Battle Royale vs The Hunger Games

BR index

     Since the premise of the first book in the Hunger Games series was first read, comparisons to the popular Japanese manga and film, Battle Royale have been made. Essentially, both premises can be summed up the exact same way: The government is upset at their people, so they force randomly selected children to compete to the death in a widely publicized spectacle. The details concerning the two separate works begin to show the differences in approach, but essentially that premise is what gets people interested in either franchise. Literally, I had no intention of reading The Hunger Games until someone said “It’s just like Battle Royale”, then my interest was piqued. In the human thirst for competition, something dark lurks. No one really wants to see children compete to the death, but it gets them curious as to how and why someone would describe it. A couple thousand years ago, this was basically a widely accepted practice, righ? But I’m not going to get into the mess of a discussion surrounding the morality of such literature, instead I’m going to explain the differences that these two films (we’re going off of the films, not the manga or novel) have.

     The Hunger Games is certainly a more popular franchise, at least in North America. The story paints a bleak dystopian feel where most of the land’s inhabitants live in poverty, the remnants of a failed rebellion are now forcefully suppressed by the evil President Snow. To remind the nation of their rebellion, every year one child from each of the 12 districts is chosen to compete in “The Hunger Games” a televised event in which, after much pomp and circumstance, the kids go at it until there is only one left. While the premise of the movie “kids fighting to the death” may be what got the attention of many, we don’t actually get to the fighting until the latter part of the film. Instead we’re given an inside look at the residents of District 12, where Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, is from. We see the suffering of the poor, we see the injustice and the social commentary runs wild before we get to the “juicy stuff”. It’s a smart move. I’ve expressed this in regards to horror movies, but it stands here; we need to know our characters before we kill them in order to have an attachment. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a great performance as Katniss, allowing us to get to care about her before her potential death. Once inside the arena, we become extremely conflicted knowing that the majority of the characters are going to die. Some we’re ok with, others leaves the audience with a gut-wrenching realization that this isn’t going to have a happy ending, regardless of if Katniss wins.

     Then we have Battle Royale. Requiem Mass Dies Irae will forever be engraved in my mind as the opening music for this film. The intensity immediately sets the tone for the film, which is essentially “You’re going to get what we promised you.” The kids wear necklaces that explode if they’re in the wrong zone, for crying out loud! The movie wastes no time in delivering one of the most chilling openings I’ve seen to date. Not in that it’s scary, but the morbid contrast of showing the winner of the previous battle being surrounded  by the press. As the crowd parts we see the winner as she’s being whisked away to get cleaned up. It’s a young, maybe eight year old girl. She’s sitting down with her head down looking at the teddy bear in her arms. She’s drenched in blood, probably not her own. As the cameras get closer, she lifts her head revealing a huge grin. Battle Royale wastes no time getting to the point. A randomly selected school class is selected for Battle Royale each year with no prior notice. Our class in this film is on their way home from a field trip on a big bus, when they’re all knocked out with sleeping gas only to awake at orientation. They’re told they have three days to kill each other off or they all die. Supplies are handed out and they’re sent on their way. This movie crams an odd mixture of high school drama, horror and comedy together. It doesn’t carry as weighty as a social message behind it, opting to show how each of the children involved handles their situation. The fact that these kids all go to school together means you get to see some real clique rivalry go down.

     It’s odd that two pieces of film with almost the exact same premise can be so vastly different in their presentation. You’re going to get a movie tamed down in the violence department, but amped up in the drama department with The Hunger Games. Whereas Battle Royale is going to throw about 500 dramatic situations stemming from school crushes, bad home life and academic aspirations. It’s comical at times and pretty sad at other times. The two are exclusive from each other, I’m not going to say one is better than the other, but I will say they’re both quite entertaining; albeit for entirely different reasons.

Prometheus wasn’t THAT bad.

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     Sci-fi junkies can be some of the most forgiving people when it comes to bad dialogue, corny circumstances and poorly executed character acting. However, they can also be the most cut throat and critical lot to ever screen a movie. Prometheus had high expectations, there is absolutely no denying that. Ridley Scott hadn’t given us a sci-fi flick since the 1980s, and those were legendary movies that remain icons of the genre. So, flash forward to 2012 and we’re suddenly presented with a film that, for all intents and purposes, is in the same universe as Alien. Reception for this movie was mostly positive, but there is a large group of people that were severely disappointed. It receives flak for a number of reasons, namely the, often times idiotic, actions of the characters in the film. Bare in mind, this is a movie about scientists traveling further than humanity has ever gone in an effort to find aliens that could have potentially started life on earth. That is a premise that’s perfectly accepted, but the actions of those on the team are what ruined the movie.

