Tag Archives: Peter Jackson

Now Playing: Jackson Rattles ‘The Lovely Bones’

15 Jan


The Lovely Bones (PG-13) 120 min. Directed by: Peter Jackson Written by: Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie Original Score: Brian Eno

2 marias


Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones is a decidedly creepy and insubstantial adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel. Recounting the after-life of young Susie Salmon, a 14-yr old Pennsylvania girl who is raped and murdered by a neighbor, Bones is being sold as a kind of bittersweet fantasy with an eye on family tragedy. Beautifully photographed, with a haunting wistful score by Brian Eno, Jackson and company bring all of their technical expertise to bear on the film and attend to its tricky narrative taboos with a  delicate hand. The acting is mostly very good, with the centerpiece being a thoughtful and sweet performance by Saoirse Ronan, who seems to have a bright cinematic future ahead of her. And yet, for all of this, The Lovely Bones falls flat on its face. Hard. Continue reading

Alien Apartheid: Exploring Neil Blonkamp’s ‘District 9’

10 Sep


District 9 (R) 112 min. Directed by: Neil Blonkamp.

cinemagrade A+

 ‘District 9’ has been playing for almost a month now and the critical and commercial response to Neil Blonkamp’s South African sci-fi actioner has been surprisingly strong and positive. Back in May, I cited the movie in my Top Ten Summer Sci-Fi list and placed it at the top. Even I, however, was still sideswiped by what I found upon walking into the theater. I saw the film two days after its release but vacation and a few other events thwarted me from writing it up. Now, with the initial excitement cleared and a little time passed to process it, I think I’m ready to take a crack at it. For anyone still on the fence about seeing it, or those who want a one sentence sum-up, here you go: District 9 is probably the best science fiction film of the last decade, and easily the best sci-fi action film since 1999’s The Matrix. So, if you wanna see it but haven’t, and know you are going, don’t read any further. Go in fresh and come back here later.

For all of you still around, I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as I can; discussing the film without giving away any of it’s myriad of surprises and delights. Continue reading

Trailer for Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lovely Bones’ finally arrives

5 Aug


August 5th, 2009–

I read Alice Sebold’s odd and oddly touching novel The Lovely Bones a few years ago, while making daily trips on the Light Rail. It was an interesting and at times haunting read; simple, elegant prose and compelling imagery layered onto a human story. I enjoyed it very much but never quite understood the desire to make it a film. Peter Jackson is a great filmmaker and can bring some amazing visuals to the big screen (I even love King Kong) but he seemed like a far too literal minded director for this material.


The trailer here suggests that I was wrong and that Jackson has found a way to take Sebold’s words and visualize them in his own way. Check out the otherworldly splendor and earthly heartache deep down in The Lovely Bones.

Stop the Presses!!! Now this is a summer movie trailer!!!

8 Jul


July 8th, 2009–

Wow. This is probably the third time I’ve written about this flick, but it just keeps getting better and better. Neil Blonkamp’s District 9 landed at the top of my most anticipated sci-fi films of the summer list, and this new trailer just solidifies what I suspected; this is going to be seriously awesome. Alien refugees, shadowy government conspiracies, humans infected with alien powers, advanced technology, a brewing interspecies throw-down. If you are any kind of science fiction fan at all, you owe it to yourself to check out this trailer. I also enjoy that they have taken the time to school Michael Bay on how to design a good robot.  Click over HERE to enter District 9. This one lands in August.

Serkis, Weaving and McKellan all back for ‘Hobbit’, of course

12 Jun


June 12th, 2009-

Well, I think most of us just assumed this would be the case, and if it weren’t I think some eyebrows would have been raised. But, anyway, now it’s official and proof that The Hobbit really is starting to move forward. Ian Mckellan, Hugo Weaving and Andy Serkis will all be returning to their roles as Gandalf, Elrond and Gollum, respectively. The Guillermo Del Toro directed and Peter Jackson produced adaptation of Tolkien’s pre-LOTR tale is currently in the process of casting it’s Bilbo, which will be a far more interesting announcement whenever it is made. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for Martin Henderson but that doesn’t seem so likely anymore. And no, de-aging Ian Holm is not a likely or viable option.

 Here’s the original announcement from Empire which can be read HERE.

Here’s one to file under, “Well, duh! But also good”. Guillermo del Toro told Radio 5, as picked up by The One Ring.net, that Sir Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving would be appearing in The Hobbit.It won’t come as any great surprise to, well, anyone, but it is welcome news that those members of the Lord of the Rings cast who also appear in The Hobbit will be playing the roles they originated in Del Toro’s sort-of prequel to Jackson’s trilogy.We’re due a Bilbo casting announcement any day now, but we hope that this tidbit of almost-news will keep you going until then.

