Monday, December 24, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Firstly, I would like to start off by saying that The Lord of the Rings films are probably my favorite movies of all time.  So, when I heard that The Hobbit was finally being made I was ecstatic and immediately set my expectations unbelievably high.  Now having seen the film I can definitely say it has pretty much met those expectations. 
                The story is rather straight forward. 60 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins(Martin Freeman), is unexpectedly(hence the name of the movie) recruited for an adventure by Gandalf the wizard(Ian McKellen).  The adventure is to journey to a far off city to reclaim a land for 13 dwarves, from a dragon. I’m not giving anything away to tell you right now, they don’t make it there by the end of this film, so get rid of those ideas now.  You have part two, The Desolation of Smaug, to look forward for that.
                First thing to keep in mind with this film is that the book The Hobbit is based off of was made more for children then The Lord of the Rings. So some parts of this film might come off as a little strange and childish, but I think Peter  Jackson has done well to combine the seriousness of The Lord of the Rings with a few lighter moments that fit the more kid friendly side of the Hobbit. 
                The next thing to know going into this film is it is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, so some of your favorite characters from those films are either nowhere to be seen or they are in smaller parts.  If you are expecting to see Aragon or Gimli, look somewhere else, they are not a part of this story.  So you will need to get to know all new people.
                This time around Martin Freeman(Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) takes over the lead and the role of Bilbo Baggins(formerly played by Ian Holmes, who has a cameo). Freeman works perfect in this part, he displays the right amount of skittish hesitance and heroic strength. He makes it easy to want to follow him in this journey and he makes a very believable younger Ian Holmes.  Ian McKellen(Lord of the Rings, X-men) returns in the role of Gandolf the Grey and because of the lighter take the book has, we get to see a more playful fun side of Gandolf. He is still perfectly cast and great to see.  As far as the Dwarfs go, there are 13 of them so you can imagine, even with a 2 hour and 45 minute movie, it is going to be hard to really flesh out each one.  Each one does have their own distinctive trait and Peter Jackson does give each dwarf a moment to shine, but even so it can be hard to keep track of them all.  The one stand out among them all is Richard Armitage as Thorin Ockenshield, the leader of the Dwarves.  He is a very commanding presence in the movie and manages to bring a lot of what Viggo Mortensen brought to Aragon.  He is very intense, but we do manage to get a lot of his back story to know why.  The rest of the cast is made up of a few old friends reprising their roles from the original trilogy.   Obviously the stand out of them is Andy Serkis once again as Gollum.  He falls right back into this role perfectly and is definitely the highlight of the movie.  Even in the short time he is on screen it leaves you wanting more.
                Even though this film is a different adventure then Lord of the Rings, both films follow a similar storyline. Personally I don’t have a problem with how similar these films are, but I know some might have an issue with how close these films are to each other.  Both adventures start out in the Shire, they both end up making a trip to Rivendale where a council is held, and they both end up in a mine being chased by a horde of bad guys. It’s been awhile since I read the book, but if you have a problem with this don’t blame Peter Jackson, it’s all in there.
                The movie itself looks amazing.  Somehow Mr. Jackson keeps finding these amazing locations within his home country of New Zealand that look completely different from each other, yet perfect for the world of Middle Earth.  Half the fun of watching these movies is the amazing scenery. The special effects and the CGI was once again top notch and just looked stunning and so real.  Also Howard Shore has created another wonderful score to accompany this film.  It is great hearing the small cues from the original trilogy mixed with some equally excellent new themes.  The most prominent one would be the Dwarves theme that plays quite a lot and is a real stand out hero theme.  I will admit on a few occasions the power of the score mixed with the scene it played in almost brought tears to my eyes.
                So, with all those great things being said one has to wonder if there was anything wrong with the film.  Well I saw it in IMAX 3D at the 48 FPS rate and I have to say much of it worked, but it did have a few issues.  The 3D was really good and it was cool seeing things like rain and smoke come flying out of the screen.  IMAX was again awesome because these films are made for the grand scale of IMAX.  The problem came in with the higher frame rate.  Shooting the film like this made everything look amazing and beautiful, but it had one drawback.  Every so often when someone was moving across the screen they appeared to be moving in fast forward which made for a strange look to the movie.  Other than that issue I had no problems with the higher frame rate. 
                Since this is one book that is being turned into three movies Peter Jackson had to find places to add more into the story and I had an issue with one of those additions.  Jackson expanded the role of one of the smaller characters in the book, the wizard Radagast the Brown.  He is a very strange character that went a little too far into the fantasy realm at times.  Also the makeup applied to him looked like a bird had crapped on the side of his face and kind of made me want to gag a few times.  I do feel like he was an unnecessary expansion to the story. 
                So if you are wondering if The Hobbit is worth another trip back to Middle Earth I would most definitely say yes.  With another great adventure and more top notch movie making Peter Jackson has managed to capture the magic all over again.  When this film ended I immediately couldn’t wait for next year’s second part.  If you enjoyed the original Lord of the Rings or any fantasy movie released in the past 10 years then this is a must see for you. 
5 out of 5

