Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (TheFacer)

Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” couldn’t have sucked more if it was a wet/dry shop vac at a bukkake cleanup.

I just came off my second viewing of “Harry Potter,” mind you, so I know a modern almost-three-hour film doesn’t have to be painful. It’s not the length that makes the film so bad, but it certainly makes it agonizing.

Part of the fault lies with the fact the JRR Tolkien source material popularized certain now-staple sword and sorcery themes and visions since its publication in 1954. I say “popularized,” because many of the themes and visions had been done elsewhere and better… Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, par exemple.

What happens, of course, when you put to the screen themes and visions that have been beat to death by every other entertainment media since the 1950’s, including books, pulps, graphic novels (and their antecedents, “comic books”), movies, tv shows, and computer games) you face a daunting task in making them fresh. Such a move requires two approaches: revisiting the original material (always a disaster) or standing firm and somehow marketing the thing as the “original.”

Well, what one finds out after sitting through Peter Jackson’s overlong exercise in Moviola masturbation, is that sticking to the original material isn’t a sure thing either. Especially when you pick out all the expensive (nee “action”) bits of a massive book and skip over the rest of it.

As a result, LOTR is a collection… yes, that’s probably the best word… of different action sequences from the book, not necessarily in order, not necessarily true to the source, but gooey fodder for the SFX team. With LOTR, Peter Jackson firmly places his creative vision beside that of his apparent mentor, Michael Bay. I’d invoke the names of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, but hopefully Hollywood has smartly banished those two hacks to the realms of straight-to-video, and saying their names in a public forum might somehow resuscitate them, like saying “Bloody Mary” three times.

In order to begin what appears will eventually be a nine hour long string of cinema cliches, Jackson starts out with a cliche device: the historical narration. A deep voice intones, John Huston-like, bringing everyone in the audience up to speed on all the parts that Jackson filmed, but cut out at the demand of the film executives who, for once in their lives, did the right thing and told him to keep the first film under three hours. We see huge battles, armies of orcs and elves, and all sorts of other quick-cut crap that ruins any building of suspense regarding the film’s creatures within the first two minutes. A convoluted explanation ensues: here’s all these rings but only one is powerful and who knows what happened to the others but who cares the bad guy made the one ring and then had his finger cut off and blew up and mankind sucks and orcs are ugly and elves …. you get the picture. If this were a sci-fi pic, the backstory would have been printed across the screen with a little anachronistic typing sound.

Ahh, but after the intro film slows down and one thinks — incorrectly, it winds up — that maybe Jackson is onto something. He takes his time in developing the main character of Frodo, and even the culture of the Hobbits. We get to ooh and aah over the realistic hobbit sets, even as we giggle at the inconsistent scale between the short hobbits and the human Gandalf, a problem when your actors are all the same height. But we get to see how they live, what they eat, what their furniture looks like. What they laugh about.

Then, something happens. It becomes evident that a bit TOO much time is being spent in Hobbiton. One wonders: when is this thing going to get goingr What is being sacrificed along the way to put this much development into the hobbitsr Why does this look like a Little House on the Prairie Episode (with Elijah Wood soon starting to physically resemble little Melissa Gilbert.)

Well the answer comes soon enough. Frodo is off on his adventure, carrying the ring that everyone wants so badly, with his band of hobbits. Some wraiths come on horseback and pursue our little heroes, while screaming this really obnoxious high-pitched wail, for what…. tenr Fifteen minutesr The chase goes on and on. Then, when one thinks it’s just about to conclude, there they are again, wailing and screeching again like Jerry Springer transvestites. I got up to go pee and let me tell you something… I MISSED NOTHING. They were screeching and galloping just as hard as when my bladder had been full. In retrospect, I should have marched upstairs and pissed on the projector; I would have simultaneously spared the audience the rest of that crap, while putting myself out of my misery through penile electrocution.

Having lost about an hour to narration, hobbit development and wraith chases, where was Jackson to go with the rest of this bulky novelr Into Bay-ville, of course. What follows for the rest of the film is a series of action sequences punctuated only by occasional pauses, which themselves are condensed little scenes whose sole reason is to keep the source material flowing. Because of the lack of background and development, entire sequences could have been excised without damage to the film (although not without damage to the novel.) Fair to say that any scene with an elf in it could be cut without anyone noticing.

