"Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us better people."
-- Roger Ebert, The Great Movies

Monday, September 22, 2014

Star Trek: Into Darkness


  • Title:  Star Trek:  Into Darkness
  • Director:  JJ Abrams
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  SF, Action
  • Cast:  John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoë Saldana, Karl Urban, Peter Weller, Anton Yelchin
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"...You misunderstand, it is true I choose not to feel anything as my own life was ending.  As Admiral Pine was dying I joined with his conscienousness and experienced what he felt at the moment of his passing:  anger, confusion, lonliness, fear - I had experience those feelings before, multiplied expontentially on the day my planet was destroyed.  Such a feeling is something I choose never to experience again." -- Spock

"Don't agree with me Spock, it makes me very uncomfortable."  -- McCoy

The opening vignette of Star Trek Into Darkness has Kirk and McCoy disguised on a red Class M planet.  Kirk holds a scroll and is running away.  The Natives follow, throw spears at him, and at McCoy as well.  However, Kirk's actions had been a distraction, so the Enterprise's shuttle can drop Spock, in a fire suit into the volcano to drop a cold fusion device in the active and ready to erupt volcano to prevent the eruption and save the indigenous life on the planet.  Kirk and McCoy dive into the water to escape the natives, and board the Enterprise.  However, Spock is in trouble and could be killed.  Kirk and the Enterprise, but incur Star Fleet's wrath at the flagrant disregard for the Prime Directive.

A mysterious man (Benedict Cumberbatch) offers to cure the ill daughter of a Star Fleet officer.  He soon discovers the price as he has to blow-up a Star Fleet Archive building.

Pike finds Kirk in a bar, and brings him back to Starfleet.  He asks Kirk to be his first officer, Kirk accepts, and Pike takes him to a gathering of all Starfleet's captains and first officers to discuss the destruction of the Archive and Starfleet's response to the terror attack.  Kirk, wonders, however, why anyone would destroy an archive, especially when the information held there is public record.  Just as Admiral Marcus, Pike, and Kirk are realising that protocol for an attack calls for just this occurrance - all the captains and first officers in one room, the room is attacked by a helicopter-like gunship.  (Because apparently Starfleet never heard the old adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket.)  Pike's killed.

Admiral Marcus calls Kirk and Spock into his office, he offers Kirk the Enterprise again, and Kirk asks for, and is granted, Spock as his first officer.  But Marcus's plan is chilling - not only does he want Kirk to track down "John Harrison" the ex-Starfleet officer responsible for the attack - he wants Kirk to kill him.  Specifically, even though Harrison is hiding on the Klingon home world and an attack on the home world would lead to all-out war, he wants Kirk to hide in the Neutral Zone and fire a new long-range photon torpedo at the uninhabited province where Harrison is hiding and obliterate him.

Scotty quits when the torpedoes are loaded on the Enterprise, and the security detail with them refuses to tell him what the payload is.  Scotty fears an interaction with the warp core. Kirk accepts Scotty's resignation.

During the trip to the Neutral Zone, however, Kirk has second thoughts (helped by his conversation with Scotty, and additional conversations with McCoy and Spock) about blindly following the orders of Admiral Marcus to kill Harrison rather than capture him.

Kirk decides rather than killing Harrison outright, Kirk decides to capture Harrison.  He will take a landing party, and using the transport vessel from "the Mudd incident" will land on the Klingon home world, capture Harrison, and return him to Earth.  Kirk, Spock, Uhura and a guard take the shuttle down.  Uhura attempts to reach an agreement with the Klingons who attack their ship and force it down.  She's doing OK, when they are attacked.  The fire fight is chaotic, but a mysterious man rescues them.

Kirk brings this man, Harrison, to the Enterprise and locks him in the brig.  However, he soon learns from the man, that, as Admiral Marcus had pointed out, the Archive that was destroyed wasn't an archive or library - it was Section 31 HQ, home to Starfleet's secret military and spy organization.  Moreover, Harrison wasn't simply an agent there as Marcus said.  Harrison is Khan, a genetically engineered superhuman, who, with 72 other similar super humans was sent from Earth.  Marcus found his ship, kept the crew in cryo-suspension, but revived Khan.  Seeing Khan as the brilliant warrior he needed, he gave him a new identity (John Harrison) and set him to work developing weapons for Starfleet.  Khan tells Kirk, he had no choice, Marcus held his crew hostage.  However, he rebelled against being forced to make weapons and to create a "militarized Starfleet" - which was Marcus's dream.

Kirk isn't sure how much of this he buys, but he's keeping an open mind, deciding to bring Harrison/Khan to Earth to tell his tale.

It's easier said than done, when two problems occur:  first, the Enterprise Engine Core leak, that had stranded the ship short of it's warp point goal, is getting much worse, threatening the entire ship.  And second, Admiral Marcus has arrived and is he pissed off that Kirk hasn't killed Harrison/Khan, talked to Khan, and might believe Khan.

From what Marcus says, it's clear that at least some of what Khan has said is true.

However, Marcus beams his daughter Carol from the Enterprise to his own dreadnought-class ship  then attacks the Enterprise.  Kirk, who's also heard from Scotty, who checked on some co-ordinates Khan gave him.  Khan convinces Kirk the only way to defeat the dreadnought is from within.  Scotty has hidden aboard the ship.  Kirk and Khan space jump to the other ship, using jets to maneuver.  During the jump, Khan saves Kirk's life.  Scotty lets them in.

But on the bridge, Khan shows his true colors.  He wants revenge on Marcus.  Kirk tries to arrest Marcus.  Khan kills him.  Kirk, Carol, and Scotty are transported to the Enterprise brig.  Spock had transported the torpedoes to the dreadnought.  However, the torpedoes were primed and blow the ship.  Khan escapes.  Khan's crew, the 72 cryo tubes are in sickbay on the Enterprise.

However, the Enterprise is dying - the damage to the warp core is so bad the ship is dying and about to crash into Earth.  Kirk and Scotty try to fix the ship, but the engine core is mis-aligned, and can't be fixed because of the radiation in the compartment.  Kirk goes into the compartment to fix it.  He succeeds and saves the ship but is dying from radiation poisoning.  Spock pulls the ship out of it's dive.  Scotty calls him and asks him to come down.  He goes, and in a reverse of Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, it's Kirk who dies and Spock who must watch.  There fingers even touch on the glass separating them.  Spock screams, "Khan!".

Khan, meanwhile tries to crash his ship into Starfleet HQ and misses (He does destroy the Great Fire Memorial in San Francisco though.)  Spock chases down Khan, ready to kill him for killing Kirk.  Uhura stops him - McCoy's realised that Khan's blood can save Kirk, because of it's regenerative abilities.

This works, and Kirk Lives.  One year later, Kirk re-dedicates the new Enterprise, reciting "the Captain's Oath", which we know as the opening to classic Star Trek.

JJ Abrams directs Star Trek:  Into Darkness at a breakneck speed.  The film moves, extremely fast - so fast, it's hard to keep up with it at times.  However, the film also has it's moments.  Harrison, as played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch, is brilliant, from lone terrorist, to scientist who's work is poached for weapons, to revenge-seeking madman, each of Khan's roles is well played.  I avoided all spoilers when this movie came out last year, even the name of Cumberbatch's character - so I was surprised to find out that "Harrison" was Khan. I enjoyed the film in the theater and enjoyed watching it again yesterday.  The film is fun, and the cast is excellent.  I really do like Pine, Quinto, and Urban.  And Cumberbatch played a multi-faceted villain with relish and even, at times, compassion.
Though not too much - because even if Marcus had cold-bloodily killed Khan's crew, Khan's attacks would have been over-kill.  The film, like the best Star Trek episodes and films raises questions.  Questions about the power of the military, questions about the ability for news events to be shaped, and public opinion to be manipulated.  And it's Kirk's noted ability to stand against the rules and go with his gut that save him and his crew.  Kirk is willing to follow rules and regulations as needed, but he won't stand by and watch a planet die because of them - nor will he kill a criminal who should rather be put on trial.  It's a enjoyable rollar-coaster of a film, with a bit more to it, and I liked it.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice


  • Title:  The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  TNT (TV movie)
  • Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Stana Katic
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1
"Maybe some women are OK with the wild and unpredictable lifestyle of dating a librarian, but I'm not."  -- Katie, when she dumps Flynn

"Charlene, How big is the library?"  - Flynn
"As big as we need it to be." - Charlene

"You cannot escape your destiny, Flynn." - Simone
"I was trying to take a little vacation from it but it didn't seem to work out." - Flynn
"No, if you fight your destiny you will be miserable.  You must embrace it and revel in every moment." - Simone

The third film starts with Flynn, wearing a black tuxedo, and attending a high priced auction.  But rather than having the sophistication of James Bond, this is still our Flynn - the free champagne causes him to sneeze, though he also points out it's not technically champagne but an Italian sparkling wine.  During the auction, not only does Charlene call to remind him of The Library's budget, but his girlfriend, Katie calls to break up with him. Between the two conversations on his cell phone, and the auction itself, Flynn is distracted and accidentally raises the bid much too high several times.  Finally, it total frustration, he bids L1 million Pounds Sterling.  He wins the vase, and back at The Library, Charlene nearly faints.   After the auction, Flynn picks up his vase, intentionally drops it, and shatters it into a million pieces, he finds and takes a small cloth bag, and hides it in his jacket pocket.  The other bidder arrives, and when he sees what's happened, tries to take the item from Flynn. It turns out it's the Philosopher's Stone which can turn anything it touches into gold. Flynn and his rival fight, with anything at hand, including a throw pillow that Flynn's quickly turned to gold.  The fight merges into a stolen sword, sword-fight.  Flynn, after some difficulty, escapes with the Stone.

