[Oscar Madness Monday] Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon

117 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

IMDb Top 250: #53 (as of 4/29/2020)

 

Recently, in April, Alien fans everywhere celebrated Alien Day on 4/26 (as in LV-426, the moon where the Facehugger Eggs are first discovered in the original film), and it seems like a great time to revisit that very important film, one that changed many minds about the strength of horror films and sci-fi films.

The commercial transport ship Nostromo is returning to Earth with Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt, Contact, Lucky) and the other six members of the crew in stasis sleep. They are awoken by the ship’s computer it detects a transmission coming from a nearby moon. The crew sends a team down to discover the origins of the transmission, and what they uncover on the planet is more horrifying than any of them have ever known.

This comparison has been made many a time, but Alien shares a lot with Jaws. Now, everyone is going to say that the less-is-more comparison is obvious, but I’m looking at it from a different angle. The use of darkness and perspective in particular highlights all of the strengths of the film, particularly in their central monster. Director Ridley Scott (The Martian, All the Money in the World) understands what will work and what won’t, and he utilizes his tools well. Looking at some of the behind-the-scenes photos of the film, and particularly the xenomorph (played by Bolaji Badejo) showcase that this movie could’ve looked damn goofy, but the way it was shot and the way it was lit helps to focus the mood of the film, and it still, to this day, looks gorgeous as much as it looks gruesome.

Actor John Hurt on the set of “Alien”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

The cast is fantastic, with specific emphasis thrown toward Sigourney Weaver (Avatar, Ghostbusters II) as Ripley, the warrant officer, and Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth) as Ash, the science officer. Everyone gets at least one great moment in the film.

The script is very strong and runs along very smoothly. This movie just cruises along, with no extra fat. Looking at Alien as a screenplay, it could very simply boil down into a slasher film as the xenomorph moves through the ship trying to pick off the crew one-by-one, but thankfully, the Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star, The Return of the Living Dead) screenplay is stacked with flavor and atmosphere that Scott was able to play off of.

Ridley Scott’s strong directing and Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay combined to make a truly excellent atmospheric horror film. This is one that has aged like a fine wine, and it features some incredible set pieces, including the dinner scene with John Hurt’s (1984, The Elephant Man) intense performance is still one of the most shocking movie moments of all time. This is a movie that shows that not everything needs explaining and that, in fact, some films are stronger without all the answers. Stick with the Theatrical Cut as Scott’s Director’s Cut no longer makes full canonical sense within the confines of the xenomorph’s life cycle, but both versions of Alien are well-worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ridley Scott’s The Martian, click here.

For my review of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, click here.

[Oscar Madness Monday] Gangs of New York (2002)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson

Screenplay: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

167 mins. Rated R for intense strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Daniel Day-Lewis]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song

 

I’ve really wanted to revisit Gangs of New York for some time. I recall catching it back in college, and I also recall not liking it very much. Since college, I’ve grown to love and respect Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The Irishman) and his filmography. He’s since become a director, in my eyes, that I would place on a Mt. Rushmore of all-time directors, but a few films by the director just didn’t click with me at the time, but I’ve wanted to watch those films again. Gangs of New York is one such picture. During this time of social distancing, I now have that time to rewatch Gangs of New York. Let’s see how this plays out.

The year is 1862, and Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) has return to New York City, to a place called the Five Points he fled from years ago. Vallon only has one goal in mind: to kill Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread), the man who killed his father in a brutal gang fight when Vallon was a child. Vallon finds himself infiltrating Bill’s inner workings in order to gain his confidence and get his vengeance, but matters are complicated when he comes into contact with an attractive pickpocket named Jenny (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Annie) and the lines are blurred among the Five Points.

It’s impressive that Leo is able to maintain a presence onscreen with Day-Lewis. This is still a film relatively early in the career of Leonardo DiCaprio, and his subdued yet strong performance is still able to hold his own. I really like DiCaprio here because he is able to portray Amsterdam Vallon’s internal flaws, which is something that becomes more complex as the narrative unfolds. Vallon’s emotional strain is stretched to the snapping point by what he is forced to endure at the hands of Bill “The Butcher” throughout the film.

Make no mistakes, though, no one is outshining Daniel Day-Lewis here as Bill Cutting. His fast-talking molasses-drawled speech is engaging, and his menacing visual performance is so catching and engaging. I love how DDL stays in character throughout shooting (he reportedly had dinner with Scorsese and DiCaprio in character after shooting wrapped for the day), and it seemingly helps his performance because he owns every film he appears in.

