battle against an army of 10000 Uruk-Hai that Saruman (Christopher Lee) has built, while Gandalf uses five days to travel cross-country to muster an army of Rohirrim who had been banished (see fourth narrative).
The third narrative sees Merry and Pippin being taken by the Uruk-Hai to Isengard. However, when the Uruks stop to make camp for a few hours they are ambushed by Eomer (Karl Urban) and a group of Rohirrim who had been banished (see fourth narrative) and the two hobbits escape into Fangorn Forest. There they are taken by Ent Treebeard (also Rhys-Davies), who promises to protect them under the orders of Gandalf; and the two hobbits persuade the Ents to march against Isengard after they discover how much of the forest Saruman has had cut down for fuel.
The fourth narrative follows Saruman and his puppet, the traitorous Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Saruman has now got a strong allegiance with Sauron (Sala Baker) and the two towers of Barad-dur and Orthanc are now united. Joining in Sauron's goal to destroy and take over Middle-Earth Saruman forms an army of 10000 Urak-Hai to take Helm's Deep and destroy Rohan's people, after getting vital information from Wormtongue, King Theoden's aid, who uses his authority and a spell Saruman places on Theoden to banish Theoden's nephew Eomer and his soldiers, and kill Theoden's wounded son Theodred (Paris Howe Strewe).
The fifth and final narrative sees Arwen (Liv Tyler) dwell/think back on the long relationship she has shared with Aragorn and, while seeking advice from father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) try to make the hardest decision of her life. Should she stay in Middle-Earth to be with Aragorn and live a mortal life, or should she sail out to the Undying Lands with much of her kin, and live eternal life, but never see Aragorn again?

Once again Peter Jackson has proved that filming The Lord of the Rings in his native New Zealand was an outstanding creative decision on his part. The vast open landscapes truly capture the essence of Middle-Earth and really makes the viewer feel just how epic the trecks the various characters must take are, and are truly eye-catching and stunning to look at, thanks a lot to Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie's well created and very artistic shots. Jackson also truly finds good use for all of the different types of New Zealand's great outdoors, making use/taking shots of open fields, rivines, rivers, mountains and cliffs to help tell his story and create a vast, visually impressive and overall epic Middle-Earth.

Like with The Fellowship of the Ring it will come as no surprise to those of you who have seen the film that the film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, by, if anything, improving on those from The Fellowship of the Ring. Even if you are someone who openly hates the fantasy genre with passion it will be impossible for you not to be awestruck by the incredible effects of the film. The all-time high points in the effects department include the above mentioned opening battle between Gandalf and the Balrog; the Battle of Helm's Deep where a Berzerker Uruk-Hai blows up the wall in a roaring, ground shaking explosion; a Ringwraith-ridden Nazgul attacking the city of Osgiliath; and the Ents marching against Isengard, trampling the orcs and Uruk-Hai, destroying the walls and then breaking the dam, flooding Isengard and leaving Saruman trapped and a lot more defenceless in his tower. The effects are created with great care, detail and stunning power, making them truly memorable and impacting, stunning to watch and bringing you to the edge of your seat.
The Ents are masterpieces of CGI as the amount of care and detail that went into making them both as detailed and tree-like as possible, and making them come to life with creaking and true domination, which causes them to be seriously eye-catching and boldly stick in one's memory.
However, it is Gollum who captures our hearts and attention more than any special effects. Based on Andy Serkis's lizard and cat like motion capture performances Gollum is a wonderful animal like creation of CGI, who is brilliantly disfigured by the CGI and made animal like, and it is so incredible to think that such a character as that can be created to look so visually impressive and the fact that in appearance he still seems fairly human and 100% believable as a character, in light of the distorted, wiry body and grey skin, will make it impossible for our attention to wander.

In spite of the effects, however, the film, like its predecessor, is truly carried by its characters. The human characters of Aragorn, Eowyn, Faramir and Eomer are all such driven, determined characters, and, in the cases of all but Eowyn, fight in battle with passion and bravery and are truly wonderful leaders of soldiers. Theoden, seems to give up after Theodred's death and after being freed from Saruman's spell, as he feels Rohan can't win against the armies of Saruman, but after being spoken to by his Royal body guard Gamling (Bruce Hopkins) decides that he will fight to the death, even if he can't win and becomes a truly determined soldier. As for the rest of the characters, they may be composed of elves, hobbits, dwarves, et cetera, but they are all rather human. The above mentioned Gollum has some excellently written and truly creepy schizophrenic moments, as he tries to turn over a new leaf as he aids Frodo in his quest to help Frodo destroy the Ring, but still can't resist being an a**ehole towards Sam by calling him "fat hobbit" and getting into constant arguments with him. Treebeard is just like an old man in his pace of speech and movements, and in his kindly protective attitude to Merry and Pippin, and, upon his discovery of the trees chopped down by Saruman's orcs for fuels, channels his obvious grief to give him the strength to lead a revenge march straight into Isengard. Frodo shows just how trusting an attitude he has to Gollum, and shows just how merciful he is to Gollum and how heartbreaking and pitiful he finds Gollum's constant suffering following his half-millenia as the Ring's bearer and his torture at the hands of Mordor's orcs, while Sam shows just how loyal and smart he is, and the screenplay shows just how much the effects of what they see in Middle-Earth effects Sam's emotions and how his sheltered upbringing in the Shire has meant he finds it a massive shock being thrown into the real world of war and suffering. Thanks to his little dwarf legs and beer belly Gimli struggles to keep up with Aragorn and Legolas as they chase the Uruk-Hai over the vast open plains of Rohan, but his love for Merry and Pippin and determination to kill the Uruk-Hai after they have taken Merry and Pippin and killed Boromir is what keeps him going and drives him to continue jogging over the plains.
On the other hand, Legolas sprints non-stop over the plains without even getting out of breath, and he is absolutely unstoppable when battling the Uruks at Helm's Deep, killing numerous foes, and using his skill and strength to help others on several occasions, and it is this that makes him appear a lot less human than any other characters, or he did in the film's predecessor, unless of course you compare him to a superhuman such as Spider-Man, which you would be a fool to do. This is a deliciously wonderful contrast to the rest of the characters and the character of Legolas, well, you can't help but be drawn in by him.

Arguably, the most impacting scene of the film is at the end when Frodo despairs that he can't complete his quest, only for Sam to assure him that, although the world is full of death and destruction, that there is some good left which is worth fighting for. This is made as powerful as it is as Frodo's despair is truly heartbreaking to see and causes sympathy to rise from one's heart, while Sean Astin, steals this moment by making Sam's words truly heartfelt and powerful, and you can see the power and determination shining from the actor as he gives it his all with great success. Like with a fairly similar moment between Frodo and Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, this is one of a number moments, touchs and contributing factors that truly elevates the film from blockbuster to a genuine masterpiece.

In short, the serious irony considering how long and detailed this review is, The Two Towers is a beautifully scripted, truly deep, dark and emotional film, that picks up from its predecessor and is of an equal standard and truly builds up the excitement for the spectacular finale The Return of the King (2003).


2002 (Original Edition), 2003 (Extended Edition).
12.
Stars:
Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Craig Parker, Bruce Hopkins, John Leigh, Cate Blanchett, John Bach, Sala Baker.
Sean Bean, John Noble (Extended Edition only).

Oscars: Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke), Best Sound Editing (Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh), Best Editing (Michael Horton), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee).