The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis

Synopsis: Based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien and prequel to The Lord of the Rings, this film is the first in a trilogy covering the exploits of a much younger Bilbo Baggins (Freeman).   Gandalf (McKellan) introduces Bilbo to a band of thirteen dwarfs, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage).   They are on a quest to reclaim their home of Erebor, The Lonely Mountain, which is now the realm of dragon Smaug.

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Captain America: The First Avenger – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough

Synopsis: Steve Rogers is determined to make his contribution to the war effort, but is deemed unfit for service.   That is until the research scientist behind a top-secret development recruits him to test his Super Soldier Serum.   Steve Rogers is reborn with enhanced strength and abilities as Captain America.

With this film the final piece in the puzzle is finally here in Marvel Studios lead up to its superhero team movie, The Avengers, due for release next year.   Cinema audiences have now all been introduced to The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor, as well as meeting other significant characters for the Avengers throughout this film.   Like all the above films, adapting the title character would not have been easy, as over-reliance on the source material could have tipped these films into something of a farce.   As a Marvel fan myself, I am glad that this danger has once again been averted.

Chris Evans was a great choice for Steve Rogers.   He has made a career to date as a brilliant character actor and with this film he makes the jump to leading man.   His CGI to a bullied weakling is quite convincing, with a performance to back it up.   He plays Rogers as a determined man whom is dedicated to doing his part to help his countrymen.   He also successfully performs some more emotional scenes that really elucidate the motivations for his character, and as such manages to avoid making this a two-dimensional performance.   Hugo Weaving plays Johann Schmidt, later revealed as Red Skull.   He is an actor of great skill, and few actors could have made the make-up job he has gone through translate into a convincing performance.   The rest of the cast all perform admirably, but it is perhaps Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine that remains in mind long after the end credits have rolled.   He is a lynch-pin character that helps determine the man who Rogers is going to be, and provides some real heart to the film.

As for plot, it establishes all the necessary elements that are required to let the film flow on smoothly to the Avengers.   Many of these elements are nods towards the established fans, giving them something more to get excited about, however a lack of familiarity with the character will not be a hinderance to an audience.   This is Steve Rogers’ story, from birth to the incident which will lead him being resurrected into a modern-day story.   The opening act establishes character, the second act establishes Cap’s reputation, and the final act is action sequences that are expertly executed.   In the end though, the story is intentionally incomplete.   Some elements seem to be waiting resolution in The Avengers.

This is an entertaining action film that manages to convey some good comic and character moments along the way.   To unfamiliar audiences it would probably rate around three stars, but for established fans like myself that this film is largely targeted for, an extra star must be given.

4 stars out of 5.

 

Captain America: The First Avenger on IMDB

Captain America: The First Avenger on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JerVrbLldXw]

V for Vendetta – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: James McTeigue

Cast: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Roger Allam

Synopsis: Set in the not to distant future, London has survived global devastation that has crippled former world powers such as the United States.   The government has a dictatorial stranglehold on the populous, however, in which anyone caught with a dissenting view tends to disappear.   This story follows the goals of freedom fighter/terrorist V, who seeks to inspire the people to rise up against this government.

I freely admit that this week the only thing I have been posting about in the last week is Supanova, but I hope I can be forgiven for this given the amazing time that was had at Sydnova by all, and as such I found it an event much worth of promotion.   As I type, Perth Supanova (or as I have seen it written on the Supanova Facebook page, SuPerthNova) should be in full swing and I hope all in attendance have a blast.

For my last Sydnova related post, I am going to connect it back to my cosplay for the event.   Such a brilliant film needs more than just photos taken of a guy trying to be the title character.   For a film that sells itself on action set pieces and Natalie Portman having gotten her head shaved for the role, there is much more to the film than these popularised elements.   As I type this, the film sits at 180 on the IMDB Top 250 list, and I would suggest that this is largely due to the film being a very thought-provoking piece.

