The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug The_Hobbit_-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_theatrical_poster

I am a HUGE fan of all things fantasy.  Correction: I am HUGE fan of GOOD fantasy.  It could be a book, a TV show, a mini-series, or a big-screen movie.  If you have read some of my previous reviews of fantasy films – such as my one for “Conan the Barbarian” – you will undoubtedly know that I have stomached a plethora of horrid films to arrive at the glory & majesty that is Peter Jackson’s treatment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I have already posted a review of “The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey” and I spoke at length about the deeper meaning of the film in my article “It’s Not Such a Small World After All…”.

So it took me a while to get to the theater to see this latest cinematic entry in the Tolkien storybook, “The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug”.  {Since I hate acronyms, I will abbreviate this title to simply “Smaug” for the remainder of this article.}  What I can say is it that it was well worth the wait!  Okay, time for my secret love of very specific things Tolkien to be voiced here, so bear with me.  There are two things I didn’t want to be screwed up when the stories finally got translated to film: the Balrog of Moria and Smaug the Dragon.  Why?  Because if they looked corny or foolish, they not only lose their potency but they also vastly diminish the film.  In other words, if their treatment sucks, so too will the movie.  Allow me to say, the dragon is worth the price of admission, and he is glorious!

You can look at this movie as having multiple parts and all of them are brilliantly executed.  Part 1 is the journey into Mirkwood Forest and the Elven kingdom therein.  It will be interesting to see these films in chronological order and then watch LOTR afterwards.  I think – though I cannot confirm this – that Peter Jackson is nimbly creating the “stage” for LOTR with these “Hobbit” movies and is layering a little bit more of what SHOULD have been included in the original tale of The Hobbit.  This may seem like tinkering with the source material, but honestly it is more like George Lucas tinkering with Star Wars.  Tolkien did it for ages with all of his material, so why shouldn’t Jackson?  Truth is, I believe it makes for a better story.

What exactly am I talking about?  What precisely is Jackson adding to (story-wise) that is different than the original book?  Well, I don’t recall anything about Dol Guldur being in The Hobbit.  That’s rather significant, especially in this film version of the story.  Again, it is layering the film to pave the way for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It’s a fantastic addition and it makes the story seem even more tightly wound together.  Bravo!  Ultimately, there is nothing better in fantasy than a “meet the bad guy” scene.  I don’t know how Jackson managed to add this and then end the film on a cliffhanger – especially involving Gandalf!  {If you haven’t seen the film, just go and watch it and then come back and re-read this part – then you will understand what I am talking about.  I am trying to avoid spoilers here.}  I know that Tolkien wrote several “inclusions” that were or were not included in later revisions or editions of the book – one of them is the Quest for Erebor which essentially is EXACTLY this subject matter.  I still think it bears mentioning though – since most fans of the work don’t even know the existence of the Quest for Erebor.

Okay.  Enough of the inner-geek-speak.  Review the movie!

In “The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey”, we saw Bilbo Baggins as a slightly different Hobbit.  He wasn’t necessarily content with staying at home.  This film picks up on the heels of where the last left off.  They just got flown to safety by the giant eagles, remember?  So here they are on the run from the nasty albino orc (Azog, if you care), and we see a bit more of the heroic side of Bilbo that is starting to emerge.  Something has fundamentally shifted within Bilbo.  He will never be the same again.  It’s fun to ask the question here: is his change internal (i.e. his own choice) or is it external (i.e. caused by possessing the One Ring)?

Regardless, Martin Freeman brings a new layer of depth to Bilbo in this film.  I think if I have a negative criticism about the LOTR trilogy, it is that Elijah Wood was great as Frodo but he doesn’t seem all that unusual when compared to other Hobbits.  He made bold decisions, but it isn’t until he is already on the quest that we begin to see how he is different than his kin.  With Bilbo, you are told (via Gandalf) why he was chosen.  Martin Freeman does a fantastic job at bringing this to the surface of the character in increments.  In “Journey” it was a slow pace, a building pace, but with “Smaug”, he is revealing Bilbo’s differences with each passing scene.  The changes are becoming far more evident.  It’s a sharp contrast to where he started from.  I loved this aspect of the film.  Even with the faster pace of “Smaug”, Freeman brings the character more to life with every scene he is in.  In short, Freeman presents a much stronger character than Wood’s Frodo.

Lee Pace plays the Elvenking, ruler of Mirkwood, Legolas’ father, and also called Thranduil.  I have to pause to talk about this awesome douchebag.  Seriously, I have always despised him.  Pace plays him so well that I have only one thing to say: he is AWESOME!  His outfit is incredible, his voice is perfect, and just his demeanor comes through.  He is the kind of character you love to hate, namely because he is so blind.  It’s hard to believe that Legolas comes from this guy.  Again though, here is Jackson layering the story to make it more relevant to the LOTR storyline.  He is giving us Legolas’ backstory – which we were denied in “Fellowship of the Ring”.  The scenes in Mirkwood are great – I could have spent another half an hour in the hall of the Elvenking and listened to him prattle on about the rest of the world isn’t his problem.  No wonder Legolas wanted to get out of there!

