Friday, July 24, 2015

State of Play


RATING: C+

Ah, them low-budget thrillers. Normally I don't particularly care to delve into those too much. This one caught my eye with its premise involving American security and conspiracies, and journalistic ethics. What I didn't know until later was that it was an adaption of a six-part TV serial. In the end, I think I'd prefer sitting through two hours of this as opposed to six.

The story centers around a couple of newspaper stories going on--one, a late-night shooting from a mysterious figure of two people (one a mere accidental witness)--and the other being an apparent suicide of a woman on the Metro train. A reporter named Cal whose character development begins and ends with Russell Crowe is dealing with both of these stories, and when he partners with another reporter named Della, they begin to suspect the two incidents are connected somehow. 

State of Play, for a film that's supposed to be a thriller, would probably be pretty doggone boring during the first hour for a guy who wasn't interested in its various subtopics. Not much happens during that time before the actual details of the massive conspiracy finally start to come out. Once the secrets do start unrevealing themselves, things start getting a lot more interesting. There is a massive plot twist late that is hard to see coming unless you're paying close attention. 

Unfortunately, despite a nice cast (Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren) and a well-done plot, the film does suffer from slow pacing early on and a lack of interesting characters. The film probably could've been cut to 90 or 100 minutes and it wouldn't have mattered, and the film probably would've actually come out better for it. 

I do have to give credit to the movie, though, for creating a very interesting plot line and mystery. They do a pretty decent job of involving the political and social aspects as well, which is partly what interested me in the first place. Again, I am inclined to wish that they would've put in a lot more character development and that they would've trimmed down the thing a bit. But in the end, State of Play is a film which should appeal--to one degree or another--to fans of the political thriller genre. Others will likely find it pretty forgettable.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Captain America: The Winter Soldier


RATING: A+

Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) seems like a relatively less powerful hero in the Avengers series--but that's mainly because he's been fighting alongside guys like Hulk and Thor and his hammer. But that's part of the good thing about his stand-alone movies--we can get reminded that he's pretty cool himself. It seems like an early scene where an enemy challenges Steve with "I thought you were more than just a shield" and Steve responds by beating him with his shield strapped to his back is directed at the audience.

Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America, has adjusted better than you'd expect to waking up 75 years in the future after being frozen for that long. But there is one thing that has bothered him for a while, and that is the secrecy of SHIELD. While working with Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) on a mission, he discovers that she was given a "different" mission that Steve would've been uncomfortable doing.

And then he finds out some of SHIELD's more secret stuff, courtesy of Nick Fury. He discovers that they are soon to launch three helicarriers that will use spy satellites to, in fashion similar to Minority Report or Person of Interest, predict crimes *before* they occur and eliminates the threat. Steve's response? "I thought the punishment usually came after the crime."

But when weird things start happening to Nick Fury, he begins to get suspicious about the project as well. For starters, he is unable to gain access to his own system. Then, while out for a drive, he is attacked by feds... and then is almost killed by an evil agent in a mask called the "Winter Soldier."

So, he recruits Steve Rogers (who also recruits Sam Wilson the "Falcon") and Natasha... both of whom are fugitives now... to put away the threat of the Winter Soldier and find out why senior leader Alexander Pierce seems to be leading an uprising against them, and just how SHIELD has managed to get compromised.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise has been amazingly consistent at not disappointing. The Winter Soldier is no exception. You have to think that at some point they'll finally lose it, especially with these obscure heroes they're pulling out of the dark corner of a box and the increasingly complex plot. But it won't be that soon, and it's certainly not in this movie, which is arguably the best of the movies focusing on one hero.

Things quickly get very interesting and intense, due in part to the identity of the Winter Soldier (if you read the comics, you already know it) and how it affects Captain America--and also eventually the uncovering of a massive conspiracy. I won't go too much into details, but it starts to feel sort of realistic as a villain wishes to restore "order" to the world--by eliminating "threats" to itself and others, using a method that completely demolishes the security of humanity, whom it feels is ready to sacrifice their security for their safety.

