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.

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Stephen reviews: Blue Gender: The Warrior (2002)

bluegenderthewarrior_1Blue Gender: The Warrior [ブルージェンダー ザ・ウォリアー] (2002)

Starring Kenji Nojima, Houko Kuwashima, Katsunosuke Hori, Hisayoshi Suganuma, Akimitsu Takase, Chizu Yonemoto, Eiji Itô, Hiroshi Isobe, Hisanori Nemoto, Jōji Nakata, Nobutoshi Kanna

Directed by Koichi Ohata


What we have here is another compilation film that splices together scenes from the TV series to make a feature from the scraps. This of course means that the story is a bit disjointed, but really it’s no more so than films like Fist of the North Star or X: 1999 which did reanimate the story from scratch. What this also means is that the animation is TV-series quality. It isn’t really impressive for TV either, so its quality is noticeably different from other anime films.

A long time ago I tried to watch the TV series of Blue Gender. I don’t remember quite what turned me off to the series, but I remember thinking it was generic and kinda boring. Of course, I’ve learned since then that all anime series take at least the first episode, usually longer, to get going. Watching The Warrior I found that the story did take some interesting turns even though its initial premise looked like any other giant mecha anime with monsters overrunning the Earth.

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Raw Iron: The Making of Pumping Iron (2002)

rawiron_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Mike Katz, Franco Columbu, George Butler, Joe Weider, Bill Grant, Ken Waller, Reg Park, Ed Corney, Matty Ferrigno, Liev Schreiber, Sylvester Stallone, Bud Cort

Directed by Dave & Scott McVeigh

Expectations: Moderate.


I’m not in the habit of reviewing DVD extras, but this one seemed juicy enough considering I’ve covered all the other Arnold-related bodybuilding films. I’m hesitant to rate it, though, as it’s hard to really quantify its quality as a film. In any case, I really enjoyed watching it, and I think any big fan of Pumping Iron or Arnold would enjoy it too. So a definite thumbs up, but I’m going to forgo the stars this time.

There were over 100 hours of footage shot for Pumping Iron, so Raw Iron takes a different approach to the “Making of” documentary. Instead of simply gathering a bunch of people to talk to the camera and tell their stories, Raw Iron actually tells its story through deleted footage from the film. These scenes were kept in the vault until Raw Iron‘s release for Pumping Iron‘s 25th anniversary. This deleted footage is mostly great, too, from an unused sub-plot with Arnold trying to teach Harold and Maude‘s Bud Cort how to pump up in the gym, to the film’s bodybuilders posing on top of a Malibu mountain while listening to Arnold pontificate about “the pump.” It’s great fun to see all this unused footage.

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Jigsaw (2002)

jigsawStarring Barret Walz, Aimee Bravo, Mia Zifkin, Arthur Simone, Maren Lindow, James Palmer, Mark Vollmers, David Wesley Cooper

Directed by Don Adams & Harry James Picardi

Expectations: Very low, but that cover is pretty awesome. Well, to me anyway.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


To judge Jigsaw by its cover is to assume that the film will be composed of a pieced-together mannequin man killing (or at least maiming) the characters in the film. You might even assume that the film is about him, like the way that the Friday the 13th movies are really more about Jason than the sexually active teenagers, especially for the fans. But Jigsaw is really neither, as most of the film revolves around a small group of students making a collaborative art project for their 30-something, lustful teacher, and then getting shitfaced in a little neighborhood bar called Sneaky Pete’s. But don’t just take my word for it! (That’s your cue to listen to this clip below:)

Each student receives a mannequin’s body part and is told to decorate it however they like. Some characters take this to heart and pour their darkest secrets into their work, while others simply do the bare minimum and call it a day. Thankfully for them, they never get graded, as through some unexplained forces the Jigsaw man comes to life and begins killing the students. If you’re OK with a mannequin coming to life for no reason other than “It’s a horror movie, ” and you enjoy low-budget movies, then you’ll find a lot to like about Jigsaw. All others need not apply, although I’m sure the cover alone is enough to send mainstream people running far, far away from this one.

