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I hope you’ve all enjoyed by Best of 2014 lists!  I’ve listed my Top 20 Movies of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, part three, and part four), my Top 15 Episodes of TV of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three), and my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2014 (click here for part one, part two, and part three).  Now we arrive at my final list, the Top 8 Blu-Rays of 2014.

Top eight?  Yeah, top eight.  While this year I have expanded most of my lists (my Top 15 Movies list became a Top 20, and my Top 10 Episodes of TV list became a Top 15), I found I had a hard time coming up with 10 truly great DVDs or Blu-rays.  I think there are two reasons for this.  The first is personal: though I suspect I still buy far more DVDs & blu-rays than the average person, I found that I bought far fewer discs this year than I had in years.  Partly this was to save some money.  But also because of reason number two: that after a golden age of awesome DVD sets with extraordinary special features, great special editions of movies or TV shows are much scarcer these days.  I find myself unimpressed with the behind the scenes features on most blu-rays these days, even the movies that were the biggest hits.  Most studios are trying to save money by cutting back on providing special features for their home video releases, which is a big shame in my opinion.

But still, there were eight blu-rays that I wanted to praise, and here they are:

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes This film was number 5 on my Top 20 Movies of 2014 list, and it looked absolutely spectacular on blu-ray.  And while I wouldn’t say that the special features are phenomenal, they are pretty good, certainly head-and-shoulders above the special features found on almost any other big 2014 release.  There’s about an hour of fun behind-the-scenes featurettes (it’s particularly cool to see Andy Serkis, Terry Notary, and several other familiar faces from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit behind-the-scenes documentaries, appear in these featurettes) and a great commentary track from director Matt Reaves.  (Click here for my original review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.)

7. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution For decades I have been reading or hearing about this film that was written by Star Trek II and VI writer & director Nicholas Meyer (adapting his novel of the same name), but … [continued]

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The Top 20 Movies of 2014 — Part Three!

My journey through the Best Movies of 2014 continues!  Click here for Part One of my Top 20 Movies of 2014 list, numbers 20-16.  Click here for Part Two, numbers 15-11.

And now we enter my top ten.  Here we go:

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10.  Top Five Chris Rock has finally found a movie that equals his comedic potential.  Guess what, he wrote and directed it himself!  Rock stars as movie star Andre Allen, famous for acting in the hugely successful “Hammy” comedies in which he wears a big bear suit.  But Allen is sick of that, and is attempting to redirect his career by starring in a serious movie about a Haitian slave rebellion.  On the eve of that movie’s opening, Allen agrees to be interviewed by a New York Times reporter, Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson.  The film follows the two through that one tumultuous day, and both go through life upheavals before the day is done.  Top Five is a wonderfully loose, funny, heartfelt story.  It’s hugely funny, and a number of famous comedians pop in for cameos, each more gut-busting than the next.  Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove, Tracy Morgan, Jay Pharaoh, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, and so many others fill out an extraordinarily rich ensemble.  Mr. Rock uses each performer to comedic perfection.  The film is led by Mr. Rock and Ms. Dawson, who have magnificent chemistry together.  They are both alive when on screen together, funny and compelling.  Top Five is a wonderful concoction, one I am eager to revisit.  I’ll have more to say about this film on the site soon.

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9. Bad Words Jason Bateman knocks it out of the park with his directorial debut.  He stars as Guy Trilby, a forty-year-old man who exploits a loophole in the rules of the National Quill Spelling Bee to enter the national children’s spelling bee.  If you don’t think you’re going to laugh at a grown man gleefully defeating little kids in a spelling bee, then this might not be the film for you.  For me, I found it to be absolutely hilarious and tremendous fun in its just-on-the-edge of bad taste transgressive comedy.  Most astonishingly, for all the fun to be had watching Guy torture innocent kids, Bad Words is surprisingly sweet in the end.  Jason Bateman is at the top of his game, Kathryn Hahn kills it, and Allison Janey & Philip Baker Hall are tremendous.  I love this movie.  (Click here for my original review.)

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8. The Drop This crime film, written by brilliant novelist Dennis Lehane, is a brutally intense slow burn.  It features James Gandolfini, who is phenomenal in his final role.  He plays Cousin … [continued]

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There and Back Again: Josh Reviews The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies!