10 Summer Sci-Fi Films with promise

15 May
Peter Jackson attaches his name to Neil Blonkamp's new sci-fi drama District 9 which hits August 11th
Peter Jackson attaches his name to Neil Blonkamp’s new sci-fi drama District 9 which hits August 11th

  We are entering the third weekend in May, and the summer movie season is already well underway. So far, the biggest surprise has been the box-office strength of JJ Abrams Trek film, which had a great start and has continued to build strong. We’ll find out this weekend how well it fares in the face of the new Dan Brown adaptation Angels and Demons. The most refreshing thing about the new Trek is that in addition to being a terrific summer entertainment, it’s a true blue science fiction film and not just special effects and set design dipped in a sci-fi coating. And for fans of real science fiction, that’s a big thing; sincere, intelligent films in the genre are few and far between. 

However, it looks like that all might be in the process of changing. Every year and every summer brings a certain  number of films centered around aliens, robots or space travel but it’s been years since we have seen a glut of serious-minded science fiction hitting the theaters. With the post apocalyptic thriller The Road opening in October, and James Cameron’s epic science fiction experiment Avatar coming in for a landing in December, science fiction looks to be gaining steam. And before we even get there, there are clones, aliens, cyborgs, virtual wars and robotic warriors marching their way into multiplexes this summer.

The following are ten best bets for serious science fiction lovers. The titles range from independent features to big blockbusters, thoughtful space odysseys and B-movie action pictures. Some are adaptations or sequels and a few are completely original. What they all have in common: a specific, creative and hopefully exciting, sci-fi vision.


10. Gamer

 release date: September 4th

Trailer HERE


Ok, maybe I’m cheating a bit with this one. There doesn’t look to be much thoughtful or intelligent here, but by the looks of the trailer Gamer is full-blown speculative fiction mixed with hardcore action movie tropes. In the future, the biggest visceral thrill is not controlling A.I. avatars, but taking the wheel of actual human beings and pitting them against each other in various battle scenarios. This virtual killing experience is called Slayers and Gerard Butler plays a man trapped inside of this world trying to fight his way out and rescue his wife from another game universe called Society which is like a high-tech, twisted version of The Sims. Add in Michael C. Hall (Dexter himself) as the villain, Ludacris as a fellow Slayers’ avatar and Kyra Sedgewick as the host and you have a recipe that could result in the next Running Man. And we all know that’s a  classic right? The trailer looks like a perfect matinee ride, and the creators of Gamerhave taken some pains to make the sci-fi world at the center of the movie enticing if not plausible.

9. Pandorum

release date: September 4th

trailer HERE


Creepy Ben Foster from 310 to Yuma and 30 Days of Night teams with Dennis Quad to take on the sci-fi chiller Pandorum which becomes the latest entry in the “haunted spaceship” genre. That genre’s best entry, Sunshine, turned out to be a hard sci-fi thriller wearing a horror mask in the last third. This one looks typically disorienting, and that’s appropriate since it seems to revolve around the effects of deep space on the mind. The Pandorum of the title appears to be some sort of disease. While it’s slightly disconcerting to see Paul W.S. Anderson’s name on the film, he only serves as a producer and his own film Event Horizon contained without a doubt the creepiest haunted starship I’ve seen. I have some hope for this one.

8. Splice

release date: September

trailer: no trailer available currently.


Director Vincenzo Natali has provenhimself as a strong voice in science fiction with the skillfull thrillers Cube and Cypher. This time, he’s working a somewhat larger scale and telling a contemporary Frankenstein thriller about gene splicing scientists Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley who create a female creature whose own unique biology proves to be catastrophic for the world around her. Though it comes off sounding like Species, every other facet of the movie looks intriguing, including some rather disturbing creature designs that sidestep goopy monster and suggest an unearthly shuffling of human traits into something unnerving but also exotic.

7. Sleep Dealer

release date: playing in limited release right now

Trailer HERE


Respected in it’s release at the SundanceFilm Festival in January of last year, Alex Rivera’s first feature length film, Sleep Dealer tells the story of a walled off Mexico where workers plug-in to operate robotic construction units located across the border in the U.S. Cyberpunk needs a good jolt in the arm, and this low-budget indie film looks like it has the goods to deliver. I expect that this one might end up trumping the others on this list as far as it’s imagination and character development are concerned, but the trailer shows alot of the low budget seams. Will this matter? If you don’t get a theatrical shot at this one, I expect you will be able to grab it on dvd before summer ends.

6. Surrogates

release date: September  25th

Featurette HERE


Jonathan Mostow’s film sits right at the precipice dividing the summer and the fall film slate, but it’s production looks like a summer blockbuster witha neat idea at it’s center. Human shut-ins use robotic replicas called Surrogates to interact in the real world. When humans connected to surrogates start dying, an ex-cop played by Bruce Willis starts investigating, both in person and with his surrogate. It sounds like I, Robot but not being tied to a sci-fi classic and adding in the more compelling idea that the robots are only devices for their human masters impulses safely seperates this one from that Will Smith vehicle. Also, it’s nice to see Willis tackling something a little more ambitious again.