Flynn goes to the hotel bar to meet his girlfriend, but she's left.  He returns to the Library, where Charlene and Judson show him the Large Collection Annex, which, among other things, includes Noah's Ark.  However, Flynn, though impressed, is fed-up.  He mentions his relationships that haven't worked out:  Nicole, Emily, now Katie.  And how he can't even tell his mother the importance of his work.  In short, he has a meltdown and threatens to quit.  Judson and Charlene ask him to take a vacation instead.

So Flynn does, but he merely stays in his apartment, eating take-out.  Charlene drops by one night at drops off a bunch of travel brochures.  Flynn is polite to her, but doesn't take her suggestion seriously.  That night he has a dream of a Siren calling him, then sees a statue of a rearing horse.  When he wakes, he looks at the brochures again and finds one with the same rearing horse.  He decides to head to New Orleans on vacation.

In New Orleans, Flynn seems determined to have a very boring vacation, at first.  But one night he wanders into a bar, and sees the woman from his dream singing on stage.  During her break, he sits at her table and tries to buy her a drink.  This seems to be going terribly, when some heavies show up and come after the girl.  She and Flynn escape.

Flynn and the girl, Simone, spend the night together.  The next day, she's gone.  Flynn runs into Judson in a barbershop, and learns a bit about the plot.  It seems that the Judas Chalice, an artifact made by melting the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas Iscariot to betray Christ, is in play.  The Chalice has the power to re-animate dead vampires.  Meanwhile, the coffin of Dracule - aka, Vlad the Impaler, has disappeared.

Flynn and Simone, attempt to follow the clues to solve this new riddle.  Simone, guards a key that leads to the hiding place of the chalice.  Through a series of adventures they solve the puzzles.  However, Simone is a vampire - this isn't too bad, she keeps blood in her fridge and has no desire to snack on Flynn.  Flynn also runs into a famous professor, whom he thinks is killed by the vampires chasing him.

The conclusion, is much more bittersweet than the previous Librarian films.  However, Flynn has once again, learned how important it is that he remain The Librarian.  He's also learned that The Library is part of a larger struggle of Good vs. Evil.  And he's picked up a little background on Judson.  Flynn, once at the verge of quitting, returns to The Library.

The third and final Librarian film, The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice, is a little weak in spots.  The entire film, for the most part, is set in New Orleans, though it makes use of the location.  I liked Flynn's pal, the cabbie - who continuously shows-up to help Flynn and get him whatever he needs - a cemetery tour, a rental boat, etc.  Simone, a 300-year old vampire with a desire to take revenge on the one who made her, is a new twist on Flynn's female companion du jour.  Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin round out the cast to make the film that much more fun.  Still, I missed the more global-trotting aspects of the previous films.  Though having the humor back was a bonus.  Overall, the film was enjoyable and fun.  Later this year, in December 2014, TNT will bring The Librarians to the small screen, starring Wyle, Newhart, Curtin, John Larroquette, and Christian Kane (of TNT's Leverage). I'm actually looking forward to seeing it.

Recommendation:  See It - this film is especially appropriate for children
Rating:  3.8
Next Film:  Star Trek:  Into Darkness

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Librarian Return to King Solomon's Mines


  • The Librarian Return to King Solomon's Mines
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2006
  • Studio:  TNT (TV Movie)
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Gabrielle Anwar, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Olympia Dukakis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"Flynn, I trust you, we send you on missions alone.  It's just you have a lot to learn."  - Judson

"Sometimes, you have to give up what you want for the greater good.  You see that's the difference between a good librarian and a great one." - Judson

"Be safe.  Don't get killed.  Save your receipts." - Charlene

"You'd be surprised what you can learn at the Library."  - Flynn

This film starts with Flynn Carson on a quest to retrieve the Crystal Skull of Atlantis.  He manages to grab it from some pot hunters, but before he can sneak away, he's distracted by finding a Sault arrow head, which would be unusual to find in Utah.  In attempting to retrieve it also, he catches the attention of the pot hunters.  They give chase to Flynn and his Native American companion.  The two run away, and eventually reach a high gorge.  Flynn and his partner jump there horses into the gorge and land in a rushing river.  Flynn's companion is shocked he knew there would be a deep river at the base of the gorge.  Flynn gives him an explanation about average rainfall - only to have his companion tell him he had the month wrong.  Flynn's blasé response is, "huh, we should have been flattened like pancakes."

Back at The Library, Flynn's expecting congratulations for finding the Crystal Skull.  And although Judson is happy about it, he still reins Flynn in for taking too many risks.

That night Flynn heads to his mother's, only to walk in on his own surprise party.  His mother tries to set him up on a blind date with his third cousin.  Flynn is not amused.  The evening turns out to not be a total loss though when he runs into his "Uncle" Jerry, his father's best friend, who works in "Import/Export". Jerry gives Flynn his father's amulet.  Flynn's birthday is somewhat bittersweet, Flynn's father died when he was 32 and Flynn was eight (8).  Now Flynn is 32.  When Flynn gets home to his apartment he finds it's been trashed.  He calls Judson, but is knocked out before he can tell him much of anything.

Judson sends him on a quest for the two-part Key of Solomon a map Legend to decode the Map of Solomon to King Solomon's Mines, but warns Flynn that sometimes a Librarian must give up what he most wants - for the greater good.

In Casablanca, Flynn meets Emily Davenport (Anwar) an archeologist with 25 degrees who's possibly smarter than he is.  Together they set out on the quest.

Flynn is attacked, but when he sees the Mason Symbol amulet Flynn wears that was his father's, the man backs off, shows his own amulet, and explains he's part of a Secret Society of Masons protecting King Solomon's Secret.  Flynn gets the first part of the Legend, and the guy tells Flynn the second part is in Kenya.

In Africa, Flynn and Emily find a man buried in the sand up to his neck.  They rescue him and Jomo becomes their guide.  Flynn tells Emily that his father was mugged coming home from work, and the "coward" shot him.  According to Flynn, they never caught the guy.  So, Flynn's father was shot dead when Flynn was 8-years old, by a mugger.  Does this sound familiar?

The scenery in Africa is beautiful.  Because the second film really emphases Flynn's background, especially his loss of his father, the story has more heart, and less comedy than the previous film.  Flynn is experienced and professional, an no longer bumbling in his role as the Librarian.

Flynn and Emily find the second piece of the Map Legend, and run into Flynn's Uncle Jerry who helps them. Jerry explains to Flynn that the reason he has his father's amulet, is that his father got it from his father, who got it from his father before that.  Flynn responds, "The secret shall be passed."

Flynn and Emily examine the map and the two pieces of the legend.  Flynn realizes the map is sheet music. He plays the music on one piece of the map legend, and the map becomes a 3-D map showing them how to get to the mines.  Flynn and Emily leave the train, and Uncle Jerry, who goes his own way.  Once again, Flynn and Emily are off on an adventure, in search of  the Mines.

As they follow the map, Flynn realizes that the pictures he drew as a child, based on his father's bedtime stories, are actually places they will find while searching for King Solomon's Mines.  Flynn realizes with some astonishment, that his father was preparing him for this quest his entire life.

Eventually, they reach the ante-chamber to the Mines, Flynn and Emily have to cross a stone bridge over a river of  lava.  They do, and Flynn discovers his father's amulet is literally a key to the treasure chamber. Inside, Flynn opens the web-covered book, which sits on a plinth in a shaft of light.  Emily distracts Flynn before the weird stuff the book is doing to Flynn completes.

The concluding scenes are quite good, and I don't want to spoil them.

This chapter in The Librarian series isn't as funny as the first - it's definitely more adventure than comedy. However, the story, by emphasizing Flynn's relationship with his father, and that history, has more heart.  The conclusion is wrapped around the relationship between Flynn, his father, Jerry, and Flynn's mother, so it works well.  Flynn is no longer the bumbling professional student.  He is now an experienced Librarian and adventurer.  Emily is impressive, an archaeologist with 25 degrees, she's smarter than Flynn but knows nothing about The Library.  And, The Library is only seen at the beginning and very end of the film.  Once the quest is over, Flynn does go back to the Library, having learned about his own personal history, as well as having first-hand experience as to exactly what Judson meant by, "Sometimes, you have to give up what you want for the greater good," and has progressed in his career as the Librarian.  Emily goes off on another dig, continuing her own personal quest to discover more about the Queen of Sheba.