Evangeline Lilly plays Tauriel, the elf maiden Captain of the Guard for Mirkwood’s elves.  She looks great and I never really thought much about who would play her (as compared to say Galadriel, which could not have been cast better).  She does a good job, nothing overpowering really.  Yet, the story of her and the dwarf Kili, and the obvious weird love story there…well, it’s odd and slightly distracting from the overall tale.  Did we really need to play up the love angle?  Why can’t they just befriend each other and develop a bond based off of that?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just me but I find it all a bit weird.

The film presents us with all the highlights from the cartoon film which is great – the barrel ride out of Mirkwood is absolutely stupendous!  It’s better than anything in LOTR, honestly.  It was funny, and exciting, and just plain thrilling to watch.  The theater was filled with gasps and cheers during that scene and it is no wonder either! It isn’t long before we reach Lake-Town and we are introduced to Bard the Bowman.  We get to see the brief history of the Black Arrows and we know its significance.  Yahoo!  This was really well done too.  Just the right amount of detail without it dragging down the pace of the film, and it’s all told in a very “in-the-moment” style.

The fighting got juiced up in the 2nd film of this trilogy as well, which was to be expected I guess.  “Journey” was slow but that was not only intentional but also necessary.  “Smaug” is more like the barrel ride: fast-paced and thrilling.  It’s the proverbial out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire situation, time after time in this film.  This helps you jump from Mirkwood to the dungeons of the Elvenking to Lake-Town to Erebor itself.  Once the film gets you inside the Lonely Mountain, you should make sure you have emptied your bladder – because you will not be able to leave your seat once that begins!

Enter the biggest scene-stealing diva of all time: Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.  The dragon is so brilliantly depicted that you will not be able to think of another better looking dragon on film EVER.   I have seen a lot of them and a lot of so badly rendered that they are laughable.  But Smaug?  O…M…G!  This is brilliant cinema, the devilish and cunning old dragon slithering across his hoard, his greed so obvious that it deserves its own Academy Award.  He is charming and terrifying all at the same time.  You are thinking the whole time (even if you know how this scene is supposed to play out): “Bilbo put on that damn ring and RUN!”

And what about Gandalf and his quest to draw out this Necromancer at Dol Guldur?  Oh, that…yeah that’s awesome too.  Loved the scenes with Radagast in the mountains at the tombs!  But the biggest sucker punch of “Smaug” is the ending!  The film clocks in at 161 minutes but it feels like less than 2 hours, I swear!  That’s the pace of this film!  And the ending is like someone just yanking the rug right out from under your feet!  It is so swift and brutal that you will be left sputtering in the aisles saying things like “they can’t end the film here!” or “Seriously?  That’s the end?!”

Suffice to say, I highly recommend “Smaug” to all fellow fantasy film lovers – to all GOOD fantasy film lovers, that is.  It’s a briskly paced movie with still a ton of character development with Bilbo and some great new additions to the tale – like Bard and Tauriel. The villains are just epic – Thranduil and Smaug are fantastic!  So, butter up your popcorn, find a nice cushy chair and settle yourself in for thrill ride that makes you want to drain and elven barrel of wine just to go ride it down a waterfall!  ENJOY.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Sneak Peek [HD]

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.



“Frozen”  Frozen_(2013_film)_poster

Disney has a magic touch.  Either that or they just hire the RIGHT people for the RIGHT jobs.  Any which way you look at it, “Frozen” is a major success.  It’s not your typical Disney Princess storyline, and it has major vocal talent, a killer single from the movie’s soundtrack, and of course brilliant animation.  All of this rolled into one interesting tale, giving this Disney smash success a big thumbs up from me!

Since I’m an artist, I will talk about the artwork in this film.  It’s even better than “Tangled” – at that is saying a lot coming from me!  The process involved here is like a hybrid of traditional hand-drawn animated cells and CGI.  The film is also shot in CinemaScope – not going to geek it all over the place here, so instead, just read this:  Suffice to say it’s a favorite technique of mine, it is great way to shoot films that lend themselves to a more epic or cinematic look.  It is the classical definition of “widescreen” formatting.

Frozen” is inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen tale called the Snow Queen.  Apparently, that story was something Walt himself wanted to see animated, but – long story short here – it got shelved.  The proper way of stating it today is to say that “Frozen” was inspired by the Andersen tale.  John Lasseter helped to anchor the film in a relatable way, giving us a story not as dark as the original material and filled with characters that people would understand better.  What Disney has ended up with is the very compelling story of two sisters that are kept apart from one another because of one sister has developed magical powers that enable her to freeze things.

