Archive for the Fantasy Category

Quick Cuts: Special RAY HARRYHAUSEN Edition!

Posted in 1950s Movies, 1960s Horror, 2013, Animated Films, Dinosaurs, Fantasy, Quick Cuts, Science Fiction with tags , , , , on May 17, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  Ray Harryhausen Favorites
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and William Carl

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to another edition of QUICK CUTS.  Today we remember Ray Harryhausen, who passed away last week at 92.  I think we can all agree that when it comes to stop-motion animation in the movies, Harryhausen was a true artist and visionary.  No one did it better than him.

Earlier in the week, L.L. Soares and I did a formal tribute to Mr. Harryhausen. To honor him today in a special edition of QUICK CUTS, we look back at some of our favorite Ray Harryhausen movies, monsters, and scenes.  Joining us this time is William Carl.  Okay, gentlemen, let’s get started.

What’s your favorite Ray Harryhausen movie and why? 

WILLIAM CARL:  VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969).

Gwangi vs. Elephant in THE VALLEY OF GWANGI  (1969)

Gwangi vs. Elephant in THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969)

ARRUDA:  One of my favorites

SOARES: Mine, too.

CARL:  Not only did this movie have cowboys and circuses, but it also had dinosaurs!  This was like a mash-up project created by my pre-pubescent mind at about eight years of age.  The women were beautiful, the men were rugged, and the scenes of the monster rampaging were very well executed.  I still watch it at least once a year, and I still cheer on the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

L.L. SOARES: T. Rex, yeah! Marc Bolan rocked.

CARL: Not the band. The dinosaur in the movie.

ARRUDA:   THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) is my favorite.  I love the Cyclops, the colorful print, the rousing music score by Bernard Herrmann, Nathan Juran’s brisk direction, and Torin Thatcher’s performance as the evil wizard.  I just like the whole package. And of course Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects are some of his best.

SOARES:  I think my favorite one is 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957). I’ve just always been a fan of the creature from Venus, the Ymir, and not only does this movie revolve around Harryhausen’s creation, but you really care about the stop-motion monster by the end, unlike some of his other creatures.

Cyclops vs. Dragon in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD

Cyclops vs. Dragon in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD

ARRUDA:  Next up: What’s your favorite Harryhausen creature and why? 

I have to go with the Ymir from 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, as well.

CARL:  Nice choice

SOARES: Copy cat!

Ymir vs. Elephant in 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH

Ymir vs. Elephant in 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH! What did Harryhausen have against elephants, anyway?

ARRUDA:  Followed closely by the Cyclops in 7TH VOYAGE and Medusa in CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981). 

SOARES:  What are you doing picking more than one?  This is QUICK CUTS!  Our answers are supposed to be brief.

ARRUDA:  I know.  I just can’t help myself.

But the Ymir is my favorite because it’s a cool monster, an alien from Venus.  We don’t see too many of those, which makes him unique.  I would have loved to have seen him in more movies.  He deserved a better fate!

CARL: I agree with you.  This is a tough choice, but like you guys, I would say the Ymir from 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957).  The expressions Harryhausen managed to create on this beastie’s face made it seem all the more terrible when it is killed.  You can see all the pain and fear in its eyes.  Plus, it was completely unique and not based upon any other existing monster like a dinosaur or a mythical creature.  It was a true original.

SOARES:  As I stated before, the Ymir is my favorite as well.

I also really like the movies Harryhausen worked on that revolve around mythology, especially JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) and the SINBAD movies. He created some great creatures for these!

ARRUDA:  See, it’s not easy picking just one, is it?

Last question.  What’s your favorite Harryhausen movie scene and why?

SOARES:  The obvious one is the battle between Jason and the skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. But that might be a little too obvious. I also liked scenes in the Sinbad movies where creatures fought each other, like the Centaur vs. the Griffin in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973), or the Cyclops vs. the Dragon in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

CARL:  Oh, my favorite scene was definitely the scene in VALLEY OF GWANGI, where the cowboys rope and capture the dinosaur.  

Cowboys lasso a dinosaur in THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969)

Cowboys lasso a dinosaur in THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969)

 ARRUDA:  Yep, this is a very exciting scene.

CARL:  It’s a scene that is still thrilling today in its weird mixture of action, western, horror, and sci-fi elements.  Come on, we have rodeo cowboys roping a huge monster like it was a calf.  Plus, for sheer expertise, this scene is flawless in its animation execution and its combination with the live footage.  Those lassos are animated in half and real in half, but it all flows so seamlessly you really buy into the ridiculous notion that these guys are roping a dino!  I think I need to go watch this again right now.

SOARES:  Sit back down.  We’re not finished yet!

CARL:  But I can hear dino roaring already!

ARRUDA: We’re almost done.

Well, obvious or not, my favorite scene is the sword fight between Jason and his men and the skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.  It’s probably the most ambitious scene Harryhausen ever created.  It’s fascinating to watch, and intense to boot.

Second would be—.

SOARES:  Second?  Who said anything about second?

ARRUDA: —  the Medusa scene from CLASH OF THE TITANS. I really don’t like this movie all that much, but this scene is one of Harryhausen’s best.  Eerily lit, with an ultra-creepy Medusa slithering about, it makes me pine for an all-out Harryhausen horror film, of which, sadly, there is none.

And third—-.

SOARES:  Third?  You’re cheating!

ARRUDA:  — is the giant crab scene in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), which is a riveting sequence.

Sorry, I couldn’t limit myself.  There are just too many Harryhausen gems.

SOARES:  Are you through now?

ARRUDA:  Yep, I’m done.  Hey, where did Bill go? 

(William Carl’s seat is empty)

SOARES:  Looks like he left early for his T-Rex date.

ARRUDA:  Hmm. I just thought of another question.  Which Harryhausen creation would you most want to have lunch with?

SOARES:  A better question would be which Harryhausen creation would most want to have you for lunch!