The Librarian Return to King Solomon's Mines is still a good, light adventure film.  Although it doesn't have the strong comedy elements of  The Librarian Quest for the Spear, it makes up for it by having more heart, and delving deeper into the character of  Flynn Carson, Librarian.  There are references to the Indiana Jones films, especially Last Crusade, but also references to Batman. It's quite the enjoyable film.

  • Recommendation:  See it!  This film is especially appropriate for children and pre-teens.
  • Rating:  3.5 of 5
  • Next Film:  The Librarian  Curse of the Judas Chalice

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Librarian Quest for the Spear


  • Title:  The Librarian Quest for the Spear
  • Director:  Peter Winther
  • Date:  2004 (5 December 2004)
  • Studio:  TNT (Television)
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure, Comedy
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Sonya Walger, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Kyle MacLachlan, Kelly Hu, Olympia Dukakis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"You are about to begin a wondrous adventure  from which you will never be the same.  Welcome to The Library."  -- Judson (Bob Newhart)

"You are now part of a very special community.  The secret of  the library has been kept  for thousands of years."  -- Judson

"I believe in you, Flynn, I think there's a possibility you could be a great librarian." -- Judson

Flynn Carson is a bookish professional student, with twenty-two degrees, six alone in Egyptology (one wonders how he paid for them all?  But thinking of the Real World is not something you should do while watching this film).  His current professor gets fed up with him, and throws him out into the "Real World" to get a job midway through the semester, signing off on his degree.  Flynn is devestated - he has no idea how to get a job and doesn't really want one.  He goes home, where his mother has set him up on a blind date with a girl about his own age - who's a social worker.  Flynn gets even more depressed.

Flynn's in his room, when he suddenly finds an envelope.  He opens it and words appear, inviting him to apply for the position of The Librarian.  Flynn goes to the interview.  At The Library, there's a huge line of applicants.  Flynn hears the protests and even cries of the previous applicants.  He's about to duck out of line when a voice orders him in.  Flynn passes the pre-test question easily, and more importantly passes the Real Question.  He meets Judson, who takes him into The Library, underneath the library.  The Library is a wondrous place, indeed, home to all of  human knowledge, and a number of  magical, mystical, and real human artifacts, such as Pandora's Box, the Mona Lisa, the Ark of the Covenant and Excalibur.

Flynn is beginning to settle in to his new job, when there's a break in.  Judson is knocked out, but not seriously harmed.  It seems one part of the Spear of Destiny has been stolen.  The Spear was broken in to three pieces for safe keeping.  Flynn is sent on a quest to find the other two pieces of the Spear and stop the evil organization known as the Serpent Brotherhood from assembling the Spear and causing havoc.  Flynn is soon joined on his quest by Nicole, a bodyguard for the Library.

The film resembles classic adventure films like the Indiana Jones films and Romancing the Stone.  But it is not a parody.  It takes that style of film and introduces it's own characters and it's own plotline, but most of all it has fun. There is a lot of humor in this movie - it's it's not simply the obligatory quip and the occasional really good one-liner.  The film is simply fun to watch and the cast is terrific.  Noah Wyle is great as the wide-eyed, bumbling, professional student who has, among other things, memorized the Earth, but can't quite master flirting with a girl, or have much in the way of practical knowledge of the Real World.  Nicole is very like Michael Douglas's character in Romancing the Stone - we even see her hacking away at jungle growth with a machete, while the branches hit Flynn.  But the story opens up too - not only do the characters go to a jungle in South America, but also to mysterious Shargri-La in the Himalayas.  Nicole has a reason for her somewhat icy personality, but she's dedicated to her job of protecting The Librarian.  And Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin, have small roles in terms of screen time - but they are vital to the plot.  And both make the film that much more fun.

This is simply an enjoyable film to watch.  It's bright, and funny, and fun.  And it's a good start to the series' universe. Yes, this is a TNT Original film, which spawned two sequels, and a  television series which starts in December 2014.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  The Librarian Return to King Soloman's Mines

Monday, February 10, 2014

Man of Steel

·           Title:  Man of Steel
·           Director:  Zack Snyder
·           Date:  2013
·           Studio:  Warner Brothers
·           Genre:  Fantasy, Action, SF
·        Cast:  Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Cosner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishborne, Christopher Meloni, Michael Shannon
·        Format:  Color, Widescreen
·        NTSC, Region 1

"Can't I just keep pretending I'm your son?" – Young Clark Kent
"You are my son.  [long pause] But somewhere out there you have another father too, who gave you another name.  And he sent you here for a reason, Clark.  And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is."  -- Jonathan Kent

"For 100, 000 years our civilization flourished, accomplishing wonders." – Jor-El
"What happened?" – Clark
"Artificial population control was established, the outposts and space exploration were abandoned.  We exhausted our natural resources, as a result our planet's core became unstable.  Eventually our military leader, General Zod, attempted a coup, but by then it was too late." – Jor-El

"The people of Earth are different from us, it's true.  But, ultimately, I believe that is a good thing.  They won't necessarily make the same mistakes we did, not if you guide them, Kal.  Not if you give them hope.  That's what this symbol means.  The symbol of the House of El means hope.  Embodied in that hope is the potential of every person to be a force for good.  That's what you can bring them." – Jor-El

Man of Steel starts on Krypton with Jor-El and Lara insuring the survival of their son, when their planet is about to be destroyed.  The background on Krypton, and the exact means of its destruction will also be expanded upon, during encounters between an AI hologram of Jor-El and others – including Clark, Lois Lane, and even General Zod.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  After introducing us to Jor-El, Lara, the Kryptonian government Council, and Zod and his coup – which fails, as well as the launch's escape from Krypton and Krypton's destruction – Man of Steel actually skips forward a bit.

We see a lobster harvesting ship, and a young man everyone calls "Greenhorn".  Only from the trailers do we realize this is Clark Kent.  The ship receives an SOS from an burning oil rig.  When they arrive, the Coast Guard has declared the rig a lost cause and the lobster ship's captain says the guys inside are dead already.  Clark leaps into the water, gets the men to the rig's deck that's still somewhat free of flames, and they are rescued by the Coast Guard.  Clark ends up falling into the water below the flames.
The film flashes back to Clark being overwhelmed by his senses as school.  His mom helps him to focus.

The film flashes forward to Clark – he's awakened below water by whale song, then gets to shore and borrows some dry clothes.

The film flashes back to a slightly older Clark on a school bus, where he's being bullied and taunted by school-mates.  The bus has a tire blow-out, loses control, goes through a guide-rail and lands in a river.  Clark pushes open the back door, then lifts the bus to safety on the shore.  Some of the kids have seen what happened.

One of the parents confronts the Kents.  Jonathan Kent tells Clark he can't use his powers.  He shows Clark the space ship and gives the S-shield key to Clark.  He explains that Clark has another father out there, somewhere, who sent Clark to Earth for a reason, and Clark should strive to find out who his father was and what the reason may be.

The film flashes back to the present.  In a rough and tumble bar, one of the oil workers harasses a waitress.  Clark tells him to stop it.  The customer throws a beer in Clark's face and taunts him.  The waitress tells Clark it's not worth it.  Clark walks off.  The guy throws a can at him and hits him in the head.

Clark walks down a highway, carrying a bag, and hitch-hiking.

Lois shows up to investigate an "anomaly".

Clark finds a Kryptonian ship buried in ice that's over 18 thousand years old.  He uses the S-shield key to deactivate the automatic security system.  The key is an command key.  Lois also follows Clark and gets attacked by the security system – Clark uses his heat vision to cauterize her wounds.

The ship departs.  Lois narrates her story but Perry won't print it.  She gives the story to a conspiracy theorist website.

Meanwhile, Clark meets an Artificial Intelligence-hologram of his father, Jor-El.  Jor-El gives his son, Kal-El a lesson is Kyptonian history.  They had expanded across the galaxy, built outposts, even terraformed planets.  Then the empire withdrew back to Krypton, abandoned its outposts and space exploration, began using genetic engineering to predetermine everyone's role in society, and eventually exhausted Krypton's resources.  This lead to mining of Krypton's core, which caused the core to collapse and the planet to explode.

Jor-El and his wife Lara sought a different path.  They risked much to have a natural birth, the first in generations, and when Krypton's doom was nigh, they put Kal-El in a spaceship with the Codex of Krypton's citizens and sent the ship off, towards Earth.

The film flashes back to a teen-aged Clark, who wants to be something greater, something more than a Kansas farmer, like Jonathan Kent.  He's arguing with his father, when a tornado hits on the freeway.  Thanks to Jonathan's actions, most everyone gets to shelter, but he, himself, ends up trapped in a car (after freeing their dog).  Clark goes to rescue Jonathan, but Jonathan yells at him to stay with his mother.

Clark goes home to visit his mother.

General Zod shows up and gives Earth an Ultimatum – turn over Jor-El or face the consequences.