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Cube 2: Hypercube (2002)

Cube 2: Hypercube (2002)
AKA Cube²: Hypercube

Starring Kari Matchett, Geraint Wyn Davies, Grace Lynn Kung, Matthew Ferguson, Neil Crone, Barbara Gordon, Lindsey Connell, Greer Kent, Bruce Gray

Directed by Andrzej Sekula

Expectations: Super low. It’s gonna be dumb.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


I had many issues with the first Cube, but the overall experience was an enjoyable one because it felt like the movie was building towards something. Even though Cube 2 contains a fair amount of revelations about the cube and its purpose, it is never — ever — building towards anything. I think it’s a fair assumption to go into Cube 2: Hypercube expecting something dumber than the original Cube, but the level of inane bullshit here is out of control.

Cube 2: Hypercube takes many of the things that defined the original film and throws them out the cube door (and presumably into some other cube where a different, hypothetical Cube movie was being made… I wish I has seen that one.). Remember the iconic cube itself that inspired instant love from me and radiated goodwill right up until the end of the film? Here it’s redesigned to be bland, boring and without character. The colored rooms that gave Cube much of its texture and visuals? Gone as well, as every room in this cube is the starkest of whites. Not only does this make for a visually boring movie, it makes for one that runs together. Going from one room to the next holds no weight. I understand why the rooms are all white now from a story standpoint, but that doesn’t make them any less boring. This cube also looks like a set, and the fact that the rooms don’t change colors only helps to solidify the thought that instead of Cube 2: Hypercube, I’m watching Cube 2: On Broadway, or perhaps as my girlfriend suggested, Cube 2: On Ice.

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Three (2002)

Three [三更] (2002)
AKA Three Extremes II

Starring Jung Bo-Seok, Kim Hye-Soo, Panjamawat Suwinit, Leon Lai, Eric Tsang, Eugenia Yuen

Directed by Kim Jee-Woon (Memories), Nonzee Nimibutr (The Wheel), Peter Chan (Going Home)

Expectations: Moderate. Good talent involved.


Three isn’t a cohesive movie unto itself, nor is it a true anthology film with a framing story, instead it’s just three 40-minute shorts sandwiched together. This makes reviewing it as a whole rather hard because each short was made by a completely different team, working in completely different countries. Nothing ties the stories together (other than being stretched definitions of horror), so I guess I’ll follow suit and treat each film as its own thing.

Up first is Kim Jee-Woon’s Memories, a tale of a man who doesn’t know where his wife is, and his wife who’s lost her memory and is trying to get back home. Memories is painfully boring, and while it starts off with a great image of a sleeping man haunted by a huddled, shadowed woman, a balloon and a child’s doll, Memories does almost nothing with the elements at hand. Up until the last few minutes I wouldn’t even call it a horror movie, unless the psychological pain of losing someone counts as horror now.

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All About the Benjamins (2002)

AKA Good Boys (Japan), All About the Money (Denmark)

Starring Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Tommy Flanagan, Carmen Chaplin, Eva Mendes, Valarie Rae Miller, Anthony Giaimo, Jeff Chase, Roger Guenveur Smith, Gino Salvano, Tony Ward, Dominic Chianese Jr., Anthony Michael Hall

Directed by Kevin Bray

Expectations: Low.


I took a gamble on All About the Benjamins. As a modern film it could go either way, but I surmised that the trashy nature I supposed it had would be enough to override any negatives brought about by my distaste for this era of mainstream filmmaking (not that this is exactly mainstream). When the opening scene brings together the Looney Tunes, hot pants, shotguns, a Grandma with a handgun, and a Taser blast to the balls, I thought we might have a verified winner on our hands. Unfortunately, All About the Benjamins does not live up, but one thing is for sure: this movie, and the characters within are all about the benjamins… to a fault. Our heroes are so focused on getting paid at any cost that they aren’t especially likable, but that’s OK, the script is just being true to its characters (and the film’s title), so really I can’t ask too much more of them.

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who’s on the hunt for Reggie (Mike Epps), a repeat offender and all-around hustla. After an awesome foot chase through the streets of Miami and at least one Thai restaurant (called Try My Thai), Epps ducks into a mysterious gate that resembles the opening “down the barrel” section of the James Bond films. Ice tries to follow him but a couple of killers were on the roof scoring $20 million in diamonds and they don’t want any witnesses. From here the film jumps off on a non-stop ride with Ice and Epps trying their damnedest to get what’s theirs, and a piece of what’s not.

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