I know I’m beating a dead horse with this, but because of all the performing prowess displayed by not only DiCaprio and Day-Lewis but most of the supporting cast, it is quite noticeable how out-of-her-element Diaz is. Her broken accent as Jenny Everdeane is only overshadowed by her seeming disinterest in her character or the film she’s in. She just doesn’t engage on an entertainment level.

The screenplay for Gangs of New York is from Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan. There’s some prowess to this screenwriting crew, but I have a lot of problems with the screenplay. I feel like it was written very capably but it isn’t accessible. It’s a screenplay made for the audiences of 1862 instead of for today. The first time I watched it, I just couldn’t get into it, but I will say it was much better on the second viewing, but even then, I find some real problems with the screenplay. There’s a lost quality to the narrative at the beginning and near the end, with the second act of the film finding its footing.

Martin Scorsese is really trying something new with Gangs of New York. His directing style is a little more erratic, ambitious, and violent. Not all of it works within the confines of the film, but it showcases Scorsese’s interest in evolving. You can complain all you want about Martin Scorsese as a gangster filmmaker, but he is so much more than that, and Gangs of New York is a very different gangster film, or film in general, than anything else in his oeuvre. As stated, not all of the visual storytelling Scorsese presents here works, and I think, again, it works on a second viewing better than the first time around.

Gangs of New York is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s more positive than negative in all this, but it still struggles getting going and finishing strong. There’s a lot of good meat to the film, but it both works and doesn’t work, with the positive outweighing the negative. I enjoyed it on the second viewing way more than the first, mostly from the incredible work from DiCaprio and DDL. This will work for historical buffs or anyone with a bloodlust for bloody violence as well, to varying degrees.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, click here.

[IndyPendence Day] Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan

115 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

IMDb Top 250: #48 (as of 6/25/2019)

 

What else would I watch on IndyPendence Day, right?

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, Witness, The Secret Life of Pets 2) is a professor and archaeologist known for acquiring various historical items of merit. Now he’s been tasked by the American government to find the missing Ark of the Covenant, a chest that contains the remains of the Ten Commandments, and an item he has a history with. He doesn’t know its location, but his former love Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, Starman, Year by the Sea) may know something. He has to work quickly, though, because a group of Nazis, led by rival archaeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman, Hot Fuzz, TV’s Absentia), are already on the search for Marion and the Ark, as Hitler believes the Ark to have mystical powers that may grant the Nazis an edge on their quest for global domination.

I actually got into Indiana Jones in my late teens because of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. When I heard there was going to be a new movie, I knew I had to see the other three first, because I’m a little insane that way. While Raiders of the Lost Ark is not my favorite of the four films, it’s a damn good introductory adventure to our heroic archaeologist and it set the blueprint for how to create an effective adventure under the crafting of director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Ready Player One), George Lucas, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Solo: A Star Wars Story).

Harrison Ford is perfectly cast as Jones. It’s laughable now to even think of someone else like Tom Selleck, Nick Nolte, or even Steve Martin donning the fedora, even though they were all part of the lengthy list of potentials for the lead. He is excellent here, playing an otherworldly parallel to Han Solo, another crotchety character who thinks he knows everything. His chemistry with both love interest Karen Allen and also close friend Sallah, played by John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Aquaman), are both exemplary.

What’s so great about introducing this film at this time is that so much of its iconography and recognizable pop culture occurs in the opening sequence. My wife had only seen Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull (the latter of which probably a decade ago), and after Indy takes on the fertility idol, she turned and asked what happens in the movie, assuming that the boulder and everything leading up to it was the plot of the movie. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it’s true.

Spielberg’s style, borrowed from pulp adventure novels, B-movies, and serials from his youth, elevated the material with a fun sense of style that integrated nicely without getting bogged down in silliness. He also wasn’t afraid to hit the violence hard. In fact, when I was younger, I remember a teacher showing us the violence in one of the sequences of the film. I cannot remember the reason for it, but we were supposed to count the number of violent acts that occur in the fight sequence, and it was a lot. To be honest, that’s one of the great things about the film. The hunt for the Ark is not an easy one for Indy or Marion, and it is their knowledge and skill that keep them going. Plus, Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan actually showcase their lead character’s intellect by having him skirt a few nastier situations in the film by using his brain power over his bullwhip and fist.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a nearly-perfect film which has aged extremely well (except for the age of Marion during her romantic entanglement with the archaeologist). It’s action, violence, and smarts make for a B-movie with an A-movie cast and crew. This is excellent adventure boiled down to its core.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s The Post, click here.