Another flashback, as Clark remembers being bullied and conversations with his Dad about not reacting to the bully.

Back in the "present", Clark turns up at an army or air force base, and offers to surrender if he can speak to Lois and if the military guarantees her freedom.

There's another flashback/dream sequence of Zod's history.  Zod explains how the destruction of Krypton released him and his fellow insurgents from the Phantom Zone.  They retrofit a ship with hyperdrive and search for Kal-El.  Not finding anything on Krypton's old outposts for thirty-three years, they pick up a signal from the scout ship that was sent automatically when Clark entered it. Zod's plan is to take the Codex and then use a World Engine to terraform Earth into New Krypton.  This will, of course, destroy every living thing on Earth.

Lois and Clark are taken by Zod, and put in cells on Zod's ship.  They are tortured and experimented upon.  Lois, however, has the command key – and when she uses it, Jor-El appears to her and guides her through what she has to do.

Clark manages to escape from Zod's ship, and rescues Lois – who's escape pod has been hit by weapons fire and is spiraling out of control towards the ground.  But Clark rescues her.  Zod, his female lieutenant, and his other cronies attack Martha Kent and do considerable damage to her house.  Clark and Zod have a show down on main street.  But before they can re-play High Noon, the military arrives and in trying to shut down Zod and company make things worse.

There's a massive battle between Zod, Superman, Zod's lieutenant, the military, and Zod's forces.  Needless to say, Smallville, Kansas doesn't fair well.  Eventually, Zod and company leave.

But, Zod orders the release of the World Engine.  Having discovered that Jor-El bonded the Codex to Clark's cells – and that it's recoverable whether Clark is alive or dead, Zod will use his machine to terraform Earth into New Krypton, kill everything on the planet, and take the Codex from Clark's corpse.

Lois and Clark bring his capsule ship to the army, and he, Lois and Col. Hardy explain how the capsule can be used to destroy Zod's ship.  Superman will go to the second site and destroy the other half of the World Engine terraforming machine in the Indian Ocean.

The plan basically works, though Zod survives and Clark has to fight him.  Eventually, Superman kills Zod.

I thought Man of Steel  was better on second viewing, than when I first saw it in the theater last Spring or Summer.  The film works best in it's quite moments – Lara and Jor-El on Krypton trying to save their child, Clark talking to his father – Jonathan Kent, and Clark learning from his other father – Jor-El.  But, at times, some of the action sequences seem overblown and thus almost boring.  They can just be too much and too long.  I also found the constant flash backs and flash forwards to be somewhat distracting.  Not that I never knew "when" I was – that was perfectly clear, but I think the film would have worked better if it was presented in chronological order, or largely chronological with only the tiniest of shots back to scenes we had already seen.  I think it would have made Clark a stronger and more interesting character, and the audience would have been able to follow his journey – and route for him more.  I also think some of the action sequences could have been trimmed a bit, there's only so much CGI of collapsing buildings and flying cars that one can take.  The cast was good.  Henry Cavill made for a more vulnerable take on Clark Kent, and the surrounding cast of experienced actors made the film work.  Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, and Kevin Cosner were all brilliant as Clark's parents.

Recommendation:  See It
Rating:  3.5 to 4 Stars

Next Film:  Not sure, probably Star Trek:  Into Darkness.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Les Misérables

Title:  Les Misérables
Director:  Tom Hooper
Date:  2012
Studio:  Universal
Genre:  Musical, Drama
Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Colm Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Format:  Color, Widescreen
DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

"But remember this my brother, see in this some higher plan, you must use this precious silver, to become an honest man." -- The Bishop

"But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart, as they turn your dream to shame. ...  There are dreams that cannot be, there are storms we cannot weather.  I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I'm living.  So different from what it seemed, now life has killed the dream I dreamed."  -- Fantine

"You know nothing of Javier, I was born inside a jail.  I was born with scum like you, I am from the gutter, too!"  -- Javier

"...how your world might be changed in one burst of light, and what was right seems wrong and what was wrong seems right."  -- Marius

"But now there's a higher cause.  Who cares about your lonely soul?  We strive towards a larger goal, our little lives don't count at all." -- Enjolras

Les Misérables is a sung musical, meaning that nearly every line in the film is sung, rather than the majority of the film being spoken and acted, only to break for the musical numbers.  However, because everyone is always singing everything in the film, the singing quickly becomes part of the reality of the film, and the audience becomes used to it and accepts it.  Also, the characters are often singing their hearts out, and many of the best songs in the film are actually soliloquies.

The film is based on the long-running stage musical (which ran in both New York on Broadway, and in London on the West End), which is turn is based on a novel by Victor Hugo.  The story though is about redemption, about mercy, about love for one's child, and about how tiny kindnesses or tiny slights can have vast effects on a person's life.

The film opens with Jean Valjean and a group of convicts in the rain pulling ropes to right a capsized ship.  Inspector Javert looks on, then orders Jean Valjean to bring him the French flag.  Valjean does this by lifting the entire broken ship's mast -- a very heavy, long, wooden mast.  Javert then gives "Prisoner 24601" his yellow ticket of leave.  Jean Valjean is at first excited that he has finally gained his freedom after nineteen years a slave to the law - his crime breaking into a house to steal bread to feed his sister's starving child.  However, he is only placed on parole - ordered from place to place by the French police and military.  Jean Valjean soon discovers no one will offer work to a convict, and he can't even find food or a place to sleep.

Still desperately trying to live, Jean Valjean, drops into a local church, where the bishop (Colm Wilinson, originator of the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway), offers him food and a place to sleep for the night.  Yet, in the middle of the night, he awakes and steals the bishop's silver.  He's immediately caught and brought in front of the bishop.  The bishop shocks Jean Valjean by lying for him, confirming his story to the police that he "gave" his silver to him.  The bishop then also gives him his silver candlesticks, and dismisses the police.  But for his mercy, the bishop demands that Valjean must become a better man.

Valjean goes into the church to contemplate his fate and his future.  He ends by tearing up his yellow papers which brand him a convict.

Eight years later, in Montreul, Valjean, now using the name M. LeMer, owns a factory employing hundreds, and is mayor of the town.  In his factory, Fantine is one of the female workers.  She continues to refuse the advances of the foreman.  When she receives a letter, a rival female worker steals it and reads it aloud.  Upon learning Fantine has a child, she attacks her.  The two fight and Fantine shouts back that the woman has a husband and "something on the side".  Enraged, the woman attacks again.  Valjean arrives and is about to deal with the problem - then he sees Javert and goes to his office instead, leaving his foreman to settle matters, though he admonishes him to show mercy.  The foreman sacks Fantine, and kicks her out in the cold.

Meanwhile, Valjean meets with Javert who introduces himself, remarks that he's been noticed as an excellent mayor, and gives him papers introducing himself and his transfer as officer of the law for the town.  Valjean is a bit nervous, but accepts him.  There's a shout from the street and Valjean runs outside.  A man is trapped under a collapsed cart.  Though the cart is quite heavy, Valjean lifts it to free the man and save his life.  Javert looks on, suspiciously.

Meanwhile, Fantine struggles to support herself.  She sells her jewelry, her hair, her teeth, and finally gives in and sells herself.  Fantine's soliloquy, "I Dreamed a Dream", tells her story and contrasts the golden summer of her youth with the hell she's now living.  Hathaway's performance is strong and makes the audience feel sympathetic to her, rather than feel sorry for her.  And won her several "Best Supporting Actress" awards.  Later, wearing the sleeveless red dress of a prostitute, a man attacks Fantine.  When Javier arrives the man claims she attacked him.  But Valjean also arrives, and upon learning the woman once worked in his factory, he takes pity on her and takes her to a hospital.  He also learns she has a daughter, living with an innkeeper and his wife.

Later, Javert presents himself to Valjean, admonishing himself for making a false report, and telling Valjean that "Prisoner 24601" has been caught, so he apologises for thinking "M. LeMer" was Valjean.

This leaves Valjean in a moral dilemma.  He cannot allow another man to go to prison in his place, yet his workers depend on him.  In the end, Valjean decides he cannot allow an innocent man to be jailed in his place.  He goes to the court, and admits he is "Prisoner 24601".  But then he leaves the court and goes to the hospital to see Fantine.  There, he finds Fantine dying.  He promises to find and care for her child.  She promises her to his care.  At the hospital, Javert arrives.  They confront each other.  Jean Valjean pleads for three days to find, take care of, and make arrangements for Cosette.  Javert pretty much says, "Are you kidding?" and draws his sword.  Valjean defends himself with a wooden beam and escapes by jumping into the water.

Jean Valjean travels to the inn, and pays the Thénerdiers' fifteen hundred for their "sacrifice" of keeping Cosette.  Madame Thénerdier had been abusive of Cosette, treating her like a slave while spoiling her own daughter, Éponine.  M. Thénerdier had cared so little for her - he couldn't get her name right.  Valjean and Cosette leave, taking a horse-drawn couch to Paris.  The flight to Paris features the one new song from the film that isn't in the original musical, "Suddenly, You're Here".