    First of all, lets talk about the crew that’s been recruited for this mission. Astronauts they are not. The majority of the personnel aboard are experts in very specific scientific fields, few, if any of them had careers in terraforming and/or space exploration. It’s frustrating how stupid some of their actions come across, but guess what? humans aren’t nearly as bright as we’d like to let on. Sure these are educated individuals, but they’re fresh out of their cryo-tanks and rip roaring and ready to get exploring! A mixture of excitement and wonder is more than enough to convince me that their mistakes, as dire as they were, could happen within the scope of the movie. By the reading on all their fancy instruments, everything was A-ok, and remember, they’re scientists, they live by their instruments. People found themselves frustrated with David, the human like robot that attempted to blend in perfectly with the rest of the crew. Gripes are often made about him doing things that didn’t make logical sense. I chalk this up to his AI being set to camouflage itself with the rest of the crew. He can only do what he’s programmed to do.

    Another problem was with the alien race itself. Apparently a large portion of the moviegoing audience found the aliens that created humanity to be pretty dumb. It baffles me that this is even a problem, not because I agree that the aliens are dumb, but the fact that they are an entirely different race of beings that operate on a vastly different plane of cultural and physical existence. I could understand if we were dealing with another culture of humanity, but to gripe about the fact that the actions of an alien race doesn’t make sense to you to the extent that it “ruins the movie” is a bit far fetched. Not enough exposition is in the film for the audience to fully grasp that reasoning behind the aliens actions, nor is there enough for us to know why they reacted the way they did. Honestly, I’m glad for the lack of information, it would have been a much longer movie if they had attempted to explain the fine details of alien reasoning and technology. Some things are best taken at face value, this certainly was one of them.

    While Prometheus isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, no movie is. The biggest complaint on my end is why two character attempt to run from a rolling disk-shaped crashed spacecraft by running directly away from it when a few steps to the left or right would have done the trick. While the problems are there, they aren’t glaring. Prometheus more than delivers on the visuals. We’re talking one of the most breathtaking films to look at in recent memory, building worlds that are equally frightening and beautiful. Perhaps those that were disappointed were so because of a standard they expected to be met. While Alien and Blade Runner had decades to soak into the public consciousness, the expectations for this film was for it to do the same. This was a poor use of expectations when going into a movie, one that more often than not sets you up for disappointment.

“Sharknado” was like I was observing someone’s dream as it was happening.

sharknado

    There was a social media feeding frenzy this past month regarding the Asylum produced SyFy channel original movie Sharknado. Once word spread about the title, and then the trailer was released, it was like blood had been spilled into the water and everyone on the internet lost their collective hiveminds and realized this was going to be more than the standard chum produced by Asylum, if only because they had outdone themselves on the concept. The production company is known mostly for their “Mockbuster films” in which they ride the wake of popular blockbuster movies and create cheap knock offs in the hopes of earning a quick buck. This works, and it works well. Sharknado, however, is all original. Filming took just 18 days, and it shows. But with a title that combined both sharks and tornadoes, it tended to get people’s attention. The movie premiered to a massive cable audience twice over it’s first month release, it did so well that Fathom events premiered a midnight showing of it in theaters, to allow would-be-fans a chance to see it up close and personal.

 

    Sharknado is not a good movie. However, it’s one of those rare movies that is so bad it’s entertaining enough for repeated viewings. As I’ve expressed before, this is far easier said than done. Anyone can make a bad movie, but it’s incredibly hard to make a movie that’s so good it’s bad. I’m going to do my best to describe, what I assume was the plot of this movie. Global warming causes a a big storm which draws every shark in the ocean near Santa Monica Pier. That storm becomes a hurricane, causing massive flooding and shark attacks throughout the area. Fin Shepherd, an ex-surfing champion, and his rag tag bunch of misfits attempt to both stop the storm and save Fin’s family. Yes, they’re going to attempt to stop the storm. By the time Fin reaches his family, things have gone from bad to worse, as they must now deal with not one, but three tornadoes filled with sharks.

