[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.

[#2018oscardeathrace] Darkest Hour (2017)

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Screenplay: Anthony McCarten

125 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor [Gary Oldman] [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Production Design [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup and Hairstyling [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design [Pending]

 

I had been under the belief that Darkest Hour would not score a Best Picture nomination. While it seemed to be trending for it late last year, that steam was lost by 2018’s start. I don’t think there were any doubts of its nominations for Best Actor in Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) and Makeup/Hairstyling, but the question looms: is Darkest Hour worthy of Best Picture?

Darkest Hour recounts a small but important slice in the life of Winston Churchill (Oldman), specifically his appointment to Prime Minister to his fateful speech at Parliament. His strained working relationships with secretary Elizabeth (Lily James, Cinderella, Baby Driver) and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, TV’s Bloodlines) are particularly highlighted, as is the disdain felt by his predecessor Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) and Edward Wood, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane, The Hours, TV’s Game of Thrones).

Darkest Hour is a damn fine character piece. The work given by Gary Oldman here is exemplary, and I dare say it like we always do, it may be his best work to date. That’s truly saying something about the prolific actor who seems to get better and better with each outing. He deserves the Oscar. I’m calling it.

That isn’t to take away from the amazing work from the entire cast. Lily James shines in her scenes, Dillane and Mendelsohn are fully fleshed out adversaries, and Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Only God Forgives) is terrific as Clementine Churchill. It only breaks my heart that we didn’t get to see the late great John Hurt as Neville Chamberlain. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about Pickup’s performance, but I feel like Hurt was perfect for the role and the film’s dedication to him proves how missed he is as a screen presence.

Director Joe Wright’s film is an ambling presentation of the stellar work of its cast. The faults come with the pacing of the film. The movie loses its focus as it inches closer to its finale, and I feel like the film was nominated purely because of Oldman stellar achievement. The pacing doesn’t kill the film, but I think it does lose its Best Picture quality with it.

Overall, I won’t fault this tremendous achievement. Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is a great movie, and it works even better if you double-feature it with Dunkirk or, hell, put The Imitation Game in there too for a WWII marathon. While the film gets a little too meandering at times, this is high-quality film-making from Wright. This timely film is definitely worth your’s.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[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.

[Happy 75th Birthday!] Citizen Kane (1941)

 citizenkane1941a

Director: Orson Welles

Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorhead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, William Alland

Screenplay: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles

119 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Orson Welles]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound, Recording
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

IMDb Top 250: #67 (as of 5/1/2016)

 

Wow, 75 years. Hard to believe that Citizen Kane, named by many as the greatest film of all time, is 75 years old. A classic by many means, I took the opportunity today to re-experience this film again and showed it to a couple of first-timers in the hopes of teaching them something about the history of film, and I got to witness this film again as if for the first time. Here we go.

citizenkane1941b

Citizen Kane covers the death of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles, Touch of Evil, F for Fake), a now reclusive businessman and public figure, and a man trying to understand the mystery surrounding him. Jerry Thompson (William Alland, Revenge of the Creature, The Deadly Mantis) sets out to interview Kane’s family and estranged friends to unearth the meaning behind his last words. As Thompson uncovers more and more of Kane’s past in an effort to understand the man, he finds a shocking tapestry of sadness and a man who pined for power but found himself none the happier for it. From firsthand accounts by Kane’s second ex-wife Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore, Prison Train, The Big Night), his closest friend Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton, The Third Man, Shadow of a Doubt), and business partner Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane, The Lady from Shanghai, Someone Up There Likes Me), Thompson finds more questions than answers in his attempt to find the mysterious Rosebud.

Director, star, and screenwriter Orson Welles delivered his first feature film with Citizen Kane, a movie that slipped into obscurity after initial release only to late resurface due to praise from French critics. Though it was nominated for nine Academy Awards, it only won for its screenplay, a top notch work from Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz.

The idea of opening with a newsreel covering the finer points of Kane’s life really helps to contrast the public view of Kane with the truth Thompson discovers later on. The film becomes a mystery of its own, not just for Rosebud, but for the myth behind the man.

Welles’ first picture also holds the distinction of having mostly newcomers to the filmmaking process, or those without much background, and much like the more recent direction from filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Welles displays his cast for the screen, allowing them time to fully explore the character and give a nuanced performance. I’m speaking particularly about Welles himself, Cotton, Sloane, and Agnes Moorehead (TV’s Bewitched, The Magnificent Ambersons), who played Kane’s mother in an early flashback.

Some of the viewers I introduced to Citizen Kane kept asking the same questions. What makes this the greatest film of all time? I had to answer that much of what they were seeing had never been done before and pioneered the filmmaking process. The music, storytelling with framing device, and gorgeous cinematography tackled new frontiers, many of which are still used today, but we take them for granted now.

citizenkane1941c

Citizen Kane is an excellent example of how to tell a story in Hollywood. It remains one of the most intellectual and beautiful films of all time. Welles was given freedom to do whatever he wanted and have final cut, an ability few have ever been given. He chose to tell the story of a titan, a mogul, based in part on the life of William Randolph Hearst, but in many ways, the film transcends even that to present a stunning portrayal of regret, sadness, and guilt that carries through even now. I suggest this film to anyone looking for a step into the history of filmmaking.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

King Kong (1976)

kingkong 1976a

Director: John Guillermin

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph

Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple Jr.