5. Terminator: Salvation

release date: May 21st

Trailer HERE


At first, I was skeptical about this prequel/revamp of the Terminator franchise. Whether Arnold appeared or not wasn’t such a big deal to me, but extracting the time travel elements was troubling. The original pictures played with fate, destiny and the human drive that proves necessary to trump the more calculating, efficient machines. When McG signed on, I pretty much wrote it off. But the addition of Bale in the cast, and a strong, gritty trailer made me reconsider. Recently I saw McG’s football drama We Are Marshall and was relieved to see that the man can deliver what a movie requires. Sure, that film about a town’s struggle in the face of tragedy is different than this one, but if you consider that the only movie Cameron made before the original Terminator was Pirahna 2: The Spawning, I think McG is in a better place. At any rate, it likely won’t be boring and if it can bring all of it’s pieces together it could be the strongest Terminator outing since the original. I have faith. After all, Bale wouldn’t settle for anything less than something professional.

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife

release date: August 14th

trailer: no trailer currently available

The Time Traveler's Wife

Based off a captivating novel about a man whose own genetic make-up causes him to time travel involuntarily, this film has the opportunity to improve upon that original work. Hopefully excising some of the creepier and ill-advised segments from the book, including a sexual encounter between the protagonist and his younger self, The Time Traveler’s Wife could potentially become a summer movie romantic sleeper. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams look to be appealing as the couple at the core of the story who struggle to weather the personal devestation that Bana’s time traveling jaunts can cause. Playing with alot of unique time travel concepts(Bana’s character shows up without any clothing or protection when he jumps), and telling a heart-wrenching tale about human love and devotion, Time Traveler’s Wife might be the one flick that offers something for a wider audience beyond the typical sci-fi geek.

3. Moon

release date: June 12th

Trailer HERE


David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones directs this space oddity about a man over-seeing a robotic mining operation on the moon. Sam Rockwell, who is usually brilliant, plays astronaut Sam Bell and his A.I. companion is voiced by Kevin Spacey. The trailer captures elements of loneliness, isolation and dementia which makes the film look more Solaris(either version) than 2001: A Space Odyssey. When clones of Sam start crashing to the moons surface and questioning his sanity, things take a turn for the wierd. I’m sold.

2. 9

release date: September 9th

Trailer HERE


Shane Acker’s 9 was a visionary and exciting short film about a small automaton fighting a mechanical beastie in a ransacked future world for the souls of his compatriots. Now, Tim Burton and russian director Timur Bekmanbatov produce Acker’sdirectorial debut  of his own short subject. I’m not completely sure if the story is fantasy or science fiction or a mixture of both, but it draws from classic quest narratives and the sort of robust visual sensibility that old pulp magazines used to possess.  With tons of talented voices involved , and a trailer that gives me Gilliam/Del Toro/Juenet-style chills, 9 promises to be, in the words of the sage Michael Bay, AWESOME.

 1. District 9

release date: August 4th

Trailer HERE


For me, this indie film, which boasts the tag “Presented by Peter Jackson”, is one of the most awaited movies of the summer. Drawn from a short film by Neill Blonkamp called Alive in Joburg, District 9 pairs great visual effects with a real-world story. This alien invasion is more like an inhabitation, with hapless extraterrestrials attempting to live among the human beings because their choices are limited. The social and cultural ramifications of this mish-mash look to be explored in the film. Not sure yet if it’s all done documentary style, or that’s merely the hook for the story. Either way, District 9 looks like something special. 

Movie Review: Hunt for Gollum gives fan-films a good name

14 May


cinemagrade b-

You know, I’m not really into fan films all that much. They have an inherent flaw that usually turns me off right way: instead of being creative or imaginative they strive to be slavishly faithful to their target and often lack the materials or talent to measure up. So, instead of  something that expands the rich world the creators adore, the “film” ends up being a grainy camera filmed video of four guys in the corner of their high school’s auditorium, wearing latex ears and reciting overcooked, pompous dialogue they wrote themselves while intermittently tapping their tin foil breastplates. I find that generally I end up  switching them off(or more accurately, hitting the back button on YouTube) out of sheer embarassment for the parties responsible.

So, color me surprised when I finished Chris Bouchard’s 40 minute LOTR fan film The Hunt for Gollum and found myself with not just a smile on my face but an intense desire to see The Hobbit. Right now. On a ridiculously small budget which probably amounts to the catering bill for John Ryhs Davies alone, Bouchard’s picture does what no other fan film of it’s ilk has managed: it apes entirely the style and form of the films it worships while also proving to be a worthy addition to that universe. It isn’t a full out triumph, but I’ll say this: it belongs in the universe of The Lord of the Rings, and it honors the intent and spirit of Tolkien’s original works.


