Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

By Alan Trehern, King of the Reunited Blogosphere

After almost a decade since the first Jackson-directed Lord of the Rings films hit theaters, here we are.  I keep finishing this trilogy every year or so, and all I really want is to be trapped in the beauty and serenity of the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring.  But, alas, we must finish this saga and bring an end to the Third Age of Middle-earth with the War of the Rings and the defeat of the mighty Sauron.  **looks for NJNM intern**  WHERE'S MY PIPE WEED!!??

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Sir Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortensen


Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

By Ent-Hugger Trehern the Pale

I said most of the nice and worthwhile things I wanted to say about the LOTR trilogy in the first entry in this series, The Fellowship of the Ring. As that one is my utmost favorite, the next two reviews should have some funny critiques and Trehern-isms that are fit for the joyous dining halls of Rohan! Come now, horse lords, for we must review The Two Towers!!!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

By Guest Reviewer Trehern the Pale
"The blogosphere is changed: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, I smell it in the air...Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it..."
Alright, so that isn't exactly the first line to this movie, but I almost got it. Pretty excellent way to start a film: referring to a history that no one yet knows about, setting the stage for what will be the most detailed, intricate and loyal movies ever created. Of course I'm talking about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. No amount of reviewing could cover the monstrous amount of feelings I have for this series of films, so I dare not delve much. However, thoughts must be scribed to convince you to experience LOTR for what it is: one of the greatest stories of all time.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 71 - BKO: Bangkok Knockout (Guest: Joe Leininger from The Playing Field)



In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben are joined by Joe Leininger (from The Playing Field) to discuss Panna Rittikrai's 2010 film, BKO: Bangkok Knockout.




Introduction
Character Name Game Intro - 2:37

Media Consumed
Joe
"I Hate My Teenage Daughter" - 3:59
"American Horror Story" - 6:23
Delirious - 8:36

Tyler
"Gilligan's Island" - 10:25
It's A Wonderful Life - 11:33
"Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" - 11:58

Ben
Jason Reitman's live read of The Princess Bride - 13:59

Review
BKO: Bangkok Knockout - 18:20

Wrap-Up
Next Time: Mystery Film - 37:40
Listener E-mail/Voicemail/Twitter - 38:55
Character Name Game - 42:25
Where You Can Find Us - 44:28

(Read Ben's coverage of Jason Reitman's live read of The Princess Bride here.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

War Horse

It's no exaggeration to say Steven Spielberg is one of the busiest men in the entertainment industry. As of this writing, he has 21 projects listed as "in development" on IMDB, and it seems as if one in every five new shows debuting on major broadcast networks bears his name. Case in point: this month, he has two feature films hitting theaters within days of each other. The Adventures of Tintin has been making a splash at the worldwide box office and is a spectacular adaptation of Herge's classic comics. War Horse is another adaptation, this time of a British book (and ensuing stage play) that has taken the United Kingdom by storm over the past decade. Eschewing the action/adventure genre in favor of a more traditional drama, Spielberg tells the tale of a boy and his horse separated by the hellish landscape of World War I and fighting against all odds to be reunited.

War Horse
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis


In the small English town of Devon, an alcoholic father bids more than his family can afford for a stubborn young horse named Joey. Faced with eviction, it falls on his teenage son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) to break in the horse and plow the family's stony field in time to pay their due. Albert and Joey are wrenched apart when WWI hits England, and the rest of the film depicts the war through Joey's eyes as he travels across Europe, changing owners (and sides of the battle) multiple times on his quest to reunite with Albert.

