Tuesday, August 27, 2013


(April 1979, U.S.)

If you go back in time on my blog and look up my post for the 1979 film version of DRACULA, you'll note that I pointed out how the year 1979 seemed the year of the vampire on screen and on television (look it up for yourself to see what I'm talking about). The art of spoof was not spared for Bram Stoker's legendary character, either. Unlike Mel Brooks' horrible screen swan song of DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT (1995), actor George Hamilton brings an irresistible charm and wit to the great Count without forgetting the ridiculous and the outrageous, as well. And quite frankly, Arte Johnson as the ever-eccentric, bug-eating Renfield is definitely worth your time and attention.

So as modern times would have it, LOVE AT FIRST BITE brings Dracula to New York City during the era of disco and excessive crime in the streets; in short, it's 1979, people! While Dracula is learning that America contains such modern wonders as hearses and blood banks, he also proceeds to suffer the general ego-crushing that comes from modern life in the Big Apple as he romantically pursues flaky fashion model Cindy Sondheim (played by Susan Saint James), whom he has admired from afar and believes to be the current reincarnation of his true love (an earlier being named Mina Harker that any Dracula lover knows from the original book and films). Dracula is ineptly pursued in turn by Sondheim's psychiatrist and quasi-boyfriend Jeffrey Rosenberg (played by Richard Benjamin). Jeffrey, as it turns out, is the grandson of Dracula's old nemesis Van Helsing but changed his name to Rosenberg "for professional reasons". Rosenberg's numerous methods to combat Dracula - mirrors, garlic, the Jewish Star of David (which he accidentally uses instead of the necessary crucifix) and hypnosis - are easily averted by the Count. He also, subsequently, tries to shoot him with three silver bullets, but Dracula remains unscathed, patiently explaining that this works only on werewolves. Yes, it would seem that Rosenberg just hasn't done his homework on how to kill a vampire, has he? His increasingly erratic actions against Dracula have put Dracula in the unique position of being the good guy in this film. And why not? He's funny and we enjoy the crazy antics. So why wouldn't we root for him and his lady love in the end, even if she does end up a flying bat of the night just like the Count? And hey, keep a watchful eye out for cameo roles by Mr. and Mrs. George Jefferson themselves!

As a comedy of spoof, the film is rather straightforward and doesn't have any pretensions at all and serves as a simple hodgepodge of flat one-liners and graceless slapstick without being stupid or overdone, as in the above mentioned Mel Brooks Dracula spoof! I saw this film with my family twice in the theaters (we sat for it a second time back when you could still do that!) and it was the first time I'd ever heard the classic disco song "I Love the Nightlife" by Alicia Bridges. Sadly, though, for some unknown reason, this song is substituted by a different disco song during Dracula's disco dance scene on the DVD. Why can't the studios just leave films alone and as they originally were at the time of their release??

Favorite line or dialogue:

Count Dracula (to the howling werewolves beyond): "Children of the night...SHUT UP!"

Sunday, August 25, 2013


(June 1975, U.S.)

This never occurred to me until just right now, but Woody Allen's LOVE AND DEATH was released in movie theaters just a mere ten days before Steven Spielberg's blockbuster film of JAWS. Almost makes you wonder if perhaps Allen's funniest film of all time might have fared better at the box office had the great white shark not blown him out of the water. Who knows.