The story might seem to have a loop hole in there, phrased as “how did she get these powers?”  Truth is though, the answer to this question is irrelevant.  The powers are not the story.  The character is.  I have to say that Disney has done a way better job with Elsa than with Merida from “Brave”.  Merida bothered me because it was like she rebelled because she wasn’t living her life as she wanted.  Really?  That’s your big bitch?  Well, excuse me but this girl Elsa – she got problems.  Yes, yes – I am over-simplifying I know.  But it is so accurate.  Elsa is terrified she’ll hurt her baby sister if she TOUCHES her.  She’s afraid of herself and the strange powers she has.  Basically, she’s afraid of what she could do to others.  Okay, now THAT is something that wrecks a life.  Screw Merida, Elsa has it way worse!

The story of Elsa (wonderfully played and sung by Idina Menzel) would not have been enough to make a movie out of though – if not for her younger sister Anna, played by the sloth-loving Kristen Bell.  The story follows them from being toddlers to being all grown up.  There are twists to the story that many viewers will be taken by surprise with.  (By the way, Anna’s mannerisms are so life-like that it is jaw-droppingly good!)  Anna brings the heart to this story and it is cool.  Of course, there is an awesome little snowman named Olaf that almost steals the movie and he brings the funny.  Over all, the story is fresh and innovative and surprising.  I’d have to say, “Frozen” was way better than I thought it might be.

So, if you have missed this one at the theater, try to catch it as soon as you can.  I don’t think you should wait for Netflix on this one.  Disney has the magical touch and two new princesses join the ranks of Belle, Ariel, and the rest of the gang.  Welcome to the Magic Kingdom, Anna and Elsa!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

It’s not Such a Small World After All…

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Believe it or not, the world is a very large place.

I don’t know why, but Hobbits have been invading my brain again.  I have seen recent trailers for “The Hobbit”: the Desolation of Smaug“.  With its impeding release – and thus my growing excitement about it – I couldn’t help but think of how grand in scope this film (and the other two in that same trilogy of films as well as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) truly is.  This in turn lead me to think about (as Campbell so aptly described it) the Hero’s Journey.  Many of us are prone to see the Journey on the surface, but in truth there is another Journey …on the inside of the character.  Allow me to explain.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug” (like all the other Peter Jackson / Tolkien-inspired films) is filmed in New Zealand.  That’s the other side of the world to me, quite literally.  I cannot help but think of how long it would take to get there whenever I see it.  A truly marvelous setting for a fantasy film.  Now, I am a HUGE fan of fantasy films and novels.  As a general statement about the genre, those stories often involve a journey.  Not to sound like a dullard here, but isn’t that a necessary component to an adventure?  Anyway, when you consider the story of “The Hobbit“, it is not just a journey or an adventure, but it is also something else: a discovery of the self.

In “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, Gandalf chastises poor Bilbo for refusing his offer to join Thorin and his group.  The wizard calmly explains that when he was younger, Bilbo had a taste for adventure in his blood.  He claims it is due to his heritage (that of being a Took).  After some consideration, Bilbo changes his mind and joins Thorin and the Dwarves.  Along his journey, he will be challenged in ways few people ever are…and it will change him forever.

I guess what I was thinking about was that the world for Bilbo was his home in the Shire.  That was it.  When he was young, he craved adventure but along the way of his life, he became rather rooted in his home.  This is very similar to pretty much everyone I know.  We all grow up and we trade that youthful yearning for adventure for the comforts of home.  It’s not hard to grasp, Bilbo’s story.  It is easy to see that he makes a very bold choice, and one that is fairly out of his comfort zone.  Yet, there is something to this choice that has always made me wonder:  did Gandalf truly know what was in Bilbo’s heart?

In the wide, wide world of New Zealand – or Middle Earth, for that matter – there is nothing more daring than to step outside your comfort zone.  Many things can encourage you to do so.  As time marches on, friendships fade as you drift apart from one another, you see your family less & less, you no longer have as much in common with the people you grew up with, and then suddenly you realize how much you have changed from whom you once were.  There’s no shame or wrong in this; it’s life.  In the case of Bilbo though, he experienced really none of this.  He had abandoned his youth because he had CONVINCED himself that he was a Hobbit through and through…and Hobbits are home-bodies.  In truth, Gandalf saw that Bilbo was living a lie.

In my mind, IF Bilbo had truly changed to become the person he was at the beginning of “The Hobbit“, then he would never have gone on that journey.  Gandalf isn’t convincing Bilbo he needs to change in order to be true to himself; Gandalf is instead reminding Bilbo of what he once longed for – and to point out that there was nothing in the Shire to hold him there any longer.  In a way, Gandalf is like a cruel mirror that reflects the Shire in the way Bilbo once saw it.  And in so doing, Gandalf frees Bilbo.

Great and scary things await poor Bilbo along his travels.  How many of us have faced a similar problem?  You step outside of your normal, comfortable life and suddenly you are faced with trials and tribulations at every turn.  There is only one truth that serves us in these circumstances: know thyself.  If you are embracing your true identity, then nothing can deter you.  If you are living life as the “authentic You” then the rest of what you have always wanted will come to you.  (If anybody is interested in a truly awesome read, I highly recommend Melody Fletcher.)  Sorry if this seems a little out there or off-topic, but I think this has relevance here.