Now, there are multiple differences, but some of this is rather creepy to due to the parallels with the situation in America right now (security/privacy arguments). The US is not exactly dealing out punishment before the crime yet, but at some point someone's going to probably figure that out (whether it's America or not). A scenario like the one shown here or in Minority Report is a pretty frightening one.

Aside from the plot, the movie is pretty well-made in general. The action sequences are brilliant. The movie keeps you on your toes quite a bit. With maybe a couple exceptions, the movie almost never lets up--whether it's dishing out action or humor or political/social commentary. For a movie that runs 136 minutes, it's pretty doggone relentless.

Anthony and Joe Russo have done a brilliant job for this film, and I'm quite glad to see that we'll be getting them back for Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Overall, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an action/adventure film of the highest order, and especially if you've been keeping up with this Avengers series, it is absolutely not one to be missed.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb


RATING: C-

Five years after a successful sequel that was an improvement on its predecessor, we finally end up getting a third film to close out this series. And within that five years, one would hope that they would've come up with something good. Or at the very least, that they would've kept expanding upon the world they'd created.  Unfortunately, they only do the former just barely and the latter? Not at all. 

In this third film, Larry Daley is continuing to be the museum's night guard--now open at night for "animatronic" figures to come out (actually the museum exhibits). It's been going pretty well for them, but then the tablet suddenly starts to corrode, which causes the exhibits to start acting oddly (why the exhibits behave strange is never explained). Larry's gotta take some of the exhibits with him--Akhmenrah included (the owner of the tablet) and get it to its original creators, who just happen to be exhibits in... the British Museum. 

Okay. For starters, there are some continuity issues--especially regarding the tablet and its purpose. In the last film, we discovered that the tablet was created partially as a gate to the underworld. Now we learn that it was actually created via some weird magic to keep Ahkmenrah's family together forever. And how that causes museum exhibits to come to life... or a gateway to the underworld to be opened... never explained. Makes a bucket load of sense, right? Seriously, that darn tablet changes its abilities without explaining itself and somehow retaining its old abilities a lot in this series. 

On a different note, unlike the previous film, which introduced loads of new concepts and characters, we get very little here. The only new "historical" figures are the mythical Sir Lancelot (who for some reason is brainless here), and the fictional Egyptian pharaoh Merenkahre. Oh yeah, and there's a new Neanderthal named "La" who thinks he's Larry's son, for some reason. He doesn't add much besides annoyance. And there's a Triceratops skeleton and a gigantic multi-headed snake monster. That's about it. I mean, we're at yet another brand new museum for crying out loud. Look at how much new stuff was brought in the Smithsonian. And the British Museum is smaller, sure, but that's it? Seriously? 

Another annoyance is the new "main" female character Tilly. (While we're on that note... what happened to that potential love interest that Larry met at the very end of the last movie?) This trilogy has really had a problem with creating non-annoying female human characters. Rebecca from the first movie was tolerable at best. Amy Adams then showed up in the second film, and is probably the worst offender. Tilly starts out okay, but then quickly discredits herself when she falls for the weird new Neanderthal. And then she just goes downhill from there. 

Despite these various issues and others (more of the awkward humor and an odd ending), Night at the Museum 3 still has its moments. It's worth noting that Teddy Roosevelt is returned to "main exhibit character" status, instead of barely being on screen at all in the last movie. Jedediah and Octavius still deliver a lot of laughs. Hugh Jackman makes an hilarious appearance as himself confronting Lancelot in a scene that almost alone makes the movie worth watching. 

Night at the Museum 3 is a mixed bag indeed; one moment we're getting something hilarious thrown at us, and the next we're getting something dumb thrown at us, and the next we're getting some unexplained mumbo jumbo thrown at us. I don't think it's a sequel that shouldn't exist, but I really wish they had left the tablet's various secrets alone for this one. In the end, it's a flawed closer, but this trilogy has always been flawed in one way or another, so this really shouldn't have been too surprising. 