Endings are a difficult thing.  Sticking the landing of a long-form story is perilously challenging, and I’m sure we can all think of plenty of examples of failed endings, whether we’re talking about TV shows (Seinfeld and Lost both come to mind) or to movie trilogies (as the years pass, I become more and more disappointed by The Dark Knight Rises).

I am very pleased to report, then, that Peter Jackson’s third and final Hobbit film, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, is an excellent conclusion to his Hobbit trilogy.  This film isn’t going to make anyone who disliked the first two Hobbit films change their mind, but if you did enjoy those films I suspect you will love this one.  I feel pretty confident in stating that it is the strongest of the three Hobbit theatrical editions.  (Like Mr. Jackson’s LOTR films, the first two Hobbit films were both improved by their Extended Editions, so a complete comparison of all three films isn’t really possible until next year when we get to see the extended version of The Battle of the Five Armies.  But in terms of the theatrical experience of the three Hobbit films, I think this one wins by a fairly wide margin.)

One of the reasons why?  This is the shortest of the three Hobbit theatrical editions.  (It’s also, unless I am mistaken, the shortest of the theatrical editions of all six of Mr. Jackson’s Middle Earth films.)  This helps a lot, as the biggest problem of the first two Hobbit films was a sense of bloat.  I don’t condemn those first two films for that the way so many reviewers have, but I certainly think those films were far longer than they needed to be, especially in their theatrical form.

But this film moves, boy.  It’s got the best pacing of all three Hobbit films.  For all that I enjoyed those two films, they both felt LONG.  But this film roars by.

We begin with a great James Bond-like pre-credits action sequence in which ol’ Smaug is dealt with.  I’d wondered how much of a factor Smaug would wind up being in this film.  The answer is not much, as he’s dispatched with fairly quickly.  It works, but I will admit to having expected a but more.  I felt like this sequence was missing a little something.  Maybe more of Smaug’s dialogue?  Smaug was surprisingly silent for the first several minutes of this sequence.  I’d expected him to be gloating or boasting as he attacked Lake Town.  It’s remarkable how Smaug comes to life once he finally speaks.  Credit to Benedict Cumberbatch for how much his voice clearly was a critical … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I have written many times before on this site about how amazing Peter Jackson’s Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films were.  Mr. Jackson and his team reinvented the whole idea of both a director’s cut of a film, and DVD behind-the-scenes special features.  Both had existed before, but both were refined in a new way with the Extended Edition DVD sets.  Watching that first Extended Edition for The Fellowship of the Ring all those years ago was a revelation — a hugely different, more expansive cut of a film that I’d already loved, accompanied by exhaustively extensive behind-the-scenes features that took the viewer through every stage of the making of the film.  Through the years of the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it quickly came to be that I didn’t feel the experience of enjoying each new film was complete until the release of the Extended Editions.  The theatrical version became just a rough draft of the final version, the Extended Edition DVD.  In the years since the release of The Return of the King, I have gone back to revisit those three LOTR films many times, but I have only watched the Extended Editions.  Those have become the definitive versions of the films for me.

With the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, I commented in my initial review that the lengthy theatrical version already felt like an Extended Edition, both because of its length and the way the film wasn’t focused so tightly on Bilbo, but rather filled with all sorts of digressions and expansions that I had come to associate with the Extended Editions of the LOTR films.  The Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey was only twelve minutes longer than the theatrical version.  I liked the Extended Edition, but it wasn’t nearly the all-new experience that the three Extended LOTR films were for me.  But while I liked the Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey, I was head-over-heels in LOVE with the behind-the-scenes features, the two discs-worth of Appendices.  Those two discs managed to surpass even the already amazing LOTR Extended Editions.  With a whopping NINE hours of special features, they were incredibly in-depth and yet never dull or boring.  Watching the Appendices, it I felt like I got to actually experience some of what it was like making the film.  Seeing the incredible love and effort that hundreds upon hundreds of men and women had put into the film made me love that first Hobbit film even more than I already did.  (Click here for my full thoughts on the Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey.)

The Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug feels … [continued]

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And so, at last, we arrive at my final Best of 2013 list!  I hope you all enjoyed the rest of my lists.  Click here for part one of The Top 15 Movies of 2013, and here for part two and here for part three.  Click here for part one of The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013, and here for part two.  Click here for part one of The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013, and here for part two.

And now, without any further delay, let’s dive into my list of the Top Ten DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2013:

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower Had I seen this film in 2012 when it was released, it surely would have made it onto my Best Movies of 2012 list.  Since I missed including this touching, heartbreaking film on that list last year, I sort of had to find a way to cheat and include it on one of my Best of 2013 lists!  This film has stuck with me deeply since I saw it.  It’s surely one of the greatest coming-of-age stories I have ever seen, masterfully adapted for the screen by Steven Chbosky, based on his own novel of the same name (which I now desperately need to read).  Each one of the kids in the film is portrayed by a phenomenal actor/actress: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson, Mae Whitman, and a score of others, not to mention some great adults in supporting roles such as Paul Rudd, Joan Cusack, Dylan McDermott, and Kate Walsh.  No child should have to go through what Charlie has to go through in this story, but should god forbid that happen, I hope he/she is blessed with friends as wonderful as Sam, Patrick, and their gang.  And while I referred to “cheating” a moment ago by including this film on this DVD list, the blu-ray is in fact phenomenal, with some great behind-the-scenes stuff and two magnificent commentaries, one by Mr. Chbosky alone and one by Chbosky and all the kids.  (Click here for my original review.)

9. The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 & The Flashpoint Paradox These two direct-to-DVD animated DCU projects were both very strong.  At the start of the year we got the second half of the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns.  Published in 1986, this dark, psychological tale is the seminal “Last Batman Story,” in which an aged Bruce Wayne once again dons the cape and cowl in an attempt to reclaim a Gotham City without hope.  Mr. Miller’s work has been heavily mined for inspiration by … [continued]

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The Top 15 Movies of 2013 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013!  Click here for part one.

AP Film Review Iron Man 3

10. Iron Man Three Like Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man Three was a fun film that not only served as an effective sequel to its particular series, but also as a follow-up to The Avengers and a further expansion of the over-all Marvel movie universe.  More importantly even than that, Iron Man Three told an exciting action/adventure story that was deeply rooted in the stories of the characters, and that (after the somewhat disappointing Iron Man 2) successfully returned to the light, funny-but-still-telling-a-serious-story tone that the first Iron Man film nailed so dramatically.  As a fanatical fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I was thrilled to see the reunion of Robert Downey Jr. with Shane Black, who directed and co-wrote this film.  There seems to be a wonderful magic that occurs when those two men work together.  Also, Ben Kingsley’s work as The Mandarin could be one of the best supporting performances in a Marvel Studios movie so far.  So great.  And the post-credits scene?  Perfection.  (Click here for my original review.)

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9. This is The End Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared made me fall in love with the work of Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, and with many of the tremendously talented young performers who have appeared over and over again in Mr. Apatow’s work, and also over the years in many other projects of their own.  These guys have been in a lot of great films, and also, occasionally, in some lesser films in which they have coasted a bit on the audience’s fondness for their characters.  This is The End takes perfect advantage of that fondness, resulting in an absolutely hilarious, madcap story of this group of friends (Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, all playing themselves) attempting to survive the end of the world.  There’s a lot of energy at the start of the film from all of the famous cameos (including but not limited to: Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, David Krumholtz, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Martin Starr), and of course from the fun of watching all of those famous people die horribly.  But the film gets even better once we wind up with just this group of boys, trapped together in the ruins of James Franco’s house.  These guys have a lot of fun at one another’s expense, and the film continually surprised me with its crazy comedic digressions, from the Be Kind, Rewind-style home-made Pineapple Express 2 trailer to The Exorcism of Jonah Hill.  Other than … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The years during which we saw the release of Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings remains one of the best cinematic experiences of my lifetime, and I don’t expect that to be equaled any-time soon.  Those three films are magnificent, but my memories of the years in which that trilogy was released encompasses not just the films themselves, but all of the excitement and anticipation and speculation, from the first-time I saw that initial teaser trailer (via a very slow download on my dial-up modem) that teased the three-film adaptation (that slow shot at the end, showing the entire fellowship, and gradually revealing the three-year release schedule for the three films, is so fantastic!!), through the release of each film and its subsequent extended edition, and of course all all of the same excitement in the years between the films, awaiting the next installment.