Alan Moore was behind the original graphic novel on which the film was based.   This is the same creative talent behind From Hell and Watchmen.   However, being dedicated to the medium of comics, he did not permit his name to be listed in the credits for the film.   The story itself though is extremely intelligent, and it is very easy to miss certain connections if one does not remained focus.   One of the incredible moments of cinematography in the film is not necessarily an action set piece, but an intricate collection of dominos that is set falling.   More than being just really cool, this image appropriately represents the film.   V has manufactured a series of events, that rely on a keen sense of intelligence, observation, and intuition into knowing how people will respond to his stimulus.   He truly weaves a tapestry, one that the end result is not obvious until the final thread is put in place.

More than an extremely intelligent plot, V’s ideals themselves, and how he expresses them, are thought-provoking.   There are many phrases that he utters that are imbued with power and inspiration.   A few personal favourites include “People should not be afraid of their government.   Governments should be afraid of their people”, “A symbol, in and of itself is powerless, but with enough people behind it, blowing up a building can change the world” and “What I am is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof”.   This is a film about knowing that something is wrong with the world, and that somebody needs to stand up to do something about it.   One person alone is not enough however.   One person may start the wind of revolution, but without a cause people can and will rally behind, change may not be possible.   The story really does highlight that the line between freedom fighting and terrorism is really very fine.   How is it defined?   The audience supports V’s cause, as his motives are justice and an attempt to end oppression.   His deeds themselves however, are not necessarily admirable… killing party leaders and blowing up buildings by themselves are dastardly acts, and the film title admits that part of his motivation is also revenge.   Perhaps this is the strength of the character however.   He is not a typical unambiguous hero type.   The story does not flinch from addressing this, Portman’s Evey indicating at one point that what was done to him has actually made him a monster.   Regardless, his methods do not change, but he does at least acknowledge by the end that it should not be he who decides how the final events should unfold, redeeming the character from his former path.

The film comes together from incredibly strong performances.   Portman is as always brilliant, which may excuse her top billing, though that choice does strike me as a marketing ploy to promote the film where Weaving’s  recognition in the US was not high enough.   Portman amazingly portrays two sides of the same character though, her story arc taking her from constantly frightened to a reserved but forceful bravery by the end of the film.   The transition is really quite remarkable, and certainly took more than a radical haircut to achieve it.   The film really does belong to Weaving, though.   This is a performance that never once has the mask removed.   Despite this, he displays a range of emotion that is evident without the facial cues that many actors would normally rely on.   The fact that he also has an amazing voice that articulates the script and gives already powerful words an even greater gravitas really brings home that a special quality of actor was always needed for the role.   In this case they had it.   All the supporting actors are all on similarly fine form, I could continue this essay at great length discussing each one, but I have let this particular stream of consciousness last too long already.   Suffice it to say, as far as performances go, this film has no weak link.

There is something about the work of Alan Moore that gets me overly analytical, and has my reflective reviewing style more go into absolute overdrive.   Those familiar with my Watchmen review observed the same essay style of review as I have presented here.   The fact is however, that the films based on his source material, let alone the source material itself, are brilliant, original, thought-provoking stories.   Do yourself a favour and delve into his world further.

5 stars out of 5


V for Vendetta on IMDB

V for Vendetta on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTlgpnNQYmg]

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition) – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Bernard Hill, David Wenham, John Noble, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Brad Dourif, Ian Holm, Bruce Spence

Synopsis: The final instalment, and our heroes each have great challenges to face.   Pippin, after being unable to resist the temptation of gazing into a Palantir, and hence being identified by Sauron as the ring-bearer, departs with Gandalf for Gondor, where he meets the somewhat unbalanced Steward of Gondor, Denethor.   Merry remains with the Rohirrim, and volunteers to become a knight of Rohan.   Legolas and Gimli stand by Aragorn as he accepts the burden of his heritage, and Gollum seeds doubt in the friendship between Frodo and Sam.

A review by Film Nerd.

Of the entire trilogy, this is my favourite film, and has been since the first viewing.   The Extended Edition added footage stretches the running time out to a full 4 hours, and for me these additions are overall improvements to the story, even if they were deemed extraneous for the theatrical presentation.   All the elements that worked so well for the first two films are present and correct, with the added characters, as well as the city of Gondor itself, all adding fresh scope and depth to the established world.

