Category Archives: Fantasy

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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If I wasn’t already in the minority thinking that Peter Jackson was right to turn J. R. R Tolkien’s beloved, timeless classic “The Hobbit” into three films. I definitely asserted myself as an outcast raving over how formidable Jackson’s first outing “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was and how it placed the forthcoming flicks on impeccable footing. Now, we’re a year down the road, and I feel no different about it. It’s been a year between chapters, that’s a long wait, especially for an enthusiast such as myself, but the second chapter of this soon-to-be epic trilogy is finally upon us and I’ve stayed true to my fanboy title. Rushing, nervously and excitedly to my nearest theatre late Thursday night to behold the first showing of Jackson’s next masterpiece, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in IMAX 3D, and not just for Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” teaser either…that’s just a bonus. How’d I feel about the film, you ask…let’s just say, I wasn’t disappointed…

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Now, I know what you’re all thinking, “this guy is supremely biased” and you’re not wrong in concluding that. You may choose to skip my review for a more neutral, honest take and I won’t hold any blame against you. But before you do, consider this. The hard truth of it is, if you can’t enjoy this, you’re probably not a fan of Jackson’s LOTR universe to being with and shouldn’t be judging it in the first place…and I never cheat my readers out of the truth and honesty. If the “The Desolation of Smaug” had flopped, believe me, I’d be the first to let you know. Thankfully however, this isn’t the case. It’s a definite improvement in nearly every aspect while also capitalizing on the errors of its predecessor, not that there were many to begin with. And despite having similar themes, Jackson is able to make the content seem fairly new and exciting. He captures a lot of the magic that made his LOTR trilogy so superlative and successful, which is, quite frankly, the most reassuring aspect for the upcoming finale and is all any good-hearted fan could ask for.

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There’s a lot here that is reminiscent of the LOTR trilogy, but it’ll never be the LOTR, so let’s just get that comparison out of you head right now! If there’s one thing holding back “The Hobbit” trilogy, it’s no fault of its creators, rather, the viewers simply expecting LOTR all over again. That’ll never happen! Honestly, I consider the LOTR trilogy to be cinema’s greatest achievement. I know a lot of you will fight me on that, but that’s just how I feel. Nothing will ever live up to that comparison, so stop holding this series against it. The source material for both series differ greatly, I can’t stress that enough. If you’ve read the series, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. “The Hobbit” is directed to younger readers, it’s more cliched, nostalgic, simple. I wouldn’t go as far as to recommend completely cleansing your thoughts of any relation to the LOTR, simply because you’d miss out on a few awesome easter eggs and shout-outs to the original trilogy. That being said, the less you stack up Jackson’s two trilogies, the greater your experience will be.

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It may end on a bit of a cliff-hanger, which hampers most middle films, but if anything, it only really sets its hooks in deeper. A nagging, stinging, aching anticipation for next year’s finale that is proves useless to try and shake. Nonetheless, let’s stick to what’s available to us now. There’s a lot of new faces presented in this sequel, but of course there’s only one newcomer on everybody’s mind. There’s no question that the highlight of “The Desolation of Smaug” is of course, Smaug himself. It’s all any die-hard Tolkien fanatic has been waiting for since the series was first announced. You’ll be waiting till roughly the last forty minutes of the film’s nearly three hour runtime for Smaug to finally appear, but when he does, you’ll find yourself watching one of the greatest cinematic achievements of 2013.

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Apart from this greedy fire-breather, Orlando Bloom’s Legolas draws a substantial amount of excitement. Jumping weightless amongst the striking scenery of Middle Earth (provided by the always breathtaking New Zealand which Jackson once again utilizes to full effect) and dismissing countless foes. He might be a little more edgy than you remember, but a thrill to watch nonetheless. Luke Evans’ Bard really was a pleasant surprise. Gritty, emotional, and whole-heartedly invested, Evans truly added another complex, impressive layer to this fantastical spectacle. The final addition, Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel still reigned supreme, for me at least. Rarely have I ever become smitten with someone so striking who could also beat me to a bloody pulp at the drop of a hat. A quick shout-out to the cast of dwarves who’ve finally been allowed to expand their emotional range. The serious tone really allows them to show off their depth instead of trotting around uttering witty, cliched catchphrases.

