Category Archives: Fantasy

2001 Best Movie Bracket

When you mention the year 2001, one event comes to most Americans’ minds. The events of September 11, 2001 changed the course of history and things have never been the same. It was also the year that I graduated from high school and left for college. When 9/11 happened, I was in my first semester of college and was over 200 miles from the only home I had ever known.

Little did we know that our little college campus would be rocked with a tragedy less than two week afterwards that felt more significant than towers falling. There was a van accident which killed three of my peers as they were returning from a ministry event. It was a very sad time, but it drew me closer to the beautiful woman that would become my wife. We grieved together and drew strength from each other’s faith.

Film was one of the last thing on my mind during that time, but it seemed that just a few months after this tragedy many Americans were finding refuge from the pain of reality through the imagination of a handful of master storytellers. Two film franchises were born during this year and they would persist for many years following. I’m speaking of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

While both of these were good films and left a lasting impression on film, they are merely footnotes or honorable mentions in this competition for the best film of the year. Before I get to my top 3 films of the year, you should know that the Academy Award for Best Picture went to my 4th best movie of the year, A Beautiful Mind. Other honorable mentions are: AmelieThe Others, Donnie Darko, Training DayThe Royal Tenenbaums, and Ocean’s Eleven. All of my Top 3 are at least a bit surreal and dive into and out of the deepest and most intimate place in all of us, our memory. That is appropriate since I have such deep memories of this year.

#1 – Spirited Away

The first time you watch Spirited Away you are blown away by the visuals. Hayao Mizayaki’s decadent hand drawn animation is always moving and is totally beautiful. You are left thinking about the meaning and the symbolism that is deep under the surface of this story of a young girl who gets lost in a spirit world and has to find her way back. Every time after that, you will be sucked deeper into the symbolism until you realize that this is a commentary on growing up in a Capitalist culture but not losing the innocent wonder of childhood.

Chihiro means “thousand questions.” It means that she is inquisitive and takes nothing for granted. We see this wide eyed girl lose her parents to greed and consumerism. She gets a job at a bath house and trades away part of her name. The name is a symbol of a person’s character and she becomes Sen which means “thousand.” Literally, the questions have been removed. She is warned not to forget her name because that is the secret for her escape. I won’t go any deeper than that in case you haven’t seen it, but I just might do a full spoiler laden breakdown at some point.

#2 – Memento

Technically, Memento was released in 2000 but it wasn’t seen on US soil until 2001, so I had to put it in this year. Long before Christoper Nolan started diving into the brains of his characters and viewers in Inception, he was beginning at the end with Memento. Simply put, it is the non-simple, non-linear story of Leonard who suffers from a Dory-like version of short-term memory loss. He retains memories from before his accident but cannot create any new memories. Instead, he litters his jacket pockets with Polaroid pictures and scraps of note paper, and covers the canvas of his body with tattoos to remind him of his overall purpose.

We learn through 22 vignettes that Leonard is hunting a man called John G. who is behind the rape and murder of his wife. I don’t want to spoil too much because it is such a fun puzzle to put together, but let me just say that you will be engaged and guessing with the story until the very end. This is one of the films that made Christopher Nolan the brand name that he is today.

#3 – Mulholland Drive

Have you ever had a dream that freaked you out and left you gasping for breath as you rushed back to consciousness? When your loved ones come in the room to check if you are okay all you can say is I had a bad dream. Invariably, they will ask what it was about, but we can’t say because the dream is quickly retreating into our sub conscience, and because no matter how well you explain what happened in the dream you sound psychotic. Mulholland Dr. is that creepy dream.

More people have become familiar with David Lynch since the new Twin Peaks was released. I would recommend this movie as a good starting place, but I would encourage you not to analyze too much. To truly enjoy it, you must surrender yourself to it. As Roger Ebert said, “If you require logic, see something else.” David Lynch loves to make films which defy logic, but Mulholland Dr. follows no conventional plot structure, it simply ebbs and flows like a dream.

Did I get something wrong? What would you change? Have you seen any of these three? Let me know in the comments or on social media.

The Lobster (2016) Sarcastic Review

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is one of the best romantic comedies of all time. Seriously, I think you should make it a date night with the one you love. Watch as the sexy Colin Farrell woos the nearsighted woman of his dreams (Rachel Weisz) by bringing her dead rabbits. In the days of Tinder, it is nice to see a movie that gets down to the things that really matter in a relationship, like sharing the same physical malady.

the-lobster

But you might ask, is this another one of those movies where single people get turned into animals if they don’t find love in 45 days. Yes, it is another one of those movies and I do agree that is a worn out plot device, but The Lobster is so much more than just another formulaic animal transformation romance. For instance, in this film single people (or loners) can be killed to extend your stay at the luxury hotel and masturbation is not allowed or you will have your hands disfigured. It is so romantic.

