Archive for the Wizards Category

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.

thehobbit

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!

Advertisements

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Blockbusters, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Fantasy Films, Magic, Wizards with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2011 by knifefighter

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 (2011)
Movie Review by Dan Keohane


OK, I was going to start this review with something Entertainment Weekly-ish, talking about how 10 years ago the movies derived from J.K.Rowling’s HARRY POTTER books took over the big screen, with Chris Columbus at the helm to start, and David Yates taking the sweet, almost-innocent tale of the early books and expertly crafting Rowling’s darker, coming-of-age finale with his two-part DEATHLY HALLOWS release, but I won’t. Well, OK, I just did.

Let’s get right to the main question: is the final act of the HARRY POTTER movie series worthy of the novels which have brought people of all ages back to reading books? Let’s get it over with now and say: in this reviewer’s opinion, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2, like PART 1, was a perfect big screen adaption of the final Rowling novel. Seriously, it couldn’t have been made any more loyal to the book. In fact, it’s better. Yates, and long-time screenwriter Steve Kloves, actually managed to improve upon the novel in a couple of places.

That is not to say that J.K. Rowling’s latter three novels in the Potter series were perfect. They weren’t. The fifth and sixth books, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE were long, ambitious novels, stymied by the introduction of too many new characters and multiple layers of back-stories in order to build up to the final novel which, thankfully, was tighter and full of more coherent action scenes, at least in the second half. Yates was at the helm for the final three movies adaptations, and the first two films neatly and adroitly boiled their written counterparts down to a more decipherable storyline.

DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 picks up where PART 1 left off, with Harry at the beach, mourning the death of his beloved Elf friend Dobbie, and Voldemort having broken into the late Dumbledore’s crypt to steal the Elder Wand, one of the fabled “deathly hallows” and the most powerful wand in the world. Like the other films, there is no recap at the beginning. The filmmakers leave it to their loyal viewers to be aware of the story to date before coming into the theater.

Right away, everything goes very, very fast. Unlike PART 1, which moves along at a slower, road-trip pace, and deliberately so, while the three main characters search for the hidden pieces of Voldemort’s soul (called Horcruxes) and destroy about half of them, the second part of the story is a whirlwind of action. Our three heroes break into Gringott’s Bank to steal a Horcrux and deal with an enchanted pile of replicating kitchenware and a fire-breathing dragon. Soon after comes their eventual return to Hogwart’s, where the remainder of the film takes place. It’s HIGH NOON, metaphorically speaking, at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as our heroes take control of the establishment and face off against Voldemort’s army of black clad Death Eaters.

This film is pretty much scene-by-scene, line-by-line, the second half of the novel. Certain parts are condensed—for example, very little of the story of Aberforth Dumbledore, mysterious brother of former headmaster Albus is covered. Like the novel, I didn’t really see the point of having a brother appear so late in the book except to explain that he’d been keeping an eye on them and helping out when he could. The novel went into great detail (too much, I think) about what happened with the headmaster as a child, the death of his sister and estrangement from his brother. Thankfully, the movie touched on this just a little and moved on.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this next point because, like most moviegoers, I’ve grown tired of paying extra cash for pointless 3D effects, since most live-action 3D movies coming out are 2D’s converted over. In previous 3D knock-offs, the visuals usually aren’t that good, and definitely not worth paying extra for. Last year, DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 came out only in 2D and it was visually stunning anyway.

Not so, PART 2. I watched the 2D version, figuring why bother with the 3D, right? But PART 2 seems to have been shot in 3D, ala AVATAR (2009). As such, watching the 2D felt like the projection camera was never quite in focus. Granted, it could have been that the projectionist at the Worcester Showcase was dozing and the projector was out of focus, but watching the movie, it just looked wrong somehow. Like watching a 3D film without the glasses. They cleaned it up best as they could, and it still was a stunning piece of movie-making to watch, but I kept thinking, “This probably looks amazing in 3D.”

(I don’t recommend anyone pay for the 3D. Ever again. But… unfortunately the 2D version doesn’t look very good, so since this is the last Potter film, may as well go see the 3D version, but pay for the 2D show and sneak your glasses from a previous rip-off showing in with you, then sneak into one of the 3D screenings. You’ll thank me later.)

I mentioned above that Yates and Kloves improved on a couple of things. The first I mentioned above, trimming the fat out of the flashback storylines which weren’t needed for the movie (except for one involving Snape, which was done very well, at least it was done right out of the book. I still have issue with it, but I can’t say what without sticking in a major spoiler here, so I won’t). The second, and I think most important: the climactic battle between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes). In the book, at the end, it came down them having another wand-off much like the one at the end of GOBLET OF FIRE (2005). Although everything leading up to this moment in the novel was great, the final battle was less than climactic. Not so the movie: as you probably surmised seeing the previews, they really stretched out the fight scenes between these two, even to the point of having them grapple with each other physically over the edge of a bridge.

There is a climactic bit between a character that’ll remain unnamed in this review, and the evil snake Nagini, which I thought was better in the novel. It was done very well in the movie—don’t get me wrong—but I was looking forward to this particular scene from the book and they’d changed it for dramatic purposes. In the end, the same thing happens, it’s just dragged out a bit to coincide with Harry and Voldermort’s battle. If you’ve read the final Rowling book, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, you won’t and that’s OK. Just watch the film. It’s cool anyway.

Finally, as expected, there is a lot of Potter-ish, killer-spell violence in the movie. More so than in previous films, even PART 1. You see characters die, or see them dead after the fact (some of them quasi-main characters but not primary enough to mentally scar any of the kiddies watching). Hogwarts gets trashed. Ron and Hermoine (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) finally kiss, and director Yates takes this way too far, by having a very intense and graphic sex scene following… no, no, I’m only kidding. But it’s a decent screen kiss, and kind of funny.

In the end, if you like Harry Potter, either the books or the films, I think you’ll enjoy this final chapter a lot. If for no other reason than the brief, five minute epilogue at the end. I was happy they included this scene, which was taken right out of the ending of the book. After all of the violence and dark turns the books and films have taken, this was a great way of rekindling the innocence of the first novel. Of starting over.

And that’s what I’ll leave you with. When you read the first book, or saw the first movie, it was magical, musical and fun. Young Radcliffe’s Harry Potter was wide-eyed and wonderstruck, as were his legions of fans. But the adult characters were furrow-browed, hardened people who looked like they’d just been through a war. They had, eleven years earlier, with Voldemort at the peak of his power, a war which killed Harry’s parents. Throughout the series, even the early books, the darkness of that earlier time was woven into every adult’s dialogue. Now, as PART 2 closes, as the children are excited and nervous to begin school, you see in the eyes of the adults what was in the eyes of those older character seven books earlier.

My daughters were going away on vacation with their mom, so I couldn’t take them. I promised I’d bring them when they got back, as I’ve done to every film since it started. My son, too. He didn’t want to come this time, or see PART 1 or even read the last book. That’s fine. I think he would have liked the final movie, though. Like life, everything comes to an end – the good and the bad – in some way, at some time. Rowling’s books were loved and enjoyed by so many, including our household, but there’s always an ending. And a new beginning. Maybe we’re done with Rowling and her world of HARRY POTTER. If so, that’s fine. She did well by it, and so did the filmmakers. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PARTS 1 and 2 are the epitome of how to take a popular book and make it exactly as it should be made, with tweaks here and there and scripting touch-ups. Overall, it is a faithful adaptation of a story that has come to an exciting and celebratory ending for us all.

On to the net Big Adventure, wherever and whatever that will be… OK! Someone tell L.L. Soares to stop making faces at me. I see you behind that chair. You promised to stay out of the room while I wrote this review. Out! Out!

Muggle….

© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane

CKF COMING ATTRACTIONS: JULY 2011

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Aliens, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Coming Attractions, Magic, R-Rated Comedy, Superheroes, Westerns, Wizards with tags , , , , , , on July 1, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT
COMING ATTRACTIONS: July 2011
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE:  The stark surface of the moon.  An astronaut slowly makes his way through zero gravity.)

ASTRONAUT (crackly audio):  Mission Control?  Come in.

MISSION CONTROL:  Mission Control, here.  Go ahead.

ASTRONAUT:  I don’t believe this, Mission Control.  We’re not alone up here.  I can’t believe what I’m seeing.  There’s—-.

MISSION CONTROL:  Transformers?

ASTRONAUT:  No.  Cinema Knife Fighters.

(MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are seated in front of a wide screen TV set watching the trailer for APOLLO 18.  They both turn towards the Astronaut.)

MA:  That’s right.  We’re here on the moon.

LS:  We were here before you, and we’ll be here long after you’ve left, through the power of cyberspace.

ASTRONAUT:  How is it you can breathe without a space helmet?  There’s no oxygen up here!

MA:  We can do whatever we want.  We’re writers.

LS:  For example, when we’re sick of talking to you, we can make you disappear, like so. (Snaps fingers and Astronaut disappears with a poof!).

MA:  That wasn’t very nice.

LS:  That’s why I did it.

MA:  Anyway, we’re here on the moon to bring you our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for July, and we’ve chosen this setting because the first new movie to be reviewed this month is TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.

LS:  I’d rather be reviewing APOLLO 18, but that one’s coming out in August.

MA:  Actually, it’s just been changed to September.  No lie.  Get this, the release date for APOLLO 18 has already changed 5 times!  Right now, it’s slated to open on September 2, but I’m not holding my breath.  Five release date changes?  That’s crazy.  Anyway, this one’s not opening in July, so we’ll move on to the July releases and talk about APOLLO 18 later, whenever the hell they decide to release the damn thing.

So, we begin July with a review of TRANSFORMERS:  DARK OF THE MOON, or I should say, I begin July, as you won’t be reviewing this one with me.

LS:  Nope.  I’ve given you the honor.  (Laughs hysterically).

MA:  I’ll actually be reviewing TRANSFORMERS 3 with Dan Keohane, as he’ll be filling in for you that weekend.

I really don’t like the Transformers movies.  The first one was tolerable, but the second one was awful.  They say that #3 is going to be really good, and the previews don’t look half bad, but I’m not holding my breath on this one, and I fully expect not to like it.

It’s directed by Michael Bay.  ‘Nuff said.

LS:  On July 8 we’ll be reviewing the R-rated comedy HORRIBLE BOSSES.

This one actually looks pretty good. It stars Jason Bateman, Ed Helms (from the HANGOVER movies) and Charlie Day (from one my favorite shows, IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA) as put-upon workers out to get rid of their bosses (played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston, respectively). I like Charlie Day a lot, and he seems to be popping up in a lot of movies lately. I also thought Aniston looked the hottest I’ve seen her in the trailer for this movie.

MA:  HORRIBLE BOSSES looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.  It’s directed by Seth Gordon, who directed a documentary several years back called THE KING OF KONG:  A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (2007).  The film was about two men competing for the world record high score for the arcade game Donkey Kong, but I liked it because it was filmed at a place I visit regularly, the Fun Spot arcade in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire, which bills itself as the largest arcade in the world.

On July 15, it’s time for HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2.  This one will be covered by Dan Keohane.

(A great cheer erupts, and suddenly a humongous crowd of little green moon men stand applauding.)

What are they cheering for?

LS:  That they don’t have to see HARRY POTTER either.  Thanks, Dan, for sparing us all!

MA:  Yes, thanks, Dan!

LS: As fans of the series know, DEATHLY HOLLOWS PART 2 is the final Harry Potter movie, so this is a big deal for Potter-heads, or whatever fans of Harry call themselves. Dan has been following the series –first in book form and then the movies – since the beginning, so he’s best qualified to review the last film.

MA: Also, we don’t want to see it.

LS: And it’s in 3D, too!