War Horse is the perfect subject matter for an homage to John Ford, and Spielberg takes full advantage of the opportunity. Sprawling countrysides, epic vistas, and gorgeous natural locations were hallmarks of the director of The Searchers, Stagecoach, and Rio Grande, and Spielberg uses his beautiful English locations to the same effect, evoking not only Ford but also Gone With The Wind in certain shots. But Spielberg isn't one to simply bow at the alter of a particular filmmaker without making his own mark along the way. After all, this is the man who essentially defined the visual aesthetic of World War II in modern media with the likes of Saving Private Ryan and the momentous "Band of Brothers." Delving further back in time to The Great War (a war that is rarely explored in American film, and the first time this director has tackled it), Spielberg and his longtime director of photography Janusz Kaminski employ similar handheld techniques to make the audience feel the immediacy and insanity of battle, but this time favor off-screen deaths to keep a PG-13 rating.


Casting an unknown can be risky, but Jeremy Irvine is a good choice for the lead role. He finds an innocence in the role appropriate for the time period, an unchecked purity that makes Albert's singular mission the most important thing in that character's life. The story begins with twenty or so minutes of bonding time between Albert and Joey, a slow swell to a heartbreaking separation. That introductory time feels just a bit stretched out, but it's necessary to form the strong relationship that justifies the action of the character throughout the rest of the film. Supporting cast members David Thewlis, Emily Watson, and Peter Mullan turn in solid performances, but it's Niels Arestrup, playing a grandfather to a French girl that stumbles upon Joey halfway through the film, that brings the most emotional heft to his part.


War Horse features one "instant classic" scene fit for inclusion among Spielberg's best. It's a meeting of opposing forces as they unite to save Joey, who - in the film's second best sequence - has charged across a ravaged battlefield and ensnared himself in barbed wire. There are a few other memorable moments, but nothing near as compelling as that scene.


If your family is searching for a crowd-pleasing drama this holiday season, War Horse is your best bet. This has already made many "Best Of" lists as 2011 comes to a close, but if I had to choose my favorite of the two December Spielberg releases, I'd still go with The Adventures of Tintin. They're two totally different genres, and my personal preferences lean toward action/adventure anyway, but all this is just a warning to keep your expectations in check. If you can avoid too much hype, War Horse will gallop away with your heart. Until next time...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Thanks to a more compelling villain, better pacing, and more action, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a big improvement over the first film in this series. With more serious end of the year fare taking over the box office for the remainder of the year, the latest adventure of the world's most famous detective provides a solid mystery, great banter, and the same loveable characters that made the first film in this series so entertaining.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace


The relationship between Holmes and Watson is one of the most fascinating elements in this franchise. It's not breaking new ground or anything - Holmes takes issue with Watson's new bride-to-be, realizing it could be the end of their adventures together – but this subplot is so well-handled that it feels fresh. Much of the conflict goes unspoken between the two friends, each coming to grips with the inevitability that one day, their partnership will come to an end. This kind of communication could be interpreted as homoeroticism by some, but I choose to read it just as two friends who have worked together through countless adventures and have a detailed understanding of the other's methods. Holmes legitimately cares for Watson far more than he lets on, as revealed in his first meeting with Moriarty in which he asks for Watson and his new bride to be excluded from their deadly game of wits. Watson cares as well, evidenced in the story he writes about his friend. It's a Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday dynamic, and one that is rarely explored as interestingly on screen.


Noomi Rapace, who brought an intense physicality and commitment to the role of Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, falls flat here, essentially playing the Penelope Cruz role in Pirates of the Caribbean 4. For the most part, her character Sim is an inactive observer, serving no other purpose than to lead our main characters to the MacGuffin (her brother, an anarchist who is the final piece in Moriarty's puzzle). Rachel McAdams reprises her role from the first film, but she's not nearly as involved this time around. It's a shame; Irene Adler is a far more compelling character than Rapace's Sim. As the femme fatale in the first film, Irene was just clever enough to provide problems for Holmes, and seeing him flustered and distracted by her was a welcome obstacle on the way to accomplishing his larger goals. Much of the first film hints at Irene's relationship with Moriarty, and as an audience, we wonder how she became involved with him and what role she plays in his grand plans. I was hoping we'd get even more of this type of interaction, but...let's just say that doesn't quite happen in A Game of Shadows.


