William Samuel's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

The Giant Gila Monster
8 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Of the many low budget science fiction movies from the nineteen fifties, the Giant Gila Monster is hardly the worst, but it is probably among the most uninspired. The title alone tells you nearly everything you need to know, and you can easily guess the rest if you've seen any fifties movie with teenagers in it. The whole production reeks of cheapness and a general lack of effort, but at least it delivers what it promises.

The bare outline of a plot is that some people go missing in the middle of nowhere, some wrecked cars turn up with no sign of the occupants, and after many scenes the sheriff and some local teens realize that a giant lizard is responsible. After some further shenanigans the monster reveals itself, the hero defeats it, and everyone lives happily ever after. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone able to read this. The only thing that's worth remarking on is how unnecessarily risky yet completely predictable the method of dispatching the lizard is.

The hero is Chase, a good natured if slightly rebellious hot rodding wannabe rocker who spends his time working at the garage when he's not taking care of his polio stricken little sister. The sister's only real purpose is in the story to establish that Chase is a good guy for taking such good care of her, which is shown in scenes that feel painfully forced in their attempt to extract sympathy. Chase also has a supposedly French girlfriend who talks in a strong East European accent, and for good measure there's an old judge who dislikes him for no clear reason.

The effects are of course pathetic, even by 50's B movie standards. Lacking the budget for large scale props or stop motion, the filmmakers instead chose to use a regular Gila monster as a stand-in for the titular giant, and rather than use rear projection or similar process shots to place the monster in frame with the actors, they just cut to shots of it crawling around and flicking its tongue. It's painfully obvious that it's just a small lizard on the ground, and in most shots there aren't even any models to make it look bigger by comparison.

The soundtrack is worth noting only for its sheer banality. I don't think I've ever heard such excessive use of the Theremin. For once some dramatic stock music would be an improvement. What's worse is the original songs, including the mindlessly repetitive "Laugh Children Laugh," which probably would have won Worst Original Song if such an award had existed then.
The upside of this movie is that there are no obvious plot holes, the dialog is better than in most similar films, and the explanation for how the Gila monster became giant is worth a few laughs, even if they are unintentional. I highly recommend the MST3K cut, but don't waste your time with the original.

Shaun the Sheep Movie
17 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

When Shaun's plan to get all the animals a day off goes spectacularly wrong, the farmer ends up in the big city alone and with no idea who he is, and it's up to Shaun and the gang to find him and make him remember, while dodging an especially overzealous animal control officer. This is as much of a plot as you get, and as much as you need in this whimsically charming children's comedy from Aardman.
Closely based on the television series of the same name, Shaun the Sheep is built around simple storytelling and simple pleasures, as befitting its target audience. However simple in this case should not be confused with dumb. The story may not be any more complex than that of a Saturday morning cartoon, but every minute has been packed with humorous details and charming visuals, like a Mr. Hulot's Holiday for the kiddie set.
Slapstick and sight gags are constant and frequently hilarious. They range from simple trip and fall gags and funny animal faces to elaborate sequences that build and build with one thing after another going wrong until everything is delightful chaos. Oddly for a children's movie, the best of these gags involves a man with his head stuck up a horse's rear, though thankfully not a real horse's. There is the occasional burping or flatulence based joke, but far less than in most other contemporary kids' movies.
What's striking in its absence is spoken dialog, or at least any that's intelligible. The people talk, but it all comes out mumbled like the adults in those old Peanuts cartoons. Not that this is a problem. In the absence of spoken words, the characters frequently mime out their thoughts and intentions in a manner that would make Marcel Marceau proud. And it's just as well that they don't talk, because no words could be as good as the befuddled facial expressions of the city dwellers watching the sheep go by disguised as people, nor could they have improved the spectacle of the villain being seduced by two sheep dressed as a young lady.
If Shaun the Sheep is in some ways old fashioned with its simple narrative and stop motion animation it can also be remarkably modern, as when the amnesiac farmer becomes a social media sensation, being reimagined by the internet into the image of Wolverine, Nyan Cat, and an Obama campaign ad. And while kids will delight in watching a cow being launched over the Moon Inn, their parents can take pleasure in references to Live and Let Die, Donald Trump's toupe, and I swear I'm not making this up; Breaking Bad.
Like a Roadrunner cartoon crossed with Babe, Shaun the Sheep is hilarious, charming, and refreshing straightforward in its approach to storytelling. It will delight small children and adults alike. In short it's everything one would expect from Aardman.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
17 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