MA: Okay, on July 22, it’s CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE FIRST AVENGER.

I’m looking forward to CAPTAIN AMERICA.  I think the previews look great, and dare I say it, even the 3D effects look good in the previews!   So, I have high hopes for this one.

It’s directed by Joe Johnston, who also directed THE WOLFMAN (2010) remake, so this bodes well for CAPTAIN AMERICA.  The screenplay was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the same two writers who wrote the screenplays for all three CHRONICLES OF NARNIA movies.  This does not bode well for CAPTAIN AMERICA!

LS: It could be worse. It could be written by writers who gave us the TWILIGHT movies.

MA: Captain America will be played by Chris Evans.  Let’s hope he has better luck this time around as a superhero, because he failed to wow me as the Human Torch in the FANTASTIC FOUR movies.  However, Evans was memorable in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) as one of the evil ex’s.

LS: I actually don’t mind him that much. I hope he makes a great Cap!

MA: Hugo Weaving will play The Red Skull.  Weaving has been in a ton of movies, like the MATRIX series, and he played Inspector Abberline in THE WOLFMAN.

LS: The Red Skull is a classic bad guy. I think Weaving should be pretty good in the role.

MA:  The cast also includes Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones.

LS:   Captain America hasn’t had the best luck with movie versions so far. In fact, some of the past ones have gone straight to video, or have been TV-movies. This is the first time Cap gets the real big-budget treatment. I’m hoping this one turns out great, and, at this point, Marvel’s movie line has become pretty reliable. I’m not expecting anything here that will blow me away, but it should be fun, at least.

MA: And we finish July with COWBOYS AND ALIENS, opening on July 29.

LS:  This one could go either way, but the trailer actually looks pretty decent. And I like Daniel Craig, who’s the star of this one.

MA: I’m not sure what to make of COWBOYS AND ALIENS.  I love the cast.  Teaming Daniel Craig with Harrison Ford is inspired casting, and I can’t wait to see them in action together.

It’s directed by Jon Favreau, the director of the two IRON MAN movies, so this is a good sign, and it was written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, and— yep, one more,  Hawk Ostby.  Five screenwriters.  Incredible.

LS: Hey – Damon Lindelof was one of the creators of LOST, with J.J. Abrams!

MA: Well, that’s good news.

And the wild card— COWBOYS AND ALIENS is produced by Steven Spielberg! He just produced another movie we reviewed here – J.J. Abrams’ SUPER 8. Actually, he’s just one of the producers involved with COWBOYS AND ALIENS.  Just how many producers were there?  Ready for this ?  Fifteen! 

I have to say that number again.  Fifteen!  And in addition to Spielberg, Ron Howard is also in the mix.  With all that talent behind it, the film has to be good?  Right?  Not really.  We’ll find out for sure on July 29.

Well, that about wraps things up for us here.  I might as well stay here on the moon since I’ll be reviewing TRANSFORMERS 3 this week.  I think I’ll join the little moon men for a drink while I wait.  (to LS)  Care to join us?

LS:  Sure.  As long as I’m gone before the movie starts.  I’m glad you’re seeing it without me.  I hear that the TRANSFORMERS movie is in 3D too, which means you’ll have to pay more for a ticket!  (Laughs hysterically).

MA:  Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.

LS:  I am!

(Small moon men walk by, carrying packages of something called “Green Cheese”)

MA (to little moon men):  Any of you guys want to see the new TRANSFORMERS movie with me?  (They all start laughing.)  I didn’t think so.

Well, folks, it looks like I’ll be boldly going where many have gone before but few want to return.

See you at the movies!

—END—

YOUR HIGHNESS

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Comedies, Fantasy Films, Magic, Monsters, Wizards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: YOUR HIGHNESS (2011)
By L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: a medieval castle. L.L. SOARES is dressed in period clothing, wandering about the place)

LS: So I was waiting for Michael to show up and accidentally fell into his hot tub time machine, and now I’m here, in this place. I wonder if I’ll ever get back to my own time.

