Gloria Bell


Gloria Bell’s life is in a whirl.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (A24) Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Holland Taylor, Rita Wilson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Sean Astin, Chis Mulkey, Caren Pistorius, Cassi Thompson, Tyson Ritter, Barbara Sukowa, Jenica Bergere, Sandra Rosko, Sonia Gascón, Aileen Burdock, Janet Sherkow, Ari Schneider, Cristobal Tapia Montt, John Luder, Jennie Fahn. Directed by Sebastián Lelio

 

Laura Branigan’s 80s pop hit “Gloria” despite its sprightly synthesizers, upbeat melody and delicious pop hooks is not a happy song: “Gloria, don’t you think you’re fallin’/If everybody wants you, why isn’t anybody callin’?” Gloria is a lonely and desperate lady; such is the fate for Gloria Bell.

Gloria (Moore) has been divorced for several years, an amicable parting that has left her alone (husband Dustin (Garrett) is remarried to Fiona (Tripplehorn) and Gloria is friends with both of them) but not ostensibly lonely. She works as an insurance claims adjuster/mediator and at night hangs out in clubs where she can dance to the pop hits of her youth. It is on one of those nights that she meets Arnold (Turturro) who is recently divorced.

Arnold is a gentle and loving man and Gloria dares to hope that he might be someone she can commit to. However, Arnold soon begins to show some character flaws; he is still tethered to his ex-wife and unemployed adult daughters both as a provider and as an emotional punching bag. Arnold turns out to be something of a weakling and at times chooses the path of least resistance rather than standing up for what he truly wants out of life. He is a man crushed by the weight of his perceived obligations. Can Gloria have a future with a man like that?

In a year where women as filmmakers are becoming more visible, so are stories that put women front and center and this one has much to recommend it. First and foremost is Julianne Moore; she is an actress who I (and I’m not alone on this) consider essential. Nearly every performance she gives is a clinic and this one is one of her best in recent years, including her Oscar-winning role in Still Alice. There are plenty of critics who say that her performance here exceeds those of the nominees for Best Actress at the most recent Academy Awards but like them, I’m skeptical that her performance in March will be remembered when nominations are being considered in January of next year. Moore brings a kind of inner light to the character that makes her excessively attractive.

Turturro also brings some humanity to a role of a feckless loser, making the character almost sympathetic despite some of the spiteful and spineless things he does, although to be fair Gloria herself doesn’t always make the best decisions; the occasion of a birthday party for her bitter and somewhat mean-spirited son (Cera) leaves Dustin feeling ignored and unwanted which isn’t much of a stretch for him who has self-image issues to begin with. I liked the performance but I can see where the character might make it hard for some audiences to relate to him.

In fact, most everybody n the movie is flawed in some way and Gloria herself as I mentioned is known to make decisions thee and me would consider questionable. She is big-hearted however and perhaps a little more optimistic (Da Queen thought “hopeful” would be a better word here but you draw your own conclusions) which leaves her open to be hurt. As together as she often seems, she is at the heart of things extremely vulnerable.

Lelio makes the clever move of using the soundtrack – which is wonderful by the way – reflect Gloria’s mood at the moment. When she is hurt, we hear Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” When she feels hopeful that her relationship with Arnold is becoming something real, we hear Paul McCartney’s “No More Lonely Nights.” At the birthday party we hear the whole family singing Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” which displays her feeling of isolation. Olivia Newton-John’s “A Little More Love” is an early melancholy moment. Moore sings along with many of the songs here – off-key on most of them.

Gloria is the kind of character that life can’t get down for long as the ending clearly shows. There is an element of triumph despite the setbacks that she suffers and while some critics have complained that there is no growth in the character over the course of the film, I disagree; the character manages to stand tall despite having her heart broken and that can’t be discounted. In any case, how much growth do you expect from a 50-something character? It’s not that someone that age can’t change, it’s that those changes are often subtle and seemingly insignificant.

I found the movie incredibly charming and occasionally moving and it’s largely due to Moore’s scintillating performance. I suspect a lot of the movie-going public is going to give this a miss because we’ve become conditioned to big blockbusters and movies with big emotional pay-offs. You don’t get either of those elements here but this is nonetheless a satisfying movie-going experience you deserve not to cheat yourself out of.

REASONS TO SEE: Moore remains an essential actress. The soundtrack is excellent, reflecting Gloria’s on-screen moods.
REASONS TO AVOID: Turturro is a great actor but his character here will drive you crazy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality, some nudity, a fair amount of profanity and some brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is an English-language remake of Lelio’s 2013 film Gloria.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews: Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: All About Eve
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Hurley

Dead Ant


Rock on!!!

(2017) Horror Comedy (Cinedigm) Tom Arnold, Sean Astin, Jake Busey, Rhys Coiro, Leisha Hailey, Michael Horse, Danny Woodburn, Sydney Sweeney, Joy Llaye, Natasha Blasick, Michelle Campbell, Angelica Chitwood, Cameron Richardson, Nick Mason, Amber Martinez, Nic Novicki, Ewart Chin, David A. Lockhart, Camilla Jackson, Cortney Palm, Abigail Johns. Directed by Ron Carlson

 

Some movies should be seen in an art house, preferably one with a bar where you can hang out with fellow film buffs and discuss the nuances of the filmmaking you just witnessed – this isn’t one of those. Other movies should be seen in the local multiplexes with lots of popcorn and ice cold soda – this isn’t one of those either. No, this is the type of film that should be seen in a Times Square grindhouse circa 1979 – or in my case, the Jose Theater in downtown San Jose circa 1985.

Aging metal band Sonic Grave hasn’t gotten the memo that the 80s are long over. They’ve essentially made a career milking their one and only hit, a power ballad that now the band detests. They have been just hanging on through the machinations of their ruthless manager Danny (Arnold) but even he knows the band is fast approaching the end of the line. They have one shot at a comeback; a gig at a music festival in the California desert. No, not that one; the organizers of Coachella wouldn’t even take his calls. Instead, they’re going to “No-Chella,” a kind of Slamdance to the better-known festival’s Sundance

Danny knows they need to write some songs that will blow everyone away and get the band’s name known again so he takes the into the desert with a brief pit stop for some shrooms so that the band can get creative. They meet with Native American shaman Bigfoot (Horse) and his bodyguard Firecracker (Woodburn) who I must say has an impressive arsenal. Bigfoot is known for his variety of psychedelic mushrooms called The Moon but he has an even more potent fungus for sale – The Sun. He warns them that while under the influence they must not harm any living thing on the sacred grounds and that the mushrooms must be taken after sundown.