Javier, having lost Valjean again, sings "Stars", his own soliloquy.  He's on a roof, and the song begins with a large, stone eagle behind him.  As he sings, he walks on the top of the stone balustrade, seemingly careless of the result if he fell.  He swears he will catch Valjean.  "Stars" is a beautiful song, and one of my favorites from both the film and the musical.

In 1832 Paris, Valjean and now teenaged Cosette, have made a life for themselves.  Times are hard, as the people are suffering.  Marius, Enjolras, and a group of students are disgusted with the state of affairs, and try to raise the people in rebellion.

One day, Marius sees Cosette on the street.  She and Valjean are handing out alms to the poor.  They also run into the Thénerdiers.  Meanwhile, Éponine lives in the same rooming house as Marius, and knows that his father is rich.  She's also trapped in the gang of thieves led by her parents, the Thénerdiers.  Javier is also in Paris, and still obsessed with catching Jean Valjean.

When Marius arrives in the wine shop, his fellow students tease him about falling in love at first sight with a girl whom he doesn't even know.  But his best friend, Enjolras, is actually angry.  As staged in the film, "Red and Black" actually becomes an argument between Marius (who's just fallen in love and is beginning to re-think things) and Enjolras and the other students, who want to start a revolution.  When young Gavroche arrives to tell them the people's hero, General LeMarque is dead, the students all agree - they will raise the barricades at his funeral.

Cosette gets her turn at a soliloquy, "In My Life", as she realises she's also fallen in love at first sight.  The song, "In My Life", transitions from Cosette to Marius, to Éponine, to a duet of Cosette and Marius.  That night she and Marius meet in her garden.

The Thénerdiers' gang plans on robbing Valjean's house, Éponine stops them by screaming to attract attention, but Valjean thinks Javert has discovered him, and tells Cosette they must leave and move on.  Cosette is angry and hurt, as she's just fallen for Marius.

Éponine, realising that Marius will never fall for her, sings her soliloquy, "On My Own", in the rain.

Everyone then sings, "One Day More", anticipating the coming battle in the morning.

At General LeMarque's funeral, the people sing, "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and the barricades are raised.  The students rush to the barricades.  Javier sneaks around to discover what is going on, and wears a French tricolor boutonniere.  Javier lies to the students about the army's plans.  Gavroche however, recognizes him, and tells everyone he's "Inspector Javier".  The students attack Javier who attacks back, and finally he's at the students mercy as the soldiers advance.  Battle breaks out.

Éponine sacrifices herself to save Marius from being shot.  She gives Marius Cosette's letter.  Marius gives Gavroche a letter, who gives it to Jean Valjean.  Valjean has to figure out what to do, and he decides to go to the barricade.  Enjolras gives Javert to Valjean.  Javert taunts Valjean to kill him.  Valjean sets Javert free with no conditions, he evens offers his address.

As night falls, the students drink wine and sing the melancholy, "Drink with Me".  Valjean also sings, "Bring Him Home", praying for Marius' safety, for Cosette's sake, and sees him as his son.  In his prayer, Jean Valjean offers his own life to save Marius and bring him home to Cosette.

The next day, Marius and the students are the only barricade left.  The people never rose up, not liking the odds.  The rain has ruined their gunpowder.  Enjolras, knowing their situation to be hopeless, urges those who wish to, to leave.  Gavroche sings one line of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and the students stay for a desperate last stand.  Gavroche then goes out to get ammunition from the dead bodies before the barricade.  He's shot dead by an French army soldier.  One of the older students, presumably his father, is devastated.  The soldiers give them the opportunity to give up.  Enjolras encourages a last stand.

There's a last minute battle.  One by one the students die.  The soldiers bring in cannons to blow-up the barricade.  The rest of the students are killed, Enjolras raises his banner, and is shot dead.

Javier sees the death, walking among the row of impossibly young people lying dead in a row on the street.  He pins his own medal on Gavroche, and is completely disgusted by the death and waste.

Jean Valjean carries a wounded Marius away through the sewers.

In the sewers, Thénerdier steals from the dead.

Javier and Valjean confront each other.  Valjean pleads for mercy for Marius, so he can get him to a doctor.  Javier lets Valjean go, then commits suicide by jumping off a dam.  Javier's final soliloquy makes it clear that he can't stand Valjean's mercy, that Valjean had saved his life, or that his entire life dedicated to law and order has become such as sham, as so many young children were killed in the rebellion.

Marius is brought to a doctor.  Marius sings "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables", a lament for his friends he's lost, though the film does not use the "ghosts" behind him, used to great effect in the stage musical.  Cosette comes to Marius.  Marius offers Valjean a home with he and Cosette.  Valjean refuses, and explains who he really is.  Jean Valjean leaves and goes to a convent, seeking sanctuary.

Cosette and Marius marry.  The Thénerdiers  arrive to cause trouble, and to bribe Marius, but Marius realises instead that Valjean had saved his life at the barricade.  At the convent, Valjean is dying.  He hears Fantine's voice, then she appears.  Cosette and Marius arrive and say their final farewells.  Fantine leads Jean Valjean to the light.  "Do You Hear the People Sing?" is reprised as Jean Valjean joins Fantine, Gavroche, Enjolras, and all the other dead characters on the barricade, singing in the sun.

I saw Les Misérables on opening night in 2012, in a packed theater, with people of all ages.  I think I started crying during "Red and Black" and I don't think I really stopped until the end of the film.  Every time I started to not cry, the woman next to me started, and before long we were both sobbing again.  But I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.  I cried when I saw it the second time in the theater.  When I bought the DVD, I watched the commentary track first -- and still managed to cry while concentrating on Tom Hooper's description of making the film.  Even while taking notes in preparation for this review - I cried during, "Do You Hear the People Sing?"  The film is that moving and beautiful and stirring.  But it's also a very moral film.  By giving his silver to Jean Valjean, the Bishop shows him mercy that he had never seen and completely changes his life.  Later, Valjean must sacrifice everything to spare an innocent man mistaken for him, to rescue Fantine (who's downfall was his own fault - he'd been too wrapped up in his own problems to notice hers) and most importantly to save Cosette.  Raising Fantine's child, not only does he come to love her, but he rescues Marius and gives him to her because he loves her, and knows he must let her go.

Meanwhile, Javert, as played by Russell Crowe, is considerably more sympathetic than in the two stage productions of  Les Misérables, I've seen.  Javert isn't evil, but he's overly concerned with fulfilling the letter of the law, without any care to extenuating circumstances.  Javert at the beginning of the film, doesn't care that Valjean stole to feed his sister's starving children.  He honestly believes it's better to starve and die then  to resort to crime to live.  When Valjean shows him mercy, letting him go at the barricade, and covering it up with a gunshot directed away from the inspector, Javert cannot understand it, and begins to become unhinged.  When he catches Valjean and Marius, and Valjean pleads for mercy - Javert grants it, but decides he cannot live in Valjean's world.  Javert is incapable of seeing the grey of the real world, and only sees black and white.  However, whereas such a character is often portrayed as "evil" or "hated" - Crowe gives him depth and makes him understandable and sympathetic.

This is a beautiful film.  It's not to be missed.  I highly, highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Iron Man 3

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Goldfinger


  • Title:  Goldfinger
  • Director:  Guy Hamilton
  • Date:  1964
  • Studio:  United Artists
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe,  Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee, Richard Vernon, Desmond Llewelyn
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

"This is gold, Mr. Bond, all my life I have been in love with its color, its brilliance, its divine heaviness.  I welcome any enterprise that will increase my stock."  - Goldfinger

"Do you expect me to talk?" - James Bond
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die." - Goldfinger

"You can turn off the charm.  I'm immune." - Pussy Galore

Goldfinger really is the quintessential James Bond film.  Even those who aren't big fans of James Bond have likely seen it, or parts of it.  The image of a girl painted in gold, dead on a bed, and the immortal line - "Do you expect me to talk? / No, I expect you to die." have slipped into popular culture.  And it really is a good James Bond film and a good film, over all.

Goldfinger, unlike other early Bond flicks, does not feel overly long (hello, Dr. No), overly complicated, or overly boring (yeah, Thunderball, I'm looking at you).  It moves at a good clip, and the plot is easily followed.  The opening gambit takes place in Jamaica, where Bond uses some nearly laughable Really Big plastique and nitro to blow up a building.  Later he's with a girl and is attacked.  He fights the guy, hand to hand, ending with tossing his assailant into a bathtub filled with water.  The guy gets the jump on Bond, pointing his gun at him.  Bond tosses a lamp into the water, electrocuting him. "Shocking," says Bond.

Felix Lighter, Bond's contact in the CIA then shows up and gives him his assignment from MI6.  He's to keep track of a British national in Miami, by the name of Goldfinger.  Bond catches Goldfinger making money by cheating at cards, gets him to lose on purpose, and steals his girl, Jill.  However, Goldfinger kills Jill by having her painted gold.  She dies from skin suffocation.  Bond reports to MI6, where he's informed that Goldfinger is suspected of smuggling gold.  He's kitted-up with equipment by Q - in a scene that will become expected in every Bond film thereafter.