(A mechanical BIRD flies in through a window and lands on LS’s shoulder)

BIRD: Movie review! Movie review!

LS: Do you bring word from Mr. Arruda about our review this day?

BIRD: Nope. He’s reviewing another movie called HANNA. You’re on your own for this one.

LS: Is that so! That dastardly villain tricked me!

BIRD: You were tricked. HA HA.

LS: Well, since I’m trapped here, I might as well review the new Danny McBride comedy, YOUR HIGHNESS. Especially since it features a host of fantasy elements like dragons and minotaurs.

BIRD: Yep, get to the review already.

LS: Okay. Well, I’ve been a fan of comedian Danny McBride for a while now. I first noticed him in the supporting role as Red in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008), which made me seek out his first movie in a leading role, THE FOOT FIST WAY (2006), a small indie film where he played an obnoxious jerk of a karate instructor. FOOT FIST made the film festival circuit for a bit and was McBride’s ticket to bigger things. He also had a stand-out role as the pyrotechnics guy in TROPIC THUNDER (2009). Unfortunately, he’s also appeared in some clunkers like 2009’s LAND OF THE LOST.

For those who’ve been following his career, McBride’s best role thus far has been on the HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN, where he plays Kenny Powers, a former baseball star who was fired for steroid use and is trying to make a comeback. Kenny is a complete jerk (see a pattern here?) but despite all of his offensive behavior, there’s something strangely likable about him. EASTBOUND AND DOWN is a terrific show, but can someone make such an unpleasant type of character work in a big budget Hollywood film?

BIRD: Tell us already!

LS:  Well, yes and no. YOUR HIGHNESS is the first leading role for McBride in a movie that was made for a big studio, and it’s an uneven affair. McBride plays Prince Thadeous, a pompous ass and  a coward, who stayed home while his heroic brother Fabious (James Franco) was out defending the kingdom and slaying monsters. When Fabious returns from a recent quest where he slew a monstrous Cyclops (he’s brought the severed head back as a souveneir), Thadeous is enraged to be back in his much-loved brother’s shadow. And not only is Fabious back, he has brought a girl with him, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) who had been a prisoner in the Cyclops’s tower. Fabious declares that they will be married and that he wants Thadeous to be his best man. But Thadeous would much rather sneak out and get stoned with bogmen and his constant companion, his court jester Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker).

Thadeous’s mettle, however, is put to the test, when Fabious’s wedding is interrupted by the wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), the master of the Cyclops and the imprisoner of Belladonna, who demands his virgin back (he has planned to use her in an upcoming ritual). Fabious and his men attempt to protect her, but no one has a chance against Leezar’s magic, especially when three witches come to his aid (one of which is his mother), and Belladonna is whisked away to Leezar’s tower.

Fabious goes on a journey to save his bride to be, and King Tallious (Charles Dance) demands that Thadeous join Fabious on his quest. “It’s high time you became a man.”

What unfolds of course, is the familiar Hollywood tale of redemption, which McBride molds into his own image, with mixed results. We are basically treated to a parody of those medieval quest movies where there are ogres, dragons, and wizards. Here, they’re all played for laughs, including a perverted Yoda-like character called the White Wizard (Fabious goes to him for advice, but the muppet-like wizard’s motives are a bit disturbing), a five headed dragon, a minotaur, and a female warrior out for revenge, played by Natalie Portman, who is quite ravishing in this role. Too bad she’s not onscreen all that much.

Early on in the quest, Fabious’s men betray him (it turns out they’ve been working for Leezar). Led by Damien  Lewis (probably best known for his role in HBO’s BAND OF BROTHERS, but also check him out in the DVD of the canceled show LIFE, which was actually pretty great, and the indie movie KEANE (2004)) as Boremont, the soldiers attempt to enslave Fabious and bring him to their master, but he gets away, and it’s Fabious, Thadeous and Courtney on their own to find an enchanted sword made from a unicorn’s horn and saving Belladonna from her prison.

