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

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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.

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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.

[Oscar Madness] Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

136 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

Today we are going to look back on Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, a film that has truly polarized fans of perhaps the most-beloved sagas in motion picture history.

Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, Taken 3) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) are about to take part in trade negotiations with the insidious Trade Federation over trade disputes. When negotiations go south and the Trade Viceroy takes control of the peaceful planet of Naboo, the Jedi take refuge on the remote desert planet of Tattooine, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, Jingle All the Way), a child who may just be the Chosen One, a Jedi who can bring balance to the Force.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) returned to his beloved Star Wars franchise sixteen years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi to create one of the most discussed entries in the canon. Some love it; many loathe it. I find it to be an enjoyable, albeit flawed entry in the series.

Jake Lloyd absolutely destroys his role as Anakin by not understanding the characters and delivering his lines as though he is just reading them. His scenes can’t even be saved by Neeson and McGregor. Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) and Kenny Baker (The King and I, Willow) return as C-3PO and R2-D2 and help to tie this film to the others. Then there is Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Annie: A Royal Adventure!) as Senator Palpatine. I love his performance here. He is slippery like a politician should be with just a note of secrecy.

I want to say something about George Lucas. I might get flack or praise, not sure which, but George Lucas can direct just fine. He cannot write all that well. He should stick to storytelling but leave the screenplay work to others. Look back at The Empire Strikes Back. It is considered by many to be the best in the saga, but it is the only one not specifically written by Lucas. Just sayin’.

The flow of the film is nicely tied together. I enjoyed the time spent on Tattooine, and I felt like the Naboo sequences add something new to the series. I honestly didn’t care much for Jar Jar Binks, but I also accepted that galaxies far far away probably had annoying aliens. There just has to be some.

The effects are wildly well put together, from the podrace sequences to the battle for Naboo. The new Yoda (played by Frank Oz, Zathura, Monsters, Inc.) is more advanced than previously, though it doesn’t really look like Yoda.

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Looking back at the first chronological Star Wars adventure brings up a lot of questions. How has the film held up? Did the love or the hate soften? Will Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens have the same reception? I don’t have the answers to all those questions, but I can say that expectations are often the culprits for long-waited installments. I like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It is far from the perfect Star Wars film, but it is an enjoyable reintroduction to the galaxy and the time that we love so much.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Poltergeist (1982)

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Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Heather O’Rourke

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

114 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Poltergeist is an interesting film. It is equal parts comedic and utterly chilling, and not without an ounce of controversy.

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From director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mortuary) comes Poltergeist, a tale of the Freelings: Diane (JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Big Year) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson, TV’s Parenthood, The Incredibles). Their new home has been having some issues…issues like a living tree and clown doll trying to kidnap their son,  a closet that warps daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) into some purgatorial dimension, and chairs that slide across the floor. You know, normal new house problems. When Carol Anne is lost somewhere in the house, the Freelings must join together with paranormal researchers to save the young girl.

JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson command their roles with precision and chemistry as the chief parental units. In fact, the relationships of the entire Freeling clan are what holds this family and the entire film together. If you don’t feel for the family, you don’t feel for the film, and thankfully, this family works. Director Hooper commands a completely different tone for this film than previous efforts like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the tone being more alike Spielberg’s other 1982 work with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but more on that later…

What makes this film a classic is the practical effects. Some of them are still realistically well put together over 30 years later. A few of them are still horrifying, like the mirror dream sequence and the actual skeletons in the pool (seriously, they were real skeletons). All in all, the film is still really shocking, especially for a PG film (the PG-13 didn’t really exist at the time).

So, there was some controversy about who the real director was: Hooper or writer Steven Spielberg (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)? Tonally, it looks to be Spielberg, but reports have surfaced that could go either way. Spielberg does seem like a backseat director to me, but I’m thinking Hooper myself.

Finally, let’s discuss the Curse. This film has often been considered to contain a curse much like the one that the Freelings are attached to (perhaps because of the real skeletons used during filming). Actress Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling, was killed by a former boyfriend in 1982 after filming completed. Then, Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died in 1988 after surgery to repair a bowel obstruction at the age of 12. She was filming Poltergeist III at the time.

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Poltergeist, a movie with history, permanently engrained in history. While the film does run on a bit longer than it needs, and featuring one too many paranormal investigators, but still a strong horror classic. Check it out, if you haven’t already. There is a reboot/remake on the way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Jurassic Park (1993)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Wayne Knight, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Michael Crichton, David Koepp

127 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense science fiction terror.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

I’m going to tell you a story now. When I was a young child, I was positively blown away by Jurassic Park. I just always wanted to watch it. Unfortunately for me, I was absolutely terrified of the film. I never got past the famous T-Rex sequence without running out of the room as fast as possible. Finally, when my next-door neighbor volunteered to babysit me one night, he made me a promise: We were getting through Jurassic Park tonight. And we did. And it remains one of the most thrilling examples of perfect filmmaking even now, 22 years later.

Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, TV’s Peaky Blinders, The Hunt for Red October) and his colleague Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, The Fault in Our Stars, Wild) have just been hired by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, The Great Escape, Elizabeth) to look into his newest project, an amusement park on the island of Isla Nublar. They are joined by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day, Mortdecai), an observer of the Chaos Theory, as the three discover that Jurassic Park is filled with genetically cloned dinosaurs. When the island’s security defenses go down, the dinosaurs are unleashed, and the scientists must find a way off the island before chaos takes them out.

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First of all, I want to discuss the screenplay from Michael Crichton and David Koepp. I love the original novel and this adaptation is pretty damn close in the overall scope and the tone conveyed. There are a few changes and a few scenes omitted in the name of time, but the script is pretty great for both an adaptation and a film in general.

The list of performers, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Attenborough are so perfectly cast that it amazes me. Add in veteran character actors Bob Peck (The Black Velvet Gown, Slipstream), Martin Ferrero (Heat, Air Bud 3), and Wayne Knight (TV’s The Exes, Space Jam), and you have some genuinely perfectly cast players.

Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) had so much invested in this project, and so much faith in it at the same time. It is refreshing to find a director that cares so much about a project. His care for pushing the visual effects envelope while maintaining his style and flair for the suspense and the fantastic.

The look and sound of the dinosaurs literally created the modern view of dinosaurs in film. The incredible sound work (the noises of the velociraptor hatching were created by cracking an ice cream cone and the squishing of a cantaloupe and pineapple) is what earns this film the realism that Spielberg so desperately wanted.

Lastly, I wanted to discuss the famous scene in which the T-Rex’s movement causes a water ripple in a glass. The sound originally came to Steven Spielberg while listening to Earth, Wind & Fire. His production team eventually, after many, many failures, created the effect with a guitar string placed underneath the fake dashboard.

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Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park stands as one of the most groundbreaking and equally effective films of its or any generation. The film still looks gorgeous and has stood the test of time. The special effects haven’t even aged all that much. My hope is that Jurassic World is even partially as good as this one.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[12 Days of Christmas] On the First Day… The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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Director: Henry Selick

Cast: Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Ed Ivory, Ken Page

Screenplay: Caroline Thompson

76 mins. Rated PG for some scary images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

Welcome to the 12 Days of Christmas, a celebration of Christmas and winter-themed films of all shapes and sizes.

We begin this yuletide tradition with The Nightmare Before Christmas, Henry Selick’s feature film adaptation of Tim Burton’s original poem.

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First off, before we start any of this thing up, I want to make a note. I refuse to call this film a Tim Burton film as Tim Burton really didn’t have all that much to do with the production. He was a producer and that is it. So no, I will be referring to this film, if in any capacity, as Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. But I digress…

After another successful holiday in Halloween Town, pumpkin king Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon, The Princess Bride, Safe) is tired of the tradition. He wants to experience something new. He gets the chance when he comes across a mystical forest with a tree that transports him to Christmas Town where he falls in love with a new holiday, though he doesn’t quite understand it. Jack takes it upon himself to bring Christmas to Halloween Town, including impersonating Santa (Ed Ivory, Nine Months) and giving out gifts to the residents of his home world.

I have grown to love this movie. It has everything that a new and engaging film should have. It has a unique story idea that seems wholly goofy yet fully realized. It has an enchanting screenplay by Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands, City of Ember) that makes the magic real. It has terrific voicework from leads Sarandon and Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone, A.C.O.D.) as well as secondary performers Glenn Shadix and Paul Reubens. Let’s not forget Ken Page (Dreamgirls, Cats) as the sadistic and demented Oogie Boogie. Henry Selick (Coraline, Monkeybone) understands the stop-motion medium and knows just what is enough.

The music here as well is catchy, simple, and engaging to even the musically-declined. Each song is more like a taste and doesn’t wear out its welcome, making the film tight and finely-tuned allowing for multiple viewings.

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Now Jack’s story perhaps could have been trimmed a bit more and the secondary characters could have had a bit more to do, but as a completed work, The Nightmare Before Christmas has entombed (see what I did there?) itself as a Christmas classic and a Halloween classic, a feat damn near impossible to pull off.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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