Category Archives: Movies

I saw LOTR TTT again,

I saw LOTR TTT again, on Christmas Eve, this time at the Irvine Spectrum.
The interesting thing about it this time? Well, I managed even to make the Tolkien expert Scott Olson jealous because, you, see, the Irvine Spectrum contains an IMAX screen–and they show “regular” movies upon it. On Christmas Eve, it was Treasure Planet (earlier in the day but I didn’t see that). The “late” show, which I did catch, was The Two Towers.
It looked great! It didn’t cover the entire screen, of course, the aspect ratio of an IMAX screen is not the same as a regular movie screen. there weren’t any black bars, but it reminded me a bit of watching a widescreen movie on a television in that regard.

Movie Review Lord of the

Movie Review

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett


Directed by: Peter Jackson


“Gandalf didn’t mean for us to go this way.”

“Gandalf didn’t mean for a lot of things to happen, Sam”

–Frodo and Sam, lost on their journey toward Mordor


Middle books in trilogies (real trilogies, not the Interminable Fantasy Sequence) are hard to pull off. The author has to set up the seeds of the last book, continue the threads of the first, and still complete a story within the volume. Tolkien experts will point out that the three volume division of the LOTR is abitrary, I have seen versions where it is split into smaller volumes. And the “chapters” in Tolkien’s work are not called that, they are called books. So, Tolkien’s Two Towers is not strictly a middle book in a trilogy.


However, the movies are a different story. This is the second movie of three, and thus must follow those rules I outlined above. After the enormous box office and critical success of the Fellowship of the Ring, the anticipation for the second movie has been uniformly high. The thing to remember is that all three movies are already in the can, so to speak, the director has done most of the work already, his vision was already in place.


And thus on a Saturday where I was feeling unwell, I sat down in a theater to another three hour epic. The movie starts off with a controversial choice, there is absolutely no setup or prologue or “what has gone on before”. The information isn’t even really enfolded. The movie expects that you have just finished watching the first with picking up of the second. The hypothetical person coming in cold to this movie will wonder just how Merry and Pippin were captured by Orcs, for example. Later, with brief scenes involving Elrond and Galadriel, the names of the characters are not even mentioned.


Anyway, the movie is another long epic installment, with this movie both much more martial and more focused on Aragorn. The hobbits, whom many will argue are the real center of Tolkien’s universe, the viewpoint by which we see his world, frankly get less screen time than Aragorn’s story arc. But what a story arc! We see Aragorn do much in this movie, tracking the Orcs who are carrying off Pippin and Merry, doing a “CSI investigation” of a battle scene to determine that, yes, Merry and Pippin survived the massacre of those very same Orcs despite initial appearances to the contrary. Gimli and Legolas, however, stand in the shadow of Aragorn, and seem relegated to bit players with just a quirk or two to distinguish them.


And the battle scenes. In the book, the defense of Helm’s Deep is not really a big deal, Tolkien does not linger on it at all, describing the death of the orc horde in almost spartan terms. In the movie, it becomes the centerpiece and the main thrust of most of the movie–the evacuation of Theoden’s people to the redoubt, and the defense of that redoubt against a truly massive horde of Uruk-hai. I’ve never, ever seen a medieval battle executed and filmed better than this one. I was going in to the movie afraid it was just going to be a senseless, monochromatic slaughter without any real angst, or terror, or polish.


I was dead wrong. We see the orcs use siege weapons (including a secret weapon I will not reveal here) and attack the fortress intelligently. Likewise, the defenders do not merely stand and die, they scheme, plan and try to foil the plans of a force which outnumbers theirs by a factor of 10. I warn you now, if you don’t like watching this sort of thing, you will be disappointed in LOTR II, it dominates the movie.


It’s not the only thing in the movie, of course. There is Smeagol-Gollum, the best CGI character yet created (better than Nobby, far better than Jar-Jar). The scenes where he shows schizophrenic indecision over what to do with the hobbitses are some sorely needed comic relief. Frodo and Sam’s journey deviates from the book, however, purists will howl when they wind up making a detour into Gondor with Faramir. The meeting with the Ents by Merry and Pippin is very good, John Rhys-Davies gets some compensation for Gimli getting short shrift by doing the voice of Treebeard. The Ents’ march on Isengard is well imagined if again not quite according to the book.


The cinematography is excellent, the CGI is top notch. In many scenes, most of what we are seeing is computer-generated, but its believeable. I finally can, for example, envision Worg riders in a way I couldn’t quite before, seeing this movie. Middle Earth, as seen in New Zealand, once again looks like a real place you can visit, the landscape shots will once again blow you away.


The movie doesn’t quite merit 5 popcorn kernels, because I think a couple of the contextual changes to the books are somewhat dubious in nature, and the lessened characterization of every character but Aragorn and Gandalf also hurts the movie a bit. But see it? Go, go, go. See it again? Yes.


