Tag: peter jackson

Heavenly Creatures

Heavenly Creatures (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★

Although “Heavenly Creatures” tells the story of a real-life murder in 1954 New Zealand which involves two teenage girls who share a very close friendship, great humanity is employed in trying to understand the motivations of the killers. As a result, the film is uncomfortable to sit through at times—especially the excellent final few minutes where Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) lead their prey to an isolated location to be murdered in cold blood—but not ever does fail to compel and fascinate.

Lynskey and Winslet in their first feature film are outstanding. If it isn’t for the title credits where it underlines the performers’ first rodeo, viewers might likely assume that the co-stars have plenty of experience. Lynskey plays a teenage outcast with such intensity, perfectly modulated roughness, and honesty, I was reminded of some of the type of girls in my high school who proudly considered themselves to belong outside of the social circle. Winslet, too, shines as a world traveler born in a family with a high level of education and plenty of means.

With the help of an intelligent, insightful and daring screenplay by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson, Winslet and Lynskey, even though their characters are worlds apart, successfully find a commonality—and strong chemistry—that is consistently believable, curiously touching, and at times downright horrifying. A handful of elements that typically do not belong in a biography crime-drama work wondrously here.

For example, Pauline and Juliet feel highly connected to the arts, especially when it comes to music and writing fiction. So they construct their own world. They even call each other new names. But instead of the material shying away from fictional elements and techniques in order to avoid taking away emphasis from the murder, it embraces them fully. The film uses special and visual effects quite generously so that we are placed inside the minds of subjects. It is critical that we learn as much as possible about their fantasy world in order to try to make sense of the many factors that lead them to decisions with very real and tragic consequences.

It certainly would have been easier to have painted the subjects as monsters who were in love but Kiwi society was cruel when it came homosexuality at the time and so inevitably the couple was driven to madness and murder. Instead, this is merely one of the many strands which make up the film’s psychological study. There is a recurring theme involving the two girls being highly imaginative but they also happen to share a mental fragility. Look closely during scenes where Pauline and Juliet are challenged—intruded—by various authority figures. Lynskey and Winslet translate the many layers of their characters into a psychological study that demands undivided attention and humanity.

Directed by Peter Jackson, “Heavenly Creatures” is able to locate the pulse of what makes the case so fascinating and stays there. And with that powerful final scene—it takes a scalpel onto the surface of where the pulse can be felt and cuts forcefully inwards.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Having reclaimed Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), the Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), must now defend it from disparate creatures of Middle-Earth who wish to take a piece of the Lonely Mountain’s great treasures. But with Thorin afflicted with an obsession to get his hands on the legendary Arkenstone, beyond Erebor’s defenses awaits several armies—Man, Elves, Orcs—that threaten to wage war if they fail to reach a compromise.

Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” offers a pleasant time given its above average level of entertainment, eye-catching special and visual effects, and neat seedlings that are sure to grow and blossom in “The Lord of the Rings.” However, the picture fails to get to me emotionally—at least on a consistent basis. We are supposed to be invested in the characters’ fates, romantic connections, and moral conundrums but they command little heft. Thus, when each subplot reaches a climax, we do not feel stirred or particularly moved; we only wish for the material to keep moving forward so we can see the next action scene.

Undercooked is the romance between Kili (Aidan Turner), a dwarf, and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), an elf. We get a few scenes of the star-crossed lovebirds giving each other sad and longing glances but we do not experience varying depth of their personalities when they are together—or when apart. As a result, it is a challenge to imagine a future for them despite the fact that they come from different worlds. The performers look good together but having physical chemistry and not much else proves to have its limits.

Most disappointing is the screenplay’s treatment of the dwarves once Thorin’s leadership starts to feel questionable. Instead of allowing each member to shine and become memorable, they essentially react in the same manner. A few of them do not even get a chance to speak. Those that do say nothing of particular importance. It would have been the perfect opportunity for us to assess the dynamics of the group once its leader’s values have become contradictory with respect to what everyone signed up for.