You noticed that I've immediately called LOVE AND DEATH Woody Allen's funniest film of all time. I stand by that remark. Does that make it my favorite Woody Allen film of all time? Not necessarily. That honor I continue to give to ANNIE HALL (1977). To consider Allen's best film, though, probably depends on which era and period of his film making career you're considering. For me, ANNIE HALL embodies all elements of Allen's wit, his cynicism, his neurosis, his paranoia and his downright insanity. LOVE AND DEATH simply embodies the outrageous insanity that was Allen's true funny period alongside other comic film genius such as Mel Brooks and Groucho Marx. Following previous hits such as BANANAS (1971) and SLEEPER (1973), this film is a comical satire on Russian literature starring Allen and Diane Keaton (his greatest co-star ever, in my opinion) as Boris and Sonja, respectively, Russians living during the Napoleonic Era who engage in mock-serious philosophical debates. When Napoleon Bonaparte invades Austria during the Napoleonic Wars, Boris Grushenko (Allen), a coward and pacifist scholar, is forced to enlist in the Russian Army. Desperate and disappointed after hearing the news that his cousin Sonja (Keaton) is to wed a herring merchant, he inadvertently and rather accidentally becomes a war hero. He returns and marries the recently-widowed Sonja, who doesn't want to marry him, but promises him that she will when she thinks that he is about to be killed in a duel to the death. Their marriage is filled with philosophical debates, and no money. Their life together is interrupted when Napoleon invades the Russian Empire. Boris wants to flee but his rather narcissistic wife, angered that the invasion will interfere with their plans to finally start a family, conceives a plot to assassinate Napoleon at his headquarters in Moscow. Boris and Sonja debate the matter (as usual) with some degree of bullshit philosophical double-talk, and Boris reluctantly goes along with it. In an outrageous slapstick manner than only the nervous action of a young Woody Allen can deliver, they ultimately fail to kill Napoleon and Sonja escapes arrest while Boris is executed, despite being told by a vision that he will be pardoned. In other words, he gets screwed!

Much of Allen's humor in LOVE AND DEATH is straightforward; other jokes rely on the filmgoer's awareness of classic literature or contemporary European cinema. For example, the final shot of Keaton is a reference to Ingmar Bergman's film PERSONA (a 1966 film I haven't actually seen yet). The sequence with the stone lions is a parody of Sergei Eisenstein's silent film BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925), while the Russian battle against Napoleon's army heavily parodies the same film's "Odessa steps" sequence. Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957) is parodied during the climax when Boris meets "Death" upon his execution. And if you're a fan of David Lean's DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965), you're likely to see parodied elements of that, as well. Ultimately, it's all parody and for the Woody Allen film who simply loves a great laugh, it's all good! Hell, it's all great! It even temporarily cheered me up while I was watching it during a time I was real pissed off about something. You see? The power of laughter!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Boris Grushenko: "And he that hath clean hands and a pure heart is okay in my book! But he that, that fools around with, with barnyard animals has gotta be watched! Thank you."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


(October 2003, U.S.)

In simply gazing at the movie poster of LOST IN TRANSLATION for a long enough period of time and staring at Bill Murray's face, you get an immediate sense of this man's psyche. First, it's pretty obvious that the poor man can't sleep a wink! Further exploration into the film reveals themes of loneliness, existential ennui, and severe culture shock against the backdrop of a modern Japanese city. I can only say that I know how the man feels. I've sat up like that many-a-times in the middle of the night trying to figure out just what the hell was going on in my life, in the lives of people around me and how in the world I was ever going to get back to sleep before that damn alarm clock wakes me up to face another day!

Sophia Coppola's (daughter of Francis Ford) second feature revolves around an aging actor named Bob Harris (played by Murray) and a recent college graduate named Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson) who develop a rapport after a chance meeting in a Tokyo hotel. Both can't sleep and both aren't particularly thrilled to be in Tokyo for their own reasons. Bob had an illustrious film career once, back in the 1970s, and seems to be reduced now to filming an advertisement to plug a popular Japanese whisky. Charlotte is left behind day after day while her husband tends to his job as a photographer. While she's unsure of her marriage after only two years, Bob's own twenty-five year marriage is tired and lacking in romance as he goes through a rather predictable midlife crisis. It's very easy for these two lost and lonely people to find each other amidst the bright lights and craziness of the city around. Perhaps it's even more poetic that the two of them hardly seem that interested in pursuing any romantic notions between them. The message of friendship as a saving grace for these people becomes clear. By the time the two of them are saying goodbye by the end of the film, it's very easy and tempting to simply brush off the entire relationship they've shared as only a passing trivial event. Then, however, at the last moment that is rather filled with cliché, Bob jumps out of his taxi on the way to the airport to find Charlotte one more time to offer a more meaningful farewell. In a particularly interesting final moment, Bob embraces Charlotte and whispers something that is substantially inaudible to the audience in her ear. What don't know what he said to her, but she's crying, nonetheless. It's admittedly frustrating not to know, yet it's also intriguing to leave the departing friends with a sense of ambiguity. It would seem that sometimes the feeling of the unknown and the unanswered can work very well.