Rating: Four and a half popcorn kernels out of five

Movie Review Star Trek: Nemesis

Movie Review

Star Trek: Nemesis


Starring: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden


Directed by:Stuart Baird


And here we are at the tenth movie in the Star Trek Franchise. From Star Trek the Motion Picture to Insurrection, I have seen them all, albeit that the first one I saw in a theater was Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. I’ve seen all of the series, although Voyager started to flag in my interest in its last couple of seasons, but I do watch the new series Enterprise. I’ve been to a Star Trek Convention, in the Ambassador Hotel in NYC. George Takei and Marina Sirtis were the Guests of Honor, and I nearly ran into the former by accident in the stairwell.


So you might say that I am a fan. Like Star Trek Fans, though, I can be critical, very critical. I am well aware of the Odd-numbered Movie rule and for the most part agree–the odd number Star Trek Movies are on the balance not as well done as the even number ones. After the rather lackluster Insurrection, number nine, I was hopeful that Nemesis, even number ten, would be better.


The result is a mixed bag. As Star Trek: Nemesis opens, Riker and Troi have been finally married, and we pick up at their reception on Earth. What’s more, they are soon on their way to Betazed for another marriage ceremony, in the true Betazed custom. On their way, Picard and his crew are diverted to the Neutral Zone, to discuss the Romulans’ insistence that they would like to negotiate peace with the Federation, as well as the discovery of an apparent earlier version of Data. What our heroes uncover instead is the fruit of an abandoned years-long plan to infiltrate the Federation–a clone of Picard himself. Challenges, deceit, distrust, and violence ensue.


The space battles are entertaining but the last act of the movie is frankly derivative of Wrath of Khan, on several levels. When the Enterprise and the fearsome Scimitar reach a Nebula, you will start to get flashbacks, and there is a sacrifice of a major member of the crew in a Spockian fashion, complete with an obvious loophole. On the other hand, many of the crew are given disappointingly little to do. Cameos by Traveller Jr. (Wesley Crusher) and (Admiral!) Janeway were welcome, although I wondered with Troi and Riker getting married where Deanna’s mother was in all of this. I think the villain’s achilles heel is too potent, and although his ship was fearsome, it was implied that he had much more at his disposal. I also wondered, with all the Romulan scheming, where the Tal’Shiar was in all of the machinations. I can’t believe, from a series continuity point, that they wouldn’t have their fingers in pies as large as Shinzon’s coup d’etat and his plans against the Federation.


In all, it was a disappointment. I don’t regret seeing it, but I wouldn’t see it again (in movie theaters anyway). I can sense that on some levels that they tried, but a large hole involving Data’s subplot just irks me, and I don’t really want to discuss it just yet because of that bugbear, spoilers. It should be obvious, though, to long-time fans of the Next Generation.


Rating: 2 and a half popcorn kernels out of five.

Movie Review Solaris Starring: George

Movie Review

Solaris

Starring: George Clooney, Natasha McElherone, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis and Ulrich Tukur
Directed by: Steven Sodenbergh


“And death shall have no dominion.”–Dylan Thomas, as quoted in Solaris.


Solaris would seem to be an unlikely choice for a big-budget, large studio motion picture. Stanislaw Lem is perhaps one of the best well known NON English speaking SF writers, but, still, not precisely common fodder for movies. Solaris WAS already filmed before, in a 1972 adaptation by the Russian director Tarkovsky. That version, which I have not seen, is four hours long and considered controversial and brilliant. I could see an American version of Solaris, but if you told me a couple of years ago, I would have guessed it more fodder for the independent route, with mid-level actors and actresses like Armin Mueller-Stahl and Ileana Douglas.


What we get, though is George Clooney. This is the third time he has been paired with director Sodenbergh, having worked with him on OUT OF SIGHT, and OCEAN’S ELEVEN. So if any director can make Clooney work as Chris Kelvin, Sodenbergh is the guy. Clooney’s counterpart, Rheya, is played by Natasha McElherone, whom I enjoyed watching in The Truman Show and Ronin. It’s a good combination, a movie couple on screen which works.


The basic plot of the movie is difficult to discern from the commercials and advertisements, which seem to focus so strongly on the love story aspects of the movie that its other aspects are downplayed to the point of obfuscation. The movie opens with watching the life of a man who is clearly in the pain of the loss of his wife. We watch Kelvin go about his role as a psychatrist who seems to need to heal himself, as well as others. Its not immediately obvious that this is the future, the advances in technology are understated. Then, a message from a friend on a spacecraft orbiting a mysterious planet soon propels our protagonist on a 2001-esque sequence that lands him on the Prometheus. It is not a space station, but apparently a spacecraft which is in orbit around a ocean-dominated planet which looks to be crackling with energies of unknown proveance. Once aboard, Kelvin quickly determines that things are wrong…there are bodies of the crew, and blood on the ceiling. The station’s crew, in fact, has been reduced to a seemingly stoned technician and another shut in her room. Both hint at strange doings and are extremely vague about what is going on, only that Kelvin himself will soon learn first-hand.