Note to Hollywood: action sequences are supposed to be the punctuation between the story, not vice versa. And… ahh, screw it, no one’s listening anyway.

The non-hobbit characters are introduced with brevity, if at all. In some cases, they merely appear (Gimli the dwarf, for example.) A kiss between Aragorn the human and Arwen the elf comes about so quickly — it’s literally tacked on right after another scene between the two — that if it were any more forced it would qualify as a tokamak reactor.

So, after knowing the creepy-looking Elijah Wood thing inside out — we are left with a slew of other characters that are total blank slates. This includes, the wizard Gandalf, who gets huge screen time but who is so poorly defined as a person, you’d have to add a dimension to bring him up to two. Ian McKellen looks about as thrilled in this role as, well, Richard Harris did in Harry Potter. Maybe those beards itch or something.

The action sequences that ensue, for the rest of the film’s length, are of course nice to look at. Fight scenes still don’t hold up to that of Boorman’s Excalibur or even some of Milius’ Conan, but of course where CGI is used, it’s used spectacularly. The cybersets are beautiful, and the camera work realistic. There are a few shots where the tiny running characters look worse than Tomb Raider the computer game, but those are few and far between.

But you know whatr Good effects don’t score points for the film’s director. They score points for the effects house.

Back to the cliches. Again, this may in part be due to the adherence to an aging source material that has been already recycled elsewhere, but dammit if every frigging scene in this film hasn’t been done before. We see lots of people hiding under trees or bushes as evildoers pass overhead, feet in foreground. We see a dying guy make an important acknowledgement to his friend with his last breath. We see a drowning guy’s hand descend into the water, only to be snatched up by another hand at just the right moment. We see a guy holding onto a ledge with his last strength, only to fall into “shadow” presumably to his death (yeah, right.) We see monsters poking their heads around corners, screaming into the camera.

Where have we seen all this stuff beforer Christ, where do I beginr A lot of it seems lifted from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course (as one of LOTR’s leads fights on with three arrows in him, I heard the crowd giggling, everyone thinking of the infamously smart-mouthed Black Knight of Python.) There are scenes from Excalibur, from Jason & The Argonauts, Lawrence of Arabia, Last of the Mohicans, The Ten Commandments, Aliens, Seven Samurai, Halloween, and countless others. Oh, and every Star Wars film made.

But how could it not be clichedr Given that the popularity of Tolkien’s books may have created some of these clichesr

Well, a little more creative filmmaking wouldn’t have hurt. Here’s a trick Jackson uses: have character look toward camera, but frame him slightly to screen right… so we know well in advance that a hand will pop up from behind him, grab his shoulder and scare the shit out of him. Can’t anyone figure out a way to film this from another fucking angler

When you are filming cliches, it might be best not to use cliched filmmaking in the process.

So, is Tolkien to blame for this collection of clichesr Or Jackson for filming it so soullesslyr Suffice to say that’s one for historians and film reviewers with far more ego than I. But, hey! We have six more hours of this tripe to sit through for the next two years, as Jackson releases the next two films of the series! Maybe we can decide then. Well YOU can, I have no intention of sitting through those monstrosities.

In conclusion, let me remind you that this movie sucks. In a fairly full theater of mixed age groups, here’s what I noticed: a lot of watch lights blinking as people checked the time, a guy yawning next to me, and a constant parade of people getting up for the lobby— presumably to go pee so they could at least say SOMETHING worthwhile had happened while they were at the theater that night. Whereas the other mega-anticipated films of the past few years — Phantom Menace and Harry Potter — ended in applause, this one was met with utter silence. People were standing up early in anticipation of the end credits, and then filed out in a grim funereal march, seeking the light of the lobby like moths, where they could gather and analyze what had just happened to the last three hours of their lives.

Peter Jackson did succeed admirably in making his characters come to life. The audience was left as soulless as his Ring Wraiths. Good going, jackass.

