#1022 The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (2003)

The Return of the King is the third film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, wrapping up the twelve hour (extended edition) epic in magnificent, sprawling battles, gorgeous environments, twists, turns, fear, political intrigue, dysfunctional families, and a battle to save Middle Earth. It was exciting to wrap up the series. This final film took us three nights to watch. For a more in-depth intro to the trilogy, check out our post for the first film The Fellowship of the Ring.



This movie ends with a massive, epic battle. In my opinion, this film ties each of the different story threads  up in a satisfying manner, and the fighting and battle scenes don’t feel too gratuitous.  While this trilogy is fantasy,  it’s universal appeal is how the characters in the movie embody heroism, hate, and  friendship.  This film has probably the best special effects as well as the best dialogue in the trilogy.  After watching the first two films, I was feeling about fatigued about sitting down for another three-plus hour trip to Middle Earth.  Once the movie began I was on the edge of my seat for the duration.  These movies are pretty perfect, and even 13 years later and just as captivating and entertaining.

After we finished the trilogy I set out to read them, but sadly, I have not yet made it out of the shire.  I can say if you have never read the books, they are absolutely incredible.  I did read the Hobbit, but after watching the first Hobbit film I refuse to watch the sequel – that movie was garbage.

Finally, I found this little film to be both entertaining and informative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQeYyiuqOaI



Some of the best lines appear in the third film in terms of the soliloquies, fraternity in the face of insurmountable odds, breathtaking images of architecture and the Army of the Dead whisking past Aragon’s beautiful hair as he attacks in slow motion in at least three parts of the film…. It is awe inspiring and beautiful, exciting and unique, sprawling and gorgeous with this incredible hybrid CGI / real New Zealand atmosphere. Having been only the third film in history to sweep the academy awards (next to Ben Hur and Titanic), the performances, execution, and artistic gelling of every part of this film – all of the films, honestly – is truly wonderful.

Making it through the third four-hour film in one week felt like finishing a marathon, but these films were so absolutely fully immersive and believable which is very difficult to pull off in fantasy. I found myself thinking, why don’t I have this running in the background whenever I am doing something? It would be an incredible escape from monotony, but also a way to just jump out of what I am doing and into an immersive world I love visiting so much. Chances are, I wouldn’t get anything done, but alas.

Great film. Looking forward to watching the DVDs again to hear the commentaries (there are four for each film – totaling a staggering 48 hours of viewing, I guess) and many more hours of special features including the various alternate endings. Some people online gave this set some bad reviews because they went out and bought the first special editions, and then this other set comes out for a few hundred dollars and they feel upset, but it is completely different than the theatrical version and I don’t see the comparison. I bought this version of all three sets on DVD for $6 at the library book sale (as I mentioned earlier), so I’m not upset about having bought the first set. It’s also something like 10 years after they released it – the blu ray extended set (2011) is currently $35 on ebay, so if they were patient, it would’ve been reasonable. Not a reason to rate the films one star on Amazon as far as I am concerned.

Excellent films, and always a pleasure to revisit Jackson’s middle earth. The acting, effects, costumes, and art direction hold up surprisingly well. These movies are part of an experience of modern times that makes me think that I love that I live in a time to have experienced it – and can whenever I like. The worst thing that could have happened is if it “looked” and “felt” like a 2000s movie, even though it takes place in a long lost era as some of the 1970s sci-fi and fantasy does. Will it in 2050? I hope not, but as it is today it feels like a timeless film.

A little bit of fun is in order after twelve hours of hobbits – Nerdist created an “R-Rated Lord of the Rings” video that is beautifully cheeky.

#1021 The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers (2002)

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers is the second of Peter Jackson’s remarkable Lord of the Rings trilogy. For the usual comprehensive intro, check out our review for the first film  in the trilogy at this link.



Rohan is crumbling, Gollum is following, and everyone is preparing for a battle that will bring darkness across the entire world… The premise of the sequel ramps up the energy and momentum of the first, and this second film takes what wonders, artwork, genius, and brilliant performances existed in the first film and tweak them to present a glorious and magnificent film that outshines the first. Perhaps what is most impressive about this one is how much cleaner the special effects were, and how excellent the production value was – considering the film was made immediately subsequent to Fellowship, they were able to tune up the great work that they did in the first film and make the magic even more polished.