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Smaug is played by the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch, who, aside from giving voice to this monstrous dragon, also provides the facial expressions and movements, much like that of Andy Serkis’s Gollum. Emerging from a baffling pile of riches, it’s the dark, malicious, egotistical voice that first strikes fear into your gut as Smaug himself dances amongst the shadows. Then, when the big reveal hits, you’ll find yourself struggling to pick your jaw off the sticky cinema floor. Agile, gargantuan, and devilishly clever, Cumberbatch’s Smaug is, without question, the biggest “wow” moment of the year. As for Martin Freeman, he’s still the only young Bilbo for me. His reluctant courage and comical movements are inspiring and hilarious. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who could successfully deliver just one of those facets. Sadly, Gandalf takes a bit of a back seat on this one, but it’s Ian McKellan, it’s the role he was born to play. So those brief moments he’s present are just as rewarding and nostalgic.

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“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is another magnificent entry into Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. The visuals are as superlative as ever. Whether it’s Smaug, the bewildering, gloomy Mirkwood and Laketown, or panoramic shots of Middle Earth, Jackson never seems to lose his form. The progression of the story isn’t a strain to endure and keeps the viewer glued with heart-racing action and genuine emotion. The dialogue doesn’t feel so contrived and each character is given more than enough importance to thrive. It still doesn’t rank with the best the LOTR trilogy has to offer, but it isn’t a steep decline either. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” will undoubtedly stand the test of time and is a terrific set-up for next year’s big finale.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: 9 out of 10.

Trance (2013)

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With every release, it appears that Danny Boyle improves upon his unequaled style, superlative storytelling, and multifaceted brutality. Trance is no exception. Composing a profound, resplendent core comprised of obsession, violence, love, and loss. Boyle constructs an intelligent thriller that has the heart and flare to match. The persistent twists and unforeseen turns will prove to be too daunting for some to handle, let alone comprehend. However, if this intimidating, obscure brilliance circumvents your ability to understand, appreciate, and savour Trance. It is probably a safe bet that you’re not a fan of Boyle’s to begin with. Starring the marvellous James McAvoy and the phenomenal Vincent Cassel. Along with an unprecedented performance from Rosario Dawson. Trance’s labyrinthine plot is coordinated with a competent and talented cast. With its seductive soundtrack, hypnotic atmosphere, and unrelenting brutality. Trance is another unmeasurable chapter inducted into the renowned collection of Boyle pictures.

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Simon (McAvoy) is an art auctioneer who, in a desperate attempt to secure a valuable piece during a heist, is hit hard in the head. When he wakes, he is greeted by the group of thieves who tried to steal the painting. The leader of the gang, Franck (Cassel), begins to question Simon while his thugs torture him. Upon learning he has sustained memory loss when he was knocked unconscious, they persuade Simon to attend a hypnotherapist. The one Simon has chosen is named Elizabeth (Dawson).  When the limits of her abilities to detect the location of the lost painting are questioned, the circumstances begin to change. Crossing the line between fantasy and reality, Simon becomes entangled in a life threatening situation.

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A lot like strange dream sequences, the seemingly out of place, yet oddly entertaining shifting and abruptness of Trance induces a euphoria of inconsistencies that surprisingly, interleave themselves quite effectively. Resembling that of a hallucinogenic transcendence. The complexity and strangeness of Trance’s shared sedated state might look dysfunctional, but it is never misplaced. The connected minds weaving in and out of consciousness and hypnosis hooks into the viewers natural, almost instinctive presumptuous mind and pulls it along until what looked plausible is torn down to the improbable. A haunting beauty really. There is a distinctive link between Trance and the viewers mind. As we try to dissect and distinguish what is happening in front of us, again instinctively, we are simultaneously fearful of it because it is unknown. These are major plot points throughout Trance that, to an extent, mirror the viewers struggle. Rarely do we see a film that not only sucks the viewer in, but also attaches itself to the thought process.

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One of the more respectable traits in Boyle’s approach and direction is his unsurpassed style that bursts forth from the screen. Every so often in Trance, a scene unveils itself from the cluster of emotion and abstraction that the viewer can’t help but fixate on. These sequences contain some sort of ambient, cosmic musical composition swiftly encompassing all senses while an accurate depiction of a harmonious or chaotic event causes the viewer to question the reality of it all. Throughout all of Boyle’s works, there is no shortage of occurrences similar to those radiating from Trance.

