Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Movies of 2012, Fantasy & Animation

            I don't think it is a secret that I watch a lot of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and animated fair.  Most of my top 5 fall into those categories, this is the grab bag of other movies that also fit.

Better than the Marketing would have you Believe Award: "Wreck it Ralph" (Trailer)
            "Ralph" is a movie about self acceptance, and strangely carries an odd endorsement of caste based lifestyles.  That we all have roles in life that we need to accept and live by and should not be begrudged by others by filling those roles well.  Not a blending of messages you would typically pair: be yourself and know your role.
            It is not as funny and reference driven as the commercials make it seem and I really like the original characters in it, it is an easy place to build a franchise from, and honestly the fact that there were not 2-3 XBLA releases of the fictitious games in this movie is baffling to me.  One of the few films in which a video game tie in would be entirely appropriate and I don't really see anything.  A very well made and fun movie about... Either self acceptance or not lamenting one's lot in life... I am not sure.

The Award for the most Organic and well timed Opening all Year: "ParaNorman" (Trailer)
            This movie definitely is about being an outsider and trying to get along in life while the world fails to understand you.  It has a lot of emotional strength with perhaps the best movie climax of the year, and definitely the best start to a movie in which the entire supernatural premise of the movie is laid out without a single voice-overed word of exposition.  Other movies have very strong or complex cold opens for the audience to be taken in by, but this one blows those away by just being very smooth.
            Not to mention the gorgeous animation.  Stop Motion has pretty much hit an insurmountable peak at this point, with movements that are so expressive and alive.  This movie is ART and I regard it as the strongest movie this year marketed toward children, beating out "Wreck it Ralph" if for no other reason than the themes of this movie are more coherent... Same arbitrary numeric score though, because I don't want to do halves.

The Deserves the be Epic-a-fied Award: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Trailer)
            "Lord of the Rings" is the most important film franchise since the Original "Star Wars", and while "Harry Potter" was longer and more financially successful it had less quality and pushed far fewer envelopes in the technology of movie making.  "The Hobbit" is a return to one of the richest and most well produced universes in the history of film.
            The movie is very pretty, and much of the special effects technology pioneered in "LotR" has now been mastered, with a dozen people on the screen, all of them scaled down to various sizes, all of it seamless.  Sure there are bits of edges showing when a brand new effect appears, but overall it just glistens.  I have no opinion on the additional frames per second thing, but it is worth trying out (and abandoning if it doesn't work).
            The only real issue is one of tone, while I thought it moved rather fluidly from one emotion to the next and I felt comfortable with the moments of comedy and drama in the action I think that other people who found "LotR" too meandering might find this quite uncomfortable to sit through.  I just wanted to spend more time exploring Middle Earth and am glad this movie, and its sequels exist for me to do so.

The New Gold Standard in Found Footage Award: "Chronicle" (Trailer)
            Found footage is a production style that does two things well: saving money and lowering audience standards.  It is less expensive to film with a handheld which the actors are both aware of and can acknowledge while performing because you don't lose takes to them looking into the camera, the cameraman's presence is part of the scene.  This means you don't have to hide a small part of the film crew in the sets or maneuver hoping not to harm the environment, the cameraman is allowed to stumble and shake a little.  The lower standards come on the part of the audience who will take as part of the production lower film quality and with it lower special effects quality... Fun fact: this movie doesn't really need lowered expectations to work.
            The camera's presence makes sense, as does the title, a group of friends want to document (or Chronicle) their gaining of super powers from some mysterious crystal entity they discovered in a pit outside of a rave.  The story moves at a good clip, you see the protagonists react to what is going on, you feel bad for the main "villain" as he falls into destructive and dangerous behavior.
            There are some missteps: a needless B-plot love story; a weird choice by one character to classify himself as an Apex Predator which robs him of some sympathy; but that crap falls by the way side by the time the final super-brawl at the end kicks into full gear and rips up the city pretty well.  The final action sequence could be used as a really good example for Zach Snyder to follow when he inevitably has Superman start punching stuff, the flight in it looks really natural and cool.  It is a cool movie.

The Award for being Alright even though it Squandered Opportunities for a much more Impactful Narrative: "Rise of the Guardians" (Trailer)
            For a movie in which Santa and the Easter Bunny team to fight the god of fear this movie is shockingly average.  I wrote a rather long and detailed pick apart of this thing which is riddled with spoilers.  So if you would rather read that. (Other Blog)
            If however you have not seen "Guardians" yet and want an overview without spoilers here are a few things: the Villain's plan moves too fast and is too effective; the background has a lot of gorgeous little touches, in fact most of the art and animation is good especially the Tooth Fairy (Santa's beard is a notable exception, because it doesn't look like hair at all); the main character is not optimal for this story; Much like "Wreck it Ralph" the message is a little unclear; and lastly you will leave feeling just mildly entertained.  I have actually cooled on this film more and more since seeing it, my opinion now is lower than when I first wrote my longer analysis.  So I can't say it will grow on you.

The Award for a Main Character that got lost on its way to a Better Movie: "Lockout" (Trailer)
            This movie has a lot of problems, not the least of which being: The main Character is the only person who knows how to make good decisions.  It helps that he is played by Guy Pierce, one of my favorite actors.  If an action star with less charisma had been chosen this movie would have been a train wreck, I can just envision this thing starring John Cena or Taylor Lautner and being an unwatchable direct to DVD or Sy Fy network release.
            There is some good action, some obviously forced scenes to move the plot along, a lot of poor writing decisions regarding character relationships in order to justify moving the plot along, and I guess it helps that the plot was ripped off from "Escape from New York" (Trailer) (in fact, if it had been called "Escape from Space" and had Snake Plissken in it the movie might have been totally forgiven and lovable as pure gonzo Science Fiction action romp).  In fact that is what I will call my biggest complaint, this movie keeps having to make up reasons to get the plot going as it otherwise feels like it is about to go stale.
I need to get back on Christopher Nolan's good side.  I could play a magician.

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