Posts filed under ‘Reviews’

Movie Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey (4 of 5)



Quick Update:  I just saw The Hobbit for the second time and enjoyed it immensely.  I stand by my original criticism of the movie, but did not find it nearly as bothersome during the second viewing (I still don’t expect/want an extended edition of this movie).


For once I am glad that I only have a few dozen visitors per day.  I can be honest without being tracked down and boiled alive for posting this review.  I plan to address generalities and avoid specific spoilers.

I adore The Lord of the Rings.  I am not a fanboy that complains about the changes that Jackson made to bring LOTR to the screen.  Tom Bombadil is still there in the books whenever I want to visit with him and Liv Tyler did a fine job with the expanded role that Arwen played.  I was a bit miffed with Giimli being made the butt of many jokes, but not so much when Jackson did the same with Merry and Pip.  After all, the changes also allowed Pip to redeem himself by persuading Treebeard to go to war when that wasn’t in the book.

But this review is for The Hobbit (part 1 of 3).  As many others, I was happy to hear that Jackson was going to split the book into 2 movies, but grew concerned when he announced it to be a trilogy.  There is a wealth of material in Tolkien’s other writings to embellish the story, but sequels to successful movies tend to attempt bigger and more impressive than the originals, usually resulting in outrageous silliness.

The Hobbit suffers from sequelitis.  Almost everything was turned up to 11.

Not to say the movie is bad or unwatchable.  I took the family to last night’s midnight premiere and we enjoyed it (except my wife who slept through part of it – she is not a night owl).  The cinematography was lush and beautiful, the acting was splendid (Martin Freeman is perfectly natural in everything I’ve seen him in), and the special effects are dazzling.  When the LOTR was released, each movie left us wanting more, and a multitude of fans spent a sizable chunk of change purchasing the extended versions.  I don’t expect that to be the case with The Hobbit (at least, not part 1).

The movie starts with the elderly Bilbo (Ian Holm) that we all know, just as he begins to write the book detailing his adventures.  Elijah Wood is back briefly, and the pair ease us into the story.  It’s nicely done and gently brings us back home to Middle Earth.   LOTR began with a prologue introducing us to Sauron and the Ring.  In the Hobbit, Bilbo tells us about the Dwarf kingdom and the dragon, Smaug.

And then, the story begins with Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Ian McKellen as Gandalf and a host of dwarfs.  The movie follows the book fairly well, but not religiously.  We get a flashback of Thorin Oakenshield for character development and it introduces my first complaint, but the problem isn’t that the scene wasn’t in the book.

In LOTR, the treachery of Saruman included the creation of the Uruk-Kai, an orc hybrid that is stronger and able to withstand direct sunlight.  They are presented as something new and uniquely dangerous.  But in Thorin’s flashback we see a giant albino orc that’s the size of a troll.  Not to mention the CGI wasn’t as convincing as Gollum in the original trilogy.  Later in the film is another giant orc, though that CGI was better.

Orcs cannot abide direct sunlight, except for when they can.  At one point, Gandalf actually states that they need to move into sunlight to escape from the orcs even though they had previously been attacked in broad daylight.  Another thing; I’ve only seen it once, but it seemed like the movie went from day to night and back again as the plot dictated.

Geography was also confusing.  At one point, the company is on a plain of rolling hills with a few mounds of rocks.  They descend into a cave below one of the mounds – about 20 feet below the surface.  In the back of the cave is a tunnel that they follow and the camera pulls back to watch them pass single file through a chasm that is at least 50 feet deep and then exit into a mountain pass.

Do you remember the WTF moment in The Two Towers where Legolas uses a shield to surf down a set of stone steps?  It was a very over-the-top moment that broke the spell and pulled you out of the movie.  There are about a dozen similar scenes in The Hobbit.

Rotten Tomatoes is currently giving The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a 66% critic / 81% audience rating.  As you can see, I feel about the same.

Recommended, but keep your expectations modest.

I told my family where I thought Jackson would end the first movie and I was exactly right.