Another fine aspect fused into Trance is its very elemental and personal motives. Rather than making a film directly focused on abstract notions and deranged visuals. The blueprint for Trance’s foundation is not flimsy. Most science fiction or fantasy thrillers focus too much attention on the hypothetical and not the philosophical. Trance has equal heart and brains, neither is superior to the other.

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I hate to go into a film with assumptions. But with Trance’s cast, it’s difficult not to expect concrete performances. However, a cast with this much experience and strength, its almost a foregone conclusion they’ll deliver. Beginning with James McAvoy, lets assess the three leads. It’s quite the seldom spectacle to see an actor with such a diversified repertoire, which McAvoy possesses. He did not hold back anything for Trance. Funny, enraged, melancholic, and diabolical, McAvoy left everything on the table. Following in similar fashion is Vincent Cassel, who snakes his way around the viewers opinionated mind. You can never quite get a read on him, which makes it all the more effective. Finally, the broad and brave Rosario Dawson. Leaving all components of her brilliance exasperated, literally, Dawson is only upstaged by the boundless performance from McAvoy.

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For the record, without a doubt, Trance has one of the best original scores of 2013 to date. I can already tell from acquaintances opinions and reviews that Trance is misunderstood and unappreciated in its own time. If you can, separate yourself from anything regarding Trance (except my review obviously, because my opinions are awesome) and just watch it and judge for yourself.

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Intelligent, grounded, and utterly violent. Trance is a must see for Boyle fans and cinema enthusiasts alike.

Trance: 8.5 out of 10.

Jurassic Park 3D (2013)

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Part two of my doubleheader this weekend at the cinema was the 3D re-release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Check out the review for the first part of the doubleheader starring Evil Dead.

I was fortunate enough to see Jurassic Park in its IMAX 3D format this past weekend. If that isn’t excessively decadent, I don’t know what is. They certainly spared no expense in re-formatting Jurassic Park in 3D.The theatre was packed and the energy in the room filled my gut with excitement. I swear I regained some faith in humanity when I noticed that parents were bringing their young ones to watch it. Opening their fresh, innocent minds to the wondrous world of cinema, its enough to break your heart. All right, hold on. I may be overdoing it a bit, but come on, it’s Jurassic Park, a classic. To know that it’s still relevant and that generation after generation will be exposed to this masterpiece is gratifying.

Unless you’ve been living under a petrified rock for the last 20 years. You’ll know that Jurassic Park is directed by the inspiring, brilliant, unmatchable Steven Spielberg and features incomparable performances from Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, and Jeff Goldblum. With Jurassic Park, Spielberg perhaps squeezes the last drop of wonder and amazement from our planet and presents it in all of its splendour for the masses to see. Its soundtrack is arguably one of the most recognized film scores ever, composed by none other than the supremely talented John Williams. Provoking strong arguments regarding the current state and future of science, the limit of merchandising, and the extinction of manual labour. Jurassic Park is as equally intelligent as it is fantastical.

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Dr. Grant (Neill) and Dr. Sattler (Dern) are coaxed into attending a weekend on the island is Isla Nublar by John Hammond (Attenborough), the CEO of InGen. Accompanying them on their journey is Dr. Malcolm (Goldblum) and Donald Gennaro, a lawyer. Once they arrive at the island, it is revealed to them that it is a biological zoo of sorts that houses genetically engineered dinosaurs. The reason for their visit is for Mr. Hammond to obtain endorsements on the safety and reality of his park which is called into question after an employee is killed by one of the dinosaurs. Another of InGen’s employees is bribed into providing a rival company with embryos of the dinosaurs. When the power and security is shut down to retrieve the embryos, the dinosaurs begin to unleash their fury on the park and the visitors.

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I honestly take it to heart how my interpretations and understanding of Jurassic Park evolved as I grew. As a kid, the underlying messages and themes don’t really resonate with you, but as you mature, so do your opinions. Jurassic Park deals with some serious topics, such as cloning and merchandising. The scene I feel best exemplifies Jurassic Park’s social and political undertakings is when Malcolm and Hammond discuss the act of discovery. Grant and Sattler also contribute to the conversation, but the back and forth between Malcolm and Hammond is the core. The inclusion of the lawyer I think is elegantly satirical.

