Tag Archives: Christopher Lee

[Review] – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

20 Dec

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey

Title: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Year: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Lee Pace
MPAA Rating: PG-13, extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Runtime: 169 min
IMDb Rating: 8.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Metacritic: 58

Considering the magnitude of this movie it’s fair to say this review will run longer than usual. After all, this is the start to a brand new trilogy that follows (but acts as a prequel series) one of the most successful (both commercially and critically) franchises in history. Back in 2000 Peter Jackson (then known mostly for Heavenly Creatures, a very good, low budget New Zealand film) embarked on what remains to this day one of the most ambitious film projects ever undertaken, the adaptation of the three The Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien getting a whopping budget of $281 million to make the trilogy of films back-to-back-to-back during a period of 438 days.

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Hugo

27 Jan

Title: Hugo
Year: 2011
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: John Logan, based on the novel by Brian Selznick
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emily Mortimer, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths
MPAA Rating: PG, mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking
Runtime: 126 min
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metacritic: 83

 

It’s taken me forever, I know, but I finally got to see Hugo, two days after it racked up the most Oscar nominations of any film, but now I’ve seen the film and it was seriously worth the wait. People were kind of skeptical when Martin Scorsese announced his next film would be an adaptation of a popular novel aimed mostly at children, and done in 3D at that, one that would carry a PG rating (the first film of his to do so since 1993’s The Age of Innocence), one that would be the director’s first film without his recent muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, since 1999’s Bringing Out the Dead and one that, it would seem, was as far off from the legendary director’s comfort zone as you could imagine. And it’s true, this is unlike anything the man has ever done, prompted by his youngest daughter, Francesca, do finally make a film that she could see and enjoy, and yet, in many ways, this is an incredibly personal film from my favorite director of all-time. It’s also easily the best film of all 2011.

I say Hugo is in many ways the most heartfelt and personal Scorsese film ever because it’s just bursting through the seams with the unabashed love for the art of cinema that defines the man. Part of the reason as to why Martin Scorsese is my favorite director ever is not only because he makes the best films one could hope for, which he does, but also because it’s infectious to see how he gets when he starts talking about films from other people, he’s like a little boy speaking about his favorite toy, just super excited, talking a thousand miles an hour; a film-lover first and a film-maker second. This love has always been evident, especially in his founding of The Film Foundation back in 1990, a non-profit organization dedicated to film preservation, something incredibly close to Mr. Scorsese’s heart, but in Hugo he manages to finally make a love letter to the world’s greatest art form, a beautiful and elegant film that has an innocence and heart that beat with his love for cinema, one of the characters here is even the inventor of film himself, Georges Méliès.

Wondrous is the word that probably best helps define Hugo, especially if you, like me, are a true cinephile. Because if you have even the slightest sense of love for films then this film will certainly do the trick for you; it’s like you have a guy who’s been loving films for half a century, who has studied every era of it and is insanely well-versed in it and who now has decided to create a film himself that encapsulates that love for the magic of an artform he has helped define himself; this is a film for us to treasure for years to come. Watching Hugo is an experience in and of itself, it’s thoroughly magical, purely innocent (which is a quality that’s insanely hard to pull off in today’s world) and helmed by the only man who could have been up to the task.

Unabashed love for film history mixed in with personal history from the director results in a beautiful film that’s serious and yet open to the fun of life at the same time, an adventure centered around the resourceful titular boy, played incredibly well by the young Asa Butterfield, a boy on a quest to unlock a secret his father left him some time ago. It’s like a poem with beautiful verses, a look at the power of cinema, the possibilities it gives us in life and the magic of it all; a masterpiece that is patient with its story, letting it come through slowly but beautifully, melding the gorgeous visuals with some truly heartfelt moments. And yet it’s still a children’s movie, a fable that will be enjoyed by (some) kids while (every) grown-up that takes them to theaters will be in awe about how the most talented cinephile has been given the tools and budget to make a film about films. It’ll be a while before I become a father myself, but for some reason I know this will be one of the first films I show my firstborn, and I can’t wait.

It’s really neat, too, to see Martin Scorsese, he of super violent gangster movies with the awesome soundtracks, produce a film that’s so emotionally strong. It comes from his love of cinema, from his love of his daughter who has helped him see the world, and thus films, through a different, more kinetic set of eyes. Hugo lives in Paris during the 1930’s, teaching himself about the workings of several mechanical artifacts, a love of which that comes from his family, his uncle being in charge of the clocks at a Parisian train station and his father having spent most of his life trying to complete an automaton, which is a self-operating robot. Hugo’s dad, however, dies before ever completing his work on the automaton. Instead of going to live as an orphan, Hugo stays hidden in the train station, the ladders and passages and clocks of the locale being his new home as he feeds himself off croissants he gets to pick off shops and sneaks into the movies whenever he can.

