Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

Fellowship of the Ring.jpg

December 19, 2001
Dir. Peter Jackson
Prod. Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Tim Sanders
Genre: Epic High Fantasy
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

I love Lord of the Rings. The whole series is amazing and it’s definitely what kicked off my love for New Zealand.

I’ve seen the first film in the trilogy more times than I can count and think it’s absolutely brilliant. I recently bought the extended edition (finally) and have really enjoyed seeing all the behind the scenes stuff that went into making the film.

If I were to ask you to name a film (or several) that you thought was truly great I’m sure everyone would have a different answer. However, I don’t think anyone can deny that Fellowship of the Ring is definitely on that list.

Fellowship brings together an intriguing plot, fascinating characters, and a beautiful landscape and creates what is probably one of the best films of all time.

The film follows Frodo Baggins, a hobbit from The Shire, as he embarks on a quest to destroy an all powerful ring. A ring that could bring an end to Middle Earth if it fell into the wrong hands. With the help of several companies along the way, Frodo takes great steps on his journey to saving all of Middle Earth.

Now, as I mentioned before Lord of the Rings is full of interesting characters and in this first film we meet the original ‘fellowship’: Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli.

All of these characters are very different and not only do they each bring something unique to the fellowship, but they bring something unique to the screen that makes the film all the more enjoyable.

On the surface each character appears very simple, Frodo is the hero, Sam the loyal companion, Merry and Pippin the comic relief, Aragorn the warrior, and Boromir the traitor. But they are all so much more than that. Each character, from Gimli to Gandalf, offers comedic moments and heart wrenching moments; moments where you admire their bravery and moments where you want to slap them for their stupidity (you know who I’m talking about).

However, even at their lowest moments you can’t help wanting these characters to succeed. Maybe not at everything they attempt to do (like, you know, stealing the ring from Frodo), but at most things. You want to see what happens next, where these characters are going, what they’re going to encounter.

And what they encounter is a whole lot of adventure and a whole lot of beauty as they travel across Middle Earth aka New Zealand.

Over the years my dream destination has changed drastically. As a child of course I wanted to go to Disney World. Then as I got older I wanted to go to England and Scotland, two places my family comes from.

Well now I’ve been to Disney World and I’d still love to go to England Scotland one day, for many years now I’ve wanted nothing more than to go to New Zealand. And Lord of the Rings played a big part in that.

Fellowship was my first memorable view of New Zealand and every time I watch the film and the ones that follow I desperately want to walk the same paths the fellowship follows over mountains and trails.

 New Zealand is Middle Earth, it is magical and mysterious and full of creatures that don’t exist anywhere else.

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Fellowship of the Ring is a cinematic masterpiece. Not only does it contain all the things required to make a good film (interesting plot, characters, etc.), but it also contains something that keeps the audience completely entranced. I don’t quite know how to describe it, but anyone who has watched Lord of the Rings will know what I’m talking about.

There’s just something about these films, and Fellowship in particular, that keeps you watching over and over again.

Near the start of this review I called this film one of the best films of all time and I stand by that statement. There are many films that could fall into that category, but for all the reasons stated above and many more, I think you can see why Fellowship belongs there.

What do you think of Fellowship of the Ring? Which character is your favourite?

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Mamma Mia, 2008

Mamma MiaJuly 18, 2008
Dir. Phyllida Lloyd
Prod. Judy Craymer, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks
Genre: Musical Romantic Comedy
Based On: Music by ABBA
Starring: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski

I’ve been watching this movie a lot lately. It’s just one of those films that I can watch over and over and a lot of the time I’ll have it on in the background while I’m working. Maybe it’s because it just feels like I’m listening to music.

Mamma Mia was originally a musical based on the music of ABBA and was adapted into a film in 2008.

Meryl Streep stars as Donna Sheridan, single mother to Sophie (played by Amanda Seyfried) who sets out to find out who her father is before she gets married. The catch? There are three possible men who may be her father, but she doesn’t know which one it is and nether does her mother.

I love this film! I went and saw it when it was in theatres and it was so great because everyone in the theatre was jamming along to the music.

It was pretty obvious from the start that this film would be a huge success, a big reason for that being the all-star cast.