December 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm 2 comments

Book Review: Monster Hunter Legion eARC (5 of 5)

So Saturday night I was checking the Baen website for new reading material and got a wonderful surprise:

The eARC (electronic Advanced Reader Copy) was available for the newest addition to Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series.  It was a bit pricey ($15) and an eARC means that it hasn’t had an editor go over it yet, so I was on the fence.  The publish date isn’t until September though Baen usually has the ebook available a week or two before the official date.  Maybe I should wait…

What’s this?  The first 7 chapters are available online for free!

So I begin.

And finish chapter 7 about 1:00 am.

And order the eARC at 1:01 am.  Download and install on my Kindle.

I did manage to wait until Sunday morning to start chapter 8, but it was a close call.

Now on to the review:

Monster Hunter Legion takes place after the events of the first 3 MHI novels.  Owen, Julie, Earl and the rest have just arrived in Las Vegas for the first annual monster hunters convention.  Hunters from all over the world have arrived, including the Monster Control Board (feds), to exchange information and get to know each other.  There’s quite a bit of personal friction between many of the hunters, the SHOT show is across the street, and a top secret government agency (introduced in Monster Hunter Alpha) issues a $10 million challenge to the assembled hunters and the race is on.

MH-Legion is a fast-paced, exciting adventure.  I give it 5 out of 5.

Now I just have to wait for Oliver Wyman to record the audio book.


May 29, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Movie Review: The Hit List (4 of 5)

We just watched this movie and were very pleasantly surprised.  When I think of Cuba Gooding, Jr., I think of his Oscar for Jerry MaGuire back in 1996 followed by Snow Dogs in 2002.  He actually made quite a few movies in between, but that had been the impression.  It’s a shame because The Hit List shows that he can be a dynamite villain.

The movie focuses on Cole Hauser, an engineer expecting a promotion at work and married to a wife he adores.  We also find out that he borrowed some money from the wrong kind of people and really needs the promotion in order to repay the loan.  Of course, if that had happened this would have been an entirely different movie.

Instead Hauser loses out on the promotion to a slimy coworker and arrives home in time to find his wife in a negligee and his best friend buttoning up his shirt.  It seems he’s been so focused on getting ahead in the world that they’ve grown apart.  She wants to talk, but he leaves for a motel.  On the way, he stops at a bar where he meets Cuba and gets drunk.

Cuba admits to our protagonist that he is a professional killer.  Hauser thinks its a joke and is persuaded to make a list of 5 people he wants dead:  his boss, his slimy coworker, his loan shark, his ex-best friend and his estranged wife.  He then takes a bathroom break and when he returns, Cuba is gone.

When Hauser arrives at work the next morning after sleeping in his car, he learns that his boss has been murdered … and the race is on.

Hauser is solid as the normal guy in over his head.  Cuba is amazing as the unstoppable killing machine and very reminiscent of Tom Cruise in Collateral.

I recommend The Hit List as an above average thriller and a chance to see Cuba Gooding, Jr. in a different light.

May 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Movie Review: John Carter (3.5 of 5)

So I read the reviews (pro and con) and procrastinated as long as I could, but when my wife and youngest daughter both expressed an interest, I couldn’t put it off any longer.  We went to see John Carter (of Mars) on Saturday.  I didn’t spring for the 3D version, preferring to spend my money on sodas and popcorn instead.

I liked it … quite a bit.  My wife liked it okay.  My 13 year old loved it and wanted to see it again while my 15 year old hated it and complained all the way home.

A number of reviewers were outraged at the liberties taken with the story.  If you could point to a single movie that didn’t have significant changes from the book, I might understand that complaint.  But overall, John Carter is remarkably consistent with A Princess of Mars.  Yes, they made changes, but at least a loyal fan could tell that this movie was based on the Burrough’s book – unlike I, Robot which had more in common with Jack Williamson’s Humanoids series than anything Asimov wrote.  And despite one idiotic reviewer, the movie producers stayed faithful to the names and language of the original and didn’t violate Heinlein’s prohibition (which he broke himself) on Martians named Smith.