134 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Some people say nothing is off limits for a remake if you do it right. That’s true, but it doesn’t do anything to save me the pain from the remakes that are less-than-right. 1976’s King Kong is a remake that did some great things, but it also did some bad things. Today, we will dissect King Kong in all its cheese.

kingkong1976c

King Kong follows a similar plot to its predecessor. A ship and its crew, on the search for petrol, comes across an uncharted island and a great ape who presides over it. Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin, Beethoven, The Ex) sees opportunity for capital gain, while stowaway hippie-man Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, Seventh Son) wishes to protect the island and its inhabitants from the dangerous hands of man, while the beast known as Kong has his eyes set on the beautiful and exotic actress named Dwan (Jessica Lange, TV’s American Horror Story, Big Fish).

I find that the root of all the problems with the film stem from a flimsy and cheese-induced screenplay from Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Papillon, Flash Gordon), who has a shaky reputation for greatness. His screenplay has a lot of set-ups that flop and very few payoffs earned. For starters, the character Dwan, played by Lange, is awful. She is written to be annoying and unlikable, with no help from first-time actress Lange. It would seem that Kong’s entire infatuation with her is similar to the audiences: not a bad gal to gawk at. That’s about it.

I enjoyed Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin, who seem to understand the camp of the film they are a part of, though I still don’t think the tone of the film works at all. And then there is Bridges’ mane of hair, which comes off looking like 70s Teen Wolf mixed with The Lion King’s Simba. Seriously, did no one see him and giggle a bit, perhaps enough to realize that his look just was not working?

Now, as far as the ape goes, I like it. It mostly works well. I like the animatronics utilized here. I think the realism of the beast works enough, but the special effects of placing him in scenes get the size all over the place. Some shots he looks practically normal-sized while other sequences completely overload his presence. I still don’t really know the size that they wanted.

King Kong is probably the third best King Kong movie. That being said, it helped further the world of animatronics and for that it should be thanked. Just not very loudly.

kingkong1976b

PS: If anyone out there uses editing software, can you create a video of Jeff Bridges as Jack Prescott performing The Lion King soundtrack. Just a thought.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

thelordoftheringsthefellowshipofthering2001a

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

178 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ian McKellan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song (“May It Be” by Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Some projects are doomed from the very start. Imagine filming three movies at the same time, on one budget, and having creating a trilogy between them of at least 11 hours in length. Yeah, Peter Jackson did that.

Sir Ian McKellan in a scene from THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, 2001.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring follows Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties), a hobbit from Hobbiton. He lives with his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Renaissance) who is celebrating his eleventy-first birthday (that’s 111 to you non-hobbit folks) and has just left Frodo with his magical ring of power which he found sixty years earlier. What Frodo and wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Prisoner) are about to discover is that this ring is the powerful One Ring of Sauron, a dark lord who used the ring to take over the land long ago. Sauron had been destroyed, but the ring of power had passed along looking for its master to reunite and bring back an age of darkness and despair. Now it is up to Frodo, his gardener Samwise (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis), and their fellowship of seven others, including elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and the mysterious ranger known as Strider (Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence, On the Road) to get the ring of power to the one place where it can be destroyed: the fiery Mount Doom in the land of Mordor. There’s just one problem: Mordor is where the Eye of Sauron is still looking for his ring with armies of orcs at his disposal.

This film is staggering in scale. It is almost too realistic for a fantasy film, it just sucks you in. The plot here is immensely entertaining due to director Jackson’s attention to detail and knowledge of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material. The screenplay, by Jackson and fellow writing team members Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (with whom he also penned The Lovely Bones and King Kong), is incredibly engaging and equal parts exhilarating and fun.

This is Elijah Wood at his career best. His portrayal of Frodo, a hobbit who is only used to the good parts of life and used to only happiness, solitude, and relaxation, now thrust unto this great quest, is deeply personal. I saw in Wood’s performance a hobbit who looks up to his uncle for all the adventures he has been on, but also doesn’t really want to live them.

Viggo Mortensen here is another strength (of which the entire cast is). Strider is a character with deep levels of history and emotion, a true well of sadness. Mortensen plays it to perfection.

I also truly loved Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Mirror Mirror) as Boromir, a man entrusted to Frodo’s fellowship who has a weakness for power and believes that the ring holds the key to saving his homeland.

Peter Jackson isn’t afraid here to get down and dirty and display epic-sized battles for his audience. This movie chooses to show, not tell, and it is totally worth it.

thelordoftheringsthefellowshipofthering2001b

In fact, just about every aspect of this film could be classified as stellar. It happens to be my favorite of the six Middle-Earth films Peter Jackson has poured his soul into. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is incredible on just about every level. Take a trip to Middle-Earth with me, and enjoy yourself along the way.