ARRUDA:  True. On that note, let’s grab some food.  I’m hungry.  I’m in the mood for a giant crab salad sandwich.

SOARES:   I’m on a diet.  I’ll just have soup and Krakens.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares and William D. Carl

THALE (2012)

Posted in 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, European Horror, Fantasy, Feral people, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mythological Creatures, Supernatural, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THALE (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

thale

The last few years, we’ve been getting some interesting genre films from unlikely places, like RARE EXPORTS (2010), from Finland, which gave us the truth about Santa Claus and his elves (they’re really scary creatures), and TROLLHUNTER (also 2010), from Norway, about a special government agency focused on keeping Norway’s troll population in check. And of course, the films of Lars von Trier, who has been making unusual films in Denmark for several decades now (including the excellent THE KINGDOM, 1994—which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s underrated TV series, KINGDOM HOSPITAL—and more recent films, such as the distrurbing ANTICHRIST (2009) and the end of the world tale MELANCHOLIA (2011).

The new movie THALE (2012), like TROLLHUNTER, is also from Norway, and once again deals with creatures from Norwegian folklore, although instead of being about trolls, this time we learn about the huldras, woodland creatures that appear to us in the form of beautiful women with tails, that are much more dangerous than they appear to be.

As THALE begins, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) are at a house at the edge of the woods, which is also a crime scene. It’s their job to clean things up after the police are done. The two of them are also old friends, and Elvis is filling in for Leo’s usual partner. The two catch up on news about their lives and joke around, when they are told that only half of the victim’s body was found; the other half was most probably carried away by animals that live in the nearby forest. They have to try to find as much else of the corpse as they can, so they start looking around the property, tearing out the floors of the outhouse, etc., when they find a hidden stairway leading down to an underground bunker, which does not appear to have been used for years. Everything is covered in dust, and the canned goods that are stored down there have long since expired.

Elvis finds an old cobweb-shrouded cassette player, and somehow it still works. When he turns it on, the tape inside plays a conversation between a doctor (the victim of the crime they’re cleaning up, presumably), and a girl. Or rather, the doctor does most of the talking (actor Roland Astrand provides the doctor’s voice). We only hear the girl when she screams during a painful procedure.

Who are these people? It’s not long afterwards that the two men find Thale (Silje Reinamo), who appears to be a girl in her 20s, and who has been abandoned in this bunker since the doctor’s death. It seems that she was the subject of his experiments, and there’s something not right about her. Like the fact that she doesn’t speak, but if she touches you, she can project vivid images into your head that “speak” for her.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

As the men try to figure out who and what Thale is, some strange creatures stalk the woods outside, and at one point some nefarious men in gas masks and hazmat suits (and toting guns) arrive. It seems there are several individuals who would like to have access to Thale, now that the doctor isn’t around. Which ones have her best interests at heart, and which ones want to hurt her? Well, that’s for the viewer to find out. And Leo and Elvis are caught in the middle, waiting for their compatriots to show up (they’re delayed).

THALE is an atmospheric little film,  that gives us a good feel for the woods of Norway. The acting here is pretty good. I liked Leo and Elvis a lot, and Silje Reinamo is particularly  good as the otherworldly Thale. Effectively written and directed by Aleksander Nordass (whose other work is mostly short films and TV movies), I thought THALE was an enjoyable horror/fantasy that reveals that there are probably many Norwegian fairy tale creatures who have yet to be explored on film.

Despite its short running time of 76 minutes, I thought THALE fleshed out its characters well, and has a compelling storyline. My only complaint is that the other huldras we see, which are much more animalistic than Thale, are CGI creations that really are not very convincing. For the most part, Nordaas films them from a distance, or fleetingly, but there are times when they are in full view, and they don’t look realistic at all. I think it actually would have been better to go with makeup effects for the creatures in this case; they are just more visceral and not as cartoony as low-budget computer effects.

Aside from this one setback, however, the movie is original and worth seeing. I give THALE three knives.

It was made in 2012, and was shown in Austin, Texas last year as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival, and is getting a brief theatrical run (mostly in arthouse theaters) now. It is also currently available on cable OnDemand.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

 

(Editor’s Note: I was originally planning to see and review the new Ryan Gosling film THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES this weekend, but it was in limited release and wasn’t playing anywhere near me. When it goes into wider release, I’ll be writing about it here).

LL Soares gives THALE  ~three knives.

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for March 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Adult Fairy Tales, Body Horror, Coming Attractions, Crime Films, Demons, Exorcism Movies, Fantasy, GIANTS!, Occult with tags , , , , , on March 1, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
MARCH 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The magical land of Oz, outside the Emerald City to be exact.  Munchkins are dancing and singing, good witches are flying about singing cheerful songs, and MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES stroll down the yellow brick road.)

L.L SOARES:  Being here brings back so many memories.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Like the day you met your cousins, the flying monkeys?

LS: That was a special day.  Teaching them how to be scary, and how to beat tin men over the head with clubs.  Ah, memories!  But I was actually talking about watching THE WIZARD OF OZ as a kid. Back in the days before videotape, it only played once on TV every year, and was a really big deal.

MA:  I’ve never liked THE WIZARD OF OZ.

LS:  What?  Was it too scary for you?

MA: I used to find it depressing.  I enjoyed Hammer Films much better.

GOOD WITCH:  Welcome, Cinema Knife Fighters!  Are you here to review OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL?

LS:  Not yet.  We’re here today for our MARCH COMING ATTRACTIONS column.

MA:  That column where we announce which movies we’ll be reviewing in the coming month, and we’re here in Oz, because OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is probably the month’s biggest movie.

LS:  But it doesn’t open until March 8, and so we have some other films to discuss first.

GOOD WITCH:  Carry on.

MA:  First up in March, we’ll be bringing you reviews of two movies.  I’ll be reviewing JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013), and L.L. will be reviewing THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2 (2013).  Both these films open on March 1.

