Friday, 20 February 2009

Our LOTR conversations

ELEMENTARY PENGUIN “There was just way too much focus on the battles and the 'epic' side of it, when the books focus on the smaller people, and their lives”

KABUKI ELVIS “In the books, the main focus was on the character interactions, I will give you that”

EP “And the last film specifically was so focused on the battles, I almost missed the bit where they get rid of the ring”

KE “Yeah, the last one definitely went overboard with the battle. But the average cinema-goer, not necessarily someone who read the books, would have felt short-changed were there not a huge battle to end it.”

KE “The films aren't meant to replace the books, they are not a successor, they are one person's interpretation of it. The existence of the films does not render the books worthless.”

EP “I totally agree, I just think that the films are an awful interpretation. Believe me, if I thought they were a replacement, I would be twice as against them as I already am.”

KE “I think the problem some people have had with it, a problem with all adaptations, is that when you read the book, it's all about your imagination, which makes the experience very personal. In films, the director's interpretation becomes the definitive, and if this isn't your interpretation, then, of course, you are likely to be drawn in less”

EP “Yes, this is exactly what I meant, I like my imagination creating my own view of the world, and these films ruined that”

LOTR : Return Of The King


Oh good God, LOTR fans are not going to like me. This is the film that won eleven Oscars®, including Best Picture. Guess what? I couldn't bloody stand it! Every piece of narrative seems to have been replaced with a slow motion shot of an Orc being skewered.
I felt like Peter Jackson had gone into my imagination, looked at how I imagined the story, then pissed on it, and told me it was going to be an action film instead. This isn't Lord Of The Rings, it's Rambo with magic!

That's how I would sum up the whole trilogy really. LOTR is a fantasy, and Jackson stopped it being so, and for that, I am very angry at him.


While I did enjoy the film, I can't help but feel the focus of the narrative was in the wrong place. In my opinion, the real story of the third book was in the relationship between Frodo and Sam with Sam being the real hero of the trilogy.
While the special effects that went into creating the epic battle that comprises most of the film are technically impressive, they do not make the film. While the book does contain in-depth descriptions of the on-going battle, the real details are in the characterisation, something the film misses out on.

Overall, I did enjoy the films, and still watch them every so often, as well as re-reading the books, which is my preference.


LOTR : The Two Towers


The second film in a trilogy usually proves to be the weakest. I adore Back To The Future, and even I find part two a bit dull.
'The Two Towers' definitely suffers this fate, especially in a trilogy about some dwarves walking to a mountain, you don't see the start of the journey, or the end. There is a feeling of complete non-achievement.
I could not believe how bored I was by this film. How anyone can watch the extended edition and enjoy it is beyond me.


I agree with EP on this, that in a trilogy, the second film tends to be purely expositional, and so often prove to be the weakest of the three.
I still enjoyed the film, although not as much as the other ones because although the character interactions weren't as present as they were in the book, there was still enough to hold the story together.
I did feel the film was over-long, however, saying this can be a double-edged sword, since if you cut certain scenes, many fans would complain.


LOTR : Fellowship Of The Ring


As I said yesterday, I do not like the trilogy, but if I had to chose the best one, I would probably say this one. As the first film, a lot of it focuses on the set-up, the introduction to the characters and what to expect, and I like that, it's what the book did. It's probably the most loyal to the books of all the films, something I have made perfectly clear I like to see.


As a fan of the books, I was apprehensive about the films, as I am with any adaptation from a novel.
Overall though, I enjoyed it, maybe because some of the aspects of the book appeared in the film in the exact way I had seen them in my imagination, and it felt amazing to see them presented in front of me in much more of an (unsurprisingly) cinematic way. I definitely think that this film is the most loyal to the book.


Bloody hell!

Is it really 4.30am?! Me and Kabuki Elvis have been talking about 'Lord Of The Rings' for 9 hours! That's as long as the films!
It's bedtime, sorry folks. We have a LOT of material, but I am far too tired to sift through, type up, edit and post it tonight. I will do it as soon as I wake up, so if you are lucky, and behave yourselves, then you just might get two posts.

Sweet dreams my darlings.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Going for the big score

What is the most successful movie of the last few years?

What movie has won the most Oscars® recently?

OK, let me ask it this way. What trilogy of movies, mainly filmed in New Zealand, sitting at around a day in length if watched back to back, have been inexplicably popular, despite being painfully dull?

I don't know if it's a specific personality trait, but if anything, not just films, becomes very popular, I tend to automatically dislike it, or at the very least become very wary of it.
Having read, and genuinely enjoyed, the books while younger, my nervousness of being disappointed was off the scale, and sadly, I was correct to be nervous.
I cannot put into words how disappointed I was by these three dull, over-long, non-involving, pretentious poor excuses for films. It really did upset me, and anger me.