Continue reading The Lobster (2016) Sarcastic Review

Who is Newt Scamander?

I’m getting more and more excited about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with each featurette that Warner Brothers releases. Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, a magizoologist who winds up letting loose a suitcase full of magical creatures in New York City in the 20s. It looks like they’re still finishing the FX, so most of the footage involves characters interacting. There’s some brand new shots we haven’t seen before, and plenty of discussion from author J.K. Rowling, who was much more involved in the making of this than she was Harry Potter.

Weekend Outlook – June 10, 2016

With X-Men: Apocalypse, Alice Through The Looking Glass, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows tumbling their way down the top 10,  there’s more than enough room for a couple more sequels to make waves amid another weekend stuffed with multiple new wide releases. This weekend we will see a highly anticipated follow up to one of the best horror films of the last 10 years. Second, we have a not-so-highly anticipated sequel to a mediocre mystery drama about a troupe of magicians illusionists. Finally, we see a video-game adaption from a visionary director that has been doing amazingly well in China and Russia.

The Conjuring 2

Conjuring2

So far, 2016 has become a graveyard for high-profile sequels as Alice Through the Looking Glass, Zoolander 2, Allegiant, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War have all under-performed. However, both cinematic continuations hitting theaters Friday look like they will bring in respectable grosses. The Conjuring 2 will almost certainly take the #1 spot this weekend after the dazzling run of its predecessor in 2013. I won’t be watching it, because I don’t like having nightmares.

The Conjuring, based on the spooky real-life dealings of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, grossed $41.9 million in its opening weekend nearly three years ago. Its sequel, also directed by James Wan with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson returning, is opening on approximately 3,200 screens this weekend, and will bring the series back to No. 1 at the weekend box office. For starters, strong critical reviews for a modern horror film are almost an anomaly, but The Conjuring 2 has them, as 64 percent of critics surveyed by Metacritic have given the film a positive review.

Warcraft

warcraft-movie

While it is expected to disappoint in North America, Warcraft, however, could put up a worthy fight for the No. 2 slot. Traditionally, video game adaptations are awful, but if anyone call pull off the impossible, it is Duncan Jones the director of two of the most original and thrilling sci-fi movies of the last 20 years in Moon and Source Code. The film hits almost 3,400 North American screens this weekend with a robust international gross already under its belt. Based on the wildly popular Blizzard Entertainment video game series with millions of active subscriber accounts.

Warcraft brought in the biggest Thursday gross ever (around $45 million) in China following a huge estimated $46 million opening on Wednesday, upping its total in the country to more than $90 million and counting. Given its low critical reviews (32 percent on Metacritic) and lack of star power among the cast, the picture is seemingly selling itself on brand alone. However, with more than 1.7 million likes on its official Facebook page, Warcraft also seems to be making a decent impact with its target demographic via their go-to medium: the internet.

Now You See Me 2

Nowyouseeme2

Now You See Me 2 has big shoes to fill. Its 2013 predecessor was arguably the most unexpected runaway hit of the year, grossing $351.7 million worldwide during its run. This film has a great following and has infused some new talent into it’s cast. As I watch, I’m going to be waiting for Harry Daniel Radcliffe to pull out his wand.

The only problem for Now You See Me 2, however, is that its legs are probably nowhere near as sturdy as its forerunner’s. Critics haven’t been as kind this time around (it currently sits at 48 percent on Metacritic), though audience anticipation is strong, I think we will see a fairly warm welcome from fans, but that passion will quickly die down and Now You See Me 2 will join the graveyard of 2016 sequels.

In Memorium: Alan Rickman (1946-2016)

I don’t really feel like blathering on about Alan Rickman’s acting achievements. I feel like all of you know how amazing he was, and he will live forever in his many, varied roles. Please take a few moments to look through the pictures below. Think about your favorite of his roles. Leave a comment to tell me how you remember him best.

You can tell by the banner image that my favorite of his roles is actually in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. He appropriately plays the Metatron, the voice of God. I love that deep, gravelly voice. That is why I posted this from Family Guy:

Rest in Peace Alan. You will be missed.

In Memoriam: David Bowie (1947-2016)

Roger Ebert – Labyrinth – 1986:

Roger Ebert – The Man Who Fell to Earth – 2011:

The world lost one of its true creators this weekend. David Bowie was a perpetual outsider, ahead of the curve. He made a career and a life out of living outside the norm as an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut. His first film, The Man Who Fell to Earth has become a cult classic. I regret to say that I have not seen it, but hope to rectify that shortly. In the film, he plays an alien from a drought-stricken planet who journeys to Earth in search of water. Ebert remarks, “Bowie, slender, elegant, remote, evokes this alien so successfully that one could say, without irony, this was a role he was born to play.” Ebert remarked about meeting David Bowie and about his quality as an actor.

