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Category Archives: Fantasy

A rundown of the biggest films to hit so far this summer…
            A great improvement on the first Captain America film in 2011. Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo have honed their craft shooting parody action scenes on NBC’s Community and Winter Solider greatly benefits from this. Possibly the first film in the Marvel extended universe to have any actual stakes, this will hold us over nicely until Guardians of the Galaxy/Ant-Man/Dr. Strange hit theaters in the coming years.

FilmFire review:
4.25/5 forms

            Another fun but non consequential romp from Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield. Ridiculous and cringe worthy coincidences litter this film all the way through but it doesn’t stop it from being very entertaining. A lot of universe building stuff à la Iron Man 2. Paul Giamatti is wasted in a sea of third act villains.

FilmFire review:
3.25/5 forms

            A total joy to watch. Intense slow burn through the beginning stages of the film until we get what we’ve been waiting for. Bryan Cranston shines but is the only relatable character in the movie. The lead actors are terribly written and given less than nothing to do, but it doesn’t stop the film from being wildy enjoyable. Insane ending climax that is brutally satisfying.

FilmFire review:
4/5 forms

            A return to form for Bryan Singer, his first time directing an X-Men film since 2003. Fast paced and much more enjoyable than any of the X-Men movies from the last decade, Days of Future Past is a a ton of fun to watch. It manages to successfully combine the old and young casts into one film without seeming bloated with characters, something Sony should learn to do with their rambling Spider-Man franchise. The interesting take on time travel mechanics makes it a joy to watch.

FilmFire review:
4.5/5 forms

            A complete butchering of the original fairy tale, there’s almost nothing of merit here besides Angelina Jolie chewing scenery. Completely takes the evil out of the witch and sanitizes all of the dark and broodiness from the original. She doesn’t even turn into the dragon. Maybe fun for families with little kids, but this is another case of Disney cashing in.

FilmFire review:
2/5 forms


With the introductions and bag-packing out of the way from the first film, the new movie jumps straight into the action and doesn’t relent until the cliffhanger ending almost three hours later.
-Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail

Smaug ignites the excitement missing from Jackson’s sluggish first Hobbit flick, and the stunning visuals — cinematography, costuming, set design, effects — set it apart as one of the most impressive fantasy films ever made.
-Tyler Hanley, Palo Alto Weekly

If you awaken that beast you will destroy us all

The more time I can spend in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth, the better. Another 3 hours in Tolkien’s fantasy world for Desolation of Smaug? Count me in, and I’m going to love every minute of it.

There have been numerous complaints about all the differences between this film and The Hobbit as a novel. Books don’t often translate too well to film and this is surely one of those cases. The Hobbit contains so much exposition and inner dialogue and characters meandering here and there, it would be a disaster of a film to do a straight one to one version of the book to screen. The Desolation of Smaug, however, is an “adaptation” of the novel and much has been changed to make for a better theatrical experience. Some things just make more sense visually on a screen than as written word and vice versa.

It never ceases to amaze me, the courage of Hobbits…

Sure, I was disappointed we didn’t see a lot of Beorn’s house, but how cinematic would it have been to watch the dwarves settle in and listen to Gandalf tell the story of what we’ve already watched? The wood elves forest parties are some of my favorite scenes from the book but they just wouldn’t work correctly in the context of the film. Remember how tedious the dwarf dinner scene from the first Hobbit was? Not too exciting.

If you can manage to turn off your thought process that compares the film to the book, the movie will be that much more enjoyable.

We’ve been blind, and in our blindness,
our enemy has returned.

What the film does suffer from is the same pacing issues from last years An Unexpected Journey. This second chapter seems to barrel along at rapid speed for the first hour and a half or so, bouncing from one set piece to the next, mixing in an action sequence here or there. As mentioned above, the scene at Beorn’s home is painfully short (for good reason, I suppose) and the entirety of Mirkwood flies by as well. But by the time we get to Lake Town and Erebor, the film has slowed down considerably, but not so much to it’s detriment. You COULD cut 20-30 minutes from this film without much damage, but why would you when it’s so much fun to watch?