Peter Jackson’s first film in his three-part adaptation of The Hobbit, titled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was criticized by many but I think it’s a very strong, under-appreciated film.  I have seen the film several times, in the past year, and I stand by my original review.  The second installment, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is very much of a piece with that first film.  The Desolation of Smaug improves on its predecessor in that, while one could accuse An Unexpected Journey of being occasionally slow or unwieldy as it was getting the story going, The Desolation of Smaug is a much faster-paced film, with far more emphasis on adventure and spectacle.

While I loved The Desolation of Smaug, there is no question that both of these Hobbit films are a far cry from the incredible quality of Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy.  What made the LOTR films great cinema, rather than just being great fantasy/adventure films or being great adaptations, was the powerful emotional punch of the stories they told.  I am not ashamed to share that all three of those LOTR movies contained moments that brought me to tears when I first saw them in theatres.  In The Fellowship of the Ring, it was Sam’s declaration, in the elvish boat at the end, that he’d made a promise not to abandon Frodo.  In The Two Towers, it was the haunting glimpse into Arwen’s lonely fate that awaited her even if everything that she hoped for came to pass.  In The Return of the King, it was pretty much every moment that came after Aragorn’s statement, to the four kneeling Hobbits, that: “my friends… you bow to no one.”  (I’ve seen The Return of the King many times since that first viewing, and while … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson reinvented what DVDs could be when he released his extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, a month before the release of The Two Towers in theatres.  I had fallen quite in love with The Fellowship of the Ring after having seen it many, many times in theatres.  (I have never seen a movie more times in theatres than I saw Fellowship.)  I loved the film.  When I read that an extended edition was being released on DVD, I was of course excited.  I had seen (and loved) previous home-video director’s cuts of movies (James Cameron’s Aliens and The Abyss come to mind).  But I was not prepared for how bowled over I would be by the Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring.  I still remember watching it, that first time, and being shocked at how complete a re-edit of the film it was.  This wasn’t just the same movie with a few additional scenes added in.  The entire movie had been re-worked and enhanced.  Particularly in that first 45 minutes, I felt like I was watching a totally different movie, with so many little shots and moments woven into the fabric of the film that I had already loved and known so well.

That Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring quickly became the definitive version of the film for me.  I hardly ever watched the theatrical cut again.  For the next few years, the release of Mr. Jacksons’ Extended Editions of his Lord of the Rings films became a vital part of the experience of anticipating and enjoying these movies, for me.  I anticipated the DVD release of the Extended Editions almost as much as the initial theatrical release, because it seemed to me that it was the Extended Editions that represented the full, true versions of these films.  These days, when I re-watch the films, I only watch the Extended Editions.

And so I was excited when I heard that Peter Jackson’s first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, would be receiving an Extended Edition release of its own.  But I must confess to not being quite as deliriously impatient for this release as I was for the extended LOTR films.  As I wrote in my review of An Unexpected Journey, that film’s theatrical release already felt to me like an Extended Edition.  Not just because of its lengthy run-time, but because of the film’s structure, which seemed to me to be overstuffed with the types of digressions and moments of back-story that characterized the LOTR Extended Editions.  So how much could the film be further Extended?

Not by much, it turns out.  The Extended Edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected [continued]

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Click here to read part one of my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2012, in which I listed numbers 15-11.  Now, onward!

10. Looper In this smart, original sci-fi flick written and directed by Rian Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe.  Joe is a Looper, someone paid to kill guys the mob from thirty-years in the future send back in time to get whacked, long before the law might be looking for their bodies or any evidence of the crime.  One day, the guy sent back in time for Joe to kill turns out to be Joe himself, now played by Bruce Willis.  Old Joe gets away from Young Joe, and things spiral out of control from there.  Bruce Willis hasn’t been this much fun to watch in an action movie in years, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific as well.  I loved watching these two play off of one another.  Emily Blunt (making her second appearance on my Best of 2012 list, as she also starred in The Five-Year Engagement) and Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels are all fun in supporting roles.  This is a twisty sci-fi tale that is mind-bending without ever losing sight of the character drama at the heart of the story. (Click here for my original review.)