All performers are brilliant yet again.   Wood has come full circle with Frodo, becoming almost unrecognisable as the innocent young hobbit who left the shire in Fellowship.   He successfully captures the damage the ring has done to him psychologically.   Wenham’s Faramir, who had limited time to shine in Towers, is here given a full history, motivation, and Wenham somehow succeeds in making him simultaneously vulnerable, yet noble.   John Noble, as his father Denethor, has a brilliant arc that begins as clearly becoming deranged under a noble exterior, before finally snapping.   What makes this performance all the more powerful is the juxtaposition of this character with Theoden, whom is apparently of less noble birth, yet clearly of more noble character, despite being unable to see it himself.    This is further highlighted from the start of the extended edition, as evidenced by the insults that Saruman hurls at Theoden.   As I said, a scene not necessary for the theatrical release, yet it adds depth to the overall proceedings when viewed this way.   All the other leads of course perform their roles well, but for this film these are the performances of note as being a step away from what has been seen previously.

In my reviews for the previous films, I have selected some element of what makes these films great, and reflected upon it, despite these elements being true for all the films regardless.     I do not break from the formula here, selecting to examine how the use of scenery and music has aided the story telling.   I select this film to reflect on these elements as one scene aptly depicts for me both of these elements wonderfully.   It is perhaps my favourite scene in the trilogy, despite the fact it represents a comparatively minor plot point.   The scene I refer to is the Lighting of the Beacons.    All that happens in the scene is we observe Gondor’s call to Rohan for aid, a message sent by lighting a number of pyres along a range of mountains to indicate aid is required.   The natural beauty of New Zealand’s Southern Alps is captured wonderfully here, and when combined with Howard Shore’s score, I often find my fist pumping in the air and my heart soaring.   Jackson was able to capture the essence of Middle Earth with the locations he selected in his home country.   It is a true land of beauty, with many different landscapes to choose from.   Having been there myself now, these films only capture a fraction of that beauty.

In his score also, Howard Shore created themes for each race, and for each realm examined.   The hobbits have a wonderfully whimsical theme, the elves are much more regal and austere, in Rohan we here violins and tones that just scream cavalry, Mordor’s sounds are all grating and harsh, and Gondor is rich and bombastic.   And all these elements still add to a cohesive whole.   My copies of the soundtracks are now well-worn (I played them all in the car in NZ, Bride of Film Nerd will Kill me when she next hear’s Annie Lennox’s end titles tune from Return), and I still cannot get enough.   The soundtrack for Return is my clear favourite, with the Lighting of the Beacons, the theme for Aragorn’s sword Anduril, and the aforementioned end credits song.

Some say the films impact was diminished by the multiple endings.   My only complaint personally was in the first viewing, I thought the film was over, my bladder got that signal, so for the next 20 minutes I was in some deal of pain.   Prepared for it now though, I cannot see how the film could have been completed without the multiple endings.   There are many threads to this story, and they all deserved a conclusion.   Okay sure, the story line from the end of the novels, The Scouring of the Shire, was absent, but given what these films achieved, it is an element of creative license I am willing to forgive.

As I hope you all forgive me for the following rating….

10 stars (out of 5)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition) on IMDB

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition) on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7YllAOqpF4]


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition) – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Bernard Hill, David Wenham, John Noble, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Brad Dourif

Synopsis: The Fellowship has broken, and we follow the remaining members now in three separate groups.   Frodo and Sam continue the trek to Mordor, a journey which has them finally meet Gollum, former bearer of the ring.   Merry and Pippin manage to escape the Uruk Hai, and meet Treebeard and his fellow Ents.   Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are on their trial until they meet an unexpected friend.

A review by Film Nerd.

With our hiatus over, I now have a bit more time to complete my trilogy review, and I feel it is appropriate to get this done as a refresher for our readers before we put up the relevant New Zealand and Lord of the Rings Tour reviews.   The Two Towers is an especially important review, as many of the sites my Bride and I visited were in this film.