The rockers, being rockers and all, don’t listen and their train wreck of a bass player, Art (Astin) goes out to – um, relieve himself – and drowns a hapless ant in a stream of his own relief. The group, including shrieking singer Merrick (Busey), stoner guitar God Pager (Coiro) and level-headed drummer Stevie (Hailey) as well as two party girls Sam (Sweeney) and Lisa (Llaye) are attacked by ants that grow in size every time the hapless musicians kill one of them. Can these metalheads outwit the giant ants or will they become ant food?

This movie is actually a mash-up of a lot of different kinds of grindhouse films, from giant critter horror to stoner comedy to 80s music videos to psychedelic road trip. It never takes itself completely seriously but it doesn’t fail to deliver the goods either. That’s not to say there aren’t some missteps, but at least they are honestly come by. The movie declares it’s intentions from the very first scene in which a nubile hippie chick is chased through the desert by a gigantic ant. As she flees, she sheds her clothes and throws them in the general direction of the oncoming ant. I don’t know how much more grindhouse a film can get than that. Oddly enough, that is the last nudity seen in the film so arrive at the theater on time for those who are fans of the female form.

Arnold has made a career out of playing the same sort of guy pretty much in every role (which I suspect is pretty much the same guy that Tom Arnold actually is, although not as much of a schmuck). Most of the really funny lines in the movie are his and to his credit he gives it the same kind of effort that he gave in True Lies. That’s what you call a pro, right there.

The movie is filled with the kind of clichés that metal lovers have had to endure for years and I suppose some of them are earned, but there are plenty of people who play and love heavy metal who aren’t dumber than rocks and not all of them have fried their brains with sex, drugs and rock and roll, not necessarily in that order. Some of you fans of the music may find the portrayal of your kind to be wearisome, but I think (I may be wrong about this one) that it is meant in good spirit.

The mainly CGI special effects are cheesy as all get out and that may not necessarily be a bad thing. It at least keeps with the film’s oeuvre. While this isn’t going to break any records for originality, the filmmakers at least have the courage of their convictions and have crafted a pleasant and occasionally charming entertainment that wouldn’t feel out of place in Quentin Tarantino’s VHS collection (if ever a 21st century movie screamed for a VHS release it’s this one) and that’s pretty high praise in my book.

REASONS TO GO: The film is goofy and charming from the get-go.
REASONS TO STAY: The special effects are downright cheesy.
FAMILY VALUES: Where to begin? There’s plenty of violence and gore, a whole lot of drug use, a boatload of profanity, a few horrific images and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Carlson’s last film was set in a cold climate. Not wanting to undergo that kind of hardship again, he deliberately wrote this film set in a warmer climate.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Colossal
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
How It Ends

New Releases for the Week of October 16, 2015


Crimson PeakCRIMSON PEAK

(Universal) Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones. Directed by Guillermo del Toro

After a family tragedy, an aspiring author in Victorian England is torn between a childhood friend and a dashing mysterious stranger. Needing a fresh start in a new environment and to escape the ghosts of her past, she is transported to Allerdale Hall, a home with ghosts of its own. In fact it is a home that has a life of its own – and may want her to stay permanently. This much anticipated horror movie from del Toro is the must-see Halloween movie this year.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language)

Bridge of Spies

(DreamWorks) Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan. A Brooklyn lawyer is called upon to defend a Soviet spy at the height of the Cold War. That task turns into a negotiation with Moscow to exchange the spy for the pilot of an American spy plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union. Director Steven Spielberg and writers Joel and Ethan Coen based this story on actual events and an actual guy who struggled to maintain his integrity and ideals in a dangerous political situation.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and brief strong language)

Freeheld

(Summit) Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell. When decorated police officer Laurel Hester is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, she wants to leave her pension to her domestic partner. Simple enough for most cops, right? However, Laurel’s partner is another woman which city officials won’t allow. With her hard-nosed straight partner and a gay rights activist uniting behind her, she would turn this into a national cause and what would become a watershed moment in the fight for LGBT rights.

See the trailer, interviews, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements, language and sexuality)

Goosebumps

(Columbia) Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan. After moving into a new neighborhood, a young teen boy discovers the girl next door is super hot. However, her father happens to be none other than the prolific author R.L. Stine. Stine has a terrifying secret; the monsters in his books are real and he protects the world by keeping them locked up in his manuscripts. However when they are accidentally released by the new kid on the block, he’ll have to team up with Stine, his daughter and a plucky friend to protect the town and return the monsters for safe-keeping.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family Horror Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for scary and intense creature action and images, and for some rude humor)

Heart Like a Hand Grenade

(Abramorama) Billy Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool, Mike Dirnt, Jason White. The recording of Green Day’s classic American Idiot album is revisited with archival footage, contemporary interviews and more. Fans of America’s favorite pop punk band won’t want to miss this!

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Tuesday only)
Rating: NR

Thao’s Library

(ARC Entertainment) Thanh Thao Huynh, Elizabeth van Meter, Stephen Katz, Vicki van Meter. In Vietnam, a woman severely deformed by the effects of Agent Orange puts together a makeshift library in her fertilizer shed. In New York, a woman grieving over the death of her famous sister struggles to cope. Both women are brought together by a single photograph, a simple request and a shared compassion, which leads them to help heal one another.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs
Rating: NR

Woodlawn

(Pure Flix) Sean Astin, Caleb Castille,  Sherri Shepherd, Jon Voight. In the racially divided environment of Birmingham, Alabama in 1973, a high school football team undergoes a spiritual awakening from the water boy up to the head coach. In a school torn by racial hatreds, the team unites and serves as an example for the entire student body. The team goes on to play the largest football game ever played in that city and produce one of the biggest African-American stars of his time in the game.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Sports Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements including some racial tension/violence)

New Releases for the Week of March 20, 2015


The Divergent Series InsurgentTHE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT

(Summit) Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Jai Courtney, Mekhi Phifer, Daniel Dae Kim, Octavia Spencer. Directed by Robert Schwentke

Tris and Four are on the run, outlaws being chased by the power-mad Erudite faction. Seeking to discover what Tris’ family died to protect, the future of Chicago and maybe the world beyond depends on them finding answers, answers that Jeanine will do anything to keep them from.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language)

Do You Believe?