While no fan of the recent rage of fantasy fairy tale movies aimed at adults, films like HANSEL & GRETEL:  WITCH HUNTERS (2013) and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), based on the trailers, I don’t think JACK THE GIANT SLAYER looks half bad.

LS: I think you’ve been eating too many magic beans!

jack_cacador_de_gigantes_15

MA:  It looks like it might be taken seriously enough to be a successful movie.  I know the CGI effects in the previews look pretty good, and the giants look formidable.  Sure, it’ll probably be stupid, but I’m hoping it might have an edge to it, something along the lines of the movies Terry Gilliam used to make.

LS: You said the CGI effects look good and the giants look formidable? I’m not sure we saw the same trailer. The giants I saw looked pretty damn hokey. Incredibly fake-looking giants don’t tempt me to see this movie much.

MA: Nicholas Hoult is playing Jack, and we just saw Hoult in WARM BODIES (2013).  As much as I didn’t really like that movie, Hoult wasn’t bad in it, so hopefully he’ll be decent as Jack.

LS: Another reason I’m glad I’m not seeing it.

MA: The cast also includes Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Ian McShane, so there’s some pretty good talent involved here.

It’s directed by Bryan Singer, who directed X-MEN (2000) and X2 (2003) and SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), a film you liked more than I did, but again, there’s talent involved in this movie, so it just might be good.

LS:  I like Singer, but nothing about the trailers for this one makes me want to see it. Then again, the trailer for THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2 looks like it could be awful, too. This movie really didn’t need a sequel, but the reason why the first movie was so good was because the lead guy, the exorcist Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), made the story compelling. It looks like he’s not even in this second movie. So I don’t have high hopes for it. It just looks like the usual exorcism shenanigans.

I doubt either one of us will see something great, but at least we’ll get two solo reviews out of it.

LASTEXORCISM2_QUADsm

MA:  Yeah, THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2 looks like one of those movies that has no business being made.  Now, I liked the first movie a lot, but, like you said, the main reason for liking that one was the main character, the preacher Cotton Marcus, but this second movie isn’t about him, it’s about the young girl from the first movie, Nell (Ashley Bell) and her story just isn’t as interesting.

Plus the trailer for this one makes it look really silly.

LS:  On March 8 it’s the big release of the month, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

oz-the-great-and-powerful

MA:  I have to admit, this one looks really good, but I can’t say I’m overly excited about it, since I’ve never been a fan of THE WIZARD OF OZ.  But it is Sam Raimi at the helm, and I do liked James Franco a lot, and Mila Kunis is nice to look at, so I probably will end up liking this one.

LS: I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like THE WIZARD OF OZ before. You’re an odd gent.

MA: Really?  I know a lot of people who aren’t fans of THE WIZARD OF OZ. I can’t speak for them, but for me, when it was on TV each year when I was a kid, I used to watch it and like it, but eventually found myself sick of the story, especially the final scene where Dorothy’s relatives chuckle at her story about Oz, obviously dismissing her tale as a figment of her imagination.

LS:  What did you want them to do?  Believe her?  Tell me, is it possible this scene bothered you because when you were a child, people didn’t believe your stories?

MA:  Vampires are real and living in my basement!  (suddenly composing himself).  Sorry.  No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Anyway, on March 15 we’ll be reviewing the new thriller THE CALL (2013), starring Halle Berry as a 911 operator who becomes entangled with a serial killer.  Now, if you’ve seen the trailer for this one, you’ve probably seen the entire movie.  It’s pretty extensive, and I feel like I’ve seen the film already, so I’m really not that excited about it.

It also stars Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine herself.

call-logo_thumb[2]

LS:  Oh boy! Maybe she’ll sing! But seriously, I am not looking forward to this one at all. It looks pretty awful, and you’re right, the trailer makes you feel like you already saw the movie. So why bother?

LS:  On March 22, we’ll be bringing you a DVD review of CELL COUNT.  This one is part of our up-and-coming filmmaker series, where we review new movies by directors who are trying to make a name for themselves. I hope it’s good.

MA:  I don’t know much about CELL COUNT, but I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Cell-Count-2012-Todd-Freeman-movie-3

We finish the month with two reviews on the same weekend yet again.  I’ll be reviewing G.I. JOE:  RETALIATION (2013), and L.L. will be reviewing THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2012).  Something tells me you’re getting the better end of this deal!

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION I’m sure will be absolutely stupid.  G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF THE COBRA, which I saw in 2009, was not only one of the worst movies I saw that year, but one of the worst movies I’ve seen period!  Ever!

13033

Yet, somehow, this one’s got a decent cast— actually more than decent— with the likes of Bruce Willis, Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Ray Stevenson, RZA, Arnold Vosloo, Byung-hun Lee from I SAW THE DEVIL (2010), and Jonathan Pryce.  So, who knows?  It might be good after all!

Plus, the screenplay was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the same guys who wrote ZOMBIELAND (2009).

LS:  Yeah, I can’t stand G.I. JOE movies, so I’m glad I’ll be missing this one.

MA:  I just don’t get why we even have G.I. JOE movies.  When I hear “G.I. Joe” I think of the popular toy action figure from years back, but is it even still around today?  I’m sure it is, but is it popular?  I don’t get it.

LS:  THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is a mystery starring Ryan Gosling, and it involves some kind of heist, based on the trailer. I’m eager to see this one.

MA:  Yeah, it features Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, two of my favorite actors, so I’d say this one sounds like a winner.

movie_11028_poster

And that wraps things up for our MARCH COMING ATTRACTIONS column.  We’ll see you next week with reviews of JACK THE GIANT SLAYER and THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2.

GOOD WITCH:  Remember to give OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL a positive review.

MA:  That depends on whether we like it or not, because if we don’t like it, then we can’t in good faith—.

(GOOD WITCH zaps MA with her wand and turns him into a frog.)

LS:  Wow. You’ll have to show me how to do that!  But what’s the idea of turning Michael into a frog?  I thought you were a good witch?

GOOD WITCH:  I am.  When it comes to casting magical spells, I’m good!