Carter is still a former Confederate officer from Virginia.  He mines for gold and get chased by Apaches.  The movie provides a less metaphysical method to transport Carter to Mars.  Tars Tarkus is still 10 feet tall, green and has four arms.  Yes, Tars is now Jeddak of Thark from the start rather than fighting his way to the top, but some things have to change to make a movie.

I am not going to list everything they did right, nor everything that they changed.  I will note that I agree with Harry Knowles that they made a mistake by starting the movie on Mars with a narration to explain the political landscape of Barsoom.  The movie would be greatly improved if they had started with Carter on Earth and let us learn about Barsoom politics when he does.

The movie has good effects and more humor than expected – well played humor, at that.  I would have liked to see a banth, but at least they were mentioned.

And the ending was awesome.

I don’t know the actors and don’t care to look them up.  Their performances were acceptable, but not outstanding.  I found it a little distracting that Carter looked like Christian Bale when he had a beard, but looked more like Brandon Lee once he got a shave.  This Dejah Thoris may not have been the most beautiful woman of two worlds, but the actress was easy on the eyes and her portrayal was not quite the Xena, Buffy, River Tam warrior princess that I’d been expecting due to other reviews.  I can accept a woman with a sword killing swaths of bad guys as long as she doesn’t go ninja-fu on them.

To sum up:  a good action movie that was reasonably faithful to the source material.  Unless you are one of those guys that will never forgive Peter Jackson for leaving Tom Bombadil out of the Fellowship of the Ring, you’ll probably enjoy it as I did.

March 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Movie Review: Wild Target (4 of 5)

Bill Nighy is the world’s greatest assassin.  Infamous and anonymous, no one knows who he is or what he looks like – only that he never fails.  Until now.

Emily Blunt is a thief and con artist.  She’s been quite successful until she pulls one over on the wrong person (Rupert Everett) and he hires the aforementioned Mr. Nighy to take care of her.  And he plans to, really he does.  But as he tracks her, he witnesses her captivating ability to manipulate the world around her, he finds himself unable to finish her off.  Indeed, he abandons his job and reputation to become her staunch defender.

A cute, quirky action comedy with a dash of romance with strong performances from Nighy and Blunt, plus Rupert Grint demonstrates his ability to hold his own against the main characters.

I recommend it for 4 out of 5 stars.


February 16, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Movie Review: Season of the Witch (3 of 5)

Starring Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman, this movie exceeded my expectations.

Of course, my expectations were pretty low given Mr. Cage’s most recent work.  But the presence of Ron Perlman was enough for me to give it a chance and I am glad that I did.  While not great cinema, the movie held my interest and was decently entertaining.  I give it 3 stars out of 5.

Cage and Perlman are Crusader knights and very good at their work.  Until the church leader begins targeting them against women and children.  Then Cage calls it quits and walks away with faithful Perlman at his side.  They head back home only to find plague and pestilence on their journey.  As deserters, they are offered pardons if they agree to escort a confessed witch to a distant monastery for trial and some mystical process that will end the plague.  Ah, but the witch is a young girl that plays to Cage’s sympathies even while leaving little doubt that she is not an innocent victim.

Cage actually tones down his performance and Perlman is great as usual.  The additional characters are solid.  Special effects won’t win any awards, but were adequate.

A decent sword and witchcraft movie.

February 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Movie Review: The Woman in Black (4 out of 5)

Just saw this movie with my senior offspring – her choice.  She has a thing for Daniel Radcliffe and I thought the trailer looked promising.  Daniel is the only “star” in the film, but he has a solid supporting cast.

The Woman In Black is a refreshing throwback to traditional ghost stories.  In an age of The Human Centipede, SAW, and remakes of everything from Friday the 13th to Nightmare on Elm Street, I really enjoyed watching a well told ghost story with tons of atmosphere, solid performances and plenty of well-played scares.  Experiencing this movie is like visiting an exceptional haunted house on Halloween.

In fact, my only criticism of the movie is that the scares are performed so flawlessly, that I found myself watching the background rather than focusing on Mr. Radcliffe’s fine performance.