Postscript: It's worth noting that this was a posthumous performance from Robin Williams, and as such, his death has more impact on the ending for present-day viewers who were familiar with him than one might expect. It adds unexpected emotion to an ending that might've actually been pretty meaningless otherwise. RIP Robin Williams... 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian


RATING: B

Sometimes some films that really shouldn't get sequels get one. And sometimes films that really *need* a sequel never get one. And then some sequels, when you hear they're out, you think "Oh, they made a sequel to this? Interesting" or some other other sort of reaction that is neither happy nor upset about it. I think that's the closest reaction that many had to the idea of Night at the Museum sequels. They happened. We saw them. Big deal. 

That said, Night at the Museum 2 ultimately turned out to be a step up. Two years after the first film, Larry Daley has moved on from the museum-night-guard job and is now a successful entrepreneur/inventor. He finds out that the museum is going for progress (holograms and projections) and moving away the actual exhibits... to the Federal Archives of the Smithsonian. And Dexter the monkey unexpectedly sneaks the tablet that brings them to life with them... and thus brings the biggest museum in the world to life. This brings out new allies... and enemies. Turns out that tablet can also be used to open a gate to the underworld. 

Night at the Museum 2 expands on its predecessor very well, introducing all new sorts of characters and concepts. We get introduced to new characters like Amelia Earhart, Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte, Al Capone, General Custer, Tuskegee Airmen, Abraham Lincoln and... Albert Einstein bobbleheads. Yes, Einstein bobbleheads. It's actually pretty funny. We're also introduced to the new concept of portraits within the museum and the character inside coming to life, and even being able to enter them. A very clever addition. 

Night at the Museum 2 also contains less of what made the first film a mixed bag (awkward humor and scenes), and adds more hilarious dialogue and slapstick, as well as some more actually exciting scenes. Let me tell you, a fight between a guy with an Egyptian sword and a guy with a flashlight may sound pretty stupid or one-sided, but it's actually pretty awesome. 

The film still does contain some drawbacks, though. The biggest glaring one is Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart. I find Adams annoying in almost every role she does, and this one is no better. She alone almost singlehandedly keeps this film from being A-grade material. She spends most of the time randomly and awkwardly flirting with Larry out of the blue. Another minor drawback is that a couple appealing characters don't make it to the Smithsonian (Teddy Roosevelt, the Easter Island head) and some other ones that I appreciate less (Sacagawea, Neanderthals) *did* make it. 

For the most part, though, Night at the Museum 2 is a vast improvement over its predecessor. The introduction of new ideas, expanding upon the world the first one introduced, and using more of the humor overall that is actually appealing; this film seems to get a lot right. Yes, there are some annoyances as before, but they are less numerous. Night at the Museum 2 is quite an overlooked and underrated sequel. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Dark Knight Rises


RATING: A+

After taking a short break from Batman to work on Inception, Christopher Nolan finally delivered us a conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy. Final installments in trilogies in general have been infamous for being disappointing, but I for one knew that this would never disappoint--at least not as long as Christopher Nolan was still on board.

Eight years after the ending of the Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has long retired from being the Batman and now has become a caveman of sorts in his own home. Meanwhile, crime rates have actually improved in Gotham due to the Dent Act, in memory of the fallen idol. However, a new foe arrives in the form of Bane, a gigantic guy with a breathing mask who got excommunicated from Ra's al Ghul's  League of Shadows. And Bruce Wayne is also having to deal with the mysterious Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, although she is never referred to as such in the film itself). 

As noted earlier, the League of Shadows is returned to the story--in fact, this film has a lot more to do with Batman Begins than the Dark Knight did, as it wraps up the storyline. There are actually a lot of subplots involving Bruce's personal life, as well as the newest character addition in John Blake, and the falling apart Wayne Enterprises. This is quite a long movie at 165 minutes, and it admittedly does move a little slower than we're used to in these movies, which may cause some people to become jaded--especially if they were expecting a faster-paced film. 