LS: I’d ask you to change him back, but that would be so unlike me.  Okay, folks, we’ll see you next weekend!  Don’t worry.  Michael will be back to his normal self in time to review JACK THE GIANT SLAYER.   I know this for a fact, because there’s no way I’m going to see it!

FROG:  Rib-bit!  Rib-bit!

—END—

THE LIFE OF PI (2012)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Animals Attack, Art Movies, Based on a bestselling book, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, CGI, Fantasy, International Cast, Man vs. Nature, Visually Stunning Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on January 11, 2013 by knifefighter

LIFE OF PI (2012)
Movie Review by William D. Carl

lifeofpi_poster

Ang Lee’s film version of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, Life of Pi, is nothing short of miraculous.  The director who introduced most Americans to the beauty and grace of martial arts films in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) and took on gay cowboys in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005) has achieved a nearly impossible task in filming Martel’s masterpiece.  The novel is a gorgeous rumination on storytelling, truth, God, and our place within God’s universe,  hidden within the guise of an adventure novel.  Lee has managed to film this adventure story without losing any of the beauty or depth of Martel’s musings.  It’s a tricky move, and it could be Ang Lee’s best film.

A young writer visits a middle-aged Indian man, Pi (Irrfan Khan of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, 2005 and  THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN, 2012), after hearing he has a story that will make him ‘believe in God.’  Pi fixes him dinner, walks with him, and relates his tale…the story of how he came to Canada and how he became the man he is today.

Piscine (pronounced pissing) Patel (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma) changed his name at an early age to Pi, for obvious reasons.  Growing up in India within his father’s zoo, he communes with the animals while learning about God.  Throughout his youth, he becomes a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim, never understanding how the various religions contradict each other; he only sees the ways they work in conjunction.  Through this process, his idea of God becomes very real and very different from most people’s concept of a higher being.  He falls in love with a young dancer at the same time his father decides to move the family to Canada.  They will transport the animals from the zoo on a steamer ship and sell them to start a new life.

Pi and "Richard Parker" circle one another in LIFE OF PI.

Pi and “Richard Parker” circle one another in LIFE OF PI.

During the crossing, a horrific storm destroys the ship, killing everyone and leaving Pi alone on a 26 foot lifeboat with a crippled zebra, an orangutan, and a 400 pound Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker (the same name as a cannibalized character in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Case of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, “who survived a shipwreck only to be eaten by the men on a raft).  Richard Parker makes short work of the other animals and turns his hungry eyes upon our hero, Pi.  Most of the film involves the grudging respect each of these characters form for each other, with a brief detour on a deadly carnivorous island in the shape of the Lying Vishnu, the Destroyer.  Pi  raves against God, accepts the world as it is, becomes disappointed, marvels at the world’s wonders (including a stunning scene where a whale breaches above his boat after chasing bioluminescent plankton), and eventually survives the ordeal (obviously, since he is relating it to the writer.)

The ship sinks.

The ship sinks.

But here’s where everything gets truly interesting.  How much of Pi’s story is true and how much is created in his brain?  Does the truth make it a better story, or is the story good on its own terms?  These are questions not easily answered, and the ending is challenging, especially to modern viewers who like everything spelled out for them in twenty foot letters.  But it retains the amorphous truth of the novel beautifully, and we are left to form our own opinions about truth and the beauty of a story.

Speaking of beauty, LIFE OF PI is the most beautiful film I have seen since THE LAST EMPEROR (1987).   Every single frame sparkles as if encrusted with jewels.  The colors are so vibrant, they create a 3D effect, and the depth of vision in the 3D version is astonishing.  This isn’t used for shock effect, but for a clear depth of vision that really puts you into a life boat on that sea that seems to stretch out forever.  The cinematography by Claudio Miranda (CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, 2008 and TRON: LEGACY, 2010) is never short of dazzling.  In India, the world appears as though a memory, an impossibly beautiful world.  The carnivorous island is a relief after so much ocean, but the danger is always there beneath the surface.  In the scenes where Pi  speaks with the writer, the photography is flat, normal, dull, reinforcing the theme of storytelling as an art, as an act of beauty and creation.

A whale dives overhead.

A whale dives overhead.

As for the much-discussed special effects, they are certainly special in every way.  At no point does the viewer wonder if Richard Parker or the other animals are CGI.  They are as real as Pi himself.  Every hair, every nostril flare, every drop of water is so real as to be hyper-realistic.  It’s an amazing feat, and I believe it will win the Oscar for special effects.  Rarely do special effects blend so realistically into the rest of the film as to become unnoticeable.

Another beautiful image from LIFE OF PI.

Another beautiful image from LIFE OF PI.

LIFE OF PI can be a heady brew for some with all of its references to various religions, deities, works of literature etc.  It is also a grand adventure in the old fashioned Robert Louis Stevenson vein, suspenseful and often terrifying.  How Ang Lee intertwines these two facets of the story make for one of the most brilliant and astonishing films of the year.  It’s a nearly perfect jewel of a movie.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

THE WORST MOVIES OF 2012 by L.L. Soares

Posted in 2012, 2013, 3-D, Bad Acting, Bad Situations, Based on a Video Game, Exorcism Movies, Fantasy, Faux Documentaries, Just Plain Bad, LL Soares Reviews, Sequels, Worst-Of lists with tags , , , , on January 2, 2013 by knifefighter

THE WORST FILMS OF 2012
By L.L. Soares

Well, there were lots of really good movies in 2012, but, as usual, there were some dogs as well. I think the fact that it was a lot easier writing this list – and keeping it to 10- is a good sign. There were a lot more good movies than bad ones in 2012.

These are the worst movies I saw last year.