Some really impressive elements of this one are the Ents and their execution. The sheer beauty of the characters and performances were beautiful. I was a little worried about going back and watching Gollum, but he still held up in my opinion. He was a little cartoony, but the motion capture was just incredible, and considering this was just a year or something after Episode I, there is no comparison to what I am watching and…. He that shall not be named.

Regardless, my love for the trilogy grows with film two, and I am looking forward to the final installment. I did watch the first of the Hobbit films last year on DVD, and I couldn’t get into it. It seemed hasty, disparate, and simply not a good film (as much as I love Martin Freeman), but I hear that has a lot to do with the execution of the production team trying to stretch out a hundred page book into three movies that weren’t even finished being planned out because there just isn’t that much material…. Well, I think this Honest Trailers Video sums it up pretty perfectly. Regardless, The Two Towers actually makes me thirst for Return of the King and revisiting the books.


This film is darker and grimmer than The Fellowship of the Rings.  This movie breaks into three different story arcs,  Frodo and Sam’s journey to destroy the ring at Mordor, Merry and  Pippin, who are captured and escape, and Aragon, Legolas, and Gimli, who travel to Rohan to plead for help.

This movie has some spectacular special effects.  The giant trees, or Ents, who play a major role in propelling the plot forward in the final battle scene in the movie, barely seem outdated.  For the parts where the Ent Treebeard carries and speaks to Merry and Pippin, a  14-foot puppet was built on a wheel.  The production crew began working on animating Gollum in 1998, but most scenes that include other actors have Gollum portrayed as an actor wearing a motion capture suit, with the Gollum animation layered on these scenes. Watching this movie so many years later, very few scenes seem outdated or unrealistic.

This movie also perfectly sets up the third and  final movie in the series, the Return of The King

Downton Abbey, Mozart In The Jungle, SPECTRE, The Martian, and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

From time to time we will have a general update – tagged with “general post” when we are watching something that is not on the list but will include some worthwhile commentary on some things that we have been consuming otherwise….

Some things we have been watching…

Downton Abbey, The Final Season

Well, what more can be said – one of the greatest things to ever happen to public television is coming to an end this year. This is the only thing in the past twenty years I think that we have made a point to watch as it is broadcast when it airs. A beautiful dramedy, well written, with spectacular performances of a brilliant ensemble cast, it will be hard for PBS to one up this program once it concludes this year. Making a special late dinner and watching Downton along with The Great British Bake Off has been a highlight of the past six years. We’ll miss it… That is, until we start watching the DVDs over again from the beginning.

I guess I will also miss live tweeting the broadcast with a bunch of fellow dorks, as well.

Mozart in the Jungle, Season 2

What a fantastic dramedy! We started watching this right when it came on the queue for streaming Amazon Prime, and along with Transparent and The Man In The High Castle, this is a program that is entirely worth watching as part of a Prime subscription. Amazon definitely knows how to invest in their programming in terms of star power, great writers, brilliant storytelling, excellent directors and actors, and the investment it takes to make a quality production. Very impressed with everything they release.


We are absolute Bond junkies, and it is is a little bit of a surprise that there are no Bond films on the 1001 as far as I can tell (but it is a long list I have passed my eyes over maybe too many times to find one… we’ll see). SPECTRE is another installment in Craig’s tenure, and he is one of my favorites. He is no nonsesnse, and takes his role seriously. The plot, action, and execution of SPECTRE didn’t disappoint until the final three minutes where I got a little confused as to why they included it… But one can complain about such a tiny thing with something they hold so dear. Great fun at the theater.

The Martian

I read this book and really enjoyed it for its intense and fun execution of a harrowing Robinson Crusoe in space story. My dorky nerves were tickled by all the math and humorous geeky pop culture references. The movie did not disappoint – as a matter of fact, my only complaint about the book was that it was missing an epilogue that the film actually had! Another great night at the theater.

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Wow. A shockingly dark and twisted tale that doesn’t entirely translate to the screen from the book, this tells the story of a woman who is keeping a town together through her various enterprises. When a long lost cousin arrives, it appears that she falls in love and hilarity ensues….That is, until her felon ex-husband returns from prison. She never loved him, but her cousin-boyfriend seems to fall in love with him, and he seems to want to do nothing but destroy his ex wife. A complicated triangle that is really folk-y and Keillor-y in the book, but doesn’t translate to the screen very well regardless of Edward Albee’s involvement. A great book, but feel free to miss the film.