 

    I knew this movie was going to be bad, and it didn’t disappoint on that level. Literally everything about this movie was terrible, the dialogue, the effects, the logic behind people’s actions. Just everything! What I didn’t realize was how surreal an experience it would be. Within 10 minutes it felt like I was observing someones dream. Dreams, contrary to what normal movies would have you believe, make very little sense. In the same way, Sharknado went along it’s merry way, expecting the audience to believe that the water level in a hurricane flooded house would be about 5 feet deeper than the water level in the driveway. Sharknado would have you believe that you could stop tornadoes by throwing bombs into them. The blatant disregard for reality was mind boggling. At one point, I sat there staring at the screen, noticing something in the foreground of the shot. Someone in an old folks home was in the middle of playing connect four. In this connect four game, one player had three in a horizontal row, he was almost going to win! Upon closer inspection, his three tokens, which were at the top of the board, were not supported by any other pieces. Sharknado refused to even acknowledge the basic principles of physics that MUST be followed in a connect four game!

 

    This movie was terrible. It was also fantastic. I had the pleasure of seeing it with a group of guys that certainly appreciated the artistic integrity upheld by this film (Check out a review from Ryan Partlow). It got to the point where you couldn’t even hope to expect what was going to happen, because you had no idea where the direction of the film was going. It was entertaining, more than I could possibly hope to convey in words, but it was terrible, and I would watch it again, right now. I should hate everything about this movie, but it was too much fun, but not the good kind of fun, the “is this real life” kind of fun. It’s the movie equivalent of being slightly sedated and then a friendly bear with a top hat walking up and giving you terrible news about their dog dying and you assume it’s a joke so you laugh, and then they laugh and then some penguins fly by and you all sit down and have a nice meal consisting of canned ham and wingnuts.

Victory

Victory

    Victory is a film with an unprecedented amount of romance. Not the romantic relationship between a man and a woman, but rather a nostalgic romance that is shared throughout the human race. This is due to the fact that it is both a sports movie and a war movie, two sub-genres that have tugged at the hearts of cinema goers pretty much from the beginning of the medium. Moneyball coined one of the best self referential lines in modern cinema when Billy Beane said “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” It’s a sentiment that can be attributed to any quality sports film. Sports crosses cultural boundaries, everyone has “their team” and arguably soccer is the most popular sport in the entire world. Then we have the all familiar allies-stuck-in-a-German-POW-camp setting that we’ve seen dozens of times. However, it’s a story that will always be emotionally powerful, due to the fact that it was a reality that many brave men endured. The two things that sports movies and POW movies usually have in common is hope. Victory is no different, except that it ties the two types of films together.

 

    The film introduces us to a German POW camp, in which the allied forces trapped there spend their time either attempting to escape or playing soccer. Michael Caine is Captain Colby, a man that, before the war, was well known for his career in professional soccer. A German officer recognizes him and comes up with an idea to boost morale. He offers to set up a friendly soccer game between the prisoners and a team of the German’s choosing. What is initially intended to be a friendly low key match quickly launches into a full blown propaganda machine, complete with a sold out stadium and international press coverage. Sylvester Stallone plays a man named Hatch, an American that does not know how to play soccer. Hatch, however, plays a pivotal roll in aiding in communication with the outside world, helping set up a potential escape for those on the team. It’s realized that the one position that he may have a shot at being good at is goal keeper. He doesn’t know how to play soccer, but he knows how to use his hands and body to stop the ball from progressing.

 

    It is often said that sports are a modern illusion of gladiator fights, two teams competing for victory rather than life. This idea is even more interesting when that sport is set within the boundaries of an actual war where people are really dying. Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone do an excellent job of portraying the emotional bases of the team, while the majority of the main cast is composed of actual soccer players, including the legendary Pele. The movie has a surprising amount of realism to it, almost anti-cinematic at times. Though it certainly plays up the fact that it’s an emotionally charged movie at the right moments, it amazed me how real everything looked. This is, of course, thanks to the amount of talented soccer players used in the cast, but it was more than that. The set designs were authentic without being gaudy, and maybe just the fact that it was released in the early 80s, so not having the most crystal clear picture allowed for it to seem just distant enough to be believably set in the 1940s. Oddly enough, I find the disconnect associated with lower picture quality a familiar comfort to this genre of film.

