TOLKIEN (2019) – Unimaginative Look At Imaginative Author Tolkien

1

 

tolkien

For a bio pic about imaginative author J.R.R. Tolkien, TOLKIEN (2019) isn’t all that imaginative.

In fact, it’s slow moving and often dull, but it sure looks good!

Director Dome Karukoski, who hails from Finland, has made a handsome elegant production that hearkens back to the Merchant-Ivory classics of yesteryear, at least in appearance anyway. It’s well-acted by its principal leads, but its script lacks the necessary emotion and imagination to carry its audience through to the end. In short, its 112 minute running time seemed much longer.

TOLKIEN tells the story of author J.R.R. Tolkien, known of course for the epic fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and it does this by focusing on three phases of his life: his childhood, his time at school where he developed close friendships with a small group of students, and on the battlefields of World War I. While the film intercuts between all three of these periods, the bulk of the movie is spent on Tolkien’s time at school.

It’s at school where Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) meets his three closest friends, Robert Gilson (Patrick Gibson), Geoffrey Smith (Anthony Boyle), and Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney). The group becomes friends as youths where they declare they will change the world through art, and they stay together as they move on to Oxford where they continue to develop their “fellowship,” a word and feeling that will linger in Tolkien’s mind and heart long after he has finished school.

At home, Tolkien becomes friends with Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) who plays piano for their adoptive benefactor. The two become very close and eventually fall in love.

With the start of World War I, Tolkien finds himself on the battlefield, a brutal and unforgiving place that changes his life forever.

I guess.

That’s the thing about TOLKIEN. Its story never really resonates. Part of it is it’s not that captivating a story in the first place. Sure, Tolkien suffered on the battlefields of World War I, and friends were lost, but it wasn’t for these reasons alone that he wrote The Lord of the Rings.

The film hints that this is the case but never really hammers the point home. I mean, there are times on the battlefield where Tolkien hallucinates about dragons and other mythical creatures, but these images are shown fleetingly, and the connections to his later literary work are only implied.

I had a funny reaction watching TOLKIEN. I liked the main characters and enjoyed watching them, but the conversations and situations were so subtle, lifeless, and dull, that in spite of this I was rather bored throughout. It was akin to spending time with people you like but man, was the conversation flat.

Which is ironic since Tolkien was all about words, and here, the screenplay by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford is superficial at best. It tells its story but without energy, imagination, or inspiration. And as I said, it’s also not much of a story. Tolkien was an orphan, yes, but the film paints a picture of a decent childhood, and he and his friends at school enjoyed quality times together. There didn’t seem to be much adversity.

The World War I scenes make their point regarding the brutality of trench warfare, but it’s all rather sanitized and doesn’t provide the necessary impact to show that such horrific warfare scarred or shaped Tolkien in any major way.

The love story between Tolkien and Edith Bratt is a good one, but again, there wasn’t a lot of adversity to overcome.

I did enjoy the acting, though. A lot.

Nicholas Hoult, who’s been playing Beast in the recent X-MEN reboots, and he’s been doing an excellent job in the role, is superb in the lead here as J.R.R. Tolkien. In spite of the script limitations, he captures Tolkien’s love of words and the arts, and he makes the author a likable person. He embodies Tolkien’s love of learning and quirky intellect, and at times Holt channels a Benedict Cumberbatch vibe with this performance.

Hoult’s performance was one of my favorite parts of the movie. Hoult was also memorable in last year’s THE FAVOURITE (2018).

Lily Collins was also excellent as Edith Bratt. In fact, Collins, who’s the daughter of singer Phil Collins, was probably my favorite part of TOLKIEN. In the film, Edith Bratt is portrayed as probably the person who influenced Tolkien the most. She’s a strong and articulate presence, and Collins does an outstanding job bringing these qualities to life and also being adorable as well. It’s easy to see by Collins’ performance why Tolkien fell in love with her.

For a movie that was strangely devoid of emotion, Edith Bratt was one of the few characters whose scenes were frequently moving, and Lily Collins’ performance was directly responsible.

Strong emotions were few and far between in TOLKIEN. One of the more powerful scenes in the movie comes near the end, when Tolkien sits down with the mother of one of his slain friends, and she admits she never really knew her son. The way Tolkien explains her son to her is one of the more emotionally charged sequences in the movie.

It was fun to see Colm Meaney in the movie in a key supporting role as Father Francis, a priest who Tolkien’s mother left in charge of her sons’ welfare. Meaney of course played Chief Miles O’Brien on both STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1987-1994) and STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE (1993-1999).

And Derek Jacobi shows up briefly as language Professor Wright.

There also just wasn’t a whole lot of connections between Tolkien’s life story as told here in this movie and his novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Sure, things are hinted at, and connections are made peripherally, but you have to connect the dots, which isn’t a bad thing, but what is bad is there simply aren’t a lot of dots to connect.

