How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

Director: Dean DeBlois

Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrerra, F. Murray Abraham, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson

Screenplay: Dean DeBlois

104 mins. Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.

 

2019 has been full of some amazing franchise cappers. It’s also had some stinker franchise enders. So how does this third and supposedly final installment in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise end up?

It’s been about a year since we last caught up with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, Goon, TV’s Man Seeking Woman). In that time, he and the other dragon-riders have spent their time freeing captured dragons and growing Berk into a haven for both dragons and humans alike. They’ve been quite successful, and Berk is overpopulated with the winged beasts. Hiccup believes that he can solve this problem by finding The Hidden World, a legendary dragon utopia his father Stoick had told him about. Meanwhile, Toothless discovers a white dragon similar in appearance, called a Light Fury by Astrid (America Ferrera, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, TV’s Superstore). Toothless is clearly smitten, and Hiccup is unaware that the Light Fury may be a trap set by the dangerous dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham, The Grand Budapest Hotel, TV’s Homeland), who has his eyes set on Toothless.

The Hidden World is the lengthiest of the How to Train Your Dragon films, but it doesn’t feel that way. This movie cruises by, not taking time to reintroduce the audience to the characters, and just letting the story get moving. It has to move quick because the film feels a little stuffed with plot. There’s a lot more going on as Writer/Director Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch) tries to wrap up his trilogy nicely, and it mostly works. I really enjoyed Toothless’s plotline involving the Light Fury. Toothless has never been the focus of these movies like Hiccup, so it was nice to really focus on the needs of the dragon here. The Hiccup and Grimmel part of the story is where it feels a little too familiar. Again, we have another dragon hunter with an eye for Night Furies.

The story, this time around, does feel more epic in scale, and I didn’t laugh nearly as much as the other films. The Hidden World is more serious and action-laden than the others too. There’s a very noticeable and welcome tonal shift as the story packs on weight. I very much enjoyed where it went and how it ended. I also love that DeBlois and DreamWorks seemingly aimed at ending this series, and I appreciate that as a fan and viewer. Sure, there’s plenty of possible plot threads here to lay work for a fourth film, but it felt like the aim was to end it, and that’s a really special thing not all franchises get to do.

With that ending, the film and its audiences are awarded for hanging in there throughout the franchise. I teared up more than once as the film headed for its inevitable conclusion. This is a story so wrought with emotion, a boy-and-his-dog tale with strength and innovation, and this franchise capper sticks the landing quite well.

The voice work is always well done here, with specific credit to franchise newcomer F. Murray Abraham, who always kicks villainy up a notch. Bam! From a technical and visual sense, everything looks gorgeous in the film. I had previously watched the first two films a few nights before hitting up this final chapter, and I have to say, it’s astonishing how the animation has steadily improved on an already impressive-looking first film.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a pretty solid franchise capper, and it closes out a story that has beloved by many fans in a way that will elevate it to one of the best animated film trilogies of all time. If you are a fan of the first two films, you will find a lot to love in this finale. The Hidden World comes with a solid recommendation from this writer.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’s How to Train Your Dragon, click here.

For my review of Dean DeBlois’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, click here.

[Early Review] The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)

Director: Eli Roth

Cast: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Renee Elise Goldsberg, Sunny Suljic, Kyle MacLachlan

Screenplay: Eric Kripke

104 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor, and language.

 

I never would’ve expected Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Death Wish) to direct a family film. I did expect him to cameo in it.

The House with a Clock in its Walls is based on the 1970s book of the same name, and it is set in 1955 after Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro, Daddy’s Home, Fun Mom Dinner) is sent to live with his estranged uncle Jonathan (Jack Black, School of Rock, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) at his home in New Zebedee, Michigan. Uncle Jonathan’s home is considered to be one of the strangest in town, and Lewis quickly learns his uncle is a warlock, and his neighbor, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett, Carol, How to Train Your Dragon 2) is a witch, and a year earlier, a very tortured warlock named Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan, Inside Out, TV’s Twin Peaks) died in the house. As Lewis begins training to become a warlock like his uncle, he struggles with the task of not revealing his new powers to a popular boy in school named Tarby (Sunny Suljic, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot), and Lewis makes a grave mistake that risks the lives of not just his newfound family, but all life on Earth.

