[Hobbit Day] The Lord of the Rings (1978)

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Director: Ralph Bakshi

Cast: Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scoles, John Hurt, Simon Chandler, Dominic Guard, Michael Graham Cox, Anthony Daniels, David Buck

Screenplay: Peter S. Beagle, Chris Conkling

132 mins. Rated PG.

 

Wait, so what is Hobbit Day?

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Hobbit Day is September 22nd, the birthdays of both Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins. I thought, since I have never seen the animated Ralph Bakshi (Wizards, Cool World) film version of The Lord of the Rings from 1978, why not today to celebrate?

That being said, Tolkien Week is the Sunday through Saturday containing Hobbit Day, so unbox your extended editions of the Peter Jackson-directed films too!

The Lord of the Rings covers roughly two thirds of the saga originally crafted by JRR Tolkien. It begins with the passing of the ring from Bilbo Baggins to his nephew Frodo (Christopher Guard, Memoirs of a Survivor, The Haunting of Helen Walker). As Frodo begins his journey with Samwise Gamgee (Michael Scoles, Sweeney 2) to Rivendell, Gandalf the Grey (William Squire, Where Eagles Dare, Anne of the Thousand Days) travels to Isengard to discover what type of Ring of Power they are dealing with. Eventually, Frodo’s journey brings him to the creation of a fellowship also containing Aragorn (John Hurt, V for Vendetta, Hercules), Legolas (Anthony Daniels, Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope, The Lego Movie), and Gimli (David Buck, The Dark Crystal, The Mummy’s Shroud), all headed to Mount Doom in Mordor to destroy the One Ring before the ring finds its way back to Sauron.

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The Lord of the Rings was unique and very important when it was made. It was the longest animated feature film of all time as well as being the first fully-rotoscoped animated feature ever. What is rotoscoping, you ask? Well, it involves filming actual actors in black-and-white and then animating over it. That’s what gives the finished product such an unusual and unique look.

The voice work from many of the performers is pretty solid, especially John Hurt and William Squire. The real issue of the finished film is in the pacing. The gorgeous and intricate cinematography is troubled by pacing issues. Director Ralph Bakshi was more focused on creating stunning visuals than he was with putting it all together. He did have a vision, and I can’t take that from him. He originally envisioned Led Zeppellin music as a score to the film (many Zep fans will note that the band had a lot of Tolkien imagery associated within their lyrics).

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The Lord of the Rings was a daring endeavor, one that is beloved by many. It even created some images so iconic they were even replicated for the Peter Jackson-directed live action saga. On the plus side, it is an adult look at the saga, treated with respect and vision. On the opposite hand, it tries to jam too much together into such a small space that the editing and pacing of the finished product suffer and pull the viewer out of the film. Overall, this is a flawed but very interesting take on Tolkien’s classic world.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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

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Director: Chris Columbus

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

Screenplay: Steve Kloves

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

John Wick (2014)

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Director: Chad Stahelski

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alife Allen, Adrienne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe

Screenplay: Derek Kolstad

101 mins. Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use.

 

You have to give credit to Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, 47 Ronin). As soon as he has convinced you that he has nothing more to offer, along comes a film like John Wick, and he totally redeems himself.

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John Wick stars Reeves in the titular role, a man who has just lost his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan, TV’s Blue Bloods, I, Robot). When he makes an enemy of Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen, TV’s Game of Thrones, Atonement), son of the terrifying Russian mobster Viggo (Michael Nyqvist, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Europa Report), John decides that he must come out of retirement. John’s previous job: professional and international hitman, and he is very good at what he does.

Keanu Reeves owns this role and he has a lot of fun in it. Apparently, when you turn on John Wick’s violent switch, it isn’t so easy to turn it off. It does help that he has such a versatile group of supporting players from genre favorites like Ian McShane (Kung Fu Panda, Hercules), John Leguizamo (Ice Age, Chef), and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, The Fault in Our Stars), who all supply some deliciously cheesy hype for the man named John Wick (though, I should point out, be prepared to hear this name constantly throughout the picture; people cannot stop uttering it).

I enjoyed the plot of the film, the classic revenge tale with elements of secret societies and a code of honor involving a hotel sacred ground for hitmen. I wanted to have more elements of this world fleshed out further, but John continues on his mission. Did the film run on too long? You bet your ass it did. There was a clear-cut ending twenty minutes earlier that would have been perfect and set up the franchise well, but it just kept going.

Director Chad Stahelski, relative newcomer, offers up an interesting vision of his created world, and the cinematography adds elements of action from martial arts to Matrix-style gunplay, which Reeves knows all too well at this point. The film did spend a bit too much time on unimportant exposition as to playing to its strengths.

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All things considered, John Wick is a pretty fun flick that is a bit too long but has the makings of a new franchise. It is nice to see Keanu back in action and I hope this series continues providing stylistic action and exploring its world a bit more.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Hercules (2014)

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Director: Brett Ratner

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt

Screenplay: Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos

98 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity.

 

Why does the world let two movies come out in the same year? It happens a lot more than you think? For every Armageddon, there is a Deep Impact. For every Expendables, there is a Losers. And for every The Legend of Hercules, there is a Hercules. This one is the Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand, Movie 43) one.

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Hercules is the story of, well, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson, TV’s WWF Raw, Fast & Furious 6). After he completes the Twelve Labors, Hercules is approached by Ergenia, daughter of Lord Cotys (John Hurt, V for Vendetta, Snowpiercer), who asks him to help train warriors to defend from the warlord Rheseus. Stuff happens.

You want to know the most upsetting thing about this film is? I was bored two minutes in. It wasn’t so much as a terrible film as an uninspired one. Nothing happens in this film that can be remotely considered interesting.

And then there’s the incredibly disappointing set design. Some of the sets look gorgeous and others have completely noticeable fakeness to them. I saw a volcano less convincing than the one I made in the second grade for the science fair in one scene. I saw particle board columns. I saw Brett Ratner’s direction. Truly sad film in many ways. That’s what it comes down to here. Boredom. The end credits were the best part of the film and not just because I could leave then.

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Seriously, I haven’t even seen The Legend of Hercules, but I know this was is likely the lesser of two evils. Still pretty damn evil though. I have absolutely nothing great to say here.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

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