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

                Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge Spider-Man fan.  I love the Toby Maguire films, including the much criticized third one.  So when I heard they were rebooting the Spider-Man franchise and bringing in new blood, I threw my hands up in protest.  How could they? Toby is Peter Parker.  Sam Rami is the only one who could direct these films.  Kirsten Dunst is M….well let’s just say I didn’t argue every last detail of the change.  As time passed and more started to come out about this new man of Spiders a strange thing started to happen, the fan boy in me took over and said “it is Spider-Man stupid, no matter what it has to be good.”  Now having seen the end product I can gladly say “kids always listen to the fan boy/girl inside you, they are always right.”
                By this point in history we all know the main points in the story of Spider-Man.  Boy likes girl, girl doesn’t really know boy, boy gets bit by radioactive spider and develops into a wall crawling super hero.  Along the way he, spoiler alert, loses a loved uncle, the girl gets to know what a great guy he is and he comes face to face with an enemy almost too big for him to handle.  So, since we already know all of that, lets turn to what we all really want to know about this new film.  What about this movie makes it better than the original and was it a good idea to reboot so soon?
                Let me be clear when I say I am not against rebooting a film franchise.  I feel many reboots or remakes are just as good, if not better than the original (Hulk and Incredible Hulk I’m looking at you).  My problem when I heard about this new Spider-Man was that the studio just didn’t seem to be making any of the right choices.  They picked Marc Webb a director with one small indie film under his belt, to helm this huge film.  From all the articles and trailers on the film, it looked like they were focusing on some mystery with Peter’s dead parents, that has never really played a big part in the comics.  Finally, they cast a British guy as Spider-Man, A BRITISH GUY? WHAT??  Strangely enough in the end it actually all came together and worked out.
                The number one reason why it works is because of Andrew Garfield.  British or not, he was perfect as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man.   As Peter, Garfield managed to bring out the real human side of this geeky, awkward, loner kid, just trying to understand where he fits in the world.  His interaction with everyone around him was so believable.  Where Toby Maguire sometimes came off as a little too “gosh honest” and wooden, Andrew grounded his Peter.  He isn’t the perfect teenager with a heart of gold, he is just a teenager doing his own thing.  When he finally becomes Spider-Man, Garfield finally gets right what I have wanted to see since the beginning of the Spider-Man movies.  He is a wise cracking, smart ass Spider-Man.  He kicks butt and makes funny comments while doing it.  I always thought that part was missing from the original films.  Sure, Spidey has always had an unusual amount of inner dialogue while he is in action, but in this film they managed to capture his sarcastic side that the comics are so good at creating. 
                Playing Peter’s love interest this time around is Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey.  Being the fan of the comics I am, I was glad to see with this reboot they brought in Peter’s original crush Gwen.  Emma is such a better choice for the love interest than Kirsten Dunst ever was and she is a better Gwen than Bryce Dallas Howard was in Spider-Man 3.  Emma has great chemistry with Andrew and they make it enjoyable and fun to watch them together every time they are on screen.  Gwen is Peter's intellectual equal and it is clear why he would be attracted to her, unlike in the other films where at times Dunst’s Mary Jane was annoying and not all that likable. 
                The main villain this time around is the Lizard who’s human side, Dr. Curt Connors, is played by another actor from across the pond, Rhys Ifans.  It was nice to see Rhys with such a high profile part where he could show off his excellent acting.  He manages to make Dr. Connors a likable person that you can feel for and then turn around and make the Lizard such a scary unpredictable force. 
                The rest of the cast is rounded out with Sally Fields and Martin Sheen as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, who were both good in their parts and very relateable, as they should be.  Finally, there is Denis Leary as Captain Stacey and personally, in my opinion, the best casting choice of the whole film.  Leary is great in this part.  He brings the grumpy misunderstood funny side to the film that J. K. Simmons brought to the others as J. Jonah Jameson.   I loved every second Leary was on screen and always looked forward to more.
                So with all that good could there be any bad?  Well, yes I had a few minor issues with film.  To start I kind of thought the pacing was off.  It took quite a while to really get going and then when we started to really see what Spider-Man could do it was over.   It was clear that Webb is great at directing the small moments between individuals because it all worked,  I just would have liked to see a little more of Spider-Man in action. My other issue with the plot was the whole subplot with Peter’s parents.  It was never really an issue in the comics and I don’t like how it looks like they are trying to make some kind of conspiracy connection to Peter.  Also, my other problem with the film is the same one I have had with every single Spider-Man film.  They keep trying to find reasons to take off the mask.  I know who is under the mask.  I don’t need to be reminded of it every time he gets in a fight.  I paid my money to see Spider-Man do the amazing things, not Peter Parker doing the amazing things.  Why is it ok to keep Spider-Man so hidden when he is Peter Parker, but it isn’t ok to keep Peter hidden when he is Spider-Man?  You don’t see Batman taking of his mask every time he gets in a fight.  No because we as the viewing public know who is under the mask and we are smart enough to not be reminded all the time.
                Other than those small issues this was a great film.  I look forward to seeing where they go with the next one.  The bottom line is if you were hesitating seeing this film because you thought it was an unnecessary reboot, put that aside and come see it because it is a good film in general.   If you are a fan of the original Spider-Man trilogy or superhero movies in general you are probably going to like this film. 

