Fantasy Archive

16th ANNUAL SAN DIEGO ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: Best in the West

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Jupiter Ascending: Another Crazy Galaxy Adventure

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

The Hobbit 2: Welcome to the House of Smaug – He’ll Pollute Your Senses

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

At its primeval parlay of powerful poetic pros and prophetic prowess, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is such a spine tingling psychotic film that if I saw this movie when I was a kid, I’d have had nightmares for months. The soul creepiness absorbs you, the places our heroes visit carry so much potential vivisection trauma that you can taste the oppressive decay in your mouth.

The integration of the real and computer generated sight gags featured during the handful of the requisite action pieces are so well timed that there are many moments where your buying the reality of the fights, which occur in a world where combative abilities are only limited by the imagination of the creators who dare to step out of bounds in a world that has no bounds.

It’s films like The Hobbit series that make critics come across as lawyers. Here we are looking for precedents and citing “case” studies of previous trilogy franchises to argue one way or another if the current trilogy before the judgmental audiences is guilty or not guilty of being a true cinematic blockbuster masterpiece.

Cases studies: Lord of the Rings…guilty, our enamor grew with each successive chapter and everything culminated with a grandiose memorable ending that satisfied the story arc and the audiences; Harry Potter (yes, I know, not a trilogy)…jury still out, by splitting the final “chapter” into two films, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, on celluloid was as boring as it was Hollywood trying to milk the poor cow dry before putting it out to pasture…however, Part 2, saved the day, the cow and the franchise’s reputation where our movie thirst was quenched; and The Matrix…not guilty, the finale was so out of context and off that it also drove the Wachowski Brother directors off in a similar direction of disenchantment.

Currently The Hobbit is guilty, as Desolation of Smaug is definitely a more fast-paced and gripping outing than its predecessor, which means that if The Hobbit: There and Back Again delivers as most of us expect or hope it does, the franchise will be met with Lord of the Rings content compared to The Matrix contempt.

But this also makes Desolation of Smaug a little bit frustrating because the filmmakers obviously chose to leave us with a cliffhanger of cliffhangers, defying, teasing and taunting us…and now we must wait a whole year. You may say, “Hey, I’ll read the book.” That’s not going to work. “The Hobbit” is a short book written for children, and a great deal of the trilogy is being based upon H.R. Tolkein’s notes on the book. So like a voracious mosquito, we’re going to have to suck it up for now. In the meantime, enjoy the Smaug Monster, which is not even slightly associated with the Smog Monster that polluted Godzilla and Tokyo in 1972.

For a 161-minute film, it doesn’t feel padded like director Peter Jackson’s previously utlra-padded, remove the first 40 minutes of his 187-minute version of King Kong (2005).

Perhaps part of the enigmatic appeal of Desolation of Smaug is the new locations: a creepy, filthy desiccating village built on the water; the Elfland of Middle-earth; the dwarf arachnophobia-filled forest home to an army of giant hoarse-voiced spiders that plan to create a world wide web of their own; and the House of Smaug, with its Scrooge McDuck-like hoards of treasure and gold, and a dragon of dragons, voiced by the seemingly ubiquitous Benedict Cumberpatch.

Furthermore, the 3-D special effects are glorious, often times in your face, and that is a good thing. Part of the 3-D spectacle is to make sure that you don’t forget where you are rather than make you feel it’s in 2-D with a couple of shots that make you feel dizzy.

The story picks up after the last film with our dwarf heroes , led by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), ambulating around Middle-earth under the guidance of Gandalf (Ian McKellen). They’re out to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost dwarf Kingdom of Erebor in the process they’re going to need an ambulance.

This is going to sound crazy but here I go. Now Gandalf splinters away from the dwarves to carve out his own niche of fighting evil and to locate the headquarter, if you will, of the disfigured Orcs, who are just an “a” away from being Orcas. Here’s the humorous sidekick…the voices of the main killer Orc characters have a Welsh twang…i.e. Wales. I can’t help but to think that Jackson is having himself a wee laugh with killer Orcs…killer Orcas…killer Wales…killer whales.

Moving right along. Throughout most the films we trek along with Bilbo and 11 dwarves on a hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to battle we go…whistling…journey. Along the way, stops include: the spider forest home of Mirkwood; the BA city of wood elves (BA means bad ass, and bow and arrow) to tangle with Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and sexy femme fatale elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly); a Niagara Falls barrel of fun fight with killer Orcas (hehehe); the water-locked village of Lake-town; and then of course the showdown with the Smaugifire.