The final few acts of the film revolve around the reveal of Smaug himself, and it is a joy to behold. Much like Gollum in the “Riddles in the Dark” scene from the previous film, Smaug is an unmatched technical achievement and so much fun to watch. The movie is worth it solely to see him slithering through all that gold treasure under the mountain. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch with some additional distortion techniques, Smaug should go down as one of the better cgi creatures in film.

Dragonfire and ruin! That is what he will bring upon us! He cannot see beyond his own desire!

A much better all around film than An Unexpected Journey last year and a lot more fun, The Desolation of Smaug is a fantastic journey back to Middle-earth. The climactic ending sets up next years conclusion perfectly; and much like when the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended, I’m already beginning to feel the emptiness set in for when this trilogy is over. Maybe after another 9 year break Peter Jackson can find a way to bring us back to this magical land just one more time.

…What have we done?

FilmFire review:
4/5 forms

Not all of Oblivion’s big ideas stick – in fact some of them threaten to send the film spiralling into its namesake – but at its best, the film achieves something that is highly elusive in modern film: it is completely and utterly engrossing.
-Adam Ross, The Aristocrat

Extraordinary, if a little hard to follow at times. A jaw-dropping, exciting and the most visually stunning and innovative science-fiction thriller to hit the screen since ‘Blade Runner’ . Cruise delivers one of the best performances of his career.
-Pete Hammond, Movieline

This spring movie season has been brutal. There have been a few hidden gems among the mess, but very few and far between. Side Effects and Spring Breakers come to mine as some of the standouts, but it’s tough to be satisfied with 2 quality films in a 4 month stretch. So, it’s quite a relief to be nearing summer movie season once again. This summer looks to have some exciting films in store. If not as hyped as last years disappointing Summer of the Superhero Sequel, they will at least be interesting to talk about. Which brings us to Oblivion, The first notable release of summer 2013.

60 years ago, Earth was attacked. We won the war, but they destroyed half the planet. Everyone’s been evacuated. Nothing human remains.

This is Joseph Kasinski’s 2nd turn as director after Tron: Legacy a few years ago. Although a lot of people were disappointed in that film, I was very impressed with it’s style and visual flair. Fortunately, Kosinski does the same great work with Oblivion. It is absolutely gorgeous.

Oblivion follows some pretty conventional and familiar sci-fi tropes; but it doesn’t hinder the film as much as you would think. Of course, you have a steady dose of grungy future environments, outcasts dressed in steam-punk garb and other tired elements of this recent wave of sci-fi.

But don’t worry, it’s not just another sci-fi retread set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. One would think that a film set on an empty planet would be a chore to watch, but Oblivion actually makes incredible use of it’s surroundings. So many beautiful sprawling shots of the scorched landscape, crumbling rock formations, ruined landmarks, etc. But what elevates this movie above more recent offerings in the genre is the completely original story that makes up the backbone of all the beautiful imagery. After a full summer of sequels, prequels and superhero blockbusters last year, Oblivion is a really refreshing summer action film.

I can’t shake the feeling, that earth, inspite of all that’s happened, earth is still my home.

An interesting thing about this film – despite it’s originality, it completely respects all great sci-fi that has come before it. It borrows here and there from one film or another and an important sequence at the end appears to be a tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The presence of everyman Tom Cruise may irk some, but you have to admit he does a great job in this type of role. He’s played this character before but he’s good at it. He brings a gravitas and sense of respect to the role that a lesser actor wouldn’t have been able to accomplish.

Oblivion is a ton of fun and a great way to start out this summer movie season. It’s probably not a masterpiece, but you could do a lot worse than spending a few hours at the theater with spaceman Tom Cruise and steam-punk Morgan Freeman. The only major negative: the lack of a soothing voiceover from the angelic Mr. Freeman.

Is it possible to miss a place you’ve never been, to mourn a time you’ve never lived?

FilmFire review:
4.25/5 forms

It’s that time of the year to put out the annual top ten list. After much scrutinizing, I finally feel like I’ve seen everything I need to fill out my top ten. Links to the films I’ve previously written a full review of are provided…I will start with the 6 honorable mentions I have this year, in no order:

The Honorable Mentions

…These honorable mentions are the films that were in consideration up until the last minute but just barely missed the cut.

