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A Knight’s Tale

ImageIt takes some tact and talent to be able to integrate modern with medieval. But when the opening of “A Knight’s Tale” takes the screen with Queen’s “We Will Rock You” with horns acting as the electric guitar’s solo you begin to think to yourself: this works. I think that this is the charm that comes from this 2001 movie starring the late Heath Ledger.

“A Knight’s Tale” is a story of a young serf, William Thatcher, who “changes his own stars” when his royal master passes in between rounds of a jousting tournament and thrusts himself into his place. William convinces his colleagues to carry on in this ploy and trains to become one of the top knights in the royal games. Through his travels and competing William finds a rival in Count Adhemar, another knight and war commander from a more prestigious kingdom. Adhemar’s snark and bigotry makes him an excellent villain that you just want to see fail in the end. Along the way, William finds love in a Jocelyn, another royal whose background isn’t too elaborated on. The conflict comes when William goes to such lengths to hide his true identity as a non-royal serf.

To me, this is as much as a modern classic as “The Princess Bride.” The characters are so likable and their intentions are so pure that you have no choice but to root for them. The backdrop of the medieval time period serves as a force of nobility and intrigue. The production design supports the characters and setting that helps the viewer understand who is who.

In layman’s terms: watch this movie. It’s a great, entertaining watch. Now on Netflix!

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Avatar: The Last Airbender

ImageNo, it’s not James Cameron’s blockbuster 3D vehicle of cat-smurfs with a deliberate political message. And no, it’s not M. Night Shaymalan’s “The Last Airbender”, a ridiculous excuse of an adaptation that broke the bank, which is on Netflix’s Instant-queue… don’t watch it. No! This the three season epic tale of a mystical fantasy world of three nations against one tyrant nation with one hope of a hero. 

“Avatar: the Last Airbender” is a Nickelodeon funded, American created, almost anime-like TV series that is wonderfully constructed, cleverly humorous and beautifully illustrated. The story is simple. The tale is set in a world with people that are known as benders. Four nations populate this world with their own respected bendable element: Fire, Earth, Water and Air. 100 years ago the Fire Nation attacked. When these crises happens the responsibility lands on the Avatar, the embodiment of all elements, who has the ability to bend them all and who is able to bring balance to the world. But when the Fire Nation attacked the Avatar disappeared leaving the world in disarray and oppression. After those 100 years, a brother and sister of the Water Tribe find in an iceberg the lost Avatar, Aang. His charge: learn how to bend water, earth and fire and bring an end the Fire Lord’s reign of control.

That’s the jist of the whole series. Throughout the episodes the characters run into side quests that don’t have to do with the main plot but does show the elaborate on the characters themselves. With each episode and situation there is a depth of urgency and stakes that hangs over the head of the characters so it grips the viewers as well. Sub characters and supporting characters weave in and out of the story that creates a community atmosphere. All these events lead up to an exhilarating and  well paid off climax  which leaves viewers satisfied yet sad for the closure. 

The whole series is worth the watch. But the world doesn’t have to end; the original creators have expanded the universe into a new series, “The Legend of Korra” which focuses on the new Avatar 70 years later, a water bender young lady with determination and tenacity to take on the role and obligations of the Avatar. It just began and the first two episodes can be found now on iTunes.

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The Iron Giant

Before Iron Man or The Iron Lady hit the silver screen The Iron Giant made its small 23 million worldwide gross income (according to boxofficemojo.com). Yes, it wasn’t the most successful movie, or having the longest lasting effect. But it has a pretty strong cult following that still appreciates its charm.

The Iron Giant is a simplistic tale about a interstellar 50 foot robot crashing in 1950’s Maine countryside. A young boy, Hogarth Hughes, finds him and befriends him.The Giant is an almost mute baby-like so full responsibility is thrust onto Hogarth to protect him from others. The backdrop of the setting is the 1950’s Red Scare and the fascination of everything nuclear. This leads to the government’s fears that the giant is similar to Sputnik and Communist Russia. A Washington intelligence officer, Kent, paranoid about the international threat stops at literally nothing to track down and destroy the giant. They run into a hip beatnik, Dean McCoppin, who runs a scrap yard who assists in his protection from Kent.

