Fantasy Round-Up

Posted on June 18, 2014


Brave (2012)


What can I say about this Disney/Pixar animated movie that hasn’t already been said?

This is a movie about a girl whose struggle for independence leads her to make a terrible mistake, for which she accepts responsibility and works tirelessly to make right.

Brave took some time to gain viewers. Its opening weekend was small, but it turned into a very good earner as word of mouth spread.

We loved Merida and her adventures, and strongly recommend this movie. Very small children may be scare by some of the animals and fights, so you might want to watch it first to make sure its okay for your whole family.


Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)


This is a sequel to the 2008 Journey to the Center of the Earth, but the only character who carries over is Sean Anderson (played, again, by Josh Hutcherson). In the first film, his uncle (played by Brendan Fraser) hauls him along on an adventure in search of Sean’s dad.

In this movie, Sean hauls his stepfather (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) along in a search for Sean’s grandfather (Michael Caine).

I liked the actors, and I liked the set-up. Hank (Johnson) has no reason to trust his step-son. Sean has to pay the price for keeping his uncle’s secret about their dangerous adventure. Over time, they earn each other’s trust and bond.

Both films are adaptations of works by Jules Verne, and in both cases the work is updated for modern viewers while still maintaining Verne’s sense of wonder, excitement, and discovery.

Bad opening weekend, but earned quite a bit more than its budget in just a few months.

While it’s not a great film, I enjoyed it as a pleasant way to spend some time.


Magical Mystery Tour (1967)


I am a huge fan of A Hard Day’s Night, Help, and Yellow Submarine, so I wanted to see this. For years, the only way to see it was on somebody’s bootleg of a recording of a midnight movie showing. When the DVD became available, I was all over it.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, the Beatles got stoned and wrote a movie for British television, in which they starred, while stoned.

The resulting nonsense serves as a showcase for various Beatles songs. It was recorded in mono and not converted to stereo until 1988. The DVD transfer that we saw needed a lot of work (the trailer I found looks better, mostly).

As it never had a theatrical release, there aren’t box office numbers to discuss.

For Beatles fans, it’s worth a rental.


Men in Black 3 (2012)


The MIB work for a top secret organization that keeps Earth functioning as a sort of intergalactic Casablanca. When alien crime threatens the peaceful life of Earthlings, the MIB step in.

In this movie, an old foe of Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) escapes prison on the moon and travels back in time to help his younger self (Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Concords) kill the younger version of K (Josh Brolin). Agent J (Will Smith) pursues the bad guy back through time to save K, without revealing his nature as a time traveler.

I liked all the MIB movies, but number 2 wasn’t as good was the first one. Number 3 is better than 2, but still not as good as 1. Barry Sonnenfeld just never recaptured the magic.

Part of the problem is that this movie wants to be about the father/son relationship between J and K, but that is a complete invention of this movie. That relationship wasn’t in the previous two films. So the whole story about J’s dad and K’s role in what happened to him feels invented and tacked on.

Another problem is that the movie rushes through things that needed more development. There’s no real effort to explain why J remembers a different timeline than everyone else. In fact, once K vanishes from the modern timeline, there’s no explanation of how J got recruited into MIB.

It’s even less honest than 2 about racism in America (although the scene where J uses the flashy thing on two white cops in 1960s Florida is hilarious). Agent O (Emma Thompson) has no precedent in either of the other two films. David Rasche is underutilized.

Tragic opening weekend and it took ages (in Hollywood terms) to turn a profit.

It’s a fun movie, and if you like Will Smith or the other MIB films, it’s worth a rental.


Mirror, Mirror (2012)

Mirror Mirror poster

There were two Snow White movies (at least, but I’m only reviewing two) in 2012. This one released first.

I love director Tarsem Singh. I’ve seen The Cell, The Fall, and Immortals in addition to Mirror, Mirror. Even when his movies aren’t very good, the visual storytelling is stunning.

This movie has a very good cast, including Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Mare Winningham, Michael Lerner, Sean Bean, and Nathan Lane. Plus, they cast some extremely talented little people as the seven dwarves: Martin Klebba from (among other things) Pirates of the Caribbean! Sebastian and Ronald from Pit Boss! The fantastic Danny Woodburn whose credits are too long to list! Jordan Prentice from In Bruges! Plus Mark Povinelli and Joe Gnoffo!