NUMBER ONE:
SILENT HOUSE

silent-house-poster

I keep hearing the original 2010 film from Uruguay was better. That’s not hard to believe. The American remake of SILENT HOUSE was one of the worst movies I’ve had to sit through in a long time. Poor Elizabeth Olson, who was so great in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) is completely wasted in this “thriller” about a woman terrorized in her summer home by an unseen intruder (well, unseen until the end). The big gimmick here is that it was supposedly filmed in real time, all in one take. If that’s so, then it was a lot of effort for nothing. It has a stupid twist ending, involving something that should have been traumatic, but is never made believable by the awful script. It was an idea that could have been done well, but the filmmakers involved completely blew it. Laughably bad.

NUMBER TWO:
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (IN 3D)

Resident_evil_retribution_poster

The previous Resident Evil movie (RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE, 2010) was at least dumb fun. I was starting to think this was one of the better film series based on a video game – at least the movies were entertaining. Then the new one (RETRIBUTION) comes out in 2012, and it’s just friggin dismal. It’s more of a place holder between the previous movie and the next one than a real movie of its own, with very little plot to distinguish it, and no attempt to tie up loose ends. I walked out of the theater feeling really cheated. If nothing else, this movie convinced me that it’s time to stop making RESIDENT EVIL movies.

NUMBER THREE:
DARK SHADOWS

DarkShadows

As a kid, I used to watch the original DARK SHADOWS TV show after school every day in the late 60s/early 70s. It was extremely low-budget, and sometimes laughably bad, but they always played it straight and tried to make it a decent show. Basically a soap opera with vampires and werewolves, the main plot involved the vampire Barnabas Collins and his struggle to reunite with the reincarnated version of his lost love, Josette.   It spawned two pretty good movies at the time, too (HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS in 1970 and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS in 1971), which were clearly horror films. Then Tim Burton decided to revive the old show as a new movie. Is it a bigger budget version of the old horror show? Nope. It’s a completely asinine comedy, involving Johnny Depp as Barnabas (the role was originally played by Jonathan Frid), rising from the dead in the 1970s and experiencing culture shock when confronted with hippies and bad fashion. Made with that “wink wink” style of comedy that I can’t stand, this is easily one of the most annoying films of 2012. What a wasted opportunity to make a movie version that was truly scary. Instead, we get a moronic exercise in tedium.

NUMBER FOUR:
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2

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You know something’s wrong when the latest TWILIGHT movie isn’t the worst movie of the year. The end of the “saga” – BREAKING DAWN – was broken into two films so the greedy studios could make more money. Meanwhile, we get more of the same crap we’ve been getting since the first film. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is now a vampire and is still in love with Edward (Robert Pattinson). The bad guys are told a lie and instead of checking it out, just attack our heroes and their family, when everything could have been resolved in a few minutes. I want to say this movie was a relief, because I knew the series was finally over, but I bet you they find a way to keep it going. Just to keep the money coming in. I want the two hours of my life I wasted on this movie back.

NUMBER FIVE:
SILENT HILL – REVELATION 3D

SilentHill

Not a good year for movies with “Silent” in their titles, I guess. And almost all of the 3D movies in 2012 were pretty lame, so this one has two strikes against it from the get go.

The original SILENT HILL movie from 2006 wasn’t great, but at least it had some interesting imagery and some strange scenes to keep it from being a complete snooze. About a journey to a surreal town/world where it’s always raining ashes and demons fight each other for power, it was actually one of the better video game-based movies. But as we learned with the RESIDENT EVIL franchise, these guys should stop while their ahead. It took six years to make this sequel, and they shouldn’t have bothered. It’s boring, incoherent, and just plain bad. Poor Pyramid Head, the strange-looking beastie from the series who deserved a better movie to appear in. Maybe it’s time to finally have a moratorium on movies based on video games.

NUMBER SIX:
UNDERWORLD AWAKENING (IN 3D)

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The UNDERWORLD films aren’t based on a video game, but they might as well be. Kate Beckinsdale returns as an ass-kicking vampire who has to fight werewolves and humans in what has to be one of the most boring franchises around. I hate this series. I hate it even more because Beckinsdale is hot in that leather outfit and deserves to be in a horror movie franchise that doesn’t suck. The vampires here might not sparkle like in the TWILIGHT movies, but they’re not much better. Another boring series that needs to just stop already.

NUMBER SEVEN:
THE DEVIL INSIDE

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Another “found footage” horror movie – a genre I normally enjoy. And the first half of this exorcism movie is actually pretty good, until it falls apart. A woman is making a documentary about her mother, who has committed murder while being possessed by a demon. There are a few good scenes, but they’re not enough to save the movie. Overall, it’s just too predictable and doesn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before. And then there’s the fact that the movie doesn’t really have an ending. Instead,  it ends abruptly and we’re given a URL and told to go to the website for more. I’m sorry, I don’t pay for a movie ticket to be told to check out a website. Another movie where I left the theater more than a little pissed off. You would be much better off renting the 2010 movie THE LAST EXORCISM instead. It’s another “found footage” horror flick about an exorcism, but it’s actually really good and doesn’t waste your time.

NUMBER EIGHT:
THE INBETWEENERS

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The British series this movie was based on, about four socially inept teenagers who are desperate to finally lose their virginity, is supposed to be pretty funny. Or so I’m told. But, if that’s the case, I have no idea why the movie version is so unfunny. The characters are likable enough. There’s some heartfelt scenes where you actually care about the people involved. But there are hardly any laughs. This is supposed to be a comedy. A comedy without laughs isn’t much of a success. And the fact that this was a big hit in England is kind of depressing.

NUMBER NINE:
BATTLESHIP

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The idea of making a board game into a movie is kind of dumb. The people involved with this movie were given an almost impossible task – to take this concept and run with it – and they try. But it’s a failure. Another waste of film and actors and special effects – all for nothing. Poor Taylor Kitsch. After playing the lead in a really good movie (JOHN CARTER) that was unfairly maligned, he next starred in this cinematic garbage, and any buzz he had as an up-and-coming movie star pretty much vanished. Until SAVAGES, that is. But will SAVAGES be enough to keep his career from fizzling out? 2012 must have been a real rollercoaster for poor Mr. Kitsch. As for BATTLESHIP, I hope the poor box office for this one has sunk any chances of a sequel. But no matter how awful this movie was, it was still better than the eight movies I listed before it.

