Peter Jackson

1987
Bad Taste 51
[ Cheap-ass sci-fi comedy about “extra-terrestrial psychopaths” with a (bad) taste for human flesh fast-food who target a small New Zealand village for invasion. The acting is wretched and the production values are almost non-existent, but Jackson already displays intoxicating visual energy and the gore scenes are good for a few laughs. ]

1989
Meet the Feebles 23
[ Ever wonder what the Muppet flicks would be like with added gore, sex, scatological humor and hard drugs? Me neither, but I thought this might make for a funny watch. It does – for about 5 minutes. Then, as the same juvenile one-joke premise is repeated ad nauseam, it gets mighty obnoxious. ]

1992
Braindead (aka Dead-Alive) 62
[ The final film in Jackson’s “splatstick” trilogy, it still suffers from rotten acting and questionable humor, but the Kiwi filmmaker orchestrates all the mayhem and gore like a mad genius. An evil rat-monkey, the mother from hell, a kung-fu fighting priest and more raging zombies than you can wave a lawnmower at: this is what cult movies are made of. ]

1994
Heavenly Creatures 65
[ The opening is terrific, setting up both ‘50s New Zealand and impending tragedy. We then move to the Christchurch Girls High School and watch as Juliet and Pauline develop an intense friendship rooted in their fertile imaginations. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey (in their debut performances) are both wonderful, managing to make these ditzy, smug, “stark raving mad” young women sympathetic. The direction is epic and the special effects are awesome, which is surprising for what is basically your usual teen angst drama… But with a lesbianish fairy tale vibe! These quirky flourishes don’t quite add up and, while the film often toys with brilliance, some stretches fall flat (everything about the parents notably). However, uneven as it may be, this is definitely a memorable film. ]

1995
Forgotten Silver 64
[ A mockumentary about an unsung pioneer of early cinema in New Zealand who brought sound, color and complex visual composition to film, all before 1920, then embarked on the tragically troubled making of huge biblical SALOME, with cruel clown Stan the Man and Josef Staline as producers! This is a clever hoax, most notable for how convincingly Jackson recreates the look and style of various kinds of silent era moviemaking. ]

1996
The Frighteners 72
[ A surprisingly potent sci-fi thriller that’s like a twisted cousin of “Ghostbusters”, with Michael J. Fox as a con man who charges people to rid them of spirits he unleashed himself. Things become more hardcore when Fox must go head to head with the ghost of a mass murderer, played with chilling intensity by Jake Busey. “The Frighteners” is premium B-movie fun, with awesome special FX and plenty of madcap imagination. ]

THE LORD OF THE RINGS

2001
The Fellowship of the Ring 93
[ review ]

2002
The Two Towers 94
[ review ]

2003
The Return of the King 95
[ review ]

***

2005
King Kong 67
[ Overblown, overhyped and overrated, Peter Jackon’s remake of the 1933 classic at least gets its Beauty and the Beast right. Naomi Watts is more lovable than ever, going from vaudeville comedienne to all shook up jungle queen to chorus line girl on top of the world – literally. And Kong truly is a mesmerizing creation, with lots of personality, maybe even soul… And he’s totally badass when he’s kicking a T-Rex’s ass or swatting at biplanes! Where the film almost lost me is in its endless series of non-Kong action sequences, which are loud and chaotic but desperately lack a hero for us to root for. I’m a fan of Jack Black and Adrian Brody, but the obsessive filmmaker and the sensitive writer they respectively play aren’t particularly compelling. Where’s Indiana Jones when you need him? ]

2009
The Lovely Bones 17
[ It’s pretty crazy how the same filmmaker can make a bunch of goofy genre flicks (“Bad Taste”, “Braindead”, etc.), then somehow deliver a trilogy of all-out masterpieces (“The Lord of the Rings”), go for a so-so encore (“King Kong”), and now… this? On paper, Peter Jackson’s latest sounds like a throwback to his previous small, intimate character drama (“Heavenly Creatures”), but even though that one was somewhat uneven, it’s miles less clumsy than “The Lovely Bones”. Right from the start, alarm bells rang out in my head because of Saoirse Ronan’s cloying voice-over narration, the melodramatic music, the 1970s period recreation that calls a bit too much attention to itself and, of course, Mark Walhberg, an actor who, depending on the movie, is either awesome or awful (hint: he’s awful here; castmates Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon and Rachel Weisz are pretty bad too). Worst of all is Jackson’s direction itself. He’s never been known for subtlety and restraint, but that was generally all right for the kind of material he handled, which called for over the top visuals. But I’m not sure a story about a murdered teenage girl and her grieving family should be full of swooping camera movements, elaborate CGI landscapes, a lot of smoke and mirrors, you know? All in all, this is a truly misguided picture. ]