 

    Victory appeals to a wide variety of movie viewers, but it has had surprisingly little attention when it comes to “classic war movies”. While there are reasons for this, namely, in my opinion, a less than stellar score (though when it’s good, it’s great) and perhaps a slower pace with a lesser attention to tense scenes normally associated with escape films. It still manages to capture the hearts of it’s viewers. The movie is entertaining and well made. It’s an example of how interesting it can be to mix two genres not normally associated with each other in order to create a dramatic and engaging piece of cinema.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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    I’ve complained a lot about the amount of unoriginal story concepts that permeate the movie market. This is mostly a minor annoyance, as I believe there is a vast amount of undiscovered territory to be mined from a vast resource of talented writers. The risks in tapping this resource, at least in the minds of studios, often outweigh the rewards. For that reason, we’re treated to a barrage of films based off of or building on previously successful franchises. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Marvel has been knocking it out of the park with their films, and DC has been providing some pretty great stuff as well. With the ending of Comic-con, the public was hit with a wave of movie-based information, including the announcement of a number of sequels! In 2014, we get to return to the Planet of the Apes series, so today I’m going to take a look at where the Apes mythos timeline begins, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

 

    James Franco plays scientist Will Rodman, whose works to create a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which his own father is fighting. During the course of this research, a promising drug, which in reality is a virus, is created that vastly improves the brain activity of those it is administered to. One particular ape is given this drug and the intelligent traits it creates within the subject are passed down to her offspring, in this case a son who becomes the center of the film. Caesar, is a chimpanzee who develops an incredible level of intelligence, so much so that it becomes clear that he neither fits into the category of a pet, but will never willfully be given the status of anything more. The groundwork is laid in this film to bring about what the majority of Apes fans know will happen.

 

    My skepticism when this film came out was not unfounded. Tim Burton attempted to reboot this franchise years ago, to detrimental results. It’s not an easy storyline to make profitable, or so it seemed. Sure back in the day Charleton Heston’s booming voice and iconic lines made it a lucrative series, but as movies progressed it became less viable. Rise managed to bring the mythos back into the light with a blend of interesting storytelling, dedicated performances from it’s talented cast and fantastic motion capture performances. While the last reboot had a similar story to the original, it failed to adequately explain just how the apes managed to become the masters of humanity. In this prequel, the apes aren’t the masters, not yet anyway. This is their rise, their initial revolution to break away from humanity. “Animal Movies” tend to tug at the collective heartstrings of the movie going audience, and this is no exception. However, I am amazed at the level of empathy I developed with these apes, who are essentially just CGI characters that (hardly) speak.

 

    The empathy is generated both naturally from the story itself, however the performances given by those in the motion capture suits is absolutely top notch. Andy Serkis, proved his skill in the motion capture world by playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and today is the undisputed best at the art form. He infuses the spirit of an actor into the animated characters he portrays. His performance here is no different. He becomes Caesar. As you watch this movie, you aren’t watching a CG ape, or Andy Serkis in a funny suit, you’re watching Caesar struggle for freedom and a place in the world. Which is precisely what you’re supposed to see.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes manages to provoke enough emotion into it’s non human characters for it to be a somber but exciting tale of revolution. The title is so appropriate to this film, as it delves deep into the mythos of the series, showing just how the uprising began, and how much of it was humanities fault. It’s a cautionary science tale in which the humans overstep their bounds and pay dearly for it. They’ve created not just a smarter species of apes, but a new sentient class that would never be accepted. Due to this, the apes are forced into a position to revolt, to rise. The result is an engrossing film that offers far more thought and intrigue than a movie following a group of rebellious apes should be.

 

Pacific Rim. Go see it right now!

 Pacific RIm

Originality is a quality that has been severely lacking the majority of studio releases. It’s a complaint known far and wide by consumers. It feels like everything I get excited to see during the summer months is either a re-make, re-boot or sequel. In the rare occasion that we’re dealing with something that hasn’t been on screen before, it’s almost certain it’s based off another work of fiction. The reason for this is because it’s safe. Studios understand that with bran recognition you’ve at least got a head start on a marketing campaign. Everyone knew what Transformers were before Michael Bay made the extravagantly expensive mediocrity storm that made up the franchise. Thanks to consumer recognition and consumer lust for big screen explosions, he is continuing to make Transformer films that become less and less interesting. I bring up Transformers because the movie I went into the theater expecting Pacific Rim to be similar to it, at least in it’s fight scenes. I have more respect and confidence in Guillermo del Toro, the director of the film, than I have in Michael Bay. If it had been any other director I would have been tempted to wait until DVD. To put it simply, Pacific Rim was the most fun I’ve had in theaters this year, if not the past decade. It was an original story with a superb creative force behind it.