Rating: F

The Majestic

Aunt Cleo: So, I went to see “The Majestic” last Saturday.
Aunt Georgina: Which one is thatr
Aunt Cleo: With Jim Carrey.
Aunt Georgina: Oh, I don’t like him. He’s vulgar.
Aunt Cleo: Not in this movie he isn’t. He’s sweet and handsome and charming. Like in “The Grinch.” That movie was excellent and had a message and “The Majestic” is just the same, but better because it’s newer.
Aunt Georgina: Well, Cleo, after listening to your well-reasoned recommendation and allowing myself a silent moment internal deliberation, I have decided that I too will pay money to see “The Majestic.”

Those MBAs at Warner Bros. go, “Ka-ching!” while you’re tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd and not shove this turkey bone up Aunt Cleo’s ass for diluting the family gene pool. But, as usual, I digress…

I went to see “The Majestic” because it seemed to be another one of those films made specifically for me. It takes place in the 1950’s (a decade that fascinates me more than any other) and it’s about a screenwriter (hey, instant character identification) who refurbishes an old movie palace (I plan on enslaving Theo Kalomirakis someday–and if you don’t know who Theo Kalomirakis is then, um, you’re dumb). Additionally, The Majestic is directed by Frank Darabont who’s made one of the best American studio films ever in Shawshank and it stars my two most favorite modern day actors: Jim Carrey and Bruce Campbell (will someone please cast these two as brothers in an action-comedyr).

I don’t know why I still get emotionally pig-dogged every time a movie doesn’t live up to expectations because I should be used to it by now. Not to say that “The Majestic” is bad. Far from it. Actually, not too far. “The Majestic” is mediocre at best, cold molasses boring at worst. Part of this has to do with the script by Michael Sloane which hammers us over the head with the same points over and over again. How many times do we have to hear someone say…

The town needed you, Jim, because all of our other sons died in the War.


Listen, Jim, you really don’t want to screw around with those McCarthyites–you could be blacklisted!

Maybe it’s because the film is rated PG, but it speaks to us, the audience, as if we were all 8 years-old. That’s probably one reason why “The Majestic” runs 2 1/2 hours and probably the only reason why the climax is of Jim standing before HUAC–I shit you not–reading aloud from a pocket sized Constitution.

But there is good stuff in the movie. All of the performances are top notch. You’d expect nothing less from Jim. Bruce handles his B-movie one-liners with aplomb. Martin Landau proves again why he actually deserved that Lifetime Achievment Award/Best Supporting Actor Oscar. And seeing Laurie Holden –who must of us know and loathe as the Unablonder from X-Files– is like breaking one of the seven seals…she’s a revelation. Funny, fiery, sexy. You can completely understand why Jim’s character falls in love with her because the audience does, too. Seriously impressive stuff by Laurie. She’s gonna get a lot bigger real soon.

Other good stuff: the scene where they re-open The Majestic theater for the first time made me cry. And I don’t cry often–not at my wedding, not during acting class, not even when God Himself did Irish fans a favor and arranged it for George O’Leary to get fired from Notre Dame. But I cried during “The Majestic.”

Finally, the film has come out at a time when it’s themes will actually make people think about the world around us. Because it’s about American boys going overseas and sacrificing themselves for the Greater Good. Because it’s about what it means to be an American. And because it’s about an understandably scared government prosecuting people on flimsy evidence just because they happen to be a part of the wrong minority group. Not that I don’t think the Justice Department should be investigating suspicious Saudis, Egyptians, etc. They should, but at the same not allowing things to turn into a witchhunt. Wow, look at that. A Jim Carrey movie inspiring politically charged discourse. Who woulda thunkr

I took my grandparents to the movie and they loved it. Really loved it. And since they are roughly the same age as your average Academy Award voter and since every other old fogey in the theater stood up and cheered at film’s end, I think Jim will finally get his official Oscar Acknowledgment (that’s what they’re calling “nominations” these days, isn’t itr Acknowledgmentsr How can you get fucking PC about awards terminologyr Only in this town). So, if you’re old or like easily digestible melodrama-with-a-message or need a Bruce Campbell fix you should be fine with “The Majestic.”