BIRD: Don’t forget me.

LS: Oh yeah, Fabious has a pet bird in the movie, but he’s a mechanical creature. A steampunk anachronism of sorts, which was obviously a tip of the hat to the original CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), which featured a robotic owl.

(BIRD begins to sing)

LS: Oh be quiet, you foul fowl. I am doing a review here.

BIRD: Get bent!  (the BIRD takes off, taking a poo as it goes. LS wipes at an oil stain on his shirt)

LS (shaking his fist at the sky) You mechanical menace!

Um, excuse me.

Overall, the movie is funny, but there are few real laugh-out-loud moments  I’m not sure how well McBride’s obnoxious jerk character translates into a fantasy scenario, but he does have his moments. McBride is a really funny guy and I don’t think this movie was as good of a showcase of his talents as it could have been.

James Franco is excellent as Fabious, the heroic and dimwitted brother to Thadeous. He’s so nice and so selfless in his motives that it’s hard not to like him. Even Thadeous can’t help but envy him.

(A DRAGON sticks his head into a window)

DRAGON: Yeah, Franco is always good. Unless he’s hosting the Oscars.

LS: Portman, as the warrior Isabel (she’s like Xena’s cousin!), is great in her scenes, and what a nice butt we get to see in a bathing-in-the-river scene. And Rasmus Hardiker is terrific as Courtney. In fact, the entire cast is quite good here. I just wish the script could have been a bit funnier.

Director David Gordon Green started out making small, intense films like GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000) and UNDERTOW (2004), which were both effective, independent dramas. Then he somehow got in with the “wrong crowd” and became a big-budget comedy director. The difference in the movie styles is unsettling. Green’s comic output has included PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (which also starred Franco and had McBride in a big supporting role) and episodes of EASTBOUND AND DOWN (McBride’s television series), and while he is a skillful director, his comedy work is pretty quirky and not necessarily mainstream (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it just won’t appeal to everyone). This works in something like EASTBOUND, where the boundaries are not so tight, and there’s freer reign to let McBride be as unlikable as he wants. In the context of a commercial Hollywood movie, which has its own set of rules, things are a little more restricted, and the jokes don’t always work.

Perhaps it’s the fantasy element of the movie that makes everything seem a little off its rhythm. The special effects are fine, and there are some interesting scenes, including a bizarre run-in with Amazon warriors in the forest, led by a strange, child-like king (despite his large physical size) who creates monsters by submerging his hand into a pot of what looked like porridge, and having it coming out the other end as a beast rising from the ground (a quite elaborate, and fascinating concept). The scene with the minotaur is also pretty good, including a scene where the monster bears an erection and tries to molest poor Courtney (Thadeous severs the appendage after they defeat the monster, and wears it around his neck).  And a scene where a traitorous footman named Julie (Toby Jones) is stripped—revealing a very strange secret—is quite funny.

Overall, I liked YOUR HIGHNESS. There was enough good acting and good direction to keep me interested. And certain scenes were pretty funny. I just wish there were more laughs throughout the film.

I give it two and a half knives. Check it out at a matinee or wait til it comes to Netflix. Either way, you’re better off renting EASTBOUND AND DOWN instead.

(BIRD flies back)

BIRD: Time to go back. Time to go back.

LS: What are you talking about?

(BIRD raises a wing toward a sign that reads “This Way to Get Back to the Future.“)

LS: Splendid. I can go home now!

BIRD: I’m a good bird. I’m a good bird.

LS: Oh shut up!

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives YOUR HIGHNESS2 and a half knives!

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1

Posted in 2010, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Fantasy Films, Magic, Wizards with tags , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by knifefighter

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEALTHY HALLOWS, PART I
Movie Review by Daniel G. Keohane


OK, I’ll jump right in to the meat of this review. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1 (2010) is, in my opinion, the best HARRY POTTER film yet. It’s also the darkest of the seven movies which are based on the world famous J.K. Rowling books about young wizard Harry Potter and his madcap collection of friends and enemies.