So, the review. When I decided to do this, I realised there was no way I could discuss the films, without being biased. There are three of them, they are very long, and I don't like them. Instead, today I am going to give you some links to 'LOTR' reviews by critics who I personally enjoy and respect. In the coming three days, me and another reviewer, Kabuki Elvis, will be discussing each film in depth, and publishing two short reviews, as well as some of our more coherent, intelligent arguments for and against the films.

'LOTR : Fellowship Of The Ring' reviews

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

'LOTR : The Two Towers' reviews

Philip French, The Guardian

Dan Jardine, Apollo Movie Guide

'LOTR : Return Of The King' reviews

James Berardinelli, Reelviews

Claudia Puig, USA Today

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Spirited Away


Since I haven't done a review of an animated film yet, I thought I would start the ball rolling with easily one of the greatest animated films of all time, 'Spirited Away'.

Young Chihiro and her parents are driving to their new home when her father takes a shortcut through the woods. They find a deserted town that her father thinks is a theme park. Her parents sit down to eat the food there, while Chihiro wanders away to a giant bathhouse. She meets a mysterious boy called Haku who warns her to leave before nightfall, but she is too late and sees her parents get transformed into pigs. Haku tells Chihiro that she is now in the realm of the spirits and that her parents have eaten spirit food. She is hunted because she is a human and does not belong in the spirit world. Chihiro’s only hope is to go and see the scary witch Yubaba who runs the bathhouse and ask for a job. In return for giving her a job, Yubaba takes Chihiro’s name from her and calls her Sen. Sen is put to work cleaning where she is given the worst tasks. There she faces a stink spirit who is threatening to pollute the bathhouse and accidentally lets in a lonely monster that starts trying to eat everybody and everything. After Haku is fatally wounded while in dragon form, Sen must undergo a difficult journey to save him by returning a seal stolen from Yubaba’s twin sister Zeniba.

What is special about this film is how no person is portrayed as a simple villain. In fact, there are no villains. Just people going about their lives. It is the situation that creates the conflict, a very mature message to appear in what is essentially a children's film.

This is a film that is obviously not knocked off the assembly line like so many kids' films at the moment. The animation is creative and complex. It is a rare film where a great story comes together with superior production values, and one where people of many ages and cultural backgrounds can appreciate.

Spirited Away is an exquisite and extraordinary film from an animator who has no equal. There’s a simplicity of story at the heart of it, one where Chihiro’s child-like innocence and non-judgmentalness is seen as having a purity and truth up against everyone else who is blinded by greed or stupidity. The imagination of Hayao Miyazaki’s world, the detail it comes in and the quiet power of Spirited Away is stunning. Occasionally toward the end, the film seems a little hurried. Haku suddenly realizes his true name, the twin sister who put a curse on him is quickly revealed to be a good witch and Chihiro’s final test is passed with amazing ease, but Spirited Away has genuine beauty. It should be seen by everybody.


Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Dark Knight


I has been pointed out to me that I often choose the more obscure, older, cult films to review, and since right now, the polls are saying you guys and gals want more reviews of new films, I thought I would choose one of the best film of the past year, 'The Dark Knight'.

There was a time when people thought it was crazy to try and have someone else take on the role of the Joker because no one could possibly fill Jack Nicholson's shoes. But after you see The Dark Knight you won't be able to think of anyone else besides Heath Ledger. Now Nicholson's Joker looks like a naughty clown while Ledger's Joker is downright nasty and disturbed (yet still oddly loveable). Ledger's maniacal performance as the psycho giving both cops and crooks nightmares is so riveting that it makes you sad for all the roles he'll never have a chance to tackle after he died at the beginning of last year just after finishing production on The Dark Knight.

Picking up essentially where Batman Begins left off, we find Gotham is marginally better off but still struggling with corruption and crime. Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is supposed to arrest the vigilante Batman (Christian Bale) on sight but instead he's been partnering with the Caped Crusader to try and capture a group of mobsters. It's difficult to determine who to trust but the new D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is looking like the hero Gotham needs. Although Bruce Wayne is a little suspicious of Dent's intentions with Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Bruce's former love. But throwing everything into chaos and panic is the arrival of The Joker. He feels no loyalty to the other criminals in the city and seems solely interested in destroying all he can.

The Dark Knight is a very long way from the camp cheesy Batman of the 60s TV show with Adam West. Nolan continues the darkening tone that began with Tim Burton and Michael Keaton. Nolan and Bale take a sombre approach to their material to deliver a sleek, dark Batman for the new millennium. Nolan delivers a B-movie dressed up very elegantly as a respectable Hollywood drama - just one with kick ass action and a leading man in a cape. Confusing what it means to be a hero is at the heart of this film, and Alfred (Michael Caine) is constantly reminding us of the weighty choices Wayne has to make.

My only reservations are with the ending. Of course they want to set it up for the sequel, which has now been announced, and will contain the Riddler as the villain, but it just petered off into nothing. There were just a few too many loose ends for my liking.


Sunday, 15 February 2009

Ooh, Look At Me With The Big Star!