Bond is then sent to Scotland, where he discovers Goldfinger also cheats at golf - though Bond gets him back.  Bond then uses a tracking device to follow Goldfinger to Switzerland.  Bond meets a girl who is trying to kill Goldfinger.  It's Jill's sister.  The two try to get into Goldfinger's estate.  The girl is killed by Odd Job, Goldfinger's mute Korean manservant.  Bond is caught, and ends up spread-eagled on a gold table, with an industrial laser pointed at his privates.  Bond gambles, claiming to know more than he does, and is not killed.

However, he is knocked out and wakes up on a plane, meeting Goldfinger's pilot, Pussy Galore.  She goes to great pains to explain to James Bond that she is only Goldfinger's pilot, and she's not at all taken in by Bond's flirting.  The plane lands in Kentucky, at Galore's Flying Circus - where all the pilots are women.

In Kentucky, Bond discovers Goldfinger's plot.  He's gotten a group of mobsters to smuggle all the various things he needs to break into Ft. Knox.  Only one of the mobsters named Solo wants his gold million dollars rather than the promised ten million payday.  Goldfinger gives him his gold bullion, but has Odd Job kill Solo, then crush his car at a junkyard.  The crushed car is returned to Goldfinger.  Goldfinger gasses to death the rest of the mobsters.

Goldfinger's plan, however, isn't to break into Ft. Knox to steal the gold, but to irradiate it with a nuclear bomb, thus making the gold useless and making all the gold he's stored overseas even more valuable.

Galore's pilots drop nerve gas in the area around Ft. Knox - knocking everyone out.  It's eerie to see all the slumped over people, as Goldfinger heads into the building.  But Bond had convinced Galore to help - she had switched the canisters to something less deadly, and called Washington.  Bond ends-up in a hand-to-hand with Odd Job, and defeats him by electrocuting him on a fence in Ft Knox.  He barely defuses the bomb in time and it stops at:  007.  Bond sets off for Washington, DC, in a plane piloted by Galore, but Goldfinger confronts him on the plane.  During the fight, a bullet is fired, air is sucked out, Goldfinger is pushed out of the plane, and the plane starts to crash.  Bond and Galore escape by parachute and the film ends with the two in each other's arms under the parachute.

Made in 1964, Goldfinger has some huge and impressive sets, especially the Ft. Knox set, with it's vaults of gold.  This also is the quintessential James Bond film.  It has pretty girls, including the improbably-named "Pussy Galore".  It has car chases.  It has gadgets.  It has Bond's Astin Martin car.  It has the M and Q we know and love.  It stars Connery as Bond.  Goldfinger, with his German accent, and his mysterious servant Odd Job are perfect villains.  And the plot holds together and is big - really big.  I mean, break into Ft. Knox?  That's big.  But everything about Goldfinger is big - the sets, and the props in them are all huge.  It's impressive, in that sense, and even now, I wondered how they did some of the stuff they did - and marveled at the huge sets - no CGI extensions here!  However, some things in the film did seem out of date, from the huge Nitro barrels and regular (non-digital) clock detonator, and toothpaste-like plastique, to the truly really big bomb Goldfinger brings into Ft. Knox - it felt out-of date.

But one surprising thing about the film to me was Pussy Galore.  This is a woman who doesn't immediately fall for Bond.  She's feisty, and tells him she's immune to his charms.  Over and over she pushes Bond away.  And she's not with Goldfinger either - not in that way.  Galore is a pilot, a difficult profession for women today, in 2013, and virtually an impossible one for women in the early 1960s.  All the pilots in her flying circus are women as well.  Galore wears pants, trousers, and jodphurs throughout the film - we never see her in a skirt or dress.  She's a very different Bond woman.  She also knows judo, and defeats Bond once in hand-to-hand combat.  Later, they fight in a barn, and throw each other into hay.  Bond eventually gets on top of her - she resists, - he persists, and eventually she gives in.  It's after their literal "roll in the hay" that she decides to help Bond, and is crucial in defeating Goldfinger.

Looking at it now, Galore, who surrounds herself with women, and is contemptuous of men, might be a lesbian.  Yet, Bond forces himself on her, despite her cries of protest.  The scene in the barn made me squirm, because to me Bond raped Galore.  And in sexist 60s fashion, this "converted" her to be on his side.  In a sense, it nearly ruins the film for me.  At the very least, it adds an uncomfortable subtext, that Bond is not the hero he pretends to be.

Bond himself doesn't seem to be the perfect spy in Goldfinger either.  He's constantly getting beat up, caught, tied-up, and locked in cells.  He gives the impression he has no idea what Goldfinger is up to.  He doesn't care about the women he uses and sleeps with.  He's only interested in Pussy Galore because she resists him.

Still, it's a good film overall, especially if  you ignore the subtext.

Recommendation:  See it!  It is the James Bond film after all.
Rating:  4 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Warning this review includes spoilers.  If you have not seen The Great Gatsby and don't want to know the end, there are spoilers below.  You have been warned. 
  • Title:  The Great Gatsby
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey MaGuire, Carey Mulligan,  Elizabeth DeBicki, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"By which I mean no one except me ever received an actual invitation to Gatsby's.  You see, the rest of  New York simply came uninvited.  The whole city packed into automobiles, and all weekend, every weekend, ended-up at Gatsby's."  - Nick, narrating

"He gives large parties and I like large parties.  They're so intimate.  Small parties, there isn't any privacy."  - Jordan

"It was also the night that I became aware of Gatsby's extraordinary gift for hope.   A gift that I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again."  - Nick

Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby is a stunning visual masterpiece.  The party scenes especially are reminiscent of Luhrmann's hyper-real style used to great effect in Moulin Rouge.  But where Moulin Rouge is a story about love.  The Great Gatsby really is a story of obsession.  Visually, it's an incredible film, and a must-see.  The crisp images, sweeping camera moves, editing, and color bring the viewer into the story. Again, Luhrmann uses modern music to make scenes, especially parties, feel the way they would have then. For example, Gatsby's parties are wild affairs, with a mixture of modern rap music and more traditional 1920s jazz.  At his parties, the (illegal) alcohol flows freely, and there's confetti, streamers, dancing girls, live music, drunk guests, and fireworks.  People dance, drink too much, and jump into the reflecting pool in their clothes.  It short, it's wild.  But even the smaller party at a brothel that Tom invites Nick to, in order to show off his mistress and his power and influence, is a wild party where Nick gets extremely drunk.

But not only does Luhrmann uniquely re-create the feeling of a time and place, but he tells the story of six people, all of whom become victims of obsession.  Nick Carraway narrates the story as a story he tells his therapist in a sanitarium.  Nick's from Chicago, and puts aside his dreams of being a writer to make his fortune on Wall Street.  It's his doctor who suggests he work out his issues by writing.  Nick does, and at the end of the film, he pulls the cover sheet out of his typewriter, and places it on the top of the stack of paper that will be his novel.  The typewritten title is, "Gatsby", but he adds two words by hand in pen and it becomes, The Great Gatsby.

Structurally the film actually starts and ends with the same image, a green light blinking in the distance across the water, in the darkness and mist.  This green light will represent Jay Gatsby's dream and obsession.  He met Daisy when he was a young, penniless, officer in the army at a party.  They fell in love and had an affair, but then he went off to war.  Daisy swore to wait, but Gatsby disappears.  She marries instead the very rich, very old money, and very prejudiced and sexist, George Buchanan.

Gatsby, meanwhile, has decided that in order to pursue Daisy properly, he needs to make his fortune, so he can keep her in style.  He fights in the war (World War I), attends Oxford, rescues a millionaire who's yacht nearly sinks on Lake Superior, learns to be a gentlemen, and finally ends up in New York, where he buys the mansion directly across the bay from Daisy's house.  He gives his wild parties, hoping one day she will simply show up.  Everything he's become and everything he does - Gatsby's done to impress Daisy.

Meanwhile, Tom Buchanan, Daisy's husband is a philanderer.  Even on their honeymoon, he had his way with a hotel parlour maid.  He has a mistress on the side, Myrtle, and he flaunts it.  His dinner conversation consists of putting down the new rich (like Gatsby), insisting there's an order to the world, and insulting "negros" as he calls him.  Tom is basically a bully, and he thinks his money gives him the right to treat everyone else terribly.  He wants to own Daisy, and keep her from anyone else, but it's doubtful he really loves her or Myrtle.

George is Myrtle's husband - he owns a garage in The Valley of the Ashes, a dump and coal loading station half way between West Egg and New York.  It's where New York's garbage goes.  He loves his wife, but freaks when he realizes she's been having an affair.  He's rough, and lower class and we know little about him.

Jordan is a female golfer who seems to live at the Buchanan's residence.  Daisy tries to push her together with Nick.  Their story isn't central to the film.

