[Early Review] Yesterday (2019)

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran

Screenplay: Richard Curtis

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language.

 

Yesterday is kind of a strange movie. Ever since I first heard bits and pieces about its story and style, I found myself to be a bit confused. I wasn’t really sure what a film like this could say about anything, and I didn’t really see where a character-driven journey could go that actually made the film’s existence worth it. Really, the only pure driving force that kept me interested was Danny Boyle (127 Hours, T2 Trainspotting) as director. As my screening grew closer, though, I found my curiosity building and my excitement rising, though I couldn’t really tell you why. Upon seeing the film, I still think it’s rather strange, but I cannot fault it for finding a very human and moving story through the eyes of a struggling artist, and it’s a film definitely worth trying.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, The Fox, TV’s EastEnders) is a struggling musician trying to find an audience. He knows there’s something special in his music. His manager and close friend, Ellie (Lily James, Cinderella, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), knows it too, but for some reason, he just cannot find the fame he’s been looking for. He’s decided to give up on his dream, but that night, a major power outage occurs across the entire Earth and he is accidentally hit by a bus that doesn’t see him in the dark streets. When Jack wakes up, he discovers that he is in an alternate history where The Beatles never existed. He remembers them perfectly, but no one else does. Now, everyone has fallen in love with Jack’s songs, but they aren’t really his, and he finds that the fame he’s been seeking doesn’t mean much if you aren’t happy with yourself. Jack is in a situation where he must decide if a career of fortunes surrounding a lie is worth losing the woman he loves in the process.

The central relationship between Himesh Patel’s Jack and Lily James’s Ellie is so great and pure. She’s been his biggest supporter for fifteen years, loving him from afar and showing it with her belief and dedication and he fails to see what she needs from him. Sometimes, those relationships between friends really strain because both parties aren’t getting what they need from each other, and Ellie has ended up in a friend/manager column of his life instead of a love column. Now, I fail to see how any person wouldn’t fall in love with Lily James instantly, but for the purposes of this review, I will say that Jack’s eyes are set on the eventual fame and career he wants, and it makes for a moving struggle between two people who obviously love each other but just cannot get their paths to come together in the right way to make it work.

Now, there’s some logic issues to the film that I was hoping wouldn’t keep coming to mind, but Jack wakes up in a version of the world where The Beatles never existed as a band. As the story progresses, we see that their non-existence has an effect on more than just their music’s absence, so the question arises as to how Ed Sheeran (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Pop Star) became a musician if his primary influence never existed. Would he have pursued music? The Beatles aren’t the only band that doesn’t exist. Oasis never became a band and sang Wonderwall. There are writers that didn’t exist. There are products that were never invented. It never really explains what the central break in these timelines is or how it affected certain things but not others. Would Coldplay have existed? The film reminded me of Us or Avengers: Endgame where, if you let the logic gaps or questions bother you then you’ll miss out on the journey itself, so it’s best not to think about it. But the question did come up for me.

In that same vein, there are questions raised about the nature of a song like Back in the USSR, which Jack claims to have written the day of a concert in Russia. Ed Sheeran points out that it hasn’t been called the USSR since before Jack was born, and it’s a funny scene because it does point out the potential for problems in making music at a different time than was intended, or if you didn’t live the life of the person who wrote it. It comes up again with Hey Jude later on. I really liked when Jack’s narrative was tested; I just wanted more of it. For example, later in the film, Jack sings I Saw Her Standing There, which starts with the lyric “She was just seventeen…” and when I heard him sing it, I thought to myself that a song like that probably wouldn’t exist in this timeframe without some controversy. It’s something I wish Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually, About Time) would have delved into more.

Then there’s Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, TV’s Saturday Night Live), who in the film essentially plays Kate McKinnon. She’s a very capable actress but sometimes she is used to excess, and the film struggles to find a use for her near the end, causing her to turn into a quite an annoyance by the end. I get what she’s trying to do, but the narrative doesn’t need it.