Rating: B+

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“Harry Potter” (and the whatever stone) is one of the best films I have seen this year, and while this has been a dreadful year, it has also produced “Memento” and “AI.” In the most twisted of ironies, Uberdirector Spielberg chose to honor Kubrick with “AI” instead of cashing in with “Harry Potter,” and it may have been the wisest decision of his career. I feel that Spielberg could have ruined this film; more on this in a bit.

“Harry Potter” is based on a book, a popular book, which many (too many) people have read and bear stringent expectations. Other than pure money, the only reasons to convert such a novel into a film are to 1) broaden the appeal, especially for those who don’t read fiction (translation: men over the age of 16) and 2) show a forced vision to an audience, bringing to life (and sight) images which could only exist in the mind… and in a computer or on a sketch pad.

The key to success is simple: don’t mess it up. A director like Spielberg could have strayed too far from the novel, or more accurately, the borrowed, processed vision that J.K. Rowling has so daringly re-written for today’s generations. “Harry Potter,” as both successful novel and now film, is a wonderous, Velveeta-like smish-smashing of every childhood fantasy, fairy tale, folklore-myth-thing, and dream, creating a world that is both fantastical and gothic, surreal and yet grounded.

Another key to the story’s success is its unwillingness to bend from traditional Euro-myths and legends. The fact that every actor, every set, and every atom of the film is British is not some twisted culturalist facism by Rowling, but rather, an assurance that we will recognize the more fantastical aspects of the tale. To borrow from a close friend and colleage, I dare any of you to name a popular fairy tale, style, or character, that is purely and originally American-born. All of our favorite stories come from countries and cultures older than our own, and films like “The Wizard of Oz” and even “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” tap into the very images that graced many a bedtime story. “Harry Potter” does the same.

Let’s talk technical. Chris Columbus is a Spielberg-clone, and a damn good one… I like his films, and I even liked “Bicentennial Man.” Don’t get me wrong… Columbus is NOT that talented, but he’s solid enough in his vision and technicality to get all the elements on the film reel. And he does his job perfectly; he takes little true risk, and delivers in every place that counts. The score is wonderous, and unmistakably John Williams… while I reserve laud for composers such as Barry, Newton-Howard, and Zimmer for having tremendous range and ability, Williams is the very best at what he does. He is so good at it, in fact, that he has mastered the ability to be subtle (see: “Saving Private Ryan”) and to showboat (see: “Star Wars”). This film’s score is all showboat, all-riffs, all classical epic-movie-music gloating, and it is precisely what’s needed.

I also will toss props to the editor, Richard Francis-Bruce, for the film’s pacing is nearly flawless. The film runs for more than two hours, but you’ll never notice it. In fact, there’s little editing trickery… very few fades, no quick cut-ups, just damn good timing.

Several critics have complained that the film doesn’t last long enough. Unfortunately, it is just not possible to cram an entire book into a two hour movie. Many things are left implied and unspoken, simply because there isn’t enough time for it. When a film contains too much information to show, either details get left out (most films reiterate the same points repeatedly, explaining and justifying absolutely everything. Critics call this ‘strong, planned screenwriting’.) or the film contains a zillion edits and rocks by at 100 MPH, causing nausea, irritation, and possible blindness. Having said that — considering the latter part — I really liked Michael Bay’s “Armageddon,” and I like anime too. For the kids, though, Harry Potter and its creative team have elected the former route.

As a result of that choice, some people and some critics feel the film is disjointed and incoherent. I’m sure the book fills in all the gaps nicely; I have not read it, and don’t intend to. If you are expecting a complete story from this film, with all the ends tied up, you will not get it. For time and monetary considerations, the film does cut corners, and while complete by its own means, feels more like a slice of life on a much larger timeline. A lot of the blanks are left unfilled for good reason.

The performances are outstanding across the board. The three principle characters, all kids, are more than sufficient for this type of film, and young Daniel Radcliffe has that kind of sick Haley Joel intensity and charisma that makes him likeable in all sorts of evil ways. I saw this guy on TRL (sigh, yes, I watch MTV because I like the eye candy) and he was being swamped by horny 16-year-old *N’Sync fans in towels. Poor guy. The supporting cast is a damned celebrity-Jeopardy spotting game of British celebrities, and more accurately, classically-trained actors. Everyone is in this thing, even some of the Pythons. The casual fan will never notice, but the filmgeeks out there are sure to spot those actors whom they cherish, but whose names they know not.

