31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 15 – The Faculty (1998)

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Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett, Shawn Hatosy, Elijah Wood

Screenplay: Kevin Williamson

104 mins. Rated R.

 

I always find it strange when a director known for writing and directing his or her own work decides to take on a project written by someone else. When the writer is well known too, it really increases my excitement. Of course, The Faculty came out when I was eight years old, so none of that really mattered, but still, something to think about.

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The teachers of Herrington High School are acting a bit strange, and young Casey (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Last Witch Hunter) and Delilah (Jordana Brewster, Fast Five, Home Sweet Hell) have just discovered their secret: they aren’t exactly from our planet. Now it rests on several students to stop the impending alien invasion before their school is overrun.

The Faculty is a rather fun little sendup to alien invasion stories like Invasion of the Body Snatchers from director Robert Rodriguez (Grindhouse, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) and screenwriter Kevin Williamson (TV’s The Following, Scream 2). Rodriguez gathered a rather impressive group of young actors for his film also including Josh Hartnett (TV’s Penny Dreadful, Black Hawk Down).

I found the various faculty members were portrayed by some impressive genre performers like Robert Patrick, Salma Hayek, Piper Laurie, Daniel von Bargen, and John Stewart. Sure, the film itself has problems that stem from it being a studio horror film, but overall Rodriguez is able to apply his mythical sense of the macabre to this film, keeping the style mostly high but not perfectly so.

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I enjoyed The Faculty at age eight. I also did at age twenty-five. It has aged pretty well. Check it out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, 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.

[Happy 10th Birthday!] Sin City (2005)

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Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood

Screenplay: Frank Miller

124 mins. Rated R for sustained strong stylized violence, nudity, and sexual content including dialogue.

 

It’s pretty insane that no one decided to completely adapt a graphic novel until 2005, when co-directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez released Sin City, an adaptation of the series of the same name.

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Sin City tells three main stories. In “The Hard Goodbye”, we meet Marv (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, Immortals), a beast of a man who has just enjoyed the best night of his life due to a beautiful blonde named Goldie. When he wakes up, she’s not breathing and he’s out for vengeance. In “The Big Fat Kill”, Dwight (Clive Owen, TV’s The Knick, Children of Men) is out to stop the dangerous drunk Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro, Snatch, Inherent Vice) and his friends who are on a bender in old town, where the women are in charge and the cops stay out of the way. In “That Yellow Bastard”, police officer John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense, Vice) has been paying for a crime he didn’t commit for far too long, but he has just one last mission: to protect Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four, Stretch) from the vicious hands of a murdering, raping psychopath.

The look of this film is one-of-a-kind (or was, it has since been reproduced in several other stylized films), filmed practically frame-for-frame from the source material. For a film mostly on green screen, the film just oozes noir. Rodriguez took some extreme risks to get the film he wanted, including creating a scene on his dime to prove that it could be done. He even brought Frank Miller in as a co-director along with colleague and frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino as a special guest director (he helped with the score to Kill Bill in exchange).

The performances are exactly where they need to be. They are gritty and goofy with a slight hint of madness, exactly what this film needed. The whole movie just works when it really shouldn’t, and it is that accidental (or genius) combination that makes this movie just perfect.

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Sin City is a film that is exactly what it needs to be, and it has survived and only looked better in the ten years since its release. The performances and visual beauty of the film could not have existed so flawlessly under a lesser director, but Robert Rodriguez had a vision, one that he shared with original creator Frank Miller, and it shines through here.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[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.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

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

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

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

It took eleven years for The Hobbit to be made. I’m talking from the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring to the release of An Unexpected Journey. Difficulties with securing rights and two bankruptcies as well as shifts in director and a few actors, it seemed very unlikely that The Hobbit would ever see the light of day. Well, it took some time, but now we have not one but three Hobbit films to witness, but they certainly have a lot to live up to, so do they?

As Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Lord of War) gets prepared to disappear from his 111th birthday, he begins writing a book of his most important physical and emotional journey, which took place sixty years previously. His story involves the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) and a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm) on a quest to free Erebor, the dwarves’ home in the Lonely Mountain from the treacherous dragon Smaug. Along his journey, Bilbo will come across many perils, including trolls, rock giants, and a creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas).

You can bet your ass I was first in line for the initial Hobbit film, and I walked out supremely satisfied. There was a lot of nervousness standing in line. I mean, The Lord of the Rings was a massive tome squeezed into three films, and yet The Hobbit, shorter than any of the individual volumes was crafted into three movies. I worried about pacing, and also the nine years from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to then. So much of the film was up in the air.

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Ian McKellan worried me, as his performance, along with Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), who portrayed Saruman, completed their performances over green screen. My worry was met with joy as I found McKellan provided another powerhouse nuanced performance yet again.

Then there was Martin Freeman (TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz), newcomer to the franchise in the roll of young Bilbo, who had a lot of weight to carry. This wasn’t The Lord of the Rings, where large sections were split amongst several major characters. This was The Hobbit, and he was The Hobbit. Thankfully, given the comedy that features a lot more in the livelier of the two tales gave Freeman plenty of room to play and ultimately, he proved his dramatic chops nicely as well.

Richard Armitage’s role as Thorin was another importantly placed action, and another well-placed one. Armitage is virtually unrecognizable in the extensive dwarf makeup (for which the film was nominated for an Oscar) but still proves himself worthy of the dwarf prince.

Filling out the dwarven party are some terrific little performances for Bofur (James Nesbitt, Millions, Coriolanus) and Balin (Ken Stott, One Day, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) as well as, really, the entire party. The whole cast just fires on all cylinders here, including returning players Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2) as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) as Elrond, Elijah Wood (TV’s Wilfred, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Frodo and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

Director Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) wields the camera differently in this film, taking full advantage of his cinematography grasp with RED cameras, 3D sequences exploding off the screen, and 48 frames per second (which takes a moment to get used to, but really looks gorgeous when utilized).

I also really enjoyed the musicality of the characters here. We get some great musical moments here especially in the opening with “Misty Mountains” performed by the dwarven party. It is a beautifully realized moment to open the franchise on and becomes a truly hummable song through the entirety of the viewing.

As far as the visual effects go, I would have enjoyed a little more practical work, but with the grandeur of the franchise at this point and the physical limitations of the aging cast, I can understand, and it looks just fine.

Now for fans of The Lord of the Rings, there are certainly plenty of callbacks for characters including Gloin (Peter Hambleton) who is Gimli’s father and a member of the dwarven party. Fans will also recognize Balin’s name. It is interesting to note that many of the returning characters like Frodo, Galadriel and Saruman are not actually in The Hobbit, but they certainly help with the suturing of both massive stories into one large saga.

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I loved the first installment of The Hobbit franchise and I am so happy to see Peter Jackson behind the camera again. The film deserved to be nominated for Best Picture and it pisses me off that it was the first film in the Middle-Earth Saga to be snubbed, but such is life. We move on. Home is behind…the world ahead.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

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

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