 

The Kaiju, monstrous alien like creatures (think Godzilla like monsters) that enter from a portal at the bottom of the Pacific ocean. To combat their attacks, humanity builds their own monsters. Jaegers are massive fighting robots that are piloted by a pair of soldiers, one controlling the left side, one controlling the right. This works for the first few years of the Kaiju war, however, forces are spread thin as the Kaiju become bigger and stronger. In a last ditch effort to win the war, a group of resistance fighters scrounge up the remaining Jaegers and prepare for a final assault. This is basically giant robots fighting giant aliens. And with all it’s purposeful cliche’s and winks and nods at the monster genre, Pacific Rim is one of a kind.

 

Guillermo del Toro is well known for his visual effects, and watching this movie will tell you exactly why. The creatures that ascend from the depths to destroy humanity are interesting, different and absolutely stunning to look at. They’re obviously organic and their maneuvers when fighting only add to the realism of the absurdity unfolding on screen. Likewise, the Jaegers are completely awesome, del Toro allows himself the freedom of a kid in a candy shop with an unlimited amount of money. But it isn’t just the completely and insanely awesome fighting that makes the movie great, if it was only about that it would be a really cool movie that you could forget about the day after watching it. Instead of cheapening out on the audience and giving us mediocre characters and plot, we’re given characters that we can sympathize with, their emotions run deep enough for us to make a connection with the. Oddly enough, part of the reason we’re capable of making an emotional connection with them on screen is because the two pilots must connect on a neurological and emotional level in order to control the Jaegers. We develop an emotional bond at the same speed that the other characters do with each other. The story is one that’s been told before, but arguably not as clear and not as cheer worthy.

 

 

The cast allows us to read further than the surface of what’s going on within the scope of the film. The movie shows broken fighters striving for survival while the actors relay the emotional and physical toll of the war that’s primarily taken place off screen. Sure, sometimes the people can come off as bit more animated than perhaps would happen in real life, but this movie is essentially the best live action anime film to ever come out. It’s beautifully written and produced to the point that I was grinning from ear to ear during most fight scenes. The score flowed excellently with the onscreen action, action that was intricate in it’s movements and choreography ( if you consider CGI fights choreographed) and ripe with the emotion behind each battle. Guillermo del Toro knows his craft. He knows how to get an audience excited, appealing to the 14 year old inside the audience while never compromising the quality of the story and dialogue.

 

Go see Pacific Rim. Seriously. We don’t get many original pieces of fiction anymore, at least in film on a large scale, and especially not at this caliber. And if you’re thinking about waiting for DVD or blu-ray, don’t. This is one you’re going to want to watch in theaters as loud as possible. It will absorb you into the story and the fights like few other films can. It’s loud, intelligent and an absolute blast. The one thing it is not, at the time of my writing this, is doing fantastic at the box office. Which is a shame, this is what the movies were made for, pure escapism with loud and exciting circumstances of heroism and characters we care about in a scenario and setting that utilizes the giant screen and loud sound systems in the darkened, air conditioned theater. If I can’t convince you, maybe give Ryan Partlow a chance to do so over at his blog.

 

“Unbreakable” would not be a good description of Shyamalan’s career.

 unbreakable

   One of the more baffling career swerves in recent Hollywood history has to be that of M. Night Shyamalan. The man is known for having a career that started strong, he was considered a visionary, then with each new movie released with his name attached, his status fell. If there had been a graft of his movies showing the level of quality, he would have started in the mid to high level and then plummeted to the bottom, where The Last Air Bender rightfully rests. Really, it’s a shame, because I loved The Sixth Sense and enjoyed Signs despite it’s mixed reviews.  He either lost sight, or never had it and was just lucky with a few movies. That being said, I will always enjoy the first three movies of his that I’ve seen. The aforementioned Signs and The Sixth Sense were both a blast, but today we’re talking about one that often is overlooked; Unbreakable.