Why is the film so goodr I have no idea. J.K Rowling’s book probably gets the most credit. The casting directors did their job. Cinematography is a long orgasm. Steve Kloves’ script is faithful and doesn’t mess up, just like Columbus’ directing. Instinct tells me that the film is good because everyone knew what they were doing… a quick glance of the technical credits at the end confirms that everyone who’s anyone works on this project (even Henson has their fingerprints all over the place). Maybe I actually witnessed a true team effort for once, rather than one vision trying to overbear everyone elses. Of course, I would never mention this in a public review, but the fact that this film, at $125 million US dollars in budget, did NOT use name actors who cost lots of money, and did NOT use American unions for below-the-line crew… hmmm. That could mean that the people… as in, the labor… actually cost very little, and the great majority of the budget could be spent on effects, pre-production planning, and construction, so they could get it right…. hmmm. Hmmm indeed.

Yeah yeah yeah, so the effects are trippy terrific, the sets are great, the whole look of the film is just sizzlin’ in the best of ways. Look, it all comes down to this: no matter who you are, or what you do, I recommend the film. Big or small, large or tall, old or young, troll or goblin. You’ll dig it. You’ll lose yourself and become enchanted with the film, its characters, and its little nuances. Even its flaws. Will it change mankindr I certainly hope not. But gee, a movie that actually entertained me… it’s been a long time.

PS – I have been remarking to friends that a “hairy potter” is British slang for something quite interesting. Remember, these are the same people that would not release the “Austin Powers” sequel in their country with the word “shag” in the title. I think I’ll write a children’s book called Richard Rash: Private Investigator, and see how that tides over in the states.

Rating: A

Waking Life

“I want it to sound rich and maybe almost a little wavy, due to being slightly out of tune,” he says. “I think it should be slightly detached.”

The musician hits it on the nail. For the next hour and a half, slightly detached and completely opulent, “Waking Life” rolls our mainstream cinematic perceptions into a tightly packed joint and smokes them, stopping to enjoy every inhalation along the way.

The film follows, literally, the erratic journey of a young man as he stumbles through a dreamlike world, never sure into what state of consciousness he is entering or what level of reality he will submerge from. His initial claustrophobia gives way to a lucid understanding that his grasp of this illogical state is actually empowering him to pursue an acute awareness of deeply complex philosophical and existential polemics that could never come to comprehension in his waking life. Slowly, he begins to realize the physical act of ‘waking’ offers little in terms of intellectual consciousness while the stirring to life in his dream truly wakes him up. As a little girl points out in the first scene, dream is destiny.

As a viewer, the enjoyment is twofold. Aurally, Linklater opens up a spectrum rarely used by filmmakers in this day of popcorn cinema by infusing each spoken word with cyclical significance. Characters don’t merely speak for the purpose of forward communication; they contemplate and analyze a myriad of universal truths and possibilities for the sake of exploring them later. In this way, the script moves forward by not moving at all, at times relishing its eclectic rhythm and broken narrative form. Suddenly, you are aware of sound in a completely new way – each syllable has a color of its own, each word its own shape.

This is the second and perhaps more important outcome of experiencing “Waking Life.” Much like the mystified protagonist of the film, the viewer is forced to re-negotiate how s/he experiences the aesthetic before them, be it life, dream or a moving picture. From its bold use of rotoscopic animation, which perfectly creates that on-the-fence reality (it looks real and fake at the same time), to its insistence on visual inconsistencies (objects change shape and color at will), the universe of “Waking Life” is one you haven’t been to before. This makes it a unique experience at a time when experiencing films has largely depreciated into formulaic crud.

“Waking Life” brings Linklater back to his roots. Since “Slacker,” the Austin auteur has stumbled from pothead piece (“Dazed and Confused”) to mainstream drivel (“Before Sunrise”), but Waking puts all the pieces back together. Free from cinematic constraints, both in sight and sound, “Waking Life” manages to float by slightly detached and completely out of tune, and the result is one hell of a trip.