[He] has an enviable urbane charm. I met him once, and rarely have been so impressed by someone’s poise. If he hadn’t been a rock star he could have had success as an actor, playing roles such as those given to James Fox or William Hurt. Bowie demonstrated that in such films as “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” “Absolute Beginners,” “The Hunger” and “Labyrinth.” … He is … Other. Apart. Defined within himself.

Besides his progressive, challenging, and remarkable body of work, Bowie also gifted us with his son with Mary Angela Barnett, Duncan Jones, who I believe is one of the most promising up and coming directors working today. He directed two sci-fi thrillers, Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011). Bowie has had such an impact on our popular culture and he held such respect from such a wide array of people, receiving memorial tweets from people like Madonna, Astronaut Tim Peake, Kanye West, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The world will be a slightly less interesting place with him gone.

Labyrinth posterAs I have read and heard so many people speaking fondly of him, I felt compelled to share my first memory of David Bowie. It was in the 1986 film Labyrinth, I was too young to remember seeing it when it first was released, but I recall renting the film from our local video store and watching raptly as a Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) struggled on a magical adventure to rescue her brother from Bowie’s deceptions as the goblin king Jareth.

Bowie joined forces with Muppet creator Jim Henson, special-effects guru George Lucas, and screenwriter Terry Jones of Monty Python fame to produce this fantasy which reminds me of a strange blend of The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

It was a great work of Jim Henson and very ambitious. To my young mind it was a swirling and thrilling adventure. Unfortunately, I think I may have lost some of the youthful exuberance that I once possessed, because upon a re-watching a year or two ago, I was amazed at how meandering and drawn out the film is without good reason. It is longer than it should be and is lacking enough of a coherent plot to keep me attached. However, I may still dust it off again, if just to hear the soundtrack as Jareth himself composed and performed a number of songs for the film. Farewell Major Tom, God’s love be with you.

Day 23 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Favorite Animated Film

Being a dad, it seems like I watch more animated movies than any other type. And since I am a film snob, I can’t stand to endlessly re-watch sub-par movies the way that I see so many parents do. Just because Cars is my kids’ favorite Pixar movie, that doesn’t mean that I am going to put it on every time they ask to watch a movie. Although they would be happy with that, I would go insane. And even if it was a good movie, it would lose some of its magic after seeing it twice a week for 3 years. I am constantly looking for good animated films to share with my family. That passion, along with my general love for film, led me to the breathtaking and impressive canon of Japanese hand-drawn animation director Hayao Miyazaki.

Now 70 years old, he is often referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney. He has directed ten feature length animated films as well as several shorts and Japanese television shows and personally hand drawn tens of thousands of frames. I know that most Americans don’t think to highly of “Japanimation,” as it has been called. I can’t say that I blame them. Run of the mill “Japanimation” is irritating, overly violent, raunchy, indulgent, and devoid of good storytelling. But that description could be used to describe most modern American fare.

But Miyazaki is a glowing exception. His animation has an attention to detail that rivals the exacting standards of a company like Pixar. His intense yet delicate shading of colors would make his works of art more at home in a fine art gallery than in the Sunday comics. Miyazaki also has a great sense of humor, a gift for poetic storytelling, and a taste for adventure. His beautiful children’s movie, My Neighbor Totoro, is a charming and deeply affecting look at how a child’s imagination helps her endure a time of private fear and sadness. His most recent work, Ponyo, is a beautiful story of the transforming power of love. Princess Mononoke, is a powerful, sprawling epic about the need for humankind to respect and live in harmony with the environment. And that is a message that people of all faiths should proclaim.

I almost chose Princess Mononoke, but decided to go with what is widely considered to be Miyazaki’s masterpiece. Spirited Away combines the weighty mythologizing of Mononoke with the playful spirit of My Neighbor Totoro, but then goes in new directions as well. It is funny to me that Walt Disney Studios has helped bring Miyazaki’s features to American cinemas, because Miyazaki’s work tends to reveal that most Disney films are simplistic and predictable.

Spirited Away is a coming of age story of a little girl named Chihiro, who gets lost in a wonderland of spirits and witches, and her quest to find a way to break the curse that has transformed her parents so they can return home. Her only friend in this world is a mysterious boy named Haku who helps her to survive. Eventually we come to hope that Chihiro, her parents, and Haku will all eventually break away from the harsh tyranny of the powerful and dictatorial witch Yubaba.