What is central, is the story of Gatsby and his obsession with Daisy.  Nick moves in next to Gatsby at the beginning of the summer.  Before long, he's acting as a go between for Gatsby and Daisy.  Gatsby is, at first, extremely nervous around Daisy.  But soon the two are having an affair.  Gatsby, however, insists that Daisy tell Tom she never loved him.  Daisy tries to do this but can't.  She does tell Gatsby that she loves him now, and she no longer loves Tom -- she does this in front of  Tom.

Tom doesn't take it well, and begins to repeat all the gossip and stories told about Gatsby.  There's a fight and Gatsby and Daisy leave the hotel in Gatsby's custom yellow car.  Meanwhile, George confronts Myrtle about her affair - having found a string of pearls that George gave her.  (Pearls had also been George's wedding gift to Daisy).  The two fight, and a distraught Myrtle runs into the road -- to get hit by Gatsby's yellow car.  Later, Nick learns that Daisy was driving it, rather than Gatsby.  But it's Gatsby who takes the fall.  Tom, Nick, and Jordan arrive moments later at the accident site.  Tom pretends he doesn't even know Myrtle, and hints to George that it was Gatsby having the affair with her.  He tells the police that Gatsby drives the custom yellow car that witnesses saw.

Needless to say, it doesn't end happily.  George kills Gatsby, then commits suicide.  Daisy, who had picked up the phone to call Gatsby that morning, ends up trapped in her loveless marriage to Tom.  Nick ends up in a sanitarium hopelessly addicted to alcohol.

The Great Gatsby is a terrific, stunning, gorgeous, achingly beautiful film.  The images... from the blinking green light in the mist, to the blue sign for Dr. TJ Ecklesburg looking over the Valley of Ashes, to the incredible filming of Gatsby's parties are memorable and really must be seen.  Luhrmann as a director has an excellent gift of mastery of the visual sense - and of incorporating the modern with the historic to make modern audience's truly understand what a time was like.  I originally saw this film last May on opening night, and the theater was packed.  It was a sold-out show in the largest theater at my local multiplex.  The audience was filled with people of all ages, and many of them even dressed-up in 1920s fashions.  It was more than a movie premiere -- it was an event.

However, the theme of the film isn't love.  This isn't a impossible romance.  And it's not a tragic romance either.  It's a film about obsession.  Jay Gatsby is obsessed with Daisy.  He wants to make her his wife.  He has a perfect life planned out for them in his head, and he's obsessed with doing everything he needs to do to get what he wants.  Thinking she wouldn't marry him if  he was penniless or struggling, he leaves her to marry Tom, and goes off to make his fortune.  Everything, literally everything in his huge mansion - he put together for Daisy.  His wild parties were only given in the hopes that Daisy would come.  Everything is for her and to create this image in Gatsby's head.

Tom is also obsessed - he wants to own people, like he owns things and his station in life.  He owns Daisy.  He owns Myrtle.  He owns his servants.  They may not technically be slaves, but in the way he treats people, Tom sees people as possessions, to be tossed away when they are no good.  He condemns the New Rich, and exalts his own old money class.

The Great Gatsby is similar in many ways to Moulin Rouge.  Both have a sense of hyper-reality and mix modern music and film techniques with the clothes and set dressing pieces of the past.  Both films have a writer narrating the story.  Both films have tragic endings. The Great Gatsby has a crispness and cleanness of both image and line.  There's no fantastical elements here.  There is sweeping, nearly impossible camera movements, and a use of the Art Deco colors of  black, gold, and silver.

I also found similarities between The Great Gatsby and one of my personal favorite films of all time, Sunset Blvd, directed by the Film Noir great, Billy Wilder.  Both Gatsby and Sunset Blvd are narrated by a writer.  Both are tragic stories, in Sunset Blvd a writer becomes a kept man of an aging silent film star and cannot escape her clutches, before finally being killed by her.  Though Nick Carraway escapes the excesses of Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan, it isn't without cost.  But the most direct link between the two films, is they both end with the same image, a dead man, who's been shot, floating in a swimming pool.  If you haven't seen Sunset Blvd, watch it, it's a great film, but there's a visual symmetry between the shot looking upwards at a dead Joe Gillis (William Holden) in the pool, and looking up at a dead Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio) in The Great Gatsby.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Goldfinger

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cloud Atlas


  • Title:  Cloud Atlas
  • Directors:  Tom Wykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  SF
  • Cast:  Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D'Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"The world spins from the same unseen forces that twist our hearts."  - Robert Frobisher (The Composer's Assistant)

"Our lives are not our own.  From womb to tomb we are bound to others, past and present, by each crime and every kindness we birth our future." - Sonmi-451 and also Prophetess

"Knowledge is a mirror and for the first time in my life I was allowed to see who I was and who I was meant to be." - Sonmi-451

Cloud Atlas is a visually stunning and mind-blowing film.  I loved it when I saw it in the theater last November, and it's no less appealing on DVD.  Cloud Atlas takes the theme of reincarnation and treats it seriously, by weaving together six stories, with often the same actors playing different roles.  The acting in this is phenomenal.  The actors, collectively, don heavy make-up, different clothes, different hairstyles, and sometimes even switch genders as the same "souls" are re-born over and over again.  This film is also unique in that all the scenes in "the Valley" on the Island, 106 years after The Fall - are largely in Pigeon.  (Pigeon is a real language, and it makes sense that a Pigeon would develop in a situation where the few survivors of a presumably nuclear holocaust would need to communicate with each other despite initially not speaking the same languages).

A birthmark re-occurs, as does a certain piece of music, but this film doesn't go the obvious route to bang into your head who is who.  Often, it's more a matter of recognizing an actor over and over despite how different he or she looks.  And sometimes the same "soul" is implied to have switched not only races but genders - if the shooting star birthmark is meant to suggest he/she is the same person.

I'm not much of a fan of Tom Hanks - but in this, he really manages to bring a number of different characters to life.  Halle Berry is incredibly good, and a far cry from the "sex kitten" roles she usually plays.  British character actors Jim Broadbent and newcomer Ben Whislaw (whom I had seen in the BBC's "The Hour") are awesomely good.  And Hugo Weaving  gets to play a number of villains, including a mad nurse and an assassin.

Visually the film is stunning, and mind-blowing.  The imagery, especially in the sections of the film in New Seoul, is incredible.  But even in the historical sections, or the opening shot of an ancient, aboriginal Tom Hanks telling a story are unforgetable. Identical women, in identical outfits, walking across a fishpond, Tom Hanks' face as he speaks in firelight, a ship tossed in a gale at sea, Whislaw and D'Arcy trashing all the china in a shop -- over and over the images are just breath-taking.  This is a film to be seen.

The first hour or so of Cloud Atlas may seem confusing, though it does pull you in quickly, but stick with it, it is well-worth the long running time to see the story play out.  Any one of the six stories would have made a good or even great film, woven together like an intricate tapestry, they form an incredible, cohesive whole, that is simply brilliant and must be experienced.  A true must see!

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Goldfinger

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey


  • Title:  The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers, New Line, MGM
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Sylvester McCoy, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, James Nesbitt, Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

"For he had seen dragonfire in the sky and a city turned to ash, and he never forgave and he never forgot."  -- Old Bilbo describing Thorin Oakenshield

"I've never used a sword in my life." -- Bilbo
"And I hope you never have to.  But if you do, remember this:  True courage is about knowing not when to take a life but when to spare one."  -- Gandalf

"Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check.  But that is not what I have found.  I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the blackness at bay.  Simple acts of kindness and love."  -- Gandalf

The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey opens with old Bilbo (Ian Holm) reminiscing, speaking to Frodo, but only in his head as he goes through some of his old souvenirs of his adventures.  Bilbo's narration includes the famous first line that Tolkien wrote about Hobbits, "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit..." and background information about the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the kingdom of Erebor.  When Frodo does arrive he brings in the mail, most of which are responses to Biblo's birthday party -- and Bilbo gives him the sign to hang on his garden gate, "No admittance except on Party business".  The screen then transitions to the title card for "An Unexpected Journey" and young Bilbo (Martin Freeman).  This neatly ties The Hobbit in with the previous Lord of the Rings film trilogy.  JRR Tolkien wrote The Hobbit first, then The Lord of the Rings which was so long, his publisher suggested publishing it in three volumes, which became:  The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.  Now, you can get LotR in either a single volume or in the traditional three-book version, and often it's packaged in box sets with the prequel, The Hobbit.

In the Shire, Bilbo is standing around outside when Gandalf arrives and tries to talk Bilbo into accompanying him on an adventure.  Bilbo dismisses the idea.  Later, one by one, then in groups, a total of twelve Dwarves arrive at his Hobbit hole.  Finally, Thorin Oakenshield the Dwarves leader arrives, as does Gandalf.  The Dwarves are rather chaotic house-guests, but they tell Bilbo of their quest -- to return to Erebor and re-claim their kingdom under the mountain from the dragon, Smaug.  Bilbo is reluctant.

The Dwarves sing, "The Song of the Misty Mountains", their anthem, and each of the Dwarves stands to sing.  This somewhat convinces Bilbo, but when he gets a look at his "contract"  he's shocked at all the ways he could die, and ultimately he refuses.