[Extraterrestrial Abductions Day] Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg

137 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Supporting Role [Melinda Dillon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

With today being Extraterrestrial Abductions Day, I wanted to look back at a Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, The BFG) film that I didn’t have much exposure to: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I didn’t see the film until after college, and I didn’t recall liking it very much. So, today, I thought, let’s give it another try.

Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws, Madoff), an electrical lineman in Indiana, is forever changed after he experiences a close encounter with an unidentified flying object while investigating an outage. He develops a thirst to discover exactly what he witnessed that consumes him entirely, causing rifts in his marriage to wife Ronnie (Teri Garr, Tootsie, Aloha, Scooby Doo!) and his children. Roy’s search for answers takes him across the country where he meets Lacombe (Francois Truffaut, The 400 Blows, The Green Room), a French scientist also enamored with the possible discovery of alien life.

My frustrations with Close Encounters of the Third Kind do not lie on the technical side of things. I happen to find the visuals and sound design to be superb, some of the best put to film (coincidentally, the film was released the same as the original Star Wars, which nabbed a number of technical awards at the Oscars). I enjoyed the performances from Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story, Reign Over Me) as Jillian, a single mother who shares in Roy’s journey for answers.

My issues, though, come from Spielberg’s screenplay and how he chose to direct it. Roy does some pretty shitty things in the film, he isn’t a character I like or feel for, and yet Spielberg chooses to give the film such a light-hearted tone. It’s as if to say to his audience, “Look at this funny guy pushing his family away! My, isn’t he strange?” It just didn’t work for me. I want to feel for him and what this journey is doing to him, but I don’t.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a beautiful film, one that furthers the abilities of the artist with its progressive sound design and visual effects, but I just didn’t like the emotional arcs of the characters. An impressive technical marvel to this writer, but one without true substance.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

[Harry Potter Day] [Oscar Madness Monday] Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

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Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Steve Kloves

152 mins. Rated PG for some scary moments and mild language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Happy Harry Potter Day, everyone! Why is today Harry Potter Day? Well, for diehard fans of the series, today coincides with a major battle that took place that, for spoilery reasons, I will not completely jump out and discuss. I imagine some of you have yet to read or see all of the story, and that may be why you are reading, so I will let you get there in good time. No matter…

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Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, Trainwreck, Victor Frankenstein) doesn’t have a great life. His parents are dead. He lives with his dreadful Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw, The English Teacher, The Tree of Life) and Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths, Hugo, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) in the closet beneath the staircase of their home. All that gets turned upside down when an onslaught of letters arrive at the home for Harry and a towering behemoth named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, Brave, Arthur Christmas) arrives to tell him that he is a wizard, just like his parents before him. Harry’s world quickly changes around him as he discovers that he is a wizard of legend, is whisked off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, gains new friends in Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint, CBGB, Charlie Countryman) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, Regression, Noah), and learns of a new enemy in He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, a dark wizard with a terrifying connection to Harry.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had a hell of a task to accomplish. A film and series with this much scope had not been attempted in some time if ever. Director Chris Columbus (Pixels, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) had a lot on his plate. So when I tell you that this first film in the eight film saga ranks as the seventh best, don’t let me stray you from my appreciation of it.

Working with child actors isn’t easy, especially when you have so many. Columbus had been praised in the past for his ability to work with children and get the most from them. The three main stars were still pretty new to acting, and they don’t give bad work, but it is clear from later entries that they were to make leaps and strides as the series continued. Thankfully, they are aided by a top notch supporting cast like John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda, Planes), Richard Harris (Gladiator, The Count of Monte Cristo) and John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Hercules) to help add strength and impact to their scenes.

The screenplay too had some difficulty in narrowing down exactly what was important. At the time of release, there were only four books published of the seven books planned. J.K. Rowling was very helpful in plotting out the series trajectory with Warner Bros., a fact that saved several plot holes through the filmmaking journey. Sadly, though, the film feels bloated at times and Columbus doesn’t direct it but merely meanders through it, spending too much time on trivial moments that slow the movie down.

Columbus also looks back on the visual effects, which are rushed but not to the point of ruining the movie. He learned a lot about handling such a big budget and vowed to hone his visual effects for the follow-up (a fact that I laughed at when noting some of the other issues that the director seemed to have missed).