If the central relationship and moral quandary of the film didn’t work, Yesterday would be a bit of a mess. Thankfully, those two elements make for an extremely satisfying film, one that created conflict even among the people watching the film with me. It isn’t exactly going to leave you in a place you expect, but the film overall is surprisingly enjoyable and a good example of uniquely interesting ideas, even if they aren’t fully fleshed out. This is one I’ll be recommending for some time.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 25 – Bad Taste (1987)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Terry Potter, Pete O’Herne, Peter Jackson, Mike Minett, Craig Smith

Screenplay: Ken Hammon, Tony Hiles, Peter Jackson

91 mins. Not Rated.

 

I’m a big Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lovely Bones) fan. I’ve really enjoyed the kind of art he can create on a budget. I will say, however, his early work leaves a lot to be desired. I guess there is a point in Jackson’s career that I start to love his work, The Frighteners. Bad Taste came before that point.

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In Bad Taste, the population of Kaihoro has been replaced by aliens who wish to harvest the humans for intergalactic fast food. The Astro Investigation and Defense Service recruits several agents to stop them.

This movie is just kind of bad. I didn’t like the wooden characters, the sound work is terrible, and I just didn’t find it very interesting. The idea can work, but I just didn’t see it happening here.

One important point to make is that director Jackson didn’t give up, filming the entire movie over the course of four years while working a regular job. That takes a lot of work, and I can respect that.

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Now, I cannot forgive Bad Taste for its boring film work, even if I liked the ending and the alien costuming was pretty interesting. There is a lot to improve upon, but it didn’t work nearly as much as it should have. What did you think, bloggies?

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, 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 Two Towers, 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 The Lovely Bones, click here.

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.

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.

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.

[Happy 5th Birthday!] The Lovely Bones (2009)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, Saoirse Ronan

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Bowen, Peter Jackson

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Stanley Tucci)

 

Certain directors get going and when they do, they just can’t stop. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, King Kong) is one of those directors. The last film he made that truly disappointed me was the splatter-fest Dead Alive, a gore-lovers delight from some twenty years ago. Then came cult classics like The Frighteners and major wins like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and King Kong. And like I said before, he just couldn’t stop. In 2009, he gave filmgoers something that they hadn’t seen from Jackson yet. His adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was much awaited and polarized many who saw it, but it’s Jackson’s most personal work in years. It dives to the core of human emotion and digs until it hurts.

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Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement, The Grand Budapest Hotel) is a pretty smart young girl living in the 1970s with parents Jack (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy, Oz the Great and Powerful). She has a bright and shining future ahead as her most important growth period of her life looms ahead, but sadly, her light is cut short all too soon when an encounter with the strange George Harvey (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) leads her to an early grave. As her family struggles to grieve, Susie enters an ethereal plane of existence and must overcome her need for revenge before it tears her family to pieces.

This movie is equal parts visual candy and horrifying family tragedy. I love that its struggle in tone is much like that of its lead characters. The film goes to extremes treating little pieces of genre with the intensity of a mood swing. I find this, whether intentional or not, to be so jarring that it works. Jackson’s visual style is here and it looks gorgeous.

Now let’s talk performances. Wahlberg’s is terrible, this is easily one of the most disappointing areas of this film. He can’t handle the tragedy that Jack Salmon is supposed to experience. Rachel Weisz’s is passable but he really isn’t a fully-realized character. Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise, Tammy) is Susie’s Grandma Lynn, who jumps in as prime caretaker when Susie’s parents fail to care for the siblings. Michael Imperioli (TV’s The Sopranos, Oldboy) also does passable work as Len Fenerman, the detective charged with finding Susie’s killer.

And then you get George Harvey, played perfectly by Stanley Tucci. Tucci’s performance is so painful and disgusting to watch that every scene with him becomes a living car wreck, one that is so terrifying that you can’t look away. George Harvey is perhaps Tucci’s best work to date and remains a truly chilling piece of work.

