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King-Arthur-Legend-of-the-Sword

Pick it up. You know you want to.

So if we take a really loose version of the Arthurian mythology, marry it to a cockney London (er… Londinium) gangster story, sprinkle in a bunch of references, some in tribute and some mocking, to other fantasy movies… this is what we get? This is what we get. The result is ridiculous and will offend the sensibilities of just about every type of nerd out there. Your history nerds will scratch their heads about everything from wardrobe to chronology to props, your mythology and literary nerds will want to know why King Arthur is suddenly Robin Hood, and your fantasy nerds might be placated by the most awesome magic sword in the history of magic swords, but their literalist tendencies will be set alight and pissed on by this movie’s utter disregard for consistent or coherent world-building. And we already know what the movie nerds think. Spoiler: they are not happy.

For my money, King Arthur is a more enjoyable movie than either of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock films mostly because it dares to be far more bonkers and far more often at that. But it also has the same issues, including an overly dour colour scheme which mars some otherwise beautiful compositions and sequences. It also has an overly smug lead, which I’ll talk about more later. The visual issues are compounded by a really bad (in my theater anyway) use of 3D. Like, 2005 bad. This movie is so dark that many of the aesthetic details especially in CG-heavy scenes are lost. I would bet that this is not a theater issue but one with the quality of the post-processing, since many people are complaining about the uninspiring visuals of the movie. They aren’t totally correct, there’s a lot to love visually here, but the movie consistently holds itself back by being 3D for absolutely no fucking reason. When I get to see it again, it will not be in 3D and I’m hoping the visual elements register more clearly more often. On the other hand, the music in this movie is brilliant. Even the non-score anachronistic songs. Forget the term for those, but they are well-used here.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is overall a baffling movie. I don’t want to ruin anybody’s fun here, because this movie actually is plenty fun, it’s just that the whole thing doesn’t really come together the way you want it to. There are many elements that work well, especially when the movie isn’t taking itself seriously, but many more that do not. It’s a huge boys’ club, with almost no female characters and the few present get very little to do besides support the male hero or die trying, but it also wins some diversity points by not pretending the medieval world was lily white the way the racists like to. Some will accuse King Arthur, kind of wrong-headedly, of casting it like it’s taking place in Modern London rather than ~500CE Londinium. It’s a fascinating exercise, really, because here we have this remix, this mash-up, and who better to do that with Arthurian myth, especially with the music video sensibility that King Arthur displays, than Guy Ritchie? But honestly, did they ever stop to think if they should do it? No, they did not. They were planning like five of these. I doubt we’ll even get two.

MY KINGDOM FOR A SPOILER WARNING.

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guardians-of-the-galaxy-zoe-saldana-chris-pratt-rocket

What a bunch of a-holes.

This is the best Marvel movie. It’s funny how each has been better than the last. It’s amazing that you can actually subcategorize each one to say what they’re best at, because it isn’t simply a matter of hierarchy. Each of these movies is after something else. This is why The Avengers can be the best out and out superhero movie and The Winter Soldier can be the best proof of concept that Marvel movies can and should be genre movies alongside being superhero movies. But as a complete, self-contained whole, Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the best. It’s no contest.

But why is Guardians the best? Because it’s got it all. It’s fun, exciting, action-packed, heartfelt, and so well executed that you get that awkward feeling about other big budget movies where you sort of want to pat them on the head for trying. Guardians makes being a blockbuster look easy. Maybe it’s the love affair with the 80’s that James Gunn (writer and director) infuses in the movie. The 80’s was the time of the fun, high concept blockbuster with heart. The 80’s was the time of Star Wars and of Steven Spielberg, really.

And, well, Guardians has Spielberg and Star Wars beat too. Hyperbole? Maybe. But if you’ve seen this movie, you’re probably thinking hard about whether that claim has some merit. Especially these days. If you haven’t, you’re probably shaking your head. Go see Guardians. Don’t read this review until you have, because I’ve got to gush. I mean it when I say this is a definitive blockbuster movie. Every now and then, a movie comes along that makes you believe in the awe and spectacle possible if more filmmakers and studios put real love into their creations.¬† This kind of shit is the reason blockbusters exist at all. How wonderful, then, that it pays the debt it owes to Star Wars and Indiana Jones by surpassing them? It is the bastard child, the space-faring orphan, of the precious movies that influenced its creators and us. All parents exist for their children to surpass them and that’s why it’s beautiful when they do.

THINGS ABOUT TO GET SPOILERY IN HERE.

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how-to-train-your-dragon-2

Every bit as gorgeous as the first movie.

How to Train Your Dragon came at a time when Dreamworks had a loooong way to go to close the gap with Pixar. Back then, Pixar was pretty much the only game in town. How to Train Your Dragon was the first American animated film to really challenge their reign, not just in terms of popularity (a much easier target) but in terms of artistry, quality, and substance. In fact, Dragon felt very much like a Pixar movie in its combination of the fantastic with a warm, human story enriching for both kids and adults.

Now comes How to Train Your Dragon 2 (I’ll refer to it henceforth as Dragon 2) and it too surprises by being another Dreamworks sequel that not only meets the quality of its predecessor pound for pound, but in many ways exceeds it. A few years ago, I was stunned and delighted by just how fucking good Kung Fu Panda 2 was, especially compared to its good-not-great predecessor. This time, I was ready for¬†Dreamworks to again attempt to outdo themselves with an animation and story team that had actually made a great-just-great movie the first time around. All praise to Dean DeBlois, a fellow Canuck, for raising his script and the directing to a new level.

They pull it off here, in other words. Big time. It’s at least as well told a story, with just the same degree of care and attention paid to its ridiculous world. There’s a fine line to walk with this material, with the colorful and cartoonish characters set against a fairly realistic environment. In the world of How to Train Your Dragon, you can get cut and bleed. You can die or lose a limb. Your clothes are made of material that has substance. But the dragons are like something out of Dr. Zeuss and the world as fantastical as they come. One of the things that most exhilarates about these films is that the attention to a level of realism warrants visceral reactions to physical exploits especially (but not limited to) in the case of flight. The juxtaposition seems difficult to maintain, let alone create, but once you realize how well it works for these movies, it’s astonishing. Read the rest of this entry »

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