RETRO REVIEW: “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”

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Peter Jackson’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” was an extraordinary introduction to his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. It not only introduced us to its compelling assortment of characters, but it also firmly planted us within J.R.R. Tolkien’s vast enchanting world. But it’s the second installment, “The Two Towers” where the series truly hits its stride.

“The Two Towers” takes the story of its predecessor and expands it in every way. Fascinating new characters, more lands throughout Middle-Earth, and even higher stakes than before. But one of Jackson’s many great accomplishments is how seamlessly he blends these new pieces into the existing fabric. And despite the immensity of his scope, the movie never loses its intimacy.

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Picking up where “Fellowship” left off, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam’s (Sean Astin) journey to destroy the One Ring has grown more arduous and the weight of the ring more burdensome. As the two struggle to find a path to Mordor, the sallow, emaciated Gollum (Andy Serkis) secretly follows them. He was the ring’s former owner, consumed by its power and desperate to reclaim it. When Gollum is discovered Frodo shows pity and uses him as a guide against the pleas of a concerned Sam.

A second story thread follows Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) as they follow the trail of their abducted Hobbit companions Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). They are led through the war-torn lands of Rohan whose King Theodin (Bernard Hill) lies under a spell of the wicked wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee).

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And yet a third story thread follows the aforementioned Merry and Pippin who manage to escape their Uruk-hai captors after the Orc soldiers are attacked by Éomer (Karl Urban) and his exiled Riders of Rohan. The two Hobbits hide deep within Fanghorn Forest where they encounter a mysterious tree beings called Ents.

The challenges for this incredible three-headed story are obvious. Huge in scale and with a ton of ground to cover, yet vitally important that it all comes together. Jackson melds together his many moving parts with remarkable precision. And of the several new characters introduced not a one feels wasted or undeserved. Each fit and have a place in Tolkien’s tumultuous world yet have their own personal storylines that take form without ever feeling pointless or intrusive. It’s a remarkable mixture of character and narrative.

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Then there is the genius of Jackson’s technique. From his sweeping camera combing the exquisite New Zealand landscapes to the subtlest of closeups capturing every worry, concern, and pain of the characters. Equally exhilarating are the action scenes both small and epic in size. It’s hard not to be blown away by his framing of the action as well as Weta Workshop’s extraordinary special effects. Jackson really opens it up with the first of the series’ huge battlefield sequences. The Battle for Helm’s Deep remains my favorite segment in the entire trilogy.

Much more could be talked about including Jackson’s knack for not only building tension but maintaining it throughout a sequence. Also “The Two Towers” highlights Jackson’s keen ability to convey to the audience an incredible sense of the mystical and magical. The world he and his teams place us in are rich with imagination and the fantastical. But the greatest thing about the series is that it’s far more than eye candy and sparkly window dressing. It’s the characters and their stories that form the heart of trilogy. That’s especially true for “The Two Towers”.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5STAR K&M

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5 PHENOMENAL FOOTBALL MOVIES

With the NFL and college football underway I thought I might as well do the exact same thing I did at the start of the baseball season. This week’s Phenomenal 5 will be looking at football movies. This was an interesting list to put together and when the final cut was made, I was surprised to see the variety (something I aim for with these lists). So here they are, five football movies that I thoroughly enjoyed. Now I know there are a few popular ones that didn’t make it therefore I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no questioning that these five football films are certainly phenomenal.

#5 – “INVINCIBLE”

This 2006 football picture is based on the unlikely true story of Vince Papale, a down-on-his-luck bartender who is encouraged to participate in an open tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles. Mark Wahlberg plays Vince who catches the attention of Eagles coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear). Obviously he makes the team or we wouldn’t have a story but at its heart this is a fun movie for football fans. While Kinnear doesn’t quite make me think of Dick Vermeil, Wahlberg is a lot of fun and “Invincible” is a movie I still enjoy.

#4 – “THE PROGRAM”

“The Program” is certainly a movie with its share of flaws but it’s still one that strikes a chord with many football fans. This movie takes an edgy look at college football through the fictional ESU Timberwolves. It looks at academic fraud, steroids, Heisman pressures, and even ventures into troubled kids dealing with split families and alcoholic fathers. I completely admit that “The Program” tries to do too many things and the writing is sometimes silly. But this is a compelling look at the NCAA program and James Caan is excellent as the head coach trying to balance it all. “The Program” is just a solid football movie, flaws and all.

#3 – “RUDY”

“Rudy” is one sports movie that almost everyone is familiar with. It’s the story of Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin), a college kid who is small in size but with a huge heart. He has a dream of playing football for the University of Notre Dame. He first has to overcome the hurdle of being admitted to the university and then he has to make his way onto the practice squad by impressing his coach with his determination and effort. Against all odds, Rudy finds himself not only dressing out for the final home game of the season, but playing to the chants of “Rudy, Rudy”. It’s an utter feel good movie but it’s also a classic football film..

#2 – “THE FRESHMAN”

If you haven’t seen this 1925 silent movie gem you’re missing a real treasure. The great Harold Lloyd plays an enthusiastic but clueless young man who is entering his freshman year at Tate College. To gain popularity with the college crowd and with a young girl that’s caught his eye, Harold decides to join the university’s football team. He goes from being the team’s tackling dummy (literally) to water boy to football hero. It’s a charming and often times hilarious story. Lloyd is great and I’ll never forget the little jig he does as a greeting. Watch the movie and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

#1 – “BRIAN’S SONG”

“Brian’s Song” is amazing for several reasons. First, it wasn’t initially a theatrical release. This ABC Movie of the Week from 1971 tells the story of the friendship between the chatty, wise-cracking Joe Piccolo (James Caan) and the shy, reserved Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams). Both are competitors for the same position on the Chicago Bears and their unlikely friendship grows even amid racial tensions and career threatening injuries. Things do turn weepy at the end but it works thanks to the wonderful relationship we watch unfold both on and off the football field. Caan and Williams give really good performances and that helps make this a great football film.

There you go – 5 Phenomenal Football Movies. I know of several that I’m sure some would put on their list. So what about you? What’s your favorite football film?