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Still, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is looked on more critically because of how great the series would become by its end, and the film itself is a triumph in many ways, showing fans and newcomers alike that movies can still leave one with a sense of awe. I absolutely love watching this series and harbor no ill will towards its more humble beginnings, because it is still an enjoyable experience by all.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Batman Day] Batman (1989)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

 

Happy Batman Day! I think, in honor of the legendary Caped Crusader’s special day, we should look back on the 1989 Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) film, Batman, featuring Michael Keaton (Birdman, Minions) as the tycoon-turned-hero.

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On the dark criminal-filled streets of Gotham, tough guy Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, The Shining, How Do You Know) has been betrayed by his boss, villainous gangster Carl Grissom (Jack Palance, The Swan Princess, Tango & Cash) and now, disfigured by a vat of toxic chemicals, he has donned a new persona, the Joker. Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle, The Land Before Time, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Fanboys) are powerless to stop him, but there is hope in the guise of the near-mythical masked vigilante Batman (Keaton) to stop the incoming crimewave.

Batman is a strange but not entirely out of line choice for director Tim Burton, who had previously worked on dark horror-comedies like Beetlejuice and the short film Frankenweenie. Burton had a very tall order to deliver on, having a pantheon of stories to honor is his depiction of Bruce Wayne and his story, and fans were not too thrilled with the decision to cast Keaton in the role.

I think I can say wholeheartedly that fans were proven wrong. Michael Keaton kills it in this role. His decision to play Bruce as an unhinged man, fully committed to his insane lifestyle is what drives his performance home. He fits perfectly in Burton’s over-the-top occasionally overtly-goofied version of Gotham.

Add to that an absolutely bonkers portrayal of The Joker given by a perfect casting choice in Jack Nicholson. Nicholson almost passed up the opportunity to play the villain, but thankfully, due to a considerable offer, he signed on. This is also the first time ever that viewers received a Joker origin story. Up until that point, and in many subsequent versions of the character’s tale, we do not get the answers to why he is the way he is. This origin is perhaps not as powerful as the mystery surrounding the character, though.

Now, from a technical perspective, Batman is hit-and-miss. The set decoration, for which the film won an Oscar, is incredible, but from a sound perspective, I believe the film mostly misses the mark. The sound mixing is a real loss, and the idea of jamming a great theme from Danny Elfman (I can’t believe I just said that) with original music from Prince was a huge mistake.

I should point out that I do love the opening titles. How about that fantastic theme? Am I right? Another interesting tidbit from this film is in the sequence where an underground doctor is fixing up Napier after the incident with the toxic chemicals. The tools used to operate actually came from the Little Shop of Horrors props, which was remade from a 1960 film featuring Jack Nicholson way before being famous. Movies are fun, eh?

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Batman wouldn’t have worked if it were made in a different time period. It is darker than the overtly campy 1960s iteration and yet still embraces the silliness more so than Christopher Nolan’s self-contained trilogy. I still find the film, despite its shortcomings (seriously, how do people not know who Bruce Wayne is), to be an interesting and enjoying piece of pop art, and it was a ton of fun to revisit.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

  

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Seas Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

201 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic intense battle sequences and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Director
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Song (“Into the West” by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, Annie Lennox)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Visual Effects

 

After pouring years of his life into an ambitious project, director Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) finally saw his vision receive the recognition it deserved after winning 11 Academy Awards (making it the most nominated franchise in history), tying the record. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the final chapter in the trilogy based on Tolkien’s novels, and indeed one of the greatest films ever crafted. Equal parts grandeur and tragic masterpiece, our third trip to Middle-Earth.

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Frodo (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties) and Sam (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Goonies) have gotten back on the path to Mount Doom, with Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas) in tow, though Gollum’s path is becoming increasingly more treacherous. Is he leading them down a trap?

Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Prisoner) and Pippin (Billy Boyd, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Dorothy and the Witches of Oz) are heading to Minas Tirith to warn the Steward of Gondor, Denethor (John Noble, TV’s Fringe, Superman: Unbound), of the war that is on his doorstep. The only problem, Denethor, who also happens to be father to Boromir and Faramir (David Wenham, 300, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole), has grown insane and weary in grief over the loss of his favorite son.

This is a spectacular film achievement, visually perfect in every way. The performances are stellar. The plot interweaves and closes off all loose ends. The cinematography is sweeping, epic in scope, and perfectly crafted.  The film’s 200-minute runtime goes by smoothly, not a moment to stop and catch one’s breath. Even the visual effects have not aged in the dozen years since its release. The film even contains the largest prop ever built for a motion picture in a battle sequence containing giant creatures called oliphaunts.