(Pure Flix) Sean Astin, Mira Sorvino, Lee Majors, Alexa PenaVega. A suburban pastor is shaken to his core by the obvious faith of an old street corner preacher. Knowing that true faith demands action, he commits to a response that will touch the lives of complete strangers in ways that could only come from the divine. From the creators of God’s Not Dead and certain to be popular with the evangelical audience.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Selected Theaters
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, an accident sequence and some violence)

The Gunman

(Open Road) Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone. An assassin with a particular set of skills is betrayed for the secret organization he works for. With the only woman he cares about in the hands of his enemies and no place left to turn, he embarks on a deadly game of cat and mouse across Europe, knowing only his skills can save the woman he loves – and himself.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (Opens Thursday)
Genre: Action Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong violence, language and some sexuality)

Tracers

(Lionsgate) Taylor Lautner, Marie Avgeropoulos, Adam Rayner, Rafi Gavron. A bike messenger deeply in debt to a violent crime gang crashes his bike into a young woman one day and everything changes. Turns out she’s part of a gang herself, one that uses their parkour skills for heists. Knowing this might be his ticket out of debt, he joins the gang whose heists grow increasingly more daring and dangerous. He’ll need all of his skills, especially with gang enforcers right on his tail.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense violence, perilous action, sexual content and language)

The Wrecking Crew

(Magnolia) Cher, Brian Wilson, Mickey Dolenz, Nancy Sinatra. The most famous band you’ve never heard of is the Wrecking Crew. They were the studio band that created the music for some of the greatest bands in rock and pop music in the 1960s and 1970s. They backed such bands as Sonny and Cher, The Beach Boys, Nancy Sinatra, the Monkees, the Byrds, Nat “King” Cole, Dean Martin and the Association, winning six Grammys in a row for Record of the Year, a feat that no other group of musicians has accomplished in history.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: PG (for language, thematic elements and smoking images)

Wyrmwood

(IFC Midnight) Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradley, Leon Burchill, Luke McKenzie. When the zombie apocalypse hits New Zealand, an unassuming family man and brilliant auto mechanic soups up his car for a perilous journey to rescue his sister from a mad doctor with a penchant for disco. With clever homemade weapons on oodles of gory goodness, this is destined to become the next cult classic.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

New Releases for the Week of May 9, 2014


NeighborsNEIGHBORS

(Universal) Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Roberts. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

A young couple think they have the ideal life; good jobs, a new baby, a nice house in a quiet neighborhood. When they get new neighbors, it’s just another blessing. Unfortunately, when your new neighbor is a frat house, the neighborhood will be anything but quiet. Get ready to have some stereotypes about fraternities reinforced.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, premiere footage, a featurette and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout)

Devil’s Knot

(RLJ/Image) Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos.The small Arkansas town of West Memphis was rocked to its core when three eight year old boys turned up brutally murdered. When three teenage boys, outsiders and misfits all, were charged and eventually convicted for the crime which the authorities maintained had Satanic overtones, the community was deeply split. It would eventually become a cause célèbrearound the country when the investigation by the West Memphis police and the conduct of the prosecution were called into question. This is a semi-fictionalized version of the case from renowned Canadian director Atom Egoyan.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: NR

Fading Gigolo

(Millennium) John Turturro, Woody Allen, Liev Schreiber, Sofia Vergara. When his good friend Murray’s money problems turn dire, Fiorvante determines to help his friend as best he can but with no real cash reserves of his own, he’ll have to think of something outside the box. When Murray figures out that Fiorvante has the magic touch when it comes to the ladies, he hits upon an unlikely plan.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexual content, language and brief nudity)

The Final Member

(Drafthouse) Sigrour Hjartason, Pall Arason, Tom Mitchell, Hannes Blondal.In a tiny village in Iceland there is a museum dedicated to the penis. In it are preserved specimens of nearly every animal that has one save one – humans. Two men – one an Icelandic adventurer and the other an eccentric American, race to be the donors of the human member to the collection. A recent favorite at the Florida Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for language and some sexuality/nudity)

Kochadaiiyaan

(Eros International) Starring the voices of Rajnikant, Deepika Padukone, Sarath Kumar, Jackie Shroff.Two brothers face each other in a battle of good and evil on an epic canvas of magic and India’s colorful history. The first Indian film to utilize photorealistic animation based on motion capture technology.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: NR

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

(Clarius) Starring the voices of Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, James Belushi. After waking up in Kansas, Dorothy Gale is whisked back to Oz where she discovers that her old friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Glinda the Good Witch of the North have been kidnapped and are being held prisoner by the nefarious Jester. With new friends to help her, Dorothy sets out to free her friends and set things right in Oz.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some scary images and mild peril)

Moms’ Night Out

(TriStar) Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, Patricia Heaton, Trace Adkins. Three moms, in desperate need of a break from taking care of the kids, put the dads in charge, get dressed up to the nines and set out to have a nice, quiet dinner, some adult conversation and maybe a little bit of fun. Of course, things go south in a hurry, both at home with the dads and with the moms. Who knew that going out for a bite to eat would cause so much chaos?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and some action)

New Releases for the Week of March 28, 2014


NoahNOAH

(Paramount) Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, Nick Nolte, Marton Csokas. Directed by Darren Aronofsky

The world has grown wicked and cruel and God is displeased. He has decided to wipe out the world and everything in it and start over again but determines to spare one of the few good men in the world, Noah. He commands Noah to build a gigantic ship which will ride out the coming flood along with two of each species of animal, one male and one female, in order to repopulate the world. Not everyone is happy with this plan however and Noah will have to overcome ridicule and eventually desperation to see God’s plan through.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, videos and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biblical Epic

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content)

Boys of Abu Ghraib

(Vertical) Luke Moran, John Heard, Sara Paxton, Sean Astin. An American soldier from a small town in middle America is assigned as a guard to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Tasked to guard some of the highest priority prisoners in the war on terror, he is pressured by his superiors to use harsh techniques on a seemingly innocent prisoner. Retaining his own humanity will be at the crux of a moral dilemma of following immoral orders or violating his oath. Based on actual events.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing situations involving torture and violence, language throughout and some sexual content)

Cesar Chavez

(Pantelion) Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, John Malkovich.Migrant farm workers have had little or no representation and fewer rights until the advent of the United Farm Workers and activist Cesar Chavez. Torn between his commitment to securing living wages and better working conditions and his need to support his family, Chavez would become a legend in California and a hero to the labor movement.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and language)

If You Build It

(Long Shot Factory) Erick Bowen, Steve Mizelle, Emily Pilloton, Dr. Chip Zullinger. A pair of designers living on grant money and their own savings go to the poorest school district in North Carolina to take on a radical education project; substituting for a shop class, they have students design and build a farmer’s market for their community. Fought by a change-resistant school board as well as the apathy of the students themselves, they soon find the students and the community transformed by a project that teaches all of them that what’s possible is limited only by the imagination and the will to make it happen.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Special Engagement Saturday March 29)

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Road to the Open

(Zoeco) Eric Roberts, John Schneider, Troy McKay, Phillip DeVona.  Grieving for his recently departed wife, a single parent and former tennis prodigy is pressured by his best friend – desperately in need of anger management skills – to enter a club tennis tournament. The winner of this will get a shot at an at-large berth in a national tournament. Standing in their way are the Gollant brothers – who haven’t lost a club tournament in more than a decade.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and language)

Sabotage

(Open Road) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway.After an elite DEA team takes down a high ranking member of a Mexican drug cartel, members of the team start getting picked off one by one. It’s not just revenge – ten million dollars are missing from their take. The team leader with the help of an internal affairs officer must find out who stole the money and save the rest of the team.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use)

The Goonies


The Goonies ARE good enough!