If you’re looking for things that go bump in the night rather than chainsaws and buckets of blood, The Woman In Black may be what you’re looking for.

I recommend it.

(Note to the Feds:  I paid for our tickets and got nothing in return other than about 90 minutes of entertainment.)

February 11, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Surprisingly Awesome (4 out of 5)

After dinner tonight, I took my wife to see Real Steel.  She picked the movie – because of Hugh Jackman, of course (yes, he takes his shirt off).

For the guys in the audience, you had basically a replay of Rocky starring the Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots … and Evangeline Lilly (no, she keeps her shirt on).

As the post title indicates, the movie was surprisingly enjoyable.  Perhaps the best popcorn movie of the season.  Hugh Jackman channels a little Sylvester Stallone as a down-and-out robot wrangler who gets stuck with the son-he-never-knew after an old girlfriend dies.  Over the course of the film, he matures a bit and develops a relationship with the kid.  Pretty typical formula, but executed brilliantly.  Pretty silly premise (boxing robots) played straight and very effectively.  Both the wife and I enjoyed it a lot.


October 8, 2011 at 10:25 pm 1 comment

Movie Review: Gnomeo and Juliet (3.5 / 5.0)

It’s been a while since we’ve been to the movies.  My wife wanted to see Beastly, but our daughter wanted to see Gnomeo and Juliet so that’s the one we saw.

The verdict?  Pleasantly surprised.

The soundtrack is filled with Elton John tunes – some of them rewritten to fit the movie’s theme a bit.  The voice actors do a good job of bringing their characters to “life.”  The story is an adequate retelling (more of an “inspired by”) of ole’ Shakespeare.  There are a number of sight gags and references to the Bard’s various works, as well as a pretty humorous story.

Behind a duplex occupied by feuding senior citizens (barely seen), are two gardens – one red and the other blue.  The gardens are filled with tacky decorations, primarily gnomes.  And the two groups do not get along.  Juliet is the daughter of the over-protective Red King and Gnomeo is the son of the widowed Blue Queen.  They meet, fall in love and much conflict results.

Our whole family enjoyed the movie a great deal.  Though not worth paying to see a second time, we will definitely look for it when released on dvd.  A very solid 3.5 out of 5.

Minor Spoiler:







An inspired touch that mostly worked was introducing a “Shakespeare” character to complain about the changes to his story.


March 17, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Movie Review: Inception (5 of 5)

Let me be honest.

I don’t like Leo DiCaprio.  We own a copy of Catch Me If You Can, but I’ve yet to watch it.  I’ve never been in the mood for a Leonardo DiCaprio movie.  Not sure why, may be his (IMHO) over-inflated reputation as an actor.  In fact, that is probably the primary reason.  I’m seldom impressed by anything that’s forced down my throat as “THE NEXT BIG THING”.  I’ll make up my own mind, thank you very much.

That out of the way:  I loved Inception.  Everyone in my family did as well, though truth be told, my eleven year old daughter did get a bit bored in the middle (we let her go out to the lobby for a popcorn refill), but then Percy Jackson is more her speed.

Is Inception as perfect as some have claimed?  No.  There are flaws – some obvious – but they did not detract or distract from our enjoyment.  I went in prepared to not like this movie and I’m very pleased to report that I was wrong.

So what’s it about?

Leo is a thief.  His team enters the dream of their victim and trick them into revealing confidential information, but they’re not always successful.  As a result, he has enemies out to get him.  Neither can he return home to the US to be reunited with his children (for a reason important to the plot).  Pushed into a corner, he takes a “impossible” job – Inception: implanting an idea into the subject rather than extracting one.  He assembles his team (including Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and stage their assault.  But dreams can take on a life of their own.

I never should have doubted Chris Nolan.  His movies, from Memento to The Dark Knight, have been consistently excellent, thought-provoking and above all else, entertaining.

Isn’t that what movies are all about.


The biggest flaw involved the use of gravity and lack thereof.

August 1, 2010 at 12:07 pm 1 comment

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