5 out of 5


A lot has been made about this most recent Disney and Pixar film being the first Pixar film to feature a female main character. When all was said and done male or female, main character didn’t really matter to me, I just thought it was another well done film.  Once again, Pixar showed they truly are the number one place for animated films.
                The story of Brave is not anything particularly new.  Basically, it is about Merida a Scottish princess with a will of her own.  Her mother wants to teach her the ways of being a lady and what to do to unit her kingdom, but all Merida wants to do is shoot arrows and find her own way in the world.  After rebelling when her parents try to pick her suitor, Merida makes a decision that could very well ruin everything.  Now Merida with her mother must work together to fix everything and along the way maybe come to understand each other a little more.
                One of the nicest parts about this film is how once again Pixar defied normal plot conventions.  With this being the next “Disney Princess” they could have easily followed the example set by all princess films before.  Instead, they threw out the idea of the usual princess finding true love story and made this more about a mother and a daughter.  By doing that, they set themselves apart and once you realize they aren’t going the same route it adds a bit of excitement to the film, because you don’t quite know where they are going to go next.
                As usual the voice talent is excellent.  Merida is played by Kelly Mcdonald(Boardwalk Empire) and she gives such a spark and energy to the character, but at the same time makes her very likable. Emma Thompson(Nanny McPhee) voices Elinor, Merida’s mother.  On display is Thompson at her most regal and just perfect for a Queen.  Fergus, Merida’s father, is voiced by none other than Billy Connolly(Boondock Saints).  He is almost instantly recognizable and instantly perfect for the part.  He brings such a powerful yet funny and warm sound to the character, the instance you hear him talk, you can’t see anyone else as the Scottish king.
                The animation in this film is beautiful.  Pixar has done a wonderful job of depicting the Scottish high lands.  Everything looks very lush and earthy.  Unlike where Toy Story, Cars, and Monsters Inc are very bright and modern looking, Brave darkens the color and makes everything look more ancient and old.  One of the most amazing things Pixar has managed to do with the animation is give Merida the most amazing wild head of hair I have ever seen.  I give Pixar a lot of credit for this hair, because I don’t think it could have been done a few years ago.  The hair is constantly moving and bouncing, it practically is a character of it’s own.
                The only minor issues I had with the film was maybe a few times the accents of some of the characters went in and out, which is strange since they are all played by people from that area of the world.  I almost felt as though the reason for the lack of accent was because the actors were trying to make it easier to understand for the general American audience.   The only other issue I sort of had was the advertising of this film misleads you quite a bit.  Throughout this film there is a lot of magic and bears.  At no point has the marketing for this film even touched on either of these aspects.  So when I went into this film I was expecting something completely different.  Luckily, what you get is still great, just different. 
                All in all, I think once again Pixar and Disney have made another great film.  They made a beautiful film that the whole family can enjoy together.  It is funny and heartwarming with plenty action as well.  Fans of the previous Pixar films will not be disappoint in Brave.  Also if you enjoy all the previous Disney princess films such as Tangled or Little Mermaid then you are definitely going to enjoy the newest one.
5 out of 5