This is perhaps the hardest of the three films to review as a fan of both the films and the original novels, as this is the film that takes the greatest liberties with the source text.   As mentioned in my Fellowship review, once again Jackson has been successful at making changes that at least keep the feel of this world alive, and are true to the spirit of Tolkien’s work, but when I was first watching it in the cinema, I did find myself at times disappointed.   Where is Shelob??   I have to wait until the next film???   And Faramir, that upstanding character of honour, so tempted by the ring, to the point of stealing it from Frodo?

Yet, the changes mentioned above, and others, do make more sense than what was originally there, at least in a cinematic sense.   Changing Shelob’s appearance to the next film was at the very least chronologically accurate, if a timeline of events was to be drawn, and for Faramir being so ready to reject the ring on-screen does diminish the efforts made earlier to emphasise its power (all explained by Jackson himself in the extended edition commentary).   So with the passing of time, The Two Towers is now for me a superior film to Fellowship.   The action not only starts to take off, but character arcs are allowed room to truly develop.

This is especially true of the new characters added in this instalment.   Rohan had not yer been officially introduced, and as a realm, it adds more colour and depth to Middle Earth.   Bernard Hill’s portrayal of King Theoden absolutely blows me away with each viewing.   He is a great man who nis convinced of his own inadequacy in the overwhelming events that are occurring around him, and despite this he proves himself a man of true character and humanity.   His performance after the death of Theoden’s son is perhaps the one moment in the trilogy where I could not hold back the tears, and his recitation of the “Where is the Horse and the Rider” poem as he prepares for battle absolutely resonates.

In addition,other prominent members of his court also bring a welcome change to the mix.   Otto’s Eowyn is much less annoying than I found her in the book, and is an amazing combination of power and independence with frailty and vulnerability.   Her brother Eomer brought Karl Urban to my attention for the first time, so when he was cast as the new Doctor McCoy in Star Trek, I was absolutely delighted.   Then Brad Dourif, a character actor I have loved for some time, was perfectly slimy, but with some hidden depth, playing Grima Wormtongue.

In my fellowship review, I was discussing the success of the adaptation, and all the elements that gave Middle Earth authenticity.   This remains true for Two Towers, but another element that remains true throughout these films that I would like to reflect on here are how character is developed throughout.   I have already spent some time discussing Theoden, but this is of course also the film that introduced us to Gollum, and it also examines the effect Gollum has on the Frodo/Sam relationship.   Sam in particular really excels as a character, ever the optimist, and even Frodo reflecting by the end of the film that he would have gotten nowhere without that support.   This also of course follows Sam’s brilliant monologue, which aptly summarised the events and the point of this middle feature.   If Jackson had not had such a strong focus on character development, then the reality established by the amazing settings would have crumbled, and these would have been little more than visually brilliant cookie-cutter films.   Showing that these characters are fighting against the odds, and showing strength in great adversity, is perhaps a universal story, but it is one that keeps interest of the audience.   It leaves the viewing public actually caring about the fate of these heroes.

My final rating for this film should of course be no surprise!

5 stars (out of 5)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition) on IMDB

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition) on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wek5UClasY8]

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)- A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler

Synopsis: The first part in Jackson’s popular adaptation of the classic tale by J.R.R. Tolkien.   For the few who have not seen it, this is a story of many threads, but predominantly the tale of a young hobbit, Frodo Baggins, who finds himself on a journey to destroy the One Ring, the source of power and life force for the Dark Lord Sauron.

A Review by Film Nerd.

This is one of those films I have long desired to review, but stayed away from simply due to my inability to show impartiality.   Given that Bride of Film Nerd and I will have the opportunity to observe filming locations for ourselves in just over a week’s time, it felt appropriate that I should review the trilogy in advance.   I am sure most of you do not need to be told these are good films.   Box office and an armful of Oscars for the trilogy is evidence enough of this fact.   Being personally a Tolkien fan, however, with an entire shelf of his written material in my bookcase, I felt like commenting on the films from this particular perspective.   As such, I will go for broke, so be warned, there will be more than one spoiler ahead!!

Sometimes films can be big, have massive effects and the like, without actually providing any substance.   The effects in this film alone are of a large scale, yet I cannot accuse the film of one needless or overly extravagant shot.   The Halls of Dwarrowdelf, the Bridge of Khazad-dum, Rivendell… the list goes on.   These massive settings are each effectively used not just in the sense of “big things”, but also in achieving what Tolkien managed himself so well in words… a sense of history.   More than that, these effects give Middle-Earth a sense of reality, making it possible to forget that this is only a realm of fiction.