More than a decade after his Lord of the Rings trilogy began, Peter Jackson now takes us to Middle Earth one last time for this, the final installment of the Hobbit. For some this will be a sad thought, marking the end of an era. For others less enamored with the recent films it will be cause for celebration. For me it brings a sense of satisfaction, for while they haven't been as good as I or others might have hoped, the Hobbit movies have been worthwhile entertainment, and this is the most entertaining of the three. Faster paced than Unexpected Journey and more serious than Desolation of Smaug, Battle of the Five armies comes the closest to the epic scale and excitement of the Lord of the Rings, even if it doesn't quite reach it.

After a fiery and suspenseful- if rather abrupt- opening, the film slowly builds over the next hour as tensions between men, dwarves and elves grow to their breaking point and Thorin succumbs to the "dragon sickness" of greed. Though a tad slow and perhaps longer than strictly necessary, this section is buoyed by Richard Armitage's acting. Where he formerly gave off an aura of nobility, fearlessness, and unfailingly loyalty as Thorin, he is now cold, near paranoid, and constantly on the verge of exploding into rage as the lust for treasure drives everything else from his mind. His steady decline and ultimate moment of clarity are fascinating to watch, and the standoff his actions create sets the stage for what we really came to see: the titular battle.

Occupying fully half the run-time, the battle scenes are everything viewers could have hoped for. The Battle of the Five Armies presents a truly grand spectacle, with thousands of soldiers and towering beasts clashing across plains and through the ruins of Dale. The action is almost nonstop, alternating between sprawling shots of entire formations battling it out and the individual heroes' desperate combat against their more numerous foes. Thorin's duel with Azog is spectacular, and Legalos's fight scenes are equally breathtaking, though at a couple of points they did stretch believability. I also greatly enjoyed Gandalf and his allies' earlier showdown against the forces of the Necromancer, though for once I wish this part of the film had lasted a little longer.

The effects are generally on par with the action, the costumes and CGI producing monsters as convincing as they are gruesome. The set pieces are also impressively imposing, though there are a few scenes in which it's too readily apparent that the actors are in front of a green screen. While I'm on about thing's I didn't like I'll also say that the events of the first ten minutes would have fit better at the end of the last movie. On a more positive note the comic relief scenes were side splitting, especially the later ones with the cowardly Alfred whatever his name is.

Regarding this instalment's faithfulness to the book, I must admit it's been a few years since I last read it, but I don't remember any trolls being mentioned, or fighting spilling into the city ruins, and I'm fairly certain there was a giant pack of wargs that are oddly absent here, and I'm entirely certain that Legalos and Azog weren't there. So yes, some rather significant liberties have been taken with the story, perhaps as many as in the last installment. That said, I've come to accept that Jackson's Hobbit trilogy is a very different experience from the source material, with its own strengths and weaknesses. One is a charming if occasionally frightening children's tale, while the other is a sprawling fantasy epic. Not all of the changes are entirely necessary or helpful, but purists will always have the old animated version.

Having seen all three films, I believe that the Hobbit would have been just as good as a single movie, and best as two. But even stretched out across three long installments and padded with many scenes of the director's own invention the trilogy works, both as prequel to Jackson's earlier trilogy and as epic fantasy entertainment of its own. This final installment admittedly doesn't match the awesomeness or majesty of Return of the King, but Battle of the Five Armies makes a suitably grand finale to the Hobbit trilogy and is one of the better films in a holiday season with many good options.