The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

2002-lord_of_the_rings_the_two_towers-3Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Bernard Hill, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Brad Dourif, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, David Wenham, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Parker

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High. I love this.

fourstar


While Fellowship of the Ring is an excellent opening to the trilogy, The Two Towers has my vote for the best of the bunch. It’s fun to see the Fellowship come together and venture through snowy mountains and deep, dark mines, but once they split and begin their own adventures, the real journey begins. The hopefulness of newfound friends was only a respite from the coming storm of war and villainy, and here in The Two Towers Peter Jackson fully unleashes that force upon viewers. As clichéd as it sounds, this makes The Two Towers the “dark middle” of the trilogy, but eh, what’s a good trilogy if it doesn’t have a dark middle chapter? We have to despair before we can triumph.

I lamented a bit in my review of Fellowship of the Ring that no one had continued the charge with the fantasy film genre, but honestly, after re-watching The Two Towers, I think it’s because no one is confident enough to try to top what Jackson accomplished here. Similar to how I think Jackson is reluctant to return to the splatter genre after Dead Alive — it’s better to drop the mic and walk away than to continue pureeing the dead horse with the lawnmower (so to speak). Imagine you’re a director trying to mount a fantasy epic. Jackson was going up against years of fairly lackluster high fantasy filmmaking, but anyone trying now is going up directly against Jackson. Hell, even uber fanboy Guillermo del Toro couldn’t get The Hobbit going, the studios only resolved their legal issues with the rights when Jackson relented and agreed to make the films.

Continue reading The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) →

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

the-lord-of-the-rings-fellowship-of-the-ringsStarring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High. I love this.

fourstar


The Lord of the Rings films are the high-water mark for modern fantasy filmmaking. Even now, 12 years on from its initial release, nothing has come close to capturing a world filled with elves, dwarves and magic quite like Peter Jackson did with his adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien work. When I first saw this film back in 2001, I remember thinking that Jackson had opened the floodgates for the studios to green-light tons of thrilling high fantasy screen adventures, similar to how X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man were the jumping off point for the modern explosion of superhero films around the same time.

But someone must have stood at those open gates and yelled, “You shall not pass!” because it never happened. The teen fantasy genre definitely caught fire, but that’s probably more a result of Harry Potter than anything Lord of the Rings did. My only real guess as to why this cinema revolution never happened is that from a production standpoint, the enterprise of producing Lord of the Rings was insane. Green-lighting a genre director with no mainstream hits to adapt one of the most well-known books of all-time, filming an entire trilogy simultaneously with no guarantee that they’ll make even a shred of their budget back at the box office? Those aren’t the kinds of risks that studios like to play with, thus keeping the high fantasy film revolution at bay.

Continue reading The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) →

Merrill’s Marauders (1962)

MerrillsMarauders_1Starring Jeff Chandler, Ty Hardin, Peter Brown, Andrew Duggan, Will Hutchins, Claude Akins, Luz Valdez, John Hoyt, Charlie Briggs

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Moderate. I don’t expect much from this one.

threestar


Is Merrill’s Marauders a poorly made film because it’s not wholly engaging and entertaining, or is it the perfect film for the story because it slowly drains viewers of their energy and enthusiasm, perfectly placing us into the shoes and the minds of the infantrymen? The film is a great example of the struggles asked of the men on the front line, and it feels cheap to discredit it because it’s hard to watch. Fuller wasn’t interested in entertainment, he was interested in truth, and in that he succeeded. I just wish I had seen Merrill’s Marauders sooner, before I became so enamored with his later, similar & better film The Big Red One.

Merrill’s Marauders opens with a newsreel playing over the jungle of Burma. The reel’s narrator informs us of the broad struggles in the region during World War II, eventually coming to the fact that a large group of American soldiers were sent to retake Burma in order to stop the Japanese army from reaching India and hooking up with the Germans. Maybe I’m just young and naive, but I had no idea that WWII stretched into these countries, so I found it very interesting. In any case, the story behind Merrill’s Marauders is a true one, but it’s not one near and dear to Fuller’s heart. He was brought onto the project, and accepted it with the hope that he’d be able to make The Big Red One next, a film he’d been trying to get made since the 1950s.

Continue reading Merrill’s Marauders (1962) →

China Gate (1957)

Starring Gene Barry, Angie Dickinson, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Paul Dubov, Lee Van Cleef, George Givot, Gerald Milton, Neyle Morrow, Marcel Dalio, Maurice Marsac, Warren Hsieh, Paul Busch, James Hong

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High. Sam Fuller.


It’s been about seven months since I did a Sam Fuller movie, so once again I find myself slacking off immensely on my review journey through his filmography. And every time after I finish a film I think, “Why did it take me so long to watch this?” I love Sam Fuller’s films more than I know how to communicate, and for some reason when I get infatuated with a filmmaker I have an in-born desire to stretch out seeing all of their movies for fear that one day there won’t be any more new ones to see. This is exactly the reason I haven’t seen every Kurosawa film, for example. It’s an irrational fear because when you get through them all, then you have the fun of re-watching them! But I resolve that in 2013 I will do my best to finish the series! Anyway, my personal neuroses aside, China Gate is a fantastic, underseen gem in the Fuller catalog, exhibiting just about everything fans have come to expect from the director.