I enjoyed TOLKIEN well enough because I liked the performances and the look of the film, but for a story about J.R.R. Tolkien, it was all rather lackluster and subdued, and not at all an imaginative take on its very imaginative subject.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: GREEN ROOM (2015)

1

green-room-dvd-cover

When this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, GREEN BOOK (2018) was first released, I remember thinking, gee, that title is awfully close to GREEN ROOMI wouldn’t want to be that person who mistakenly chose to watch GREEN ROOM when they meant to watch GREEN BOOK. They’re two very different movies. The person making that mistake would be in for quite a shock.

GREEN ROOM is a violent, visceral thriller that got under my skin and provided me with 95 minutes of horrifically intense entertainment.

GREEN ROOM is the story of a punk rock band whose members agree to accept a gig at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar. Their performance doesn’t go all that well— no, they’re not attacked because they played bad music, but they do run afoul of murder when they walk into the green room and find two people standing over the body of a dead woman, a knife jammed into her head. Before they can react, they are locked in the room and held hostage by bouncers at the bar.

The bar’s owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) arrives with a plan to make the crime go away, a plan that includes pinning the murder on the visiting band. This doesn’t sit well with the band, who decide to fight back, which is no easy task since they’re surrounded by people with weapons and vicious dogs who enjoy ripping people’s throats out.

What follows is a brutal and  suspenseful tale of the band’s fight for survival against a horde of murderous neo-Nazis led by the level-headed Mr. Darcy.

I really enjoyed GREEN ROOM. I was hooked within the film’s first few minutes. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier immediately captures the personality and mood of the punk rock band, known as The Ain’t Rights. The opening plays like a rock documentary, and once the band gets to the skinhead bar, things become sketchy first and then downright deadly.

And once that happens, once they discover the body of the murdered girl and get trapped inside the green room, all bets are off. What follows is an intense thrill ride that will give you sweaty palms for the remainder of the film.

GREEN ROOM features the late Anton Yelchin in the lead role as Pat, the band member who takes the lead in their fight for survival. In real life, Yelchin tragically died in a bizarre accident in which his Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled down his steep driveway and pinned him against a wall, killing him, on June 19, 2016. Yelchin was a tremendous talent and had already enjoyed enormous success in his young career, playing Chekov in the rebooted STAR TREK movies starring Chris Pine,  and he played Charley Brewster in the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) and Kyle Reese in TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009).

Yelchin is excellent here as Pat. At first, he’s not the character you expect to become the leader, especially since early on he almost dies, but his resilient spirit grows as the story goes along.

Imogen Poots is also memorable as Amber, the young woman who’s found standing over the dead girl with the knife in her head. I like Poots a lot. Interestingly enough, she also starred in the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT as Amy.

Also in the cast is Joe Cole, who plays John Shelby on the TV show PEAKY BLINDERS (2013-17). I also enjoyed Macon Blair as Gabe, one of the bouncers who actually develops a conscious as the plot unfolds.

But for my money the best performance in GREEN ROOM belong to Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart as club owner Darcy. Stewart, of course, played the Enterprise captain on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1987-1994) and in the four NEXT GENERATION STAR TREK movies. And, he’s set to reprise the role of Captain Picard in an upcoming Star Trek TV series which is as of yet untitled. Not to mention his portrayal of Professor Charles Xavier in the X-MEN movies, a role he played most recently in LOGAN (2017) with Hugh Jackman.

As Darcy in GREEN ROOM, Stewart is calm and cool, the complete opposite of everyone else in the movie. As such, Stewart makes Darcy a chilling adversary, someone who doesn’t think twice about the deadly decisions he makes. He’s cold, calculating, and ultimately a bad ass.

For me, watching Stewart was the best part of GREEN ROOM.

There are also some truly frightening scenes in this one, from hands being grotesquely mutilated to deathly choke holds, to murder with box cutters, to man-eating dogs. Gulp!

This is one movie you don’t want to watch on a full stomach. Yet, it is much more than just a gore fest. In fact, it’s not very gory at all. Most of the violence occurs in quick fashion in swiftly edited scenes, which only adds to the frenetic pace of the film.

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier also creates sympathetic characters who you care about and want to see survive, feelings that are heightened by the fact that the chances of their survival are so slim.

GREEN ROOM is a first-rate thriller and horror movie. No, it’s not the one that won Best Picture—that’s GREEN BOOK— but it is the one that will leave you green with revulsion.

—END—

THE HORROR JAR: Music By Jerry Goldsmith, PART 2

0

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, the column where we look at lists pertaining to movies, particularly horror movies.  Today it’s Part 2 of our look at the career of composer Jerry Goldsmith.

jerry goldsmith - 2

Jerry Goldsmith

In Part 1, we looked at films Goldsmith scored between the years of 1957 and 1983.

On to Part 2!

And again, this is just a partial list of Goldsmith’s 258 movie credits, concentrating mostly on his genre films.  We continue the list now, picking up where we left off, in 1984.

GREMLINS (1984) – No water, no food after midnight, and no bright lights, but plenty of Jerry Goldsmith music in this horror comedy by director Joe Dante.

SUPERGIRL (1984) – Before the TV show, there was this movie, starring the lovely Helen Slater as Supergirl.  Slater actually appears on the new SUPERGIRL television series as Eliza Danvers.  Pretty bad movie, in spite of the presence of Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, and Mia Farrow.

RAMBO:  FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985)- Following up on his work on Sylvester Stallone’s FIRST BLOOD (1982), Goldsmith provides the music again in this bigger and badder sequel.

LEGEND (Director’s Cut) (1985) – Ridley Scott’s fantasy fairy tale about a youth (Tom Cruise) battling a demon (Tim Curry).  Goldsmith’s music appears only in the re-issued director’s cut.  Tangerine Dream provided the electronic music in the theatrical release.

INNERSPACE (1987) – Dennis Quaid gets miniaturized and injected into the body of Martin Short in this action comedy by director Joe Dante, a variation of FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966).

RAMBO III (1988) – completes the original  Sylvester Stallone Rambo trilogy.

LEVIATHAN (1989) –  Underwater monster adventure starring Peter Weller and Richard Crenna.

WARLOCK (1989) – Horror fantasy starring Julian Sands as a— warlock.

STAR TREK V:  THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) – Goldsmith’s second trip to the STAR TREK universe, after scoring the first movie in the series, STAR TREK – THE MOTION PICTURE (1979).  This is the one directed by William Shatner and it’s usually on fan’s “worst of” lists when talking about the movie series, but other than some silliness early on, this one isn’t half bad and actually gets better as it goes along.  1989 was another busy year for Goldsmith as he wrote the music scores for four movies this year.

TOTAL RECALL (1990) – Provides the music for this Arnold Schwarnegger vehicle about a man with a virtual identity crisis on Mars.  Directed by Paul Verhoeven.  Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick.

THE VANISHING (1993)- Abduction thriller starring Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges.  Not as good as the original Dutch/French version of THE VANISHING (1988), the film on which this was based.

THE SHADOW (1994)-  Alec Baldwin is The Shadow.  Meh.

THE RIVER WILD (1994) – Thriller with Meryl Streep protecting her famly from a pair of baddies on a raging river.  Kinda exciting back in the day.

THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS (1996) – Adventure tale starring Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer about the hunt for two maneating lions.

STAR TREK:  FIRST CONTACT (1996)- Second and best of the STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION movies has Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of his Enterprise crew taking on their arch enemies, The Borg.

star-trek-first-contact-movie-poster

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – Classic thriller about police corruption in 1950s Los Angeles.  Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kim Basinger.

STAR TREK:  INSURRECTION (1998) – Third Next Generation STAR TREK film and by far the quietest of the series.  Picard and company discover a Federation plot against a peaceful planetary people, and that’s not okay with them!  Like watching a mediocre episode of the series. No sense of cinematic urgency at all.

THE MUMMY (1999)- Big budget re-imagining of Universal’s THE MUMMY by writer/director Stephen Sommers.  Starring Brendan Fraser, this one plays like an Indiana Jones flick rather than a horror movie.  Fun, but as a horror film, it’s ultimately disappointing.

the-mummy-movie-poster

THE HAUNTING (1999)- Dreadful remake of the 1963 film THE HAUNTING, itself based on the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House.  With Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Bruce Dern.  Pretty awful.

HOLLOW MAN (2000)- Speaking of pretty awful, this re-imagining of THE INVISIBLE MAN starring Kevin Bacon and Elisabeth Shue is as awful as a horror movie can get.  Directed by Paul Verhoeven.

STAR TREK:  NEMESIS (2002) – Final Next Generation STAR TREK film and one of its best, although that’s not saying much since the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION movies were never as good as the STAR TREK:  THE NEXT GENERATION TV show.  This one features Tom Hardy and Ron Perlman in the cast.

LOONEY TUNES:  BACK IN ACTION (2003) – Goldsmith’s final feature film music score, this goofy movie features Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and friends intermingling with live action actors, including Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, and Timothy Dalton.

The movies listed here and in Part 1 of this blog post are only a partial listing and do not include all of Goldsmith’s remarkable 258 music score credits.  In addition to these movies, Jerry Goldsmith also wrote the music for many TV shows including THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-61), THRILLER (1960-62), THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68), POLICE STORY (1973-79), THE WALTONS (1972-81), STAR TREK:  THE NEXT GENERATION (1987-94), and STAR TREK:  VOYAGER (1995-2001), to name just a few.

His was a long and varied career, and if you watch lots of movies, you can’t help but be familiar with his music, as his career spanned five decades.

Jerry Goldsmith passed away on July 21, 2004 at the age of 75 after a battle with cancer.

Jerry Goldsmith, February 10, 1929- July 21, 2004.

Thanks for reading everybody!

—Michael