This is exactly why Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a seemingly mere hobbit, is easily the most interesting because he is given several chances to show his dissent—in various modalities. We know exactly where his hairy feet stands but we feel the conflict in his mind because he does consider Thorin to be both a good friend and a good leader. He respects Thorin, maybe even fear him a bit given his increasing frustration of not having the Arkenstone in his possession, but a possibility of war is on the rise.

As expected, the picture shines when it comes to its battle sequences. The scene with Gandalf and members of the White Council in Dol Guldur is thrilling—perhaps one of the best in Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy. A duel that takes place on a frozen body of water is also noteworthy, executed just right. The environment is quite beautiful but there is always a level of suspense, menace, even a pinch of humor, too. The film is certainly at its best when it successfully balances different emotions within a scene or sequence.

The final installment of “The Hobbit” series is commendable but not exemplary. It is easy to become a grouchy pessimist and make claims such as, “Well, at least it’s over now” and the like. But when one takes a second to compare this movie to other action, fantasy-adventures out there, Jackson’s film is imperfect to be sure, but one cannot deny that the work is still of high caliber.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Still on the run from the orcs, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and the rest of the dwarves seek refuge in the house of a “skin-changer” (Mikael Persbrandt), currently in the form of a bear, who is not particularly keen on dwarves. Though their collective drive remains aflame, the quest to reach the Lonely Mountain and obtain the legendary Arkenstone, guarded by a fearsome dragon named Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), is clearly taking its toll. Their journey is not made any easier when Gandalf claims he must leave the party while the others will have to their way through the woods infested with massive spiders.

Despite exciting action sequences dispersed throughout “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” partly based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and directed by Peter Jackson, there is not enough meaty material to warrant such an overlong running time. Though mildly interesting characters are introduced, one gets the feeling that they appear not to enhance the story or to iron out its themes but because it needs a bit of padding to allow an already rich world to appear that much more magnificent. The key word is “appear.” Take away some of the supporting characters and the final product is more or less the same.

A few figureheads are downright irritating. In the latter half, Bilbo and company reach Esgaroth where a small community of humans reside. The people are unhappy because they live in squalor. There is talk about a possible riot or—worse—an election. The Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) and his minion (Ryan Gage) will not have such democracy. Spending time with them is like pulling teeth. I suppose we are supposed to dislike them, but their relevance in the big picture is questionable at best considering key figures like the dragon and a necromancer in Dol Guldur are front and center. There is an undercurrent of humor when the master and his lackey are on screen but most of the time they seem to come from a different film altogether. Perhaps the pair might have been more effective if they exuded more menace or were more domineering.

Furthermore, there is an undercooked romance between a she-elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and one of the dwarves, Kili (Aidan Turner). They share plenty of meaningful silences and looks of longing but not once was I moved by their struggle of possibly pursuing a forbidden love. As a result, like the leader of Laketown and his flunky, their subplot fails to move beyond its potential to become a part of an epic story.

Make no mistake: I enjoyed the film for the most part. When pulse-pounding chases, sword-slashing, arrow-swishing, and fire-breathing are involved, my eyes are barely able to keep up. (Some of the clunky CGI are forgivable.) Though the barrel sequence will impress many, which is appropriate and expected given its sheer energy, I admired the sequence involving the giant spiders most. Arrows puncturing limbs and decapitations may be absent but the horror is nonetheless captured by showing the arachnids roll up their prey—our protagonists—in thick layers web. Also, I thought it was neat how we get a chance to hear what the spiders are saying to one another.

The dragon is large and impressive. I liked it best when the camera zooms in on its body so we can appreciate its teeth, eyes, or scales. Though it is able to communicate telepathically, it rarely comes off silly or cartoonish in any way. I just wished it had less laughable lines such as “I am death!” As a result, I did not find Smaug, who is supposed to be the centerpiece of this installment, as mysterious and threatening as the necromancer. Anyone who can bring about crippling fear in Gandalf’s eyes is worthy of our attention.