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Though not the masterpiece that the three original Lord of the Rings films were, this first of Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is still a ferociously entertaining fantasy adventure.  At nearly three hours in length, this film is stuffed to the gills with extraordinary sights and thrills, with characters and with circumstance.  Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo Baggins (inheriting the role from Ian Holm who played Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and who actually reprises his role as “Old Bilbo” in one of this film’s many prologues), a great every-man anchor to the story.  He’s great, and I also loved seeing lots more of Ian McKellan, who reprises his role as Gandalf and is magnificent as ever as the gruff, temperamental wizard.  The film is filled with many great new characters (all of the Dwarves) as well as the welcome return of many familiar faces from the original trilogy (Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Christopher Lee as Saruman, and of course Andy Serkis as Gollum).  The “riddles in the dark” scene with Gollum alone makes this film worth seeing, but there are so many other wonderful moments, from the long opening scene in Bag End with all of the dwarves (highlighted by Richard Armitage as Thorin and the other Dwarves singing the somber “Misty Mountains” … [continued]

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Guessing About The Second and Third Hobbit Films!

December 24th, 2012
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OK, having seen and enjoyed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (click here for my review), it’s time to start speculating about the second and third films in Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel!

Re-reading The Hobbit last month, I guessed that the first film would end following the Dwarves’ escape from the Misty Mountains.  At the end of chapter six, that part of the story ends with the line: “So ended the adventure of the Misty Mountains.”  That seemed like a pretty definitive stopping point in the story, and so I thought it would make a logical break-point between the films.  I am pleased to see that I guessed correctly!

So what will film two depict?  Where will film two end and film three begin?

Well, I suppose that it is logical to surmise that film two will include Beorn, the confrontation with the spiders, and all the business of the Dawrves being captured by the elves and escaping in barrels down the river.  I can also see film two including material drawn from the Lord of the Rings’ appendices, as well as new material, depicting the White Council’s confrontation with the Nercromancer at Dol Guldur.  (In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, co-screenwriter Philippa Boyens says that we’ll get to see the battle mentioned in the appendices at Dol Guldur featuring elves, giant spiders, orcs, and wargs.  “One of the main protagonists in that is Galadriel,” Boyens says.  “We get to go there.  We get to see it.”)  That same interview also hints, quite logically, that the films will flesh out the character of Bard, who becomes very significant at the end of the book but doesn’t get much back-story in the original novel.  It makes sense for Peter Jackson and co. to take the time to better develop this pivotal character, and I expect we’ll see a chunk of that material in film two.

So where will film two end?  Seeing as how the new schedule for the trilogy of films is for film three to be released only six months after film two, rather than our having to wait a full year, I suspect that means that film two ends on a cliffhanger.  Why else would they alter the schedule that we have seen to this point?  (All of the Lord of the Rings films were released a year apart from one another, and The Desolation of Smaug is being released a year after An Unexpected Journey.) The only reason I can see for changing that release pattern is if film two ends on a whopper of a cliffhanger.  (Dipping a bit into history, I recall that Back to the Future Part II and … [continued]

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“Far over the Misty Mountains cold…” Josh Reviews The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

During the buildup towards the release of the first film in Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of The Hobbit, I found myself having a hard time imagining Mr. Jackson and co. being able to top the magnificent achievement that was his Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’m sure there were times when Mr. Jackson himself had the same thought, which is why when work on the adaptation began in earnest, he was not originally slated to direct. The films (at the time the plan was for two films) were due to be helmed by Guillermo del Toro, but when the project hit the brakes because of New Line’s bankruptcy, Mr. del Toro left the project and Peter Jackson stepped in.  I’m pleased that’s how things worked out.  While I would have loved to have seen del Toro’s version of The Hobbit, that would have been a very different film indeed, and as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey began, I was delighted to find myself back in the world of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth.