The Hateful Eight

I (Garrett) went to see a late 70mm showing, and was absolutely blown away at how immersive the narrative was. I feel like my post from Facebook summed up the experience nicely: 

Just got home from seeing The Hateful Eight in 70mm on the really big screen. Incredible. Tarantino delivers one of the most scathing indictments of our collective white American racial history, but he manages to artfully and symbolically evoke blame with everything from slavery to lynching to Lincoln and a myriad others by literally leaving blood on everyone’s hands. An absolutely shocking, beautiful, disgusting, and funny film that does an incredible job raising some serious questions that have been around since the beginning of our nation. What’s more, as a filmmaker he continues to get better, while honing into perfection in being bloody, serious, and hysterical in the same beat.

And this is the film whose script was leaked during the Sony hack? Please…. The only way I was going to experience this film was going to be in the dark, with some popcorn, a group of strangers, and a smile on my face. Cinema is not dead, in fact, it is still very much a necessary experience that is unique in this existence.

#1020 The Lord of the Rings- The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Over the past two nights we watched the 210 minute extended edition (30 mins longer, reedited, remastered, and rescored) of The Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring.



I absolutely loved this series when it was in the theater, remembering the long anticipated opportunities to watch as one of my most beloved reading experiences from my adolescence became a reality on the silver screen and noting the fact that many reviewers, pundits, and people in the know both literary and pop-culturary (?) suggested that it was not destroyed by the filmmaking process, but done right; done magnificently; done in a manner that revered the books rather than destroyed them. I went into the films knowing that the super dork behind the sleeper cult classics that I loved, “Meet The Feebles,” “Bad Taste,” and “The Frighteners” would actually take this budget (something he hadn’t seen in his career) and make some real magic.

I was right. I remembered the films nostalgically as a watershed in dorkiness, and went to see these films several times and bought the DVDs right away. When the opportunity to own the extended editions at a library book sale (all 3 films, all 12 DVDs, all thousand or whatever hours of commentary, films, extras, etc., all for $6 for the trilogy) and relive the magic in a new way, I snatched it up… Of course, our 1001 challenge made it the perfect time to watch them over.

I have to say that the films hold up remarkably well. The overall execution of every little detail, the technology that Jackson had at the time, the beauty and awe that every scene evokes, everything…everything about these films are pure magic. I could only spot two places in this film where I had a bit of a “wow, they messed up the blending there,” mostly with characters walking and it not matching the environment (both in the Moria sequences) and one spot where CGI ruins didn’t match the camera tracking all that well, but besides that, it is so impressive that I still watched this run through with my mouth agape. What they were able to accomplish on a mere $300M budget is astounding. The performances of McKellen, Mortensen, Serkis, and Holm were impressive, and I was still a little annoyed at Wood’s constant falling over and shouting and hurting, but that is the character, not his performance.

A great film overall. Looking forward to the next two once more.


I feel that this is a film that has held up remarkably well over the years.  For a film that is 15 years old with a significant amount of special effects, this movie still holds up to the test of time  without being too dated.

I didn’t read the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings series until I saw the movie in the theater when as an adult in my first year of teaching.  I immediately fell in love with Tolkien’s Middle Earth and all its unique and wonderful – or wonderfully awful characters.

For someone unfamiliar with the story, I found the pacing of the film easy to follow.  It is practically impossible not to cheer on the ragtag band of hobbits as they embark on their perilous journey out of the Shire.  The Ringwraiths  who pursue were especially terrifying in this movie – even their gloves and shoes have sharp, scythe-like points.

Finally, if you are a person who has had to listen to your spouse or offspring play the Lego Lord of the Rings game millions of times,  you will find the moment in the movie when the actual Gandalf proclaims….”You…Shall Not Pass…!”  especially satisfying.

I know I did.






#755 Ran (1985)

Kurosawa’s beautiful, horrifying, and hyper-theatrical interpretation of King Lear is a sprawling triumph on a massive scale. The colorful, gigantic horror of the world that Kurosawa created in this final epic is a dimension of confusion, betrayal, and jockeying for a hold of an empire of dirt. Perhaps what is most interesting is that Kurosawa envisioned this as a story about a real historical figure, and it wasn’t until much later that he recognized that all of the changes he made made it incredibly close to Lear. This is a beautifully spectacular film that is a triumph of film making as much as it is a triumph of an interpretation of a literary work.