 

    Sixth Sense wasn’t M Night’s first movie, but it was the one that got peoples attention, it was his break. Shyamalan had proved that he could confuse and scare an audience while bringing in a ton of money at the same time. The next project he embarked on was Unbreakable, an homage to the comic book genre, with characters that weren’t actually from any comics. Bruce Willis plays security guard David Dunn. Dunn is a seemingly ordinary man, up until he becomes the sole survivor of a horrific train crash which he walks away from with not even a scratch. Dunn’s life is full of obstacles, so he’s not eager to investigate this strange addition. However, comic book enthusiast Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) makes it his personal duty to make Dunn look into his past and see if he perhaps shares some of the heroic supernatural tendencies of the characters that fill the pages that consume his life. Price suffers from a disease that renders his bones as brittle as glass; he’s fragile. Price has always wondered if he had an opposite, someone that was not fragile; someone that is unbreakable. Dunn reluctantly looks into this theory, along the way discovering more about himself than he anticipated.

 

    The remarkable thing about Unbreakable, in regards to Shyamalan’s portfolio, is that it’s actually pretty great. He’s always had a thing for interesting coloring and whimsical cinematography, which is perfect for a film that’s supposed to look and feel like a comic book. He wrote an interesting origin story, one that never really delves too much into the actual theatrics that almost every hero gets caught up in. Rather, it’s an origin story about a man that’s just slightly above ordinary discovering himself and what responsibilities he must shoulder with his self discovery. The movie offers us a pretty fascinating character arc which seems minuscule at first, but on a second glance is simply subtle, which are two very different things. It’s a subtle arc that shows a flawed man, turn into a flawed man that realizes he is capable of carrying much more than he has been, both emotionally and physically. It’s a discovery of responsibility.

Shyamalan seems to strive in films where the pacing is slow enough for him to flesh out some interesting ideas. Later in his career he may have gotten sidetracked by over the top ideas and sacrificed the fiber of a good story for a cheap twist (arguably, he’s done this early in his career). Unbreakable is surprising because it’s both a comic book movie, and relatively slow paced; two traits that don’t go hand in hand. However, despite two opposing aspects, the film works. It’s as dark as a comic book movie should be, it tells an interesting story about a reluctant hero, and it’s done without many of the cliché comic book tropes of the time. Honestly, it’s a shame that a man capable of producing something of this caliber has become synonymous with the crappy movies he consistently comes out with. Well, here’s to the good old days, I guess.

Man of Steel

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2006 ushered in the return of the single most overpowered super hero ever created with Superman Returns. The return, however, was short lived. Despite having fairly good reviews, the film failed to be all that compelling, a problem that I have personally felt has plagued the Superman films since the late 70s. What was intended to be re-boot of the always-popular franchise failed to produce a sequel. We now have another reboot in Man of Steel. Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan present us with a darker take on the coming of age of Superman, with beautiful cinematography and new insight into one of the most well known origin stories in cinematic history.

 

Man of Steel had to re-introduce the world to a character that literally everyone already knew. Superman’s origin story is, arguably, even more well known than Batman’s. We’re talking about the most recognizable icon in pop-culture history, and Snyder had to come up with a way to say “hey, this is Superman” in a way that would keep the audiences attention. He succeeded. We are given a far better look at Krypton than we’ve ever seen before, and we’re introduced to Kal-El’s back story with his human family through a series of flashbacks during the time that he comes to realize his full potential. What makes this retelling so interesting is that it’s more a coming of age story than an origins story. We know where Kal comes from and we know what happens with his family, but the details have always been a bit fuzzy. We get to see a young Clark Kent struggle as a child to hone his skills, struggle emotionally with situations on a level unparalleled with other chapters of Superman history. The story is told in a way that makes it evident that Kryptonite isn’t Superman’s only weakness, his emotions and psyche are often times just as dangerous to him. When General Zod attacks, the distinction is made that, despite being of the same race, Kal and Zod are on different factions of an inter-species war.