This movie was very effective for two reasons that have nothing to do with visuals. First, the story made Snow White likeable. She was a nice person wronged by her murderous step-mother, and nice people liked her. That went a long way.

Second, everyone in the movie completely embraced the fairy tale they were telling. Julia Roberts devoured the scenery as the evil queen, Armie Hammer dove into the most ridiculous moments with abandon and thus drew real humor from his scenes. Nathan Lane is a genius, of course.

It wasn’t a big earner, with a tragic opening weekend and not much profit over the next few months.

So, yes, I highly recommend this film but, in all seriousness, some of the evil queen stuff is pretty scary. Not a film for little kids, despite the overall innocence of the tale.


Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)


I remember almost nothing about this film, which should tell you a lot. Actually, that’s not true. I remember the little people, because they were played by CG versions of Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, and Toby Jones. Great cast.

What I also remember is Kristen Stewart was impassive until she got angry. She portrayed angry very effectively. Everything else was just monotonous. Charlize Theron was a great evil queen.

Unfortunately, this movie did nothing to sell me on Snow White as a heroine, or even a person worthy of love from the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth).

Bad opening weekend, lackluster earning over time, but because of its stars it will probably get a sequel.

Skip it.


The Tempest (2010)

The Tempest

Shakespeare’s last play, adapted to film by Julie Taymor (writing and direction), and starring Helen Mirren, David Strathairn, Tom Conti, Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper, Ben Whishaw, Russell Brand, Djimon Hounsou, and Alfred Molina.

Why are you still reading this? Wasn’t that enough to make you race out and see it? Okay, it was filmed on location in Hawaii. Still here?

A chance to see Helen Mirren play Prospera, normally a male character, was more than enough to make us seek this out.

Everyone in the film is terrific, even the ones you wouldn’t normally consider Shakespearean actors. Russell Brand was incandescent as half of the comedic mutineers.

The extra features on the DVD are delightful.

Probably the least expensive film in this compilation, it made less than a hundredth of its budget on opening weekend, and that’s too bad. I suspect that was a limited release, and that it never got a wide release.

A strong female character supported by a great cast, all of whom respect the great source material, and beautifully filmed in an exotic location.

What are you waiting for?


Wrath of the Titans (2012)


I swear to you, I had no idea when I started writing this column how many of these movies came out in 2012.

Wrath of the Titans continues mangling Greek history and mythology the way Clash of the Titans (2010) did. In this movie, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Edgar Ramirex) want to free Chronos from Tarterus, the prison of the Underworld. To do so, they must steal power from Zeus (Liam Neeson).

Zeus appeals to Perseus (Sam Worthington) to recover the three parts of Zeus’ thunderbolt, the only weapon that can stop Chronos.

This movie improves tremendously on its predecessor. Worthington is much more comfortable in his role. The CGI is pared way down. The cast focuses on Perseus, Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), Agenor (Toby Kebbell) and Hephaestus (Bill Nighy). The costumes and makeup make each distinctive (plus, good actors), and the story is tighter.

That said, it’s still not a great movie.

Audiences agreed, given its horrible opening weekend and the eternity (in Hollywood terms) it spent trying to turn a profit.

Definitely not for little kids, but I wish more people would see it to show that we appreciate all the steps in the right direction.



Fantasy is the goal that Hollwyood is chasing. The success of Lord of the Rings and The Scorpion King created a fantasy (see what I did there?) of wealth in Hollywood studios.

As a huge fantasy nerd, I think these films prove something very, very clearly: Few fantasy properties have the power to draw an audience the way Lord of the Rings did.

Partly that’s because Lord of the Rings has a very special set of fans of all ages built up over decades.

Partly it’s because other movies are less effective at managing their budgets. They skimp on acting, directing, location, cinematography, writing, or special effects. They favor flashy things, like 3D, over quality.

Even when a film has the unique alchemy of writing, direction, cinematography, and performance to make it good, the marketing expense required to draw an audience is tremendous. Add to that the big SFX budget of the typical fantasy film, and they’re bad business.

Unless you have a property with enough recognition to draw an audience, fantasy is a bad business bet.


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