 

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 Lovely Bones, click here.

[Happy 15th Birthday!] Sleepy Hollow (1999)

sleepyhollow1999a

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci

Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker

105 mins. Rated R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design

 

I remember reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a kid. I remember the way it made me feel. It was a very unhappy and dreary story, as was expected to be. I remember my excitement at hearing that there was a new film version coming along in 1999. It was a new film from director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows), with whom I was already familiar with at a young age. I remember finding the film to be very different than the original story, much more convoluted than it needed to be. I wasn’t a great big fan of the film, though I remembered that it had several some really great moments. I thought I would look back on the film for its 15th anniversary and see if I felt any different about it.

sleepyhollow1999c

As it turns out, I still find numerous flaws with the film, but I feel as though it has aged very nicely over the past fifteen years.

It’s the story of Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Transcendence) as he hunts down a murderer in Sleepy Hollow who lops his victim’s heads off. Along the way, he meets Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci, Monster, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax), a woman he develops an emotional connection to even though she may have more to her past than he knows. The townspeople believe that the murders are being committed by The Headless Horseman, a mythical being who has been birthed from Hell to avenge his death.

This film looks pretty damn good for its age. I still find the lighting to be too little during some of the more menacing action sequences. I think it could use a bit more light in its scenes. I like Johnny Depp, pre-overused by Tim Burton here. Christina Ricci returns to the genre that made her famous in The Addams Family. I find her inert sensuality and innocence brings chilling ambience to her performance here. Then there’s Christopher Walken, who gets a lot less screentime as The Headless Horseman, but all the seem, he gives one of the most iconic and terrifying performances I have ever seen here. He is almost monstrous and beastly even as a humanoid spirit.

I also enjoyed the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki here. He definitely deserved the nomination from making this film feel like a Hammer film and gives homage to even older films of the horror genre.

sleepyhollow1999a

Of all the films in the Burton canon, this one feels more like the Burton we know and doesn’t tread very much new territory, but overall, I enjoy the film much more now, and part of that has to do with the awesome soundtrack and the screenplay from Andrew Kevin Walker (even with an uncredited rewrite that messed with the pacing a bit). Tim Burton has done better, but he has also done worse, and Sleepy Hollow exists somewhere in the middle.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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

31 Days of Horror: Day 27 – Psycho (1960)

psycho1960a

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh

Screenplay: Joseph Stefano

109 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Janet Leigh)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Black-and-White

 

Few films could break new ground in film-making quite like Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, Rear Window) did with Psycho, an adaptation of the novel by Robert Bloch. In it, the world witnessed the first flushing toilet in motion picture history. Funny now, but back then screenwriter Joseph Stefano (Two Bits, Blackout) was told that the toilet had to be integral to the film, so he made it just that.

psycho1960d

Perhaps more important than the toilet is the entirety of Psycho, an absolutely shocking and unnerving masterpiece from Hitchcock, made on a minute budget with an all television crew to cut costs, and released as one of the best horror films on modern record.

It tells the story of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, Touch of Evil, The Manchurian Candidate) who steals $40,000 from her boss in order to live the life she deserves with the man she deserves, Sam Loomis (John Gavin, Spartacus, Imitation of Life). Along the getaway, she stays for the night at the Bates Motel, run by the shy Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins, The Trial, The Black Hole) and his mother. When Marion goes missing, her sister Lila (Vera Miles, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Sam go looking for her. The plot is both simple and yet still unbelievably watchable.

Janet Leigh is amazing here, creating a character who does bad things and is still someone I connected to emotionally. I think practically everyone has had thoughts of stealing enough money to live luxuriously and getting away with it. Her chemistry with Perkins as Norman Bates (or as Hitchcock called him, Master Bates) is very strong and grounded as well. I felt some sensual connection these two characters build, which ultimately leads to chaotic conclusions.

Hitchcock’s use of the camera is what causes so much jitter. There is a scene where the camera focuses entirely on Bates’ jaw and throat as he is questioned by a private detective about Marion’s disappearance. It just focuses on the way he chews his food. The famous shower scene as well is so perfectly executed that nudity is kept to a bare minimum while somewhere over 70 shots are all spliced into a minute of film that stays with the viewer through the rest of the film.

Bernard Herrmann’s musical score is another great element that has surprisingly stayed effective even 54 years later. It was so good that Hitchcock included it in scenes he originally wanted completely silent and later mentioned in an interview of its importance in the film over just about everything else.

The set design is well worth its Oscar nomination. Each environment is so vividly realized that I can actually recall color in them even though the film is black and white. I can picture them perfectly while not distracting me from the story.

psycho1960b

This movie is perfect. I can completely see why Alfred Hitchcock went insane over his requiring of theaters to not allow people in after the film had started. I can’t believe I waited so long to view this picture. Watch this movie!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

psycho1960c

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