The Goonies ARE good enough!

(1985) Adventure (Warner Brothers) Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, John Matuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantolliano, Anne Ramsey, Lupe Ontiveros, Mary Ellen Trainor, Keith Walker, Steve Antin. Directed by Richard Donner

Some movies capture a moment in our lives, one in which we were essentially happy or later convinced that we were. Perhaps we were children at the time, or just starting out as adults with our whole lives ahead of us. I was 25 when The Goonies came out. My father was still alive. I was single but at least I was (kinda) dating. I was working at my dream job as a rock and movie critic for a weekly paper. Life was good.

Life was good for a group of kids who called themselves the Goonies as well, but then it turned not-so-good. Greedy developers wanted to put in a high end golf course and housing development where their homes were. Most of their parents were struggling to get through but now their struggles appeared to be over and the battle was lost. Despite their best efforts they were all going to have to move and after this weekend they’d never be together again.

Mikey Walsh (Astin) is an asthmatic kid with big dreams. The rainy weather of Astoria, Oregon (where they live and where the movie was shot) doesn’t do a kid with his lungs too much good. His big brother Brand (Brolin) is tasked with watching over him while his mom (Trainor) takes the maid (Ontiveros) out to get some things they need to clean up the house before they leave.

In the meantime they are joined by Mikey’s friends Chunk (Cohen), an overweight klutz with a big ol’ heart, Data (Quan) who yearns to be the next James Bond and is constantly inventing new gadgets to make that come true and Mouth (Feldman) who talks a whole lot but only once in awhile has something to say.

Brand on the other hand has it bad for Andy (Green), a comely young cheerleader whose acerbic best friend Stef (Plimpton) keeps her head from getting too big; besides that she genuinely likes the people hovering around Andy with the exception of Troy (Antin), the son of the developer who is putting the Goonies out of their homes.

While looking about the attic where Mikey’s dad, the director for the tiny local museum has been storing some of the town’s artifacts, the klutzy Chunk knocks over a painting to which the glass shatters. Inside the painting there turns out to be a map. The map appeared to be the work of local legend One-Eyed Willie, a pirate who sailed the waters of the Pacific centuries ago and disappeared with whispers of a vast treasure hidden in the area – a treasure that’s never been found.

Mikey realizes this could be their ticket; their means of saving their homes. Of course, there’s another legend – that of Chester Copperpot, a treasure hunter who disappeared while looking for One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Despite Brand’s strict orders to that he needs to stay inside, Mikey and his friends ambush Brand and tie him up, let out the air of his bike’s tires and pedal off madly for one last great adventure.

In the meantime, Jake Fratelli (Davi) has been broken out of jail by his mean ol’ Ma (Ramsey) and brother Francis (Pantolliano). They’ve holed up in an abandoned restaurant which as it turns out is where the entrance to the caves where One-Eyed Willie’s treasure is buried. They manage to elude the not too bright crime gang but there is a wild car – the brutish Sloth (Matuszak) whom they keep chained up. Now the Fratellis are hot on the trail of the Goonies with the treasure – and their very homes – at stake. Are the Goonies good enough to take the challenge?

This is perhaps one of the classic movies of the 80s. It’s got Cyndi Lauper on the soundtrack. It’s got Steven Spielberg producing it. It’s got references that put it square in that remarkable decade. It’s got young actors, most of whom went on to bigger and better things in later years. And those young actors do an amazing job. You never forget for a moment that you’re in a group of friends, the same kind you had at their age. The kids you biked all over the neighborhood with. The kids you played videogames with on rainy afternoons. The kids you shared all your deepest secrets with.

Of course, a lot of kids in their 20s and younger reading this won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Growing up was a whole lot different back then than it is now. You had a lot more face time with your friends who ALL lived in the neighborhood. You saw them in school, you hung out with them afterwards. That’s just the way it was.

The movie is perfectly cast and is fun from beginning to end. The caves of One-Eyed Willie are packed with fiendishly evil and clever traps. The pirate ship Inferno, the vessel of One-Eyed Willie, is magnificent in detail (the filmmakers actually built a working vessel; when you see it sailing near the end of the film, it actually is sailing.

This is perfect family entertainment; it’s got a little bit of everything and it’s never overbearing. Although Donner directed it, there are definite Spielbergian touches throughout and you never for an instance think that it’s anything but a Spielberg film. However, there are definitely things that are of Donner’s devising as well. It’s a theme park attraction waiting to happen (who wouldn’t want to ride a waterslide into a lagoon with a pirate ship floating at anchor?) and a great ride of a movie. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? And if you have kids, get them off their cell phones and iPads and into the living room for a family movie night. It’s something your whole family will remember for a very long time to come.

WHY RENT THIS: A classic adventure and family movie. Delightful and clever.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Spielberg, pirates, gadgets, spy movies, 80s movies or fun, you might not like this.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few mildly bad words, some rude humor, a bit of violence and peril and a couple of disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When Jake Fratelli sings to Sloth an excerpt from Madame Butterfly, that’s really actor Robert Davi singing; he is a trained opera singer as well as an actor.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Special Edition DVD includes music videos of both of Cyndi Lauper’s hit songs from the movie, outtakes and a video commentary track that periodically reduces the movie to a window in the corner; the commentators are Donner and all seven of the now-grown Goonies. The Blu-Ray edition has all of these plus a reprint of the official movie magazine from 1985, ten storyboard cards, a reprint of an Empire magazine article on the movie and a board game. That’s right, you heard me correctly – a board game. I’m gonna run right out and get this sucka for Christmas.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $61.4M on an unreported production budget; these are only the domestic box office numbers. The movie was a huge hit in its day and continues to generate income through home video, television and occasional theatrical showings.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Raiders of the Lost Ark

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Things We Lost in the Fire

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


 

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

An olliphant never forgets.

(2003) Fantasy (New Line) Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, John Noble, Sean Bean, Christopher Lee,Thomas Robins, Hugo Weaving, Paul Norrell, Lawrence Makoare. Directed by Peter Jackson

 

After a long wait at long last the conclusion of Peter Jackson’s version of the epic J.R.R. Tolkein-penned trilogy The Lord of the Rings came upon us, and it was everything we hoped it would be – although had it come out 10 years later it would have been split into two movies in order to maximize profits although in this case I wouldn’t have minded so much.

The movie opens with a flashback, as we see how Smeagol (Serkis) took possession of the ring (or vice versa), murdering his friend Deagol (Robins) for it. Smeagol slinks into the wilderness, gradually losing his soul and becoming the creature known as Gollum.

Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) are being led for a secret way into Mordor by Gollum unaware that the wicked creature intends to lead them into a trap. The lembas bread which has sustained them is running low, and Sam is rationing it. They need to climb a nearly vertical rock face in order to enter the tunnels that will take them into Mordor. However, Gollum displays his treachery, using the ring’s hold on Frodo and some strategically placed lembas crumbs to drive a wedge between Frodo and Sam, which leads to Frodo telling the weeping Sam to go home.

Meanwhile, the other heroes of the fellowship have no time to rest on their laurels after the events which crowned The Two Towers. Gandalf (McKellen), Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) ride for Isengard to take on Saruman (Lee), only to find out that the Ents have done it for them. They discover the hobbits Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd), happily smoking their beloved South Farthing pipeweed and munching away on the spoils of Isengard’s larder.

Once again, the group separates, with Gandalf and Pippin going to the city of Minas Tirith to assist Gondor in the battle to come. Aragorn, Legolas, Merry and Gimli return to Rohan to await word from Gandalf and also convince King Theoden (Hill) to aid Gondor in their time of need, although he is loathe to do so since Gondor provided him with no assistance when his people needed it. When Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Gondor, Gandalf warns Pippin not to tell Denethor (Noble), the Steward of Gondor, of the death of his son Boromir (Bean) which Pippin witnessed.

However it turns out that Denethor already knows and the news has unhinged him. Pippin offers up his services to placate the half-mad ruler. Denethor refuses Gandalf’s plea to light the signal fires to call on aid from Rohan, but Pippin lights the fire anyway, and Theoden determines to go to Gondor’s aid. Eowyn (Otto) pleads to go with her uncle, but he refuses, asking her to stay behind to lead Rohan if he doesn’t return (he doesn’t expect to, knowing the numbers of warriors he brings will be inadequate). She disguises herself as a man and goes anyway, as does Merry, whom she pledges to look after.

Boromir’s brother Faramir (David Wenham) can do no right in the eyes of his father, which is further complicated when Osgiliath, the fort he is charged to defend, is overrun by a numerically superior force of Orcs. Denethor orders Faramir and his company back to retake the fortress, even though Faramir knows that neither he nor his men will survive the attempt. That proves to be the case, as Faramir’s body is returned to Minas Tirith and Denethor completely loses it, extolling his men to abandon their posts and flee for their lives as an enormous army of orcs and mercenaries riding elephantine war beasts reach the gates of the city and begin to knock on the gates. To Pippin’s further horror, Denethor becomes determined to cremate Faramir’s body, even though as Pippin discovers, Faramir is still alive.

In the mountains of Mordor, Gollum springs his trap on Frodo leading the defenseless hobbit into the lair of a giant spider named Shelob, who attacks Frodo and at last, poisons him with her venom, wrapping the hapless hobbit in web for eventual dining. Fortunately Sam arrives in the nick of time to fight off Shelob, but can’t stop a small band of Orcs from taking Frodo’s inert but still-living body. Sam manages yet another dramatic rescue and the two emerge from the mountains, only to find that there are at least 10,000 Orcs encamped between them and Mount Doom.

As the force from Rohan encamps in the mountains, Elrond (Weaving) appears, bearing the re-forged sword of the King that had once defeated Sauron and gives it to Aragorn, urging him to take up the role he had been born to play: King of Gondor, heir to Isildur and the great kings of legend. Knowing that his love Arwen (Tyler), daughter of Elrond, is dying as Sauron grows stronger, having refused to leave Middle Earth with the rest of elvenkind, Aragorn reluctantly accepts the mantle he has avoided all his life. He, Gimli and Legolas go into the mountain to persuade an army of the dead to assist them. This army, led by the King of the Undead (Norrell), once broke oaths to the King of Gondor and were cursed for it. They will respond only to the King of Gondor, and when Aragorn reveals his sword, he has the allies he seeks.

Not a minute too soon, either. Minas Tirith is in the process of falling, despite the heroics of Gandalf. The mercenaries, orcs and nazghul are in danger of overrunning the city when Theoden and the Rohirrim arrive. They are able to hold off the hordes, but at great cost. Aragorn’s arrival with the army of the dead, however, saves the city. Once this is done, Aragorn releases the dead to their final rest.

All is not over, however. Aragorn knows that Frodo cannot hope to succeed with all the Orcs still encamped in Mordor. The forces of the Fellowship must make a desperate attempt to give Frodo and Sam the time they need to make it to Mount Doom and destroy the Ring in the fires that it was forged in. But Frodo may not want to destroy the Ring after all and Gollum is still lurking about with a part to play in the final dénouement.

As with the first two movies, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is absolutely breathtaking visually. The city of Minas Tirith is like a wedding cake in concrete, beautiful and imposing. On the flip side, the computer-generated Shelob is terrifyingly realistic; you could almost imagine her crawling around the dark places in your home town. A lot of sensitive people are going to have some nasty nightmares as a result of her.

The battle scenes are impressive in their scope. Thousands of computer-generated warriors move in tandem with the real actors and extras that were employed in the battles of Pelennor Field and of the Black Gate. Even the most jaded of moviegoers will be amazed and enthralled by what Peter Jackson has brought to life onscreen.

Mortensen gives a performance for the ages; his charisma and rugged good looks would earn him further starring roles, although I daresay he’ll probably always be remembered as Aragorn. Still, in many ways this movie is Sam’s story more than anyone else’s. He shows growth as a character, becoming the equal of any of the heroes who have garnered more press. It is Sam who provides the movie’s emotional payoff.

Elijah Wood’s Frodo is a curious case. Although ostensibly the focus of the movie, Wood is curiously detached. It’s very hard at times to fathom who Frodo is, although, to be fair, Frodo is undergoing drastic changes at the hands of the Ring. It’s hard to imagine being less interested in Frodo than you are in Merry or Pippin, but that is the case here. Wood does a pretty good job, but that’s not good enough to stand out in a cast that performs so magnificently.

Orlando Bloom also showed the makings of a big star, although Legolas is not really at the fore much in the trilogy; when Legolas is given the spotlight, however, Bloom shines. Andy Serkis provides Smeagol and Gollum both with humanity; although treacherous and conniving, you wind up feeling the pity for the character as both Frodo and Bilbo had, which is crucial for the story. The supporting cast of Wenham, Otto, Urban, McKellen, Monaghan and Boyd in particular all added luster to their résumés here.