The performance that the young Asa Butterfield delivers, by the way, is another thing of wonder, and how he didn’t garner up more awards traction I don’t really get, he is the soul of the movie, and his interactions with the rest of the incredibly talented cast are awesome to watch. That cast includes Sacha Baron Cohen in a scene-stealing role as the Station Inspector who’s always on Hugo’s tail, chasing him through the traveler-crowded floors of the station and from whom Hugo always eventually escapes, getting refuge above the station’s roof. There’s also Jude Law as Hugo’s father seen through flashbacks, leaving behind his notebooks on how to finish the automaton. And the great Chloë Moretz, another insanely talented young actress, as Isabelle, a curious girl who also lives in the station and who Hugo quickly befriends.

There also is, of course, a great performance by the great Ben Kingsley as Méliès himself, now a grumpy old man who owns a toy shop in the station, something that did actually happen in real life. Hugo, obviously, doesn’t know who this man is, he doesn’t know he was the magician who pioneered film in order to trick his audiences, he doesn’t know he is the original inventor of automatons. The first half of the film (it runs for a bit over two hours) is all about Hugo and how he goes through life at the station, and how Mr. Scorsese uses technology to create the station and his shots of Paris is stunning, the art direction by Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo is impeccable as well, as is the cinematography by Robert Richardson. And watching the adventures of Hugo is tremendous fun and would make for a great film as it is, but it’s once we get to the second half of this film that this becomes the masterpiece that it is.

That second half of the film is more concerned with the life of Méliès, going back to showing parts of his career, of the early history of film that any true cinephile will go gaga for considering this is being done Martin Scorsese, who not only is a lover of film, but who, as we can evidence from the documentaries he has made, knows how to tell a real person’s story. We see how the old man now working at a toy shop once helped create the world’s first special effects, helped pioneer cinema and we see him then realize that he’s not been forgotten, but that, after being driven out of the cinema and stumbling into poverty, he was widely celebrated as a master of his craft around the world. There are some scenes in which Mr. Kingsley just shines, heartbreaking to see this man so sure that his work had been destroyed, that he had been forgotten.

It’s amazing the effect Hugo has, what it does with your imagination, how many times you’ll be left in literal awe, your jaw dropped, at what an old-school guy like Martin Scorsese is doing with the newest of technologies. It is the most beautiful ode to film imaginable, and even if it didn’t count with this amazing technology, it would be amazing just based on the story it presents, it’s a film made for kids that has two of the best performances given by younger actors in the past decade or so, and that in its young characters has kids that are actually smart and not just there to make poop jokes like in most family films we get today. Everything about this film is sheer perfection, from the directing, to the acting, to the editing (done as always by Mr. Scorsese’s usual collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker), to the art direction, cinematography, costume design and sound. Hugo is the best film of 2011, and here’s hoping the Academy too recognizes that.

Grade: A+

Season of the Witch

1 Feb

Title: Season of the Witch
Year:
2011
Director:
Dominic Sena
Writer:
Bragi F. Schut
Starring:
Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore, Christopher Lee
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, thematic elements, violence and disturbing content
Runtime:
95 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
5.6
Rotten Tomatoes:
4%

 

Oh, Nicolas Cage. Here’s an actor that truly polarizes his audience, some love his stuff, some hate him, and most of the ones who really don’t care seem to think of him as an actor who was once pretty damn good, but that now has resorted to really weird projects to make a buck or two. And while that analysis is partly accurate, I still think Nicolas Cage is kind of awesome. That’s because he’s a guy who can still act up a storm, because when he’s loud and loose he can be extremely good, and, at the very least, make one of his bad project choices at least seem funny, even if it’s in a bad way.

You look at some of the projects that guy has done in the past decade and you’ll see some pretty nifty stuff. Adaptation. obviously landed him an Oscar nomination and was amazing on all regards. But there’s also Matchstick Men, which I absolutely loved. Lord of War, which I thought was quite cool. 2009’s The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans which was seriously amazing and had Mr. Cage giving an absolutely remarkable performance, which showed just how amazing he can be when the director just lets him go. And, of course, last year’s Kick-Ass, in which Mr. Cage was cool as hell as Big Daddy.

Yes, there have been quite a lot of duds in between those amazing films I just named, but what I mean to say is that the guy is still amazing when he wants to be, and when others let him. Now, Season of the Witch, his latest, I knew would never be great, but a big part of me was hoping that at least Mr. Cage would have been allowed to let loose and be all loud and fun and at least make this film fall into the so-bad-it’s-good territory. But alas, that wasn’t the case, this one just plain sucked. But fret not, Mr. Cage still has Drive Angry 3D coming out next month, and that one really does seem guaranteed to fall into the so-bad-it’s-amazingly-awesome category.