Let me tell you about the things I didn’t like in The House with a Clock in its Walls because overall, I rather enjoyed myself. I think Owen Vaccaro really struggles to play the leading role here, and most of the best scenes in the film are based around Black, Blanchett, and MacLachlan. His performance tends to fall back on back theatrics and disappointing crying and screaming. I understand that may be how he is portrayed in the book, but it just doesn’t work here.

The pacing is a little chunky as well, particularly in the middle of the film. There’s a lot going on, but most of the scenes at Lewis’s new school simply bog down the film and should’ve been drastically trimmed to keep the pace going.

All that being said, I had a grin on my face for a large portion of the movie. I was reminded of children’s horror from the 1990s like the Goosebumps TV show and films like Hocus Pocus, Casper, and The Witches. The movie was actually rather creepy and discussed some gruesome things, and I saw kids in the theater with me covering their eyes and keeping two fingers split so as to keep watching. Some kids really love being scared, and I’m glad that Hollywood is recognizing that again. Eli Roth does a fine job of mixing the horror with the fun, aided by a nice screenplay from Eric Kripke (Boogeyman, TV’s Supernatural).

Most of the scenes outside of the school actually left me wanting more mythology. Lewis keeps bringing up a character from television called Captain Midnight and I feel like we only barely scratched the surface. I wanted more Captain Midnight, I wanted more creatures and spells in the house, I wanted more backstory from Izard. I just wanted more. Learning that the book is part of a series makes me really want to see this become a franchise.

The House with a Clock in its Walls stumbles a bit here and there, but I still had fun watching it. It’s the kind of film that you can bring your kids to and still have fun. It feels like it could be the Hocus Pocus of this generation, staying with youths as they grow up and show their kids, and I hope you give it a try. I mean, they are releasing it with Thriller in 3D (something I did not get to see last night), so go for that at the very least.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins

Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost

130 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.

IMDb Top 250: #207 (as of 12/22/2017)

 

I think I was one of the few people in the world who wasn’t worried a bit about Thor: Ragnarok. I just had a good feeling about the whole production, and considering that the original Thor is my favorite MCU film to date, I overall didn’t worry in the slightest. So I guess it comes down to it. Was I right not to worry?

Things haven’t been going well for Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman, Star Trek) lately. His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island, TV’s The Night Manager) is believed dead. His father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs, Transformers: The Last Knight) has seemingly gone off the deep end. But when Thor discovers that he has a sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, How to Train Your Dragon 2), who has broken free of her captivity, he finds himself zipped across the galaxy to a strange planet where he must fight for his life against intergalactic gladiators to appease the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park). Thor must band together with a ragtag group of friends and old foes to get back to Asgard and prevent Hela from unleashing Ragnarok, the Norse Armageddon.

I wanted to try and avoid some spoilers with Thor: Ragnarok, but they are inherently in the film’s plot. That being said, Ragnarok is by far the most unique MCU film to date and most definitely the best one of 2017. Bringing on Director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) was an absolutely inspired choice, one that set up this installment for success from the very beginning. It is the kind of space film that deserves the term “rollicking.”

As always, Hemsworth and Hiddleston have excellent chemistry, but it is the addition of all the new characters like Goldblum’s Grandmaster, Tessa Thompson (Creed, Dear White People) as the Valkyrie, Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Pete’s Dragon) as Skurge, Hela’s commander, and Waititi himself as the alien Korg that make the experience as tremendous as it is.

Thinking about faults in the film, I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of concern about Ragnarok at all through the film. Sure, it’s the Flash Gordon of the MCU but I wasn’t really concerned for any of the players. Also, classic characters like the Warriors Three are tossed aside and mishandled. As for Lady Sif, she is nowhere to be found, and I think the film suffers by not addressing it.

Treating Thor: Ragnarok as a space road trip movie and teaming up Thor with the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight, Now You See Me 2) is the crowning achievement of the film, and being the third in a tremendous group of 2017 MCU films only steepens excitement for where this franchise is going as a whole. Ragnarok falters a bit when addressing the overall momentum of the franchise but it stands by itself as a singularly enjoyable experience that rivals that of the first Thor film for entirely different reasons. It’s my favorite superhero film of the year.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2016oscardeathrace] Cinderella (2015)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter

Screenplay: Chris Weitz

105 mins. Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Disney has always been hit-or-miss on their live-action adaptations of their animated classics. I was less-than-enthused about 2014’s Maleficent, but with Cinderella, and a solid director in Shakespearian artist Kenneth Branagh (Frankenstein, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), it seemed like they had a real chance.