The Top Ten
  • 10. Rust and Bone
  • Powerful. Heartbreaking. Superbly acted. Rust and Bone tells the triumphant story of man’s will to survive against all odds

  • 9. The Impossible
  • A fascinating true story of a family determined to survive a devastating natural disaster. This is a disaster movie that puts Roland Emmerich to shame, in both special effects and human emotion.

  • 8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • A refreshingly charming coming of age tale. Somewhere, John Hughes is watching this film and smiling.

  • 7. Django Unchained
  • A brutal, blood-soaked revenge tale from Quentin Tarantino. Wildly entertaining and hilarious. Revisionist history at its best.

  • 6. Cabin in the Woods
  • I shouldn’t say anything about this movie. It is really good.

  • 5. Safety Not Guaranteed
  • A great little indie/sci-fi film. An exploration of what it takes to trust someone rejected by society and believe in the impossible. Tremendous emotional payoff at the end.

  • 4. Zero Dark Thirty
  • Completely mesmerizing from start to finish. Outstanding acting and directing. The best and most tense final act of a movie you will see this year.

  • 3. The Dark Knight Rises
  • Blew me away. Obviously not as good as The Dark Knight but what is? If you say The Avengers, you’re wrong. Nolan has completed the perfect Batman trilogy.

  • 2. Life of Pi
  • Gorgeous, profound, visually spectacular and the best film I’ve seen in 3D to date. Life of Pi  has it all. Come for the adventure, and stay for the enlightenment. Ang Lee’s best.

  • 1. Cloud Atlas
  • Six different stories weave their way through this epic tale and seamlessly connect both plotwise and thematically. Groundbreaking editing. So beautiful and ambitious. An absolute blast to watch. The best movie of the year.

Visually it is sometimes amazing, but it is a large troll step down from the last trilogy.
-Mark R. Leeper, Mark Leeper’s Reviews

Not all the scenes are necessary, and a great deal of the movie is set-up, with Jackson reveling in his own return to Middle Earth. But it’s an enjoyable experience.
Kevin Carr, 7M Pictures

The Hobbit  is really long. It feels great to return to Middle Earth with Peter Jackson, but this is overdoing it just a bit. Having fond memories of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was initially a fan of stretching this book into 3 films. But after seeing the first one absolutely stuffed with backstory and unecessary tangents, I now think 2 films would have sufficed. Regardless, it’s an incredibly fun movie with some astounding visuals and great set pieces that brings back some of the joy I felt watching the previous entries.

The bulk of The Hobbit  consists of a pattern of journey/battle/escape sequences as the team of dwarves ventures across Middle Earth. Although fun to watch, it starts to become repetitive. But the repetitive nature of these sequences make the showcase scene of the movie even better:

Riddles in the Dark

Jackson gives us a break from all this adventure at the perfect time. Riddles in the Dark is the best part of the film and features what should be award-winning motion capture work from Andy Serkis. Gollum once again is a complete visual masterpiece; his interactions with Bilbo are captivating and hilarious. Jackson does do great work with the large scale action sequences, but you can tell his true gift behind the camera with small character driven moments like this.

Oh, we like goblinses, batses, and fishes, but we hasn’t tried Hobbitses before. Is it soft? is It juicy?

Oh! We knows! We knows safe paths for hobbitses! Safe paths in the dark!… SHUT UP!

And if he loses? What then? Well if he loses precious then we eats it! If Baggins loses we eats it whole!

There are a billion characters in The Hobbit, most of which aren’t entirely fleshed out given this story only tells the first third of a children’s book. However, there are a few standouts. Martin Freeman does a great job portraying the character arc that Bilbo experiences throughout the journey. Richard Armitage has the perfect screen presence and command as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield. The remainder of the dwarves were pretty unmemorable.

Bilbo: I know you doubt me. I know you always have. I often think of Bag End. That’s where I belong. That’s home. You don’t have one. It was taken from you, but I will help you get it back if I can.

Overall, The Hobbit is a visual feast and brings back some good old Middle Earth nostalgia from Jackson’s LOTR trilogy. It’s on the long side and can become repetitive, but it’s not enough to totally hinder your viewing pleasure. I can’t speak for the higher framerate version that was released in some theaters, but I would probably check it out because technology is cool.

FilmFire review:
3.75/5 forms