Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Movie Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

It's all over and I'm sad. Next December, there won't be a new Lord of the Rings movie to look forward to. But I take comfort in the fact the Peter Jackson's Return of the King is a triumphant, heartbreaking and immensely satisfying conclusion to the greatest movie trilogy ever (sorry, George).

Picking up where The Two Towers left off, Frodo and Sam are moving closer to Mordor to destroy Sauron's One Ring, led by the treacherous Gollum on a secret path through dangerous tunnels and beneath orc-filled towers. Meanwhile, the rest of our gang is trying to figure out how best to help the kingdom of Gondor, which is very soon to be beset by the bulk of Sauron's army.

And when that army arrives to besiege the white city of Minas Tirith--complete with hundreds of thousands of orcs and catapults and flying ringwraiths and more--your jaw will drop open and remain that way for pretty much the rest of the film. It is a grand and awesome spectacle and the most terrifying battle I've ever seen on film. But Jackson never forgets his characters. The brilliantly seamless special effects always work to serve the story and the characters, never the other way around. You feel every arrow strike, every sword clash, every rock and boulder thud. And in this battle, every character gets their time to shine.

When all the battles are over, when everything these characters--Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Theoden, Eowyn, Eomer, Faramir, etc--have journeyed long and fought hard for has at last come to an end, it's happy and sad and thrilling and poignant. Everything that has been set up in Fellowship and Two Towers pays off in Return of the King. The victories and rewards are richly deserved and well-earned; the defeats, deaths and downfalls are deeply moving.

This is far and away the best film I have seen this year. And taken as a whole, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of those rare cinematic events that make you feel as though you have been privileged just to be given the opportunity to experience it. And I'm sad that it's over.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Movie Review: The Matrix Revolutions

The first four paragraphs of this review are relatively spoiler-free. I discuss some minor plot set-up stuff, but other than that, it's safe to read. I'll warn you before I start spoiling.

Not since Marty McFly went back to the Old West to find Doc Brown in love with Mary Steenburgen--of all people--have I been so disappointed with a final chapter in a movie trilogy.

The Matrix Revolutions doesn't have the vapid Mary Steenburgen, nor does it have the warm 'n' fuzzy Ewoks, nor a bumbling Marcus Brody, nor a horrendous Sophia Copolla. In fact, Revolutions is a pretty good movie... up until its thoroughly, inexplicably unsatisfying conclusion.

The movie begins right where the second one left off, with Neo unconscious, the Machines still drilling into Zion, and everyone basically in a really bad way. Soon enough, Neo wakes up, has a chat with the Oracle and eventually realizes what he has to do. He and Trinity get to it, while Morpheus and the others head back to help Zion.

I will say that up until the very end, the movie had me. I was totally diggin' it. The big Machines vs. Zion battle is fantastic, frantic, intense and exciting. The Neo/Agent Smith stuff was great. And then came the end.

And here come my serious, serious spoilers.

Over the course of the three films, the essential conflict is the humans vs. the machines. The machines overwhelm the human population both in quantity and in strength. The odds are astronomically stacked against the humans. But there is no choice. Fight or die. Either the humans will prevail or the machines will defeat them. One or the other. Those are the only possible conclusions.

But wait!

What if Neo makes a deal with the machines?! You see, within the Matrix, Agent Smith is multiplying and his powers are growing. Soon, he will destroy everything: both humans and machines! That is his purpose. It is inevitable! So Neo BARGAINS with the machines: "I'll take care of Smith. I want peace in return." And the Machines accept! Neo beats Smith and the Machines retreat(!) and unplug all their human "batteries"(!!). The end.

What? WHAT?!

The Wachowskis should have at least offered a free tube of anal lube with every movie ticket sold for the ass-rape of an ending that moviegoers receive. For three films, Neo and the gang fight tooth and nail to win the humans' freedom from the oppressive, unstoppable Machines--and now they "win" with a deal. With fucking peaceful negotiations! And off the machines go, honoring their agreement! (Nevermind how the machines are going to survive without their "batteries" now).

What an abrasively arrogant and unpleasing end to such a promising trilogy. This could have been one of the classics. It was so close.


Thursday, September 18, 2003

Ah L'Amour

A Bitter Film by Don Hertzfeldt

Friday, July 11, 2003

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

With T3 last week, Pirates this week, and Bad Boys II next week, it looks like the big, fun summer movies are finally here. Sure, there's been X2, Matrix: Reloaded and The Hulk--but love 'em or hate 'em, those movies are all oh-so-profound-and-serious that they sometimes forget their sense of FUN (in The Hulk's case, it must have left "fun" on the cutting room floor.)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is, above all else, fun. It's got a healthy dose of everything for everyone: comedy, drama, action, horror, romance. At the core of the story is William Turner (Orlando Bloom), a pirate-hating apprentice blacksmith who's got a big ol' crush on the governor's daughter, Elizabeth Swann (the next big thing, Keira Knightley). When Elizabeth gets abducted by the evil pirates of the cursed ship The Black Pearl, Will reluctantly joins forces with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a shifty pirate who says he can lead Will to the Black Pearl.

The direction by Gore Verbinski (The Mexican, The Ring) is solid. Nothing fancy or stylish, just a well done job. The special effects are seamless, which is about the biggest compliment I can give.

The actors are great, particularly Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, the captain of the Black Pearl, who resists the urge to go over-the-top in his villainy. Keira Knightly, who gets to do more than be a damsel-in-distress, admirably rises to the occasion. Orlando Bloom is appropriately low key as the solid anchor of this fantastical story. But this film is owned by Johnny Depp. Possessed by Johnny Depp. Is the property of one Johnny Depp. From his character's introduction (one of the best "grand entrances" a film character has ever made. Ever.) to his equally "grand" exit, Depp is a marvel to behold. Every moment Captain Jack Sparrow is on the screen, you feel lucky and grateful to have caught a glimpse of monumental greatness.

Go see it. Take your friends. Take your kids if you got 'em (and they don't mind skeletons, violence and death).