Bad Taste

Bad Taste (1987)
★ / ★★★★

A small town in New Zealand has been invaded by extraterrestrials. Four people are sent to investigate the extent of the takeover: Barry (Pete O’Herne) and Derek (Peter Jackson) are already there while Frank (Mike Minett) and Ozzy (Terry Potter) are on their way. To their surprise, not only is the place completely overrun by the aliens, they have the capability of disguising themselves as humans. These aliens are interested in human meat, a low-calorie exotic dish. Their plan is to leave the next day and present samples to their planet before collecting the livestock wholesale.

Written by Peter Jackson, Tony Hiles, and Ken Hammon, “Bad Taste” is cheaply made and it shows. And yet, the fact that it has a low budget is not its downfall. It is a part of its charm because its premise is driven by ideas. What makes it an experience to endure is that its latter half is made up of mostly uninspired shoot-outs. It turns into a bore.

Prior to the halfway point, I found the conflict between the humans and the invaders to be interesting. Barry and Derek find themselves in a pinch eventually when five aliens recognize their presence. The confrontation shot by the side of the cliff that overlooks the beach shows that the director, Peter Jackson, has an eye for location. In addition, there is contrast between the calming beauty of nature and the dire threat of being captured by the aliens, killed, and served as a delicacy.

At times it is shot sloppily, many times easy to tell that the camera is hand-held. Also, it is rife with continuity errors that prove distracting. For instance, in one shot a character’s face is covered in blood while the next shot shows the face completely free of red goo. Despite this, applicable only to the first half, there is energy in the chases. I liked that neither the aliens nor the humans are very smart. It is almost like a slapstick comedy, increasingly clear that the survivor, or survivors, is the one that will end up making the least mistakes.

The gun battles make the film look like a most egregious action film. Once the firearms are out, the ideas become stagnant and there is no longer inspiration or aspiration to rise above pointing and shooting. I was very disappointed that the aliens are easily killed by bullets. They, too, use guns. Is it too much to have them wield weapons that originate from their own planet? Two groups evading flying bullets is just tedious.

And then there is the rock soundtrack that is designed to get us excited about the goings-on. Loud happenings paired with hard rock is a mismatch. A few carefully placed piano keys, for example, would have killed two birds with one stone: creating a mood of desolation and amping up the tension.

“Bad Taste,” directed by Peter Jackson, offers some humor that work. My favorite involves a character with the posterior of his skull opening at random intervals which causes a part of his brain to fall out. He picks up the chunk of brain meat and shoves it in his noggin as if that solves everything. We know it doesn’t really work that way so the running gag is funny–or at least amusing. It is the only shining moment amidst the bullet brawl.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a humble hobbit from The Shire, so accustomed to living a life within the boundaries of safety and comfort, is invited by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to join him and thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), on a once in a lifetime journey toward the Lonely Mountain and reclaim it. It is a place where Smaug resides, a fearsome dragon that destroyed Erebor and displaced dwarves all over Middle Earth. Initially reluctant due to the dangers ahead, Bilbo decides to participate eventually after realizing that trading in a sheltered existence is worth an unforgettable adventure.

It is easy to critique “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” directed by Peter Jackson, if compared to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy with its relatively smaller scope in terms of story as well as a less complex acrobatics with regards to the number of characters it is required to weave in and out of the screenplay. However, it is more difficult to evaluate the film for what it is especially since the trilogy that came before it has casted such a massive shadow. Not only did “The Lord of the Rings” set the bar for future adaptions that take place within its own universe, it also sets the standard for future non-related serial fantasies.

Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, the film is a scrumptious visual feast. It begins with The Shire’s verdant green slopes where everything glistens among pastoral quiet beauty that it is no wonder Bilbo does not ever want to leave his home. But when chaos is introduced, the arrival of the merry gang of dwarves, grime and filth start to slowly become more noticeable which eventually go unnoticed, at least for the time being, when violence in the form of Orcs and Wargs threaten to maim and kill them all.