The next morning, Bilbo awakens and his home is sparkling.  He finds the contract, signs it, and runs out his door to join Gandalf and the Dwarves on an adventure.  As they travel, the scenery is beautiful and gorgeous.  Stunning, really.

One night, when they've stopped to camp, Balin fills Bilbo in on more of  Thorin's background.  His Grandfather and Father had attempted to re-take Moria which was filled with Orcs.  Not only did they face an horde of orcs, but a pale orc beheads the king, Thorin's grandfather, and Thorin's father runs off, driven mad by grief, anger, and fear.  The pale orc, Azog, also attacks Thorin, who defends himself  with an oaken branch.  Thorin rallies the Dwarves, but though they "win" the battle, the cost is much too high, with the piles of Dwarven dead on the battlefield, and the death of the Dwarves' king.

Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves continue their journey in the rain.  Bilbo asks Gandalf about other wizards. Gandalf mentions Saruman the White, the two blues, and Radagast the Brown.  The film transitions to Radagast, who is investigating mysterious occurrences in the Greenwood.  Radagast travels by way of a sled pulled by rabbits.  The film transitions back to Thorin's company.

Again, the Dwarves camp for the night.  Two ponies go missing.  Fili, Kili, and Bilbo investigate and find trolls.  While the the trolls, are gross, stupid, and acting like the Three Stooges, Bilbo sneaks over to free the now four taken ponies.  Bilbo is caught and the trolls threaten to eat him.  Kili and the other Dwarves arrive to the rescue.  There's a fight, but in the end, Bilbo is caught and the Dwarves have to put down their arms.  The trolls plan on eating the dwarves.  Bilbo tries to delay the trolls.  At dawn, Gandalf arrives and the sun turns the trolls to stone.  Bilbo's playing for time had saved the Dwarves as much as Gandalf's arrival, but Gandalf  has to point the fact out to Thorin.

The company finds the nearby troll hold of  treasure and weapons.  They discover three fine Elvish swords, Gandalf takes one, he gives Thorin another, and Bilbo takes a third, a knife that is just the right size for him to use as a sword.

Radagast arrives and tells Gandalf that a darkness has fallen on the Greenwood, and spiders have invaded it.  a dark power, the shadow of an ancient horror, the Necromancer is now there.  Wargs (giant wolf/dog-type animals) and orcs attack, and the ponies bolt.  Radagast draws off the Wargs.

Gandalf  leads the Dwarves to a secret passage, Thorin covers the retreat.  Suddenly, someone arrives and attacks the orcs, a group of Elves.  Gandalf  leads the Dwarves through the path and they arrive in Rivendell.
Elrond arrives, he is back from hunting Orcs.  Elrond and his Elves exhibit impressive horsemanship, and Elrond's red-tinged armor is gorgeous!  Elrond greets Thorin by name, and by the names of  his father and mentions knowing his grandfather.  The Elves offer the Dwarves food and shelter.  Thorin reluctantly accepts, still holding a grudge against Elves because they did not aid the Dwarves when Smaug attacked Erebor.

Elrond recognizes the Elvish swords that the Dwarves found, telling Thorin his is, Orcrist - the Goblin Cleaver, and he tells Gandalf, his is, Glamdring, the Foe Hammer.  Elrond tells them a little of the swords' history.  Bilbo looks up with expectation, but he's told his "sword" is too small to have done great deals, that it is probably a "dinner knife" or child's toy.  The Dwarves are treated to a meal and music, but are uncomfortable.

Elrond explains the moon runes on Thorin's map to Gandalf and Thorin.  Elrond discovers the company's quest and refers to Gandalf as a "Guardian of Middle-Earth".  Gandalf shows a council of  himself, Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman the Morgul blade as proof  of Radagast's news that something is going on in the Greenwood.  Saruman dismisses this news, and Radagast himself, but Galadriel takes Gandalf more seriously and offers her help if he should ever need it.

The Dwarves leave Rivendell, and continue their journey.  On a black mountain cliff, in the rain, they wander into a battle between storm giants.  Bilbo nearly falls from the cliff.  In rescuing him, Thorin is nearly lost.  In a fit of anger, he tells Bilbo, "He's been lost, ever since he left home.  He should never have come.  He has no place amongst us."  The Dwarves move into a cave to rest.  Bilbo's about to leave, to go home, but he talks to Bofur who convinces him to stay, then his sword glows blue - indicating orcs or goblins nearby.  The company is attacked by goblins (orcs).  The Dwarves are captured, but Bilbo is over-looked and left alone.  There, he is attacked by a goblin and fights, then falls down a cavern.

The captured Dwarves are brought to the Goblin king.  Thorin comes to defend the Dwarves.  The goblin king threatens to send Thorin's head to the pale orc.

Bilbo wakes in the dark.  He sees Gollum.  Gollum loses the ring while attacking a goblin, which he drags back to his underground pond to kill and eat.
Bilbo finds the ring, and pockets it.
Once Gollum has killed the goblin, Bilbo's sword ceased to glow blue.  He and Gollum meet.  Slowly Bilbo and Gollum get into a game of riddles.  Biblo asks Gollum to show him the way out if he wins, and if  he loses, Gollum wants to eat him.  Gollum alternates between his "Gollum" and "Smeagol" personalities throughout the scenes between he and Bilbo.  It's extremely well done!

Since Bilbo wins the game, Gollum must show him the way out.  Gollum also realises with a panic that he's lost his precious, and also realises that Bilbo has it in his "pocketses".

Gandalf arrives to rescue Thorin and his Dwarves.

Bilbo escapes a wrathful Gollum by squeezing through a tight passage in the rock - so tight the brass button pop off  his waistcoat (or vest).  The ring falls on his finger and he's dropped into "wraithworld" without warning or understanding.

Fighting the goblins, the Dwarves and Gandalf move to escape but they are confronted by the goblin king.  Gandalf defeats him.  The Dwarves and Gandalf, however, fall off a wooden bridge, into a cavern and land in a heap.  They run for the exit.

Bilbo, in the wraithworld, sees the Dwarves running by, who, naturally don't notice him.  Bilbo is unable to kill the helpless and pathetic Gollum.  This will be very important later, in The Lord of the Rings, where Bilbo's mercy has great consequences.  Bilbo runs for the exit, and Gollum doesn't really know what's happened.

In the woods, Gandalf counts the Dwarves, sees they are all there, then asks after Bilbo.  Bilbo takes the ring off and appears.  Wargs and orcs attack, Bilbo kills a warg.  The company escapes into the trees.  Gandalf speaks to a Monarch butterfly to call for help.  Azog arrives.  Gandalf attacks the wargs with fire, setting pine-cones alight and throwing them.  Bilbo and the Dwarves also throw flaming pine cones at the wargs.  But the forest of trees bursts into flame and the Dwarves nearly fall off  the cliff.  Walking through the pale trees, Thorin attacks Azog, the pale orc.  Azog strikes back and knocks Thorin out.

Bilbo attacks the orc sent to take Thorin's head and kills the orc.  The Eagles arrive to rescue the Dwarves.  The Eagles attack the wargs and orcs.  One eagle picks up the still unconscious Thorin in his talons.  All, including Bilbo, are rescued.  The eagles carry everyone to a rocky cliff face at the top of a mountain.  Gandalf goes to check on Thorin and heals him.  Thorin is grateful to Bilbo for saving him, and admits to being wrong about him.  From the cliff, they can see Erebor, the Lonely Mountain.  Under the mountain, is Smaug.

I enjoyed The Hobbit.  Yes, it is a long film, and  there are several complex action sequences, as one would expect from Peter Jackson.  But the emphasis and heart of the film is the characters, especially, Bilbo, Gandalf, and Thorin.  Tolkien's original novel is only about 300 pages, and it's a straight-forward, there-and-back again tale of adventure.  So, I wondered how Jackson was going to take that and make first, two films, and later, it was announced, a new trilogy of films. However, one of the things he does in An Unexpected Journey is he changes the emphasis of the Dwarves' quest from one for gold -- the gold horded by the dragon, to a quest to re-take their home.  Making the quest about home means it's easier to identify with the entire story, and it gives Bilbo a reason to accompany the Dwarves on their quest.  He tells Thorin that he has a home but he will help Thorin take his home back, if  he can.  Bilbo can understand and emphasize with Thorin's quest to take back his home.  I'm hoping 2013's The Desolation of Smaug will also be as good, though I have no doubts that it will be.  Anyway, this film is excellent, highly enjoyable, and highly recommended.

New Zealand again  plays Middle-Earth, and the scenery is stunning, absolutely stunning.  Howard Shore's score, which I was anticipating last year almost as much as the film itself, is perfect.  It's new, but has a quality that lets you know this is the same Middle-Earth as in Lord of the Rings, though a younger, more innocent time, with only a hint of the darkness to come.  And the Dwarves' choral piece, "Song of the Misty Mountains" is beautiful, I really loved it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Cloud Atlas