When you have Meryl Streep as the leading lady and acting opposite actors Stellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan, and Julie Walters, to name a few, you know the bar is going to be set high.

Everyone is so recognizable which I love. You see an actor or actress in this film and it’s pretty likely that you’ve seen them somewhere else. And everyone can sing! I know that should seem obvious since Mamma Mia is a musical, but I wasn’t expecting it from some people!

I wasn’t expecting Karen from Mean Girls or Mrs. Weasley to be able to sing. Not only that, but now every time I watch Captain America I can’t stop laughing because before he was Howard Stark, many people saw Dominic Cooper dancing in sparkly spandex while singing “Waterloo”.

It truly is one of the best things I have ever seen in my life.

Mamma Mia is, of course, all about the music. Some of the songs will have you laughing, some of them will have you crying, but all of them will have you dancing.

I can’t really choose a favourite song in the film because they’re all so good, but “Dancing Queen”, “Does Your Mother Know”, and “Slipping Through My Fingers” are three in particular that I listen to over and over. “Slipping Through My Fingers” is the one that really gets the emotions going so be warned, but “Dancing Queen” is definitely one that will have you on your feet.

Of course, the music wouldn’t make us feel any of these things if it weren’t for the cast and crew. Obviously people feel something beforehand because some people have seen the musical or many people (I’m assuming) listen to ABBA.

But in the case of a movie, the challenge is making the audience feel something right off the bat, a connection to these characters they’re seeing. Because if the audience doesn’t care, then what?

But from the opening scene you can’t help it, immediately there is a love and connection for these characters. They’re all just so much fun! There isn’t one character in this film where you go, “ugh, I can’t stand them!” That feeling doesn’t exist in this movie!

Maybe it’s down to the writing, the directing, the actors, or the music. Whatever it is, that connection is there right off the bat and you can’t help but like them and want to know more.

The scenery helps too. Even if you didn’t like the characters, I’d keep watching just for the scenery because the settings in this movie is truly a sight to see.

Mamma Mia was filmed in various locations with majority of the outdoor scenes being filmed on location on a small island in Greece and oh my goodness this movie makes me want to up and move to Greece. It’s so gorgeous!

I feel like I should have known it was filmed on location because there’s no way you could manufacture water that blue, but at the same time it doesn’t seem possible for water to be that blue in nature without anyone doing anything.

God the wanderlust is strong with this film. You’re going to want to pack your bags and move to Greece, signing “Dancing Queen” all the way.

The last thing I really want to talk about for this film is the costumes. The costume department did a top notch job with this one because each character is so distinct in how they dress. From Harry’s (Firth) business suits to Tanya’s (Baranski) expensive dressed to Sky (Cooper) constantly wearing swim shorts, each character is so individual and unique that it just makes this film even more special.

It gives them all personality and really shows that you what kind of lives they live whether it be single and structured or on the island swimming every day. The costumes tell a story in themselves so kudos to the costume department.

Mamma Mia is a spectacular film and musical. The cast do an amazing job bringing these characters to life and the music is something I listen to over and over again.

If you haven’t seen this film I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not typically a fan of musicals, if you like music and top quality acting, you’ll like Mamma Mia.

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, 2013

Hansel and GretelJanuary 25, 2013
Dir. Tommy Wirkola
Prod. Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Kevin Messick, Beau Flynn
Genre: Action Horror Neo-Noir
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann, Derek Mears, Pihla Viitala, Robert Atkin Downes (Voice)

When I first heard of this movie it sounded really interesting. The preview kind of turned me off because of how gory it looked, but I figured since Hawkeye was in it, it would probably be a good film.

It is a very gory film, but surprisingly I wasn’t as grossed out as I thought I would be. I blame The Walking Dead for desensitizing me to blood and guts.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters takes the classic childhood fairytale and turns it on it’s head. Or rather, cuts off it’s head and burns it which is something you’ll see happen a lot in this movie.

The story starts off the same as it does in the original. After being abandoned in the forest by their father, Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) find a house made of candy and the witch tricks them into coming inside before locking them up with the intent of eating them. However, that’s where the similarities stop.

Hansel and Gretel manage to escape their cage and kill the witch, thus taking on their official new roles as Witch Hunters. They spend their lives traveling all over killing witches and rescuing the children they kidnap.