Roger Ebert criticized Return of the King and the trilogy overall as having a “silly story,” which is one of the few times I have disagreed with him quite this vehemently. The story of the trilogy is the story of man’s own ability to grow and change. Written at the dawn of the atomic era, it ascribed hope that we could overcome the desire to use an awesome weapon, and conquer the forces of darkness and despair. Not silly at all, I find it a powerful story that has as much meaning in my everyday life as do some of the smaller films Ebert prefers.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has an honored place in cinematic history for groundbreaking visuals, and passionate vision. Return of the King is the best of these movies, not only because it should be, as the payoff of the trilogy, but because it also is so well-made and the performances well-given. Once you get past the eye candy, all you are left with is the performances and in that, you will not find a better ensemble than this one. It is to date the only movie nominated for more than ten Oscars (eleven to be exact) to win every award it was nominated for, and deservedly so. It is one of three films to win eleven Oscars, the most in the history of the award. I don’t know how much more honored a film can get.

I viewed the conclusion of this beloved trilogy with a mixture of awe, wonder, sadness and satisfaction. I am sorry the trilogy is now complete, but look forward to the works of Peter Jackson, Viggo Mortensen and the rest of the cast. There is an emotional epilogue in which some of the main characters of the trilogy take their leaves – not only from the tale, but from those of us who have followed the story from day one. It is a most satisfying ending.

WHY RENT THIS: An amazing piece of film-making; it earned every Oscar it got and more. It will stand as one of the first true classics of the 21st century.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You find this a “silly story.” Roger Ebert, shame on you!

FAMILY MATTERS: The battle sequences are pretty grisly in places but I cannot emphasize enough just how frightening Shelob is as a creature. If you have a fear of spiders or are particularly sensitive to monsters, be warned that Shelob is as scary a creature that has ever been put to film.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Peter Jackson has an irrational fear of spiders and modeled Shelob on two of the species he fears the most.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There have been several different releases of varying size of the film and there are so many different and fascinating features that listing them all for each edition would take up far too much space here.  Suffice to say that you will essentially have a choice of two different versions of the film; the two hour-plus theatrical release and the nearly four hour extended director’s cut. The latter only last month arrived as part of a box set to take advantage of the renewed Middle Earth fervor generated by the Hobbit trilogy, the first film of which arrives at Christmas this year. Even the bare bones DVD editions have plenty of wonderful features so that no matter which version you choose you’ll have plenty of things to occupy many hours of viewing time but the extended edition Blu-Ray has enough special features (some brand new) to make even the hardiest of Frodo fans faint.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.1B on a $94M production budget; the movie made ten times what it cost, easily a blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gone With the Wind

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Iron Man

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


 

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Gandalf sure knows how to make an enterence.

(2002) Fantasy (New Line) Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Karl Urban, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Brad Dourif, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Craig Parker. Directed by Peter Jackson

 

The second installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy picks up where the first left off, with the Fellowship broken and the quest very much in peril. Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) have struck out on their own, knowing that the evil of the Ring would eventually corrupt all of them. They are heading for Mordor, but quickly become lost. Apparently nobody thought to call the Triple A.

They are ambushed by the creature that has been stalking them all along, Gollum (Serkis). They manage to subdue him, but Frodo feels pity for the creature, who offers his services as a guide. Although Sam has misgivings, they allow the creature to lead them to the Black Gate of Mordor, which turns out to be heavily guarded. It’s obvious they won’t be able to get to Mount Doom that way. Gollum offers to lead them to a secret way into Mordor, one even the Orcs don’t know.

Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd) have been taken captive by the nasty Uruk-hai, who mistakenly believe that these two are the Ring Bearers. The Uruk-hai turn out to be testier than anybody thought, with a faction all for killing and eating the two hobbits, which was expressly forbidden by their creator, Saruman (Christopher Lee). A fight breaks out and things look bad for the hobbits.

Meanwhile, Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (Rhys-Davies) have pursued the Uruk-hai who kidnapped the Hobbits relentlessly for days. They run into the Rohirrim, who are led by the valorous Eomer (Karl Urban) who tells them that they have in fact massacred the entire band of Uruk-hai. The trio reach the site of the battle, only to discover through Aragorn’s tracking skills that the two hobbits escaped into the forest. They follow the tracks into the reputedly-haunted Fangorn Forest where they are met by a wizard in white — Gandalf (McKellen).

Merry and Pippin had indeed escaped into the Fangorn Forest in the confusion of the fight. There, they meet Treebeard (voiced by Rhys-Davies), an Ent – a walking, talking, sentient creature that looks like a tree. Treebeard rescues the two hobbits from a stray Uruk-hai, then takes the two of them deeper into the forest.

As for the astonishing appearance of Gandalf, there was something of an explanation; having fallen into shadow in the mines of Moria, Gandalf has somehow been reborn and made more powerful. Now clad in white, Gandalf is a formidable wizard indeed. He somehow knows that the kingdom of Rohan is in dire peril, both from within and without. Gandalf leaves Merry and Pippin with Treebeard, and rides the king of horses, Shadowfax, with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to reach Rohan.

Theoden (Bernard Hill), king of Rohan, is ill. Weak and feeble, most of the governance of his kingdom has fallen to an advisor, Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). His niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto), sister to Eomer, is powerless to help and moreover is the object of the sleazy affections of Grima. Theoden has become so bewitched that even when his son dies while out on patrol, he is unable to react.

Eomer is banished from the realm by Grima, who sees Eomer as a threat. Eomer takes loyal warriors into the wilderness to protect Rohan as best he can, but things look dark for the kingdom of the horseclans. The arrival of Gandalf changes all this. The white wizard breaks the spell and restores the king to full vigor. Grima is sent packing with a boot to the behind and a warning for Saruman.

Frodo, Sam and Gollum make their way back for Gollum’s hidden entry into Mordor when they stumble onto a battle of Mordor-allied mercenaries and soldiers from Gondor, who capture the three of them. Their leader, Captain Faramir (David Wenham) is brother to the slain Boromir, and wants details of his brother’s death. Frodo, suspicious of everyone, is loathe to tell Faramir much. A battle occurs in which they are attacked by nazghul on terrible dragon-like creatures. Eventually, Farmair is convinced to let Frodo, Sam and Gollum continue on their way.

Theoden thinks that Rohan cannot stand against the army Saruman is sending against them. He orders his city evacuated and the people are taken to Helm’s Deep, a fortress that has never been breached in thousands of years. Gandalf leaves to gather allies to defend Rohan. As the Rohirrim begin the journey to Helm’s Deep, it becomes obvious that Eowyn is developing deep feelings for Aragorn, who continues to harbor a great love for Arwen (Tyler). The elves are almost gone from Middle Earth, leaving for the Grey Havens to travel by ship to the far shores. Elrond (Weaving) urges Arwen to go as well, but she is torn between her love for her father and her love for Aragorn. At last, knowing that should she stay she would only see her love age, wither and die before her eyes, she agrees to leave.

The Rohirrim meet up with an orc patrol, traveling on bestial wargs, and a battle ensues. Gimli and Legolas begin a friendly competition to see who kills more of the enemy, and their friendship begins to deepen. However, disaster strikes when Aragorn is swept over a precipice and into a swift-flowing river. Saddened, the Rohirrim complete their journey to Helm’s Deep without him.