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It is actually quite miraculous how the 20 year old animatronics still stand up today. The Tyrannosaur never looked better. Grappling with the tour jeep, reeking havoc amongst the park, tearing guests apart, it’s stunning. It’s tough to find a fault in the film. There might be some factual inconsistencies in the design and mechanisms of the animatronic dinosaurs, but they are easy to overlook considering their authentic look and feel. Taking into account the sheer inventiveness and vastness of Jurassic Park, let alone the animatronics and script, it’s easy to appreciate Spielberg’s craft. The originality and intelligence in Spielberg’s direction and Crichton’s novel, on which the film was based, is unmatched.

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When the tears begin to trickle down Dern’s face as she stares into the eyes of the sick triceratops, it conjures up deep feelings of resentment and endearment, it chokes you up. The same emotion can be felt when Neill takes his first look at the herds of dinosaurs drinking from a small lake. Their performances reflect the unbearable anxiousness and ferocious excitement that exude from their characters inner child, which is what I feel makes Jurassic Park such a universally understood and cherished film. Everyone wants their hopes and dreams to come to fruition and when we witness it happen to others, it trembles our very bones. Attenborough mirrors this very aspiration at several moments in the film. Goldblum embraces chaos theory and displaces it throughout his performance. Whether he annoys you or makes you chuckle, their is no arguing with his effectiveness.

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Jurassic Park has the smarts, looks, and personality. The kind of film you’d take home to show off to your friends, just joking. All kidding aside, Jurassic Park is the perfect potent blend of terror, intrigue, and brilliance.

Jurassic Park IMAX 3D: 10 out of 10.

Also guys, don’t forget to check out the top 10 films of 2012 and the week #3 discussion board!

Eraserhead (1977)

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The disturbing, controversial full length feature debut from David Lynch, Eraserhead is a grim depiction of unprepared, irresponsible adults struggling with sudden parenthood. Mixing elements of fantasy and horror, Lynch laid out his path of obscure filmmaking from the get go. Resembling the style of noir films, Eraserhead’s ominous score and abrupt, terrifying visions will leave your heart beating out of your chest. Eraserhead is relentlessly unnerving and will still scare you half to death 36 years after its initial release. Featuring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, and a terribly deformed infant, Eraserhead’s cast knows how to chill the viewers very bones. I’ll issue a warning for this one. If you view it unprepared like I first did, it will definitely run up the electricity bill (because you’ll sleep with the lights on…get it?).

Henry (Nance) lives in what appears to be an abandoned apartment building surrounded by an industrial jungle. The mechanisms of these factories continually make defining sounds and the encompassing area appears to be an apocalyptic wasteland. Attending a bizarre dinner with his girlfriend Mary (Stewart), Henry receives some troubling news. She has bore a child prematurely and the infant is severely deformed. Returning home with the creature, Henry and his girlfriend’s relationship begins to fall apart due to the infants incessant needs. Mary leaves Henry to tend for the baby on his own. During his secluded time with the infant, Henry begins to hallucinate unsettling visions and behave strangely.

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For me, I saw Alien before Eraserhead even though it was released two years before it. The reason I bring it up is while watching Eraserhead, it reminded me a great deal of the first time I saw Alien. Both similarly have a deformed, bloody and puss riddled creature that screeches, but it’s more to do with the calm, often uneventful pace that lulls you into a false sense of safety. Then when you’re just getting comfortable, the film sends you into shock and you’re struggling to peel your eyelids apart. The mounting tension, apparent weirdness, and abominating visuals of Eraserhead are so well interleaved, each one feeds off the previous to create genuine fright. Half of the time you don’t even know why you’re scared, you just can’t decipher or connect with what’s on screen and it leaves you feeling abandoned and terrified. Lynch and Nance are so deeply on the same page that they’re getting paper cuts. Nance’s portrayal of a normal man beautifully struggling with his own mortality and passiveness is infectious. Lynch’s early form is much like that of Luis Bunuel but he is able to make this surrealist picture his own with a truly original and relatable tale at the films core. Eraserhead is a whole body workout and should be thoroughly prepared for before you trifle with it and wake the beast.