Bilbo finds the adventure of a lifetime outside of his front door and it all begins with one step.  The world is indeed a very large place.  We must look at the tale of Bilbo and his adventure though and see the journey he takes within himself.  He fights trolls and giant spiders, finds magical treasures, and ultimately comes face to face with a beast of true legend: a fire-breathing dragon!  But this is all the surface stuff.  And it is the same crap that almost every hero in every story deals with.  (Read Joseph Campbell if you doubt me.)

The real topic that I am driving at here is Bilbo’s journey within himself.  How does he overcome being away from home and all the comforts it brings?  He uses his home as inspiration for helping Thorin and the Dwarves find THEIR home – or rather, reclaim their home.  He finds his courage when facing Gollum in the cave, not through action but a game of riddles.  At first blush, this seems to be done in kind of an arrogant manner.  A Hobbit is this smart?  But on a deeper level, this interaction looks more like if Bilbo fell into Evil (let’s say he gets greedy for the gold “under the Mountain”), this would be like Bilbo confronting himself.  (Yes, we all know that Gollum WAS a Hobbit and this is closer to the surface truth than I would like, but the analogy still holds up I think.)  So, when you look at this scene again – with this analogy fresh in your head , it actually comes off like a warning to Bilbo.

And what of that warning then?  Does Bilbo heed it?   To some extent, yes, but on the other hand, most assuredly no.  Bilbo finds courage after meeting Gollum.  He fights to save Thorin’s life not long after this meeting.  Why the sudden change in him?  He was separated from the group, forgotten.  He knew the dwarves didn’t particularly like him.  So why return and step up to face the albino orc with the prosthetic limb?  I think Bilbo realized that his home was like the cave to Gollum.  He was happy there, but lost all sight of his true self trapped within his Hobbit Hole.  His happiness was a facade.

Truthfully, he wasn’t like other Hobbits.  When he realized this, he knew he could not abandon Thorin.  Bilbo wasn’t going to retreat back his “cave” for fear of becoming something akin to Gollum.  So he fights, bravely too, and wins much respect for his actions.  I always thought perhaps the One Ring fueled his anger in that fight.  Maybe it gave him strength where he had none before?  Maybe it just made him angry and THAT is what fueled him in battle?  I don’t know the answer there, but it is fun to ponder those questions.

So Bilbo has much to offer us as viewers of his tale, for his journey is both literal and on a deeper psychological level.  Hopefully you have enjoyed this non-review.  I promise, I will try to sprinkle some more articles that are more news-worthy as time goes by.  Thanks for taking the time to read this slight rant about a fictitious Hobbit.   Drop a line and let me know what you think.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

Beatiful Creatures

“Beautiful Creatures” Beautiful_Creatures_One,4D_low_res

It’s the spooky month of October, which of course means Halloween.  To those of you whom have been reading, you are by now familiar with my slant on Horror films.  I enjoy them…but they have to be true Horror films.  Slasher/gore flicks do NOT qualify in my opinion.  It’s about atmosphere and in today’s cinema, apparently no studio cares enough about the quality of films they are putting out to give a squat about something as trivial as atmosphere.

Alright, so before I digress into that debate once more…allow me to get back on track.

I recently watched “Beautiful Creatures“.  It’s a film about a teenage witch in South Carolina, which sounded a lot like Georgia or Louisiana to me.  It’s about a love story.  It’s based on a book.  It was filled with some cool special effects.  Blah, blah, blah.  You know the drill, right?

In most cases where I am only so-so interested in a film, I tend to expect very little.  I figure this way there is less room for disappointment.  I haven’t the read the book that the film was based upon, so I had even less expectations than some other viewers.  I just thought it looked kind of cool.

What I walked away from this film with was and golf-clap kind of appreciation.  You see, they actually created interesting characters.  The characters were all enjoyable to watch, and I found myself saying aloud “I want to know more about those characters”.  It was as if the movie just teased you with these compelling characters.  And that is a great “problem” to have.

It starts with the main characters: Ethan (played by Alden Ehrenreich) and Lena (played by Alice Englert).  Ethan is charming, but not some pretty-boy model wanna-be dressed to the nines.  Lena is pretty and complicated, but again not a model wanna-be dressed in some absurd fashion or dressed like a hooker.  I’m sorry, but the older I get the more ridiculous I think some of these kids in movies look.  And yet, we the audience are supposed to forgive these lapses in judgement and just move on.  I say HELL NO.  The relationship between these two teens really is believable and sincere.  I thought it looked pretty effortless, like the way it should be.  The actors were great choices for their parts, because they looked …well, normal.  There was a kind of retro look to Ethan that worked because it fit his character.  It was subtle and not too over-the-top.  And Lena could have been portrayed as some sort of hateful boo-hoo angst-ridden outsider than is horribly misunderstood.  Instead, she comes off as a real person, complicated and unsure of herself.  Like I said, these characters were really well-written.  The actors did a fine job at their craft and truly brought the characters to life.