NUMBER TEN:
WRATH OF THE TITANS

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Despite their budgets and the high-tech special effects, the TITANS movies have left me cold. First there was CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) that was a remake of a 1981 Ray Harryhausen fantasy film with stop-motion monsters. In the new films, the monsters are CGI, but I don’t see them as much of an improvement. They’re kind of generic in a way. Sam Worthington plays Perseus as kind of a one-note character (and I know he’s capable of more than that – maybe he’s as bored as I am). Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are completely wasted as Zeus and Hades, respectively (but they’re the only characters in the movie with any real passion). Some of the monsters look cool, but overall, the movie is kind of boring. The story just isn’t that compelling….ZZZZZ… Oops, did I nod off there for a moment?

HONORABLE MENTION

PROJECT X – A faux documentary-style teen sex comedy about the craziest house party ever. It didn’t make my list because it was so forgettable that I…er…forgot about it until I saw it on Michael’s list. It mustn’t have annoyed me as much as it did him, but, frankly, it’s not worth talking about any further.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Visits SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1970s Movies, 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Bad Acting, Based on a True Story, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Family Films, Fantasy, HOLIDAY CHEER, Just Plain Bad, Magical Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)

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Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

The Christmas Season is well known for its holiday music and movies, but there is a dark side to the trend of luring kids into matinees to bear witness to forced holiday cheer.  For every MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), there is a SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964).  For every IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), there’s a corresponding SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984).  Actually, there are probably more dreadful Christmas movies than good ones.  Somewhere far below the schlocky entertainment offered by the likes of serial-killer turned snowman JACK FROST (1997), the Mexican drugged-out inanities of SANTA CLAUS (1959), or the hell on earth that is JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996), there is the cesspool entitled SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972/1970 – I’ll explain the date mix-up later).  I’ve watched hundreds of Christmas movies over the years, but this one is the true low point, lacking anything even closely resembling entertainment or Christmas cheer.  It is a gut-punch to all that is beautiful and holy.  It is the first Christmas movie made for children that seems designed to suck any happiness from every starry-eyed child in the world.

You think I am exaggerating?  Super glue your eyelids open and turn this baby on.

Behind the credits, kids dressed as elves in outfits made by the producer’s grandma sing an unintelligible song.  The only words I can make out are  “la-la-la-la-la.”  They pet toys, while the credits announce “Thumbelina Insert by B Mahon!”  One elf looks outside for Santa and spots stock nature footage of a herd of moose grazing in a summer field!  What season is this?  A female narrator who sounds like Truman Capote on downers informs us that Santa’s sleigh is stuck in the sand on a beach in Florida.  It was so hot, the reindeer have all gone away, and Santa sits in the sleigh, sweats a lot, and waves his hat in front of his face.  Sure enough, a too-skinny Santa sits in his sleigh looking around and perspiring, then sings a song through dubbing, “Woe is me…who will give me a helping hand…and get my sleigh out of the sand?”  Yep, that half inch of sand is really keeping him trapped and preventing lift-off.

Random kids are shown doing things like skipping rope, playing with dogs, wrestling like gay Greeks, and jumping off the garage roof wearing a parachute.  Then, Santa falls instantly asleep, as if his meds just kicked in.  The racially diverse group of children, resembling a Benetton ad from the late 1980s, hears an echoing Santa voice calling them and run to the sleigh.  Even Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer (and their pet raccoon on a string) steer their raft to the beach to a kazoo band playing Old Man River from the musical SHOW BOAT.

The kids rush off to find something to pull the sleigh from the half inch of sand, leaving Santa alone to sweat again for another couple of long minutes.  Santa, instead of being proactive, just sits in the sleigh bemoaning his predicament.  This guy gets around the world in one night delivering millions of toys?  I doubt he could get to the cupboard for the Doritos.

Santa and the kids strap a pig to the sleigh.

Santa and the kids strap a pig to the sleigh.

Eventually, the kids return with various animals to help pull the sleigh out of the sand.  First, a little girl brings a man in an ape suit, but the sleigh is stuck too tightly.  Then, two kids bring a mule, then a screaming pig, a terrified sheep, a brown cow, and a horse.  Then, Santa bitches for several more minutes about how he has to get out of the sand so he doesn’t disappoint the children all over the world, but he does nothing to actually escape!

The kids return, so Santa decides to tell the kids a story, and so begins Barry Mahon’s 1970, filmed at Pirate’s World Amusement Park film, THUMBELINA.  A hippie-chick with terrifying eyebrows wanders the amusement park while a whole new set of credits play again (is Santa relaying the credits to the kids in his story?).  Eventually the mini-skirted chick ends up in a room full of dioramas portraying the tale of Thumbelina, a girl no larger than a clothespin, all narrated by a disembodied voice over a PA system.  A single lonely woman goes to a witch to have a child and is rewarded with a freakishly miniscule daughter.   The tiny girl leaves her spinster-Mom’s home to get married to a horny frog.  She escapes, lives with a woman in a mole costume and eventually falls in love with a rich old mole.  They all resemble a relatively restrained furry convention.  And, yes, everyone sings a lot of dull songs on semi-professional sets.  To be honest, although THUMBELINA is pretty bad, it’s a typical kiddie matinee from the 1960s—no better or worse than most.  These things were churned out with ridiculously low budgets and actors from local amateur theater troupes all over the world.  Other examples of this odd sub-genre include THE MAGIC LAND OF MOTHER GOOSE, 1967 (directed by the Wizard of Gore himself, H.G. Lewis!), THE PRINCESS AND THE SWINEHERD, 1968, and LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND TOM THUMB VS. THE MONSTERS, 1965, which I would love to see!  So, if you remember after the hour of Thumbelina, yes, Santa is STILL telling this story to the children on the beach!