Hopefully Tolkien purists wont be mortified with Tauriel’s appearance as she was a character created by Jackson and company. Her vulcanized look, which makes her hotter, arouse…I mean arose, due to it becoming increasingly popular to feature fighting female characters that can not only hold their own but add a touch of warmth and softness to a film that is bludgeoning with cold and anger.

A final comment on Smaug. Now that’s a dragon.

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD – Thor-ougly Enjoyable

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Speed of lightening, power of thunder…there’s no need to fear …UnderThor is here. But seriously, this is a well Thor-t out film and it is quite obvious that our pure Thor-oughbred Hammer Time hero is a Thor-n in the dark forces trying to knock out the Nine Realms with Aether, pronounced like the anesthetic ether, except it’s much more damaging.

Chris Ahem-sworth is trying to get our attention as he returns as the Mighty Thor in Thor: The Dark World, a sequel that is far superior to its 2011 Thor predecessor that saw Natalie Portman as “you” Jane, falling in love with the blond Norse God of “me” Tarzan Thunder. Thor, Jane, her snitty pal Darcy (Kat Dennings), who acts just like 2 Broke Girls, and mad scientist/loony bin dude Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) team up with a former villain gone Loki (Tom Huddleston) to take on the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his band of Lord of the Ring looking goons in Vulcan death masks who are trying to one way or an Aether to suffocate the realms into the Dark Shadows of submission.

Before I continue…let me put on the brakes here. When we’re in this world of mythology where demi, hemi and semi gods exist, these folks can take major pummelings, thrown thousands of feet through the air to smash into rocky cliffs, one can drop a 10 ton boulder onto their heads, they can withstand stand punches to the face as strong as the Hulk can deliver…yet nary a scratch. But with a stab of a sword…oops, you’re dead.

Instead of Thor trying to beat the crap out of any villain with his fists or feet, he just needs to use his pseudo-magnetic Mjolnir to smithereen smash any enemy to kingdom come.

So the next time a Westerner guffaws at an over-the-top kung fu film out of China…thou shouldst keep thine thoughts to yourself. It’s just as ludicrous if America tells other countries how to run their governments after America shut down their own government for stupid and selfish reasons…or basically sour grapes…no wonder the Republicans whine. D’oh.

Because at the end of the day, the well choreographed martial arts inspired fight scenes, unarmed and with weapons, would not have had as much excitement, class and steel slashing bewitchment without the influence of the high octane over-the-top, Hong Kong Fant-Asia films.

Director Alan Taylor has somewhat revamped these superhero legends. First off, removal of the silly looking plastic-like winged helmets that BTW totally work in the comics.

Hornless Loki is now cool instead of looking like a fool, and the addition of some very funny streamline tongue and cheek mouth offs adds a humorous overtone sorely lacking in Thor.

Thor comes across more like an Errol Flynn character, swashbuckling British with a sometimes wisenheimer attitude that makes the villains cringe or want to bash him in even more.

Jane looks a wee bit glaeked and wimpy moving around Earth and doesn’t remotely sell herself as an intrepid scientist. Yet once she dons the palatial backdrop of Asgard and the creepazoid real villain, she seems to blend in like a feisty Kareem Abdul Jabbar in an Earthly giant contest…you know…one of the Asgard crowd of yore and lore.

East, West, Norse or South, modern or mythological, Aether or ether, volcano or lava lamp, Loki good or bad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) great leader or two-faced father, Thor the man or demi-god…all I can say is:

If I had a hammer,

I’d hammer in the celestial morning,

I’d hammer in the milky way (thanks to Rene Russo, we know the origin)

All over the this universe,

I’d hammer out warning,

I’d hammer out restoring (the Nine Realms),

I’d hammer out love between,

My brother and my brother,

All over these Nine Realms.

P.S. Make sure you sit through the credits as at the screening I attended the audience gasped when the set up snippet for Thor 3 was revealed. Plus, 2-D fine, 3-D version waste of Thor 2 time.

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PACIFIC RIM: GODZILLA VS. POWER RANGERS

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Yes, I hear you, most of you will undoubtedly want to say, “Pacific Rim, it looks like the Transformers.” Oh yee little minds being held at bay (Michael Bay, that is). But once you realize that the leather, space-suited human warriors are operating the robots inside their metallic shells, there goes that connotation.