Seriously. It’s really, really dark. As my daughter Amanda and I were getting in the car to head home, there was an eight-year-old boy bawling his eyes out as he and his mom walked out behind us. Suffice to say, this is not like the first film with the cute, wonder-eyed little orphan boy discovering his legacy of becoming a master wizard, and the really bad man who wants to give him a boo-boo. In fact, He Who Can Now Be Named, Voldermort, the dark wizard who almost took over the world when Harry was born, until his attempt to murder baby Harry resulted in his own near-death, opens the film with a dinner party he is throwing for his inner circle. Sitting around the table is a Who’s-Who of Rowling’s bad guys and girls, eating dinner, planning their world domination, and… what else… ah right, the slow torture and eventual murder of a teacher from the Hogwarts School who happens to like Muggles (non-magical people like you and me). She floats above the table while they eat, crying, half-dead, begging for her life, until Voldemort (played with maximum creepiness by Ralph Fiennes) finally puts her out of her misery with a flick of his wand… then feeds her to his monstrously large snake, Nagini. The scene sets the tone of this film, especially creepy when you realize you’re watching a movie version of the most beloved young adult book series in history.

But the book on which this movie is based is no less dark. In fact, the film is exactly like the book. Almost word for word. Over the past – what’s it been, twelve years or so? – I’ve had the tremendous joy of reading each book to my children, beginning with my son Andrew, then all three kids, until this final book which I read to my youngest daughter Audrey (who is currently sitting on the couch not letting me go to the bathroom until I finish this review and send it off…). I thought books One through Four were excellent, and I always enjoyed the movies – mostly because the casting has always, always been perfect. Every actor has taken whatever character he or she played and kept their performances loyal to Rowling’s vision.

Then books Five and Six were released: HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. In these, Rowling was so obviously trying to cram in every bit of back story, and introduce so many more characters, in order to bring us to the final chapter. This made the books a bit convoluted, confusing and at times disjointed. The film versions of the novels, on the other hand, were well done, and clarified a lot of questions I had, personally, in reading the books, especially in regards to the dozens of new characters who are critical to the final novel, but shoved into books Five and Six and, never really had time to gel in our minds. The worst of the baddies, Bellatrix Lestrange, being the biggest. She’s one the best baddies in the films, played with gleeful insanity by Helena Bonham Carter (SWEENEY TODD, 2007, THE CORPSE BRIDE, 2005), and comes to dark life in the films. And she is even darker and crazier in this movie (she even gets to slowly torture poor Hermoine). I was pleased to find that the final, book was much better written, with less back story and more forward-action towards the inevitable, climactic battle. However, one aspect of the novel which I found a little daunting were the hundred and fifty pages or so, smack in the middle, where Harry, Ron and Hermoine go into hiding and do very little but move around, argue and try to find the remaining pieces of Voldemort’s soul (known as Horcruxes). In the film version of DEATHLY HALLOWS, most of the two and a half hours are indeed spent with Harry and his two best friends in hiding throughout Great Britain.

But here’s the difference, and where I think the film version far outshines the admittedly well-done final novel by Ms. Rowling: in these scenes, the three best-cast child-cum-adult actors in the history of celluloid finally got to shine. Daniel Racliffe (as Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (as Ron Weasly) and Emma Watson (as Hermoine Granger) are far more than talented kids playing the roles of a lifetime. Since the first movie, these three have become these characters. Not in real life of course, that would be weird, but on screen they fit so well into the skin of the three friends from Hogwarts. In DEATHLY HALLOWS, they’ve grown up, and go so much further in their roles. Of course, it was their last time filming these movies together so may as well go whole hog and hit the gas, see how far they can reach.