In addition to the meaning and detail lost in much of the Japanese translation in the film, the two central characters in the film are also lost in other ways. On a basic level, they're lost in the alien Japanese culture. But in addition to that, they're lost in their own lives and relationships, a feeling, amplified by their displaced location, that inevitably leads to their blossoming friendship and growing connection with one another. It's a somewhat romantic movie about two characters that have moments of connection in a story that also offers negative perspectives of dating, romance, sex and love. It's sad, it's sweet and thanks to Bill Murray's ongoing film character and persona, funny in just the right places. And hey, I personally have no complaint with a film that opens on Scarlett Johansson's perfectly-sculpted ass behind her pretty pink panties! No, nothing wrong with that at all...

Thanks for that, Sophia!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Photographer: "Are you drinking, no?"
Bob: "Am I drinking? As soon as I'm done."

Friday, August 16, 2013


(March 1937, U.S.)

One of the slightly less interesting things about discovering classic black and white films in your adulthood is suddenly realizing the inadvertent manner in which you may have been exposed to them as a child. Here's what I mean - when I was a kid, there was this particular episode of THE FLINTSTONES in which Fred and Barney's family share some of their camping trip time with the Bedrock scouts at a place called "Shangri-La-De-Da" Valley. Of course, as a kid, that sort of homage reference meant nothing to me. Only when I finally saw Frank Capra's LOST HORIZON did I finally get the little joke. Well...ha, bloody, ha!

This is a very spiritual film about not only finding one's self but finding peace and serenity in a part of the world seemingly cut off from the rest of our violent society. To make that point right from the beginning, we're introduced to a time of war during occupied China in 1935. Writer, soldier and foreign diplomat Robert Conway (played by Ronald Colman), before returning to England to become the new Foreign Secretary, has one last task to perform in rescuing 90 Westerners in the city of Baskul. He flies out with the last few evacuees, just ahead of armed revolutionaries. On board the plane, unbeknownst to all the passengers, the pilot has been replaced and their aircraft has been secretly hijacked. Eventually running out of fuel, it crashes deep in the Himalayan Mountains, killing their abductor. The group is miraculously rescued by Chang (played by H.B. Warner) and his men and taken to what is known as Shangri-La, an idyllic valley sheltered from the bitter cold. The contented inhabitants of this valley are led by their mysterious High Lama (played by Sam Jaffe) who is well over 200 years old. Greed, famine, crime, misery and despair simply do not exist in the Shangri-La. While Robert Conway is very quick and eager to adapt to its physical and spiritual symbols of peace and goodness, other in the group, including his own brother, are very anxious to treat the entire event as if they're being kept their against their will and only wish to get back to the civilization they're aware of. This is probably considered a traditional paradox in the story, otherwise how interesting would it be if everyone simply adapted to the norms of their new society. However, it can actually be pleasing to the viewer to watch slowly as some of these characters come around eventually and replace their original cynicism and suspicions with a more embracing attitude toward the beauty of Shangri-La that surrounds them.

In keeping with the point that I just made, the female character of the prostitute Gloria Stone (played by Isabel Jewell) who's seemingly terminal with some sort of illness at the beginning of the film and is just downright nasty to everyone around her. Later in the film, she not only warms up to her new surroundings, but appears to be slowly recovering from her illness, presumably from the magic and power of Shangri-La. I can't help but wonder if this concept from LOST HORIZON was not later adapted for the ABC-TV series LOST. Those who watched the show know that there were several characters who arrived at the mysterious island either sick or incapacitated, only to later discover that they could walk again and that they were no longer dying. I suppose if you're going to copy somebody, the great Frank Capra is about as good as anyone else.

At its best, LOST HORIZON can be called a grand adventure film that is beautifully photographed, magnificently staged and played out. For this particular golden era of Hollywood film making, there's no denying the great opulence of the production, the impressiveness of the sets, the richness of the costuming and the satisfying attention to the small and large details of the story. There are screen moments that are swift, vivid and brilliantly achieved. One may consider the final conclusion of the film a bit disappointing, but perhaps that's inescapable, for there can be no truly satisfying end to any elaborate fantasy we watch on the big screen, can there? Frank Capra may be guilty of one or two directorial clichés, but otherwise it's one of the best films of his outstanding career. The film (unquestionably) has some of the best black and white photography and sets you're likely to see in the history of classic cinema outside of an epic Cecil B. Demille film. Here's a sample...