Set during the end of the First Indochina War in Vietnam, China Gate is an action/adventure tale about a group of men on a mission to destroy an ammo depot. That’s the yarn in the broad sense, but the real tale is the story of Angie Dickinson and the lengths to which she’ll go for her child. She agrees to lead the men through enemy territory as she has developed a good rapport and reputation with the enemy forces through smuggling and prostitution. As I said, she’s a single mom willing to do anything necessary to provide for her child. The lead male of the group is her ex-husband Brock, a racist who left her upon seeing their son’s Asian eyes after he was born. Herein lies the true journey of China Gate, and while modern viewers will probably find it too exaggerated and heavy-handed, for the time it is yet another bold picture confronting hypocrisy and racism from Fuller.

Continue reading China Gate (1957) →

Act of Valor (2012)

Starring Active duty U.S. Navy SEALs and U.S. Navy Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen, Jason Cottle, Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sánchez, Nestor Serrano, Emilio Rivera, Drea Castro, Keo Woolford, Thomas Rosales Jr., Marco Morales, Ailsa Marshall

Directed by Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh

Expectations: Low, but the action will probably be OK.


While you could easily write off Act of Valor as simple recruiting propaganda, it’s actually a very accomplished action film that excites as well as it inspires. The action scenes play out like a live-action Call of Duty game but with a focus on realism, with neat overlays and instances when night vision or other cool tech is used. In some ways, I’d say it’s more akin to Rainbow Six (if we’re relating it to a video game), as that game’s measured, static pacing is mirrored beautifully in the way the Seals carry out their first mission on-screen.

In terms of story, you’ve already heard this one before. A terrorist hellbent on sending suicide bombers into crowed areas is on the loose and it’s up to our special forces to take him out. There’s nothing new or fresh here, but the way it is presented to us doesn’t try to sell it as such. In fact, a lot of the plot plays out visually as opposed to being dialogue-driven, so it’s as if the filmmakers knew they were treading deep into cliché territory and sought the quickest way possible to keep the film moving without bogging it down with needless dialogue. For this, I am incredibly thankful and it makes Act of Valor a breeze to watch.

Continue reading Act of Valor (2012) →

Block-Heads (1938)

Starring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Patricia Ellis, Minna Gombell, Billy Gilbert, James Finlayson

Directed by John G. Blystone

Expectations: Not as treasured as Way Out West, but I remember loving this one as well in my youth.


For their next feature after Way Out West, Laurel and Hardy went contemporary. Block-Heads opens during World War I, as the tanks laboriously roll by and the soldiers march into certain death. Soon we focus down on a trench teeming with men, where Stan and Ollie prepare for war. But it’s not in the cards for Stan, as he is told decisively by his commanding officer to guard his post until told to do otherwise. Well, Ollie and the rest of the boys run out of the trench and Stan hangs back for the next twenty years. Yeah, he’s a block-head alright!

Block-Heads is an interestingly plotted film because unlike Way Out West which is pretty straightforward, Block-Heads tells a few different concurrent storylines and then has them all collide. In a way, it’s like the writers had a lot of leftover ideas and decided to throw them together, but that sounds like a unfair slight to a film that’s full of great gags and ideas. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that Block-Heads might start as a war-based comedy, but it quickly transitions to the home front, revealing itself to be more of a domestic, relationship comedy. Along the way to the domestic comedy, though, is a lot of “trying to get from point a to point b”, and that’s what makes up most of the runtime of Block-Heads.

Continue reading Block-Heads (1938) →

Stephen reviews: Barefoot Gen (1983)

Barefoot Gen [はだしのゲン, Hadashi no Gen]

Starring Issei Miyazaki, Masaki Kōda, Seiko Nakano, Takao Inoue, Yoshie Shimamura

Directed by Mori Masaki


It may be a cliché to say, “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” but any good storyteller knows that to tell a huge tragedy, you need to focus on the small stuff. And there aren’t many tragedies larger than the dropping of the atomic bomb. Barefoot Gen tells the story of Hiroshima and the hundreds of thousands of people killed by the first atomic bomb, and as with any good tragedy, the movie focuses on the small stuff. It deals with the statistics and the massive scale of destruction, but mostly it is the tale of a young boy named Gen and his family during the final days of World War II.

We expect to have the opening scenes showing the innocent lives soon to be lost, but this film does more than that. It shows great details of daily life in WWII era Japan, and really gets into the lives of Gen’s family. The strict rationing in effect during the war has left little food for them, and Gen’s mother is pregnant. She eats what little food they have, and even though it is for the unborn child, her guilt as she watches the rest of her family go hungry is a palpable object throughout the beginning of the film. Barefoot Gen is billed as a story about the atom bomb, and while this is true it doesn’t quite do the film justice. It grabs ahold of your guts long before it gets to the bomb.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Barefoot Gen (1983) →

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 81 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages