THE HOBBIT, Production Video # 7

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arrives in theaters in December. Yay! 2012 has been a good year for movies. Producer, director Peter Jackson has been making video blogs of the filming and here is number seven. It is an inside look into the movie's production which will definitely whet the appetite of any Middle Earth fan.

If you want to listen to the entire Fellowship of the Rings soundtrack you can listen to it here. If you like it buy the CD. You won't regret it because it never gets old.

Spider-man Sent to Recycle Bin

Photo: Columbia Pictures
Don't get me wrong. I liked The Amazing Spider-man. I loved it, in fact. It has emotion, it has struggle (Peter Parker has some incredibly difficult hurdles), and it has some awesome fight scenes. The Amazing Spider-man is fantastic and to me Spider-man as a character is always amazing. He has always been my favorite comic book hero with Batman a close second. Additionally, the story was good, the villain (The Lizard) was powerful and intimidating, and the new kid playing Peter Parker and Spider-man (Andrew Garfield) was a good fit for the role, as was his love interest Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. (He seemed a little too cool and good looking for the role of Peter Parker, but his affability onscreen won me over.)

Martin Sheen and Sally Field played Uncle Ben and Aunt May quite endearingly, and Denis Leary was super as Police Captain Stacy and Gwen's protective father.

If this movie had come out with no Spider-man movie released in the last few decades I would have given it an unequivocal five-star review.

But I can't, and I'll tell you why after I pose the following question to you. Is there some reason that the same movie studio Sony, Columbia, the producers, and Marvel had to retell the beginnings of Spider-man (the backstory) over again, and so soon after the "original" Spider-man movie came out like just ten years ago? Why are they releasing another beginning for the young web-slinger? What we are left with here is another Spider-man 1. It's like overwriting a file on your hard drive, or deleting the one that's there and sending it to the recycle bin. There sits the "old" Spider-man languishing now in the recycle bin of movie history like the first Hulk, or the first modern Batman series. The first Total Recall. I don't get it.

I loved the 2002 Spider-man. I could watch that and Spider-man 2 500 times. It was a classic and did comic-book special effects better than any movie had up until that point. Tobey Maguire was a better Peter Parker because he was more geeky, more unsure of himself. This present movie (The Amazing Spider-man) should have been Spider-man 4, not a total do-over of one of the most successful movie franchises in movie history. It's sort of a diss of the first movie. I'll buy it for my DVD collection but I doubt that I'll watch it more than a few times.

And, as I've pointed out before, Stan Lee should learn the Hitchcockian art of subtlety concerning his intrusive cameos. 'nuff said.

35,000,000 is the two-day take for the movie so far. Not bad. Go see it. Despite my rantings, it is a good superhero movie.

(Comments here on my feelings about this movie and my questions are encouraged. I don't claim to know all the in's and out's concerning the comic book series and I'm sure it has something to do with that. Not that it will help.)

Marvel's The Avengers - Review

Marvel's The Avengers was released on May 4, 2012 just three weeks ago and it has already raked in nearly one billion dollars in worldwide ticket sales. The third weekend's haul according to Variety is $55 million and a U.S. total box office since the movie's release of more than 400 million dollars. These are all impressive numbers for a movie and for a movie industry operating in a lackluster economy and definitely points to the fact that people will pay even 12.50 per ticket for an occasional escape from reality. (The actual ticket price for me and my wife in New Jersey was $11 per ticket plus $1.50 per ticket convenience fee for purchasing them online from Fandango. This is indeed convenient, but the extra money per ticket is irksome considering the already high price.)

The Avengers is a group of superheroes created to protect Earth from existential dangers (i.e. threats to its very existence). In the movie, the Earth is facing just such a danger when Loki, the evil brother of Thor, comes to Earth with the intention of overthrowing it with an alien army, subjugating the planet to his rule, and giving as payment to the alien army an infinite power source known as the Tesseract.

The trouble starts when Loki steals the Tesseract, which Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D (an international peacekeeping agency) is guarding, and destroys a SHIELD facility. In an effort to retrieve the tesseract, and avert worldwide catastrophe, Fury starts to gather the Avengers team together.

The Avengers superhero team consists of Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, and the Black Widow. Nick Fury ends up having his hands full trying to keep these superheroes from killing each other before they kill Earth's enemies.

Natasha Romanoff, also known as the Black Widow, tracks down Dr. Bruce Banner (The Hulk) in India and tries to convince him of the threat that Earth is facing and that his help will be desperately needed. Other people are sent out on similar missions to gather Iron Man, and Captain America, while Thor arrives on his own timetable when he realizes the danger that Earth is facing from his brother Loki. Tom Hiddleston does a superior job playing the evil demi-god.

The movie moves at a fast pace for two hours and twenty minutes with plenty of superhero feats of strength, teamwork, and lots of humor. Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey, Jr. gets most of the funny lines, since his character is a sarcastic, quirky, billionaire genius, but Bruce Banner and his alter ego The Hulk, as well as Natasha Romanoff get some funny moments as well.

Since I am not up to speed on most comic book characters it would have been nice to get more background information concerning some of the characters, especially Hawkeye, Black Widow, and even Nick Fury. But the movie was still awesome and didn't suffer too much due to lack of information. Perhaps the movie would have been three hours had they decided to flesh out every character properly.

If you haven't gone to see this movie yet, go see it. If you like superheroes, nonstop action, or over-the-top CG special effects this movie is for you. Rated PG13 for comic book violence. (Stay until the credits are finished for extra content.)

The Hunger Games -- Movie Review

The Hunger Games is a movie phenomenon based on a bestselling series of books by Suzanne Collins. It is popular in much the same way that the Harry Potter series, or the Twilight series were popular. When my daughter told me the storyline of the movie I was shocked that such a plot would be a successful set of books and movie aimed at tweens and teens. It is a dark tale for young kids to digest.

But I think I know why the film is successful with tweens and teens -- word of mouth and empowerment.

Kids are seeing the movie in droves and telling their friends and seeing it again with their friends. It's a hot topic in school, and it's Easter break season, which means kids on vacation looking for things to do. The movie's on fire, and though sales are still strong, they have died off a bit since the movie's debut on March 23, 2012. It's on a record breaking pace, earning $302,400,000 just in the U.S. since its debut, more than enough to cover its hefty $78,000,000 budget.

But like I said, the movie is dark. It's not a fun, family-friendly Disney-esque romp through wonderland. The story concept is a bummer, set in a depressing world, and all too often the characters meet untimely, unhappy ends.

But for its subject matter the movie is well-made, well-cast, and well-acted. Especially the main character's part (Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence) and Woody Harrelson's part (Haymitch Abernathy) of a former winner of the Hunger Games and a consultant to the contestants in the current game.

The movie (and the book series) is successful, as is anything aimed at young people, because the main characters are empowered. They don't need adult help to succeed at their task, maybe some advice, but they succeed mainly by themselves. Katniss is a strong, self-empowered teenager who gained her strength in life by losing her father at an early age and having to be the strength in her family after her mother had given up following the father's death in a coal mine explosion.

The Hunger Games takes place in a Big Brother type of future where the totalitarian government has for the last 74 years meted out an unusual punishment against twelve of its districts that had rebelled against it. In punishment for this rebellion against the central government the twelve districts must send two children each between the ages of 12 and 18 to the capital city to participate in a fight to the death hunting game. The game, which is televised to the entire country of Panem, is tightly controlled by the government and is seeded with dangers and other unfair rules to increase the excitement (and cruelty) of the game for the viewer.

In the town square, Katniss' young sister is chosen in their district to be one of the district's two contestants in the games. Katniss sees this and screaming against it volunteers to go in her sister's place. This is accepted and she is heralded as the district's first "volunteer" to the games. Her and her fellow draftee from the district are herded onto a high-speed hovering luxury train and whisked out of town towards the capital city. On the trip they are prepared for what lies ahead by a former champion of The Hunger Games.

Haymitch Abernathy (played by Woody Harrelson) starts out as a less than helpful consultant but ends up being a likeable character and a great boon to Katniss and her fellow draftee Peeta (played by Josh Hutcherson). When the team arrives in the capital city they have a day or two to prepare for the contest and are soon unceremoniously thrust into the game.

The rest of the movie is twenty-four mostly unwilling children fighting and killing each other so that they can survive. There are also hopeful moments of protest against the concept of the game throughout the film. There's a lot of action, some PG romance, likeable characters, and plenty of bad guys. All the ingredients for a good movie. That said, I would definitely recommend against anyone younger than 11 or 12 seeing the film due to its graphic violence and oppressiveness.

I am not going to rate the movie since I don't like the concept of the story and the fact that it is aimed at a young audience. But I can certainly understand why the film is popular with young viewers.

Monumental - In Search of America's National Treasure -- Movie Review

I recently watched Monumental - In Search of America's National Treasure with my friend Rob. We were in a packed theater in North Brunswick, New Jersey on opening night participating in a live simulcast event hosted by Kirk Cameron (of the 1980s TV series, Growing Pains), who also narrates/stars in the historical documentary about America's founding. He invited the viewing audience into his home where a viewing party was going on with his friends, family, the makers of the film, and some VIPs like his grandfather who'd fought at Iwo Jima, his pastor, and a relative of Martin Luther King Jr. He also had some very good music lined up.

In the film, Kirk expresses worry about the cultural decay and the political direction that is affecting the United States in the early twenty-first century, and he is worried about the country we will be leaving to our children. The movie is meant to give the viewer some hope that all is not lost yet. Cameron hopes it will spark some action. The movie suggests that there is a path that we can follow, a path, Cameron says, that worked before.

Cameron travels to Europe, Boston, Plymouth, Washington and other places, tracing America's past, and discussing America's founding with several historians who set the record straight concerning the Pilgrims (the forefathers) and the Founding Fathers of the United States.

The movie addresses the liberal talking points about America's history. What we learn in grades K-12 and in college, as well as in the mainstream media, is often colored by the viewpoint that America is inherently a bad nation, full of bad people and bad leaders. Cameron and the producers of Monumental show that along with some bad there was plenty of good in America's past. Every nation and every people have good and bad in their past. It is inescapable because every group of humans has its "bad eggs", including the oft-portrayed-as-angel Native Americans. But the ideas that started America, starting with the Pilgrims and continuing on to the Founding Fathers in 1776 were rooted in good because they were rooted in God. The very reason the Pilgrims came to America was for religious freedom. Not to persecute the Indians. They were not Conquistadors. They weren't looking for gold. The Pilgrims tried to live in peace and harmony with their Native American neighbors.

The film goes on to state that the same is true of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Twenty-seven of the signers were graduates with Christian seminary degrees. Most of them believed in God and all believed that founding a nation based on morals derived from Christianity was a good idea. Not a nation governed by a religion, but founded in partnership with its moral foundations. It was the founding documents and the foundation for justice that they provided which allowed racial and social justice to slowly but surely reign victorious.

I didn't care for some of the rough camera work by the cameraman and director at times (The bouncy, unsteady camera shots to me can be disorienting and motion sickness inducing.) but thankfully this didn't occur throughout the whole movie.

I had recently been to Plymouth Massachsetts and had seen the Mayflower 2, and the Pilgrim Museum, but unfortunately I missed out on the National Monument to the Forefathers which is the semi-focus of this movie. I wish I had seen it. It is impressive, in stature and in its conception. The monument, built in 1889, is hidden in a neighborhood near Plymouth and is an inspiring symbol of how this nation was formed. Monumental says that if we want to reform the nation, then the principles which this monument delineates will be how it must be done.