Okay, so it was well-written and it had a lot of other great actors in well-done roles.  Jeremy Irons as Macon Ravenwood, Lena’s Uncle, and Emma Thompson as the real villain of the story, Lena’s mother Sarafine, were superb additions to the cast and story.  But Emmy Rossum as Lena’s cousin Ridley was the real head-turning role.  I didn’t even know it was her until my wife told me!  Now THAT ladies & gents is acting!  Once I knew I could see her through the makeup and costumes, but it was her acting that really disguised her.  Wow – nice job!

The whole story made me think of Anne Rice‘s 1st book of the Mayfair Witches Trilogy, The Witching Hour.  Awesome book!  Remember what I said at the beginning of this about atmosphere?  Well, I used to read that book in my basement bedroom growing up on stormy nights, huddled in a blanket in my high wingback chair by my heater and lamp.  It was a an awesome experience and one that helped to create a real connection between myself as a a reader and the material of the book.  I really got into that book as a result – still one of my all-time favorites.  My point is, “Beautiful Creatures” harkened back to haunting tale of the Mayfair Witches, and that is a good connection for me.

It was nice to watch a film where the story was compelling and interesting from start to finish, and the characters were the heart of the story – not an afterthought.  The film brought to me a sense of “I wonder if this will become a series of movies?” – mostly because I would interested to see more of the story.  Wasn’t that the goal of this film?  If so, it worked!  Heck, I even like the way it ended!

So, as the first of what I hope will be more Halloween-inspired reviews this season, I highly recommend “Beautiful Creatures” – not so much as a Horror movie (because it’s NOT), but more because it might help get you mind started on thinking of ghost, ghouls, and – of course- witches.


…that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

Conan the Barbarian

Conan the BarbarianConan_the_barbarian

In the early ‘80s, fantasy and sword-and-sorcery genre was the rage. If you were looking for tough guys in loin cloths fighting with really big swords and scantily clad women as the female leads, then this was the “age” for you. Sadly, a lot of that genre was filled with ugly, pathetic attempts to make epic films without an inspired vision. What I mean is, those films were nicknamed “hack-and-slash” because that was the only real substance to them. They featured brutal violence and cheesy costumes, not to mention some horrific acting. In almost all cases, these films were never treated as serious and they almost always were filmed overseas and often in Italy. I admit, I have seen (I think) every single one of these films.

In 1982, there was the film that kicked it all off: “Conan the Barbarian”. It would be the film to launch Arnold Schwarzenegger into stardom (although not his 1st film). Produced by Dino DeLaurentis and directed by John Milius, the film chronicles the tale of Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Arnold is MASSIVE in this film, maybe not as huge as he was in “Pumping Iron” but gargantuan by any measure still. However, I dare say that this film was not designed around the concept of Arnold showing off his huge muscles while wearing furry boots and a loin cloth. Yes, this film had substance.

Conan the Barbarian” may not be the best acted movie that Arnold ever did (I would recommend “Terminator” and “End of Days” for that), but it had a story. The story follows Conan from his tragic past through slavery and his profession as a Gladiator to finally his quest for vengeance. Along the way, he makes friends, gets crucified, finds religion, and falls in love. Now, does that sound pretty epic to you? The best part about this film is that it has a great tale woven into the action sequences. You almost have to be in a very peaceful state of mind to sit back and really “get” the deeper moments of this film, but they are there I assure you. I will always remember Conan’s famous “prayer” that begins with the line “Crom, I have never prayed to you before; I have no tongue for it.”

Beyond the story, there was the supporting cast. James Earl Jones is one of the greatest and most-overlooked villains in cinema history as Thulsa Doom. His performance is hypnotic and his costumes were inspired to say the least! His lines are just plain classic! “Now they will know why they are afraid of the dark; Now they learn why they fear the night.” I guess I am just a sucker for villains that know how to speak and are utterly creepy. The legendary Mako stars as a wizard and narrator of the film. King Osric is played by none other than Max Von Sydow. Needless to say, the supporting cast helped this movie succeed where others of its kind would fail utterly in the coming years.

A key to all great fantasy genre films though is always the music. (Special Effects are great but they show their age as time goes by and that can detract from the overall quality of the film.) The late and truly great Basil Poledouris scored this film and it is MAGNIFICENT! I just got this on CD from my awesome wife for Christmas and I think I have listened to it at least 30 times since then!

Conan the Barbarian” paved the way for such drivel as the forgettable “Deathstalker” series and “The Barbarians”. However, it also opened the door for things like the wondrous “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Harry Potter” franchise. You cannot imagine the absolute crap that was labeled “fantasy” in movies that came out in the ‘80s, which those of us who are fantasy fans will remember all too well. I think I cried when “Fellowship of the Ring” finally came out. It was a LONG wait I had to endure before the fantasy genre was finally taken seriously.