As bad as the Thumbelina segment is, it’s like CITIZEN KANE (1941) compared to the Santa segments . . . where we are again, watching Santa sweat while the kids watch him.  Nobody seems very motivated to get Santa back to the North Pole.  Oh, to return to the cut-rate flower power hippie musical from Pirate’s World.  The one directed by Barry Mahon, yes THAT Barry Mahon, who directed PAGAN ISLAND (1961), FANNY HILL MEETS DR. EROTICO (1969), A GOOD TIME WITH A BAD GIRL (1967), THE GIRL WITH THE MAGIC BOX (1965), and THE DIARY OF KNOCKERS MCCALLA (1969).  He was the obvious choice to helm a kid’s feature based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale!  It does, however, explain the strange erotic tension between Thumbelina and Mr. Digger, the mole.

Thumbelina meets a mole woman in the "movie within a movie" in the movie SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY.

Thumbelina meets a mole woman in the “movie within a movie” inside SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY.

Back to Santa in the sand. . .

The kids suddenly run away, as if learning Santa Claus was a sex offender…or an algebra teacher.  Santa strips off his coat and belt, and an antique fire truck (helpfully pushed by a visible production assistant) driven by a guy in a cheap white rabbit suit arrives, and all the kids are piled up in back.  It’s a vision of horror as the fire truck is shoved through Pirate’s World and down to the beach.  I’m starting to see why this film was made—it’s a 90 minute advertisement for a pathetic amusement park!  Yes, this could be the best WTF! moment ever in a children’s production.  And it goes on forever!  For.  Ev.  Er.  Santa exclaims, “Why my old friend the ice cream bunny!”  The hell-spawn rabbit, which had to terrify children everywhere, gives Santa a ride in his fire truck.  Then, Santa teleports the sleigh back to the North Pole.  What?  Why didn’t he just do that at the beginning instead of complaining for what seemed like days about being stranded?  Plus, why is this an ice cream bunny?  There isn’t a scoop of ice cream to be seen!

Full of padding (including an entire film from two years previous), SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY is easily the worst Christmas movie ever made.  From the terrible direction, the lousy acting and dubbing, the bad songs, and the freaky sexy vibe between tiny hippie chicks and earth-burrowing mammals, to the ridiculous ending and scary/evil rabbit suit, this is a movie that can honestly only be enjoyed under the influence of controlled substances or while RiffTrax pokes fun at it.  There has never been another movie like this one.  Thank God!

I give SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY one closed-down amusement park out of four.

The Santa image that haunts William Carl's nightmares.

The Santa image that haunts William Carl’s nightmares.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Based on a Classic Novel, Cinema Knife Fights, Epics, Fantasy, Fantasy Films, Wizards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)
By Michael Arruda

Hobbit Poster

(The Scene: A cave in Middle-Earth.  Gollum sits admiring his ring.)

GOLLUM:  My precious!

(A large boulder falls from above, landing on Gollum with a loud THUD! flattening him.  The ring flies through the air through an opening in the cave where it’s caught in midair by MICHAEL ARRUDA who happens to be walking along the green mountain path above.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Cool!  (looks at ring).  This will make a nice stocking stuffer.  (Puts it in his pocket.  Looks over his shoulder).  Come on guys!  Pick up the pace.  This isn’t a leisurely stroll.  We’ve got a job to do!

(Behind him, a group of DWARVES march along.)

MA:  Figures L.L. would take this weekend off, leaving me to babysit a bunch of dwarves from Middle-Earth.

(The DWARVES start singing “Hi ho!  Hi ho!  It’s off to work we go!”)

MA:  Seriously?  Enough with the singing already!  This isn’t Snow White!  This is Cinema Knife Fight! Jeesh!  (one of the DWARVES flips him the bird).  Anyway, we still have a ways to go before we reach our destination, which will give me time to review today’s movie, THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012), Peter Jackson’s follow-up to his acclaimed LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, which he wrote before “The Lord of the Rings,” THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) tells the story of a younger Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman).  The movie opens with an older Bilbo (Ian Holm) preparing to write down the events from his youth in order to share the story with young Frodo (Elijah Wood).

This time the plot involves dwarves, gold, and a dragon that drives the dwarves from their kingdom because they had stolen gold from him.  Years later, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) decides to help the dwarves get their kingdom back, and he sees Bilbo as the key to the dwarves’ success.  As he says at one point in the movie, while others view great strength as the way to fight evil, he sees the little things in life as being the most effective, which is why he views Bilbo so highly.

DWARF #1:  That’s a bunch of tree hugging nonsense if you ask me!  Give me a bad-ass brawny warrior with a sharp sword any day of the week, not some soft-spoken hoity-toity Hobbit!

DWARF #2:  I like Bilbo.  And I don’t think hoity-toity is quite the word you’re looking for.  You can’t be hoity-toity and soft-spoken at the same time, can you?

DWARF #1:  Shut up!  Who asked you?

MA:  Much against his better judgment, yet unable to resist an adventure, Bilbo sets off with the dwarves to reclaim their kingdom, having to fight off all sorts of dark forces along the way, including Orcs, goblins, and giant spiders.  What about that dragon?  Sorry folks.  You’ll have to wait until the next movie.  Yeah, bummer, and that’s one of the problems with THE HOBBIT.  Its story is split among three movies.  Something tells me one movie might have been a better idea.

And that’s it in terms of a plot summary, because really, in this movie, the plot is secondary.  Does it matter all that much why hobbits and dwarves are battling evil forces?  Not really.  What matters is their exploits make for a grand spectacle on the big screen.

Now, while I liked this movie—it’s so visually satisfying how can you not like it?—I certainly didn’t love it.  It has a lot of drawbacks.  To me, the biggest drawback is it’s hindered by the feelings of “I’ve seen this before” and “they’ve gone to the well too many times.”  Simply put, it’s nowhere near as good as the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy had a stronger story, better characters, and was much more compelling than THE HOBBIT.  There are a lot of memorable characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, characters I really cared about.  In THE HOBBIT, we have Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and some dwarves.