Like Gandalf before him, Aragorn survives and manages to limp back to the fortress. As the fortress prepares for siege, elves under Haldir (Parker) arrive from Rivendell to assist, and the defenders of Helm’s Deep need every one of them, for the army that faces them is vast and merciless. Despite the heroism of its defenders, the walls of Helm’s Deep are breached and it looks like there will be a massacre the likes of which Middle Earth has never known.

Gollum leads Sam and Frodo on the way back to Mordor, but his mind, already twisted and demented by the influence of the Ring, has become further warped at the perceived betrayal by Frodo that led to his capture. He means to do away with both of the hobbits, but knows he cannot do it himself. However, there is a way…

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The second part of the trilogy is visually magnificent, as was the first. Of particular note is the character Gollum, who was build of Andy Serkis’ physical performance and some brilliant computer imaging on top of that. Gollum is as real and lifelike as any one of the flesh-and-blood actors (in fact, Gollum has more expression and range than Keanu Reeves, but that’s another story), but the nasty wargs and the magnificent Ents (partially real, partially computer-generated) are nearly as good.

Viggo Mortensen shows flashes of major stardom here. His charisma carries much of The Two Towers. Sean Astin also gives a riveting performance; his speech that is meant to inspire Frodo when his friend despairs of surviving the journey is one of the best you will ever see. It’s a memorable moment, and one you should have handy the next time you are depressed.

The problem with The Two Towers is that it feels like there really isn’t a beginning, middle and end; it’s all middle. Of course, that’s a function of the fact that it is the middle chapter in an epic story, but seen on its own it’s not quite as satisfying as The Fellowship of the Ring. It is also much darker in tone. Still, the performances are excellent from top to bottom; in addition to those previously mentioned, Legolas is a swashbuckling hero as portrayed by Orlando Bloom, and John Rhys-Davies brings gruff humor to the part of Gimli. Ian McKellen brings great presence to Gandalf, and Wood does a nice job bringing the torment of Frodo to the fore.

Howard Shore’s score was one of the critical attributes to the success of the first film of the trilogy for me; he continues his impressive work, but none of the various vocalists who contribute to the soundtrack (including Liz Frasier, formerly of the Cocteau Twins) really add up to Enya’s impressive work on the first soundtrack.

Despite its minor flaws, “The Two Towers” is still a classic. The battle scene of Helm’s Deep is beautifully done, and overwhelming in scope. The siege of Isengard by the Ents is an astonishing visual, and although I was a bit disappointed by the Congress of Trees, it is still a feast for the eyes throughout. This is not a disappointing work; quite the contrary. It leaves the viewer champing at the bit for the trilogy’s conclusion. More importantly, it is a tremendous movie in its own right, regardless of what came before or what is to come. The Two Towers, quite frankly, shouldn’t be overlooked as a movie.

WHY RENT IT: The themes of the trilogy become much more developed here. Mortensen and Astin shine. Great visuals.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks beginning and end; those unfamiliar with the first movie will most likely be lost.

FAMILY MATTERS: The Battle of Helms Deep has plenty of battle savagery. There are some pretty frightening images and the very young or those who are sensitive should be warned.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: As the Orcs have black blood, it was thought the inside of their mouths should also be black. All extras who played Orcs had to swill a licorice-based mouthwash in their mouths before filming in order to achieve the effect.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There have been several different releases of varying size of the film and there are so many different and fascinating features that listing them all for each edition would take up far too much space here.  Suffice to say that you will essentially have a choice of two different versions of the film; the two hour-plus theatrical release and the nearly four hour extended director’s cut. The latter only last month arrived as part of a box set to take advantage of the renewed Middle Earth fervor generated by the Hobbit trilogy, the first film of which arrives at Christmas this year. Even the bare bones DVD editions have plenty of wonderful features so that no matter which version you choose you’ll have plenty of things to occupy many hours of viewing time but the extended edition Blu-Ray has enough special features (some brand new) to make even the hardiest of Frodo fans faint.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $926.1M on a $94M production budget; the film was another massive blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eragon

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: The Beaver

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


 

The Lord of the Rings; Fellowship of the Ring

Now there’s an idea for the Kentucky Derby – arm the jockeys with swords.

(2001) Fantasy (New Line) Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Sean Bean, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Marton Csokas, Andy Serkis, Sarah McLeod, Peter McKenzie, Harry Sinclair, Sala Baker. Directed by Peter Jackson

 

There was much concern when it was announced that the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy was going to be made into movies that it be done right. Anything less than a classic movie would be heartbreaking to the millions of readers who love Tolkein’s work, let alone the smaller but very vocal crowd of the Middle Earth-obsessed.

Middle Earth is threatened by a grave power. A prologue shows us how, thousands of years prior to this story, a wizard king named Sauron (Baker) crafted a ring to dominate all the races of the land – human, elf and dwarf – and give Sauron ultimate power over Middle Earth. The bravery of Isildur (Sinclair), a human king, defeats Sauron’s plans; Isildur’s greed, however, causes the ring to escape destruction and allow Sauron to eventually return. The ring ultimately falls into the hands of an adventuresome hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Holm) who brings it home to Bag End, in the village of Hobbiton, where it remained dormant.

Now, it is many years later and Bilbo is readying for a massive party to celebrate his 111th birthday. His old friend Gandalf the Grey (McKellen), a powerful wizard, arrives to celebrate with a wagon chock full of wonderful fireworks, and is greeted by Bilbo’s nephew, the bookish Frodo (Wood). Bilbo is worn out, although he looks much younger than his years would indicate. He wants to see the Misty Mountain again, and dwell among the elves in peace so he might finish the book he is writing of his adventures, “There and Back Again.”

At the party, Frodo’s friends Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd), get into mischief involving Gandalf’s fireworks, setting the tone for their roles in the tale. Bilbo makes a sudden and startling departure at the party’s conclusion, using the ring to become invisible. The wizard immediately realizes that there is much more to Bilbo’s ring than even he had realized. He confronts Bilbo and convinces his old friend to leave the ring to Frodo. Gandalf warns Frodo, “Keep it secret; keep it safe,” then rides off to find out the truth of this ring.

When Gandalf returns to Bag End it to urge Frodo to flee. Nine ghastly riders, the nazghul, have been dispatched to retrieve the ring, which by Gandalf has determined to be THE ring. Frodo’s friend, gardener Sam Gamgee (Astin) overhears some of the discussion and is confronted by Gandalf, who asks what he heard. “N-nothing important. That is, I heard a good deal about a ring, and a dark lord, and something about the end of the world, but please, Mr. Gandalf, sir, don’t hurt me. Don’t turn me into anything… unnatural.”