But here we have to talk about Season of the Witch, a film that feels slow and boring and that is so bad it’s not even good to get a few laughs out of how bad it is. I actually won’t fail this film, because I only fail those films which come dangerously close to causing me physical discomfort when watching them, this one sucked big time, but it didn’t approach those parameters, maybe it was because I’m still a big fan of Mr. Cage, not to mention that his co-star here is Ron Perlman, of whom I’m also a huge fan of, or maybe it was just because this one at least didn’t drag itself for that long.

There are many reasons not to love this film, as I said, it feels horribly slow and boring, not to mention that the special effects look horribly cheap. Another thing one can find fault with is the fact that this is a film set in the 14th century but that’s filled with 21st century words, even our curse words, and, I mean, if you were gonna go and make the language contemporary then you would have probably been excused if you had done so to make the dialogue clever and good, but the stuff on display here is just horrible, and at least it could have been funny if it were done in medieval language.

Let me quickly run through the plot, as dumb as it may be. There’s a lot of crusades and the battles that come with them and over a decade of them go by until we get to the point when our two main crusaders, those played by Mr. Cage and Mr. Perlman, decide to go back to a town where a girl who’s supposedly a witch has set a curse, they will then have to take her to some monastery to have some monks deal with her.

So yeah, if you read the plot summary beforehand then you’ll know what to expect, not to mention that it’s a medieval action film with a contemporary lexicon being released in January, the traditional cemetery of films, after having its release date delayed from March 2010 to this month. If you leave this film feeling disappointed then it’s all on you, because the signs were there, bright and clear for you to know this really was never going to be good. This is also, by the way, a sort of remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, so yeah, that only adds insult to injury.

And even though we all knew the film was going to be bad, it really sucked to see that not even Mr. Cage was going to be good here. I mean, even in the most horrible of his films the way he chews up the scenery with his over-the-top performances always make for some really fun, if not downright good, viewing. And yet here he’s restrained, maybe it’s because even he, the guy who seems unable to turn down a script, knew it was bad. Maybe it was because the script was full of lines that would make anyone look really bad. I don’t know, he just seemed at a loss here. Season of the Witch was obviously meant to be much more of a spectacle, the $40 million budget it had surely was nowhere as big as the filmmaker wanted, but still, this is just plain bad, no matter the budget or lexicon.

Grade: C-

Boogie Woogie

14 Jul

Title: Boogie Woogie
Year: 2010
Director: Duncan Ward
Writer: Danny Moynihan
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gillian Anderson, Stellan Skarsgard, Heather Graham, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston, Gemma Atkinson
MPAA Rating:
Runtime: 94 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 30%

I’m unsure about how I feel about Boogie Woogie, I mean, from time to time I did find myself positively smiling and giggling at stuff this satire threw at me, but more often than that I found myself not really enjoying the process, finding this film to be ‘warm’ and in that temperature scale I just created to illustrate a point any satire has to be at ‘hot’ to be successful, this one had moments when it started getting hot, but just when it seemed to be able to get there a cool bucket of water chilled it down, and that process was tough to watch.

The film delves into the art scene of London, and while interesting at times and certainly with a good pedigree on the subject since it had some knowledgable people to take input from ,I think it could have submerged itself further on the subject at hand, the one bright spot in this film, and the reason why my grade for it will be better than it should really be, is the cast, which is seriously awesome, just take a look at all the names above, but still, the cast is given a weak script, the camerawork is extremely subpar and it generally doesn’t feel like the sort of movie it was clearly intended to be.

Now, even though I give praise to the actors in the cast, there are two things to mention, the direction the cast was given was clearly not great, and secondly and more importantly, even though they’re all good actors, they’re not that good as to make an Altman-esque film, which is the vibe this film shamelessly tried to pull off with a huge ensemble and a full-on exploration of a specific world or genre. Not to mention that Duncan Ward, the film’s director, is a first-time feature film director, and he’s certainly no Robert Altman, and when he’s five feature-length films into his career I doubt he’ll have a MASH like Altman did. But then again pretty much nobody can do what Altman did, so let’s not bully him, let’s just say he should’ve known better.

I won’t really go ahead and describe the whole plot, I saw the film more than two months ago and I probably forgot most of it anyway, but I’ll say that Amanda Seyfried is actually pretty good in it, even though I say that in pretty much anything she’s in, and Gillian Anderson is an actress I’ll watch in anything, and think she has become quite the charming actress post-X-Files. But again, for the pleasure I got from the castmembers I’ll give this film a rather okay grade, but unfortunately this film, while it does have its moments of nasty fun amidst it’s completely off’-target over -the-top demeanor, is one I’ll forget all about in a couple of months, just like I forgot the majority of its plot two months after watching it.

Grade: B-