Despite that, a great plot is still being used here and if you feel the film moves slowly at some points, it'll make up for it as the last 45 minutes or so are a frenetic sequence of action and tension. Whatever the case, one should still be pleased with what they see. The quality of the film is still top-notch. Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway do well in their additions to the all-star cast. Hans Zimmer delivers another brilliant soundtrack, and we get another dose of mostly excellent dialogue. 

The Dark Knight Rises may bring about some more mixed feelings of sorts among watchers; that is, all should still be pleased, but some may find this the relative weakest of the trilogy due in part to its slower pacing. Even with that allowance, they'll still be hard-pressed to not like/love it when it's all said and done, and many like myself should still enjoy it just as much as the the rest of the amazing trilogy that it comes from. 

The Dark Knight Rises concludes what is the greatest film trilogy of all time. Few trilogies can even compare to it--some may have one or two films that come very close, but for all three movies to deliver on a level like this? No comic-book-hero trilogy has delivered *this* well (though a couple came close), and it may never happen again--unless Christopher Nolan's directing it. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Dark Knight


RATING: A+

Comic-book heroes like Batman are few and far between. Batman didn't need to get bitten by a radioactive spider or get exposed to radiation. He chose his path--and he never gained any special powers from it, instead simply using his tools and gadgets and ninja training from Ra's al Ghul to help him fight evil. 

Now, in his second film under the helm of Christopher Nolan, he's been defending Gotham for a while, and keeping criminals in fear--in part with the help of newcomer Harvey Dent. Eventually, though, someone comes out of the shadows to finally challenge the supposedly unsinkable Batman: the Joker, a self-proclaimed "agent of chaos." His mission? Bring everyone in Gotham down to his psychopathic level, particularly Batman--as the caped crusader has to push his limits to the brink in order to bring down this new sadistic foe. 

The Dark Knight had a pretty fabulous predecessor to top in Batman Begins, and it ended up doing just that--this film gets virtually everything right. The acting is mostly fabulous--the same cast members from the first film still do great, and the newcomer Aaron Eckhart does quite well too. The late Heath Ledger ultimately steals the spotlight, though, in his near-perfect yet intense performance of the Joker that even startled Michael Caine. 

The plot to the film is brilliant. The script/dialogue is some of the best I've ever heard. Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard give the film a near-perfect soundtrack. The action sequences are still exciting, though the main focus is on the various tension points throughout the film, involving the Joker and the chaos he leaves in his wake. 

There's no such thing as a perfect film. But the Dark Knight is one of those films that gets pretty close. Probably the worst thing I could say about it is the confusing "sonar vision" stuff near the end of the film. And that's only a minor gripe that can be easily overlooked. It's a dark film and occasionally squirm-inducing, but it's a film that cannot be missed. 

Admittedly, I am talking about what is probably my all-time favorite movie, so my opinion might be slightly biased. However, the fact this movie has gotten overwhelmingly good reception from fans and critics alike just gives a person more reason to see it (if they haven't already). 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Batman Begins


RATING: A+

It seems like at one time, superhero films really didn't have much of a personal conflict or a particularly deep storyline. Essentially, it was defeat the bad guy and that's that. That's not to say that we haven't had some good superhero films from ages past, but it wasn't really until the X-Men and Spider-Man films that we actually got some conflict besides dealing with the villains. In some cases, you have to keep in mind the conflict of keeping your secret identity. This was something that the Spider-Man trilogy was the first to take advantage of (since the X-Men don't have "secret identities")--in the sense of showing the conflicts that come with having to keep such a secret. 

Another story element that the X-Men series failed to use at first and that the Spider-Man series used first was exploring how much mental weight the hero has on his shoulders--and *how* that ultimately leads to him becoming the hero that he is. The inner demons/dark side wasn't really explored for that character until his third film, though, and thus we were still sort of waiting on that element. 

Batman Begins is probably the first film to utilize all of these superhero story elements to full use. Realistically, it has to be realized that Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) had a pretty traumatic childhood, and if you want to make an origin story about him, you have to show how that affects him throughout  his life and how such events eventually lead to him becoming the Batman. 