Its slow but purposeful build-up of events is one of its greatest weapons. For those who cite it as a weakness, I ask: What is the value of a long and arduous journey without side quests and a willingness dive into details? When it chooses to go on tangents, it is not as if what is touched upon is uninteresting or irrelevant to the adventure. On the contrary, they provide details about the characters through action and at times introspection: if they are quite slow or quick to think on their feet, how their motivations have or have not changed over time, one’s definition of strength, what it means to fight for a cause that many may think unworthy but is very personal, among others.

The themes and questions it tackles are applicable, if one so chooses, to our every day lives. We have all been (or are) in situations where we are doubted and because of these naysayers we are changed for the better or worse. These fantastic characters and events are symbols of human characteristics and circumstances. The film does a great job making sure that we are entertained on the surface level and yet having several layers underneath to make the experience worthwhile on a personal level.

But its beauty is not limited to sweeping environs, thrilling action sequences (the chases in the goblins’ domain are magnificent), and humanity within its story. Even if something looks ugly, the picture pulls us in. Let’s take the scene involving the hungry mountain trolls. Their deformed faces and cushiony bodies will make anybody run toward the opposite direction. But they are so interesting to watch because their teratoid appearances have differences but they are not so ostentatious to cause distraction from what is occurring. As it should be, it utilizes images generated by computers to enhance a world instead of saturating it.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” based on the screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, will be tedious for those who expect a linear journey. But for those who are open to be dazzled, those who choose to treat the prior trilogy as a reference rather than a shadow to be outshone, and those who just want to experience magic that can be made only in the movies, place your gold on this one.

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Lovely Bones,” adapted from Alice Sebold’s novel and directed by Peter Jackson, was about a fourteen-year-old girl (Saoirse Ronan) who was murdered by a child predator (Stanley Tucci). As years went by after her unsolved murder, the protagonist watched over her family (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Rose McIver, Christian Thomas Ashdale) and the monster who killed her in cold blood. I’ve read a plethora of reviews claiming that this was a mediocre picture and was underwhelming. Maybe they expected too much considering Jackson’s power as a director but I thought the movie was above average. It felt painfully personal. I was moved when Ronan realized that she was dead but she was stuck between the real world and heaven. I thought it was very sad when she realized that her family was slowly being ripped apart after her death. Those dramatic elements worked for me because the exposition was consistently strong. It immediately made me care for the lead character because she wanted to do so many things in life. I couldn’t take my eyes off the fantastic imagery when Ronan lived in “the in-between.” I thought the images were magical, inspired and intelligent because the images she encountered almost always related to the things that were happening back in the real world. As great as the images were, I argue that they didn’t overshadow the picture’s emotional resonance. In fact, the imagery took the emotions to the next level. As for the villainous creepy neighbor, I thought Tucci was electrifyingly effective. Tucci excelled with his character’s eccentricities and the way he lured Ronan to her grave gave me the shivers. However, I thought the film came up short when it came to consistency. The last third lacked the momentum of the first hour and twenty minutes. About two-thirds into it, I started questioning when it was going to wrap itself up. Essentially, I think the movie would have benefited from a shorter running time. The scenes of Weisz’ struggle with the loss of her daughter (an emotional breakdown?) felt like it didn’t need to be there. I understood right away that everyone in the family was impacted by the tragedy so it didn’t need to hammer that point again and again. Luckily, Sarandon had a good amount of screen time to alleviate some of the seriousness by means of perfect comedic timing. If I were to describe “The Lovely Bones” in one word, it would be “misunderstood.” A lot of people thought that the CGI became the main focus and not the characters. I would advice those same people to watch the movie again and do what I did: ignore the fact that Jackson directed the film and swallow it as a “regular” film from a not-so-popular director. It may not have been as consistent as I would have liked but I thought it was able to deliver when it needed to.