This is how they end up in Augsburg. An incredibly powerful witch named Muriel (Janssen) is kidnapped children to use in a ritual that will help them become immune to fire, their one great weakness.

With the help of Ben (Mann) and Edward the Troll (Mears), Hansel and Gretel manage to stop the witches and discover something surprising about their own family along the way.

I really love this film. I’m a big fan of the grittier versions of fairytales and this is definitely one of those versions. The acting was brilliant, Renner and Arterton did an amazing job and Thomas Mann and Derek Mears play two characters you will absolutely love.

It’s gross and gritty, but also manages to be incredibly funny and I guarantee you will enjoy every minute.

Now, of course, we can’t have a Hansel and Gretel film with a Hansel and a Gretel. Jeremy Renner as Hansel was so perfect in this role. It’s so different from other stuff I’ve seen him in, but he still has the same sarcasm I’ve come to enjoy in his previous roles.

I hadn’t seen too much of Arterton’s work before this. I knew who she was, but I hadn’t watched too many of the things she had been in. However, anything she’s in now I look forward to as she was absolutely brilliant in this. There are some actors I find who are very expressive and she’s definitely one of them.

There were some scenes between her and Renner and even if she wasn’t saying anything out loud it was like she had just said an entire monologue with her expression.

She and Renner were absolutely amazing acting opposite each other. They conveyed the sibling dynamic perfectly. From the way they tease each other to the way they protect each other, Renner and Arterton did a phenomenal job.

Famke Janssen was great. I’ve seen her a couple things, but the main thing I really know her from is her role as Jean Grey in X-Men. While she was technically a bad guy in the third film in that series, it was nothing to her character in this one. I mean, Jean Grey didn’t eat children so there’s that. It was pretty great seeing her a role so vastly different from the others I’ve seen her in and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this other side to an actress I really like.

I mentioned before that Thomas Mann and Derek Mears play two characters who you will love and I say this because they are funny and adorable and perfectly round out the main cast on the good guy’s side.

Thomas Mann plays Ben, a teenager who is a major (and I mean major) fan of Hansel and Gretel. From the first moment we really meet him with his book of Hansel and Gretel articles (he was the original fanboy), Ben is a character you can’t help liking.

Mears was a bit of a different case. Starting out working for the wrong side, Mears plays Edward, a troll who eventually rescues Gretel and befriends her. He’s big and grunts a lot and kind of reminds me of a really strong guard dog. While I was a bit iffy about him at first, by the end of the film I was rooting for him and so glad he made it out okay.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be the costume and makeup departments. Or the special effects people for that matter. The witches faces were disgusting and I didn’t recognize any of the actresses when their faces changed. The body suit Mears had to wear to play Edward almost had me believing in trolls. It looked so real!

Each scene was done so flawlessly it looks like they actually changed their faces from looking normal to being gross and terrifying. However, you know that obviously didn’t happen, and I have to give kudos to the people who sat for hours applying makeup and prosthetics. And to the actors for sitting still long enough to do that.

I made a paper mache mask in eighth grade and had to sit still with it for twenty minutes and barely managed that so I can’t imagine being on either side of the makeup for hours.

And can I just say, the amount of fake blood they used in this film must have been ridiculous. There was so many splatter and burning bodies and exploding bodies and just so many bodies. Bodies, blood, and fire. I’m assuming there was a medical team on standby.

One thing I really loved about this film was something they added in that I never would have thought of. Hansel has diabetes. After being forced to eat all that candy as a child in the witch’s house, he developed “Sugar Sickness” and needs to inject himself with medicine at certain times otherwise he gets sick. This is brilliant. I never would have thought of it, but it makes so much sense. He even created his own special watch that goes off when he needs an injection and I thought this whole thing was so smart and such a good idea on the writer’s part. Amazing.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters takes a beloved fairytale and adds gore, dark humour, and lots of cursing. And you know what? It’s absolutely brilliant. The actors are great, the special effects are disgusting (so something obviously went right there), and I watch it all the time.

If you have a weak stomach or don’t like cursing this film might not be for you, but if that sort of stuff just rolls off your back then I highly recommend watching Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters immediately. Seriously. Stop reading this and go watch the movie. You won’t regret it.