Is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as good as any of the Lord of the Rings films?  At the moment my feeling is that it is not, but I have seen all three Lord of the Rings films so many times, and my love for them has only grown over the years.  Having only had one senses-pounding viewing of The Hobbit under my belt, the film hasn’t quite sunk in for me yet, and it’s definitely conceivable that the film will rise in my estimation once I have seen it a few more times.  But for now, while I would rank this film slightly lower than the Lord of the Rings films, I still found it to be an absolutely magnificent achievement, and a ferociously entertaining time in the theatre.  I’ve avoided reading too many reviews of the film before seeing it, but I’ve seen a lot of headlines that seem to describe the film as being just OK.  I am here to tell you not to believe that hogwash.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a spectacular fantasy adventure, huge in scope but also filled with rich character work and deep emotion.

The film feels fully of a piece with Mr. Jackson’s original trilogy.  Many characters recur, of course (Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman, Gollum, and others), and Mr. Jackson’s team have faithfully recreated many of the iconic locations that we first saw in The Lord of the Rings: Bag End, Rivendell, etc.  There are a ton of little nods and winks to the events of the original trilogy (when I write “original trilogy,” I feel like I should be talking about Star Wars!): Gandalf once … [continued]

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So is Peter Jackson going to direct The Hobbit? Or will it be his protege Neill Bolmkamp, who directed District 9? Who knows — I just hope this mess with MGM gets sorted out soon.  I’m still getting over my enormous disappointment that MGM’s financial situation resulted in Guillermo del Toro’s departure from The Hobbit films.  But boy would it be great to see PJ take the helm once again…

Great new trailer is up for The Social Network, the new film about facebook directed by David Fincher and scripted by Aaron Sorkin.

So, we finally got out first glimpse at The Green Hornet and… I’m still not quite sure what to think.  This film is either going to be awesome or a total catastrophe…

This is a cool poster.

CHUD’s list of the Worst CGI in Film History continues, and it’s well worth your time.

Will we ever get another decent X-Men film?  I loved X-Men and X2, but X3 was a crushing disappointment and the less spoken of the abominable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better.  I hate prequels, as a rule, so when word came out last year that the next X-film would be a prequel entitled X-Men: First Class, I thought that was a big mis-step.  So what now gives me hope?  Director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick Ass) and stars James McAvoy (Children of Dune, Atonement, Wanter) as Professor X and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) as Magneto.  An ember of hope is fanned…

Are we about to finally get another decent Predator film?  The first Predator is awesome — one on my favorite movies ever.  But the second one (set in the future with Danny Glover as the lead) is weak, and the less spoken of the two Alien Vs. Predator films the better.  But Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal’s Predators is set for release in just a few short weeks, and damn if this new trailer isn’t pretty awesome.  An ember of hope is fanned…

It’s hard for me to believe that a new Planet of the Apes film is really happening.  And now I read that John Lithgow and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) have joined the cast?  Um, okay… An ember of hope is… well… we’ll see…… [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Before seeing his latest film, The Lovely Bones, I thought it fitting to seek out a gaping hole in my Peter Jackson viewing filmography: his 1994 film, Heavenly Creatures.  I’ve been hearing/reading about this film since the lengthy pre-release build-up to The Fellowship of the Ring.  (By the way: Wow!  It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a decade since Fellowship, which was released in 2001!!)  Heavenly Creatures seems to be rather well thought-of, and since the Lord of the Rings films have made me a life-long Pater Jackson fan, it seemed crazy that I had never seen this movie.  It’s a situation I was happy to remedy last month.

Heavenly Creatures tells the true-life story of the friendship between two young New Zealand girls in 1953/4.  Melanie Lynskey plays Pauline.  An artistic, shy introvert, she is friendless and miserable at the Catholic school which she attends.  Her world changes, though, when Juliet Hulme, played by Kate Winslet, arrives at her school.  Juliet is from a wealthy family, and her travels with (and without) her parents make her seem extraordinarily worldly to Pauline.  Like Pauline, she is artistic and bucks authority, but Juliet more outgoing and brazen.  The two bond almost instantly.  Deep friendships like these happen between schoolgirls all the time across the globe, with less tragic outcomes.  But here, the increasingly unhappy home lives of each of the girls pushes them to become more dependent upon one another’s company, and they begin to withdraw more and more deeply into their shared fantasies.  Feeding off one another, those escapist fantasies soon take a terrible turn.