Conan the Barbarian” gave me my 1st taste of the genre and I loved it. I still do after all these years, and I find that there is still depth within this “hack-and-slash” flick! It isn’t for the faint-hearted with gratuitous violence and gore, and I don’t think anyone under the age of 14 should watch it due to nudity and some thematic elements. Otherwise, if you are a fan of fantasy and haven’t seen this movie, I recommend that you give it a shot.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)” Sorcerers_apprentice_poster

Aaaah, Disney.  I recently returned from that most magical of places: Disney World.  Suzanne and I celebrated our honeymoon with the Mouse.  (I’m still skipping among the clouds over getting married to the love of my life!  I am a very lucky and happy man!)  Of course, while we were there, we saw a lot of advertisements for this film.  Who can blame them?  If the title sounds familiar – especially now that I have you thinking Disney – it is Mickey’s 2nd most iconic role.  Mickey played the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the classic animated film “Fantasia”.

The writers of this film must have really been inspired!  I mean, they took a small segment of “Fantasia” and focused on creating an entire storyline around Mickey’s classic scene involving the mops and the buckets of water!  At first, I will admit I wasn’t too sure about this one.  The trailer didn’t seem too appealing, but being at Disney World and seeing Mickey up close got me craving more of the Mouse.  I’m sorry, but I think I will forever be a strong advocate for Disney.  I’m sure that many people have read my profound praise for Pixar Studios.  It only further develops my love of Disney that Pixar is distributed by Disney.

So, Suzanne, the kids, and I headed out as soon as we could to go catch “the Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.  I wasn’t expecting a whole lot really.  I just thought it could be a fun movie.  I was dead on!  It IS a fun movie!  Don’t try to over-analyze it, and don’t expect much from it, and I promise that you’ll be impressed by this film!  What I mean by saying “don’t expect much” is don’t read a lot about it or what a bunch of behind the scenes stuff.  It builds your expectations for the movie up; you can’t help but get excited by what you see.

Right, so on to the meat of the review… I thought the story was very Disney.  Balthazar (played by Nicolas Cage) is an ancient Sorcerer traveling the world throughout history trying to locate his apprentice.  This apprentice was prophesized to Balthazar by none other than Merlin himself!  I don’t want to give too much away about the story, because it really is quite good.  It’s ingenious in that it borrows from legends you may know and gives it a good spin.  Eventually (because there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise), Balthazar finds Dave his reluctant apprentice.  Dave is a rather talented physics student in New York that is suddenly confronted with his awesome destiny.  Balthazar finds Dave at the worst time in his life because Dave is trying to impress the love of his life.

Apprentice” has laughs courtesy of Dave, played by Jay Baruchel and the writers of Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal (screen story credit) – but the idea of doing this movie at all came from Nicholas Cage, which I think is cool enough to mention.  Cage is pretty terrific as Balthazar and the fantastic Alfred Molina plays his arch-rival Horvath with such power and conviction!  Teresa Palmer plays Dave’s love interest, and while she doesn’t blow you away, she does give her character some meat.  Sadly, not enough was done with this, but I can let that slide.  The sparks seem to fly very naturally between these two on the screen, which helped the film tremendously.  I was sitting there thinking that these two could actually be a real couple.  Sometimes, being a nerdy guy pays off (to paraphrase my friend Chuck).  I just like to see the wizard get the girl for a change, you know?

There are jokes thrown around, involving anything from footwear to wizard humor, but it wouldn’t have worked as well with a lesser cast.  The other characters make cameos more than anything, like Monica Bellucci and Alice Krige.  Sadly, they don’t stay on the screen long enough.  I imagine that Alice would have eaten up the screen as Morgan le Fay!  Combine the clever story with this cast, throw in humor and special effects galore and you get a pretty darned good summer flick.

The film isn’t stunning; it won’t blow you away.  It’s just a nice piece of entertainment.  For those of us with a “taste” for magic, “Apprentice” offers you a special gift: a wonderful blend of science and magic that is the best description ever given to either term.  You’ll understand better when you see the movie.  The effects were cool, the love story was well done, and the movie made me smile a lot.  I like it a lot more than I thought I was going to.  I actually kind of hope for a follow-up to this film at some point – not a sequel mind you, just a continuation of the story. 😉  (This is both a joke and a serious comment.)  That also may be a sincere possibility because Jerry Bruckheimer and Jon Turteltaub are the team responsible for this – as they were for “National Treasure”.  Regardless, it is another worthwhile tale from those masters of fantasy: Disney.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

The Seventh Sign

The Seventh SignThe_seventh_sign

I know I seem to be all over the place with my choices of what I have been reviewing lately.  I think it has just been a very event-filled year for me and it hasn’t left a lot of time to try to come up with a cohesive plan for what to review.  Now that Fall is upon us – it certainly feels that way – I can start to put a bit more thought into what I am reviewing here.  In that vein, I sat down the other evening to watch a film that is often categorized in Horror sections of video stores.  While I don’t see “the Seventh Sign” as a Horror movie, I can understand why it is lumped into that category.