Eraserhead: 8.5 out of 10.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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If there is one thing Peter Jackson does better than anyone else, it’s large scale cinema. After concurring the Lord of the Rings trilogy in impeccable fashion, Jackson shifted his gaze to an ambitious remake of the 1933 classic, King Kong. Now, his much anticipated journey through another of J.R.R Tolkien’s masterpieces, The Hobbit, is just beginning. The first chapter in his imaginative trilogy, Jackson picks up right where he left off in the Lord of the Rings. This kind, bold, and immense outing reaffirms Jackson’s ability to handle delicate literature with charisma and flare while still being able to extract the emotion and personality needed to completely capture the audience. Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a spectacle to behold.

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A Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is smoking, off in thought when he is approached by a tall, intimidating figure.  The cloaked man is revealed to be Gandalf the Grey (McKellen) who urges Mr. Baggins to partake in an adventure. Later, famished and about to sit for dinner, Bilbo is interrupted by the intrusion of a group of dwarves. Reluctantly willing to accompany the group on its journey to the lonely mountain. Bilbo is thrust into some new, exciting experiences while others are deathly and life altering. Continuing their quest, the group encounters all sorts of creatures, good and evil and begin to understand and trust one another.

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Tapping into a familiar theme from the Lord of the Rings, Jackson very strongly states that no matter how small the detail or creature, the impact is still enormous. Not letting gigantic boxing mountains or the trembling inducing beauty of New Zealand overshadow the heart of the story, Jackson completes another outstanding return to Middle Earth. While most were surprised to hear that Martin Freeman would take the reigns of young Bilbo Baggins. I, after viewing Mr. Freeman countless times in the revamped Sherlock Holmes series alongside Benedict Cumberbatch (also appearing in the Hobbit trilogy), knew the role was in capable hands. What can I say? Freeman exudes the quaint, laziness lifestyle of Bilbo perfectly, as well as the quiet lust for adventure deep inside. Sir Ian McKellen returns to top form as Gandalf while Richard Armitage immerses himself along with the other dwarf cast into tough, unrecognizable brothers.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey stacks up well against the Fellowship of the Ring as great introductory films into their respected trilogies.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 8.5 out of 10.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

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Extraordinarily complex and visually groundbreaking, with Cloud Atlas less may have done more, but there is no arguing the craft on display here. Watching Cloud Atlas you can’t help but get the feeling you bit off more than you could chew. However, when you’re able to swallow and digest, the brief asphyxiation doesn’t bother you. Directed by the flashy minds behind the Matrix and Perfume, the Wachowski’s and Tykwer pay their respects to the old saying, go big or go home. Starring Tom Hanks (Catch Me if You Can), Halle Berry (X-Men), Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings trilogy), and Ben Whishaw (Perfume), Cloud Atlas’s intensity has the cast to match. Covering vast periods of time and stretching across space, Cloud Atlas is a poetic summary of life.

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Starting with primitive civilizations and working its way through time all the way to the remarkably advanced future, Cloud Atlas entwines existence regardless of perceived time. Following the stories of six people as their souls transfer through life and death being reincarnated again and again. Cloud Atlas specifically focuses on the effects each person has on one another and the illusion that is chance. Discarding chance and freak occurrences for fate and destiny, Cloud Atlas is based upon influence and how everyone and everything is connected.

Adapted to the screen from David Mitchell’s novel of the same title, Cloud Atlas was once thought to be un-filmable. Containing intertwining characters that cover historic periods of time while also predicting the future, Cloud Atlas spans the globe for locations and settings. It breaks the bank bringing to life and prepping decadent costumes to render its all star cast unrecognizable. This film would prove to be a challenge for any director, let alone three. The Wachowski’s and Tykwer do their best but their all just isn’t enough to tackle Cloud Atlas in its illimitability. There is no fault placed upon any of its cast or directors, Cloud Atlas is simply to broad and intricate to adapt faultlessly. Ben Whishaw breaks from the shadows and provides the films best performance while Weaving and Hanks bring their usual muster and brightness. For those who haven’t read the book, the film will require multiple viewings in order to fully comprehend. Even for those who have read the story, the films mass resembles that of a black hole and is too much to take in if you plan on just one viewing. Cloud Atlas is intriguing, intelligent, and a sight to see.

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Cloud Atlas: 7.5 out of 10.