In the first movie, we never saw Moriarty's face because the filmmakers weren't sure who would play him in the sequel (Brad Pitt was rumored at one point, due to his previous working relationship with Guy Ritchie). Here, Jared Harris from “Mad Men” steps out of the shadows and plays a terrific Moriarty, the perfect antithesis of Holmes and a truly worthy adversary. While Lord Blackwood's Satanic magic was spooky in its own right, I never got the feeling that Holmes was stumped by him. The same cannot be said here, as Moriarty puts Holmes' back against the wall at every turn. Harris as Moriarty is the best part of this film; he does a great job making the audience believe he's actually smarter than Holmes, which gives the hero an underdog status that we haven't seen from him yet. The filmmakers know that if it was too easy for Holmes, the audience would lose interest, so bringing on his archnemesis this early in the game is a wise move.


The pacing is great, with Ritchie and his writers doling out action sequences or intellectual reveals every few minutes to keep us entertained along the way. There's even a bit of subversion of expectations as Holmes goes into his patented slow motion fight mode and is interrupted by Rapace's character hurling a knife into Holmes' opponent. The setup without the payoff works as a comedic moment, a more involved rehashing of Spielberg's iconic scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indiana Jones, exasperated, pulls out his gun and simply shoots a swordsman. There are big action setpieces that work well, too – a train sequence in which an attempt is made on Watson's life, and an excellent woods escape that uses speed ramping that should make Zack Snyder stop what he's doing and come take a look.

Prolific composer Hans Zimmer also returns, continuing his storied career with another solid score. His work here sounds like the jangly theme song for "Dexter" (especially in the gypsy-heavy sequences) blended with his score for Rob Marshall's Pirates 4. I found it odd how much Zimmer uses those gypsy-inspired sections throughout the film even though the corresponding characters are so bland on screen. This isn't close to Zimmer's best work - not even his best work this year, since that honor belongs to Rango - but for a big studio sequel, it gets the job done.


With an increase in humor, a better mystery, and a more intricate villain, A Game of Shadows improves on the first film in nearly every way. It's fun to watch Downey and Law build these characters and banter with each other, and even more fun to watch the character of Sherlock Holmes face an opponent who is his intellectual equal (or who may be even better than he is). Looking to the future, my only concern is with the ending; while the first film ended with a clear direction for a sequel, I can't help but wonder where the series can go from here. That's the problem with bringing in a story's most famous villain in the second movie, an issue Christopher Nolan faces as he wraps up his Batman trilogy. We'll see how both of those series handle that pressure in the coming months and years; we don't have much longer to wait for The Dark Knight Rises, and it'll probably take a couple of years before we see another Sherlock Holmes because of Downey's commitments to Marvel (Iron Man 3, an Avengers sequel, etc). But even if we have to wait a few years, I'm still looking forward to seeing more adventures of Holmes and Watson on the big screen. Until next time...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Carnage

Decent performances from fantastic actors isn't enough to save Carnage, the latest film from director Roman Polanski. If your idea of time well spent is watching people argue, yell, and scream at each other for two hours, then you've hit the jackpot with this one.

Carnage
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly


Polanski's sketchy history is enough to have some critics refuse to review his films altogether, and while I'm certainly not endorsing his actions, I don't have a moral problem with watching one of the guy's films. Taking his off-set behavior out of the equation and examining Carnage by itself, it didn't seem like there was much to it from a directing standpoint. The story is based on a French stage play called God of Carnage, so naturally it's going to be confined to a limited number of locations. This isn't to say that there's no room for stylistic flourishes in close quarters - if Michael Bay made this movie, it would look a lot different than Polanski's - but because Polanski chose to film everything in a straightforward way, the movie felt a little flat. Everything's just kind of...there.