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The new iteration of the classic tale presents more backstory on Ella (Lily James, Wrath of the Titans, Burnt), her wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol), and the Prince (Richard Madden, TV’s Game of Thrones, A Promise) she falls for. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Suffragette), Ella becomes a beautiful princess for a night of magic and dancing with the Prince in his kingdom. When the night ends, the Prince must do anything to find the mysterious beauty he has fallen for.

From a storytelling perspective, the film reminded me a lot of the Halloween remake from some years back (I know, strange comparison), which chose to flesh out backstory to bulk up the characters and story. Both films do succeed in this dangerous endeavor, though Cinderella definitely doesn’t need all the build-up. Screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) elected to grab from other versions of the tale to add new layers to the film, and it works.

Lily James and Cate Blanchett absolutely own their performances here, fitting right into the narrative nicely, and they are aided by Madden and thespians like Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, Anonymous).

Often, Branagh uses his superior storytelling tactics from his time studying the plays of William Shakespeare to influence his filmmaking style. It worked well in Thor, and it continues to elevate his craft here.

I must point out the masterful costume design, though likely not to win the Oscar this year, still looks astounding, especially in the ball sequence. The set design aids it well.

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Cinderella is one of the better Disney live-action adaptations, and while the film’s pacing comes into question more than once (too much exposition boggs down the film quite a bit), it succeeds in a lot of other ways and is worthy of a viewing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, click here.

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 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.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Sean Bean, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philipps Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson

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

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

iMDB Top 250: #16 (as of 12/7/2015)

We had to wait a whole year to find out what happened to Frodo (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties) and Sam (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Goonies). That, or just read the book.

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Let’s just focus on the film. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers furthers Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. The fellowship has broken, and friends Pippin (Billy Boyd, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Dorothy and the Witches of Oz) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan, TV’s Lost, I Sell the Dead) have been taken by the orcs to Isengard. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence, On the Road), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers) follow the orc pack in an attempt to free them. As Frodo gets closer to his goal, he comes across help in the form of the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas), who held the ring before Bilbo found it sixty years previously, but is Gollum truly a friend or a foe?

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is based on the second book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and proved to be the most difficult in adapting. First of all, the book is split in two. The first half covers Aragorn and company on their journey. The second half focuses on Frodo, so careful planning and rearranging was taken to make the film chronological in nature. As I’ve said before, Tolkien was a great storyteller but his structure left something to be desired. Then came the difficulty of too much climax with two stories running concurrently. So some events from the second book had to be relocated to the first and third film.

The acting here is tremendous again. Newcomer Bernard Hill (Titanic, ParaNorman) joins as King Theoden of Rohan, who has a warped mind due to the hold Saruman (Christopher Lee, Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows) has over his mind. Theoden is confined to his throne and being further distorted by the slimy Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif, Dune, Curse of Chucky). Frodo gets to interact with Faramir (David Wenham, 300, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole), brother of the recently slain Boromir (Sean Bean, TV’s Legends, GoldenEye).

Peter Jackson’s vision is further explored in sweeping visuals during the battle of Helm’s Deep, the film’s main set piece. The score continues to impress, giving each character its own nuance. Again, the costumes are gorgeous.

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The faults with this film are few. The pacing is difficult from the screenwriting difficulties. It is clear that the middle act of the film muddles a bit in trying to realign itself to the story. Really, that’s about it. This film has, since its release, been considered to be much better than initial reviews gave it, even though initial reviews were still damn good, and while I enjoyed it, it certainly wasn’t as good as the first and third. Still, take this journey to Middle-Earth. You won’t be disappointed.

4.5/5

-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 Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, click here.

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

[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.

[#2015oscardeathrace] How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Director: Dean DeBlois

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington

Screenplay: Dean DeBlois

102 mins. Rated PG for adventure action and mild rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

How to Train Your Dragon was a film that needed to have a sequel. Two, in fact. The first film had a very SAGA-like feeling to it. It had some more story that needed to be told. And it was, in last year’s How to Train Your Dragon 2.