The film features another wonderful battle sequence overcut with Pippin singing a song to the eating Denthor. It is beautiful and chilling and everything that this series is all at once.

As a note to casual fans at the completion of this review for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, check out the extended editions. As terrific as the theatrical cuts are, the extended films are the supreme version of the story. They feature cameos and performances not seen in the previous incarnations, such as The Mouth of Sauron, a wholly chilling character unfortunately cut from the film.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is perhaps the greatest fantasy achievement in filmmaking that we will ever see. It excels on every level and continues the tradition of high-fantasy movies in a glorious fashion. I doubt we will see an equal for a very long time.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

[Star Wars Day] Revenge of the Sixth…Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness

Screenplay: George Lucas

121 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi violence and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Special Achievement Academy Award: Ben Burtt [For sound effects (For the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices)]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role [Alec Guinness]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

iMDB Top 250: #20 (as of 1/18/2016)

As we close Star Wars Days 2015, we end on the original film in the Saga, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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In A New Hope, it has been 19 years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Scooby-Doo!: Moon Monster Madness) was dropped off with his uncle and aunt on Tattooine. When the two droids C-3PO and R2-D2 come into his family’s possession, Luke gets swept up in R2’s mission to deliver a message from the captive Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally…, Maps to the Stars) to the crazy hermit Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai). When Luke discovers that his father knew Kenobi long ago and is gifted his father’s lightsaber, he is set on a quest to save the princess and defeat the Empire.

The original film is still a perfect fantasy/sci-fi masterpiece with great performances, terrific direction, and a nice smooth flow. The special effects still look great (I’m referring to the original special effects, not the Special Edition effects).

Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) absolutely steals the show as Han Solo, who, alongside his trusty co-captain Wookiee Chewbacca, are hired to assist Luke and Kenobi in rescuing the princess. They are aided by a believable group of performances from a talented cast of newcomers like Hamill and Fisher as well as veterans Guinness and Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein) as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.

This is the pinnacle of Lucas’ abilities as a filmmaker. His terrific screenplay and his inability to give up when faced with countless problems directing the picture proved him to be a truly captivating artist with a unique vision.

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope remains a perfect film, one of the best ever put to the screen. It has become a pop cultural rock, unable to be moved from the public eye in the 38 years since its release, and I doubt it will ever truly disappear. Perfection.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

[Happy 35th Birthday!] Kagemusha (1980)

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Director: Akira Kurosawa

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken’ichi Hagiwara

Screenplay: Masato Ide, Akira Kurosawa

162 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Foreign Language Film

 

In 1980, Akira Kurosawa (Yojimbo, Seven Samurai) released Kagemusha, but it almost didn’t happen. When the film went way over budget, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola stepped in to executive produce the film and keep it from being shut down. Was it worth it?

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Yes.

When warlord Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai, Ran, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya) dies in the middle of his conquest, his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki, Departures, Space Battleship Yamato) replaces him with a criminal who bears a striking resemblance to the former conqueror. Through all his might, the criminal (also played by Nakadai) attempts to protect the ruse under the agreement that he be set free when no longer needed, though forces seek to unmask the lie and possibly topple the balance of power.

I love Kurosawa. His vision sets him apart from many other directors. He had a specific genre and style that surprised viewers his entire life. Kagemusha is huge. This film is glorious and gorgeous and everything that Kurosawa was known for. It also featured one of the biggest battles recorded on film, with 5000 extras. He also knew how to use the footage he had. The battle I just mentioned takes up roughly ten minutes of screen time. Many directors today failed to use restraint to save story, and we get movies like Transformers which focus so much on the battles that they forget the story too often.

The performances from the veteran actors continue to impress. The film also benefits have some amazingly planned out sequences. My favorite Kurosawa moments exist in his surreal sensibilities. There is an incredible dream sequence in Kagemusha, and it happens to be my favorite scene in the film, especially with both roles filled by the same actor.

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Now the film is translated very well into English thanks in part to Lucas and Coppola. Kagemusha is a great piece of cinema that demands to be viewed and experienced. Get your hands on it immediately and be a part of something historic (it is available as part of the Criterion Collection and also on Netflix). The only people who won’t appreciate are those who haven’t seen it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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