The secret to their freedom lies in discovering their true identities. Yubaba gains her power and control over her subjects by stealing their identities, much like Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Yubaba can hold her own with the most memorable wicked witches of all time. She’s wider than she is tall, her head makes up half her body, she has snake-like shoots of white hair bound up in a bun, and her massive nose bulges out before her like a weapon. She snarls and cackles her way through the film. One of the things I love about Miyazaki is that he never sets up a simplistic face-off between good and evil. He knows we all have good and evil within us, and thus his “villains” have moments of kindness, and his heroes do things they regret.

If the film sounds complicated, it’s because it is. This film runs just over two hours, but with its fast pace and a plethora of subplots Spirited Away feels like Miyazaki decided to challenge George Lucas at his own game of exotic adventure and whimsy. There are enough bizarre creatures here to make the cantina in Star Wars look boring. The depth and fertility of Miyazaki’s imagination leaves me stunned at every turn.

Some will say that this film is too complex for children, and too scary. For small children, possibly. They could get lost in the intricate plot, and the monsters might scare them. I personally showed it to my kids starting at age 5 and up. But I think kids should be challenged to think through what they’re watching, and this is a story that provides great opportunities for discussion with grownups. Spirited Away is at times frightening, but it emphasizes the importance of an individual’s virtue, and affirms that the smallest of characters can make a big difference. It offers powerful displays of sacrificial love. And it, as I mentioned before, portrays “villains” who are redeemable and can be transformed by compassion and kindness.

Many Christians will probably berate me for my love of this film calling it occultic. But Miyazaki comes from a culture that is steeped in Shinto mythology and beliefs about the spirits of nature and of the dead. So of course, his story reflects such traditions and beliefs. But he is not “preaching” these ideas any more than Jiminy Cricket is preaching astrology when he croons about wishing upon a star. He is treating them as myth, as fantasy, and using them to illustrate lessons and morals that open-minded Christians will find quite similar to their own. The film makes no mention of “God” or any benevolent force which rules the world, but it does affirm the importance of personal virtues like: selflessness, sacrificial love, humility, friendship, compassion, and courage. People of any faith can read these characters as symbolic, and the story reflects powerful truths.

One spirit in particular, No Face, appears at first to be gentle and friendly. But he becomes more and more mysterious, shifting between gentleness and violent destructive behavior. Eventually, we come to understand that he is a lonely spirit who seeks approval. When he is around greed and evil, he responds with greed and evil. But when he is offered friendship and unconditional love, he seems to try a better path. Chihiro has patience with him and her kindness reminds me of how Christ patiently endures with me in my own tendency to become self-absorbed. He waits patiently, always offering love, forgiveness, and direction to a better way. No Face is amazed at Chihiro’s virtue. And I came to hope that he would abandon his violence and follow Chihiro to a better life. This is just one of many such parables within a vast tapestry of interconnected stories.

All in all, this is an absolute must-see. And the bigger the screen the better. The colors are incredible, from shots of a magical train that skims across the sea, to fantastical gardens and intricately painted murals. Well, I’ve said my piece. What is your favorite Animated movie? Do you love Miyazaki’s work as much as I do, or do you have another opinion. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Day 14 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie That No One Would Expect You To Love

I was interested in this topic from the first time I read the challenge because of the way it is worded. It is asking for a movie that no one would expect you to love. This doesn’t imply that you actually do love that movie. It forces you to put yourself in the shoes of those that know you. You have to inspect your own preferences. If the challenge was asking for a film that you actually liked, then it would say, “A movie that people would be surprised to find that you loved.”

I am running short on time because this weekend is my son’s 8th birthday and my aunt and uncle just came into town tonight so I have been entertaining this afternoon. But I must not neglect in my duty to the challenge. I think that people would be surprised to know that I actually like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think it is a lot of fun, and the musical numbers will be stuck in your head for days. Tim Curry as the transvestite from the planet of Transylvania is funny, creepy, and campy all at once. This is my favorite movie to watch on Halloween.

But I don’t think that anyone would expect me to like just about anything in the horror genre. I don’t particularly enjoy being scared. I only watch horror movies on my own terms. I can think of a few enjoyable horror movies that I’ve seen in the past few years, namely The Strangers and Insidious. But there is no way I would ever be caught dead watching the latest incarnation of the Saw franchise, Saw V. I actually loved the first Saw movie. I thought the twist at the end was fabulous and I didn’t see it coming at all.

So what about you? What do you hate so much that everybody knows it and what would people be shocked to know that you love? I want to share in your love and hatred of cinema. Leave me a message in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.