The script-work by Fran Walsh, Philippa Bowen, and Jackson, the same writing team Jackson has used on much of his previous work, does a great job here with the source material. They helped to piss me off as the film’s events meandered through life in the 70s. That’s what this movie does best, it pushes one through the stages of grief while equally pissing me off. I hated this movie, and that’s what I loved so much about it.

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When I look back on Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, I remember my anger. I also remember the film’s beauty and the search for a passable moment of happiness in a sea of sadness. If you have yet to see this strange odyssey of death, please do so, and let it anger you, but also, let it take hold of you and show you something you haven’t seen before.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps on getting bigger. Each film just seems to open up the world a bit more, and with Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn just blew the lid off the whole thing. This movie is huge, epic in scale, absolutely opening doors to further adventures both for these heroes and a whole lot more.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, Jurassic World) aka Star Lord, an Earthling kidnapped from his home many years previously by aliens. Peter steals a mysterious orb from Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2). Ronan wants it back, badly. Peter joins up with several other degenerate thugs to protect it. Among them is daughter of Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Out of the Furnace), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, Riddick, The Man With the Iron Fists), a walking and talking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel, Fast & Furious 6, Babylon A.D.), and a talking genetic raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper). Together, they form the loosely fitting title of the “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

First of all, I just want to point out that Chris Pratt takes a commanding lead of this colorful cast of characters. He controls the film and doesn’t falter under any pressure carrying us along. I’ve been saying for a while that Pratt is going somewhere. This film proves it.

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Zoe Saldana is such a beauty; I will never understand why every damn movie has her suiting up in CG of makeup, but the performance here doesn’t suffer, mostly because Saldana requested to wear light makeup so as not to mess with her ability to act. Gamora is a tough character to knock down. Through her relationship with father Thanos (last seen in 2012’s The Avengers in a cameo appearance) and sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus), she probably has the most connections to tie us into the MCU.

I was actually fairly shocked by Dave Bautista as Drax. I see a former wrestler-turned-actor in a lineup and assume the worst, but that is because more often than not, I am right, but Bautista doesn’t hold us down. He serves the tough guy purpose nicely, and he has a heart in there; the glimpses are just enough to connect to the audience.

Vin Diesel’s Groot is the breakout performance of this film. With three words and seemingly endless permutations, Groot is the source for a lot of the heart and soul of the picture, and his relationship with Rocket is a beautiful thing.

The Collector (Benicio del Toro, Snatch, Inherent Vice) was introduced to us in the post-credits sequence for last year’s Thor: The Dark World, and he serves the purpose of really expanding the Marvel universe. Apart from having the subtle nuances to complete with the other major players, The Collector delivers a lot of big game info in his small role, like the Infinity Stones, certainly something to learn about for future features all over the verse (wait, was that the cube?), as well as giving us some nice cameos of perhaps some future Marvel players (not all, but dammit, enjoy the post-credits scene for what it is).

Now, I did have criticisms for the film. For example, Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser is a somewhat generic villain, very much alike to previous Marvel fare. We as the audience wanted more of Thanos that we didn’t really get. At least the film served a purpose of reminding us that he isn’t really an endgame. Not to mention the fact that the ending builds to a less-than-stellar face-off that could have been used earlier for better effect.

The nicest thing we could be given for this film is that we didn’t have a lot of it ruined by the trailer. More films should take a page from Guardians of the Galaxy and understand that a trailer can be made up of non-feature material.

Before I end this off, I want to point out how impressed I was by Gunn’s choice of soundtrack and how much it actually, surprisingly works. Give it a listen and let it pump you up.

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Guardians of the Galaxy was a Marvel Studios test, and it works. Producer Kevin Feige wanted to see it fans would turn out for some of the more cosmic, out-there characters that Marvel has to offer. And we did. And we loved it. I think you will too.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Guardians of the Galaxy? Did this ship take you places or crash land on a strange and disappointing planet? Tell me!

 

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