Finally, for those of you who have only managed to experience Capra through the eyes of repeated stars like Gary Cooper and James Stewart, by all means, check out this one! These films are called CLASSICS for a reason!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Lord Gainsford: "Gentlemen, I give you a toast. Here's my hope that Robert Conway will find his Shangri-La. Here's my hope that we all find our Shangri-La."

Mine's in the Hamptons!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


(January 1997, U.S.)

Creepy...spooky...freaky...surreal...psychological...sick...choose any of these adjectives and you're very likely describing the mind of film maker David Lynch. If you're a true fan, then just about anything this man puts on film is a work of genius, even the ones that don't do well with audiences and critics, like TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992). But hey, what do these people know anyway?? After that film, I and the rest of his following had to wait five long years before he made another film. LOST HIGHWAY, like its predecessor, did not do very well upon release and for the life of me, I can't figure out why! Was it too hard to follow? Well, to that I say, fuck you, man up and see it twice or three times if you need extra time to understand an artist's true screen vision! I paid to see it twice in 1997 and it only helped to enrich the experience of it all, and yes, I understood it's content just a little better.

LOST HIGHWAY is (technically) a psychological thriller film with elements of neo-noir but it's important to keep an open mind on how it comes off on screen. David Lynch has never officially made a horror film before, but there are just too many incredibly creepy and spooky episodes and moments in this film to not recognize it as one of the most haunting and frightening films I've ever seen. Bill Pullman (fresh off of INDEPENDENCE DAY as the President of the United States) is in a very different role as saxophone player Fred Madison who just may not be the person he seems. The questionable adulteress actions of his wife Renee (played by Patricia Arquette) is stroking his suspicions and his inner jealous rage. Add to this the fact that the married couple is repeatedly receiving strange videotapes that show their house being filmed (outside and inside) as well as them asleep in their beds. A particular close shot of Renee's mouth telling the police, "Someone broke into our house and taped us!" is enough to provoke the proper appreciation of such an act taking place in one's home. Like many of Lynch's films, there's hardly ever a true cohesive structure and we're taken through a world that seems part dream-like and contains the possibility of two alternate realities. Who is Fred Madison, really and does he really turn into a completely different man known as Pete Dayton (played by Balthazar Getty) when he's under extreme and painful duress of (maybe) having killed his wife in a jealous rage? Who is Renee, really, and does she really exist also as the hot, young, piece-of-ass-with-great-looking-tits...

...blonde lover of Pete Dayton and also the mistress of very hot-tempered gangster known only as Mr. Eddy? Is Mr. Eddy really the man known as Dick Laurent? This last question is important because it's the message of "Dick Laurent is dead" that opens and closes LOST HIGHWAY and Fred Madison is behind it, one way and the other. And finally, who is the very feaky "mystery man" in black played by Robert Blake (the last of the remaining OUR GANG kids, I believe)??

To truly appreciate the art of David Lynch is to understand that there are always questions and the answers may not always be clear. LOST HIGHWAY, as well as the work of Lynch, is often about two worlds that come together in incomprehensible conflict. It happens here and it happened again with the films that followed, MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) and INLAND EMPIRE (2007). This film's bipartite structure serves to exploit the opposition of two different horrors: the phantasmatic horror of the nightmarish noir universe of perverse sex, betrayal, and murder, and the (perhaps a whole lot more unsettling) despair of our drab and alienated daily life of impotence and distrust of one's partner in life. Yes, it's all hard to comprehend when you're seeing it for the first time in the movie theater, but knowing full well that you're about to sit down and experience the mind of David Lynch, would you really expect anything different?? Critics and dumb moviegoers should probably be forced to sit through it and watch it again so they don't walk away with the wrong (yes, I said WRONG) and premature reaction of unfortunate negativity. As a matter of fact, upon its release, Siskel & Ebert (both R.I.P.) gave the film "two thumbs down" and Lynch decided to use this to his advantage by claiming it was "two good reasons to go and see LOST HIGHWAY" and actually used the thumbs down in newspaper ads. I don't know if it worked, but who cares! I loved this film! It's one of his best films alongside BLUE VELVET and MULHOLLAND DR.!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Mystery Man: "We've met before, haven't we."
Fred Madison: "I don't think so. Where was it you think we met?"
Mystery Man: "At your house. Don't you remember?"
Fred: "No. No, I don't. Are you sure?"
Mystery Man: "Of course. As a matter of fact, I'm there right now."
Fred: "What do you mean? You're where right now?"
Mystery Man: "At your house."
Fred: "That's fucking crazy, man!"
Mystery Man (takes out a cell phone): "Call me. Dial your number. Go ahead."
(Fred dials the number and the Mystery Man answers)
Mystery Man: (over the phone): "I told you I was here."
Fred: "How'd you do that?"
Mystery Man: "Ask me."
Fred: (angrily into the phone) "How did you get inside my house?"
Mystery Man: "You invited me. It is not my custom to go where I am not wanted."
Fred: "Who are you?"
Mystery Man (voice): "Give me back my phone."
Mystery Man: "It's been a pleasure talking to you."