Bilbo Bagginsteams up with a bunch of dwarves in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE.

Bilbo Baggins teams up with a bunch of dwarves in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.

DWARF #1:  Will you listen to him?  We get no respect!

DWARF #2:  I heard him say he liked the movie.

DWARF #1:  Yeah, and now he’s knocking us dwarves for not being interesting characters.  I suppose he would have rather seen a movie about elves.  Fool!

MA:  Comparing THE HOBBIT to the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy might be unfair, but since they were both made by Peter Jackson, and both based on works by Tolkien, I think you have to, and in doing so, in viewing THE HOBBIT as part of the same franchise, it plays like the fourth film in a series, and as such, at times, it seems tired and redundant.

Again, this might be unfair, but in order to be completely successful, THE HOBBIT would have had to show me something different, something more, than what I saw in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, which were phenomenal, all three of them.  THE HOBBIT doesn’t do this, it doesn’t have anything extra that those three previous movies didn’t have, and as a result, in spite of its impressive visuals, it comes off as a disappointment.

Long story short, I liked the LORD OF THE RINGS movies much better than THE HOBBIT.  Hands down.  THE HOBBIT, while good, isn’t excellent.  And another negative here is the knowledge that we have two more of these movies coming.  Really?  Seriously?  It reminds me of SON OF KONG (1933) following up KING KONG (1933).    SON was a likable enough movie, entertaining and well-made, but it wasn’t KING KONG, not by a long shot, and with that in mind, would you be looking forward to two more SON OF KONG movies?  I know I wouldn’t be.

In THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Christopher Lee’s Saruman leads armies of Orcs in battle and is pretty much the main baddie in the series.  In THE HOBBIT, Christopher Lee’s Saruman sits at a table and has a conversation.   There you go.  One is all out and intense, the other is a dinner table conversation.

The main reason to see THE HOBBIT—and really, the only reason, unless you’re a huge fan of Tolkien—is its visuals.  THE HOBBIT is truly impressive to behold on the big screen.  You have to give Peter Jackson a lot of credit.  He must own the patent on Middle-Earth or something.  Everything about the world he creates in these movies, including THE HOBBIT, looks authentic, which is amazing, considering it’s a world of pure fantasy.

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I didn’t like the story, I didn’t really like the characters, but the scenery, costumes, make-up, CGI effects, and the entire feel to this film lifted it to a level that, without these things, wouldn’t exist.  Take all that way, and I don’t like this movie.  I enjoyed looking at this film and was completely impressed by what I saw on the big screen.  Unfortunately, the story wasn’t on par with the visuals, but I can’t deny that the world Jackson created was a remarkable one to see.

So, yes, Peter Jackson does an excellent job at the helm, although, truth be told, no one scene in this movie truly stands out as being memorable.  It’s just the entire package that’s memorable.

I had more trouble with the screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro.  The story wasn’t as strong as the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, nor was the dialogue as memorable.  I’m not sure it’s entirely their fault, as in general, the story told in Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” simply isn’t as compelling as the story told in “The Lord of the Rings” books. And again, I go back to, “They’re making three movies about this?”

The acting is okay.  Martin Freeman is excellent as Bilbo Baggins, and he easily gives the best performance in the movie.  But just how excited can one get about Bilbo Baggins?

DWARF #1:   Not very!

MA:  Bilbo is kind of a Hobbit version of Bob Newhart.  Nice guy, funny, but not exactly all that exciting.

Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf, and as you would expect, he again is very good.  But truthfully, no one else in the cast really stood out.  Compared to the cast of characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the dwarves in this one are inferior.

DWARF #1:  I’m going to kick that guy in the teeth!

DWARF #2:  Can you reach his teeth?

DWARF #1:  Shut up!”

MA:  Andy Serkis fares well once again as his CGI alter-ego, Gollum, but we’ve seen this shtick before.  It’s no longer new and refreshing.  But hey, Christopher Lee is on hand once more as Saruman, and even for just one scene, it’s great to see him.  It’s 2012 and he’s still making movies.  Amazing.

And I saw it in 3D.  Do I even need to say it anymore?  The 3D effects, hardly noticeable, are nothing more than an afterthought, and certainly aren’t worth the extra admission price.

Bottom line, there wasn’t anything unexpected about THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.  It played out pretty much exactly the way I expected it to play out.  It’s an expensive, well-crafted, near-perfect-looking movie that unfortunately has a weak story and blah characters that prevent it from being anything truly special.

It’s like picking up a book with weak writing that has unbelievably amazing illustrations.  You can’t praise the writing, but you can’t deny the illustrations are remarkable and fun to look at it.

So, it’s with this line of thinking that I give the film three knives.  It easily could have been a two knife movie, if not for the strength of its visual package.

(Stops at a large tree.  Turns to dwarves behind him.)

Okay, guys, we’re here.

DWARF #1:  We came all this way just to see a tree?  What the hell?

DWARF # 2:  It’s a very nice looking tree.

DWARF #1:  Shut up!

MA:  It’s not just any tree.  It used to belong to the Keebler Elves before they closed shop and outsourced.

DWARF #1:  What?  Are we going to make cookies now?  I’m a warrior, not a baker!

DWARF #2:  I like cookies.

DWARF #1:  Shut up!

MA: Something better than cookies.  I have with me – (pulls out a piece of paper) – the secret recipe for Twinkies!  It’s yours if you want it.  Something to fall back on if the warrior thing doesn’t work out.

DWARF #1:  What the hell is a Twinkie?

DWARF #2:  It’s a yellow sponge cake with cream in the middle.

DWARF #1:  Those things that last forever?  Hmm.  Sounds magical.  I just might like it.

DWARF #2:  May I suggest a new name? The Dwinkie.

MA:  And on that note, we’ll say so long, as my friends the dwarves debate whether or not to get into the baking business.

DWARF #2:  Can I get my face on the box and become the face of the franchise?  (mugs for the camera.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY ~ three knives!