The Seventh Sign” is a film from 1988 starring Demi Moore and Jurgen Prochnow.  It is a strange film concerning Christ returning to Earth to judge humanity for its sins and unleash the apocalypse.  The movie’s storyline stems from biblical legend and a combination of Christian and Jewish mythology.  I always find these types of stories to be intriguing.  Being a student of mythology in general, I think anyone willing to tell such a tale is really quite brave.  There are a ton of great tales within mythology to tell, especially of the Judeo-Christian root.  There are a couple of films dealing with religion that seem to wind up in the Horror section, and some are really quite good.  Of those films, I would recommend “The Messenger”, “The Order”, and “Stigmata”.

The film may have an intriguing storyline, but the film lacks real acting.  Michael Biehn is very stiff in the film, unlike his roles in “Terminator” and “the Abyss”.  In comparison to those movies, you may not even recognize him in this film (and I don’t mean physical resemblance either)!  Demi Moore is flat in this.  There is nothing exciting or moving to her performance as the main character.  If you want to see her really act, I would recommend her performance in “Ghost” or “St. Elmo’s Fire” instead.  Jurgen Prochnow is the only one really carrying this movie.  He plays Christ and he is such a striking figure with a very precise way of speaking that makes him (I think) rather perfect as a kind of creepy apocalyptic messenger.  Not so much as Christ, but I can live with that.  Another stand out performance is by Peter Friedman, who plays Father Lucci.

The film is engaging because you are waiting for real apocalyptic scenes, which never come.  However, even without these scenes of destruction, there is this sinister air to the film.  If Prochnow’s Christ is indicative of what Christ’s 2nd coming may be like, then I certainly don’t think he is the peaceful figure we all know.  Prochnow portrays him as cold and uncaring really, which is unsettling once you realize who is supposed to be.  The real good stuff to this film is the flashbacks.  They are brief, but they retell the scene of Seraphia offering a drink of water to Christ before she is turned away by Cartaphilus – the porter of Pilate who struck Jesus and was damned to walk to Earth until Jesus’ return.  This is the most appealing part of film to me.  The rest of it is mediocre at best, and very strange in its ending.

Overall, “the Seventh Sign” is not a highly recommended movie for me.  It has some interest for me in its flashback-storyline and in Pronchow’s performance as “David Bannon”.  The rest of it is fairly weak.  I cannot tell if Demi Moore’s pregnancy in the film was fake or real, but that may be the only memorable thing about this film to other people.  So, while it isn’t Halloween just yet, I thought I would review this film in gearing up for that spooky holiday.  Welcome to Fall!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

Star Dust


So, here it is: “Stardust“, the film based off of Neil Gaiman‘s book (whom by the way is a terrific storyteller, but moreso in the Graphic Novel arena).

The film stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro and Claire Danes.  Everybody else…well, they are okay.  In fact, Claire was little too old for the part I thought.  She seemed a little too old to be that whining sort of character.  That and she looked WAY older that her co-star, the affable Charlie Cox.  He’s okay. Nothing to write home about.  Claire looks good, but she doesn’t seem to be stretching herself too much with this role.

The other stars though were absolutely TERRIFIC!!!   I can say without hesitation that both Michelle and Bobby D steal this movie!  Bobby D in particular is hysterical!  I can only image that this 2nd time director was sort of in heaven. Like “Hey, Robert DeNiro, here’s the script….uh, just go for it; whatever you do is fine!”  And man was it ever!  Michelle meanwhile looks as though she hasn’t aged a day (granted I have not seen “Hairspray” yet) – ladies, here’s to you gals over 45 that STILL look amazing!!!! (You know who you are!)  And her acting was flawless – witty, sharp, and just absolutely spot-on PERFECT!

The other bonus is that the movie’s story is in a word: romantic.  I love that stuff, and it is so mythical.  A boy falls in love with a star while thinking he wants this other nasty wench.  Yeah, right.  Like Sienna Miller is any comparison to Claire Danes!  Besides, the beauty of this tale is that the message is clear: love changes everything.  And it does!  (I personally can vouch for that one!)

So, if you are in the mood for a sort of “out there” romantic film with a strong element of comedy (I loved the Dead Princes) set in a fantasy world – then check out “Stardust” for a wonderful date movie!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.






Red Riding Hood

“Red Riding Hood” Red_riding_hood_ver2

Sadly, this is what is left for films tailored to today’s younger generation.  In other words, this film is made for “Twilight” fans.  It’s not as completely wretched as that nonsensical vampire-werewolf love fest.  “Hood” has 3 things that you can identify as BAD, providing of course you are not a “Twilight” fan.  If you are a “Twilight” fan, stop reading this now and go off to enjoy…whatever you call entertainment.  The 3 things that spell r-o-t-t-e-n for “Hood” are: no character development, plot holes, and acting so shallow that it should be in a kiddie pool.