 

Visually speaking, this is the best of the Superman films. It’s not as light as Superman Returns which many people found upsetting, but it was time for something new. Superman Returns offered the general public what was expected from Superman, a fun and bright story with romance and lots and lots of kryptonite to keep things interesting. This failed. In Man of Steel there is little to no kryptonite to be found, the romance is kept on the back burner (though certainly not forgotten) and the darker tone ads a layer of seriousness that is unexpected from the films. The motivation of the villains is clear, and the choices put before Kal-El are intriguing. In one film we’re introduced to Superman as if he was an old friend that we gladly welcome back into our lives. The darkness was not without its laughs, however. Kent remains a Kansas farm boy at heart, and the film even finds room for some corny jokes. I particularly enjoyed during one of the most intense scenes, Superman bashing into a sign that boasts how many injury free days that work environment has enjoyed. As he ricochets off the wall and onto the ground, the numbers fall off the sign leaving a zero in their place. The fact is, the film deals with some incredibly huge stakes, and to bog that down with an overtly light tone would have been a detriment.

 

The acting is superb, Amy Adams is an interesting and true-to-character Lois Lane, Henry Cavill is a less clean cut Superman, but one that offers a nice change from the last few decades of Superman films. Michael Shannon gives an awesome performance as the zealous and terrifying General Zod. We not only get an interesting story with compelling characters and situations, we’re also given front row seats to some of the most awe inspiring “super fights” in recent cinematic history. Sure it’s all CG, but the cinematography and emotional attachment that’s used throughout the film prepares you for it, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself enthralled by the CGI.

 

Man of Steel is my favorite Superman movie. I understand those that will stand firm next to the Christopher Reeves films (at least the first two), but the removal of the slapstick humor and the advancement of special effects as well as an interesting story acted out by passionate and talented actors puts this film as not only my favorite Superman film, but one of my favorite films of 2013, so far.

Willow

Willow

    George Lucas has become one of the most controversial icons in fiction history. He is attributed with creating some of the most successful films and franchises in the history of the medium; most notably, of course, being the Star Wars films. His stories thrilled audiences throughout the 70s and 80s, but today he’s continues to frustrate his fans by tampering with Star Wars and refusing to release the rights to the theatrical releases. He also was responsible for adding an extra chapter to his Indiana Jones series that certainly dropped the overall average of the franchise in the eyes of the public. All controversy aside, it is absolutely safe to say that Lucas was a pioneer for modern special effects and genre pieces as a whole. Star Wars and Indiana Jones were absolutely fantastic, appealing to the sense of adventure and curiosity imbued in all film viewers on a scale the likes of which had not been matched on film. What those franchises did for Science Fiction and Adventure films, Willow did for Fantasy, unfortunately with far less recognition.

 

    Willow follows the path of the titular Nelwyn, a fictional race that is represented by a cast comprised entirely of people affected by dwarfism. Willow discovers a Daikini (Daikinis being the equivilant of humans in this fantasy realm) infant. It is soon discovered that this infant is in fact the chosen princess to whom the throne belongs. She has long been sought after by the evil Bavmorda, who wishes to destroy the child and extend her reign of terror over the land. Along the way Willow meets various friends of various species who aid him in his quest to protect the rightful heir.

 

    Lucas wrote a classic sword and sorcery flick, and he did it specifically with families in mind. Willow is practically dripping with all the classic cliché fantasy morals, classic good vs evil stuff, but it’s done in a way that is an absolute blast. This was made on the cutting edge of special effects, when CGI was brand new and practical effects were still widely used. While some of the more ambitious action sequences certainly look dated, it’s refreshing to go back and watch a movie unfold before the use of CG elements became absolutely rampant, particularly in a Lucas film. Long before The Lord of The Rings, Willow filmed on location in New Zealand, portraying sweeping, epic landscapes to accompany an eclectic set of fantasy/adventure scenarios. Everything from the costumes to the set designs to the special effects just looks the part for a fantasy story; even the age of the film ads to the beauty of the movie.

 

    The movie allows you to not only to be entertained by the way it looks, but Lucas shows off his writing skills by giving us genuine character development (something that was sorely lacking in the Star Wars prequels). The actors selected to play the protagonists did an absolute fantastic job of encompassing their character. Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer never miss a beat as the hero, Willow, and Madmartigan, respectively. The pacing allows for ample time to both wow the audience visually and draw them into the lives of those on the screen. It lacks the overly lengthy run-time of modern fantasy “epics” but manages to offer a fun and well written addition to the genre.