Bruce Wayne is a more haunted character than any other superhero we had seen at the time. The effect of his parents' death on him leads to him seeking justice for criminals in general, and at first, he's not particularly interested in making a path for himself or protecting Gotham. He's more interested in taking his rage and justice out on criminals overseas. Until he meets Ra's al Ghul, and is trained by his assistant Henri Ducard, who helps to focus his anger and guilt so that he can use it properly in his battle for justice, and gives him renewed purpose. Only problem is... Bruce's and Ra's al Ghul's ideas of justice are separate things. 

Thus Batman begins his vigilante protector of Gotham life in the firestarter that is Batman Begins, and the beginning of the greatest trilogy of all time. Batman Begins is loaded with it all, besides the story elements--thrilling action and fight sequences, great acting (Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman), and a fantastic soundtrack made by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. 

Batman Begins, and its two sequels, are impossible to not recommend. They are worth checking out whether you're a comic-book-hero fan or not, as they are just great movies. Batman Begins is also probably the best origin-story film of all time, as it gets the spirit of such a thing down in almost every respect. Of course, it gets almost everything else down in every other respect too. Batman Begins is just a fantastic film, and there are few who will disagree. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Night at the Museum


RATING: C+ 

Every now and then, there's one of those films that comes out of nowhere and ends up becoming a franchise. I don't think Night at the Museum was originally planned to be a trilogy (took them a while to get that last one out though). 

This film is centered around the idea of "what if everything in a museum came to life at night?" Larry Daley, a struggling divorced entrepreneur, desperately takes a job at a downsizing museum where he takes the place of three old night guards (two of whom are played by Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney), and he finds himself in for a bit of a nasty surprise, as he has to deal with rampaging exhibits such as Civil War guys, Attila the Hun, and Neanderthals--and get help from guys like Teddy Roosevelt, Sacagawea, and a mummy. 

Night at the Museum is one of those films that gives you mixed emotions. Of course, that may have something to do in part with its lead actor, Ben Stiller, who has always given me mixed feelings--sometimes he's hilarious and sometimes he's just so awkward or odd (though he's good at that) that he just becomes annoying to watch. 

Night at the Museum is more of that, in many ways. There are some scenes that are flat out hilarious. Many of them involve the miniature Western and Roman characters, as well as the Easter Island head (who probably doesn't have enough scenes either). Other scenes either attempt to be funny, and just fall flat on their face, and other scenes just range from awkward to boring. Honestly, Larry's personal life issues are pretty uninteresting, especially when you know what's coming in the museum that is far more interesting. 

The plot is pretty good and clever, though. The idea of having museum exhibits come to life is certainly an intriguing one, and they definitely have some fun with it. There are a couple plot twists towards the end--one of them is slightly easy to see coming (regarding the identity of the antagonist), and another one is brilliant, as well as underused and overlooked. 

Night at the Museum is a film that can be quite a bit of fun at times. If you're a fan of Ben Stiller in general, you'll probably have an even bigger barrel of fun (I think many of the other actors are the ones who steal the show). There are also parts that are not quite as fun. It's an up-and-down film at times. It's still worth checking out for the fun parts, many of the other actors, and the occasional clever historical wordplay, which help make it a worthwhile ride. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Hobbit Trilogy


RATING: C

It seems pretty difficult to comprehend just how a 300-page single book can be split into three movies. Well, it happened. What's perhaps even more difficult to comprehend is how such a thing can be done without butchering the story to the point that it is unrecognizable. I had hope, at first, that part of the reason for the three movies was to throw in some more Middle-Earth background. And while that may have been slightly true for the first movie, at least, that was overall not the case. 

The Hobbit's storyline is simple like the Lord of the Rings, only it does not have the numerous characters and plot threads that the other has (these movies changed that, though). This one essentially centers around Bilbo Baggins going on an adventure with twelve dwarves plus Gandalf, who are trying to reclaim their mountain from a dragon named Smaug. There's some various other misadventures along the way, plus a climactic battle *not* involving the dragon, but overall, it's actually pretty simple. 