Brad Bird directs this wonderful picture. He’s currently known for his success in The Incredibles and the recent Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The art is smooth, flawless and creates that wondrous small universe for the story to unfold.

The problem with most animated pictures nowadays is that it follows the same old progression of plot. The rise and fall and coming together of friendships. It’s full of happy-go-lucky songs and dance numbers that push the story along. The Iron Giant doesn’t rely on this structure; it’s pushed by its characters motivations and their connection to each other. It’s a breath of fresh air for any and all viewers.

The Iron Giant is a great coming of age story, one that gives the main character real responsibility and a connectivity to the giant that is believable and heart felt.

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Uncertainty

Late week post. One of two, great movies to watch this weekend.

The first is something that the majority of pretty much everyone hasn’t heard of. I didn’t until I was scraping the barrel of the Netflix by scanning my favorite actors to see what they’ve been in. I was surprised to see how many big names feature in low budget independent films. What I appreciate about these kind of movies is that it really has no boundaries of what it can and will do. The reason why big distribution companies don’t pick them up is because the premise and the narrative is so outlandish that they believe audiences won’t pick up the director’s vision. Usually they feel more authentic, they lay off the overuse of CGI (if they have any at all) and the acting takes top priority. I wish more people would pay attention to these little movies, they sure would enjoy them as much as I do.

This selection stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins as a couple whose fate is determined by a coin toss. But this time the viewer doesn’t just see the actual outcome of the flip; they see both of them. Bobby and Kate stand on the Brooklyn Bridge, flip the coin and boom, they both run opposite direction toward Queens and Manhattan and the story takes off. We see each possibility paralleling the other when we switch from one to another.

Manhattan is the more exciting timeline. Bobby and Kate hit the inner city for a date when they find a mysterious cell phone in the back of their taxi. When Bobby calls the recently called numbers he finds out that this it is very envied. Eventually they find out that the cell phone has important lottery information. Danger is around every corner as they try to return it to the non-threatening claimer for a good amount of money.

The Queens timeline serves as more of a back story of the couple. It’s way more relaxed and reveals more about Bobby and Kate’s relationship. Before they go to Kate’s family’s house for a get-together they find a stray dog which draws that parallel to the other story line. We find out about Kate’s background, occupation and family life. This half of the movie helps give the other half more support so the action isn’t nonsensical.

If the premise isn’t enough to keep you glued in your seat the cinematography will  make sure your eyes don’t detach from the screen. The action in Manhattan is well handled and well captured in the camera. To help the audience follow each timeline the Bobby and Kate where yellow in Manhattan and green in Queens. But somehow they carry that theme with the background, scenery and props reflect those same colors. It’s a small touch but also one that anyone can appreciate.

Caution to cautionary viewers: yes, it is rated NR (probably because it wasn’t distributed through studios) it’d get a soft rated R because of language and brief sexuality/nudity.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful, interesting movie that deserves more attention than it gets.

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Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

“When a puppet is true and good and meaningful it’s the soul of the puppeteer that you’re seeing.” Frank Oz says in the intro to Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey. That’s the perfect summary of this new documentary about the career of the muppeteer, Kevin Clash. Being Elmo goes through the early years of Clash’s life with his fascination with the Sesame Street puppets so much that he creates his own puppets through everyday objects, like his father’s brown fur-like coat. It goes on to tell how he got into the television business by local stations Captain Kangaroo, working on Labyrinth and finally landing on Sesame Street. Also, it shows the phenomenon of the Tickle Me Elmo and his touring and fame because of it. But that’s not the charm of this small docu-flick, it’s learning about how a passion for something so obscure can gain success.

Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, Being Elmo is beautifully edited and put together to show the soul of this nervous puppeteer. Running an hour and 16 minutes it’s perfectly paced and interesting enough to hold any audience who appreciates the content. Unbelievable early footage of Clash with Jim Hensen and Frank Oz intertwines with the storytelling giving the viewer more excitement.