The basic plot is one of the nice touches of the movie. This microcosmic event takes place between the time that Gandalf learns the One Ring is hidden in the Shire with Bilbo and the point where Frodo and his fellow travelers meet Aragorn at  The Prancing Pony. Gandalf knows the location of the Ring, knows of Gollum, and meets with Aragorn and sends him to locate and capture the elusive creature and find out if he possesses the knowledge of the Ring’s current whereabouts. As a story, it doesn’t amount to much, and the filmmakers don’t try to make it overly important. The strength of the scenario is it allows the audience to romp about in Middle Earth for a little over a half hour, and it ties itself inextricably to the original Trilogy, creating a certain relevance. The time-line of events also easily justifies the mimicry of Jackson’s Rings films–and that’s a good thing since this aspect of the movie is first class.

The Hunt for Gollum looks, sounds and feels like it belongs in the Jackson LOTR universe. Filming in Wales and the Epping Forest, Douchard finds landscapes and shots, that once enhanced with relatively subtle CGI, look nearly as good as the scenery in the mega-budget trilogy. Misty glens, shadowy forests, and craggy hills topped with ancient statues look believable and genuine. The use of filters and editing techniques blend the pacing and flow of the film with it’s predecessors. The costumes and make-up are really good for such a small production: a band of orcs looks like they wandered to this set off of The Two Towers. 


A battle scene in the middle of the film between Strider and those same Orcs is brilliantly staged. In other places the cinematography lifts entire scenes from it’s inspiration, among them several majestic mountain shots, Aragorn’s eyes illuminated by the fire in his pipe, and slow motion Orc boots tromping through muddy leaves. However, during the battle scene it becomes clear Douchard and company aren’t just copying Jackson’s style, they have been studying it. One Orc turns around, and a swooping shadow takes out his accomplice and the forest goes still. It’s a nice bait and switch with Aragorn becoming the stealthy predator and the Orcs the confused party.

So, from a visual standpoint, the movie is strong. The score is also impressive. It’s original music that always skirts the line between blatantly ripping off Howard Shore and simply evoking the mood of his work. Either way, it does a convincing job of landing us in that familiar mindset of a world brimming with adventure, magic and danger. The weak point, as it is with all of these things, is the acting. The good news is that it isn’t THAT weak.


Adrian Webster who plays Strider doesn’t match the part at all, but his effort goes a long way to suspending the reality that this forest warrior would make it so far with his eyes half lidded and mouth slightly agape. In the end, he was good enough that I was capable of accepting him as the character and that isn’t easy considering the last person to hold the role was Viggo Mortensen. He’s not even close, but he knows that, and saves his best work for impersonating Viggo and letting the other elements of the production speak for him the rest of the time. Patrick O’ Connor was quite nice as Gandalf, and fit into his surroundings perfectly. I liked his acting choice, which isn’t a full blown impression of McKellan but almost a mix of Ian’s performance and Lee’s turn as Saruman. It was far more interesting when played that way, and for the first time the Tolkien source material shone through more brightly than the adaptation.

As I said before, not everything works. For a forty minute picture there are still too many extraneous scenes. Everything involving Aragorn and Arwen is modeled identically after scenes in the original films, and it doesn’t add any new ideas or thoughts to that relationship. It should have vanished as those are the parts that are most reminiscent of the usual crop of “fan films.’ A lack of special effects renders Gollum as a form trapped in a sack most of the time. I was actually fine with this, because it was easier to fill in the blanks with Serkis’ performance. When we finally do see him, he’s a badly rendered mock-up of the Weta creation and its a shame they used it at all.


Finally, and this is probably just me, the film is aribitrary. It’s hard to feel any sense of pride or exhiliration at what everyone accomplished, because all they really managed was to make a reasonable facsimilie of someone else’s work. At best, it just proves how influential and inventive Jackson really was and why the current pseudo-backlash againt LOTR is codswallop. All of the work and clear talent that went into this piece could have been in service of an original vision, or even a new rendition of Tolkien. Instead, we get this independent film ode to the world of Tolkien as seen by Jackson.

But, I watched it all the way through, and plan to show it to my wife and the rest of my friends soon enough. So, I can’t really criticize the film for being what it is. When it comes down to it, all fans of LOTR are jonesing for something new and it’s incredible to think that a fan film scratches that itch, even for a very brief time.

So, see it for yourself and then tell me what you think. Watch the movie here:


or on YouTube here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ra9copTgtYc (this is the first part; there are links to the other pieces on the right hand side)