Folks, there is too much of this going on in Hollywood today.  It is so depressing that it has made us all jaded and cynical.  The funny thing is almost nobody goes back to watch something old and classy to see how it is supposed to be done.  You mean the lighting of “Citizen Kane” by the great Orson Wells?  Do you mean the tension created by a few bars of music created by the legendary John Williams in “Jaws”?  No, I mean acting.  Yep, this film is so bad in the acting department it should be shown to kids in school so they can be told what NOT to do.  #1 rule of acting: make the audience connect with you.  What do you feel for the title character in this movie? Nothing.  I don’t remember the character’s name, but the actress is Amanda Seyfried.  She should get out of the business right now, because she is HORRIBLE.  Her lines are delivered with the passion of Kristin Stewart, or a piece of driftwood – they are both the same to me.

But wait!  It gets worse.  The actor who plays her love interest – again I care so little that I don’t remember his name or his character either – is stiff and uninteresting.  In fact, I think he could be a cardboard cut-out that you see for sale at comic shops and those funky weekend sales kiosks in the mall.  He wears black and he carries an axe.  Supposedly he is a woodcutter, but he is such a sissy that he lets his childhood girlfriend kill a rabbit instead of him.

Plot holes, you say?  Um, there’s the title and Amanda is given a bright red cloak to wear.  So there you have the justification for the title.  We are never given any decent explanation as to why this cloak is given – only that it was meant to be a wedding present.  Oh, but why stop there with such stupid cheekiness; let’s add a bit of the fairy tale rhyme in as actual dialogue to the film!  That was fun, wasn’t it?  The audience must think we are geniuses for coming up with this!

The only part of this film that was remotely interesting was Gary Oldman as the acerbic werewolf-hunter/priest called Father Something-or-other.  His back story was pretty interesting.  After you hear that part of the movie, you can turn it off.  The rest of the story is such nonsense – like the villagers go off to hunt a wolf with pitchforks and axes, or the rich kid in town is the village jewelry maker (he certainly didn’t know how to be a blacksmith).  I am not being picky here either; two other people I watched the film with said the exact same thing!

The film looks like someone recycled “The Village” set and costumes, and added in the extras that were left over from the “Twilight” saga as the stars of this tasteless gruel.  The red cloak is a feature to the whole movie because whenever it appears on screen, it is 40 miles long and always has to be blowing around.  My message to the director & producers of this trash: (To quote Roger Ebert) “Your film SUCKS.”

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger TidesOn_Stranger_Tides_Poster

First off, what kind of a name is this for the 4th installment of the highly lucrative “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise?  I saw nothing in this film that indicated a strange tide.  Getting right down to it, let me say that I like Jack Sparrow quite a bit.  It’s a memorable character for Johnny Depp.  Unfortunately, there is nothing particular “wow” to this film.

Ian McShane makes a nice addition to the cast as Blackbeard, but they do so little with him.  You would think that the most infamous pirate of the Caribbean (though he met his end off the coast of the Carolinas) would have had a juicer part to play.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  He made a great pirate, but the film just didn’t have enough room in it for him to shine truly.

As for the addition of Penelope Cruz as Angelika, a one-time love interest of Jack Sparrow, she doesn’t do anything for me.  I mean that!  She doesn’t strike me as THE girl that melts Jack’s heart.  That’s the real problem with her in this film.  I just didn’t buy what they were trying to sell for Angelika.  She dresses too much as a man, and doesn’t have any particular quality that screams “WOOO HOOO!”.  So, I guess what I am trying to say here is that the idea for the character failed utterly.

As for Geoffery Rush returning as Captain Barbosa, he was a real treat once again!  I think he really stole the show.  I especially liked how he compensates for an injury with a hobby.  His line about collecting the frogs is classic!  It’s sort of sad how they leave things with his character at the end of the film.

Alas, I must talk of the mermaids.  There are some mythologies that depict mermaids as benevolent beings.  There are some that say they viciously drown sailors under water.  There are others that say that mermaids simply forget that humans cannot breathe underwater.  Many people confuse “mermaid” with “siren” – quite a deviation.  However, I don’t recall anyone ever describing mermaids as fishy models that are capable of using kelp whips with tremendous strength and accuracy and EAT people!  Yeah…if you can’t tell, I don’t much care for this interpretation.  Oh, I know this may be the purview of the adventure movie that it is and all, but come on!  Mermaids that are flesh-eaters???

Anyway, I don’t really recommend “On Stranger Tides” to anyone.  It wasn’t truly awful, but it also wasn’t even remotely brilliant.  I don’t like using a “rating system”, but if I were to rank it among the rest of this franchise, it would come in dead last.  We miss Will Turner and his wife Elizabeth!  I’ll pass on the whole Fountain of Youth storyline too – what does that have to do with being a pirate?

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.