The first film, An Unexpected Journey, centers on the early part of the journey. Things are added more than changed in this film. Azog, the orc-lord who was merely mentioned in the book, is given the role of main antagonist throughout the three movies. (Well, besides the dragon Smaug). Also, there is the beginning of a storyline revolving around the "Necromancer." This comes to a predictable climax in the third movie, but he is disposed of so easily by Galadriel that it would make a non-reader wonder why they have so much trouble with Sauron in the Lord of the Rings. 

The second film, the Desolation of Smaug, amps up the ridiculousness (more on that later) as well as adding more new plot threads. The elves are much more heavily involved here, as we have the return of Legolas, plus a weird "romance" of sorts between the dwarf Kili and the new elf Tauriel, as well as a couple of crazy action escape sequences that lay waste to the "suspension of disbelief" device. 

The third film, the Battle of the Five Armies, spends about two and a half hours on the last 50-60 pages or so of the book--and at least an hour of it is the battle between the "five armies" (which are easily confused). As far as stupid entertainment goes, this film is probably the definition of it. 

Yes, there is a lot of ridiculousness here--and the primary cause of that is the "video game action sequences" and the just flat out illogical things (even in fantasy and "suspension-of-disbelief" world). Only one of these really shows up in the first film, and even that one would make the Fast and the Furious jealous of how these guys laid the laws of physics to complete waste. There's more of those in the next two films, as we watch a bouncing barrel with a dwarf in it during an extended water-park-ride-video-game-action-sequence, Legolas jumping up falling rocks in a scene that wouldn't be believable even in the Matrix (only in an animated film like Kung Fu Panda is such a thing acceptable), and the world's greatest dragon escape system (also immune to fire, apparently). As mentioned, it becomes hard to even suspend disbelief--especially during a scene where an orc falls *under* ice and should be dead (and appears to be) and then suddenly resurrects himself and jumps out of the closed ice river. 

Fans of the book will be outraged by how the films lay waste to it. Everyone else will be outraged by the video game action sequences. Despite that, the films are still entertaining--even if they're simply "dumb entertainment." Some of the action sequences are actually good without being entirely ridiculous (namely the climax of the first film). If you're a non-reader and were a fan of the LOTR film trilogy, then you'll probably want to check these out. I can't exactly recommend it to those who have read the book, because they will experience nothing but disappointment. Ultimately, the best way that one can look upon this trilogy is that it's so bad it's fun. And that's better than other films that are just terrible without redemption. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy


RATING: A+

Normally, I won't be doing this type of review where I review a whole trilogy in one. But this trilogy (and the Hobbit) are so closely back-to-back-to-back--that if I actually tried to review each movie individually, I'd probably end up repeating myself most of the way. My rating for all three movies is the same. My comments for all three movies are mostly the same. Very little would change. So here's something a little different...

Essentially, the Lord of the Rings is the penultimate fantasy series. Pretty much everyone's seen or read it (or both), or at least heard of and know a fair bit about it. Story's pretty simple, really, though it's a very long and has multiple threads. There's a magical dark ring that an evil lord who is only "mostly dead" wants back to conquer the world of Middle Earth. Who's gonna stop him? An alliance of the non-corrupted races of Middle Earth: men, elves, dwarves. Oh yeah, and hobbits--the tiny guys who end up doing a lot of the dirty work as Frodo Baggins, a hobbit, ends up being the one tasked with destroying the ring by taking it back to its own house and throwing it in the volcano it was created in. 

Should be a simple task, right? Yeah...no. 

Lord of the Rings has so many characters and side characters and side villains it may hard to be keep track of now and then. It's a pretty long trilogy, and if you watch the extended editions (which in my opinion is the route to go) each movie lasts about four hours. 