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Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby) and his dragon Toothless have come a long way in their relationship, and their home Berk has changed along with them. Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler, 300, Olympus Has Fallen), has learned to respect him as a son and a man. Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s Ugly Betty, Cesar Chavez) has furthered her affection for him. Everything is going just great for Hiccup, until he discovers a dragon army led by the terrifying Drago (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator, Seventh Son) and comes face-to-face with Valka (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Knight of Cups), his missing mother in this sequel from director Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch).

How to Train Your Dragon 2 excells in almost every way further than its predecessor. Visually, it is stunning. Emotionally, it resonates. The above developed relationships are tested further and further as the film progresses. Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, and Kit Harington (TV’s Game of Thrones, Pompeii) are great additions to the voice cast.

DeBlois’ sequel is a tightly-knit thrill-ride, with beautiful music, and gorgeous set-pieces. It also has the distinction of being the first animated film to contain an openly homosexual character (I won’t say who, but it shouldn’t really matter). For that alone, the film deserved praise.

The flaw, and there is a big one, comes at the end, when the film takes a fairly mediocre and cliché turn developing in an underwhelming finale. Hiccup and Toothless have a respect that is stretched to its lengths, yet the plotholes near the end make one question what it was all for.

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The ending aside, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is still a massively successful sequel and well worth the viewing. I only hope the open threads are continued throughout the future installments.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’ How to Train Your Dragon, click here.

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

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

 

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the work that Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) and his creative team has accomplished. Six films, two trilogies, and hours upon hours of extended editions have comprised the Middle-Earth Saga.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz) and the company of dwarves have just let the diabolical Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Penguins of Madagascar) loose on Lake Town. It’s up to Bard (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, Fast & Furious 6) to stop the evil dragon and reclaim their lives. Tempers soon flair up as the treasures of Erebor are up for grabs and Thorin (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm), consumed by greed, has decided not to honor the agreement made with Bard and his people. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) continues his battle against the dreaded Necromancer.

The finale to The Hobbit trilogy is a far different film from its predecessors, and with a very simple plot, revolves entirely around the Battle of the Five Armies, one of the biggest battles in Middle-Earth history. It is very similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, where the entire film revolves around the climactic ending as opposed to standing on its own. It is definitely my sixth favorite Middle-Earth film.

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Ian McKellan is a torn Gandalf here, caught between his allegiance to the Company of Dwarves and his commitment to reason and peace. McKellan continues to impress.

Evangeline Lilly (TV’s Lost, Real Steel) is great as Tauriel here, the elf who has developed feelings for the poisoned dwarf Kili. Her relationship with Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers) and his father Thranuil (Lee Pace, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire, Guardians of the Galaxy) are further delved into in this film and helps to increase her internal and external conflicts as the story progresses.

As far as the Company of Dwarves, we get more great but wholly underutilized work from Ken Stott (Shallow Grave, One Day) as Balin, the dwarf who will one day claim Moria, and James Nesbitt (Coriolanus, Match Point) as Bofur, the dwarf who, above all else, just wants his home back.

I also loved the continual references to future events and foreshadowing from The Lord of the Rings, like the cameo appearances from Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2), Ian Holm (Ratatouille, Lord of War), Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas). My only major issue was that I wanted more. Tolkien fans will know that Balin ends up in Moria with Oin, we know that Gloin has a son named Gimli, we know Saruman’s fate, but I wanted to see more in this film.

Director Jackson continues to prove he can handle action and large-scale battle sequences, the action here is incredible. His cinematography mixed with the amazingly well-put-together sequences, and Howard Shore’s deep and thunderous score.

It took me a while to really enjoy Billy Boyd’s final song, “The Last Goodbye,” but once I did, I really felt it tied together not just this film, but the trilogy and in fact the entire saga.

If you get the chance to watch Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance capture for Smaug and the Necromancer, do it. He is incredible to watch even without the CGI placed over it.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t Jackson’s best work, but it certainly is a perfectly fine finale to an epic series. I feel like the theatrical cut of the film is missing some key details, and I hope that the extended cut has the ability to expand this on the film and show us some more connective tissues.

 

3.5/5

-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.

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