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Les Miserables, 2012

Les Mis
December 5, 2012
Dir. Tom Hooper
Prod. Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh
Genre: British Epic Romantic Musical History Drama
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Isabelle Allen, Daniel Huttlestone, Colm Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, George Blagden, Killian Donnelly, Fra Fee, Alistair Brammer, Gabriel Vick, Hugh Skinner, Iwan Lewis, Stuart Neal, Hadley Fraser

In 2012, Tom Hooper took on a project so risky that many people were doubting it would end well. That project? Turning the iconic Les Miserables into a film.

Now, this wasn’t the first film adaptation of the classic Victor Hugo novel. There have been many versions of this story told through film, theatre, and more. However, it is always a risk to take something so well-known and beloved and make it new.

Les Mis follows the life of Jean Valjean (Jackman), a man who, after being released from prison, makes the decision to turn his life around and become a better man. He adopts a young girl, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), the daughter of Fantine (Hathaway), a factory worker he didn’t protect. Years later Valjean is caught in the middle of the 1832 Paris Uprising when Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) falls for one of the revolutionaries. All the while Valjean has been on the run from Police Inspector Javert (Crowe) who has been hunting Valjean since he was first released from prison.

This is a story that requires a lot of care. Taking place over many years and involving many characters, Tom Hooper had his work cut out for him. However, between the phenomenal singing from an even more phenomenal cast to sets designed so realistically you’d think they filmed on location, Hooper did a marvelous job at directing the film.

One of the main keys to any film or show is getting the casting right. If even one character isn’t portrayed correctly it can throw off the whole dynamic. Thankfully, Les Miserables didn’t seem to have this problem. Having Hugh Jackman as the lead character, Jean Valjean, was a brilliant choice. The man is not only well-known for his acting in films, but also for his theatre performance. Les Mis scored again when they put Jackman opposite Russell Crowe, who actually got his career started doing musical theatre.

Also amongst this band of amazing actors are Anne Hathaway, who excels in her role of Fantine and brings the emotion right out of the screen. Samantha Barks as Eponine is so skilled at what she does that you will feel everything she does. You will want to fight right alongside her and cry right as she does. Amanda Seyfriend, who had previously been in the musical movie, Mamma Mia, plays the role of older Cosette and Eddie Redmayne (who recently won an Oscar) portrays her love, Marius. Seyfriend’s voice is light and soft, while Redmayne brings something so raw to his performance. The voices are already brilliant on their own, when put together they make a strong couple.

I could honestly go on all day about the amazing actors in this film, but I don’t want to bore you so I’m only going to mention two more. Aaron Tveit in the role of Enjolras and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche. Tveit had the challenge of portraying this character who is described as being almost God-like. He has to exude strength and passion. Tveit succeeded. You will truly feel like he’s leading you into a revolution when you watch this film. Huttlestone was only twelve when he did Les Mis, but when it comes to his singing, you can forget all about his age. While he has a voice that is young and is perfect for this character, he plays Gavroche so well that you will view him the same as all the other actors.

Of course, none of these actors would be very good if they couldn’t sing. Thankfully they can as they had some serious songs to perform. One of the things that makes this a stand out musical movie is the fact that they made the decision to sing live. Instead of going into a studio to record the music and then playing the track over a video of the actors mouthing the words, they sang every song live on set and that’s what they put in the film. I feel like this really helps get the emotion across in each song and gave the actors more freedom in what they were doing.

In ‘Valjean’s Soliloquoy’, you can hear the tremor in Jackman’s voice, you can hear the raw emotion in ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, and when they sing ‘Can You Hear the People Sing’, well, you’re going to want to build a barricade right there in your living room. Each and every song is done brilliantly. Majority of the songs from the musical are in the film, with only a couple being excluded, and there is also an entirely new song that was written specifically for the film.

Alright, so we’ve established that the actors are amazing and the music is brilliant, but what about the behind the scenes stuff? What about the sets the actors are standing on? When I first watched this film, I almost believed they were standing on a real street in Paris; that Tom Hooper actually had Jackman dragging Redmayne through the sewers. But no, that wasn’t the case. The street where the barricade takes place was actually built inside, as was the ‘Lovely Ladies’ set. No matter how many times I see this film this always amazes me. I feel like I could walk down that street and go inside the buildings because of how real it looks.