And first-hand he does. The weary psychologist wakes up to find his dead wife next to him, as confused as he is about the experience. It becomes clear, however, that she is not his wife, but something else, something created by the planet for reasons unknown. She has the memories that Kelvin has of his wife…indeed, she is a composite of what Kelvin remembers of her. But she is something more. The construct may be a recollection of Kelvin’s memories of his wife, but she has ideas, goals and impetus of her own. But why did the planet create her? Is this the second chance that Kelvin has always wished he had? Or is she some sort of siren, indeed are all the eidolon like creatures intent on the destruction of the crew?


Solaris asks a lot of questions and does not hesitate to let the audience argue about them on the way out of the theater rather than answering them all itself. The movie is only 100 minutes long, but its pacing, its cinematography, its unravelling are slow and patient. These are not flaws, atlhough judging from many of the reviews on the internet, you would think that anything which was not hyperkinetic was dull as dishwater. Its not a perfect movie by any means. Clooney does as well as he could, although I can think of other actors which might have been more suited to the role. McElhrone does as well as she can with what she is given, much of the time, she simply has to smile into the camera, her luminous face apparently the rock to which Kelvin is ready to lash himself to once again, and do it right this time.


I admit, though, that this is one of those movies which would play better on a DVD at home than in the theater. It doesn’t need the big screen of a theater in the way, say, 2001 shines. Its amazingly intimate and focused for a wide-scale hollywood release, and I have to give the director and producers extra credit for hewing to this vision as much as they do. In an age where cerebral films are as common as unicorn horns, Solaris may not succeed on all levels, but its aspirations alone rise it above many of the pack.


Rating: Four popcorn kernels out of five.

Movie Review Harry Potter and

Movie Review

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Warwick Davis


Directed by: Chris Columbus


“Harry Potter must not come back to Hogwarts this year!”–Dobby the House Elf.


Of course, however, after the first movie became the second highest grossing film of all time behind that flick about the sinking boat, there was no question that we were going to return to Hogwarts again. Unlike the first movie, however, I did not read the novel before seeing the movie, and so perhaps this review is a little more biased toward looking at the movie as a film rather than an adaptation of a book. I probably will obtain and read the book at some point, however.


The basic milieu of Harry Potter is likely very well known to the readers of this Blog. To recap in the shortest space possible, Harry Potter, in the first film discovered he was the child of magical parents, and the first movie documents his adventures in the first year at a boarding school that provides a magical education, Hogwarts. In this second movie, there are immediate parallels with the first movie. Harry’s muggle parents try to precent him from going to school, there is a visit to Diagon Alley. The details of the second movie are different, of course, and there are a couple of interesting sequences before we even get to the school, including a look at a more seedy area of the famed Diagon Alley.


Once inside Hogwarts, which Harry has maintained time and again is his real home, things rapidly turn bad for our hero. A Quidditch game turns even more violent than usual, and Harry is the target of an apparently tampered blodger ball. Harry’s rival in the first movie, Draco Malfoy, gains in power, both in the presence and personage of his father, and the fact that he has joined his own House’s Quidditch team. He does seem to be Harry’s counterpart now, a true rival.


We get a couple of new Professors as well, a botanist with a specialty in Mandrake root by the name of Professor Sprout, and, more notably, Kenneth Branagh as the bombastic and undertalented Professor Lockhart. The visual gags in his office, in his classroom were amusing, as well.


The basic plot of the movie is a mystery…Where is the titular Chamber of Secrets, Who can open it? and What is inside it that is apparently petrifying people in the school? I do not want to divulge spoilers here, but needless to say, at a running total of 2 hours and 40 minutes, we have plenty of time in the movie to discover and solve these questions. The length of the movie is a factor in the first half…in the third act, the movie changes into very much an action film,and that does help dilute the running length. Its not that gratiuitous, the action sequences, although it does stand in marked contrast with the ultimate villain and his passivity in the final scenes, which I found rather strange even given his nature.


As far as the actors, Harry and his friends do well in their roles, as does their nemesis Draco. Of the older actors, the frailty of Richard Harris is evident. Maggie Smith is not given enough to do, and Alan Rickman seems bored with Professor Snape. I would have liked more contrast between Snape and the elder Malfoy, they seemed too similar for my taste.


Final rating: 3 and a half popcorn kernels out of five.