Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991)

thecurse3_1Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991)
AKA Panga, Blood Sacrifice, Witchcraft

Starring Christopher Lee, Jenilee Harrison, Henry Cele, Andre Jacobs, Zoe Randall, Olivia Dyer, Gavin Hood, Dumi Shongwe, Jennifer Steyn

Directed by Sean Barton

Expectations: Low.

onestar


I used to think Christopher Lee was badass in everything… then I saw Curse III: Blood Sacrifice. I can’t hold it against him, though, as everything in Curse III is less than it should be. On paper I’m sure this one looked like it had potential, and Christopher Lee is in it? Well yeah, sure, here’s a sack of money; go make a movie! But what resulted was less movie and more insomnia cure.

One of the worst things about Curse III is that its plot can be summarized completely in one sentence (and that’s without exaggeration). Here goes: The American wife of a sugar cane farmer in Africa angers the local witch doctor, who curses her entire family to die by way of an ancient ocean spirit. There’s definitely potential for a fun horror movie there, but Curse III sidesteps every opportunity and runs screaming in the opposite direction. A simple premise is fine, but without an engaging story the audiovisual aspect of the film — the filmmaking itself — must grab the audience and shine. Director Sean Barton may have many credits as an editor (including Return of the Jedi!), but his talents as a director are severely lacking. Unsurprisingly, Curse III is his only directorial effort.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ryan Gage, Billy Connolly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Sylvester McCoy, Stephen Fry, Manu Bennett, John Tui

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: The highest of high.

fourstar


The Hobbit, as a whole, is hands down one of the most entertaining fantasy films out there, and The Battle of the Five Armies is perhaps the most entertaining piece of the trilogy. The idea that the films are bloated and stretched too thin remains somewhat incomprehensible to me. I can understand if you think the Tauriel/Kili love story is unnecessary — because it totally is — but it also allows for elves to hang around and do a bunch of slick elf stuff, so I don’t really see a problem. In any case, the richness that three films brings to this adaptation is exceptional. I can’t even imagine a one-film version, or even two films. If that was the case, so many of my favorite “unnecessary” moments would be left unseen.

This film picks up immediately after the events in Desolation of Smaug, as Smaug flies towards Laketown to burn it a new one. This is one hell of a thrilling opening, and it whets the appetite for what’s to come… basically two solid hours absolutely bursting at the seems with thrills. I can’t really think of a film quite like it. It’s nothing like either of the previous Hobbit films because the adventure the party set out on is essentially complete. The dragon has been slain, Erebor has been re-taken, what’s left but to dive headfirst into the gold like an unkempt, bearded Scrooge McDuck? Apparently a lot! The Battle of the Five Armies is also nothing like the Lord of the Rings films, so don’t expect anything with the weight of Return of the King just because this is the third film of a trilogy. The Hobbit is and always will be a lighter tale that happens before everything in Middle Earth went to hell in a handbasket, so it’s just wrong to expect it to hit the same way as Lord of the Rings.

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The Wicker Man (1973)

wickerman_4Starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Russell Waters, Aubrey Morris, Irene Sunters, Walter Carr, Ian Campbell

Directed by Robin Hardy

Expectations: Very high.

fourstar


The Wicker Man may be 40 years old this year, but age definitely hasn’t tarnished its creepy take on the horror genre. It’s a very unique film, so it’s easy to see why it has stood the test of time right from the opening moments. But it’s where the film slowly ventures that makes The Wicker Man unforgettable, as the layers of story peel away and our main character finds himself closer and closer to understanding what is happening on Summerisle.

Honestly, I’m tempted to just call it a day on this review right here. It’s one of those movies where “To tell more would be a crime,” is perfectly apropos. Perhaps in this day and age, the secrets this film holds wouldn’t surprise or creep out modern viewers, but I’d still rather let people experience it for themselves. I also imagine many will have seen the 2006 remake starring Nicholas Cage, which I’m guessing probably has a somewhat similar story. I haven’t seen that one so I can’t attest to its quality, but I’d be willing to bet it’s nothing close to this one. Even a great reproduction is still a reproduction, but this 1973 original is wholeheartedly the real deal (and I haven’t heard anything about the 2006 remake that points to it being anything close to great).

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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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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.

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Hugo (2011)

Starring Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Expectations: High, but really cautious. Everything I hear sounds good, but whenever I see footage it looks dumb.


OK, I’m going to try and rein in my negativity. I did like Hugo, but I take issue with much of it as a film. With all the film history stuff contained in the film Scorsese is preaching to the choir with me, and I doubt that any kids in the audience are going to take the film’s look back at the life’s work of George Méliès and run with it to their nearest DVD retailer to snatch up a copy of A Trip to the Moon. I don’t know… I think this is another case of me just being too jaded to truly appreciate the film at hand, although I have to say that I don’t think it’s an entirely well made film. For Scorsese to get so much respect for this movie is ridiculous as it shows very little of the clever, powerful director he once was. I have to imagine it’s because this is easily one of the safest and most boringly mainstream movies of his entire career, but hey, I generally hate movies about movies, so your mileage may vary.

Hugo is about a boy name Hugo who lives in the crawlspaces of the train station. He winds the clocks and pretty much keeps to himself, except to steal a little clockwork gear every once in a while. He does this because he’s got an automaton stashed away in his home, and he’s desperately trying to fix it. Despite this fantasy setup, the film is a lot more grounded than you’d expect it to be from the marketing. Don’t get me wrong, everything plays out in somewhat comical, ridiculous ways, but it still feels tied to our reality by all the film history lessons sprinkled throughout.

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The Mummy (1959)

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Eddie Byrne, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley, George Pastell, George Woodbridge, Harold Goodwin, Denis Shaw, Willoughby Gray, Michael Ripper

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. The Mummy was my favorite Universal horror film as a kid.


For the final film of my four film Hammer series, I decided to go with the hallowed tale of The Mummy, a standby favorite monster of my childhood via the 1932 Universal film starring Boris Karloff. What was always interesting to me about that film was Karloff’s vulnerability and the fact that while he was killing people and generally doing wrong, he had a reason to do so that was understandable. He was a sympathetic monster and coupled with the copious Egyptian motifs, I was powerless to the power of the mummy.

So going into Hammer’s take on the tale, there was a pretty high hill to climb. Unfortunately, I can’t say what I’ve said in all the previous Hammer reviews, that “This one is even better than the Universal version!” I stand firmly by the original, and while I did greatly enjoy Hammer’s film, I thought it was slower than it needed to be. When your monster is a shambling corpse wrapped in ancient bandages and caked with thick swamp mud, you do get something of a pass, but I can’t excuse away all of the film’s crawling pace.

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