Friday, August 9, 2013


(December 2003, U.S.)

Saving the best for last doesn't always work for me. It didn't work with the original STAR WARS trilogy, it didn't work with BACK TO THE FUTURE, it didn't work with INDIANA JONES, nor has it worked with countless other movie sagas. Somehow, though, Peter Jackson has made it work for the final chapter of the LORD OF THE RINGS saga. Not only is this final volume in true epic form for its action and suspense, but the emotional character development comes full throttle and we're left with a journey that has taken three years and nearly nine hours of film time to complete. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw it, too, because they finally gave the big one to THE RETURN OF THE KING.

And so now, as Sauron launches the final stages of his conquest of Middle-earth, Gandalf the Wizard and Théoden King of Rohan rally their forces to help defend Gondor's capital Minas Tirith from the looming threat. Aragorn (played by Viggo Mortensen, just in case you forgot) finally claims the throne of Gondor and, with the aid of Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf summons the army of the Dead (a particularly awesome visual battle sequence, I might add) to help him defeat Sauron. Take a look at a sample of these visuals...

Ultimately, though, even with the full strength of arms, they realize they cannot win; so it comes down to the mighty hero Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, to bear the burden of the Ring and deal with the treachery of Gollum who seeks the Ring (his "precious") for himself. After the long and tireless journey they finally arrive in the dangerous lands of Mordor, seeking to destroy the "One Ring to Rule Them All" in the place where it was first created, the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. And of course, just when we think that Frodo and Sam are probably going to die after having saved Middle-Earth, they're rescuied from the rising lava by Eagles, led by Gandalf. In the aftermath, Aragorn is crowned King, heralding a new age of peace, and marries Arwen (Liv Tyler) while the four hero hobbits are bowed to by all of Gondor for their miraculous and courageous efforts. In an epilogue that I find very touching, the four Hobbits return home to the Shire, where Sam marries his childhood sweetheart and four years later, Frodo leaves Middle-earth for the Undying Lands, leaving his account of their awesome quest to Sam to write down.

(by the way, people, I'll be the first to confess that sometimes I have to look a lot of this shit up because I'm just not enough of a fantasy movie geek to have all these facts and characters memorized!)

THE RETURN OF THE KING is visually breathtaking and emotionally powerful and moving conclusion to the great trilogy. I point direct example to the emotional sequences, particularly at the end when four hobbits who have shared so much adventure and friendship are forced to say goodbye to each other at the end when Frodo leaves the Shire. As a grown man, I'm not particularly touched too often by sadness and emotions on screen, but I'll be damned if I didn't get just a little chocked up watching such an emotional and tearful goodbye. Yes, they're just little Hobbits, but they clearly love each other so much, and it's just...just...(sniffle, sniffle).

Well, having just completed what seemed like endless hours of LORD OF THE RINGS, you'd think I was ready to hang up the fantasy genre for a while due to a cinematic burnout of the subject. Not so! Now I'm ready to rent THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) and torture myself just a little more. Sorry I won't be able to tell you what I thought of it. I passed the letter 'H' some time ago.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2003. It was the first time a film had ever taken that high honor since THE GODFATHER-PART II (1974).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Sam: "Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields...and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?"
Frodo: "No, Sam. I can't recall the taste of food...nor the sound of water...nor the touch of grass. I'm...naked in the dark, with nothing, no veil...between me...and the wheel of fire! I can see him...with my waking eyes! '
Sam: "Then let us be rid of it...once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can't carry it for you...but I can carry YOU!"