As you may have noticed, I enjoy bad movies, as they give me plenty of ammunition, and a chance to vent my anger at them.
Probably the most famous version of the 'this film is crap so let's enjoy it!' genre is Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), the American TV show in which a bad film is run, and a group of people make jokes about it and point out its flaws.
The show's head writer and main star was Michael J Nelson, who I had a chance to talk to.

ELEMENTARY PENGUIN: Now you, Kevin, Trace, and all the gang had amazing success in the 80s and 90s with MST3K, and more now with rifftrax. Why do you think the public enjoy bad movies?

MIKE NELSON: It's the deflation of the expectation, I think: "You are about to be
entertained by experts" is what they're saying, and so seeing that go wrong is fun and surprising.

EP: Are there any set themes or moments that distinguish an enjoyable bad movie from a truly unwatchable one?

MN: Definitely. Fail spectacularly and it's fun, fail by not trying to do enough and it's just boring. Bad dialogue can be funny - flat dialogue is a snoozer.

EP: When was your last truly enjoyable trip to the cinema?

MN: What decade is it? Actually, I rarely go to the theater, and mostly I can't enjoy it because of the other patrons (texting, talking on the phone, just flat out talking) but I have a nice setup in my home. I think the last movie I saw in the theater was Tropic Thunder, and that had some very enjoyable moments.

EP: If you look at lists of the top 10, 50, or even 100 films, the majority of them will be from the 1950s to around the mid 90s. Why do you think modern films, even if very good, seem to be less prolific?

MN: Probably economics. There just is a lot more money to be made in foreign markets with genre and action movies, which can be very good, but don't tend to be as lasting.

EP: If you were only allowed to watch one movie, for the rest of your life, what movie would that be?

MN: Probably Casablanca. It's just so much fun, it's smart, and its steeped in true emotion and crisis and patriotism and heroism, partly because it was filmed in 1942 when the world was truly on the brink.

EP: In Kevin's book, A Year At The Movies, he talks about the decline of drive-in movies. Certainly here in the UK, there seems to be a decline in the number of cinemas altogether. Why do you think this is?

MN: Simply the dizzying array of entertainment choices available now. When I was a kid there was 4 channels of TV and you had movies.

EP: Has working on MST3K and Rifftrax affected the way you look at films you watch for pleasure?

MN: Yes, you really do appreciate good movies more because you see how easy it is to fail. It is a very, very difficult thing to make a good movie, so bravo to those who do.

EP: What do you think is the most over-rated film of all time?

MN: Crash or maybe American Beauty.

EP: Do your children enjoy the films they go to see as much as you did when you were a child?

MN: They love movies, and though they like some of the silly comedies aimed at their age group, they also like quite sophisticated fare, and like old movies every bit as much as new ones. (For instance, To Kill a Mockingbird is a family favorite.)

EP: Do you think that bad films are made because studios know we will watch them, or that we watch bad movies because studios keep making them?

MN: I think the studios will do anything they can to make money - that is their job, after all, and I have nothing against that. For my part I'm glad they keep making them because it keeps me employed, too.



I love it when a film causes controversy. Be it over religion, ethnicity, or even just taste, a film that proves to be controversial always seems to be destined for infamy, if not just fame. The only problem is that because of the controversy, these films are often not even given a second glance based just on their quality. One film that has really suffered this fate is 1999's 'Dogma', directed and written by Kevin Smith.

I thought this film would be appropriate, since with several wars, the whole Atheist bus sign arguement, and the general defensiveness of every religion, a film that both pokes fun at, and attempts to improve, religion would be a perfect subject for today. Also, I am huge fan of Kevin Smith, and really respect his attitude towards his films. He casts whoever he wants, instead of whoever is popular, and puts the film together practically on his own, instead of just passing it to a group of editors.

'Dogma' is probably his most critically successful movie to date, as it has a much more exciting and involving storyline as any of the others. In it,Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play Loki and Bartleby, two angels cast out of heaven and exiled for all eternity to Wisconsin. They hear about a bishop (George Carlin) who is rededicating a cathedral in New Jersey in the image of Buddy Jesus, a Christ who blesses his followers with the A-OK sign. Anyone entering the cathedral will be immediately forgiven all sins, so as to be welcomed into Catholicism with a clean slate. Bartleby and Loki see the loophole: Walk through the church's doors, and they qualify again for heaven. The problem is, this will prove that God is not infallible, and all existence will cease to be.
It is up to Bethany (Linda Florentino) an abortion clinic employee, to stop them, as she is the Last Zion (the last living descendant of Christ) to stop them.

Smith is known for his silly, rude humor. He is known for references to nerd culture, specifically Star Wars and comic books. He is known for every other word being 'fuck'. What he ISN'T known for is his films containing a really strong, important message. In 'Dogma', the message is positive, strong, and not at all corny, being "It doesn't matter what you believe in, just that you have belief" So forget the controversy behind the film, and just enjoy the film, it's a bloody good one.