THE HOBBIT

2012
An Unexpected Journey 52
[ It begins with a prologue about dwarvish lore, narrated by the old Bilbo (Ian Holm). Then, Frodo (Elijah Wood) walks in and we realize that what we’re seeing takes place around the same time as Bilbo’s party at the beginning of “The Fellowship of the Ring”. But then we cut to 60 years earlier, as Ganfalf (Ian McKellen) visits young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to try and convince him to take part in an adventure. Bilbo refuses, but soon after, a bunch of dwarves show up at his doorstep anyway and there’s this long, tedious scene in which they eat, drink, belch, throw dishes around and sing. Then they talk for a while, trying to convince Bilbo to take part in an adventure, which he refuses. Again. But the next day, he changes his mind and finally, some 40 minutes into the movie, the adventure begins. Though not before a flashback to a battle between Thorin (Richard Armitage) and some motherfucking orcs… And an odd scene devoted to the wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), friend to the animals… Then we’re back with Bilbo and there’s this dumb bit with talking trolls… At this point, I should mention that all of this is well crafted, with impressive production values and whatnot. But there’s something off about the pacing and the tone, among other things. Things often feels like a rehash from “The Lord of the Rings”, minus the heart, the urgency and the sense of wonder. Do we really care about all these dwarves? Or even young Bilbo, who’s a rather passive character? It’s nice to spend time again with the likes of Gandalf, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and a sorta friendly Saruman (Christopher Lee). But not all that much happens with them, they mostly deliver a lot of exposition foreshadowing what will lead to the events of the “LOTR” trilogy. You know, prequel stuff. Every so often, there’s an action scene, something to do with orcs or stone giants or goblins, but none of these setpieces are all that memorable. Even what should be one of the highlights, Bilbo meeting Gollum (Andy Serkis), is pretty dull. Hopefully, the next installments in this trilogy will be much more involving. ]

2013
The Desolation of Smaug 60
[ It starts with a flashback to an ominous meeting between Thorin and Gandalf in Bree, at the Prancing Pony, then we cut to 12 months later, as Bilbo and the dwarves are still being hunted by Orcs on the road to the Lonely Mountain. But first, they must go through Mirkwood, which is inhabited by disgusting big-ass spiders. This leads to yet another near-death experience for our heroes, but once again, they overcome impossible odds and survive. This seems to be a trend in these “Hobbit” movies: over the top danger, with tons of monsters, but little consequences. Whereas in “The Lord of the Rings”, even though no one really died either, it always felt like they came close, you know? Another thing that kinda bothered me is how Bilbo keeps being separated from the group while they get captured, then comes to their rescue. Once is okay, but it grows repetitive when it happens over and over. There’s also some cutesy prequel bullshit, e.g. “Sting!”, “That’s my wee lad, Gimli”, etc. Or the idea to incorporate Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who’s joined by badass she-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a character entirely created for this movie, involved in a groan-inducing romantic triangle with Legolas (who’s kind of a dick here, like his father Thranduil, played by Lee Pace) and the least goofy looking of the dwarves, Kili (Aidan Turner). At least, Tauriel and Legolas kick ass, as seen in the thrilling setpiece where the dwarves go down a river in wine barrels. Meanwhile, Gandalf discovers more hints of the upcoming return of “the Enemy”… But “The Lord of the Rings” is set 60 years after “The Hobbit”, right? I wonder what’s supposed to happen during all that time… Back with the dwarves, they reach Laketown, a human city in which they’re smuggled by Bard (Luke Evans), then they finally get to the Lonely Mountain, wherein lies the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch)… Overall, as I hoped, “The Desolation of Smaug” is indeed a more involving film than “An Unexpected Journey”, even though there is undeniably some filler, things being needlessly stretched out and whatnot. Still, like all of Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth pictures, it’s gorgeously designed and shot. We’re still not nearly on the level of “The Lord of the Rings”, but at this point, I have a feeling the third and final “Hobbit” movie might be the best of the prequel trilogy. ]

2014
The Battle of the Five Armies 64
[ I couldn’t be a bigger fan of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I put it at #2 on my Best of the Decade (2000-2009) list and the next time I revisit it, it might just make its way on my all-time Top Ten. And yet, when “An Unexpected Journey”, the first episode of Jackson’s “The Hobbit” prequel trilogy, came out in 2012, I didn’t even go see it for various reasons (so-so trailer, bad reviews, rough year on a personal level). I also skipped “The Desolation of Smaug” in theaters last year and it’s only this month, a week and change before the release of “The Battle of the Five Armies”, that I caught up to them. And to be honest, I can’t say I regretted not seeing them until then. The first “Hobbit” is particularly disappointing and the second one is only marginally better. Still, I figured I should give a chance to the third and last one, and on the big screen this time. The good news: “The Battle of the Armies” is certainly the best film in the “Hobbit” trilogy. The bad news: it’s nevertheless nowhere near as great as any of the “Lord of the Rings” films. Now, Peter Jackson is still capable of orchestrating awesome action sequences, starting with the opening dragon attack, a fiery set piece that feels like Middle-Earth’s 9/11. But these “Hobbit” movies lack the heart and soul of “The Lord of the Rings”. I loved everyone in that trilogy’s main cast of characters, from Frodo and Samwise to Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and all the others. Yet I couldn’t care less about anyone here. Not Bilbo (Martin Freeman), who barely qualifies as a protagonist, spending “The Battle of the Armies” running around doing things that are ultimately inconsequential. Not his countless goofy-looking dwarf companions led by the tiresomely grim Thorin (Richard Armitage). Not the tight-assed elves led by Thranduil (Lee Pace). Not even Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who’s kind of a dick in these flicks, brooding over Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who’d much rather get it on with one of the dwarves, Kili (Aidan Turner). And not Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) either, since their one big scene is devoted to some prequel bullshit, setting up things that will only happen 60 years later. And yet, like I said, this still manages to be the best “Hobbit” film, mainly because there are less dull parts ridiculously stretching out J.R.R. Tolkien’s original children’s book and more epic action. The titular battle, which involves dwarves, elves, men, orcs and eagles (they’re the fifth army, right?), takes up most of the movie’s running time and is quite relentless. If only for all that technically impressive spectacle, I would recommend seeing “The Battle of the Five Armies”… But don’t expect to be deeply moved like when you saw “The Return of the King”, the Oscar-winning conclusion of the first trilogy. ]