Sam is sent to accompany Frodo. The hobbits run into Merry and Pippin, who are pilfering vegetables from a farmer. The reunion, however, is brief; the hobbits are nearly discovered by one of the terrifying and mysterious riders nazghul.

In the human town of Bree, they meet the ranger Aragorn (Mortensen), who saves them from a disturbing attack from the nazghul, and sets out to lead them for the elven settlement of Rivendell. However, the nazghul catch up to them at Weathertop, an ancient fortress, where Frodo is stabbed with a poisoned blade. Aragorn drives off their foes and steps up the pace to go to Rivendell, desperate to save Frodo. They are met along the way by Arwen (Tyler), an elven princess and daughter of Elrond, who puts Frodo on her horse and rides a thrilling race against the murderous nazghul. Gandalf, in the meantime, has been imprisoned by Saruman (Lee), head of his order, whom he had gone to consult. Saruman, believing that Mordor cannot be defeated this time, has decided to ally himself with Sauron. Gandalf finally manages to escape, using a giant eagle to fly from Isengard, the wizard’s tower which is Saruman’s base, but not before learning that Saruman is breeding an army of Uruk’hai, a crossbreed of orc and goblin that have none of the weaknesses of either race and many of the strengths.

Elrond calls a council to determine the fate of the ring, and after some deliberation, decides to send a small party to Mordor, to Mount Doom itself, to destroy the ring. This despite the objections of Boromir (Bean), son of the Steward of Gondor, the ruler of that land in the stead of a king who is lost – a king who turns out to be Aragorn, who doesn’t want the job.

There is much arguing and distrust among the races as to who will bear the ring, but finally Frodo speaks up and declares that he will carry the ring to Mordor, though he doesn’t know the way. Gandalf pledges to assist him, as does Aragorn and Boromir, as well as an elven prince named Legolas (Bloom) and a warrior dwarf named Gimli (Rhys-Davies). Sam, Merry and Pippin also proclaim that they are going wherever Frodo goes. Thus is formed the Fellowship of the Ring (cue dramatic orchestral music).

On the eve of their departing, Arwen presents Aragorn with a token of her love; Aragorn begs her not to give it to him, knowing she would give up her immortality for his love, but she gives it to him nonetheless. The fellowship then departs for Mordor.

The way is hard. In a snowy mountain pass, Saruman attacks them magically, forcing them to go the one way Gandalf didn’t want to travel; underground, through the mines of Moria, where Gimli’s cousin rules.

After surviving the attack of a hideous kraken at the gates of the mines, the Fellowship travels into Moria, and it becomes obvious that the entire colony of dwarves has been massacred. They are attacked just then by orcs, goblins and a massive cave troll and when it appears they will be surrounded, something frightens the thousands of orcs and goblins off; it turns out to be a balrog, a fire demon from the depths of the earth. Gandalf fights off the balrog, but then is yanked off a precipice, and is lost to the Fellowship.

Disheartened, the survivors of the fellowship make their way into Lothlorien, stronghold of the high elves, where they are greeted by King Celeborn (Csokas) and the ethereal Queen Galadriel (Blanchett), who allow the weary travelers rest. After receiving gifts of elven cloaks, waybread and other items, the Fellowship resumes its journey, now by river.

At camp they are ambushed by the Uruk’hai, Boromir is confronted by his own weakness, and the Fellowship is broken, with one member giving his life in battle.

The Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring is a captivating, compelling movie that is only the first step in a journey that will take us to the eventual fate of the ring, of those who bear it and of those who seek it as well. Given the performances here, it is easy to care very much about who gets there and in what shape they are in when they arrive. It is a journey we can all take together.

The visuals are stunning, jaw-dropping at the time this was released. The elven communities of Rivendell and Lothlorien are beautiful in an alien way, blending naturally with their forest environments. Hobbiton in the Shire, where Bilbo and Frodo live, looks exactly as I imagined it, calm, peaceful and rustic but with a hint of the English countryside implicit in every nook and cranny. The ruins of ancient kingdoms, statues of forgotten kings and warriors dot the journey’s landscape, giving the world an old and lived-in appearance. The attention to detail in establishing each individual place in the movie, each with its own specific character and feel, is nothing short of astounding.

Jackson has an epic palette to paint his picture, and he uses every color imaginable. The bright colors of the Shire contrast with the dark, stormy terrain of Mordor; the Elven territories are in a perpetual autumn, as their race prepares to leave Middle Earth, lending a further poignancy to the tale. Jackson obviously holds the source material in high regard, and stays as true to Tolkein’s words as is possible.

Wisely, the various characters are developed slowly, becoming who they are during the course of the movie. There is not a disappointing performance throughout; Mortensen carries a quiet intensity as Aragorn, McKellen a grandfatherly presence as Gandalf. The extras are well-cast, helping set the background tone in each location; folksy and a bit comic in Hobbiton, suspicious and tense in Bree, graceful yet sad in Lorien.

What makes this so successful a movie is what I would call a sense of place throughout; the architecture, scenery and characters all contribute to the overall mood. Middle Earth becomes a living, breathing place because of it, and the rich textures of Tolkein’s world come to life before our very eyes.

Overall, this can only be called a labor of love, and that love can clearly be seen on the screen in every frame. Jaw-dropping special effects and eye-popping scenery from the wilds of New Zealand dazzle at every turn. Howard Shore’s haunting score serves to enhance the film, and having Enya contribute a pair of vocalizations to the movie is a wise move; her ethereal voice is perfect for it. When this was released back in 2001, it not only met the high expectations of those anticipating (myself included) but exceeded them. It has, with its successors, become a true classic, a movie that I happily watch over and over again and enjoy almost as much as the first time I saw it.

WHY RENT THIS: An amazing spectacle, faithful to the book and exciting and heartwarming all at once. A modern classic that still bears repeated watching.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you’re not into fantasy, you’ll surely hate this.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are some scary images and an epic battle sequence that depicts plenty of hacking and chopping.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Most major films have from time to time more than one unit shooting simultaneously, generally just two or three. There were occasions when this production had as many as ten units shooting at once.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There have been several different releases of varying size of the film and there are so many different and fascinating features that listing them all for each edition would take up far too much space here.  Suffice to say that you will essentially have a choice of two different versions of the film; the two hour-plus theatrical release and the nearly four hour extended director’s cut. The latter only last month arrived as part of a box set to take advantage of the renewed Middle Earth fervor generated by the Hobbit trilogy, the first film of which arrives at Christmas this year. Even the bare bones DVD editions have plenty of wonderful features so that no matter which version you choose you’ll have plenty of things to occupy many hours of viewing time but the extended edition Blu-Ray has enough special features (some brand new) to make even the hardiest of Frodo fans faint.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $871.5M on a $93M production budget. The movie was a gigantic blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Avatar

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Straw Dogs (2011)