There's the Fellowship of the Ring, where they find out about the Ring having survived despite being at the bottom of an ocean for close to three millennia and begin the ultimate journey by creating the "Fellowship": Aragorn the human ranger, Legolas the elf, Gimli the dwarf, Boromir the... uh... guy, Gandalf the wizard, and the hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. They all end up playing their own various roles throughout the trilogy. It's the simplest of the trilogy, as it focuses mostly on the main characters it concerns. 

Then there's the Two Towers, where the Fellowship has split up--with Frodo and Sam headed to Mordor (accompanied by the shifty Gollum), and most of the others trying to make sure the armies of the traitor wizard Saruman don't destroy the free world--and introduces a *lot* more characters, and ultimately ends in a fantastically executed battle sequence during a rainy night.

Finally, there's the Return of the King, where Frodo and Sam get closer to Mordor, while the rest of the company deals with the armies of Sauron himself. About a good half of the movie is one long battle; and it's a darn good one. Actually, it's multiple battles taking place within minutes of each other. The one in the Pelennor Fields is one of, if not the greatest battle sequence of all time and closes things up. 

There are very few complaints about this trilogy. Much of it is executed very well. The actors are mostly perfect for their roles, the soundtrack is quite well done, and the battle and action sequences are incredibly well done. Even the book-to-movie purists should be pleased--there are a couple changes that could be annoying, but they can be overlooked. Really, the only thing I flat out don't like about the trilogy (and this extends to the books too) is one of the perhaps inevitable but still disappointing ending scenes. However, it does not take away from the trilogy; or hardly even leave a sour taste in one's mouth; it's more of a gripe that can be, again, overlooked. 

The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy that is pretty much essential watching *and* reading. It's not quite the pinnacle of cinema, but it's not too far off either. I consider it to be the second best movie trilogy of all time, only behind the Dark Knight Trilogy. And that's nothing to be sneeze at. Lord of the Rings is perhaps long but still fantastic watching. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Giver


RATING: A- 

Oh look, it's yet another dystopian novel made into a movie. Unlike some of its more recent counterparts, though, this one is actually based off a somewhat older book (1993). And it's not based off a trilogy--there are "sequels" to the book, but they aren't entirely direct ones. So ultimately, this is the only movie we're gonna see based off this "series." 

This particular film exists in a world where people have been isolated into Communities, and various emotions, feelings, and even color no longer exist, with the "memories of the past" being held by one person--the Receiver of Memory. Love and hate no longer exist. No conflict, or differences between people. A "utopia" of sorts, to keep people in eternal, unrealistic peace. Virtually no free will either. And in the vein of Divergent, people are "chosen" for their career (only without the "test"). 

Enter Jonas, who is ultimately chosen to become the next Receiver of Memory, where he meets a guy played by Jeff Bridges with no real name--going simply by the name of "The Giver." And he is "given" the memories and feelings--and the world that he discovers that has been long lost, and the loss of free will, gives him mixed reactions like happiness and horror. 

The setting is ultimately kind of creepy, since this dystopia is a more realistic one than, say, Hunger Games or Maze Runner, and could easily happen if they came up with the technology to repress things like certain emotions and feelings. And to think that the things that we take for granted, like love or free will or hate or color (seriously, color), are such foreign and unheard concepts to the people in this movie. 

The Giver does quite a good job of what it sets out to do: give us a cautionary tale of a future that is pretty darn boring and empty. It takes a few good twists along the way, and gives the audience a lot of stuff to think about. 

It's not exactly a perfect movie, even though it's a pretty good one. There are some things that are treated with vagueness/ambiguity. There is a lot of confusion surrounding "Elsewhere"--it seems pretty clear that "Elsewhere" is the land outside the Communities, forbidden to all. But when people are "sent to Elsewhere," which would imply banishment, it actually turns out to be a lethal injection. 

Despite that, The Giver is a well-executed and well-made film that gives people food for thought, much like some of the other films in its genre. It moves a bit more slowly than its counterparts, and doesn't go to the action/adventure route that many of them do (if anything, thriller is the closest genre besides dystopian I can come up with). And while in some ways it may not be the most memorable of its genre, it's certainly not too far off either.