Monday, June 25, 2012


Viewers beware; yes this movie is about baseball, but not necessarily the game as much as the numbers behind the game.  Anyone can learn how to play baseball and knowing that might bring you to this movie, but that still doesn’t mean you are going to know what anyone is talking about.
Moneyball is about the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane(Brad Pitt) and how with the help of a computer analysis(Jonah Hill) he attempts to put together a winning baseball team on a shoe string budget.  In the process they start to re-write the rule book on creating a team, from finding stars to finding stats.
As much as this movie is about the process of baseball, it is also the story of Billy and how he got to this point in his life.  His whole story and if he is a likeable person hinges on the main actor’s performance.  Luckily for the viewing audience that actor is Brad Pitt.  As much as there is big hype over Pitt outside of acting, there is no denying the man is also good at his profession.  Pitt spends most of the movie either thinking or quietly intimidating everyone around him, which could be a really boring performance if handle by someone else.  Luckily, Pitt who has previously had experience with this, like in Assassination of Jess James and Tree of Life, knows how to make such a quiet role likeable and powerful at the same time.  It also helps that in between his quiet moments, Pitts gets some really good regular guy dialogue that allows the audience to see him as a normal guy in an impossible situation. 
To offset Pitt’s power is an unlikely partner in Jonah Hill as Peter Brand the computer analysis.  Hill has come a long way since Superbad.  He finally gets to show in this role that he has a serious side.  As intimidating as Pitt is, Hill manages to bring a quiet fear to his role.  Almost the entire film he portrays Brand as a fish out of water numbers boy in the room with a bunch of baseball men.  Finally seeing this after the academy awards, kind of makes me wonder what the academy saw to nominate Hill for an Oscar.  I don’t deny his acting was good, but I don’t think he did anything so impressive to get a nomination over others like Albert Brooks in Drive or Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method. I almost think he mostly got the nomination, because this role is such a departure from all his previous roles. 
I think where this film fails is also its strongest aspect, the writing.  The film was written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin.  The same team that produced the screenplay for the academy award winning The Social Network last year.   As powerful as what is written in this film, it also at times is too smart for its own good.  Unless you are a huge fan of baseball and statistics, then every time people start talking numbers in this film it becomes very easy to get lost and honestly I got lost a lot.  Where this type of writing worked in The Social Network it fails in Moneyball.  Let’s be honest brainy smart talk sounds a lot better coming from a bunch of college computer nerds , then from a bunch of baseball guys. 
                This movie was made more for the thinking man then the baseball fan.  If you can get past the numbers, then the film is successful in that at the heart is the story of a man just trying to make a difference.  If you come to this film looking for the next The Rookie you are probably going to be a tad surprised, but fans of The Social Network and Field of Dreams might find a decent drama underneath the smart talk.
4 out 5  