Before you ask, let me touch briefly on the weed-worthiness of the film. Stoners will find this as compelling a toke-trip as “2001” or “Wizard of Oz” but whereas those films get better with pot, “Waking Life” is simply just as good without it. Don’t get me wrong – once this puppy hits DVD, bring it home, turn out the lights, and puff away, but on the big screen, it might be worth tuning in and staying afloat. Just the same, the concessions should see some line-ups.

Rating: A


In the writing process of a film such as this it is very easy for the film to take a wrong turn and fail miserably in its attempt, with “Zoolander” Ben Stiller has mastered this challenge. While the characters were ridiculous in almost every way they were still very enjoyable to watch. Scenes that might normally be unbearable to watch (such as the “gasoline fight”), were actually incredibly funny. The entire film walks such a fine line of being very funny or just plain awful, it amazes me that it held itself together for the entire length of the film.

Owen Wilson’s performance was easily one of his best ever, and proves he is one of the best comedic actors in Hollywood. With his ability to pick good acting roles and his writing abilities shown from his co-writing of “Rushmore,” Wilson should be one of the top actors for some time to come. Ben Stiller as Derrick Zoolander was excellent as Derrick Zoolander, a role in which very few other actors would be able to perform.

“Zoolander” is able to successfully hold together a really absurd plot. In doing so I produces one of the funniest films of the year to date. The last time I laughed as hard during a movie as I did during “Zoolander” was during the first half an hour of “Moulin Rouge.” While this movie is probably not worthy to be considered in the elite class of great comedies it surely merits multiple viewings.

Rating: A-

Hearts in Atlantis

The problem with the movie is that it tells two disjointed stories. The stories are both set off by Robert Garfield (David Morse), in the present day, getting a letter and a baseball glove as a bequest from his childhood friend John Sullivan’s will. As a result of this, he flashes back to his childhood, where we have two distinctive plotlines:

1. A relatively realistic coming-of-age story between young Garfield, the young girl he loves, and his friend Sullivan. Add to this a meddling, overprotective mother (Hope Davis), and complications ensue. Gradually, Garfield becomes stronger as a person and moves toward adulthood. This story is well-done, but somewhat underplayed. In particular, even though Sullivan leaves Garfield the glove that sets off the reminisence, he’s never given any character or substance. Also, because the “big star” of the movie isn’t in this plot, I suspect it may have gotten cut down in the testing process.

2. A somewhat odd supernatural story about Ted Bradigan (Anthony Hopkins), the new boarder in the Garfield home. Ted has a “second sight” (exactly what this extends to or means is never really explained), and is being chased by “Low Men.” He asks Garfield to keep him safe and watch for the “Low Men.” Slowly, he befriends Garfield, and their relationship develops.

Now, the stories do intersect, especially near the end of the film, but to a large degree, they’re very separate. One is pretty starkly realistic while the other is heavily supernatural. The supernatural story leaves A LOT of questions unanswered. What exactly are Bradigan’s powersr How did he get themr What is her Who are the “Low Menr” Why are they chasing himr What do they wantr We don’t know, and the unclarity makes it confusing.

Hopkins is really good here, playing a haunted man, but the story doesn’t really drive him forward. His character is just haunted the whole time and doesn’t really change or grow. Also, the child playing young Garfield (Anton Yelchin) is excellent and has a strong chemistry with Hopkins. The movie really rises or falls on his shoulders, and he holds it together well.

So, did I like the movier I think it’s a good film, and worth seeing. It’s well-made, well-acted, and beautifully photographed. The problem is it’s not particularly entertaining or insightful. The insight it has to offer is that “childhood is a wonderful experience, but it’s fleeting.” This isn’t really anything new, having been said for ages in various movies, books, TV programs, and other sources. It’s interesting and noble, but in the end, I’m not sure it’s the great film it so painfully wants to be. It’s better than many films this year, but it’s not (I suspect) going to make my Top 10 for the year, nor do I expect it to burn up the box office, as it’s slowly paced and self-indulgent.

Rating: B-