The film opens on a shot of kids playing in a park in New York City, and after the credits roll, one kid hits another in the face with a stick. The movie then transitions to the home of the parents of the victim (Foster and Reilly). They've invited the parents of the attacker (Winslet and Waltz) over to talk it out and shed light on the situation. Things heat up when blame starts getting thrown around - turns out the attacker is in a gang, unbeknownst to his parents - and these apparently civil adults abandon their pretensions, plummeting off the deep end into name-calling and drunkenness.

Jodie Foster's character was by far the most annoying, a haughty writer working on a book about Darfur. She whines and cries throughout, trying the patience even of her on-screen husband, John C. Reilly. He's the best part of this movie, and the only thing that made it remotely tolerable for me; when he gets some alcohol in him, his inhibitions fall away and he starts telling it like it is, providing the funniest lines in the film by far. Waltz's character is a lawyer who spends at least half of his screen time on his cell phone, locked in uninteresting conversations with one of his pharmaceutical clients about covering up a scandal. Kate Winslet's character isn't much better, a snooty holier-than-thou type who, in one of the film's rare instances of something interesting happening, projectile vomits on a coffee table. I realize that's not a character trait, but it's the most important thing she does in the film, which tells you a bit about the dynamics of the conversations here.


Carnage is yet another statement on society seen through the eyes of a small group of people in one location. Over the past few years, I've drastically lost patience with these kinds of films; most of them are less like Sidney Lumet's excellent 12 Angry Men and more like Frank Darabont's dismal The Mist, which is to say that recent variations on this formula have tended to get overly heavy-handed. Because the characters in Carnage are educated and pseudo-intellectual, I think their devolution into chaos is more of a condemnation of humanity than the one depicted in The Mist - at least the characters in the latter film are depicted as idiots from the start.


Because this movie is such a grinding buildup of constant unpleasantness, I was yearning for its end far earlier than it arrived. But when the ending finally does happen, it's so abrupt - seemingly in the middle of a random string of arguments, much like any other here - that it has absolutely no impact, other than providing the freedom for which I so desperately longed. Carnage will work for some people, but trudging through the annoying characters and grating dialogue just wasn't worth the takeaway for me. Though it's nowhere near as abysmal as Just Go With It or Burning Palms, Carnage is a film I'll never watch again. Until next time...

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 70 - Die Hard and Die Hard 2


In this week's episode, Ben and Tyler are joined by former co-host Pat Miller to talk about the first two films in the Die Hard franchise.




Introduction
Character Name Game Intro - 1:52

Review
Die Hard - 2:20
Die Hard 2: Die Harder - 30:00

Wrap-Up
Next Time: BKO: Bangkok Knockout - 59:00
Listener E-mail/Voicemail/Twitter - 59:22
Character Name Game - 1:05:48

Media Consumed
Tyler
"Better Off Ted" - 1:10:04
"Last Man Standing" - 1:12:08
The Sitter - 1:14:04

Ben
Sherlock Holmes - 1:17:16

Where You Can Find Us - 1:21:08

AV Club's Pop Pilgrims: Nakatomi Plaza

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 69 - Cool World (Guest: Eric D. Snider from Film.com)


In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben are joined by Eric D. Snider (from Film.com) to discuss Ralph Bakshi's 1992 film, Cool World.




Introduction
Character Name Game Intro (and conclusion!) - 1:33

Media Consumed
Tyler
Trek Nation - 3:30
"The Universe in a Nutshell" - 6:54

Eric
Under the Cherry Moon - 8:50

Ben
The Rock-afire Explosion - 12:36
You Can't Take it With You - 17:20
Bill Willingham Responds to "Once Upon a Time" - 20:15

Review
Cool World - 26:30

Wrap-Up
Next Time: Die Hard and Die Hard 2 - 45:41
Listener E-mail/Voicemail/Twitter - 46:52
Where You Can Find Us - 54:13

(For more, read Eric's review of Cool World here.)