Kurosawa painstakingly worked on his vision for this film for what we understand was to be somewhere in the vicinity of a decade, hand-painting all of the storyboards of the production and making sure every last detail was perfect for its $12 million budget. In Schneider’s book, the editor suggests that “Kurosawa is unsurpassed in his mastery of film technique…the performances range from brilliant to something resembling utter perfection… (and the film) displays the wisdom of a lifetime in a “mere” two hours and forty minutes, during which time itself is simply suspended.”

We couldn’t agree more.

We watched the Criterion Collection DVD for this viewing.


I watched this when I took a Shakespeare course as an undergraduate, maybe when I was twenty. I remember it being awesome but weird. The perspective that I have as a more mature adult, more mature reader, performer, teacher, and father has made this experience a great deal more engaging and revolutionary. At the time, I was consuming an absurd amount of media as part of my studies, not to mention working a full time job and completing my work as a student. It is staggering to look back on, but ultimately it makes me realize that I really glossed over a lot of it and could use returning to it now as a slower, more focused adult.

This film was magnificent. The performances were stunning and convincing, even though they presented a hyper-theatrical version of humanity. One realizes through the performances, makeup, gorgeous costumes and locations, and shots that this is indeed a fictional film – but the reality in which the story is told is unmistakable and utterly engrossing. With its super-wide angle shots of beauty and destruction, the auditory torture of harsh sounds (the crickets screaming) contrasted with the absolute silence that occurs, and its true confusing atmosphere, this film is unparalleled in its scope and execution.

It is absolutely unbelievable that in the end of his career Kurosawa was having difficulty securing funding, but this film is truly something spectacular and would have been a shame. He considered this film to be his greatest work – and as a fan of Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai, I might agree…. Even though everything he has made holds such striking and eye-opening beauty and horror. Imagine if it hadn’t been made, though? His masterpiece is a masterpiece, and leaves the world and Shakepseare’s vision so much more vibrant.


This movie is worth the watch for the landscape alone- it is breathtaking, vibrant, and vast.  The most powerful part of this movie is what you don’t realize at first watch – there are no close-up scenes, no zooming in on actor’s faces or movements. Every scene is filmed with a wide angle and this enhances the role that nature and the environment play in this story (the storm was a formidable player in Shakespeare’s Lear).  Having read Lear and recently  Fool by Christopher Moore, I greatly enjoyed this twist on the tale.  The costumes, sets and effects were magnificent- unlike anything I’d seen in a film.

#1032 Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Today we watched Monsoon Wedding, Mira Nair’s 2001 film about two families coming together for the arranged marriage of their children in Delhi. In an art direction extra feature on the Criterion DVD, the team discussed how they managed to make the film in a month at close to 100 locations and for less than a million dollars. Quite an achievement in modern film-making, and it is equally impressive that the entire film was shot on Digital Video – and it appears that it is one of the first features to do this. In the Schneider book, the author of the short essay notes that  it is “emotionally satisfying, in part due to its relatively uncluttered narrative and universal subject matter.” Furthermore, the “flitting from English to Hindi to Punjabi …shows the irrelevance of language and background when it comes to something as familiar as the mysteries and foibles of romance.”


I really enjoyed this film. I thought that the colors, the selective use of cultural contrasts in a modern globalized world, and the cool handheld camerawork lent a great deal to this film. The beautiful images of regular life that end up being filtered in to separate the scenes, as well as the bouncing between the various languages, styles, and traditions brought an authenticity to the film that was really engaging to my sensibilities. The most notable parts of the film that I will carry with me are the amazing title and credits sequences, the slow motion introductions of Alice and Parabatlal, the beautiful music for the entire film, the scene in the empty pool with the beautiful lighting and execution overall, and the absolute seemingly-unrehearsed folk joy in every scene where the cast is singing or dancing.

My only complaint is that I thought the plot with the uncle, which carried ~act 3-4 of the film was a little clunky, and that made it feel contrived to me. It is genuine, but there is something abut the execution that didn’t entirely fit for me.


This story was told in a way that I found very visually appealing.  The colors, sounds, and the movements throughout the day to day lives of the characters seems natural and vibrant.  I found the montages  of daily life around the city and in the country eye-opening and appealing.  I had less difficulty understanding the “uncle” subplot, I feel that was foreshadowed from one of the earliest scenes but regardless, a great mix of angst and humor.