The historical documentary is a positive look at America's past and a hopeful look towards America's future. See it today, and if you can, see it with your kids so they can see America's past in a different light than is provided by the U.S. public school system.

Get more information about the film at the movie's Facebook page.

You can buy it here: Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure  

The Big Year - Review

Copyright 20th Century Fox
The Big Year is a movie as much (or more) about relationships as it is about birding (birdwatching). In fact, birding is just the substrate onto which the character relationships and comedy are built.

The film stars Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson, and with all of that star power you would think the box office numbers would be much better for this effective comedy. You can't go wrong with any of these three comedic actors because they are so good at what they do, and in The Big Year they do not disappoint.

I haven't seen any advertising for this film outside of the theater trailers, so that may be one thing holding down its numbers. The perception that this film is about birdwatching may not be helping it either, but as I said at the start of this post, the subject matter of the movie isn't as important as the relationships between the characters, and the funny, touching, or sad things that happen between them. And as hard as it may be to believe, in a movie "about birdwatching", the director of has managed to get some action excitement into the film. So think again if you think you'll be in for a dull 100 minutes.

All of that said, the birding component is not unimportant to The Big Year. It provides a subject for some beautiful cinematography and factual information - beautiful birds and epic scenery are definitely co-stars in this film. If you enjoy seeing nature, then there is something for you in this movie.

The movie is about three bird-watching enthusiasts, each with their own successes and failures in their personal lives, who each decide that this is the year that they will pursue their "Big Year", a calendar year during which some birders try to observe as many species of birds in North America as they can. There is no reward for doing this, but there is recognition in the birding world. The three men end up in suspicious competition with each other as each tries to beat Kenny Bostick's (Owen Wilson) previous record of 732 different birds spotted in one year. The personal relationships between the birders and their families are affected in good and bad ways as a result of their quests.

Expect a family-friendly, fun-filled show if you go to see the PG-rated, The Big Year -- even if you could care less about birds.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Review

The latest and final installment in the fantasy film series is enjoyable, and action-filled with excellent cinematography, and fantastic visual effects. The directing and acting are also spot-on. But as technically well-made as the latest Harry Potter flick is, it is not for children who are too young for graphic violence. The movie is rated PG-13 and runs about two hours.

According to, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 has taken in 343 million dollars at the box office since opening on July 15, 2011 (thru 8/8/11).

The movie picks up where Part 1 left off with Harry paying his respects to Dobby the elf, who had been killed by Bellatrix Lestrange's knife. But things don't stay quiet for long in this fairly fast-paced movie. Harry must finally confront the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, but first he, Ron, and Hermione must find and destroy several Horcruxes, the magical reservoirs of Voldemort's immortality. Once they're destroyed, Harry can face Voldemort on a more equal basis. A bright spot for Harry is that his "army" of students is still intact. The renegade group of students meets in a hidden room in Headmaster Snape's version of Hogworts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogworts is a dark and dismal place under Snape's direction and Harry means to change it if he can. Since the movie is a continuation from part one, viewers may have a hard time understanding what's going on if they watch it without seeing the first part. But that said, it is still an exciting cinematic romp.

Dragons, ghosts, giants, elves, flying brooms, magic swords, stone warriors, an all-out wizards war, the vaults at Gringots Bank, and Platform 9 3/4, all combine to make this a fast-paced and exhilarating fantasy extravaganza. And like the other Harry Potter movies, this one has its humorous moments as well as a couple of romantic ones.

Other familiar characters are back in Deathly Hallows Part 2, including the irascible Professor Snape, the stern but caring Professor McGonagall, the friendly giant Hagrid, a half dozen red-haired Weasleys, the white-haired Malfoys, including the ever "weasley" Draco Malfoy, the quircky but lucky Luna Lovegood, brave Neville Longbottom, and many others.

If you're a fan of the books, or the films, or both, you're sure to love this final installment in the Harry Potter series.