Heavenly Creatures is the first screen role of both Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet.  It’s no surprise that this proved to be a star-making turn for Ms. Winslet, as she displays terrific abilities and assurance for such a young actress (not to mention great beauty).  As for Ms. Lynskey, I was delighted to realize that this was her first screen role as well.  She’s nowhere near as well-known as Kate Winslet, but if you were an avid movie-goer in 2009 then I’d wager you’ve enjoyed her work.  (She had key roles in Away We Go, The Informant!, and Up in the Air.)

Heavenly Creatures is an interesting film.  I found it to be a bit hard to get into, at first.  There was something about the first 45 minutes that kept me, as a viewer, from being sucked in to the story.  I wasn’t sure if it was the script, the acting, or the directing, but everything seemed a bit “stagey” and over-wrought (filled with dramatic zooms and music that didn’t seem to quite fit the proceedings).  With a … [continued]

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Josh Reviews District 9

How many really great sci-fi films have there been in the last decade?  It’s pretty slim, right?  OK, J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie was pretty good… but before that?  I can think of Cloverfield (2008), Children of Men (2006), Serenity (2005), The Matrix (1999), Galaxy Quest (1999)… what else?  Signs (2002) and Vanilla Sky (2001) have a sci-fi twist to them so maybe they count.  That’s eight films.  Not a pretty substantial list, huh?

Well, here’s one to add: Neill Blomkamp’s District 9.

You’re best off entering the film armed only with what little was revealed in the intriguing trailers: twenty years ago an enormous alien craft came to a halt in the sky over Johannesburg.  Almost one million aliens (derogatively called “prawns” by the locals) are rescued from the powerless craft.  These homeless creatures quickly develop into a new underclass in the city, dwelling in an enormous slum designated District 9.

That’s just the set-up.  I went into the film completely clueless about the actual plot of the film (and what a delight that was, by the way, in this age of movie spoilers!) and I won’t spoil it for you either.  I will tell you only that actor Sharlto Copley (a fresh face who I had never seen in a film before) does a tremendous job in the central role of Wikus van der Merwe.  Mr. Copley takes Wikus (and the audience) along on a staggering emotional journey over the course of the film.  When first we meet MNU (Multinational United) agent Wikus, he’s something of an affable buffoon, but his responses to the extraordinary events that follow are the meat and potatoes of the story , and when we leave him at the film’s end it’s hard to believe we’re leaving the same character.  It’s a tremendous performance, and one the success of the film really hangs on.

Well, that and the film’s astounding visual energy.  Mr. Blomkamp demonstrates terrific visual flair at the helm of this film.  District 9 was famously made after the film version of Halo (which would have been produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Mr. Blomkamp, as District 9 wound up being) fell apart.  District 9 was made on a very small budget (reportedly 30 million dollars) and shot in South Africa.  I have no idea how Mr. Blomkamp and his team possibly pulled this film off on that tiny budget, but my hat is off to them.  The film is a visual feast.  I have no idea how they brought all the “prawns” to life — CGI?  Make-up and prosthetics?  Some combination?  — but they are a phenomenal achievement.  The aliens are completely believable — and they’re also, … [continued]

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New Trailers!

Some great new trailers have hit the web in recent days, and they have quite a lot in common with one another in some fascinating ways.

First up, we’ve finally been given our first substantial glimpse into what Terry Gilliam has cooked up in his new film The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, and, as one might expect, it is spectacularly bizarre.  I cannot wait to see Heath Ledger’s final performance.  Click here for the trailer.

Is that not enough cinematic weirdness for you?  Then check out the trailer for Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland.  That man was born to make this movie.  I just hope it has a little more life to it than Burton’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory did.

Are we on a roll yet?  Continuing the theme of visionary directors adapting famous books, take a peak at the newly-released second trailer for Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.  That looks absolutely marvelous, doesn’t it?

Finally, speaking of visionary directors adapting famous books, here‘s a long-anticipated (by me, at least) look at Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones that is absolutely haunting.  Can’t wait.… [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Big dumb summer movie trailer alert!  It’s the new trailer for Transformers 2, filled with lots of robot smashing action, and the new trailer for G.I. Joe, filled with Ninjas and, um, Eiffel Tower smashing action!  Sigh.  Hard to believe these two iconic and beloved cartoons of my youth are both now big-budget blockbuster movies coming out this summer.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were both really awesome?  Isn’t it sort of sad to know that they definitely won’t be?

