Sunday, January 4, 2015

Movies of 2014, Fantasy

Fantasy Movies
            First I will list a few movies that fit into this bandwidth that I haven't seen just to give a more complete look at what I have and have not covered, mostly because I have only 3 entries here and there were more out there to watch.  "Winter's Tale," widely considered one of the worst movies released all year I wanted to see it to be disappointed in how it probably was not as bad as people say; "How to Train Your Dragon 2," I actually want to see the first one before seeing this one, it looks like something I would love; "Maleficent," I have no real desire to watch this; "Horns," I do not even know if this came out anywhere, much like "The Lady in Black" it looks to be a Danny Radcliffe movie I will not enjoy; and "Exodus: Gods and Kings" I have no trouble appreciating Biblical stories as a sort of mythology, but this particular story has been done definatively twice before so why again, how about a movie of Joshua taking over Jericho?  And on to the main events.

            While "Exodus" has had definitive telling in the past Noah hasn't and for a big release this is a very challenging presentation of the material.  The hero is driven mad with religious fervor, a world so corrupt and failing that its destruction does not seem like an over reaction, non-traditional portrayals of esoteric material, and a favorable depiction of evolution and environmentalism.  The idea that dominion over nature means stewardship rather than a right to exploit is actually a good counter argument to a lot of drill-baby-drill perspectives held by religious people.
            The movie is far from perfect, it is boring, there are clear instances of a story break (making it to the mountain of Methuselah, escaping the flood on the ark, and ultimately the movies actual ending on dry land), maybe my patience with stories being told in multiple parts has made me more critical of epics like this being told in a single installment.  I can also see this movie as being too dark or violent for people who are expecting a biblical story for the family, though I do not think that a planetary holocaust should be your first choice in that venue.
Overall: 6/10 
God awful movie poster.

            This is an odd one, and I am glad that Frank Miller had very little creative input on the subject.  While the original "300" was a fun movie about a tiny nation trying to rally against a larger empire to secure their way of life dedicated to reason... Let's be clear, it is propaganda.  The glorious white people with their sculpted abs, brilliant minds, and bloodlines pure of the deformities of other cultures fighting against the multi-ethnic force who in real life expressly forbid slavery while the Spartans had the largest slave population in all of Greece.  Frank Miller is a deplorable racist, and while his artistic contributions to comic books are begrudgingly acknowledged we should all take a step back and look at how he has gone crazy and all of his work has had undercurrents of racism and misogyny, because "300: Rise of an Empire" kind of does take a step back and look at how complex things were.
            The Spartans are looked at as violent but useful to the more tactical Greeks, and the Greek people are seen (rightly) as villains in need of conquest by the Persians.  Eva Green's character was abused in Greek society and saved by the Persians, her hate makes sense.  Things are messy and it is cool to see that underlined in a sequel to one of the most incorrectly black and white morality films ever made.
            Much like Noah there are lots of issues.  The timeline is all over the place, unlike in the first where the strange (anachronistic) technology of the Persians are defeated in montage they are the center piece of the film and if goofy steam punk battle is not your thing then this will be boring, Eva Green is good but many might object to how sexually and literally aggressive she is considering the historical figure she portrays was cautious and levelheaded, one of the few Persian captains that was not taken in by the Athenian naval trap that broke the Persian campaign.  It is a strange movie, and years too late to be an effective follow up (much like "Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For" which also came out this year, and is also a stylized Frank Miller story with a topless sexually aggressive Eva Green as the star).
Overall: 6/10 
A decent poster in which it is about the movie, not a particular actor in it.
            The best of the Hobbit movies, so much so that it make s me like the others less.  The movie has focus as the plot threads and characters shown in the previous movies all start moving toward the ultimate goal of controlling the golden horde beneath the Lonely Mountain.  All of the principle characters, Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and Legolas get their moments to shine (I still consider the addition of the elves to be beneficial to the story).  The monsters are inventive and cool, the various steeds of the heroes are cool, the armor, the ruins, nearly all of the visuals work (yeah the CGI gets a bit much here and there but not as noticeably as the last one).  The heroic sacrifices are good (not perfect, I was expecting Thorin's final action in the story to be a bigger move), and the added weight of character death makes them movie hit harder.  The Elves are as always cool and work perfectly, they are both generous, but have their own desires.
            There are of course downsides, as I mentioned before Thorin's final battle while fine could have been better, there is a scene in which the party of 13 dwarves storms out of the mountain and rallies the dwarf army that is losing ground... That makes no sense to me as they are not the Avengers, they are just 13 guys, some of which are not warriors, but it turns the tide.  Humans are woefully out gunned and rather than cleverly beating back the bad guys they mostly just keep fighting and inexplicably not dying.  There are sections in which a lot of proper nouns are thrown around.
            I would also like to maintain that these movies should have been called "Middle Earth" not "The Hobbit", and should have been marketed differently.  Peter Jackson should have said, "We are going to use 'The Hobbit' as a framing device, but since this will likely be the last movies set in this universe for this generation of filmmakers, I saw it as both fun and necessary to explore other aspects of the world. Lots of characters exist, and a lot of magic, action, and world is there.  If I don't put those things into this movie, then it won't fit in anywhere.  Some people have talked about 'The Silmarillion' and I do not think it would work, better to take what we have and put it in here where we can and enjoy as much of the universe as possible with this story as a backbone."  But they didn't do that and so we have people complaining that there isn't enough story to fill three movies even though these movies are packed with content.

This poster rides the line, it shows what the movie is about, but clearly puts a focus on the various characters rather than the world of Middle Earth, the true star of the movie.

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