 

    Willow certainly earned it’s status as a cult classic; the adventure aspect of the film measures up to Indiana Jones and Star Wars despite it’s lesser acknowledgments. It was created in a time, as my friend and fellow blogger Ryan Partlow points out, when children’s films were carefully crafted before they were presented to the audience… at least the good ones were anyway.

Let’s Talk About The Princess Bride, Shall We?

Princessbride

I feel like this post may cover some obvious ground for a lot of my readers, but after learning that my wife has never seen the original Star Wars trilogy all the way through, I feel like I can’t leave anything up to chance any more. As most of you know, back in the 1980s a little movie called The Princess Bride was released. It was written by one of the most talented writers to ever pen a screen play; William Goldman. The movie will always remain one of my absolute favorite films, regardless of it’s superficial flaws. What I fear is that the movie has reached the level that many before it’s time have reached. It’s one of those films that everyone can quote and acknowledge how great it is, despite a massive decrease in the amount of people that have actually watched it. For example; I knew quotes from The Godfather years before I actually watched the movie.  FilmDrunk actually reported the results of a survey of the top 10 films that people lied about watching.

The Princess Bride has been elevated to a legendary status in pop culture. One need merely don a faux Spanish accent and quote the unforgettable line of vengeance uttered by Inigo Montoya in order to gain a grin of familiarity from a total stranger. The impact that the story of Westley and Buttercup has had on our culture is vast. Virtual badges can be seen throughout internet social sites, T-shirts with quotations from the movie are sold in novelty stores, and a devout following has been attracted to the high spirited adventure tale.

Released in 1987, The Princess Bride was, on the surface, nothing new. The 1980s was notable for a good number of Fantasy flicks, such as The Never Ending Story, Labyrinth, and Ridley Scott’s Legend. Despite all these films displaying far more stunning visual effects for the time, William Goldman’s story about True love and High adventure remains the most notable. Taking the helm to direct the film was Rob Reiner, who helped bring the beloved book by William Goldman to the big screen, and into the hearts of generations to come. It wasn’t a grand spectacle, visually speaking, but what it was, was one of the best written Fantasy stories ever put to screen. Goldman tells a story that everyone loves. True love conquers all. Never backing away from the fact that love is never easy, he tugs at the heartstrings of all his viewers. The enduring characters that Goldman creates let us know exactly what side we want to win. The viewer is led on a journey of emotions ranging from agony, to joy, hate, to love, all the while keeping a light tone without compromising the drama at all.

The recognition that The Princess Bride received after it’s release continues to grow. Both critics and audiences continue to love it. In a 2000 edition of it’s magazine, “Total Film” magazine named The Princess Bride the 38th greatest comedy film of all time. In A similar report in 2006, “The Writers Guild of America” selected the screenplay as number 84 of all time. But the reason for the enduring tale is not in the critical recognition, it rests in the fans. The devout following continues to grow.

Goldman was no stranger to the writing game when he penned The Princess Bride, at this time he was well known for many screen plays and novels, the most notable being Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, however none come so close to the hearts of it’s viewers as The Princess Bride, which became, and remains a high standard to measure up against in the film industry. Seriously, I know this is true in most cases, but the book is actually better than the movie simply because Goldman isn’t limited by an hour and a half run time. We’re given hilarious and heart wrenching views into the pasts of every character and he writes with a sharp wit that could never be fully translated to the screen.

True Love conquers all…Even if it takes a while. This is not only the claim of the film, but it is a view that is expected from a movie by most of the population. How this holds up to actual beliefs is hard to tell, but the idea of love being the strongest bond on earth is not a new idea. The claim is warranted through society and pop culture, this is what people want to believe, as is evident in movies, music and television. Goldman used a fairly simplistic and common idea, and elaborated around it. We see Goldman’s genius shine through by mixing fantasy, classic love story structure, and comedy all the while eloquently giving millions of viewers a simple, recognized idea in a complex and thoroughly enjoyable, relatable, and entertaining shell that is The Princess Bride.

If you happen to be in the Bellingham WA area on August 24th 2013 you can watch the The Princess Bride outdoors on a big screen with hundreds of other fans thanks to the Fairhaven Outdoor Cinema, a series of events that happen throughout the summer.  There is a fantastic lineup of films this summer, and The Princess Bride is just one of them.