The bot bout abilities arise from the mind melding of two pilots that with Top Gun angst drive their gigantic, rock em’ sock em’ alter ego androids to the occasional Battleship music rifts and whirring combinations of Power Rangers meets Real Steel ala the 1990s anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.

To paraphrase Blue Oyster Cult’s anthem of the most famous rubber suited monster…in the history of any dinosaur inspired monsters…in the history of cinematic monsterdom…

History shows again and again how nature points up the folly of man, Godzilla! Oh what a pong, there goes Hong Kong, go go Godzilla…so to speak.”

Director Guillermo del Toro, who also happens to be an amateur entomologist (his favorite insect being Phasmids or stick insects), unabashedly delivers Pacific Rim with 3-D dogma and IMax amazement awash with loud squawking, screeching and screaming sounds. He cooly immerses the audience with coming at you rain soaked battles and underwater dazzles that confound and dumbfound the id. And that is not id-iotic but an id-iom of alien-invasion with dinosaurus implications boasting audacious non-stop demolition.

A tidal wave of reptilian monster titans called kaiju emerge from the sea to wreak death and destruction upon mankind. It’s basically payback for all of man’s pollution stupidity that created an imbalanced environment…apparently we didn’t turn green enough in time. Man’s last stand depends on 6-story high colossal robots, called jaegers (German for Hunters), built to even the odds to fight against the reptile clods.

Historically, man had success fighting the kaijus. Yet as man’s ego, confidence and complacency grew to damaging proportions so did the kaiju’s intelligence. We find that the beasties have hurricane category behavior, one to five, and when the behemoth brain and brawn category five kaijus decide to rear their ugly winds upon the masses of the Earth…the dawn of doomsday hath arrived…a parable of reckless ridiculousness as only humans can attain.

The movie milks emotional content and conflict via familial relationships. Two-deeply bonded pilots operate one jaeger through a mind meld called the Drift. If there is any kind of rift in the drift of the pilots…lights out with their clout.

Hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his co-pilot brother (Diego Klattenhoff) open the film with the kaiju incident that sets this pairing astrain, showing that if one is too adventurous and breaks rank, the end result is devastating.

The same vein of pain exists for the father-son Jaeger-meister team (Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky), as well as for “man on pedestal fearless leader” Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and his adopted daughter Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), an eager beaver kaiju killer wannabe. Aye, aye Captain…Mako scans Becket like a shark as she becomes his love interest.

And what film of this nature would lack those required, somewhat clichéd clan of colourful characters. At the forefront there’s the mad scientist duo of kaiju groupie Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) and his counterpart the Roddy McDowall/Jerry Lewis inspired Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). Pulling up the rear, there’s the kaiju organ harvester (Ron Perlman), whose wingtips and goggles assure us of some interesting backstory.

Two summers ago, a small outfit of Camp Pendleton Marines saved the Earth from alien invasion in Battlefield, LA. Last summer, a wayward, misunderstood naval officer and his ship crew saved the Earth from alien invasion in Battleship.

Which comes to this summer and the what you might think is a tired storyline of someone having to save the planet again from alien invasion, Pacific Rim.

But no, the creature mayhem in Pacific Rim rocks and rolls as there is a growing sense of danger with each of the monsters’ metamorphic stages.  From shark-like to other various dinosaur variations that sport pterodactyl wings and giant octopus tentacles or mouth spewing weapons of mass destruction, each incarnation will hold the audience’s attention. End result…as the stakes rise, the odds against the human defenders saving the world dwindles.

Director del Toro, beautifully kills the time between action set pieces. He also sprinkles a wee bit of martial arts in the storyline…albeit a far cry from any decent martial arts movie out there. However, the combat suffices for the nature of the scene and the story’s femme fatale moxie.

Overall, del Toro maintains engaging forward momentum without falling into bloated and padded narrative. Although on IMax, during mayhem, it was sometimes difficult to understand what was being yelled. Furthermore, the monster-robot battles were surprisingly coherent. Amid all the crash-bang, walla walla bing bang action, it’s not only there because it needs to move the story along, but it also provides some overtly subliminal humorous moments.

Certainly there are formulaic times, where some facets of story predictability may either be old hat and tedious. However, human resourcefulness prevailing over terrifying brute force is par for the “coarse,” especially when things get rough.
But the bottom line, Pacific Rim is ultra fun, a mindless mind-numbing FXtravaganza of google-eyed visuals that will eviscerate your uncommon sense into submission leaving you begging for more. The doors are indeed wide open for a sequel…perhaps call it…World Industrial Wreckage.

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