Man on a Ledge

                How do you make a movie about a man standing on a ledge for two hours entertaining?  First step, fill it with some good acting and second, don’t make most of the movie about the man actually standing on the ledge.
                Nick Cassidy(Sam Worthington) is pushed to the edge literally.  Set up for a crime he didn’t commit, Nick steps out of a Hotel window and on to a ledge to prove his innocence and clear his name.  Lydia Mercer(Elizabeth Banks), a disgraced police officer, is called into try and talk him down.  Meanwhile Nick’s brother Joey(Jamie Bell) and his girlfriend Angie(Genesis Rodriquez) have an agenda of their own. To say anymore would give away half the fun of watching the movie.
                Since his breakout performance in Avatar, Sam Worthington has been playing the likable hero that everyone can get behind.  There is a reason for that, because he is good at it.  As Nick, Worthington doesn’t break any new ground, but he doesn’t need to.  He handles the action with ease and the drama parts he plays with a brooding silence.  The real stars of the movie are Jamie Bell and new comer Genesis Rodriguez as Joey and Angie. They bring a lot of the action and most of the fun humor to the film.  They have great chemistry together and brought a good sense of realism to a task that is otherwise unbelievable as average joes.   Elizabeth Banks as Lydia is probably the hardest to believe.  It is easy to see Banks as the understanding psychologist that is willing to help Nick out.  The hard part comes in believing she is a cop.  Banks is just too much of the girl next door and just not gritty enough. 
                The story is fun with plenty of twists and turns throughout.  It is a nice mix of crime thriller and heist movie in one.  One of the nicest touches comes in a small shout out to a similar film, Dog Day Afternoon.  If you are a fan of that film the small reference will make you smile.  
                Man on a Ledge doesn’t offer anything new to the crime and heist genre, but if you are a fan of these types of films you will most likely enjoy this film. Also, if you like Sam Worthington then this is another decent one from him.  Fans of The Town or Ocean’s Eleven will find this film enjoyable. 
3 out of 5

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Way

Ever since I was younger and found out that Martin Sheen was the father of Emilio Estevez, I always wondered what it would be like to see them in a movie together.  It has always been a fascination I had with acting families.  The idea of seeing father and son together in a movie somehow made the movie seem more special, like Will and Jaden Smith in Pursuit of Happiness or, to a lesser extent, Ben and Jerry Stiller in Zoolander.  So when I heard about this movie, directed by Emilio Estevez, I was intrigued to see what Sheen and Estevez could do together.   What I got wasn’t exactly what I expected, but at the same time it was still so very good.  Looking back at all the films I watched in 2011, I would have to say this topped my list.
The Story is about an estranged father (Tom) and son (Daniel) that don’t look at the world the same.  Tom thinks his son should settle down, start a job like he did, but Daniel wants to live life to the fullest and explore the world.  Daniel decides he wants to walk the “El Camino de Santiago” and asks Tom to come with him, but Tom decides he can’t.  Daniel ends up dying, so Tom decides to walk the trail to get closer to his dead son. 
Estevez and Sheen barely spend any time together, but obviously there is love between them.  Once Estevez is out of the picture, Sheen carries the bulk of the film.  It takes a skilled actor to pull off the grumpy depressed old man and make him likable but Sheen is able to do it with ease.  Along the way Tom comes into contact with a few erratic traveling buddies (Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen, and James Nesbitt), all with their own reasons to be hiking the trail.   These others manage to bring some humor and lightness into the film, which greatly helps to make the film enjoyable.
One could almost argue that the real star of this film is the location.  Shot on location at different points along “El Camino de Santiago” in France, this film is beautiful.  Estevez has previously shown he knows how to create a good film with Bobby, but with The Way he has made a good looking film.  After watching this film I can definitely see why Emilio decided to make this, it makes you fall in love with the countryside of France. 
Unlike in Bobby, this film has a small cast with a singular story which I think makes for a better movie.  I thought Bobby was good, but at times with so many characters and stories Estevez failed to make a connection with all the people.  In The Way,  it is easy to find a connection with at least one of the members of the hiking party. 
With a good cast, director and beautiful location Emilio Estevez has managed to make another good film.  Fans of films like The Motorcycle Diaries or Into The Wild, should enjoy this film quite a lot.