However, one of the things that was very real was the barricade that was built in the film. According to Tom Hooper the prop department had built a barricade and they had it set up on wheels so they could bring it on set when they needed it. But for filming purposes they obviously needed to film the boys building a barricade. Well, the barricade the actors built was so good that they just had some people come in and hammer it all together to make it safe. So they actually did build a barricade in the film.

I have seen this film many, many times and I expect I’ll see it many more. Why? Because it’s so brilliantly done that I can’t get enough of it. I highly recommend it to anyone, whether or not you like musicals.

Fun Fact: Many of the cast members in the film have been in a stage version of Les Mis. The actress who plays Eponine, Samantha Barks, played the same role multiple times, including in the 25th Anniversary production of Les Miserables at the O2 theatre. Meanwhile, Colm Wilkinson, who plays the bishop in this film, played the original Jean Valjean in the first stage production of Les Mis.

Have you Seen Les Mis? What was your favourite part of the film? Favourite song?

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012


December 14, 2012
Dir. Peter Jackson
Prod. Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Genre: Epic Fantasy Adventure
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Andy Serkis, Manu Bennett, Barry Humphries, Elijah Wood

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘hobbit’?

Personally, I think of this:

And apparently when Gandalf thinks of hobbits, he thinks they’re the best companion to take on a dangerous adventure. In the first film in the prequel trilogy to The Lord of the Rings, we are introduced to Bilbo Baggins (Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (McKellen), and thirteen dwarves (Armitage, McTavish, Stott, Turner, O’Gorman, Hadlow, Brophy, Brown, Callen, Hambleton, Kircher, Nesbitt, Hunter). The film follows this company of fifteen as they battle various enemies on their way to reclaim the dwarves home in the mountain of Erebor which has been taken from them by the dragon, Smaug.

In most films, having fifteen characters front and centre majority of the time wouldn’t end well. Things would become too muddled and confusing. However, in the case of Peter Jackson’s, The Hobbit, each of the characters is so individualized that it actually isn’t too difficult telling them apart. The hair, makeup, and costume departs truly had their work cut out for them with this film and they far exceeded any and all expectations. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for the cast and crew to have to get ready each day.

Of course, this wouldn’t be The Hobbit without some of Tolkien’s wonderful music. One of the things that sticks out in the books is the songs, three of which Jackson incorporated into this first film: “Blunt the Knives”, “Misty Mountains”, and “The Goblin King’s Song”. These three songs all have such different feels to them and the inclusion of them definitely enhanced the film in a way that couldn’t have been done if the music hadn’t been there. An extended version of “Misty Mountains” can be heard during the end credits, performed by Neil Finn. I also can’t really talk about the music in The Hobbit without mentioning the score. There are some familiar melodies in there that anyone who has seen Lord of the Rings will recognize, but there are also some others that are brand new. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was scored by Howard Shore, who also did all three Lord of the Rings films.

Now, there wouldn’t be much of a film without actors. The casting for this film must have taken so long, what with there being so many important roles. However, whether we look at the dwarves, the orcs, or the hobbit himself, the casting in this film was spot on. Martin Freeman is a phenomenal actor and in the role of Bilbo Baggins he truly does a marvelous job. There really is no one else I could picture playing this character. Ian McKellen, of course, came back to play Gandalf the Grey and he is just as amazing this time around as he was in The Lord of the Rings. While the hair and makeup department played a huge role in making the dwarves distinguishable from one another, it really was up to the actors to make their characters memorable and each one succeed. Richard Armitage, who plays dwarf leader, Thorin Oakenshield, particularly did a fantastic job at portraying a character who is both caring of his people and who is ready to kill some orcs at any time.

As someone who is a fan of the book, I will admit that I was worried, despite how good Lord of the Rings is, that The Hobbit would fail to meet expectations. However, it did the complete opposite and far exceeded any and all expectations. Peter Jackson once again brought a marvelous story to life and, while keeping to Tolkien’s original image, managed to add his flair to the tale.

Have you seen The Hobbit? What did you think?

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