One particular scene struck me, and showed how far Rupert Grint has come as an actor. Always the clunky, quirky sidekick to Radcliffe’s Potter, Grint was head and shoulders in this film above his previous performances. Granted, he was head and shoulders above most in the cast as he’s about a hundred feet tall now and just as wide, but he was able to convey so much emotion with just his expressions and voice. The scene in question was during an attack on the three characters in a London diner. After subduing the bad guys (known as Death Eaters), Ron stares at them and in that moment he understands that he could kill them – cold-blooded killers who may have already killed everyone in his own family (the friends escaped an attack on his brother’s wedding and Ron spends the rest of the movie never knowing who survived and who died in the attack). So much of the movie depends on the ability of these three actors (I’ve been using “actors” gender-neutrally, if you haven’t noticed by now) to carry the scenes, it was good to see how far they’ve come with their own chops, and, as always, the chemistry between these three people is almost flawless.

So, there had to be at least one part I didn’t like. Yea, maybe. In one scene late into the film Ron Weasley explains how he ends up in a certain place at a certain time. Though his explanation is important, and verbatim from the novel, his dialogue is too tender, a bit over-dramatic and decidedly un-Ron-like. Screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates must have thought this as well, because in the very next scene, one of many great buddy-scenes between Ron and Harry, Ron makes a decidedly Ron-like crack about that very but of dialogue and the audience roared with delight. So did the actors.

That was it, though. No other complaints. The screenplay was brilliant, Kloves keeping to the original novel religiously yet still tweaking it, every so slightly, to make what was a critically acclaimed novel actually better. Of course he knew exactly whom he was writing every line of dialogue for, the strengths and weaknesses of every actor. But I want to give credit where credit is due. He did an excellent job. As did director Yates, who also helmed the previous two POTTER movies.

Back to the humor for a moment. These movies always have a good sense of humor about them – as have the books. Rowling seemed to have lost much of her lightness as the books progressed, the stories growing darker and more serious. Amid so much angst and stress among the characters in this particular movie, there was just enough humor to lighten the mood, if only for a moment, to give the audience a break, let a smile break through the clouds of despair, but little enough that the mood of the story was fairly consistent.

I should say, however, that if you haven’t see the other six POTTER films, don’t go see the seventh. It will make ZERO SENSE to you. In fact, for you movie fans who have not read the books, I’d recommend reviewing the events of the previous movie at least before watching this one. The movies, and books, have no explanation or recap as to what has happened to-date. In this way, the seven books, or six and a half movies (let’s count PART 1 as a half-movie) are all one long story.

By the way, I took quite a lot of notes while watching this movie in the dark theater, assuming I’d be able to read my notes well enough for the next couple of days only to find that pen ran out of ink after the first page. So here I am now, left with a mostly empty notebook. Ah well, just assume the points I had jotted, er, scratched down were insightful, direct, and very educational to your understanding of the film and filmmaking overall. Tell your friends. Trust me, I’m sure the notes had all that in them.

PART 1 is just that – Part 1. It’s not a standalone movie in any sense of the word. After two and a half hours, Yates chooses a semi-logical stopping point… though it will seem that way only if you’ve read the book, otherwise you will feel like I did in 1980 when THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK just – ended – after whopping me upside the head with Luke’s hand being chopped off, learning Darth was his dad and Han being deep-frozen and shipped off to certain doom. In DEATHLY HALLOWS, the first part ends on a very sad note in the story (hence the crying eight-year-old boy in the parking lot later), and Voldemort getting exactly what he’d spent the entire film looking for. All is lost, there is no hope, and a few beloved characters are dead! Dead! DEAD! by the end of the movie … let’s roll credits!

But this is fine. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is a five hour film. It’s the last in the POTTER series, and for once, FINALLY, they are filming Rowling’s entire novel. As fans of the series, we can’t ask for more. Hell, there was even partial nudity in the movie! Granted, it was Harry and Hermoine, so it’s akin to seeing your brother and sister naked, ick…. Still, it was an interesting touch to throw in there. And we know PART 2 is coming soon – after they make as much money as possible out of PART 1. So we’ll get to see Harry finally face the evil he was destined to face, and see more of our beloved characters die! Die! DIE! But most of all, to see them all one last time.

© Copyright 2010 by Daniel G. Keohane