True friendship is a special thing, indeed!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


(December 2002, U.S.)

Before we get into the second chapter of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, let's start off with a little story that goes something like this...

"Twas the night before Christmas in the year Two Thousand Two and all through New York City, the movie theaters were filled with lots of Jews!
Eric F. and his wife decided to spend the evening seeing THE TWO TOWERS, and they decided to wait until the late night hours!
Ignorant presumption called for the theater that night to be empty and quiet, but little did Eric F. know there'd be a crowd large enough to constitute a riot!
To assume the theater would be a pleasant experience that night was something Eric F. had truly trusted, however instead he ended up angry, upset and totally disgusted!"
They ended up sitting in the very last row of the theater room and all through the film, Eric F. felt a dreaded sense of doom!
He had to contend with the tall man in front of him and his real big head, and all through the film Eric F. wished this man was dead!
Alas, this clearly seemed a night where Eric F. was royally fucked, so as a result he concluded that THE TWO TOWERS sucked!"

Okay, I'm not exactly a pro at poetry or rhyming, but if you all don't mind, I'll really like give myself a pat on the back for that one! And it's a true story, too, people! You see, sometimes your moviegoing experience can go so horribly wrong that you're simply determined to hate whatever film you're watching, even if it doesn't deserve such a negative reaction. Such was the case with me and THE TWO TOWERS on Christmas Eve 2002. The film wouldn't get a fair shot with me until it was released on DVD months later. By then I'd calmed down considerably and looked at the film again with a fresh pair of eyes in the privacy of my own living room. In other words, your entire trilogy is safe with me, Mr. Jackson!

Continuing the plot of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, the film intercuts three storylines. Frodo and Sam continue their journey towards Mordor to destroy the "One Ring to Rule Them All", meeting and joined by Gollum (played with real precision by Andy Serkis), the ring's former owner who is also being slowly destroyed by the ring as he seeks to ultimately possess it. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli come to the war-torn nation of Rohan and are reunited with the resurrected Gandalf (I'm still not exactly clear on how that happened, but there are some things I don't try to completely understand because I'm just not that much of a fantasy geek!), before fighting at the ultimate Battle of Helm's Deep. Meanwhile, the two hobbits Merry and Pippin escape capture from the Orcs in the previous story and meet Treebeard the Ent, and help to plan an attack on Isengard. By the end of the film, Gandalf remarks that Sauron will seek retribution for Saruman's defeat, stating that hope now rests with our hobbit heroes Frodo and Sam. At that same moment, Gollum vows to reclaim the Ring (his "precious") by killing Frodo and Sam even as he deceives them by serving as their guide to Mount Doom of Mordor.

While THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS sets the story and events in motion, THE TWO TOWERS now takes this journey head-on into danger and the action-packed conflict of good versus evil. The Battle of Helm's Deep is an especially thrilling screen battle with its sweeping cinematography against the backdrop of vast, open spaces. There are moments you can tell when Peter Jackson has filmed on location in New Zealand and the results are breathtaking. However, despite all its good points and having gotten over my terrible evening of Christmas Eve 2002, I won't claim that this film is not without irritations. First of all, despite his true importance to the entire saga, their are times I found Gollum more annoying than the dreaded Jar Jar Binks of THE PHANTOM MENACE! I mean, seriously, how many times can one listen to this creature say "MY PRECIOUS!" without cracking a few knuckles?? And watching him eat raw fish is no picnic, either. Look at what I mean...

I also wasn't too particularly thrilled with the slow pace of the talking trees carrying Merry and Pippin through much of the film. But then again, maybe there are some things I just don't get when it comes to J.R.R. Tolkien. Still, THE TWO TOWERS balances spectacular screen action with emotional storytelling, leaving fans both wholly satisfied and very eager for the final chapter in the saga to hit the theaters just one year later.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Frodo: "I can't do this, Sam."
Sam: "I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something."
Frodo: "What are we holding onto, Sam?"
Sam: "That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo...and it's worth fighting for."

(Boy, even a hard-ass cynic like myself can feel touched by that one!)

Sunday, August 4, 2013


(December 2001, U.S.)