This is also achieved in plot and little added elements, some only present in the extended editions of these films.   A great example in Fellowship is the added scene of Aragorn singing the Lay of Beren and Luthien.   This was present in the novel itself, and though the reader may have been unfamiliar with the mythology, it is clear that this is a tale from before this story, from the history of this reality.   This was part of Tolkien’s skill.   All these stories he had already written, he had a full mythology already developed for this world, the work of his own lifetime, and he has mined these rich stories to expand the canvas on which he was working.   Similarly, for Jackson, all this material Tolkien had worked on was available for him to read and to use in his adaptation.   The beauty of this adaptation is that in making things more cinematic, he never truly took any artistic liberty, relying on the groundwork provided to fill in what was needed for the script.    As such, this was more a historical than a fictional adaptation, and the research which Jackson, and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens committed themselves was nothing if not comprehensive.

So far what I have commented on could be applied to the entire trilogy, so what about Fellowship itself??   It is actually the film of the trilogy I go back to less often now, but that is more a mark of its successors than it is of the film itself.   I remember after seeing it at the cinema, that I downloaded it to help fill in the time until the DVD release, which subsequently had me purchasing the extended edition.   It is a brilliant first chapter, with the innocence of Hobbiton being a wonderful starting point.   For one thing, we are introduced to Middle Earth, and an idyllic existence, so it is possible to comprehend exactly what was at stake,   In addition, we meet our four hero hobbits, and can identify that their story arcs will take them well beyond this point.   The hobbits are all well cast, dare I say their round faces and youthful appearances being very appropriate.   It is nor secret however that my favourite is Sean Astin’s Samwise Gamgee, who really succeeds in making his character both comical AND admirable.

This opening also introduces us to McKellen’s Gandalf, a perfect transposition of character from page to screen.   I read a newsletter recently also commenting that McKellen’s soft eyes and sonorous voice make it impossible to see anyone else wearing the rubber nose (in this case referring to recent confirmation he will be appearing in Jackson’s The Hobbit, reprising the role).   Leoglas and Gimli have comparatively little to do in this film, yet enough is established of Elf-Dwarf animosity to clarify the significance of their later relationship.    To round out the Fellowship we have Mortensen’s Aragorn, a character that can be somewhat separated here from the books more than any other character.   In Tolkien’s trilogy, Narsil was already reforged at the stat of the story as Anduril, and Aragorn had accepted his burden.   Making the shift of him coming to accept that burden over the films was a significant step, and an intelligent choice.   Admit it, a hero in conflict is much more intriguing on-screen then someone who is flawlessly brave and kingly.   Finally we have Sean Bean’s Boromir, a character I hated in the novel.   Though his story arc was little altered, Jackson put enough depth for the character in the script for his conflict to become a much more sympathetic one.   Case in point, I cheered his death in the book, and was wiping away tears in the movie.

As you may already tell, I could spend a lot of time discussing this trilogy.    I have not started on the characters around the fellowship, but all deserve similar praise.   One comment I need to make though is concerning the most significant change in transition from novel to film… Arwen.   Prior to viewing the film, knowing the story of an Appendix to the story had been lifted and shoved in to the narrative, and that this character was played by someone who had not impressed me up until that point, filled me with trepidation.   However this is another case of Jackson’s research and fondness for the source material comes to the fore.   Yes, Arwen did not take Frodo to Rivendell, and she does not appear anywhere near as regularly in the book as in the films, yet her insertion was nothing if not respectful, and Tyler’s performance (and beauty) blew me away.   Absolutely incredible, and to boot, we have a reason for which Aragorn will fight.

I could comment still more, and if there is any request for me to do so I can oblige.   For now though I will confine my next general trilogy rambling for the next Lord of the Rings review.   Until then, those that are curious, the only news of Fellowship coming out on Blu-ray is that it will either be mid-2011 or 2012.   Booo!!

5 stars out of 5


The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on IMDB

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pki6jbSbXIY]