For a peek at a movie that might actually be good, click here to check out District 9, the new sci-fi flick directed by Neill Blomkamp and executive produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord of The Rings).  Color me intrigued.

Keeping up with the trailers, here‘s a glimpse at the new film from Francis Ford Coppola, Tetro.  I never saw his last film, the critically-demolished Youth Without Youth, but this looks really interesting.  It’s a new film from Francis Ford Coppola!  Of course it looks interesting!

Did you know that Robert Rodriguez is working on a new Predator film??  If it happens, it’ll be called Predators (in a clever nod to James Cameron’s sequel to Alien, entitled Aliens).  Check out the tantalizing details here.  I need to see this movie RIGHT NOW.

So it’s been ten years since The Phantom Menace, huh?  Here’s an interesting look back.  I agree with this fellow’s thoughts about the two Phantom Menace trailers (among the finest trailers ever crafted), but I certainly don’t think anywhere nearly as highly of that dreadful turd of a movie as he does.  (You can read my memories of first seeing Episode I in theatres here, and my thoughts on the movie looking back almost a decade later here.)

Did you not have enough Star Trek content here on the site for the past two weeks?  Then check out this great piece from the Onion A.V. Club: “Space Racism is Bad and 17 Other Not-So-Subtle Lessons Learned From Star Trek.”  If you’ve never seen it before, you MUST scroll down to the clip of William Shatner’s Kirk reading the Preamble to U.S. Constitution in selection #12, from the absurd Trek episode The Omega Glory.  “WE… the… PEOPLE… not written for thekingsorthechiefsortherichorthepowerful but for ALLTHEPEOPLE!”  Classic Shatnerian magnificence. 

Since seeing J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film, I’ve been enjoying reading all the different reactions on-line and in the press.  I always enjoy Alexandra DuPont’s film reviews when they appear (not often enough to suit me) on aintitcoolnews.com, and her take on the new film is well worth your time.  (I remember well … [continued]

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Return to Skull Island

December 10th, 2008
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Among my very favorite DVD sets are Peter Jackson’s extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Being a fanatical LOTR fan, it is a delight to have longer versions of the films that incorporate action, character moments, and lots of other fun details drawn from the books.  The LOTR extended DVDs also boast some of the most comprehensive and enjoyable extras I have ever seen – detailed, feature-length documentaries that cover every aspect of the making of the films, from the casting to the production to the music to the editing to the guys who made the chain mail for all the elvish armor.  Just fantastic stuff, and it gives us a wonderful peek into the experiences of all the talented craftsmen and women who toiled on the LOTR films for over half a decade.

Because of that, and because I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s King Kong more than most, when the extended DVD set of King Kong was released over two years ago (in November, 2006), I of course picked it up right away.  However, for some reason, it subsequently sat unopened on my DVD shelf.  I’m not sure why that is.  Maybe it’s because the thought that a longer version of Kong was rather daunting?  As I wrote above, I really loved Jackson’s remake of Kong, but even I must admit that the film (clocking in at 187 minutes) was longer than it needed to be.  Even from the comfort of my own couch, the idea of pressing play on the 201 minute version was, I suppose, not something I was in a terrible hurry to do.

But I did finally sit down to watch the extended version of King Kong this weekend, and let me say I was delighted.  Unlike the Lord of the Rings extended editions, this is not a complete re-working of the film.  The changes are actually rather minimal, mostly consisting of a couple of additional hideous encounters on Skull Island.  If you didn’t like King Kong in its theatrical form, this new version isn’t going to change your mind.  But for me, watching Kong I right away remembered every reason why I had enjoyed the film so much when I saw it in theatres.

Anyone who knows anything about this Kong remake knows that it was Peter Jackson’s dream since he was 9 years old, and that love pores off of every frame of this film.  The movie is a fantasy, a fairy-tale of the best kind, and the terrific score and the sumptuous visuals right away sucked me in to the world of 1933 New York and the story being told. 

There is no question that it is too long, and … [continued]