Having finally arrived at one of the most popular franchises in film history, and I might add, the first complete group of franchise films I'm discussing since the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy some years ago, I can't help but feel a strong sense of challenge in that I never do quite feel completely up to the task of intelligently discussing films of fantasy or those that are comic book-based; in other words, it's safe to say that I suffer from a sever shortage of "inner geekness". Someone who truly know his or her J.R.R. Tolkien subject matters could (and would!) probably do these film a lot more justice than someone like myself who takes and accepts them at pure entertainment face value. Having opened with these words, I'm suddenly reminded of a funny story about an episode of FRIENDS in which Ross asks Joey in amazement, "Didn't you ever read Lord of the Rings in high school?", to which Joey replies, "No, Ross, I had SEX in high school!" Well, I can understand how Joey feels...sort of. You see, I never read LORD OF THE RINGS in high school either and I spent all four of those years TRYING to have sex! But, anyway...on we go to Middle-Earth.

This first volume of the legendary trilogy tells the story of the Dark Lord Sauron, who is seeking what has been deemed "the One Ring to rule them all". The Ring has found its way to the young hobbit called Frodo Baggins (played by Elijah Wood). The fate of Middle-earth hangs in the balance as Frodo and his eight loyal companions who form their group knows as the Fellowship of the Ring begin their journey to the fiery Mount Doom in the land of Mordor, the only place where the Ring can be destroyed forever. Along the way, the hearts and strengths of men, hobbits and elves are tested as the powers and corruption of the ring produce great temptation to those who would seek to possess its powers. Confrontations and battles consume their journey as they must not only fight the powers of assorted monsters and creatures, but also the evil of the mighty Orcs, which I can only describe as a race of creatures who are used as soldiers and henchmen by both the greater and lesser villains of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings — Morgoth, Sauron and Saruman (look up these character names for yourselves because I'm just not enough of an educated fantasy geek to truly get into it now). By the end of this first chapter, our main hero, Frodo has ventured to continue to journey to Mount Doom on his own with only his faithful sidekick, Samwise (played by Sean Astin) to assist him in his quest. Part I ends with a true cliffhanger, leaving the view wanting more as soon as possible. Thankfully, we only had to wait one year instead of the traditional three!

In any fantasy film, I've always been of the opinion that not very changes in the basic tale of good versus evil and the powerful magic that often accompanies both sides. Peter Jackson, on the other hand, has taken the experience into the 21st Century with not only the CGI effects of the time that absolutely makes the powerful movie experience come alive on screen, but also casts the film with those who can truly perform their roles with just the right degree of intelligence and wit, including Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn and Orlando Bloom as Legolas (a character that my wife has had a serious crush on since the films hit the screen...so this one's for you, darling...)

...and Liv Tyler as the elf Arwen (now there's an elf I'd sleep with...so this one's for me...)

While their journey represents the traditions of conflict, battle and triumph, we also witness a wonderful sense of friendship and loyalty, which in my opinion, only serve to enhance one's character and turn a somewhat traditional story of fantasy and fun into something just a little more solid and viable for those who simply don't want to be entertained for more than two hours with nothing but visual images, awesome as they be.

Initially, I had very little interest in devoting three years of my life to the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy when it was first released in 2001. When I was younger, the closest I'd come to this story was Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film version, but it failed to hold my interest. However, through a little nudging from my wife and one particular Saturday afternoon in New York City when I had nothing else to do, I walked to my local multiplex theater and gave it a shot. Well, clearly I wasn't too disappointed or I wouldn't be writing about it now. And lately, the more I learn about the stories of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the more I'm learning that they were the source of inspiration behind two of my favorite classic rock bands, LED-ZEPPELIN and RUSH. Just open up the gatefold to Led-Zeppelin's fourth album and tell me if that wizard on the mountain isn't supposed to be Gandalf? Maybe yes, maybe no...

And so, as I wrap up the first chapter in this legendary trilogy, I can only say to any and all fantasy geeks reading this post that I hope I did a somewhat reasonable job with my writing. After all, I'm just a traditional moviegoer who doesn't know his elf from his hobbit from his own ass!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Aragorn: "If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. You have my sword."
Legolas: "And you have my bow."
Gimli: "And my axe."
Boromir: "You carry the fate of us all, little one. If this is indeed the will of the Council, then Gondor will see it done."