This is a documentary for those that have those childhood memories of Sesame Street and The Muppets. Those that have the appreciation for those franchises will further appreciate those that (literally) had their hand in the success because of their talent and their unique charm to bring those felt puppets to life. Trust me, it’s a joyful and easy watch.

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Robin Hood: Men In Tights

After a week of break so I can watch some Oscar nominated movies, I’m back at my Wii watching Instant Netflix.

So, for this week I’m choosing a casual watch; something that takes little brain power, what you can put in the background and something that is straight up fun. Robin Hood: Men In Tights is a Mel Brooks comedy classic. What I love about (most) of Brooks’ is that he takes something familiar and he parodies it. He’s done this with Star Wars, Frankenstein and Dracula. In these movies Brooks takes the classic tales and puts his comical spin on it while still staying true to the story, for the most part. At least this is the way he handled the ye olde tale of Robin Hood.

Cary Elwes (of Princess Bride fame) stars as the comical, likable and charismatic Prince of Thieves. As legend tells, Robin is along side King Richard in the Crusades when he gets captures and returns to his home of Sherwood Forest to find that the King’s steward brother has abusing his powers by over-taxing the peasants. Robin takes it as his responsibility to lead a rebellion against the kingdom. Along his way he falls in love with Maid Marian, creates a vendetta with Sheriff of Rottingham, and gathers a group of locals to help in his goal. The beautiful thing about parodies is that you can bring in all kinds of references of other popular movies giving even more familiarity and making the audience feel clever when they get these references.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights has its jokes that causes some groans and eye rolls; what comedy doesn’t have these jokes that don’t land perfectly on its feet. For the most part it’s a great watch, you’ll have some literal lols and you’ll appreciate the witty narrative.

Go ahead and stream and tell me what you think!

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The Graduate

If you know me, I’m one for a good laugh. Humor is needed in our lives to relieve tension and stress and to help with understanding. This goes double for movies. In movies there must be humor so that the movie doesn’t have that drag effect. No one wants to be totally depressed for the 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours of experiencing a narrative. Modern movies understand this point, maybe even too much. Comedies coming out are too focused driving home “jokes”; even when they are unnecessary and distasteful. There’s too much winking at the audience as if they want to say, “Get it? It’s funny, right?” The focus goes to the jokes and not enough to the story. With that in mind let’s talk about The Graduate.

First off, I don’t remember genuinely laughing while watching a movie since I watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World when it was released in theaters about 2 years ago. The Graduate runs off of situational comedy where the comedy isn’t originated from what the characters are doing or saying but how they are reacting to their environment. This kind of comedy allows the viewer to be better placed into the characters and let’s them question, “how would I react to this situation?” Another element that makes the comedy work is the camera work. Who knew that conscious camera angles would add to comedic effect? Well, The Graduate executes this element perfectly, a classic technique long forgotten in time.

The first two scene sequences of The Graduate didn’t have me on my stomach laughing my gut out but had me chuckling to myself because of the awkwardness of the scenes. The narrative begins by introducing our protagonist Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a newly college graduate who returns home to find himself outside of his element. All his family friends are around for his return party pressuring him with questions about his future plans and ambitions. While at this party he gets trapped into driving his parents’ friend, Mrs. Robinson, home. After many pressured attempts Mrs. Robinson lures him into the most uncomfortable situations leading to the infamous line, “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?” As the plot progresses they eventually do have an affair where they have a routine of meeting up with each other from night to night in a hotel room. Even though this situation isn’t right in any regard it gets shaken up by Ben’s parents in pressuring him into taking the Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, out for a date. Needless to say, Mrs. Robinson doesn’t approve. From one date Ben falls in love with Elaine leading to even more drama that still contains that lovable sense of humor.

Now I know why this movie was such a classic in the eyes of fans. It’s sensibility and heart leaves a lasting impression. The last sequence is magical, so magical in fact that Wayne’s World 2 parodied it brilliantly.

Also: a word to the wise and cautious. Even though this movie has a PG rating only because they didn’t have a PG-13 rating back in the 60’s. By today’s rating it would get a PG-13 rating for little nudity; let’s just say that it has less exposure than Titanic.

Make sure to stream if you have any extra time this weekend. And let me know what you think?